Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Remodel Hell - The Pain, The Pain

It’s time for the whining. This is the blog I knew I would write at the end. It’s almost the end. And I feel like whining about all the pain and suffering I went through during this remodel.

1. I reduced all of my clothing to a couple of pairs of everything. Undergarments, pants, shirts, socks. One pair of running shoes, one pair of black dress shoes, one pair of brown. And put all that into the dresser that was shoved into the living room. The rest was bagged up and thrown into a corner of the den. Hence, laundry was every other day.

2. Sleeping in the living room. There was no backboard, so my pillows kept falling off the bed. Because the hallway was encased in brown paper (and perhaps nails), I had to put on slippers every time I went to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

3. I had to get up at a specified time every morning, around 6:30 am, because the workers were going to show up. Unless I wanted to do my showering with workmen looking into the skylight, well, you get the picture. It was like a job, only I stayed at home and waited for the Invaders.

4. Everything became absolutely filthy over a period of time. Although the construction guys put up a zippered plastic envelope over the door leading to the construction zone, dust seeps out from the sawed timber. Thank goodness I decided early to dispose of the carpet, as it is unbelievably bad right now, covered in God-knows-what. Everything else in the house is covered with a fine veneer of dust as well. And because the workers used my deck as their “shop,” the finish is wiped off completely.

5. The front window vertical blinds were closed for two months because the bed headboard was stationed right in front of them. That provided privacy, for sure, but also made it dark in the living room for two full months. Depressing.

6. My old, make that “current”, bathroom was unavailable much of the time. They were either working on it, or using it (and the latter provided its own problems). There were times when I had to leave, quickly.

7. The lack of privacy, plain and simple.

The actual process of writing this blog has been immeasurably soothing. And I took a look at some of the other blogs involving the words "remodel hell", and found that I wasn't doing too badly. There was one woman whose blog was very funny, very true, who told us all what her typical remodel day was like. She was lucky to see her one construction guy for a couple of hours a day, and chronicled the ridiculosity of a guy who would show up whenever he felt like it, leave when he had to go to his son's school, leave for Home Depot after 10 minutes of work to pick up some nails, ad infinitum.

I feel very fortunate, first with my lack of knowledge that things came out so well, and second that I got an incredibly wonderful group of workers in Martinez Construction. At this point -- mind you, not everything is finished -- I would definitely recommend them, especially for the fool who doesn't know what she's doing.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Remodel Hell - Carpet, Carpet Everywhere

The Carpet Guy Cometh!

As Glenn and his compadres were finishing up, sawing off doors, etc., the carpet guy rolled up, right at 10 a.m. The rain hasn't shown up yet, but as he said, "I can smell it in the air."

Larry the Carpet Guy planted the roll of carpet in the doorway, in the only six-foot area I had left that wasn't going to be carpeted today. Today we're carpeting the construction zone; tomorrow, we're doing the living room.

He went through the rooms, tearing up the old, compressed padding with his machine, all the while Glenn and crew were finishing up and stashing detached doors in various niches.

We discovered three different hardwood floors underneath. The middle room, or office, is a beautiful red wood! Quite amazing. (I'm still having it carpeted, as I don't like the feel of hardwood floors on my bare feet.) After working for almost two hours, the carpet guy announced, "I didn't bring the tools to patch up problems, so I'm going back to the office. I'll be back in half an hour." He showed me where some pieces were missing from the floor in the bedroom.

So, here I am, kind of trapped in my office as I type this.
I can't go into the kitchen or the living room because of the big roll of carpet, brought inside to escape the rain, and his tools on the other side. So I can't wrap up those two eBay items I have to mail out. And I'm sorta worried about lunch as well, leftovers that are sitting in the 'fridge waiting for me. Well, they'll wait for half an hour more.

What do we have left? More carpet tomorrow. Three doors are unhinged and will have to be re-hung. One of the door's knobs will not lock (the new, lockable door onto the bedroom). The light in the bedroom is hooked up to the new electrical line, and that won't be hooked/charged up until the PG&E guy comes out. I noticed that the construction crew left the French door blinds off the doors when they trimmed them.

Larry had to leave early today, didn't finish up the middle room/office or hallway. He had an Astronomy final exam to take at Chabot. And he left the remaining carpet rolls in the living room, blocking the furniture that had to be moved into the newly carpeted bedroom. So, to help out, he and I moved the mattress, box springs and bed frame into the bedroom. That gave us room in the living room to move the carpet around as we needed.

And, sure enough, A & J showed up on schedule and moved the furniture into the bedroom in no time. I slept for the first time for two months in my newly carpeted bedroom, and liberally used the new bathroom.

Of course, there are two doors propped up in the bathroom, blocking the sink. There's no electricity in the bedroom. But I slept well.

Remodel Hell - Not Finished and No Carpet in Sight

My day outside began with having to move the garbage and recycle bins after two trucks and a car blocked them from the street. The workers were here: The last-minute race was on.

It's 9:30 am right now. No sign of carpet. And rain is looming, due to arrive (according to the KRON4 news station) within the hour. I almost wished I hadn't even tried to book the carpet today. Too much of a rush yesterday and today.

Jamie came over last night, and we went through the construction area with pen and paper, jotting down problems that would have to be addressed later. I have at least 20 items. One of them is that the middle room/office is not painted and shows it, and the walls seem worse for wear after all the heavy equipment was stored in there. There is no time to request paint and re-texturing now.

Most of the Martinez Construction guys have left, but one remains (Glenn, of course) to finish up. No one talks to me. They're just in a hurry to finish up, knowing, I imagine, that they'll be back next week to correct what was left undone.

Is the bloom off the remodel rose? No. Last night as I was waiting for Jamie to show up, I christened the new toilet. What a thrill!! Until I realized that it was so new I hadn't put toilet paper in...

Monday, December 19, 2005

Remodel Hell - To Rain or Not to Rain

I called the Carpet Lady this afternoon after checking with Ernie. She said, "Carpet's still on for tomorrow! Unless it rains..."

Rains? It's been raining for three days, on and off. Rain interferes with carpet laying? "Well, sure," said Mary. "You gotta cut it." I don't know what that means -- I mean, can't you cut it while you're laying it in two huge rooms? But these are the carpet Gods, and you don't mess with them. "Well, I guess we'll find out tomorrow," I said meekly, as I hung up.

Ernie was trying to get the guys to rush the finishing touches on the inside. "They just installed the last light," he remarked, which I figure must be the closet. "And they're working on the baseboard. So they should be finished today."

What about the fence? "Right, we will tackle that tomorrow, if that's okay with you. I figured the important thing was to get out of the house before the carpet shows up!" Indeed.

He also advised me to go through the house after everybody has left, make notes of what isn't done to my satisfaction, and let him know about it. Now's the last part before the very end.

"Oh, and I'll let you know about the shower door as soon I hear something." Oh, yes, probably the last piece to be installed.

Pray for no rain.

Remodel Hell: The Last Day Which Isn't the Last Day

I got back from my weekend trip to L.A., hoping everything would be done. It wasn't.

However, we're almost there. In my little self-guided tour on Sunday night, I discovered a toilet!! I have always thought to myself, I'll believe I have a new bathroom if there's a toilet in place. It looks great, and my greatest fear on the installation was, is it too big? Will the door clear the toilet bowl? Will the shower door, yet to be installed, clear the bowl? The bowl does clear the door, but the answer to the latter question is....I don't know yet. I think so. The markings on the floor are covered up by the linoleum.

The shower head is also installed -- notice how large it is! I thought I would try this, as the shower stall itself is rather large. And the shower control is in, which looks gorgeous! I wonder if the water works? I got some spurts of air pockets when I turned on water in the rest of the house (meaning, the plumber had been fooling with the water control since I left), but I don't dare try the shower, as there's no shower door, and I'm aware I shouldn't play until I talk to Glenn.

It's 9 am on Monday morning, and Glenn is hard at work -- alone, I think -- sawing away. I don't want to interrupt him while he's into heavy construction mode. I'm assuming he's building and installing shelves for the closet. When I looked last night, only a few shelves had been put in. There will be shelves on all three sides, with a bar for hanging clothes in the middle, straight in the back, when all is done with the closet. The light has not been installed in the closet.

There is still a lot to do, but all of it is small. After the shelves, the baseboards have to be put in. Some touch-ups. Some clean-up. That's about it. Oh, yes -- and I wonder if they're going to do something about the gate on the side of the house. The plan was to pour concrete for a new post and cut some off the gate itself, in order to increase access to the new electrical panel on the outside. Ernie may be thinking that they will leave that for the end. You know, get all the construction done on the inside so that carpet can be laid.

Carpet. Tomorrow. Gotta be ready for that!

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Remodel Hell - The Light Fixture Shuffle

Glenn showed up early per usual, accompanied about an hour later by his new helper. Today the theme is "The Fast and the Furious."

Today they worked on:
Patching the holes in the den wall.
Grouting the new tile in the old bathroom.
Painting the walls around the skylight in the old bathroom.
Putting in the new light in the office.
Putting in the complete sink.
Painting and hanging the three new doors (bathroom, closet, bedroom).

Also, the subcontractor came to install the shower wall made of faux marble. He asked me where I wanted the soap dish (which also holds a shampoo bottle, a really big size), and told me he thought it would be better off down at the end, away from the shower spigot. I agreed. He then cut a hole in the wall to accommodate the soap dish. And he was done within the hour.

Now, for the shower part, we're waiting on the doors to be cut, delivered, installed. Ernie said he'd tell me today when that will be. We're hoping for next week rather than the end of the month.

Glenn told me that tomorrow, they'll tackle a lot of the finish stuff. He then said, "Where's the light for the closet?" What light? Oh, my God. Here we go again.

So I went to the light fixture pile that has to go back to Costco for a refund, grabbed the smaller one and said, "Will this do?" He said, "Perfect!" He then told me how he will put up the shelves in the closet, in accordance with what I told him I wanted, which was a rod for hanging clothes, but mostly shelves for shirts.

And the plumber is due back tomorrow to hook up the shower and sink in the new bathroom. I'm not sure, but I believe the electrician will be making another trip in, too.

