Shipping Fees, Bright Lights, and Suicidal Rabbits

To illustrate this story, several products are referenced along with a link to them on Amazon. Please note that these links are all a part of an Amazon Affiliate program and I receive a small fee if you chose to purchase, though using the link does not increase your price. We receive no other compensation for mentioning the products. Also note that the prices in my story may differ from the links since the links reflect the current price, not the price at the time of the writing of this story.


I hate fees.

You know those gas stations that charge one price for cash and one for using credit cards? I don’t even pull in and just go on to the next gas station. And any of them that put the word “Cash” so small that you can’t even see it until you have pulled up to the pump? I get back in my car and drive away once I spot the higher credit card price.

Car dealers that dare to charge a “documentation fee” to the price of a new automobile? I just add it to the price of the car and use it for comparison to other dealers without such a fee. And, yes, I have walked out of a dealership that sprung that fee as a surprise.

Some people even claim I live in a county without parking meters or paid parking lots just to avoid that fee.

But I save my hate the most for shipping fees.

I understand the economics. Shipping costs money. So does taking a credit card or printing a receipt. But here’s the catch. When I walk into a local store and see some item selling for $9.99, I don’t get to the register and suddenly get charged a $1 fee for printing a receipt. They don’t charge me a banking transaction fee for taking a credit card, check or cash (all of which cost the business actual money in banking fees to process). And they don’t suddenly add a shipping fee for the freight cost getting it to the store. And if they attempted any of those, I would leave the store without my purchase.

That’s how much I hate fees. And why shopping online is so difficult for someone like me who absolutely refuses to pay shipping fees.

Some of you may think this is another rant about Amazon’s extortion fee for avoiding shipping fees. Nope, not going there. I like Amazon. I really do. I buy from them regularly. I just make sure to buy enough items to qualify for free shipping. And I will leave items in my cart for days until I think of something else I need in order to get free shipping.

Except when I really need a $5.37 part quickly.

We use well water and have a ridiculously expensive filtering system to remove sediment and heavy metals from the water, but some sediment gets through that system. Over time, the intake filters on my washing machine need to be cleaned of that sediment. And, of course, in removing those filters last week for cleaning, I broke one. Shattered it into pieces. So I needed a replacement.

The parts were not available at the local big box hardware or the local appliance store (we only have one of each) and I opted not to rig a filter, so checked Amazon. Sure enough, they had the part. And for only $5.37.

But we all know that you need to spend at least $49 with Amazon to get free shipping, so I needed to add a couple of items to my cart. What to buy? What to buy?

I know! A flashlight for my suicidal rabbits.

For the few of you who don’t know about The Thundering Herd, I live with six Siberian Huskies. And if you read my previous story, you know they are all quite adept hunters. One, Typhoon, excels. He is the fastest dog I have ever seen and delights in chasing down wayward rabbits. I guess it is the challenge.

I am also surrounded by the stupidest rabbits on the face of the planet. For some odd reason, they slink through the gap in the closed gates into our dog yard. Outside the fence, they run the risk that one of the neighborhood hawks, owls or eagles decides to select rabbit from nature’s menu, but inside the fence, they have to deal with Typhoon and his somewhat less proficient hunting pals.

Each morning before releasing the dogs, I scan the yard with a flashlight (because no self-respecting dog allows me sleep to sunrise) for any rabbit quietly napping.

Sadly, my long-term, cheap flashlight of choice simply is not bright enough for the task, a conclusion based simply on Typhoon’s number of pre-dawn rabbit acquisitions.

So, I decided to get a new flashlight to up my purchase amount closer to the free shipping goal. Go to Amazon search box, enter the word flashlight and get 658,055 results. Honestly. That is not a made up number.

And the segments they offered by default did not help either. After all, exactly what is the difference between “handheld flashlights” and “flashlights?” I could rule out keychain flashlights, but that didn’t exactly make the results a suddenly manageable number.

Ok, I want a quality flashlight, right? One bright enough to illuminate the deepest, darkest corners of the yard. Price isn’t everything, but maybe if I looked at the more expensive flashlights, I could narrow down the best one. So let’s sort from highest price to lowest. How expensive could they be?

Five grand.

To be fair, $4999.99. And $14.99 in shipping.

This one isn’t an option. It doesn’t even qualify for free shipping.

And at 3000 lumens, I would probably spot rabbits two counties over.

And so I resorted to different sorts and searches, read lots of flashlight descriptions, and looked at dozens of possible flashlight contenders. I also wasted an hour of my Sunday morning. Or maybe more.

At this point, rationality enters the equation. No, not from me. From the long-suffering human who has put up with my craziness for most of my adult life. Though the definition of adult is chronological and not emotional.

Exactly how much, I am asked by this far more rational human, is the shipping cost for two little pieces of plastic?

I don’t know. Let me look.

Yep, they did not have a shipping charge. No minimum purchase required.

I ordered the parts. They arrive today.

And I went to Lowe’s and tested flashlights. They only had about twenty to chose from. But I found one. A bright one.

Came home that evening. Checked the yard with the old flashlight. Released the dogs into the yard. Unpackaged the flashlight. Took it outside to test it.

Bright. Much brighter than the old one. Bright enough to illuminate a rabbit hiding behind a tuft of grass. Inside the dog yard.

Typhoon glanced his thanks to me and took off after the poor illuminated bunny.

Chaotic Morning – How Not To Begin A Day

Pre-dawn mornings are a treasure. Tranquility reigns. Nothing moves. I can slowly wake up, read, and organize my thoughts. That time allows me to prepare for the day and avoid the stressful feeling of a chaotic morning.

A pair of sliding glass doors separates our bedroom from an outside deck creating a wall of glass facing east. My first view of the morning hints of the sunrise to come. The room resounds with soft snoring, a sure sign that neither the dogs nor the other human are awake. I have time to savor the silence.

My iPad rests on the bedside table, placed there the night before after reading a few chapters of the current novel. In the morning, however, the iPad is my tool to check Facebook, my email, and as much of my morning newspaper as I can read before the others stir.

The only dog that sleeps in the bed, Frankie, is a skilled extortionist. As long as I scratch his ears, he doesn’t claw my arm. And if the claw fails to get its desired result, he sits up and wakes the rest of the crew. At that point, my quiet morning is over. To stretch out my peace, I scratch his ears and read my iPad.

That describes most mornings. Not yesterday morning. Only a slight lull preceded my chaotic morning:

6 a.m. – Slowly wake up. The eastern sky is glowing. Serenity.

6:05 a.m. – I reach for the iPad. My slight movement awakens Frankie who slaps my arm with his paw. I scratch while trying to balance the iPad and scan my Facebook feed with one hand. Plenty of time (and more reliability) for politics from my morning newspapers, so I hide those posts. Once I have my feed cleaned, I smile at dog and cat pictures. Laugh at friends’ funny posts. Enjoy photography. Comfort continues.

6:10 a.m. – Close Facebook. Open email. Mostly delete overnight email one by one.

