Friday, October 9, 2015

Around Chicago

DSC05765 (1400x980)I grew up in Chicago, moving to the North Shore suburbs when I was 11 and my father tool a job with First National Bank.  I attended Deerfield High, graduating in 1972, and returned to the area in 1976 for graduate school at Northwestern, living in Evanston and Roger’s Park.   As big cities go I always liked Chicago better than New York, LA, Minneapolis, or San Francisco.  Only Boston rivaled it for character, quality of life, and cultural / educational opportunities (and for severity of winters). 

So it’s always nice to be able to take a trip back, usually business, sometimes visiting friends or colleagues.  It’s always striking how much the landscape has changed: in contrast to Europe where  everything seems older than my home country, the town squares and farm fields are unrecognizable across the decades since I left.

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I am impressed that there is an effort to teach Dutch…

DSC05753 (1400x1027)And also that the mass transit has made great strides.  Aided by Google Maps, which is invaluable since adding transit information, I made my way by train and bus from the airport to the meeting hotel as easily as getting in and out of London.  Fares were low, the rail cars were clean, real-time information was posted at the stops: the whole system worked wonderfully.

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The Four Seasons Hotel, where we had lunch, is a premium venue, with prices to match the chef’s pretensions.  The cheapest thing on the menu was a $16 hot dog (Everything made on premises: sausage to garnish, the waitress assured us).  You be the judge.

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Finally, a word about the food stores.   I’ve gotten a bit spoiled by having easy access to exotic meats (duck, rabbit) and spices (Ras El Hanout) at the corner Waitrose.  When I wanted to cook a recipe for my parents, I couldn’t find half what I needed, and it was easy t get a bit sniffy about how provincial grocers could be.

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But, surveying a number of stores around the ‘burbs, the array of vegetables, baking supplies, and bulk foods really blows away anything you might find in the Netherlands. ‘And at lower prices.

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As with all things expat, every region has it’s strengths, and it’s a matter of adapting to the local terrain when foraging for food…

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Winding up the estate

DSC05735 (1400x933)The discussions with the loan agency became more pointed during the past month. When can we take possession of the vehicle, demanded a supervisor, oblivious to the fact that we didn’t yet have ownership.  “Escrow is still in the courts,” I explained. “When we are appointed, I will be sure that you know.”

The Letter of Appointment finally came through in a few weeks ago, clearing the way for the last portions of William’s estate to be  cleared.  Bank accounts, vehicle sale, insurance claims all needed attention that could not be done from Europe.  So I coupled an investor meeting to a side trip to Boulder, hoping to sell the Jeep for enough to clear the loan.

DSC05743 (916x1400)The loan company preferred to auction, assuring me that bids were likely to cover the outstanding amount.  Book value should be much higher though, worth one try at selling it outright. 

The car was where I left it, sitting on a pad in the storage yard.  Someone had winged a pellet through the windshield, a cell in the battery had burst, but otherwise it weathered the four months well.  I drove over to the detail shop to get the exterior shined and the dog hair out of the interior: Puddle did a fantastic job.  Two stops gained bits that were half-again as much as the loan company offered, more than double the outstanding amount, and I was able to close the transaction the same day.

‘less luck with the bank accounts.  The checking and savings had been drained by the bank, acting in their own self-interest to pay off a credit card ahead of other claims on the asset.  It’s perfectly legal, but deeply irritating.  Unapologetic, their only question was whether we would pay the rest of his balance or if they should sue us.

DSC05746 (1400x933)I’m finding that institutions are a lot like individuals in these circumstances.  Some are compassionate of the situation and appreciative of efforts to keep them informed and to make things right.  The insurance company, one loan officer, and the auto dealer all behaved wonderfully.  Others, the banks and auditors, just want to clear their books by any means possible and deal with us as little as they can.  Like folks who send condolences by text or cross the street to avoid conversation, they make things worse.

DSC05741 (1400x929)I feel like we’re nearing the end of the process, but that I’m erasing the evidence of William’s life one bit at a time, and, worse, at a profit.

Soon there will be nothing left.  I will have assured that the marks that he made in life will disappear as surely as those that he might have contributed but never will exist. 

It’s not what I ever wanted to have to do.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Outward bound for home

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I’m starting a 10-day trip to the Netherlands and the United States, a mix of business and family stops.  A lot revilves around vehicles: it’s time to trade in my lease car (3 years, 110,000 km) and time to sell my son’s jeep.  Both have a lot of memories attached, it’s a bit of a milestone each way.

It’s also my first voyage on an outbound ferry since the interrupted trip in May.  The queue’s are longer than they were then, a consequence of the migrants flowing west across Europe and the unrest in Calais all summer.  Stops to inspect the trunk (boot) and undercarriage are routine, and advice is handed out prior to boarding. 

Trucks are backed up for (literally) six miles leading into the Port of Dover. The police are running a roadblock on the M20 motorway called Operation Stack: the goal is to divert trucks (lorries) before they join the lines at the docks and the Chunnel.  From a driver’s perspective, though, it’s a pointless get-off / get-on the road detour that adds 20 minutes to the journey east.

DSC05713 (1400x933)DFDS now offers a Sea View Lounge pass for £8, comfortable chairs, newspapers, wifi, and snacks apart from the crowd that sounded like a good deal.  It’s a small space on the upper deck, the good chairs pegged early by others..  Tea, coffee, cookies (biscuits) and crackers are on offer, along with a doctor’s office selection of news.  The quiet is nice, and the worktables were good: it’s worth what you pay for it, I suppose, but it doesn’t change the ambience of the cruise.

The crossing was smooth and quick, a beautiful day for enjoying the white cliffs and the sea breezes out on deck

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An uneventful drive across Belgium, around Brussels, through Liege, and finally down into the ‘skade.  I dropped the car along a side street, said hi to friends, and walked back in the gathering twilight. The bike tunnel was a bit spooky underneath the rail station, empty and echoing.

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The fietsen sailed past, Bert gave me a big ‘hallo, the kerkklokken chimed then hours: was nice to finally settle in with mijn biertje en boekje,once more t’huis.