There’s nothing like fall foliage serving as a backdrop to a snow-covered landscape. Ooof.
Spring, it would seem, has finally graced Plymouth with its presence. These flowers got a head start by budding directly through the snow, and are now enjoying 75 degrees and bright sunshine.
A couple of weekends ago, I was looking for a place to book for dinner in the Manchester, NH area. Since it was actually New Year’s Day, the selection of restaurants was somewhat limited, and I ended up booking a reservation at Z, a relatively new bistro on Elm Street. While Google has some decent reviews of the place, I really knew nothing about it, and I was quite pleasantly surprised at the overall high quality of the experience.
The menu at Z is a nice happy medium between overly simplistic and limited bistro menus and the ridiculously over-the-top tomes offered in Manchester’s stuffier high-end eateries. What’s really cool about the place is that some of the dishes that sound mediocre at best are actually surprisingly good. For example, we ordered some Asian Nachos for the table, curious about the taste but not overwhelmingly optimistic about how good they’d be. Despite our reservations, the nachos, which are billed as “crisp won tons, grilled chicken, jack cheese, sesame peanut sauce, wasabi sour cream, daikon sprouts,” actually worked as a tasty appetizer, not just as an item that was unique or intentionally different.
Since it was a holiday, the restaurant was out of Top Sirloin, which two of us had ordered. The server was glad to bring us the sides that were served with that dish, however, including the Yukon gold mashed potatoes, which were absolutely delicious. In fact, the food that was delivered to the table was so good that I’ll be planning a return trip, just to try the sirloin.
It’s worth a note about the ambiance: for a trendy and relatively swanky place, Z didn’t have overwhelming or annoying dance music blasting; instead, there was a jazz pianist playing live music throughout the evening, at a reasonable volume level. All in all, this is the kind of place that appeals to a wide demographic of diners, and everything from the lighting to the service was pleasant and made me want to go back. I feel lucky that the first couple of restaurants that I called for a reservation were closed, or I might never have found Z.
If you live in New Hampshire, you’ve probably already seen this, and if you don’t, it might not make much sense, but this parody of Jay-Z’s ‘Empire State of Mind’ captures the essence of the Granite State–right down to the two people singing it. Because of a couple of swears and, err, accurate observations about the state, it might not be super-safe for work viewing.
A couple of years ago, I was approached at the college for which I work by a Woodlands Credit Union salesperson soliciting for new accounts. After looking over the paperwork and terms of the checking and savings accounts, I didn’t see anything that would put me off from the bank, so I told the woman I would sign up. She then instructed me to select a ‘unique’ PIN for my account. When I asked her what happened if it ‘wasn’t unique,’ she told me the bank would assign me a unique one. Flabbergasted, I asked her how the bank could ensure a unique PIN for all its members, if it only has four-digit PINs and over 10,000 members (10,894 as of 2005, according to one source). She seemed incredibly confused.
Now, I will admit, I should’ve torn up my application right then and there. A bank representative who clearly a) doesn’t know bank policy (the PIN did NOT need to be unique, obviously) and b) doesn’t know how to count between 0000 and 9999 is probably not working for a really great bank. In fact, I nearly did call in to cancel the account right off the bat, but then I received a call from the Plymouth branch manager, Michele. Unlike the woman tabling at my employer, she clearly knew the bank’s policies, and was not afraid to look them up in the event she wasn’t sure of something. I explained my needs in a bank, as follows:
1) I expect that the bank’s employees understand the bank’s policies. However, if they do not know something for sure, I would expect them to ask someone / look it up in order to provide me with a correct answer.
2) To be able to document in writing any policies that were supposedly official bank policy. In other words, if you’re going to charge a fee, I had better see that fee listed someone in a table of charges, etc. After fifteen minutes on the phone with her, I was convinced that Woodlands would work out for me.
3) As a small bank, I expected Woodlands to provide personal service in exchange for me going without several nice features, such as free inter-account overdraft transfers or an online banking site that actually works properly. I did not want small bank resources with large bank attitude.
Over the course of the next two years, I discovered that Michele was basically the only knowledgeable and competent employee of the bank. Every time I spoke with someone in the phone pool, I was given generic, ‘policy-robot’ type answers, although those answers often varied between employees. One assistant manager, Theresa, even went so far as to accuse me of fraud when I tried to deposit a check for my house deposit. I began going to Michele directly for everything, even a simple deposit.
