Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Disco Duck

The strangest things come back to you. I've always thought I was a decent dancer. There were Disco Dancing Lessons at the Masonic Temple. My buddy, Doug, and I were about 17. We took the lessons to impress the girls at school dances. The lessons were $5 or $10; one night a week for 3 or 4 weeks. Our adolescent minds were blown, when we showed up at the Masonic Temple. We were the only males there. AND! the females were all in their 20s and 30s. They were nurses and secretaries and even a couple young teachers, if I recall. We learned the Hustle right away, which is basically a line dance. Then we learned couples dances. All the ladies wanted Doug or I as a partner. We were in seventh heaven. Any older and we might have gotten more carried away. There we were in the basement of the Masonic Temple surrounded by women, some dancing with each other, but all waiting for a chance to dance with us. My head swims today just thinking about it. Older women, those late '70s clothes, and perfume that filled your head with visions that you didn't even understand.

Another time, I worked with a girl on a routine for a disco contest at school. She was a year older. Man, I hit the big time. We really worked hard. I was going over to her house for several weeks. She was very nice, and a good dancer. Ultimately, some of my buddies got inside my head. They were teasing me relentlessly. Between them and my nerves, I chickened out and left her hanging. I was a dog. But there was this basketball player named Eddie, he was in her class. He and his partner won. They were fantastic and would have won anyway, but I should have danced.

Then imagine me in a black vest, white shirt with a huge pimp-ish collar and belled out black pants up on a stage with 5 or 6 girls singing Disco Inferno. Really. There's a picture in the yearbook. It was a consolation actually. For the same show that is on my "Music Page." The Jazz Band picture and the Rubber Chicken picture are from the "Band Bounce," an annual concert and variety show. Some girls from my class and I were working on a song from "Grease." Some upperclassmen heard us rehearsing and decided to audition the SAME ACT. Somehow, they got in and we didn't. Some of us complained about it and got the Disco Inferno gig. The Modern Jazz Dancers were going to dance to the song. They let us sing it rather than playing the record. It was fun; in the same auditorium where I was in "the crowd" for Annie Get Your Gun.

In college, I dated, and was engaged, to a girl who was an incredible dancer. She grew up downriver, south of Detroit, and had the moves. I must have made a fool of myself trying to dance next to her, while oggling her at the same time. She oozed. I loved it. We were so sappy. When I was away on an internship, she sent a hankerchief soaked with her perfume.

She was Polish and Lebanese and Italian with beautiful china doll features and olive skin. All three grandmothers, or at least a couple grandmothers and a great aunt, were still alive. The food was awesome when we went home to her parents' for the weekend. I had a pretty whitebread midwestern upbringing. It was very cool to be surrounded by ethnic traditions. I learned a lot, including to eat raw lamb meat. Her mom made kibbe and the best tabbouleh. I had tunafish spaghetti during lent one year. Sausage and potatoes and Oh, my. We each had an Aunt Lou, hers was a neighbor who made incredible BBQ ribs.

Somehow, I screwed that up. I'm not sure I was too young, but I was definitely not ready or too stupid or something. We got engaged. Life was good for a while. Expectations started to swallow me up. To this day, I don't do well with that. I broke off the engagement. It was probably the one relationship that I could have always been happy in. I really don't remember the "why." I just remember running away. One of these days I'll quit running.

I pulled up to the Toll Booth northwest of Des Plaines, IL last week. The attendant was a lady. She could have been Italian or Lebanese; maybe Hispanic even. She was not much taller than she was wide, but she had a rich complexion and wonderful wavy dark hair, cut short. There were big bing cherry lips in fiery red, dark black eyes and some little gold earrings; angels or something. A big smile; she was just perfectly pleasant.

Even in the breeze, the tail end of a late winter storm, when I pulled up to her window, my cab was filled with her scent. If it was visible, it would have been like the plague clouds in the Ten Commandments Movie, stealthily climbing up the steps to my cab, over the window and into my lap, filling the space around me. It was overpowering. It was Tatiana, I'm sure of it. The same perfume as on that hankerchief all those years ago. I'd bet a hundred gallons of diesel on it.

Driving through Chicago all I could see were flashing lights, a sequined vest, filmy shirt and a denim miniskirt and those hips in a club called The Outer Limits; the greasy spoon restaurant her mom liked. I saw grandmas and pasta and kibbe and baklava; a Lebanese restaurant called The Sahara in East Detroit. There were flannel shirts over tanktops and sweatpants; dormwear. And there were walks around campus in the fall. She must be why I always think the crisp fall weather and changing leaves is the most romantic time of year.

