Tuesday, November 29, 2011

‘Computer says Nooooooooo!’

Moving states is an administrative nightmare. It is as troublesome as moving from a foreign country, although moving from North Carolina to Texas is moving to a foreign country and there are many Texans who still refuse to acknowledge they are part of the United States. The Lone Star State! It still hurts that they are not the Republic of Texas! To their credit though Texas is the only state allowed to fly its flag at the same height as the American flag. I like Texas. It has an identity. Everywhere flies the Texan flag. I don’t even know what the flag of North Carolina looks like. I bet some of those Texan flags fly a tiny bit higher than the American flag! Rebels! The children make two pledges every morning now; one to America and one to Texas.
Sadly, Texas isn’t a republic. It has the same brand of federal agents as everywhere else. In fact, it is one thing that the USA has in common with the UK, its Civil Servants do anything but serve. There is an IQ bar in America to work for the Federal Government; over 80 and you have no chance of a job. I have had a few too many encounters of federal workers over the last few weeks just to legally drive in Texas.
Firstly, I had to register my car in Texas. This involved getting a state inspection to say it was acceptable for Texas, reinsuring it for Texas and then re-registering it with Texan number plates. I got one of those hideous Déjà vu moments. Having never seen the woman behind the counter before, I got that weird feeling I had seen her in every government building I had ever been in; 40 something, too old to have ‘never been cut’ hair and funky goth rings and black nail varnish on, puppies spilling out of her Indian cotton gypsy top and a face like a slapped arse.
‘Computer said Noooooo!’ I didn’t have the correct paperwork. Déjà vu again! I have never registered a car in the states before and I had scrupulously checked what I needed but of course, there is always something. I felt like I had been here before.
Finally with shiny new Texan plates on my car I went to get a new drivers licence. We waited 3 hours and these places are never in nice parts of town. I had all the documentation. I had double checked on the website. I was only swapping a North Carolina licence for a Texan one.
‘Computer said nooooo!’. I hadn’t got my social Security card with me. I couldn’t have got the NC licence without it. I had a copy of it. I said ‘I’m just swapping from NC’. This made the Texan lady angry. Funny, I have seen her in every government office I have ever been in too; 50-something, dyed reddish hair piled high on her head and full of anger.  A university of Michigan study found women who expressed anger (at their husbands) lived 10 years longer than women who squelched it. She was gonna live for ever if this was anything to go by. She told me they couldn’t accept anything from North Carolina which is why she needed my SS card. …talking of SS….she reminded me of a high ranking officer!  I was too scared to tell her that Texas and NC were part of the same country.
I went home to get my SS card. Couldn’t find it anywhere. I had kept it in a special place until I moved and then put it in a new special place. Very special and very safe. Bugger! Another trip to another Federal office. There was cheerful 20-something who hadn’t been broken by repetition and the power she could wield over people like me yet. She would conform to it eventually or go crazy. There are a few zany government workers – one in every office – usually male, red trousers, 70’s perm and mis-matched socks who tell jokes only they laugh at. She was so jolly when she told me ‘Computer said noooo’ and I hadn’t got the correct paper work that I couldn’t be cross. I hope she turns zany and not just mean! To replace my SS card I needed all the paperwork I needed in the first place. Why? It is all on the system but the computer said no! I am a non-entity in the states. I only have a visa because hubby has one. I had to prove I am married to him again so I needed my marriage certificate.
I returned with the certificate. Bored yet? Think how tedious and boring it was to actually do all of this. You need to share my tedium and pain!!
Jamais Vu! I know I had been there before but what I got this time was something on a whole new level. The 60-something evil and bitter fat woman with a weird bob and heavy rimmed glasses that are only there so she can peer over them and glare. I explained that I had returned with the correct paperwork to replace my ss card. She looked at me like I was an alien (an illegal alien) and said ‘I can’t understand a word you are saying’. I was the only person in the building who had English as a first language.  I gave her the paperwork and the marriage certificate.
‘Computer said nooooo! You will need to change your name at immigration to your husband’s name’. I had a moment of Presque vu – when something is on the tip of your tongue but you can’t remember the word. Lucky, as I’m sure it is a federal offence to swear at a federal officer! I explained again that I needed a new SS card because I had lost it and that I wasn’t looking for a new name! Because my visa was apparently not sufficient I had brought my marriage certificate to prove a connection to the primary visa holder. She said it proved nothing as I had a different name on my passport to his. She said I might have got divorced! I asked if that would be sufficient to deport me – it was. I made a mental note of it in case of emergency homesickness! I explained the names on the marriage certificate did in fact match the names on the visa in the passport. Jamais Vu! Victory! It computed and she informed me that it would be in the post. (heard that before!) She then said she had a bad throat. Playing for sympathy now I had her beaten! Really?!! Presque Vu again. It was on the tip of my tongue to wish her a speedy end to life but I was at a loss for the words again!
I wonder if Texas was a republic – would I have had the same experience of registering to drive here as I did just changing states within the same country? Something tells me that it goes with the bureaucratic territory; that the job requires a certain sort of person! My new social Security card arrived today and I thought of a really safe place to put it. Jamais Vu! You know the punch line – there was my lost SS card safely there already! Just need to go back to get that new Texan driviers licence issued! What could possibly go wrong now?

