Friday, August 29, 2008

Hurricane Talk

I'm fascinated by weather. One of the greatest days in my life was that Saturday in the 80's when we got cable TV, and thus was able to look at a weather radar all day and night if I so desired. I'm really interested in severe weather and certainly a hurricane qualifies. And as much as I'm curious about Gustav, there's a huge part of me that is already hurting for those who will have their lives changed forever by this storm.

Yesterday at the bus lot, we were told that our buses would probably not be used to transport evacuees along the Texas coast. Today word came down that Rick Perry really did want them after all...and tonight 100 of them are being driven by our drivers to Beaumont. That caused some very hard feelings amongst the other drivers because no one knows the criteria that were used to select the ones going. There are hard feelings because the drivers who left tonight will make at least $3000 for their services, and maybe a lot more should this emergency drag out. All we know is that it wasn't based on tenure or age. Some of the drivers who earned a big check last year for 4 days work (forgot the name of the storm) got a call today asking them if they wanted to drive tonight. Others, such as I, didn't get a call last year and didn't get one today. Kinda irrelevant for me since I wasn't that interested in stress involved.

Back when I taught Texas History, I used hurricanes to help teach latitude and longitude, directions, geography, and weather. Each student was given two or three different hurricane tracking charts. Every day there was a tropical storm or hurricane, we would begin class by charting the latest storm coordinates and connecting the dots with the locations from the previous day. Once the kids knew how to do it, I would simply have the latitude and longitude of the storm(s) on the board as the students walked in...they would eagerly get out their charts and begin finding the new locations, all before the tardy bell rang. I had kids who didn't get excited about anything else, but would ask questions about hurricanes 'til the cows came home.

We're kinda out in the country and we use propane as our fuel. Two days ago I ordered 300+ gallons of the stuff because I feared what might happen to the price if Gustav lowered the boom on our refineries and platforms. I would gladly give up being smug if only this storm suddenly disintegrated. Let's be in prayer for all those who live in the path of Gustav and those who will be helping them.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Pouring on the miles

I've got a new route this school year, a move of my choosing since it involves more time; and with this job, time is money. But the route is a long one. My bus lot is near Ferguson and I-30. But my three stops are in far southwest Dallas County. I tallied up my mileage just on the bus today and got 85 miles.

It was a good start. My female riders were extremely well-behaved, but that's no surprise with this school. These girls are classy and will be tomorrow's leaders. It's a privilege to transport them around.

I was told by the bossman that the almost-new bus I had been promised was a casualty, indirectly, of the state closing down Spruce High School. They pulled that bus, for some reason, to transport the Spruce kids to Madison and Lincoln High Schools. However, the bossman did say that when new buses are delivered to our bus lot this year, I'll be in line to get one. But I can't complain. Even though my bus has 119,000 miles, it is amazingly solid for a school bus...absolutely rattle-free. The engine is strong. And, most importantly, the two air-conditioning units work just fine.

The best part of today was driving past all those schools and relishing in the reality that the stress of the first day of school had been passed on to a younger group. I wish them well. They have it so much harder than I. The education bureaucracy had just started growing tentacles in 1971, and today is a full-grown monster, devouring dreams and upchucking reams of paperwork. I took it as long as I could, 36 years. I retired, not because the kids had gotten out-of-hand, but because management refined idiocy to fine art. I hope that changes for the better in my lifetime. I shudder to think what becomes of our country if the teachers continue to be, not the best and brightest, but those who have failed at every other venture.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

That time of year

Teachers (and former teachers) notice that a calendar year has a certain rhythm to it. Spring break week is invariably cold and wet and still feels like winter. The Thanksgiving break goes hand-in-hand with the last leaves of the season hanging on the trees. And August heat lets you know that your longest break of the year is about to be terminated.

Tomorrow, I do a dry run on my bus in preparation for Monday's school beginning. BTW, my ever-considerate employers went back on their word and gave the new bus to someone else, but I guess that's okay. Even though I've been retired from teaching two years, a couple of times this week I've caught myself feeling a twinge of dread, thinking I was returning to another year of teaching...only to catch myself and realize I don't have to stand in front of students anymore.

But my job is so easy that there's no real sorrow that summer's over. I really do enjoy what I'm doing and that is quite a blessing. But I pray a lot in August for one thing: a safe year of driving. In 25 years, I've only had one incident. About six years ago on a September 25th, someone drove through my bus' alternating red flashers at about 40 mph and hit one of my kids as he was crossing the street. The impact knocked him out of his shoes and through the air for about 50 feet. I thought I had just witnessed someone die instantly. Miraculously, he suffered "only" a broken femur and some internal injuries. I can still recall every second of that horrible accident. I didn't sleep the next couple of nights.

