The Charms of Motel Lodging: Nelson, BC


Despite my many travels, I had forgotten about the charms of classic motels. Memories from my childhood have roared back during our few days at the North Shore Inn in Nelson, BC. Here is a brief inventory of its classic features:

  • Our rental car can be parked conveniently near the front entrance to our quarters.
  • The parking lot has fewer spaces than the motel has rooms, yet, oddly, it is ample for the number of cars actually needing a space.
  • Landscaping is austere, but not without appearing that some effort has been made to dress it up. A park bench for three and a stack of white plastic chairs are there in the event that we wish to relax in front of our room and enjoy the view. (The view, by the way, thanks to Mother Nature, is spectacular! The motel overlooks Kootenay Lake.)
  • The exterior paint, such as it is, is monochromatic.
  • The lobby is no more handsome than the rooms themselves, as it, too, is carpeted in 1950s burber that has held up remarkably well. (Guests are mercifully spared the grotesqueness of shag that inexplicably sprang from the floors of most dwellings in subsequent decades.)
  • In our two bedroom unit with kitchenette, ceilings are exceedingly high, walls are painted a glossy white, and trim is in chocolate brown aluminum. The entry is enhanced with a safety chain of precisely seven links. In the kitchenette, the brown cabinetry and white appliances are fronted by a strip of linoleum, which marks off the space dedicated to watching TV and eating meals. A fire extinguisher is mounted above the sink. The TV itself is a Citizen of a vintage no longer available even at yard sales. (Our Apple TV device will remain packed.) The manually operated air conditioner is set over the front window some eight feet above the floor.
  • The first “bedroom” is adjacent to the kitchenette, has no door and no window, so that what little privacy it affords is improved by perpetual darkness. This room, furnished only with a queen bed, would make for a nice walk-in closet off the “master bedroom,” which does have a door, a nightstand, and a closet with folding doors. (The only chest of drawers is in the main room and is used to support the aforementioned Citizen.)
  • There are three inconspicuous and unremarkable wall hangings, thoughtfully distributed among the three rooms (one over the sofa and one over each bed). (I’m one who tends to notice wall hangings more by their absence than by their profusion.)
  • The bathroom is something special. It has no window. The white walls and flooring are accented with ocean blue tub, sink, and toilet bowl. We speculate that this room is the object of special pride on the part of the novelty-conscious proprietor. Heat and water pressure in the shower are superb. The blue wash basin is set in a plain formica counter-top that is glued to a press board cabinet with peeling veneer. A pool of water encircles the toilet pedestal, the result of heavy condensation forming around the toilet tank and running off it like a British Columbian waterfall. The fan switch has been installed on an unlikely wall opposite the shower, and is turned on, if at all, only when you—and the bathroom—have already been thoroughly marinated in steamy hot water.
  • The “Contl Breakfast” is meager, as it should be if your room is fitted out with kitchenette.
  • Wi-fi works efficiently, if slowly, and is free.

My favorite feature of the unit is the poster above our bed. It pictures, in sepia tones with enhanced shades of orange, a solitary rowboat anchored near a wood pier. Inscribed at the bottom are the words: “IMAGINATION. Believe in the glory of your dreams.”

The Rule of Incompetence – Featuring TimeWarner


Time Warner

Image via Wikipedia

We’ve experienced aggravating drops in internet access through our high speed line at home recently. Our first attempt to troubleshoot the problem resulted in a 2-hour conversation with a nice person at TimeWarner. After pinging our modem and router, she reported that the cable service to our home was in good working order. She suggested that there may be something amiss with our router, an Apple Airport Extreme.

I took the router for a visit to an Apple technician (a.k.a. “Genius”) and saw with my own eyes that the router worked.

I considered the possibility, then, that I needed a new modem. So off to Best Buy I went. Came home with a Zoom 3.0 Cable Modem. After setting up, my browser generated a message from Time Warner that I needed to follow a simple 3-step procedure: (1) call the number on the screen, (2) give the agent the MAC address for the new modem, (3) launch my browser.

The call lasted two hours and involved four different Time Warner people. The first was unable to help. She forwarded my call to a “modem expert.” Eventually, that person moved me on to a “Tier 3” specialist. He didn’t even know that Zoom sold modems; in fact, he’d never heard of Zoom. He tried to correct my impression that Zoom does make a modem, as I read, no less than three times, exactly what it said on the box and printed materials. When he started getting snarky, I asked to speak to a supervisor. He was obliging . . . sort of.

I was on hold for approximately 30 minutes waiting for the Super. About every 7 minutes, the Tier 3 specialist would come on the line just long enough to say, “It will be just a few more moments.” When the Super joined the call, I mentioned that I had been waiting a half hour. She said that no way had I been waiting that long. So I asked her when she learned of my call. She had just been told and got on the line immediately. So she said. This implied that the specialist before her had deliberately made me wait on the line before telling his Super that I had requested to speak with her. That was a new low in customer service (which, by the way, is advertised as “Turbo-Service” and “Number 1 in Southern California,” on a looped soundtrack you have to endure while you wait for someone to return to the phone).

