Sunday, May 30, 2021

U.S. Windows Inc Urbandale IA review

  Last August a derecho storm blew 100 mile hour winds through Marshalltown and most of Iowa. THe two big oak trees in front of our house on the curb lost a lot of limbs. We were afraid the city was going to take them down along with most of the trees on our block. As of this writing the trees have not been taken down and are attempting a comeback. 

  Our house was undamaged except for quite a few shingles having been blown off. The roof was nearing the end of it's 15 year shingle life which led us to decide to get a new roof instead of replacing the lost and damaged shingles. The state was full of houses needing roofs. I called every roofer in the area and could not get a return call much less an estimate. 

  Eventually I got a call from US WIndows Inc in Urbandale last November. Greg Fox was the salesman and told me that they could put up 30 year Malarkey shingles in 40 degree weather so there was a chance that I could get the roof up in November. I researched the company and found no cause for concern in the Better Business Bureau and other review sites and Greg was a fellow chessplayer (tinman on ICC) so I signed a contract to replace my roof and flashing for $18,500 with $1,800 down and the rest on completion. The price was comparable with the last time I had the roof replaced (in 3 pieces) for my steep and large roof, I've never felt you can overpay for quality work whjich I was hopeful I was going to get with a roof that would outlive me.

  The day after I signed the contract we got a snowfall which put a 2020 roof out of the question. In March, Greg called me to say it would be a four month delay in getting the Malarkey Legacy shingles I ordered but they could get Malarkey Vista shingles instead. It was a lower quality shingle but still came with a 30 year guarantee. I wanted a roof I would't have to replace again so we negotiated a $1200 reduction in price and I didn't ask why my down payment didn't go towards reserving the shingles we had agreed on.

Levi and Lonnie... US WIndows Inc's roofing supervisors. 

  On March 10th a truck came with 3 pallets of shingles, nails, ridge vents, and roof vents which we had put in the driveway. No one came to even look at the merchandies until the next Wednesday when I first met the head roofers, Levi Paul and Lonnie Foley. They noticed right away that the shingles were not the Malarkey Vista shingles. I hadn't noticed and this gave me a good feeling that I had hired an honest company to do my roof.

  The correct shingles arrived Wednesday, March 24th and sat there until March 31st when an old pickup truck pulled into the driveway and a host of ladders, tarps, and other roofing equipment were placed in the front and back yard. The next day (April 1st) three workers arrived at 10am and started tearing down the roof that covers the front entry and awning over the first floor. The workers were gone when I got back home from work at 4:15 and had torn off some of the roof but the tarps remained in the truck and were not used to cover the unshingled parts of the roof. No one came to work on the roof until the next Monday (4 days later). There were a different group of three workers who worked the next three days starting around 10 and gone by 4:15. All three days when I came home for lunch the workers left, presumably for their own lunch, and had not returned by 12:50 when I left to go back to work. On April 7th, after four days of work and seven calendar days the front part of the roof seemed complete.

This is how the first group of workers left my house for four days.

  No one showed up after that until the next Tuesday April 13th. For the next five days Lonnie Foley from US WIndows Inc in Urbandale (one of the head roofers) worked on the garage all by himself. Lonnie seemed like a nice enough guy and told me that he was 63 and his back was bad and he was going to get a state job and give up roofing. I asked both Lonnie and Levi about the front part of the house where it seemed like the shingles were uneven and was told that after a few hot days the shingles would flatten out. 

  Lonnie finished the garage on Saturday April 17th and no one showed up at the house until Thursday April 22nd when three men started to tear down one of the valleys at the top of the house. When I got home from work the workers were gone and the valley stripped and covered with underlayment and some plastic wrapping but the wrapping was flapping in the wind and there was a 30% chance of rain with no tarp over the exposed roof (roofs should be tarped when there is a chance of rain according to I called Chris Sergio at US WIndows Inc in Urbandale he got ahold of Lonnie Foley who came to the house and told me there was no chance of rain. I went in the house and printed a fresh weather report showing a 30% chance of rain. Lonnie said he needed to go to Menards for some nails and came back a half an hour later and nailed down one piece of the plastic sheeting but did not tarp the roof. 

This is how the second group of workers left my house with a 30% chance of rain.

