Wednesday, January 07, 2015

A List of Books and Audiobooks I read/listened to in 2014

I read 23 books and listened to 82 audiobooks in 2014. This is the first year I've kept a compendium of audiobooks, and my career as a truck driver certainly allows me plenty of time to listen. On a good shift, I will listen to five discs a night, which is five hours or more. While I actually drive about 9

hours a night, I find I get listener fatigue after awhile. I also listen to music on the Sirius XM satelllite radio and check out NPR in the mornings on Wisconsin Public Radio out of Green Bay.

I discovered Elmore Leonard and Malcolm Gladwell this year. Leonard passed away in 2013, and his obituary is the first I had heard of him. His style is compared to Hemingway and Steinbeck, which initially drew my interest. His novels and stories are brisk and action-packed, with great dialogue and no fluff. He truly was a master of his craft. This is why I read four and listened to seven more of his books.

Gladwell was enjoyed exclusively through audiobooks. He has a way of exploring seemingly mundane topics such as ketchup and youth hockey leagues, and bringing out the spectacular or surprising details. He is a staff writer for the New Yorker and as I listen to him I imagine standing at his elbow at a posh upper West Side cocktail party, surrounded by a rapt audience, as he regales us with facts and anecdotes from his research. He profiles interesting characters and comes to his subject matter with detachment and an ebullient, joyful curiosity.


Books I read in 2014:

Catching Fire - Suzanne Collins (391)

The Walking Dead Compendium One - Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, Tony Morro, and Cliff Rathburn

Where the Waters Divide: A Walk Along America's Continental Divide - Karen Berger and Daniel R. Smith (324)

The Dark Crystal Creation Myths (vol. 1) - Brian Froud

Mockingjay - Suzanne Collins (390)

A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel - Madeleine L'Engle, adapted and illustrated by Hope Larson (392)

The Winter of Our Discontent - John Steinbeck (276)

The Shining Mountain: Two Men on Changabang's West Wall - Peter Boardman (193)

The Hellbound Heart - Clive Barker (164)

Fear of Flying - Erica Jong (336)

Travels With Lizbeth: Three Years on the Road and on the Streets - Lars Eighner (298)

Going Green: True Tales from Gleaners, Scavengers, and Dumpster Divers - edited by Laura Pritchett (209)

The Art and Science of Dumpster Diving - John Hoffman (152)

Rum Punch - Elmore Leonard (297)

Get Shorty - Elmore Leonard (292)

The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet - Reif Larsen (374)

Neuromancer - William Gibson (278)

Killshot - Elmore Leonard (287)

Tales of an American Hobo - Elmer Fox (226)

Unknown Man No. 89 - Elmore Leonard (264)

Knights of the Road: A Hobo History - Roger A. Bruns (214)

Hobo: A Young Man's Thoughts on Trains and Tramping in America - Eddy Joe Cotton (285)

Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America - Linda Tirado (195)

Audiobooks I listened to in 2014:

Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN - James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales (14)

The Girl Who Played With Fire - Stieg Larssen

The Time Traveler's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger

The Art of Non-Conformity - Chri Guillebeau

Made in America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United States - Bill Bryson

Doctor Sleep - Stephen King

Pictures of a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood - Mark Harris

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest - Stieg Larssen

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption - Laura Hillenbrand

Life - Keith Richards

Empire Falls - Richard Russo

My Antonia - Willa Cather

The Longest Road: Overland in Search of America, from Key West to the Arctic Ocean - Philip Caputo

Blood Meridian or the Evening Redness in the West - Cormac McCarthy

The Old Man and the Sea - Ernest Hemingway

The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man - James Joyce

A Most Wanted Man - John Le Carre

Farewell, My Subaru: An Epic Adventure in Local Living - Doug Fine

The Autobiography of Ben Franklin - Ben Franklin

When the Women Come Out to Dance - Elmore Leonard

The Great Crash 1929 - John Kenneth Galbraith

Return of the Thin Man - Dashiell Hammett

"There Are Things I Want You to Know" About Stieg Larssen and Me - Eva Gabrielsson with Marie-Francoise Colombari

