Sunday, July 30, 2006

The Good News/The Bad News

Well, the good news is that my partner found a job. It's a good job, and he likes the school, and the area even seems nice so far, even though it's a bit remote. He's taking a bit of a pay cut, but on the other hand, it's a real tenure track college teaching job, and he will not have to deal with the high school anymore. So that's a good thing. He's even got a house lined up to live in, and is moving soon.

The bad news? It's seven hours from where I am. And the nearest airport seems to be two hours away.

Well, that's a half-hour closer than we were for the last two years I guess. And if we just keep getting a half-hour closer every two years, we'll be living in the same town in just a scant 26 years.

It's important to have things to look forward to.

So this is where I live now

Having been here a little over a month, I have some feel for where I'm living, and there are some things to recommend it. During the time I've been up here, I have:
  • Been to a Greek festival.
  • Been to both gay bars. They are of course about the same as I expect; mostly loud and somewhat smoky, but they exist.
  • Met with the gay men's coffee group twice. This is more my speed. It also got me onto a bunch of e-mail lists about lesbian/gay/bi issues in the area.
  • Found good shopping within 20 minutes of my home, including the great supermarket. A passable local chain is within about a five to ten minute drive from my home.
  • Found good Chinese, Middle Eastern, Asian fusion, and Irish food, as well as a place with great deli-type food and a good pizza place which is quite close to my home. I've been told of good places for sushi, Italian, and French but haven't been yet.
  • Joined a local weekly "happy hour" organized by friends in the area, which also allowed me to meet lots of nice people.
  • Seen a play. ("Hush Up, Sweet Charlotte", which is a spoof of the movie Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte. It features the two female leads played by men in drag, and was fun, although I suspect I would have gotten more out of it if I were part of the cult following of the movie. The movie is sort of interesting too; Wikipedia describes it as being of the "psycho-biddy" genre.)
  • Seen a bit of Presque Isle in Erie, as part of the local natural wonder, yadda yadda. I included a picture earlier.
  • Visited an outlet mall about an hour south of here.
  • Found lots of furniture stores, but do not yet have furniture. I did finally order a recliner from one place, but it's not in stock and will take 45-60 days to arrive.
All things told, it's not been bad at all. Now I just have to see what happens when we get to the first snow fall, which I'm guessing must come around the end of August. With things currently hot and humid, I'm almost looking forward to this. (Yeah, right.) But I am spending a lot of time in the bedroom with the window AC unit. Blessed, blessed window unit.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

IKEA adventures

When I moved, I gave away about half my furniture. (Basically everything in my living and dining room. It was old furniture and low quality. Some may not have even survived another move.) So I've been doing lots of furniture shopping since I came.

I made a trek to the IKEA in Pittsburgh (about 110 miles) shortly after getting here to see what they had, since lots of people rave about them. I left mostly unimpressed, but decided they might be fine for bookshelves and something to put my TV on. I've spent a lot of time since then checking all the nearby regular furniture places.

But recently I decided I really needed to get some bookshelves so I could unpack my book boxes and clear space in my living room (possibly to accommodate a recliner I'm thinking about). So yesterday I set out on another IKEA trek, and a somewhat more focused one: I needed three large bookshelves, one small bookshelf, and (if I thought it would fit in my car) a TV stand/entertainment center of some sort. I measured my car in different configurations before I left to see if I could fit a six-foot bookshelf package, and found that I could just manage, with some contortion.

So I drove down, perused the store, and made some picks. I opted to try the in-store restaurant before heading downstairs to pick up boxes and pay. I decided I should try a dessert too, so I picked what I think they called an "apple berry pie", which was labeled as a traditional Swedish dessert. My first thought on trying it was "I guess this is why I don't think of Sweden as famous for its desserts." (But you know, with all the weird little wares and knick-knacks in the store, foods for sale, and a restaurant, all they really need is a boat ride and some fish-jugglers or something and we'd have a new Epcot World Showcase addition.)

The downstairs part of the store turned out to include a number of other small items that were interesting and which I missed last time, because I thought that the bottom floor included only the boxed versions of what was in the show room. So it was a nifty discovery of all sorts of plates, glasses, linens and other random stuff. Not that I wanted any, but nifty anyway. Then off to hunt for boxes.

