Our Christmas Adventure

I was born and raised in Parma, OH, a suburb of Cleveland. As I’ve stated in a previous blog I now live in Spokane, WA. I have 2 sons, Jared, born in November, 1981 and Ben born in October of 1984. My marriage came to an end in September, 1995. These things are noted as background. This was a letter I wrote in 1997, but I’ve gone through and updated to make the time frame current. Otherwise it’s the same letter.

I decided to take Jared and Ben to Cleveland for Christmas in 1996, and it turned into quite an adventure. We left Spokane on December 21st. I worked tour one, starting at 10 PM and getting off at 6:30 AM, and I left work, spent an hour at the office Xmas party, drove home and picked up the boys and left. I figured I could make it to Bozeman, Montana before I had to stop and sleep. We made it to Bozeman at 5 PM. We had a nice room, it was actually two rooms and a bathroom. The front room had two beds, a table and chairs and a TV. I had made reservations there because we were 3 blocks from 2 movie theatres, there was an indoor pool , and restaurants next to the hotel. I gave the boys $50 and told them to go see a movie, go swimming, eat dinner, watch TV and enjoy themselves. I went to sleep. I woke up Sunday morning, the 22nd, at around 2:30 AM. I packed, drove to a gas station and filled up, then loaded up the boys and we were off again. After we passed through Billings, my oil light started flashing on and off. There was nothing open in eastern Montana at 6 AM, so I drove on until I got to Sheridan, Wyoming. I pulled into a gas station and told Jared to run in and get a couple quarts of oil. I opened the hood and saw that the engine compartment was covered with oil. There was a restaurant attached to the gas station, so we went in to eat while I made phone calls. When I bought this car, it had 60,000 miles on it. The dealer offered me a 4 year/48,000 mile bumper to bumper extended warranty. I accepted. So, it was the extended warranty people I was calling that morning. They told me that the repairs had to be made by a dealer, and since all the dealerships were closed Sunday, it would have to wait until Monday. Remember, this was the 22nd, and I hoped to be in Cleveland on the 24th. So we drove to a motel, with an indoor pool, checked in, and my car was towed away.

The high temperature that day was 10 below zero in Sheridan. That day we went to the local movie theatre and saw the Beavis and Butthead movie. The next morning, I called the dealership, told them our situation, and was pleasantly surprised when they told me that they had replaced a bad seal in the engine block and that they were done so we were leaving town by noon that day. The dealership suggested, and I agreed, that I pay for an oil change and new filter. As we were driving through South Dakota , snow was blowing across the freeway, and according to the radio, the temperature was again below zero. We pulled into Mitchell, South Dakota around 7:30 PM to fill up with gas. The gear shift seemed to stick a little before going into park, but it went and I filled up and got back onto the freeway. This was the night of December 23rd, and I planned on getting to Sioux City, Iowa, before stopping that night. As we got onto the freeway, I noticed that the car wouldn’t shift above 2nd gear. I got off at the second Mitchell exit. About two blocks off the freeway, I saw a sign for, believe it or not, Dale’s transmission service. I figured this was an omen and I went there. I left the boys in the car, the car running and I went inside. It was about 10 minutes before 8PM, and I felt lucky find a place open. I called to the man working there, it was Dale, and told him about the transmission. He told me that he thought I was in a diesel from the sound. He went out, got in the car, with the boys inside, and drove away. When he returned, he said that I was correct about the transmission, but I had a bigger problem than that. He opened the hood and again it was  covered with oil. He checked the oil and there was none. He gave it the gas and pointed out the tinging noise. I asked and he told me that that was a rod. I asked what the solution was for a thrown rod and he told me that I needed a new engine. I asked and he told me there were motels back up by the freeway. We got a motel with an indoor pool and I started making phone calls, again. I was feeling pretty low by this point, it was 10 PM on December 23rd, and we were 1,000 miles from Cleveland. The tow truck was coming at 8 AM the next morning. I woke up around 4 AM, did some soul searching, and by the time the continental breakfast was served, I was determined to be in Cleveland for Christmas. The dealer where my car was towed also rented cars. I rented one, and we were on our way by 9. We pulled into my parent’s driveway shortly after midnight, and had a super Christmas. While in Cleveland, I visited with friends and visited the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I promised the boys that one of their presents for Xmas would be a day at the Mall of America in Minneapolis and $150 spending money each. I kept in touch with the dealership in Mitchell, telling them there was no reason for me to leave Cleveland until my car was going to be ready. Finally, on January 6th, they told me that it would be ready on the following Thursday. Tuesday, Jan 7th, we drove to Minneapolis. We spent the 8th at the mall. I bought the boys all day passes at the amusement park inside the mall, Camp Snoopy, and they decided to eat at Hooters rather than Planet Hollywood. We shopped, they rode rides and we saw the movie Mars Attacks! The next morning, I checked the weather and the guy on Good Morning America said everything was clear through Wyoming. We went south, and when we reached I-90 we turned west. As we crossed Minnesota, the weather got progressively worse. The radio said that they had closed the freeways in South Dakota. When we got to Sioux Falls, there was a gate across the freeway. I asked the guy in the Blazer (State Patrol) if there was a way to get to Mitchell. He told me of a state route I could take. As we drove that way, the visibility got so bad that I had to watch the white line in the middle of the road so I wouldn’t off, and I had Jared watching for cars ahead of us. We got stuck in a snow drift and luckily someone came along and pulled us out. I told the boys that we would be finding a motel and stopping as soon as possible. We stopped at the next town and found out that the closest motel was 17 miles ahead. As we were driving that 17 miles, the rental car suddenly lurched. After that every time we hit a drift, we seemed like there was no power. The visibility was practically zero, and when we hit a snow drift, I knew we wouldn’t make it through another one. I told the boys to start looking for a house while I tried to stay on the road. Before they saw anything, we hit a drift, and stopped. As I started trying to figure out what we were going to do, Ben said he saw a mailbox. I wrapped Jared up in blankets, and sent him up to the house. He came back shortly and said that he knocked on the front door, that nobody answered, but he looked in through the front window and saw a woman inside. I said that she would have to let us in; we had nowhere else to go. I had two blankets in the car, so I gave one to each boy and we ran up to the house. We got in, met Urban and Mary Catherine Healy of Montrose, South Dakota, and called the dealership. The dealership said that they had my car ready the day before, but noticed an oil leak in the head of the new engine. They had transferred my car to the GM dealer, because it was a warranty problem on the new engine that had come in a crate from GM in Detroit. They said it would be the end of the following week before the GM dealer could get to it, in the meantime, they would stop all charges on the rental car at that time, but, since all roads were closed due to weather conditions, we would have to stay where we were until they could get to us. We spent the next three days with the Healys.

