Thursday, December 31, 2009

Only 358 days until Christmas...

It was back in October – the 25th I think – when I knew for sure that it was coming. Oh, I knew intellectually that it was on its way, but it was far enough off that it still didn’t feel like a threat just yet. I was blissfully salivating over the Halloween treats and had not even thought about the emotional, spiritual and financial ramifications of its stealthy approach. I thought I had plenty of time to get ready and hadn’t started making any plans at all.

We were down at the “general store” picking up supplies for the week to come, when what to my wondering ears should appear but Bing Crosby, that mellow-toned harbinger of the Yule season. He was crooning over the Target Muzak, b-b-b-bing-ing his way through the ritual song of colorless winter precipitation which, puzzlingly enough, angers some warm-climate transplants who seem to believe that the singing of White Christmas somehow is responsible for every blizzard that rides the jet stream. (How else could you account for all this cold weather when the “science is in and global warming is a fact?”)

But I didn’t sit down to write about the socio-economic ramifications of a manufactured world crisis, or my personal belief that we puny humans don’t have a snowball’s chance in – well – Helsinki, of actually causing irreversible harm to Mother Gaia with our pathetic attempts at civilization. (By the way, while I believe that we ought to tread gently and do our best to preserve nature, I also believe that She’s more than capable of dealing with our worst.)

No, I sat down to lament the passing of time and how it unfairly slows down and speeds up in reverse proportion to how much enjoyment or how much distress we’re experiencing. The pain and misery of the Christmas shopping crowds seems to go on interminably, while the elation and delight of Christmas itself is over before you can even find batteries for all the toys. There is something very wrong with this equation and so I wonder if something can be done – if not to change the reality of the physics, to perhaps change the reality of our perception.

My first thought as I listened to The Bingster croon about his snowy dreaming was that it was WAY too early to think about glistening treetops and listening children. Too soon to hear sleigh-bells in the snow. But then I remembered, “I LOVE CHRISTMAS!” Who cares if it starts early? Just more time to enjoy the warm, fuzzy feelings of the season. My second thought was that stores ramp up the commercialized Christmas machine earlier every year and we barely have time to enjoy Halloween, let alone Thanksgiving before the Santa Express requires all our attention. But then I realized that I love to buy gifts and I love to get gifts, and the engine of capitalism needs this time of year so I’m okay with the commercial aspect too.

I read that time appears to pass more quickly as you get older, ostensibly because each passing year is a smaller percentage of your whole life. Makes sense to me. That’s a different case though than the phenomenon of the fleeting moment know as the Yuletide. In fact, with stores seeming to constantly work to expand the season, you’d think I’d be ready for Christmas to be over and take its long vacation, but this is not the case.

I spent a lot of time and effort hanging lights in the trees in the yard! I want to enjoy the colors another week or two before the outside world is reduced to shades of grey and brown with the occasional white covering that El Niño brings. The artificial tree in our living room is cheery and bright and several years away from losing its needles! Can’t I leave it up a little while longer?

But more than anything, I want to keep the Christmas Spirit longer. Maybe this year I’ll keep it all the way through to the next Rudolph sighting. That is, if I can fight off the bah-humbug drudgery of ordinary life. Yeah, that’s what I’ll do. I’ll take down the mistletoe and holly, but the spirit stays by gosh, by golly. So, don’t be surprised if you hear me whistling about chestnuts, open fires and Jack Frost next time you see me. It’ll just be my way of fighting the inexorable progress of time and putting aside some peace and joy for the next hard day’s night.

When our girls were young, one of our favorite Christmas movies was the Sesame Street Christmas. The song at the end made me choke up every time.

“Keep Christmas with you all through the year
When Christmas is over, spread some Christmas cheer
Each precious moment – hold it very dear
And keep Christmas with you, all through the year”

Peace and Love to you all…

Monday, December 7, 2009

Declaration of Independence

I saw a car covered with anti-American, anti-Bush, conspiracy theory rhetoric the other day. Every window and most of the body of the car was covered with sloppy, rambling and apparently maniacal handwriting. White paint spelling out in gruesome detail how many deaths have been caused by the US since 9/11 (allegedly); how many refugees have been displaced by failed US policies (ostensibly); how many countries hate us (purportedly); why it was all Bush’s fault (hypothetically). I didn’t have time to read the writing at the time as we were traveling side by side at 60 mph on I-25. I did have time, though, to grab my camera and snap a couple of pictures that I just got a chance to look at. Back at home, the barely-legible writing became a manifesto of hatred and paranoia that did not present its author in a very lucid light.

I remember thinking at the time that the driver must be a nut-job without even knowing that he was blaming my beloved country for all the ills in the world. Though I’m even surer of his status as a top-notch whack now that I’ve had the time to study the photographic evidence, another curiosity has occurred to me that is even more intriguing than his nut-job-edness. That is, the propensity of Americans to project their feelings, beliefs, stature and status through their vehicles. Not only do we identify with our cars, but we force them to identify us through the statements we make in them, on them and with them.

Forget the conspiracy whacko. Forget the peace-nik I photographed recently whose car was literally covered with peace/love/harmony/co-exist bumper stickers. (He, no doubt, wanted to save the world and thought that if he could overwhelm enough other sheep into walking the green path of righteousness by virtue of witnessing the plethora of witty, pithy bumper stickers he bought at the local Circle K, nirvana would be one step closer the whole barnyard.) Forget the born-again proselytizer with Bible verses painted on the fenders and crucifixes hung in the window who wants to save our immortal souls (or does he just delight in flaunting his soul being more saved than yours or mine?) We discount all of these fringe dwellers as being just a bit outside and rarely give their arguments for peace or government transparency or soul-searching much credence, and thus neutralize their ability to change the way the rest of us see the world.

The vehicle propaganda that probably affects us more is the more subtle statements that are made via more traditional methods. Where else but in America can you bribe the government to advertise your social standing by giving them extra money for a personalized license plate? The aptly named vanity plate is everywhere you look and is a testament to the American ego and the American creative spirit. Don’t get me wrong, I love the vanity plate! I enjoy the creativity that you often see, the messages conveyed, and the statements made through the intelligent use of just 7 letters and numbers. My plate should say “L8ASUSL.”(For further evidence of creativity, see

Personally, I’m too cheap to pay for a vanity plate and too subdued to go for the painted-on manifesto. (or it could be that until the truck is paid off, any painting done by anyone other than Maaco makes for a poor investment.) But that doesn’t mean I don’t want others to know who they’re messing with when they cut me off on the T-REX. My “Native” and “Mountainman” bumper stickers clearly prove to the world that I am a higher (pun intended) life form than they are and deserve their envy and respect as one born in God’s Country. I feel somehow inadequate, though, as I don’t have any really witty bumper stickers although I know I shouldn’t feel that way. I mean, it isn’t as if the guy with the bumper sticker that says something cool (like, “Just say NO to negativity”) made it up himself. He just happened to find it as he stood in line at the 7-Eleven waiting to buy a Slim Jim. (For more fun, check out

Funny or not, I am identified as a skier by my “Loveland 216” highway logo window sticker (the “216” denotes the I-70 exit to the humble resort that is the hardy local’s choice for skiing and boarding.) Not only does it prove I’m an outdoorsman, but it shows, I’m afraid to say, a bit of reverse snobbery as this is NOT the tourist’s preference for powder hounding and those of us who ski there like to make that clear! (It’s higher and colder and windy-er and cheaper and offers no frills for the out-of-state crowd, and that’s the way we like it!) In addition, I can be recognized as a Broncos season-ticket holder by the sticker that is only given to one of the 50,000-ish fans who fork over a month’s pay for a year’s worth of Bronco-mania.