The Super decided there was something wrong with Time Warner’s line to my house. This would require a visit from one of their traveling technicians, who wouldn’t be able to come to the house until the day after next (which was today).

Meanwhile, at every step in the process, I was urged to use one of Time Warner’s own modems, as if this would eliminate all of my headaches. “Not interested,” I said, countless times.

I asked the Super to explain to me how my modem worked well enough for Time Warner’s set-up window to appear in my browser. Her exact words were, “I’m not going to explain that to you.” Her response to my persistence was to say, “Now you’re not even going to get an appointment with Time Warner.” Moments later she was denying that she ever said that. I asked if she had a supervisor that I could speak to. Silence on the other end. This silence was followed by more silence. So I suspected that she did have a supervisor and was reluctant to put him or her on the phone. I said that she probably was obligated by company policy to put her supervisor on the phone if this was requested by a customer. To which she responded with more silence. I waited. About 30 seconds later, she hung up.

Her name is Jerry, by the way, and she works in the Colorado Springs facility.

I thought this called for a formal complaint—though I doubted that making a complaint would be effectual. I re-dialed the original number, answered by a very friendly and helpful agent who seemed genuinely scandalized by the experience I described. She gave me the phone number for the Office of the President (the President of Time Warner, I naturally assume). She then said, with maximum politeness, “Would you be so kind as to let me try to solve the problem for you?” And her voice communicated real optimism about the prospect of solving the problem.

Alas, even she could not get things working. So she forwarded my call to . . . Tier 3. That’s right. But this time the technician was in Anaheim, CA. The Tier 3 agent was quite confident she could solve the problem. She, at least, had heard of Zoom. My hopes began to rise. In just a few moments, however, she determined that my service level with Time Warner could not accommodate the 3.0 cable modem I had purchased. She recommended the Motorola Surfboard (which I had seen at Best Buy a few hours earlier).

I thanked her, hung up, and checked the clock. 9:15 p.m. Best Buy closed at 9:00.

So the next day I beat a path to Best Buy to exchange the Zoom for a Motorola. No problem.

After making the connections, I was back on the browser, staring in disbelief at the same TimeWarner invite to call a helpful agent for installation.

I made the call.

This poor lady was completely baffled and said I should wait for the tech guy to show up at my house “tomorrow.”

So today I was visited by a Time Warner technician, who also wanted to install one of their own modems. I explained that I wanted to see if my original modem, a Linksys that I’d been using for a couple years, would work. Reluctantly, he gave it a whirl. Voila! It worked.

Amazing.

But the guy also noticed that there was lots of rust and corrosion on the cable connection out at the curb in front of our house. So he cleaned that up.

When he left, I was in business. At least I had an internet link via direct ethernet connection between my laptop and my old modem. I was ready to try the system with my wireless router. The TimeWarner tech assured me it would work and got out of there as fast as he could.

I made the connections, held my breath, and . . . it works!

Now I can blog again. I can rent movies using my Apple TV.

* * *

Yesterday I happened across a passage from Tom Morris’s book True Success.

The world actually most often seems to be filled with plain old incompetence, punctuated here and there by a somewhat higher state of mediocrity.

I confess that I have a sense of entitlement to good service when I pay for it. But this consists in having unrealistic expectations. Unrealistic expectations lead inevitably to disappointment, and disappointment can lead to all sorts of nasty things.

Rational-emotive therapy advises an adjustment in expectations. I get that.

But if we adjust our expectations to match reality, why do we even bother with time-saving technology . . . like high-speed internet service?

While you’re pondering that, I have a call to make.

Now, where is that phone number for the President’s office?

Coincidences of Life – Ender’s Game and a UPS Truck


UPS Truck . . . without a driver

This afternoon I was waiting at a red light (northbound on Palm at Central in Brea, CA, if the coordinates matter) and listening to the audio-book for the sci-fi novel Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card. Just as the light turned green, one character said to the other, “I drive a truck for the United Parcel Service.”

This struck me as odd, showing up in a work of science fiction. But stranger still, as I shifted my motorcycle into second, a UPS truck passed me in the intersection going south.

Was it a coincidence? Of course it was. It was quite literally the coinciding of an auditory reference from one source and a visual reference from another source to the same company, UPS. These sensory experiences occurred simultaneously. They each conveyed information, and the information conveyed referred to the same thing. I heard a guy say through my headset, “I drive a truck for the United Parcel Service” just as I waved to a guy driving a truck for the United Parcel Service. (Well, actually, I didn’t wave.)

Uncanny?

Sort of.

The Merriam -Webster Dictionary defines “uncanny” in this way: “seeming to have a supernatural character or origin,” or “being beyond what is normal or expected: suggesting superhuman or supernatural powers.”

