Sunday, December 28, 2008

the great american eyeglass swindle

It's a long one and if you don't wear prescription glasses you can ignore the hell out of it. You've been given the opportunity, at least.

I've been meaning to get a new pair of prescription glasses for a while now. I was a bit of an idiot and decided to purchase the vision plan at work, thinking it would pay off for me in the long run - I'll be canceling this the next time I'm able, which is during a 10-day period next November - health plans in the US are the awesome!

So I go to the fancy eyeglass place, the guy starts putting frames on the table as soon as I walk in, and has about six pairs there for me after my initial walk around peering into the frames locked up in their cases. OK - I sit down and try a few pair on. The guy really likes a certain frame or two and is a bit upset when I eventually steer towards something a little less boring with less bright colors and no cutout designs on the sides.

OK - so I've got this vision plan through work, what's this pair here gonna run me? Let's see, that frame is 540. What? Is that in US dollars, I wonder - because we haven't even begun to discuss the lenses yet, which is the thing I'm really after here - being able to see clearly. OK - but my plan covers the first $140 and takes off an additional 20%. So after factoring in the lenses, the frames, the $90 anti-reflective coating, which I don't want, it comes to about $475 - that's with tax now, so let's not lose sight of that.

I'm going to go think about this for a few hours before I throw down this cash that I really don't have, but if I don't get something before the end of the year I'm out the money I put into the plan - the $140.

I walk to a national chain type place - they've got a sign on the window saying something like all frames are $59 or something crazy like that. OK - they've got a much larger selection, though the frames have all been touched and prodded on by every person who just got off work at the burger king - if you try hard enough you can almost see out of the french fry grease fingerprints protecting the clear lenses.

So I find a frame that I think will suit my needs. Hey guy, how much for lenses in these here pair? OK, so he's ignored me up until now, cleverly utilizing the quiet hands off approach, I like it. This gentlemen can't seem to answer any of my questions other than repeating that I am going to need the most expensive lenses they offer, based on my very bad astigmatism. Wow, I had just told him the opposite, that I usually get by with the cheap lenses as my prescription really isn't that complex. So these top of the line lenses are gonna go for 200-bucks, that's including the anti-reflective coating, which everyone so far is emphasizing their ability to greatly enhance my ability to "drive at night". I've never had a problem getting around before, I keep thinking to myself. I walk out.

Let's go back a few years, shall we? I'm getting my eyes checked by an optician in the Navy. It's in Florida, this guy is a Captain, a very high rank for an eye doctor. He does the whole check up, we talk the whole time, have a hoot. He hands me my new prescription, telling me to walk around the other side of the building, hand the guy this slip and I'd have the glasses faster. Of course I do as he suggests. This technician takes a look at my prescription, grabs the right size frame out of a box on the wall, grabs the two lenses out of different bins, places them in the automatic grinding machine to bring them down in size to match the frames, pops them into the frame, polishes them with a cloth, and hands them to me. Five minutes, I'm walking out with my new glasses.

A buddy of mine was just in Korea. He's walking down the street and a vendor selling glasses tells him 35-bucks for a pair of glasses. No, he wears corrective lenses and doesn't have the prescription on him. No worries, have a seat. Hey, 35-bucks, what the hell? My buddy sits down, a light scans each eye for a few seconds, a slip prints out with his prescription on it, and 20-minutes later his glasses are ready. Bam!

My current pair of glasses cost me $150, frame and all, down in a Mexico eyeglass store.

So why the hell do glasses cost so effing much, for X-mas-sakes? I don't really need to be at my fashion best - I'm looking for a basic frame with lenses that don't fall out when I'm doing whatever it is I do. I need a good pair of glasses that isn't going to cost me a significant portion of my monthly income - beer money is not easily cut into, people.

I recall I'm a recent member of the Costco and they have an eyeglass counter inside. OK, so the selection is a bit lacking - I quickly find a frame that will suffice after sifting through a load of Nike/Converse/Stetson/corporate branded frames - so you want me to pay you money to advertise your brand of tennis shoes on the side of my head? OK, so basic frames - cost: $39.99 - they're the "Richard Taylor Quincy" model, in black, FYI.

