Sunday, December 28, 2008

Discovering Baytown or How I learned to Love This City

My Dad is the consummate machinist, a Tool and Die Maker and for many years this profession caused him to uproot his family and move…and move we did. For us five kids, this usually equated to an adventure and we would hurriedly inform our friends that we were moving; sometimes with a one-day notice and then we were gone.

Just for your pleasure, I'll define what this skill entails. Tool and die makers make jigs, fixtures, dies, molds, machine tools, cutting tools (such as milling cutters and form tools), gauges, and other tools used in the manufacturing world. My Dad would routinely tender his résumé and off we would go.

These days Dad spends most of his "off" time working in wood in his home shop and at 80 years, he is still active with his machines. I say off time, because anytime we have a family function, he always remarks that he's "off" that day.

Anyway, all this traveling made us nomads of sorts, moving from California, Michigan, Utah, Georgia, Missouri and Ohio with numerous cities in numerous states and all the different schools associated with each place. Sometime in the fall of 1970 we lived in St. Louis and industry in Texas was beginning to blossom so we naturally headed south.

My dad and siblings moved into the construction industry and I enlisted into the Air Force. Exiting the service in 1974, I moved to Baytown where my parents and brother Terry were living at the time, not expecting to still be here thirty-four years later. My Dad and brothers were all employed at Mobay Chemical for Brown and Root, so I naturally joined them in the pipe department. Mobay eventually became Bayer Material Science and Terry has been with them for over thirty years.

My youngest brother Bruce was hired by Liquid Air/Burdett Oxygen as an operator and when it finally shutdown, he joined Aristech Chemicals off of SH-225, which is now Sunoco. He has over 30 years in the industry also. My brother Gordon, known back then as "Flash" stayed on with B&R in the rigging department and after surviving the ARCO ethylene pipeline explosion on Sheldon Road in 1976, was severely burned in the explosion on East Baker Road at the Chemical Exchange Plant.

After recovering somewhat, he moved to the Missouri Ozarks to get as far away from Chemical Plants as possible. The day the ARCO explosion barely missed my brother who was operating a Cherry picker near the eruption, I was also close by, but on the other side of the tree line working on the Oxyrane/ARCO project.

My sister Connie, who also worked at Bayer for Brown and Root, now works for Fluor on the Total Deep Conversion Project in Port Arthur, but lives just off of SH-146 close to Dayton, as do my parents.

Me? I joined ARCO Chemical in 1977 and transferred to ARCO Polymers in 1982 under Ronald's Reaganomics and have been there ever since. Today it's called TOTAL Petrochemicals though.

Basically, we came here and stayed here. Having lived all over the country and some of it quite beautiful…why? Why Baytown of all places? First off, it's because home is where you make it, but more than that, it's Texas and the way Texans look at life. It works and it makes sense. We like the way things are done here in Baytown, the many fine folks who are settled here and we have adopted the city as our own, not to mention we all married "Texan" and our kiddos are dyed-in-the-wool Texans.

My bride Sandra is straight-up Pelly Rat stock with Jackson's, Barber's and Barrow's. Annie, Henry, Augusta E., Martha, Amanda Ruby and Rubin were progeny of Joseph Barber and Emmeline Jackson and her kin line, as were the Fishers and the Winfrees.

Her Dad was "Reno" of Reno's Barbershop out on SH-146, even though his real name was Willard Reneau and a humbler man I've never met. He called the place Reno's, because he didn't want folks to have to figure out how to pronounce Reneau.

My bride's great aunts were also Barrows, who were longtime citizens of this area. Amanda Ruby married Daniel Barrow and from them came Edith Nettie, Ora V., Lily, Rosemond "Mollie", Hazel Olive, Daniel G., Ethel L, and my favorite – Dimple Darling Barrow. Now, who could move away from an area with people named like that?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Baytown's Best Kept Secret?



I've been itching to get out of my work/eat/sleep routine and git walkin' and what better time than the present? Over the years I've learned waiting for the perfect time to do something is nothing short of a case of excused procrastination and that perfect time will arrive when I am too busy to take advantage of it. I must make time work for me, not against me.

This past Thursday was wet and foggy – typical Baytown, Texas winter weather and if I was going to git walkin, I had to do it and do it now, so trusty camera in hand, I did.

Grabbing up my usual accouterments, I drug my hocks out the door (I always get sluggish when the sun is hidden from view) and plopped heavily down into the cockpit of my hoopty for a trip to Baytown's best kept secret – the Baytown Nature Center, or BNC for short.

The Baytown Nature Center is hidden away off of Bayway Drive and has taken the place of the Brownwood Subdivision, which was fatally flooded in 1983 by Hurricane Alicia. Driving from East Baker Road towards the Center, I was saddened to see how rough my old neighborhood had become. My old house on Ashby Street is long gone, but this section of Bayway Drive definitely needs a facelift.

Turning into the Nature Center, I was greeted by the window attendant and paid my three bucks for a day permit. The next time I go, I'm buying a season pass, which is only twenty dollars, or fifty for a family pass. Exiting my car in the Center's parking lot, I was immediately reminded that I had forgotten something very important – mosquito spray!

Swinging back to the entrance window, the attendant let me use a can of spray, plus two handouts showing the trails and I was ready to start walking. Hikers beware, the BNC is swampy and you WILL need repellant. I knew this and in my enthusiasm to git walkin, I flew out of the house repellant-less. Never again. Nothing short of a lightning storm or accident can ruin a good time on the trail, as mosquitoes and this place breeds the pesky varmints by the pound.



The first thing I noticed was a new trail through the woods that was under construction, so I walked it until I came to the construction crew, then I crossed over to old Brownwood Drive and headed into the fog for the Egret Tidal Flats. I want to make another note here. I believe in walking around town to truly see it, but much of the BNC can be seen from your car, so don't think that you must walk to enjoy bird watching here. Now after saying that, if you intend to see all of it, you must walk, so come prepared.

Due to the fog and the absence of other humans, I was able to get very close to a large number of wildlife. Ducks of many sizes and numbers, egrets, great egrets, herons, rosette spoonbills in their pink glory, hawks and cormorants were everywhere. I looked and looked for an alligator, but did not see one. I did see some really fat squirrels and if I could have spotted a bald eagle, I would have been especially fulfilled.

Not wanting to end my two hour hike without making a wide loop through the BNC, I turned off of old S. Bayshore Drive and hiked down what's left of Katherine Street, then Cabaniss Avenue, followed the fence line to Crow Road, back to Mapleton Avenue and finally arrived to see the Wooster Pavilion on Bayshore Drive. It's nice. Now, none of these street names exist anymore, having been replaced with trail names like the Arkokisa Loop Trail and park identifiers as the Crystal Bay Butterfly Garden. Incidentally, the Arkokisa were "a people formerly living in villages chiefly along lower Trinity river, Texas" according to www.accessgenealogy.com.



A must see is the view from the hill which elevates the Brownwood Educational Pavilion. On a normal day, a person can easily see the Fred Hartman Bridge and surrounding area. Today it was foggy and that was just as well, as it gave the area a feel of a misty elven forest. And that made my hike worth every step.

You may visit the Friends of BNC online and the photos I took by following the links on www.OurBaytown.com

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Detroit Unions, CEO’s and Illinois Politics

Right off the bat, I want to go on record and admit I am not an accountant and I most certainly am not a lawyer, so I have no experience, training, management school book-learning or desire to run our government or be the CEO of a large company. To put it bluntly, I don’t know squat about highfalutin management of other peoples lives and I am amazed at how other people feel self-righteous enough to do just that and do it wrong. However, I do have common sense enough to know a stinker when I see one.

Greedy Union leaders, CEO’s and politicians not only do it wrong, but flaunt what they do and then expect the tax-paying and hard-working public to accept their actions and post bail when they get their tail in the wringer. Now if anyone is unsure what getting your appendage in a wringer is, or means, I’ll break it down for you with something from my own past.

When I was in about the fifth grade I made the decision to run a wet towel through my mother’s wringer washing machine. A wringer washing machine had an open tub with two opposing wooden rollers above it. After the clothes were washed, the adult operator (read Mother) fed the clothes between the two moving rollers and it squeezed the water out and back into the tub. She then hung the clothes on a clothesline to finish drying them.

If you were fortunate enough to own an electric wringer that is. Otherwise, you hand cranked the rollers with one hand and fed the wringer with the other. With the technology upgrade of the electric rollers, came the safety device of popping the rollers open if the adult operator accidentally held the clothes item too long and fed their fingers, hand and arm through the ringer – you get the picture.

Well, in my direct disobedience, I decided I knew enough about all this to do it anyway dang the advice to the contrary and sure enough, my grubby little fingers and hand fed right through the wringers. Just about one nanosecond later, I was up to my armpit, totally helpless and about this time, the wringer safety device activated and popped open releasing me. I got what I deserved. In fact, if I would have really got what I deserved, I would have been fed right on through to the other side of the tub.

I was guilty on a couple of levels in this scenario. First, I thought I knew what I was doing, but didn’t. Second, I knew I shouldn’t be doing it, but did it anyway. Third, I was going to do what I wanted regardless. Fourth, I thought I could get away with it.

This past week our country has been embroiled in the quandary about the Detroit automaker bail-out and now the governor of Illinois has caught his hand in the wringer also. The list of wrong decision making and wrong doing just keeps growing and I find one to be stupid and the other criminal. I’m not for excusing either one though. Both parties are guilty and should face the consequences.

Governor Rod Blagojevich of Illinois has been arrested by the FBI and charged with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud as well as solicitation of bribery. One news commentator stated that if there is a state government more corrupt than Illinois’, he wasn’t aware of it. What? Didn’t we just elect a President from that state? Isn’t Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s Chief of Staff also from Illinois? This particular governor is so out-spoken and arrogant that he has been labeled America’s least popular governor and now he has been arraigned. What’s going on here folks? How is this possible in the year 2008?

