Friday, March 20, 2015

To infinity and beyond!

 This past weekend, I drove up to Lubbock, Texas.  I’ve never been to Lubbock or Abilene for that matter.  I was driving my Jeep up there for the Texas Geocaching Challenge where geocachers from, well, all over the world, come to compete against each other to see who has the best team.  New Mexico and Colorado competed, as did one fellow from Great Britain.

Driving a lifted Jeep on 35 inch tires and cruising at 75 mph is an exhilarating experience.  I left Baytown at 3:30AM for the 600 mile trip and it was raining and thundering something fierce.  My tiny Shi-Tzu was shaking and I put her thunder jacket on her tiny body before I left and let her up into the bed with my sleeping bride.  My little Papillon/Pomeranian mixed doggie doesn’t seem to mind the booms, but likes it under the covers just fine.

It was raining Gulf Coast Texas style as I drove through sleeping Houston.  I wanted to “git gone” up 290 before the traffic wars started and with the downpour, I was glad to have the woman’s voice on my Garmin Nuvi nudge me up the correct paths.  It’s not that I don’t want to hear a man’s voice on the electronic destination device; it’s simply that it is clearer with the higher tone of a female voice.  Jeeps have come a long way since 1941, but quiet, they ain’t.  Well, it was quieter inside the cab before the off-road modifications, lets just say.

It was still pouring when I reached Cypress and in the opposing lane I watched a car coming toward me with the driver’s side front wheel folded up under the broken ball joint and it was sending a rooster tail of sparks out behind it.  The fellow driving it was still doing about 50 mph and I watched him in my rear view mirror until he was distant.  It’s a good thing it was raining, or he couldn’t have accomplished that idiotic feat without a fire.

Somewhere around daylight, the sun rose behind me as I passed through Waco and seeing I had never been there also, all I could wonder about was the David Koresh compound “Mount Karmel”.  I guess in all his wisdom, he didn’t realize a “mount” is a volcano and not a hill and he should have called the place Mont Koresh.  He might still be alive if he did.  It is indeed sad that a historic town like Waco should be associated with the Branch Davidian fiasco instead of all the other stuff that happened there in Texas history.

Hamilton, Comanche, Cross Plains, and finally Abilene – which a loop took me around it without me actually seeing the city.  Cattle drives and Indians.  According to Western scholar Louis L’Amour, the Comanche Indian was something no one wanted to encounter.  These plains are something to see.  Miles and miles of open air and I liked it.  In my mind’s eye, I could see millions of bison being chased by the Native American Mongol descendants, arrows flying and big animals collapsing.

I’ve never beheld a wind turbine in action, but when I came to Roscoe, Texas, which incidentally is home to the largest array of wind turbines almost anywhere, I got an eyeful.  Wow!  They are huge and there are almost 700 of them.  All around the array is evidence of last year’s cotton crop and I stopped and grabbed a stick of cotton for my office collection.  Evidently some cotton harvesters are more efficient than others, as some fields were very messy with missed cotton in abundance.  I imagine birds love the stuff for their nests, as do the mice and rats.

Lubbock has a large prairie dog population and a dedicated park where you can get very close to the little short-tailed dirt rats.  They stand on their hind legs and randomly make a high-pitched barking/chirping sound for no apparent reason that I could tell.  Watching them reminded me of The View for some reason.  While at the competition, which our Southeast Texas Team took third place, I saw a fox running like its tail was on fire and a cock pheasant in a cotton field.  I haven’t seen either of these animals in a long time and enjoyed the view.

The actual competition pitted the 6 regions of Texas against each other to find as many of the 75 (estimate) hidden geocaches as they could in 4 hours of brutal dash like you’re crazy frenzy, in which I was the driver for my part of my team.  Even with all the places we went, I still managed to put over 18,000 steps on my Garmin Fitbit in those 4 hours and that is a lot of walking and running in such a short amount of time.  Our little group found 36, which was pretty good.

There were so many geocaches hidden around town that we often didn’t see any other competitors.  Now to clarify, none of these geocaches counted against our real statistics.  They were put out for the competition only and are now probably removed.

I pulled out for the drive home Sunday morning again at 3:30AM and punched into my Nuvi to take me home.  Well, Garmin in all its wisdom, routed me down through Brownwood of all places, but in the end, it was about the same 600 miles and after the sun came up, I saw some of Texas I had never visited and yes, found a few more geocaches on my way back to beautiful Baytown.


Friday, March 13, 2015

E-cigs, Vaping, and second hand smoke

On my desk is a book from my personal library “Tobacco – A cultural history of how an exotic plant seduced civilization.”  And yes, this column is about smoking, but before you lose interest, there is indeed something in it for everyone, so please read on.

Having been a past smoker who began experimenting with tobacco at the young age of 7, I bought this book in January of 2004 and read all 387 pages.  Now, I am not going to bore you with a bunch of stuff you can read on Wikipedia or by using a search engine, but rather make an appeal of sorts.  The book covers everything in great detail.

