Monday, June 30, 2008

Angst over the Bluetooth...

I usually don't mind colored body parts. You have the person with a green thumb. Sometimes kids get pinkeye. A loser in a fistfight might have a black eye. And who can forget Rudolph's red nose? But this Bluetooth craze has me screaming for a little sanity in our society.

First off, I don't like the way the thing looks. It looks like a Hotwheel car from the '70's has been implanted in your ear. The whole appearance makes me uneasy, perhaps because I'm not used to seeing stuff attached to one's ear.

But that gripe pales in comparison to the awkwardness this technology foists on passers-by. So here you have a Bluetoothed person, walking along as I approach, walking the opposite direction. Chances are I don't see the might be covered up by hair or by a hat. As I draw closer, the person starts talking to me (methinks) and I strain to hear what's being said so that I can answer in a friendly manner. When I don't understand, I say to the person, "I'm sorry, what?", only to have the person walk right past me, never even realizing I was there. This tends to make me feel about as foolish as one can get.

A few months ago, I was walking toward a co-worker at the bus lot, unaware that she was "on the phone". As I came alongside her, she suddenly screamed out, "Get outta here!" I immediately jumped furtively to the side and looked around to see how it was that I was in the wrong place. Alas, she was just responding via her Hotwheels to someone's incredible bit of news. Deliver me!!

Strangely, Bluetooths (Blueteeth?) have been a huge hit with black folks, not so much with whites. Since most of my fellow bus drivers are black, I get to see the bizarre scene sometimes of a lobby full of people talking away furiously, but not to each other! It's disquieting to the max.

Uh, needless to say, this is one technological "advance" I'll refrain from buying.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Places I've never been, but wanna go to someday...

1. Alaska (preferably all the way to Point Barrow)

2. Fenway Park in Boston

3. Glacier National Park

4. Scotland

5. St. Maarten (amazing airport photography there)

Places I've been and would like to return to

1. Ft. Jackson, S.C. (where I had boot camp - I'd like to see it as a veteran now)

2. Itasca State Park, Minnesota (source of the mighty Mississippi)

3. Vermont

4. Vancouver

5. Inside the fence at DFW Airport (my contact person has disappeared)

Places I've been and will NEVER return to

1. DISD Personnel Office

2. Manhattan

3. Wolverine Tube Co., Dallas (site of a horrible one-day job in my 20's)

4. Ft. Chaffee, Arkansas (site of a summer camp during my Nat'l Guard days)

5. Aztec, NM (and people actually live there?!!)

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Obama scares me...

Yes, he does. I'll vote for McCain, but not because I like him that much. It's more a case of the lesser of two evils.

Obama, according to those who measure stuff like this, is the most liberal of all the senators. He is pro-abortion, and that alone is enough to keep me from pulling his lever...oh, sorry...forgot we don't use voting machines anymore. Like most Democrats, he sees the government as the cure for any problem. That means, if elected, he would ask Congress to throw heaps of money to anyone in need as though money cures everything.

His religious views bother me. About a year ago, I saw him on Oprah and came away almost comfortable with his endorsement of Christianity. But since then, we have had the revelations concerning his church in Chicago. And recently, he said that there were many ways to God and that all should be prepared to jettison critical spiritual beliefs in an effort to have national religious solidarity. Whoa. I might be willing to concede that Lazarus hopped from the grave rather than walked, but not much more. Obama's vision is downright scary.

I am also wary of his lack of experience. He's almost come from nowhere to being sudden star, and he's already exposed a lack of understanding in key areas (to wit, sitting down for chit-chat with Iran's crazy guy and worrying about the treatment of Gitmo's terrorists). Would his advisors be just as green as he in foreign relations? Would he just trust his judgment with no regard for the past? I think McCain is all over him in the experience category.

And finally, there is the matter of selecting Supreme Court justices. There could be two chances in the next 4-8 years to inject the Court with liberal-thinking, constitution-ignoring replacements who could have a devastating impact on the freedoms we have left. It is crucial to have a pro-life president to make those choices.

If you disagree with every word I've written, I still love you.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Mars? Are we sure?

I just finished watching an amazing set of programs on NASA's early days through the Shuttle programs. What we accomplished as a nation was truly extraordinary. As a kid watching the early astronauts blasting off while I sat in the school auditorium, the fascination was truly there. And as a kid who didn't understand things like cost and risk, I whole-heartedly endorsed anything NASA tried.

