Customer Service

Sister Hazel at Fillmore NYC

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We own two Sister Hazel CDs. In the pre-iPod days, Lois used to bring 20-30 CDs along whenever we took long drives. One or both of the Sister Hazel CDs made it into that pile nearly every time.

In the last few years, even though Sister Hazel is on our iPod, they didn’t get much play. A few months ago, Lois played them, and we fell in love all over again. That made me look to see whether they were touring, and indeed, they had a concert scheduled for NYC last night (December 13th).

It was at the new Fillmore at Irving Plaza, a venue we had never been to. Pretty close to our apartment. I wasn’t crazy about the 9pm start time (we’re old) but we were reasonably excited nonetheless.

We rarely purchase tickets for a show unless the seats are reasonably good, it’s first come first served (so we can line up early), or it’s Girlyman. 😉

The Fillmore is either owned, or exclusively run, by Live Nation. When I purchased the tickets, they were Row 9, Seats 31 and 32. Sounded reasonably good, so we were happy.

We drove from the house to the apartment and spent the day there. At 8pm, we headed to the Fillmore. When we walked in, we were completely disoriented. No seats at all. Everyone standing up (scrunched in near the stage), in a cavernous room with a big screen showing videos covering the stage. A bar in the back. A very young crowd, looking for a great show, but also a ton of drinking and dancing.

So not our scene I can’t even tell you. We asked a few people where the seats were (I honestly thought this might be a staging area, before the concert started. A few people pointed us up to the balcony. There were some small round tables with bar stools, but more people were standing up there.

We went downstairs to the main entrance and asked about the seats. We were told that it was a standing up show, general admission. When the manager came out, he showed us on the tickets that it said Section GA, which we were supposed to understand meant Section General Admission. Huh? GA, but with an assigned Row and Seat?

He said that the row and seat were purely for accounting purposes. Wow, how nice of them to account for where I might have been seated.

Lois asked for a refund, and he refused. After a bit of arguing back-and-forth, he said that he would do what he could, but that I would have to take care of it back on the website that we originally ordered the tickets from. He took down some information from me and said he would submit the info on his side to make the transaction smoother for me.

I’m very skeptical as to whether we’ll get our money back, but we were glad to leave anyway, even if we lose our money. There were two opening acts, so Sister Hazel wasn’t going to be on stage before 10pm, likely between 10:30 and 11pm! That meant that we could be standing until 1am or later.

It simply wasn’t going to happen. As a bonus, instead of spending the night in the apartment and returning to the house in the morning, we hopped a bus back to the apartment, grabbed our stuff, and were home by 10pm. At least the evening ended smoothly…

Cable Internet Woes

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A long time ago (I can’t remember when), we had a stable, reliable connection in the apartment (provided by Time Warner Cable). It was never super fast on the download (when it was stable, it was roughly 3Mpbs downstream). It was always pokey on the upstream (used to be roughly 360Kpbs). Now, it’s typically 7-8Mbps down, and 490Kbps up.

Unfortunately, while both up and down have gotten faster, the experience has deteriorated. I wish I could point the finger directly at Time Warner, but I can’t. Not because it’s not their fault, but because I have no idea, and that’s been hugely frustrating…

I may be slow to fix things at times, but I’m typically pretty good at diagnosing. I’m completely lost at the moment.

It’s been bad for such a long time, that I’ve come to accept it on some levels, and that’s just silly on my part.

Here are the symptoms: regular disconnects from the Internet. Those drops can last between a few seconds to a minute. The most sensitive applications (the early warning systems) are IM clients (Digsby for me, Trillian for Lois, but Pidgin used to behave identically before I switched to Digsby). Email clients hang if they are fetching or sending at the moment of the drop. When the drops last a bit longer, ssh connections are lost, but not on the short drops. The Poker client disconnects every 20-30 minutes.

Here’s my setup. I had (more on that in a moment) a seven year old Toshiba cable modem (provided by Time Warner). I have a Netgear FVS318 ProSafe VPN Firewall that connects to the cable modem. Years ago, I used it in VPN mode to connect to the office, but now it’s just a plain old router. Connected to that are three devices: an Asterisk server, VoIP ATA (Sipura) and a WiFi router.

After working great for years, when the trouble started, I suspected the wireless router (at the time, it was a Linksys WRT54G). I swapped it for a US Robotics spare that I had sitting around. The US Robotics device exhibited different problems. It went for longer periods without drops, but then would drop for longer periods (rebooting it seemed to always work). Since it was a bit older, and only a B router, I bought a Netgear WNR854T (an N router). I bought it re-certified.

It behaves just like the Linksys did, more frequent drops, but of shorter duration, that always auto-correct. I know, it’s re-certified, but still, three WiFi routers in a row? Yesterday, while at the house, enjoying my fantastic Verizon FiOS connection (30Mbps down, 5Mbps up), it occurred to me that the only thing all three WiFi routers have in common is the port they share on the FVS318 router.

I was actually excited to have a theory to test. When we got to the apartment mid-morning, I fired up the laptop, and swapped both the cable and the port that connected the WiFi router to the FVS. No Internet connection at all! What? We were just here on Wednesday, and it was working (albeit with the stated problems).

Rebooting the cable modem indicated that the cable modem just decided to die. I marched to the Time Warner service center. The one thing Time Warner does extremely well (and, unfortunately, I’ve taken advantage of this good service way too many times!), is staff a service center and swap devices quickly, with no questions asked.

I got there at about noon on a Saturday, and there were roughly 15 people working the service desks. It took less than five minutes to have my number called, and less than two minutes to swap the cable modem. 15 minutes later, I was back in the apartment (at least I got a bit of exercise). The new cable modem worked right away (still using the new cable and new port from the WiFi to the FVS).

A quick speed test gave me the sense that all of my problems were done. I got 8Mbps down and 492Kbps up, but with no jerkiness in the numbers. A smooth connection, it seemed. All joy died about 20 minutes later, when I had my first IM drop out.

So, in theory, it could still be the cable modem (or the cable company, at the head end). But, I left out a major detail which makes me believe that this is not the case. All of our phone calls are VoIP, so they use the cable modem as well. Whenever we experience a drop on the IM client, if either of us is on the phone, there is no drop on the call. At least, it’s not discernible (which doesn’t mean that a packet isn’t dropped along the way).

I am at my wits end. I have two things that I can try. One is to bypass the WiFi with a PowerLine connection (the cable modem is not in the room where we work). That will work, but if there are any drops, it won’t be clear that it isn’t the PowerLine adapter. The second thing is more painful. I just did the second one this minute. I reprogrammed the WiFi router to completely replace the FVS318. Since we’re leaving now, I won’t know until the next time we’re back whether this will solve the problem. If it does, then it means that the FVS was flaking out in general, somehow.

While it’s possible that three WiFi routers in a row are all bad, in a similar (if not exact) way, somehow, I doubt it. It is ironic that the cable modem just up and died, but the new one is exhibiting the exact same problem, so I don’t think it’s the problem either. For completeness sake, I should report that we are both using brand new laptops, with built-in N WiFi cards. Before that, we were each using Netgear N Cards. Before that, we used different model B and G USB-based WiFi adapters (with the old Linksys and US Robotics), all with the same drops, so it’s most definitely not the client devices!

If any of you have any suggestions out there for what else I can try, I’m all ears!