Like I’ve said more than once, I repair computers and on occasion I will get one from a smoking household and there is a major difference in them and all the others.  Opening this one up in my garage to try and clean out the inside, as it positively reeked of cigarette residue, I discovered what can only be described as a brown sticky mess.

Needless to say, it was dead.  Real dead.  Ruined and I couldn’t help but draw an analogy to the human lungs of anyone living with a smoker.  I write “living with a smoker” because this desktop does not smoke cigarettes. 

At some point in my observation, I realized I didn’t start smoking at 7 years old; I started smoking the day I was brought into a smoking household.  By the time I began lighting up my own cigarettes, I had already been inhaling smoke, tar, and nicotine for 7 years.

Am I attacking tobacco smokers with this week’s column?  No, not in the least; I am making an appeal.  There is an alternative and its called vaping.  To keep my column manageable, please read about it here:

I had to see it to understand how it works and of course, I am not a scientist, so I cannot say that it is safe – it is just safer than smoking tobacco conventionally.  It is considerably cheaper also.  One person explained to me that a carton of smokes was about $60 plus, while the same amount of “juice” for a vaporizer is about 8 bucks or so.

While I was at the gym, I came out of the steam room and plopped down on a bench next to a fellow close to my own age named George.  After a moment of conversation, he said he was a long time smoker and was having trouble breathing.  I asked him if he tried vaping, as one of my friends from high school had educated me on it.  He said he had tried it without success.  I told him my friend explained that the vaporizing device (atomizer) is the key and a good one is a hundred bucks or more.

If you are a smoker or someone who lives with this addiction is one of the largest forums on the Internet for electronic cigarettes. It is comprised of thousands and thousands of daily active members.

If you are still reading this column and believe I am promoting tobacco smoking, you are drawing the wrong conclusion.  I do however feel compassion for those who smoke, having been addicted.  My sole intention is educate those who want to quit smoking and stop smelling like, well, stinking.  There is no nice way to say it.

The reason cigarettes became the standard for smoking over dipping, snuffing, cigars, and pipes is the paper-rolled version is the most efficient nicotine delivery device – until the eCig came along.

A 5 minute cigarette would normally push back the cravings for a spell, but now with the atomizer, a nicotine addict can have a hit or two anytime they need it and no one is offended – unless they interpret the “cloud” of exhaled vapor for smoke, which it simply is not.  E juice “smoke” has a pleasant odor or none at all and to experience it first hand is simply amazing.  It is not smoke at all, but water vapor and that is why it is called a cloud.

There are some well-meaning people who would like to criminalize tobacco usage, but I am not one of them.  I think if you want to smoke, it is your business, but get educated and if you have smoked for long, you are most likely trying to stop.  The eCig way may be the safest and cheapest route and you won’t stink or endanger those around you while you take this path.

Friday, March 06, 2015

Looking for an adventure?

I read the news sources available on the Internet maybe four or more times a day and for starters, I watch KPRC with Owen and Rachelle to get the local stuff.  Including the changing and erratic weather and traffic reports, almost everything is doom and gloom.  You know that and I “ain’t tell you nuthin’” you don’t already know.

I am amazed on a daily basis that in this whole great big world, this is all that makes the news.  I mean , seriously?  Isn’t there something worth reading besides Kanye West speaking at Oxford University?  Your opinion of this man’s genius may differ from my own, but I can’t help but believe everyone in attendance didn’t leave with less brain cells than they had when they sat down.

I wish I was one of the millions of men, women, and children who get their vicarious adventure fix by watching organized sports (not really, but it would probably help satisfy my urges).  I mean I could spend thousands of hours memorizing stats and shopping for jerseys and stuff, but alas, that doesn’t do it for me.

Well, there are all the events where thousands of anxious people gather and revel to live music and massive amounts of food, or book a cruise to go where everyone else has gone before…  Nope.  It just doesn’t sound appealing to me.

Maybe I should get a professional grade helmet and a GoPro camera and do something extreme, like ride a half-broke Cape Buffalo through a 6-foot high drainage pipe lined with punji stakes and copper-headed cobra rattlesnakes!  That would really be an adventure now wouldn’t it?  I could upload the video (or my bride could after my funeral) and it would have 16 quadzillion hits on YouTube and make the Today Show’s viral video list for maybe one day.

Of course, something as adventurous that video would be auto-tuned with music something like “Ain’t nobody got time for dat!” and become a comedy staple on the Internet, which incidentally would earn a tidy sum for my bride, book deals, maybe a movie...

The list of potential adventures is a mile long and according to the colorful advertisement on the cable box, real adventure is simply watching the many shows concerning crime, murder, infidelity, financial ruin, and celebrity going-ons.  Through the magic of streaming media, we can watch Madonna fall off the stage 50 times in a row and laugh each time.  Now that’s adventure!  (Insert rolling of the eyes here).

