Friday, July 29, 2016

80,000 people and growing!

Holy all that is sacred! We now have over 80,000 warm bodies to bump into every time we swagger across town! That extra 15,000 from 1980 days sure makes a difference and if my predictions are correct, we are going to see a whole lot more people (and each one of them will try to be on Garth Road at the same time) in the next 4 years. It’s guestimated that at least 20,000 more cruise into the city during the day by undisclosed secret sources which I alone (and probably Jim Finlay) am privy to.

The good news is the City is planning to 6-lane Garth Road and then it will only be about as crowded as it is right now. I want to applaud the city planners in that they are really making a go of getting more roads and connecting parking lots so those of us who like to avoid all of that, can get around a bit better. Of course you have to factor in the parking lot missile cars.

By the time most of are reading this column, the SPAC (the Imagine Baytown People) will be huddled over a huge stack of surveys trying our level best to make a recommendation to the city of what we, the citizens want here in the next 5 years. Now this subject has came up numerous times in social media about it not meaning a danged thing and no one will listen and it confuses and yes, angers me a bit when I have to stress just the opposite.

This ain’t Washington DC honey where they ask for input and then do what they danged well please. This is small town big town Baytown and they, our city council want to know what the citizens want and have given everyone ample time to state those desires.

When Nick Woolery told me the Mayor wanted me on this committee, I made it clear that my biggest concern was family amenities and making Baytown a better place to raise kiddos and nothing has changed in that department. I care very little about new stores, motels, storage facilities, car washes, etc, etc. I want more places to take kids and get out doors and enjoy life here.

We need better and more unique Parks, like the one in the Heights called Donavan Park.  People drive miles to take their children there and it’s free. We don’t need more cookie cutter parks, which look the same as all the other ones in Anytown, USA. Geeze, let’s use our imagination on this. We have waterways that are not being developed and we have a lot of them. We need to push the wide sidewalk plans where cyclists can ride their bikes around the city and shed some of the fat that we get from the many new restaurants.

Captain Jerry Jones of the Cedar Bayou Friends is doing his part in planning the second annual Cedar Bayou Voyager event on October 15th and has enlisted the help of Southeast Texas Geocachers (under the expert assistance of Army Colonel (Ret.) Lee Ann Adams.  Of course I will be there representing the Texas Geocaching Association.  Jerry and I go all the way back to the Vietnam War when were both stationed on the same base.

Calypso Cove just about breaks even money wise (according to my other secret sources) and based on how many people use it, I think we need a second one on the north side of I-10 and no, not on Garth road! These water parks are awesome and if you haven’t taken your kiddos to one, try it and see.  I counted 4 lifeguards the last time I was there and all of them were taking their job seriously.

We need more businesses and clubs organizing quarterly Adopt a Site programs to give back to the community and help their members and employees bend over and remove litter. Hey, don a shirt with your business name on it and go down a street and see if that doesn’t advertise your business like no other way. Eleanor Albon will hug you until you are blue in the face, I promise. I enjoy her hugs every time I see her.

Kathy Nelson and her husband are putting Keep Baytown Beautiful on the map with their Beautiful Business of the Week award program and I salute the pair. That is a lot of work to scout out these places, take time for a photo Op, and then go back and retrieve the sign.

Litter abatement is a real problem here as everywhere and the reason for it is many people still believe throwing trash out the window of their car is a good way to keep the inside clean. I ran a test one week on Blue Heron Parkway and each day for one week at close to the same location, I picked up a Nature Valley Granola bar wrapper.  Now I don’t know how long it took that person to eat it after they left home, but they were very consistent in when it went out the window.

I can’t prove it, but I suspect this person has never participated in a single trash bash in their entire life.  Am I a trash bash expert?  No, but here it is nearly August and I have been in one every month this year.

Texas Avenue is coming along as is the Yepez Vineyard and Baytown is making strides to get a geocaching Geotour under the expert eye of Anna Enderli, so we are making progress.  Now, if we can only get the naysayers to see some sunshine and offer suggestions over criticisms, we will be well on our way to making Baytown a city on the move.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Is home cooking a dying art?

Shrimp tacos using avocado, shredded cabbage, black beans, and cole slaw dressing
I like to cook. I guess there are many men my age who feel the same way. I can’t say I love to cook, or I would do it more often. I usually take some recipe and modify it a bit and then in a most humble way, post it on social media along with a tasty photograph and make humble claims that it is my own concoction.

What I have found is people love to talk about food and for good reason. Food, for the most part, is entertaining and a great subject. It tastes good. It has variety. Even when it’s not up to par, it is a subject that can be discussed and even cussed. There is rarely a dull moment when food is involved. Not to attempt to quote Bubba, but food can be prepared in a great number of ways, making each dish a new adventure.

I remember years ago a returning missionary from Africa hit 3 fast food restaurants in one day and exclaimed, “It is hard to beat quality junk food!” Fast food is usually quite satisfying, albeit not the best choice for proper nutrition. In fact, for many, “eating out” has replaced eating at home, or shall I say, “preparing a meal on the stove”?

It is convenient for sure and the variety is endless. You can hardly build a salad with the great many items for the price they charge, so why not simply buy it pre-made? If you need 27 items in your salad to make it palatable, then that is a valid argument, but let’s take a look at the cost of this logic.
Pork loin and fresh veggies
Drive through any breakfast place and eat normally and it is anywhere between 5 bucks to as much as $12 for a big boy hunter’s special. If you are a tipper add a couple of bucks to each meal. Lunch is as much as double that and supper, well, you can drop a 50 dollar bill for one person in one day. Or more.

