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walkie talkie kid

I don’t recall my elders ever commenting on me using my walkie talkie too much growing up. Of course, there was a problem with using walkie-talkies too much. The battery life and the range were both greatly limited. But I got to thinking about playing with walkie-talkies as a kid today after thinking about how many of the older generation now express concern over the younger generation spending too much time playing with cell phones.

One of the most frequent comments I hear is generally along the lines of “we did just fine without cell phones” and tends to involve side references to how, instead, they went outside and played or would actually go interact with their friends in person. Fair enough criticism and one that I considered (and still do consider) has some merit. But not so much since I thought about the walkie-talkies.

Sure, there were other devices that we had, some of which equally raised hackles in our parents and their friends. My brother was obsessed with his Coleco electronic football game for a while as was I with the racing game. In high school, some of the nerdier guys I knew all got HP48c scientific calculators and used to spend hours trying to program rudimentary software into them to do a plethora of inane things hardly worthy of the time it required to achieve them.

“Look, I wrote a program last night that tells me the time in Shri Lanka!”
“And we need to know the time in Shri Lanka because why?”

But the closest analog to the modern cell phone has to be the walkie-talkie. For those of you that might be from my generation or slightly before, you probably know what I’m talking about even if you haven’t considered the comparison. The first thing you did after making sure they worked – a process that generally involved about 20 minutes of tinkering with batteries, switches and buttons – was to hold them next to one another pressing the buttons on each at once. This usually produced a loud squalk which could sometimes pre-occupy those kids new to the concept of audio-feedback for another 30 minutes. But once the initial fascination with the devices and the feedback subsided, the ultimate use of hand-held walkie-talkie radios was finally put to the test…

And without question, that involved getting out of sight of one another. Walkie-talkies made no sense what-so-ever if you could hear the guy talking within earshot. It didn’t even make much sense if you could see what he was doing, especially because the most common subject of conversation amounted to “what are you doing?” and the corresponding response. Needless to say, the nature of the ‘walkie talkie’ was to be out of line of sight from your friend. More often than not, the bulk of the first few weeks of playing with walkie-talkie radios involved an endless series of tests to see just ‘how far out of sight’ you could get from one another and still be able to converse. Once the initial fascination with wireless communications settled down, then and only then would you try to figure out things to do that did not revolve directly around the concept of getting-as-far-away-from-one-another-as-possible.

Another common practice, and one that would also generate concern from parents would be if and when two kids in close proximity could figure out how to use the walkie-talkies to converse while still in their own houses, especially the privacy of their own bedrooms. While this too caused concern with parents, it was generally not over the devices distracting from other activities — well that is except for the most common activity that generated the concern, going to bed instead of talking on the damn radio all night!

walkie talkies

As I mention, the devices were limited though, so there was not nearly as much concern. If you talked in them too much, the batteries went dead and getting mom or dad to buy you more batteries was an effort that became more difficult with increased use of the radio and increased frequency of need for new ones. So ad-hoc communications such as with the modern day cell phone and the advent of built-in rechargeable batteries was extremely limited. Of course, you were also limited to just talking and then only half-duplex. (read: one side conversing at a time) And as already mentioned there was only a limited range. If your friend went to the mall, you would be lucky if you could hear him transmitting past the top of the street corner. (though that did not stop us from trying, especially in the aforementioned ‘range testing’ phase)

There is also the very real concern today that a cell phone can connect to an internet full of all sorts of other influences. While many walkie-talkie devices were defaulted to channel 14 on the citizen band (CB radio) which was also used by truckers, truckers also tended to be more polite to kids on CB in those days and any nefarious behavior, if and when a meager walkie-talkie signal actually got heard by an adult, involved the adult telling the kid to knock it off!

Thinking back, however, if there had been any way for us to play games directly on those walkie talkies, we would have utilized it. If we could have talked farther than to the next block, we would have reveled in it. (hey, I became an Extra class amateur radio operator in my teens – I actually DID it) And if we could have sent text over them, we would have done that too. (the best we ever had was the occasional walkie talkie with a second red button that could send a morse code tone)

Thus, I think it is fair to say that for my generation (and those immediately before) who enjoyed things such as walkie talkies, we do not have much cause to complain – or at least to complain too loudly. Envy, perhaps. But complain? No!

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(originally published May 26, 2009 @16:12 EST)

All day long yesterday for Memorial day I found myself recalling various men I have felt proud to know in my lifetime and the stories they would tell; at fishing camp, at hunting camp, around campfires, over beers, among friends. Stories of their time in the service and in some rare cases of their times on the front lines. (although those recollections were more frequent in the old timers, and even then generally focused on things that had happened only to them)
It didn’t occur to me to pass any of them along until this morning, so I thought I would go over some of them in brief to share their tales (as I recall them) and pass them along.

So here’s to Reese from Sheep’s Pasture, to the stories he would tell of a bunch of young marines trained in Florida deep in the everglades running on unseen boards made to resemble walkways in rice paddies, feeling their way with sticks and risking splashing down with not only the murky waters, but the gators hiding within.

