Black Cat Season

A few updates on the newest member of the pride.  Last Saturday, a thin, hungry cat came to the house and was taken in.  Now that I’ve had the opportunity to have said cat checked out by the vet, some more details have come to light.

First, the cat is much less female than originally thought.  This actually was not established by the vet.  But let’s step back a moment.  First off, I didn’t want to name this cat because I didn’t really know if I’d be keeping him.  As his name was not defined, I called him NULL, and that name started growing on me.  My colleagues agreed NULL is a fitting name for a black cat.

So, come the day of the vet appointment, NULL was placed into a carrier and we began our trip.  Before even getting out of the driveway, he unleashed a deep, guttural howl of displeasure.  And he kept it up the whole way there.  So, NULL does not travel well.

Once in the exam room, the vet assistant took NULL to the table and I heard yet another new sound, growling.  And the growling got worse and stronger the more he got examined.  After the guy left to do some treatment planning, I held a very angry NULL and tried to get him to calm down.  At one point I thought I’d get bit as he bared his teeth at me, but in a few minutes, he did settle down and resumed purring and head-butting.

Then the doc came back in and it started over again.  Before they took him back for the battery of shots, I asked if we could scan for a microchip.  To all of our surprise, there was one.  I said I still wanted him brought up to standard, so they took him in back.

While I waited, the receptionist brought out a paper with the contact information for the chip registry.  The next thing of great interest was that NULL was not as young as assumed.  The chip was last updated 11/24/2013, probably the time of adoption.  So, I have a 9 year old cat on my hands.

The vet brought NULL back and said he tried to eat everyone while he was being treated.  I paid the $300 for all the work and went home.  I’m not sure I’m going to return to that vet.  They had taken over the practice of the vet I’d been to for many years and well, I’m just not impressed.

So back home, I call the microchip registry.  They confirmed that I have a black domestic shorthair, yes.  And they tell me, "His name is Chunk."  So first of all, he’s a boy, which was unknown at that time (because the vet took me at my assumption and didn’t verify). And next, "Chunk?"  Whatever.

The rep said the record had a privacy hold on it so she couldn’t give me the owner’s info, but if I would release my info, they would contact the owner and tell them how to contact me.  I agreed and I’m now waiting.  To be honest, I think I have a new cat.  I don’t think someone just loses a cat after 9 years.  I don’t think a cat just runs away from home after 9 years, especially one as loving and clingy as this one.  I am pretty sure the owners will not contact me.

So how is NULL doing?  Very happy.  Now understanding he’s an old boy, his behavior makes a lot more sense.  He loves nothing more than to sit on your chest and get in your face.  But the saddest part is seeing how much he lost.  He knows what a treat bag is.  He knows the word "dinner".  He found the cat toy box up on a shelf and picked out a catnip toy and went insane over it.  He’s a very experienced cat who used to have all these things and ended up homeless.

But things are going to get better for him.


Cats Just Know

My neighborhood has a lot of street cats.  Infuriatingly, the sheriff at the end of the street is the one who has a large colony.  So while his employer tries to get it into everyone’s head that you’re supposed to spay and neuter your cats to avoid overpopulation, he can’t be fucking bothered.  So a couple times each year, there’s a new batch of kittens and some survive to adults and others, who knows.

These cats have a pretty big patrol area.  Some come into my yard and piss off my two.  Sometimes there’s even screaming matches in the middle of the night that I have to go out and break up.  So usually when I see one of these assholes, I’m pretty hostile and scare it off.  I know most of the repeat offenders.

But last night, there was a new face in my driveway.  And oddly, she didn’t dash away when I stopped and got out.  So I got down and called her.  To my surprise, she cautiously came over and was immediately friendly.  So she’s probably a neighbor’s cat, but not one I’d ever seen before, and I know the nearby cats, who are generally friendly to me, if not to my cats.

But this new one was thin.  Bony.  And she had obvious battle marks with some lost fur around her head and neck.  Since I had just come back from the store, I pulled out a serving of wet food and offered it to her.  It was gobbled up with no hesitation.  Well, if she’s homeless, she knows where food is now.  I left her outside and went in for the night.

This morning, I didn’t see her out, but when I returned from lunch, I spotted her watching me from behind the neighbors tree.  I sat down and again she came right over.  Now in the daylight, I could see she wasn’t in very good shape.  Her fur was dry and dirty and bare around her back legs.  She was thinner than I thought, also.  But she is a fully black cat, and they say black is a minimizing color, so…

I gave her a quick once-over and when I found she was declawed in front, that sort of made up my mind.  She can’t stay outside, being defenseless.  It’s not surprising that she was on the losing end of fights.  This was probably an inside cat that had been abandoned.  So I began the process of rescue as best as I understood.  It’ll be a couple of days to schedule a vet visit, which is fine since that will give her time to get her acclimated to this place.  She wasn’t scared being moved into the garage, and she voluntarily stayed in there all day.  Food and water were greatly appreciated (especially the water) and she now has a towel and a chair to lie on.  I’ve set up a litter box and will have to see if she’s willing to use it.