  It didn't rain that night and the next day the same three workers got some of the shingles on the roof but had not finished the valley and did not tarp the roof on Friday night either. On Saturday, a crew of over a dozen workers arrived to work. The roof was torn down and reshingled except the small area over a side door. The US WIndows Inc in Urbandale roofers Levi and Lonnie were not supervising the work, I noticed that on one side of the house the roofers put tarps over a few bushes in a haphazard fashion. I have some rose bushes on that side of the house from at least 1994 when we bought the house that were not covered and one of the bushes was uprooted from being pelted with roof debris.

A sample of the sloppy tarps over my bushes and some of the nails and roof debris on our yard after TWO sweeps by US WIndows Inc in Urbandale.

  When we looked at the house the next morning, the roof was on. There were over a dozen holes, breaks, and deep scrapes in the house siding. The metal flashing that seals the house to the bottom of the roof was loose and disconnected all around the house, There was also a broken section on the cement work at the bottom of the chimney as well as lots of shingles that seemed to be sticking up at odd angles as if they were not nailed down. The head of the roofing crew that did all this damage showed up on Sunday to finish up with a couple of helpers. It started raining so he told me he would finish up on Monday. I told him about the broken siding and flashings and chimney and he said I would have to bring it up with Levi. Then he left and it started raining and the piece of roof that wasnt finshed wasn't tarped.

A sample of the broken siding and the  last section of the roof left uncovered in the rain by US WIndows INC of Urbandale.

  I wrote to Greg Fox and Chris Sergio of US WIndows Inc in Urbandale and sent them some pictures of the broken siding. The three roofing crew guys that came on Sunday returned on Monday and finished up in the afternoon. On Tuesday, Lonnie and Levi arrived. Kathy and I showed them the damage. Levi said he couldn't match the siding but was going to go to Menards and find the best match he could. They spent the afternoon scrubbing the scrapes..On Wednesday, Levi showed up and replaced some of the broken siding using pieces from a corner of the house and putting the mismatched siding from Menards in the corner. When I came home from lunch, Levi showed me what he had done as asked if I could pay him the balance on the job. I told him he would get paid when he finished the job. Levi told me that the chimney was sealed off properly and the flashing and weird shingles would settle down as soon as we got a week of hot weather. I mentioned that there were a lot of nails and shingles around the house so he had Lonnie pick up the debris with a magnet. Kathy went over the area after Lonnie and got three gallon ziploc bags of nails that Lonnie missed.

  No workers showed up on Thursday and on Friday April 30th, Greg Fox the US WIndows Inc in Urbandale salesman called me and said he wanted to get paid. I told him that there was a lot of siding still broken but that since I owed over $15000 I would provide some of the payment. Levi came that afternoon, fixed another couple of pieces of siding and I gave him a check for $5600. After getitng paid a third, of their money, Levi and Lonnie got sloppy and were breaking the moldings of the siding while they were fixing the broken pieces. They even replaced a piece of siding with another piece that had a screw hole in it and told me it was a piece of dirt when I asked about it. When I got on the ladder and showed them the screw hole they tried to fix it with some putty and off color paint. 

  I'm not a roofing expert but I have had roofs put on the house before. Judging by the way Levi and Lonnie and their crew had wrecked the siding and the amount of nails that Kathy found in the driveway after TWO CLEANUPS there was only one conclusion I could draw : Levi Paul, Lonnie Foley, and the crew they had working on my house were NOTHING BUT A BUNCH OF SLOBS.. Add in the company from Greg Fox the salesman to Levi Paul the head roofing guy were very pushy on getting paid before finishing the job and had such quick answers to my concerns about the flashing, shingles, and chimney without ever climing on the roof. And consider that Levi Paul and Lonnie Foley started replacing broken siding with siding with holes in it and telling me it was dirt and then trying to stick putty over the broken siding. 

