Clean Or Dirty?

A little game played at home, or when visiting. Were the dishes in the dishwasher clean or dirty? Some used the washer as a source of clean dishes and glassware.

What days were scheduled for trash pickup? Were there different days for recyclables and regular trash? The really confusing part. There were different refuse companies with different neighborhood subscribers.

It wasn’t like I was among total strangers. These were family members. Family members that worked week days.

A Saturday of dog sitting while mom and daughters visited the local Ikea store. The weather was unseasonably cool and beautiful.


yellow wildflowers

It was quiet just before sunrise.  My body eclipsed street light reflections on road signs as I passed.  The street was a patchwork quilt of damp spots from overnight rain showers.

Post-vacation letdown was directly tied to vacation enjoyment.  That didn’t make normal routine any easier to take.  Storing luggage, scrubbing love bugs from the front of the family buggy, vacuuming beach sand, only made it worse.

After a week’s stay in a local kennel, Max and Maggie were eager to go for their morning walk.  They didn’t enjoy the beach experience– endless sand and crashing surf.

The good news–Max lost five pounds. I was tired of hearing, “Your dog is too fat.” Then came the inevitable follow-up lecture. I wasn’t stupid–that was the purpose of weight control.

In the coastal southeast, it’s only slightly less humid. Daylight hours are shortened. There’s still another month to go before cooler temperatures are noticeable. Wild sunflowers, goldenrod are ready to bloom.  Fall is not far away.

All things, good and bad, have a beginning and an end.  Memories of summer, good friends, good times, and big guns will soon fade away.

After living here for a decade, I can’t understand why anyone would refuse to visit the beautiful Alabama gulf coast.  For some, the reason could be–vacationing in Florida is more of a status symbol, than Alabama?

Gulf waters don’t stop at state lines.  Sugar white beach sand is the same along the entire gulf coast.  Maybe it’s just as well?  Narrow-minded people don’t belong here–anyway.



are you being served

What’s the most dreadful (or wonderful) experience you’ve ever had as a customer?

Photographers, artists, poets: show us SERVICE.


Our rooms were booked through a web-based travel site.  No, it wasn’t the one that featured “Capt. Kirk” (William Shatner).  In hindsight, I wish it had been.  Reservations made for the first and last nights for friends and relatives of the wedding party.  Our first trip to the Hawaiian islands, we hoped to rest comfortably before flying to Maui the next day.

We paid for a room accommodating three guests.  Our room was considerably smaller than expected.  There was one full bed pushed against what appeared to be base kitchen cabinets.  Had this room been used to store odds-and-ends of surplus furniture?  Complaints to the front desk were answered with an additional roll away bed.  Our friend slept on the roll away bed with one end in the closet.  Unwisely, I remarked, “At least the bathroom is normal sized.”  To which my spouse responded, with daggers in her eyes, “You like it so much, you can sleep there.”  I knew it was time to shut up.

As if the miserable first night weren’t bad enough, next day at checkout, we were charged for a roll away bed.  We disputed the charge with the desk clerk.  Was it unreasonable to expect beds for three people if fees were paid for said number of people?  I didn’t think so.  The discussion went tit-for-tat until the desk clerk reluctantly took off the charge.  My wife was livid at this point, “I will never stay in your lousy hotel again!”  “I’m cancelling the second night’s reservation.”  “Good! Answered the clerk, Because your expectations were too high!”

Reservations cancelled–a scathing negative review given to the booking agency.  Apparently four-star ratings were meaningless–like suggested retail prices.  Our last night was spent in a well-known chain hotel near the airport .  The rest of the trip went without any major incidents.  The wedding ceremony was beautiful–in a beautiful setting.


chernobylThe headline, “Want to go on vacation in Chernobyl?”  …Chernobyl?  Were they nuts?  Who in their right mind would want to go there?  I gave credit to Russian entrepreneurs that came up with the idea.  The legendary showman, P.T. Barnum was credited with saying, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”  Well-to-do suckers, apparently, because airfares to Russia would be expensive.  That would deter Al Bundy, scheming cheap skate  father on the old sitcom, “Married With Children.”  I recalled the “Dumpwater, Florida” episode, where he, his wife Peg, children Bud, and Kelly, vacationed at a toxic waste site.

