Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Writing this book has been a lesson in patience, frustration, anger, and disappointment. It has also shown me that sometimes, good things can come from bad situations.

The book I’m talking about is The Ones That Got Away. It’s my latest novel, and I’ve been working on it, in its various iterations, for five years or more. It’s about a man who’s part of a bad marriage. After having an argument with his wife, he goes to bed in the guest room, and wakes up in his college apartment, just twenty-two years old, and ready to live his life over. All of his memories are intact. All he needs to do is decided who he’s going to share his life with in his second (and third, and fourth) chances at life.

A while back, I wrote another blog post detailing my frustration with writing the book. In a nutshell, I had written about 40% of the book before I lost it all due to a computer malfunction. The good news in that post was that the second version of that 40% I lost was better than the first. So, although it was frustrating and infuriating, at that point, things had worked out. Since then, things have just gotten more frustrating.

After writing the previous post, I’ve dealt with even more snafus. At one point, I lost two full chapters due to my own inability to save my work. Then, I lost four chapters of edits. Recreating the edits wasn’t difficult, but it was annoying to have to do it again.

In August, the manuscript was finally done, and I sent it to Sean, my editor. I was feeling good about the book until I got it back from Sean. He had cut over 17,000 words, and suggested that I add several more chapters. Man, was I disappointed. I had wanted to have the book available by October 1 (after initially missing the March 1 deadline). Now, it looks like the book won’t be available until after the new year. UGH!!!

Okay, deep breath.

Sean and I talked about the changes he suggested, and I agreed with about 90% of them. Sean suggested edits are going to make the book better. It’s going to tell a fuller story. And the writing is going to be better. So, despite my frustrations, the results are going to be worth the headaches.

As things stand now, I’m still working on Sean’s edits. I’d like to say that the book will be ready January 1, 2020, but with the holidays just around the corner, I’m setting a new publication goal date of March 1, 2020. That’s one full year after I had intended on publishing the book, but I’m convinced it’s better to delay putting out a great book than it is to quickly publish a mediocre one.

Okay, back to work.


The Truth About Those Nasty Little Love Bugs

I took my car to the car wash today. The front of the car was covered with dead love bugs. Those nasty little critters have been swarming for the past few weeks. They can cause all kinds of problems, including clogging up car radiators, and, if you don’t wash them off soon enough, their acidic little bodies can eat away at the car’s clear coat.

Have you ever heard the story behind how love bugs came to be? The story I heard for years was that the University of Florida created the little monsters as a way of combating another type of pest. Another story I heard was that the love bugs were an experiment at UF that went wrong, and then they escaped from the laboratory to annoy people for generations.

As it turns out, neither of these stories is true. In fact, the University of Florida wasn’t even involved. I suspect the stories were started by someone from Florida State.

One of the top experts on love bugs (I wonder if it says that on his resume) is Nash Turley, a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Central Florida. In this video, he tells us everything we ever wanted to know about love bugs. And if you’re like me, after watching the video, you’ll likely end up understanding love bugs better, but hating them as much as ever.

I have to go scrub my bumper now. The car wash couldn’t get the lousy little pests off of it.


How AirBnB Stole $800 From Me

On Tuesday, August 27 I logged into my online bank account to transfer some money, and saw an odd entry. It was so fresh, it hadn’t cleared my checking account yet, leading me to believe that the charge had just been made in the previous hour or two. The entry was a pre-authorized debit to AirBnB for $787.20. The entry included a confirmation code.

I knew I hadn’t made a reservation on AirBnB, so I contacted my bank to inform them of the fraudulent charge. My hope was, that if I notified them right away, they could decline the charge. As I said, the charge had been pre-authorized, but it hadn’t been funded yet.

I admit, I don’t know what rules the bank has to follow once a charge has been pre-authorized, but I still don’t understand why they couldn’t have declined payment once they were aware that the charge was fraudulent. In any case, they didn’t decline the charge.

Next, I contacted AirBnB. The representative referred my issue to the AirBnB Trust and Safety Department. This is where things began to fall apart. Someone named Julia from the Trust and Safety Department sent me an email telling me that I should work with my bank to do a chargeback. The email went on to explain that, due to privacy concerns, AirBnB could not provide me with any information about who made the reservation (with my debit card) or what they reserved.

That kind of irritated me. My card was used fraudulently, but AirBnB was more concerned with protecting the privacy of the scum bag who stole my debit card info than with helping me. That just didn’t seem right.

Even so, I did as I was instructed and contacted my bank so they could do a charge back. I sent the person I was dealing with at the bank a copy of the email from AirBnB, and assumed the charge back process would be quick and easy. Boy, was I wrong.

