The Journey Starts Here

Welcome to my odd sense of humor. Not always for the faint of heart.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Austin, I will miss you.

I usually try to post only funny stuff these days.  But not today.  I wanted to take a minute to say goodbye to a friend.

I lost a good friend yesterday.  Someone who I loved as a friend, and who I thought enough of to be like a son.  I am certainly old enough.  His name was Austin, and he died from an overdose.

I met Austin, of all places, on Stickam.  Almost a year ago, when I couldn’t go out anywhere, and was suffering from lack of socialization, I heard about Stickam and said what the heck.  I found out quickly that Stickam is mostly a place for the young, who flirt and joke and even hook up.  Needless to say, I didn’t make a lot of friends, since my age made me seem like a creepy old man trying to look at young girls or guys.  But I made a few and those few I made, made me stick around on Stickam to talk to them.  Austin was one of those.  Austin didn’t care how old I was, he only cared that I was a nice guy, was nice to him, was willing to listen when he needed an ear, and gave out advice.  Of all the people I met on Stickam, Austin was the one person who I became close with.  We talked on the phone a lot and there were plans for him to visit next month when he came up this way.  There is only one other person on Stickam that I became close with and we both knew Austin.  His name is Rob and he to, is very dear to me.

Austin was young.  He was only 22 years old.  But he was definitely a product of the street.  He lived in an area where gangs, drugs, and crime were rampant.  I won’t share a lot of details about his life, since it’s really not my place, but what I can say is that with the life he had, he was far older than his years.  He had seen, done, and experienced more things than most people would go their whole life without, and most of it would make you glad for that.

Austin was fun.  He was funny, had a razor sharp wit, and loved to laugh.  Sometimes at the expense of others, but honestly never with malice.  He was also very intelligent.  Although he had no more than a high school education, he was a curious guy and liked to study up on things that were interesting to him.  In a different setting, Austin would have thrived in college and gone on to a great and rewarding career.  I have no doubt that Universities would have lined up to try and get him to come to their schools.  He was that smart.

But not about everything.

Due to his upbringing, and where he lived, Austin had a drug problem.  I tried to talk to him about it.  As did others.  No matter how often I thought I got through to him, he always slid back.  I regret now that I didn’t do more.  Maybe, if I had had the money, going to visit him in person would have helped.  Or maybe if I talked to his Grandmother, who he lived with, would have helped.  I don’t know.  It would have been difficult to talk to his Grandmother, because she never answered her phone, since Austin was on it more than she was.  He would have intercepted any message I left for her.  Strangely, I know he wouldn’t have gotten mad at me for it, but would have told me that he didn’t want to worry her.  Now he is gone, a young man that had such promise, and never seemed to be able to catch a break.  The fact that I didn’t do more is a guilt I will have to live with, and deal with, somehow.

If you know someone who has a drug problem, please talk to them.  Get them help.  Even if it ruins a friendship.  Better them alive, but mad at you, then dead.  Talk to your kids about drugs.  No one is immune to making a mistake and losing their life.  If you love them, get up in their business and do something about it.  Before it’s to late.

Austin will be missed.  Not only by me, but by many others.  Austin, I love you and like you always said, we are family.  Not by blood, but by choice.  I can only hope that all the pain in your life, which you tried so hard to hide, is no longer a burden and that you find peace.

I am posting this video because it was a song that Austin loved.  Whenever one of his friends died, and he knew quite a few who died to young, he would play it over and over.  So I to will play it, in his memory.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

An Appalachian Adventure

On Monday morning, my job took me Southwest into the State of Virginia.  I will be the first to admit that there are parts of Virginia that are absolutely beautiful.  Virginia is such a diverse state in regards to the fact there is Ocean front, marsh lands, large rivers, fairly flat lands, and even majestic mountains.  We even host the world famous Luray Caverns and if you haven’t seen them, you should try to make it out one day.

One of the things Southwest Virginia is known for is Coal.  We have a number of large coal mines deep in the Appalachian mountains.  My eventual destination was one of these towns.

I’ve travelled all over the state, but I had not yet been to coal town.  As a coal virgin, I really wasn’t sure what to expect.  So when I pulled into town, I was quite bug eyed.

