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Monday, February 03, 2014

Long Month's Journey Into E-Mail - The Letter "A"

It took me about 10 years, but it has finally reached that point. My e-mail account is officially out of control.

In the early days of e-mail, back in the 1990s, people learned the hard way that an e-mail address is something that should be shared as little as possible. Signing up for "new offers" became a nightmare, as retail outlets forced an e-mail out to all subscribers roughly every 48 hours for some kind of new "bargain".

I thought I knew better. I truly thought that with over 20 years of internet surfing under my belt that I finally knew how to control the influx of e-mail to my inbox. Roughly 900 e-mails in my inbox later, I find that I was sadly mistaken.

So, since today is a scheduled day off for me, I thought I'd begin the task of cleaning out my inbox, while at the same time, offering the reader random insights into my world and its machinations, as explained by who sends me e-mail on a regular (or perhaps irregular) basis. This will be a regular feature throughout the month of February until the bottom of the e-mail folder is reached. To make things easier, I have ordered my e-mail box alphabetically by sender. I'm going to do these posts one letter (or group of letters) at a time so as to keep your attention. Today's posting is brought to you by the letter "A".

I'll give you a minute to grab a few beers, some cookies or equivalent biscuits and allow you to settle in for our journey.....

With that, let us begin:

AAPC / 8 E-mails - I have been a certified medical coder since 1998, the American Academy of Professional Coders (or AAPC) is my licensing organization, and I have two current certifications through the organization. Currently, I am looking at 8 e-mails dating back to January 15th of 2013. We have 3 receipts, two for national conferences from last year in Orlando, Florida and Nashville, Tennessee (coming up this April) respectively, and one for my membership renewal fees that come up once a year. I'll be generating the latter again in June. Since maintaining my certification is now a necessity of my occupational life, I can claim all of these receipts for tax purposes (this is where I print and delete). I have one e-mail welcoming me to last year's conference in Orlando (delete), a reminder from last May that my membership fees are due (paid; delete) and an e-mail thanking me for my registration to this year's National Conference (delete). I also have an e-mail talking about how I can get certified for ICD-10.

What is ICD-10, you ask? I'll going to try to make this simple, but apparently, I never can. "ICD" stands for International Classification of Diseases. IN 1900, the World Health Organization (WHO) agreed on a global standard for disease reporting, with the original plan being to update the reporting system every ten years afterward. The United States currently uses the 9th Revision (ICD-9) for all billing and coding. It should be noted here that we are the last first-world country still using it, as it was released in the 1970's. When I first became a certified coder in 1998, I was told that ICD-10 usage would begin in the U.S. in the year 2000. This was a wild exaggeration, as the United States has finally decided to join the rest of the modernized world on October 1, 2014. It is a wasted exercise, as ICD-11 is due to be released by WHO in May of 2015. When I pointed this out to the geniuses that run the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), I was told that it is now too expensive to wait for the most modern system, which is a bald-faced lie. If you want to write your congressman about any subject, I ask you to write to him or her and beg for ICD-10 to be permanently shelved in favor of ICD-11. The 11th Revision includes clinical language which will lead to better treatment, which I have always believed was the goal of "health care".

The last e-mail from the AAPC was a daily digest from a LinkedIn group that they ran that was a total waste of my time. I unsubscribed from this group in December and must have forgotten to delete this last digest. I just fixed that.

ADVANCE Newsletters / 8 E-mails - ADVANCE is a company who provides free publications for certain occupations. The one I currently subscribe to is for Health Information Management, which is actually an area of expertise for people who do billing for hospital facility services. I have been a subscriber for years. They used to make a print edition, which consisted of medical transcriptionists complaining that they were in a dying profession and no one wanted to pay them what they thought they deserved. This became expensive, and ADVANCE now sends out e-mails. All eight of these are either the regular e-mail blast with stories about ICD-10 (there it is again) or attempts to sell me something. I am deleting all of these, and if you give me a moment, I am going to unsubscribe from the publication permanently. It no longer deserves my time.

Afton Milwaukee / 1 E-mail - Afton is one of these groups that will book musicians in certain venues in cities, provided that you swell 50 tickets for your friends to see yourself and promise to never get paid. The e-mail that I have is telling me that Afton has a Washington, D.C. branch. As I leave the house every morning at 6:30 to drive 50 minutes to work, stay until 5 PM and then return to my home at roughly 6:10 every evening after the nightly commute, my musical career is slowly sinking like a rock. Even if it wasn't, I don't like groups like this, as it perpetuates a system where the musician gets screwed out of money for the faint glimmer of hope that recognition could come with the next gig. Mark this one "safe to delete".

Al Quaglieri / 1 E-mail - Al Quaglieri is a longtime producer in the music business. His first credits go back to 1958 and records by Johnny Cash. Recently, he works as a producer on reissues of of classic albums or box sets for Sony. It is in this capacity that I came to be in possession of an e-mail from him.

One of my favorite songwriters is Laura Nyro. For all but the hardcore fans, she was known as a writer who created hits for other people, among the "Eli's Coming" by Three Dog Night, "Stoned Soul Picnic" and "Wedding Bell Blues" by the 5th Dimension and one of my favorites, "And When I Die" by Blood, Sweat and Tears. Her first four solo recordings are just phenomenal, and Al Quaglieri has worked on reissues of a few of them, as well as acting as the producer and liner note author of a live recording from 1971 that was released in 2004.