I guess she knew from the start this was the place to be.  She’s ok with being held, has no problems with being on a lap, gives headbutts and drools out of happiness.  She’s already started grooming herself, which bodes well for her mental state.

The bigger unknown lying ahead is the integration into the house with the other two.  I’m trying to ease that pain by letting my two cats smell my hands every time I come back in the house.  The two are very interested in the smells and don’t seem to be upset by them, so I’m cautiously optimistic.  If I can keep this up for a week or so, and maybe swap towels to get more scent exchange, there may be a chance.  But the next step at the moment is getting the new one to the vet for evaluation.  Who knows, maybe she’s chipped and lost.

Saving a black cat just before Halloween season.  Of course.



That’s Bradenton, BTW.

As work issues continue, and it’s been over three weeks at this point, I’m bouncing between the mindsets of "I need to take advantage of this free time" and "I need to be conserving cash and making contingency plans".  However, trying to be optimistic, I did break away on a Friday to go to on a thrift run.  I also had plans to go out of state on the weekend, but the success of this run put off that more-distant run for another week.

With my now routine procedure of building a list of starred places in Google maps for all the shops in the area to visit, I left the house right after the company’s weekly status meeting – around 9:30.  It will take me about 90 minutes to get to my first stop: an antique mall.  As I got closer, I realized I was really cutting it close on gas.  When my low fuel light comes on, I can pretty much count on over 30 miles left.  But still, once the needle moves below the E line, it gets a little nervous. 

Today I was taking the MX-5, so I did not have Android Auto to guide me.  I had a Garmin GPS, which didn’t have a lot of the stops in its POI database, so I had to manually enter addresses for most.  I tried setting up my phone in another window mount, but Google Maps was not giving me voice directions.  I tried using Android Auto on the phone, but Google has updated the software to only work when attached to a car screen.  That’s so lame.  So Garmin did what it could with the addresses I pulled from my phone.

I had to overshoot the first stop to get to a gas station, filled up and went back.  Traffic in this area is really stupid.  It’s a Friday morning, but it feels like a Saturday afternoon.  And anyway, nothing of note at the first stop.  The next two were "flea markets", which were really nothing of the sort.  The first was more like a vendor mall, which yielded one CD.  the other was just a hoarder.  But that was the intro to the city, and now I would be hitting proper thrifts.

It had been a while since I’d been to this area, so only a few places were familiar to me, many were new.  I can thank my pre-planning for the discovery of all the new places.  In summary, there were only two places that I really bought multiple CDs.  The first one I had been to before and it was a church thrift shop.  I got to hear a heated discussion between a Biden and a Trump supporter, which is always disheartening.  That got me to speed up my search and got me right out of there.

One shop that I hadn’t been to before was the crown jewel of my trip.  Usually, you can find one or two albums by an artist, but in this place, there was a large collection of early Neil Diamond.  He’s not one of my favorite artists, but I do have some albums of his and when I do have some of an artist, I try to complete the full discography.  Especially when I can do it cheaply and the CDs are early pressings.  And this was the case.  I picked out seven albums and actually left some behind.  Not much regret about leaving some, seven is plenty.  While pulling them out, I also spotted an early Olivia Newton-John disc, then another.  I grabbed three of those, one being a dupe of one I already had.  As it turns out, it was good I grabbed that dupe, because the disc inside was swapped with another, so I might’ve ended up with a mismatched case.  But the best news was that one of the ONJ albums was a highly desirable OOP album (out of print).  It sells on EBay for $50 (realistically priced) or $300 (unrealistically priced).  I left that shop with 13 discs.

By around 2:00, I was pretty hungry and tried going to a Wendy’s but they had a long line.  I then tried going to a Thai place, but it stunk so badly I wouldn’t have been able to sit there for any length of time.  I tried going to Jimmy John’s, but their lobby was closed.  I ended up at Chili’s for the first time in at least three years.  It was ok.  It made me sad that Chili’s used to have such incredible burgers and now they weren’t all that good.

And Chili’s was right near my last stop, which yielded three extra CDs, and I made my way home again.

