Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Plumbing Problems Wasn’t My Fault But Paid For Repairs

New shower knobs
A few weeks ago, I noticed a piece of tile right outside my bathtub starting to peel off the wall. A few days later, I could feel some moisture on the wall but not knowing where the water was coming from, I finally called the plumber who’s been helping me for at least 15 years now. I was afraid that whatever leak was occurring may affect the neighbors on my right side and the two below me. Walter the plumber came and checked it out on a Thursday and said the water may be leaking from the corrosion around the shower knobs and getting into the wall. I was planning on having the washers replaced on those knobs anyway because the bottom faucet was dripping after the knob was tightened. We made arrangements for him to do the repairs the following Monday since our condominium association required us to give 24 to 48 notice to other residents whenever the water has to be turned off. In my case, the water didn’t have to be turned off to the whole complex, but just at the valve on the roof supplying mine and my three neighbors units. And we had to wait until Monday because we didn’t want to inconvenience everybody on a weekend when most people are at home and not at work.

I asked Walter later that since we are turning off the water anyway, if he can also replace the shut off valve to my toilet tank and replace my bathroom sink faucet due to corrosion. I left a note on the doors of my three neighbors to let them know about the water shut off and included my phone number in case they had any questions or concerns. I didn’t hear anything from them so come Monday, Walter came to replace the shower knobs, toilet tank shut off valve, and sink faucet. After a couple hours, he was done and I paid him $265. I brought an electric fan to the bathroom and aimed it towards the wall with moisture and ran the fan for several hours. The next day, the wall was dry and remained so after I took a shower. After subsequent showers, the wall remained dry so Walter’s diagnosis was confirmed and he took care of the problem.
New sink faucet
Two days later, I received a text message from Vickey, a board member of the condominium association and who was also managing unit #73 downstairs from me. She was managing it for an out of state owner. The text message said “Good Morning Noel, my tenant in #73 below you, has water coming into her bathroom from the ceiling & behind the Toilet Wall. This needs attention immediately being that it is still dripping from the Bathroom Ceiling”. It included a photo of the letter I left with my neighbors and 4 photos of the water leaking downstairs with bubbling from the paint on the walls and ceiling. So I assumed that the water was caused by the leak I had from my shower.

I started looking for a contractor or handyman who knew how to fix water damage and I got suggestions from some of my neighbors and an internet buddy. I also researched on the internet what this kind of repair entailed. Last year, a handyman replaced my underpowered wall air conditioner and I kept his number. I called him and asked if he did this kind of repair and he said he did. We made an appointment for Friday but unfortunately he got held up at another job so he didn’t make it till Saturday morning. Of course we also had to make arrangements with the tenant in Unit 73 so someone can be present while the handyman was there. I also tried to get in touch with Unit 74 right below me to find out if he had any damage on his side, but I never got a response even after I contacted his landlady.

Wall bubbling
Water from ceiling vent

Luis the handyman assessed the situation on Saturday, told me what he was going to do and how long it would take and gave me a cost estimate. I told him please give me an estimate, not a heart attack, LOL! The cost was reasonable and asked him when he could do the job, he said he could do it right there and then. I notified the tenant and left Luis to do the work while I tried to get some sleep after having had to work the night before. But I was too anxious so I didn’t get any sleep. Incidentally during the time that Luis was doing his job, the owner and tenant of Unit 74 finally contacted me and we looked at their bathroom and it appeared not to have been affected.

Approximately four hours later, Luis called me and said everything was done. I went downstairs to look at his work and to my untrained eye it looked like a job well done. He told the tenant that it would take a couple of hours for the paint to dry. I paid Luis, notified the tenant and Vickey in a group text, and included photos of the finished product. I thought that was the end of it. I took responsibility for what I thought was water damage caused by the shower knob leak from my bathroom, and paid hard earned money for it.
Bubbling fixed, spackled, and repainted
But wait there’s more! A couple of hours later, I received a message from the tenant in Unit 73 in the group text saying that water was coming out of her bathroom vent and almost filled a trash container. I immediately went downstairs to look at it and indeed water was coming out of the vent, but not quite as much as the tenant said. This happened at 7:00 p.m. and I hadn’t used the shower since 2:00 p.m. so the water wasn’t coming from my bathroom. I went back upstairs and knocked on the door of Unit 107 to ask them if anybody just took a shower. Not surprisingly, somebody did and it was water from their side that was pouring downstairs to Unit 73. But hold on, the tenants in Unit 107 were gone for a few days so even after the plumber fixed my shower, no water was leaking downstairs. Right after the tenants in Unit 107 returned and took a shower, it started leaking downstairs again. It doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to deduce that the water damage downstairs wasn’t caused by me after all. I offered the phone numbers of my plumber and handyman to the owner of Unit 107 in case she wanted to hire them, and I hope that’s the last I’m going to hear of that one. The next expense will be on them. I’ve done more than my part for something that was not my fault and it cost me $160!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Why Buy a Car Now When I Hardly Drive Anywhere?

2014 Ford Fiesta SE
I bought my 1998 Honda Civic brand new in April of that same year. It didn’t have air conditioning but it was such a bargain at $9995 that I figured I could live without the A/C since at that time, I was working 11 p.m. to 7:30 a.m. and didn’t have to drive during the day in the heat of summer. All that changed about 10 or so years ago when I started working 12 hour shifts from 7 p.m. to 7:30 a.m. Not only that, I’m quite sure global warming is real despite its deniers who probably have always had A/C in their cars.

