Saturday, March 28, 2015

Another day or two in the hood

I saw an animal control truck slipping quietly through the hood this morning, as I went out to get my paper so I ushered my two doggies back into the house, right quick.  I like to believe I not only acknowledge the need for law and order, but align myself right regular.  The doggies doing their business in the front yard early in the morning is actually a crime though, as they are off the leash.

The rain started right after that and didn’t let up until 8PM.  My street suffered a rare occurrence in that the drains plugged up tighter than the payout on Ron Paul’s government payroll checks.  In other words, not a drop was drained from the street into the ditch.  Note: Ron Paul is the rare politician who doesn’t accept a paycheck for his service to the country.

I reckon that dog catcher “lit a shuck” when the rain came, but danged if I didn’t see him in the middle of the downpour chasing a little cur dog four hour later and to the little dog’s credit, it got plumb away.  It was soggier than Rosie O'Donnell’s tirades and like her, had its game face on.  That little wet doggie dang near had a smug look on its face, close as I could tell and I shook my head as it ran past the casa.

I think 6 inches of rain fell on us and over the course of the day; we probably could have handled it – except it just didn’t drain.  It collected and collected.  Somewhere around noon, I cranked up my lifted Jeep and drove down through it, sending a gentle wave up and over the curbs.  I had to.  I had to drive my Jeep in the water, something my bride doesn’t understand, even after living through 2 Jeeps.  I explained to her that it was a Jeep thing and she isn’t supposed to understand.

Down a ways where it was the deepest, two boys were swimming in the middle of the street and I eased up there to talk to their momma, who was standing under a tent-like plastic umbrella of clear material.  I guess the best way to describe her shelter would be to call it a clear plastic chifforobe and very unique and effective.

As I pulled up, she unzipped it to reveal she was videoing the event and I was later told it aired on channel 13 news.  I speculated the recent work by Harris County on the ditch across the way had possibly blocked off our drainage.  She didn’t know either, but obviously was enjoying watching her kids have a free swimming hole.  It turned out it was a “plugged crossover”, whatever that is.

Somewhere around 4PM, I stepped outside in the rain and a neighbor was in front of my house watching a lifted red Jeep with a snorkel come barreling toward my end of the street.  Now being a Jeeper, I know they were enjoying themselves, but what it looked like to the neighbors was anything but entertaining.  The Jeep was sending a wave of water on both sides up across their cars and halfway up into their yards.
He waved them down and exchanged words, and then they drove off.

I drove over close to him and he told me it “was two young women and the one driving, was drunk.”  His words, not mine.  I’ve been very vocal about this drinking and driving thing and I often say that anyone who drinks and drives is a fool, period.  Maybe she was, maybe she wasn’t, but he thought she was, so in his mind what she was doing was dangerous and stupid.  It did look stupid to me too, as I had no idea if she could see for all the water she was throwing up.  I fully expected to see the Jeep run into one of the cars on the street she was burying in water.

Night fell and the water remained.  The next day a giant roto-rooter vehicle and a vacuum truck arrived and by the afternoon, the water had drained.  Of course this happened on a weekend; doesn’t it always?   Just another day or two in the hood.

Friday, March 20, 2015

To infinity and beyond!

 This past weekend, I drove up to Lubbock, Texas.  I’ve never been to Lubbock or Abilene for that matter.  I was driving my Jeep up there for the Texas Geocaching Challenge where geocachers from, well, all over the world, come to compete against each other to see who has the best team.  New Mexico and Colorado competed, as did one fellow from Great Britain.

Driving a lifted Jeep on 35 inch tires and cruising at 75 mph is an exhilarating experience.  I left Baytown at 3:30AM for the 600 mile trip and it was raining and thundering something fierce.  My tiny Shi-Tzu was shaking and I put her thunder jacket on her tiny body before I left and let her up into the bed with my sleeping bride.  My little Papillon/Pomeranian mixed doggie doesn’t seem to mind the booms, but likes it under the covers just fine.

