Friday, May 30, 2014

Bogus warrant scam uncovered!

A Montgomery Deputy Sheriff called my house and told me I had a warrant for missing a court date (Bench Warrant) . It came from this name and number: Huerta Maria 281-761-9112  The officer was very professional and believable.   However, the longer we talked the alarm bells began to ring.  He said my vehicle had been photographed by a red light camera and "the judge has flagged my offense, believing the infraction as bogus".  However, I had missed my court date and it was rescheduled for June 12th, in Richmond Texas.

Richmond Texas?  One thing after another sounded wrong, so I hung up and called the number back.  This time I got a different officer, who passed me off to a Lieutenant Stevens who gave me his badge number.  He explained it in great detail and it seemed legitimate and I am not usually fooled.  I told the officer I had never received notice of the infraction and this and that and the fine was $473, which I could pay with a credit card.  I slammed down the phone and wrote an email to my old friend Robocop, better known as Assistant Chief of police David Alford.  He's my goto source when I need something involving police work explained and totally trustworthy, in my book.

We passed an email or two, then talked on the phone.  It sounded fishy to him too and he verified I did NOT have a warrant.  here is the letter I received today from Lieutenant Eric Freed.
Mr. Marshall,

I applaud your gut instinct to reach out to Assistant Chief Alford and verify Lt. Stevens’ request for payment.  I wish more people would follow your lead when they get a suspicious call.

The calls you received are a scam to get your money.  You do not have warrants for your arrest.  This fact has been confirmed with both the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department, Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Department as well as our own local, state and federal government databases.

I spoke with Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Department (F.B.C.S.O) Organized Crime Unit Sergeant David Schultz and he is already aware of this scam.  One of Sergeant Schultz’ detectives is tasked with investigating a number of reports involving calls received from the fictitious Lt. Stevens #2443 demanding payment for non-existent warrants.  F.B.C.S.O. has issued a subpoena for the number that called you.  They have discovered it is a voice over internet number that shows a Cleveland, TX origin but is actually being made via computer somewhere else.  This complicates tracing the origin but sometimes the good guys catch a break.  F.B.C.S.O. actually had a detective call the number and the suspect cursed the investigator out!  Folks get brave when they are anonymous.  I have shared your experience and your contact information with Sergeant Schultz and he is adding it to his detective’s case.  The non-emergency number to the Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office Investigations Division is 281-341-4686.

If you receive further calls from Lt. Stevens or one of his fictitious coworkers, you have options: 

-        If you do not want to be bothered, you may ignore them or block the calls by contacting your service provider.

-        If you are a curious soul, you may log the time and date and share it with Assistant Chief Alford or myself.

I do not recommend talking to the suspect(s) because they might continue to pry or even harass you.

If you have any questions about this matter, feel free to contact me.  I hope we have been able to help you today,

Lieutenant Eric Freed

Investigations Division
City of Baytown Police Department

Blue Heron Parkway Revisited

 The Blue Heron Parkway is a total success story and I openly admit I not only voted against the expansion, but I was wrong in thinking it was stupid.  I also confess that I will stop and ask for directions when I’m lost.  Actually, as a geocacher, I’m never lost, but my first declaration of guilt is true.
When the issue of expanding Baker Road through what has traditionally been known as Honda Hills, and then crossing Barkuloo Road into the virgin woods behind Chaparral Village and intersecting with Sjolander Road was proposed, our town was experiencing tepid growth and I couldn’t for the life of me understand why so many people wanted to get to Sjolander Road.  Whew!  That was a long sentence.

Boy, I was short-sighted.  Strike two!  I’ve suspected for years that Baytown would experience exponential growth, but it arrived like an unexpected blue norther and caught our citizens with their back flaps down.  If you think the 45 minute wait at Cheddars is bad now, guess what?  We ain’t seen nothin’ yet

I listened to the Mayor of our fair city on Channel 16, whom I support wholeheartedly, talk about the traffic and speed of our motorists and what is to come and I wonder if Baytownians can fathom the congestion we are to experience over the next 5 years, as construction crews and support people flood our roads.  Add into the equation the sad fact that a great number of motorists are looking at a small electronic device in their hands as they drive and we have a King Kong-sized monkey of a problem.

Now I understand why the Blue Heron Parkway was a look into the future of Baytown and applaud the city for having a futuristic vision.  Let’s take a look at it.  Behind Chaparral Village subdivision is a beautiful hike and bike cement sidewalk which intersects with the retention/detention pond and I read in the Baytown Sun this week that additional money has been found to run the sidewalk around the giant well-sculpted pond.

