Monday, February 25, 2008

Once again, Steve Morris

Be sure to enlarge the above picture. It is so surreal that it almost appears to be a painting. Instead, it is still another jaw-dropper from the lens of one Steve Morris, a retired British Airways pilot. Most of us are little more than point-and-shoot photographers. Steve is an artist who sees stuff that we mortals miss. Oh, yeah. He owns one of the biggest zoom lenses known to man.

If ole Steve ever opens up a photographer school, I wanna be first in line.

Friday, February 22, 2008

As far as the east is from the west...

I was hoping that my expectations weren't too high. We all know the hurt that comes of expecting Aspen and getting Fargo. My mental picture of what I'd see in the bus mirror this morning was of studious, introverted girls sitting in their bus seats reviewing yesterday's homework. I nailed it. What I hadn't expected was seeing laptops out with with their glowing screens popping up all over. Every girl at Rangel gets one.

Something else I was hoping for was politeness. Of the 57 boys I used to transport, only one ever made a habit of saying "thank you" while passing by me. Today, more than half of the girls said the magic words.

I think I made a big impression on the ladies because I had spent nearly two hours scrubbing years of filth off the walls of the old bus. They picked up on that right away. I also fixed two windows from rattling like a western diamondback. It's hard to transform ole #301 into a modern Greyhound, but I'm trying.

All in all, a job that I already enjoyed just got even better. Will a brand-new bus be the next blessing?

Thursday, February 21, 2008

A coincidence or...?

All week long, I've been reading Hank Hanegraaff's great book "The Apocalypse Code", a study that debunks Tim LeHaye's "Left Behind" series. Hank gets into the book of Revelation and does a wonderful job of showing parallels with John's vision and details in the Old Testament. Over and over, Hanegraaff discusses the importance of the number 7. As you know, and as he emphasizes, this number represents "totality" or "completeness".

Well, today I wrapped up my final trip after many years of driving the same two DISD bus routes. I pulled bus #450 into its slot and dutifully recorded the odometer reading, as required by our organization. And what was the odometer reading?


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Certainly not Scott(s) free...

First, a bit of history. When we built a home out here in countrified Rockwall, a bulldozer had cleared the land...leaving us a home with no grass and a tremendous erosion problem. After about 3 years of hard work, maybe too hard, we had a pretty good yard established. Then I made the mistake of going organic and holding hands with Howard Garrett, the self-proclaimed "Doctor of Dirt".

So the next few years were spent shunning chemicals and instead, scattering on my yard massive amounts of barnyard poop, Texas green-sand, and something called "Garrett Juice", a smelly concoction composed of blackstrap molasses and compost squeezin's. The result was a rapid deterioration of the lawn quality and a migration to my yard of every weed known to man. All our hard work was in vain.

In desperation, I did something that I had chided folks for in the past: I hired Scotts Lawn Service for growing season 2007. It worked. By the middle of the summer, my yard was as green as a fairway at Augusta. The turf was so thick that my mower had to be set on the highest cut possible or it would clog up and shut down.

But then I noticed that Scotts made a trip to put some sort of something on the grass in January. And then in February. And then I got a bill for nearly $400. Today they called and asked why I hadn't paid up. I told them I had not signed on for another year. And that I wasn't going to re-up under any circumstances. The lady asked me to check my previous statements and look for a little statement, "Service is continued from season to season for customer convenience." And it's there all right. Pretty small print, too.

Tonight I emailed the general manager accusing him of deceitful practices and telling him that I won't be paying. I tried to use whatever latent journalistic talent I have to tell him what I thought of the "for customer convenience" line. If only Scotts and other companies realized that the way to repeat business is through REAL customer service, not slimy, stinky, used-car salesman-y tactics that smell worse than Garrett Juice.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The scenery will change...

God smiled on me today and I got official clearance to begin a new bus route on Friday. Again let me emphasize that this story only has merit because I'm blessed to live a quiet, semi-relaxed life now. I've noticed that elderly can talk for hours about whether bananas should be eaten ripe or not. I think I'm almost there.