  Given all these factors, I decided I was going to call in a roof inspector to check the roof. On Tuesday May 4th, Bob from Roof Iowa in Ankeny arrived and inspected the roof. He told us we had overpaid for the roof by $3,000 to $5,000. I didn't care too much about that since roofers have been hard to come by since the derecho. What I did care about was Bob found dozens of exposed nails, uncaulked areas where the roof meets the house, shingles not over the edge of the house. Bob also told us that the flashng and shingles were not going to take care of themselves in the heat, and that the gutter aprons (where the roof meets the gutter) were not installed properly. Bob also had concerns about the chimney but said he talked to Levi and told me that Levi had checked out the chimney and said it was good. I told Bob that no one saw Levi climb a ladder to the top of the roof and Bob said I should wait for a good rain before paying. Bob did think the garage was done properly. 

A sample of the bare nails, broken flashing, gaps where roof meets house, roof debris left in gutters, and generally sloppy workmanship. This and more were found by Bob from Roof Iowa during his inspection after US WIndows Inc of Urbandale told me three separate times the job was done and wanted me to pay them because the job was complete.

  Over the next two weeks Levi and Lonnie and some workers came by every few days to fix the broken siding and the rest of Bob's list and kept on wanting to be paid. On May 8th we had a big rainstorm. The roof held up well an we found no leaks except for the spot where the chimney had it's cement seal broken. I tried to call Levi but his phone's voice mail was full so I wrote to Chris Sergio and Greg Fox from US WIndows Inc in Urbandale to let them know the situation. On sunday afternoon Lonnie called me to say he would be there Monday morning first thing to fix the chimney. On Monday I came home for lunch and Lonnie had not been there. I called Lonnie and he said he would be there first thing Tuesday morning. On Tuesday Lonnie did not show up and I called Bob who recommended Ron Purdy as  someone that could fix my roof. I called Ron and he came on Thursday and tarred the chimney and caulked another dozen spots that Levi and Lonnie and crew missed. There is still a leak by the chimney which Ron said he will fix as soon as there is some dry weather (we have not had three sunny days in a row since he tried to fix the leak the first time).

Here is the leak in my roof right where the chimney was damaged after Levi Paul from US WIndows Inc of Urbandale said he had 'inspected' the work.

  Eventually Levi and Lonnie took care of all the issues that Bob and Kathy and I found. Chris Sergio agreed to reduce the invoice by the cost of the roof inspection and Ron's leak repair. I suppose it could be said that US WIndows Inc in Urbandale  stands by their work. I prefer to think that US WIndows Inc in Urbandale finished their work because I wouldn't pay them until the job was complete. I also think that US WIndows Inc in Urbandale is a company that employs a bunch of slobs that charge top dollar for shoddy work. Chris Sergio told me that he has used Levi Paul for roofing projects many times and this was the first problem he had ever heard of. I not calling Chris Sergio of US WIndows Inc in Urbandale a liar but my thought on that statmene is 'Suuuurrrre'. I fell like Levi Paul, Chris Sergio, Greg Fox of US WIndows Inc in Urbandale would have been happy to let me pay the bill with a leaky roof, broken siding, three gallons of nails in the driveway, bare nails sticking out of my roof, shingles not overhanging the house, and all the other issues Kathy, Bob, and I found.The fact that a roof inspector had to point these problems out instead of Levi Paul or Lonnie Foley of  US WIndows Inc in Urbandale checking their crew's work and taking care of the issues before asking to be paid speaks volumes.

  Chris Sergio of US WIndows Inc in Urbandale told me that if I had any problems with my roof his company would stand behind their work. I wouldn't let these guys anywhere near my house again. I'm not writing this post to beat myself up or to cause trouble for US WIndows Inc in Urbandale.I'm writing this post to let people know about this company  
and see if others have had the same experiences and if the post ends up being in the front page of google search resilts for US WIndows Inc in Urbandale so much the better.


Friday, July 6, 2018

...And in the end

  I started this blog almost than nine years ago. I had a lot of spare time and thought I would use some of it to try to write a different kind of chess blog that focused more on the people and experiences I encountered instead of the self-congratulatory and self-immolation blogs that were the usual fare of the time. After detailing my 2009 adventures at the U.S. Open in Indianapolis I was side tracked from chess writing by the Yankees World Series championship quest, a new job, the passing away of my two awesome dogs Queenie the beagle and her son Tuffy the half beagle, and the arrival of my equally awesome beagles Daisy and Baxter.

