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This Duke Ain’t No John Wayne

So here’s the backdrop. We were in Italy for three months when Duke Energy decided to install a “Smart” electrical meter on our house without advising us. Fair enough; that’s the way big monopolies do things in America. We planned on returning home to a nice new meter and hoped for the best.

However, right after the installation we received a string of emails from North Carolina that our garage door was open. Not knowing the cause, we told a neighbor to kill the breaker until we returned to see what the problem was. After arriving home and restoring the garage door power, we were baffled to see our garage door open, close and open again, mainly on Friday and Saturday nights. Hmmm. We checked all of the normal possible problems (cut beams, wires, etc.) to no avail and finally concluded that the only variable was Duke Energy’s new meter.

We waited over the Labor Day weekend, knowing that such important people as public utilities do not work on holidays. After the weekend, we called Duke Energy to see if they could send a tech out to check their new meter installation and verify if the problem was theirs or ours. WTF? They said they would absolutely not send a technician and that we had to hire an independent electrician to check the problem. WTF? I didn’t ask for Duke Energy to install a new meter to begin with and now they had the gall to ask me to pay to see if my problem was their problem. Incredible!

I should mention that we were initially disconnected by a phone room sweetheart named Raquel and then had to make no fewer than 3 transfers to find the supervisor of the other phone room dummies. Doing business with any utility is pure shit. This string of useless phone calls was no exception. At the end of the day (literally), we were told in rude and certain terms that they would do nothing to help us.

So here we were with an overpriced power company telling us to jump in a lake while our garage door continued to open and close. What to do? I tried tweeting Duke directly and received (to their credit) some nominal explanations involving prior complaints from their customers. To be fair, my Twitter exchange did provoke some well thought out comments by one Duke Energy representative. This anonymous person at least tried to provide a rational explanation of our problem but did not go as far as to try to actually solve it. Again, they refused to send a technician out to look at their installation. When you’re dealing with the Utility Lords, you are left to your own devices. I have been trying to solve the problem for weeks and it’s looking like it may not be their new meter after all. But what’s with all the attitude and poor customer service? The arrogance and total lack of customer service that Duke Energy exhibits is completely unacceptable even for a monopoly.

Whether my problem is solved or not, my next stop will be the North Carolina Public Utilities Commission (which always backs-up there cohorts). I’d be interested in learning if Duke Energy does indeed have a responsibility to send a technician out to check their work. Or is it just assumed that nasty monopolies never make mistakes?

At the end of the day, one thing is for sure: This Duke ain’t no John Wayne. Wha-ha! Get a hold of them on Twitter at @DukeEnergy if you have similar problems or complaints. Maybe they’ll be naive enough to follow you like they did with me. One sure bet: You’ll know you’ve been Duked!

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Bloggers

Bloggers. I must admit that until a few years ago, I wasn’t even aware that they existed. Now I have been one for several years myself. Yikes!

What started out as a perceived vehicle to sell my books to the awaiting public has turned into a passion that I practice with precision every Friday at noon. I have written several hundred blogs on subjects as diverse as poetry, social commentary, surfing, fly fishing and travel. Along the way I have also read a great deal of my fellow bloggers’ work and have formed some observations worth sharing:

Bloggers. No two bloggers are alike. That statement seems obvious but with thousands of bloggers out there, I have yet to see much if any overlap in style, subject, geography or background. That’s a good thing. Diversity is what makes blogging exciting.

Importance. Everyone has something important to share. With the whole range of the human experience at their disposal, each blogger has something unique to say. I’ve read really interesting blogs dedicated solely to food preparation, others on politics and still others on virtually every imaginable subject. Most are wonderful.

Imagery. Pictures and photographs are important. I feel more connected to the content if I am provided with an interesting photo, cartoon or graphic. It may be the kid in me but I like a little visual stimulation along with the words.

Experience. It’s like being there. I love travel blogs, especially those which deal with locales that I have never visited. As a world traveler, I appreciate learning about something new. Again, photographs really help fill in the gaps.

Details. I am a well read person but I love to learn new, small details about history, modern life, food, travel and just about anything under the sun.

Length. I prefer blog posts that are under 800 words. I don’t read blogs the same way I read a novel and I appreciate brevity in order to get to the point. Most blogs fall into this category although I have read some interesting posts that are longer but none of them were books.

The Author. I also like learning a bit about the author and appreciate seeing their photo. It helps me connect with what they feel is important. Being able to put some experience and a face with the blog post helps round out my experience, sort of like an espresso after dinner.

