Friday, March 31, 2017

Pelly's Cap’n Rusty Bouchet

Holding onto the rotting wooden rail, I stare out across the Houston Ship Channel and watch the puffy carbon-coughing black plume bellow from the single smoke stack of the dilapidated shrimp boat. To say I don’t have my sea legs would be a gross exaggeration. I figured after an hour on the small boat I would be okay, but now I'm not so sure.

“What is the oddest thing you’ve ever pulled up in your nets, Mr. Bouchet?” He throws his bald head back and laughs and his gray scraggly beard resembles a worn out frayed mop with mystery items and coated in tobacco juice.

“After Ike, I pulled in a double wide fridge and that danged thing was so well sealed, I have it in my camp house right now. It was a major haul because it was fully stocked with ice cold Pabst Blue Ribbon beers. Hey, you want one?”

I declined as I don’t usually drink adult beverages before 7am, but that didn’t stop the skipper, who popped the top on one and consumed it in one lip-smacking draw. Disembarking on the solid pier at Bayland Park is far more important than getting a morning beer buzz.

Cap’n Rusty, as he likes to be called, is a “road seller” of fine fish products and all evidence to the contrary, is a self-proclaimed "guzzillionaire". “I have more money than is rightly legal,” he states proudly and I look at his rusted out 1974 Chevy pick-up with curiosity.  It is a mismatch of 14 colors with more dents than I thought were possible. About the only thing fully intact is the bed and it is loaded down with white coolers. I know it’s loaded because the bed of the truck is squatting and I step away from the rear bald tires figuring to avoid getting my legs blown off if they pop.

His white rubber boots really go well with his weathered green coveralls, which are baggy enough to accommodate a family of Canadian refugees. “My secret to success is my trawler is registered in Monrovia and I don’t pay taxes, nope none at all!” He appears to be very proud of himself too. “Just like those rich peoples what was running for office last year.  Hey, who won anyway?”

Before I can answer, I watch him dump out a box of frozen shrimp, marked “Product of Vietnam” into a vat to thaw. “These are genuine caught in the Gulf of Mexico shrimps!” he explains and to my horror tosses the greasy oil-soaked box overboard. I grab a gaff and snag it back and this tickles him for some reason. "Biodegeneration will dissolve that sonny!" he says and spits a ungodly amount of tobacco juice into the bay and croaks, "Presto!"

“I don’t guess you’ve heard about water pollution?” I ask and again he cackles. Before I can utter another word, he dips a dirty glass into the ship channel and drinks the whole thing, burping loudly.

“It’s a myth, just like those lies about Bill Clinton preying on the women folk. Did I tell you him and me went to the same high school in Ar-kansas?  Sure did and them girls were always pestering him, and he being a gentleman and all.  He was the real victim. I swear to there and back he was. Clean as one of those Buck-Kees terlits!”

I watch as he lights up two hand-rolled cigarettes at once and puffs away, like a steam locomotive. Pulling in the huge net takes precedence over talking and he dumps the contents on the deck. It is an amazing haul of everything from oysters and shrimp to about twenty kinds of fish of every description. “I harvest everything and nothing gets throwed back!” he yells and I’m no expert on limits of size requirements, but I’m pretty sure a 10-inch redfish is a violation.

“You see, some of these laws just ain’t for the working man, fella. A man’s gotta make a living and all of this will either go to the buyers, or it will go to the other buyers!’ Again he laughs so hard, I have to slap his boney back to help him catch his wind. “Here, hold my beer while I drop the nets again.” I wasn't counting, but I think that is number 3. For a man in his obvious 80’s, Mr. Bouchet has energy to spare and for the life of me, I wonder how he can catch anything here at the docks and say so.

"You just watch and learn fella. Ol Cap’n Rusty will learn you." Sure enough, a wave comes rolling in as a huge ship passes by and the captain lets out a squeal that would scare a sow feral hog. "The nets are full agin!" he yells and hits the switch on his rickety winch. The whole dang boat rocks to one side as the heavy fish-laden net is lifted out of the water and Ol Rusty is going plumb crazy. "Everything sells!"

The near bursting net is hovering over the rotting deck of the boat when he releases it and it is almost full of loggerhead sea turtles of every size.  They thunk and bang all over the place and the spry captain is dancing about throwing them into the ice-filled chests and lockers like Ken Caminiti firing off a throw to first. I'm pretty sure all of this is illegal and I look around knowing I will be incriminated as an accessory. When he sees that I am about to bolt, he cackles and tells me "all these will be in Anahuac before sundown, cause they's be turtle eatin' fools over there."