They're busy right now, doing the small, detailed stuff, cleaning up the marks on the white paint job, cleaning up. Soon, soon, I tell myself as I comb my hair in the reflection in the microwave. Soon, no more sleepless nights.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Remodel Hell - Just Swipe your First-Born in the Slot

Glenn very nicely gave me a little tour after last night's finish. We talked about light fixtures. He looked at both of them, the one for the bedroom and the one for the office, and said, "You're going to have other lights in there, right?" I thought, sure I will.

At 3:30 this morning, I awoke with a start. I have to get new lighting fixtures! Glenn was trying to tell me that neither one would throw off enough light. And obviously today is the time to do it, while there are these big gaps in the ceiling and the contruction workers are going to be installing them within the next few days. So, at 8 a.m. this morning, when Glenn and his new helper started working on the old bathroom, I headed out for Lowe's, 20 miles south in Union City. I've never shopped at Lowe's before, but I hoped it had more options in lighting fixtures than the two Home Depot's had.

Lowe's is better lit, better organized, cleaner than Home Depot. You still can't find anyone to help you. I figure that all of the fired workers from Home Depot and Lowe's are lining up at the state employment office as I type this. While I easily found the lighting section. I couldn't find that third light that I needed, the one that Glenn said would be a problem with the city inspector: a fluorescent light. I got the idea to look for lights that didn't have the usual G.E. 60-watt bulb in them. Finally, I saw 'way above eye level on a rack of about 20 options: two fluorescent lights! I chose the smaller one which holds three bulbs. It should look good AND give off a lot of light. Hopefully it won't look too big in the small bathroom.

And for the other two lights, we need more wattage, so I picked up sort-of track lighting that isn't, a Gorgonesque contraption with three heads coming out. The one for the bedroom has a white background, and the other one for the office has a chrome backing. If they fit, I think they'll do the trick.

I went to check out, and just like Home Depot, there was a line. None of the lines were very long, but I thought I'd try their Self Check-Out, which was conspicuously empty. I had done them at Home Depot, so the process couldn't be too difficult. I figured out how to scan the bar codes. But I couldn't guess what the machine wanted next. There was no mention of credit card, and yet that step, logically, would be next. Finally, one of the Lowe's helpers stepped up, took my credit card firmly in her hand and swiped it. "You're supposed to do this next. I don't know why it doesn't tell you to do that." Because working these machines is not self-evident! But there's no use in screaming. It's just part of the hassle that you take on when you do a remodel. I guess you just know that going in. (Or I should have.)

So I came home and put those lights in their proper rooms so Glenn and crew could find them when needed. The new guy was working on laying the white tile on the far wall in the old bathroom. This tile, of course, is where the old window used to be; it's currently the side of the new walk-in closet.

Glenn, I noticed, wasn't there when I arrived, but showed up soon afterwards. He informed me that my shower door had imploded for no reason -- this is the shower door, only about 5 years old and made of safety glass, that was in my current bathroom. "So I went out and got another one for you. It's on us. I'm just glad it didn't happen to you while you were in the shower." I thought it was very decent of them to buy me a new one, as the old one was obviously ready to self-destruct. How weird.

I'm glad Glenn was all right, that when the glass broke, it didn't catch some flesh. Two days ago, Jose took a chunk out of his left thumb by sawing the planks for the outside of the house. "A pound of flesh," I muttered as I saw the blood dried up below the large bandage. Jose continued to work that day, but couldn't use it. It was obvious to me that he was in a lot of pain. When he showed up at my house yesterday morning for work, Glenn sent him to see the doctor. Glenn carried on all day alone.

....which means that we are currently behind schedule and may not finish this week. Glenn hopes that, with another worker, promised to him by Ernie, he will be able to catch up. I look around me at all the work that remains to be done, and shake my head.

As long as it's all done by next Monday, before the carpet shows up...

BUT, I was VERY pleased to see that he and his helper got in all of the custom-cut tile in the bathroom (grout to be filled in later, I surmise), AND the brand new bathroom lights and bedroom light. The office light isn't up yet. Soon...

Monday, December 12, 2005

Remodel Hell - The Carpet Woman Cometh

I showed up this morning in front of Triple A Drapery promptly at 9:05 am. They had just opened and Mary was still getting settled when I opened the door. I dropped Jack's name (her husband), and Mary offered to help me after telling me Jack was at the dentist.

I had spent another sleepless night last night, wondering how furniture is going to get moved while the carpeting is getting installed, when would that happen and how -- well, you've read about that already. I wanted to do something about it today, get that settled if I could, at the beginning of our sixth and supposedly final week of construction.

At 7:45 that morning, I had conferred with Glenn, who was already there (he's usually there early), and got his measurements for the rooms being remodeled, including the walk-in closet. I then added on the hallway and living room with rough estimates from the tape measure. I took those in and Mary gave me a rough estimate per square foot: she told me to add about $1.25 to the price listed for the pad and installation labor. So after I did some simple math and discovered I was well within my budget for carpet, much to my delight, I looked at carpeting around $2.65 - $2.95 per yard and decided to go with nylon (vice polyester) with a short, comfortable pile. I went with a grayish-brown color. I wanted something a bit darker than what I currently have. I have a hard time discerning at this point, however, what color my current carpet really is, it's so dirty.

Mary came out promptly at 2 pm -- yes, the same day! -- measured to be sure, and gave me the real estimate. I gave her a deposit, and then we talked logistics. She suggested that we break up the installation into two days, which would give me time to move the furniture crammed into the living room back into the bedroom. Yes!! Just what Aaron had suggested! And when Jamie checked in with me later, he gave me a commitment to show up on Tuesday afternoon/night so that we could make this happen.

I won't know exactly what days installation will take place, though, as Mary advised me that the carpet is coming from the east coast and is supposed to be here by Friday. That gives us an extra day (Monday) to make sure it's available. And in my mind, that gives us an extra day in case Martinez Construction can't be finished by this Friday. As Glenn mentioned today when I checked in with him, he hopes they can be done, but he isn't sure. There seem to be a lot of loose ends, e.g., trim and baseboard that have to be reconstructed.

So, what's new today? I looove going in after the guys have left to see what's new, what's been added. They did almost all of the painting today -- yes, the right color, a real white -- and the bathroom has been painted a glorious glossy white. The bathroom window was open, and I can see into the neighbor's backyard. (Mental note to self: keep this window shut.) The new medicine cabinet is sitting in the recessed cavity built just for it, and I can see the mirror shining back at me! And the recessed lights in the new hallway are apparent.
Glenn told me that they will most likely put the shower tub marble facing in around Wednesday.

Lots to do, four more days to do it all. This is soo exciting!!

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Remodel Hell - One More Sleepless Night

I couldn't sleep tonight, so I figured I'd get up and blog my worries. Chase the demons away by writing them down, if possible.

I was driving to Emeryville on Friday morning to buy two ceiling lights for the demolition zone when I received a call on my cell phone from Ernie. "Can you write this down?" he said. Of course not, I replied. I'm driving. So I called him back when I reached Expo territory. I'm to see some guy at AAA Drapery about ordering the carpet for the new rooms. Unforunately, I couldn't get to it that day as I had an already-arranged lunch date with Aaron, plus a movie and dinner date with friend Bruce. So that's on my Monday list.

New carpet has to go into three rooms. Two of those rooms are in the demolition zone, so that's not a problem. Ernie believes we'll be all finished with construction by next Friday, only one week away. (There will still be the matter of the shower door to be installed, but I'll talk about that later.) It's the third room that's the problem. The third room is the living room, where all the bedroom furniture is piled. As you recall, that's where I'm sleeping these days.

So I must be excited, that must be what's keeping me awake, right? No. It's the logistics of moving furniture while carpet is being laid. How to move, where to move a large mattress, frame, headboard, dresser and end table, plus one large leather chair, plus 20 or so boxes that's sitting in the living room?

Aaron suggested I delay the carpet installation of the living room for one day so that he and brother Jim can move it all into the newly remodeled bedroom after carpet is put down in there. Then they can move what remains (basically the chair) back from the bedroom into the living room once it's done. I'll ask if that's possible.

Another thing to consider is that I'm going away to L.A. for three days, from Friday to Sunday, for that weekend. When I come back, I'll be moving right into get-ready-for-carpet mode.

Also, there's the matter of moving the heavy desk from my current office to my new, smaller office. It's been suggested by several smart people that I get rid of this desk and get something smaller, something more suitable for this newly revised room. But I love this Stanley desk with the blonde wood. I bought it just for the new house. It will be a pain to move, 'cause it was a pain to put in here. And the tall, massive bookcase sitting beside it matches. So I want to keep them both, if at all possible. Aaron thinks it won't be that much of a problem to move it -- I guess we'll see.

So that's what's keeping me awake. Oh, there's also the matter of the shower door for the new bathroom. Ernie called with the news earlier that morning -- the shower door will be have to be custom-made because of the unique dimensions of the shower stall, to the tune of $1700. Ouch!! However, when I asked how much a regular shower door would cost for the stall, the answer was only a few hundred dollars less. So I'm going with the rail-less door. It'll be gorgeous, simply gorgeous. Also, it'll take longer. They can't install until the end of December, two full weeks after construction is completely done. It'll be the last thing done, and the individual company will work with me to make arrangments for the install. I can live with that.

Oh, and on another change note, Glenn called me into the room after I got through talking with Ernie the first time (about the shower door) and said, "I think you'll want to look at this." The pueblo white paint I had ordered for the walls of the two remodeled rooms wasn't white at all -- it was a dismal looking off-white that tended toward yellow. Ick. I love that Glenn knew I wouldn't be happy with it, and called my attention to it before painting all the walls. So they'll take the paint cans back, get a refund, and try to get something a little more white, something closer to what the primer looks like. "I love the primer!" I said to Glenn and Jose, and they looked at me like, "Lady, it's the primer. You can't have that." I'm sure they can find a white that's closer to that color, though.

I think there will be a few more sleepless nights before all this is done. The next week will be a flurry of activity as the new bathroom begins to really look like a bathroom. That part is very exciting.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

How to Save Money at the Mouse House

I bought yet another book about Walt Disney World, this one promising to save money. Rather than reading that book tonight, I thought I'd post my own thoughts.