The bank contacted me two days later to let me know that AirBnB wouldn’t deal with them. Initially, AirBnB told the bank that they weren’t entitled to a charge back because they weren’t an AirBnB member. {See Update #3 below. I initially misunderstood the explanation that the bank shared with me. Update #3 contains a detailed explanation.} The bank tried again to explain the process, but their email was blocked. The woman I was working with at the bank asked if I could contact AirBnB to let them know that my bank was trying to do a charge back for me.

I did as I was asked, and the process started all over again. This time, Conn from the AirBnB Trust and Safety Department sent me an email telling me to work with my bank to do a chargeback, and telling me that I had no right to know anything about the reservation that was made with my card.

I immediately sent another email asking Conn to please read my entire email and reach out to my bank to handle the charge back. Instead of doing that, Conn sent me another email telling me to contact my bank. He went on to say that if I had any questions, I should ask my bank. In other words, we’ve done all we’re going to do. Don’t bother us again.

Despite his effort to get rid of me, I reached out again (via email) to Conn and repeated my concerns. Conn gave up, but his partner, Joaquin, added insult to injury by sending me yet another form email just like the first two. I sent a strongly worded (READ: Angry) response to Joaquin letting him know that their charge back process had broken down and asking him to please reach out to my bank.

Joaquin couldn’t be bothered to reply to me, nor did he reach out to my bank, as requested.

A few days went by without any further contact from AirBnB, so I called them again. I spoke to Trish and explained everything that had happened to date. She had all of the information, including all of my emails asking AirBnB to return my $787.20 via chargeback to the bank. Trish seemed concerned about how things had been handled to that point and agreed not to send my case back to the Trust and Safety Department. At my request, Trish agreed to escalate my situation to someone in management at AirBnB. She advised that she would have Marion call me back “within the day.” She said she wasn’t sure when Marion would call, but she encouraged me to make myself available throughout the day. I agreed.

To my surprise (Although, at this point, I probably shouldn’t have been surprised), instead of a phone call from Marion, I received a slightly edited form email from Alfonse in the AirBnB Trust and Safety Department. The letter starts out like this:

“We’ve received your email and understand your concerns with the unauthorized and/or unrecognized charges you’ve reported. Unfortunately, it appears this charge has already been investigated and further reports of the same charge will not result in a different outcome.”

Really, AirBnB? Do you understand my concerns? If you do, you’ve never responded to them. I’ve told you several times that my bank has attempted to do a chargeback, but you wouldn’t deal with them. As things stand, a month after I notified you of this situation, you still have nearly $800 of mine that you received fraudulently, and you refuse to return it. You won’t even respond to my emails. And by respond, I mean engage with me. Read my emails and do what is necessary to remedy this situation.

AirBnB, I’d really like my money back. You received it through an act of fraud. You didn’t earn it. Please return it. At least six of your employees are aware of the situation, but none of them has lifted a finger to help me.

Please read my emails, reach out to my bank, and return my money. I really don’t think it’s too much to ask.

Update #1 — About 30 minutes after I posted a link to this post on Twitter, @AirBnBHelp reached out to me and offered to help. We corresponded a couple of times over the weekend, but ultimately, their response was no different than what I’ve been told all along. Here’s what they said:

“Thank you for that information Lou, we have reviewed your account and can see that our Trust team followed up with you on September 25th via email with information regarding your case. We encourage you to review that email for the complete details.”

The email that AirBnB refers to is the same email I quoted above where AirBnB told me to contact my bank and leave them alone. Talk about adding insult to injury.

Update #2 — Yesterday, I posted Update #1, and tweeted out the update on Twitter. A few hours later, I received the following note from AirBnB Help:

“We’re really sorry for the frustration, Lou. We’ve asked our specialized team to follow up with you as soon as possible. Thank you for your continued patience.”

That sounded promising, but rather than hearing from a specialized team, I heard from Marco in the Trust and Safety Department. And what did Marco say? He sent me the exact same form email I’ve received four times before telling me to contact my bank. I’ve made it clear to everyone I’ve communicated with that I’ve contacted my bank, but AirBnB refuses to engage with them. In fact, I have some additional information about AirBnB’s response to the bank that I’ll be posting a little later. The saga continues…

Update #3 – This update gets a little technical, but I think it will help explain why AirBnB is refusing to deal with my bank.

When my bank contacted AirBnB and requested a chargeback (as requested over and over again by AirBnB in emails to me), my bank received a memo indicating that the bank did not have dispute rights for the charge. The memo stated:

“According to the network dispute resolution rules, there are no dispute rights for this transaction. This is due to the merchant participating in the ‘3D Secure’ program, and the transaction obtaining an authorization message.”

