Amazon

YOUR BUSINESS IS IMPORTANT TO US

It’s an epidemic, a pandemic  — of bad service.

Do you remember when the customer was always right? I do. It wasn’t that long ago.

Customer satisfaction and service was the norm until approximately 2002, at which point everyone — more or less simultaneously — decided to save money by “automating” customer service, eliminating it entirely, or shipping it overseas to be handled by people who speak heavily accented English and don’t know anything about the products they are supposed to be supporting. That was when you and me, the customers, the ones who spend our limited, disposable income on their products or services, became unimportant.

outofserviceThat was the year when we all became not worth the effort of answering a question, or supplying documentation. The gold standard for customer service became … nothing. These days, after slightly more than a decade of working out the details, most organizations do not offer any service to their customers. At all.

The overall attitude is “do the least you can — nothing, if you can get away with it. All customers are liars and thieves. Treat them as such.”

Customer disservice. I think I’m permanently pissed off. Even thinking about calling a customer service department gets my blood boiling. I’m shocked if I’m treated well. Delighted, but shocked.

SO WHAT DO I HATE?

Recorded phone solicitations that interrupt your sleep, meals, conversations, and the show you’re watching. Calls that display on caller ID as familiar phone numbers, but they’ve hacked your data or bought it from someone from whom you bought something.

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Fake charitable organizations, many supposedly in support of breast cancer research or some other form of advocacy. Who take your money and use it to line their own pockets.

“Surveys” that are nothing but scams to collect your private data for sale and misuse.

“Discount cards” for every shop you go to, all of which are a way to collect your personal information so they can sell it. Because you may not be worth much as a customer, but your buying habits sell for big bucks.

Voice-mail systems at doctor’s offices with so many options you can’t recall the first option halfway through the message. The recordings go on and on, until you are ready to scream. Worse, you have to listen to the entire spiel every time you call. The message starts with “Please listen to this entire message before making your selection. Our menu choices have recently changed …” Recently was 10 months ago … or a year or more. You can sing along with the recording because you’ve heard it so many times.

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Many places no longer offer any option of speaking to a live person. Try to find a live human being at your electric company, cable provider, or credit card company.

Our electric company had customer service. Today, if you can find their phone number, a recorded message will tell you to visit the website. Online. Not quite what you need when the power’s off. Make sure you have their actual phone number on your device. You can’t look it up online when there’s no electricity because if there’s no electricity, there’s also no cable or WiFi.

If your whole life is online, it’s over when the power goes out.

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Assuming you can worm your way through voice mail and finally push the magic number to connect you to a live agent, you hear: “Your business is important to us …” followed by Muzak and a 40-minute wait on hold. Better yet, it’s the long wait, followed by a disconnect and dial tone.

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Bad (automated) service is particular noxious when it’s a local company. You know both office workers are probably playing games on Facebook while you listen to their 5-minute voice-mail message. All you wanted to do was ask on which night they are open late. By the end of the message, you no longer care.

THERE ARE STILL SOME GOOD ONES OUT THERE 

Amazon and Audible. Audible is an Amazon company now, but they always had terrific customer service. The more I deal with Amazon, the less I want to deal with anyone else. They are proof getting service does not have to be a nightmare. Trauma need not part of all interactions with vendors, medical facilities, utilities, or other corporations.

AT&T is good. Not as good as Amazon, but you can eventually get a real live person who knows what they are doing. And oddly enough, Medicare and Social Security. Though you may need to wait on hold for a while, you will get a live person in the end — and they will speak your language. They will stay on line with you as long as it takes. Credit where it’s due. These underpaid public servants try hard to help you.

L.L. Bean has wonderful customer service. Land’s End is good too.

To everyone else, I offer a big raspberry and a Bah Humbug in honor of the season.

THUMBS DOWN ON KINDLE FIRE HDX – THUMBS UP ON PAPERWHITE

Amazon launched the new generation of Kindles at the end of September 2013. I spent time perusing these latest greatest Kindles. They were supposed to be pretty much the same as the Fire HD, but with better graphics, battery and sound. A few other perks like really great support and cameras front and back. Gadget junky that I am, I resisted until December, but my Fire was slowing down. Probably from all the stuff I was doing on it. Mind you, it never stopped working but it didn’t work quite as fast or smoothly as it had. When Amazon dropped the price by $50 before Christmas, I bought it. It came with 6-month financing at 0% interest. Nice.