Chernobyl, the next family vacation must-see Destination?  A crazy idea–or is it really that crazy?  There’s something about the Chernobyl disaster site that I find intriguing.  By comparison, Three Mile Island, was a mere drop in the bucket.  It started when a test of reactor #4 went awry.  Pictures from the site are haunting reminders of what happened when nuclear energy ran rampant.  The effects, lost lives and horrible birth defects.  This is a toxic nuclear forbidden zone, the lasting effects of which, will go on for thousands of years–no safe human habitation for 20,000 years.  A more recent example–the tidal wave damaged Fukushima nuclear reactors.

There is much to be learned, without visiting toxic waste disaster sites, just to save a few bucks.  On family vacations to “The Happiest Place on Earth,” isn’t it also important, to balance fun with visits to sites of historical importance? There are many scars on our nation’s history, not all of which involved environmental disasters.  For example, why not visit the “Civil Rights Museum” in Memphis, TN?  Other suggestions: “Ground Zero,” site of the 9-11-01 attacks, the “Arizona” WWII Memorial at Pearl Harbor, and the Gettysburg Civil War Battlefield Site–just to name a few.

amusement park

What would a Chernobyl vacation be like?   It would be eerily quiet.  In the nearby city of Pripyat, where workers lived, empty buildings stand, windows blown out, tattered curtains flap in the wind.  A classroom is frozen in time with the day’s lesson written on the blackboard.  Open schoolbooks lie scattered about.  No excited children play on the playgrounds.  An amusement park is empty–there are no people lined up to buy tickets.  Wild animals roam streets, formerly bustling with people.  I’d like to know more about heroic actions to stem the flow of radioactivity.  Could there be a better place to learn about environmental responsibility?  My interest is much more than morbid curiosity.  …A Chernobyl vacation?  On second thought, count me in–I would, like to go.  Wouldn’t you?


Hawaiian Farewell


Goodbye sunsets
Papa Bay vistas
Farewell, warm days
Cool, foggy nights
Winding seaside roads
Snow capped mountains
Quaint coastal villages

Volcanic wonders
South Point
Waves crashing
Tranquility, of North
Shore meadows
Aloha, hello, goodbye
Until next time

Magenta, Green & Gold

Mardi Gras mask
Mardi Gras mask (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ho hum, the holidays are over.  Christmas tree and decorations are put away until next year.  Winter’s set in, nothing to celebrate till spring, right?  No, not exactly–it’s just the beginning of Mardi Gras festivities.  Break out the magenta, green, and gold.  Every week, from now until Fat Tuesday, parade after parade. …Something for kids and grown-ups.

New Orleans gets all the publicity with its flashy, bawdy, Bourbon Street bash.  Mardi Gras is celebrated around the world.  Mobile, Alabamians would quickly point out–the tradition originated in their city before New Orleans.  Their celebration is more family friendly, as it is, in other cities scattered along the Gulf Coast.  Children and adults alike wait eagerly to catch beads and throws.  Throws consist of, not only beads, but also small toys, and “Moon Pies.”  Children beg “maskers,” (float riders wearing colorful masks), to toss goodies their way.

Mobile puts its own spin on Mardi Gras with two unique parades.  Anyone that made news the past year, for notorious reasons, is skewered by the the “Comic Cowboys.”  Even local TV personalities are fair game.  Parade coverage is handled with kid gloves.  Each mystic order has a parade and masked debutante ball.  “Joe Cain Day” is celebrated during Mardi Gras.  Joe Cain, according to legend, is credited with resuming Mardi Gras celebrations after the Civil War.  He first lived in Mobile, later moved to New Orleans.  Both cities honor his memory.