Then, about 3 weeks ago, my fiancee and departed on a trip to Florida. She’s 25, and I’m only 24, so the car was rented in her name to avoid a fee. Then, a few days before our flight left, Woodlands called me and my fiancee separately to discuss our debit cards. Both were compromised during the recent Hannaford supermarket identity theft incident. I was given the option of watching the account and keeping it open, which I did because of the approaching trip. My fiancee was told her card had been ‘compromised’ and was shut off. We had to pay an extra $50 in insurance to rent the car, because she was only able to leave a cash deposit.
Last night, in the wake of this frustration, my fiancee received a letter stating rudely that the post office had informed Woodlands of an address change and that, if we did not notify Woodlands within 10 business days, our funds would be put on hold. Of course, there was no indication of which account this was, meaning it could have been our joint checking account or just her savings (which is rarely used). Although Woodlands calls me about everything else (possible unauthorized charges, etc) they apparently do not do so for address changes.
When I left an incensed message on the Woodlands answering machine (thanks to the person who wrote me the letter not giving any contact info for herself directly), I was immediately called back by Michele, who attempted as always to find a solution. She also told me the CEO, Tim Callia, would be calling me directly to discuss the matter.
When Mr. Callia called, I should have known from the blocked number on my phone that he would not be an effective leader. Hiding behind such tricks is unprofessional at best, and shows the outright disrespect that Mr. Callia has for his so-called ‘fellow members.’ I thought Mr. Callia had called to discuss the new process of the change of address letters, as Michele had implied, but as it turned out he simply wanted to argue. When I explained my issues, he was clearly unprepared, having obviously not spoken with Michele to ascertain the situation. In addition, when I put pressure on him to explain why Woodlands called for everything EXCEPT address changes, he said ‘that’s our policy.’ Now, I expect the phone-pool employee, constrained by bank rules and regulations, to be policy robots, but I do not expect the CEO of the same company to state such a party line. Furthermore, it indicates a lack of modern business sense to repeatedly use the term ‘policy’ in an age when many businesses are acknowledging the negative connotations of that word.
Once I had determined that Mr. Callia really had no solutions to offer me, I told him I was done spending my time on something that was clearly not going anywhere, told him to have a nice day, and hung up my phone. He had the nerve to call me back again from his cowardly blocked number, at which point our conversation went like this:
Callia: I assume your phone must've lost the signal, since I can't imagine you would have hung up on me.
Me: Actually, you assumed wrong. As I just stated, you are clearly not interested in a solution, so I would like you to stop wasting my time.
Callia: Oh, well I am a professional and I thought you were too, but judging by your message and the way you're talking to me now, that's obviously not the case.
Me: Actually, your organization, with the exception of Michele, has been unprofessional for two years with me, and your refusal to answer the very simple question of why your policy is what it is leads me to believe you do not actually know. Furthermore, I can't believe you've decided to personally insult a customer. THAT, sir, is what makes me believe you are a consumate professional. Have a good day.
Thankfully, Mr. Callia did not waste my time further by calling again to insult me. I closed my accounts today, and have decided to go with my new Charles Schwab account as my sole checking account. It will be a little more difficult with no physical branch nearby, but my experience has been that every CS rep that I’ve dealt with at Schwab has been nicer, more knowledgeable, and more helpful than the CEO of Woodlands Credit Union. Also, they refund bank fees from other ATMs, so instead of paying a couple of bucks every time I use a non-Woodlands ATM, I actually get a cash refund at the end of every month from Schwab. So please, if you’re considering opening an account with Woodlands, or if you’re wondering if the bad experience you just had with them is just one in a series still to come, I hope you gain some insight from my experience and STAY AWAY.
Slashdot is reporting that New Hampshire has joined several other states in rejecting the proposed national ‘Real ID.’ The beauty of the law making use of the Real ID illegal in the ‘Live free or die’ state wasn’t that it passed 24-0, it was that it called the ID itself ‘contrary and repugnant’ to both the NH and US Constitutions. New Hampshire’s politicians have never been ones to gloss over or euphemize what they recognize as crap from the start, and this law is no exception. Also amusing is the fact that the state rejected what it called a $3 million ‘bribe’ from the Feds to accept and implement the Real ID.
Does anybody find it ironic that the supposed ‘state’s-rights’ party took it upon themselves to nationalize the ID system, only to be stopped by states deciding to assert their rights?
…on Sunday night at 1am. Not a lot of traffic around here.
Yesterday morning, I woke up in a place not unlike this one:
The temperature was a balmy 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
This morning I woke up in a place not unlike this one:
The temperature in this picturesque artist rendition was -5 degrees Fahrenheit.
A 90 degree difference.
Ouchies. It’s great to be home.