Augustus

Author Archives: Augustus

Water, Water everywhere, nor any drop to drink

Hurricane Harvey hits Roam

Hurricane Harvey put a literal damper on our travel plans for September. The Labor weekend bizcation to the Bay Area was cancelled as we couldn’t get out even if we wanted to. Hobby airport was closed.

The flights were automatically refunded by Southwest and hotels were well within the cancellation window. The one item that left us about $500 out of pocket was for one family trip around San Francisco that Mrs C had booked with her debit card. Even though we had notified them of our situation they said they were non-refundable in any circumstance but they would talk to the manager. We did not get a return call after this and since we had other things to worry about, we kind of forgot about it. Probably if we had used the appropriate credit card, it could have invoked travel insurance.

The flood also totaled both of our cars. I had seen the streets outside our houses start to flood so I moved them to higher ground but ‘higher’ was only relatively higher. My insurance company Progressive, took at least two weeks to get back for me after I filed a claim. One friend who had USAA got his check in 3 days. While I appreciate Progressive were busy they could at least have sent a periodic email that I was in the queue and not forgotten. People in customer service could not give any insight into when the inspector would come. In the end, they didn’t. I just had to submit photographic evidence with the Progressive App so not sure why they couldn’t tell me that earlier.

Getting a car rental was interesting. When I first checked for any rental cars, there was none available in the area. I thought it strange that AVIS were not showing up and when I checked, it didn’t show the local depot as being open on any day. I tried again a few days later and wow, not only was it open but it had a selection of cars. I went for simple regular car and put in a noon pick up time.  When I got the store, it had lines going out the door. I was dismayed to find out that it was a 2 hour queue just to get the paperwork counter and then 1 hour wait to retrieve the car. Avis Preferred counted for nothing as they had manual sign in system. When I eventually get called the front, I hand over my licence and credit card and hear the rep saying my class of car is not available. Since I’d also heard them tell someone over the phone that they were all out of cars, I piped up with “Give me anything with four wheels” as I just needed transport. This flexibility and the fact that I had been friendly to them earlier during the sign off, got me a serious upgrade. “Would a RAM 1500 be ok?”

A pick up truck was the best thing they could have said since the area was still flooded ! Not only that but it was ready outside the office so I avoided another line. Moral of this is to be yourself (unless you are naturally a dick) and be flexible in situations like this. Having a hissy fit about a wait that is clearly beyond the control of the local staff or bitching about their particular car type that they normally get, was not helping people. I had the truck for a month and was pleased to find out I was only billed the rate of a cheaper model even after I had extended the time of return twice. I got it for about 1/3rd of the price of if I had explicitly booked that vehicle class.

One thing I didn’t check was the CDW insurance. Amex covers it when I book with my card however, it excludes certain types of cars – full size SUVs, trucks and luxury cars. I wonder if it would have been covered since I did not request that type of car and AVIS gave me that truck. Anyhow, I was pleased to find out I never needed to find out that answer.

What else? The car buying experience but that is for a future post.

The Summer of our discount tent

This about sums up our summer

This summer ended up being as Caligula would put it, ‘a complete horrible anus’. It stated going south in June when Mrs Caesar had jewelry and her laptop pilfered after Delta forced her to check it in her hand luggage at the gate at Milwaukee airport. Mrs C was travelling First Class with her dog (which she had paid quite a bit extra for) and had done the MKE to IAH route with the pampered pooch many times. This time however, the gate agent insisted that the dog in its carry bag counted as one piece of hand luggage and with her purse, she had used up her allowance. Even though the dog obviously wasn’t going to go in the overhead, it still didn’t matter. Her backpack needed to be checked in despite vigorous protestations about it containing valuables. “Don’t worry. It will be safe” the agent said.