The fact that my not-so-funny bumper stickers are plastered on a Ford truck is another statement – irrefutable evidence of my toughness and hard work ethic. Or so I imagine. Don’t most of us judge others by the vehicle they drive? The VW Beetle with the dashboard flower, the Subaru Forester, the Mazda Miata, the Monster truck with the requisite ladder to reach the running board, the “fast & furious” Japanese coupe, the Ford F-1 pick-up, the Beemer, the Escalade – all of these personal conveyances give the outside observer a distinct insight to the personality of the driver. That insight may be stereotyped and it may sometimes be wrong, but more often than not, it’s either correct or, at least, the image the driver wishes to convey.

Now that I think about it, I guess I don’t have any room to be criticizing someone who paints John 3:16 on his hood. We’re all just trying to be noticed and to tell the world how we’re special in some small way. Ironically, we’re all alike in wanting to show the world that we are somehow unique and different. That we often choose our vehicles as the way to advertise our individuality is as American as baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Ford Trucks. (So, you think that should be Chevy? Just my way of being different…)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Top 10 Things I'm Thankful For...

10. The Internet & Electronic Social Media – What did we do before we had the internet when we needed a trivial answer to an obscure question? Sure, for important stuff, you had your World Book or the Britannica. But you could dig for a week and not find the name of, say, the owner of the Cavern Club where the Beatles got their start. (Just now it took me exactly 33 seconds to find out it was Alan Sytner via As if Wikipedia wasn’t special enough, along came Facebook, Linked-In and Twitter. Although I still don’t tweet (I predict that Twitter will go the way of My Space,) FB and L-I are sites I am on multiple times every day. It all started a year ago when I got laid off and realized that I had been woefully inadequate about building a network. I joined FB and L-I to help myself find a job. What I found instead was that the people I had either brushed aside or forgotten in the past, I now have more in common with than some of the people I thought were my friends but now find they have disappeared. Now, connecting with friends is the main purpose of my social networking, and the job hunt is secondary.
9. My Teachers – My Dad, who taught me the value of the dollar and that if a thing was worth doing, it was worth doing right; My Mom, who taught me to love and laugh and be a peace-maker; Archie Devitt, who taught me that music was not only fun to listen to, but fun to produce; Cleon White, master geek, who taught me to love math – including trig and slide rule; Barb Cain, my first female boss who not only taught me to manage people, but to do it while smiling even though I thought I was too cool for that; Steve Ortiz, who taught me that I could give up drinking and still survive; Doug Snyder, who taught me how to separate my emotions and write objectively, and challenged me to learn more every day. Being a college drop-out hasn’t hurt me as much as you might think and I believe that is because I had teachers in my life that taught me to be curious and questioning, so even without school, I kept learning.
8. My stove and refrigerator – can you imagine catching a chicken, wringing its neck, plucking and gutting it, and starting a fire with two sticks so that you could eat that chicken after turning it on a spit over that pile of embers for so many hours that you missed lunch and now it's time for dinner? It’s hard to envision the hassle of people who lived a hundred years ago when I’m able to go to the freezer, grab a chicken breast, throw it in a pan and toss it in the oven to cook while I google a recipe for peach cobbler.
7. Life – what an amazing coincidence! I look out my window and see deer and coyotes and porcupines and elk and red-tailed hawks and blue jays and rabbits and lizards and spiders and ants and snakes and big black beetles that walk with their tail ends lifted high in the air. This all evolved from the primordial slime?! What a coincidence!!! And then a monkey evolved into me!? Wow, am I lucky! I’m also thankful that I am at the top of the food chain and recognize that I must occupy that position with nobility and concern. I must be a steward to the lower creatures. I must not take a life lightly. I’ll eat a cow or a chicken or even that elk, but I’ll do it with gratitude and reverence.
6. Living in America – where else can you vote your conscience without fear, berate the government officials without reprisal, buy anything and everything you need at a Wal-Mart or on Amazon without standing in line? And where else can you go out and drive on 4-lane highways and bridges across the flat prairies and majestic mountains of this great country, and do it all while you drink Mountain Dew, eat a Slim Jim and listen to Stevie Ray Vaughn? No country comes even close to America!
5. The view out my window – it is a privilege to live in Colorado. Clear blue skies, white snow, bright sun, majestic Ponderosa Pines. God is good. Colorado is where he lives. I'm grateful that he shares it with me.
4. My racquet-ball buddies – men need other men to bond with. We need guys to laugh with; to talk politics with; to talk smack to; to compete against. My racquet-ball buddies are all that and more. They are my best friends.
3. My sense of humor – I love it that I can laugh at anything, including myself. I love my silly streak. I like to cut up, especially with my siblings and parents, who taught me and nurtured my odd sense of humor. You should see us around the holiday table – napkin rings around ears, spoons hanging from noses – no utensil is safe from this bunch of comedians.
2. My health – My parent’s passed on their strong genes and taught me a healthy lifestyle that has kept me mainly healthy my whole life (along with a little luck and the fact that I used to eat dirt as a kid and thus built up some keen resistance to germs.) As I grow older, my body doesn’t always want to cooperate the way I think it should, but for the most part, it’s in pretty good shape.
And the number one thing I am thankful for is
1. My Family – I know that I am the luckiest boy in puppet-land because of the family I have. I’ve seen families that can’t agree and snipe at each other about all things, big and small. Though we certainly have our differences, we are as tight a family as you can imagine. My parents, my brothers and sisters, my kids, my aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews and all the peripherals and step-relatives and extended families – they are the best and I love them all! And most of all, I love my wife, Marcia. After 35+ years, the spark is still there and the love is still strong. She is my rock and my foundation. She’s given me a very good life and I’ll be eternally grateful.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Giving Thanks

I saw a man on You-Tube last week who was born with no arms and no legs. He had a grotesque and only slightly-functional flipper that grew out of his hip where the legs, but for a damaged gene, should have grown. He was not ashamed of his flipper. In fact, he brought attention to it and made everyone laugh instead of cringing when they saw it wiggle. He “stood” like a weeble on a stage in a High School auditorium and played the drums for the teen-agers with his flipper as he told the kids his story. He asked the crowd if they had ever felt like they couldn’t go on. Then he purposely tipped himself over and proceeded to tell the school how long it had taken, and how much work it required, for him to learn to get back upright on his own. Then he showed them what could be done by a man with seemingly no hope and after a rather amazing struggle, was standing upright again. As the cameras panned the auditorium, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

I saw a man yesterday standing by the freeway on-ramp whose leg was missing just below his knee. He held a sign asking for help: “Homeless Vet, anything helps.” He had crutches that helped him hop around while waiting for handouts. His rounded stump stuck out of his rolled-up jeans. He looked like a man with little hope. I was past him so fast I didn’t even think of pulling out a bill until he was getting smaller in the rear-view mirror. I should have gone back and given him something. I almost did. But almost won’t pay for his cot tonight. I heard later on the radio that there are 1600 homeless veterans in Colorado. That is certainly not right.

