Saturday, December 22, 2012

A Short Note On The Road Ahead

Well, we're all still here.  Most of us anyway.  No giant comet.  No massive solar flares.  No huge UFOs hovering over major population centers.  Whew!  If our luck holds out maybe the groundhog won't see his shadow on February 2nd.  I did hear of some end timers planning to jump off a mountain in Argentina, but I suspect maybe even they had second thoughts when the time came. 
I'm not suggesting that all is right with the world.  It certainly is not.  Actually,  things seem to be getting worse.  And I'm not making light of the fact that we need a change.  We certainly do. So, rather than being the end, let's all hope this is a beginning.  A beginning of a major shift in consciousness and awareness.  A beginning of a time when people will realize that we just can't go on like this, and decide to do something about it.  It has to start with each one of us individually.  Even if it's just small random acts of kindness.  We are hearing about more and more of these all the time.  Let's hope it's a trend.  Which may become a movement.  Which may become a way of life.  Wouldn't it be great if millions of people suddenly realized that we should be more tolerant, more forgiving and just stop hurting each other?  I really do believe that leading by example makes a difference.  If someone sees an act of kindness, or hears a positive message or words of encouragement, or notices people helping each other in any way - the observer can't help but be affected by it in a good way.  So let's all try to not only be a light, but also a flame.  A flame that sparks something in people so that they will be inspired and in turn want to inspire others,  Not toward their own beliefs or values, but simply toward the greater good and benefit of everyone everywhere. 


Perhaps the Hopi are right when they say "We are the ones we've been waiting for."


-0-

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The 30 Minute Cure

S.A.D. - Seasonal Affective Disorder.  I have it.  Like a lot of people, every winter I go through periods of melancholy where my energy level sinks and I just feel a little down.  I'm not really depressed.  It's more like an occasional case of the wintertime blues.  There's a song called Summertime Blues but I can't believe there really is such a thing.  Who could get the blues in summer?  But, winter?  Yeah.  I'm certain it happens all the time to lots of people.  The days are shorter so there is less sunlight.  The grass is brown, the trees are bare, skies are gray, and on many days it's just too cold to do anything.  All that sounds depressing.  But in my case it's more due to the fact that I don't do anything in winter.  I don't have a snowmobile.  Can't ski.  Too old to snowboard.  Skating would likely result in moderate to serious injury.  So I end up indoors a lot, which is exactly the opposite of my summers.

But I've found a cure!  And it's only about 30 minutes away.  That's how long it takes to find a scene that makes you realize there's beauty all around, even in...as Paul Simon wrote... "a deep and dark December."


I am very fortunate to live in an area that offers such a wealth of beauty and amazing scenery in all seasons.  And so much of it is only about 30 minutes from my front door.  Here's another view I noticed on my recent short road trip ---


Scenes like this are all around, no matter what part of the country you live in.  And, with the right kind of eye, you can find them on almost any day.  Sometimes you don't even need 30 minutes.  Sometimes it's only 3 minutes away ---


I took this photo at dusk yesterday a few blocks from my house.  I love the simple beauty of this tribute to the season, and look forward to seeing it every year.  It's somehow reassuring.  A comforting sign that warms my heart and reminds me that Christmas is near. 
So, when you get a touch of the winter blues, go for a short drive or even a short walk and keep your eyes peeled.  Even when it seems like there is none, there really is beauty all around us.  Look a little closer.  You'll see it.  And you may just get healed.

                                                                                    -0-

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Black Friday on Thursday

First, a few questions.  If it's called Black Friday, why does it start on Thursday?  And, why is it called Black Friday anyway?  Doesn't 'Black' imply that it's a bad thing?  So, I went looking for some answers and here's what I found on Wikipedia:   The day's name originated in Philadelphia, where it originally was used to describe the heavy and disruptive pedestrian and vehicle traffic which would occur on the day after Thanksgiving. Use of the term started before 1961 and began to see broader use outside Philadelphia around 1975. Later an alternative explanation began to be offered: that "Black Friday" indicates the point at which retailers begin to turn a profit, or are "in the black".
I guess that explains the name, but what about this Thursday thing?  Nobody seemed to have a reason for the early start this year, other than the fact that retailers like to invent  new ways to make money.  Nothing wrong with that, but how far can they take it?  Next year we could see a 'Green Wednesday' to symbolize the color of money. 
Since I'm not about to get up at 4 a.m. to go shopping, as has been required on past Black Fridays, I decided to take advantage of the early sales starting at 8 p.m. on Thursday this year.  It was my chance to observe in person the madness that I've been hearing about all these years.  My first stop was the local Kmart.  Sorry.  It's Big K now.  (But it's still Kmart to me).  This was the scene that greeted me as I pulled up to the store ---
I'm not sure how long the guy in the chair had been there.  Obviously a long time since he was first in line.  There must have been a Super Doorbuster deal on a 60 inch TV because I don't think they would all be waiting in 26 degree weather and 30 mph winds to get first crack at a toaster for $4.99.
The scene was quite different down the road at Walmart.  Everyone was allowed to come inside to form the lines.  But you had to choose your department and the deal you wanted most.  If you wanted a Blu-Ray player AND new sheets, well, that's what family is for I guess.  Divide and conquer.  I decided to take my viewing post in what was previously the produce section.  Right in there with the tomatoes and onions were displays of DVDs, video games, and accessories for Nintendo, Wii and Xbox 360, all wrapped tightly in clear plastic waiting to be let loose on the hoards of anxious shoppers. When the time came, a Walmart employee moved in to cut the wrapping and that's when the madness began.  The people with a plan seemed to make out best.  Like the ones who swooped up as many games as possible with both hands then ducked behind the battery display to rummage through their loot and keep only the ones they actually wanted.  The others were discarded for those who were less aggressive to sift through like last year's toys.  I felt bad for one kid who finally wormed his way in close enough to reach for a prize, but instead of an Xbox 360 controller all he came up with was a red bell pepper.   And those weren't even on sale.
I had heard stories of people acting badly during these type of events, but I didn't really see any of that.  I saw a lot of smiles on a lot of faces, and people generally seemed to be in a pretty good mood.
But, for those of you who were hoping for tales of mayhem, I will provide a link at the bottom of this page to some of the worst Black Friday disasters, including the Waffle Riot.  
After my Big Box Store adventure I decided to drive downtown and see what might be going on.  What I found there was...nothing.
But 'nothing' was what I was hoping for.  And it just seemed right.  It was actually a peaceful and calming experience in stark contrast to what I had just experienced.  So I wandered the streets, window shopping, thinking about what I might want to buy tomorrow on the real Black Friday.  And when Friday arrived I went back downtown,  a little after 9,  and found everything I wanted.  At a good price, too.  I realize there really are some great deals in those big stores during these crazy sales and would never criticize anyone for taking part.  It's just not my thing.  I like the personality of the smaller independent retailers.  It's in those stores that you can actually have a conversation with someone who knows their products, perhaps even the owner, and who is actually glad to see you come in.  
Oh, one more thing, and this might be a good lead-in to the link that follows --- I overheard two guys talking while waiting for the sale to start at Walmart.  One asked the other if he was going to try for the new Call of Duty game for PS3.  His friend replied with a bit of what is probably good advice,  "No.  I don't want to mess with the Gamers." 