I can’t imagine having fallen into a situation with two nicer people. They fed us, entertained us, Jared even went to church with them on Sunday morning. Finally, Monday came; I called the dealership and said that we had been imposing on these folks long enough. The tow truck came, picked us and the car up, and dropped us off at the same motel we stayed at on December 23rd. We stayed until Thursday playing in the pool, eating microwave food, playing cards, and watching TV. Management at that motel bent over backwards to help us having heard about our situation. Thursday morning, the dealer called, said the car was ready, and we got on our way. The total bill for the repairs was $4,100, but since I bought the extended warranty, my cost was $50. We got home Friday afternoon, without further incident. The boys spent the weekend with their mother, who they hadn’t seen in a month, and we went back to our routine.

As I spoke to friends about our adventure several commented about our bad luck, I told them that we couldn’t have been luckier. If the cars were going to break down anyway, how lucky were we that they broke down in locations where easily found food, shelter, service and friendly people to help us in our time of need.

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My thoughts on prayer

Understand, I’m an agnostic. I’ve never been blessed with the gift of faith. I have spent a great deal of time researching the topic of early Christianity, as well as some time looking into Judaism, Mormonism, Islam and, most recently, Scientology. I don’t deny anyone’s faith. How could I, I have none.

I have spent a lot of time considering what would and would not be appropriate based on the precepts of these faiths. I’d like to tell you my conclusions on the topic of prayer.

Assuming there is a God, Supreme Being, deity, whatever. Also, assuming that he’s a benevolent creator, he’s looking out for us, intervening from time to time, i.e.…sending a son to Earth. Being a God, he’d be omniscient. He’d know everything. From the beginning until the end. This doesn’t speak to predestination. Everyone has free will, he just knows what we’ll choose. Time to him is like height to us. He sees it all at one time.

Based on all of the above, I first determined that there is only one appropriate prayer. That would be, “Thy will be done.” Being benevolent, he has our best interests in mind, by our, I mean the human race. His vision is not on the outcome any individual person’s crisis. He knows that we’ll have difficulties. How many times have you heard, “It’s God’s will”? His vision is on the long term. He knows what the consequences of decisions made today will be in 500 years. If he decides that Grandma needs to die on August 14th, we have to trust that decision. He knows what he’s doing. Our only position must be,”Thy will be done.”

After reflection on this point, I realized that there’s actually a second appropriate prayer. “Help me to accept your will.” Sometimes we have trouble accepting that which we don’t understand and I believe that it’s appropriate to ask for help with that.

