Category Archives: Personal

Hunkering Down and Riding It Out

I consider myself a Houstonian. I was born in North Little Rock, Arkansas, and that town will always have a special place in my heart, but I was raised in the Houston area, so this is where I consider home. Having lived most of my life in this area, I have been exposed to the peculiarities of Houston weather, from the boiling hot summers where you can literally cook and egg on the sidewalk (cook it, not eat it) to the days where all four seasons compete for attention with rain, snow, and heat all within the same twelve hours. I have worked outside in the summer of the drought where we had more than 90 consecutive days of heat in excess of 100 degrees and during the few days in winter where snow actually fell and accumulated enough to build small snowmen. In all my time here, I have also had my fair share of hurricanes and tropical storms and it never fails to impress me just how stupid people get in the face of extreme weather. Just one trip to the store this week demonstrates just how little people think when faced with the unusual.

The first serious storm I can remember is hurricane Alicia back in 1983. I was 18, I think. We lost power for a few days and several branches littered the yard and the street. I don’t remember that we flooded during that time. It was a few weeks after Alicia that several tornados came through and took down a tree in our yard, laying it across the breezeway of the house. I remember a neighbor was a construction contractor and he had a work crew up on his roof during the height of the storm repairing his roof damage. During that storm, bottled water wasn’t a thing and I don’t remember my mother raiding the stores for 15 loaves of bread or 12 cases of canned goods, yet we had food to eat and plenty to drink.

When hurricanes Katrina and Rita threatened was the first time I noticed the fear mongering on the TV. Weather forecasters began crying for people to get out of town. It was the first time I saw people panicking about the weather. It was the first time I experienced people rushing the stores and gas stations. There were lines for miles to get into the gas stations. Somehow, I managed to weather the storm without ransacking the local Kroger.

During hurricane Ike in 2008, people panicked again. This is not to say there was no cause for concern. Many people ended up losing their homes in that storm and thousands were without power for weeks. This is the reason for hurricane preparedness plans, so people can have a plan for what to do in the event of a serious tropical storm. I have a plan, too, it just doesn’t involve loading multiple shopping carts. There’s nothing wrong with buying provisions, but It’s the people who clear store shelves that just bother me.

Think, people! It’s not like there will never be water or bread ever again. The stores will restock. The most serious storms have effects lasting a week or two tops. There’s no need for one person to buy every loaf of bread on the shelf. People dragging three shopping carts loaded for bear to the register is ridiculous. I try to limit my normal grocery shopping to no more than once a week. It helps with managing my budget to buy a week’s worth of groceries at a time. If I have a week’s worth, then I should be fine for any storm that comes along, since the effects will probably only last a week. I see no need to have 10 loaves of bread going stale or moldy on my counter, or having three cases of bottled water taking up space in my pantry, especially when I have filtered water in my fridge and I don’t drink much water anyway, or having so many canned goods in my pantry that I could open a food bank.

Hurricane Harvey is currently bearing down on the Texas coast and the weather prognosticators are predicting flooding as bad or worse than Allison and winds worse than Ike. The news is saying it will be the most severe storm to hit America in years. This is drumming up a panic in the population just like they did for Katrina, Rita and Ike, particularly in those who have moved into the area since Ike and who haven’t experienced such a storm. The news is about to go into 24 hour storm watch mode, preempting normal programming for the duration of the storm, or until everyone loses power. Either way, I have a week’s worth of non-perishable food, plenty of water, candles, and batteries for my flashlights. If this one turns out to be worse than Ike, I can still evacuate. My readiness plans account for that eventuality too. This comes from being a Houstonian and having survived several tropical storms and hurricanes in my day. That, and having the ability to think.

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Filed under Media, Personal, Society

Observations During a Mundane Afternoon

After several weeks of procrastinating, I finally got my list of chores done this week. Among other chores, I got my hair cut, the oil changed, tires rotated, and the car detailed.

I needed a haircut, so while I was getting my oil changed at Walmart auto center, I went to the TGF hair salon in the Walmart for my quarterly trim. While the beautician was delicately snipping the half inch off the top (only the grays, I told her) an older, brightly clad bottle-blonde woman with blue-veined legs emerging from hot pink spandex shorts came in, walked up to my attendant and demanded Paul Mitchell face soap.

