This is the day I said goodbye
This is the day you reached out to fly;
This is the day I let go of your hand
This is the day you alone would stand.

This is the day I wanted to weep
This is the day you were laid down to sleep;
This is the day I felt ever so numb
This is the day you showed me how to be strong.

This is the day I will never forget
This is the day you taught me to feel no regret;
This is the day I felt so much love
This is the day you shined down from above.

This is the day I said goodbye.


One Year Later

   Posted by: Michael Bernier   in Today's Reality, Tomorrow's Dreams, Yesterday's Memories

It has been a year since that fateful day
When your rapture came and you went away;
And in this time we have all come to see
The many things that were so special in thee:
Wisdom and talent that through the years
Earned you much admiration from your teachers and peers;
A quiet inner strength and a warrior’s heart
Were qualities that clearly set you apart;
But with ever a gentle and caring soul
That made one so young seem so old;
These memories of you we will cherish forever
Until our rapture comes and we are again together.

If you have been following my blog for the last few months, thank you. I really appreciate your taking the time to read my posts and share your comments and criticisms.

And, if you’ve been following my blog you should be familiar with my unsuccessful efforts to have cable Internet service installed in my house. Well, I decided to try again this morning. I have been wanting to contact the Cable One corporate office in Tucson, Arizona, but their website only lists a mailing address – no e-mail address or phone number (the number they do publish routes you to their local office). But, as it turns out, Cable One has a Facebook page, and being a Facebook user myself I decided I would try to post a note on their Wall and see if they would provide a response.

Because of Facebook’s text limitations, I had to post my note in two parts – an initial posting on their Wall, and then a comment attached to the posting. Here are the two parts of the note.

First, the Wall posting:

I’d like to ask Cable ONE to give me a REAL reason why my local office (Sherman, TX) will not provide service to my home. I’ve been trying for 10 YEARS to get service, my latest attempt a couple of months ago. I have neighbors 350 feet away from my house and a large subdivision bordering my property who’ve had service for several years, but when I ask for service I’m denied. The excuses I was given this time included “your house is set back too far from the street” (but not my neighbors), “we only construct cable where there is a housing density of at least 25 homes per square mile” (there’s a subdivision next door), and my favorite: “well, the cable has to end somewhere” (it ends on a pole in front of my property). They promised a technician would contact me and give me a detailed explanation… and I’m still waiting for that call. I don’t think I’ll ever hear from them, since there isn’t any technical reason preventing them from installing service.

And then, the comment I added on below the posting:

I wanted to e-mail or call someone at the corporate office to calmly discuss this matter, but they do not publish an e-mail address or a direct phone number — the only numbers they list point to local offices, and I’m through dealing with the one in Sherman (they do list a mailing address in Arizona, but since they’re pushing their Internet service you’d think they would at least have some sort of generic e-mail address?). So, I’m using the only other online outlet I can find.

I highly doubt this posting will stay up on FB very long; the last thing any company wants is someone ranting on a social network about their unsuccessful attempts to obtain service and the ridiculous excuses they were given for being denied.

At this point, if there’s anyone at Cable ONE who really cares about my request, I will be genuinely surprised. In the meantime, I guess I’ll stick with my AT&T satellite Internet service (crappy as it is, it’s still better than dialup).

As I had said in the comment, the complete posting did not stay up on their Wall for very long. Within an hour, the add-on comment had been deleted by their page moderator, and with it a response from another Facebook user (which I received via e-mail before it was deleted). Curiously, the original post stayed up… and even more curiously, someone from Cable ONE actually posted a response to it, asking me to send them a direct e-mail with contact information so they can follow up on my issue.

I sent an e-mail to the address they gave me, briefly detailing what I’ve been through over the past 10 years or so. A short time later I received the following response (I have removed the sender’s name):

Hi Michael,

Thank you for the detailed response and I am glad you contacted us on Facebook! We want to have another outlet for customers to talk to us, even if it isn’t always good news.

In addition, I am sorry if we deleted a post. It wasn’t intentional.  It’s only two of us that have administrative privileges and we rarely delete posts.  We have done it a couple times; let’s just say the posts and posters were memorable. Again, please accept our apologies.

I am forwarding your email to our Technical Operations Manager in Sherman with a request to contact you. If anyone can answer your question, he can. I hope we can work something out for you. We would love to have you as a customer.

Thank you. Please let me know if you have additional concerns.

That was certainly unexpected. Of course, now I have to wait and see if this local manager will actually contact me. Based on their previous track record, I’m not very hopeful. But, I’m willing to give them a chance… just like I have over and over again for the past 10 years.

