Thursday, March 15, 2018

The more we learn, the less we know

If I have seen it once, I have seen it repeatedly. A Ford F-250 was used to crash through the front of a business to steal an ATM. I can't recall seeing any other truck used, but I am sure there are other brands and weight class trucks and cars used for this crime. It is so frequent and deliberate, that even our top cop had his truck stolen from his driveway. I asked one of our police lieutenants why they steal Ford trucks and if I remember correctly, they learn how to grab this specific truck in prison school. I say school, because that is where criminals learn their tricks. By the way, our prisons are full of guilty criminals, contrary to what some would like the general population to believe.

"What should I do if I own one of these Ford F-250 ton trucks?" I asked. "Sell it," was his immediate answer. The truth is almost no vehicle is exempt from being stolen if the criminal has done their homework and is devious enough to take on the task. However, for arguments sake, let's play with this a bit. What if the media stirred up the public over 3/4 ton Ford trucks, but took it a step further and demonized all 3/4 ton trucks and the companies that build accessories for them. They push it to the point that if you own one, you are part of the problem. never mind that the only crime you have on record is slow-rolling through a stop sign.

It goes without saying that Ford and possibly Toyota, Nissan, GMC, and Chrysler would have their lobbyists in full combat mode to fight any legislation and anti-rhetoric the media (and Alec Baldwin, Jimmy Kimmel, and the entire gaggle of The View honkers) righteously bellowed. FOMOCO (body by Fisher) would organize incentives to get more people into their high dollar pick-em-up trucks and happy Ford owners would be depicted as flag-waving skinhead rednecks on the youtube channels. Most likely they would also be homophobes and racist too.

There would be a flurry of marches by the various liberal groups demanding justice and somehow somewhere one of these trucks would run into a playground or school and kill some innocent chirren. It would not be noted by any news source that the driver of the truck was a criminal fleeing from law officers. The cops would be portrayed as racist and heavy club wielding incompetents and more fuel would be thrown on the fire.

All across the country, high school and college students would stage mass protests over the use and ownership of not just Ford F-250 trucks, but all 3/4 ton trucks and being easily persuaded and inexperienced, they would feel a sort of liberation and this would give them hope. First and foremost, they would demand softer bumpers and trucks with less carrying capacity. Second, they would want a bill passed that forced current owners to remove the ability of these trucks to carry a 3/4 ton load. "Who needs a truck that can carry 1500 pounds? That is ridiculous! Trucks kill"

One 31 year old bussed-in "college senior" screams at the camera and shouts, "Do you even realize that during an average ATM heist, the truck and damage estimate is almost $150,000 and you idiots can't see that the Ford truck is to blame?" There is an immediate loud chorus of cheers and one student throws a rock and busts out the window of a police cruiser. The angry crowd has signs condemning violence, but is seriously getting rowdier by the moment.

Two months into this media frenzy, counter claims begin to surface on youtube where Ford owners talk about never using their truck to crash into buildings or to steal ATM's. Sadly, the media has saturated the collective consciousness of the country and everyone is sick of hearing about it. But the damage has already been done to many easily impressed people. Their conclusion is that all 3/4 ton trucks are the real bad guys, not the criminals that used them. Happy truck owners never bought into the negativity, so nothing changed there. Six months later another Ford 3/4 ton truck used to steal yet another ATM, overshoots a corner and plows over tiny babies at a day care center and the whole outrage starts again. The message here is all 3/4 ton trucks kill people, not just Ford's.

Thursday, March 08, 2018

Our incorrigible hamsters

Coco - Bella - Nunchuck

Like you, we grew up having pets and most likely, also like you, they were more like family with extra privileges, than animals simply living in our house. We had an English sheepdog named Annie that was the wonderful child pet, but she met her demise chasing cars and one day, she simply got a little too close. That was my first recollection of losing something precious. We buried her on the farm near where she was killed on that Michigan country road. But this is not a sad tale. Its about how these furry babies take over our lives and end up owning us.

We have 2 dogs and a good number of days, we also have our kids 2 dogs. Combined, they weigh a total of 40 pounds. All 4 are females and properly spoiled. Coco is a purebred small Shi-tzu weighing 8 pounds. She is 100% Shi-tzu, but as anyone can attest who owns one of these lap dogs, she is part rabbit, cat, dog, and monkey. She's strong-willed to the point that if she is sniffing something interesting on one of our walks, she becomes totally deaf. Neither my bride or I own this dog. She owns us.

Bella is larger, weighing about double and is black and white and resembles a Border collie mixed with a fox. We know her mother is a Blue Merle Pomeranian and Dr. Cynthia Lipps identifies her other portion as a Papillon. She's a barker and sits around the house objecting to every noise and smell, seen, or imagined. In the yard, she is a non-stop noise maker. I love this dog and she is mine and tries very hard to please me. She occasionally has seizures and I hold her in my arms on the floor and talk to her until she comes out the other side.