“We don’t have any,” the employee said, not missing a snip of her scissors.

“Could you order it?” the woman persisted.

“I’m afraid not,” the employee started to reply, but didn’t get to finish the thought.

“Why not?” the woman interrupted.

The employee stopped snipping for a moment. I caught her eye in the mirror and gave her a bemused smile of sympathy. “We don’t carry it,” she answered.

“So, you can order it.”

“No, ma’am.”

“Why not? You carry other Paul Mitchell products.”

The manager came out and took over the conversation, desperately trying to get the woman to understand that face soaps are not a product that TGF can order. The customer seemed unable to process that a hair salon does not carry the facial product she wants. The question “why not” was asked after every statement.

“Well, I’ll be back in a week to pick it up. Please order it for me,” the woman demanded as she pushed her shopping cart out of the store. We all snickered when she wandered out of sight.

While sitting in the chair getting my ears lowered, my stomach started rumbling. During this week, there was a discussion online about In-n-Out Burger coming to Houston, so I decided to have lunch at what I thought would be its most direct competition, Smash Burger. After that meal, I have determined that Smash Burger is not in competition with In-N-Out Burger. And having had In-N-Out on more than one occasion, the real competition it has to beat is 5 Guys or Whataburger. Smash Burger is above McDonalds and Burger King, but that’s about it.

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While leaving Smash Burger and heading to Discount Tire, I came upon a lone wheel rolling down the feeder road, weaving lazily from one lane to the other, never quite finding the curb before angling back across traffic. It rolled for at least a mile before it wandered down a side road. There was no car pulled over that was missing said wheel, no indication that anyone had lost it and no one appeared to be looking for it. It was just out for an afternoon jaunt all by itself. Makes you wonder what else your car does when you think it’s parked.

I left Discount Tire and headed over to the car wash. After getting my car detailed, I stopped in a parts store to get a battery for my motorcycle and then to the gas station to fill up the tank. Before I could even open the gas cap, a van pulled up beside me and a young Hispanic fellow stuck his head out of the window.

“Hey, man,” he asked, “you need a new home theater system? I got a spare one in the back.”

“Nope. I’m fine, thank you.”

“You sure, man? I can let you have it cheap.”

“I’m good.”

As they drove off, I had to wonder of what truck that system “fell off” or whether or not some home was missing its stereo.

On the way home, after completing all the tasks I needed, including getting the car detailed, the skies opened up and rained all over my car. But, it’s all good. It just gave my car “the wet look.”

It was an interesting afternoon, to be sure.

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Running in the Family

When I was a child, I would occasionally spend the night with my Grandmother in Cabot, Arkansas and just after bed time, a large train would come rumbling by her house, as she lived less than 100 yards from a main line, and I would jump out of bed to watch the train go by. The night air was cool and the grass and pavement were lit by the moon and starlight and the one or two street lamps that ran along the road between the house and the train track. The lonesome whistle of the engine and the clickity clack of the train wheels on the steel tracks were the only sounds I heard as I watched the trains roll along. I wouldn’t budge from my perch until I saw the caboose roll along into the darkness. Some nights, I went to bed disappointed once the railroad companies stopped using cabooses.

Figure 1 My Granddad Standing next to a retired steam locomotive circa 1970.

My mother tells me that both of my Grandfathers worked for the Missouri Pacific railroad back in the forties, fifties and sixties; mom’s dad was an engineer and dad’s dad was a conductor, and both worked for the railroad until their respective deaths. Their company was eventually bought out by Union Pacific.

My father has always had an interest in model trains as long as I can remember. His preference was the large modern diesels that pulled America’s freight ( I surmise this was because of his career in transportation logistics) while I preferred the old steam locomotives of the 1800s.

My parents bought me a train when I was a child, one of those carpet trains with the oval shaped track that could be set up and taken down quickly. Of course, the problem with those train sets was that in designing them that way, the manufacturers guaranteed themselves repeat business as pieces would invariable get broken or lost in the process. Another problem with those sets was that running the train in a perpetual circle or oval got boring pretty quickly. The only way to alleviate that boredom was to actually build a model railroad with buildings and tunnels and bridges.