For a time in the early 2000's, I belonged to an online chat group about Laura Nyro, and Al reached out to the group to offer some free professional copies of reissues and what became the live album from 1971. He did this with the proviso that these not be offered on eBay or he would come after anyone who did. He offered a temporary e-mail for the requests. I requested Eli and the 13th Confession and Live at the Fillmore East, March 30th, 1971, both of which I received and both of which remain in my collection. If you have a chance, look over this list of albums and reissues upon which this man has worked. It's a rather profound list. With that, I delete this e-mail from 2004 telling me that the albums are on their way.

As for the chat group, there are two people I still talk to from time to time, but I left because there were some people in the group (in particular one squirrelly guy from Chicago) who tended to be politically correct scolds and way too sensitive. Rather than waste my time in an online kabuki dance of manners, I left. In the end, I have to be me.

(Co-worker / Named Redacted) / 1 E-mail - From time to time, I get work e-mails in my personal e-mail box. This is as a result of having shared it with my boss and a few other key people at work during my pre-employment phase. As a result, if the sender isn't careful, I get e-mail threads for work in my personal inbox. This particular co-worker was replying to an e-mail from my boss, which included my home e-mail on the CC line. The co-worker's last name begins with "A". I have read and deleted.

Allmusic Membership / 1 E-mail - For a very short time in 2004, I was a member of the Allmusic Guide, which has become the music information juggernaut (for better or for worse, mostly worse) of the streaming music era. Membership allowed you to provide clarification on entries in the Allmusic Guide. When I tried to update the profile of one of my favorite songwriters, David Ackles, with information showing that his main instrument was piano, I received a rude e-mail back from them stating that they "could not verify the information" and further wording that intimated that my information couldn't be trusted. If they had any institutional curiosity, aside from making themselves the main purveyor of useless music information and band reviews on the internet, they could have picked up any one of the four albums David Ackles made in his lifetime and read the credits that stated "David Ackles: Piano, Vocals". Apparently, quoting Richie Unterberger ad nauseum for every band that ever existed is the preferred course of the Allmusic Guide. The e-mail I have is for password information. Consider that deleted. If you want to know anything about bands from the past, go to Wikipedia for the time being. The Allmusic Guide is full of opinionated biographies written by one guy ( the aforementioned Unterberger) who apparently likes to write dismissive one-paragraph dreck about artists he doesn't like and mini-novellas about the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Without simple, neutral artist biographies, the Allmusic Guide has become the greatest hinderance to true music discovery in the internet age.

(Named Redacted) / 1 E-mail - This e-mail dates back to 2005 and is from a former co-worker of my wife Leslie. It involved getting connections to the local music scene in Milwaukee. That didn't work out so well, as the e-mail thread talks about links to my MySpace page. This is a good time to tell everyone I know that I cannot access my MySpace page, and I haven't been able to in years. If the first listing for me on Google is for my MySpace page, ignore it. The information is terribly out of date and to quote Seth Myers, MySpace is the world's largest abandoned amusement park, no matter how hard they try to make it for musicians only.

Amazon / 7 E-mails -  Yes, like every other agoraphobe in the world, I have an Amazon account. These seven e-mails are offering me assorted deals on hot chocolate at Starbucks (why?), assorted albums (mostly by Bob Dylan) and luggage, all expired. I also have a request to rate a purchase from 2012, a receipt for merchandise I've already received back in 2011 and another order I received last June. Finally, there is a promotional credit of $1 that expired four days ago. I really must review my e-mail more often. Seven e-mails read and seven subsequently deleted.

American Red Cross / 2 E-mails - I am a long-time blood donor. I was spoiled living in Wisconsin, as the Blood Center of Wisconsin made donating easy. When I moved to Maryland, I had to set up an account with the Red Cross to donate regularly. One of these e-mails is for online access, and one is a thank you for making an appointment I had back in November. I challenge you to give blood, but to also delete unwanted e-mails to save a life.

Ann Crowley and Anna Galland / 4 E-mails - These are examples of what I call "advocacy e-mails". Ann Crowley is the membership director for the Human Rights Campaign and Anna Galland works for MoveOn.org. While I generally agree with the policies and beliefs of these two organizations, the number of e-mails I regularly receive from advocacy groups has reached a tipping point, and is one of the biggest reasons why my inbox has exploded. I just unsubscribed from both of their e-mail lists, as I have from about 15 other organizations recently. I wish them luck, but I don't want the inbox fodder.

Annie B. / 5 E-mails - Annie is a musician friend of mine from Milwaukee. I am on her e-mail list for upcoming shows. As I can't help her out on that front, I'd like to take this opportunity to help her promote her latest project. Annie wants to do a tour of the Midwest in the Spring, but needs some financial help making it a reality. If you can, click here and throw her a few bucks to make her dreams a reality. Annie's had a bit of a tough go on the personal front over the last 18 months, but she soldiers on. I would consider it a personal favor if you donated, and she's almost at her goal. If original, honest music means anything to you, you'll consider donating.

ASCAP / 21 E-mails - I am a member of ASCAP. Having said that, I have never copyrighted any of my songs through them because the website they provide to do that is confusing and completely unhelpful. In the days when musicians got paid (what a concept!), I thought of ASCAP as a racketeering organization. Now, being on the other side of the fence and seeing just how severe a financial penalty artists are expected to pay, I believe in ASCAP's mission to compensate songwriters and performing artists for their work.

Most of the e-mails from ASCAP are the "Daily Brief", which is sent out to document the atrocity that is the new music model. A few are for the ASCAP Expo, which I never attend, and there are a few related to the website that doesn't work. I'm going to keep the latter, then review and delete the former.