I’m no tree surgeon, but that adds up to a whole bunch of money over a months time. The upside is we got a large variety of foods over the month and probably loved the convenience of it all. When we were done, we either wadded up the bag and tossed it (hopefully in a trash can) or simply walked away and let some minimum wage worker clean up after us.

The downside was it was expensive and get this – our food was prepared by a total stranger who may or may not have personal hygiene as a priority. Yuk! We do this all the time and never consider who is actually touching our food. Now, I am not a particularly skeptical person over this and I certainly eat out, but it is a thought.

I remember hearing a single mother pose a question on the radio where she wondered how she could feed her family on minimum wage. What she cited specifically was the cost of “fancy sliced turkey” and at 7 bucks a pound, it was a travesty. The host reminded her that bologna was a better option based on her income and the lady was incensed to say the least. I happened to agree with the host as there are plenty of cheaper and healthy options.

Chicken quarters costing $2.39
As of late I’ve been trying to eat more protein and less carbs and what I’ve found very satisfying and ridiculously cheap is baking chicken at home. I can buy 3 chicken leg quarters at my local grocery for under $2.50 and toss in a can of black beans or Fordhook lima’s and I have 3 tasty and nutritious meals for a measly $1.25 per meal. Each serving is more than I can eat at one sitting. Now notice this is not organic chicken breasts and fresh asparagus which would probably run that solo meal up to around $8.
The same goes for a large pork loin which is often under 5 dollars. It is a lot of meat. Toss in 2 veggies, a couple of taters and some brown gravy and your meal per person is about 2 bucks, maybe 3.  Rotel makes a product named “Chili fixins”. Follow the directions on the can and you can whip up a very tasty pot of chili in about 20 minutes and eat on it for a few days way cheaper than eating out and even with cheese and Fritos, it is still a bargain meal.

Cooking is fun, but it doesn’t have to be a lost art or time consuming and the financial benefit makes it something we should all consider.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Am I as considerate as I think I am?

Each and every day I marvel at what life is and what I expect out of it. I walk through life – or drive my Jeep on our roads and see the vast skies and the many wonder-filled things around me and I inhale it in a way that is truly an adventure.

I see people around me absorbed in their own sphere and wonder if they “see it” too.  Being the cynic that I am, I find that I prejudge my fellow human, automatically demoting them and this is probably in error. Many appear bored and robotic. I have to remind myself that many are suffering pain, or hardships.

My bride upbraids me regularly for this skepticism and I automatically play it down as humor on my part. The truth is, it isn’t humor. I admit my fellow humans regularly erode my belief that we are upwardly evolving. On a daily basis, what I see is what was depicted in the comedic movie “Idiocracy” and this is wrong of me.

In this futuristic piece, humanity has bred itself mentally backwards to the point that stupidity is the norm. A social retardation is so prevalent that no one seems to notice, and they constantly ridicule each other for being stupider than they are. To quote the synopsis on Wikipedia: “The film tells the story of two people who take part in a top-secret military hibernation experiment, only to awaken 500 years later in a dystopian society wherein advertising, commercialism, and cultural anti-intellectualism have run rampant and dysgenic pressure has resulted in a uniformly unthinking society devoid of intellectual curiosity, social responsibility, and coherent notions of justice and human rights.”

I am a people watcher and according to my bride, someone who reads too much into the casual behavior of those around me. “You think too much, honey!” I watch people and occasionally am guilty of baiting a subject line to see how they will react. I resent the implication that I am a troll or a devil’s advocate, but readily acknowledge that I “seed” the forums and Facebook for opinions.

I want to know what people think, or believe they believe and then often will challenge them to explain what and why they believe. Is that wrong? I’ve always contended that anyone who challenges you to define what you believe is your friend and I still believe this.

We are all floating on the river of life, me included.  I need to rediscover that balance where instead of seeing distracted and complacent masses, I once again discover how incredible people can be. I’ve become a glass half-empty dude and that needs to change.

I have to see the humor around me and be less critical. Now to be honest and I’ve made this pretty clear in the past; I base a lot of my negatives on what people do when they drive their cars and trucks.  And to be frank, I think the behavior specialists will be on my side when I say this is a very good indicator of what a person is made of. Rude and selfish drivers shouldn’t consider themselves kind and caring people. They are not. If you tail-gait and dangerously zip all over the danged place, you are the opposite of considerate. If everyone would keep their distance and do the speed limit, there wouldn’t be a traffic jam.

If a person swerves in and around cars on the freeway, barely missing rear-end collisions and then walk into their job smiling and greeting everyone, they are fooling themselves as to what kind of person they are. They fall into this group, “unthinking society devoid of social responsibility, and coherent notions of justice and human rights”.

I would like to sit down with these reckless drivers and have a casual conversation about what kind of person they believe themselves to be and then show them videos of their driving “skills”. I imagine that would be quite a conversation piece. I do not want to imply that I am a perfect example of a driver, but when you are behind the wheel of a lifted Jeep with over-sized tires, it’s kind of a good idea to always imagine you are driving on ice and make deliberate signaled lane changes.