The boxes must be chosen by what is essentially a serial number, matched to what is labeled on the shelf. Different colors of the same thing are denoted by different numbers, and you do have to be careful, because otherwise the color is not indicated on the box, and the arrangement is a little weird. With the bookshelves, I found it also required a lot of matching up precise dimensions; an assembled version of a bookshelf over a stack of boxes was not necessarily an indication of what was in the stack of boxes. And box sizes are no help. Large bookshelves are in very skinny boxes, just the height and width of one side of the bookshelf, which makes sense to me. However, the short bookshelf of the same width was in a wide flat box as wide as the assembled shelf.

After a few false starts, and much difficult lugging boxes onto and off of a cart (the store helpfully lists that the large bookshelf packages weigh 86 pounds!), I was almost set, when I realized that the large bookshelf (and box) was about 6'8", not 6' as I had thought. By this point, I was eyeing the cart with three heavier and longer packages than I thought, and wondering if these were going to fit. After a parking lot run, I decided I might get two plus the small shelf in, but probably not three large, so I left one (more lugging here) and checked out. After fighting with the self-checkout system (bar codes would not scan and it took me a while to figure out there were two different slots for debit and credit cards), I was out trying to fight these things into my car. (Much panting and sweating was involved.) Trying to reverse the process at home left me briefly wondering if I would have a permanent car bookshelf, but I eventually freed the danged thing and manage to lug everything inside, although I felt about half dead by this point. (And I still need at least one more trip at some point?)

After I cooled off for a bit (praise to any gods in earshot for that window AC in my bedroom), I opened up a box and found the assembly instructions. They are printed with little cartoons showing what to do instead of words. The first "instruction" (inside the box, remember) essentially translates to: "Don't be an idiot and try to move the box by yourself, it's too heavy; use two people to lift the box."

And they are tricksy, yes precious. When I was almost finished, I realized I had three extra pieces of wood which I wasn't going to use for anything. I think these must be what the company uses to fill in spaces in the box. Or maybe the shelves will fall apart on top of me after my AC falls out of the window; who knows.

So today everything on me is a little sore, but there are shelves up and many boxes are gone. And I'm seeing definite advantages to buying from a regular store with no assembly and which delivers the stuff to your home.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Joining the University

I'm getting there:
  • I have a complete fall schedule. I do not have to drive to one of the extension campuses (about 20 miles), to which I say: *whew!* No driving in the six feet of snow. I do have a course for math ed majors, which I'm looking forward to. I also have one course for math majors, which should be fun too. None of the courses are anything I've taught before, except that I taught a sort-of college algebra course the first time I taught, more than a decade ago.
  • I have books for my courses now, too, including all kinds of cool bonus materials. The elem ed course came with DVDs of sample lessons.
  • I have an office assigned. I do not yet have keys for the office, so I have to borrow the master key if I want to go in. I'm waiting for a key before I actually start moving stuff in.
  • I've had my benefits orientation, so I have tons of forms to fill out. I also have to set up new accounts with TIAA-CREF for my retirement accounts. To my great annoyance, I cannot combine the accounts I already have, which means that I will now have three accounts to manage. I also plan to set up a personal plan and deduct money to it, and since that cannot be combined either, I will have four different retirement accounts. If I change jobs a few more times, I can just see myself retiring with 37 separate accounts, each of which has less than twenty-thousand dollars in it.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The picture tour

I thought I'd include a few pictures showing some of the upsides of where I'm living.

Here's my backyard; i.e., the view from one of my back windows. All things considered, it could have been worse:

I still occasionally see cows out in one of the fields across the stream. This is cool. (Smelling the cows because the windows are open remains less cool.) I was going to take a shot outside of the front window to show how close the campus was, but there are too many trees in the way to be able to see it. No interior shots until I get some furniture, which may be a while.

Here's downtown, which is probably a five minute walk from my apartment:

I find this a relatively cool area. There is a heavily recommended pizza place (which has yet to impress me, unfortunately) and a Chinese-restaurant-in-a-box.*

There is also the fountain seen at right, which includes a plaque explaining how it had places for men, horses, and dogs to drink, and a description of all the places it got moved around over the years before it was re-installed here. I find this interesting, because I swear I've seen the same basic description on a fountain somewhere else (including that it was moved around a lot before being re-installed at some point.) I wonder if every town had a fountain someone made to include places for men, horses, and dogs to drink, or if there was one relatively wealthy dude with a horse, a dog, and a serious thirst traveling the country.

