Monday, November 5, 2012

Bodies in California, hearts in NJ/NY

I apologize for the lengthy absence here on the blog; we have been very, very busy, and it's been hard to find the 1-2 hours it will take me to write this post.  Lots of people have been asking if we are OK, and/or if we have been deployed to the northeast to help with the Sandy relief effort. I'll do my best to fill you in on the last 2+ weeks, so die-hard readers may want to grab a cup of coffee or perhaps a stiff drink and settle in.  TL;DR: We're fine, we're still in California and not deployed by the Red Cross to the northeast, we'll be here for perhaps another month, and we've already cast our absentee ballots so we can not be swayed by vitriolic tweets or Facebook posts.

Before getting into the minutiae of our lives, I want to say that our hearts go out to all those affected by Hurricane Sandy.  We'd been watching the storm in horror, not only because we are disaster responders, but also because I have family in the area and we have friends there as well.  My parents live in Brick, New Jersey, just five miles from the Atlantic Ocean at Point Pleasant, two miles from salt water, and six miles or so from some of the hardest-hit areas documented in this series of shocking before/after satellite images posted by NOAA and making the rounds of the Internet.

All our family and friends are fine; they were well-prepared, natch, and my folks even have their power back on, much to my surprise (it's still out all around them).  Almost everyone we know in the Red Cross is already there, helping with the relief efforts in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia.  It's incredibly hard for us to sit on the sidelines at a time like this, watching from afar and knowing that the cupboards are bare, so to speak, with few volunteers left in reserve.  That said, no one is indispensable  and we know the operations are in good hands, having personally worked for every one of the managers currently in charge at one time or another.

Several folks have asked why we were not deployed.  The simple answer was that we were not listed as "available" in the staffing database, and while we have been known to change our availability status at the last minute for a major disaster, in this case, we were simply too far out of position to do it.  We could have started pre-positioning for the storm when it first started threatening the northeast, at our own expense (close to $5,000, all told), but that's a gamble, a game of probabilities.  Also, in the overall scheme of things, we'd be better off just sending them that amount of money.  And if they really got into a jam, we could have parked the bus here in the bay area, while one of us (probably me) flew east to help out, as happened last April when the tornado swarm hit Alabama.

It was a difficult but sensible decision to remain off the availability list as the storm hit (although I did let the Disaster Operations Center know that they could call me in a pinch).  Our mission here in California to help my cousin get settled here after moving from New York remains as yet unfulfilled, owing mostly to bank delays regarding the house they are trying to purchase on a short sale.  We'd really like to be here to help them through their transition and move into the area before we head east, and I have the uneasy feeling that the relief operations, particularly in New York and New Jersey, will still be ongoing those many weeks from now, so perhaps we can be available to relieve some of the weary crew sometime in December.

Catching up on our whereabouts these last two weeks, we did head over the bridge to Fremont after our stint on the street in Menlo Park.  We spent two nights at the Elks lodge there (map), where we topped up the batteries with the 30-amp hookups, a good deal for the bay area at $18 per night.  That includes use of the dump station, and after 18 straight days (a new record for us) we were full to the brim when we were ready to leave on Sunday.  We also topped up the water tanks in anticipation of another couple of weeks on the street.

The Fremont Elks was a great jumping-off point for dinner Friday with friends in Milpitas, and an excursion Saturday to Pleasanton, where we met my cousin for dinner, about half the distance to his hotel in San Ramon.  He did not have any good news from the bank or his agent on the home-buying front, other than to note that the bank had postponed foreclosure proceedings, usually a good sign when trying to complete a short sale.  We spent some time discussing next steps, but agreed that probably nothing would happen to push us to Oakley in the ensuing week, and that he'd be back east for a visit the following weekend anyway.

Sunday after we wrapped up our dirty work at the Elks, we moved over to Sunnyvale to try our luck at an old standby (map), even though a new class-A office building was going up right across the street.  I wrote about this project, and my interaction with the construction superintendent, the last time we stayed there.  The building is mostly finished, and they are just in the final stages of finishing up the parking lot, architectural glass, and interior fixtures, so we hoped the heavy equipment noise would be minimal.  No such luck -- Monday morning the clanking of heavy machinery and beeping of back-up alerts had us up at 7am.  Nevertheless, we stayed another whole day, but after two days of rude awakenings, we moved a quarter mile down the street (map).

That spot proved to be much quieter, and we got to sleep in a bit longer in the morning.  We ended up staying for our full 72 hours.  Toward the end of the third day I noticed a Sunnyvale parking officer eyeing the bus, and I had a nice chat with him.  There were, at the time, three other rigs on the street, including a fiver that had been dropped there, with no sign of its tow vehicle for days.  I recognized at least one of the rigs from many previous visits.  Apparently the superintendent had taken my advice from our little chat, and after calls to the city, they had been sending a parking officer out to keep after it.  Previously, parking enforcement never visited this part of town (downtown meter enforcement is far more lucrative), with sworn officers dealing with the rare parking issue on routine patrols.