Greedy Detroit fatcat moguls act like this economic disaster in their industry snuck up on them. What? Are they serious? According to StarTribune.com, General Motors “says its total hourly labor costs are now $69, including wages, pensions and health care for active workers, plus the pension and health care costs of more than 432,000 retirees and spouses. Toyota says its total costs are around $48”. The United Auto Workers Union will not agree to a cut in wages for four more years to allow the stimulus package to go through to boot. If this wasn’t so sad of a situation, I would fall down on the ground and laugh until my brogans flew off.

Michigan residents are facing the bleakest American dream we here on the golden Gulf Coast can’t comprehend and I have relatives living there, but as I’ve stated many times before, this is not something that developed overnight. In fact, Detroit decision makers have had over thirty years to hedge against this day. They have beaten that horse to death. Sixty-nine dollars an hour? Pa-leeese!

The bottom line on the automobile industry debacle is to hold fatcat CEO’s and the outdated and money bloated UAW accountable for thirty years of greed-induced decisions. If you or I open a business and it fails, we sink with it and they should figure out how to survive without our tax dollars.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

There's That Old Man Smell Again!

Sitting comfortably at my desk at work, contemplating my day's activities and minding my own business, I reach into a side drawer and pull out my trusty plastic container of Williams Lectric Shave, Electric Razor Pre-Shave with soothing Green Tea Complex…liquidy stuff.

With semi-sleepy eyes on my computer screen and still minding my own business, I might add, I casually unscrew the black plastic lid and dribble a small puddle of the pleasant smelling pre-shave into the palm of my left hand and then liberally rub it onto my chin and ample jowls and that my friends is when the action starts here in the prairie-dog cubicle office.

"There's that old man smell again!" chirps the witty youngish female Engineer/Intern from the obviously shallow depths of her inexperience in these matters. I blame her response on the fact that I have a small fan on the floor, which blows the pungent (and yes – youthful) aromatic green tea-smelling facial panacea over to her desk behind me. This probably makes it smell like "old people" to her.

Doesn't she realize that as a Chemical Plant operator, it is my duty to be clean-shaven at all times in the event that I have to don a respirator or a self-contained breathing apparatus to possibly rescue her and other less skilled coworkers from imminent disaster? Throwing my head back in an obnoxious silent and self-righteous guffaw I think to myself "I guess not", as she looks like a little kid in comparison to us seasoned veterans and how could she possibly have lived long enough to recognize what should be obvious? Whippersnapper!

Never mind. I ignore her weak humorous attempt at senior citizen verbal abuse and crank up my Norelco Speed-XL triple-head electric razor and start burning off the tonic laden and offensive whiskers from my jawbones. I like to stay on top of the game and no amount of prattle from the ignorant will stop me from getting and staying there. I'm a smooth Operator, so to speak.

About this time, my partner in labor and beloved Crosby, Texas denizen Charles Kelm begins his daily expostulation of all that needs adjusting inside our limited domain. He does this by slapping his hand down hard on his desk and yelling "HEY", which makes the entire office staff jump. He then sits down with no apparent point to be made.

Charles is my friend and I dubbed him a Ronin Engineer when he first made the transition to this section of the Plant. A ronin is a term for a samurai warrior without a master and I say that facetiously, but it fits him well and he has come to enjoy the title. He's a "Mech-E" in a "Chem-E" world. In other words, he's a Mechanical Engineer working as a Chemical Engineer and he has adapted like a true warrior and he performs his duties with determined and vigorous flair.

Numerous times each day he stumps a tirade about some injustice and standing up behind his desk, he will snatch up a dry marker and draw something on the Board on the wall. Try as I might, I have no idea what correlation this drawing has to do with the subject being discussed. He usually ends up with a loud "HEY" and suddenly extends both arms straight up in the air and between this and the "shout", most everyone is startled from their semiconsciousness, as he reseats himself, justified in every way.

Not long ago, he launched into an seemingly cryptic dissertation about the inefficiency of separating clothes into numerous piles and washing multiple small loads, when by utilizing a "superload washing machine"; all the clothes could be washed simultaneously using cold water and only one big load was actually necessary; thus saving time, water, soap and utility costs. "Everything is washed in one load" was his battle cry and he repeated it at least six times, in case we would forget.

Leaping to his feet – chair flying and dry marker open and ready, he began drawing a series of circles and lines, which in his mind explained everything. Honest to goodness, this was simply a general variation of most all of his artwork, but I was ready and had my trusty camera ready to record this particular expression and I did. Opening the photo in Photoshop, I added some text, had it printed on two coffee cups and sent them to his house (one for him and one for his dear patient wife of 34 years) so she can benefit from his wisdom and efficiency and have a daily reminder to boot.

Today, both my Ronin friend and our intern prodigy are on vacation, so I have peace as I smile and spread extra crunchy peanut butter onto my Nature Valley Oats 'N Honey crunchy granola bar.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Six I Got Are Awesome!

Like literally millions of other Baytonians, I was at Wal-Mart this past Friday morning to get the deal of the century. It is our duty and right as good citizens to spend credit cards like there never will be a reckoning and spend we did. I have to tell you, it was a madhouse at the electronics counter and I came away bruised, but successful…and grinning. I only lost two teeth.

You see, I was after the much coveted XBOX 360 Arcade Console with bonus Guitar Hero game and guitar for the droolingly low price of only $199.00. Knowing I was going to face another Black Friday shopping frenzy, I envisioned Johnny Weissmuller preparing for one of his famous Tarzan challenges; only my bride wouldn't let me attempt it in a loincloth, so I adapted. I knew I had the skills to easily beat everyone with the exception of another commando shopper. I must train.

Donning my urban camo hoodie, bright red Steve Zissou beanie, neon green Spandex XXXL cycling shorts and twenty-two dollar Payless brand sneakers, I sprayed WD-40 liberally onto my corpulent lower frame in anticipation of the rush to the counter (it paid off big time too). Friction can be a major problem when you shop in the manner I was planning.

I contrived to be first at the game counter and if it got rowdy, I planned on showing them rowdy in the true spirit of gritty Capitalism. In other words, I had on the standard knee and elbow pads and the gloves with the fingers exposed. I thought about wearing my old Karate headgear, but it would give me away (that and the smell of the WD-40 are standard ploys which alert other savvy commando shoppers). I planned on using a Ninja approach, as of yet untested here in B-Town and I NEEDED the WD-40.

Thursday afternoon my bride taped Wal-Mart's Black Friday flyer on the garage wall (after she had pulled the Sonata out so I could train) with the XBOX 360 motivational Ad in plain view. I began an exhaustive regimen consisting of multiple sets of squat-thrusts, elbow-swinging, low-tackles and clothesline arm swings. I would need all of these strategic athletic moves simply to get from the parking lot to the front door, but there is more, so read on.

The more I thought about the tricky parking lot, the more I realized I was going to need a drop-off driver and I couldn't think of anyone more unwilling to do this task than my bride of thirty-one years. So come 0hhhh-455 military time, my fellow urban commando clothed lady drove past the entrance doors and I rolled out in much the same fashion as John Goodman in "The Big Lebowski". My extra rotund bell-bottomed mass helped out considerably as I only flipped twice and coming to rest on my kneepads (a gravitational advantage to being heavy-ended), I low-crawled past the shopping carts and by many of my fellow (and less Black Friday sale-knowledgeable) shoppers.

This is when the squat-thrust exercises paid off like a bacon breakfast. Since I didn't use them to cross the parking lot, I launched into a series of squatting and leaping towards the electronics counter that was so exhausting and distracting that those shoppers who were also after an XBOX 360 simply froze in their tracks. I'm telling you I was pulling out all the stops.

Hanging from my neck was a turkey call and if an added distraction was needed, I was going to use it with vigor. Thank the heavens I didn't have to, as while hopping; I deployed my patented clothesline arm swings I had diligently practiced.

Incidentally, this combination of arm swings, squats and thrusts works best after downing three Redbull energy drinks and four MoonPies. The MoonPies keep the Redbull from eating a hole in your stomach and actually act as a sugar catalyst to increase the distance each thrust takes you in the store. I figure I was moving about thirty miles per hour.

With one final noisy effort, sweat flying, I bounced into the Electronics counter and my G-force landing blew out the heel on right Payless sneaker. The only thing that kept me from injuring myself was I ninja-rolled and crashed squarely onto the well-padded midriff of another urban commando Black Friday shopper and knocked her square out, thus allowing me to rapidly recover and plop six, yes six XBOX 360's on the counter.

With a quick glance at the Pepto-Bismol pink sweat suit-clad and semi-conscious form of my fellow commando shopper (I noticed she had deployed the less than successful rolling offense ploy and had actually knocked her own self out on the corner display. She should have remembered the WD-40), grabbing a cart, I rolled my way past the less gifted shoppers, heading for the entrance.

Now the good folks at Wal-Mart know a possibly hostile situation when they see one (but reward shopping skill when they see it) and before I had reached the front doors, I had the entire Deli-Section lined up in front of me performing the classic football "Flying Wedge" and we blasted through the front doors knocking over everything with the exception of a pregnant woman eating a donut. Dang the torpedoes –we are shopping!

Tossing my major haul into the Sonata, we sped away like Bonnie and Clyde – except legal. I've never felt such a spirit of victory in all my shopping days. Note: When I saw all the people and the full parking lot, I bought an XBOX 360 online.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

A Husk of Grain

Simply put, the oft used word crap is defined as a husk of grain, chaff; something of poor quality; something that is rubbish; nonsense and in that context, I want to use the word to describe a post-election phenomenon that I find alarming, deeply disturbing and confess I did not expect from my cohorts and acquaintances. Call me a fool and blind.

Under the auspices of being strong Republicans, numerous friends and acquaintances have fallen into the crap cesspool, the vulgar version I don't want to use. On almost a daily basis my Inbox is receiving anti-Barack Obama letters from friends who think racist humor is, well, funny, or at the very least it is being passed off as pro-Republican thought. I hope it's not and it's not good for our country and it's not something I find amusing or agree with.