These suggestions are based on our last two trips to WDW. Plus, we're already in the planning stages for another trip, planned for 2006. We have to talk about that one because in order to save money, we bought annual passes for Rick and myself. We knew we'd be spending four days in October 2005 (we did and had a wonderful time - read my blog about WDW in the eye of the hurricane), plus another 10 days in May 2006. With all of those days, we knew we'd save money on an annual pass if timed correctly.

Disney World takes planning. With Disneyland, you walk right in, and you can always eat at Denny's across the street if you want to save money. WDW, however, is in the middle of hundreds of acres of land and water; driving outside the park takes time and effort. We only get in the car to change parks, or to leave at the end of the day. So, knowing that planning is all-important when visiting Disney World, here are my suggestions.

1. Do all the research you can. Decide which parks you're going to go to when, and write it down and post it in your resort room or suite. How does this save money? Don't buy a premium pass that includes the water parks, for instance, if you're not going to go there. We decided to just get the regular park hopper during our initial visit in 2004 -- we could visit all four parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom and MGM), go to any of them we wished at any time -- rather than the Premium Pass, a pass which includes visits to water parks, Disney Quest (that unique five-story building with nothing but games in it), and other extras in Downtown Disney. And buy a pass for the exact number of days you'll be there -- try to plan your trip with these number possibilities in mind, so you won't waste money on days you can't go.

If you do decide to visit something you had originally scratched off your list, pay for it separately. For instance, we went to Disney Quest for half a day -- it was raining and seemed a great thing to do for the teenager in our group, and it turned out to be a memorable experience. However, I'm sure we're not going back. Neither Rick nor I found that much about it to warrant a repeat visit.

And knowing where we wanted to END the day allowed us to park our car at the appropriate spot. Knowing, also, that you have to drive to Animal Kingdom and MGM (you can't take the monorail or ride a boat) meant that we had to plan our day more carefully when we were visiting those parks. But if we were going to visit Epcot every day because we were attending the Food and Wine Festival, as we did in October 2005, we could leave our car there, take the monorail after lunch to the Magic Kingdom, then ride the monorail back to the Epcot parking lot at the end of our long day.

It helps to have a Disney-phile among you. Ours is Rick. He reads everything about the parks (WDW and the original Disneyland) all the time, whether or not we plan to visit soon. He knows which rides are working when, which events are planned, etc. Our next visit will coincide, but not coincidentally, with a Star Wars weekend. Our last visit occurred during the Food and Wine Festival. Our 2005 Disneyland visit took place during the special 50th Anniversary.

Also, appoint someone to read the map and point the way for the driver. I drove around and around the freeways of Orlando until we could figure our way. Oh, by the way, if you buy the annual pass, you don't pay for parking -- figure that into your savings if you're there for enough days during the year to make it worth the purchase.

2. They say the best way to see Disney World is to stay in the park, that is, book a hotel that's part of the Disney system. But if you're on a budget, forget that. If you book "on property," as they call it, you pay a premium for hotels -- the upside here is that you can use their transportation system but the downside is you have to use their transportation system. It's slow and crowded during peak times. But you don't have to rent a car. BUT....if you can use a timeshare condo property that's within 10 miles of WDW, you save the most expensive part of the trip, the hotel stay, AND you can eat one or more meals in the condo because it has that all-important kitchen and refrigerator.

You don't have a timeshare? Find a friend who has one. I'm willing to bet that half of all timeshare owners have access to something in or around Orlando. Walt Disney World is the most sought-after vacation spot in the nation! Sure, it'll cost your friend some points, but I'm sure you can make it up to them somehow. Be sure to volunteer to pay the housekeeping fee, or any other administrative fee required.

3. Find a way to eat cheaply without giving up the Disney experience. During our 2004 stay with Brandon, my 15-year-old great nephew, we all ate cereal every morning. I figure that, over a 9-day stay, we saved about $200 right there. Plus, we had snacks late at night when we returned. We shopped at Publix, a large but cheap chain on International Drive on the day we flew in, took all the groceries back to the resort, and then headed out the next morning after eating a substantial breakfast. Eating well in the morning really cuts down on the hunger when you get to the parks. And buy a six-pack of water and take one with you every day.

Just so you know -- I love eating in the Disney restaurants. I think it's part of being there, experiencing Disney, even if it means going over the three-figure mark during dinner. But eating one full meal before you even go through the turnstiles is a great way to save money for the meals that are really important to the experience.

One closely-kept Disney secret: there's a special phone number to call to get the Dining Experience card that will give you 20% off specific Disney eating establishments, not all of them, but enough of them to make it really worth your while if you eat inside the park. The card is $50 for annual passholders and $75 for everyone else. Since it applies to many of the restaurants we eat at in the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and MGM, it's a fabulous deal for us. Allow 4 weeks for delivery, yada yada yada.

4. If you have kids along, give them a budget or allowance. I allotted Brandon $15 a day. I gave it to him every morning while he ate breakfast. Yeah, that cost me $15 x 7 days, but I figure if I'd been available for all of his requests for this or that, all day long, I'd have to file bankruptcy. This way, he could buy whatever he wanted and not ask me about it. I paid for his meals, as long as he was around me during meal times (he made sure he was).

5. Shop for cheap airfares during the year. Southwest doesn't have any schedules available until 3 months before, but the other airlines have up to 6 months. Use orbitz or travelocity to book, which compares fares and schedules so you can get exactly what you want. And sign up for their fare-searcher -- it alerts you when a lower fare comes up. You can usually find cheaper fares 'way before you go, or close to when you want to leave. It's hard to predict.

You should also book your rental car this way -- and you will need a car if you're not staying on property; just be sure to get a rental company that has a booth at the airport, not outside the airport. You can get some great deals on Florida rental cars.

6. Here's something you probably never thought of -- use American Express to pay for everything in the WDW parks. Disney loves American Express. If you get a cash-back card, you can charge all the meals you eat in the parks and yet get 2 or 3% back at the end of the year.

7. Sign up at and other cost-saving Disney World sites. Mouseforless, let me warn you, has about 100 messages a day! So sign up for their daily digest. You get one long message that way, but you can sift through these to find the cost-saving measures that people come up with. For instance, I learned to buy $2.50 plastic rain ponchos at Wal-Mart before I went; they came flat in plastic and packed very nicely in my suitcase. They saved us a lot, and we used them almost every day, as it rains a lot even in the summer in Florida. Mouseforless folks are Disneyphiles. They live to go. Take advantage of their knowledge. Another example: they talked about a Coke you can buy at the resorts -- it's a huge thing, but you can fill it up all day long for no extra cost, as long as you're staying at one of the Disney properties.

8. Get a meal certificate if you can, but be careful. I obtained one on eBay. The cert allows you to eat as much as you can -- it's an all-you-can eat allowance. It tells you which restaurants you can use it with, and I picked the restaurant at the entrance of Animal Kingdom, the Rainforest Cafe. It has a fantastic menu with fantastic prices, and I knew that if we pigged out, we could save money. My nephew Rick isn't a pig so I couldn't count on him, but I had a ready-to-eat teenager with us. Brandon and I plowed through the appetizers, the entrees, and split the massive Volcano at the end! Awesome! And we probably saved at least $20 even though I overspent a bit on the certificate.

9. Make reservations (they used to call them "priority seatings" but now I think they're back to reservations) at the Disney restaurants you want. If you don't, you'll be standing in front of the Liberty Bell Tavern for an hour or two with no other options for dinner except hamburgers. It's a waste of time, time you could be tearing down the freeway at 5 mph on the Autopia. Be sure to show up 15 minutes before your reservation with your entire party so that everything goes according to plan. By the way, the Liberty Bell Tavern is a character-meeting restaurant, even at dinner. You get a very American meal -- lots of turkey, ham and roast beef with potatoes and veggies -- as well as a kiss on top of the head by Minnie Mouse, the owner of the establishment. Well, that is, if she likes you. Watch out for Pluto, though. That tongue is looooong....

In May 2006 we're going for 10 days (9 actually in the parks). Rick and I are going again, hopefully with Rick's friend Joel. I know that Rick and Joel won't worry about the money. That's my responsibility. But I've now got it down to a science without living like a Scrooge.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Remodel Hell - A Light at the End of this Tunnel?

Ernie handed me the latest weekly bill yesterday, and I realized with a gulp that I had just gone over $30,000 on this project.

But it appears that we're nearing the end. When the bathroom has a toilet in it I will know this for sure, but this afternoon Glenn came over, stuck his head into my office and said, "Have you picked out your office light yet?" Uh we go again.

Glenn figures that the reduced middle room is going to be my office rather than the large bedroom-sized room I'm using now. He's probably right.

He then gave me a tour and gave me a rough guideline as to what will happen over the next few working days. Only one day is left in this week, and they'll finish applying the texture on all the walls. Then they'll start painting all the walls, including those in the closet, and they'll probably be finished with this phase on Monday. Tuesday, he believes the bathroom flooring will go in.

Decisions, decisions. Ernie asked me earlier by cell phone what I wanted my shower door to look like. "Do you want the railing at the top?" I asked for that in English. It seems I can get a shower door that doesn't fit into a track, and without that horrible looking rail at the top. Yes!! Glenn explained to me later that since my shower is an unusual shape -- the width and almost the length of a bathtub -- my door would have to be custom-made anyway. I'm eager to see what it will actually look like.

By the way, if you want a phone call -- you know, if you feel lonely one day and want to talk to people -- get into your car and start driving. I seem to get all kinds of calls as soon as start driving. I don't know what it is about the timing of that.

So I have to pick out a ceiling light within the next few days. Another light went on within my brain: I asked him if I could just put a light in my bedroom without the fan going back up. That fan is a horrible dark pink color, was installed, most likely, in the '70's, and is too big for the room. (Besides, I have an air conditioner in that room.) He said, sure. Too bad I didn't request a recessed light for that room; the two lights in the new hallway are recessed, are 6 inches, and throw a lot of light into that hallway! Okay, so I have two overhead lights to buy.

And then Glenn announced that the whole project will probably be finished by next Friday!!

Of course, I doubt that's true. The carpet is a different project tacked on top of the remodel. That won't be done. But we're so close! And then I'll have to move furniture. And write one or two more large checks. But then, I'll actually be able to live in my own newly renovated house. Woo-hoo!

