18 to 24 August: Plumbing the depths, talking does help, and checkin’ out the junque store!

I went to church on the 18th.  I was feeling down.  Things just weren’t feeling good.  I am so far from home, in a foreign land, by myself…  alone…

After church, I asked Pastor Paul Self-Price if I could come see him some time during the week – he of course agreed, and said Tuesday morning would work.  We chatted about therapy and Emotions Anonymous – which he had never heard of, but asked if it was like Alcoholics Anonymous…  which of course it is very much like.  He has been in AA for over 30 years, so I knew that I was talking to the right person!  I mentioned that I had had trouble with the 5th step and now having trouble with the 9th step, and of course, having been in the program, nobody has to remind you what the 5th step is… or the 9th.  Yes, I will be talking to the right person.

They were having a luncheon get-together after the service, and I was invited to stay.  Of course, everyone was so gracious, and tried so hard to make me feel at home… but somehow, by the time I left, I had to run (not walk) back to the condo, to be alone in my misery.

So Sunday afternoon, I hit the bottom.  I was feeling low, so far from where I want to be, moved so much, lost and given away so much, not even knowing who the Hell I was any more.  I’ve lost my touchstones, relationships.  Given it all up.  Moved.  Moved back.  Then given it up again.  Moved away.  And now I am here.  Is this supposed to be better?  I tried to read, but could not.  I tried to watch a couple of movies – a sci-fi movie, even Casablanca – but could not.  I tried to surf the web, look at news, blah blah…  Nothing worked.  Yikes!  I flopped in bed, looked at the ceiling, and pondered… and cried.

By Sunday evening, the darkness had started to lift.  Thankfully!  I do not want to be there again.  Not that this is any surprise, mind you – but there is no need to revisit this place.

I went to see Pastor Paul on Tuesday morning, on my way to work.  It was very helpful.  He understands much more than I might expect, at least initially.  It generally helped to buoy me up, and I felt much better.

At the Emotions Anonymous meeting on Tuesday evening, there was some crosstalk about my situation.  One of the other members called on it, and I was placed in the uncomfortable position of having to jump in and tell them both that their input was appreciated but unnecessary.  I will move forward in the program when things settle enough that I can find my stuff and move forward in the program.  Not entirely satisfactory for them, but damn it, it’s my program, not theirs!  Yeah, I’m probably over reacting, it wasn’t nearly that dramatic.  I need to get moving, not change direction… again.  I can… and I will.

Skyping with mom and Eric on Wednesday was nice.  Mom is flying out to Alberta on Saturday to see James and his kids for a week.  They are all going camping (yikes 🙂 ), shall see how that works out.
I slithered through the rest of the week without incident.  Well, found out that Autopac will cover my windshield replacement, have to pay my $200 deductible (in US funds, waa waa), so scheduled it for Monday.  They come to me, and do it in about an hour, apparently.  Wow.

On Saturday, I went to Apache Reclamation and Electronics, south of downtown Phoenix.  It’s in a rough part of town, obviously hit hard by the recession of these past few years.

Anyway, the shop was amazing and fun!  It would not be if I wasn’t into electronics, mind you.  Narrow isles full of dusty, dirty electronics of all types – surplus parts, new parts, circuit boards pulled from electronic assemblies, power supplies, test equipment, specialized old equipment, computer equipment, some just plain junk.  If you wanted to make up a sci fi movie set from the 1950s, you could do it here!  I tell you, they have everything!  There’s even a full room of shelving units chock full of many vacuum tubes.  I even held an 807 tube in my hands, the type used in my old No. 19 set… wow.  I almost bought it, just to mount it and put it on display as a memory of my old hobby… perhaps next time.