  The fall of 2010 ushered in my peak chess writing years as I resumed working in faraway Des Moines and started a six year stretch of running the West Des Moines based St. Francis Chess Club in return for having the facilities available for a monthly youth tournament. This brought me into contact with a lot of awesome young chess players and parents and into conflict with a lot of decidedly less than awesome chess administrator types. Writing about all these experiences gave me a new perspective on youth chess competition and the competition for youth chess tournaments. The writings themselves resonated with a larger audience and emboldened me to submit my blog for the annual Chess Journalists of America awards. After finishing last in my first attempt at a humorous column I won the 2011 Best Chess Blog Award, beating out exactly one other entrant. The award only cost me a little over $40 in nomination fees and allows me to forever call myself an ‘award winning journalist’ although I tend to leave out the part about being a self-nominated chess journalist. I even wrote a blogging column for the Chess Journalists of America magazine ‘The Chess Journalist’. The magazine has decayed from a quarterly magazine to not having been published in over four years. I was asked to submit an article for the reboot of the magazine last year. I wrote an article on chess ‘YouTubers’ which is now dated by being ten months old and I have yet to hear any comment on it other than the editor received it but was too busy to look at it.

  After my rush of chess writing I had pretty much written all I had to say about youth chess and the politics of same. I reserved my chess writing for tournaments I played in and directed. The highlight of my year used to be directing and writing about the Okoboji Open which had a great tournament venue and great people running it. Running a close second was my yearly pilgrimage from my workplace in Des Moines across town to the Iowa State Fair for the speed chess tournament where I finally won the elusive blue ribbon after seven fruitless attempts and close calls. Both those events went by the wayside for me a couple of years back when I felt I was being asked to do more at Okoboji than I was comfortable with and not working in Des Moines which made a trip to play in the Iowa State Fair a two hour drive instead of a trip across town. The most surprising thing about my Iowa State Fair blue ribbons (aside from the fact that I won them) was that before I won my speed chess exhibitions at the local mall were well attended while after I won no one wanted to play against me at the same exhibitions.

  I still found plenty of things to write about instead of chess. My movie reviews and reviews of post-apocalyptic television shows like ‘The Walking Dead’, ‘Falling Skies’, and ‘The Last Ship’ are surprisingly well-read as are my forays into the stock market. My most popular non-chess posts were from my guest bloggers Daisy and Baxter. I would publicize their beagle’s eye view of the world on the reddit beagle page and the Daisy and Baxter posts occupy some of the top spots on my most read list according to Google Analytics. I even had my pet cockatiel Harry write a couple of guest columns for me which were well received if not well read (the cockatiel section of reddit must be less frequented than the beagle section). In truth almost everything I write about that is not related to chess gets more looks than my writings on chess. One of my best read blogs of 2015 was my review of Marshalltown’s refurbished Dollar Tree - not because of my writing but because a picture of the toothpaste aisle was picked up by a bigger blog displaying the quality of items available at the Dollar Tree.

  If you didn’t see the title of this post you may be wondering why I’m writing about all my last eight plus years of blogging but if you saw the title you probably realized that this is going to be the last Broken Pawn post for the foreseeable future (I always reserve the right to change my mind). With the new/old job that I wrote about last month it feels like Jerry’s monologue in Edward Albee’s classic play ‘The Zoo Story’ where I have gone a long distance out of my way to come back a short distance correctly. This has led me to the feeling that since I started this blog at my current place of employment rejoining the company (as a 'permanent' employee instead of a contractor) is the proper place to end it. Writing the blog has been great fun. Over the years I have written everything I’ve wanted to write about, more than I should have written about on some topics, and probably not everything I needed to write about. I think the blog is a pretty accurate picture of my life over the last few years and should provide me some entertaining reading in a few months or years when I read it from start to finish.

  So to close this blog for I’ll quote one of my favorite people, the inimitable Yogi Berra, who said “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over”. That is the popular quote but what is less well-known is that he followed that by saying “but when it’s over it’s over” making the complete quote:

  “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over but when it’s over it’s over”

Friday, June 29, 2018

Full Circle

  Four months ago I started my new job in far-away (60 miles) Urbandale, Iowa. The job was a six month programming assignment with the carrot held out of being hired on full-time if my performance was found worthy. Although I do like carrots I negotiated an hourly rate that was higher than the other contracting jobs that had been shown to me and less than the admittedly windfall-like rate that I got when I contracted directly with a company last year instead of going through a staffing agency like the one I used to get this position.