Home Depot Customer Service

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There are many ways to tell this story, and I’m sure that I’ll pick the wrong one…

Before I start railing, let me state that for the most part, Lois and I like Home Depot, and the majority of our in-store experiences have been very positive.

On to our tale of woe. We have outdoor space in the city that had an old (but very nice) wooden table on it when we moved in. There were benches on either side, and a chair at both heads, for a 6-person seating area. It could still be used, but it has required some quickie repairs the past few years, and it’s clearly headed south.

Last summer we seriously shopped (entirely online) for a new patio set. They ain’t cheap, by any measure. We almost pulled the trigger, but thankfully, something took hold as my index finger was hovering over the submit button, and we decided to hold off for another season.

I say thankfully, because shortly thereafter, we lost all use of our deck for a year, when our building was required to make repairs according to Local Law 11. Our furniture got beaten up a ton more as it got moved back-and-forth by the workers, and if that had been new stuff, we wouldn’t have been too pleased…

While the table had some issues, it was really the benches that bugged Lois. A month ago, we found ourselves in a Home Depot near our house, explicitly for the benefit of Laura and Chris who were picking up stuff to get their apartment spruced up. While they were shopping, Lois spotted two wrought iron benches (that even swung a bit). They were on end-of-season super sale. We decided to buy them, even though they might look a bit odd with the wooden table.

After loading them up on a cart, Chris pointed out that since we hadn’t measured, it’s possible that they simply wouldn’t work with the existing table. That was a good point, so we aborted.

A week later, Laura called me from a Home Depot in Richmond, VA, and told me that the last of the patio furniture was still out and on sale, and that we should probably check it out when we got to Fredericksburg (scheduled for a few days later).

We did. We ended up buying an oval wrought iron table and six wrought iron chairs (that rock gently on springs). It’s the same set that the benches belong to, but we much preferred the chairs, and with the matching table, all of our measuring problems (and matching looks problems) were solved.

Lois waited at the Home Depot while I drove the table and two chairs to the office. I returned and loaded up the remaining four chairs and drove them back to the office with Lois. A few hours later, we decided that the sale was very good, so we drove back and bought two more chairs.

A week later, we drove the table and six chairs back to NYC (it was quite a feat fitting them all in to the SUV), leaving two chairs for this next trip. We set the table and chairs up on the deck, and they were perfect. In the past two weeks of nearly perfect NYC weather, we’ve had quite a few meals on the new furtniture, and have enjoyed every single one.

Temporary switching of gears…

We had another (very old) table on the deck that seats six people. Two years ago, Lois spray painted it grey (it was white). Now, inspired by the new wrought iron stuff, she painted it (by hand, very messily) black. It looks reasonably good, but she’s not satisfied (at all). In addition, we have plastic chairs (blue and white, plenty of both colors) that we use around that table. She hates the mish-mash of color and texture between the chairs and table.

So, earlier this week, she had me look online, at homedepot.com, to see how much it would cost to buy more of the same chairs that we hauled up for our new table. For the eight chairs that we bought on sale at the store, we paid $79 per pair (plus tax), so just under $40 per chair. Online, they were $110/pair, but I believe that included shipping (tax would still be separate). Not an outrageous markup, but slightly annoying that it was more expensive.

We decided to hold off and check the local store again. Two days later, we visited the original store (where we saw the matching benches) and they were completely out of this particular set (tables and chairs). When we got home, I went online again, willing to pay the $110. Amazingly, it was now $199/pair. This was just two days later. That was more than I was willing to pay, so we decided to forget the idea.

Now the real part of the story begins, with humble apologies for the length of the intro

Lois decided to call around to some other nearby Home Depots, to see if they had any chairs in stock. We had the SKU (both from the online system, and from the receipt from the Fredericksburg store). She called at least five different Home Depots, all within an hour’s drive of the house, and only one claimed to have any in stock.

OK, it’s in stock, so Lois tells the guy who answered the phone that we’re on the way up. He tells her not to come, because they are not for sale! What? You have something in stock that you refuse to sell? Lois asks him if she can speak to a manager. After a minute, the manager gets on the phone. He tells Lois that indeed the system shows the chairs in stock, but without a visual inspection, he wouldn’t be comfortable telling us to make the drive.

He takes our number and says he’ll call back. We wait quite a while, with no callback. Lois calls again, gets the same original person. Again, he’s as nice as can be, even though he told her the chairs weren’t for sale. This time, he connects her with someone in the Garden department. The woman seemed to be aware of the search, so the manager likely asked her to do it.

Unfortunately, she couldn’t yet confirm that the chairs were there, and she too said she would call back.

In the meantime, we continued calling around. I found a store in NJ that claimed to have 16 boxes of the pair of chairs in stock. We decided to take the shot and head straight there. When we were driving up the lane in our development (just a minute from the house), Lois got a call from the first store (the woman in Gardens) who said she had eight chairs there. That store was supposedly 15 minutes closer, and the woman visually confirmed the chairs, so we headed there.

Sure enough, they had them. After struggling with the decision, instead of buying four chairs (which is what our plan was), we decided to take six. While we knew for sure that six chairs would fit in the SUV, having done it already, this time, four of the chairs were still in the two large boxes, so we didn’t know if we’d have to unpack them before getting them in the car. Luckily, it all fit in (barely) without needing to open the boxes.

One of the reasons we bought six chairs was the price. They were reduced again, to $66/pair in the store. So, online they cost $199/pair, and in the store, $66. That’s just nuts…

OK, so all’s well that ends well, right? Wrong…

Once we got home, Lois started conjecturing that they also carried a round table (44″) in this style, and that given the magnitude of the sale, we would be better off buying it and throwing out the one she just painted this past weekend!

I looked online, and the table had doubled in price (just like the chairs did) to a whopping $239! We called back the store we had just visited, and they had none. The in-store price, if they had it in stock, was down to $45. That’s practically a $200 savings, again, nuts! Now the saga really begins…

Lois asked the woman if any other area stores showed the table in stock. Indeed, a store roughly an hour from us showed two in stock. Lois called. They confirmed that the computer showed two in stock. Having learned the lesson earlier that a visual check is a good thing to ask for, Lois aked. They put her on hold, came back a few minutes later, and said that there were none in stock. 🙁

Lois asked if they could check if any other stores in their area had any. They checked, and yes, another store (also an hour from us) had six in stock. Lois called. They performed a visual check, and none were in stock. No one had a plausible explanation for how the computer showed so many in stock, but none were actually there.

Between last night and this morning, Lois called at least a dozen (yes, I’m not exaggerating!) Home Depot’s, all within an hour’s drive of our house (across three states!). None had the table in stock. 1/2 of them didn’t have it in the computer, but the other 1/2 all showed some in stock (with one store showing nine!), but none of those passed a visual check.

All-in-all, Lois was on the phone for roughly two hours, with tons of frustration along the way. Most (the majority) of the people she spoke to were very nice. A few weren’t. In the end, nice didn’t matter anyway. It was better to have two hours of phone frustration than two hours of round-trip driving to discover that the computer was wrong, but still, it was no fun.

So, what are our beefs?

First and foremost, get the darn inventory correct. If the computer shows the item (or nine items!) to be in stock, it should be in stock!

Second, visual checks shouldn’t take so long either. There are many people in the store, and someone is usually near the Garden section, so a quick two-way radio check should be able to get a definitive answer.