In addition is a letter I received from Parks Superintendent Scott Johnson where he assures me this new trail will be lighted with solar powered LED lighting!  The trail and the 10 foot wide sidewalk on the south side of Blue Heron Parkway offers walkers, joggers, and cyclists over 4 miles of new lighted trails.

Geocachers on the back trail.
Seeing that I love the hi-tech game of geocaching, I have already saturated this addition and parkway with geocaches, a total of 16 to be exact and it has already attracted geocachers from Beaumont, Katy, Anahuac, and Houston.   Geocachers love to eat and they spend their hard-earned money here when they come, so it is another win for Baytown.  There are so many geocaches in the Baytown, that people come down from Dallas and distant cities and spend the night here, just to find the bulk of them.

I sat down with Mayor Stephen DonCarlos, Public Affairs Coordinator Patti Jett, and Tourism Director Anna Enderli a few weeks ago and it is in the plans to make Baytown an official Geotour city.  There is only one in Texas with others planned, but the general idea is, it is a mechanism to attract tourists (geocachers primarily) to our city where they visit all the key historic and interesting sites and boost our local economy.  It was decided to go full bore ahead and with the help of Larry Houston, we may be a Geotour city sometime in 2015.
Our newest road Blue Heron Parkway also has a wonderful 10 foot wide sidewalk on the south side.  Now, it is my understanding that any time a sidewalk of this dimension is placed as a hike/bike trail, it pretty much closes the land beside it to driveways and this is not only my hope, but all of us in Chaparral Village who live on Buffalo Trail and El Rancho Drive.

The Parkway is beautifully done, but cutting down the trees south of it to pour concrete will make it ugly and ruin the last sanctuary of forest for wildlife that lived there prior to the expansion.  As we develop our city, we need to aggressively plan reforesting every available patch of public land with Texas natives and xeriscape plants.  Defoliating our city has so many negative effects; it would take an additional 650 words to list them.

If you haven’t had the pleasure of driving on the Parkway, take a tour.  However, try to avoid when Ross Sterling high school lets out, as the young studs in their fast cars and trucks like to rip down it to impress the other young studs.  The girls of course couldn’t care less.

Monday, May 26, 2014

General Martin Dempsey

General Martin Dempsey
Last night while we were watching the PBS Memorial Day ceremony, they introduced the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey. My eyeballs almost popped out and I blurted:
"He doesn't have either Vietnam medals!"

I guess the man was too young to make the war.

Republic of Vietnam campaign medal
What does that make me and the rest of us Vietnam Veterans?  Dinosaurs?  Are we now like the vanishing WWII and Korean War Vets to the general public?  I found this very disturbing.  I don't feel all that old and I have both these medals and the DD-214 to prove it.
Vietnam Service Medal

Friday, May 23, 2014

Boomers, listen up!

I am a baby boomer and proud of it.  I won’t bore my readers with the definition, as even homeless people have access to the Internet thanks to our current administration.  Not to be rude, but suffice it to say I do not fit the usual mold of growing up having everything handed to me, in fact quite opposite.

I do not remember my Dad ever fixing a flat tire on one of my 3 bicycles I owned before I left home at the old age of 18.  The 3rd bike I owned, I bought with money I earned when I was 16 and it was a Schwinn Varsity and I was very proud of it.

Being born in 1952, I was part of the explosion of children following World War II and the Korean police action to stop the spread of Communism.  My older sister and 3 younger brothers never went without room and board, but if we wanted anything considered extravagant, it was up to us to go earn it.

My first venture into Capitalism that I remember was in 1960 living on the Compton line in Long Beach, California.  It is also the first time I ate what would later be known as a Jack in the Box taco.  My 8 year old blood brother David Bradshaw and I started a door to door shoe shine business.  If I remember correctly, we would shine a pair of shoes for 5 cents per shoe.

10 cents would buy 2 Hollywood candy bars, which looked like a modern day Zero bar with delicious nougat inside and caramel.  I’d pay 5 dollars to have just one more right now.  David and I had heard about blood brothers and took a small knife and cut our fingers to mix our blood.  I hope he’s still out there somewhere.

The title of this column is an alert of sorts, as many of us have yet to cross over into Social Security benefits or retirement.  Seeing I am throwing in the towel in a month or so, I am approaching the whole thing the same way I do everything else – full immersion.  I wasn’t a Marine, but I do beach landings on anything I tackle.  What I’ve discovered from my peers is, well, either partial ignorance or full blown head in the sand behavior.  So much so, that many are now turning to me to give them what I’ve discovered and this is frankly disturbing.  We are baby boomers for goodness sake; the change the world generation.  Maybe peace, love, and dope took its toll?

