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Posts Tagged ‘Life’

More favorite photos I’ve taken over the years.

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Final report on my recent RV trip to the Southwest.

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Mansfield, Louisiana

Half the trip from Georgia to Arizona is crossing Texas, which takes a good two days. On April 5, returning eastbound, I finally left Texas behind and stopped for the night in Mansfield, a forgettable little town in the middle of Louisiana. As usual, no campgrounds were nearby, but Mansfield had a Super 8.

Super 8 is owned by Wyndham now, so the chain is a bit nicer these days. The place actually was clean and comfortable.

After a decent supper at a Chinese place across the street, I retired to my room to watch a DVD movie on my laptop.

At some point, I opened the nightstand drawer and took out the phone book, the idea being to find a map and get oriented.

As I flipped through the pages of the phone book, a small piece of paper fell out and fluttered to the floor. The notepad-size sheet had a Super 8 logo at the top and was covered with writing in longhand. I picked it up and read it.

It was a heart-breaking message written by someone in great emotional distress. And it was dated five years ago. Chances are, it had remained undetected in the phone book until I found it.

This is what the person wrote:

———

Tuesday

July 25, 2016

The Pain???????

Why do I always get hurt. I try and try to do my best. People just [want] me to do things for them

Lord I’m tired I cant keep Putting myself Down like dis Im hurting and hurting I feel like Im going to hurt myself if I Dont get sum help.

———

The slang usage — “like dis” and “get sum help” — suggests that the writer was young. The rest is a mystery.

The incident was especially distressing because, frankly, I can’t relate to inner pain and turmoil on this scale.

The fact is, I’ve been fortunate. I’m a stable, grounded person. Life is good. Other than being in my waning years and having to put up with arthritis and other annoyances, I have no real complaints.

Not so for the anonymous note-writer who stayed in room 104 of the Mansfield Super 8 in 2016.

I hope he or she is in a better place today.

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More about my recent RV trip to the Southwest.

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Abilene, Texas

Chili’s Grill & Bar is not one of my favorite eateries. In fact, until the first week in April, I hadn’t eaten at a Chili’s in a good 10 years. But it was getting late, and fatigue and circumstances led me to pull into the parking lot of the Chili’s in Abilene.

I grabbed a face mask, locked up the RV, and headed toward the entrance. Visions of quesadillas and burritos danced in my head.

As I approached the front door, a derelict lurched past me, mumbling to himself.

Derelict is the word that came immediately to mind when I saw him. He was probably in his 60s, rail-thin, with long, unruly white hair and a long, unruly white beard. He was clutching three or four white plastic bags that bulged with unknown possessions.

His clothes and shoes were shabby, and he wore neither hat nor socks. He looked like Gandalf, if Gandalf were dressed in rags, lurching, and mumbling.

Clearly, the old man occupied a world of his own. He didn’t look up, even though I had to step aside to let him pass.

My conclusion: he probably was mentally ill and homeless. I wondered how he survived from day to day.

Inside, perusing the menu, I abandoned thoughts of Mexican food and chose the Smokehouse Combo, featuring pulled pork BBQ, beef ribs, and corn on the cob. To be honest, every item on the plate turned out to be bland and disappointing. Which is why I am not a Chili’s person.

About halfway through the meal, a waitress appeared at a booth near me and ushered in — you guessed it — the derelict.

The old guy struggled to maneuver his plastic bags onto the table in front of him. He was a sad study in fumbling and wasted motion.

Moments later, the waitress appeared again and delivered a steaming cup of coffee. For the first time, the old man sat quietly and sipped his coffee.

Before long, he got up, collected his belongings, and shuffled off toward the men’s room. Five minutes later, he returned to the booth, stashed his stuff, and sat down again to sip his coffee.

Then the waitress returned and said something to him. The man immediately stood up and began collected his bags, this time with more urgency.

At that moment, my waiter walked by, and I flagged him down. “Are you throwing the old guy out?” I asked.

“Not at all,” the waiter told me. “He said he has to leave — has someplace he needs to be immediately.”