Here's that link.  Caution - If you might be offended by certain "colorful" language and some violence I would urge you to go to lolcats.com instead.


                                                                            -0-
                 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Election Day!


Big day today.  For all of us.  I hope everyone will take the time to get out and vote.  I've been a little concerned about how deeply divided the country seems to be this time around.  And, even though tempers may flare and harsh words may be spoken, don't let yourself be drawn into any silly arguments.  We'll all be fine if we just keep a couple of things in mind...
1.  Stay calm.
2.  Be nice.
One other thing that seems to work in most situations is injecting a little humor into the subject.
I'll start with a few of my favorites from this year's campaign.
 



Oh come on!  You must admit these are funny.  Humor helps lighten the mood in tense situations.
Does anybody remember Pat Paulsen?  He was the deadpan commentator on the old Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour whose campaign for president was a huge hit in 1968.  He continued to run every four years up until the mid-90s when failing health caused him to stop what turned out to be the longest running comedy skit in history.   Check out this classic clip that puts a unique perspective on the phrase "two-faced" and on how so many politicians are masters at speaking out of both sides of their mouths:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3oiQhhdz8ys

As Larry the Cable Guy would say, "Now that's funny right there."  You might even say it was a little ahead of it's time.  So lighten up people!  And, when this is all over don't act like a spoiled little kid if your side doesn't win.  I know it's not easy, but we really do need to find a way to come together and get things back on the right track.  For all our sake, and for the sake of those still too young to understand what this thing called "politics" is all about. 

                                                                         -0-



Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Ghosts of Halloween Past

It was on a night like this, 41 years ago...
If I ever decide to write a book or even a short story, this is how it would begin.  Except the actual opening line would be  It was on a night like this, thirteen years ago...  The number thirteen adds a dramatic touch don't you think?   But this is a true story so I decided to make it as accurate as possible, considering it was a long time ago and my recollection is a little fuzzy.  Halloween, 1971.  A day that lives on in the legend of the Class of '73.  Myself and a group of my classmates, who shall remain anonymous, decided we would go out and cause a little mischief on Halloween that year.   I suppose I could mention some of their nicknames, but in the interests of good taste and due to the fact that some of the nicknames back then could now be considered - how should I put it - inappropriate?  Especially to those outside our group who didn't know the inside stories.  We certainly didn't plan on anyone getting hurt that night.  But, as we all know, stuff happens.  And I must report that, in fact, injuries did occur.

One of the guys had access to a plain old cargo van that we decided would be the perfect form of transportation for the evening and would fit in quite well with our plans.  This was no Mystery Machine by any stretch of the imagination, and we weren't anything like Shaggy, Fred, Velma or Daphne.  Well, there was one person who was kind of like Shaggy, but that's a story for later.

No, our van was more like...well...like this

It did have cargo doors on one side that swung open.  That's an important detail, as you will soon find out.  We called it "The War Wagon,"  and stocked it with dozens of raw eggs.  We were all hiding in the windowless cargo area with only the driver being visible.  The plan was to pull up next to unsuspecting victims, throw the doors open and all jump out, egg our target, jump back in the van and speed off into the dark of night.  Ok, look, I'm not particularly proud of this phase in my life, but it's the kind of stuff we did back then.  If it's any consolation we only chose victims we knew.  Mostly other classmates.  We spared normal citizens from the mayhem.  Not necessarily out of kindness.  I would say it was more out of fear of arrest, conviction and possible jail time. 
So, the War Wagon was on the prowl.  After several successful surprise attacks we spotted another target.  We soon realized our mistake, but it was too late.  We had bombarded a car full of seniors.  Not senior citizens, mind you.  The kind of seniors that were on the football team, with a couple of them being rather large. And they weren't happy about this turn of events.  We took off with them in hot pursuit.  It was the driver of our van, another guy in the passenger seat and the rest of us on the floor in the back.  The Senior Deathmobile was closing in when our driver decided it would be a good move to take the chase out of town onto a gravel road in hopes of having a better chance to lose our pursuers.  As it turns out that was not a wise decision.  We had to be going at least 40 mph, on loose gravel, when we came to an intersection with only two choices - right or left.  Straight ahead meant the driver going through a fence into a field and unknown consequences.  So, he locked up the brakes and attempted a hard left turn.  We went into a skid, tipped up on two wheels, then rolled completely over with the side doors swinging open in the process.  When we came to a stop the van was upright and the two persons in the front of the vehicle were still there, but I was the only left in the back.  I was sitting upright against one side looking out the open doors across from me.  I remember my first thought and the most important thing to me as I sat there motionless was, "I lost my glasses, where are my glasses?"  (Funny how such trivial things take on such importance in a crisis situation). I felt around and found them, then crawled out to see who else survived.  The other guys were wandering around dazed and confused,  trying to find out who was hurt and make sure everyone was accounted for.  After a few minutes the consensus was that everyone was present and, unbelievably, no one was injured!  Oh, and those seniors did stop long enough to make sure nobody was seriously hurt, then they took off to avoid talking to 5-0 who were surely on their way.  We were not exactly operating in stealth mode that night so we were sure someone must have reported us by now.  We were standing there when we heard a strange sound, like someone moaning.  Then somebody called our attention to the fact that one of us was missing after all.  Man down!  We all started looking around the road and in the ditch until we found him.  It was (name withheld to protect the not-so-innocent), lying in the road about 30 feet behind us.  His leg was obviously broken.  How did we not notice him missing right away?  I still feel bad about that to this very day.  It was only a short time later we saw the vehicles with flashing red lights off in the distance headed our way.  We hoped one of them was an ambulance.  Remember, this was before cell phones so we couldn't be sure who had called it in.  Fortunately an ambulance did arrive shortly, and our friend was loaded up and taken to the hospital.  His leg was badly broken.  The van must have rolled over it as he was ejected during the crash.  That was bad enough, but we were very lucky no one was hurt more seriously or even killed. 
Those were things we did back then on Halloween.  Throw eggs, soap windows and put wooden barricades on Main Street.  Stupid things.  But we thought it was fun.  I don't know why.  We just did.  Eventually, those traditions faded away.  It seems like there is not as much mischief that goes on these days.  And that's a good thing.  Fewer people get hurt that way. 
As a final disclaimer I will say "The events depicted in this story were the acts of a bunch of dumb kids.  Do not attempt."  Also - I will disavow any responsibility should a War Wagon make an appearance anywhere in the area this year.