Yup, the venerable 807 tube
A No. 19 set – I had a much larger setup than this – all the accessories – long, long ago…

Anyway, it was a cool place to visit.  There was an older, retired fellow there who was working on a little project to recondition his car batteries – a line-powered capacitively coupled de-sulphur device.  Sounded dangerous!  I gave him a bit of advice – including to put a high resistance across that big motor run capacitor that he was holding, so it didn’t electrocute him – and to use a big monster bridge.  He asked about putting a fan operated from the output, perhaps using that cool LM7812 regulator to run it – which I dissuaded him from doing.  I’ve burned up a few LM7812s in my time, by not putting proper decoupling… plus it won’t take the extra high voltage for a open (completely failed) battery, or when the battery isn’t there and the thing “accidentally” gets turned on…  I think I gave him good advice, and stern enough warnings to be careful.  Well, hopefully he didn’t electrocute himself or blow anything up. 

11 to 17 August: Delivery of Elizabeth, interesting haircut, a banker’s tale, and let there be Jazz

On Sunday, I went to see The Last Starfighter.  It was good.

Monday, we went back to the house to double-check some of the contents that I’m thinking of buying from the present owner.  For instance, a big television set.  As I suspected, it was an older, internal projection unit – nice, but not worth a whole pile.  It works well though, so I’ll try to acquire it.

Later Monday, I went to Wells Fargo and got my US$900 through the Visa cash advance, right out of my RBC Bank account.  Now, I was ready for the delivery of Elizabeth.

I also found a place to store her, outdoors, at least until I have the house with garage.  It’s only a mile or so from the office, Deer Valley Mini and RV Storage, so she will be close by.

The truck driver had to unload two other vehicles first, then roll her down off the carrier.  He insisted on using her own brakes, whereas I wanted to use the winch; it worked out great because without the winch, the suspension was “up” and the rear cleared the ground better.

I started her up and drove her into the compound.  She sounded terrible!  But she made it to the designated spot, and eased in, for a rest.  I brought a bunch of the stuff out of her interior – all the tote bins – then put the cover on her, and left her there, hopefully just for a couple of weeks… shall see.

On Wednesday, I got to Skype with mom and Eric.  It was good to see them both.  Am I missing Winnipeg?  Oh yeah.

On Thursday, I went to The Men’s Lounge Barbershop.  What an experience!  It was a nice cut, then a straightblade shave (a first for me, eek), then ear and nose hair trimming (another first), and a hot towel at the end.  I was pretty nervous about the straightblade thing, but, like going to India, I just said, “whatever, let it roll”, and it was fine.

So Friday was my first payday, but my direct deposit wasn’t finalized yet, so I got a cheque.  The amount was less than I expected, but then again, I realized that they only paid up to the previous Friday, which is of course the way it is done.

I went down to Wells Fargo, opened an account, and deposited my paycheque (oops there I go again, paycheck) and another US$5600 check drawn on my RBC Bank account, into it.  The idea was that there would be plenty of time for it to clear, and then, “boom!”  I would have the local funds needed to close on the house deal.

The amount I put into the Wells Fargo account was based on the understanding that the relocation package would pay for the actual closing costs that weren’t equity, i.e. the inspection, the legal fees, etc.   I had asked if the company would be paying directly for the fees, saving me the trouble of having to float the amount.  I had been told that they would be paying directly, so I put in more than enough to handle the rest.   [ cue ominous music ]   Oops.

On Saturday, I had to get out and about.  I went to the Martin Auto Museum just off of I-17.  It’s an unassuming building, but has a large sign.  I had seen it back in March when I was here, but it was closed that day, and I forgot about it.  Wow, fantastic!  It has the “Baby Ruth” car that Jeff Gordon drove back when, and apparently Jeff is friends with Mr. Martin who owns the museum, and stops by whenever he is in Phoenix.  The fellow behind the counter was quite knowledgeable, having driven all the cars (except that one, which does not get driven) and worked on some as well.  It was a fun visit.

