Thursday, November 24, 2011


Gasoline:  $350.00

Hotels:  $150.00

Pain from 2,200 mile round trip:  off the scale

Living life to the fullest?  PRICELESS!!!



So, last Friday after work, I blazed a trail out of Houston (I managed to beat the worst of the traffic, just the slowdown around IAH) and headed northeast.  I figured I’d drive till I was tired, then find a side-of-the-interstate motel. 

I ate a Corn Dog on the way (more on that later in the week; the smell of Corn Dogs will become overpowering as we approach Baton Rouge tonight…).

As I got to Texarkana, I felt surprisingly good, so kept going, and wound up in my old home area, Little Rock.  Spent the night, got up the next morning, and had a facebook comment from my buddy Rich.  Rich had adopted one of my rescue Border Collies, a very shy girl named Bonnie, and he’d been bugging me for some time to come see her—so I thought, “I’ll take this opportunity to do that, I’ve got a little time to give.” 

Bon Bon has come nicely out of her shell.  She’s a happy dog, and obviously devoted to Rich (and he’s crazy about her, a success story!).  She is NOT fond of cameras, even when they’re disguised as cell phones, and this is the best we could do (Geebus, I guess I really AM that fat.  Oh, well, the camera adds 10 lbs. and I’m big boned; yeah, that’s the ticket!):



Anyone who knows me knows of my fondness for the Arkansas Razorbacks.  Since I had such a long trip (INDIANA!?!) ahead, I had planned to skip the Mississippi State game and keep driving.  All morning, on the way to Rich’s, I kept seeing the flags and magnets, people decked out for the game, heard one or two Hog Calls.  MUST…MAINTAIN…FOCUS…

So, I left Rich’s and sadly made my way to the interstate.  I called Nathan and he said, “Are you NUTS?  You LOVE this stuff, and it’ll only add about 6-8 hours to your trip!” 


You know what’s coming next…



Malvern’s Own Madre Hill






My phone ran out of juice (freaking blackberry…they have lousy cameras, too) and that was “it” for the pics. 


Before the game, had several fun things.

Went by my old house on Hillcrest:


Enjoyed the walk up Monroe St. to see the Old Gray Pile; bunch of kids playing football in front:


Ran into my dear and wonderful friends Kyle Gregory and her son, Cameron, and their bunch from Monroe.  They had brought some exchange kids up for not only their first Razorback game, but their first American Football game!



Left to right, Monroe, Brazil, Netherlands, Monroe (and that’s Kyle’s FRIEND on the left, not Cameron, I don’t know why I didn’t get a pic with him).


Left Little Rock after OUR GLORIOUS VICTORY, then drove to Marion, Illinois (that night).  Next morning, got up and drove to Palmyra, Indiana, to pick up my Magnavox.  It was GREAT, as advertised!  Loaded it, then immediately started back.

On the way, back, couldn’t resist (in a driving downpour with heavy traffic) snapping (one-handed) a picture of Louisville’s Stadium, where Bobby Petrino worked his magic.


Drove the rest of the day to Birmingham, Alabama and stayed with my wonderful friends Kathy and Larry Beaumont.  Next morning, got up and headed home, past Tuscaloosa (Home of the #2 ranked Alabama Crimson Tide), through Mississippi to Louisiana, then past Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, where tomorrow the #3 ranked ARKANSAS RAZORBACKS take on the #1 ranked LSU Tigers.  I couldn’t resist a risky one-handed snap there, either, in heavy traffic crossing the mighty Mississippi:

District 10-20111121-00433

So, in one trip, I went to the “Home Away From Home” of the #3 team in the country, then passed the home of the #2 team in the country, then passed the home of the #1 team in the country.


Got the Magnavox home, Nathan helped me unload it, and we placed it in the room and plugged it in.  I pushed the “power” button and held my breath.  The old Maggie roared to life---that deep, full-throated wonderfulness I remember so very well---and the tuner, which was exactly where it was when I bought it in Palmyra, was tuned to 99.5—which, in Houston, is Sunny 99.5---and they were playing Bing Crosby singing “I’m Dreamin’ of a White Christmas”.  (They next played Alvin and the Chipmunks, and then Santa Baby, but I digress).


Other people are “normal”.  They grow up, got to college, get married, make babies, raise them, have grandkids, grow old, and die.  If that’s your thing, good for you and power to you.

Me, I’d rather mix in a little adventure.  It’s what makes life worth living.

I have to end this blog post right now…it’s Thanksgiving Day, H-E-B is open (but only till 2), and I have to pick up 2 bottles of Zing Zang, some limes, an extra bottle Worchestershire Sauce, some red plastic cups—we’re headed to Baton Rouge at 4 to see our #3 Razorbacks beat #1 LSU for a possible berth in the National Championship game.  I’ll worry about the money and the time off from work later…for now, the tailgating foolishness RIDES AGAIN!


Uncle Malvie, proudly keeping up the Tarkington and Jones families’ tradition of craziness eccentricity since 1957!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Lightening the Load, Indeed (and, the Ghost with the Most)

My friend Kathy Beaumont’s most recent blog post was about lightening the load---going through and getting rid of stuff.  The rule should be:  if you haven’t used it for a year, it needs to go.

I’ve been in “get rid of it” mode for a while now, and after Kathy’s post I kind of sat up and looked around me.

It’s going to take me YEARS to go through this stuff.  I’m sentimental to the max, and if I find one of Grannie’s* gum wrappers (she liked Juicy Fruit), I’m loathe to toss it.

In some cases, though, I’m glad I hung onto some things that theoretically I should have tossed or given away years ago.


In 1968, I went with my Dad to help my grandparents purchase a stereo.  The old Philco radio had bitten the dust; in any event, 78 rpm records were “out” and while Granny still wanted to be able to listen to Nelson Eddy and his Orchestra’s rendition of “The Old Rugged Cross”, she also wanted to hear the contemporary sounds of that Mantovani fellow,

not to mention the mellifluous tones of 101 Strings.

So, we hopped into the 65 Olds and went to Haverty’s in downtown Little Rock.  At that time, Main Street, though fading, was still Main Street and Haverty’s had this huge store.  They had their stereo equipment on the 4th floor, and up we trekked; after some debate, Granny* and Gramp made their selection.

It was a Magnavox Astro-Sonic (everything in the 60’s was just so much more cool and groovy if you put “Astro” in the title; in Magnavox’s case, it was their trade name for “Solid State”—no tubes, all transistors) in a beautiful pecan cabinet (vaguely “Mediterranean”, another hot styling trend of the time).

It had an actual subwoofer, two 12” front speakers, two 3” tweeters, and two 12” side speakers, and it could crank the music.  The controls—I don’t know how they and Marantz (a higher-end brand) did it, but the controls just glided.  Ball bearings?  They were incredibly smooth and rich feeling. 