Aurora Health Care / 1 E-mail - The Wal-Mart of Milwaukee Health Care sent me an e-mail back in November telling me about their new online patient portal, myAurora. I had the old portal from my time working for Advanced Healthcare, a company I promptly left when Aurora took them over. Unfortunately, provider networks being what they are, I continued to see Aurora doctors, hence my access to the portal. Since I had a moment, I decided to re-register for the new portal. I find that I have no appointments, no outstanding medical bills, and I haven't had my cholesterol checked in 16 months. I'm sure the cholesterol number is well over 300, but it's not impressive unless I set the record. Re-registering for the site created another e-mail. I deleted that one, too.

We have finished the letter A. Tomorrow, we take a look at the letter B. This is going to be quite the project.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

A Timely Restart / Adventures in Moving

In looking at this, what was once and will be my personal blog, it appears that I haven't made an entry in over 5 years (!). Let's bring everyone up to speed.

For a large part of the last five years, I was the compliance officer/coder/consultant/tornado spotter/blogger for a company in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. Some of my contributions to their blog can be found here. I say some because it appears that my former employer deleted (at the very least) my final posting, which said goodbye to what had turned out to be quite a sizable audience. Alas, in some quarters, there shall be no entertainment. 

At the end of August of this year, I left their employ and packed up my family, pets and what turns out to be quite a heavy CD collection to Gaithersburg, Maryland. The day after Labor day, I began a new job with an entity who shall remain nameless to all but my closest friends and colleagues for purposes of literary freedom. My new paymasters need not worry, as I hope to be a credit rather than a detriment.

To begin anew in an old space, I thought I would begin this old/new writing venture with the story of my move to Maryland, as it was quite eventful. Those who read this who are also friends of mine on Facebook will recognize this story, but there are many others who have not heard the story in detail. Rather than tell the story as a narrative, I'd like to share with you e-mails that went back and forth between myself and Budget Truck Rental. I feel this is the best way to tell the story.

Report Customer Experience 
Sunday, September 15, 2013 via Online Form
 
Description Of The Situation: My family made a decision to move our 
possessions from Milwaukee, WI to Gaithersburg, MD. I reserved a Budget
Truck online on August 7th, 2013. 

On August 24th, 2013, I showed up to RJN Weger, LLC., the Budget rental agent in West Allis, WI that was closest to my home in Milwaukee, at 8 AM, which was my scheduled pickup time. Upon showing up to the Weger Agency, I was told that he had no 24' trucks in stock due to the one truck that he had expected back that day being held for an extra day by another renter. I was also informed that
the closest alternate 24' foot truck available was located in Kenosha, WI, which was roughly 40 miles away from what was my local renting agency. I was also told that the tow dolly that I had reserved was also a no-go at Weger, and that the only thing he had available was a tow trailer. 

Due the the agency's poor planning, I was forced to drive to Kenosha, WI to Dan Stepler's Auto World to pick up what was apparently the only 24' truck in all of Southeastern Wisconsin. Amarjit, the agent at Auto World, also had no tow dolly, and could only provide me with 19 furniture pads, rather than the 24 that I had reserved. This necessitated me having to leave my car behind at Auto World while I returned home with the moving truck. 

I then drove the truck to my home in Milwaukee to be loaded, knowing that I had to return to the Weger agency to pick up the tow trailer. I was told by the agent at Weger that he could not stay past 3 PM (remember that the entire reason for the now 4-hour delay in my move was because Weger failed to secure a 24' truck)
because "he had to pick up his wife". Because the truck needed to be packed by professional movers who charged by the hour, time was of the essence. Unfortunately, The packing took us past the 3 PM deadline that the Weger Agency had set. 

I was forced to go to the Weger agency after hours, where myself and my sister-in-law had to attach the tow trailer by ourselves, as the agency was closed. It should be noted that because my wife and son were traveling separately, I had my cat with me in the truck. I then drove the truck and the trailer back to Auto World so my car could be loaded onto the tow trailer from its place in the Auto 
World parking lot. What has originally been estimated as a 1 PM departure time was now a 5:30 PM departure time. 

The drive was going well, until I filled the truck up with gas for the third time at the Wyandot Service Plaza on the Ohio Turnpike. After putting $100 into the
tank at 2:11 AM on the morning of Sunday, August 25, I continued my journey eastward towards the Pennsylvania Turnpike. About 5 miles down the road, the check engine light came on, and I was suddenly unable to accelerate going up a hill. I called the emergency roadside assistance number provided on the pamphlet surrounding my rental agreement and told them what was happening. The representative told me that as long as the truck was running, I could ignore the light and that it should right itself. 

This turned out to be wishful thinking, and I then stopped at the Tiffin River Service Plaza, which was a mere 57 miles from the last service plaza. I called the emergency roadside assistance number again from that service plaza and told them that the problem did not resolve itself. They stated that they would send someone out to take a look at the truck. Approximately 90 minutes later, a truck from A & M Towing arrived to look over the truck, after roughly 30 minutes, the person from A & M diagnosed the problem as being with the fuel filter. He 
replaced the fuel filter and told me to drive it hard around the parking
lot of the rest stop (as much as I could carrying a full load in the truck and towing my car behind me). He told me that it should be OK. 

stopped for gas at the Oakmont Plum plaza on the Pennsylvania Turnpike at 7:43 AM on Sunday, August 25th. This rest stop is roughly 50 miles from the Ohio border. Approximately 15 miles after I stopped for gas, the check engine light came on again, and was similarly accompanied by a total loss of acceleration going up hills, of which there are many in Western Pennsylvania. I drove it as far as I could until I slowed to 32 miles per hour going up a hill. Not wanting to cause an accident on a major thoroughfare where the speed limit is 65, I pulled the truck to the side of the road at mile marker 86.9 Eastbound on the turnpike. 

once again called the roadside assistance number and told them exactly where I was. At 9:32 AM, I received a text message stating J B Truck Repair had been dispatched to assist with an estimated time of arrival of 89 minutes. At 10:27 AM, I received another text message stating that Gary's Truck Repair was now dispatched to assist with an estimated arrival time of...89 minutes. When the repairman from Gary's showed up, he stated that the truck would now not start and that the truck's engine had failed to such a degree that fuel could not get to the engine to accelerate. 

