Friday, August 31, 2007

It all worked out in the end...

For those of you who've been tossing and turning, unable to sleep, worrying about my little job can pillow your head with a smile on your face tonight.

There are numerous details, meaningful only to me and maybe Carole, which I will mercifully omit here. Long story short, I am getting one extra bus run every morning and afternoon until a replacement driver can be hired for those routes. Turns out it's the all-girls route that is identical to the all-boys route I have. I couldn't be more relieved. The girls are well-behaved and the route is fairly quick. I've satisfied the bus people who wanted me to take an extra run and I've gotten off rather easily. They could have assigned me, say, a Skyline to South Oak Cliff run...probably an extra hour every morning and every afternoon.

Had I made you privy to all the details, you would see a bunch of answered prayers. Honestly, there are times I look skyward and laugh out loud. God can come up with more solutions in such imaginative ways! Hey, He's God!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

2 Down, ? to Go

It's been a wild two days on the school bus frontier. It turns out that a boatload of drivers quit over the summer. Wonder why? (heh-heh). So the rest of us are pulling double and triple duty, showing up at strange schools, transporting strange students to strange places. In the heat. My bus is air-conditioned, but it's also 8 years old and when the temp is 98, it's still stifling inside the thing.

Yesterday I drove from deep Pleasant Grove to MacArthur Blvd. in Irving to rescue a driver whose bus had broken down. This was during the afternoon rush hour. While highballin' down Stemmons, the "engine hot" light and buzzer came on several times and the temperature gauge was pegged out on 230. Water still boils at 212, right? I decided I'd keep going until I saw steam or smoke from beneath the hood. Finally got there and someone had already rescued her...

Today, I doubled back to Hood and picked up a group of very wild students and spent the next 30 minutes shuttling them to their various stops in far eastern Pleasant Grove. The warning light came back on after they boarded the bus, causing me to think that the light is mysteriously hard-wired to my stress level.

I'll give this a few days. If it doesn't improve, I'll change back into my starched shirt and tie, pick up my briefcase, and start substitute teaching at Dallas Christian. It doesn't pay nearly as well, but the environment has to be better. Just has to be.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Being a Blessing

Tomorrow morning, I start my 25th year of driving a school bus and my 2nd year of driving as a retired teacher. I never know the degree to which I impact the lives of my riders. It is probably negligible in most cases. After all, they are only on my bus for a fraction of their lives. Still, I will be presented with opportunities on almost a daily basis to affect lives positively.

I have two runs; one to a severely impoverished apartment complex where I pick up K-5 kiddoes, the other to take 6-8th grade boys to the middle school where I taught for decades. At the first stop, I encounter poverty that can accurately be described as scary. Many of these kids will go the whole year wearing only one or two separate outfits. They will sometimes board the bus in the dead of winter wearing only t-shirts. A couple of years ago on a 15-degree morning with howling winds, a kindergarten girl was at the bus stop with no coat of any kind. I had already figured she came from the worst possible environment since she and her clothing were frequently dirty. I told Carole about it when I got home that evening and we knew we had to get her a coat. When I gave it to her the next morning, I found out she a sister about the same age, maybe a twin. I called Carole from school and she bought an identical coat, rushed to Dallas to give it to me, and I gave it to the sister that afternoon.

But when any of my kids step onto the bus, I have no way of knowing if they slept well or were up all night listening to momma fight with her boyfriend. I don't know if they are content with life or fighting demons. I don't know if they look forward to me picking them up in the afternoon or dread the trip home because of the physical abuse that awaits them on a daily basis.

So somehow, I have to look for tiny open doors that I can step through, brief little moments where I see fear or aching. Since I certainly can't touch or hug a child in these litigious times, I almost totally limited to the words I say. Often, being a guy, I have no idea WHAT to say since I can't put myself in the role of a kindly grandmother easily. But I do believe in prayer and in the Holy Spirit. So I pray that the words will the appropriate ones and flow easily. And that I'll be gifted with eyesight keen enough to notice every opportunity. The task begins tomorrow.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Keep off the shoulder...

