THAT IS IT!!!
I used the cable that came with my blackberry phone and presto.. it works!!!!
the cord could have gotten changed or misplaced, ect.. but the answer after hours of trying,, it was the cord. the really strange thing is that the "bad cord" worked on vista and XP. just not windows 7.
I can even replicate the problem again and again, grab the "bad" cord, plug into my vista laptop, it works, plug into windows 7 Nothing, it doesn't even see the drive although the drives power lights come on.
change the cord to the "good" cord, and it works on vista, xp, and 7