Saturday, June 26, 2010

Trip Home

I finally figured out how to update our GPS gizmo. I got son Zach to do it.

And just in time. I was making a quick trip up to the old stomping ground of Downriver Detroit. This used to be a fairly simple trip: north from Kokomo, to US 24, a really good, two-lane state high way that ran diagonally from Peru, IN to Toledo. The route zipped through the only large city in its path, Fort Wayne, by cutting through the downtown where there were few traffic lights; those were timed. On to Toledo where you would intersect with I-75, head north for 30 miles through undeveloped land until Trenton loomed ahead. You could run, um, slightly ahead of the speed limit and make it in less than 4 hours.

Used to be, your only impediments were slow moving farm equipment and Ohio’s occasional need to bolster the state coffers: favorite technique was to stop out-of-state licensed cars that were speeding a bit, and, on the spot, give you a really big ticket with the option to pay it right now or appear in court next week.

No one, they reasoned, wanted to mess up a vacation with a return trip. They were right, check the stats.

Like everything else, my easy route has changed in the last 30 years. There’s been lots of growth and, apparently, the need to bypass and calm traffic and stop it more often. For example, in Fort Wayne, State 24 still leads to downtown but now there’s a light at every intersection and theses lights are NOT synced so you get to see the sights and window shop, not what you want to do when you need to get someplace else. Once, when I tried to go around, I got on a loop that took me 30 miles out of the way because I missed the turn off, not well-marked, and saw lots more of eastern Allen County than I wanted. After a while, all corn fields look alike.

Then, there are now a few other cities along 24 that have grown…imagine that…so they have their own lights plus by-passing plus, of course, cone zones.

Then, on to Toledo. If you insist on staying on 24, you get swallowed up somewhere near a Jeep factory…they are VERY proud of their Jeep factory… and then have to turn around and try to find another route. Where IS that Interstate?

So to make it to Trenton without losing my mind, I did a double: I Googled and printed a map plus I plugged in the GPS. They did not concur on the best routes so I still had to make decisions but both would get me to my final location without getting lost. Both offered assurances of how long the trip would take. All good.

Our GPS is inhabited by a brusque woman, Ms. Garmen Nuvi, who orders you to “turn left” or “continue on” with regularity. Notice, I did not include niceties. This is because Ms. Nuvi does not say ‘Please’ or ‘Thank you.’ No, she just orders you to do as she says.

I have noticed over the years that the most regularly polite interactions take place between myself and electronic media. Microsoft is all about “Please wait,” and “Please close this.” The self-checkout at the grocery thanks me for shopping at this store and invites me to return again. Airport automatic walkways gently warn you that “The automatic walkway is coming to an end. Please watch your step.” Our ATM begs my patience while it handles my request and then thanks me for punching its buttons.

But not Ms. Nuvi. She orders. She demands. And should you deviate, you can almost envision her clutching her virtual forehead with her virtual fingertips as she announces, with annoyance, the she is “Recalculating.”

I turned her off in mid-Ohio (Power to the People!) and let Google guide my path for the rest of the trip.

The last part, north from Toledo, is a straight shot, although these are not the outposts they once were. In Monroe, MI, there’s a huge automotive plant by the side of the road. “Mazda, made here!” And there are lots of places to pull off (this would drive Ms. Nuvi nutzo) to get a bite to eat or to fill up the tank.

As I neared Trenton, I drifted back to the many times I drove this route with my Dad. This was so familiar except for all the new plants and the Rush Limbaugh on the radio. I would have found some other music for Dad.

The occasion of my trip was part somber/part joyous reunion with many old friends. After two nights in a less-than-stellar motel, it was time to return to Indiana.

My second Google map was to route me from Trenton to Winona Lake, as I was headed to the cottage. Google would take me back to Toledo and on to the lake. On a whim, I decided to give Ms. Nuvi a chance.

And here’s the thing with following the GPS. Once you commit, it’s not so easy to change your mind. Ms. Nuvi, who knows nothing of shortcuts, decided to route me to the Toll Road which runs across northern Indiana. I did not realize it until it was too late to change my mind. By then, I was safely on a major road but surrounded now by those curious country lanes and pathways that lead to adventures in navigation. Ok, Nuvi, I’m yours, I guess.