On my way back from Houston the other day, I was rolling in the middle lane on I-10 doing exactly 68 mph on cruise control when out of the corner of my left eye I saw what can only be described as a black missile coming up behind me. The bespectacled middle age man crossed 3 lanes and my brain registered that he was going to clip the back driver’s side of my truck. Now jerking the wheel on a lifted Jeep at near 70 mph is down-right dangerous, but it was my only option or get quartered.

I jinked and he missed by a whisper and shot off ahead of me, zigging and zagging until he was no longer visible with brake lights signaling his departure. Because of my distress, I’m glad fellow gearhead Dandy Don wasn’t with me and although I didn’t curse, I wanted my justifiable pound of flesh. I took a couple deep breaths and thanked God I wasn’t lying in a twisted wreck. I have no idea what this fellow’s hurry was, but I imagine he was simply driving like he always does.

I think I am a considerate person for the most part. I try to be. If you come to my house, I will offer you a cold or hot beverage and usually pretty quickly. I’ll offer you a seat and try not to dominate the conversation and if you follow me while I’m driving, I stop at red lights and stop signs 100% of the time and always signal my intentions of a lane change. I like to run on cruise control either doing a minimum of the speed limit or with the flow of traffic.

However, I am probably a miserable failure in other considerate behavior and may need to hire on as an extra in Idiocracy II, if they make it. I’ll have to ask my bride. She is truly a considerate person quite observant when I am hypocritical of other drivers.

Friday, July 08, 2016

Is it time to cut the cord?

“Take the risk and… go for it!” Boy, how many times have we heard a well-meaning person say that? If you buy into the current philosophy, it seems that only something extreme will give us an anti-dote for our mundane existence.

Back in my childhood, about the most adventure-based show was Wild Kingdom with Marlin Perkins and his faithful sidekick Jim. Each week we got a vicarious risky venture that freed us from our boring lives and helped salve over our monotonous existence of school, work and doing chores. We didn’t know we were supposed to bust out. We simply lived our lives and in many ways, well, we were content.

“Don't be a slacker; cut the cord!” Jacques Cousteau brought the world’s exotic fishes and mysterious oceans right into our homes via the expansive 14 inch tube color television and we got our fix up close and personal and boy, it was really something! The next day we went to school or work, happy to live our lives more enriched than ever.

There were no American Ninja or X-Games to expose how pitiful our weak existence is and thank goodness most of us have enough sense to understand that doing stunts like those are not for us. Unfortunately, unless we expose ourselves to something as trivial as jumping out of a plane, we are simply not living – or are we? Every commercial, every movie, and every adventure depicted anywhere says we are missing out and on top of that, a failure in life’s grand game. We are average in every way and should remain as fat spectators. Case closed.

If you didn’t go to Europe or Asia for 2 weeks, cycle the Alps or walk the Great Wall, you didn’t have a vacation. Of course you had to swim with the Dalai Lama or dine on tarantulas and don’t forget hand-feeding the Komodo dragons in the Galapagos Islands.

Phooey on all that, I say.  I do not need 50cc’s of adrenaline coursing through my veins to have a good time. I think breaking out of a routine is a good idea and healthy, but seriously? Going over Niagara Falls in a barrel is for idiots. Becoming a Navy SEAL is for very peculiar people and 99.9% of us will never ever be one, so stop kidding yourself. You don’t need to jog to the top of an erupting volcano dragging a kayak behind you to break out of your rut.

As kids, a simple game of sandlot baseball or a heated board game of Risk would keep us living life to the fullest for hours on end. We played Army or stood on a big log and sailed the 7 Seas and the things we witnessed in our imaginations made these competitions look pretty lame. Wait a second. Do kids still play outside like that?

“Hey, Bubba!  Watch this!” is still quit popular, especially with teens, tweens and 30-weens and if there is alcohol involved… Boom! The entertainment factor is exponentially increased and can only be interrupted by the siren on an ambulance. This last group are the ones who attempt to do the near impossible and I applaud their strenuous efforts, albeit incredibly stupid and reckless behavior is obvious to almost everyone present.

One such fellow came to work one day with a huge knot on the top of his head. When quizzed about the walnut-shaped protrusion, he candidly admitted to attempting a back flip in the middle of the street at night while standing on the curb. Of course he was drinking beer and I stood slack-jawed when he said these remarkable words, “Something told me I could do it.”

I suspect most of us do not need large venues with superstars, or action-packed thrill seeking distractions to enjoy a break from our routines. A campfire with a black cup of coffee at sunrise, or an Astros game on the radio while we fish Trinity Bay may be just the ticket. The absence of adrenaline may be ten times more stimulating than what we are led to believe.

A walk in the woods sans music-blasting headphones may just provide more music as the forest sounds filter into our battered brain. I love technology, but sometimes we need to shut it all off and listen to… nothing. Talk about a deviation from the norm! What does nothing sound like? Most of us can’t recall. We are too busy chasing the elusive golden ring that we will never catch. It’s akin to the state of being “cool”. You will never ever actually become cool, but you can be different.

You can break away and do those simple things that will truly make you happy and no, you don’t have to kiss a King cobra. Doable adventure is not necessarily sliding downward out of control and watching the bushes and trees slap you in the face before you plunge over the precipice. Attainable adventure is a state of mind and can be conquered in your living room. I’ve read books for this very escape since I was a child and it takes no special equipment… and it works every time.