                                                                                -0-

Monday, October 8, 2012

Pundit Road

All right, just this one time I will talk about politics.  Then no more.  I don't like politics.  And I don't like what it does to people.  So, as Christopher Walken's character in Joe Dirt said, "Who asked you? Did you hear me solicit your opinion? I don't think so."  Or was it in Wayne's World 2?  Actually, it might not have even been Christopher Walken who said it.  Doesn't matter.  The point is that nobody asked me but I'm going to talk about it anyway because things have gotten out of hand, and it's time for a reality check.

ELECTION DAY
A Day When Millions Of Americans Pretend To Vote
(verydemotivational.com)

The key word is "pretend."  In the 2008 presidential election only 54% of eligible citizens actually voted.  That's pretty bad.  Maybe it has something to do with the choice of candidates.  If that's the case the turnout this year will likely be even worse.  Barack Obama or Mitt Romney.  Really?  300 million people in this country and that's the best we can do?  Neither candidate is all bad.  They both have had some things to say that I like.  Too bad those things didn't relate to the economy or world affairs.  I'm talking about some great zingers.
Obama (talking about Romney's comments during a television interview about his ideas for creating jobs):
"It was a rerun. We'd seen it before. You might as well have watched it on a black-and-white TV.  With rabbit ears. On Nick at Night."   Well, it made me laugh anyway.
Or, Romney (referring to Bill Clinton):  "I spent four years as governor.  I didn't inhale."  Burn!

I know there are zealots, kool-aid drinkers and fanatics out there who think their candidate is the only one who can fix things.  They have a blind allegiance to somebody they really don't know. There are also very sincere people who prefer one candidate or the other because they honestly believe that person can turn things around.  Personally (and I don't think they necessarily start out this way) I believe all politicians at the national level, and in some cases even at the state level, at some point become self-serving egomaniacs whose main goal is getting re-elected.  And, unfortunately for us, they forget about doing what's right and concentrate on doing what's politcally correct and expediant. 
Whenever I mention this, the usual response is "Oh not my guy! He really cares. It's not his fault we're in this mess, it's all those other people."  I hate to break it to you but if your "guy" is in ... then he's part of the problem.  My thought is that we need to throw them all out of office.  Every single elected representative should be replaced as soon as possible.  What have we got to lose?  It's so tiresome and annoying to hear each political party blame the other, while taking no accountability or accepting any responsibility for the mess we're in.  
American author Richard Armour got it right when he said, "Politics for all too long has been concerned with right or left instead of right or wrong."  That needs to change.  And we're the only ones who can make that change.  But it's going to take a lot of effort and dedication.  Maybe we need to follow the advice of Howard Beale (Peter Finch) in the 1976 movie Network
"Things have got to change. But first, you've gotta get mad!... You've got to say, 'I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!' 
Remember, these people work for us.  It's time they start doing the job we elected them to do.  Otherwise, maybe it's time they gathered up their personal items and leave the building.

                                                                             -0- 


Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Long Way Around

/Geocaching is an outdoor recreational activity in which the participants use a Global Positioning System (GPS) or mobile device and other navigational techniques to hide and seek containers, called "geocaches" or "caches", anywhere in the world.
A typical cache is a small waterproof container containing a logbook where the geocacher enters the date they found it and signs it with their pre-established code name. Larger containers such as plastic storage containers or ammunition boxes can also contain items for trading, usually toys or trinkets of little value./

That's the Wikipedia definition.  Here's mine:

/Geocaching is an activity that combines the activities of a nature hike and treasure hunt, often resulting in a most excellent adventure./

It is also an activity that can test your resolve and physical limitations, as was the case in my most recent trek to discover an elusive cache located along the Iron Creek Trail in Spearfish Canyon.  At one point during my search I thought I might become one of those missing hikers you read about.  I started to envision searchers finding me after the Spring thaw, sitting up against a tree holding a piece of bark with a message scrawled on it saying "kilt whilst lookin fer the cache  got up  couldn't git down"   But good fortune prevailed and I made it out alive, obviously, since I'm telling this story.  So, here's how the adventure played out ...