Her choice was neither the shortest route, nor the fastest route but it was HER route and I was HER captive. We traveled along, she instructing me about where I would turn (You WILL turn here, chickie) and how long I would follow HER direction. As we left the Toll Road and began to venture south, several times I wanted to engage her in discussion: HERE? We’re going HERE?
But Ms. Nuvi does not discuss. I had no choice but submission, for a while.

Once, I pulled off for some coffee, had to drive more than 100 feet, and she sighed, shook her head and announced that I had forced her to recalculate. If she is a retribution devotee, what might she be cooking up now? (Traveling solo is nice but sometimes you get a little nutzo yourself)

Finally, we came within striking distance of the end location and I knew for sure where I was. Time for a little payback baby!

I turned on a shortcut.
I turned to another.
And another. Aha! (Nutzo now in full bloom)
Then, in final triumph, I UNPLUGGED her.

The hub greeted me.
“How was the trip?”

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Cruising, on a Friday Afternoon (and Sat. and Sun. and)

About 15 years ago, Mike took Zach on a trip to the Grand Canyon, Sedona and other Arizona locals.
Neither had visited The Great Hole and it IS something to experience live. Most of us have seen really good photos but there’s just something about standing on the edge and letting its grandeur take your breath away. Really.
They drove along the southern rim until they came to a park sign: “Scenic Vista.” They parked the car and walked a few dozen feet to a rail where they could look out (10 miles) and down (at least 1 mile) and marvel at this magnificent work of nature.
Catching their collective breaths, they returned to the car, pulled out of that parking lot and drove on about 2 miles until they saw “Scenic Vista.”
They repeated the drill.
Then again.
Then again.
As neither wanted to cut into the other’s adventure, they spoke not much except to say that, wow, this was something to see.
But the drill began to wear and Zach, the younger, finally said, “Dad. Have you seen enough?”
“Well, yes, about an hour ago.”
“Then please,” he pleaded. "NO MORE SCENIC VISTAS!”
It is amazing how quickly the wonder becomes blasé: yet another place to look out and down.
Mike made a return trip, this time with Allyson and two college friends. Modern women all, they were a lot less tactful. At the second vista, they announced that they had seen enough and longed to return to the resort and the hot tub.
So we have a family joke that we all use on occasion, code for “I’ve had enough.” It doesn’t usually involved sightseeing. “PLEEEEEEEEEEEEEEASE. No more scenic vistaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaas!”
Ah, but in Alaska, it’s all about scenic vistas, constantly changing as we sailed by. We seemed to come in close to mountains that towered over us, iced with snow and dotted with wildlife. And we could not grow weary with that sense of our own insignificance surrounded by the glories of God’s nature and handiwork.
As for our pre-cruise planning, it was a good call to get a room with a veranda. There were many opportunities to sit and gaze, silently and undisturbed, as is much of the scenery. Then, when we could leave the ship, ports permitted deeper exploration.
In Juneau, the capital, Mike climbed on a helicopter and flew to one side of the Mendenhall Glacier. There, with training and guides, he and his fellow adventurers donned bright red gear and crampons, laced belay lines up and around themselves, grabbed ice picks and scaled the side of the ice.

Slightly less adventurous and fit, I slid into another helicopter with four other ladies and our guide. We lifted off and flew to another site, spying Mike’s group as tiny little matchsticks on the ground. Their bright orange tent looked like a gumdrop.

We got out and walked over the glacier. Our guide provided lots of information such as “Watch where you step. The first 100 feet of ice is soft and looks like Swiss cheese. Lots of holes.”
We came to a glacial stream, ice cold and aqua blue. “There is no vegetation or wildlife up here and you’ll find this the cleanest water in the world,” he said. He encouraged us to lie on our bellies and drink ‘Alaska style’ from the rushing water. (Do they laugh at the tourists?)
It WAS good.
Juneau, whose high school just graduated 378 students, has 7 miles of paved roads through town but you cannot get anywhere else unless you have a boat or a plane. The roads just end. One of our guides told me I reminded her of her English teacher so I told her what I do for a living. (English teachers all look alike. :0)
Our week in Alaska was full of adventure. Each port, as the cruise shopping director is quick to inform you, affords lots of opportunities to shop. He’ll even tell you WHERE to shop and what you should buy. As we are not big shoppers anyway, we opted for personal sightseeing, strolls through curvy streets.

