Thursday, December 24, 2009

Welcome to the winter wonderland

Welcome to Dallas, Texas area (I'm nestled in the northern 'burbs).
It was 75 degrees a mere 24 hours ago. Now ... it's freaking snowing outside.
People can poo-poo the "myth" of climate change all they wish. I just know that shit like this ain't suppose to happen so quickly.
You gotta love it.
Merry Christmas, even if it's white where it's really shouldn't be.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Why all the smiling about Tiger's downfall?

I'm sorry but I sense a tinge of racial dishonesty when it comes to the public reaction to the destroyed persona of golfer Tiger Woods. I truly believe that if he WASN'T black, and having achieved what he has accomplished on the links by the age of 33, and that persona carefully crafted by his late father, the public's reaction wouldn't be so ... intense.
I sense a certain snickering by folks out there, especially by white conversatives to see how the mighty has fallen. This daily update on the contracs/endorsements being lost is NOT news - I mean who REALLY cares if Tag Heuer drops him as a sponsor. How many of YOU are wearing $5,000 watches????
And the admitted infidelity doesn't change the talent he possesses on the golf course. When he plays his best, NO ONE beats him. Period. Yet all these women are being paraded by agents/lawyers for 10-15 seconds/minutes of momentary fame and then ... to borrow the final line from "The Usual Suspects," "Poof, and then they're gone!"
Tiger Woods isn't the only superstar to have been unfaithful and many of them are stil prospering. Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant to name two. Hell, Wade Boggs carried on a road trp affair with a woman - not his wife - and watzed into the Hall of Fame.
So why is THIS different?
Because he IS Tiger Woods (or WAS). That "Tiger" was a creation; Eldrick Woods is the real person and he needs to find out how he wishes to live his life with his family.

Monday, October 19, 2009

DART: doomed to failure

Poor Dallas Area Rapid Transit! The worst pun of the day (Monday) is how the public is throwing its light-rail passenger system “under the bus,” which is kinda funny since the bus people also operate a train schedule.
And not every well. It came to a head last Saturday when tens of thousands of fans tried to use the DART trains (and save a couple of bucks parking) to get back and forth from Fair Park and the Cotton Bowl for the annual Texas-Oklahoma football game.
First, people who operate buses should never oversee trains. Current DART people still haven’t got the hang of it and the board needs complete overhaul. But having said that, it was ridiculous for anyone to expect a light rail system to handle ALL those wishing to attend the Fair … and the game. Even in major cities with long history of light rail/subway/elevated systems who transport athletic event crowds (Boston, NYC, Washington, Chicago), it doesn’t happen quickly.
Sometimes it DOES take hours to clear out HUGE crowds (and remember, the Cotton Bowl holds twice as many people as venues like Wrigley Field or Fenway Park...). When my wife went to Washington, D.C. for the big women’s rally a few years ago, it took her many hours to leave the mall via its Metro system because you can only run so many people in so many passenger cars at a time – and do it safely!
DART, with just 80 cars, was doomed to failure from the start; it did its best to handle the overflow…and its best simply wasn’t adequate.
Besides, those DART riders would have been just as stuck in traffic, causing even MORE of a traffic delay in the Mixmaster and around Fair Park area (and would have been subject to the near-criminal method of parking at Fair Park).
In Atlanta, when the Braves play at Turner Field, you ride MARTA to an area called Underground Atlanta and (on the same MARTA ticket), get transferred to a shuttle bus which takes you directly to Turner Field. These shuttles run every minute or so and that’s ALL they do ... before the start of the game and afterwards.
Shuttle buses COULD have taken a large portion of the Green Line passengers to Fair Park on this instance and relieved much of the stress on the system. Certainly, there were more than 80 buses in the DART system, right?
DART should have had ALL Green Line users go to the West End Transit Center and the Green Line could have been initiated THERE! As it was, no Red or Blue Line users (coming from Plano, Richardosn, or Garland), trying to transfer at Pearl Street (the first place to get the Green Line but the line stop in downtown from Victory Station), could have gotten to the Green Line; ALL those trains were at (or beyond) capacity – a transit line design flaw for which DART must take blame.
At the West End Center, shuttle buses could have EASILY been dispatched. In fact, said buses COULD have been run from ALL DART transit centers, going directly to Fair Park and bypassing downtown altogether.
IF someone at DART had actually thought about it, or actually STUDIED other cities and their methods, all this hand-wringing could have been avoided. Now and in the future!
As it happened, it was a doomed mission and the negative publicity will cost DART more than it could have ever gained … which is really sad for the city of Dallas as a whole.
P.S. – DART is its own entity; it is NOT run by the city of Dallas and does not have anything to do with its employees, who are becoming scapegoats for those who do not understand how this city operates. Since ignorance is often bliss, these must be very happy people.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A moment of silence for this sports icon!

Rest In Peace - Captain Lou Albano. A lonely nation lifts its eyes to you.

Friday, October 09, 2009

It's still noble to get the Nobel

In my mind, perhaps THE most undeserving Best Actor Oscar EVER present was in 1970 when John Wayne received the honor for his "performance" in "True Grit." It was a lifetime achievement award to be exact; that movie wasn't The Duke's 20th best performance (hell, his last movie, "The Shootist" was a better acting job and he should have won for his work in "The Searchers" or "The Quiet Man.").
But there was Big John, beaming with pride at his good fortune. Perhaps Wayne was the most surprised man in the room.
President Barack Obama was awoken - not to here that Ozzie Guillen had been fired as White Sox manager (THAT would have made Obama happy) or bin Laden had been captured (doubly happy) - but to be told that HE had been named Nobel Peace Prize winner for 2009. I guarantee you he was the most surprised man in America with the announcement.
Now, when you get such a prize, you do NOT say, "No thanks; I'm not deserving." You smile and prepare a good speech in a classy tuxedo for Oslo.
While people can debate Obama's merits to have gotten the honor, note that it was NOT an American decision; it was an international choice. No one campaigned for it or even contemplated his selection prior to the disclosure. The man has only been on the job for nine months which IS a reason for not choosing him but also not enough time to REALLY get many things accomplished. Since policy moves as slow as molasses in Maine in January, these things do not happen overnight.
Anyway, you cannot unring the bell; you move forward. All this nastiness from conservatives and Republicans and those who bitch about everything Obama says, does or thinks is sour grapes in my book. Nice that an American got the prize and let's just move on.
In fact, a timeout needs to be called on BOTH sides to let all this shit being spewed to settle and disappear.
At least until the World Series is over. Huh, guys?

Thursday, October 08, 2009

U2 tickets for sale

Due to a problem in mobility, I must try to sell my seats for Monday's U2 concert at Cowboys Stadium.
If you want to go (seats are high up, but you WILL be there), I am selling them for face value plus a $30 parking pass CLOSE to the Death Star.
Contact me ASAP at and we can do this.
I don't want them to go to waste. SO HURRY!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Possible U2 set list for Cowboys Stadium show

When U2 appears on Oct. 12 at Arlington's Cowboys Stadium (yours truly anad esposa in da crowd), this COULD be the set list:
“Get On Your Boots”
“Mysterious Ways”
“I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”
“She’s The One”/"Desire”
“Elevation”“Your Blue Room”
Beautiful Day”
No Line on the Horizon
“New Year’s Day”
“Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of”
“The Unforgettable Fire”
“City Of Blinding Lights”
“I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight”
“Sunday Bloody Sunday”
“MLK”/”Walk On”
“Amazing Grace”/”Where the Streets Have No Name”
“Ultraviolet (Light My Way)”
“With Or Without You”
“Moment of Surrender”

I do hope they end with "40" as usual for a U2 show, and I wish they'd add "Bad" and many others from older albums ("I Will Follow" as an example).

Friday, September 25, 2009

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominees

Up for the class of 2010 are:
Iggy & the Stooges
the Red Hot Chili Peppers
LL Cool J
Donna Summer
Darlene Love
Laura Nyro
the Chantels
the Hollies
Jimmy Cliff

I believe KISS is a natural, as is ABBA (one just cannot discount actual album/singles SALES). I'd also add the late Laura Nyro (as a songwriter, not performer), the Hollies and Jimmy Cliff. The Peppers will make it because they still tour and record.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Protecting our nation’s MVPs (most valuable parks)