But it wasn’t. The flight was a connecting flight and with weather delays, the luggage sat for a very long time in Atlanta. At the IAH carousel, it was obvious all  her luggage including those checked, had be disturbed. While lost luggage clerk was somewhat sympathic with a now visibly upset Mrs Caesar, the later Delta customer service agents that she delta with were far from it. After many hours dealing with Delta’s online reporting system which would go down mid-entry, the claim as I expected, was denied. “We do not cover jewelry or electronics” in checked luggage even if we forced you to check then in.  But still Mrs C flies with them despite my advice to ‘F’em: fly Southwest’. For this,  I will give Delta a “Feed them to the Lions” classification due to their lack of concern about baggage theft in their operation in their main hub of Atlanta airport. They don’t care. I very much doubt it was MKE or IAH end as there bags were mainly on the plane.

The other big event of the summer, impacted all of Southwest Texas : Hurricane Harvey. In late July we moved house. In late August, we were flooded with  18 inches of water and lost both cars. We are temporarily displaced and staying in Mrs Caesar’s sister’s villa. The Palace is being repaired but Roam lost our main computers which held my software, passwords and information. Our backup drive also got flooded.

Some things in life are bad, they can really make you sad. Other things just make you swear and curse. When you’re chewing on life’s gristle, don’t grumble, give a whistle. And this’ll help things turn out for the best…and..

Augustus.

Mind the Gap

Car dealers eh? Wikipedia commons licence

With 127k miles on the clock, my 2010 runabout was courting some major repairs. I’ve been topping up the AC more frequently now as there is a slow leak happening and with summer rapidly coming up, I needed to do something about it.  Besides, the poor old thing is looking a bit battered having survived a deer hit, a wild pig hit and a few other scrapes.  Being a realist, I decided it was time for a new car.

The problem with buying a car is that I detest the car dealers and their sales gimmicks.

To prepare myself, I wanted to go in knowing roughly what I wanted, what I was prepared to pay and how I was going to pay for it. I researched different options online, I read reviews, I checked out what prices were going at in different sales channels and looked at what inventory was out there. I’d even pre-arranged an auto loan with my credit union where I surprised to find no difference in rates given for new vs used (They used to be slightly better for new.) Continue reading..

Uber convert

You say you want a revolution. Well, there’s an app for that.

Since I’ve talked about AirBnb in my previous post, I should amention that I’ve been a user of another ‘sharing economy’ darling in the past few months : Uber.

I used Uber to drop me home after getting rid of the MB leased car.

I used them to take me to the airport where I was going to Milwaukee for thanksgiving and to avoid the parking nightmare. By co-incidence, the driver was from Wisconsin so I got a few tips from him of what to see etc. As a side note, the officials at Hobby Airport pounced on him for documentation as soon as I got dropped off and even after I’d checked in my luggage about 10 minutes later, I could see out the window he was still being questioned. Not sure what that was about.

I used Uber in Milwaukee to get to / from downtown. The ability to send the driver a text – when the GPS address for your restaurant is nonsense – worked great. On the app map showing the driver, you could see them driving to you, then obviously overshooting and going the other way.

One feature I liked was the quote before hand to do a ‘what if’. I wanted to know the price of an Uber from Milwaukee to Midway airport  – around ~$120. I compared it to AVIS one way where the car rental gave me ( with a very good AWD#) and it was around $55. Obviously with this, I went to AVIS. When I checked the car in, I was dismayed to find out that they’d charged me per mileage charge where bill came to $108. Bloomin’ bunch of Sock cutter$. If I add in tolls, gas and CDW then Uber would have been cheaper.  Even if it had been cost neutral, I would have not had the hassle of driving for 90 minutes and getting to the MKE airport to pick up the car.

As for AVIS and the discrepancy, I later I checked out why I had not flagged this earlier as I darn well knew about the potential for one way add ons. I looked and the AVIS booking site was blank about mileage but when I looked at the confirmation email, it calls it out as $0.40 per mile. Buggers.  Today, I just looked at the same AVIS website today, and it does now call it out (@ $0.28 per mile). So Caveat Emptor (or Emperor..) and all that with my miscalculation on the 1 way rental but it still illustrates why bother with that option : Just get an freakin’ Uber assuming their prices stay where they are. I mention this as they continually monkey with fare structures.