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference - Malcolm Gladwell

Frank Lloyd Wright - Ada Louise Huxtable

Anansi Boys - Neil Gaiman

Dune - Frank Herbert

Super Freakonomics - Steven D. Levitt and Stephen S. Dubner

Djibouti - Elmore Leonard

A Separate Peace - John Knowles

The Circle - Dave Eggers

The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter - Carson McCullers

Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World - Michael Lewis

A Tale of Two Cities - Charles Dickens

Lucky - Alice Sebold

Cannery Row - John Steinbeck

Eat It to Beat It - David Zinczenko

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas - Hunter S. Thompson

Orange is the New Black - Piper Kermen

At Home: A Short History of a Private Life - Bill Bryson

Robopocalypse - Daniel H. Wilson

The Marriage Plot - Jeffrey Eugenides

Middlemarch - George Eliot

Steve Jobs - Walter Isaacson

The First 20 Minutes: Surprising Science Reveals How We Can Exercise Better, Train Smarter, Live Longer - Gretchen Reynolds

Up in Honey's Room - Elmore Leonard

Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth, with Bill Moyers

Mercy Falls - William Kent Krueger

Here Comes Trouble - Michael Moore

The Hot Kid - Elmore Leonard

The Bridge of Sighs - Richard Russo

Bob Dylan in America - Sean Wilentz

A Captain's Duty - Captain Richard Phillips with Stephen Talty

Here We Are Now: The Lasting Impact of Kurt Cobain - Charles R. Cross

Life of Pi - Yann Martel

Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls: Essays, Etc. - David Sedaris

Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking has Undermined America - Barbara Ehrenreich

Road Dogs - Elmore Leonard

Mr. Paradise - Elmore Leonard

A Good Dog - Jon Katz

Outliers: The Story of Success - Malcolm Gladwell

Possible Side Effects - Augusten Burroughs

The Planets - Dava Sobel

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life - Barbara Kingsolver with Steven L. Hopp and Camille Kingsolver

Citizen of the Galaxy - Robert A. Heinlein

Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know - Alexandra Horowitz

11 Unabridged Stories from the Complete Western Stories of Elmore Leonard

Marley and Me - John Grogan

Running with Scissors - Augusten Burroughs

Short Guide to a Happy Dog - Cesar Millan

In the Wake of the Plague - Norman F. Cantor

Physics of the Future: How Science Will Shape Human Destiny and Our Daily Lives by the Year 2100 - Michio Kaku

The Magicians - Lev Grossman

Think Like a Freak - Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

Stranger in a Strange Land - Robert A. Heinlein

The Happiest People in the World - Brock Clarke

What the Dog Saw - Malcolm Gladwell

Freaky Deaky - Elmore Leonard



Saturday, August 16, 2014

Top 10 ways through hiking changed me

Almost 10 years ago, on September 25, 2004, I, along with Esther and the many friends of our motley crew, Team Stone Monkey, stood at the Canadian border in Manning Provincial Park, at the northern terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail. Thus ended my status as a through hiker. It was my second through hike. I'd hiked the entire length of the Appalachian Trail in 2000. And as I said in the last video taken of me on the PCT, I felt so privileged to be able to do it again, knowing full well, even at the time, how rare an opportunity a through hike is.


And now, deeply entrenched in domestic life, paying a mortgage and raising a child, I know even more how lucky I was to be able to hike the long trails and see the best and often most remote natural beauty in the United States. Reminiscing, I wonder, how has being a through hiker changed me? What are the lasting effects of such a profound experience?


The following list is a compendium of my thoughts on the matter. No doubt, more could be added to it, and others have noticed different long term effects, but these are mine.


1. STEALTH SPOTS. Every time I go for a walk or run, I spot stealth camping spots. Maybe it's soft, needle bedding under a group of pines outside the bank or that picnic table in the park next to the water fountain. Trail life hones good camp spotting skills, and I unconsciously use those skills in urban environments. Honestly, I've only stealth camped in urban areas a handful of times, but I see viable spots wherever I go.

2. NO DOPPLER REQUIRED. I can predict, almost to the moment, when the weather will change. I've been outside on sunny, puffy cloud days and said, sure, we can do such and such activity, but it's going to rain in a couple hours. I'm not always right. Nobody's perfect. Weather is fickle. But I'm in tune to the slightest shifts in barometric pressure and the unnoticed-by-mere-mortals (i.e. non-through hikers) changes in wildlife behavior when the weather is going to change.


3. SPATIAL AWARENESS. My current job as a truck driver is easier and safer because I've been a through hiker. On the trail, while one spends an inordinate amount of time looking down a few feet ahead on the trail, one still develops a keen sense of the immediate surroundings and can quickly spot hazards. As a trucker, I use these same skills and take the necessary actions to avoid trouble.


4. MODERN MIRACLES. Although the jaw-dropping sense of wonder has diminished, I still find running water, flush toilets, refrigeration, air conditioning, and most other non-trail amenities to be miraculous luxuries. I can still spend hours in the grocery store, roaming the aisles and marveling at the color, variety, and smells of all the products available.


5. SENSORY OVERLOAD. I am still sensitive to the artificial smells of detergents, deodorants, and perfumes. Elderly folk who lay it on thick and youngsters emanating Axe body spray give me a headache. I can also smell the musk of urban friendly animals, such as raccoons and possums, before I see them and/or evidence of their passing. Wood smoke, body odor, Dr. Bronner's soap, DEET, peanut butter and any Lipton/Knorr rice/pasta dishes make me nostalgic for the trail life.


6. CAMPGROUND ODDITY. Yes, I'm the only guy at the campground using a tarp and bug bivy, and cooking meals using a beer can stove. I'm also the guy who pays for a spot at the campground, but then stealth camps in a spot a short hike away because it's cleaner, quieter, and prettier. And, yes, I'm ashamed to admit it, but I've Yogi'd from other campers ("Wow! That's quite the spread you've got going there!"), not realizing I've done it until halfway through an offered hot dog or hamburger. People tend to be generous to the only guy in the campground using a tarp and bug bivy.


7. FAVORED UTENSILS. Even at home, with a wide variety of utensils at my disposal, I have that one spoon and bowl that I use more frequently than all others. I also tend to squeeze the most out of disposable products, such as toothpaste. And although I rarely buy water or soda, when I get a plastic bottle, I will keep using it until it's moldy or leaks.


8. PREFERRED BEDDING. I still love to sleep outdoors. When I do sleep indoors, I like to have the windows open so I can awaken to bird song. I also prefer the firmest mattress money can buy. When I am a guest, I often prefer to sleep on the floor or outside, if possible and I know my host won't think it's too weird. I can also sleep just about anywhere. Through hiking has made me very adaptable to any situation, whether that be a weekend with the in-laws or being broken down by the side of the highway during a blizzard. I quickly assess my basic survival needs and relax when assured they're met.


9. SOCIAL GRACES. When I see an old friend passing by on the street or at the grocery store, I'm more likely to stop whatever I was doing, lose all sense of time, and devote full attention to their company. As every through hiker knows, serendipitous reunions are precious. You never know when (or if) your paths will cross again. Ice cream may melt, but a chance meeting with a friend is worth the mess.

            Also, I'm keenly aware of fellow wandering spirits. It could be that hippie looking dude with all the National Parks stickers on the back of his Subaru Outback, a sinew-legged bicyclist with the full-on pannier system getting water at the city park, or even a rare backpacker on a city street corner. I will ask them about their journey or past travels and, if appropriate, offer assistance. After all, I have a lot of trail magic to pay forward.


10. PORTION CONTROL. This last item is the rare negative lasting effect of being a through hiker. I've had major fluctuations in my weight for most of my adult life and through hiking only exacerbated this problem. A through hike is a great way to lose weight. You can reduce an entire roasted chicken to a pile of bones in and eat one, two, or even three pints of Ben and Jerry's, all in one sitting, and still lose weight. Hiking 20-30 miles a day with a loaded pack on consumes a lot of calories. Unfortunately, for me at least, that ability to consume mass quantities exists in non-trail life. And, doubly worse, because of the starvation it endured on the trails, my body is super efficient at storing fat away for future burning.

Someday, my son will be grown, the bills paid, and with a nest egg of savings and a fattened 401k, I'll be that wizened old fart out there on the Continental Divide Trail, completing my own personal triple crown. In the mean time, there are National Parks to visit, places to stealth camp, and fellow wayfaring travelers to follow online and trail magic to administer in person.


As I've learned and live with every day, once a through hiker, always a through hiker. The intensity and beauty of the experience shines through in just about every facet of my non-trail life.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Diary of a Performance

I'll be kind. I won't name names. I'll use only aliases, but the aliases will be cruel.

A couple weeks ago I had a strange experience performing at a local historic venue. The organizer, who I'll call Cyrano, or Cy, for short, asked me to perform. I wasn't paid, nor did I expect any compensation.

I've known Cy for a few years. I've seen him many times hanging out at a local cafe where I've played open mics. He organizes shows there and elsewhere under the rubric of a performance group he calls Tin Can Theatre (another alias). He's the only person in town who organizes multi-act shows at various venues using mostly local talent. Most of the shows have a theme, either centering around a band or a movie franchise. The event I performed in was Movie Spy Night.

Cy's a shifty sort. Can't look a fella in the eye for more than a glance. He puts his hands to his mouth often to chew on his nails before he realizes he's in public and then quickly puts them down. He moves his head from side to side and often sits down, only to bound back up again a moment later and walk away. But he's a nice enough guy. He likes progressive rock and one of his favorite albums is Tales of Topographical Oceans by Yes.

He does a good job gathering talent together for his shows. There's a diversity of local talent, from models to singer/songwriter performers, and even a belly dancer or two. More importantly, he organizes venues and times for local talent. No one else in town is doing this. And that's the problem. Cy's got no competition.

I knew Cy was a liar. He's not malicious about it. He's so full of his own crap, his own strange and conflated worldview, that I believe he thinks he's telling the truth. But to a shifty sort like Cy, truth is an elusive commodity. And I'm not talking about Capital 'T' Truth in a philosophical sense. I'm talking about being true to your word. If you say something, you mean it. Possessing that kind of truth is essential to getting along with others and gaining their respect. Cy is so untrustworthy, his word is so worthless, he is so full of crap, that no way, no how, will I ever participate in a Tin Can Theater event.

Let me elucidate.

A few weeks before the event, I asked Cy how long my set would be. He said 20 minutes, and I prepared accordingly, practicing 8 songs, which actually timed out to about 25 minutes. Just before I was set to go on, he said 15 minutes. Fine. I'm willing to adjust.

But then, 12 minutes into my performance, just as I turn away from the microphone to adjust my guitar effects, he took to the stage. I said, "I still have time for one more song." He said, "Can I just make an announcement before you do that?" "No!" I said. (I don't possess an ounce of stage fright). But he continued. I stood to the side, adjusting my guitar effects and glaring at the audience with a dramatic look of boredom and annoyance on my face.

I wanted to do like what Pete Townsend did to Abbie Hoffman at Woodstock and throw Cy away from the mic, but my parents and in-laws were there, and I didn't want to risk jail or lawsuits, so I glared.

A couple days before the performance, I asked Cy when I would be going on. He said I'd be the second one to go on and gave me a 15 minute time window. I needed to do this because my parents and in-laws were coming down to see me, and I didn't want my conservative Christian relatives to risk eternal damnation watching a belly dancer!

But Cy failed me once again. I ended up being the fourth performer, about an hour after he told me I would go on. There was no explanation for the change. I just had to roll with it.

Cy talks all the time about his being a performer, a director, and actually writing scripts for these shows. I've been to a bunch of these Tin Can Theater productions and never seen any evidence of writing. And why is there Theater in the production group's name. There are no skits enacted, no dramatic readings, no role players, and more importantly, no evidence of organization of any sort.

Don't call yourself a writer if you don't write. Don't give yourself credit for that which you don't do.

After the performance, one of the other performers complimented me and thanked me for standing up to Cy when he interrupted my show. "He does that all the time. It's annoying."

A few tips for Cy: You're doing a good thing. Keep bringing the shows. But work on your organization. If you're going to have fashion models, describe the apparel. Tell the audience a little something about the acts. Tell some jokes. Write some skits.


Peace out!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The sad sordid saga of truck 21392

When I went on vacation in March, the truck I was driving, a trusty 2012 Freightliner Cascadia that hadn't given me a lick of trouble in a year of driving, was given to another driver because, well, the company can't have a truck in the fleet idle for 10 days. Unfortunately, I didn't know this was going to happen until I was on vacation, and all of my stuff in the truck was packed in boxes and stored at the company terminal.

Upon my return, I was reunited with most of my stuff, sans the $150 bluetooth headset, which somehow got "lost" in the transition. And the truck I was assigned, a 2012 Peterbilt, the now infamous 21392, entered my life.

This upset me right off the bat. In addition to losing my headset, the Pete was previously driven by a smoker, and the ash tray still contained residue and evidence of this filthy habit. The entire cab also reeked of it. An insert in the shifter knob was missing, so the spot where I would rest my palm when shifting was a sharp divot. The entire time I drove this truck, I had to shift holding on to the sides of the knob. And one of the two small storage lockers had a door that was off its hinges, which meant I couldn't store anything in it that would slide out. It was essentially useless. But I am a regional driver. I am home every weekend. So I don't keep a lot of stuff in my truck. This was the least of my concerns.

I drove this truck first on the night of March 31. The next morning, as I stopped at a shipper to pick up my return load to Illinois, the truck wouldn't start. I was at the gate to the shipper. This meant that every couple minutes, a truck would turn to go into the gate, honk their horn for me to move on, get out and angrily approach the vehicle, and I would help them back out onto the road so they could go in through the out gate. I tried standing by the back of the trailer to ward drivers off, but it was brutally cold that day, with temps in the teens, and I didn't have a hat, so I had to return to the truck.

Within a couple hours, help arrived, and the mechanic got me started. "Don't turn off the engine. It won't start again if you do. Go directly to a shop. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200."

I spent a pleasant evening in De Pere, WI, and got rolling again the next day with a new starter.

Truck 21392 rolled steadily along for a few weeks, but then developed problems the first couple weeks in May. I noticed a steel on steel grinding noise when I backed up or rolled over uneven ground, kind of like the sound railroad wheels make. Oh, well, I thought, no biggie. I'll mention that the next time its up for preventive maintenance and an oil change. A week later, the truck stopped burning diesel exhaust fluid (DEF), what truckers call Cow Piss because it is made out of urea and puts out an ammonia-like smell. All newer trucks are equipped with DEF because it cuts out particulates in exhaust. No smoke comes out. Just carbon dioxide. Again, I figured. I'm due for an oil change real soon, so I'll wait...

The next day a fuse went out and the trailer clearance and license plate lights wouldn't light. This was a stopper. A cop could see this and pull me over. This put me out of Department of Transportation (DOT) compliance and I would be cited and ticketed on a roadside safety inspection. It was finally time to put the truck in the shop.

The DEF issue and blown fuse were easy fixes, but the grinding noise I'd heard was the engine block rubbing against the axle. The motor had slipped from its mounting and needed a new motor mount, which is a major job. The truck, still under warranty, was sent to a dealership, and I drove a day cab (semi without a sleeper berth) for two weeks, getting a hotel voucher each day to sleep. Even though the day cab leaked coolant and DEF, requiring daily refillings, I liked the hotel vouchers and stocked up on soap, shampoo, and stationary. A hotel room is a much nicer accomodation than the sleeper berth of a truck.

When I got truck 21392 back after two weeks, the first thing I noticed is that the windows wouldn't go down. And when I pressed the buttons to make the windows go down, the mirror defrost lit up on my dash. Also, I couldn't cut out all the power in the truck using the master switch. Usually, if there's a problem with the onboard computer or electrical systems in the semi, shutting everything down and starting it back up resolves the issue. I didn't have this option. Somehow, during the motor mount repair, wires got crossed. The electrical system was all messed.

But this wasn't a stopper. The air conditioning worked. I could open the passenger side window from the passenger side. I could live with these problems.

The first morning after getting the truck back, just as I pulled onto the highway, laden heavy with a 20 ton load, all my emergency bells and whistles went off, and I had to immediately pull over. All of my coolant had spilled onto the roadway. The same mechanic who'd got me started at the shipper gate April 1 came back and reattached the radiator hose which had a broken clamp and had come undone.

Then the phantom starter debacle began. When I first had a problem with it, it wouldn't stop at the company terminal. When I put in the repair order, the mechanic came out and the truck started right up. I felt foolish. But the next day at a shipper, the starter gave out again and I couldn't restart it. Roadside assistance came out and the mechanic got the truck started by simply boosting the battery voltage.

Thus began a two-week saga of trying to convince the shop there was something wrong with my truck. I wouldn't be able to get the truck started. I would take it to the shop, put in a repair order. They'd get it started right away, do nothing, and declare it fixed. I'd get it back, go out on the road, and get stranded again when the starter gave out.

This happened four times.

A shop tech accused me of making up the problem to get out of work. I said, no, I really need the money. I'd rather be driving.

Finally, I said, I refuse to drive this truck unless an actual repair is done. I then said I thought it was an electrical issue, maybe somehow connected to the issue with the windows (which they'd fixed). Frustrated, a shop tech called me and said they'd been starting the truck all weekend, indoors and out, and had used every diagnostic tool they had, but couldn't find anything wrong.

I said, just put a light on in the cab for a few minutes with engine off and try to start it. I was running on a hunch, thinking this was what I'd done every time the truck wouldn't start.

