Adventures In Busing.

I Hope There’s Not A Fire.

The optimist in me says that it’s a good thing to see an almost-overgrown fire hydrant because that means it’s never been needed. Then there’s the realist in me that says, hey, what happens if there’s a fire? Do firemen have some kind of record of where hydrants are in a specific area? Seriously, this one is weirdly tucked away in a back corner, but I guess the bright red color stands out enough against the green weeds that it makes it easy to find.

It also reminds me that the cul-de-sac where I grew up didn’t have a fire hydrant for several years. I’m not even sure where the nearest one was but, fortunately, there was never a fire so one was never needed. At some point, though, some realist must have realized this was an oversight on the city’s part and some workmen came in and dug a trench in the street about four feet long and six feet deep. Then they left it for at least a week, maybe longer, and all the kids who lived around there–six or seven of us–would dance around it and jump over it. None of us got down in it, though, since we didn’t think we could get out again, especially after it rained and it filled up with about a foot of muddy water.

Then there was the neighborhood dog, Freckles. Freckles was a large Springer Spaniel, a wonderfully sweet dog, and self-appointed protector of the kids. He’d be the sire of my wonderful dog Friskie, but that’s another story. Freckles was also goofy and, being a Springer, loved nothing more than chasing tennis balls. One day we were taking turns throwing a ball for him–we had to take turns because Freckles never really understood the “retrieve” part. He’d chase a ball, grab it, run around with it, and eventually drop it somewhere else.

The ball bounced into the trench and Freckles thought about it for a moment then jumped down in there. All of us panicked because we were as protective of Freckles as he was of us, but he was quite happy down there, dancing around in the muddy water with a tennis ball. We were trying to figure out how to rescue him when he hopped back up by himself and danced around us with a big grin that clearly said, “Do that again!”

 It’s common knowledge that dogs love fire hydrants–technically any upright object, but hydrants are a popular target. Freckles, though, was sorry to see the hydrant installed because it meant the trench was filled in. He was an eternal optimist.

That hydrant is still there. I think it should have a memorial plaque honoring Freckles.

Source: Google Street View

Get Out Of My Dreams.

I took a full week off from work and, thanks to Memorial Day, got a bonus Monday too. It’s the longest time I’ve taken off from work since December. I’ve taken a day or two of vacation time in between but, mostly, I’ve been working straight through. It’s hard to explain why that is. I’m an hourly employee which means I’m only supposed to work forty hours a week—that’s all I’ll get paid for, and anything over that is overtime which has to be approved by my boss in advance. In spite of having worked my way up through the ranks for nearly thirty years I’ve never reached the level of being salaried—which I’m okay with. I’ve seen too many cases where “salaried” means working sixty, seventy, or even eighty hours a week, and while the pay for those positions may be a little higher I don’t think any of them are worth double overtime.

At the same time I get anxious about stepping away from work. Nothing’s certain anywhere—sometimes we’ll try to find the silver lining of being overburdened by saying “It’s job security” but there’s no such thing. Downsizing has happened before. It will happen again. I’ve seen incredibly qualified, hardworking people get axed because the managers, to their credit, really tried to be fair and objective and used a “last hired, first out” policy to decide where to make cuts. But I’ve also seen downsizing used to target underperformers too.

And yet I was completely relaxed the whole week. I didn’t feel a need to turn on my computer and sneak a peek at any critical emails I might be missing, or even to try and clean up spam. I knew it’d all be there when I came back, and it’s all part of the job—all part of the forty hours a week I’m paid to put in.

The one funny thing is some time late Monday night, or early Tuesday morning, I dreamed I was working. Maybe there was some lingering anxiety back there and it surfaced during REM. Most of the time thinking about work annoys me when I’m off the clock. The only work dream I should have is that I’ll be able to quit my day job, right? This time, though, I was okay with it. Almost every job has its mundane tasks that require so little thought that we can allow our minds to drift. I can take a moment to notice the hummingbird that’s come to my window feeder before I go back to whatever work-related job is in front of me. It’s okay that work and life blur together a little bit.

