Not Living In a Monastery

As I gave a friend a rather complete text of what has happened the past couple of days, he reminded me we don’t live in a monastery. What has happened at our house to make our lives less than tranquil? Hmmm…what could it be?

Could it be the hockey players?

  • It could. One of them knew he was injured, but didn’t know the extent of it. After getting an x-ray yesterday, he found out his hip is fractured. There is more information to gather, but it certainly does keep it from being boring around her.
  • The other hockey player is quiet, and we are never sure what he is plotting. The mere mention of “Cheese Cake Factory” will bring a Door Dash delivery immediately following dinner. And, when he is not eating cheesecake, he is indulging in “hockey-ish” activities.

Maybe it is the exchange students?

  • Between their eating (or not eating), and their social media-ing (they are never NOT doing this). they squeeze in ice skating or other forms of “chilling”.
  • Now that they are at the halfway point, we will observe whether their clothes purchases decrease and whether they pick up an extra suitcase…or two.

What about for my wife and I?

  • My wife is working again after her Christmas vacation. I won’t say it was hard, but she needed 2 Coke Zeroes from Sonic to get her through.
  • I got to talk to the IRS and seethe, as they told me for the second time, the form was completed incorrectly. “We want to help you, but your paperwork is wrong!! And, have you had the booster vaccine? You have not? Then we definitely cannot help you.” So, that is how my day went.

As is often the case when making a blog entry where the subjects have names, it is better to avoid specifics. Assume everything stated above is a sanitized, non-specific version of the truth. If you can’t do that, just picture 6 adults and two teenagers sharing a house where no more than 3 people enjoy the same menu for dinner. And those who don’t like it can’t wait for the meal to be over before grabbing snacks in the pantry and disappearing for the rest of the night.

Gender What?

As I recently looked at the “disclaimer” at the bottom of listing on the Monster job site, I saw this in the footer of the job posting….

As an AA/EEO employer, “INSERT NAME OF INSTITUTE OF HIGHER LEARNING HERE” recruits, hires, and promotes qualified persons in all job classifications without regard to age, race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, gender expression, national origin, ethnic origin, disability, genetic information, covered veteran status, or any other basis protected by law. 

I guess my old-fashion-ness is showing, but the words “orientation”, “expression” and “identity” seem a little hard to nail down.  It would seem any questioning of a persons claims associated with these words tagged on as a suffix would make virtually anything a person does part of the norm.  This is not denying the world is a crazy place and circumstances have caused crazy thoughts and patterns to occur in people’s lives.  Regardless, with all of these qualifiers, it still seems like we are bending so far over backwards to be inclusive that we have forgotten how to be clear.

Since our genes give us a our gender and we are allowed to question our genetics, it would seem unfair to not be able to change our race, age or color by a simple declaration.  Something like, “I, [state your name] declare myself to be a 30 year old, Chinese-American.” (I have no desire to change my gender, thank you.)  If someone denies me the right to make this proclamation, wouldn’t they be questioning my right to alter my orientation, expression or identity?  They may argue, “Genetically and chronologically, you can’t alter your age or race or color.”  That seems quite discriminatory.  Why can certain things “baked into the baby” be changed when other things not be changed?

I realize I am not a biologist, psychologist, or a geneticist.  I don’t have the scientific background, (beyond my 5 senses–or 4, I don’t think tasting helps unless it has something to do with spicy food.  Maybe this should be another protected class.  Spicy food can offend some people.  I officially propose adding “diet” to the list above.  The poor peanut allergy people don’t seem to be adequately protected by the disclaimer.) to assess such important things.  But, it seems science has been redefined from what it was a few years ago.  I guess the problem is the science of the past was repressive and wrong, so it was reevaluated.  (Maybe evolution and the big bang could be given the same scrutiny.)