Third, if you solve the first problem, then make sure that I, as a consumer, can see the inventory via the web, and don’t have to waste my time, and the store personnel’s time, with a phone call to check what the computer obviously knows!

Moreover (still on point #3), I should be able to type a SKU and ask for all stores within some radius that have it in stock. I should be able to trust the answer. I should be able to buy it on the spot, and have it pulled and waiting for me to pick it up. Many other retailers provide such a service, or will have the item sent to the store of your choice for pickup.

To summarize:

  • We love this particular style of patio furniture (Napa Plantation Patterns), which appears to be available only at Home Depot (kudos to the buyers at Home Depot for picking this out and for scoring an exclusive)
  • We love the end-of-season sale
  • We hate that it’s way more expensive online than the remainders that are in the stores
  • We hate that we can’t see what’s in stock in a specific store
  • We hate that we can’t ask which stores have it in stock, online
  • We can’t fathom how so many appear in stock, but none actually are
  • Most people in the stores are wonderful and truly helpful
  • Most people on the phone try to be helpful, but the process is so awkward as to rarely end up achieving that goal

We now have plenty of chairs, and a new main table that will give us years of enjoyment. Perhaps next season, we will pick up the round table, without paying an arm and a leg, when the season is 1/2 over. 😉

Firefox 3.0 Download Day

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Well, it’s finally here. I was all set to do my part with helping them attain the nonsensical world record download numbers.

Both Lois and I use Firefox as our primary browsers, and I have an ancient laptop that I occasionally use in a hotel room that I was going to upgrade, and one other one that I sometimes use as a guest machine. So, I was about to legitimately download it four times (I hate all manners of ballot stuffing, so I wouldn’t download multiple times just to up the count!).

Lo and behold, 10am PDT came, and the Mozilla site is 100% unresponsive. Way to plan for a world record!

Fully 15 minutes later, when you would think they would have been aware of the problem and would have switched to Plan B (they did have a Plan B, no?!?), the site is still pathetically slow (at least it finally loads!), but amazingly, it still only offers the link to Firefox 2.0.0.14!

How embarrassing…

I’ll still download it when I can, because I love the product, and everything I’ve read about version 3.0 makes me want it, so I have no desire to punish them, or cut my nose off to spite my face, but this one definitely goes in the pile of monumental screw-ups…

Everybody Clap For Everybody

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For Jewish folks, Lois and I listen to way more than our fair share of Christian music. Aside from the fact that we’re both Country/Bluegrass fans (which has more than it’s fair share of faith-based lyrics, even in normal songs), and aside from the fact that we both love Christmas music (buying quite a bit of it as well), we also purchase specifically Christian music.

Perhaps the best example of this is a group (really their leader) that we’re simply crazy about, Ceili Rain. We own all of the CDs. In this post I mentioned that we discovered them through Kathy Mattea. On September 13th, 2001, we were driving back to NYC from VA, and when we came around 495 approaching the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel, and saw the smoke rising from the WTC site, the song Love Travels (from her Love Travels CD) started playing. Lois owned the CD for a while, but for whatever reason, this was the first time she popped it into the car CD player.

Clearly, the song got to us (but even more to Lois) instantly. As I’ve mentioned numerous times, Lois really cares about knowing who wrote a song. She looked it up and found out that Bob Halligan Jr., the head of Ceili Rain, wrote the song. He also wrote That’s All The Lumber, which Kathy also covered. We bought the CD Ceili Rain, by Ceili Rain, which has both of those songs on it. Kathy’s versions of both are gorgeous (in every way), but there’s a rawness to the way Ceili Rain does it that I prefer.

From there, we’ve ended up buying all of their stuff. Last August we bought a bunch of their CDs, including No You No Me. Since we’ve accumulated tons of music in the past year, it took a while for Lois to finally listen to all of them. She instantly fell in love and connected with the song Everybody Clap For Everybody. Lois is all about fairness toward everyone, always, no excuses and no compromises.

Most of our closest friends are deeply religious Christians (mostly Baptists, but not exclusively). One family home schools their children. I wrote about the 10-year-old recently, when we took him to see Girlyman at Joe’s Pub. He and his 7-year-old brother are sports fanatics (playing as well as watching). Lois thought that Everybody Clap For Everybody would be a great song/message to share with the boys. She asked me to get a copy of the CD for them.

I ordered it from a seller on the Amazon.com Marketplace. I had it shipped to us at Zope, expecting to deliver it in person to our friends in Leesburg the following weekend. It never showed up. 🙁

I waited a few weeks, and the USPS tracking number never got updated. The package appeared to be stuck in Elkton, MD. Meaning, the shipper sent it, but the Post Office lost it. Shocking, I know…

I contacted the seller, and he told me that one in 100 packages ends up in the ether. He immediately refunded my money and told me to keep the CD if it ever showed up. Wow, that’s great customer service, an extremely rare thing nowadays. That was on February 28th!

We were down at Zope at least two separate trips in March and then again on April 1st, and the CD never showed up. We spent the rest of April in NY. Yesterday, we left super early from NY to head back to Zope, stopping to visit our friends in Leesburg on the way. We got there in time to see the 10-year-old play in a baseball game. Unfortunately, the 7-year-old played at 9am, and we were unable to get there in time.

After spending the rest of the afternoon with them, we headed to Fredericksburg. We stopped into the office before heading to the hotel. Sitting on my desk was the CD of No You No Me! I couldn’t believe it. No one in the office gave me a heads up, which leads me to believe that it only showed up this past week (and they knew we were coming down).

It seemed amazing that I became aware of the CD on the same day that I watched a baseball game in Leesburg (the intended recipients of the CD). Not just that, but they played the best team in the league (undefeated) and valiantly came back from down 8-1 to lose 8-4, with some chances (blown calls by the umpires!) to narrow it further. The song would have been appropriate after that game. 😉

Anyway, aside from shipping the CD to our friends tomorrow, I contacted the seller and told him that I insist on paying him, even though he told me I could just keep it. I haven’t heard back yet, but one way or another, he’s getting rewarded for his excellent customer service.

Now, if all of us could just learn to clap for everybody, and let go of all of the pettiness that we feel and exhibit all too often, that would just be very cool indeed. In the meantime, to get you into the mood, go out and get some Ceili Rain and start soaking up the philosophy! 🙂

Snarky Customer Service

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As you all know, I’m a huge fan of Girlyman. I have an alert service that informs me whenever there is news about them (and The Wailin’ Jennys as wel). Today, I received an alert pointing me to a blog about Brooklyn. In this post, she writes about a Brooklyn-based group called Sweet Bitters. She lists their influences, which include Girlyman, hence my alert notification.

So, I listened to the four songs on their MySpace page (linked above), and liked their sound. They only have two upcoming live dates listed there, one being on April 5th, 2008 at Pete’s Candy Store in Brooklyn. I wouldn’t mind seeing them, and there’s a slight chance that we could make it there that night.

Sweet Bitters’ link to the venue makes it clear that the show is free. Since there is no place to purchase tickets, Pete’s is clear enough that tickets are free as well. They have a menu link, with five sandwiches listed and some cocktails, so one assumes that they make their money that way, but there’s no mention of a cover or minimum so who knows.

Utilizing the better safe than sorry theory, I sent an email to one of the addresses listed in their contact link (I think it rotates on reloads, because I saw another name appear at a different time).

