Thursday 22 May 2008

Mission: Nearly Impossible (rant)

Caution: self-indulgent rant follows. You might as well skip it and wait for the next update, which will be more cheerful.

My mission, and I had little choice but to accept it, was to get some new contact lenses. A simple enough task, you would think.

I first tried in Memphis. I was there anyway, and I thought what the hell, it's a major city, they're bound to have a few lenses to spare and I'm on my last pair. I'd seen ads for Sears Optical so off I toddled. In a sweet, ever so polite, Southern accent I was told that it was Sunday and they couldn't sell me any lenses. Grumbling only very slightly to myself, I toddled away again and threw my credit card at other more interesting things which were allowed to be sold on Sundays.

My next attempt was the following weekend in Little Rock, with a little more verve this time (my eyes were starting to hurt). I let my mouse do the walking, and found a Sears Optical near the centre of this very spread-out town (think Canberra with a river rather than a lake). They had the particular lenses I use and at a very good price, and the opening hours were 10am to 6pm at the weekend (which is considered very generous in these parts). Drove there, getting only a little lost on the way. Little Rock is about an hour's drive from where I actually live. Wandered around the deserted store for a wee while and was finally directed in a sweet, ever so polite Southern accent to the Optical desk around the back of the children's wear department, about twenty paces away.

It was deserted and just a little more empty-looking than I expected for 2pm on a Saturday. I looked around inquiringly and then went back to the sweet Southern belle I had asked directions of, to be told in matter-of-fact, very polite tones, "oh, they've gone for the day" with just the slightest hint of "you silly foreigner". Muttering invective, but only to myself, I departed.

My third attempt, immediately after the second, involved driving at some speed to a mall I had visited earlier and in which I had memories of seeing a rack or two of glasses. I triumphantly found the optician, admired the gleaming spectacles briefly and presented my prescription at the desk. It was inspected carefully and then handed back with the information, delivered in a sweet, very polite Southern accent, that here in Arkansas opticians weren't allowed to dispense contact lenses, only doctors could do that, and as anybody could see by the darkened door in the back, the doctor was not there and would not be back until Monday. Apparently my NZ prescription from a real live optometrist doesn't count for much. I pitifully asked for help and was directed, sweetly and ever so politely, to Wal-mart.

I was not holding out much hope at this point (I had tried Wal-mart before. You can buy anything there, except contact lenses). But I dutifully drove the ten or so miles to the specific Walmart to which I had been directed, on the edge of town, and fronted up at their gigantic Wal-Vision or whatever the heck it's called. I waited and waited while the sweet polite white-coated people dealt with their sweet polite customers, and while they chatted to each other, and passed the time of day, and eventually it was my turn. I somewhat briskly presented my prescription to a bona fide eye doctor, and it was duly and politely inspected and admired, every single part of it, and it was a good four or five hours later that she told me in a sweet, gentle, ever so polite Southern voice, that she didn't have those particular lenses in stock. But if I came back in two weeks she could order them in for me.

I accepted this information with what I felt extreme good grace, given I was standing in the biggest flaming optometrist's I have ever been in, only about fifty miles from Wal-Mart HQ, and I allowed through gritted teeth that since I was on my last pair, and that I'd been wearing them for three weeks already, and if I had to wear them for two more weeks my eyelids would fuse shut, I was happy to use any of a dozen other kinds as long as they let me see, but I was told in sweet, polite tones that the law here in Arkansas prevents me from acquiring any kind of contact lenses other than the ones specifically on my prescription. I had spent two or three hours trying to buy lenses by now, and was just a mite frustrated, so decided to give it a rest for the day.

My nearly-penultimate try was the day before yesterday, Monday, when in a light-bulb moment I remembered there was a Sears right here in Pine Bluff. I googled, and lo and behold it had an Optical part! Hours 10am to 6pm, so I have to take time off work, but that's fine! I'll be able to see! I called their number. No answer, but the voicemail message was ever so polite and re-stated their opening hours. They didn't call back. Never mind, they must be very busy. In high spirits I went in. In good cheer I asked directions. In a sweet polite voice I was told it was just past the lawnmowers. In joy I strode. In dismay I read the large, permanent, sign stating "Monday: closed". In bad humour I strode out, past the giver of directions who must have known it was closed on Monday, the brainless woman.

On Tuesday I returned extremely grumpily for what I now know to be my penultimate attempt, at 12:05, figuring that lunchtime would probably be a busy time for them but hey, I just need lenses, it's a quick transaction. I strode. I looked with mounting anger at the hand-lettered sign: "back at 1pm". I strode out. I may have shot some people on the way out.

On Wednesday at 10am I strode back. And he was there! I requested lenses. He gravely and at some length inspected my prescription. He gravely and at some length informed me in a sweet, very polite Southern tone that while he was wearing a white coat, he was not a doctor and could not sell me lenses. The doctor, he said, comes at 1:30. I was about ready to shout, but he must have sensed it (I don't believe anybody has shouted here since 1776) and allowed as the doctor did have another place of business and was there now. I exercised great restraint and did not execute him. I strode, I drove. The doctor, in a sweet, polite, somewhat incoherent Southern accent, made conversation at length about my accent, my nationality, the fact that he had once met a New Zealander in the 60s, asked in detail about the future of the mill, glanced briefly at my prescription and said "we don't have any in stock, we'll have to order them in, it'll be a couple of days. But here are some other ones you can wear until then". And handed over a dusty pair of odd-branded lenses, in blatant contravention of the laws of Arkansas which forbid me from wearing anything other than Acuvue Advance II .

But I strode away happy, because at some point in the next few days a small box will arrive in the mail, and I will be able to see again.

This, gentle reader, if you're still here, is why America is still stuck in Iraq.

Thursday 15 May 2008

Done! Three weeks to go til I come home

Hello dear internet! The go-live is over and done with and I can finally exhale. Here's what my life has been about for the past little while: lots of tasks on whiteboards.

That's not very interesting to anyone outside of the project so here are some interesting things in the sky. Part one: I think this is called a "sundog". It's like a little segment of a rainbow, without the rest of it. Weird. Taken from an SUV doing 75mph down the freeway, so please excuse the lack of focus.

And this is a sunset outside t'mill, on the first day of the four-day cutover. The foreground flag is the Arkansas state flag. Not sure what the background one is, I don't think I've seen it before....

Yeah, that was lame. Sorry.

And in the odd few moments I've been able to snatch, I've been listening to a lot of American podcasts. The radio stations here aren't up to much so I'm getting my fill of NPR and Common Sense (really slow ugly site, but great podcast content) over the internet, same as always. Recommended listening!

I'm coming home on 3 June. If anyone wants me to bring any gadgets such as iPhones, they'd better let me know pretty soon....