In conclusion, I salute you fellow bloggers for your ingenuity, talent, and above all your desire to share some of your life and ideas with the rest of us. It truly makes for a human experience.

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The Trip Over

Few of us are old enough to remember. Still fewer of us can even imagine.

Coming to America in the 19th century was a far stretch from coming to America today. First, there were no jet planes to whisk you from one continent to another in 10 hours. The crossing was by ship and it usually took 8 to 10 days of often super uncomfortable travel. My grandparents made this long trip several times.

Many, many Italians and Tiroleans traveled to America on the SS La Bretagne. The ship sailed from between 1886 and 1923 and carried thousands to a waiting Ellis Island on the Le Havre–New York route, initially with the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique (CGT) shipping company. My grandparents, Eugenio Rizzi and his wife Anna Flor made several trips to the U.S. on this vessel.

La Bretagne was launched 9 September 1885 by CGT in Saint-Nazaire. Built for France to New York service, she had a 7,112 gross tonnage and measured 150.99 metres (495 ft 4 in) long between perpendiculars and 15.78 metres (51 ft 9 in) wide. Equipped with twin triple-expansion steam engines driving a single screw propeller that drove her at 17 knots (31 km/h), she was outfitted with two funnels and four. La Bretagne was initially equipped with accommodations for 390 first-class, 65 second-class, and 600 third-class passengers. Her hull was made of steel from the foundries at Terre-Noire and featured eleven bulkheads which created twelve watertight compartments; her deck was planked with Canadian elm and teak. The ship cost $1,700,000 (about $45 million today). As dated and run down as the ship appears in pictures, it was actually one of the classier vessels for transporting immigrants.

In 1912, the newly reorganized Compagnie de Navigation Sud-Atlantique purchased a number of second-hand ships—including La Bretagne—for its relaunch of South American service from France. Bretagne sailed on the South American service through 1923, the last four years under the name of Alesia. In December 1923, Alesia was sold to a Dutch firm for scrapping. While on her way to the shipwrecker, Alesia’s tow line parted and the ship ran aground on the island of Texel, becoming a total loss.

Along with sister ships La Champagne, La Bourgogne and La Gascogne, La Bretagne carried the bulk of Tiroleans to America on trips that a usually terminated at Ellis Island in New York. From there, most had a destination in mind, often joining relatives or friends who had already made the trip over. For the Tiroleans, these destinations most often included mining towns in Wyoming, Colorado, Pennsylvania and Michigan. Once they were settled in, one of the first pieces of business was to become an American citizen.

Photo: SS La Bretagne circa 1895.

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Everyone’s An Author

Everyone’s an author today. Yet, there was a time when you actually had to know how to write before calling yourself an author. God, how times have changed.

I think back fondly to the days of Twain, Hemingway, Faulkner and countless others. These were people who could write the English language with superb talent and share with all of us the wonders of their pens. They are part of a large fraternity of writers who are for all time truly authors.

Today, thanks to the internet, everyone’s an author. You can self publish your books without regard to writing talent, content or even the ability to write. On Amazon alone, there are nearly 800,000 titles available and many are from folks who can’t write a coherent sentence or have content that appeals to less than a few dozen people. However, all of these people are authors and have “published” a book. Bravo!

Then there is the plethora of writing that is seen on web pages, everything from Facebook to Linkedin to WordPress to Twitter to God knows what. These forums also allow everyone to be an author, sometimes with hilarious results. The obvious lack of skill with grammar, spelling and basic writing is consistently appalling. A good 90 percent of these authors never learned the difference between to and too and that is, as they would say, to bad. Grammar, spelling and content are not egghead abstracts. They are the very stuff of accurate communication that is required of all authors.

The new shorthand of the millennial generation (and old farts that want to be millennials) also thwarts many would be authors. If you insist on writing in shorthand, abbreviations and code, you are sure to miss a good percentage of your intended audience. To make matters worse, if you can’t even spell the word or the abbreviation, you are in obvious trouble. Yes, I know some are lol at this very moment but if you can’t spell laughing or the abbreviation, you might want to consider something else on your resume besides author. See: https://rizziallen.wordpress.com/2016/10/14/ru-miseducated-lol/

All of this is not to say that to be an author also requires one to be a Rhodes Scholar or some bow-tied literature professor. But insisting on a little competency is not asking too much. Writing is a learned skill and many people in today’s world just don’t want to spend the time and effort to learn. It takes effort after all. But why should they? In today’s world, everyone’s an author.

