The Random Comic Strip

The Random Comic Strip

Words to live by...

"How beautiful it is to do nothing, and to rest afterward."

[Spanish Proverb]

Ius luxuriae publice datum est

(The right to looseness has been officially given)

"Everyone carries a part of society on his shoulders," wrote Ludwig von Mises, "no one is relieved of his share of responsibility by others. And no one can find a safe way for himself if society is sweeping towards destruction. Therefore everyone, in his own interest, must thrust himself vigorously into the intellectual battle."

Apparently, the crossword puzzle that disappeared from the blog, came back.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Drugs! I Need Drugs!

I had to be to the hospital early today. The OR was scheduled for 7 AM. I was told to show up at the ER door at 5:15 (the Outpatient doors do not open till 6 AM).

A little back and forth revealed something interesting...

"You should be here at 5:15, the procedure is scheduled for 7.", says Liz (the nurse).

"AM or PM?". I ask.

"Oh, in the morning, of course. The bad news is you will need to go to the ER to get in. No other doors are open at that time, not till 6."

"I had a 3:15 PM appointment today. Was told I could come in at 2:45 to get the paperwork done ahead of time, and it is now 4:30 and I still haven't seen the anesthesiologist.", I casually mention.

"Well," she says "Try to get here between 5:15 and 5:30... but no later than 6."

We got there at 5:10. There is surprisingly light traffic in a city of 20,000 at 5 AM. I spent a lot of time waiting.

All of the questions asked yesterday at the pre-op testing appointment are asked again, two more times. Making a grand total of 5 times in 2 days (or 7 times in 3 if you count the doctor's office visit on Wednesday). Remarkably, my answers have not changed at all. Though I detect a slight, but steady, rise in blood pressure.

I am asked to sign a consent to allow three nurse trainees observe. I should have charged $20 apiece but they are pretty and I am male so...

The OR nurse drops in and tells me the doctor has arrived and is changing from his street clothes. He'll be in to mark the correct knee (I hope) soon. I say, "as long as he isn't still sobering up..."

Her quick reply sets me straight, "That was pretty much done 2 hours ago."

Within a half hour, all is ready and I am wheeled into the OR...

... And I wake up in Recovery. In excruciating pain. Severe and agonizing. At least as powerful as I felt in the moments after I broke the blasted knee. But persisting longer. Much longer.

Steven, the Recovery Room nurse, offers me drugs. I offer him my first born if he will hurry. He demands cash. We are jesting... I sincerely hope.

Two doses of dilaudid in 15 minutes reduces the pain level to tolerable. I no longer feel I will pass out. I discontinue pinching my thigh and digging fingernails into my right palm in vain attempts to distract my mind from the knee pain.

Cottonmouth sets in. I ask for some water. Steven hesitates, it is too early to allow me to ingest anything. Steven likely does not like to clean up after the choking and vomiting. I insist that I only need some to wet my mouth, that I am dryer than the Sahara. I am given a sponge swab by the prettiest of the observer nurses. It helps.

Later I am allowed first ice chips and then shortly thereafter cold water to actually drink. I decide I will live after all.

I am home now and the pain is still there but lessened. I can even hobble about (very short distances) without the crutches. Yes, I can now put pressure on that leg.

Life is good.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

On my knee(s)...

The visit to the orthopedic surgeon went almost well. I did not wait too long in the waiting room. I did, however, wait much too long in the examining room. At least my leg was elevated and supported in there so the wait was not as painful.

The doctor was okay. He had a beard, a loud flowered shirt, and jeans. We bonded. I think. He looked at my leg, complained that my X-ray pictures broke his printer, and then finally got a printout of them. I want copies. They told me what I already knew... clearly broken into two pieces. In spite of what you might think, this is a good thing. The patella (kneecap) could have shattered. That is, it could have been in many more than two pieces. This would have created a need for more intensive/extensive surgery. Instead, I will be an outpatient.

It won't be done at an outpatient clinic but in a regular OR and I will be in and out in a day. Probably. The procedure is to wire the patella back together and in place. I will be back in the soft-cast for another week and then rehab exercises. Surgery is set for Friday. Morning, one presumes (and hopes).

Today I go to do the pre-op tests and discuss just how the anesthetist will drug me into blissful repose so that the surgeon can do his thing.

There is light at the end of this tunnel.

But my laptop stopped working yesterday. It never just rains, does it?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Doctor Dance and The Patient From Hell

Doctors are mysterious creatures. They are type-A personalities, it would seem. Always on the go, seemingly tireless, constantly working. But, with that, comes a certain irritability and brusqueness which we've all felt. For the most part, they seem caring and interested in our woes. But I have seen their other side, the darker one.

Do not question your doctor and be right. At least, more than once. Once may be forgiven but twice? I have done this. I have even argued with a few over treatment and diagnosis. I have dismissed more than a couple.

I am known as "The Patient from Hell", I am sure. I sometimes introduce myself to a new doctor that way. You see, although I was raised to believe in doctors as wonderful, caring, self-sacrificing, angelic types... I began to see beneath the facade, to see through the PR image.

You see, I began to research things on my own. Being the odd child, I looked things up rather than just ask adults the answers. I had already learned that all adults didn't have the correct answers, that they sometimes seemed as error prone as a child might be. Some were superstitious, some believed rumors easily, some were cynical and seemingly believed nothing, some were simply uninformed and knew it, and the worst were adamant that they were right when they weren't. When a doctor falls in that last category, it spells disaster.

A doctor is always two things; a healer and an office administrator. First, of course, he is the healer; that is his primary function in life. But he also must have an office and an office staff and he must run that. If that doesn't run properly, the patients pay the price. Most of us, the patients, tolerate a poor staff. Especially if we like the doctor we have. Strangely, we would not tolerate a doctor we didn't like because his staff was excellent.

