Friday, January 31, 2014

Baytown is now big news

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I like to watch the news on the television when it signs on early in the morning.  Like my father before me, I watch the news ad nauseum.  In simpler terms, I watch it till it loops, and then watch it until it loops and loops and loops.  For those readers who think this is humorous, let me say that I “get” it the first time; I just prefer the news to the non-news (read Entertainment tonight), or most of the blather the networks try to force on me like the ridiculous bologna of the Grammy Awards.

I want to go on record as saying I don’t care one iota what Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, the non-celeb Kardashians, or the angry faux-Messiah one of them married are doing or saying ever again.

One thing that has changed in the news programs is now Baytown is included in every broadcast.  It’s as if we’ve suddenly been discovered.  Note: It has always irked me when coming up SH-59 that the exit for I-10 directs people to Beaumont – not Baytown.  Maybe that will change also.

The reason for this change in reporting is not Scott Johnson’s great parks program, or Mayor Don Carlos’ charisma, but job growth in the Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown area.  A lot of people work here.  What happens here directly affects them too; like whether or not the Fred Hartman Bridge is ice free.  I like the fact that weather people call it the “Baytown Bridge” and not the La Porte Bridge.

By the way, I do believe I was the first person to jog over it to the bottom of the La Porte side and back.  I was waved off it the morning of the Governor George W. Bush dedication by a security guard after I got off work at 5am, but the next morning it was wide open.  If anyone can assert they did it before that, I’ll give them a gift.  It’s a genuine Cornell Hurd band whoopee cushion I’ve been saving for just the right person.

Speaking of the bridge, the view a visitor gets as they come north is of the marina and Bayland Park.  Has anyone else noticed the gradual deforestation of the park?  This is the place some of John Wayne’s “Hellfighters” movie was filmed, but now a person could throw a fire hose nozzle end to end and not hit a tree.  If you are unfamiliar with that movie, go to Roosters on North Main.  They have a lot of historic tribute material on display.

There are giant pines up by Kenefick that would make perfect replacements for the vanishing forest here.  The young pine-lings are growing everywhere. I think it’s time to replant before we lose them all or just bulldoze the trees to expand the boat dock and parking lot.  One thing is for sure, the current Business 146 double lane situation by the park will most likely become an elevated highway to facilitate State Highway 99 and this is another reason our little sleepy town will be in the news.

The incredible amount of commerce coming from the old US Steel area on the other side of Cedar Bayou will create thousands of jobs and commuters.  I’ve harped on this possibility many times, that as a city, we need to attract and keep people with money by building high-end houses and lodging.  We don’t need more low income anything.  Let attrition and depreciation create low income properties – don’t encourage or build it.

Am I being crass? Heck no.  Take an automobile for instance.  Should automakers create a car for low income people or should the low income person simply buy a ten year old car they can afford?  Unfortunately some do-gooders are simply for the tax-paying population to give low income workers brand new cars and the rest of us pick up the tab and that is exactly what I am talking about on housing.  If you give away stuff our forefathers had to work for, where is the impetus to work for it?

Baytown was just mentioned in the news again and it involves our weather this time.  It is always good when it isn’t crime they are reporting.  Spur 330, I-10, and SH-146 afford criminals easy access to our fair city and they use these same roads to leave after committing crime here.  With the increase in commerce coming, we also need to bolster our city services, especially our police department.

I can’t speak for anyone but myself here and I’m certainly not in a panic, but I find myself “carrying” more and more often these days.  At 3:30am last week I was pumping gas at the corner of N. Main and Massey Tompkins and I had a premonition – something I do not ignore.  Extracting my Charter Arms .44 Bulldog Pug, I checked the action and as I looked around, an SUV pulled into the station and stopped shining its headlights at me.  It wasn’t near a pump and was in the dark part of the lot.

I do not want or intend to be featured on the 6pm news for any reason involving crime, but I surely do not intend to be a victim either.  I have a habit of opening both front and back doors on my Jeep when I am fueling and standing in between them and this is what I was doing.  If someone has an inclination to rob me, they can’t see what I am doing between those doors and it gives me an extra layer of protection to boot.

Maybe they were talking on their phone, or maybe I didn’t project a victim mentality, but I finished fueling and drove off.  I’m glad to finish that story without something dramatic happening.  I simply wanted to get gas and go to work.  Only fools fantasize about shooting someone.

Baytown will continue to be in the news and I am more exited about our town than I have been in a long time.



Wednesday, January 29, 2014

UG-LEE’S Brings Boudin to Baytown!




