Friday, August 28, 2009

Props to the MBTA

So, my week of MBTA adventure customer service has taken a surprising turn.

I received an email on Wednesday morning from someone in their systems department, asking for more detail about my issue. I didn't have a chance to call back until Thursday afternoon. When we spoke, I learned that somehow a different Charlie Card was credited with my online transaction, and this probably caused the glitch. He asked if I had a second Charlie Card in my wallet at the time (which I didn't), as he attempted to troubleshoot.

I asked him if they monitored bloggers and twitterrers since he responded so quickly. Turns out that they do! He has a Google Alert set up, which caught my posting. Kudos for reaching out to me so quickly.

The second surprising turn was what I received in the mail yesterday - a new Charlie Card with a stored value of $16, and a letter apologizing for the inconvenience. What I expected to take four weeks (if at all), took two days. Just when I thought that I would be buried under public bureaucracy, I was pleasantly shocked.

The MBTA takes its lumps every day, but they deserve credit where credit is due. Thanks.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Death of My Charlie Card

Usually trips on the MBTA's system of buses and subways are more adventurous for me than they should be.

Now that I am working downtown, I have the pleasure of stepping out my front door, walking a block to the bus stop, and riding that same bus all the way to the work. It's a simple commute. The bus isn't swamped, and thus far attaining a seat has not been an issue.

Paying for my rides, however, is a taller task.

Now that the MBTA allows for online registration and replenishment of Charlie Cards, I figured that I would be adventurous and fill my card over the weekend and be good-to-go until I receive my September monthly bus pass from the office.

One would assume that tying a $10 purchase to a specific Charlie Card would send me on my way. Sadly, that is not the case.

Little did I know that after charging $10 online on Sunday, I would then have to tap my card at any MBTA machine a T stop.

The problem here is that I take the bus. No subway.

So, I step on the bus on Monday morning, and I don't have enough money on my card to pay the fare. I have to load another $10 onto the card on the bus.

I emailed customer service, and was sent an email saying that my card would be updated by 12 noon, but I would later realize that this was incorrect the next time I tap my card on a bus' card reader during my ride home. I emailed customer service again, and was then told I would have to actually go to a machine at South Station to update the card.

After work on Tuesday, I did just that - walked over to South Station, tapped my card on the machine to update it, and had the machine....

...cancel my card.


I asked an MBTA employee, who verified that my card had indeed been killed. She suggested I walk to Downtown Crossing for some strange reason, and speak with someone over there.

I kind of wanted to simply get home. So she gave me a card with $1.70 loaded onto it (which...I learned was also untrue when I tried boarding the bus), and sent me on my way.

While waiting for the bus, I called the number on the back of the car, explained the situation to the operator, and she took my information. She didn't seem to question my story, and instead told me that I should expect to receive a check for $16 (my $10 I charged online, and the remaining $6 that was on my card before it died) in about 4 weeks.

4 weeks?! There's no way to apply the balance to another card? Grrr.

And the kicker? I now have a new Charlie Card with $0 on it. Being that I have just $20 bills in my wallet, I am now going to be loading ANOTHER $20 onto my new card when I board the bus on Wednesday.

So that's $40 to the MBTA this week, all because I tried to save some time and conveniently load my card online over the weekend. This system should be simpler and more efficient.

************ UPDATES ************

1. My attempt at loading $20 onto my new Charlie Card on the bus this morning was also a failure. Apparently, I didn't tap my card on the pad quickly enough after loading the $20, and it instead shot out a Charlie Ticket, so I now have the please of paying the inflated prices for $20 worth of bus rides. For the record, I tapped my card on the pad within a few seconds of its instruction, so I have no idea what happened here. I'm probably just doomed.

2. I received a personal email from someone at the MBTA asking about the situation and asking me to call his work or cell numbers. As the email was in my spam box, I didn't see it until this evening. I'll give them a ring on Wednesday. They must be monitoring blog activity, because this posting did not receive any outbound links yet. Very interesting that they are reading the chatter. Good for them!

Brazen Old Man

I returned from my walk with Rosie to find a toothless old man sitting on my stoop. Friendly guy, but sitting on my stoop nonetheless (i.e. not his stoop).

As Rosie and I attempted to get past him and into my home, he stood up, snickered a bit, and pet Rosie.

The logical thing to do when the owner of a home comes home and you're sitting on that person's stoop is likely to walk away, and say something like "oh, sorry."

Nope, when we shut the exterior door, he went back to what he was doing...sitting on my stoop.

Momentary disruption by the homeowner. God forbid I disturb his trespassing and loitering.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

New Vodka Drink - Absolut Boston

Last week, I was chatting with a friend at a watering hole here in Southie, and noticed a bottle of "Absolut Boston" vodka on the first row behind the bar.