Just got back from the orthopedic doctor. Got my 2nd injection into the right shoulder. Will return in late September to start the paperwork for a scope that Dr. Aldrich calls a "decompression". The rotator cuff is frayed and there's a lot of bursitis as well.

I don't really have the time for this but realistically no longer have the option to keep putting it off. Being right-handed, I've been tormented for some time now as every time I try the simplest act involving reaching or lifting, I get the distinct sensation of being shot in the shoulder.

The doc said I'd have my arm in a sling for 10 days, have rehab for a few weeks, and be good as new in six weeks. He said he had one patient who drove a car the afternoon after the morning surgery. I'll be a bit disadvantaged in that every known school bus driver has used his right arm/hand to open the bus door to release the little angels at the bus stop. And, I can't afford to compromise safety one iota.

The best possible solution would be to have this injection somehow solve the problem. Not likely, but I'd welcome any relief.

On a scale of 1 to 10, this doesn't compare to cancer or severe arthritis, so I give it a 2 on the "problem" scale. But I do want it resolved. "No pain, no gain" is the stupidest slogan ever!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Ah, Autumn in the Air

It's as though a huge magnet is pulling me toward Hood Middle School this week. Fortunately, a counterforce known as retirement intervenes and keeps me firmly planted in my recliner. I feel so sorry for those who are showing up for orientation at Hood. They can easily be grouped into two totally disparate sections; the newbies and the oldbies.

The newbies themselves fall into 3 categories: those fresh out of college and ready to embark on their new teaching career; those who have some teaching experience and perhaps have moved here from, say, Kansas; and those who became dissatisfied with corporate America and are trying teaching as a way to get fulfillment. Regardless of which 3 one might fall in, I feel immense sorrow for what is about to happen to them.

I'm not a pessimist or a doom-and-gloom guy. I am a realist. To suddenly land in an urban middle school with high hopes and dreams is akin to Russian roulette. Ten days deep into this school year, those new to Hood Middle School will find themselves aghast at the avalanche of paperwork, amazed by the total lack of respect they receive from roughly half of the students, and astounded by the realization that the teacher is the lowest form of life in the urban ed gene pool.

By the end of the year, they will be beaten down physically and emotionally, wondering why in the world did they trust their idealistic instincts. So sad. And it explains why we no longer get the best and brightest as teachers. One of the most disturbing phenomena I witnessed in my final teaching years was the influx of teachers who weren't very smart and tended to be misfits. Another problem was hirees from west African nations...bless their hearts, they don't speak English well enough to be understood. Pity the poor students these days.

Oh, yeah. That other group of teachers...the oldies. I used to be one. Those are the ones who are pretty much locked in - they're there because they have no recourse. They are beaten down as well, but hang around because there are no better options in their lives. They wish they were somewhere else, and because of that, their teaching is substandard...many times, disturbingly substandard.

By now, I know you're convinced that I'm a bitter old man. Honestly, I'm not. But I have witnessed what I've described over and over again. In many cases, those who've been chewed up and spit out at Hood are wonderful, lovely people. But those qualities don't often work in the classroom anymore. In order for me to survive all those years, I almost had to adopt a different personna. I had to be tougher, more assertive and aggressive than my usual nature...all the while not compromising my Christian faith. In the end, I retired sooner than I wanted to. In the end, the environment won out, eroding my will to stay even though I was at the very top of the DISD pay scale.

Is there a place in America for someone who wants to teach? A place where they can truly teach and feel fulfilled at the end of the day? Sure! I've dropped in on the middle school down the farm-to-market road from us. No one is wandering the halls looking for trouble. When I peer into the classrooms, I see teachers teaching and students learning. No distractions, no danger. So I assume that if one moves away from the urban areas, situations like this can be found all over America. And, of course, there is the private school option. The only such operation with which I'm intimately familiar is Dallas Christian. I can truthfully say that the only singular way DC was like Hood is that both could be referred to as "schools". My three kiddos used their DC educations as a springboard to successful college careers and ultimately successful professional careers.