“Look,” I said, “Get the poor guy a hamburger or something. I’ll pay for it.”

“Oh, we already collected money and offered to buy his supper. But he insists he can’t stay.”

Meanwhile, the man had gathered his stuff and was making his way to the front door.

My original thoughts returned: the poor fellow no doubt was mentally ill and maybe homeless. I couldn’t imagine how he survives from day to day.

Dressed in rags, lurching, and mumbling.

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More about my recent RV trip to the Southwest.

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Flagstaff, Arizona

I’ve rarely had vehicle problems on the road, but, well, life is like a box of chocolates.

The last time I drove west in the RV was in September 2019. On that trip, before heading east again, I had the RV checked out at the Pep Boys in Flagstaff. They changed the oil, looked for problems, and pronounced it good to go.

This spring, I stopped at Pep Boys again — but not for a routine once-over. Somewhere back in Texas, I discovered that I had no headlights or tail lights. The turn signals and brake lights worked, but that was it.

The mechanic found a burned-out headlight switch, replaced it, declared my battery on its last legs, replaced it, checked for other issues, and sent me on my way.

That was the morning of March 31. The rest of that day was spent as described in my previous post: driving to Tusayan, finding a massive traffic jam courtesy of the spring-break hordes, and retreating to Flagstaff.

I found a motel, proceeded to Beaver Street Brewery for supper (three-sausage pizza with mushrooms and caramelized onions, plus two pints of their very excellent Midnight Black IPA), and slept soundly.

The next morning, I was on the road early, eastbound on I-40. I planned to pick up I-25 south and drive down the Rio Grand Valley to Hatch, the “chile capital of the world.”

Over the next couple of hours, cruising at 75, I began to notice that the engine occasionally was skipping. Running slightly and uncharacteristically rough. It wasn’t extreme, but it was noticeable.

I had thoughts of the engine dying and leaving me stranded in the desert 50 miles from the nearest town.

But the engine didn’t die. I drove on with my fingers crossed.

Then, about 40 miles west of Gallup, my check engine light came on.

Oh, hell.

Stopping made no sense. I needed to reach Gallup and find a mechanic. Gallup probably had a Pep Boys, right?

So I slowed to 65 mph and drove on to Gallup, the check-engine light shining brightly, the engine still ominously sputtering every few seconds. On the way, I Googled Pep Boys, and the nearest shop was, thank God, at the first Gallup exit.

The store manager said he would take a look when time permitted, although repairs might take a day or so. I asked if any motels were within walking distance.

He pointed across the street to a handsome SpringHill Suites. “Newest in town,” he said.

Thus, instead of being marooned in the desert with a blown engine, I checked into a SpringHill Suites and took a nap while Pep Boys tended to my RV.

At about 3:00 pm, the Pep Boys manager called. He said the spark plug wiring harness was old, brittle, and in the process of self-destructing. They replaced the harness, and all was well again.

The next morning, I was on the road to Hatch and points east. That afternoon, I picked up a non-Interstate route that took me through a succession of smaller cities and towns and avoided all that nasty Interstate truck traffic.

The good news: the RV ran smooth as silk, all the way home. The bad news: between the repairs, the motels, and the price of gas, my wallet took a serious hit.

The view from behind the wheel. In springtime, the bugs are as troublesome as the college students.

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I just got back from a road trip to the Southwest in my RV. It was my first time out of Georgia in over a year.

It felt good to get away, see the outside world, and have some new experiences. But the trip was something of a mixed bag.

For one thing, COVID restrictions are in effect to some degree everywhere. Most businesses, if they are open, limit occupancy and require masks. In New Mexico, restaurants wisely record your name and phone number, in case the virus is later detected and they need to contact you.

For another thing, RV camping was a constant problem. Many private campgrounds were closed, and the rest were full. My personal choice, state park campgrounds, were either closed or operating under new rules — such as requiring reservations or only serving state residents. Most nights, I had no choice but to check into a motel.

Also, my RV had mechanical troubles that required two stops for repairs. More about that later.