Naturally, this intrigued me. I seem to recall having seen Absolut Los Angeles recently, and was thinking that they released another city version of their spirits (which turned out to be Absolut New Orleans after I researched it). Ruling out the potential creativity of this particular establishment in painting its own vodka bottle with the name of our fair city, I started thinking....

Did Absolut release a number of local "city bottles," all containing regular vodka?
Is this a new flavor?
Is this only available in Boston?
When did this come out?
Why have I never seen this before?

I asked the bartender, who showed me the bottle. Indeed, Absolut Boston is a unique flavor - Black Tea and Elderflower. Interesting combination to represent Boston. He told me that his distributor said this was a limited release to only 1,000 bottles (which I now doubt that it was limited to 1,000 bottles, as I subsequently bought a bottle myself at Liquor Land for $28, where another 10 bottles sat behind it, and I'm pretty confident that this particular store did not possess 1% of all production.)

According to the brochure, Absolut will donate $50,000 of the profits to The Charles River Conservancy to support the renewal efforts of parklands, which is kinda cool.

So I broke open the bottle yesterday afternoon, and mixed some with tonic and a lemon wedge. The flavor is definitely fruity and refreshing - not bad! I'm going to have to try a few more of their suggestions, such as the Absolut Boston Home Run (with white grape juice and ginger ale) or the Absolut Boston and cola.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Cleaning Out the Closet

I used to revel in shopping for clothes. Each year for Christmas, I would ask my parents for money and then hit the outlets and malls on December 26th to take advantage of the after-holiday sales. I'd spend most of my gift money on my wardrobe.

Somewhere along the line, that changed. I don't mind the process now, but to me it's become a bit of a pain. Not agonizing, but not particularly enjoyable either.

I think the inflection point was when I started buying the next size up. I had been gradually putting on a pound or two, and reached the point where the decision to buy bigger pants was easier than the dedication to losing weight.

Yesterday, I decided that it's time to clean out the closet. Purge the unfashionable. Rid myself of the pants and shirts and sweatshirts that just aren't doing it for me any more. Usually I undertake this process when I realize that my closet is too full and I have run out of wood hangers, which was the case once again.

What's great about this particular closet cleaning is that I'm 25 pounds lighter today than when I bought some of these clothes. Usually, I have to rid myself of the tight jeans. This time, it's the opposite. In fact, I kept a handful of slacks from my last closet cleaning "just in case" they would fit again someday. Now, they do. Comfortably.

There's the enormous polo shirts, both long and wide, the short sleeves touching my elbows. I bought them to conceal the belly and cared little that they were too large elsewhere. Today, they just look silly. Into the pile.

There's the four flannel shirts, hidden deep in the back of my closet, once go-to items of comfort during casual weekends. My friends tell me that flannel is back this year, so I kept two of them and put the other two in the pile.

There's the cargo pants and khaki pants - big in the waist, big throughout the leg, even a bit long on me. It looks like I'm swimming in these, and far fatter. I remember when a few of these waists didn't even button, so the fact that I can button them and then pull them right off without unbuttoning them is simply awesome. Thank you, large pants, for keeping me decent during my chubby days. Into the pile.

There's the college sweatshirts. Seriously. I have these for sheer nostalgia. I even tried one of them on yesterday, looked at myself in the mirror, realized that it looked enormous on me and that I'm almost half a life away from when I bought it. Into the pile.

There's the button down short sleeved shirts. When I worked in radio, I saw many people wearing these kinds of shirts at conventions. They were usually middle-aged and had bellies. Somewhere along the line, I picked up a few and thought they looked good. Today, they just seem awkward, at least on me. I'm keeping two of them that probably won't make the next closet purge. The rest of them? Into the pile.

Then there's the button down long sleeved shirts, mostly striped, and of many colors. Too many colors. What was I thinking when I bought these? Seriously? Into the pile.

I still have to thin the pile of denim today and bring everything over to a donation center. Part of me feels bad for donating the less fashionable to the less fortunate, but I'm reminded that one man's trash is another man's treasure.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Always Try New Bulbs Before Calling the Electrician

While I'm not the most handy person in the world, I hold my own when it comes to home improvements. I have managed to paint almost all of the interior walls to my place and common staircase, installed cabinets and slate tile backsplashes (with help from friends), and refinished my deck (also with help).

When it comes to electrical work, however, I think it's best to contract out.

I did successfully install a few new lights at pre-wired receptacles, and changed all of my switches and fixtures from white to new grey ones. I have even added a few dimmer switches myself.

Last summer, I called an electrician. I needed some undercabinet fluorescent lights to be added to my new cabinet unit, and needed an outlet to be moved and secured at a new location. Perfectly legitimate project that was a bit outside of my fake electricial expertise. $500 later, I was all set.

One of those lights stopped working recently. In a separate but what I thought could have been a connected issue, the overhead light in my bedroom and plug immediately beneath that light's switch also stopped working. I distinctly remember plugging my vacuum into the socket, only to learn that I'd have to find another power source.