I've openly stated I wanted John McCain to gain the presidency and even Ron Paul before I voted Democratic, but if Barack Obama would have been the candidate proposing a conservative agenda, as most Republicans did, I would have punched the button with his name on it. To me it's all about the politics of the Party's involved.

I am first an American, second a patriot, third a conservative, fourth a Capitalist and these blatant racial email messages posing as humor disturb and sadden me. The messages justify everything angry black people claim about redneck white America. I want to apologize to my friends whom I might have led to believe I am a racist. I want the best possible person in the White House, who will represent this country and its interests regardless of their color or racial heritage. In plain English, I do not care one bit that our next president is black, brown, red, yellow, white or gasp – female! I care about their politics though.

I want America to be strong. I want us to prosper. I want us to be proud. I want a president who loves this country and loves what America stands for – life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, which ultimately means they put us first and protect our interests and us.

One particularly disturbing email I received showed "the new Presidential limo" with 22-inch spinner wheels. A video Snoop Dog made about hip-hop airlines has become the new Air Force One. George Bush is depicted in pimped-out purple in anticipation of the inauguration. I respect the sender of these emails, but don't share their sense of humor. I find it counter-productive to the future of America and makes we wonder why they really voted against Barack Obama.

Dennis Miller said it best the other day when he said that four years from now he hopes he "is salivating" to push the button to reelect Barack Obama and I share his sentiments. I am praying for the man to succeed, not plotting his destruction. How in the world can all this division be good for us as Americans? I don't want our country to go down in history as the civilization that should have succeeded, but self-destructed.

One writer shared the joke that Sarah Palin could grace the cover of Playboy magazine, but Michelle Obama would be lucky to land on the cover of National Geographic. That joke belongs in a manure/crap spreader, but it would probably foul whatever crop it landed on. Just partisan politics? Nope, blatant racism.

There's a bigger picture here folks, de facto the future of our Country. Barack Obama is as far from the hip-hop persona as I am, which is absolute and it's a gross misrepresentation to depict him as such. His pick as Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel is proof that he is doing some deep thinking. Time will tell if his choice of a Jewish Chief of Staff will dispel the myth that he is pro-radical Islamist or no, but to me it is proof positive. And only time will tell if he is the Anti-Christ, as some assert, or a terrible president, but don't you think we ought to at least wait and see what he actually does before we try to slander his presidency?

I received an email from a longtime and trusted friend with an admonition to sign a petition to oust Barack Obama on ethical and religious grounds. My friend sited a number of sources that were behind this and I simply shook my head and deleted the message. Once again I have to side with Dennis Miller when he stated that under no circumstances was he going to do to Barack Obama, what so many anti-Bush people did to George W. Bush and that was rabidly obstruct everything he did. It was pitiful politics and frankly, has deeply hurt our country.

Defaming and lampooning our president, although funny at times, when done in a malicious manner is destructive and ruins respect for our leaders in the eyes of the world and the less issue-educated, including and especially children.

Here's a compromise. Send me email messages lampooning or criticizing the next administrations politics and we can both agree… maybe and then do the right thing and take time to separate what is right for this country and if this new president is doing it.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Tree-Riding and the Art of Bicycle Maintenance

I'm a fifty-six year old soon to be geezer (or dirty old man if I can swing it) and I do not wish to return to my youth, although I rode it hard and put it up wet every chance I got. I still have my moments though, albeit in fantasy only.

My beautiful and entertaining mother used to occupy the five of us kids around Halloween by smiling with a pair of the then popular sweet-liquid filled paraffin teeth, reshaped to look like buck-teeth and she would drive us to town proudly grinning at passer-bys and we would howl like the Comanches we saw on TV.

I have a pair of Bubba teeth that I bought in Houston a number of years ago when they first became available. These are the real deal made by the ex-Dentist Jason Frankel and used in Hollywood movies and they are fantastically awful looking – and real cool and fit perfectly, as they came with a dental gel that allowed me to fit them to my personal teeth print. I need to find me a realistic looking mullet wig and start wearing this combination when I drive home from work, so I can get my childhood mojo working again. I have a history to live up to, you know. Maybe someone will wave at me thinking I'm Jim Finley.

Being the oldest boy with 3 stair-step younger brothers, I led a ready made team of fun-seekers and living all over the country, we found ways to amuse ourselves in the absence of long time friends, plus we garnered new methods from wherever we happened to live.

One favorite activity was tree climbing and on occasion, tree-riding. Tree-riding was the act of climbing a limber sapling of say, twenty-feet and when the top was reached, holding on as it toppled over. The trick was to remain attached and dropping off as it's top came close to the ground and then letting go as the tree whipped back up. Sometimes it worked well and other times, not so well, bruises and all. I think our tree-riding skills were perfected in the piney woods of North Georgia.

We had a chicken coup in Dundee Michigan in the early 1960's that was nothing more than a two-story barn with an open hay door on the second floor. A sycamore tree had been allowed to grow up beside the front of the building and in the evenings, the guinea fowl would roost in it. A long leap from the window to the closest strong branch could be attained and the prospect of missing made it all the more tempting a pastime.

I remember owning two bicycles before I bought my first used ten-speed at the age of seventeen, using my work money. I can't really recollect the first, but the second one I got for Christmas while living in Morgan, Utah and if I remember correctly, I was in about the third grade. It was used of course, but had new paint and I loved that shiny bike. I rode it through my Junior High years in Toledo, Ohio and really became a polished bike mechanic about this time.

My beloved two-wheel mode of transportation was of standard configuration and the super cool "stingray" bikes had hit the market, with their banana seats and high handlebars. Well, I just had to have some those handlebars and I figured if I sold back enough "pop" bottles (I lived in Ohio, not Texas remember), I could eventually swing the $2.80 the new bars cost.

This was a tremendous amount of money back then with a fat candy bar costing five cents and since the banana seat was over twelve dollars and out of reach, the cost of the bars were a noble challenge. So, the day came, cool high bars installed with much grunting and sweat and I began my career of doing my own maintenance, which I have retained in adulthood, albeit now, I actually follow through and make sure it is done properly.

I painted and repainted my bike so many times, which basically amounted to spraying over dirt and all and at this time it was flat black. The fenders were gone and I had raised the seat post to its limit. The chain guard and Bendix-brand brakes were completely gone and I had disconnected them, using my PF Flyer brakes when needed instead. Now, on the front axles, the threads were boogered up a bit from my sloppy attempts to reattach the wheel after patching the front tube many times and I had become lax in actually tightening the front nuts. I was always in a hurry - a hurry to play outside somewhere.

Never mind, I was in a rush to play sandlot baseball with my chums and off I went in a clanging high-speed wobble. Now, I was about thirteen and the first vestiges of testosterone were beginning to course through my adolescent loins and as I came upon the street corner, low and behold, two budding felines, books under their arms were right there in my crosshairs, so doing the only thing I knew I could do to impress them, I attempted my first and last "wheelie".

To my shock and yes, awe, the front tire catapulted off into the ionosphere and as gravity is wont to do, it pulled my forks earthward at something akin to "six-hun-ert miles an hour", flipping me over the bars and onto my back. The last thing I recollect as my boyishly lean hips went skyward was the tire rolling down the street and the humiliating sound of raucous girl laughter.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Picking up the Pieces

I was perplexed to say the least, a bit angry and frankly disappointed last Wednesday morning when I arose for work at 2:45AM, checked my G-News web site and learned John McCain was not elected to the highest office this country offers.

I guess, as Stan Smith, a friend of mine explained when we brought up the election at work Wednesday morning "folks were just ready for change" and they felt John's politic was coarse and unsophisticated in comparison to Barack's velvet smooth delivery. For sure. I would hit my knees at the altar or buy an expensive car I didn't need at Barack's admonition, if I was the kind of person who is swayed by a smooth sales pitch, but I'm not.

I remember the first time I heard Barack Obama and it was on the Internet web site www.youtube.com. I thought to myself and expressed on our family mailing list that this was a dynamic and charismatic politician and I thought he would make an excellent VP for most likely Hillary Clinton. In comparison to George W. Bush's ability to convey thought, Barack Obama is Elmer Gantry and George Bush is Ernest P. Worrell. In all fairness to GWB, being a great speaker is a major plus in the appearance of having the answers, but does not necessarily mean you do and that is a major consideration in my book. Time will tell if Barack Obama does indeed have the correct answers and I sincerely hope he does. Our Country's future depends on it.

My main complaint with the Democratic platform is not their desire for an American Utopia, as it is all the liberal baggage they embrace. From assorted gun control, cancerous growth government, higher taxation to pay for socialistic programs and a view that regardless of motivation everyone should get a chunk of the cake. I have cake I paid for with long hours on the job, working many holidays, years of overtime and thousands of night shifts and if it is going to be shared with the less motivated, then I want to be the one who decides the sharing, not the government telling me to "hand it over buddy".

If the government wants to really make a difference in this country, they will start programs that train people "to fish" rather than bleeding free-swimming fish. Then, these freshly trained fishermen (and women) can do like the rest of us and swim for their own meals.

I am the first to admit I did okay economically under Bill Clinton, as I work in the Petrochemical industry (no thanks to the government for getting me into this line of work), but when Bill finished his eight years of placating everyone from Tikrit to Shinola, our country was left militarily defenseless and that is one area as a voter, I do not want to see compromised. The moment we cannot back up our policies with muscle, we will cease to be a world leader – take Russia's fall from glory under Ronald Reagan for a prime example. The very second the new president starts whacking the military budget, he is going to turn into a dirty Commie rat to me.

I want to see the government under Barack Obama succeed and like Clinton's administration, I will attempt to support it. It's imperative that America maintains it's superpower status regardless of political differences and I certainly want to be cognizant of good politics, even if the person I voted for didn't win the election. If the rest of the world, whom I support with my tax dollars doesn't like it, then tough noogies and that is another disturbing thing about the election of this man as president; the world is cheering and many hate America or compete against us. Do the math folks.