jamais vu involves a sense of eeriness and the observer's impression of seeing the situation for the first time, despite rationally knowing that he or she has been in the situation before.
Presque vu (The tip of the tongue, from the French for "almost seen") phenomenon is an instance of knowing something that cannot immediately be recalled.
Déjà vu (meaning "already seen") is the experience of feeling sure that one has already witnessed or experienced a current situation, even though the exact circumstances of the previous encounter are uncertain and were perhaps imagined.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Turkey Lurkey!

My son came home last week with a special project called “Turkey in Disguise” for homework. He had an outline drawing of a Turkey and his task was to use any materials he wanted to, to disguise his Turkey. I didn’t quite understand why but assumed it was something to do with Thanksgiving which is the end of November. We disguised his Turkey as a Christmas tree with lots of glitter and sparkle. I say ‘we’ but he wasn’t allowed to participate. I liked the irony of disguising the Thanksgiving Turkey as a Christmas Turkey tree. Thanksgiving seems to steal all of the traditions of a British Christmas and put horrible gravy on it!
The completed turkeys are on display in the school hall. I am now wondering if the project has an extra dimension linked to a big local sport. Turkey hunting! It must be big; the local Wal-mart has a whole aisle dedicated to it. I took a photo of it because seeing is believing. I had to wait quite some time while a man in a lumberjack shirt and hunting cap stroked the merchandise… for a long time. Every time I went back to take a picture he was still there picking things up and putting them down again. I’ve seen women do that in dress shops, feeling the fabric but never in a Turkey hunting aisle in Wal-mart. I posted the picture on Facebook and people thought I had taken it off the internet. It was real! It was local. It is a tiny bit scary!
So – is the ‘Turkeys in Disguise’ project ‘training’ the kids to spot real ones out in the wild? I was going to do a bit of light research on Turkey hunting but it is serious stuff. Nothing light or humourous about Turkey Hunting…except just how seriously people can take it! There is a National Wild Turkey Federation of which Houston has its own chapter… and the people who like hunting Turkeys have guns and stroke stuff in the hunting aisle of Wal-mart. I should know when I am on dangerous ground. Besides there are some things I don’t want to know about Turkeys, like male turkeys are called Gobblers and their red dangly bits are “‘major caruncles’ that are large and fleshy and engorged with blood during the spring.” I could have got by not knowing that. I disguised my son’s Turkey caruncles as blue icicles. That’ll stop any engorgement!
It is so serious that they hold special work shops to learn the call of a
Turkey and have contests in the ‘off – season’.  I am a little bored – I wondered if I should go along to a workshop or two but I can’t see myself putting the acquired skill of sounding like a turkey to any practical use. You can learn to mimic the female to attract a gobbler- not something I would be keen to do with all those engorged dangly bits!
You can buy all sorts of Turkey disguises, in this case to resemble a Turkey rather than disguise one! I bet you can even buy a special hat so that when you are lying in the grass doing your clucking, putting and cutting to attract the gobbler your head looks like the back end of a hen! Worry if you hear the ‘purr’ of a gobbler. You might need a new hat
I looked at the safety tips for hunting Turkeys on the National Wild Turkey Federation website  http://www.nwtf.org/  How dangerous can it be? …well you would be surprised but it isn’t the Turkeys that anyone needs to fear…