Lately I have discovered that real adventure is meeting new people.  My little computer repair business (PC Repair Done Dirt Cheap) has brought a whole new group of interesting people into my life and it seems every one of them is interesting.  Just the other day I sat in the home of famous writer Jim Finley while he tried to convince me how totally and helplessly ignorant he is about computers and as hard as he tried, I just couldn’t see it.  Other than a couple of unpreventable blips his system was experiencing, it appeared the gentleman had a very sound grasp of his system.

We chatted stories back and forth as much as time would allow and after all these years, I got some face time with a true newspaper pundit and even some sought after advice.  We both agreed that the current folks running the paper are one of the best moves forward for the Baytown Sun in a long time and that Jane Lee is groovy awesome.

Few hobbies have brought as much adventure, fun, and down-right challenge into my life as the game of Geocaching.  It can be played by anyone with a Smartphone, simply by downloading the correct App and registering for a free membership at  You don’t have to be in great physical shape or health to find many of the “caches”, so don’t deny yourself due to your own physical limitations.  Many seniors enjoy this game.

Tomorrow at the Baytown Nature Center, I will be teaching a Geocaching 101 class from 10am to noon down on the point.  Admission to the park is 3 bucks and the class is free.  It will be cold and windy and… fun.  If you have an Android-based phone, download C:Geo and if you are an Applehead, get this one: Geosphere.

Try to arrive fifteen minutes early and if you want to score big with the teacher, bring a few kolaches and donuts to share.  I promise if you attend this class, it will open up a whole new world of outdoor adventure for you and your family.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Geocaching in Galveston Texas!

Galveston geocaching
ALYSHA BECK/for The Daily News

Galveston geocaching

Brothers Esteban, 12, left, and Xavier Ramirez-Fabela, 8, look inside a geocache they found as their other brother Zacharies, 15, watches at Galveston Island State Park during a geocaching workshop Saturday Feb. 14, 2015.
Posted: Wednesday, February 25, 2015 1:30 am
It was the idea of a treasure hunt that got me. It sent me exploring through a hidden nature preserve and had me searching headstones at Old City Cemetery, thinking about legends of buried treasure all the way.    
I was geocaching — learning to play the game that now has more than 6 million participants using GPS coordinates to hunt for hidden containers. All you need is a smartphone or other GPS device to search for caches hidden with clues from other players. 
I knew that Galveston, with all its history and natural spaces, would be a prime spot to pick up the hobby. 
So I set out on the hunt. 
I started by going to, the largest website to post caches and find coordinates. The website, launched in 2000, claims more than 2.5 million active caches registered around the world. Anyone can register a cache on the website and post the coordinates and hints to help players find it. Most have logs to track the names and dates of finds and some have small trinkets that players exchange.
There are more than 40 geocaches on the island now that have been found by hundreds of people. They are placed near parks, historical homes and, strangely common in geocaching, cemeteries. The containers have already been found by families, tourists and locals, who then post about their find on the cache’s page online. Some logs I found are filled with signatures and dates stretching back years.
All kinds making finds
“You get all types geocaching,” Bert Marshall, the Southeast Texas representative for the Texas Geocaching Association, told me when I called to ask about the hobby. “They could be a truck driver, a mom from the suburbs or a rocket scientist for NASA,” he said. “I’ve met all of those people geocaching.”
Marshall has been geocaching for 11 years and is well known among local cachers for organizing events and posting videos of his searches under the name BaytownBert. 
He has logged more than 5,000 finds and often goes on long journeys for some of the most difficult caches requiring solutions to complicated puzzles or walking into the deep woods. He’s found caches hidden by secret codes or requiring you to scale a 15-foot tree. 
I was not about to scale a tree. So instead, I started with the very basics — trailing 6-year-olds at Galveston Island State Park’s Geocaching 101 class. It’s an easy and welcoming introduction to the hobby.
A trend appears 
The workshop started after parks departments across the country caught on to the geocaching trend and Texas Parks and Wildlife stashed caches in every state park. 
“It’s a way of getting some younger people that are into technology to come out to the parks,” Lisa Reznicek, a park interpreter who runs the geocaching workshop, said. “We’ve noticed that the average age of some of our educational events tends to be older people, so this is something that would bring someone different to the park and get the younger people into their phones out into nature.”
Reznicek’s workshop is good for families with young kids and people looking for help getting started with the technology involved in geocaching. 
Reznicek takes the workshop around the nature center for a few simple finds. 
The young kids lit up when they found the hiding spots — even if the trinket inside was an odd choice: a single baby’s sock. 
The state parks re-hide geocaches every year as part of a program called the Geocache Challenge. 
“At the start of the challenge, we’ll get people lining up to be the first to find them and then it’s a race,” Reznicek said. “The caches usually just take care of themselves; we’ll just send someone once in a while to check that it’s still there.” 
Galveston Island State Park has three caches. They include trivia about the park and lead you to some lovely spots — which I won’t spoil. 
The search for Lafitte’s booty
I knew I had found my second mission in learning to geocache when I saw a cache on Galveston’s West End called Lafitte’s Booty. The reference to the pirate rumored to have left behind enough treasure in this area to “ransom a nation” won me over instantly. 
The cache took me to the Lafitte’s Cove Nature Preserve. I would never have discovered the lovely walking paths and bird-watching stations of the preserve if I had not set out to find the two caches hidden there.  
For my last cache of the day, I went to Old City Cemetery — the sort of place that I drive by every day, but never actually visit. Geocaching gave me a reason and a mission to explore the interesting headstones dating back to before the 1900 Storm. I ended up at the grave of George Childress, author of the Texas Declaration of Independence, who committed suicide. 
At each cache, I left behind my geocaching name, DailyNewsErin, the date and a trinket — a fake mustache. When I remembered, I logged onto and read the notes from the people who had found the cache before and left a message logging my find. 
I went home feeling accomplished and with the sense that I knew the island just a little better. 
So will I now become a loyal geocacher? 
The most dedicated geocachers seek more than a nice day learning more about the places they live. As my geocaching guru, BaytownBert, put it — “It’s a game of statistics and getting finds is a point of pride for a lot of people. It becomes a sort of nerdy game of topping yourself.”  
Marshall said that die-hard geocachers like to build their stats, finding increasingly complicated caches sometimes known as “evil hides” and rushing to be the first to find, FTF in the lingo, a cache.  
I’m happy strolling along, finding new places and challenging myself a little more every time. But most of all, I love that small rush that comes from the hunt.
Contact reporter Erin Heffernan at 409-683-5237 or