Henry David Thoreau sat outside his cabin all day, from dusk to dawn. He did not get up to eat or use the toilet. He watched everything without disturbance and guess what? He claimed it was the most production and rewarding day of his life. How is that possible?

Join a gym and do things you never thought possible and by challenging yourself to do what you thought was unattainable, you will experience the adventure you so seek. It is in each of us to succeed, but only we can take that first step into uncharted territory. So, what are you waiting for?

Friday, July 01, 2016

Do Hillary Supporters Endorse SHARIA LAW in AMERICA?

I guess a person would have to be part Dodo bird and part ostrich to not realize things are really heating up in world politics. This week alone Great Britain has decided by vote to leave the European Union of nations and the Republicans are releasing a long-awaited report on the Benghazi terror attacks that killed four Americans.

The sad truth is, if Mark Dice were to stand almost anywhere in Baytown Texas and film people answering questions about these two subjects, it would be embarrassing. Recently, he explained to passerby’s that one of Hillary Clinton’s campaign promises is to expand Sharia Law in the United States. He does it as a matter of fact and people are quick to give him their 2 cents worth.

His interviewees are Millennials and mostly Caucasians. One person after another agreed with Hillary, although the premise is preposterous and totally untrue.

Mark Dice is doing with politics, what Jay Leno has done for years with history. He interviews people on the street and asks questions and like Leno, it simply proves that people have no clue what is or has happened in the past. They make no attempt to think or reason.

Dice, speaking to an Anglo female says, “One of Hillary’s primary platforms is to spread Sharia Law through the minority communities. Do you think that is the right thing to do in the New World Order?”  Now note, the woman doesn’t want to appear to be racist, so her only viable option is to reply, “Yea, I think so. Yea.” Video after video gets the same response from those fortunate enough to step up to the Mic and be heard. Now note, these people are voters.

In San Diego, California, he again asks a young white man of maybe 25, “What country famously broke away from England to start their own country in the late 1700’s?”  His answer is astounding or should be.  “I have no idea. I don’t know man.”

Another group of people could not explain what the D.C. stood for in Washington DC. One woman ventured, “Dominican Republic?”

“What is your reaction to President Kennedy dying this morning in a car wreck and his I have a dream speech?” The young Anglo man with the headphones grins and admits he didn’t see any of it.  “I’m not even playing with you. But honestly, it is so sad to hear that a President is dying…”

Dice explains to a young Afro-American woman pushing a stroller that we nuked China last week for currency manipulation. She had a very level head and felt like we should have talked it out instead of dropping nuclear weapons on them. A Hispanic male of about 30 felt like China should have talked to Russia before nuking them. “The whole nukes and things just pollute stuff.” Good reason to not nuke another country.

And probably, the most preposterous of all and I am not making this up, is this one. “Do you think if we would have had stricter gun control in the 1300’s, Lee Harvey Oswald wouldn’t have been able to kill Jesus?” The young white Millennial male didn’t hesitate. “No, he would have still used a gun. Criminals will always find a way to get around gun control.” Good point, right?

Most people seemed to believe Jesus died in the 1300’s. I watched Mark Dice get people to sign a petition that read “I AM A MORON!” across the top while he explained anything and every thing from illiteracy to nonsense. Free kosher hamburgers at the Holocaust restaurant sounded appetizing to almost everyone. “It made Schindler’s List as the best hamburg joint!”

Please, please, please. Do not take my word for this. See for yourself and then using your left hand, lift your lower jaw back up and close your mouth. Now raise your right hand and promise yourself you will not be one of these people.

I routinely ask trivia questions on Facebook to the people who follow my threads and some of their answers both sadden me or make me laugh. The reason I say this is because very often, I can see that they simply are not reading what I wrote. If I give them a multiple choice, often I will get answers that are not options. Try that one in the 6th grade and see how successful you are. It is not occasional either, but too often.

Other times, the answer isn’t even close to being on subject. It makes me wonder what is going on in this country that we can’t comprehend the simplest of instructions or remember anything other than sports scores and movies quotes. If people can’t do a quick web search, they are clueless most of the time and mutter “I don’t know.” They make no attempt to think on their own. Mark Dice proves this again and again.

So what is the remedy? You tell me. As a writer of sorts, I don’t have a clue.

Friday, June 24, 2016

The road less taken is now my own

I’ve learned to wait quietly without frustration. Well, about 50% of the time. I can’t say for certain when I first realized I reached this mature stage in life. I most certainly earned it the hard way, as it was not a skill acquired without the accompanying agony.

My list of lessons is rife with obstacles. Having an appointment only means that I am expected to be there for them, not the other way around. Changing lanes to get ahead of someone only invokes the age old law that the other line moves quicker. Try it at the grocery store for a mini-lesson and the lane you jumped to will need the Managers approval within seconds.

Need a quick anything?  Other than Chick-fil-A, you are pretty much out of luck and might as well hunker down and be patient. Cresting an overpass, you see nothing but red taillights and decide to zip down the feeder instead. It’s risky and you are a pro, but soon get caught up behind a fender bender that brings you to a 40 minute halt.