For the next 2 1/2 hours, I was left on the side of the road while the "maintenance manager" made up his mind about what to do next. When I demanded to speak to this person myself, I was told that I wasn't allowed to speak to him. After my second call to the roadside assistance number, I was told that the maintenance manager was trying to make up his mind as to what to do next. I told the phone representative that the only solution, seeing as how all of my possessions were on the truck and could not be off-loaded, was that the truck had to be towed the remaining 203 miles to Gaithersburg, MD. I was then told that "Special Clearance" was needed because the bill to tow the truck the rest of the
way was over $1000. They finally relented, the repairman from Gary's Truck Repair returned with a tow truck, I offloaded my car from the tow trailer, grabbed my cat from the truck cab (who by this time had been sitting for 6 hours inside a hot truck) and drove the remaining mileage to Gaithersburg. The tow truck driver beat me by about 20 minutes, and at roughly 7 PM, 35 hours after I had shown up to the Weger Agency to rent a non-existent truck, I arrived at my destination. 

It should also be noted that because I arrived late, I had to pay an extra $110 to people who were scheduled to unload the truck at 10 AM Sunday morning in
Maryland because the truck broke down over 200 miles from its destination.
  
What We Can Do To Help: From beginning to end, this rental was one of 
the worst experiences of my life. For the aggravation of rental, and for
the danger I faced being stranded on the side of the Pennsylvania Turnpike for six hours, I expect nothing less than a full refund of the $1307.65 for the rental of the truck, car carrier and blankets, the $110 fee I had to pay the movers for a truck that broke down and $282.42 in diesel fuel spent during the journey, coming to a grand total of $1700.07. I have receipts for all of these expenses, and failure to provide anything but a full reimbursement could result in a civil action against your company.

To that initial inquiry, I received the following response:

Sent: Tuesday, September 17, 2013 11:12 AM 
Subject: Re: Report Customer Experience (KMM8363183V30646L0KM) 



Dear Mr. Spencer , 

Thank you for contacting Budget Truck Customer Service regarding your 
rental. 

Thank you for taking time to contact us regarding your experience with 
Budget; reports such as yours are most appreciated, since they help us 
target and correct areas of our service which might be improved.  Any 
difficulties or problems encountered by our customers are a concern to 
us, and we apologize most sincerely for any inconvenience you may have 
been caused.  Please be assured that your experience was not typical of
our usual high standards, and that the responsible department has been 
contacted to prevent any recurrence. 

In an effort to reflect our concern and to promote positive customer 
relations, we have reviewed your situation, and have taken consideration
on the conditions of the equipment received.  We are able to offer 35% 
($330.82) off the truck and 1/2 ($64.50) off the base rate of the 
trailer rental, being a total of $395.02, for difficulties you 
experienced with the truck not accelerating, and because you had to 
drive the personal car the rest of the 204 miles to the destination. We
understand you had a lot of difficulties and you absolutely deserve 
compensation but you did receive the use of the truck and made the trip
even though it was towed after the breakdown. So the move with the 
Budget truck was made. 

As for as the fuel if you feel it used more fuel than it should have 
please send us the receipts for the fuel we can figure how much was use
and what should have been used you can fax those to XXX-XXX-XXXX or 
e-mail them to [REDACTED] 

Once again we thank you for taking the time not only to bring this to 
our attention, but to provide us another opportunity to demonstrate the
true quality of our service. 

Sincerely, 
Kathy 
Level 2 Customer Service 
Budget Truck Customer Service Team 

Quite obviously, "Kathy" didn't understand quite a bit of not only what I myself relayed in my initial complaint, but I dare say she neglected to understand the English language in her response. This called for drastic literary action, which was forwarded on Wednesday, September 18th:

 
Kathy, 

I thank you for your timely reply and initial offer of $395.02 for compensation regarding some of the concerns raised by my rental experience. Unfortunately, after reviewing your response to my initial communication, I feel that it fails to take into account several key takeaways that I have developed regarding my experience with Budget Truck Rental. 

First, while I admire the fact that your online reservation system theoretically allows for ease of preparation for cross-country, one-way moves, this was clearly not my experience. When a customer takes the time to reserve a 24' truck, a tow dolly and 24 furniture pads online, there is an expectation that all of these things will be waiting for him or her upon presentation to the rental agency designated in the reservation. When I showed up to the Weger Agency, there was no truck, no dolly and I neglected to mention in my original missive that the 
agency had a metal rack in their lobby / waiting area used for storing furniture pads that was completely empty at 8 AM on a Saturday. Rather than providing a convenient solution to my problem (i.e., securing a reliable replacement truck and bringing it to the designated rental point), the agency's one and only solution was "go get the truck in Kenosha" and providing me with driving directions. As I stated previously, I made my reservation with my eyes on the clock, as I had two movers coming to my house in Milwaukee to pack the truck at 10 AM that morning, followed by an 800-mile overnight drive to Maryland and 
concluding with an unload of the truck at the new location on Sunday morning. I came to the agency on time for my reservation and optimistic about my moving timeline, and the Weger Agency failed on every front to provide what had been asked for in the reservation. Your reply seems to infer that I should be the one who needs to financially absorb a complete institutional failure on the part of Budget Truck Rental and its agencies to fulfill baseline requirements of a customer reservation, and I reject this inference. 

