The Trifecta of Technology Failure

IMG_20160425_124252092_HDR[1]Sometimes I really miss the days of typewriters and saving our words on paper. Yes, I’m old, so old that when I had to use an electric typewriter in my college typing class, I walked up to the teacher and said, “Ma’am, I can’t do that. I’m used to a manual typewriter. These keys move too fast. I’m going to flunk this class.” Her response was something along the lines of “get over it.” And I did.

At my early newspaper jobs, I typed on manual typewriters, using leftover sheets of newsprint and carbon paper to make copies. We edited with pencils, and typesetters retyped our words into long strips of heavy paper that we pasted on cardboard and marked up with blue pencils that didn’t show when the pages were photographed. I also took pictures on film and developed them in a darkroom, but that’s a whole other story.

Over the years, I’ve gotten used to electric typewriters, word processors, my first Radio Shack computer (a $1500 box with no connection to the Internet), Apples and IBMs, DOS and Windows, disks as big as dinner plates, disks down-sized to cake plates, and floppy disks that could double as coasters, CDs, DVDs and flash drives, portable phones, cell phones, smart phones, Kindles, iPads, iPods, Etc. None of which lasts more than two years.

On Friday night, when I turned on my computer, the screen was blank. The power light was on, and the computer seemed to be on. The computer is relatively new, sold to me by Staples, which just happens to have closed their local store last month. I didn’t do anything different to it. I had simply turned it off before I went to my weekly jam in Waldport. Of course you know where the user’s manual is these days? Right. Online. You can’t read it if you’re staring at a blank screen. Note to computer makers: Bring back printed manuals. Your online help is not that helpful. 

Luckily, I have a laptop as well as a desktop computer, and I managed to find some suggestions for my dilemma. Lots of unplugging and restarting. Ultimately, I unplugged the monitor and went searching in the garage for the ancient 50-pound monitor that I had never gotten around to taking somewhere to recycle. It had been there for years. It just about killed me lugging it from the garage to my office and muscling it into place. But guess what? It worked. I’m using it now. The print is too small and kind of fuzzy. My new monitor, ordered online from Staples, should arrive today. None of the coupons they keep sending me in the mail applied to this purchase. They charged me extra for insurance I did not buy. The Staples guy insists I did. I give up.

But that wasn’t the end of the weekend’s technical difficulties. Nope. I went to Corvallis yesterday for a Timberline Review reading at Grass Roots Books and Music, to be followed by a meeting to decide which poems to publish in the next issue. At a rest stop on Highway 20, I glanced at my phone and read DEVICE LOCKED. I had recently installed McAfee antivirus protection on the phone, and they had decided that it had fallen into the hands of a criminal. I could only unlock it with my pin number. My pin number was at home. I could not use my phone for five hours. At home last night, I found the pin, got into the phone and uninstalled that SOB program. I can’t believe an outside force could keep me from my own phone.

That’s still not the end of it. Our poetry meeting had to be aborted because the WiFi didn’t work in the café where we planned to have our discussion and the folks at the bookstore next door didn’t know the password to their WiFi. Our only copies of the poems were online, so we gave up and went home. If we’d brought them on paper, our meeting would have happened and we’d have our final list of poems today. Grumble.

Today, at this moment, everything is working, but I have no confidence that when I go into the kitchen to make my lunch, the microwave will work. I miss the good old days. How about you? Feel free to comment on your frustrations or joys with technology.

PS. Lunch went fine, but I just got an email from Staples. They no longer have the monitor I ordered, and it will not be coming. Is that smoke coming out of my ears?

Halloween photo sparks memories

Halloween at TimberwoodA few days ago, Facebook showed me a photo from 2010 of me and my late husband Fred at a Halloween party at the Timberwood Court memory care facility where he lived most of the last two years of his life. He looks disoriented. I look weary, and my glasses are askew. I wore an orange hoodie, the same one I wore this Halloween, and I can see orange and black decorations in the background. I remember bowls of candy,  somebody’s kids in costumes, and “The Monster Mash” playing in the background. The merriment was forced. Most of the residents had no clue what was happening.

After we said goodbye, I drove home through Corvallis. The trees were so brilliant with fall colors that I had to stop and take pictures. I walked the promenade along the Willamette River among kids in costume, couples strolling, and bicyclists speeding by. Mostly I stared at the river. It was always difficult to come out into the world after a visit to Fred, especially on holidays, which he used to enjoy so much. I didn’t know this would be his last Halloween, but I did know Halloweens were not the same anymore.

