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.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Better safe than sorry

Is this your worst nightmare? If so, you better be prepared.

I was asleep and then suddenly… awake. My brain was foggy and the clock read 2:14am. There it is again – the sound of broken glass! Grabbing my pistol from the nightstand it dawned on me that I had neglected to set the alarm. My wife was sleeping soundly and I made my way to the bedroom door and stepped out into the hallway at the top of the stairs.

No one is supposed to be in my house but my wife and I and there at the bottom of the stairway is a man. His hand flashes and I fire and fire again and watch as he falls backwards. The sound is tremendous in the quiet house and I realize I just shot a home intruder.

This is one of the scenarios of the simulator training I underwent at the College of the Mainland last week. The instructor is Baytownian Daniel Blackford. He teaches deadly force training to a wide range of students and law-officers in a modern facility at the college. His expertise and credentials are as long as my arm and I have jokingly told him more than once, that if I win a large lottery, he will be my bodyguard for life.

I spent two hours with him in a one-on-one training session where we exchanged ideas about the difference in my way of handling bad guys when it is only one and they are not armed and the police way of doing the same thing. They differed considerably. On the scenarios where I was a policeman, I responded sluggishly; often hesitating or totally confused on how to handle anything from a domestic dispute to a suicide bridge jumper.

When the bad guy showed he possessed a weapon, I pretty much got the draw on him and shot him first. The simulator shows bullet placement and believe it or not, blood. It is very accurate. Another time I approached the back door of a warehouse and a man armed with an AK-47 stepped out and I fired 7 rounds, hitting his body armor a couple of times and missing him with the rest. I would have lost that confrontation and I could have sworn I was aiming true.

As a law officer, I arrived at a motel to answer a domestic dispute and could hear yelling coming from the second floor. A woman stepped out screaming and I drew my firearm. As a side note, Daniel told me sometimes police academy students have to practice drawing their firearm for 45 minutes before he is satisfied, but I think I passed that one quickly. At one time years ago, I worked a fast draw rig to the point that I wore out the six-shooter and it had to be repaired.

The woman lunged out of the open door with a knife stuck in her chest! Immediately a very angry man came out holding a swaddled baby! I’ll be honest, he kept screaming at me to shut-up and possibly tossing or hurtling the baby to the ground. It confused me. The woman was most likely bleeding out and screaming and I did the only thing I knew to do and that was holster the firearm. This continued for at least 2 minutes before the man laid the baby down and was distraught and surrendered. I felt overwhelmed.

Daniel Blackford is qualified
Daniel told me this was a no win situation, but all too common and it didn’t take me long to realize being a cop is putting yourself in danger and under a microscope for everyone to second guess your actions. He told me I did the right thing.

A couple more scenarios came up that after I reacted and yes, shot more bad people before they got me, we would discuss the situation. Being a martial artist and trained in self-awareness, I would point out that I wouldn’t allow myself to be put in the situation depicted. He understood this, being a man who can handle himself. My bride is always telling me I think too much, but it has kept me out of harms way more than a few times.

I’ve touched on the psychology of defending yourself in the past and if you remember, I stressed that no matter how much training you receive, the innate nature to stand and resist cannot really be taught. You either have it, or don’t and when that time comes, only the situation will determine your response. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t train, it means just the opposite and the simulation exposure offered at the college puts you in a real life situational environment.

Friendly professional training
I am a firm believer in going through life never having to point and shoot my firearm at anyone. I don’t sit around and imagine what it would be like either. I can pretty much tell you it would be a nightmare and something I do not want to relive countless times as I wonder if I made the right decision. On the other hand, I don’t want to be a victim, so I will continue to be vigilant when out and about and take precautions as needed.

If you are licensed to carry, I strongly suggest you take a course such as this, whether in Texas City or somewhere else.

For more information on this realistic training call 409-933-8485 and ask for Daniel Blackford.

Friday, May 06, 2016

To Preserve or Plunder?

I was watching the fascinating series by Ken Burns on PBS about the development of our US National Parks.  It is narrated by Peter Coyote and I could listen to him read the back of a cereal box and enjoy it. The documentary offers a lengthy discourse of how Yosemite and Yellowstone National Parks were created and shows how John Muir became their staunch defender.

Teddy Roosevelt was also instrumental in the education and awaking to protect our natural resources. The big difference in the two men’s philosophy was that Muir wanted us to leave everything alone and Roosevelt took more of a management line. In my opinion, the management route is the better choice.