6:11 a.m. – One email stands out. My web monitoring service sent me an email at 3 a.m. that my website server is down. All websites are non-functioning and have been down for three hours. Calm shattered.

6:12 a.m. – Jump out of bed. Run to my study. Turn on computer.

6:13 a.m. – Frankie is miffed. The ear scratching ceased. I left the room. He wakes everyone else. Six Siberian Huskies (yes, I am insane) are now awake in the bedroom and ready to go outside. Well, five Siberian Huskies. Cheoah wakes up slow so is sleepily blinking at the noise. And one human is still asleep. My morning job is to release the dogs into the yard with minimum noise so that the human can sleep. But howls of discontent commence.

6:14 a.m. – Run back to bedroom to release dogs. Leave lights off to avoid waking the other human. Slam shin into an open dog crate door. Grab my leg, crumple to the floor and curse madly. I am failing the “stay quiet in the morning so as not to wake others” thing.

6:15 a.m. – For some suicidal reason, rabbits like to enter our fenced backyard overnight and sleep. The dogs find this great entertainment first thing in the morning. To avoid the excitement and noise – not to mention save rabbit lives – I search the yard every morning before the dogs go outside. My bruised leg aching, I limp out on the deck and shine a flashlight into the corners of the yard. No rabbits spotted. I do, however, realize that I have not put a shirt on yet and am freezing in the cold mountain breezes.

6:16 a.m. – Release the two oldest dogs into that part of the back yard. For the sanity of those older dogs, our backyard is divided into two zones – a “Senior” side and a “Junior” side. The Seniors enjoy their peace and quiet while the Juniors wreak havoc on their side. The Seniors’ yard is adjacent to the bedroom through those sliding glass doors. The Juniors’ access is through the kitchen, so I have to cross the house. I re-enter the house and promptly bang my other shin into the same crate door. More cursing. Mumbling from the other human.

6:18 a.m. – En route, I detour to my study and confirm that the websites are down. Need to get the dogs outside so I can focus on the problem.

6:19 a.m. – Run to kitchen and out onto that deck. I still have not put on a shirt. Amazingly, just as cold on this deck as the other. Scan Junior yard for rabbits. No rabbits sighted in the Junior yard. Unfortunately, I see Qannik and Kiska “chasing” a rabbit on the Senior side. I had missed the little hopper. He had time – that was the slowest chase ever – but the rabbit could not figure out how to exit the yard. Need to rescue bunny.

6:20 a.m. – Race back into bedroom. Trip over Frankie who has moved from the bed to the floor. Trying to keep from falling, I stumble directly into the crate door yet again. Curse madly. Other human sighs from the bed.

6:21 a.m. – Shine flashlight into Senior yard. The two older dogs are happy and tired from their chase, but they never caught the rabbit. I see the rabbit sitting just on the other side of the gate. The gate from the Senior yard to the Junior yard. Yes, the rabbit is now on the side of the fast dogs. Operation Bunny Rescue moves to the next phase.

6:22 a.m. – Re-enter the bedroom. Wisely shine flashlight and locate the crate door that has so mangled me. Step around it. Notice Frankie’s look of reproach. Step around him. Sense the glare from the human. Keep walking.

6:23 a.m. – Still shirtless, I step out of the kitchen door and shine the flashlight looking for the rabbit. In the same spot, just this side of the gate. Move toward him. He freaks out and races through the gate. Back into the Senior side.

6:24 a.m. – Race back through the house. Avoid Frankie. Avoid crate door. Avoid human glare. Step out to the deck. Shiver against the frigid air. Shine flashlight. Qannik and Kiska look at me as if I have lost my mind. Rabbit is sitting, unnoticed, on this side of gate. Wisely, he steps back through the gate – to the Junior side – just as the two Seniors spy him again.

6:25 a.m. – Back through bedroom. Avoid crate door. Avoid Frankie. Avoid human. The Junior dogs are amused. The other human is not.

6:26 a.m. – Back to the Junior deck. Shine flashlight. Rabbit is sitting just inside the gate. He sees me. Turns to run back through the gate. Qannik and Kiska are standing just the other side with silly grins. Rabbit decides that is not the way to safety. Wisely runs across the yard and squeezes through the closed gate to the field. Rabbit clearance!

6:27 a.m. Back to the bedroom. Satisfied with the rabbit rescue, I forgot the open dog crate door. Collision. Cursing. Who needs an unbruised shin? Call the dogs to go outside to the Junior yard.

6:28 a.m. – Released the Juniors into the yard and watch them race madly, noses sniffing. Where is the rabbit? We can smell it. Where is it?

6:29 a.m. – Sit in front of the computer to figure out the website problem.

6:30 a.m. – The dogs howl for breakfast. If they have to be up early, then breakfast should be early, right? Forget the websites and feed the dogs.

6:45 a.m. – With full bellies, dogs sprawled on the decks soaking the rising sunshine. A sleepy human sips coffee in the kitchen and grumbles about noise interrupting sleep. I am back at my desk.

No dogs or rabbits were harmed in the creation of this post.

Shins, however, will heal.

Blue Light Madness Unleashed

In my job as a Ranger’s Assistant, I had a Land Cruiser with a blue light that I was forbidden to use. Today, I tell you about the last time I turned it on.

As I have described in a previous story, one of my many summer jobs working my way through college was as a Ranger’s Assistant. Don’t confuse that title with Assistant Ranger – someone with actual authority. A Ranger’s Assistant’s job consists of much more mundane tasks such as picking up trash, building picnic tables, picking up trash, removing dead animals, picking up trash, clearing dead trees, picking up trash, cleaning buildings, picking up trash, digging ditches and, of course, picking up trash.

The best perk of the job? A 1971 Toyota Land Cruiser. In today’s car models, a Land Cruiser is a high end SUV. In 1971, though, it looked much more like a World War II Jeep. Our previous post shared this artist rendition:

My particular Land Cruiser had no top. No windows. No doors. No seat belts. No air conditioning (what was the point?). No electronics like a radio.

It did, however, have two added features. A two-way radio (which was more one-way as the rangers would call to tell me to go do something) and a revolving blue light (blue, for this part of the world, signifies law enforcement and red signifies fire and medic). Since I had absolutely no law enforcement training or authority, I was expressly forbidden from ever turning the blue light on. A rule which I strictly followed . . . when in sight of anyone who might get me in trouble. Out of sight might have been a slightly different reality.

One of those times when I did not think anyone would notice is the subject of today’s story.

Some friends hung out for an evening of dinner and story-telling which lasted until nearly midnight. After our goodbyes, they drove to their rental cabin which was a couple of miles away. Before I could retire for the night, I had to drive around and check that a number of buildings were securely locked.

Part of my route took me down the main road (main because the gravel road was wide enough for two cars to pass without one having to pull over). As I passed the fire road to the rental cabin my friends were in, I noticed their car parked about a tenth of a mile up that narrow road. Assuming they were watching some wildlife (since the cabin was at least a mile further up the road), I decided to play a joke.

