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I’m a big believer in preventative maintenance on cars. I rarely do it, but I believe in it.

We paid off my 2006 Chevy Avalanche in 2009, so I’ve been driving a payment-free truck for six years. My Avalanche currently has 130,000 miles (which is amazing considering how many states it has visited) and I plan on driving a payment-free truck for many more years. Of course payment-free doesn’t mean cost-free. I drove right past the 100,000 mile tune up and scheduled both the 100,000 and 120,000 mile checkups at the same time. Back when I had one my truck payment was $500 a month, so my theory is that if I pay less than $500 in maintenance on any particular month, I’ve come out ahead.

Over the past week, Susan and I scheduled the following work to be performed on my truck: two routine maintenance checkups, an alignment, a windshield replacement, and a stereo upgrade. The maintenance and alignment were $900 combined. The windshield was $300. Coincidentally, immediately after those two things were performed, my rear window stopped rolling up or down (and would not stay closed). That was another $300. The icing on the cake was the stereo I purchased from Best Buy. Cost of the stereo in the store? $149. Total amount spent after having it installed? Roughly $450.

In the long run I came out ahead — we’re talking four months of car payments after not having made one for six years — but man does it hurt to spend that kind of money to (except for the stereo) just keep things running properly. I’m now driving the truck to Norman twice a week for school so hopefully this maintenance will keep things running. And now I can listen to podcasts on my Bluetooth-capable stereo during the commute.

And, we’re back to blue. An errant php call to an apparently depreciated function (looks like they dropped the reference to e-links/blog roll) was causing WordPress to hang. After commenting out one line at a time 500 times, I finally found the offending line.

Long story short, after days of work, I finally have everything back to where we started. Good? Good.

Things certainly look… orange.

With my old web server (running Windows Server 2003) beginning to show its age, I decided it was time for an upgrade. I built a new Windows Server 2012 virtual server (using Hyper-V instead of VMWare for the first time) and spent the past few days migrating my sites over. For WordPress sites this includes migrating databases, locking down permissions, and all kinds of boring tasks. Unfortunately I didn’t have a good way to test how things were working without doing a few quick “live” tests and so that’s what I did. After everything was moved over I found two three things weren’t working: my old WordPress theme for,a bunch of custom webcode I had written, and my forum theme. Ugh.

I solved the forum problem by picking a different theme. I wasn’t deeply attached to the one I was using. Easy win.

The custom code problem was perplexing. I broke the golden rule of changing multiple variables all at once — a new operating system, a new version of PHP, a WordPress upgrade — so tracking down the problem was a pain in the ass. After an hour of troubleshooting and narrowing down where things were failing I discovered that some of my old code contained shortcuts beginning blocks of PHP code (I didn’t have the word “PHP” following the question mark). It worked on the old server and doesn’t work on the new server — not sure why, but once I nailed down what was failing, updating the code was simple.

I never did figure out why my old WordPress theme was failing — it simply displays the header and then hangs. I searched Google and found a thousand people having that problem with a thousand different solutions. As midnight approached I decided the simplest solution for the time being was to implement another theme (thus all the “orange”). I loved that old theme and may work more on getting it to work in the future, but either way we’re back up and running for the time being.

I got my first Lego set back in 1977 and things were different back then. Prior to 1978, most Lego sets didn’t come with many specialized pieces — mostly you got bricks, wheels, fences, arches, and little sloping pieces that were good for building ramps and roofs. Bricks came in black, white, red, yellow, and blue and you had green plates and trees and that was that.

In 1978 Lego released the Lego minifigure (aka the “minifig”). Before that we had weird bubble-headed people with interlocking pieces for arms and no body or legs (you had to build those yourself), and non-poseable figures that didn’t have printed faces. Everything changed with the release of the minifig. Suddenly instead of balloon-headed family members or generic townsfolk we had real people: soldiers, firemen, police officers, and my favorite figures, the spacemen.

Normally this is where you would expect me to launch into “old man” mode and talk about how things were before that, but not this time. These new little Lego people in their new little sets were fantastic. My favorite set at that time was the Yellow Castle, which came with yellow bricks (thus the name), a working drawbridge, and a whopping 14 medieval minifigs. At the same time, Lego was also releasing their new space line. Between the two, I was in Lego Heaven.

