Friday, September 26, 2014

Scammed!

Back when I was doing customer service for that big bank credit card provider who's name is a simile of the verb for "to run after," I took many a call from hapless cardmembers disputing charges on their card by companies that went by such odd names like Colon Cleaner or PenisBeHardNow.com or shit like that. Right away, I knew they'd been scammed.

These "companies" usually charge a one-time amount supposedly for the product itself then keep charging repeatedly for a subscription of the so-called product that the customer actually never ordered. When reviewing these, sometimes I'd see they got charged multiple times over the course of many months and hadn't noticed until the day they called me. I always thought two things: First, how the hell could they not notice a repeated dubious charge of $49.95 and second, how stupid they were to have probably visited some scam web site offering some bogus digestive aid or erectile dysfunction pills which they often tout as a FREE TRIAL or shit like that.

Well now this shit happened to me. Both the repeatedly un-noticed charges and the origin likely from some phishing spam or the like.

Some "company" has been charging my Barclay VISA card $49.95 not once, not twice but THREE times before I noticed. The one number of the three that I called said it was for a diet aid. Now I do recall nonchalantly googling around for a substitute for the Phen, but I didn't actually visit any of the many fly-by-night, shady-looking "pharmacy" web sites that Google happily provided for me (evil Google enabler of crooks)...or did I? I could have been Drunk Browsing...an act arguably just as dangerous as drunk driving. I won't deny that I've woken up several times with a hangover after a blacked-out night of drinking only to find my wallet sitting beside my desktop keyboard. Oh my.

Well, even if Mr Hyde did foolishly order anything, I'm going to deny it and dispute the charges with Barclay in the morning, of course. I'll change my card out too to avoid any future charges. Unfortunately there's a legit pending charge that I'll have to tag as OK so it can transfer to the new card number.

I wonder if the rep I call will think exactly as I did years ago that I must be some big clueless idiot letting this shit happen. Well now I know better. It can happen to even observant and intelligent card holders too.

Especially those that know how to use credit cards online while shit-faced. Ugh.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

And Then There Were Three

So now I'm down to my last three little blue and white capsules of Phen. I'm planning on keeping them to use as PRNs for those really tough days when I just can't control my hunger. And yes, it can get that bad.

I haven't logged any of my progress since I started this new initiative a month ago but to sum it up in a nutshell, I lost about 20 pounds so far which is not bad considering the shift away from my usual routine because of the trip and one true "slip" just two nights ago when I had four Stouffer's Veal Parmigiana entrees with an oil can of Foster's and a bottle of Chianti. Oopsy.

I think I'm back on track now but I know I'll be challenged again soon. And without my Big Brother Phen helping me in these schoolyard scraps I may get a bit ruffed up. (What a totally oddball metaphor that was!)

But I'll have the Trinity, which is what I think I'll call the three pills, just in case things get totally out of hand. All cower in the presence of my new god, the Phen Trinity.

In other news, I think I may have found my replacement apartment. Much closer to work and almost twice as big as my current apartment, it fits my budget and I think the complex looks great. I'll go Monday to check it out in person but if it looks anything like the model pics online, it should be great. Yes, BTW, I'm going to stay in Florida. The California visit helped me make up my mind. LA would be too much of an adjustment right now. And it may never be a good fit since the sharp disparity between rich and poor, the massively overpopulated urban sprawl and an equally oppressive summertime climate in comparison to Florida make it seem less than the utopia I was dreaming of.

Yesterday I bought the just released "Wasteland 2" sequel to the original granddaddy of classic RPGs which was also the spiritual precursor of the Fallout series. How many hours did I devote to the original Wasteland and the Fallout games that followed? Countless. So I expect my weekend will be entirely devoted to this new game. I may need a pill to help keep me awake so I can play non-stop.