I drove my Land Cruiser onto the fire road and pulled up right on the bumper of the car. I turned on the flashing blue light and adjusted a spotlight to shine directly into the back window. Chuckling to myself, I got out of the car, walked up beside the parked car, and chased away the remaining shadows of the interior with my flashlight.

Then, and only then, did I realize that this was not my friends’ car. They were already tucked into their cabin, well out of sight of me and this parked car.

Inside the car?

A high school couple.

An unclothed, amorous, and quite surprised high school couple.

 

With the spotlight blaring through the back window and my flashlight from the side window, I had illuminated the entire nothing-left-to-the-imagination scene. Their clothes were laying on the floor board of the front seat, well out of their reach.

I backed away from the car in horror. What was I doing? Not only did I have the blue light on, I had a car stopped in front of me. I was way out of bounds. Thankfully, no one had driven by, but how was I going to keep these kids from reporting me?

The young man came stumbling out of the back seat and stood bare-footed – well, bare everything – on the gravel road. He was begging, begging me not to call his father or her father. And please don’t give him a ticket. Please. Please. Please.

A chance. I kept my flashlight in his eyes so he couldn’t see my face (I certainly wasn’t concerned about him having a concealed weapon). In my deepest, most official sounding voice, I said, “One chance. Leave right now. Don’t ever come back here for this again. If you promise, we will just forget everything.”

“Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Yes, sir.” He jumped into the driver’s seat, still totally naked, and started the car. I backed up to the main road so he could exit. He backed his own car up and, with a wave, drove away.

And I turned off the blue light – never to turn it on again.

Things That Go Bump In The Woodpile

Retrieve wood from the woodpile. Carry it into the house. Build the first fire of the season. No danger, right?

Oh, sure, there was the time that I did that in the dead of winter, slipped on a patch of snow, fell with an armload of firewood, and broke two toes. That might have had something to with the fact that I wore house shoes on that trip.

This time, though, I was wearing real shoes. The ground was clear of snow and ice. And, yet, I was fearful.

Each summer, two large wood bins are filled with firewood. The wood is stacked six feet deep, four feet high, and eight feet wide – for each bin. The walls and floor of the bins are slats to allow a maximum of air flow while a roof keeps rain away. A perfect structure to help dry the wood for clean winter burning.

Also, a perfect structure for wild creatures to live.

As we slowly unstack the wood throughout each winter, we normally find several mice nests. The mice, of course, attract the occasional rat snake. Add the assortment of insects and spiders, and the wood bins are quite the natural habitat.

What I don’t expect is anything larger.

As most of you know, we have suffered (and are still suffering) a severe drought. Dozens of wildfires burn in our mountains and outdoor burn bans are in place. The bans do not apply to fireplaces, but, out of an abundance of caution, I have opted not to light a fire.

Until Sunday morning. We received a couple of inches of rain earlier in the week. The rain was already steadily falling as Sunday dawned. And a couple of more inches of rain were predicted for the first half of the week.

Time to build a fire. So I headed out to the wood bins (yes, wearing real shoes), and begin retrieving logs from the front wall of wood.

Scratch. Scurry. Scrape.

I paused. Something was living just behind those logs. Probably a mouse nest. Couldn’t be bigger.

SCRATCH. SCURRY. SCRAPE.

I paused. Listened. That sounded slightly bigger than a mouse, but now it was silent. I reached for the next log.

Scratch. Scurry. Scrape.

Ok, much bigger than a mouse. I wait for more noise. Silence. I grab the next log.

SCRATCH. SCURRY. SCRAPE.

Hmmmmm. I have reached a conclusion. I have plenty of wood to get the fire started and burn much of the day. If I reached for one more log, I had a vision that this would be what happened next:

woodpile

Maybe, whatever is living in there will be gone when I need more logs later.

Or, maybe, I will just get logs from the other bin. That will be a great plan. As long as I am not tucked into bed and suddenly hear

SCRATCH. SCURRY. SCRAPE.

Beware The Evil Escalator

Thanksgiving is here – a time to show our thanks by gorging on food until we are miserable and complaining about leftovers.

Retailers remind us that this is the official start of the Christmas shopping season. In fairness, many of them have been reminding us for a couple of months now. I even have a friend bragging that they have finished their Christmas shopping. For this year. Disgusting.

No one, however,  warns you about the dangers of an evil escalator. That’s my job.

I battled the escalator monster at the age of eight. To this day, I approach those moving steps with trepidation. Before entering, I check my feet to be sure that my shoes are secure, laces tied, and feet fully protected. You would be equally as cautious if you had had the battle.

I grew up in a small manufacturing town. Retail was primarily downtown; “the” mall would not open for several more years. Main Street – yes, it was really called Main Street – had a number of stores in its couple of blocks, but the highlight was our only department store. A multi-story department store. Ok, fine, a two-story department store. Santa Claus was there. A real, working train set circling a town. Christmas decorations. Crowds. Toys.

And a pair of escalators.

I have no specific memory of the down escalator, safely gliding you from the second floor to the first. But the up escalator lives in my nightmares. The time it attacked me. Held me against my will. My father wrestling me from the beast.

For some strange reason, we made a decision as mankind that we could no longer walk up or down a flight of steps without mechanical assistance. No, we needed the steps to move and carry us – and so we invented escalators. People simply step on to them, unaware of the danger, and ride from floor to floor.

goodescalator

Being kids, my older brother and I would turn the escalator ride into an adventure. We would walk backwards bumping into people innocently riding. We would lift ourselves on the handrails and fly. We would leap off of the end (I should have practiced that more). Or, we would simply hit each other for the fun of it.

Ah, siblings.

Lots of fun until Dad would get irritated at us and tell us to “Knock It Off.” That, of course, was the internationally recognized signal for the two of us to start arguing about who started it.

For some odd reason, we were often separated on these shopping trips. No clue why. It sure was not as fun for the two of us. Regardless, on the day of the evil escalator attack, I was with Dad.

The store was crowded with Christmas shoppers. I had already been given the usual warnings. Don’t wander off. Don’t touch that. Don’t break anything.

The item we needed was on the second floor. We approached the escalator without fear (and only a mild warning not to play around). I was in front of him (something about watching me closely) as we stepped on. The ride to the second floor was uneventful. The exit from the escalator was very eventful.

I simply stopped. Could not move. At all. My foot was glued to the floor.

The first person to collide into me was, of course, my father. “Come on, move it.”

I tried, but was totally immobilized.

“Stop clowning around.” He was using his Dad voice. Amazingly, it had no power over my sudden frozen state.

“I’m not. I’m stuck.”

People were now beginning to collide into my father. Frustrated at my game, he picked me up to carry me off the escalator. My foot, however, remained stubbornly stuck to the floor. I felt something like the incredible stretching kid.

Realizing that I was not moving, we entered the land of crazy questions. “What’s wrong?” he asked.

“I don’t know. I’m stuck.”

“How can you be stuck?”

“I don’t know.”

“Can you get unstuck?”

“Would I still be stuck if I could?” The situation was so crazy that I actually lived through that answer.