So on Friday I will jettison two bus routes that I've driven for years and years and begin picking up studious and ambitious young ladies and transporting them to the Rangel Leadership School for Young Women. Instead of looking into my rear-view mirror and seeing 57 testosterone-engorged middle school boys trying to outscream each other, I hope to see 35 or so young ladies who look like Marie Curie with their noses in their books.

The only downer about this move relates to the all-important school bus. I had tried for 2+ decades to upgrade from what can kindly be regarded as the worst school bus ever. Finally, two years ago, I persuaded my boss to let me have bus #450, a nice, mid-level bus whose former driver was retiring (at age 77!!). I have loved this bus. It has air-conditioning and is as solid as a tank. But in our organization, the bus stays with the route...and now I must inherit (regress to) bus #301, a sweetheart of a junker with 153,000 miles and a future as a Peruvean tour bus. I've heard that its (her?) air-conditioner is weak and that the only heater that works is the one near the driver.

This morning I heard something that immediately curled me up in a fetal position and caused me to whimper uncontrollably. Turns out the boss-man was ready to replace 301 with a brand-new bus, but the driver was lazy about turning in required paperwork and thus lost the chance to tool around the lot in a 2008 BlueBird. Had this clown just put forth a bit more effort, I would have a great new route, a pay raise, and a plush new bus. Oh, well. Maybe this means that I get the next new bus to be delivered (I always turn in my paperwork on time...usually...sometimes).

Now that I have you on the edge of your seat, I'll tease you by saying there will be a report Friday evening on how the first day went. And if I felt any withdrawal from dear, sweet, clean bus #450.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Met a hero tonight...

Yes, I had the distinct privilege and honor of meeting a WWII combat pilot tonight. He is the father of one of the ladies in our Sunday night Bible study group. After the study, I sat down next to him and asked him one question, "How did you get interested in aviation?" Well, over 30 minutes later he was still going strong so I gently interrupted him and told him I wanted to resume the conversation the next time he visited Rockwall again.

What an amazing generation he was a part of! One of the things he mentioned was how every single pilot in flight school dreamed of becoming a combat pilot. Nearly all of them already had a wife and some had kids, but the overwhelming attitude was one of patriotism and determination to stop anyone who would threaten our freedom. He said he kept begging to go to the "action" but was so proficient as a flying instructor that he was kept stateside to train others. Finally he got his wish late in the war and flew missions against the Japanese prior to the dropping of the atomic bombs. He mentioned that he also rode a train through Hiroshima some time later and that made an incredible impression on him.

What a national treasure these men (and women) are! Tom Brokaw was correct in his calling them "the greatest generation". And soon they will no longer be amongst us. That's why I was so honored to shake Ken Scattergood's hand tonight and thank him for his sacrifice to our country.

Oh, yeah, he even walked away from a "crash and burn" accident at one point in his aviation career.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

See ya, boys?

I have an opportunity that could be pretty cool. Now for those of you who have real jobs with real stress, this is pretty meaningless. I have the utmost respect for you because I remember working hard. This is a mere blip on the radar.

A new school bus route has opened up that I'd love to have. I would be picking up middle school girls and taking them to the (you ready? are you sure?) Irma Lerma Rangel Young Women Leadership School. What were Mr. and Mrs. Rangel thinking? Irma Lerma? Anyway, this is a school for the best and brightest of DISD's girls. I would be picking them up from three East Dallas middle schools and transporting them to Rangel, located at Collum and Pennsylvania on the west side of Fair Park.

There are two reasons for wanting this change. There are more hours involved so I'd make a bit more. And, perhaps more importantly, I'd have passengers who have mastered social graces and are studious in attitude. Compared to those I currently transport, this is as far as Carnegie Hall is to the Sportatorium.