So in summary, the whole trip was worth it for finding Olivia Newton-John – Totally Hot.  But overall, getting 22 CDs out of a run is pretty impressive.  Probably spent about $30 in gas, maybe $30 in discs.  I’ve been purchasing in cash when it’s under $10, so it’s kinda hard to track my total expenditures.  But it’s close enough.


This week has been a not-so-good one with involuntary time off from work due to… problems.  I can’t really consider it time off, because it’s more like being on-call.  You can’t really relax and really take the day off because you don’t really know when you’re going to have to jump right back in.  Regardless, I did make a few half-hearted runs around the area and picked up a few CDs here and there.  But this weekend, I did want to make a concerted effort, and this time it was Melbourne.

Usually when I go to Melbourne, it’s at the tail end of going to Vero Beach, on the way back up north.  And Vero was my original idea, but I chose instead to make a shorter, closer run instead.  As it turns out, it was a very good run indeed.  I actually ran out of energy before I ran out of time or shops.

Performing my now-ritual of pre-mapping all the places to hit in Google Maps for Android Auto to utilize, I had a fair number of thrift shops and three music stores.  This time, I left earlier than usual, so I wouldn’t run out of time like I did last week.  I left the house around 8:00, hit DD for some breakfast and got on the highway.  I reached the first stop, a Goodwill, about 9:30.  I was like the second person there and when I was leaving, the cars were starting to come in.  But, nothing to be purchased there.

A lot of thrifts didn’t open until 10:00, so I drove around for more than I wanted to, wasting time.  But of the ones I did hit, I really only found one shop that had a number of CDs that were worth it.  I also found two antique malls that were not on my list.  I found a couple there.  Feeling a bit down by the lack of success at the thrifts, I pivoted and went to the first music store to hopefully get some positivity.

That music store didn’t have many CDs and the ones there were not that great.  But the owners were extremely helpful and went searching around their shop for more CDs for me.  The ones they found were better, but still not what I wanted.  But, then they found two MFSL gold CDs, one of which I already had and one I didn’t.  So I expressed interest in them and the owner went on Discogs to determine what price to charge.  Oh brother, here we go.

To my astonishment, she quoted me $30 for both, where I was mentally preparing for $50 each and prepared to walk away.  So, I made my first big score.  And they were happy, too.  They told me what other music stores had CDs (which were already on my list, but thanks).  And then they said to go to the flea market.  There’s a flea market?  Yes, with multiple CD vendors.  I couldn’t leave the shop quickly enough.

I got to the market and began tracing the rows.  Like the one last week, it had no directory and no map, but unlike the other, its layout was very simple: one long aisle with rows branching off it – no cross rows.  And I’ve not seen so many CDs at a flea market in a long time.  Daytona might not even have as many.  But for all that volume, the results were only ok, not excellent.  Probably 8 common CDs.  One shop had a coupled Glass Hammer CDs I had an interest in, but for some really weird reason, they priced them at $10 and $20.  No thanks.

It’s now 2:00 and I’m dying, dead on my feet, woozy, and stumbling.  I dig up a Carrabbas (which seems to be my new travel standard) and have a big lunch.  Then it’s off to another music store.  This store is much better than I expected.  I found one dupe target, one new target, and a few others of interest.  Maybe about $30 spent there.

I’m fading fast, so I decide to hit the one last music store and get back home.  This last place, I found three.  Two dupe targets.  I didn’t see everything, but what I didn’t see, the owner said is expensive stuff and he would look up prices for them.  And he was also waiting for me to leave as he was closing for the holiday weekend.  That was fine, I was pretty much done for the day anyway.

But then the guy wants to start talking.  Asks me if I’m interested in Santana.  I’m not, but he pulls out a sealed MFSL record box set from his showcase.  I think he said $4,000 for it.  Uh, no thanks.  He gets talking about how he closed on a local estate sale for a big local collector.  Not just big, massive.  Not just massive, unbelievable.  That sealed boxset was only one of many that the collector had.  The shop owner estimated the value of his collection at about $2M.  And he bought it for $380K.

Ok.  So.  I have thoughts.

First of all, how sad that the original collector had this incredible media and, as reported, an equally impressive stereo system, but never got to listen to some of the best recordings he owned.  He’s dead now.  He never got to hear them.  And for whatever he thought he was saving it for as an investment, he didn’t get that return.  He didn’t get anything, he’s dead.  His widow didn’t get the return on it either.

I’ve said in other posts that the size of a collection can negatively impact its total value, but there’s also a very small market for high-ticket items.  This shop owner is quite old himself.  Will he even sell those sealed box sets before he dies?  Will he see the return on his investment?  He surely won’t open the sets and listen to them, destroying the value of them.  The whole concept of investing in entertainment media is crazy to me.  Buy it and be entertained by it!