I’d wait till everybody was out of the house, then put my records on and blast away with it.  With pier-and beam foundation and wood floors, the underside of the house made a perfect reverb chamber.  I always got caught, because the pictures would all go crooked on the walls and I’d always miss one or two; I could rattle the dishes in the kitchen cabinets.  And, periodically, I’d forget to turn the volume back down and Granny would get a jolt when she went to play a record.

I loved the sound it made.

Sadly, after Granny and Gramp died, the Magnavox went to a different part of the family and I lost track of it.  After all these years, and with a large vinyl collection collecting dust on the shelf in Malvern (my turntable died years ago), and boxed since the move to Houston 4 years ago, the records were on the “endangered species” hit list.  (“Be ruthless with discards.”)


I was sitting here the other day, posting away on one of my Bulletin boards.  One of the younger posters asked about various music delivery devices and some of us older ones were talking about things like cassettes (eeww) and 8-track (surprisingly, I like them better than cassettes) then about vinyl records (33 1/3, 45, and the older 78’s).  Many of the younger posters have never seen or heard a record! 

I was looking online (you can find anything on the interwebs) and thought, “I’ll see if there’s a picture of that Magnavox somewhere.  I seem to remember it being featured in one of their ads. 

And…I found a photo.  A “live” listing on ebay.  The exact set, IDENTICAL to my grandparents’, apparently flawless, with the original paper on the turntable, owner’s manuals, etc. Owner is throwing in her Dad's vinyl and 8 tracks (!), many of which are still shrinkwrapped.

I couldn’t resist.

So, the weekend before Thanksgiving, I’m driving to Louisville, Kentucky to pick up my beautiful 1968 Magnavox “Astro-Sonic” console stereo, albums, and 8 tracks. 

Here it is, in all its Mediterranean Pecan glory:


(and ya know what else?  It doesn’t have all those exposed wires and crap we’ve just gotten used to with all the component sets we’ve had for decades now.  This stuff was classy).

The other rule (besides “if you haven’t used it in a year…”) is: if something “big” comes in, something else must go OUT in order to make room.  I’ve got it figured out.

Now all I have to do is figure out which of the boxes in the storage bedroom actually contain the albums.  Gee, I haven’t heard the White Album or Abbey Road or Steppenwolf or Led Zeppelin or Iron Butterfly or Peter Frampton or the Byrds or Chicago on ALBUMS in at least 20 years.  Yes, I own much of that music on itunes.  (Some of it, notably Abbey Road, I bought in album, then 8-track, then cassette, then CD, and now it resides in itunes).  Still—the sound on the vinyl, blasting out of those Magnavox speakers---

I can’t wait!  Here Comes the Sun (do do do do ) Here Comes the Sun and I say, “It’s all right!”


Paul Eells, a gentleman it was my great pleasure and privilege to know, was the announcer for Vanderbilt and a fixture on Nashville television—until he accepted a similar position at KATV Channel 7 in Little Rock.  He loved the Razorbacks, was the Voice of the Razorbacks, and I belt out his “TOUCHDOWN, ARKANSAS!  OH, MY!” every time they score.

Paul died tragically in an automobile accident on the way from Fayetteville back to Little Rock.  A few weeks later, Houston Nutt took the Hogs to play Vandy in Nashville, right around Halloween.  The score was close and Vandy was driving.  They had to attempt a last-second field goal for the win.  It looked perfect—till a gust of wind hit the ball and blew it wide.  Hogs win.

It was said that the Ghost of Paul blew on the ball and caused it to sail wide.

Yesterday, a day most celebrated as Halloween (I don’t like changing the holidays to fit the weekends, but oh well…), once again, Vandy was driving the field to win the game and had to attempt a field goal---which sailed right, in almost exactly the same spot. 

Paul Eells,  the Ghost with the Most!


*Both my grandmothers were “Grannee”.  Grandmother Jones was “Granny”, while Grandmother Forthmon was “Grannie”.  Grannie lived with us; I spent the summers with Granny and Gramp in Malvern, with Grannie nearby at Aunt Paulie’s.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Object Lessons

In an unsurprising move for me, I determined to practice work-avoidance (I have so much to do at work right now, I really am going to have to work tonight, Sunday, in order to have a prayer this week). 

Last weekend, I visited Aunt Shorty (aged 92), who had (in her usual effortless manner) whipped up home-made pulled pork bbq for me (in the crockpot).  I asked her how she did it and it really did sound simple.

So, in order to practice work-avoidance (and knowing that I would have to work very late every night this week, and being very tired of Taco Bell, KFC, Long John Silvers, Taco Cabana, and even Pei Wei and Popeye’s), I decided to see if I could accomplish some crock-pot bbq myself.  I reasoned, if I fix a big batch on Sunday, I can probably eat it for several days (till I’m sick of it) and neither cook nor go out (the microwave is your friend).

So, having listened to Aunt Shorty’s recipe and done a quick Google search, I set out for the local H-E-B to obtain food and supplies.

On Sunday.

What was I thinking?  It was, of course, packed. 

I won’t go to Wal-Mart in Houston.  Too big, too many people, too much of everything.  I go there about every 3 or 4 months and buy $200 worth of things like toothpaste, shaving cream, TP, paper towels, etc.  Those things really are cheaper there and if you buy them in big bulk and just store them, you limit your trips.

The local H-E-B has what I call the "International Bizarre” (spelling intentional) flavor to it.  Houston is a big melting pot of people from all over the world, and they flock to “my” H-E-B.  You’ll pass a gaggle of muslim women in their scarves, standing behind 3 or 4 Nigerians in full tribal-gear, who are waiting for the Korean family in front of them to move out of the way.  The store is tight and packed from top to bottom.

Every time I go in there, I vow mightily never to return.  It’s not necessarily the “international bizarre” aspect (I’ve found that women of all nationalities are equally adept at allowing their brats to scream bloody murder for no reason at all while Mom shops, oblivious), it’s the crowds.

You wouldn’t think that someone who’s attended as many sporting events as I have, and lived some of the places I have, would be bothered by crowds.  I’m finding that, as I age, that’s one of the things I tolerate less and less gracefully.  I won’t wait on line more than 15 minutes for ANY restaurant.  I cuss the traffic at all times.  I have no patience for long lines at the airport, nor for stupid people on the plane who hold up the whole shebangabang so they can angle for the perfect seat (pick one, sit in it, buckle up, and shut up).  I’m becoming, as my friend Keith says, a “crank”.  (The nicer word is “curmudgeon”).