And so the saga continues…


A New Honor

   Posted by: Michael Bernier   in Today's Reality, Yesterday's Memories

Tonight, I had the honor of presenting the first Stephen Bernier “Super Steve” award at the Denison High School’s annual Band Banquet. When I was first asked three weeks ago if I would be interested in making the presentation, I wasn’t sure if I could find the right words. But, because the band leadership was so keen on creating this new award and helping to keep Steve’s memory alive, I accepted the invitation and the challenge. I was given a list of the criteria used for determining who would win the award, and I used that as the basis for my speech. Two weeks later I had my first draft written, and earlier this week I made the final edits. After an exhausting series of run-throughs (and I do mean exhausting — I was up very, very late last night practicing), I felt I was ready.

The band had done all of the voting on who would receive this award. I had no hand in the decision process; all I did was approve their creating the award in the first place. I did not even know who was to receive it until I was told at the banquet tonight. When I was given the recipient’s name I was pleasantly surprised; it turned out to be one of Steve’s best friends and a fellow section leader.

When I was called up to make the presentation, I ran through the speech almost exactly as I had written it; but, I found myself using contractions and blending my sentences together a little bit during the delivery, and I even ad-libbed in a piece at the very end before I announced the recipient’s name. By all accounts, even with those minor differences I nailed the speech — there was nothing but positive comments, handshakes, and hugs afterward. In talking with several people at the banquet, I found they were interested in getting a copy of the speech; so, I promised I would post it here as soon as possible.

Well, here it is. This is the original text I had planned to speak; at the end, I will include the “ad-libbing” I did on the fly.

Good evening.

When Brandon (Head Drum Major Brandon Fisher) asked me a few weeks ago if I would make this presentation, I was very hesitant. I asked myself, “How could I possibly come up with words that were fitting and appropriate for such an honor?” I accepted his offer, still unsure of exactly what I was going to say. But, I knew that if I could walk into the band hall the afternoon after Steve’s accident and stand in that room full of people – in front of many of you – totally unprepared, and somehow manage to say something that was halfway intelligent, then having a few weeks’ notice would be more than enough time for me to find something to talk about tonight.

And, I have.

This award – the first of its kind, and hopefully not the last – recognizes a band member who, according to his or her peers, has displayed several of the qualities that our son lived every day: pride for band, integrity, leadership, and selflessness. I cannot think of a better time or place to present it, for this is one of the last times everyone in this band – Steve’s last band – will be together. And since it’s the first of its kind, I hope you don’t mind me taking a couple of minutes to talk about those qualities as they applied to Steve.

To say that Steve was proud to be in the band is a gross understatement. If there was one thing he absolutely loved heart and soul, it was playing in the band. He practiced whenever he seemed to get a free minute, and when he didn’t have time to play because of schoolwork he would still listen to band music. When he found a sheet music company that posted recordings online, ohh, it was like he’d reached Nirvana. The only down side to that was when he liked a particular piece he would play it over… and over… and over, to the point where I was ready to rip the speakers off his computer. But, he would have an expression on his face while he tapped along with the tune – a pleased, excited, happy look – that told me he was absorbed into the music, and that was something I didn’t dare try to take away from him. He was always critical of his own performances, and never stopped trying to improve himself and be a better band member. There were numerous times he’d run me out of my office so he could work on his SmartMusic lessons, and while it all sounded perfect to me, he would sometimes take an hour or more before he was satisfied with his work. We recognized his great devotion to music by having the image of a trumpet engraved on his headstone, and if you haven’t seen it I invite you to pay a visit to the cemetery and have a look. Hopefully it will make you smile the way it does for me every time I go there.

What comes to mind when you hear the word “integrity”? Most people think of things like honesty and truthfulness. It also means “to be consistent in one’s actions”, and when a person “has integrity” they are acting according to their beliefs. In other words, they always do what they say they’re going to do. Did you ever know Steve to not be that way? Around us he was no different – when he said he was going to do something, by golly he did, and Lord help you if you got in his way. He would frequently say his goals after high school were to attend Harvard, go into politics, and one day rule the world. He had started on a plan to reach them, too. First he was working to graduate at the top of his class, and he crammed his schedule with AP courses in his effort to get there. He even did something I never dreamed of doing – he actually studied for the PSAT. He never backed down from his plans, either; a few weeks after the funeral, when we got the results from the AP exams he took that spring, we found he had listed only one college to release his scores to – Harvard. Would he have ruled the world one day? We can only imagine…

For Steve, leadership came somewhat naturally to him. He always wanted to lead, starting with leading his brother around the house and deciding what they were going to play. As he got older, he tried his hand at leading in other ways. Did any of you know that he raised and showed goats in 4-H for five years? Well, he did, and one year he stepped up and became president of the Livestock Club. We were all very proud of his accomplishment, and he took his new title to heart. For one of the first meetings after he became president, he went through all the steps of preparing for it – he called all of the members to remind them of the meeting, he prepared an agenda, assembled his materials, and was ready to go…unfortunately, no one else showed up. You could tell he was hurt, but he didn’t let setbacks like that bother him for long…they just made him try harder. Many of you know how hard he worked to become a section leader, and when he learned he had been selected, it was one of the happiest times I’d ever seen him. He threw everything into preparing to be his best, too…attending the leadership clinics, organizing the section party at the lake, even buying the pizza and drinks for it out of his own pocket. I have no doubt he would have been an awesome section leader for you this past year.