And then there were two.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

TRAVELOGUE: Los Angeles Vacation, Hollywood Revisited

Although LACMA had much more to offer, I only saw a little bit more from the other collections. (Oddly, just like the New Orleans Art Museum I visited a few years ago, I noticed in the rooms the really priceless art (Picasso, Monet, Warhol, etc.) was located, there seemed to be less of a guard presence.) By mid-afternoon, my body was giving out and after looking at my sweat-soaked shirt and beet red face in the restroom mirror, I decided I needed to call it a day. Damned I was pissed. Was this my prior day's drinking or my chronic health issues or my obesity or the heat? Or maybe all of the above.

Then to make matters worse, as I prepared to get on the bus back to downtown I felt for my Metro card, which still had a good $12 or $11 on it and it was gone. Sure enough, as I had to let the bus pull away, leaving me on the sun-baked curb, I realized I'd somehow lost it. I had cash but nothing smaller than a ten so I had to go to the 99 Cent or Less store, passing a particularly pungent homeless guy in the aisles, to buy a bottle of water so I could get change for the bus. I caught the next one and luckily it had one seat available but I had to pry my fat self in-between a tough-looking Hispanic guy sleeping slumped on the seat and a burly black dude with a hard hat. As we passed by the famous MacArthur Park, I saw all the people trying to escape the heat, jammed, and I mean jam-packed along the tread-bare grassy knolls, litter-strewn pathways and graffiti-covered picnic tables. Not meaning to sound racist, but it was a sea of black and brown. This was the real LA.

The next day, my last full day in LA, I scaled back my plans since I realized recovery from my symptoms was going to be slower than I expected. I woke up still feeling like crap and, as I expected, I was again weak and a sweaty mess throughout the day. So instead of Exposition Park and the Natural History Museum, instead of historic downtown LA and instead of Santa Monica Pier, I opted to use the easy (and somewhat cleaner) transit mode of the subway and went back to Hollywood. But again I was overcome by the heat and my ability to endure even a walk from Highland to Vine, maybe a quarter of a mile, was just about all I could muster.

I did make it, kinda by accidentally stumbling on it, to the In and Out Burger I'd planned on visiting and had a really good cheeseburger with fries there. But it was extremely crowded and by this point in this adventurous week, I'd had my fill of crowds. I can hold my social anxieties at bay only so long before I start to feel paranoia and threatened by throngs of people. I was way over it.

After lunch, I decided to go to the famous Cinerama Dome theater (now Arclight Theater) and chose whatever movie was available which was "The Drop" which I think was James Gandolfini's last film. It wasn't that bad. Normally I would have waited for a movie like this to come out on Netflix but it was okay. The only other option available at that hour was "Dolphin Tale 2".

When buying my ticket the cashier held up what looked to be a tablet computer showing an diagram of the theater seating and asked me to select which seat I wanted. Aside from the obvious foolishness of having assigned seating for a half-empty matinee showing, I swear that the hipster millennial actually rolled his eyes as he flatly told me "Sir, it's not a touchscreen." when I attempted to press my preferred seat on the screen. On closer examination it turned out this display was just a tablet-sized backlit sign and I was supposed to just tell him the seat number verbally. Really Mr. Smartass Cashier? How low-fucking tech is that? It's your generation that got us used to the touchscreen-everything existence all around us. Roll your eyes at me like I'm a moron again, I'll show you what a "clueless" middle-aged dinosaur can do to you. Well, of course I didn't say that...out loud that is.

After the movie, the timing was right for one more activity, but I was still physically depleted. Partly because it would have meant another $50 or so in cab fare and partly because of how I felt, sadly I had to give up one of the venues I'd been most looking forward to for this trip...going to see Griffith Observatory. And as for my dream of hiking up to it...seeing it high up on its mountain peak in real life made me realize that even in great shape I doubt I could do it. I could also spot what I assumed was Runyon Canyon trail from Hollywood Blvd. and I have no idea how people can do it. Just the fear of heights alone would prevent me from doing it, let alone the physical requirements.

Here are some of the final shots I took of the Capitol Records Building, Hollywood and Vine, the Cinerama Dome (Arclight), the Pantages Theater and an ornamental display of old style movie cameras at the subway entrance on Hollywood at Vine. Also, a near rush-hour shot of the 110 Freeway downtown.