I found it sad and in other ways, totally amazing how ignorant the general population was a hundred years ago about preservation and in some ways how little we have learned. Some attitudes a century ago are still with us, albeit subtly different. Mr. Coyote explained how people would come to Yellowstone Park and using a tool, engrave their name in the stones of deposits and it was almost an obsession and difficult to stop.

There were no laws in place to restrict such destruction and finally the US Army was called in to try and police the parks. People just didn’t get it, leaving huge piles of debris wherever they camped and evidence of their passage. There were no Tread Lightly creeds in place and animal life was seen as something to use and destroy at will.

Everything was perceived as inexhaustible and for the pleasure of the individual at that moment. The idea of sustainability wasn’t even in the remotest corner of the average visitor’s mind.  Just to rehash, sustainability is the quality of not being harmful to the environment or depleting natural resources, and thereby supporting long-term ecological balance. The near extinction of the American wolf interrupted this natural balance to the point that Yellowstone National Park was dying. It wasn’t until biologists convinced the world that they were essential and after reintroduction, the Park began to grow again.

Who would have thought reducing one species would have this destructive power over an entire area?

Now.  What in the world does all of this have to do with us, right here in mega-Baytown? A whole lot. The reason I say a whole lot is because this same destructive behavior and short-sightedness persists right here in our voting population. Some of us are habitual trash throwers. Everywhere we go, we dump evidence of our passing. I pick up debris and litter like it is a full time job. In April alone, I attended 5 trash bash events including the Adopt a site on Blue Heron Parkway that the SETX Geocachers have adopted. 
With Total Petrochemicals, we picked up enough debris by the Lynchburg Ferry to fill an entire industrial scrap pan and this is done every year. Every year. There are enough alcohol bottles and cans on the side of roads to prove that for every person caught drinking and driving there are probably 25 times that number who are getting away with it. For obvious reasons, they throw it out the window of their vehicles for people like me to pick up. I wish I had a touch-DNA kit and I would turn the evidence over to the cops.

When the subject comes up about creating more sustainable parks and walkways, there are old-world thinkers who gripe and complain that we don’t need them and then turn right around and wonder why so many people are in poor health or overweight. They can’t see the forest because there are no trees in their life. They drive their cars and trucks to point A and back to B and then point out that if they want a nice place to go, they’ll simply drive out of town. This philosophy was presented to me this week.

In so many words it was explained that no matter what we do here, we will always just be a redneck oil town. My immediate thought was “Yup, as long as people like you are here, it surely will be.” We live the life of electricity and gasoline. Remove either and you are on foot. You suddenly get an up close and personal look at the Nature you have conveniently ignored. On top of that you get to meet the people who have resided next to you for the last 10 years.

I don’t want to live in a 1984-ish industrial complex, a slum, ghetto, or a place with cookie cutter tiny unimaginative parks. I also want the option to travel on foot and get a little shoe time instead of always thinking my vehicle is my only way to get around. Our waterways need the same consideration, where fish are edible, beach and coastline is recreational, and families can launch their canoes and kayaks on the creek or bayou and explore nature.
Ray Tallant fishing on the ship channel.
That old philosophy that every berry out there is to be eaten immediately needs to go with the wind. We as citizens have the responsibly to make life here better and we can’t do it without adjusting our way of seeing the possibilities.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Life Changers, Game Breakers

 I wish I could honestly say that I have no regrets. If I could, it wouldn’t be close to the truth.  It wouldn’t even be 50 yards from the truth, whatever that means, but you get the point. What I can admit is I’ve done a lot of things wrong and although it would warp the time-space continuum, I wish I could right a few wrongs. I also wish I could reward those choice people who have shaped my life, but are now in my distant past.

One in particular was a school teacher in Morgan, Utah. I do not remember her name or face, but she made a huge impact on my life simply by giving me a book. My Dad’s job caused us to move frequently, so much of my school years are foggy memories of only faces and classes.

It was Christmas morning somewhere around 1962 and I rode my new bike through the snow to her house to show it off. I didn’t really know anyone and for some reason, it was important for me to show it to her. She was delighted and for my effort, she gave me a one volume very thick illustrated encyclopedia. I loved that book and poured through it daily and this was probably one reason I still love to read. We moved away and I never had a chance to thank her.

I think I was born with a rebellious nature, distrusting authority from a young age. A psychiatrist would probably say it was because of my dad and he’d probably be right. My dad always worked and worked and worked to support a family of 5 kids. Being the oldest boy, I usually had a spanking coming for one of our offenses and mainly my transgressions.