Last but not least is selflessness. Steve often would set his own needs and feelings aside to focus on the needs of others. Sometimes it was from a sense of duty: one of his AP classes had a cookout, and somehow he ended up doing the cooking…he wouldn’t sit down to eat until he made sure everyone else was taken care of. Sometimes, it was from his sense of wanting to do the right thing: he once scolded a group of kids on the school bus because they were distracting the driver and could have caused an accident. And sometimes, it was because he was looking out for his friends: toward the end of his last year in school he frequently missed his bus home. It wasn’t until several weeks after the funeral that we learned why. Among the many cards, letters, and messages we received was this: “(I) don’t know if you knew it but Stephen would stay after school outside the band hall with my daughter until I got there to pick her up each day for about the last 2 months or so of school, even if I was running late and didn’t get there until around 4 or 4:15.” I won’t name names here because I don’t want to embarrass anyone, but I’m sure some of you know who the girl was. That note went on to say: “I’m sorry we didn’t get the chance to know him because she really liked him a lot. And from how the other kids talked about him he must have been a special guy.”

Yes, he was.

It seems only fitting that someone like him is remembered and honored in the many ways you have done so throughout this school year. And tonight, we add one more honor to that list with this award created and given in his name.

[In my mind, this award should be given to all of you, because all of you have been super. Please, give yourselves a hand! (applause) But, just like the words I remember from an old movie, “there can be only one”], And so, it is now my honor, and great pleasure to present [the first-ever “Super Steve” Award] to Alex Tucker.

Alex then ran up on stage and gave me a bear hug, crying his eyes out and saying something I could not quite understand through all the tears. I hugged him back and told him everything was okay. He finally slowed down enough to accept his plaque from me, shook my hand, and returned to his seat. I then closed by simply saying “Thank you” and left the stage, shaking Brandon’s hand along the way.

Congratulations, Alex. I am sure Steve would have been very honored and proud to have you as the first recipient of this award. I know I am.


An Un-Happy Un-Customer

   Posted by: Michael Bernier   in Today's Reality

I have written previously about my attempts over the years to have high-speed Internet service installed in my house, and how all of my efforts have failed. I recently tried again with our local cable company, Cable One in Sherman.

When we first moved into our house in 2000, there was no cable service anywhere close by, not even in the subdivision that borders our north property line (which also marks the city limits of Denison). A couple of years later, Cable One extended their lines from the city into the subdivision, and I was hopeful we would soon be able to sign up for service as well. But, it was not to be. They did not run the cable the extra distance to reach our street – they literally stopped at the city limits.

With no hope of ever getting cable service, I installed a satellite Internet system. It works as well as it can, but it costs about twice as much as cable, the speed is nowhere close, and to top it all off there is a bandwidth limit. In the six years since we got it, our usage has grown just like it has for everyone else in the rest of the world – keep in mind Facebook, YouTube, and all those sophisticated websites that have complex graphics and streaming media did not exist five years ago. Now, we routinely exceed our bandwidth limit and have our service slowed to an almost-useless speed as “punishment” (you may have seen my previous blog posting about being “FAPped”). I work from home 80% of the time now as well, so when our connection is slowed it directly impacts my job.

To make a long story short, we really need better service.

As luck would have it, there were some new homes set up along the street to the east of us (I say “set up” because they are all doublewide trailers, not stick-built houses like mine). Shortly after two new homes were set up within 300 feet of my house, I saw Cable One trucks out running lines down our street. They ran lines to reach ALL of those new houses, but then they stopped! They attached the end of their cable to a power pole on the front edge of my property and then left (I can look out my windows and see it). Why did they stop? Surely they could see there were five other homes (and potential customers) nearby?

Apparently not.

In the four years since then, I have periodically called Cable One to ask if they were going to offer service to my house. Each time I was given the same answer: “No, we don’t offer service to your address, and we never will.” Not a very friendly response, but it was direct and to the point.

We recently went over our bandwidth limit again, and on Monday I decided to give Cable One another try. This time, the call was very different. After checking my address the saleslady said, “…well, if you are on the north side of the street we should be able to set up service.” When I confirmed my house is on the north side, she said “okay, I’ll send a technician out to have a look.” At first I thought she was simply teasing me, just like that cable at the street has been for the past four years. But sure enough, on Tuesday I saw a Cable One bucket truck rumbling down our street.