If we are going to go all in with “disclaimers”, might I suggest the following…

  • Diet:  (see above)  Besides nut allergies, spicy food and a strict vegetarian diet can sometimes have detrimental affects on the office environment, too.  I know we are all big enough to hold our noses and not mention it, but it should be explicitly protected.
  • Heavy sweaters:  I have worked with people who fall into this category.  They took great strains to not have people made aware of this fact.  The person I am referring to worked in retail.  He changed his t-shirt multiple times per day.  The secondary effect of his sweating was attempting to control the odor.  I know this quality might not come out until a person is hired and working.  It still seems unfair not to protect them as well.
  • Religious expression:  If they endorse the behaviors of one religion and not another religion merely for practicing their faith, then it does seem inconsistent.  As a Christian, I try to be flexible with what others believe.  How far do I let other religions go in this expression?  If it is codified in a neat little generic clause like listed above, the doubters can point but the ambiguity can continue.
  • This is not really a specific add on, but maybe it would help clarify.  Is it really “law” or is it Presidential decree or proclamation?  It seems a little bold referring to all of the issues addressed in the disclaimer as “being protected by law”. (I know some of them have been for many years.  Some of them are “hitchhikers” where the law is still unclear.)  Would this be natural law?  If natural law, some of the issues mentioned above would not seem to qualify.  (Gender confusion may allow for short term peace and happiness, but it doesn’t do much for continuing the human race.)

Have I offended or bothered you?  It was not my goal, but it was an accepted possibility.  I believe we have a right to participate in a work environment that is a positive, encouraging place.  If all of the things introduced in the disclaimer above are evident in every work place, I believe there will be to much tip-toeing around trying to be inclusive.  If the thought police care more about what you think and don’t say then what is done to fulfill your job description, then maybe staying self-employed is a saner option than being obligated to “endorse” all of the above behaviors.  God, please help our country!!


Cashier Karma

While visiting a local supermarket with a reputation for having good produce, I was enjoying having my soon-to-head-back-to-college son with us.  I know we swapped some light-hearted banter while my daughter found the items on her list.  (She made us promise not to get gummy bears from the bulk bins, but they were on sale. And, she didn’t care if I got a bag of the almonds that were on sale, but when I did the bag tore and made a mess within the blast zone.)  I don’t believe any clementine juggling took place.  We would not injure innocent fruit unless we were planning on consuming it.

As we chose a lane to check out (we really did not have a choice.  There was only one lane open UNTIL I had all of my items on the belt.  Once mine made it on the belt, the next lane opened up.), I looked forward to having a possible conversation with the cashier.  He was a jolly gentlemen who used to be a respiratory therapist.  The stress of that job pushed him into working nights at the above mentioned supermarket.  (There may have been a few other stops and hops along his journey to here.  If there were, he never mentioned them or I had yet to ask.)

As the groceries started going across his scanner, he asked, “So, did you find everything?”

Being a dutiful customer, I replied, “Yep.  I scattered a few almonds for the vermin that lick crumbs off the floor every night.  And, I sacrificed a mixture of fruits in a an effort to push back the upcoming winter temperatures.”

Still in character, he added, “I don’t often talk to someone who knows so much about what goes on around here.”

As my kids gave me  odd looks, I confessed to all who would listen including the lady right behind me in line, “I know you need to make conversation with whoever comes through the line, so I figured I would help you out.  A couple times ago, you told me about your past career….”

I pause for effect.  The lady behind me turns her head slightly to hear this possibly interesting fact.  My daughter is not facing me, but I anticipate an eye roll.  My son being a bit of a clown himself is curious what I will do in my moment.  And, the cashier slows up his processing of items on the belt to hear clearly if I knew about his respiratory therapy past.

“….as a male dancer.”, I finished.  The lady behind me smiles.  My son laughs out loud.

The cashier gives a chuckle and says, “My wife probably wishes that was the case.  I have never been much of a dancer.”

As I can tell my daughter is choosing not to give me any eye contact, I embarrass her further by saying, “My daughter can’t believe her dad can’t keep his mouth shut–not even to go to the store.”