Our fast-paced life takes 2 weeks to grind down to a peaceful state and by that time, the “relaxing” trip to Pago Pago is over and we are still tense. We arrive back in Baytown and with no apparent transition go immediately back to 90 to nothing. There is only one solution besides moving permanently to Luckenbach – learn to slow down or burn up on reentry. You can’t change anything except your perception of your surroundings. The sooner you accept this hard cold fact, the quicker you can sit back and take one for the team.

Almost to the day, I retired 2 years ago and it’s taken me 2 years to slow down. Now some might laugh when I write or claim to have slowed down, but I am not talking about activities, but my perception of life around me. “Slow down bro; you are retired,” has become my mantra. I can “hang out” at the auto parts store and chat with the counter person now instead of ricocheting in one door and out the other like I’ve done since I was 15.

It’s raining and the yard needs mowing? No biggie, I’ll do it tomorrow or the next day. That problem will repeat itself countless times and it is nothing to get agitated over. Yes, I realize it isn’t one issue that gets us tied in knots; it’s the stack of 15 problems that set us off like a firecracker. Our normal routines as working people have a queue of problems waiting to ambush us every single day and where does this frustration come to the surface? When we are forced to wait on almost anything.

I have to confess I am not always successful. As an example, this week I was needing to buy an item at one of the home improvement stores.  I searched like a Yorkie going for a rat for all of maybe 10 minutes and the staff was having a large motivational gathering. I couldn’t get help because they were busy getting pumped up so they could help customers. I went to the professional lumber area and stood quietly at the counter and watched 4 clerks stare at a 5th one as they tried to thread a spool of paper on one of the registers.

I’ll be honest and say I didn’t last much more than 60 seconds before I walked off shaking my head. I was within 5 feet of them and they never took their eyes off the paper spool-challenged coworker.  As I walked away, I took a few deep breaths and made my way to the part of the store that ultimately held the tool I needed. When I checked out, the lady asked, “Did you find everything you were looking for?” I chuckled and went out the door as happy as I would have been if someone had put the item in my hand. I deserve an award for patience.

A good deal of my acquired new maturity is due to the time I spend at the gym named after a clock. I can burn frustration with calories and by the time I leave, I simply have little fight left in me – and that carries over to the rest of the day. Sure, taking a drug or something else would be easier, but that is a path I want to avoid. Besides, I get a good blast of endorphins as a reward and I like that opiatic hormone.
Running all over like a fried chicken with its head cut off will not save any of us any credible amount of time and only make us more agitated. Some of us simply need a break to gather our wits, but that my friend is for another column.


Friday, June 17, 2016

When I am old and losing my hair

Well, it’s finally happened and to me of all people.  I’ve hit 64 years of age. It happened yesterday and felt like any other day except my knee was throbbing. The Beatles gave me my first warning way back in 1967 about this time of life warning about losing my hair and being old. Being old. Wow. I guess 64 is old. Younger people think so.

What exactly is old anyway? My good friend Charles Kelm drives a 1997 Chevy pick-up I told him was an old truck. I worked on a Windows XP machine that is old because of the new operating systems and it’s only about 6 years from purchase date. Both the truck and computer still work, but they are slower than current models.

Yea, that describes me… but the older I get, the better I used to be. That’s what I tell people. When Chuck Norris was about 70, he was asked if he can still run 5 miles and his answer was right on the money. “Yea. It just takes me longer.”

“I stepped outta the shower and I got a good look at myself
Pot-bellied, bald-headed, well I thought I was somebody else 
I caught my reflection in the mirror on the back of the bathroom door
I just don't look good naked anymore”

I was at Clyde Casey’s house working on his computer when he told me he is 91.  My youngish 64 looked pretty weak in comparison. Clyde tells me until a few years ago, he could fix his own computer, but these days…

It seems like every day, something else is breaking on my body, so he really impresses me. Granted most of my injuries are self-inflicted including my current knee problem.

I have arrived at the painful conclusion that I can no longer do plyometric exercises. “Plyos” are exercises in which muscles exert maximum force in short intervals of time, with the goal of increasing power. The only thing that is increasing on me is the regular exploding of my joints. This time it resulted in a trip to the VA for an x-ray and a future MRI. The doc says I am structurally sound, but I may have torn a ligament or tendon. Great.

"I went down to a nude beach for some seaside fun
Stretched out in my birthday suit soakin' up the sun
Then somebody yelled, "There's an old white whale, washed up on the shore.
Sure, I just don't look good naked anymore"

I pride myself on being a fast learner, but in some areas I am a sucker for punishment and evidently slightly retarded in my ability to learn from mistakes. I hurt myself on Monday, but kept going 90 to nothing until 3 days later I couldn’t get out of bed. I thought I could work it out. Don’t laugh, because all of us break the rules when it comes to common sense concerning ourselves.

I simply compounded the problem with repeated classes until I couldn’t bend my leg and by Friday afternoon I was tapping out and crying “uncle”.  I’m almost 64 for crying out loud - and it took this latest act of blind self-abuse to wake me up to that fact.

Speaking of the older I get, the better I used to be, I’ve taken to explaining to my 3 year old grandson, “When I was your age, I already had chores,” or “When I was your age, I was already running a trap line.” It has no obvious effect on him and isn’t actually the truth, but I enjoy reinforcing my false sense of indestructibility and endurance.