Could it be that FINALLY, after all these years of patiently waiting, Cable One was going to give me service? It sounded too good to be true.

It was.

When I did not receive a call by Wednesday morning, I called Cable One. The saleslady said she would talk to the technician and call me back. Five hours later with no return call, I called her again. She said, “I left a note for the technician, but he didn’t call me and he’s already gone home for the day. I’ll check with him first thing in the morning and give you a call.”

This morning (Thursday) comes and the phone is still silent. I decided it was time to chat face-to-face, so I drove over to the Cable One office. The saleslady punched in my address on her computer and then realized who I was. “Let me run back there right now and find out for you,” she said. A couple of minutes later she came back. Clasping her hands together, she said, “I’m sorry, but we can’t provide service to your house.”

“Why not? The end of your cable is sitting on a power pole in front of my property.”

“The technician said your house is set back too far to run the cable.” My house sits about 700 feet away from the street.

“I’ve got neighbors that are only 300 feet away from me, and they have service. It can’t be that hard to run a cable up my driveway.”

She continued to toss out one statement after another, possibly in the hopes I would become befuddled and leave quietly: “The cable has to end somewhere.” “There’s a cost for running a line from the street.” “We don’t install lines unless the density is at least 25 homes per square mile” and so forth. I continued to listen patiently, replying with comments and questions when I could fit them in: “There are six homes along the other half of the street.” “My neighbor is only 300 feet away from me and has service. Why could you run a line up his driveway and not mine?” “Sure, the cable has to have an end, but why did you stop halfway across the front of my property?” “I have service from all the other utility companies; they didn’t seem to have any trouble getting to my house.” At one point I even drew out a picture showing her how the street is laid out, the location of my house and the neighbors nearby, all the poles running up to my house, and where the cable is sitting at the street.

While I did not come right out and reveal to her that I have 30 years of experience in the IT industry (including work with fiber optic cables just like the ones they use, so I know what they are capable of doing), I think she finally figured out I was a bit more technically-oriented than the average customer and stopped tossing out statements. She offered to have the technician call me and provide an explanation. “Yes, I would very much like to have a technical explanation for why it can’t be done” was my reply. I then thanked her and left.

This all took place at about 10am. My phone was silent the rest of the day. Given their previous track record of returning calls, I do not actually expect to ever hear from the technician. So, instead of wasting my time waiting for a call that will never come, I put it to use contemplating whether to escalate this to a higher level of management within Cable One.

I could start with calling the local office manager to discuss it and ask if they would reconsider. If they stand firm on their decision, I could then contact their headquarters in Arizona and appeal to them… but as big a company as Cable One is, the chances are they will simply sweep me under the corporate rug as one “unhappy local” who is not worth their time and go on with their day. Some of you readers may suggest other options I could take, including legal ones; but, I am not a spiteful or vengeful person and cannot imagine myself raising that kind of ruckus just to get a cable installed. I will share my experience, though, and voice my displeasure with their decision.

Yet, when all is said and done, I suppose Cable One does have the right to refuse to offer me service (and they have, in so many words). So much for progress…


Going Under The Knife — Again

   Posted by: Michael Bernier   in Today's Reality

It has been several weeks since my last posting; once again, I have been extremely busy with work, both for my job and around the house. I also have been somewhat lacking in subjects to write about, but hopefully this will improve in the coming weeks. Of course, not all of the subjects are exciting or pleasant; such is the case with today’s posting.

One evening near the end of March, I developed what I first thought was a case of indigestion a couple of hours after dinner. I spent the next several hours attempting to relieve a constant pain that seemed to be just below my sternum (for those less medically inclined, this is the bone that runs down your chest that your ribs are attached to). I tried a variety of remedies – antacid tablets, water, even attempting to vomit – but nothing seemed to help. Finally, at 1am I did something I have never done before: I asked my wife to take me to the local hospital’s emergency room.

Once I entered the ER, the staff seemed to swarm all around me… even though the pain was in my stomach, because I had coronary bypass surgery in 2009 they were required first and foremost to run tests to determine if it was heart related. They quickly ruled that out, and so they started looking for other reasons for my discomfort. After three hours of poking, prodding, medicating, testing, and even being ultrasounded all around my lower abdomen, the verdict was in: I had suffered a gall bladder attack. What’s more, the ultrasound indicated my gall bladder was filled with “sludge”, which apparently is the first stage in the development of gallstones. The ER doctor gave me some very strong antacids (think “industrial strength Maalox®”) to relieve the pain (which it did), then told me to keep taking more antacids at home and check with my regular doctor as soon as possible. His own recommendation was that I consider having it removed.