The Amazon Kindle Fire HDX has a new, improved interface for email and the calendar is better too. I know the audio and video were technically better, but they weren’t noticeably different to me. The audio and video on the Fire HD are great and if the HDX is a little better, it’s not a big difference.

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I loved my Kindle Fire HD. I figured I would love the new one even more. And I did. For a day. Maybe two. That was when I realized the battery was draining phenomenally fast. At one point, I was on the phone with Kindle support complaining about the battery — and it was dropping at about 1% every two or three minutes. She said video uses up a lot of battery and I said I’d been able to watch movies on the Fire HD, but at this rate wouldn’t make it through a movie on the HDX without plugging it in.

In about 40 minutes, it dropped more than 50%. I plugged it in before it went flat. It also drained while it was not in use — sleeping — at approximately 5% per hour. Reading — not using audio or video — drained it at 15% per hour. As the battery hit less than 20%, it became unresponsive. Customer support suggested I let it drain all the way and recharge it. Which I did.

No improvement. Part of the problem is you can’t turn off apps except by forcing a stop. This is an awkward process which merely slows (but doesn’t stop) the battery from draining while the device sleeps. If you are using the HDX, it chews through the battery at warp speed. You can actually see it drop.

Back at customer service, she suggested I return it and try a different unit. I had an itchy feeling in my brain the problem was NOT my unit, but a design issue. I’d been reading reviews. Too many people complaining of battery problems to be just a coincidence. I noticed the reviews before I bought but couldn’t believe Amazon would knowingly market a seriously flawed product. The Fire HD didn’t get weeks from its battery as does a plain vanilla Kindle, but it gets a solid 12 hours. That’s twelve hours of actual use. On the HDX, you’d be lucky to get 4 hours of simple reading. Nonetheless, after being assured I could return it if I didn’t like it, I agreed to try another one. A couple of days later, the new HDX arrived.

The second HDX was worse than the first. Not only did it eat its battery, but it took forever to connect to WiFi — and sometimes wouldn’t connect at all — a problem I hadn’t had on the first unit. In a house with 9 working computers, I knew it wasn’t my WiFi. It was the device. The connectivity problem persisted even when plugged in. And even when it found the WiFi, it would rarely open a website, even Amazon. This pushed me over the edge. I’m not eager to return things. I hang on to all kinds of things with which I’m not entirely satisfied, but I couldn’t afford to do it this time. I need a working Kindle.

Maybe I could have lived with the awful battery performance, but not with the useless browser too. After less than a week, I called Amazon and said “That’s it, I’m done.” In the meantime, in a fit of totally unwarranted optimism, I had given my Fire HD to my daughter-in-law and couldn’t bring myself to ask for it back. I wouldn’t have gotten it anyhow because she really likes it.

Which left me without a Kindle. Not good.

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I bought the Paperwhite — the model with WiFi, not 3G. It arrived yesterday. I set it up late in the afternoon. It went live as soon as I plugged it in. At blinding speed it connected, displaying all my books and documents sorted into categories I’d created on my original Kindle. The Paperwhite reminded me why I fell in love with Kindles.

It’s a great reader. It has a just a few bells and no whistles. It’s light, small, easy-to-use. It has a touch screen, virtual keyboard and its own light, but retains many things I loved about the older Kindles, mainly that it’s a wonderful device on which to read a book. Paperwhite is a dedicated reader, not a tablet. Flat, non-reflective surface — easy on the eyes. Adjustable fonts and lighting that won’t wake your spouse. It weighs almost nothing, even with a cover.

I settled in to read last night. For the first time in a long while, I could focus on a book. The Fire HD was a fine tablet, but it was forever teasing me away from reading to play a game, hear a tune, or watch a movie — things I can do on my laptop.

Perhaps this is what I should have bought in the first place. I cannot recommend the Kindle Fire HDX, but hey, if you want a reader? The Paperwhite is fantastic.