The initial sight takes your breath away … literally! It doesn’t appear to be real; more like a master artist’s painting – with multiple layers of colors bombarding your senses. Move a few hundred feet to either side and you see a completely new revelation and many people simply stand there in jaw-dropping awe. Anyone unmoved by the eternal beauty of such a view will never generate reciprocal feelings for anything.
It is how one often reacts when seeing the Grand Canyon for the very first time - I felt that way this past summer. While this particular corner of the country is the crown jewel of the U.S. National Parks System, and the most symbolic natural formation, not every national park site is the Grand Canyon – some tell a different story and preserves a different lesson from our history. But each location is important to the American experience – from Civil War battlefields to the remnants of past occupants before anyone called this land a “nation.”
National Parks cut across the spectrum – they aren’t all mountains, valleys, caves, volcanic formations or forests. Some are made-made spectacles (the Statue of Liberty, Golden Gate Bridge, St. Louis Arch); some honor literary giants (Edgar Allen Poe, Eugene O’Neill, Carl Sandburg), American heroes (Clara Barton, Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King, Jr.) or heroes who helped keep our independence (Jean LaFitte). Some sites spotlight historical events (Little Rock Central High School, Brown v. Board of Education, the Wright Brothers) and some tell of the darker episodes in America (Manzanar, Little Big Horn, Oklahoma City and Flight 93 memorials).
Some parcels are dedicated to family pleasure and fun (national recreation areas), including two in Texas (Lake Amistad near Del Rio and Lake Meredith north of Amarillo) and one in Oklahoma (Chickasaw), just 2 ½ hours from the DFW area.
Texas, for its part, has 15 connections to the national system, and could easily include others. President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s birth place, in Denison, should join the six other birth sites to presidents protected by the NPS. And with Texas literally starving its own parks for funding, it might be wise to allow Palo Duro Canyon (the country’s second largest canyon) to be transferred under the NPS umbrella.
I’ve also believed The Alamo, one of the five most recognized American symbols of freedom, should join the other San Antonio missions as a national park site; coming under the peoples’ province and away from the highly secretive control of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas. It should belong to ALL of America – not just a select few.
These treasures need our consideration, attention and support, including adequate funding for park expansion, facilities upgrade and maintenance and acquisition. Every individual and family can be several things to help preserve our national parks.
First, you should visit as many as possible – to educate yourselves and your children. Start in Texas with the awe-inspiring Big Bend National Park, within the Chisos Mountain region of west Texas. People say a picture of is worth a thousand words, but one glance at the area known as “The Window on the World,” will inspire a thousand pictures – especially at dawn and dusk.
You can join support groups, such as the National Parks Conservation Association (, dedicated to the preservation of the national parks and increasing public awareness of the need for NPS protection.
Come this Sunday, Sept. 27, you can learn more about our national parks on PBS when acclaimed filmmaker Ken Burns premiers his new documentary, “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.” Burns, as he has so expertly done in the past on the Civil War, baseball and America during World War II, will examine the current state of the NPS, as well as tell the story of the people (such as John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt) whose visions led to the eventual preservation of these special sites.
Finally, you can pen a note to your congressman and U.S. Senator, stressing the need to maintain proper funding for the national parks system – because it IS important to pass along these symbols of our heritage and history to our children, grandchildren and future generations.
They deserve the chance to have their jaws drop at the Grand Canyon, too.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

College hoops JUST around the corner

And ESPN is going whole hog with a marathon of its own (not involving "Law and Order").
It begins on Monday Nov. 16, technically on Nov. 17 in the Eastern time zone.
Here is the schedule (Dallas time since I'm living here):
11 p.m. (Monday, Nov. 16): Cal State Fullerton at UCLA, ESPN
1 a.m.: San Diego State at St. Mary's, ESPN
3 a.m.: Northern Colorado at Hawaii, ESPN6
5 a.m.: Monmouth at St. Peter's, ESPN
7 a.m.: Drexel at Niagara, ESPN
9 a.m.: Clemson at Liberty, ESPN
11 a.m.: Northeastern at Siena, ESPN
1 p.m: Arkansas Little-Rock at Tulsa, ESPN
3 p.m.: Temple at Georgetown, ESPN
4:30 p.m.: Bin.ghamton at Pittsburgh, ESPN2
5 p.m.: NIT from Durham, N.C., ESPN
6 p.m.: Tennessee vs. Texas Tech (women) in San Antonio, ESPNU
6:30: Arkansas vs. Louisville in St. Louis, ESPN2
7 p.m.: Gonzaga at Michigan State, ESPN
7 p.m.: Northern Illinois at Illinois,
8 p.m.: Duquesne at Iowa, ESPNU
8:30 p.m.: Connecticut vs. Texas (women) in San Antonio, ESPN2
9 p.m.: Memphis vs. Kansas in St. Louis, ESPN
10:30 p.m.: NIT from Tempe, Ariz, ESPN

Happy hooping, y'all! Hope the World Series is over by then.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Five top Patrick Swayze movies

It's kind shocking to know that the late Patric Swayze, who died earlier this week from pancreatic cancer, was exactly ONE week YOUNGER than me (born Aug. 18, 1952 in Houston).
His five best movies were:
The Outsiders (check out the cast in that flick)
Dirty Dancing
Point Break
Red Dawn.
RIP, Patrick.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

One more thought...

As the 70th anniversary of WWII has started, which the REAL Adolf Hitler began, which resulted in the deaths of millions upon millions of people (not just exterminated Jews but Russians, English, French, Poles, Italians, etc.), any fool who even utters such a remark should be treated at the parasite that he or she is. Not to mention blindly ignorant.
It is SO sad that this rage is being stoked by certain TV/radio talkers, local people NOT excluded sadly, under the blanket of the First Amendment would make the Founding Fathers roll over in their graves, rise from the dead and shred the Constitution in public - all the while crying for the condition of the country that TRIED to establish.
And behind it all (this MUST be said), IS ... the spectre of blatant racism. Especially in the old Confederacy, which includes ... Texas.
As one commentator said when he asked why certain people still battle the Civil War in their minds, "It didn't end in 1865; it was just intermission."
For all the pride and joy many people felt last November about certain barriers being torn down, others are intent on destroying that person and rebuilding that American Berlin Wall higher than ever. All the proof you need is on any opinion blog today.
And local radio talk show host Mark Davis ain't helping matters with his ridiculous drivel. Of course, easy for him to say "Keep your kids home." No punishment agaisnt the parents; only the students for unexcused absences. Where is the superintendent who will stand up and say that any parent openly keeping their children out of school because of the Obama speech will be prosecuted for contributing to the delinquency of a minor?
Seriously. Make these people put their money and butts behind their silly threats!

Only the idiotic would call it indoctrination

To anyone who stupidly thinks teh proposed Sept. 8 address by Prtesident Obama to the nation's schoolchildre, about the virtues of getting a good education, is some form of "Manchurian Candidate" brainwashing or indoctrination or some other "evil" plot to control children:
If you are SO adamant about keeping "politics" out of the classroom, then stand up with ME and DEMAND that religion be kept OUT OF THE CLASSROOM IN ANY FORM! Including prayer, distribution of religious related material and other forms of possible "brainwashing." Because THAT does NOT belong in the public schools, either.You can't have one and NOT the other. Religion belongs in the church and the home - NOT in SCHOOL!
I am SOOOOOOOOO ashamed to even be living in such a jelly-fished, spineless, suck-ass administrative-directed school district as Plano, Texas, which is NOT going to show the speech to ITS children. God fucking forbid!
And to think we pay such enormous salaries (a quarter of a million per year for the idiot superintendent) to this sheep-ple who "educate" our children. It is shameful beyond words!!!!!

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Texan of the Year

Since it is September and the process for a decision about the Dallas Morning News' Texan of the Year will probably begin, I suggest a nominee:The unemployed professional.
Since January of this year, many of those included in the ever-increasing ranks of Texas' unemployed residents are the so-called SOFT COLLAR workers - the degreed professionals who, after several years at many of Texas' biggest companies (such as Texas Instruments, Bell Helicopter, other tech-computer-telecom companies, etc.) have come to learn the newest three letter addition to the business lexicon - RIF (reduction in force).
In fact, it is now a verb - to be riffed means, "you're fired!"
And those job fairs, with hundreds upon hundreds of people lined up for hours seeking a precious few job openings in their respective professional fields, are being held in the unlikeliest of places - such here in Collin County, the state's wealthiest area and home of many of those companies doing the RIFfing.
As the recession strikes at Texas like a Level 3 hurricane, as the unemployment number climbs to 10 percent, the people standing in the unemployment line are NOT the usual suspects; they are the former professionals who have been purchasing the "homes inthe 300s," driving the cars from the high-end dealers and supporting the "non-Walmart" retail stores where sales are crumbling. It isn't a pretty sight and it isn't business as usual. After the housing buble burst, now it is THEIR homes being foreclosed; their lives being deconstructed; their income missing in the national economy.
When economists state the demand is not matching the supply, this is the sector not doing the demanding.
These people, the backbone and ribs and lifeblood of the American consumer-based economy, are the face of the recession.
And truly are the Texans of the Year 2009.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Another Michigan football first

The controversary surrounding Cowboys Stadium and the low-hanging video board is interesting and cute but it is not a new thing. The problem dates back to the 1920s!!!!!!! And there was a common sense solution ...
The answer to the following trivia question: What was the FIRST indoor football facility built in the U.S.? is ...Yost Fieldhouse on the campus of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor (you can look it up).
It opened in November of 1923 after ground was broken in 1922. It was the vision of a legendary coach, Fielding H. Yost, who coached at UM from 1900-27. Yost wanted a place for his players to practice during the harsh winter months. After ground was broken, Yost summonsed all parties involved (buildings, engineers, architects) along with his punter.
The men watched as the kicker booted three punts into the air, after which Yost said he didn't want any kick to touch the ceiling of his facility .. and the building was constructed accordingly. The roof was pitched at a crown higher than usual to allow a FULL game practice, including the punting game, to be held inside.
For years, Yost Fieldhouse housed men's basketball and track before its conversion to an 8,000-seat ice hockey arena in 1973-74 (for which it continues as the home of Wolverine hockey today - a fine example of recycling historic buildings into modern use).
Had Jerry Jones wanted to avoid any problems at his billion dollar palace, the solution was simple...and totally avoidable.
As history teaches us.
Just thought you'd like to know.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

