Week 2 of the Trivia Unification Tournament

All right, it’s time for the second week of the Capital District’s Trivia Unification Tournament, in which all the area’s bar and tavern trivia companies pick their top teams for a single-game winner-take-all championship.

Wait … did I say second week?

Yeah, I did.  Seems I didn’t realize the qualification tournament started last week.

Oops.

Continue reading “Week 2 of the Trivia Unification Tournament”

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The $200 nail

I was on such an emotional high after Monday’s eclipse photo day.  Such an emotional high.

Nothing could bother me.  Not my GPS rerouting me through the heart of Washington, D.C. to avoid highway traffic.  Not the bumper-to-bumper traffic and heat of a long drive from South Carolina.

But then … on the New Jersey Turnpike, of all places … something happened.

Continue reading “The $200 nail”

Dracourage passed its first ultra-long road trip test.

Sunday morning.  2:00 a.m.

Alarm goes off.

I know what that means.  I have one hour to finish any last minute packing, load my 2013 Chevrolet Cruze “Dracourage,” and attempt a 13 1/2 hour drive from the Capital District to my target eclipse shooting spot in Clinton, South Carolina.

It is official.  I am nuts.

Continue reading “Dracourage passed its first ultra-long road trip test.”

A $15 piece of rubber

Last Saturday, I took my 2013 Chevrolet Cruze “Dracourage” to DePaula Chevrolet for the car’s annual inspection, as well as an oil change, fuel top-off and a detailing.  Hey, when you’ve owned the car for a year (and your more than halfway complete on your goal of paying off the car loan), you celebrate anniversaries.

I dropped the car off, and figured I would wait at DePaula’s customer service lounge for a couple of hours while my car received the TLC from DePaula’s certified GM technicians.

About twenty minutes later, one of the DePaula employees met me at the customer service lounge.

“That was fast,” I said.

“Mr. Miller,” he interrupted.  “We have a problem, I think you should see this.”

Oh no.  No no no no no no…

Continue reading “A $15 piece of rubber”

Thanks for the slap, DePaula Chevrolet…

If you’ve read my blog over any period of time, you know that I am a loyal General Motors man.  The four cars I’ve owned over the past two decades were all manufactured under the General Motors aegis – my 1991 Pontiac 6000 (“The 6”), my 2005 Saturn Ion (“Cardachrome”), my 2006 Chevrolet Cobalt SS (“The Blackbird”) and my current ride, the 2013 Chevrolet Cruze (“Dracourage”).

Winter Chevrolet. Nikon Df camera, Vivitar 19mm f/3.8 lens. Photo by Chuck Miller.

I’ve chosen DePaula Chevrolet as my repair and maintenance shop, and when I acquired Dracourage, I worked with DePaula directly to take care of all the paperwork.  They understood that my previous car – the Blackbird – was pulverized and destroyed in a heinous car accident in North Carolina.  Which is why I had to get a new car – i.e., Dracourage.

Continue reading “Thanks for the slap, DePaula Chevrolet…”

Penance for my sin last week

Some of you already know about this.  And you’ve been supportive.  But I don’t want anyone thinking terrible thoughts about me.  That, and I need to come clean with everybody.

So I hope you forgive me for what I’m about to say.

Last week, I was not in the greatest of mindframes.  And I did something that was a poor exercise in self-control.

Bear with me.

 

Last week, I went to the Saratoga Casino and Hotel (hey, to me it’s still the harness track), and I spent some time (and money) in front of the slot machines.  I don’t know why I did this … normally I’ll play a few pulls on one of those one-armed bandits, lose a few dollars, and then mutter, “The machines are smarter than me today,” as I leave in a walk of shame.

When I do gamble, whether it’s with the slot machines or the horses or a scratch-off lottery ticket, I always gamble within my means.  I assume right off the bat that I’m going to lose the money, and that I’m not gambling away my rent money.

Still, for some reason or another, I sat down at one slot machine last week and played the one-armed bandit for a while.

And surprisingly, one of the special “bonus combinations” came up on the slots.

And after the machine went through its song and dance and ring and jingle … I was now $300 in the black.

What?

Yep, I hit one of the machine’s “maxi-jackpots,” and next thing I know that little penny slot machine now had some serious cash in it.

And in the back of my mind, my brain is screaming at me, “Chuck, this is your lucky day.  Run over to the roulette wheel and put everything on 27 black.”

And for the love of me, I thought about doing that.  Such is the seductive pull of gambling.  You start thinking that you’re playing with “house money,” that this is your chance to claim the big bucks.

I looked at the CASHOUT button on the slot machine.  It would be so easy to do this.  I have this money.  It’s right there.  And for a brief moment … I thought about throwing every cent of my winnings on a spin of 27 black.

Then I thought once more.

I have to be extremely careful.  There are plenty of addictions that I’ve seen from people in my life – compulsions that can destroy a person without question or remorse.  It’s one thing to know that you’ve set aside $40 for the OTB or $20 on lottery tickets when the jackpot is high … but you can’t assume that the luck will continue.  There are numerous professional gamblers who find themselves in a room on a Tuesday night with six other professional gamblers, and they’re beginning step one of the twelve-step process.

But here’s this money.  Three hundred dollars.  Right in my hands.

