A Greenville Gem: Reedy Falls Park

For a split second I thought of a cheesy Hallmark title for this blog post – Falling in Love with Reedy Falls.  Thankfully, that would have been misleading… I was in love with the park long before I moved here.  The new title is quicker to the point.  Falls Park on the Reedy River is one of Greenville’s gems and will most likely be featured over and over in my blog.

One of my earliest memories with my wife’s family is a picnic lunch we shared here when Christina and I were still dating.  I thought it was cool, but since I wasn’t thinking I’d ever live here, it was nothing to get too attached to.  However, as work grew ever more “travely” and the possibility of moving here became more a reality, the park was something I immediately knew I wanted to live near.  I’ve been to many big cities and seen many of their parks, but few have such an impressive feature – not to mention right in the middle of a city that has been perfectly built up to take full advantage of the waterfront.

Lest you believe I am overstating my case, allow me to illustrate with a picture the perfection of the park on a sunny afternoon:

Reedy Falles Park

Taken from the Liberty Bridge, an impressive suspension bridge arching over the river.

Yep, that’s right.  Lion King is in fact playing in the theater downtown.  Sharp eyes you have there.  Also, in case you missed it, the waterfall is amazing!  There are paths winding down below the bridge to the waterside with a trail that runs 2.5 miles to Cleveland Park by the Greenville Zoo.  Christina and I hope to walk it soon, though she might need a few rests along the way with that third trimester baby wearing her out!  In the Summer you’ll see people splashing about in the water and some adventurous souls sliding down the rocks to their early graves.

The walking path along the river that you can see in this picture takes you to some fine dining, art galleries, and a bubble tea bar.  I’ve only eaten at Soby’s, which is on the other side of that bridge you see in the background, but it was amazing.  Best shrimp and grits I’ve ever had, and I look forward to more.  It’s part of a restaurant group called Table 301, and I’ll be reviewing them more in full as I try them.  I’m definitely looking forward to a nice meal overlooking the water some day soon.

So, if you ever need a reason to feel good about a move to Greenville, let this be one of the primary reasons.  Make sure it doesn’t trump having family nearby (easy to ensure when your family is as awesome as mine), but make sure it ranks highly.  Every house we looked at I actually plotted on a map to see how far from Reedy Falls Park it would be.  Anything over 15 minutes was out of the question.  Where we are now is 12 minutes away (and 12 minutes the other direction to the airport… another place I’ll visit often), and I couldn’t be happier.

I’ve lived in Greenville two and a half weeks and been downtown to the park now 5 times.  It hasn’t even started to get old, and I haven’t explored the half of it.  I love my new city.

Speaking of Confidence Games…

When you move into a new home, you are inundated with mail.  You get notifications and bills for all the utilities you’ve signed up for, mail from your old home forwarded to the new (if you’re lucky), a notification a week in that your mortgage has been sold (hah! why didn’t ya just get me from the beginning, Wells Fargo?), and some mail from con artists.  In my case it was the so called Loan Payment Administration of Xenia, OH, a business you’ll be hard-pressed to find online.  I almost called their phone number just to see how they pitch it, but I didn’t my number going into some callback database.

The letter you get looks nice and official, with one Sandra Lipsky offering to reduce the overall length of my mortgage by offering as a middle-(wo)man collecting my mortgage payment bi-weekly instead of monthly.  All they do is hold onto your money until your mortgage payment is due and then submit it for you, but since you’re paying them a total of 26 payments a year (as opposed to 12 monthly payments), they’re ostensibly putting that “13th” month’s payment toward the principal of your loan.  To build your confidence, the letter claims to represent a service featured in CNN Money, the Wall Street Journal, etc.  Great, because that’s all it takes to make my pull out my wallet!

I closed my last post drifting terribly close to a tangent regarding confidence games, when on my desk was sitting a prime example.  The “con” in con artist just means someone is trying to gain your “con”-fidence so you pad their bank account on some pretense of a deal.  This company may in fact put extra money toward the principal of your mortgage, but the big question is… why don’t you just do that yourself?  Who is really being helped here?  If you know enough to setup automatic or even manual payments to this third party service, can’t you just do it for the bank servicing your loan?  Every web application I’ve used to pay my mortgage allowed me to pay extra toward the principal of the loan any time I wanted to, so I’m sure you can, too.