If you read this space regularly you already know that the above italics aren’t rare for me. 😉 I will happily admit that I overdid the quote marks (to indicate the same emphasis I use italics for here). I thought I was helping highlight the underlying points. Here is my email in it’s entirety:

Hi. I’ve never been to Pete’s. I might be able to make it on 4/5 to see the 9pm show (Sweet Bitters), but I’m not sure yet.

Can you tell me how Pete’s “works”?

What time should we show up for the 9pm show to get good “seats”?

Are there tables or rows of chairs, etc.?

Obviously we’d like to give you “business”, so the above question is related to whether we show up early and order drinks and dinner, but whether we have to move afterwards or sit at the table and watch the show?

Do you “sell out” (we’d be coming from Manhattan, so it would be frustrating to show up and not get in)?

Thanks in advance, and I’m glad to have found out about your place today! 🙂

P.S. I don’t know if it matters, but there would be two of us for sure, and possibly four…

OK, a little over-the-top, but reasonably clear, no? In particular, the part about my desire to want to support the venue given that the show is free?

Here is the entire unedited response, cutting out my original email from the bottom:

“all” pete’s shows are “free”. if you are worried about “it” being ” too full”, then “come early”. you do not have to “leave your seats” from one show to the next. i hope this “response” was “helpful”.

for more “info”, go to www.petescandystore.com.

“take care”

OK, let’s analyze. First and foremost, did he respond to my questions? Mostly, but not as accurately as one would hope. What does come early mean? 8pm, 7pm, 3pm? It would seem that he mistook my question about selling out to simply mean is it free. Otherwise, he might have said something like “on occasion, in particular on Saturdays, if you don’t get here by 8:45pm, there is no room left in the place”.

More importantly, is his response appropriate? I’m a potential customer. Could he be sure that I was savvy enough to take his sarcastic reply in the (hopefully amusing/entertaining) manner that he intended? Wasn’t it as likely that if I’m so clueless as to have put the quotes in to begin with, that I might be offended at being made fun of?

Let’s assume that he doesn’t care (that’s my assumption!). After all, they’re not charging for the concert. In any event, they must have some reason to open their doors, and perhaps I would never come there, not just that night. Perhaps I’d even blog about it, affecting other people. 😉

Bottom line, I think his response was at best snarky, not necessarily out-and-out nasty, nor obviously meant simply to be humorous.

Is that the best way to get business? Who knows. I still don’t know whether I can make it or not, but I’d still like to. Whether I’m interested in giving them business is another matter, but we’ll see how that plays out as well.

I could have been indignant in my response, ignored it, or chosen something in between. Here’s the entire text of my response:

“thanks”, “cute answer” 😉

Hope he doesn’t think I was insulting him. 😉

Anyway, I really wrote this post to promote Sweet Bitters, even though I am also indirectly promoting Pete’s Candy Store. I just couldn’t resist telling the whole story behind it, because I have written about the lack of customer service in the past, and this is but one more example…

Dave Mason at Blend

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Last night we saw Dave Mason play at Blend in Ridgewood, NJ.

Some things about last night were perfect, others far from it. Since I acquiesced to Lois when similar problems occurred at Canal Room in NYC (covered in this post), I’ll do it again, and cover the music (the perfect part!) first, so you can ignore all the peeves later on.

I have loved Dave Mason from the very start (I was a fan of Traffic, as well as the Dave Mason Band, forever). I still actively listen to both bands on my iPod. Lois doesn’t know Traffic, and until recently, didn’t know Dave Mason well either (though some of his stuff is so famous that she knew it, but didn’t know whose song it was).

When I noticed that Dave was playing at Blend (more details on that in the negative section), I played one of his albums for her in the car, so she too was excited to see them last night.

There are five guys in the band. I linked to the band section of the site above, rather than to the home page (which doesn’t seem to be particularly up-to-date). You can certainly read the bios on that site better than I can summarize them here, but I want to mention at least something about each member of the band.

In their order on the stage, left-to-right:

  • John (Johnne) Sambataro played both acoustic and electric guitars. He was fantastic. When it was his turn to wail, wail he did, leaving the crowd in a frenzy. But, he’s no hog, as he supported the entire band when that was more appropriate.
  • Bill Mason played the organ (electric piano). He was solid the entire night. On a few numbers, Dave turned it over to Bill for long solos. He was incredible on all of them. Like Johnne above, he brought down the house whenever the spotlight was on him.
  • Alvino Bennett played the drums. Super solid, perfect rhythm all night, just the right amount of flare. They never gave him a real solo, so I don’t know how he cooks when it’s all about him, but I have no doubt that he can cook. His sense of timing is exceptional. My only complaint is that he’s a little too unselfish, a little too the glue that keeps the band together. Suffice it to say, a great drummer!
  • Alex Drizos played bass. Basically, everything that I said about Alvino above regarding the drums applies to Alex on the bass. So solid it was wonderful to watch and feel the bass lines that he was laying down. Nothing flashy, ever, but always there to keep the bottom perfectly with the entire band.

Both Johnne and Alex sang incredible harmony with Dave all night. Bill sang on at least one number that I noticed, but certainly not many.

Here are photos of the band, sorry about the quality:

Johnne Sambataro and Bill MasonAlvino BennettAlex Drizos

On to the star, Dave Mason himself. I was a tad nervous going in for three reasons:

  1. Would he still have it? (If you recall, I briefly mentioned how awful the Jefferson Starship were in my uber-post on rediscovering live music.)
  2. Would he play the old big hits, or just do new stuff (and if the latter, was his new stuff any good)?
  3. Even if he played the old stuff, and even if he was flawless, would he play them the way I expected to hear them, or would he tinker too much?

I have definitive answers to all of my questions (and perhaps yours) coming up right now! 🙂

Dave Mason is awesome. That answers #1 above. His voice is excellent (as always), and he can hit the full range of notes required to make his hits come alive, which is not unimpressive, since there are some pretty high notes in a number those songs. Whew!

His fingers still fly on the guitar. He doesn’t miss any notes, and he’s as soulful on some of the leads, while rocking the house down on others. Quiet when appropriate, driving at other times. A master of the guitar. On a number of his big hits, he played a 12-string guitar, and the sound of that is just wonderful as well.

Here’s Dave on the 12 string guitar:

Dave Mason on the 12 string guitar

On to #2. The answer is both! He played quite a number of his giant hits, opening the show with World in Changes and Let It Go, Let if Flow. During the night, he also played All Along the Watchtower, Every Woman, We Just Disagree and a couple of other favorites. He also played the title cut from the first Traffic album!

But, I said both above! He also played new tunes that I have never heard. They were awesome! While I would have been wildly disappointed to not hear any of the oldies, I have to admit, if he only played new stuff, and it was as good as the (at least three) numbers that he played last night, I still would have considered the show to be fantastic!

Finally, #3 above. If you watch any TV, you may know the slogan for Simply Orange (it’s an orange juice company). Their slogan is: 100% Unfooled Around With! That should be Dave’s motto with regard to playing the crowd favorites. He couldn’t have delivered better. Whew! 🙂

Dave was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004. That was based on his being part of Traffic. For my money, he could be inducted again, just for good measure, on the basis of his Dave Mason Band work, including his new stuff!

