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300 Seconds Episode #111: “My Coronavirus Story Part 5: Back to Irk”

NOTE: This is a transcript of a podcast for those with hearing difficulties, those that prefer to read, and those who would prefer to not hear the sound of my voice. 😉

Click here to listen to this episode!

You are listening to ‘300 Seconds with Eduardo Soliz,’ and this is episode number 111: “My Coronavirus Story Part 5: Back to Irk,” so let the 300 Seconds begin!

After being laid off from my job back in April, or a few episodes ago, as the case may be, I started looking for a new job online, and, as many of you Dear Listeners are aware, the pickings in 2020 are pretty slim.  As in-person job fairs are out of the question right now, I attended online virtual job fairs which were just as virtually terrible as the real-life ones, so score one for consistency.

From May to September, I had a total of three interviews including one of those awful virtual ones where you awkwardly record answers to questions into your webcam.  Fortunately, the third time was the charm, and thus, I started a new contract-to-maybe-there’s-possibly-a-chance-you-might-just-could-be-hired gig a few weeks ago.  It would be an understatement to say that I’ve had to make just a few life adjustments in going back to living a nine-to-five life.

The biggest and most immediate adjustment I had to make was to my sleeping habits.  In my effort to lose weight, I had been waking up early in order to go for a walk in the mornings.  But as the Texas summer got hotter and hotter, I shifted to walking in the evenings which of course, meant sleeping in.  According to Google Maps, my new office was about thirty miles away.  That meant that I had to wake up pretty early to make it to work on time.  Funny thing about me:  I don’t have trouble waking up early.  Once I hear my alarm, I’m up.  No problem there.  But as a night owl, going to bed early is something of a challenge.  So while I might be up at five-thirty in the morning, I won’t exactly be “up and at ‘em.”

Thus, a morning commute became a thing again, and of course, with a commute comes traffic.  I had to drive from one side of San Antonio to the other, so my commute was going to be thirty miles of suck regardless of which route I took.  I eventually settled into taking the route that presented the most opportunities to stop for breakfast along the way.  Being stuck in a traffic jam is much easier to deal with when you have a Breakfast on a Bun from Whataburger along for the ride.

My new job has me working in an office, so that means I have to ‘mask up’ every day.  Since my pandemic travels up to this point were limited to the grocery store and the occasional drive-thru window, I had been making do with a few cloth masks, or the occasional shop towel mask whenever those were in the wash.  I now needed enough masks so that I could wear a different one each day.  I also had to get masks with solid colors or patterns that would be office-appropriate.  Of course, in the process of doing so, I ended up buying one or two that fit too tight because I have a big head.  Another fun big head thing that I have to deal with was that some masks would begin to irritate my ears after several hours of wearing.  Fortunately, I improvised an ‘ear saver’ using a rubber band and a pair of paper clips.

If there is one thing that I definitely need at work, it’s coffee.  I rarely drink it outside of the office, but when it’s provided by the company, then I am more than happy to partake.  When working from home, I would enjoy an occasional cup of Nescafe to keep the neurons firing.  I don’t know if this is how the new office works or if this is a virus thing, but there isn’t any coffee available at the office.  There aren’t any vending machines where I can grab a soda, either, and at the risk of being ‘that guy:’ I CAN’T WORK UNDER THESE CONDITIONS. 

Where there’s a will, there’s a way, but Will’s not here so I have to solve my own problems.  I happen to have a mini-fridge that holds six cans of soda.  I’d purchased it during my days as a field technician, but that’s a story for another time.  In any case, problem solved!  Almost.  In the interest of watching my budget, I bought generic diet cola.  I quickly began to notice that I wasn’t feeling the caffeine boost that I was accustomed to getting from a soda in the afternoon; my metaphorical tail was still dragging after chugging one down.  I randomly checked the ingredients on the can one day and discovered, to my horror, that generic soda contained less than half the caffeine of the name brand stuff.  I guess that’s why it costs a buck and a quarter for a six-pack!

This has been 300 Seconds, the next episode will be posted after I set my alarm.  For more witty words written by me, visit Eduardo Soliz dot com, and I thank you for listening.  Be good, take care and God Bless.

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300 Seconds Episode #109: “My Coronavirus Story Part 4: The New Sort-of Kind-of Not-Quite Normal”

NOTE: This is a transcript of a podcast for those with hearing difficulties, those that prefer to read, and those who would prefer to not hear the sound of my voice. 😉

Click here to listen to this episode!

You are listening to ‘300 Seconds with Eduardo Soliz,’ and this is episode number 109: “My Coronavirus Story Part 4: The New Sort-of Kind-of Not-Quite Normal,” so let the 300 Seconds begin!

The week after the office I worked at closed, the city of San Antonio went on lockdown.  Thus, I had to adjust to not only working at home, but also to being at home nearly all of the time.  I am a bit of a homebody, so being stuck at home wasn’t that big of a deal, but it was still annoying to not be able to go anywhere. 

One of the first things I did was to designate the dinner table as my home office in a feeble effort to keep some division between my home and work life.  For the most part, it worked fairly well, since my dining room table had not been getting much use anyway.  The only problem that came up was that I quickly learned how uncomfortable it was to be sitting on my unpadded wooden dining room chairs for several hours.  I eventually abandoned the dining room table for a cubbyhole in the apartment, which, while offering less desk space, did have an office chair that was much more comfortable to sit in.

Like most folks, I didn’t own any masks when the pandemic started hitting home.  I figured that if nothing else, I would have to eventually go to the grocery store, so I thought it would be a good idea to get some masks and be a responsible member of the community.  Additional motivation was provided by the fact that I have a few boxes checked off on my ‘if you catch this, you’re in deep trouble’ bingo card.