There’s another auto museum, the Scottsdale International Auto Museum, in the Metrocenter Mall, but it was closing when I got there, so I didn’t go in.  The mall itself is fighting for its life – it is over half empty, by my estimation.  When we were here three years ago, it was having trouble but it was mostly full.  Signs of revitalization are apparent though – and they have signs saying “Metro CentRe” with the accent on the “Re”, then saying, revitalization, rebirth, etc.  I hope they make it – it’s a huge mall with good parking and lots of retail space.

Later on Saturday,  I went to a Jazz concert at the Musician’s Union Hall in downtown Phoenix.  It was Sherry Roberson with the Armand Boatman Trio, and was fantastic!  I bought the two CDs that she had for sale.  There were only maybe 15 of us in attendance, too bad because it was a great performance.  Fortunately, the hall was fairly small, about twice the size of a large living room, so it wasn’t too too empty.  There were rows of chairs up front, but more lounge-y seating in the back, including several sofas.  I stretched out on a sofa at the back, and just chilled.  It turns out that a very nice couple from Mesa were right beside the sofa, and we got to chatting.  I didn’t realize that this was a “bring your own food and drink” event, as was evidenced by a group of six people that came in later, with wine and sandwiches and cheese and crackers… the whole deal.  Wow.  After the show started, my friends beside me cracked open their picnic kit as well, and offered me a glass of wine, which was very nice of them.  I obliged, it made the event that much nicer.  Good folks everywhere.

Sherry Roberson
Armand Boatman – master jazz pianist!

04 to 10 August: Financing (ugh), house inspection… and… termites!?!

Well, the pace picked up this week.  It became clear that I must have the entire “closing funds” here, in Phoenix, on the closing date, because of course they want a cashier’s cheque (oops check sorry, forgot that I’m in the USA now) or cash.  Well, I am using RBC Bank based in Atlanta, because they give me ready cross-border transfers, allows me to bring money in and push money out, as required.  RBC Bank doesn’t have any branches outside of Georgia, as far as I can tell – RBC Canada bought a bank in Georgia and renamed it RBC bank.  Atlanta is too far to go to get that cashier’s cheque (oops again). 

Someone said “go to BMO, they are all over the valley”.  Well, so they are!  There is a BMO four blocks from the office, so I went there on Tuesday at lunch.  Oh, they would happily give me an account, but there is no facility for cross border transfers.  Curses.

I redeemed some of my Canadian RRSPs, took a hit on the tax withhold, and brought the cash into RBC USA.  One step closer.  I got more than enough, although the company advised that they would pay the closing costs (non equity input) directly – but I wanted to make sure.

I went to four other institutions for consideration of mortgage loans.  They were all very eager at first!  Canadians are very popular in these parts, but then I found out why.  Three of them (eventually)  came back saying that they don’t do the FHA high ratio loans.  Most Canadians don’t qualify for FHA, so they either come in with close to 100% cash, or at least 40% down.  Minimum for them is 20% down.  Ha ha, not going to happen for me, that would clean me right out, and RRSP money is very expensive money.

The fourth institution was “in”, but could not respond fast enough.  They dropped out a week later, so sad.

When you buy a home here, you get 10 days to have a house inspection done, and demand that the seller fix problem issues.  Or rather, you can negotiate over fixing.

For me, Wednesday was “house inspection day”.  I paid some guys to give the prospective home a once-over.  One did the basic house inspection, and he found lots of stuff that I didn’t even see – outlets broken and hanging out (bah, I can fix that), cracked grouting (ugh, pay someone to fix that), broken tap sets in the bathroom (I can fix that), wiring problems to the pool pump (hmm, I guess I can fix that), a cracked window (ick, in the master bedroom too), and a bunch of other little things.  Oh, and some significant roof issues.  I had no idea!

The other guy was the termite inspector.   Here, you also have to disclose all the issues that your home has had, and sure enough, a few years ago it had termites, and they were dealt with.  But, OMG, they were back!  EEK!  Now what?