I didn’t know there was such a place until I heard about it on BaytownTalks.net.  Holy smoked boudin Batman, I do believe that is the best Cajun sausage I’ve ever eaten.  Leonard Lee gave me a rundown on their quality process and as you can see in the photographs, they are selling what they make faster than they can make it.

I stopped in this morning to check out their custom made products.  While I was there, a discerning customer came in and Leonard gave him an education on their delicious products.  Almost immediately 5 firefighters arrived and Leonard remarked that “It is their normal routine”.

No wonder he can’t keep his shelves stocked!  Ever seen a firefighter put away groceries?

I had an errand to run and left.  On my way back through the area, I stopped in and this time I met the boss, Leonard’s wife.  Talking to her, I learned more about the products and left with over $30 worth of shrimp, Andouille Sausage, and Colby jack cheese-stuffed (and bacon-wrapped) pork tenderloin and a Pork boudin and bacon-wrapped stuffed chicken breast.

For all the naysayers who have complained in the past that Baytown doesn’t have quality food, I give you UG-LEE’s Boudin & Sausage Company!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Cold weather soup & cookies!

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What do you do when it's very cold and wet outside? Make potato soup and cookies.

7.5# Red & russet taters, half gal chicken broth, Velveeta Mex cheese, 3 onions, 2 packs tater toppers, 1.5 sticks butter, real bacon bits, pepper and sea salt, evaporated milk. Cookies are oatmeal w/raisins.




Friday, January 24, 2014

What truly is life?

Life is not what I thought it would be, or rather, I’ve learned that the idyllic life I was expecting to lead is better in some ways, but horribly cruel in others.  This intangible subject of life is one that I ponder often.

My lovely bride and I discuss this subject frequently and it never seems to come to a satisfactory conclusion.  We both agree however that life is not what we expected.  Stepping back to when I was a kid, like most of us, the future was wide open.

*Into the great wide open
Under them skies of blue
Out in the great wide open

That was me and possibly you.  Well, it didn’t turn out quite like that did it?  After high school and four years in the Air Force I gave my life to Jesus Christ, married a local beauty, had two loving children, and spent 37 long years working shift work in the chain link fenced area of a chemical plant.

It is hardly what I expected out of life, but in other ways, extremely rewarding.  The upside was I brought a great measure of security to my family.  I acquired new skills and property.  I worked thousands of hours of overtime.  I learned to repair computers.  I became a writer and author.  In exchange for all this work and commitment, I lost out on family time and this was the downside.

Passing through most of my adult life without serious loss probably put me in the minority, as all of us learn that life can deal us a hand that makes it almost impossible to go on.  Loved ones, friends, and people who are special to us… die.  That’s something that can be so debilitating that our own death seems preferable.

I have a friend who awoke next to his wife of many years only to realize she had passed in the night.  My heart pours out to this fellow and I’m sure his view of life is quite dismal.  I pray the up in his life comes quickly.

I absolutely hate depression or depressing subjects and this is why I couldn’t get through more than a season or so of the award-winning television show, Breaking Bad.  Someone suggested I watch the series Dexter, because “It is so exciting!”  Nope.  One minute into season 1 Episode 1 and I shut it off.  Instead I turned it over to channel 16, our local municipal access channel and watched the Texas Parks and Wildlife’s presentation on prairie chickens, of all things.

Wanda Orton’s column on the antics of Rufus Honeycutt’s father at the Brunson, is the way I choose to see life in the future.  I know there are more setbacks ahead, but I want to see the up coming, even if it means picking myself up off the deck and shaking the dust off after a down.

As a youngster, teen, and man in my twenties, I had no real clue that life for the most part is what I make of it and how I choose to view it.  Guess what folks?  A whole lot of what we see as life is by choice, not necessarily by chance.  Sure, every once in a while a foul ball comes into the stands and there’s not much you can do but cover your face, but this is the exception and even if you are hit, life goes on.

For years I led my life pretty much like an anchorless boat following the current, not realizing that with a little preparation, I could add a rudder and a small motor and danged-well go where I chose.

I can walk into my work place with a good attitude and greeting, or do like most of my coworkers and not even offer a salutation or claim to begin life at the end of their shift.  They are still in the boat drifting and I have a motor.  I’ll take the first choice every time.

Someone said that for every up, there is an equal down.  I think it was the guy who invented the third iteration of Fig Newtons, but I’m not sure.  If you think about it, this is an example of life.  We should be taught as children to not seek a life of pure pleasure and be toughened against adversity.  I don’t rightly know how this can be done in our modern society.  Back in the day, kids had chores and jobs while going to school.  Now they are home more than their parents.

