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Tag: traveling with dogs

Dozens of cousins, and several hams

This segment of Travels With Ace contains no Ace. For this jaunt, to Asheboro, N.C., for a family reunion, mom — not dog — was my co-pilot.

It was one of those rare times I made the call to leave Ace at home, for several reasons: We, temporarily, have one — a home, that is. He’s continuing to recuperate from a herniated disc. The reunion was being held inside a church that — while it’s one of those all-are-welcome Quaker ones — I didn’t want to surprise with an uninvited canine. (He’d have assaulted the buffet table, anyway.) On top of that, the back of my Jeep was fairly full, with a wheelchair my mother didn’t need, her walker, Ace’s new ramp, two dozen Krispy Kreme donuts (our donation to the lunch buffet) and a box of my books left over from an appearance last week.

Then too, I was picking up a microwave oven — a really big one — that cousin Laura from Charlotte was loaning me for use during my stay in the basement mansion.

All in all, the outing — and my mother’s outings have grown more rare of late – went quite smoothly. She didn’t offer a single commentary on my wardrobe choices, or my driving. And only a few times, such as when we were passing trucks, did she grab the door handle that way she does. At her insistence, we alloted two hours to make the one-hour trip, thus getting to town, as basic math would suggest, an hour early.

So we stopped by the family business — a funeral home now run by her brother’s sons. As my mother explains it, her father worked for his father-in-law, who owned a furniture business that started selling caskets, seeing them as a more Depression-proof product line. When my mother’s father inherited the business, he opened the first of what’s now several Pugh Funeral Homes.

From there, we drove by her old family home, then headed to the Bethel Friends Meeting, just outside of the town limits, which, on this particular Sunday had more Pughs than pews.

About 80 people were there — all descendants of Doe (short for Theodore) and Mary Pugh. For the first hour, people greeted each other and positioned food they had brought on the tables. For the second hour, we ate it.

My mother only got mad at me once, and it wasn’t my fault. Cousin Tommy Pugh, hearing I was going to be there, brought along his copy of my new book, “Dog, Inc.: The Uncanny Inside Story of Cloning Man’s Best Friend” for me to sign. As I was doing so, he and some other cousins said I should set up a little table — one not taken up by food — to sell and sign books.

I’d already pondered and ruled out that possibility, which struck me as a little too self-promotional and tasteless — hammy, you might say — especially considering this was my first time attending the reunion. I knew my mother would feel the same way, only more strongly.

Once I signed his book, Tommy set it in the upright position on table, so it could be better seen. When my mother saw it she objected to it being so blatantly displayed, and sent Lori, the wife of cousin Glenn, over to remove it and bring it to her. She placed it face down on the table.

Tommy continued quietly promoting it though, persuading John Pugh, a second cousin who’d traveled from Indiana for the reunion, that he should buy a copy.

After discussing the transaction in hushed tones, we snuck out to my car. Feeling a bit guilty that I’m not in a financial position to give all cousins free copies, and feeling a bit like a purveyor of street drugs, I quietly sealed the deal. I signed the book and gave him the second cousin discount, which, of course, is less than the first cousin discount.

There was one opportunity during the reunion to tout my book — when they asked anyone in the crowd to talk about anything new — but I was outside when that happened, spending some time with this dog who had wandered over from a nearby home.

He said hello, consented to an ear scratch, then wandered through a small playground, zig-zagged his way, at an adjoining cemetery, through the graves of Pughs past, then went back home.

(Should you be a Pugh family member, or if you want to peruse some Pughs, my photos of the reunion are in an album on my Facebook page.)

Despite any irreverence you might be sensing — (it’s hereditary) — I had an excellent time, even without my dog. It was great to meet relatives previously unknown to me, to reconnect with most of my cousins and to revisit the history of my mother’s side of the family, as we did earlier in New York with my dad’s.

After a few hours, with my loaned microwave and my mom back in car, we made the hour drive back to Winston-Salem. Before dropping her off, I asked her to show me the apartment she and my father lived in when I was born.

Her directions were perfect, and as I slowed down in front of a line of modest, look-alike one-story apartment units, in a little neighborhood known as College Village, she called out the address. It was the one with the “for rent” sign in the window.

Hmmmmm.

How circular would that be — to end up after what will soon be a year on the road, and after 57 years on life’s crazy slide — back in the place I was, presumably, conceived and first lived?