I really should go back and thank that Toll Operator.

The Pope calls the kettle black.

Nancy Gibbs wrote
in Time Magazine about the Vatican's new sins. Yes, the Seven Deadly have grown stale; confession attendance, not to mention church attendance, is way off. In a sad attempt to remain relevant, Pope Benedict is out with sins to watch out for in the modern age. I won't give them any help in this matter by listing the new sins, but you can read them in Nancy's column which is very good.

Hypocrisy has hit an historic low with this new list. On the list is "becoming obscenely wealthy." A sin of the highest order apparently. This coming from one of the world's largest holder of real estate; this from a church of ostentatious cathedrals on every continent, save the Antarctic. The picture I've used today is a cathedral in Cartegena, Columbia that is embellished with gold. The Pope visited this place and blessed it and the crown that is the central feature of the altar. It will take years for the Catholic Church to become irrelevant, but I think we've just seen the lurch of off balance above a slippery incline.

Friends that knew me when I was a geek will be amazed by this but who is a greater positive force in the world? I think Bill and Melinda Gates far eclipse the Catholic Church of today.

Furthermore, do you remember the Rev. Sun Myung Moon of the Unification Church? The leader of the "Moonies" who competed with the Hare Krishna to sell flowers in Airports in the 1970's? Do you realize that he is a powerful figure in CONSERVATIVE REPUBLICAN POLITICS in our nation's capital?

The Rev. Moon believes that he is the Messiah. He is here to unify all religions under him; hence the church's name. Rev. Moon tried many ways to become powerful in this country. His success: The Washington Times, a newspaper more partisan than any other in the country. A trumpet for conservative beliefs and schemes that makes Fox News jealous.

I listened to a radio program today with the author of a new book,
Bad Moon Rising.
Apparently, Moon founded this newspaper that reports outrageous stories about conservative opponents that then get carried by conservative commentators and other rags as "it has been reported . . . " Moon gives a lot of money to Republicans and apparently some to Democrats as well. He has tremendous influence in Washington. There was a ceremony, attended by Washington elites, to celebrate and declare Rev. Moon as the Messiah. Two congressman were on had to present a crown to Moon's wife and a huge, flowing robe to Moon.

There are tales of corruption, drugs, and business empires, like a monopoly on s
ushi in America of all things. Check out www.consortiumnews.com/archive/moon.html and en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sun_Myung_Moon.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Road Sketch 2008/03/20

Driving around in the end of winter, the grey, brown, half green carpet left after the snow has receded, is depressing. It's 50 degrees but my truck is covered with road salt. Winter is gone but the freshness of Spring has not yet begun. It leaves an undead, worn out middle time.

Let alone we have Investment Banks who, in their greed, have forgotten what it means to “invest;” an International Community more concerned with being “fair” to the athletes of the world than to the Tibetans literally running for their lives. These relatively pampered athletes from relatively free countries are allowed to pursue their dreams. All the while, we mindlessly consume all manner of goods from China without giving a thought to their brutality that barely hides below the surface. World News is as dreary as the season.

And then I stop in a Rest Area in South Carolina. The sun is not quite up, but it is already warm enough for shirt sleeves . . . and I hear birds! Down by the parking lot, a staccato tweeting call; up near the building, a sing-songy throaty call. I have no skill identifying bird calls, but I know the call of Spring. The songs of birds reclaim the air from the chill of Winter.

Later in Ohio, I see the scamper of a squirrel on the shoulder. And then Butlerville, OH, I've built a shed almost as big as their Post Office. There is a roadhouse biker bar, the Kingpin, across the highway from a trailer park. They're advertising live music out here in the boondocks. I could live there. There is a carryout pizza joint in a garage next to a mobile home advertising they match competitors coupons. There may be a glimmer of hope. Some of us just keep grinding along making a good life; even out here in the sticks.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


Ice! is also a great book by Tristan Jones, a maverick, mad cap skipper and raconteur.

It was a dark, starless night. I was running a heavy load of paper through the surreal landscape. Like a modern day Sisyphus, I slogged along, pushing the truck up each mountain and having it roll, sometimes fly, down the other side.

A heavy load is good for traction and to fight the wind, but careening downhill in the snow and ice, it can be a liability; especially on the curves. During the day or in traffic, you can judge the road surface by watching the spray coming off other vehicles. No spray means: Ice! At 2:00 in the morning, other traffic is rare. I'm trying to judge by the glare.