I called an auto shop about 3 years ago and asked if it’s possible to install air conditioning in my car. They checked around for parts and called me back saying parts and labor would cost about $3000. At that time, the resale value of my car didn’t even cost that much. So I suffered a few more years thinking the fan would be enough to make it comfortable, which of course it didn’t in mid-day heat. I was hoping to make the Honda last until I couldn’t drive anymore, since I never had a problem with it. The engine was so good that every time I went to a mechanic to have it checked out, they always offered to buy it. It helped that it only had 76,500 miles in it. The only parts I’ve had to replace were the tires, brakes and the windshield because one day on the freeway, a pebble kicked up by a truck created a crack on it. Everything else were original parts. The upholstery had nary a single tear on them. There were a couple of dents and scratches, one being a former coworker running late for work bumped the passenger side door and created a dent while she was trying to park beside my car. She promised to pay for the repairs but unfortunately she got fired a week later and I never heard from her again. Another dent was created when my neighbor’s motorcycle fell on the same door. He was jobless and didn’t have insurance, so what can I do?
1998 Honda Civic CX
The last three summers have been unbearable. I didn’t put on my scrubs until I got to work because it had been so hot. It was time to look around for an affordable car with A/C. One of my rationalizations was that since I decided not to buy a condo in the Philippines two years ago, maybe I could use the money to buy a car instead. I checked out prices in various dealerships for used cars because I knew that I couldn’t afford a new one due to the sales tax, license, registration, and insurance. The canvassing went on for about a month and the choices were: 2012 Kia Rio, 2014 Nissan Versa, and 2014 Ford Fiesta from Norm Reeves Cerritos, a Hyundai Accent from Hertz in Norwalk, and a Nissan Cube from Carson Nissan. The Kia had a 2 year gap in its Carfax, the Nissan Versa was ok but had 70k miles and very basic, the Hyundai used to be a rental although it only had 39k miles. I almost went to see the Nissan Cube until I saw the Carfax and the specs of the Ford Fiesta.

My basic preference for my next car was that it had A/C of course, automatic transmission, and had four doors (since all these years since 1981, I’ve only had two door coupes). The Ford Fiesta was advertised as an automatic but when the salesman showed me the car, I was disappointed to see that it had a manual transmission. Well, I guess I could live with that since all my previous cars (Toyota Corolla, Volkswagen Rabbit Convertible, and Honda Civic CX) had manual transmission. Besides I didn’t have to alter my muscle memory on how not to use my left foot in a clutchless automatic transmission. For a three year old car, the Fiesta only had 17600 miles on it, and it originally came from Palm Springs. Maybe it was owned by an older person who found it too small, or maybe it was repossessed. But the Carfax said the previous owner followed the maintenance schedule very well.

So the salesman and I went for a test drive which consisted of all left turns (why do they have to make it so hard?). I liked the pick up and the peppiness of such a small car, although at first it felt a little snug, and whenever I shifted gears, I would bump my right elbow against a storage well right behind the stick shift. After the test drive, I asked the salesman to write up the sale. The sticker price was $8601, there was a special agreement with AAA which brought the price down to $8101, and for my car trade in, they only gave me $500, which I didn’t mind because the Kelly Blue Book value was only $800. This brought the price down to $7601. Since my credit cards gave a rebate of 1.5%, I wanted to purchase the car fully with my credit cards, however the dealership had a limit of only $5000. Still, that knocked off another $75 from the price. So the car “only” cost me $7526 plus tax, license, registration, and increased insurance coverage.

I didn’t get all I wanted because it was advertised as automatic transmission but was manual instead, but at least I got my other two choices: air conditioning and 4 doors, plus lots of bells and whistles included (see photo of the specs). And I’m able to pay it off in full right away. If this Ford Fiesta lasts me as long as the Honda Civic did (19.5 years), then I’m all set for life.

Well, there is another reason why I really needed a car with air conditioning other than for my own comfort. I started dating again after so many years and felt ashamed that my date would be sweltering, and I wanted her to be comfortable. So there!

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Workouts I Did During My Vacation in Germany

Brezhnev/Honecker kiss mural - Berlin Wall
Let me see if I remember most of what happened last June. Packed luggage, exchanged dollars to euros, picked up by Shuttle2LAX, dropped at LAX, flew to Charles De Gaulle Airport, connected to Bremen, Germany, picked up by Emy at the airport, took the train to Bremen Central Train Station where Emy told me that if I had to remember anything, remember the Hauptbahnhof because the practically all look alike everywhere, then took another train to Bremerhaven. So far, so good.
Hannover Hauptbahnhof
Wait, I left something out. While at CDG, in order for me not to miss my daily workout, I walked for 30 minutes in a crowded terminal while pulling my carry on luggage. So how did I manage to do my requisite at least 30 minutes of exercise a day while I was on my German vacation? Actually it doesn’t take much provided you are able to make some adjustments like for example the aforementioned walk through the airport terminal.

Germany Workouts
June 22: 30 minute walk in Charles De Gaulle domestic terminal – Well this one didn’t elevate my heart rate much or at all because it was like an obstacle course in a terminal where people didn’t keep right in the hallway.