Two of his new numbers were played relatively early in the show, and both were electric numbers. Here’s a YouTube video of one of them (from a previous show, well done, but much cooler last night). He only plays a drop of guitar on that number (but still beautifully), and it doesn’t stretch his vocal capabilities, but it’s such a fun song! The catch-phrase line is: Ain’t Your Legs Tired Baby, ‘Cause You Keep On Runnin’ Through My Mind! 😉

As a group, they are extremely tight. No one ever overwhelms the others and the sound engineer keeps the relative volumes correct throughout. His name is Chris Curtis.

They played for 75 minutes, then left the stage (extremely briefly) for the obligatory encore. When they came back out it was just Dave and Johnne with acoustic guitars only. They played another new number that was gorgeous! Then the entire band rejoined, and they played Dave’s money song, Feelin’ Alright. They jammed it perfectly with Dave and Johnne playing lead guitars that reminded me of some of the great guitar duels performed by Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Total time on stage was almost exactly 90 minutes. It left me with a strong taste for more, but it was completely satisfying at the same time! Bravo Dave, Johnne, Bill, Alvino and Alex, you were simply awesome!

They’re playing on April 4th, 2008 at BB King. I’m only telling you this because I just grabbed two tickets, so I’m no longer worried about him selling out (last night’s show was sold out). You are now forewarned that if you don’t go see Dave, you’re missing out on a great show! 😉

OK, this post is already long, but has only been positive. I have a ton of negative things to say about last night, and it won’t be short either, so this post will be horribly long when it’s all said and done. Please feel free to stop reading if you only want to bask in the glory that is the Dave Mason Band, as they were truly as good as it gets…

<Rant>

As you already know, last night turned into YAAWTEW (Yet Another All’s Well That Ends Well) evening. While I can’t complain about the end, and therefore the experience in its entirety, there is plenty to complain about along the way. 🙁

I had never heard of Blend before. They use at least two separate tickets agents, TicketWeb and Ticketmaster. I have accounts with both, and one of them must have shared my email with Blend. I don’t mind that. A month ago, I got an email from Blend promoting a specific show. I never heard of the band, and I didn’t particularly care to discover them (we have an insane schedule as it stands).

But, I quickly scoured the list of upcoming acts, and noticed that Dave Mason was playing there on March 6th, 2008! Wow, I thought that it would be cool if we could swing it. Unfortunately, at first blush, it wasn’t looking all that likely. We were scheduled to be in VA that day. It was also likely that we would be heading home that day, but I couldn’t be sure a month in advance, so I sat on the email, but left it visible in my inbox to annoyingly remind me each day.

After two weeks, we were about to leave for VA, and I realized that if we wanted to do it, we could swing it. I asked Lois. As noted above, she wasn’t really familiar with Dave’s music, but she’s a genius, and realized that I was more excited than a casual “Hey, do you want to see some band I used to listen to?”

She encouraged me to get tickets. As I noted in my recent post on Dan Tyminski Band at the Birchmere Theater, I get nervous going to new venues, in particular when they are first-come first-served type of places. If you read that post (or have ever been to a show at Birchmere!), then you know that my fears regarding Birchmere were 100% unfounded, as the place is nearly perfect in all respects!

What’s the opposite of Birchmere? Blend! 🙁

We called two weeks in advance, to ask some standard questions (OK, Lois called, at my request, to get my standard questions answered). 😉 She asked if they serve dinner, they said yes. She asked if it was in the room where the show was held, they said yes, but that they also serve dinner in a more formal dining room. Lois asked again (I heard it with my own ears!) whether we could eat in our seats in the theater where the show would be, and again, she was told yes.

She was told that the doors open at 7pm for the show. The rest of the rooms (bar and restaurant) open closer to 4pm I think, so if we showed up really early, we could eat first I think. But, we were planning on leaving from Zope, so we would be driving straight from VA, and likely getting there at around 6:30pm.

For many reasons, we decided to leave on Wed from VA and head home. We got out later than we had planned, and arrived home at 10pm. We worked all day and left for the show at around 5:45pm. We got to Blend at 6:25. I dropped Lois at the door so that she could pick up our tickets (they were held at Will Call) and get on line for the 7pm opening.

After circling to find parking, I walked in the front door at 6:35. Lois was nowhere to be found. I had to wait for a number of people to be seated in the restaurant (including Jay Gold, if you know who that is!). Then I got to ask about Lois. They had no idea who I was talking about, but told me I was welcome to walk around and look for her…

I did, and I spotted her in the restaurant sitting alone at a table. I was surprised, to say the least. She told me that they informed her at the door that they would not be serving in the show room. It was now 6:45. We were more interested in good seats than in dinner, but I was pretty hungry nonetheless. When the waitress came by to ask if we wanted drinks, we told her that we were still trying to decide what to do.

We made one mistake which I am truly sorry for, and that is that we stood the entire time. While we weren’t directly in anyone’s way, the mere fact that we didn’t sit at our table was already a distraction to the rest of the diners. It also caused more of the staff to pay attention to us (which part of the reason why we didn’t sit).

Another hostess came over to ask what the problem was. We explained, and she asked “Who told you that they would serve dinner downstairs?”. Huh? So, either we’re liars, or you’re going to spank the person who gave us the bad information? Either way, you aren’t close to solving the problem. We explained our situation again, and she said she needed to check further and left.

A minute later, the manager came by. We explained (again). He said “Of course they are serving dinner downstairs, you’re welcome to just eat there!”. Lois was satisfied, but I said “Great, but that’s not what the hostess said.” Oh oh. You could see him turn white as a ghost, and he immediately backtracked and said “Uh, wait, let me check.”

He left, and Lois left with him. A few minutes later, a woman named Lori (sp?) came over to talk to me. She was marginally prickly, but I could understand, as we were borderline causing a scene (just from the traffic at our table). I explained our situation (again). She said that there was no food being served downstairs, but that occasionally, they do, when there is no separate seating and standing areas.

I told her that we called and asked specifically for this show and were told that they would be serving. Clearly, she thought I was lying. Again, wonderful customer service. Now it got weird…

I told her that all we cared about was getting good seats downstairs. I told her that my wife wasn’t really that hungry, and that she was willing to wait on the line for the doors to open at 7pm, and that I would order and eat here at the table, problem solved!

Amazingly, she says to me “What makes you think the doors open at 7pm? The doors open whenever the artist, in this case Dave, is in the mood to play!” Huh? Did the person we called also get that part wrong? Are the show times as listed on the site just guesses? If the artist wants to start playing at 6:30pm is that OK too, or just late starts are acceptable? This was getting surreal.

At that moment, Lois returned, in a reasonable huff. That was unfortunate, because Lori clearly had a hair trigger as well, and Lois was as close to that mood as possible. She told me to go with her, that indeed they were serving food downstairs. Lori lost her cool. She said “Maam, I’m the owner, and I’m telling you that they aren’t serving food downstairs!”. Lois said “I was just down there, and people are eating, and the bartender told me that I was welcome to come in and order!”

The fireworks started for real now. Lori called someone else over and told them to go downstairs and make sure the door was locked! Very nice touch! She then explained that the food was being served to the band, not the public. When Lois again said that the bartender told her she could come and eat, Lori said that we were welcome to eat standing at the bar, but not until the doors opened for the public, which would be very uncomfortable.

When she saw how amazed we were to be treated this way (by an owner no less!), she offered to refund our money. We politely declined. We walked out of the restaurant, and went around the corner to a Quiznos. This was my first time in one, and I had a very nice Mesquite Chicken sandwich on toasted whole wheat. We were back in the place by 7:05pm!