By now, the entire escalator was full of people trying to walk backwards to avoid the traffic jam. And a massive crowd was forming at the bottom of the escalator trying to get to the second floor. Most of them had no idea what was wrong. Of course, they couldn’t see me, only my father blocking the path. Let’s just say there was an incredible lack of Christmas cheer.

Doing his best to continue walking backwards, Dad examined my shoe. He spotted the errant lace. I was never particularly talented at keeping my shoes tied. Heck, I still struggle with that detail. A shoelace had ridden the steps underneath the guard at the top. Trying to pull my foot forward only wrapped the lace around the guard, locking my foot in place. Since I was trying to move forward, I had the lace wedged.

All we had to do, he deduced, was move backwards enough so that my foot was before the guard and slide my foot loose. That only meant moving the entire crowd backwards one step so we had room. Christmas cheer erupted again.

After much grumbling, struggling and pushing, we had success. My shoe came loose. We stepped off the escalator. The flood gates were released. Wave after wave of shoppers entered the second floor. Most of them had no clue what had caused the traffic jam.

Evil Escalator

To this day, I think of that moment every single time I step on an escalator. And I do mean every time. I automatically look at my shoes to make sure they are tied. And when I reach the end of an escalator, I lift my foot high to exit. I even use that jumping skill at the end of the ride.

I also live in a town where the stores don’t have escalators. That seems much safer.


Wishing you the Happiest of Thanksgivings. And, if you dare venture into retail this weekend, beware of the escalators. They are evil.

The Revenge Of The College Boy

Anyone who has ever worked a manual labor job to help pay for college has heard the taunt, “College Boy.”

Let’s face it, college may help you understand certain things, but most of those things are fairly useless in summer jobs. And the people who get to manage “College Boys” do enjoy rolling their eyes and uttering that phrase with a particular level of disgust. Until, suddenly, that knowledge is valuable and you exact your revenge.

One of those many jobs for me was as a Ranger’s Assistant.

Let’s repeat that job title. Ranger’s Assistant. Not Assistant Ranger. Don’t confuse the titles. An Assistant Ranger is a glorious job with rank, status, and admiration – at least in comparison with a Ranger’s Assistant.

A Ranger’s Assistant is the lowest form of life. Animals rank far higher.

Seriously. Many of the daily details had to do with wild animals making a nuisance of themselves. Snakes were common for me, captured with a glorified snake pole and transported to safety. No matter how many times I handled the task, an Assistant Ranger would always admonish, “Don’t hurt the snake.” Not once was a similar concern expressed for the lowly Ranger’s Assistant. We were easily replaceable. And, clearly a lower life form than the snake.

A perfect example was the vehicle I was assigned – a 1971 Toyota Land Cruiser. For those of you who suddenly visualized the fancy, comfortable SUV’s that today have the Land Cruiser brand name, let me assure you that is not what I drove. Think more like the old WWII Army Jeep and your image would be much more accurate.

land-cruiser

Others of you immediately thought of this Land Cruiser as a collector’s classic. Back in the mid 1980’s, it was not. Even if that particular vehicle still survives, it lacked many of the amenities of the classics sold today. Little details like seat belts. Windows. Doors. Roof. These items weren’t just removed. They didn’t exist. At all.

So, when I was given the keys, I was told not to let the radio get wet. No concern that I might get wet. The radio was much more valuable.

Not a radio that played music. That would have been one of those missing luxury items.

This was a two-way radio that communicated between rangers. And a way for a Ranger or Assistant Ranger to communicate to a Ranger’s Assistant to go do some thankless task. That “two-way” part of the radio was just a technical term for a Ranger’s Assistant, not a practical one.

The only other pieces of equipment in it was a revolving blue light mounted on the dashboard, which I was expressly forbidden from ever turning on, and a winch that I saved me or someone else many times.

We were paid in room, board, and a small salary.

The room was a tent with a cot and a shower house a short walk away.

Board consisted primarily of bread, cold cuts, and canned beans. And some liquid euphemistically called “Bug Juice” that was strangely addicting.

And the salary was small. Very small.

But there were no expenses. None. It was impossible to spend money outside of the occasional game of penny poker. There was no store close where you could buy anything. So, in a way, it was a great summer job to save money for the fall semester.

Besides, the job was fun. Oh, sure, many of the tasks were mundane – picking up trash, building 100 picnic tables one after the other, clearing brush – but I was also outside all day every day (even in the rain, huddled over a radio keeping it dry and safe).

And stories. Lots and lots of stories.

Building 100 picnic tables doesn’t make much of a story unless you enjoy the descriptions of pain in Jack London’s “To Build A Fire.” (Note – That is an affiliate link with Amazon. If you purchase the story, I do earn a few cents. Sort of like being back at the pay scale of a Ranger’s Assistant.) I do highly recommend the story. A good one on a cold, snowy day. I don’t, however, recommend building a hundred picnic tables one after the other. Trust me on this one.

But there was the amorous high school couple (a story which might also involve that blue light I was never allowed to activate). Or the time I was bitten by a snake (a funnier story than it sounds at first blush). Or the owl who hated me and a hawk who was my buddy. Or winching the Head Ranger’s truck out of the mud with my trusty Land Cruiser without daring to crack a smile.

But I will save all of those stories for other days and focus on the time my college education actually helped me in my job as a Ranger’s Assistant.

The Head Ranger was a terrific man. Tony was quiet, unassuming and had the natural talent to fix anything. He never yelled or showed anger – though he could mutter the phrase “College Boy” to reward a particularly bone-headed moment. But mostly, he taught by example. Getting assigned to work with him could be utterly exhausting, but always rewarding and educational.

So when he asked me to be in the shop one morning, I raced over.

In fairness, he didn’t ask. No engraved invitation arrived at my doorstep. I think the proper description would be that I was told to be in his shop.

But, it was a rainy day, so I welcomed the opportunity to be indoors. I raced over, parked the Jeep (just inside a barn to keep the radio dry), and entered the shop.

Tony informed me that we were building a pair of turnstiles, a project that I felt woefully unprepared to accomplish.

Part of the property under his care housed a Boy Scout Camp (I also worked there as a counselor for six summers which is how I weaseled my way into the Ranger’s Assistant’s job). The turnstiles were used to control the waterfront area so that the staff could maintain a headcount of the number of boys in the lake. Since the budget for all such projects was minimal to nonexistent, we were to weld turnstiles out of scrap metal.

Spread on the workbench were six metal pipes, each with an angle cut at one end and a cap at the other. Beside the pipes were two square, flat pieces of metal with a hole drilled in the center.

At this point, I thought it wise to mention to him that I had no clue how to weld. The look he gave me in reply would not be described as shock. Maybe amusement might be the better description. He quietly informed me that my job was to hold the pipes in place while he welded. Humbling to realize that your most valuable contribution at a given moment would be not to move.

I vowed to be the best statue possible. I almost vowed not to say anything else for fear of ridicule. That second vow lasted several minutes.

Tony placed the first metal square on the work bench. Three circular marks had been drawn on the plate. He instructed me to hold the angled end of each pipe on the appropriate mark and not move.

original-plateAfter looking at his marks, I said, “That won’t work,” forgetting the first job requirement was to remain totally quiet.