Now, NASA's focus has shifted from the moon all the way out to Mars, a cold, red, sandy place as inhospitable as Parkland's ER waiting room. We've already plunked down some expensive unmanned machinery on the surface of Mars, and just last week, one of these gizmos found ice just beneath the sandy surface. The ice might as well have been Pez dispensers given the way the scientists exploded with glee. This milestone only feeds the dream of one day putting human footprints in the red sand.

Is it time, perhaps, to finally show some restraint in the realm of space travel? Of course, those involved in pushing the envelope say that man's curiosity must always be kow-towed to. And that man's drive to explore the unknown will always have merit. But for the life of me, I can't see the benefit of making the red planet just another way-stop on our way to "progress". I've been to West Texas and I know we're not short of red sand. Of course, the scientists are falling all over themselves proclaiming that Mars will unlock the Gordian knot of the origin of life. Mercy. Deliver me.

I pity the poor astronauts selected for the initial trip. It takes a whopping nine months to get there. And you thought it was boring to drive to Abilene. How long will it take before the pilot has to roll up a magazine and pop the guys in the back seat who are making faces at each other?

So let's be satisfied with our historic trips to the moon and shut down NASA. Certainly, the Martians would want it that way.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Learning something new every day...

Today I was looking at a tutorial video on how and why sonic booms happen. At the end of it, the commentator said, "By the way, the sound you hear when a bullwhip is cracked is the tip end breaking the sound barrier." Well, that was a nugget of info I didn't know. I researched it and sho' 'nuff, it's true.

Earlier today, I had been reading Revelation 7; starting around verse 12, you have this:

"Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen. 13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, "Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?" 14 I said to him, "Sir, you are the one that knows." Then he said to me, "These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
15 For this reason they are before the throne of God,
and worship him day and night within his temple,
and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.
16 They will hunger no more, and thirst no more;
the sun will not strike them,
nor any scorching heat;
17 for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of the water of life,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."

I see at least three church songs that have their origin here. What a nugget that is! Probably due the incredible power those verses have.

Meanwhile, we keep learning.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Left-wing Patriot

In conjunction with the blog entry below, I thought I'd share this picture. Three year-old Maddie saw what folks were doing during the national anthem, and did her best to replicate their actions. It was too cute not to post.

Legal Gouging

Last night, I took advantage of some free tickets and went to a Texas Ranger game. With me were Blake, Jaime, and Maddie. I go to an average of one game a year and there's a reason. I just can't handle the prices of the peripheral stuff. I guess this is how the owners are able to fund the exorbitant contracts of their players. They reach deeply into the wallets of the fans.

Let's assume a family of four takes an outing to the Ballpark. Let's assume their tickets are $20 apiece, a fairly typical ticket price. Let's also assume that one of them has a disability, as I do, and can park in a handicapped spot. Showing their sympathy for your situation in life, the organization will charge you $12 for parking in your close-by spot.

Of course, one doesn't go to the game without eating the sumptuous fare of ballpark food. Here are a couple of representative prices: large cup of soda, $4.75. Bowl of ice cream, $5.50. Beer? $6.25. (Uh, have no fear, I didn't indulge.) I didn't even glance at what a burger might cost. I could go into detail about how you can get a two-liter bottle of soda for less than a buck or how a half-gallon of Blue Bell can be had for less than $5 at your local Wal-Mart. I can almost picture Ranger owner Tom Hicks looking through a one-way mirror and yelling, "Gotcha", after each transaction.

So, let's tally up the damages. $80 for tickets, $12 for parking, $60 (or so) for food, and little Johnny wants a Ranger tee shirt, maybe an extra $20. Oh, don't forget the cost of gas for driving to the mid-cities for the game, probably another $20 there. My math says that's $192 right there. And that may be conservative. Based on what I saw around me, many families were exceeding the $60 food allowance.

Stuff like this strains my sensibilities. I can't relate to the shortstop who makes $4 million/year and I can't begin to understand 16 oz. of coke at $4.75. Better to stay home, manage my money well, and enjoy the ambience of my den and the Ranger game on TV. So there, Mr. Hicks. Gotcha!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Dad's Day

I've had the wonderful words from my kids today. Naturally, they all say the usual things. But what I want them to know is that this day would be meaningless were they not such superlative children of God. I've had, I suppose, a modicum of influence in their lives. But still, the burden of making good choices, of being good and pure and honorable, has been with them all these years. And they have come through with flying colors.