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The Top 10 Things Retirement Isn't

I celebrated my two-year anniversary quietly at home the other day. I retired from 33 years of federal service on December 3rd, 2003.

What my life is now like is quite different from what I imagined it would be like. I had many mistaken ideas about how I would choose to spend the rest of my life. Here are some of the mostly funny mistaken ideas I had.

1. I would watch T.V. 24-7. In truth, I rarely watch television. I don’t channel surf any more. I don’t come home from 16 hours of painful Baggage, sit in a chair, throw off my shoes and jump into T.V. to “zone” out. I have no need. I DVR what I like to watch, and watch only that when I have the time.

2. I would travel for weeks at a time to exotic locations, or just to visit friends, or on long road trips through mountain passages. Truth is, I get nervous if I’m away from home for more than four days. Part of my part-time job, an important part, is picking up the mail, and it never fails that that one important letter that has to be acted upon immediately arrives when I’m on vacation somewhere. As for exotic, well, I’ve been to some really cool places in the last two years. As soon as I retired, I took three trips within the next 30 days, including Oregon, Hawaii, and Mexico. Since then, I’ve been to Orlando (twice), Missouri, Las Vegas (let me count the ways), San Diego, Los Angeles (many times), Phoenix, Seattle, Germany, and Italy. But the truth is, since my home is really changing into what I want it to be, I really like being home.

3. I would sit in my garden and read all the novels I couldn’t get to when I was working. Trouble is, I lost any patience for lounging around during those years. I lost my attention span. It’s now equal to that of an ant. I look at the books but then turn to magazines, the internet, information at my fingertips – fast, fast, fast!! Sinking into a novel just ain’t appealing any more. There are the exceptions, however, as I’ve enjoyed Memoirs of a Geisha and the Harry Potter books tremendously.

4. I planned my retirement finances meticulously, taking every advantage along the way in order to ensure a stress-free financially secure retirement. Here’s another truth: I didn’t do enough. In the last two years, I’ve done what I can to correct what I didn’t do in the last 30, which is save, save, save. You can’t really recover from the years you bought those Air Supply records and clothes you can no longer fit into (if you’d even want to). Because of what my father taught me about the advantages of civil service, I maximized my 401K (when it eventually became available in 1986) and took advantage of any IRAs possible. But I simply didn’t save enough. The best scenario would’ve been to have a house that was paid off, and a hefty bank account. Instead, I had just purchased my first single-family home a few years before; there was no chance I could pay off the mortgage. At least all my credit card bills were paid when I entered retirement.

5. I would live simply and not have many expenses. I have to laugh out loud at this one. While I don’t have any recurring credit card bills, I have credit card bills at the end of every month. My travel takes care of that. I hope to work on that one, reduce travel and living expenses in order to save more, concentrate on the projects that cost more. You know, like remodeling.

6. I’d spend all day at the baseball park. I have two parks to choose from! Plus, many more out there, all the National and American League parks out there I’ve never visited! I used to tell people it was my goal to visit them all. It is no longer my goal, but there are certain ones I’d like to see, like Wrigley Field and Fenway. Yankee Stadium. In the meantime, I figured I’d spend most of my days at Oakland or San Francisco ballparks. I’ve discovered that I’m kind of a baby about it. If it’s too hot or too cold, I’d rather watch it on television. And please, networks, broadcast more A’s games!!!

7. I’d see more stage plays. I’ve seen too many stage plays that are costly but demand very little in intellectual exercise. I.e., they’re not worth the money. I have seen very little, I must admit, in the last two years. I would still like to visit Ashland, Oregon and their Shakespeare Festival. And there are some ACT plays in SF I wouldn’t mind seeing, on a play-by-play basis, not by subscription. But it appears I will be doing those alone, and although I don’t mind sitting through something alone, I hate *going alone, and usually find myself staring at an expensive ticket and staying home. Another way to do this, though, is to see some plays with friends in Los Angeles. Pam and Trish go to plays frequently, and I might join them for a couple.

8. I would see more people from work, people whose company I have really enjoyed. Stay connected to my old job and its mission. Well, while I still occasionally make the verbal slip and say “we” when I mention CBP, I am no longer in its plans, nor is it in mine. And many of those people, I have discovered sadly, were kind to me because they had to be. So I am seeing the real ones who have stayed my friends. I’m sorry that a few others have slipped through the proverbial cracks. I also have to remember that while I have time because I’m retired, they do not because they are not. And time is precious to us all.

9. I will get myself into shape. I did, and then I didn’t. Meaning, I lost weight and exercised, and now I’m slipping into that weight-gaining abyss. But I can see the tracks, I want that goal, and I am promising myself that I am going to run to it. Just as soon as I finish these cookies on my desk.

10. I would discover the true meaning of life. This, I am discovering, is not a one-time happening, a light shining down from above, an old man in a throne yelling at me with a megaphone saying, “Linda, wake the hell up!” While I am waking up, thank you, it’s a slow process. An enlightening one. And I am enjoying it to pieces. I cannot stress this enough. I am brought to tears every morning when I wake up and say to myself: I am retired. It's only been two years. I am just beginning to realize -- with thrills charging up and down my spine! -- that I can do anything I want with my remaining years. This is my life. Get out of the way.

Remodel Hell - Boot Black in the Bathtub

I talked to Ernie this morning. "Ernie," I said, trying not to sound like the typical whining client stuck in Remodel Hell. "My bathtub is trashed every day. There's dirt in it every day, and yesterday there was boot black." "Boot black?" he said, dumbstruck. "I'll get back to you."

Turns out it wasn't black from the workers' shoes, it was rubber stains from the ladder they placed in the tub. Today, they put a tarp down in the tub before crawling into it. What a concept, eh? Cover it up and don't trod on the porcelain. This was all done when putting in the structure around the new skylight in the existing bathroom.

That's my current bathroom, which means it's unusable again today. Obviously, I'm going to have to leave soon...

So what is today's problem? The electrical inspector noted that the side gate (to the south) interferes with the new electrical box on that side of the building. So Ernie suggested that they re-post the gate, which would lower it about a foot. They also may have to shorten it. They'll dig a post hole, fill it with concrete, saw down the fence, and re-position the gate. Oh, and the inspector also wanted the hedge trimmed. Ernie had to laugh at that. I didn't laugh....I see dollar signs.

Glenn also pointed out to me where the new electrical wires above the den reach out to the sky, connected to nothing. They will soon be connected to the existing power line, but only when PG&E calls Ernie back. Both the inspector and PG&E rep have to be on-site together when the wires are connected to the existing line.

My neighbor to the north, Mike, said he knew I was up to a remodel by the vents on his side of my building. I told him what I was trying to do, and apologized for telling him so late. He admitted that he's thinking of adding on as well, but his addition would be another room added on to the back of the house. But that would only happen when he finished working on other projects within the home.

Finally I can see signs of a bathroom! The vanity is loosely placed in the new bathroom. Sheetrock is up in both bathroom and closet. Ernie tells me things will really start to take shape by Dec. 15th, when they place the faux marble up in the shower area and lay the linoleum. That's another week from now.

I told him what I wanted regarding the shower glass. He laughed and said, "That's the last thing we put in. We don't want it to break!"

But that's when I'll feel that I have another bathroom, when the thing has finally come together. Soon.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Remodel Hell - Brrrrrrr

We got the word today that the City of Oakland "lost" our request for the inspector, so we're at the end of the queue, which means Friday -- two days from today.

That means that walls that are exposed will stay exposed, as they've been for about a week now. Martinez workers can't close them up until the inspector takes a look and approves of the work.

And that also means that it's cold. I don't see any sense turning on the heat for half a house. The vents to the heating system will still heat up the other half that's under construction, at least for those vents still hooked up. Plus, because of the lack of insulation, the heat just climbs up, and keeps on climbing, past the walls, past the roof.

So, I keep the heat on 61 degrees at night, and completely off when the workers have the house open. I have a small space heater in my office, which is where I spend most of my time during the day when the pounding is going on around me.

In the meantime, Glenn and his helper are working on putting what siding they've got on the outside of the new walk-in closet. They also have a few other things they can work on while we wait for Friday, like putting on the door that previously didn't fit, adding insulation.

It's cool in here. Winter's here, I can tell. It's going to rain again tonight. Just one more edge to Remodel Hell.

Remodel Hell - Week 3

The workers-who-do-not-carpool did not descend upon the house yesterday. They took a day off in the rain. Well, Ernie didn't take a day off -- he had to spend half a day at the City of Oakland. He had already spent several hours seeking a permit for the new electrical work, but their online system was down for three days over the holiday weekend, extending into the Monday after. Ernie told me, "Actually, I think they're all at a holiday party..."

Speaking of electricians, I was thankful that he spent Thanksgiving weekend working all alone in my house, putting in a whole new line and new box. I was gone the entire time, at our Thanksgiving in Santa Cruz. What I am not thankful for, however, are the huge holes he created in two walls in my den. (There are FOUR new holes -- the photo only shows two.) My den was one of the few rooms I had left in the house, that wasn't supposed to be touched by construction. Ernie came in later to look for the new box (it was outside, added to the wall on the southern side), and told me his workers would pave over those new holes.

So, what's new? Glenn and his helper put in insulation last week. But they couldn't close any walls because of the impending inspection. A new bathroom window was put in, however -- this is the window that was supposed to be larger, supposed to be double-paned.
However, when they got ready to carve the hole, Martinez workers discovered that two-by-fours were in the way, and to create the larger hole would change the facade of that side of the house. And they don't make a double-paned window this new size. So, I decided the smaller size was "cute," and the new bathroom window is in.

Still no shower stall or fixtures, of course. We're beginning the start of Week 4 today, and things will really fly, I think, once the electrical and construction is approved by the inspector today.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Let me Stuff that 12' Roll of Linoleum into your Car

The foreman for the project showed up one morning, gave me an invoice that called for a big check, and asked, “So, when are you having the stuff delivered?” “Stuff” referred to bathroom stuff: a vanity, medicine cabinet, sink, light, faucets, shower spigot. Stuff.

This was a surprise to me. I took great care not to read the contract carefully so that I wouldn’t find these surprises. Right, it wasn’t specified. He explained to me that if I bought the stuff, they wouldn’t add a 20% surcharge to the items, you know, for driving down to Home Depot, picking them out, delivery. If I did this amount of work, I could pick it all out and save myself some money.