Now you see him; now you don’t

The mansion whose basement I’m living in has a big back yard, and in that big back yard is a big swimming pool, covered with a big black plastic tarp.

Ace likes to venture deep into the ivy behind the pool to do his business, and he’s always careful to avoid the pool on his way back.

Yesterday — and I blame the Valium — he didn’t.

As I watched — I’m monitoring him closely because he has been diagnosed with a herniated disc – he finished up and started walking straight for the pool. As I yelled “NOOOOOO!,” or words to that effect, he stepped right onto the black plastic tarp, which, unable to hold his 127 pounds, split, causing him to fall into the pool with a huge splash and disappear.

As far as scary moments in our continuing travels, it was right up there, second only to when, while I was holding his leash, he jumped over the railing at Niagara Falls, landing on a patch of grass that led to a sheer unprotected drop off into misty oblivion.

Fortunately, he jumped right back over then. And fortunately yesterday, his head almost immediately popped back up through the same hole he went through, and it was close enough to the side that he could drape his front paws over the edge of the pool and cling to it with a look of panic in his eyes.

On doggie swim days at Riverside Park back in Baltimore, Ace only went into the big boy pool once, preferring to wade in the baby one. When he did try the big one he was unable to get out. It took me and two friends to hoist him up and over the pool’s edge.

Yesterday, thanks either to adrenalin or the harness he’s been wearing instead of a collar since his diagnosis, I was able to pull him up enough for him to be able to get his back paws on the edge of the pool. I pulled, he pushed, and within a few seconds, he was out.

At that point, either invigorated by the cold and slightly green water, or just happy to be alive, he took off, darting around the yard for five minutes over my protestations. He’s supposed to be limiting his physical activity.

Once he calmed down, I noticed how bad he smelled and, with a public appearance scheduled for tonight, a bath was in order. In the middle of that, fully soaped up, he took off again, running in circles around the yard.

His herniated disc seemed far from his mind. I feared the incident would lead to a relapse, but all day, as in the past two days, it appeared to be bothering him less and less, and the yelps have ceased.

Between the tranquilizers and the the NSAIDs — and despite an unplanned morning swim in a yet to be opened pool — I think he’s making progress.

I haven’t yet told the lady of the manor about the damage he did. Earlier, she offered me the job of pool boy, if I end up staying into the summer, which would certainly look good — unlike the actual pasty and balding, pot-bellied, 57-year-old pool boy would himself — on the resume.

Now I may have no choice, needing to work off my debt for the torn tarp. How’s this for a deal? If you pay me extra, I’ll keep my shirt on.

No! No! No! He’s too young to be old

Ace has been stricken.

With exactly what, I don’t know. But in the past four days, he has taken to yelping when he gets up from a long nap or makes a sudden move.

At the dog park this week, he has plodded along lethargically, showing little interest in other dogs — even when he ran into this little white fellow who shares his name. How’s that for a pair of Aces?

I have poked and prodded every inch of his oversized body, but I’m unable to pinpoint what particular spot might be hurting him.

So today, we’re off to the vet.

My first thought was the hips. That’s based partly on the simple fact that he’s very big. Then, too, some of you might recall, when I took Ace to an animal communicator three months ago, she told me he was having some mild discomfort in that area. Add in the 10 months we’ve been traveling, and all the hopping up into and down from the back of my jeep he’s been doing, and the hips seem as good a guess as any.

I knew the day would come when the jumping in and out of the car would need to cease, and given his size, maybe that practice should never have started. Chances are — at age 6 — that day is here, earlier than I expected, and not without some accompanying guilt on my part.

Yesterday I ordered a ramp.

Then again, it might not be his hips at all. Although he’s hesitating to jump into the car, he’s not yelping when he does so — only when makes a sudden movement, usually after laying still.

I’ve pushed on his paws, rubbed the lengths of his legs, looked into his ears and down his throat, poked his belly and prodded his hips. None of that seemed to bother him. He didn’t yelp. He didn’t do that thing he does where his eyes get big, which signifies, to me, anyway, rising alarm on his part. That would have told me I was getting close.

The only time he yelped was when I lowered his head, making me think maybe the pain is in his neck, or spine-related. A half hour massage followed, which, though it might not have helped at all, he seemed to appreciate.