Well, as many people have told me, it turns out that either a house has termites, or will have termites.  No big deal, unless they are left unchecked for a long time.  It’s big business down here, detecting and removing termites.  They actually live in the ground around the house, so most of the treatment is in the soil.  Then they get up into the attic where they were actually seen (well not the termites but the tubes they leave behind) and knock out the evidence, treat the affected area, and repair the structure, as required.

My general observation is that they use a lot of chemicals for pest control down here.  I suspect that it’s because they have to – nasty little things like scorpions, poisonous spiders, and poisonous snakes, ugh.  Gotta keep your house and yard clean and free of debris!

On Friday, Elizabeth was picked up in Fargo ND.  Eric drove down to supervise the loading.  It went smoothly.   The car should be here early next week.  But, when it arrives, I have to have US900 cash in hand!  Ouch, how to do that?  I spoke to the RBC Bank folks, and they advised that I can go to any Bank of America or Wells Fargo, and take a cash advance against my RBC Bank account, using the Visa option.  It turns out that my RBC Bank card is not just a debit card, it’s also a Visa cash card, connected to my account.  Well, actually, the banking system is very different down here – debit appears to be processed through the credit card network (in this case, Visa) and can be delayed in showing up in your account, sometimes up to a day or two – so you have to be careful.  A side benefit is that you can get up to1000 cash advance, a day, at any bank that does Visa.  Hmm, this could come in handy later…

On the Saturday, I went to the Phoenix Art Museum.  They have a display of
Video Games as Art, but I really went for the screening of The Last Starfighter, a sci-fi movie from the mid eighties that I never saw.  Well, I missed it by a day, the screening was on Sunday!  So I checked out the art museum anyway, and bought a ticket for the movie the next day, vowing to be back.

28 July to 03 August: A busy week! Buying a house, first days at Alstom Grid, dinner with Don Bartrip, 10 pin bowling

On Sunday, 28 July, I went back to Mission Bell United Methodist Church for the first time since I arrived.  I went up and sat right beside the pastor in the front row this time – although unlike in March, there was lots of room.  Paul recognized me right away, and of course we chatted.  Actually, many of the people recognized me, that was nice.

I zeroed in on the idea of buying the house on E Utopia Rd.  We put in an offer, just under asking.  Just before we submitted it, the asking was reduced to exactly our offer!  The seller agreed, but wanted an extra week – closing on 06 September instead of 30 August – I agreed, and then the real odyssey began!

It turns out that there are different options for mortgages, as there are in Canada.  you can do the “standard” mortgage with 20% down, or you can do two types of high ratio mortgages, with downpayments in the 3-1/2% to 5% range.  The one I chose was FHA type, with FHA having the same role here as CMHC has in Canada.  There was some confusion about whether I would qualify, since I’m not an American citizen – but apparently, I qualified because my work visa is 3 years in duration.  Wow.

Then they wanted 30 days evidence of pay from current employer.   Oops, won’t have that until 30 August.  OK, OK.

Then they wanted credit check in the USA – surprise, surprise, nothing.  So then to Canada – oops a lot of debt – but credit score that was very strong.  So, good then.

Then IRS tax returns going back 3 years – evidence of earnings.  Damn.  And it goes on and on, with more requirements every day, or so it seemed.

They needed a 1% earnest deposit with the offer.  Ouch!  I had to shuffle money around to ensure that there was enough in the RBC USA account, but I managed to do it.  This was before I had the cash from my RRSP – that wouldn’t arrive until next week.

Thursday was my first day at Alstom Grid!  On the way to work, a truck on the 101 loop kicked up a rock and put a big crack in my windshield, argh.  No time to worry about it, though.

They have my desk here, and a phone, but no computer.  The day was one of filling out forms, meeting people, generally being confused.  I had brought my own laptop, for access to important documents, so was able to at least do something.  I didn’t want to plug into the network, didn’t know if I’d cause a problem.  At least I have my phone to communicate with, while at work.

My boss, Jim Blake, won’t be back until Tuesday, he had to extend his holiday to deal with an important family matter out in California.  Nothing much is going to happen until then, oh well.  So much of the system is online, that some of the forms generate the circular quest – to answer that question, get onto the network and sign in, well to get onto the network you must have an access card, to get the access card you have to go to the help system and ask for it, ha ha.

