Monday, February 22, 2021

When You Gotta Do What You Gotta Do

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published February 22, 2021] ©2021

There are times when you just have to lie. 

All right, I can hear my many lovely devout friends shaking their heads and saying, “No, it is never okay to lie.”   So let this be my mea culpa

I lied. But if I hadn’t lied, I’d probably still have a dead possum in my front yard.

The day started out innocently enough as I hustled the kids out the door to be dropped off at school on my way to work.  I was, at the time, a divorced working parent with two grade school kids.  Getting to my university clerical job was essential to our survival. 

My then-nine-year-old, Rory, was the first to see it:  the huge dead possum lying on its back, feet in the air, in our front yard. 

“Cool!” said Rory, racing over to have a closer look.  “Can I bring it to school for sharing?”

Seven-year-old Henry caught up. “Neat!  Let’s name him Bob.” 

“Do not touch that!” I yelled, in hot pursuit.  I swear this possum looked like it had been happily meandering across the yard then keeled over of a massive marsupial infarction.  Its big eyes were wide open. 

Like most kids of divorced working mothers, my kids were latch key kids after school. I can say this because the statute of limitations is past. It was usually only 15 minutes before I got there. Who can you get to watch your kids for 15 minutes? Neither the school nor my boss were willing to change their hours.

But a lot can happen in 15 minutes.  Especially when you have a child as diabolically creative as my older son Rory.  The Rory stories in our family are plentiful and usually just referred to in family shorthand: “the Jolly Jumper baby brother slingshot disaster,” “the spray painting Henry silver crisis,” “the Jack in the Box ketchup explosion,” “the dropping the big rock down the chimney onto the metal grate two feet from where Mom was reading prank”, “The Cleveland airport debacle” (hopefully the warrant has expired), “the Chinese restaurant fiasco,” “the 15-inch rubber penis in the guest bath during Mom’s dinner party event,” and yes, even “the Bomb Squad incident.” In Rory’s defense, the HazMat guys should have realized right away it wasn’t a real bomb before they cordoned off the area.

Best case, I could see Bob tucked into my bed wearing my nightgown. It was imperative that the possum not be still there when the kids returned.  Rory Home Alone With Dead Possum Named Bob?  There were no good possibilities there.

Turns out that it is not so easy to get rid of a dead possum.  It’s against the law to put it in your trash.  During my lunch hour, I called every agency I could think of who might come get it, even Project Wildlife.  They pointed out that they don’t deal with dead wildlife.  Only live wildlife. Hence their name.   I realized I should have told them it was still breathing. Already my mind was operating in perfidy mode.

But finally I connected with the Dead Animal Recovery Bureau.  And yes, there is one.  Absolutely, they said.  We’ll come and get it.  I was massively relieved.  I gave them my address and noted that the decedent was in my front yard.

There was silence.  “Sorry, m’am.  We don’t go on private property.  We only take animals off of public property.”  And before I could say anything further, he said, “No exceptions” and hung up.

This was a dilemma.  Kids are going to be home from school in three hours, with lead time on me. I told my boss I had a personal emergency and raced home.  Donning rubber gloves I went out to the front yard and surveyed the situation.  Between the yard and the street was a three foot high fence.  There was clearly only one alternative.

Who knew a dead possum could be so heavy?  But once I got a little momentum going (“and a one and a two…”) Bob was airborne. 

Back at work, I was on the phone to the Dead Animal Recovery Bureau reporting a dead possum in the street. I did my best to disguise my voice.

The guy on the phone was suspicious.  “Didn’t you just call?”

“Call?”  I said.

“Well,” he said, “someone just phoned a while ago and reported a dead possum in their yard at this address.”

“Wow, I sure hope it’s not an epidemic,” I replied.  “But this possum is definitely in the street.”  For effect I added, “You might want to report this outbreak to Vector Control.”

When I came home, the kids were distraught that the possum, for whom they had great plans, had disappeared. 

“What happened to Bob?” they asked.

“Some nice animal people came and took Bob away,” I said.  “I’m sorry.”