After getting home and having a very short night of sleep, I called my doctor’s office and explained what had happened the night before. The scheduling nurse found an opening in his calendar to get me in the next day. When I went in to visit my doctor, he had already reviewed the report and test results from my ER visit, and used the same word as the ER doctor to describe what they found in my gall bladder: sludge. Always trying to find at least some humor in my situation, I remarked, “I’m beginning to feel like an old car engine!” We discussed the options, and his recommendation concurred with the ER doctor’s – it was best for me to have it removed. He referred me to a surgeon to discuss it even further and to learn about the procedure.

I visited the surgeon a few days later, and once again I heard that now-familiar term: sludge. His recommendation after reviewing all the results was the same as the two previous doctors: remove it.  He discussed more about what my options were, how the procedure works, and what I could expect to happen following the surgery. He then left me to decide whether or not to go through with it. After some deliberations within my head and discussion with my wife, I decided to go ahead with the procedure.

The date is set for tomorrow, April 20th, at 7:30am. I have to arrive at 6am to be prepped for surgery. The plan is to use a laparoscopic procedure; this involves making about four small incisions into me and using special scopes and instruments to go in and remove the gall bladder. However, if they find it cannot be removed that way, they will immediately switch to a more traditional procedure and “cut me open” to remove it. Either way, I expect to be sleeping while they work on me; I will learn what they ended up doing when I wake up.

Which one they use will be important for my recovery; if their first procedure works, then I will probably be allowed to go home the same day and actually resume a somewhat-normal life the next morning. If they have to switch to the second procedure, I could end up staying an additional one to three days in the hospital and my recovery at home will take much longer.

How do I feel about what is about to happen to me? Well, I am nervous; I would think it strange if I was not at least a little apprehensive about someone poking around inside me. I am a bit anxious as well, mostly from not knowing whether they will be successful with the first procedure or if they will have to use the second. If there is one thing I do feel comfortable with, it is that I know the doctors, nurses, and staff at the hospital will do their very best to take care of me. When I had bypass surgery almost two years ago I spent six days in the hospital; there wasn’t a moment when I felt neglected or unimportant to anyone there. The physical location of the hospital may have changed since then, but I have no reason to think the staff is any less professional than before.

And so, my readers, I am off to prepare for tomorrow… a little nervous and a little anxious, but confident everything will work out for the best. I hope to be back soon with an update.

UPDATE (4/28): The laparoscopic procedure was a success, and I was able to go home later in the day. It has been over a week since my gall bladder was removed, and I have had absolutely no complications or issues with eating any of my usual foods and snacks.


Collecting Memories

   Posted by: Michael Bernier   in Yesterday's Memories

My son and I went to a coin show yesterday. I started collecting coins when I was a few years younger than he is now, and for me it has been a lifelong interest. I got both of my sons started in the hobby a few years ago; Stephen was building a set of Lincoln cents (and had almost completed it) when he died, and Matthew has been working on Buffalo nickels. Not to be completely left out, I chose to collect Indian Head cents. On top of that, I have almost finished a set of Eisenhower dollars (I have one more coin to find).

My crowning achievement in coin collecting is a set of all the State Quarters. Or rather, four sets – one for me and one for each of my children. I spent nine years putting them together, picking up the new coins as they came out each year and gradually filling up the album pages. It was a complete secret from everyone in my family; I had been keeping the albums locked in a desk drawer at the office. The last state, Hawaii, came out in early December 2008, and after all that work I was finally able to give them to the kids as Christmas presents that year. The looks on their faces when they opened up those boxes was priceless; they simply could not believe that anyone could keep such a project “under wraps” for that long without a single word about it getting out.

But, what I thought was equally important was the following letter I included in their albums. Michelle read it out loud for everyone:

Christmas 2008

To Michelle, Stephen, and Matthew,

There are so many things I’ve thought about saying to you when this time finally arrived; I really don’t know the best place to start!

Maybe I should start with answering some of the questions I’m sure you have:

  • No, you are not dreaming…you each have a very real, completely full album of uncirculated State Quarters. Every P and D mintmark for all 50 states are here – 100 coins in all.
  • I bought the albums and coins and assembled them all myself, and even though the pages let you see both sides of each coin, I put the P quarters in face-up and the D quarters face-down; I thought they looked better that way.
  • I started working on them in the year 2000, the year after the State Quarters program started. In all, it took me 9 YEARS to put them together!
  • No, your mother did not know anything about them. I have kept them locked up in a desk drawer at work until the week before today.
  • No, I don’t know exactly how much it cost me to put them together, or how much they are worth, but I’m sure that whatever it is today will only go higher in the years to come.
  • And yes, as I was putting these albums together, I put a fourth one together for myself. Now that I have given these to you, I plan to keep mine in my office at home.