Contractors must make assumptions about their home owners. (1) They love to shop. (2) They love picking out colors, materials. They just loooove the touch of that nickel-plated finish on the faucet. (3) They all own pick-up trucks to transport the stuff. And last, (4) They know their way around Home Depot.

Um, strike all four of those in my case. I really wish I had these skills. I have other skills (you’ll have to trust me here), but I’m not a maintenance technician, I’m not even a shopper. I’m not your stereotypical woman who loves colors and textures. I like function. Function -- like hire a contractor and they will do all of this work.

So, despite my fears and misgivings, I found myself at Home Depot one afternoon, pushing an empty cart. I went down my list. The shower valves were the hardest. The foreman told me that I had to get the scald protected faucet for the shower. I saw a lot of other language like “temperature protection,” but I wasn’t sure that would satisfy the inspector. I looked and looked at the 40 or so choices, and only about 5 mentioned the anti-scald language. So I finally picked one from those choices.

Shower bars. Not much of a choice, and nothing matched. I finally settled for one chrome two-foot bar (but couldn’t find a matching 18-inch bar).

I added in a faucet for the sink. I found a medicine cabinet (I sure hope it fits) that had a mirror surrounded by white wood. And then I located a vanity cabinet that matched the medicine cabinet in looks – I jotted down the number so that the foreman could pick it up later (it wouldn’t fit into my car, I was sure). I even found a little tiny robe hook and added that to my basket.

The light, however, was another difficult choice. I found what I wanted, with drooping lights coming out of it, but the kits were hidden behind a piece of Home Depot equipment, and I couldn’t get my hand through to grab one. I found a HD assistant, and he said, “I’m off work. See that other guy over there,” who was headed in the opposite direction. So I settled for the same type of light fixture that’s in my other bathroom – it was within easy reach.

I delivered all of this to the house. The foreman advised me a day later, though, that the vanity would not fit into the space in the small bathroom. But he promised to pick out something similar.

A week later, as I’m heading out the door, the foreman asks me when I'm going to pick up the linoleum. Linoleum? My God.

I went back to Home Depot, and after spending an hour there, I ran screaming from the place. I did learn, though, that linoleum is also called “plastic vinyl siding.” And that a 12-foot roll will not fit into an Acura. And that Home Depot people hate customers.

So, the next day I went to a more local shop, Anderson Carpeting and Floor whatever, and found someone who could actually answer questions and smile while doing it. He told me the differences between linoleum and plastic vinyl flooring, differences too numerous to list here. But as soon as I heard the words “cheap” and “just as good except that vinyl only lasts about 10 years,” I picked out a nice gray pattern and asked how I was going to get it home. I heard the magic words: We Deliver.

Hallelujah! It’s a religious experience, but more having to do with the seven layers of Purgatory than with Paradise. Please, please, tell me there’s no more shopping on this job!!

2 Bathrooms, 0 Available

My remodel will produce an additional bathroom, right off the master bedroom. Sweet, huh? Except that it’s not ready yet. And yesterday they started taking down the ceiling of the old bathroom, my only bathroom, to install the new skylight, making the bathroom unusable. It’s Starbucks time! Every day.

Why do four men have to bring four trucks? Can’t they carpool? Dan Martinez’ construction crew is very industrious, they know what they’re doing, and they seem to have great leadership. I mean, it’s only two weeks into the project, but despite all the daily problems, things are coming along nicely.

So, in week #3, where are we? The bathroom is framed, the electrical and plumbing connections visible. Today the shower pan appeared, and fit in perfectly. There are two lights in the passageway, between the bathroom and the walk-in closet – they’re already there – and I can see the wires which will lead to the two lights in the bathroom. As of this afternoon, the closet has a back, so there is now no need to apply plywood every night to the opening.

In my old bathroom, there is a big ‘ol hole in the ceiling. This doesn’t look pretty. The foreman hasn’t talked about it, so I assume this is a natural look for a skylight, or the beginning of one. This grand old tile that was in the bathroom has been torn up, which bothers me a bit. As the foreman and I have discussed, there will be no way they can match it, but we’ll see how it goes. He’ll show me samples tomorrow. I believe what will happen is that I will make the decision to leave all the tile on this re-created wall white without the blue triangular pieces that make up the band. I think that will be best.

I did get some bad news today. The electrical inspector pointed out that we will have to upgrade my electrical system from 60 watts to 100 watts. I actually don’t view this as bad news. I am probably using close to that now, and I’d like to be able to ramp up my usage if necessary. And it seems like a safer choice. The electrician is around, I have a contractor – just do it. Extra expense, to be sure, and an added couple of days onto the end of the project. But necessary.

So there’s a lot going on. I’m sleeping in the living room. I can’t use the bathroom between 8 am – 5 pm. I’m not sure how the electrical upgrade is going to affect the electricity throughout the house – meaning, will I lose electricity on some nights during construction? We progress one step, we fall back two…

Saturday, November 12, 2005

I Love the Sound of Buzzsaws in the Morning

The new smell of wood. The fact that every day -- every day! -- there's something new to look at, experience, envision. Visualization is much easier when there's a two-by-four or two framing the bathroom. It's positively exhilarating!

The sound of buzzsaws overtaking the morning news on KRON 4. Microfibers of wood covering all the clothes and furniture in the house. The constant surprises when crowbars expose raw framework.

Okay. It's not all good.

Remodeling, however, to me is the beginning of something new. My house will be what I always dreamed it would be (even though this is about the 4th stage of remodeling). But it's more than that.

It's also that I'm not spending money on all the small obsessions (?) I've had in the past. What I like to call the "QVC fetish." Whatever is new. Books I don't read. Collectibles I don't enjoy. Cookware I don't cook with. Maybe even clothes I don't wear. This feels healthier. Although I guess there are some who take even this to the extreme, continuing to remodel until their credit cards are beyond being maxed out.

But I know that's not going to happen with me. For one thing, those checks I have to write are just too large. And sleeping in the living room is getting really old.

It's only been three days on this project. But I love it.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Meet Ozark Dan in Branson

My nephew Rick and I flew to Branson, Missouri, in October 2005. We would spend 3 nights there and then go on for 4 nights in Orlando and Disney World.

The big purpose for visiting Branson was to see Petula Clark perform with Andy Williams in his Moon River Theatre there. The real reason was to celebrate my birthday.

I have seen Petula perform in concert twice. Once was in 1967, when I was a freshman at San Diego State College (later University), and a fellow student, a music major no less, took me to see the Downtown star sing an incredible range of songs in downtown San Diego. The next time I saw her was 10 years later, in 1977, in Reno, Nevada. I was stationed in the U.S. Navy at Fallon, 70 miles east of there, and drove the hour to see her perform at the Sparks casino.

I’ve seen her in her on-the-road plays Blood Brothers and Sunset Boulevard, and once at an AIDS benefit in San Francisco – she performed 4 songs. But I ached to see her again in person. I had my chance when she signed with Andy to do 6 weeks, one stint in the spring and one in the fall. We bought tickets to two performances in Branson, two out of the three nights we would be there.

Andy Williams came on first, and I must say, he looked so fragile. Andy is 77 years old. From the fourth row, we could see he appeared gaunt in the face, but spry, dancing to every tune he sang. His voice was in fine shape, and while it didn’t have the same mellifluous sound I remembered from his sixties television show, it was firm and could hit most of the high notes. He performed an hour, then we had a small break, and then Petula came on. Then they came back together and did a good 20 minutes together, doing a comedy bit and singing songs.

Petula looked marvelous, dressed differently in long, flowing gowns each night, and seemed genuinely touched by the audience’s fawning appreciation for her gift. Her voice has witnessed the ravages of time, of course, as she will be 73 next month. She performed several hits, mostly Tony Hatch-composed songs, but also added in some of her own compositions.
While we were in Branson for that one musical purpose, we had a lot of time to kill on the way. At Rick’s suggestion, we drove around Branson, admiring the lush, green scenery of the Ozark mountains. And we came across a character or two.

I like to shop for souvenirs when I go to a new town – I know, call it a vice – and so we wandered into the Dickens Gift Shoppe, a monstrous building right on the main street of Branson, 76 Hwy, and found it filled with….shall I say it?….worthless crap.

But wandering through this warehouse of WC, we found a tall man wearing a cowboy outfit stretched over his bulging stomach, a tall Stetson hat, boots, and a six-gun. He seemed to belong to the store, and engaged us in conversation like a world-weary soldier hungry for conversation.

We got to know a little about Ozark Dan, as he introduced himself. Ozark Dan told us his wife’s family owned the store, and it looked like his chief task was keeping track (and guarding) the firearms and knives on display in the back of the store. They weren’t real firearms, he explained; each was equipped with the obligatory orange cap on the barrel, and each shot pellets. The knives, however, looked real enough.

His family took him to San Francisco once, and all he remembers about the place was their visit to Alcatraz. It’s a strange way to remember arguably the most beautiful city in the world, you must admit. And his father’s claim to fame was seeing Al Capone lie in state at the mortuary at which Dan's father worked.

Dan told us that his pistol was real but that it was empty. But he proudly told us he’s a member of the SASS, the national Single Action Shooter’s Society, and his badge (which I had mistaken for a real sheriff’s badge) displayed his membership number and was pinned on his chest. He was friendly but not smarmy, and a real pleasure to meet. We had at last seen a real piece of Branson. As opposed to thousands of tourists, just like us, lined up in their cars on the 76 Hwy. A real pleasure, Ozark Dan.

“Let’s All Sing Happy Birthday to Linda on the Jungle Cruise!”

We arrived in Orlando in the beginning of a hurricane.

Hurricane Wilma was timed to slam into the southern portion of Florida at 6 am the next day. 12 hours earlier, we drove onto International Drive, and immediately went looking for food.

The brochures in the resort told us to expect power outages and water shortages. I hadn’t planned on that, so…

Armed with peanut butter, jelly, and wine and Coke, we holed up in our suite on the 5th floor about 10 miles south of Orlando, and went to sleep.

Hurricane Wilma’s outside winds reached us, as predicted, early in the morning. When we awakened at about 8 am, we saw trees almost doubled over outside. However, the winds didn’t seem that harsh, maybe reaching 60 mph, and the rain not that torrential.