Second, the reservation receipt that I received via e-mail on August 7th, 2013 states that the truck rental is for a "24' Moving Truck 4 Days & Unlimited Miles". While other renters in the past have more than likely looked at those words and determined that they can take their time, drive the truck wherever and whenever they want for a four-day period and return the truck right at the deadline, that was not my plan. My plan was to pick up the truck and tow dolly in West Allis, WI at 8 AM Saturday, August 24th (eliciting help from the rental agency on the proper technique for securing my car to the tow dolly, as is promised in all of your rental literature and online), return to my residence in 
Milwaukee, have movers pack the truck from 10 AM to 1 PM, drive the truck in the most direct route possible to our new home in Gaithersburg in time for the scheduled unloading of the truck at 10 AM on Sunday August 25th and return the truck to the designated drop-off point on the morning of Monday, August 26th, thereby shaving two days off of the rental time (despite the fact that there was no financial incentive for me to do so). Instead, thanks to the cavalier attitude of the Weger Agency, as well as the fact that the "Plan B" truck that was eventually bestowed upon me was unable to satisfy the "Unlimited Miles" promise of the reservation, my timeline was involuntarily aborted at the very beginning of the rental period. Your response seems to indicate that this is a cost that I should absorb. I would be hard-pressed to think of another consumer services company off the top of my head that asks that I take a financial beating for the abysmal performance of the company and its representatives, save for banks deemed too big to fail.

Third, I'd like to address some issues of safety. Whenever I rent a car or a truck, I do it with the idea that the car or truck is mechanically sound, and that the only additional costs I shall incur are related to refueling. The thought process does not exist that I am renting the vehicle to take me 75% of the way to my destination, and from there I'll improvise. There are a few terms in the Webster's English Dictionary for people who take all of their possessions on the road with no defined plan to reach their destination. The first of these terms is "hitchhiker" and a few pages into the dictionary later, the term "hobo"
is encountered. Since I had a 24' truck filled to capacity and the act of hitchhiking is illegal on most interstates and turnpikes, we can scratch off the first term, and my lack of ownership of a stick and a handkerchief eliminates the other. When I contracted with Budget Truck Rental, I did so believing that I was renting safe, reliable transportation that would deliver my possessions, myself and my cat to a destination 800 miles to the East in a timely fashion. Nowhere in my rental agreement does it say that I agreed to rent a ticking time bomb that would cease all operations going uphill around a bend on the Pennsylvania Turnpike in the mountains of Western Pennsylvania at mile marker 86.9, which would require me to spend 6 hours by the side of the road wondering whether the instrument of my destruction was going to be either an out-of-control car careening from the turnpike or a Sasquatch-like creature emerging from the thick woods on the other side of the guardrail. I'm certain that you are aware that the U. S. Department of Transportation takes a dim view of trucks that are not 
road-worthy clogging up major thoroughfares across the country. Fully refunding the costs of my truck rental should be the least of your worries here. Had you not had someone behind the wheel who realized that the truck was in the midst of breaking down and was therefore not safe for the road avoided what could have been a devastating traffic accident and a multi-million dollar settlement for gross negligence. It wouldn't have mattered if the truck had gone 20 miles, 200 miles, 800 miles or (in this case) 600 miles. The bottom line is the truck wasn't ready for its appointed task and posed a risk to my safety at the moment the truck key was handed to me. You reply seeks to compensate me not for when the 
bomb ticked, but the fallout from the explosion. I am at a loss as to why I should pay for such enormous risk to my safety that wasn't self-inflicted. 

Fourth, in a Machiavellian turn of events, your reply seems to imply that because my possessions eventually reached their destination that Budget considers the move "made". I would caution you not to consider the fact that simply because my possessions happened to reach Maryland that this constitutes a successful move. While it can be said that the truck I rented and loaded in Wisconsin was the truck that I unloaded in Maryland, this only occurred because the truck had to be towed to its destination. Your inference of a successful move seems to indicate that there was another way to magically transport a packed, broken-down 24' truck over 200 miles other than the socially accepted solution of a tow truck. Given ten days stuck on a highway, a little bit of imagination and a need to "get away from it all", I suppose I could have unloaded the truck and moved into the woods by the side of the turnpike. In the six hours that I spent alternately standing there or pacing, there were brief moments where the creek that ran on the other side of the guardrail at mile marker 86.9 presented a Walden-like alternative to the hustle and bustle of modern life. Yet, the reason for my cross-country move was to provide a better life for my wife and son, which rendered any dreams of a side-of-the-road hermitage out of the question. 

Lastly, there is no mention in your reply of compensation for the $110 I had to pay the unloading agent for showing up to my new home in Gaithersburg on the morning of Sunday, August 25th to unload a truck that had no hope of reaching its destination. The reason for this payment was based on the truck I rented failing to deliver what was promised. In no way was I negligent in my handling of the truck, and had I been rented reliable transportation, this cost would never have been incurred. 

To finalize, I would like to review the elements of what would have constituted a successful move. I would have shown up to the Weger Agency at 8 AM. A truck, tow dolly and 24 furniture pads would have been waiting for me. The rental agent would have assisted me with the hook-up of the tow dolly and the attachment of my car to said dolly. I would have driven the truck and towed car back to my house in Milwaukee. The rented movers would load the truck, which I eventually would have driven to Gaithersburg, Maryland, with stops for fuel and that famous rest 
stop, fast food nourishment that has made America the overfed envy of the world. I don't know how I could make it clearer that this was not my experience. Accordingly, I must reiterate my request from my earlier communication. I urge you to refund a total of $1700.07 for the rental of a defective truck, a tow trailer that was only utilized for 75% of the journey and was not what I had reserved, the costs incurred to the unloading firm for showing up to unpack a truck that didn't arrive and fuel costs. Had Budget Truck Rental had a little bit more oversight over their fleet of trucks and rental agents, we wouldn't have a need to correspond in this manner. 