On to lenses - here's where they hit you. The nice young lady tells me right away that based on my prescription, the basic and inexpensive lenses are the right choice. So how much? Lenses: $74.98 - that includes the UV coating, anti-reflective coating, and some other stuff.

Total price including the tax to support the wars and wall street bailouts and other political corruptions: $116.25 - why the hell was that so complicated?

I can get most if not all of this back once I submit the receipt for my vision plan, though I'll be out the remainder of the $140. Live and learn. Live and learn.

That's all I got.

Later reflection - Yes, I can surely see value in paying for what you get - take bike items for instance. I'm not buying a ride at Target because it's going to weigh 3x what I want to push, is not repairable or upgradeable, was likely not built correctly or safely by the 14-year old Erik's bike employee behind the scenes, is likely the most uncomfortable piece of machinery you'll ever sit upon, etc. But a pair of glasses works whether I pay a grand or 100-bucks. I don't see at all the value in paying 500-bucks for a pair of glasses - this ain't rocket science, as they say - and yes I do have a MS minor in aerospace engineering. Complimentary adjustments you say? I've always gone home and self adjusted my glasses with a pair of pliers because the person at the shop always made them as uncomfortable as possible. Warranty you add? For a quarter the price, I still have your said warranty.

I imagine there's an article in Consumer Reports talking about this very subject and I'm guessing they come up with the same conclusion - I ought to visit the library.


Damn - I could have saved myself a lot of time.

Update: June 2013

Been getting glasses at WP for a few years now and have no complaints.  And as long as you don't mind heating up and bending your own frames, which I'm fine with, I recommend them.  Oh, and you need your pupil distance, which I got after averaging out the measurement from several engineers at work using calipers.

Also, a segment on 60-Minutes I just learned of (spoiler: the industry is a monopoly and prices are set IAW there is no competition):

Thursday, December 25, 2008

effin a

Props to Common Roots for being open today. Also Cheapo Records, where I threw down a few for some fresh albums of choice. After that I went and threw down a few on the lake on my now annual ride across Calhoun. This time I chose east to west, solely to mix it up:
Lake Calhoun - beer stop

Other than that - I've spent a few hours in the garage today, sort of keeping things real, if you know what I mean. Bikes, music, and beer, that pretty much sums up my day - couldn't get any better.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

go get this bike thief

There has been a recent string of bike thefts in the Grant Park area of Minneapolis.  The thief has been skillfully breaking into back doors and into parking garages to get bikes from locked up storage areas, to name one example.

Here's a photo of the guy, if you know him, you know what to do:

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

I'm pretty much famous... does Bloomington and Richfield count?

I'm riding home tonight down in the quiet, dark, snow packed, residential streets of Bloomington, specifically the 8500 block of Knox Ave South, when a Dodge Caravan minivan comes towards me and yells out "Idiot!" to me as he passes by. Holy shit I think - it's one of my readers! I was going to offer him a sticker, but he blew through the stop sign onto 86th in somewhat of a hurry, not really in my style at all, but perhaps explains this potential difference in character.

So not 2-minutes later, on the very next block, another car passes in the same direction, the silent driver throwing out 2 empty cans of Miller Genuine Draft at me. Two readers back to back? Too good to be true, I think, however this last person surely must have been a casual reader, because the points are on the packaging, not the actual cans or bottles. And please, for the other readers out there - it's only applicable to High Life, not the Genuine Draft. Details, people. Hey, at least he meant well! Happy holidays to you too, sir.

A third encounter you ask? Too good to be true, but true nonetheless. I'm riding through Richfield, not far from my first recognitions, on the 6700 block of Oliver, when a dog sees me - recognizes me more likely - now running at me, likely to give me a kiss or to receive a petting. I'm thinking when I stop for one dog, I'm stopping for the whole city - and my wrist isn't about to handle all the autographs, not to mention I've got to get home to check on the High Life, so I push it just a bit harder, maintaining myself just out of reach of my newest Richfield friend.

Kudos to all of you for recognizing me in the winter darkness and with my winter clothing on:
another one of these

I'm gonna see if I can finish off the High Life in the fridge tonight. You're welcome over to help, but no later than 0100, please.

Monday, December 15, 2008

midtown assaultway - a survivors tale

Read this story, though it's from a bullshit source, it's powerful and worth the read. Note that it's spread out over 3 clicks worth of pages. Please do yourself a favor and bypass reading any of the comments left on the above link.