After doing some searching, I ordered some masks online from independent makers, but I needed something to tide me over while those got made and shipped.  My first attempt was the ‘cut up an old t-shirt’ method.  That ended up being a spectacular failure because I have a big head topped with a mass of thick curly hair.  Even working with a size double-XL shirt, I was unable to get it completely around my 23 and a half inch melon.  I’m also not the best with scissors, so there’s a pretty strong chance that I cut the pattern the wrong way.  I eventually found a bandana from high school that worked until I bought a roll of shop towels and made my own with staples and rubber bands.  Eventually the masks I ordered did arrive, and yes they did have animal prints on them.

Naturally, I have to mention the toilet paper thing.  Holy cats, if I live to be a hundred years old I will never understand what the hey that business was all about.  Fortunately for me, I live alone and my digestive system is fairly regular, so I don’t use too much, I don’t think.  That said, I didn’t want to be caught off guard, so I started keeping track of how long certain things, like toilet paper, lasted.  Originally, I was concerned with how long a roll of toilet paper, a bottle of hand soap, and a tank full of gasoline would last.  Gasoline wouldn’t have come to mind, but San Antonio flipped its collective lid back in 2017 and caused a shortage after Hurricane Harvey out of self-induced hysteria.  I was pleased to discover that a roll of toilet paper and a twelve-ounce bottle of hand soap each lasted about three weeks.   I was also happy to discover I was getting two months to a tank of gas in my Honda CR-V because I was only driving to the grocery store.  At one point I did have to hunt for toilet paper for a friend who was running low.  Lucky for her, I was fortunate enough to find some and save the day. 

A nice habit that I picked up during this time was walking to the nearby dollar store to pick up things in between my main grocery store trips.  At first, the pleasant weather of late March and April made for some nice afternoon walks, but as the Texas summer started to do its thing, those trips got pushed further and further into the evening until eventually I would wait until after sundown to head out.

Of course, once I was done with work, I had to do something for entertainment, so I’ve been watching movies from my DVD and Blu-ray collection, and even picking up a few new ones to while the evenings away.  I’ve actually been keeping track of what I’ve been watching, and I’m up to about eighty movies so far, not counting repeated viewings of Casino and Goodfellas.  I’ve also gone through all the original cast Star Trek and the first series of Batman movies.  I think I’ll try Star Wars next, but I’m not sure how far I want to go with those.  I recently reactivated my NetFlix account and have enjoyed the new shows that my friends have been talking about, like BNA, Beastars, and Warrior Nun.

Except for going to the grocery store or to restaurants and fast food joints for take-out, I spend all my time at home.  As I’m sure many of you will also attest, the days began to blur together.  Weekends suddenly became meaningless, because there was nothing happening to look forward to.  No comic cons, no camping trips, no local theme park visits, no casino trips, not even a trip to the mall. Instead, Saturdays and Sundays became the days that I didn’t sign into my work laptop…yippee.

And, as fate would have it, not long after I got settled into that new normal, it was thrown out of the window after I got laid off.  If you’d like to hear the gory details, you can go back two episodes.  Suddenly, instead of sitting at my work laptop hunting for trouble tickets to work on, the better part of my day was now filled with absolutely nothing!  

This has been 300 Seconds with Eduardo Soliz, the next episode will be posted after I mail back my work laptop.  Subscribe via your favorite app, and visit Eduardo Soliz dot com for more wonderfully weird words written by me!  As always, I thank you for listening! 

Be Good, Take Care, and God Bless.

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Super-Short Storytime: “The Best Job in The World”

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Welcome to Super-Short Storytime, Dear Listeners!  I am Eduardo Soliz, the author and narrator of the splendidly short story that you are about to hear.

My unhappiness towards my nine-to-five (and my willingness to share it) has gotten to the point where it has become a character trait over the years.  But I’m not here to tell how you about much I hate my job.  Instead, let me tell you a story about a guy that does enjoy his work.  This work-related writing is called: “The Best Job In The World“

A middle-aged man wearing black slacks and a white button-down shirt stood in front of a row of vending machines.  He wore an identification card that bore the logo of the Prehistoric World theme park and “Bernard Olson, Accounting” in bold letters underneath that.  Bernard idly jingled some change in his right hand while he looked from one machine to the next, carefully considering his options.

“Hey buddy, could you give me a hand, here?”  A man’s voice said to his right.  Bernard turned to answer and quickly jumped back upon seeing a six and a half foot tall mountain lion standing next to him.  His shock quickly turned to relief when he realized that it was a person wearing a costume.

“Oh!  You frightened me. ” Bernard said.  Bernard hummed to himself as he looked for an identification card on his costumed coworker, who wore a T-shirt with the name “Pappy Puma” on it.  Bernard was fairly certain that wasn’t his real name.

After a moment, the mountain lion noticed his confusion and said:  “Oh!  Sorry about that.  I’m Jay.”

“My name is Bernard,” Bernard said quietly.  He gingerly shook the large paw that Jay offered.

Jay continued: “If you could help me out, that would be awesome, Bernard.  My usual helper is in the infirmary.  She’s new to the area and hasn’t gotten used to our wonderful Texas summers yet.” 

Bernard nervously looked around to see if there was anyone else nearby that could help in his place.

“Come on, man.  I ain’t gonna bite you.” Jay pleaded.

Bernard sighed.  “Okay.  What do you need me to do?”  He asked.

“Help me get this head off.  Go around me and unzip the zipper that’s at the back of my neck.”  Jay said.  He dropped to one knee so that Bernard could more easily reach it.

“Okay.”  Bernard said.  He walked over behind Jay, and looked at the back of his head.  He saw a seam running down the back and followed it to its end, where he saw a zipper’s metal tab sticking out.  He grabbed the zipper and slowly pulled it up.  Before Bernard had the zipper opened completely, Jay reached up and pulled the mask forward to remove it. 

