New Wheels -or- The Great Bicycle Theft Incident

Here is another tale of woe.

Rewind the clock a week, to Friday the 17th.  My wife went out that evening for a girl’s night out and I took care of the kids.  She got back a little before midnight; the rest of us were already in bed.  She distinctly remembers closing the garage door and locking up before coming to bed.

The next morning, the 18th, I went out into the garage to check on laundry, since our laundry facilities are in the garage.  The garage door was wide open.

I shouted back over my shoulder, “Hey you left the garage door open last night.”

She replied, “No I didn’t…”

It was at that point that I noticed the two empty bicycle stands in our garage.  A second later, she arrived at my side and saw the same. Someone had stolen both of our bicycles.  The perp also had apparently gone into our minivan, because we noticed some thing out of place within it.

To say that Ericka was upset was to say that the federal deficit over the last five years is a paltry sum, not worth considering.  Tears flowed.  Self-flagelation along the lines of “How could I be so stupid” ensued.  It was a bad morning.

But wait, it gets better.

I called 911.  15 minutes later, I spoke with an actual person, who put me on hold again to transfer me to the Police.  Note: do not ever get into a life or death situation in San Diego.  Or more to the point, while in San Diego make sure you walk around with enough medical supplies and weapons to be able to deal with the life or death situation yourself because the cops ain’t going to.  Not with hold times like that.  A few minutes later, the police picked up and I described what happened.

“Were any weapons stolen?”

“No.”

“Did the stolen items amount to more than $5,000?”

I did a quick estimate in my head.  I figured the two bikes together were worth about $4,500.

“No.”

“Ok, you need to go to our website and file a report online.  Once you do that, we’ll process it in a few days.”

“Wait, aren’t you going to send out an officer to investigate?  I haven’t touched the minivan or the bike stands, so I haven’t disturbed fingerprints or anything.”

“No, they don’t do that.”

“Beg pardon?”

“They don’t take fingerprints, and unless the value was over $5,000 they’re not going to send someone over.”

“Well, there’s probably an officer patrolling nearby.  Can you ask one of them to swing by so they can talk to my wife?  She’s pretty upset.”

“Sorry, they don’t do that.”

It’s good to know the public services here in grand old California are top notch, what with the ludicrous amounts of taxes people who live here are forced to pay.  Oh wait, that money goes to other things.  Never mind…  Oh and did I mention the roads here absolutely suck?  Yeah, I mean they blow hard.  Even Pennsylvania has better roads than some areas I’ve driven through here in California.  That’s how bad they are.  Again, your tax money (not) at work.

Anyway, I gritted my teeth to hold back some unpleasant words and set about finding the serial numbers of our bikes.

So that’s the woe part of the story.  The worst part is my bicycle is my transportation to and from work, so this little episode really put a crimp in our style this week, let me tell you.

But wait, I can hear you saying now.  Kingswood, you told us you ran a Triathlon last weekend.  How’d you do that with your bike stolen?

Glad you asked.  Now comes the good part of the story: Moment Cycle Sports and USAA.

Moment Cycle Sports is the bike/triathlon shop around the corner from my house, the place where Ericka got her triathlon package, if you recall.  They rent bicycles.  They just happened to have a carbon frame road bike in my size available for rental on Saturday.  So they saved my bacon.  They also revealed that a whole lot of people in my area have had their bikes stolen lately.  Apparently there’s this guy who roams the neighborhoods late at night with a universal garage door remote, clicking away.  He just rolls into whichever garages open and helps himself to whatever he likes.

Bastard.

Of course, when Ericka learned about this, she felt a lot better.  This didn’t happen because she was careless, but because of a clever douchebag.

Now, USAA.  I love me some USAA.  Can’t say enough good things about them.  Their rates are awesome, their customer service is awesome, and when it comes to fulfilling claims…  Well, I’ve had to file a number of claims over the years and they have never been anything but fast, courteous, and eager to help.  Top notch company, USAA.