 Now that I have those questions out of the way, let me try to tackle the one that I didn’t answer: Why did I do this?

I could probably write a book about all the reasons why I put these albums together for you, and maybe someday I will. Until then, here are the reasons that mean the most to me, and hopefully they will mean a lot to you as well:

First of all, this is the last Christmas all of us will be living in the same house, and I wanted to do something to remember these most precious years that have simply flown by for me; by sheer coincidence, this worked out and I was able to complete these albums at the same time. I’ve watched all three of you as you’ve been growing up, each developing your own personalities and starting to choose the directions you want to take. These have been the key years for you, and as I’ve turned through the pages and looked at each coin, I think back to what each of you were doing, or learning, or trying to be at that time in your lives. Those are days I will never, ever forget.

Next, I wanted to demonstrate to you how it is possible to achieve your goals, even when they can seem impossible to accomplish. The key is perseverance. As I mentioned, it took 9 years to put these albums together; other than school, I’m sure there’s very little you can imagine spending that much time doing right now. I’m sure you all have many dreams, and maybe some really good ideas of what you’d like to do with your lives – and I’m also sure many of those dreams and ideas seem out of reach. When you look at your album, remember the effort it took to put it together, and know that you can do whatever you set out to do if you stick with it long enough.

The last reason I’ll mention here is going to sound a little selfish. I wanted to give you something to help you remember me in the years to come. We are all placed on this world for a measure of time, and these albums will still be here long after I’m gone. When those days come, it is my hope that every now and then you will find the chance to pull yours out, look through it, and think about a happy time when we were together. And when you have your own children and they grow old enough, perhaps you’ll be able to share that time with them as well.

Let me close by saying that, although I haven’t always “been there” and it’s felt at times as if I’ve been so busy that I don’t seem to notice, I am so dearly proud of all three of you. I could not have asked for children who are any more gifted with knowledge and talents than you are, and it will be my great pleasure to watch in the years to come as you go higher and father and achieve more than I have been able to do.

Love Always,

As she was reading, I looked at Steve. He was looking down at the album and slowly shaking his head. Then he lifted his head and I could see he had a slight smile on his face. I knew in that moment I had made a connection with him that only a parent could understand.

That is one memory I will forever treasure.


I’ve Been FAPped!

   Posted by: Michael Bernier   in Today's Reality

Before I get too far into my subject, I want to wish everyone a belated Happy New Year. I have been quite busy the past few weeks, but now I have plenty of time for writing.

Why is that? It is because I have been “FAPped” by my Internet service provider (ISP). Here is a little background:

I live just outside a small town in north Texas, and I do mean “just outside”; my north property line IS the city limits. Because I live outside the city, the local cable company, Cable One, will not provide me (or my neighbors) with any form of service. Zip, zilch, nada. Even though my house is physically less than 1/4 mile away from the city limits, they absolutely refuse to run a cable down my street. Every January for the past ten years, I have called their office to ask if they now provide service on my street, and every year the answer has been the same: “No, I’m sorry; we don’t provide service in your area, and we never plan to.” Really friendly-sounding, you think?

I have also looked into getting DSL service from the local telephone company, which happens to be AT&T. The last time I asked them about service, a technician actually came out and measured the distance from their office to my house. The technician told me they could not provide us with service because my house is 1800 feet too far away from their office. 1800 feet? That happens to be a distance of a little over 1/4 mile.

I even tried getting a wireless ISP to provide me with service. They sent several technicians out to check out my house and test their signals, and like the others they told me we could not get service from them. The reason? We live just a little too far from their nearest transmitting tower. It seems they can reach out to about the city limits, and no further.

Are we starting to notice a pattern here?

My last chance for an Internet connection that was faster than dial-up was to go with a satellite-based ISP. Because I am an AT&T customer for home and mobile telephone service, they suggested I contact AT&T WildBlue, a partnership they had established with WildBlue Communications in Colorado. They offered a 512Kb/1Mb/1.5Mb/second “high speed solution” for people who are unable to get cable or DSL service (by comparison, cable and DSL services can run at 10Mb/second and higher). After reading their literature, I decided to give them a try. I ordered the basic 512Kb service, and after buying their satellite equipment and having it installed (at least the installation was free), they turned it on and set up the connection to my computer. I was immediately amazed at how fast their service worked compared to dial-up (of course, ANYTHING is amazing when compared to dial-up). All was finally blissful and pleasant with the world.