I hit the CASHOUT button on the slot machine.  The one-armed bandit spit out a $300 voucher.

This is the trick.  It would be so easy to put that $300 voucher in another machine.  It’s just like money.  It’s not gambling, it’s gaming.  We all love to play games, don’t we?

Well, I decided to play another game that Saturday.

And I put my $300 in another slot.

And in the end, my money disappeared.

But I felt like a winner.

See, the “slot” I put my winnings in was the drive-through slot of my bank.  I actually arrived at the teller window about 15 minutes before close of Saturday business hours.  And the $300 game I played?  It was called “pay a little more on my car loan for my 2013 Chevrolet Cruze Dracourage.”

Yeah.  Rather than let that $300 burn a hole in my pocket and end up back in the casino’s coffers, I used every drop of will power, cashed out, left the casino, drove down to Albany, and dropped my winnings into my car loan.

And believe me, the temptation to stay and gamble all day and night was tremendous.  It’s tremendous for anybody.

But in the end, I thought about where I was in life.  It’s one thing to lose money at the casino … but it’s another thing to get $300 and then lose it in nothing flat.  And when you figure that I’m already six months ahead on a five-year car loan (and Dracourage has only been in my possession for about nine months), I think I made the right choice.

Now I have to remember a few more things.  I can’t go up to the casino every week and claim a $300 prize, any more than I can buy a lottery ticket and automatically be $300 richer.  It doesn’t work that way.

Because although they say it’s “gaming,” it’s really “gambling.”  As in you’re gambling with your cash, and you’re gambling with your soul, and you’re gambling with your life.

For those moments, I was tempted.  Tempted like the seductive kiss of a sensuous siren.  And although I felt like I could do this … I knew I had to walk away from the siren.

This is the tough decision we all make.  It isn’t just gambling.  It’s a thousand different life choices.  It’s will power and commitment and choice.  And we do this every single day.  God bless all of us who can make it through, and God support us when we can’t.

In the end, I’d rather immediately spend my winnings on an additional bonus car payment …

… than leave the casino with the thought of “Damn it, I wish I had walked away when I had that money” running through my brain.

Oh, and there was no way I could put all my money on 27 black.

Seeing as … 27 is a red color on roulette wheels …

Continue reading “Penance for my sin last week”

My car snitched on me…

Last week, I received a phone call from DePaula Chevrolet.  “Hi Chuck, we heard that your car needs an oil change, can we schedule an appointment to get that taken care of for you?” the voice sweetly asked.

Wait a sec.  I know it’s time to change the oil on Dracourage … but how did DePaula Chevrolet know this?

I snitched, Chuck…

“We heard from your car that you needed to change your oil.”

Wait … how is that …

And then I realized.

The last two cars I’ve owned – my 2013 Chevrolet Cruze “Dracourage” and my 2006 Chevrolet Cobalt SS “The Blackbird” – both came with factory-installed OnStar vehicle monitoring services.  Now even with all that OnStar could provide for me and all it advertised it could do, neither car’s OnStar really met my needs.  And even as I let the service lapse out, I found that Dracourage would still e-mail me a monthly report – mileage, fuel economy, pump up the air pressure on that left front tire…

Which is all well and good.

And with Dracourage, I purchased an extended vehicle service contract with DePaula Chevrolet.  No, not one of those cold-call vehicle service contracts that doesn’t cover anything more expensive than an air freshener – with this VSC, DePaula would take care of oil changes and repairs and maintenance for at least three years.  And they’ve done that in the past with my car – oil changes and air filters and whatnot, for very little out-of-pocket expense to me.

So now I figure it out.  When Dracourage e-mails me a vehicle report each month … it must also be e-mailing a report to DePaula Chevrolet.  And sure enough, the moment I hit that point of necessary fluid replacement .. Dracourage not only let me know, it let DePaula Chevrolet know through the OnStar program.

Great.  My car is possessed with the spirit of a tattletale.  All I need now is Ann Sheridan’s voice blaring through the car stereo at me.

So bright and early this morning, I’m off to DePaula Chevrolet for an oil change (I think, at 27,000 miles, I’m either getting regular or semi-synthetic) and probably a top-off of all my fluids.  That’s fine.  While I’m at DePaula, I’ll nosh on their breakfast treats and coffee and window-shop their showroom displays.  Oh yes, I’ll take that powder-blue Corvette, can I get that in an automatic transmission?

I suppose this also means that Dracourage is looking out for me – even the most rudimentary owner knows that the best way to avoid major repairs tomorrow is to keep your car’s oil fresh today – but what’s next?

“Hi, Chuck, this is Dr. Mohler and Choo, D.D.S., your dentist.  Your car e-mailed us and said you are due for your cleaning.  We have an 8:00 a.m. appointment tomorrow, your car says you don’t have anything scheduled, would you like to come in?”

“Hi, Chuck, this is McGreevy Pro Lab.  Your car just e-mailed us and said that you were in the Adirondacks taking pictures, so don’t forget to drop your rolls of film off with us on Monday.”

“Hi, Chuck, this is Hamilton College calling.  Your car just e-mailed us and said that you should be making a donation to us this week.  We can take cash, check or money order, how would you like to pay?”

Yep, folks, it’s official.

My car is a snitch.

And I guess … if that’s the worst thing I can say about Dracourage…

Then that’s not so bad.