Well, at least the first part of that line was true.



Monday, February 15, 2021

The Vaccine Rollover

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published February 15, 2021] ©2021

I was going to write about the vaccine rollout last week but my first draft was 25,000 words and they only allow me 800.  But maybe that says it all right there.

As of this writing (February 10), things are starting to look up.  But what a mess the first month has been, especially considering that that the hugely-flawed appointment system was debugged on a bunch of often-techno-challenged senior citizens. When the advice is “ask your kids to help you,” a whole lot of computer science grads should have their diplomas revoked. 

The irony is that while Olof and I belong to, and are eligible to get vaccine from, two major health care networks, neither of them has been able to offer us a vaccine appointment. I was finally able to get my first dose of vaccine from a heath network that has never heard of me.  There is something wrong with this picture.

One of the networks we’re eligible through is using a Fall-of-Saigon approach to appointments.  As they note, they have “over 150,000” members in the 65-75 age group.  So in an Illusion-of-Appointments approach, they sent an email to all of us on January 23 jubilantly announcing that they had acquired 975 doses.  Yes, you read that correctly.

Suffice to say, the system crashed in 70 seconds. 

Three days later, we got an announcement of additional 2,960 doses, then on February 1, 2,000 more. Finally realizing the hostility toward– and futility of  - their system, they now only indicate a non-specified number of additional doses have arrived on a first-come first-served basis.

Our other health network (we’re seriously decrepit so we get health care from two networks) is by invitation only.  This frankly makes a lot more sense than the Illusion-of-Appointments approach from the one above.  The only problem is: we haven’t been invited.  Higher risk patients in our age group are getting priority, which we absolutely agree with. 

I will have to say in defense of our primary health network that they have improved their vaccine scheduling site.  Initially, you would have to scroll through and click on endless pages of “I understands” to even get to the scheduling page where they fooled you into thinking you could actually select a site (or sites) and even a day and time for your first dose.  Frankly, we weren’t all that keen on going all the way to Vista (one of the options).

But every option I picked would come back as saying no appointments available at my preferred location and time.

Finally, I got wise and clicked “anywhere west of the Mississippi (including Vista) during my natural life expectancy” and got back “No available appointments.”  Anytime.  Anywhere.

Now, at least, the site leads with “No available appointments” the second you go log on which saves a lot of time, even if it dashes hope.

Even if you should be so lucky as to get an appointment, no matter how fast you try to get a second one for your spouse, there has been, at least up to this writing, virtually no possibility you are going to get appointments at the same place back-to-back.  So a couple can often expect to make FOUR TRIPS to get your two doses each. 

As far as the Supercenter vaccine sites go, people are uniformly praiseworthy of how efficient it all is once you breach the PetCo gates.  But getting the appointment (which are fortunately now opening up more) and actually navigating the often-massive traffic jam on downtown city streets is another story.  More and more friends have told us that they have simply parked their cars as close as they can get and gone to PetCo’s walk-up station.

The site which opened up to help resolve the appointments problem didn’t work the first day. The 211 phone site for the computer-challenged reportedly (from friends who have tried it) can require hours on hold, until you finally give up and hang up. And ask your kids to help you.

I was also terrified that before we were ever able to get appointments through our two health care providers that they would open it up to the next group – people younger, more computer savvy, with faster fingers.  Patience, as I initially hoped, was not going to be on our side.

Upon hearing that denizens of California’s penal system might be getting priority, we started to think we were going to have to get more creative if we wanted vaccine. Maybe knock over a liquor store? Embezzle from the grandkid’s soccer team? Desperate times, desperate measures.

Fortunately, I was ultimately able to get two appointments at a smaller venue although not on the same day.  Alas, as I was literally getting my shot, Olof got a call that his appointment for the following morning was cancelled.  They were out of vaccine.

And that, of course, is the fundamental problem.  Not enough vaccine.

I checked our main health care provider this morning but still no appointments there.  But then, like a deus ex machina, Olof was suddenly “invited” by the other one to get the vaccine. He’s going this afternoon.