Here are some tips from the NWTF to consider when you're in the woods this fall:
  • Keep your firearm pointed in a safe direction, and leave the safety on until you are ready to shoot. I have to say – the guns used for hunting Turkeys seem ridiculously large – especially as it isn’t likely to end in a ‘kill or be killed’ situation! I read an article that said 20 million women own guns in the US. This Texan shoots quails with hers – big gun for a little bird!
  • Positively identify your target, and know what is beyond your target before you shoot. See – that school project – Turkeys in Disguise will come in handy! Make sure it is a Turkey not a hat made to look like a Turkey… or a Turkey made to look like a Christmas tree! Or a person… although it is a mistake it would seem any Turkey hunter could make…
  • Avoid wearing white, red, black or blue since these are the colors of a gobbler's head and body. This includes handkerchiefs, socks, T-shirts and even items such as candy wrappers and insect repellant. This is very important advice incase another Turkey hunter didn’t complete the elementary school project ‘Turkeys in Disguise’ and cannot tell the difference between a Turkey and a big gun wielding twat in a red neckerchief!
  • Select a spot that is in open timber rather than thick brush. Eliminating movement and camouflage is more critical to success than heavy cover. Erm! You’re hunting Turkeys. It ain’t ‘Black Hawk Down’
  • Sit against a large stump, blow-down, tree trunk or rock that is wider than your shoulders and higher than your head when calling wild turkeys. …and put your head between your knees and say wobble wobble gobble! ...And don’t wear your Turkey hat disguise with the top poking above the rock. Don’t want a home goal from another hunter! (I was going to say home run but they may be OK in American sport! Although judging from warfare- home goals might be too!)
  • If you imitate the sound of a gobbling turkey, you could call in other hunters. You should always be cautious, but especially when hunting public land. And if your Turkey sounds are that good – there are competitions you can enter… The fame! The glory!
  • If decoys are legal and you use them, place them off to one side and make sure you can see anyone approaching your decoys before the other hunter is within range. This is very important advice incase another Turkey hunter didn’t complete the elementary school project ‘Turkeys in Disguise’ and cannot tell the difference between a real Turkey and a pretend one!
  • Leave the area if you suspect there's another hunter already working the same bird. This is very important advice incase another Turkey hunter didn’t complete the elementary school project…
  • If another hunter enters your hunting area, never move, wave or make turkey sounds to alert the other hunter. Remain still and call out to them in a loud, clear voice to get his or her attention. This is very important advice incase another Turkey hunter didn’t complete the elementary school project…

I don’t think I will be engaging in any Turkey hunting during my stay in Texas but I am glad my son has learned some potentially life saving skills in his ‘Turkeys in Disguise’ project and I have again been reminded, when in America… ALWAYS stick to the path. There is some weird stuff going on out there! This Thanksgiving I will be notionally giving thanks to the ‘other’ Turkey aisle in Wal-mart – the one with pre hunted and plucked Turkeys in the Freezer… if I can ever bring myself to eat Turkey again!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Dear United Airlines