But, in truth, the office staff reflect upon their doctor. If he cannot run his office properly, if he overlooks mistakes by his staff, then what other mistakes does he overlook? Some doctors are good delegators, they find a good office administrator and put him/her in charge. Some do not. We have no way of knowing how an office is run on our first visit, we must judge by our experience.

Yesterday, I went to see the orthopedic surgeon who was recommended to me by the ER on Sunday. The ER doc told me he was good and was one that he, himself, would go to. I have no way of knowing how true that is. And I may never know.

You see, I have been to many doctors over the years. I have learned that first visits entail a bunch of paperwork and staff work before I get to see the doctor. So I arrive early for these appointments. Usually 25 to 30 minutes early. And I did so yesterday. I also expect to wait sometimes past my appointment time because of unforeseen circumstances. But I have a limit. And I no longer tolerate excessive waiting. That limit is 30 minutes.

As I said, I arrived about 25 minutes early, filled out the paperwork, and sat in the uncomfortable chair along with the other patients. I was more uncomfortable that I might have been because my left knee is in an immobilizing "soft cast" which puts pressure on the knee at times and just generally causes discomfort if the leg cannot be placed in such a way as to avoid it... like elevated and supported. Which it can't when one is seated in a waiting room chair.

So minutes speed by like a turtle in a drug stupor, making the wait an eternity. After several eternities, the receptionist calls me to the window to return my photo ID and insurance card. I glance at the clock and mentally note that I am three minutes short of being in the waiting room/torture chamber for 55 minutes. That is, that I am approaching the 30 minute limit past my appointment time.

I inquire, "How much longer?"

She replies, "It'll be just a few more minutes, we have to verify your insurance."

I say as I turn away, "I'll give you 5 minutes."

And give her ten. After which I get up, hobble to the window, and inform her that I am leaving and why. She says she has me on the list, or in the stack, or some such nonsense and I tell her I do not care, 30 minutes is too long and I gave them plenty of time by arriving early.

Another staffer turns toward me and says "but I just got off the phone with your insurance company."

And I point out that she had an hour to deal with that. I know she did not spend that hour on the phone with my insurance company verifying my coverage. And, in fact, doesn't actually need to verify it prior to my first visit. Unless the doctor is working for the money first and patient second.

Faye and I leave.

And I had to find another orthopedic surgeon. One which I do not know. One which may be good or bad. One whose staff may be efficient or lazy but will learn when I come in that I am there 30 minutes early because I expect to see the doctor at my appointment time and will not wait long past it.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Weather `tis nobler...

I was looking at the weather report today (Sunday... I actually wrote this ahead of time!) and found something curious... The reported high is predicted to be 79F (eat your hearts out, Nawthunners...) yet, the hourly reports don't go higher than 77 at 3 PM. This means that there might be a brief period either before or after 3 PM that could possibly, maybe, we hope, where the temperature hits 79. But don't count on it.

On Monday (a much more important day since I will be playing golf in the morning) the report says the high will be 75 but no hour reports higher than 72.

Is it any wonder we do not believe weather reports? Yet we keep reading them, hoping they will be right... especially when the say "fair weather". Is it because we are eternal optimists? Certainly not so in my case. I am, after all, a diehard cynic.

I am reminded of a radio station in Los Angeles which used to report things like:

There were 6 marijuana arrests today, the high for today will be 72.

The weather report for Monday also predicts rain, thunderstorms possibly, during a couple of hours when I will be trying to play golf. Lightning and golf do not mix well. The less brain-damaged among us try to avoid playing in that kind of weather. So I will be out there. (written, of course, before my accident)

It is amazing, though, what faith we put in weather predictions. We watch them religiously, we plan events around them, we fret when rain is predicted when we want to be doing something outside. And we get angry at the weatherfolk when they are wrong. Not angry enough to lynch any of them, of course. We wouldn't do anything violent to them. After all, we are rational enough to know they have no control over the weather, aren't we?

It is, I suppose, a good thing we no longer sacrifice virgins to get rain for our crops and such. There being a shortage of them of late and all.

When I was young and limber and tanned, I used to surf. That also meant weather was very important to me. I studied weather maps in those days. There were no satellite images because there were no weather satellites yet. The weather maps had high and low pressure areas, with gradients of pressure laid out, cold and warm fronts marked clearly but they knew very little about the jetstreams' effects on weather patterns then. I would pore over these to get an idea when a storm would pass through and optimal surf conditions would appear. I found I was as good, sometimes better, than the forecasters on TV and in the paper.

I would have liked to get into that line of work, I think, if I hadn't hated chemistry so much. I even hoped to get into oceanography while in the Navy but Uncle Sam had other plans for me. Oceanography in the Navy included meteorology, if you didn't know.

I have never figured out why the science of weather prediction was called meteorology. I understand the root words but still... The word just invokes images of big rocks falling out of the sky. I have enough problems with lightning. It's another case where the Greeks had a word for it. Aristotle, of course, being the first.

From Aristotle to Al Gore...

Monday, March 22, 2010

Oh, Snap!

It was a normal day, a little overcast, a threat of rain. I had only one errand to run. A trip to a friend's (a former co-worker of Faye's) to clean up some problems with her computer. Nothing serious, nothing ominous in the air...

I grew up without breaking a bone. I fell out of trees, tumbled down hills, fell off bicycles, engaged in any number of risky activities without ever doing more than getting an abrasion or bruise. Never even sprained an ankle until I was 19 and in the Navy (playing volleyball of all things). It is possible that I broke a finger while being tossed around by my brother when I was 5 or 6 since it is bent at an unnatural angle and I have a lump on my collarbone that might have been the result of the neighbor kid hitting me with a toy shovel when I was 4 (I remember both incidents). And there was a busted rib in the early part of the Two Year Cough (a story I am saving for later) when I was 51. But they really don't count. Not like a broken arm or leg or even an ankle.

Even later, surfing and motorcycles never got me. Oh, there were a few close calls but somehow nothing serious happened.

I lost my bone virginity yesterday. It wasn't pleasant. It wasn't even a grand event. It was a moment of absent-mindedness and stupidity that caused it. And an ottoman.