Sincerely, 

John Paul Spencer

Apparently, there is nothing like a long explanation to escalate a customer service issue. The next day, I received another response from Budget Truck Rental. It appeared they were beginning to understand:

Sent: Thursday, September 19, 2013 2:10 PM 
Subject: Re: Report Customer Experience (KMM8369054V18808L0KM) 

Re: Customer Complaint ? 18081-7997-2440 

Dear John Paul Spencer: 

This shall serve to acknowledge receipt of your escalation complaint dated September 17, 2013, regarding your experience with Budget Truck Rental, LLC (BTR). 

Upon receipt of your Complaint, an investigation was conducted. Our records indicate that you rented a truck from a BTR location in Kenosha, WI on August 24, 2013, with a return location in Germantown, MD on August 28, 2013. Our records further indicate that you contacted Roadside Assistance on two separate occasions: 

1) the fuel filter had to be replaced; 
2) oil pressure pump went out. Due to RA being unable to repair the truck immediately, the truck was eventually towed to your final destination. 

Upon reviewing this with our Management Team and reading all the notes from Roadside Assistance, we understand that you were placed in a very difficult and stressful situation, but we are not able to comply with your full amount of the rental request. However, in an effort to display our concern and promote positive customer relations, BTR would like to increase the offer to 70% off the entire rental ($1,307.65) in the amount of $915.35, as an additional customer service gesture, we will reimbursed your movers expenses of $110.00, for an aggregate total of $1,025.35. Considering you had use of the rental equipment for a portion
of your trip, BTR believe this offer is fair and reasonable. Should you wish to accept this offer please contact BTR's Customer Service (referencing this letter) at XXX-XXX-XXXX or email to [REDACTED] no later than September 30, 2013. 

In accordance with Section 3 of the Rental Agreement clearly states that BTR is not liable "for any punitive, incidental, special, exemplary or consequential damages in connecting with this Agreement or in connection with us furnishing the truck to you". Therefore, BTR respectfully declines your request any other reimbursement other than what is outlined above. 

BTR would like to apologize for any inconveniences that you may have 
experienced and were waiting your response. 

Sincerely, 

Lisa [REDACTED] I Response Coordinator Executive Office 
Budget Truck Rental, LLC

While I was employed as a compliance officer in the world of healthcare, I am not an attorney, nor do I want to be. With this in mind, I copied and pasted this response from "BTR" on Facebook and left it up to the virtual Roman Senate that are my friends and acquaintances as to whether I should accept the second, more bountiful offer. It was the unanimous decision of the masses that I accept, which prompted this e-mail on Friday, September 19th:

Dear Lisa, Boss of Kathy,

While it is not the full refund amount that I requested, please regard this e-mail as acceptance of your latest offer of a refund in the amount of $1025.35. 

For your records, I have attached the receipt of transaction to my credit card for the $110 charge incurred on August 25th for the unloading firm that showed up to my new residence in the absence of your truck. 

I have one request, post-mortem, that I shall leave up to you to act upon. I would like you to inform the Weger Agency, the original rental agent who provided none of the items I reserved for my move, that they are harboring a rather skewed definition of the words "customer service". Perhaps they can move on to another industry worthy of their skills, but first these skills need to be identified. 

You are free to either credit my credit card account on file the amount
specified, or you can make out a check to:

John Paul Spencer
[ADDRESS REDACTED]

One hopes that the check will not have to be towed to my house. I thank
you for your attentions to this matter.

Sincerely, 

John Paul Spencer

Within 7 business days, I received a reversal on my credit card, and the long, tortuous saga of my move East came to an end. For the rest of my life, when I pass a Budget rental truck on the highway, I'll have but one thought for the driver: "Good luck". The construction of the world's largest catapult has already begun in preparation for my next move. 

Thursday, October 30, 2008

WE WIN!!!!

I'm going to share something with all of you. Yes, I know it's been months since I last posted, but I think I need to tell you all something.

As a baseball fan, tonight, I am a golden god.

My matriculation to deity happened about 4 1/2 hours and 6 beers ago, when the Phillies won their second World Series title and first since 1980.

Brad Lidge strikes out Eric Hinske for the final out, and for a brief moment in time (at least until April) all the pain, anguish and torn hair caused by being a lifetime fan of the Philadelphia Phillies disappears under a hail of shouts, screams and a touch of alcohol.

I live in Milwaukee now, but damned if I'm not going to spread the joy, beginning with this blog post. As a fan humbled by their excellence, I'd like to personally thank every member of the 2008 Philadelphia Phillies for giving the last 28 years meaning. For all the dreams shattered, for all the almost-was-es to today's celebration, may all of you walk together forever. As a fan, when I'm 80 and soiling my underpants, I shall remember your names, and I shall smile. May the magic never wear off.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

So It's Been Awhile

Oh the places I've gone.

Since we last left our readers you can count on one hand, I've changed jobs, watched my beloved Penguins lose the Stanley Cup, and officially become a recording artist.