My mind goes back to 1997. Halloween occurred just a few days after Fred’s father died suddenly of a stroke. Perhaps it was unseemly, but we decided to go ahead with Halloween at Fred’s mother’s house in Newport. Fred’s brother and his wife were there, and we brought our dog Sadie. Mom Lick had a cold and stayed in the back room while we “kids” took turns handing out candy. In that neighborhood behind the Fred Meyer store, folks block off the streets every year and hundreds of trick-or-treaters come seeking candy. That year, they came in such a steady stream that we never really got to close the door. One of us had to hold the dog to keep her from bolting outside while the other tossed mini tootsie rolls in their bags or plastic pumpkins. It was cold and windy, but it was fun. Fred talked to all the kids, praising their costumes. Friends who knew my father-in-law had just died seemed surprised to find us doing the Halloween thing, but Mom insisted. She hung up her spooky stuffed monkeys in the window, set out her pumpkins, and we did Halloween as usual. We continued the tradition for another four years, until she too passed away.

It was a nice change from Halloween here in the woods where it’s so dark and spooky nobody ever comes trick-or-treating. I hang up orange lights, light a candle in a pumpkin and buy candy just in case, but always wind up eating it myself. I just finished last year’s bag of little Hershey bars. Now I have Tootsie Pops. You know what? They still taste great, especially when you get to the chocolate in the middle.

Our weather usually changes to winter in October. This Halloween, just before dark, it started raining like a hurricane, coming down so hard it looked like the ocean was coming to get us. I imagined the scene at many homes where the kids were set on going out and the parents were just as set on staying dry. Downtown was set up for the usual Deco District festivities where merchants hand out candy, but I didn’t see a single kid there. In Mom’s old neighborhood, over a hundred souls braved the storm. You’ve got to be tough growing up on the Oregon coast.

Growing up in San Jose, my brother and I did the typical Halloween thing. I remember smelly plastic masks, scratchy store-bought costumes and embarrassing homemade ones. I remember going door to door with our Halloween bags while Mom or Dad watched from the sidewalk, making sure we said “thank you” at every stop. As we collected Three Musketeers bars, Life-Savers, suckers, candy corn and other wonders, we never worried about the weather or had to cover our costumes with raincoats, gloves and hats. We also never worried about running into bears or cougars in the dark. Different worlds.

This Halloween, I sang at the 5:30 Mass, ate a late dinner and watched three episodes of “Gilmore Girls” on DVD. In the glow of my orange Halloween lights, Annie snored in the big chair and I contentedly sucked on a chocolate Tootsie Pop.

I hope your Halloween was good. Now it’s time to brace ourselves. It’s standard time, and winter is here. Will it be a trick or a treat? Wait and see.

Crunch! Car Crash Changes Plans

IMG_20150828_153133529[2]I was expecting to write a very different post today, but . . . life happened.

I was all dressed up and heading to Corvallis for a Timberline Review literary magazine event. Traffic on the coast was terrible. I just wanted to get out of Newport, which was flooded with tourists. I was on Highway 20, but still in town, when my phone rang. I know. I should have ignored it. But it was my dad, and I was afraid something was wrong, so I made a sudden turn into a parking lot to answer the phone. At least that was my intention. Bang, crash! I lost control of the car, hit something on my left and was headed for a fence. I did not know until the other car pulled in beside mine that my car had been hit from the rear. The driver was local, uninsured, and in tears. Her tiny black dog was hysterical.

The front of the passenger side of her car was smashed, the headlight in pieces, wires and such dangling, radiator leaking. My back bumper was damaged. But where did the piece of car lying on the pavement come from? Big piece. It took me a while to figure out it came from the front, where the real damage was, where I ran into a metal post.

People came running out of the nearby candle shop. Someone swept up a big pile of glass and car parts from the street. We were both shaken but apparently not hurt. Our air bags did not deploy (the recalled ones I didn’t have replaced yet). A fire truck came, followed by a police officer, crew-cut, shades and all. He filled out a report. I told him I turned abruptly. I was willing to take all the blame, but the officer insisted that the law says that if the other driver hit me from behind, she was following too closely, so she would be cited and I was in the clear.

