Every year over ten million vehicles pass through U.S. auto dealer auctions. This decades old free market has always been dependent on you, the consumer. Dealers will bid up those models that are popular with buyers, while those with a limited audience are stuck in what’s commonly called ‘wholesale heaven’. This is a place where thousands of unappreciated and unloved models go until the market dictates otherwise. Over the course of time, consumers dictates the winners… and the losers.
Over the last few years, The Big 2.5 have been downsizing their domestic production capacity to match falling demand, and compensate for their decision to wean themselves from low-profit fleet sales. Enormous assembly plants that once produced hundreds of thousands of new vehicles are now shuttered. The theory: as production sinks, new car prices will eventually hold firm and profits will follow. Unfortunately, the latest patchwork of new product has already come apart, and th
Walter has stopped hugging his friends. He is throwing out his clothes and furniture, and he rarely comes out of his Tenderloin hotel room anymore.
He’s not suicidal, but darn near. He has bedbugs.
Nearly eradicated in the United States 50 years ago, resistant strains of “super” bedbugs are infesting mattresses at an alarming rate. In what’s being touted as the biggest mystery in entomology, all 50 states are reporting outbreaks of the blood-sucking nocturnal critters.
Pest control companies nationwide reported a 71 percent increase in bedbug calls between 2000 and 2005. Left alone, a few bedbugs can create a colony of thousands within weeks.
“We never treated bedbugs until 2002. Now we have a dedicated bedbug crew working on this every day,” said Luis Agurto, president of Pestec in San Francisco.
Agurto’s arsenal includes a vacuum, steam heat to cook the bedbug eggs and targeted spraying of insecticides. It takes three, eight-hour visits and about $500 to $750 to exterminate one room. A whole house would cost closer to $5,000.
Where to begin?
Prior to a recent Asia trip, I needed to obtain a SIM Card for my old Cingular (AT&T) phone that would work while on travel. (I now use a Verizon phone due to our experience with Cingular’s poor network coverage – dropped calls on John Nolen Drive, for example).
I called Cingular and explained my requirements: a prepaid SIM Card that would work for 30 days while on travel overseas. The telesales representative explained their different services, including data, worldwide calling and various monthly minute plans.
I provided my credit to close the transaction and a few days later, the Cingular SIM card arrived. I also requested the codes to “unlock” my old phone. Unfortunately, despite our prior long term Cingular arrangement, they insisted that I had to use the phone for 90 days before they would provide the unlock keys. This would prove to be a problem when I found that the SIM card Cingular sold me did not, in fact, work internationally.
Fortunately, a friend let me use an old phone, which would accept any SIM Card – easily purchased in most countries.
I called Cingular upon my return to express my disappointment. Farrah in Halifax was as helpful as could be expected, given their organization. She phoned their “sales” department to see if I could obtain a refund. The “sales” person told her that they “don’t sell SIM Cards”! I mentioned that while I’m unhappy with Cingular, I’m glad she had that experience with sales, particularly while I was on the line.
Bottom line: If you are looking for a world phone, look elsewhere. I’ve heard good things about T-mobile, though your mileage may vary.
Middle-class Americans, listen up: the I.R.S. is much more likely to audit you this year. Those caught cheating can expect to pay about $4,100 more on average in income taxes.
Since 2000, authorities at the Internal Revenue Service have nearly tripled audits of tax returns filed by people making $25,000 to $100,000 as part of a broad change in audit strategy.
Audits of these middle-class taxpayers rose to nearly 436,000 last year, up from about 147,000 returns in 2000. For these 61 million individuals and married couples, who make up nearly half of all taxpayers, the odds of being audited rose from 1 in 377 to 1 in 140.
Kevin Brown, the I.R.S. deputy commissioner for services and enforcement, said the audits “were out of whack” in 2000, with far too little attention paid to the middle class and to the very highest income generators, those making $1 million or more. “We try to run a balanced audit program,” Mr. Brown said.
If a “private homestay” is the key to an affordable visit to London, the same is true in Paris and Rome. Different from bed and breakfasts, homestays are the rental of a single room in a house or apartment whose owners are supplementing their income by taking in transient visitors. Such lodgings are available for as little as $35 to $40 per person per night, as compared with at least double that price (and sometimes more) for a room in a modest, commercial guesthouse or tiny hotel.
In my April 1 column, I listed several organizations that make such rooms available in London, such as www.happy-homes.com and www.athomeinlondon.co.uk. Immediately, I received letters requesting similar Web sites for low-cost private homestays in France and Italy.
— Paris room rentals: The notion of taking a foreign visitor into one’s apartment was once anathema to the average, privacy-seeking Parisian. To do so just wasn’t “French.” In a cultural shift that I won’t try to explain, slightly more than 200 Parisian families now have begun renting rooms in their homes or apartments — and these make up the inventory of three Parisian bed-and-breakfast services (more commonly known as chambres d’hôtes) offered to tourists from around the world.
They called themselves the Arctic Eagles. For years, they flew Alaska Airlines passengers on the lonely routes from here to 20 remote outposts across the nation’s largest state. With limited instruments and little air-traffic control, they faced blizzards, bear heads, gravel runways and volcanic eruptions.
But after 25 years, the Eagles are being disbanded.
Alaska Air two weeks ago retired the last of its dedicated fleet of banged-up old Boeing 737-200s affectionately known as “mud hens.” As the airline expands its routes, it is sending the roughly 60 pilots onto newer aircraft that they’ll have to fly to California, Mexico and the East Coast as well as the Alaskan destinations.
Alaska is no longer their exclusive fief, either. Some of the airline’s other pilots will be able to fly the Arctic routes as long as they’re “checked out” on some of the most demanding airports.
I flew on one of these Alaska Air flights years ago, it took a few tries to land at the fogged in airport. Sat next to a woman who lost her husband – an air taxi pilot – in a crash.
Each passerby had a quick choice to make, one familiar to commuters in any urban area where the occasional street performer is part of the cityscape: Do you stop and listen? Do you hurry past with a blend of guilt and irritation, aware of your cupidity but annoyed by the unbidden demand on your time and your wallet? Do you throw in a buck, just to be polite? Does your decision change if he’s really bad? What if he’s really good? Do you have time for beauty? Shouldn’t you? What’s the moral mathematics of the moment?
On that Friday in January, those private questions would be answered in an unusually public way. No one knew it, but the fiddler standing against a bare wall outside the Metro in an indoor arcade at the top of the escalators was one of the finest classical musicians in the world, playing some of the most elegant music ever written on one of the most valuable violins ever made. His performance was arranged by The Washington Post as an experiment in context, perception and priorities — as well as an unblinking assessment of public taste: In a banal setting at an inconvenient time, would beauty transcend?
The musician did not play popular tunes whose familiarity alone might have drawn interest. That was not the test. These were masterpieces that have endured for centuries on their brilliance alone, soaring music befitting the grandeur of cathedrals and concert halls.