First the job. I'm now a Compliance Officer for a local medical billing firm. I love this place! Imagine starting every work day with a clean slate and finishing a daily project all the same? This may be the job I've always wanted. I know I've thought that before, but this time it may be the whole shooting match. I go to work and create, and then I return home and create. I'm not sure what I should do with myself and my creativity...

Until this past weekend. I drove the 800 miles to Marietta, Georgia for the release of To Whom, Etc., the debut album by my old friend Steve Whitworth. I contributed vocals on 5 tracks on the 9-song album. We played live, and Steve and his good friends in his band Absolute Jack killed. I would have liked to hit better notes, but I received many second-hand compliments over the 24 hours after the gig while I was either preparing for or completing the drive home. Steve and I are already talking about recording the follow-up. I look forward to my eventual return down South for just that purpose.

Meanwhile, back in the land of Beer and Sausage (and Cheese, but I hate cheese), my own collective, The Jumping Frenchmen of Maine, prepares for a show this Friday at Smokin' Joe's in West Allis, WI. That will be followed up with a show at The Chancery in Waukesha on August 30th. Busy, busy, busy.....

Monday, May 12, 2008

Ed Snider's Reign Of Terror Continues Unabated

I’ll start this post with a question. What do Ed Snider and Fox News have in common?

The answer is that no intelligent person believes a word coming out of either entity, and yet both really don’t care. For you see, the people that Ed Snider and Fox News lie to on a daily basis aren’t intelligent human beings. The people they lie to are their rabid fans.

The ongoing horror that is Fox News continues uninterrupted despite over 80% of the country disagreeing with them on a daily basis in George W. Bush’s United States. I’ll let the reader find a first-tier source to document those particular atrocities. For Ed Snider and the Philadelphia Flyers, look no further.

I am now and from this day forward a Pittsburgh Penguins fan. I have been since 2001. I used to be a Flyers fan, but I got sick of flogging a dead horse.

The first hockey game I ever watched was the first game of the 1974 quarterfinals between the Atlanta Flames and the Flyers. I was 8 years old, and my family had just moved back to the greater Philadelphia area. I just happened to have turned on an old black and white TV that was showing the game. The Flyers won that game 4-1, skating and shooting rings around Tom Lysiak, Eric Vail, Phil Myre, Brian Hextall and the rest of the Flames. The Flyers went on to win the Stanley Cup that year and again in 1975. They’ve never won one since.

As a child and far too long into adulthood, I believed in another Stanley cup victory that never happened. Sure, they came close. They lost in the finals to the Islanders in 1980 due to a bad offside call by the ever-deplored Leon Stickle. They lost to Wayne Gretzky and the Oilers in 1987, and again to the Detroit Red Wings 10 years later. In reality, all three teams overachieved, and continued to miss the key elements that would put them over the top. Further, it can be argued that if the two teams that had won the Stanley Cup in the ‘70’s had had to face the Montreal Canadiens in the playoffs in either of those years, they may never have won a cup at all. They finally did run up against the Canadiens in 1976, and were swept in the finals.

And yet, the Flyers faithful continue to pay the ever-increasing ticket prices to watch a team that last won a championship in the abbreviated Gerald Ford administration. The Flyers brass, led by aging owner and perpetual excuse dispenser Ed Snider, continue on the same outdated course that has now lasted longer on this earth than Jimi Hendrix did, and falling far short of the fireworks from the solo in “All Along The Watchtower”.

As I watched my newly-beloved Penguins take a 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference finals last night, I saw the Flyers again choose brawn over brains with the addition of Steve Downie to their lineup. On the final one of his few shifts of the evening, Downie coughed up the puck in his own zone, leading to the game-winning goal being scored by Maxime Talbot, the Penguins fourth-line center. To review, the other centers in Pittsburgh have the last names of Crosby, Malkin and Staal. All three are known for goal scoring. Max Talbot is a fourth-line center nursing a broken foot.

This type of soul-searching in the clutch has been a hallmark of the Philadelphia Flyers every time they get this deep into the playoffs over the last 20 years. While some allowances can be made for injuries on the blue line to Kimmo Timonen and, as of last night, Braydon Coburn, the Flyers continue to be the bulls in the proverbial china shop. They’re great at throwing hits and knocking things over, but the puck has to enter the other team’s net more often than your own. That is what wins hockey games.

It’s not as if the Flyers lack talent in this area, with Jeff Carter, Mike Richards and Daniel Briere in their lineup. However, the balance of their forwards are all what I like to call “Bobby Clarke types”, two way centers for whom skating is for the most part a secondary skill. This may very well be the Achilles’ Heel of the whole franchise. Every year, on draft day, when faced with the choice between a proven scorer and a plugger with an attitude, they choose the latter. They proudly assign the moniker of “a guy who plays Flyers Hockey” to whoever that poor, misguided soul might be, and they once again rise to the not-so-ethereal heights of the first circle of Hockey’s Inferno, which is forever reserved for also-rans. The irony of Daniel Briere now being a Flyer is that the Flyers could have drafted him the year he became eligible. Apparently, Briere didn’t play “Flyers Hockey” in junior, as he had the audacity to actually score points in Quebec Major Junior. The Flyers instead drafted Dainius Zubrus, a now-journeyman center and only the second Lithuanian ever to play in the NHL. Now that’s Flyers hockey.

If the ineptitude of the front office were only evident on draft day, that would be one thing. The Flyers have also been burned with free agent signings over the last decade. Veterans who were supposed to be the missing piece of the puzzle for a championship populate their recent history. People like John VanBiesbrouck, Jeremy Roenick and Sami Kapanen have all arrived in Philadelphia past their expiration dates. Others that looked good on paper, like Chris Gratton, were spoiled by a series of coaches with either little to no NHL coaching experience (Bill Barber, John Stevens) or long tenures with no championships (Terry Murray, Roger Neilsen).

