Posted in Life

“Welcome in!”

I guess I noticed it at Starbucks the other day. One of the barista’s greeted me and then every other customer who walked through the door with a bright, “Welcome in!”

“Welcome to Moe’s!” began in 2000. I’ve only been in that restaurant a few times, but I’ve seen it on TV commercials, too.

It’s trending everywhere. A person at the register of the pet supply store I frequent never fails to greet me. They used to say, “Welcome to Pet Supermarket.” But now it’s, “Welcome in!” I might not see the person who is working behind some boxes or shelves, but they always see me.

I hear it at Ace Hardware, Dollar General, ABC Wine and Liquors, the UPS Store, Racetrack and Circle K convenience stores, Subway, the dry cleaners, and the Chinese takeout restaurant.

Now I notice it when I don’t hear that greeting. The always straight-faced guy at the Pack and Ship simply points to the place you’re to put your package. At the post office, you get a straightforward, “I can help you.” At the barbershop, it’s a familiar, “Hey, how’s it going?” At the Honda dealership where I’ve been taking cars for service for many years, I hear, “Good morning, Mr. Douthwaite.” Employees at big box stores are few and far between, so don’t expect to be greeted there. And I rarely am.

Since it seems like no one has enough help, you may not find someone at the front of the store when you walk in. They may be stocking shelves or helping other customers. It’s a way of letting you know someone’s here in the store.

Maybe they’re just being friendly. Maybe they want you to know someone sees you. Maybe it’s just a phrase that has worked its way into everyday conversation, offered up without much thought.

Posted in Life

“I’ll watch it for you.”

At the top step of the old hospital entrance, a woman asked me, “Do you think it will be safe to leave this here while I go get the car?” Next to her on the curb of pick up entrance was a wagon full of clothes, a child car seat, and take-out food.

This city boy thought to himself, ” I wouldn’t leave anything out of my sight around here.” We weren’t too far away from the emergency room entrance, a gathering place for people without homes. I said, “I’ll stay here and watch it for you.”

“Oh, thank you! I’ll be back in a minute.” She ran off towards the parking lot as I stood guard for a moment. It was indeed just a minute and she pulled into the circular driveway. As she did, a young woman walked out of the hospital carrying a newborn. The family packed up all their stuff as I headed to the information desk to get my visitor ID. Even though no one eyed the contents of the wagon, I’m glad I waited there.

On the way home, I sat in a coffee shop, I saw an open laptop computer, textbooks, and a cell phone  on an unoccupied table. Again I thought, “I wouldn’t take my eyes off of anything around here.” Anyone could walk out the door with those things in just a few seconds.

But no one touched or looked at anything on the table. Everyone just went about their business. The owner stepped out of the restroom, sat down, and got back to work.

I would never do that. I would take all my stuff with me. Every time. Am I overly cautious? Are others naive? Should I be more trusting? Or does unattended stuff usually disappear?

I’ve seen purses sitting atop unattended shopping carts, cell phones hanging from back pockets, and unoccupied running cars (yes, people still do that).

Don’t worry. I’ll keep an eye on your stuff. But someone else is probably eyeing it, too.

Posted in Life

The highlight of my day

“Any chance someone will be home earlier than our appointment?”

“Sure. Come any time.”

The insurance inspector was way ahead of schedule to take photos of our home. A new policy required a quick check of the roof, water valves, breaker box, and hot water heater. I was just hanging out waiting for her, so my schedule was flexible.

“Great. I’ll be there in a couple of minutes.”

When she arrived, I asked, “How do you feel about dogs?” I didn’t want Samson to ruin her day if she wasn’t a large dog lover.

“They are the highlight of my day!”

Now that’s my kind of person. If I see a neighbor walking a dog by our house, I go out to greet them. When I’m walking dogs in our neighborhood, I stop to talk to the faithful canines guarding their front yard or barking at me through a window or fence. They are the highlights of my days, too.

My dog Samson met the inspector at the front door, leaving the usual light-brown hairy reminder of the encounter on her black pants. “My baby will know I met some new friends today.”

