Sunday, July 26, 2020

Dinosaur breath, or: Moving on.

Copyright 2020 Lynne Cantwell
I write to you for the last time from this desk in this room. The next time I blog to you, I'll be in Santa Fe.

The moving glitches continue: I took a carload of stuff to Goodwill today, only to be turned away - not because of the virus this time, but because it's going to be hotter than 95 degrees today and they won't let their workers stand in a broiling parking lot and sort people's junk all day when it's this hot. "Try the Salvation Army," the guy turning away donations said. I already knew they wouldn't be open for anything on a Sunday -- and by the time they reopen tomorrow, I'll be halfway to Front Royal.

I'm moving on.

The Tarot card in the photo is the Eight of Cups. It's perhaps not the best photo, but I think you can see that it shows eight full cups in the foreground, and a person who has turned their back on them and is walking away. They're kitted out for a long journey -- cloak, boots, and staff.

That should give you a pretty good idea of the meaning of this card. It's about setting aside one's comfortable life in search of something more -- more meaning in life, perhaps, or a deeper spirituality.

Right now, I just want to get out of Dodge. I've had two careers so far (not counting the indie author thing), and in both of them, I felt dinosaur breath on the back of my neck by the time I got out. By 1998, radio news had already consolidated to just six major players (ABC, CBS, NBC/Mutual, NPR, and the Associated Press), and with the merger of the NBC/Mutual Radio and CBS Radio newsrooms, it went down to five. The job I had still exists, but fewer and fewer people do it.

Now, the position of legal secretary appears to be going away. Law firms want to pass on as many of their costs of doing business as possible to their clients, but the clients won't pay for admin costs. The solution, at least at our firm, has been to transition anything that can be even remotely described as "legal" to paralegals, who bill their hours exactly as attorneys do. Well, they charge less than attorneys do, but you get the idea.

So my job as a legal secretary had devolved from a 50-50 split of interesting work and mundane admin stuff to almost 100 percent mundane admin stuff. And when we shut down due to the virus, a lot of the admin tasks dropped away. I can't answer attorney phones from a virtual phone. There are no catered meetings to plan when everyone is working from home. There's no travel to book, as no one has been traveling -- which means there are no expense reports to create, either. Not that I missed doing any of that stuff, mind you, but the shutdown has made it obvious that the firm can get by with fewer secretaries. My job, specifically, was never in jeopardy. But I wasn't interested in having additional mundane work loaded onto my plate as other secretaries left the firm.

In short, it was time to move on. Friday was my last day. Tomorrow, I turn my back on DC and hit the road. It's going to be wonderful.

I won't have internet turned on at the new place by next Sunday, so I won't blog to you again until August 9th, the week after Lughnasa. I'll tell you all about the trip, and the new place, then. In the meantime, have a fabulous First Harvest!

These moments of bloggy momentum have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Wear a mask! Practice social distancing! Wash your hands!

Monday, July 20, 2020

The saga's denouement.

Denouement is not a word that gets thrown around in casual conversation very often, if ever. It comes from French, of course. It's the point in any story where the peak of the rising action has crested, and the effects of everything that has gone before come clear. There's more to the story after the denouement, but it's all mopping up -- resolving the last few loose ends and, in a series of novels, setting the stage for the next volume.

The long-running saga I'm talking about today is my Big Move West, which has felt a little like frozen tableau since early June. I blogged last week about some of the details, including the back-and-forth over my job status, and the lengthy wait for that fun stripey chair.

ehrlif | Deposit Photos
The chair story is a subplot, but I'll wrap that up now. As last Sunday ended, I had no chair, and FedEx listed its delivery as pending with no date. Amy speculated that the chair was probably sitting on the truck and would likely arrive sometime Monday. I acknowledged she was probably right. But I still spent the day on pins and needles 'til the chair arrived around noon -- in plenty of time to be placed in the U-Box, just like one or another of the Target customer service people had said.

The U-Box, or more accurately two U-Boxes (as I wasn't sure whether all my stuff would fit in just one), were due to be delivered Thursday the 16th. On Wednesday afternoon, I received an email from U-Haul that my order had been canceled.

Some context is in order here: I'd booked the boxes and a moving crew to load my stuff while I was on sabbatical. My last day at work was supposed to be July 6th. But because I agreed to keep working while HR figured out whether to let me work remotely from Santa Fe, I was now going to be working on Tuesday the 14th. So I called U-Haul, who transferred me immediately to Moving Help, and changed the date to the 16th. Well, Moving Help told the movers, and U-Haul corporate knew, but the message never got to the local distribution point. So when my movers didn't show up on Tuesday to pick up my boxes, the distribution point canceled the order.

I didn't pick up that email 'til after 6pm Wednesday. Naturally, I called U-Haul in a panic. The first person I talked to just about had everything rebooked for me ... and the call dropped. I immediately called back; the second person booked movers for me, but didn't rebook the boxes. Plus the local mover she had booked was different from the one I'd picked, and they never called me back to confirm.