We went downstairs to pick up our tickets. There were already roughly 20 people ahead of us crowding the door (which was indeed locked!). We were given green paper wristbands, signifying that we had seats (not specific ones, just that we were allowed to sit in a chair). Standing room only people had orange paper wristbands. We were crowded in like cattle, in a tiny area, waiting for the doors to open. People were piling down the stairs to get on the line. This couldn’t end well…

It got extremely hot down there. Lori showed up and announced that she would turn off the heat, and I think she did, but it didn’t get cool, it just stopped getting hotter. The doors didn’t open until nearly 7:35pm.

When we walked in, we saw that there were roughly eight or nine rows of chairs tightly packed together, and then open space from the last row to the door. We could have gotten aisle seats in the first few rows, but I grabbed two seats in the fourth row, dead center. So far, so good. The seats were hard plastic, and were reasonably uncomfortable to sit on for hours, but that was hardly the low point in the evening.

The temperature in the room was close to absolute zero! While I only had a T-Shirt on, I also (cleverly) declined to check my coat in the sauna area, so I was able to get comfortable quickly. A number of people commented to me that I was indeed a very smart guy to bring a parka-like coat to the show. 😉 Over the course of the evening, it got marginally warmer. I never took my coat off, but during the encore, I was mildly on the warm side…

So, I was prepared for the show to start late, after all, nothing in this place was as advertised, so why would I expect 8pm to be a firm time. A little to my surprise, someone came on the stage at 8:09, perhaps to announce Dave?

Nope. The person came on to announce an unlisted warm-up group. Well, group is a stretch. Two people, both locals that play in the upstairs bar at least twice a month. Nikki Armstrong and Dave Fields. Nikki is a blues singer, and Dave is blues singer/guitarist/producer.

Dave’s guitar (an acoustic one) wasn’t mic’ed correctly, so that delayed the show. While they were trying to sort that out, Nikki was freezing on the stage, and she was wearing a coat! They gave up (thankfully, reasonably quickly) and Dave switched to an electric guitar, which worked.

As I’ve mentioned before, not communicating effective and correctly with your customers is not a great strategy. These people were not listed on the site. Aside from the surprise angle, their music wasn’t a great match for an act like Dave either.

They played six songs. Most of the people that were seated were polite. We were quiet during the songs, and clapped after each one. The people who were standing completely ignored Nikki and Dave. They couldn’t have talked louder if you egged them on to try. Honestly, I can’t even blame them. No one came to see them, and there was nothing about their music which was compelling enough to grab our attention.

Basically, they have some talent (certainly tons more than I have, so who am I to talk?). But, they are more like a lounge act (in my opinion), that is expected to be there in the background, for some people to focus on a bit here and a bit there, but for others to continue to converse while the background music fills the room.

Dave plays the guitar respectably, but considering the string of simply amazing guitarists that we’ve seen in the past six months (Bill Cooley, Joe Don Rooney, Keith Urban, Andy McKee, Antoine Dufour, Craig D’Andrea, etc. – all linked in the tags section of the post), it was a disappointment.

In general, it was a time-waster and a disappointment. Of course, at that point, we were wondering whether this was just par for the course for Blend, and whether we should have taken the refund. The show was sold out, so offering us the refund wasn’t all that generous (it certainly was offered with derision, not apology), because Lori could have sold those tickets five seconds later.

They left the stage at 8:45pm. I assumed that Dave would be on at 9pm. All of the equipment was already fully set up. Wrong again. They came on the stage at 9:12pm.

You already know that from that second onwards, it was a perfect evening. Of course, we didn’t get home until 11:30pm (yup, we’re old folk, so that’s late), when we could have been home by 10:30 if they had put Dave on at 8pm…

The only good news (not counting the concert itself) about Blend is that they didn’t get a dime of our money, even though we started out wanting to support the place. We wanted to have dinner there, but I ended up eating at Quiznos. I wanted to drink there, but ended up happily passing (even though waitresses were serving people drinks from the bar at the seats). I simply was happy not to give them any more of my money, even if it meant missing out on a chocolate martini. 😉

</rant>

Dan Tyminski Band at the Birchmere Theater

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I’ve known about the Birchmere Theater for at least six months now, perhaps a little more. For the past seven years that we’ve been coming down regularly to Fredericksburg, VA, we weren’t paying attention to the live music scene here, spending all of our music time in NY. That all changed when we saw The Wailin’ Jennys at Gravity Lounge in Charlotesville, VA on November 17th, 2007.

Ever since that event, I have at least paid a little attention to what’s going on in VA when we’re down here. Over time, I noticed that lots of artists that we truly love play the Birchmere. In reading about it, it sounded like a great place to see a show, and many famous artists claim their start at the Birchmere.

We nearly went there a few months ago, I think to see Ricky Skaggs (one of our favorites). One of our hesitations was that it was a general admission type of place. That can always be a risk. Many of our favorite places in NYC are general admission as well. While it can be annoying (and at times even painful), at least we know the drill at those places, and we play whatever game we need to in order to get good seats (most of the time). In the end, we decided not to risk it for Ricky, with other factors tipping the scale as well.

A while ago, I noticed that the Dan Tyminski Band was scheduled at the Birchmere on March 1, 2008 (last night). We love Dan Tyminski. He’s the primary guitar player in Union Station of Alison Krauss and Union Station Featuring Jerry Douglas fame. He’s also the voice of George Clooney (well, the singing voice) 😉 in the movie Oh Brother Where Art Thou?

We saw Alison Krauss and Union Station at the Beacon Theater. Dan Tyminski was awesome that night, as were all of the members of Union Station. That included the bass player, Barry Bales, who is now the bass player for the Dan Tyminski Band as well. Not only is he an incredible bass player, he sings harmony on many numbers and his voice is fabulous!

We decided to take the plunge and get tickets. The night before we saw the Jennys at Gravity Lounge, we had dinner with two of the single employees at Zope Corporation. We asked them if they wanted to join us for the Jennys, but both had plans. They both indicated interest in being invited to a future event.

So, when we decided to see the Dan Tyminski Band, Lois send out a blind invitation to a number of the single people in the company that had expressed an interest in live music in the past. Two of them were available and interested, so we bought four tickets.

Because I didn’t know anything about the Birchmere, I made some assumptions, which (of course) turned out to be wrong. I gathered a list of 10 restaurants that were all very close to the theater, and sent links to three of them to the two guys. They both picked Lilians (which was likely my first choice as well). Here is how the one review (linked above) begins:

This place is rad. Imagine a squad of fine latin women dressed in short black skirts and revealing tops serving drinks and awesome Salvadoran and Mexican cuisine.

When I mentioned this to another friend of mine, he said “Sounds like a Spanish Hooters!” Indeed, I wonder why two single guys, roughly half my age, would have any interest in eating at Lilian’s? 😉

Yesterday morning, I did something that I should have done before I asked them where they wanted to eat. I went to the Birchmere website, and read their FAQ. I immediately found out that this place is like most of the general admission places in NYC, meaning they serve dinner at the place. That’s one of the few positives about general admission. You have to show up very early, but at least you can relax, eat, drink and enjoy yourself without then rushing to make it to the show.