US Marine Patrol

US Marine Patrol

To stories of young leathernecks going on first leave after having it drilled in their heads for weeks that they were the meanest, roughest, toughest, baddest sons of bitches to ever walk the face of the earth – and to the stories of the fist fights and timely flights (from authorities) that soon ensued.
Here’s to the young marine finally coming home after his tours in Viet Nam in a full leg cast who got off the plane to see his family across the tarmac and becoming delighted, only to be confronted head on by two dirty, long haired protesters who spat in his face screaming baby killer.
And here’s to the two cops who scooped him up after he busted the first one’s face open while balancing on his crutches and was already going after the second, who in spite of the screams from the activists to “arrest him!”, brought him through the security entrance, smiled and said “semper fi brother, now get the hell out of here or we ‘will’ have to arrest you”
(Reese told no stories of the time between basic and coming home – Rest in Peace)

Here’s to Smitty, also from fish camp at Sheep’s pasture, a thin older gent who told us of the time he was brought before his superiors for a samurai sword he had found. It turned out to be an officers sword that he had picked up after entering a cave to see a smiling Japanese soldier holding his hands up in the air saying in broken English “I surrender” – and here’s to the fellow soldier behind Smitty that caused him to look down only to see the tip of a Thompson open fire from where it had been inserted under his arm, and to the hand that grabbed the back of his neck to fling him back out of the mouth of the cave just as the grenade the Japanese officer was holding in his upraised hand fell free and detonated.

Okinawa Beachhead

Okinawa Beachhead

To the story he told of when the zeros buzzed the Okinawa beachhead and he took (he thought) two shots in his arm, to the medic that bandaged him up and secured his arm to his side so he could, with the help of another soldier that was wounded in the opposite arm, still manage to assist in moving wounded on stretchers for the remainder of the hours of fighting that ensued. Only after which did he think to seek out a field surgeon to actually get treatment, where they discovered the third shot that had gone right through his lower abdomen.
Upon hearing the shot was more than 4 hours old and seeing where it passed, the triage nurse pronounced him essentially ‘already dead’ and went to attend to other ‘more hopeful’ patients. Obviously he was not about to settle for this and had to argue considerably to even be treated due to all the other wounded on the beach. He was made to wait even longer and eventually wheeled in to a dirty side room, given no anesthesia, cut the length of his side and ‘sloshed back and forth’ with a liquid poured into the incision that he described as having the look and smell of urine. (it wasn’t, but was some low-frills antiseptic that they could justify ‘sparing’ on a ‘dying man’)
He showed us the scars including the marks where they had sewn him back up with wire staples, as they didn’t want to waste any sinew on him either, hoping to spare it for men they actually thought could be saved.
And here’s to that stubborn man who passed out only to wake up 3 hours later in a hospice wing of a makeshift tent, damned them for leaving him to die and walked back into the OR where he finally received proper sutures and ultimately got a real bed in intensive care to continue his recovery.
(rest in peace Smitty! And thanks for the hand made net, it’s still one of my most prized possessions)

And here’s to Kenny from Spud farm who told us of how he was on board the USS Franklin when a Japanese Kamikaze nearly broke her in two.

USS Franklin listing

How he and some of his shipmates had to navigate a catwalk on the backside of the control tower to avoid the flames, suspended on nothing but a 6″ ledge more than 4 stories above the ocean. About how he turned just in time to see one of his best friends for the very last time falling to the ocean below after a secondary explosion shook the whole ship.
Here’s to the three hours he spent in near freezing waters after the second kamikaze hit sent him into the frigid waters as well. And to the simple apple that helped keep him alive – as when he would grow tired and almost give up, he would see the apple bobbing 2-3 wave crests away, just briefly enough to give him something to keep swimming after.
Here’s to the guys that eventually showed up to scoop up the dead bodies onto their already overflowing flatboat, only to tell Ken that they would send a crew back for him as they had no room. And here’s to them agreeing to pick him up after hearing him say “if you do that, you’ll be picking me up instead along with the rest of the dead!” (try to imagine that ride back, where the only room is on top of the bodies!)

Here’s to Mike who’s story I almost didn’t want to include as I didn’t want to make him look bad, but the state of mind it details I doubt anyone reading could imagine doing otherwise.
Still trying to shake off the experiences of combat, he decided to accept an invitation to ‘relax’ by going hunting on a friend’s private property. As he walked to his blind, some ‘slob’ who was trespassing and poaching on this friends private land, apparently thought it was a good idea to shoot at any sound of movement.
Being fresh out of the service, Mike told us (trying to be funny but still showing in his face how much it disturbed him) the sound of the shell hissing by his head caused instinct to take over and the next thing he knew, he was hiding behind a 5″ ball of dirt and had emptied his shotgun in the direction of the fired ‘near miss’. (fortunately enough missing as well)

US Marine Escort near Baghdad

US Marine Escort near Baghdad

(thank you Mike for teaching me your variant of Darwin’s rule, “people that are prone to do stupid, dangerous or self-destructive things…. should!”)