15-MONTHS AND COUNTING – MY KINDLE FIRE HD

Amazon launched its new generation of Kindles this week. I built up a nice head of new gadget enthusiasm looking at these latest greatest Kindles. They have even higher resolution, more memory options and a faster processor. Then, I turned on my Kindle Fire HD and realized I don’t need a new one. This one is fine. No hiccups. Handles everything I throw at it. For a little tablet, it’s a workhorse that never quits.

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There is no question in my mind that the Kindles are the biggest bargain in tablets on the market. Even the most expensive top of the line new versions are remarkably low-priced. I have two Kindles and use both, though I use the Fire most.

The Kindle with the keyboard is still a great book reader with an astoundingly long battery life — weeks of reading on one charge. It doesn’t do everything, but it does what it does perfectly. The Kindle Fire HD is much more versatile. It is a portable entertainment center. It travels everywhere. I use the other one primarily when I just want to read and I don’t know when I’ll be able to charge the battery.

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The Amazon Kindle Fire 7″ HD is fun, a complete mini entertainment center in a convenient, purse-sized package. It’s almost too much fun. I intend to read, but end up watching a movie. I get distracted by the plethora of choices.

It’s a fine reader. You may need to adjust the brightness to suit your comfort level, but that’s easily done. Adjusting the size of the text is a mere finger pinch. In bright sunlight, it isn’t as good as my 2nd gen Kindle, but I rarely read outside. I do, however, read in bed and the built in backlighting is very convenient.

The sound is remarkable. It’s hard to believe you can get that much good quality sound from such tiny speakers. The quality of the video is also amazing. I watch movies and TV shows on my  7″ Fire HD — something I was sure I would never do.

As an Amazon Prime member, there are a great many movies and television shows available for free; it will be a long time (if ever) before I need to buy anything. I have a huge library of books for the Kindle and all the books in my Audible account are automatically available on my Kindle too. I’ve gotten great “box sets” of Beethoven, Mozart, Debussy at amazingly reasonable prices. Any music CDs I’ve bought since I got the Kindle appear automatically under the music menu.

75-KindleReader-NK-09The Kindle HD links to the older of my 2 Audible accounts. You cannot link an Audible account that isn’t under the same email address as your Amazon account nor can you link multiple Audible accounts. If you have multiple Audible accounts under one email address and it is the same address you use for your Amazon account, you can consolidate libraries into a single account. If — as I did — you have more than one Audible account under separate email addresses, you can only link one. I gave up and closed my second account. If you are having problems with your Audible library, you will need to call Audible. They have excellent, friendly tech support and are a pleasure to work with.

The Kindle is great for listening to audiobooks, in my opinion better than an MP3 player because I hate earphones. The audio quality is good and the sound is plenty loud enough. The Kindle is small and light and fits easily in my purse. The HD is heavier than my older Kindle reader, but it’s still a very acceptable size and weight. You can use it with earphones if you need to. It sounds great. Really, I’m not kidding.

The available memory is only 16GB, plenty unless you want to download movies. Streaming uses no memory, so no problem. Regular “print” books are small; you can carry a whole library with you (I do). Music and audiobooks take up a lot more memory, but you can stream music. You can’t stream audiobooks yet, but maybe eventually. They’re working on it. There is no way to expand the memory. The Kindle has no slot for an SD chip nor port for a flash drive. Why not? If they would add one, I’d probably trade up! But, at the price — which has now dropped to a new low — it’s hard to complain. So I won’t.

Still, it wouldn’t have been that difficult to include slots for one or both. Just saying. Buying a 32 GB version doubles the amount of resident memory, but there’s still no option to expand beyond whatever is your preset limit.

You can work around the limits, but you need to accept the limits of the device or you will become very frustrated. It is what it is. It’s a lot. It’s just not everything.

Audiobooks can be large. You can keep a few on the Kindle, but probably not all 57 hours of  “Lord of the Rings.” Listen to a book, delete it then download the next. Unlike when you download from Audible to your computer, you cannot download a multi part book in sections. It’s the whole book or nothing. A book that is in your Audible library in multiple parts will download in a single section to the Kindle. If the book you want to load is LOTR or Winds of War, make sure you have enough room. I have not successfully downloaded anything that long. Actually, I haven’t even tried. It would be silly. Those books I listen to on one of my three other computers. I can live with that.