At least as long as I don’t get fired for saying that.

Not Working At The Car Wash.

The roof of our car was covered with tree sap. It’s one of the hazards of late spring and not having a garage and also parking under a maple tree that later this year will drip fluffy cat tail seed pods all over the car. At least those rinse right off with every good rainstorm. The sap just sticks there and makes the roof brown.

I thought I’d take it to one of those nice car wash places—not the automated ones with the giant roller brushes that thunder over your car while you sit in it, although I think those are fun—I just have to remember to roll up the windows before going through one, but that’s another story.

At the car wash place I left the car in what I thought were the capable hands of a whole team of cleaners, and I figured it would be at least half an hour before they’d be done. It turned out to be less than ten minutes. The car looked great and when I got in the whole interior was clean and smelled faintly of vinegar. 

It wasn’t until I got home that I could see the roof of the car from our patio. It was still brown and sap-covered. It was an expensive lesson but now I know there are a lot of things that will remove tree sap from a car roof, and that fancy car wash places are one thing that won’t.

Source: Wondermark


Memory Wipe.

We bought our current car, a Honda CRV, in 2019, at the same dealership and, in a completely unplanned coincidence, exactly twenty years after we bought our first Honda CRV, which ran great for almost two decades until it suddenly died in the driveway. I’m not trying to shill for Honda here but I have a feeling if we’d just replaced the fuel pump, the only part that had a sudden expiration, it might have run for another twenty years.

Instead we decided to just get a new one, in spite of the slightly different design making it a little smaller on the inside.

Not all parts are equally durable, though, and I’m pretty sure we haven’t replaced the wiper blades on the new one since we bought it. They were starting to disintegrate and, having reached the point where they wouldn’t wipe away water so much as annoy it, I decided to get new wiper blades.

I had vague memories of replacing them on our previous car, and I remembered it involved a lot of snapping and swearing in the driveway. As I was struggling with the front blades I asked my neighbor, “Do you have any experience with wiper blades?”

And that’s when I remembered I’d asked him the same question when I’d previously replaced them, and he gave me the same answer: “Only when it’s raining.”

Even though we’d both checked carefully the guy at the auto parts store sold me the wrong size blade for the rear window so I had to go back and replace it, and when I did I asked if he could help me.

“Oh sure,” he said, “I’ll try and remember how to do it. The only thing I really know is those rear wiper blades are a pain to replace.”

I think I had the same conversation with a guy at an auto parts store the last time. That’s when I realized that companies can get away with such terrible, annoying, hard-to-work-with designs for wiper blades because as soon as we replace them we forget how difficult it is until the next time.

It’s All Pipes.

I love learning new things but sometimes a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. The other day I learned that there’s something called the Mariko Aoki phenomenon and it’s when you go into a bookstore and feel the need to make a beeline for the bathroom. This is not a new idea–people have kept reading material in the throne room for, well, at least a few hundred years, although it probably doesn’t predate the invention of movable type and mass production of printed materials that made books cheaper and more widely available. Outhouses also have a reputation for being a place for doing some quiet cogitating–in fact an English professor told me one of James Boswell’s diaries was found in an old London lavatory that had been sealed up for more than a century. Fortunately Boswell left while it was still in service so he wasn’t found in there with it. And while the invention of toilet paper may not have been directly inspired by the Sears catalog the original wish book was commonly kept in johns where it wasn’t just used for reading.

And, yes, there was a whole Seinfeld episode about this, and, of course, it revolved around George. And also there’s a whole wild history of what people did before paper became widely available.

The connection between reading and, well, taking care of other business may be what causes the Mariko Aoki phenomenon. At least that’s what I think. People’s brains start to associate one with the other and, well, what happens in the tubes that carry our thoughts around affects the larger tubes down in the boiler room.