Friday, February 27, 2015

Oh Mr. Blues, please go away

About 20 years ago, I self-diagnosed a condition caused by the lack of exposure to the sun.  I had no idea there was an actual name for it.  All I knew was when the sun didn’t brighten my eyes for a couple of days; everything took on a dull and gray appearance reflected in my attitude.

Way back in 1971 when I was stationed in Great Falls, Montana and serving the US Air Force, I went through two long winters.  That is when I first noticed this gloomy condition called S.A.D. now known as seasonal affective disorder and then the real kicker came; it usually affects women.  Can’t I get a break here?

With the continued absence of warm rays, I become sullen and unproductive.  All it takes to snap me back is for a bright ray of sunshine to poke through the clouds and I am instantly cheerful.  Simply knowing that the sun is out is enough to make me happy and I love to go out in the heat of the day and exercise.  “Good day sunshine!”

“I need to laugh and when the sun is out
I've got something I can laugh about
I feel good in a special way
I'm in love and it's a sunny day”

There are other triggers that boost my mental well being though, thank goodness.  The good Lord knows a warm church service can boost my spirit and it does.  We have an aspiring young minister named Tuan who delivered the message this past Sunday that is still bouncing around inside me.

About a week ago, right in the middle of some grayness, Mr. and Mrs. V of KPFT’s radio program “Blues on the move” came by the house.  They are a delightful couple to visit with and my friend Buddy “Love” Brewer recommended I repair their computer and I did.  That was a bright light in a dull week.  Mrs. V has a very infectious laugh.

The gym named after the clock remains my mainstay to fight the blues though.  Karate, running, and general exercise has always been a big part in my mental health.  If you believe you are too old to start working out, let me say this about senior citizens and the gym.  In the morning, it is quite possible that the bulk of the people there are over 40 and some near 80 or older.  Yea, that’s right.  Old people exercising to keep what they got.

It is a myth that you can go through life pain free and when you get old, you will suddenly rein in and die.  The truth is, you begin getting painful signals early on and they just get worse until you need surgery and a ton of pain meds.  Exercise does more than build muscle.  It gets the blood flowing.  It increases your lung capacity and if you do load bearing exercise, it thwarts osteoporosis.

All those years I put in at the Plant didn’t stop me from losing one inch of height and when I discovered I was no longer 5-11, I knew I must begin lifting weights or continue to lose bone mass.

“We take a walk, the sun is shining down
Burns my feet as they touch the ground”

Aside from the fact that the exercise releases a hormone akin to an opiate to stave off pain, there is an actual gym culture or mentality amongst the exercisers.  One of the best known people who visit there is a sunshine fellow named Joe.  Everyone knows Joe and Joe knows them.  Joe’s my friend and I jokingly tell him he needs at minimum a 3 hour workout just so he can make his rounds.  It’s actually true though.

One of my favorite people to talk to is a retired educator named Al.  Al’s a most interesting man and up in years.  Al comes in using a 4-footed cane and usually hits the stationary bike before using the resistance machines.  I dearly love chatting with him and like Joe, a ray of sunshine to me.

I get tips on working out from Michelle, who I call Michelle Fitness.  Her fitness blog is here:  I do believe she is one of the strongest people in that gym and I’ve seen her lift weight most men wouldn’t attempt.  As I’ve said before, don’t joke about women being the weaker sex, especially at the gym.  You will just let everyone know you are either ignorant, bigoted, or a jerk, or maybe all three.