I am puzzled, too, about how much of his current “down-ness” is physical, and how much of it might be emotional.

Twice, I’ve come home to hear him howling — not howls of pain, I don’t think, but howls of loneliness. Twice I’ve left the video camera on, to try and capture their onset, but he didn’t howl those times. And the times he did, he immediately cheered up and ran around when I walked through the door.

I’m pretty sure Ace is less than in love with our new basement quarters, though he likes the upstairs and yard just fine. He has shown a distinct preference for being outside, content to lay at top of stairs, keeping an eye on the kitchen window of the mansion owner, who gives him a daily biscuit.

Something about the basement bothers him. And friends I’ve talked about it with have different theories. Maybe he was mistreated in a basement in his puppyhood. Maybe the old mansion we’re living under is haunted. Maybe, with a firehouse around the corner, the sirens are bothering him, though they never have before — and we lived in Baltimore, where sirens are background music. Maybe it’s the lack of sunlight, or he’s getting arthritic and the cold and dampness of the cellar aggravate it.

He’s moving slowly, lethargically (except when the treats come out), and rather than circling twice before laying down, he’s circling about eight times.

Yesterday, working with my theory that it might be his neck, I took a treat and moved it around in front of him — from side to side, then up and down. There were no yelps. Either it caused no pain, or the thought of getting food superceded it.

So, with fingers crossed, we’re headed to the nearest veterinarian, with hopes that whatever is bothering him is something minor, something that will pass or doesn’t cost too much to fix,  something unrelated to all the traveling I’ve put him through — 21,000 miles of it over the past ten months, something that is neither chronic nor old-age related.

Because he’s too young to be old.

Tales of debasement: Living 6 feet under

One of the disadvantages of living six feet under – aside from the lack of sunlight, of which we’ve already spoken – is the worms.

I measured the other day and determined that the entrance to the basement apartment Ace and I are living in is exactly six feet beneath ground level. I’m trying – despite coming from a family of undertakers – to not read anything into that.

It was while trying not to read anything into it, standing in the stairwell just outside my door to smoke a cigarette — here in a town that owes its existence to, as they’re sometimes called, coffin nails — that I noticed the worms, slithering by my feet.

The “man cave,” as the owner of the mansion in North Carolina calls it, is a fine place – warm, clean and comfortable, with a wood burning stove.

But living in a basement can play games with your mind – both dog mind and human mind, I think.

Ace has shown a distinct preference for the upstairs, and I don’t think it’s solely because its occupant, the homeowner, is prone to handing him treats – making sure to give one to her dog, Lord Barkley, at the same time.

He dashes up the ten stairs to the outside, ground-level world, and shows some hesitancy when it’s time to head back down. Twice now, I’ve returned from brief outings to hear him moaning from the bowels of the mansion – eerie moans that cease as soon as he hears me coming down the stairs.

I’m wondering if he has a touch of seasonal affective disorder, or if maybe he’s sensing some evil spirits lurking within the mansion walls. Or, it could just be the newness of it – though he’s stayed in about 100 new places over the past nine months. It might even be the fireplace. The sound of crackling wood distresses him, and he tends to never forget sources of distress.

Possibly, he – a very social dog — is bothered by the lack of socialization that seemingly comes with living in a basement. Even though we get out several times a day, there’s a sense of solitude when you’re a cellar dweller that follows you up to the earth’s surface – a feeling that you’re disappearing, a need to shout, “Hey, I’m here. Look at me. You do see me, don’t you?”

Maybe other people can’t see you anymore. Maybe, the memory of you, too, is vanishing.

John and Ace? Oh yeah, they used to hang around the park. Nice dog. Didn’t he write a book about something … John, I mean. Whatever happened to them?

Last I heard they’d gone underground. They’re with the worms now.

Sorry to hear that. Ace will be missed.

The worms aren’t actually that bad. They come out of a drainpipe built into the bottom step, then slither their way to an underground drain in the floor, about 18 inches away, go down that hole and – I’m guessing here, because they all look alike — continue to make the circuit every time it rains.

I’m not sure whether their journey is intentional, or not. Perhaps it’s a light at the end of the tunnel thing. Perhaps they’re seeking some refreshment, a quick burst of sunlight, then taking the subway back home to their families beneath the dirt. But, in any case,  I think they might be on to something.

The secret to living underground, in addition to buying more lamps, is to get out as much as possible.