“Uncle Teddy and Me”

It wasn’t until late in the night – after watching all the remembrances of the late Senator Edward M. “Ted” Kennedy, after seeing that he had played football at Harvard in the mid-1950s – when I remembered of a conversation I had with him in 1971.
At that moment of life, I was part of the Michigan Daily, the student newspaper at the University of Michigan, a member of the sports department. During the Wolverine football season, the paper published a contest – Gridde Picks – where students, or readers of any kind, would select the winners from among 10 games (tiebreaker included), all vying for a free pizza from a greasy spoon called Omega Pizza (we later upgraded the pie to be from the Cottage Inn; a substantial improvement in quality to be sure and it was just around the corner from the paper offices).
For each week, we also had someone affiliated with that Saturday’s opponent make his choices, which would be published as a means of comparison … and much humor. It was our chance to pen some ridiculous prose in that small box and for the folks in the sports department to actually make rudimentary political comments outside the lines – so to speak.
The 1971 home opener was a weak Virginia squad (who was summarily dispatched 56-0 en route to an undefeated regular season for Michigan). But finding a famous UVA alumnus at that time was a tad difficult.
Until one of us remembered that Sen. Kennedy went there for law school. BINGO! That was connection enough and I took it upon my shoulders, and big mouth, to try and reach him to make that week’s picks.
A series of phone calls made their way through the Boston and then Washington offices, a gaggle of aides and assistants, until … without warning; “Uncle Teddy” was the next voice I heard.
I explained the situation with as straight a face as I could muster, and as he listened, I could heard his tongue becoming fastened firmly into his cheek.
“You ARE serious, son?” he said in his best BAH-Stan accent. I assured him I was.
“What does the winner get?” he asked and was told of the piping hot pizza awaiting that week’s victor.
“If I win, will I get one?”
“Positively,” I said. “We’ll arrange for it to be delivered.”
“I want a fresh one, you know,” he said sternly. “With toppings?”
He was told it would be cheese since it was just a student paper and not the Boston Globe’s budget.
“Sure, why not; I love a good pizza,” and with that, he promptly picked all 10 games and gave a big margin of victory for Michigan over the Cavaliers.
“They don’t really play good football down there; I have no idea why they are playing you,” he astutely said.
And with that, he thanked me and gave his office address in case he emerged as victorious as he believed a Kennedy should.
Fortunately, he failed to win that week, but it might have been one of the few times he didn’t.
For the record, three weeks later, I yanked Cmdr. Lloyd Bucher, he of the infamous USS Pueblo (the ship captured by the North Koreans in one of the testier international incidents in 1968), out of a “boring staff meeting” to do the same thing.
The captain was not upset; he seemed rather amused that I had the nerve to do something like that. When informed Sen. Kennedy had participated three weeks earlier that seemed to clinch the deal.
“I hope I can do better than he did,” Bucher said.
He got close, but no cigar … or pizza.
And it took his death to remember all that.
Damn, I wish I could raise a greasy cheesy slice to the memory of both men. But the diet says no. It’ll have to be part of my memories.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Woodstock: 40 Years and a Long Time Gone

I am of that Woodstock generation (although I wasn't there) and I view for what it was - an outstanding concert that became a brilliant movie and betetr soundtrack. In fact, it could be best viewed as the soundtrack of that generation - seeing the future and some endings.
It was Jimi Hendrix' last great performance (in many minds) as well as Janis Joplin, the beginning of the new funk as presented by Sly and the Family Stone, the transformation of music into opera (by The Who), the beginning of the "super group" concept (Crosby, Stills and Nash), the last grasp of the folk protest wave (Joan Baez) and the ultimate expression of flower music (Arlo, Sebastian, Havens). We discovered the greatness of Joe Cocker and Carlos Santana.
Until Woodstock, most music festivals of that kind were more controlled affairs (like Monterrey), but this was open, unpredictable and wild; it wasn't planned to be that way - it just turned out that way.
Woodstock became symbolic because of it size and the desire for others to have a sense of romance. But it was just one weekend, just like Studio 21 was just one club and not a complete metaphor for 70s hedonism.
One day soon, I will slap the movie DVD on the player, get the newly-released 6CD box set and play it completely through.
In the end, for me, it was ALL about the music.
As it really should have been.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Epilogue: Been there, seen a whole bunch

When you take a trip that covers more than 4,500 miles (so said the odometer but it was actually more when you factor walking and driving in other vehicles), you get to see plenty of sights unable to envision at the place you call “home.” There are no mountains or oceans anywhere near Plano, Texas, on the vast plains of North Texas; there are no sights that take your breath away or make you pause for an eternity to burn an impression into your brains.
You either forge that momentary memory into your mind and store it for permanent recall … or you take a photo to remind you of that frozen image. Between the two of us, we took photos totally more than a gigabyte of storage on our laptop. Perhaps close to 1,000 photos – give or take the hundred or so that were dumped along the way (out of focus, insufficient light, someone didn’t want her picture taken, etc.).
It’s like that on every trip we take and our files are growing with burned CD images of where we’ve been and what we’ve seen.
Well, almost…
There are some things that you just cannot forget; moments that WILL live forever inside your soul: seeing the Statue of Liberty in New York City, the Liberty Bell and Constitution Hall in Philadelphia or the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor; the magnificence of the Mackinac Bridge, the lush green rolling grounds of central Kentucky (where the champion thoroughbreds are nurtured) and the silent lands in Virginia and Tennessee where brother fought brother during the Civil War; the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. and the sound of the creeks along the roads leading to that shrine.
Here are some of the things we saw, and heard, and did, (and will remember) – often odd, but always unique:
seeing wildlife, such as elk, prairie dogs and a herd of bison;
finding orange trees located (and growing) in a city’s downtown plaza (Riverside, Calif.);
locating the world’s tallest thermometer (in Baker, Calif., and it read over 100 degrees that MORNING) next to a store selling “Alien Jerky;”
getting passed by a Smart car, on an Arizona freeway, doing OVER 75 miles per hour;
watching several $250,000 Lamborghinis zoom past us on Los Angeles roadways (along with the stray Aston-Martin or two);
seeing HOV lanes … on freeway entrance ramps?!?! (of course, it was in California);
facing police check points for traffic going over Hoover Dam;
two-cent slot machines … at a high-class joint like The Bellagio;
noticing traffic warning signs for elk, ram/sheep, mule and horse crossings, as well as one warning people NOT to step close to the edge of a cliff for fear of falling;
seeing traffic stop lights SOLELY for the purpose of allowing pedestrians to cross busy streets (in Tucson);
drinking mango margaritas or eating salads topped with pomegranate dressing;
viewing two rainbows over the right-field fences in different ballparks (Albuquerque and Las Vegas);
visiting a minor league ballpark situated within a residential development (instead of a municipal park in most other cases);
seeing two-time Olympic gold medalist Jennie Finch (as stunning as she is talented) sitting 20 feet from me in Oklahoma City and then watching Manny Ramirez during his rehab assignments in Albuquerque;
watching a full (one hour) local evening newscast … without a sportscaster (ask yourself when was the last time YOU saw that!);
looking at the sun set over the San Bernardino Mountains and mule teams train down in the Grand Canyon.
There are more of those memories and they will flash before our eyes with the mere mention of a word, song or thought. It’s how vacations should be for everyone.
Things are back to “normal” at home; the dog chases the cat, the cat doesn’t like it and we both look at each other and shrug our shoulders. Jodie has to get up earlier to start her commute to Dallas City Hall for work, and I have to join her as chauffeur to the DART light rail station (to and from).
There are upcoming birthdays to remember, bills to be paid, problems around the house to be fixed and friends with whom to be reacquainted. We’ll complain about the heat, the roller-coaster cost of gasoline (please make up your damn minds on the price) and why a watermelon costs more than a steak.
In other words, life is back and we knew before the trip. But ... aha, for a brief second (or two or 10), we can flick the mouse on a folder containing photographic memories and for the shortest time, simply flash to that scene in the Grand Canyon or Isoptope Park or to a roadside along Route 66. It means we can “vacate” the present and go back to the “vacate-ion” ... and just smile.
For the final time … until we meet again … shalom!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

YOU supply the words

As comedian Robert Wuhl says, "I shit you not."

Found in the Saguaro National Park, this obviously male cactus ...