I put my name in the hopper today. On Tuesday of next week, the "applier" with the most senority will automatically get the job. Then that person must begin the route the next day. There are very few folks at the bus lot who have more senority than I (25 years worth). I'll keep you posted.

Friday, February 08, 2008

The Greatness of Mimi

Sometimes folks who are serving are so caught up in their service that they are oblivious to the miracles they are dispensing. Over the past two weeks, I've been observing Carole (Mimi) become a modern-day Dorcas, Ruth, Naomi, Miriam, and Florence Nightingale rolled into one.

We opened up the house to daughter Brooke and 1-month old Audrey because husband/father Michael was sent to Little Rock on business for two weeks. Naturally, we were thrilled, particularly since for a while, Brooke thought she and the baby might accompany Michael and stay with him in some hotel. But then late in week #1, Brooke developed abdominal pain that sent her to the ER. The initial diagnosis by the doctors was appendicitis, but a CT-scan and a sonogram revealed the problem to be an ovarian cyst. Michael caught the next flight to DFW and showed up about the time Brooke was sent home from the hospital.

To make a long story short, my wife has been spectacular. She managed to continue the normal challenges of keeping one-year old Macie and 3-year old Maddie during the Monday-Friday time frame while keeping me, Michael, Brooke, and Audrey cared for. She dispensed her maternal wisdom to Brooke when needed. She cooked and cleaned. She was pure magic with Audrey, who is suffering with colic. Sometimes, I would be taking my turn with the baby who would be screaming like Tarzan missing a vine. Carole would step up and ease Audrey out of my trembling hands and miraculously the little angel would sense the difference and quickly stop the crying. She was doing the work of 3 people at once.

Another thing I noticed while all this was transpiring was that Brooke is a natural when it comes to mothering. Some mommas of newborns seem awkward at the job and impatient with their new angels. Brooke has adapted to motherhood with ease and grace, displaying mothering characteristics usually reserved for veteran mommies. Little Audrey doesn't know it yet, but she is the benefactor of having masterful women in her life. What a massive blessing this is! And how heart-breaking is it that so many babies are born into a world just the opposite of this.

So hats off to Carole/Mimi and Brooke/Mommy. (Oh, yeah. Michael's a great hubby and daddy, but he's just a guy. Like me.)

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Carpe Diem

There's something called "good ole days syndrome". It's the tendency to over-rate experiences of the past, experiences which in reality weren't that spectacular. Such as, "Those possum liver casseroles Granny made sure were yummy" when indeed those casseroles were quite ordinary. Something about all those years going by that dull our evaluative talent.

Often, however, this syndrome isn't accurate. It turns out that the experiences we remember really were that spectacular. So spectacular, in fact, that they should be the focus of our remembrances. So wonderful, if fact, that we should never let time dilute our memory of them. It might be those times Dad played catch with you or when Grandma let you help her cook. These are timeless experiences that give us a glimpse of what heaven will be like.

That's why I think it's critical to recognize those moments now which decades from now will be truly meaningful. Our tendency, of course, is to let extraneous details distract us while these events are happening. I'm trying hard to not let this happen to me. I'm getting unforgettable interractions with our grandkids at this juncture in my life...and I'm doing my best to grab onto them as they're happening, to realize the miracle of the moment, if you will. Often, Zach or Ethan or Maddie will say something funny, noteworthy, or profound and immediately Carole and I exchange a meaningful glance and smile, knowing that we just saw the curtain of heaven pulled back a bit. Or it's some interaction with the younger two, Macie or Audrey, that sets off the glory alarms.

I guess what I'm saying is how wonderful it would be to live so as to have no regrets later on in life - specifically, no wishing I'd paid more attention to the daily miracles that were occurring right before me. It's not as easy as it looks. Satan, the father of lies, is adept at getting us thinking more about stuff and more stuff instead of things eternal. But with prayer and meditation (thinking on those things above), the Holy Spirit is well able to scrape the scales from our eyes and allow us to "seize the day". Or more accurately, seize the moment.