This is not an issue for me, maybe because I don’t normally read with my pants down. But just thinking about it, well, that can cause things to start happening, and that’s where the problem happened. I learned about the Mariko Aoki phenomenon while listening to Wait! Wait! Don’t Tell Me! on the radio in the car. Normally I listen to Wait! Wait! at home, except for the time we went to see it live here in Nashville and I knew more about Vincent Price than Vince Gill, but that’s another story. It happened to be on during a long drive. And Peter Sagal and crew went into so much detail about the phenomenon I, well, let’s just say I started to have a little phenomenon of my own going on and I had to get home really quickly.

And that’s all I really want to say about it now because I have to go.

Linked Out.

This weekend I took another walk around the Richland Park Greenway Trail and, knowing what to expect this time, I stopped to watch the players on the McCabe Golf Course. The trail goes all around the golf course, which seems like an odd choice for a walking trail, although I guess maintaining a wooded area provides a buffer for the surrounding houses so they’re less likely to get hit by stray golf balls.

My freshman year of high school my parents decided I should take part in some school sport and, not having played anything else aside from a brief baseball career in first grade, I went for the golf team. I don’t remember how I found the golf coach but I do remember that he was approximately eight feet tall and bore a striking resemblance to Boris Karloff. But he gave me a short reassuring speech about how the golf team had enough players already but that if I didn’t mind riding in the back of the truck I could come along on Wednesday’s practice.

Wednesday I dragged my bag of golf clubs to school and confirmed with the coach that we’d meet up in the lobby after the last class. When I got to the lobby it was empty. I went out to the parking lot and looked around. There were a few compacts in the parking lot—for some reason none of the school’s principals drove full size cars. After waiting in the lobby for another fifteen minutes I checked the other two parking lots, which were empty.

The next day I dropped by the golf coach’s classroom.

“Well, where were you?” he yelled at me. “We waited and waited for you, Derek even went to the lobby and looked for you!”

With the benefit of a few decades of hindsight I realize this was bullshit. They forgot I was coming and left me stuck at school without a way home.

The next Wednesday was a repeat.

The third Wednesday I rode in the back of the truck for what seemed like an hour and a half—Google Maps tells me it’s about twenty minutes from my school to McCabe—but at least it was a sunny day and pretty warm even for September.

At the course I realized the other guys had fancy padded golf bags with shiny new clubs. I had a hand-me-down set in a peeling leather bag. They were also dressed like, well, golfers—green and red Izod shirts, blinding white slacks, yellow visors, shoes with spikes. I was still wearing my school clothes: button down shirt, jeans, sneakers.

In unison they stepped up to the tees and made perfect swings. I stepped up, selected a club, put my head down, concentrated.

“Hit the ball, Chris! Play fast, you’ve gotta play fast!” the coach yelled at me.

I jerked and hit the ball and it went an impressive six feet.

The rest of the practice went downhill, even when we were going uphill. Surprisingly the other guys were nice—or maybe they just felt sorry for me, and a few times they gave me tips or offered to let me try one of their clubs before the coach came and yelled at us for not going fast enough. I’ve never thought of golf as a speed game but the coach had his own idea of how to spoil a good walk.

I never returned to the golf team after that, and, in fact, forgot they even existed until my senior year when my friend Travis joked that he was going to try out to be a cheerleader. There was a hierarchy of cheerleaders with the best ones cheering for the football team, the second string working basketball, then baseball, and so on down the line.

When I asked Travis how the tryouts had gone he said “I’m a golf team cheerleader!” And I thought, hey, maybe I should join the team again.

Source: makeagif


Some friends of my wife are out of town and asked her if she’d drop by their farm and feed their animals and just check and make sure everything was okay. Being a good person and a good friend, and also someone with a degree in agriculture, she said yes and asked if I’d come along. Being a good spouse, I hope, anyway, I said yes. And also there was nothing else going on and it would be a chance to get out of the house. I’ve been to their farm several times and I like it in spite of the cows.