It seems that coal towns are planned rather differently than most towns.  At least the one I visited, and several others I passed through.  They make a road, by blasting through rock faces and everything is built along the road.  Stores, houses, you name it.  When they run out of room, they simply stack things up the mountain side.  Sort of like those step pyramids. 

When I got to town, the first thing I noticed was that I had no cell phone service.  This really didn’t surprise me, since you are surrounded by mountains.  I knew I would have internet access, because I asked the hotel and was quite proudly told “we even have WIRELESS access in our hotel”.  I’m not ashamed to admit that I fully expected to have to milk the Hotel owner’s cows to gain access though.

When I decided to get something to eat, I asked and it seemed my best choice without spending “the big bucks” by going to the Peking Chinese Restaurant was The Huddle House.  For those not in the know, The Huddle House is pretty much like Waffle House, but they don’t concentrate on waffles.  They concentrate on Huddles, whatever those are.  I suspect it has something to do with Mountain Oysters and if you don’t know what THOSE are, you don’t want to know.  Trust me.  The food?  Not to bad actually.  Although they were out of butter.  How can you be out of butter surrounded by cows?  I mean come on, just go like, churn some right?

One of the things I learned though, while visiting this town, was why people in mountain country drive so slow.  I really had never thought about before and just figured it was because people who live in the mountains typically live at a slower pace than us city folk.  Well, nothing could be further from the truth.  It occurred to me that first of all, to drive 30 miles in the mountains will typically take you an hour. At least.  So mountain folk are just as much in a hurry as the rest of us.  The problem it seems, is that mountain folk drive slowly because they really don’t know what to expect in the case of what is going to fall off the mountain onto the road in front of their cars.  Things like trees, rocks, drunk people, small animals, and bears.   Yes, bears.  Hitting a deer is one thing, but can you imagine hitting a bear?  Especially one that SHOULD be hibernating?  That’s a good way to get your car, and your face, eaten real quick.  Small animals you can count on, at least for no other reason everywhere else they run OUT INTO the road.  I guess it stands to reason they are going to tumble there way OFF a mountain.  If it happens to be a cat, I fully expect it would land on it’s feet and begin to wash furiously, trying to make you think it was just skiing or something, instead of rolling down a hill.  You know how cats are.

I think the fear of drunk people falling onto the road off the mountain originated from the days of when there were lots of illegal stills.  But maybe I’m wrong about that.  There isn’t much to do in these towns as far as I could see, so maybe people just end up drinking to much.

I am happy to report though, the town I visited had a brand new place to eat.  Brand new building and everything.  It was a Pizza Hut.  Maybe next time I go though there I will stop and eat.  As long as there are no Mountain Oysters on that pizza that is.

I do know that I worry about the way that have housing set up in these town though.  If a rock at top breaks free, and rolls down the mountain, it’s going to take out houses like a bowling ball and bowling pins.  That kinda makes me nervous.  And maybe THAT’S why people drink in these towns.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

If Life Were Run By Apple and Steve Jobs

Tonight, I finally decided to stop being lazy and updated the SYNC system in my Ford Taurus.  I don’t mind telling you that I love my SYNC system.  I don’t have the fancy version with built in navigation and news, etc, but mine does allow for hands free phone use and just as important, streaming music from my iPhone through Bluetooth.

Which brings me to an interesting note.

Before I get to that however, please note that Microsoft, Windows, Apple, the iPhone, and anything else mentioned is trademarked by and all that by the appropriate companies etc, etc.

My interesting note is this.  SYNC is a Microsoft and Ford creation.  The good thing about the SYNC system is that it is upgradeable.  You use a USB drive, download updates, then upload them to your car.  I would like to say this is an easy task.  For me?  It is.  But I will tell you that if my parents ever owned a Ford Car with Sync, it would NEVER EVER get updated, unless I did it.  Why?  Because like most things Microsoft does, it’s creepy complicated.

First, you have to plug in the USB drive and choose your update from the SYNC web site.  Then you have to try and convince the web site to actually install the update on your USB Drive.  Sometimes, or often, or almost always, it doesn’t want to corporate.  But, if you keep with it, you can get your update.