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Day 20 – Plano: home is where the La-Z-Boy is

When one writes these vacation travel blogs, perhaps it is a great idea to take a cleansing shower before hitting the keyboard. The water, rushing down your body, washing away the grim of the road, or from a scorching summer day, will also clean one’s thoughts before committing to eternity.
I WAS going to rant and rave about what we learned about hotels and motels, secretly hoping to communicate directly with the various hotel/motel owners on how to improve our stays with them.
I was going to admonish the lower-end entities (ones with numbers in their titles or whose rooms were slightly bigger than the normal closet at home) about making guests use postage stamp-sized towels with the consistency of sandpaper; or putting handicapped people on the second floor of a two-story property when there is NO elevator employed; or ignoring calls to the front desk seeking plungers for stopped-up commodes and never getting a response after 45 minutes; or making sure that plenty of signage and directions exist to point the weary traveler in the proper direction (both on the highway and online through websites); or making one wait to register for 10 minutes while the front desk girl ate pizza in the back with the tattooed boyfriend.
I’m NOT going to do that; it just spoils the magnificent memories of a splendid two weeks on the road – seeing the Grand Canyon, Joshua Tree and Saguaro National Parks, lots of baseball, two rainbows over right-field fences during game action, spending time with family, sampling terrific cuisine and never-before-sampled menus; gazing at sunsets over purple mountains and their majesty; enjoying a great tribute to The Beatles in Las Vegas and simply being together in a mode of total discovery.
But I am here to tell you “it’s good to be home.” And in a few days, life will return to its state of normal craziness. However, when things go slightly south, and the heat is making all of us nuttier than Corsicana fruit cake from Collin Street Bakery, we now possess new thoughts to cool us down – of oceans of sands and visions of tumbleweeds rolling past the highways.
We can remember seeing an elk foraging along the roadside as we slowly drove the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. We can remember the collective beauty of huge Dale Chihuly blown glass orchids, by the score, on the ceiling of The Bellagio main entrance.
We can remember having the best Chinese meal of our lives in The Mirage in Las Vegas or the best burrito in an old hotel (The Weatherford) in downtown Flagstaff.
We can remember laughing and crying (with joy at how mature my youngest daughter, Kelsey, has become) and standing with our mouths wide open at the first sight of the Grand Canyon.
We can remember all the good times over the past two weeks … and it should help deal with whatever happens from this point forward.
Yes, it’s always good to take a refreshing shower …
We made three longer-than-a-fill-up stops during the 14-hour drive from Albuquerque to Plano. A sidenote: you need to have your brains checked thoroughly to make that lengthy of a drive in one single day. My checkup revealed nothing … which is the amount of cranial wattage I possessed most of the way …
First, we visited one of the nation’s top souvenir stands at Cline’s Corner, New Mexico (an hour east of Albuquerque). Once upon a time, anything and everything Route 66 was available there, but times have changed like every place else and visitors want different articles of cheap value.
Still, it was one final moment to enrich the New Mexico economy and take a photo beside a cigar store wooden Indian (we gladly resisted). Others did not.
Second, we visited the famous (and completely unmarked) Cadillac Ranch, along Interstate-40 in Amarillo. Despite not a single sign, marker or notation on any map, people by the hundreds appear daily on the frontage road on the city’s west side to see where millionaire Stanley Marsh 3 buried 10 used Cadillacs in the Panhandle ground.
They’ve been there since 1974 (although the original site is two miles from the current spot), at the same angle as the Cheops pyramids, Marsh once said, and honored the golden age of American automotive making (from 1949-63).
Not only do people take thousands of photos, but many of them come with cans of spray paint to add their marks to the cars. Marsh doesn’t seem to mind; in fact, he probably encourages public participation in creating “public art.”
At least one person was slightly disturbed by the defacing – Jodie!
“It’s upsetting,” she said after walking back to the car. “Why would people do that?!? They wouldn’t do it to their OWN cars.”
Finally, I had promises Jodie a special dinner on her birthday but since it was a few hours away, I decided to keep the promise – in spirit. We turned the Escape off Interstate-20, west of Fort Worth into the tiny, tiny town of Strawn – where they play a mean brand of six-man football.
However, Strawn is BEST known for Mary’s Café, home of what many regard as the best chicken fried steak in Texas. Period. And since Jodie had New Mexico’s version a few nights before and found it seriously lacking in quality, it was time to make up.
In this one intersection town, with two other competitors, trucks and cars were three-deep in the parking lot on a hot Saturday night at 8:30 p.m. When we entered, you could hear the sounds of laughter and love – the kind of love that comes from silverware clanking against dinner plates and appetites being severely satisfied.
I am here to report that Mary’s serves up one outstanding chicken fried steak; the batter clings just right to the solid piece of quality meat. Instead of potatoes (both mashed and fried are made from fresh cut spuds, not frozen), I had a side order of nicely prepared pinto beans (not overcooked). The cream gravy was made from scratch because it was thick (you COULD eat it with a fork) and just the right touch of lumpy – the sign of a well-delivered covering.
The “medium” steak, “listed” at 8 ounces, covered most of the platter. Melinda, the waitress, said the large would have overlapped the plate. When I glanced at those who went with the grande size, I knew I had made the correct selection. My stomach could NOT have challenged such a meal.
Finally, on something akin to autopilot, we pulled into our alley and slowly eased our vehicle into the garage – some 4,800 after the initial start.
We immediately ran (not walked) to our respective sleep units and hit the hay as they say. I awoke 11 hours later; Jodie rose after 14 hours of sleep.
Today is her 49th birthday and it will be an impromptu birthday celebration with a few of her former work colleagues. Tomorrow will be a day for laundry, grabbing a few groceries, retrieving the boarded dog and cat (individually, of course) and one final night’s sleep before resuming life in North Texas when it is 104 degrees in the shade (the Sonora Desert has nothing on the plains of North Texas).
And as I wrote before, somewhere in the back of my demented mind, I will begin planning for another vacation: perhaps back to New Mexico to see the OTHER sites (Carlsbad, Las Cruses, Roswell, Los Alamos, Farmington, Silver City); perhaps to Colorado and Utah to see more national parks; perhaps to Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee to see Civil War battlefields.
But life without future prospects (for fun and love and family) is simply not much of a life worth living. Don’t you agree?
Until then … when we decide to visit America on one of its different routes … love, peace and happiness (where ARE the Chambers Brothers anyway?) … and shalom!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Day 19 – Santa Fe: Running on empty

In Homer’s “Odyssey,” the hero, Ulysses hears the songs of the sirens as he tries to bring his crew back home. I heard something almost like that and it convinced me that it was time for both of us to go home – no passing “go” (Amarillo and Palo Duro Canyon in this case) and no spending an extra $400.
Every part of my body was signing the same tune – “Hurt So Bad” (an old Little Anthony and the Imperials ditty as compared to the John Mellencamp number, “Hurts So Good.” Nothing feels good right now – my back is killing me, my right foot is still throbbing, my head aches, my butt is sore from sitting for more than 3,700 miles of driving and my eyes are red from all the Southwest sunshine. I’ve even got a sunburn on my bald head.
Collectively, they sang the same chorus, courtesy of Grand Funk Railroad: “I’m getting closer to my home.”
Normally, a couple of pain pills and some Tylenol quick release silence those voices. But it won’t work anymore. The voices have cracked the sound/medication barrier, and are threatening to go on a “non-work” strike if not heard loud and clear.
Hey, I’m no dummy. And when I broached the subject to Jodie, she raised her eyes to the skies, and said, “Thank you, Lord. You finally delivered the message to him.” Seems as if she was ready to return two days ago, but waited until we visited Santa Fe.
On paper, it all looked doable, but when the rubber met THAT much road, and a dozen sunsets came and went, it was more than just a “bridge too far.” It was a museum, national park, restaurant, jewelry-gift shop, hotel, motel, staircase, mountain top and canyon … too far.
“We can come back and do what didn’t get to see next time,” Jodie added.
I’ll start planning on Monday.
We spent our final day of vacation in the artistic nirvana known as Santa Fe. Except I spent it on a bench outside the public library. My legs literally refused to move, or walk, more than a few feet, let alone several blocks.
So Jodie went and saw the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum – one of the items on her personal bucket list (although the ONE painting she wished to view was not on display). Still, it more than satisfied her passion for her favorite artist (mine is a tie between Peter Max, Jackson Pollock and George Rodrigue, who paints the famous “Blue Dog” series in Louisiana).
I passed the time doing a little people watching and in Santa Fe, that apparently could be a full-time piece of recreation. You see the entire spectrum walking the streets of the Santa Fe plaza.
Lots of street people carrying their own bedrolls; many of them with dogs. Lots of girls in their summer clothes and sundresses (like Bruce has sung) and other women draped from head to toe in turquoise. Lots of skinny old men in shorts with spindly legs. Lots of skater boys dodging unsuspecting tourists.
I kept an eye on four young people (perhaps college age) who were backpacking more stuff than any Marine or Army infantry soldier could carry. They parked themselves next to a pay phone and did a little dumpster diving for smokes.
What was worse was using the public library for its restroom facilities to do whatever (I dare not imagine for fear of losing all contents from dinnertime).
I also noticed something else: businessmen carry backpacks instead of briefcases. Times have certainly changed…
On the way out of town, we spotted a small shopping area with a needlecraft store and I finally bought something for myself – two Native American inspired needlepoint canvasses for future enjoyment. It doesn’t quite rank with the two bracelets for Jodie on her birthday (it’s Sunday and she remains a nifty Jack Benny age) … but it will do.
Besides, I’m a tough guy to buy for. Most of what I want I have. I just want to spend time with my granddaughter and my children.
I’m such a simple man to please.
We ended the day at the Sandia Peak Tramway, having dinner at Sandiago’s. We went TO the tram, but thought discretion would be the better part of valor and nixed the ride to the top of the 13,000-foot peak.
“It’s basically a tin can of death hanging on piano wire,” Jodie announced; I agreed, noting my prominent case of “slipapohbia” in full bloom.
Others did not agree; the line was long to reach the top and enjoy a dinner at a high-tone establishment.
But I looked to the west, saw a massive dust and rainstorm approaching, and decided that when it rains mud, it is not a good thing.
Besides, with MY luck, we’d be on the national news for being stuck in a storm 10,000 feet above the ground and swinging like a carnival ride. No, sir; I covered the news and rule number one was “never become the news.”
So this is it until we get home. The final blog will come on Sunday after a long night’s, and morning’s, sleep. Finally…
Until then … when each mile rolled on the odometer brings us one step closer to home and our own beds … shalom!

