Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Vacationing in Place

So I had some vacation time planned last week, and I was really looking forward to the time off, although I didn't have any particular plans. I had thought about going out of town, but those plans fell through. And then I decided to just vacation in place.

I use the term "vacationing in place" rather than the trendier "staycation" because to me, staycation implies what I have usually done on my weeks off in recent years, due to a lack of money and motivation: stay at home and do all the things I normally do in my daily life--surf the internet, play games, cook at home--only without the going-to-work part. If I do happen to go out of town, it's to see my parents whose homes are as familiar to me as my own.

In other words, I don't have any new experiences or do any of those touristy things you do on a vacation. But I realized that there's a lot in Tulsa I haven't done. I never really experienced Tulsa as a tourist, because when I moved here, a combination of poverty, extremely demanding work schedule and a new fiancee kept me pretty much just working and sleeping and having sex much of the time. And by the time I got out of that pattern, I was married and affecting the bored, cynical pose of the native towards all those "tourists." Plus I'm from Oklahoma City, so it wasn't as if I thought Tulsa really had anything to show me.

But for this vacation, with some money in my pocket, I decided to treat it like an actual vacation. Don't spend all my time in the house. Go to places I've never been. Eat out as much as possible, and preferably at local places. See some touristy things. Go to some special events.

The first couple of days off, since they were my normal days off, I spent like any normal Monday and Tuesday. But on Wednesday, I started to ramp up. I ate out at the Rusty Crane downtown, where I'd never been before. I had the Sloppy John, which you would expect to be like a Sloppy Joe, except it wasn't. It was more like dry taco meat with some barbecue sauce on top. It was tasty, but not the flavor explosion I was expecting. Very friendly service, though.

Wednesday evening, I went to eat with someone (a rare experience in itself) at Gogi Gui, a Korean fusion place here in town. I had the donkatsu, which I haven't tried since one drunken expedition to a pub in Seoul in 1995(?) which culminated in me eating bugs, so my memories of the donkatsu were vague at best. Afterward, I went to the Saturn Room, a tiki lounge downtown (another place I'd never been) and tried one of their house specialty drinks, followed by karaoke at Woody's.

Thursday, I continued to press forward with the concept. Lunch was at the Genghis Grill on Cherry Street, which is a chain, but I'd never been there, so I tried it. Tasty food, but the organization, traffic flow, and service were all pretty bad, especially during the lunch rush. That afternoon, I decided to do something I've never really enjoyed, but suddenly found myself in the mood to try. I went to a bar and drank on the patio. I went to Classic Cigars downtown, sat out on the patio with a cigar and a beer and read Dracula, a book I had attempted to read as a child, but never finished (I did end up finishing it over the vacation). Both the cigar and beer were brands I'd never tried, recommended by the staff. I don't remember the cigar, but the beer was 5 a.m. Saint, a red ale. I really enjoyed myself, although it looks like I was still carrying some tension from work.

Still, to quote Castle, "I really am ruggedly handsome, aren't I?"

Afterward, I ate at the Rock 'N Rib Festival in downtown Tulsa. Rib Crib sponsored the event and were offering some special custom menu items just for the festival. I had a sampler of their htree types of smoked meat street tacos, which were all good, and also tried a sandwich from one of the barbecue contenders. Unfortunately, I tried economizing, so instead of having some authentic ribs, I had a sandwich which turned out to be a really expensive McRib. Still, a pretty good day, all in all.

Friday, I was not sure what to do to fill the day. I had events planned for the weekend that I didn't want to step on, so I started out by going to breakfast at McDonalds. Nothing says vacation like eating an oversalted biscuit with an undersalted egg on top, and I mean that sincerely. I pretty much only eat McDonalds breakfast (or any breakfast) on vacation, so that is exactly what it felt like.

Not sure what to do for lunch, I hunted around online and discovered that the Greek Festival was also happening that weekend (turns out there were at least four festivals happening that weekend - everybody trying to capitalize on the end of summer).So I headed just south of downtown to have some gyros and spanakopita and various other Greek things, including a glass of wine and a sour-cherry Greek soft drink. I hadn't been to the Greek festival in probably ten years, so this was a welcome return. I even enjoyed the bouzouki players.