Barack Obama's first selection as Chief of Staff, Rep. Rahm Emanuel, initially surprised me and since he is an Orthodox Jew, I thought this was a good choice, as it would dispel the rumor he was in the pocket of radical Islam. Then I read the man has a vicious temper and his favorite method of expression is replete with the F-word.

Once again speaking frankly, I could not work for a leader with this explosive personality conjoined with socially offensive language no matter how well intentioned or qualified and this does not bode well for a Chief of Staff choice for me. Richard Nixon shocked the nation with his vulgar speech and I hope times haven't changed so much that this language is acceptable by our leaders and citizens.

I also recognize the historical significance of a black person attaining the highest office this country affords, but wasn't color touted as a non-issue? It sure doesn't sound like it now. I have a nagging feeling that most pro-Democratic voting lower income Americans are going to awaken to the fact that Barack Obama is going to be big business as usual and their personal plight, whatever that may be, is going to continue on until they take personal responsibility for their future – the same as me and I am a Capitalistic American who happens to be a semi-conservative Republican.

Other than in times of emergency, I do not want to see or even think about the US government interfering in my life and sure as heckfire do not want more taxes, so President–Elect Obama, put your money where your mouth is and for the sake of America's future, may God guide you.

Friday, November 07, 2008

The Rosetta Stone for BB's Obama Presidency Predictions

1. People with jobs want to keep the money they make. The Democratic platform is wealth redistribution and this appeals to those who are on welfare.

2. The tongue-in-cheek reference to people committing suicide is in reference to one woman who voted for Obama because under his administration she "wouldn't have to pay rent or her grocery bill" once he is elected. This woman actually voted and shows how crazy some of his followers have became.

3. The Democrats always cut military budgets to balance the federal deficit. That and raise taxes. Under Bill Clinton, we lost our military superpower status.

4. It beats anything I can figure out why rich Hollywood and New York millionaires scream in delight to elect someone who is going to take from their wallet and give it to whom they please. This is the Democratic Party's stance.

5. The Black Panther “civilian Security Force” stood guard over a polling place in the city of brotherly love this election and my reference is they will be severely irked when they find out that Barack Obama is just another self-serving Washington politician and not the end all to black problems in this country. Think about it – how much oil company stock do you think the man owns? Plenty.

6. Self-explanatory

7. My reference to Barack selling stuff could have just as easily been he becomes the number one Tele-Evangelist in the country, as he is one smooth salesman, whether it is toothbrushes or Chevy's.

8. Self-explanatory

9. Self-explanatory, but promises are promises and when you promise "change" almost anything will work, right?

10. "And for Blacks in their late teens to early 20s, the biggest danger is homicide-often at the hands of another African-American". Ebony, March, 1998 by Kelly Starling

The bottom line is this. I did not vote for the man any more than I voted for Bill Clinton, but I WILL support him as my President. I just hope and pray that he does the right thing.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Obama Presidency Predictions

1. Even though they stayed up all night partying at the Obama celebration and will be too tired to get up and go to work today, they will still get a paycheck with the full amount, as welfare isn't dependent on actually working!

2. 53% of the US Population commits suicide! I'm thinking I will read this headline in about a year, when a large number of voters realize they will have to give up their newly purchased Lincoln Navigators and Cadillac Escalades and lose their freshly purchased houses because the new "change for prosperity for all" government wont make their monthly notes.

3. Within one year total US troop strength in the Middle East is heavily reduced, military budget is severely slashed and we return to Bill Clinton's idea of a Superpower without defense. The void left by our absence will be filled by Chinese advisers in Iraq. Europe's economy tanks due to no R&R's taken by US troops and the unemployment rates skyrocket as soldier's are let out from troop reductions.

4. Oprah Winfrey calls for a recount when she finds out that SHE is one of the rich that Obama is going to tax like the rest of us.

5. The Obama governments first 10% general tax hike is to fund expanding the Secret Service in response to the Black Panther hit squads, when they learn that he is actually as rich and pro-oil as all "those white crackers".

6. Detroit auto-making woes continue. Michiganders outraged 2 years after Obama's election when it dawns on them that the reason their economy sucks had nothing to do with George W. Bush, but large SUV and pick-up trucks with stinky mileage.

7. The new President opens up 1400 franchises selling everything from automobiles to snake oil cough syrup and surpasses Bill Gates as the world's richest man.

8. Hollywood and New York City continue to rejoice over Obama's election, as neither city cares about anything but themselves.

9. Barack Obama spends the first year in the White House in seclusion as he tries to figure out "what do I do now?".

10. White Aryans do nothing to rid the country of a black President, as they know the number one killer of blacks in this country is other blacks.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Egads, I've Been Hoodwinked!

I guess I'm not very observant…and I've always prided myself on the fact that I am. I was hoodwinked in broad daylight and walked out of the store, over-charged and didn't realize it until the next day. I was at the Payless Shoe Store on Garth Road and seeing that my favorite pair of down-at-the-heel tennies are beginning to look like something Forrest Gump wore in the opening scene of said movie, I decided to get another pair of twenty-two dollar Payless sneakers.

Now in my defense, I had just left the San Jacinto Hospital after a serious scare by someone dear to me and was just a tad distracted, to put it mildly. In fact, this is why I stopped to peruse the shoe options. I needed a distraction and this was the perfect excuse and opportunity. Instead of going for the ever popular old dude with the Michael Jordon look, I opted to purchase a pair of soft leather lace-up hiking/work boots, as I have been thinking my off-the-path trekking might benefit from something sturdier than my twenty-two dollar synthetic sneakers afforded.

Arriving at the casa, grin on my face and boots in tow, I began to puzzle over my receipt and noticed I was charge five whole bucks more than the boots actually cost (and still plan to tender the receipt back at the store for recompense). This in itself is no great amount, as stuff like this occasionally happens at almost any store, or so I thought at the time.

Two days later I made an after work stop at the local Wal-Mart with every intention of purchasing the EAS Carb-control protein drinks I consume each morning and a dozen containers of the microwavable soups that Campbell's offer. They are about a buck-fifty each at Wal-Mart and almost a dollar more everywhere else, so when I frequent Wal-Mart, I usually buy a bagful. The Chicken Corn Chowder and the Mexican Tortilla flavors are my favorites, cause they're delish.

Well, wouldn't you know there were no available grocery carts in reserve, even though there were a great number of carts lined up in various places in the parking lot (with no evidence they were in the process of being returned to the staging area). I spoke to the unthreatening greeter person at the door and asked about the carts and they did an Academy Award winning imitation of Ben Stein and said "No carts". Ugh!

So, I find myself in a long line of folks at one of the five open registers (it's 4:30pm) holding four four-packs of the EAS protein drinks and successfully resisted the feral urge to go through one of the six open self-service registers. It's finally my turn and I swipe my debit card (who decided this word swipe didn't mean steal?) and read the question "Is your cashier friendly? Yes or No", on the little debit card machine window.

I look at the person checking my groceries and decide, "Hey, it is Halloween after all" and punching the Yes key, sigh. Using my elbows like Charles Barkley going after a rebound, I make my way back out to my hoopty and deduce I will have to make yet another stop at a convenience store to complete my must-have list, so I motor down and into the Super Stop Shell station at the corner of North Main Street and West Cedar Bayou Lynchburg Road.

In my normal no nonsense manner, I grab my items and wait for a fellow with grunting English make what I can only imagine was an extremely insightful and most likely prosperous pick of six different lottery quick-pick tickets. I am then told the total for my purchase is about seventy-five cents more than I know it should be. You see it's still fresh on my mind that I was over charged at Payless and this time I'm paying attention and have no intention of paying more than I should.

The fellow behind the counter corrected the amount I stated without so much as a question and then stared at me. I gave him a pretty dead-on mirror image right back and he finally offered "Well, would you like a bag for that?" and I said, "Uh, I guess I would". He bagged up my purchase and said, "Have a nice day".

As I motored off in my hoopty, it dawned on me that I should either go back and buy the winning Texas Mega lottery ticket - as the stars must be aligned just right for me to experience two separate over-charging rare occurrences in two days, or this is happening quite often to unsuspecting and unobservant shoppers. I think I'll skip the lotto ticket purchase and put my money on the later.

Doing a brief research on the Internet reveals the sad truth that this practice is very common to the tune of as much as ten per cent at some large chains. Now I admit, both incidents I experienced here in Baytown this week may have been innocent enough, but you can bet your sweet bippy, I'll be watching from now on when I make a purchase and I suggest you do the same.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Which Candidate is Best? You Decide!

I have an easy and logical method for determining which Presidential candidate is best for the future of the United States of America. I simply watch the news sources and see whom Hollywood endorses and which candidate our enemies are rooting for and I vote for the other campaigner. I find it curiously peculiar that many wealthy Hollywood actors, third world despots and economically competing governments often want the same candidate to win the election.

It's tried and true, uncannily accurate and history does indeed repeat itself, so I use this formula each presidential election to make sure I am helping to secure our future well-being as a superpower, which incidentally is something I feel is vitally important.

According to Reuters – "Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, renowned for colorful insults of world leaders, called U.S. vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin a confused "beauty queen" on Friday after she said he was a dictator. Chavez, a leftist who often mocks U.S. President George W. Bush, invoked the advice of Jesus Christ on how to handle the slights by Palin, the Republican governor of Alaska and a former beauty pageant winner".

I think its safe to say whom Mr. Chavez would like to see in the White House especially when Barack Obama is promising an expanded non-military diplomatic Bill Clintonesque agenda (which sounds good on paper, but hardly works in the real world), but how about Iran's scruffy dictator Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who just last year inaugurated an international conference called World Without America--attended by anti-Americans from all over the world, including the U.S.?

According to Middle East expert Amir Taheri "Obama's election would boost President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's chances of winning a second term next June. Ahmadinejad's entourage claims that his "steadfastness in resisting the American Great Satan" was a factor in helping Obama defeat "hardliners" such as Hillary Clinton and, later, it hopes, John McCain". He's an Obama man for sure.