I'm in agreement with a few of the comments left on my previous post. If people were getting jacked in their cars up on Lake Street, the cops wouldn't reply by telling people not to use that street, they'd increase their presence and add cops in an effort to nab the culprits.

I rode out to the river on Saturday night - took the side streets, bypassing this trail altogether. I've been fucked with too many times, a lot of those times on this "Greenway" trail, and am sick of riding alone in fear in a dark and secluded subterranean pathway, not to mention being the frequent and easy target for people throwing objects off of bridges at.

Speaking of the 'greening' of this particular trail, I've seen people hiding in bushes and trees along the trail on several occasions, and as Gene said a few days ago, it's only going to get worse when all the newly planted trees develop into maturity, creating a plethora of hideouts for heinous hoodlums. That last Alliteration is mine, but you can go ahead and use it.

Be careful out there - ride in groups - don't be afraid to take the streets after dark.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

tis the season


‘Midtown Greenway - Hiawatha LRT Trail’


Recently we’ve had series of robbery/assaults on the Midtown Greenway. They’ve occurred in both the 3rd and 5th Precincts at different locations along the trail.   


Typically the victim is surrounded and pushed off their bicycle. The attackers are taking wallets, backpacks and purses.   Many of the assaults have occurred after dark.  Some have occurred during daylight hours.  So far the attackers are not stealing the victim’s bicycles. 


The suspects have been described by their victims as groups of 2 or 3 younger males.  At this time we do not have more specific descriptions of the suspects.  It appears that more than one group of suspects may be committing these crimes.


The Minneapolis Police Department is investigating these crimes.  Police are doing extra patrol on the Greenway.  The Police Dept. met with the Midtown Greenway Coalition to discuss some prevention strategies.  


What You Can Do?

  • If you can, avoid riding or walking the Greenway after dark.
  • Whenever possible ride/walk with others, not alone. You are much safer with a group than you are alone.
  • There are “Bluelight” phones at intervals on the Greenway that will connect you directly to 911. Carry a cell phone as well. If you aren’t close to a phone, you can call 911 if you need help.
  • Pay attention to your surroundings. If you see people ahead of you, that make you nervous or uncomfortable, exit the Greenway at the nearest ramp.
  • If you should be assaulted, try to stay calm. Give the attackers what they want. The more you resist, the more likely it is that you will be injured.
  • Be sure to wear a bike helmet while riding. If will reduce you chances of injury considerably.
  • When you call 911 give the operator your location. Due to recent changes in our police reporting system, the Greenway is now listed as a street (i.e. Midtown Greenway W. (Nicollet Ave. westward) and Midtown Greenway E. (East of Nicollet to the river). When you riding or walking during daylight hours take some time to familiarize yourself with the addresses of the cross streets over the trail. It will help ensure a quicker police response.

If you have questions please contact Crime Prevention Specialist Don Greeley at the 3rd Precinct – 673-3482  or

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

so you want to ride your bike in the winter?

So on to the subject of riding a bicycle in winter conditions...
snowy but warm foot

Dressing is what's most important to me. When dressed smartly, you'll be a hell of a lot warmer than those people you ride by who are waiting at the bus stop.

Pack extras: keep a pair or two of extra gloves, glove liners, socks, sock liners, a few plastic bags, hat, face mask, neck gaiter/scarve, that sort of thing in your bag from now on - until a few weeks ago I'd never failed that advice, but I'm properly equipped now, I'm happy to say. It's no big deal to stop or slow down to add a layer when it's situated at arms length, but a lot more difficult to do the same when you left it at home that morning - as I did a few Friday's ago with my gloves.

Extremities - For me the most crucial aspect for proper dressing is to keep my fingers and toes warm - don't overly restrict your digits in your clothing choice or you'll freeze right away. Wear a liner of some sort and a bit heavier thing on top of that - wool is an awesome base layer and doesn't melt when standing around a campfire. I use basic riding shoes but sometimes use a pair of neoprene cycling booties on top of my shoes when it gets too cold for my liking. Some people use winter boots with platform pedals while others prefer the winter insulated cycling shoes by Lake and Sidi, but I can't afford those so I have no opinion on their performance. My favorite very cold weather riding mittens were eaten by my brothers dog last winter, so I'm experimenting with a new pair I recently picked up at Kaplan's for 14-bucks - have to wait a month or two for that sort of cold to hit, however. It is nice to have the glove liners on under the thicker pair, especially when you have to take the thicker gloves/mittens off to work a U-lock and key, for instance.