I definitely keep that in mind with my own collection.  The median value of my collection is about $16k.  Double that at the high-end and half that at the low end.  If someone going to pay me $30k for my CDs.  Of course not.  $8k?  Not likely.  $2k, possible.  I could add up all the gold CDs value and probably get $1000 just for them – sold individually.  But, my collection has been purchased cheaply and has been enjoyed at every stop of the way.  When I die, hopefully it will give someone one enjoyment instead of just sitting in a display cabinet.

Anyway, the tally for today: 30.  1 new gold, 1 dupe gold, 1 new target, 3 dupe targets, 1 dupe (potential upgrade), and 1 for its case.  The rest are new to me.


RSW?  WTF is that?  Fort Myers.  Makes total sense.

So, to continue my shopping logs, today was a day to go to Ft. Myers, because I had found out there is a large flea market there.  In preparation, as I did with JAX, I went into google Maps and pinned all the thrift stores in the immediate area.  It’s been a little while since I’ve gone down that far, so I didn’t remember much of what was there.

I got on the road at around 8:30 and with a 2.5 hr drive time, I got into the area around 11:00.  As I got off the interstate, I saw a billboard for "huge flea market" at the next light.  It was not where my GPS was leading me, but I turned anyway.  The road took me to a different flea market.  Very interesting.  But it was not the market for me.  Not meaning any derision, this was a Hispanic flea market.  I was like the only white guy there.  There was only one booth that had CDs and they were all Latino artists.  So, while it was a huge flea market and if I needed produce or cowboy boots I would have been all set, there was nothing for me to buy there.

Back on track to the real flea market, FleaMasters.  It’s supposedly a very long-running market, so yay?  I arrive and park and make my way into the first building.  Within a few minutes, I find the "media" place.  It was a bookseller, but like many people who honor media, there were tapes, records, and CDs.

First off, everything was pretty disgusting, with a layer of dirt on it.  I can deal.  After maybe 50% review, I found one target CD.  The owner comes over to chat me up, says I must have an amazing collection if I’ve only found one CD so far.  He’s right.  We get talking about CDs and that’s pretty much the only thing he was right about.  Trying to tell me the target CD I had was a 2nd or 3rd pressing, probably from 1990.  Whatever.  He can be wrong, I’m just here to buy.  And everything is priced, so it’s not like he’s going to change the prices because I know what I’m finding.  In the end, I walked out with 6 CDs, only a couple of them dupes.  Probably about $5 each on average. 

Sadly though, that was it for the entire day.

I wandered around the sprawling market halls and got lost over and over.  It was beyond infuriating that they didn’t have a directory of vendors.  Even worse, they didn’t even have a map posted anywhere!  About 45 minutes later, I got back to my car with only the one shop to show for my effort.  Oh well, off to the thrifts.

Along with maybe half a dozen thrift stores, I also stopped at two record stores.  One had a sizable, but poor selection of CDs, and the other didn’t keep CDs at his store – he had a booth at FleaMasters.  Really, now.  I guess I’ll have to try harder next time.

I didn’t mention the sweating.  The market was HOT and the sweat was pouring down my back and filling my underwear.  Almost to the point I wondered if it looked like I was shitting myself.  And at one Goodwill, I found no CDs, but had to get a bottle of water ($2.50) and it was down in a flash.  That gave me a little more energy to go on.  But I think my body was in survival mode, because I wasn’t hungry, thirsty, tired, or angry.  I didn’t have a pressing need to go to the bathroom either.  That condition is probably dangerous for me.

I did stop soon after at Carrabbas and got soup and salad.  Downed a few glasses of liquid and got back on the road.  But still, by now, it’s after 2:00, my time is running short.

I made three more stops.  The Habitat ReStore was closed for the day, so really only two stops.  I tried to set the GPS for two more shops nearby and I was warned they would be closed before I got there.  Ok.  That’s the end of the day.

Set my course for home, hit a RaceTrac along the way, and cruised on back, with some rain showers along the way.  Arrived back home right at 6:00.  With the amount of gas I burnt today at the current gas prices, this trip was not worth the money.  Total outlay was about $30 and gas was probably about $50.  And a $20 lunch, yeah, definitely not worth the trip.


Well, that was a quick resolution.

In my last post, I was lamenting the financial vulnerability I had keeping the bulk of my liquid assets in my checking account, tied to an ATM card that I had to use 10 times a month in order to get a preferred interest rate.  My solution to reduce my liability was to move a large chunk of my money out to another savings account that didn’t pay as good of an interest rate.  So, problem solved.