In Sitka, Mike donned a dry suit and went snorkeling. In Ketchikan, we both traveled by float plane over and into the Misty Fjords National Monument. Our pilot was especially juiced (figuratively) as the day offered unlimited visibility; we were able to fly up and over the mountains where you could see until the horizon blurred. We swooped down and landed on one of the high mountain lakes nestled between dense forest hills and then flew over others.

On another day, we coasted through the Hubbard Glacier National Park; we were under instruction to turn off all loud music and tone down on-board noise as we floated along, so as to not disturb the wildlife.

Every so often, you’d hear what sounded like thunder, look up and see the glacier calf, crashing into the water, just like you may have seen on TV, only live. Never got bored with that sight.

Overhead, eagles and hawks coasted, dipped down and then rose again. Down below, otters and sea lions slipped in and out of the water.

Later, we turned around slowly, coasted out and then motored ahead.

When most people tell you about cruises, they keep coming back to the food. It IS plentiful and very good. It is usually ‘plated,’ arranged artfully and served with elegance. And between meals there are constant opportunities to ‘tide yourself over’ lest you become hungry. We enjoyed our meals but this was not a big attraction for either of us.
We got to spend 8 days together, sharing a first-time experience as we traveled through the lower part of Alaska.

Mike was absolutely charmed by the towel animals created by our cabin steward. He insisted on capturing each on film before I dissembled them.
He took his travel guitar up to The Crow’s Nest, the lounge at the top and the bow of the ship. Usually, he reported, that he was all alone. My suggestion that he put out a cup for tips…..he says he did not.
So many friends asked us about the cruise and we told them much of what I’ve related above. Now if you catch the hub in a mood, he’ll tell you that ‘cruises are for women;’ he will play the part to the hilt that he did this for me and that it was a sacrifice.
What he doesn't say is what he whispered to me at the close of the trip.
“You know, we didn’t see a whale.”
“We didn’t sign up for that trip,” I reminded him.
“I know. I guess we’ll have to go back.”

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Old Guys

I think I’m pretty low maintenance: not too particular, not too hard to please. I don’t need most of my stuff ‘just so.’ Of course, such a measure is taken relative to others in vicinity. On our very crowded flight to Seattle, we sat behind a more maintenance-intensive woman. “Do you have lime slices?” she asked the flight attendant, who formed a practiced, eye contact bead on this gal.

“No, ma’am. We DO have lemon.”

“But I MUST have lime slices. Are you certain you don’t have even ONE?”

“I will check ma’am, but I’m pretty sure we do not have them. How about a lemon?”

“Oh, no. I MUST have lime in my soda. You DO have Pepsi products, don’t you?”

“I’m sorry, ma’am. We have coke products on Delta. Perhaps I can find you a substitute? “

Oh NO!!! I was sure I read that you have Pepsi products. I MUST have Mountain Dew with my vodka.”


“I’m sure we can find you something else…..”

“Well, you DO have bottled water, I assume,”

DEEP, face-stretching smile………………..”Yes, ma’am. Let me get you some.”

“But only cubes of ice, not crushed.”

“Let me see if I can find some cubes.”

“And that lemon slice, I guess.”

Behind this little drama were several thirsty passengers who would have grabbed the Mountain Dew, the crushed ice, the lemons. (Her head.)

THAT’s what I call high maintenance and I require less than her. My only complaint, really, is that I’d prefer that when flight introductions are made, it’s not Captain Skippy at the helm. Sounds like a pup, you know?

