Taken a few years ago at some joint on Broadway in Nashville, this was one of several photos with good-looking girls I had never laid eyes on before. It wasn't my birthday, but the Nissan crew was telling every attractive female we encountered that it was. Here's to getting older!

Thursday, August 25, 2016

I Really Hate Covering the Same Ground Twice!

I'm not the kind of guy who welcomes covering the same ground twice. It runs counter to my nature. I am such a slacker at heart, I can barely stand to do something the first time; let alone, go back and do it again.

This goes double for sending off an e-mail to an editor to make a correction in a story that I've already filed or, heaven forbid, one that has already posted. I found myself doing that twice in the past week with two different first-drive reviews that I had to knock out over a 36 -hour period. It's even worse when the error is pointed out to me by the carmaker, as one of my recent errors was. Ouch.

One of the best things about writing for dot-coms is that errors are easily fixed. It doesn't alleviate the embarrassment; but it does mean that, if caught in time, most readers will never be aware of the initial foul up. Unlike print media where the error remains for eternity, only mildly mitigated by a correction in the next issue, online mistakes can be erased. It's still not fun to go hat in hand to an editor bearing the evidence that you are an idiot. Not to mention, it's wasting time that shouldn't have been wasted.

I hate covering the same ground twice.

In that vein, here's a bit of advice: Don't turn 65 if you can avoid it. Here endith the lesson for the day.

Sprinkled within my parade of personal and business trips the past six weeks – and there have been a bunch of them – were all-too-brief periods at home during which I was faced with addressing all the nonsense involved in turning 65, which I will officially do this Sunday. Gasp!

My dad died at age 52 and my mother at 55. Those who know me are aware that I always believed I'd be dead by age 60. Had I known what a pain in the ass it would be to turn 65, I might have worked harder to make that age-60 end date a reality.

At the top of the turning-65-BS-hit list is making the transition from Obamacare to Medicare. I didn't want to participate in Obamacare to begin with. In fact, I didn't its first year, opting instead to pay the $95-or-so fine – and yes my civics-challenged friends it's a fine and not a tax – rather than be just another leech on the butt cheek of society. However, when that fine grew to more than my piddly income dictated I would have to pay in premiums, sadly, I capitulated.

Because I did the math and decided the best way to maximize my Social Security benefits over the long haul was to begin accepting payments at age 62, I didn't have the choice as to exactly which month Medicare would kick in. Without wading too far into the weeds, anyone not already accepting SS benefits at age 65, has a four or five month window in which to sign up for Medicare. Those already accepting SS benefits when they turn 65 are automatically signed up for Parts A & B in their birthday month.

See, you've learned something else today.

Once I was aware that that the Feds were going to enroll me in Medicare this month, I had to take some action. I had a small three-day window the end of July to meet with an independent insurance agent to discuss my Medicare options. There is a lot to digest in this arena.

I met with Marvin Carter of the Carter Agency in Mauldin, SC on the Thursday morning of July 21st. Marvin gave me the basic 411 on my options using an automotive metaphor. Yes, he dumbed it down for me. He sent me home with a hearty handshake and an armload of research materials.

I occupied myself through most of Friday pouring through my Medicare homework and considering my options. Having come to a decision, mid afternoon I called Marvin. I had already discussed with him my jammed-up schedule that had me flying out to a Nissan program on Sunday that was backed against a personal trip to see my family in New Mexico that carried me through the end of the month. He volunteered his wife Bonnie to come in on Saturday morning to meet with me and sign all the paperwork.

The issue was an appointment with Doc Budelmann, scheduled five months earlier that was to take place on August 19th. I wanted to have all my ducks in a row, so to speak, so there weren't any insurance issues in paying for that visit.

Sometimes I make myself laugh.

Then began my quest to cancel my Obamacare policy. What a shit show. I won't bore you with the details of this fool's errand, but it required nearly two weeks to finally determine the agency responsible for processing my cancellation request. Any sane person would think that it's the insurance provider carrying your policy, right? Wrong. Nope. You've got to go the Obamacare exchange. Because it's government, and that this government agency has to sift through the layers and finally notify the insurance provider, my Obamacare policy remains in effect until August 30th.

“So what?” you ask. So what, indeed.

My gut told me to postpone my doctor's appointment until September when all of this would be resolved, but I pressed ahead anyway. Arriving at the doctor's office, my shiny, new Humana Medicare Advantage card in hand, I explained to the doctor's assistant that I was changing insurance providers. After clicking away on her laptop for a while, she reported that both insurance providers were listed as my primary insurance and I needed to choose between them. Despite having to fork over a $15 copay with the Medicare insurance – office visits were free with my Obamacare policy – I opted for Medicare.

Once I got into see the doc, we agreed I would have a couple of tests Medicare requires, as well as a couple of immunizations that Medicare pays for in full. As I cooled my heels waiting to get into the in-house lab to have blood drawn, the doc's assistant tracked me down to double check on my insurance-provider decision. Totally confused, I hemmed and hawed for a few seconds. She said I could have the weekend to think about it. I was to call her on Monday.

