Tuesday, March 29, 2011


One week to go. We have sold the boxes and bubble wrap from Raleigh move and rented out our parking space. Now if we could only sell our house. We have changed estate agent - maybe that will do the trick. As far as getting ready to move we have
  • Updated our will (last done in 1987)
  • Rewritten our living will (which refers to hiring "servants")
  • Bought a year's supply of vitamins and baby aspirin
  • Obtained our birth and marriage certificates (for visa)
  • Started packing
Still to be done - taxes

Thursday, March 10, 2011

$15 RT to Chicago, 3.5 hours, 184 miles

I was prepared to love Megabus. Then, it was late, the leg room non-existent, and the women across the aisle talked loudly and constantly. I began to love it less, but at $10 these annoyances were quickly forgiven. Our $5 return trip was on time, more comfortable and quieter.

First stop was Macy's to find a replacement for my 11 year old winter coat. I bought a $360 coat for $85. Despite having a warm coat, I hope to avoid traveling to the U.S. in the winter.

Chicago's cold discouraged site seeing, but it didn't deter us from brunch at the Frontera Grill. My dish (Chilaquiles L Guajillo) was the most photogenic. Doug's was the ugliest, but his lamb was by far the tastiest. It was worthy of our Christmas dinner. Brendan's Sapitos was also extraordinarily tasty.

Doug had scheduled the trip so he could see the Carolina Hurricanes play; it coincided with Brendan and Frank plans to see Lohengrin at the Lyric Opera. The 4.5 hour performance started at 6:00, so during the first intermission the theater converted into a vast picnic area. Box lunches and more elaborate meals were eaten on small tables, chairs, and the staircases.

Sunday we hopped a train to Milwaukee to see Sandhya. (Arvind, her husband, work in Albany. Finding a time when we would see both of them in one spot was impossible.) Sandhya told us that the plumbing in the guest bathroom was broken, but Arvind told her not to worry because we "are family." As befits a family we spent the day eating and talking. We started at Cliff's Boathouse for the wonderful potato pancakes. And look at the prices! Later we stopped at a chaat house. Thoroughly stuffed we had a late dinner. A huge surprise was how good the Sam's quick frozen salmon steaks were.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A Pothole Ate my Car, and Some interesting Signs

The Pothole
Indianapolis in the winter is interesting. People actually make it to work on days when it snows (as opposed to North Carolina where things are cancelled in anticipation of the smallest amount of forecast snow). Streets are actually plowed (but side streets and residential areas are frequently left unplowed). Evidently the city has laws requiring people to shovel their walks, but the Mayor indicated that people should report sidewalks not shoveled (sounds like Singaporeans being asked to report on people burning coal or using too much water).

We spent the last several weeks avoiding the streets in our car, by walking almost everywhere. Every ten days we ventured out of the garage to perform some errands. While sitting in an auto repair shop (getting my Passat’s CV joint replaced) I overheard conversations about people hitting potholes, getting axles broken, springs broken and the like. I didn’t pay much attention.

Last weekend we went out on our “date night” to the Indianapolis Museum of Art to see the final installment in the Film Noir series (Memento). A slightly weird movie about a man with short term memory loss who recorded things he discovered as tattoos.

After the movie off we went driving down Michigan Road (Indianapolis has both a Michigan Road and a Michigan Street). I was in the right lane and suddenly we felt a big bump and heard the sound of a flat tire.
I pulled off the road onto the on ramp to the interstate. A number of cars were similarly parked about 100 feet in front of me. I got out, and sure enough, a flat tire. Liz wanted me to call AAA, so I did. I called the number on my AAA card and got Carolina’s AAA. They eventually connected me with Hoosier Auto Club (the local AAA affiliate) who promised a service vehicle in 2 hours.

Meanwhile some people from the cluster of cars in front of me wandered back. I got out and greeted them. The reported there was a covey of cars (4) with similar problems. One had a spare tire, but no jack, or no lug wrench, etc. I had all the above tools. We managed to get the spare out, consult the owner’s manual to find out how the jack worked (in 10 years I had never changed a tire on this car so it was all new to me). The car only fell off the jack once. We got the tire off. The next problem was getting the spare on the car. The lugs (bolt or nuts) on a Volkswagen are more than the nuts. They are the bolts which screw into a face plate and the brake rotor. They would not line up.

Another car pulled up behind me….same problem flat front tire. The father of the two assisting me went back to assist the young lady. That tire was changed while his son patiently shined the solar flashlight on my attempts to mount the tire. Liz announced that Hoosier AAA would be there in 15 minutes. I got the first lug bolt in, then the second. Soon all were in, the car lowered (yes there was air in the tire). I found some money and tipped the 14 year old who assisted me. We called AAA and cancelled the repair truck. Then another car pulled up. Yup, a flat tire, no spare, no jack….he called AAA. I left.