I was at a friend's house, repairing a few leftover problems with her computer. I went to go online to get a useful utility for her (Irfanview, if you must know, a fine image viewer that I highly recommend to anyone and everyone) but couldn't access the internet. I was worried that something I had done might have caused the problem. But I suspected it was the fault of the cable company. So I went around to the other side of the room to the cordless phone, picked it up, and walked back. Not paying close attention, I stumbled over the ottoman and landed squarely on my left kneecap.

When the fog of pain receded enough, when the stars cleared from my vision, as I lay there on the floor I gingerly felt my left knee and then compared it to my right. There was a difference. My left seemed to have a step down to it where the right was rounder.

Broken! My first thought was that I would not be able to play golf today.

The friend was at work, her husband had stepped out to the market to pick up a couple of things, and I lay there on the floor considering my options. I actually toyed with the idea of taking myself to the hospital. For a moment. First step was to get off the floor. I did that, setting myself on the edge the bed. The pain involved in moving the injured leg to do that simple act was enough to convince me that I could not get myself to the hospital... or even to my car outside. I would have to wait for help.

The phone I still held in my hand didn't work, thereby answering my question about the cable being at fault (they have their phone service through the cable company), and I called Faye at home. I told her what happened and asked her to have Franny drive her to me so she would be able to drive my car back home. And I waited for Joe (the friend's husband) to return. And waited. And waited. I managed to soot across the floor to where I could perhaps scoot along the floor to the door to let Faye in if she arrived first. And waited some more.

Joe arrived first. I called 9-1-1 and arranged for suitable transportation. Faye arrived just ahead of the EMTs. Lovely people, EMTs, they ask politely before cutting the pant leg covering the damaged extremity. Why they ask, I do not know, it must be done. If not by them then at the ER.

The ER is always an experience. In boredom and patience. Ten minutes seems like an hour and it is always hours before you get moved to a room or released. I was to be released to seek a good orthopedic surgeon but not until I had spent a good 3 hours waiting, lying, on a gurney being essentially ignored. I was offered pain medication and ice. I didn't care for either. I have a high tolerance for pain but I suspected I would not feel any strong pain for some time yet. I don't know why I knew that, having never broken any bones before, but I did.

Even so, they gave me a Percocet and an ice pack because they thought I would need the pain killer working before they immobilized the leg. The ice pack was pointless since it had been hours since the injury and any swelling that was to happened had already taken place.

By 4 PM, I was released and heading home sitting across the back seat of Faye's car.

A perfect end to a perfect weekend.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Is it nap time?

I suppose I should be writing something today but I can't seem to get started. Ever have one of those days? You know you need to get some things done but you just can't get motivated enough.

Now that I think about it, I have a lot of those days. Always have had them. I am basically a lazy person. I believe I always have been. I am not ashamed to admit this. We Americans like to say we are an industrious lot; we work more days, take fewer vacations, work more hours and so on. That may be so but I am fairly certain I kept the average lower than it could have been.

I worked as little overtime as possible. I took all the vacation time I earned each year. You could say I was more grasshopper than ant. Which might be true but I always liked to think of myself as more efficient than most. I liked the motto "Work smarter, not harder."

I learned to do this while serving in the Navy. Well, I might have always done this. During junior and senior high school, I learned how to just do enough to pass each year. You might say I gamed the system. I polished this skill in the Navy where I always managed to look like I got more done than expected. I liked to think I gave them a solid 75% of my effort on average. 100% at times, barely 50% at others and often less. My only rule was (and is) that no one would have to take up my slack.

I may be lazy but I am not without honor.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Adventures in Computer Land

It's Friday morning and I sit here drinking my second (and last) cup of coffee for the day while I contemplate things I did yesterday and what I might do today.

Yesterday I tried to get a few of those TV programs watched, thought about visiting my sister who is recovering from a bout with pneumonia (but didn't go), considered dropping by the at&t cell phone place to change my cell phone number (but didn't go), took the wife to dinner (at her insistence), and spent a few hours at a friend's getting her computer back to normal and upgrading the memory.

I do that last as a favor. I sometimes get offered money for doing it but I always refuse. I don't do it for money, I don't really do it out of friendship. I do it because it is a challenge. And because I am a deeply sick person, I suspect. Consider the computer in this case... an aging Dell running XP and struggling with 1/2 Gig of memory and an almost full 40 Gig Hard Drive. If that doesn't tell you how old this Dell is, nothing will.

Before I left on my trip, I suggested she either get a new computer or buy more memory (as much as it could support) and I would install it for her. She did that... bought the memory, that is. Sent us an email about it arriving while we were on our trip. And then another email saying she had unfortunately deleted some important programs because she kept getting reminders about a lack of free disk space. Programs like Microsoft Word which she uses for things like spreadsheets and newsletters and such.

These things happen. She was in a bit of a tizzy thinking she had lost all the documents and spreadsheets she needed. But, of course, she hadn't. Uninstalling a program does not remove those things, just makes them inaccessible until you replace/re-install the programs that access them.

We found her Microsoft Office recovery disk and found it won't re-install the program when you have uninstalled it. I suspect there is another set of disks somewhere that will do this but she is unaware she has them. So I installed Open Office for her. I highly recommend this program suite from Open Source.ORG. It is free, reads and writes the same formats and documents as MS Office, is free, doesn't take up too much space, is free, and works well. Did I mention it is free?

She was very happy to learn she had not lost her data. So was I.

I then, somehow, managed to get rid of some programs that she didn't actually use anymore and old files that freed up about 16 Gig of Hard Drive space and, with the new memory, improved the performance immensely.

The only thing left is to get her a Calendar program. You see, she depended upon MS Outlook (part of that MS Office Suite) to maintain a calendar database and that seemed to be lost when she wiped out MS Office. I think I may have found a way to access the data through Open Office and I will try that.