I want to make sure before this day is over that I communicate with my Father in heaven, and tell Him how good he's been to me.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Tom, Terrific

As much as I love "boy toys", I always feel a tinge of guilt when purchasing another one because often, it's hard to put the transaction in the "need" category. It's usually a solid score in the "fun" column. But I bought a TomTom GPS unit last weekend after borrowing one from Blake and being blown away by its handiness.

You see, I'm driving a one-week summer-school bus route this week. And all the stops are in Oak Cliff. I know Oak Cliff streets about as well as I know downtown Damascus, and I didn't want to be driving around Monday morning with one eye on the road and one eye on a Mapsco. The bus boss allowed me to take a dry run last Friday and that's when I used Blake's TomTom for the first time. It was miraculous and stunningly accurate. So I returned his to him and got my own.

It has made this week extraordinarily easy. I have five middle schools to go to, the streets are narrow, and often the street signs are hidden by trees. Not a problem. But I find myself almost talking back to the pleasant female voice which gives me the turn instructions. "Turn left at the light," she says. "And if I don't?" I wonder aloud. I sense her rolling her eyes. "And watch your tone of voice," I add. Meanwhile, I miss the turn.

But the brainpower of this little device is incredible. It knows the speed limits of the interstates and monitors whether I've remained legal. It knows the forks in the road and whether I should bear left or bear right. The only way I've found to beat it is to swing into a curved driveway in front of a school and do a u-ey. I can hear that lady thinking, "How did he do a u-turn in a school bus?"

So, add the GPS unit to the list of things I don't understand. It's right up there with the internet, the DVR, and Ranger baseball.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Behold, the humble baby stroller

Ah, baby strollers. Conjures up mental images of sweet-smelling babies dressed in lace, ribbon, and bows, being pushed slowly enough to let the general public see just how precious they are. How could someone see a stroller in the attic and not wax nostalgic about those wonderful bygone days when little Mary had rosy cheeks and blond curls and Daddy was so proud to roll her through the mall.

But I've seen a whole 'nuther use for the lovely stroller recently. I wouldn't know about this had I not been driving my school bus through poverty areas of Dallas. Here's the story: On Haskell Avenue in South Dallas, there is a metal recovery company that pays cash for cans. There is a surprisingly large number of homeless or almost homeless men in that area whose only income (apparently) comes from selling aluminum cans to this company. These guys go through the dumpsters behind the beer joints on Samuell Blvd. looking for cans. They are very visible on Tuesdays and Fridays because those are trash pickup days and people roll their trash receptacles out to the curb...and those are searched by these desperate men for more empty soda and beer cans.

The men have honed their skills in this primitive seek-and-find game to the point that they can fill up several 30-gallon bags with cans. But when you don't own a vehicle to stuff multiple bags of cans into, your daily survival routine becomes problematic. Some turn to grocery carts, stolen from the very few grocery stores in the neighborhood. But the police are onto this practice. Plus, the stores hire folks to scour the area, looking for abandoned and stolen carts. So the alternative vehicle has become the somewhat lowly baby stroller. It is the cargo hauler of choice for this segment of our society. And the bigger, the better. I have seen as many as five full bags of cans perched perilously on the stroller as it is pushed down bumpy side roads. And these tattered, dirty men all end up rolling toward the reclamation plant on Haskell.

If you turn your brain off, the sight is comical. But I can't do that - which is surprising because I try to find humor in nearly every situation. The irony overwhelms me. A desperate man pushing a stroller around, loaded down with a few dollars of aluminum cans, when 40, 50 years ago...maybe he was pushed down the sidewalk in a similar vehicle by a proud mom or dad...who had no idea that this baby would end up pushing a stroller for an entirely different reason...

And most people in the Metroplex are blissfully unaware that stuff like this goes on. Once, on impulse, I ran over to one of these men and handed him a twenty. Embarrassed by this for some reason, I quickly ran back to my bus. Once there, I looked back at him...and he was standing totally still, staring my way, holding the bill in his hand. No words, no jumping up and down, nothing except eyes locked on me as though I were Lot's wife.