It wasn’t until my early 20’s that this flaw was pointed out to me by a sage of a man named George Theobald. I worked with George at ARCO Chemical in Channelview. He became a mentor to me and was wise beyond his 40 plus years. “Your problem is you resent authority, Bert. If you could ever conquer that, you will be a lot happier man.”

George was a farrier on the side, shoeing horses and opened a feed store up Highway 90 way and I lost contact with him. I wish I could meet up with him again and thank him for the influence he had on my life.

My dad is no longer with us and he’s another I should have expressed gratitude to. Sometimes those who are closest to us are the hardest ones to share our innermost feelings. My dad was not an affectionate man by today’s standards, but I never doubted he loved me or cared about my future. He was a product of his own dad and that meant never letting up on his expectations of me, often using ridicule to try to force me forward.

It sounds horribly incorrect by today’s standards, but like I said, even though I didn’t like it, I never doubted his love for me and our family. I think I was about 45 the first time I remember hearing him say he loved me. It was quite a shock, but not overly uncommon from his generation I’ve learned. Dad taught my siblings and me many valuable skills and lessons and it was done by example. It was years later that I realized the depth of his instruction. Maybe that is why I am drawn to being an instructor in a number of disciplines like Bible studies, Hunter education, Martial arts, or my latest Indoor cycling.

My mom is still the guiding hand of the family, even in her 80’s. My youngest brother never fails to amaze me with his ability to properly decipher any situation. He is the Perry Mason of the family and I learn something from him every time we chat.

Throughout my past are literally hundreds of people who have helped me change direction and it would be mind-bending to attempt to track them down. Some spoke to me and offered their opinion. Other times I heard them speak and decided to adopt that line of thought. Here is the summation of this week’s column; you never know when you will meet one of these good folks, so try to latch onto them. Let them know what they are saying is important and right then thank them.

Tomorrow may be too late.


Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Evergreen property acquisition in Baytown

Good Evening Bert,
Let me see if I can shed some light on the progress of the Evergreen property acquisition. 
The original intent was to stay away from the City owning any golf facility simply due to the fact that there is only a very small profit margin or hope to break even on a municipal golf course.  But as luck would turn out, both the Goose Creek Country Club and the Evergreen Golf Course landed on the front door of City Hall, both on the same day.  The first of which was Goose Creek CC whose board members have been trying to get the City to purchase and take over that operations.  This was not going to be considered and the City could not make an investment in that endeavor as it was an unknown.  Unknown to the fact that we knew that other municipal golf courses has to be subsidized by the municipality.  Good example of that is Eagle Point, La Porte and Pasadena courses.  Each of those cities has to subsidize their facilities to keep them a float.  That was something we were not quite prepared to do. 
Then when Evergreen Golf Course was presented to the City, we all knew that we had to pull back on the reins and think about this.  If we let both of these courses go by the way side, the City of Baytown would be the largest municipality in the state without a golf facility.  So before we jumped out there, Council and City Management wanted hard facts about the possibility of one of the two golf facilities becoming a municipal facility and thus an added asset for the City of Baytown.  The City hired a research group to look at the two courses and return a report about the strengths of the two sites and projected success/failure likelihood.  The report returned to the City in a since stated that Goose Creek CC would not be successful and would take a lot of revenue to keep it active.  Evergreen Golf Course on the other hand would be a success and due to the location and future plans around that facility, stated that it would not only break even with the right amount of investment, but could possibly turn some revenue back to the City.  Not in large amounts, but the potential of success was there.
After receiving the report, Council and City Management took the consideration of purchasing the Evergreen facility with the help of the residential developer, who by the way did not want the golf portion for the residential development.  Long story short, the developer made a proposal for the residential development to include a newly revise and revamped golf course.  The only items that were to stay intact was the club house/grill, driving range, putting green and all the fairways/holes around the original residential addition already in place.  Every thing else was going to be revise or new.  As agreed with the developer, the City was going to make the initial investment and the developer was going to purchase back from the City any property it needed to develop the residential portions.  The City was gong to pay for the new design and instillation of the golf course. 

