Wednesday, May 27, 2009

All This is Well and Good…But

The city has established a wonderful way to get the word out to citizens by implementing the phone and email Connect-CTY system. “Connect-CTY can send thousands of messages in a matter of minutes; messages that warn of weather related hazards, shelter in place notices, or any other event that would affect the health and safety of Baytown’s citizens”.

All this is well and good and I subscribe to it… however, this is only as good as our ability to receive it, especially after the disaster has wiped out the phone lines, Internet availability and cell phone towers. To me, that is just as or more important than advance warning.

After hurricane Ike, many of us good Baytonians didn't have cell phone coverage or landline phones for days. Our chief means of information was AM radio and that came out of Houston and that was very sporadic and frustrating. Is it just me, or is Baytown often slighted as an unwanted step-child by Houston?

Time and time again, I heard local folks say they wish they could hear just Baytown stuff. When I did hear from the city management, it was welcomed and I knew they were out there, hip deep trying to solve our problems, but I needed to hear more – a lot more. Rumors were flying and since we were told repeatedly to “shelter in place”, we felt like mushrooms (kept in the dark and fed, well, we silently and obediently waited).

The city operates a website located here: http://www.oembaytown.org/prepared.asp

On the Be Prepared page it tells us in five places to make sure we have a radio, a battery operated radio, listen to the radio, keep tuned to the radio or TV (after the hurricane) and again listen to the radio or TV. Is there a radio channel that goes along with this advice?

Moving over to the Greater Baytown Area Local Emergency Planning Committee website, I began shuffling through the pages to find out what I could find for advice on usage of my AM radio information gizmo. http://www.baytownlepc.org/

Under Tools and Emergency Supplies, I found “battery operated radio” and the words at the bottom of the page: “listen to AM 740 or AM 1610”. Reading more on the LEPC website, I found this nugget: “During non-emergency periods, these radio stations air community and school district news, and re-broadcast reports from the National Weather Service. During a chemical release, these stations will continuously repeat instructions about how to Shelter In Place and provide more information as it's available. Because these low-power AM stations operate at only 10 watts, you may need a more powerful radio or outside antenna to hear these broadcasts”.

Okay, folks, here is the solution: what this city needs is an old fashion Radio Truck like they used in the 60's for civil defense. I've emailed the Mayor and City Manager about it, but I don't think it has been given a whole lot of serious consideration. The truck could tie into the emergency horn system and broadcast instructions, pod locations, water advisories, gas station availability, etc. I think a potential mistake in futuristic planning for disasters is making it all complicated and expensive.

I can't see any reason to follow some answer-all disaster complicated paradigm, just because other cities are doing it, when a simple radio truck could be a major line of communication and an easy solution. Does everything have to be complicated these days? Does the solution have to be super high tech? I say no. Do most folks here have an AM radio? I say yes.

I see it as a must have communication link and HAM operators, civic volunteers, and emergency response trained people...whatever, could staff it as their own situation improved. The Mayor, city council and city management could set up a portable tent/building beside it and direct this town personally during any emergency instead of attempting to get broadcast time on KTRH. It is a simple solution folks, so let’s get cracking and make it happen.

The location of the truck could be broadcasted and if volunteer groups wanted to help someone, they could get the message to the truck for broadcast. We Texans love to help needy people, but we have to know where the need is. Warm food, chainsaws, tarps to cover roofs, water, and gas.

I believe this is the answer to the point that I am going to start lobbying for it to be implemented. I might even become a nuisance for the benefit of my fellow confused storm survivors. If there is one thing I learned from Ike, it was how frustrating it was trying to find out what I needed to do in BAYTOWN and I don’t think any of us want to be left in the info-dark the next time and there will be a next time.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

BB’s doin’ the Sriracha Cha cha

I have stumbled upon the best hot sauce in the whole wide world! Seriously. I wasn’t even looking for the best hot sauce at the time; I just wanted to bump up my beans a bit and bump them I did. In fact, I did the bumpitty bump. The stuff made me strut like a rooster and I’m not sure, but I think my testosterone level went up, like seven points also.

I say I stumbled upon this (come to find out) well-known bright red volcanic liquid, because no one handed me a bottle and admonished me to try it. To be humble and honest, I stole some of it out of the reefer at work and after nuking my homemade secret recipe pinto bean mélange; I squirted what has always been my normal and palate-safe copious amount of heat-producing culinary elixir hot sauce on top of my ultra-delicious steaming beans and squirted a bit more for “the effect”.

Bellying up to the lunch trough/table, elbows firmly planted in the on-your-mark-get-set...go! position, I dug in with mucho gusto. My first indication that Sriracha (pronounced Sir-rotch-ah) was a tad different than say, Louisiana hot sauce, or Tabasco, was the inordinate amount of gasping, coughing and throat grabbing I found myself involved in. Then to my utter amazement, the lava effect went away almost as fast as it started and I found myself getting a warm feeling throughout my whole body. My toes even twitched, but it was a good twitch.