Unfortunately, we never got to experience the Spanish Hooters directly, but perhaps, some day. I love Mexican food, enjoyed the one Salvadoran meal I’ve ever had, and now feel the overwhelming need to report back to my loyal readers whether the rest of the review is accurate as well. 😉

So, we picked up the two guys and headed north, early. My plan was to get there by 5pm when the ticket doors open, then perhaps wander around the neighborhood a bit, returning at 6pm when the theater doors open. The best laid plans…

I have a GPS (I’ve written about it before, when mentioning that it was one of the best gifts I’ve ever been given). I set the address and off we went. When I was coming up on the exit, I was telling a story. I heard the GPS telling me that I needed to make a left, but she’s often a little late with the voice prompts, and I was certainly late in following the directions. I missed the exit. No biggie, because the GPS always tells you what to do.

The only problem was that we ended up crossing the Potomac River into Washington, D.C, before she guided us back (yes, since the voice in the GPS is female, Lois and I believe that the GPS itself is a woman) so the detour was much longer than expected. We didn’t get to the theater until roughly 5:15pm. We received ticket number I11, and had no idea whether that was good or bad.

Different than all of the other general admission places that we’ve been to in NYC, there is a very large indoor space at the Birchmere, where you can comfortably wait until the 6pm doors open. There is a bar, but no pressure to buy any kind of drink. Lots of seats (tables and benches). What an incredibly nicer way to treat your early arrivers than in NYC, where we stand like idiots in a line on the sidewalks outside of our favorite clubs…

We relaxed and chatted. The 45 minutes passed quickly. At 5:57pm, they announced how the numbers (our I11) worked. They called out every single number, in order, so there was no reason to rush the door. Wow, exactly as the FAQ explained it, and on time like clockwork. Regular readers will know that my appreciation for this type of behavior is over the moon.

The Birchmere understands the two most critical rules of customer service:

  1. Communicate clearly with your customers and prospects (set expectations!)
  2. Deliver the exact experience that you communicated

Could it be any simpler than that? No, but it’s the rarest of companies that delivers even #1 (the easy one!), and you can count on one hand the number of companies that then deliver #2…

They started last night with H49. That meant that we would have a bit of a wait to be called, but it shouldn’t be too brutal. That was correct. H49-H99, then I00-I11. Roughly 15 minutes, I think. But, we were indoors, seated, and knew exactly when we would be called. More than acceptable.

When we got into the theater, we immediately liked what we saw. The layout was similar (with some very significant differences) to BB King in NYC. Lots of tables, most seating 12 people (some smaller tables as well). Nothing was left near the stage, but there was an empty table for 12 2/3’s of the way back on the left side of the stage, with what appeared to be a fantastic view of the stage. We grabbed the first two seats on either side of the table and settled in.

We ordered drinks and food (mostly comfort food, burgers, BBQ, chili, salads, etc.). Food was wonderful (I had the pulled pork BBQ sandwich with homemade chips and spicy coleslaw). Everyone liked their meal. Service was excellent.

I am pretty sure that the concert was sold out, but there was a seat or two empty, likely from people who ended up simply not showing up after buying their tickets. I tried to guess the number of people, and my guess was 600 tops, but definitely between 500-600. BB King seats 400, and this place seemed to seat more (not that it was larger, but BB King has the bar inside, where the space at the Birchmere was filled with tables).

The show started at exactly 7:30pm, as advertised. The band came out to wild applause, and began playing fairly quickly. They were instantly awesome. Five people on stage. I’ve covered two of them already (Dan and Barry Bales). From left-to-right, here were the remaining three players: Ron Stewart, Adam Steffey and Justin Moses.

Ron Stewart primarily played the banjo (amazingly), but also played a mean fiddle on a couple of tunes. Ron reminded me of poker superstar Daniel Negreanu, and I couldn’t get the image out of my mind of a poker-playing banjo player. Ron talked a bit, but never sang a single note. Ron is one of the best banjo players I have ever seen/heard. Bela Fleck is perhaps considered the best, and we’ve seen him, and perhaps he’s better, but Ron is close. We’ve also seen Ricky Skagg’s banjo player, and he won banjo player of the year six times.

Adam Steffey played the mandolin, brilliantly. He was also incredibly funny, reminding both Lois and me of Bill Engvall. He only sang on one song (lead!). He was great, with a very deep voice, but perfectly pitched. It was surprising to me (after hearing him) that he didn’t participate more in the vocals. Adam is one of the greatest mandolin players I’ve ever heard/seen. He is so clean it’s amazing. He’s fast too.

Unlike the Ron Stewart vs Bela Fleck comparison above though, I think that Chris Thile is even more incredible than Adam. That’s not to take anything away from Adam. It’s like comparing Tiger Woods to Phil Mickelson. Phil’s no slouch, and neither is Adam. 🙂

Justin Moses played the fiddle (mostly), but also played the banjo and the dobro. He was masterful on all three, but in particular, was amazing on the fiddle. He sang harmony all night with Dan and Barry, and hit a lot of high notes perfectly.

Steffey, Bales and TyminskiRon Stewart and Justin Moses

The five of them are all amazing talents individually, who blend together to form a perfect bluegrass band. I should mention that Dan sang his heart out all night. He is also an extraordinary guitarist, but last night, he gave 99% of the solos to the rest of the band, and only played lead guitar in two or three numbers, and those were short licks. He anchored the music with great rhythm guitar all night, along with Barry’s amazing bass playing.

As amazing as Union Station are (and they are truly amazing), many of Alison Krauss’ songs are very slow, and sometimes quiet. Talented musicians can shine on those numbers as well, but more up-tempo numbers give them more opportunity to show their wares.

Last night, there wasn’t a slow song in the bunch. Every single song had a driving beat (with no drum in sight!), with energy that had every person tapping their feet or swaying their heads, that had them sweating their little hearts out on stage. It was simply fabulous.

The crowd erupted into a standing ovation at the end of the show, and they played one song for an encore without leaving the stage in between.

I went up to one of the staff after the show and asked what the seating capacity was. 500, so I was correct on my estimation of the range. 🙂

After the show, Lois bought two DVDs (one by Ron Stewart and the other by Adam Steffey), and three CDs. None of these merch items are cheap, but it’s one of the most direct ways to support the artists, so we try to do it! Lois then stood in line (she was roughly 15th in a line that ended up getting very long!) and got all five of our goodies signed by the respective artist. Of course, since she’s so unselfish, she had each of them sign it To Hadar. Awwwwww, she’s so sweet. 🙂

Signature Party at Birchmere Theater

We had a fantastic time. We would go see the Dan Tyminski band or any of the individual members again in a heartbeat. We will definitely go again to the Birchmere. It won’t be hard to find a reason to go there, since they have top act after top act. For example, one week ago, David Bromberg and the Angel Band played there. Al Jarreau was there on Feb 12th (two days before we saw him in NYC). Acoustic Alchemy was there in early February (one of my all-time favorite groups) but we were in NY and couldn’t make that show.

Lois is Always Right

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OK, the title might be a slight exaggeration. In the 26 years that Lois and I have been together, I am reasonably sure that she’s been wrong at least once, perhaps even twice. 😉

Of course, being a man, I still argue (like a blithering idiot), until (yet again), she ends up being right. 🙁

I could set up a completely separate blog about this topic alone, and write a new story every single day, and never run out of content. Instead, I’ll just cover three very recent examples, and try not to let the length of this one post get too out of hand.