“Whew.  That’s better.”  Jay said, relieved.  Bernard walked around to face him and stared for a moment.  Jay was wearing a tight-fitting hood on his head made out of some synthetic material.  Only his face, which was red from the heat, was exposed.  Jay took the head off and carefully placed it on the floor next to his gym bag.

“What’s that thing on your head?” Bernard asked, motioning at his head with his hands.

Jay looked at him for a moment before realizing what he was referring to.  “Oh, the hood?  It’s to keep sweat from getting into my eyes and stuff.  I’m wearing underclothes made out of the same material, but it can only do so much, you know?”

Bernard nodded in acknowledgement.

“Could you help me get one of these paws off?” Jay asked.  “They’re held on by some snaps that are underneath the seam.  I could use my teeth, but the folks in the costume department wouldn’t appreciate that.”  He extended his right arm towards Bernard, who removed the paw and examined it.  Meanwhile, Jay used his now-free hand to remove the other paw and set it on top of his costume’s head.

Bernard peered inside of the paw and quickly drew his face back when he noticed the moisture and the smell coming from it.  “Goodness, that’s a lot of sweat.”  He observed.

“Yup.   Such is the price of fame.” Jay quipped.  He was hunched over his gym bag searching inside for something.

“It looks like you have a difficult job, having to wear this all day.” Bernard pondered.  “I don’t think that I could do it.”  He bent over and carefully placed the costume hand atop of the other one.

“The positives ultimately outweigh the negatives, my friend.” Jay said.  He pulled a wallet out of the gym bag, opened it, took out a few bills, then dropped it back into the bag.  He stood up, walked over to one of the vending machines and bought a sports drink.

“What positives?”  Bernard asked.  “You walk around outside in that heavy suit all day, get pushed, kicked and well, abused by children, and I can’t imagine that you get paid very well.  No offense intended.”

“None taken.”  Jay replied before taking a swig of his drink.  “And yeah, all of what you said is true.  Those are the negatives.  So let me give you some positives:  It’s fun to interact with the kids.  As far as they’re concerned, I really am a big cat.  I get to snarl and meow and purr and be silly and goofy.  Sure, some of them will push and kick and shove and cry, but they always walk away happy, and that makes me happy, too.

You know what most people make at their jobs, Bernard?  Money.  That’s it.  Nothing else.  Do we need it?  Of course we do, that’s the world we live in.  But there’s nothing really unique about money.  A smart man once sang that ‘money talks, but it don’t sing and dance and it don’t walk.’  Money isn’t special.  It’s as common as the dirt on the ground.  Just because other folks  have more doesn’t make it any less true.

But the smile on a child’s face, the laughter of parents and grandparents as they take a picture, even the dumb giggling coming out of a bunch of nutty college kids.  Those things are special.  Those are the things that people remember.  Sure, lots of other people might make more money than I do, but I make memories.  I have the best job in the world because my job is to make people happy.”

“Wow.  I never thought of it like that.” Bernard said, surprised.  His tone became sad as he continued:  “It certainly sounds more enjoyable than my job.  I just sit at a desk all day and crunch numbers.”

“Yeah, but your job is important, too, Bernard.  If you don’t crunch all those numbers, we don’t get paid, right?”  Jay said with a smile.  “Sorry for rambling  like that, Bernard.  I guess I’ll head over to the locker room and get out of this suit.”

“Oh, so your day is over?”  Bernard asked.

“Without a handler, it is.”  Jay explained.  “The costume head severely limits my vision, so I have to have a handler nearby to help me get around, keep an eye out for kids and to make sure that we don’t stay outside for too long, but unless Angela gets out of the infirmary soon, I’m done for the day.”

“Now that’s unfortunate.”  Bernard said.  He checked his watch.  “There are still several hours until the park closes.”

“Well, them’s the breaks.” Jay mused.  He started to gather his things together.  “It’s been good talking to you, man.  Thanks for the assist.”

“Wait a second.  What if I was your handler?” Bernard asked.

“Huh. I’d appreciate the assist, but won’t you get in trouble?” asked Jay.

“It’ll be okay.  Besides, I can always make more money tomorrow.” Bernard said.

“That’s the spirit!  Come on, Bernie, let’s go make some memories!” Jay exclaimed.  With smiles on their faces and springs in their steps, the pair headed off to ‘work.’

THE END.

It may be cliche to say that “money isn’t everything,‘ Dear Listeners, but that doesn’t make it any less true for some folks.  Personally, I would love to have a job where I make something besides money, but for now, money will have to do.  This has been Super-Short Storytime!  If you’d like me to tell your story, send an email to edsoliz@gmail.com

Thank you for listening!  Be Good, Take Care, and God Bless.

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300 Seconds with Eduardo Soliz, Episode #107: “My Coronavirus Story Part 3: Laid Off”

NOTE: This is a transcript of a podcast for those with hearing difficulties, those that prefer to read, and those who would prefer to not hear the sound of my voice. 😉

Click here to listen to this episode!

If you are looking for a professional voice to represent your business, your organization, or yourself, send me an email at edsoliz@gmail.com.

And now, on with the show:

You are listening to ‘300 Seconds with Eduardo Soliz,’ and this is episode number 107, “My Coronavirus Story Part 3, Laid Off,” so let the 300 Seconds begin!

April the 30th of this miserable year of 2020 was just another day at home in this weird time that is both very interesting and yet uninteresting at the same time.  The company I work at had closed all of its offices back in mid-March as the nation started trying to come to grips with the pandemic.  My job, as a deskside technician, was to be the ‘boots on the ground’ in the San Antonio office, but now that the office had been closed, my workdays consisted of sitting at my dining room table on my work laptop hunting through open incidents for something to do.  Thanks to the lock-down, the number of remote techs working from home had multiplied five-fold, so the pickings were very slim.