I cautiously took another bite and danged if it didn’t happen all over again, including the heat up and let down. From that moment on, I was addicted. Everyone I talked to said the same thing “Oh, yea. That rooster sauce is killer, man (dude, fella, fool). Where have I been that I didn’t know about this reddish chili concoction that has seven layers of flavor, including at least two which bring you to the point of asphyxiation and euphoria?

After about three more bites, I experienced an involuntary psychomotor reflex from my tongue to my feet, or what is commonly referred to as “happy feet”. Truth be told, I came this close to breaking into a Texas version of the cha-cha, but seeing how I was in the breakroom at work, I had to settle for heavy toe-twitching inside my steel-toed boots.

I’ve been calling it Vietnamese hot sauce, for lack of education on the subject, but come to find out it is more American than Asian. It’s made and distributed by Huy Fong Foods out L.A. California way and is officially named Tuong Ot Sriracha or Sriracha Chile Sauce. David Tran, a Vietnamese immigrant brought the family recipe with him when he fled South Vietnam during the last days of it’s independence back in 1975 and set up shop here in the USA.

Since I’ve become a fan of Los Toritos tamales on N. Main Street, in historic Baytown, I can’t wait to tump a dab of this delicious concoction on my tamales! In fact, I can’t wait to try this sauce in my homemade BB's Texican chili, which is a work in progress and destined to be a perpetual winner at the family get-togethers at the Byrd Sanctuary out Dayton way. I humbly submit the fact that I won last year in the best traditional category with 2 awards – one of which I gave myself. Like I said, it’s a work in progress and with my new secret rooster–brand weapon, I can say with confidence the future is looking pretty molten and red.

Speaking of chili, I like mine with lots of 1015 onion, or Vidalia if the 1015 is not available. I always throw a handful of pickled jalapenos in the pot too for color and zesty goodness. I like to keep it real. Some well-intentioned folk’s claim that Texas chili should be devoid of beans, but dang it all, I like beans in mine. I like em so much I put red, pinto and black beans in my chili. Call me a rebel if you will, but that’s why I call it BB’s Texican chili. I like to have Fritos handy too and shredded cheese and I might even add crispy bacon as a side dish this next time...and a squirt bottle of Tuong Ot Sriracha aka “the Rooster” so folks can reach Nirvana, or whatever place they are wont to go when food heaven is reached. I might even lay out dancing shoes.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

One Long Month Later

One month ago today my world plunged into a place of hellish turmoil. It took twenty-eight days to climb back to the land of the living. Yesterday, I put a gardenia bloom to my nose and it smelled sweeter and more fragrant than it ever did in the past.

Experiencing the king of ironies, one month ago today, I sat in the office of my unit superintendent and finally unloaded my burden for my son’s anguish, his problems concerning post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and the reason I had taken four weeks of emergency vacation in the first four months of the year. Little did I know that as I talked to my boss, my son was already dead and I would never talk to him again, except in my prayers and memories.

Today, one month later I’ve experienced five nights without constant dreams of Nick and I must say, that that has been a good thing. Although I have avoided feelings of guilt, as I truly believe I did my level best to do and say the right thing to him, some guilt must be shouldered for I missed key trigger points that should have warned me that things were dangerously wrong.

Going back to the year 1972 when I got orders for Vietnam and my World War II Veteran father admonished me to “not do anything over there that I would regret for the rest of my life” and was the exact phrase I repeated to my son before he went to South Korea, then Kuwait and finally Iraq. Just a few days before his demise Nick signed back up for the Infantry in the US Army and repeated “the admonishment” to me, but added this: “Dad, remember what you told me? Well, this time, I’m going to kill them”.

I should have recognized this for what it was, but I blew it off as just…anger. It was anger all right, but the wrong kind. It was the kind that shows a much deeper problem - one that screams out for counseling. I should have recognized the cycle of self-destruction sooner. But, my son had a whole lot of his Dad in him and I guess it’s a Marshall trait also, that we don’t seek counseling – we give it. We are an internalizing group, who suck it up when things don’t go the way we think they should, remaining self-reliant and guess what? It’s not always good for us, or those we love.

Two days ago I finally had a release of pent-up emotion that cleansed and later comforted me. It came over me so suddenly that I just surrendered to it. It was time. I have this crazy notion that grief on my part is selfish and blatant self-pity and I avoided it like the plague. I had the stupid thought that all I’m doing is feeling sorry for myself, like a big baby. It’s stupid and self-destructive and if all of this has taught me anything, it’s that I don’t know anything and grieving is okay. Besides others are grieving and I think their grief is normal.

One month ago I told my wife the same thing I’ve said many times: “I don’t have a single close friend, I just have acquaintances”. My God in heaven was I ever wrong. I have a whole lot of friends, close friends. Friends, who have sacrificed for me and mine. Oh, to go through life and not know what a friend is would be a miserable existence indeed. It’s another thing I didn’t recognize.

