Thursday, March 29, 2007

Drunk drivers on my way to work

A couple of days ago, I encountered three drunk drivers in three separate incidences.

It was about 0400 and the first one turned off N. Main onto Massey Tompkins on the wrong side of the road, right in front of me. I watched the long-haired fellow drive past me and he never sped up, or even looked my way.

The other two I came upon on SH146, headed for the Fred Hartman Bridge. I followed both of them after they crossed the bridge and when they turned onto 225, I was able to get on the feeder and get ahead of them safely.

I don't believe they were together, but one ended up following the other.
About 0700, the same morning, I finally settled down at work to check my email, look at Google News and get my day started. The drunk drivers kept coming to mind, so I posted what I had witnessed on Baytown Talks, the Baytown Suns online forum, to see what other Baytonians had experienced and to share my own experiences.

To my absolute surprise, I found that I, not the drunk drivers was the irresponsible party, because I hadn’t pulled over (at 0400 on basically deserted N. Main street) and phoned the police to report the first offender. My judgment was immediately suspect, as they may not have been drunk.

The person(s) may have actually been diabetic, sneezing heavily from hay fever, poor drivers and even, just plain idiot drivers. It was pointed out that police wouldn’t respond anyway, as they apparently are all asleep at the local donut shops.

I was advised to call the cops and then follow at a safe distance until they were apprehended.

I tried to explain my non-police call this way: “Well, I suppose they could of been just sleepy...all three of them, at 4 o'clock in the morning, especially the two doing 45 mph on 225 and in all fairness, the one going the wrong way on Massey Tompkins was probably just sleepy too. I know the guy in the middle lane that he passed thought the guy was drunk, because when I pulled up next to him, to take a left, the fellow was shaking his head in amazement.

The two sleepy guys on 225 doing 45 mph were so sleepy; they kept jerking the steering wheel trying to keep it in the lane. It was like watching synchronized sleepy driving”. Like famous politicians before a microphone, my attempt at humor only stirred my detractors to claim I was accused of “making assumptions about the condition of the driver and risking their and other lives by letting them to continue on driving in an erratic behavior”.

Now, I had become the prime offender. My crime of not calling the police was greater than the drunk drivers, because I was intentionally allowing a drunk driver to kill people.

Once again, I made an attempt to exonerate myself, but instead, made myself a fool.
“I considered "calling the cops", but did not see the license number of the dark SUV that went past me on Massey Tompkins and the light turned green and I drove off on N. Main. My cell phone was turned off and in my lunch box on the back seat.

By the time I would have pulled over, activated my phone and went through the rigmarole of getting the station officer, the character would be long gone.

Same-same on the other two, as on a State Highway, especially going over the Fred Hartman Bridge, police jurisdiction made it not worth the trouble”. My judgment was once again called in question, because even though it was 0400, I did not have my cell phone turned on and ready…” And why was your phone in the back seat turned off anyway? It does you no good if you would have been in an accident, had an emergency or been injured. What's the point of having one if you aren't going to use it?”

I was then instructed that I thought the whole episode was one big joke, because I retorted that I felt like I was the criminal.

“I find it a little unnerving how you think this is such a joke...but when (and God forbid) it happens to your family...I bet you'll think to yourself why didn't someone stop this idiot when they had the chance? I don't know how old your children are...but when your family is injured by a drunk driver, Bert may have seen them a few minutes before and just decided it wasn't worth it...too much trouble to dial 3 little numbers”.

I did however get some good advice and a number of people responded in my defense. A police officer told me straight up to call 911 the next time and “Let us do our job” and to him I say thank you. Encountering drunk drivers on the road at 0400 is rare and I did not know if this constituted a legitimate 911 call. That is why I initially said I would have to wait for the Station Officer, after the automated menu.

Drunk driving IS a serious offense and I do not want to see anyone hurt, or killed because someone felt they could safely drive after drinking too much. In the future, I will stop, power up my cell phone and call 911.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Wanted: Real Leaders

I’ve never aspired to be a supervisor or a manager of people, but I know what I like when it comes to someone “leading” me and for the most part, I’ve had bad ones. In the last few years, I’ve had the pleasure of working with people who took the time to think through what it takes to lead and it has made a world of difference in my attitude.

For the most part, I go my own way on the job and do not possess the patience it takes to be a good leader, so to stay true to my own identity… I follow. Like my Dad, I have a low tolerance for “stupid” and all leaders have to deal with a certain amount of it.

I always look at a person in authority as a Lieutenant in a war zone and try to envision how they would react if under fire AND leading me. I admit, this is harsh and probably unfair, but I do it anyway. I think many of my past “Lieutenants” would have gotten both of us killed.