So now I'm mostly detached from the Hood environment, connected only by the fact that I drive a school bus there. I let the students off the bus and joyfully drive back to the bus lot, leaving the challenges of urban education to those who aren't as fortunate as I. God bless them.

Friday, August 17, 2007


Carole and I are sitting here in limbo this morning. Our plan had been to go to San Antonio this weekend to see Brett, Jenny, and the grandsons. But then Tropical Storm Erin sloshed inland and dropped 6-12" in the Hill Country. So we delayed our departure, trying to decide if travel were prudent given the circumstances. Just got off the phone with Brett and he said things were calming down, so we will probably take off in a couple of hours.

If you are a steady reader of this blog (why?!!), you know that I started suffering with a frayed rotator cuff back in April. It calmed a bit with a cortisone shot, but now it is its own perfect storm, tormenting me by day and night. It's my right shoulder and I'm right-handed. I can't reach higher than shoulder level or reach behind one does when driving a car and wanting to retrieve something from the back seat. At night, I'm forced to sleep on my left side, the same side where I've had two hip surgeries...and the result is that I rotate between my bed and the couch.

I need surgery, but now with my seasonal bus-driving job about to start up, I don't want to lose six weeks of employment. Wouldn't be fair to my boss. So I'm gonna try to get another injection next week and then tough it out for ten months.

Got to go pack now and head toward the eye of Erin. Reminds me of a Steven Wright observation: "Just imagine how high the oceans would be if it weren't for the sponges that live on the ocean floor."

Monday, August 13, 2007

The Grasshopper Chronicles

About five or six years ago, the eleventh plague descended upon our little patch of real estate out here in the country. When it finally abated about three years ago, I would almost rank it up there with loss of the firstborn. Of course, I'm referencing the dreaded grasshopper.

Back then the little critters were voraciously eating everything, especially the line of photinias that separate us from the property to the north. Walking out to the road to get the morning paper became a forced march through enemy territory as scores of 'hoppers jumped toward you, some landing on your clothing and bare skin.

I simply don't know why God created them. They have caused billions of dollars in crop damage in the past 100 years; probably billions of drachmas back in Egyptian times, too, or whatever their currency was. They're ugly, too.

I scarcely noticed them this year until I finally got around to putting in a flower bed in front of our house. A couple of weeks ago, I planted 208 vinca and about 4 days later, word spread throughout the grasshopper community that dinner was served. So, with powers vested in me as commander-in-chief of my property, I've declared war. My first weapon was Howard Garrettesque - diotamacious earth...a powderly white substance that makes microscopic cuts in the skin of insects and vermin, thus killing them over the course of 3 or 4 days. I would head out to the garden in the heat of the day, a time that the hoppers like to spend sunning on the bricks next to the flowers. I got 'em good, too.

But now, reinforcements are arriving. Not content to let these fresh guys live more than a couple of hours, I'm blasting them with straight shots of insecticide. It may be a protracted war that I'm getting into. I can't let the enemy get the upper hand.

(Do you really think that Albert Schweitzer picked up every ant that got in his way? Neither do I.)

Saturday, August 11, 2007


I've been spending way too much time outside, trying to keep my grass and flowers hydrated but letting the sun bake my bald spot. The result is a total lack of blog ideas. So, given the absence of my usual deep, intellectual verbage, I fall back on what excites me: brilliant aviation photography. To counter the brilliance of the following photos, I've included a few of my own. I urge you to click on them and get the full effect.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Very Common and Very, Very Wrong

The above picture will illustrate how I feel about a certain ubiquitous grammar meltdown. In my last blog I warned that I would be exposing the most egregious language mistake this side of Mima Williams, my "Advanced American Grammar" professor at ACU. Mima was an old, unmarried former Marine officer whose stare could drill holes in titanium. On my first day in her class, she paused while calling roll and said, "Is Jimmy Milstead present?" Seizing the opportunity to brown-nose a tough teacher, I pointed to a guy who had just stepped out into the hall and said, "That was him!". Well, dark thunderclouds instantly appeared on her brow and she was trembling as she shouted to me, "THAT WAS HE!". So began a tough semester.