  My thought was that I would work my six months and if the company wanted to hire me we would negotiate things like salary or being able to work from home a day or two a week. I expected the company to wait as long as possible before making me an offer since the closer I came to the end of the six months the less leverage I would have at least in theory since most workers that take on contract to hire positions are not in a position to miss the paycheck or two that a job search would entail. My windfall last year left me in a good enough situation that I could walk away from the job when the contract was up but my employers would have no way of knowing that.

  The job was unusual in a number of aspects. I was part of a team of programmers and engineers based on three continents tasked with making a major upgrade to an existing project. In addition to the three groups there was also a research and development group whose software the existing project needed to interact with. Most of the people on the project (including the R&D group) had been with this company for at least 10 years with most of them having 20 or more years at the company.

  With so many people spending so many years at the company I thought that I could be told what I needed to do and pointed to where I needed to make changes by the more experienced hands. This was not the way it was. I was told what end results I needed to create but the company language was a kind of shorthand that required years to comprehend exactly what needed to change and what side effects could occur and finding where things needed to be changed another matter entirely. No one seems to have the complete picture of the project. Finding out who knew what was cumbersome and frequently making me seem more like a nuisance than a part of the team.

  I liked the people I worked with but I didn’t care much for the work at all. All the programming groups seemed to distrust each other and it appeared that they would occasionally go out of their way to make other groups or group members look bad. It reminded me a lot of a place I worked in New Jersey in the late 1980’s / early 1990’s when I first started programming. Everyone there seemed frustrated most of the time and a lot of the people contracted stress related diseases. I didn’t know how that dynamic evolved and 30 years later I don’t understand this group dynamic any better. I recognized this situation as something I’d encountered before and that kept me from getting too frustrated but it is not an environment I want to spend the rest of my working life in.

  After a few weeks I settled in and was getting my feet under me. I didn’t have to ask nearly as many questions but had to redo my work often because of my lack of understanding of the project, other changes breaking my changes, a misunderstanding on the part of the person asking for the work or any combination of all three factors. I had taken my name off the lists that recruiters use to cull applicants but in May I got a call from the recruiter that got me the interview with a company in Marshalltown right before I took my current job. Someone had retired and there was another opening. I said I would apply if I could start in July so I could finish up my current projects. This was acceptable and I started the application process once again.

  Since I had recently applied at this company I didn’t have to go through the entire process. I had a phone interview and breakfast meeting in place of an in-person interview and lunch. I found out a week later I had made the cut to the final three applicants and a week after that was asked to submit my information for a background check. I passed the background check and was offered the job which I accepted and will start on Monday. I gave two weeks’ notice at my current assignment and true to the dysfunctional nature of the place arranged to leave on Wednesday with the person who approves my time sheets and when this person went on vacation someone else asked me to stay on until Friday and work late and on the weekend from home. I agreed to stay until Friday and work from home but was not given any work to do at home.

  I will be getting less pay at my new job but the savings in time, gas, and car usage commuting five miles instead of 60 miles will make up for some of the shortage and being part of a health care plan instead of buying my own through COBRA or the staffing agency’s non-subsidized plan should take care of the rest. This is the same company I worked for a decade ago after leaving my job of 13 years writing shoe store software the company was sold to a group from out of state. I was a contractor back then and when the recession of 2008 hit the contractors were taking pay cuts and getting laid off in a terrible job market. I liked working in town but the circumstances of a recession (no pay raises) and no benefits (buying my own health care and not getting paid on holidays OR the ten-day Christmas shutdown) dictated I get a ‘permanent’ role with benefits even though it meant traveling a couple of hours a day for another ten years. I wouldn’t have felt good about taking a contracting role again with this company but feel pretty lucky to have landed a full-time job with benefits at the same place. I’m not naive enough to think that having a job close to home will suddenly make my work life a paradise. It is called work for a reason and I have worked here before and know that every place has its share of disagreeable people and practices. There is a lot of unknowns at any job but if my hand wasn't forced almost a decade ago I wouldn't have left a job so close to home. I feel like I am closing a loop and I expect a pleasant experience to be working so close to home again.