When you only have a few Legos you can store them in something small like a shoe box. Eventually I acquired so many that my mom gave me a square Tupperware container to put them in. I kept my Legos in that tub for a long time before I eventually needed a larger tub.

I don’t remember exactly when I quit playing with Lego blocks but it would have been around the time most other kids did. I wasn’t one of those kids that kept building things long after everyone else had moved on to other things. I built things, I played with with, and eventually I put them out in the garage.

Now one time when Mason was real young, like maybe three or four years old, I went to a garage and found a large tub of Lego bricks for sale. We’re talking about a ten gallon plastic tub full of Lego bricks — at current prices, well over a thousand dollars worth of blocks. The guy was asking $200 and ended up taking $100. By the time I combined those Lego bricks with the ones I already owned I had enough to fill a twenty gallon tub.

Shortly before Mason turned four, Lego Star Wars was released. Mason played with Lego bricks for a while but by the time he was old enough to use a game controller he was playing the electronic version.

We’ve pulled the tub of Lego bricks out once or twice for nostalgia’s sake (mine, not theirs), but for the most part they’ve been collecting dust. Over the past few weeks my friend Ben Langberg has been visiting the past by building some of those old classic space sets and posting pictures of them on Facebook.

Now one thing Ben does is he sorts his Lego bricks into different tubs by color. It’s something I always wanted to do but never had the time or motivation to do. Seeing all of Ben’s work on Facebook inspired me to drag the giant tub of bricks out of the closet, purchase some smaller tubs from Big Lots, and begin sorting.

I balanced the large tub of bricks on top of a milk crate in front of me, scattered the smaller empty tubs around, and started sorting. Over time the larger blocks work their way to the top while the little ones settle down toward the bottom, which makes sorting go quickly at first.

Despite what you think, you can’t hold that many Lego bricks in one hand. After about eight or nine I found that with each new block I picked up, another one fell back into the tub. I also discovered that throwing handfuls of Lego bricks into tubs is not the most accurate delivery system. Occasionally I would miss and occasionally I would forget which color I was holding, adding just a dash of yellow to the red tub.

I had no system in regards to which color to sort first. I simply leaned my head inside the tub and started picking for whichever color I saw the most of. After picking a handful or two of red bricks I’d shift to blue, and then yellow, and then white — again in no order whatsoever.

Over the past three days I’ve spent roughly six hours sorting Lego bricks. In the evenings or when idle I put on a podcast to listen to and then throw my head into the tub. Sticking with my original unit of measurement, of the twenty gallons of bricks I started with I’d say I’m down to two — however, these two may be the most time consuming of all to sort. They are the little bits, the tiny 1×1 blocks that have wormed their way to the bottom of the bucket and seemingly multiplied when I wasn’t looking. Hundreds and hundreds of them in every color, waiting to be touched. As the blocks continued to shrink the more my hands began to cramp as the dexterity required to pluck each little brick out of a sea of of blocks became more and more precise.

I don’t mean to make it sound like like sorting Lego blocks is brain surgery; on the contrary, it’s a pretty relaxing little exercise, one in which your mind can relax and wander and listen to things and really think. It’s very soothing.

When I’m all done I’m thinking about dumping them all back into the big tub and starting all over again.

High speed internet gives me the ability to select and watch movies without having to put on pants. It offers more than that, of course — I use it to check my email, to browse the internet, and perform other online activities — but I did all of those things years ago when I had dial-up internet. I can rent movies from Red Box or Family Video, but those places require pants. If I were to draw a Venn Diagram of the two (“Things high speed internet allows me to do without putting on pants” and “Places to rent movies”), the overlap would be my living room.

When we purchased this house almost four years ago I called the cable company had the cable modem installed before we moved in. When I met the installer he asked me where I wanted the jack installed. I showed him a very specific spot; not “somewhere on this wall,” but “right here.” The man went into the attic alone and a few minutes later a drill bit poked through the wall nowhere near where we had agreed upon. Later when I asked the man why he had asked me in the first place where I wanted the jack installed, he laughed and then handed me the bill.