Calling, I left a message on her voicemail that I would stick with Medicare. Thinking all was right with the world, I went my merry way. Later that day, I received a call from her that the insurance clerk at the office reported that she couldn't file the insurance-claim request with both insurance companies still designating themselves as my primary insurance. I had to go to my Obamacare provider and get them to designate themselves as my secondary insurer.

Knowing the carrier would just pass me off to the government, I called the Obamacare agency. A 15-minute phone call produced virtually no results. Although the person with whom I spoke was very accommodating, the long and short of it is that they could make themselves the secondary insurer, but it would require about two weeks. Let's see, it's August 23rd and the policy was already scheduled to officially cancel on the 30th....carry the one.... So what good would that do me?

Calling back the doc's office I explained the time issue and offered that if the insurance clerk simply waited until September 1st to file the claim, there (fingers crossed) shouldn't be an issue. Three days later I haven't heard anything more about it. I have no clue if the problem is solved. If not, round three.

Did I mention I hate covering the same ground twice. I really hate it a third time!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

A July I Barely Remember, But Then I'm Old

I'm not the kind of guy who whines about the little things. Well, as a rule I'm not. Of course as the number of years in the rearview mirror continue piling up as those in the future dwindle, things that were relatively insignificant in my thirties are now front-page news in my sixties. Even minor setbacks are viewed through my short-timer's filter.

Yep, there's something about mortality slapping one in the face that makes those little things we used to claim not sweating now cause a flood of perspiration. I just don't believe I have the time to bounce back. I'd probably write more about this, but I can't remember why I started complaining about age in the first place. Forgetting things is one of the “little things” I didn't used to sweat, but now see as evidence that I'm doing some sort of slip-sliding into senility.

I have no clue why I detoured into that pseudo rant on aging other than I'm currently overcome with all the horse hockey involved with turning 65, which I will do the end of this month. It's just extra stuff I must address at at time when I am swamped with other things – most of which I'd much rather be doing.

As only the third Clanging Bell I've written in the past 45 days or so, I have a lot to catch up on. So, without further ado.....

Away roughly 26 days during July, I have fallen woefully behind not only in creating these blog posts, but in writing car reviews for GreenvilleInsider, as well as writing other entries for what was just a year ago, my main focus. That was before Autotrader really cranked up my assignments, Bankrate found me again for some of its automotive and I embarked on my latest Internet endeavor:

Nothing like sunset in The Keys.

First, let's talk travels. I was in The Keys twice, three times if you count the three days I spent with Honda for the media launch of the 2017 Accord Hybrid in Napa Valley in the middle of my first Keys visit. In actual days spent in this wonderful island-like setting, it was about 10 give or take half a day.

Honda Accord Hybrid.
I made that second Keys trip because, well, see paragraph 2 above. I don't go much of anywhere any more that I don't shoot at least one video for just3things. (Yes, there is a lot of gratuitous plugging of just3things in this post.) I had two videos in mind for the Keys visit. I even had made an appointment to shoot one of them at the Sea Turtle Hospital in Marathon. As I was getting ready to head to that interview, I gathered my gear and prepared to check the batteries in my camera and wireless mic.

I should preface this anecdote by telling you that I had already called home to one of my Greenville friends to go to my house, find the lens for my Sony still camera and overnight it to me. Yep. I forgot it. Well, I didn't forget it, exactly. I keep all my cameras and accessories in black padded, drawstring bags. I have a total of maybe seven of them. I threw what I thought was the lens to my camera into my carry-on backpack. It turned out to be my still camera's mic and flash instead. My lens arrived on day 2 of my Keys stay.

Capt. Tim grilling up some burgers on his boat.
So, I'm putting together my gear for the Sea Turtle shoot when I discover that I don't have my video camera. Rather than bringing the video camera, I packed the long zoom lens for my still camera. They are in the same size bag and are approximately the same size. I had judiciously separated the bags I wanted to bring from the ones I didn't want. I must have diverted my attention from that task to some other packing issue. When I returned to pack camera gear, I scooped up all the stuff I wanted to leave at home and tossed it in my backpack. I couldn't shoot a single video.

So, I went back to the Keys to pick up the videos I missed on the first run. 

Me partaking of the Bee Experience at the Carmel Valley Ranch resort on the Nissan event.

In between my Keys visits, I went to Carmel, Calif. for a Nissan media intro of its 2017 Armada, Pathfinder and Titan. A fun, action-packed trip, it yielded four videos and three Autotrader assignments. It was three days well spent.

I had to red-eye back from the airport in San Jose, Calif. to Atlanta. Arriving in Atlanta at 5:30 a.m., I sprang for the $29 for a day pass to Delta's Sky Club. I needed a comfortable chair, as well as some free food and drink. Oh, and the free WiFi didn't hurt either. I hung out watching a few episodes of NCIS that I am currently binge watching and drinking decaf coffee with Bailey's. About 11:30, I boarded a flight for Albuquerque for my brother-in-law's 80th birthday celebration. I arrived there on Wednesday July 27th and flew home on Monday August 1st.