It was raining Gulf Coast Texas style as I drove through sleeping Houston.  I wanted to “git gone” up 290 before the traffic wars started and with the downpour, I was glad to have the woman’s voice on my Garmin Nuvi nudge me up the correct paths.  It’s not that I don’t want to hear a man’s voice on the electronic destination device; it’s simply that it is clearer with the higher tone of a female voice.  Jeeps have come a long way since 1941, but quiet, they ain’t.  Well, it was quieter inside the cab before the off-road modifications, lets just say.

It was still pouring when I reached Cypress and in the opposing lane I watched a car coming toward me with the driver’s side front wheel folded up under the broken ball joint and it was sending a rooster tail of sparks out behind it.  The fellow driving it was still doing about 50 mph and I watched him in my rear view mirror until he was distant.  It’s a good thing it was raining, or he couldn’t have accomplished that idiotic feat without a fire.

Somewhere around daylight, the sun rose behind me as I passed through Waco and seeing I had never been there also, all I could wonder about was the David Koresh compound “Mount Karmel”.  I guess in all his wisdom, he didn’t realize a “mount” is a volcano and not a hill and he should have called the place Mont Koresh.  He might still be alive if he did.  It is indeed sad that a historic town like Waco should be associated with the Branch Davidian fiasco instead of all the other stuff that happened there in Texas history.

Hamilton, Comanche, Cross Plains, and finally Abilene – which a loop took me around it without me actually seeing the city.  Cattle drives and Indians.  According to Western scholar Louis L’Amour, the Comanche Indian was something no one wanted to encounter.  These plains are something to see.  Miles and miles of open air and I liked it.  In my mind’s eye, I could see millions of bison being chased by the Native American Mongol descendants, arrows flying and big animals collapsing.

I’ve never beheld a wind turbine in action, but when I came to Roscoe, Texas, which incidentally is home to the largest array of wind turbines almost anywhere, I got an eyeful.  Wow!  They are huge and there are almost 700 of them.  All around the array is evidence of last year’s cotton crop and I stopped and grabbed a stick of cotton for my office collection.  Evidently some cotton harvesters are more efficient than others, as some fields were very messy with missed cotton in abundance.  I imagine birds love the stuff for their nests, as do the mice and rats.

Lubbock has a large prairie dog population and a dedicated park where you can get very close to the little short-tailed dirt rats.  They stand on their hind legs and randomly make a high-pitched barking/chirping sound for no apparent reason that I could tell.  Watching them reminded me of The View for some reason.  While at the competition, which our Southeast Texas Team took third place, I saw a fox running like its tail was on fire and a cock pheasant in a cotton field.  I haven’t seen either of these animals in a long time and enjoyed the view.

The actual competition pitted the 6 regions of Texas against each other to find as many of the 75 (estimate) hidden geocaches as they could in 4 hours of brutal dash like you’re crazy frenzy, in which I was the driver for my part of my team.  Even with all the places we went, I still managed to put over 18,000 steps on my Garmin Fitbit in those 4 hours and that is a lot of walking and running in such a short amount of time.  Our little group found 36, which was pretty good.

There were so many geocaches hidden around town that we often didn’t see any other competitors.  Now to clarify, none of these geocaches counted against our real statistics.  They were put out for the competition only and are now probably removed.

I pulled out for the drive home Sunday morning again at 3:30AM and punched into my Nuvi to take me home.  Well, Garmin in all its wisdom, routed me down through Brownwood of all places, but in the end, it was about the same 600 miles and after the sun came up, I saw some of Texas I had never visited and yes, found a few more geocaches on my way back to beautiful Baytown.


Friday, March 13, 2015

E-cigs, Vaping, and second hand smoke

On my desk is a book from my personal library “Tobacco – A cultural history of how an exotic plant seduced civilization.”  And yes, this column is about smoking, but before you lose interest, there is indeed something in it for everyone, so please read on.