It’s not that I have anything against cows. They seem nice enough that it’s a shame they make such good hamburgers, and I actually like them as long as they’re on the other side of a very strong fence. Getting up close and personal with cows is something I do my best to avoid. It’s not that I believe they’re suddenly going to turn into snarling, murderous beasts. I know cows are pretty well domesticated and ones that are used to being around people can be quite gentle. They’re just very large animals that could easily knock me aside without a second thought even if they don’t mean to. Also in the back of my mind there’s this fear they might suddenly turn into snarling, murderous beasts.

So of course when we arrived the cows had somehow escaped from their enclosure.

Fortunately my wife, with the degree in agriculture, was able to do most of the herding of the cows, although I helped a little, mostly from a distance. Then I carried the buckets of feed out to the cows who stuck their heads in the trough before I could put the food in.

“Slap ‘em on the nose if they won’t get out of the way,” my wife yelled. Easy for her to say. She’s got a degree in agriculture. I was convinced slapping a cow would turn it into a snarling, murderous beast. Because there were two food troughs I was able to distract the cows by going to one and then the other and managed to only dump some of the food on cows’ heads.

Then I turned around and I was completely surrounded by the sheep who’d also gotten out of their enclosure. It’s completely irrational but being faced down by twenty-seven thousand hungry sheep was funny to me, whereas a single loose cow would make me want to get back in the car and lock all the doors.

The sheep were also easier to deal with. Unlike the cows, who are distinct individuals the sheep would move collectively. Get one doing in the right direction and the rest follow.

Then we had to collect the eggs even though I would have preferred to hang out with the sheep some more. Chickens may be small but I know they can be snarling, murderous beasts too. So my wife collected the eggs. After all she’s got a degree in agriculture.

Staring At The Sun.

For now at least Mondays mean getting up while it’s still dark. That will change as the days get longer, which will also mean the dogs getting up earlier because they’re triggered by daylight. The sunrise means it’s time for breakfast no matter when the sun rises and they have the advantage of being able to go back to sleep. And how they know it’s after 5PM, their usual supper time, when the sun sets a little later each day is beyond me.

Most of the time I don’t even think about the fact that my commute is more or less easterly. I’ve never stopped to look at a compass while driving and I don’t see too many cars with dashboard mounted compasses anymore. When I was a kid one of our next door neighbors had one of those in his car but it seemed like it wobbled so much with every bump and turn it was impossible to get a reliable reading. Then, when we were on a road trip with him he gave us a lengthy explanation of how he was navigating by the position of the sun, none of which explained how he managed to get lost, but that’s another story.

This morning, however, I found myself driving straight into the sun. I’d forgotten that this was a regular problem for bus drivers I rode with in the afternoons—they were going west and, twice a year, the sun would be in the imperfect position of hanging right over the road ahead. I always felt sorry for the bus drivers but I also just couldn’t bear to look.

This morning when faced with the sun I also had an advantage the bus drivers don’t: I could pull over and wait a few minutes until the sun wasn’t directly in my line of sight anymore. I also could have taken an alternate route and I wouldn’t get lost because I’d be navigating by the sun.

A Walk In The Woods.

Have you ever walked down a path and ended up going for so long you start to wonder if it would ever end? That happened to me recently when I decided to take a walk down a local trail I’ve only seen part of. My wife said that since I don’t take the bus I don’t walk as much as I used to I should get out and walk, and while Radnor Lake has been my usual place she suggested the Richland Creek Greenway Trail as something a little closer to home and for a change of pace. She and I had walked about a quarter of a mile down it a couple of years ago and I’d wanted to go back. This time I decided I’d walk the entire thing.

I didn’t stop to check the trail map or even do any research before setting out because, hey, why would I? I drive by it regularly and it’s obviously a popular trail. As many people walk it I thought, how long could it be? It didn’t occur to me that at least some of those people, like my wife and I, walk part of the way down it then turn around and go back.