They occupy themselves with anything that can pass the time and it is all based on pleasure.  When the “Fam” can finally get together, it’s time for more pleasure, to “bond the family”.  When anything tragic happens, the kids need counseling, as they are totally unprepared to deal with even the smallest obstacle.

No, life is not what I expected in so many ways and yet, I still have my faith, family, and friends to bolster me and carry me through the low places.  If you are in one of these terrible depths, take heart; you can be sure there is an up coming your way.  It’s Newton’s third law.

* Tom Petty – Into The Great Wide Open

Friday, January 17, 2014

Baytown Bert’s A Cryin’



Imagine you’re walking through a field of thick cane mixed with thorns.  The cane is so tall; you can’t see more than a few feet.  You have no idea if you will scare a rodent, a snake or two, or a coyote out of hiding and you ignore these possibilities and push forward.  Its classic trail-blazing, but you have a purpose and critters are not much of a concern, even though you are in shorts and hiking boots.

You feel the sweat running down your back as a tendril of Cherokee rose thorns tears through your shirt and rips into your skin, effectively arresting you in your tracks.  “Aggghhh!” escapes from your mouth as you carefully extricate yourself from the puncturing barbs.  Your skin is thinner than it was when you were a teen and blood runs down your arm and drips off your finger-tips to the ground.
Your legs are equally scratched with old and new marks, but it’s just too durned hot to wear long pants and you repeat your oft said remark that “If the Brits could conquer the world in shorts, you too can go off the beaten path wearing the same.”  You look at your left leg and see a permanent mark caused by a spider’s venom.  You don’t remember the actual bite, just the two week festering wound that eventually healed.
You stop and lift a bottle of water from your over-sized fanny pack and take a long pull.  Pulling the bandana from the brim of your sun-whitened Tilley hat, you wipe your face and stare up at the sun, letting the wide brim protect your eyes.  As hot as it is, you prefer it to cold weather, a product of two frozen winters in Montana.
Finishing the entire bottle of water, you push on.  As you turn to avoid a chest high nest of red wasps nestled in the reeds, you catch a glimpse of the stubby tail of a cottonmouth water moccasin slithering away just a few feet from your feet and you wait.   The heat is getting to you.  You are only about 1200 feet into the reeds and need to go another 2500 or so to get to where you need to be.
The ground begins to slope down and you hope the water won’t go over your boot tops and you wade off into it.  The thought of more snakes gives way to the thought that anywhere there is water, there are probably alligators, but this doesn’t stop you.  Maybe it’s the heat; maybe it’s because nothing bad has happened in the past, but you find your mind is at peace in this environment.
Crossing over a fallen log, you step far out on the other side, as your dad taught you years ago that snakes often lay right beside a fallen log.  In the middle of the swampy area, you encounter fewer reeds and more briars, so much so, that you ease your El Salvadorian-made machete out of its sheath and begin to hack your way in.  The heat is stifling now and sweat pours off your body as if it is raining.
You check your global positioning system receiver and sigh when you realize you’ve only traveled another 600 feet, leaving 1900 more in front of you.  Pulling another bottle of water from the side pouch on your pack, you steady yourself by placing the machete point against a cypress knee and drain the entire bottle.  There goes half your water and once you’ve arrived at your destination, you still have to walk out.  Your mind is a bit foggy now, but you’ve been here before – this place of exhaustion, that is, and you know your limits.  You always tell yourself this.
Common sense tells you that if it took 2 bottles of water to walk this far, you will need 6 more to get in and make it back out safely, but if you were using common sense, you wouldn’t be here by yourself in the first place.  You push on into the swampy area and now you are wading in knee deep dark water.  You cast about watching for movement and seeing none, you concentrate on your navigational unit and the prize at the destination – most likely a pill bottle-sized camo’d container with nothing inside except a log book and the satisfaction you will receive for being the first to find it.