All of the above... minus the stuff about TV programs, cellphones, dinner... is a lesson about about backing up data and not doing something when you are in a snit about your computer. It's best to get help from someone, almost anyone, when something seems to be wrong with it..

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Post-trip burnout

It seems like you need a vacation after taking one. Just to recover. Except I don't really have vacations anymore... since I am retired... so I just go on trips from time to time. In any event, I am back and feeling a little exhausted.

Maybe that isn't the right word. Overwhelmed might be better. I have about 40 TV programs to catch up on (love/hate that DVR) and have only made a small dent. It might be a good thing that we are headed into the Season Finale season. When things start into re-runs, I can catch up. Maybe.

I have the following to watch:

Human Target
World at War
Spartacus: Blood and Sand
Criminal Minds
Penn & Teller
The Vicar of Dibley
After You've Gone

I obviously watch too much TV.

I also have a friend's computer to work on, a sick sister to visit, and a few other things that must be tended to.

If you need me, I'll be on the sofa...

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Oh. Look, a lot of barren desert!

Isn't nice to get home and sleep in one's own bed? Seems to me that way back when, as a young unmarried man, that was not my goal.

We arrived yesterday evening, worn out and not looking forward to unpacking the car. Get the car washed, pay a couple of bills, and then go play golf this afternoon... if it doesn't rain (which is predicted).

But I promised something about those Carlsbad Caverns, didn't I? Also the Petrified Forest in Arizona. We went to the Forest first, that being in Arizona and west of New Mexico and all. Basically, the Petrified Forest is desert. But once, eons ago, it was a lush tropical forest. The theory is that the trees were knocked down, or fell, and lay in water for a very long time. Silicates and minerals from volcanic eruptions fell and then embedded in the wood and replaced the wood, leaving us with rocks.

Let me quote:

The sky darkens and you are blasted by the wind and tiny shards of ash. Trees are leaning toward you, cracking at the base and crashing to the ground. In an instant, all is hot, flames surround you and the forest is laid out on the ground, trunks pointing towards the volcano. The wind slows down and a fine rain of water and ash follows the cloud. Small and large fragments of cooling lava fall from the sky, burying the trees with a blanket of ash.

Then all is still, the violence of the explosion gone, and more ash is falling, smaller now, from a high cloud from the rumbling distant volcano. For days and weeks, the eruption continues, with more layers of ash burying the prone forest. Streams erode the surface, depositing gravel in their channels. Glassy lava flows erupt from domes of sticky lava. For perhaps a million years, more eruptions lay down ash, lava flows and ash with glass so hot that it is welded into hard layers.

Time passes and you remain buried with the rotting logs of the forest. The ground is now saturated with water containing dissolved silicon and oxygen, or silica, from the overlying ash. This silica is present in molecular form, as any submicroscopic particles which are carried down by water through the ash toward the buried forest. One by ones the molecules of silica replace the molecules of the wood, turning wood to solid silica, solid quartz, solid stone.

How convenient for us, eh? Of course, one of the things I noticed was that there are very few, if any, segments of these trees that are splintered from being broken by natural causes. I mean trees fall after being hit by lightning, or are blasted by high winds (like from a volcanic eruption). But picture the results of Mt St. Helen's eruption.

These trees may eventually become like the ones in the desert. If certain other conditions occur.

Here are some pictures I took.

You can see the logs are segmented, almost as if sawn into smaller chunks.

After leaving the Petrified Forest, we headed east and stayed near Socorro, NM. Dinner was, of course, Mexican food at a decent restaurant whose name I cannot recall. The next morning, we arose and headed down US 380 off of I-25. This took us through some beautiful (and some ugly) back country and a decent clip. It took us through some low mountains and flat desert. And through Lincoln, "Billy The Kid" country, and down into Roswell. We saw no aliens from outer space. And headed south to the Caverns.

I was a little disappointed with the Caverns. I mean, they are impressive. And huge. But dark. Very dark. And that meant my pictures were poor. You see, the camera I currently use is very limited. It's just a point and shoot digital and does a poor job at that. You can see much better by doing a Google Image search for Carlsbad Caverns. Or just click on this link (which saves you typing it out). Those pictures are much better than mine and they are even better than what you see inside the caverns. In terms of color and such. The caverns are quite dark, under-lit. Possibly on purpose. To get shots like the link shows, you'd have to either add some lighting (color tinted, I think), and have no tourists jostling by so you could set up a tri-pod and take the shots in the available lighting.

My best effort is:

I cannot compete with the professionals on this.

We were exhausted from hiking through the caverns but got back on the road and headed southeast through the great American Desert to Ft Stockton, Tx and I-10. We continued east until we reached Ozono and spent the night there.

More thoughts tomorrow... I think.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Award Controversy Erupts!

A major upset has occurred! In spite of the early returns giving the award for worst drivers, a new entrant has emerged threatening to take the award from Houston. That's right, it appears that the state of Louisiana's drivers have staged a major slowdown and snarl in an attempt to take the top spot. This is amazing, folks, Interstate 12 (a small bypass that allows sane people to avoid New Orleans, was barely moving today for an hour for no apparent reason!

Yet there was no accident, no mangled cars along the roadway, no overturned tractor-trailer rig, no bodies lying in the highway, nothing, nada, zip! Just a seemingly endless pair of traffic lanes with cars barely moving except at one exit ramp (where people appeared to be bailing out in droves and which your reporter on the scene missed). A check of the local radio stations turned up a rumor of an accident somewhere in the area but, as I have already reported, there was no debris, no damaged cars or trucks, and no accident.

Amazingly, the traffic miraculously began moving again after that hour. Right back up to insane speeds after passing nothing whatsoever.

Yes, I think we have a legitimate contender here with the random Louisiana driver...

Faye says I should give mention of the new technique of slowing to pass trucks. Yes, that right. The overtaking car or pickup, approaching the semi at a rate of 5 or more MPH over the target's speed will slow down to just barely above the target's speed and sometimes even slows to the same exact speed!