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Guns Now And Then

I remember as a youth of 15 going into a liquor store (now called mini market) after hunting in rural California to buy a Coke and some chips while having a .38 revolver strapped to my side. I would wander the aisles a bit, find what I wanted and go to the cash register and pay for my purchase. The cashier could see that I was carrying a sidearm but no one got upset. It was legal and accepted behavior at the time and nothing out of the ordinary at all. In fact, there were hundreds of us hunters and target shooters that regularly did the same without as much as a frown.

Try that today! Someone would scream “gun” and you would be dropped like a bowling pin in under a second. We are talking about a huge change here in the way Americans perceive guns. The pitch has gone from calm to plain nutty.

When I was a child, I can’t remember ever hearing about a murder in our small town. There may well have been some but they certainly didn’t make the evening news. Likewise, I never heard of anyone shooting a thief in a home invasion although I am sure there were plenty of thieves back in the day. And I never heard of anyone shooting anyone else just for the hell of it. So what are we talking about here, facts or perceptions? It is probably a bit of both.

Some sixty years ago, there were fewer guns and yet they were more openly presented as opposed to being hidden away in closets. Today there are way more guns but practically no one wears a sidearm in the open with the exception of law enforcement personnel. (Here in North Carolina, we have an open carry law.) There is way more gun related crime now, even on a per capita basis than sixty years ago yet everyone wants to hide their weapons. These are the facts.

Now the perceptions. Six decades ago, people weren’t particularly afraid of guns or gun ownership. It was a part of the American West that carried over into the twentieth century. Guns were considered a normal piece of family life in America. Sure, there were the exceptions but nobody seemed to get upset at the idea of gun ownership. Then came August 1, 1966. In Austin, Texas, Charles Joseph Whitman, a former US Marine, killed 16 and wounded at least 30 while shooting from a University of Texas tower. Police officers Ramiro Martinez and Houston McCoy shot and killed Whitman in the tower. Whitman had also killed his mother and wife earlier in the day. This was a pivotal day in the perception of guns in America. Guns were now feared. America had long forgotten about September 5, 1949, then it came back in an instant: In Camden, New Jersey, 28-year-old Howard Unruh, a veteran of World War II, shot and killed 13 people as he walked down Camden, New Jersey’s 32nd Street. His weapon of choice was a German-crafted Luger pistol. He was found insane and was committed to a state mental institution where he died at the age of 88.

Today we fear guns as we have seen what they do in the hands of the insane or terrorists. People get shot everyday in America and unfortunately it is viewed as a normal occurrence. Often these shootings are over petty disagreements. Criminals who use firearms illegally put a huge burden on the shoulders of law-abiding gun owners, resulting in the gun hysteria we have seen in recent years. All gun owners are now painted with the same “bad guy” brush.

It is time to take the mystery out of guns, severely punish those who use them illegally while preserving our heritage and rights to own and correctly use firearms. Voices have to calm on both sides of the gun debate. Perhaps both the facts and perceptions will change for the better.

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Of Worms And Blue Birds

Every once in awhile I read a tidbit that I save in my brain for the future. Such was a magazine article I read several years ago about feeding blue birds. I learned that blue birds have a penchant for meal worms. To them it’s like a fast food delight.

Being unfamiliar with their love for meal worms, I tried buying a package of dried worms. I put them out in a little dish and watched as the blue birds approached. Nothing! Was the magazine article wrong? I tried the same thing with live meal worms from a fishing bait store and bamb, an army of blue was all over the dish. Ah, so the worms had to be alive?

The next season, I again bought the live worms and set them out when the blue birds arrived in our garden. Nothing! What? In desperation, I tried some of the old dried worms and instantly our yard was filled with dozens of blue birds all vying for the meal worms. Did my little friends forget to send me the memo that they had switched preferences?

As it turned out, we are apparently visited by a strange variety of these creatures: Blue Birdicus Finicus. In the end, I decided as Marie Antoinette, “let them eat cake”-ed dry meal worms and be done with it. It seems that my feathered friends have decided that a dry worm in the beak is worth two live worms in the far off bait store. Things have now settled down to a neat little routine wherein I have become a slave to spoiled birds that demand that I freshen their cache of meal worms four times a day. Though I oblige, I wonder seriously sometimes if I have lost my mind as my wife claims. Perhaps I should prepare some of those meal worms for her as well to help keep her beak closed.

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How Many Places Have You Lived?

How many places have you lived? It’s an easy question but for most of us, we have to stop and think a bit to get our head all away around the answer.