Anyway, it took a couple days to find my bike’s serial number, because I bought it three years ago and I’ve lost the receipt and while I thought I’d registered it with Specialized, I apparently had not.  Fortunately, the bike store I bought it from was able to locate the original sales documents and email them to me.  We submitted the receipts on Tuesday evening.  Thursday morning, USAA called and said everything was good to go and we should have the claim money (just under $3,900 – we have a $500 deductible) deposited into our checking account within 24-48 business hours.  Friday morning, the money was there.

So Friday afternoon, I went by Moment for a bike fit.  Turns out I need a larger frame than I recall from before.  I’m a 56; I could have sworn my Roubaix was a 52, but I could be wrong.  Maybe it was a 54?

Whatever.

Point is, they sized me up and brought forth a selection of recommendations from the bikes they had in stock.  One in particular struck my eye as I was waiting for them to come back, and I was gratified to see it on the list.  My bikes before have all been Specialized, but I decided to open my aperture a bit on this purchase.  I’m glad I did.  Once I set tush on that bike that stood out, I was hooked.  I picked the new wheels up today.  Behold:

IMG_2936 IMG_2937

It’s a Cervelo S2.  Aerodynamic carbon frame. SRAM Rival components (I’ve always rode Shimano 105s before, but the Rival is on the same level quality-wise and it works well, just differently, so I was happy to make the switch), pretty nice wheels, and it rides great.  Plus, it’s last year’s model, so I got it at a discount.  😉  Man, it accelerates quickly, and it feels…I guess the best word is tight.  I like it, and from the reviews I’ve found online it seems all sorts of others agree with me.

We’ll pick up Ericka’s replacement bike at the end of the week.  She’s getting the same bike she had before; she saw no need to change.

So all’s well that ends well, I guess.  But I’m still going to rip the fingernails off the guy who swiped our stuff if ever I find him.

Tri and Tri and Tri again…

Been a while since I posted.  Sorry.  Or not.  What can I say?  Life’s been fun, and busy.

🙂

It’s also been a while since I updated my writing progress for the year.  Wait for it.

 

Anyway, this past weekend was full of fun.  On Saturday, three buddies from work and I went up to Lake Mission Viejo, about an hour and a half north of San Diego, and checked into the Courtyard Marriott.  Then Sunday morning, we swam/biked/ran the OC Triathlon.  Olympic Length, this one was: 1,500m swim, 40k bike, then 10k run.

It hurt.  It was awesome.

It sucked.  It was fun.

I crossed the finish line intact.  As I knew I would.

IMG_2927

I can’t say I’m terribly proud of my time, though.  I’ve run a lot of 10ks in the past, but I have never EVER taken longer than an hour to complete one.  Hell, I’ve never taken longer than about 55 min.  But this one? 1:02.  62 minutes!  Holy cow, that’s a sucky time.  But in my defense, there were two monster – and I mean MONSTER – hills in the middle of the run, and they totally destroyed me.

And then there was the swim.  At one point, I got the bright idea to switch to backstroke for a little while.  Back when I was on Swim Team, backstroke was my fastest stroke, so I figured what the hell?  Well, I quickly lost my bearings, and when I turned back over I had veered probably 200 yards off course, so I had to swim a whole lot longer than I should have.

Oy.

But that doesn’t matter.  What matters is we finished it successfully.  And then celebrated in an appropriate manner.

IMG_2925

It was, in all, very fun, if painful.  The next one (in about a month) will be better (and faster).

Yeah, yeah.  I know.  What about the writing?

*shrug*

Weeks 18 and 19 I wrote nothing.  Zip.  Zero.  Nada.  Week 20 (last week), I wrote…wait for it….1,568 words.  Pretty bad, right?  I guess.  But I wasn’t really stressing about it; had other things on my mind.  And besides, those 1,568 words are the start of Glimmer Vale‘s sequel.  That’s pretty awesome, right there.  As you may (or may not) recall, one of the goals for this year was to write two sequels to said book.  I figured it was about time I got rolling.

So that’s what I’m up to now.

