Greener Pastures

February 27th, 2010

I have been told by many of the people that I work with, “You thought the grass was greener on the other side.” I humbly admit that they were right. For the last three months my old Lockport route has never become permanent home to either driver or pharmacy, continually bouncing back and forth with substitute delivery and unhappy stores. Several drivers had tried the route. They always came back with stories of too many miles, large loads, and horrible traffic out of town. The pharmacies were upset with late deliveries and rude drivers. I thought it over and decided to see if I could get the Lockport route back.

There were several reasons to change back: The South-Town route was longer than the Lockport route by twenty miles. Every day I had to pay tolls on the NYS Thruway. My first stop didn’t open before 9:00 am and on the days when I did get an early start, I found myself waiting for the store to open. And don’t even get me started on the weather systems off of Lake Erie!

All in all, both routes have their pros and cons. The South-Town route passed through the Indian Reservation where I could get gas cheaper. I had made good friends with the people I met every day and it would be hard to say good-bye again. And every time you make a change there is a little uncertainty and skepticism that you are doing the right thing.

I knew the management was desperate to find a permanent and responsible driver for the Lockport route. The South-Town route was located where it could be split with other deliveries in the area. With that in mind I went to them and pretended to reluctantly agree to take my old route back if they gave me more money – It worked! They were hesitant to agree at first but after several days of complaints by unhappy pharmacies, the route was mine.

My first day back was filled with awkward hugs and questions. There was a lot of catching up to do. I tried to be friendly but still not linger too long. A few minutes lost at each stop can add up when you have 14 pharmacies to go to.

One week after I took back the route north into Lockport, the area was hit by a freak “Nor’ Easter’” that swirled in across Lake Ontario, dumped several inches of snow, and brought high winds with it. As I write this, it is still sitting in the same place swirling and snowing away. Sometimes you just can’t win.

First Impressions

February 7th, 2010

When I first took over this new delivery route to the South Towns, I was somewhat puzzled by the way I was treated.  It seemed that the pharmacy workers I met had an attitude of distance, mistrust, and coldness, almost conveying to me the feeling that I was not even welcome in their store.  The technicians responsible for checking in the order would sometimes ignore me or make me wait on some paperwork detail I needed.  It was a disheartening feeling and I was saddened that I had even changed to a different route.

On my last route into Lockport, almost everyone I met greeted me with warm smiles and inquisitive talk of my well-being.  We would chat about the weather, how our day was going, and later after I knew them better what our children and grandchildren were up to.  I introduced one person to Geocaching – which became our prime topic of conversation – and another has a golf tournament as a memorial to her father, and I have played in that the last two years.  I always left their stores with a warm feeling and friendly good-byes.

As I began to gather information from my fellow workers and new customers, it became apparent what was happening and how it had happened.  The driver on the route before me developed an attitude that the store personnel and he were always in conflict.  If the workers in the pharmacy were busy and couldn’t check in his order immediately, he would get mad and threaten or leave without completing the delivery.  He always thought everyone was out to get him, make him wait, or somehow make his job miserable.  It became a competition about who could mistreat whom the most.

There is an old saying, something about ‘flies’ and ‘honey’, that really is true.  After I was on the new route for a few days and once I got to know them and they got to know me, the job became immensely more satisfying.  I always have a smile and a friendly greeting for everyone I meet during the day.  If there is anything I can do to make their job easier, I try to do it.  If they are busy and can’t get to me right away, I tell them that I understand and it’s all right.  And I always leave by saying their name in a sincere  thank you and a friendly goodbye.

Now, I’m not saying that I’m a pushover and subservient in my job.  Everyone can have a bad day.  Sometimes things go wrong and something happens that’s just not right.  They know when I’m not happy with a certain situation, and I make sure they realize that a delivery person’s time is important too.   But mostly now they can’t do enough for me.  A lot of the time it seems like they fall all over themselves just to help me out.  When I roll in with my dolly, I hear “Dale’s here”, and they rush to check in my delivery.  The ladies at Wegmans always give me a coupon for coffee and an independent pharmacy offers me candy and drinks every day.  I can now say that I am friends with everyone on my route and happy to see them everyday.

I’d like to think the world would be a better place if we looked more for the good in people instead of the bad.  I guess both sides of politics would work better if we…opps, that’s a topic for another post.

Rainy Day at Niagara Falls

January 24th, 2010

On Sunday afternoon I drove to Niagara Falls.  I had heard reports that the winter is a splendid time to view the ice formations caused by the cascading water and freezing mist rising from the turbulence.  I wanted to see a phenomenon called the Ice Bridge, created by ice and slush flowing over the American Falls and jamming against the Canadian side, sometimes reaching 50 feet thick and spanning the entire Niagara gorge.  The famous Ice Bridge, hanging ice formations, rising crystal formations, and throw in some history of the place… I needed no more motivation to go.

Even though it had warmed to above freezing and there was a forecast of rain, I rationalized that the warm weather hadn’t affected the ice yet.  I prepared myself with a warm parka, an umbrella, and drove north on I190.  I always get mixed up a little on the roads near the Falls but I only had to circle around once before I found a parking spot only one block from the American Falls.  The nice thing about this time of year is that most of the things you do at the Falls are free.  The only drawback is that most things are closed.  It started to rain as I walked to the visitor’s center.

Inside the visitor’s center I studied the map of the trails down to the Falls and along the upper riverbank.  It seemed like a good idea to hike from the Falls up the river across a pedestrian bridge and around Goat Island to the edge of the Canadian Falls.  I would be able to visit both Falls and get in a good exercise hike to boot.  Outside, the rain now fell harder making the ice packed walkways treacherous.

There were a few tourists about.  Mostly, they were from other countries, speaking a language I sometimes recognized, and sometimes didn’t.  I guess that if you are on a vacation or are visiting Niagara Falls for the weekend, you have to use the time to see what you can no matter what the weather.  I noticed that most of them walked down to the Falls, snapped numerous pictures of themselves with the Falls in the background, and then hurried back to their cars.

A metal-pipe railing dotted with big silver binoculars lined the walkway at the edge of the Falls.  Below, I could see the Ice Bridge craggy and thick stretching across the gorge.  There were formations of ice like you would see in a cave full of stalactites and stalagmites.  Some icicles hung from the Falls and others grew out of the wall where water trickled from holes.  It was quite impressive and I would imagine a lot more colorful if the sun was shining.  The sun casts rainbows of color through the mist, but I was not to see that today.

Early history of the area tells of several times when the Falls completely froze over, and one time in 1848 when an ice jam above the American Falls stopped the flow for over a day.  One explorer investigated the cave behind the Falls and exclaimed the sight more than arctic but lunar.  Up until 1911 tourists and spectators were allowed to cross the Ice Bridge, even play upon the mounds of ice, but when the ice suddenly gave way and took three people downstream to their deaths, the authorities stopped the practice.

I’m drawn to the plaques beside paths.  I figure if someone goes to the trouble to make them and erect them, I should be courteous enough to read them.  And I have to admit that I find most of them interesting.  I could see a sign down the path a way, under the superstructure of the Rainbow Bridge, begging me to walk down and read it.  It’s not my attempt to bore you with history of the area, but it was amazing to me that this bridge has been rebuilt four times!  Once, when it was a suspension bridge in the early 1800, a strong storm from the southwest tore it down, then, the next one was torn off of its foundation by an ice jam, and a couple of times it was rebuilt just to make it bigger.

AS I walked to Goat Island I was thinking about how this place must have looked to the Native Americans – I usually call them Indians, but for some reason I felt like being more politically correct.  Bridges, towers, factories, roads and buildings of ever kind spoil so much of the beauty of this place.  You can’t look anywhere without seeing something manmade.  Before the Niagara Parks Department – the first State Park in the country – took over the Falls and surrounding area it was even worse.  Buildings and factories lined every inch of the gorge and riverbank.  Now the Parks Department has turned a lot of it back to nature.

The rest of my walk was mostly uneventful.  I had the island almost to myself.  By the time I reached the Horseshoe Falls it was raining harder, and even with an umbrella my pants were getting wet.  The Horseshoe Falls, or Canadian Falls, is more impressive than the American Falls with 90% of the water going over them.  We used to go to Canada for the best view, but the border is too much of a hassle to go across now. I continued on around Goat Island, passed Three Sister Islands, and followed the path to a viewpoint of Grand Island and the portage point where oxcarts carried goods overland around the Falls to Lake Ontario in the 1700’s.

It seems I learn a little more history every time I visit someplace.  I guess you could read all this and see pictures on the Internet, but there is nothing like looking down over the edge of the American Falls and imagining people crossing on the ice.  Aren’t you glad you came for a walk in the rain with me?


December 13th, 2009

We have had a long stretch of good weather here in the Northeast but that all came to an end this last week.  A storm of great magnitude and devastation came barreling across the country, leaving in its path many power outages, stranded travelers and tragically, several fatalities attributed to the weather.  On Wednesday, the storm reached Western New York with falling temperatures, rain and wind throughout the day.  By Thursday snow bands off of lake Erie set up in Buffalo and made for treacherous driving.  It was strange how one area would get several inches of snow an hour, and only a few miles away the sun would be shining.  Just about the time I was about to depart for my delivery route, the Snow Belt shifted directly into the area where I would be heading.

Several vans were having trouble with the parking lot at our warehouse.  Snow had drifted over the building to pile a foot deep by the overhead doors, causing havoc just getting in and out of the building.  Because of the temperature – only slightly below freezing – the consistency of the snow was very mealy and slippery.  Surprisingly, many drivers had either neglected to get snow tires or thought they would not need them at all this year.  I was glad that I had very aggressive snow tires and I had little trouble digging through the parking lot and out onto the street.  As long as I went slowly, I negotiated the highway without incident and pulled onto the New York State Thruway to head for the south towns.

I entered a different world once I reached Hamburg, NY.  Snow was falling at a rate of several inches per hour and high winds caused very limited visibility.  At times I could hardly tell where the road was.  It was a catch-22: I couldn’t see where I was but I couldn’t go to slow for fear of getting stuck.  There were no snowplows on the road at all.  I think they had all given up and decided to wait until the blizzard subsided a little.  Most of the parking lots weren’t plowed and it was an adventure at each one.  I usually ended up guessing where the driveway was.  Just to load and wheel my dolly into the store – fighting the wind and deep snow – was time consuming and exhausting.  Once inside, the stores were mostly deserted with only a few fool-hearty customers that had braved the weather.

I reached Silver Creek several hours behind schedule.  The Rite-Aide store was without power and they led me back to the pharmacy by flashlight.  Everyone questioned me about conditions in other areas I had come through and where I had last noticed electricity.  I told them of several trees broken or uprooted along the road, surely taking down power lines with them.

The scariest thing happened in North Collins.  Three sets to railroad tracks cross the highway just east of town, cantered at an angle that offers little view of approaching trains.  There are lights and guardrails at the crossing but I usually like to take a look down the track anyway.  I never have trusted the warning signals 100%.  Just as I pulled on to the first set of tracks, out of the corner of my eye I saw the lights start to flash.  I now had a glimpse down the track and I could make out the light of a train flying towards me.  The snow on the tracks was deep and my van slowly dug and chewed its way to the other side.  The crossing arms came down just missing the back of my van as I cleared the last set of tracks.  Moments later the train filled my rearview mirrors.

By the time I reached Fredonia, I was out of the snow band and the grass still peeked through the dusting of snow on the ground.  The wind was raw and howling from the south, rocking high-profile vehicles like mine, gearing up for a calamity of events that would unfold during the night and into the next day.  Later in the day, the snow would shift into the area between Fredonia and the Pennsylvania State Line, stranding motorists on the NYS Thruway for hours.  Several miles of thruway became a twenty-mile parking lot as visibility dropped to zero and accidents clogged the road.  Hundreds of people spent the night and most of the next day trapped in their cars as authorities closed the highway.   I can only imagine what it would be like to spend 16 hours snowbound in a vehicle.  Many motorists ran out of gas trying to run their heaters and stay warm. Some had nothing to eat or drink.  With a small twist of fate, it could have been me.

The trip back to Buffalo was fairly uneventful.  I hit some areas of high winds (clocked at 70 mph in some areas) and ran into a few bands of snow, but by then the plows had salted most of the major roads and cleared some secondary ones.  I would drive through whiteout conditions on Friday but nothing as bad as the day before.  When I reached Fredonia, the Wal-Mart I deliver to had 50 semi-trucks in their parking lot and hundreds more were waiting along the road for the thruway to open.  Out on the thruway, State Troupers were going from car to car checking for medical emergencies and people in need.  Not until late in the afternoon would snowplows and towtrucks free the line of motorists.

Will someone please tell me why I took this South-Town route?

Online TV

December 5th, 2009

Last weekend my Son and Daughter-in-law stopped by to enjoy with me an afternoon meal at Applebee’s restaurant.  I had recently received a gift card from one of the stores I would no longer be delivering to and I had asked Dave and Lisa if they would share the gift card with me.  We enjoyed a good meal with plenty to eat, but the appetizer platter Dave ordered left us too full to finish most of our main meal.

Afterwards, we sat around the living room talking, and I mentioned to Dave that it would be nice if I could stream some shows from my computer to the TV.  I couldn’t justify spending $80/mo. to hook up cable when there is almost nothing on that I want to watch.  With more and more free programs and movies available online, I was wondering if he knew of a way I could hook the computer to the television.   We checked the connections and discovered that because of the television age and my base model laptop, no cable would connect them.  Dave picked up his iPhone and after a couple of minutes of research told me he had an idea.

First, he installed PlayOn on my computer, a media app that is used to transmit shows from various venders over wireless connections to gaming consoles.  Next, he configured the kids Wii to find the wireless signal and connect to the Internet.  After a few minutes of experimenting with different settings he had it all up and working.  Apparently, the signal comes from the wireless router (not even in my house) to my computer, then back to the router, then back to the Wii, then to the TV!  It all boggles my mind.