I saw a man today inching across an abandoned parking lot in a paraplegic’s wheelchair. His deformed hand was struggling with the joystick control of his motorized chair. No one else was in sight, so I had to applaud him for being out on his own, even though it was obviously difficult for him. He seemed to be heading somewhere with a purpose. I wonder if I were in his position if I could even maintain a purpose. I like to think that living is purpose enough, but tragedies like this can make you question a lot of beliefs.

I saw a man tonight on TV with no legs. A Desert-Storm warrior, wounded by an IED – the cowardly, impersonal weapon of choice of the radical jihadist Muslim – adjusting to life with prosthetic limbs and phantom pains. He didn’t speak of his problems. He only bemoaned the buddies who didn’t survive the blast and came home in a box. He gave himself willingly for our freedom and I thank him for his sacrifice and honor.

My grandson, Ethan, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes two days ago. He’s only 6 and doesn’t totally understand the magnitude of the diagnosis. He will have many challenges ahead of him – for the rest of his life – as will his parents and little brother. We’ve all cried a lot the last 48 hours and my heart still bleeds for him when I think of the trials and hassles he’ll have to go through as he makes adjustments to what used to be the perfect life. But, he hasn’t been blown up. He still has all his appendages and he’s not paralyzed. I’m pretty sure we’ll all be OK. In fact, in the larger scheme of life, his is still pretty perfect.

After seeing the sights of misery and despair that I described above, I resolve to buck up and not spend even one more minute bemoaning his fate. As I write this, I will shed my last tear. The pity party is officially over. I have a job to do to help him. His Mom & Dad have a job to do. His Grammie and his brother and his Aunt TT and UncaKev have a job to do. Ethan will eventually be able to do that job himself, but for now that job belongs to his family. The job of keeping him healthy and happy, and not allowing him to despair is too important to get sidetracked by negative thoughts ("Stinking Thinking".) And in those times when I start to feel sorry for him, or for me, or for his parents, I’ll remember these other sad souls and count my blessings. I’ll remain thankful for all that we DO have and not cry about what we no longer have.

I hope I can keep this purpose – I want to do that for Ethan. To show him what can be done when you don't give up. We give thanks today for all that we have and pray for those that have less.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Memories from the Road - Things that make you go "Hmmm."

I have seen a few sights on the road that were so bizarre that my eyes-on-the-road-and-my-hands-upon-the-wheel-focused brain couldn’t adjust to the improbability of the drive-by hallucination before it was past and I had to refocus on the next highway warning sign. Some of these little vignettes now play like some whacko movie trailer in my mind, as the scenes of my life might if I were seconds from death. No context, no meaning, just a scene that flashes by my memory like a subliminal message across the matinee theatre screen. A couple of these have been replaying in my head recently – California memories. Probably since I’ve spent the last 3 weeks basking in the California sun and breathing the trade winds. Or, it could just be the effect of 20 days of exhaust inhalations.

Driving the Pacific Coast Highway with my best friend and soul-mate a few years back provided a cornucopia of visual delights that produced both “oohs & ahs” at the natural beauty of the flora, and Olympic-quality synchronized double-takes at the unnatural splendor of the local fauna from the two of us. We stared, we laughed, we puzzled, we shook our heads in wonder. Honestly, I’m not making this stuff up…

Schwinn Vader
As we started our drive up the coast, we rounded the corner just out of the LA metropolis and had to slam on the brakes to avoid the bicycle. Well, kind of a bicycle. It resembled a bike towing a trailer, but it was so much more. The 2-wheeler was festooned with bulging saddlebags, mirrors, a squeeze-bulb horn and handle-bar streamers. (So very “PeeWee’s Big Adventure!”) The trailer was loaded up with what looked like the entire contents of Aniken’s pod-racer spare-parts shed from Star Wars 1. The cyclist was dressed all in silver – silver shoes and socks, silver shorts, silver shirt. But it wasn’t the silver uniform of a racer. It was more the silver clothing of a live manikin at Caesar’s Palace. All he was missing was the silver makeup. His getup included a silver helmet that was strangely familiar – a Darth Vader-esque mask! But wait, that’s not all. In his silver-gloved hand, he carried – I kid you not – a silver jousting lance.

On the narrow PCH, with California traffic snaking in front and behind for miles, you can’t stop and stare. You can only try to retain the image in your unbelieving mind and wonder (sic) on down the road. Until the next strange sight appears…

Quick Change Artist
Santa Maria is a small agricultural community halfway up the coast. We had stopped at a fast food joint – not for food, but for the easy-in/easy-out, relatively, and predictably, clean restrooms that come with a limited service chain restaurant. In this Burger King, I saw a man changing clothes in the restroom stall. Not all that strange actually. I’ve adjusted my ensemble several times in airport stalls when out on the road and no one ever thinks twice.

But this incident is unusual. Waiting by the car, I see the man come out of the BK with 3 grocery bags of his old clothes, and then see him stuff them and an old backpack into the drive-thru' trash can. Then, he shoulders his new backpack – recently in one of the grocery bags – and walks off in his clean clothes. He seemed to be walking with a purpose. I like to think he was not just changing his clothes. I believe he was changing his life and moving on down the road…

Aphrodite in Morro Bay
In her sandals and diaphanous sky-blue evening dress, she had just walked out of the shadow of the viaduct carrying Highway 1 over a side street of Morro Bay and into the bright sun where she stood at the corner to the on-ramp. She was tall and carried herself with a regal grace that belied her grimy surroundings. There was the tiniest squirrel of a “yip-dog” leading Her Majesty and tethered by a leash she held in her pinky-extended right hand. Her left hand she held oddly but purposefully at eye level, palm up and perfectly flat, carefully (and somehow sensually) holding a pink Walkman that she had plugged her ear buds into. From the spinning CD player dangled a yellow rubber ducky she had hung by a loop of string. It swung gently as she stepped off the curb. She kept the Walkman flat and at perfectly at eye level as though she was sighting the horizon along its top.

She smiled dreamily and sweetly at no one in particular - she didn't seem to see us watching her – as if for the cameras on the red carpet. We stared, mouths agape until the light changed. And then, we were through the underpass and on our way to Monterey.

As we found on this trip, there are more reasons than the scenery at Big Sur to take the road less traveled. Seeing those odd exhibits of human behavior juxtaposed against the backdrop of the endless waves of the Pacific has rendered that journey into more of a surreal memory than something that actually happened to me. Writing this, it also occurs to me that these little snippets of experience may act like subliminal messages on the celluloid record of our lives. Each daily occurrence we view affects our future thoughts and actions, however slightly. Have I become odd because I’ve seen so much odd behavior? These are the kind of things that make me go “hmmmm.”

And, as Schrödinger’s Cat will attest, our observance of these events changes the events and the players, too. I wonder: if we hadn't been there to see him, would Schwinn Vader still have held that lance?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Santa Claus is Leaving Town

Only 72 more days till Christmas!

I know, I know, it’s too soon to be planning and shopping and making lists and checking them twice. The marketing engines start up earlier and earlier every year and we wring our hands and decry the commercialization of Christmas and then go to the malls and max out the charge cards spreading that Christmas cheer.