Joe Cain, a Confederate veteran, paraded disguised as Chickasaw Indian “Chief Slacabamamorinico.”  This was intended as a slap-in-the-face to Union troops–as the Chickasaw were never defeated.  Every “Joe Cain Day,” a contingency of veiled “grieving widows” parade through a local cemetery, then through the streets.  Each “widow” does her most convincing, “He loved me best” routine.  Someone disguised as “Chief Slacabamamorinico,” marches followed by parade floats and brass bands.  The “Order of Myths,” mystic society parade, concludes Mobile’s celebration on Fat Tuesday.

Mardi Gras ends with the selection of a celebratory “king” and “queen,” someone from higher echelons of society.  On Fat Tuesday, schools and businesses close for final parades and pageantry.  Tired of snow and ice?  Come to the Gulf Coast for Mardi Gras.  Have some fun.  Try on a magenta, green, and gold jester’s hat.  You’ve always wanted to.

Mardi Gras in Mobile: the Order of Myths 2007 ...
Mardi Gras in Mobile: the Order of Myths 2007 catepillar float (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
English: Antique photograph, prior to 1879, of...
English: Antique photograph, prior to 1879, of “Old Slac” or Joe Cain (1832-1904) dressed as his Mardi Gras fictional character, Chikasaw “Chief Slacabamorinico” with feathered headdress and native attire. His role as Slacabamorinico (“slaka-BAM orin-i-CO”) is noted on his gravestone in Church Street Cemetery in Mobile, Alabama. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


The day started quietly and ended in a crescendo of jangled nerves.  It took three hours to drive the final fifteen miles.  Why was  traffic bumper-to-bumper?  I’d driven nine hours for this?  This was like rush hour in the Chicago Loop.  Two major events conspired against me–a convention of white supremacists and a classic car rally.  Rowdy people rode in the back of pickup trucks waving Confederate flags.  People sat in lawn chairs watching classic cars cruising up and down the strip.  They all seemed to be happy.  I wasn’t happy or smiling–just wanted to get to my destination.  My wife read everybody that cut into traffic, the riot act.

It was dark on the last part of the journey through the Tennessee hills.  Finally, we were at the cabin.  It was beautiful.  George and Joe were already there.  Ken and his family got caught up in traffic and were the last to arrive.  Friends pick up conversations where they left off.  Familiar senses of humor came through.  Joe and George had changed least in physical appearance.  George and I were unofficial winners for having the most hair.  Ken’s shaved head won the title for the least amount of hair.  Ken and I had the biggest waistlines.  Where had I gone?  I’d moved in ’04 and lost contact with everyone.  I related the story of moving eight hundred miles to the Gulf Coast.

My days of partying like it was 1969 are long gone.  In my early twenties I was sent to Rhein Main AB, Germany–my first duty assignment.  Joe and I attended tech school together.  We were medical corpsmen assigned to the base clinic.  The four of us seemed to hit it off immediately.  We formed an alliance to deal with work, military discipline, and whatever came along.  There was a lot of Germany and Europe to explore.  Reunited, we pieced together memories of past times.  What happened to us in the following years?  Ken and Joe continued to work for the military–Joe in the Air Force Reserves, Ken in the US Army.  George and I returned to civilian life.  Joe is the only remaining bachelor.  We talked about tragic and goofy things.   There were fun times, frustrations, and downright embarrassing moments.

One of the embarrassing moments, I’d intentionally forgotten, involved a repeat patient.  The enlisted man’s wife was well endowed and worked part-time as a stripper.  She came in on my shift.  “What seems to be the problem?” I asked routinely.  “How can I help?” “One of my breasts is higher than the other.” She said and opened her blouse.  “I want to see the doctor.” I got red-faced and asked Joe to help her.  The doctors knew her and always proceeded with caution.

I had an encounter with fame.  A famous singer was performing on the base.  Edwin Starr had stomach problems and came in for treatment.  My associate, Sgt. Williams, hesitated because it wasn’t protocol to treat civilians.  Mr. Starr turned around and got indignant, “Don’t you know who I am?” His hot pink silk jumpsuit, emblazoned with bright yellow lettering, should have given it away.  The “T” in “Starr” was made like a star.  I half-whispered, “Don’t you remember his song?” “War, what is it good for?” “Absolutely nothing.” Sgt. Williams still didn’t have a clue.  Maybe he was more familiar with Ringo Starr?  The whole mess was straightened out by the doctor on duty.  He offered treatment as a good will gesture.