The thought of getting a regular taxi driver when Uber is an option, does not appeal any more. I’ve had my fair share of rides with filthy cars overflowing with cigarette butts going to a destination with no idea what the final charge will be and they’ll only take cash at the end. The days of taxi’s are done in areas legally serviced by Uber, Lyft or their counterparts.

Long like the revolution !

PS: I am not ready to give a full thumbs up to Uber as I don’t trust Mr Kalanick past the future IPO.

First experience of AirBnb: Big thumbs up

“I dream of Weenie” van : 5 points/ East Nashville. Copyright Roads-2-Roam

When we went to Nashville over Christmas, I used AirBnB for the first time. Christmas in Nashville is the calm before the New Year party storm when prices in hotels go nuts around 28th. We were visting the Daughter I and her family with Daughter II plus family coming in for a few days

There was plenty of accommodation in hotels around $100 per night for the dates we wanted 12/22 to 12/28. To do something different, I even thought about checking out Gaylord resort to see what it was all about. After reading some of the devil in the details from some reviews and with it being about $200+ per night plus all the tacked on fees, I decided against it.

As so it was that I seriously looked into AirBnB and saw a nice 12 bed house not too far from where daughter I lives. Price was around $200 which with 12 bed which meant that daughter II and her family could stay with us. However, by the time our wider family got our act together, it was already booked.

Liking the idea of AirBnB, I continued to look with houses around $200 or less. Looking at the maps, I found one 8 bedroom that was for $118. I almost skipped it thinking is must be a hovel but curiosity go the better of me..I looked at other dates outside my desired times and saw that it was normally double this price. I just happened to be looking for my dates and the owner had bombed rates to fill an empty block. It was in East Nashville in the 5 points district and reviews were very positive. Boy, it looks like for once being dysfunctional meant we’d lucked out !

The house turned out to be better than our expectation:  Mrs Caesar, the kids, the grandkids and our dogs (I forgot to mention that I brought the two Roaman hound dogs) all loved the house. A two story with 4 bedrooms with all the mod cons that in some instances were better than our home. The 5 points is a mixed neighborhood that it is being progressively gentrified.  It had a back garden that we took advantage of – the weather was 73F !

There were some great bars and restaurants that within 5 minutes walking distances: Thumbs up to 5 point pizza (we went there twice) and Drifter’s Tennesse BBQ. I got a kick out of seeing “I dream of weennie” –  a hot dog van that has some great ratings – but it’s opening times and our schedule didn’t work out this time.

The owner of the house was very customer orientated. I think the only thing we wanted for is milk for the coffee.

Overall, my first experience with booking with AirBnB was very positive. It was a very cost effective for groups if you stay for a few days. The cost threshold will be the one off cleaning fee which in our case was $140. I especially liked it that it was a far more personable that a hotel.

Our verdict on Airbnb: Thumbs up.

I will do AirBnB again but only the ‘complete house’ option. Can’t see I want to do the rent a room or even a couch.


 

Postscript 28th Jan 17: Maybe it is a sign of their perceived success or economic arrogance, but the same house is now asking for $292 per night on AirBnB. I think that is a a bit extreme for what we got.

Crash test dummy

“mmm, mmm. mmm. mmm.” wikipedia Creative commons 3.0

After over 30 years on the road, I blew my clean driving record by running into the back of someone in my car.

I was taking off from red light and looked down to put my hot drink in it’s holder and when I looked up, the traffic had stopped. I slammed on the brakes but knew that it was not enough distance to stop.

Wham . Thankfully no airbag.

Behind me I heard screeching of brakes and I braced for impact. The skidding sound continued and a white car mounted the median and its front appeared right next my door.

I wait a few seconds to make sure nothing else is happening then look all around and with it being silent I get out.

I first walk around to check on the driver in front of me is who was driving an old black Honda. After confirming he is unhurt and like me, pretty shaken up, I apologized and shook his hand. He was a 20 something hipster with two massive ear plug piercings.