In the meantime, there’s lots of documentation to review, and a lot to learn.  Best get to it!

On Thursday, Don Bartrip of Winmer, from Albuquerque, NM, was in town for business meetings.  He and I had a great dinner and a couple of beers at The Yard House.  He regaled me with tales of his travels – he is trying to get out and see the world – Alaska Cruise, Cruise through the Panama Canal, trip to the UK and ferry to Normandy at D-Day (had quite a chat with a Canadian veteran on the boat, wow), seeing the battlefields, chatting with the (still grateful) locals.  In turn, I shared my long meandering story from Winnipeg to Markham to Winnipeg to Phoenix, and we lifted glasses to toast our (hopefully) future positive experiences.

On Saturday, I was invited out for bowling – for the first time in my life, 10 pin bowling.  It took me a while to catch on, and by the time I did, my arm was getting very tired.  In spite of that, I got three strikes in a row in the last game.  Lest you think I became an ace, you should know that I blanked the next two frames.  Yup, hot and cold.  Something like the Blue Bombers.  Well, no – they are just cold, ha ha.

Of course, the next day I was very, very sore.  My neck, my back, and my arm.  My tennis elbow was demanding to know what the @#$%@# I thought I was doing, playing tennis or something????  And my wrist, argh!

22 to 27 July: Adjusting to being on my own, becoming more American, looking at houses – to buy!

What is it they say about idle hands?  Oh yeah, not something I want to associate with myself 🙂

So, although Eric left on Sunday, 21 July, I didn’t start work until Thursday, 01 August.  What to do?  Plenty!

I applied for my Social Security Number.  All you have to do is have a valid work permit in the US (a TN Visa qualifies of course) and be in the country 10 days.  You take down your proof of identity, citizenship, and the valid work permit, and apply.  It arrives a few days later in the mail.  Wow.

I was busy with the guys from Easun Reyrolle in India.  Srini and Mani had lots of questions, and I am helping them a bit more on their relay designs.  I was talking to them pretty well every day, often in the evenings (they are 12-1/2 hours ahead of Phoenix), but sometimes early in the morning too – hey, hey, not that early 🙂   I am developing a bit of a bad attitude toward mornings.

I connected with an Emotions Anonymous group in Glendale, meeting Tuesday evenings.  It has been quite helpful.  As you can imagine, it has been quite stressful to go so far, experience so much climate change, so much culture change, be alone, and then not working for a couple of weeks.  EA helps.

I went looking at houses – being uninspired by my rental choices, I wanted to look at a home purchase instead.  There were about 40 potentials, which I whittled down to about a dozen right away, then cut down again to six.  So Fla and I zipped around to six houses.  Oops, well, one I rejected right away – although it looked great because it was 2 acres with a shop c/w overhead crane, storage for over a dozen more cars, lot backing out on a wash so I could race off on the bike… when I drove by there the night before, it was in a dumpy area, rather scary actually… too bad.  Plus the listing had *no* pictures of the interior of the house – and as I recall, said something about “as is” – so you know that it must be scary.  So sad.

The houses were… interesting.  A low cost one was a foreclosure, I could see myself doing a lot of work on that one, saving a lot of money… but man, was it grubby.  The bank had tried to do some work, but it just wasn’t clean.  Yikes.

There was a house with a large iron gate between the living room and the kitchen.  Hmm, looked like something that would be more appropriate in the yard, to restrict access to the pool.  Not sure what that was all about.

Then there was a 3,000 square foot house with a 26×36 garage/shop!!!!   And another 10×20 shop attached behind that.  And an RV storage area on the other side.  And a huge pool.  Wow.  I would love that, but sadly, couldn’t see being able to fill even half the place with furniture – and the cost to cool the place in the summer would be astronomical.  Sigh.