VOILA! They couldn't get the truck started. This helped them figure out the problem was a bad alternator signal cable, which connects between the alternator and starter. I said to the shop tech, "See. I'm not crazy after all." He said, "You were right. There was something wrong with your truck. But the verdict's still out on your sanity." Funny guy.

I drove six days in a row without any problems. Finally, as I was leaving a shipper last Thursday morning, the stop engine light went on and I couldn't drive faster than 5 MPH. I limped to a truck stop and put in a request for roadside assistance. The culprit this time was a faulty emissions sensor, a microchip device used to make sure my emissions met EPA standards.

Finally.... Enough was enough. I shared a rental vehicle with another driver and sent down to Mississippi to pick up a new truck, a brand new 2015 Freightliner Cascadia. Hopefully, if the trucking gods will it, I can put the last couple months of breakdown issues behind me and roll smoothly for awhile.

The worst thing about this whole debacle is I after I awhile I mistrusted my equipment and approached each night of driving with a dreaded sense of apprehension. That is no fun. Neither is being broke down by the side of the road.

Patience has paid off, though, and may my new truck, dubbed Red Sonja Redux, be a boon companion for many a mile.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

A Wireless Wrong: My Verizon Debacle

Last Sunday, my Droid DNA phone would not charge and ran out of power. I took it to my local Verizon store in Sycamore, IL, and asked what I could do to either get another phone or get my current one fixed. The clerk there told me that, because I was six months short of my contract renewal period, a new phone would cost full retail value, and that none of the smart phones in the store were less than $400. He said I could add an additional line to my current account, which would cost $40 a month, and I could get a new phone at a discount.

Neither of these options would work for me. I asked if there was anything else they could do. Could I get another phone and pay for it over a period of time? No. He said if I had an old phone, I could activate it and use it, but that wasn't an option as I traded my old phone in when I got the Droid. He then warned me that if I switched carriers, Verizon would keep my old phone number. This turned out to be wrong.

I was forced to switch carriers and went over to T-Mobile because they will pay my early termination fees from Verizon. A new phone was included in this plan, which I will pay for over the life of the plan. Unfortunately, because my old phone didn't work, they couldn't transfer over my contacts. I knew I'd saved my contacts to the Verizon Cloud, so I figured I could get them from there.

But I was wrong. Verizon immediately deleted everything I had stored on their Cloud system when I switched over to T-mobile. I lost all my photos, videos, and contacts.

First, if I had been given more serviceable options, such as a payment plan for a new phone, or the chance to buy a used phone, or a loaner phone until my Droid could be fixed, I would have stayed with Verizon. Until this point, the service quality and network coverage Verizon provides left me a very satisfied customer.

Second, Verizon shouldn't immediately eliminate someone's personal data from the Cloud. This seems like rude and vindictive behavior. Even former customers should have access to data stored there and given a grace period -- even as little as a day or two -- to retrieve their data from the Cloud.

Because of these actions, I have lost family photos and videos that can never be retrieved. I was lucky enough to post many of the photos online, but almost all the videos are lost. This is a cruel disservice to someone who was a loyal customer for years. Verizon should realize that former customers could be returning customers again in the future. After all, I was once a T-Mobile customer, and now I'm back with them again. But I will never, ever, go back to Verizon. They stole precious memories away from me.

I came away from this experience with a hard-learned lesson. I will keep a paper copy of all my contacts name and phone numbers. The contacts I lost were accumulated over 10 years, and I was able to transfer the numbers every time I switched phones because my old phones always worked at the time I switched. Some of those numbers will never be recovered.

I will also immediately post my pictures online and may even, if possible, set it up so that this happens automatically.

So many friends and family members have been screwed over by wireless phone service companies. They offer a dizzying array of options and plans, and obfuscate everything with legalese. It's an industry that serves a basic need, and has thus become corrupted by the profit motive. It would be nice to have a phone service that is simple, affordable, allows you to keep your number, and offers all the service options and coverage that big, evil Verizon offers.

Also, the phones should be made more durable and fixable. The Droid DNA wouldn't even allow me to remove the battery. And when one component went wrong, the whole phone needed to be scrapped. It would be great to have a set up where the central processing core -- which holds all the essential data that you don't want lost or, even worse, stolen by a third party -- could be transferred from phone to phone with each upgrade.

But there's no profit motive for such an innovation, so it will never happen.