Let’s break this down a little. The merchant referred to in this paragraph is AirBnB. They subscribe to “3D Secure,” which, according to Wikipedia, is:

“…an XML-based protocol designed to be an additional security layer for online credit and debit card transactions. It was originally developed by Arcot Systems (now CA Technologies) and first deployed by Visa with the intention of improving the security of internet payments, and is offered to customers under the Verified by Visa/Visa Secure brands…EMV 3-D Three Domain Secure (3DS) is a messaging protocol developed by EMVCo to enable consumers to authenticate themselves with their card issuer when making card not present (CNP) transactions. The additional security layer helps prevent unauthorized CNP transactions and protects the merchant from CNP exposure to fraud. The three domains Secure consist of the merchant/acquirer domain, issuer domain, and the interoperability domain (e.g. Payment Systems).”

Okay, that’s long and boring, but in a nutshell, 3D Secure is a security system designed to be used when the credit or debit card is not present, as with internet purchases. According to my bank, the way 3D Secure works in practice is the purchaser enters their card number, and then a box pops-up asking the purchaser to provide an authorization code that the merchant provides via text.

In order for this particular purchase with AirBnB to have been approved (assuming it was), AirBnB would have had to send an authorization code to the purchaser. Since it was my debit card that was used, I assume I’m considered the purchaser, but I never received a text containing an authorization code. Somehow, assuming AirBnB used 3D Secure properly and required an authorization code (I have no way of knowing if the transaction was handled properly since I wasn’t involved), they would have had to send an authorization code to a cell phone other than mine.

There are a couple of things to consider. First, assuming you didn’t nod off while reading the Wikipedia explanation of 3D Secure, you probably noticed that it said 3D Secure adds an additional layer of security that “helps prevent unauthorized CNP transactions and protects the merchant from CNP exposure to fraud.” In other words, 3D Secure primarily protects the merchant, not the consumer.

In this same vein, the Wikipedia article goes on to say:

“Analysis of the first version of protocol by academia has shown it to have many security issues that effect the consumer, including a greater surface area for phishing and a shift of liability in the case of fraudulent payments.”

So, here’s the bottom line: AirBnB subscribes to a cyber-security system that has been shown to be flawed, and was obviously flawed in this case. Even so, they are standing behind the 3D Secure rules that state that they don’t have to return payments to consumers, even if those payments were received through fraudulent means. Seems pretty sweet for AirBnB, but it really sucks for the consumer.

As I think this through, there are only two ways that AirBnB could have charged by card without my permission. The first is that they didn’t follow the 3D Secure protocols and did not require an authorization code before charging my card. If this happened, AirBnB is obviously negligent in their actions and should not be able to hide behind the 3D Secure rules.

The second way is if the person who stole my debit card info created an AirBnB member profile, and connected their own cell phone number and my card number to their profile. Then, when AirBnB sent the authorization code, the scammer entered it and the transaction was complete. But can it really be this easy to scam AirBnB? If this is all it takes, the 3D Secure protocol is useless. If anyone can set up an AirBnB profile and can attach a stolen debit card to it without AirBnB requiring verification, the 3D Secure protocols are meaningless and serve to protect no one other than the merchant.

Certainly, AirBnB understands this. Their system is easily usurped, yet they continue to rely on it to the detriment of their customers. This is obviously wrong and shouldn’t be allowed.

So, what’s next? I don’t know. Various people have suggested I sue in small claims court. I really don’t want to deal with that headache, but I hate seeing someone in power (AirBnB) take advantage of someone who has no power (me). So, it’s a possibility. I’ll keep you posted.

Update #4 — I hate how this is all playing out with AirBnB. I used to like the company and thought they had a terrific, useful product. I enjoyed my experience with them, and had planned on using them again. Unfortunately, the way they have handled my situation leads me to believe they are an untrustworthy company that deals with customer issues in bad faith. I’m not the only one who feels this way. Check out this article on by Allie Conti about her experience with AirBnB. Our issues are different, but AirBnB’s response to our issues is very similar.


Why I’ll Never, Ever Buy Another Chrysler Product Again

I hate to spew my personal issues on this blog. I started it to talk about my writing and to share stories I find interesting or inspiring. But as it turns out, people like it when I complain. We all have issues we’re dealing with in our lives, and as the old saying goes, misery loves company. So, for those that enjoy my complaining, I have a real treat for you. My next two posts will be nothing but complaining. Ready? Here goes.

I own a 2016 Jeep Grand Cherokee. Since I bought it, it’s been a pretty good vehicle. There are a couple of things that bother me about it, but overall, I’ve been happy with it.

