Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Getting An 'A' In Uber

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published February 15, 2017] ©2017
I recently saw an article on MSN about how you can find out what rating Uber drivers have given you. There wasn’t any doubt in my mind that it would be a perfect 5. I only get A’s. I do not do B+.  I am also an Uber driver’s dream: I’m standing out front when they arrive, regardless of the weather. I chat it up with them, am insanely cheerful, always give THEM a 5 and never fail to write a message of praise for their Ubering skills in the comments section. 
So I was stunned – and stunned is actually way too mild a word – to discover that my rating from drivers was 4.89.  WHAAAAAT?????  I’d love to get my hands on that driver (or drivers) who gave me less than a perfect score.  I even gave a 5 to the driver who blasted Christmas music in my ear at 120 decibels AND the one who took me ten miles out of my way. I demand an explanation!
But the app doesn’t provide explanations. Just an average score.
Seriously, this is haunting me. I take Uber a lot. My driving parameters definitely narrowed after a serious auto accident several years ago, and I also don’t like to drive at night.
Personally, I think Uber (and Lyft) are the best ideas of the new millennium. Unlike taxis who aren’t inclined to show up for short hauls, Uber is relentlessly reliable. Over the years I’ve given many elderly women rides home from the supermarket after the cab that the store manager has called for them failed to show up. Normally these women would never have gotten into a car with someone they didn’t know but by the time they’ve been sitting on a folding chair for two hours watching their groceries thaw, stranger murder doesn’t sound too bad. But now there’s Uber.  My whole outlook on aging has changed knowing I will not have to be a supermarket folding chair lady.
And Uber has so many applications! I love to tell the story of my son and daughter-in-law going to a dinner party in L.A. and forgetting the chocolate soufflé that my daughter-in-law, a fabulous cook, had promised to bring for dessert. My son thought he’d end up missing the whole party while he drove back home in L.A. Friday night traffic to retrieve it. But in an inspired moment, he sent an Uber car to his home where the babysitter handed off the soufflé to the driver who delivered it to the dinner party. (For the record, the soufflé gave the driver five stars.)
So now I’m second guessing myself.  Am I TOO chatty? Should I be sitting in the front seat?  Usually I automatically climb in the back except for one time this past December when my uber-friendly woman Uber driver with the heavy Southern accent patted the front seat as I got in and said, “Come sit up here with me, honey!”  Learning that I was headed to a medical center for a scary test, she suddenly raised her head skyward (I was kind of wishing she’d keep her eyes on the road), and began a prayer for me that lasted pretty much the whole trip.  “Lord Jesus, I am here with your servant Inga and I pray that in your infinite wisdom you will spare her!”  (I figured I could use all the help I could get.) But then the prayer took an ominous turn: “But it’s all up to you, Lord, so if you should decide it’s Inga’s time to join you in heaven then—“
WTF?  “Wait!” I said. “Stop talking!” As far as I was concerned, we were good with amen-ing after the sparing part. And fortunately, I was indeed spared. (That driver got the War & Peace of good comments from me.)
So why don’t I have a perfect 5?  Could it be about the tip? (Or lack thereof?)  I confess I do tip sometimes but not always. Uber makes such a big deal about not needing to tip. And it really IS nice not to have to be carrying bills in tip denominations. (Like most people, I live by my debit card.) But maybe this was at least one driver’s way of expressing his unhappiness that I live in La Jolla and couldn’t cough up a tip, my sparkling personality notwithstanding.
I’ve even tried to figure out the math of my 4.89. Was it just one driver who really just wished I’d shut up and gave me a 2? Or maybe a couple of mildly tip-disgruntled 4’s?  But now that I know my score I’ll be rigorously checking my rating after every ride. Goes down and that driver is toast. I have a reputation to maintain.