I cater to both dogs almost exclusively, feeding them and give them medicines. I give them treats as a reward for everything. My bride bathes them. I have a unique nonsense of baby dog talk I invented when addressing them. I refer to them as hamsters to their face. "Good morning hamsters!" I have no explanation as to why I do this and when asked what kind of dogs they are by folks we pass on Blue Heron Trail, I may say they are Weimaraners, or Belgian waffle retrievers. "Oh really? I've never heard of a Colombian biscuit pincer and why do they look so different?"

"They had different fathers." We both laugh and then, because some people are dog lovers like I am, I explain what they really are while Coco let's herself be petted and Bella stands and barks at them. When we walk around the pond, Coco has to smell everything. Bella leaves the yard coming back and as soon as we make the far corner, she is all about returning to the yard so she can bark at people walking around the pond.

My daughter's 2 doggies at Dragon, a 6 pound Yorkie that is totally energized and psycho. She has an intensity about her that only disappears when she is exhausted and has exhausted everyone around her. This usually takes 18 hours. She is by far, the smartest of the 4. This dog has more energy than is humanly possible and if you look at her for more than 2 seconds, she will stare at you and bark non-stop. All 4 dogs are around 9 years old and incorrigible. Cesar Millan couldn't do anything with them. Being raised as sisters, they each are totally different in personalities. For instance, both the Yorkie and Shi-tzu are terrified of thunder. The other 2 not at all. Dragon and Nunchuck suck up food like they are starving. Bella is soft-mouth and carefully will remove a treat from my hand like she is performing surgery. Coco has an under-bite and if the treat is really delicious, she will get your finger by unhinging her jaw and snapping at the food.

The last of the 4 is the one with the sweetest personality. Nunchuck is a rat terrier that weighs maybe 9 pounds. She's diabetic and sadly, we do not know how many more moons she has with us. The poor thing is almost blind and is no trouble at all. She's quiet the majority of time, except when Dragon and Bella decide that something deserves setting off the bark alarm and then she will join them. It takes a lot to get Coco to investigate anything. The 3 dogs will be running all over our back yard yapping and barking and Coco will almost bark, raising up off the patio table (on a towel we set for her comfort) and maybe... maybe growl a little bit. When she does take off running and barking, I call this "Shi-tzu rage", but she won't go far. Its too much effort.

Bella and Coco on guard duty
Each of us could write a book on our pets and if you are a pet lover, you will sit and chat with other owners and enjoy the conversation. If the dog will allow it, you will eagerly pet and talk to it and compliment the owner on its appearance. In closing, I want to comment on my Shi-tzu's dining preferences. It has to be what she likes, or she will simply not eat. She will break us, before she gives in. We have a ritual whereby I announce what I have for her. She will run over and sniff it and if it passes, she will rabbit bounce up and down. If not, well, I'll find something else. 
Like I said, they own us, not the other way around and don't even get me started on cats.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Putting winter behind us

I have a miniature Chinese holly tree (I bought at Gibson's 27 years ago) in my yard. When we moved to our current location 25 years ago, I brought it with us. Its now 20 plus feet tall. So much for accuracy in labeling, right? We also have a Japanese blueberry tree that we bought at Maas nursery that was supposed to top out at 12 feet. Its more like 18 feet tall and still growing. Today, the cedar waxwing birds have arrived to start harvesting the berries on the holly tree and this is how I know we have put winter behind us - well, and the trees are blooming. Pollen is in my eyes and nose too.

The birds land in my loblolly pines and the neighbor's Shumard red oak by the hundreds and in 2-3 days, they will have picked the tree clean. Evidence of their feasting will be berry stains on my driveway. I don't mind.

Valentine Day's rose trimming and the arrival of the cutesy birds signals my time to begin extensive shrub pruning and although I took on this task at least 3 times last year, the heavy rain days we're having mean we are going to have a rabid growing season, just like we had a cold winter. Wasn't winter amazing this year? I say amazing, for lack of a better description. Three snowfalls and at least one sleet storm and I can't remember seeing that here before.

Each year when my bride trims the roses, I feel I must issue a warning about those thorny devil stems being dropped and we've already made peace on it this year. I like the flowers but I hate the thorns, especially when I discover one stuck in me 2 months later.

The number of gray and depressing days have made this past couple of months depressing to many of us. I didn't sign on for Seattle or London, okay? I want sunny Houston weather. I asked my gardening bride how much gardening she is planning this next season, as I need to know how much work is ahead for me. We have a half acre and I mow the pipeline behind our place and a lot of it is landscaped. What I used to take care of in one day, now takes me 3-4 strategery attacks to complete. "Some," was her reply.

The head is willing - the body not so much. I now have to be "in the mood". A few years ago I wrenched my back and it was about this time, so I contracted a lawn service to do this chore. $500 later, they didn't even cut the lawn. I vowed that I will buy equipment over paying for minimum wage labor at journeyman's pay scale. It took 2 slow-moving workers 2 days to do what I know I used to do in about 6 hours.