TRAVELOGUE: Los Angeles Vacation, The Grove And LACMA

Passing out while watching a movie in bed the night before hadn't accomplished anything positive. At least I wasn't too hungover, but it certainly didn't help my dehydration. The focus of the whole day would be on enduring the again relentless sun and drinking lots of fluids. I must have drank a gallon of bottled iced teas, lemonades and iced water throughout the day, and, probably a good indicator of dehydration, I didn't pee much out and not until evening. I vowed that this experimentation of reacquainting myself with drinking, under the excuse of "vacation," wasn't a great idea. So I had no more.

I was determined to make the best of it though and set out around 9:30 for LACMA, the art museum the tour bus went by yesterday. Here are some shots of the streetscape on the way from the hotel to the Metro station. Cool sculpture at the entrance to the Ernst & Young Building. Not sure what the office workers passing this each day think about it. To me, it seems to be making a "head in the sand" reference to the idea of the mindless corporate drone white collar worker archetype.




The subway only goes as far west on the Purple Line under Wilshire Blvd. to Wilshire and Western. I had to get out there and continue down Wilshire to Fairfax via bus. LA buses are horrible. Old (compared to Orlando's new LYNX line) and poorly air-conditioned. The buses, like the subway, and so many sidewalks also have the ever-present homeless too. I knew there would be a sizable and visible homeless population before arriving, of course, but the numbers are daunting, even when compared to my experiences of New York City. I really don't think I could endure seeing this day-in and day-out. And, sorry, but some of them reeked so bad, what with my already queasy stomach, I was nearly losing the banana I had for breakfast.

I got off at Fairfax and feeling a bit better after a block of walking in the fresh air and shade, I decided first to head over to the Farmer's Market and The Grove. Again I was surprised to find the walk a lot farther than I'd planned out weeks ago on Google Maps. And much of it was shadeless. So I was again feeble, sweating and tired. 

I thought low-blood sugar may have something to do with it too so I decided to have a fairly hearty lunch of a grilled BLT and fresh-squeezed lemonade at Short Order, a small overly-pretentious eatery just on the outskirts of the Farmer's Market. The wait staff seemed to take it personally when I had them take back the "diet Coke" I'd ordered since it was some local brand diet cola, not diet Coke, and was a flat, chemical-tasting assault to my taste buds. This place was a bit "organic, all-natural, local grown" hippie-dippy and the soda was undoubtedly a beloved hand-crafted, all-natural soda maker. Well, maybe it was naturally carbonated by Mother Nature's farts, but it definitely was sweetened with the decidedly un-natural artificial sweetener saccharin. The lemonade I ordered to replace it was pretty good although it tasted just like a Mike's Hard Lemonade without the alcohol. The BLT...well, how can you fuck up a BLT? Well, come to think of it, the bacon was way overdone. Aw hell, the lunch sucked. And at $17 for a soft drink and a sandwich, before tip, it was overpriced too.

As I made my way into the alleyways of the Farmer's Market proper, I saw multiple concessions I could have ordered good eats at. Damn!

I took a couple of pics of the stalls at the Farmer's Market but they came out very blurry so I didn't include them. Instead, here's a few pics of The Grove, the somewhat posh shopping/dining area adjoining the Farmer's Market. The trolley is an operational one, but it runs only back and forth from The Grove to the Farmer's Market...a short walk even in my condition so I saw no reason to ride it. The old-tyme car is outside the Farmer's Market.





Made my way in the brutal sunshine back down Fairfax to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) which had this long walkway under this huge boulder. (Notice the people under the boulder in the first pic as size reference.) Cool looking, but as I was making my way up the walkway from the gully under the rock, in the searing heat, I was grunting and sweating like a pig. 



Before entering the museum proper, I opted to view a special exhibit by a minimalist artist who set up one huge room with special lighting and covering designed to reflect the ambient colorful light to create quite the visual equivalent of an acid trip. I was made to take off my shoes and don little white gauze foot protector slipper-things and stepped up a few stairs into this room which was sloped, had no discernible boundary between floor, walls, and ceiling and had a glowing portal at the far end, down the slope, that the docent said would have a four-foot drop off and I was cautioned to avoid. It took only a couple of minutes and I was again thoroughly dizzy and nearly nauseous. Great, just what I needed.