I do not call these drivers clusterers anymore, they are now officially called "bitter clingers".

I know I promised a piece on the Carlsbad Caverns, with pictures, but it will have to wait until tomorrow at least. I will, at that time, toss in (at no extra charge) a review of the Petrified Forest.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

And the award goes to...

First, let's go over the category.

The worst drivers in an urban environment.

This award is a tribute to the aggressiveness, the indifference to danger, the desire to get into the lane you want, and the need to be the Leader of the Pack.

This was a tough call. I mean, you have the New York cabbie, the Los Angeles coke-snorting texting (maybe even sexting) teen in a hopped up Toyota with an out of control accelerator, the little old lady (or man) barely able to see over the steering wheel of the 20 year old caddy wandering lost in Miami, the Hummer driver running over his neighbor's Prius to get on the Interstate first in the morning commute just about anywhere in the US on a weekday morning.

But these are all wimps compared to the Houston Hustlers on any given day, including weekends.

They run the gamut of the stereotypical drivers I described above. And they toss in a certain aggressiveness and bull-riding technique native to the Texas male (and, apparently, female). And some of them engage in clustering at the same time.

So they win hands down.

It is impossible to travel through Houston on any day. The signs are incredibly cryptic, leaving you to guess if you are even on the right interstate. And, even when you can make sense of the sign, you will likely find yourself in the wrong lane and jammed up so bad, you will miss your exit. On the toll roads which supposedly bypass the stress of going through downtown, if you do not have something called an "EZ Tag", you are delegated "All Others" and funneled down to two lanes if you do not have the correct change (in coins) for a toll you only get to learn about 100 yards from the booths.

What a wonderful experience!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Up Till Now

Let's catch up, shall we? The journey began in Sebring (that's in Florida... an obscure part of Florida where, I hope, no one else wants to live), had a stop over in Biloxi, MS, with a free night at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino then to a chilly night in San Antonio. The next morning we headed out in a slight, but cold, drizzle which turned into snow flurries... which turned into slush... which was thrown up on Faye's Buick by semi's which we had to pass because they are required to travel 10 mph slower than cars. And they are miserable to be behind anyway.

The weather was so bad, it changed our plans to visit Carlsbad Caverns (and Roswell) in New Mexico. And so we ended up in San Diego a couple of days earlier than we expected. The weather in San Diego was also poor. Rainy, mostly, more than usual. The temperatures were tolerable, almost pleasant... even for this Florida boy. And the rain held off one day to allow me to play a round of golf at one of my old favorites. Unfortunately, other circumstances prevented me from playing another full round.

And then it was off to Las Vegas where I managed to get in a miserable round at a poor quality course, break even gambling, and break my cell phone.

Now, in spite of the whining of the casino owners in Las Vegas, there seems to be a lot of construction going on and many, many changes. Some rather odd buildings have popped up in recent years. Like these crooked ones....

Here's a closeup showing the heli-pad on the roof.

After a fine Mexican dinner with Tony of My Life as I See It and another fine Mexican dinner with Larry and Shirley at Willie and Jose's Cantina in Sam's Town Casino, we left Las Vegas behind and headed back east. After wending our way down past Boulder Dam and down onto I-40 East, we found ourselves heading for the Grand Canyon. I had never been there before. Faye had been there as a child, even taking a donkey ride down into the canyon. Not this time, we stayed up on the rim, visiting a few vista points. The views are remarkably different while, strangely, being remarkably similar.

So, I took a few pictures.

Yes, the white stuff on the other side is snow. It was cold.

I also had a pleasant surprise when purchasing entry into the park. First, we now pay to visit the National Parks (which we "own" and pay to staff and maintain as citizens of this country). Second, that since I am an "oldie", I get a senior pass which allows me into any National Park for free. That pass cost me $10 and never expires. the (rather young) ranger who sold me that pass emphasized that with a stern look.

The colors in the photos don't compare with what the eye picks up. And I am using an inexpensive camera that isn't suited to this type of scenic photography.

To prove we were actually there (and maybe that it was cold), here are a couple of shots:

Faye's scowl is because she thought I might push her off the edge.

That is one handsome senior citizen!

Tomorrow we head for the Carlsbad Caverns.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A Meeting at Don Juan's

Today is more a restaurant review than a musing. Though I suppose it could be a musing about a restaurant since that might be what a review is, after all.

Tony suggested a place called Casa Don Juan*, a Mexican restaurant near downtown Las Vegas. He worried that I would not find the food all that good. Why, I do not know. It was excellent! Faye had, as is her wont, ala carte items; a taco, a tamale, and an enchilada. I had Carnitas Puerco minus the pico de gallo. I don't know what Tony had, I was too busy enjoying my food. If you ever get to Las Vegas (and you will, I am sure), you need to find your way to 1204 S. Main St and bring an empty stomach. You will love it if you like Mexican food at all. And, by Mexican food, I do not mean Taco Bell!

Tony and I chatted about blogging; why we do it, whether we feel we are being read, why no one seems to comment (comments are the bloggers' applause), other blogs (all of which we feel outdo us), Facebook, online games (he does it some, I do it not at all), family, places we've lived, places we would like to see or have seen, how I managed to break my cell phone, how Tony manages to lose his, etc. In other words, we tried to learn everything about each other in a short period of time.

Yet, it came time to part. An awkward time, I think, when you feel the conversation is interesting and might go on for hours more but that it is also time to retreat and consider things that were said and also to get back to the purpose of Vegas... to gamble. Faye was less interested in the conversation since she does not blog and rarely reads even mine. After all, she gets quite enough of my musings first hand. Her thing is silly little computer games that involve feeding fish or finding relics in a picture. Opposites do attract... thankfully.

Tony and I said our good-byes in the chilly parking lot (Las Vegas in Winter can be cold) and he said he needed to hurry home to read my blog and maybe to read Pearl's which I urged him to peruse... Another fan for you, Pearl, I suspect. And I waited till just now to read Badass Geek, Tony's recommendation. (Ever notice how we trade tips, hints, and recommendations?) I am impressed... another candidate for my blog roll (OBTR Other Blogs To Read).