Let's move on to Europe's preference for the next American President. Europe hates America; it's no secret. Even though we protect their borders with the world's most powerful military presence and pump billions of American dollars into their collective economies and pulled their bacon out of the fire two times in the last century – they hate us. I'll leave it to the experts as to what they think and since they are our competitors for global domination, their preference is important.

"The 5 largest European countries are unanimous in their desire to see Barack Obama elected whilst John McCain's rating is extremely low. If they could vote, only 1% of French, 5% of German and 8% of Spanish respondents would elect John McCain. In the United States, the Republican candidate is behind by 10 points." so says the FRANCE 24 / Harris Interactive poll.

According to this poll, 99% of the French want Barack Obama. To me this is a Euro-klaxon horn of alarming concern. The French see themselves as the true leader of the European Common Market and detest everything American. If they want Barack Obama, they feel they can manipulate him and triumph over us as a country. Yes, it is that simple.

But isn't John McCain just another paw-parrot of George W. Bush? Hasn't he voted almost identical as what GWB wanted? John McCain was considered a freethinking renegade Republican until the Primaries started and then his fellow Republican contenders labeled him as nothing more than a pinko liberal, which wasn't true. He would occasionally vote against a Republican initiative if he felt it was a bad plan and that made him a maverick. Now, if I read the newsprint correctly, he's become a staunch conservative who eats out of GWB's hand and that also is not so.

Okay, let's move on. What about our venerated Hollywood movie stars? Why in heaven's name would they be for raising their own taxes, cutting our military back to near nothing and making our country vulnerable – just like they did when they threw their collective monies behind electing Bill Clinton - twice? Why would they be so vehement towards the George W. Bush presidency and blame him personally for our economic woes, when the government has been Democratically controlled for the last two years? It's a mind-boggling conundrum for sure and for the life of me, I can't understand why this doesn't raise serious debate everywhere on our politically active campuses.

I thought the January 3rd, 2007 election of Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House was supposed to be a magic economic panacea or something, but nope, it wasn't and their approval rating for running the government is so low, the only scapegoat they point towards is poor old George.

So, is this column nothing more than a John McCain infomercial? The answer is no it's not, but as I said at the beginning, whomever our competitors, world anti-American dictators and our enemies want in the White House is an excellent barometer and since they all want Barack Obama, then I will vote for the other fellow thank you.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Bringing Out the Good…With Purpose

I’ve got a game plan and frankly, I’m pumped. Pumped up mentally and physically because I’ve planned out this weekend and by the time this is read, I’ll be halfway through the weekend and call me butter again, cause I’m still on a roll.

Let me back up a bit and “splain” this past week which has led up to this point. The books I ordered off of www.amazon.com all arrived and I have them setting on one of my vintage stereo 1974 Sansui SF-2 speakers. Since I just came off shift at the Plant, I haven’t had time to put one of my homemade address stickers inside each one and place them in my selected reading order. These books are a big deal to me and boost my feel good levels big time.

Next, I designed an award for the annual Byrd Sanctuary Chili Festiva competition at my sister and brother-in-law Connie and Kelly Byrd’s compound in Dayton this weekend – and it arrived. It’s outrageous, ugly and after showing it to my sister and mother, they both replied “that’s awful – don’t bring it”. This reaction qualified my artwork and I knew it was the perfect award. You see, the annual chili cook-off competition is for family and close friends only and none of us are going to give the nod to each others chili offering. The only reasonable solution to this dilemma was to create a ghastly Halloweenish graphic, have it printed on a ceramic tile and framed and award it to who I feel deserves it.

Humbly speaking, it’s my award, made at my expense and I’ll give it to who I want. This years award shows my modest Baytown Bert persona dressed in a fascist looking uniform over the Texas and USA flags and the words “It’s so good…it’s plumb militant”. It’s also so horrid and wrong, it’s great and I may award it to myself before the fist fights are over and the dust settles. It’s what my sister calls Bertomobilia and it’s a collectible item for sure and can double as a plate to put a greasy spatula on next to the stove.

I got a call from Ken “the Dauber” Pridgeon and he is hard at work creating a giant mural for the Eddie V. Gray Wetlands Center, something like eight by thirty two feet long. Ken likes to “daub” big and the bigger it is, the better he likes it, so I am making a trip to his hacienda on Morrell Street to photograph this labor of artistic passion and I get to talk to Ken, something I think we both enjoy. Ken is one of many local artists who are heavily involved in expanding the Baytown Art League and their new abode on Texas Avenue. I would like to meet more of these fine and gentle folks.

My buddy Robert Prall told me the Yepez Vineyard located at 12739 FM 2354, which is of course Beach City country, is hosting a Fall Fest and I’m going out yonder to see what it’s all about. Both David and Lena Yepez are heavily involved in our community and I want to meet them. They have a website too and that makes it easy to see a list of future activities. www.yepezvineyard.com/ I’ve heard they lost their entire crop of grapes in Hurricane Ike, so I want to do my part to support this year’s Fall Fest and future events.

Well, my Saturday is full, especially after making my spectacular chili entry (I’m naming it “Mom’s Deep South Chitterling Chili” – for no particular reason except it sounds disgusting and I lived in Woodstock, Georgia as a kid) and try as I might, I can’t squeeze more into the day, so Sunday morning, I’m taking a vacation day and going to see the Wings Over Houston air show. Yes, I know I should be in church and I offer no excuses (Forgive me Lord Jesus. I’m a heathen back-slider.).

I haven’t seen the USAF Thunderbird demonstration team since 1971 when as a young Airman, I stood on the flight line tarmac of Malmstrom Air Force Base and the team flew F-4 Phantom jets. It’s time I saw them again. I cast about attempting to find a friend who also wanted to see them, but everyone was previously engaged, so I’ll solo it and I don’t mind that at all. Maybe I should have called Granny Adcox out Highlands way. She’s always game for something adventurous.

To sum up the whole point of this column is to say we simply need to realize there are lots of good fun entertaining things to do in our own backyard. Baytonians supporting Baytown/Houston area activities is what we should work toward folks. The advantages of looking local outweigh every other option in my book and it doesn’t take a wheel barrow full of money to have a good time either.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Packs of robots will hunt down uncooperative humans

Short Sharp Science (NewScientist blog) Oct. 22, 2008

The latest request from the Pentagon jars the senses. At least, it did mine. They are looking for contractors to provide a "Multi-Robot Pursuit System" that will let packs of robots "search for and detect a non-cooperative human".

One thing that really bugs defence chiefs is having their troops diverted from other duties to control robots. So having a pack of them controlled by one person makes logistical sense. But I'm concerned about where this technology will end up.

Given that iRobot last year struck a deal with Taser International to mount stun weapons on its military robots, how long before we see packs of droids hunting down pesky demonstrators with paralysing weapons? Or could the packs even be lethally armed? I asked two experts on automated weapons what they thought. Both were concerned that packs of robots would be entrusted with tasks - and weapons - they were not up to handling without making wrong decisions.

Steve Wright of Leeds Metropolitan University is an expert on police and military technologies, and last year correctly predicted this pack-hunting mode of operation would happen. "The giveaway here is the phrase 'a non-cooperative human subject'," he told me:

"What we have here are the beginnings of something designed to enable robots to hunt down humans like a pack of dogs. Once the software is perfected we can reasonably anticipate that they will become autonomous and become armed.
We can also expect such systems to be equipped with human detection and tracking devices including sensors which detect human breath and the radio waves associated with a human heart beat. These are technologies already developed."

Another commentator often in the news for his views on military robot autonomy is Noel Sharkey, an AI and robotics engineer at the University of Sheffield. He says he can understand why the military wants such technology, but also worries it will be used irresponsibly.

"This is a clear step towards one of the main goals of the US Army's Future Combat Systems project, which aims to make a single soldier the nexus for a large scale robot attack. Independently, ground and aerial robots have been tested together and once the bits are joined, there will be a robot force under command of a single soldier with potentially dire consequences for innocents around the corner."

What do you make of this? Are we letting our militaries run technologically amok with our tax dollars? Or can robot soldiers be programmed to be even more ethical than human ones, as some researchers claim?

Paul Marks, technology correspondent

Sunday, October 19, 2008

We Are What We Consume

I have no idea who originally coined a version of that saying, but the older I become; the more I see the wisdom in that simple sentence. Whatever it is we choose to digest is what we become, whether it goes into our mouth or through our eyes.

Yesterday many Baytonians gathered for the Pilot Club’s annual Memory Walk to raise money for a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. It’s no secret there is a direct correlation between keeping our minds active through reading and our bodies stimulated through exercise and our well-being and health in our golden years.

Twenty years ago, while preparing to leave Sterling Library I observed a coworker pull his old beat-up work truck into the parking lot. I looked down at my watch and realized it was shift change at the Plant. I smiled as this particular friend, work clothes and all, went straight from work into the library. Glancing up in the direction of Someburger I saw another coworker, coming straight from the Plant, park his shiny new truck and go inside the restaurant.

I sat quietly in my car and pondered what I had just witnessed. The thought occurred to me that both men were hungry, but their priorities were different. I’ve thought about this incident many times and I’m still puzzled by their choice or priority. I had my books and left and if I would have stayed longer, I may have witnessed them exchange places. I guess I could ask them, but I won’t. I would rather keep it a mystery.

I’m a self-proclaimed and struggling Philomath – a lover of learning. I may not be all that smart, but I sure try hard to figure stuff out and for whatever reason, I’m always playing catch-up. I guess a psychologist could wring volumes of deficiencies as to why I feel this way, but all I know is I continually get the gut-sick feeling I am sliding backwards in my education. The race is on and I’m slipping further and further behind. To me, it’s like I can’t read enough to ever fill the void.