A hundred years ago, the answer was probably one. People didn’t move much at all and were often born, married and buried in the same town. Fifty years ago, the answer might have been two or three. Post war America offered employment and housing opportunities that often required relocation. Today? Most people have moved frequently for family, work or pleasure.

Me? My list is long: Salt Lake City, Utah / Des Moines, Iowa / North Hollywood, California / San Fernando, California / El Portal, California / Oceanside, California / Santa Barbara, California / Sylmar, California / Redondo Beach, California / Woodland Hills, California / Granada Hills, California / Oak Park, California, Gold Beach, Oregon / Eugene, Oregon / Tret, Italy / Etowah, North Carolina – That’s 16 locations and a lot of miles in between!

While I may be a bit of an exception, most people my age have probably seen somewhere between 3 and 5 different living locations in their entire lives. One friend of mine has actually lived in 52 locations. Another has only lived in two. How many places have you lived?

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What About The Alt Links?

In the past few months, we have all heard about the Alt Right. The term uses a little German to conjour up the vision of Nazis and growling German Shepherds when discussing anything on the right of politics that the left doesn’t agree with. The term has ushered in an era of name calling that hasn’t been seen since the McCarthy era. The idea of a true Alt Right is disgusting but so is using this label on anyone who simply has a different opinion. It’s like calling your local weatherman the Führer just because he said it was going to rain the day you wanted to play golf.

So that begs the question: What about the Alt Links? Ah yes, a double German term that might just characterize the actions of many on the extreme left. When did the left in this country appoint themselves as the moral guardians of the rest of us poor souls? Ironically I have certainly seen more storm trooper mentality coming from the left these days. Its ultimate manifestation was the recent shooting in Virginia aimed specifically at the Republican Party. In the end both sides need to bring it down a notch or two and do something constructive for our country, preferably together.

Name calling serves none of us in the end. It is just plain childish and best reserved for the playground instead of being used as a tool of political persuasion. Calling someone a dick isn’t half as effective as writing a piece explaining why that person might just be one. In the absence of fact, name calling is often employed just out of frustration. Let’s all take a deep breath and grow-up a bit.

Whether it’s the Alt Right or the Alt Links, to have an opinion is basically guaranteed in America. It’s who we are. However to be uncivil to each other, cause property damage and deprive individuals of their right to free speech is not guaranteed. That’s something to think about the next time any of us are tempted to go Alt.

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From Here To Eternity (Not The Movie)

From Here to Eternity is not the movie. Rather this describes our yearly translocation from the United States to Italy and back again. I thought about calling this post The Endless Summer but we also travel in the fall.

We are fortunate enough to live continuously on two continents. We have a home in the Italian Alps and one in North Carolina. However going from one to the other involves ingenuity, a good deal of time and a ton of patience. It is that latter quality with which I find myself in complete short supply. I am getting older and patience is not in abundance in my battered brain.

Let me start by saying that neither of our residences is close to a major airport. I often envy the international traveler who can get on the plane where they live in Los Angeles and get off where they live in Rome. Ah, to be a big city boy once again!

Our trans-Atlantic travel is sometimes smooth but that wasn’t to be this year. This is our actual travel story:

Our odyssey begins in the Italian Alps when my alarm clock goes off at midnight. My wife and I hurriedly jump through the shower and we begin madly shutting down all of our utilities under a black Tirolean sky. Out of breath, we do some last minute checking and jump into a waiting car of a friend whom I’ve coerced into taking us down the mountain to Bolzano some 50 kilometers and an hour away. It is one in the morning. We creep through the night in anticipation of what’s ahead. We finally arrive in Bolzano after the 15 hairpin turns of the Mendola Pass. It is here where the actual journey begins.

We wait impatiently for the airport shuttle to arrive. They are always on time. After all we are in the German speaking province of Bolzano now and things take on a Teutonic order. We came early as usual just in case of Italian-esque problems. None appear. We load our luggage which consists of only two small carry-on bags as we have learned that anything more is suicide. Off we hurl into the black, up the Brenner Pass, through Austria and on to the airport in Munich. It’s a 4 1/2 hour ride up but we want to make sure we make our 9:30 flight to Atlanta. We hit the airport early and it’s only six AM.

The Munich Airport is bustling, even in the early morning hours. We go through the departure desk and security in one smooth motion. We have done this over thirty times before so we are practiced. If everything goes as planned (it seldom does), we will be off for Atlanta at 9:30 but we have already been up nearly ten hours.