It’s been forty years since we last got together.  That’s too long to wait for the next reunion.  None of us will still be around.  I’d be one hundred and four years old.  If the Good Lord let me live that long, I probably wouldn’t remember anything, anyway.  The years took a toll on our bodies, but our spirits remained high.  I’m proud to say I served with these guys–George, Joe, and Ken.  They’re among my best friends.  It was a great visit.  I made some new friends.  The weather was beautiful on my departure.  Traffic was light.  I thought about great friends and good times.


Recreational boating enthusiasts spoke of something called “Three Foot Itis.”  The same syndrome applied to RV owners.  Your present twenty-six footer was adequate, a twenty-nine footer would be better.  The rationalization–more room and the extra length wasn’t any harder to pull.  I tried in vain to hide my “Newbieness.”  It came out the first night with a backing accident.  A spruce tree limb reached out and “touched” my shiny new trailer.  Humbly, I went to my insurance agent, and submitted a claim.  A bitter lesson compounded by my leaving on vacation that same weekend.  Duct tape provided a temporary fix.  At my destination, ants seemed to have an unusual attraction to duct tape adhesive.  RV’ers should take note.  They had no problem finding the patched holes.  Armed with a spray can in each hand, the battle was on.  A shakedown local trip was recommended for the first outing.  I didn’t need any “stinkin” short trips.  My first trip was eight hundred plus miles.  …Danger! steep learning curve ahead!

With a twenty-five gallon fuel tank, stops were frequent.  At two hundred miles, a gas station needed to be in sight.  Strong headwinds, sent the gas gauge needle into a rapid descent.  Crosswinds and passing large trucks buffeted both tow vehicle and trailer.  Roads patched with tar strips set the rig into motion.   This elongated “jiggling machine” made my muscles sore.  Outside mirrors were rendered useless by vibrations.  Low clearances needed to be watched.  Stops and starts required advance planning.  Sixty miles per hour was my chosen cruising speed.  This relegated me to the slow lanes.  Now, I was one of the slow vehicles everybody despised.

There were most of the comforts of home.  …Air conditioning, heating, hot and cold pressurized water, Bathroom with tub and shower, and master bedroom.  Outside was an attached rollout awning.  These niceties required extra precautions and maintenance.  The most obvious were the holding tanks–separate for fresh water, wastewater, and soapy water.  Set up and take down took between thirty and sixty minutes.  Only when everything was set up and levelled could I sit back and relax.  By then, I needed a nap.  It was a big change from former days of tent, tent trailer camping.  Awnings were for fair weather only–a lesson learned the hard way.  Sudden windstorms damaged two of my awnings.  In an early summer morning incident, a violent windstorm whipped the extended awning.  My wife and I scrambled to retract it.  The wind got under it and like a giant sail, lifted both of us off the ground.  The canvas wasn’t torn, but one of the support posts was bent.  In another windstorm the trailer  nearly tipped over.

A hazardous “near miss” happened years later.  I’d “three footed” up to a twenty-nine foot trailer.  It towed and tracked nicely.  My vehicle had been in the shop repeatedly for an unusual noise in the rear axle.  No trouble was ever found.  On Easter weekend in ’94 we headed south for a week’s vacation.  For a head start, I drove part way Friday afternoon.  The first nights stop was planned at a campground inside the Tennessee state line.  That left time to finish the trip the following day.  It was close to four in the afternoon–we were almost there.  There was an aroma similar to kerosene.  An unusual whining sound emanated from the back of the truck.  When I exited the interstate and turned left, the inside tire squealed.  I unhitched the trailer and set it up.  Inspection revealed a sprayed oily substance covering the entire undercarriage.  The warranty assistance person advised me not to drive the vehicle under any circumstances.  A tow truck carried my crippled vehicle to the nearest dealer.  Since it was Easter weekend, the earliest repair appointment was Tuesday.  I begged and pleaded with the service department.  Meanwhile, we spent quality time  with our two grandkids, ages three and six.  It was cold enough at night to run the furnace.