My father had a grand plan to set up a full scale model railroad on a large piece of plywood with miniature buildings, cars and trees; a small scale duplicate of a slice of America that we could control. Sadly, this model never reached fruition as we didn’t have room for it in the house and when we started it in the garage, it got pushed aside to make room for more practical matters. I hear from mom that he did eventually set it up after I moved out on my own.

Sometime around 1997 or 1998, my dad and I went to the Arkansas railroad museum in Pine Bluff. While we were there, I bought a small N-scale steam locomotive and a few cars and some track; enough pieces to build a small working electric train setup. I had no aspirations of building a large model train set, but I always like the wood-burning steam engine with its large bell-shaped smoke stack, and I wanted to have one that would run on my desk while I did my homework, since was attending college at UALR. I don’t remember ever getting it running, though, and that engine sat on a piece of track on my desk until I moved away. Then it sat in the hutch on my desk for another 16 years, doing nothing more than gathering dust.

In December, 2016, I took an assignment to write an article about a display at the Houston Museum of Natural Science called Trains over Texas. The museum had a large O-Scale model railroad built featuring natural and man-made landmarks of Texas. While researching the story, I watched the model trains run and talked to several museum docents, who were avid train modelers. This reignited my interest in model trains and I became interested in whether my old train would still run after all these years. Of course, this meant I would need track and transformer, which I did not have.

In trying to find one, I determined it would be cheaper to just buy a boxed railroad train set from Amazon, rather than piece the track together.

I got the train set, put it together and ran the n-scale coal-burning steam locomotive that came with the kit. It worked fine. I then put my old train on it. It sputtered and spun its tires and did its best to run, but it needed some TLC and maintenance before it was going to work. I knew nothing about maintaining a locomotive. I had to learn quick.

I quickly found out that model railroading is not a mainstream hobby, and the big box hobby stores are woefully inadequate to supply the model railroad hobbyist. Michael’s has absolutely nothing for trains and Hobby Lobby only stocks two or three boxed train sets, but no individual pieces or models. As a matter of fact, a Google search turned up only two hobby stores in the entire Houston metroplex that serves the train community.

G&G hobbies is a general purpose hobby shop in Rice Village that does have a few locomotives, track, models, and even some box sets. It even has parts to repair trains, so that’s good. It does have a very large selection of rolling stock (trainspeak for train cars). Sadly, the focus of the store is Remote Control (RC) toys and plastic models, and apparently only one employee knows anything about trains. As such, G&G was unable to help me service my little Jupiter.

Papa Ben’s is a train shop in the Montrose area which offers nothing but trains. Its entire focus is model railroading. They even have a “club room” with a huge N-scale layout setup where members of the local train club come and play. One employee, a tall man named Steve, not only was able to educate me on how to maintain my Jupiter, he even fixed the broken coupler on the tender for me. I was able to get several ideas for my train setup and all the part I need to complete it.

I also attended a train show in Stafford that had several stores from all over the country as well as many of the chapters of the model train club. I took my grandsons to this show and they had a ball controlling an HO switcher to put together all the cars needed to form a train.

An old high school friend of mine contacted me several months prior and offered me the chance to partner up with him in a hobby shop in New Hampshire. When he found out I like model railroading, he became very excited and declared I would be the train guy! Now, I am learning a lot about trains as a result of my efforts to fix my Jupiter, but I don’t know if I’m “the train guy.”

I learned about a new technology in model railroading that did not exist the last time I entertained the notion of trains. Digital Command Control equipped trains have a computer chip that allows the train master to run multiple trains on one track independently. With old DC technology, any train on the track would draw the current from the transformer and they would all run based on the amount of current. The train master couldn’t set independent speeds or stop a single train. It was all or nothing. Also, DCC allows the master to turn the train light on and off at will. Some trains even have a sound chip so it actually rings the bell, whistles and chugs along the track with realistic noises.

Now I have gotten the idea to retrofit my Jupiter with one of these DCC chips and an LED bulb to make it more realistic.