So today, as I pushed my cart through the packed aisles at H-E-B, trying desperately to locate “Liquid Smoke” (it’s in the bbq sauce aisle, not the spice or baking aisle), digging around looking for dark brown sugar (you’d think there’d be lots, but they only had a few bags) and being shocked that they are all the way out of Duke’s Mayonnaise (if you’ve not tried it, do so; I’ve switched from my lifelong Hellman’s to Duke’s), I was pushed, prodded, shoved, and generally swarmed by the aforementioned muslim ladies, Nigerians (they wouldn’t get out of the way and had a whole aisle blocked with their carts and bodies; oblivious to the many people on both sides they were holding up), and garden-variety Mexicans (if they’re US Citizens, they’re “hispanic”, but if they’re Citizens of Mexico, they’re Mexicans), Americans (chocolate and vanilla varieties), and Asians of various origins, I was cursing steadily and non-stop under my breath.  “I will never, ever, ever set foot in this abomination of a store again,” swore I.  I utilized somewhat different vocabulary words for that, but that was the general drift.

Upon arrival at the checkout, the nice young African-American checker was a welcome relief (he speaks English as a native language; he’s polite and nice and southern).  Of course, he had no sacker, so he had to check the customer’s groceries, then sack them himself.

As I waited for him to finish with the nice hispanic lady in front of me, I leaned wearily on my cart (having gotten all my stuff onto the conveyor), and happened to glance up at the front of the store. 

Directly in front of me was the large American flag that adorns every H-E-B grocery store.  Surrounding it in huge letters were the words, “GOD BLESS AMERICA”.

And I’ve rarely been so embarrassed for myself. 

Here I am, lucky enough to have been born in the richest country in the history of humanity, during a time when it ruled the earth for most of my life.  America has always been “The Great Melting Pot”.  We’re from everywhere:  Germans, Swedes, French, African, Asian, English (my own family background); you name it, we’ve got it.  I’m rich by the standards of both 99% of the world’s current population AND my entire family tree.  Dad did well, as did his brothers and sisters and Mom’s brothers and sisters, but the great-grandparents were dirt farmers, all sides.  Mother and Dad told stories of outhouses and kerosene lamps (Dad’s family was rich, they had GASLIGHT).  The great-grandparents on all sides were poor dirt farmers with many children; uneducated, eking out an existence from the land, losing 3-4 children a generation to disease, living with 16 family members, multi-generational, in a clapboard shotgun shack on a farm in Arkansas with newspapers glued to the walls to keep the wind from howling through the cracks between the boards.  They were still better off than THEIR ancestors, who came from England (and a few from Germany) with the clothes on their backs from a Europe where constant war, starvation, hard work, and short lives were the norm.

And all these people I’d been cussing were here for the same reasons my family came here:  a better life for themselves and their children.  Hope for the future.  The American Promise, the American Dream.

Maybe next time, I’ll be a little more tolerant and a little more calm when someone from another country invades my personal space (because in their country of origin, personal space is a luxury no-one even dares to dream).



The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"




While the storm clouds gather far across the sea,
Let us swear allegiance to a land that's free,
Let us all be grateful for a land so fair,
As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer.
God bless America,
Land that I love.
Stand beside her, and guide her
Through the night with a light from above.
From the mountains, to the prairies,
To the oceans, white with foam
God bless America, My home sweet home
God bless America, My home sweet home.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

I am stoopib (but lucky)

Ok, the plan was clear enough: 1:00 pm flight, Hobby to Tulsa; direct flight, meaning the plane stopped in Dallas but I didn't have to get off.

I am an A-list passenger on Southwest, so I can now arrive at the airport only one hour ahead of flight time (remember when we complained about that? The lines now can easily exceed 1 hour; the only way I can get away with it is by being A-list, which gets me in the "First Class" line.

So an hour for security. Probably need to allow 15 minutes or so to park, and it takes 45 minutes to get from my house to Hobby.

Logic would dictate that, if I have a 1:00 flight, I need to leave the house no later than 11. Add (subtract) 15 minutes if leaving from the office.

So, this morning, I had all these plans about leaving on time. I started working (I work from home when I've got an early call at the airport). One of my clients had "this problem", another had "that problem", and I'm sitting there in my shorts and t-shirt (nothing packed yet) working on them.

I look up at the clock: 11:15. Uh-oh. I haven't packed; I have neither showered nor shaved; I have not fed and watered the dogs; the trash is sitting there to be taken out, and I'm officially 15 minutes late leaving if I get in the car RIGHT NOW.

So, my trusty laptop to the ready, I go to Southwest's website to find the next available flight. 7:15pm. NOTHING SOONER. ALL SOLD OUT.


"The Professional Insurance Adjuster SWINGS into action!" (Liberty Mutual training film, ca. 1963). I started throwing things: threw clothes into a suitcase, changed my mind and threw them into my new rolly-garment bag (that exactly fits a Southwest overhead bin), threw the dogs into their crates, threw dog food into their bowls, threw myself into the shower (having given myself a fast swipe with the razor and the teeth a fast swipe with the brush). Slammed it together with amazing (for me) speed and was out the door by 11:47.

By the time I was on the Beltway speeding--er, flying--er, drivng the LEGALLY POSTED SPEED -ahem- around the curve at the Southwest Freeway, it was 12:00. 1 hour to flight time. NEVER going to make it.

But, the traffic was light and I made it to Telephone Rd. without mishap. The lights on Telephone seemed synchronized, there were no cops, and practically no traffic ("Miracles happen every day!" --Oral Roberts).

12:10pm. Swerve off Airport Rd. into the main entrance and curve around to the parking deck entrance. "Parking Deck Closed". All levels "FULL".


Not going to happen.

12:17pm. I go to my favorite Remote Lot. They have two tiers: if you park on Level 1, it's more expensive but you don't have to lug your bags down the elevator to get to the shuttle. So I'm driving around Level 1. Nothing. Almost head-on with a dude in a Nissan SUV. He swerves into a side area and I smirk: "You'll have to back that thing out!" Smirked too soon! He pulled directly into a parking place! There were 3 back there I'd never seen. I swerve into the next spot and start grabbing my stuff (he's got his and is sprinting for the shuttle). Get my stuff and head for the shuttle. As I pull within visual range--she drives off. Dude had made it, running in his suit and dress shoes. I hate running.


Now it's REALLY not going to happen. But, I've come this far...

12:27pm: Next shuttle comes 'round; he listens to my sad tale, gasped out. He drives me directly to the door of the airport.

12:35pm: Through the main door at William P. Hobby Airport.

12:36pm: Arrive at TSA line. Not terrible--I'm A-list, so I go to the "First Class" line. There are about 10 in front of me (as opposed to the 100 or so in the "regular" line. However, a curious thing is happening: the "regular" line is moving at a smart clip; the "First Class" line is stopped. We are informed TSA is opening a new line just for us. We watch them go through their -amazingly slow even for them- motions and FINALLY go through the new line. I have both a laptop and cpap to take out and run through.


Oh, well, I'll go through, try for the gate. If the plane is there, great. If not, I'll beg the nearest Southwest person to take pity.