A manufacturing defect in the rear axle caused fluid to leak out.  The gears became overheated to the extent they welded together.  Things could have been much worse.  The service department associate told me, if I hadn’t stopped, it could have been catastrophic.  …Axle separation, coming out of the housing.  The result, loss of control and a horrible accident.  Thank God it didn’t happen.  Better to be a few days late and safe.  We reached our destination the following Wednesday.

It had to be the shiniest, most beautiful thirty-six foot RV ever.  Were there bigger and fancier models?  If so, I hadn’t noticed.  It was the star of the ’99 Winter RV Show.  It had three big picture windows near the entrance door.  …Built-in satellite dish.  There were two slide outs, one for the living room and kitchen, one for the bedroom.  Room? there was an abundance of room inside.  A floor to ceiling entertainment center decorated the front wall.  The capper, it had an island kitchen.  …A curved breakfast bar with three stools.  It called my name in the worst way.  We had informal open house for a week after it was delivered.  It was our home away from home at a private resort for four years.

After retirement, I realized beauty came at a price.  The first time I towed it, the weight shocked me.  Fully loaded it weighed twelve thousand pounds,  That was an astonishing six tons.  My tow vehicle was overmatched.  It took forever to start and  stop.  My truck engine needed all of its 345 horses at four thousand RPM to pull hills in Tennessee and Alabama.  A surprise gust of wind caught me in North Alabama.  The whole truck and trailer shifted to the left lane.  My life flashed before my eyes as I fought to regain control.  The swaying stopped and I somehow survived.  I pulled into a rest stop to light a cigarette, (I don’t smoke), say some Hail Marys, (I’m not Catholic), rinse my face with cold water, and compose myself.

The thirty-six footer was our home for eight months.  Hurricane Ivan altered our plans to build a new house.  Over time the RV seemed to get smaller and smaller.  There were little irritating things.  The heating and cooling system only took the edge off.  In the dead of winter, the maximum inside temperature was sixty-three degrees.  During the hot, humid Gulf Coast summers, the bedroom didn’t stay cool.  A box fan in the hallway seemed to help.  Supplemental electric heaters tripped breakers.  The propane tanks needed refilling every five days in the winter.  Trailer park life was less than ideal.  I was accustomed to a quiet, subdued life.  Hurricane recovery workers caroused till the wee hours.

My “Three Foot Itis” was cured.  My attention turned to our newly constructed home.  The trailer sat vacant in a storage lot for four years.  Southern sun faded the paint and trim.  It was no longer insured.  Severe windstorms could turn it into a worthless pile of match sticks.  The inside still looked good.   In a quest for better mileage, my towing vehicle was sold.  My former beauty became a burden.  I sadly put my RV up for sale.  A retired gentleman bought it for himself and his dog.  My RV “love affair” was over.  I had no desire to camp ever again.

Curtain Call







Diplomats–Chesire cats

Poets–that didn’t know it


Leaders–followers–hangers on

Drama queens–kings–pretenders to the throne

People inside and outside the loop

Central casting couldn’t make up this group

Performances that brought the audience to tears

“People come and go so quickly here”

Shut up Dorothy, try to keep up

The “Amazing Race”–“Lost in Space”

“Twilight Zone”–“Mission Impossible?”

Beach chair–so comfortable

Leave me alone!

I’m on vacation!

Do You Know What Your Problem Is?

My wife is great at making travel arrangements.  She had previous experience as an executive secretary.  This was the culmination of eighteen months work.   We’d planned for months to attend our daughter’s wedding ceremony in the Hawaiian islands.  It was family affair and thirty people attended.  The itinerary involved staying in a hotel the first and last nights in Honolulu.  Condos were rented for the rest of our stay on Maui.  Everything was booked through a popular travel website.  My excitement grew in anticipation of what I hoped would be a once in a lifetime experience.  It was our first trip to the islands.