While I was in a train shop in New Hampshire, I found two flat bed cars with Army tanks on them. I thought they were clever so I bought them so I would have something more interesting than just plain old box cars or tanker cars. At a store in Austin, I found a surface to ground missile on a rail car. At a train show in New Braunfels, I found flat bed cars with other military vehicles and I got the idea of making an Army train. I bought two flat beds with a duce-n-half, two ¼ ton jeeps an M113 and an M577; all vehicles I drove in the my time in the Army. So now, I plan on having a Chessie System locomotive pull my Army train, my Union Pacific engine pull the box cars and I am thinking of getting some logging cars for my 0-6-0 steamer to pull. My Jupiter will pull my excursion train, which has a Pullman car and two open sided passenger cars.

All I had to do at this point was build a model train layout on which my trains could roll. I’m creating a new blog to document the development of my model. Have fun. I hope I will.

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A Good Reason for Change?

A man looks for a car. He has in his mind an image of what he wants; the type of motor, the body style, the make and model and the color. Most people who go to buy a car have these ideas in mind at the outset. A lot of people are lucky enough to not only find that car that matches their wish list, but at a price that they can afford too.

Others are not so lucky. Oh, they might find a car that checks off a couple of the boxes, but not all. Say it has the motor, but it is a four-door and they wanted a two-door, or, it doesn’t have a sun roof, or it is midnight blue and they had their heart on candy apple red, or they find the perfect car, but it is way too expensive.

What many people in this latter group do is settle. The go ahead and buy the car that comes close to what they want, figuring they will grow to love it anyway. Or maybe they can upgrade the car later on. Say, swap that V-six for a V-eight, or add a sun roof, or maybe just a paint job. If only they could change the car they settled on into the one they wanted in the first place, life would be good.

And there is no problem with that. Really, none.

What is a problem is when we apply that same kind of thinking to our romantic relationships. A woman goes looking for a husband. She has in her mind the perfect mate. She finds one that on first blush seems perfect, but after closer examination, say a few dates, she notices a few things that don’t line up with her expectations. This happens all the time. There is no perfect mate. Everybody has some kind of personality quirk that may vex someone else. So this woman has to decide: accept the quirks and be happy with the aspects of this man that do line up with her wish list, or cast him aside and keep looking. These are two viable and acceptable choices. All too often, however, the woman will get it into her head that if she could change this guy, tweak those pesky attributes into something more in line with her desires, then he would be perfect. And she sets out to do just that.

This is inherently dishonest, both to the man in question and to the woman herself. She is setting herself up for failure. It is not that the man can’t or won’t change. He may, he may not. The failure is that she sets the expectation that he will, which has at its core an inherent deadline that predicates failure. She may not even be consciously aware of it, but in her mind is the thought “if he doesn’t change by this time, I’m out of here.” She may even tell the guy that she wants him to change. He may even say, “Because I love you and I want this to work, I’ll change.” Change doesn’t really work that way.

A compass can change its orientation. By the laws of physics, a compass always points to the magnetic north, no matter how it is held, but place a powerful magnet near the compass, and it will reorient to point to the magnet. It does not do this because it wants to. It does not do this because the magnet asked it to. It does it by simply being in proximity to the magnet. It has no choice. The magnet has no choice. It just happens.

If a man is to change for a woman, he does not do so because the woman asks him to. He does not really do so because he consciously wants to. He simply has no choice. He IS changed merely by being in her presence.

Relationships are hard enough on their own, but to add the effect of an unrealistic expectation of change is to doom the relationship at the start. Better to just deal with the initial disappointment at the onset and move on than to spend years trying to change someone into the perfect mate. Love the one you’re with is the title of a song and it is also a good way to live love. If a person wants someone to change, they don’t really love them. They love the idea of what they could be if they change, and that is not the same thing.

In the end, after spending all the money and time converting the car he settled on into the perfect car, the man ends up spending more than he would have just buying the car he wanted in the first place and either winds up wrecking it, selling it or trading it in anyway. Maybe it’s better just to walk.