12:51pm: Through TSA, walking briskly -in flip-flops- through the airport dragging rolly bag and lugging briefcase. Make it to the "Rotunda", where the flights are posted. Gate 24, good (closer). Flight 92, "Boarding". Time on clock on flight posting board: 12:58.

12:58pm: I huff my fat ass down to Gate 24. About 3/4 way, I decide that having a heart attack, asthma attack, or stroke at the airport would cause me to miss the flight anyway, and slow to a walk.

12:59.30pm: I arrive at Gate 24 as the gate agent is walking toward the door to close it. "Wait! I'm on your list! I'm here! I'm here!!!"

She takes my boarding pass and says, "Hurry". I can take a hint.

1:00pm: I am at the door of the plane, which miraculously is open. Flight attendants grimace and pilots smirk, but here I am!

Two seats (middle) left on plane--in the back. NO room for the rolly bag; I ask the lead flight attendant if she wants to gate-check now; "No, just go on back there." So I get to the back of the plane and -unbelievably- they make room for my rolly in the overhead.

They shut the door and off we go. I'm still trying to decide if I need to holler, "I'm comin, Elizabeth!" a la Fred Sanford.

Have a delightful conversation with the nice lady sitting next to me; we comment on the great view of Houston as we depart and then talk all the way to Dallas.

Ah, Dallas.

We land. The Dallas passengers depart. Southwest's method on Direct Flights is to have everyone remain in their seats till they get the count right; when they do, all the "through" passengers move to the front of the plane.

They can't get the count. They can't board the plane till they get the count. They're off--by ONE. Uh-oh.

Gate agent (exasperated): "Ok, I'm going to call your name; when you hear your name, shout "here" so I can count you. If I don't call your name, you're not on the list!"

Guess whose name he does NOT call...

SO, he makes me deplane and take my belongings. Out to the counter I go. The nice man at the counter insists that I'm on the wrong plane! I tell him, "but here is my reservation (thank God for Smartphones), and it shows this flight!" He says, "Look, I'm not lying, come look at my screen!" Nicholas Jones. Of Conroe, Texas. "THAT'S NOT ME! I'M NICK-ALAN JONES of HOUSTON!!!" He looks again. "Well, there was a Nick-Alan Jones scheduled for this flight, but he was a no-show." "Um, sir? I am here! Here's my TDL: it's me! I just got off yonder plane from Houston, on which I was transported. I handed my boarding pass to the nice lady at the gate."

(Grumble grumble) "Well, since you no-showed ("We are here, we are here, We Are Here, WE ARE HERE!!!" --the Whos, "Horton Hears a Who"), the whole reservation cancelled out. You're not on the roster for Tulsa."

"Sir, I need to go to Tulsa. I obviously used an airplane--yours--to get here from Houston. I have a confirmed, paid, and ticketed reservation which you can view on my phone." (I was remarkably calm; I displayed NONE of my usual tendencies. I was practically Spock.)

(Grumble grumble) "I know what happened. She just didn't ding you in when she put you on the plane!" (Aha! Dawn Breaks!). "I'm sorry, sir, it'll just take me a second and I'll get you reinstated."

He hands me a "C" boarding pass. "A C? That's the best you can do when you pulled me off the airplane?" "You're right, sir; just come with me." And with that, he marched me back to the gate and told the gate agent to interrupt the line and board me.

So, I arrive back at the airplane. Pilot asks, "Uhhh, didn't you just get OFF this plane?" I must've looked pitiful, because he patted me on the back. "Where are you going?" "Tulsa!" "Ok, we'll take you to Tulsa right now." "Thank you!"

At last. I make my way to my favorite seat, 5A, which is open. I put my rolly in the overhead (lots o room!). I make the large guy in the aisle seat (turns out he's from Ft. Smith) move so I can get to the window. Sit down. So far, so good.

Flight Attendant: "Ladies and Gentlemen, be sure your carry on luggage is either in an overhead bin or under the seat in front of you."

Carry on luggage.

When I deplaned, and went to the counter, I swung my briefcase up on the counter. When I was marched back to the gate, I left it there. Not only the company's computer, BUT: My enrollment stuff for next year (figured I'd look at it during downtime); my $600 watch; my billfold featuring TDL, debit card, hospital cards, and about $300 cash; my cell phone--everything I need to sustain life as we know it.

I start to try to swim upstream but the onrushing B's and C's are in a hurry. I catch the flight attendant's attention. "I left my briefcase at the desk!"

She--Jasmine--stops boarding, gets another FA to help, and swims upstream, retrieves the briefcase--intact--and delivers it to me at my seat.

3:15 on the dot: We arrive in Tulsa, I sail out to get my rental car, which transaction goes flawlessly (though nothing quite screams "rental" as much as a white Dodge Avenger...). Got to Stillwater in time to meet the girls for dinner at Mexico Joe's (Eskimo Joe's Mexican relative), where I had an amazing concoction: Fajitas--made with chorizo, beer soaked brats, and peppers, topped with sauerkraut and german mustard, accompanied by two very nice beers.

I have to give props to Southwest: They did everything they could to make my flight (that I screwed up by being late) as good as possible. The lovely Jasmine; the kind pilot; the unflappable gate agent in Dallas--all worked to take care of my screwups.

People in Stillwater are very friendly, and our waitress was tops.

Sometimes, it's just better to be lucky than good.

Never heard of this one...

Never heard of this one either--but it was DELICIOUS!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Whither, Bus 0?


When my family moved from Corpus Christi to Fort Worth in early 1965, I was in heaven. Most people (including my entire family) loved the beach (I do too, now). As an 8 year old who had to get two allergy shots in each arm each week and keep an oxygen bottle hanging around in order to breathe—no idea what I was so allergic to; the doctors did one of those “scratch tests” all over my back and determined that I was allergic to over 100 things; they decided it was “mold”—I wasn’t so fond of Corpus or the beach. Fortunately for me, whatever it was in 1964 no longer seems to be an issue to me, I can go to the beach with the best of ‘em. Of course, now little kids point at me and say, “Look, Mommy, it’s Shamu!” But, I digress (as I so frequently do on here).

In any event, there we were one Sunday afternoon, living in Corpus, with an enormous grapefruit tree in the lush, tropical back yard (I hate grapefruit; my family loves it; now I once again have a grapefruit tree—not quite so enormous—in my back yard in Houston, and I still hate grapefruit), 5 blocks from Ocean Drive, playing with the new beagle puppy while Dad put the finishing touches on his workbench, when the phone rang. It was Dad’s old boss, Mr. Foster, telling Dad he had a big promotion waiting for him—in Ft. Worth, Texas. Starting immediately.