Here’s to my cousin Jim who also didn’t go into a lot of detail about his experience in Iraq, but did comment on the frustration he and his other marines had when coming within sight of Baghdad during Desert Storm – only to be pulled back at the last minute. I still remember the certainty in your words back then that “we should have been allowed to finish, we’ll only end up having to come back”.

To my namesake Webster Abial Wood who dodged musket fire and cannon balls at Gettysburg in the war to preserve our union. Who at first I wondered about his ‘bravery’ as he was a member of the drum core and played the fife in the 24th Michigan band.

Thomas Nasts Drummer Boys

Thomas Nast’s Drummer Boys

That is until I read more on the civil war… about the battles on fields covered in white smoke from black powder muskets and cannons. Story after story where men wrote in their diaries of looking to their immediately left and immediately right to barely make out just one of their fellow soldiers through the smoke and to hear the pace of the drum to match their steps as they had been trained. The drums marking the pace to keep the line in step, the steady beat as a heart to the line signifying their ranks had not been broken. And the stories of returning fire where the sounds of the ‘enemy’ drums and the bugles on the other side of the field often gave you the only point of aim through opaque clouds of smoke.
To stories of friends, neighbors and brothers meeting as opponents in our nations bloodiest war, but still being civil enough to pass letters, foodstuffs and other token items in small boats across the blood stained rivers separating their lines after the sun set and fighting subsided for the night.
And to the knowledge of Webster leading the army band for the melancholy honor of playing for an assassinated president’s funeral procession in Illinois.

Here’s to my grandfather ‘Woody’ who also didn’t speak to much around me about his time in the first world war while in the Navy. But who raised my father and consequently passed on to me an understanding of the values that made this country great and an appreciation for the men that helped make it that way.

—-

You may have noticed by now what I already eluded to. These men would tell stories of the good times, of the times before the war or immediately after. Of things that happened only to them where they got out alive in spite of adversity. But many of such a story would bring up a name, or refer to a person and the story would finish, the men would either bow their heads or stare off into space and go silent for a long time. After which they would turn to one another as only their fellow veterans could understand, raise their glasses “To them!”

There was yet another theme that ran through the stories as well. I ran across an interesting quote yesterday from none other than George Orwell:

All the war-propaganda, all the screaming and lies and hatred, comes invariably from people who are not fighting.

All the men I named believe in their country, treasure their freedom and would fight for it with their lives. Some of them signed up voluntarily out of a sense of duty and honor, others out of little more than need and no where else to go, and still others were drafted and answered the call. None wanted to repeat their ‘unspoken’ experiences, but I have no doubt any one of them would join up with such a cause again if the need arose and our country was threatened.

But don’t be mistaken!

The only man standing is in a wheelchairAs every one of them told their stories, it was easily understood. When they were in the line of fire, on the front lines and in the middle of a firefight, they no more fought for ideals of freedom or country then they did out of a sense of duty or honor. No, they fought for their fellow soldiers – their friends, and for the hope that someday soon they would be home with people they loved.

So most of all, here’s to the men I never met, to the stories I never heard, to the laughs we never made about the good times. Here’s to the horrors I never learned from those that did return, from the stories they kept to themselves and their sleepless nights. Here’s to the silent moments, the hung heads and the solemn toasts. Here’s to the old man in his dress uniform shedding a tear over some memory only he holds – always trying to keep it out of his mind but making sure he never forgets. Here’s to the unknown soldiers in the unmarked graves on battlefields far away, and to the events that never made best sellers or Hollywood movies.

I never met any of you, never heard your stories but be damn sure, I will never forget you!

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I came to realize something blatantly in error with one of my prior self quotes. It’s one that I am rather fond of so the realization was something I felt worthy of clarification. The problem isn’t so much an inaccuracy of the sentiment as it was a fault of omission. Below is the quote I refer to from my facebook stati tab:

I intend to leave the quote as is, but will point a link back to this posting for further details. The omitted concept is one that any reasonable person would consider implied within the statement and thus it’s not immediately necessary to belabor the quote with unnecessary detail. But since some folks like to stir muck, additional pre-emptive explanation should steal any such deviant’s thunder before they get the opportunity.

The omitted concept is in relation to the words ‘should not morally do’ in relation to a role a taken on behalf of the people by a government entity. When I say that the government be enlisted to do things that the people “morally” should not undertake for themselves, this assumes that the thing being undertaken exists as a moral action to be done on their behalf.

Upon discovering this omission, it occurred to me current government behaviors such as the act of ‘redistributing’ wealth (a role I condemn as both immoral and unconstitutional) might be considered condone-able actions for a ‘government’ to undertake in their stead by way of this omission. This is not what I meant in the slightest.

Instead, I refer to things such as the prosecution of criminal acts after-the-fact or the execution of foreign relations and the role of national defense when facing an imminent threat from a foreign power. Acts of diplomacy must reflect the combined will of the entire population governed and no one individual or small group should be morally allowed to endanger the lives of others or take it upon themselves to extol justice or declare war on foreign nations.