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The Only Thing To Fear…

When I first applied for a job with my company it had another name, and the interviewer’s first question was “how do you feel about attics in the summer,” not “are you afraid of heights.” Now, both are valid concerns for a technician because techs to spend a bit of time in attics even in the summer. Techs also spend a bit of time in an elevated work position, either on a pole, or against the steel cable running between poles (we call it the strand) up to twenty-eight feet off the ground. My answer to that first question was “No problem.” I spent a lot of time in the attic in my parents’ house growing up, so I didn’t think it would be a problem. To be honest, if he had asked about heights, I would probably been just as nonchalant about it as well, since I was a bit of a climber as a child. It turns out I was wrong to be so cavalier about it. Monkey bars, laundry poles, playhouses etc. are no more than five or six feet up. Twenty-eight is a whole different perspective and your perception changes at altitude.

Today I recertified to teach technicians to climb utility poles. This is not a new thing. I have been teaching this for eleven years quite successfully. The reason I mention it is that there are two ways to get a technician up a pole: using a ladder and using gaffs. Now most people can figure out how to climb a ladder on their own. The trick of training ladders is not training people to climb, but rather all aspects of how to handle a ladder from picking it up safely, to carrying it safely, to setting it up safely and then climbing it safely. This is why there is a re-certification requirement. The other way is more involved. Gaffs are steel spikes strapped to the leg that are kicked into the wood of the utility pole as the technician climbs. Sharp steel spikes? Safety is an issue. Twenty feet up a wooden pole with no support other than a quarter-inch steel spike? Safety is an issue. In order to teach technicians how to climb, we instructors have to demonstrate that we know how to do it safely.

I was trained how to gaff in my new hire technical training in 2001. I was younger then—thirty-six, if memory serves—and smaller too. When my instructor got us all geared up and showed us how to approach and address the pole, I was non-plussed. I was still good to go when we climbed up to six feet on the pole. However, when he instructed us to continue climbing passed ten feet, it was as if the air became molasses. Each movement of my hands and feet took great effort and focus. The ground looked really far away. There didn’t seem to be as much oxygen in the air. The pole felt a lot flimsier and seemed to move back and forth a lot more. I did manage to pass the test and I was certified to climb in the course of my job, which I did several times the first month. After that, I tended to use the ladder more frequently, as most techs seem to do. In fact, for several years, my gaffs stayed stowed in my truck, never seeing the light of day.

Until I became an instructor.

Since I would be training the new techs in all aspects of their job, I had to teach them how to climb both with ladders and gaffs, which necessitated being certified not only to climb, but to teach climbing. This meant my climbing had to be textbook perfect. In that molasses-thick, oxygen-thin, skinny-pole air above ten feet, I had to be perfect. Well, this required practice, so I did. I had to tell myself that the air wasn’t really molasses, and it had plenty of oxygen, and the pole was perfectly fine for climbing. After all, part of my training was how to evaluate a pole for climbing. My perceptions were entirely in my head. Fear had taken control and made me perceive these difficulties. Besides, I had done it hundreds of times. “I can do this,” I said to myself. So I did. And I achieved my qualified safety trainer certification for both ladders and pole, as well as other aspects of workplace safety.

A few months later, I was informed that some of us were going to be certified to be expert safety trainers in the various safety disciplines, included ladder and pole. The Expert Safety Trainer (EST) is the instructor that certifies other instructors so they can, in turn, certify the technicians. I volunteered to go to pole and ladder, even though I still struggled with the molasses above ten feet. I figured the best way to handle my fear was to face it head on. Every time I addressed the pole, I relied on my training and experience to get me through, but every time I approached the pole I still felt trepidation at clipping the belt on and off the pole at the molasses heights. But something happened today that helped me get past that. We are using a new technology for fall arrest protection (keeping a person from falling off the pole if the gaffs come out of the wood) which the company is trying to distribute across the market. Once I was elevated, it occurred to me that nothing was going to make me fall, no matter what. All of the sudden, the molasses thinned. The climb didn’t seem so daunting. The air was still thin because we’re testing in Colorado Springs—more than a mile above sea level—and the air really is thin here; headache-causing, nausea-inducing thin.