Two Fridays ago, I was getting ready to go on a week-long road trip. When I started the vehicle (It’s an SUV, so do you call it a car or a truck?), the radio screen on the dash had a pop-up indicating that my UConnect software needed to be updated. The pop-up detailed the updating process. I followed it, but it didn’t work. And because it didn’t work, I couldn’t use my radio or the vehicle’s blue-tooth capabilities for the first part of my trip.

I tried to download the software a couple more times, but it still didn’t work. When I got to my destination in Wisconsin, I went to a Jeep dealer. The service writer and manager were both very nice and tried to be helpful, but there wasn’t much they could do. However, the service manager did find something called a Star Case, which is apparently a way that Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep dealers are notified of ways to fix unusual problems that spring up on their vehicles. Kevin, the service manager, went over the software update process detailed in the Star Case, but again, it didn’t work.

A week went by, and I returned to Florida. I called a local Jeep dealer and was told my problem was with UConnect. The service writer gave me their toll-free number and told me I would have to call them. She said they didn’t know what to do about UConnect problems.

Okay, let’s stop for a second and think about that. Jeep dealers sell Jeep vehicles, but what the service writer was telling me was that they could not fix—actually, did not know how to fix—problems with the computer software in the vehicle that they sell. As it turns out, she was wrong (I’ll get to that in a minute), but can you imagine anyone at a Jeep dealer actually believing that they couldn’t fix something on a Jeep vehicle? It boggles the mind.

I didn’t know any better, so I called UConnect. The first woman I spoke to was very nice. She walked me through the steps I needed to download the software. But, of course, it didn’t work.

Let me take another time-out to explain something. The pop-up on the radio screen explains how to download the new software. You just schedule the download (it has to be when you’re not using the vehicle), and you should be good to go. Except, you’re not.

The Star Case that the dealer in Wisconsin shared with me had completely different instructions. In fact, they were so complicated that there was no way anyone could have figured them out on their own. And again, they didn’t work.

When I called UConnect, the nice woman I spoke to walked me through yet another process to download the software. The only thing it had in common with the first two processes was that it didn’t work either.

So, I called UConnect again and told them that the process they had me try didn’t work. I spoke to Alexander and he told me that I should take the vehicle to a dealer. I informed him that I had already taken it to one dealer in Wisconsin, and that I had spoken to a dealer in Florida who said they didn’t know what to do and had sent me to UConnect.

Alexander told me that he would escalate my issue to a UConnect specialist (I don’t know what Alexander’s title was, but when I heard that there were UConnect specialists, I wondered why I was talking to him). Now, this is the important part: Alexander told me that the UConnect specialist would be calling me back, and he said the specialist would also call the dealer to make sure they knew how to solve my problem. So, with good reason, I expected that the UConnect specialist would call me, as well as the dealership, in an effort to download the necessary software.

After my phone call with Alexander, I called the dealership again and told the service writer what I had found out. She seemed confused that my issue was being put back on my plate, and said she would talk to her manager, then call me back.

Twenty-four hours later, I still hadn’t heard from the UConnect specialist or the dealership. I called the dealership and again and again spoke to the same service writer. She did not apologize for not calling me back. However, she did inform me that UConnect never called her (Welcome to the club!). She put me on hold so she could talk to her manager, and when she came back on the line, she said that she could make an appointment for me to bring the vehicle in. She said they still didn’t know what to do about the software update, but they would look into it. That really didn’t inspire a lot of confidence that the problem would be solved, but it was my best option.

I called UConnect and mentioned that a specialist was supposed to call me, but that I hadn’t received a call. The rep (or whatever the person who answers the phones at UConnect is called) said it can take one or two business days for a specialist to call. When I complained, saying that the person I spoke to the previous day hadn’t said there might be a day or two delay, the rep offered to have a specialist call me. Although that didn’t make me happy, I had to appreciate the circular nature of the rep’s reasoning. After a little more complaining, the rep said a specialist would call me right back. And best of all, I wouldn’t have to wait a day or two. I was being sent to the front of the line.

My reward for dancing to the UConnect shuffle was to receive a call from Stephanie, who identified herself as a case manager. I don’t know how many levels they have at UConnect, but I think they could save some money by flattening their organizational hierarchy.

Stephanie got right to the point. She explained that specialists do not call customers or dealerships, and then told me that I should be working directly with my Jeep dealer. Based on the things she was saying, Stephanie didn’t seem to have a grasp of what had previously happened in my case. She also didn’t seem to care. I tried to explain what had happen before she became involved, but she wouldn’t listen. She constantly interrupted me and made statements that ignored what I had just told her. I finally asked her to stop interrupting me and allow me to finish my thought. Her response? She hung up.

