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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.

My water tank ran dry on Saturday afternoon, right in the middle of my last load of clothes for the week.

I’m not sure how I miscalculated how much water was in my tank, but a toilet that sometimes runs when you flush it was probably the culprit.

When I woke up Sunday morning it was raining. By noon the rain had started to taper off. I checked my rain gauge and it was at 0.1, roughly 90 gallons of water. That was enough to last me the coming week, including redoing that last load of laundry.

IMAG0073But as I stood on the deck in the light mist, I looked upward, and said “Lord, I really could use a lot more rain right now.”

In theory, my water tank holds 1,500 gallons, but in reality, it starts overflowing out of the space around the intake pipe when the level is at 1,100 gallons. An inch of rain produces about 900 gallons. A full tank will last at least 2 months without rain.

“I really could use an inch of rain,” I added quietly.

The light rain continued Sunday afternoon. I was able to take a shower, wash that load of clothes and wash the dishes, which I had put off all week.

When I got home Sunday after the officers’ installation at my Masonic lodge, the rain gauge was up to 0.2 inches.

“Thank you Lord,” I said alone in my house.

My plan was to call a water transport company on Monday, but at the installation, someone said they caught the weather forecast that morning and more rain was in the forecast. It hadn’t been two days earlier.

So the rain started on Tuesday afternoon and continued overnight and into this evening. The half inch in the gauge this morning had grown to an inch by the time I got home tonight.

I just heard on TV that we’re going to get another 4 inches of rain on Friday and Saturday.

My cup runneth over and my water tank will soon, too.

Be careful what you ask for, but always be thankful.

Free water, kinda

I use rain water for my water source on the ridge, a decision made easier by a well driller who pointed out three drilling sites and noted that if we didn’t find water here, we’ll drill there and if that one is dry, too, we’ll drill over there.

I spent 10 years of my life drilling oil and gas wells when I was in my 20, so I know a thing or two about subsurface nomenclature and expenses associated with casing a well.

He looked puzzled when I asked him who would pay for the dry holes. So instead, I called RainHarvest Systems out of Cummins, Ga., and ordered a 3,000 gallon rainfall catchment system with all of the bells and whistles. That included two 1,500 gallon tanks. But it turned out I only had room for one tank in the old cellar, so my neighbor was kind enough to buy the extra tank from me. He uses it for his horses.

My water system before I covered it with an aluminum carport.The filters are under the tarp at left.

The pump they sent was OK, but when water levels were low, the pump lost its prime, which required two people to get primed again. That is a problem since I live alone, so I had my plumber install a submersible pump I bought at Lowe’s, which I learned this past winter, will suck the tank dry and still not lose its prime. But that’s for another blog post.

So while the water is free, I have about $4,000 invested in my water system. It has worked great so far, but I noticed that over time, the water pressure was getting weaker. My able assistant Mr. Google told me that’s a sign of the filters needing to be changed.

Did I mention the filters? There’s three of them, a 20 micron, 5 micro and charcoal filter, placed in a series. Three replacement filters cost $130.

My plumber left out a cutoff valve between the pressure tank and the filters, so in order to change the filters, I had to cut power to the pump and drain the pressure tank.

The filter covers at the car wash, getting a bath with Clorox and warm water

I don’t know why, but I thought that was going to be a pain in the neck to do, so I put it off as long as I could. I ordered the new filters back in December. And the box they came in has been a nice side table by the front door for all these months.

With the first big cold front of the season moving through this week, I decided I needed to do it now, so I took a day off from work to get it done.

It turns out that it was pretty simple to do. And the next time will be simpler because I’m going to add a cut off valve right before the water intake on the filters. I’ll wait until spring to do that, though.

You really should change filters every year. I waited 18 months. Those things were nasty.

My filter kit came with transparent covers because I wanted to be able to see when they needed changing. Big mistake. I put the water system in the old cellar, just below and on the side of my house. My plan was to cover the shelter, but cash grew tight and I couldn’t put a roof over it.

So for nine months, the water system was exposed to the sun. I covered it with a tarp, thinking that would keep it from getting direct sun.

Remember this equation. Sunlight + water = algae. Lots of it. Who knew that much algae could grow in a 5-inch cylinder?

So I put the nasty filters in one garbage bag and the covers in another. The old filters went to the convenience center. The covers went to the car wash where a good high pressure bath with healthy heaping of Clorox and they looked as good as new.

The drive to and from the car wash took longer than actually replacing the filters.

In January, I had a portable garage installed over my water system in the cellar. In the next few weeks, I’m going to enclose it so I can keep the pipes from freezing this winter like they did last winter.

So here I sit with clean filters and half a day off with nothing to do but wash clothes, surf the web and get ready for my trip to a tiny house jamboree in Newport, Tenn., tomorrow.

Did I mention that I like living on the ridge?