Today, I was just doing some random account maintenance, and logged into my checking account.  There was a small ad/offer/banner that invited me to create a savings account on the home page.  Uninterested, really, but I clicked the link anyway.  It was a savings account that paid 1% on the entire balance, which is exactly what my checking account paid on the excess of the 4% preferred rate.

To most anyone, this would be a big meh.  It’s the same thing as keeping your money in the checking account.  Why bother?  But to me, this is exactly what I needed.  I needed to isolate the bulk of my money from anyone who could steal my ATM card.  There’s so many benefits of this to me, I can count them on one hand! (I’m saying there’s not a lot of benefits, but they are very important to my needs.)

So again, first priority is to isolate my cash from ATM thieves – check.  I can keep my checking account balance limited to the amount that gets the bonus interest.  Any small amount over that gets paid at 1% interest.

Second, keeping the (relatively) good interest rate on my large balance – check.  The compromise in my last post had me move a large sum to another online savings account, which currently pays .5% interest.  That’s actually better than it used to be, I guess since the recent interest rate hike by the Fed, but whatever, it’s still half of what I can get from T-Mobile.

Third, having quick access in case of fraud – check.  I had mentioned in the last post about a worst-case scenario, where a hacker does get your funds.  You can claim fraud, but money is not returned to you until after the investigation.  If you have funds elsewhere, you can move them in to fill the gap and pay bills, so automatic payments don’t fail or things get paid late.  But transferring from an external account can take a couple of days.  However, having the checking and savings account at the same bank?  Instant transfer with no delay.  There’s value to that.

So, yes, I did immediately open a savings account and tested out the funds transfer.  It was immediate, just as I expected.  Now I can begin moving funds back into this account to get my extra interest.

I think in a future post, I’m going to document the complexity of my financial web.  There’s eight bank accounts and two payment services that all link together and it would be a good opportunity to review them and visualize them for example’s sake.


It was last year in March that I posted a gripe about a change to my T-Mobile checking account.  They had changed the requirements for how you get the bonus interest rate on their account.  Instead of making a direct deposit each month, you had to use the check card 10 times each month.  I didn’t like the change for the inconvenience it caused, but there was another concern that I had and I didn’t express it in that post back then.  Tonight, my concern became reality.

Lying in bed, ready to sleep and my phone goes off with a text message.  It says:

FreeMsg: Bankmobile Fraud Ctr: 18449392796 Case (redacted) Did you attempt $.00 at MOTHER GOOSE TI with card x8930? Reply YES or NO. opt Out reply STOP.

This brought me a bit of concern.  BankMobile is faintly familiar, but I wasn’t sure if that was my card number.  I climb out of bed and get on the computer.  Yes, it is my card number, and BankMobile is the bank.  I still think this might be a scam, though, so I call the bank directly, not using the number they provided.

Talking to the service rep, I am assured that there is nothing wrong with my card, but that the message is legitimate.  So, I say, ok, I’ll reply to the message after this call.  After the call, I reply NO and immediately get a reply saying my card is now locked.  Well, great.

Back on the phone again and explaining this new turn of events, and the rep says that there is a blank transaction on my card and my card is locked, so they will have to send me a new card.  Yeah, yeah yeah, this is nothing new to me, let’s go ahead with it.

But what IS new to me is that concern I’ve had since last March.  This card is tied to a massive (to me) amount of money.  Because of the excellent interest rate (4% on 3k and 1% on the rest), I keep the bulk of my money in there.  And EVERY TIME I am using my check card to get to my 10x transactions to qualify for the 4%, I am exposing myself to theft and fraud.  And within a year, in less than 150 transactions, it has happened.

I want to say just how careful I am with that card.  I just went through every statement in the last year and checked.  I’ve only used my debit card at 15 different places.  That is a crazy small number compared to how many places I use my credit card.  And that’s the part that freaks me out so much.  Debit cards don’t have the same fraud protections that credit cards do.  Yeah, sure, it’s covered, but if someone drains your account and you scream fraud, your money’s not coming back until they finish the investigation, as your bills go unpaid.

So where does that leave me?  For my financial security, I should give up the 1% interest on the large balance and only keep the amount that will get me 4%.  4% of $3k is $120/yr.  Not bad when all other places will get you like $3, $15 if you’re lucky.  But what’s the value of security?  It’s priceless.

You Gotta Pay

This year is the first in a while that I’m going to have to pay to have my taxes done.  And it’s not because I have to, it’s because every one has fucked it all up.