I get as frustrated as anyone when things don’t go right, but I understand that processes and systems don’t always work the way they’re supposed to. What I don’t understand, and cannot tolerate, is when a person in a customer service position (Isn’t that pretty much everyone), refuses to listen, is rude, and simply doesn’t care to help the customer. There’s no excuse for it. So, I called UConnect back to voice my displeasure.

This time I spoke to Alex. I don’t think Alex and Alexander are the same person, but they could be. In any case, I explained my experience with Stephanie and asked if I could speak to her supervisor. He explained that he couldn’t do that, but he could take a complaint. I asked what would happen after I filed a complaint? Would somebody call me to discuss it? Would anybody care? He said he wasn’t sure what would happen to the complaint after he sent it in. At least he was being honest.

I gave him the information he needed, and I asked him to please include in the complaint that I would like Stephanie’s supervisor to contact me. Then, without me asking, Alex asked me to hold the line and he would try to connect me to a UConnect Consultant.

Alex was showing concern and initiative. Hooray, Alex! I wasn’t sure what a UConnect Consultant was, but I was willing to share my tale of woe with anyone that would listen. I had to hold for about ten minutes, but my patience was rewarded when Jasmine came on the line.

Jasmine did a tremendous job of listening to my story, responding appropriately, and setting my expectations for the future. We spoke for a long time, but throughout, Jasmine was professional and knowledgeable. She was also very concerned about my interaction with Stephanie. I told her that I felt I deserved a call from Stephanie to apologize for her behavior toward me. In a professional way, Jasmine said that probably wouldn’t happen, but she did promise to send the information to Stephanie’s boss so s/he could meet with Stephanie to work on her deficiencies.

My conversation with Jasmine was great. Even so, as soon as the dealership handles the software issue, I’m getting rid of my Jeep. And as God as my witness, I will never buy another Chrysler product again as long as I live. Life is too short, and I never want to deal with this type of unnecessary headache again.

Bye, bye, Jeep. . .


Happy Publication Day to On the Road

Sixty-two years ago today, Jack Kerouac’s On the Road was published. All these years later, it is one of the best loved and most popular American novels ever written, and it remains the seminal piece of literature produced during and about the Beat Generation.

My novella, “Back on the Road,” which can be found in the novella collection Road Stories, was heavily influenced by Kerouac’s work. In the novella, a group of friends, all recent college graduates, set out on a road trip to follow Kerouac’s protagonist’s, Sal’s, route across America. On the way, through adventures and mishaps, they learn about the country, each other, and themselves.

Happy Publication Day to On the Road. If you’ve never read it, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy. And while you’re at it, check out Road Stories to read “Back on the Road.”


Art for Art’s Sake

I love any type of art that is created for no purpose other than the intrinsic value of the art itself. In other words, art that has no agenda, political, financial or otherwise. That’s not to say that agenda-driven art can’t be beautiful or powerful. It absolutely can. But art created for art’s sake is special, even sacred.

That’s why I was so taken by the re-creation of Van Gogh’s “Olive Trees” that was done by artist Stan Herd. Herd’s rendition of Van Gogh’s painting was done on more than an acre of land in Minnesota using various plantings, mulch, rocks, and lots of manpower. The project took six months to complete, and when it was finished, was quite impressive.

When it was originally completed, the project, which Herd called “The Earthwork,” could be seen by passengers flying into and out of Minneapolis Airport. Sadly, the artwork has since been plowed under. It was commissioned by the Minneapolis Institute of Art and is just one of several similar works of art Herd has created in the Earthworks series.

Take a look at this short video of Herd re-creating Van Gogh’s “Olive Trees.”

Stan Herd, Of Us and Art: The 100 Videos Project, Episode 30 from Minneapolis Institute of Art on Vimeo.


Don’t Sell Me a Car. Tell Me a Story.

I hate being sold anything. I like buying things, but I hate being sold things. That’s why I like the following two ads from Audi. Rather than telling me (and everyone else) what we should buy, Audi is telling us a story. They’re not beating us over the head with reasons their car is better than others or giving us other reasons to buy an Audi. Instead, they’re speaking to our emotions, telling us a compelling story about people we don’t know, but who we start caring about almost as soon as the story begins.

Stories are powerful. They express truths that can’t be conveyed with more direct language or sales techniques. They speak to our hearts, something that sales talk or logic can’t do. They give us reason to buy, even when our defenses are up making sure we aren’t being sold anything.

This first video ran during the Super Bowl a few years ago. The car Audi would like to sell us is at the center of the video, but not the center of the story. In order to make us care, stories almost always have to be about people (or animals). Audi is selling cars, but they’re telling stories about people.