I’m waiting on the day when due to my advanced age I am not accountable for what comes out of my mouth and can get away with slightly ribald and delusional comments. Of course, my bride will not be present, or she will see straight through it. “Oh don’t listen to that old curmudgeon; he’s so old he fell off his dinosaur.” Or maybe I’ll write a lot of letters to the Baytown Sun supporting Hillary Clinton and people will know I’ve lost all sense of reasoning and stop reading my fantasies.

The real answer is to modify my physical activities to a more moderate approach. You would think that as many times as I’ve fallen out of a tree would make me more cautious about climbing them in the first place. The real chore is to recognize the trees for what they are – something for a younger person.

My competitive nature makes this difficult, so I simply must cut out the boot camp I attend and stick with weight lifting. It will be difficult at first, but its time has come.

* Ben Colder - I Just Don't Look Good Naked Anymore


Friday, June 10, 2016

Oh to be sixteen again!

I live a life of self-discipline 99% of the time. It is self-imposed and often causes distress to my bride especially when I’m driving and pointing out other peoples liberties. I admit this, but what really cooks her proverbial goose is when I’m not. This week was one of those times and you know what? It felt good.

I was 15 when I bought my first car and I can assure you, my buddy Dandy Don Cunningham will follow this story with great interest, as will other car-loving folks of the 60’s. Was my first car a 1967 Pontiac GTO with a 389 C.U. motor? Or a kick booty 68 Chevelle 396 Super Sport like Butch Hodges has? No.

It was a 1963 maroon Corvair Monza with two 1-barrel carbs and an honest to god 4 on the floor! I drove that car like a literal scalded ape. I say that because I am convinced that is what a scalded ape would look like if it had 4 tires and was driven by a 16 year old male. My mom would watch me drive slowly down the asphalt road in North Georgia and I would turn off onto a hilly dirt road and ease out of sight.

At this point I would become a seasoned dirt track driver for the doomed Chevrolet Corvair; the car Ralph Nader said was “Unsafe at any speed”. Supposedly, the rear coil springs would fold under turning stress, but I could never duplicate the dangerous maneuver, no matter how many donuts I cut. I would have that rear-engine 4 banger rapped out and around and around I would go until I calmly returned to the pavement and deliberately drove home under the speed limit.

Years would pass including the Vietnam War and my part in it and I came out the other side being a very different person. No more risks or shenanigans that were potentially out of my control for me contrary to appearances. A famous dare-devil, which incidentally was killed doing a stunt, explained his life like this: “We remove all possibility of an accident before the stunt, and then do it.”

Well, one stunt had an unexpected variable and that was all it took for his safe stunt to kill him. My act of irresponsibility was along the same line of thought and worked out for me with nothing more than egg on my face, or rather a filthy Jeep stuck in a ditch. I reasoned beforehand that I were to get stuck, one of the passing trucks would lend a hand.

Now before I give the slippery details, let me state that I did not tread heavily. I didn’t leave giant tractor-turning-over ruts. I was cool and calculating and made a common error of wrong approach or I would have gone in one side and out the other. In off-roading, you almost always tackle a depression at an angle and that is what I did and nice and slow. Only in professional racing and car commercials do you blast through an obstacle.

Easing down into the 4 feet of water-filled ditch, my passenger-side tire slid to the left and dropped me into the ditch.  If I would have tackled the ditch head-on with power, I could have blasted through, but left a lot of disturbance. I drove up and down the ditch and soon realized that I could not get out. At that point, I waded out of my Jeep to the back and pulled out 70 feet of chain and straps and a shackle.  I hooked them up to the front and pulled the long line up on the road to await extraction by what turned out to be another Jeep driven by Shaun Holloway.

I watched burly pick-up truck after truck blow by with not so much as a wave - to my disappointment in my fellow Texans. The day before I had rescued an 82 year old lady and her son from a stalled car in the rain and the very day I was stuck, I changed a flat tire on I-10 and Sjolander for 2 ladies in distress.  The Jeeper pulled me out after a bit of strategy and I was on my way.

Now, did I learn my lesson?  Yea.  I learned this lesson 40 years ago, but it did feel good to revisit my teen years. I can’t say if this line of reasoning will appear again anytime soon, well, maybe in another 40 years.

Friday, June 03, 2016

Speed Reading Isn't What It Used To Be...

Years ago, there was an advertisement for the Evelyn Wood Seven-Day Speed Reading and Learning Program. I checked Amazon and you can still buy a used hardbound copy for a penny, plus about 4 bucks for shipping. The course has been around since 1959 and although I never read it, I heard it was pretty effective.

For Millennials, thank the Good Lord there is an Ap for it. Hardbound books are so cumbersome!

According to the advertisement, "In just minutes, you'll notice a real difference in your reading speed, and in succeeding chapters of this seven-day program you'll get the secrets of effective note-taking, find tips for instantly improving your writing, and much more."

Now doing a tad of research, most college age readers do about 200 to 400 words per minute. Using one of the many newer versions of speed reading hasn’t really improved on Evelyn Wood’s method and this includes the new applications for Smartphones and pads.

And to cut through all the studies, the bottom line is as reading speed increases, comprehension drops. This means you're not taking in the information, which defeats the purpose of reading.  I am a fairly fast reader and probably fall into the 400 wpm group, but as they say, my mileage may vary. I pride myself on pushing comprehension over how fast I can get through a book, article, or fact sheet. I routinely read my weekly submission 5 or more times before I send it in.