A fellow tech had posted a ticket into our group chat asking for help, so I seized the opportunity and raised my virtual hand. I had been hired in December and there was still a lot that I didn’t know.  Thus, I began searching through the knowledge base so I that wouldn’t be flying completely blind when I got in touch with the customer.

I had barely started to read the first article when the message: “Do you have time for a call?” popped up on my screen.  I frowned at my dumb luck.  Of course, the boss has to ping me the one time that I actually had something to do.  But, you know, he’s the boss, so I replied:  “Sure, I have time.” 

“Okay, I’m sending a meeting request.”

I logged onto the video chat to find my boss and two other people that I had never met before on my screen.

My Spidey-sense started tingling.  The first thought that popped in my head was:  This is it, I’m being let go.  In my mind, the two newcomers were the online equivalent of someone bringing a security guard with a cardboard box to your desk.

Once my boss introduced the pair of morose-looking gentlemen as being from Human Resources, my internal estimate of whether I was about to be let go from my job went from ninety-nine percent to one hundred.   The only question now was going to be whether I was going to be laid off or fired. 

The HR guys introduced themselves; one of them said that he was sorry we were meeting for the first time under these circumstances.  I almost cracked a joke about this being the last time we were meeting, too. I kinda wish I had.  Maybe it would have lightened the mood a little.  Then again, it may have also made the unfortunate proceedings about to happen even more awkward.  I chose to be a professional and held my tongue, which was probably the smarter thing to do.

After introducing them, my boss pretty much let the HR guys take over the meeting.  He didn’t even bother looking into the camera, which was off to the side of his PC.  I later found out that I wasn’t the only person to be let go, so perhaps he was setting up those meetings as well.  I can’t say I envied him having that job, but at least he still had one.

Having been fired before as well as having been part of a mass layoff, I knew what was coming.   We’re very sorry it had to come to this.  Business needs.  This wasn’t planned in advance.  Blah blah blah.  The only part I was interested in was whether I was being laid off or fired.  I did a Mr. Spock eyebrow-raise at what I thought were some questionable statements, such as:

This is about business needs, which translates to: This is about saving money.  That statement would have gone over better if I hadn’t had to sit in on an hour-long presentation with our CFO just the day before where he mentioned that the company was doing fairly well in spite of the lockdown.  Yeah, that definitely does not computer.

This wasn’t planned in advance: Yeah, I don’t buy this for a second, especially given that it was a large company.  Large companies never do anything quickly.  It had been a month and a half since the office had closed down, and I wonder if there was some threshold they were waiting to hit before dropping the axe.  If that statement was true, a company that just drops people at the drop of a hat isn’t the kind of company I want to work for.  Granted, that issue seems to have taken care of itself, but still. 

There were also a whole mess of things involving health insurance that I won’t go into here because this is 300 seconds and not 600.  For those interested, the gory details of that mess are posted on my blog at Eduardo Soliz dot com.

Near the end of that whole sad affair, I was told to not mention anything to my coworkers, because others were going to be let go as well.  Sure.  A box would be shipped out so that I could return my work laptop and charger.  I also had an access card for the office and a skeleton key, so I offered to get in touch with my local manager to return those items to her.  I was told: “I know it sounds silly, but put those things in the box and mail them over to Milwaukee.”  In my mind I thought: That doesn’t sound silly. It sounds stupid.  But, I didn’t fight it.

The meeting done with, began to clean up the improvised home workspace that would go back to being my dining room table.  I quickly discovered that my work access had been revoked, so score one for efficiency.

I sighed, logged out of my work laptop for the last time, and then came to an unfortunate realization:

I had forgotten to reassign that ticket.  Oh well.

This has been 300 Seconds, the next episode will be posted after I visit the job websites.  For more witty words written by me, visit Eduardo Soliz dot com, and I thank you for listening.  Be good, take care and God Bless.

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300 Seconds with Eduardo Soliz, Episode #106: “Weight off my shoulders, my stomach, my legs, and so on…”

NOTE: This is a transcript of a podcast for those with hearing difficulties, those that prefer to read, and those who would prefer to not hear the sound of my voice. 😉

Click here to listen to this episode!

You are listening to ‘300 Seconds with Eduardo Soliz,’ and this is episode number 106, “Weight off my shoulders, my stomach, my legs, and so on” so let the 300 Seconds begin!

I like to joke that going to the doctor feels like going to confession, because in both instances you have to own up to your sins.  Actually, seeing the doctor is worse, because the doctor knows what you did or didn’t do.  After all, the numbers on the scale and on your lab results don’t lie.  Thus, all you can do is suck it up and own to all the sins that you have committed towards yourself since your previous visit.  Penance is optional, but there is no absolution to be found until you get your act together. 

After my latest less-than-pleasant checkup, I finally decided to get more serious about losing more weight.  For years my weight had hovered around two hundred and seventy-five pounds, topping out at two hundred and eighty a few  years back.  Thanks to a change in medication, I’d gotten it down to two hundred and forty five, but clearly, we still had more work to do.

I used to be a programmer and I’m a numbers guy, so I decided to go all in and use the FitBit app to keep track of everything.  First my activity, or lack thereof: I’d been using a FitBit for a while to track my steps, trying my best to get 8,000 steps a day.  Yes, I know that should be ten thousand but I do computer nerd things for a living, so come on, man.