After one power outage, the T.V. came on at 2 pm on Monday to tell us that the Disney parks had opened. By then the rain had quit and the wind died down to a strong breeze. The temperature had dropped about 15 degrees. So we drove over to Epcot to begin our delayed WDW start.

Every day we would start out at a different park but always end up at Epcot for lunch. This period of the year is the scheduled Food and Wine Festival, and we would start at one end of the World Showcase and eat our way to the other. There were approximately 20 small temporary booths placed between Mexico and Canada, with small tastings for about $3 each. There were even more wine booths, and with each tasting would come the eventual pairing. However, some were a bit unusual: Gewurtztraminer with Chinese pot stickers? Don’t the Chinese have their own wines?

This was the continuation of my birthday celebration, my 57th. When we got our annual passes at Epcot, I got my first “happy birthday!” and a badge that said it was my birthday. From then on, I counted the birthday wishes. Most of the birthday greetings were from cast members, who knew what to look for, but a few came from visitors just like us. It became a game, counting the birthday greetings.

For the two days I wore the badge, I received 31. What a wonderful way to celebrate! Plus, I received a Mickey Mouse birthday card, signed by all the restaurant cast members, from the Rose and Crown Pub (located in England, of course, in the World Showcase at Epcot).

I think the best greeting, however, occurred when we were stuck on the Jungle Cruise at the Magic Kingdom. We were waiting to get to the dock (“pier pressure,” claimed our over-zealous cast member, the pilot of the boat), and waiting and waiting. Finally he asked if anyone onboard had a birthday this month. I was the only one who raised her hand, and he asked my name. “Let’s all sing happy birthday to Linda!” And they did, all in the middle of this skanky water in the middle of Adventureland in Walt Disney World. Quite memorable.

I also have a story about being kissed on top of the head by Minnie Mouse, who made smacking noises as she did it, but that’s another story…

Monday, October 17, 2005

Squeeze Is the Operative Word

I picked up my cell phone at the Imaging Center and said “Hello” with a question mark. It was Pam. She was calling me about my mailing address. I said, “This may not be the best time to talk, as I’m in the middle of a mammogram." She laughed.

It really was kind of funny. I was sitting there with the gown loosely draped across my shoulders, waiting for the technician to come back and tell me whether the mammogram was okay or not.

The tech had some difficulty getting my right breast to behave, as it were. “It’s difficult with this new machine, and I have to admit it’s not automatic for me,” she said as she fussed about. I instantly forgave her for the hour-long wait I had endured. She obviously was doing the best she could. She then said to me, while pushing my breast onto the plate, “I can see where the scar is from the previous biopsy – and it’s in an area that’s hard to get to. We’ll have to squeeze your breast to the right side.” I interrupted her, pointing out, “and ‘squeeze’ being the operative word here.”

New equipment. New sadomasochistic ways of squeezing mammary tissue onto the cold, hard plate. Colder, harder. “It has to be cold in here,” she said, still rushing around. “If it’s not cool enough, the machine stops working.” Apparently there’s something about shivering flesh this machine just loves.

I appreciated Pam’s call in the middle of this, received while I was waiting for the news. A nice interruption to what shouldn’t be a stressful moment, but I had to admit it was. The technician rushed in about 5 minutes later and blurted, “The doctor has cleared you. Everything is fine – see you in 6 months!” Yay! I thought to myself, as I got dressed and finally walked out.

Six months? Gosh, is a mammogram in my future every six months for the rest of my life? I could see the letter now…. “According to our records, it is time to perform the follow-up examination of the questionable area previously detected on your mammogram….20 years ago…”

Well, I guess it’s better than the alternative.

Monday, October 10, 2005

If the Niners would only ask ME...

This is a sucky season for the San Francisco 49ers.

It was a sucky season last year. They only managed to win 2 games. That's pretty sucky. So, you would have expected the owners to go out and buy some talent, right?

Well, one talent. They took high draft pick Alex Smith as quarterback. Two games later, he's the starting quarterback. Poor guy was in his first game yesterday. He didn't spend much of the game upright, but instead, got to know intimately the grass at Candlestick Park. The Colts did their job on defense, penetrating the Niner offensive line again and again. The Niners couldn't even score a touchdown.

But the good part was the defense didn't give up. The Colts only (!) scored 28 points, final score 28-3. I find that encouraging, as this is a team that may go all the way.

So, what should the 49ers do?

Number One. They should read more blogs. That way, they'd read mine and know what to do.

Number Two. Put Mr. Smith back on the sidelines keeping stats. Buy a veteran quarterback. Someone who's been around, who knows the playbook. Joe Montana. Oh, wait, he's too old, too injured, and is writing books these days. Vinnie Testaverde. Nope, somebody else took him last week. But you get the idea. Somebody a little too old, a little too tried (make that "tired") and true. Somebody relatively cheap.

Number Three. And you might want to put this up to Number One: GET SOME OFFENSIVE LINEMEN! That means, ha! Loosening the purse strings a little.

That's all. That will ensure the Niners win more games this year than last. Not sure about this year if they don't make the changes. Oh, and we forgot one...

Number Four. Put the Oakland Raiders in the Niners' division. Then, if they beat them, who cares how many games they win?

Friday, October 07, 2005


I went on a shopping list for my friend, the student rabbi, on my way to her temporary parish. (Is it a parish if you're Jewish? Oh, God, I don't know. Add that to the list.)

I grew up in a Methodist church. Oh, well, that's not at all correct. I probably attended church fewer times than I have fingers. I preferred to go with Mom to the Big Church, as they got to sing some of the best songs I've ever heard. The church for little kids was full of nasty boys wearing suits that didn't fit. And the instructors kept trying to teach us stuff. Boring.

So I found myself in Safeway last Tuesday afternoon, looking for salt, peppercorns, bread crumbs, and matzoh. I couldn't find the matzoh. I called the rabbi on my cell phone (God bless 'em), found her preparing her sermon, and asked, "Okay, what is matzoh?" I felt pretty stupid about it, assumed it was bread but couldn't find it among the raisin and wheat breads. "It's crackers, but you might try the kosher section." The young man in Safeway led me to an unmarked section between "Hispanic" and "Asian", and there I found matzoh balls, matzoh crumbs....ah, crackers!

I had no idea how she was going to use all of this, but I found out soon enough at the temporary synagogue her congregation used, funnily enough, a small room in the Methodist church in this small town in central California.

One bright sunny afternoon we all traipsed down to the river and threw in to the rushing water parts of our past life, in the guise of salt, pepper, bread crumbs and matzoh bits. A way to start over in the Jewish New Year. It was very vivid, very colorful, a wonderful way to symbolize starting anew, to rid ourselves of the bitter, the sweet-but-deadly behaviors and habits, the things we brought from Egypt.

Egypt? I hope to catch up on that bit of history in the near future. I'm learning. I now know what matzoh is, how to employ it, and soon I'm hoping to learn about Egypt and the escape from slavery. Pretty cool.

This is a concert, this ain't church

My friend and I went to the Dolly Parton concert recently, held at the newly revamped Gideon Amphitheatre at Universal Studios. It was a lovely concert, as Dolly is a consummate entertainer. Except....

For the row of several women behind us. I looked around and, yep, we were so lucky. Nobody in our immediate vicinity was being subjected to the talking, the singing, the catcalls, the uproarious behavior.

I say they were "adults." They didn't act like it. They were, I'm guessing, in their mid- to late-20's. They were obviously fans, and seemed to know Dolly's entire repertoire, as they knew every song, every line in every song.

I leaned back during the first song and politely asked the two women on the end to stop talking. They stared at me but stopped, at least momentarily. Then, the three women next to them started talking in the very next song. The young man next to them, part of their group, asked them to quiet down. They didn't. I leaned back again and asked them to please stop.

"What is your problem? This is a concert, not church," one of them blatantly said.

I've been in this same situation before. The worst was during a Linda Ronstadt concert at the Concord Pavilion several years ago. I had paid $100 for my seat, and couldn't figure out why the five people next to me were talking through her songs, every song. I asked them to shut up several times, but was rewarded with drinks spilled over me and elbows to my shoulder and face as they got up repeatedly.

You can't talk to alcohol. I know that. I stubbornly continue, but in this case, I tried to listen to Dolly and tune out the young woman directly behind me who came in late but made up for it by yelling "JOLENE!!" in a drunken slur many times after Dolly had already sung it.

This may not be church, but if we could've heard Dolly sing, it would've been closer to it.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The Last Day of the Season

I had a class tonight, so I DVR'd the A's game. It proved to be the last day of their season.

No criticism here. They played their hearts out. Half their team is rookies, most of the other half consists of players within the first three years of MLB experience. There's no depth on a team with one-third the salary budget of the Boston Red Sox. You think it's a miracle when they're in the running at the end. In truth, they were the best team in baseball for two months down the stretch.

But I mourn. I do this every year. It should be easier. It isn't. As I hug my dogs, I watch the last out with a kind of peace. What a thrill to watch this young team this year. What a wonderful year it was. It just ended six games too soon.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Welcome to Davies Hall

I visited Davies Hall in San Francisco today for a concert conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT) and featuring Midori, the acclaimed violinist.

I don't like the way Davies Hall is laid out, I thought to myself as I purchased some lukewarm Earl Grey and a cookie. It's beautiful to look at from the outside, to be sure, but once you go in, there's no way to go but up either steep stairs or in an elevator that only holds about 6 people. There are no restrooms on the main floor, a fact which baffles me, so it's down or up the stairs again. I adore the Side Terrace seats, which give you a great view of the musicians, their faces, even their scores. But those seats offer truly diminished legroom. It's like flying on British Airtours all over again.

Still, you can't argue with the acoustics. Well, you could if this were 1980. Davies Hall celebrates its 25th annniversary this year, and has had its share of controversy. The construction of Davies Hall gave the symphony, founded in 1911 as sort of a pick-up band, a building of its own. Before, the symphony shared space with the San Francisco Opera as well as the Ballet in a number of buildings (the Columbia Theatre, the Curran, the Tivoli Opera House, the War Memorial Opera House).