I tell him, I’ll get my insurance details. Meanwhile I walk back to my car and see the female driver behind me inspecting it so obviously, she must have hit mine. I’ll come back to her I thought.

I gave the hipster my drivers licence and insurance card. He takes photos on his phone and since it was obviously his first accident, he didn’t know what to do next. He started routing around the car for his insurance details and said something about it being his wife’s car and didn’t know where his documents were. I told him that since I’d run into him under Texas law, there is no need for that as I didn’t need them.

We went out to inspect his car. It was surprisingly undamaged. He pointed out a few things on the back bumper and admitted that they were already there. We looked at mine and it was similarly undamaged.

Meanwhile, I looked at the driver behind me. She’d left the scene.  So much for getting her details then.

The hipster didn’t seem to want to call the cops and since I was at fault, I wasn’t going to suggest it either.

He took one final picture of my number plated for his records and I sent him a text with my phone number on it. I said that if he was to go want to claim for repairs, then contact me before hand as if it was a relatively low dollar amount, I would want to settle with him in cash rather than go through the insurance. He said he’d do that.

It’s been over a week now and I have not heard any more so I presume he isn’t going to take this further.

This bring back a memory where a few years ago, I had a young latina run into the back of me at a road junction in the same car. I suspected she was texting (or was a bit stoned since she was rather not with it). I exchanged details and photo’s of the small amount of damage with her and since I was not hurt, I did not call the PoPo.

Later in the day, her father called me to apologize and asked me if I could get it repaired ‘by knocking the dent out’. He said he would pay for that and since his daughter was new to driving, he didn’t want her driving record to get an insurance hit so early on. I agreed to look at it since it was not much damage.

I took it to some places and it became clear that to get this small amount of damage in-situ repaired was not possible: The only option was a replacement of the plastic housing and quote given was north of $1000 with labor etc. Suspecting a repair rip off, I took it to a different place came in at the same ball park amount.

After thinking about it, I decided to cut the young texter a break. I already had some damage on the front from hitting a deer, then a few days later, a wild pig. So why was I then bothered about a relatively small dent in the back. I had daughters in the same age group so forget it: I was not going to push further on the claim as > $1000 was clearly a ridiculous amount.

So perhaps this is my crash karma and I am benefiting from my no-claim it backward.  Hipster, you are next.

NYE: You were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off

The mini-firework display at Sugar Land’s kids’ celebration. More mini than fireworks.

Maybe it is because they are saving their denarii for the upcoming Superbowl but Houston did not put on any official celebration activities to see in the new year.

Perhaps this is why so many people headed to Sugar Land city center for their “New Year’s eve on the square”. Friends of the Caesar’s suggested we go out to dinner then take the kids down to see the Children’s celebration which would end with a kid’s firework display at 9 am.

We ate Mediterranean food which everybody liked including the fussy kids, parked near Macy’s mall* and walked about 10 minutes which got there around 8:30. The street entertainment was something different and we liked it.

9 o’clock came and the fireworks started and they were impressive. Then it all stopped after what felt like about 1 minute. No build up. No finale. It just stopped.

Huh? While it was billed as a ‘mini’ firework display where the main one (the ‘adult’ one) to begin at midnight, it was an anti-climax.


It reminded me of the San Diego July 4th 2012 firework display where someone buggered up the wiring so where the entire 18 minute display went up simultaneously so it lasted all of 15 seconds ! See the LA  Times:

The Big Bay Boom is advertised as one of the largest fireworks shows in the nation, and boasts about attracting half a million spectators. The pyrotechnics are launched from five barges in the San Diego Bay, and this year’s show – the 12th annual spectacle – was advertised by the port as being “bigger and more intense than in past years,” and organizers set up free buses and shuttles to handle the crowds of spectators. About a dozen bayside hotels offer special Fourth of July rates just so customers can watch the show from the comfort of their rooms.