I had ridden by the parking area where the trail starts the week before on my motorcycle and remembered  how much I enjoyed it when I hiked there years ago with my wife and son.  I figured it was time to do it again. After checking geocaching.com I discovered that a new cache had been placed somewhere along the trail recently, so I could combine a nice early Autumn hike with a geocache search, and decided to put it on the schedule for my next day off which was a Tuesday.  That explains why I was alone.  Who else is going to be able to go off traipsing in the woods during the middle of the day on a Tuesday?  In this case no one.  But that's ok. I'm armed with my backpack, plenty of water and my trusty GPS unit with the coordinates of the cache programmed into it.  Now, if I would have only brought along some good judgement and common sense I might have had an easier time of it.  About a mile into my quest I checked my GPS and noticed the distance to the cache was all of a sudden increasing.  I paused and checked the directional arrow which indicated the path to my goal required a hard left turn.  This is where I should have just stopped, taken a lesson from tThe Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, and thought about what I was doing.  Remember the "think...think...think scene?"
But I didn't.  I proceeded to blindly follow the GPS arrow.  Big mistake.  It led me across the creek and up an incredibly steep hill.  My unit said it was only 465 feet to cache location, but half way up I was crawling on the ground, desperately grasping for any root or rock to hold on to and pull myself up another foot or two.  After a couple of hours (it was actually only a few minutes but it seemed longer) I was able to reach the ridge where the terrain flattened out and I was able to stand upright again.  Thinking I was very close now I checked the coordinates and found that the cache was...still 450 feet away!  What the...?  There must be some mistake.  There was a lot of tree cover so it was possible my GPS was not functioning properly.  Something had to be wrong because the arrow now was pointing right over a cliff on the other side of the ridge.  There was no way I could get down there without doing some kind of a base jump.  But I didn't have a parachute so that was out of the question.  I thought, "whoever placed this cache is one diabolical s.o.b." After a careful consideration of my options I did the only thing I could do.  I gave up.  Win some. Lose some.  Right?  Now all I had to do was get back down off my precarious perch and hike on out of there.  Well, it took some time but I followed the ridge to a point where it was only about a 5 or 6 foot drop to get back on flat ground.  I took a break to have some water and to catch my breath, then started back.  But wait!  I happened to notice that had I continued on the trail instead of detouring up that hill maybe, just maybe, it would have taken me around to the other side of that hill.  So I turned back around again and sure enough, the distance readings began to get smaller!  duh.  It was then I realized that I could have avoided that exhausting climb to nowhere and just kept on the the trail, which led me right to the hidden treasure.  There it was, in a small red container hanging from a branch of a tree only a few feet off the path.
Success!  I opened the container, took out a rolled up piece of paper, signed and dated it, then replaced it.  This container was smaller than most so there wasn't room for any trinkets like you would normally find.  But, looking back, it was still fun in spite of my misadventures leading up to the eventual find. I enjoy geocaching.  You never know what you might discover. Sometimes the caches will have some very strange items, like a severed doll's head that we found in an old ammo box under a bridge just outside of Hill City. No body of the doll. Just the head.  And a rather creepy looking one at that.  Weird.  
But we've also found souvenir coins, postcards, marbles, even a small plastic Star Trek phaser gun.  The idea is to take something and put something back to replace it.  We usually put in a pirate eye patch.  Yes, there is story to that, too.  But I don't have time for it now.  Maybe down the road.  

                                                                        -0-

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Corner of Cheezburger Road and Inspiration Avenue

Yes, with a z.  That's how they spell it at Cheezburger.com, the Seattle based company that's all about pop culture.  You've heard of lolCats, right?  My son works there. We recently made a trip to visit him and were treated to the insider tour of their offices in the heart of downtown Seattle.  It was quite an experience for a couple of unsophisticated midwesterners who don't get to the big city that often.
I always look forward to our travels for many reasons, including the fact that it gives me a chance to get out of my comfort zone and sample a little bit of the unusual, unfamiliar, exotic, diverse, and colorful.  Plus, you never know who you might see chillin' outside at the corner cafe.  I was pretty sure at the time this was Stephen King, but upon further review I believe I may have been mistaken.

Since we're on the subject of cafes, we have some good ones around here that are fun and even somewhat eclectic, but restaurants are different in the city.  We were guests of our son at a new popular French-themed eatery called Toulouse Petite.  The outside looked somewhat rundown by design, but inside it was...well...the word that comes to mind is 'electric.'  The patrons were many and varied.  Young professionals from the neighborhood who were casually dressed, out of towners like us in all manner of cruise wear and travel duds, businessmen in coats and ties, and women in their little black dresses.  ooo-lala!  Another characteristic of this place, as well as others we visited, was the high energy and excitement that filled the room.  Everyone was talking.  Not in whispers as you might expect in a dimly lit upscale establishment.  It was rather loud, even boisterous at times.  But it was never annoying.  Conversation is an important part of the atmosphere, and everyone shared in it equally.  The vibe is totally different from what we're used to here in Hometown, USA.  
Another common theme running through many parts of this city is the vibrant, and sometimes unusual colors.  I look for that wherever I travel, and I was not disappointed on this trip.  Even small local shops on side streets sported vibrant colors or colors that were just slightly "off" for lack of a better word, but always charming, fascinating, stimulating, inspiring or any number of other adjectives.
Diversity is the other overriding theme of any large city.  Seattle has plenty of diversity.  It so happened the same weekend we were there the Hempfest was taking place.  In keeping with my never ending search for unordinary or varied cultural experiences, we decided to attend.  My main motivation, as well as my son's, was to see if we could find some local art to add to our collections.  My wife was hoping to find some unique hand made jewelry.  Also,  to be completely honest, I was hoping to go back to a simpler time and hang out again just for a little while with some free spirited eccentric flower children, otherwise known as Hippies. A friend recently posted the following on Facebook, and this is what I thought I would find:
Mostly what I found, however, were disheveled grubby people begging for a handout or well-off kids in stylish clothes huddled in their own little cliques trying to act cool and blend in.  I was so disappointed.  There were a couple of exceptions, though.  The Peace Pirate for example, who had his own style of art that I thought was rather creative.  He used old junk vinyl record albums and painted classic album covers and artists portraits on them using intricate paper cut-outs he had made.  Not particularly avant-garde or astonishing, but a pretty cool idea.  He was a nice guy.  Humble. Unassuming.  Just a guy in the park working on his art.  My son and I each bought one of his works.  Mine was a portrait of Bob Dylan, of course. 

We were also lucky to discover the TabbyCat Pickling Company.  A groovy down-to-earth bunch who really did have some great pickles.  I chose "Mother's"... a crunchy garlic dill with just the right amount of jalepeno mixed in.  Delicious!  I knew I couldn't get it through airport security so I took the jar to Fedex/Kinko's and had it shipped home.  That's how good they are.   
                  Hello, my name is Mr. Tabby Cat.  Some say I'm a gentleman and scholar at that.  The gentleman in me is kind & fair, the scholar has the wisdom of love to share.  When these two come together as one,  I can create my own twist on what's grown in the sun.  I hope you enjoy to the very last bite, this purrfetly pickled delicious delight.