I have a personal library and these days I rarely visit our public library, which is a confession of sorts rather than an apology. The good Lord has blessed me with the means to purchase the books I desire, so I use www.amazon.com to get my used tomes inexpensively and keep them permanently. I believe a person’s library is akin to a vision into their psyche and I guess my collection is no exception.

I’m perpetually curious and want to know who, what, where, when, how and most important of all – why. I find answers to these questions through books. Recently the Baytown Sun’s excellent reporter Tara Sullivan sat on my patio to interview me about birding and I think I actually conducted the interview, as I had so many questions about her world as a journalist and how it works. Finally, after my many questions, I caved and answered her questions. I think she did a fine job on her article too.

My hunger for history was recently generously subsidized by a check from my Plant for completing a quarterly safety qualification to the tune of one hundred and fifty bucks! Off I went to Amazon.com and when I was finished typing, I had purchased seventeen books, two concerning birding and fifteen autobiographies, biographies and country histories.

Magellan, who first circumnavigated the globe (till he met his demise in The Philippines), both president Roosevelt’s (two Theodore’s and two FDR’s), three Churchill’s, one Mohandas Gandhi, one Einstein, the Rise and Fall of the British Empire (which was supposed to last another 1800 years), the great hedge of India, Hiroshima, China, and good old Ben Franklin the classic self-promoter are all coning in the mail and I can’t wait to begin reading these books.

I’m reading the top one hundred science fiction books and have two still in the queue from my last buying binge. While I was writing this I received a phone call to renew my subscription to Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine which I was reading today incidentally and before I could consult my bride, I committed to another 36 issues for a generous offering of only $2.36 per issue. Of course, I could save my dollars and get all of this free at the library.

According to the February 13 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association “A study of 700 seniors over several years found that more frequent participation in cognitively stimulating activities, such as reading books, newspapers or magazines, engaging in crosswords or card games, was significantly associated with a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease”.

So, am I simply tooting my own cornucopic horn here, or am I trying to show that what we consume is what we become and using myself as an example? You decide. What am I hungry for right now? Someburger, of course. Why not? It’s one of the best burgers in town and thanks to my addiction to reading books; I’ll have no trouble remembering where it’s located.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Bird enthusiasts taking note of new sightings

By Tara Sullivan
The Baytown Sun

Published October 7, 2008

Bird watchers across the Texas Gulf Coast are taking note of Hurricane Ike evacuees of the winged variety. September and October are peak months for the annual spring bird migration, so while it is not an unusual time for non-native birds to pass through the region, some odd varieties have found their way to Baytown. Many of these might never before have set foot - or feather - on Baytonian soil.

Baytown resident and avid nature watcher Bert Marshall said new birds began cropping up near his home almost immediately after the storm had passed. He even recalls several birds that were noticeably wet, tired and flustered, including a rare leucistic hummingbird who stole a moment to fluff his weather-beaten feathers.

Since few nature enthusiasts go birding during inclement weather, it's not entirely understood how our feathered friends make it through. Some speculate that when there is a change in air pressure, birds fly low until they find a cave or other hallow cavity for shelter. Other birds might simply change their migration route, navigating around the bad spot. Whatever the reason, Marshall and other Baytonians are urging everyone to take a moment to really look at Baytown. Because of the migratory season, many of our native birds have already traveled south to Mexico and a throng of newcomers have taken their place.

"If you really take a moment to get to know your city - and you can't know it from inside a car, you have to walk it - you're bound to see some amazing nature," Marshall said.

Chaparral Village residents found this out by simply looking out their living room windows. These folks now share their neighborhood with several green and yellow parakeets that don't appear to be displaced pets, but rather their slightly larger, wild cousins. The tiny flock might have been blown in from as far away as Florida or as near as Kemah, where wild parakeets are fairly common.

As he watched an unknown type of bird, yellow as the sun with black and white striping on the wings, Marshall smiled. With an Audubon society field guide in one hand, his binoculars in the other, he was obviously delighted to host his new guests.

Speculating on how the newcomers might affect the existing ecosystem, Marshall said he thinks most of the visitors will remain simply that, eventually making their way back to wherever they call home. Still, he does recall a story regaled by his father of the Cattle Egret and how those familiar white birds we see over cattle pastures came to Texas. The story goes something like the birds were blown in from their homeland - an area stretching from Africa to Northern China, and on South to Australia - during a hurricane.

Though the story is only one of many theories explaining the sudden arrival of these birds to Texas during the mid-1950's, history lends an anchor of support by noting that Hurricane Alice trampled southeast Texas in 1954. By 1958, the Cattle Egret were roosting in Galveston and they've since become a norm of the Gulf Coast.

So while it's hard to say if the recent bird sightings mean parakeets and other colorful birds will regularly grace our birdfeeders, bird enthusiasts are satisfied to just watch and wait.

Eddie V. Gray Wetlands Center Education Coordinator Sallie Sherman said new sightings are not unusual after a big storm. Her biggest concern lies in the loss of trees and bushes, which may effect native bird populations.

"I can see how after the spring migration, there will be so many less trees for these birds," she said. "It's sad."

Sherman said December's Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count might present a clearer picture of who's been where. The bird count, an annual Audubon tradition, designates regions of the country (which includes the Baytown area) for bird watchers to watch, record and report back their sightings.

For now, Sherman said she would be one of the many Baytonians who've lately grabbed a pair of binoculars and started looking.

Bird watching field guides, which include color pictures and descriptions of many birds, are available at most bookstores and usually cost less than $20.

To check bird sightings in the region, to share your photographs or get help identifying a bird, visit www.texbirds.org.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Baytown Bert’s Top Ten List for Global Change

Boy howdy, if I am put in charge I will make a few changes. I am assigning a real cool sounding name to this sweeping referendum: “Baytown Bert’s Top Ten List for Global (read Baytown) Change” and make it so. I don’t even know who is in charge of making these kinds of decisions, but give me the go ahead and I will jump in feet first. I will be tough as Ted Poe, Chuck Norris and that Maricopa County Sheriff rolled into one.

Here goes: If someone is caught red-handed shoplifting or convicted in a court of law, I will make sure their photograph is printed on a billboard beside the store they stole from, printed in the local newspaper and their name and image broadcast on our local TV channel for one year. I will set up a national database and register them as thieves along with putting a mark on their driver’s license to remind officers and shopkeepers that they steal. As much as fifteen percent of the cost of items we purchase is to pay for security and shop-lifters greedy fingers. I say make the thief pay for their crime and then we honest shoppers can get lower prices.

Number two will be converting our school system over to an “advance as you progress” system, where each student moves forward on their own merit. What? We have that already? Let’s change it then to where each student moves forward each month, or repeats it right then. Instead of TAAS, TAKS, or some other kind of mandatory State test, students are aptitude tested on a two to three year reoccurring basis. This way parents and students will know individual strengths and weaknesses and can get a head start on a specific education, rather than a general or generic degree. Maybe students will finish 12-14 years of school in 8-10 and actually know something that will help them secure employment.

Here’s number three and it’s a doozy. I will demand the power companies move all electrical wires under ground and remove the “telephone” poles. They are ugly, make the city ugly and fail repeatedly during bad storms.

I’m already into number four and I’m just getting warmed up. We need a cable company which provides paying customers 10 channels worth watching. I will settle for 10, even though I pay for 150. 140 channels of stupid stuff by stupid program directors and we are paying for it? Who is stupid here? We stupid. We are paying this company to pump stupid stuff into our homes.

Hello number five! I want to see a coordinated and driver friendly traffic light flow system set up on Garth, North Main and Alexander Drive (for starters) and I don’t want to pay another consulting company to figure this out. I want it to happen.

Call me butter, cause I’m on a roll with number six. I want a bi-weekly free concert of local aspiring talent, church choirs and jazz ensembles in Bicentennial Park. It could be co-sponsored/promoted by Lee College and the City of Baytown and would promote culture exchange in this historically blue-collar oil city and that’s something we would all benefit from.

7-UP! I would like to see more than three cash registers open at Wal-Mart at any one time, excluding the self-service registers. I would settle for the manager of this store making a public apology for coming to this conclusion before someone makes a scene. See the Food Town on North Main for how it should be done.

Number eight is a desperate plea more than a simple wish. I will institute an emergency radio station for Baytown and surrounding areas to inform local folks when disaster strikes. If Hurricane Ike taught us anything, it was we can’t rely on Houston radio to give us specifics or instruction from our city leaders.

Here’s number nine, number nine, number nine (that’s a reference to the White album by The Beatles for your amusement). I want to see more advocates for the city of Baytown and less folks griping about the city and its failings. The city is what we make it folks and it’s that simple. It takes two hands to do almost anything. City leaders need input and they need it before decisions are made.

My number ten and last wish for Baytown, Baytonians and all of us living close by is we somehow learn to embrace a philosophy where we are generally proud to be from here. Like number nine, we individual citizens must work together to make our schools safer and more productive, the quality of work emanating from Baytown superior and the overall positive attitude of this area significant in the total scheme of Texas life.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Spam is Crazy Tasty


Spam is Crazy Tasty. It says so right on the front panel of the uniquely designed easy-open can and I wholeheartedly agree. It’s also salty. Real salty and tastes delectable.
Spam is made by hard-working American canned meat folks in Spam Town USA - Austin (I like that), Minnesota and is actually good for you too. It must be. People in places like Korea, the Philippines and Hawaii love the stuff so much; they’ve made gift-giving cans of Spam a friendly sign of future prosperity and blessing. I can see why. The stuff is literally a gift from above. Literally.

The ingeniously designed aluminum can is easy to open also and this only bolsters my already expansive appreciation of the swine-meat product. Turning the container over after I opened the can and dumping the blob of taste bud-tempting gelatin-covered meat onto a cutting board, I read on the back panel all about using Spam to make a sumptuous Egg ‘N Cheese Muffin. Yum!