One little treat I give myself, though, is breakfast in a restaurant. Now, even I can prepare the first meal of the day almost as well as any short order cook, and since my standard fare is scrambled eggs, English muffin and coffee, the attraction is not fancy food. (I DO give higher marks if the cafĂ© serves real half/half instead of that fake stuff.) The appeal for me is the being served. Really. I’m just a little needy. Give me a newspaper and fill up my coffee cup discreetly, and I’m a happy camper.

Even if I venture into a new restaurant where they hand me a menu and I scan it, I end up getting the same item. It’s one decision I don’t want to make early in the morning.

So as I am a sampler of morning restaurants, I can report that in every one, you will find the same kinds of people at 6 AM. There are middle-aged women, usually alone, who are enjoying their morning meal and the solace. You may see a few couples, but not often. They are basically also eating alone, passing the salt back and forth. A few workmen, gearing up for the day, sit at the counter, sip coffee and flirt with the waitresses. An occasional businessman, dressed up, sits alone but his phone interrupts about every 2 minutes.

And then there are the old guys. There’s ALWAYS a table of old guys. 4 or 5, it’s obvious, meet here most mornings, take their usual table, order their usual item, and then tackle the topics of the day.

Are they divorced? Widowed? Retired? Out of work? Maybe. Maybe. Yes, Only by choice.

And do they have opinions? Absolutely. About what? About everything.

The other morning, I could not help it as I had no newspaper, their around-the-table went like this:

“You know why they don’t have a drug problem in China? If they catch someone with drugs in China, they just assume he’s a dealer and they shoot him. Or chop his hand off, one of those.”

“We awtta shoot everybody sneaking over the border.”

“But what about the woman with kids?”

“There ain’t no women and children sneaking over.”

“Just drug dealers and criminals.”

“Is this the last day of school?”

“That oil spill. They outta be scooping all that gunk up and putting it on a truck.”

“They could dump it over a landfill. Kill the smell.”

“I heard they could vacuum it up but BP won’t let them.”

“Hard to get the oil out of that vacuum bag.”

“BP? Who’s that?”

“I don’t want no flavored coffee.”

“Me neither. Just some sugar.”

“Gotta watch the blood pressure, doc says.”

“How’s the knee?”

LOVE IT. Makes you smile. The conversations are remarkable unchanged over the years except for occasionally contemporary references. However, I’ve noticed one alteration. The old guys are getting younger.

(Pause to reflect)

So on the cruise to Alaska, when I rose and got coffee, there were the early risers dotting the window seats and then there was a table of OLD GUYS.

Now I’m fairly certain every one of them is cruising with the wife of his youth, still asleep somewhere below. These guys are up with the sun, watching the water and getting acquainted.
Retired? Absolutely. A farmer. A banker. A realtor. And something generic. How do such men connect?

By ‘knowing’ stuff about the ship, the cruise, the company. And that’s important. To wit:

“Why are we listing?”

“I heard that the stabilizers don’t work in cold water.”


“Why are the buffets NOT self serve?”

“They wait to see if anybody gets sick and when nobody does, they open the buffets to help yourself.”

“How long does THAT take?”

“Mebbee 3 days. Depends.”

Good to know.

“Why does the room steward pull our drapes shut?”

“They have to block the early morning sun from fading the couches. Sun’s a lot stronger up here.”

Ah. Mystery solved.

“Where does the cruise line get all these friendly workers?”

“They’re all immigrants. If they don’t do a good job, they get deported.”
(smile or you're out!)

“Is there a doctor on board?”

“Yeah. Two. I checked in, you know, because of my hip replacement.”

“Which is the front?”

“The stern.”“No, wait, the bow.”

“What does it matter? We’re paying for it, call it what you want.”

“Can we eat breakfast twice?”

“They don’t check.”

This last is true. On a cruise, you can eat 24/7 if you are so inclined. On the first day aboard, the young man who serves as a native guide dropped this bomb: The average cruiser can gain 9 pounds in a week. Kinda put a damper on my appetite.

Anyway, the old guys will finish their coffee and then retreat to awaken their spouses. Then they will reappear, women in tow, (and bringing up the rear, by the way) to enjoy breakfast.