“What do you mean, College Boy?”

Gulp. “Uh, well, the way you have the three pipes. It won’t be even. The turnstile will be lopsided.”

“How many turnstiles have you built?”

At that moment, I chickened out and decided to stop.

Strangely, I would later learn that this was also a wise strategy in the corporate world. Pointing out a future mistake rarely is rewarded, particularly if the person making the mistake outranks you. Better to wait for the mistake to be made and then swoop in with the right answer. Sad, but true.

He went to work welding. I dutifully held the pipes. Several minutes later, it was complete. He hung it on a bolt so that it was properly positioned and proudly spun it.

As I suspected, it wobbled and was clearly lopsided. I wanted to scream, “I told you so,” but maturity and wisdom beyond my years held me. That and the desire to live until another delicious lunch of bread, cold cuts, beans and bug juice.

Tony stared at the turnstile sadly hanging on the bolt. Stared at me. Back to it. Back to me.

I held my breath and kept a straight face.

Finally, he muttered, “So, College Boy, how should it be?”

I went to work, drawing and measuring.

new-plate

Tony studied my pencil marks. “That won’t work.”

“Yes, sir, it will.”

“No, it won’t.”

“Yes, sir, it will.”

“College boy,” he muttered, but picked up his equipment and went to work. I held the pipes to the marks. Tony welded. And I sweated. I would never hear the end of this if I was wrong.

The welding complete, Tony picked up the turnstile and hung it on the bolt. He reached and spun. It revolved perfectly, no wobble at all.

He stared at it. Stared at me. Back to it. Back to me. “Well, we have got to do one more now to replace the first one.”

Some of you might have thought he would thank me. Or say I was right. No, I didn’t expect those words. But he did say I was right just by saying we needed to do one more.

I scrambled to gather the parts from scrap piles, returning with a square metal plate and three pipes. Wordlessly, he handed me a pencil and I marked where the pipes needed to be welded. We cut the pipes and he picked up the welding gear.

He looked at me. Looked at the plate. Looked at me. “So, College Boy, do you want to learn how to weld?”

“Yes, sir.” For those of you who missed it, that was Tony saying thank you. And he spent the rest of the morning teaching me to weld. We experimented first on scrap pieces of metal. After mangling many scraps, he finally had me turn my attention to the waiting turnstile. Under his very close supervision, I welded the three pipes to the metal plate.

We loaded the two completed turnstiles into his pickup truck and drove over to the Boy Scout Camp (leaving my trusty Land Cruiser dry in the barn). We mounted the two turnstiles at the lakefront, ready for the onslaught of Boy Scouts a few weeks later.

One turnstile had nice, clean welds. The other had messy, amateurish welds.

But both spun perfectly.

Not bad for a college boy.

Flight of the Abominable Snowman

Most people claim that the Abominable Snowman is a myth, but I know he is real. In fact, I know he can even fly. I actually witnessed the Flight of the Abominable Snowman. Or, Snowmen, because there were two.

The neighborhood where I grew up was an island of sorts. A raging river flowed through wild forests to our north. The wilds of Dare Devil Hill flanked our south. Giant fields stretched to our east. And another tribe claimed the land to our west.

neighborhoodc

I might have had something of a vivid imagination as a child. For example, we crossed that raging river to our north every day on our walks to and from my elementary school. On most days, I was successful jumping across its breadth. On the days I failed, my sneakers got wet. That wild river may have been only a few feet across and a couple of inches deep, but I thought of it as the wildest white water adventure.

On the weekends, we played in that wild forest – a couple of acres of trees nestled between neighborhoods. We had forts and hideouts and knew every square foot.

Dare Devil Hill was at least 6-7 feet high and surrounded by a couple of acres of vacant field. We rode our bikes through that field – and the bravest among us would ride our bikes up and down Dare Devil Hill (yes, we really did call it that. Of course, we all rode our bikes up and down. Once you received a Double Dog Dare, you had no choice but to tackle the challenge).

The giant fields to our east? The baseball and football fields of the High School I would go to in just a few years. We might have played on those fields quite a bit, even though it was strictly forbidden to do so.

And that tribe to our west? An apartment complex filled with kids . . . classmates and friends for 12 years.

We neighborhood kids were a tight knit group. We roamed across the entire neighborhood – all 52 houses – and ventured into those wild forests, forded that raging river, challenged Dare Devil Hill, played in those fields, and visited that neighboring tribe.

When we couldn’t sneak onto those high school fields, our cul-de-sac was our baseball diamond and our football field (tackles hurt). We road our bikes on the roads in addition to Dare Devil Hill and the field around it. We played hide and seek among the yards.

But, snow was the best. The white-out conditions, the drifts over your head, the arctic winds. Oh, and living in a Southern small town, that same imagination that gave my neighborhood such adventures certainly helped with my visions of winter. Being a fan of Jack London helped, too. The reality was that we would be lucky to get a couple of snows a winter that afforded us decent sledding weather.

sleddingroutec

We had many sledding routes, which essentially mirrored our bicycle kamikaze rides the other 50 weeks a year, but one was a favorite. When we had enough snow (sadly, not often enough), we could start the sled at the top of our driveway, careen down the slope (another childhood memory of steepness dashed when revisited as an adult), and across the cul-de-sac. With enough speed, we could enter the top of Kevin’s driveway, speed by his house and through his back yard (dodging quite real pine trees). Kevin’s back yard connected to Tim’s back yard which, of course, connected to Tim’s front yard.

And that is where the real fun waited. Tim’s front yard really was steep (to us kids) and you could get great speed just in time to cross the neighborhood road (fortunately, few cars ever came down that road) and into Kenny’s yard. Now Kenny’s yard was flat and, usually, you stopped about half way through. Which was good because that raging river was real, if only a few inches deep and a couple of feet wide. Failing to stop in time resulted in a very real splash down. We might have done that a couple of times over the years.

One particular winter, we had a couple of days of really good snow. Well, for us, really good snow. We had been making the run from my house, through Kevin’s yard, through Tim’s yard, and into Kenny’s yard (and mostly stopping before the creek) many, many times. The trail was becoming packed down, icy, and quite slick – all the better to go faster and faster.

SleddingGood

My father, as fathers are apt, thought this looked like fun. He asked us to describe the route. We did, downplaying the potential danger of crossing the road between Tim’s and Kenny’s yards. Then he asked if we would let him borrow our sled and do it himself. At this point, we thought it was wise to explain the creek to him. He appreciated the extra information and promised to stop in time. We hoped that he wouldn’t just for the laugh.

Another neighbor, overhearing the course description, decided he wanted to try, too. Having seen us stack 2, 3 and even 4 boys deep on a single sled, they decided that it would be more fun for the two of them to share the same sled rather than borrowing two sleds. My father lay down on the sled. The neighbor lay down on his back. And they started off down our driveway.