In reality, we have no clue what they do with your money once they take it.  I’m sure they’re earning interest on it somehow or collecting a fee (50% of that 13th month? 75%?), but as I said, I’m not letting my number go into their database. If you’re brave and want to share the details, feel free to call 1-800-317-1756.  I can confidently assure you they’ll ask for No Upfront Fee (their bolded words, not mine), but who knows?

On a side note, I’m interested to know what you’d call a person who’s an expert at confidence games, or perhaps someone who advocates for con artists? A pro con artist?  Perhaps “pro” is short for something there?

If you ever register a domain name, expect to get the same kind of mailings.  There’s always some crazy company trolling the latest registrations eager to mail you what appears to be an invoice for the servicing of your new domain.  They’ll offer SEO services and maybe some other sort of domain assurance, but it’s all a sham.  Their bit always looks like an invoice that reads “This is not an invoice.” (which is theoretically illegal even with the disclaimer) to gain your confidence.  The Loan Payment Administration just tries very hard to look exactly like the paperwork I get from my bank.

Getting a Driver’s License in Greenville, SC

What some people refer to as the DMV I now refer to as the county reading room.  Let’s not kid ourselves.  It’s less a department and more a lounge.  It’s less about helping you drive your car legally in the state and more about keeping it in the parking lot.  Really, though, I suppose it’s a little too cliche to gripe about the efficiency of a DMV, but my did I enjoy sitting in my new office.  Here’s how you can enjoy it less than I did.

To start with, there are two places downtown where you’ll need to do business to get your driver’s license and license plate, the Greenville County Square and the DMV off University Ridge just south of Reedy Falls Park.  (Yes, I basically know my way around this city in relation to that glorious waterfall; I don’t see that changing any time soon.)  I list them in this order for you, because I went to the DMV first before finding out I had to go to the County Square to pay my vehicle taxes before getting my license plate. No worries, the line was only about 10 minutes long that first visit…

Also, another sidebar (because I’m good at that) – as I drove around trying to find these buildings, it struck me that some general contractor must have made a killing selling cheap, energy efficient, ugly brown brick buildings to the county government.  Really, everything about these buildings and other government offices I’ve seen in the area is ugly.  It’s not brown brick like a nice stately brick home in a dated neighborhood.  It’s certainly not the brownstone you’ll find in Brooklyn.  It’s brown brick like … I don’t know what like, but I’ll just say a prison, though I picture those being more concrete (or on fire / in various states of riot in South America).

But I digress. Before you go off to any office, first you must gather the necessary paperwork.  This is going to include your existing license and vehicle title, a social security card, a passport or birth certificate, a proof of insurance, and something else confirming your new address just in case (I used our mortgage because we had not received any bills yet).  With all this in hand, you’re ready to spend some time enjoying the hospitality of your county government accomplishing the following tasks:

  1. Pay your property tax.  First head to the County Square room 800 on the far left to grab your tax bill.  They’ll need to see your title and proof of your new address here.  My bill turned out to be less than $30 because my truck is nice and old with a blue book value I’m sure is reaching into the negatives.  I’m surprised they didn’t just give me money at the window.  In any event, you get your bill in room 800 and then pay up front on your way back to the parking lot.  Relatively quick and painless, though apparently no one cares enough to boot pan handlers out of the waiting line.
  2. Get your form on at the DMV.  Head across to the street to the DMV to get forms for your driver’s license and new motor vehicle registration.  If you have an out of state license, there are extra requirements for getting your driver’s license.  Don’t fret, though.  If you brought everything I said, you’ll be fine.  Unfortunately, I did not have a good enough proof of address then first (well, second) time I went to the DMV, so I went home and returned the following day.  Now, when I showed up, they gave me forms and I filled them out in advance so I wouldn’t be held up at the DMV, but this is far from a requirement.  I actually waited for about 2 hours to be served, so you’ll have plenty of time to fill out the two forms.  You may want to print them and fill them out in advance if you think you’ll have trouble coming up with the details, but it should be in all that paperwork I said to bring.
  3. Wait for that number.  This is the part where you need to pick a book or three magazines you’ve been waiting to read and tear through them.  You’ll be waiting a while for your sweet number to be called even after filling out those forms, and I don’t think anyone around you will be in the mood to strike up a conversation.  Remember, griping about the DMV is cliche, especially while you’re in the DMV.
  4. Hand it all in!  License first then license plate if you can.  I say if you can, because when I showed up, the license machines were down.  Now, I was told at the time it had something to do with Leap Day.  I was really trying to get my stuff sorted out ASAP, and I was a little geeked that I’d have a driver’s license issued on Feb. 29th, so I was more than a little disappointed when I found out they don’t do those on Leap Days.  Lo and behold, after two and a half hours in the office, the machine suddenly started working again.  I think it had less to do with Leap Day (most convenient excuse the receptionist could come up with?) and more about poorly maintained computer systems that literally took 25 minutes to reboot while we were all waiting to be served.  So I first had to go through the hassle of an out of state title transfer / registration before getting my driver’s license.  The good bit is that waiting in the DMV for over 3 hours one day saved me a fourth trip to the office the following day!  Man, if only that read as good as it felt at the time.
  5. Wait to take your picture.  Pinch your cheeks to rosy them up, toss your hair about a bit to give it volume (see picture above), suck that peppercorn out of your tooth, and wait to be called for your photo op.  I may know from personal experience that asking how your picture turned out is worth a flattering compliment from the camera lady.  May.  She also said smiling was optional, but personally I rarely think it is.  Smile wide!
  6. Stop by Reedy Falls Park on the way home.  I mean, really, you’re so close.

