Sunday, August 17, 2008

Road trip summer 08- Third time's a charm, or at least, the last time

Got back this past week from a couple of days in Williamsburg and then a few more in Kitty Hawk, NC with the family. Not great distances, but long drives given various speed limits and the added challenges of children in cars for hours on end. Nobody peed their pants or threw up in the car, so we'll call it good. The children did ok, too!

Elise and Lucas with appropriate charges in the stockade.

Our Williamsburg trip was primarily for Busch Gardens- we got free tickets to go there a few years ago because of our military background (they call it the "Salute to Heros") which was a great experience. Our children have pined to return frequently since then, and so we took advantage of another window of opportunity and more Salute to Heros free tickets. Woo-hoo!

Escape from Pompeii, with my group in the front row....

It was warm there, not too hot, not too crowded and the children did pretty well, which made the free admission that much more enjoyable. I have to say I'm impressed with the children's amusement park visits this summer.

The big-bellied bird man of Busch Gardens....

We stayed at a time share place for a discount so they could talk about selling us a place- or rather time at a place. I'm still not quite understanding how a time share isn't more like a fancy rental than it is "ownership", but that's another blog. In any case, when my parents own a number of these time shares that are "deedable", we don't need to buy any more.

Which leads us out to Kitty Hawk, for an extended family reunion with the Tucker clan at, u guessed it, a time share! My parents collected and used a number of their time share allocations and got a number of units, which was a good thing as we had up to 30 people together there at our peak time on Saturday.

That's all 30 of us- some of the grandchildren we're not quite team players- the result of taking pictures in the late afternoon when they needed naps.

My youngest brother indicated it was some crazy amount of time since we'd had the "whole" family together (parents, all 6 Tucker children, spouses and grandchildren)- something like 8 or 11 years. So that was nice. We enjoyed a number of activities- days at the beach, some at the pool, just hanging out at Grandma and Grandpa's unit, one evening we did a family talent show, another we looked at old photos on somebody's laptop. I think I need to invest in a laptop projector....

The original gang of six, yukking it up at our little beach photo session.

Some of the grandchildren doing the photo op at the beach.

We also hit the Currituck Lighthouse, with views of the sound on the west and the Atlantic on the east...

From the top of the lighthouse.

And the Wright Brothers monument, museum, etc.

My big-headed space children, celebrating the progression of flight since the Wright bro.'s day...

Andrea has done a great job of blogging all this already- she had easier internet access at Kitty Hawk due to their unit's proximity to the admin office of the resort, which provided wireless access. That, and she's just dang good at blogging about family activities in general.

In any case, a nice break with family, and now we're back home- I think my family has spent more time vacationing since we got here than we've spent in our house. But we're home again, my accomplishment yesterday being clearing boxes out of the garage enough that we have both cars inside the garage. Woo-hoo!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

NC DMV- Driving's a privilege- one worth waiting for!

If ever anyone accuses the state of North Carolina of a lack of productivity, I have one potential solution- fully staff the DMV centers where driver's permits are issued, renewed, etc. I saw about 100 man hours of labor wasted as folks sat and stood for hours waiting for a process that takes minutes per person. The license plate issue and vehicle registration is contracted out, and is quick and easy. Yesterday, after acquiring the necessary documentation, I made both trips, for an interesting contrast.

You know you're in for it when you have to wait 5 minutes just to get the numbered ticket to wait.

And then I waited for almost 2 hours. During that time, I read through the driver's test booklet (had to take the test, and passed... woo-hoo!).

Most interesting driving rule in North Carolina, one I've never observed in action despite plenty of time in the state: when passing on a two-lane road, after checking that the path is clear from oncoming traffic and signaling with your blinkers, you apparently also notify the slower vehicle to your front of your intentions by "blowing your horn"! As my wife noted with a giggle, you do that around her neighborhood, they pull a gun on you. And in most places we've lived, you use the horn mostly to say "hi" to folks. Now, we'll have to remember it means "hi, we're passing you!" Of course, given how I've never seen this happen, I don't think anyone will have any clue why we're honking.

Anyway, here are a few other observations about my extended visit to the DMV. The wait was pretty much standard- my wife had to do the same thing later in the day while I watched the kids. Some poor folks at the DMV had to wait with their children in tow. Not a great place to entertain infants. The workers had to deal a number of times with the waiting clients- "stand behind the rope, please, this is a testing area"- I think I heard that about once every five minutes- because the waiting area was pretty much full, and so people were spilling out to the outside as well as into the testing area.

One guy was borderline "postal"- he made the mistake of leaving and coming back because one of the employees had estimated a 2 hour wait and he missed his turn (his ticket was called and he was not there- go to the end of the line!!!!). That was fun to watch- that is one of the benefits of my lack of empathy- things like this can be immensely entertaining.