Here's a shot from Presque Isle, looking towards Erie:

Presque Isle is actually a peninsula, not an island, although apparently it was once an island, but sand buildup eventually connected it to Erie. You can now drive onto the "island" over what I guess is a sandbar underneath. Your guess is as good as mine as to whether this is a good idea or not, but it's a pretty area, and there are beaches.

* I'm positive there is a kit you can buy to make a Chinese-restaurant-in-a-box. When you open the box, you find: a pack of paper numbered menus (two sided) including "combination dinners" with an eggroll, a bunch of golf pencils to stick into a bowl of rice so that people can circle which order they want, a lightboard with bunch of faded pictures of menu items for sale to put up on it, a set of rectangular aluminum take-out boxes with clear plastic lids, fortune cookies, a refrigerator case full of soft drinks, and possibly a family to run your restaurant for you. (I'm not sure about the last one, but I think it's a good guess.) I think these appear using different names in just about every city in the United States, as far as I can tell. That they come as a kit seems the only likely explanation to me.

Saturday, July 15, 2006


I realized pretty quickly something I didn't think about doing when I moved: I forgot to update my "Do Not Call" registry information.

Telemarketers have apparently gotten desperate since then. I got about 8 calls in the first three days just from some stupid "magazine sweepstakes" trying to send me magazines. Plus a number of other calls.

One came early one morning, but I think I outsmarted them. After I woke up, I grabbed the phone and gave the obligatory "Hello?", and heard the sounds of a call center in the background. As usual, the telemarketer didn't bother to actually be listening to the line when I answered, so I opted to just stay silent instead of speaking again like usual. After a bit longer I think they decided the line was dead and hung up.

In any case, I'm back on the list. Unfortunately, it takes time for this to work, although the calls have slacked off a lot by now. Which leaves me with the question, "Why do we need to opt out of the system anyway?" If there's someone out there who truly wants to get calls about magazines, aluminum siding, credit cards, phone service, newspapers, pest control, great deals on earwax removal, and all the rest, let them sign up to the "Please call and harass the hell out of me" list. I suppose there might be someone almost terminally lonely who might do this. But leave everybody else alone. To be honest, I don't get the exemption for political and charitable causes. I don't want calls from these either. And it's not a free speech issue here; free speech does not include a guarantee that anyone else has to listen. I don't care how wonderful your cause to collect a million postcards for little Timmy is, I don't want to get phone calls about it. Send me a letter and I can toss it in the circular file with the rest of the junk mail at my own convenience.

I love hearing from people I actually know. I hate hearing from some stranger trying to manipulate me in to buying something or donating to their charity or supporting their political candidate.

Saturday, July 08, 2006


I'm in the process of getting auto insurance in PA, since Progressive is discontinuing my policy at the end of the month because I changed states. Apparently my policy is through an independent agent in Virginia, and they won't keep me if I move to Pennsylvania. However, Progressive's web site (which they push relentlessly) will not give me a quote (after having to look up 10 zillion things and enter them) because I'm already with Progressive, and hence have to use their website to change my options. None of the options includes getting a new policy in another state. I'm not feeling kindly inclined towards Progressive right now, although I am letting a local agent give me another quote.

The good news in any case is that the quotes I have so far (from Allstate and GEICO) are way, way below my rate in Virginia. Like less than half. I don't know why. As far as I can tell, I'm getting the same coverage, although perhaps it's affected by the fact that I'm not really commuting, since I live across the street from where I work now. Maybe Pennsylvania is just cheaper.

I'm also looking into flood insurance, oddly enough. I don't think it's really a major concern, but another professor who lives in this complex told me they were evacuated because of a flood concern once. (There had been tons of rain from a big hurricane season, and there was concern the dam at the lake would break and send water down the stream behind the apartment.) Nothing happened, but it did make me wonder. Especially since I'm shopping for new furniture now. I can just see spending a few thousand on a new sofa and finding it floating in my living room. (The same professor also told me they had been evacuated once for fire, but I knew about that before I moved here; the fire actually burned down my unit a few years back, which is why most of my stuff is new. They fixed the problem (wiring) so that shouldn't be a concern, although admittedly the sequence of fire and flood just does not seem an auspicious omen for one's domicile.)

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Happy Fourth

Happy July 4 to all.