The biggest mood booster I do every week, regardless of rain or shine is the Spin class.  It is 45 minutes of stationary cycling and burns 600-800 calories. Throw in the 15 minute pre-cycle we do to get ready to stand on the pedals or sprint and you have one plus hour of heavy cycling.  Must I say it is about 95% female dominated?  Most men take one look at the class, shake their head, and say, “Heck no!”

The subsequent effect of this exhausting exercise is a feeling of well-being that lasts the rest of the day.  Our instructor‘s name is Page and she is a drill sergeant with a smile and a pixie haircut.  When two people left the class early this past Wednesday, I jokingly told her she had killed them off.

S.A.D. affects a lot of men and women and there are things we can turn to, to relieve the symptoms besides over-eating, which all of us do time to time.  When it comes to the Blues, the only ones I want in my life are the type that come from Mr. and Mrs. V’s radio program.

* Lyrics Good Day Sunshine – The Beatles

Friday, February 20, 2015

Give me a break!

 I am a news junkie.  There I said it.  I am positive I am not alone in my addiction and my compulsion is jading me against humanity.  I jump from the Drudge Report to Google News ten times a day unless I am at the gym, hiking in the woods, or geocaching.  I have to get away from “the news” to clear my head.

I can’t get mental escape in my Jeep driving anywhere within 30 miles of Houston or Baytown, as I want to survive the experience.  Navigating the congested traffic, aggressive drivers, distracted motorists, and the many inexperienced drivers is akin to watching the news as far as stress is concerned.

Now, thanks to a group of lemming idiots controlling what we get to see and read, I am going to be forced to watch Bruce Jenner go “all freaky” for the next (insert some long amount of time here).  It’s bad enough to watch yet another arch-villainous group try to take over the world (Mongols, Nazi’s, Commies, Al Qaeda – the list stretches back, back, back, like Charles Barkley pushing his way toward the basket).

Does anyone honestly believe that we are going to have a say over who runs for the next President of the United States?  Really (I think I see a hand being raised in the back of the room)?

On one side we have a government who is out to circumvent the bulk of the Constitution, giving the greatest share of our blessings to people who aren’t even citizens and came into this country illegally, while on the other, a second group who are going to supposedly fix it.  To be perfectly frank, I think there is only one group.  The Democrats bashed GWB ad nauseum, then continued to do the same thing his administration did AND spend even more money that we don’t have.

The Presidents approval rating is falling like a blind roofer and what does he and his bride do to lift it?  You got it.  They spent an estimated 2.5 million dollars so Michelle and girls could ski in Aspen like the rest of us folks and he could play 3 days of golf at an exclusive resort in California.  Oh, that must be Fox News reporting that, right?  No, it was our British friends who reported this extravagance.

Why can the elite in government take giant vacations fairly often and those of us who earn 6 figures can’t?  Easy.  They are totally subsidized by… us!  Oh wait a second!  When the Republicans get in charge, all of this will come to a halt!  Don’t wager on it.  Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

You know, it didn’t take me long in retirement to figure out that our government has a plan to strip you of every cent you earned to get here.  We are taught that easy street was where you went after years of saving and toiling and you will be home free.  Sorry, just like the notion that our government is by the people and for the people, it is an illusion.  The government is a cancer that has grown to the point that it IS the body and it feeds off of the rest that is left, namely us.  Feed me, Seymour!

We are bombarded with bad news, beheadings, mass stripping of our rights for the purpose of protecting us, dangerous robberies, extreme weather, shootings, rioting, and terror to the point that we accept being herded like cattle.  Now we learn the Jews are fleeing Europe, like rodents leaving a sinking ship.  The way the news presents it, the militant ISIS is swarming everywhere like locusts and the approaching cloud is just about unstoppable.

As I’ve said before, I am sick of it.  I am weary of hearing that the answer is to send troops to the Middle East to train troops to stand up and fight.  My God, how many times does this have to fail in my lifetime before we realize it won’t work this time?  How many times do we have to send Chuck Norris or Rambo over there?  Where the heck is George Patton?   

The only viable answer to this radical religious killing movement is for the non-radical Muslims to squash it.  Everyone else step back and let them deep-six the blood thirsty misguided murderers.  Otherwise, you are going to see the militarization of vigilantes and they won’t be discriminate.  You will have self-appointed terrorist-killers loose on the world’s streets killing anyone they think is a radical.  Germany is already headed this way and we all know Germany’s history.

I’ll continue to keep one eye glued on the news, but find my real pleasure in Spin class, or pushing and pulling weights at the gym named after the clock.  I find the endorphin release is my antidote for all the bad news.  For the last 3 weeks, I’ve been deep in the East Texas woods with others, racking up 12-14 mile hikes and I have another one Saturday.  Out there my only concern is a big feral hog and that is something tangible I am prepared to deal with.

Friday, February 13, 2015

The long path to responsibility

I was 8 years old and thought I knew just about anything about everything, or maybe vice versa.  I really didn’t know all that much, looking back.  I was an awful lot like most 8 year old kids today.  The only real difference is I started working for money at about this age.

