Travels with MaryE

Most things I love best are about good light and good timing. That's where the adventures start. Don't be in no hurry here. Here you'll find a little bit about bluegrass music, fox hunting, life on the road, time on the mountain, and a whole lot about other things, too.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Friends of Friends, Sleep and Grey Fox

It's fun meeting friends of friends. You get to talking and find out you have a whole lot in common, at least most of the time. Yesterday I had a gig photographing friends playing a gig up in trendy Williamstown, Massachusetts (trendy in a stiff-upper-lipped kind of way). If you've never been to the Berkshire Mountains in Massachusetts and you fancy pretty places all tidy-like and just oozing with loads of history you owe yourself a leisurely trip through the far eastern New York/far western Mass. area. Bring your camera. There's still a lot of old New England to be enjoyed there on the little two lane roads that criss-cross the counties where the Shakers had their heyday. Too bad they didn't believe in sex; kind of hard to keep family trees going without adding any branches, ya know?

Anyway I was talking about friends of friends. Through my friends Robert and Lillian and Dickie, I got to meet Herb Applin, a delightful guy who made quite a lot of New England bluegrass history over the last few decades. He's full of great stories about the old days kicking around Boston's Hillbilly Ranch of a night with the likes of the Lilly Brothers and Joe Val. Hoo-wee, sounds like those boys might have had a little more fun back then than we all had a few years back kicking around Nashville's Station Inn. There isn't a Hillbilly Ranch in Boston anymore, sadly, but the memories seem quite strong!

This morning I had the pleasure of meeting Bill Dillof, a fine old time fiddler who lives somewhere in the wilds of Massachusetts and heard him coaching my pal Robert on some fine old fiddle tunes. Along the way we discussed lots of mutual friends (though WE had never met before) and common threads in our life experiences (seems like most folks have a lot in common when you get right down to it). We got downright philosophical a few times and maybe even brilliant for one sparkling moment or two. I heard a hysterically funny (and also sad) story about a "captive husband" and laughed myself silly more than once while enjoying a perfect omelette and a sweet english muffin smeared with organic strawberry preserves from Crete - not to mention the company of a couple of good friends and a relative stranger. Can life get any better?

Herb, Robert and Bill were telling about some of the young pickers that can play so fast and how another friend described their playing: "sounds like a damn doodlebug race." If ya know what I mean. Amen!

I took a walk outside and felt for a moment like I was back in Wales....all was lush green and rich; it was quiet, and I expected a flock of sheep to come up over the rise. Everywhere I turned flowerbeds bursting with saturated color lifted strong tendrils toward the clouds. The air was alive with contented serenity.

Last night I slept in a bed that seemed made to order - very firm, and the sheets smelled of rosemary (though I was told it was Tide)(Note: I bought Tide today; life's too short to have sheets that smell of some other brand). The room was large and airy and several bookcases were loaded with intriguing books. I like to sleep in the presence of great writing. An oscillating fan lent a sense of happy isolation.

Anyway, about that bed. Isn't it amazing how many folks spend their lives in poor, nay, crappy beds, you know, sunken down in the middle, so it takes a superhuman effort to claw your way out? It's 1/3 of your life (well okay, 25%)! Sleep is meant to be pleasurable, no? Be kind to your back and your spirit. I love a firm bed, sweet-smelling sheets, a smallish pillow and a nice duvet. Make sure yours suits you. Funny, my bed is very often in the back of my truck and it suits me just fine, thank you. After a good night's sleep most of life seems to go a lot easier.

I was reluctant to leave such a happy house with its resonant instruments, lovely garden and good friends, old and new, but I had to get on down the road to feed my sister's cat, so I said my fond farewells and headed down the small and smaller and smallest yet roads of the Massachusetts-New York border. It occurred to me that I might just stop by Grey Fox (still called Winterhawk by some of us old-timers) and see what was going on up there. I didn't go all the way up on the hill, but there seemed to be many happy campers there on the Rothvoss Farm, so I shall return tomorrow after Mr. Pip gets an ample supply of fresh water and cat food to keep him happy.