If high speed internet allows me to watch movies in my home, wireless internet allows me to watch them anywhere within my home. Unfortunately due to the location of my cable modem jack my wireless router sits in an upstairs bedroom, which is great if you happen to be watching movies in the upstairs linen closet or while in the bathroom, but not so great downstairs (which is where we spend the majority of our family time). Wireless internet still works downstairs mind you, and the difference in speed is hard to tell, but the little icon on my phone that shows four bars when I’m standing next to my wireless router only shows two bars when I’m downstairs. This can all be filed under First World Problems, but it really pisses me off.

I don’t know how to run wires in between the walls of a two story house. In our old house, it was easy — I just climbed up in the attic, drilled a hole, and fed some cable down in between the walls. In this house I can’t even access the attic above my living room. A friend of mine suggested I call the cable company and have them add another access port downstairs. Calling the cable company to have them put a new jack in the wall because they put the last jack in the wall in the wrong place seems counter intuitive.

This is where the TP-Link Wi-Fi Range Extender comes in.

The TP-Link is a network-expanding device that comes with two modules. The first module gets plugged in to your wireless router. The second module gets connected to any other power outlet in your home. This somehow allows network traffic to traverse across the electrical wiring inside your walls. As a kid I always wondered how aspirin knew where to go in your body to stop the pain; apparently it uses the same method of traversal as the TP-Link. It sounds a little like black magic, and a lot like “too good to be true.” (Spoiler alert…)

As we all remember from grade school, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. In the world of networking, this translates to a single network cable. The most efficient path between two devices is a single network cable. The TP-Link is almost like the opposite of that, a device that blasts network traffic into the electrical wiring of your home. It doesn’t sound terribly efficient and based on my short experience with the device, it isn’t. The idea reminds me of those old network hubs that broadcast traffic to every single port, except in this instance the hub is your entire house.

The TP-Link comes with two modules, a master and a slave. Both devices need to be plugged into wall sockets (and not extension cords or power strips), and the master has to physically connect to your router. In my house, that meant plugging the one half of the TP-Link to my wireless router upstairs, and the other half downstairs in the living room. The second module offers both wired and wireless connections. With the second module installed in the outlet next to my downstairs television I planned on using a short ethernet cable to connect the device to my television, allowing me to stream movies across the network. The wireless signal in the downstairs living room is good enough for streaming most movies, but everything grinds to a halt whenever I stream high definition videos. My hope was that the TP-Link would solve this problem.

Physically installing the modules was simple. Once both modules have been plugged into the wall, you have to push a button on the slave module that advertises its existence (“Here I am!”) followed by a button on the master module to finish the connection (“Here I come!”) If you’ve been paying attention, in my house this meant running downstairs to press one button and then back upstairs to press the other. Once the network connection has been established you can log into the system using your computer and make changes to the configuration. After you make changes you must reboot the device, which breaks the connection. Each time the connection breaks you have to go back to the slave module and press the button and then back to the master module and press the other button. I also found that if your power flickers (ours does a couple of times a week) that also resets the connection, which means another trip downstairs and another trip upstairs. In the 24 hours I tried using the TP-Link I had to do this six times.

So let’s get down to the brass tacks, shall we? Let’s say that the speed of my internet while plugged in directly to the upstairs router is 10/10, and a wireless connection while standing in the same room is a 9/10. My wireless internet connection prior to hooking up the TP-Link in the downstairs living room was probably a 6.5/10. With a physical network cable connecting the slave TP-Link to the television, I would say the rate was approximately 3/10, and wireless speeds were 1/10. The connection was so slow that for a while I was convinced it wasn’t working at all.

I’d like to put this in perspective for just a moment. Imagine sunglasses that actually magnified the sun’s rays instead of shielding your eyes from them, or a winter coat that makes you feel colder rather than warmer in the winter. I’m not talking about a product that doesn’t do anything; I’m talking about a product that actually makes things worse, a product that does the opposite of what it advertises. This isn’t a case of being confused about how a product is supposed to work, or having trouble configuring it. This is a case of a product not delivering on a promise.

After deciding my wireless wasn’t all that bad in the first place, I tossed the TP-Link thing in the garbage.

Sometimes it seems we spend months or years doing the same things and going through the same motions only to suddenly have lots of change happen all at once. That definitely seems to be the case in my life.