Two weeks later, we were living in the StarLight Motel in Ft. Worth while Dad worked and Mother frantically looked for a house (pouring rain, a screaming 2 year old, a whiny 8 year old, a less-than-fully-house-trained beagle puppy and Grannie, all in the same motel room; the search was, indeed, “frantic”). Ft. Worth was then and is now tied to the defense industry; when war is hot, so is Ft. Worth real estate. Mother managed to find a house almost “out in the country”, an enormous mid-century modern ranch-style house slung low across the crown of a hill, on Boat Club Road featuring a spectacular view of Lake Worth. (Our life in that house is another blog post; sagging walls, a plane crash, the saga of Tom the Cat, Mother’s new puppies, a lightning strike that caused the telephones to light up and dance with sparks flying, septic tank backup, UFO sighting, meteor shower, fire, and me swinging in the tire swing wearing my football helmet because the mother scissortail whose nest was in the tree didn’t appreciate my swinging). Mother thought she was getting Lake Worth (a good school district); unfortunately, she didn’t check quite closely enough. Boat Club Road was the dividing line and we were on the Saginaw side.

Saginaw is now a good school district; the town itself, then a sleepy ranch community, is now a prosperous and full-fledged suburb. In 1965, though, it was the sticks—and I had to ride the school bus. This was a whole new concept for me. We had always lived a block away from my schools. Now I was to ride the bus over 10 miles of arid North Texas prairie to the school (which, at the time, had an elementary, junior high, and high school on the same campus, just different buildings).

As with most things, I adapted.

If you’ve never ridden a school bus, the first thing you should know is that it has a distinctive smell. Kind of like the men’s locker room (sox, jox, soap and water), the boys’ dorm (sox, jox, and the aroma of “boy”), the girls’ dorm (10,000 different varieties of perfume and makeup), and the library (paper, glue, dust, and mold), school buses have their own unique and distinct aroma, instantly and forever memorable. As I recall, the odor was a piquant blend of part unwashed human, part peanut butter sandwich, part number two pencil, part upchuck, and part poopy, with a slight overlay of gasoline, exhaust, and burnt brakes.

We were assigned bus routes, and had a designated place to wait. We didn’t always have the same bus or driver; they switched around some, but mostly it was the same. We’d all line up (at least moderately) obediently, waiting for the huge yellow bus to wheel up and take us home.

Saginaw had a variety of buses; the area had begun to grow, the tax base had increased, and they were keeping the Ward School Bus Company of Conway, Arkansas in business with their orders for the huge new International Harvester buses, wheeling up with their nice shiny new seats, powerful engines, and automatic transmissions.

But my little band of bus brothers and sisters lived at the very end of the line—and there weren’t many of us. So, most of the time, to our resigned and shared horror, as the shiny new Bus 17 and Bus 24 and Bus 35 pulled up to pick up the other kids, up to our line with a wheeze, a gasp, a screech of brakes, and a multitude of rattles lurched the dreaded BUS 0.

Bus 0 (it really did have a “0” as the number) was the first school bus the burgeoning post-war Saginaw was able to afford (before that, Saginaw kids literally DID walk 9 miles to school every day—or they rode their horses…).

Bus 0 had once been the pride of Saginaw. With shiny yellow paint with the black-stenciled “Saginaw Independent School District” emblazoned across its exterior, she embodied the aspirations of the community to a good education for their children; a better life for the children than they themselves had. Her interior had started out with deep, rich peacock blue walls up to the windows and a refreshing seafoam green ceiling. The seats alternated, in rows, between peacock blue and emerald green; the floor was black linoleum with little white flecks that resembled grains of sand. The whole effect was something like being inside an aquarium. (This was a good thing in the fall when temperatures in Texas are still hovering in the 90’s, because Bus 0 featured 45/45 air conditioning—45 windows open, 45 miles per hour. There was no heat at all. The aromas became especially sharp on rainy days in winter with the windows closed and everybody’s feet wet. And, of course, invariably Curtis—the class clown—would issue a loud and odiferous fart, which only added to the subtle ambiance and general misery…).

Unlike the big square new International Harvesters, which resembled nothing so much as a large yellow loaf of bread on wheels, Bus 0 featured the sinuous curves of 1940’s streamlining. Where the new buses had a large door in back for “emergency exit”, Bus 0 featured a rounded roof and two small, triangular-shaped windows in back, with much smaller exit door (we figured it was permanently rusted shut…). The front doors on the new Harvesters were electric; Bus 0 had a manual one, operated by the driver with a shiny chrome knob; the door made a hideous screech when it opened.

If you want to see photos of a beautifully restored example, this fellow has them on his flickr:  Looks a whole lot nicer than poor old Bus 0 did when we knew her; be sure and look at the interior shot, for that cool “aquarium” effect!

By the time Bus 0 had hauled 20 years’ worth of screaming kids to and from school, football teams to countless football games in small towns 50 and 60 miles away, then the band, then band and football equipment (after the football entourage outgrew it), with probably at least one or two children conceived in the back seat on the long trips back home, she was slightly the worse for the wear. Generations of kids had scratched their initials on the walls. Every few years, the boys in the Auto Shop (high schools don’t have Auto Shop any more, do they?...) would haul her in, unbolt the seats, paint the interior in whatever color the school had paint for at the time, and bolt the seats back in. The Home Ec girls would stitch new seat covers out of whatever naugahyde the Home Ec teacher could round up.

As a result, by the time we got her, Bus 0 had seats in a medley of colors, from brown to black to red, with some of the original peacock blue and emerald seats left (some featuring duct tape). The once-shiny chrome on the seat trim had worn off with years of hands holding onto them. We knew what the original colors were because of course, we too, as generations before us, scratched our initials into the walls (a compass was especially useful for this purpose) and could see the various layers of paint. The proud yellow paint on the outside was faded and worn, as were the brakes, exhaust, transmission, and engine. We didn’t see how she could make it one more mile.

And frequently, she didn’t.

To get to our area, you had to cross a “Low Water Crossing”. These are very common even today across much of Texas. While in the rest of the country, most creeks have actual water in them, in Texas the small creeks are dry except for those days (usually in spring) when the rain comes in sheets and the water rages in torrents down the normally dry creek beds. Since this happens only two or three times a year, it’s both silly and wasteful to put a bridge over the creek, so Texas just paves the road down to the creek bed and puts a thick layer of concrete on the creek bed itself, with drain holes through it—and a measuring pole beside it, marked in feet—some as high as 14 feet—and that’s a Low Water Crossing.

Our particular Low Water Crossing had a unique feature---the Low Water Crossing was at the bottom of a small hill. You would have to drive down into it, then gun it to get up the other side.

The modern International Harvesters had to exercise great care not to get their enormous rear ends caught on the back and drag. They did, however, have sufficient power to gun it up the hill.