Dear United Airlines,
I’m not one to complain and I appreciate that merging with Continental is a tad bit confusing – I got sent away from the United check-in desk for my United flight from Raleigh to Houston and had to check in at Continental and then get on a United plane! Not confusing at all. A very smooth merger! One big team!
I don’t want to take sides but the Continental staff were very helpful. They fell for the ‘I don’t know how to self check-in, I’ve never done it before’ and did all that tedious crap for me which was good because my outward bound seat allocation had  not seated me with my children who are 9 and 6. Whilst this may have given me a peaceful flight, staff at check-in shared my concern that my children really did need to be sat with me on the flight for the peace and wellbeing of other passengers and for their own best interests. They relocated our seats without hesitation. The flight was full so changing seats was not without consequences for them to resolve at the gate with all those awkward miserable business travelers (I can’t call them twats because that is apparently very offensive in America! – Actually I think it might be offensive everywhere – just less used in the US)  who expect to sit alone. It could have been worse. They could have had my son sat next to them!
The return journey wasn’t so good. I’m really not one to complain and I appreciate that in today’s climate of political correctness you have to have old, fat, ugly trolley dollies, I do! But do you have to have so many and do they have to be that mean?

What’s the difference between a United air-stewardess and a rottweiler? Lipstick!

At check in, Bulldog #1 didn’t buy my ‘I’ve never used the self service check-in before, can you do it for me?’ and made me do it myself. The trouble with self check in is that lone travelers do not consider that passengers may want to sit together and take up single seats in the hope that they will be sitting alone. What they don’t particularly want is to find them selves sat with an unaccompanied 6 year old but that’s what they end up with by taking one seat up in every row. Passengers are not necessarily the best people to decide where best to sit.
I wasn’t anxious about the seating as it had been so efficiently sorted by continental staff – and you’re the same company aren’t you?  I was wrong.
Reality check #1:
At check in I was told by Very Fat bulldog #1 that I would have to ask for my seats to be reallocated at the gate.
Reality check #2:
At the gate I was told by Very Ugly Bulldog #2 that I would have to wait until I got on the plane. As all the platinum frequent flyer arses get on first, I was concerned that it would be too late once passengers were seated. I asked was there anything she could do to help me.  She said she could page the staff on board and ask them in advance but she was too busy… she didn’t seem that busy.  She seemed to be having a laugh and a chat with two other staff employed to tick the ‘politically correct’ employer box.
Reality check #3:
I pointed out that safety was the number one priority for airlines and that my 6 year old son’s safety would be compromised in the event of an emergency as I couldn’t expect a stranger to help him. She said at 6 his age was not a concern. I think she needed a reality check! I do not consider my son, at the age of 6, responsible. There was something more worrying than his safety in the event of an emergency. My real concern was that he would cause an emergency! He is a lively 6 year old! I pointed out that I could not be responsible for him if I was not sat next to him. She turned her back, walked through the gate and closed the door (I may have been ranting at this point) Still – she had told me they would sort it on the plane!
Reality check #4
Upon boarding Very Old Bulldog #3 told me to sit and they would sort it when everyone has boarded. Yeah, cos everyone is happy to move seats at that point! Boarded, belted and ready for take-off… That’s when she remembered to check (well – she was very old)!  She declared ‘oh good, you’re all sorted’. We were ‘all sorted’ and sat together because of the good sense (rather than an act of kindness I think) of the other passengers. They took one look at my son, unaccompanied, and next to them and immediately swapped seats until he was nowhere near them!

Maybe I was wrong earlier. Maybe passengers are the best people to decide where to sit.

So – United/Continental, I don’t know what your policy is on minors and where they sit but that isn’t really the issue.  The relevant point here is that you were mean to a passenger (me), anxious to sit next to her young son- for good reason! Next time I will not complain (because I’m not one to complain!). Next time I will let him sit where he is allocated and I will sit back and enjoy the experience. Next time I fly – it won’t be a 3 hour flight; it will be a 9+ hour flight. I’ve a feeling that my son, sat a distance from me,  is the best way to give the United staff a reality check on their customer service!