Having your wedding anniversary three days away from your birthday makes for a hectic week, but I honestly wouldn’t have it any other way. The three day span usually manifests as multiple small celebrations — a meal here, a movie there, another meal the next day, and so on. This year for our anniversary Susan and I ate at Vast, the restaurant located at the top of the Devon Tower. We toured the tower earlier this year with Morgan’s Girl Scout Troop, but hadn’t had the opportunity to eat at the restaurant until this week. Lunch prices were very affordable and the view of Oklahoma City was astounding.

On Friday Susan and I had lunch at Outback Steakhouse with my dad, and on Saturday we were eating again, this time at the HuHot Mongolian Grill. Susan brought one of those oversized cookies with “Treat Yo Self” written on it, a reference to Parks and Recreation.

(The youngest one in that picture is not mine — that’s my nephew Zephyr.)

And then there’s school. Today is my first day back in college in ten years. I’ll only be attending one class this semester, a prerequisite to begin my masters program in the spring. Susan took my first day of school picture this morning and even pac’ed a lunch for me.

Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’, into the future…

When I arrived in Weatherford at Southwestern Oklahoma State University (SWOSU) in the fall of 1993, I immediately enrolled in the college’s newspaper class because I had already taken “newspaper class” four times at Redlands Community College and thought that if you were pursuing a degree in journalism and wanted to work on the school’s newspaper that’s what you did. It turns out you don’t get credit for taking the same class over and over again (even if you really like it), and I had simply been paying to work on the newspaper at Redlands. (My professor and friend Kelly Rupp got me a paying job as the editor for both the newspaper and the yearbook there, so it all came out in the wash.)

My memories of SWOSU are a distant, hazy dream. I attended classes there for one full year; according to my transcript from Oklahoma City Community College, I earned a total of 12 credits during those two semesters. Other than journalism, photography, and one particularly hellish biology class, I can’t remember any of the other classes I took. I don’t even have a copy of my SWOSU transcript. Neither the beginning or the end of a journey, SWOSU was more of a rest stop — a temporary place to stretch my legs, refuel, check the map, and figure out where to drive next.

The vast majority of my time on the SWOSU campus was spent in the journalism department. The room had a long table full of Macintosh computers reserved for editing and writing and some other tables and chairs for sitting, working, and visiting. During my brief tenure as the school’s yearbook editor I had my own desk in the corner of the room, before I was unceremoniously (yet deservedly) removed from that position. I don’t remember if the building or room was locked after hours but I remember being there many times after the sun had gone down; if it was ever locked, more than one person had a key.

The seniors in the department ruled the roost. Having run a weekly paper before they knew what was going on, what needed to be done and when it needed to happen. Then there were the freshman who were new and lost. Because I was older than they were they looked to me for guidance, which is not unlike asking an old homeless beggar where the best hotels in town are. In those days a year or two made all the difference in the world. Entire pecking orders were decided by the weeks and months between children’s birthdays.

And then there was Don Price. I have no idea how old Don was, but back then I would have guessed “50ish.” I recall him having a teenage son, so “40ish” is probably closer to the truth. He had gray hair and was overweight, which made me think he was old. I had gray hair and was overweight by the age of 25. At 42, I’m more gray than black, and more overweight than gray.

Don walked with a cane, though I don’t know why. At the other end of the building were the soda vending machines, and one of Don’s favorite sayings was, “If you’re flyin’, I’m buyin’!” With that, Don would hold out a couple of dollar bills, and whoever was willing to run down the hallway to the vending machines would purchase two cans of pop — one for Don and one for themselves. At the time I wondered where Don got all this disposable income from, and thought it neat that Don was always willing to buy drinks for fellow students. In retrospect I see he was simply paying kids a dollar to run and fetch drinks for him. I offer my kids loose change all the time to get me refills of Kool-Aid and have paid cash bounties for finding lost television remotes, so now I get it. If I still drank Dr. Pepper like I used to I would pay people $1 all the time to go get me one.

Don was a cool guy to have around the journalism department. At a time when alternative and grunge were in heavy rotation on the journalism department’s stereo, it was Don who brought in a Billie Holiday cassette and explained to us what the “Strange Fruit” was. Don was always laughing and always had a funny story to share. I even replaced the stereo in his car for him once. As I recall it was the world’s simplest car stereo wiring job, with only a couple of 6x9s in the rear deck. I did the install in my driveway and I think he insisted on giving me twenty bucks. Back when adding bologna to Ramen noodles was considered a treat, $20 was no joke. In the Festiva, it was 3 tanks of gas.