I’ve spoken to people on this topic and they’ve shared their family’s prayers from home with me. I hear things asked for such as health and happiness for the family, for focus and determination to accomplish certain goals, and such prayers.  There are many others, but I believe they all basically fall into one of those two categories. The health and happiness prayer is motivated by self interest. If it’s in his plan, it will happen without being asked for. The second prayer is goal setting which is admirable and, I believe, should be encouraged, it’s not something to ask a deity for. “God helps those…” Goal setting is a skill to be used in our daily lives to achieve certain things which matter to us. These are earthly matters, not spiritual ones.

Religion is a lesson in humility. Humble yourself before the one who created you. Thy will be done. Whatever you think is all right with me because I trust in you. I’m a pawn and I’m here to serve. Any greatness I have is a credit to your greatness, not of my own doing. Any wisdom I have, any intellect I have, any physical abilities I have, and so on.

That’s it. Two prayers. Word them any way you like. Wrap them around any situation you’re in. Two prayers.

Patriotic

In all of the rhetoric I see about society there’s something I don’t like. Let me start with an example. If most people were to come into a great deal of money, winning the lotto, an inheritance or maybe having bought into a great stock investment that suddenly went through the roof, those people would likely share their good fortune with their family. As we sit around and discuss those types of things, that’s what I hear most often is that people would make sure their loved ones were secure, healthy and educated. No questions about whether their loved ones earned the financial rewards being shared or whether their problems were self created. We take care of our own.

But in the same situation there are certain sectors of our society that feel no responsibility toward our greater society. If, through their own inventiveness or the luck of genealogy, they happen to be financially fortunate, there’s no inclination to take care of those portions of society that aren’t so fortunate. That’s their prerogative. We live in a free country. But if those that have are selfish and don’t invest in the future greatness of our society but rather use their fortune to glorify themselves how can they call themselves patriots? I hear, excuse me for singling them out, folks on the Fox news channel saying things favoring the financially fortunate and deriding the less fortunate. They favor removing funding for helping those less fortunate portions of our society to raise themselves. They like the gap. But how does that help society? Aren’t they putting their own self interest above that of the country? If Paul Revere had valued his own safety over his national responsibility would we call him a patriot?  There are many who lived then who did just that and our country flourished and became great but the ones we hold up as patriots are the ones who sacrificed their own for the good of everyone. If you’re one who believes that your own personal wealth and power are yours and not to be used to raise everyone that’s fine. That’s your business. Just, please, don’t fool yourself that you’re in any way patriotic.

Letter to the Editor

Back in 2001 Winona Ryder got busted for shoplifting. I wrote a letter to the editor and they called me because they wanted to put it in the newspaper but it was too long. Their maximum length was 100 words. They wanted to know if they could cut my letter to 100 words. I politely declined. Here, for the first time, is my letter to the editor. By the way, I live in Spokane, WA, USA.

I was shocked and dismayed by the decision reached by the jury in LA regarding Winona Ryder’s shoplifting charges. What kind of world do we live in where celebrities are held to the same rules as average ordinary citizens?

I believe that it guarantees in the Constitution of these here United States of America that you’ll be judged by a jury of your peers. Who on that jury can say that they’re one of Ms. Ryder’s peers? Oh sure, they had a studio executive, but that would be like calling the busboy in one of Emeril Lagasse’s restaurants Emeril’s peer. Would any one of those jurors be recognized as they entered a glamorous restaurant? I don’t think so. Would they be stopped by Joan Rivers on the red carpet on the way to presenting at the Academy Awards? Once again, I don’t think so.

No, I believe we have a duty to worship our celebrities and to do so from afar. We must give them the right to set their own rules, to live as they see fit. The laws of the masses shouldn’t, nay can’t apply to those who shine so brightly.

I was inspired by the events in La-la land to reflect on our situation here in the Inland Empire. I’ve seen other economies around the country turn to tourism as a way to bring in outside dollars. What we need here is a tourist hook. Maybe we should start recruiting celebrities to relocate here with the promise that they would have a free rein. They could walk in any store, restaurant, or entertainment establishment and take whatever they want without harassment from local law enforcement.

Imagine the possibilities. Walking through Northtown and bumping into Tom Cruise. “Oh, sorry Mr. Cruise. Is there anything I can do to make your day more pleasant?” Crossing the street downtown and being narrowly missed by a speeding Drew Barrymore? You could wave back at her only you’d use all of your fingers. Or, like a dream come true, you might be a clerk in one of the stores the celebrities would visit. “Certainly I’ll take your wedding pictures Mr. Ford. When will Ms. Flockhart be arriving?”

People from around the world would be dying to book reservations to visit and stay in our town. The money would come pouring in and all we’d have to do is sit around and scoop it up with the same shovels we use to clear our sidewalks of snow.

Oh yes. Nothing like a celebrity trial to clear my mind.

The Texas Shit Pit Story

This is absolutely true. My kids grew up hearing this story.