I had been concentrating on the number of steps; doing a twenty minute walk in the morning around my apartment complex and maybe a lap or two in the evening if I was short of my step goal.  I decided that counting steps was not enough and that I needed to do a sustained workout.  I started doing a half hour walk around the neighborhood every morning.  In addition to the increased distance, the roads had some ups and downs which required a little more effort than the relatively flat apartment roads.  Suddenly, reaching my step goal didn’t require too much additional effort.

Next was weight, so I bought a smart scale.  It’s one of those fancy ones that also estimates your body fat percentage.  I was already in the habit of weighing myself every morning, but syncing the scale with the app required less effort than typing everything into Excel and it also made it easier to see patterns.  Also, I hate Excel, but that’s a topic for another time. Of course, that first weigh-in was pretty eye-opening; while I wasn’t overly surprised by how much I weighed, the body fat percentage was definitely an unpleasant surprise.

Finally, and most importantly, my diet. I set up a weight loss goal using the FitBit app and picked up a kitchen scale so that I could start practicing some portion control.  As I’m sure most of y’all can relate to; this was the hardest part.

I don’t know what it’s called, but I’m sure there’s a name for the psychological thing where you delude yourself into thinking “Oh, I’m not doing that bad” when in fact you are doing AWFUL.  Once I actually saw how many calories the things that I loved to eat contained, my first thought was: GEEZ, NO WONDER I CAN’T LOSE ANY WEIGHT.  I then started weighing my portions and thinking really hard about where and what I would eat on those now-fewer occasions when I would order take-out.

Armed with all the data I that needed, all I had to do now was execute my  plan, and I won’t lie, it wasn’t easy at the start.  Living in South Texas meant waking up early to avoid the summer heat, and it was a struggle during that first week, especially since I’ve been out of work these last few months.  The walk itself isn’t too bad, and I even went as far as to lengthen it by taking a lap around the apartment complex to start off.  So I don’t get burned out, I take it easy on the weekends by walking just around the apartment complex like I used to.

Now getting a handle on my eating was definitely hard.  What I’m eating hasn’t really changed a whole lot, but what has changed is how much.  With a few exceptions, if I want to get take-out now, I have to adjust my diet for the rest of the day so I don’t completely destroy my calorie goal.  Because the FitBit app sets a goal based on your activity level, that goal fluctuates throughout the day.  The app also tries to guess how many calories you’re burning when you aren’t exercising, but I think it overestimates that part.  Either way, I’m learning to adjust as time goes on now that I’m armed with all the information.

It has been a month and change since I started this plan and so far I have lost over ten pounds. I’ve also been feeling better overall.  Things being what they are right now in the time of coronavirus, I am fortunate to be able to devote the time to exercise and measure what I eat and so on and so forth. I’m pretty happy with how things are going right now.  The next challenge is going to be maintaining these good habits once life inevitably returns to something resembling normal.

You know, I think I might actually be looking forward to my next trip to confession!

This has been 300 Seconds with Eduardo Soliz, the next episode will be posted after I think  really hard about what I’m going to have for dinner.  For more podcasts, check out my website at Eduardo Soliz dot com, and I thank you for listening.  Be good, take care and God Bless.

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300 Seconds with Eduardo Soliz, Episode #105: “My Coronavirus Story Part 2- Work From Home?”

NOTE: This is a transcript of a podcast for those with hearing difficulties, those that prefer to read, and those who would prefer to not hear the sound of my voice. 😉

Click here to listen to this episode!

You are listening to ‘300 Seconds with Eduardo Soliz,’ and this is episode number 105, “My Coronavirus Story Part Two: Work From Home?” so let the 300 Seconds begin!

I am a creature of habit.  As such, I like routines, especially when it comes to my job.  Wake up at a certain time, go for a walk, take a shower, get dressed, have breakfast, drive to the office, drink coffee, fix stuff, drink coffee, have lunch, drink some more coffee, fix some more stuff and then drive home.  Monday through Friday, five days out of the week, that is my work life and I’m fine with it.  I don’t do quite as well with open-ended jobs where I am left to my own devices without an overarching plan of some sort, but that’s a topic for another time. 

Monday, March the 16th was my first full week of working from home following the shutdown of our offices the previous week (and the previous episode) so I had to create a new routine to settle into.  I set my work laptop up on the dinner table and dedicated that space to be my ‘home office’ for the time being.  Like everything else in life, the new normal that I settled into had its ups and downs.  One immediate improvement was that since I no longer had a commute, that time that I was spending on the road could be put to better use in bed sleeping.  Not having to wear pants or even a polo shirt was also nice.  The biggest downsides of working from home were the lack of human contact and the blurring of lines between home life and work life.  I’m one of these people who likes to use a giant metaphorical Sharpie to draw a big thick metaphorical line between my home life and my work life.  I will say that having a dedicated work area away from my personal space helped immensely.  After all, even before we were forced to isolate, the dining room table didn’t get much use.

My new routine quickly became: wake up, go for a walk, take a shower, get dressed, have breakfast, sit at the dining room table, log into my work laptop, have a cup of coffee, wait for things to happen, have lunch, sign in to our afternoon meeting, wait for things to happen again, and then log out of the laptop.  There wasn’t much work to do for reasons I’ll go into in a moment.

But first, I have to bring up our daily meetings.  Holy cats, those daily meetings sucked.  Over the course of my 20+ year career, daily meetings have always sucked.  Inevitably, they turn into the same thing every day and they usually go away in favor of weekly meetings which eventually go away to monthly meetings, which eventually die out completely.  Our daily meetings got dull to the point where our supervisor flat-out told us that he didn’t even care for them, but we had to have them because the home office said so.  Thus, every day we all spent the better part of five or ten minutes looking at our screens waiting for somebody else to bring up a question or issue that hadn’t already been bought up in our team chat.  It rarely happened.

