Tuesday, July 29, 2008


No news today. Just asking you to click on the picture above. It blew me away to the extent that I may never find my way home. One of the legion of photos I wish I had taken.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Irma Lerma

I get a lot of questions about the all-girls school to which I drive. Most folks in Dallas are unaware that such an animal even exists.

It's called "Rangel" but the official name is (ready?) "The Irma Lerma Rangel Young Women's Leadership School at Chappie James". Miss Irma was an attorney and state legislator from south Texas. The school was established about five or six years ago and will have its first senior class ever this upcoming school year. There were 28 girls in the original class and 21 of them have stayed with the program and are seniors. The numbers per grade increase as you go down the ladder. The lowest grade is the 6th.

The prospective students have to jump through all sorts of hoops to get accepted, including essay-writing and an extensive interview. Naturally, they have to have the grades and test scores just to get a foot in the door. What are the benefits? How 'bout no boys, for starters. Having loitered around the school now since February, I can tell you that serious instruction with little or no distractions is the norm. The curriculum is tough. Each student is issued a laptop. I can vouch for the fact that these girls carry books home every night and seem to constantly be working on projects.

Here's the best perk of all: all girls who stay with the school and graduate qualify for a college scholarship to the tune of 12K/year. To keep the scholarship they must maintain a 3.0 GPA. One semester below that and they lose the scholarship. This money isn't DISD money. The school employs a couple of folks who are money solicitors...talking to corporations and foundations and raising the funds.

It's one impressive place. Having spent 36 years in the district and seeing mostly the grimy underbelly of urban education, this school is a breath of fresh air. The girls, for the most part, are mature and serious. I said "for the most part" because I had a couple of silly 6th graders on my bus this year that I don't think had the necessary attitude and approach and will probably not be around much longer. It was cool this year having passengers on my bus who were actually discussing what they had learned at school that day...unbelievable! I know one thing...I never want to drive for any other school. I finally reached nirvana.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Grandkids - Part Two

Nearly a month ago, Carole and I had the opportunity to grow closer with grand-daughters Maddie and Macie while their parents vacationed in D.C. Although we were exhausted by the time Blake and Jaime returned, the marvelous interraction with the girls made it all worthwhile. Well, now we are keeping grandsons Zach and Ethan while Brett and Jenny are seeing the sights in Seattle and Vancouver.

What's cool about this is that since these boys live in San Antonio, we seldom spend lengthy time with them. Carole and I usually visit them only on weekends, usually 3 or 4 times a year. But now we have 'em for 4+ days and the bonding time is abundant. We are seeing Zach and Ethan up close and personal. And so far it's been a blast.

I spent this week driving the bus for the Rangel Leadership School. This is an all girls school developed for the best and brightest DISD females. This week was all about teaching commitment to the community. The girls worked with immigrants striving to learn English, tutoring homeless children, visiting a senior citizen center, and touring the Scottish Rite hospital. These girls are going to be movers and shakers in the future and the goal this week was to let them know about societal problems and hopefully be involved in solving those problems someday. It was cool to be a small part of this.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Tom Turkey

I have blogged previously about my fascination with TomTom, a cool GPS toy. It is really something...and has proven itself invaluable this summer as I drove the bus through neighborhoods unfamiliar to me. Well, I start tomorrow on another one-week summer school job, so last Thursday I went to get TomTom as I got together needed materials. And it wasn't where I remember putting it.

Carole and I searched for some time before I located it hiding behind some pictures on the entertainment center. How Tom got there I'll never know. Anyway, I programmed the new locations I would need this week. On Friday, I got ready to drive to Dallas so I could do a trial run on my route and...Tom was once again AWOL. This created stress because (a) I needed it to guide me around town on this new route, and (b) I was picking up another driver at 9:15 on my way in. Again, Carole and I turned the house inside out, this time taking about 5 minutes as that was all the time I had. No luck.

I drove my route with the aid of Mapsco and one phone call to Carole to have her look up a suggested route on google maps. It was tedious and laborious and I was fuming at Tom for sneaking off again. Got home and resumed the search with no luck. Tried to take a nap without success. And as I lay there, it dawned on me that Tom had to be in my car, even though I had searched the vehicle repeatedly. It simply could not be anywhere else. Sure enough, I located the rascal in a small pocket in my bookbag right there in the car. I hadn't searched that particular pocket because I assumed it was too small for Tom. And the crazy thing is, I had the bookbag with me all the time was laboriously driving the route.

Carole had not helped matters during the search, saying things like,"You're gonna have to buy another TomTom to locate the first TomTom." Har-de-har. Amazingly, this is the 4th time since I bought the device that I've lost it. I say, "I've lost it," knowing full well that this pesky thing has moved on its own to new hiding places, giggling merrily along the whole way. Maybe God is punishing me for buying something my parents would never have bought for themselves. Maybe I should take the sorry gadget back to Circuit City. Now let me see, where did I put it?