                                      (verse and photo courtesy of tabbycatpicklingco.com)

Another fun event we took in was a KISS / Motley Crue concert at a huge outdoor amphitheatre south of Seattle.  I know.  I know.  At our age!  But we had a great time.  Besides, I think some of the band members were older than us.
So, the moral of this story is....well...I guess there is no moral to this story.  If there's anything I would hope you take from it, it would probably be to suggest that you get out of your comfort zone on occasion and try something new.  Or something old but that you haven't done for a long time.  Also, become more aware of your surroundings and take note of everything going on around you.  Especially the sights and sounds.  Just be in the moment.  You may have heard this described as being mindful.  I know that may sound a little silly, but you will see and hear things you might otherwise miss.  You may even be inspired.  That inspiration will take on a different form for each individual.  Don't we all need a little inspiration every now and then?  It's just a matter of what you do with it when it comes.  So go ahead.  Go out and be inspired!



Monday, August 13, 2012

Sunday Morning, 3 A.M.

The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is officially over.  Newspapers, TV stations, blogs, journals, commentaries of all types are doing their obligatory wrap-up of the week's events.  And that's what I expected to be doing, too.  Except very early Sunday morning there was another event that may not be quite as interesting to most people, but it made a bigger impression on me and definitely provided a little more intellectual stimulation.  I'll get to that in a minute.  First, a few words about the Rally.  I just wasn't into it this year.  I never get too excited, but I do enjoy taking in the sights every year.  And there are some sights to see all right.  Some of which I wish I could un-see.   Sometimes there's a good concert.  This year, though, there wasn't anybody we cared enough about to pony up the $100+ price tag for tickets and a couple of beers.  Or even a $10 cover charge for that matter.  However, I did come across a rockin' little combo from Kansas City called The Rumblejetts.  So, if you ever see that name on a sign outside some roadhouse along a stretch of two lane blacktop somewhere in the heartland, pull on in.  It'll be fun.  Speaking of fun - one thing I do enjoy every year during the first full week of August is watching people watching other people.  Like this guy who we will just call "the creeper" ...........
They have to know he's behind them, right?  I mean, could he be any more obvious?  There was a lot of that going on in Sturgis, along with lots of other shenanigans.  But that's not what I wanted to talk about this time.  I'd like to talk about shooting stars.

This past weekend was the peak of the Perseid meteor shower.  I missed the Leonids in November of last year, so I didn't want to miss this one which was billed as being just as spectacular.  But I almost did miss it.  When I went to bed Saturday night it was "a dark and stormy night" as Snoopy used to say in the Charlie Brown comics.  But I was hopeful and set the alarm for 2:30.  It was about 2:40 when I crawled out of bed (thanks to the snooze button) and I walked outside into a perfectly clear and bright summer night.  My wife followed me out onto the patio and we settled down into some slightly damp, but still comfortable, wicker chairs.  I lasted longer than she did, and was treated to a pretty good show under a bright crescent moon.  I was hoping for the ones that shoot all the way across the sky leaving a trail of light nearly from one horizon to the other.  The ones I saw burned out much more quickly.  But it was still a very cool experience.  And one that caused my mind to wander.  By the way, it doesn't take much to make that happen, but this night's show made me think a little deeper, focus a little more clearly, and sparked a few fond memories.  Like one from my youth about a place we called "the cornflake bowl."  It was a spot in the Black Hills, not far from town, where the stars shined brighter than any other place.  I don't think I could find it now.  But that's ok.  It wouldn't be the same as it was all those years ago anyway. But I will never forget that sky and those stars on that night.
A passage from one of my favorite books also came to mind.  I couldn't remember it all exactly.  So I looked it up:

He stared up at the stars: and it seemed to him then that they were dancers, stately and graceful, performing a dance almost infinite in its complexity.  He  imagined he could see the very faces of the stars; pale, they were, and smiling gently, as if they had spent so much time above the world, watching the scrambling and the joy and the pain of the people below them, that they could not help being amused every time another little human believed itself the center of its world, as each of us does.   - N e i l   G a i m a n ,   S t a r d u s t 

If you were out and saw the meteor shower you were probably dusting off some old memories, too.  These things have a way of sparking some recollections, providing inspiration, or just making you think.  All or any of that is good.  We need time to be alone with our thoughts.  To relax, reflect, or just to see where those thoughts take us.  Because thinking is the best way to travel.  I heard that somewhere.  Words of a song maybe.  Always thought it was probably true.  Anyway, if you missed this one, the Leonids will be back in November.  Set your alarm for 2:30 a.m.  That will give you one or possibly even two hits on the snooze button.  But don't roll over.  Get up and take a nice long relaxing meteor shower.  It's something everyone should do.  At least once.


                                                                               -0-




     