Having been a past smoker who began experimenting with tobacco at the young age of 7, I bought this book in January of 2004 and read all 387 pages.  Now, I am not going to bore you with a bunch of stuff you can read on Wikipedia or by using a search engine, but rather make an appeal of sorts.  The book covers everything in great detail.

Like I’ve said more than once, I repair computers and on occasion I will get one from a smoking household and there is a major difference in them and all the others.  Opening this one up in my garage to try and clean out the inside, as it positively reeked of cigarette residue, I discovered what can only be described as a brown sticky mess.

Needless to say, it was dead.  Real dead.  Ruined and I couldn’t help but draw an analogy to the human lungs of anyone living with a smoker.  I write “living with a smoker” because this desktop does not smoke cigarettes. 

At some point in my observation, I realized I didn’t start smoking at 7 years old; I started smoking the day I was brought into a smoking household.  By the time I began lighting up my own cigarettes, I had already been inhaling smoke, tar, and nicotine for 7 years.

Am I attacking tobacco smokers with this week’s column?  No, not in the least; I am making an appeal.  There is an alternative and its called vaping.  To keep my column manageable, please read about it here:

I had to see it to understand how it works and of course, I am not a scientist, so I cannot say that it is safe – it is just safer than smoking tobacco conventionally.  It is considerably cheaper also.  One person explained to me that a carton of smokes was about $60 plus, while the same amount of “juice” for a vaporizer is about 8 bucks or so.

While I was at the gym, I came out of the steam room and plopped down on a bench next to a fellow close to my own age named George.  After a moment of conversation, he said he was a long time smoker and was having trouble breathing.  I asked him if he tried vaping, as one of my friends from high school had educated me on it.  He said he had tried it without success.  I told him my friend explained that the vaporizing device (atomizer) is the key and a good one is a hundred bucks or more.

If you are a smoker or someone who lives with this addiction is one of the largest forums on the Internet for electronic cigarettes. It is comprised of thousands and thousands of daily active members.

If you are still reading this column and believe I am promoting tobacco smoking, you are drawing the wrong conclusion.  I do however feel compassion for those who smoke, having been addicted.  My sole intention is educate those who want to quit smoking and stop smelling like, well, stinking.  There is no nice way to say it.

The reason cigarettes became the standard for smoking over dipping, snuffing, cigars, and pipes is the paper-rolled version is the most efficient nicotine delivery device – until the eCig came along.

A 5 minute cigarette would normally push back the cravings for a spell, but now with the atomizer, a nicotine addict can have a hit or two anytime they need it and no one is offended – unless they interpret the “cloud” of exhaled vapor for smoke, which it simply is not.  E juice “smoke” has a pleasant odor or none at all and to experience it first hand is simply amazing.  It is not smoke at all, but water vapor and that is why it is called a cloud.

There are some well-meaning people who would like to criminalize tobacco usage, but I am not one of them.  I think if you want to smoke, it is your business, but get educated and if you have smoked for long, you are most likely trying to stop.  The eCig way may be the safest and cheapest route and you won’t stink or endanger those around you while you take this path.

Friday, March 06, 2015

Looking for an adventure?

I read the news sources available on the Internet maybe four or more times a day and for starters, I watch KPRC with Owen and Rachelle to get the local stuff.  Including the changing and erratic weather and traffic reports, almost everything is doom and gloom.  You know that and I “ain’t tell you nuthin’” you don’t already know.

I am amazed on a daily basis that in this whole great big world, this is all that makes the news.  I mean , seriously?  Isn’t there something worth reading besides Kanye West speaking at Oxford University?  Your opinion of this man’s genius may differ from my own, but I can’t help but believe everyone in attendance didn’t leave with less brain cells than they had when they sat down.

I wish I was one of the millions of men, women, and children who get their vicarious adventure fix by watching organized sports (not really, but it would probably help satisfy my urges).  I mean I could spend thousands of hours memorizing stats and shopping for jerseys and stuff, but alas, that doesn’t do it for me.