Monday, February 6, 2017

We Shouldn't Have Done It

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published February 8, 2017] ©2017
I just want to say, there were extenuating circumstances. And if you’re an art collector, please read no further.
When my first husband, a physician, finished his two year commitment to the Navy and opened his private practice, we were really short of money. We’d bought our home on a 100% VA loan, even borrowing the closing costs. My husband had paid his own way through college and medical school, and would pay off medical school loans until he was 48.
So there wasn’t a lot of money for art.  In fact, none at all. The few inexpensive prints we owned were now hanging in his new office leaving the walls of our house totally bare.
A favorite low-cost date for us in the mid-1970s was to go to an opening at one of the small galleries in La Jolla. It was fun to drink some wine and look at the art, chatting it up with some of the other cheapskates who were there for the same reasons that we were.
At one of these openings, my ex and I stood pondering a 3’ x 4’ oil depicting a daisy petal. It was basically an off-center yellow blob on a white background with assorted black and white petals disappearing into the frame. It cost $1,500, a chunk of money at the time.
Now, both of us, to our admitted detriment, had failed to ever take an art history class so we often struggled to understand why a particular work was considered “art” as opposed to a cruel psychology experiment to see who would be duped into thinking this utterly minimalist work (in our uneducated view) was worth that kind of money.
My husband suddenly had an idea. “I think I could duplicate this,” he whispered. Even we weren’t so gauche as to whip out a pencil and sketch it on the spot.  But we were not so gauche as to come creeping back a few nights later after dark when the gallery was closed, press our noses against the glass, and sketch away. 
The next day we stopped off at the art store on Cass St. and purchased a canvas, and some black and yellow oil paints.  As my husband painted, I concluded that the composition lacked a certain pre-Raphaelite je-ne-sais-quoi while he noted that the asymmetrical focal point emboldened the saturation of the petals creating a contemporary but evocative aesthetic with its own stylized drama.  We may not have taken any art history classes but we’d hung around at a fair number of art openings by that time.
Forty-five minutes later, “The Daisy” (as we unimaginatively entitled it) was hanging, still drying, in our guest room. It wasn’t as though we weren’t aware that this was technically art forgery, but we rationalized that we weren’t trying to sell it. We just wanted a little color.
About a year later, we had invited some new friends to dinner, another physician and his wife, also just starting in private practice. We were giving them a tour of our little house and when we collectively walked into the guest room, their eyes were suddenly riveted on the daisy painting. “Where did you get that?” they wanted to know.
And thus we regaled them with the story of seeing this painting at a gallery, deciding it was pathetically easy to copy, and wondering who in their right mind would pay $1,500 for the thing.
As it turned out, they would. And did.
I mean, seriously, what were the odds?  Actually, much higher than you might think, given that we subsequently recalled that we had first met them at an opening of another gallery. It goes without saying that dinner was acutely awkward, and we never saw them again.
While going through a photo album recently, I came across a picture of our guest room in 1977 with the daisy picture hanging over the bed. After the dinner guest fiasco, we knew we should take it down. But we hated to blow our $17 investment.
Ultimately, however, our consciences prevailed and it ended up in an alley dumpster in the dead of night.
Forty years later, I find myself wondering: Is the original of “The Daisy” now a classic studied by art students the world over? Is it revered for its uncompromising timeless boldly-organic vibrancy?  Or is it all about the light?  Are those folks who bought it now lending it out under armed guard to galleries the world over, basking in the prescience of purchasing a piece now worth $2,000,000? 
I’m hoping that the bona fide owners of the daisy painting have long since retired in Jackson Hole and will not see this column.  But if they do: we’re sorry.  We shouldn’t have done it. And I promise: we never did it again. 
The daisy picture hangs in our guest room, 1977

Monday, January 30, 2017

So What's The Worst That Could Happen?

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published February 1, 2017] ©2017
Every family needs a family worrier - a person who worries about everything from world peace to whether we’re out of lunch meat.  Someone, after all, has to worry about whether the house will get robbed, sea level is rising, or one of you will get sick the day before you leave on vacation. I have always been the worrier in my family.
Being a family worrier is an extremely demanding job. Not only do you have to worry about the likely things that can go wrong, but the unlikely things as well.  Of course, in my view, there is no “unlikely.”
To be a successful family worrier, one must subscribe to two fundamental principles.  The first and most crucial is that no matter what anybody else tells you, nature abhors a confident person. The second: Let one disastrous possibility go unworried about and you can just about guarantee it will happen. 
For example, I never worried that the failure of the city to maintain sewer lines after the passage of Proposition 13 in 1976 would result five years later, on January 7, 1981, in a trunk line sewer block in front of our house that routed the entire neighborhoods sewage through our home for almost two hours. Or that the day before Thanksgiving in 2015, hours before the family was descending on us for the holiday meal, a possum would die under my kitchen creating an odor not unlike a barrel of rotting barracuda. Now, of course, both of those are on my regular worry list.
Anxiety disorders run in my family. That’s why I was interested in an article in the San Diego U-T a few weeks back entitled “Mulling the worst: One therapist’s anxiety fix.” Her solution for combating anxiety is to imagine the worst that could happen and then, she’s decided in her inexplicably delusional way, you will realize that even the worst isn’t that bad.
I’m sure this therapist is a very nice lady but I can only assume she’s been out of graduate school for a matter of days. We worriers are world-class catastrophic thinkers. In all modesty, it’s where we excel.
For example, she says, if your kid is anxious about missing the soccer ball during a game, you should sit down with him and ask, would that so terrible?
Hell yes! The other kids on the team will probably never let him forget it, teasing him about it in perpetuity.  If they lose the game, it will be his fault. His teammates will nickname him Klutzoid, a moniker that will stick with him until his octogenarian years.  The coach will stop playing him, and any hope he will ever have at playing up to the next level is permanently shot. Someone will post it on Facebook where it will be immortalized forever and played at his wedding. So, “not so bad”? Hah! I don’t think so!
Another recent article about anxiety in the U-T recommends “motivational self-talk” like “I can do it!”, or “I’ll be fine!” to give yourself the whole ridiculous illusion that we actually have some control in unexpectedly anxiety-provoking situations. I don’t think this therapist travels on airplanes where they make it abundantly clear you have the power of a gnat.
So herein lies the problem.  There’s just too much to worry about these days, and we’re not even counting the new administration.
From time to time Olof has tried to convince me that the worrying itself was not the reason an event went well but my thorough (some have unkindly called it massively obsessive) planning. But then, what does he know?
May I add that being the family worrier is a thankless job.  There you are worrying your little heart out for people, and are they the least bit grateful?
 “Olof,” I said, “I’d like for you to start doing some of the worrying for a change.”
“But I’m not worried,” insisted Olof. Olof says he doesn’t have to worry about anything, not that he’s inclined to anyway. He knows I’ve got everything more than covered.
“That’s exactly my point.  Of course, I’ll still take charge of the global worrying  and the prevention of major disasters.”  I wasn’t sure I’d trust Olof to worry enough to keep the post-earthquake tsunami from dragging our house out to sea anyway.  “But I do think you could take over some of the routine worries, like whether the airport will be fogged in, the stove will crump in the middle of cooking Christmas dinner, or another possum will die in the crawl space under the kitchen the day before everyone is coming for Thanksgiving.
“Really,” he insisted, “what are the odds the possum thing would ever happen a second time?”
And that, of course, is exactly the kind of thinking that guarantees deceased marsupials under your house.