The estimated investment was to the tune of $12mm.  Council could have passed an ordinance to get that going but Council wanted the Citizens of Baytown to weigh in on the matter and thus we offered a bond program for vote by the Citizens.  As you know that vote barely failed.  I believe this was due to the water meter impact issues and the disgruntled Goose Creek CC Citizens.  Be that as it may, it was no longer viable due to the voice of the Citizens.
As time progressed, another offer was presented to the City to purchase a portion of the property and this was considered by Council and City Management.  We all agree that we could purchase this property and had the authority to do so.  Also agree was to honor the will of the vote and not purchase the property only to put a golf course back in.  This certainly would not set well with the Citizens and Council never attempted to do that.  Instead the property was acquired due to the fact that we could later develop the land into something useful and we do want to do something to the south end of Baytown. 

Therefore the property was acquired with the intent to develop it into something useful for the public to use.  So present plans are to use as open space with walking and bike and trails through the property.  The City also negotiated with Union Pacific to be able to acquire the rail road bridge (across Hwy 146) and track property that goes west from the northern end of the Evergreen course.  The City intends to make this part of the concrete walk/bike trail into the internal part of the city and tie into the north east corner of the Evergreen property.  In addition, the Goose Creek ISD discuss the need to keep their golf programs alive and therefore the driving range and putting greens will remain open in order to keep the high school golf teams practicing. 
So in a nut shell, that is how we arrived at what we have today. 
Hope this will do and if you need more information, there certainly is more I can give you.  The main thing to understand is that the City was very open with the vote, the future plans of the bond project was not properly vetted through the community and what the future site was to become.  Therefore the Citizens voted it down.  Council and City Management fully respected the vote and will of the people.
Thank you,
Bob Hoskins
District 5 councilman

Friday, April 22, 2016

My Smartphone is making me stupid

There. I said what a lot of us are thinking; my Smartphone is making me stupid - or stupider, I can’t decide.  I can’t or won’t make that call. I see evidence of it every day not only of those around me, but in my own life.

We wonder what time it is, glance at our phone to see and immediately forget.  The reason we do this is we know we can look again and again and again. The same goes for the date and the day of the week. Can’t remember a fact? Just speak it into our phone and a voice will explain it, then we can forget it again. Why remember anything? Its like voting in the primary; it isn’t necessary.

On Facebook, we don’t have to actually think or come up with something original (like a thought), because we can “like” or “share” and now, “react!” (Boom!) to something some genuine smart person wrote or said. Better yet we can post an emoji or animated .gif that really and truly is profound and expressive of our foggy thoughts. The funny pictures are more fun than whatever we are thinking.

We have arrived at the enlightened state where people walk off cliffs or drive their cars into light poles and up on medians because their Smartphone is steering their short attention. We’ve learned the once lost art of burning rubber to make it through that yellow light after 30 seconds of green has evaded us while we stare at the little illuminated screen.

Our Smartphones have given us something to do with our hands when we are idle – forget cigarettes (they are so old school!). What? I am supposed to read a magazine at the doctor’s office or make casual conversation with another patient? (Seriously rolling my eyes here.) If I want to be social, I’ll text you (a lot less germs you know).

Then there is this: nomophobia. Nomophobia is the fear of being out of mobile phone contact. “What?  No signal?  MOMMY!  Uh, I can’t even breathe! Can’t anyone see I’m dying here! This is serious! I mean, like help!”

How ridiculous. More often than not I leave my phone in my gym bag or my Jeep and 3 hours later I retrieve it. Sometimes it spends the night inside one of those 2 dark places and I think I’m fairly well connected. If I have a meeting or sit in church, I just turn it off or leave it in my vehicle. I’m even one of those rare people who doesn’t wear headphones in the gym or when I am jogging and or riding my bike.

As I’ve said before, I repair PC computers. Over the last 2 years this has became sporadic at best as more people abandon their laptop and desktops for a handheld “computer-like” device. This is fine for many banal activates, but there is no handheld substitute for a sit in front of computer.

Try writing a page of text or researching a subject to any real depth to understand what I am saying. I run 3 large screens here in the Orbiting Command Ship Central and often have 2 or more windows open on each. I like what I do here and I like ferreting out virus’ from people’s computers, but I surely don’t get separation anxiety when no computers come in. I like to read copious amounts of information and a little handheld device simply doesn’t fulfill my need.

What I think will happen in the future is people will wake up and realize this little handheld device is not as smart of a decision as they once thought. It is getting people in trouble left and right, not to mention distracting them from literally everything. The computer that it is, is great, but it needs to be used as such, rather than as a friend and a constant companion to the exclusion of everything and everyone around you – especially when driving!  Hello!

