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Taking it easy

I was two hours from home and the end of one of my best vacations ever and decided to stop for one last meal at a down-home diner, to extend the trip just a bit.

I had my mouth set on a jalapeño burger from the Bell Buckle Cafe when I pulled off the interstate and took the back roads to get there.

But I forgot the RC Cola and Moon Pie Festival was that day and the town was crawling with people. So I moved on to Shelbyville and found Pope’s Cafe on the square.

There’s something about a cafe near a courthouse that guarantees there will be good food there.

The cheeseburger was great. Pope’s did not disappoint. But the jackass who pulled in to the parking spot next to mine after I went in did.

I could not open the driver’s door wide enough to squeeze in. Granted, I am a big boy, but this dipshit had pulled in with the front tires turned 90 perpendicular to the line, wedging the car into the spot. Whoever was driving was alone or with one really skinny friend.

My first instinct was to kick their car hard enough to dent it. But it was broad daylight and folks were walking by. Besides, I had foot surgery last fall and I don’t want to go through that again.

So I got in the passenger seat of my car and stewed. It took a few minutes for me to realize I could still turn my car on and roll down the windows to let the breeze in while I waited for the jackass to return.

I pushed the button to turn on the power and sat.

What am I going to say to this guy? Will I get in a fight? What if it’s a woman? The possibilities played through my head.

I opened the car door and tried to shimmy across the arm rest and gear shift into the driver’s seat, but, like I said, I’m a big boy and that didn’t work.

So I sat and stewed some more. It seemed like an hour passed, but it was really only 5 minutes. Five really long minutes.

To start my car (it’s a RAV4, so technically an SUV), you need to press the brake while pushing the power button.

If only I had a stick, I could press the brake and back out enough to open the driver’s door.

I scanned the sidewalk. No stick. I sat some more.

Don’t I have an umbrella on the floor in the back? I felt around. Ice scraper. Not long enough. Light jacket, not sturdy enough. I finally got out and opened the back door. There was the umbrella.

I got back in and started the car. My RAV4 has a back-up camera, so I was able to see where I was going and I started to inch the car out. Who knew city squares were so busy? After another minute, I was able to back out far enough to open the driver’s door.

As I settled in to the driver’s seat, I grabbed the pen from the console and a napkin that was on the passenger seat, planning to write “You Park Like An Asshole” on it and leave it on the windshield. I decided they probably already know they park like an asshole. Hell, I drive like an asshole most of the time and it doesn’t bother me.

So I put the pen down and headed home.

Did I mention I had a really great vacation?

I stopped for supper at O’Brien’s tonight and the place was hopping. It’s Good Friday and in addition to their regular meatloaf special, they offered a variety of combinations involving crab legs, shrimp and steak.

I was tempted to get the crab leg cluster and shrimp combo, but when I asked about portion size, I opted for the meatloaf instead. One cluster of 4 legs and a half dozen shrimp is an appetizer to this coonass.

The only open table when I walked in was right next to the kitchen and the pace was hectic. It reminded me of my high school days, when I worked as a busboy and dishwasher the last 5 months of my senior year.

It was about this time of year 44 years ago when Coach Gros, my Algebra teacher, suggested that my late-night job was affecting my class work. “If you don’t really need the money, you might think about cutting back on week nights so you can graduate.”

Graduate. That had been an abstract word to me up until that moment. I didn’t really know what I wanted to be when I grew up and here I was, a month and a half away from graduation.

I thought about what he said during my shift at the restaurant that night.

Working at The Emporium had been the most fun I’d had in a while. I met some great people working there. (And stay in touch with them to this day.)

Most nights, we’d finish up by 10:30, then sneak into the back room of the Iron Horse next door and trade beer for washing glasses for the bartenders. It was easy to tell my parents I worked late. In a way, I wasn’t lying.

“Graduation.” That word kept playing in my mind as I scraped dishes and put them in the dishwasher.

At the end of the shift, I pulled the manager aside and told him I needed to quit so I could get my grades up. It was a tough decision. In a few short months, everyone there had become family to me.

“That’s a smart move,” he said. “You’ve got a job here if you change your mind.”

So here I am, 44 years later and another word is playing in my head.

“Retirement.”

Retirement starts in June. Where did the time go?

Last month I was a busboy. A week later a welder’s helper, then a fitter’s helper and machinist’s helper, then a freshman in college with ideas of becoming a lawyer. Then I was a college dropout working offshore and in the blink of an eye, I was a laid-off oilfield hand going back to college. I became a journalist because there weren’t many job opportunities in Thibodaux, La., for a history major with a journalism minor.

Journalism lasted for 20 years, then I became a corporate communicator after toying with becoming a locksmith for a few years. I got married. I got divorced. I’ve bought 4 houses and 10 cars and I’ve lived in three states.