Monday, January 16, 2017

An Explosive Tale

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published January 18, 2017] ©2017
All right, our home can now officially be certified as weird. 
I’ve written about this phenomenon before: the phantom street light in front of our house that both SD G&E and the city claim does not exist. (You can only imagine what it takes to take a burnt-out non-existent street light fixed.) Our quirky address has, over the years, rendered it unfindable by the La Jolla Postal Service, city trash collectors, delivery vehicles, the police, and even our own friends. The only service that routinely found us was Fed Ex.
But now even Fed Ex seems to have gone off into the Twilight Zone. 
One afternoon the week after Thanksgiving, Olof went out for his customary walk while I went to do errands.  When I came home, there was a box that bore teeth marks from what appeared to be a very perturbed Rottweiler sitting in the middle of our front yard.
But hey, it was the holiday season, a lot of seasonal drivers. But still, what a sloppy delivery job! 
I picked up the box and lugged it up to the front door, shifting it to one side so I could get my keys in the lock.  That’s when I notice the words “explosive” and “ordnance” on the label.  I’m thinking, whoa, those Trump folks have no sense of humor! But wait! I haven’t even written that column yet!
The delivery address was 92155 – Coronado.  There was nothing with our name or address even remotely associated with this box.  But I decided that in the meantime, it was going right back outside to the place I found it.
When I came in, I saw that Olof was on the phone.  He cupped his hand over the receiver and yelled , “Don’t touch that box outside!”  Oops, too late! He was alerting Fed Ex Ground to the package.  They didn’t seem overly concerned.  I guess if it’s been on their truck all the way across the country, it can’t be too dangerous. 
We briefly pondered calling the police about it. But that might create more excitement than we wanted. When our older son, Rory, was 12, he made a pretend bomb for two young camo-wearing neighbor kids who liked playing GI Joe. Seriously, he slapped this thing together in about five minutes, wrapping two round blocks from our block set in aluminum foil, adding a couple of green glow sticks, and the face of my swim watch that had a broken band but still ticked, and wrapping the whole thing with masking tape. In Rory’s defense, those guys in the Hazmat suits should have determined it wasn’t a real bomb before they cordoned off the whole area.
So we decided against calling the police. TWO visits from the bomb squad and you’ve got a reputation.
Olof said he’d found the box on the sidewalk in front of our house and had the initial same feeling I did: sloppy delivery drivers. A few days before Thanksgiving, we were delivered someone’s very bulky countertop convention oven. At least there, the first three letters of our name and the recipients were the same even if the address was totally different. Deciding that these ovens were probably not happening on EBay, we restored it to its rightful owner.
But this new box was such a mystery: how had it ended up in front of our house? If it had fallen off a Fed Ex Ground truck, was it even possible that the same truck was delivering in both La Jolla and Coronado?  Even after we concluded that this box was not likely to explode in our faces, we were just as happy to have it stay outside. 
But no, this story was going to read like a bad sitcom. The next morning, our lovely lawn maintenance guy showed up unaccustomedly early and graciously delivered the box back to our front door. Olof wrapped it in a plastic garbage bag and deposited it on a far corner of the lawn and indicated to the totally mystified non-English-speaking lawn guy that he should not go near it. I’m guessing our lawn guy came home that night and regaled his family with yet another story of the strange habits of his La Jolla customers. Why put a box where someone could steal it, he would wonder aloud, shaking his head?
When Fed Ex still hadn’t shown up that afternoon, Olof placed another call to them. He was sure that the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group on Coronado must be wondering where their package was.  So shortly thereafter, a Fed Ex guy showed up and with no explanation whatsoever (probably because he simply didn’t have one), collected this box.
And the story will be added to the on-going lore of this strange house. We’re really pretty sure it’s going to have to be a disclosable when we sell it.
But about those teeth marks…
So how did this box end up at OUR house?
Our bomb-sniffing dog, Lily

Those are DEFINITELY not Lily’s teeth marks. (She only has 6 teeth.)
Box hangs out in the middle of our front yard awaiting eviction
(somebody steal it please!)