Samson can tell whether or not to greet someone or hold them at bay by my reaction as I open the door. Somehow he knows whether or not to trust a person or keep an eye on them. Someone once said, “If my dog doesn’t trust you, I probably won’t either!” I like having a second opinion around.

Posted in Life

No solar for you

“I can’t sell you solar panels.”

Just by chance I responded to a random email from Enlight, a Gainesville-based company that sells solar roof panels. I answered a few basic questions and they texted me to set up an appointment.

I figured we were the perfect candidates for solar panels. Our house faces directly north, so we’ve got a ton of southern roof exposure on the backyard side. Feeling very green lately, I was confident we’d not only be able to power our house, but even sell energy back to Florida Power and Light. Our monthly electric bill might be zero or less.

As much as this is advertised and as nice as it sounds, it’s not so simple. When I met the sales rep at the door, he immediately said, “I can’t sell you solar panels.” First of all, we’ve got too many trees on the corners of the backyard. A few of the trees are in our yard and we could have had them removed. But the two lots on either side of our house are still filled with thirty to forty foot tall scrub pine trees. They cast enough morning and afternoon shadows on the roof that we wouldn’t generate enough power to reach zero outside power usage.

Did we think our neighbors might be willing to cut down a few trees? Doubtful. The neighbor to our west bought the vacant lot specifically so no one would build on it. I don’t know the neighbor to the east. Plus we’re talking about a lot of trees. At least a dozen or so, and that wouldn’t be cheap. When Hurricane Ian blew through I thought, “Some of those trees might come down after all.” I came to my senses and realized I didn’t want these trees coming down on our houses.

Plus, the salesman told us that local electric company has a minimum monthly charge. No matter now little power you use, you’re gonna pay at least thirty dollars a month. Our monthly electric is only a hundred dollars, so even if we used little or nothing, it would take a long time to break even after investing in solar panels.

I appreciate his honesty. He had driven an hour and a half from his home office to visit us. He had checked satellite views of the property and didn’t see a problem until he pulled up in front of our home. As he left he added, “Don’t let anyone come in and sell you solar. It won’t work till those trees are gone.”

When we walk the neighborhood, I scan for solar panels. In our area they are few and far between. The ones I do see are to heat up the water for a swimming pool. There are a few single panels which I assume are to power a hot water heater. The homes I’ve seen with a roof full of solar panels are on corner lots away from any wooded lots.

The radio is full of solar panel advertisements from a variety of companies. I think Solar Bear has the most creative name at the moment. Online reports are all over the place, but there’s not that much solar power in Florida. Yet. Prices are coming down dramatically. Lots are being cleared quickly to make space for more homes. In a year or so, we’ll have a ton of options. We may be able to install batteries to store power for cloudy days. We might replace part of our roof with solar shingles. Solar hot water is probably a viable option right now. Our camper trailer was prewired for roof solar panels. By the time we have an electric car, it will probably have solar panels on the roof.

When we built our house, most of the lots around us were undeveloped. We didn’t even clear the back fifteen yards of our property. We liked being surrounded by the woods, our little home built in the middle of nature. The trees provided lots of shade and were our friends on hot days, cutting the power needed for air conditioning. The builder deliberately designed our house to let in the light while keeping out the heat. One by one, the lots were cleared, the shade trees were chopped down, and our shade friends were replaced by new neighbors and families. It won’t be long before the woods next to us disappear and I’ll be revisiting our solar options. For years we tried to keep the sun out. Now we’re waiting to let it in.

Posted in Life

Pump your gas!

I saw this sticker attached to a gas pump at Keith’s Superstore in Semmes, Alabama.

My imagination shifted into high gear as I pictured the scenarios that prompted a convenience store manager to make and affix this sticker. Does this happen a lot in rural Alabama?

When Cletus pulled up to the pump in his big old F250, he told his wife, “We’re almost empty, so put eighty bucks on pump two.” When they both got back into the truck with surprisingly good coffee and a bag of snacks, they buckled up and pulled back out onto the road. Glancing down, he saw the gas gauge pointing to the E.” “Crap.” After a quick u-turn, they pulled back in, only to find an old Cadillac pulling away from pump two with a full tank. After a long, angry, red-faced conversation with the cashier and store manager, Otis walked out with $20 in change.

