Archive for November, 2005

Capitalism…

Thursday, November 24th, 2005

This week, the news has been good.

Thanks to the efforts of our CFO, the Addison Avenue credit union are going to lend us some money. I’m an official American 🙂

This is a major relief because we will no longer be handing over large amounts of money to Enterprise for the rental.

That said, the other night I was grateful we still had a rental because of a stupid mistake.

Sam’s sister has been here for a few days with her boyfriend and we took them around the tourist traps at Pier 39 and did the cable cars and horse rides etc. etc. We spent a long time there and a good time was had by all. After the evening meal at a restaurant ( making sure they validated our parking ticket ), we headed back to the car park only to have me tap my pockets and realise that I didn’t have my car keys.
We’d been all over the city that day so there were any number of places they could have disappeared. When we got to the car, I peered through the window to see the keys sitting on the back seat. Why the car hadn’t been stolen, I don’t know. Maybe the 294m Americans are more honest than we thought. I won’t test that theory.

The car has manual locks (it’s a Dodge) but there were no doors we’d forgotten to lock so I needed to call Enterprise Roadside Assistance. I spoke to a couple of operators who both asked me how I was. “Fine”, I replied, “except for the fact I’ve locked my keys in the car”. They both laughed weakly. We then proceeded to try and define my precise location.

“Do you have a zip code, sir ?”.

[ At this point, I only know 2 zip codes: the office and our house ( and maybe Beverly Hills 90210 ) ]

“Sorry, I don’t know the zip code.”.

“That’s OK, sir. Can you tell me where you are ?”.

“I’m on level 4 of the parking garage directly opposite Pier 39 in San Francisco”.

“What street is that on, sir ?”.

“I have no idea. Embarcadero, I think”.

“How do you spell that, sir ?” (They start to sound like Marcie, Peppermint Patty’s friend in the Charlie Brown cartoons).

“E-m-b-a-r-c-a-d-e-r-o”.

“Sorry, a-r-c-e-d-a-r…?”

“No, E-m-b-a-r-c-a-d-e-r-o”.

“Thankyou, sir. What’s the nearest cross street ?”.

“Again, I have no idea. We’re opposite Pier 39. The biggest tourist trap in San Francisco. If you send someone out who’s local, they’ll know where I am”.

“I understand that, sir, but I need to write something down on the form”.

“OK. I’ve just looked on our parking ticket and there is no address. Do you have a map in front of you ?”.

“Yes sir”.

“Can you find Taylor ?”.

[ Pause ]

“Yes sir”.

“If you go North on Taylor, you’ll hit the water. When you get to the water, work East along Emarcadero until you see Pier 39. We’re in the parking garage directly opposite”.

“No, I still can’t see it, sir. Is that San Francisco in California ?”.

[ This time I pause ]

“Yes it is”.

I breath a sigh of relief as she decides that is all the information she needs about the location.

She asked me whether the car had automatic locks or an alarm. It’s a Dodge, it has nothing. So, now she has the make, model and registration of my car and the fact that she could break into it at any point.

The mechanic turned up in about 30 minutes, got out of his truck, jammed a wedge into the driver’s window, thrust a coat hanger through and opened the lock. All in the space of about 2 minutes.

Remind me not to buy a Dodge Neon when we go car shopping.

This week has been very short due to the Thanksgiving holiday. This is taken more seriously than Christmas as it’s an all-encompassing holiday because it’s non-religious ( unless you count the bit about the pilgrims ). Like Independence Day before it, all of our friends and work colleagues have asked us if we’re going to celebrate it.

My usual answer to Independence Day is that we will celebrate the time we got rid of the colonies. For Thanksgiving, I usually tell them we celebrate the forced take over of land belonging to the Native Americans. Surprisingly, most of them agree.

We’ve been invited to our neighbours’ house for a meal. They are Swiss and Venezuelan so they’re just looking for an excuse to eat and get drunk.

What more reason do you need to celebrate ?

Happy Halloween

Tuesday, November 8th, 2005

October 31st is the time of year where everybody takes leave of their senses, dresses up in various costumes and then goes around the neighbourhood demanding candy with menaces.

Yes, it’s Halloween.

We were invited to a neighbour’s party and we all dressed up. I managed to get a Grim Reaper outfit from somewhere and made my face up to look deathly pale ( no change there you might cry ). At the appointed hour, we all arrived at the door and I found out that it was a kids’ party where most of the parents were in civvies and I looked a right eejit.

Halloween itself was an interesting night. Sam took the girls trick-or-treating with some friends and they all went to the rich part of town where people decorate their houses and distribute big handfuls of candy. The whole city seemed to have descended on one street and, by the sounds of it, it was a real melee.

Rachel and Joanna came back with buckets full of sweets, desperate to eat them all at once. We’re rationing them so they won’t be finished until Christmas 2006.

My evening was such that I wasn’t allowed to sit down on the sofa with a cup of tea without the doorbell ringing and either some cute four year-olds dressed as giraffes or Dracula holding out pumpkin-shaped buckets or a group of teenagers in black eye shadow and lipstick holding out a pillow case. Luckily, we ran out of candy and I had to turn off the porch light. After that, nobody bothered us and I got to drink my tea 🙂

This week, we went to see BofA to talk about a car loan. Last week, we applied to borrow some money for cars because I’m paying a ridiculous amount of money to rent a car monthly. We mistakenly thought that, although the interest rates were not as competitive, the fact that we had an account with the bank, they have a relationship with Barclays in the UK and we spoke directly to the person who set up our account in the first place, it would hold us in good stead.

Not so.

The person who set up our account is the Branch Manager. She has the title Vice President but this means absolutely nothing. She is not able to make lending decisions on her own, she has to refer them to the loans department. The first thing that the loans department did was to credit check us :-S We were rejected because of the usual story, i.e. no credit history. Usual frustrations, usual banging of heads on walls.

I ended up speaking with my CEO. Our CFO has contacts with a credit union and arranged for me to speak to the Branch Manager there. She sounded encouraging saying that lending to overseas visitors is something that they have done before. It’s likely that this means we will part company with BofA so we can bank with the credit union but I’m sure that neither BofA or I will be shedding any tears over that. We have our fingers crossed that we can work this through.

It seems that it’s not just us who are having financial difficulties. The school keeps sending begging letters to the parents for donations of $25 to $40 per child for art material or reading material or to be able to pay for someone to come and read the children stories. The financing of schools is a big topic and Californian schools are not well funded which is why they keep tapping the parents for cash. The problem we have is that the PTA stated that the membership fee ( which equates to $100 per child per family ) is to assist the school for funding certain projects. One such project is called Art In Action where the children get to learn about different art forms. According to the PTA accounts, $8000 has been spent on this project. However, at least in Rachel’s class, the volunteer parents are teaching the lesson. For free. This week, it was Sam’s turn to teach the lesson. She had to explain about cave paintings in Lascaux and discuss the techniques being used. Excuse me ? Sam is well-versed in a multitude of skills but I don’t remember going to her graduation ceremony at Art college. The teacher was sat at the back of the class. How is it possible to spend $8000 if you get someone to teach for free ? I don’t believe that they spent $8000 on wax crayons.

This weekend, it hit home about how far we are from the UK. My best friend got married and we weren’t able to attend. So, a big congratulations to Neil and Carron. We managed to speak with them the day before and the day after and it all went well. We’re just waiting for the pictures of the day.

And in other news, I obtained minor celebrity on the BBC News website at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/4392080.stm#captions