Saturday, January 31, 2015

Of Mice and Cats

If you have never lived in a drought area, you might be surprised that one of the side effects is the attractiveness of your home to mice and other rodents. Yes, we live in a drought area.

We first became suspicious when our cats would sit very still in front of the refrigerator for 15 minutes at a time as if waiting for something to come out from underneath. But of course they could have also just been hoping we'd pull something out of the refrigerator to feed them.

St. Pauli Girl first noticed the mouse droppings in our pet food cabinet right before Christmas. We immediately went into the first stage of denial and assumed they had been there since before we moved in or the mice had gotten their fill of pet food and moved on.

A few days later, we were having happy hour at the kitchen table when I noticed a blur out of the corner of my eye. I looked around and chalked it up to an illusion. But then I saw the mouse scurrying across the kitchen floor and underneath the cabinets.

"I see the mouse," I whispered as I remained as still as possible. "It's under the cabinets and looking right at me."

St. Pauli Girl wanted to get closer to see, but I urged her to remain still as well. The mouse moved a few steps closer and looked at me again. I'm not sure why I waited for it to get closer. I doubted that I could dive on the floor and catch it.

The pet food cabinet had originally been the location of the kitchen sink when the house was built 50 years ago. So it had ventilation holes in the bottom of the cabinet that hung out over the floor. The mouse looked at me one last time then ran to the cabinet and climbed up inside through the ventilation hole.

"Ha! He's trapped," I shouted as I jumped up. "We've got him now!" I ran to the other room and grabbed one of our cats. "Dinner time," I told her.

I carried her to the kitchen and set her in front of the cabinet. I pulled the cabinet door open. "Go on, get the mouse!"

The cat just looked up at me as if to say, "why did you wake me from my deep sleep?"

She stood still, and if she smelled the mouse, she really didn't care. But then my plan backfired as our dogs, old Bo and puppy Bonny, saw the cat on the floor and immediately charged. They all took off running, screeching and barking to other parts of the house. We were on our own.

We pulled the various pet food containers out only to find an empty cabinet. There were more ventilation holes in back through which the mouse had probably gone back into the wall.

Now that we had an actual mouse sighting, we went from the denial stage to the hunting stage. We bought several mouse traps and placed them in strategic spots throughout the house. But three days later, the traps remained empty.

A few nights later, we sat at the kitchen table again when I once again saw the mouse creeping along the floor beneath the cabinets. This mouse was huge; he made Gus from the Cinderella movie look like Dolph Lundgren. Apparently he enjoyed our generous servings of pet food. He tried to climb up into the pet food cabinet and got stuck. But this time, the dogs were on it; I didn't even bother to wake up the cats.

Bonny immediately latched onto the mouse's tail and tried to pull it out, but the mouse put up a fierce resistance. After several minutes, the mouse finally came out of the hole in a desperate attempt to escape. But the resilient Bonny kept at it, grabbed the mouse in her mouth and appropriately carried it to the dining room.

We didn't want Bonny to dismember the mouse in the dining room so we encouraged her to take it outside. Big mistake. She lost her grip, and the mouse scurried away.

A few nights later, we were relaxing in front of the fire in our living room with Bo and Bonny sleeping at our feet. Our cats were sleeping somewhere far away, probably in the lushest chairs they could find.

Suddenly St. Pauli Girl yelled, "The mouse!" as it scurried out from behind a curtain.

Bo and Bonny jumped into action chasing the mouse back behind the curtain. But this time they would not be denied. The mouse darted about, but they kept after it. Finally, Bo, who is about 98 in human years, managed to grab the mouse in his mouth. Sensible Bo headed straight for the door where we let him outside to finish up the grisly business.

Later we hailed Bo the conquering hero while making sure we didn't make enough noise to wake up the cats. So apparently you don't have to teach an old dog new tricks which is great because you can't teach cats anything.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Flying on the Ground

We continue from the previous post with more "Great Moments in Customer Service."

Several years ago, I made it a personal policy that a trip must be more than 1000 miles before I will consider flying. It's not that I am afraid of flying; it's just that I have found a 1000 mile trip in a tiny car with no air conditioning, screaming kids, bald tires and tornado warnings is just as pleasant as a 1000 mile flight. Usually we even drive the 1200 miles to visit my family, but I found some cheap airfare for the holidays, and we decided to fly instead.

The travel experience went pretty well even though we could only fly within 120 miles of our destination and had to drive the rest of the way. The final leg of the journey home involved a short flight from Dallas-Fort Worth to our small paradise here in the Great Republic. As we sat on the plane and neared our departure time, the captain came on the intercom and said, "Well folks, we're all set to go. We're just waiting to get fueled up. I keep calling for the fuel truck, but no one is answering the phone."

Although ensuring planes get the necessary fuel would be considered the primary part of the job of the fuel truck operator, I decided I would shrug off this inconvenience. Everyone has a bad day now and then. Plus, we're already on the plane for the last leg of the journey, not much else could go wrong.

The fuel truck eventually showed up, and we departed maybe twenty minutes late. After a short flight, we touched down an hour later at our home airport.

"Isn't it nice we live so close to the airport now?" St. Pauli Girl asked. "We'll probably be home in ten minutes."

The plane taxied from the runway then stopped just short of the gate area. The captain's voice came over the intercom, "Well folks, there's another plane currently at our gate. He should be on his way shortly. We'll have to wait here a few more minutes."