I will say this: most of it is a beautiful trail. Most of it follows Richland Creek, and there are a few spots where you can step off the trail and walk right down to the creek. A lot of people were down there with their dogs. Because it’s such a nice trail and because it was a beautiful day I passed a lot of people walking their dogs, and almost every dog I passed was either playing in the creek or soaking wet.

When I got to a bridge I was finally into terra incognita. But it wasn’t far and I just thought, well, I’ll see where this goes. It went through a wooded area, up over a hill, around a bend. A couple I’d seen earlier passed me and I thought, oh, I guess the path circles back around not too far up ahead.

Then for a long stretch I walked past part of the McCabe Golf Course, where I’d once tried out for my high school golf team, disastrously, but that’s another story, on one side and the creek on the other. Walkers were protected from errant balls by a tall net. As the path went up and over another hill and past homes I started to think, Wait, just how far does this go? Am I still on the right path? The absence of saguaros was the only thing that kept me from thinking I’d taken a wrong turn and ended up in Albuquerque.

There were plenty of people around so I wasn’t really worried, though. I just kept going, wondering how far I’d gone.

When I saw the Star Bagel Café I finally had at least some idea. The distance from the trailhead where I’d parked to the café is, by road, a little over four miles. I hadn’t walked that far because the trail had its own as-the-crow-flies direction but I still knew I’d gone pretty far. And it was still a beautiful day and there were plenty of people around. I felt fine, but I’d been on the trail long enough that I’d wondered if I should turn back. The café was my sign that really the only thing to do was keep going. I guessed, correctly, that it was approximately halfway and I was far enough in that I should just keep going.

With a wooded area on my right and a rise topped with railroad tracks on my left I laughed, wondering just how much farther it could go, and at that point the trail turned back onto a familiar stretch that led back to the parking lot.

Five miles in all. It was a fun walk and I plan to do it again, this time knowing what I’m in for, although that last part is why I’m glad I didn’t do any research. Part of the fun was knowing where I’d end up but not how I’d get there.

Close Enough For Government Work.

About a month ago I heard the sounds of trucks beeping and a few loud thumps early in the morning. Construction noises aren’t unusual in my neighborhood; pretty much any house that sells these days gets knocked down and replaced with something bigger. But when I looked out the window I saw approximately three thousand Nashville Metro trucks and a whole crew of workers in hard hats parked at the end of our driveway. Marks had been spray-painted on the street months earlier so I assumed the work had something to do with that. I walked up to see what was going on.

“Hey,” said one of the guys, smiling at me. “You don’t need to get out of your driveway, do you?”

He could have asked that before they decided to park their trucks right in front of it and completely demolish the end of our driveway, removing the big culvert pipe that goes under it for drainage. But I said no then asked how long they were going to be.

“Less than an hour,” he said. And he was right. I think it took them less than forty-five minutes to finish the job, installing a new culvert pipe and covering the whole thing with packed gravel. It wasn’t pretty—they removed the concrete walls that had been on either side—but it was functional and I thought maybe we could save up enough money to have new concrete walls installed on either side to help hold the gravel in place.

And then a little over a week ago I was about to start working when I heard construction sounds again. I looked out the window and once again there were approximately three thousand trucks parked in front of our driveway. I walked up to the street to see what they were doing.

“Hey,” said a different guy, smiling at me. “You don’t need to get out of your driveway, do you?”

Again this seemed like a goofy question but I laughed because I had a good idea of how it would go. And this time they actually hadn’t blocked the driveway. The only trouble we’d have getting out, if we needed to, would be navigating around all the trucks in the street. He added that they’d be out of the way in less than an hour, then asked if I thought they were doing a nice job.

They were. The new concrete walls on either side of the driveway look very nice. Joke all you want about government work. Sometimes they get things done.

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