A number of years ago, a very intelligent coworker retired after about 40 years of service and I saw him when he visited us at the Texas A&M Fire Field.  He shocked me when he confessed he had no idea what he was worth at retirement.  “If I would have known how much money I had, I would have retired years ago.”  He lived about 3 more years and passed quietly on his farm.

Another bright fellow with 37 years service told me he was retiring August 1st of this year.  I asked him why August 1st?  “Because it’s my birthday!” he exclaimed with a toothy grin.

“If you leave on the 1st of the month, you will forfeit an entire month’s pension as working one day in the month, counts for the entire month.  You won’t get a check for August.  Why not leave at the end of July and draw your pension for August and take your birthday off?” I said dryly, but meant every word of it.

My company offers free consultations with the financial wizards that handle our 401k, but almost none of my coworkers have taken advantage of it, living in fear that inflation will deplete what they have socked away for 30 years.   

Note: Boomers, if you do a small bit of homework, you will know what your financial future is rather than living in shaky ignorance or fear.  Do not let this time in your life creep in front of you like something scary or spooky hiding alongside the trail.  Grab a stick of knowledge and beat the bushes.

Finances are something most people (read men) don’t usually discuss, but as that retirement date stands like a monolithic marker in front of you, it’s high time to seek advice.  No one wants to end up like the starving grasshopper who unlike the ant did not put back provision for the harsh winter.  It is far better to know you may not be ready to retire and get out there and make emergency corrections then wondering if you are going to be living in a van down by the river.  Chances are you will find peace instead of confusion.

I know men approaching 70 years of age that apparently are so unsure about retirement that they will most likely only leave the job when their health fails and all because they won’t ask the right questions.  Don’t approach retirement this way boomers.  Don’t.  You worked for it, now take retirement by the horns and start enjoying the fruit of your labor. 

Friday, May 16, 2014

Gym work and juicin’

Who knew you could drink celery, kale, and carrots?  Probably the same person who swears this is a fun and delicious drink.  No, I was not ignorant about juicing vegetables and fruits, as my dearly departed father-in-law Willard Reneau turned his entire garden into liquid for years.  In fact, he drank so many carrots that he turned orange.
Recently my bride and I (read my bride) decided we would begin getting a boost of vitamins and minerals by drinking a glass (or more) of yummy green liquid each morning that frankly tastes like a combination of rabbit food, water, and rabbit food.
She giggles as she drinks it, as if she can feel the tiny fingers of health rushing all over her, while my own experience is what I like to call, well… repugnance.   Now over my 40+ years I have drank a lot of things and some of them have been of the adult beverage kind with varying results to my palate.  In fact, I remember the first time I drank straight bourbon.  It was so disgusting; I couldn’t imagine who initially thought it was something a human should taste.
Five minutes later, I understood.  I’m still waiting for this revelation with the rabbit food.

The jury is still out on the green elixir.  Instead of feeling wonderfully healthy, I am find I am rushing for the throne.  Well, not literally rushing, but you get the idea.  All those vegetables and fruits must travel through my innards at something like 60 miles an hour or faster and they are probably scrubbing out toxins and build-up poisons… at least that is what I’ve been told by my expert.
My bride, who recently lured me into the workout place named after the hours of the clock, explained that the benefits of combining  juice and gym is something not even a rocket surgeon could argue over.  “It’s going to turn you into a powerhouse of manliness!” she exclaimed as I watched her drain the semi-thick green glass of pulpy goo.  “Yum!”
“You think gym and juice will do the trick?” I asked innocently as I looked at my gut hanging over my belt and the container of chunky green sustenance on the counter.
“You better believe it,” she said and poured another glass – the one I was supposed to enjoy.
“It looks disgusting,” I said and eyed it suspiciously.
“Oh, but the benefits of juicing make it taste wonderful and just imagine what effect it will have at the gym!”  Her eyes were dancing about with an obvious sparkle.  Now to add insult to nutritious injury she has also advised me that I need to stop eating DJ’s boudin every morning and switch over to oat meal.  Oat meal for the love of all that is natural!
Now, as a 61 year old man, I realize to some I should turn in my Speedos and tenni-hoppers for baggy khaki pants, suspenders, and brogans and maybe I should, but oatmeal over boudin is pert-near crossing the line in my book.  Sure, I’ll go to the gym and all, but these major steps need to be eased into, like the juice.
“Can I drink maybe just a tablespoon of juice and after a couple of weeks move up to a quarter of a cup?”  The look on her face pretty much told me I was going to drink the wonderful concoction.
So off to the gym we go and surprise of surprises, there are a lot of plus 40 people like me there.  One fellow in particular gets on one of those contraptions that makes you look like a combination of running and hopping like a kangaroo and stays on it for an hour.  The first time I observed him, he was covered in sweat and just kept going and going, so I gave it a try.
It’s not near as effortless as it appeared and I went back to the treadmill.  Did you know that if you get on a treadmill and walk at 4 miles per hour for one hour, that when you stop it and step off it feels like you are still walking- if you keep from falling flat on your face that is.  Yea, I learned that one real fast.  Now I slow it down and walk for about five minutes before I get off.
I was talking to my bride’s trainer, Anisha P. and she told me one fellow went off the back end of a treadmill the other day and like to have done a flip.  “It’s one of the things we watch for,” she said straight-faced.  One of the things we watch for???  Good grief, talk about embarrassing!  To me it wouldn’t matter if I broke my leg, all I would be thinking about is who saw me do the flip and then there’s the unexpected results of drinking that juice and the speed at which it moves through my body.  Yikes!  Double embarrassment!