Tony, I enjoyed the evening. You are quite the guy, a good host, and your blog reflects your heart. We should do it again when Faye and I return to Vegas (we always do, at least once a year).

A thought came to me this morning... a Blogger's convention. One for the non-commercial, casual, day to day life bloggers. All I need now is someone else to plan it, organize it, and pull it off. Because, if you've been reading my blog, you know I'll never get around to it.

* Do not believe the reviewer's comment about the Guacamole, it was great and had a bite to it. Perhaps, they read the review and re-worked the recipe

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Let's see... what else can I break?

The first full day in Las Vegas had some interesting twists and turns. Nothing went as planned.

First, the weather was bad. Cold, blustery, with a bit of rain (though hardly worth mentioning). Still, I headed for the golf course because it has already been established that I am addicted to the game. Not really a problem, I have played in worse conditions and I had a sweatshirt in addition to the hoodie so I was warm enough. I hit a few balls to warm up, putted a little on the practice green to get a feel for the greens, and headed for the first tee. There was a couple, man and wife, already there so I asked if they minded some company. They didn't, of course. Even if they had, they would have not said so. It's a golf thing.

We (the men) played from the back tees, something I am usually loathe to do since I just do not hit it that far. But I figured, what the heck? The man, who happened to also have the name of "Doug" (making it easy to remember), did not hit it all that far either so I wondered why he wanted to play from the longest tees. Being polite, I did not ask...

"Say, you really don't hit it well enough to play from the back tees, why are you torturing yourself (and me)?"

No, that would have been rude.

The woman (let's call her "Becky" since that was her name) hit the ball about 120 yards at her best. She played from the front (or "ladies") tees. It did not help her game. She was not all that good overall. I got the impression it was a togetherness thing.

By the ninth hole, I was sorry I had joined them. It was not that they weren't pleasant to be around, they were, they just were not having a good day and it was beginning to affect my game. Which does not need any discouragement.

When they went into the clubhouse for refreshments after the 9th hole, I kept playing. Though my game was already doomed.

My day already not going well, I finished up, cursed my ability, put my bag in the trunk of the car, placed my cell phone on the bumper while I swapped out the golf shoes for street shoes. When it came time to close the trunk lid, I had conveniently forgotten to pick up the cell phone. The lid bounced after hitting it. The phone ceased working.


Meanwhile, I had been playing phone tag with Larry (a friend who lives with his wife, Shirley, in Vegas after retiring from the Phone Company) and with Tony, a fellow blogger who also lives here and who had expressed an interest in getting together. Why I cannot imagine, but he has not met me yet. He may feel it was a mistake.

I explained to Larry and to Tony, over the hotel phone, that I had inadvertently destroyed my cell phone and that was why I had not been returning their calls and that I wasn't ignoring them, just a klutz. Then made arrangements with each to meet for dinner; Tony tonight, Larry tomorrow. Mexican food both nights. I have laid in an extra supply of antacids.

And off I went to find an at&t wireless store where I learned that having a Gophone account, all I needed to do was to buy a new Gophone at a Wal-Mart or Target store and put my SIM card from the damaged phone into the new one. And then they directed me to the nearest Wal-Mart where I purchased a new phone.

Just to my left, that new phone (now with old SIM card installed) is happily charging away. Let's hope the thing works once it is done, shall we?

Cross country trips are such adventures, aren't they?

Monday, March 8, 2010

Are you sleeping?

There are many things which pass through one's mind while driving to Las Vegas from San Diego. Some of them actually have nothing to do with the idiots driving all around you. I don't recall those thoughts.

Some of the common driving traits of southern Californians seem to revolve around a phenomenon I call clustering. Clustering happens when three or more random cars begin traveling at about the same speed. It seems to happen naturally. One car might be traveling along, minding his own business, at about the speed limit. Another car may approach from behind, or approach from an on-ramp, and sync his speed with the first. Then another, and often, another or several others will join the first two. These cars will comprise a cluster. Occasionally, rogues or loners will approach the cluster, work their way through it and continue forward to the next cluster where they will thread their way through that one or, sometimes, join it.

It bothers me when I find myself the starting vehicle of a cluster. I would prefer to ride the empty space between them. It's an old habit I developed while using a motorcycle as a primary means of transportation. The more space between myself and any other cars on the road, the better.

One side effect of this tendency to cluster is the propensity to slow down while passing on the freeway. That is, a faster car approaches from behind and as they near another car will slow to almost, but not quite, the speed of that car. This is also something I find annoying. I may refrain from moving to the fast lane to pass the car I amraidly approaching because I see another car coming up fast in that lane. But that faster car gradually slows until it is moving only a couple of miles faster than the car we both wish to pass. End result? I must slow and wait until the once-faster car creeps by and I can move in behind him and then slowly pass the target car.

Sometimes, yet another car (or cars) will move up in that lane and I will find I must wait even longer while that line passes me.

All of this falls under the broad category of mindless driving. There is another aspect of this involving cruise control. The offender sets his cruise control at, say, 2 or 3 miles per hour above the posted limit. This is not, by itself, a problem. I sometimes do this myself. The problem manifests when the driver of said car does not, regardless of the cars behind him, speed up to pass a car he has pulled alongside of.

This mindless driving is really only a problem during cross-country journeys. Or any extended driving in the desert.

Which is just what I was doing today for about 4 hours...

And I didn't even mention the Nervous Nellies who slow down below the speed limit because they see a police car pulled over on the side of the road.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

This just in...

I like to get my news on the web. Yes, I know not everything published is fact. Or even close. At least at first. But that is the same as the other, more traditional, news outlets. I long ago learned never to trust initial reports.

Take the Balloon Boy story, for example. It had the country (and a fair portion of the world) glued to TV sets for hours trying to learn the fate of the boy supposedly trapped in a balloon racing across the Colorado landscape.