The frost is barely on the pumpkin, so why do I bring up Christmas? Because I saw Santa Claus today! He was in street clothes so I’m guessing he was still on vacation, but he didn’t need to be wearing his red suit and boots to know it was him. And he wasn’t coming to town; he was leaving town, heading north on I-25 on the south end of Denver.

I’m guessing he’s on his way from his summer vacation spot – Belize or Cozumel, judging by the snorkeling bumper stickers on his red VW Beetle. I did a double-take when he passed me on my way to the airport this morning. I was in a hurry myself (and not obeying the posted speed limit) and only moved out of the passing lane when he flashed me, which is probably why I even bothered to look over as he sped by. A white beard flowing down to his ample gut and a full head of white hair held in place with a red bandana didn’t seem out of place at all with the peace sign hanging from the rear view mirror or the red carnation gracing the built in VW dashboard vase.

Christmas was not on my mind this morning, so my first thought was that he was a Dead Head hippie. Then I saw the Save-a-Reindeer window decal in the side window and something clicked. I sped up a little to get another look at the bearded face, but he was in an obvious hurry and the only other clue I could see was the granny glasses that he pushed up his nose with a thick finger before pushing a button on his radio. And then he was pulling away and I was falling behind him. That’s when I saw the clinchers – proof that this was no ordinary purveyor of peace and love – vanity plates that read “Ho Ho 1” and a “North Pole or bust” bumper sticker.

You’re probably thinking that I’m living in a dream world and need to grow up, but excuse me if I prefer to keep some visions (think sugarplums) in my otherwise grown-up reality. I refuse to let my age and my acquired “wisdom” prevent me from believing in the magic that surrounds Christmas. What better way to fight off the commercialization of this special time of joy and peace than to absorb and surrender to the frivolous enchantment of the season? Magic only disappears from your life if you prefer it that way. I prefer to believe in some unbelievable things if you don't mind.

I’m not ready to start shopping yet and you better not play any carols for at least a month. By December 29th, I’ll probably be burnt out on Christmas and by January 3rd, I’ll be ready to take down the decorations and reclaim all the living spaces in our home from Marcia's Santa collection. But today, I am jazzed about Christmas because I saw Santa Claus, heading home to the North Pole. He was anxious to get the party started, and for now, so am I!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Road Kill Rant

There’s a dead, bloated raccoon on the shoulder of the road leading to our house on Coyote Ridge. It sticks in my mind as being strange because it’s been there for three days now. Animal Control officers usually clean up the pieces/parts before the magpies even get wind of the roadside buffet. I know because this particular kind of genocide is, unfortunately, not rare in this neck of the woods south and uphill of Denver. We moved here partly because of the abundance of wildlife, so it dismays me that there is also a profusion of wild death.

Deer, coyotes, foxes, porcupines, pocket gophers, raccoons and even once a mountain lion have all fallen prey to the 4-wheeled carnivores of the boulevard in these parts. I often wonder how it is that they so often get caught in the path of the onrushing steel. You’d think they’d be used to our machines of death by now – we’ve been here for several generations. Sure, some – like porcupines – are really slow, and some are, no doubt, pretty stupid. (Why did the prairie dog cross the road? Same reason as the chicken. But, regardless of which version of that old joke you end with, it doesn’t speak well of the intelligence of the chicken, or the prairie dog – or the joke teller for that matter.)

On the other hand, I'm not sure that animals don't have more intelligence than we give them credit for. (Right now, my cat Starbuck is staring at me with a look that says, “Why are you writing this stupid blog instead of finding a real job?”) Road-kill prairie dogs are often seen being mourned by another – a pathetic sight as the survivor tries to comprehend how the game of dare-you-to-cross-the-street went so wrong. Is a deer in the headlights really brainless for not moving out of the way, or does she just disbelieve the existence of metal monsters? And as far as deer road-kill goes, which species really is the stupid one? Most deer carcasses I see are within a few yards of the yellow sign that supposedly-intelligent humans have posted there to warn drivers that THIS IS WHERE DEER CROSS THE ROAD! So, who’s the dummy when we mow them down on the roads that cut through their own living rooms?

It’s the callousness of the road-killers that bothers me though. In such a hurry to get to their important places for their important events that critters on the road are barely footnotes in their travels. Who do we humans think we are? Having opposable thumbs does not make us gods. If having the ability to reason makes us the higher life form, wouldn’t that title also give us the mandate to respect ALL life and protect it when we can? If simply being mindless justified extermination, there would surely be fewer reality show contestants and the highways would be less crowded every rush hour.

I believe that life is life no matter how small, and while it ends for every living thing sooner or later, I think that our world is diminished by each senseless passing of one of its creatures. I have to wonder if Mother Gaia doesn’t feel that loss and somehow mourn it. One of these days, we're going to kill off one too many of her children without thinking, and then the feces will really hit the oscillating blades for us "higher life forms" (think Mother Nature in the old margarine commercials, “It’s not NICE to fool Mother Nature!”) I don’t belong to PETA and I don’t believe the “science is all in” regarding global warming (er, sorry, “climate change,”) but I have to believe that Karma does not look kindly on the indiscriminate killing of the beasts of the field that the Old Testament God gave man “dominion over.”

Because of this belief, I feel sad and more than a bit guilty for the meaningless deaths of the road-kill deer, or raccoon, or even the stupid-as-a-rock opossum. (I once saw ten - count 'em, 10 - dead 'possums on a 3-mile stretch of I-80 in Eastern Iowa.) I mean, really, where do we get off killing squirrels just so we can get to work on time? Who's to say that their nuts are less important than the ones we work with every day? Save the whales? Sure, but let’s save the chipmunks, too. Even rodents are not in infinite supply. If we keep squishing the cute little almost-rats, who will the tourists feed?

So, go ahead and call me an environmentalist, or better yet, just call me a Friend of the Earth. Real-life Bambis can’t speak for themselves, so I’ll say it for them. Slow down and save a porcupine. Get the point?

Monday, September 21, 2009

People Watching in the “World’s Busiest Airport”

For a couple of reasons, I do NOT like to fly to Chicago. Actually, flying TO Chicago isn’t so bad. It’s flying THROUGH Chicago that can be a pain.

First off, your connecting flight is never – and I mean NEVER – in the same concourse. Going from C10 to F17 is like Daniel Boone running the Indian – er, Native American – gauntlet, only you’re dodging strollers and luggage carts instead of war-clubs and tomahawks. I feel like I’d have a better chance of making my connection if I could play like Fess Parker and knock down that guy right there wearing the white Capri pants, toss him over my shoulder and use him to shield me from the savages. He’d be flailing at me with his man purse and his screams would alert the lollygaggers in front of me to get out the way, much like the cart-drivers beeping and mumbling, “Excuse the cart, please. Excuse the cart, please. EXCUSE. THE. CART. PLEASE!”

The other main reason Chicago connections are a pain is the weather. How can it be that you get delayed coming IN to Chicago, but the flight you’re connecting to isn’t delayed going OUT of Chicago? And, how was it decided to build the World’s Busiest Airport in the middle of the World’s Worst Weather location is a mystery to me. And if it IS the World’s Busiest Airport, wouldn’t you expect that they could get better at predicting and dealing with storms and the delays that they cause? And here’s what really makes me hate O’Hare: I’ve had flights delayed in Denver, San Francisco, LA and Baltimore, among others, when the weather where I am is gorgeous. When asked how that can be, the surly gate agents (who somehow give the impression that this weather information they so carefully dole out is like 5 security levels above my puny clearance ranking) inevitably, and reluctantly, say that it is due to weather in Chicago. Really?! It’s bad enough Chicago makes me miss connections in their own airport. Why does Chicago have to mess with me when I’m in all the other Not The World’s Busiest Airports?