Not Bus 0. She wasn’t having any of that. She wasn’t going up that hill. Our usual bus driver (the kindly Mr. White, who must have been a science teacher or a shop teacher at the high school; white shirt, black pants, white sox, black shoes, skinny black tie with tie-clasp, flat-top hair cut, and a pocket protector full of wonderful pens and pencils.  The way I knew Mr. White was “kindly” is rather embarrassing; my first day, I couldn’t remember where the bus stop was and rode the bus until the end of the line.  I was the only person left.  Mr. White turned to me and asked me why I hadn’t gotten off and I told him I couldn’t remember where my stop was.  I did know my address—remember, we had just moved-- and Mr. White drove me home in his own car) would holler at us to be quiet, then he’d make a run for it. Bus 0 would strain mightily, engine whining, transmission gnashing as Mr. White would gear her down trying to get up the hill.

She never made it.

So poor old Mr. White would have to back up and stop at the edge of the Low Water Crossing. We would all pile out of the bus and stand on the side of the road. Mr. White would gun, coax, cajole, and grind the complaining Bus 0 up and over the hill. We would all then trudge up and over the hill ourselves and climb back aboard for the remainder of the trip (imagine that nowadays…). Rain. Sleet. Snow. Blistering heat. No matter. We just accepted that we were going to walk up that hill.

We’re all in our 50’s now, Saginaw is a prosperous suburban school district, and the buses all have air conditioning and automatic transmissions. These kids will never have to get out and trudge up the hill, alone, in whatever weather is extant, nor would anyone even conceive of such a thing. Bus 0 has long since been retired.

I’ve always wondered what happened to her. Is she rusting away even now in some field, minute flecks of her yellow paint still left, the words “Saginaw Independent School District” still faintly visible; her tires long since rotted away, her windows broken, her seats tattered, her door rusted permanently open, with generations of field mice, possums, coons, and other fauna living in a home with fading peacock blue walls and seafoam green ceiling? Was she bought at auction from the school district by a band of hippies, who painted her psychedelic colors and drove her across the country to form a commune, wherein she wound up in Arizona or Nevada or some such place? Or did some farmer buy her and user her for a chicken coop?

Whither, Bus 0?

I wonder.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Numbers, Colors, and Letters

This has been the summer for numbers, colors, and letters.

Phase II Water Rationing:  Odd numbered houses (mine) may water between 12 midnight and 10am, or 8pm to 12 midnight, Wednesdays and Saturdays only.  $1,000 fine.

Ozone Alert Level Red:  Asthmatics, old people, children stay indoors.  Healthy adults limit outside exposure.  Not too difficult to do, with...

Triple-Digit Temperatures:  Normally I complain that the "official" temperature measurement is never accurate, because they measure it at that nice grassy field at the airport instead of here in the middle of the concrete.  Not today.  The actual air temp at the nice grassy field at the airport is 107.  My car says 114.  I trust my car.

24 Days:  number of days in 2011 that Houston reached air temperatures at the nice grassy field at the airport of over 100 degrees, shattering the previous record of 14.  The day the streak broke was only 99 degrees.  It’s been 100 degrees + every day since (3 days and counting).

D4, 77.80:  The Texas Drought of 2011.  D4 means “Exceptional Drought”, the highest category; 77.80 is a percentage—that’s the percentage  the largest state in the lower 48 covered by a D4 drought.

5.90:  Number of inches of rain in Houston in 2011.

20+:  Number of days (historically) in which Houston has received in excess of 5.90 inches in a single day.

13.9 million:  Number of unemployed Americans as of August 5, 2011.

9%:  2011 Unemployment rate, see above.

22.7%:  Estimate of ACTUAL unemployment rate, 2011 (including underemployed and those who have given up), as calculated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ OLD formula, used from its beginning until 1994.

23.2%:  Highest unemployment rate at the peak of the Great Depression, 1932.

1%:  Growth in US GDP, 1/1/2011 – 8/1/2011

8.3%:  Growth in corporate profits, same period.




Thank God for Football.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Empty Rooms and Hamburger Meat

My friend and fraternity brother David Whitlock (that’s DR. Whitlock to you…) wrote a blog post/newspaper article that really hit home to me.  He had to go “home” to help his brother and sister-in-law clear out the family home.  He called his “Empty Rooms and Memories” (note my shameless ripoff of his title).  His post is really excellent; you can read it here.

I’ve lived in Houston for 4 years now.  August 6, 2007.  My Mother’s birthday, August 6.  She always loved her birthday, she celebrated hers for a week and did the same for ours.  We always tried (with varying degrees of success---mostly failure---) to find a present that she would like.  As I said---with mixed results at best.

The house at 939 E. Sullenberger was bought new by my grandparents in 1948.  It was an emergency stop-gap, really; he had accepted a job in Texas and they sold their house on McBee St. and were preparing to move---and his old boss came to see him, begged him to stay, promised him the sun, moon, and stars---and he accepted.  So suddenly they had to have a place to stay and these little houses had just been completed.  They bought one, intending to live there a year or two and keep looking for something they wanted. 

They never left.

In 1979, my Grandfather died (Granny died in ‘72) and Dad inherited his parents’ place.  He and Mother had been warring for several years over where to move when they retired---she wanted to move back to Dallas and he wanted a small fishing village somewhere on the Texas coast.  So when the family homeplace came up, they decided to retire, move into it, stay there a couple of years and continue their years-long discussion over where to move.

They almost never left.

When I moved back to Houston, they couldn’t stay there alone—she had already had a stroke, he was taking care of her, and the house (1 acre of yard) required a lot of upkeep that he frankly was tired of doing.  So we moved them into a rental in San Antonio, and sold the house.

The last walk-through was very bittersweet, and David’s article brought that all back.  I walked through that empty house, my footsteps echoing on the long-grain pine floors, looking at the unfaded places on the walls where the pictures had hung all those years, listening for the screeching sound the old oven door would make as Granny, then my folks, would pull something delicious out of it.  All the meals we had around that Chromecraft table in the kitchen, all those nights by the fire or in the screen room or days raking leaves or seeing the first robin of spring on the back porch---all of it came back in a rush.

Just a few months ago, I had occasion to go back to Malvern (hometown) to see Mom's grave; drove by the house. The people who bought it have trashed it completely. I wish I hadn't gone--and I'll never go again--but a couple of things that trip pointed out: the house is just...a house...and it lives on as I remember it, all of us there for Christmas, me napping in a chair (now in my own living room) with head on one arm and legs draped over the other...and more modern things like Mother’s “Baby Blue Lincoln” in the carport, and the Seth Thomas clock on the mantle ringing out Westminster…

I think of Mom at the oddest times--I was browning hamburger meat the other day.  She was very particular about hamburger meat; it had to be browned just a certain way, almost burnt, kind of scraped off the pan; gives it more flavor.  She taught me how and that's how I like it too.  So I was standing there at the cooktop the other day, browning hamburger meat---and it dawned on me:  not only was I doing it “her way”, I was using HER spatula to stir it with and preparing to pour it in one of HER bowls.

