The Cafe Car is Open

imageTwo weeks ago, I was traveling by train to Washington, DC. Windsor Locks, a.k.a. my home base, is only the second stop on the train that originates in Springfield, MA and the café car isn’t always in operation when I board. I’m not sure why, maybe the coffee hasn’t finished brewing or the cream cheese is still hard as a rock. In any case, a few minutes after we started rolling toward Hartford, I heard the announcement expressed in the title. If you follow this blog, you know how much l prefer trains over air travel and next to “All aboard” this is the thing I like hearing the most.

Travel is full of statements and snippets of information that greatly reduce whatever stress level I may have raised too. In addition to the two listed above, I also love hearing the following:

You’re all set” – That seems to be a kinda-sorta standard answer with the TSA folks at BDL where I begin most air travel. I love hearing that, even though I am still waiting in line with arguably the worst part of the process standing in front of me. The shoe-belt-laptop-phone-change-watch-and-liquid removing step that comes next doesn’t bother me as much as waiting in line for the guy or gal to check my boarding pass and ID. Even the scan, with its privacy-invading capabilities doesn’t bother me – move along, nothing to see here – just let me get to my gate.

We are next in line for take-off – Sweet! Air travel is imageseries of teasing moments. First, you are called to board, only to find yourself standing in line in the Jetway. I have been stuck in Jetways long enough to create the place on Foursqure (back before they ruined that social media service). I was even the mayor of a Jetway at BDL. Of course, exiting the Jetway puts you in a more cramped slower moving line inside the plane because we board by status not by row. And, once seated, stowed, buckled with seat and tray-table up, cell phone off, instructions listened to and puke-bag located, you wait. Sometimes you wait at the gate. Sometimes you roll for a while and wait or roll for a while and wait some more. “Next in line for take-off” means that it’s almost time to use the hashtag #upInTheAir.

…and I have a room ready for you – I don’t care if it’s on the umpteenth floor with a view of the building next door, my room is ready! That means I don’t have to do the hang in the lobby thing or sit at the bar with my luggage. Of course, that’s when I’m traveling alone, which I usually do. If I’m traveling with someone, waiting for a room / better room is ok…unless the person is my friend (let’s call him John).

Once, while traveling with John, we were told at the desk that they were upgrading us to rooms on the concierge level with a river view and several nice amenities but that they wouldn’t be ready for 45 min. I started to say “we’ll wait in the bar” cuz when you have two people; waiting in the bar is easy duty. My buddy interrupted with “we’ll take whatever you have available now” – rooms without a view of the river, and a room (mine) without a fully functional toilet. It worked, but I had to hold the lever down – the – entire – time. I thought of John each time I peed.

We have a nice room with an ocean view – This doesn’t usually happen to me, but it happened the year I took my daughter with me to our Annual Meeting. The downside of the ocean view rooms is that the cellular signal is weak. But, watching the sunrise over the ocean is a pretty cool thing.

I have a Dodge Nitro… – Actually, I don’t care so much about the brand / model, but the time that I got a Dodge Nitro, the two people in line behind me ended up not getting a car. In a Seinfeld-inspired moment, they had all of our reservations, but they only had one car.

Yes, you can eat at the bar – Because I really like to do that when I’m traveling solo. I’ve already explained the whole eating-at-a-bar thing, so I won’t repeat it here. If you’re interested you can read about that here.

This train/flight has WiFi – Of course, this is even better on the train where it’s free as opposed to the we-make-so-much-money-from-fees model that the airlines use. Thanks AMTRAK!

Use of cellular phones is prohibited – This may not last but I love hearing it. I am not looking forward to being stuck in front of / next to / behind some loud-mouthed town crier who feels the need to call everybody he/she knows and tell them the – exact – same – story.

An upgrade is available – This doesn’t happen to me often but when it does, I feel like one of the pretty people. This did happen on our honeymoon. That’s a different story but it had a very happy ending.

Go Buccos / Go Steelers – I am often wearing team gear when I travel and these two teams are as likely to draw a comment as the home team in almost any city.