I’m now sitting in the “Customer Service” area of United Airlines in the C concourse. “Customer Service” doesn’t mean that you’ll get any customer service. It only means that there is a desk below a customer service sign. The desk acts as a protective buffer – a DMZ if you will - for the agent behind it who doesn’t care about the problems of the traveler in front of it. The traveler is always 18-or-more people in front of you in the snaking Disneyland queue, and the agent is paid to listen to him whether he cares or not, and so he pecks away at his keyboard to keep up appearances while never looking the traveler directly in the eye, so he never sees the irate traveler’s neck veins pop and throb, and doesn’t notice the spittle that sprays all over the counter where there is, conveniently enough, a hand-sanitizer dispenser ready to keep your journey germ-free if not hassle-free.

I chose this seat because it’s across from the food court where I bought some ice cream and the seats looked cushion-y. This is cruel trick; some designer’s idea of a funny joke. Whatever padding there might have once been has long since been crushed into a thin layer about as cushion’y as a plate of stainless steel, but carries none of the “stainless” qualities as I notice that others before me have sat here with ice cream and left much of it behind.

However, the people-watching here is great! Every nation, every culture, every color, hue and tint is represented in the World’s Busiest Airport. Every hairstyle, every fashion style, every life style and every body style is on display to ogle, wonder at, and sometimes utter prayerfully, “there but for the grace of God, go I…”

Bored of reading, I decided to catalog the many strange, but true sights to be seen. Here’s a muscle-builder dude who obviously has no pockets in his Hans-&-Franz-sweat-suit so he has his iPod velcroed around his wrist. There are multiple sightings of carry-on abusers with 2-week’s worth of luggage in 2 large bags that will never fit under the seats and who, no doubt, will board before I do and, even though they’ll be sitting in the non-reclining seats in the back row, will drop off their steamer trunks in the overhead compartment directly above my seat in 3A so that I have to ask the flight attendant to gate check my one bag that is just millimeters too big to fit under my seat. Oh, Honey, it’s a Fashion Police emergency! Even if it wasn’t past Labor Day you should NOT be wearing those skin-tight white pants with a black thong underneath! Dude, stop reading your Kindle as you walk so slow that grandmas using walkers are cussing at you as they have to swerve into oncoming traffic to get around you. A veritable parade of wheelchairs going by makes me thankful that all I have to complain about is a sore knee. Mukluks and a parka? Really?! In Chicago in September? Not sure if it’s a fashion statement or if she’s traveling to the Yukon. Look out! It’s a posse of cowboy hats! Five gallon! Ten gallon! Do I hear 15? It’s the whole Dalton gang, riding the moving walkway to their date with Doc, Wyatt and destiny at the O-K Concourse. Is there anybody under 50 who ISN’T on their cell phone? What do they have that is so important to say? There’s the professor and Mary Ann, but no skipper in sight. Matching canary yellow shirts with black fanny packs – ow, my eyes are hurting. Is a miniature poodle a service dog? Just wondering. Oops, the poodle just “serviced” the floor tile while its owner adjusted her lipstick. The imam and the mullah in full-length white robes with matching embroidered skull caps are trying to ignore the sidelong looks that are easily interpreted as “I hope they’re not on my plane.” The couple with arms entwined, walking so close as to make you wonder if they have separation anxiety or if one (or both) of them have been drinking too much to walk the mile to E14 without support. Hair so white it’s like looking at the sun. Hair so red it looks on fire. The family in shorts and Hawaiian shirts flaunting their tans and leis. I’m jealous.

Still, I feel luckier than them. I’m homeward bound. “Home with my thoughts escaping. Home where my music’s playing. Home where my love lies waiting silently for me…”

Before I close my laptop and go stand in line for seating 4 to be called for the jumbo jet to Denver, I reflect on the how we see other people. Our egotistical minds see others as different than we are, so they cannot possibly be as good, as smart, as pretty, as sexy, as with-it. The things that make us different, though, vie with the similarities that make us all one. We may be human snowflakes, but the differences are small in the big picture.

In all my travels – in hotel elevators and shuttle busses and cramped airplane seats, at rental car counters and restaurants – everyone I’ve talked to wants the same simple thing.

We all just want to go home.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Remembering Nine Eleven

I started thinking today why it is that I’m so intrigued by stories from the road. Part of the reason is the fact that I spent a large part of the last decade living Monday through Friday out of a suitcase, and I no doubt saw plenty of stranger-than-fiction reality. But my love of the highway and the all-American road trip goes way back to some of my most distant memories. Only recently did I start adding my own perceptions to the realities I’ve seen while counting the white center-line dashes.

As a kid, road trips were just a part of my life and I didn’t spend much time analyzing what I saw – it just was. We had five kids in our family, but that didn’t dissuade my parents from loading up the family truckster with sleeping bags and food and games and take off down the pre-limited-access-and-thus-more-leisurely-driven highways to faraway places. Random parts of those trips are remembered both vividly and dreamlike at the same time: Visiting grandma in Tennessee when I was about 7 and the wonder of catching fireflies – a marvel I’d never seen growing up in Colorado; traveling down the backroads of Georgia – where we got gas for 13¢ a gallon – and having to stop for a herd of turtles crossing the road and each of us siblings abducting the one of our choice and taking it home to enjoy a pampered, yet probably shortened, life; as a pre-pubescent lad thinking that there was nothing cooler than the Mermaids of Weeki Wachee Florida, until we saw the cigarette-smoking chimpanzee on the jungle cruise who snatched my swim goggles right out of my hand as our boat went by and then posed for everyone on the cruise, taking drags off the Marlboro while peeking coquettishly through the mask at the boatload of Kodak Brownie-snapping tourists. That last memory may be more vivid because we had a 16mm movie of it that I probably watched a hundred times.
When I was 10, Dad bought a new ’64 Chevy Corvair van. He turned the second seat around and installed a fold-down table that would, in a transformer-like click and fold, fit between the two facing seats and, with a cushion my Mom made from the matching curtain material, turned the “dining room” into a bed where the girls and baby brother Roger would sleep. Dad would sleep in the front seats while my brother and I slept on the shoulder of the road in sleeping bags. Roughing it? Nah – that’s just what we did. It was an adventurous and MacGiver-like method of travel that helped me adopt the zen-journey attitude I now benefit from while on the road.
That same year we headed East to where Dad’s family was from. We got to Boston and left the younger siblings with my Aunt and Uncle and took my cousin Artie with us to the World’s Fair in NYC. Did I mention that Dad is one of the most frugal (read: cheap) people in the whole world? You say you’re your dad was cheap too? Well, top this: All five of us – Mom, Dad, Artie, my brother Stan & me – slept in that van in the parking lot of an abandoned corner gas station just a couple of blocks away from the entrance to the NY World’s Fair. This was long before Rudy G cleaned up the streets of New York, but as it turned out, the most dangerous thing we saw on that trip was the It’s a Small World exhibit.
A few years later, we went to Yellowstone, then Glacier National Park, then into Canada to Banff, then across the Rockies to British Columbia, then down to Mt. Hood, then on to San Francisco, and finally back east to Colorado. We played card games on the table between the seats in the Corvair and never once worried that we would all die from carbon monoxide poisoning. (Those of you old enough to remember will recall that the Chevy Corvair was recalled for its disturbing and inconvenient tendency to leak CO into the passenger compartment of the car.)
I came home from college for Christmas '71 with a bad attitude and a broken leg (look for that story some day on a future post) and my Dad packed up the four kids left at home and drove to visit my older brother in Los Angeles. We went to Disneyland where I got to get pushed around in a wheelchair, and visited the San Diego Zoo on crutches. While we were in the neighborhood, my Dad drove across the border into Tijuana where I bought a serape through the car window at a stop sign and then a block later took the Mystery Meat Taco Challenge from a street vendor. We drank the water and I ate the taco and none of us got sick – probably because with 5 kids my Mom didn’t spend a lot of time worrying about keeping us away from germs so we had built up some pretty hefty natural defenses. Let this be a lesson, new Mothers: Stop freaking out when your kid eats dirt or licks the shopping cart!