Friday, May 09, 2014

Beggar’s Lice, Jeep Keys, and Miracles

I pride myself on making as few mistakes as possible and when I do err, it is usually due to omission, rather than commission.   In easier words, what this means is I fail to do something or have to go back and do something I could have handled when I was there.  At least that’s the way I see myself.  When I explained to my daughter what I am about to write and told her about my pride when it comes to errors, she blatantly informed me, “you make mistakes all the time, Pops”.
This past Saturday, my Bride and I were going to take our bicycles down to Texas’ premier wildlife park, Brazos Bend SP, but when I inspected her bike, I noted it not only had a flat rear tire, but I had procrastinated on replacing both bald tires.  It was an omen I should have heeded and since have corrected.
Not to be swayed, we decided we would walk the trails and yes, geocache.  Now Brazos Bend has miles of trails and more wildlife than you will see in a year and because all the geocaches I was wont to get were a minimum of 500 feet off the trail in snake-infested knee to waist deep vegetation, my bride wisely opted to stay on the trail while I ventured in solo – in shorts.
I was wearing my Cambodian-made favorite geocaching cargo shorts and a pair of shin-high “fast” hiking socks that are awesome to put it in plain terms.  After venturing in and back out to the trail, I noted both socks and my leg hairs were covered with beggar’s lice.  I mean covered.  Beggar’s lice is a sticking plant seed that grabs hold of any passing animal to spread itself.  This particular variety was round and hard and dang well impossible to get out of my socks. 
It was so bad that after each venture off the trail, I would sit down, take off my boots and rake my socks to try and remove as much as I could.  It is singly the worst infestation of this plant I’ve ever witnessed and when we did finally get home, I had to throw my “fast” socks in the trash.  I just could not get all of the seeds out of them.  The sad truth is I made an error.  In my Jeep are a fine pair of nylon gaiters and these neat articles of clothing wrap around your legs and boots and would have staved off the onslaught of sticky seeds.  I won’t make that mistake again.
After about 5 miles of hiking, searching, and plucking we retreated back to my Jeep and our picnic lunch.  We were parked in the far back parking lot and it was very peaceful.  Finishing up, I grabbed my full waist pack and using my key to lock up my Jeep, I told my bride to simply clip the carabineer on the back of the pack…  giant mistake which I won’t make again!
My pack can carry 5 bottles of water, but since we were taking a 3 mile loop, I only brought two… Stee-rike two.  Into the deep woods I went again and again while my bride jogged down the trail and back and each time I would bushwhack through heavy vegetation, going places only geocachers and idiots go.  Notice my bride isn’t the idiot that I am.
Walking out on the last trail, a man, his teenage daughter, and 8 year old son walked past us and I greeted them.  As they stopped to take a photo, we passed them and when I went back into the woods, they passed us again.  By this time we were getting very hot and tired, having been in the park hiking about 6 hours and who knows how many miles?  We decided we would go back to the Jeep and drive down to Elm Lake and look at the gators.  My bleeding and scratched legs looked like they had been in a sword fight with munchkins and we were both parched dry, having gulped down the two bottles of water earlier.
Stepping up to the Jeep, I pulled the pack off and to my horror; there was no Jeep key on the carabineer.  All the other keys were there though.  It didn’t take rocket surgery to realize the keys are most likely irrecoverable.  I squatted down and pulled out my Smartphone and that is when desperation set in.  I had 3% battery left!  I rapidly texted my daughter, 60 miles away.  She’s a stylist at Green Apple Salon and most likely giving one of her clients a make-over, so as the phone died, I had no idea when and if she would see the text.
I took full responsibility for my stupidity, as I had a flask charger setting on desk at home, capable of charging ten cell phones.  Inside the Jeep was life-giving water and other wet cold drinks and we had no way to access it.
The closest ranger station was two miles away, so off we went and I was very hard on myself, guilt-ridden for putting my bride through all of that.  Arriving there about a half hour later, I called my daughter and then explained to the ranger about my lost key.  Going outside, my bride and I talked about the 2 hour wait until the new key would arrive and decided we would pass the time by walking the 3 miles to the front office.
As we talked I saw the man and his kids arrive that we saw on the trail and he and the boy went inside.  We stood up and for no real reason; I told the teenage girl we lost our key.  “My dad found a Jeep key on the trail and he took it inside!” she remarked with a smile.
To make a long story short enough to fit on this page, we caught a ride back to the Jeep and it is my honest opinion that our merciful God Almighty intervened for us that day by having an armadillo pick that key up and drop it on the trail in front of those good people.  There is no other reasonable explanation.