Once you do that, you take the USB Drive to your car, plug it into your USB port in the car, and then… then you have to go though about 48749292749403 steps in your menu system to get the update to INSTALL.  When it’s installed, the car is nice enough to inform you that the installation is complete.  BUT WAIT.  It hasn’t completed.  Honest.  The 573937493739 steps in the instructions make SURE YOU UNDERSTAND THIS.  You then have to wait.  And Wait.  You wait anywhere from 8 to 20 minutes for the car to ONCE AGAIN TELL YOU THE INSTALLATION IS COMPLETE.  Because obviously, this makes TOTAL SENSE.

Then, you once again plug the USB drive into the computer and try to “report successful installation”.  This means the web site must communicate with your USB Drive.  Of course, as I’m sure you guessed, almost never works.  This is so you can erase everything on the USB Drive, download the VERSION Checker, and run THAT in your car.  This design is obviously done on purpose, by some nerd who thinks this is funny.

Funny thing is, I find this no different than Windows on my computer.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I like Windows.  Mostly because when I entered the work force (a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away), everything ran on DOS.  For you young whipper snappers, that is also a Microsoft operating system.  One that required that you TYPE in everything.  If you were smart, you could build a shell program that with the press of a button would launch programs for you.  Then, windows came around and made things easier.  Meaning you could use a mouse to double click on icons which would start a program.  This is, I’m sure, what you are all familiar with.  Of course, Windows crashed a lot.  Got lots of updates.  And was genuinely a pain in the rear.  This is because Bill Gates and his employees are all Nerds of highest sort, who think that everyone needs to be as smart as them to run a computer. 

At one time, there was some slight completion to Microsoft.  It was Apple.  But for some reason, Apple didn’t take off as quickly as the board thought it should so they kicked the man who invented Apple out of the company.  I’m talking about Steve Jobs.  However, because they couldn’t do a better job of taking over the world like Bill Gates and his Nerds did, they brought him back into the fold.  Steve Jobs them started quickly slamming the Nerds and brow beat them into FUNCTIONALITY over all, along with EASE OF USE.  That’s when the iPod came out, and pretty much changed the world as we know it.  Soon, there were millions of people walking around with those trade mark white ear phones in, listening to music.

Now Microsoft, not to be outdone, already had a media player that would allow you to rip music, and also transfer it to a music playing device.  Trouble was, it was so difficult to use, no one wanted to use it.

I leaned this when I got my daughter an iPod for Christmas.  I downloaded iTunes, plugged the iPod in and was simply… amazed.  It was so easy to use that even I could do it, and that is saying something.  With the release of the iPhone, and then the iPad, that simplicity hasn’t changed.  Sure, it has it’s problems now and then, but even where there is one, it’s really really easy to recover from.

So all this got me thinking.  What would it be like if Microsoft or Apple ran your life?


Wake up.  Got to bathroom.  Push buttons on toilet until you get to the right menu option to flush.  When it crashes and hangs, call a plumber (technical support).

Get in your car.  Try to sort through various menu options to get car to start.  Car won’t start so you call your mechanic (technical support).  Or, the car starts, and you drive to work, trying frantically to keep up with pushing various buttons to sort through menus to use blinkers, etc.  Hope the car doesn’t experience a system crash.  If you happen to make it to work, hope that the car cuts off, instead of “hanging”, causing you once again to call your mechanic (technical support).

Work all day at the office, hoping your computer doesn’t give you any trouble, making you call IT (technical support).  If it does have trouble, you don’t get any work done.  However, the computer will helpfully display a message advising you to check the Microsoft Knowledge base for help, but you can’t connect to the internet, because your computer is not working.

Drive home.  Hope the car, once again, gets you there without having to call your mechanic (technical support).

Try to fix dinner.  Scroll through various menus to make the stove work, hoping like mad nothing goes wrong and causes the house to fill with gas, causing an explodion when the stove lighter works at random times.  But this time, there is an update for your stove, which you have to install before cooking dinner.  Unfortunately, the update won’t download, so you have to call a repair man (technical support) and you go to bed hungry.

Just so you know, all technical support is handled by someone in another country, who has an accent so think you can’t understand what they are trying to tell you, and apparently has trouble understanding you as well.  They will seem more interested in updating your “information”, such as address, e-mail, and phone number, than anything else.