Although it’s NOT true that cruises passengers are all geezers, there is that retirement/bingo playing element that is prevalent. Lots of marathon-married people who are enjoying this time.
I remember reading once that long-time spouses begin to look alike. I reject that but I DO think that they develop team behavior. Just think of how many daily routines they have formed in their years of living together.

For a trip: Who packs? When, the night before or a week ahead? Who checks? Who carries the money? How many credit cards? One kind of toothpaste or two? Share toiletries or no?
And although on a cruise, no one is called upon for major decisions, there’s still: When do we eat? Where do we eat? Which movie do we want to see? Which of the three showings? Casino? Shopping? Just what IS Tanzanite?

Amid all these long-haul couples, you can see shared actions for moving through a task, like passing the salt or picking out a seat, that they don’t even think about. It’s part of their living patterns.

Nothing too profound here: it’s comfortable here with those of the championship marriages. It’s where I want to be.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Just a quick note from the North

Having a good time; and it’s ok that you’re not here…..
Actually, as we know you pray for us regularly, let me tell you how your prayers are being answered this week:
Each and every employee, on board and on shore, has commented that the weather is not only amazing but rare: Alaska’s norm is cloudy, showers, and more showers. Although, at this time of the year, the sun is ‘out’ for a longer part of the day, the locals say it’s unusual to see it except for an occasional peek through the heavy clouds.
Some excursions post refund procedures as they are commonly canceled for weather concerns.
HUH. All week, sun and clear blue skies here. Temperatures are a balmy 55 – 70 degrees. We can sit out on our veranda in our shorts, viewing the grandeur all around us.
So thank you, our friends. And thank you, Dear Lord, for this additional gift.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Chicken or the Dog?

One of the few things that I found entertaining in the practice of law was the improbable stories that my clients told me from time to time. Early in my practice, not knowing any better, I would sometimes suggest that they were lying to me, which they almost always denied. Oftentimes the stories were so far-fetched that I was positive they were lying to me. And frequently, they WERE lying to me. However, as my experience grew, I began to be aware that most of the time they were not lying to me at all. I just did not have in my possession all of the pertinent facts.

Frequently, if I just knew all of the facts, what they were telling me made perfect sense. Getting all of the facts was always the trick. Courtrooms are often the venue where all of the facts finally come home to roost, usually to the consternation of one of the parties. Sometimes in ones personal life strange occurrences take place which make no sense at first, but become perfectly understandable later on when all the facts show up.

Last week I turned in the driveway to find my neighbor and her daughter knocking on my back door. After I parked the truck, I said hello and asked them what they wanted. My neighbor is Chinese and has not lived in this country long enough to learn English. She began to speak to me directly and forcefully in a strange mixture of unintelligible English mixed with what I assume to be Chinese. Although I could not understand most of what she was saying, I was startled to when her 6-year-old daughter also start yelling at me in a similarly confused combination of the two languages. Try as I might, I could not understand what they were talking about; it was clear that they were both very upset about something. I wanted to understand what they were saying to me, since it was clearly important to them, but all I could get out of their speech was what I thought were two words: "dog" and "yard." That's it. They abruptly turned and went back to their house, apparently satisfied they had spoken their minds, or irritated that their ignorant American neighbor couldn't understand what they were so plainly telling him. I shrugged as they left and did not give it much more thought.

When I entered my house and walked into the bedroom, I was greeted by the finest dog in the world, Iverson, who was happy to see me. There she was on the carpet with a bird-like creature between her two front paws. "What have you got?" I asked. Iverson just looked at me. Upon closer inspection the very dead creature looked like a large, dead baby bird of some kind. I thought maybe a duck or goose. I grabbed it away from Iverson, wrapped it in a paper towel and put the corpse in the trash can. There wasn't much else to do for the now deceased. I told my wife that Iverson had scored a great victory in bringing down some sort of wild bird and that she probably was not hungry.

A few days later I commented to the lady next door, one who has her finger on the pulse of the neighborhood, that I thought the Chinese woman and her daughter were upset with me. I told my neighbor that it had something to do with "dog" and "yard," but I couldn't figure out any more. The neighbor said she hadn't heard anything yet, but would let me know if something came up.