You can store everything you aren’t actively listening to, watching, or reading on Amazon’s cloud servers. Thus when you delete a book you never lose it, something that’s true of the entire Kindle line (not just the HD). You just move it off the device.

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You can retrieve it when you like. All is well if you have WiFi. It’s an issue if you lack a WiFi connection. Serious road warriors should probably spend the money and get a Kindle with 3G that automatically switch when you don’t have WiFi. That’s pretty much covers the world, with the exception of Jackman, Maine, where neither WiFi NOR 3G are available. I suppose there are other dead zones but I don’t know of any.

You can do most things you would want to do on any tablet on the Kindle. You won’t be editing pictures or writing your novel, but I don’t think you’d be doing that on any tablet. Or at least, I wouldn’t. For those things, I want a lot more RAM, a real hard drive, the right application and most important, a full-sized keyboard.

The manual — such as it is — is useless. Amazon has good customer service, real people who know the device and will stay on the phone with you until your battery runs out … but who wants to have to call customer service to figure out how to delete a book or movie? Or for that matter, turn the unit on? It’s simple, but even if you actually find the manual (I had to call customer service for that, too), you won’t find a listing for “delete,” “remove”, “turn on,” etc. Amazon, hire a technical writer. We work cheap. Give a job to someone who needs one!

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I bought the $199 version (much less now!) with advertising. I’m don’t find it intrusive. You can get rid of adverts for $15 if they annoy you, but they show up only as offers on the splash screen before you actually turn it on, which is why I find all the comments about how annoying it is puzzling. Have the people who are complaining seen how it’s done or are they assuming the ads show up on your reading screen? Once the unit is on, the ads are gone; you can only access them via the Offers menu. They aren’t in your books, movies, music, games, email or anything else. Just the splash screen you see before you turn it on.

Thumbs up for overall quality, sound, video, and speed. It’s a good-looking compact device. Accessories are affordable. Definitely get the Quick Charger ($9.99); you will be very glad you did. I also bought some inexpensive styli and use them occasionally. They’ve turned out to be useful for my iPhone. The touch screen is sometimes too sensitive. Usually it’s easier to use your fingers than a stylus, but the stylus does come in handy. A cheap stylus will work just as well as an expensive one. I have both and I can’t see any difference between them.

Fingerprints are not a problem. I buy lens wipes at the drug store. They clean the Kindle, my camera lens, my computer and my eyeglasses. Don’t bother with a protective screen; it’s a waste of money.

Get a cover. It provides protection and keeps dust and dirt out. Most of them let you prop your Kindle like an easel to watch a movie or listen hands free. Many covers also turn the Kindle on and off when you open or close it. Since the on/off button is a bit hard to find by feel, a case that turns the unit on and off is a plus.

The Kindle Fire HD does a lot more stuff than you expect and does it well. I’ve had it for more than 15 months. I’m still a very happy camper.  I’ve discovered I can listen to music while reading or playing Scrabble. I can listen to an audiobook while checking email or doing something else online. I’m finally starting to coördinate audiobooks and Kindle books, so I can listen and read the same book. Kind of cool. As the narrator reads, the books come alive and the text highlights with the narration. Neat.

The Kindle wakes up instantly. Zero boot time.

It’s the best deal in town — even less expensive now that the next generation has been released. I will probably get a new one eventually but not soon. I have yet to experience a single problem with either of my Kindles. They both work as well today as the day I got them. That’s saying a lot. I only wish everything in my world of widgets and gadgets worked this well.

GOT A KINDLE? MEGA BARGAINS FROM AMAZON TODAY!

Need something to read? Like mysteries? How about the classics? These are some of the amazing values you can get free or for very short money from Amazon.These are currently available. You can’t beat the prices, so if you’re a reader, there’s no downside except possibly that some of these books are huge.

Even if you don’t own a Kindle, the Kindle app is available for PC, Mac and a variety of mobile phones and tablets. Truly a win-win. This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are lots more.