I graduated from high school in 1991 and left Southwestern with my tail between my legs in the spring of 1994. By the time I went back to Oklahoma City Community College to finish my associate degree in 2000, I was already ten years older than most of the other students in my classes. The age differential wasn’t too bad at Southern Nazarene University as I attended an adult studies program and all of my classmates were working adults earning their degrees, but I have never felt more self conscious on a college campus as I did yesterday at the University of Oklahoma.

During lunch I zipped down to the campus to pick up my student ID. As I neared the school what I thought were children waving signs advertising a free car wash turned out to be college students welcoming incoming freshman to the school. I rubbed my eyes. Could these children actually be old enough to attend college? I barely thought they looked old enough to run a free car wash!

Walking past one kid trying to figure out how a parking meter worked and another one carrying a skateboard, I made my way inside to pick up my ID. My eyes scanned the hallways for anyone older, fatter or grayer than me, but there was no one. I was the oldest, the fattest, the grayest. After finding the line for student IDs, I finally spotted a woman roughly my age. She was there enrolling her son.

Each student before me in line was greeted the same way: “I need to see your ID,” and “That’ll be $20.” When I got to the counter I got a different greeting.

“Can I help you, sir?”

Oh boy — now I’m “sir.” And then it hit me. I’m not a “sir” at all. I’m Don Price. I’m the old guy in the room. I’m the guy who’s there because he wants to be. I’ll be the guy with practical experience and life history. I interned as a reporter for both the El Reno Light and El Reno Tribune newspapers in 1992 and 1993, 20+ years ago — likely before many of my classmates were born.

While leaving the building I noticed that many of the soda machines now take credit cards. I’ve got plenty of disposable plastic to feed them. If these kids are flyin’, I’m buyin’.

Now let’s talk about that music on the stereo…

(If anyone knows the whereabouts of Don Price who attended Southwestern Oklahoma City University during the early 1990s, please contact me.)

While I’m sure some think I took the day off from work yesterday because of my wedding anniversary, the primary reason I was off was to have more vision tests performed.

Yesterday was my third trip to the Dean McGee Eye Institute. On my first visit I was diagnosed with profoundly advanced macular degeneration in my left eye, and on my second visit, with additional tests (including one where yellow dye was injected for the purposes of studying the blood vessels in my eye more closely) I was diagnosed with Stargardt’s Disease, a genetic condition that causes early macular degeneration and inevitably leads to blindness. On yesterday’s visit, my third to the institute, I was administered an ElectroRetinaGram, or ERG test.

Prior to that test, I repeated the tests I’ve performed during my other visits. First up was a standard vision test. I scored 20/25 in my good eye, and 20/2000 in my bad eye although I was able to increase that number to a whopping 20/125 by using my peripheral vision. Next up was a new test, the Ishihara Color Blindness Test. You’ve probably seen this test on the internet before; it consists of picking out numbers written with circles of one color presented on top of a background of circles of another color. Apparently, color blindness goes hand-in-hand with Stargardt’s. I had no trouble with the color test, a good sign for now. After these tests were performed, my eyes were dilated and then after receiving a few numbing drops, some rubber thing poked my eyeballs a few times.

Next, the ERG.

The ERG is performed in a small office with barely enough room for two people. Spouses get to wait in the waiting room for the duration of the test; fortunately for Susan, Dean McGee has a steady stream of Gilligan’s Island, Three’s Company and Green Acres reruns playing in rotation out there. No such luck back in the ERG testing room. Instead of old reruns, I was treated to multiple rounds of eye numbing drops. Every couple of minutes while making small talk with the gentleman who administers the test I received another round of eye drops.

After fifteen or twenty minutes and with my eyeballs now both numb and dilated, custom contact lenses were inserted into my eyes. I’ve never worn contacts before so the sensation of having someone else insert something into my eye felt odd. Fortunately by this time my eyes were so numb I couldn’t feel anything. The lenses further distorted my vision, thanks in part to the wires connected directly to them. After the lenses were inserted, another dozen or so monitor wires were connected to my face and ears.

I found a picture on the internet of a women with one of the lenses installed, preparing for the test.