I can hear the questions now.  What about the sequel to Masters?  It’s still there.  I still have about 10k words written on it.  But frankly I feel like it needs to percolate a bit more.  So I’m shifting over to the Glimmer Vale Chronicles.

So that’s what I’ve been up to.  I’m going to sign off now, and do a little more actual writing.

Cheers!

 

The Scam I Never Knew Existed

I’m going to tell the story of something that happened to my wife this week.  It will piss you off.  I know it pissed me off.  It’s about a type of scam that’s apparently been in play for a little while now, but I’d never heard about it until it happened to her.

A little background, first.

We met in Portsmouth, NH in 2005.  I was up there because my submarine was going through an overhaul at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.  I lived in a small town called South Berwick, Maine, just across the border from New Hampshire.  Long story short, she moved into my place in 2006 and we got married in 2007.  In early 2008, I transferred to the Pentagon, and the rest, as they say, is history.  When I met her, she had just finished up her Bachelor’s degree and training for a paralegal certificate, and she decided to continue on to grad school, to get an MBA.  She had previously been to college but dropped out, and worked in construction (she was a crane oiler and operator – pretty cool, actually) and in a hotel in Portsmouth before shifting to the paralegal game.  As an aside, she worked for a defense attorney, and holy cow does she have stories.  I won’t go into them except to say that I oppose the entire concept of sex offender registration lists completely and without reservation, mostly because of the stories she told me about guys getting completely fucked by the system and labelled for life over something that amounted to the equivalent of stealing a pack of gum from a 7 Eleven.

But I digress…

Before I knew her, she was not so good with money, and made some bad calls.  Among them, taking out a Payday Loan.  I don’t want to go off on a rant about Payday Loans, but I think we can all agree that they are designed to prey on the most desperate, least educated, and/or least financially savvy members of the population.  No one who knows how to evaluate interest rates would ever even think about signing on to a Payday Loan unless they had no other choice.  Ever.  The interest rates on those things extend well beyond usury into the diabolical.  That said, they are better than the alternatives like the mob, so I will not ever support an initiative to ban them.  They do fill a need in the marketplace, and in their defense they are loaning to the highest of high-risk people, so they stand an excellent chance of never getting their money back.  Which justifies their uber-high interest rates.  To an extent.  Sort of.

I still don’t like them.

Anyway, she had some debts when we hooked up, though she had already cleared up the Payday Loan by that point.  During the summer of 2006, I sold my house in Charleston, SC.  We used part of the proceeds to day off all of her debts, and we entered the marriage feeling good about life.  Until 2008, when I just got crushed by the real estate market and a couple other things.  Long story, but suffice it to say we’re only just now getting dug out from that mess; by April of next year we’ll be debt free again, except for her student loans.  But I don’t really count them as bad debt, since they are, after all, tax deductible.  As I said before, it’s good to stick it to the man.  Also in late 2008, I got transferred back to Charleston and suddenly regretted selling my house, but you can’t predict these things and the money went to good use, as I said.

But again, I digress…

So, fast forward to this week.  Thursday afternoon, to be exact.  The better half sent me an email that someone left a voice message on her cell phone about some sort of allegations against her.  I thought, “Hmm that’s weird,” but didn’t worry about it too much until I got home.  She told me the guy called her back and told her that a check she had written to pay off her Payday Loan had bounced, way back when, so she owed $945 dollars.  Since writing a bad check for >$500 is a felony with a sentence up to a year in jail, this guy’s business was going to forward the claim to the county prosecutor’s office unless she settled up.  In their generosity, they would take only $450 and call the matter settled.  She was supposed to call him first thing the next morning to work out the details of how to git ‘r done.

Needless to say, she was a little rattled.  But she was also suspicious.  I was, too.  A few things stood out:

  1. He never told her the name of his company, which supposedly was hired to handle the delinquent account.
  2. He wouldn’t tell her which bank or business had the claim.
  3. He claimed they had sent written notice to her, but they sent it to our address in Maine, where we haven’t lived in five years.  When she asked him to re-send it, he said “they” – the company with the claim I suppose – had already tried once, and they would not send it out again.
  4. He had her social security number, date of birth, and maiden name, but asked her to confirm them (and she did – boy does she feel stupid).
  5. He claimed to have run her credit report.  Of course, had he run her credit report, he would have had her current address and #3 would not have happened.