In our apartment, we have had horrendous problems over the years with clanging pipes. Randomly, 24 hours a day, you could hear one or a series of loud bangs, sounding like someone was banging on the pipes with a hammer. In the middle of the night, it wakes us up, and during the day, it makes Lois jump whenever it occurs.

About 18 months ago, after trying everything they could think of, the super tried the one last possible thing. They shut off the water and blew the air out of the pipes. Amazingly, the noise stopped completely!

Nine months ago, it began again, with a vengeance. We immediately told the super that the problem was back, and could be blow the pipes again. I’ll spare you the nine months of excuses, and sheer idiocy of his responses, but, he never did it. Most people would have given up. Lois isn’t most people.

She waged an escalating campaign with the management agent (which also led nowhere for months!), eventually reaching the owner of the management company. Finally, last Friday, they blew the air out of the pipes. Did the noise stop? You betcha. It is simply inconceivable that the same super who successfully solved this problem 18 months ago was so pigheaded this time around.

Second, Insurance. We received our annual homeowners insurance bill two weeks ago. When Lois saw the premium, which was up a small amount (again, as it is every year), she immediately called the company. She pointed out that we’ve had the house insured for 19 years, have never made a claim, and yet were watching our bills ratchet up dramatically.

Our original policy was with Geico, but in 1997 they exited the homeowners business, and automatically transfered us to Travelers, and we’ve been with them ever since. When the policy was transfered, it had risen by 33% in 9 years. In the next 10, under Travelers, it has risen an additional 33% (over the transfered premium!) so that it was now slightly more than double the original premium.

The representative that Lois got was not sympathetic. In fact, she was downright threatening. She told Lois that if she insisted on re-rating the policy, it could easily go up, perhaps way up, and that we’d be better off leaving things alone. She told that to the wrong person. 😉

After asking for a supervisor, and getting the same exact nonsense, Lois tasked me with doing some research. I was not happy about it.

To make a long story short, while I took care of everything, which I wasn’t happy about, Lois was really right. In the end, I signed up with Hartford yesterday, and my new premium is less than half of our Travelers premium, and is less than our original premium when we first insured the house! To add insult to injury, my new deductible is 20% of the one I had with Travelers. I could drop my new premium even further if I was willing to live with the old deductible.

Of course, I fought her along the way. At one point, I made the mistake of telling her that even if we could save money, it would likely be $200, and simply wasn’t worth the trouble. She enjoyed throwing that in my face yesterday, as the savings are not only dramatically more than that, but they are also annual, as in the gift that keeps on giving.

I got five quotes, and the worst one was cheaper than what Travelers was charging us. Just for yucks, Lois called Travelers yesterday (before we signed), to give them one last chance to do the right thing. They didn’t, and they’ve now lost a good customer.

Last one (for the moment). I reported here that we had bad dampers on our heating system. As a follow-up to that, I also reported here that we had bad service associated with replacing the dampers.

When Lois hears a noise, she can usually intuit whether something bad is about to happen or not. Of course, I argue every time that it’s just normal, even though it rarely is…

So, for the past two weeks, she has been complaining to me that every time our heat kicks in, there is a strange whistling noise, and when it shuts off, there is a thud. I heard the thud, but didn’t think it to be unusual.

Over my objections, she called the heating company and scheduled an appointment to check it out. That happened yesterday afternoon. The guy started out as unbelieving as me, and was borderline rude to Lois. Once he (finally) tuned in to her complete frustration with him, and to the fact the she wasn’t going to let him bully her with his attitude, he actually started paying attention to what she was saying.

Once he did that, he agreed to open up the heating ducts to check out the new dampers. Voila, he said they were installed incorrectly! He worked for over two hours, reinstalling them, and (shock, shock), no noises on startup and shutdown.

He told Lois that if it hadn’t been corrected, the motors would have likely burned out much sooner than normal, so it was a good thing that she called.

Even though he was rude to begin with, he took his job seriously, and apparently did it well. Lois tipped him quite generously. Of course, this shocked him, and he tried hard to refuse it. Again, she won. 😉

Is there a lesson here? Sure, Lois is always right! Have I learned that lesson? Of course not! Without a doubt, I’ll be arguing (probably shortly, even today) over whatever the next issue is. 😉

Rethinking Online Poker

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I started playing online poker in September 2004. It instantly became an obsession. For the first 10 months, I believe that I missed only one single day where I didn’t play.

I still play a ton, but it’s definitely well beyond the obsession stage. In the past year, I have gone two weeks in a row without playing a single game, at least a few times. That would have been unthinkable in the first year.

I enjoy it immensely. It’s great entertainment, distraction, escape, etc. I have come to accept the incredibly bad beats that I regularly experience with a clamness that I could never have predicted earlier, which I’m hoping is a sign of maturity with regard to the nature of the game.

It satisfies my inherent nature to gamble, without really being a gamble. First, I consistently make money (albeit a very tiny amount). But, even if I were to lose, that too would be a tiny amount, certainly less than I pay for our more regular entertainment (concerts, new TV’s, restaurants, etc.).

So, why am I rethinking online poker? For the first three years, the only real glitches that I had were connectivity problems, and on rare occasions, server overload problems. They were certainly frustrating, especially when it happened in the midst of a tournament that was otherwise going well, but they were understandable.

When the US passed the idiotic banking laws to try and thwart online gambling, most of the online poker sites that I had an account with turned away all US citizens. That included the site that I played on 95% of the time. I shifted 100% of my play to one site that was my second favorite anyway. For 14 months, I had virtually zero problems with them.

Now, for the past month, it has been one problem after another, all administrative, not table related. I have reported on a few of them. While they have made it right each and every time, I don’t feel like being ever vigilant about my account, and then chasing them down when I spot a problem, and waiting too patiently to hear back and eventually get it fixed.

There is enough mystery about the online experience, that trust has to be a big part of the proposition. This particular site is quickly losing my trust. In the past, reporting a problem typically yielded some sort of response within a few hours. Now, it can take days. Something is wrong.

As I reported recently, I had a credit (called Tournament Dollars or TDs) for an entry into the big Sunday tournament. Last night, I settled in and was ready to use that credit. At roughly 3:20pm, I tried to register for the 5pm start time, using the credit. The menu only allowed a cash entry fee. I double-checked my account, and indeed, the credit was there, just not available during the registration process. This had never happened before.

At 3:30pm, I used their highest level of customer support, a form which reports live play problems (presumably bringing much quicker help). It is now nearly 19 hours later, and I haven’t heard a peep from them.

I had promised myself that I would not pay the $215 entry to the weekly tourney. But, since I was settled in, and geared up to play, and believed that the site would eventually do the right thing (take away my credit, and put back the cash), I decided to pay the full freight entry fee last night for the first time.

1069 entrants, top 110 paid. I’ll spare you the details of the incredibly bad luck I had on my last hand, but I finished 471. I don’t care about the lost money (though the lost credit would have been nicer). I do care about the problems, and the lack of swift service.

So, what are my choices?

  1. Suck it up, ignore the problems (perhaps, even expect them), and continue on with this site.
  2. Move my money from this site to a new one (there are still a number of top sites that welcome US players).
  3. Take a break for a while (leaving the money in my account, so I can take it up again).
  4. Withdraw my money, and not think about online poker for a while.

I honestly have no idea what I’ll end up doing, but I’m seriously considering all of the above, for the first time in three years of nearly non-stop playing. If you have any insightful suggestions, feel free to leave them as comments here.