So, this year I spent $800 and bought a powerful chipper/shredder and I will mulch everything I can to put back in my flower and shrub beds. I will also bag my yard and pour the cuttings and pine needles into it. Like one guy told me, "Buy tools, not labor," and he is right. Am I going to pay a lawn service a ridiculous amount of money 2-3 times a year to do what I can still do, given the right tools? I think not. Sure, loping those shrubs is labor intensive, as is feeding the branches into the shredder, but guess what? I like it. I will hear money going into my piggy bank every time I operate it.

Real happiness and satisfaction doesn't come by having more free time. It comes from fulfilling our duties. I'll say that again. Real happiness is earned. How many times have you paid a "professional" to do something and you look back at their work and realize you could have done a cleaner, better job? I change my own oil. I want it done right and I know the guy who is doing the work on my expensive rides.

My nomadic little birds are binge-eating as I write this and I don't want to disturb them. They have a long way to fly yet. I'm just happy I dug up that tree and brought it here for them. Like I said last week, its the little things that make us happy. Now, if I can just get the sun to shine through those gray clouds.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

It is the little things that matter

 Rocketing through this thing we call life, we often forget to look out the window. We are transfixed on the path we have chosen and ignore the little things that would actually enhance our journey. It's taken me many years and possibly retirement to get a real understanding of this. I've written about this concept a number of times, but please indulge me, as it becomes more precious each time I recognize it.

Whether we are leaving our living room, walking anywhere, or driving, we often spend our entire time immersed in ourselves. Where we are going, what are going to do when we arrive, what's next, and what's in it for me. How long can I stay, What am I going to eat for lunch or supper. Me, me, and yes, me. I've written about slowing things down; throwing out the anchor, and smelling the roses, so there is no sense beating your head against a dead horse.

Due to an incident where 6 "youts" decided to come into my back yard, I had cameras installed all around my house. Since I spend a considerable amount of time working on my computer as well as repairing others, I witness a lot going on, on my street. What I don't see, my neighbor with Asperger's sees all. He and I have daily conversations and seeing he operates on a different plain of logic than I do, sometimes it is enlightening and often a source of humor for both of us. I've known the fellow for over 10 years and watched him go from a kid who hardly talked and wouldn't make eye contact, to a social butterfly who knows everyone who lives near us.

I think he knows everyone on a couple streets in fact. If you are not familiar with Asperger's, they can be a little spooky at first meeting because they basically cannot read expressions. Socially awkward is a good description. For instance, he will occasionally hug me for no apparent reason, or stand uncomfortably close while talking. His choice of clothing is at times bizarre, or he will walk around the neighborhood with no shirt on while it is windy and 50 degrees. Mind you, he is 30 years old and until recently, had a beard. This alone is a bit peculiar and add in the fact that he's often barefooted, it might just raise a few eyebrows.

This morning while working on this column, I observed him pick up and read my newspaper. He made himself comfortable spreading it on my shrubs and took his time reading it. Now before I put the brakes on in my life, I would have yelled at him. Not today. After about 10 minutes, he simply could not roll it back up and put the plastic sleeve over it, so he brought it to the front door. I explained that it is my paper and I pay for it and he shouldn't be reading it.

His answer was typical for someone with his condition. "I know that. I just wanted to read the comics!" I closed the door, as courteous goodbyes are not recognized by him, even though the exchange was friendly. A couple of weeks ago, I asked him if he had observed the lunar eclipse. His answer had me guffawing for a solid minute.

"Yes and I DON'T WANT TO SEE IT AGAIN!" I almost got the vapors I was laughing so hard.  Yesterday, which was Monday, I checked the mailbox about 3 times and each time I did, he watched me. We have a small round table and 2 chairs in a flower bed in our front yard and this attracts him. He often sits in my flower bed, which I do not mind. He is after all, the street observer. I commented to him that the post office is running later than usual.

"Its President's Day, duh!"  I burst into a fit of laughter and asked him why he didn't say something earlier, to which he logically replied, "Didn't you check your calendar?" Any time anyone on the street comes out of their house to wash a car, or work on something with the garage door open, it is going to prompt a visit from him and seeing we live across the street from each other, I get the lion's share. Do I mind? No, I do not. He comes and goes and often, when he is done talking, he simply wanders off. He has taught me that its the little things that matter.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

The illusion of obviousness alludes

 I remember just last year when the new Kroger opened on Garth Road and I was excited to see they had broken out of the Walmart paradigm of having a less proportionate number of checkers than people trying to check-out. Seriously, it wasn't that bad. Walmart is the world's worst store for checking out due to the many closed counters. When  you shop there, it is akin to going through a cattle chute. I shouldn't even point this out today because it is so obvious to everyone except the store manager.