Well, there are all the events where thousands of anxious people gather and revel to live music and massive amounts of food, or book a cruise to go where everyone else has gone before…  Nope.  It just doesn’t sound appealing to me.

Maybe I should get a professional grade helmet and a GoPro camera and do something extreme, like ride a half-broke Cape Buffalo through a 6-foot high drainage pipe lined with punji stakes and copper-headed cobra rattlesnakes!  That would really be an adventure now wouldn’t it?  I could upload the video (or my bride could after my funeral) and it would have 16 quadzillion hits on YouTube and make the Today Show’s viral video list for maybe one day.

Of course, something as adventurous that video would be auto-tuned with music something like “Ain’t nobody got time for dat!” and become a comedy staple on the Internet, which incidentally would earn a tidy sum for my bride, book deals, maybe a movie...

The list of potential adventures is a mile long and according to the colorful advertisement on the cable box, real adventure is simply watching the many shows concerning crime, murder, infidelity, financial ruin, and celebrity going-ons.  Through the magic of streaming media, we can watch Madonna fall off the stage 50 times in a row and laugh each time.  Now that’s adventure!  (Insert rolling of the eyes here).

Lately I have discovered that real adventure is meeting new people.  My little computer repair business (PC Repair Done Dirt Cheap) has brought a whole new group of interesting people into my life and it seems every one of them is interesting.  Just the other day I sat in the home of famous writer Jim Finley while he tried to convince me how totally and helplessly ignorant he is about computers and as hard as he tried, I just couldn’t see it.  Other than a couple of unpreventable blips his system was experiencing, it appeared the gentleman had a very sound grasp of his system.

We chatted stories back and forth as much as time would allow and after all these years, I got some face time with a true newspaper pundit and even some sought after advice.  We both agreed that the current folks running the paper are one of the best moves forward for the Baytown Sun in a long time and that Jane Lee is groovy awesome.

Few hobbies have brought as much adventure, fun, and down-right challenge into my life as the game of Geocaching.  It can be played by anyone with a Smartphone, simply by downloading the correct App and registering for a free membership at  You don’t have to be in great physical shape or health to find many of the “caches”, so don’t deny yourself due to your own physical limitations.  Many seniors enjoy this game.

Tomorrow at the Baytown Nature Center, I will be teaching a Geocaching 101 class from 10am to noon down on the point.  Admission to the park is 3 bucks and the class is free.  It will be cold and windy and… fun.  If you have an Android-based phone, download C:Geo and if you are an Applehead, get this one: Geosphere.

Try to arrive fifteen minutes early and if you want to score big with the teacher, bring a few kolaches and donuts to share.  I promise if you attend this class, it will open up a whole new world of outdoor adventure for you and your family.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Geocaching in Galveston Texas!