The truth is that we don’t need to be that connected. It is good to go off the grid on a regular basis. “Hey look, Mom!  No hands!”  Hey, it’s liberating to ride this bike without touching the handlebars now and again. Try it. Shut that phone off for a half hour. “Uh, you mean like really, really shut it off, like literally?”

Yup, shut er down. Unplug. See how long you can go. The longer the better and after the initial anxiety wears off you’ll realize how much more relaxed you’ve become. When you turn it on and forty-seventy billion texts come in, just erase them. They were fluff anyway. I promise you; it won’t hurt and you will feel smarter too.

Friday, April 15, 2016

We are no longer a Dirty Bay

My bride and I were discussing Baytown, its future, and our perceived reputation as “just another working class oil town” or dirty bay as some claim. We have an organization here named Keep Baytown Beautiful which I aligned myself with for a short spell.  It has a mission to well, keep the city beautiful. For starters I think we need a paradigm shift to make Baytown beautiful first, and then we can keep the ball rolling.

Eleanor Albon and Kathy Nelson are the movers and shakers in this organization and my hat stays off to both of them.  Eleanor runs the Adopt-a-site program and Kathy overseas beautification projects. Both of these are crucial to making Baytown a better and cleaner place to raise our families. They are making headway and it is making a difference in our city.

My new goal is to have positive input into the Strategic Planning Advisory Committee with other like-minded citizens. Our aim is to plot the 5 year future of the city. As I’ve stated before, I am all about the quality of living here, not in a new restaurant or retail store. Other committee members can worry over that.

This past week, my bride and I made our 3rd trip into Houston for outdoor activities.  Each time we racked up about 65 miles going and coming. The 1st and 2nd trip were to take our grandson to Donovan Park in the Heights. This closed-in and wrought iron-fenced castle-like playground is hugely popular and is large enough that it is never really overly crowded. There is covered seating so parents can watch their kids in comfort and the gate lock is high enough that only adults can open it.

Baytown needs one of these parks – or two. Again it will require a paradigm shift from the prefab playground stuff most cities erect, including ours. As a committee member planning our city’s future, I do not want to be the proverbial flea in a lidless jar, who only jumps as high as where the lid should be. There is no lid and there is no reason Baytown can’t have a unique park where people drive 30 miles to come to it.

Look at Kemah. Mainly through one man’s vision, it is an international draw. We have some of this amazing stuff in Baytown already, so it is not unreasonable. We have Pirates Bay and the new fountain on Texas Avenue which doubles as an ice rink in winter. We have the Royal Purple Raceway. Thanks to Scott Johnson’s leadership and our hard-working parks crews, we have well maintained parks for kids to play.

The Heights in Houston.
In talking to Director of Strategic Initiatives Nick Woolery the other day I suggested we have a second and maybe a third Calypso Cove. Parks are money sinks, but if one is breaking even, or better yet, making money like Pirates Bay, to me it is a no brainer to build another or expand the one we have.

Our disc golf course is the best in the Houston metroplex! The best! We are soon to expand the trails in Jenkins Park and I am asking for elevation changes and a certified 5K trail. This may not seem important, but if it is certified, runners will train here for competition. I would love to see a flyover connecting the Blue Heron Parkway trail to Jenkins Park. This would be hugely popular, as runners can practice their hill climbing other than running over the Fred Hartman Bridge.

In the Heights of Houston, the ten foot wide sidewalks are safe because they are so heavily used. Cyclists, runners, families, dog walkers, roller skaters, and yes, geocachers are on it constantly. People are choosing a healthier lifestyle over sitting on the couch simply because it is available and easy to get to. Our city is planning an entire loop of connecting 10 foot sidewalks that will allow us to take long bike rides, hikes, and runs. Everyone is aware that our kids need to lose weight and this is one great way as a family to accomplish that goal.

I’ve made the claim for years that Baytown is not friendly toward people on bikes or afoot and if I can change that, I surely will. Healthier cities have a lot of foot traffic, but when the only walking we do is a half a parking lot occasionally, we are kidding ourselves. There is a plan to have a 10 foot wide sidewalk from the Evergreen defunct golf course all the way over to the Baytown Nature Center using old RR tracks as a roadbed.

The Goose Creek trail starting at Bayland Park will run all the way to Emmett Hutto Drive in the next expansion. Baytown can be like Kemah. We have the water resources and we can exploit them with kayak/canoe launches and amenities to draw water lovers. I am working with the tourism department to bring a Geocaching Geotour here, which will attract people from all over the country. We should be launching it in the next few months.