One month ago I started to live all over again and it was a painful entry, but now after a month has gone by, the flower blooms smell sweet again and I am surrounded with family and friends that are dearer and more a part of my life than my wildest imagination could have predicted.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Another scam to watch for in Baytown?


I want to alert my fellow Baytonians about an alarming trend I’ve noticed at convenience stores and twice I’ve witnessed it here in town. Beware of any convenience store that does not scan your purchase, but punches in the keys. Know what the basic amount of your purchase items are before you approach the counter, or you can easily be over-charged. Ask for a receipt every time.

On two occasions I questioned the total and both times was asked what the item cost. Both times the counter person refunded the overage with no show of emotion, or objection, leading me to believe this is common practice.

Both stores are now on my do not enter list incidentally, but because it may have been an isolated incident, I will not name the Baytown stores, however, the Shell gas station on S. Hwy 225 past Miller Cutoff Road needs to be watched very closely. The Exxon station on the corner of Massey Tompkins and N. Main always scans every item, so they will continue to get my business.

If anyone has had similar experiences, please email me at baytownbert at gmail.com and I will try to press a formal complaint. Please be as specific as possible.

Incidentally, one of the Baytown stores where this happened is also a Shell gas station. Am I saying that there may be a brotherhood of rip-off artists at Shell stations? No, but consumers need to realize that just because a person is working the counter at a 7-11 or fast food joint, doesn't make them honest. Get that receipt!

Saturday, May 09, 2009

April Wasn’t My Best Month


Coming into April 2009, I had no idea what I would be facing, or I would have dug my heels in and did my best to stop the clock. Not that that would have been possible. We field the ball as it’s hit to us and truth be known, if I would have been warned it would be a bad month, I most likely would have girded myself up and took it on the chin; my usual modus operandi.

I see myself as a realist who accepts the world as it literally is and deals with it accordingly. So, all things considered I have to accept April 2009 for what it is both good and bad, sad and happy, awful in it’s wounding of spirit and soul, but beautiful in the incredible support, compassion and love shown to me and mine in this desperate time of mourning and loss over our son’s untimely demise.

Coming to grips with the loss of Nicholas has been the hardest mountain I’ve ever climbed, but climb I must. My own survival depends on it and the lanyard that dangles from my harness allows my bride, daughter, brothers, and sister, Mom and Dad, along with many friends and loved ones to get a grip and the traction they need to make the climb with me.

I am “the Dad” and by definition must lead, regardless of the amount of hardship inflicted upon my family. I am allowed and encouraged to mourn and the incredible volume of loving support has been beyond my deepest imagination, but in the end I must climb and climb I will.

There are many more beautiful sights up this mountain path for us to see and enjoy and I aim to see them with my friends and family at my side. Nick had many friends, many of which are estranged from their parent(s), or missing one or both through like tragedies. I want to be there to help guide them when they need someone.

In April 2009 I became painfully aware of how many people are silently suffering due to personal loss. Many friends and yes, strangers told me stories of loved ones passing and I then realized how common it is for people to carry this awful weight on their shoulders.

When personal loss intrudes into our life, the thought will cross your mind that it is peculiar to you and yours and those immediately impacted – alone, but this is so far from the truth, I can’t even comprehend it. “No man is an island…” is part of a quote by John Donne, an English clergyman back in the 1500’s and one I often quoted to my Army son, who incidentally silently and privately suffered from PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from the combat he was involved in, in Iraq.

I didn’t understand his aversion to crowds and often attempted to get him to mingle. I would tell him he owed it to everyone to share his life, but he would withdraw and often disappear from gatherings and I would shake my head. It wasn’t until after his death that I realized it was a behavior pattern he had learned from me.

I should have been preaching to myself, as I was actually the guilty party. When over 600 people came to his funeral I saw for the first time how truly important people are and how we are all part of something greater than ourselves. No one is an island and our friends and family reflect everything we do and say and when they hurt from personal loss, their friends and family hurt also. It starts a rippling effect that can last for years and often does.

No, April 2009 wasn’t all bad and I reckon as time moves on, I’ll see it as more of a spiritual awakening and blessing than I can realize while I’m in its wake.

Monday, May 04, 2009

I am endorsing Mayor Stephen DonCarlos for reelection in Baytown May 9th.


Veterans Day 2008 - Mayor Stephen DonCarlos
I am endorsing Mayor Stephen DonCarlos for reelection in Baytown May 9th. My reasons are actually quite simple. He is amicable, approachable, even tempered and whenever I attend a function or event in this great city, Mayor DonCarlos is there. He has an open door policy and the many times I’ve brought civic concerns to him, he has responded immediately.

Memory Walk Pilot Club 10-14-06 - Mayor Stephen DonCarlos

The Republic for which it stands

Our founding fathers gave us a Republic, not a Democracy. I was probably about 17 the first time I picked up a copy of George Orw...