So on Thursday, I canceled everything and started over again: delivery of  two boxes on Monday, and my original movers through their own website. I also went ahead and booked the movers at the other end. All set, right? Right. On Saturday afternoon, I received a call from the distribution center, asking me if I could take delivery on Wednesday instead of Monday. No, I said, because I have movers coming Monday afternoon to load the box. I thought that was the end of it, especially as I got a confirmation call Sunday night from the distribution center saying the boxes would arrive between 9:30am and 12:30pm today.

I'll spare you my day of angsty angst and tell you that the boxes and the movers showed up together, more or less, at around 2:45pm. In a sub-subplot, I was also awaiting a box from my employer in which I'm to ship back my firm laptop and phone at the end of the week; the mailroom set it for delivery by 10:30am today, and I didn't even think about the fact that our leasing office opens at 10am 'til FedEx sent the notice that they'd been by at 9:51am. As it happened, FedEx redelivered at the same time the movers and the boxes arrived. Et voilĂ  -- the denouement.

After that, everything went like clockwork. The movers fitted all my stuff into one box, the U-Haul delivery woman came back to collect both, and it was over by 4:30pm.

There's going to be more to the story, of course, but at this point it's all loose ends: packing the stuff that's going in the car, disposing of the things I'm not taking, and getting on the road. I also need to call the U-Haul storage place in New Mexico and confirm the arrangements there. But all of that is on me.

And it really does feel like a logjam broke today. I've been trying to leave DC for years, but every time I've been held back. This time it felt almost like a forcible restraint. And I'm not ready to say the rest of the move will go off without a snag. But at least right now, the way is clear, the current is strong, and I'm riding it.

These moments of clear bloggy sailing have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Did you know that if we all wear masks, we can knock out this virus in two months? The director of the Centers for Disease Control says so.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Two sad stories and an ongoing saga.

Mercury retrograde is over -- it ended early this morning Eastern Daylight Time -- but the chaos lingers on.

Sad story #1: Remember last week, when I told y'all I'd be able to stay on at my day job, working remotely, through the end of this year? Yeah, well, the happy dance we all did was premature. It turns out that Human Resources had a lot of problems with the idea of paying a staff member who wasn't living in a state where we had an office. "Red flags all over the place," was what I was told. A last-ditch effort late this week to salvage the plan fizzled. So my last day at the firm will be Friday, July 24th.

It's probably for the best. I had assumed we would be working from home for most of the rest of the calendar year. But no -- the firm's US offices are opening for Stage 1 of our carefully-thought-out five-stage reopening plan tomorrow. In Stage 1, everyone is expected to work remotely, but if there's an urgent business need, we may be called into the office. There are oodles of rules -- everybody needs to wear a mask, the number of people allowed in the office at one time is cut way back, the cafeteria is closed, and so on. But the bottom line is that the firm could conceivably require me to show up, in person, on short notice, and that would be impossible to do from Santa Fe.

So #EscapeVelocity is back on. More on that in a minute, but first...

Sad story #2: I've been entertaining my Facebook friends this week with the Story of This Chair.

Cute, right? Sometime this spring, I saw it on World Market's website. I wanted it; they wanted $500 for it (and still do); I regretfully turned away. But I used my Google-fu and discovered Target also had it, and for less. Then they ran a sale and an online coupon deal, which made the chair just $250. At that price, it was totally worth buying. So I ordered one. The delivery date was far in the future -- the first week of June -- but that was fine. I wasn't going to need it 'til I moved in July.

Sometime in late May, I began to get emails from Target, pushing back the delivery date. I received the final email on June 12th, saying the chair would arrive June 17th. Well, June 17th came but the chair didn't. So I called Target on the 20th. The customer service person said, "Have you spoken with our Higher-Level Team?" I said I didn't know they had one. So I got the phone number from her and called. This new customer service person gave me a Case Number and assured me I would receive an email shortly. Of course I didn't. So on the 29th, I called again. This time I mentioned that I was moving in July, and I needed the chair to be here by the 13th or I would have to cancel. That rep assured me my chair would arrive in plenty of time and to expect an email within 48 hours. You guessed it: no email.

On July 6th, I called again. This time I said I was pretty sure I was never going to get my chair and to just cancel the order. This nice rep said she would start two inquiries: one for the whereabouts of the chair and one for the cancellation. "Look for an email!" she said.

This time, I did get an email! My chair was to be delivered Thursday, July 9th! What we've surmised is the manufacturer printed the label on the 7th so it would get paid. Target charged my card for the chair on the 8th. And on the chair.

On Friday the 10th, I called Target back to say the chair had never shipped. And the nice rep said his screen showed it had, in fact, shipped, and that FedEx would deliver it on Sunday, July 12th. Whoo hoo!

All day yesterday, I eagerly tracked this shipment -- from suburban Chicago, to the Pennsylvania Turnpike where the driver must have stopped for dinner, to Hagerstown, MD, very early this morning. By 6:30am today, the chair was on a FedEx truck, heading for my place!