So as we get back into the rhythm of school, please resolve to be aware of school buses and school kids. If a bus ahead of you has flashing amber lights, slow down considerably and be prepared to stop instantly. The flashing red lights will coming on very soon. (BTW, a number of our buses will have cameras rigged up on the swing-out stop signs to get an image of vehicles who run through the red lights.) Don't be so caught up in other things that you mindlessly drive through the lights. May all of us have a safe school year.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Must Read

I'm halfway through a book entitled, "Same Kind of Different as Me". All I can say is you must get the book and read it. You can buy it for as little as $8.40 at You will thank me. If you have already read it, you know what I mean.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Service with a ......

For the life of me, I can't figure out why some businesses haven't figured out that good customer relations translates into return business and that equals profit. Two well-known companies are, however, driving me nuts with their inability to understand this principle.

We have a neighborhood Wal-Mart close to us. It's not a "super" Wal-Mart, one of those mega-monsters that sells everything from lawn chairs to lingerie, but a nice, blend-into-the-area kind of store that pretty much sells food and health items. It's a great store in nearly every way. Except one. It still uses the same grocery carts that were there when the store opened about five years ago. The problem is the wheels. The wheels are worn out. On many of the carts, the wheels' rubber tires are practically gone. On most of them, the wheels are severely out of line. The result? As one tries to push the cart down the aisle, it has a mind of its own and seems determined to get into the green beans, pulling severely to one side or another as a contrary dog might act toward his master.

I've even tried contacting Wal-Mart headquarters, telling them that I love their store but may have to go elsewhere if they don't do something about the squirrely carts. The answer? "We're working on it." That was six months ago.

Then there is Luby's, a venerable Texas institution. I love Luby's, to the point that my children taunt me mercilessly, as though I were already in the geriactric set. (I'm close, but I still have my teeth.) I love Luby's because healthy food can be had there. And after I've eaten their healthy food, I can destroy my good intentions with pecan pie or carrot cake.

But this week, I happened by a Luby's at lunchtime and it was a nightmare experience. As I parked my car, I noticed a half-dozen of the employees gathered in front of the doors, smoking. Hardly an appetizing thought. It opened at 11 and I was first in line. There I was, ready to slide my tray down the row, and Luby's wasn't ready. 11:05 arrived and much of the food had not even been set out. The servers were mingling about, blissfully ignoring what was now a growing line of hungry customers. Finally, at 11:07, they decided to give it a go. Then, they had no mashed potatoes. I was told it would be three minutes and they would bring me the potatoes. How can you not have mashed potatoes ready?

I walked to a table and had a seat. Immediately, I noticed that the table was not clean. I looked down and saw silverware on the floor beneath an adjacent seat. So already, this place has gotten a failing grade and not much can be done to salvage the meal. But...unfortunately, I was sitting beneath a speaker and now was being assaulted by music that could charitably be described as awful. It sounded like a tasmanian devil mating march. I thought cafeterias piped in gentle, soothing stuff that facilitated conversation and relaxation. Not this Luby's.

I finally straggled to the cashier to pay for this experience. For some reason, I glanced upward and my eyes caught an air-conditioning vent positioned directly over the line of customers who were picking out their vegetables. The vent was covered with filth and obviously hadn't been cleaned since...maybe opening day?

Again, if businesses would just realize what it takes to generate return customers, and how easy it is, their profits would skyrocket accordingly. I don't know whether we're dealing with some sort of corporate laziness that permeates from the top exec all the way to the new hire or if business is so good that customer service gets put on the back burner. But I hate it.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Abilene Back

I've got an interesting week goin' on. This is the third and final summer school week for the (ready?) Irma Lerma Rangel Leadership School for Young Women. There was one week in both June and July, and now these enrichment weeks are wrapping up with this session. These aren't "catch up" weeks for the girls. They are advancement opportunities. This week the 14 girls I'm picking up are learning robotics at the Science Place at Fair Park.

What makes this a demanding week for me is the strange schedule. I go to nine different middle schools which are spread out from far north Dallas all the way to deep Pleasant Grove in the southeast part of town. So, I leave Rockwall at 6 AM, get in my bus around 6:45, make my first pickup at 7:30, go to 8 more schools, and finally arrive at Rangel around 9:20.