So I just wanted to clear this up before anyone chose to make an attempt at exploiting any potential ambiguity in that particular quote’s wording.

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I have had some people communicate some criticism upon my former facebook status related to creativity, expression and what constitutes art:

Expression without purpose begets nothing but nonsense. Expression with purpose no matter how divergent is the essence of creativity. And when such expression achieves it’s intended purpose, it becomes art!” – SWW

The criticisms of these people were valid (based on their perspective) but they didn’t take into account one thing. There is an implied concept in the use of one word in that statement.  The implication entails the use for the word ‘purpose‘. So, as I am often prone to do, let’s refer to the definition.

Dictionary.com says:

pur·pose
 noun 1. the reason for which something exists or is done, made,used

Technically speaking, what I am referring to isn’t even implied.  It’s denoted right in there.  The word ‘reason’.  Reason in this context refers to a basis or cause, but the implication in my usage of the word reason is a ‘rational’ basis or cause.

If one’s purpose for doing something is based on an irrational motivation, the motivation can be said to be ‘unreasonable’.  Another way of saying ‘unreasonable’ is ‘without reason’.  If your purpose is without reason, then you might as well be acting ‘without purpose’.

When I refer of art as something resulting from expression with purpose, it is the same as saying ‘expression with a rational purpose’ or expression done with a valid, objectively definable purpose or cause.

A great example of this is Piss-Christ.  When I first heard of this so-called ‘work of art’, I could not see any intended purpose for the medium other than to insult something he didn’t like.  After all, when we are upset with something it is a colloquial cliche to say ‘aw, piss on it!’

As I read up more on it and learned more about religion itself, I began to realize there could be a legitimate purpose to it.  For example, take the words of the photographer himself from that above link:

Serrano has not ascribed overtly political content to Piss Christ and related artworks, on the contrary stressing their ambiguity. He has also said that while this work is not intended to denounce religion, it alludes to a perceived commercializing or cheapening of Christian icons in contemporary culture.

Upon alleviating my ignorance, I now consider Piss-Christ as art.  Not what I could say would be my personal preference to hang in the foyer, but art none-the-less.

Suffice it to say, I stand by the accuracy of my original statement.  Frivolity or absurdity is not art.  But expression, no matter how divergent that achieves it’s intended (rational) purpose, is the nature of art.

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Some time ago I stumbled upon a picture on the internet of a sign in front of a church somewhere.  Below is the picture of the sign:

I posted a copy of this sign to a folder dedicated to such things on my Facebook profile to show an example of the absurdity sometimes exhibited by religious logic.  I saw it as an example of such absurdity due to the inherent flaws in this kind of a statement.

Well, this morning as I was on my way to the grocery store I saw that one of the local Churches along the way has apparently found it admirable to emulate this sign and now bears a similar message.  (I will try to get a photo of it tomorrow to replace this one in my facebook as well as possibly to add to this blog post – first hand evidence is always superior to the anecdotal kind)

I figured as long as I am going to be going by that way to take the photo anyway, it might be worthwhile to drop a quick note to the pastor to let him know that his posting of the message may not have the desired effect(s) he intended.  The following is the text I am considering sending in such a letter if I do decide to leave one behind:

To whom it may concern,

  I couldn't help but notice that the marquis sign
in front of  your Church is emulating a message
that has been making the rounds of the internet
by way of a similar sign seen in front of a
small Presbyterian church in eastern Ontario.

  I think it may be of value to inform you that this
message may not have the intended result you desire
for a couple of reasons, not the least of which are
two inherent flaws in the statement itself.  Flaws
that any reasonable person should quickly realize.
  To address the flaws first, let me begin with
the obvious one of the two.  Google is not an
'answer' engine, Google a search engine.
  Although I understand the intent of the message,
the way it is worded immediately jumps out to me
as inaccurate. I realize the intention is to
say that there are some things that can't be
answered by 'using' google, but then why not
instead have the sign read:

 "SOME QUESTIONS EVEN USING Google CAN'T ANSWER" ?

The second flaw in the statement is a fallacy
that is implied when putting such a message out
in front of a Church like yours.  The implication
being that the Bible and the Church 'can' answer
such questions.
  I will not speak to my own opinion as to whether
or how well notions of faith and belief in God
may or may not answer such questions, but I
shall address the fallacy of this implication.
  This is a typical "Because Not A, therefore B"
type argument and is a fallacy.  Using such
reasoning, one could just as easily imply:
"because you cannot find all the answers on
 Google, therefore you 'can' by way of Astrology"
  or "...asking a stranger on the street"
  or "...flipping to a random page in the nearest book"
  Because you cannot find all the answers using
Google does not automatically equate that you
can through any suggested alternative.  Any such
alternative still needs to establish that it is
not only a consistent and valid source of such
answers, but by way of that wording, that it is
an all inclusive source of such answers as well.