 

They say that change is the only constant in life and that is becoming more apparent as the calendar changes to 60 for me in a few weeks.

I started noticing it when I turned 45 and couldn’t find my cologne, British Sterling, in stores any more. At my then wife’s suggestion, I switched to Paul Sebastian.

But when I turned 55, and newly divorced, I couldn’t find a bottle of Paul Sebastian for less than $60 in stores. eBay came to the rescue and thankfully, I can still find a bottle of Paul Sebastian after shave for under $15.

Charmin was my toilet paper of choice since I was a teen and my dad started bringing home multipacks from work. It was the simple, 1-ply style, which served me well. I’m not sure when, but they stopped making 1-ply, or at least the stores I used quit stocking it, and I found I was using way more 2-ply than I did one ply.

That’s when Cottonelle came into my life after I moved to the ridge. Cheaper than Charmin but as good as Charmin ever was.

It’s the same with paper towels. Dad brought an obscene number of rolls of Bounty home from work when I was a kid and I became loyal to that brand.

As my life simplified after the divorce, I found the large multipacks offered at grocers and discount stores impractical because I had a smaller amount of storage space. At about the same time, stores started stocking single or double packs, so I would just buy one roll and make sure I always had a spare in the pantry.

Now that I live in the country and my shopping options are more limited, I have found it impossible to locate a single roll of Bounty that isn’t that aggravating “select-a-size” type.

The local independent grocer in Charlotte has come to my rescue with a “premium” option for its store brand paper towels, though. It’s 70 cents cheaper than a roll of Bounty, has no feminine floral print on it and works as a sufficient substitute for the rare times when I run out of Kleenex or toilet paper.

Adaptation. Its a great tool to develop as you get older.

I think I’m ready to be 60.

 

Miracle on ice

I drive an 18 year-old car because it’s paid for and it still runs great.

It’s a Toyota, of course, and has more than 276,000 miles on it. I bought it 6 years ago with 150,000 miles on it and my goal is to get at least 300,000 or more miles on it before I buy another car.

It’s a good car, but it does have its quirks.

Like the driver’s window. It stopped working three years ago. Just refused to roll down. A month later, it started working again. I never found out why. But it worked like a charm until six months ago, when it up and quit again.

My plan was to take it to a shop to get it fixed, but something always came up that required my attention (and my cash).

I’m working really hard to pay off my house, so cash is always tight. Replacing the window motor or carriage could cost anywhere from $200 to $1,200 depending on the shop. (I’ve called several.)

A new transmission (technically, it’s a used transmission) was the the first thing that bumped the window from my priority list. New tires for my dad’s truck, a gift when he decided not to drive any more last spring, were next.

Then there were new tires for the car, skirting for the house, new steps on the deck to pass codes, dues for the half dozen Masonic organizations I belong to, topped off by a busted water pipe and my attempts to better weatherize my water system.

It’s been really cold this week, with snow added as an accent. I drove the truck on the long holiday weekend and again on Tuesday and Wednesday in part because the roads were slick and because the driver’s window rolls down which makes getting in the parking garage for work much easier. (I had to unbuckle the seat belt, open the door and lean back to use my access card with the car.)

Today, with the temperature below freezing for two days in a row and fears that letting the car sit idle for the better part of a week, I used my car. Besides, its heater works better than the truck’s.

As the side window fogged up during the early part of my drive , I hit the window down button to clear the moisture and lo and behold, the window rolled down. And then it rolled back up.

A miracle, no doubt.

It worked great as I entered and left the garage, too.

God only knows how long it will continue to work this time, but now I can spend my cash on other things — like my water system, which froze again today.

I’m hoping for a burst-free thaw.

Stop laughing. Miracles do happen. Just ask my car.

Tank you

If it’s possible to love an appliance, I never really cared much for my washing machine.

The washer came with a dryer in a package deal that fit my budget at the time five years ago when I was focused on paying off my debt. But it didn’t do a good job of getting stains out of my shirts, so I put a thermometer to the water when it was on the Warm setting. 72 degrees.

The repair guy who came out the next day said that’s how they build them these days. It runs the cold water for a bit and then a short run with hot water.

Hot water at my apartment was too hot for my shirts and pants, and the heater was behind a locked door that I didn’t have a key that would allow me to adjust it, so there were times after I dribbled soy sauce or salad dressing on me, that some shirts had to be washed two or three times.

I opted for a tankless water heater in my house, but the cold water problem was even worse since there was a 20-second lag from the time the washer switched to hot and hot water arrived at the washer. I started looking for money in the budget for a better model, but the budget was tight.

Then one day, while looking at the red glow of the temperature readout on the tank, it hit me. I can adjust the temperature down to 98 degrees, which is what most consider warm water.

So now, when I wash my permanent press, I set the washer temp setting to Hot and the water tank to 98 and you never see the remnants of soy sauce or salad dressing on my shirts any more.

I like my cheap washer now.