A hoax, of course, and obvious in hindsight. I was, as I am by nature, skeptical of the premise that a child of 6 could have climbed into the small compartment and somehow securely latched the door behind him (since such a compartment usually doesn't have any inside handles). So I claim my interest was based solely on learning when the news organizations would catch on.

Today, I learned of the Justice Roberts retirement rumor . It apparently went from initial exposure to stories about how rumors fly about on the internet well before I learned about it.

Which might mean I have gotten out of touch...

Friday, March 5, 2010

A Golf Controversy

The following was written some weeks ago while a small tiff was brewing over this "issue" at a tournament in San Diego. I am lazy and didn't feel like thinking hard this morning so I just grabbed this. Hope you don't mind

Can you imagine controversy in golf? I am not talking about the arguments over how many mistresses can fit in the back of a Buick Enclave either. It all about the groove. And wedges. And what clubs are legal.

Even the infidel (non-golfer) can appreciate the nuances involved. It's all about the spirit versus the letter of the law. It's also about something called fairness, a vague concept meaning different things to different people. Mostly having to do with whether you think you can win or lose.

And the physical difference made by the new rule is about millimeters, maybe micrometers. A barely discernible difference in the width of the grooves on the face of a golf iron. Well, and the shape of those grooves.

To understand why this makes a difference, you might find a degree in physics useful. Or play the game of golf well enough to potentially earn millions of dollars. For the average golfer, it means nothing whatsoever. You see, the grooves help provide something called "backspin" with the ball. Most players, roughly 95%, have no familiarity with that phenomena. Some of us can create backspin on a ball but not with any real consistency. I can only do this with a cue ball. If my golf ball has backspin, it is purely by accident. Backspin helps stop the ball when it lands on the green. It also can make the ball back up from where it lands. This is very helpful. If you can make it back up, you can also (theoretically) make it stop or go forward once it lands. It means you are capable of controlling the action of the ball. I, of course, simply try to hit the ball in the general direction of the green and hope for the best. Control means, for me, not wetting myself in excitement when I hit a good shot.

In any event, the new rule has made it more difficult to do this. and it is causing quite a stir on the professional tour. A lot of the stir has to do with a certain brand of club made before 1990 that has been deemed legal to play even though its grooves are non-conforming to the new rule. The pros change clubs like most of us change underwear. Hopefully on a regular basis. The odds of them having such old clubs are astronomical. Especially if they were born after 1985. This is where that fairness issue pops up. Not everyone has access to those clubs.

I think the issue of fairness is silly. We are not equal. Even the pros are not equal. In size, in power, in finesse, humans are inherently unequal. And they use clubs made by different manufacturers. Each manufacturer claims some unique edge which provides straighter shots or more distance. And the various golf ball makers claim better this or that. If these players were really interested in fairness and having an equal chance on the golf course, they'd demand that all players would use the very same set of clubs. And balls. And then it would only be a matter of talent.

Think they'd agree to that?

Neither do I.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Ad hoc post

Today was supposed to be a planned out day, or afternoon actually, of touristy stuff. Specifically, a tour of the fine US Navy ship the USS Midway CV-41. But that, of course, fell through. Faye says it looked like rain (hah! Rain? In San Diego? Surely you josh!). But I see no rain.

"Tomorrow," She says, "we'll go tomorrow." Thereby cleverly denying me a fine day for golf (though maybe I can sneak out in the early morning hours...)

Yesterday, I was to get in a round at a executive course down by Mission Bay whilst Faye and her mother deal with taxes involving the trust for her mother's long time companion who passed away last year. Her mom was left with everything to clean up; sell his house, distribute the estate, etc. So Faye, being a clever and accomplished (and now retired) tax person volunteered to assist her mom in dealing with the tax issues.

But I digress, this was about my alleged game yesterday. I dropped them off at the tax preparer's office where they expected to spend the next few hours dealing with the taxes and I went off (jauntily, I might add) to the little exec course down by Mission Bay. Faye was to call me on my cell when they were through and I would come back to pick them up. An exec course takes maybe 2.5 hours to get around, usually less, so it was supposed to work out just fine.

As with all well laid plans of mice, men, and golfers, a snag appeared. As I was walking up to the fifth green, the cell phone begins ringing (and vibrating). Who could this be? I asked myself, knowing full well who it was and refraining from answering with an expletive deleted offending word.

It was Faye. The guy had shooed them from the office with excuses of other work that must be done and promises of having it ready by Friday morning, maybe Thursday afternoon, and cooed, "when could you pick us up?"

Bravely holding back the tears and profanity, I told my love that I was at her beck and call and would just like to finish the front nine, if my Mistress would not mind?


So, there we have it. And, now, I have just been tapped to make a taco run to a Roberto's to fetch some lunch. So I don't even get to properly finish this post.

Which explains its title...

ad hoc

  1. for this particular purpose
  2. special
  3. created on the spur of the moment, impromptu

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Conversational Walks Down Memory Lane

Last evening, Faye and I met with some friends we knew while we lived in Manassas, VA. Actually, I knew Rick from a period where I was going through some extensive training for my job back in 1977. Ellen, his wife, came into the picture later.

We met at a class in Baltimore and hit it off immediately. Not sure why, exactly, but we just "clicked". The training took place over a period of close to 6 months and involved traveling to Chicago, Columbus (OH), and Atlanta. For much of that time, we lived out of suitcases and in motels and hotels of varying quality and learned the ins and outs of air travel as we were fed knowledge about the Phone Company's latest and greatest long distance switching system.

We had a number of adventures during that half year, Rick and I, most of which involved alcohol and a willingness to flout rules of conduct. We challenged and dared each other, we played a lot of golf, we disrupted our training classes as much as humanly possible without getting fired, and prowled a lot of bars. We bonded as friends.