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Day 17 – Albuquerque: Sight for sore eyes

I’d like to stand up (actually sit UP since my foot still throbs) and place a vote for New Mexico as one of America’s hidden gems. It certainly lives up to its slogan and license plate tagline as the “Land of Enchantment.”
Being in this state of mind is certainly enchanting – from the majestic peaks that encircle Albuquerque to the clear waters of the many mountain lakes. Instead of desolation, the open space that accounts for most of the New Mexico terrain is inspiring.
The roads wind over canyons of volcanic rocks and forests; they pass by some of the best national wildlife refuges in the nation. And there is nary a speck of trash on the shoulders.
New Mexico has its share of national parks and monuments, telling a story of the inhabitants from centuries past – through petroglyphs drawn by Native Americans and the remnants of their dwellings. Modern history is found in the white sands of southern New Mexico where the atomic era was ushered into be.
Culturally, “New” “Mexico” embodies both of its names; it is undoubtedly the most Hispanic state among the American 50 without having the largest Spanish-speaking population. It has successfully blended the Hispanic and Native American influences into almost all factors – from its architecture to its music.
You can see it everywhere, especially when it comes to public art. It isn’t forced upon you; it appears as naturally as the clouds in the sky or the winds blowing through the canyons. Instead of the forced eyesores that dot the landscape of places like Frisco, the artistic renderings, especially in the largest city (Albuquerque), blend into the surroundings.
It also comes in the most unlikely places. Bus stops aren’t mere benches but thoughtful and pleasing places for waiting. Highway overpasses are not masses of concrete and fencing but a place for artistic expression of New Mexican heritage. Sound walls along the interstate become stone carving murals in eye-pleasing desert colors.
Even fast food restaurants and hospitals coordinate in gentle pastel sandstones.
Aside from Hawai’i and Oregon, this is one of the most beautiful states in America. Obviously, it has its share of commonly-held problems – unemployment, crime, poverty and a big problem with drunk driving fatalities (which has become a cause célèbre among the citizenry searching for some legislative answers).
But it is a state where you can have fun (skiing in Taos, horse racing in Ruidoso), festive celebrations (ballooning in Albuquerque), inspiration (the art of Georgia O’Keeffe in Santa Fe), exploration (searching through Carlsbad Caverns), advance your education (in Las Cruses and Albuquerque) or simply admire (everywhere you look).
Hopefully, Jodie and I will experience almost all of that tomorrow when we drive one hour north to Santa Fe. To paraphrase Billy Joel, we’ll be in a turquoise state of mind.
Here is a recommendation for dinner while in Albuquerque – the famed El Pinto in the northwest part of town. Reasonably priced, especially when compared to Tex-Mex joints in Dallas, the service was excellent, the ambience was relaxing and the food was outstanding.
Jodie found the pestole to be near perfect and the restaurant’s famous Hatch red chile sauce is worth bringing home by the jar.
And here was a nice twist: instead of serving flour or corn tortillas with the meal, El Pinto offers … soppapillas, piping hot and ready for either butter or honey to be poured inside.
Jodie said her house margarita was as strong as any she’s had in the DFW area; her happy disposition for the next few hours was testament to its quality – for just $6.50!
So when was the last time you made your significant other happy for only $6.50??? Beats the cost of jewelry or Godiva chocolate…
Until then … when we have completed the “Twins” celebrity tour of Santa Fe (Arnold was here???) … shalom!

Days 15 & 16 – Albuquerque: Pep(to) talk

When a marathon runner competes, he or she faces something known as “The Wall” – the point of physical exhaustion that a competitor must crash through in order to finish the race. Any student who has pulled an all-nighter to study for a final exam also knows this hurdle well.
In the middle of last night, I hit the vacation “wall” – the point where all those miles I have driven (almost 3,000 to this point), all the mountains I’ve driven past, over and around, all the road food I’ve consumed (from yummy In-and-Out Burgers to the worst pastrami sandwich in the middle of nowhere Arizona), all the orange construction cones I’ve had to dodge and 18-wheelers I’ve had to pass … all converged in my head and stomach.
And I knew exactly what road kill felt like. I was exhausted, yawning every 10 seconds, but unable to close my eyes and sleep. I was in pain from head to heel, but no amount of medication could relieve it. I tossed and turned on the bed (a rarity for a sleep location these days) and on the Hyatt Place couch (no couch in ANY hotel can be labeled as comfortable) like a rotisserie chicken.
My heel throbbed for the sixth straight day, ever since I stepped on a litter trap in my sister’s bathroom in the dark of night (where she keeps the litter box for her feline, Cleo). I not only stomped on it once in the blackness of night, I did it the next day despite taking great pains to avoid it.
It was exactly what resulted – great PAIN! Apparently, upon closer examination by my wife, Jodie, the heel is nicely bruised and there’s no way you can avoid NOT using it.
I also felt nauseous after the last supper consumed, at a place called the Standard Diner, which was discovered totally by accident. It turned out the eatery had been featured on The Food Network by chef-host Guy Fiori on his show, “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.”
This was NOT anyone’s standard diner; it was far too upscale for that simple definition (any place that serves aioli is NOT a blue plate special joint). The first thing received – ice water – told me that; it had a slice of … cucumber in it (not lemon or lime). It was a first for me.
The meal was good, although the house dressing of oil, vinaigrette and pomegranate was a little too heavy and the New Mexican burger, complete with Hatch green chiles and a homemade bun with rosemary in it, wound up sitting in the old tummy like a hockey puck lodged behind Marty Turco.
And around 2 a.m. (with all the changing within time zones and who is or isn’t on daylight time, my internal clock is totally out of whack), all of it simply crashed with a thud.
Or should I say a burp. I immediately reached for a fistful of Pepto-Bismol tablets and simply sat there for Lord knows how long … waiting … and waiting … for something, or rather for nothing (hopefully) to happen.
I spent most of the time wondering on which side of the “wall” I’d land – either on all fours in front of the porcelain throne or watching to sun peek through the drawn curtains, still not knowing the time of day (or early morning in that situation).
Luckily, Pepto-Bismol worked as advertised (and it is one of the most disgusting jingles/slogans out there). Everything settled “down” to a relative state of normal so that I will leave this blog, take a shower, and proceed to find a “light” lunch and tour the Petroglyph National Monument in Albuquerque and the Old Town section for a possible jewelry/pottery purchase.
But, as Jodie is now fond of saying, after all the fun and sight-seeing, home, sweet, home, is sounding more and more like Heaven.
Who would ever have believed that we’d actually WANT to get back to Plano?
In our search for dinner, we “toured” the Nob Hill section of Albuquerque, which runs along E. Central Avenue, also known as Route 66. Our fruitless search for a simple Chinese restaurant (sorry, Vietnamese and Thai are NOT suitable substitutes for a good Cantonese menu) did reveal some interesting observations.
Of all the states that comprise the ancient (and legendary) highway, New Mexico might be the one with the most pride about the road’s past history. There is a magazine and organization devoted solely to the promotion of Route 66 history and legacy. There are events held annually to highlight what a simple two-lane ribbon of asphalt meant in post-World War II America.
And if you visit the burgh of Clime’s Corner, N.M., out in the middle of nowhere east of Albuquerque, you will find one of THE largest gift shops dedicated to Route 66 memorabilia in the country (if you’ve ever been to Honolulu and know of Hilo Hattie’s, this place is on the same level as that store). It will be a “must-see” on Saturday when we head to Amarillo.
However, the old girl ain’t what she used to be – at least not in the Nob Hill section of town. Central Avenue runs through the center of Albuquerque and is where the University of New Mexico is located. Those blocks of Route 66 surrounding the campus resemble any other university area (think Austin’s Guadalupe in the 1970s or Ann Arbor’s State Street at that same time period).
There are lots of coffee houses, book stores, sandwich shops and exotic eateries featuring international cuisine (heavy on Mediterranean and countries like Egypt and Turkey). Tattoo shops have replaced the 70s head shops although one or two of those relics still exist.
There are still signs (literally) of the old Route 66, with the names of former hotels still hanging over the roadway. Sadly, most of them are rotten corpses of the past. They stand along in empty lots where the grass grows untended among concrete forms, inside fenced off barriers.
Others oversee piles of garbage and mounds of debris from bulldozed structures. Out of 10 old hotels, perhaps one or two still exist as active businesses, none of which seem to be acceptable places for the well-worn Route 66 traveler to visit (most appear to be long-term residences for the downtrodden and poor).
“Closed for business” signs appear far too often among the storefronts, surrounded by lots of national fast food eateries and the occasional high-end Italian bistros or steakhouses.
The drive along Route 66, on our visit, is interrupted by the thunderous roar of motorcyclists, scores of them, revving their machines as they pull into one old-time restaurant for what must have been a pre-planned soiree. Yes, there IS a Route 66 biker club, as well.
When Tod and Buzz drove their Corvette in the famed TV show, “Route 66,” it was definitely a different nation to visit. When the American interstate highway system was constructed, people’s travel plans, habits and methods changed; it was more of a direct assault on your destination rather than a journey of means of exploration.
Part of our trip has been a small attempt to explore places we had not seen before; to taste things not tried in the past; and make long lists of places to visit in the future, based on mere glances out our window. It is (and was) the whole purpose of driving, rather than flying. It allows us to say, “Hey let’s look over there,” and doing an emotional u-turn to see something new.
I only wish Route 66 looked more like its past than its present state; we’d be diverting even more to see what would be offered.
It is really how one’s life should be lived, don’t you agree?
Until then …waiting for my senses to clear and head tomorrow to Santa Fe … shalom!