Monday, July 30, 2012

In Search of the Poet's Table

This story begins in 1969.  That's the year some intrepid wayfaring adventurers, and presumably poets, transported a heavy wooden table and chairs colored with green industrial strength paint to a well hidden location near Sylvan Lake in the heart of the Black Hills. I recall first hearing about it back in the 70s, but forgot all about it until several years ago when I stumbled across a reference to something called The Poet's Table on the internet.  I don't even remember where exactly.  Some travel blog maybe.  There were photos of that original green wooden table, plus a matching green cabinet which looked to be filled with journals and notebooks containing all manner of writings.  My curiosity was peaked, and it's been in my head ever since that time.  So, this was the summer I decided to make the pilgrimage.
My first attempt started at the Little Devil's Tower trail head.  From the parking area I headed off on the trail armed with a few clues that I hoped would lead me to my goal.  But after a mile or so I began thinking that I had missed the unmarked turn-off.  I was pretty sure it was close to the start of the trail.  I still had some doubt, though, and the trail ahead looked very promising.  Also, a memory from long ago surfaced and the phrase "Forward - Onward" kept popping into my head.  I probably should explain where that came from.  In the wandering days of my youth, a friend and I would regularly head out on warm sunny summer days with our thumbs in the air and catch a ride from some friendly motorist heading south toward the Black Hills.  Our goal on this particular day was a place called Devil's Bathtub, a popular spot where the creek widened to form a perfect little swimming hole.   We found a ride with some long haired hippie types...like us...who took us all the way to the start of the trail to what I thought would be our final destination for the day.  However, after reaching the swimming hole and taking a nice cool dip, my fellow traveler thought it would be fun to keep on going upstream to see where it would lead.  I concurred and off we went.  After what seemed like a few miles (I have no idea how far we actually walked) I suggested we turn back.  The only response I got was "Forward! Onward!"  So we kept going.  There was very little conversation other than about every mile we would pause, then in unison proclaim "Forward! Onward!" After hours of walking and discovering several old cabins we emerged at an abandoned mining town, followed a dirt road out of there and eventually ended up on the highway where we were able to catch a series of rides home.  All that in one day. For some reason I've never forgotten that day, or that phrase.  I may have even said it out loud a few times on my current trek, so it was probably a good thing that on this day there were few others on the trail to hear my strange incantations.  I continued on...and on...and on... and was finally rewarded for my persistence with the pay-off of an incredible view that was worth every huff and puff on the way up.
The climb took all I had to give for that day.  But I had a good idea where I should've turned off the main trail in order to find the Poet's Table, and I decided to come back the following week to complete my quest.  Which is what I did.  This time I concentrated on a clue referencing a leaning tree that pointed the way.  And, after only about a quarter to half a mile from the trail head there it was.  I turned off and began a steady climb toward my destination.  The way seemed to reveal itself to me at each decision point until I came to a solid rock wall.  I could go left or right.  To the left was the obvious choice because it offered the least resistance.  But I chose to go right, hugging the side of the rock cliff, making my way around on loose dirt and pine needles, then over a fallen log.  After a few more steps I noticed a lone tree rising up from an outcropping in the rock.  That had to be it.  And it was.  I had found it!
For the next hour I browsed through the writings, books and trinkets left by previous visitors, studied the carvings on the walls, admired the view, and just listened to the quiet.  I also took some time to read from a book that I had carried along with me...
...The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac. I marked a passage that was perfectly appropriate for this day and this place:

"The secret of this kind of climbing," said Japhy, "is like Zen.  Don't think. Just dance along. It's the easiest thing in the world, actually easier than walking on flat ground which is monotonous. The cute little problems present themselves at each step and yet you never hesitate and you find yourself on some other boulder you picked out for no special reason at all, just like Zen."  Which it was.  

I'm not sure how long I was actually there, but eventually it was time to go.  I took a few more photographs, and left a couple of pictures that I had brought along for no particular reason.  I decided to leave my book also.  Hopefully others visiting this special place will take time to read a few lines and appreciate the genius of the author.  Maybe you will decide to make the trip.  I'm sorry that I can't help you much with directions.  It's a place you should find mostly on your own.  It's more rewarding that way, and you will have a greater appreciation for not just the destination, but the entire journey as well.  Safe travels and good luck!

                                                                        -0-






Friday, July 13, 2012

Attack of the Bacon Eating Zombies

Bacon and Zombies.  Nothing new here.  But lately it seems these two subjects have reached a status  of epic proportions in our culture.  References are everywhere.  I have a friend whose Facebook page contained over 30 bacon-related comments and photos - within a 36 hour period!  Go back a few more days and it reaches into the hundreds.  Here's just one example:

Ok, so that might not be a bad idea.  But this certainly can't be good:


Bacon references are everywhere.  There is actually a website devoted entirely to all things bacon and meat related.  The address is (appropriately) baconandmeat.com.  And this is where it gets a little weird....here you will find bacon-themed wallets and shower curtains, bacon air fresheners,  Gummy Bacon (for those of you who want to move on from Gummy Bears), even bacon breath mints. Yeah. Right.  Chicks dig bacon breath. 

Almost as big in our pop culture nowadays are...zombies!  Those loveable re-animated corpses with no soul brought back to life for evil purposes.  They have become much more than just characters in classic horror movies.  I googled the word "zombie" and my search returned 46,300,000 results in .18 seconds.  Even the federal government gives some credibility to the phenomenom, as reported in a recent FOX News article:

"Are you prepared for the impending zombie invasion?
That's the question posed by the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention in a Monday blog posting gruesomely titled, "Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse." And while it's no joke, CDC officials say it's all about emergency preparation."

In the interest of being fair and balanced (FOX News, not me) the article went on to say that the federal government does not support the contention that zombies actually do exist.  They just want you to be prepared in the unlikely event of the return of the living dead. 

By the way - I've seen one.  A zombie.   A few years ago in Las Vegas.   I was walking down the Strip and there she (it) was. 


She didn't seem to be causing any trouble, so I snapped a photo and moved on.  I did turn and look back a couple of times though.  You know, just to be sure. 

I'm not sure what my point is in all this, other than I think too many people have become too obsessed with bacon and zombies.  Especially the bacon thing.  It's really not that funny or cool any more.  To me anyway.  Except for the newest bacon picture I saw today on Facebook:
In the immortal words of Larry the Cable Guy "I don't care who you are - that's funny right there."

                                                                              -0-

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Art of The Ride

It's not a lifestyle for me.  I just like to get out and ride my motorcycle once in a while.  And it's days like this that remind me why I enjoy it so much.  Over 150 riders of all backgrounds and from all walks of life turned out for the 2012 Rhea Trevino Memorial Poker Run to Benefit Children.
It was a cool morning with a light sprinkle of rain coming down as we began the ride, but spirits were high and not a discouraging word was heard.  By the half-way point the sun had come out and it had warmed considerably.  After a quick break to get our cards signed at the ever-popular Lewie's Saloon and Eatery,  it was on to our second stop at Trevino's Leathers on Highway 385 south of Deadwood.  I never knew Rhea Trevino, but I know a lot of people who did, and it's clear that he was a good man who touched the lives of many people.  He was also a master craftsman in a world where it seems there are few left.  His obituary in 2010 contained this quote by Bob Dylan - "A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night and in between does what he wants to do."  Seems to fit.
 