Muffin: English, toasted. Cheese: American (I like that), melted. Eggs: Scrambled: Sliced, Fried. Difficulty level on a scale of 1 to 10: 2. Wow! Even I can do this, I thought. Finally an American product for Americans that has a recipe that wasn’t written by a foreigner and translated into something too complicated to attempt! Spam is a simple meat product and simple to prepare; in fact it’s simply marvelous. My only point of contention in this recipe would be an American muffin instead of something from England.

I know, I know. I should be writing about weather and financial storms, but who can worry about stuff like that when I have a can of something that has worked for a legend of followers since 1937?

Right below the Uniform Product Code bar, is a simple set of instructions to prepare this tasty pre-cooked dollop of pinkish pig meat using a frying pan or yes, a microwave. Who doesn’t like nuked food? Spam is delicious nuked, but I, of course, fry mine in the skillet, as I want to watch is sizzle to a rich golden brown, like my ancestors did back when. I sprinkle on a little Tony C’s to bump it up a notch if that’s even possible.

Straight up and open for all to see, the attractively designed can labels the ingredients in the Classic variety of Spam as: pork with ham, salt, water, modified potato starch, sugar, and sodium nitrite and being a handler of additives and oxidants, I know sodium nitrite is just a preservative and keeps my pre-cooked hog meat safe to eat, even if it sets on my shelf post-Armageddon (which incidentally could be any day now, or 50 years in the future).

Flipping the can over again I decided right then that I am not afraid to embrace greatness. Six billion cans have been produced. Six billion. If I had that much money, I would be a billionaire! I came to this realization after eating this spice of life stuff and that further drilled home the fact that Spam must contain pork brains in its yummy goodness. Forrest Gump would call it brain food in his innocence and I would agree with him.

When I hear folks joke about Spam as "Something Posing As Meat", "Stuff, Pork And haM" and "Spare Parts Animal Meat” I laugh so hard, my ample Spam-filled belly shakes. It’s hard to criticize a product that has made so many people satisfied. Others claim it is a poor choice for weight loss and optimum health, but what do they know? Around the world many folks aren’t concerned with losing weight or optimum health. They’re concerned with eating enough to stay alive. Me too.

Case in point, if adventurer Steve Fossett would have sat down to a few cans of tasty Classic Spam goodness instead of choosing an aerial adventure, he could probably be ballooning over Georgia Bigfoot country right now instead of pushing up cactuses. I pretty much qualified Spam as a healthy lifestyle alternative with that statement and rest my case for this delicious compounded meat in a can food choice. It’s simply Spam-a-licious folks.

In fact, I’m seriously thinking of launching an investigation into this meat product to see if its addicting, cause I’m hooked!

Spam® is a registered trademark of Hormel Foods.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Enough With the Bad News Already

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With all the bad news, destruction, power-loss and traffic congestion, I could not stomach subjecting my fellow Baytonians (and my own sanity) to one more bad and horrifying story line, so taking your pardon, I'm writing about nothing relating to misery this week.

We deserve a break from this reality in all its ugliness, so without further ado, here goes.

Sitting on my patio the day after the big disturbance, I saw what I thought was an exotic and mysterious bird, heretofore undiscovered in these parts. It was definitely a hummingbird, just not one of the varieties native to our area. It was white with flecks of brown in it. Researching hummers on the Internet, I realized I was indeed seeing a rare bird.

It was an uncommon leucistic hummingbird on our patio September 12. This was the day Hurricane Ike came and went. The poor critter was fluffed up, wet and very tired. It rested in our crape myrtle for about 20 minutes. I wrote the staff from Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History as instructed on the web page to let them know of the sighting. Information on this fascinating bird is found here:

Their immediate and delighted response made me realize what an event this was. It's not every day a bird watcher sees something new and according to my dad out Dayton way, they are also getting a plethora of exotic sightings. My Dad tells me the common cattle egret first came to this country from Africa on a hurricane and seeing he is rarely misinformed, I took it as gospel. He said all European Starlings in America came from the release of ninety-nine birds in Central Park, New York City in 1890. One hundred were brought over, but one died. He knows his bird facts alright.

A few days passed and low and behold, a yellow and green flash of feathers zipped close by my head and I saw a parakeet land in my bald cypress tree. I thought for a second it was a local pet on the loose, but there is a good chance it was blown in from Florida, where they are commonly in the wild. Once again I tuned in the Internet and sure enough, they are becoming more common in urban areas all across the US. I'm seeing a budgie every day, so it may be more than one.

Imagine my surprise when I walked within a couple of feet of a ring-necked turtle dove two days ago. According to my handy Audubon Handbook of Eastern birds, this beauty is found from South Florida to Alabama, so this one floated in on the wind most likely. I have a large bird feeder on the pipeline behind the casa and I'm seeing this dove or maybe another each day. See a detail here:

Yesterday, I drove my fuel-efficient hooptie down to the Discount Tire shop on North Garth road to get the tires rotated and balanced. Since it was a beautiful day in the low 70's and I had a forty-five minute wait, I decided to pass time by walking down Garth road to the Mall and back instead of sitting on corpulent duff in the lobby. Of course I had my trusty camera with me and doing my best to ignore the still-plentiful debris from the storm; I sauntered along the shoulder, busy people in busy cars whizzed by and I, on a mission to enjoy myself, captured a photograph of a Great Egret in the retention pond on the south side of Tractor Supply. It was a beauty and totally absorbed in its mission to capture a tasty snack, totally ignored me as well. Fine, as I just wanted to capture its image.

My bride and I felt a burning desire to garden, so we meandered over to Lowe's to see what the nursery truck brought. We came away with nine Double Knock Out Rosa 'Radtko' rose bushes with bright red blooms! I can't wait to see all this color around our patio. That infamous and devastating storm all but stripped our landscape and we are eager to get it back in shape. We are also taking this opportunity to redo and reshape our garden to something different, so it's not all that bad after all. Here is their website if you would like to investigate this great flowering bush:

Let's give it a week folks and see what Baytown looks like then. Hopefully more of us will get our mojo back to normal.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

And a Hard Rain Fell

It’s hard to believe that one week and a day have passed since Hurricane Ike rudely elbowed his way into our lives. I hated that storm as much as I thought I would, but we dug down deep and revived the Texas pioneer spirit that lay deep within our being to simply…endure. And endure we did, sleeping uncomfortably in the night heat, dragging and cutting tree limbs and attempting to recover from the stupor and shock caused by H-IKE. We are not used to this abuse and as tough as we would like to see ourselves, in many ways we failed miserably.

Most were very fortunate damage-wise, but we are also very spoiled in our modern ways, so any change in the way we normally do things, is an inconvenience and a lot of hard work to boot, especially when you consider cleaning up the tree damage. Here it is a week after the trees fell and my fingers are almost too sore to type and there is still work to do.

Frankly, we are sick of all this destruction and drama and want to forget it and move on, but as someone said, we are amongst the fortunate who still have a relatively unscathed house to go home to. Not so, our brothers and sisters who have lost everything. Bolívar Peninsula, Smith Point, Jamaica Beach, Anahuac, Galveston and Baytonians are living in temporary shelters until only God knows when and here I am typing away in my air conditioned study like the storm never happened.

We are feeling a sort of survivor’s guilt as we return to our normal routine and it should be satisfying, but it’s not an altogether good feeling. Normally sequestered away in our comfortable homes, the big blow drove us out into the streets and into close proximity with neighbors we commonly ignore. This was therapeutic, as we discovered most everyone was more than ready to open their arms in generosity and give freely. We made new friends and healed old wounds; a silver lining in a black cloud.

Neighborly interaction was surely a welcome change in many ways and Baytown got our Neighbors Night Out, early. Unfortunately for some, there is no useable dwelling to return to, so for these folks I ask, what can we do to make life easier for you? Forget Katrina - Baytown and surrounding areas I ask what do you need from us survivors? We are caregivers and we want to help.

Looking back at my frame house on Ashby Street and Hurricane Alicia in 1983, I was much better prepared for this newer spawn from the pits of Hell, but still made a lot of mistakes and miscalculations on preparedness. The weather and news people did their part to the letter T, but I really wasn’t listening. Don’t get me wrong, I watched everything they had to offer, but if I would have really listened, I would have had a bona fide Hurricane kit, like I was told repeatedly to have on-hand and I… didn’t.

We did draw multiple containers of water, so the twelve hour loss of water pressure did not inconvenience us. We own a gas stove also, which the electrical loss did not effect. We ran out of paper towels quite quickly and of course ice, which only a generator would have helped. Scented candles make a person nauseous after four hours – make a note for the future.

I own a generator now. I should have saved every spare dime and had one before I needed it, but like I said – I wasn’t really listening. If it hadn’t been for the cold front, I think there would have been a Looney wagon chock full of Baytonians headed for Rusk, maybe a hundred wagons.

We were told to shelter in place and hunker down. Stay off the streets and obey the curfew and we did for the most part. Cell phone communication was nil until Monday and then spotty, so our only communicative link came from our battery powered radio and 740AM-KTRH. Baytown was rarely mentioned and then usually by a desperate call-in listener wondering what we Baytonians were supposed to do for aid. We wondered also and I realized for all the hurricane preparedness our city leaders went through, the one item we were short of was radio communication for this immediate area.

We need an emergency radio frequency Baytonians can tune into to find out what is available and where to go for us specifically. Years ago any disaster area had a Civil Defense radio transmission vehicle with loud speakers and since folks primarily got their instruction via the radio, it was common practice to tune into their emergency radio station for instructions. But we have the Internet, cell phones, television and technology – right? Wrong. Without electrical power, we are immediately thrown back to the days of 1920’s America, boiling water on our hibachis, cooking meat on a stick and trying to figure out how to make coffee like one of the Sacketts.

I have no doubt our city leaders were busy as a one-eyed cat watching nine rat holes, but I have no evidence. They were as silent to me as a Baytonian - as my no-signal television. I give them every benefit of doubt though and only pray that we add a mobile radio station and instructions to our emergency response plan.