Well, I'd seen enough and I left the giggling old man and figured it was my civic duty to file a police report. For some reason it wasn't in the today's paper, but that was yesterday and it'll probably be in Sunday's paper. I sure hope he isn't water-boarded because they would be in for a surprise. Anyone who drink water out of Tabb's bay won't be easy to break.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Is behaving badly, the new standard?

I signaled to exit onto North Main Street coming off SH-146 the other day and there was a car rapidly approaching from the flyover off of Spur 330. To be honest, I was exceeding the 60 mph speed limit by about 8 mph, or 68 miles per hour. The fellow zoomed up behind me so I couldn't see anything of his car except the roof, as I have a large spare tire on the back of my Jeep that obstructs my view when cars are close.

I was slowly decelerating down to about 60, as the ramp speed limit is 45 mph. The fellow swerved back and forth behind me trying to decide if he could pass me up and when I subtly countered his possibly dangerous maneuver, he finally shot around me and made an obscene hand gesture. I ignored him in a supreme act of self-control, as I was more curious about what exactly my offense was, than responding to his rude behavior.

He cut all the way to the right lane and accelerated to a stop behind another car wanting to turn right on North Main. I coasted in and stopped in the far left lane and looked over at the guy. He didn't appear to be in any state of emergency, or anything. He was simply driving. The light changed and he immediately got on the bumper of the car in front of him and tailgated up to the next red light. I observed this in my rear view mirror as I headed north.

Someone said a measure of a person is to watch how they drive and I believe it. I mentioned to a stranger the other day something about turn signals and they proudly declared they never use them. They said they don't want to let people know they are changing lanes because "they will speed up and won't let you in". I couldn't argue with that.

I grabbed a basket at Food Town the other day and it was wedged to the one in front of it. A lady came up beside me and pulled the next row cart free and she looked at me as I untangled the carts. "Why not just get a different one?" she sincerely asked. I told her it would just be a problem for the next person and then succeeded in freeing it. She acted as if I was the Lone Ranger and maybe I was at that moment in time.

How many times have you walked into a store or business with someone in front of you and they simply let go of the door even though they knew you are behind them? I was at Patient's emergency room the other day and the opposite happened. The lady in front of me held the door until I could grab it. I joked that she was a true gentleman and she replied, "I was raised right" and maybe this is the explanation to this anti-social behavior.

Who raised these inconsiderate masses that they don't even consider helping their fellow man? That's it. Probably someone other than their parents. The thought never crosses their mind that what they are doing isn't socially favorable. To them they are not being rude. They are simply looking out for numero uno. They want their way regardless of how they get it. If those around them don't like it?  Tough noogies. The Golden rule never crosses their mind.

Remember the old saying about one bad apple? Well, it may appear at times that these self-servers outnumber people with good manners, but I don't think they do. We just notice them because they rub us the wrong way. Good manners will never go unnoticed or unrewarded. A kind word, a simple consideration, or stepping aside so someone else can get a step up can have excellent results and brighten a person's day. When I pay a person for food service or at the grocery store, I usually attempt to say their name and wish them well and this automatically makes our exchange personal and sets me apart from everyone who saw them as faceless and nameless minions.

In our times when everyone wants to be seen as unique and their own person, why not try being kind and considerate? Wow! That would set you apart from many instantly. Why not slow down and let people in instead of accelerating to keep them from taking what you feel is yours? I don't believe poor behavior is the answer to any situation let alone the new norm, but it appears there are a good number of people trying hard to convince me otherwise. Have a nice day!

Friday, March 17, 2017

Aging ain't what it used to be

 "When I get older losing my hair, many years from now. Will you still be sending me a Valentine, birthday greetings bottle of wine?" This line from the pen of the Beatles was in the extreme far distance when I first heard it in 1967.  I was 15 and the idea that I would someday be 64 was inconceivable (did I even know what that word meant?).

I remember what 64 year old people looked like in the 60's and they looked - well, they looked old.  Old as in men wore baggy khaki pants and brown brogans and shuffled around on a cane coughing all the time like they had tuberculosis. Their shirts had stains on them and they yelled at kids and were generally useless for anything except taking up space on the front porch or giving kids Dutch rubs.

64 year old women were gray-headed, fat and wore baggy old flowery moo-moo's and had those thick nylons that went up to the knee and black clog-dancing shoes they stomped around in and yelled "Ehhh?" every time you tried to talk to them.  "Ehh?  Whadja say there sonny?"

This is how I remembered them, me being full of wisdom and 15. Now that may not have been the case, but youth has a way of ageing people prematurely and yes, unfairly. When you are 15, dating a girl 17 would put you squarely in the stud category (not that I would know anything about that!). A 24 year old is, like, way advanced in age and if a person is 30, well, can someone say "one foot on a banana peel and the other in the grave?"