Personally, I’m thinking this whole vaccine program has more rolled over than rolled out. But better days appear to be ahead.


Monday, February 8, 2021

"Get It Done" actually got it done

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published February 8, 2021] ©2021

It is not often that I write an ode to the City of San Diego Maintenance Services.  In fact, this will be the first.  I’ve waited four decades for this moment.

I don’t know who is running the show down there anymore, but the City’s on-line Get It Done app actually, amazingly, seems to get things done. 

When the program first launched in May of 2016, I rolled my eyes, thinking this one more Illusion of Help that the city has been notorious for.

Frankly, I had plenty of reasons to be dubious. For example, some years ago there was a tree on city property that was pushing up the sidewalk alongside my house creating a seriously dangerous situation.  I filed a report with the city’s then-fix-it site. 

Seven and a half years later, a city crew came out. And instead fixed a much lesser sidewalk problem in front of my next-door neighbor’s. 

Historically, there were so many complaints about the city’s appalling inability to fix anything that for a time, the San Diego Union-Tribune set up a hotline where you could post city-related problems that you were unable to get fixed and they would go to bat for you.  But then, for reasons I never determined, the reporter championing this cause disappeared. Moved with no forwarding address? Driven to insanity at the futility of it all?  We’ll never know.

Over the years, I amassed the best collection of San Diego City phone numbers in the entire county. These were numbers that people actually answered as opposed to the ones that were listed in the County phone book or in the newspaper for such services but which rang in perpetuity and never picked up.  In fact, I fantasied that those city numbers actually forwarded to a deserted bunker in Montana.

You knew you had a good number when someone answered with “HOW DID YOU GET THIS NUMBER?” But getting those numbers required considerable guile and cunning, never mind pathological persistence. I possessed all three.

Fast forward to December, 2020.  Right outside our front gate is the access to the water meter for our home. In the 47 years, I have owned this home, I have become adept at removing its cement cover to assess water leaks. Given that our home was built by the lowest bidder after the War, we’ve had plenty of experience with bad pipes.

It’s easy to do. Make sure no water is running in the house (that you know of). Remove meter cover. Avoid black widow spiders who live down there. Take reading. Come back in 15 minutes. If the meter has moved at all, you’ve got a water leak. Tear out hair trying to find it. 

The cement lid over our water meter is probably the original one from 1947. Since it is right in front of our gate and fence, you can’t avoid walking on it. I couldn’t help but notice during the fall that the cement was rapidly crumbling around the edges. It was ominously wobbling when you stepped on it too. Sooner or later, but probably sooner, it would completely give way and someone (us?) would break an ankle, especially in the dark.

On December 27 – a Sunday night over the Christmas holiday weekend, I went on the Get It Done app and posted two photos of the problem and our hopes that the situation could achieve some priority.  By “some priority,” I was hoping for 2022.

So imagine my incredible surprise when I went to put the trash out at 7 p.m. – that would be a mere three hours later – and almost fell over a cone covered by a saw horse over the meter cover.  I couldn’t tell whether I almost fell over because I didn’t expect to see it there or because I was so astonished at the rapid service.  Sunday night on Christmas weekend!

But then, I remembered the seven years it took for the city to fix the sidewalk tree root issue. It was great news that the imminent danger was no longer, but how long would we be stepping into the street to go around it just to access our driveway and trash cans? 

So imagine my astonishment to come home from a black-market hair appointment a mere three days later to find the cone and sawhorse gone, and a brand-new cement water meter cover in its place. 

OK, it wasn’t as though they had to do any cement work or anything.  But still, someone actually showed up and fixed it.

In spite of this recent event, it doesn’t make up for all the appallingly bad service the City of San Diego has provided over the past four decades.  But I am completely and totally dazzled.  With whoever designed this Get It Done app which humans actually look at and act on,

Now if only we could put them in charge of the vaccine rollout. 

                                This meter cover was a broken ankle waiting to happen.
                                                And it was right outside our front gate. 

            Against all odds, the City came out and put barriers over it the same day!

And a mere four days later, a brand new water meter cover!