No, the new Kroger had many open checking stands and a bagger at each one. Now months later, they are facing stiff completion from the new HEB store, so it would seem logical, that they would continue this great level of service, right? Wrong. I stopped in to spend a hundred dollars the other day and only one register with no bagger was available and the checker picked up the phone and paged someone for a price check.

Hark, there was an associate at the far left end where you get the pleasure of self-checkout who hailed me. "I can help someone down here!" I had about 30 or so items, so rather than be third in line, I rolled my buggy on down. She took over and methodically scanned each item and stacked most of them above, rather than bag them and explained she liked to do it that way, because she can then arrange them in the plastic bags more efficiently.  Meanwhile, an elderly couple (they were my age) were having trouble finding the code on a piece of fruit and over her shoulder, she was rattling off numbers for them to punch in (this was unsuccessful) and she kept stopping my scan to help them in the self check line.

I stood and watched this overly energetic lady work her routine with all earnestness (and chipper attitude mind you) while the lady who had been in front of me  - down there, rolled past with her groceries. The aged folks in the line behind me just couldn't get that danged code correct and as soon as my helpful clerk scanned my last item, she departed to get those numbers with a "you got this?". It was logical that the other line needed to purchase their goods in an expedited manner.

I paid my hundred plus bucks electronically, but thankfully, using my special Kroger Plus card, I saved a whole bunch of money and began the process of sacking my own groceries. Foolish me didn't realize that you could spin the bin around until she yelled over her shoulder and pointed out the obvious. In the meantime two more shoppers rolled past me on their way out of the store, carts loaded down with bagged goods. I figure the whole process took 3 times longer than simply being patient and waiting for the single cashier to scan and bag my stuff. Stupid me, it should have been obvious.

I remembered why I shop at Food Town on North Main for most of my groceries. If they ain't scanin', they waitin' to scan. On top of that, they are running some really good deals. Its obvious to me that the store manager realizes there is an HEB in town. Now if we can just get Walmart and Kroger to figure this out, we will have some super stores. Why isn't it obvious to retailers that we live in a 24 hour a day town where time management (excluding Millennial's of course) is paramount to success?
The old days of mom and pop stores where they would let you inside as much as 30 minutes early is gone. Mom and pop wanted to make a sale. They were helpful in that regard. If I go to Walmart at 3am and yes, it is 3:13am as I write this, there will be one lane open and no one at the register. You will stand there and look around and finally someone will come strolling at a painful 1 mile an hour and with no emotion whatsoever check you out. Its Walmart for goodness sake. Honestly, how on earth is this place even in business with this reputation?

Many a time I can have an entire cart full of groceries at Food Town and by the time I place everything on the conveyor, my checker is cheerfully announcing how much I owe and my stuff is already bagged and in the cart ready to go? The manager of that store hovers around like a bird of prey looking for a meal, that's why. This is why I often tip the cashier.

Maybe I am being too harsh on Kroger. Maybe it was shift change. I honestly don't think I could ever be too hard on Walmart. Maybe the Mont Belvieu store is better. I don't know. With the traffic, its a half hour drive from Chaparral Village, but that's obvious.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Hamster Wheel Caching!

"Go, go, go! Hurry and get in! The next cache is .3 miles away and if you punch it right now, we can make the light!" Here is another common scenario: "I ran this macro in GSAK and if we follow it and don't fool around, we can get all the caches in this geotour in less than 3 hours! We won't have to spend a dime and can be home by 5pm!"  One more: "I got 50 geocaches yesterday!" "Did you see anything interesting other than the caches?" "What? Well, we ate at Subway..."

I remember finding my first 100 or so geocaches and what an adventure and how exciting each and every one was. I can still read about them in my profile and describe everything. Sure, we all have total recall on caches, but we do it now at hyper speed. We speed eat and chain smoke our caches, for lack of stating it properly. We have become more focused on our wake than on the pursuit of the adventure. Sure numbers matter, but honestly, is filling in your grid or calendar the 3rd time to qualify for a challenge actually important in the scheme of things? What about the 4th time, because its on the horizon.

Amberita13 & HoustonControl
At one point do we actually take time to savor the game rather than seeing how much we can cram down our throat to get a daily full stomach? Do we really need a power trail to get us excited, or make a run with friends on 59 LPC's taking turns signing the log? I have contended for some time that burdening ourselves with a daily find streak is nothing more than placing a curse on us and takes away from the fun of the game. Why put yourself under something like that?  Why not return to your kindergarten days and just have fun finding caches? Sorry, but your streak means very little to anyone but you and sooner or later, you will fall into failure.

If you think like I do, you set a target of say 500, 750, or 1000 caches a year. If you make it, great. If you don't, well, maybe next year. Seriously, other than numbers, what is the difference if you have 5300 caches and 7100? Or 18000 and 22000? Does it impress anyone to the point that they lose their breath and fan themselves when you arrive? Do you get free 14 ingredient pseudo coffee when you walk into Starbucks because of this amazing accomplishment? Is there shekinah glory surrounding you when you make your appearance at an event with accompanying fireworks and a 5 jet flyover with F-16's?