You know what's coming, right? It's now 10:30pm, and I don't have my chair. FedEx has marked the delivery as Pending. Now, our leasing office is closed on Sundays, so it's possible the driver got here and couldn't get in the building. But why hasn't the status been updated to show the next delivery attempt? Which, honestly, needs to be tomorrow.

So I called FedEx customer service a little while ago. The nice rep has sent a message to the driver. Stay tuned.

Of course, the reason the chair needs to be here tomorrow is...

The Ongoing Saga: I'm moving, as you know. The container comes on Thursday. The movers are going to load it up for me and make sure it gets sent on its way to New Mexico. The chair isn't going to fit in the back of my car, so it has to go in the container. (So really my drop-dead date for the chair is Wednesday, but I wasn't going to tell Target that.)

As I said last week, I hit the road on the 27th. And as if this whole process hasn't been crazy enough, once I get to New Mexico, I get to self-quarantine for 14 days. Thanks, COVID-19. Good thing Santa Fe has Instacart, right?

So for the next three days, it'll be a little hairy around here while I'm packing my stuff -- and also while working on Tuesday and Wednesday, which I didn't originally expect to be doing. At least I was able to sell the IKEA wardrobe I've used as a closet since we moved here. It was a bear to put together, but it has been perfect for my needs for the past two-plus years. Today, a nice man came in, took it apart, paid me for it, and took it away. Things are looking up!

These moments of hairy blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Wash your hands! Wear a mask!

Sunday, July 5, 2020

#EscapeVelocity update.
This post is going to be good news/bad news/good news, more or less.

As alert hearth/myth readers know, I have been counting down the days until I could retire from my day job and leave the Washington, DC, area. After a period of waffling, which I deemed "location research" so it didn't sound quite so bad, I decided at last to relocate to Santa Fe, New Mexico.

And after a further, mostly concurrent period of waffling, I settled on a date for my last day at work: Monday, July 6, 2020. Which is tomorrow.

The update, in short, is this: I'm still moving to Santa Fe, but tomorrow will not be my last day at work. And it's all thanks to COVID-19.

Like a whole lot of other companies, the law firm I work for sent everybody home with laptops in mid-March, as a test of whether our IT system could support the strain -- and then told us to stay there. We've been working from home ever since. This is a radical departure from the firm's historical stance on secretarial work. Our former manager once told me flat-out that legal secretaries would never be allowed to work from home. Well, that was then and this is now: Everything we do, with the exception of running errands, is done electronically. And a lot of the hands-on stuff -- for example, making sure catering is delivered for meetings -- isn't happening right now because our buildings are closed.

So as I said, we all went home. And then I went on my two-month sabbatical, as scheduled, on April 17th. When I "came back to work" on June 17th, we were still working remotely, but a whole bunch of stuff had changed. A new law -- the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act -- allows eligible employers to take a tax credit for keeping employees on their payroll. Our firm decided to take advantage of that. So most secretaries were switched to four-day-per-week work schedules. The few who were already working four days per week were moved to a three-days-per-week schedule. All of us got to keep our full-time pay and health care. (The changes do impact accrual of paid time off, but my PTO accrual was already whacked this year due to the sabbatical.)

Anyway, two things happened when I got back to work: 1) I was put on a three-day-per-week schedule for my last three weeks; and 2) the attorney I've worked for the longest persuaded me to stay on until the end of 2020 (not coincidentally, that's when the CARES Act provisions are set to end). I said I would do it if I could keep working remotely, even from New Mexico, and he said he didn't have a problem with that. It's a sweet setup for me: I get a part-time job at full-time pay, including benefits, and I can let my 401(k) recover for several more months. (Another plus is not having to get a part-time job to pay for Obamacare, as the job market is lousy for nearly everyone right now.)

There have been some nail-biting moments this past week, with more likely to come. While our Human Resources and Finance people have been figuring out how to do tax withholding for the resident of a state where we don't have an office, the "leaving the firm" machinery was still grinding away in the background. I received an email on Thursday from Payroll with a question about my final paycheck on 7/6. I told them I wasn't leaving. Then I forwarded the email to HR. A couple of hours later, I had a new tentative retirement date of 7/31. That gives the firm enough time (I hope!) to work out the rest of the tax withholding bugs so I can stay on 'til the end of the year.

Regardless, the movers will be here for my stuff on 7/16, and on the morning of 7/27 I am hopping in Eli and hitting the road for Santa Fe.

I say all this with some trepidation and a whole lot of gratitude. Nearly three million Americans have tested positive for this virus so far; as of today, 132,000 have died from it, and far more who have "recovered" continue to be sick; and millions have lost their jobs due to the economic shutdown. I realize how lucky I am to be able to keep my job and to retire on my own terms.

So that's the update: the Big Move West is still happening but retirement is delayed. And heads up that I probably won't be posting on Sunday, August 2nd.

These moments of nail-biting blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.