In this commercial for the Audi RS6 Avant, they go a step further. They’re selling a car, and the story is about a young man growing into an adult. But Audi goes the extra step by making us care about a station wagon. I just read an article indicating that station wagons are a dying breed, but after I watched this extended commercial, I started thinking that maybe I need a station wagon. That’s quite a feat because I do not like station wagons. So, if the commercial affected me this way, it’s having the same effect on others.

Well done, Audi. Keep the stories coming.


Road Rage and Pet Peeves

I drive a lot, spending a good part of my life on the roads between Wisconsin, Tennessee, Florida and all the states in between. And I can tell you, there are some really bad drivers out on our highways. I’m constantly amazed at the ignorance people have for the rules of the road, as well as a lack of common decency. I don’t advocate road rage, but often, I can understand it.

There are four things in particular that drive me nuts:

1. Driving in the Left Lane – This may be news to some, but the left lane of a divided, limited access highway is meant for passing. If you’re riding along in the left lane and you’re not passing someone to your right, you’re doing it wrong.

Let me put this in terms that might make more sense. Driving on the highway is a communal activity. We have to share the road with others, so it only makes sense to abide by a uniform set of rules to make the experience as safe and efficient as possible. That’s why there are signs on the highway (and laws on the books) that require slower traffic to keep right.

That doesn’t mean that if you’re doing the speed limit you can stay in the left lane since no one should be going faster than you. When the laws were created, legislators understood that not everyone would drive at or below the speed limit. So, they created a law that says that slower traffic, no matter your speed, must stay to the right. They knew that it would be safer, regardless of the speed traffic is going, for slower traffic to stay right, and passing traffic to use the left lane.

One time, I was listening to a radio show and the hosts were talking about the “left lane is for passing” rule. One of the hosts said she was more comfortable driving in the left lane, and she didn’t see why other drivers couldn’t simply pass her on the right. The other host was outraged. He told her that, not only was she being selfish doing what felt was best for her rather than what the law required, but she was also causing an unsafe situation, cruising along in the left lane expecting other drivers to find a way around her.

When they opened up the phone lines, the majority of the callers agreed that driving in the left lane was wrong, but I was surprised when several callers made the most ridiculous, illogical arguments to stay in the left lane. One caller said he paid taxes just like everyone else for the highways and he should be allowed to drive in any lane he chose. Another caller said she doesn’t like having other cars entering the highway into her lane, so she drives only in the left lane. In fact, she said that as soon as she gets on the highway, she gets over into the left lane, regardless of her speed and regardless of other traffic. Several callers voiced some version of the “I always go the speed limit, so no one should be going faster than me” rationale.

As a civilized society, we all have to abide by a certain set of rules in order for all of us to stay safe. Laws that say “passing only in the left lane” or “slower traffic must keep right” are part of those rules. Do yourself and everyone else on the road a favor, only use the left lane for passing.

2. Two Lane Merging Into One — The orange sign on the side of westbound I-24 let drivers know that the right lane was closed three miles ahead. Even so, for as far as I could see in the distance, the right lane was clear, and the left lane was backing up with bumper-to-bumper traffic. I slowed my speed, not wanting to fly by stop-and-go traffic to my left, but I continued passing cars as I cruised along in the right lane. That was, until some knucklehead in a white Ford Explorer pulled out of the left lane and sat at a dead stop in the right lane. There were no cars in front of him, and no reason for him to be stopped.

The two cars ahead of me slowed to a stop behind the Explorer, and I followed suit. For the next thirty-plus minutes and two-plus miles, we crept along in the right lane behind the Explorer as he kept pace with the stop-and-go traffic in the left lane. When the right lane finally came to an end, the Explorer ducked into the left lane, and the few other cars in the right lane—including me—did the same.

The entire time I sat behind the self-appointed traffic monitor in the Explorer, I was certain that what he was doing to block traffic was not only illegal, but unwise. It just made sense to me that everyone would be better off if we took advantage of both lanes for as long as possible before merging. I was tempted to pass the idiot in the white Explorer on the shoulder, but I didn’t want to be “that guy.” If this ever happens again, you can be sure that I will be “that guy.” From now on, I will be practicing “the zipper.”

Science confirms that utilizing all open lanes for as long as possible and then using “zipper” merging is not only more efficient, but also, safer. So, what is zipper merging? Just like with the zipper on a hoodie or pair of pants, drivers take turns moving forward. Each driver in the lane that is staying open allows one of the cars from the closing lane to merge over. It’s faster, safer, and reduces congestion.

3. Flashers On When Raining – For some reason, people think they’re being safe by tuning on their emergency flashers when driving in the rain. It isn’t safer. In fact, it’s distracting and dangerous.