Once I first achieved my EST certification, I continued to teach ladder handling regularly. The company, however, decreed that new hire technicians no longer needed to climb with gaffs, so there was no need to train them to do so. Because of this, I have not trained a pole climbing class in six years, yet I still recertify every year, just in case. Now, twenty feet seems quite comfortable as I have realized it was fear itself that made the air into molasses.

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Go West Young Man

The morning sun shines down through the leaves of the aspen between the peaks of the Rockies and I marvel at the scenery and wish I could enjoy this kind of natural beauty every day. Driving in a rented Kia Sorrento is not doing the trip justice. I need my convertible Mustang or better yet, my Shadow Aero, since the mountains tower over the road and I have to crane my neck to see them, and the road is as curvy and winding as any I have navigated. My Mustang would love to test its suspension on these roads. I lean into each turn and revel in the feeling of being pulled this way and that as a new vista appears before me after each curve and I wish I was on my motorcycle. I have no schedule to keep, no pressing matters to attend to, so I can just wander down these mountain roads till my heart’s content. I have already written several years ago about how I feel drawn to the mountains, but it is more than that. In the 1800’s, as land was plentiful and jobs back east were scarce, there was a marketing push to entice people to move out to the newly opened west that said “Go West Young Man.” As my life has been changing and presenting more challenges, I’m hearing that slogan more and more lately.

For this year’s recertification trip to Colorado, I took some vacation time and came up ahead of time to have a little mini-vacation. I was originally thinking about spending time hiking near Pike’s Peak and Colorado Springs, but then I remembered something someone told me about the Elk bugling in Estes Park. I’ve been to Pike’s Peak twice already, so, when I left the airport in Denver, I drove north to Estes Park instead of south. I booked no reservations. I researched no activities. I just drove and allowed my mind some freedom. Of course, one drawback was that, without reservations, I had no place to spend the night and since I landed at eight PM and it takes at least an hour to get out of the Denver airport, it was after 10:30 when I reached Estes Park. No place was open. I was seriously worried I would be spending the night in the car. Fortunately, I found an Econolodge that, even though it was also closed, the owner lives in the office, so he booked me a room.

I woke up early and wandered the streets in Estes Park this morning before the town woke up. None of the stores were open and several people were setting up a farmer’s market in the town square. The skies were clear blue and the air clung to a chill that made me question my decision to not bring a jacket. As I walked along the quaint main street, I even heard the bugling of an Elk. I saw a couple of them as well. They walked right in front of me as I drove down the road, just like they fully believed they had the right of way. After the stores finally opened, the people came out in droves. The roads filled up quickly, jammed with all kinds of vehicles from Jags to Beemers to motorcycles to Vespas. I figured it was time to get out of town, so I drove along one of the roads leading out of town and once I cleared all the touristy places and found nature, I was blown away by the scenery. If I never before made the connection as to why these were called the Rocky Mountains, it became clear today. The mountains are full of jagged slabs of granite, limestone and dolomite interspersed with the aspen, oak and evergreen forests. Large boulders are everywhere as are spills of smaller boulders, rocks and pebbles. It is a plethora of rocks.

Since it was getting close to lunch time, I decided to turn around and head back. I was hoping to find another hotel or B&B that was not too expensive, but the only ones I found were twice what the Econolodge charged. It seems Estes Park is a tourist town. It also seems that there is an Irish festival in town this weekend, which accounts for the scarcity of rooms and the higher rates. So I booked another night in the same place. Definitely not the nicest hotel I have stayed in, but since I only plan on sleeping there, I thought “eh.” I have to get up and out early to hike the trails if I want to see the moose and squirrel. And bear. And elk. And whatever other creature I can find.