This had my suspicious dander up.  So I did a little research online.  Found out some nice facts:

  1. Dude’s phone number turned out to be a cell phone in Athens, GA.  Recall that we lived in Maine during the time in question.  In fact, she lived in New Hampshire when the Payday Loan bit went down.  So why exactly would a business in Georgia be involved?  And why would he be placing business calls from a cell phone while talking as though he was calling from his office?
  2. Turns out the Statute of Limitations for bounced checks ranges between 3-5 years, depending on the State.  Maine’s is 4 years, as is Georgia’s.  I checked.
  3. I ran her credit report (she was due for her free annual check anyway).  The only delinquencies on there were the accounts we already knew about, which were just about set to come off her report as we paid them off in 2006.  No one had inquired as to her credit besides Transunion (one of the credit bureaus) since October of last year.  So when had this dude supposedly checked her credit?

I did some of this research after the better half went to sleep.  When she got up in the morning, I filled her in on what I’d learned and she felt a lot better.  We agreed that if she heard from the guy again she would demand he send her written notice of the delinquency because that’s how things are done.  Otherwise, he could piss off.  I left for work feeling good about things.

I came back a little before noon.  It was an early day because we were having a thing called a Hail and Farewell, where we welcome new officers into the command’s wardroom and say goodbye to the guys and gals who are leaving, at 1300.  I arrived to find the better half completely frantic.  She was just hanging up after talking to the guy and she was almost in tears.  Turns out the guy had again refused to send out written documentation.  He claimed his associate had tried to send an email to her, but she had never received it.  He then proceeded to get that associate on the phone, and she told the lady her email address again.  Twice.  Each time they lost connect, somehow.

After the second lost connect, she was really tearing up.  “What if I missed something, somehow when we were cleaning up my debt?  This is a felony!  I don’t want to go to jail!”

To say I was pissed was to call lava lukewarm.  I needed to take our son to Speech Therapy (he had a half-hour session scheduled before we left for the Hail and Farewell), so I told her not to do anything.  But I wrote down the guy’s phone number.  On the way back from dropping our son off, I called the dude.  Here is how the conversation went:

“This is Christopher Ross.”

“Hi, what’s your company’s name and where is it located?”

“Who is this?”

I told him.

“Oh you’re Ericka’s husband?”

“Yes.  And there are several holes in your story.”

“I’m sorry, I can’t talk to you about this without her consent.”

“Actually you can.  It’s called I’m her spouse.  What is your company’s name and where is it located?”

“Etech Systems in Atlanta, Georgia.”  – Remember how his cell phone was from Athens?  Athens is a goodly distance from Atlanta.

“Ok, here’s what you’re going to do.  You’re going to send us, in writing, in the MAIL, on company letterhead, some actual documentation of this supposed claim.  There is a formal, legal method to do this and it doesn’t involve semi-threatening phone calls from anonymous people.”

“Sir, I don’t know what you’re talking about.  I know I work for a legitimate business and I’ve done everything I can to help you solve this out of court.  So I’ll tell you what, I’m going to terminate this call and forward this package on to the County.”

Click.

I called him back.  Got the name of his business again before he hung up on  me.  But I wasn’t done.  So I called him back again.

“This is Christopher Ross.”

“Who is your supervisor.”

“What?”

“Who is your supervisor?  Let me speak with your supervisor.”

“As I said before, I am the pre-litigation lead in the check fraud division.  I don’t have a supervisor except for the director, and he won’t talk to you.  I’ve done everything I can do, and I’m forwarding the package on to the County.”

Click.

By the time I got home, Ericka was less stressed, as she had time to think about it.  I looked up his business.  The only Etech Systems in Atlanta is an electronics company.  Maybe.  But its Manta profile is empty, as is its profile on the local business forums.  Suspicious.  Ericka found a number of forums that warn people about this very scam, but with different names.  We both agreed again that obviously, this was a complete scam.  So we called the FTC and made a report.  I intended to call the local FBI field office to file a report also, but got caught up in Hail an Farewell stuff and didn’t get around to it.  We’ll probably do that today.