My Honda Element is drivable, but it needs repairs. The estimate is $3,000, with possibly more showing up when they take things apart. I have Cadillac insurance. State Farm will pay for repairs and a rental car, and I will be okay (although my bumper stickers are toast.) The other car, an older Honda Accord, was towed to the same place I took my car. The woman doing my estimate looked out the window and said, “Oh, that’s totaled.” It’s not fair. It’s not right. I’m sure the other driver needs her car as much as I need mine, and I doubt that she can afford a new one.

My phone has a new name: “that f-ing phone.”

It’s a knee jerk reaction for me. Phone rings, I grab it, I look away from the road to see who’s calling, and if it’s family, I answer it. Not anymore. I’m turning the phone off when I drive so I won’t even know if anyone calls.

It happened so quickly. I sometimes think about what I would do if I were about to get in an accident, how I would try to protect my face or my hands. But there was no time for a thought or a word. I just knew I was hitting things and had to get away from the fence that was coming right at me. Since then, I keep hearing the crunches and seeing that fence over and over in my mind. Driving scares me now.

When I was done with cops, insurance and repair people, I called my father. He gave me a good tongue-lashing. I deserved it. “Let the damned phone ring,” he said. “Call back later.” It turned out he was fine, just calling to see how my medical tests had turned out. I get those results this afternoon. Fingers crossed.

Today I am aware of how blessed I am, so blessed I feel guilty. I’m not rich, but I have enough. I can afford a nice car and good insurance. My body still works as well as it did before the accident. I can still write, play and sing my music, walk the dog, and go to lunch with my friends. Not everyone is so lucky.

Dear friends, turn off the phone. It’s not just texting, it’s telephone calls, email, checking the weather, fiddling with the GPS and all the other features on our Smart Phones. It’s hard to resist their allure, and you cannot safely use the phone and drive at the same time. When I slowed to turn off, I didn’t even know there was anyone behind me. I didn’t look. My attention was completely on the phone. Smart phones are smart, but sometimes we people who use them are idiots. A phone call can always wait. Always. Minus the phone, I would have spent my evening eating hors d’oeuvres and listening to poetry. Instead I was filling out a report for the DMV. It’s not worth it.

Next week, I promise, even if the house burns down, God forbid, I will offer a blog full of happiness and beauty. Or dog pictures, which are the same thing.

Leave me a message at the beep.

Morning on the Willamette River

I did not know there was a path along the river behind the Super 8 Motel in Corvallis. Last time I was here, everything was covered in snow andbadcb-dscn3690 ice. I walked cautiously in my boots, afraid of slipping, my fingers freezing despite my gloves as I snapped pictures in a quiet wonderland covered in white. The temperature was about 12 degrees. Even the edges of the Willamette River were frozen.

A rogue snowstorm had caught western Oregon by surprise. I was on my way home from San Francisco, where my father had just had heart surgery. There, it was cold but clear. When I landed at the Portland airport, I found my car encased in snow. I had trouble starting it, and my tire warning light was on. My feet slipped on the icy pavement. But I got onto I-5, drove south on partially cleared roads and took the turn onto Highway 34 toward the coast. That road had not been plowed. I crept along in a line of cars sliding all over and vowed to stop at the first motel I found. That was this Super 8 in Corvallis. For two days, I was snowed in, not daring to drive the rest of the way home. I walked along the river, and I walked into the town, enjoying the local stores and restaurants that were still open. Everything was quiet. No cars. All sounds muffled by snow.

This morning is IMG_20150216_081430223a different story. The snow is gone, and the sun is shining. It’s still cold, but no danger of frostbite. I walk slowly, still favoring the ankle I sprained in December. Cars and trucks roar by on Highway 34, exiting at second street, stopping at the traffic light. Along the river, the trees and shrubs are still winter bare, but now I can see the dirt. I can also see the litter, including evidence of drug use. Crows squawk at me from the trees, and a squirrel as big as a cat whooshes by. A homeless guy shouts good morning and mumbles something about fog. Fog? A jogger runs by in yellow shorts, and an old lady urges her equally old golden retriever along.

Without the snow, it’s a different world. I’m not as charmed by the all-carb motel breakfast and tea in a Styrofoam cup or the bathtub stopper that growls unless you hold it down with your foot. I’m all too aware of the work and meetings facing me back on the coast, all needing my attention today. I cannot claim a snow day.

But as I watch the river flowing by and the sun shining off the blue water, I’m glad I decided to stop here on my way home from a meeting in Portland and not just so I wouldn’t miss any of the three-hour “Bachelor” marathon on TV.

There’s something about a river that feels like a prayer.