Afterward, I drove around, thinking I might visit a park, but instead went back to Cherry Street, where I did some window shopping and had a chai in the Coffee House on Cherry Street (also new to me). I finished off Dracula and thought about doing some writing on my laptop, but there were at least ten other people on their laptops there, and they were ALL Macbooks, so I kept my Windows laptop safely in its bag to avoid Apple bullies.

Supper that night, after researching several possibilities that fell through, was at Fat Guy's Burgers downtown, where I go fairly often, but I had never tried their fries. Fat Guy's has a large number of custom dipping sauces that I have been wanting to try, so I got an order of fries with malt vinegar aioli. Not as tasty as I'd hoped, but a new experience nonetheless. I kind of wanted to go try another bar at that point, but since I had to get up early the next morning, I decided to go home and make it an early night.

Why did I have to get up early? Because a couple of weeks before my vacation, I found out that there would be a race that Saturday morning, the Quarter-Marathon sponsored by Fleet Feet Sports (quarter-marathon is a little over 10.5k). So at 7:30 in the morning, I headed downtown to run in the race. I didn't have my best time ever, maybe because I had spent the last few days drinking and eating fries with malt vinegar aioli, but the weather was perfect for running, overcast and cool,and I did okay.

Of course, although I tried to smile in this immediate post-race shot, I was feeling more like this.

Afterward, I stuck around and ate the free food provided (and by "free," I mean "covered by the race admission fee"). Went home and cleaned up and then took my daughter to Eufaula to see my dad, where we ate at a Mexican restaurant I had never tried (Los Arcos, apparently a regional chain, but the food was mediocre at best).

Sunday, we slept late, lunched at Braums, then came back home, where I tried another new thing. I have lived in my current house for over seven years, a couple of miles from downtown which I have just started trying to explore, and only a mile or so from the Gilcrease Museum,where I had never been. And it just so happens that they have free admission on one Sunday a month, which just happened to fall on my vacation week. Serendipity!

So I toured the museum and felt so relaxed and at peace that I even decided to explore the park out back.

I think I look a lot more relaxed in that last pic than in the previous ones. I also decided that my vacation needed a souvenir, so I bought some overpriced Mexican chocolate from the museum gift shop.

And then I faced an agonizing couple of hours trying to decide where to have dinner for the last hoorah of the vacation in place. I juggled several ideas, but eventually settled on another Cherry Street restaurant called Smoke, which sounds like a barbecue place, but is actually a steak house with a cigar lounge. On Sunday nights, they have a special price on a 12 oz. New York Strip which was quite nice. I paired it with an ale from an Oklahoma brewery that I had never tried before. A very enjoyable evening, even though I ended up passing on the cigar lounge. Afterward, I spent way too much of my remaining cash at a bar.

And now, even though I technically haven't gone back to work yet, the vacation part of the vacation-in-place is over. I think it was a great success. I didn't get away from Tulsa, except for a brief jaunt to Dad's, but that meant I was able to spend money I would have used on gas and lodging to eat at great places and have fun experiences. But I am left with two conflicting thoughts.

One is that there is still a lot of Tulsa that I haven't experienced, so I can use this concept again and again on several future vacations. The other is that, since I'm here, I don't need to wait until my vacation to do these things. But the thing about doing it as a vacation is that I could use the money budgeted for travel to go places I normally can't afford, and because my mind was in vacation mode, I allowed myself to spend the money that I otherwise wouldn't have.

It was a good week. I can't wait for December.

Monday, July 06, 2015

The Beast With Eight Shoes (And Counting)

Holy crap, what a mess.

You know the old saying about waiting for the other shoe to drop? Right now, I'm wondering just how many shoes this beast has. But let me start at basically the beginning.