The explosion was so bright and loud that some viewers initially thought the barges containing the fireworks had caught on fire. “Oh my God. Look at that. Is that supposed to happen?” said one person, whose comments were captured on a YouTube video. “I think a yacht blew up,” @BENBALLER tweeted, along with a photo that appeared to show a breathtaking number of fireworks simultaneously exploding.

“I waited 3hrs in the cold and payd $12 for parking & got one little explosion?” tweeted @aj521z.“Best part about #bigbayboom fail is that EVERYONE has always wondered what would happen if all fireworks went off at once,” tweeted @richandcreamy.

In a statement issued before midnight, the port said that just before the fireworks all exploded, technicians sent a signal “to the barges that would set the timing for the rest of the show after the introduction.”

Garden State Fireworks, the firm producing the show, “will be working throughout the night to determine what technical problem caused the entire show to be launched in about 15 seconds. We apologize for the brevity of the show and the technical difficulties,” according to a statement posted on www.bigbayboom.com.


Still, this is not the only time for some mal-event for happen on NYE ‘celebration’. In no particular order:

  • A trip to Edinburgh where we gathered at Tron Kirk to bring in New Year only to find out the clock bells didn’t work where all the crowds were left waiting arm in arm to sign “auld lang syne”.
  • A trip to New York where we could not get a taxi for love or money, and walked for hours back to our hotel leaving us cold and exhausted.
  • Broadstairs, Kent where my entourage did a pub crawl. Many in the town dressed in costume where I was Dracula. It was such a success that one lady insisted on kissing me passionately not too long after midnight. Except her boyfriend didn’t like this too much and mid-kiss, sucker punched me straight in my face splitting my nose open. Not exactly the firework display I wanted.

Now that I think about it the older I get, the more I want to stay home on the circus known as NYE but that has it’s own complications. Good luck finding a good countdown or celebration on a Texas TV channel. Many don’t even bother or get too lazy and just show New York’s celebration which sounds great except for that time zone problem.

However, this year I was disappointed to not have caught Mariah Carey doing her own San Diego 2012 firework blow up. I would have loved to have seen her lip sync dissaster as it happened. It would have been a great way to see out 2016.

We should have got an inkling of how bad this was going to be when the Diva was reported as asking beforehand ” What time does the ball drop?” and based on this,they had set up special arrangements to make sure she got to Time Square on time. [Daily Mail] Based on her performance or lack of, they shouldn’t have bothered !


Still it is what it is. As Rabbie Burns said ‘We’ve wandered mony a weary foot, Sin’ auld ang syne.’

Happy New Year.

Augustus.

PS: back to the Sugar Land event and parking. I’m glad we didn’t listen to officials saying to park in Football stadium and get a free bus ride to the event. The lines to catch that same bus back were monstrous. Something I’ve learned over the years is to plan your exit. Park just a bit further away to avoid traffic jams getting out. For big sporting events, parking away will be much cheaper.

Please De-Lease me, Let me go.

This car drove me around the Benz


The car that drove me around the Benz

It’s over. I finally got rid of our Mercedes CLA250 after it’s three year lease end. Multiple attempts by MB to get me into a new lease were rebuffed.

To be honest, I never loved the car. It was ok but it never wowed me and I thought it rather a noisy ride especially on the freeway.In some ways, it was my fault I got into this situation. I agreed to get it to keep Mrs Caesar happy who needed a car at that time and the CLA250 was the new offering to America.

Having had favorable experiences in leasing BMWs before, I thought this would be similar.

There were a few things bothered me at the time of leasing that I should have acted on before signing up.

  • The first was that no car matched the monthly price advertised. In fact, the monthly amount for the car we wanted was a few hundred dollars more. Funny how that goes isn’t it?
  • Second was finding out that the services were not included in the lease price. However, I could pre-pay and get a discount so took this route.
  • The third was their default low mileage offerings of 10K per year which at that time where we were living, we thought would be ok.

However, I was in time crunch to get Mrs Caesar mobile again before I left on a long business travel so emotion took the better side of me and I violated one of my own rules about car buying – Sort your finances out before you set foot in the dealership . To reduce the monthly payments, I put down a much larger down payment than what I had envisaged before visiting.