June 23: 30 minute jog in a farm town in the outskirts of Bremen – upon being woken up by horses neighing and cows mooing, I ventured out in a slight drizzle in my Northface jacket, found a loop and the main street and ran beside farm houses. It was a struggle finishing the 30 minutes probably due to jet lag. This was my only run in Germany. The moving van arrived, belongings were loaded, and my friend Emy moved to her new apartment in Hannover.

June 24: 30 minute walk from Emy's new apartment – Amid all the boxes in the living room, I woke up early and got ready to venture out for a walk in a strange neighborhood. Did I tell you that in the summer, it gets bright early at 4 p.m. then doesn’t get dark until past 10 p.m.? I walked several laps around a block until I finished 30 minutes.

June 25: 50 minute walk from Emy’s apartment. Instead of the loops, I found an out and back street course which took me over a bridge with a river which name I don’t know ran under.

June 26: 45 minute walk in Hannover from Michael’s (Emy’s son) apartment. After having dinner the previous night with family and friends of Emy, we stayed with Michael. This course involved a loop and going up and down side streets. Later in the day, Emy and I left for Berlin via train.
Berlin City Tour bus

June 27: 40 minute walk from B&B Tiergarten. This is a hotel right beside a lesser known gate in Berlin called the Charlottenburg Gate. I walked out and back on the main street for 20 minutes starting from the gate.

June 28: 30 minute walk in B&B Tiergarten river path. I found a paved and unpaved river path near the Charlottenburg Gate and walked out and back for 15 minutes, and saw a few runners and walkers. We left Berlin for Hamburg in the mid afternoon.
Right side of Charlottensburg Gate
June 29: 32 minute walk in Hamburg. We checked in at Hotel Condor yesterday which was very near the Hamburg Hauptbahnhof and I walked from there. I chose an out and back course along what looked like a main street, and on the way I found myself among shops and a business area. I saw some polizei removing some sheets from a naked statue. I guess someone dressed the statue during the night. I also walked by a huge building old building and on the way back, I asked some polizei who were standing nearby what building it was and they said it was the Town Hall. We went back to visit it later during our tour of the city. We left Hamburg and returned to Hannover later that day.
Hamburg Town Hall
June 30: 45 minute walk in Hannover from Emy’s apartment. This day, I found another out and back course on another street. So far I haven’t found any hills in this area and the terrain is very flat other than the bridge I mentioned earlier.

July 1: 60 minute walk in Hannover from Emy’s apartment. I walked towards the other side of yesterday’s street and found the end of the train line which traverses the area. I made a right turn and continued on until I reached 30 minutes, then turned back. Good thing I was able to do an hour this day because we had a heavy dinner and beers later at the Hannover location of Hofbrau Munchen.
Michael & I at Hannover Hofbrau Munchen
July 2: 30 minute walk in Hannover from Michael’s apartment. We stayed here overnight and I managed a 30 minute walk at 4 a.m. before we went back to Emy’s place. Later, Emy and her friend took me to the Hannover Hauptbahnhof for my trip to Kassel where I visited her sister Bernie and her husband. I was able to do an additional walk that afternoon when Bernie and her husband took me to a lake with some hilly trails. I didn’t even time that walk anymore, but it lasted more than an hour.
Lake near Kassel
July 3: 1 hour walk in Baunatal/Kassel from Bernie’s house. Bernie showed me a walking path near her house which had a fork in the end. I took the right side and walked by some wheat fields until I reached a street. I turned around and went back home. Another hour walk that helped because I went to lunch & dinner at Lisa (another of Emy’s sisters) and her husband’s house in Kassel, where I met up with their mother Becca and another sister, Irene and her husband. Later in the evening we went to another beer garden where I had a beer tasting consisting of 4 kinds of beer in 11 ounce glasses. Yikes!
The fork in the road
July 4: 1 hour walk in Baunatal from Bernie’s house. Today I took the left turn at the fork in the road and saw some small parks and dirt trails that veered off from the main path, but which I didn’t dare explore for fear of getting lost. At noontime, a cab took me to Kassel Bahnhof where I took the train to Bremen where I was going to fly from the next day, to go back home. And then this adventure happened: Last 2 days Germany adventure - part 1

July 5: 40 minute walk from and around Bremen Airport Holiday Inn Express. I found a park right across the airport, walked around it and along some adjoining streets. A couple of hours later, I walked from the hotel to the airport for my trip back home, and then this next adventure happened: Last 2 days in Germany - part 2 and Last 2 days in Germany - part 3.

So that one run and all the walking workouts I managed to do satisfied my need or maybe compulsion to exercise every day despite being in far flung places, and I’ve been doing a daily exercise for more than 30 years without skipping one.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Why a Vacation in Germany?

Brandenburg Gate, Berlin
For someone who doesn’t go on vacations much and so far the only two countries I’ve been in are the Philippines and USA, other than layovers in South Korea, China, and Canada, how on earth did I end up taking a vacation in Germany? Well, that took more than a year in the making. Early in 2016, my friend Emy who lives in Germany was planning on having a grand 60th birthday party, inviting friends near and far. The party’s theme was supposed to be the hippie culture of the 1960’s, so I started checking out costumes on the internet, you know: bell bottoms, flower power, long hair, LSD, and the like. Well, OK, not LSD. I also started looking into airline flights, but the websites were unable to show me anything more than a year in advance. When that cutoff time finally came, I immediately booked a flight on Air France from Los Angeles to Bremen (the closest airport to where Emy lives), with a connecting flight in Paris Charles de Gaulle airport. Having had a bad experience with very long layovers during last year’s trip to the Philippines (8 hours in Guangzhou!), I found a flight with the least amount of layover time. Little did I know that it would end up biting me in the butt later. Another lesson learned with that one: book a flight with a layover time that accommodates for delays.