The moonscape of the mountains at night can inspire its own panic. Like a fog bound pilot, it is sometimes difficult to tell if I am going uphill or down. Mistaking down for up, the engine bogs down and speed is lost. Mistaking up for down is insidious. Gradually, almost imperceptively, my speed creeps up. Suddenly, I realize I am flying down Snow Shoe Mountain! If I hit the brakes to hard, the trailer will come right around and all hell will break loose. I pull my foot off the accelerator, swallow the dry taste of panic, and white-knuckle glide downward. The engine brake helps to slow me down safely, but in its own time.

There's a slow truck ahead of me. He passed me a while ago. Suddenly, he has slowed way down. I follow his lead. I'm not close enough to see his spray. Turning on my four way flashers for extra light, there is no spray under my trailer! ICE!

I follow this guy for 20 miles. We are creeping up the mountains and taking it even slower down the other side. This is my first winter in a semi. It is easy to assume that everyone else out here knows better. But after four or five other trucks have passed us and disappeared into the mountains ahead, I decide that the road has gotten better but this guy has just lost his nerve. I need to get on through to me delivery in Michigan. My preplan for the next trip is Michigan to Pennsylvania; right back through all this crap. I might as well figure out how to make some time; safely. I pass him and soon can't even see the glow of his lights behind me.

I've made it as far as I can legally and pull the night. Actually, the sun is almost up, but it'll be night for me when I pull the curtains closed in the sleeper.

Later that day, morning for me, it has begun to rain in Pennsylvania. I hear on the CB the blizzard continues to rage in Ohio. I log up and get moving. Two hours down the road, my wiper motor gives out. The wipers start sweeping way wide on the windshield as if possessed. They stop a minute later splayed out to each edge, blades pointing skyward like a Pentecostal Church Lady in full tantric prayer.

Being lucky, rather than good, the very next exit has a TA Truckstop with a shop. However, it is late Saturday afternoon and they don't stock my wiper motor. Nevertheless, with a half hour to spare, they find one at a Kenworth Dealer. Without the weather it is a five hour round trip to the dealer. The dealer is closing but leaves the motor in their mailbox.

I went into the truckstop for a reuben sandwich. I mill around the shop for a few hours. The food makes me sleepy. I walk into the garage where the truck is waiting. Waving to the mechanic, I tell him I'm going to take a nap and crawl into my truck.

Several hours later, I wake to a strange alarm. The curtains are drawn, it is dark. Just then, the beeping stops and I hear the door of the truck slam shut. The alarm was the ignition being turned on but not turned over. The mechanic had just tested the new, installed, wiper motor. Not thinking it would take so long, I had slept in my clothes. It is after midnight.

I hate to repeat myself, but, as you know, I'd rather be lucky than good. It took so long to get to the Kenworth dealer and back, and then install the motor, that I've had a 10 hour break and have a full legal day, night actually, ahead of me. Not only that but driving through Ohio I've missed most of the blizzard. There are big rigs all over in the ditch but the plows have been out and the blinding snow is done.

The delivery goes fine in Michigan but it has been the whole day. I backtrack to a truckstop I saw and draw the curtains again. Tomorrow, I'll pick up about 2:00 am. Life on the Road.

Burning The Future

It has been such a long, hard fall from radical capitalist, but my ears and eyes are open more often than my mouth lately. There are things that make me angry today that I wouldn't have listened to just a year ago. I am humble.

I listened to another radio program about a documentary film. "Burning the Future" will be on the Sundance Channel later this month. The film "is director David Novack's searing expose about how the coal mining industry in West Virginia has transformed the naturally lush mountain landscape into a wasteland, destroyed the region's fresh water supply and caused widespread health issues for area residents." [1]

Setting aside Global Warming, I think that we can agree that burning coal is not good for the environment. Or, if you must, not a net positive. See me after the meeting. The U.S. Industry has been cleaning up since the 1960's, we thought [more on that in a moment]. The drab, grey-snowed Dickensian cliche of Soviet Era Eastern Europe or 1950's England got its cheery patina from coal smoke.

The preview I got of the film, and reading their website, made me angry. The two examples I am about to give you, will make you angry. To make it worse, I'm going insist, first, that its your fault. Make no mistake, this is on us. Our insatiable appetite for inexpensive electricity is causing this to happen. From the garish lights of Times Square and Las Vegas, to your local shopping district, to the fools with their houses covered in Christmas lights, to simply that light that is on in the empty room; it is our fault. Here is the trailer for the film:

You've heard of scrubbers probably; the units installed on smokestacks to clean the smoke before it leaves. Or at least you are aware of the latest oxymoron; Green Coal is all the rage. The cousin of Lancelot Link in D.C. even spoke of Green Coal in his State of the Union Address.