I used to work at a mine outside of Houston, TX in a little town named Clodine (pronounced claw-DEEN). I was the plant electrician. Our office was a little cinder block building and all of the drains for this building ran into a pit outside the building into a covered pit. Yes, including the toilet. Inside this pit was a submersible pump we used to pump the raw sewage into the local stream. I know, very nice. This was the 80’s and apparently the authorities didn’t know about us. Anyway, when this pump stopped working it was my job to fix it. So we would pull the cover back, hook up a portable pump to get as much out of the pit as we could and then I had to crawl down in and work on the broken pump. Now I had two choices. I could either bitch, moan and complain the whole time or I could sing, laugh and make jokes while I was down there. Either way I was standing in a pit coated with human excrement. I chose the sing and laugh option. The point of this true story is that happiness is a decision you make, not a result of your surroundings. Whatever you have going on  at work or in your life probably isn’t as offensive as the Texas Shit Pit. Decide to be happy while you go about your business.

BTW, neither of my kids ever implemented this lesson.

Carol

This is a letter I wrote about my friend Carol, who’s married, never sent but ended up going to her house sitting in her living room with her husband and telling them this story. While I was telling it, she went to her bedroom and came our with the dress she wore that night. Anyway, this is my story. BTW, I’m 56 years old now.Oh, and I think I’ll add a picture of us that night.Image

I’ve told several people this story over the past couple of weeks and thought you might like to hear it. It’s about being in love. Not the comfortable kind of love you share with someone after years together, or someone you’ve been friends with for a while and full time companionship is the next step. This is about the kind of love where your feet don’t touch the ground, you have stars in your eyes, where there doesn’t seem to be anyone in the world except the two of you. This is about the only time in my life I felt that way.

I was on a date with a beautiful girl, as long as I’ve known her I’ve always thought she was beautiful. She had invited me to a banquet. She wore a full length dress, brown with yellow, orange and white floral sleeves. We were at the Brown Derby restaurant outside Akron. Dinner was finished, as were the awards, and the dancing had begun. She and I made our way to and outside the back door. Out back there was a hill and we walked to the top. It wasn’t raining, it was drizzling slightly, not enough to stop us from going up there. We walked up, talking about I don’t remember what, we’d been friends a while by then, and when we got to the top we looked down at the restaurant. I took her in my arms and kissed her.

At that moment I felt like I’d never felt before, and as it turns out ever again. It was magical. I was swept away by so much emotion, I don’t have words to explain how I felt. I know that we went back to the party, but she was all I could think about. I imagine that I had some stupid look on my face, because this was the feeling that poems are written about. I drove her back to the dorm so in love with her, and when I walked her to her dorm, I didn’t want to leave. I did, but on the way home, I found that she had left her purse in my car. I was elated. I was going to see her again. I turned around and headed back. When I walked to the desk and had her paged, I couldn’t wait for her to return to the lobby.

That’s where the story turns. You see, part of the memory is that she was feeling the same things. When we kissed she, too, was swept away to that magical place. The reason she forgot her purse is because, like me, her head was a muddled mess and her heart was filled. But, when she stepped off the elevator, I crashed to the ground. I looked at her and it was obvious that something had changed, that she no longer felt for me the way she had minutes before. She later told me that the catalyst for the change was a phone call from an old boyfriend in California, which caused confusion. However, the feeling was gone, never to return. Don’t get me wrong, I still loved her, I still do, just not the same way. The magic was taken away.

I’ve spoken to many people about this. I’ve asked them if they’ve ever felt that feeling. Most say no. I feel very very fortunate to have experienced what we did. I’ll never minimize it or forget it. I don’t know if I’ll ever feel that way again, I don’t know if I can. I’m 44 and I’m not done living, but maybe you only get one chance at that. I know that I’ll love again, but probably never like that, and I thank you for that.

Maroon 5 and the Doobie Brothers.

I was talking to a young friend of mine recently after she expressed a love for Matchbox 20. I, jokingly, suggested that she “upgrade” to Maroon 5. I actually like both groups. However, a friend of hers said that she thought that Maroon 5 was much better during their Songs About Jane period. This reminded me of similar sentiments decades earlier when the Doobie Brothers changed their sound after Michael McDonald joined the group. Speaking in favor of the changes I’ll say this, musicians get to the level of professionals because of a love of the music. You can’t be great if you don’t love it. But, you’re influenced by both the others you play with and the money. If you don’t get paid, you have to find another career. Other players have their own styles that a musician incorporates when playing together. Music company executives and fans who demand more of the same are doing a disservice to the artists by attempting to keep them in a pigeonhole and not allowing them to grow and follow their inspiration. A perfect example of following your instincts is Pink. Her record company freaked when she made M!ssundaztood. Look it up. Anyway, love what you love musically but support the artists that move in different directions that change the sound of their music whether you like it or not. It’s their music, not yours.