Friday, July 22, 2016

Book review: "From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler"

I first heard of the book, "From  the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler" somewhere around third grade. But it wasn't until I was well into my 50s that I read it for the first time, aloud, to my two kids.

I'd always had the impression that this was a fun, and funny, book. I mean "mixed-up files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler" sounds silly right off the bat, right? So I was surprised how serious the book is. Author E.L. Konigsburg uses the story about two kids who run away to live in New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art to make some serious points about growing up.

The premise seems rather kooky. A sister and brother run away from home to live at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. They avoid the guards by hiding in the bathrooms and manage to get locked in each night. I kept hoping for some "Night at the Museum"-type craziness to happen after hours, but the only thing that came close was when they bathed in the fountain at the darkened museum restaurant..

Instead, Claudia and Jamie find themselves looking into a mystery: Is a sculpture called Angel really the work of Michelangelo? Their investigation pushes the story ahead, and takes them eventually into, yes, the mixed-up files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.

Konigsburg does well developing the interaction of Claudia and Jamie and you can see them maturing in the story. Mrs. Frankweiler helps them understand the meaning of their quest.

Still, I don't know if the story is really interesting enough for young readers.  There's no real danger and the surprises are fairly mild. It sticks to a fairly narrow story line following the daily lives of Claudia and Jamie. And the character of Claudia, who is bossy and nitpicks her brother's grammar, rubbed my daughter the wrong way. She called Claudia "annoying."


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Saturday, July 9, 2016

Tap cards expire and Metro won't refund your money

As I entered the Civic Center subway stop in Los Angeles a few nights ago, I pulled out my wallet as I always do. My wallet contains my Tap Card, the "ticket" that stores money for using Los Angeles Metro rail lines.

All I have to do -- and I've done it well over a thousand times -- is slap my wallet on the Tap Card circle as you enter the station's gates and the turnstiles unlock.

But on this day something different happened. I tapped my wallet and pushed the turnstiles -- and they did not move. Huh?  I tapped again, and again the turnstiles remained locked. An adjacent screen read, "Card is expired."

"Tap Cards expire?" That was what almost everybody said when I told them this story. Just like me, few of my train-riding friends knew that Tap Cards have an expiration date. How would you know? There's no expiration date on the card.

Indeed, Tap Cards do expire, although I still have no idea why. I spoke to two Metro representatives and neither could tell me.

The problem, in my case, was that I still had $35 stored on my card. What to do?
I called and asked Metro:

Could I go to a Metro ticket machine and transfer the money to a new Tap card? No.

Could I transfer the money online at the Metro's "TaptoGo" website? No.

Could they transfer the money to a new card and mail it to me? No.

Could they refund my money? No. (I don't see how that's legal.)

The one and only option was to buy a new Tap Card for $1 at a machine and then call Metro back and transfer the dollars from the old card to the new one. Keep in mind that every call to Metro requires a minimum of 10 minutes on hold.

Also, since I am part of an employer plan that pays half the cost of riding public transit, I will have to call the administrator of the plan and get my new card entered into their system.

One very inconvenient option. It's almost as if Metro wants people to give up on the money they have on their old cards -- and maybe they do. It turns out that millions of dollars goes unused on old Tap Cards, and that amounts to pure profit for Metro.

I guess that's why Tap Cards expire.


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