When the training ended, we continued our friendship. I visited him in Richmond a few times, he visited me in San Diego once. We kept in touch by phone, there being no internet in those days. Over the years, our individual lives changed, in similar ways. Rick met Ellen and divorced his first wife. I separated from my first wife, met Faye while in a 4 year journey to divorce and finally married her. Rick and Ellen lived in Richmond, Va., and helped with my transition when I transferred out to Virginia in 1986. We started to lose contact when I transferred down to Jacksonville in February of 1988.

We lost most contact (though it had dwindled to Christmas cards already) by the time Rick and Ellen moved to the Bay Area (San Francisco, Ca) in the late 90's. We would get those canned form letters each Christmas (transformed later into emails) which were mass-mailed, it seems. Rick had retired early from AT&T when Ellen got that job in San Francisco and they moved to Baja, Mexico, when she retired a couple of years ago.

So, here we were some 23 years later. We did the usual ritual that humans do... we gathered around food and drink. We chatted about old times, we brought each other up to date on our lives, we spoke about our respective towns, about old friends we'd known who had passed away.

We reminisced.

And drank a bit. But not nearly so much as we once did. We told each other we hadn't changed... much... just grayer and Rick was balding a bit (but not that much). The truth was suppressed. Things we used to talk about, like politics, were avoided. But now we talked about cholesterol levels, diet, and exercise. Those were never subjects of our youth. We talked about parents who have passed away or are approaching those assisted living years. We talked about children who are approaching, or arriving in, middle age. We bragged about grandchildren (well, I did anyway).

We've become our parents.

Still, we made tentative plans to meet again sometime, to visit Rick and Ellen in Mexico (maybe next year), to have them visit us the next time they come to Tampa... all plans which may never play out.

We are getting older.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

An Epiphany on Man

There is a website, which I mentioned the other day, that advocates that all people simply stop breeding with the goal of eventual extinction. At first, I took it as satirical. An extreme and humorous response to ecological extremism. A spoof, perhaps.

I have changed my mind. They appear to be serious. Very serious. Even though they take a light-hearted approach.

When I was younger, just after I exited the Navy, I drove up to the San Francisco area to visit a former Navy buddy. At one point, while we were on a hill overlooking the city from just north of the Golden Gate bridge, Jay went into a rant (he tended to do that a lot) about the population explosion and how that was the key issue in combating pollution. I was, at the time, just beginning to formulate my belief that we should abandon all attempts to minimize pollution. You might say I am an extreme naturist. I'll blog about that sometime, I suppose. Consider this a related post.

Anyway, Jay felt that population control was the key. After all, limiting the number of people would result in a limitation of pollution. Limit the population to zero growth rate and you will eventually, through technological advancement, reduce pollution to levels tolerable by all species. How to achieve that level of population control was not something Jay had thought out.

I don't think Jay, being a free spirit type, would approve of the Chinese one child policy. In fact, his liberal leanings were centered around a more anarchist view of government. He was pretty much opposed to any government intervention in his life. So there is little chance he endorsed a governmental answer to the population explosion.

Jay's outlook probably came from the changes to his beloved Bay Area during his time in the Navy. Similar things happened to most of us. While we were away from "home" (wherever that happened to be), growth happened. Neighborhoods grew, shopping malls popped up like mushrooms, roads were built, towns expanded into cities, cities into metropolises (metropoli?), and we felt alien when we returned to our home towns.

I think Jay had just read Paul Erlich's The Population Bomb . Jay was easily influenced. Especially by radical ideas that prophesied doom. I was a little more skeptical than jay. But, then, I have always been that way. Erlich was wrong, of course, especially about the starvation and food wars in the 70's and 80's.

It was at this point in my life where I began to realize that homo sapiens was a parasitic life form. It's quite clear when you think about it. We draw on the resources of the planet and its life for our own needs. We are outside of the food chain. We even do our best to avoid even returning our meager nutrients to the eco-sysytem.

We may just be the most successful parasite to ever exist on the planet.

Monday, March 1, 2010

A Glimpse into Past Futures

Yesterday I mentioned some NIMBY types. Opposed to a wind turbine, they were. I am sure they are also opposed to a coal fired plant and any sort of air polluting power sources. Yet, I am also pretty sure they are demanding more power, more electricity, and cheaper too. Along with cars that roar down the road like Corvettes while sipping gas like a Prius. And don't we all?

I mean, think about it... we want everything and at an affordable price. I know I do and, if you'll be honest, so do you. A $10,000 electric car that'll go from 0-60 in 4.4 seconds and carry 5 adults comfortably with room for golf clubs (gotta have them golf clubs) and go 600 miles between recharges. You'd jump on that, wouldn't you? I know I would. Did I mention those recharges should only take 5 minutes?

Well, it just ain't gonna happen, is it? That doesn't make us not want it, though. And get angry that we can't have it. Angry at government. Angry at OPEC. Angry at France. Not that France has anything to do with this.

And while we're at it, why can't we have planes that will carry 300 but only carry 150 on any trip? And tickets to anywhere should only cost $99 round-trip.

As I was driving across the country, I began thinking about all those things that were promised (sort of) back in my youth. Yes, I know the 50's were a long time ago and everyone was much dumber then (no cell phones or computers in the home or internet, etc) but they still promised us stuff and we believed them.

Domed cities with year round perfect temperatures. Highways with embedded guides that took over the steering and speed of your car so you could nap or play cards with your passengers until you reached your destination and were gently reminded that you needed to re-take control of the car. Personal airplanes (flying cars, actually) so you didn't even have to bother with those wonderful highways.

Of course, they also promised nuclear power plants would mean flat rate electricity bills and everything would be clean and efficient. And we'd all be happy and productive.

I remember this stuff. None of it has come true. Instead we have cellphones so people can annoy us while we eat at restaurants or interrupt music concerts. Our cars are getting smaller and more expensive while our gas prices keep going up. And just wait until we all have electric cars and we plug them all in at 6 PM each weekday night and watch the lights blink out all over our cities. I won't mention just how much more our electricity will cost us.

The future will never be what we imagine.