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.

I'm not distracted, I just can't remember.

Our country has been clobbered with a pandemic and it's not caused by mosquitoes, terrorists, or a childish Asian communist with ...