Friday, May 02, 2014

Rezone for School Expansion? Seriously?

I read with great interest the total absence of solutions concerning the possibility of rezoning to balance the number of students at our three high schools, especially this quote by Board member Ken Martin, “At some point, we’ve got to figure out how we will up Lee High School.  The only way I know to do that, honestly, is to rezone.”

Seriously?  That’s the only way?  Holy mother of all that is righteous.  Maybe I should be on the Board.  Knock knock.  Who’s there?  Anyone listening?

Was there any discussion whatsoever about the looming industrial expansion and influx of people moving to Baytown over the next five years and the multiplied number of students who will need to enter the workforce when they graduate?  Are all of them going to go to GCM?  Do we need to crank up the “bus them across town program again”, but this time to share the load of students?

Industry is screaming loud and clear that they do not have qualified people to fill the coming positions, but what I see here is more talk about qualifying for arts and sports programs and the size of the football teams by Board members or voting to make our newest high school bigger.
I just sit back in my chair as I type this and shake my head.  We are thinking like we’ve been trained to think and that needs to change and the sooner the better.  Now to be honest, I am and always have been a bit rebellious toward convention and taking cheap shots at the Board from the safety of my computer is unfair to a point.

What I am going to say will sound hypocritical, but hear me out please.  Kudos to Daniel Blackford and Ken Martin for voting no for the expansion of Goose Creek Memorial to facilitate vocational expansion at this time.  I realize citizens voted in the May bond election to add more space to GCM to house career and technical programs, but I think this may be the wrong direction we should take.
Instead, seeing that Robert E. Lee has a declining enrollment, why not pour the funds into it for a first class vocational and technical school?  There would be no need for rezoning at all.  The only change needed would be in logistics to provide busing.   Busing, as in bussing like before?  Yup, except for the right reasons.

I’ve impotently harped on the need for this for at least eight years and now industry is screaming for qualified workers.  Why should a student have to wait until they have graduated high school to begin to learn a trade?  We are seriously underestimating their worth and ability to learn by continuing to give them a generic state-regulated education that dumps them on the streets at ages 17 to 19 and then wonder why they don’t become productive workers or go off to college.

We need a first class Vo-Tech high school in addition to what we already have with our two other high schools, the Peter E. Hyland Center, IMPACT Early College High School, POINT Alternative Center and John M. Stuart Career Center.  Robert E. Lee could be everything from nursing to pipe fitting and complement the other career schools.  The sky is the limit here folks and it’s all about tipping over the paradigm that has suffocated independent learning in high schools across the state and country.

Give the young students something to shoot for in junior high besides making the football team, or becoming a cheerleader.  Sure, those are honorable I guess, but it won’t feed them or their families down the road.

If we do not fill the Vo-Tech void, these prime jobs will go to people moving here from out of state and foreign countries and most of our kids will flip burgers for a vocation, instead of learning a true craft or trade.  I vote to be proactive- NOW.  I vote we put teeth in this thing and do whatever it takes to break free of teaching kids to pass state tests and give them the knowledge and path to earning a living after high school.  I vote to put the power back into our educator’s hands and show the rest of the state how we do it in Baytown.

Baytown has an opportunity to set the standard for other schools across the country.   What say we break out of the rut of standardized education and hire first class instructors to teach our kids and equip them to follow the American dream?

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