You wake up, go to the bathroom.  Push a button to flush.  If it doesn’t work, it recovers automatically with one push of a button and off you go to eat breakfast.

You get in your car, push a button and your car starts.  If it doesn’t another push of the same button recovers everything and the car starts.  As you drive, there is only one button to push to use everything like blinkers, etc.  As you drive, you notice an update is available.  You push the button and the update installs while you are driving. Oh and the car plays your favorite tunes, or allows you to talk on the phone while you drive.

You get to work and use your computer, slightly irritated by the fact the mouse only has one button, but at least you meet your deadline.  The plus side is, you can listen your favorite tunes while you work.

You get in your car and drive home, while listening to your favorite tunes.

You get home and cook dinner on the stove, which also has one button that somehow knows exactly WHAT you are cooking and works like a charm.  Oh, and the stove helpfully plays your favorite tunes while you eat.

Boy I could go on, but I think you get the idea.  Though I still use Windows, this is how it seems the world would be.  Now, I think I will go download some music from the iTunes store, and push a button and watch it install on my iPhone… with ease.

Clandestine Meetings and Babies

Not only does my wife refuse to grow old gracefully, but she pretty much refuses to do anything that resembles normal.  I think she took the idea of being unique to a whole new level.  But maybe she is just weird.  Or is crazy from being married to me for so long.

One of the things that she refused to do normally was be pregnant.  Oh I know, every pregnancy is different.  But well, my wife tried to take this to new heights.

Before I go ahead with that, I guess I really need to start at the beginning.

I used to work for a Secret Government Agency, and my wife worked for an Agency that’s letter’s resemble FBI.  Ok, so FBI it was.  I was overseas, doing secret government work, and she was working on a high profile case.  Trouble was, our cases, so to speak, were connected.  She had documents that I needed information from to seek out my target and save the free world.  I figured it would be easy enough to sneak into her hotel room while she was sleeping.  Trouble is, my wife is not only beautiful, but smart and sneaky.  I was caught red handed, in her hotel room, with a gun to my head.  I, being the witty and charming fellow that I am, managed to talk my way out of a bullet to the head.  I also somehow managed to take advantage of the fact that she slept in the nude.  Did I mention my wife is beautiful?  She is.  It must have been something in the air or water, but in the interest of national security, we decided to pool our resources.  We pooled our resources a number of times that night.  It was sweaty work, but extremely nice.  Because we worked for different agencies, we decided to keep our meeting a secret, thus The Clandestine Meeting of my life.  Several months later, I got notice from her that she was pregnant.  They say it only takes once, but since our Clandestine meeting involved numerous pooling of resources that one night, who knows which pool was to blame.  Well, clearly mine, but that’s how it goes.

Ok, the above might not be true, except for the pregnant part.  My wife DID get pregnant, which came as a shock to us both.  I was happy, she?  Not so much.  At least not at first. By the time she was happy, she had become to realize how blessed she had been with her pregnancy so far.  No morning sickness.  No weird cravings.  Clearly I was also blessed, since I wasn’t sent by an angry hormonal pregnant woman out in the middle of the night to obtain some weird item that she HAD TO HAVE RIGHT NOW.  What she did crave was watermelon, grapes and popsicles.  And by watermelon, I mean whole ones.  That she would eat in one day.  The only time she ever got sick was when one or two things happened.  The first was due to a commercial.  McDonald’s at one time has a western omelet biscuit.  Whenever my wife would see that commercial, she would have to run to the bathroom to lose all her watermelon.  The second was onions.  My wife loves onions.  Always have, but apparently our gestating baby growing in her belly didn’t because any time she had onions?  Well, she would lose all her watermelon.  This once happened in a parking  lot after going out to eat one night.