Friday, June 22, 2018

The Season Never Ends

  The NBA season ended earlier two weeks ago and not soon enough for me. After my basketball prediction program crashed and burned with its first losing season in the six years I had applied it to seasonal data I found myself $110.50 down at the end of the regular season with half of this losses coming on the last three days of the season. I made up $47 in the first three rounds of the playoffs with a 60% (30-20) success rate with only the finals left to complete my comeback story. I decided to make $5 bets on the first two games to get a feel for the series. I picked the Warriors giving 12 points in game one which turned out to be the only game in the Finals that the Cavaliers managed to cover even as they threw the game away in the closing seconds. I picked the Cavaliers to cover in the first half of the second game which turned out to be a Warriors blowout. I remember how the Cavaliers hung tough in games three and four of last year’s finals so I picked the Cavaliers in the third game but they once again threw away the game in the closing minute and threw away the cover to boot. In game four I was down $84.5 and picked the Cavaliers on the money line for $20 getting 1.55:1 odds. My idea was the Cavaliers would win and get my losses to under $55 and I would go double or nothing on the Warriors to cover in Game five. It seemed like a good idea but the game turned out to be a Warriors blowout and I finished the playoffs only $6 ahead of where I started with a total 148-152 record and $104.50 in losses.

  During the playoffs the Supreme Court made a decision that allows any state to legalize sports betting. The NBA has been ahead of the curve on this issue and Commissioner Adam Silver has long been a proponent of the NBA receiving a percentage of all bets as an ‘integrity fee’. I thought this was an insane idea but after the revelation that Cavaliers superstar LeBron James played the last three games of the finals with a self-diagnosed ‘broken hand’ after punching a whiteboard following the game one debacle I think the league is in dire need of integrity. Warrior bettors got a gift because of the lack of transparency on this injury. I probably wouldn’t have changed my picks but I certainly would have gotten more points on the Cavaliers in games two and three if it had been known James had a broken hand.

  I still plan on placing wagers on next year’s NBA season but since my computer prediction program is in a state of disrepair that I cannot fix by retrograde analysis due to schedule and changes and changes in how players are rested I will leave my prediction program in the ashes of history. I will not be blogging about my betting adventures since I deservedly received no subscription income for my advanced picks. I may move my wagering to a United States betting site as soon as one makes its way to Iowa. I can see sports gambling and the Internet combining to make a betting experience where gamblers will not only bet on games but gamble on the result of a play, what team or player makes the next score, etc., etc., etc. Gambling is going to be the next big revenue stream for sports as soon as they can figure out how to cash in.

  The next big events on the NBA calendar after yesterday’s draft is the free agent signing period which starts July 1st. I don’t follow college basketball and find the draft to be a big guessing game where every year players are picked in the top ten but fail to make a meaningful impact and are shipped off to another team in a couple of years while some passed over players become contributors to winning teams. I’d much rather wait to see which players pan out before congratulating a team for managing to draft a highly touted player who has yet to play an NBA game.

  While I don’t pay much attention to the draft I do pay great attention to the free agency and trade period where teams shuffle their rosters and star players pick their next destination. The top free agent is once again LeBron James Four years ago I wrote that James had two years of being the best player on a championship team. James has proven me wrong as he is still playing at a championship level after 15 years in the league. Like any superstar player he needs to have the proper team around him to win the championship but James is still the best player in the game. There are rumors that James will attempt to create a new super-team with the Lakers or join the talent laden Rockets or 76ers in his quest to get a fourth, fifth, or sixth championship. James career arc reminds me a lot of the great Wilt Chamberlain. Chamberlain was a supremely talented player that generally played on flawed teams most of his career and was maligned for being a loser since his team’s only beat the Bill Russell Celtics one time just like James’ Cavaliers could only get past the Warriors once in four tries. At this stage of his career Chamberlain forced a trade to the Lakers to join Jerry West where he one 1 more championship in four finals appearances. I can see James following the Chamberlain path to the Lakers but think it is more likely that he would join the Rockets since they are already a championship caliber team that could have beaten the Warriors in the playoffs without the inopportune injury to Chris Paul. If I had to place a bet I would pick James staying with the Cavaliers since that is where his family lives but time will tell.