Well, I digress. Everywhere Carole and I go, every time we are watching SportsCenter or listening to a game, we are beaten down by folks who don't know which pronoun to use as an object of a preposition. Ministers, teachers, congressmen, and athletes succumb to this train wreck of usage. Here are some examples:

"It was a secret between her and I."

"A very nice dinner awaited my girlfriend and I."

"There was discord among he and his friends."

Very simply, the object of a preposition must be of the objective case. That means you simply cannot use pronouns like "I", "he", or "she" in those situations. The funny thing is that some folks confidently toss in an "I" because they faintly remember from their early schools days that it is wrong to say, "Lester and me went fishing." "I"is given unnatural powers, becoming the always correct pronoun to use in any circumstance. So they assert, "Just between you and I, I'm getting married in June." And then they relax in the quiet satisfaction of knowing that they are grammatically superior to their audience.

Listen, folks. This isn't hard. You will always use the correct word if you use the following test. Merely drop the other half of the prepositional phrase and see how it sounds using only the other pronoun. Let me illustrate:

"There were instructions waiting for Billy and (I/me)". You wouldn't say, "There were instructions waiting for I", would you? Naw, man. Hopefully, you would say, "There were instructions waiting for me". Aha! Bingo! There's the pronoun you need to use!

Let's try a second example: "The hosts were especially gracious to my wife and (I,me)." You have serious issues if you think , "The hosts were especially gracious to I." We all know you would use "me". So, then, "me" is the absolute correct choice in the original sentence.

Work on it, America. If we don't strive to save the King's English, our descendents will be speaking some conglomeration of mish-mash, disjointed ebonic code words that will bear no resemblance to our proper tongue. Speak and write correctly, America! Take pride in being linguistically pure as the driven snow.

Don't throw Mima under the bus.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Watch Your Language

Carole and I are fascinated with language and word use. When other couples talk about finances, vacations, or work with each other, we delve into the finer points of grammar, gerunds, and diagramming. We can kill a couple of hours on the road this way...and if for no other reason, she and I were meant for each other.

I pride myself on using the correct word form in any verbal or written circumstance. My mom drilled proper usage into me and fortunately, language fascinated me to the point that I made spectacular grades in any class where it was even remotely part of the curriculum. But I confess there is a word I use dozens of times a day that isn't even a real word. I'm not even sure how to spell it. I think it's "dudn't".

"Dudn't" is the natural contraction of "didn't" and "doesn't" and therefore covers both the present and past tenses. Some linguists feel it is mainly a Texas phenomon. Maybe the most commonly used sentence in Texas is, "It dudn't make no sense." Also helping in the use of "dudn't" are the acceptable words of "couldn't" and "wouldn't". Somehow to our feeble linguistic mind, "dudn't" should be the third word there in a natural trio.

Try as I might, and I have been trying hard, I can't eliminate "dudn't" from my speech patterns. I have this awful sense of foreboding that someday I'll suddenly be in the presence of the Queen of England, who then will ask me about the war with Iraq, prompting me to respond, "It dudn't make no sense". Actually, I wouldn't use the double negative there, but I'm sure the use of "dudn't" might cause the queenie to throw her tiara at my unclean lips.

Anyway, I'll keep working on it. And you be sure and stayed tuned for my next blog. Keeping with the language theme, I'm going to expose the single most common (and irritating) misuse of grammar in America today. It's positively scandalous. Just ask Carole.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Why I Like to Fly

See above photo. (be sure to click on it)

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Those who don't like baseball...

...have never felt the crunch of their cleats on concrete.
...have never smelled green outfield grass.
...have never felt the sensation of hitting a ball so hard you don't feel it.
...have never experienced the joy of just playing catch.
...have never gotten excited over a home-team rally.
...have never known the feeling of an RBI hit.
...have never understood the purity of infield chatter.
...have never rejoiced at the start of spring training.
...have never appreciated the feel of a baseball uniform.
...have never known the comfort of a broken-in glove.