You know the geocache owner –cryptically known as ThaCatfish is a tricky character.  The difficulty rating is only 3.5 out of 5, but it has a 5 terrain rating.  “It’s probably a tree climber,” you say aloud as your foot slips and down you go into the brown water.  Staggering to your feet, you look around wildly. 
You can feel water running down your legs and you realize with horror that the fall burst your two remaining bottles of water.  For the first time since you began, you doubt your ability to find this geocache.  This one has already turned around one small group and sent two seasoned geocachers to the emergency room – all heat related and you take one look in the general direction of the geocache and wisely turn back.
Note:  Baytown Bert’s a cryin’ - GC3B8ZZ  is hidden off of FM-1409.  Everything in this story has actually happened, but not all of it by me when hunting this cache.  You can watch the YouTube of the actual adventure here:  

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Joke’s on You


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Over the years I’ve been the recipient of a few practical jokes and spawned a few of my own and with a new year beginning, why not start it off with a laugh?
Back in the late 70’s at my job at ARCO Chemical Company on Sheldon Road, a real favorite was dropping a nickel in the soda machine and then filling the coin return with red or green indelible ink.  The price of a soda was a quarter and when an unsuspecting Operator would put money in the machine, it would drop a nickel.  Delighted at the savings, the guy would reach in for change and come out with a red or green finger, which would last a week or more.
The second prank involved taping the black plastic spray nozzle at the kitchen sink with electricians tape.  When someone came up to wash their hands, it would spray them in the chest with water.  One time I did this, and then twenty minutes later accidentally sprayed myself.
I think it was 1979 and one of my younger brothers was getting phone service on Sun Oil Road in Mont Belvieu and seeing that the old rent house didn’t have a phone in a while, they were pretty excited.  He gave me the new number the day before and said to call the next day.  So I did – about 9am.  His Bride, my sister-in-law answered and I identified myself as an employee of GTE, the phone company back then.
I advised her we were “going to be blowing dust out of the line” and to put her phone in a paper sack until it was done.  I hung up and promptly forgot about it until my brother called the house that evening when he came in from work.  You guessed it.  The phone was still in the paper grocery sack awaiting the dust blow.  I found this hilarious, as did he.  My sister-in-law not so much, as she had wanted to use the phone all day.
In 1999 we were starting up a new unit at work and hired a lot of new people.  One particular new guy was a prankster and laughed a lot.  He was infamous for “coning” people, which was the act of placing inverted tape on the inside of a cone-shaped paper cup  and surreptitiously placing it on the back of another person’s hard hat when they looked away.  The unsuspecting person would walk around “coned” and everyone would pretend it wasn’t there and laugh behind their back.  No one was spared including me.  One fellow had three cones on his hat for a couple of hours.
One day “Jeff” and I were sitting in the break room and there was a cheeseburger left over from one of the many overtime meals and he asked who it belonged to.  I told him truthfully it was up for grabs, as were the fries and he cheerfully dug in.  I stood up and yawned and walked straight to the supervisor’s office and enlisted his help in the prank.
He was a fairly cranky guy and in many ways acted superior and he casually walked into the break room after I had retaken my seat.  “Where’s my cheeseburger?” he grunted.  I pointed at the half-eaten burger and as Jeff’s eyes went wide open, he blurted, “Bert gave it to me!”
“I said, “No I didn’t” and the supervisor cursed loudly and left the room.
Jeff said, “You gave to me!  I thought it was yours!”
“Well, you can’t believe everything you hear now can you?  You better get in there and apologize to him!”
Well, the good natured fellow was near apoplectic, but confused and yes, a bit scared, as he was a new guy and he had just ate the supervisor’s lunch, so he gets up and goes in and begins apologizing.  The supervisor can’t keep the charade up for long and the joke is sprung.  We dubbed him the “Hamburgler” after that.
Possibly the best prank I’ve pulled was about 5 years ago and also at the Plant where I work.  I’ve been a computer nerd since my first computer, a Tandy TRS-80 and the folks at the Plant give me their computers to repair.  My company was making a big to-do over brand new Dell computers coming with a tuned version of Microsoft’s Vista, called Vision.  There were all kinds of advance enthusiasm and promises of the latest technology coming to each of us.
One early morning after getting the Plant readings, I stopped in the front offices to fax a copy to necessary parties and behold, a giant new printer was in place.  We went from a fairly simple machine to a glorious shiny plastic behemoth and an idea hit me like a bat to the head.
I did my business and hurried back to my desk.  Surfing the Net, I found an official looking Ricoh document, imported it into Photoshop and made an official document declaring the printer to be “voice activated”.  I even used the company logo and the new Vision graphic.  Hurrying back to the front offices, I placed it on the new shining leviathan and then as an afterthought, I stopped in at the computer lab and made signs advising people at the other printers to try the “new Vision voice activated printer in the front office”.
As is my modus operandi, I soon forgot all about it, being caught up in work.  Some two hours later, my buddy in the safety department calls me and he is laughing so hard, I can hardly understand him.  It seems everyone was having a go at it with no results and this caused them to go to one of the other printers… all, but one fellow.
This determined and savvy geek of geeks spent 15 minutes issuing commands until one of the managers who I used to work for noticed it wasn’t a Ricoh printer, but an HP and declared “this has Bert Marshall written all over it!”
I want to add one caveat to this article on pranks.  Modern MTV-type pranks often include injury.  The best practical jokes do not.  They are funny because you got the person in an awkward moment only.