Posted in Humor, Perspective, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

On a grey day – a bit of colour

Dan Antion:

For those of you who like photography, my friend David shares pictures from Ipswich in England. I particularly like the reflection in this one.

Originally posted on Ipswich Waterfront Images:

It has been a very grey day today. Started out with heavy rain and thunderstorms – most unlike the last few weeks. The day was brightened up by the arrival of The Schooner Trinovante. She has been here before but it was good to see her on a day like this.


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Bookshelf Tag (no tags)

imageA couple of weeks ago Evelyne Holingue introduced me to the Bookshelf Tag in her wonderful French/English blog. She didn’t tag me, but I love books and I thought that I could have fun with this. Of course, I was slow to take up the challenge and Jolene Mottern took some of the snarky steps I might have taken. So, if my post looks like hers, it’s not plagiarism, it’s great minds thinking alike. In my first apparent theft from Jolene, I’ll go on record about the fact that I’m not going to tag anyone else. I think I did say that in a comment on Evelyne’s blog, maybe even before Jolene. Maybe she stole that from me.

OK, enough about how I got here; there are 10 questions to answer. But, before I answer them, I should tell you that my answers aren’t going to be all literary and classic mentioning bits of wisdom. I read stuff that I find interesting and I like what I like, so here goes:

1 – Is there a book that you really want to read but haven’t because you know that it’ll make you cry?

Now I’m wondering if I’ve accidentally stepped into a women’s only challenge. I once walked into a Women’s Restroom by mistake and that was unpleasant for all involved. Oh, right, books. Yeah, I’m not a big crying kind of guy. Let’s skip this one.

2 – Pick one book that helped introduce you to a new genre.

Actually, Evelyne’s book “Trapped in Paris” introduced me to Young Adult Fiction. It’s been a long time since I was a young adult. It’s a fun, engaging thriller and I recommend it regardless of age. I am a slow, methodical reader; I read certain books at certain times. I’m reading this book, in small bites, before going to sleep. I will say that it has kept me up a few nights.

3 – Find a book that you want to reread.

From the Twilight Zone.” I read this book so many times in Junior High School, I think I was the only name on the front side of the library card. I started thinking about it after another blog buddy featured some of Rod Serling’s books on Shadow & Substance. I found a copy on eBay and my wife bought it for me. Yeah, she’s an enabler.

4 – Is there a book series you’ve read but wish that you hadn’t?

Like Joey said, there are ones I wouldn’t imageread again, but I’m glad I read them, the books featuring Jack Ryan for example. The question seems a little weird. I mean if I wished I hadn’t read a series of books, I would think I would have stopped reading it. Now I’ll introduce you to the reason I added the disclaimer about literary works. A series that I loved reading and will probably re-read is a 25-year collection of reprints of Popular Mechanics Shop Notes from 1905 to 1930. These were written at a time when men made things and made the things that they made things with.

One of my favorite tips was how to repair a mill’s main shaft. This would be a 6” diameter huge hunk of iron. The shaft broke, and the solution was to “chisel connecting slots on opposite sides of the shaft, insert key-stock in the slot and bind it with a steel band…” Let me just say that “chiseling a slot in iron” is, not, easy.

My second favorite tip is “how to remove a stuck pulley using dynamite.” Seriously, who doesn’t like stuff like that?

5- If your house was burning down and all of your family and pets were safe, which book would you go back inside to save?

OK, first off you would have to add ‘tools’ to family and imagepets. Then I might still put photos and backup drives ahead of books. “The Twenty Elephant Restaurant” would be high on my list because I think it’s out of print and amazon and eBay don’t always have used copies for sale. It’s a fantastic children’s story that my brother gave us when our daughter was born. And, in more ways than one, I resemble the husband in the story.

6 – Is there one book on your bookshelf that brings back fond memories?