So, the preconceived notion that whatever we do here is “good enough” is not good enough. We need to be that flea that jumps high enough that it realizes the sky is the limit. Baytown can be THE place to visit and the place to raise a family and through your help, we can make it so. So, how do you get involved? Send me input. Talk to your councilperson. Call the tourism department or the parks department and give them your suggestions. Most of all when you hear the city is trying to push through a Parks-related issue, give them a high five.

You can also go online and submit your ideas by taking the Imagine Baytown Survey!  It is very short.

Friday, April 08, 2016

The Blue Star-shaped Glass

On my geocaching adventures, I happened upon a paperweight of blue glass in the shape of a five-pointed star. It was inside one of the caches I was seeking. The rule was that if I took it, I had to leave something of equal or greater value. I left 2 dollars. Time would reveal that it was not an equal trade.

I don’t know what it is about this simple piece of beautiful glass art, but it has been on my desk for about 4 years now and I am remiss to part with it. I often pick it up and hold it to the light and look through it. It reminds me of Long Beach, California when I was 8 years old for some strange reason.

I used to walk down Long Beach Boulevard into Compton and there was a business with fishing nets and blue glass balls hanging on it. I used to stop and stare at how beautiful they were and the rich color mesmerized me. I imagined pirate ships and exotic islands and untold secrets.

What hold does this crystal have over me that I am so attached to it? I don’t have an answer to that and no doubt the person who released it into the public didn’t think anyone would feel passionately about such a bauble. The truth is they probably haven’t thought twice about it since they placed it.

If asked I wouldn’t even pick blue as my favorite color; that color would be green. Neon green is my choice, like the Christmas tree lights or maybe pistachio sherbet. Is it possible that a green star would have more of an effect on me? Simple pleasures, I know and that brings me round to the purpose of this column.

Living in the moment. 

Late last month a group of us hiked 12 or so miles on the Lone Star Trail up by Huntsville. 12 miles doesn’t sound like much, but strap on a 20 pound backpack and do the numerous water-crossings and root-infested trail and it is a long danged stretch requiring half a day of fairly steady walking. We stopped for a rest and sandwich at the halfway point and that is when I felt compelled to expound on living in the moment.

Some people call it taking time to smell the roses, but it is more than that. It is recognizing that you are at a special place in your life and savoring it. It is having an epiphany that you are having the time of your life. You could be any place at that moment and not recognize how wonderful the experience is. Most of us relive it later and that is when we get connected.

I was on my Spin bike at the gym the other day with a group of sweating people and I glanced at the clock. 20 more minutes! 20 minutes of beating myself down. 20 more minutes of self-abuse… or is it only 20 more minutes to experience something most people wouldn’t recognize as wonderful? At that point my whole mind-set shifted and I felt a surge of emotion. I was in the moment and yes, I can do this in spades – or Spandex! Those last 20 passed in a blink of an eye.

When we go on vacation we take our cameras so we can relive the experience later and we zip past the very experience we came for. The photos don’t do the visit justice and we miss out almost entirely. The sad thing is this is exactly what we continue throughout our lives. I’ve talked to many people who have been on cruises, but not once has anyone really relayed the experience in specific detail.

None of them remembers or reminisces about seeing their own blue star-shaped glass. One of my brothers had a mouse crawl on his lap while he was bear hunting in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He calmly watched it make a burrow in the heated pillow he was sitting on and will recall that moment over and over again for the rest of his life. Most people would not have the identical memory for sure, but his was amazing.

Children live in the moment almost 100% of the time. As adults we learn to ignore most of our life and focus on emergencies, distractions, delicious food, and tasks. My future is to find more blue star-shaped glass and I’ll have to slow down and make it a point to find it. How about we start today?

How about we slow down to see those little things we are missing. Last night I stepped outside and right above me in the sky was the planet Jupiter glowing like the moon. My mind went immediately to our ancient astronomers and once again I marveled at how they mapped the planets. Early this morning I witnessed Mars and Saturn in the south-eastern sky. Wow! So simple and free and so unnoticed by most.

Like my blue star-shaped piece of glass, most people forget to hold it up to the light.

Friday, April 01, 2016

A city competition to remember

I haven’t had this much fun since the last time!  I’m talking about the Pogo stick and hula hoop match-off on Texas Avenue this past weekend.  If you missed it, you are the loser, as it was about as much fun as watching Texans and Cowboys fan do a group hug.