Let me begin by describing how, to my dismay, I was unable to visit Grand Canyon…

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Tusayan, Arizona

On March 31, I learned that spring break is a thing at Grand Canyon National Park.

Silly me, I always thought spring break happened at the beaches in Florida and California and wherever. I had no idea that the south rim of Grand Canyon also gets swarmed each spring by hedonistic college students. Vast mobs of them.

I saw them in person when I arrived in Tusayan, a resort town near the south entrance to Grand Canyon National Park. Before me, northbound traffic on Arizona Route 64 was at a literal standstill.

I was stunned. Was it a traffic accident? A fuel spill? A helicopter crash?

The traffic jam was three lanes wide. It continued north through Tusayan, over a distant hill, and out of sight. I knew from previous trips that Route 64 becomes a two-lane highway north of town, and the Park entrance is two miles away.

Two miles of traffic that appeared to be at a dead stop.

Before I got trapped in the jam, I turned around and headed back south. I stopped at the airport to ask what the bloody hell was going on.

The woman at the counter rolled her eyes and replied that spring break was in progress. My wait time to get into the Park, she said, would be about three hours.

I turned around and drove back to Flagstaff.

The thing is, I made the trip to Arizona specifically to visit Grand Canyon. Grand Canyon, you see, is my favorite place anywhere.

But this trip, I was traveling without reservations. Clearly, no lodging or camping would be available at South Rim Village or in Tusayan. And frankly, with the Park overflowing with spring-breakers, I couldn’t imagine having a very pleasant visit anyway.

Nor did I have options. The North Rim was still closed for the winter. The east entrance near Cameron had been closed for months because of a surge in COVID cases on the Navajo reservation.

Thus, sadly, my eagerly anticipated visit to Grand Canyon — it would have been my 28th — didn’t happen.

But it will. I just made reservations at Bright Angel Lodge for early September.


Spring-breakers queued up to enter Grand Canyon National Park on March 28.

Masks and social distancing not much in evidence at the overlook behind Bright Angel Lodge.

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Eugene Bullard

I didn’t learn about Eugene Bullard in school. You probably didn’t, either.

Eugene James “Jacques” Bullard (1895-1961) was the first African-American combat pilot and the only black pilot who fought in World War I. He flew for the French, not the US, and his story is remarkable.

Bullard was born in Columbus, Georgia, the son of a Haitian father and a Creek mother. He had an especially troubled childhood. He ran away from home regularly, only to endure beatings by his father when he was caught. In 1906, at age 11, he ran away for good and made his way to Atlanta.

There, he fell in with a band of gypsies and tended their horses as they traveled the South. In 1912, at age 17, he stowed away on a German freighter bound for Aberdeen, Scotland. He went to London, where he worked as a boxer and a slapstick performer in a black entertainment troupe.

Bullard first visited Paris in 1913 for a boxing match. He was captivated by the city and resolved to make Paris his home. He wrote years later, “It seemed to me that French democracy influenced the minds of both black and white Americans there and helped us all act like brothers.”

Bullard was 19 when World War I began. He joined the French Foreign Legion and served as a machinegunner in a regiment that fought in the Battle of Verdun, the longest battle of the war. He was seriously wounded twice and was awarded two medals for bravery, including the Croix de Guerre.

His wounds prevented him from further infantry duty, so he applied for, he was accepted into, the French flying service, the Aéronautique Militaire. He attended flight school, got his wings in 1917, and quickly earned a reputation for his courage and skill. He flew 25-plus combat missions, usually with his pet rhesus monkey Jimmy on his shoulder.

The Germans called Bullard “The Black Swallow of Death.” He had two confirmed kills and earned 15 medals.

When the US entered the war, he and other Americans in the Aéronautique Militaire, applied to transfer to the US military. Most were accepted, but Bullard was not because the US did not allow blacks to serve as pilots or aircraft mechanics.

Specifically, US policy was that black soldiers were not intelligent enough to understand aircraft mechanics or to pilot an aircraft. Seriously.