The concurrence of two causally unrelated references to the same informational content attracts our attention. It is so incredibly unlikely that this would happen, it seems almost to have been planned. Was it planned? And if so, who arranged it? It might take superhuman or supernatural powers to make it happen just so. What other explanation could there be?

“Coincidence,” we say, with palpable matter-of-factness. But of course it’s a coincidence. Saying so merely reports an observation of fact. The real question is, what kind of coincidence is it? What is the explanation for this coincidence?

We do explain coincidences in various ways. Sometimes we say, “It was just a coincidence.” By this we mean that there’s nothing more to it than that, a mere coincidence, with no deep explanation. There is no intelligible cause, and no intelligent agent, involved. There is no meaningful answer to the question, “Why did this happen?”

But the question does present itself. It does to me, anyway. Trivial coincidences like this happen in my experience with remarkable frequency. I say “trivial” because I infer no special significance when they happen. And yet it is both remarkable each time it happens and remarkable that it happens as often as it does.

Why is it remarkable if the coincidence is trivial? It’s remarkable because the concurrence is so improbable. The degree of improbability varies depending on the specific character of the information presented. But the improbability of the concurrence does not, as such, warrant attribution of some special significance.

Why not?

The answer, I think, is two-fold. First, we can think of no special reason why the elements in our experience have occurred together. (Note: No one else in the intersection, I believe, actually heard or thought of the words “United Parcel Service” at that moment.) Second, we can identify no  causal mechanism that would ensure that they did occur together. In other words, there is no apparent point in their concurrence, and no obvious causal account of their concurrence. If we thought their concurrence served some purpose, we would naturally be curious about the cause. And if nothing else will serve, we might say that the cause was superhuman and personal. Given a general reluctance to attribute causes to occult entities, we require that a coincidence be specially significant. Also, if the concurrence was caused for our benefit, then we should find some benefit in their concurrence. That is, if we who experience the coincidence were meant to experience it, then there was some reason why it happened and why it happened in our experience. And this suggests that we should be capable of discerning that purpose.

What purpose could possibly have been served by the coincidence I experienced on my way home this afternoon? Nothing comes to mind. “It’s just a coincidence.”

But wait, now that I think that thought, I recall that there was a UPS package for me when I arrived home not two minutes later. Was the coincidence a warning, then? It certainly didn’t have that effect on me when it happened. In fact, when it happened, my thought was, This is something I could blog about. And in retrospect it doesn’t seem that a warning was required. The contents of the package were innocuous. Some clothing I had ordered. I don’t know if it matters, but the package wasn’t waiting on the front porch, as if it had just been delivered by the very same UPS truck. It had been carried in by another member of my household who wasn’t home. (I know she wasn’t home because no one was home. And I know it was a she because I’m the only he in the household. Aren’t you impressed with my awesome powers of deduction?)

I suppose now I might take care trying on the clothing that was delivered. But I can’t seriously entertain the notion that I’m in some kind of danger.

If there was a message, it was totally lost on me.

Could there be some other purpose, completely unrelated to my goals or interests, so that the purpose might be achieved quite apart from my cognizance of it?

(c) 2009 Katherine Gehl Donovan

Sure. A minor demon might have been taunting some innocent angel with her powers of manipulation, claiming to be able to cause me to hear “I drive a truck for the United Parcel Service” and, at the same precise moment, cause me to see a guy driving a truck for the United Parcel Service.

In that event, would it really matter whether I recognized the concurrence of the appearance of a UPS truck just as I was hearing that bit of fictional dialogue? I can imagine a neophyte angel thinking, How did you do that? What if the line I’ve quoted from the story isn’t actually in the novel?

And what if there wasn’t really a UPS truck crossing the intersection in the opposite direction? Maybe the demon’s game was to present me with visual and auditory data that did not correspond with objects matching the data. Who knows what minor demons are capable of?

The point is, if there was a purpose in the coincidence, I have no idea what it was, and this makes it less likely that, if there was a purpose, realization of that purpose depended on my discerning that purpose.

Now, what do I actually believe? Do I believe there was a purpose in the coincidence? I do not. But this is imprecise. Not believing that there was a purpose is not the same as believing there was no purpose. I might simply be agnostic about whether the coincidence served some purpose.

So am I agnostic? No. I believe that no purpose was served.

I should have a reason for believing this, shouldn’t I?

My chief reason for believing that no purpose was served by the event is that attributing a reason does not comport with my worldview. Or rather, my worldview provides no basis for attributing a reason for the coincidence.

What we make of coincidences often is a matter of worldview commitments. Some coincidences do, for me, invite an inference to the agency of some superhuman or supernatural agent. Apparent answers to prayer, for example.

Here’s a question for fellow theists who believe that God exists and is a personal being who created the universe and sustains it in existence, others like me who affirm a doctrine of meticulous divine providence:

How do you decided whether this or that ‘coincidence’ is the occurrence of an event serving some special purpose intended by a superhuman or supernatural being?

Bonus Question: Is the angel/demon image posted here too provocative? Is it poor judgment to use it here?

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