By the way, if you’re wondering how a person blinks with bulky contacts (with wires protruding from them) inserted into their eyes, the answer is, you can’t. For the next 10-15 minutes I was unable to blink. Again due to the numbness of my eyes this wasn’t as physically uncomfortable as it was psychologically disturbing. That scene toward the end of A Clockwork Orange came to mind.

With negotiations performed, it was time to dance. The first of two tests required me to stare into a small screen with my eyes focused on a small red dot. Although I was assured the dot was small, to me it looked like the sun. Then, while staring at the light, different flashes of light appeared. I was told that these flashes of very specific wavelengths of light were being used to stimulate the rods and cones in my eye. I thought about the poor inner workings of my eyes who were no doubt trying to make sense of this odd exposure to flashing lights in the darkness. The final exposure, proceeded by a nonchalant “You’re not epileptic, are you?” was a 10-15 second barrage of quickly flashing lights. Even without having one’s eyes dilated and forced open staring directly into a quickly flashing strobe light would be uncomfortable; having a hundred flashes of light going off in a matter of seconds in a dark room left me seeing stars for a minute or two.

The next test was I believe what was called an LKC Test, although I also believe LKC to be the company that devised the test. For this test a large, high-resolution computer monitor was placed directly in front of me. The picture on the monitor consisted of a grid of hexagons alternately colored black and white, with a large red “X” laid over the top of the picture. Each time the doctor clicked a button, the hexagons alternated rapidly, randomly flashing between black and white for roughly ten seconds. This was done approximately twenty times. Again this test was more headache-inducing than physically painful.

This is a picture from LKC’s website showing the pattern, although this specific picture appears to show some sort of magnification lens in front of the monitor. My test had no such lens.

After this test was performed, the lenses were finally removed. The doctor said my eyes might feel “goopy” for a while. I asked him if this was an official medical term and he confirmed it was. The final round of eye drops consisted of water to flush the eyes. Throughout the entirety of my visit I think I received somewhere between ten and twelve eye drops per eye.

Next I was sent back to the waiting room where, after a short wait, I was called back to see the doctor who reviewed my results. Unfortunately, the test confirmed the previous diagnosis. After again mentioning “I can’t believe you can still see so well out of your right eye,” the doctor reminded me that this will not be the case forever, and down the road I will definitely be making some life adjustments as my Stargardts worsens with time. Each time I tell the doctor I cannot make out the vision test or his face with my left eye, he reminds me my good eye will be the same in another decade or so.

While the test was over by noon, I spent the rest of the day with blurry vision and a minor headache. Even with (2x) reading glasses, it was nearly impossible to read anything on my phone or a restaurant menu. Several hours later, after resting my eyes and taking a short nap, my vision had mostly returned to normal.

My normal, anyhow.

I’ve never had more trouble writing a single blog post than I’ve had writing this one. In the dozen or so openings I’ve scrapped so far I’ve compared my relationship with my wife to the ebb and flow of the ocean, two symbiotic fish, and, in one particularly dorky attempt, two celestial bodies orbiting one another.

Yes. I tried comparing my marriage to a couple of meteors.

According to Susan, she knew the two of us were going to get married the first time our paths crossed in seventh grade. I, on the other hand, still wasn’t sure we were going to get married while I was in the back room of the church, chugging Jack Daniels out of a three-liter Dr. Pepper bottle and waiting for the preacher to give us the cue that it was time to come out.

Our adventures together started even before that day. By the time we got married we had already driven out west to see the Grand Canyon and Carlsbad Caverns and up north to see Chicago, but the adventures never really stopped. Since we moved in together in 1993, Susan and I have visited 49 of the 50 states (not to mention Canada, Mexico, and the Bahamas). We’ve drug our children along to at least 40 of them. Since that day we’ve lived together in a mobile home, a 110-year-old house in El Reno, an apartment, my father’s spare bedroom (for a month), and in three different houses in Yukon.

And while it’s easy to remember the big adventures — climbing a glacier in Denver, snorkeling off the Florida Keys, whale watching in Alaska — what I enjoy as much if not more are the little adventures. For every redwood we’ve seen in California there’s been a beer shared on our back patio, watching sunsets. I love the vacations and trips and the big stuff, but the little stuff — discovering restaurants and shopping at thrift stores and driving around randomly in search of little adventures — are every bit as much fun.

Twenty years of fun, in fact. Here’s to those and another twenty, and another twenty after that.