Moreover, under US pressure, the French removed Bullard from aviation duty.

When the war ended and Bullard was discharged from military service, he became part owner of a Paris nightclub, Le Grand Duc. The club became a popular hangout for the rich and famous, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Pablo Picasso, the Prince of Wales, and Ernest Hemingway.

Soon, he opened a second club, and in 1923, he married Marcelle Straumann, the daughter of a French countess. They had a son, who died in childhood, and two daughters. The Bullards were divorced in 1931.

When the Germans occupied Paris in 1940, Bullard quietly joined the French resistance as a spy. By then, he was fluent in German and was able to eavesdrop on unsuspecting German officers, with whom his nightclubs were popular, and who had no idea Bullard spoke German.

Later in 1940, possibly because his ties to the resistance became known, Bullard fled Paris with his two daughters. On the way to Spain, he joined a group of French soldiers defending Orléans and suffered a severe spinal wound. He and his daughters returned to the US, where he recuperated in a New York hospital.

In France, Bullard had been a national hero; in America, he was just another black man. Using a financial grant from the French government, he bought a small apartment in Harlem. Both of his daughters married, and Bullard lived alone.

He never fully recovered from his back injury, and his mobility was restricted. He supported himself by serving as an occasional French interpreter for Louis Armstrong, working as a security guard, and selling perfume. His final job was as an elevator operator at Rockefeller Center.

In 1960, while in New York, French President Charles de Gaulle visited Bullard, named him a Knight of the French Legion of Honor, and called him a “true French hero.” Bullard’s achievements were never recognized by the US.

He died in Harlem of stomach cancer in 1961. He was buried in the French War Veterans’ section of Flushing Cemetery in Queens and was given full military honors by the Federation of French War Officers.

In 1994, the US Air Force finally gave Bullard official recognition of sorts by giving him a posthumous commission as a second lieutenant.

Why did the US pressure the French government to ground Eugene Bullard, and why did the US government fail to recognize and honor his achievements?

Racism. What else?


Bullard’s French military decorations from WWI and WWII, as displayed in his Harlem apartment.

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Pix o’ the Day

More favorite photos I’ve taken over the years.

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Hot Potato

The House of Windsor, the reigning royal family of the UK and the Commonwealth, dates back to 1901, when the son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert became King Edward VII, and the reign of the House of Hanover came to an end.

At the time, no “House of Windsor” existed. Albert and Edward were of the “House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha,” a German family (or clan, or tribe, or whatever best describes it).

Anyway, starting in 1901, the British royal family was the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. In 1917, due to the understandable anti-German sentiment resulting from WWI, the royal family dropped the House of S-C & G name like a hot potato and renamed itself the House of Windsor.

The name Windsor was chosen because of family ties to the City of Windsor and, of course, to Windsor Castle, the royal residence.

Plus, Windsor is easier to remember and spell than Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.


Coat of Arms of the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha

Problem, Solution

Last year, my little town of Jefferson declared that we have a speeding problem in school zones. Consequently, speed cameras were installed to catch the culprits.

The new automatic system is impressive. It calculates a vehicle’s speed, snaps a photo of the license plate if the vehicle is speeding, looks up the owner, and mails out a ticket.

I was skeptical, frankly, that the speeding problem is real, inasmuch as a speed camera company, Blue Line Solutions, sold the idea to the City Council. (Jefferson has a history of getting involved in hare-brained schemes in hopes of making money.) Blue Line built and operates the system, collects the money, and splits the take 50-50 with the city. A sweet deal, right?

To be fair, the system is quite generous. It won’t ticket you unless your speed is 10 MPH above the posted limit.

For example, in the school zone in front of the high school, which is a mere six blocks from the town square, the speed limit is 45 MPH. You’d have to be rocketing along at 55 MPH to get fined. People don’t drive that fast in town, right?

Au contraire, mes amis. Blue Line is ticketing some 200 speeders a day — 85 percent of them in front of the high school.

