Saturday, February 16, 2013


Let me start off my saying I'm a big fan of the United States Postal Service (USPS).  I sell a lot of record albums and I ship virtually all of them through USPS.  Overall the service I've gotten from USPS has been very impressive.  Until recently I felt like I was getting a bargain for most everything I mailed (the recent increases in overseas mail costs are simply dumbfound), and over the years I'd gotten to know many of the postal clerks at my postal office.  They're nice to me; treat me with courtesy and respect (even though many customers treat them like dirt) and I appreciate how hard they work while being employed by such a large and truly dysfunctional organization like the USPS.

My local post office is a fairly small operation.  Until recently they had four counter stations; one overflow station that also handled cards and miscellaneous sales, and one Automated Postal Machine.  For the most part they were well equipped to handle day-to-day customer volume.  When they got rid of the stupid take a number system, things worked fairly efficiently.  Yeah, the line could back up on Saturdays and during the Christmas holidays, but I seldom spent more than five minutes in a line.

So in a fit of managerial brilliance, USPS management recently decided that it would make sense to pull out one of the counter stations and the 'store' overflow station.  Those two stations were replace with two more Automated Postal Machines (APM).  Clearly USPS management is trying to cut costs and pushing customers to the APMs does that.  Unfortunately judging by my last two visits to the post office, they seemingly haven't thought this plan out very well.

The new "enhanced" machines offer little practical benefit over the older machines.  You can't use them for international mail and you can't use them for media mail.  As such, they have zero utility for me.  Post Office management also seems to have ignored the fact older customers don't want to use the machines.  I have yet to see anyone over 60 go out of their way to use one of the machines.  In fact, on those occasions I've wanted to use one of the machines, there have only been a couple of cases where I've seen a senior citizen successful navigate the machines.  It isn't that it's hard to use them, but there are multiple screens with lots of reading involved.  In can be a challenge it you haven't done it before.  Anyhow, I can count the number of times I've stepped forward to help someone using one of the  APMs just so they can finish their transaction and speed up the line.  

By the way, if you're young (say 30 or under), you're hardly ever going to use the Post Office anyhow - you use email, Twitter, etc. and already pay your bills automatically so you could care less about the new ATP machines.  Seriously, when I'm in the post office, the customer demographics are pretty clear and they are not skewing to the youth market.

This morning I counted 26 people in line when I got to the head of the line.  Watching the post office manager trying to steer people to one of the new APM machines was fascinating.  He only got two takers and one of them couldn't actually process the transaction because he only had cash (the machines want a credit, or debit card).  Everyone else either didn't want to use the machines, or had something they needed to see a postal clerk for.  By the way, one of the two new APM units is already broken.

So now that my local post office has taken out two of their postal clear stations, there are only three postal clerks available to deal with the same stream of customers.  Guess what ?  Same workload coupled with less throughput equates to longer lines. Longer lines equate to more pissed off customers.  Pissed off customers tend to be mean to the postal staff who they blame for the longer waits.  As for that five minute wait - well today it took me twelve minutes to get to the front of the line.  (When I got there the postal clerk said something to the effect she was praying that I didn't have any international parcels - it takes forever for the clerks to key in the data for an international package (another great process breakthrough, though I think the Department of Homeland Security pressured the Post Office into it.)

Yes, at least in my little neck of the postal world, this attempt to improve customer service hasn't turned out very well.  And that's without even getting into the issue of the massive jumps in postal fees, or even talking about the end of Saturday delivery.

A death spiral - yes, that's what USPS management seems to have created here.  Their attempts to improve performance have simply pissed of their workforce (seriously, does Post Office management have a clue as to how unhappy their workforce is), and they are about to do the same thing to what's left of their customer base.   Brilliant plan there guys.  

I'm thinking it's about time for Postal management to award themselves another round of big bonus checks.

It'll be interesting to see if these are just "kinks" in the road.  Perhaps this will work out well ?   Hum, I have my doubts, but miracles do happen.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


I was in junior high school when I discovered Stevie Wonder through the song 'Superstition'.  I can still remember hearing the song on Armed Forces Network radio and being mesmerized by the whole package - Wonder's amazing voice; the dynamic horn charts; the jumpy clavinet synthesizers; the mesmerizing lyrics ... the whole thing was simply amazing.  I tracked down the parent LP (Talking Book"); plunked down my $4.00 to buy a copy at my local base exchange (literally a month of allowance), and still have my copy some 40 years later.

It seems hard to believe someone out there hasn't heard the song, but just in case ...   YouTube link to a 1974 live performance of the song:

And here's where it gets funny.  My nine year old was talking about a song he heard on television.  He didn't know the name of the song, but he heard it during the superbowl, during one of the beer commercials and it had something to do with fans crossing their fingers and turning their beer bottles a certain way during the game ...  As it turns out Bud Light bought rights to used 'Superstition' in some of their commercials.  Needless to say, I steered my child away from the beer commercial and to the real thing ...  I even pulled out that forty year old copy of "Talking Book".  It sounds as good today as it did back then.

Monday, February 11, 2013


True story - I found an album entitled "Cold Cuts" in a pile of throwaway religious albums and bought it thinking it was some sort of McCartney cover band.  It ended up in my "also ran" pile where it sat for a couple of years before I realized it was a Paul McCartney album.