Happy 20th anniversary, fellow adventurer.

Last night for back to school night Susan and I took the kids to iHop for dinner. For some reason they think having pancakes and bacon for dinner is a real treat. Maybe they’re on to something.

We were greeted at the door by a short lady with both the face and the disposition of an angry bulldog. “How many,” she snarled. Despite the fact that it wasn’t presented as a question, we answered and found our way to a table.

We ordered dinner right around 5pm, and no food was on our table at 5:30pm. For at least ten minutes, all we could hear in the restaurant was the cook fighting with the waitresses. Around 5:35 most our food had begun to arrive, although the last 25% trickled out over the next five minutes as the waitress went around the table asking each person what they were missing. Mason was missing his bacon and Morgan was missing her toast. Unfortunately for me my pancakes weren’t missing; they had obviously been cooked the minute we walked through the door and had been sitting somewhere getting cold and hard for the past 30 minutes. During our entire time there (roughly 45 minutes) the kids got one refill. I wish I could attribute all of this to the place being packed, but when we arrived we were one of only two tables that I could see.

Total for dinner with tip was roughly $50.

I wish I could attribute this to one isolated incident, but it seems to me like most of the places we eat at have raised their prices and hired the absolutely least competent employees they could find.

Last week, we went to El Chico for dinner. We like El Chico, or at least used to. The first bad sign was six or seven tables in one section all being handled by one waitress. We sat waiting for 10 minutes before ever talking to the waitress. By the time she came by the table we were ready to order so we tried ordering our dinner and drinks at the same time, but were stopped cold. “I’ll take your food order after I take theirs,” she said, nodding toward the next table.

She was a waitress full of apologies. “Sorry about the wait.” “Sorry this took so long.” “Sorry I forgot your food.” “Sorry we are understaffed.” “Sorry it’s so hot in here.” “Sorry about the refills.”

The people next to us asked the waitress for some extra napkins. The next time she came by they asked for some extra salsa, and the napkins. The next time she came by they asked for some more cheese, some extra salsa, and the napkins. “Sorry!” “Whoops, sorry!” “Sorry about that!” Our luck was no better. “Sorry, I’ll bring you some more chips.” Why bother? We’ve been out of cheese and salsa all night.

We left a 10% tip. “Sorry!” Fortunately our bill was only $40 this time as the waitress forgot to put our drinks on the ticket and wrote one of the dinners up incorrectly. We didn’t correct her.

Over the weekend we had lunch at Arby’s and met Scott. Scott works the front counter at Arby’s and believe me, he would rather be anywhere else on earth than taking people’s orders at Arby’s.

Scott: “hellowelcometoarbyscanitakeyourorder.”

Susan: “Yes, we would like a combo number one, a…”

Scott: “hold ON.”

With each drink we ordered, Scott slammed another cup down on the counter. I went to go find a seat because I was already tired of Scott’s attitude. There are 8 tables in Arby’s that are not booths. We sat at the only clean one.

Five minutes after we started eating, Scott let us know he was cleaning the other tables by coming out to the dining room and kicking the metal chairs around on the tile floor, shoving them this way and that way with so much noise that conversation became impossible. Just when we thought he was almost done, Scott kicked a chair so hard that it toppled over directly behind us, causing a crash so loud it made all of us jump out of our seats. Did we get an apology, a “Sorry!” or even an “oops?” Ha ha ha, you’ve not met Scott. No, after setting the chair back up he went back to his funny-to-watch technique of swinging his wash cloth wildly, knocking any remaining bits of food off into the floor in every direction.

At one point Morgan had to go up to the front counter to get some condiment. She was greeted by Scott’s backside, who was sitting on the counter facing away from customers. The girl working drive-thru was the one of finally helped her.

I won’t even get into our recent trip to Taco Bueno, where the front booth (with six children and no adults in it) was being used as a make-shift daycare for employees, and the temperature inside the restaurant was 80+ degrees.

I know part of this is me. I like places like Poquito’s and Chileno’s and the Chiner, places where we can walk in, get a decent meal at a decent price, and be waited on by people with a smile (or at least not a frown). Sadly it seems like this is no longer the norm. I don’t expect a song and dance from my waitstaff, but if you’re only going to make my day worse rather than better, I’m not coming back.