Again, it is not my desire to hash out whether or not
the Bible or a Church does this.  But with both of
these flaws addressed, I would like to point out one
other possible 'effect' that you might not have
considered.
  As I stated, any reasonable person can quickly
see one if not both of these flaws.  Any reasonably
connected person (on the internet) may well have
seen this sign's message and thus realize your's
is not original, but flattery through imitation.
But have you also considered that it might be seen
as 'self-righteousness' on the part of the religious
or your particular parish?  (if I am not correct,
self-righteousness is discouraged in Christian
doctrine as a form of vanity, is it not?)

What do I mean by this?  If you examine the two
flaws, and if you consider it plausible for people to
discern them, then it is not a leap to consider
that only people who already believe
'God and the Bible 'do' have all the answers'
will be the most likely people to agree with such
a statement on face value.
  In other words, the wording will likely not 'convince'
anyone that is not already convinced.  If it's not
there to convince anyone (or, if convincing them
was an intention but is one that will not be likely
to achieve such a desired purpose) then what other
purpose can the message serve other than to
'brag' or 'boast' about the about religion/church's
self-perceived ability to be the sole source of
answers to such questions?

In other words, for a reasonable person capable of
critical thinking, your sign might actually turn
people away from the idea of turning to the
church for answers.
  Just some thoughts for you to consider.

Sincerely,

one of your friendly neighborhood atheists...

P.S.  I thought it might also be of interest to
  you to know that I have a copy of this sign that
  I post as an example of the flaws of religious
  logic - due to very the two things I mentioned.

And I don’t think it’s a leap to consider that the two reasons I mentioned are also part of the reason the original version from Ontario has gotten such circulation on the internet.

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I was performing the blasphemous act of listening to Richard Dawkin’s book “The God Delusion” on my way home from work the other day, when I found I was thirsty.  So as soon as I got home, I grabbed a glass and filled a pitcher of water.  I threw the headset on while getting out of the car but was only half paying attention now as I noticed something in the glass of water.

marked water glassI quickly grabbed for the sharpie that I use to mark my CDs and DVDs with and put a line at the watermark in the glass.  Then I went into the bathroom across the hall, drained the pitcher and promptly poured the water in the glass into the now empty pitcher.  I shook the glass real good to get as many drops as I could then poured the water back into the glass.

I was amazed!  The water came up to the same mark!!!  I repeated this procedure at least a dozen times and despite a few droplets that could easily be accounted for after spilling onto the sink or the floor, the water line was identical to my original mark!

I was no longer listening to that goofy Dawkins fellow as I was bearing witness to the substance of divinity here in my little water glass.  Despite the chaotic nature of the universe, regardless how many times I attempted to re-arrange the molecules of hydrogen and oxygen, upon pouring them back into the glass they inevitably settled to the same level in the glass.

This cannot possibly happen by mere chance,‘ I thought and repeated the experiment three more times just to be certain.  No, it was definite.  Not only was there an obvious hand of a designer at work here to make the water and the glass and the pitcher, but the very presence of God himself had to be in the room with me!  How else could all those molecules fall into place ‘just so’ every single time I tried to disturb them? The holy one himself must have been moving them about as I poured them such that they would all settle in the glass to achieve the same level EVERY SINGLE TIME!

I quickly ran upstairs and out into the street where I ran up to anyone nearby showing them my miraculous discovery.  “Look!!!” I exclaimed, pouring the water back and forth before their eyes.  “The same level!” I would exclaim.  They would just look at me with an odd expression, one woman told her kids to go into the house, following the statement with a rather stern ‘NOW’ and at least one other guy grabbed the glass with a ‘thank you’ before taking a large drought.

Foolish non-believers!  They couldn’t see the hand of God at work.  I have determined after my mandatory meeting with the county mental health examiner next week, I am going to look for other proofs of the almighty in my fruit loops!

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I keep forgetting to finish this series so it’s about time I do the last installment….

continued from part 6

After waiting a couple of extra days following the events of 9/11 and volunteering the back seat of my bike, when the woman who was semi-interested finally got a ride from her family, I decided that it was about time to resume my plans to head back to Detroit.  (among other things, staying the extra two days cost me more money and was starting to dwindle my bank-reserve that was set aside for a shorter trip)

Tire wear

Motorcycle tire wear

Whereas my trip out there was planned to include the stops in Kansas via a southern route diagonally through Illinois then across southern Missouri, I had planned on taking I-80/90 back through Nebraska, Iowa and on to Chicago before taking I-94 the rest of the way back to the Detroit area.

One of the things I noticed before leaving was that the trip out, not to mention the week’s worth of extensive riding through Denver had worn my rear tire down until some of the steel cords were poking out in a few places.  (I’m sure the sideways riding through Kansas didn’t help this much nor the 15 mile long construction SE of Denver on the way into Colorado)  To make matters worse, as I get on the eastward expressway in Nebraska, almost the entire way across the state is corrugated pavement and there is about a 20 mph headwind (which was bizarre in itself as the wind would usually be going east bound but I was sandwiched between two storm fronts in spite of the fact the sky was blue from horizon to horizon)

The ride itself was surreal.  As I mentioned, on the way out being on a motorcycle with out-of-state plates and with a backpack strapped to the back seat tended to be a conversation starter at the hourly stops for gas.  Well now you were commuting on the expressways with a number of people that had to make impromptu trips to Denver to pick up loved ones.  Truck traffic also spiked because planes were still grounded so there were a LOT of OTR drivers out and about working extra-heavy schedules with tighter deadlines.