There are several: “Miracle at Midway” – I borrowed it from imagea friend so many times that he finally gave it to me. Also,“Hollywood’s Celebrity Gangster, The Incredible Life and Times of Mickey Cohen;” because I met my friend Brad Lewis (the author) in the bar at the Cambridge Hyatt and I had wonderful time talking to him that night and again the following evening (more about that in previous post). I should add “The Twenty Elephant Restaurant” because of fun times we had reading it to Faith. And, you can toss in almost all Dr. Seuss books but especially “Green Eggs & Ham” and “The Sneetches”. And yes, that’s my stuffed star-bellied Sneetch. Owning that should make up for my skipping question #1.

7 – Find a book that has inspired you the most.

Wow, that’s hard. I’ve read a lot of inspiring stories. It might seem like a cliché, but I think I would put the Bible ahead of books about General Patton, the battle of Midway and The 20 Elephant Restaurant?

8 – Do you have any autographed books?

I do, but either they aren’t signed to me or they imagearen’t signed by the author. We have a copy of “Great White Doctor” but Brad Lewis signed it and sent it to my wife. I bought him a glass of scotch and I bought a copy of Celebrity Gangster but he signed a book for my wife – go figure. I have a Delta tool maintenance handbook that was signed and given to my dad and my copy of Miracle at Midway is signed by my friend who has since passed away.

9 – Find the book that you have owned the longest.

Warning – repeat answer coming. That little New Testament imagepictured here was given to me in Sunday School, probably before I could read most of it.

10 – Is there a book by an author that you never imagined you would read or enjoy?

Mythology” by Edith Hamilton. In fact, I would never have read this book if it wasn’t required by my poetry professor. I’m running out of room here but you can read more about that story in an earlier post.

Posted in Absent Friends, Opinion, Prompt | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 25 Comments

A Walk Among the Monuments

imageI spent most of the past week in Washington, DC. I’ve been to Washington several times, but my trips have always been of the in-business-out variety, including prescription nightlife. This time, I had a couple of hours to do some sightseeing. My hotel was close to the National Mall so I headed in that direction. I entered the area, according to the official map, known as The Mall. At that point I had a choice to make. Head toward the Capitol or head to the monuments and memorials. That was an easy choice – Go visit the people who do nothing or walk among the people who did everything they could possibly do.

National Mall

The first monument I encountered was the tall one, the Washington Monument. It was the tallest building in the world when built but was rapidly shoved deep into 2nd place by the Eiffel Tower. The Washington Monument still is the tallest masonry monument. I add that bit of qualification since there seems to be a debate about imagewhether it’s the tallest masonry structure or just the tallest stone structure. Whatever, it’s tall and I don’t want to think about how hard it was to build. If it wasn’t so well documented, somebody would be arguing that it was built by aliens.

I didn’t go into the monument because I didn’t have time. One big monument, honoring one famous man didn’t compare well to several shorter monuments honoring millions of men and women who served in the countless battles of multiple wars.

I took some pictures as I circled around the right side and I marveled at the workmanship. I listened to a tour guide talk about how the marble blocks are held together by gravity. There is mortar, but apparently it’s for weather-proofing not to hold things together.

In my last post, I mentioned touring the Grand Coulee Dam. Gravity is also doing the work there. The massive dam sits on bedrock and simply weighs more than the 9,155,942 m3 (2,418,743,967 US gallons) of water resting up against it. I digress, but I think that’s interesting.

The next stop on my walk was the place I wanted to see the most, the WWII memorial. The memorial is large. Anchored by monuments to the Pacific and European theaters of war, the memorial fountain is ringed by standards for each of the states and US territories involved in the war. Several of these were important to me – Pennsylvania, for my dad, West Virginia and Connecticut for my Father-in-law, and the Philippines because that is where my father ended up during the war. I had relatives who fought in Europe, but this isn’t a walk through my family tree.

(Note: In the galleries of pictures, you can hover over to see a caption or click to start a slide show).