The lady behind me smiles a little bigger as embarrassment must be a natural way of trying to smother the slightly inappropriate.  The cashier gives me the receipt while giving me a smile that seems to say, “Thanks for your business and for breaking the monotony of an otherwise boring day.”

While not wanting to let my moment die quite yet, I couldn’t help but say, “I know you don’t accept tips, and I don’t want you to dance for it.  So, I hope you will settle for, ‘Have a good night.'”

The conversation on the drive home allowed me to relive my moment from their perspective.  It is in these moments my kids character comes out.  My son encouraged me to continue to be my quirky self.  My daughter wanted to go home and hug her mother and tell her what a monster her father is when she is not there to supervise.  (Not really….or if she did she was discrete.)

I don’t always involve so many people in my fun.  Maybe, I need to make it a goal.  If it is not illegal, immoral or unethical, I should go for the smile.  I will keep exploring this philosophy during the course of 2016.  Maybe I will blog more…..?

Who You Waving At?

Where I grew up, anyone who drove by on the the small country road I lived on was a neighbor.  And, if they are neighbors, you wave at them.  Whether I was riding my bike to the covered bridge or mowing the front yard of the 7 acres we lived on, I waved whenever a car drove past.  Most times, they also waved back.  It is how I grew up.  Although I knew most everyone I waved at, waving was one of those things you did 30+ years ago to give a greater feeling of community.

In my DFW neighborhood, some of that still remains, but not so much.  When I first arrived here, about 5 years ago, I was much more likely to wave at a car passing by.  If I was doing yard work, I considered it an obligation to give a friendly gesture to any passersby-whether they walked or they drove.  As my months in Texas have elapsed, the likelihood of a returned wave seems all but reserved for neighbors who are standing in their yards.  Nearly all cars driving by might get suspicious looks.  The cars are either hired help for one of the neighbors OR they are guys in beater pickup trucks driving around on trash day looking for bargains in the “free” pilfering piles.

When I leave the neighborhood, there are a couple of neighbors who are still likely to extend a hand of friendship.  In many cases, their waves are quicker then mine.  One of those neighbors is also responsible for the neighborhood “fat camps”.  Outside her garage, she has a heavy-duty kicking/punching bag.  And, when she is able to draw in the “fatties” or “near-fatties” from the neighborhood, she takes her enrollees through her proven (?) routine.  (She is fairly slender, so she does have some credibility.)  My wife and I have seen her working 5-10 women in her driveway/garage or within a few blocks of her house.  We have tried not to stare during the workouts.  She doesn’t seem like she cuts corners for any of her victims.

With this background information, I now take you to us leaving church last Sunday.  Not only do many churches have greeters, they also have people holding the door for you as you leave.  Our neighborhood exercise junkie was manning (womaning?) the doors on that day.  Not wanting to wait for the narrowing created by having only one door open (their were two doors), I went ahead and opened the other door and worked my way out.  We had a brief conversation.  I confirmed she was the “exercise lady”, and I mentioned to her how we have waved at each other a number of times.  She didn’t deny it.  But, she seems to be “old school” like I used to be.  While my philosophy has deteriorated to the point of “only waving if recognized”, she still takes the much friendlier stance of, “wave and let God sort them out”.

I hope I can reboot my waving.  Regardless of if someone knows me or not, I want people to see my smiling face and easy wave.  (When I take my walks, I will often “dip” my head as an acknowledgement, but waving is almost unheard of.)  I want them to see me and think, “What is different about him?”  I have plenty of time to be stiff after I am dead.  As long as I have the ability to move and engage in friendly gestures, I feel obligated to put forth a minimum effort of kindness.  It doesn’t have to be as gregarious as a hug.  It is a small effort to shrink the city down so it is more hospitable.  For that moment when the gesture is exchanged, a community of two is just fine.