Remember hearing that some 12th grade cheerleader was dating ... (gasp) a college student? Yea, she was probably 17 and the guy 18.

"Old man look at my life, 24 and there's so much more. Live alone in a paradise, that makes me think of two." I was 20 when Neil Young published this iconic song and 24 seemed a long way off. Come today, I was 24 - 40 years ago. In simple terms when I first heard this song, I would triple my age to arrive where I am today.

Back in 1968, the ever-morphing and imaginative Beatles also wrote: "They say it's your birthday. It's my birthday too, yeah They say it's your birthday. We're gonna have a good time. I'm glad it's your birthday. Happy birthday to you." This was written when they couldn't imagine being 64 and were still excited about actually having another birthday party. The good thing about having a birthday at my age is you get to reflect that you are still alive. The bad side is yea, you are one year older and like Pink Floyd wrote, "One day closer to death".

My dad (rest in peace) once remarked about exercise that "all it does is postpone the inevitable.

Alice Cooper released "I'm eighteen" in 1970.  I was eighteen at the time and I still love this song today because it really summed up how I felt at that time. I was a man in that I could go to war for my country, but I was a boy because I couldn't buy a beer.   Vincent Furnier, the lead singer for the band was coincidentally - 24 years old when they released this song.

"Lines form on my face and hands. Lines form from the ups and downs. I'm in the middle without any plans. I'm a boy and I'm a man. I got a baby's brain and an old man's heart. Took eighteen years to get this far. Don't always know what I'm talkin' about. Feels like I'm livin' in the middle of doubt."  Here I am 40 some odd years later and like Vincent, I often time think I still have a baby's brain and an old man's heart.  "I get confused every day and I don't know what to say" and folks older than me tell me it gets harder every day to sort things out. I hope not. I pretty much live day to day off my notes on my calendar as it is.

"What?  Rely on my memory ehh, sonny? What memory? Now where did I leave my brogans again? On second thought, where can I take my brogans and get the laces replaced  with Velcro? Do you think my khaki pants are too wrinkled to wear to Wal-mart? The older I get young fella, the better I used to be! Hand me my sack of meds while your up! What are those kids doing on my lawn?"

Friday, March 10, 2017

We are not the same old place anymore

I would like to say "Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore", but that would sound corny, even though it's an accurate quote from The Wizard of Oz. Our tri-city community is gone forever, being replaced by an ever-emerging agglomeration of new businesses, storage units, trailer parks, apartments, and even a few new houses. We've lost that loving feeling of a small community and driving west on I-10 from Beaumont, you enter the city of Baytown and don't stop seeing what is essentially Houston until you pop out on the other side of Katy, 60 miles later.

We are being swallowed up by the expansion of Houston, as the metropolis has ran out of room north, west, and south. Mayor DonCarlos (who I have voted for at least 6 times) told us that we should plan for a quarter of a million people over the next five years or so. If you remember, I predicted a growth of 200,000 a few years ago and a couple of the local righteous curmudgeons basically called me a dreamer and a prognosticator of fake news. If my rememberer is working correctly, they both claimed there was no way Hillary could lose the election.

Well, here's a hard cold fact and maybe you've heard of it or not. Up SH-146 before you get to Dayton and almost directly across the road from the large white rice elevator, they are going to build 14,000 homes. It will be a city in size with police, fire department and a proliferation of support businesses. It is also asserted, but unconfirmed that there will be a major airport built close-by.  I'm not talking a Gum Island expansion either, but a major airline investment. More on that as it progresses.

I was at the VA Medical Center the other day and my PA was telling me about her daily commute from Manvel and how it has become a traffic jam. Well, hello! The entire Houston area has become worse than Garth road at lunch time. Fixing Garth Road will be temporary at best, as more people flood to the area. The only salvation we have is more roads. SH-146 out past Pinehurst will only be remedied when they build an elevated road from the trestle to Maranatha Temple with flyovers for I-10 east and west.

Only driverless cars, trucks and mass transit will make our roads safer when all the stop lights are removed and there is no longer a need for car insurance. Everything will be scheduled and you will get where you are going when it is time to go. What about leisure driving you ask? Maybe you will be able to push a button to take the scenic route. What scenic route? There's nothing scenic left and out in the country is, well, it's a long ways off.

I remember 25 years ago when people left Baytown to live out in the country. They chose The Woodlands. Then everyone wanted to really get out there and they moved to League City, Pearland, and Katy. Seriously? The other day we were at Red Lobster and I drove over to Ward Road and it took almost a half an hour and like Rain Man, I'm an excellent driver.

