Home Buying – Lesson I

“Don’t worry, you can just owe me.”

It’s been over a month since I talked to the SDFCU and found out that they had approved my loan.  They were supposed to send me a copy of the pre-approval letter.  It hasn’t shown up even though I’ve spoken to them twice about it.  They’re history.  Of course, they are also my bank, which is disturbing.  And they charged me $100 for the pre-approval.  Might be time for a letter and a phone call.

I instead called Wells Fargo on the recommendation of my realtor.  Quick and easy, and pleasant to talk to.  Even gave me more than I asked for, and I had a copy of the pre-approval letter in my inbox in one day.  Amazing.  Once I get to DC, I think it’s worth stopping by their offices just to get a layout of the types of loans available and options for paying the downpayment. 

This has been a good reminder to check my credit report at least every year.  You never know what’s on that thing.



+ The Entire State of Nebraska (well, almost)

I should begin with a clarification: Yes, this is out of order, as I began with Sterling, CO way back when. Tough luck. Xanga still has some issues. Ok, enough about that. I had planned to visit my friend Maren from law school in Scottsbluff, Nebraska, which if you look at a map is situated in Western nebraska, closer to Wyoming than Iowa, and which is also famous for Chimney Rock, a rock shaped like a chimney naturally, which served as a marker for pioneering types that the Plains ended and the Rockies were about to begin. On this day for me, however, the plains were just beginning. Scottsbluff was two hours out of the way, and well, I just didn’t feel like driving any more than I had to. Sorry, Maren.

And the roads never seemed to end. Frankly, Nebraska is just full of cornfields lining up as if waiting to see a football game in Lincoln. It’s just farmland, and one Nebraska farm is typical of all the rest. Perhaps if I had gotten out to talk to some people along the way, or stopped in Omaha or Lincoln (nice towns they say). I think I was just tired of driving by this point. It’s a blur. It will remain a blur. And with apologies to Jim Dickmeyer, Iowa was the same blur, except that it had rolling farmlands which were so reminiscent of Pennsylvania that I began to feel at home. I’ll rework the old saying — “Pennsylvania is Pittsburgh and Philadelphia with IOWA in between.” Including the cops, but didn’t get caught –woo hoo! Maybe you just have to get through the Midwest. I can’t imagine that Kansas or Missouri would have been any more stimulating. Perhaps the Dakotas, with Mt. Rushmore and the decency to at least call the terrain the Badlands. I don’t know, and won’t be upset if I don’t find out for a while. It was about this time as well, that I thought I was getting carpel tunnel syndrome from my hands being on the steering wheel for so long. My wrists were hurting and trying to do yoga or gymnastics in a Jeep is not easy, especially if the car is in motion.

I crossed the Mississippi at night. It seemed pretty big. I didn’t think of Mark Twain or much else. maybe it’s more important at other crossing points.


I left Las Vegas later than I had planned, and poorer than I had
planned.  It was going to be a fairly short drive, because
nightfall was approaching and I didn’t want to miss any of the
landscape by driving in darkness.  For some time, I had been
considering the red chair and desk that I had purchased in Austin, and
which had been faithfully riding in the back of the Jeep since
Texas.  On an open stretch of highway near the Utah border, I saw
my chance.  The chance to create some art.  I even had a
title:  “Rakesh, Red Chair, Red Rocks.”  

As has often been the case, my ideas are larger than my
abilities.  Or more accurately this time around, it’s not easy to
set-up a photo on the side of a major highway as the light is
fading.  Even though there wasn’t too much traffic, the
18-wheelers zoomed at such a velocity that my car would shake as each
one passed.  On top of that, there was no flat, even surface on my
entire car upon which I could place the camera.  Add to this my
feeling foolish, as if everyone was staring as they drove by, and you
end up with this photo, re-titled now “Fuzzy Rakesh, Red Chair, Red
Rocks All Too Far Away.”  Well, I had to at least try.  And it was a nice sunset.