Going back a few years, I had my taxes done by an actual CPA, until one year, through miscommunication, I thought she was no longer doing taxes, so I went and did it myself, using a free online tax service.  That worked out well for me, even as my tax situation got more complex over the years.  I was pleased with Credit Karma’s service, both for credit monitoring and taxes.  Then some asshole had to come and fuck it all up.

That asshole is Intuit, whom I have a grudge against anyway for forcing Microsoft Money from the marketplace and becoming a shitty alternative to money.  The fuckery they pulled this time is buying Credit Karma, because you know, nice things can’t exist on their own, they must be owned by someone clearly jealous of success.

Because Intuit has TurboTax, owning Credit Karma Tax would make them too powerful, so they agreed to sell off the tax portion.  If you want to be sure your own success, you sell the part that is going to compete against you to someone shitty.  And Cash App seems to fit the bill.  So Credit Karma Tax is now owned and run by Cash App.

So as part of that bullshit, you have to install the Cash App mobile app to log in to the desktop website.  I am equal parts impressed and disgusted by this because I can’t tell if the security is better or worse, but I do know the usability factor is way down.  So I need this other bullshit software on my phone to file my taxes.  Count me out.

So I research my other free options and there’s none that really fit my new, expanded needs.  The most likely best choice is H&R Block, so I begin my process with them.  Most of the way through, I get to the part where I have to enter my HSA information.  The site says i can’t do that in the free version, I have to buy the software.  Fuck me.

So I guess I’m back on to Cash App.  I hold my nose and download the app and get logged in.  It prompts to import my Credit Karma data, which is nice.  I fill in my CK email and they send me a verification code to that address.  I wait.  Nothing.  I try again.  Nothing.  Ok, so that doesn’t work.  Might as well get started fresh then.

Writing an app that guides you through doing taxes is not easy, I would imagine.  But remembering how CK did things and now experiencing how Cash App does them… You should know when you don’t have it quite right.  And Cash App doesn’t have it right.  While usable, the process did not feel comfortable.  And a lot of it was simple stuff, like the way things were worded and explained as you stepped through.  Quite simply, I did not like it.

But that whole experience was moot when I got to questions about, of course, my HSA.  On one particular question, no matter what I chose as an answer, I was sent to an error page that stated "403 forbidden".  That is very low-level error, someone really has some fucked up code for that to come up.  So I hopped on their support chat and explained the situation.  The general response was, "it works for me" and the suggested remedy was to clear my cache and try again.  That’s it for tonight.

The next morning I went back (oh, there’s my verification codes for the CK import, delivered hours later) and tried again.  Nope.  Same error.  So that leaves me only a couple options.  Do my taxes like a Neanderthal on paper, or pay H&R for the capability to enter my HSA information.

This is 100% Intuit’s fault.  I hate them so much.


This weekend, I took an overnight trip to Jacksonville.  On the drive out there, I remembered that I had made this trip before, and it wasn’t all that long ago, because on that trip I had seen another wagon on the road of the same make and model as mine.  Just so you know, my wagon is rare as golden shit.  In the entire time I’ve known of its existence, I’ve seen one – only one – on the road.

Yeah, so, when I had that memory, I started thinking about how my last trip went.  I couldn’t remember any of it.  None.  That pretty much told me the trip was uneventful and I wouldn’t want to do it again.  But here I was, going out there again.  Those who don’t remember history are doomed to repeat it.  Uh huh.

For this trip I was pretty prepared.  And now that it’s over, I think I now have a good protocol in place for my mega-runs.  I utilize Android Auto in the wagon with my phone for the GPS and music features.  The night before I left, I used Google Maps on my desktop computer and added all the stops I wanted to make as Starred locations.  This gave me a list of the places I wanted to hit, and more importantly, it showed star pushpins on the map, which allowed me to plan my next stop or group of stops.  When I was done with a place, I removed it from the list so I wouldn’t be confused as to where I’d been.  It was a pretty good system.

Then, as I was stopping at shops, I did remember some of them, but there were a lot that were new to me, so I don’t think I planned my previous trip very well and that was what led to disappointment.  Despite that, I still had a fair amount of disappointment on this trip.  The first half of my stops were productive, but the last part were not.  And I’ll dig into that in just a bit.  I was let down by the dining options I was offered and the hotel experience was a little on the annoying side.

But anyway, what I really want to get out involves the used music stores I saw.  I can sum this up in one statement: "Get your fucking shit together!"

A 2-store chain in Tampa that I frequent is the only one (outside of big businesses like 2nd & Charles or Barnes & Noble) that I’ve experienced that is doing things right.  And by that, I mean, their store is organized, fully inventoried, and priced fairly and accurately.  Now, I’m willing to let the guys that are running a shop in a flea market stall have a pass, because surely, they’re just hobbyists.  But if you have a storefront, or a semblance of a storefront, you need to act like a business.  Be clean, be organized.