I thought a few times about a phrase that I'll butcher from my organizational behavior training- something to the effect that "an organization is perfectly designed to achieve the results it gets." Here are a few of the design elements that result in this DMV experience:

1. Not enough workers, especially to allow specialization- the same people were having to check people in, answer phones, do the documenting, and testing. When I finally got to the back area I observed employees working very hard- so it is not a question of them sitting on their hands....

2. There's something unsettling about waiting for almost two hours to be seen for something that takes less than 15 minutes total, and getting interrupted while your traffic officer answers the phone over 5 times giving directions to the DMV and answering other related questions. It screams "you are the least important person in the room!" (as well as "this is why it took almost 2 hours to get to you")- always a customer service winner! They need to get one of those incredibly annoying answering systems with the menu...for directions press 1, for required documents for initial permits press 2... etc. They could then get a head start on disturbing clients who make the mistake of calling, and not have to interrupt their work.

3. Physical layouts matter. The waiting room area is adjacent to the area where the officers have their desks, you do your testing, etc. But there's a large wall which obscures the view from one area to the other.

3a. Effects to employees: So on one side, the understaffed group works continuously, but can't see the waiting hopeful drivers to be. But they know we're out there, and to a degree they know we've all been waiting a long time (someone asked one of the officers if they should come back at a better time, to which the officer responded, "Lady, it is always like this...."). This waiting has an understandable effect on our moods, and their eager anticipation to meet us.

3b. Effects to "clients": we can't see them working, we see little progress as only from time to time is someone released from our Dante's ring of waiting in DMV purgatory, while the huddled masses curse our fate. We just sit and stew. This is the perfect storm and if anyone ever goes postal in Mooresville, I expect it to be here (or at one of the NASCAR garages- racing fanaticism knows no bounds here). On the bright side, the long wait gives plenty of time to study that DMV testing book, and the wall leaves privacy- you can study in seclusion with the other 30 people in a waiting area designed for 15!

My wife, much more social than I, took the opportunity to visit her fellows in waiting. She discovered that this is actually one of the better DMV locations- they actually have chairs in the waiting area, and given their pristine reputation, folks travel from afar to come get the customer service that we have the privilege of enjoying here in Mooresville. How 'bout that!? We're so blessed in Mooresville!

HONK! HONK! I'm passing!

Saturday, August 02, 2008

First week, first house.

New experiences, some pleasant, some not so pleasant.

Good neighbors on both sides, with children for ours to play with.

A third of an acre doesn't seem like much- until you try to mow it, in N.C. in early August. I did a lot of sweating. My first mowing of my own lawn. With my first lawnmower. Woo-hoo!

The movers did a pretty good job with our stuff, just a few problems- but we couldn't have them unpack everything because we don't have the drawers, shelves, etc on which to place all the stuff. We've got lots of stuff, but very little furniture beyond beds. But beds are good to have, we'll work on the rest bit by bit.

Given all that stuff, glad we got the bigger house, even though our neighbors are very close.

Fire ants. Ants in pants. Ouch. Thankfully, I'm the only one that has gotten to experience them in a personal way. We seem to have cleared up the issue with a visit by an exterminator. I was frustrated that I paid for a pest inspection, only to hear after we discover the fire ants that the only pests they care about are termites and other wood-destroying types. So the investments in the home continue.....

Everyone addresses us as sir and ma'am. Being a Virginia boy, and a military officer for about 14 years now, I'm accustomed to it. It is a southern thing. But it kinda wigs Christine out. Apparently Californians saying "ma'am" are being sarcastic, so she'll have to adjust to the southern hospitality.

Speaking of southern, as I was at Lowe's buying my mower, the associate helping me was wearing a Lowe's 48 car baseball cap, so we talked about JJ getting the pole this weekend at Pocono. After the Brickyard win last week, he seems to have figured things out. We'll see. NASCAR. It's fan-tastic! (or something like that).

After that discussion and a lot of time working on the yard- no shade, I'm now declaring myself a redneck. Because my neck is red.

Lowe's corporate is huge and getting "huge-er". They've built massively during the two years I was gone- they'll bring in corporate employees that are currently up in Wilkesboro and other locations nearby in Mooresville once the building is complete- but there will still be room for more folks in those massive buildings.

Adjusting to high humidity- any time outside and I get soaking wet with sweat. And we have frequent afternoon thunderstorms. I kinda like the t-storms. Hopefully it will keep our grass happy- the parts of the lawn that aren't just clay, anyway.

Proud accomplishments this week- figuring out how to program the door code and remotes for the garage, fixing the beeping fire alarms, and keeping the family from getting bitten by fire ants. I'm a simple man.