Delphi Complete Works of Mark Twain (Illustrated) [Kindle Edition] Samuel Clemens … $.99

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (37 plays, 160 sonnets and 5 Poetry Books With Active Table of Contents) [Kindle Edition] … $.99

Alice in Wonderland: The Complete Collection (Illustrated Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Illustrated Through the Looking Glass, plus Alice’s Adventures Under Ground and The Hunting of the Snark) [Kindle Edition] … $.99 (My all time favorites!)

Oz: The Complete Collection (All 14 Oz Books, with Illustrated Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and Exclusive Bonus Features) [Kindle Edition] … $.99 (Note: I would have given a body part for this when I was a kid.)

The Detective Megapack [Kindle Edition] Dashiell Hammett, Agatha Christie, much more … $.99

The Classic Mystery Collection (100+ books and stories) [Kindle Edition] Agatha Christie, Charles Dickens, Arthur Conan Doyle, Anna Katharine Green, Sax Rohmer, Edgar Allan Poe, Wilkie Collins, Honore de Balzac and more … $2.99

Agatha Christie Collection (Illustrated): The Secret Adversary AND The Mysterious Affair [Kindle Edition] $.99

The Dashiell Hammett Megapack [Kindle Edition] … $.99

“All You Zombies-” [Kindle Edition] Robert Heinlein (Possibly the best time travel short story ever written) … $1.25

The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes [Kindle Edition] Sir Arthur Conan Doyle … $0.00

THE COMPLETE SHERLOCK HOLMES and THE COMPLETE TALES OF TERROR AND MYSTERY (All Sherlock Holmes Stories and All 12 Tales of Mystery in a Single Volume!) …  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle | The Complete Works Collection) … $.99

H.G. Wells Collection, Over 50 Works: The War of the Worlds, The Invisible Man, Time Machine, Island of Dr. Moreau, Little Wars, World Set Free, Tales of Space and Time, When the Sleeper Wakes & MORE! [Kindle Edition] … $.99 ( I don’t know how many pages this is, but it’s a huge file, so I’m better a thousand or more pages.)

Charles Dickens Collection 55 Works: David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, Christmas Carol, Pickwick Papers, Nicholas Nickleby, Bleak House, MORE! [Annotated] [Kindle Edition] This is 15 novels and all the short fiction … an entire library … $2.99

Jane Austen Collection: 18 Works, Pride and Prejudice, Love and Friendship, Emma, Persuasion, Northanger Abbey, Mansfield Park, Lady Susan & more! [Kindle Edition] … $.99

The Complete Little Women Series: Little Women, Good Wives, Little Men, Jo’s Boys (4 books in one) [Kindle Edition] (807 pages) Louisa May Alcott … $.99

The Bronte Sisters – The Complete Novels (Annotated) + Extras [Kindle Edition] by Emily Bronte, Anne Bronte, Charlotte Bronte (894 pages) … $.99

Jules Verne Collection, 33 Works: A Journey to the Center of the Earth, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Around the World in Eighty Days, The Mysterious Island, PLUS MORE! [Kindle Edition] (8876 pages — apparently not a misprint). … $.99 (You may never need another book!)

Truly, the selection is huge, the prices are more than reasonable. If you’re short on money, long on loving literature, you’re going to love this! And there’s so much more. I kid you not. SO much more.

3 FREE Prequels to THE RETURNED – From Audible and Amazon Kindle

The First, The Sparrow, The Choice

Prequels to The Returned, by Jason Mott

These three short story are prequels to The Returned. All are available right now — free — on Kindle and from Audible.com in celebration of the publication — August 27 — of Jason Mott’s highly acclaimed first novel.

You can get them as audio from Audible.com and for Kindle from Amazon.com. You can get either or both. I’m greedy and I really liked The Returned, so I got both.

Each of the audio versions runs between 30 and 45 minutes and are beautifully narrated. The price is right and the stories are pure poetry. Jason Mott is a poet, an award-winning poet and these stories shine with prose so elegant it is poetry in its own right.

The price is right and I strongly recommend you pop on over to Amazon and Audible and get your own copies as soon as possible!

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The First, as the title suggests, is the story of the first of the dead to return.