Several years ago, when my ex and I separated, I bought this little old house. I thought at the time it had this retro charm to it. Seven years later, its quirks are no longer lovable, and I seriously want to raze it to the ground and build a brand-new house in its place.

One of those quirks was the bathroom plumbing. In the bathroom was an antique cast-iron clawfoot tub, which was cool. But when it was installed, it had only a tub filler faucet, no shower. Some time later, the previous owners decided to rig a shower using flexible tubing and a separate faucet fixture that looks like something you'd hook a garden hose to..

Another flexible tube hung from a chain attached to the ceiling, with a piece of pink string tied around the base of the shower head to keep it from weaving around like a Water Wiggle (from Wham-O).

I didn't especially love the setup, but new tub/shower fixtures were expensive, so I made do. But over the years, the faucet developed first a little drip, and lately, a full trickle that could not be shut off no matter how tightly you turned off the faucets. And because that trickle included hot water, the bathroom was permanently steamy.

Now, this is normally a pretty easy home repair, a simple matter of replacing the washers in the faucet handles. But I decided, since I'm now working full-time and had some available cash, to go ahead and change out that old jerry-rigged system for some new fixtures.

Shoe the First: local stores do not carry clawfoot tub fixtures in inventory. So I had to special order on-line and have it delivered, which caused a brief delay. By this time, I could feel the heightened humidity every time I headed back toward the bathroom, and any paper goods in adjoining rooms felt decidedly damp.

But although Home Depot's website said something on the order of 10 days for delivery, I think I got in closer to seven. Still not ideal, but at least now I could get on to the repair.

Drop Shoe the Second: torrential rains. When I went out to the water meter can to shut off the water, the hole was flooded. Feeling around in muddy, murky water, I could not feel anything like a shut-off valve.

So I went to the internet to research. I found that most houses should have a separate shut-off valve in the house somewhere, either in the house proper, or in the crawlspace, or on the pipes outside where the water comes into the house. Well, there was not a master shut-off in the house, and the crawl-space, besides being muddy and frightening (imagine the support pillars for the house having the same jerry-rigged look as the plumbing above), was very confusing. Nothing clearly stood out as a master shut-off, and the main cluster of pipes looked mostly inaccessible. I did find a pipe going into the house with a proper shut-off valve. Turning that off shut off my gas.

One relit water heater pilot later, I still had no idea where my shut-off valve was. I decided to wait until the water had receded in the water meter can so I could find that shut-off valve.

Which is probably the reason why it rained every day for something like two solid weeks.

Eventually, after a few dry days, the water surrounding the meter finally soaked back into the ground and I could clearly see...

Shoe the Third: no shut-off valve. Seriously, nothing there. Look.

At this point, I seriously considered calling a plumber to do the installation, but I had spent most of my available cash on the fixtures themselves, which were just sitting in pieces around the house. So I decided to call the utility company and ask them. The customer service rep insisted the shut-off valve was with the meter, but suggested that she could turn in an emergency shut-off request to the city. I hesitated, but declined, since I would then have to have someone come back out to turn it back on, and if there was a leak somewhere, I would have to call them back out to shut it off again.

So I decided to take some time to look for other options. But apparently, the customer service rep I talked to misunderstood what I said, because a couple of hours later, my water was off. I ran out to look at the water meter to see if I could tell what had been done to shut it off, but there was no sign.

But not wanting to waste the opportunity, I went ahead and did the installation of the new fixture. It took a few hours longer than it should have, because...

Shoe the Fourth: the old faucet had been in place for decades. The nuts securing it to the tub had been painted over at least once, space was tight, and one of the corners on one of the old nuts had been worn away pretty thoroughly, so getting the nuts free was a bitch. Once I finally had the nuts free, I found out the faucet itself was secured with putty, so I had to spend another twenty minutes to a half-hour trying to work it free. The heat and humidity built up over previous weeks meant I could only work in there for about twenty minutes at a time before I had to step out and cool off. I also replaced the float-and-flapper system in the toilet, which otherwise runs constantly in the winter unless you reach your hand in the tank and hold down the flapper, which as you might imagine is a pretty cold proposition.