The first place that left me infuriated was a guy operating essentially out of a warehouse.  He sold records, CDs, some equipment, and probably anything else musical.  I was only focused on the CDs.  When I reached the warehouse door entrance, there were some CDs in a metal rack, which seemed like a paltry amount.  But stepping in and looking around, I saw a literal wall of CDs in the back.  I made a beeline right for it.

Once at the wall, I sized up the level of effort I was going to make.  This is a wall of cubbies, probably 10 ft. tall (yes, well over my head – a stepstool was nearby) and probably 30 ft. wide.  CDs in many cubbies were double-deep.  The lighting was minimal, so you have to pull the CDs out to read anything.  ALL UNSORTED.  No sense in griping, just get to work.

After what felt like about 30 minutes, I had looked through 10% of what was there.  I was seeing the same garbage over and over in different places, none of it was interesting to me (I found one cd).  So I took a small break to rest my eyes.  I turned away from the wall and gave the whole place a once over. 

That wall… was a fraction of the CDs that were in that building.  There were CDs everywhere around me, literally piled up.  milk crates overflowing, U-Haul boxes filled and stacked, wire racks with small boxes stacked on top of each other.  An entire other wall of CDs.  An area you couldn’t even access with piles of U-Haul boxes, all full.  No mistake, this is hoarder-level shit.  I estimate there were probably 20k CDs in there.

I tried to work through it.  I took breaks and walked to the other sections, which had even worse lighting, and tried to find anything other than my lowly single CD.  I couldn’t do it.  I took my CD up to the counter and told the owner, there’s too much stuff.  His reply, "there’s another 15-16k in storage that we can’t even get in here." Holy. Shit.

I left the place furious.  In the way of people who have a reverence for media (especially book people), I was simply offended with what I saw.  The disregard for all those CDs.  I would like to believe that any rational businessperson would also be offended at the lack of care and accountability of the inventory.  This is what makes you money.  You have no idea what you have, what its value is, or any plan for how to move it.  It’s shitty business practice.  And from a consumer standpoint, you can’t tell me a CD of Lady Gaga, priced at $5, has the same market value as one priced the exact same with a title of "14 Biker Tunes".  The CD I bought was marked $5 (as I assume everything was), and I paid $4.  Tax accountability?  What’s that?

Enough of that hellhole.  I moved on to the next place, which was supposedly mostly records, but had some CDs.  I arrive there and it’s, well, sketchy.  I am loath to use the term ghetto, because it’s lazy shorthand for "the poor, run-down, black neighborhood", and because it carries a stigma of danger, which I did not feel, despite the sadness all around me and being the only white person in miles.  Maybe I’m stupid, blissfully aware, or maybe just not racist.

Anyway, when I entered this building, it was somehow worse than the warehouse.  In the warehouse, you had room to move.  In here, there was literally nowhere to go.  All pathways were "walk-sideways" width.  The primary one being blocked by a (fortunately for him) tall, thin black man.  I navigated around him with the only path available to me and ended up behind the counter at the cash register.  Well, no, this doesn’t seem right.  I backed out and kind of make confused gestures to the man blocking my way. He crams himself into a small area to the side to let me go forward.  I get past him and again, there’s nowhere to go.

So I’m stopped and seated in front of me is a harried black woman asking me what I want.  I stammer out a question as to how I can look at some CDs when there’s no visible aisles, lanes, walkways, nothing, in sight.  She replies that I can’t.  I have to tell her what I’m looking for and she’ll go and see if they have it.  Well, no, that doesn’t seem right, either.  I explain that my tastes are all over and I need to browse to see if there’s anything I’m interested in.  No, that doesn’t work for them.  Very well, thank you for your time.

On the way back to the car,another man calls out to me and asks if I found anything.  I was like, "Maaaannnn, I couldn’t even get in to see anything."  He apologized and said he was looking to move a lot of stuff out soon to give more space.  I said I’d keep him in mind and check back another time.  I assume he was the owner.  Sorry, bud, you have a lot more work ahead of you.

Those were the highlights (lowlights) of the trip.  It gave me a renewed sensation that I should open a CD shop, just to show people how it should be done.  but sadly, that’s probably not in the cards for me.  I have a lot more of my own life to live first.