Then, there were the road trips when I was old enough to get around on my own…

I was 18 when I bought my first car with my own money. A real POS that I bought from my girlfriend’s mother for $200 cash, it was a pre-Buick Opal that broke down 2 weeks later 2 miles out of town on July 2 as I was heading to Denver to party with friends for the holiday weekend. Logic would dictate that I call someone, tow the Opal and go back to my apartment to cook a holiday hot dog on my hotplate. But I was 17, so I stuck out my thumb and hitched a ride with a dope-smoking, older couple in a camper van. They were on their way to Creede, Colorado for the 4th of July celebration that was the 70’s version of Lollapalooza and invited me to join them. I remember that I accepted their offer, but don’t remember much else about that trip. Too bad. I’ve been to Creede since and it’s a really nice place.
In ’71 & ’72, I hitch-hiked from Loveland to Lincoln a couple-3 times and one of those excursions sticks out in my mind. I caught my first ride from Loveland to Wiggins, Colorado, 50 miles towards the goal. The next ride was the jackpot: a ride with young lovers from Omaha who promised to take me all 450 miles to Lincoln. Good tunes, good conversation, good smokes till the dude got stopped for speeding outside of Kearney. Since their car was registered in Colorado, the State Trooper said they had the choice of going to jail for the weekend until they could see a judge on Monday, or paying a $75 fine on the spot. They didn’t have the money, but I did and I was in a hurry to get to Lincoln. They said they’d pay me back and gave me their address in Omaha so I could come down with friends the next weekend and get my money, so I paid “the Man.” The next weekend, a friend drove me to Omaha where we discovered that the address was just an empty lot. These days, $75 dollars would be a good buy for a 500-mile ride. In those days, that much gas would take you to New York and back and it was all the money I had. That was the week that I ate bean dip and Wonder Bread sandwiches cuz that was all there was in my friend’s refrigerator and he wasn't a good enough friend to loan me money for a Big Mac. After the bean dip was gone, I stuck out my thumb again and went home.
After getting married 5 days past my 20th birthday, my travels got decidedly tamer, though no less fun. I bought a ’51 Chevy pickup that the missus and I christened “Zonker” and used for camping trips up the Buckhorn & Poudre Canyons. I stuck four 2 x 2 posts in the holes in the corner of the truck bed and hung a day-glo orange tarp over them to turn that truck into our redneck Winnebago. That was some of the best camping we’ve ever done. Sitting on the tailgate roasting wieners in the fire by the river. Throw a cooler and a sleeping bag in the truck bed and we were gone. Just a coupla hippie kids in love, but we were free, man!

A memory that isn’t so pleasant and now only vaguely recalled was driving to California in 1990 while I fought the dry heaves and delirium tremens of my newly-sobered life and contemplated the pros and cons of dying. I don’t remember much about the trip as I was pretty sick for a couple weeks, but I do remember watching the vultures circling the desert while Marcia drove and wondering if (wishing even) they were coming for me.
A much more pleasant trip was with the girls a couple of years later, when our daughters were 13 & 16, and we recreated the Canada trip from our childhoods. (As it turns out, my Iowa wife’s father had taken HER on virtually the identical grand loop, so we were both anxious to relive our those halcyon days.) In 11 days, we hit eight national parks: Rocky Mountain, Glacier, Waterton, Jasper, Kootenay, Banff, Yellowstone & Grand Teton. The girls were far too cool and way too teen-aged to do anything but gripe that there was nothing to do, but they will tell you now that it was the best car trip ever. And we have the pictures to prove it.
So, you can see that I have a lot of fond memories of road trips. In fact, there is only one other car trip that I can ever remember that wasn’t a great ride.

Eight years ago this morning, I found myself on a plane to Dallas for a morning meeting. We landed without incident at about 8:30 AM and I jumped on the shuttle to get my rental car. The bus was packed and people were talking in hushed, but excited tones – “Did you get a car?” “No, they’re all taken.” “What are we going to do?” I thought it was a bit weird, but I was in my own little world and not too worried about it.
I got my car and took off towards my meeting while flipping through the channels to find some music. But there was no music – just news. News of two planes smashing into the twin towers that morning. News of people jumping a hundred stories to avoid the hellfires. Soon, there was news of the towers collapsing in on themselves.
It’s a wonder I didn’t smash my rental into an 18-wheeler on the Dallas 635 when I shakily realized that planes had been hijacked and crashed while I was in the air over Oklahoma. I went to my meeting with a Persian Muslim who was more shocked than I was and we talked in awkward hushed tones. We endured about an hour of the meeting before we decided we needed to be home with people who loved us and who we could trust. Being one of the lucky ones who got a car before the planes were grounded and the stranded travelers started fighting for them, I called up Hertz and told them I’d leave their car in Denver for them.

That was the loneliest drive I’ve ever taken, even though I shared the road with thousands of fellow Americans as shocked, saddened, angered and confused as I was. Talk radio was frantic and depressing, so after the first day of driving and my sleepover in Amarillo, I turned it off, the only sounds the whine of the tires and the whirr of the cicadas through the open windows. The droning of the road was punctuated from time to time by my half-stifled sobs or my barking of the special curse words that I had rarely used before, and almost never have used since as that particular 2-word phrase is now burned into my brain as being reserved only for Hitlers, Husseins, bin Ladens and their ilk. To use it in everyday language seems now be a sacrilege to those who fell that black day in September 2001. And besides, it’s not nice language and certainly not something I’d put in a blog that my Mom might read…

I remember stopping in a run-down city park in a small town just after I crossed the border into Colorado and sitting in a rusted swing overlooking the high desert of my native soil and crying until the tears wouldn’t come any more. It took quite a while, but they finally stopped falling. They just dried up. I don’t think I’ve cried about 9/11 since then – not in 8 years.

Until today.