So we entered the next week pondering…  and thinking of the one place that seemed to be a balance of most of what I was looking for – 3017 E Utopia Lane, Phoenix, AZ 85050.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers were playing again on Friday, 26 July, with the Calgary Stampeders in town.  I tried to hook the computer up to the big screen TV again, but it did not work nearly as well – very frustrating.  The image started to go out for 5 to 10 seconds every minute or so, argh!  Eventually just cut off the TV and watched it on the little screen.  Ooh, the game wasn’t all that good, we lost pretty convincingly.  Just as well that I couldn’t see it on the big TV.

20 and 21 July: Bein’ Lazy, and then Bein’ Alone

It has been too long since I updated this blog.  We were lazy on Saturday, then Eric flew home on Sunday.  It sure was good to have him along with me, but it was sad to see him head off.

Eric and I outside the Mesa Gateway Williams Airport

And then…  I’m alone.   The place is sooooooooooo quiet.  Oh well.  That’s kind of what I wanted – or at least, what I expected.  I washed the linens, cleaned up a bit (as much as needed – which wasn’t much 🙂 ), and then got on with it.

19 July: Looking at rentals, and watching the Blue Bombers over the Internet

My real estate agent picked Eric and I up at 9 AM on Friday, and off we went to look at rental properties for me to live in.  This condo is only temporary for a month, provided as part of the relocation package that the company gave me – so I have to find someplace real to live.

The first place was great – it was a house with a nice garage, a pool, and tons of space.  It was also filthy, and needed some repairs.  Perhaps I’d pony up to buy at a good price, because I can do some cleaning and repairs, but to rent – no thank you.

The rest of the places were various condos in beautiful gated communities, with nice pools, nice views, some with big garages.  All with lots of levels, many stairs, too much carpet.  Nice, and quite liveable, but gee, it would be nice to have more.

Oh my Lord, is it freakin’ hot here!  I can’t believe it!  I went for a swim after dark, and the water was still hot tub warm, just from the sun!  It’s going to be a challenge for a Canadian boy from the prairie plains to get used to.  It might be fun to try though!

That evening, there was a Winnipeg Blue Bombers game on.  Well, this being the USA, CFL football isn’t high on the priorities list for them.  But, it turns out, that some CFL games are broadcast on ESPN2 sports network, which the cable system in the condo gets.  However, not this one, so sad.  But, it was being broadcast on ESPN3, an Internet-only sports network, which I could get on my laptop.  I dug through my tote bins, found my DisplayPort to HDMI cable, and pumped it out through the big screen TV in the living room.  Ha ha, beer, pizza, and high definition football!!  What else could a couple of guys want???

18 July: Tour of the Cardinals football stadium

We got up, rarin’ to go.  We zoomed over to the Phoenix Cardinals NFL football stadium and went on the tour.  Way cool!  It’s kind of weird looking from the outside (okay, really weird), but apparently it’s supposed to be modelled after a type of cactus.  Hmm, OK.

Cardinals Football Stadium, Phoenix
Inside the “skin” there is a huge logo, and pictures of all season ticket holders when the stadium opened

Inside, of course it’s impressive, you know with so many big screen displays, so many concessions, the ability to convert to this use and that use, blah blah  blah.

The coolest thing is that the field is real grass – and it’s on a huge portable pad that’s something like 120 yards long x 60 yards wide, which rolls into the stadium when needed, on hundreds of rail wheels!  When it’s out, the floor is a nice flat concrete surface with the odd steel ribbon level in the floor, for the wheels to roll on (no raised rails or anything).  Way cool!

The football field, growing happily in the Arizona sun – rolls towards us into stadium when needed

We also tried to get a tour of the Phoenix Coyotes NHL hockey stadium (Coyotes being the former pre-1995 Winnipeg Jets), but the fellow who would give the tour wasn’t in, and didn’t return my call in time.  Oh, well.

We did some grocery shopping, chilled, and watched a movie.  It was a good day.