I try to ride as much as possible these days, and wish I would have done more riding in the past.  I have never been overloaded in the spare time category and it's not like I didn't have other things to do, but still, I think I missed a lot.  Most of all the comradery, or "brotherhood" if you will.  It's events like this one that illustrate that point so well.  The diversity of riders and machines is nothing less than amazing.  Of course there were the big chromed up V-Twin Harley Davidsons with their pipes belting out that familiar rumble.  But there were also Hondas, Kawasakis, Suzukis, BMWs, trikes, custom choppers, crotch rockets, and at least one Boss Hoss.  And they were all welcome.  It is not unusual on charity or memorial rides rides like this to see an Electra Glide and a Ninja ZX going down the highway side by side.  In all honesty this kind of mixing may be frowned upon in some circumstances, but not here, and not on this day.  Even the Sunkist twins showed up.
I realize that those of you who don't ride can't really appreciate the sights, sounds and smells that provide a feast for the senses on even a short trip.  And I'm sure there are other things you do that provide your own personal enjoyment.  But even if you have no interest in the ride itself, surely you can appreciate good art.  You will find it anywhere a group of motorcyclists are gathered.  The colors and details you will see are as varied and impressive as what you might view on the walls of a fine gallery.
So that's why I like to ride.  There are more reasons, but some are harder to explain so I won't try.  But, getting back to the main subject of this essay, one more reason is that I am able to participate in events that allow me to give a little something back.  To become more aware of worthy causes and perhaps help out a little bit.  I smiled when the following comment was posted on Facebook by Nick Cramer of Dakota V-Twin, the main organizer of this particular event:

"Thank you EVERYONE!  HAD AN AMAZING TURN OUT!  over 150 bikes, and guess what!  We met our goal and the kids slide will be ordered this week!"  

Now that's what it's really all about.


                                                                          -0-


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Dumb and Dumber in the Southern Black Hills - A Short Story

It could have been a scene out of one of those screwball comedy movies that leave you snickering and shaking your head.  Except this wasn’t a movie.  It was real life.  And I’m still wondering how we could have been so clueless.  You see, this past weekend my younger brother and I decided to make it a golf weekend, with our first stop being the Southern Hills Golf Course in Hot Springs, South Dakota.  Their website says it is “A short undulating course that will have you using every club in your bag.”  A more accurate description would be “A diabolical confusing course that will have you using every profanity in your vocabulary.”  By the time the round was over we felt a little like Harry and Lloyd on their way to Aspen.

This story involves the No. 10 par 3 hole.  It’s a 141 yard monster that will suck the air right out of the lungs of most any golfer who sees it for the first time from the obscenely elevated tee.  But, we had a fairly successful front 9 and were ready to take whatever the infamous back 9 could throw at us.  My brother had the box and hit a slight hook which appeared to send his ball directly at the sand trap just to the left of the green.  A slight adrenaline rush during my swing sent my ball flying over the green.  Way over.  So, we hop into the cart and drive down to the greenside area at the bottom of the hill (cliff).   I’m off to search behind the green, and he makes his way over to the bunker.  But…no ball.  Not even a sign of the ball hitting the sand and rolling out.  “Must have been long,” he said to no one as he walked down the adjoining slope into the scrub in search of  his wayward shot.  Meanwhile, I’m stumbling, fumbling, bumbling my way through the heavy underbrush and trees behind the green searching for my ball.  At some point I began to think that this area behind the green didn’t look anything like it did from the tee box way up above.  After an extensive search, which I’m sure exceeded the allotted time allowed in the Rules of Golf, we finally gave up.  We each dropped a ball (no way in hell we were going all the way back up to that tee box and hit again), chipped on, putted out, then plopped down in the cart for the short ride to the next tee box.  We hadn’t gone 20 feet when into view came…wait for it…number 10 green!  That’s right kiddos.  We had just spent all that time on the WRONG GREEN! 

“Uh, Lloyd, do you think maybe we should have been over here all that time?”
“Yes, Harry.  Man, you are one pathetic loser. No offense.”
“None taken.”

A quick check revealed that our original golf balls were exactly where they should have been – had we gone to the correct green in the first place.  His on the beach.  Mine in jail.  We picked up and got out of there before someone saw us.  That’s the other thing.  All the time this was going on there was not another person in sight! There were other golfers on the course, just not on these two holes during this entire episode.  How lucky is that?  

Now,  I probably should have kept this whole matter quiet and just between us two.  We would have avoided the ridicule that will most likely follow.  But it’s a story that had to be told.  If for no other reason than to make other golfers feel better about themselves.  Even if it’s at our expense.  So consider it a public service.  You are welcome.

                                                                         -0-

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Best Burger Road

I couldn't put it off any longer.  I had to find out if I agreed with the Midwest Living Magazine article "The Midwest's Best Burgers," which ranked Lewie's in Lead, South Dakota in the top 25.  That's a pretty big deal.  Anybody can put up a sign claiming to be the best.
But this isn't just anybody.  It's Midwest Living, with a circulation of 950,000.

They called it Lewie's Saloon and Eatery.  I've always known it as Lewie's Burgers and Brews.  And, despite the fact that it's only about 25 miles from my front door, I must admit I've only been there twice before.  I will also confess that I had never eaten one of their now nationally ranked burgers.  There was something at stake in this because I have always considered the Sugar Burger from the Sugar Shack on Highway 385 between Deadwood and Hill City to be the best burger in the Midwest, or perhaps even the best burger anywhere.  So off I go to seek my own personal validation of this rather lofty pronouncement by some unknown reporter who may not have ever actually been to South Dakota, and who had obviously not been to the Sugar Shack. 