And then about a year later I got FAPped for the first time. What I had failed to read carefully was something WildBlue calls their “Fair Access Policy”, or FAP. The FAP is a set of rules that customers agree to follow, including specific limits for downloading from and uploading to the Internet. These limits are measured over the previous 30-day period, and are constantly updated every day (they call it a “rolling 30-day period”). If they find a customer going over their limit, they are in violation of the policy; as “punishment”, they slow the customer’s connection to a crawl (just fast enough to allow e-mail and some basic web surfing) until their overall usage over the rolling 30 days drops to 70% of their limit; at that point, the higher speed is restored. The WildBlue technicians I have talked with have nicknamed this “FAPping” and someone who has violated the policy and has their connection slowed is said to have been “FAPped”.

That first FAPping took me by surprise, but I had an out: if I upgraded my service to a faster connection speed, the limit would be raised and the FAPping would be removed. So, I called WildBlue and upgraded. Since the difference between 1Mb and 1.5Mb was only $10 a month, I decided to go for it and upgraded to the limit. I thought 512K at home was fast, but 1.5Mb simply blew me away. I could actually stream music or videos and not have them pause or freeze up periodically as they were playing. Software updates were much easier to download and install, and everything seemed to be working so much better than before. Once again, all was blissful and pleasant with the world.

Over the years, my children have become very computer- and Internet-savvy, and even my wife started taking a liking to going online from time to time. I also began working from home, and when all those different users are added up it amounted to as many as five different computers being connected to the Internet at the same time. The connection was still working fairly well with all of us online, but our usage began to soar. WildBlue sends out warning messages via e-mail when the rolling 30-day usage starts to approach the limit, and I began getting those on a fairly regular basis. I got into the habit of checking our usage daily, sometimes several times during the day, to make sure we were not getting too close to the limit.

Despite all of the warnings, which I dutifully passed along to the rest of the family in the form of pleas not to push us over the limit, we were finally FAPped again a couple of days ago (funny how no one seemed to hear me then, but they are listening now). Since we are already on their most generous (and expensive) usage plan, there is no way to work around it this time – we simply have to wait for the rolling usage to drop below 70%. At the current rate it is falling each day, my guess is it will probably take another week or so for our speed to return to normal.

The slower speeds make it almost impossible to do much more than send and receive e-mails; if we attempt to go online to a web site that is even the least bit complicated (and unfortunately, most of them fall into that category these days), more often than not the browser will freeze and has to be turned off. When it does work, the pages are sometimes not loaded correctly and we see words and pictures thrown haphazardly onto the screen. My take on it is, the poor performance is a very good incentive to stay offline and let the usage come down more quickly.

But for anyone who knows me, you know that this is not the end of the story.

I have noticed that not being so closely tied to the Internet has caused all of us to do other things in the evenings that we always seem to be putting off. My daughter is reading a book or two she has had for a while, my son and I are catching up on old movies we have been wanting to see, and my wife spends more time away from her computer watching television or playing with the dogs. “Life without the Internet” is actually refreshing in a way…sort of like going on a vacation where you do things that you normally do not when you are at home.

It is hard to say whether this “revelation” will last once the service speeds are restored. One thing is certain: it will give us all a reason to pause and think about whether we really need to spend so much time, all the time, online.


An Unexpected Homecoming

   Posted by: Michael Bernier   in Today's Reality

On the Monday before Christmas we received a phone call from our daughter Michelle, who has been living in San Antonio with her boyfriend and his mother for almost a year. My wife talked with her for a while, as they usually do, and came to me after she hung up the phone.

“She said he’s broken up with her, and she wanted to know if she could move back home,” my wife said.

“That was sudden,” I replied. “When was she planning to come up here?”

“They want her out of the apartment before Christmas,” she said. “And with everything she’s got down there, it’ll take the truck to move it all here.”

“The truck” referred to my 14-year-old Ford F-250 diesel pickup with just over 200,000 miles on it. That is a lot of miles, but in the diesel world it represents about half of the engine’s useful life; it is not uncommon for these trucks to run up to half a million miles before they finally bite the dust. It is not pretty to look at, but I did not buy it for its looks; it was that engine that attracted me to it in the first place.

“That’s about a six hour drive each way. Are you up to riding in the truck that long?” I asked. San Antonio is approximately 350 miles from our home.

“I guess I’ll have to be,” was the answer.

“All right, find out when she will be packed and we’ll go from there. It’s been a long time since I filled up both of the truck’s fuel tanks.”

A couple of phone calls later, we had most of the arrangements worked out. She would be ready to go on Thursday the 23rd. I came up with an aggressive game plan: we would get up at 4am and be out the door by 6, arrive in San Antonio around lunchtime, load her stuff, eat lunch, and drive home, hopefully getting back in time for a late dinner.

The next two days were spent hurriedly finishing up our Christmas shopping. Fortunately, we had already done all of our shopping for Michelle, and had even shipped her presents to her the Friday before. She had been told not to open the shipping box until Christmas Day; now, in an ironic twist, the box would be coming back to our house to be opened.