Now here is a trend I’ve noticed over the number of years I’ve written my column – people are not really comprehending what I write and on a fairly regular basis. If it is happening to me, it is a general problem, rather than a specific one. In other words, people flash across a column picking words and phrases and if it stabs at something they are passionate about, they automatically start building a defense and shut off the rest of the column.  Never mind that it doesn’t attack one of their hallow halls, but possibly supports what they actually believe.

Maybe the real problem is I shouldn’t write about sensitive subjects where people have to actually ruminate and comprehend the content. My friend Robert Prall (RIP) once told me I use too many big words and write about stuff people are uneasy about. “You force them to skip over your columns.” I told him it was not my plan to flower down my columns so people can feel all gushy inside. My intent is to stimulate people into defining what they truly believe instead of blindly supping the politically correct lukewarm pabulum that is spoon-fed us on a daily basis.

Here is an example, two April Fools Days ago, I wrote a spoof column on a dog catcher who was illegally rounding up dogs and selling them to be consumed. The story was so hyperbolic, that most 5th graders would have seen right through it. The reaction I got though was outrage and my managing editor, the police department, and my personal telephone all began to ring off the hook demanding resolution.
My column had pushed their bat-crazy button and comprehension went right out the window. This happened because they read just enough to get ticked off and stopped comprehending altogether. The same thing happened recently when I said crime was my primary concern, not the media-blitzed idea of transgender bathrooms. I read the angry, condescending, and finger-pointing responses with both sadness and moments of reflection. How could people draw their conclusions from what I wrote? The answer is they didn’t. They drew them from their own prejudices and biases.

My column wasn’t an endorsement of transgender bathrooms at all. It was about my personal attitude about what is important to me when I venture out into the city in my car, or enter a store. I worry about people driving their 4000 pound missile through the side of my Jeep because they have their nose glued to a little glowing glass panel instead of the road in front of them.

I worry about someone robbing me at gun point or evading the law in their car and going 70 miles an hour down Garth Road. To me, I have a giant dose of common sense and my preoccupation with avoiding crime has nothing to do with a sign on a bathroom door when I walk into a department store in comparison. To me, this is not even a Christian issue and I am appalled that I would be accused of having no values. For thousands of years, people simply walked into the woods to do their business and for anyone who leaves the sterile environment we call a city, they still do – and there are no signs saying men on the left, women on the right. Using a toilet is using a toilet, nothing more or less.

That last paragraph is rather lengthy and years ago I was directed to write 2 or at most, 3 short sentence paragraphs, because “people cannot comprehend anything longer than that.” Prove me wrong folks. I believe the vast majority of our readers do the math when it comes to comprehending, but the next time you angrily bang out a response to something one of us has written, please take the time to actually read the intent of the writer.

Maybe the real problem is I shouldn’t write about sensitive subjects where people have to actually
Bert Marshall is the owner of and a Baytown resident since 1974. Reach Marshall at

Friday, May 27, 2016

The problem is you

Over the years I’ve witnessed many people pointing fingers at individuals and explaining “that character right there is a real problem.” Heckfire, I’ve done it myself more times than I can count. Guilty! I’ve observed certain individuals and was sure they were the reason I felt like getting them out of the picture would make life much better for, well, everyone. The final solution!

Pondering this line of thought, I remember the venerated western writer Louis L’Amour’s words of wisdom in one of his many dime novels. Without digging through a stack of a hundred paperbacks, I will paraphrase it. “Many times thinking killing someone would solve your problems, you will find that a year down the road, they are not even in the picture.”

On top of that, it might just be… that they are not the problem at all. It might just be you. A good test of this is if you have a long list of aggravating people who need to vanish from your existence. What?  Is it possible that I need an attitude adjustment?  Maybe. After all, there are a steady supply of annoying people out there aren’t there? Pointing them out should be a prime objective as a community service!

Right here in Baytown we have a number of community activists who make it their mission to point out anything and everything that is wrong. They are so good at it that they never contribute anything other than negatives. They are the self-righteous pitbulls of holy community awareness and are quick to speak for the masses. Unfortunately, they are about the only people who see them as they see themselves.

Do they do well the majority of the time?  I imagine. Would it be better if they offered solutions? Definitely. Would they be perceived by their peers in a more positive light? Absolutely.

I have been self-righteously guilty of thinking my way was the only correct path anyone should choose and in my roundabout (read direct) way, I have forced this on anyone who would hesitate. I shake my head now realizing after the fact that I was often off by a mile. Fortunately for my sake, I am introverted enough to evaluate my behavior and make changes. I am not always right. In fact, I may just be breaking even.

Recently on a public forum I was slandered and called dishonest with a very negative reputation and a “crappy human being”. It was vicious and unwarranted and as far as I know, 99% untrue. To my credit, I did not retaliate and friends came to my defense. However, being attacked like that, however untrue it is, still hurts. I asked legitimate questions and in return was verbally abused by the very person tasked with answering them.

What?  Is it even possible I could be the real problem and not that nutjob?
The forum owner/moderator friend of mine was so distressed over the malicious words that they went to the emergency room with a stress attack. He then filed a formal complaint with the parent organization over this person who holds a position with them. The whole episode caused me to look at myself to see if I had acted inappropriately. Did I bait him a bit? Yes. Was I mean spirited? No. Do I hold a position in the organization that qualifies me to ask these questions? Yes. In retrospect, I simply wanted answers for his apparent inconsistencies concerning me and others.