…and I missed her so badly I had to stop for a minute and just cry.

But she’ll live on in my memory.  The rooms aren’t empty, at least not while I’m alive to remember them.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Family, Mexican Food, the Hogs---and naming conventions….

Tonight was great fun as my little “family” got together again.  Jeremiah was in town for work; we managed to get Jimmy (who had just driven all the way HOME to Sienna Plantation) to drive back IN to Houston to meet us, Nathan picked me up, and we blasted off to eat…mexican food.

Mexican food is something we here in south Texas take for granted, like the sun coming up in the east or water being wet.  We forget that when you move away, you crave it.  Jeremiah and Ginger are enjoying the cool climes of Colorado, but what Coloradans think is “mexican food” I won’t even dignify with a description.

Jeremiah, having entertained his big  client with a day of fishing (and having burnt himself to a crisp in the 105 degree sunshine), was craving some good ol mexican food, so off to Los Cucos we went.

It was just awful…we had to eat it to keep from hurting the waiter’s feelings.  Yeah, yeah, that’s the ticket!  We had to eat it to keep from hurting their feelings, yeah!


(They held us down and forced beer, mojitos, and margaritas down us too…oh, the humanity!)

Let’s see, things we decided:

  • Bobby Petrino is a genius
  • Houston Nutt is an idiot
  • Note to Rotnei:  buh bye
  • Mike Anderson will restore Razorback basketball to its rightful place in the world
  • Alabama (University of) sucks
  • So does LSU
  • and we’re going to beat both of them this year (despite a somewhat suspect O-line)
  • Ohio State and its cheating coach and players can kiss our Razorback Red asses…(and that’s a lot o real estate)
  • Speaking of cheating, Auburn is going to get it yet over Cam “for sale to the highest bidder” Newton
  • Note to Mike Anderson:  just call it “40 Minutes of Hell”, mmm-kay?
  • Tyler Wilson will be fine; at least Tyler can see JJ on a crossing pattern 12 yards away and throw the ball TO him instead of trying to throw it THROUGH him like Mallett did….
  • Sure wish we had learned to “scoop and score”
  • Recruits, recruits, recruits (I don’t follow recruiting, I just enjoyed that conversation)
  • Bud Walton Arena (and Barnhill before it) used to be so loud your ears would ring after a game
  • and it will be that way again.
  • Long almost waited too long to pull the plug on Pelphrey; one more year of empty seats and Long would have joined him; he did a nice job on the hiring of Mike Anderson, though, so all is forgiven.

A great time was had by all; we all just enjoy each other’s company.  I’m very fortunate to have these great guys as my friends.  I hope I live long enough to watch Jimmy’s grandkids playing, and have Nathan and Jeremiah (middle aged) have to help me up the steps at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium to watch us win a string of National Championships.


Jimmy, Jeremiah, Nick, Nathan

After we split up, Jimmy went back south.  Jeremiah’s hotel was directly between my and Nathan’s houses, so we had ridden together; thus, we headed home together.

For some time, Nathan and I have enjoyed a laugh about the naming conventions of the subdivisions and apartment complexes in Texas.  Jeremiah hadn’t thought of it before, and we got him started.  It was one of those things that, the more we played it, the funnier it got.

How do you play?  It’s easy!

First, use the article “The”.  You want to do that to give yourself extra airs and importance, so that people will say, “Wow, they must be really cool and important!”  You know, like saying you’re THE Ohio State University (snicker).

Then, take any name from Group A, insert the article “at”, and select one name each from Groups B and C.

Ready?   Here we go:


          A                                                B                                  C

Arbors at Brittany Chase
Lakes at Brentwood Place
Oaks at Greenway Hills
Fairways at Ashton Pointe
Parks at Tivoli Forest
Meadows at BelleMeade Shire
Villas at Shadowbriar Creek
Lofts at Briargrove Square
Willows at Waterford Green
Glen at Timberglen Springs

Which yields things like:

The Willows at Brentwood Pointe

The Lofts at Greenway Hills

The Fairways at Bellemead Chase

The Glen at Tivoli Place

The Oaks at Brittany Forest

The Meadows at Ashton Square

The Villas at Briargrove Creek

Now the fun part:  Mix –n- match!

The Brentwood at Willow Pointe

The Pointe at Brentwood Willows

The Chase at Bellemeade Fairways

The Bellmeade at Fairways Chase

The Forest at Brittany Oaks

The Brittany at Forest Oaks

The Pointe at Ashton Forest Villas

You can keep this up for hours.  The more you do it, the sillier it gets.  It’s especially fun as you’re driving around these great Texas cities.  It’s even more fun when the developer (ever trying to outdo the competition) strings a series of them together:  The Villas at Brittany Oaks Forest (in Briargrove Glen Place on the Parkway).

Then extrapolate the theory to other areas:

The Cheaters at Tressel Horseshoe

The Futility of Nutt (at Vaught-Hemingway)

The Purchase at the Plains of Auburn

The Arrogance at Black Warrior River

Now, you try it!


See how that all ties together?  …and you thought I couldn’t do it!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

One of the coolest things of which I've ever been a part: Alamo Honor Flight #3

It took me long enough to get these pictures edited and done, but finally here they are (and I have a day-job as well...).

This is one of the coolest things in which I've ever taken part.

If you don’t know about the Honor Flight Network, it’s a group of ordinary Americans who believe it’s high time we thanked the brave men and women who literally DID “save the world for Democracy”—the Veterans of World War II, truly “The Greatest Generation.”

Alamo Honor Flight—and I also can’t say enough about Tracy Huff and the other great folks there—all volunteers who have “day jobs”—takes Veterans from the San Antonio area to DC to see the World War II Memorial. There's no charge to the Veterans---they've already "paid". It’s an amazing thing.

AHF consists of a regular staff; they have these things down to a precision that the armed services could admire. They take along "Guardians"--others, non-regular, who help. I was privileged to be a Guardian on Alamo Honor Flight #003. I had responsibility for Dad, Mr. Theriot, and Mr. Gonzales, three Great Americans (and I do not use that term with even a touch of irony; they really are).

We left the San Antonio American Legion Post 2 on Fredericksburg Rd. in San Antonio with the Vets on the "big" bus and us Guardians (where we belonged) on "the short bus" ;-). Along with a full motorcycle escort from the San Antonio PD (we flew through red lights), we were escorted by a large contingent of veterans on motorcycles. In short, we had an escort barely matched by Prince William and Kate Middleton.

We arrived at the airport and Southwest Airlines met us at the bus. A word about Southwest--they don't advertise this, they don't trumpet this, but they provide--at no charge--the airfare for some (but not all) the veterans. We, of course, paid, but it is a really cool thing that Southwest does. Next time you fly, try Southwest first, please, as a thank you for this cool thing they do.