Then again, partly a result, I think, of my subterranean lifestyle, I have a growing fear – unrealistic as it might be — that I might not be accepted on the actual surface of the earth; that when I slowly emerge, pale and slow-moving, blinking my eyes in the harsh light of day, perhaps a worm or two squirming in my hair, I might frighten people.

They might shriek in horror. “He’s coming out! He’s coming out!” They might run away, convinced that I am intent on drinking their blood, or, worse yet, smoking a cigarette.

“Hideous monster. Why can’t he just stay underground, where he can’t infect us with his evil ways?” they’d say. “We don’t need his likes up here.”

“Nice dog, though.”

Atlantic City casino goes dog-friendly

You won’t see dogs playing poker — they’re banned from the gaming room floor — but one casino in Atlantic City has  turned dog friendly, welcoming dogs into guest rooms and providing treats, food and water bowls and even a keepsake duffle bag.

Showboat has officially marked its territory as the only dog-friendly casino in Atlantic City.

The casino-hotel has set aside a collection of rooms in its New Orleans Tower to accommodate all kinds of canines.

“We’re thrilled to bring Pet Stay Atlantic City to our guests and provide the royal treatment to man’s best friend,” said Joe Domenico, Senior Vice President and General Manager for Showboat and Bally’s Atlantic City. “This initiative puts Showboat at the forefront of Atlantic City’s world-class offerings and will bring more customers to our casinos without having to leave their pets behind.”

A party to kick off the new program was held last week in Showboat’s Club Harlem.

The pet program is open to dogs only and allows a maximum of 2 dogs up to 50 pounds per room. There is a $40 fee per night for pets, but the fee will be waived during the first two weeks of the program’s launch.

Dogs are allowed in the hotel but are not permitted on the casino floor or in food and beverage areas, the spa or retail shops.

For more information, check the Showboat website.

(Photo: Courtesy of Showboat Casino)

Getting to (sniff, sniff) know you

Humans need a play stance.

I came to this conclusion yesterday — adding yet another item to the list of things dogs do better than us – as Ace and I arrived for the first time at the only dog park in Winston-Salem proper (and Winston-Salem is pretty proper).

Being new and mostly friendless in the town in which we’ve decided to temporarily base ourselves, we left our quarters in the basement of a mansion and, for a little socialization, headed a couple miles down the road to Washington Park, where dogs can run and play in a fenced-in area.

Of course, Ace hardly romped at all. It being a new scene for him, his first priority was to give all things a good sniffing  – other dogs included. But, on this day, he was more the sniffee than the sniffer.

The second I closed the gate behind us, five other dogs — realizing there was a new face — bounded over for a whiff, following so close behind his rear end that, when he stopped abruptly … well you know the rest.

Butts aside, it’s an intriguing thing to watch, this seeming welcome, and one I noticed often back at Ace’s old park in Baltimore. When a first-timer arrives, all the other dogs come over to give the new guy a sniff. To view that as an act of kindness is, of course, anthropomorphic. But still it’s kind of sweet.

This weekend, Ace — though he was used to being the dean of his old park — was the new kid on the block.

He courteously sniffed those who sniffed him, but was more interested in checking out the space, the water bowl and the humans than in playing with the other dogs. We’d been there a full hour before he even chased another dog — all of whom were playing energetically with each other.

Dee Dee, a beagle, and Bailey, a whippet mix, (both pictured atop this post) had great play stances and used them often: Butts pointed skyward, front legs stretched all the way out, heads lowered. It, in the canine world, is a universal signal, a way of saying “You don’t need to be afraid of me, this is all in good fun, it’s playtime, let’s go.”

I can think of no counterpart when it comes to human body language — no gesture or stance we have that is as easily noticeable and understood. The handshake? No, that’s just standard procedure, basic manners. Perhaps the one that came closest was the peace sign.

Rather than having a universal play stance, we resort to words, which often only make things more confusing. We try to make sense of subtle body language and interpret what we think are queues, neither of which we’re that good at, either.

All that could be resolved if we only had a human play stance — a position we could place our bodies in that signifies we’re open to getting to know a fellow human.

We’ve got the war stance down. We all know the fighting stance, or at least enough to put our dukes up. But there’s no simple gesture or motion we humans can make — at least not without possibility of criminal charges or restraining orders – that sends a signal that peace, harmony and fun are ahead.