I'm remembering having a lot of fun with sparklers and other home fireworks when I was growing up, I guess before those things were considered too dangerous. I also remember one year living someplace (I think in Houston) where we couldn't have real fireworks, so I attempted to make my own. I made my own confetti by coloring paper and cutting it into tiny squares, then loading this into small plastic bags. I imagined that when I threw the bags up in the air, they would "explode", showering down confetti like fireworks in the sky showered sparks.

I also made my own sparklers. Remember the plastic images, often part of cheap kids' toys, which appear to move when you turn them from side to side because there are different images that you see from different angles? I tried to duplicate the effect by coloring a piece of white paper with "sparks" in gold and silver, then folding lots of little 90 degree crinkles into the paper, making a bunch of little sharp hills and valleys, so that when you moved the paper back and forth it would look like the sparks were moving.

Neither of these things really turned out as I imagined, but I tried enthusiastically. I used to make a lot of things out of paper when I was little, come to think of it. I put paper turrets on my room once so I could live in a castle. Once, when someone came to visit downstairs while I was still in pajamas, I decided to make clothes out of paper. I made the front of a shirt and pants, carefully colored, and attached with loops of paper around my back. For some reason, I thought a hat was important too, so I made a vaguely pilgrim style hat with a buckle. (No, I did not normally wear a hat like that. But then the shirt I made had a picture of a sunny day with a rainbow on it, and I didn't have a shirt like that either.) I think I really thought that it would fool people into thinking I was wearing regular clothes.

In retrospect, I was a very odd child.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Overheard in a Wal-Mart Men's Room

As we join our hero, he stopped off at a Wal-Mart to make a pit-stop while he decides whether to eat out or go home after furniture shopping. A man with small child enters the room...
Child: There's a short one; I can do it myself!
Man: Ok, here... no, don't hang your ass out1... there... and don't touch it2, you'll get cooties.
Me: (begins to struggle against silent giggles)
(long pause)
Man: And don't pee on my foot.
Child: Sorry!
Me: (exits almost shaking, and wanders the floor for a few minutes chortling.)
1 Interestingly, the thing with pants and small children seems to be a theme. I can remember hearing a man chastising a small child in the stall of a rest stop on one of my driving trips this year: "What did you take your pants off for? Nobody takes off their pants to go potty in a public restroom, that's disgusting."

2 No, I don't know what "it" referred to, as I wasn't looking that direction, but I'm assuming he meant the urinal. If it was a different "it", then I understand why the child was having trouble with, uh, direction.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

I'm Official

I've got a Pennsylvania license and registration, and the title is on its way. I'm even registered to vote. (Plus I get to vote against Santorum now.) It could have been a lot worse, even though Pennsylvania is a little weird when it comes to car stuff.

First off, they have no DMV. Instead, they have independently licensed "Drivers License Centers" which issue licenses. But I found one, and sense the Department of Transportation web site told me what I needed, I got the license pretty quickly. However, you have to go elsewhere for registration and title. When I searched the DOT website, it told me the closest location where I could get a registration and title was in Harrisburg, over 200 miles away. Fortunately, friends let me know that what I needed to do was go to AAA. You're not reading that wrong; in Pennsylvania, you register your car through the auto club.

So I went to the AAA office. I asked somewhat hesitantly, expecting the woman to give me a funny look and ask "Are you nuts?", but instead she just waved a big stack of papers and said, "Yup. These are titles." She also told me that Pennsylvania is the only state to do registration and titles this way, and that it takes up so much time at the AAA offices that you must request TripTiks two weeks in advance. So I got my registration, and my new title is being sent. They've even improved services, as I didn't have to take my car to a garage to have the VIN verified. (For some reason, having a title and registration for a particular VIN from Virginia does not simply translate into a title and registration for the same VIN in Pennsylvania; they require someone to certify that you have a vehicle with that VIN. Fortunately, they had someone who could certify the VIN themselves.) AAA even recommended a garage where I could get my inspection, so I did that too.

Everything was taken care of in a few hours, so I don't have much complaint, but I really think Pennsylvania must be one of these states that's afraid of "big government" for some reason. I can't imagine any good reason to separate all the vehicle services and send them out to different private companies just to avoid having a DMV. On the other hand, I also have a letter from the electric company listing a batch of electricity producers, and providing a helpful list of questions to ask them all, so that I as the consumer can take over the job of deciding which producer is worth having. Thanks, folks.