I tend to get around the entire Houston area either geocaching or visiting the gyms I cover and about the only locale that still has that hometown feel is... La Porte. The east side specifically and I find the slower pace there very refreshing. During the weekday there is almost no traffic, as folks who live there are either retired, working, or sleeping due to shift work - and there are deer over there in the woods near Wharton Weems Boulevard.

Am I being critical of Baytown or its planners?  No, I don't mean to sound like I am. It is what it is and Houston has to grow somewhere. What I am suggesting is we be very careful how we go about accommodating all these new people and businesses. It is far too late to be anything approximating a planned community, but we can be smart about what we allow to be built. I've heard the question raised one time too many of just how many storage units, donut shops, cookie-cutter apartment complexes, and taquerias do we need and yet these very establishments are under construction right now.

It is also extremely important to maintain green spaces and enforce landscaping rules. Expanding the court-driven community service to do more and longer litter abatement punishment would be a positive and encouraging more community efforts toward improving our image would be wonderful. We can indeed take our tri-city area and make it not only better looking, but a draw for quality newcomers by progressive planning.

Like it or not, we are now a major city. Stop griping about Garth Road because we have more Garth Roads coming and Kansas is gone forever.

Friday, March 03, 2017

That one moment you never forget

I love the movie "Hitch" and I've watched it probably too many times.  I love the message that we should live life to the fullest. Sure, its a cliché we've all heard in twenty variations, but that doesn't mean we understand or get it. Take time to smell the roses.  Most of us know that one and we still don't do it, because we don't comprehend how incredible and fabulous living like this can be.

I listened to my bride tell me something the other day and I don't think it was anything earth shaking, but I looked at her face and how animated she was and I stopped her and told her how much I love her. Yea, I was right where I wanted to be. I had a deep understanding of just how important she is to me and how fortunate I am to have her in my life.

Years ago, a few Airmen and I were camping in the mountains of Montana. There was a lone bald peak not too far from our tents and I told them I was going to climb it. "Why?" they all echoed. "I want to experience it," was my reply and one by one they rose and we made the steep climb. As we sat at the top and looked around, we shared that experience and were in no hurry to leave. Now 40 years later I can revisit that peak because I absorbed it.

Do you ever wonder why people take vacations and cruises but never talk about them afterward? I wonder if they slowed down enough to let it soak into the fabric of their being? If you ask them, they will swear they did and maybe tell you how they swam with great white sharks or zip-lined through an active volcano and then they fall silent or change the subject. Did they truly experience that moment, or was it just another cheap thrill and a check mark on their bucket list? Truly amazing moments often happen in truly unamazing places and you never forget them. Make a note I am excluding tragedy from this line of thought.

I was in Midtown instructing an 0530 spin class and we were cycling in a near dark spin room, crowded with stationary bikes and sweating people. Believe it or not, I am often down there at Elgin and Louisiana, as they need instructors and I leave Baytown at 0420 to get there and get set up for class. Most all of these people work in offices and will leave the gym and go to work. Me? I am living and doing exactly what I want at that moment. I love it.
I often adjure them to be selfish with their hour of exertion. "Don't go to work in your head before your body has to. This is your hour to be selfish. You are not going to change a thing over there right now. You are here because there is no other place you want to be, so don't mentally leave. forget the TPS reports, your bills, the kids, forget everything but this bike and the mountain trail you are riding. Right now its just you, your body, and this bike," and then I tell them a corny joke. I often explain that their body will tell them to stop, but all they need to do is live in the moment and like one man told me after a class, "I've been spinning for 6 years and that was the hardest class I've ever been in."

I laughed because I didn't push him that hard - he somehow plugged in and pushed himself to new level and that should be our goal. Do we have to water ski behind a 900 foot ocean liner or wrestle a 26 foot long Nile croc to have an awakening?  Of course not. This moment will come at a most unexpected time of revelation. It may take place in a parking lot when you see a cloud formation, or talk to a lady in a supermarket. For that instant you realize why you are here and looking around you decide there is no place on earth like the one you are experiencing. You are living in the moment.

I stand in my driveway at night and look at the planet Venus and little red Mars and then the moon and I am as happy as a chimp with a banana. I know my bride is not interested in the view, but I am seeing the collective of millions of stargazers and I feel their connection. My Chinese Holly tree's berries are feeding the migrating cedar wax-wing birds and I can feel a satisfaction that stays with me all day and all I have to do is take time to watch them.

Living in the moment is far more than a tag line from a movie. It is a realization that there is no place on earth better than the one you are experiencing right now.

The real poop on the Ukraine

Mitt Romney’s top adviser, Joseph Cofer Black, joined the board of the Ukraine energy firm, Burisma, while Hunter Biden was also serving on ...