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Jun
29

I couldn’t think of a better title.  Sixty.  SIXTY.

I’ve been telling everyone that I “don’t feel like I’m sixty”.  I don’t feel my age.  But maybe I really DO feel like sixty, and sixty just doesn’t feel like I expected it to feel.  Or like I think other people expect it to feel.  Or… whatever.

Last night I didn’t sleep very well.  I was afraid.  I’m still not quite sure of what.  Of sixty?  Did you know that sixty is the new forty?  Damned if I know what that means.

Tonight, as I’m nearing the end of my birthday, I feel more at peace.  My lovely wife is sleeping soundly after a day filled with back pain.  Nobody knows how incredibly brave she is.  Joseph is also in pain – his back has suddenly decided to hurt like Hell for no apparent reason.  And I’m feeling pretty good.  I’m going to feel even better after I take a brief break to pour myself a glass of Scotch.  BRB.

Decisions can stop your momentum.  Paralysis by analysis – I like that one!  Neat or rocks?  Rocks – just not too many rocks.  Perfect.

Wendy and I chatted about taking a real vacation this fall.  One at a real hotel (one where the name does not contain the number “6”) with real privacy (no kids) and really far away (you can’t drive there).  “Where?” is the question and I think maybe “Puerto Rico” is the answer.

Joe and I dined together tonight – just the two of us as his mom slept.  Fillets, my garlic mashed potatoes and sweet corn on the cob.  Mr. Weber and I nailed the fillets tonight.  A perfect 135 and just enough of a crunch so you know these didn’t come out of the oven.  We sat and talked and ate, and I got to thinking about my first years as step-dad… it’s not a position I recommend.  Most of the time it’s thankless and any day without a disaster is truly a win – but today was a good day as have been many lately.  Is he growing up or am I?

Joe asked about the team in Minneapolis because they sent my a funny greeting card.  If the house had sold I’d be blogging from a condo in Minneapolis tonight, and the web cam would be looking out over the city lights.  “Sliding Doors” was the movie that had to be written for me.

What’s a birthday without presents?  Mine is parked in the garage and I still can’t quite believe it.  As one of my favorite colleagues said (actually, it was his wife who said it first), “It’s a big boy car”.  Yeah, it is.  And it’s beautiful.  Sixty and I still love cars.  Always did, as far back as I can remember.  Wendy doesn’t care about cars at all… until I try to borrow her 2-seater.  Oh yeah, she’s into cars as much as I am.  The only difference is that I admit it.

Scared.  Scared of what?  Dieing?  Retiring?  Getting sick?  Alzheimer’s?  Carlos Zambrano?  All of the above?  I don’t know, or if I do know it’s so repressed that I don’t.  My current theory (after nearly 24 hours) is that it doesn’t matter because it will pass.  Never underestimate the power of denial.  Introspection is fine – in small doses.  I’ve been thinking of my dad today, as I did not too long ago on Father’s Day.  I can see him deep in his living-room chair, at the dinner table with his black muddy coffee, and on the golf course.  He was happiest on the golf course.  If I try very hard I can remember when he was sixty – I had just started college.  Those are good father-son memories mostly, unlike the ones from later on.  Seventy was not kind to him.

Mom at sixty was Mom at forty, or fifty, or seventy.  I guess she began to age some at eighty.  At 100 she finally looked her age.  One hundred.  Let’s not even go there.

In two hours and 46 minutes my sixtieth birthday will be over.  It feels, well, weird.  I told Wendy that earlier today.  It feels weird.  Amazing, my grasp of the English language.  “Weird” seems to be the best I can do.  I’ve got ten years to come up with a better word for seventy.  That was supposed to be funny.  Seventy?  No joke ever had the punch line, “Seventy”.

Shouldn’t I be giving advice or something?  Helping those younger than I prepare for the nearly-inevitable arrival of their sixtieth birthday?  Truth is that I’d love to.  I just don’t have a damned thing to add.  So here’s to you on the occasion of your sixtieth birthday, whenever that may be or have been:  Happy Birthday.

Jan
31

On the heels of my wonderful experience at Sears came a polar opposite experience at our vet – the only similarity being that each story is rich in lessons for all of us who interact with that strange class of people known as “customers”.

I guess we’ve been going to Hawthorn Veterinary Hospital (HVH) for close to 20 years. Dr. J. was middle-aged back then, and he was a good vet and a good man. My wife wouldn’t go anywhere else with the dogs, cats, and rabbits which came and went over the years. Dr. J. was a trusted member of our extended family.

But apparently “all good things must come to an end”.

Not so long ago Dr. J. sold his practice to VCA. I don’t begrudge him that – in fact I’m very happy for him. I believe that he did the right thing, perhaps a bit late, and I wish him a wonderful, long and well-earned retirement.

He also did the right thing in hiring his heir apparent, Dr. K (a/k/a Dr. Dimitri). We think Dr. K. is pretty terrific.

But we had started noticing a downhill slide at HVH in the past year or two.

EVENT #1 – Our diabetic cat, Baby, had been on a special canned and dry cat food diet which HVH had been selling to us since he was first diagnosed. The food did seem to stabilize Baby and it seemed like he would live a good long life. But one day HVH sold us the wrong food. A simple mistake but a fatal one. By the time we realized the error, Baby was too far gone and he eventually had to be put down. He was our son’s cat, and the two had been inseparable. It was terribly sad.