Let's review our time dictionary:

If you say:                               I hear:
Just a second                          1 to 5 seconds
In a moment                           5 to 30 seconds
In a minute                             30 to 90 seconds
In a couple of minutes            1.5 to 2.5 minutes
In a few minutes                    2.5 to 3.5 minutes
In five minutes                       4.5 to 5.5 minutes
15 minutes                            Oh no
A long time                           I'll never hear from you again

Even if you don't totally agree with my chart, I think we can all agree that "a few minutes" is a lot less than "30 minutes" which is how long we waited for that plane to move. And this is a small airport. There are only eight gates of which only five are actually used. How hard could it be to go to another gate?

Finally, the plane started moving to the gate area. You could hear the entire cabin sigh in relief. The plane maneuvered toward an empty gate 8. Then suddenly, the plane did a complete 180 degree turn back to where we came from then stopped again. The captain's voice came on again, "Well folks, we're not quite there yet, we just had to move out of the way for another plane that just landed."

I watched in awe as the other plane pulled up to an empty gate. I could see passengers standing up, ready to disembark. About five minutes later, our plane started moving again. This time I could see a crew set up to guide our plane to a gate. We finally managed to get off the plane 45 minutes after having landed.

I went to retrieve the car while St. Pauli Girl waited in baggage claim for our lone bag. I pulled up to the baggage claim area only to find a long line of cars ahead of me. They were all idle and no one seemed to be exiting the terminal. Another twenty minutes passed with no sign of action. I tried to call St. Pauli Girl but she didn't answer. I noticed a few people with baggage come out of the terminal. I pulled out of the line of cars and decided to double park by the door. When I got there I saw St. Pauli Girl with no luggage. She reported our luggage hadn't come off the plane yet.

Turned out that our wonderful airline had only two people working that night. They had to load up the plane that we had been waiting to clear the gate and handle our plane after we parked. At the same time. I'm pretty sure those flights had been on the schedule for a few months. I'm pretty sure a smart cookie supervisor could have scheduled enough people or called in someone on fear of losing his/her job or death.

We eventually got our bag and made it home two hours after having landed. (Did I mention we live five minutes from the airport?) But to top it all off, we paid $25 for the expert handling of our luggage! I'm pretty sure I could have offered anyone in the terminal $20 to go retrieve our bag from the plane, and we'd have gotten it within five minutes.

So I've decided to update my policy: 1500 miles or less, we drive.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Carjacking Versus Valet Parking

Like a lot of people, we did some traveling over the holidays. That can only mean one thing: another episode of Great Moments in Customer Service!

One night, my brother and his wife treated the entire immediate family to dinner at an upscale steak house which we shall refer to as Ruth's Chris because that was the name of it. After a fantastic evening of great food, drink and cheer, we ambled to the parking lot where the alert valet had already brought our cars up. Except for one.

My brother and sister-in-law were the last to leave. As they looked around for their car, the valet mumbled something like, "I'm sorry. I can't find your keys."

Now I'm not an expert, but I would think that the most important thing they teach you in valet training is to always secure the keys. Sure, parking and retrieving the car are important, but really, the whole enterprise falls apart if you don't secure the keys. Instead, his training apparently consisted of:

A. How to burn rubber
B. How to fishtail the car in reverse into a parking space
C. How to jump curbs and do wheelies in SUVs.
D. Always remember to change the radio station to something awful and crank up the volume
E. Scour for loose change in the seats
F. If we have time, we'll teach you how to store the keys

You might think, "Yes, that was an unfortunate incident, but you just get the spare keys, and it's just a minor headache."

But it was much worse.

Imagine Monty Hall came into the parking lot during dinner to play "Let's Make a Deal" with the valet. Monty tells the valet, "I will let you pick any car on the lot, and you will give me the keys to that car. If by the end of the night, that car owner is still able to leave in a timely manner, I will give you what's behind door number three. If not, you get the goat behind door number two, and you're fired."

A smart valet would probably pick an older vehicle which perhaps he could get into with a coat hanger and then hotwire so the owner could eventually leave. Unfortunately, this valet picked my brother's car which was probably the worst possible choice because:

A. The car was very expensive
B. It had one of those new fangled computer programmed locks where you can't even insert the key in the door (much less a coat hanger)
C. The spare key was 400 miles away
D. My brother had to leave town the next morning (preferably in his own car)
E. My brother and sister-in-law are lawyers

After awhile, there wasn't much more the apologetic valet could do other than grovel. My brother approached the manager of the steak house to notify him of the incident. Having just spent a few grand on dinner, he thought maybe the manager of an upscale joint would send out some cooks and servers to search the parking lot for the missing key. But apparently upscale does not translate to this steak house's service. The manager responded more like the manner of service you could expect from an airline, the DMV, Leavenworth prison, or maybe North Korea.

The manager simply noted that the valet service was a contractor, and the restaurant had nothing to do with it. Sure that's all nice and legal, but you're pretty much admitting that one night you might have valet parking and the next night it just might be carjackers. You just never know.

My brother ended up with a rental car to drive home. They towed his car to the nearest dealership where it had to wait three days to get a new key properly programmed. Then the car had to be transported 400 miles to his home where it now happily resides once again.

On the bright side, I learned that you are not necessarily being cheap by avoiding valet parking, because apparently what goes on in a Ruth's Chris parking lot, stays in the parking lot. Unless it's your keys.