Physics is an interesting thing. I will admit that, at the age of 8, I did not fully grasp all of the details, but I did realize that extra weight would get your sled going faster. But two or three – or even four – boys stacked on a sled did not come close to the weight of two full grown men on a sled. Nor did we ever come close to matching their speed.

They crossed the cul-de-sac laughing and entered Kevin’s front yard. They laughter might have hesitated as they dodged the giant pine trees dotting Kevin and Tim’s respective yards, but they cleared all of the obstacles despite the fact the trees whizzed by in blurs. Like a roller coaster clicking to the pinnacle of that giant first hill, they were about to hit the steepest descent of all.

At which point one of us – I think it was my older brother – asked if we had thought to mention the manhole.

Our neighborhood had a network of drain lines to catch the rainfall and deposit it in the raging river previously mentioned. We knew those drain lines well, where they branched throughout the neighborhood, and where the various access points were. It is just the sort of things boys learn about their neighborhoods.

Dads tend to be less knowledgeable about those things.

Which leads us to that one particular manhole. Right on the property line of Tim’s front yard – about half way down that steep hill, was one of those access points. A concrete pipe was flush with the uphill portion of the ground, but several inches above the lower ground because of the slope. This created an amazing ramp, but each of us had learned the agony of the landing – right in the middle of the street below.

Again, dads tend to be less knowledgeable about those things.

So the answer to that question was, no, none of us had thought to mention the manhole cover ramp that they were approaching at the near speed of light, 350 pounds or so of combined human weight racing on a kid’s sled across a packed, icy track.

We watched, all giggling about how funny this was going to be.

If they had missed the manhole, all would have been fine (though they probably would have not only splashed through that raging river, they would have crossed it and careened into those wild woods – that had very real trees).

If they had hit the manhole with both metal runners, they would have done a spectacular Evil Knievel ramp across the Grand Canyon. Yeah, Knievel never jumped the Grand Canyon, but he was sure talking about it then. And he had already made many spectacular jumps (and crashes). We kids were all in awe and imagined how spectacular it was going to be. And we thought we were about to see our own neighborhood version of it.

Unfortunately, they didn’t miss the manhole. And they didn’t hit it with both runners. They hit with just one runner. And they never saw the manhole cover before impact.

We did, however, see the amazing corkscrewing sled and two human bodies somersaulting through the air. The flight was astounding. The crash landing was awesome. It was the stuff of legends.

DadSled

As young boys, of course, we were mature about it.

Oh, please, we laughed until we hurt. We howled. We hooted. We cheered.

They groaned and eventually picked themselves up out of the snow.

We asked if they wanted to go again. Amazingly, they declined.

We took our slightly mangled sled back to the top of the hill, and took off again. We all tried to recreate the Flight of the Abominable Snowman, but no one ever quite achieved the same artful level.

Even today, in that mythical land sandwiched between a raging river, vast fields, a neighboring tribe, and giant car repair business (Dare Devil Hill was long bulldozed over), they probably still talk about The Flight of The Abominable Snowmen.

Don’t Try This Recipe For Broiled Vidalia Onions

The Devil went down to Georgia . . . and left because it was too hot.

I am well known for publishing my tongue-in-cheek “Kitchen Tip of the Day” (a book I really need to compile), so I highly recommend that you DON’T try this recipe for broiled Vidalia Onions.

Most people in the United States and Canada are aware of the sweet taste of a Vidalia Onion. I wanted to share more facts with you, so I carefully researched them. Ok, fine, I looked up the “official” website for Vidalia Onions, but that is more research than I normally do.

Vidalia Onion

Did you know that the Vidalia Onion is the official vegetable of the State of Georgia?

You probably thought the official vegetable of Georgia was grits. Don’t be silly. Grits are the Official Prepared Food of Georgia. Honest.

Don’t laugh, though, because I ran across several unusual official state foods while researching this post:

> Lousiana has an official state meat, Natchitoches Meat Pie.

> Maine has an official state treat, Whoopie Pie.

> Connecticut has an official state cookie, the Snickerdoodle.

> Wisconsin has an official state pastry, Kringle.

Just in case you are from Texas or Washington, don’t fret. I know your official state vegetable involves sweet onions. For Washington, that would be the Walla Walla Sweet Onion. And Texas simply claims “sweet onion” as its official state vegetable. Not a very creative name, but this is the same state whose official snack is tortilla chips and salsa.

No other state can claim Vidalia Onions though because they must be grown in a certain region of Georgia, in and around Vidalia, Georgia, or they can’t claim the name Vidalia. You can’t grow Vidalia Onions outside of that area or the plant will just explode, and locusts will descend from the heavens, and rivers will flood.

Well, maybe not, but you sure can’t call them Vidalias or the US Department of Agriculture will be knocking on your door. Just like you can drink all of the sparkling wine you want, but don’t dare call it Champagne unless it came from the Champagne region of France. That is totally different.

Seriously, the claim is that the onions grown near Vidalia are so sweet because of the lower amounts of sulfur in the soil in that region. Which is funny, because sulfur is often associated with the devil and Georgia is hotter than hell, so you would think there would be more sulfur. So much for scientific reasoning.

The Devil went down to Georgia . . . and left because it was too hot.
The Devil went down to Georgia . . . and left because it was too hot.

Right around the time that the State of Georgia was debating the important issue of what the state vegetable should be (1990), I was working for a company with a manufacturing plant in Dublin, Georgia. Dublin is between Macon and Savannah (southeast of Atlanta) along Interstate 16. Importantly, Dublin is inside the official growing zone of Vidalia Onions.

This might be a little shocking, but the fastest route to Dublin from my home in Charlotte was not by air. Strangely, I could not find a direct flight between Charlotte and the Dublin International Airport. At least not, the Dublin in Georgia. And so I drove. Interstate to Augusta and then two-lane southern highways from Augusta to Dublin. In my black car. Solid black car. With black interior. In late July.

For those of you who have never had the pleasure of summer in the Southeast, let me suggest that you think of the hottest, muggiest sauna you have ever been in. Have the visualization? Good. Now just imagine even more heat and more humidity than that sauna and you are starting to approach a southern summer day. You don’t want to move because the mere thought of movement will start sweat pouring out of your skin.

Driving from the motel to the plant every morning was not too bad, but getting into that solid black car at the end of the day was tough. I would open the door, attempt to insert the ignition key without fainting from the heat, start the engine, and then stand just outside the car for a few minutes while it cooled off. You know, cooled off to equal the chill evening air . . . of the summer sun beating down on the asphalt parking lot. Hey, 100º was chill compared to the broiling temperatures inside that car.

Fond memories.

Anyway, to the onions. Thursday of a long week. I was trying hard to get the project done so that I could drive home that evening. Someone tells me I have a phone call. It’s my co-workers from Charlotte. They want to know if I will do a favor. They want a 40 lb bag of Vidalia Onions brought back. Can I do that?

Sure, I don’t mind, but I don’t have time to go get them.

No worries, came the reply, someone else in the Dublin office is already getting them. All I have to do is drive them home and bring them to the office tomorrow.

Sure. That sounds easy.