I'm really glad God lets me see stuff like this.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Using that direct line to God

I mentioned in a previous blog that I spent much of my childhood hiking the railroad track that was two blocks from my home. It was certainly a different time back then...the idea that my mom, a caring and loving mother, allowed her little boy to be gone for hours, hanging out in a dangerous environment, almost portrays her as being disinterested in my well-being. But the decade of the '50's was a time of tranquil trust - there were few overt threats to little kids who played outdoors and left the house for hours at a time. Of course, Mom had no idea how close I was getting to trains as they passed by, even crouching in the sides of trestles, two feet away from roaring locomotives. Or that I engaged hobos in conversation on a daily basis, a fascinating activity for anyone, but particularly for a nine year-old.

One hot afternoon, my older brother, Charlie, had joined me for a long hike that took us way south toward an area where we seldom went. We finally reached a point where we badly needed to turn around and did so. A mere minute later, a scraggly white dog appeared from the tall grass and angrily accosted us. We did the smart thing and simply acted like the pooch weren't there...and calmly kept walking north on the tracks. But this doggie hadn't read the manual and he (she?) bit my skinny little leg just above the ankle. Having accomplished the mission, the dog scurried back into the grass.

Unfortunately, there was a huge rabies scare going on in Dallas at the time. Kids were being bitten by unvaccinated animals and facing the spector of getting the dreaded dozen or shots directly into the stomach with long, silver needles, just to avoid dying from rabies. The tension in the city was palpable as both daily newspapers and all three television stations were intent on getting the word out about unvaccinated dogs and what might happen if one got you.

Charlie and I arrive back at the house around 4. Dad has just arrived home from his post office job. He and Mom took one look at the puncture wounds on my leg and immediately understood the significance. A young boy has been bitten by a dog in a remote area, and the dog has run off. So what do you do? I'm sure they started silently praying. Dad said there was nothing to do but find the dog or its owner, both daunting tasks if not impossible.

The closest houses to the tracks and the site where the doggy had bitten me were in "colored town", an area where white folks didn't go. The magic boundary was Haskell Ave., and black people didn't venture north of that line and whites never, ever had any business south of the line. But my parents were desperate, and I, not understanding the significance of what was going on, hopped in the car with Dad and Charlie and headed south of Haskell. Charlie took a guess as to the street closest to the area where the "attack" occurred. It was a dead-end street and Dad drove to the last house on the block.

I remember Dad saying something like, "Well, let's get started", and he sounded tired and beaten. So here were these white folks on a desperate mission, and I guess we were going to knock on doors until midnight, trying to find an elusive dog owner in an area where whites didn't go. A black lady answered the door and Dad asked if she had a white dog that had been loose that afternoon. She amazingly, improbably, impossibly said, "Yes, I do." She disappeared for a moment and returned holding the perpetrator, who bared its teeth when it saw me. Well, one miracle down, one to go. The answer to the next question would determine whether I'd be incredibly happy and thankful the next few days or lying in a hospital awaiting the next painful rabies shot. "Has the dog had its shots?" "Oh, yes!" Dad thanked her profusely, and we hurried to the car and back home to tell Mom.

There were hundreds of houses we could have started with. But God directed Charlie to the right street and showed Dad which house to go to. At my tender age, the spiritual significance of what had just happened sailed right past me. It was only later in my life that the enormity of that day hit me. And only after I was a parent could I imagine what Mom and Dad experienced.

Monday, June 02, 2008


Here is a conversation I heard just behind me on the bus trip home today:

"Like, how did you do on that algebra test?"
"Well, there should have been, like, a formula to explain that formula."
"I know! I was, like, 'Where was this in the review?' I'm like, 'That's unfair!'"

"I was like the same way. I, like, wanted to croak!"

These two intelligent young ladies did not speak a single sentence without saying "like" at least once. I love language and language usage. Once I got over my horror of the conversation, I tried to figure out how this "likeness" came to be. It certainly wasn't the first time my ears had thusly been assaulted. There was a species that lived in my house who talked that way (daughterius brookus).

I'm not having much luck figuring it out. Apparently, the Valley girls on the west coast started it. I wanted to turn around to these girls and say, "Why not just say 'I wanted to croak?' instead of 'I, like, wanted to croak.'" But since I'm over 40 years older than they, it would be an exercise in futility. They don't know I'm a closet linguist. They think I'm, like, just a bus driver.