After securing the room for another evening, I decided to tool around a little and saw a sign that said “Devil’s Gulch” and thought, hey! That sounds like a grand idea! So I drove down the road, fully expecting to see perhaps an old mining town, or a ghost town or something. I saw Glenhaven. It seems there is not a specific place called Devil’s Gulch, rather, it is an area that includes Glenhaven, which was essentially a road nestled in the mountains with about four buildings. The largest one was a B&B that I thought would be an even better place to stay than the Econolodge, but it was closed for renovation. Upon closer examination, it needed some serious renovation. Across the street was the general store offering coffee for a quarter. It was really not much more than a convenience store with a tiny deli counter. Outside the store was a large box on a pole. Inside the glass-fronted box were several books; about twelve. Above it was a sign that said Glenhaven Library. That says pretty much everything about Glenhaven. I would live there though, just for the views. Spectacular.
As I left Glenhaven it occurred to me. I hate crowds. I hate traffic. I hate the hustle and bustle of city life. I have lived in Houston for fifteen years now and the only reason I moved there was to be closer to my kids. In that time, Houston has only gotten bigger and more crowded. I want to live out where one can drive for an hour without seeing another person. I want to live where the only people I see are close friends and family, and then only on occasion. Even Estes Park is too crowded for me. It is a tourist town. I know many people come here on vacation all the time. These people book the resorts and the B&Bs and the luxury hotels. I never really appreciated that kind of vacation. When I go places, I want to immerse myself in the culture and history of the area. I want to experience the place the way the residents do, not the tourists. I want to see the natural beauty, the history, the life of a town, not some contrived entertainment designed to appeal to tourists that don’t really know the area. This is why I leave the town and drive. On that curvy little road, I spotted dozens of log cabins, ranch houses and even some mini-mansions. This made me think that maybe there are no more wide open places anymore, but these houses are spread out, so it’s not like they’re a subdivision. I could live in one.

A small creek runs alongside that road out of Estes Park and at one point, there was a small waterfall. I stopped there to get some photographs, which necessitated climbing down to the creek from the
road across a bed of large chunks of granite and limestone to get to the creek. After I shot my pics, I took several moments to just sit there and let myself be open to nature, open to God, open to whatever thoughts would come. People don’t commune with nature enough and people certainly don’t pray enough. I did both and I felt at peace there, in that moment. Perhaps the mountains are indeed calling for me to head west.

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Driving the Dream

There aren’t many things that are more satisfying than making the final payment on a car note. The last car I bought was a 2009 Ford Escape and I made sure to pay a little more than the scheduled payment each month so it would be paid off as quickly as possible. When I issued that final payment in 2013, I was ecstatic. No more car note! The car was still new enough that maintenance wasn’t an issue. No need to keep a tool box in the trunk just in case the car broke down. I have had cars where that was a requirement. I remember spending a scorching afternoon on the side of the road swapping out an alternator in a 1994 Chevy Corsica while my girlfriend sat on the curb and that toolbox got a workout. As I have gotten older, I appreciate not having to do my own mechanic work on my vehicles, so it was a relief to have a car I owned free and clear that didn’t need a toolbox. Well, I managed to make it three years with no car note, but circumstances dictated it was time to get a new car, no matter how badly I didn’t want to have to pay for one.

Of course, there is no way—in the strictest sense of the word legal—to obtain a new car without paying for it, so I had to consider if I wanted to go cheap and buy a used car or commit to a payment schedule demanded of a new car. New, or used: that was the question, and it was a question to which I didn’t like the answer. Sure I could buy some beater vehicle. I could pull some money out of savings and own the vehicle free and clear without getting under a payment schedule. But then, I would probably have to start toting a toolbox around again. I hated that option. It’s not that I can’t do the work; I just don’t want to. I looked through Craig’s List and a few other websites at the vehicles listed and the one’s that looked more mechanically trustworthy were almost as expensive as a new car. Unfortunately, the only ones I was willing to pay for looked like they would need a toolbox insurance policy.

I had a conversation last night with a friend of mine about do-it-yourself work after he had spent the afternoon repairing a water pipe feeding his house. He takes great pride in that he saved so much money by not having a plumber come out to fix it. I have done plenty of do-it-yourself jobs over the years. Most recently, I fixed my air conditioner. I can do most mechanical or electrical work if needs be, but, as I said, at my age, it is more satisfying to have someone else do it, particularly if that work is under warrantee. If someone else fixes it and it breaks, it doesn’t cost any more to fix it again. Warrantees are wonderful things like that. Know what comes with a warrantee? A new car!