I go back to a room full of engineers and cost accountants working on a problem. Yes, I led an exciting life.

As the morning drags on, different people stick their head in the door asking us for one thing or another. At one point, someone asks for my car keys. Not unusual. We had far more people than parking spaces, so security often had to shuffle cars to let someone move. I tossed my keys to the person and went back to work.

Late afternoon. The project was done and I had “only” a four to four-and-a-half hour drive to get home, so I was eager to get on the road. I packed up my papers (shocking for those of you who are younger, but laptops were not yet common, so I had paper and – wait for it – floppy disks of data). I chatted with people in the office, got my car keys back from security, and headed outside.

I should mention that the plant was a giant laundry facility. We washed blue jeans – lots and lots of blue jeans. Stone washed jeans (which were actually washed with pumice stone). Acid washed jeans. And so on. Lots of humidity. Lots of heat. And stepping from that plant to the great outdoors was breathtaking – because it was hotter and more humid outside.

Sweat instantly formed on my body. The cars shimmered in the steam coming up from the asphalt. I staggered my way to my solid black car, inserted the key in the door (oh, yeah, key fobs were MUCH later), opened the door, and leaned in to stick the key in the ignition.

My eyes watered. The smell hit me. I nearly fainted.

I staggered back , gasping for air. Tears streamed down my face. A co-worker was getting into his car several spaces away, but paused, sniffed the air, and asked, “What the hell is that?”

“My car,” I gasped.

“What did you do to it?”

“I don’t know.”

He walked over, sniffed, and busted out laughing. He borrowed my keys, opened my trunk, and revealed a 40-pound bag of Vidalia Onions. A bag that had been placed in my trunk several hours earlier. My black car. Parked on asphalt. On a late July day. In Georgia. I had 40 pounds of broiled onions. Carefully placed right beside my suitcase with a week’s worth of work clothes. Even Salvation Army refused those.

My co-worker would have fallen on the ground he was laughing so hard, but he would have fried on that parking lot. His hooting brought others though, and they all were howling.

One other thing you should know about Southern summers. Bugs come out in the evening. Not a few. Swarms and swarms of bugs. Drive your car for four-and-a-half hours on a summer evening and you need to pressure wash all of the bug guts.

What you never want to do is drive with the windows open. Unless, of course, you can’t breathe with the windows closed. Or tears flow down your face. Then you have to ride with the windows open. And keep your mouth closed. Don’t swallow a bug to add to your misery.

Oh, I really enjoyed the new, burgundy car I drove that winter. New car smell and all.

 

Missing The Point Of Eye Tests

I was ten years old when I started wearing glasses. It would have been much earlier, but I was missing the point of eye tests.

To explain this, you first need to understand that academics came easy. My first few years of school consisted of near perfect scores on all tests.

As strange as this sounds, I remember the first word I misspelled on a test – carrot. I spelled it with one r. I was horrified – also with two r’s. My friend sitting beside me laughed that I didn’t know how to spell it because I knew how to spell everything. He was six, so you have to take that claim with a grain of salt.

Or maybe not. The next word I remember misspelling was extraordinary. Third grade spelling bee. Eighth round. There was a collective gasp when the teacher said, “Wrong.” Not that I am scarred – also with two r’s. Just please don’t offer me an extraordinary carrot for dinner or I might have a psychotic break.

extraordinary carrot

 

As much as words clicked for me, numbers were magical. Johnny has two apples. Mary gives him three apples. How many apples does Johnny have? All my friends were counting on their fingers (well, several of my friends were busy picking their noses), but the number 5 just instantly floated into my brain.

I also wanted to know how much per apple Mary charged Johnny. A dime an apple equals 30 cents. Yes, it was clear in the first grade that I was going into finance. A cold, hard capitalist six year old.

I can’t explain how it came so easily. I hated being told I had to show my work. I would look at a problem and the answer appeared like a vision. When I had to show my work, I would work backwards to create the steps. To this day, I rarely use a calculator.

But there is just one slight challenge –  academic prowess does not exactly move you up the exalted public school social strata. At the very pinnacle of the social pyramid of public school are the cool kids. They have a certain natural social grace and charisma. What they don’t exhibit is a natural ability to do long division in the third grade. Amazingly, that talent is not much appreciated.

The popular kids could throw a baseball or catch a football. I couldn’t do either one. Still can’t. The only sport in which I excelled as a kid – bowling. Not exactly hot with the cool kids.

And to prove exactly how geeky I am, I was good at bowling because it can be explained very mathematically. Seriously. It is basically one giant physics problem. You have velocity (how fast you roll the ball), friction (how dry the lane is), spin (revolutions of the ball), angles (the angle at which the ball collides with the pins) and inertia (the pins). Anyone who bowls regularly will tell you that bowlers do not aim at the pins – they aim at the arrows about 15 feet down the lane (called dovetails) and adjust based on the factors I noted above. Sadly geeky I know, but the following graphic – which I did NOT create – proves I am not alone with approaching bowling as one giant math problem:

Courtesy of Real World Physics Problems - Physics of Bowling.
Courtesy of Real World Physics Problems – Physics of Bowling

Yes, that is right. That graphic comes from a website dedicated to the physics of sports and other common interests. The mere fact that I even know such a website exists should cement my geek status.

Bowling is hardly the only sport that involves a lot of math, as that very website proves. Any good football quarterback or soccer striker understands a great deal about velocity and angles and resistance. They just happen to look much cooler doing it.

The other big difference in bowling is that your opponent can’t touch you. Sure, they can taunt you. They can steal your nachos. But they can’t touch you. And, until they invent full contact bowling, it is still a sport that allows you to do the math without fear of pain.

Full Contact Bowling

 

Back in the academic world of elementary school, I might not have been overly popular for acing every test. But, weirdly, everyone expected me to and, thus, I would take more ribbing for missing a test question than for getting a perfect score. Strange dynamics, but the more I achieved perfect test scores, the more pressure I put on myself.

Which brings me to eye tests. I was ten years old when my pediatrician discovered I couldn’t see very well. He wanted me to take a peripheral vision test, a test I had never seen and thus had never prepared for. All I had to do was look through a viewfinder and follow the bouncing red ball with my eyes.

Confidently, I leaned forward and stared into the whiteness of the screen. He waited a few seconds and spoke, “You can start when you are ready.”

“Ready.”

“Just follow the little red ball with your eyes.”

“Sure.”

We sat for a few more seconds until the doctor said, “Go ahead, you can start.”

“Ok. Whenever you want to start the red ball.”

Confused, he asked me to lean back. He looked into the machine and then looked back at me. “Go ahead and look through the viewfinder again.”

I did.

“Now follow the red ball.”

I waited for the red ball to appear.

He told me to lean back and wrote something on a piece of paper. He held it up. “Read this to me.”

I tried to lean forward.

“No, from there.”

I just shook my head. Who could possibly read something from that far away? He was sitting at least five to six feet away.

He moved the clipboard slowly toward me. “Just read this aloud when you can.”

Seconds before the clipboard bumped my nose, the words came into focus – “Can you read this?”