And today I am 8 Mondays from retirement (though I’m off for 2 of them) and I’ve got that same feeling in my gut that I had 44 years ago.

During an interview in the mid-1990s, former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. “Retired,” I said. “I want to be retired.”

We laughed. It was a good interview. I can’t remember what story I was working on.

But here I am on the precipice of retirement and I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.

I guess I’m fixing to find out, though.

 

 

 

 

Old dog, new tricks

When I was in school, they used Ditto machines to copy documents.

Xerox machines were the rage when I entered the work world.

When I worked in the oilfield, we made blue line copies of our logs and transmitted them over the phone using a telecopier, which took about 7 minutes to send one page.

After I left the oilfield for journalism and  fax machines revolutionized the world, though their reign was shortlived thanks to the advent of email and document scannerd.

And that’s pretty much where my knowledge of getting a document to you quickly stayed until a few weeks ago.

When I moved to the ridge, I couldn’t get a landline for my home because AT&T got out of the landline business a year before. Voice over internet wasn’t an option because I can’t get broadband internet because I’m out in the sticks, not that thete’s anything wrong with that.

Instead, if I needed to send or recieve a fax, I’d do it at work.

A few weeks ago, I needed to send a friend a document, but was nowhere near the office. He suggested I download a document scanner app and use my phone camera to scan in the documents.

“They got that?” was my initial response.

A quick look at the app store, and I discovered thst they got that. I opted for FastScanner, and in a few minutes was able to send him a high resolution copy.

My mind was blown.

My phone is a freaking copy machine now. I used it to scan a page from a book that had a quote I wanted to memorize and worked on it during my lunch break.

This week, I needed to fax a signed document to my insurance company, but I was at home and I’m not going into the office again until next week.

“Damn.” was my first response. “I’m screwed,” was my second.

“I wonder if my scanner app can fax,” was my third. And as we all know, the third time is the charm.

I printed the document on my laser printer. (I finally bought one last week.) Signed it, scanned it in to my phone, and there was a fax symbol in the app, so I pushed it.

That started the process of me downloading and installing EasyFax. The app is free, but you have to pay a small fee through the use of tokens to send a fax.

I bought the minimum number of tokens and sent the document in from the comfort of my little house in the woods.

Not bad for someone who is fixing to turn 61. Old dog. New trick.

This too shall pass

One day King Solomon decided to humble Benaiah ben Yehoyada, his most trusted minister. He said to him, “Benaiah, there is a certain ring that I want you to bring to me. I wish to wear it for the Sukkot festival, which gives you six months to find it.”

“If it exists anywhere on earth, your majesty,” replied Benaiah, “I will find it and bring it to you, but what makes the ring so special?”

“It has special powers,” answered the king. “If a happy man looks at it, he becomes sad, and if a sad man looks at it, he becomes happy.” King Solomon knew that no such ring existed in the world, but he wished to give his minister some added humility.

Spring passed and then summer, and still Benaiah had no idea where he could find the ring. On the day before Sukkot, he decided to take a walk in one of the poorest quarters of Jerusalem. He passed by a merchant who had begun to set out the day’s wares on a shabby carpet. “Have you by any chance heard of a special ring that makes the happy wearer forget his joy and the broken-hearted wearer forget his sorrows?” asked Benaiah.

He watched the elderly man take a plain gold ring from his carpet and engrave something on it. When Benaiah read the words on the ring, his face broke out in a wide smile.

That night the entire city welcomed in the holiday of Sukkot with great festivity. “Well, my friend,” said King Solomon, “have you found what I sent you after?” All the ministers laughed and Solomon himself smiled.

To everyone’s surprise, Benaiah held up a small gold ring and declared, “Here it is, your majesty!” As soon as Solomon read the inscription, the smile vanished from his face. The jeweler had written three Hebrew letters on the gold band: Gimel, Zayin, Yud, which begin the words “Gam zeh ya’avor – This too shall pass.”

At that moment King Solomon realized that all his wisdom and fabulous wealth and tremendous power were but fleeting things, for one day he would be nothing but dust.

— Author unknown

It’s about choices

It’s about personal choices.

If you want to restrict someone’s ability to make a choice about which gun to buy based on someone else’s illegal use of a gun, are you willing to also restrict other Constitutional rights because a handful of people misuse a right and cause harm to the lives of others?

And if you want to restrict the right of someone to get an abortion, are you okay with them restricting your right to bear arms?

These are major issues that are dividing our country.

I think our forefathers envisioned this and offered a solution.

They enunciated our inalienable rights which no government nor individual can take away from us without due process.

They are the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

And they all hinge on the ability of each of us to make our own personal choices without interference from anyone, any government, any special interest group or any political party.

Can’t we all just get along?