The First: A Prequel to 'The Returned' | [Jason Mott]A year after her fiance’s death, Emily has barely begun to make peace with Edmond’s abrupt demise. He was killed in a freak bus accident only one day after he had proposed and she had accepted. The couple never had the chance to live their dreams, to celebrate their love.

One day, Edmond Blythe shows up at work. As far as he is concerned it’s just another day.Only when fear, panic and chaos break out around him does he realize something else is going on. It isn’t merely any day… it’s a day like no other before or again.

Edmond is the first, though far from the last to return. Having returned, it seems everything and everyone is conspiring to keep him from reuniting with Emily.

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The Sparrow: A Prequel to 'The Returned' | [Jason Mott]The Sparrow is the poignant tale of a returned girl, murdered in her tenth year in Sierra Leone. Showing up by the side of an American road, she is picked up by Heather and Matt Campbell. They take the little one home. They’ve heard about the returned, but now, suddenly, they have one. In their home in the middle of their lives.

Heather finds herself immediately drawn to ten-year-old Tatiana Rusesa. Matt cannot see anything but thing. Not a child, but a potential ticket to fame and maybe fortune.

Dodging the bullets of her husband’s unexpectedly crass reaction and sinister governmental plans to deal with the returned, Heather uses compassion and intelligence to navigate the rocky shoals of a situation for which she is completely unprepared.

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In The Choice, a man’s childhood love returns after going missing twenty years before. Peter Galvin was The Choice: A Prequel to 'The Returned' | [Jason Mott]seventeen when the great love of his life vanishes without a trace. No body was ever found and though he grieves, life has inexorably moved one.

Married, with a family of his own, he is suddenly confronted with the girl he loved, apparently in the flesh. Will the call of past be stronger than the commitments of the present? It a love story … the love of a man for his wife, his daughter and a girl he lost and never imagined he would ever see again.

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The Returned will be available as of August 27, 2013, on Kindle, as an MP3, in both hard and softcopy, and as an audiobook (audible.com).

About the author:

Jason Mott holds a BA in fiction and an MFA in poetry and is the author of two poetry collections. His writing has appeared in numerous literary journals, and he was nominated for the 2009 Pushcart Prize. Jason lives in North Carolina. The Returned is his first novel. Follow him on Twitter @jasonmott.

A Book Junkie’s Confession

If reading were illegal, I’d have spent my life in prison. The most frightening book I ever read was Bradbury’s Farenheit 451. I couldn’t imagine anything more terrifying than a life with no books.

As a kid, I literally read myself cross-eyed, but today, I have been redeemed by audiobooks. Praise the Lord and don’t make me give up my subscriptions to Audible.com. Early during the 1990s, I discovered audiobooks. I was a “wrong way” commuter, which meant my commute started in Boston and took me out to the suburbs. This was supposed to make the drive easier than going the other way.

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Reality was different. Traffic was heavy in all directions, from Boston or from the suburbs. The east-west commute was nominally less awful than the north-south commutes, though coming from the north shore down to Boston was and is still probably the worst commute anywhere.

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When we lived in Boston on the 17th floor of Charles River Park, we had a perfect view of the Charles River … and an even better view of 93 northbound. We could look out the window any time of the day or night. It was bumper to bumper as far as the eye could see every day of the week, any time of day or night. Garry had a 5 minute walk to work. I always drove somewhere. You’d think at least once during the more than 20 years Garry and I have been together I’d have found one job near home. Funny how that never happened.

In New England, you do not measure a commute by distance. Distance is irrelevant. It’s how long it takes that matters. No one talks in terms of miles. The mall is half an hour away. Boston is about an hour in good traffic, who knows how long in rush hour traffic. It can take you 2 hours to go six miles, but maybe you can travel 15 miles in half an hour. In which case 15 miles is the shorter commute. Ask anyone.

My commute was never short. Wherever my work took me, it was never anyplace convenient, except for those wonderful periods when I worked at home and had to go to the “office” only occasionally.

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The 1990s were serious commuting years. Boston to Amesbury, Boston to Burlington, Boston to Waltham.