He sat back, surprised.

He pointed at a white spot on the office wall. I knew what it was. It was the same thing in the school office where they took us once a year for an eye test – a Tumbling E Eye Chart.

tumbling-e

“Which direction does the E face on the sixth line?”

“Up, Right, Up, Left, Down, Right, Left.”

“Correct.” After a slight pause, he asked, “Can you see the sixth line?”

“No.”

“Then how do you know the answer?””I memorized it.

“I memorized it.”

“Why didn’t you tell anyone that you couldn’t see it?”

“No one asked.”

Yes, that is correct. Every single year, every student was traipsed through the nurse’s office at school to take the eye test. You entered through a door right beside the eye chart and waited on your classmate to take the test. That wait was just long enough for me to memorize the chart. Then I entered the room, walked to the far end, and rattled off the directions of the E’s on any line they asked. Like everything else, this was a test. And tests must be passed.

With my doctor revealing my newfound eye test results, my parents whisked me to an ophthalmologist who diagnosed me the same way eye doctors have every since – my eyes are perfectly healthy; I am just extremely nearsighted. A few days later, I had brand new glasses on my face.

My father was driving me home and I was gazing out the window. Dad asked what I was thinking and I answered, “Holy cow, you can see the individual leaves on the trees.” You know how you draw trees when you are a kid:

tree1

I honestly thought that was what they looked like. Well, actually, I thought they were giant green blobs on a brown blob. I was amazed to discover that you could see individual branches and leaves. My father was not quite as amused.

The next day in class, I discovered that you could read what the teacher wrote on the board without having to walk close to it on the way out of the classroom. And catching a baseball was amazingly easier when you could see the ball coming directly at you – rather than waiting for it to hit you.

So I told you earlier about remembering misspelling carrot and extraordinary. I have another great memory from shortly after receiving my glasses.

We were at recess playing kickball. As always, I was playing deep, deep, deep right field where no one could possibly kick the ball. Weirdly, my classmates always thought I was most helpful in that position. I watched – with great clarity through my new glasses – as one of the best athletes in our school stepped up to the plate – Patrick Hall. With his athletic prowess, I am sure the next few seconds are not in his memory because of his sports accomplishments to come. There would be no reason for him to remember it.

But I sure do.

The kickball rolled toward him. His foot connected perfectly and the ball sailed high in the air, floating well above the heads of all of my classmates. Only I stood between Patrick and his usual home run. The difference for me was that I could see that bright red ball dropping from the sky, a newfound discovery. Ignoring the collective groan from my more athletically inclined classmates, I positioned myself directly under the ball. It hit me solidly in the chest just as my arms wrapped around it.

And the cheer went up. Patrick glared, stunned.

The geeky kid had caught the ball.

Go Home, Tourist, Go Home

Living in a tourist area has more positives than not, but sometimes I empathize with a little Charleston girl shouting, “Go home, tourist, go home.”

I love meeting many of the people who visit this area. I have had many a great conversation with people from all around the world.

Seriously, everywhere. A few years ago, a couple approached us in a local sandwich shop asking for directions. Their accents were obvious – Australian. I asked where they were from and they answered, “Australia” – probably a safe assumption since way too many Americans can not name more than a couple of Australian cities. Or think Crocodile Dundee is a fact-based story.

When I asked what city, they answered hesitantly, “Adelaide.” Imagine their surprise when I told them that I not only knew the city, but I had been to Adelaide several times. Many years ago, I had worked on a project in Adelaide and loved the city. We ended up talking about their favorite parts of the area and laughing about my excursions into the Barossa Valley (South Australia wine country).

So, yes, I love meeting the tourists to our area.

Well, most of them. Every now and then, you get the really weird one.

Another day at lunch, we were discussing one of the challenges of our elk. The magnificent creatures can also create a lot of headaches for the farmers and ranchers of the area. They also have a tendency to stand in the road and create terrible traffic obstacles. Nothing quite like rounding a bend in the road and a giant animal is daring you to try and pass.

A guy at the next table joined in the conversation, but not in the most helpful way. He said he was surprised the elk were “allowed” to leave the park (the Great Smoky Mountains National Park – commonly known as the “park” around here). He thought the entire park was fenced off like a zoo. And when we explained there was no such fence, he said we should build one.

Problem solved. (Yes, I will avoid the obvious “and make the elk pay for it” joke. Or, maybe not.)

 

Elk Leaving GSMNP

I ran into another such tourist just recently. Or, more accurately, just narrowly avoided running into one. As our cooler, drier fall air takes over the weather, the views will be for miles – ribbons of colors stretching over distant mountain ranges. The spectacular autumn beauty that Mother Nature provides attracts hordes of people, affectionately known as Leaf Lookers.

In case you think that is a derisive term, let me be clear – I am a Leaf Looker. A proud one. I love driving along the Blue Ridge Parkway and capturing spectacular photographs. But I should highlight out one important safety point.

Do not stop your car in the road for that picture. And, more importantly, do not stand in the road to get the picture.

Seriously.

Every single fall, I have at least one encounter with such a person. And I have already had my first this year. I was driving down the mountain from my house to the valley. The road is a two-lane, winding road with a 15% grade. No, that is not a typo. I am quite serious. 15%.

15% road sign
Honest. 15%

Driving down the mountain around a blind curve, I first saw the stopped car in my lane. And the driver’s door open. And the driver standing in the center of the road aiming his camera at some trees.

He seemed quite surprised to see me. And surprised to hear my squealing brakes. And a little put out that he needed to move. Once I made my way around, I watched – without any surprise – through my rear view mirror as he walked back into the center of the road to try his photograph again.

At that moment, I muttered a line I heard a little girl mutter years ago.

One of our favorite vacation spots is Charleston, SC. We have been going since I was a teenager, which was a very long time ago. Having visited so many times, we have walked virtually every single street in the peninsula area known as the historic district.

During one of those walks along a quiet residential street, we encountered a mom and little girl pulling into their driveway. They stepped out of their car and started to walk to their front door when the little girl turned and shouted, “Go home, tourist, go home.”

Go Home Tourist

The mom, as you can imagine, was horrified. But, let’s face it, the little girl did not make up that line. She had heard it. Possibly from mom herself. Maybe when they were slowed in traffic. Or had to dodge a photographer standing in the middle of the road. Or someone trying to walk into their house thinking it was a museum.

Seriously. I had people park their car in my driveway once, get out, and start taking pictures. When I asked what they were doing, they replied that they didn’t know anyone lived there. The dogs barking and the car parked in the driveway did not make that clear.

Back to Charleston. We were not insulted by the little girl’s shouted remark. Quite the opposite, we thought it was hilarious. Especially laughed at the mom’s surprised face.

Fast forward a year and our next visit to Charleston. We were again out for one of our strolls and happened to find ourselves on the exact same street. And we spotted the exact same little girl.

Only she was a year older and wiser. And, apparently, had figured out an important advantage of tourists visiting your city:

Lemonade Stand

Yep, the little girl had become an entrepreneur.

Smart.