The Manly Panera








As I paid my weekly visit to a Panera, I turned my observational skills up to the highest level. I was nosier in my observing of the crowd than I normally am.  From the start, it was quite clear this Panera was much more “man-centric” than the other ones I had visited. The tables of (mostly) men went something like this:

  • One gentlemen was a Kurt Vonnegut look alike (he looked like he was much more focused then me).  He was focused on his computer.  I think he was trying to make an Amazon purchase.  No new novels seem likely….
  • One gentlemen seemed capable of studying (pastor) much more deeply than me-I saw him look up twice as his food was delivered and as an acquaintance said “hello”.  As he stood up to leave, he probably played football/basketball in high school.  Maybe he was a coach?
  • Two booths over two men were talking something spiritual (I heard “Holy Spirit”).  As I focused all of my nosy skills into my hearing, I would guess one of them was very involved administratively with the Catholic or Episcopal church.  As with most priest, they look like one of their spiritual gifts was accepting other people’s hospitality.
  • A VERY retired couple with walker and cane (he had a US Army hat on.  I would guess WWII vet, but he told me Korea and Vietnam) enjoyed each other’s company.  The husband was more mobile so he placed the orders, got the coffee refills, and still smiled as he awaited  for every word his bride could offer. After I thanked him for his service, he did not hesitate to tell me what a great wife he had.  How she held the family together while he was away.  Brief words exchanged with her revealed she had a German (I think) accent.
  • There was a table of four guys (it seemed to be a rather fluid group.  It was as large as 7 and as small as 2) who looked like all early retirees or soon-to-be with their newspapers and a constant hum of sports and current events.  As the conversations warmed up and the wannabes left the table, the core group sounded more like a support group as they discussed work issues, including some problems with younger fellow employees.
  • Behind me a couple of tables, was a couple of guys who didn’t give me much to work with.  As the one gentlemen picked his food up, he seemed to give me a rather stern look.  Was I in his normal booth?  Did he not like my t-shirt declaring myself as a visitor to the Grand Canyon?
  • The last table was the most interesting to me–a group of definite male retirees all listening intently to one another.  Every corner of the table was filled!  The only one who faced me directly was wearing an orange crocheted hat. (Kind of like a hybrid of the above.)

I considering discreetly (or indiscreetly) snapping a picture of the hat., but I could not image how the conversation would go if I felt compelled to ask.  I didn’t want to pull him from his friends, and even though I did chat with him briefly, the “would you pose for a picture?” question never came up.

As I went for a refill, my muse also needed his coffee refilled as well.

Me:  While backing away from the decaf coffee, “Sorry about that.  Go ahead and jump in.  I have what I need.”

Orange:  “No problem.  Whenever you are done is fine.”

Me:  “Quite a hat you have there!  Did your wife make it for you?”

Orange: “No, my daughter did.”

Me: “That looks like something my wife or daughter might make for me.  It looks good on you.”

Orange: While failing to extricate his coffee cup from the dispenser and spilling coffee on the counter and the floor, “Whoops.  My eyes aren’t what they used to be.”

Me:  “As long as it is your eyes.  I was afraid when I got older I would lose the ability to pour coffee and talk at the same time.”  I laughed a little and Orange joined in.  (I figured a person wearing a hat like he was wearing MUST have a sense of humor!)

As I gathered napkins to clean up his mess, he wandered back to his seat.  I let the management know about the mess while heading back to my booth.

The hats I found on-line are only a taste of what I really had the pleasure of seeing.   While his hat had a brim, it was not a rigid brim.  The brim seemed to droop slightly toward his nose.  The rest of the hat could not properly hold a firmness usually associated with a hat.  Due to yarns inability to effectively combat gravity, the hat seemed to sag in numerous places.  The yarn, however, was quite adequate to provide a very attractive ball for the top.  A different color of yarn may have given the hat a little more flair, but it was clear, the man wore it with pride.

While I admired his hat as I looked at it through the eyes of the women in my life, I now had an explanation why he could wear the hat with pride and no reservations.  He loved the hands and the heart of the person who made the hat for him.  And, his diminishing eye sight allowed him to spend over an hour at Panera confident he was the most stylish dresser there.