And tomorrow night I'll sleep once again in that little old truck of mine.

Best Buy??? You gotta be kidding

Okay, those of you who can't stomach rants need to move on elsewhere NOW. Today's blog is dedicated to the American company for whom I have the LEAST respect and the MOST anger. One by the misnomer of "Best Buy." I could think of far more appropriate names for that rip-off bunch but since some very nice folks sometimes visit my blog I will leave it to your imagination.

Now some people learn a lesson the first time around. But I'm left-handed, hard-headed and contrary, so I've got to beat over the head (or at least the purse) a few times. I could make this the longest entry I've ever written just telling you some of the ridiculous crap Best Buy has put me through in the last 13 months, but I won't bore you too much.

Today was the last straw. I shall never darken their doorstep again. Never. And I will deliver a lecture to any friends - OR STRANGERS - who ever talk about doing such a foolhardy thing as entering a Best Buy store. DON'T do it.

If you buy something from them very often it's defective. I don't they get seconds or what? When you have a problem, there's always some "out" for them - and seemingly no recourse for you. Last year I entered a store near Nashville (oops, I'm gonna tell you after all) and was quoted a price - a sale price - on a Sony laptop. As had happened in several Best Buys in several states (I was traveling at the time - and looking for a laptop) the ones they advertised oh, gee, they'd sold them all. I started to get smart and find out delivery dates and times. Still no good. Gee, none had come in, etc. I mean I had the runaround. But I was long on time and short on cash, so I persisted.

Finally near Nashville I found a good computer for a good price. But when they went to pull one for me gee, they didn't have that one and no they couldn't sell me the display model. But they kindly called another Nashville-area Best Buy and got them to hold the computer for me. I confirmed the price. Got to that other store - an hour's drive away and all went well. They indeed had the laptop and brought it out for me to purchase. It was a sale-priced item with a rebate. I got a cordless mouse, Norton Internet Security, Word, and a few other item - coming to over $2000 after the rebates and discounts.

When they rang it up the price was way, way high. 'Course they rang it up on my credit card. I politely and firmly asked them to check that please, there must be some mistake (I always do the rough math in my head so I know about what it should be) but no. We looked over the ticket and they were charging the non-sale price and they would NOT refund the money to me even though they agreed that was the price they'd agreed on - they said that I got the computer from them and in fact the other store had not taken down LAST week's sale price (it was still posted on the computer) and that they couldn't be responsible, etc.,etc. That was only one of the things we argued about price-wise, but I want you to know that I spent 12 hours - yes 12 hours in that store over the course of 2 days trying to get my $200+ refund from them. I never did get it, but I finally got the manager of the other store to send a letter certifying that I would be reimbursed (and I eventually was through my Visa card).

You'd think I would have learned. But no. I took my sister there the other day. She bought a laptop and they screwed that all up, too. But when I stood the ground for her with them and casually dropped the fact that she's an attorney in NYC well they snapped to right away for her - even gave us Geek Squad t-shirts.

But today I went back to Best Buy with a return. I'd bought a cheap videocamera ($400) on Saturday and paid (unfortunately) CASH for it. I never opened the box (instant 15% restocking fee if you open the box) because I decided to research the model first and learned that it was a horrible camera. So I took it back, unopened. I heard the usual, "I don't make the policy," from the Customer Service KID (what's with having kids who don't even have facial hair trying to negotiate the dark Customer Service waters at places like Best Buy??) I demanded to speak with the manager.

At Best Buy they have these huge signs over customer service with all the ins and outs (mostly outs) of what they'll refund and what you have to have, blah blah blah. Nothing there about no cash refunds over $250. Nope, that's in fine, fine, fine print on the back of the mile-long sales slip they hand you. I can't begin to read it without reading glasses. So there I am. They have the camera, unopened. I just want my damned $400. No go. No go. I only have 14 days to return the camera (actually about 9 by now) and they ain't changing their policy in the next 9 days. So I have to go on their LOUSY word and a hard-to-read return receipt stating that the home office is going to send ME a check (the manager said I'd have it in two weeks; the fine print actually says it will be mailed WITHIN 14 BUSINESS DAYS which to me says I MIGHT have the check in a month). So I'm supposed to twiddle my thumbs for the next 30 days waiting to get back my $400. Never mind I want a videocamera and I don't have a lot of spare money. They've banked my $400 and I have nothing.