From the WWII monument, I walked to and through the Vietnam Veterans Memorial – The Wall. I had previously seen The Moving Wall when it came to West Hartford, CT. I found the name I wanted to find and I shared a text message with the people that I know that care about that person. I was struck by the memorial’s stature. The WWII memorial rises up around you and is punctuated by descriptions of historic battles and statements that call attention to the battle between the forces of good and the forces of evil. The Vietnam Memorial sinks below and simply lists the names of the soldiers who died in that war. There was no grand purpose to praise, no battles to remember, no day that will live in Infamy and no parade for those soldiers who returned.

My next stop was the Lincoln Memorial. While memorializing a great man, the Lincoln Memorial has also come to represent the fight for civil rights in which President Lincoln played such a significant role. From the steps of the memorial are some of the most recognized views of the Mall. One thing that I missed on those steps is an inscription marking the exact location from which Martin Luther King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. You can see a picture of that inscription in this article.

I continued to the Korean War Veterans Memorial for the final leg of my quick tour. I have to admit that prior to discovering Pacific Paratroopers blog, I didn’t know much about the Korean War. As the author of that blog moves into a discussion of WWII, I am finding that I don’t know as much about that war as I thought I did (and I thought I knew a lot). The Korean War memorial was haunting. The lifelike 7’ tall statues of soldiers in permanently muted action calls attention to the struggle of individual men and women in another conflict that refuses to fit neatly into history.

The statement “Freedom Is Not Free” stands at the east end of the memorial. Opposite from that statement are the carved totals indicating the price that was paid for this particular fight for freedom.

My favorite part of my walking tour was seeing the Honorimage Flight visitors walking and navigating wheel chairs around the WWII Memorial. My father-in-law was able to participate in his honor flight about a year before he died, and it meant a lot to him. One guy asked me if I wanted him to move so I could get a better picture. I told him “I think the picture is better with you in it, thank you!

Posted in Absent Friends, History, Photography | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 50 Comments

I Was the Remote

imageEarlier this week, I was having dinner with a few friends and we were talking about the differences between our children’s experiences and our own from childhood. I’ll apologize to my daughter as well as to the sons and daughters of those friends, but that’s what parents do. Our life was harder and in many ways the world was a more difficult place in which to live. In other ways, life was simpler, and it moved at a slower, more manageable pace, but we only focus on one side of the coin at a time. That’s because we’re getting old, but you knew that.

We were going through a list of the things that our children have never seen or the things that were miracle inventions to us that they have never know life without. Since I am a little older than my friends, my daughter is a little older than their children and she was on just the other side of the line in some cases. She does remember life before Internet access was a household staple, but we had CompuServe and AOL Instant Message (AIM) and IRC Chat. Faith is old enough to remember TV before cable, but we didn’t let her watch much TV prior to when cable brought us The Disney Channel. Saturday morning cartoons were about all that she might have seen.

That’s actually how we old folks got started on our conversation. One of my friends mentioned that his kids were in bed on Saturday morning watching cartoons via Netflix on their iPads. We all remembered being on the living room floor with a bowl of cereal and we thought bed + iPad + Netflix was just wrong.

I shared a story about when my daughter was able to go back in time with respect to TVs. We were on a vacation (yes, that vacation) and we drove around Washington State. We toured Grand Coulee Dam, and from there we headed west via the North Cascades Highway with a side trip to Mt Baker. From Coulee City, we drove to Winthrop, WA, as a staging area so we could begin our trip through the North Cascades early.

Winthrop is a western themed tourist town, but we were up for that. We stayed in a saloon-styled hotel that had a VHS Tape lending library in the lobby. Faith thought that was nice, but I’m not sure she appreciated the reason at first. Winthrop, located on the east side of the Cascades with not much else around it, didn’t have cable. Winthrop had the 3 broadcast networks and PBS, just like we had in Pittsburgh when I was a child. Those broadcast signals were delivered via repeater transmitters, over the Cascades.

Once in our room, Faith scurried to find the right bed (best view of TV) and, the, remote – Faith had control of the remote throughout that trip. Interestingly, there was no remote. No remote? How does that work? I introduced Faith to “The Dial” and the list of those 4 channels. As in every other town across America, they weren’t 1,2,3 & 4. No, they were 2, 8, 11 and 53 and 53 required setting the first dial at “U” and then dialing in the spot between 52.5 & 53.7 that had the least “snow” by using the second, smaller dial.

