25 November 2012

I Think I'm a Dumbass...

Why? Why, you may ask, am I referring to myself in such a deprecating manner? Well, it appears that after nearly 38 years of driving (with only a few traffic citations, and a couple of less or more  tragic accidents), I have lost all ability to drive on America's Interstate Highway System. And this tragedy occurred between the time I left Richmond on Wednesday the last to drive to Ohio to visit family for Thanksgiving, and the time I left Ohio this morning to drive back. Apparently tryptophan causes people (read: me, though in this case I think it applies to everyone-bloody-else!) to forget the rules of the road, how to drive safely, and why and when you should slow down to 20MPH on a 70MPH speed limit highway.

"Thanks to the Interstate Highway System, it is now possible to travel across the country from coast to coast without seeing anything."
-- Charles Kuralt

I left Huntington after a late (long) breakfast with a friend, and headed east on I-64. Traffic on the first section, from Huntington to Charleston, was reasonably light, something I hoped would continue. But alas, it was not to be. I-64E merges with I-77S at Charleston, and to make it more complicated, it isn't really an Interstate since it is officially the West Virginia Turnpike, a very expensive tollroad with horrible curves and ridiculously steep mountains. The traffic levels picked up when I got past Charleston and the driving began to get crazy. I remember that when I took Drivers Education way back in 1977, one thing we learned was that signs like this...
...were REGULATORY, statutory signs, showing rules that were to be OBEYED. But in 2012, Speed Limits have become Speed Suggestions. I prefer to NOT drive 70 miles per hour, it eats gas (about 10% more per 5MPH over 60MPH), but with the LIMIT set that high (at a time when we bitch about $3+ per gallon gas prices - not a peep out of you Brits, please, this is highway robbery over here), you don't have much of a choice, since using good common sense says that the safest speed is the speed everyone else is moving at. But no one drives 70, they all want to do at least 75. So I cheat and set my cruise control at 73-74. Most of the time, I am OK to go in the right lane. But not today. I don't like people running up my exhaust pipe. However, it seems that the way most other drivers think you will get out of their way is to ZOOM up on your rear bumper and ride so close that I can't see their headlights. OK, you want to be an idiot? Watch this! As I leave my foot on the gas, and tap the brake pedal to flash the brake lights! WOOHOO! They practically swerve off the road to avoid hitting me, except that I didn't slow down! HAHAHAHAHAHA The ones that don't get the message get to watch me gradually slow down with no brakes, until they finally figure it out and go around me.

The other followers are the idjits are the ones who zoom up on my rear bumper when I'm in the LEFT lane, passing other cars in the right lane. I'm not getting out of their way. I'm moving with left lane traffic, passing cars on the right. So they pick a slight opening and zip into the right lane, and then cram themselves back in the left lane right in front of me. So whatever safe space I had is now gone. And what exactly have they gained? ZIPPO!

All of this is tailgating, and not the kind you do at the football game (or NASCAR race). It's fricking dangerous! I saw clumps of 2 dozen cars (I counted once) all less than a few feet apart! It's NOT NASCAR! These people do not understand that "crumple zones" and "Antilock Brakes" and "Airbags" do not make up for a SAFE STOPPING DISTANCE! While these safety "brake-throughs" might keep you alive, they do not prevent the crumple factor that means hours of delay on your trip, and all the inconvenience involved when your car is smashed up, not to mention the citation from a Virginia State Trooper that will probably cost you $200 or more. Back in the day, a safe stopping distance was one car length per 10MPH of speed. But that's hard to judge. So sometime later on, I learned that a better way to judge is to put TWO SECONDS between you and the car in front of you. That's easy to figure almost exactly. Pick a spot...a line on the pavement, a signpost, and when the rear bumper of the car in front of you passes that point, start counting one-thousand-one, one-thousand-two, and if your front bumper passes that point before you hit -two, back off. No one else seems to get this. If you are too close to me, you will see me slow down (see above). But I can always get more room.

I actually think that some of these clowns think they are drafting the other cars by following so closely. It's pretty humorous. That is because drafting only works with vehicles that are designed for it.
In the diagram above, the turbulence disappears as Δx gets smaller. Otherwise, it's no help. So all this "near bumper kissing" is stupid, and unsafe. I learned this is high school physics! Then I relearned it in University Physics nearly 20 years later using calculus. It's not rocket science. I am convinced that only the lowest common denominator drives these days. And it doesn't matter whether it's old folks or youngsters (provide your own definitions for these age ranges), they all

OK, final chapter of this rant. The stretch of I-64E between Beckley, WV and Lexington, VA (about 120 miles) is pretty desolate. On a holiday weekend like today, a few more cars are out there, but even with multiple state troopers sitting in the median strips, speed limits are mostly speed suggestions. But that's OK since the road is empty enough for me to drive my cruise controlled 73MPH. 