And that about sums it up!  The worst part for me was not knowing what paperwork I needed when.  The DMV website was mostly unhelpful, and their technical difficulties almost cost me a fourth trip.  Coming with more than the required paperwork simply can’t hurt you.  Just make sure you don’t pack it in something too dorky… you do want these people to feel confident with you on the road, so inspiring confidence it the name of the game.

And since we’re closing on the topic of confidence games… well, no, maybe next time.  Bon nuit!

Haggling for Cheaper Trash Service

I’m actually not a fan of haggling.  I don’t like approaching a place of business, being given a price, and then being expected to haggle over the value of the product or service I want until the merchant finally gives it to me at a “discount” rate.  I know things cost money, and I know businesses incur costs to deliver them to me.  On top of that, I know businesses expect to make a profit, and I don’t begrudge them that.  Those simple facts should all add up to discreet prices, and I prefer seeing the best price first so I can make as quick a decision as possible about whether or not I feel it’s fair.

Maybe that’s the issue – I would much rather cut to the chase.  Buying something is a task to me, not a game or even necessarily an enjoyable experience.  I do enjoy the things I buy, but I want there to be as little friction between my decision to buy something and my enjoyment of it as possible.  For these reasons I found buying jewelry in Mexico particularly vexing – how in the world am I supposed to know how much silver is worth?  How can I tell if it’s really silver?  Are your children really going to starve at $75 for a pair of earrings with some quasi-precious stone attached to it?

No lie: I actually paid double the price for a trinket I bought at a market in Paris because I didn’t feel like haggling and didn’t want to wait around for change.  He said a Euro, I had a two-piece.  We traded items and I went away happy… so I could go peruse used and antique bookstores.  Ahh, but I guess some transactions are meant to take time.

Of course, sometimes things just work out in your favor, no haggling required.  Such was the case for me when I called to setup trash and recycling service at our new home in Greenville.

If you live within the Greenville city limits, you get trash and recycling service thanks to your local taxes.  I happen to live a little less than half a mile away from the city limits, so I was on my own.  I hear competition drives prices down, but without knowing how much the city pays trash companies, I have no way of knowing if competition outweighs collective bargaining in trash service.  But I digress…

I had two options that I knew of: Waste Management and Waste Industries.  I found a quote online for the latter of $49.99 / quarter for weekly trash and “fortnightly” recycling service.  “Not bad,” says I, as I dial up Waste Management to get a quote from them.  Turns out they wanted to charge close to $75 / quarter for weekly trash and recycling.  I told the customer service rep that I wanted to check competing quotes, and she went into “convert the sale” mode.  “Is there anything we can do to get your service right now?” she asked sweetly.

“Well, really I just want to call Waste Industries and see if I’m reading their rates properly.  I’m seeing a quote of $49.99, and I’m all about saving $100 a year if I can.”

“Oh, well, let me see if I can approve a discount for you.”  Seconds pass.  A very few of them, leading me to believe I was somehow pre-approved.  “Ahh, in fact we can do weekly trash and recycling for $57 / quarter.”

“Sold.  I’ll call you again in a year when you try to raise me back up to your ‘normal’ rate.”