As it turns out, the collection's tortured history is almost as interesting as some of the songs.  In the wake of Wings' ongoing successes, in 1978 McCartney planned  to release a double album hits and odds and ends collection entitled "Hot Hitz and Kold Kutz" (I've also seen it listed as "Hot Hits and Cold Cuts").  Capitol Records executives weren't thrilled with the double album concept and the project was shelved in favor of the abbreviated "Wings Greatest".  The following year McCartney took another shot at pulling together previously unreleased material, but again ran out of steam.  In early 1981 he resurrected the idea, going as far as selecting songs from his catalog and undertaking some post-production work.  John Lennon's death saw the projected shelved.  Six years later, following the release of "Back To the Egg",  McCartney gave it another shot, but after bootlegs of the sessions hit the market, he walked away from the project.  

"Cold Cuts" seems to be drawn from that last go-around.  Chronologically the set pulled together eleven tracks spanning the 1971 "Ram" through 1978 "Back To the Egg" sessions.  Musically the set was all over the map including raw, unfinished demos and some top notch finished takes that were actually better than some of the stuff actually released.   Given McCartney's deep catalog of unreleased material (he could easily release a double album set of shelved material), I'll tell you this track line-up was somewhat disappointing.  Out of the eleven tracks, there were a couple of nice performances including one lost pop classic .... 'Waterspout'.    

Recorded during the "London Town" sessions, I suspect McCartney tossed out the delightful 'Waterspout' in a couple of minutes.  One of those incideously catchy melodies that he seemed to effortlessly toss around, the song had a dream melody kicked along by some tropical percussion and one of McCartney's brightest vocals. It gets even better during the last 20 seconds when McCartney and Denny Laine start trading vocals (shame it faded out at that point).  No doubt it would have made a fantastic single - far better than anything on "London Town", let alone many of his  late-'70s singles.   McCartney apparently resurrected the song in 1987 with the intention of including it on the "All the Best!" compilation, but it was dropped from that set as well.  You just have to wonder why.    rating: ***** stars

Here's a YouTube link to the track:

Thursday, February 7, 2013


Basic Information:

Name: CD Cellar

Location: 2614 Wilson Blvd Arlington, VA 22201


Location: Grade B: They're within walking distance of a couple of Metro stops and there's plenty of street parking.  Just be aware that Arlington Country charges for street parking virtually 7 -24 and they are extremely aggressive when it comes to parking meter enforcement. Street parking is also very expensive so bring lots of quarters if you're planning to browse awhile.

Staff: Grade B: I was in the store on a fairly busy Saturday afternoon and while none of the staff went out of their way to help me out, that's not a bad thing in my book. If I wanted help, I'd ask for it. The staff on duty were your standard aren't-we-cool, college aged kids who seemed thankful to have jobs. They didn't seem to have all that much interest in the merchandise, but I will give them kudos for treating customers courteously and they went out of
their way to help me load purchases in my Jeep. Curiously, a couple of folks came into the store asking to sell LPs and CDs. The staff took a quickly look and politely declined the merchandise in both cases. Guess they didn't need another copy of Journey's Greatest Hits.

Inventory: Grade B: I'm guessing they have about 10,000 LPs in the bins. Musically it's a mix of genres and old and new releases. Look closely to make sure you aren't buying a repress. Unlike some other local stores, their buyers seem to pay attention to the condition of LPs bought and put out for sale. Inventory is categorized by genre, though some of the categorizations were
curious. Some '60s rock was with mainstream rock. Some was in a '60s bin. Not a big deal.

Pricing: Grade C-: Wow. If I could sell my collection at these prices I could literally retire. I'm guessing the average LP price is $10 with some releases going much higher than that. $10 isn't necessarily bad, unless you're talking about fairly common flea market-type inventory. In this case there were tons of LPs that you'd be able to buy at a flea market, or charity store for $1 - $5. At least a dozen times I picked up an album and put it back because of the asking prices were just way out of line with value.

Facility: Grade B: The store is located in a standard, anonymous strip of small ships. Inventory is in and under bins located along the outer walls. To their credit, the store is bright and they've left wide aisles so you can move around without too much difficulty. No listening booths in the place and the store sound system was no great shakes. I have no idea what they were playing, but at least one guy standing next to me told his girlfriend/wife that it was giving
him a headache and he left. Kind of hard to compare it to their Falls Church branch, but if I had to pick one of the two ... probably go to the Falls Church location.

Damages: Again, I'm not sure I want the wife to know this but I ended up buying 27 LPs for about $400 (they gave me a small discount for the quantity purchase). Hard to pick out specific treasures, but they would include an original French pressing of Francois Hardy's debut LP "Francois Hardy" and a reissue of "The David" psych LP.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013


Here are the LP reviews over the past week. Click on the individual links to see each detailed review:

- The Esquires "Get On Up and Get Away" **** stars
- Starfire "Get Off with Us" *** stars
- Summit "Summit" *** stars
- Spooky Tooth "Witness" UK pressing *** stars
- The High Llamas "Can Cladders" **** stars
- Lowell Fulsom "Soul" *** stars
- Ahora Mazda "Ahora Mazda" *** stars
- The Sonic "Sonic Original English Beat Company" **** stars
- America Standard "American Standard" * star