After Southwest checked us in at the bus, TSA let us go through the "Pilots and employees" line, and it's the only time I've known TSA to be friendly and helpful.

Then the magic began.

We lined the Vets up two-by-two, wheelchairs (about 17 or 18) in front, and started for the gate. As we did so, the main airport PA announced the Vets' presence and what was going on; people flocked to get a glimpse of these Heroes. At least 200 people lined the route, cheering and clapping, and thanking the Vets for their service.

When we got to the gate area, lined up on either side were active-duty members of all branches of the Service--Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard--saluting. There was a full-blown Color Guard there; when they presented the flag, the young service people snapped-to and saluted---and so did the octogenarian Veterans, every last one of them--stiffened into "Attention" and saluted the flag.

Afterwards, we sat around in the lounge waiting for our airplane to arrive. The young servicepeople were mingling with the Veterans, getting fascinating glimpses of what they did.

Let me interject: every single one of these guys has an AMAZING story. Here they were, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20 years old (they lied to get in, some of them) and they were ripped from quiet lives in cities and farms and small towns and literally flung to the far reaches of the earth. One of our guys survived the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor; others were in the Battle of the Bulge. Two were on Navy ships which collided (accidents happen all the time), one was helped out of the water by the other. Dad was in the China-Burma-India Campaign; we met a man (on our flight) who was in Kunming, China at the same time as Dad. Mr. Theriot, one of "my" guys, was in the Marines; he had been a clerk-typist, and typists were in short supply. They yanked him out of his unit and put him at a base in the Marshall Islands, typing (remember, no computers, no cell phones, no internet, no Excel spreadsheets). The rest of his unit perished on a little atoll called Iwo Jima. Mr. Gonzales told me nobody had ever thanked him for his service before. When he was mustered out, they dropped him out at Ft. Sam Houston in San Antonio, and gave him $0.15 for a bus ride home. Every one of them was amazing, every single one. Purple Hearts, Bronze Stars, life-long military or wartime only; pilots, navigators, and bombadiers on B-17's, a marine who stormed the beach at Normandy---what an amazing assortment of experiences, and every one of them, TO THE MAN, shy, retiring, "aw shucks". "We were just doing our job." "We had a job to do and we did it." "Nothing to make a big fuss over, we just did what had to be done."

These guys really didn't accomplish much---let's see: they conquered the world, defeated tyranny and evil, came home, started families, went back and fought communism in Korea and Vietnam, fought and won the Cold War, raised families, built the airports and the freeways and jet aircraft and skyscrapers and suburbs and all manner of technology, from color tv to microwaves to pacemakers--and sent man to the moon! In short, they built the America we now know. Otherwise, they were generally slackers...

Anyway, as we sat around the departure lounge, the young servicepeople paired off with a Veteran of their service. When the time came to board the aircraft, the Veterans had a full military escort to the door of the airplane.

On the flight to BWI, the Southwest Flight Attendants kept it lively asking the Vets questions like, "Ok, who's over 80? (All hands). 81? 82?" etc (the youngest was 85, the oldest, two of them, 94). The Pilots were also top-rate, narrating the trip for the Vets (some of whom hadn't flown for decades), "On your left, you can see Houston, Texas..."

When we arrived, we went straight to the hotel, the Hilton BWI Airport. Again, next time you travel for business or pleasure, consider Hilton first.

That evening, after cocktails at the bar---and it was great to see these guys interacting over a beer, having a wonderful time---we had a very nice banquet--and crashed.

The next morning, up bright and early. We breakfasted, loaded up the buses (my team was on the Blue bus, the "B" bus, a.k.a. the BEST bus!) and roared into DC, stopping at the World War II Memorial.

We laid a wreath at the Memorial, with full Color Guard, and our young Marine friend Charlie playing "Taps". Afterwards, we wandered around and had some great experiences (which you can see below).

We left WWII and toured around on the bus, passing the Capitol, the White House, and the various other memorials, arriving at the Navy Memorial. Lots of Navy guys on our trip, so this was poignant for them.

Next, we loaded back up (remember, these are octogenarians, with 17 or 18 wheelchairs. "Loading up" means rallying at the bus, getting the Vets up the steep stairs and settled in seats, while others fold and stow the wheelchairs. I became quite adept at wheelchair stowing and unloading, as well as pushing wheelchairs, being "back" or "front"--one Guardian at the top of the steps holding on, one behind to catch if the Vet falls) and headed for the Korean War Veterans Memorial, Lincoln, and Vietnam Memorial. Again, poignant moments at each. Some of our Vets were in all three conflicts: WWII, Korea, Vietnam.

We loaded up again and headed across the Potomac (sadly, the cherry blossoms had come and gone) and went to the Marine Corps Memorial. After a quick stop at the Air Force Memorial, we entered Arlington National Cemetary, and were puzzled! We stopped at the gate; one of the AHF staffers got off the bus, taking a Vet with her, and hopped into a cab. We were worried something might be wrong with him, but a cab? Turns out, he has made his arrangements to be buried at Arlington. When a husband and wife are buried there, they are buried in the same grave. His wife had died and he had not been able to make the trip to Arlington to visit her grave. Kathy had prearranged the cab, and they had a map--so he got to go, for the first time, to see his wife's grave.

After a tour of Arlington and watching the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns, we returned to the hotel (exhausted but exhilarated) for more cocktails and another banquet. At the banquet, one table was set aside--set for dinner, with a candle, but with the chair pulled up. It represented all the Veterans/compadres of our Vets who did not return, but who gave their lives in the service of their country, and were there with us in spirit.

Also at the banquet, another amazing thing: we got to meet (and thank) three surviving Tuskeegee Airmen and the luminous Miss Joy (wife of the luckiest one).

The next morning, we repeated the trip in reverse--with the same result: cheering crowds, Honor Guards, the whole 9 yards.

The looks on these guys’ faces, and their stories—it was a magical weekend.

A quick word about Alamo Honor Flight from Tracy:

We purchase the other veterans airlines tickets, all the hotel rooms, all the food, buses, and other travel related expenses. We are really happy to say that 97% of all donated funds go directly to the veterans and these costs. I want to ensure you that it is very difficult to secure the funds for these flights. Although we do have folks supporting us out there........our team members are out there raising the funds needed for the success of these trips.

Now, this is Nick talking: If you'd like to sponsor Alamo Honor Flight, donations are welcomed--and needed. Corporate sponsors especially are sought, as they can really go a long way. You can get donation information here: Donate Now

This worthy organization deserves all the support we can give them.

(by the way, after a solid week of messing with picasa, photobucket, and blogger, I have officially given up on trying to get the pictures in correct order. Here they are, you should be able to figure out which go where)

Any of my Alamo Honor Flight folks, if you want the "large" photo for blowing up, etc, email me at; I'll be glad to share.