We can’t, without repercussions, do the butt-sniffing thing. We can’t, of course, go around peeing on each other’s pee. 

But why can’t we come up with a play stance — one that says I’m open to getting to know you better, and perhaps even frolicking a bit?

Because that would be too easy for a species as complex as ours? Too honest? Too direct?

It was easier when we were children. A simple ”Wanna play?” sufficed. Somehow, on the way to becoming adults, we started opting instead for far less direct, far stupider comments, like “Do you come here often?” and “What’s your sign?”

Adopting a play stance for the human race, at this point – with all that we have evolved, with how sophisticated and suspicious and manipulative we as a society have become — would be difficult. It might be too late.

Two thumbs up and a grin? Standing with arms outstretched, knees bent, while waving people toward you? Most anything I can come up to signal you are accepting new people into your life would have the exact opposite effect, and send them running.

In the final analysis, being human, maybe we’re stuck with words, and small talk, and being less straightforward, sincere and, quite likely, pure of heart and motive than dogs.

Ace will make friends his way, and I will make friends mine (which is most often with his help). But between him and my conversational skills, I’ll be fine. And by the way, do you come here often?

Dwelling in the cellar of an old mansion

It was a dark and stormy night. Really. The pouring rain had subsided, but a steady drizzle fell and the old trees swayed in the wind as I pulled my car around the circular driveway and parked in front of the mansion.

I left Ace in the car and walked up to the front door. As soon I knocked — as if the scene was being scripted by a horror movie director — a crack of thunder rattled the night sky.

Slowly, the door creaked open.

The lady of the manor greeted me warmly, invited me in and introduced me to the lord.

“This,” she said, “is Lord Barkley.”

Lord Barkley is short in stature, with stubby legs and a proud stance. He eyed me warily, keeping his distance — standing still but ever so slightly pushing his nose in my direction, as if to get a tiny whiff of me, but not my total essence.

Clearly, he was the cautious type. Slowly he approached me, his thick and fluffy, well-groomed hair – black, white and brown – flouncing as, stepping gingerly, he advanced. I held out my hand, and he gave me a fuller sniffing, seeming particularly interested in my left shoe.

He opted to stay upstairs as his lady showed me to what will be home base for Ace and me for a few months during this latest leg of our travels: the basement — or as the homeowner calls it, the wine cellar – of a stately old mansion in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

It’s a large room, with kitchen and living area, the centerpiece of which is big wood-burning stove, with a bedroom and bathroom and wine cellar off to the side. A fire was burning in the stove and a plate of brownies sat atop the extra-wide kitchen counter, which was built with wood salvaged from a burned-down house.

The TV doesn’t work, or the refrigerator, but those are minor details which, I’m assured, will be rectified in due time.

Details about our host, for now, shall remain vague – at least until I set up some ground rules with her. Just because I’m exposing my life, and Ace’s, as I recount our continuing travels doesn’t give me the right to, without some permissions, expose hers. Etiquette – we are in the south now, after all – demands I show some restraint, that I have some manners in the manor. I’m sure ya’ll understand.

Back upstairs – no, please, after you, I insist – the lady of the manor gave me a quick tour, showing me some of her most prized possessions. Then she encouraged me to bring Ace inside to meet Lord Barkley, something I had hoped to put off until the next day given the possibility of him tracking mud onto carpets, especially after learning at least one of them was a gift from Middle Eastern royalty.

Ace was eager to enter, and I attempted to keep him on a short leash. Lord Barkley gazed at him long and hard, a slightly surprised look on his face. He cautiously approached and, as he had done with me, gave him a slight sniff at first – as if at a wine tasting — followed by deeper sniffing.

His lordship — and 8-year-old Sheltie — remained totally calm about it all, his tail wagging rhythmically. He seemed unbothered by a strange dog entering a domain in which he has been the sole canine inhabitant, and where he, on the days the maid comes, enjoys breakfast in bed with his master.

Ace, who is used to smaller dogs excitedly jumping all over him, seemed to appreciate Lord Barkley’s sedate nature, and while I think he was eager to explore every nook and cranny of the mansion, Ace sat mostly still and behaved well.

In the weeks ahead we’ll be telling you more about Lord Barkley, his owner, and our cellar-dwelling lifestyle. For now though, the first thing we need to shine a light on is our living space, which, being underground, stays fairly dim. As a result, Ace and I – both normally early risers – are finding ourselves sleeping in. An alarm clock might be a good investment.