It got worse. By 2000, we had moved to Uxbridge. It’s never easier to get from Uxbridge to anywhere, except one of the other Valley towns … and I never worked in any of them. Probably because there is no work there …

As jobs got ever more scarce and I got older and less employable, I found myself commuting longer distances. First, Providence, Rhode Island, which wasn’t too bad. But after that, I had to drive to Groton, Connecticut a few times a week — 140 miles each way — a good deal of it on unlit, unmarked local roads. It was a killer commute and unsurprisingly, I was an early GPS adopter. Even though I didn’t have to do it every day, Groton did me in.

Hudson was almost as bad, and Amesbury was no piece of cake either. The distance from Uxbridge to Newton was not far as the crow flies, but since I was not a crow, it was a nightmare. On any Friday afternoon, it took more than three hours to go twenty some odd miles. On Friday afternoons in the summer when everyone was taking off on for the weekend, I found myself battling not merely regular commuter traffic, but crazed vacationers, desperate to get out of Dodge.

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The job market had become unstable, and it seemed every time I turned around, I was working in a different part of the Commonwealth or in another state entirely. If it weren’t for audiobooks, I’d probably have needed a rubber room.

First, I discovered Books On Tape. Originally intended as audiobooks for the blind, me and a million other commuters discovered them during the mid 1990s. They were a godsend. Instead of listening to the news, talk radio, or some inane jabbering DJ, I could drift off into whatever world of literature I could pop into my car’s cassette player.

I bought a lot of audio books and as cassettes began to disappear and everything was on CD, Books On Tape ceased renting books to the consumer market. Fortunately, audiobooks had become downright popular and were available at book stores like Barnes and Noble. Everybody was listening and most of us couldn’t imagine how we’d survived before audiobooks.

In 2002, along came Audible. At first, it was a bit of a problem, figuring out how to transport ones audible books into ones vehicle, but technology came up with MP3 players and widgets that let you plug your player, whatever it is, into your car’s sound system.

Audible started off modestly, but grew and grew and having recently been acquired by Amazon (a company that, like Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and Verizon, is plotting to take over the world and succeeding pretty well), is getting bigger by the minute. For once, I don’t mind a bit. The company was well run before Amazon, and Amazon had the good sense to not mess with success. It is still easy to work with them, literally a pleasure doing business.

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Five years ago, I became too sick to work anymore. Would that mean giving up audiobooks? Not on your life. When I was nearly dead, I listened to books and they distracted me from pain and fear, kept me company when I was alone and wondering if I’d live to see morning. Sometimes, they made me laugh in the midst of what can only be described as a place where humor is at a premium.

Today, I listen as I do everything except write. I can listen to books as I play mindless games on Facebook, edit photographs, pay bills or make a seven letter Scrabble play. I admit I cannot listen and write at the same time. That seems to be the point where multi-tasking ends. Actually, I can’t do anything while I write except write.

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I get a lot of reading done while accomplishing the computerized tasks of life, not to mention turning hours of mindless messing around into valuable reading time. I am, in effect always reading.

Reading in Bed: My Guilty Pleasure

I read at night on my Kindle because reading in bed has always been one of my guilty pleasures. Oh how I love snuggling into bed with a book, electronic or paper, I don’t care. A book is a book by whatever format.

I remember reading in my bedroom under the covers using a flashlight, or worse, trying to read  from a sliver of light from the hallway nightlight, or, if everything else failed, by the light of a bright moon.

“You’ll ruin your eyes” cried my mother who probably had snuck books into her bed and read by candlelight.

To this day, I don’t know why she didn’t just let me turn a light on. She had to know I was going to read anyhow. She was always reading too! In fact, if books were my addiction, she was my dealer. Even in today politically correct world, giving your kid too many books to read is not yet considered child abuse. Aren’t we glad!

So my love affair with books continues. My tastes change, favorite authors move up or down the list. I go through phases: all history, nothing but fantasy, a run of thrillers, a series of biographies. Getting older has few advantages but there is one huge gift — time.

I have time to read. I can get so involved in my book that I look up and realize that oops, the sun is coming up and I’ve lost another night’s sleep.

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It doesn’t matter. Because I don’t have to commute anywhere anymore. I don’t have to leap out of bed with 10 minutes to shower, dress, make up, and get out.