Often, a college degree puts a person in a position of leadership. More education means more authority, but along with that authority is the responsibility to make the right choices when it comes to bringing out the potential in a subordinate. More times than not, it simply means increasing the bottom line in profits or enforcing company policy. Leadership is position only, not developmental mentoring, as it should be.

Who suffers when profits are put ahead of employee growth potential? Everyone. The company, all levels of leadership and yes, finally, the worker, all share in the loss. Profits fall, absenteeism rises and problems abound. Trained personnel ply their resumes elsewhere.

In the Chris Farley movie “Tommy Boy”, Tommy puts his employee’s future ahead of profits and restores employee loyalty. “Employee Loyalty” has gone the way of the Dodo bird and the 8-track player. Other than Google and a few other places of employee prestige, the work force have little, or no loyalty to their places of employment, as compared to 50 years ago when folks married a company with plans to stay on until their last breath – and many did.

Shrinking benefits, the absence of profit-sharing, minimal “cost of living” increases, dismal compensations, pension failures and rising medical deduction liabilities have made the worker feel more like meat on a selling block, than a valued resource. Skilled workers jump teams faster than NBA players, up for contract negotiation. All this while profit rake-offs and CEO bonuses are at an all-time high.

Management complains the workers do not want to work and workers complain management needs to give them more. More what? More work? More money? I say it’s leadership and I define leadership as concrete direction, not just equipping and training working skills and proficiency, but also a genuine interest in their future development. The future portion is where real leadership is lacking.

The absence of trust between staff and management is appalling, generally speaking and I believe it is at an all time low.

It’s a two way street, following and leading and if a person is one hundred percent follower, anyone can lead them. If they are recalcitrant and rebellious like myself, it takes a person with actual leadership skills and a certain amount of finesse to gain their trust and loyalty.

Personally, the management style I prefer is one that is hands-off and unsupervised. I know my job well, having written most all of the procedures and what I need is direction, not bird-dogging. Let me know what you want, give me a quality and time requirement and then leave me alone to finish the task. Make me accountable and I will do my dead level best to not let you down. Attempt to micro-manage and I will resent it every time.

Some folks require a certain amount of supervision, even after they are trained to the task. Some require constant motivation and task correction. Others like myself desire very little and this is where leadership fails. Real leadership requires recognizing the difference in each person and learning to get the most out of your people without them hating your guts at the end of the day. Real leaders develop workers and teams of workers. Their staff becomes loyal to them.

If an employee ever suspects management couldn’t care less about their development and well being, that employee will automatically become less productive and no amount of threats or money will bring them to fruition. If however, the opposite takes place, an employee will work twice as hard to give the supervisor what they want. They will become a model worker that any supervisor would welcome onto their “team”. I’ve known a few of these leaders in my working career and their secret to success has always been, putting the employee first and this my friend, has helped the company profit more than they will ever know.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

What is that salamander-looking critter?

Spring is sprung, so let’s discuss our newest addition to the reptile population here in Baytown. I’m talking about the little whitish lizards which first appeared here about 20 years ago and now are quite plentiful.

The Mediterranean House Gecko is the new kid on the block augmenting the green (Carolina anole) and brown anole we all grew up playing with (or running from). They are short odd looking lizards which appear to waddle when they are frightened. Of course to notice this behavior a person cannot be doing the same thing while tearing off in the opposite direction. Unlike the anoles, they are nocturnal.

Anoles do scare some people and I can personally attest that if you catch one, it will bite and if you hold it up to your earlobe, it will grab a mouthful and hang-on, like a bulldog on a rope. I’ve been known to have an anole hanging off of each ear and it is a real experience as they tighten their grip. The gecko will not do this. They would rather get away from humans.

Geckos have sticky toe pads, vertical pupils, and their large eyes lack eyelids according to the experts. Our native anoles do not possess the ceiling-climbing skills of the med gecko (which I will refer to as “MG’s” henceforth) and that is one reason folks “freak out” as one falls on us when we open the door at night.

Are they something to fear? Yes indeed and folks have reported a wide range of injuries associated with MG’s. Some of the more common maladies are, running over lawn furniture, stutter-stepping, tripping, banging of the head on closed doors, stubbing of the great toe, screaming until tonsils are sore, repeatedly falling, and in one case…the vapors.

Seriously, the tiny white, pink, or pale little lizard is a tremendous friend to us on the Gulf Coast for their ravenous appetite and consumption of insects. I gladly welcome them around my house, but then again I have a long history with the little critters.

In September of 1972 I was sent courtesy of the United States Air Force from Great Falls Montana to Takhli, Thailand. It was in the 50's already in Montana and when I stepped off the C-130 onto the tarmac, it was about 110 degrees.

I was in the vanguard of troops reopening a base and the only one exiting the plane. I looked around with my squinted eyes and could hardly breathe the damp stagnant-smelling air. I was 20 years old and I thought "Yikes! I am going to be here for a year"!