Friday, July 18, 2008

An Ode to Key Lime Pie

I don't know where key lime pie was all my life. I had never tried it until a few years ago. On that fateful day, Brett and Jenny just happened to have an Edwards frozen key lime pie. Words are inadequate to describe the ecstacy experienced by my taste buds. I believe I would have gladly eaten until death had there been an unlimited supply of pies. Words also fail to describe the number of fat grams I noticed when I turned the Edwards box over.

I'm bringing this up because of an incident Carole and I experienced tonight at Applebee's. They had a special whereby if you selected a certain entree', you would get a free dessert. I noticed that one of the dessert choices was key lime pie. So I opted for the special. I had chosen a hamburger for my entree' - the patty was fatty (!) and I scarcely paid it any mind since I couldn't get the thought of the key lime pie out of my consciousness.

Carole and I often share a dessert out of concern for calories and cost. When the waiter finally brought out the pie, he thoughtfully provided two spoons. That should have been the warning sign...one does not eat pie with a spoon. And there it was. The pie was in a small glass. There was a little bit of lime filling, a little bit of whipped cream, and a few sprinkles of graham cracker crust. I wanted to rise to my feet and immediately proclaim a key lime disaster right there and just clear the restaurant of patrons. What a joke! When you couple a fatty patty with a fake pie, you've lost my business. Forever.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Absence...making the heart grow fonder

Two blogs ago, I mentioned an impending reunion of 4 year-old grand-daughter, Maddie, with her parents returning from a nation's capital vacation. I would be taking Maddie to the airport with me as I retrieved the vacationers. This was the longest she had been away from her parents. Carole and I were growing weary of trying to find ways to respond to her repeated laments, "I miss my Mommy." "I want my Daddy". There wasn't really anything we could say to successfully assuage her grief.

But now Friday evening had arrived. Maddie and I waited in the passenger pickup area as AA flight 343 taxiied to the gate. Blake called me as soon as they exited the plane. I told him to call me again when he and Jaime exited the terminal. Maddie was getting a bit impatient. She had been waiting for over 4 days and the anticipation was deliciously intense. Finally, the phone rang and I instructed Blake to turn left and start walking...we were an easy football field apart.

Since Blake is quite tall, I spotted him first. I didn't tell Maddie...I wanted them to be a bit closer before I released her for the glorious reunion sprint. There were other folks walking in front of Blake and Jaime, but finally Mommy came into view. I pointed her out to Maddie and suddenly all the pent-up emotion had a release. Maddie showed how fast a 4 year-old could run, and Jaime was also running. When they were about 20 yards apart, both mother and daughter were already crying. Maddie was screaming, "Mommmiiiiieeee!!".

Suddenly they were embracing in an ecstatic, spinning-wheel bearhug, with tears being slung in all directions. I couldn't take it. I quickly moved to help Blake with the luggage. I'm sure he didn't feel slighted by Maddie. After all, somebody had to be hugged first.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The story of one photo...

Since I'm not a great, world-renowned photographer, no one comes to me and asks, "What is your favorite photograph?" So I often look through 4 years of shots and ask that question of myself. I still don't have a definitive answer. The picture that today I like more than others may drop a few notches a few weeks later. So the best I can say is that I have many favorites. The one you see above is one of those.

I had been contacted by a guy who worked "airside" at DFW Airport. He had an amazing job, even though it paid just over $13 an hour. He got to drive an official yellow pickup around the runways and perimeter roads and be a combination of security guy and go-fer fellow. If a pilot reported a dead coyote on a runway (it's happened), they would shut down the runway and this guy would go dispatch the coyote. Anyway, he wanted to know if I would like to ride along with him and take photos. Well, yeah!!

For this particular shot, he parked his pickup about 20 yards from runway 36R. Here came American Airlines flight 60 from Tokyo. It had probably been in the air 11 hours or so. What I liked was that it was a Boeing 777, the monster of the AA fleet. It is highly photogenic and very loud...a visual and auditory overdose. I stood in the bed of his vehicle, spread my feet, and leaned my kneecaps against the back window for further support. And I snapped away.

What I try to do at this angle is to get a shot at the exact moment the wheels hit concrete. One reason I like this shot is that I got lucky. The right landing gear has made contact a millisecond before the left...note that a tiny cloud of tire smoke has begun on the plane's right set of wheels...while on the left, only one of the wheels has begun to touch pavement. The pilot has come extremely close to nailing a perfect landing, and perhaps only a photo could convince the passengers that there was any flaw in the touchdown. Seconds later, the wing passed by incredibly close, the thrust-reversers were deployed, and waves of auditory overload cascaded over me. It was way cool.

But the shot apparently isn't that great. One aviation picture website rejected it, saying it wasn't up to their standards. I reworked it six times and they still didn't like it. And, to top it off, I have lost contact with my contact. After 7 or 8 sessions "inside the fence" at DFW, I now have to position myself outside the perimeter like everyone else. I knew it was too good to last. But boy did I love it while it lasted!