Another thing that rarely happened was actual work.  We had a small team of techs that handled remote issues over the phone.  It was very rare that we in-person techs had to pick up their slack because they were always on the ball.  But with everyone working from home, we now had four to five times as many techs now handling the same number of remote issues.  At first, there was work to do helping folks, particularly the staff members, get their work from home setups established, but once that was over with the amount of work available to everyone dried up considerably.  We were stuck hunting for open tickets in the system and occasionally asking if there were things we could help with in chat and during our daily meetings. 

The days turned into weeks, and with no end to the pandemic on the horizon, I couldn’t help but wonder how long this state of affairs would last.  I would get an answer to that question at the end of April, and you’ll get the answer in the next episode.

This has been 300 Seconds with Eduardo Soliz, the next episode will be posted after I make a cup of coffee.  Subscribe via your favorite app, and visit Eduardo Soliz dot com for more wonderfully weird words written by me!  I am Eduardo Soliz and I thank you for listening!  Be Good, Take Care and God Bless.

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300 Seconds with Eduardo Soliz, Episode #104: “My Coronavirus Story: The Fiesta’s Over”

NOTE: This is a transcript of a podcast for those with hearing difficulties, those that prefer to read, and those who rather prefer to not hear the sound of my voice. 😉

Click here to listen to this episode on Podomatic.com!

You are listening to ‘300 Seconds with Eduardo Soliz,’ and this is episode number one hundred and four: “My Coronavirus Story: The Fiesta’s Over,” so let the 300 Seconds begin!

For me, the whole coronavirus business started with an e-mail that dropped into my inbox one afternoon in mid-March, which now seems so long ago.  My job at the time was being the computer tech at a local night school.  The campus was small and the people there were nice, so it was a pretty cushy gig.  Except for the weirdo night school schedule and having to work the occasional Saturday, it would have been the perfect job, but that’s a conversation for another time.

I was aware of the coronavirus situation, though not a whole lot had changed for me personally; the security guard would spend time each day sanitizing door latches with Lysol and I had started sanitizing the keyboards and mice that were in the classrooms.  The week before, there had been a bit of a stir when one of the folks in quarantine at Lackland Air Force Base had gone to a local mall before testing positive for the virus, resulting in the mall shutting down for deep cleaning.  I remember Mayor Nirenberg having lunch at that mall after the reopening to reassure the public that all was well; I had actually gone to the same mall for lunch that day and joked to my friends about missing him.  While at the mall, I asked the gal at the register if things had slowed own and she gave a resounding yes with no hesitation whatsoever.

Otherwise, Thursday, March the 12th of 2020 was just another day at the office for me keeping computers, projectors, servers, staff, and professors up and running.  Sometime after lunch, the e-mail that would change everything arrived.  That night’s classes would be the final one of the session because all campuses were closing down.  From here on out, classes would be online only and everyone would be working from home.  That meant that folks had to gather up laptops, docks, monitors, keyboards, mice and pretty much anything else they might need to work from home.  The email mentioned that the closure would be through the end of the month, though I quickly heard rumors that the closure would last though the end of April.

My day became much more interesting after that. All I had to do to prepare for working from home was pack my work laptop and the professors were already accustomed to working from home.  That left campus staff who came to me asking for extra cables, headsets, mice, monitors and even a few docking stations.  After I took care of them, I began packing up the personal items that I had in my office.  That took some time, because as office workers are oft to do, I had accumulated quite a few things.  My Spidey-sense told me that I would not be coming back for a while, so I packed everything up.  Of course, at the time, nobody had any idea of how bad things were going to get.

The next day, March the thirteenth, was a sad and crazy day in San Antonio both at the same time.  Speculation had been circulating that Fiesta, the Alamo City’s 17-day long celebration of Texas independence, would be cancelled, and on that day, it was.  I honestly believe that the majority of folks in San Antonio did not take the coronavirus seriously until Fiesta was cancelled.  I say this because I decided to take a trip to HEB during my lunch break for a few things and it was INSANE.  The closest parking spot was in front of the store next door, and upon stepping inside, I was greeted by a mob of people with full shopping carts lined up all the way to the back of the store.  I quickly left upon seeing this and went to another store that wasn’t quite as packed.

I spent that workday logged into my work laptop monitoring queues and chats, waiting for something to happen.  It didn’t.

Ready or not, The New Normal was here to stay; it was just a matter of how long it was going to last.  It would turn to be longer than I had hoped and also shorter than I had expected.  You’ll see what I mean in the next episode.

This has been 300 Seconds with Eduardo Soliz, the next episode will be posted after I double-check on my stock of toilet paper.  Subscribe via your favorite app, and visit Eduardo Soliz dot com for more words written by me!  I am Eduardo Soliz and I thank you for listening!

Be Good, Take Care and God Bless.

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Laid Off

Person in a bear costume sitting at a dinner table behind a laptop. He is wearing a yellow polo shirt and holding a coffee mug with the words "What's the Rush?" on it.

Working beary hard!

I was spending another day at home in this weird time that is both interesting and yet uninteresting. The company I work at had closed all of its offices back in mid-March as the nation started coming to grips with the pandemic. My job, as a deskside technician, was to be the ‘boots on the ground’ in the San Antonio office. Now that the office had been closed, my workdays consisted of sitting at my dining room table on my work laptop hunting through open incidents for something to do. Thanks to the lock-down, the number of remote techs working from home had multiplied five-fold, so the pickings were very slim.

A fellow tech had posted a ticket into our group chat asking for help, so I raised my virtual hand and seized the opportunity. I had been hired in December, so there was still a lot that I didn’t know. Thus, I began searching through our knowledge base so I wouldn’t be flying completely blind.