Still, those are minor details. As for the most major one – whether Ace and Lord Barkley would hit it off – I think they have. Both being calm and gentle types, I think they’re destined to become good friends during our days in the mansion.

My only worry is that Ace might start expecting breakfast in bed, too

Roadside Encounters: Mikey and Soju

Names: Mikey and Soju 

Breeds: Pug and Great Dane 

Encountered: At Riverside Park in Baltimore

Backstory: I got to spend some time with two of my favorite local dogs yesterday — a day whose warm temperatures led both humans and canines to linger at Riverside Park, in no particular hurry to get back home.

Even if it’s not here to stay, the mild weather was welcome — especially to Ace, after a winter of being rushed through the dog walk by an owner hoping to quickly get the “mission” accomplished and himself back indoors …

“C’mon, do your business, my toes are frozen. It’s too cold. Let’s go.”

In retrospect, in this past month, I’ve probably been, in Ace’s eye, a bit of a buzzkill.

Doing his duty, I don’t think, has ever been the foremost mission in Ace’s mind during trips to the park (hence the urging). He sees it as more of a happy hour, or preferably two – a chance to add to his scent portfolio, visit old dog friends, meet some new ones, and track down those folks who, at some point in history, have provided him with a treat.

Yesterday was the kind of visit he likes best — a long one, with good dog friends to play with, new ones to sniff out, and lots of humans to mooch off. (If you have treats in your pocket, Ace will determine which pocket and, should you need prompting, attempt to insert his nose inside it. When it comes to freeloading, I think I have learned some of his skills, and he has picked up some of mine.)

We got to catch up with our old friend Soju — he’s named after the vodka-like (but sweeter) Korean beverage. Soju and Ace are old friends, and they used to wrestle endlessly at Riverside, a true up-on-the-hind-legs, paw-swinging battle of the titans. When one of them went down, you could almost feel the earth shake.

They went at it for a bit yesterday, with Ace, the older of the two, watching as Soju galloped around him in circles, then tackling him like a lazy linebacker when Soju veered close enough.

Mikey stayed out of the fray — a wise choice given he’s not much bigger than a football. Mikey, a therapy dog with one of the more expressive faces you’ll ever see, generally avoids the roughhousing, choosing instead to sit at your feet, looking up at you with big brown bulging eyes until you give him a treat, no matter how long it takes.

Good things, he seems to know, come to those who wait – and spring is one example. Yesterday didn’t mark it’s arrival, but even a false precursor was welcome, and dogs and humans soaked it up. It occurs to me that we should send thank you notes to spring — perhaps that would lead her to stay around a little longer and forestall the inevitable arrival of her evil sister summer, who always comes to early and stays past her welcome.

Speaking of staying past one’s welcome, Ace and I — after a glorious month in a friend’s empty house in Federal Hill — will be hitting the road again next week.

As of now, it appears we will be heading south, where we plan to stay in an undetermined location for an indeterminate period of time. How’s that for a plan?

Once again, we’ll tear ourselves away from Baltimore, where — in addition to promoting my new book — the last month has allowed us to get ourselves organized, experience a semblance of stability, soak in a hot tub on a rooftop deck (just me, not Ace) and savor the pleasures of our old neighborhood.

I’ll miss my corner bar. Ace will miss his favorite park. But, as I think I said nine months ago — when Ace and I first embarked on our journey to discover America, its dogs and the people who love them — there’s one thing we’ll miss most of all:

Friends … big and small.

(To see all our Roadside Encounters, click here.)

Techno-whipped? I pity the fool

In our eighth month of bouncing about this expansive and expensive country, Ace and I seemed headed for our most frugal stretch yet – thanks mainly to lucking out and finding some free housing upon our return to Baltimore.

For the first time, in our continuing effort to see America while spending less than what we were while sedentary and housed – about $1,500 for rent, food and utilities – we were looking at a three digit number instead of four.

Now, thanks to my stupidity, and with an assist from Verizon, we’ve blown it, and somebody has some explaining to do.

Before we left on our journey, I canceled my home Internet service (through Verizon) and signed up for wireless mobile broadband (through a different part of Verizon), allowing us to get online no matter where we were for $59 a month – the package they suggested for a heavy user.