As I spoke to my daughter last night while we discussed an issue of incredible importance in her young mind, I made a similar comment of how age greatly fades the way we view people’s opinions.  She is a mess about a few things, and I tried to convince her how 20-30 years from now the things she is all worked up about will not even be a second thought.  She didn’t seem convinced.  After seeing my orange-hatted friend, I believe I still have some additional learning to do.  Maybe if I am really practicing what I preach, I will schedule the unveiling of my original orange hat for a special event sometime before retirement.  Unless my family also embraces an attitude of “Who cares?”, this special event will have to be a solo one…


Blue Bow Mystery


As we began the final mile of our walk, we prepared to leave the established sidewalk and move into the less specific paths of the parking lot and park that would eventually lead us home.  The final house to our right was adorned with two bows.  It was not completely clear what their purpose was or why the mailbox and the light attached to the right of the front door needed one.  The bow appeared to be made out of blue netting.  At this point in observing, we were trying to mentally unknot the bundles lightweight material with the hope of developing a theory.  Our first conjecture was a new baby had arrived for the family that lived there.  (Blue was a pretty strong clue.)  A secondary, although remote theory, involved their support for some cause I was not immediately aware of.  Was there an edict out of Austin/Washington encouraging household to put blue ribbon-like knots in front yard to support the IRS or the EPA or Texas Independence?  As we put the house further in our figurative rear view mirrors, our discussion wandered more towards the weekend and what would be on our plates at dinner time.

The next time I walked by, the same knotted loops were still there.  The wind had ruffled them a little more, making there resemblance to bows less obvious.  The city workers continued their construction on the updated flood drainage system.  I cursed their construction equipment for temporarily excavating the area around my sidewalk and forcing me to detour through this part of the neighborhood.  The wind-altered bows were nearly forgotten….

The other morning, as I approached the final stretch of the sidewalk and prepared to emerge out of the neighborhood, I came up on the house again.  This time, a car was slowly heading toward the end of the street with no other destination available but the House of the Blue Knots.  As they slowly turned into the driveway, I slowed my pace.  (I am the type of person that assembles the entire contents of the shopping cart from Walmart of the person in front of me.  After processing all of the information, I make a determination what the next 4 hours of their life might look like.  What are they eating for dinner?  Are they having a party? etc. Often I put a humorous twist on the basket just to make sure my kids/wife are listening.)  As the elderly couple slowly got out of the car, I opted for slowing my pace rather than walking backwards while facing them.  As the back door to the car opened, a medium wrapped gift filled the assumed grandparent hands.  And, unless I have completely lost my grasp of the realities of being a parent, it was likely a couple of outfits that would either be worn only a couple of times because they were too dressy and too hard to put on OR an outfit that was destined to provide a supporting role to an overfilled diaper.

Should I have chosen to assume immediately the blue bow was performing its normal function, I probably would have been home a couple minutes earlier on that day.  I would have thought about some “interesting” subject common to the mind of an adult.  (If I had a normal mind, I might have more insight into what “normal” is like.  I suppose it involves a mind that likes playing by the rules and accepting whatever role it is cast into.  On the outside, I may accept this stereotype.  Inside, I am searching for extra storage space to give my brain extra processing power without allowing my head to swell to substantially.) But, I rather fill my mind with how life is a mystery rather than how it is so mundane.

She Answered In French

As our exchange students move into the second half of their school year with us, I continue to be amazed!  They may hop off of an international Skype call talking to their parents/friends, and be able to immediately switch to English to talk to us mono-lingual Americans.  In my single language brain, I daily suffer from a bit of jealousy for those who can so easily slip between languages with barely a breath or pause.  In my brain, all foreign phrases are tied to their American equivalent phrase.  (The “How are you?” gate must be passed prior to me getting to “Como estas?”)  As I watch our exchange students easily converse in both languages, I realize this is not a very effective filing system.