Well, about two months before my trip, and after the invitation arrived, Emy calls me tearfully saying that the birthday party is cancelled due to a drastic change in her life. She had to find a job, sell her house in the suburbs, separate from her husband, and find a new place to move in. Additionally, she had to sell her excess but valuable items and find storage space for all her possessions. Since I hadn’t seen her since 1992 when she stopped by briefly in my home, I told her that I wasn’t going to Germany for the party, but rather to visit her after all these years. Prior to 1992, the last time I saw her was in 1979 when we worked together as physical fitness instructors in a gym called The Sweat Shop in Makati, Philippines. I suggested that I could make other plans for my vacation, but she said it was ok for me to come to Germany anyway.
Luggage packing test before trip
As the day of my flight approached, I did several suitcase packing trials taking into account that the July weather in Germany was similar to winter weather in California. I tried packing 6 microfleece long sleeved shirts and 3 pairs of jeans along with my packable North Face jacket which I bought specifically for this trip. I ended up packing 3 microfleece shirts and a couple of thinner shirts and had to ditch the jeans for regular slacks because they wouldn’t fit in my carry on suitcase. Having done that, my other checked luggage was for presents. I also bought some Euro currency from Travelex and with that, I was good to go other than not knowing the language. So I downloaded a German/English translation app, as well as Google Translate, none of which I ended up using, or barely anyway.

The rest of the trip to follow.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Beers I've Tasted in Germany While on My Vacation There

Beers I've Tasted in Germany While on My Vacation There
Being just a domestic beer drinker and not a big one at that, the cheaper the beer, the better for my budget. How’s a 36 pack of Tecate, Budweiser, or Miller’s Genuine Draft for $19.99 sound? Well, that’s the kind of beer I drink in the U.S. So when I found the opportunity to visit friends in Germany which is known for its beers, I decided to try as many as I can while I was there and hoped my liver survived the taste tests.

First, let me tell you I don’t know from bad beer to good. Being originally from the Philippines, I’ve had San Miguel of course, and Red Horse which is more of a malt liquor. Years ago, the Philippines also imported Carslberg beer, so I’ve tried that too.

If I remember correctly, the first one I tried was in Hannover and it was a Czech beer – the original Budweiser Budvar, which my friend Emy’s son Michael offered me at his home. It was definitely a lot more full bodied than the U.S. Budweiser, and to my untrained taste, more hoppy. Unfortunately, I forgot to take a photo of it.

Bitburger & Berliner from the hotel vending machine
The next couple of beers I tried came out of a hotel vending machine in Berlin, which was a total surprise for me. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that in the U.S., but then I don’t go out much. The first one was Bitburger which I brought up to my hotel room, but couldn’t open because I didn’t have a bottle opener. So I went back down to the lobby and asked the desk attendant where to find one. It turns out, it was attached to the vending machine with a string. I asked if it was okay to open the beer bottle in the lobby and the attendant said, it was no big deal because beer is just like water in Germany. I brought the beer back to my room and drank it while eating a piece of cake that I bought from the KaDeWe store earlier. Well, that Bitburger didn’t quite hit the spot so I went for a second bottle which was a Berliner. The vending machine had those two beer choices with alcohol and two which were alcohol free. My impression of the Bitburger and Berliner was that they had more taste than my cheap domestic beer.

While still in Berlin, we stopped by some kind of street fair where I tried Erdinger beer with my first bratwurst. I ordered the smallest possible glass which was 1/3 liter since I didn’t want to be walking around town in a tipsy state. While at the fair, we met a couple of young Mexicans (bf & gf) who were travelling all over Europe, and talked with them for more than two hours.

The next day, we had time to kill after visiting an Anne Frank exhibit and while waiting for our train to Hamburg, so we stopped by a beer house and I ordered Weihenstephan dark beer. Half a liter this time.

Tsingtao from a Chinese Restaurant

Becks (the only beer this hotel had)

In the hotel in Hamburg the next day, I didn’t see a vending machine, so I approached the desk clerk to ask if they sold beer. The only one they had was Becks, which the internet says is a beer from Bremen. My tongue can’t really detect the subtle differences been the beers I’ve tried so far, but I felt that each one had a different finish. Oh, I had forgotten that we had dinner at a Chinese restaurant near the hotel and I had Tsingtao beer. I don’t know if it was my tongue, but it tasted a little bland after all the German beers I had so far, even though Tsingtao was once considered one of the better beers in the world.
Paulaner - the taste changes from tongue to swallow
When we returned to Hannover, we stopped by a grocery store before going home and bought a bottle of Paulaner and Grevensteiner. The Paulaner really took me for a loop. When I took the first sip, it tasted like any other beer, but upon swallowing, the taste changed to somewhat sour/sweet. And this happened on every sip.

The next day, we tried the Grevensteiner and that was probably the most full bodied beer I tasted while I was there. Somewhat like San Miguel but without the pungent follow through. Emy said this was her favorite beer.