What I didn't know was of a process by which coal is "washed" before it is shipped to power plants. Impurities, thus removed, allow for cleaner burning coal. Good, right?!? WRONG!!! This washing process leaves behind a toxic, greasy, black pudding called coal slurry. Much worse than my black mayonnaise. In West Virginia, where coal is king, there are retention ponds, euphemistically called impoundments, filled with this poison. There are billions of gallons, yeah, 'B' billion, of this toxic pudding behind dikes in the mountains there.

These impoundments are not lined. The stuff just sits there leaching into the ground water! Moreover, there have been dike failures, flooded hollers, and deaths already. Why are we hearing about Britney and Lindsay and not this! Google News has 473 related articles about Britney's Custody Costs; 209 about Mountain Top Removal, see below.

The people of Appalachia have always been close to the land. There are still people there who forage wild plants for food and medicinal herbs. Ginseng is a high dollar cash crop. The families of hard working coal men supplimented their income and their diets from the mountains. Now this is not just being taken away, it is being destroyed.

The latest method to extract coal is called Mountain Top Removal. Yes, it is exactly what it sounds like. Rather than the tiresome and expensive digging of coal, the coal companies literally blow off the top of the mountain and scoop the coal out like a cantaloupe. How could someone ever have thought this was a good idea?!?? Rather than by expensive mining equipment, when the dust settles, the coal can be sifted and rounded up using off-the-shelf construction and earth-moving equipment. The industry argues that this practice should be expanded. It's about jobs they say. Yet, coal mining employment is down to less than 10% what it was 20 years ago. New "modern" mining practices use much less labor.

The good people of West Virginia, many of them with current and former family connections to the coal business, have their homes shaken and their dreams, literally, shattered by the massive explosions of Mountain Top Removal. One small boy was killed when an explosion threw a rock through the roof of his room. As much as 750 feet of mountaintop can be lost to one of these operations. Further, the forests and meadows that occupied the mountain top are lost. With nothing left but rock, rain washes off the mountains in torrents. Families that used to get flooded from below when the creek backed up, now get flooded from above too. The chemical residue of the mining operations sweeps down and soaks into lower soil. Homes and land have been swept away. One woman lost about 5 acres. Land that she used to grow vegetables on.

Ironically, I have felt a connection to West Virginia. I spent a weekend there a few months ago and have driven through many times. The hardwood covered Appalachians with ubiquitous rock outcroppings poking through here and there, have a special rugged beauty. The people are wonderfully nice. I rode a City Bus into Charleston from Nitro; at least a half hour ride. I had pleasant conversations in both directions. There is an active music and arts community. Just recently, I mentioned "Mountain Stage" a fabulous PRI radio show, it comes from West Virginia. [Hi, Adam] The thought occurred to me that WV would be a beautiful place to live for a while [after the boat, after the boat, after the boat. . . ] Now, I find it is being poisoned, blown up, and defaced on an almost biblical scale.

John Prine sang of missing Muhlenberg County, Kentucky. Literally, missing it because "Mr. Peabody's coal train has hauled it away." In WV, hauled away might even be preferred to stewing in a toxic, black, greasy pudding. There is an elementary school downhill from one of those dikes. Next time, you walk by an empty room with a light burning inside, think of West Virginia and step in there to turn it out. If you can, speak out against this.

Check out John singing "Paradise" with some friends:

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Fun with Highway Signs.

I delivered in Danvers, MA, a suburb of Boston, and didn't need to pick up until the next day. Lucky for me, my brother and his family live in Quincy on the southside. I haven't seen them in quite a while. My nephew is only 2 yro, so he is a whole different human than the infant I knew. My niece is 4 and cute as a button. I got to spend an afternoon with Tim and the kids and then an evening with everyone when Kathy got home. It was wonderful to see them all.

Tim and I even snuck out to catch some blues that night.

In Massachusetts, I saw one of my favorite signs. "CAUTION: Reduced Salt Area, Next Two Miles." I'm sure that it is for some watershed or other environmental reason, but I hear it is good for your heart too.

I have been trying to remember where my favorite highway sign was. Thursday morning I drove by it again. It is somewhere around the 185 mile marker on I-80, heading east. The sign has had a few iterations, but it's final version is the greatest; the best sign I've seen all year.