Davies Hall was an instant success -- "A place to see and be seen," "fabulous!" it was declared. However the critics raved, however, there was usually a little topspin, a small comment about how "noisy" the hall was. Those on stage noted that it was impossible to hear each other. As cellist Peter Shelton once noted, "Playing musically (was) an act of defiance."

After 12 years of musical confusion, the Davies Symphony Hall underwent an acoustic makeover, starting in 1991 and carried out over two summers. Phase One called for replacement of the 19 acrylic dishes suspended over the stage. They were transformed into 59 plexiglass panels which made up an acoustic canopy. Any panel could be adjusted electronically. In Phase Two, the hall was taken apart and reassembled. Many ideas were instituted to ensure the best sound creation. When all was done, the Hall was smaller by about 300 seats. The price tag for the remodel was about $10 million. Critics have noted that the payoff was immediate. The confusing echoes were gone, replaced with a warmth and intimacy.

While I was sitting in my Side Terrace seat for the concert today, a seat, by the way, which was changed at the last minute because they were filming, someone asked me if I thought the sound was different here on the side. "I don't know," I said honestly, "but I don't see how it could be better anywhere else."

Today we were to be treated to a rare appearance by Midori. I say "rare" probably because I've heard of her but never seen her. But, in truth, she seems to be all over the place: she does over 100 performances a year, and in addition, has many other projects she's working on, many charitable, all beneficial to the music world. There are so many stories about Midori, and yet she's only 34 years old. My favorite is the one where, at the age of 16, her E string broke on her violin as she was playing Bernstein, and was offered the violin of the concertmaster's. When that E string broke as well, she was given the violin of the associate concertmaster's. Both violins were much larger than hers, but she persevered. She is a legend among musicians, and the stories grow.

The place was packed, the first time I had seen it thus during a matinee. The two young Japanese sitting next to me (they spoke no English while seated next to me) were there for one reason: to see Midori play. They dutifully sat through the Copland to get to Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 1 in D Major, the structure during which Midori would shine.

She did shine. She did other things, too, as her body never stayed still. I was worried that in my new seat I wouldn't be able to see the musicians' faces or watch Midori play. I needn't have worried. My new vantage point was satisfactory, especially for the musicians, as I was above them to their left side, and could even watch the pages of the scores being turned. Midori, however, twisted and turned so that I, rather than those in the orchestra seats, was able to watch her face during the entire performance.

From the very first note she closed her eyes. There was no score for her to follow. She was alone on stage. But she was busy, her upper torso twisting this way and that, her bow flying off the strings. MTT was standing right next to her, on her left, and maybe just a little too close. With her schizophrenic jerks, I felt she was going to whack him in the head with her bow. But thankfully that never happened. MTT has quite the reputation as an emotional conductor, but he seemed quite subdued during this performance. Perhaps he, too, was worried about being hit by Midori's flying bow and wanted to stay perfectly still.

During one part of the Prokofiev, during the 2nd movement, I believe, Midori began to seesaw on the strings, running her bow hard, back and forth, in a grating fashion. It really was the most unpleasant sound, like someone sawing through an expensive violin. In fact, I double-clutched, peering to see if something was wrong with her violin. MTT didn't seem disturbed; neither did she. I presumed it was part of the passage, and when she retreated back to melodic, beautiful upper-register notes, I sat back and enjoyed the rest of the concert.

Hers was a virtuoso performance. The young Japanese couple next to me talked animatedly immediately after the performance, obviously praising her virtuosity. They seemed very pleased. Midori enjoyed three callbacks in applause, but she did not represent the best of the concert.

Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man was short but miraculous, amazing in its brevity but quickly evocative of early Americana, and performed brilliantly by the brass and especially the clarinetist. Tilson Thomas especially seemed elated at the conclusion, going around to shake everyone's hand and acknowledge them publicly.

The Dvorak was also divine (Symphony No. 8 in G major). As the Playbill warned me, I wondered how such an inspiring piece could have so many minor notes. MTT threw himself into conducting, using his body, his arms, his eyes, his chin -- everything -- to indicate to musicians what he wanted. They answered with precision and strength.

Michael Tilson Thomas seems to be a conductor made for the "new" Davies Symphony Hall. He uses the Hall's virtues to its extremes, and is a pleasure to watch. He truly is a performer, even though his job is to command, even urge, the performance. MTT, the San Francisco Symphony, and even Davies Hall are a pleasure to watch and hear.

(Thanks to the Sept 2005 Playbill for the information on the remodel of Davies Hall as well as the selections in today's concert.)

Saturday, August 27, 2005

It's Still Rock 'n Roll to Me

I was talked into this. I didn't want to go. But it was a chance to see Tom Petty and his Heartbreakers, one of the last true American bands.

George had given me his Tom Petty two-CD set to listen to to prepare. He likes to put the CD's in his car and blast them throughout his commute so that he's ready for the concert. I listened to the CD, yes, but only the songs I liked. I didn't have time for the other 30 songs! Petty has certainly produced an incredible number of tunes over the last two decades. Then there's his Traveling Wilbury stuff. It just goes on and on.

George, Pamela, Scott, and I were sitting on the very uncomfortable bleacher seats at the Greek Theatre on the UC Berkeley campus, when Jamie and his friend Dan showed up and threaded their way into the row, looking for their seats. The opening act, the Black Crowes, were just at the end of their set and the sun hadn't even gone behind the facade yet.

Jamie was surprised to see me. Since I offered him two seats, he thought I had given him my ticket. Naw, they were George's tickets that his wife and his other daughter couldn't use, and he had given them to Rick, who....sheesh, never mind. Anyway, two free tickets went to UCSC Santa Cruz, and the two banana slugs invaded UC Berkeley territory.

So I found myself sitting on concrete seats that were small and getting smaller as we all tried to squeeze our butts together on this ungiving slab. I believe there were kids sitting there who had grass tickets, but who really knows. There were no real ushers. I think the girl next to me stood up most of the time, just to avoid having her butt squeezed into a size 3. The right side of her body obscured the left side of the stage in my vision, but I decided I could live with that.

Uncomfortable seats, but a great view from almost the last row of assigned seats. Tom Petty really performed like the professional he is. I knew perhaps 5 songs but I enjoyed the songs I didn't know, a tribute to his penchant for writing songs that are immediately hummable and catchy, often with terrific, soulful lyrics. And I got to watch an excited George jump up and down when Petty started doing the song George had awaited -- I've forgotten the name -- but it was a driving, pounding song that I imagined assisted George in driving to work.

The average age of the audience was about 25, and I wondered how these kids even knew about Tom Petty. He was on the fringe of my consciousness, to be sure, and I only found out about him through adeptly performed cover songs by the likes of Linda Ronstadt. These cover songs didn't have the plaintive wailing of his whining voice, a quality that actually adds to something like "Live like a Refugee," my personal favorite. And the two types of cigarette smoke wafting back into my area (and lit up by the spotlights) seemed to be coming from people who were my contemporaries.

I'm glad I didn't even have a taste of alcohol. We had to carefully walk over the litter of plastic bottles all over the stadium in order to find the narrow passageway out. And then down steep stairs to get to the street which would lead me to my parking area.

Great time, bad venue. Love the music, hate the Greek.

Built for Comfort, Not for Speed

Rick and I tackled the 10K walk/run at the Hayward shoreline this morning. We were both a little nervous about it.

Unlike the Faith Fancher 5K walk last weekend, which was more a community get-together than a well-organized event aimed at encouraging healthy ways (it included a BBQ at the end of the event), this event was structured in satisfying ways. I got to pin a number on my t-shirt, and, as we waited for the walk, a fund-raising event for the park, we talked with Molly.

Molly is a runner, and we knew she'd be spurting ahead of us. I asked her how she dealt with water and bathroom needs during a longer run. She said it depends on whether she's watching her time. She didn't think she would need either during this "short" run. Molly has been known to participate in marathons that dwarf official marathons. She did add that one of the organizers said there was a port-a-potty "somewhere on the trail," but he couldn't remember where.

That eased my mind a bit as we prepared for the push-off. Somewhere out there is a toilet, in case I need it. I just have to find it. A diabetic who has had their colon shortened sometimes cannot predict the need for such things. It makes me nervous to think that I will be out on the trail for 3 hours, and makes me stop drinking the water I really should be consuming.

Immediately after the race began I fell to last place. I kept telling myself, "this is not a competition, this is not a competition," over and over. But I knew Rick's male brain was telling him, "This is a competition, this is a competition," and, true enough, he spurted out, not at the head of the running competition, but among the fast walkers. I wouldn't see him again until the end.

I stayed with some of the stragglers until they turned left to join the 5K walk. Since I had pledged to do the 10K, I stayed to the right and found myself all alone. I kept up a pretty good pace, a pretty steady one, through the first 3 miles. I told myself I could relax a bit once I reached the half-way mark.

Along the way they had water stations. The first two had eager volunteers with dozens of cups of water available. At about the 3.5-mile mark, I found a deserted water station; I helped myself to a swallowful. After that, I didn't find another.

It's a lonely trek, but I found I enjoyed that. Being careful not to drag my feet and stumble in my growing fatigue, I still found myself keeping a pretty good pace, albeit a slower one, after the 3-mile mark. Once I got past the drainage canal, there were no walkers, bicyclists or dogs to occasionally pass. There were the birds, the squirrels and me. And my thoughts.

At about the four-mile point, a tall olive-green obelisk, like the one in the movie "2001," grew on the horizon. Could it be...? A thing of beauty it was, and it grew larger with every purposeful step. The porta-potty. I knew it was mine alone, as there was no other human around. I think I could have made it all the way through the 6.5 miles this morning, but I wasn't certain. And after my visit with this wonderful manmade invention, I was certain I could walk until the end.

The last two miles I found a bit slow-going. I could feel my quads complaining, but not screaming. My back hurt, though, probably because of my posture. I tried to keep my form throughout the walk -- arms bent at the elbows and pumping, pelvic tilt -- but I always look down at the road, lest I stumble, and that's probably the problem. The longer I walked, the more my back ached.

There were no markers in the last two miles, no water stations, no walkers, no nothing. About a 100 yards before the station house, a truck pulled past me, picking up the remaining cones from the walk/run. When I got to the station, Rick was standing there waiting for me. Only a few volunteers remained, cleaning up, and nobody told me my time or "way to go" or anything. It was the lonely conclusion to a lonely walk. I was the last one to come in, and they hadn't even known the last participant was still out there.

But I wasn't there to compete or race, or even get the camaraderie of walking with a group. I was there to challenge myself. My goal was to finish. And I did that, at my own pace. As Dianne Davidson once sang, I'm built for comfort. I ain't built for speed.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Play Like a Pro

I started preparing for the Play Like a Pro Day a week ago.

I treat each upcoming event as a project, much as I did when I was working. I give the project lead time, prepare a mental if not a written list of what I must do to prepare, and then schedule it during the lead time, usually a week.

The one requirement the notice from the A’s mentioned was that I needed a glove. I have never owned a baseball glove in my life. Hell, I hadn’t even thrown a baseball or softball in 10 years, and hadn’t worn a glove in 30 years. So when I returned from my latest trip, the first thing on my list: Get a glove.

Rick’s suggestion to go to Play It Again Sports in Fremont was a good one. I found a really really used glove for $10 plus tax. It was an outfielder’s glove, and thanks to my insistence that it be a hardball glove and not a softball glove, it had a great pocket. Not a great deal of padding for an 80-mile-an-hour fastball, but good enough.

The next step was finding someone to practice with. My roommate graciously gave up a half hour on a Friday afternoon, one day before the event, to play catch with me. Luckily she found her own glove, hidden for a couple of years in the trunk of her car. Our high lobs toward each other steadily grew into harder throws, encouraging me that, hey! Maybe old habits don’t die out completely. In the face of emergency, you go back to your training, right?

So on Saturday, August 20, 2005, Rick and I walked the Faith Fancher Cancer Awareness 5K at Lake Merritt in Oakland, and then turned our attention to the A’s clinic. We arrived at 12:15 at Gate D, and joined about 75 other people in line. Check-in was easy, and they gave each of us an A’s cap and a ticket to tonight’s game against the Kansas City Royals.

Rick looked at me and said, “Are we the oldest ones here?” We looked around at the fans, average age maybe 35, and admitted, “It’s close!” Real close.

The P.R. guy took us to the MVP seats above the dugout, told us what to expect of the day, and then led us onto the field through the box. He had split all of us into five groups of about 15 people each. Each group had a player assigned to it, and each player had a responsibility to cover his subject matter, thusly:

Eric Chavez – hitting
Rich Harden – pitching
Bobby Crosby – infield
Mark Kotsay – outfield
Jason Kendall - catching

When we all saw the players, we broke into spontaneous applause! This wasn’t the “B” Team they were throwing at us – these were the All Stars!

Rick and I were in Group #1, so we headed over to Eric Chavez, who was quietly waiting for us by the backstop. He was standing by a t-ball set-up, and there were a couple of bats by his feet. However, he quickly discovered that our group only wanted to talk to this great player, not try hitting. There were only about 20 minutes spent with him, and they weren’t going to waste their time.

I saw as I glanced up that Bobby Crosby had his first group fielding balls. They were throwing ground balls to each other and using their gloves, and he would throw in comments occasionally. But my group never wanted to do that. We just talked to each player and sometimes took some quick pictures of each.

Here are a few comments from each of the players. Most of these comments weren’t really solicited by the dumb questions we fans asked. Their in-depth answers were mainly created by the players themselves, and offered a unique perspective into what I was discovering to be a very difficult game to properly play.

Eric Chavez – Eric had a slight growth of beard and a very casual way of speaking to us. It seems foolish to say, but I was awestruck at the time re: how handsome and poised this young man was. In answer to Rick’s question, who’s the toughest pitcher you’ve ever faced, Eric answered “Pedro Martinez.” He said he hates to face him because Pedro’s ball moves so much. Chavez gave us several hitting tips, including the fact that he personally changes his stance daily to get a good look at the pitcher and his release point. He takes advantage of video so that, even during a game, he’ll duck into the video room to see himself in a previous at-bat against the same pitcher. “It’s a tremendous advantage,” he told us.

Rich Harden – Rich is tall but muscular, much more muscular than I thought a pitcher would look. He has an easy smile, a bit more than Chavez, but obviously takes his job seriously. He showed us the two-finger fastball and the four-finger fastball, and a few other pitches (where to put the fingers against the seams), and my most vivid memory of this moment was watching the 45-year-old woman next to me, obviously thrilled to be there, gripping her baseball in the same way, focusing on getting it right as if the next victory depended on it. When I congratulated Rich on his win of the night before, he laughed and said he really didn’t have it last night. He admitted that his fastball wasn’t working at all. As Jason Kendall would tell us later, it’s a good thing that Rich has three other rather nasty pitches. Rich told us that Manny Ramirez is probably the toughest hitter he has ever faced in his brief career. He said Manny will change his approach from at-bat to at-bat, the way the best ones do, and that inside pitch that worked so well against him last time could be the one he hits out next time. “Vladmir Guerrero can be easy or hard,” he reported. “If you hit your spots, it’s easy. That’s really what it comes down to.”

Bobby Crosby – I noted Bobby was tall and thin when I met him during the FanFest celebration earlier this year. He seems so serious, rarely cracking a smile. He showed us how to tackle the ball when it’s coming towards you, how he tries to get a jump on the ball when it’s coming off the bat: “I imagine a little circle in front of me. When the hitter is going through his swing, before the bat hits the ball, I lean into the circle.” His legs start to move and he can control in which direction he moves to field the ball. The worst baserunner to him is Ichiro “and believe it or not, Benjie Molina.” Ichiro is so fast that Bobby gunslings the ball in an overhead fashion, picking up the ball as quickly as he can to gun it to first. “Sometimes I don’t have a good grip but I’ve gotta make that throw.” Benjie is tough because he’s the slowest baserunner you’ve ever seen, “and frankly I just don’t know what to do with all that time! I find myself thinking, ‘You better get this throw right.'” Bobby told us that it was awesome playing next to Chavez, as he covers more territory than the average third baseman. Would you rather play with Scutaro or Ellis? He smirked slightly and diplomatically said, “It doesn’t matter. They both put it where I want it” on a double play. He told us he talks to Ellis when someone’s on base, whereas he pretty much directs Scutaro on how they’re going to play it.

Mark Kotsay – Kotsay, shorter than I imagined, with his sunglasses always on, treated us like a lecture hall. Fast-speaking and opinionated, he seemed very self assured. “I don’t care if you use one hand or two hands,” he started off, “just get it right. If you catch the ball with one hand, fine, but if you miss, maybe you should think about (using two hands).” He did say on this issue that one advantage of using both hands is, you can be ready to throw sooner, before the runner has two or three steps on you. He told us that the outfielders go over scouting reports, which he sometimes disagrees with, and he directs the other fielders where they’re placed. The center fielder, he said, can see the pitcher and the batter best, and can make adjustments faster. The worst park to play in, as far as outfielder Kotsay is concerned, is Angel stadium. “The walls come up too fast for me there.”

Jason Kendall – Jason had a stubbly beard and much to our surprise wore prescription glasses while he talked to us. His knuckles all seemed large and swollen, his fingers like they had each been broken at one time. He was the most glib of all the players, joked around with us a bit, and told some great stories. And talked baseball. “Chavvy and Kots will swing at anything and everything. So, if I’m the leadoff hitter, I try to give them a few extra pitches to look at. To tell you the truth, I’m more comfortable swinging with two strikes on me anyway.” He smiled conspiratorially and confided that he has a good relationship with all the umpires. “After 10 years, I’ve worked with them all.” He buys them beers whenever he gets a chance. He mentioned that all the young umpires are scared at the new Quest system, where an umpire review board sits in designated stadiums (like McAfee) and critiques the umpires. Old umpires like Joe West, however, are not scared. “’Hell, I’d like to see them do something to me,’” Kendall mimicked West, as he bought him another beer. And he’ll say things to “players I know, like Stairsy (Matt Stairs) the other day – ‘Oh, too bad you missed that pitch ‘cause it’s the last (fastball) you’ll ever see!'” Jason, who used to catch in the National League, seems to prefer that style of baseball, “it’s more of a game,” as the entire game is built around the pitcher. “The 8 and 9 hitters are so-so,” and the strategy revolves around them. Kendall told us that this year “is the most fun I have had in my career! Remember when we were struggling in April and May? The clubhouse was the same. It was the same.” Except that they were all trying to do too much. “I was swinging for the fences! I know I’m not a homerun hitter! I know what I can do and what I can’t do.”

The fans in our group were interesting themselves. We had the obligatory jerk, who insisted on asking most of the questions, and who liked, with each player, to sneak up on the player, throw his arm around him (without touching him) so that he could get a “chummy” photo with him. Sheesh. And we also had a Little League coach who would tell Bobby Crosby, for instance, what he was teaching his kids – “I tell them to throw low to the player” – only to be told by Bobby that they should throw high, “because most of those balls will skip by the kids.” The coach quickly changed the subject. But, in general, the group was a nice mixture of young and older, and we obviously shared one thing in common, our love of baseball and the Oakland A’s. I was amazed at how much each fan knew, not about baseball (that was for sure), but about the players.

After our hour or so of huddling with the players, we all gathered in line. The assistants handed each of us a new baseball and we could get it autographed by all five players. This was our last chance to say how much we appreciated the time they took for us, and to have a great season. I also took an extra minute to thank the original P.R. guy who took us onto the field.

As we left the field (with Rick muttering over and over, “I’m not going to leave. They can’t make me!”), I noticed Ron Washington giving some tips to some young ballplayer we didn’t recognize. He was obviously some rising young star who was taking infield practice. Wash would bat the ball to him and the young man would scoop it up in his glove. As Bobby Crosby told us, Wash is great with praise and never yells, and we watched that unfolding just a few feet from us as we approached the gate to go back up the stairs. Wash put the bat down, came toward the player and positioned his glove more correctly on the ground. “These are the details,” Rick said. We were watching, and earlier listening to, the difference between minor league and major league. It’s all in the details.

And so I never got my chance to throw the ball around with Bobby, or bat with Chavez. Thank God. What will I do with my $10 glove? I’ll keep it. Who knows, maybe I can get someone to play catch with me this weekend. Or maybe I’ll be picked for the Play Like a Pro next year? I could only hope.