After we laughed about her experience, one of my dinner companions admitted to not remembering life before remotes. He looked at me and one other guy and said: “you guys actually remember life without a remote?” At that point, my friend and I both said: “I was the remote. My dad just told me to change the channel.image

It’s true.

Not only were we the remotes, but we were intelligent remotes. My dad would say “put the ballgame on” and I spun the dial to KDKA which was channel 2. I was an early incarnation of Siri (and I think I worked better) “Siri, what channel is the ballgame on?

Actually, Siri handled that better than I expected.

We weren’t just the TV remote, we were errand boys. From the point that we could be trusted to carry a few dollars, my brother and I were sent to Jule’s Market for everything from a pound of Chipped Ham to a pack of cigarettes. Yes, this was the early 60’s; kids could buy cigarettes for their parents. The worst errand was to get pop (soda for my New England followers) because that required carrying bottles both ways. Six empty bottles to the store and six full ones home. Early in my errand running days, I had a single-speed bike with a basket. That worked fine for trips to the store. After I destroyed that bike (see earlier post) I ultimately ended up with a 3-speed English Racer with hand brakes, gears and no room for a basket. I learned to carry a bag or a 6-pack of pop in one hand while steering, shifting and braking with the other.

Yeah, kids today have it way easy. Then again, their kids will be able to tap their phones and have Amazon fly them a 6-pack. Time marches on.

Posted in Nostalgia, Perspective | Tagged , , , , , , , | 28 Comments

Remembering Tina Downey


Technically, I think posting the picture up there, using the title I used and promoting this post with the hashtag – #LifeisGood is all I really needed to do. My blog world friend and supporter @damyantig helped organize this tribute to Tina Downey, who passed away on August 23rd. Ironically, just before reading Damyanti’s post asking people to pay this small tribute to Tina, I had stopped to take these pictures of sunflowers. The upper one, the one that is there for Tina, was the view out my passenger side window when I stopped. I hope that photo helps to achieve the desired effect. The collection of sunflowers seemed to represent a wide variety of emotions.

imageThe photo to the left is for the rest of you, the writers, bloggers, friends of Tina and friends of mine. I look at the almost endless row of sunflowers, and I see my peers, my friends and the people to whom I am connected through this community of writing.

I didn’t know Tina.

In the pure sense of the word, I don’t know Damyanti, but she’s my friend. True, we’ve never met. We may never meet, but I know her. I know her through her beautiful writing. I know her through her thoughtful comments. I know her through her supportive outreach to me and other writers and bloggers. I follow and I am inspired by a cadre of writers, authors, poets, photographers and artists. I relish the fact that many of them have chosen to welcome me into their company. That’s why I am remembering Tina.

I have read a number of Tina’s posts, mostly those associated with or that were a part of the A-to-Z Challenge. Tina was one of the organizers of that amazing event. If you aren’t familiar, the A-to-Z Challenge is a marathon blogging event during which people write something every day except Sunday throughout the month of April. I followed Damyanti and several other participants, there were over 2,000! Reading the daily production was time-consuming. I cannot imagine the effort involved in writing the 26 posts, let alone the 26 bits of original flash fiction some writers managed to produce.

In her request, Damyanti said:

If you didn’t know Tina – celebrate this Blogfest as a day of choosing to be joyful – a choice Tina Downey made, despite all her suffering, every day of her life.”

I can do that. I hope that you can join me.

I want to express my sorrow to Tina’s family. I only know you thought Tina’s words, but I feel that I know you well. I hope that my thoughts and prayers can add some measure of comfort to you during this sad time.

If you want to know more about Tina, I recommend her introduction page on the A-to-Z Challenge. I think that’s the way she wanted people in this community to know her.