I had barely started to read the first article I had found, when the message: “Do you have time for a call?” popped up on my screen. It was from my boss.  I frowned at my dumb luck. Of course, the boss has to ping me the one time that I actually had something to do. But he’s the boss, so I replied: “Sure, I have time.”

“Okay, I’m sending a meeting request.” He replied.

What I call ‘Eduardo’s dumb luck’ kicked in again as my boss’ video chat request kept popping up on my phone instead of on my laptop. We use Microsoft Teams, and as much as I like Microsoft, their software seems to get squirrely as all heck once it’s running on something that isn’t Windows. After five awkward minutes of me sending “No, I can’t connect to the meeting” to my boss while walking around my home looking the cellular sweet spot that I hoped would make it start working on my phone, my laptop suddenly became cooperative. I joined the chat to find my boss and two other people that I had never met before on my screen.

My Spidey-sense started tingling. The first thought that popped in my head was: This is it, I’m being let go. To me, the newcomers were the online equivalent of a security guard carrying a cardboard box showing up at your desk.

Once my boss introduced the pair of morose looking gentlemen as being from Human Resources, my internal estimate of whether I was about to be let go went from ninety-nine percent to one hundred.   The only question now was going to be whether I was going to be laid off or fired.

The HR guys introduced themselves; one of them said that he was sorry we were meeting for the first time under these circumstances. I almost cracked a joke about this being the last time we were meeting, too. I wish I had. Maybe it would have lightened the mood a little. Then again, it may have also made the unfortunate proceedings even more awkward. I chose to be a professional and held my tongue.

After the introduction, my boss pretty much let the HR guys take over the meeting.  He didn’t even bother looking into the camera, which was off to the side of his PC. Whatever was happening on his screen had his full attention; I later found out that I wasn’t the only person to be let go, so perhaps he was setting up those meetings as well. I can’t say I envied him having that job, but at least he still had one.

Having been fired before as well as having been part of a mass layoff, I knew what was coming. We’re very sorry it had to come to this. Business needs. This wasn’t planned in advance. Blah blah blah. The only part I was interested in was whether I was being laid off or fired. I did a Mr. Spock eyebrow-raise at what I thought were some questionable statements, such as:

This is about business needs, which translates to: This is about saving money. That statement would have gone over a lot better if I hadn’t had to sit in on an hour long presentation from our CFO the day before where he mentioned that the company was doing fairly well in spite of the lockdown. Yeah, that does not computer at all.

This wasn’t planned in advance: I don’t buy this for a second, especially given that it was a large company. Large companies never do anything quickly. It had been a month and a half since the office closure, and I wonder if there was some threshold they were waiting to hit. Even if that statement was true, a company that just drops people at the drop of a hat isn’t the kind of company I want to work for. Granted, that issue seems to have taken care of itself, but still.

They then started talking about health insurance, which is super-important for me. I found it interesting that the HR guys bought up COBRA (probably a requirement) but they didn’t bring up signing up for health care though the Affordable Care Act. Granted, I’m already aware of both, but not bringing up the ACA is doing a disservice to people. COBRA premiums are insanely expensive and in my experience, the ACA provided good coverage at a much lower cost. When I needed temporary health insurance last year when in between jobs, the cost of an unsubsidized ACA plan premium and my medications combined were lower than the COBRA premium by itself.  So if you are staring down the barrel of a crazy expensive COBRA payment, do yourself a favor and look into the ACA at healthcare.gov.

Finally, as someone who takes medication regularly for a chronic condition, being let go on the last day of a month was an extremely lousy thing to do, because it meant I had to immediately request refills and pray they were ready before my coverage ran out at the end of the day. Otherwise, I was going on the hook for a few hundred dollars. If this spiel is coming off as a little angry, that’s why.

Near the end of that whole sad affair, I was told to not mention anything to my coworkers, because others were also going to be let go. Sure. A box would be shipped out so that I could return my work laptop and charger. I also had an access card for the office and a skeleton key, so I offered to get in touch with my manager to return those items. I was told that to return those items with the laptop to the home office in Milwaukee, even though ‘we know it sounds redundant.’ In my mind I thought: That doesn’t sound redundant. That sounds stupid. But I didn’t fight it.

My last work meeting over with, I requested refills from my pharmacy (another painful experience that I won’t go into here) and began to clean up the improvised home workspace that would go back to being my dining room table. About an hour later, I heard a message ping come from the laptop. One of my now-former coworkers had also been let go and had sent a good-bye message to the group in chat. I figured that the cat was out of the bag, so I should probably send one too. Later, after cleaning up, I discovered that my access to work chat and email had already been revoked. Score one for efficiency. I sighed, closed my work laptop for the last time and then came to an unfortunate realization:

I had forgotten to reassign the ticket.

Oh well.

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Super-Short Storytime: “Future Service”

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Welcome to Super-Short Storytime, literature listeners and audio aficionados!  I am Eduardo Soliz, the creator and narrator of the wonderfully weird story that you are about to hear. 

This story was influenced by my time spent working in customer service.  As much as I’d like to ‘get over it’ and move on, the general public have provided me with WAY too much story material in order for me to do so.   I call this cursory client conversation: “Future Service”

“Your call is very important to us, sir, and a technical support representative will be on the line with you shortly.” a female voice said over the communicator.

“Yeah, really important, that’s why I’ve been on hold for fifteen minutes…” the caller muttered as he paced back and forth.

“I apologize, sir.  Is there anything I can do for you while we wait?  Is there anything you would like to talk about?” asked the voice on the phone.

“No, that’s fine.” The caller said.  He stopped his pacing as he came to an unpleasant realization. “Wait, have you been on the line all this time?” he asked.

