You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

When I moved, I created checklists that mirrored each other. The checklist for San Francisco looked like this:

  • Disconnect internet service
  • Disconnect electricity
  • Cancel gym membership

And the list for Asheville looked like this:

  • Connect internet service
  • Connect electricity
  • Find gym
  • etc

One thing that I didn’t even consider was that services might not be equal.

I arrived home on Friday afternoon after being out of town for work all week. I collected my mail and noticed there was a bright blue hang tag on my door, saying my gas service had been cancelled because I hadn’t paid the bill. I was perplexed, because if there’s one thing I’m anal about, it’s paying bills on time. I entered the house and noticed that the gas furnace wasn’t working. I logged onto my computer and checked the most recent online payments for my electricity bill. They had cleared each month, and money had been withdrawn from my bank account. I called the number on the hangtag to understand what had happened. The customer service representative asked for my account number, and when I gave it to her, she told me that wasn’t the correct number, that it should be many more digits. I told her that I was looking at my Duke Energy Progress bill, and that was the number on the statement. She said that was the electricity company. I asked her, “Well, who are you?” She told me she was from the gas company. I continued to be perplexed. In California, we had PG&E, Pacific Gas & Electric. Wasn’t the electricity company the same one that oversaw gas, too? In Asheville, it is not. She asked me if I had a gas tank in my yard. I told her no, but that I did have a gas line that ran from the street to my basement, and asked if they would be the company that serviced that. She said yes. I told her that I’ve had gas since I moved in in September, so I wasn’t sure what was going on. Patiently, she tried to find my account by my name (no luck), my social security number (no luck), then my address. She said that the account was in a company’s name, but they had recently stopped service. Oh, my goodness. The former owners had never shut service, and I assumed that gas was included in the electric bill, and this was a perfect storm of assumptions. She said the first appointment for someone to come out and reconnect service would be Monday. I quickly looked at the weather forecast. Saturday, low of 37 and high of 50. Sunday, low of 46 and high of 60. I wouldn’t freeze and I didn’t think that was “temps low enough to be dangerous” territory. I thanked her and hung up.

As I sit in my parka and scarf, under a blanket and sipping a cup of hot tea, I wonder how many other things that I think are under control that I simply don’t know.

January Travel, in Three Acts

Act I

I had driven my parents home in their car from Asheville to Winston-Salem after my dad’s heart attack. I figured it would be easy to make the 2 hour journey return home somehow: rent a car, fly, take a bus… options were (almost) endless. I chose to purchase a bus ticket. I’m still not that fond of driving, and riding along, watching the scenery, appealed to me. Greyhound e-ticket on phone, I headed to the bus station at 1 pm on New Year’s Eve.

We got almost to our destination, basically 20 miles away from Asheville, when we saw blue lights flashing ahead of us. The State Troopers had closed the interstate. They said that a freak storm had hit and all the roads were covered in black ice. Multiple accidents had already happened, and they were closing the roads until they could be treated. The bus pulled into a McDonald’s parking lot, where the driver announced we’d wait for an hour or so until the roads had been salted and brined. As the 20 or so of us that were on the bus started to disembark, I thought to myself, “What if this is the start of something wonderful? What if we hunker down in the McDonald’s and talk and discover each other’s stories and have a lovely afternoon?” That didn’t happen.

About two hours later, we were back on the road, heading east, back to Winston-Salem. The roads would be closed until later that night, not passable for buses. On the way back to Winston-Salem, the driver said that he was re-routing to Charlotte, where the folks who had tickets for Knoxville, TN, could catch a bus to Atlanta, then on to Knoxville, avoiding the icy mountainous roads we had just left. The folks heading to Asheville could spend the night at the bus station (it was open 24 hours) and catch the first bus to Asheville in the morning at 7 am. If everything went well, we’d be in Asheville by 10 am. I thought to myself, “Not ideal, but not the worse thing in the world either.”

At the Charlotte Greyhound bus station, we stood in line to get re-ticketed. As I approached the counter, the clerk said, “Sorry. We’re sold out.” I looked at him. “What did you say?” “We’re sold out, ma’am. First come, first serve. No more tickets to Asheville.” I looked at him. “What are my options, then?” He clicked onto his keyboard and said, “Well, you can catch the midnight bus to Raleigh (five hours east), then layover there for four hours, then take the Asheville bus from there, which would get you into Asheville at around 10 pm tomorrow night.” I looked at him. “That’s not really an option.” I continued to look at him. “I’m just going to go right over here and have myself a think. Thank you.”