Or it could have been that time when Lilly answered her phone as she swiped her card at the pump. She punched in her zip code, unscrewed the gas cap, and was just about to press economy when she exclaimed, “Are you kidding me? OK, I’ll be right there.” As she pulled away Emmet pulled up in his old Crown Victoria, saw the pump ready to go. All he said was, “Sweet,” as he filled up his tank.

Jake usually tried once a week, when he saw a new cashier at the register. “Hey doll, this is embarrassing, but I gave the other guy fifty dollars this morning and never pumped my gas. I had this killer migraine and had to go home. I’m feeling better now, so can you set up pump five for me?” His story rarely worked, but he kept on trying.

I’ve heard a few stories of people who forgot to disconnect the nozzle from their car and drove off, tearing the hose off the pump. Others, thinking they could squeeze a few more ounces into the tank ended up with a puddle of gas on the ground around their car.

I want to meet the guy or gal who prepaid and forgot to pump.

Posted in Life

Get to know your neighbors

I now have a pretty good idea where the best parties are in our neighborhood.

I was out walking the day after Christmas when I spied with my little eye a beer keg on a front porch. Smiling to myself, I remembered changing out many of those in the fraternity house. We were always on tap. That’s one of the reasons you joined a fraternity in the 70s in Pennsylvania. A keg like that holds about 7 cases of beer. That’s not so much for a house full of guys watching football on a Monday night. But it’s a lot of beer for a Christmas gathering at your home!

Less than half a mile down the road, I saw a second house with a keg out front by the garage. I felt like I was walking down College Avenue across the street from Franklin and Marshall College, basically a fraternity row where each house had a few empties out on the front porch. No “bah humbug” in my neighborhood. Just like a post-dream Scrooge, these folks know how to keep Christmas!

Now chuckling to myself, I thought, “That’s why you want to get to know your neighbors!”

Walking on, I thought, “Why don’t we get to know our neighbors?” I know a lot of mine because I’ve been in our house for over twenty-five years and been out walking a dog (or two or three) just about every day. But it hasn’t been easy. Most people pull in the driveway as the garage door opens, and walk into the house as the door closes behind them. Unless I’m there at the right moment, I never see their faces or have a chance to say, “Hello.”

Or, if I leave an empty keg out front, I’ll bet I get to know them better.

Posted in Life

What’s in your library book?

With two carefully selected books in my hand, I dig my library card out of my wallet and approach the checkout desk. A cheerful voice always greets me, “I can help you here!” After she scans my card, she takes my books and riffles the pages of each one, looking for…

What is she looking for? I wonder what she has found in those pages?

Money? Without anything else for a bookmark, a dollar bill or higher might do the trick. Or, if you are feeling mysteriously generous, you could leave a twenty in there for someone to find one day.

A library card, driver’s license, business card, insurance card, or even a credit card. It’s easy to stick any of those into whatever is in your hands when you have too much to carry. Once they slip in a little deeper, you forget you put it there.

Some notes. I can’t write in a borrowed book, so sometimes I’ll write down quotes or facts on a piece of paper that doubles as a book mark. If it’s not sticking out, I might forget all about it.

I’ve opened books and discovered insects. They are usually dead, but not always. Silverfish are common. Or a mosquito who settled on a page at the wrong moment.

I’ve been known to snack while reading, or read at a meal. A candy wrapper? Napkin? I am certain I’ve left behind crumbs and stains.

How about a photo? I’ve found books on my shelves with kids’ school photos in them I used for bookmarks.

Those are the ones I’ve thought of. Some of them were out there. But some librarians shared some even better stuff they’ve found between the pages:

  • Crochet hook
  • Shopping list
  • Love note
  • Lottery tickets
  • Uncashed checks
  • Flowers, four-leaf cloves, and marijuana
  • Scissors, knives, and razor blades

There are more things at Found in a Library Book.

And now the ornery side of me begins to awaken. What kinds of things could I leave behind in a library book to be discovered at some time?

