Sunday, December 16, 2007

A note to American restaurant staff

I enjoy eating out, m'kay? There is variety, decent prices and a generally wider choice than I am used to.

Service is pleasant, a nice smile goes a long way in any country.

But here is the thing ..... When you have brought me my meal, and I am eating, more often than not enjoying interesting conversation with my Wife or family, then I am fine. All is well. I am enjoying my meal, the food is great, the service fine. I don't need anything, and if I should want something, I will ask.

I do not need you to interrupt, continuously, with questions about my general well-being, the weather or sundry other subjects they taught you at waiter-school. Indeed, the size of your tip is inversely proportional to the number of times my meal is disturbed.

Less is more, my friend. Once we clearly understand this, I shall be happier, and you will be better rewarded.

Have a nice day!

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Understanding Oklahoma

I am frequently asked, by both Europeans and Americans what living in Oklahoma is like.

Many are bemused by perceptions of life here being dominated by, on the one hand, gun-totin' shoot anything Rednecks, and Bible Thumpers on the other. There is a third group .... they have a gun in one hand and a Bible in the other, but I jest :)

I recently heard this joke, which sheds a great deal of light on the matter:

An Evangelical Missionary was on a grand tour of the 50 States. His aim was to visit major Churches in each State to study the way Christians worshiped in different parts of the Union.

He started his mission in Illinois. On entering a big church he noticed a golden telephone, beneth a message which read Direct line to God. Calls $10 000 per minute.

As he travelled through the rest of the nation, in each church there was the same telephone, golden, with the identical inscription above it.

Eventually the guy wound up in Tulsa, and his first call was the Victory Christian Center. In the foyer he spotted the familiar telephone, gold in colour, with a familiar sign above it. On closer inspection he realised this sign was different. It read Direct Line to God. Calls 35c per minute.

This intrigued the missionary so he sought an explanation from the Pastor. Why, he asked, was the call charge here 35c per minute, yet $10 000 per minute everywhere else?

Well son, came the reply, you're in Oklahoma now. It's a local call!

Update re: Dish Network

Despite the assertions by Dish Network that I didn't call to cancel the premium packages, because they have no record of the call, they did indeed cancel two of the three free premiom packages.

I am wondering how they will explain the cancellation of two packages, when, according to them, no such request was made.


Meet my 2nd Ex-Wife

Right as of now, should you be demented sufficiently to type the search words my husband is useless into Google, then the very second result would be this:

That is a link to a post in my Wife's Blog, but I'm not buying her feeble excuse.

/me, retiring hurt :(

Dish Network - See you in Court

Following my recent experience with the US Justice System, I am keen for more.

At issue is Dish Network.

I have been trying to bring our payments to this company in line with the statements they are sending, regularly paying about $20 more in the hope that over a brief period this will catch us up. The problem has been that it has only been keeping pace, so we appear to be being charged around $20 per month more than we should be.

Back in September, I contacted Dish and told them I wanted to upgrade the package. I wanted America's Top 250, plus HD service, and nothing else. This should come to around $80 per month.

It seems that they remembered to note the increase, but somehow forgot to note that I asked all other services to be stopped (principally, 2 special offer premium packages that were included as a free trial on sign-up).


So, today, I contacted Dish Network again. They were willing to stop the premium packages from today, but unwilling to refund the excess charges back to September (the time I asked for them to be stopped), on the basis that they had supplied the programming and had no record of my having requested it to be removed. I patiently explained that I was not responsible for their record keeping, and as I HAD asked them to stop those packages, and had never watched them, and had no knowledge that they even existed, that I wasn't going to pay for their mistake.

I was informed that they hadn't made a mistake, and that the proof was that they had no record of the request.

At this point I wondered if I was in the Twilight Zone, or when Mulder and Scully would appear .... or even when I would wake up from this bizarre form of logic.

Dish Network appears to hold the view that it never makes a mistake, and cites as proof the fact that they have no record of making one !!!

A quick search on the Internet reveals many thousands of similar customer errors, all people trying to screw Dish Network for having the temerity to help themselves to cash from checking accounts and credit cards because their customers are willfully refusing to pay for services they have been supplied with; whether they asked for them or not.

I suspect the disputed amount is less than about $60. But it is MY $60, not theirs, and they are not getting it.

So here is the next step.

Today, when their website will consent to allow me to sign in, I will pay the amount I think brings us up to date. They will carry the disputed amount forward to our next statement, and continue to add $5 per month late charge. From today, that amount is in dispute.

Tomorrow I shall call Echostar, in Colorado, and inform their Executive Dispute Resolution Centre that I am holding them in breach of our 18 month contract, and ask them how they intend to remedy the breach. If they try to deny the breach I will cease paying, and request that they collect their equipment at their earliest convenience.

They will cancel my service, and bill me for breaking my contract. This is a bill I will not pay. At this point I have no recourse against them, as they don't owe me money. If they try to debit my checking account (which I shall watch daily), I will have the charges instantly disputed and reversed. I will tell the bank we will sue them if they allow those charges to post to our account.

If Dish Network sends the account to Collection, I will inform them they will be sued under the Unfair Credit Reporting Act, and the damages are around $1000.

I am on a mission here. The money is small, but the principle is not, and they are doing this to many thousands of people all over America.