Make no mistake, I recognize these folks as senior geocachers, but guess what? They have  trouble finding the same caches I do most of the time and the LPC's are just as easy. Truth be told, they far surpass me in experience, so finding lots of caches is a plus, but often people cache in groups and if you phone a friend (PAF), they will confess someone else in the group found it and they can't help you.

A geocacher I admire is skunkonthefog. He only searches for geocaches that interest him. When he finds one, his log reflects the first thing that comes to mind when he puts a pen to it and this is often quite humorous. Another couple is 2katz and KeyResults and they are serious about the game and work it whenever they can into their busy schedules. Both of these geocachers don't have giant numbers, but love the game and play it for the long run. These 3 and many others embody what this game is about and I'm not taking away from those who run the power trails.

What I am saying is, are you on the hamster wheel of caching? If you are, you will never get enough caches to get off it. Never. You are like the billionaire trying to get more money, or the hamster with its cheeks so full of food and trying to stuff in more. The numbers will never satisfy you. The numbers game is addictive and illusionary. It is not the game. The game is fun and savory and log worthy. Remember when you wrote logs? Remember when they weren't rubber stamp copies? Remember when logging your caches was actually fun or logging trackables was specific to the TB or geocoin? I can't either.

"Discovered at blah, blah, event," has become the norm and doesn't say anything about an interaction with you or the TB or coin or your knowledge of its mission. Why? Because we are in a big hurry, that's why. We are on the geocaching hamster wheel, where speed is more important than content. I'm not pointing fingers because I feel it too. Why can't I log 80 caches in a day, or even 40? Its because I am repairing, or replacing the logs to keep the game going. I want the cache to succeed. I want newbies to feel the fire. I want to see the spark.

I'm ready to get off the geocaching hamster wheel and start enjoying this game the way I did when I had 10 caches under my geoname. Who will join me?

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Baytown can still shine like a diamond

Photo credit: Steve Liles - Cedar Bayou at Roseland Park 2017
I feel very optimistic about the city of Baytown. There, I said it. Being a citizen of this town since 1974 and watching it grow, I haven't always felt this way. It helps that I am a member of the Strategic Planning Advisory Committee (SPAC) and had input in which direction the city should take over the next 5 years. Incidentally the city is about 6 months into implementing the changes, so progress is actually happening.

Kingwood Trail
This past week 4 of us intrepid geocachers took our bikes up to Kingwood to geocache and we rode along the numerous Greenbelt trails there. Surprise! They were nothing spectacular. Basically we rode on cement trails along highways with occasional dips behind subdivisions and although there are miles of trails, they are basically just sidewalks in the shallow woods.

Here in Baytown, we don't have the luxury of planning development in this manner for the most part. Sure, when a new subdivision goes in, we will see a retention pond added with a cement walkway around it and sidewalks. There will be cookie-cutter landscape added every so many feet to give the appearance of a perfect place to walk the dog. The pond might even have a token fountain and mail order kids playground. Is this really what we want or need? I am for all of this, but it also should be unique and well thought out.

Houston's Donovan Park
Baytown leaders and planners need to put extra effort into making Baytown's parks and trails different and more interesting than places like Kingwood and The Woodlands. When the 4 of us went geocaching, one was from Webster, another from Sugar Land and Larry Houston and I from Baytown. We spent money there too, because after about 5 hours on our bikes, we were hungry. If we make Baytown unique and capitalize on our concessions, people will come here. Our Texas Avenue venues, our disc golf courses, our trail systems, and our new boat ramps all can be draws.

When the SPAC presented our 5 year plan to the city, my small part was to push the idea of uniqueness. I urged the city leaders to take field trips to look and see what other cities are doing to provide anything other than the "same old stuff". Recently I talked to a young man and he urged me to see if Baytown can install a BMX bike track, similar to the 2 skate parks we have. I urged him to gather a petition I could present to our park planners. He informed me that it would be wildly popular and the surrounding cities have nothing like it. This is what I am stressing. Let's be unique.

Espee BMX Park, Chandler Arizona
I have the highest regard for our Parks department and we are making progress. I would love to see a first class BMX park built here, as well as a certified and clearly marked 5K trail in Jenkins Park. A flyover pedestrian bridge connecting Blue Heron Parkway to Jenkins Park would provide hill training for athletes and connect the 2 trails. It simply takes vision and eventually the money will follow. Yes, I feel optimistic about our city. I hope and pray our next mayor follows in our current mayor's footsteps.