Hooray! Our plane touched down at Honolulu International Airport.  Our rental car was secured and it was off to the hotel.  A couple of wrong turns and we arrived at the hotel that evening.  My wife and I planned to stay in the same room with a family friend.  We’d booked what we thought were appropriate accommodations for three people.  It was only for one night, but it was shocking.  Our room was much smaller than we’d imagined.  There was only one bed for two people.  The bed was pushed up against what appeared to be base cabinetry on the right side.  This must have taken the place of night stands.  I joked sarcastically that the bathroom was larger than the sleeping area.  “If you like it so much, maybe you should sleep there.”  My wife had a mean streak when she was tired.

 We called the front desk to complain.  “This room has one bed to sleep three people.”  “That’s completely unacceptable.” The staff agreed to bring up a roll away bed.  With the roll away bed in the room there was barely room to walk through.  There were no other rooms available.  Our other guest’s rooms seemed to be satisfactory.  The only way to fit in the roll away bed was to open a closet door.  So our friend slept on the roll away, which was partially in a closet.  Later there was a standing joke about her “coming out of the closet.”

That wasn’t the worst of our hotel stay.  When we checked out there was an extra charge for a roll away bed.  We booked and paid for a room that would hold three people and refused to pay a penny more.  “Your hotel misrepresented the capacity of this room”  My wife argued.  “Roll away beds are always an extra charge.”  The clerk replied.  “Let me talk to the manager.” My wife insisted.  “I am the manager.” The young man replied.  After an  tit-for-tat argument for forty-five minutes he reluctantly gave in.  “Do you know what your problem is?” He asked my wife indignantly.  “No, what?” “Your expectations are too high.” 

Neither me or my wife had a problem.  We expected to get what we paid for.  When did giving good customer service become a bother?  Our previous reservation to stay at this hotel a second night was cancelled.  The hotel clerk cancelled it and acted like, “good riddance to bad rubbish.”  My wife immediately called the internet travel site and related our story.  We advised them to never recommend this place to anyone.  The rest of the our trip went well.  My wife was worried about the condos we’d booked–they we’re beautiful.  The outdoor wedding and reception overlooking the beautiful Pacific Ocean went as planned.  It more than made up for our previous bad experience.  The hotel we chose for our last nights stay had excellent service.  It was close to the airport.  The staff was cordial and very helpful.

Bad service is too common–it’s everywhere: auto repair shops, beauty shops, home improvement warehouses, restaurants and on and on.  Us average Joes and Jills settle for average service.  At fast food chains there’s always a concern, that if you complain too much, someone in the back could do horrible things to your order.  It could be someone taking our their frustrations on you.  …Someone wanting to be a “star” on a “You Tube” video?  Is it the times we live in? …high unemployment?  underemployment? worker apathy?  I’m shocked when I receive exemplary service.  My wife and I were at a local chain sit-down restaurant for lunch recently.  Our waitress did what was expected and went far beyond.  She anticipated our needs.  It seemed strange–I found myself looking for a boss evaluating her performance.  Maybe she’d been threatened with termination and this was her last chance.  I felt bad for thinking she had ulterior motives.

I’ve worked in customer service for the better part of forty years.  If I could pass on some lessons learned through maturity.  It’s all about attitude–positivity or negativity–a matter of choice.  Being positive is the best advice I could give someone.  If you have a negative attitude it will be picked up on by your customers.  Starting out I had several unpleasant entry-level jobs.  They didn’t last forever, I made it through and moved on to other things.  Perhaps my most amazing discovery was that customers were human beings.  They were just like me.   They had bad days and good days.  Some days they didn’t want to go to work.  They had pressing problems.  If I talked to customers and acknowledged their humanness, before getting down to business, it made work enjoyable.  I tried to look for the best in people.  There were a few people that were just plain mean–Leona Helmsley types.  They treated everybody that way.  I tried to not take their negativity personally.  They lived with themselves twenty-four hours a day.  I only had to deal with them occasionally a few minutes at a time.

This is to negative customer service employees wherever they might be.  I am not an inconvenience–I am a human being!