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Day 14 – Tucson: hot enough for ya?

I have a specific number at which I reach me own “boiling point” – 98.6. Anytime the temperature exceeds my body temp, then it’s too damn hot!!!!!
Others might revel in it, but I cannot take it – only in small bits and pieces. Hence, we only spent as couple of hours (all of them inside the air conditioned Ford Escape) driving around Saguaro National Park in west Tucson, smack dab in the middle of the Sonora Desert.
All bank thermometers read 100 degrees or more at 1 p.m. and were heading higher at the clock ticked down. In the coming days, it would be “muy caliente” with higher highs and higher low temperatures.
And, ladies and gentlemen, Tucson is 10 degrees cooler than … Phoenix – truly America’s hottest major city (hot as in caliente, not hipness). When we watched the 9 p.m. news last night, Phoenix had YET to drop below 100 degrees (even with the sun having set) and hit 110 as a high.
Is THAT hot enough for you? Because the forecast intimated that Phoenix would see even HIGHER figures heading to the weekend – 115 would not be unusual in the next few days.
Folks, that’s NUTS! If heat is your thing, central and southern Arizona is the place for you! And Phoenix, along with Las Vegas, was among the fastest growing metro populations in the past decade … so misery (in the heat) must love company.
But not me. Dallas is bad enough but at least it tends to stop being an inferno at some point in September. When I last visited Phoenix, it came on a September day and it was 105.
I was raised in the cold and a little nip in the air doesn’t faze me at all. I continue to wear short sleeve shirts even when its 45 degrees … because, to me, that IS NOT cold. Below freezing (32 degrees) begins to become COLD.
Where is it that the weather never really changes and is considered perfect climate? The answer is …
Hawai’i. It seldom gets below 82 degrees at daytime and 68-70 at night. The ocean breeze gently washes over you and … well, it’s simply paradise. But it’s kinda hard to drive to Honolulu, and airlines have yet to make themselves “Chuck-friendly” in order for me to return for a luau.
I have resolved to re-visit Arizona at a more appropriate time – in February for Major League baseball spring training. It will be a heavenly 70-80 degrees and games will be played throughout the Phoenix metro area and in Tucson.
Until then, you can keep your heat!
We purposely avoided watching any coverage (or the actual event) of the Michael Jackson memorial service in Los Angeles. The lead-up to this service, while we were in California, drowned out all other news event, including the state’s dire fiscal problems or even the return of suspended Dodger outfielder Manny Ramirez.
And that was hard to do.
Sitting in The Bellagio in Las Vegas reminded me of a scene from the recent “Ocean’s 13” movie. When the crew triggered an earthquake inside the Bank hotel, all gamblers suddenly stopped in stunned silence … for about five seconds. Then someone at the craps table shouted, “Give me a winner!” (or some such line of encouragement) and the noise inside the casino returned to its perfect pitch.
I can imagine how much of that city stopped, for just an instant, to contemplate the death of entertainer Michael Jackson last week at the age of 50. After the briefest moments of silence, things returned to normal, with roulette wheels spinning, dice crashing on the ends of craps tables and hollering filling the air when big slot machines rang out winners.
Life marched forward. I was somewhere between Show Low, Ariz. and Who Know Where, N.M. when I heard the news. I had ejected my Best of Joe Walsh CD burn and got the only AM station within range that didn’t speak Navajo. Jackson’s death notice instantly obliterated the other real news of the day, including gubernatorial infidelity, the national health care debate and Congressional action of President Obama’s climate bill.
Oddly, conservative radio talkers downgraded his talent and impact upon modern culture and focused, like a laser beam, on his troubled personal life, legal battles and family background. And just like the public’s reaction when O.J. Simpson was acquitted of his ex-wife’s murder, support and adoration for Jackson split heavily along racial lines – a sad truth about our society. African-Americans mostly saw him as an iconic performer who broke barriers; white folks saw him as a perverted man-child freak.
The truth is probably located somewhere in the middle.
Unlike Elvis Presley, to whom Jackson will now be compared, Jackson wrote much of his own material (Elvis sang other people’s songs), including many that became important forces to change people’s thinking. MJ was the driving force behind “We Are the World,” which raised millions for starving children around the world.
I had wished that his former wife, Lisa Marie Presley, would have been the executor of his estate because she has first-hand experience at the process of canonizing an iconic entertainer’s image – her father, Elvis. Presley had his own peccadilloes and myriad of destructive behavioral habits, including drug and weight abuse. Elvis, in his later years, became a shell and a caricature of his former self, but today, he is almost revered like a saint.
It CAN happen for Jackson, despite all of the harsh negative press of the past; despite the unfulfilled charges of child molestation, which never could be proven in a court of law by a jury (even after years of multiple investigations).
My suggestion would be a conversion of Jackson’s California home, Neverland, in the west coast version of Graceland (in Memphis). The estate could control all exhibits and presentations to the smallest degree. The man’s legacy would then slowly turn in the family’s direction – away from the bad into only memories of the stage personality.
And decades from now, a long stream of visitors will keep Jackson’s memory alive. His music will still sell (as does Presley’s efforts … into the hundreds of thousands annually; it just isn’t recorded on the Billboard charts) and the legacy will love on and on.
We just didn’t want to hear about all of it today.
Until tomorrow … and the start of a long line of New Mexican cuisine samplings (yes, we have plenty of Pepto-Bismol and Imodium) … shalom!