So let’s talk about all the things that were wrong with this guy’s claim:

  1. If you are in debt to a business, they will send you documentation of it in writing.  Email is not writing.  They will call you if they have been unsuccessful in reaching you in writing, but they will (and I’m pretty sure they must, legally) always send written documentation on it.
  2. A legal complaint, such as a lawsuit or criminal charges, against you will always be made in writing.
  3. A legit business will not be circumspect about its contact information, and will never refuse your demand to talk to a supervisor.
  4. You are legally required to be shown all evidence against you so that you may defend yourself against accusations.

I could go on, but this has all the hallmarks of being a total scam.  The FTC agreed, and confirmed that they had encountered this before multiple times.

So yahoo!  Scam defeated!

Well, no.  Not really.  Here’s why.

This guy was very slick, spoke well, and sounded, for lack of a better term, bureaucratic, like a worker-bee in an office.  In short, he sounded legit.  He seemed to have Ericka’s vital data, but she can’t recall how much he had and how much he got her to reveal.  By the end of this, he had her SSN, birth date, maiden name, email address, current address, and a former address.  That is everything he needs to steal her identity and do all sorts of nasty things in her name.  We’ve put fraud alerts on all our accounts and with all three credit bureaus.  But still, this is bad.

We knew this was a scam on Thursday night/Friday morning.  Even still, this guy was so slick, and pressed the “You’re going to jail” intimidation so hard that by the time I got home, Ericka was scared almost out of her wits.  She’s smart.  She has legal experience and an MBA.  But this guy was hitting the emotional buttons so hard that all she could think of for a while there was that she was going to jail, she would lose her kids, her life would be ruined.  Not to pat myself on the back or denigrate her, but I halfway think if I hadn’t arrived then and poked a finger back at the execrable Mr. Ross, she may have given in and just sent him money.  Which is exactly how these guys operate.  They cajole and threaten, and the easily intimidated, or the ignorant, or the stupid, or just the senile people of the world will roll over and pay.

A lot of people on those forums that Ericka found did just that.  And then found that they were hounded even more afterwords.

So keep this in mind: you do not owe money to an anonymous voice on the phone.  There must be documentation IN WRITING (not email. writing.) or it is not real.  Worst case, just call the bluff and tell them to sue you, or to press charges.  That might seem scary, but let’s think about this.  Let’s say this was real and Ericka really was liable here.  Worst case, we would get slapped with a summons or an arrest warrant.  But then we at least would have faces, names, and paperwork to deal with, an attorney on our side, and a process to go through.  All the things that separate us from the barbarians.  And that is a whole lot better to deal with than some unknown, threatening voice on the phone.

And let’s face it – you’re not doing time for something like this.  Worst case you’ll pay a fine and restitution.  Seriously.

So that’s my story.  I’m sure Christopher Ross was not this guy’s real name.  But just in case, his phone number was 706-621-7715.  Do not trust anyone who calls from that number.

You have been warned.

Sprinting Through Week 18

Another week of 2013 down.

I wrote nothing new.  Zip.  Zero.  Nada.  Not even going to show you the graph because there ain’t nothing there.

And that’s ok.

It’s ok because this is actually the first week that I haven’t written anything this year.  And because I was just simply doing other, fun and important, things.  Like finishing Mark Fassett‘s new book, and starting on Rebecca Senese‘s.  Both are friends, and I promised them both feedback, so you gotta do what you gotta do.

But beyond that, I just felt like taking a little break – after finally finishing Pericles, I think that’s an ok thing – and, you know, doing family stuff.

And I ran another triathlon.