I can stay up too late reading, or writing, or watching movies and for the rest of my life, no one can make me stop. And that, friends, is really, truly, my fondest dream come true. And in the end, it doesn’t matter to me what form the book takes. Kindle, paperback, hardbound, audio or printed … the story, the author, the book is the thing. Everything else? It doesn’t matter. Not even a little bit.

Marilyn’s Desert Island Eight – Movies I never tire of!

Eight movies to have on a desert island? So many movies … but if I had to make the choice, here they are!

The Lion In Winter

The Lion in Winter (1968 film)

The Lion in Winter (1968 film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Awesome performances by everyone, from Hepburn and O’Toole, to Anthony Hopkins in his first screen role. Wonderful script and matchless screen chemistry. It’s not accurate history … but the interaction of the members of the family is surprisingly close if you want to examine only the emotional content. In the end, it’s all about the performances. From top to bottom, every performance is extraordinary. Hepburn got an Oscar, one of three wins for the film. Many more nominations plus three Golden Globes. All well-deserved.

The Americanization of Emily

Cover of "The Americanization of Emily"

Paddy Chayevsky‘s script is among the best movie scripts of all time. Add superb performances by James Garner and Julie Andrews in her first dramatic role. The whole movie would be worth it just for Garner’s monologue on war. But there’s so much more. It’s funny, sharp, downright brilliant.

The cast knew they’d never have a better job. All of them list this movie as the favorite or as one of the top one or two of their professional lives. Roles like this don’t come along often in any actor’s career. The actors showed their appreciation by working their hearts out. Everyone is at the top of his or her game.

Tombstone

This is one of those movies that I like better each time I watch it … and I watch it often. We can recite dialogue with it. It’s got everything you want a western to have: passion, revenge, violence, humor and brilliant cinematography. It’s Val Kilmer‘s best performance and arguably Kurt Russell‘s shining moment.

This is my go to movie if I need a revenge and violence fix. It manages to have a satisfying body count without the gore. I like that in a movie.

A Mighty Wind

Maybe it isn’t one of the all time greatest films, but reminds me of some of the best of times in my life as well as music I dearly love. It’s funny, often laugh-out-loud hilarious, a loving parody. It’s a warm-hearted and nostalgic look at a time many of us look back on with great affection. The music manages to be humorous and good — a difficult act to pull off.

Casablanca

Not the most original choice, but it’s so good and it has worn well despite the years. We saw it on the big screen not long ago. Wonderful. It’s pure mythology, but it’s the way we wish it had been. I need heroes.

Three Oscar wins — Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay plus nominations for just about every member of the cast. Seeing it on the big screen was like seeing it for the first time and gave me an even better appreciation of the brilliant script.

Blazing Saddles

It’s hard to pick just one Mel Brooks movie, but if I have to choose, this has to be the one. It was a tough choice. “Young Frankenstein,” “High Anxiety,” and “History of the World, Part I” are right up there too. “Blazing Saddles” wins because it’s got some of the all-time great movie lines. That’s HEDLEY Lamar!

Starman

Science fiction movies usually disappoint me because they aren’t science fiction, but westerns in space using spacecraft for horses, featuring millions of dollars of special effects, but no script. This is all acting. A fine script, wonderful performances, romantic, touching and believable. A great performance — underrated — by Jeff Bridges. And I almost forgot to mention the haunting score. Rarely mentioned, it’s the best kind of science fiction … concept and character based. And unforgettable.

The Three and Four Musketeers (1973 – 1974)

I know they were issued as two movies, but they were filmed as one. The stars of the film(s) sued the studios since they had only been paid for one movie, and they won. Nonetheless, both movies play like a single film in two parts. You can’t watch one without the other. They keep remaking it, but none of the others come near this version. It’s fast, funny, and surprisingly true to the books. Dumas would have been pleased. I love the sword fights. I used to fence in college, and this has some of the best choreographed fencing I’ve ever seen. It’s not the elegant fencing you usually see, but brawling — the way men really fought — not to get points for good form, but to win without getting sliced up.

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And that’s my eight. If I could pick a hundred more, I wouldn’t run out of choices. Oh, and I might change my mind tomorrow!

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