The competition was City Manager Rick Davis’ way of announcing the “newly up-to-the-minute organized well-thought-out Department of Redundancy” and I heard it came in under or nearly-nearly under budget.  It was a “huge and gigantic announcement” according to him and kicked off the invigorating competition.

I must say, I had no idea Mayor DonCarlos could hula hoop like that!  The man is simply amazing… and agile as a Zumba instructor!  Maybe it’s just me, but until I saw that man in tights, I always thought he was a little doughy around the middle, but not anymore.

The newly refurbished Texas Avenue was the perfect place for the competition and they had the streets blocked from North Main to the old Sears building.  Ken Pridgeon and I were judges and if I have a complaint, its Ken’s constant request for me to listen to some of his gospel karaoke recordings he made at his house.  Between you and me, there is more heart and soul there than actual talent, but don’t quote me.

Baytown Police officer Stewart Beasley should never ever be allowed to get on a pogo stick, let alone in a crowed street atmosphere.  There.  I said it.  The man is dangerous.  He is so physically strong that a special reinforced device had to be flown in from the bowels of industrial Channelview so he could compete.  The frame was made by Caterpillar Inc. and had railcar springs to put it in perspective.

Okay, okay, I am getting ahead of myself here.  First off, I am not a reporter.  I am a columnist, so sometimes I get my facts behind or in front of the other.  The event was the idea of our honored Parks Superintendent, Scott Johnson – who I respect to the third knuckle. The premise was to launch this new new Department of Redundancy and he thought a “friendly” competition between our city Councilmen and Mayor against the expertly led Baytown Police Department would be “Neat-O Neat-O” (evidently his favorite word).

Team Captains were, of course Chief Dougherty and Mayor DonCarlos and I was a bit surprised when the Chief showed up in full SWAT gear.  I had an idea they came to win, but geeze.  He looked like Chuck Norris and the Mayor’s get up was almost embarrassing in contrast, except for the tights of course.

I knew the city councilmen were taking it serious when they arrived in six limousines and Daniel Blackford was running around with five other “men in black” acting like they were guarding Hillary Clinton.  Bob Hoskins later told me that he had trained for the pogo stick event using the John Belushi “little chocolate donut” diet and the definition in his abs was apparent to all.

I didn’t quite understand the reason for David McCartney’s cape until he was disqualified for having a Nitros Oxide tank and a small block Hemi under it.  For the love of all that is sacred, come on guys.  It’s supposed to be fair.  The City took another hit when Brandon Capetillo got in an argument with the other councilmen over who was the handsomest of the six.  It got ugly until Assistant Chief David Alford told them to “Can it!” and made them all do push-ups. I’ve always admired a man who can snuff out a fire like that.  Semper Fi, Marine!

Councilman Capetillo didn’t take it well and said (and I quote) “That right there is why I’m not seeking re-election!”  There was one wild-eyed scruffy fellow in the crowd eating donuts and he yelled out his support to the man, but for the most part, everyone ignored him and went back to enjoying the competition. Another old curmudgeon stole an opportunity to get people to vote for “either Hillary or Kasich!” and was taken into custody for psychological testing, as he was clearly delusional.

Each team pitted one select “volunteer” to go up against their opposite in five separate heats and the first four went fairly well.  The fifth one got up close ugly and personal when Stewart Beasley and Kevin Troller squared off on them danged pogo sticks.

Ken Pridgeon and I were sitting in front of the Art League and Ken handed me a pair of ear plugs, a rubber apron, and safety glasses and said, “Trust me.”  Well, Ken and I go way back to the Brown shoe days of the Air Force and I did as was instructed.

Kevin is an ex-Army Colonel and Stewart runs the Baytown Police departments gym, so when I heard Stewart making those funny engine sounds with his lips, I knew this was going to be something for the books.  City potentate Rick Davis held up a flare gun and unexpectedly fired it and this is when Stewart went blind-missile crazy and launched himself clear past TSO and landed next to the old Brunson theater.

Assistant Chief Alford tackled the city manager and cuffed him, yelling “GUN!” and Kevin Troller was spotted a short distance away eating tacos off a food truck.  The bright light of the flare incensed Baytown Fire Department’s Shon Blake and he put a Judo chop on police educator Stewart after they removed him from the roof of the old Brunson. In a brilliant move straight out of the Obama Administration, the Mayor, declaring executive powers, crowned Troller the winner.