I went and sat down. I had been on a bus or in a McDonald’s for almost nine hours, and I was still over two hours away from my home, the highways were closed, and it was nearing 10:00 pm. Exhaustion swept over me. I booked a hotel room in Charlotte and a Lyft to get me there, and decided that I would be a better decision maker after a good night’s sleep. The Lyft driver who picked me up at the Greyhound station asked me what I was doing there. I explained my predicament. He looked at me and very seriously asked, “Baby girl, why your family hate you?” I paused. “I don’t think my family hates me.” He shook his head slowly. “Soon as you said you was buying a Greyhound ticket, if they cared ‘bout you, they would’ve told you no. When you buy a Greyhound ticket, you never get to where you trying to go.” I told him I wished I had met him earlier in the day.

The hotel I chose was also the hotel that about 100 teenagers had chosen to ring in the new year. I put ear plugs in and wished myself a happy new year.

In the morning, I checked the Department of Transportation websites. The highways were open, and by all accounts, it seemed like they were clear. I thought about my options. I could rent a car, I could buy a one way airplane ticket, or I could book a Lyft. Booking a Lyft was the cheapest option, so I waited as the (what I hoped was AWD) car pulled up to the hotel. He opened the rear door for me to deposit my tote bag. “Before we get comfortable, I need to tell you where I’m going. I’m heading to Asheville. Are you okay with that?” He held up his hand for a high-five and yelled, “Sweet!” The roads were fine, the conversation was delightful, and I walked into my home 24 hours after my journey began, at 1 pm on Monday, New Year’s Day.

Act II

At the end of the month I traveled back to the west coast for a dear friend’s birthday and another dear friend’s wedding. The night before I was due to fly, a snowstorm hit Asheville, dumping four inches of snow on the city. For those who have not lived in the south, any amount of snow shuts everything down. As I prepared to go to the airport, I received message after message saying my flight to Atlanta had been delayed, my flight from Atlanta to San Francisco had been rebooked, my flight to Atlanta had been cancelled, I had been rebooked on another flight, etc. I slowly drove to the airport (thank you, AWD). I checked in and the gate agent cheerfully wished me a happy trip to Atlanta. “Thank you, but I’m going to San Francisco.” He looked at his screen worryingly. My flight to San Francisco had been cancelled when my flight to Atlanta got rebooked. He punched some keys and made some phone calls, as I waited and the line behind me grew deeper and deeper. He said that he thought he had booked me on a flight to San Francisco, but they couldn’t confirm it until I physically arrived in Atlanta. That didn’t sound like a great plan, but it was all I had.

In Atlanta, they confirmed my (delayed and delayed) flight to San Francisco. I arrived exhausted, but happy to be there.


We were driving from San Francisco to Lake Tahoe. As we drove further and further up the mountain, the weather became more and more inclement. Emily turned on the windshield wipers, which just made a smeary mess of the spray from the road. She tried to spray windshield wiper fluid on the mess to clean it up, and we discovered we were out. I said, “Oh, I’ve got this!” I rolled down the window, uncapped my water bottle, and attempted to throw fresh water on the windshield. The water came flying back into the car, prompting a ten-minute hysterical laughing fit. Travels were going okay after all.

And They Didn’t Charge for Parking…

Sometimes things in life have a way of sneaking up on you. A few pounds weight gain. The end of the month. A surprise ending in a movie. A heart attack wasn’t really something I would have put on that list, though.

In hindsight (now that we’ve read all the webMD pages about heart disease) he had every symptom. But we weren’t thinking in terms of, “Oh, could this be a heart attack?” He had shortness of breath. But he had also just climbed two flights of stairs to get to my house. He had weight gain. But he had also eaten out almost every night for the past couple of weeks, and indulged in an abundance of holiday goodies. His feet and legs were swollen. But we had spent the day walking around Biltmore House and had been on our feet for hours.