“Yes, sir, it is our policy to never transfer customers to an automated system.” The rep replied with an air of pride. “We have learned that interacting with a live representative prior to speaking with a technical support specialist improves the overall customer experience.”

“So your job is to just sit there and talk to me?” The dumbfounded caller asked.

“Yes sir.” The woman replied.

“And you can’t do anything at all to get my problem fixed?” The caller said, his voice beginning to waver slightly.

The woman took on a condescending tone when she answered: “I’m afraid not, sir.  I am here to keep you company and ease your frustrations until a qualified technical support specialist becomes available, in about…” She paused as she checked her screen.  “Twenty minutes.  This new system has improved our efficiency and greatly improved customer satisfaction.  Are you still there, sir?”

“Yes.  So whenever I call this number, I will always get a person?”

“That is correct,” the woman cheerfully replied.

The android finally reached his breaking point.  He slammed a metal fist onto his dining room table and yelled into the communicator: “SO WHAT DO I HAVE TO DO TO GET A MACHINE AROUND HERE?!”

The End.

Like the old saying goes, you can’t make everybody happy.  Perhaps one day some company somewhere will perfect customer service over the phone.  Until then, we’ll have to “hold” on as best we can.

This has been Super-Short  Storytime!  Visit eduardo soliz dot com for more stories and free e-book downloads, and remember, listeners: Your call may be recorded for quality assurance, but that doesn’t mean it’ll be listened to!

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300 Seconds Episode #98: “Job Search Blues- Recruiters and Staffing Agencies”

Listen to the episode here!

You are listening to ‘300 Seconds with Eduardo Soliz,’ and this is episode number 98, “Job Search Blues: Recruiters and Staffing Agencies,” so let the 300 Seconds begin!

I will start off by saying that I’ve dealt with a bunch of recruiters over the course of my career.  Some good, some bad, and of course, a bunch in between.  Naturally, I consider the ones that got me a job “good ones” but at the same time there were a few that did a great job, even though ultimately, I didn’t end up getting the job.  Of course, I’ll be focusing on the more sucky ones because, well, that’s more entertaining, and after two months of being out of work, I’m starting to get just a little stir-crazy, so on with the show.

I’ve established that looking for a job online kinda sucks and job fairs kinda suck too.  Fortunately, you don’t have to go it alone!  There are companies and people out there that will be more than happy to help you find a job…sort of.

Oh, recruiting agencies and their recruiters.  If you’re online, you have have a pulse, and your work history is longer than five days, you’ve likely been e-mailed or called by a recruiter at some point in your career.  These overly enthusiastic people will talk to you like they’re your best friend.  Many are genuinely friendly, but at the same time, a lot them sound like car salesmen.

After introducing themselves, the recruiter will then ask if you are looking for a job.  If you answer yes, then they’ll tell you about position and requirements, and where it’s at, how much it pays and all that wonderful stuff.  Often, they’ll also send you an email with job details, and ask you to send back a current resume in response, and then you never ever, hear from them again, which kinda sucks.

It’s a lousy thing to do, it’s unprofessional, as well as a bunch of other mean things that I’d rather not say.  I need to say that I don’t know how these people work.  For all I know they’re calling fifty people a day and don’t have the time to call all them back to say ‘sorry, we don’t need you right now.’  I get that.  At the same time, I’m pretty sure there is some kind of computerized system keeping track of all this stuff.  If that computer would just send me an email saying : “Sorry, it didn’t work out,” that would be great.  On the rare occasion when a recruiter DOES keep in touch after the fact, I make sure to let them know that I appreciate their professionalism.  Sadly, that’s more the exception rather than the rule.

One thing that always throws me off is when I get multiple calls from different people at the same staffing agency within the same week.  Once again, I don’t know how things work at those places.  I don’t know if potential hires are assigned to a specific recruiter, but when that second guy or gal calls from the same recruiting agency, in my head I’m thinking: “Waitaminute, isn’t the first person already working with me?”  The conversation usually gets a little bit awkward after that.

It’s also fun when they don’t bother to check if you aren’t already in their system.  Had a fun talk with one of those lately.  What made that situation even more maddeing was that I had actually WORKED for that agency years ago.

Equally annoying is when the recruiter does not read your online profile and tries to submit you for a job that you are clearly not qualified for.  I have some interest in being a technical writer, so if an entry-level opportunity were to come about, or if someone was willing to give me a shot…HINT HINT…I’d take it.  I have to wonder, though, about a recruiter that submits me for a tech writer role that requires years of experience, even after I send them my resume that indicates very little actual tech writing experience.  Again, I don’t know how these people or these agencies work, so I wonder if they’re just trying to meet some quota when we go through those motions.

Lately, I’ve been getting a bunch of calls from recruiters that are from, to put it politely: “out of town.”  I’ve been contacted by so many of them, at this point that I could set my watch to the routine:  First, a phone call comes in from some random state.  I tend to not answer out-of-state calls, so after about a minute or so, I find a voicemail waiting for me.  Upon listening to the voicemail, I can very easily tell that the caller, to put it politely again, does not speak the language.  I will confess to taking particular delight at how these people stumble over and completely mangle my name.  I’ve gotten used to the gringo pronunciation of ‘Edwardo’ by now, but folks from a certain part of the world have no idea what to do with it.  By the time I have listened to the voice mail, and deleted it, an email will have popped into one of my accounts from that same person featuring poor grammar and a position I have absolutely no interest in.

I then block the phone number, report that email address as spam, and wait for the process to repeat itself.  Sorry guys, but no thanks, and I’d rather you not come again.

This has been 300 Seconds, the next episode will be posted after I add another phone number to the block list.  I am Eduardo Soliz, check out Eduardo Soliz dot com for more podcasts and short fiction, and I thank you for listening!

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