We got home with no further problems. I called the Indianapolis Police Department to inform them of the problem with their street. Yes, I did not call 911 (I tried that on my cell phone and received the message that it was not an allowed number). The police department referred me to the Department of Public works. I called……no one was home.

The next morning I pulled the car out of the garage and went across the street to fill the tire with air (it looked a little low). The air pump was working, but the nozzle was missing. Off I went to find another gas station. When I checked the tire pressure (12lb is what happens when you never check the air pressure in the spare during the 10 years you own the car). I filled it up.

We went out to visit the site of the street that ate my car. I got pictures and saw the remains of hub caps, pieces of truck tires, and other car parts.
But my hub cap was not there. However, the Department of Public Works had placed two warning road barrels both before and after the pot hole.

The damage:
replacement wheel ($52 plus shipping), replacement hub cap ($42 plus shipping), replacement tire $62 plus shipping, tire installation, replacement valve, balancing, shop fees, and alignment. The good news, I may be able to get reimbursement from the City of Indianapolis.

After visiting Fountain Square (acquainting ourselves with Indianapolis), I hit a bump in the road. I saw my hub cap passing before me as I stopped for the traffic light. I pulled off, and went to retrieve the hub cap. I came back to see Liz outside of the car taking a picture of me with the retrieved booty.

Other miscellaneous signs

Years ago when visiting Malaysia (outside of Kuching when returning from an expedition to see a Raffasalia (the largest flower which smells like a rotting corpse) we passed a cemetery. Posted on the lawn was a large sign indicating that the facility was ISO (Not Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra) 2001 certified. Unfortunately I have no picture. For those of you unfamiliar with the ISO certifications, they merely indicate that you have a reliably repeatable process for your business. In this case I interpret it as meaning….if we bury you, you stay buried. Now this is germane because of a sign near the IMA (Indianapolis Museum of Art) the Crown Hill Cemetery which advertised they will be on Facebook in 2011.
Will Facebook replace mediums? Will the dead communicate with us from the beyond? It brings a whole new meaning to the idea of social networks. Finally, nearer to home was a sign above a casket manufacturer advertising “Green Burials”.

The Peace Corps is 50!

To celebrate the Peace Corps' 50th birthday we saw a film at the Earth House, a collective housed in a church building across the street from us. Its website reminded me of communes and collectives of the '60, but it is in a nicer and cleaner building. Now that we know our away around we plan to visit the Earth House cafe.

The film was Niger'66: A Peace Corps Diary - another reminder of the '60s. Five RPCV (Returned Peace Corps Volunteers) who went to Niger in 1966 traveled back in 2008. They took along a cinematographer and two cameras. The film was mirror of our lives. The thoughts and experiences of the RPCV were familiar - they are our age. Their reasons for joining and their expectations have a generational ring. Their reflections on the experience had a more universal ring - similar to the reflections of others who have lived and worked abroad (outside an expat community)>

The audience largely consisted of relatively recent (within the past 10 years) returnees from African countries. A scattering of the RPCV had volunteered in regions. Pictured below are returnees from Ukraine (bottom, left), Uganda (bottom right), Niger (top, left) and Panama (top, right).

My interest in the long-term impact of the Peace Corps was stimulated by a December article in the The New Yorker, which featured a returnee and his successful waterpump project in Nepali village. The Niger film credited the Peace Corp installing wells and establishing well baby clinics. Both were evident in their 2008 visit.

I recalled that RPCV whom I have met claimed that they gained far more than they gave. The impact goes beyond the individual. I sent an e-mail to Charlene, a NCSU Ph.D. and a returned volunteer from the Slovak Republic. (She introduced me to the concept of self-empowerment and the right of people with mental illness to have a voice in decisions that effect them.) Her reply is worth repeating, "While I think my "technical assistance" -- in budgeting, strategic planning, grant writing, personnel policy creation, and basic filing -- was very useful to the organizations I worked with, I may have had more lasting impact on individuals who interacted with me everyday. Just the idea of giving my life over to volunteering for two years, especially when I left a well-paying job and comfortable life for it, was a very foreign concept for a lot of people. I also brought optimism and a willingness to take risks that was very hard to find in the post-communist world. Peace Corps' biggest impact is in the relationships it builds -- among Volunteers and their hosts and among volunteers themselves -- and the bigger world view that Volunteers return to America with. The technical assistance is just gravy."