News was still coming in on a daily basis and since a couple of days had passed, most of the truck stops and gas stations along the expressway had adjusted to accommodate the OTR and other traveler’s demands for up-to-date information.  Every stop along the way had TV’s set on counters and hung in every corner – at least half-a-dozen or more per stop.  Just about every single stop.  And it was quickly obvious why.  Every TV had at least 4-5 people standing around it, mostly truckers and the occasional person on their way to get someone or on their way back with someone.

Listening to the radio for news only got them so far.  Everyone wanted to get the various television network news when they stopped in to get gas or to get food.  They were listening to the news and needed to ‘see’ whatever had been reported over the last few hours.

a10 thunderbolt

A-10 Thunderbolt

To make things further surreal, I kept getting a weird sense that something was out of sorts.  Nebraska was still big-sky country being reasonably flat, even though there seemed to be a few more intermingled trees and foothills from time to time.  A whole lotta blue over head on such a nice fall day.  It didn’t strike me what it was that was wrong until I caught movement out of the corner of my eye.  It was an A-10 Thunderbolt flying like a bat out of hell.  It suddenly hit me – no planes the sky, not a single contrail from horizon to horizon.  I saw one more A-10 before stopping for the night and the only other aircraft I saw was a blackhawk helicopter.

My hope for that leg of the trip was to make it to Omaha on the first day but by the time I was getting close to Lincoln, Nebraska the tires were showing significantly more wear than I had hoped.  I had to stop to try to get it fixed and wasn’t even sure if I had enough money to do it and still have gas money to get back home.  I had 2 checks waiting for me now when I got there, but they didn’t do me a lot of good when I was still three states away.

I pulled off in Lincoln after talking to someone at a rest stop and being told there was a cycle dealer off the second exit.  I saw a Motel 6 just as I pulled off and the cycle dealer was only a few blocks up.  Perfect!  I dropped the bike off and got an estimate on the tire then walked down to the Motel 6 with my backpack and laptop.

After getting a room I immediately hopped online and jumped into some of the chat rooms where some of the Detroiters I knew tended to hang out.  None of the regulars were in there, but there was someone I knew and when I explained the situation, she said she would help me out and that I could pay her back when I cashed my check upon arriving home.  When I picked up the bike the next day, we called her up and she put the cost of the tire on her credit card for me.

My other plan (besides trying to make Omaha) had been to try to get out extra early on the second morning but the process of getting the tire mounted held me off until about 11 AM Lincoln time (and I was ‘losing’ an hour of daylight by heading east this time).  To make matters worse, the second batch of cool and drizzly weather was starting to move in and I really wanted to get ahead of it as it looked like rather steady rain a day behind it.  When the tire was finally done, I hit the road and put the hammer down.

It had been cloudy since I woke up and the air was starting to cool down and there was an occasional drizzle of rain.  On my few stops, I kept doing the math on my gas.  The headwind in Nebraska had also used up a little more gas than I had wanted to use.  My budget was getting tighter and tighter.  I had so little money left that I was worried of not having enough gas to make Detroit.  My meal for the day literally consisted of a bag of chips and two cans of vienna sausages!  It was all I could afford with what cash I had left in my pocket.

I made one other miscalculation in my plans.  I didn’t realize that I-80 turned into toll-turnpike for about a 5 mile stretch before it joined with I-94.  I had no cash on me as I didn’t know I’d need it and I’d spent the last of what greenbacks I had to catch dinner in Lincoln and to get the vienna sausages and chips.  I had to sign a ‘voucher’ to the city of Chicago in order to be able to get through the toll booth and then send in payment after I got home! lol

Heat!

By the time I got into SE Michigan, nightfall was already creeping in and the air was cooling down.  Before I was even out of St. Joseph County, I had to pull over at the first rest area and pull some of my extra clothes out of my bag and layer up.  The temperature had dropped down into the lower 50′s and a mist was rolling in as night fell.  The combination of the colder temps, the moisture ever present on my skin and clothing and the air rushing by made it near intolerable!  By the time I was going through Albion I was freezing my ass off and had to keep stopping at every rest stop to blast the air dryers down my shirt and pants!  It must have been quite a site.

I ended up rolling into Wayne at around 3am.  I think I mentioned I was just staying in a temporary ‘motel’ at the time after a nightmare with a psycho-roommate.  I didn’t want to wake up the folks that ran the place so I just camped out in car until morning, got my checks and got back into a room.

I met up with my friend and paid her back a few days later.  A week or so after that, I moved out to my current residence in Ypsilanti.  I don’t remember if I ever sent the money to the Chicago turnpike or not!  lol

All in all, it was quite a trip that makes for quite a story!