We were enjoying the afternoon together when he complained about shortness of breath, and that he might need an inhaler. I suggested we go to the newly opened urgent care center, less than a mile from my house. He insisted it wasn’t a big deal. I went online and showed him there was an appointment available in the next 10 minutes and encouraged him to put his coat on.

The staff at the urgent care center instructed us to go the the ER right away. He said it could wait until they got back to Winston-Salem, where they live. I suggested we go to the ER right away, because the staff at the urgent care center really had nothing to gain by recommending we visit the ER (I didn’t think they would receive kickbacks for ER referrals…). We all agreed to go to the ER. Then I realized I had no idea where the ER was. Fortunately, my first three months in town hadn’t necessitated a hospital visit. The urgent care staff told us to go to Mission Health Hospital. We thanked them and headed over. I dropped off my parents at the entrance to the ER, then parked the car. I was worried that I didn’t have a ticket or placard for the car, and wondered if it was okay to leave the car in the lot. I had this thought that people in emergency situations often don’t think clearly, or make mistakes they normally wouldn’t. The last thing I needed was to come back to an empty spot and a towed car.

The ER staff ran tests for several hours, then said he’d need to be admitted. He’d had a heart attack, and they placed him on medicine that needed monitoring.

A heart attack?

Granted, my knowledge of heart attacks is rare, and mostly from the media. I remembered Fred Sanford on Sanford and Son talking about “the big one” and clutching at his chest. There have been dozens of tv shows and movies where someone has a heart attack and immediately collapses. That hadn’t happened. We had walked around Biltmore House just that morning. Dad was moving slower than usual, but he’s also in his late 70s, so I gave him some slack. There are days that I move slower than usual, too.

So there we were, Christmas week, in a hospital room overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains – dad in the hospital bed, mom in one chair, and me in the other. I asked the staff if I needed a parking permit and they said no, the lot I was in was fine. Every hospital staff member was outstanding. The doctors, the nurses, the nurse practitioners, the dietitians, the hospitalists, the administrative folks – every person answered our questions in a compassionate matter, smiled, and was, well, simply a lovely human. Maybe I shouldn’t have been, but I was pleasantly surprised by the care and quality of service that we received.

And we were so grateful. That this happened while we were together. That this didn’t happen while one of us was on our frequent travels. That I work for a company that didn’t blink an eye when I said, “I need to take the next few days off to help care for my dad.” That they have health insurance so that this unexpected event won’t bankrupt them. And, this may seem silly, but that we didn’t have to pay for parking (and my car wasn’t towed). Small things delight me.

They discharged him with instructions to follow up with his primary care physician and a cardiologist once he was back home. And to exercise more. And to eat a low sodium diet. We went to the grocery store and were surprised at how much sodium is in so many foods. We searched online for low-sodium recipes and foods. We talked about exercise routines. And we were thankful that we spent another Christmas together, even though it wasn’t how we expected.

Hospital View.JPG

Please, just go

The past few nights I’ve heard noises from inside the walls. At first I thought that it was the wind, or maybe a squirrel on the roof, or maybe just the creaks and groans of a 100-year-old house. And last night I was terrified as it sounded like something was clawing through the plaster walls, right into my bedroom.

I did what you should never do if you want to approach a situation rationally. I Googled.

And there were stories of people who didn’t think the problem was serious, waited too long, and then had to deal with decomposing animals in their walls. So I Googled some more. And found a humane animal removal service, locally owned, who focused on relocation.

I called first thing this morning and they had just had a cancellation for this afternoon. He would be here at 3 pm to investigate.

We walked into the attic and he noted, “Wow, there’s a lot of room for storage up here.” (I didn’t tell him that attics freak me out so I’d never actually been up there.) He poked around, but couldn’t find anything (which I supposed was good?). We went into the basement and he again noted, “There’s a lot of room for storage down here.” (Again I didn’t tell him I avoid the basement as much as possible because of the huge gas furnace that lives down there, that I’m sure will erupt into a gas bomb at any point. I’m not quite used to home ownership.) He didn’t find anything in the basement either. Good? Except now I’m concerned that I’m hearing things that aren’t real.