Legs - I usually just wear a pair of long-johns under pants, but this year I'm going to try a flannel lined pair of Carhartt's, again from Kaplan's. My legs are hot (I'm told), so this is about all I need - some can't seem to put enough on, so you'll have to experiment to find what works best for you.

Torso - for me it's a very light t-shirt style layer, a long sleeved sweatshirt style on top of that, followed by a light weight breathable full-zippered jacket for temperature control. I usually have this outer zipper down one-third to one-half during even cold rides, as I'm generating enough heat by my pedaling to compensate the dry-bulb temperature. It's nice to have zippers under the arms on this jacket to allow further temperature control. Don't let yourself sweat because that water is going to make you colder - this is what the zippers are for.

Head - Cover your ears, that's crucial for comfortable riding. I wear a thin hat that goes down over my ears and down to just above my eyes, but allows for my helmet to fit nicely. I like to cover the helmet with a rain cover, which blocks out the cold and allows a thinner hat for comfort (a garbage bag cut and taped to your helmet also works.) I wear glasses, so that blocks the wind from my eyes. Get a neck-gaiter or scarf, to your preference, to keep your neck warm while also being there to pull up over your mouth and nose. Grow a beard if this applies to you, it certainly helps. This year I'm going to experiment with a thin turtleneck shirt I just picked up cheap - it's technical or something and I'm not sure if it's going to burn or not. It's a pretty good idea to always have a beer in your bag in case a fire breaks out or you get thirsty, though.

Gear selection.

Lights: Wear at least one red blinkie light on your back side and a white one up front - it gets dark early and cars are less likely to think there are cyclists riding during this time of year.

Fenders: Come on, put some fenders on your bike - not cool for school, but you're past riding around with a stripe of wet, black, road grime on your ass by now, right? Go to the CRC, he's got them on sale until X-mas, knowwhatimean?
no fenders on the steamroller

Tires: Some people swear by studded tires, but I've successfully ridden more than one winter on slicks without falling, minus the times I was screwing around, of course. I believe it's more about confidence and experience than anything else, but then again there are those times I tend to screw around:
Wrexican down

Ice: The most important thing to keep in mind while riding in the winter is that you're likely riding on something slippery, and it isn't always this obvious:
icy Minneapolis streets

Riding style: When you go around a corner; do it slower than you would normally, without leaning into that corner as if you were the solo breakaway of a cat-5 crit race. When you start from a stop, do your best not to stand up and slam down on the pedals - it's not a race getting to work or school, it's just a job or an education - not worth the weeks of back pain when you slam down onto the street after your rear wheel slips out from under your body.

I already mentioned this part: As far as riding on the snow, keep in mind that there might be ice under that fluffy fresh layer, as was the occasion here:
sheer ice under this fresh snow

Keep it slow and get off and walk if you have to keep from falling.

Oh yeah, and grow a beard and always wear your helmet:
morning commute

And don't end up like this guy, and always wear your helmet:
Fleck Down - self derbied

Enjoy the upcoming winter, it's a great time to ride!

Monday, December 1, 2008

this is how we do things in the country

So I got to spend the long weekend with kin folk down in Missoura.

My T-day was spent with the brother collecting wood and setting said wood on fire. This 14+hour blaze took a lot of foraging and hand sawing, which was assisted with tow chain equipped tractor and a cooler or more of cold beer - Busch and Bud's, to be exact.

Late in the night, I decided to make a few runs on the road bike down the hill towards the fire in otherwise complete darkness. One of these runs I find my front wheel stopped by a small mogul, and me subsequently slamming my face into mother earth. I ended up with a small concussion, which caused me to spend a bit more time resting the next day than I had planned, but I'm mostly recovered good and fine now, eh?

It's good to be back in the MPLS and feel the cold air.

In other news, I overheard today that all cycling related shit over at the CRC is 20% off until X-maz - do it.