Hanging from cables run across the highway is a diamond shaped sign that says "Bridge May Be Icy." Some time later, PA DOT added a small rectangle bolted to the bottom tip of the diamond. It says "3/4 Mile." The last modification was to accessorize the sign with lights. There are two yellow lights on each side tip of the diamond and a small rectangle was bolted to the bottom of the first small addition. The new says "When Flashing." Taken together it says

"Bridge May Be Icy"

"3/4 Mile"

"When Flashing."

I wonder how far away it is when it is NOT flashing.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Yeah, Me and the LDS

I think the Church of the Latter Day Saints used to run a TV commercial that I'm thinking of. A young woman helps an older lady to cross the street. The camera pans to a guy in a work truck noticing significantly. Cut To: The guy from the truck helping a woman who has dropped her groceries. The camera pans to a man noticing significantly. Cut To: The second man helping someone who . . . You get the idea. And you've probably saw the commercial or one like it. I think it was the Mormons. Regardless, it was some church organization suggesting that we ought to be nice to each other; help each other; care about each other.

Many people think that Buddhism is simply "living in the moment." That is almost it but it's really just doing the right thing at this very moment. Knowing yourself well enough, dropping your trivial likes and dislikes, getting to the heart of you. Then making good choices. However, since we are all one, doing the right thing for you at this very moment is, actually, doing the right thing for the universe at this very moment. This is where I find myself agreeing with the LDS or whomever aired the ad.

It wouldn't be that hard to be a little nicer to people. Maybe its the election cycle, but I think we've lost our way. People are just being nasty. We've lost our sense of community and our honor. We need to care about and care for each other.

I pulled into a truckstop one night. I was standing in line at the fuel desk to get a shower, the girl behind the counter was Generation "Why Me." She had the thingy in her nose, and a tat on the inside of her wrist. She was having trouble and bristled with attitude. Come to find out, they had just updated the store computer and many of the items weren't in the system yet. One driver gave up when a case of bottled water just wouldn't ring up. He actually put it back on the shelf. The managers were gone, the girl was alone in the store. It wasn't all generational. She wasn't getting the support she needed. I felt her pain

The showers are being remodeled as well. All of us drivers were having to go out to a trailer in the parking lot to clean up. Not everybody was happy about that. Some drivers were letting the poor girl know their displeasure. All of us were standing around in the store with nothing to do but watch her work while we waited. She was feeling the mood in the room; it wasn't helping hers. My turn for a shower finally came and I had a great idea on the way back in.

It really is more work to be a complainer. And, it comes back on you eventually when you don't help others. It is so simple to be cheerful and helpful. And it really isn't that much extra work. Like Willie Nelson sang "It's the little things that mean a lot."

Let me tell you about an Ol' Trucker Trick I know, to show you how easy it is.

Back in the store, the poor girl was snarling in frustration. She might have had an attitude, but that night, she deserved to. I'm sure she didn't get paid nearly enough to deal with a bunch of cantankerous truckers who have to shower out in the parking lot, and can't even buy water. When a couple guys walk by with duffel bags, not believing that the showers are outside, I told them it was the hose around the corner.

Back to my fuel desk girl. She was sighing and frowning because some older trucker had brought his wife who also needed a shower. As the only woman in line, now they had to reconnoiter the trailer and the shower schedule to get her one.

"Man, I need some chocolate. What do you recommend?" I asked her.

She paused, almost not understanding, but recovered to suggest a Take Five bar.

"What are they like?" faking I've never had one.

"Oh, it's peanuts and caramel and a pretzel or something crunchy like that." She was just glad to empty her mind of the store issues. Then she gushed: "I really like them."

Bingo, I had her right where I wanted her.

"Back in the middle aisle," she shouted as I wandered toward the junk food.

I grabbed two King Size Take Five bars and headed back up front. There were five people, counting the old couple, hanging around waiting for showers. The unease hung round the place like stale cigarettes. I dropped the bars on the counter and shuffled through my wallet.

"Two Ninety Eight."

I handed her three dollars and then pushed one of the bars across the counter. "This one's for you. Maybe your night will get better."

"Oh, WOW!" She smiled wide and chuckled. "Thanks!" It was like a whole different person showed up. Now that's magic. And I didn't have to saw anyone in half.

As I walked out the door, I heard my two pennies drop in the "Need a Penny?" dish. The trucker's wife practically misty-eyed, smiled sheepishly at me as I passed. Just as I pushed the door open, I heard the rustle of a Take Five wrapper.

Try it you'll like it. The candy bar's not bad either.

The Cop and the Corn

I’ve written before about the DOT regulated hours I have to track as a truck driver. I can drive for eleven hours a day, but once I start,...