Hofbrau Munchen
After shopping for curtains and other fixtures for my friend’s new apartment the next day, we went to have dinner at Hofbrauhaus Munchen. Their main brewery and beer house was in Munich and we were at the Hannover branch. I tried a half pint of their dark house beer, while Michael had 2 (!) pints of the pilsner. Needless to say, he was quite tipsy but still with faculties intact by the time we left the Hofbrau. We ended up sleeping at his apartment since Emy had trouble driving in the dark and couldn’t make it back home.

Hutt Luxus Pilsner
I left for Kassel the next day and upon arriving, was taken by Bernadette and her husband Wolfgang to see the Hercules monument, after which we went to lunch. With the currywurst, I ordered the house and local beer called Hutt Luxus Pilsner, which didn’t come with Jabba. However, the heavy lunch made me feel like Jabba the Hutt afterwards.

Oettinger lime beer

Schofferhofer lemon beer
At dinnertime, Wolfgang brought out a couple of low alcohol citrus beers named Oettinger Radler and Shoefferhofer Zitrone. Very tasty, kinda like what my cousin used to mix back in my college days which she called shandygaff – half beer and half 7-Up.

I was picked up by Liza’s husband Sven the next day and was driven to his home. There Mama Becca was waiting and we had lunch. Along with lunch came yet another beer called Eibecher. I had two bottles which is normally my limit for a day. But, this was not an ordinary day.

Fritzlarer samplers
We hanged out in the backyard, then had early dinner, after which we went to visit a very old town, so old that the buildings were leaning against each other to maintain stability. After visiting the town, my hosts which now included Irene and her husband Matthias, decide to go to a local Hofbrauhaus. I finally found what I was hoping for: a sampler of 4 glasses of Fritzlarer with 11 ounces each of the house beer, a wheat beer, a dark beer, and a summer seasonal beer. I sipped slowly trying to detect the subtle differences. I finished half of each before going around again to finish the second half. By this time, I thought I’d be drunk as a skunk as I have exceeded my daily drink limit by at least 2. But surprisingly, I was still able to walk straight and touch my nose with each hand with my eyes closed. So, my companions didn’t have to carry me back home after all.


I left Kassel the next day and headed by train to Bremen which airport I was supposed to depart from the following day. I checked into the Holiday Inn Express, walked to the airport to scout it so I would be familiar with it the next day, then found a Chinese restaurant across the airport where I had a light dinner with a half pint of Veltins.

I stopped by McDonalds and ordered an apple strudel to go which I took back to the hotel. I stopped by the bar and asked the bartender if they had any bottles of beer I can buy to take back to my room, and she said, I can take the mug that they had, and thus had my last beer in Germany, a half pint of Krombacher drank with apple strudel from McDonald’s.

I bought this from Trader Joe's after I got back to the U.S.
Having developed a taste for German beer, the American beer I drank upon returning back home tasted very bland, so I checked the internet and found that some of the beers I drank in Germany were sold at specialty wine/beer/liquor stores like Total Wine and BevMo. I did find a 6 pack of Henninger at Trader Joe for $5.99 so I bought it. The first can tasted bland but the second tasted more German, so I’d say it wasn’t bad. I also saw a 4 pack of Bitburger for $4.99, but I think I’ll go to Total Wine next time because they are selling a 4 pack sampler of Paulaner for about $10, you know, the one that changes taste from tip of the tongue to swallow.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Germany – The Adventure of the Last Two Days (Part 3) Paris to San Francisco to Los Angeles

Shackled in Germany
I had requested the customer service attendant for an aisle seat.  Unfortunately the only seat available was a middle one, so I was sandwiched between an Armenian lady on the aisle side and a Greek man who liked to manspread on the window side. However they were very pleasant people so it wasn’t a difficult trip in that regard. The Armenian lady noted that at least I was good natured about missing my connection. And I said that’s because I couldn’t really do anything about it since it was beyond my control. The flight felt longer than it was and despite watching a couple of movies and imbibing two glasses of wine, I couldn’t sleep. So when I started feeling antsy because I don’t like sitting for long periods of time, I got up and hanged out near the galley for a couple of hours. It was then when I noticed the difference between the other airlines I had flown with and Air France. Air France had a pretty much unlimited supply of snacks and drinks that they just left in their two galleys in coach class for any passenger to partake in and one particular woman kept coming back for more. That kind of perk was indeed very nice for coach class.
Gaming area in Charles de Gaulle Airport
When we landed in San Francisco, we went to the baggage claim area, but since I wasn’t sure if my baggage was going to be transferred by Air France to Delta, I asked customer service and the man said yes. So I proceeded to Customs and asked the officer to direct me to my connecting flight. He did, but asked me first where I was coming from. I told him about how I missed my flight to L.A., and he said that I should wait for my baggage because it would not be forwarded to L.A. Thank goodness that customs officer gave me the correct information which was not part of his job, and was very nice because some of them can be surly. I found my baggage and went through the same officer and thanked him profusely. Much to my surprise, even though the zipper of the front pocket of my checked baggage was slightly open, none of my belongings were missing!

I proceeded to my proper domestic terminal, checked in the correct baggage this time, then went through TSA inspection again. Oh boy, it looked like the majority of TSA agents I saw in that terminal were Filipinos!