With the developer having succeeded in chasing the rigs from that end of the street, the several going concerns in this block were now getting restless with a bevy of dilapidated RVs near their businesses, and complaints were resulting in stepped-up enforcement.  We had chosen to park in front of an empty lot for exactly this reason, and we were within our 72 hours, unlike all but one of the other rigs, which had not moved since we arrived from Fremont Sunday afternoon.  We left as planned shortly after my chat with parking enforcement, and when we swung by that block yesterday to check on things, nary a rig was in sight, leading me to believe that enforcement got aggressive, and these guys, who'd rather not have to move every three days, headed off to less well patrolled backstreets.  It's a great spot, within walking distance of the Caltrain station, a bakery, a grocery, and a couple of restaurants, so we hope this latest skirmish in the parking wars does not put it off-limits to us forever.

Even though we had a rental car, I did avail myself of the Caltrain access while we were there, catching up with Louise in Redwood City one evening.  We ended up with a dinner engagement every night of the week, and Louise had lunch dates most days as well, while I worked on a backlog of repairs around the house.  Thursday found us at a brand new spot for us, wedged between Symantec and a brace of Google buildings in Mountain View (map).  Google provides free WiFi throughout Mountain View, so we could keep the satellite dish down as well, and we spent a quiet weekend in that same spot.  From there it is a long walk to the light rail station, and there is a small coffee shop open for breakfast and lunch five days a week a bit closer.

Monday we turned the rental car back in right at the three week mark, and headed down to Monterey for a nice visit with Louise's dad and stepmom.  As is now our custom, we stayed at the Elks lodge there (map), which has 30-amp power, water, and a dump station for $18 per night, with a three-night limit.  We stayed the full three nights, enjoying long-time favorites Rio Grille and The Sand Bar as well as a recent addition in Pacific Grove, Il Vecchio, which was quite nice.  Our only hint of Halloween was the costumed wait staff at dinner.

After returning from Monterey Thursday we decided to try quartering just a block or so from an old favorite here in Mountain View.  As I wrote here in my last post, new construction has eliminated a pair of vacant buildings that gave us peace, quiet, and unobtrusiveness for three days at a stretch.  But the convenience of the light rail station and the free Google WiFi persuaded us to try a spot just a few hundred feet further down the block, adjacent to a church quartered in a light-industrial building here in this neighborhood of mixed office and light industrial use.

We spent just a single night in that spot, because the church is of the Seventh-Day Adventist denomination, which meant services and a full parking lot Saturday morning.  So Friday night after the businesses closed up shop, we moved to the next block; as I finish typing this Monday morning we are still here (map), across from the headquarters.  As our 72 hours will be up, and the neighborhood is no longer dead calm as it was over the weekend, we will move again this evening to an as-yet undetermined location.

Proximity to the light rail here enabled us to get around for a couple of days, and we had a nice couple of dinners in downtown Mountain View just a few minutes' ride away.  But our social calendar is again full, and we needed more than either the scooters or transit can provide, so Saturday morning we took the light rail down to San Jose airport and picked up another car.  At just $15 per day, all inclusive, this one is an even better deal than our last ride.

We had the car in time to drive to Pleasanton Saturday evening for yet another meal with my cousin, who has come to the end of his temporary housing reimbursement, with little progress in closing on the house.  Finally after several weeks of waiting, there is something concrete we can do to help, and today and tomorrow I will be making phone calls to try to find them a short-term apartment somewhere within their target school district, so they can get moved out here into some bridge housing while they wait on the banks to get their act together.  I am guessing those calls will lead to some on-site visits by Wednesday or so, which I will do in the rental car.  The goal is to be ready for them to move out mid-month sometime, even if that means most of the household goods go into storage.

In the meantime I expect we will be staying on this side of the bay until either that move happens, or the house closing moves up to a point where we can go out there to be the on-site presence for inspectors, painters, and other professionals.  We're still working through our list of visits on this side of the bay anyway, so we have plenty to keep us busy.  That said, I am going to try to keep the blog updated just a bit more frequently -- this post has taken a full 24 hours to complete, with all the interruptions, and smaller chunks are probably better for you and me both.


  1. figured you were either busy with catching up in the bay area and/or deployed. Glad to 'see' that your'e safe and sound (if really busy).

  2. One of these days the whole 'move every 72 hours' story is going to make a fun little documentary. You folks should tape as you go. I haven't noticed your methodology on rental cars, but I assume you are using Priceline or something like it. We've had extremely good luck using PL, and have never paid more than $12 a day. One of the trick I have learned is to use the 'lesser' airport in town, as the tax burden is frequently a lot less there. For example, San Jose is much smaller than SFO, and OAK even less. Remember I have a friend in the disaster recovery business in Newark, so if you run across an unmet need, let me know.

  3. Thanks for the update, Sean! I've been holding off on poking you to see if you guys were ok :)

    Certainly understand the struggle between wanting to be on deployment and helping out, versus having prior priorities.

    Sending all our best your way.

  4. Glad to see you are back! I had wondered if you were still "Running from the Law." Or had not succeeded in eluding them ; - }

  5. Hey Sean,

    I sent you an email on the 22nd to your yahoo account...did you get it? Let me know. Would love to see the bus before I head out next week.



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