In the Contemporary Art building there were some interesting pieces and this huge glass-walled room-sized elevator (which also made me more queasy). On the top floor there was a walkway to the outdoor stairs which, despite the slight vertigo to add to my symptoms, afforded these views...note the Hollywood sign again off in the distance.


TRAVELOGUE: Los Angeles Vacation, Tour Bus: Hollywood And Highland

Back to where we started, I hopped off the bus and made my way into the Hollywood and Highland shopping complex. Looks cool and it's only been around less than a decade or so. Third shot is from a walkway on the third level of the outdoor mall where you get a pretty good view of the Hollywood sign again. Notice the last pic...it's a vending machine. But not your usual vending machine, this is Hollywood after all. It sells caviar in various sizes. I don't know how much, it wasn't listed, so I guess it's like the saying goes: If you have to ask the price, you can't afford it.






Here at Hollywood and Highland I had lunch at a Mexican chain restaurant I'd never heard of before (Cabo Wabo Cantina). Maybe it isn't a chain but the service and the food certainly seemed like it. I wasn't very impressed, but I was craving some draft Dos Equis so....

After a couple of odd-tasting tacos, three beers, and the after-effects of hours in the sun, I was starting to feel queasy. And this feeling stayed with me pretty much throughout the week. Light-headed, physically drained and sweating profusely I was reminded of my struggles during the Washington, D.C. vacation a few years ago. I slowly crept along Hollywood Blvd. cringing with every step wondering how people around me were dealing apparently so well with the blazing heat. For me, it was torturous. By 3pm I decided I could take it no more and headed back to my hotel...and the adjustable room AC, cranking it up high. I stopped by Target at the FigAt7th shopping complex on the way from the subway and picked up a sandwich and another Sierra Pacific six-pack, figuring an early night of HBO and booze would make me feel better in the morning.

TRAVELOGUE: Los Angeles Vacation, Tour Bus: LACMA/Tar Pits

Our bus headed slightly south and eventually east of Beverly Hills passing by the city's large art museum and the nearby La Brea Tar Pits. I'd planned on visiting both the next day but could only muster the art museum. Oh well. I have a feeling if you see one tar pit you've seen them all. In the last pic, as we head back to Hollywood Blvd. we can just about make out the iconic Hollywood sign. If you click on the pic, it's easier to see in the enlarged photo.





TRAVELOGUE: Los Angeles Vacation, Tour Bus: Beverly Hills

No glimpse of Donald Sutherland (ala 1983) or even his now famous-in-his-own-right son Keifer on Rodeo Drive but it otherwise looks pretty much the same. Didn't check out any of the stores, of course. Pretty sure they're a tad more expensive than Walmart.







TRAVELOGUE: Los Angeles Vacation, Tour Bus: Sunset Strip

Interesting fact I learned from the English-accented recorded guide was that Sunset Blvd. is the very Western part of the famous Route 66. Here are some shots of the venues along it, many famous in their own right. I like the marquee tribute to Joan Rivers in the first pic. The shot of the empty lot just shows how construction here means literally carving out a spot from the side of a hill. Also, there's a shot of some of the Hollywood Hills houses looking down at the little people. Second to last pic shows the smog-shrouded skyline of downtown LA off in the distance.











TRAVELOGUE: Los Angeles Vacation, Tour Bus: Hollywood Boulevard

Stepping out from the depths of the subway I noticed two things right off the bat. One was the throngs of people, both tourists and hucksters. This was not like I-Drive, it was more like the Las Vegas Strip. Wide-eyed tourists were ambling about taking pictures of everything including stopping foot traffic in mid-stride in order to take a photo of their favorite star's, well, star. It is the Walk of Fame, of course. And the endless barrage of barking street vendors, costumed characters, avant-garde artists, tour promoters and the would-be "50-Cent" wannabes thrusting their demo CDs at you. Sensory overload! The second thing I noticed was that the temperature seemed ten degrees hotter in Hollywood than downtown. Now I'm sure that's hyperbole but it felt like it. Could also be the fact that considering my wrong-way start, I'd been underground, more or less, for almost an hour during the late morning when it was getting hotter.