The 55 minute flight to L.A. was uneventful, however it was already 10 p.m. when we arrived. My original arrival time if I hadn’t missed my connection would have been about 3 p.m. We went to baggage claim again and it took a while for mine to appear. As soon as I picked it up, I exited the building and started looking for the Prime Time Shuttle stop. The first lectern I found had no agent and a note directed me to the next stop. Upon getting there, there was no agent either but there was a touch screen computer which asked me to enter my reservation number or phone number. The computer system did not find me. I found Super Shuttle and the next van happened to be going to my direction, so I boarded it even though I had to pay again because the Prime Time reservation was prepaid. There were only three stops but I was the last one, and by the time I got home it was already 11:30 at night. It had been a very arduous trip that lasted almost a day and a half, but I was very relieved to make it back home with me and my luggage intact and safe. All it took were trains, a car, planes, and a van to reach my final destination.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Germany – The Adventure of the Last Two Days (Part 2) Bremen to Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport

Airplane sculpture in park across Bremen Flughafen

The next day was my flight back home to Los Angeles by way of Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. I checked out of the Holiday Inn Express, dragged my 2 suitcases to the airport and checked in one of them, then took a stroll in the terminal with my carry on bag. Suddenly, I realized that I had experienced at senior moment when I noticed that I checked the wrong bag! The bag I checked had my clean clothes, medications, personal items, laptop, and U.S. cellphone. The electronics were in the front pocket which was not locked. I walked back to the counter and asked the ground attendant if it was still possible to recall the luggage. She said it was too late. So I was resigned to the possibility that some of my items in that bag would get lost. In the meantime, the bag I had with me had dirty clothes and candy. But it also had a small container of pepper spray and a big bottle of body wash, both of which I had to throw away because it didn’t meet the carry on security requirements.

After going through security, I entered the waiting area and looked at the plane schedule which indicated that my flight was on time. The Air France app on my phone indicated the same thing. However, I didn’t see a plane parked at the ramp and we kept waiting for an announcement which never came. A few people including me went to talk to the Air France HOP agent and she told us that the plane was delayed at least half an hour due to technical problems. I told her about my connecting flight to L.A. which was supposed to leave an hour after my supposed arrival time in Charles de Gaulle. She told me those connecting flights are often delayed too. That didn’t make me feel any better though. Having experienced how long it took to transfer from one terminal to the next in CGD, I again resigned myself to missing my flight to L.A.
Sand sculpture depicting summer vacation in Bremen Flughafen

Our flight from Bremen to Paris was delayed an hour and sure enough, as we arrived in CDG, I saw the final boarding notice for my flight. It took a while before the shuttle bus transporting us from one terminal to another arrived and when it did, the driver drove at what seemed like 5 MPH. When we got off, I walked as fast as I could but when I got to the gate, it was already closed for boarding. It was too bad that I had left my Superman cape behind in California. It would have been useful to at least fly from one terminal to the next, if not from Germany to L.A.

 I was directed towards the Air France customer service desk, and after a short wait, I went to talk to the ground attendant who seemed to have a permanent smile on her face. I told her that it must be tiring to keep her smile several hours a day, and she told me she was already used to it, having worked in that position for 15 years.

She gave me two options: there was a flight in about an hour leaving for San Francisco, and from there, I would board a Delta flight to Los Angeles. Or wait till the next day for a direct flight to LAX and the airline would help me with accommodations in Paris. I took the first option, gave the lady a fist bump for her help, and was soon boarding the flight to SFO. Thus ended the second leg of this adventure.
My last beer in Germany the night before leaving (with apple strudel from McDonald's)

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Germany – The Adventure of the Last Two Days (Part 1) Kassel to Bremen

View from Kassel's Hercules monument

Did you know that it costs a Euro to use the WC/toilette/bathroom in a train station? Well, anyway…
My last couple of days in Germany was quite an adventure due to unforeseen circumstances. What should have been an uneventful train ride from Kassel to Bremen turned out to be otherwise. Taking the taxi from my friend Bernadette’s house, it was easy enough to find the correct platform from the eingang (entrance), the correct train number, and the correct seat (platz) reservation on the Deutch Bahn ICE train (an express train) because the bahnhof (train station) in Kassel was small enough. Hauptbahnhofs or Grand Central Stations were more confusing for me because of numerous platforms and floors. Next, the train was delayed and instead of arriving at the original platform in front of me, it arrived at the one behind me. Fortunately I had been talking to a woman minutes before, who happened to work for Deutsch Bahn, who told me about the change. When we got going, sometime in the middle of the trip, there was an announcement that we would be getting off at Hannover Hauptbahnhof to transfer to a regional train which has more stops. Initially, we were informed that it would be the regional train on track 11, but as we were about to get off, another announcement in German said we would be taking the train from track 12 instead. Fortunately, some Germans nearby translated to announcement for me, and I told one of them that I would be following her and her kids. However, they stopped by a snack shop to buy some food. Being in unfamiliar situations and the thought of being lost especially in a foreign country gives me high anxiety. I told my friend Emy about that before I left for Germany and that my life was in her hands when I got there.
Beer tasting near Kassel
I then proceeded to track 12, looked at the posted schedule, and it turned out that the train that was waiting at the track was the one I was supposed to take. I entered it and asked a gentleman if I was on the right train and he said that I was. However, I didn’t have a seat reservation on this one even though I had a reservation on the original train. The same gentleman told me that reserved seats were indicated by an LED sign just above the seat. Fortunately, the immediate area I was in had a vacant one.