May we never forget.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Suitcase Man

It’s the end of a long, cold day of skiing. It snowed all day and the wind on top of Loveland pass was brutal enough to keep the tourists driving on towards Vail and leave the fresh powder for us hardy locals. My daughter and I are tired, wind-burned and muted as we absorb the warmth of the truck heater. The hot blast, added to the affects of a day in the wind and cold, has turned our faces a deep red and our muscles into jelly. The “Après Ski” mood is heavy and pleasant. The big snowflakes and the swish of tires on the road compliments the mood. We’re listening to the Beatles as we enjoy the quiet, easy friendship of each other’s company. We’re comfortable in silence – always have been. We don’t have to fill the air with idle chat. We’ll wait until something needs to be said.
As we cruise through the slush of the interstate through Idaho Springs, we suddenly break the silence in unison, “What the …?” Half running, half walking on the shoulder of the road, a man in a 3-piece suit is tugging along two rolling suitcases. The big one looks heavy – his face is red from exertion. The smaller carry-on bag bumps and swerves, jumps off the pavement, then twists in his hand, causing him to stop and collect his balance and alignment before starting off again at a careening sprint. He doesn’t look up at us in embarrassment. He doesn’t even look back quizzically like most of do when we trip on the non-existent crack in the path. He doesn’t thrust out his thumb in hopes of catching a ride, even though there are many cars for him to choose from and the chances are probably good he’d not have to walk for long if he only tried. He just doggedly keeps on like he’s nearing his destination. But what destination? The nearest exit is a couple of miles ahead and the nearest airport is 50 miles on the other side of Denver.
Is this the proverbial traveling salesman, chased from the farmer’s house where he has stolen the reputation of the oh-so-nubile, ostensibly naïve, yet undoubtedly willing, daughter and is now in such a hurry to escape the farmer’s shotgun that he’s had time to grab only his suitcases full o’ Fuller Brushes but left his car keys on the vanity? His own vanity, only minutes ago in full bloom, now overshadowed by his fear of death and his hope that the shotgun is loaded with rock salt and not buckshot. Clearly not thinking clearly of the best mode of escape, only thinking that he must!
Is this the dim-witted businessman who, returning from the mortgage-bankers conference at the Vail Weston with his wife, gave the wrong answer to the famous trick question, “Do I look fat in this outfit?” and now has to find his own way home? He too, could stick out a thumb but is perhaps too embarrassed at being laid low by the oldest ambush in the book of marriage. And, knowing that he’s a double loser for not getting his testicles out of his wife’s purse before being unceremoniously dumped on the highway, he can’t stand the thought of looking another man in the eye for some time to come, so his thumb stays wrapped around the suitcase handle.
Is this a well-dressed hitch-hiker who criminally absconded with his generous host’s travel gear after knocking out his do-gooder host (whose wife and mother had always cautioned him to not pick up strangers but was always oblivious to his own fallibility and so never thought it could happen to him) and is now trying to make the next exit before the hapless ride-giver awakens and comes rudely searching for him? But then, why steal the suitcases and not the car?
Is this a homeless man with a sense of style who maybe lives in his big suitcase and is running from some real or imagined threat, his home-on-wheels in one hand and his sum total earthly possessions in the careening carry-on in his other? Maybe there’s a bear that chased him from his woodsy hideaway and is just out of our sight on the side of the road, trying not to laugh at the same scene that we find hilarious. The bear saying to his friend, the moose, as he stares at the clip-on tie that is snagged on his claw, “Dang man, I was so close to having that guy for dinner.”Now, months and two seasons later, we’ll never know the real story. Unfortunately, the real story is probably boring and nowhere near as fun and interesting as the scenarios presented by the fertile, well-watered and freshly-plowed field of human imagination.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Early-Morning Airport Joy

Even during the holiday season, an airport before 7 AM is a joyless place. Returning a rental car in the rain is a pain. Avis didn’t try hard-er. In fact, they didn’t try at all to keep the rain off my freezing head. How can you not have a covered parking lot in North Carolina? When it’s not raining, the sun is a brutal beast. No shade & no protection is not the way you become #1. I’ll be trying harder to book with Hertz next trip out.
The ticket line was jammed with – and this is no exaggeration, I counted them – 87 Japanese tourists, who, even after securing their boarding passes seemed much happier clogging up the terminal walk-ways than taking said boarding passes and running the TSA gauntlet. Actually, I don’t blame them. Transportation Security Agency agents are never a happy-face crowd, but before 7 AM, they are positively surly. “Your boarding pass, sir?” sounded a lot like “YOUR PAPERS, PLEASE,” done up in a Nazi SS officer’s sneering accent. So, putting off the x-ray machines and standing around comparing digital pictures of the North Carolina countryside is probably preferable to the abuse of the hand scanner.
After braving the TSA Christmas greeting, the all-you-can-eat for ten bucks Airport Breakfast Buffet sounds like a good deal, but it’s really an oxymoron, isn’t it? I mean, all you can eat? More like, all you can keep down once the turbulence starts. Oh, but they did have FREE wireless internet in the Raleigh-Durham airport, so I thought I’d munch on some soupy eggs and a slice of bacon so thin you could use it for tracing paper while I email my missus and wish her a sunny day, even though she’s still in bed two time zones away. Seemed like good idea, but Cingular had a different idea. They made their not-free wireless service stronger than the free service so that my cheap company computer would automatically connect to THEM and not to the freebie service finally forcing me out of sheer frustration and holiday good cheer to just give up and pay the $9.99 and be done with it. Oh, you trick-sie tricksters of the cybernet! But at least I got a full stomach and an email or two sent off before the Japaese group made it through security and stood around clogging up the concourse walk-ways.
After my breakfast of cold eggs and frustration, I decide to hunker down with an orange juice and a good book to pass the time before the cattle call. The orange juice must have been bottled in Tibet as it reacts wildly to the sea-level pressure of the Cape Fear Basin and complete stickiness ensues. Oh well, not to worry there is a restroom right around the corner. Joy!

Now, an airport restroom is rarely a cause for joy unless you have just spent the last two-and-a-half hours in a window seat of row 28 shackled by the virtual leg irons of two snoring linebackers who “lie” between you and the aisle that leads to the Nirvana affectionately known as the airpot (sic). Of course, after waiting for the 27 rows at six passenger per row to deplane, not to mention that princess in 14c who is holding up our exit by adjusting her scarf and hat just so before she sashays up the gangway, a janitor closet and a paper cup looks like the Taj Mahal of sanitary facilities. So you could say, “Joy,” when you see the be-skirted and be-trousered silhouettes on the doors of the necessary facilities when the need is great and the line has already dissipated.

Ah, but today brought real joy, or at least for me some real entertainment. After rinsing the stickiness off - holy cow, how'd I get that juice in my ear? - I did what you do in these places. Staring at the tiles (have you ever noticed how you can make them go all 3-D if you slightly cross your eyes just right?) and thinking again how thankful I am that men have plumbing compatible with stand-up relief, I hear the toilet repeatedly flushing behind me. Another joy – the joy of automated flushing. Adjust your seating, get a flush. Reach for something in your suitcase, get another – this time with a little spritzer to tickle your fancy. Lean over to tie your shoe and you can pretend you’re in France and every stall has a bidet for your refreshment and sanitary enjoyment.
After the fourth or fifth flush though, my tired eyes wander to the floor under the stall wall as I contemplate how the stall dweller will dry off after that deluge. Wow, those are the girliest shoes I have ever seen on a man! Oh well, I’m not going to make the best-dressed list this year either. But what about those brightly-colored argyle socks? And not just any argyle, but a pattern where red and pink-colored hearts replace the normal diamonds in the pattern! And there is way too much sock showing between those light loafers and the oh-so-tight, high-water slacks.
I may have to actually gawk at this guy when he comes out because I have GOT see the rest of his outfit. This is way past gay and streaming headlong towards flaming. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that, just that I think it is going to be very interesting to observe.) Then I notice the multi-colored ribbons festooning the suitcase in the stall. Wow, no hiding in the closet for this guy. But then, as the toilet flushes again, I freeze in mid-shake and have the horrifying nano-second thought that I chose the room with the skirt silhouette by mistake.