Friday, July 11, 2008

We may make it!

When last we visited the Perkins household, Carole and Tim had just begun a 4+ day endurance test of sorts, keeping two grand-daughters while their parents vacationed in Washington, D.C. This reporter has learned that the grand-parents are still conscious, despite repeated blows to various body parts with plastic or spongy weapons. They have but a little over a day before the test is over.

In an exclusive interview with Tim, we have learned that despite the physical beating of sitting in the floor for hours trying to stack dominoes for one g'daughter only to have the other take immense delight in demolishing the construction, there have been numerous magical moments. Macie, age 1 year, 5 months, is in the magical stage of developing English as a first language. She is perfecting the words "Papa", "Mimi", "Hi", and the extreme phrase of "What's that". And it has become obvious that she understands a great deal of what is being said to her, despite her inability to respond in a coherent manner. Tim reports that if you ask her to take a toy to Maddie, she wheels around and takes a toy to Maddie. Fun stuff.

Carole reports that the biggest challenge has been keeping 4 year-old Maddie entertained, since she is a high energy, highly intelligent young lady who can max out on an activity fairly quickly. But last night, Carole says, was a revelation. After Macie had been put down for the night, Maddie was given a box of Perkins family photos...and proceeded to spend the next two hours totally absorbed, sitting alone in the floor, studying each picture for details. She found one shot of her parents and grand-parents and took great delight in the fact that her daddy had blinked just as the picture was being made. Apparently, both Tim and Carole watched her with awe as minutes became hours, totally aware that this was one of those magical, priceless times in their lives.

Maddie and Macie's parents are due in around 9 tonight. Tim will take Maddie to the airport with him for what should be a great reunion. He said he anticipates Maddie sprinting 20 yards then leaping another 20 feet or so into her parents' arms. She will be followed closely by her grand-father doing the same thing.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The kids are here...

In 15 minutes, Blake and Jaime's flight leaves for Washington, D.C. Which smeans that Carole and I have hunkered down for our 4.5 days of keeping Maddie, age 4, and Macie, age 1.5.

We hope we're up to the task. Tomorrow, we plan to go to the Dallas Zoo, an outing that I'm sure will leave us totally refreshed and enthused about life in general. Right. The rest of the time with the girls will be spent doing our best to keep them happy and occupied. It should be interesting. We both give up what little TV we watch for these 4.5 days. And there will be little time with our laptops. But it will be cool to get even closer with our grand-offspring.

Blake and Jaime don't know it, but all they'll do is talk about their kids, even as they go through the Capitol building and all the Smithsonians. Funny how that works. You greedily anticipate the chance to finally have time alone and when you get it...you wonder how the kids are doing and if you can be away from them for this long. Ahhh, the love of a parent!

Friday, July 04, 2008

Adios, Ronald

I rarely seem to end up inside a McDonald's. On those infrequent occasions that I need a hamburger fix, the place of choice is Whataburger, no questions asked. But as of today, I'm boycotting the golden arches.

Corporate McDonald's just sent a check for $20,000 to the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. When contacted by American Family Association, the McDonald's suits replied and said they are "reaffirming" their support of the homosexual agenda. Seems like these folks are heavily into political correctness.

When Ford Motor Company did something similar, Christians around America started boycotting FMC. Their sales dropped remarkably. One thing we know for sure - the almighty dollar rules in those corporate boardrooms. I'd love to see McDonald's have to retract their stance because of Christian solidarity.

I'd also like for them to learn how to make a tastier burger.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Surviving July

Two ominous realities for this new month: As I approach my '60's, I've noted with alarm that yard work which used to be almost routine now is anything but. And I desperately need to continue doing yard work because it is my one link to hard physical activity. See, we don't have a normal yard. It takes me in excess of an hour and a half just to knock out the front - and not because I'm going slowly. I ramp up my walk-behind mower to the fastest speed I can comfortably walk and I attack the enemy.

But this year, I've had to take a break at the 45-minute mark, sit on the front porch for a spell, and contemplate a youthful energy that is long gone. And then there is the day after; when getting out of bed sounds like someone shaking a bag of Legos. And then, there is weed-eating to do, but that's a whole 'nuther blog subject. And I'm fully aware that I need to continue to keep the yardwork routine going...if I pull over to the side of the road, metaphorically speaking, I might never get the car started again.

What's ominous about this is the reality that twice during this month, Carole and I are keeping pairs of grandkids for a few days while their parents get a much deserved vacation w/o the kids. We can't wait for the opportunity to enjoy these wonderful, beautiful, highly-intelligent children - it'll be a rare treat. What I wonder is whether I can keep up with them. The last thing we want to do is sit on the couch and read the paper and tell the kids to entertain themselves. I want to spend as much time as possible in the floor, playing with the munchkins.

I just don't want to have to have Carole call the paramedics to pull me up.