In the South & The Incredible Disappearing Contract

The other big difference here in the southern US (and when I say ‘southern’, I mean ‘Maryland’, which is as far North as you can get and still be below the Mason Dixon Line — which runs between Maryland and Pennsylvania) from the Pacific Northwest is the heat. It has finally started to cool off a little since I got here, now at about 26 C, which is a little warm but tolerable. Prior to today, I pretty much had to stay inside with the air conditioning going all day. The same was true of going out – all stores, cars and restaurants have their air conditioning blasting so hard that you frequently have to take a jacket with you to keep from getting too cold when inside! I can’t bear to think what the electricity usage is here. The Onion made fun of the whole global warming and rise in air conditioning story this week.

The heat means lots of insects, plants (my parents live in a lush area to the north of the Baltimore beltway), birds and animals. We’ve seen cardinals, finches, hummingbirds, mourning doves, mockingbirds, woodpeckers, chipmunks and if course, squirrels. I missed the visit of a semi-regular visitor to the property, a red-tailed fox, who my parents spied this morning as he loped across their backyard and woods.

It’s a Done Deal. Or Not.
I’m still dealing a bit with the time change, and trying to stay in touch with work and life back home. The day before I left, I had an exciting potential contract that I responded to immediately with a major web company (whose name I’ll withhold for the time being) that looked like it was about to go through. While I didn’t burn any bridges back at my current job, it looked like upon my return to Vancouver, my old part-time job would be more or less over (with a few things to tidy up, some good-byes, etc.) and I’d be starting a new 6-week contract. Resumés, samples and a follow-up phone call had all gone through with encouraging words from my contact, a staffing person with the company.

Somehow all of that went terribly wrong while I was on the road, and the staffing rep’s emails got sketchier and vaguer with each passing day. Now it looks as if that person overstepped their authority in offering me the job, and that someone else was referred to the company. Since I was out of town (and our phone voice mail was still MIA), I was too hard to reach, and the whole thing has now vanished and another staffing person from that company is telling me to ‘Don’t call us, we’ll call you’. I’m really disappointed about this, and feel like I was treated pretty shabbily (The original contact has still not contacted me with a definitive ‘no’ and any sort of apology.) If I had gotten the nibble at any other week of the year I could have been able to push for it (or at least I thought I could — this is, in all honesty, just speculation). Such is the way life goes. Sometimes it is indeed, all in the timing.

On the Road

At about 5:30 AM I rolled my large, green suitcase from 6th Avenue and Granville to the top of the hill, at Broadway. I huffed and puffed a little, but it wasn’t too bad. The ‘QuickShuttle’ from Vancouver to Seattle Airport arrived a few minutes late at 6:10, but the small group of us (mostly students and a few tourists) got on quickly. After stops at 41st Street, YVR, and a Convenience Store and Gift Shop near the border, we arrived at the Canadian/US border at around 7:45. It took us about 45 minutes to get processed, our bags X-rayed and the usual questions and customs forms. We made it down to Seattle (downtown first near the Space Needle, airport second) in plenty of time for me to check my luggage, get on the snaking security line, and grab a bite of lunch.

The first cultural shocks came: That horrible woman’s voice on the public address system that’s now apparently in airports coast to coast: Thenk you for making shore yore beggidge is not left unattinded. Unattinded beggidge will be removed by airport stayaff. Then, I started noticing all of the fat people. A large group waiting for the plane pulling in before mine were a great deal of overweight folks bound for Hattiesburg, Mississippi, all with identical brown T-shirts that read ‘Builders for Christ’ (I found out later that these were masons, electricians, plumbers, etc. who build churches and other religious buildings for free).

After we boarded, I learned that I had the seats right by the front entrance. This is a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that it’s the first seat on (for general boarding, not First Class, of course) and one of the first off. The curse is that every person coming in the plane goes by it, so forget about sitting in it during the boarding of the plane. I stood with the flight attendants as they said hello to the passengers. That front row was also where several soldiers (Marines and Navy, to be precise) sat as they were heading home from being stationed in Japan (after a tour or two of Iraq).

The flight got into Saint Louis, my connection, a little late. Fortunately, my connecting flight was in the next gate. I walked off the plane, and literally walked over 20 feet to the gate of the other flight as that was the moment they called for boarding of all seats. Just before I walked out onto the tarmac (it was a small plane), I said to the the woman at the gate: “I’m a little concerned, since my connecting flight is so late that my bag won’t make it”. “Your bag will make it”, she said confidently.