And now, the trip log: ~12 thrift shops, 3 booths in a flea market, and 3 used music stores.  4 target CDs found at the flea market, 2 CD of interest, 4 CDs bought for their case.  5 issues of an interesting magazine to scan.  2 CDs of interest from Daytona flea market on drive home.  Total outlay was <$30

2022 And Money

Its a new year, sort of.  I’m a little late.  But anyway, a new year is a new start and time to chart a direction.  As part of that, I’m working on re-managing my finances.  They’ve kind of been on auto-pilot for some time.  The auto-pilot is pretty good, but I need to confirm the route and make some adjustments.

Big news about 6 months ago, I took on a new job.  That changed a lot of things in my life, with mixed results.  In the financial realm, it appears I’ve taken a small pay cut.  But that’s fine, the new work environment is worth that.  When you change jobs, a lot of other stuff changes as well.  You lose access to a 401k for a brief while, insurance costs and payments become strange and unknown, and other things change too, but we’ll focus on the two I mentioned.

So, the 401k.  I left my old job at the end of July and I didn’t become eligible for my new 401 until January.  So something like 5 months of no 401k contributions.  And now I have two 401ks.  But I’m in the process of moving my old 401k into my IRA accounts, like I’ve done with my previous two employers.  The process isn’t that difficult, but I’m leaning heavily on their support staff to get me the right forms and say the right things so it all goes smoothly, with no tax surprises.  I apparently am considered high-value, because my form has to be certified with a "medallion signature guarantee" which is something rather stupid.  What’s wrong with a notary?  I guess the medallion stamp is multi-colored and they verify the color gradients for fraud.  Ridiculous.

Next up, insurance.  I was going to make this a whole post of its own, but I don’t really have that much to say.  My original intent was to do a deep analysis between my old insurance and my new insurance to see which was better, cost-wise.  While this isn’t as deep, it’s still a comparison worth having.

I wasn’t expecting my new plan to be so bad, because it had a lot of marketable elements.  Foremost in those features is that you get an HSA – a health savings account.  And the company puts in $600 every year to pay for your healthcare.  When selling the HSA, a lot is made of the tax advantages – any contributions are pre-tax, your balance can be invested and grow tax-free like a traditional 401k, whatever you spend from the HSA on healthcare expenses is not taxed as income.  See, it’s mostly about the taxes.  I was thrilled with the $600/yr the employer contributed to it.  Based on my previous plan, I would be turning a profit every year.  Then I had my first doctor appointment under the new plan.

Checking in at the doctor, I was told I didn’t have a copay.  Wow, that’s even better!  I used to pay $35/visit before.  This plan is an HMO compared to my old PPO plan, so I assumed that was how HMO’s work – stay in network, pay no copays.  A month or so down the line, I got a bill from the clinic.  There must be a mistake; I’ve never gotten a bill before.  The insurance didn’t pay anything toward the bill and didn’t have any in-network discount.  The bill was ~$150.  A call to the insurance company confirmed how it worked.  I had to meet my deductible before they would start paying. 

Here’s the thing about plans that come with HSA’s.  They’re all high-deductible plans.  I don’t recall whether my deductible is $6k or $8k, but at that level, there’s no difference.  So I paid my bill with my HSA card, which had just enough to cover the bill between my $50/mo contributions and the company’s $50/mo contribution.  But I had to think ahead, I had another appointment coming up, and a 3-mo followup, and I got sent to a specialist.  And on and on.  This was not going to work for me.

I quickly crunched the numbers tonight.  On my old plan, I was paying $28/mo for insurance per biweekly check, so about $780/yr.  Then I had my copays.  Let’s say I had 5 appointments a year, $175.  Let’s round up and say my medical expenses were $1000/yr.  Now under the new plan, I’m paying $150/visit, with no paycheck deductions and no copay.  Although it might be confusing, I do pay $50/mo to my HSA, but that money is still mine and it goes to pay the medical bills.  With 5 visits a year, the bills are about $750.  So, a surprise to me, my new plan is actually cheaper.  And, if my employer is contributing $600/yr, that’s a net cost of $150.

To be completely honest, before I ran the numbers, I was certain my new plan was much, much worse.  I guess that shows the psychological power of frequent small costs.  I don’t miss $28/pay.  I don’t miss $35/visit.  I am freaked out about $150/visit, but it happens only a few times a year instead of every other week.

I’m not going to get excited about the tax benefits of the HSA yet, because I don’t know if they are part of itemized deductions yet, and there’s no likelihood I’m going to have enough deductions to beat the standard deduction.  But I’m also not going to get excited about my plan because I feel I am gambling on the future here.  If I have more visits than normal, the $150 is going to outpace the $35 pretty quickly.  Not to mention lab work and other specialist stuff that may not be a simple copay.  Right now I’m working with estimated numbers.  Next year we’ll see the actual results.