I looked back at one of my columns from 12 years ago and I had the same optimism and boy howdy, we are a completely different town. Many naysayers believe it is always better some place else, but as a person who is always on the move geocaching in the Houston area, I can tell you there is a plainness to many of these "nice" areas that smacks of sameness. There are also parts of this huge metropolis that make Baytown look like a shiny diamond contrary to what some profess. Maybe beauty isn't a good description, as in keep Baytown beautiful and maybe we see what we want to see.

I do know that accepting things the way everyone else does isn't for Baytown. We need innovative parks and great access to our waterways. We need vision. We need more people to step up for litter abatement. We need to recognize that the future of Baytown is everyone's responsibility.

Thursday, February 01, 2018

Start Slow... and Taper off

"As I get older I'm more and more comfortable being alone." This is a quote I came across quite by accident and is attributed to Sienna Miller. She's 36 years old. It is a one line testimony to just how frazzled our world has become. Henry David Thoreau once spent an entire day, from sunrise, to sunset sitting at his doorstep. He never stood to eat, or use the bathroom and later declared it was the most productive day of his life. That left a profound effect on me when I read it years ago.

This coming June, I will enter my 4th year of retirement and still have to remind myself that I can take time to sniff the flowers. I do not have to be almost anywhere other than for appointments. Like Tom Hanks character in the desert island movie, I lived by the clock. Sure, I love to arrive early for everything. Punctuality is a dying practice, but hanging around afterward has never been an option for me. I was always rushing off so  I could "sit on the couch".

JoAn Martin's Tuesday column about 85 year old folks being content gives me hope that not worrying about stuff I can't change is in my future. I sat across from the Sun's managing editor, David Bloom and exclaimed that I would love to write about glitter and unicorn sightings, but there is just so much negative fodder available; I get sucked into writing about it. It's a black hole I simply have trouble avoiding.

Emma's Hugs is staging a fund raising event at McLeod Park in Mont Belvieu February 24th from 4pm to 7pm and I was asked to support it by gathering geocachers there for an event, which I am going to do. Why not? I have time and its a noble cause. This past weekend, SETX geocachers staged 2 trash bash CITO events right here in Baytown, even attending the event set by Baytown Tourism. The rain forecast curtailed their plans and they cancelled, but that didn't stop us from showing up with about 20 people and cleaning Blue Heron Parkway and associated trails.

Like Ms. Miller and Mr. Thoreau, I like my own company, in spite of the fact that I will group up now and again. My dad was the same way and would spend the whole day fishing in his boat far away from other people. He wouldn't even take a radio. I drove down to Galveston Sunday for a geocaching event that got delayed and decided to look for geocaches by myself for the rest of the day. I had a ball and found over 20. I might have turned on the radio though.

Years ago when I was a runner, I learned of the incredible running man, Walt Stack. His motto in his old age was "start slow... and taper off," but he always kept running. From Wikipedia: For 27 years, from 1966 until 1993, Stack persisted in covering a set training route. His highly visible training routine made him a San Francisco institution. "I'm going to do this 'til I get planted," Stack decreed. Starting on his bike, he would ride six hilly miles from his Potrero Hill home to Fisherman's Wharf. Once there, he'd strip off his shirt, displaying tattoos of peacocks, wild horses, and bathing beauties across his broad chest, and then proceed to run a 17-mile route over the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito and back, after which he would take a one-mile swim in the currents of the San Francisco Bay near Alcatraz Island.

Even with folks in tow, Walt's exercise regimen was a solo sport. He wasn't doing it for anyone but himself and like my dad fishing, or me wandering around Galveston Island geocaching, a great deal of peace and contentment is enjoyed going solo. On top of that, the phase I have entered isn't measured by how fast I can accomplish it. Boy howdy. That is a revelation. I do not have to race.

When I was a runner, I always timed everything and always tried my best to set a new personal best time. Jogging slowed that down a bit, but then I went for longevity. I never stepped out to run, just to run. Now after nearly 4 years, I'm learning I can enjoy life a whole lot more by not racing the clock. When I was a Process Operator, I spent about 90% of my time alone and to this day do not regret it. I would tell people I was social by my own terms. Now that I am retired, I am enjoying people more than ever.

What's more fun than people? Maybe its a balance of them and me.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Where is my slab of pie?

I'm not a fan of sports and I do not watch many games, other than an occasional Astro match-up. Back when my son played for Robert E. Lee, the fam got into the Rocket's play-off frenzy and I knew the players names and reveled with everyone else when they won 2 championships. I remember the big men under the hoop using their elbows to maintain or create their own space and just how brutal that technique could be. Being professionals, they knew exactly what they could get away with and the inherent dangers involved. Unfortunately, modern protestors do not.