It worked pretty great. There were only two or three locations in our 22,000 miles of travels, where service was non-existent or spotty.

I was so pleased, I even eventually sent Verizon the payment they were seeking from me for home Internet service for the month following the date I moved out of my house. It was basically a choice between paying the money I didn’t really owe, being regularly harassed by the credit agency to which they turned the matter over, or spending far too much time on the phone, holding and then some, to try and straighten it out.

All was going smoothly with my wireless mobile broadband — or so I thought until last week, when Verizon informed me that for the past two months I’d gone over monthly limit, and that I owed them more than $400. Read more »

Baltimore: A refreshing slap in the face

 

Of all the oddball places Ace and I passed through in our recently completed 22,000 miles of travels across the U.S., none came close, in that particular category, to Baltimore.

In other words, there’s no place like home.

Sure, there may be some small pockets of pretentiousness in Baltimore, but all in all it’s a city that doesn’t put on airs. And that is what I like about it – its honesty.

On Friday, during my first full week back in the city, I kept running into that theme — “yes I have warts, would you like to see them?” — as I checked in at the old storage unit, dropping off a few unneeded things and picking up some others to spartanly furnish the housing I have finagled for the month ahead.

I’ll tell you  more about that next week; for now suffice to say: Federal Hill, rooftop deck, downtown view … from the hot tub.

It’s a much more well-heeled area than the part of town my stuff is in, but then my stuff isn’t too choosy, having come from humble origins. Much of it was discarded on a sidewalk, thrown in Dumpsters or donated to Goodwill before finding a forever home with me.

For the past eight months, as Ace and I criss-crossed the U.S., it has sat in a unit at one of those self-storage places — visited, it appears, only by mice, whose droppings were everywhere.

It was in my stuff’s neighborhood that I ran into the well-bundled-up fellow above, at Patapsco and Potee, a highly alliterative intersection in Brooklyn frequented by people seeking handouts, most of whom carry a piece of cardboard briefly explaining the dilemma they allegedly are in and what they are willing to do to get out of it.

Rather than bore drivers with his life story, this guy drafted a sign listing only his short term goal. I’m not sure how much his “transparency,” as we like to call it nowadays, paid off, but it worked on me. I forked over a buck.

I found that same sort of refreshing honesty at my next stop, Blue Crab Xpress, next door to the storage lot where my stuff is.

It’s an interesting little place — half liquor store, half seafood deli. I’m not sure if the warning sign on their front door was meant for mice or people. It gave me some second thoughts about getting lunch there, but I proceeded to order a crab sandwich, anyway.

As I waited for my order, I visited with some of the blue crabs, piled up in bushel baskets, partly covered with towels, almost as if they’d been tucked in.

Tempted as I was to lift their blanket for a better look, I didn’t want to wake them. Besides, another sign warned against it: ”Please do not play with crabs. May be crabs get stress + die earleier. You might get bit also.”

I also learned that at the Blue Crab Xpress, credit cards aren’t honored.

I ate my crab cake sandwich — quite exceptional — in the car, parked next to an Utz potato chip truck whose driver was slumped over the steering wheel taking a nap.

Fortified, I went next door to the storage lot — something I’d been putting off doing partly because it has been so cold, partly because I knew I wouldn’t be able to find what I was mainly looking for, some warmer clothes.

I made a few withdrawls from it – my futon mattress, some chairs and tables and one unmarked box, chosen at random. I decided it would be fun to open it up later and see what was inside.

Since I need to go back to the storage unit, anyway — for it is in major need of some reorganization and, perhaps, a warning sign telling mice to stay away — I thought if the box turned out to contain useless stuff, I could always bring it back or toss it.

Into my storage unit I tossed by rooftop carrier and its contents, some stinky tennis shoes that need a month off (and might drive away the mice) and other things, like camping gear, I won’t be needing anytime soon.

Back at my temporary quarters, I opened the box and discovered I had made a lucky pick. It contained two jackets, a spatula, a can opener, a coffee cup and my winter coat.

I will wear it today when — taking a break from decorating my house (think early college student) — I go over to the Lighthouse Tavern to watch the Baltimore Ravens beat the Pittsburgh Steelers. Mainly, though, I am going there to renew my bonds with old friends, because friends are so important, and such relationships should be … Oh the heck with it.

Why lie? I need a beer.

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