  Time will also tell on the destination 2014 Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard of the San Antonio Spurs. Leonard has one year left on his contract and the Spurs are in position to offer him a ‘supermax’ deal worth $219 MILLION DOLLARS. This is $40 million more than he can get from any other team. Despite this, Leonard he has reportedly demanded a trade from the Spurs. Leonard missed all but nine games of the past season with a quad injury. He was cleared by the Spurs medical staff but he claimed he had lingering pain and continued his recovery with his own set of doctors in New York., there seems to have been a lot of acrimony about the misdiagnosis about Leonard’s injury with his teammates and coaches taking veiled shots at him. If Leonard doesn’t trust his team’s medical staff I can’t see him ever playing for the Spurs again. There are rumors that Leonard wants to go to the Lakers and there will surely be a host of teams looking to make a deal for his services. Leonard was the best player on a championship team in 2014 but that was five years and an ankle and quad injury in the past. I would be very leery about trading draft picks and star players to get a player that missed an entire sason due to injury. As disparate as the Lakers are for a superstar player I don’t see them mortgaging their bright future for Leonard. The teams I can see making a pitch for him are the 76ers who have young players, draft picks, and after the Brian Colangleo twitter fiasco the franchise may be looking to make a big splash. The other team I can see making a big play is the New York Knicks. The Knicks don’t have much in the way of talent to offer but it would be a very Knick thing to do to mortgage any semblance of a future for a superstar’s scrapbook.

Friday, June 15, 2018

TV Review - Fear The Walking Dead Season 4 Episodes 1-8


  I spent the last two months watching AMC’s ‘Fear The Walking Dead’ for my Sunday night post-apocalyptic viewing. The show had gotten better and better over its three-season run and I had high hopes for the fourth season. Season three had our zombie apocalypse survivors trying to escape from their latest home – a dam that was in the middle of an armed takeover. The dam had been booby trapped and Nick was on top of the dam holding the kill switch while his mother Madison, sister Alicia, and con-man Strand were escaping in motorboat. Nick blows up the dam and attempts to escape with special ops agent Daniel Salazar. We don’t know if anyone survives except Madison who is washed up on a shore as the last scene of the season.

The big bad of season 4 of Fear The Walking Dead was the oddly civilized 'Vultures'

  This seemed like a great cliffhanger well in keeping with the show’s history of having a new locale every half season four our survivors before finding themselves on the run once again. Then changes to the show runners and cast were introduced with the chief content officer role turned over to The Walking Dead show-runner Scott Gimple and the announcement that Morgan from ‘The Walking Dead’ was moving to ‘Fear The Walking Dead’ and a new cast of well-known character actors would be coming to Season 4 including Maggie Grace (Kim from the Taken movies), Jenna Elfman (Dharma from Dharma and Greg), and Garret Dillahunt (Simon from Burn Notice). I assumed the addition of Morgan was to goose the ratings and I liked the idea of new cast members since I always felt this show is not beholden to a comic book like the Walking Dead proper and could accommodate a cast of characters that die off and are replaced.

  The season started well enough with Morgan’s journey from the parent show conclusion to the All-Out War arc in Virginia to the southwest where he meets Althea (Grace) and John Dorie (Dillahunt) and the trio form an unlikely alliance after battling a group of scavengers with the help of Althea’s awesome fully loaded SWAT vehicle. At the end of the episode the trio are shanghaied by main cast members Nick, Alicia, and Strand.

  For me this was the high point of the season as the remaining seven episodes in the half-season turned into a mashup of flashbacks detailing the fall of the baseball stadium home that the original survivors had apparently spent a year in before being besieged by a group called ‘The Vultures’ who ride around the area scavenging everything that can be scavenged and trapping zombies in buildings or oil tanks or etc… while leaving banners proclaiming the zombie inventory outside each container. The Vultures send the young girl Charley in the stadium to get intel and then camp in the stadium parking lot where they offer the residents a choice of joining the Vultures or dying of starvation because of the weevil infestation of the crops.

Great set pieces like this zombie invasion failed to make up for the poor storytelling...