Heat not withstanding, since it was a "dry heat" I felt I could, as a Floridian used to things like hot weather, stand for a nice little open-air bus tour for a couple of hours...with no hat or sunscreen. Boy, was that stupid. I was red as a lobster by 2pm and already feeling the side-effects of sun sickness and dehydration which would come to plague me for the rest of the week! Temps were in the upper 90's all week and let me tell you, it's worse, IMHO, than Floridian heat. In Florida, on most days, you have a cloud or two, often many more, that provides a little relief from the blazing sun. Not in LA. No clouds all day, every day. Just the roasting rays of the unrelenting sun. Plus, in Florida, everything is SUPER air-conditioned. Buses, stores, restaurants...everything. In LA, it's a maybe. Many places pre-date air-conditioning so what's installed is either inadequate or of poor quality. Other's heed to the current energy conservation trend due to the energy crisis which has always seemed to plague California so they lower AC down to only 78 degrees.

But while I was on the bus tour, I did have a good time. The seats were tight (Are planes and buses getting smaller or am I getting?...No, shudder the thought.) but it wasn't crowded and though it was a pre-recorded tour guide pointing out sights along the way, the voice actor did a good job and the information was interesting enough. Now, after all is said and done, was it worth $44? Hmmm. Chalk it up to whatever the market will bear. Plus, I didn't plan wisely enough. Since it was a hop-on, hop-off transit stopping in numerous locales throughout greater LA and was good for 24-hours, I could have used it as transportation to various sights sans public transit. I only rode it for the two hour tour around Hollywood. Ah well, in any event here's what I saw as we made our way along:





TRAVELOGUE: Los Angeles Vacation, Good Morning, LA

My flight to LA from Orlando was non-stop, quick (~4.5 hours) and aboard one of my favorite planes an A320 (sleek and smooth) but the seats were tight (though it was Virgin, the hip and cool carrier, methinks Virgin America is their budget line, so we were packed in) and the AC inadequate. The uncomfortably warm plane ride would be a foreshadow of things to come as it turned out.

The view from my window seat as we landed was very cool, it was just after sunset and the whole LA area basin was laid out in a twinkling electric light carpet. It was just about 8pm local time after disembarking and I was lazy. Rather than take the FlyAway bus to downtown as I'd planned ($8), I hopped into a cab ($60), and after my check-in at the hotel which required a $20 cash deposit for the room key (yes, an actual metal key), all my pocket cash was gone. Man, LA was going to be expensive.

The hotel (really a motel) was not anything fancy. I wouldn't even put it in the same class as a Quality or Comfort Inn. But it was much like a Motel 6 with a family-run feel. Not bad at all. You just had to look past the 1950's tile in the bathroom, the mismatched furnishings which included two office desk chairs and the blood red carpet which was at least three decades old. Oddly, they had installed granite counter tops in the bathroom and the bed was quite comfortable. My main complaint was the virtually non-existent "free wi-fi" they'd advertised. Oh it was free alright, but could you use it with its paltry signal...not so much. I think one of the neatest things about the place was its location. This was the main reason I chose it since I was using public transit and was centrally located. As you can see from the photos I took from my balcony chair, it was smack in the heart of downtown LA.




I was pooped from the flight and only went to the nearby 7-11 to get a sandwich and some beverages (yes, beer, but more on this issue later). Woke around 6am the next morning, took the above pre-dawn and post-dawn shots and watched LA Live for a while after walking back to 7-11 for some coffee and eventually set out to visit Hollywood. I found the entrance to the 7th St./Metro Center subway just down the road as I'd planned out via Google Maps but didn't realise until two days later that I'd walked right past the entrance on Figaroa St. which was a block closer than the Flower St. entrance I used. Also, I somehow got on the Red Line train going in the wrong direction and ended up here (pic below) Union Station. Ugh. I'm losing my tracking skills. Soon enough though I was heading in the right direction and a short time later arrived at the Hollywood and Highland stop.