  • A spoiler sticky note half-way through a mystery
  • A recipe for something that sounds absolutely horrible
  • A compliment or joke to make someone’s day
  • Some cash or an unused scratch-off lottery ticket

Now that I’ve though of this, I am going to make sure I riffle the pages of books in the library. I’m not going to wait for the librarian to find all the good stuff. And when you find something, you might think of me.

Posted in Life

Just pour it out

One of the baristas suddenly walked over to the mobile order pickup spot, looked at the stickers on some hot and cold drinks, dumped them out, and threw out two or three food bags. I sat and wondered, “How often does that happen? How many people order online and never pick up? And why would anyone do that?”

Since this Starbucks is just off the interstate, many of their customers are traveling north or south on I-95 through northeast Florida. The food sign a mile or so before the exit might prompt travelers to open the app to place their order for a quick pick up. But then the driver gets distracted by a big truck on his tail or is yelling at children in the back seat or is fiddling with the radio and misses the exit. “What are you doing? I already ordered the coffee! Oh, never mind.”

Or, having ordered through the app, the interstate traffic suddenly comes to a stop. An accident has shut down all the lanes and no one is going anywhere for a while. An hour later, the hot drinks are cool and the cold drinks are room temperature. Down the drain they go.

Perhaps a child has borrowed mom’s phone to play a game or watch a video and happens upon the app. “I wonder what this does? Ooh, that looks good!” Before you know it, an order is on its way. Later in the day, a puzzled parent asks, “Were you on the app?” The wise and clever child replies, “I don’t know.”

It could be a prank by “friends” who notice your phone is unlocked. You know, the same friends who change the language on your phone. Or had those pizzas delivered to your house.

There are thousands of Starbucks in the US. Maybe you placed the order at the wrong store. And you were pretty aggravated when your order wasn’t waiting for you at the wrong store.

How long does an order sit there before being poured out? Let’s say it’s an hour. I could wander over at about 59 minutes to see what’s available for “pickup.” Yeah, my conscience probably wouldn’t let me get away with that.  I wonder how many online orders are picked up by someone else? What would happen when the customer shows up at the one hour and five minute mark looking for their order?

Posted in Life

The Spartan Airbnb

I guess we were spoiled.

Since we began booking Airbnb homes rather than hotel rooms to visit our son in Dallas, we have stayed in some very nice homes. Many had been recently renovated, were creatively decorated, and were thoughtfully filled with amenities. We’ve stayed in places that had wall-mounted TVs in every room, surface phone chargers, and an easy-to-use printer. The kitchen was stocked with bottles of water, coffee pods, snacks, and condiments for meal prep. The bathrooms were chock full of fluffy towels, soaps, conditioners, and lotions. The beds were full of pillows and the closets with extra blankets. Binders full of house instructions, favorite restaurants, and nearby attractions. The owners weren’t obligated to provide all this, but we were glad they did.

Most recently, though, we stayed in what I have labeled the “spartan” airbnb. It was sparkling clean. It was well-maintained. It had lots of space for guests. I slept well in the comfortable beds.

Amenities? Virtually none. We could not find one dish towel in the kitchen. We were not able to locate any extra pillows or blankets in the bedrooms. Bath towels were few and far between. There was nothing in the refrigerator. Not a single ice cube in the freezer. One condiment: a salt shaker. Three or four generic coffee pods. Very few knick-knacks or wall hangings. Just a couple of hangers in the closets. No instructions whatsoever for the fireplace, TVs, or internet.

OK, so it wasn’t all bad. The wifi was very fast. The house was a five minute walk from my son’s house. It was the week of Thanksgiving, and the hosts had put up a Christmas tree (although it was sparsely decorated). The home looked exactly like the pictures we had seen.

We had just gotten spoiled.

After I got home, I was surprised to read reviews from guests who described this house as the nicest they had ever stayed in. Obviously these folks hadn’t stayed in too many places.

And I was also amused when I texted the host and asked about check-out instructions. (Remember, there was no binder of instructions.) The only direction was, “Please naked the beds.”

Lol. We did.