If I could make one major change in the way electricity is supplied to the end user in this town, it would be to move all power lines underground. This would avert a multitude of future storm related outages and beautify our area in one fell swoop. Case closed.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

I’m mad too Eddie!

I drove down to the POD on Baker road in Baytown this morning at 0730 as KHOU TV said the POD was open and I wanted to see one in action. I personally am not in need of MRE’s, ice or water, but for knowledge sake, I went down to see one in action.

What a total bureaucratic mess. There must have been 25 uniformed government employees meandering around the parking lot, moving cones, etc., but the POD doesn't open until 10am. I am told this POD is run by Commissioner Garcia.

Cars were pouring in only to be ignored with no directional signs or human direction and when I asked a parked Constable at the far end of the road what was going on, he told me it was open. He didn’t appear to have an inclination to do more than sit there.

I told him the entrance was coned off and he said "No, it’s not". I drove back the two hundred yards to the entrance and observed the steady row of cones across both entrances, exited my vehicle, walked across the parking lot to the six armed guards and asked what was going on (they were honest to god, trying to change a flat tire on a truck – all six of them) and they told me the POD didn’t open until 10 am.

I drove back to the end of the street where the Constable was sitting in his truck and told him the POD didn’t even open for 2.5 hours and he told me to get in line and wait. I looked at my watch and thought “2.5 hours from now they will probably have all the cones just right” and got in my car and left as more Baytonians poured onto the street to get relief supplies.

The POD needs someone to go down there and raise Cain. This is the same way bureaucrats managed the Vietnam War. Fiddle-fluffing around while people are in need is hardly the way to win a war effort and make no mistake about it, many parts of our area are war-torn.

I drove out to the Total Plant on Battleground road where I am employed and my Plant Manager, Darrell Bailey graciously let me have 10 gallons of gas (per day) to feed the hungry generators here. He is also feeding all the employees that need aid, three times a day and not MRE’s either. Chuck Perez and Oscar Garza, both BBQ competitive cookers are shoveling out Texas prize winning food for over 100 people each meal.

After my single experience this morning visiting a federal FEMA Pod (Point of distribution), I was ready to scream foul to high heaven. If this is the way it works in an almost totally dark Baytown, which I witnessed today coming over the Fred Hartman Bridge, one week after the Hurricane, then something is terribly wrong.

Six federal guards to change one truck tire? You have got to be kidding me!

I fired off an email to City Manager Garry Brumback, Assistant City Manager Bob Leiper and Mayor Stephen DonCarlos to get down there and raise Cain for every Baytonian in need. We need an advocate, a General AND a Colonel right now, not government sloth employees, sluggishly adhering to some goofy time table and schedule.

Hurricane blues before the big blow

I am remiss to even think about how inaccurate and tiresome this article will appear when folks read it after Hurricane Ike blows through. Here it is Friday morning, the twelfth of September; we are expecting the wind to pick up in about five hours and the feeling of controlled panic/resolve and gut-grit are wafting through the city.

Anyone can readily see that this storm is going to be Alicia all over again and for those of us who were subjected to her fury; this won’t be a picnic or a near miss like Rita, Eduard, or any other storm since 1983. This one feels serious. Everyone knows it. Some are vocalizing it to ease their dread, some are warning to do all we can to prevent loss of life and damage to property, but no one is joking about how tough they are or how this storm is nothing to worry about. We don’t even want to think this will be Carla again.

All other hurricanes are forgettable to me since Alicia. I sometimes get Katrina and Rita confused with which was which and that is why I call them forgettable. I remember Tropical Storm Allison and I remember that I once again marveled how Baytown seemed to be in a high-pressure bowl with the storm rotating around it, dropping more water everywhere than it did here. I think we got about 9 inches and that was plenty.

My neighborhood is taking this storm warning to heart. This morning I looked down the street and for the most part, driveways are vacant. Many folks figured the wisest course involved making a surprise visit to a relative. Many of us here in Chaparral Village are communicating phone numbers, prayers and promises of support through our crime watch mailing list. We are stocked up on salsa and tortilla chips.

I really have mixed feelings about this one. The old impression of adventure is totally absent though, as only someone with no hurricane experience wants to actually see and experience a real one. I dread the damage and the loss of electricity which always accompanies these giant malevolent storms.

Yesterday, Thursday, the city issued an evacuation order for zip code 77520. This was a tad misleading in my opinion and needs to be accompanied with an explanation of city elevations. Some of 77520 is about three feet above sea level but a lot of it is outside a Category 3 flood zone. Nevertheless, this is not a hardcore complaint as we are making terrific progress in disaster preparedness.

Judge Ed Emmett released a statement concerning security from looters and this is one reason I see a giant step forward for evacuators. When I was a twelve year old kid living in Toledo, Ohio, we suffered a terrible tornado on a Sunday morning. It came with little warning and in my Aunt Pauline’s neighborhood many houses were devastated. She heard the sound of a locomotive and dove behind her couch as the front window exploded.

The poor woman was trapped by debris and broken shards of glass behind her own couch and had to be rescued, but survived, thank the good Lord. The area was declared a disaster area and the State of Ohio brought in the National Guard. The Guard was issued live ammunition and signs were posted everywhere that “looters will be shot on sight”. I know those days are long gone, but it sure made an impression on me as a twelve year old. Ray Nagin made a similar statement during their last hurricane when he told the residents of New Orleans that looters “will go to prison” and he told folks to “get your butts out of town”.

I like that no nonsense approach. He made it plain that no looting of any kind was going to be tolerated and as far as I know things went very smoothly in the “Big Easy” this time. Ray Nagin has learned that tough times call for strong words and leadership. I was also pleased to see our Mayor Stephen DonCarlos on television explaining that Baytown was not only prepared, but city council was “on it” with constant meetings and decision-making.

My wife facetiously asked me to call Bob Leiper and find out if he had any private and secret advice on evacuation. I told her I could just see Garry Brumback whispering to Bob to give me an ultra-secret encoded phone call and tip me off before the rush started.

Hopefully Baytown will have picked itself up without loss of life by the time you good Baytown folk read this and may God bless our city.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

"It's a Beautiful Day, Men"!

I start off my workday each and every time I walk through the Plant gate with these words "Morning men, it's a beautiful day". "Morning Bert" is usually what I hear chorused from my two favorite guards, Charles and Bob. Charles and Bob are both well read and never miss an opportunity to entertain me. It's like they've been waiting for me to come in and we look forward to the verbal jousts. "Where you been, Bert? About time you got here." says Bob. I look at my watch. I'm fifteen minutes early. Charles grins.

Charles usually has a nugget of trivia (read: hardcore statistics or difficult to come by knowledge he has personally ferreted out) he feels I should know, or a very, very good book recommendation and Bob - well, Bob is named Bob for a good reason. Bob's peculiar, but in a good way.

It's been my experience that anyone named Bob is probably going to be worth investigating as a friend. Bob's have curiously strong personalities and "Roving Guard" Bob is no exception. Bob always has something interesting up his proverbial sleeve, often humorous or mischievous and Bob, true to form, never let's a chance go by without dropping an anecdote or revealing observation my way.

Off I go, down to the Unit where I labor with pyrophoric chemicals, which incidentally is nothing to take lightly. I like this morning walk as it gives me time to ponder the upcoming schedule for the day and take a quick look at a couple of inventories I routinely maintain. My job is basically about "critical tasks" and leaves no room for error.

Entering the control room, usually around 4AM, I greet the night crew, as they finish up their twelfth hour. "Morning men, it's a beautiful day". The responses vary from "How can you tell?" to absolute silence. I do get a few "Mornin's" and some repeat parrot fashion my greeting, but most simply have nothing left after working all night and don't render a response.

Occasionally someone will ask me how I know that it is a beautiful day when the sun hasn't come up yet, which I find mildly amusing and I always explain that we dictate what the day is by our attitude, not by whether the sun has risen. This is almost always received with indifference and silence by my coworkers.

It is true nevertheless and I continue to say it. One of the most frequent responses I hear after saying "It's a beautiful day" is "in the neighborhood". I think this is Mr. Rogers coming back at me, but I can't recall him saying these exact words. Maybe he did, maybe he didn't, but at least my coworkers are trying to get into the moment.
Outside the sun is announcing its arrival on the horizon. It's a slight bluing of the skyline; the stars are still shining their LED light display and a hint of Fall is in the breeze. Beautiful. It IS going to be a beautiful day, but even so, many will not venture outside to see it. Never mind. Today is what we make it, sun or no.

Now and again a friendly challenger will yell out "What kind of day is it?" and of course, I'll respond in the way they expect - "it's a beautiful day", they nod, satisfied and go on their way. Then there is the oft heard "What's beautiful about it?" and this warrants my standard question of "Well, that's up to you, isn't it"? Life is what we choose to make it folks and that's the message I try to spread.

This particular morning I'm back at the front gate and I chat amicably with security savant Charles while Bob is on patrol. In his usual entertaining and professionally thorough manner, Charles explains the variances and improvements of the new overtime meal caterer - Ken's, over the previous company - Angels. He goes into exhausting detail comparing the menu variations and expounds on how delicious each item is. He particularly enjoys their breakfast options, which minus the scrambled eggs, he says, would make an excellent supper meal. He states this as absolute fact and I enjoy his confidence.

Without prompting, Charles explains that for a measly nine bucks - exact cash only, I can secure one of these tasty combination's, say a #16, if a legitimate overtime meal is ordered at the same time, but as a company security policy guardian, he is duty-bound to inform me would be impossible to have it delivered independently. He also advised me that he drops by Ken's on occasion after a hungry night of labor to sample the delicious cuisine first hand. He's not only a man of opinion, but also a man of experience and once again I am impressed.

I was on my way out the door when rover Bob pulled up in his mobile command post golf cart, blue blinking light and all. "Morning, Bob. It's a beautiful day", I said. "What are you up to Bert? You are up to something. I can tell" says Bob and laughs as he walks into the guard shack.

Oh well, it's still a beautiful day, even if I can't slip one past Ole Bob.

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. ...