Thursday, 4am. My wife and I struggled to get out of bed, drag ourselves into the shower, get dressed, and grab a bite to eat before heading out the door. A stop at a gas station to top off the tanks, and we were on our way. The drive down was somewhat uneventful; the most excitement came while we were going through Austin, the state capitol. The traffic there reminded me very much of downtown Atlanta when we used to live in Georgia: everyone running flat out, dodging and weaving their way like they were in a NASCAR race. The one benefit from that was it did not take us very long to drive through the city.

We finally arrived in San Antonio, pretty close to the time I had envisioned. Following the directions we had mapped out the day before, we found our way to the street where the apartment complex was located, and with Michelle helping on the other end of my cell phone we made it to the entrance gates. We pulled up in front of the apartment building and saw our daughter, standing alone. After a quick greeting and hugs all around, we went inside the apartment. I met her now ex-boyfriend and his mother for the first (and probably only) time, and much to my relief everyone was quite civil about the situation. They helped with loading her things into the truck, then after a round of goodbyes we left.

After stopping for lunch, we got back out on the highway and retraced our route to go home. Unfortunately, the trip back was more eventful than the trip out. There were traffic jams in two different cities, each taking an hour or so to get through; and, the truck was also losing antifreeze somehow, taking almost two extra gallons of it to get home (I learned later the heater core had a split in it). Thanks to the delays, it was almost 9pm when we finally arrived at the house. We unloaded Michelle’s things and piled them into her bedroom, fixed ourselves something to eat, then sat down to relax. The cost for spending 15 hours on the road? Aside from frazzled nerves all around, it took 35 gallons of fuel, two gallons of antifreeze, lunch and snacks.

But, our daughter was back in our home, safe and sound. We do not know how long she will be staying with us; it could be weeks, months, or even longer. One thing I do know: she has been missed by all of us.

Welcome home, Michelle.


Task Completed

   Posted by: Michael Bernier   in Today's Reality

Every day since Stephen died, I have kept myself focused on making sure that everything regarding his final arrangements has been taken care of. Now, almost six months since his death, the last of those arrangements has been completed – installing the headstone for his grave. We had spent several weeks determining what we wanted to put on it, and finally placed the order with the monument company in the latter part of August. We had received word before Thanksgiving that the stone had been completed and was awaiting installation, and on Friday morning we learned that it was in place. We went by the cemetery that afternoon for our first visit.

Steve had truly loved his music and playing in the school band; the day of the accident, he was hosting a pizza party for his fellow trumpet players. We wanted to somehow incorporate that passion of his into the headstone, and I came up with the idea of having a trumpet with musical notes coming out of it to represent his playing. We went back and forth with the monument company on the details, with me finally locating some line art of a realistic-looking trumpet and asking them to match it as closely as possible. Their artists came back with a design that we thought was appropriate, and we signed off on the order.

When we walked up to the stone for the first time, we were both amazed and extremely pleased with what we saw. The monument company had never before depicted a trumpet with such detail, but they stepped up to the challenge and the result was absolutely beautiful, far exceeding my expectations.

We had included a vase next to the stone so that we (and other visitors) could place flowers at the grave and not have them falling over or easily blowing away. It came in handy, for we had brought with us a flower arrangement my mother had purchased while we were visiting her last month for Thanksgiving. That arrangement became the first flowers to go in the vase.

With the flowers placed, we retrieved the temporary marker that had been placed at the grave by the funeral home and turned to leave.

We returned home, and as I sat in my office downloading from my camera the pictures I had just taken I began to realize that there was nothing left to be done for Steve. It was all finished – the huge task that began almost six months ago had finally been completed. I wrote in my last entry about how I was unsure of the way in which I would react when this time finally arrived. Now it is here, and I am more uncertain than ever.

I can, however, start to see a few early signs. One of my favorite musical groups to listen to around Christmastime is Mannheim Steamroller (for those who do not know them, they are the folks who perform the “funky-sounding” versions of traditional Christmas music like the Halleluiah Chorus, Winter Wonderland, and Deck The Halls). The leader of the group, Chip Davis, wrote a Christmas carol in 1988 called “Traditions Of Christmas” (on the album “A Fresh Aire Christmas”). From the first time I heard it, that piece of music has always held a special place in my heart, but I have never really understood why. On Friday evening I listened to it for the first time this season, and a wave of emotion swept through me that I had not felt since the accident. There is something in the tune that strikes a chord deep inside me, one that obviously has strong ties to my feelings and memories of Steve. It is nowhere close to being an answer to my fears, but it does give me a direction to start looking.

And so I continue to move forward…step by step, one day at a time.