The bottom line is this is one of those characters I began the column over. Is it me or is it them? It’s probably both of us. Red ants and black ants. We collide. Should I shoulder the blame even if he won’t? I will. I will because I want to take the low road and because I realize I may have built this hornet nest along the way. Relationships with our coworkers, acquaintances, and friends are something none of us should take for granted and I of all people should be more careful of the words and text I project.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Rock your body!

I’ve always been pretty active and just before I retired about 2 years ago, I joined 24 Hour Fitness on Garth Road in Baytown, Texas. I did the push/pull method for about 6 months and I did it in earnest; not fooling around. Then, I took my first Spin class. Holey moley, I all but died 15 minutes into the 1 hour class.

For the first 6 months, I failed at some point in the class and simply tried to finish it. Along the way, I picked up Les Mills Body Pump and a boot camp class usually making a total of 4-6 classes a week. The point I am trying to make is that all of these classes are very difficult, but with persistence, anyone can see major results by simply plowing through on a regular basis.

This morning I am going to Body Pump and about 10 minutes into it, I am going to be sweating and wondering why I am putting myself through this torture. Come join me. Take a free class. Use me as a reference. Classes are Wednesdays and Saturdays 0930 for Body Pump.

After all the times I failed to go 100% in Spin class, through persistence, I am now a certified indoor cycle instructor.  So, you see?  Persistence has paid off.  The photo above is from May 3, 2016 after one of Page Morton's excellent Spin classes.  She's the cutey pie in front with the white hat, chunkin' the deuce.

We have Spin, Zumba, Aqua, Strength, and cardio dance class to offer.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Social change has nothing on crime

The Hippie Revolution was going to ruin America as we know it.
In a moment of clarity the other night, I came to a startling realization. In our current society, what really bothers me is not immorality, commercials on TV, political gouging, or so-called progressive social adjustments. What bothers me is the criminal strata that festers in our world. I was thinking about what I read and see in the news and our country’s current fascination with transgender bathrooms when I made this connection.

Before I go further, let me define what I mean by crime. This term to me takes in every sort of illegal behavior from international swindling to petty theft and everything in between. It’s the 17 year old kid going through your car’s glove compartment to the accountant bilking cents on the dollar from clients.

It’s the unscrupulous car salesman to the serial rapist. It’s that immoral preacher who preys on their congregation to the person who makes me keep my doors and windows locked on my vehicle and house.

Recently I watched a video someone made of a beggar sitting alongside the road in a 3rd world country. A motorcyclist stopped and the man pulled out his wallet to give an offering. A second motorbike drove by and a man snatched the wallet from his hand. The bike driver leaped off the bike and gave chase on foot. The beggar threw off his ragged cover, hopped on the vacant bike and sped off.

The now bike-less driver ran back and pulling out his cell phone, tried to call the police, only to lose his phone to yet another motorcyclist speeding behind him. It was organized crime for sure and the Good Samaritan was left without anything he had when he arrived but his clothing. Do you think this guy was wondering about transgender bathrooms at this instant? His dilemma was far more pressing and that is my point.

In so many ways I think we as Americans get manipulated and steered into getting upset over things that really don’t matter. As a prime example, we are told Bud-Lite is the beer to drink and we buy it, or Miller, Coors, etc., even though it is recognizably an inferior product. People actually get in fights over this very thing. However, their advertising dollars are so shrewdly spent that by golly, Budweiser can rebrand as “America” for the summer and it becomes patriotic to drink the stuff. Never mind that good old Bud is owned by a foreign country.

We get in a major tiff over Bruce Jenner having a sex change and which bathroom transgender people may use and totally ignore the fact that no one looks at each other in our bathrooms and cross-dressers and transgender people go into a stall, close the door, do their business, and leave just like they always have and nothing has or will change in that regard. Yet now it’s a major issue of perversion and people are all slap your face upset over it? Really?

I can’t remember the last time I made eye contact with another human in a bathroom and as far as I know, none of them have open stalls. They are private areas where we take care of a bodily function and leave. Heck, I don’t talk to other people in the bathroom either. My only concern when I enter a public bathroom is if someone is going to rob me and the sign on the door will not change whether this happens or not.

I hate crime. I hate perverts. I hate the way drugs have come into this country by invitation and I really hate how there are so many people trying to get what I worked for - for free.  The often bogus phone calls I get where someone is attempting to access my bank account “for charity” makes me wish I could push a button and permanently mark the person on the other end as a thief. One guy told me he was an IT professional and I told him “No you are not, I am.” He proceeded to use the most profane and foul language directed at me and my mother and slammed the phone down. All I got out of it was the satisfaction of calling him out.

It is time to quit being told what we think is bad and do a little sorting on our own. What really matters? What is truly important in our lives? Is it transgender bathrooms? Not to me. I lived in a 3rd World country where men and women freely use the same bathroom and I saw nothing and surely didn’t get a sexual thrill out of it. I did my business and left, just like everyone else. Why is it in this country that if it even remotely involves the genitals, it is vulgar and forbidden and yet we feast on violence like it is dessert? I think we have it backwards.

If this country became as polarized against criminals and less worried about stupid distractive social change, we could make a young criminal think 3 times before they headed down that path. Somehow, we have demonized using the bathroom and made it a perversion and all around the world, people simply take care of business and everyone ignores them.