Watching the protests, I see this same technique being used verbally and boy, is it ugly. People using vulgar terms as weapons, waving signs with socially taboo writing, and even spitting on anyone who doesn't agree with them is... well, repulsive. They want what they want and they don't care or even tolerate a differing opinion. To be honest, I can't bear to watch the videos of the march for freedom, equality, or whatever it is that is bothering them this week. I do admire their passion, just not their execution.
Watching the videos, I am reminded of the famous question, "You kiss babies with that mouth?" Honest to God, wearing hats resembling a normally private portion of the female anatomy would get their little hiney's spanked by their momma's, but now that they are momma's, it is somehow acceptable. When asked to define their anger, they are cluelessly vague or cookie-cutter acerbic and they simply respond by yelling louder. It is a sickening display of unbridled anger.

My basic instinct whenever I see mass marches is to wonder how many who are involved vote. How many are there only to support a friend, but don't have a horse in the race? How many are there because they want to be part of history? How many because it is hip and cool? How many because their basic nature is rebellion and in this particular case, how many men and women are marching to try and score a quickie after the march?

Watch the videos on youtube and for the most part, you will see people behaving in an embarrassing and disgusting manner. If I were a reporter and someone angrily cursed me and spit in my face, I would not be able to stand there with a microphone in hand, smiling. There is a cloud of strong delusion at work in this country where people abandon logic and reason and get into a berserker frenzy. It is as if they acquired no modus operandi along the way and are looking for someone to follow.

In my opinion only, the #MeToo movement has morphed into the #MeMeMe movement where it is a free for all to use both elbows to knock the teeth out of anyone who even remotely disagrees or has a different opinion. The other movements have welcomed them in with open arms, so now when there is a women's march, it is a hodgepodge of many movements promoting everything from abortion to marijuana for gays. I actually saw one fellow carrying this sign.

The marches have become a freak show circus and a social party, losing all focus and effectiveness. One marcher is spewing non-stop vulgar words against the Republican Party and standing next to them is a woman bashing the very same party with a sign that reads, "Racism and Profanity Don't Make America Great." It would be hilarious if it were not so sad. One Baytown lady summed the march up like this, " The focal point seems to be anti-trump and less pro women... this infuriates me."

Back in the 70's when many smoked pot, one fellow summed it up real well when he said "the worst part of smoking pot is the kind of people you end up associating with." It wasn't even the illegality of it; it was in fact because it was a criminal act, you ended up associating with criminals. The #MeToo movement is now associated with every angry group that marches. A closer examination of the giant crowd would reveal probably 10 movements rolled into this march. Welcome to freedom to protest. It can definitely work against a cause.

One person posted a photo of a woman reading a book and the pages were empty. The caption read, "A complete book of women's rights lost under Donald Trump's administration". In my recollection, Trump is the first President who will fire anyone, male or female, that he believes is not doing their job. No one gets a free ride in his administration and he's proved that many times. He's not anti-female anymore than he's anti-male. You slack and you're out. Like the Capo said, "It isn't personal, it's simply business."

I sincerely believe marches like this last one will not empower anyone. It will simply divide us as a country and that is the last thing any of us want or need.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Sorry, I Didn't Know You Are Unique.

Being unique is a failing art. People wrongly believe to be unique you should get a tattoo or a piercing or a cool car. That doesn't make you anymore peculiar than trying to sound exactly like Beyonce when you sing. Uniqueness is inside you and doesn't need adornment. Being unique is developing your own sense of who you are, even if it doesn't match anyone else's, or is politically correct. Being politically correct should be YOUR choice.

Uniqueness is not bolt-on accessories. Sometimes less is more. Sometimes we should take the freeway; other times the trail, but for sure, you take the path you want to be on. I might add that staying inside the law is a wise choice.

I hate how everyone is supposed to "do the right thing" when it comes to acceptance of things, ideals, or cultures that you don't necessarily agree with. Its better to be called  racist or homophobic, than to be fake. Get educated, make up your own mind, but for god's sake, be real. Freedom of speech is all but dead in this country.

It seems like everyone has tattoos these days. I do not. I don't care one way or the other if they have them. I remember when sailors, bikers, and pirates had tattoos and they actually meant something. These days, at least in my eyes, they mean nothing. They do not make the person unique in my eyes. I forget what their "tat" is one minute after I see it. The same goes for what they are wearing, or what brand of perfume they wear, or their shoes.

What I do remember is their personality and sometimes a casual brush with a person has lasting effects. Sure, some people are visually entertaining and would qualify for a Facebook meme, or a "people of Wal-Mart" youtube video, but that is not the uniqueness I am writing about. I am also not talking about someone everyone necessarily want to be around.

This country was settled by a diversity of colors, customs, nationalities, and people fleeing oppression. It was also settled by renegade extremists who took everything they could. They came to conquer and they didn't care what anyone thought. Years later we have laws which to have peace, we must obey, but that doesn't mean that we all have to think alike. The very fabric of this great country is exemplified by us not being the same. We are not all look alike hamsters or Siamese cats.