Think of it this way: You’re driving down the highway and it’s raining. Visibility is diminished, and all of a sudden, the guy in front of you turns on his flashers. You see red lights come on in front of you, and you assume he’s braking, so you brake too, stacking up traffic behind you. But he’s not braking. His lights go off and you let off your brakes. But then they come back on. You brake again. What a pain.

As you drive along, the flasher guy changes lanes, but his blinkers can’t work while his flashers are on, so no one knows that he’s changing lanes. When he does brake, it takes you a second to realize it because his taillights have been flashing for the last couple of miles. Good luck stopping.

In addition to being a pain to drive behind someone with their flashers on, it’s distracting to have taillights coming on in different lanes. Are people stopping or are they just cruising along with their flashers on? It can be hard to tell.

Oh, and if these reasons aren’t enough, here’s another one: driving with your emergency flashers on in the rain is against the law in most states. Flashers are designed to signal to law enforcement that there is an emergency. Rain is not an emergency, no matter how hard it’s coming down.

4. Truckers Changing Lanes Because of a Vehicle on the Shoulder – My final rant is saved specifically for truck drivers. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen a tractor-trailer driving along in the right lane, suddenly change lanes to the left because of a vehicle pulled off on the right side of the road. The trucker obviously feels it would be safer to be a lane farther to the left from the vehicle on the shoulder, but is it?

All too often, I’ve seen trucks suddenly change lanes, despite the fact that traffic to their left is going significantly faster than them, and at times, despite the fact that there are already vehicles directly to their left. What is safer? Being farther away from the vehicle on the shoulder or changing lanes when another vehicle is already in that lane, either directly next to the truck or coming up quickly to the left of the truck? I think the answer is obvious, yet I see truckers doing this all the time, avoiding a potentially dangerous situation by creating a much more dangerous situation.

By all means, if you’re driving a truck and there is a vehicle off on the right side of the road, move a lane to your left. But don’t do it if there is a vehicle directly to your left or if a vehicle in the lane to your left is closing fast on you. It doesn’t make sense to move over for the vehicle on the shoulder if doing so creates an even more hazardous situation.

Okay, that’s enough ranting for today. Time to go for a drive.


A Lesson in Making Your Dreams Come True

This is a story about two guys from different sides of the country who shared a single dream.

Tyler Nilson was from the Outer Banks of North Carolina. He knocked around his home state doing odd jobs, but what he really wanted to do was make movies. So, he left North Carolina and headed for California.

In Los Angeles, he worked more odd jobs. He had bit roles in a few movies, made corporate films, acted in a few commercials, and worked as a hand model, even doubling for Brad Pitts’ hands. But he wasn’t living his dream. He wanted to write and direct his own movies, but that wasn’t happening.

Enter Michael Schwartz. Michael grew up in sunny California and was Tyler’s neighbor in Los Angeles. Like Tyler, Michael had a dream of making movies. So, they decided to work together.

When things didn’t work out quickly enough for the duo, Tyler moved back home to the Outer Banks. Michael went with him on a temporary basis, but when he met a young lady and fell in love, he decided to stay. So, as long as they were together in North Carolina, they decided to make a movie. Problem was, they really didn’t know how.

Tyler had a vague idea for a film, so they just started shooting. Tyler did the acting, Michael did the filming. They shot a bunch of scenes around Colington Island and Bodie Island in the Outer Banks, and then strung the scenes together, added voiceover, and created a narrative. There was no script. The resulting short film was “The Moped Diaries,” about a hard luck guy who suffers one loss after another. His mother leaves, his father dies, his brother goes to prison, the love of his life marries someone else. Despite that description, the film has a sense of humor and pulls at the heartstrings. Take a look:

“The Moped Diaries” earned Tyler and Michael some fans, but fame and fortune still alluded them. After shooting the short film, they volunteered at a camp for people with disabilities. They were talking about wanting to make a movie when one of the campers, Zach Gottason, said he wanted to be a movie star. Tyler and Michael believe that you should never talk down to or patronize people with disabilities, so, according to Michael, they told Zach the truth: “Hey, bro, that’s really unlikely. You have Down Syndrome, and nobody makes movies starring people with Down Syndrome.”

Zach was unfazed. “Why don’t you make me a movie. We can do it together.”

The thing about Zach was, he could act. He had attended theater high school and he knew what he was doing. Tyler and Michael figured, why not? They wanted to make a movie, Zach wanted to be in a movie, they should just go for it. They figured Tyler could do the acting and Michael could do the filming, just like in “The Moped Diaries.” And Zach could be Zach.

Once again, the problem was that they really didn’t know how to make a movie. So, Tyler and Michael went to the library and checked out books on how to write a script. They also watched movies they wanted to imitate, like “Stand By Me” and “Mud.” They wrote the script, and figured they could make the film for about $30,000. Of course, they didn’t have $30,000.