But not just me.  You see, a month and a half ago or so, it hit me that the boys from work and I had signed up for the Spring Sprint Triathlon here in San Diego on Cinco de Mayo.  And, of course, Cinco de Mayo is my wedding anniversary.  So I suggested to the better half that maybe she would like to run a triathlon as well, and that unleashed the floodgates.  She thought that was a great idea, and we soon found the the awesome bike shop right around the corner from us has a very affordable (ok, relatively affordable) beginner’s triathlon package.  So we used part of our tax return (and dude, let me tell you, having 4 kids, taking a loss on two side businesses, and having students loans to repay – hers not mine – is great for taxes.  My income tax burden last year, not include FICA, was….wait for it…$95.  It’s good to stick it to the man. 😛 ) and got her hooked up.  She got started training, but as of the end of this week she still was not very confident about her bike, and in particular the clips on her pedals.  So she went to a women’s clinic at the bike shop, and then I took her out riding afterwords, and she felt a lot better.

And then, yesterday, the moment of truth.  Her first triathlon, and my second.

Image 2

Not a bad looking couple there.  I almost look buff in that wetsuit.  😛

Actually, if I can embark on a little tangent here (yeah, like I haven’t already done that), I feel the need to opine about wetsuits for a bit.  I think I mentioned it before, but during my first Triathlon, the swim frankly sucked.  Yeah, I hadn’t trained in the water as much as I should have.  But adding to the issue was my freaking wetsuit.  I just wore the suit I had from my scuba diving days, a decade or more ago.  Yes yes, I know, I can hear the voices already.  Why haven’t you been diving?  Because the diving sucks in upstate NY, it’s bloody cold in Maine, and to get any good diving in and around Charleston, SC you have to go several dozen miles off the coast.  And that’s where I’ve been living since I transferred away from my first submarine, which was in Pearl Harbor (awesome place…duh).  At least until now.  Anyway, getting back to the wetsuit, that old Oceanic suit is awesome. For diving.  But when you’re scuba diving, you kick yourself around.   You’re not exactly swimming freestyle through the waves.  Suffice it to say that suit was not very flexible about the shoulders.  And beyond that, I am a little bit bigger now than I was then, especially about the chest (I can bench quite a bit more now than I could back in my early to mid 20s.  Yes that’s my story and I’m sticking to it) so the suit was a bit tight, which made it hard to breathe.

Clearly, that situation was unacceptable.  Fortunately for me, the folks who put on this weekend’s triathlon had a great deal worked out with Xterra Wetsuits – 60% off!  So I used their coupon  code and ordered Xterra’s top-of-the-line Vector Pro suit, normally $600, for about $260.  And I must say, this wetsuit rocks.  Talk about easy to move around in.  Swimming in that thing is…well, it’s just SO much easier.  On Thursday after work, the better half and I took the kiddos to Mission Bay, here in San Diego.  They love the beach, but hate big waves (the oldest of our kids is 5.  Duh, of course she hates big waves), so the sheltered bay is perfect.  While we were there, I put on the new suit and swum to a little island a couple hundred yards away, and back again.  Like I said: SO MUCH BETTER.

All that pointed toward this race being awesome.  And it was.  I vastly improved my time over the last one (although in honesty I must point out that the overall course was quite a bit shorter than the SEAL Sprint Triathlon, but still I did proportionally better as well, so that’s good), and the better half finished her first Triathlon ever.

Victory!

After the race, we went and got a late breakfast at a local place in Ocean Beach, and then rolled back to our humble abode, here on Point Loma.  I forked over some bucks (ok more than some) to the babysitter and then we had a nice relaxing Sunday, complete with Pollo Asado, a little Battlestar Gallactica, The Amazing Race, and Game of Thrones.  Not a bad Anniversary, if you ask me.  And best of all, the better half agreed.

Victory!

So, that was my week.  Two weeks from now, the boys from work and I are hitting the OC Triathlon, a little ways north of here.  This one is olympic length – 1500m swim, 24ish mile bike, 6.2 mile run.  So about double the distance of these first two.  It promises to be a challenge, and no doubt I will be a hurting unit afterwords.  But I’m looking forward to it.

And yes, I will indeed get some more writing done as well.  Just as soon as I finish Rebecca’s book.

Speaking of which…