Of course, having two exchange students does give the opportunity to assess their individual language switching dexterity.   While our Chinese exchange student truly does make the transition between English and Chinese seem nearly seamless, our Korean student has been known to have a slightly blank stare or give a generic, “That is an interesting thought.” when her brain does not effectively switch linguistic gears.  Earlier this week, both of our exchange students [they share a room] failed to hear their alarm.  As they got up late, their minds locked into the language of their dreams [I can only assume you dream in your native tongue.], and I was told both of them spoke excitedly in Chinese and Korean, respectively.  (I am guessing things like, “Oh, my gosh! We are going to be late.” were uttered in the appropriate language.)

It is these events that lead to me recent mindset as I called a customer up today.  I knew the customer was in Montreal, so I knew to expect a French accent.  However, when I was greeted in French, my whole grasp of other languages seem to change.  I believe I have grown callous (sort of) to easy switching between English and an Asian tongue.  (Without regular contact with any other bilingual people, I kind of “forgot” some people are fluent in English and other European languages, too.) When I said, “I will be speaking in English.”, she quickly switched to English.  As my language jealousies were rekindled, I tried to communicate effectively to her in English.  Our exchange students have programmed me to speak more slowly when I hear an accent.  And, I believe I was probably choosing words that I believed were on the elementary level rather than any more difficult words. Due to her role at this company, despite her accent, her English skills were likely immensely better than her accent would lend me to believe.  I can only assume I didn’t score any points for Team USA by forcing her to listen to my pathetic attempts to communicate with someone who is practically genetically bi-lingual.

I wish I could say living with exchange students and talking to those with superior language skills has made me want to learn another language.  Truth be told, I would like to learn another language–it is the work to acquire the new skill that seems to leave me committed to being a mono-lingual.  When they come up with the USB drive that can plug into my skull OR if they can do a language download through hypnosis or something (the TV show “Chuck” on Netflix gives a view of this), I think I will be able to justify the work to go to bi-lingual and beyond.  Until then, I will be the American who thinks he is communicating effectively by slowing pronouncing English words and throwing in a few hand motions when I believe they will add translation value.

Keeping The Shotgun Awake


It was a pleasant drive yesterday morning (This was originally written a couple days after Christmas.) as we headed out to Florida.  (Pleasant assumes you believe good things can happen before 4:00.)  After fighting the kids into the car, turning down the thermostats, and going back to the house for the inevitable “I forgot to go to the bathroom.” or “I forgot my contact solution.” etc, we were off.  Once we cleared the worst of the vehicular stairsteps (i.e. north/south and east/west roads) to get the luggage-carrier enhanced van heading east on US 20, I slipped in and out of brief micro-naps until we hit the Louisiana border.  (somewhere near 3 hours.  It was somewhere between 7-8 at this point.) And, this is really where our adventure begins…

Just over the border (or border plus 20 miles), the dashboard trifecta occurred.  I was awakened by an “Oh, no.” and us getting off the exit of a perfectly good road to find out our dashboard was lit up with 3 extra dashboard lights (engine light, VSC, & Trac-off).  As my normally calm wife calmed down, I searched by phone for “sienna engine light on” and “sienna VSC light on”.  The answers were not completely satisfying, (it could have been an o2 sensor OR it could have been as simple as the gas cap not being on tightly enough.) but having just taken the van in for a 100,000 mile physical at the dealership, I felt somewhat reassured that the van was not about to turn into a huge pile of scrap metal.  Regardless, after a breakfast stop, I did earn the driver’s seat for what I anticipated to be just a couple of hours.

The dashboard “lights of doom” continued to stare back at me as the miles ticked by.  As my “shotgun” (aka “wife”) fed me occasional directions, I just kept plowing on.  I would sometimes hit the rumble strips on the side of the road as I was constantly checking all 3 mirrors for visibility. (Driving in the mini-van with our 4 bios and 2 exchange students made us a family of 8.  There were no options to leave the rear-view mirror with clear visibility.  Thus, all 3 mirrors were critical as my eyes were constantly checking one of hem..)  And, when the windshield got too dirty or misted over, I would turn on the wipers.  (The wipers never seemed to have enough moisture–they kept squeaking.)  When I was thirsty and my navigator was not available, I would yell to the back to get me a water.  And, when I saw hunter’s dragging a deer from the woods to their car, I had to tell someone what I saw. (I was informed later how hard all of my actions made it to sleep.)