However, in our differences, it is imperative that we be tolerant and nonviolent with those who believe differently than us. Civil debate, if we choose to is all but gone and we see evidence of this every day in our government. If there is a difference in opinion, the name calling begins and it doesn't matter one way or the other how trivial the subject. I would rather be in Maine on vacation and a guy tell me he hates all Texans than for him to sarcastically pander. All is well and good between us as long as he doesn't decide to attack me, either physically or verbally. He is welcome to his opinion. I will find someone else to be around.

Frankly, I am sick over the term racist being used for any and every possible use of the word. If it doesn't involve, "prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one's own race is superior," it isn't racism. If I say I don't particularly care for Russians, it is because I am a Cold Warrior and have a certificate of recognition signed by Donald Rumsfeld on my wall. Am I racist? Nope. Being Russian is not a race. Leave me alone. I earned it. By the way, I have a Russian friend. Of course, claiming I have a Russian friend automatically makes me racist.

I knew a man that hated anything Japanese because of what they did in World War Two. He was a veteran and earned his right to think what he did and I can't say I blamed him. Japanese soldiers committed horrendous atrocities. He was a very unique fellow and left an impression on me. Was he out of step with the modern world?  Most likely, but it is what it is.

The bottom line is in this country it should still be okay to think and speak what you want, even if it doesn't fit the mold of someone else. You shouldn't scream what you have to say, or use profanity, but I think you understand my point.

Where's a redneck when you need one?

Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Culture, Trash, and Crime Connection

I was talking to a retired Indian couple at the gym the other day before spin class started. They are totally pleasant and both have cool Indian names.  His name is Krishna and hers is Geeta. I was explaining to them that I listen to Desi music, which they explained "desi" meant home boy music.  More specifically, Desi is a loose term for the people, cultures, and products of the Indian subcontinent or South Asia and their diaspora, derived from the Ancient Sanskrit meaning Land or Country.

Anything labeled as Desi, basically means you are Indian. I told them my bride finds it peculiar that I listen to this type of music and I've satisfied her curiosity by explaining that I heard it very often during the 2 years I lives in Southeast Asia. To me it is a mystical series of melodies that takes my brain on a magic carpet ride. Krishna is a retired chemist from Bayer and I forget what Geeta did, but their eyes sparkle with intelligence. Over the years I've heard southern Americas declare that the Indian/British accent is confusing, but not so for me. With a few exceptions and those being the British words, I have no trouble.

The two are gentle, cordial, and very humble and on this day, we began to talk about crime here and in the many countries they have visited. On a second note, they declared how clean all these countries have become. I was very surprised at this because my experience 40 years ago was it was almost hopelessly filthy and debris ruled. Trash and litter was a way of life, but not so today. Massive educational campaigns and strict laws have nearly obliterated litter in many countries.

The more we talked, the more I realized that as Americans, some of us just don't get it. Geeta and then Krishna pointed out that crime was almost non-existent in major cities in India and Japan because punishment was so severe. I knew that Singapore was this way and quite surprised. He said you could walk down the darkest alley in India without fear. The United States is almost a criminal's playground in comparison. Our laws and freedoms have all but tied our hands when it comes to criminals taking advantage of us.

For instance, in Singapore, smoking in public, chewing gum, spitting in public, littering, jaywalking have hefty penalties. Its a crime to even sell gum there. Annoying someone with a musical instrument, flying a kite that interferes with public traffic, singing obscene songs in public, selling porn, connecting to someone else's wi-fi without permission, forgetting to flush a public toilet, and feeding pigeons will get you a fine or jail time. Singapore may just be the cleanest and most law-abiding country on earth.

This discussion makes me wonder if there isn't a connection between culture, crime, and litter. Are people who litter criminally minded? Maybe not, but it is certainly a crime to litter and some folks do it daily. They have a culturally anti-social attitude about it too. For most of us reasoning humans, the act of unrolling a car window and throwing trash out is about as likely to happen as winning the Powerball. Is it possible that in 2018 some person doesn't litter intentionally? I don't think so. They may throw that beer can out alongside the road to keep from having an open container in their car or truck, but that just makes them a double criminal. They don't care that society likes a clean appearance over piles of garbage strewn everywhere.

As a unpaid litter abatement specialist, I subject myself to the same punishment as those who are serving community service when I pick up someone else's litter. Believe me when I say I do this almost every day and I am just one of many who carry a trash bag when I walk. A trip into the grocery store from the parking lot allows me to drop in what I pick up after leaving my vehicle. How is it Third World countries can educate their masses to make their country crime and litter free and yet we are almost losing the battle here?

We have educational material available and everyone must attend school of some sort, so how is it some just do not get right from wrong. For instance, take the college basketball players in China who stole. One of them said he just didn't think about it until they were caught. Ten to one the man litters also. Maybe its a stretch on that, but if you can't see that stealing is wrong, what else did you miss?

The more we learn, the less we know

If I have seen it once, I have seen it repeatedly. A Ford F-250 was used to crash through the front of a business to steal an ATM....