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When I woke up this morning, I didn’t suddenly decide, “Hey, I think I’m going to be an asshole today!”  No, I seldom — dare I say, never — wake up with that intention in mind.  But alas, the world is full of the types of people that will change your plans or sidetrack even the best intentions.

The local Kroger has one of these ‘Starbucks’ kiosks located near the front of the store where you can get a coffee to either drink while you shop or to pick up as you leave. I pass Kroger regularly on the way to and from work, so I usually just stop on the way home and pick up a few items at a time.  I often stop at this kiosk on the way out of the store to grab a coffee and I found out they are considered a ‘regular’ Kroger register where you can ring up basic items — i.e. none that require price checks or weighing.

It is the weekend so I was getting a little more than usual today to hold me down through Monday but what I had still ended up fitting in one of those small hand-baskets.  I noticed no one was at the Starbuck’s kiosk so I just decided to check out there even though I had a few more items than I would usually have when I hit their kiosk on the way out of the store.

The girl completes ringing up every item before anyone else even gets in line. The first person in line is some late-middle-aged woman with either her daughter or granddaughter.

The girl behind the counter asks her for her order as she starts bagging my stuff so the other girl can get started on making it while she is still bagging my 15 or so items –  i.e. so the woman isn’t going to have to wait any longer than she would have if I hadn’t been there at all. As she gets started on filling the 2nd of three bags, I grab the now-empty basket and walk 30 yards or so to put it back in the stack of emptys near the door.

On my way back, I make a light-hearted comment half-apologizing saying “heh – when I came up here there was no one in line.” While I was putting the basket back, the girl took a third person’s order and the second girl started making it as well and they were still finishing the first woman’s coffee as my last bag was finally filled.

Just then, despite the fact I was now leaving the line and her coffee was on the way to the counter anyway, the middle-aged woman, with a rather annoyed look on her face and an obviously snide tone in her voice  feels it necessary to chime in as a response to my remark:

“Well then MAYBE you should have gone to a NORMAL check out! This is…  JUST…  a Starbucks.”

It was such a nasty tone, and she paused between the last few words for added emphasis.  This seemed to hit me right square on my ‘apathy-sux’ braincells and thus I couldn’t leave well enough alone.

As I was strapping the three bags over my right wrist so I could carry the coffee with my left hand I stepped part way aside so the girl behind the counter could start ringing her up. I made an obvious point to look around the entire bakery and deli area where the Kiosk was located. Then I added:

“Well… as long as you brought it up… it would appear this is not ‘just’ a Starbucks. It would appear we are in a Kroger store.”  I then pointed at the Kroger branded registers and card scanners.  “And this would appear to be a Kroger register. And a register is a register. Had I been buying deli, I would have checked out at the deli. If I was filling a prescription, I could have checked out at the pharmacy.”

“But seeing as how I already explained I only came here because the girls were standing idly behind the counter as I was walking by with my one small basket of items, and since I already apologized for any additional delay,” the girl set the woman’s now finished coffee on the counter and I paused so she could request the payment. “Of which it appears there is in fact none…”

I widened my smile and in the most congenial tone I could muster, I continued, “… but if I had known you were in such a hurry to get to your next dose of menopause medication, I would have happily let you ahead of me.  Good day!”

The guy who was behind her in line was trying to hold back a burst of laughter, but I simply tipped my hat, grabbed my coffee and walked out.

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As per my usual, I was spinning a friend’s thread here on facebook off into all sorts of ridiculous tangents with – to quote George Carlin – my various ‘brain droppings’.   Some of the comments were in regards to Walmart and I commented on the common stereotype that their products were cheap Chinese junk.  This reminded me of a true story that happened once when I was but a wee sprite…

KMart was our Walmart

When I was a kid, I was hanging out with my brother and some of the neighborhood kids. Back then, ‘KMart’ was our Walmart. The topic of KMart came up and everyone was trying to ‘one-up’ one another on dissing cheap KMart products.

Suddenly one of them got real serious and interjected:

“Ya know, for all the times we rip on KMart, just stop to imagine how many things we’ve all bought from there.”

Everyone got real silent and remorseful for all the digs they were previously saying. After a few seconds I responded with:

“But just think of how many things you bought from KMart – - – that broke!”

All was well with our universe again.

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Hydroslide

Hydroslide ‘kneeboard’

When we were growing up my dad bought a small boat and a low frills pair of water skis.  The boat proved to be not quite powerful enough to lift you up for slalom skiing, and both my brother and myself found regular water skiing a tad mundane.  So my brother went out and picked up a ‘hydroslide’ – one of the first knee boards available (or at least here in the midwest).

We’d used it quite a bit that summer and had a lot of fun, but along came winter.  My brother managed to chase down an old Massey Furgeson snowmobile and dropped a bigger engine in it. (it even required cutting away part of the frame to get the exhaust manifold to fit)  After much fussing he managed to get it workable enough to afford him some good Michigan winter fun.