  The action continues to switch from the past to the present. There are some veiled references to how Madison found the rest of the group which would have made an interesting half season in itself except we have been fast forwarded to a disconnected future that we are seeing in the past. We never see Madison in the present and the rest of the cast hints around a terrible fate that befell the stadium at the hands of the Vultures but we also never see that until the season finale. One major event takes place in the third episode when Nick is shot dead by Charley after killing her ‘Vulture guardian’ in a fit of rage. The death was sudden and shocking and a high point of the season. I liked Nick the character a lot but the death seemed foreordained as it was revealed that actor Frank Dillane wanted off the show. The death was folded nicely into Morgan’s story arc as he warned Nick that killing the Vulture wasn’t going to work out the way he wanted and even seemed to be getting through to him before his untimely death. What made the death less meaningful was that Nick continued to show up in flashbacks with a lesser role in each episode.

The real time death of Nick was much more shocking than if it had been presented in flashback version...

  The season continued to teeter-totter between the past and future as we find that the woman John has been looking for all season (Laura) is really Naomi (Elfman) from the baseball stadium. There is an entire bottle episode of John and Laura’s time in his cabin before she runs away since Naomi not only can’t tell anyone her real name (it is revealed to be June in the season finale), she continually tries to run away from the stadium and is revealed to have joined the Vultures at the end of episode six while the flashbacks show the ballpark making a successful run for supplied and seeds to restart planting food at the ballpark which leads to the vultures leaving.

The scene was intense but I had no way of knowing why Alicia in particular was so upset since I hadn't seen the flashbacks yet.

  The seventh episode has the ‘climactic’ showdown between our group of survivors and the vultures but it happened before we understand that the vultures had a split in leadership that led to one group deciding to take the ballpark by force using all their stashed zombies while the other group wants to leave the ballpark alone. The siege ends the seventh episode flashback while the current day timeline has our survivors heading back to the ballpark to get medical supplies. In the mid-season finale we see an interview between Althea (a compulsive journalist that tapes the story of everyone she meets) and Madison between the end of season three and the discovery of the ballpark, fights between our survivor factions, and Madison sacrificing herself by leading the zombies into the ballpark and locking herself and the zombies in the stadium while the rest of the crew escapes. The finale ends with our survivors settling their differences over a feast of ramen noodles and ready for more adventures in the second half of the season. Yes, all it took was some ramen noodles to get everyone to forget their differences.

  The new characters were great, the music and cinematography gripping, and there was more than enough zombie action to make this half season a great one but the constant time jumps led to a confusing story line that made the half season a jumbled mess. It is possible that binge watchers may find this half season more cohesive but I doubt it. Not seeing the missing parts between the end of season three at the dam and the beginnings of the ballpark and having almost all the ballpark scenes in flashback made me not care about the ballpark at all. The struggles of the survivors to secure the prison in ‘The Walking Dead’ made me feel a real sense of loss when it fell. I had no similar investment in the ballpark. Once Nick died in episode three there was no point in showing him in flashbacks in the rest of the season. Having the dual timelines was a bold move that didn’t pay off due to poor storytelling. It would have been far better to have had the timeline run in sequence even if Madison’s ‘death’ (we never saw her die, after all) had to happen in episode four or five. A sequential timeline would have left no doubt to the characters motivations (why Nick wanted to kill Charley’s Vulture guardian and why Alicia wants Naomi dead so bad) instead of leaving the viewers wondering why our characters were getting so out of character.

Madison's death would have been much more effective if told in real time instead of flashback-style.

  The best thing that can be said about this half season is that it is over. Hopefully with what amounts to a new interesting cast with holdovers Strand, Alicia, and Luciana (Nick’s old girlfriend who took most of season three off and suddenly reappeared), the show runners can explore the zombie apocalypse landscape of the western U.S. with story lines that don’t needs flash backs and flash forwards to be interesting. Since Maggie Grace is already in the show I humbly suggest that the show runners do whatever it takes to get her Taken dad Liam Neeson to show up for a guest spot or even be a series regular. Neeson’s Bryan Mills character would instantly be the baddest actor in the apocalypse and would give an astronomical boost to the sagging ratings. Failing landing Neeson, I hope Daniel Salazar can make a return to the show since Ruben Blades portrayal of the Costa Rican black ops soldier would give Mills a run for his money in the bad actor department.