As you can tell, that translates to nearly four and a half hours of driving. In the afternoon, I repeat the process as I take them home and then drive myself back to Rockwall. I had trouble sleeping last night with a strange symptom known as "Abilene Back", a condition that originated in the '60's and '70's when I was making so many trips between Dallas and Abilene. "Abilene Back" (westexicus spinus) is nothing more than back spasms and is the result of sitting behind the wheel for stupid lengths of time. Good thing this only lasts a week.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Anesthesized Amnesia

A weird thing happened yesterday at the hospital. After a routine procedure, I was wheeled back to recovery - where Carole awaited me. But apparently, my mental state arrived at different times. Let me explain:

After we were already home yesterday, it dawned on me that I was fuzzy as to when I regained consciousness. I asked the wife about it and soon it was apparent things weren't adding up. The first thing I vaguely remember is getting rid of the lovable hospital gown (made for someone 5'4", not 6'4", btw) and getting dressed. Carole started ticking off a list of activities which preceded that and pretty soon I felt extremely foolish.

She said that we had discussed the fact that I had been rolled in to slot #22 in the recovery area...something that is funny to us since the number 22 follows us around unmercifully. Then she pointed that I had called our son, Blake, to update him on my condition...note that I made the call, not she. And to top it off, Carole said that together we had worked on the NYTimes crossword and almost finished it. This all caught me by surprise. I asked her if I had said anything embarrassing and she said, "No more than normally."

So I'm wondering if any of you out there in the blogosphere have heard of this and/or experienced it yourself. I know one thing: next time, I'm gonna have the anesthesiologist tape my mouth shut when I leave the OR, just to be on the safe side.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Learning a Lesson

Early tomorrow morning, I'm having a routine medical procedure that requires me to do without food today. The last food intake I had was a monster bowl of ice cream at 10PM last night. It is now 3PM a day later. This may have been the longest I've gone without nourishment in my life.

It is such a radical departure from the norm...I get headaches when a meal is 30 minutes late. And I've had 'em today as well. Food is such a huge part of my life! Throughout the day today, I've had visions of snacks and desserts floating around my head, dropping off pieces of sugarized morsels onto my face. (I'm not yet suffering to the degree of the now-extinct Coahuiltecan Indians of South Texas...there were four types of Indians in early Texas: the farmers, the fishers, the hunters, and then the Coahuiltecans, who were, uh, gatherers of food. Among the delicacies they enjoyed were ants, spiders, bark, and deer manure. All they had to do for breakfast was turn over a rock.)

My stomach just growled! You may have heard it. But let's cut to the chase. It's dawned on me that I'm experiencing a tiny bit of what a lot of folks in the world deal with on a daily basis. What a blessing it is to live in America! I'm suffering now, but at least I know that about 10AM tomorrow, I'll have a chocolate shake or something equally fast-breaking and this hunger experience
will be over for good. To some kid on the streets of Mexico City or in the impoverished cities of India, their hunger doesn't come with the guarantee of a next meal that mine does.

I also freely admit that I've never fasted for the expressed purpose of seeking deeper spirituality. I hate the hunger headaches so much that I've just resisted the idea, period. I'm amazed, however, at how much fasting was interwoven into the lives of early Christians. It seemed to be as routine and normal as praying. Maybe one serendipitous outcome of this experience will be the personal revelation that this is something I can do and not die from. I also think that sometimes we Christians have a little fear of anything that might lead us into a deeper commitment with guys who really don't want to go to a Promise Keepers weekend, knowing that it'll will probably lead into a more self-less lifestyle, and that is something they're not quite ready to experience.

So hopefully, as the rumbles continue from just north of my navel, there is good to come from this food deprivation session. One thing's for sure - I can't wait to get my hand around that Wendy's chocolate shake tomorrow.

Friday, August 01, 2008

The Ides of August

The glories of being retired from teaching are innumerable. One of the best occurred this morning. For 36 years, the act of flipping the calendar from July to August instantly produced a knot in the stomach that didn't go away until mid-September, or roughly four weeks into the school year. For me, summer started on Memorial Day and finished with thud on August 1.

This uncomfortable gnawing away of my usual good nature occurred on the 1st even though there were 2-3 weeks of freedom still left in the month. Any joy of lingering freedom was diluted by the reality that hanging over me was the huge unknown of the next group of 150 students I'd be teaching and whether they'd be crazier than the last bunch. Also hanging on the pendulum as it steadily approached my neck was the knowledge that I would soon be stepping into a state of exhaustion, broken only by the heaven-sent holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Ironically, I now look forward to the start of school. I've got a new bus route, a new bus, and another new group of fairly brilliant Rangel students to get to know. Also, I anticipate the new year if for no other reason than it means cooler weather can't be far off. Because as I type this, it's around 100 with a heat index about 400. So bring on school, cool weather, and the relaxed stomach. Tee-hee!