In the beginning, Mrs Ceasar loved the car and how she could go around the dealership at Boerne to get the car washed anytime where we only lived a few miles away. Of course, that had to be scheduled but it was still free and she could get coffee while she waited. However, in the back on my mind, there was a thought I was overpaying to be driving it.

Then the first problem happened with the tires. A nail in the tire required some action. MB service adviser said I’d need to replace it. Goodyear tires said it could be repaired once if the sidewall was not damaged. So I had it repaired.

Some time after we moved back to Houston area, I hit a particularly big pothole that took out a different tire. Within a minute it went from 35 PSI to 0. It did it’s job of running flat and I drove home at slower speed but the next day, I found how difficult it was to get a direct replacement. Even Goodyear didn’t have them in stock and would have to ship them that would take a few days. The dealer had them in stock but it would be 5 days before I could get into MB Sugarland. I was blown away : 5 days  just to get one tire changed.  After phoning around, I ended up buying it for over $300 and taking it to Discount Tire in Cinco Ranch to them to fit it. By the way, Discount Tire got future business from me on my other car in the positive manner they treated me after this initial very small business. 

At the time of leasing, I got the sell for tire insurance which I calculated at 2+ blown tires and on the BMW, I’d never had one so I figured I’d take the chances. Over the next year, we had another tire that went flat and needed to be replaced. Another was dangerous due to a bulge in sideball so that needed replacement also but not wanting to hunt down an expensive tire, I put on a regular tire as an interim fix.

The first service with MB Sugarland was an eye opener in that cost of maintenance and what they will try to slip in. When asked if I wanted them to rotate tires and some other minor inspection, I said sure. After printing out the pre-work contract, it would cost me $230. What for I asked as I had pre-paid maintenance.  These tire rotation and inspection was optional services I was told. If that was the case, then I opted not to get them. Over $200 to f’ing rotate the tires which most other manufacturers include for free and then to perform a mechanical inspection on something that would be covered by warranty anyhow. What the heck? No wonder why they are called stealerships. This must be how they pay for all the swanky waiting areas and coffee baristas.

It cost me another $3K to close out the lease where I had to replace all 4 tires (get a bulk discount compared to individual tires as if that made it easier) since the lifetime of the tires (20k miles) is much less that lease duration. The rims had to be reworked to polish out the scratches and finally there was the 4,000 over mileage fee which was expected.

Overall, I did not enjoy my ‘luxurious’ experience with MB and was glad for it to end. I was surprised to  find that 67% of Mercedes are leased [Source : Cartelligent] but it not for me. No more run flats either.

Augustus

Postscript:

  1. I will add that MB has recently changed their service in that they now have a separate express area and conventional servicing area. Items like scheduled maintenance are addressed by the express area which my last service in easier to get in and out of. Regular maintenance seems be now included in the lease costs but it is too little, too late for me. My opinion of the star has been tarnished.

Wickedleaks #1 : Expedia expletives

Papyleaks : Our private discussion on Expedia customer service fiasco

Papyleaks: Our Mea culpa

We realized it would happen to us eventually. And so it is today fellow Roamans, that I must inform you that it has finally happened.

Like all important worldwide sites, we’ve been Wickedleaked and our intimate discussions are revealed to the world.

We strongly suspect the source of the leak are Parthian hackers who are trying to influence Roaman empire politics.

Nevertheless, I must fall on my own virtual sword and confess that what has been leaked is likely true : Our Emperor colleague, Caligula is a person of interest behind this story.

We have discussed it with Caligula and even though he denied it was him, he apologized profusely. He said he doesn’t remember anything and if it was him, it must have been a locker room typo that he has put behind him that even though it is only a few days ago, it no longer reflects who he is today.

We are pleased to accept his apologies and move on.

Augustus.
Princeps, Roads-2-Roam.com


Hat tip : http://iphonefaketext.com
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