Friday, January 03, 2014

Baytown Talks Rises From the Dust 1-3-14



Back quite a few years ago in the infancy of the World Wide Web, there existed an online forum hosted by the Baytown Sun, named Baytown Talk or maybe it was Baytown Talks.  It appeared one day and slowly developed a strong following.  The forum was a constant source of aggravation for the last moderator of the Baytown Sun, who I know and like very much.
Amongst other conversations, I remember reading an early thread (discussion) about the Goatman of Evergreen Road and later developed a series of 29 geocaches along Evergreen and Tri-City Beach Road because of it.  The area was supposedly haunted and my series plays this up and is set up for families to take their kids to see if they can spot the dreaded Goatman.
Baytown Talk went through periods where trolls had people ready to fight each other and through the core group of us, we would get it back on track.  I found it a wonderful challenge and regularly learned about the history of our town by asking the right questions and challenging those who found delight in causing trouble.  The forum was rocking back and forth like a ship at sea and by the time Hurricane Katrina blew ashore it was being considered to shut it down.
Robocop - David Alford
Time passed and Baytown, having taken in a lot of the riff-raff from New Orleans began to see an exponential growth of vice and crime, particularly in the Northwood Street area.  I read of it in the Baytown Sun and the police report, but a lot of my information came from police officers who were logged into the Baytown Talk forum and talking to then Captain David Alford.
Around this time someone on the forum dreamed up a contest of sorts to determine who on Baytown Talk was the funniest, the most cordial, etc., etc., and the big poobah of all of them would be voted King of the forum.  Well, believe it or not, I had a reputation for logic, veracity, and an almost clairvoyant propensity for sniffing out trolls (Someone who pretends to be one or more people and are notorious for starting trouble). 
One forum member who I swear to this day is my doppelganger is a woman who cryptically called herself Dagny Taggart.  Whatever she wrote, it was as if I had typed it and according to her, she was equally in agreement with my views.  Faithful readers of the Baytown Sun know her as Natalie Whatley.  Another favorite is Anna Singleton and she has a love of reading and was known as “Books” until I christened her Booksie, due to her innocent and sweet nature.
Chief Byron Jones
Anyway, somehow I was voted King of that forum and that led to me being asked to represent the Baytown Concerned Citizens back when Byron Jones was the police chief and Garry Brumback was just arriving. 
Garry Brumback
Out of this concern came five of us off the forum and by vote, we formed a leadership group to represent the concerned citizens.  
You see where this is going?  The Baytown Talk forum was an important clearing house of information and this was back before the term “Social Networking” was commonplace.
Mike Kercher was one of the original five, as was his wife and he set up a crime awareness website that lasted about eight years, named hotpursuit.com (or.cc) and recently came to an appropriate end at Mike’s discretion.  Tons of information was shared during that 8 years and untold dollars spent by him to keep it running, not to mention the thousands of hours he invested to make it work. I want to speak for all of us and say kudos to Mike and from all of us in Baytown Talk land.  You did good, Mike.
So, about a month has passed and there has been a good number of email messages arrive in my Inbox asking what can be done.  There are now three different Facebook pages set up to try and fill the void, but here’s the problem.  Facebook is a social network site, not a forum.   If you really want to discuss “stuff”, you need what is commonly called in geekland, a phpBB or “PHP Bulletin Board”.
Here’s the second kicker – I know how to do it.  I just didn’t want to and told folks.
Running a public forum can be very taxing for a number of reasons and that is why when I pitched the idea to David Bloom, Managing Editor of our newspaper, his management team declined for a number of reasons.  Baytown really needs a forum though and believe it or not, it truly is a clearing house for information, so I stepped up to the challenge and set one up.
It’s called Baytown Talks Forum and is the third iteration and can be found here:
Unlike other forums of the past, you will be required to create a log-in identity and your email address will have to verified – and then you will have to be manually added.  I say this facetiously, but I wasn’t called the King of the Baytown Talk forum for nothing.
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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 ...