When we arrived in Bremen Hauptbahnhof, I looked for the ausgang (exit) towards the front of the building and started looking for the taxi stand. I found a taxi easily and told the driver I wanted to go to the Holiday Inn Express near Bremen Flughafen (airport). He said “no problem”. A few short miles later, I arrived at my destination for the day. I checked in and explored the area so I could easily find my way to the airport the next day. It was only about a block away by U.S. standards. I found a Chinese food restaurant, ate a light dinner, then found myself buying an apple strudel in McDonalds which I took back to the hotel and ate it in my room with yet another mug of beer which the bartender downstairs allowed me to take. And thus ended the first day.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Oil Change Fiasco and Resolution

A few weeks ago, I found a coupon in my snail mail mailbox offering discounts for car services. One of them was an oil change for $14.95 plus a free tire rotation, which was a very good deal. Other coupons I’ve seen were offering it for $29.99. A few days later, I went to the shop and requested the oil change while I presented the coupon. The service advisor proceeded to tell me that I needed to fill out an application form for a new credit card and membership to Goodyear. I told him, I didn’t need any more credit cards so I walked out of the deal.

I went for a run and when I returned home, I decided to call the phone number listed on the coupon. The person who answered said she was new so she didn’t know the answer, and that someone who knew will call me back. A few minutes later, a gentleman who identified himself as the regional manager informed me that the service advisor was mistaken and that I wasn’t required to fill out an application. He said he would be happy to set up an appointment for me because they wanted to retain me as a customer. I told him I was no longer available that day and that I might return in a few days.

A few days later, I went back at 7:30 a.m. because the store’s website said that they were open at that time. It took another 30 minutes before somebody showed up to open the shop even though another guy who was apparently one of their mechanics was also waiting for the guy who had the keys. That was another strike against them.

After a few minutes of getting set up, they were finally ready to help me. The service advisor whom I talked with a few days earlier was the same person I talked with that day and I told him about my communication with the regional manager. He said he remembered me and that he was aware of it and he apologized for his mistake. I thought I heard him say that the oil change and tire rotation were going to be done for free, but being hard of hearing at times, I thought I just misheard him.

So I went for a run while the service was being done and near the end of the run, my cell phone rang and the call was from the shop. Unfortunately, I was not in a good signal area so call couldn’t connect. When I finished my run and went back to the shop, the advisor met me and talked about a list of repair recommendations. I pointed out to me what needed to be done, because apparently, they also did a complete inspection of the car.
Certified Tire Mechanic Recommendations:
Leaking cooling system hoses. Parts 69 + 8 + labor 70 = 147
Fuel filter = 94
Fuel system tune up = 150
Rear brakes = 60 + 110 = 170
Trailing arm bush broken. Parts 94 x2 = 188 + 420 (for what?) = 608
Grand Total = $1169

I declined their offer to have the repairs done then and there. They finished the paperwork, had me sign it, and I was soon out of there. But not before I learned that there really was no charge! It was their way of making up for the mistake they made a few days before. In customer service parlance, this is called a “service recovery”. So for that, good job Certified Tire Center! Incidentally, I had an oil change done there 2 years ago and I gave them 5 stars on their website for not giving any recommendations and just did the oil change I requested. This time though there was a little bit of gentle pressure to have the repairs done, which I of course declined. Because of their service recovery, I again gave them 5 stars on their website with a more detailed explanation on why. In the meantime, I shall be taking their recommendations to my own mechanic for him to check out to see if they were really warranted. If so, my mechanic charges lesser than the chain stores. But thanks for the free oil change, tire rotation, and overall inspection.

Two weeks hence, I opened up my car hood (I had to open the manual to find out, LOL!), inspected the fluid levels, which seemed ok, checked the hoses and belts, also ok, but of course with an untrained eye. I also looked up on the internet what a trailing arm bush is and how to repair it. The parts were much lesser than what the mechanic quoted and I’m sure my mechanic doesn’t charge $420 for the labor. I may wait until after I return from my vacation in June to have that done, and in the meantime, I hope my car doesn’t fall apart. Considering it is 19 years old, it hasn’t given me any major problems and I’ve been lucky so far.

I just finished pricing the car on the Kelly Blue Book website and it said that if I sell to a private party, I may be able to get $1633 for it because it’s in good condition. If I trade it in for a new car, I may get from $769 to $1164 for it. Oh my, those amounts are pretty close to what my repair costs would have been! However I cannot afford to buy a new car so repairs it is, and hopefully my mechanic doesn’t charge an arm and a leg.