As the first tank headed toward fumes, we found a much needed gas station, but we filled up and emptied the end of our digestive tracks on the eastern side of Mississippi.  We got all of our packed lunch items (my daughter made me an excellent sandwich of ham, cheese, lettuce and cilantro the night before.) out and I settled in for another period of unknown length in the driver seat.  The unexciting “Welcome to Alabama” sign greeted us as we dreaded any extended driving on a 2-lane road.  (It is hard to believe driving from Texas to Disney involves driving 20+ miles on 2 lane roads and quite a bit of small town and city driving.  Maybe Disney ought to pay for road improvements on all of the many roads leading to their Magic Kingdom.)[On the way back, we went a different set of roads where it was almost entirely 4 lane or more.  Despite these improvements, the deep south is not racing to become “super” accessible.]

After crossing the long bridge south of Mobile, I (yes, I am still driving.  And, yes, the dashboard lights are still bright.  At one point, I mentioned to my wife maybe she should find a Toyota dealership near our condo in Orlando.  I could try and take the car first thing in the morning to get the lights tested and see if it was a ghost or a REAL problem.  Somehow she never got to far with this project.  She took a picture of me driving and posted it on Facebook[see above] and she opened about every app on my phone while she was playing.) the Florida panhandle awaited.  If one is not aware, it is nearly 275 miles from the beginning of the panhandle to I-75.  I set goals of driving 50 miles, then 100, then 200 miles of this distance.  The distance kept increasing because the cities were not coming up anywhere near the desired mileage goals.

As I completed my second tank of gas behind the wheel, we confirmed the next exit would bring a gas station and a couple of candidates for dinner.  (I have called Mickey D’s “Yech-donalds” for years.) As we settled in after the fill-up and after the obligatory evening meal demanding by all growing children was purchased, I hopped in the passenger seat to rest my weary body.  My wife hopped behind the wheel and got us back heading to US-75.

We hadn’t driven too many miles before I realized all of the lights that had been on the WHOLE time I was driving were now out.  Either the gas cap miraculously tightened itself, the car used a seldom used “self heal” feature OR the van was ready again for a woman’s touch.  Whatever the cause of our now “perfect” looking dash, I was grateful for the van seemingly affirming my driving time was “up”.


Not A Morning Person

As I awoke today to a recently absent sun (I did get up before sunrise, but all indications were it was coming), I was thrilled to see the blue near-cloudless sky.  It made it easy to believe the weatherman was succumbing to the pressure of those in DFW not familiar with multiple back-to-back cloudy days.  His forecast seemed to be anticipating the reality that would be my day–SUN!!

I fired up the school “bus” and dropped the girls off to school.  Even though the temperature was still in the 30’s the blue skies and the emerging sun seemed to add at least 10 degrees to the temperature.  As the sun continued his ascension, I needed to run a mid-morning errand.  It was hard not to wear a smile and bask in the gift of the temperature-rising orb that finally accepted our daily invitation to visit.  My final errand was going to Sprout’s for a couple of bulk items and vegetables.

As I was preparing to check out, the register operator seemed less than enthusiastic to be there.  She had a stud on her upper lip, and her whole body hinted (actually, it screamed), “I am not a morning person.”  We maintained a simple dialogue.

She asked, “Did you find everything?”
I replied, trying to contrast her rather low volume, low interest voice, “When the sun came out today, everything else was a bonus!”
“Your total is $12.76.”, she said as she continued to replay the mental script all good cashiers are trained on.
“The card is swiped.  Not enough to sign for.  Looks like I am all set.”, I continued with a slightly upbeat tone.  I didn’t want my tone to be too glaringly cheerful and hurt her apparently overwhelmed head.
She forced a smile as she handed me my receipt. “Thank you. Enjoy the rest of your day.”
“I will.  You enjoy yours, too.”, I replied as I anticipated seeing the sun and feeling the sunlight again in a few moments.