And that was that.  I hate haggling, but I honestly intended to call Waste Industries and ensure there weren’t hidden fes that weren’t published on the website I saw.  Additionally, we do some serious recycling at our house, and the weekly service would help a lot.  (By serious I mean that recyclables I accidentally – or even intentionally – throw in the trash are quite likely to be dug out and carried to the recycle bin by the next day.  I’m at least a conscientious recycler of brown bottles, though…)

If you have a higher rate with Waste Management here in Greenville County, call them and let them know you found a quote for $49.99 and would like to cancel your service.  I’m guessing you will be approved for that discount to stick with them.  If you need a different quote, check out http://www.garbageforless.com and put in your information to find your bargaining power with your existing trash provider.

(Disclaimer: I reserve the right to switch my service next year without mockery from you readers.  I have a soft spot with Waste Management, because I helped build their Greenopolis website.  But I’m no passive customer… if that discount disappears in a year, I’m hittin’ the road with my garbage and recyclables.)

Leaving “Home” to Make a New One

For the last fourteen and a half years I’ve lived in Louisville, KY.  I was there for my final three years of high school, four years of college, and another seven years of the usual “life beginning” miscellany.  I began a career in web development, found a bride, bought a home, and delivered my daughter.  In Louisville I learned to love God, love my neighbors, and love a woman – none of these as easy as you might expect.  My tastes in music, travel, food, and drink all developed over time so that I now rock out instead of croon country, fly to Europe and around the U.S. enjoying the best local food I can find, and drink down a bitter beer or strong red wine with my steak.

Louisville has been my home these many years and has shaped the development of so much in my life, that it was quite intimidating to consider leaving it for a new home.  However, the stresses of traveling employment (primarily on my significant other) with a growing family (I’ve a son due in June!) necessitated just such a change.  Fortunately, I work from home for a company I helped found called Commerce Guys, so nothing requires I remain in Louisville, even if the wonderful community, church, and city that we’ve grown to love as a family will all be hard to replace.

My wife and I determined to have our second child, William Christopher, in Louisville and then get serious about moving to Greenville, SC where her family abides.  The last several times we visited Greenville, I’d been looking at homes, neighborhoods, and churches anyways to determine whether or not I’d be able to move us here and be happy about it.  I was warming up to the idea and basically felt that if a deal came that was too good to pass up, we’d jump at it, but if nothing happened until 2013, I was more than happy to spend another year in Louisville – at home.

Sadly and fortunately, one of those deals did come our way in the closing days of 2011.  I wandered around the city with a realtor for a good part of one day looking at homes and ruling them out one by one.  We were set to head home on New Year’s Eve when we decided to poke around a few more… and we loved every single one of them.  Two of them were priced to sell and captured our imaginations quite easily.  We decided on the drive home to make an offer, commit the process to the Lord, and move if all signs were a “go.”  As it turns out, we didn’t hit a single roadblock and became owners of our new home on February 10th, 2012, just 42 days after walking through it for the first time.  The whole process has been quite breathtaking, leaving us hoping to sell our beloved home in Louisville, the venerable Top Porch, in short order.

One of the ironies of moving is that we crammed so many “last” visits to our favorite places and restaurants in Louisville and “last” meals with friends in the final two weeks of our time in Louisville, that it became harder and harder to feel good about the move.  Had I not been under contract, I would have backed out a dozen times.  (I guess that’s why we sign those things…)  Realistically, I probably would’ve stuck it out (the move is good for my family after all), but I was definitely growing more depressed and fretful the closer the day came.  We threw one final giant going away party for our friends and church and hit the road with a mightily packed moving van on February 25th, 2012, and the dust is finally settling here in the new house a week and a half later.

This blog was born out of my desire to both chronicle my move from One Ville to Another and explore the new sights and tastes of Greenville, SC.  I knew I was in for a treat before moving here, as I’ve enjoyed many of the wonderful things around Greeenville (foremost among them the gorgeous Reedy Falls Park downtown), and I wanted to keep a careful record of the new things I find in the coming months.  Perhaps my notes on the boring details of a move (already have my SC Driver’s License), my description of the wonders of the Upstate (can you say Upstate International Beer Festival?), and the pleasures of living near the Thompsons and Whaleys (my in-laws) will both entice and assist those friends of mine I hope follow me down to Greenville some day in the future. You know who you are.

To the rest, I hope you enjoy the blog, and I look forward to hearing what you love best about Greenville… and reminiscing about what we all love best about Louisville.  Louisville will always be my hometown, but Greenville is already shaping up to be a wonderful new home.