When the time finally came for our baby to arrive, we were both not ready.  I had been sick and in the hospital for two days and my wife had the flu.  But we were in bed, and she kept sitting up all though the night.  I asked if she was ok, and she said yes, but she had indigestion.  She had indigestion alright.  The kind that spells KID.  I finally asked her if she was in labor and she said I don’t know.  It wasn’t long before she admitted that yes, she thought she was.  Of course, those who have had children will say you know when you are in labor, but again, remember my wife does nothing normal like.  In the morning, we went to the doctor and they clarified that she was indeed in labor.  Then they did the strangest thing.  They sent us HOME.  I was clearly in shock.  My wife was about to have a BABY.  Why should we go home?  They said we had plenty of time, to time the contractions, and when they reached a certain point, to go to the hospital.  So we sat at home.  All day long.  At the end of the day (by that I mean close to 5 PM), we called her doctor’s office back and they were like, “What?  You are still at home?  Why?  Come to the hospital! You’re having a baby for gosh shakes!”.  I won’t repeat my response to that.  So I bundled up my pregnant wife and off we went to the hospital.

Once there, a flurry of activity started.  Before we knew it, she was in a maternity bed with nurses surrounding her.  Since her water hadn’t broken, that had to be done manually, as well as giving her something to get the contractions moving.  Now the thing is, one of the things they tell you when having a baby is to have warm thick socks.  Because your feet are going to get cold because after all, you are going to be half naked with a bunch of strangers looking at your privates.  When they break your water, they curl you in a ball, and jam something up inside you, which let me tell you does NOT seem right, which promptly soaked her warm socks.  So now I had a hormonal and slightly scared pregnant woman with cold feet.  Let me just say that was a scary moment.  My wife has cute little feet, but she hates her toes.  Now those toes were exposed and she was NOT happy.  Plus her feet were cold, at least until she got her epidural, or as my wife calls it, “A Blessing From Heaven”.

BUT first, they gave her something to help take the edge off until they could arrange for the epidural.  She, being who she is, had a strange reaction.  Although not in pain, when they started an IV, she started to cry.  I was, of course, concerned, until she looked at me and said, “I don’t know why I’m crying, it didn’t even hurt”.  I’m thinking she was crying at the sight of my face.

Eventually, she got the epidural, and all was right with the world.  Not that she would have known, since she promptly did what most people with a sleep condition do.  She slept through long periods of her labor.  Oh, before I forget, she had a LOOONG labor.  Not only did it start in the middle of the night, but had lasted all through the day and was now well into dark.  They gave her that drug to speed up her contractions, and of course, you guessed it, she had a reaction to THAT as well.  So they had to slow it down.  Eventually, my wife decided to wake up and get this show on the road and deliver a baby.  The trouble was, she hated the doctor that was on call that night.  I mean REALLY hated him. Her regular baby doctor is a very well known German baby doctor.  In fact, if you have ready any of the Kay Scarpetta books by Patricia Cornwell, then you would have recognized her since one of the characters in the book was based on this doctor.  It just so happenes that she was, that very night, ready to fly to the Caribbean.    But she was at the hospital, heard my wife was in labor and stuck her head in the door with a smile and said “how are you doing?”.  I’m not sure exactly what it was my wife said that caused the good doc to change her plans but before we knew it, she was “scrubbed in” and took charge.  She was giving everyone orders, even me.  I’m not ashamed to admit it but I was jumping to do her bidding as much as everyone else. 

While my wife was doing her part, as in pushing, there was a nurse there who kept rubbing her leg and giving my wife encouragement.  For some reason, having a numb leg rubbed really irritated my wife.  Most husbands have to endure abuse when their lady is giving birth.  I got lucky, because my wife decided to take it all out on the nurse rubbing her leg, instead of blaming her current predicament on me.  I was almost sad by this, because I had planned on telling her that if she hadn’t slept naked and held a gun to my head during our clandestine meeting, she wouldn’t BE in this predicament.  But I never got the chance.  Instead, I got to hear my sweet little wife tell a nice nurse “if you touch my leg again, I’m going to hit you”.

It wasn’t long before the miracle of our daughter graced the world with her presence.   I know I’m her father and all, but I swear, she was most beautiful baby in the world.

So that is how my wife did the very un-normal method of delivery.  Most men have to rush around because they can’t think while their wives take control, go to the hospital, faint at the sight of a baby coming out of their wife, get blamed for the whole thing, then bask in proud fatherhood.  I got the last part down, but the rest?  Well, it was interesting to say the least.

Funny thing though, we never did get hazard pay for our overseas assignments.  But I guess a beautiful wife giving you a beautiful daughter is payment enough.  It certainly was for me.