I processed in and at the end of the day I found myself alone, lying on the top bunk of an open bay barracks (I was afraid a cobra would come in during the night if I was on the bottom bunk and get me).

There was a dim light on at the end of the huge room, the temperature was about 95, and the absence of wind was causing me to sweat profusely. The ceiling 10 feet above me was covered with geckos chasing huge roaches and bizarre bugs. I remember being very lonely in that cavernous empty barracks. I don't think I slept at all that first night. I spent 21.5 months on this base and had plenty of creepy-crawlies cross over me in my sleep, something I never got used to.

The MG’s are here to stay and even though they look scary, slimy, wet, dry, pale, ugly, devilish, and in one case…tasty, we need to see this little fellow as a friend. Fellow Baytonians, please do not spray insecticide on them, or let your kitty eat them if at all possible.

Our lizards eat their weight in mosquitoes, bugs, roaches and are man’s second best friend, so give them their space and they will give you yours. And, if you can catch a pair of geckos and get them to hang from your earlobes, let me know. I want a photo.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Yarns, tales, and downright fibs!

Back about a hundred years ago when I was in grade school, I used to look forward to Show and Tell. It was a time when a budding adventurer-type person (like myself) could inform everyone in the class about feats of strength, nifty vacations, grand places, scary sights and just stuff that happened to…ME!

The glory of the tale would be multiplied in the telling!

It never worked out the way I planned though and the reason was that there was always some kid, who had stories so glorious and fantastic, that mine were not even worth the telling. My classmates and I would squirm, as the “yarner” would work their magic carpet ride of a tall tale in front of us with no apparent shame.
If I caught a frog and brought it home over past weekend, the young lady in front of the class just enjoyed her first Hawaiian Luau, replete with exotic dishes so fantastic, I couldn’t even pronounce them.

If I helped my buddy build a tree house out of old lumber, the creepy kid hogging Show and Tell made a trip down the Colorado River, through the Grand Canyon and then hiked up the Rim (barefoot) to rescue an old lady!

I’m telling you, some of these kids either ended up pursuing a life of crime as world-class liars and misfits, or real pirate captains, plundering the open seas. Maybe they found a job in the White House (the one before George W. Bush! Maybe with GWB, I can’t really say).

As the years went by, I’ve had the pleasure of working with a few of these kids-become-adults, and their stories are just as bizarre and preposterous, as the ones I encountered years ago, except that now, they tell them with such sincerity, it is difficult to keep a straight face.

Here at work, a fellow slammed the phone down in the break room and announced, “That woman just cost me ANOTHER million dollars” before he stormed out the door. This is the same guy whose son was taking private guitar lessons from Jimi Hendrix in East Texas 20 years after Jimi died. He also invented the MasterCard concept and mistakenly revealed it to the wrong person, thus being beat to the punch and “not making a buck off the idea”. Another time Hank Williams Jr. almost took an East Texas whooping from my friend, for a wrong look, while he was performing and of course, my friend and Hank knew of each other.

I would sit in absolute awe, as this storyteller would stab his index finger onto the desktop to drive home his tale and settle its questionable veracity. My only hope for these kind of folks is, they do it for entertainment, because it sure has provided a lot for the rest of us!

Recently, I banged out a couple of whoppers; just to see if I could do storytelling true justice. One of them is a story I heard long ago and the other is my own.
“The day I was borned, I had a full set of teeth and I mean full (46) and weighed in right at 4 pounds, soakin’ wet. I know this cause my Maw told me I was wet when I was borned, because of the watermelon. Folks told my Maw that if it wernt for all the teeth, they would of mistaken me for a opossum, especially with the hair and all, which was matted like an old rug. Funny thing is, by my first birfday I wored a size 16 shoe and since cow-critters was expensive, my Paw made me a pair of boots from a renegade pack of rattle-sanks. I luved them there boots, but had to git rid of em, cause two of the r-sanks were still alive…even after 10 years! Its true, I swear all the time.”

“I had a frightening experience down on Matagorda Bay one time last year. I was fishin’ on the bottom and my line got all hung-up like. Not being a wasteful fella, I suddenly dove off the dock, hardly making a wake, to attempt to free my bait, which was my lucky bait and I done caught 16 fish on. Imagine my consternation when I followed my line down to a sunken car and there, lying on the backseat, was the biggest blue and yellar catfish I have ever seed. Almost desperate for air, as I had been down a full 6 minutes, I figgered to just tow that whiskered critter back to the surface with me, when to my surprise; the big fish rolled up the window and snapped the line! True story, I swear on my neighbor’s eyes!”

What do you think? Do I have promise?

Customer service is not what it used to be

I was called by a local business today to pay for a maintenance service on my in-ground pool. My debit card on file had expired. ...