But, no, I am using the urinal, so…

Any thought I have of gawking is replaced by an embarrassed empathy for a fellow traveler having a really joyless 7 AM airport experience. As the petite, attractive redhead emerges from the stall, I turn away and give her the chance to escape without eye contact.
Moments later, when I emerge relieved, refreshed, and renewed, I search surreptitiously for the argyle-heart socks - but to no avail. She will, hopefully, laugh about this with her girlfriends tonight when she gets home. I hope that thinking back on her faux pas will bring her joy.
For me, I’m laughing already. Just what I need – a little bit of holiday cheer. Plus, I’m going home. Now, that’s real joy!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Single Shoe in the Road

I don’t lay any personal claim to the Single Shoe story. We’ve all been driving down the highway and seen the Single Shoe. We’ve all wondered about the Single Shoe. But mostly, we all just disregard the Single Shoe. My wife will say something like, “Oh, some teenagers having too much fun.” Or I’ll say, “Those lovers were in a real hurry don’t you think?”
But recently, I’ve come up with a couple of different theories to this mystery.
Theory #1: The shoe’s owner was actually caught up in “the rapture.” Probably behind that yucca over there you’ll find the other shoe. His pants will be stuck to the sap on a limb of a nearby pine. The wallet that fell out of his pants will show that he’s an organ donor. Fat lot of good his promise to donate his leftover flesh is going to do for the next-on-the-list kidney patient in Lawrence, Kansas. His “WWJD?” t-shirt, no doubt, fell into the river, so is probably halfway to the Mississippi by now if some beaver isn’t lining his lodge with it and pondering the state of his immortal soul. His Bible will be under a bush, (flung open to John 3:16, as I believe that God has a sharp-edged sense of irony, if not a downright inscrutable sense of humor.) His underwear will already be drawing flies wherever they fell. (The “Rapturee” having messed himself from the surprise of suddenly flying upwards while his clothes fell off and the angels sang.) If we weren’t going 75 mph, we could poke around and find these pieces of evidence that would validate my theory. Alas, I’m a little afraid that I’d prove myself right. Then where would I be? “Left Behind,” I guess…
Theory #2: More likely, the single shoe belonged to a lonely road warrior, like myself, driving to some unknown, and never arrived-at destination who suddenly got a bad case of terminal foot itch.
Unable to tough it out or scrape the bottom of his shoe against anything without slamming on the brakes, he finally screams hysterically, and bends down to rip off the offending shoe. While attempting to yoga his foot into his lap so he can go at the itch with the rat-tail comb out of his back pocket, he loses control of his Neverlost™-equipped Taurus rental car, and trebuchets his Hertz chariot off the shoulder of the road. As the car flips end over end toward the (inevitable) concrete bridge abutment, the shoe flies out the open window and is spared the fiery carnage that will consume anything left in the car.
Meanwhile, the somehow-sexy-while-mechanical voice of the Neverlost™ computer personality calmly informs the driver that he has missed his turn. The salesman smiles dreamily as he tumbles, rationalizing to his panicking mind that slaking the awful thirst of that foot itch was worth the dreadful and final cost of the scratching.
Since the car burst into a micro-thermo-nuclear fireball hundreds of yards past the shoe lying in the road, the rookie highway patrolman, who is first at the scene, does not connect the shoe to the disaster as he stares in dumb horror at the carnage. In fact no one notices the shoe until I drive past and wonder of its story.
And no one ever notices the small iridescent beetle that crawls out of the freshly-flung shoe. If anyone had seen the beetle, they would have sworn he was wearing an insectoid version of a feces-eating grin on what passes for his face, as he heads for the Motel 6 just up the road. They’ve left the light on for him, but he’s pretty confident he can find a dark place in which to hide. Maybe some underwear someone has left on the floor. Or maybe another shoe. That last one sure proved interesting.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Camels in Texas

They say that truth is stranger than fiction. Maybe. Maybe not. Being an avid fan of Stephen King, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Terry Pratchett, I’ve read some pretty strange stories in my days. Cars and dogs that think; elves that are immortal; hobbits with hairy feet; and a flat disk of a world that rests on 4 elephants standing on the back of the Great A’tuin, the cosmic turtle, that swims through the Multiverse – now, that’s strange.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some really strange, but true, things that happen everyday. Check out Lady Gaga or Terrell Owens or the Michael Jackson media madness if you don’t think that things can get more than strange without any help at all from a writer’s over-active imagination.

But for my money, if you want to ring the bell on the carny-of-life strange-o-meter, mix up a frothing batch of truth in the ol’ brain blender and let the fiction of the human imagination garnish that potent concoction.
And what better place to find those basic ingredients of truth to blend up in your strange-power drink but on the road, right here in the good old US of A.

For example, I was driving on US Hwy 287 in Northwest Texas. Two eighty- seven is the venerable old North/South trail that runs from Mexico to Canada, and straight through my hometown of Loveland, Colorado. Somewhere between Denton and Wichita Falls, as I was fighting off the Sandman and trying to time my phone calls so that they start and end at the top of the hills near the cell towers, I looked out past the tumbleweeds and saw… Camels?
Camels! And I think, at first, that’s cool. I mean, how often do you get to see a flotilla of the ships of the desert except on the Animal Planet network?
Then I think, wait a minute. What’s a hump of dromedaries doing in West Texas besides eating cactus? And whom do they belong to? Do they (whoever this mysterious “they” are) milk them? Raise ‘em for hump steaks? Maybe they’re going to be used to attack the last battalion of the Texas Rangers. Sheiks with scimitars vs. Pecos Bill and his Remington sharpshooters. That’d be cool.
Are “they” a terrorist cell preparing for a Lawrence-of-Arabia-type assault on Fort Worth? Or is it just another Texan’s Big-Money dream? You know, a buy- me-some-goldurn-camels-and-the-world-will-beat-a-path-to-my-door kind of venture. How did they sell that business plan to the Farmer’s Market Bank and Trust?
Maybe it’s an oil-rich sheik who bought a ranch and wanted to just feel at home. Or, he’s keeping them for a dowry for a political marriage between his daughter and the local Oil Baron’s son. Cement that oil deal with camel’s blood and “I Do’s” and create a whole new monopoly for the 21st century.
Could be it’s a cult-ish environmental group that believes global warming will force us to have reliable, drought-resistant transportation when civilization falls apart and they’ll be ahead of the curve.
Could be just a Kuwaiti traveling carnival. Complete with djihnies in dime-store toilet water bottles and girls with veils that make them appear alluring when they really are not quite as pretty as the camels themselves underneath it all.
No, wait, it’s some savvy entrepreneur with the insider knowledge of a soon-to-arrive resurgence in camel-hair coats and he wants to be ready to flood the market.
Help! Stop me before I hurt myself!
You see what I mean? Once I get going, it’s hard to stop. So what about all that craziness I’ve seen traveling the byways and the highway? More to come...