Day 13 – Tucson: Getting to know family again

Visiting relatives while on a trip is an iffy proposition, especially if you are inconveniencing them by plopping down for a multi-day stay. Normally, relatives (or in-laws), like fish, stink after three days – both in odor and temperament.
But staying with family is different. And by “family,” I mean direct blood – brother, sister, your children, grandparent, mother, father. And “different” means you take them in – few questions asked. At least, it is how it should be and it is the manner I believe it should exist. You care for your own unless it is physically or medically impossible; or they request otherwise (in no uncertain terms).
My family is quite small; both my parents passed away some time ago (my mother while I was in college and my father in 1993). When my father was alive, he chose to retire from Detroit, Mich., to Montgomery, Ala., and live on his own. Whenever I asked him to move to South Texas to be closer to his grandchildren, he politely but stubbornly refused. Sadly, he died without seeing either of his granddaughters, and only saw his grandson (Robert) twice.
My divorce drove a wedge through the father-son communications, but he was already in the grip of what probably was a form of Alzheimer’s (he often did not know or recognize my voice over the phone). That final year went without a word exchanged until I was notified of his death – oddly on my 41th birthday. My final act as his son was to sign a document permitting his remains to be cremated in Alabama (state law apparently demanded it from the oldest living relative).
I have only one sister, Vicki, who has been in Riverside, Calif. for the last 15 years or so as a librarian in the UC-Riverside system. To say our past relationship was volatile is an understatement; years went by without speaking to each other. Anger was replaced by resentment and stubbornness and each of us did our damnest to erect a wall that neither Ronald Reagan nor Mikhail Gorbechov could tear down.
But the sands of time DID wither away those bricks. Time does try to heal all wounds; it doesn’t always succeed and there are still some scabs that need more time to disintegrate). Stubbornness flows out of the body like waste and is eventually replaced with kernels of wisdom that should have been elevated long before. On both ends.
I have changed drastically since I remarried and underwent a major open-heart surgical procedure (and subsequent heart attacks a year ago). Vicki changed shortly after my operation when she adopted a daughter, Alissa Marie (5 at that time, I think).
It’s funny how life-changing experienced DO alter one’s perspective on life its ownself (to quote the great B.J. Puckett in “Semi-Tough”). The little crap that was SOOOOOO annoying just isn’t so freaking important anymore. Goals are different; priorities are altered in different directions; “I” is replaced by “we.” There’s less “me” and more “you.”
You begin to see the values and talents of others and how you can utilize your experiences and talents to help others. Perhaps it explains how retired people can bring a needed perspective to various charities; they have been there and seen it all and have less needs for themselves and a stronger desire to help others.
While in Riverside, I got my first real up-close and personal observation of Vicki’s life as a single mother. Like every parent, raising a child is a balancing act; not having a spouse just makes that juggle more difficult (just from a logistics point of view). And, at times, she and Alissa have engaged in a heavyweight battle of wills, which can be emotionally draining as anything imaginable.
It probably stems from their individual creative abilities. As I discovered, each woman is VERY talented in various fields – neither of which I was fully aware.
Alissa is a potential starring athlete; in volleyball, perhaps tennis, basketball, or anything else she puts her mind to. And she LOVES music and could be outstanding in that field as well.
Best of all, she LOVES to read (which should be expected as the daughter of a librarian but isn’t taken for granted). A young person who devours books like our dog devours pillows has a thirst for knowledge and will never be satisfied with any particular answer until she has fully read and researched all pertinent information.
That will do her well for her future. She will only accept that which she can prove herself and discover as fact/truth. Hopefully, her journey of discovery will only take her down safe paths; the steering is in the hands of her mother, Vicki.
Meanwhile, it was a total revelation to me that my sister was a magnificent artist. Hell, the last thing I remember in terms of her artwork involved crayons. I knew she studied art history in college (at The University of Michigan), but, honestly, I had never seen any of her work since then … until this past week.
I was literally stunned. There was enough sitting on her walls at home to do justice to a galleried one-woman shop anywhere and she seemed more than proficient in all mediums (watercolors, oils, pastels, charcoal). I was actually jealous of her ability; it made my forays into needlepoint seem small in comparison. She was able to express her emotions, expectations, insight and dreams through a canvas – something I could only dream about in the recesses of my mind.
She was also an effective parent; making mistakes just like everyone but having a complete, long-term game plan for Alissa’s future, rather than just a week-to-week activity calendar. Everything is done, purchased and said (even when disciplining) with the eventual goal of producing the best functioning adult possible when it is time to cast the girl into the real world as an adult.
Sometimes you need to open your eyes completely in order to see the completeness of people around you. It could happen during a five-day vacation on their couch and recliner; it could happen during a phone conversation; it could happen merely by imagining yourself in their shoes.
Despite the miles (and I felt everyone of them on my backside from Plano to Riverside), I am hoping this relationship grows closer over the years – that our family doesn’t stay so “small.” Perhaps alternating visits to Plano and Riverside (they came to our home last year) will become a steady and regular happening.
Personally, I’d like that. I would enjoy charting Alissa’s progress and imparting any slight knowledge that would be beneficial to her.
I might even get to teach her what Motown sounded like BEFORE Michael Jackson.
I thought driving the route from Las Vegas to Riverside involved desolation and solitude; it has nothing on the trip from Riverside to Tucson. We ducked off Interstate-10 on U.S. 95, through the Yuma Proving Grounds, to Yuma itself and then eastward on I-8 (it just sounded cool to say I-8) along the southern Arizona-Mexico border. Man, talk about miles and miles of nowhere!
All the eye could see from hundreds of miles were rotting cactuses, scores of dust devils and wind spouts, splashing the Ford Escape with gusts of sand and searing heat. A massive high pressure center is hunkered down in the Desert Southwest and temperatures reached triple digits before noon.
Along the 8, towns were as infrequent as clouds in the clear blue sky. Gila Bend is the biggest population center between Yuma and the I-10 intersection (between Phoenix and Tucson), so any chance for bathroom breaks were strictly hit and miss.
My bladder held out until we reached the Tucson hotel; Jodie was not as lucky. But each time we pulled off the 8 to accommodate her need, the truck stop or café looked like Norman Bates was the proprietor.
Finally, she could wait no more and some hole in the wall desert way station was the winner! Sort of. Restrooms were only available to “paying” customers (two Cokes and two waters became the toll) and the rest room itself had its own “rules.”
Basically, since the commode tank was attached to a septic system, the management politely requested that ALL paper utilized in the visit, regardless of condition of said paper, be deposited in a basket next to the commode.
YUCK! The mind boggles at the mere thought of the disposal method for THAT!
Even worse, the person preceding Jodie into that women’s unit (four stalls; two out-of-order) failed to follow the direction, found the bottom of the commode and did not flush … double, triple, and quadruple YUCK!
“I’d never seen such a sign except for Mexico,” she sheepishly said upon returning to the Escape. “I guess we’re close enough.”
Ah, the advantage of a larger-than-usual bladder.
Last night’s dinner hunt was a success as we found a hole-in-the-wall, Italian family-operated place (Mamma Luisa’s) with excellent veal scaloppini and handmade linguine. It was better food, atmosphere and service than a chain restaurant, which is the dream of every traveler (I would think).
Tonight is a dinner with a former business colleague of Jodie’s at a classic Tucson Mexican restaurant and back on the road to Albuquerque. We’ll brave the heat this afternoon to visit Saguaro National Park and see lots of cacti, indigenous only to the Sonoran Desert
Until then …waiting for the image in that rest room to disappear … shalom!

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Day 11 – Celebrating the 4th of July

This Saturday felt like a Sunday because of the 4th of July holiday and not much was happening. Everyone in my sister’s house, here in Riverside, slept late and breakfast morphed into brunch.

My sister, Vicki, had dug out two boxes of old photos of my late father and I spent some time examining them. Most of them I remembered; a few I had never seen (including one of my grandfather from 1907) and others of my son, Robert, sent to Dad when Robert was a small child.

Tucked in between the Kodachrome prints were old newspaper clippings of my early works as sports editor in Conroe, Texas (for the Conroe Daily Courier), which began in June, 1976. I must have arranged for a subscription of the paper to be sent to him, although 33 years is a long time to remember small details like that. The fact that he kept certain articles was pretty startling and I will never know why he chose what he chose.

I had been on the new job for about three weeks and my daily offering of opinions were simply called “column.” Imagine the marketing time it took to derive that name. They used the photo shot of me after the 36-hour bus ride from Detroit to Conroe, which was equivalent to a deer in the crosshairs.

In 1976, the 4th of July fell on a Sunday and I penned a piece about America based on one of the few subjects I knew well: baseball. I have returned to that topic often over the ensuing 33 years in Texas, even though things and circumstances of employment have changed. I am retired and the hair I had on top of my head back then has retreated to oblivion.

On this 4th of July, I also returned to my favorite subject, attending a sold-out California League Class A game at San Bernardino between the Lancaster JetHawks (who had Roger Clemens’ son, Koby, playing at catcher) and the hometown Inland Empire 66ers.

The game lasted three hours and was won by the Sixers on a two-out drag bunt with the winning run on third for a 4-3 victory. We then sat back and enjoyed a rousing fireworks display in the cool High Desert night, with Sousa marches and other patriotic music blaring over the public address system.

It WAS a feel good night as it should be every Independence Day holiday – fireworks, family and baseball.

So when I found this particular “column,” I wanted to share it with people reading this blog; something my father found worthy of keeping. This is what I wrote 33 years ago (my writing needed much polishing and I was a tad naïve about the world):

“In 1967, many people gathered in the streets of Detroit. The flames of destruction leaped higher into the sky as the nights wore on. The city and its reputation burned beyond recognition.

In 1968, people again gathered in the streets of Detroit. This time, flames were replaced by a joyful spirit which grew higher in the night. Blacks and whites were not at each other’s throats as before. Instead they roamed arm-in-arm; the Detroit Tigers had won the 1968 World Series. A baseball team had united a battle-torn city like never before.

I guess there are more patriotic people than me. I have rather deep convictions about what can be done to make the United States better. Many involve changes that some people may not want. But I’m proud to be an American. Not better than anyone else, but proud, nevertheless.

I feel American sports are unlike any others in the world. Perhaps other countries have surpassed the U.S. in talent but the type of games played here are unique. Nowhere on this earth can you find the enthusiasm generated by football, basketball and most of all, the American pastime – baseball.

Football symbolizes the ruggedness of the nation. I hear in Texas it is an experience all its own. The beauty of movement, which is the essence of basketball, is also American. Basketball appeals to the underdog spirit, as a poor man can become a success overnight with nothing but sneakers and talent.

But everything this country is, was or will be is wrapped up in the game of baseball. Nothing can set a city on fire like a pennant contender, or a single player, as when 50,000 fans showed up in Detroit’s Tiger Stadium to see gangling 21-year-old Mark Fidrych, nicknamed “The Bird,” pitch. Only in such a country can the imagination and hearts of the people be captured by an individual.