So, I decided to go the route of a new car, even though it meant a car note. Now the question becomes one of “which car” as I looked through the dealer’s websites. Now, before I go into how I picked my car, let me say this: I was doing this car shopping right after my marriage broke up, so I was not in the best frame of mind to make a decision that comes with a huge financial commitment. Remember how, in high school, they told you never to go to the grocery store hungry? If you did, you’d buy all this food you didn’t need and pay a lot more than you should have. Right? Well, let me add this: Never buy a car when you’re emotionally compromised.

I am a practical person. I buy practical vehicles. I have had two SUVs, a sedan, and a station wagon. The sportiest vehicle I have ever bought was a 1994 Dodge Shadow and technically, that was my wife’s car as I was driving it’s more practical sister, the Plymouth Sundance. Even my motorcycle is a cruiser instead of a sport bike. I am not a “sporty” guy. But inside of each of us is that hidden, secret, sporty streak. We look at Camaros and Corvettes and Chargers and Challengers and wish we could have one. Since I am not a big fan of GM or Dodge, I like Ford. So my secret wish was the one sports car that has been in constant production since its inception in 1964—the year of my birth—the one car that is as old as I am: the Mustang.

In 1984, I was home on leave from the Army and I wondered into Frontier Ford in Humble. Now, as a private in the Army I had no money to buy any car, much less a sports car. But the salesman took a look at me in my uniform and walked me right up to the convertible Boss Mustang sitting front and center on the showroom floor and with a big sweep of his arm, opened the door and told me to sit in it and give it a try. Now, even though I knew there was no way I was going home with this dream machine, I sat in it. I didn’t even say no when he asked if I wanted to test drive it. He opened the big doors of the showroom, drove it out to the lot and offered me the driver’s seat. What would you do? Of course, I took it! I drove that baby up and down the freeway at speeds that I can’t confess to so I am not admitting to any crime. I had a ball, but I knew it was only going to be that one time. I would not be able to own such a fine machine.

It’s funny how at times when your emotions are all in flux, frustrations from years ago percolate up and get mixed up in your decision making process. There, as I was looking through the available cars on my computer screen, was a cherry 2016 convertible Mustang calling to me. It was as if my 1984 self was being given a second chance. I had already looked at the Fusion and the Escape and the Explorer, and the rational, reasoning part of my brain knew I was going to test drive those more practical options, but I wrote down the VIN number for the Mustang just to see it. Perhaps I would test drive it and relive the memory of my last drive.

The next day my friend came over and ferried me to the lot. That was how sure I was going to be driving home in a new car, I didn’t even ride my bike so I wouldn’t have to figure out how to get it home. We started walking the lot, heading straight for the Fusions. As we walked along, I saw a pretty Explorer that I hadn’t seen on the website, So I made a mental note to look at it later. Before we found the Fusion, however, I saw her.

Ruby Red is what Ford calls it, but any Arkansas fan knows it as Razorback red. The sun was glimmering off its finish as she sat on the line, with her nose sticking out just enough to make her stand out. It was as though she was calling to me. She was the puppy in the window that dances against the glass while all the other puppies play in the back of the pen. I was just staring at her when the salesman came up. I think he saw the look on my face because we kept coming back around to the Mustang.

Now, I did test drive the Fusion and the Explorer, but I also tested the Mustang—with the top down, of course. The rational, reasonable part of my brain was arguing for the Fusion. It was making cogent, logical points. It won the argument on its merits, but lost it in the end. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the Boss 5.0 V-8 engine, but that was another ten grand. I just couldn’t do that. My rational and reasonable brain won that argument. Despite the fact that the Mustang was out of my budget, didn’t have a back seat to speak of, and was a bit difficult to get into and out of, several hours later I was signing the contract.

Now I am on the hook for 60 months of loan payments and insurance payments. I still am bummed about having to get under a car note again, but my Mustang is fun to drive, when I drive her. I still ride my bike to commute to work because the gas mileage is better and I get to ride in the managed lanes which saves time. But on the weekends and rainy days, I get to drive my Sally. Yes, Mustang Sally. Sue me. And on nice days, you know the top is down. My youngest son calls it my “mid-life crisis” car. I’ll own that. I am 52 and single, after all. What better excuse does one need to live out a dream and buy the car he’s always wanted?

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