If Blue Line were fudging the numbers, people would be in an uproar, furiously protesting their innocence and suing the city. That hasn’t happened. The perps just pay the fines.

I am skeptical no longer.

The Bodélé Depression

Nothing is simple.

The Bodélé Depression in Chad is a bone-dry region on the southern edge of the Sahara Desert, created over the last several thousand years as Lake Chad has slowly dried up. The depression consists of silt and sand that, about 100 days per year, is carried aloft and blown west across the continent in massive dust storms.

Because of the dust, the infant mortality rate in West Africa is especially high. In 2020, a study concluded that a 25 percent decrease in the dust would lower the infant mortality rate by 18 percent. Specifically, if irrigation were used to dampen the dust (as is done to Owens Lake in California), Africa would have 37,000 fewer infant deaths annually.

But there’s a catch. Over the eons, Lake Chad teemed with all kinds of plant and animal life — algae, diatoms, fish, and whatnot — and the Bodélé is rich in their remains. The dust that causes such harm in Africa also blows across the Atlantic Ocean, where it is a major source of nutrients for the Amazon rain forest.

Nothing is simple.

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Checking the Mail

When I ask my dog Jake, “Wanna go check the mail?” he is delirious with joy. Jake has access to the back yard via the dog door, but being in the front yard is special: while I proceed to the mailbox, Jake can look for cats.

The neighborhood cats — we seem to have eight or 10 — are aware that Jake is constrained by the back yard fence. But when he is loose in the front yard, it’s every cat for itself. Jake has surprised many a cat in the open or flushed it from hiding, and the ensuing chases are epic.

Inevitably, after a few moments of pandemonium, the cat is treed. Jake parks himself at the base of the tree, looking pleased with himself, and remains on guard until we go back inside.

Because of all this, a new ritual has evolved. While I check the mail, Jake makes a circuit of the front yard, systematically checking every spot where he has seen or smelled a cat in the past.

Following the same route every time, he stops to look behind certain hedges and shrubs. He peers inside the drainpipe that runs under the driveway. He peeks under vehicles and behind the trash cans. He scans the treetops.

Jake takes the matter of cats very seriously.

Saint Isidore

Isidore of Seville (560-636), the Archbishop of Seville, Spain, dedicated most of his adult life to preserving the knowledge handed down by the Greeks, Romans, and other early civilizations. Had he not done this, most of what we know from antiquity likely would have been lost.

Born into a rich and influential family, Isidore undertook the project of compiling a massive “encyclopedia of knowledge” that compiled virtually everything of consequence known at the time. It was called the Etymologiae, and it was decades in the making. The work consisted of 20 volumes and 448 chapters. For centuries thereafter, it was a staple of medieval libraries.

Isidore had underlings to do the tedious work, of course, but he is known to have been deeply involved is the project. Along the way, he also is credited with inventing the period, the comma, and the colon, which is pretty cool.

In 1997, as the internet was becoming an important thing in the world, Pope John Paul II recognized Isidore’s devotion to knowledge by naming him the patron saint of the internet.

Wedding Day

For years before I retired, I spent nearly every Saturday or Sunday, sometimes both, hiking and kayaking in the mountains of North Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee. That was my thing.

From where I lived, the most direct route north was US 441, which, for much of the way, is a divided four-lane highway. I would start out on 441 and peel off on other routes depending on the destination.

US 441 passes through Demorest, Georgia, which is notable for the picturesque campus of Piedmont College in the center of town. Driving through Demorest is always pleasant.

I recall one weekend that was especially memorable. Driving home from a hike somewhere, I passed through Demorest and saw that a wedding was in progress in a city park adjacent to the campus.

This, I said to myself, is worth a stop. I parked and walked back to a spot overlooking the site of the wedding, a small gazebo in the park. I sat down on a bench and watched the remainder of the ceremony.

The afternoon was sunny and warm. Fifty or so guests were in attendance. The bride was radiant, the groom was handsome.

The scene was moving, and I became rather emotional. Never mind that I had no idea who those people were.

The gazebo in Demorest.

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