So much of the language which is truly American is baseball-oriented. Think about it. He who fails “strikes out,” yet a “pitch” that a salesman uses hopefully will “hit.” A fellow under a handicap has “two strikes against him,” but someone who cooperates is “willing to play ball.”

A screwball, blooper, caught in a squeeze play, touching all the bases, teamwork … all can be associated with an institution in the U.S. other than baseball, which originated them all.

Culturally, baseball has meant more to great American authors than any other sport. Men like Damon Runyon, William Faulkner and Mark Twain all wrote about the game. Great literary critics like Alexander Woolcott could often be found with celebrities like Groucho Marx at a Yankee or Dodger game.

A place like Brooklyn became immortal because of Ebbets Field and “Da Darlin’ Bums.” Every World War II picture has someone who dreamed of the centerfield bleachers in the New York borough. The hot dog, the staple of the baseball fun, became an American institution. As Peanuts’ creator Charles Schulz said, “A hot dog doesn’t taste the same without a ball game in front of it.”

History has recorded the names in its Hall of Fame like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Ty Cobb, Ted Williams, Willie Mays, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle. And what sport had, until a short time ago, the President of the United States officially open its season?

Youth. The key to this country and the key to baseball. Kids playing the game in all forms. They play stickball, sewerball, hardball, T-ball, slowpitch, fastpitch, Little League, American Legion, Babe Ruth, Pony and Pee Wee. It’s all the same game.

It is an intellectual game full of “ifs” for the armchair manager to dwell upon. It is a team game; it is an individual game; it is man against man; it is man against himself.

It is America.

As I said, my work needed lots of Turtle Wax; but I was just 24 and still reeling from finding my first professional writing job. I was eager and easy to please.

Oddly, the last game I saw in Detroit involved Mark Fidrych, who, like my father, is enjoying his favorite pastime in heaven.

But for some reason, my father chose to keep this particular piece of fading newsprint with him until he passed away. So I carried thoughts of my Dad to the game in San Bernardino.


Much to the satisfaction of my wife, Jodie, Sunday night will be the last ballgame for me/us. In fact, she isn’t going to Lake Elsinore to see the Storm face the Quakes from Rancho Cucamonga in the dreaded cross I-215/15/10/5 rivalry (honestly, the huge number of freeways and names would drive most traffic reporters nuts and certainly can’t be good for the sanity of Southern California motorists who rival Texans in their display of poor driving habits).

I will be the adult chaperone for Alissa (our niece) and two of her male-type friends. And it will be lots of loud AC/DC to and from the ballpark. It will demonstrate that I am hip and relevant; of which I am neither (but I DO like my rock and roll).

Until then … after the “Storm” and when we arrive Monday in Tuscon … Shalom!

Friday, July 03, 2009

Days 9-10 – Down by the Riverside, Calif.

Today is a day of doing nothing for me. My sister, Vicki, her daughter, Alissa, and Jodie have headed westward to the Pacific Ocean for some beach time (Laguna Beach like the old Beach Boys, “Surfin’ USA”). I have chosen to remain behind, away from that warm California sun (I’ve got a thousand song lyrics applicable to all that is happening around me).

After nine days on driving and sight-seeing, it’s just good to do nothing for a few hours. Adjusting to the constant change of altitudes and changing of attitudes (and latitudes) can be taxing upon one’s body and soul. My eating habits, in terms of time and substance, have long since gone by the wayside. I’ve tried hard to stick to the diet (no pasta, no starches, no rice, no potatoes) but on the West Coast, that is difficult. Almost everything involves French fried potatoes (In-and-Out makes the best, cut from fresh spuds), or pasta (it seems as if breakfast cereal has pasta in it in the Golden State). And people here order everything imaginable on a pizza, from sushi to salad. I don’t get it, I don’t order it … but to each his own.

Riverside is a very pleasant community, in the High Desert region of California, about an hour or so east of Los Angeles. In fact, it is as close to San Diego as it is to L.A. and if I had my druthers, I’d go to San Diego all the time – one of America’s hidden gems.

The downtown area centers around an old mission and the restored Mission Inn (where we will have dinner tonight). Workers continue to convert many of the streets into a walking plaza between quaint shops with names like Mrs. TiddyWinkles or a sandwich shop called Simple Simon. As you stroll past the shops, you need to watch out for falling fruit from the many orange trees populating the community. My sister has lemon and apricot trees in her yard, which is wonderfully convenient for canning preserves or just plain snacking. The neighborhoods appear to be clean and green.

The city also houses a state university (UC-Riverside) and a handful of private schools, a state citrus park and great scenery (mountains, a river and bright stars at night). A philharmonic orchestra performs on a regular basis and among the festivals held here one those featuring jazz and the works of Charles Dickens. Heck, the mail service is actually door-to-door instead of street side mailboxes.

Of course, this IS California – not the land of kooks and weirdoes but the state of faltering economy and massive debt in the state budget. Things have gotten so dire, so divided, that IOUs have now been issued to debtors in lieu or payment and state employees are being forced to take unpaid furloughs, running into weeks instead of a handful of days.

The voters can change the party affiliation of the lawmakers in Sacramento all they want but the situation runs deeper than campaign promises. It’s fine and dandy to make pronouncements in speech after speech, but when push comes to shove, reality speaks a cruel truth – whether it applies to California or Texas or the city of Dallas or Washington, D.C.

The real problem lies in the fact that people want the other guy to do the sacrificing in terms of jobs, services, taxes and entitlements. We want our complete freedom to act as we wish yet pay as little as possible for that privilege. And when the waiter delivers the bill, we look around for someone – anyone – to take care of it. Nowadays, there is no one else to flash an American Express card; it is now our debt and our responsibility.

California isn’t alone – most major cities and states face similar fiscal time bombs. California, because of its size (stand alone, it is the seventh largest economy in the world), is just the biggest problem outside of the federal deficit.

Texas talks and walks big about its surplus (which is true), but it comes at the expense of being last in terms of health care provided to its children, near the bottom in percentage of population below the poverty level and almost last in every other social service. Texas’ funding of public education remains a joke and the funding of highway repair and future construction (on a course for all new roads to be tolled) causes every Texan to be upset.

It’s become a time of “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” in our country. No choice is wrong and no choice is right. All we can do is pray and hope it all works out in the end.

Until then??????? Let’s PLAY BALL!


Last night was spent in the confines of the Epicenter (cute nickname for a minor league ballpark) in Rancho Cucamonga to see the hometown Quakes fall to the High Desert Mavericks in a California League clash.

The scenery with beautiful, with the mountains majestic over the left field wall, and the weather was absolutely perfect – cool breeze, temperature in the low 80s and a few fluffy clouds against a blue sky giving way to an orange sunset.

At this level, you see future MLB stars (perhaps 3-4 years away from the Show) and a majority of young men unsuccessfully attempting to live out their major league dreams. Some plays ranked at the big league level and some mistakes were as high school as it got.

It was a good night’s entertainment for the family at a nice affordable price (our seats behind the plate cost just $10 apiece). There were silly games between innings and the usual minor league presentation, which means light-hearted and family-friendly.

At each minor league stadium, there is a mascot; in Frisco, it is Deuce the Prairie Dog and in Rancho Cucamonga, it (he/she???) is a dinosaur named Tremor. The job of a good, quality mascot is to entertain and make people laugh, while getting them to root, root, root for the home team.

When they are among the best – the Phillie Fanatic or the San Diego Chicken – they are as much part of the game presentation attraction as the players themselves. The Chicken (Ted Giannoulus) should be up for Hall of Fame consideration; he has been THAT critical to baseball (along with the legendary Max Pipkin). The Cooperstown people should seriously ponder adding a mascot wing to the Hall and add one mascot per year in the same manner as the HOF does for sportswriters and broadcasters.

Meteor, however, won’t be there for some time. It needs to work on its game a tad. Among the rules of mascoting include making between-inning schtick be funny when involving umpires and children and (most important) when you “air-gun” souvenir T-shirts to the crowd, they actually REACH the crowd. Poor Tremor fired its first T-shirt over the stadium wall, into the parking lot, and couldn’t clear the home plate screen on its second effort.

But as the game proceeded, Tremor showed its true form through dancing on the dugout. This was the first mascot I’ve seen that danced to “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” (Harry Carey would roll over in his grave if he knew).

And here is another rule that parents need to follow: Mascots do NOT (and should NOT) sign autographs. Kids should not seek it because that “X” won’t be remembered years later and since when do dinosaurs carry Sharpies?

Please, be realistic. Crayons at best.

The final two games of the vacation will happen in San Bernardino (for the 4th of July) and Lake Elsinore. After that, it will be museums, canyons, shows, dinners and national parks. The trip meter, which cannot move about 999.9 miles has flown past 2,400 miles – and today, I am trying to recharge my batteries after seeing every ONE of them.

Until then … when we celebrate America’s birthday in the proper manner (baseball, fireworks, overcooked hot dogs and tennis from England) … Shalom!