She then proceeded to tell me that the Chinese lady and her daughter came outside every evening to sit on their patio in the back of their house and that she would try to find out what was upsetting them. I said that maybe Iverson was bothering them since Iverson wanders around the neighborhood when I am working in my shop or garage. My neighbor then said she always told Iverson to go home when the Chinese lady and her daughter were on their back porch. I asked if Iverson was being aggressive or barking at them. She said she told Iverson to go home because the evening was when the Chinese lady and her daughter let their clutch of chicks out of the house.

"They are raising chickens in their house?" I asked.

"Yes, they were little chicks at first, but now they are getting pretty big and have feathers," she said. "The woman and her daughter sit out there in the evening and let the chickens run around the yard."

"Oh crap!" I said. "That explains it! Iverson picked off a pet clucker. That is what they were mad about the other day. Iverson got some fresh chicken tenders off the neighbors. Probably didn't pay for it either."

And so there you have it. The mystery of the Chinese neighbors' irritation was solved. The origin of the bird corpse species solved. All things are now clear. I am supposed to keep my wretched dog out of their yard so that they can raise their illegal farm animals inside their house inside the city limits. My neighbor opined that it will be interesting to see which animal ends up in the soup first: the chicken or the dog.

In parting, contemplate the picture below. Does this look like the face of a stone-cold clucker killer? I mean really, is that the face of a cold-blooded chick assassin? I think not.

Mike out.

P.S. Iverson advises that she prefers her hens extra crispy, just like the Colonel makes, but General Tsao's spicy chicken as served at the Great Wall is also excellent.

Memorial Day 2010

Once again, the weather was spectacular at the Lake. We had multiple days of breezy 85 degree sunshine; friends roamed the island, dropping by here and there for a chat and some refreshment.

Several local communities celebrate big with parades and remembrances and it’s not too hard to think on the sacrifices of brave men and women, now and in the past, who gave us the liberty in which we rest.

Also, Memorial Weekend saw the launch and maiden voyage of the hub’s latest creation:

A Cocktail Class Runabout, constructed in the woodshop during the month of May. Where some in this area concern themselves with race cars, we’re all about ships here.

She’s a beauty, only 8 feet long. A ‘single-seater,’ she has no seat. The helmsman perches on his knees and if he wants to level out, he must l-e-a-n over the steering wheel. It features separate steering, transmission, and throttle controls

A casual observer mentioned that it reminded him of ‘those toy boats that kids ride in at amusement parks.” No matter. Mike hatched this idea while perusing Wooden Boat Magazine where he saw the plans. He sent for them and they arrived the next day. With them came folded templates: he was in business.

The ship is constructed from marine-grade mahogany plywood with mahogany trim. In the weeks as it took shape, Mike became obsessed with finding the correct engine: he knew his little ship needed a pre-1976, 6 hp. Evinrude outboard, making it legal to race. How hard could THAT be to find?

Quite a challenge, as it turns out: Ebay, on-line engine sites, boat trader sites, boat shops, junk yards. Even next door buddy Mike, who has an amazingly deep workshop. No luck. And when you make up your mind it MUST be something, each dead end frustrates.

He finally located his perfect engine in an old farmer’s shed (both the farmer and the shed) in Mexico, Indiana. After a thorough cleaning and tuning, the engine was attached and ready to go.
News ITEM:

Memorial Day, 2010, Winona Lake, Indiana

Last Call, an eight foot Cocktail Class Runabout was launched by
Michael Bolinger on Winona Lake, 30 May 2010. On its
first test run, it ran 15.6 mph, measured by an onboard GPS. On its
second run, it hit 17.6 mph. With a little tweaking it is now running
18.4 mph. (The race crew, consisting of Lisa, Caleb, Kimber, Joclyn, Jim, Brian, Isaac, and Meghan, is shooting for 20 mph.)

Last Call was constructed from flawless plans and a jig, and with frames purchased through information in the March/April 2010 issue of Wooden Boat Magazine. “All members of my family who were present at the time of launching have driven the boat,” said the Captain. “It is loads of fun, particularly when you try to turn it. It tends to hop, skip, and jump.

I love it.”
On to the next project, says the hub.