Now, if your memory is good, you will remember I’ve written in the past about sacking groceries at the age of 14.  That’s true too, but at 8, I and another boy had a shoe shine business in Long Beach, California.  His name was David Bradshaw and both us had lost our 2 front teeth at the same time and could spit between them, like professional spitters.

David and I became blood brothers.  One day, David produced a pocket knife and we both cut our thumbs and mixed blood, marking us as kin from that day forward.  I can’t remember the logistics of it, but to make money we assembled a shoe shine kit of black and brown polish, a couple of brushes and rags.  The idea was to go door to door, shining shoes for 5 cents per leather.

We made a tidy sum the many times we did it and spent it all on big delicious candy bars, which were 5 cents a piece.  My favorite was a bar called a Hollywood.  It looked like a modern day Zero bar, but had a lot of nougat in it.  When you think of nougat, think of a white chocolate bar mixed with Bit-O-Honey… totally delicious.

Dad, Bert, & Mom
My mom was a stern accountant of allowances and she kept a Gestapo certified list inside the pantry of who did chores and who didn’t.  My 4 siblings and I were held accountable and by golly come Friday, we expected payment.  And we got it.  She was fair and honest and exact.  If one of those squares didn’t have a mark in it, whoever the offender was got docked.

By the time each of got old enough to be actually getting a paycheck - I was 14 and my younger brother 13 – she docked us one third of our bring home monies for room and board.  We didn’t know it, but she was teaching us to be responsible adults.  Did we resent it?  Yea, at first, but her reasoning was sound.  “Your dad toils and turns over his whole check.  You are not going to keep everything you make for yourself”.

What could we say to that?  Nothing, so we simply worked harder and more so we could make more for ourselves.  I wanted my own stereo, so I bought it.  I wanted my own black and white “portable” 13 inch TV, so I bought it.  I wanted a Schwinn Varsity 10-speed bike, so I worked more and paid for it.  My parents supplied my needs, not necessarily my wants.  My dad worked hard as a tool and die maker and often took a second job after hours to make ends meet.

We took adventure vacations in State parks, or looking for fossils and geodes.  We hiked, climbed, fished, hunted, but I don’t remember going to many amusement parks.  I don’t remember feeling neglected or abused though.  I learned to make my own adventures.  I learned about the woods and that I could eat grubs if I was in a starving situation.  I learned from my mom about values and ethics and how to treat a woman.

I learned my work ethic from both parents and that anything worth having is worth working for.  My parents didn’t award me for mundane achievements.  There wasn’t a whole lot of “love you’s” and sympathy when one of us fell or was hurt.  We were advised to “suck it up” and “it will feel better when it stops hurting” instead, but I never felt unloved or abused.  It was what it was.

One by one as we hit the age of 18, all of us pushed off to find our own way.  I left to serve my country right out of high school, as did my older sister and only stayed with my parents for a month when four years later I got back to Baytown.  I got my first and second check from Brown and Root working at Bayer and my mom collected one third of my check – just like before.

My wife and opted for a traditional American family, where the husband worked a job, and mom raised the kiddos and we have never regretted it.  When our expenses grew, I started cutting grass and working at the Plant.  I did that for over ten years, often cutting 15-18 yards a week.

Marty Goldman asked if I would watch over his carwash on Alexander Drive and once or twice a day, I would come by and empty the cans and wash out the bays.  Many a time I would do this after working a 12-hour shift at the Plant and continued to clean it for 12 years.

It wasn’t until I was about 50 years old that I realized my work ethic wasn’t shared with a lot of others in my peer group.  Oh well, I am a product of my parents teachings and it has brought me a good and comfortable life.  Looking back to my 8 short years of knowledge, I now realize I still don’t know a whole lot about a whole lot and I have more studying to do.  I am by far not even close to stopping though and of course, there’s work to do yet.

Friday, February 06, 2015

Beating a dead horse?

 We are really in for it.  “It” being what Baytown is to become in our near future.

I think its time to remind folks that this sleepy little tri-settlement is no more.  Back in 1974 when I made Baytown my home, a person could exit the tunnel on this side of the ship channel and not see a single light until the Holiday Inn close to Texas Avenue came into sight.  Not a single light bulb was burning, because it was out in the country.

In this same area, there will soon be a flyover heading onto Highway 99 and a second bridge over Cedar Bayou.  Below the second bridge will be a large barge terminal that no one here wanted.  Thank you Sammy Mahan for setting me straight on this.   I saw it as jobs for Baytownians and not as something that would lower the standard of those who live nearby.

My answer then (after attempts failed to stop the building of the terminal) was to hold the city’s feet to the fire to force environmental, sound-abatement, and aesthetic concessions. 

I was against banning of cigarette smoking inside bars and food establishments after they were forced to put in mega-expensive ventilation systems to accommodate non-smokers.  I was against removing the red light cameras and still am, but other than getting a laugh out of smoking out the Madalyn Murray O’Hair of red light cameras, I accepted it.

