Archive for June, 2011

Our Day at the Races

Sunday, June 26th, 2011

After our training last weekend to learn how not to serve alcohol to drunks so we wouldn’t end up in jail and liable for a $350 million lawsuit, we were prepared for our day selling beer at Infineon Raceway to NASCAR fans.

Given that my only previous encounter with NASCAR was watching “Talladega Nights,” why was I volunteering to work at Infineon? The beer booth is a fundraiser for Petaluma High School Cheer, so our being there was another one of those “it’s amazing the things we will do for our kids” kind of experiences.

We parked, took the shuttle and were at the six-square feet of dirt that would be our home for the next eight hours with our purple “˜Petaluma Cheer” shirts on by 8:30 a.m. Probably not more than 10 minutes had passed before we had our first customer asking if he could buy a Bud. “Sorry, we’re not allowed to begin selling beer until 9:00.” While I don’t think that volunteering at a beer booth is doing the devil’s work, it is a little strange to remember that if I weren’t here, I would be sitting in church.

We were faithful to our training and checked almost everyone who didn’t have any gray hair for ID. I liked the fact that all the women over 30 actually enjoyed being asked to prove that they were over 21.

During the first part of the morning when business was still relatively slow, Steve and I had a chance to explore the spaghetti of paths that comprise the Infineon venue. It wasn’t until we walked through one of the tunnels and came up on the grandstand side that I understood what the huge trailers emblazoned with logos and driver’s pictures are there for. They are all about the merchandise. Judging from the long line to buy stuff at his trailer, Dale Jr. was clearly a crowd favorite.

Steve and I made our way back to our booth and sold a heck of a lot of beer, and $4 sodas and water until the concession officials told us there were 25 laps remaining in the race and no more alcohol could be sold. Let’s hope those are slow laps so more of the chain-drinking fans that we served during the day had time to sober up.

Infineon is a lot like Disneyland. You just can’t adequately describe it to someone who hasn’t been there. It brings together a cross section of 100,000 people to watch very fast and very loud cars, while consuming carnival food and booze on 720 acres next to vineyards in Sonoma County. It is a world unto itself.

At our Beer Booth, have your ID ready

Sunday, June 19th, 2011

These days, part of the job description of being a parent includes participating in fundraisers. And like most parents, we’re well-versed in the usual ones; the pasta feeds, gift wrap/candles/cookies/cookie dough/See’s Candy sales, silent auctions, and even bingo nights.

However, now Steve and I have moved up to the more adult side of fundraising because we’re going to be working a beer booth at next week’s NASCAR race at Infineon to raise money for the Petaluma High School cheerleading program. And in preparation for serving the over 21 crowd, we went to a morning of training on how to safely serve alcohol at an event described by the trainer as having “over the top adrenaline.”

First off, it’s a pretty cool arrangement that non-profit groups have the opportunity to raise some serious money over the three-days of NASCAR and future events at Infineon by working the concession booths. It would certainly be more efficient for the racetrack and concession company to hire people who know what they are doing to work the booths instead of some neophyte beer server and cheer-mom like myself. Instead they allow a wide assortment of non-profits including Sea Scouts, Christian schools, Lions clubs and even Navy recruiters to trade sweat equity for dollars for their group.

So what did Steve and I learn in sitting through two hours of videos and testing presented by the ServSafe Alcohol Program?

In spite of the party atmosphere that is part of the experience at many places where alcohol is served, pouring drinks is serious business. The person serving the drinks can be held personally liable for serving drinks to an intoxicated person, serving more than the two drink maximum, or serving alcohol to someone under the age of 21.

To drive the point home, the training started out with a Dateline episode about a drunk driver who hit another car on his way home from a sporting event. The driver’s blood alcohol level was almost three times the legal limit. The young girl in the car he hit was paralyzed from the neck down and eventually died as a result of the accident. The family sued and won a $136 million lawsuit. If the investigation could have determined the person who actually served the drinks to this already intoxicated customer, he/she could have also been held liable. Yikes.

Another point the training made is that drinking alcohol is a privilege and not a right. Just because someone demands you serve them, there are non-judgmental ways to respectfully decline service to them. Instead of saying, “Do you think I was born yesterday? Who are you trying to fool with that fake ID?” the better option is to say, “Our rules prevent me from serving someone without a valid ID.”