So, I called the electrician back and explained all of my problems. He said that he could come by on Thursday morning, and should be finished within two hours (the minimum time he bills, I'm figuring).

When he arrived, he brought a different undercabinet light with the intention of switching out some parts, as the ones I had installed last year were a special order, it appears. Fifteen minutes later, part switched, light works. Perfect.

I brought him into my bedroom to check out the outlet and switch. He used his voltmeter or whatever device he carried to test receptacles, and sure enough...both of them worked just fine.


I plugged the same vacuum into what I thought was a faulty socket, and sure enough - sucking power.

I looked at my overhead light and realized that I probably did not try new light bulbs. What were the odds that both bulbs would go at the same time and a plug would fail (which didn't). I figured the problem was behind the dry wall.

I grab two new light bulbs, change them, and voila - we have light.


How much of an idiot am I?

Not enough of one....

...because I then brought my electrician friend onto my deck for the final electrical problem - a GFI plug (the kind with the Test and Reset buttons) that had really never worked from day one of my moving here.

He hit the two buttons, and bingo - power.

Now, I know I have tried those buttons before. If a plug didn't work, and I saw two buttons on it, I would safely say my next action would be hitting those two buttons to see what happened. I did that years ago, never received power, and gave up on the socket.

But now, magic electrician comes, resets the switch, and we're back.

So, two hours of billed work became about twenty minutes of actual work, including one legit mini-project, two non-projects, and one idiot customer (me) who did not remember to try new light bulbs before calling the electrician.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Big Rigs on the Southie Waterfront

I love how the sunset can change from an orange sky to a purple/grey/pink sky within minutes. Fortunately, we witnessed all of the beautiful colors during Friday's harbor cruise - from clear blue, through orange and red, into the colors in this photo.

These rigs are on the northeastern edge of Southie, and are visible from Castle Island. I don't know what they do, to be perfectly honest, but imagine that moving large storage containers is a likely responsibility of such heavy machinery.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Copley Square Skyline at Sunset

On Friday, I was invited onto a Boston Harbor cruise for my friend Andy's 30th birthday. We boarded the Boston Belle out of Marina Bay in Quincy for a three hour private excursion that took us into a number of the wharfs along the Boston waterfront.

The weather was perfect for the boat ride - not too hot, cold, humid, windy, or anything else - simply perfect!

I'm always snapping photos whenever I board a boat, fully aware that keeping the shots in focus is not always the simplest of tasks depending on the calmness of the water and the speed that which we are traveling. As the darkness approaches, it becomes even more difficult to remain in focus, even with my image stabilizing lens.

I grabbed a few cool shots nonetheless. This sailboat was practically inviting me to photograph it, especially with the beautiful sunset and city skyline in the distance.

Friday, August 07, 2009


Hey, WBZ-TV - nice job spelling the name of the Pats.

I seem to have forgotten about the "I before O except after R" rule.


Thursday, August 06, 2009

Jason Mraz / G. Love at the Bank of America Pavilion

Last night I found myself amid thousands of screaming women at the Jason Mraz / G. Love & Special Sauce show at the Bank of America Pavilion - one of my favorite venues in the area.

I bought tickets on a whim a few months ago, figuring this would be a cool show to see outdoors right on Boston Harbor. I saw G. Love years ago in Las Vegas at House of Blues, and hadn't been to a Jason Mraz show yet.

I truly underestimated the popularity of Mr. Mraz. Two almost sold-out shows here in Boston, much likely attributed to the success of "I'm Yours." I remember when his last album was pretty dead in the water, and even though I liked a few songs from it, I figured he would kind of disappear into the abyss of early millennial singer-songwriter pop.

Guess I was totally wrong.

His vibe is perfect - quirky love songs, self-deprecating humor, and the feeling that his music would perfectly complement a summer soundtrack. He recorded a song with Colbie Callait, another performer who I figured would disappear after her initial hits, but has since recorded a new album with songs written on lovely Hanalei Beach in Kaua'i (which...I miss). Slacker-songwriter music is alive and well.

Jason Mraz had the crowd going during most of his set, less a lull of unfamiliar, slower tunes around the middle of the show. He had an eight or nine-piece band backing him, complete with a Chicago-esque brass set. Jason totally worked the crowd, bantered between songs, and seemed entirely comfortable on stage. I'm a bit surprised he bailed on a few singles that were non-hits (but singles nonetheless) like "You and I Both," "Wordplay," and "Geek In the Pink," but he managed to fill two hours with consistently good music.

G. Love is a unique cat. You love him or hate him. I think he's great. Bluesy pop that works in limited doses. I think I'd go nuts if I had to listen to G. Love for five hours straight, but for a 45-minute set, or for songs that shuffle into my ears while at the gym, G. Love is perfect. I still think "Cold Beverage" is one of the most fun songs from the 90's.