This is a good trip and we haven’t been bumped. That means we don’t need a ride out to a hotel in Erding and the added time and expense. Oh rapture! Wait a minute, no – wrong. We are bumped and must now go back through security, out of the airport and wait for a hotel shuttle. We are now in Deutschland and nothing is free. The shuttle ride is an arm and a leg but we finally make it to Erding after waiting and hour for the bus.

The hotel that I booked hurriedly in the airport informs me that the 120 Euro a night room is now 750 Euros because they are in the middle of Oktoberfest. Scheisse! They are nice enough to lead the poor Americans to a cheaper hotel and we finally throw down our luggage in disgust, take a walk, and head to our favorite Greek restaurant. A complication quickly arises. My wife is sick from so much travel and can’t eat. I polish off her meal as well as mine, belt down two Ouzos and head for the hotel. Any festing in October is out of the question.

The morning comes and we take an overpriced cab to the airport and start all over. This time the Gods of air travel are kind…. sort of. We can’t go to Atlanta but Detroit is open. I bob my head in the affirmative. We board, I play a quick game of trivia when we reach cruising altitude and we both settle in for the 10 1/2 hour flight. The good folks on the airline keep us busy. “Want coffee?” “Want a hot towel?” No, actually I just want to sleep for our journey has just begun but sleeping is a near impossibility. The mixed linguistic clatter from the cabin and the whining infants will make sure my eyes are not shut for more than ten minutes. Tick-tock!

We arrive in Detroit and go through customs. It is a ten minute procedure compared with over an hour in Atlanta. I file that gem away in my brain for next year. We skip the baggage carousel (remember we pack light). We have to wait a couple of hours for the Atlanta flight but it seems worth it. We make it on the plane and do the three hour plus pop to Atlanta. The trouble is that the airline confiscated our carry-on luggage, saying there was no room on the plane. At this point, I really don’t give a damn… they’ll show up.

We make a smooth landing in Atlanta, Georgia. It would be grand if we could get off the plane, which has now become a swampy breeding ground of germs, and just go on home. Yes that would be great but it ain’t so! We have to go again through security. After assuring everyone we are not Sacco and Vanzetti, we are allowed to proceed on the tram toward the gate for our connecting flight to Asheville, North Carolina. The trouble is that flight doesn’t leave until 10:30 PM and it’s only five.

Now we kill five hours eating and trying to nap. The napping thing just isn’t meant to be. After what seems to be an eternity, we see that the gate is open. Great! We’ll be home in an hour. Wait a minute, actually no. It seems that all flights are oversold. Now our options are simple: Spend the night in Atlanta and catch a morning flight or rent a car and drive the three and half hours to home. I opt for the latter as I just want to get into my own bed.

The rental car counter isn’t actually in the airport but in a satellite building. We walk and walk and finally we are there. I ask the smiling face behind the counter for directions to I-85. He obliges but with a major omission. We get on I85 and after a mere 3 miles traffic comes to a complete stop. Mr. Smiley sort of forgot to mention the re-pavement of two lanes of the interstate in downtown Atlanta. I muster up the absolute last of my patience and we finally make it to the Asheville airport after 6 hours of driving. I want my damn luggage before we go home. They all know us at our small airport and one airline friend sees me coming like Popeye spinning his pipe. “Your luggage is right here Mr. Rizzi. We know what happened and we’re sorry… but good to see you again.” I put the bags in the rental car. Thank God it’s only another 20 minutes to the house.

It is now nearly six in the morning and be have been in transit for some 60 hours. As I enter our home I turn to my wife. I honestly want to cry but simply mutter “never again” as I admit to myself that we will be doing this all over again in a few months but in reverse.

PS – Our return trip was also bumped so we spent a night in Atlanta. The good news? We got moved into business class and were able to get a few winks before landing in Munich and taking the train home. Oh, to be young again….

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They Are Us

How many times have you heard it? “They should do more for the poor!” “They should be more honest!” “They should pick up the trash on our streets!” The list goes on forever.

In my adopted home of Italy I hear the same thing. “They need to fill the pot holes!” They should shovel the snow in front of our church!” “They can’t do anything right down at city hall!”

The they they are talking about is invariably the government, both local and national: That faceless mob that many feel runs our lives in circles. They need to do something, everything and do it real quickly.

But who are they? In most democratic countries (and those who profess to be), the very people who are always complaining are part of a representative government. They are us and we should all get off our collective butts, chip in and give a hand in making our lives better. Waiting for them just doesn’t get the job done. It’s an old but true adage: They are us!

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