Galveston geocaching
ALYSHA BECK/for The Daily News

Galveston geocaching

Brothers Esteban, 12, left, and Xavier Ramirez-Fabela, 8, look inside a geocache they found as their other brother Zacharies, 15, watches at Galveston Island State Park during a geocaching workshop Saturday Feb. 14, 2015.
Posted: Wednesday, February 25, 2015 1:30 am
It was the idea of a treasure hunt that got me. It sent me exploring through a hidden nature preserve and had me searching headstones at Old City Cemetery, thinking about legends of buried treasure all the way.    
I was geocaching — learning to play the game that now has more than 6 million participants using GPS coordinates to hunt for hidden containers. All you need is a smartphone or other GPS device to search for caches hidden with clues from other players. 
I knew that Galveston, with all its history and natural spaces, would be a prime spot to pick up the hobby. 
So I set out on the hunt. 
I started by going to, the largest website to post caches and find coordinates. The website, launched in 2000, claims more than 2.5 million active caches registered around the world. Anyone can register a cache on the website and post the coordinates and hints to help players find it. Most have logs to track the names and dates of finds and some have small trinkets that players exchange.
There are more than 40 geocaches on the island now that have been found by hundreds of people. They are placed near parks, historical homes and, strangely common in geocaching, cemeteries. The containers have already been found by families, tourists and locals, who then post about their find on the cache’s page online. Some logs I found are filled with signatures and dates stretching back years.
All kinds making finds
“You get all types geocaching,” Bert Marshall, the Southeast Texas representative for the Texas Geocaching Association, told me when I called to ask about the hobby. “They could be a truck driver, a mom from the suburbs or a rocket scientist for NASA,” he said. “I’ve met all of those people geocaching.”
Marshall has been geocaching for 11 years and is well known among local cachers for organizing events and posting videos of his searches under the name BaytownBert. 
He has logged more than 5,000 finds and often goes on long journeys for some of the most difficult caches requiring solutions to complicated puzzles or walking into the deep woods. He’s found caches hidden by secret codes or requiring you to scale a 15-foot tree. 
I was not about to scale a tree. So instead, I started with the very basics — trailing 6-year-olds at Galveston Island State Park’s Geocaching 101 class. It’s an easy and welcoming introduction to the hobby.
A trend appears 
The workshop started after parks departments across the country caught on to the geocaching trend and Texas Parks and Wildlife stashed caches in every state park. 
“It’s a way of getting some younger people that are into technology to come out to the parks,” Lisa Reznicek, a park interpreter who runs the geocaching workshop, said. “We’ve noticed that the average age of some of our educational events tends to be older people, so this is something that would bring someone different to the park and get the younger people into their phones out into nature.”
Reznicek’s workshop is good for families with young kids and people looking for help getting started with the technology involved in geocaching. 
Reznicek takes the workshop around the nature center for a few simple finds. 
The young kids lit up when they found the hiding spots — even if the trinket inside was an odd choice: a single baby’s sock. 
The state parks re-hide geocaches every year as part of a program called the Geocache Challenge. 
“At the start of the challenge, we’ll get people lining up to be the first to find them and then it’s a race,” Reznicek said. “The caches usually just take care of themselves; we’ll just send someone once in a while to check that it’s still there.” 
Galveston Island State Park has three caches. They include trivia about the park and lead you to some lovely spots — which I won’t spoil. 
The search for Lafitte’s booty
I knew I had found my second mission in learning to geocache when I saw a cache on Galveston’s West End called Lafitte’s Booty. The reference to the pirate rumored to have left behind enough treasure in this area to “ransom a nation” won me over instantly. 
The cache took me to the Lafitte’s Cove Nature Preserve. I would never have discovered the lovely walking paths and bird-watching stations of the preserve if I had not set out to find the two caches hidden there.  
For my last cache of the day, I went to Old City Cemetery — the sort of place that I drive by every day, but never actually visit. Geocaching gave me a reason and a mission to explore the interesting headstones dating back to before the 1900 Storm. I ended up at the grave of George Childress, author of the Texas Declaration of Independence, who committed suicide. 
At each cache, I left behind my geocaching name, DailyNewsErin, the date and a trinket — a fake mustache. When I remembered, I logged onto and read the notes from the people who had found the cache before and left a message logging my find. 
I went home feeling accomplished and with the sense that I knew the island just a little better. 
So will I now become a loyal geocacher? 
The most dedicated geocachers seek more than a nice day learning more about the places they live. As my geocaching guru, BaytownBert, put it — “It’s a game of statistics and getting finds is a point of pride for a lot of people. It becomes a sort of nerdy game of topping yourself.”  
Marshall said that die-hard geocachers like to build their stats, finding increasingly complicated caches sometimes known as “evil hides” and rushing to be the first to find, FTF in the lingo, a cache.  
I’m happy strolling along, finding new places and challenging myself a little more every time. But most of all, I love that small rush that comes from the hunt.
Contact reporter Erin Heffernan at 409-683-5237 or

Elvis has left the room

I want to set something on the table and anyone who bothers to read anything I write, please take a good hard look. We are living in a...