 Follow up: I looked up the symptoms of a failing trailing arm bushing at this website and I have not detected any of them in my car, so it may be another upsell from the service advisor: https://www.yourmechanic.com/article/symptoms-of-bad-or-failing-trailing-arm-bushings

Sunday, February 12, 2017

GPS Watches Review: Soleus SG100 and Garmin Forerunner 25

          Comparisons between these two brands have been written about ad nauseam as evidenced by a Google search, however, allow me to put in my two cents' worth, if you please.
          In the middle of 2016, the rubberized button of my previous decade’s Garmin Forerunner finally melted to the point where I couldn’t turn it on anymore. So I researched and looked for a replacement GPS watch on the internet and came upon a brand called Soleus. I had seen the brand before and I think they even sold it in Kohl’s Department stores. They were cheap as far as GPS watches go and I found the most basic Soleus SG100 on Ebay for $35. $35???!!! I don’t run much anymore so I don’t need a device with fancy schmancy bells and whistles, just something to measure time, distance, and pace.
          When the product arrived, I set it up, had it connect to the GPS satellites, which it did within about 30 seconds, then read the instructions. I took it out for a run a few days later and it seemed to function pretty well. What I had a hard time remembering was how to save the workout and turn off the GPS. It was months later when I finally figured it out somewhat (press the buttons in a counter clockwise direction). For the first few runs, I trusted the device like I used to trust my old GPS watches, but one time I plugged in the numbers in an online pace calculator and the Soleus measured about 30 seconds slower on the pace. I did that several more times with similar results. I emailed Soleus customer service and the response I got was basically when I stop running and turn the timer off, the device will continue measuring another 1/10th of a mile, resulting in the discrepancy between watch measurement of pace and the online pace calculator. So after every use of the Soleus, I would recheck the pace online and log the online pace in my exercise log instead. So Soleus: low price, lousy pace calculator. I don’t know if their higher end devices are any better.
          I wasn’t planning on buying another GPS watch anytime soon, but somebody gave me a $10 Amazon gift card for Christmas so on to the website I went and found a Garmin 25 for about $93, so the gift card took care of the taxes and the shipping was free. When I received the device, I set it up as usual and found that it was more intuitive or maybe I was more intuitive to its functions. It even had a step counter and a sleep tracker to boot. And it was much less bulkier than my 2 previous Garmins and it connected to the satellites much quicker.
          I tested it on a run and it tracked distance and pace as expected and after comparing it to the online calculator, the results were exactly alike. At last! Charging it via the USB plug launched a setup screen, I downloaded the software and signed up on the Garmin Express website. On my initial login, the system updated the software and as a result, also deleted my first run. Fortunately I had already written it in my exercise log. Subsequent logins and even a change in computers automatically recorded my workouts.
          One day, I was going to do my workout on the recumbent bike and I had a thought. Since the Garmin had a step counter, why not strap it to my ankle and see if counts how many pedals I did. Indeed it did. It counted about 4000 steps on one leg so that probably means I did 8000 pedals in a 45 minute workout. I’ve been strapping the device to my ankle ever since while doing a recumbent bike, spin bike, stairmaster, or treadmill walk workout at home. I hope that’s not considered cheating because I’m still doing an activity after all.
          All in all, I’m quite satisfied with the Garmin because it meets my needs. I have no idea what to do with the Soleus though.
          Oh, I forgot. The Garmin has an interval run/walk timer while the Soleus does not.
Here's an update: I finally downloaded the Soleus Sync software, signed up with Strava, and uploaded my runs to that website. First, I didn't recognize the last 2 runs that were uploaded because I was already using the Garmin by then, and it was a faster pace than what I'm capable of. The rest of the log showed the elapsed time of my runs were always a few seconds shorter than my actual time. For example, an hour run showed 59:49 and a 50 minute run showed 49:54. So in addition to the inaccurate pace, the watch logged some ghost workouts, and inaccurate time as well. How does that happen? And did you notice the photo above? How can the Soleus say it's March 14th when it's just February 11th, and I hadn't made any adjustments to it since I last used it? So I guess, buyer beware and read those ad nauseam reviews first.

Monday, January 2, 2017


HAPPY NEW YEAR and HAPPY NEW STATUS!!! After working since 1980 as a behavior specialist, behavior analyst, behavioral health worker, substance abuse technician, mental health worker, caregiver, and now a relief intake coordinator/behavioral health worker, I have decided to cut down on my work hours and try my hand at semi-retirement. Prior to that, I was a physical fitness instructor in the Philippines for 2 years. If anyone is counting, that would be 38 years of working full time except for a brief 6 month stint of being unemployed after being laid off in 2013.

Why just semi-retirement and not full retirement? Well, there's this thing called medical, dental, and vision insurance that I still need from something called a job, and I am reducing my work hours to the most minimum required to still obtain the insurance benefits, although I have to pay more for them. By the way, if it at all matters, I'm 59 and a half years old and 5 and a half years away from qualifying for Medicare.

Since November 2016, I had been considering cutting back on my work hours. Our full time schedule calls for three 12 hour shifts a week, and in the past 5 months, I particularly, had been assigned to work 2 nights a week on the psych units as a behavioral health worker with the patients, and 1 night a week as a relief intake coordinator in an office (which pays slightly more). I had been waiting to see how much of a pay increase I would get which I found out at the end of November. It was decent enough so I started calculating my monthly expenses against my possible income based on the lesser working hours, taking into account the taxes which would be taken out automatically from my paycheck. Based on this, I figured I might be able to survive with still a little leeway for unforeseen expenses, without dipping into my retirement nest egg.

Finally, a month ago, I emailed my Nurse Manager with a request to change my status from full time to part time, effective New Year's Day 2017. My last shift working full time was New Year's Eve.

I haven't figured out what to do with my free time between nights off yet and that's something I'll have to ponder. I've been having insomnia lately so maybe I'll be able to maintain better sleep patterns. Whatever happens in semi-retirement, it's going to be a new journey.
New Year's Eve at work