I had a day and a half at home, during which I wrote an assignment for Autotrader, petted the cat and took stock of what a wreck my house was. I hadn't mowed the dirt in five or six weeks, but there had been so little rain, even the weeds that comprise the 80 percent of my lawn that does have something actually growing on it hadn't grown.

On August 3rd, I headed back to the Keys for five more glorious days. Had I a crystal ball, I would have realized a couple of days before this trip that the flying part of it would be an exercise in self control. The night before I was to leave, I mis-set my alarm. For my 6:30 a.m. flight I needed to be up by 4:00 and in my car by 5:00. Please see paragraph 2 above.

I went to bed concentrating on my 5 a.m. departure and set my alarm for, um, 5 a.m. I have a little fat built into my departure times. I skipped my shower and was in my car by 5:15. It's a 10- to 15-min slog to the airport. I always park in the economy lot, but to find a space and then schlep up the hill to the terminal is usually about 20 min. Instead I parked in the close-up parking garage. I managed to check my bag, pass through security and arrive at my gate just as boarding began. I somehow made my flight!

I landed in West Palm Beach around noon on Wednesday. Nissan had a new 370 Z roadster waiting for me. I had time to grab some lunch before my appointment with the Highland Beach Sea Turtle Rangers. I shot that video and was on the road to The Keys by 5:30. Despite slugging my way through Ft. Lauderdale and Miami rush-hour traffic. I was in Islamorada by 8:30. My first stop was Hog Heaven to have a couple of beers with my buddy Capt. Tim. 

Yucking it up at the Islamorada Brewing Company
 I was on the road to Key West by 8:30 the next morning to shoot a just3things video with the Dolphin Whisperer. I met Captain Victoria while on a Keys Tourism press junket four or so years ago. I was there for AAA. The six of us on the event spent an afternoon on her boat. It was a magical experience. I really didn't have a hope she would remember me as I made preparations to contact her. My first step was to go to her Dancing Dolphin Spirits Tours Website. To my surprise, the first sentence on the home page mentioned me by name. Wow, who woulda thunk it?

I was back in Islamorada by 3 p.m. I shot standups for that interview and another I had shot of the Mazda CX-9 a few weeks earlier in San Francisco. I shot that piece before I had a wireless mic that makes a huge difference in audio quality. The audio for the interview itself wasn't terrible, but I was forced to shoot the standups on a street corner in downtown San Francisco. The audio was horrendous.

Here's all you need to know about spending some time in The Keys: It's an ideal spot to drink, boat and relax. I devoted a lot of time to all three.

My trip home, however, was somewhat challenging. First, I forgot (see paragraph 2 above) that I had booked my flights home on Tuesday rather than Monday as I usually do when returning from Florida. Had I not been so harried with all my travels and other concerns, I would have realized Delta hadn't contacted me to check in for my 7:35 a.m. 24 hours earlier. I showed up at the West Palm airport at about 6:15 a.m. on Monday to discover my flight wasn't until the next morning. It didn't really matter, that was the morning Delta's entire computer system crashed stranding passengers, planes and crews all over the place.

I headed back to the friends where I was staying, carried my bags back into the house and did a little work. I made the 10:45 a.m. showing of the latest Star Trek movie in 3D. This was the best exhibition of 3D that I've ever experienced.

My travel day on Tuesday still suffered from the Delta snafu. Arriving at West Palm's airport at 6 a.m., expecting to be faced with long lines and mass confusion, I stepped into the Sky Priority line at the ticket counter. It was manned by my buddy Tony, who was a Skycap at the time I was flying out of West Palm four or five times a month with video crews. He would check the flight manifests of all the flights on his shift looking for regulars. When we pulled up to the curb, he would step away from whomever he was helping and come help us. His tips put a serious dent in my expense account. 

Tony did what he could to get me back to Greenville, but by the time I landed in Atlanta four hours behind schedule, the flight he backed me up on was canceled. I spent nearly six hours in Atlanta trying to get home. I finally scored a standby spot on what was probably the last flight home that night. What a circus. My euphoria at actually getting home was soon dampened when I paid for my airport parking. Remember when I had to park in the garage because I mis-set my alarm. I was hit with a $98 parking tab rather than the $24 I would have paid for parking in the economy lot. Are you kidding me? That was a very expensive goof up.

The following day Delta sent an e-mail notifying me that it was depositing a $200 voucher good toward a ticket into my account. The day after that, it notified me that it was depositing 20,000 miles into my Sky Miles account. I purchased my round-trip ticket to West Palm for 19,000 miles. So, I walked away with the $200 voucher and an extra 1,000 miles. I thought I was doing pretty well until I spoke with a colleague who scored a $1,000 voucher for less of a wait than I had.

Oh well....I'll probably forget all about it anyway.

And as far as goes, the Website developer who is working on it has fallen mute on where we stand. Accessible, it currently has very little content. I am the one tasked with adding content, but can't do it until the developer sends me the instructions. So, it's just sitting there.

I leave tomorrow for a Kia event in Virginia. At least, I think it's tomorrow. Maybe I should double check.