Focus on your choices and don’t be so quick to deny others the same right.

You got a minute?

I was walking from the parking garage to the office this morning when a guy stopped me on the sidewalk.

“You got a minute?” he asked.

“Not really,” I replied.

“Are you familiar with the area?” he asked.

“Somewhat,” I said, casting a leery eye at him.

“Don’t worry. I’m not a bum,” the guy offered with an awkward giggle. “I still have all my teeth.”

“That’s nice,” I said while running my tongue over the spots where two molars used to be.

“Are you familiar with Fairview?” he continued.

I nodded.

“I’m from Fairview and I’ve been trying to take care of my dear old mom …”

“Yeah,” I butted in, “And she’s in St. Thomas Midtown and when you found out she was in the hospital you ran out of the house so fast you forgot your wallet on the dresser and now you’re out of gas and don’t have any money on you to buy some.”

His eyes grew wide and he started walking away fast.

“You tried that crap on me at Kroger right before Christmas, asshole” I told him.

“You are wrong, though,” I said loudly as he trotted up the sidewalk away from me.

“You’re a bum,” I said. “It doesn’t matter how many teeth you have.”

That Christmas run-in has bothered me for almost 2 months.

He sounded sincere. My heart said, “help him out.” But my mind said “his story doesn’t add up.”

The Kroger and the Farmer’s Market across the road from the grocery aren’t in any way, shape or form along the route to the hospital from Fairview.

I told him I couldn’t help him and went into the store.

After I left the store, I looked for his truck in the Farmer’s Market parking lot. I had decided that if I saw him at the truck, I would pick him up and get some gas for him.

There was no pickup in the lot, but still, in the back of my mind, that little voice kept reminding me that I walked away from someone who might have needed help.

It bugged me. A lot.

I never give people money. If someone says they need a dollar to buy lunch, I offer to buy their lunch for them. Only two have taken me up on the offer and the lunch we shared was really quite educational.

A guy who’d worked as a laborer all of his life, ran out of work in the building bust in 2008. He was a proud man, but hunger has a way of suppressing pride.

A woman who stands on the street corner on Fifth Ave. North, drawing in a sketch pad all day long told me after I brought her an order of lasagna from the Italian place in the Arcade, “When this is all over, I’m going to tell you something that will make us all laugh.”

I still buy her lunch occasionally.

But this guy. This guy really pissed me off.

Here I was, double guessing my decision all these weeks and this guy is plying his trade without an ounce of conscience.

On the ride home tonight, it occurred to me that I may have met this guy before, at a Burger King on Charlotte Ave., a few blocks from downtown, back when I still worked at the newspaper about 15 years ago.

His story then was that his child was being treated for cancer at Children’s Hospital and he needed to get back home in Fairview to pick up his favorite toy to help in the recovery, but ran out of gas.

I told him I didn’t have any cash, which was true. But as I used my check card to buy my burger, it occurred to me that I could also use my card to buy him a tank of gas.

He was gone when I came out of the restaurant. It bothered me, then and it still bothered me from time to time, that I didn’t help someone who I could have.

Tonight, when I turn out the light and put my head on my pillow, at least that annoying voice in my head won’t be harping on that time I didn’t help a guy whose kid was in the hospital or another whose mom is in the ICU.

Looks like I’ll get that minute back after all.

The next generation

Looking at pictures of my nephew and his family’s trip to the Magic Kingdom this week got me thinking.

My nephew’s grandson, my great-grand nephew, fell asleep on the flight from New Orleans  to Orlando. He’s a little more than 1 and a half and already, jet travel is old hat to him.

I was 6 when my dad talked a helicopter pilot reviewing the pipeline right of way to take me and my brother up for a flight. I fell in love with flying, but I was 23 before I had my first commercial airline flight.

Even after 10 years of flying in helicopters to get to and from offshore oil rigs and countless other flights across the country and into Mexico, Canada and Belize, I still can’t bring myself to sleep on a flight because, well, because. It’s flying.

That first commercial flight was for a trip from New Orleans to Las Vegas for the second annual COMDEX, a huge computer expo that was cutting edge at the time.

COMDEX lasted for another 22 years before it went out of style in 2003. It was replaced by the Consumer Electronics Show, because computers had lost their luster and iPods, iPads and Smart Phones were about to come of age.

When I was born in 1957, there were 48 stars on the flag and the only satellite orbiting Earth was the moon. Yesterday, we shot a sports car toward Mars and the asteroid belt.

When my maternal grandmother was born in 1903, the only things that had flown in the sky were birds, kites and balloons. Before she died, a dozen men walked on the moon and people were flying shuttles into space and working for days at a time.

Times change. New becomes old. The next generation moves things forward.

I’m pretty sure my great-grand nephew won’t sleep through all of it.