Posted in Absent Friends, Joy, Prompt | Tagged , , , , , , | 43 Comments

Disconnected Messages

imageEarlier this week, my wife received an email inviting her to a tool store where the factory salesperson from Makita will be speaking at lunch.

She buys a lot of tools for me so she gets the invite. They know where the money is.

The salesperson is introducing a line of tools based on Makita’s new brushless motors. Sweet. I want one of those. But, I don’t need one of those. I have a 2-year old Makita Drill/Driver kit that is totally capable of meeting my drill/driver needs. I have a 5-yr old Bosch cordless drill that still works. I have a 10-yr old cordless drill that still works. I have… well you get the picture.

The fact that Makita has invented a “brushless” motor is interesting, but I haven’t owned a drill long enough to have had to replace the brushes since 1968! Brushes don’t fail. Tools don’t fail. The only reason anyone ever has to replace a cordless tool is because the battery dies and replacements can’t be purchased.

Marketing and engineering almost never seem to understand each other, but I think we’ve gotten to the point where engineering, marketing and companies that make stuff no longer understand reality. I’ve had car dealers talk incessantly during the sale about 10-yr rust warranties, 5-yr power train warranties, reliability, stability, and every other-bility but then they turn around and expect me to buy a new car two years later.

The worst example of mixed messages that I ever received from a car dealer was when I was shopping to replace a 1977 Saab. It was 1982, and I was considering a new Saab. The dealer was offering me $2,000 for my old Saab toward the $18,000 price of a new one. I told him that “the Toyota dealer is offering me $3,500 if I trade this in on a Celica GT that sells for the same price.”

He said – I’m not making this up – “but that Celica won’t hold its value as well as this car” pointing to the new Saab that I didn’t buy.

The world of computers, in which I earn my living, is full of these mixed signals. Desktops and laptops once had such anemic storage capacity that it was a common task to replace the hard drives every 8-12 months. Then, just in time for companies to be moving content onto Local Area Networks, desktop computers started to arrive with large amounts of storage. Today, as we are being nudged to put all of our documents, pictures and blog entries into the cloud, laptops are coming equipped with oodles and boodles of storage.

Remember when cell phones first started to slip into the mainstream? Back then, itimage was all about ‘minutes’ as in how long you could talk. Talk, just like you used to do on your phone. Today, hardly anybody I know really talks on their cell phone, but plans now include “unlimited talk and text.” I think the last time I needed to care about how many ‘talk’ minutes I had was the last time I had a cell phone that was comfortable to talk on. Since then, every cell phone I’ve had has been flat, in the way that the space between my ear and my mouth isn’t. I use a Bluetooth earbud, which is uncomfortable, or the Bluetooth connection in my car that is less than reliable and I suffer in everything but silence. The things my and the party on the other end’s microphones choose to pick up and amplify make no sense. My turn signal sounds like the pendulum in the movie version of Edgar Allen Poe’s classic horror story and the kitchen noises my wife’s headset sends my way sound like the breaking up of the Titanic.

I shouldn’t complain. I still have the option to experience phone nirvana. Several years ago, I bought my wife a rotary dial Princess phone for Mother’s Day – yes, I am just that romantic. I cleaned that phone and rewired it so that it works with the modular jacks and I have to tell you, it feels like a phone.

We don’t use it often, but not only can imageyou hold it without worrying about damaging it or your signal, you can do the little neck exercise to pin it between your head and shoulder. In fact, that exact motion has been prescribed to me by my Physical Therapist. He is too young to understand what he’s asking me to do, but I now realize why I didn’t have neck problems until recently – I had a phone!

I’ll leave you with the best story I have about the marketing standard, the “lifetime” guarantee. In the late 80’s, I took a muffler back to a local auto parts store. It came with a lifetime guarantee and I had saved the paperwork and the receipt for the day that it failed. The counter clerk took the muffler and tossed it and the warranty in the trash. The guarantee didn’t cover rust. As long as the muffler remained intact, it was guaranteed to muffle. That’s it.

Posted in Humor, Marketing, Nostalgia, Rant | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments