Bastrop State Park

Being originally from piney-woods east Texas, and now living in Austin, Lost Pines in Bastrop was my favorite nearby campground. It was absolutely beautiful out there, and the smell of a pine forest is second to none. Sadly, only 100 out of 6000 acres have survived.

I just hope the pine isn’t replaced by cedar.

Bastrop State Park

My first earthquake

I experienced my first earthquake last night in LA. I’m staying in Manhattan Beach, and at about 2:17:11 AM (PST) this morning, I was rudely shaken awake by our planet. Thanks, Earth. I quickly Googled up this link in a sleepy haze to be sure I wasn’t dreaming. As you can see, at 2:17:10 AM (PST) I was lying blissfully unaware that just a few miles away, tectonic plates were conspiring against me. I’ll take Texas thunderstorms, flash floods, and even the threat of a runaway tornado over this crazy natural phenomenon any day.

Avoid Citi cards if you hate bad customer service

I’ve been dealing with fraudulent charges on my card for months now, and in the meantime I’ve had to make payments on this balance. I had a similar issue once with Discover and they corrected it immediately. With Citi, it’s been a months-long ordeal. Finally they sent me a letter showing a scribbled signature on a receipt (not mine of course), and told me they would not be refunding my charges. Here’s what I sent them:

I have emailed several times regarding the charges on my card ending xxxx. I am very unhappy with the customer service provided thus far. I have only received responses regarding the smaller of the two fraudulent charges on this card, and the response I received was that you deemed the charge valid. Allow me to explain the nature of this fraud:

1) I haven’t used this card since April 2009; in fact, it has been put away inside a box in a drawer since that time.

2) In May 2009 two charges appeared from some place in Spain that appears to be a furniture store, after some searching on the internet: $xxx.xx and $xx.xx; these were accompanied by a foreign transaction fee of $xx.xx and a finance charge of $x.xx.

3) I was not in Spain at the time; I was in Indiana. This can be corroborated by evidence of passport stamps, plane tickets and activity on my other Citi card which clearly shows charges on the date in question – 5/23/09 – in Indiana.

4) In a letter I received detailing your determination that the charges were indeed valid because there was a signature, said signature is a) not my signature, and b) as previously stated, I was not in Spain, and therefore it would be physically impossible to sign a receipt.

Given the clear and plain nature of this fraud, I am requesting an appeal of your decision and that you:

1) Immediately freeze this account and issue a new card in order to prevent further fraud (I was never given notice you would be doing this)

2) Refund all charges listed above, in addition to the subsequent payments I have made on this balance.

Thank you for your attention to this issue.

What do you think? Strong enough? Too angry-sounding? Maybe it only sounds angry in my head, because I am actually pretty angry about this.

A month? Oops.

I can’t believe it’s been so long since I posted. It’s been a really busy month. I had a couple of big assignments due for school, so I was cranking away on those until I left for Austin last week. And I didn’t have internet access the whole week I was in Austin, so if I wasn’t in touch with you, it’s not because I don’t like you. It’s because I didn’t have any numbers or any way to contact anybody (except for those few numbers I have memorized).

Anyway, it was great being back home – so great that I almost changed my flight and stayed another week. But I know if I had stayed another week, I would have wanted to stay another month, and so on… And of course I have to finish out my masters here in London, so here I am. I miss the sunshine and BBQ and lake and cheeseburgers already. And my friends. I miss those guys the most. I wish I’d had more time to see everybody, but hopefully I’ll be back in May when I finish up, but I’m not sure if I’ll be moving back for good then, or if I’ll be spending my summer elsewhere. We’ll see!

All aboard and never bored

As heard on a late night tube ride from Waterloo to London Bridge this past Saturday:

Miiind the doooooors [playfully admonishing].
Alright kids, the next stop on the magical mystery tour is London Bridge… If you’re out drinking and getting merry, be careful, and remember to keep your belongings with you at all times.

Happy new year

I offer here an update on my life in London. It starts bleak, but ends happily (I hope).

I’ve fallen in love/hate with this city. It’s a paradoxical place – massive, teeming, cosmopolitan, beautiful and exciting; but also dreary, lonely, ugly, and dreadfully dull. It’s tough to know on a given week which London you’ll get, but know this – either one will cost you a small fortune to experience. Just leaving my flat costs me money. Even if I return home with empty hands and belly, it seems somehow I’ve spent the equivalent of $10. There are actually times I’ve wanted to go out and spend the rare beautiful day at a cafe and thought to myself, “it’s really not worth leaving the house.” That, and they don’t really do cafes in London. Perhaps because of the difficulty in getting from place to place cheaply (and the tube shuts around midnight), you can have friends all over the city but you’ll never see them, because no one leaves their neighborhoods.

But it’s not all bad. London at night is gorgeous. It’s nice sometimes just to drive around the city and take it all in. The south bank, near where I live, is particularly nice for a nighttime stroll, with lit trees, the London Eye, and an interesting mix of old and new architecture. And once you’ve found a good local pub, you’ve found a good reason not to leave your neighborhood too often anyway. There’s also a lot of good fun to be had if you know where to look. The tough part is late night, as it changes every week – you don’t typically find the same kind of crowd or music at the same venues.

But there are a few standouts in the early evening category – Shunt being one of them. It’s a vast network of cavernous alcoves beneath London Bridge train station, populated by a rotating series of eclectic art installations, musical experimentation and bizarre films. It opens at the back to a large hall with vaulted ceilings, a bar, dj booth and seating areas (one of which is seasonally decorated to appear to be outdoors). Pretty much the coolest place in London at my doorstep. I once saw a 15-foot-tall glowing white alien marionette being operated by a half dozen people dressed in black, lurching through the hallways and corridors as if actually alive and slightly drunk.

Living here for a long time? I don’t know about that. I still prefer Austin. But living here for a little while? I could recommend it. And I encourage a visit while I’m still around. I can offer a couch to crash on and a somewhat mediocre tour.

Bedtime banality

It seems the only dreams I ever have (or at least remember) are exceedingly mundane. For example, last night I had a dream I was in a cafeteria (like a generic Luby’s) with a few friends. All I remember is sitting at the table, then getting up to fill my tray with food, and I apparently was trying very hard to decide on an entree. For once, I didn’t want any meat dish, so a baked potato was really my only option. I had to decide on my two veggies, which was very difficult. The lady recommended the cauliflower, which I thought sounded nice, and I was going to choose mashed potatoes until I remembered my entree choice. Now what? Broccoli? I woke up before the suspense could kill me.

What do your dreams say about you? Mine tell me I’m a simpleton.