The reward for continuing and stubborn mediocrity has been an economic windfall for Ed Snider and the Comcast Corporation, as the con game continues between the Flyers marketing department and the fans that populate the Wachovia Center. Ed Snider is a millionaire many times over, and as a veteran of the ownership group that hired Gary Bettman, pulls a lot of strings behind the scenes in the NHL. Is it any accident that the Comcast-owned Vs. Network, the acknowledged cable home of bull riding and sport fishing, is now the official cable network of the NHL in America? Of course ESPN is the preferred home of any sport that calls itself respectable, but respectable doesn’t line Ed Snider’s pockets quite enough apparently. It is this kind of self-serving decision making that leaves the NHL behind pro football, college football, baseball, the NBA, college basketball and NASCAR in the pecking order of American sports. More people watch the NFL Draft than the Stanley Cup Finals in the United States. That borders on treasonous.

The Flyers continue to hike their ticket prices, which does not include the money shelled out by their fans for gas, food and parking. The fans, delusional as ever, in all their best Kevin Bacon regalia, bend over, get hit by the paddle and say “Thank you sir. May I have another?” WIP, the popular local sports radio station, calls Flyers fans “Stepfords” and for good reason. The Flyers are a cult like no other in professional sports. Former players that are forever referred to as “the Flyers Family” infect the front office of the Philadelphia Flyers. There are Amish families 50 miles to the West of Philadelphia that exhibit more diversity than the Flyers’ brain trust.

It’s often said that being a fan of the New York Yankees is like rooting for the House at a blackjack table. The Flyers will continue to pay exorbitant amounts of money on big name players that are past their prime, throwing bait to their free-spending fans, deceiving them into thinking that this one new player is the one to put them over the top. The Flyers follow the Yankee model, with the only difference being a lack of success on the playing surface.

As we prepare to see signs in the crowd tomorrow night at the Wachovia Center from the Flyers fans that call Sidney Crosby a crybaby, it won’t enter the minds of those 20,000 fans in attendance that the only way they’ll ever see a guy with the skill set of a Sidney Crosby in the Flyers’ lineup is by a fat contract when he’s past his prime. The Flyers model is tired, robotic and not about to change. As long as the cattle stream to Broad Street, money in hand, accepting at face value the pronouncements from on high, it will be a case of good money after bad. A little ignorance of the way things could be goes a long way.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Hillary Clinton's Fight for Relevance

Today is primary day in my former homeland of Pennsylvania. While Hillary Clinton is expected to come away as the victor in this particular contest, going forward she carries on her back the hopes and dreams of a group within the Democratic Party who with each passing day become more and more an irrelevant anachronism.

The Democratic Leadership Council was brought forth in the age of Ronald Reagan as a response to Democratic candidates whose views were seen as too far to the left of the country as a whole. Bill Clinton, Joe Lieberman and others felt it was their collective duty to lead the Democrats to the White House by staking a claim to what they believed was the middle ground that all Americans sought. In 1993, the world was their oyster. Having just taken the White House and holding a majority in both the Senate and the House, it seemed like the DLC way was destined to be the new way forward.

In actuality, the DLC way was doomed from the start. When the differences with Republicans across the aisle appeared to be semantic more than substantive, parts became interchangeable in the eyes of the independent voter. The base of the Democratic Party becomes disinterested in voting for candidates that didn’t share their views. It also didn’t help that the early 90’s saw the ascendancy of right wing talk radio and Newt Gingrich, two entities that were more interested in verbal bomb throwing than responsible governance. In eight short years, Clinton found himself impeached for something far short of a high crime, and George W. Bush, the perfect symbol of all that is wrong with the United States, became the president.

The DLC’s last stand now presents itself in the guise of Hillary Clinton. She stands seemingly as the last great believer in the right-leaning triangulation that propelled her husband to the White House 16 years ago. Facts such as Ross Perot taking 19% of the vote in 1992 and propelling Bill Clinton to the White House with far less than a 50% majority of the vote are conveniently left out of her narrative. For Clinton, she is fighting not just for the presidency, but for future relevance for herself and her brethren.

The DLC is having enough of a hard time without a Clinton loss further kicking sand in their face. The DLC’s current chairman, Harold Ford, endorsed Christopher Shays, a Republican, in his current reelection bid to the House of Representatives. When he’s not endorsing Republicans, he’s sponsoring conventions on the DLC’s behalf that feature a lot of empty chairs. Joe Lieberman, fighting his own ongoing battle with irrelevance, turned in his DLC card years ago.

For Hillary Clinton, she only needs to look across the aisle at her Senate colleague from Massachusetts, Ted Kennedy, for a glimpse into her future as a losing presidential candidate. Ted Kennedy says all the right things nowadays and is a reliable Democrat on a host of issues, but his speeches only serve to recall a time when his personal possibilities, based on his name and his position, seemed less limited. His relevance on a national scale is minimal at best, despite his surname and the power that once summoned.

All of this should be taken into account when you listen to Hillary Clinton trash MoveOn.org, or talk about using nuclear weapons on a sovereign nation, or having her subordinates argue that any states with fewer than 15 electoral votes that she happens to have lost are full of latte-drinking elitists. Hillary Clinton currently gazes into an abyss of future irrelevance, buffeted only by millionaire donors making veiled threats and the hope of getting enough Democratic superdelegates to ignore the popular vote. Maybe she and Ted will get together in the Senate commissary someday and discuss their twin fates, even if by Hillary Clinton’s latest words and deeds they have nothing else in common politically.