EVENT #2 – My wife’s favorite dog, an over-sized Chihuahua named Chili, was wheezing the way Chihuahuas will. Dr. J. was to operate on his pallet – it’s the normal surgical remedy for this condition. But when we picked up Chili, the wrong operation had been performed. Still having faith in Dr. J., my wife brought her precious pet back some weeks later for the right operation and our account was credited for the error. All was forgiven and Chili is doing fine.

EVENT #3 – The billing for Baby’s last visit was a lot more than we expected. It seems that one of the office staff at HVH had asked our son if he wanted the ashes, never mentioning that this service was very expensive. No mention of this was made to my wife, who was right there but out of earshot. We concluded that they had taken advantage of our son in his time of grieving, for their financial gain. We began to understand the difference between HVH and VCA, and we weren’t liking VCA.

EVENT #4 – The final blow was quite unexpected, and had nothing to do with the medical staff. When my wife paid for Baby’s last visit, the clerk allegedly stole our Discover Card number. Some day I’ll post about Discover, because their fraud prevention algorithms and staff are fantastic. But this post is about VCA.

Discover called. We found about $7,000 of false charges. Discover fixed it. A Vernon Hills detective contacted us and took a statement from my wife. We understood that the individual had been arrested. VHPD told me last week that the case is still pending but most likely the ADA will reach a plea agreement which will avoid a trial. Tidbits we have learned include that the clerk had a prior record for substantially the same fraud at her previous employment, that HVH does not do background checks on new employees, that we were not the only ones taken by her during her employment at HVH, and that HVH is not notifying their customers.

When we contacted HVH the attitude of their office manager (Practice Manager), Mary, was not what I expected. She told us:
– It’s not our fault
– We’re not to blame
– It was not us, but only our employee
– We’re not responsible

As insane as this was, what was more upsetting is what she did not say – there was no apology. No effort to help us deal with this event. No sympathy. No embarrassment. No explanation. No, not even an attempt to say, “I’m sorry”.

The only communication we ever received from HVH was a letter forgiving the “ashes” charges for Baby and an invoice. And another. And late charges. Yes, I know we should have paid the $200 but we were, well, fuming. I wrote a letter:

VCA Hawthorn Animal Hospital
203 Route 45
Vernon Hills, IL 60061

December 14, 2009

Subject: Account of Wendy & Bill Way

Thank you for your letter and offer of compromise as regards our open account. I believe that your offer is well-intended and seems generally reasonable.

The one issue you have not addressed is the fraud allegedly committed by your employee under your direct and negligent supervision, which resulted in a serious invasion of our privacy. You will recall that she allegedly stole our Discover Card number and charged more than a thousand dollars of goods to our account. As it now sits, I understand that Wendy or I (probably Wendy) will need to be deposed and perhaps testify to a grand jury or at trial, or both. Given Wendy’s health, this is no small issue. What amount would you suggest that we sue you for in this regard? I’d like to factor that into our response to our response [sic] to your offer.

Sincerely,

William S. Way

As I said, I was fuming. There was no reply to my letter, so after several weeks I called and spoke to Mary. I told her:
– An apology was in order
– As much as we like the vets we think the office staff is lacking
– That my goal was to achieve a result where we could move forward and put this behind us.

In response we received a letter:

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Way:

After our recent conversation and consultation with both the medical director and the regional manager I have forgiven the remaining balance of $200.63 that was on your account.

In reviewing the situation, we feel it is in everyone’s best interest that you continue your pet’s veterinary services elsewhere. Although I am happy we resolved the monetary issues, our doctors cannot comfortably treat your pets after the suggestion of suing our facility.

We regret to inform you that we have inactivated your account here at VCA Hawthorn Animal Hospital. We will forward a copy of your medical records to either you or your future veterinarian upon request.

We wish you success with your veterinary services in the future.

Cordially,

etc.

I guess that means that Hell will freeze over before we ever get that apology.

Some day I’d like to chat with Dr. J. about all of this – to get his perspective. It seems to me that without intending to do so, he sold his legacy along with his practice. I wonder what that was worth.

Dec
23

I just bought some kitchen appliances… at Sears!

Maybe that doesn’t surprise you, but it surprises me. Seems like these days I end up purchasing everything over the Internet. It got me thinking… why do I buy, where I buy?
– price (very important since I’m fundamentally frugal)
– confidence (am I going to be glad I bought what I did, where I did, for the price I paid)
– simplicity and choice (I am willing to sacrifice these for price and confidence)

But back to Sears…

This project to replace our kitchen appliances started on the Internet, then it was off to Sears (they had a slightly better price and a deeper set of choices than Best Buy) to see the finalists in person.

There we met Joe Andel, who reminded me of how I’m supposed to act with my customers:
– He listened and made sure he understood
– He was knowledgeable without being obnoxious
– He made suggestions (have you considered…) without being condescending
– He actually seemed pleased that we were there
– When we had made preliminary choices he volunteered to document them for us including pricing, discounts, options
– Having seem my printouts from the Internet, he told us to come on back and look again once we’d done more research

Yesterday Joe confirmed what he had given us preliminarily, helped us through some options and details, and made a nice sale. And a friend.

Dec
22

Music is surely food for the soul, and as a bonus it’s low-carb. Enjoy it!

Dec
20

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