Tune in and I'll follow this up as and when there is new info.

Now .... what is the phone number for Direct TV?

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Life in the Fast Lane

I have a confession to make. I recently managed to collect a speeding ticket. It was my first on this continent, and my first for 25 years on ANY continent. Indeed, my darling wife laughs at me for setting the cruise control at 60mph on the highway, usually accompanied by unnecessary remarks about me being already too old to be able to afford the luxury of driving so slowly.

Now we have clearly demonstrated that I have either been lucky, for 25 years, or that I generally don't drive too fast, we can get to the meat of the story.

I need to tell you all about *School Zones*. I can already hear half of you laughing, and the other half groaning, but my less American family don't know about School Zones, so bear with me.

School Zones are areas of highway close to schools, that have reduced speed limits at certain times of day, and usually have flashing lights to indicate the reduced speed limit times. The speed limit here is reduced from the normal 40 to 45mph, down to 25mph. The penalties for exceeding the limits are severe, tending to be at least double the normal speeding ticket, and require a Court appearance just in case the Judge had a particularly bad bout of indigestion and wanted to jail you for thirty days too.

I am religious about School Zones (if nothing much else), and it would never cross my mind to exceed 25mph while driving through one. And I wouldn't have, had I known I was in such a place. I was driving, ironically from school, to collect some wood from a supplier. I thought the speed limit was 40mph, and I was doing about 35mph because I was aware that the schools had just emptied for the day. I knew this, at least in part, because I had just left one.

When the Policeman, on his motorcycle, pulled out behind me with lights ablaze, I genuinely thought he must be after someone else. He wasn't, and this soon became apparent. Ho hum! ..... I pulled over in a nice safe place and we conversed. Well actually, he spoke and I listened, nodding and agreeing with him at the appropriate moments.

He wanted to see my Driving License and Insurance. Bugger! The License was all present and correct, but the Insurance Verification appeared not to be. Not to worry, said the helpful Policeman, I can just write you two tickets. This level of generosity appeared a little uncalled for, but I already suspected that he was unlikely to be referring to two tickets for the upcoming OU v. Missouri game, and these doubts were soon firmly embedded in reality. While he disappeared to check my Driving License I called Jodie. She helpfully assured me that the Insurance was safely stuck on the side of the fridge. I looked all around the car, but couldn't see the fridge anywhere, so *helpfully* is a word I use advisedly.

She also asked me if the Police Officer was being nice, or an ass .... I told her that, under the circumstances, it was I who was the ass. As part of my efforts to persuade the Policeman that I was indeed a decent guy who had made a genuine mistake, I repeated this conversation to him. He took the view that I was making his boring job a little less tedious, and wrote down my speed at 34mph, not the 36mph he had clocked me at. This was a significant piece of kindness. Less than 10mph over the limit is way less of a deal than more than 10mph over. The latter would cause an entry on my driving record, and increased insurance premiums (and probably a larger fine). Under 10mph wouldn't. Thank you Tulsa, for decent Law enforcement.

Anyway, a few minutes, and two tickets later, I was on my way, complete with Court date and helpful instructions on how to get there.

This would be simply a sorry tale of one man's stupidity, and there is little of any real interest in that. But there is a sting in the tale, and that became apparent yesterday, in Court.

Tulsa Municipal Court is, I soon came to realise, a cash register for the City. As I sat there for an hour listening to case after case, the fines were racking up thousands of dollars income for whichever departments benefited. Now don't get me wrong. I am not complaining about this, just astonished by the revenue flowing in from various traffic and other less savoury crimes committed daily in this city. It goes on, day after day, month after month, and must add up to a tidy amount per annum. I was simply hoping that, when my turn came the penalty would be bearable. We are not wealthy people and can ill-afford for me to squander hundreds of dollars in this manner. In the end it was a bearable $175 including costs, and I count our blessings.

There were a good number of defendants who were out of work. Some of these unfortuanates were racking up fines in the hundreds (actually, thousands, for one guy), and clearly didn't have the means to pay them.

Tulsa has a *Workday* scheme. I am sure they are common, but this was my first encounter. Basically the Judge, when satisfied a defendant couldn't pay, was able to offer a number of days Community Service in lieu of the fines. I did the math .... He was offering a rate of exchange of about $50 a day (tax free, of course).

I did some more startling, more revealing and much less palatable maths too. At my rate of pay as a Substitute Teacher, I would be financially better off taking the Community Service, than I would be by paying the fine and spending the equivalent time teaching classes of High School students.


Pitiful is the only word I can readily think of to describe a situation where the City values a few hours cleaning graffiti, or sweeping up leaves, or whatever, at a higher rate than they will offer to those who regularly spend days, weeks and months educating our children. Their commitment to Education is underwhelming, and this City, and local School Districts should hang their heads in shame. If the experience of shame was an emotion ever felt by politicians.

Nope ... we need grandiose schemes to develop the River, or a new Exhibition Centre, or tax breaks for business. Meanwhile we will appear on TV wringing our collective hands when school results crop up, when it is demonstrated that half the City schools are on the "need of improvement" lists, or otherwise failing.

Pitiful! There it is ..... Now then, you can start by giving MY $175 to the school my kids go to. Maybe then they won't have to rely so heavily on cash from Quick Trip to fund necessary school activities.