So all I'm doing here is keeping my word. I gave the manager and the no-facial-hair kid my darkest look (and I'm a redhead with an evil temper at times) and told them that I would be sure not only to tell all my friends and family members and every stranger who'd listen but also anyone who happens to read my blog on the internet what a load of crap Best Buy delivers.

You can bet I'll keep my word, too. If you have any sense at all never buy anything from Best Buy. I hope you learn from my stupidity.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Consumer-Proof Goods...Mortal Wounds

Hey, any of you out there purchase something lately that it's near-impossible to break into? I got thinking about this when I tried to cut my way into a package of 16 AA batteries I purchased the other day. Jeeeez! Scissors didn't work. I didn't even attempt it with my hands. The plastic seemed to be made of metal. I mean if someone was that desperate to steal the stuff they would just take the entire package, right?

I finally broke in after SEVERAL strokes of one of those lethal box-cutting knives - you know, a Stanley knife with a big fat razor blade jutting out the front end? It's hard to use them (at least for me) unless I cut TOWARD myself and that's where the "lethal" comes into the equation. Thankfully this time I managed to miss all my digits and vital organs, but who knows about next time?

Some lady sued McDonald's because the hot coffee she ordered was hot; seems an even better case to sue WalMart, KMart or wherever because the item you bought fair and square is inpenetrable and in your numerous attempts to remove over-the-top packaging you are fatally wounded. Whatcha think?

I had another recent bout with adult-proof packaging when my sister purchased a cordless mouse. Yikes! What was Microsoft thinking? I'm fairly strong...I wonder what someone who's 80 years old does to break into the stuff they purchase? Can't see them wielding a packing knife with a malicious gleam in their eyes.

You gotta get ANGRY at this stuff to get in.

Geez, I'm starting to sound like Andy Rooney!

Monday, July 10, 2006

Back to the Turntable

This morning after not using my turntable in 15 years I dusted it off, struggled to hook it up (the belt had come off)...and have been enjoying the heck out of listening to some old favorite recordings that just haven't made it onto CD yet (and likely never will). Too, the hands-on "labour" of taking an album carefully out of its dust cover, handling it by the edges, placing it on the turntable, cleaning it and carefully applying the needle...well, it still holds the old charm for me. There's a kind of excitement I feel as I go through that process hungry to hear the vinyl's musical offerings for the first time in all these it anticipation. I got it.

At the moment I'm enjoying Harley Allen's "Across the Bluegridge Mountains," (Folkways Records FTS 31076). What a singer. Harley was one of the smart ones. He figured out a long time ago that the real way to make money in music is to write the great songs. He has. If you're not familiar with Harley Allen's writing you need to do your homework and check him out. But I regret that I don't hear Harley out on the road anymore. What a beautiful voice he has - he slides up and down the scale (mostly up) with the most delicate subtlety and casual finesse; it almost sounds lazy.

'Course he had a great teacher...his dad, Red Allen.

First time I heard Harley he was singing at the now-defunct Berkshire Mountain Bluegrass Festival with Red back 1984. Harley's a smart-ass with a vicious wit, make no mistake about it. He takes no prisoners. I'm sure glad to count him among my friends. Ran into him at IBMA last fall looking taller and thinner than ever. I was surprised he remembered me though I'm still short and plump like I was last time he came over to the house and thrilled us with his incredible voice. Those picking parties were fun...Harley trotted out his latest songs with casual aloofness and we sat there drop-jawed, mesmerized. How does such a wise guy write such heartfelt lyrics? I always felt mortally wounded after he sang one of those songs. I love that feeling in some sick way. If your singing doesn't hurt me I ain't gonna love you.

Now I'm onto the Allen Brothers, "Sweet Rumors." You haven't lived till you've heard these boys lay it down on "Storms Never Last," "When Someone Wants to Leave"...well, just sit down and LISTEN!