Once inside Lewie's I decide to sit at the bar rather than a table so I could get an up close and personal experience.  The view of the wall behind the bar is impressive.
There are cool antique toys, old records and advertising memorabilia scattered throughout the place.  Some in the coolers, too.  Like Schlitz and Grain Belt beer for example.  Who still drinks Schlitz and Grain Belt?  There must be enough old timers frequenting this establishment to make it worth stocking.  I'll bet you can't get those brands at Applebee's or Chili's.  But, I digress.  Let's get back to the burger.  I ordered the Lewie's Burger and a Miller High Life, which is somewhat of a throwback itself, but nothing like those other two.  Then I waited.  And waited.  It wasn't the speediest service I have ever received, but everyone was very friendly (Lewie wasn't there and I've heard he's kind of grumpy) and it turned out the wait was worth it.  What a great burger!  And hot.  It's odd that the first thing I noticed after taking a bite was just how hot it was.  Almost burn-the-roof-of-your-mouth hot.  That subtle but very important detail made a big impression on me.  Enough of an impression to make me want to conduct further investigations into this matter.  I see another trip down Highway 385 in my not too distant future.  Then, probably back to Lewie's.  These things take time you know, and one must be thorough.  I also intend to visit another place on that list.  Not because they may also have an excellent burger, but because of their name and the magazine's description:  "Dinker's, Omaha - The decor hearkens to a 1970s bowling alley."  Now that sounds like my kind of place.

Oh, one more thing.  This is not about burgers, but I really want to mention another place I discovered personally for the first time recently.  If you want the best pizza you must go here.
It's called Dough Trader Pizza Company, just off Jackson Boulevard in Spearfish, South Dakota.  I can say without any hesitation it is the best pizza I've ever had.  Not a big place, but fun and friendly with great food.  And a cool vibe, if that matters to you.  And I hope it does.  So check them out if you're not in the mood for a burger.  You won't be disappointed.

There are also a few other local non-food places that I would like to talk about some time soon, including one with a classic Bob Dylan poster on the wall and another with a "What Would Neil Young  Do?" poster.  What's on the wall can establish the mood and personality of a place, so be observant in your travels.  And I'll see you down the road.

                                                                      -0-

Monday, April 30, 2012

The 'Spring Effect'

As a keen observer of the human condition and a dedicated people watcher, I always find this time of year very interesting.  Sometimes funny.  Often a little curious.  And always entertaining.  I’m talking about those first days when the temperature crosses the tipping point and long pants and sweaters give way to shorts and tank tops...or less.  We hit that milestone here recently when the temperature topped 80 degrees for the first time this season.  People sort of went a little crazy.  Men and women.  I actually saw a guy wearing striped shorts and a “muscle shirt.”  Hey pal, Richard Simmons called - he wants his outfit back. 

But the most amusing scenes occur when women, especially those who were born before 1972, appear in public wearing something they’re just not quite comfortable in.  You can always tell the shy ones who have ventured out slightly beyond their comfort zone.  They are the ones making constant adjustments.  Tugging on their shorts, pulling their shirts up at the top or down at the waist.  Constantly glancing around to see who might be looking.   To those ladies I would just like to say that, except in the extreme cases (and you know who you are),  you look fine.  Don’t worry about it.  Getting some sunshine and enjoying a beautiful Spring day is good for you, as long as you remember that moderation is the key.  Just don't go too far the other way....
                                                         (NOT the good old days)

And, don’t worry about the tan lines.  Tan lines are good.  Wear them like a badge of honor. They are evidence you have shed the winter darkness and ventured into the new light of Spring.  Rejoice!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Remember that time when....

Here is a suggestion for a fun exercise when you are sitting around with not much else to do.  Try to remember.  You might be surprised at how much comes back to you when you make a conscious effort.  But be advised – it might not all be good.  Special places, ideas you had, things you meant to do, people that made you angry or happy, events you thought you would never forget, but did.  So here are a few things I have remembered lately. 
I recently came across an article about how the Voyager I spacecraft, launched in 1977, has now reached the very edge of our solar system and could cross over into interstellar space at any time.  No man-made object has ever gone this far before.  I recall my excitement when I first read about the mission, and the items being carried by the Voyagers (there are actually two flying around out there).  Both carry a 12-inch gold-plated copper phonograph record containing sounds and images selected to portray the diversity of life and culture on earth.  It’s kind of a time capsule, intended to communicate a story of our world to extraterrestrials.  I had forgotten all about this, but now I’m excited about the prospects again.  Let’s just hope whoever (or whatever) finds it has a killer stereo system to play it on.
Speaking of time capsules...what about those?  Do you realize how many cities have buried time capsules over the years?  It was the cool thing to do back in the decades of the 70s, 80s and 90s.  But I suspect many of them are probably forgotten now.  An internet search for time capsules in this region came up with Sioux Falls, Jefferson and at the State Capitol in Pierre, South Dakota.  I also found references to time capsules buried in Laramie and Evanston, Wyoming, and Helena, Montana.  I’m sure there are many more.  Anyone remember if there’s one in your town?
Then there are all those congressional pay raises over the years.  Congress voted themselves more than $56,000 in raises from 1990 to 2003!  There have been more since.  Every time it happens we get mad and vow to “throw the bums out” if they don’t shape up and start earning their pay.  But they know we’ll forget about it in relatively short amount of time.  And they are right.  We do.
Most baseball fans have forgotten about the ’94 strike.  Not me.  I said at the time if there was a strike I would be done with baseball for good.  I was fed up with a bunch of whiny overpaid steroid using cry babies with absolutely no respect or consideration for their fans.  They went out in August, and didn’t come back until April of the next year.  No playoffs.  No World Series.  I have not watched a baseball game since.
On a lighter note – here are a few memories I’ve conjured back up after being buried for years that may spark a similar memory for you.  Perhaps only the time and place or the name will be different.

    •    Mert’s CafĂ©.  It’s gone now, but…oh those homemade burgers and fries.  So greasy and so good!  “What say Mert?”

    •    Going over the fence for a late summer night swim in the pool.

    •    Family vacation to Yellowstone.  Every time that old Buick would overheat we would just have a picnic and wait for it to cool down.  Bear jams, giant moose, trout fishing, and endless amusement chasing chipmunks around the campground.

    •    The airline that lost our luggage.  We arrived in Hawaii right on time, but our luggage apparently went on to the Philippines.  It caught up to us a couple of days later – after we had been forced to blow nearly our entire trip budget on t-shirts and shorts.  I swore I would never fly that airline again.  Now I can’t even remember which airline it was.

It’s not always easy to remember things.  Sometimes you have to work at it a little bit.  But it’s usually worth the thought and extra effort.  Just don’t let old grudges go too far.  Like that baseball thing of mine.  I may have let that one get out of hand.  Play Ball!