He said he was going to take a look outside and up on the roof. Twenty minutes later he came inside with photos of a family of raccoons nesting in my unused chimneys (when I moved in the inspector told me the chimneys didn’t have a flue, and would likely catch on fire if I ever tried to use them. The fireplaces have been sealed off from the interior.). I was marveling at how cute they were when he mentioned he had to fill out a wildlife damage control form and file it with the state. I didn’t think anything of it, and kind of assumed that we were done. Raccoons using the chimney I wasn’t using didn’t seem like such a bad thing. I didn’t really care for the noises at night, but now I knew what they were. No biggie, right? He told me that he’d set traps, and once they were out, would seal off the chimney tops so nothing else could come in.

Then he mentioned they would have to euthanize the raccoons.


“But on your website you said that you specialize in relocation.” “Ma’am (he called me ma’am a lot and I couldn’t decide if I liked it or was annoyed by it), there was recently a rabies epidemic among raccoons. When we catch them, we’re required to report them to the state and euthanize them.”

At that point, I almost burst into tears.

Was I crying because of the fate of the raccoon family, nestled in my chimney?
Was I crying because I’ve never voluntarily (?) killed a living animal (I’m not a vegetarian so I realize some people would argue that I kill animals on a regular basis…)?
Was I crying because I was in a new town, away from my friends and loved ones, and refusing to admit that this was hard?
Was I crying because I’m about to turn a milestone age and life (while pretty fabulous) isn’t anything like I thought it would be like?

I asked him what the options were, and he described the traps they could use, ranging from a cage with food in it (that I associate with Bugs Bunny cartoons) to a trap that would immediately kill the raccoon. I asked to please use the cages. He mentioned that raccoons are smart, and often just take the food, without triggering the trap. I told him that was fine. He set them around the trees where claw marks indicated that raccoons had used them to climb to the roof (then down into the chimney).

I’m secretly hoping that the raccoons, being smart, see the cages and understand the gig is up, and relocate to another wooded area on their own. One can hope, right?

I’m a Bona Fide Homeowner

My house here in Asheville came with a programmable heating and cooling system that I couldn’t seem to figure out. Basically, the house was either 70+ degrees or the heat was off (rendering the house a cool 59 degrees). Friends encouraged me to get a Nest Learning Thermostat. I was intrigued by the remote control aspect of setting heat/cooling. And the box was so small. How hard could it be to install?

I panicked momentarily when one of the first instructions was “Switch off power – this protects you and avoids blowing a fuse in your equipment.” Did I really want to do something that could potentially electrocute me? And then I wondered how long it would take to find my body. I have plans for Thanksgiving, but that’s nearly two weeks away. And there probably wouldn’t be a smell, because the heating would be disabled, and so I’d be preserved in my chilly 59 degree house.

I searched for professional installers and then thought, “This is ridiculous.” Let me at least watch the installation video before calling someone to come out to install a thermostat.

After watching the video, I thought, “I think I can do this.”

And, so step by step I switched off the power, removed the current system (marveled at layers and layers of paint and wallpaper), labeled the wires, disconnected wires, drilled new holes for the Nest unit, mounted the Nest base, unmounted the Nest base because I should have mounted the optional trim plate first, mounted the optional trim plate, realized I’ll need to repaint because said layers and layers of paint are still visible, remounted the Nest base, connected the wires, attached the display, switched the power back on, and prayed.

And it worked! Homeowner, am I!

NC Voter!

In San Francisco, I was registered as a permanent absentee voter. The ballots in San Francisco were usually multiple very long pages, front and back, with enough propositions in each election to go through the alphabet at least once. I collected the fliers and booklets and information packets about the initiatives and the candidates in one spot in the weeks preceding the election, then the weekend before the election I would set aside an evening, read through the literature, research pros and cons, and spend a few hours marking my ballot before then dropping it in the mail or taking it to a polling place in person on election day.

I knew that we had an election today, but didn’t receive anything in the mail – no sample ballot, no arguments for or against initiatives, no campaign propaganda. I was flummoxed. I have my voter registration card, so (I thought) I knew where to go. After some searching, I found a sample ballot online. And it was one page. Mayor, City Council, and a redistricting initiative. I researched the candidates and the initiative and drove to the polling place. The volunteers greeted me, I received a ballot, and I voted, all in about 10 minutes. I scanned my ballot and received an “I Voted” sticker. I kind of love this way of voting. IMG_2057.JPG