The training took me back to when I was 19 but I wanted to be 21 in the worst way so I borrowed my sister’s driver’s license to get into a bar with some friends. I was hoping that the guy checking ID at the door wouldn’t notice that the photo didn’t look anything like me and that according to the age on the license, I was 30. Maybe it was too dark or he just didn’t care that night, so I made it in.

However, at Infineon next Sunday, anybody under 21 shouldn’t even think about trying that stunt at my beer booth. I am trained and ready.

Coming Up Short

Sunday, June 12th, 2011

Now that our house has been on the market for about six weeks, friends are asking me if there has been any movement in selling it.

Well, yes there has been movement. Unfortunately, it’s the downward kind. We have lowered the price twice in the hope that it would generate an offer. So far that hasn’t happened so selling our house is still just a theoretical exercise.

This has caused me to ponder what the price of a house means in this squirrely real estate market when so many houses are short sales or foreclosures. It seems that the asking price of a property is more like a way to bracket the house with similar properties than a real number for a selling price.

I’ve been keeping my eye on the listing price for a couple of other houses in the same price range as ours which are also short sales (in keeping with the politically-correct time in which we live, I’m going to start referring to our house as equity-challenged) and I see them also dropping their price.

These houses were under water when they first went on the market. And now, like us, the difference between what they owe and what the house will probably sell for is increasing. Sometimes I feel like we’re all in a race to the bottom. By the time we actually get an offer, will the price be so low that we’re not just under water in the shallow end, we’re under water at the deep end of the pool? And how is that going to affect our negotiations with the bank?

While these are thoughts that roll around in my brain, it certainly does me no good to obsess about them. There is a phrase that I hear almost everywhere I go these days: “It is what it is.” That implies acceptance of a situation; a reminder to not get too worked up about whatever is going on because there are factors outside of our control.

The real estate market is what it is. And when our house does sell, it will be the same thing; all we can do is take it as it comes. We have our faith and a lot of good people to advise us.

So there’s no reason to panic; the house will eventually sell and then we will have the challenge and work of moving to deal with. In the meantime, I shouldn’t get ahead of myself but instead focus on appreciating living in a clutter-free, spacious house while it is still ours.

Seeing Our House for What It Is

Sunday, June 5th, 2011

Our house has been on the market for a month now and still no offers. But I’m not discouraged in spite of the gloomy headlines such as “U.S. home prices at lowest since 2006 bust” or “County home sales hit a low for April.”

For though we walk through the valley of the shadow of short sales, we’re prepared to hang in there until it sells. Sure, we are underwater but once we are able to sell it and have the burden of it not weighing us down, we feel like we will be able to come up for air and take some deep breaths.

In the meantime, I’m thoroughly enjoying living in our house now that it is so tidy. Every countertop has been cleared of the clutter so it’s ready for an agent to show it to potential buyers at any moment. Steve and I look at each other and comment that we should have always lived this way. It makes us feel calmer to look around and see order.

Now that the house has been stripped of the piles of papers, mail and folders that had found permanent homes on the furniture and kitchen counters, I see more of the house and less of us.

And by seeing the house more objectively, I’m reminded of what I thought about it when I first saw it 17 years ago. When I walk in, I’m struck with the thought that “Wow, this is a nice house. I really like the fact that it’s so open and has so much light coming in.”

Seeing the house as if it were new to me, has made me realize that I have been focusing on features of it that I saw as flaws such as the size of the kitchen and amount of countertop and storage space and not appreciating it for the really nice house that it is.

It’s like when my teenage daughters complain that their hips are too wide hips or their boobs are too small. All they see are their features that they consider to be less than perfect. Sure, they may not match up to some model of perfection that they see in a magazine”¦then again who does”¦so I try to give them some perspective. Even with a zit, they are beautiful. In fact, Steve said that to Jennifer just this morning on the way to church.

So if the worn and cat-plucked carpet is the zit on the face of our house and the kitchen looks small and inefficient compared to the ones in House Beautiful, I have faith that potential buyers can overlook these imperfections and see our house for what it has been to us”¦and could be for them: a wonderful place to raise a family in a safe and stable neighborhood.