One day he asks me if I want to try being pulled behind it on my downhill skis so I said sure!  (hey, teenagers aren’t big on brains)   We decided to go down to the lake across from the neighborhood and the snow was deep enough that I suggested “hey, why don’t we get the hydroslide and try it out?”

Walter's Lake

Walter’s Lake

Since it was his snowmobile, I ended up being the guinea pig on the knee board.  The lake (pictured above) is just over a mile long.  We started off from ‘sunny beach’ (on the top right side) and he started off slow and straight across the lake.  As it turns out, the wind was blowing from that direction flowing toward the direction which we were heading.  Thus the further he went, the more I ended up in deep(er) snow, the more I could control and turn.  As a result, I gave him the signal to speed up.  He did.

He cut a short turn and headed back toward the shore where we had come from in a tight circle.  It was a hoot.  If I leaned I could get just enough of a turn going, so I signaled him again to speed up even more.  As we came back to the far side of the lake, I noticed the snow get a little shallower, but I could still do a slight lean to turn so no biggie.  I shot around a bit doing some short zig-zags and eventually did a wide shot out to the right as he did his long counter-clockwise turn.

Now we were getting real close to the side we had started from (and the side the wind was coming from) and suddenly realized I didn’t have enough snow to turn.  Still no biggie, I contented myself with just kinda ‘riding it out’ on the outside  edge until the snow thickened up again.  Another thing I quickly realized as I made that wide right sweep was that in that shallow snow, I had even less control when the rope went slack.  This became very important soon thereafter.

We started to approach the beach again and my brother wasn’t turning.  A few houses down from the beach was where the Gregory’s lived.  Mr. Gregory regularly came out every winter with his lawn tractor to plow out a really nice ice rink for his son and his friends.  He had already plowed it with the tractor by that time but was out hand shoveling some of the drifts as we were conducting our ‘experiment’.  Upon seeing him ahead, my mind started doing geometry and primitive calculus:  ‘inability-to-turn-kneeboard + wide-to-right + Tim-not-turning-snowmobile + Mr.-Gregory + high-rate-of-speed + me + kneeboard = hospital + lawsuit

I start waving to my brother trying to communicate my predicament.  But although we’d come up with hand signals for left, right, speed up, slow down and stop we didn’t have one for ‘HOLY CRAP I’M ABOUT TO KILL MR. GREGORY!’  I considered letting go but my course was currently dead on for poor Mr. Gregory.  So I gave my brother the signal for ‘GO LEFT’ as he was looking quite confused at what the hell I was doing and couldn’t figure out what the one hand waving frantically and pointing meant.  Apparently he couldn’t see the single finger going across my neck inside my mittens then pointing to Mr. Gregory through blowing snow, exhaust and a helmet visor.

It suddenly occurred to  me that I was screaming and it also occurred to me that my brother wasn’t hearing any of it over the engine of the snowmobile, but it had drawn the attention of Mr. Gregory.    He could hear me!  Good news!!!  I yelled as loud as I could ‘I HAVE NO CONTROL, GET OUT OF THE WAY!” and judging by how Mr. Gregory went into a good imitation of Wiley Coyote on an oil slick, he apparently figured out enough of the message to attempt compliance.

By this time my brother had already started a considerable turn which now kicked in this little magical thing I’d used shortly before for cheap thrills and was now finding out it could be applied to other types of thrills as well.  A little thing called centrifugal force.  I found that my state of lack of control was now being augmented by a state of HOLY-CRAP-SPEED!!!

What happened next is still a blur to this day but I remember leaning back as I approached the first bank of snow on one side of the rink, catching air for about 30-40 feet (I’m not sure how much of it was ‘over’ Mr. Gregory but there were no sudden thuds or screams of pain until I came down on the ice myself – then there was both).  Then came the realization that a hydroslide that has very little control on 1-3″ deep snow has absolutely no control on slick ice.  Even though I was probably whipping out behind the Massey Furgeson at a good 60-70 mph, I ended up doing a couple of [involuntary] 360′s for style points before coming in contact with the snow bank on the other side of the rink.

I caught that snow bank at a slight angle on the board which turned out to be a good thing as I could lean a bit to get over some of the lumpier hard snow and then caught air for another 30-40 feet as I was yanked over the other side.

Don’t ask me how – probably the fear of getting beat silly with Mr. Gregory’s shovel if he caught up with me – but I somehow managed to hold on to the rope and stay on the board.  My brother was smart enough to gun it for the far end of the lake in a straight line.  I can’t be sure through all that snow and exhaust, but I think the look on his face said something about the potential abuse at the hands of Mr. Gregory’s shovel also.  When we got to the far end of the lake again, he started to get off his snowmobile to turn around and ask me ‘What the hell did you think you were doing?” when he was met with a bitch tackle from hell and me screaming the exact same words before he could get them out.

It didn’t take too long for us to wind down and laugh our butts off over the whole thing, but as I recall we avoided Mr. Gregory for a while after that.

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