By nightfall, I realized that there wasn’t going to be much by way of
large towns in Utah.  So I took an exit for a place called
Parowan, and will admit that the name reminded me of the word “padowan” from
the Star Wars movies — as in, “You will stay here tonight, my young
Padowan.”  Or is it spelled “paduan”? Whatever.  So that’s how I ended up at a plain, too far from the highway,
Days Inn run by Jack Patel.  I was tempted to fill in the guest
info card as “Rick Ash” in homage to old Jack’s name adjustment, but as I was already
receiving some odd glances from the Indian lady at the reception desk,
thought better of it.  Indians in Utah, like that should be
strange?  Career choice #4 for this trip — running a motel like
other brothers.  I got the last room, oddly enough.  Parowan
is a gateway to one of the state parks popular with mountain bikers.

Vegas 2, Pudi 0

LAS VEGAS, NV — Ok, ok, I know I made one too many references to Vegas being a source of free money. Or maybe it was that I was still numb from driving. Or how about just plain impatience? Whatever the reason, I didn’t make any money, so don’t come asking. Well, not exactly true, I DID make about $900, but then gave it all back in a greed-filled, I’m-the-man-and-your-girlfriend-loves- me- inspired display of brazen cockiness. I mean, why play with $5 chips when you can play with $25 chips, right? I will say this, I did well enough for a while to earn my own fat man with large beer cheering section at the blackjack table.

Cheer #1: “Whoa, dude, you are racking up the cash!”
Cheer #2: “Bump it dude, bump it UP! You’re on a roll!”
Cheer #3: “Man, they don’t call it gambling for nothing. Later.”

I also succeeded in playing Texas Hold ‘Em for hours with complete strangers, including an odd game at about 4am ( I couldn’t sleep due to fat man visions) with six pretty darn nice guys. Harrah’s, the casino/hotel where I was staying, had just opened up a poker room, so it was a small money game and they treated folks real nice. In fact, one of the more surprising things about Vegas was how nice everyone actually was. I don’t mean the staff, but the visitors. I had a nice chat with an old fella from the Boston area, a lady from Richmond, Mike, a CPA from Seattle, some guy in the armed forces who had been in Nicaragua in the ’80s (“we took Noriega out of there”), and plenty of others.

I thought that I’d kick the desire to return to Vegas with this trip, particularly if I lost money, but it was just too much fun. Plus, I drove by Lake Mead on the way in, which looked like a cool diversion besides being the largest man-made lake in the U.S. Theose AM stations with info really do work, who knew? There was a checkpoint a few miles on either side of the Hoover Dam, which I assume has been set up based on “credible intelligence” about plots to blow up the dam or mess with the water supply.
The western part of the country is definitely better looking than the eastern side. A little artificial, perhaps, but it was pretty tasty. I’m talking about people, by the way, not desert. Or dessert — haha, word! So now I am a Total Rewards member of Harrah’s, which has casinos all over. Maybe that’ll be worth more than a free buffet or two someday.

If there’s one downside to all this, and I am sure there are many others, the overall consumerism of the U.S. has hit me harder than I expected. Vegas is a lot of bling bling, and the shows themselves, with stand-up comedians I’ve never heard of, and cheap thrills (though next time I NEED a photo with Elvis), just seems so unreal and meaningless if you look at it too long. The mini-marts are uniform from state to state, people line up for just about any diversion possible if you package it the right way, etc. Upside is that it seems impossible to be unemployed in the U.S. Chintzy outfits aside, why couldn’t I be a dealer if I needed to?

SANTA FE, NM – Day 6

Each minute I spend in the Southwest, I’m struck by how similar the landscape is to Mexico. Maybe we should just give it back for the sake of harmony.

The first hint of road madness crept in about 6.28 hours into the day’s journey. Maybe it was leftovers from the wine tasting the day before, but you start thinking about driving, and driving, and driving, except that you can’t remember the miles you’ve previously driven. And you start wondering where it is you’re actually going (Vegas, baby, Vegas!), and the humming of the car starts sounding suspiciously like a song you heard before, except you can’t remember the words. It has no words, actually, that’s why they call it humming.