They went back to Los Angeles to try to find funding, but they couldn’t get anyone to read their script. After a while, they ran out of money and ended up living in a tent in a park. They were broke, but they knew they’d probably have to create a trailer for the film to get anyone interested in it, so they threw something together and waited.

On New Year’s Day, actor Josh Brolin posted on Instagram, “This year I want to help people.” Tyler and Michael saw the post, and responded “Josh, this is perfect ‘cause we’re looking for some help.” They told him about their script and he replied, “No, this isn’t what I meant. There’s no way I can do your $30,000 movie. But…I’m gonna do it.”

With Josh Brolin on board, people started reading the script. Talent agencies offered other actors, and the script started to take off. No one would give Tyler and Michael the $30,000 they needed, but they were offered $3 million.

With $3 million to make the film, Tyler was no longer cast in the lead role. That went to Shia Labeouf. And Josh Brolin ended up having to drop out of the film due to scheduling conflicts, but was replaced by Thomas Haden Church. Also in the cast are Dakota Johnson, Bruce Dern, John Hawkes, and the guy who started the whole thing, Zach Gottason. Tyler and Michael wrote and directed the film, which, of course, is what they wanted to do all along.

The film has already won enthusiastic praise from film festival audiences. It received the Narrative Spotlight Audience Award at South by Southwest, and received a perfect score of 100 on Tomatometer.

In case you were wondering, the name of the film is “The Peanut Butter Falcon” and it opens in theaters on August 9, with wide release on August 23. Here’s a featurette to tell you a little more:


Welcome Home, Col. Knight

Roy Knight always knew he’d join the military. After all, it was kind of the family business. All five of his older brothers had joined the military before him and had fought in World War II. Roy was too young for the Second Great War, but that didn’t stop him from joining the Air Force just a few days past his seventeenth birthday in 1948.

Roy served in the Philippines, Japan, and Korea before being accepted into Officer Candidate School in 1953. He received his commission later that year, then married Patricia Henderson, who he’d met while in the Philippines.

Life was good for the Knights. Like many military families, they moved around the world, going from Japan to South Korea, then Texas, then Germany, then France. During their travels they started a family. Roy III was born in South Korea. Gayann was born in Texas. And the youngest, Bryan, was born in France.

During his journeys, Roy became a pilot, flying the F-86D fighter jet. In 1963, he was asked to return to his native Texas to become a flight instructor at Laughlin Air Force Base. But even with three kids and a thriving military career, Roy couldn’t sit still. He enrolled in college courses at the University of Omaha and graduated with a bachelors degree in 1966. Later that year, Major Roy Knight received orders for Southeast Asia.

Roy’s mother, wife, and youngest son loaded into a car and headed for Love Field in Dallas on a chilly January day in 1967 to say goodbye to Roy. He was heading to Thailand and they were staying behind in Texas. He hugged his mom and young son, kissed his wife, then headed toward the plane that would take him overseas. It would be the last time he would see his family, and the final time they would ever see him.

Roy reported to the 602nd Fighter Squadron at Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base, from which he flew combat missions almost daily until May 19, 1967. On that day, Major Knight was shot down over Laos and subsequently reported missing in action. Rescue teams searched for him, but were unsuccessful. Roy lingered on the missing in action list for years, even earning a promotion to colonel while MIA. But in 1974, without finding his remains, Roy was officially listed as killed in action, and was posthumously awarded an Air Force Cross, Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross, Purple Heart, and six Air Medals.

By the time he was declared killed in action, both of Roy’s parents had passed away without ever knowing what had happened to their son. Patricia and the kids knew Roy had probably been killed in Southeast Asia, but they never were a hundred percent certain. They all moved on with their lives, growing older, but never receiving any answers about their husband and father. Sadly, Patricia, the love of Roy’s life, passed away in 2008, never knowing her husband’s fate.

Earlier today (8/8/19), a Southwest Airlines jet touched down at Dallas’ Love Field carrying the remains of Col. Roy Knight. The plane taxied under an arching stream of water, a tribute offered by an airport fire truck, before moving on to the terminal. With airport employees surrounding the plane, a flag-draped casket was unloaded from the cargo bay via conveyor and was accepted by an Air Force Honor Guard, who transferred the casket to a waiting hearse.

It was an emotional scene, made even more so, when, on the plane it was announced that the pilot of the Southwest Airlines flight that brought Col. Roy Knight home, was none other than his son, Bryan, who had said goodbye to his father in 1967, fifty-two years ago.

Rest easy, Col. Knight, and welcome home.

Here’s a video of the plane landing in Dallas and Col. Knight’s coffin being removed by the Honor Guard (Sorry I couldn’t embed it).