The next big thing I didn’t vote for was the expansion of the Blue Heron Parkway.  I felt like my fellow citizens let us local folks down by voting for a useless road through our woods, just so people could drive to Sjolander Road.  What?  “Why would anyone want a shortcut there”, was my reasoning.

Turns out it was a lot of people, me included.  I was wrong – but, I hounded my councilman and the city to do the very thing I suggested they do with the barge terminal - force environmental, sound-abatement, and aesthetic concessions.  No luck on sound abatement, but wow!  It is beautiful and with the hike and bike trails and the awesome-looking detention/retention pond, it is a real eye pleaser.

We planted 55 trees and will probably plant 55 more when the money becomes available and the trails and road are heavily used.  So it turns out this giant negative was actually a positive.  Now I can’t say that the barge terminal will be a positive, but don’t give up on making it appear and sound acceptable.  Just don’t stop forcing those concessions.

When it comes to making our city leaders accountable, there is no such thing as beating a dead horse.  It’s been my personal experience that they listen.  I have had a fantastic response from our city officials and basically because they know I actually care about Baytown.  I even got a high-five from T-Bone Schaffer when I was involved in the Baytown Concerned Citizen’s movement and to me, that was something special.

This brings us to the present serious issue of the planned Transportation Center beside Gentry Junior School.  Seeing emissions are a very big part of the complaint, a simple exhaust header could be erected behind the many parked buses with flexible hoses.  When a bus is parked and before it is started, the hose could be attached to the tail pipe and while the bus is idling, the vapors are ran through a scrubber.  This is very common in all the chemical plants and allows almost zero emissions to go to the atmosphere.

When the bus is ready to leave, they simply drive away and the hose automatically disconnects, closing itself off.  At present, every bus at Stallworth Stadium discharges exhaust to the atmosphere, so this would be an ecological improvement.

Next is noise and light abatement and with proper landscaping and noise reducing vegetation and sound absorbing panels, this could be properly negated.  The vacant view across that field being viewed as pristine is somewhat a mystery to me, but maybe to the locals it is beautiful.

The main point of this column isn’t that we should build the Transportation Center on Archer Road, but that the city is growing and there will be terrible concessions to many people who still believe they are living in the country.  They are not.  Little Pelly-Baytown-Goose Creek is no more.  We are the biggest thing east of Houston and God help us if they ever try to absorb us.

I predict that one of the next projects will be to four-lane Sjolander Road all the way to I-10 and widen Archer all the way to Garth or further.  We will see many more Hunt roads cutting across fields with many more people displaced.  Twenty years ago I heard this was going to happen and now it is.  There ain’t no more “country” in Baytown and the sooner we accept that, the quicker we can start holding the city’s feet to the fire to make the improvements appealing and most importantly, safe for residents.

Friday, January 30, 2015

The Four Cache Loop Phoon

This past Saturday I joined 12 geocachers to do the amazing Four Cache Loop geocache hike up east of Huntsville, Texas on the Lone Star Trail.  13 miles of hiking, the often muddy trail with 20 something water crossings.  It rained Wednesday and Thursday and some who planned to attend dropped out figuring the waterways would be impassible.

They missed an excellent fairly dry, cool weather hike.  Of course, along the way, buns hit the ground numerous times, including my own.

The perfect sunny weather was a calm-winded 32 degrees when we started and rose to the low 50’s at end, 7 hours later.  One of our group wasn’t really prepared for the rigors of the trip and became a walking casualty about 2 miles in.  Since I organized the first half of the trek, I refused to leave her side and by the 6 mile mark, I was pushing her along with my hand in the middle of her back just to keep her going.

She was game, but hopelessly out of shape and I warned her to half her next challenge… and then half it again.  The trail is 11 miles with often elevation changes and water crossings.  At the halfway point, we planned a detour to get the infamous D.B. Cooper cache, which was off the trail a ways and added a mile or more.

For some time I urged her on, telling her it was only one more half mile, when it was actually triple that.  She gave it her all, but every so often, she would flat stop.  Brian Miles (better known in geocaching circles as 4 Miles) and I would chat about geocaching and hiking while she rested and we would start again.  The main group would travel a good ways and then wait for us, as we only move as fast as the slowest hiker.

Eventually we arrived at the designated lunch location, which meant sitting on a forest road. Originally I had convinced our weakest hiker she would get a one hour rest before we tackled the last 6 miles.  But after the struggle to get here, it was quite apparent there was no way she could finish the hike.  Fortunately, another group of geocachers arrived from the east, only showing up to do D.B. Cooper and after we ate and relaxed, she followed them back a mile or so to their vehicles.

In the spirit of spontaneity, before we parted ways, we posed for a mass Phoon photo.  Phooning is described as “To stand motionless on one foot, tilted forward at the waist, with one bent arm held in front and the other bent arm held behind.”

Now mind you, this is an intrepid bunch of people who would rather ford streams and climb slippery banks, then invest their time watching the Ellen DeGeneres show.  We phooned to create a historical moment in time that we can relive again and again.  Not to mention we can rub the photo in the face of our friends who didn’t come “due to the weather”.