Finally, though, I got the job done.

Or so I thought. By the time I finished, it was almost 9 p.m. and I had to leave for work. Because of my odd sleep-and-work schedule, I was not able to call the city for a couple of days to get the water turned on. Which is when I heard the crashing sounds of...

Shoe the Fifth: getting the water back on. Remember, I still had not found the shut-off switch outside, so I still had no way to turn the water back on. I called the city to come out, but by the next day, he had not shown up. Still no water.

So I called, only to be told he had turned the water on, found it to be running, shut it off immediately, and left. Because of bad phone reception in my house and poor communication skills on the part of the rep, I could not process what she was telling me, so I asked for the guy to come back.

Another day later, and when I called back, they informed me that once again, he had come, turned it on, shut it off, and left. This person was able to explain the issue more clearly: if the water meter shows water flowing when they turn it back on, they have no way of knowing whether that is something normal (like the toilets refilling after being flushed during three days without water) or a leak. So they immediately turn the water off and leave.

I think it stretched to five calls with the city and me planting a folding chair out by the street to wait for the guy to show up. Finally the truck pulls up so I can watch the guy shut off the water. And there's the shut-off.

Remember the picture I showed you above? The shut-off valve is visible in that picture. Here:

Hidden there in the grass and dirt is a barely-visible oblong almost the same color as the surrounding dirt that looks like just another piece of debris. Once I cleared away the dirt and grass roots, it looked more like the kind of shut-off valve I was looking for.

And it was a good thing he showed me where it was, because there actually was a pretty bad leak. I had tried to reuse some old washers from the old fixtures, which didn't work well. I had to leave the water shut off and run to a couple of hardware stores to find new washers that would work, and then turn the water back on myself.

And finally, it was done. And none too soon, because all the extra humidity from the hot water had huge patches of black mold growing on my walls which I spent a few hours scrubbing away, not just in the bathroom, but in the adjoining room. All was good with the world again.

Until there came the thundering sound of Shoe the Sixth, a week or so later: apparently, all the hot water that had been running had kept the hot water heater running more than usual, driving my gas bill up to twice what it normally is in the summer. This made the meter reader suspect a gas leak, and he shut off my gas.

Not a problem. Unlike my long sojourn in the wilds of underemployment, my bills were now current and in good standing, so I just called to have it turned back on.

Oh, wait, is that the gentle trip-trapping of a SEVENTH SHOE? Why yes, I think it is. Remember all the way up at the top of this post, when I talked about my old house's no-longer-lovable quirks. Another one of those quirks was a slap-dash venting pipe coming out the top of my old water heater. It was apparently venting carbon monoxide into the house. Now, the house is not actually sealed up well enough for deadly gases to build up, but rules is rules, so the water heater is shut down with an official tag on it until I get the vent replaced. But it shouldn't be a problem, the guy said. It should be, like, maybe an hour's work for a plumber.

Shoe the Eighth: I called out a plumbing service to take a look and quote me a price. And as it happens, they need to not only replace the vent pipe leading to the hole in the wall inside, they need to add some kind of gimcrack outside. But I have allowed the foliage to grow out of control on that side of the house. There's only a couple of feet of clearance between the house and the fence on that side, which means it is completely impassable.

So the quote for the "easy one-hour job," including a little extra for working in an inaccessible location: north of $700 bucks, otherwise known as the "there's no way in hell I want to actually do this job, so I'm quoting you a price so high that there's no way you'll agree to pay it."

So that's where I am right now: living in what is turning into the third week without hot water while I try to track down the parts to do the job myself (honestly, other than the outside bit, it doesn't look that hard). But, like clawfoot tub fixtures, there is a part that I'm having trouble finding. Home Depot carries everything I need except for the part that actually attaches to the water heater, which looks like it is sold with the water heater itself.

I was going to go today to regular hardware stores to look for it, but I overslept. Yes, I know. My own procrastination and odd sleep schedules are turning every problem much bigger than it needs to be. But it's a little late to get me to change now.