Chief Dougherty, being the humble civil servant that he is, conceded the match and it was over almost as quickly as it started.  The very next day, the council double disbanded the Department of Redundancy stating the City Manager “was getting his cart in front of the horse, or vice versa”.  All in all it made for a grand time and I’m glad I was there to witness it.  I guess no one can argue that Baytown is most decidedly, a city on the move move.

Friday, March 25, 2016

There’s Always A Bad Guy, Isn’t There?

Is it me, or is there always a bad guy out there waiting to get us? I was just a kid when I learned that there were ‘bad guys” besides the boogey man under my bed at night. The threat was “Krauts” and “Nips” and they were very real to my brothers and I as we daily sought them out in mortal combat. We didn’t bother with North Koreans, as no one really talked about those guys.

My brother and the neighborhood kids fought these WWII aggressors each and every day as they tried to infiltrate our neighborhoods and because my family moved quite often, I never found out if all this practice did them any good in Vietnam. I know it helped me to be a better “soldier” and that became apparent in boot camp on the obstacle course when others struggled, I excelled.

Then came the Commies and they were the perfect bad guy and in a way, I kind of miss them. At one time there were over 40 Communist countries and now there are just 5 – Laos, North Korea, Cuba, China, and Vietnam. The red scare was so real, people were building bomb shelters and we kids did drills at school to escape the future nuclear fallout. It was a very serious and real threat and no one made jokes about it.

Race Relations, assassinations, Vietnam, hurricanes, Arctic blasts, drug cartels, Ebola, Zika, Hepatitis, AIDS, Hillary, Global warming, criminals, radical Islam, shingles… Lord have mercy. Now it’s Donald Trump rolling across American politics like he’s the devil himself.

To a lot of us the current “bad guy” is not The Donald, its the US Government. Isn’t that sad? Many of us do not trust our government and suspect they are self-serving carpetbaggers on both sides of the fence. On top of that, some believe they are on the same side of the fence and all the voters are on the other side – the losing side. It does seem odd that whoever is in office, nothing changes.

One local curmudgeon thinks Hillary Clinton and John Kasich are "a great fair and civil race to the finish" and when I read that, I felt like giving Jack Kevorkian’s successor a call for his benefit. The man is clearly in need of an intervention. If either of these two politicians are elected, the rape of America will continue.

Both Parties blame the other, and then either continues the same policies, or declares they will change them… at a later date. They angrily posture, and then go eat lunch together and laugh at our expense. How is it even possible that the President of the United States can’t even clear up whether he is an American Citizen, when if I owe the IRS $50 and won’t pay, they simply garnish my wages?

How is it that giant accounting companies and investment bankers can scam billions of dollars off of investors and get away with it for years?  How can this country be overran with people illegally entering the country and yet the very people who point this out are labeled as racist? How can a top government official fail miserably at their job for years and not get fired? Worse yet, how is it possible they get reelected?

Why do we have Primaries, if a Party talking head can openly brag that the voters don’t pick the candidate – they do? If they can’t control a popular candidate, I guess they simply say they are not the right person and put someone else up on the ticket. “You stupid people don’t understand politics, so we will do your thinking for you!” The quote is my own, so don’t bother Googling it and yes, you can quote me.

Boogie men! Bad guys and gals abound and while some live outside the law and are obviously criminals, others write the laws and then violate them with impunity. Both are criminal parasites living off the working man and woman. They are akin to the charlatan preacher who does not practice what they preach and keep many small fires burning to distract their congregation from their own larger transgression.

In other words, the very people we elect to represent us, often do the opposite. I’m not sure where it starts, but by the time they finally arrive, they are no longer representing anything other than big government. So why is it a surprise that Donald Trump is shaking up this dynasty? He’s not being bribed or beholden to any big oil or pharmaceutical company, let alone the thousands of powerful lobbyists.

If elected, he won’t be beholden to place every million dollar contributor’s representative in office below him – like has been done by both parties for years. He’s upsetting the system in a way our country has never experienced! He’s already made it clear that he will appoint the brightest, smartest, and best people to these positions to get the country back on track.

Donald Trump is not just a threat to the GOP. He’s a threat to the entire system of “business as usual”, which is keeping the fat cats fat and we the people scared of bad guys. In the next few months expect world leaders (who are double dipping your tax dollars) to come out screaming. Both parties will spend your hard earned money to try and discredit Trump.

Make sure you understand why they are demonizing him as the ultimate bad guy.