In Santa, Fe I had turkey enchiladas and my first real reminder of portion-size in the U.S. Huge. Plus, it tasted nothing like the D.F., which sort of depressed me, although the waitresses were artsy and cute and friendly to a guy eating at the counter reading Harry Potter, exactly what I pictured waitresses to be in an over-priced, trendy, yummy place called Harry’s Roadhouse in Santa Fe. The town itself was underwhelming, with a lot of faux-art and a lot of real art that I’d never put on my walls. Not a big fan of Georgia O’keefe, and even less of O’keefe wannabees, which are in no short supply in Santa Fe. If you like her, then click here, or better yet, go there. It’s $8 to get in, which is a rip-off. There was a landscapes exhibit that I checked out. I spent 10 minutes trying to go wi-fi because I picked up a signal from being parked in front of the local public library. Then I realized that the library probably had free computers and internet, which of course it did. Duh.

The madness continued as I tried to make it to Flagstaff by nightfall. I was hoping for a stunning Arizona sunset and all that over the Painted Desert, but I got this instead, which I finally realized was due to some forest fires burning in the region. Kind of spooky. I had a book on dinosaurs when I was a kid, and the sky always looked this color in the illustrations. Guess the author was from around the region.

Made it to Flagstaff. The kid working the desk at the Holiday Inn was a total punk. I wanted to punch him in his smug little goatee.

Amarillo, TX – Day 5

Jesus, it’s a long drive through Texas. Ever notice how there is never a road that goes directly to where you want it to go? There simply is no easy rout to get from Austin to Santa Fe, NM. But! Along the way I happened to see a sign for the Bushy Creek Vinyards. Intrigued enough to do a U-turn, I stopped by. A simple affair, all said and done. This was the main building. Suddenly I found myself with a nice, but slightly vapid couple tasting the products. Mostly sweet table wines for after dinner. Apparently, most Texans seem to like wine that edges toward grape juice in flavor. Happily, the owner took us down to explain how the grog was mad, see the vats, talk chemistry, and sample more batches of wine. Enough to make me realize that wine-making, while supremely cool in the abstract, is much like everything else. Hard work. Plus, you have to know a fair bit about chemistry, which brought up long-buried memories of freshman chem 101 at 8:15am (+ lab two hours per week), and getting a C because I tended to value sleep over Ferrous Oxide reacting with an acid titrate. Though I did like saying “titrate” over and over. No one told me that you didn’t HAVE to take chemistry in college.

Anyway, I now own two bottles of Brush Creek’s Autumn Mist, and count myself a patron of the burgeoning Texas wine scene.

Finally, I arrived on the outskirts of Amarillo. Just one of many U.S. locations with Spanish names pronounced improperly. What would happen if everyone in Texas pronounced their proper nouns properly? A proper revolution, that’s what.

Holiday Inn. Priority Club. Bonus miles.

Day Two could have been a whole lot worse. A couple of rules: 1)
there’s no reason to go to Nuevo Laredo or Laredo as an assignment. 2)
check the air in your spare tire. We were 15 miles outside of Austin.
Kyle, TX to be specific. A little Unleaded at $1.98/gallon, and pulling
out on to the highway for the final stretch, when…
The tire must have exploded. Those f***ers at the Jeep dealer in the
DF. luckily, there was another exit, so we pulled in and commiserated
with three guys who also had a flat. At least they had an auto club
membership (oops). An hour later, we’re off on the spare tire, which
doesn’t even make it out of the freakin’ parking lot before going flat.
So we call a wrecker and wait.

Happily, this gave rise to a
photo series at the Diamond Shamrock 24 Hr. plaza, as well as half off
on chicken fingers that had been sitting out for 6 hours. The folks
were nice there, and seemed impressed by Laure’s French, and my
willingness to eat the petrified chicken strips.