The flight to Baltimore from Saint Louis was short, which was fortunate, because it was in a very small jet, with a ceiling so low that I couldn’t fully stand up. When I arrived in Baltimore, my parents were there waiting for me. After we went to baggage claim, we soon learned that what I had feared was true. My bag had indeed missed the connection. The woman in Saint Louis had looked me in the face and lied (or just said something that was ridiculous to patronize a passenger). I really would have appreciated some candor, but that’s not the way they do business at American Airlines.

The bag just arrived. 12:24 AM, technically, 2 days later.

I don’t want to be a worry-wart, but what really concerns me now is that my connection back to Seattle is even tighter, and if my bag doesn’t make it there, I would have to take the bus back to Vancouver without it. Or perhaps, stay with my brother in Bellevue and reschedule the trip back until I can get the bag. Such is air travel in the good old US of A.

Close Despite the Distances

If any good can come of the theft of my wallet, it’s that I was reminded of how many family and friends, spread across many time zones and a couple continents are there, caring what happens, and offering words of reassurance. It does make it easier.

Next week I’ll be traveling to Baltimore to see my parents, and then up to Dublin, New Hampshire, for the 35th Reunion of The Walden School, an organization and group of people who I also feel close to, despite the physical (and temporal) distances.

I’m very happy that despite the fact that I’ve moved around a lot in my life, I’ve managed to keep friendships and other close relationships alive and active. I hope that will always be the case.

Petty Theft

I should have been more on guard. I should have handed my wallet to Pam, who was outside the dressing room. Instead, all it took was less than 4 seconds, while I shifted attention to her, modeling the shorts I was thinking of purchasing, for some guy to dive into the dressing room, rifle through my jeans, and grab it.

I realized the theft of my wallet in almost as short a time, but it was already too late. The guy (and I know it was a guy, as it was the men’s Fitting Room area) was already long gone. There were no witnesses, of course. So, we hurried back home, where I:

  1. Called my bank to cancel all of my credit cards that I had with them as well as my ATM card
  2. Called the Vancouver Police Department, where I reported the theft and got a case number
  3. Called the bank back and told them the case number. They needed this because apparently the thief had enough time to pay for parking with one of the cards before we canceled it.
  4. Called the other credit card companies with my card information. This included 2 other companies.
  5. Filled out a replacement form for my Health Care Card (with a cheque for $20)
  6. Meanwhile, Pam contacted the Building Super, and had my door access card deactivated.

There will be more to do in the coming days. I can get a temporary ATM card at the bank on Monday, and another $17 will pay for a replacement driver’s license. There was about $50 cash in the wallet, which is fairly typical, and that will be a total loss. I’ll also have to pay for the replacement access card for home. Also a bunch of other minor annoyances: A library card I’ll have to get replaced, a card for OneZero Sushi on Pender that I had about 5 stamps in. A Starbucks card with about $5.00 left on it.

All in all, I figure I’ll have lost about $100-150 from this crime. Not to mention getting a sour stomach and a ruined day.

One last metric that I learned from the experience: my case number at the Vancouver Police was 07- followed by a 6 digit number that began 1105. I asked the woman taking my information, and yes, there were some 110,500+ crimes (small, big, or whatever else there can be in between) that were reported (not sure if it was Vancouver only, or outlying areas as well) since New Year’s Day of 2007. Makes you think.

Don’t know whether I’ll go back to Sears or not any time soon. This has certainly made me distrust their security setup.

Update: The guy used $7.85 on the Starbucks card, but I just caught it and cancelled it with $5 left on in my account. Take that, you dirt-bag!

I Love Vermont More Every Day

Once again, I find the the saving grace of the US is Vermont. A proposition has started to gain popularity in the state to secede from the US.

As Frank Bryan’s eloquent and persuasive essay on the Vermont Commons Web site puts it:

What this country needs is a good swift slap alongside the head.
A loving slap, self-administered.
A slap that says, “Clean up your act or we’re gone.”
Vermont is just the state to give it.

He delivered part of his argument at the Blue Mountain High School in Wells River as they celebrated the burning of their mortgage for the new school building, which stood in stark contrast to the interest on the US national debt, which he points out “threatens to take one-third of our tax money each year. To retire the debt would require a stack of thousand ­dollar bills more than two hundred miles high.”

He also answers some of the objections to secession quite well:
Isn’t this going against some contract with the Federal Government?

Leaving the Union will involve the breaking of no promises. Our contract with America made two hundred years ago has been repeatedly ignored by a national government with an unquenchable thirst for power. When we signed on, the American Constitution ensured us that “The powers not delegated to the U.S. by the Constitution nor prohibit­ed by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.” Is there anyone left in America today over the age of six who does not understand that the reserved power clause has become a joke? The author of a leading college textbook puts it this way: “Actions by Congress and the Federal Courts have gradually under­mined the 10th Amendment. It now bears little relevance to the configura­tion of American Federalism in the 1990s.”