Here's to Harley - and to the renaissance of the Great Turntable, too. Long live vinyl and great singers to enjoy on it.


Well, I was just pushing all the cobwebs from the many corners of my mind and thinking about good friends after talking with my friends Mark and Sally a few minutes ago and I got to thinking about where friends come from, how friendships are formed, and what makes a friend?

A few years back I ended a very long-term relationship with a certain great musician (still a favorite musician of mine) and I learned that all "our" friends weren't necessarily "our" friends anymore...if you know what I mean. Since he's a musician and they're musicians I learned that they weren't really there for me - just good time friends for the most part.

It was around that time I met Mark and Sally, for example. Good folks by all accounts. We were just acquaintances, really, and we met through music, too, but they stepped forward and helped pull me through some pretty tough times. I can't say why they did it, but I'm so grateful to them for all they did. Whenever I needed someone to talk to or be with they were there.

Over the years I've been privileged to know their kids and grandkids and even some of their other kin. I've been to weddings and dances and I don't know what all with them. They even included me in some of their weekly "family nights," real special occasions to me.

You know I love them more now than I did even back when they were bailing me out of all that heartache and pain.

You ever think about the folks you call friends? You ever have occasion to find out who your friends really are? I learned that the people who were there for me when I really needed them weren't necessarily the people I thought would be there (for whatever reasons) and certainly not the people for whom I'd done a lot. No the people who helped me through some bad times were people like Mark and Sally, Art and Mari, and a few others.

I'll never forget their kindness. It may happen that I won't get to repay the folks mentioned above for all their kindness. Yet it occurs to me that what just may happen is that there will be some near-stranger somewhere who really needs MY help NOW. It'll be my turn to repay the kindness that's been shown me over the years. It's one of those "pass it on," what goes around comes around kinds of things we need to do to keep the good stuff alive in this crazy world.

Anyway, here's to great friends like Mark and Sally. I love you guys. The world is still full of great people. I'm glad to have such wonderful friends.

A Lesson in Patience

I remember not so many decades ago when I got out into the workplace and kind of snickered inside at the older folks who thought if they pressed the wrong key on a computer they'd blow up the city or something horrible. Well, folks, I think I've just about become one of them people I used to think were so out of it.

Consider this. I don't have a cell phone. Don't want one. Don't even know how to use one. But now let's talk cameras. That's one area where I stay fairly current, at least as far as money allows. So my camcorder broke after five years of faithful service and I went to Best Buy to purchase a replacement.

My sister made the mistake of walking through the door with me, if you know what I mean. She's been paying through the nose for RoadRunner Cable for months now -- with NOTHING hooked up to it! So I suggested she come along and maybe we could get an ethernet card or whatever we lacked to hook up an older laptop to the cable modem.

I casually suggested she might look at how cheap the laptops are these days. About four hours (and several mixups in charges, software, and a variety of other evils) later we left the store with my video camera, a laptop, laptop case, a 20" television and a few other bits and bobs. Funny, right? Have you all ever dealt with Best Buy? Watch 'em closely, particularly if you purchase one of their packages because they usually don't deliver the goods they promise for the price they quote. These major mixups have happened to me on nearly every occasion I've dealt with them. But I will give the folks yesterday credit - at least the young woman who finally sorted it all out after about four hours of standing our ground. She was a good employee and because of her my sister and I might actually go into a Best Buy store again sometime. She restored some of our faith. I'll just keep my toes crossed and hope for the best.

So here I am typing away on my sister's new laptop -- after several hours of trying to figure out how to hook up a router so we can both travel around the house on our laptops using the internet. I'm looking forward to enjoying a Coca Cola on the front porch looking out over the mountains while checking my email tomorrow morning. Sounds good, huh? I feel like I gave a little too many pints of blood to get to this stage of technological advancement, though.

I suppose the thing that got us through both the Best Buy ordeal and the internet hookup was a goodly measure of patience. Don't know where mine came from - I'm too ginger-haired to have any patience - but I'm thankful it was there to draw upon. Must have been that troupe of angels watchin' over me again.