From here on we moved at about a 3.5 mile an hour pace and about 2 miles up the trail, we began to encounter a large group of maybe 50 college-age hikers coming towards us.  Another Houston area geocacher and Lone Star Trail volunteer named Tom, who we all know as Great Birds, was leading an over-night hike and camp group towards us and we stopped and chatted with Tom briefly.

As I passed by the many young hikers, I blurted the great line from the movie Airplane, “Everyone who ate the fish got sick” and the old timeless staple, “You can’t get there from here.”  Both silly lines may have been lost on them, but maybe not.  They looked pretty bright.

Canine Queen was leading us and she bumped up the gait to about 4 miles an hour and I dogged her every step.  FYI:  Our median group age was probably 50 years old, give or take and this group was taking no prisoners.  Split evenly between men and women, I will never be found guilty of making jokes about the female gender’s ability to bang their feet on the ground (or race on a stationary bike).  By the by, I think Canine Queen is close to 50, but I feared to ask.  She’s an alpha female after all and even though I can hold my own; there are some paths I would rather not trod.

Our next phoon photo will be taken at the Baytown Nature Center Nurture Nature Series just before Chrissy Butcher’s survival class.  Maybe you would like to join us at 9:45am on February 7th to join in the fun?

Friday, January 23, 2015

Scar tissue is our roadmap.

Like you, I have my share of scars.  I’ve been fortunate enough in all my adventures to still have all ten fingers and toes, so I’m doing okay.  I’m going to pick my left leg out as an example and focus only on the area below my knee and above the ankle.  I have 4 very visible scars and three of them have happened while geocaching.

The oldest I received in an injury about 50 years ago and it is about 2 inches long and looks like a knife wound.  I haven’t recalled what caused it in so long, that the memory is lost.  The most recent happened this past year when I was stung by a ground hornet in Pedernales Falls State Park.  It happened on October 24th and appears now as a dime-size brown spot.  I imagine it will remain that way, just like the spider bite above it.

I got that one 3 years ago, also while geocaching.  The hornet sting is a ditto of it.  Right at the top of my calf is a 3 inch long slice scar I got while geocaching in palmetto plants over close to Beaumont.  Did you know that stuff will slice you like a hot knife in warm butter?  It will.

None of these have left a mental scar on me though and that’s a good thing.  The dang hornet is one I don’t want to repeat, but I haven’t lost any sleep over it.  My friend Larry Houston is fond of repeating my quote about wearing shorts when in the woods, “If the British can conquer the whole world in shorts, I can go geocaching in them.”  He is a long pant advocate when stomping through grass that is often over our heads..

“Well, it’s danged hot here on the Gulf Coast of Texas” I am fond of retorting, but I imagine my legs look more beat-up than his.  Now mind you, only an MMA fighter, spelunker, BASE jumper, or bank robber goes into their activity wondering what it is going to feel like if everything goes wrong.  I don’t.  I prepare the best I can for my activity and eliminate as many potentially dangerous obstacles in advance.

Then I begin my adventure.  Make a note here I am talking about driving on Garth Road at noon.  Not really, but every one of us that gets behind the wheel of a car needs to remember it might be our last normal day on earth.  As a side note, nearly every day I watch someone run through a red light to save one meaningless minute of travel time.

Your scars and mine define who we are and where we’ve been.  They are a roadmap of our adventures, albeit painful ones.  I have one between my eyes by my nose where I ran headlong into an aquarium in the dark when I was in Junior High.  It opened me up like a machete on a can of Spam.  I looked like Dr. Frankenstein’s monster.  Man, I still remember the impact.  I don’t think a ball bat to the head would hurt any more than that did.

These physical scars prepare us for the worst kind of injuries life will bring – the emotional kind.  As bad as the physical wounds are, they often pale to what life drops on our noggin.  Just like the hornet and spider injuries, we must pick ourselves up and go on.  No one can do it for us.  Only time can heal both types of injuries, but rest assured, the scars will remain.

This week I had a dear lady drop off a couple of computers for me to repair and in the course of chatting, she revealed she had lost her boyfriend 2 months ago and in a moment of sympathy, I blurted, “Why, you are still wounded.”  Both of us began to cry, as I too have experienced loss.  The hurt is deep, real deep.  She apologized and I then told her my own story.

What I told her is the deepest truth.  Although I had suffered loss, it was not the same as hers and I couldn’t rightly tell her I know what she is going through.  No one can at a time like this.  I did however tell her that as time passed, it would get better, but only if she worked at it.  “No one can pull you out of loss and depression but you.”  Mind you I am not saying God won’t be there for you, because he will if you lean on him.  I am talking about friends and family.  Try as they might, only you can pull you back to happiness.

She said “I think about him every minute of every day.”  I told her one day she will be shocked to realize 30 minutes has passed.  “How long does this take?”

I told her it was up to her, but don’t be surprised if it doesn’t take a year or two, or three.  You see, the scar is there for life, but we can learn to bear it and continue on.  Our scars are what define us and if we do not break, they make us stronger.