Vermont is too small to be a nation again.

Sitting in the United Nations today are the representatives of twenty nations with populations smaller than Vermont’s. Each of these nations has voting rights in the General As­sembly equal to those of the United States of America.

Vermont’s tiny economy would be swallowed up by giant international trading systems.

In actuality, small nations have great advantages in the international marketplace. Gary S. Becker, a high­ly respected University of Chicago pro­fessor, writes, “Bigger isn’t necessarily better. . . . Smaller coun­tries tend to be more nimble traders in international markets, offsetting their lack of economies of scale.”

A little state like Vermont is too dependent on the federal dole to go it alone.

…for every dollar Ver­monters pay in federal taxes, we get most of it back in cash but the rest in the form of a loan the government has extracted from the American people, which includes us. If we kept our original buck we wouldn’t have to make out applications to the federal government in order to spend it, and if we needed more we could decide whether or not to borrow it on our own terms. Best of all, we could spend the whole damn thing as we see fit.

It is true that Vermont benefits from something we might call “national in­frastructure,” the most obvious exam­ples of which are the military and the interstate highways. But think of the 1.3 billion Vermont tax dollars that go toward U.S. defense-related expenditures each year. Vermont will need no army after secession. A couple of dozen more state troopers and a militia organized from local fire and rescue organizations, at no expense to the Republic, will be enough. Think we could come up with some other ways to spend that 1.3 billion?

If we tried to secede, the United States would invade.

American tanks rolling into Bennington? It’ll never happen. All we have to do is simply assert our indepen­dence and leave. Our very act of secession will be our greatest strength. We have an open border to the north with a country that owes us for our benign neglect during the War of 1812 and to a province of that country with secessionist ideas of its own

It takes big government to solve big issues.

My opponent in the 1991 secession debates, Vermont Supreme Court Justice John Dooley, stated that, “Acid rain won’t be ended by cute little nations like a new Republic of Vermont.” Wrong. The history of the last two decades has shown an increasing incapacity of the federal government to make progress where real conflicts among the states exist. Mediocrity is the best you can hope for when problems and bene­fits are diffused over large systems.

The federal government likes to “facilitate” cooperation and then take credit for natural impulses for consen­sus that are locally inspired. It is the states and localities that are “putting Washington to shame,” as one publi­cation put it, in the field of environmental protection. In Vermont we find again and again that Washing­ton is a hindrance to attempts to pro­tect the environment. It can be argued, for instance, that the federal government caused the acid rain problem because it was forced to compromise over smokestacks and scrubbers when it sought to protect Midwestern cities from their own pol­lution in the 1970s.

The fact of the matter is that Ver­mont’s influence as an independent republic would be vastly greater than even the best efforts of our senators in Washington can produce. Internation­al cooperation rather than intra-nation­al action is the emerging dynamic in environmental policy. The twenty-first centu­ry must develop a global perspective on the environment. Both Vermont and the world of nations would benefit from our active and equal participation in this.

What About the Bill of Rights?

Many of the people attending the secession debates seemed worried about giving up the protections guaranteed under the Bill of Rights in the Federal Constitution. One wonders why. Vermont’s record on civil rights and liberties is far stronger than America’s. It was our constitution that first outlawed slavery. It was our constitution that first provided universal voting rights for all freemen.

It was Vermont that provided much of the leadership in the anti-slavery movement. Lincoln fought the war to save the Union. Vermont fought the war to free the slaves.

It was from Vermont that the first anti-Christian book ever published on the North American continent was penned.

It was a Vermont Senator that led the fight to censor McCarthy. It was in Vermont that gays were first provided the opportunity to form civil unions. It is in Vermont that a citizen’s Bill of Rights guarantee to keep and bear arms is strongly defended—not for hunting, not for personal protection against wayward citizens, but for what is was intended: to insure that free citizens always have a means to protect themselves against governments, a protection that takes on special meaning as our civil liberties come under attack from Washington, the center of our own nation, our beloved America.

Well, that last bit had me a little puzzled, but I guess if the Federal Government starts to look more and more like a Dictatorship run by a guy named George over a predominantly rural Colonial holding, the idea of brandishing muskets starts to have a certain ring to it…

At any rate, Pam has said many times that the place in the US that we nearly ended up in if things had not gone quite so wrong should simply either secede, or do en masse what we as a couple did: join Canada. It sounds like some who do live there would agree. In fact, one report had polls taken in Vermont in favour of secession somewhere around 13%.

The story was not lost on Fox News, who ridiculed it.