Maybe I am too old to be so cheered by the sun.  And, maybe I just need to do the self-checkout so I don’t force anyone to engage in dialogue with a “happy” person.  If the purpose of some of my errands is to pull a small smile from a slightly bored employee, I am okay with that.  And, if I encounter a cashier who is a morning person, then the “good feelings” from the conversation can be banked for the next time I find someone who is not a morning person….sometimes I am not one either.

820 Express Joy Ride


After coming off of almost 4 years of construction (ever since we moved to Texas), it would seem almost “whiny” to find fault with the “school taxi” route being reduced by 5-10 minutes both ways.  Of course, categorizing this as an observation clears my conscience and allows me to do the retelling…

The closest highway to our house is due south.  It is “820”.  It is an outerbelt to Fort Worth.  Just to the east to southeast of us are a couple of more well-traveled highways.  And, to the west, there is US 35.  (US 35 is a slightly messed up highway.  It “splits” north of DFW and reunites south of DFW north of Waco.  This allows directions containing “Go north on 35W off of 820W”) The story I heard is when “the really smart highway engineers” realized all of these highways were generating more traffic than could reasonably be handled by the existing structure, somebody came up with a rather unique plan.  Since we have quite a few toll roads in Texas-even though some of them are lightly used, “the really smart cheapskates who make decisions on how to pay for highways” decided they would allow someone (enter a rich guy from the Middle East-remember, I am not researching this-it is what I was told) to pay for the construction of this new road.  Fortunately, due to the incredible volume of traffic, “the people in Austin who have a conscience” would not allow the road to become a toll road with no alternatives.  They chose to split the difference.  They created a “normal” chunk of 820 (speed limit 60 mph), and they created a chunk of 820 (and points slightly east) where there is a toll with a speed limit of 70 mph.  (Having a toll card makes the pain minimal.)  “The people who sucked in an investor to this unique project” did give him/her (“the person/company who needed to spend lots of money on a project where they may never get a return on their money”) a concession.  Not only did “the greedy investor” get a toll road, but they got a road with varying tolls.  I have seen the tolls as low as $0.25 and as high as $3.25.  It varies on time of day and how thick the traffic is at that particular moment.

My adventure occurred yesterday morning.  It was a thick foggy day with visibility of less than 1/2 a mile.  After dropping off the girls at school, I began the normal 7:30ish route home.  Due to the visibility or the novelty of fog or the arrogance of some over-zealous Texas driver, my normal, non-toll route was WAY backed up.  I detoured to the access road (This is also a phenomenon in Texas.  I was not aware of “access roads” in Ohio.  Essentially, it is a road that runs parallel to many of the highways.  It allows a driver to get on the highway from the access road without having to enter an entrance ramp from a complete stop.  It also allows many addresses to incorporate the names of the highways.  An address like, “8200 820E” might be a completely valid address.)   to avoid sitting in traffic for any extended time.  At the next intersection, I could make a turn to the left or right OR I could go straight before choosing to take the left or right fork – one to the “normal” 820 and one to the “toll” 820.  Unfortunately, I chose left.  (I should have known left was the toll because on the highway the toll road is situated inside of the normal road.) I endured a near traffic free journey to the next exit. (This exit was past my normal exit.  The “express” did not allow me to get off where I wanted, but it was close…)  The rest of my journey home was uneventful.

As I dropped off the girls today, there was minimum fog and light traffic on the normal route home.  When I drove by the sign where my toll would have been displayed yesterday, the same “detour” today would have cost me $1.40.  I have convinced myself I would have sat in traffic for a considerable amount of time if I did not take my “joy ride”, so it is obviously money well spent!