View Larger Map

Until I get to Exit 55. Exit 55 is the split for I-64 to head east on I-81 North, or to head south on I-81 South (makes sense, right?). Lots of times, I get off on Exit 55 and take US Rt. 11 North. US 11 is a beautiful scenic route up through the Shenandoah Valley that passes through a few neat old towns. The speed limit is 55MPH, though in the towns it is 35. I love it. While it is a four lane road, it is leisurely, laid back, and a lovely drive with NO STRESS!!! I intended for today to be no different. And I was glad I'd made that decision. Because, when I hit the split to I-81N, I instantly realized (about 1/2 mile too late) that I-81N was impersonating a parking lot. I rolled out of the access ramp at 55MPH, and laid on the brakes since nothing else was moving above 20. The merge was effortless since I just crowded out some clown in a Ford Exploder who refused to give me an extra inch. Yeah, I know, I've been railing against the "force their way in" crowd up until this point, but sometimes survival is important. I guess it didn't matter much, both lanes were moving at no more than 20. This is normal, and the only reason I decided to take this route, rather than get off back at Exit 55 onto Rt. 11 there was the fact that I'd passed up $3.399 gas in Covington in hopes of getting $3.149 gas at Raphine. 25¢/gallon is a lot when you need to save money and you need more than 10 gallons of petrol. So I am now stuck on I-81N/I-64E until I get to Exit 195. I can't wait. We inch along. I get space between me and the car in front because that way I don't have to ride my brakes to move at 10-15-20MPH. But that just means that the fucktards in the right lane take up that space, only to NOT move any faster. ARGH!!!!! GET ME TO EXIT 195!!!!!!

I see the Camping/Lodging sign, then the Food sign, then the Gas sign (all signs on American Interstates that show you the services that are available at the next exit). I see a truck-length space and dart into it! I am behind a gas tanker truck. I can't see anything in front of me. I prefer to be able to see MILES of roadway in front of me, so I can anticipate traffic movements, and now I am 100% blind. As I inch along, I see a sign I have NEVER seen before on the Interstate. This sign is PINK! I thought I was going to see an emergency mastectomy!!! (NO, I am NOT making fun of breast cancer!)
Who ever thought up THIS thing???? What this absolutely guarantees is that you will be held up by RUBBERNECKERS!!!! Those LOOKIE-LOOS who just have to slow down at the "scene"...if  you ever get there. So, the fricking sign that declares "Emergency Scene Ahead" implies that in a few miles or more, I will get to see a scene on the highway I am actually traveling on. 

Oh! Lo and Behold, There is the Exit! Dotted white lines to the right! I move into the Exit Lane! The OFFICIAL EXIT LANE!!!! But Holy CRAP!!!  There are VDOT trucks and orange cones and flashing amber lights blocking my ONLY way out of this. I have to duck back into a barely truck-length space in {gulp} 20 mile an hour traffic (HAHAHAHA). As I inch past the exit, I look over my right shoulder, and it is apparent that an accident has occurred on the exit ramp. A fire truck is blocking the exit ramp. An ambulance is visible facing up the exit ramp. A red tent has been erected in the middle of the road. That means it's a fatal accident. I am very unhappy about this. But I am also pissed that everyone on this damn interstate highway has to slow down to look at this spectacle where NOTHING IS VISIBLE! Let's get on with it, drivers!!!!

A few miles further up the highway, we finally regain Interstate speeds. But now I have to get off (no, not that way, but yeah, it's been several days, so yeah) and I see the exit I want, and fuel is only $3.1889. I can deal with that. I gas up, and the rest of the trip is uneventful. I manage to arrive home about 1030UTC. 

Sorry about this ridiculously long rant about drivers on the Interstate Highways. Needless to say, the trip from Raphine (my fuel stop) and my exit onto Rt. 288 (Veterans Memorial Highway) was more of the same, though I chilled out and didn't point my bazooka at any more drivers. I made it home in one piece. Thanks for riding along!!!

11 November 2012



Today is Veterans Day in the US, and Remembrance Day in the UK. I'd like to say THANK YOU in the biggest way possible to all of our veterans today! Your service has made and kept this country great, and I thank you for your sacrifice, because whether or not you ever saw "action", I know, after 15 years employment with the US Army, that serving in the military is a sacrifice of epic proportions. I have so much respect for the men and women I worked alongside while I was at Ft. Lee, Virginia. I know currently Active Duty and Reserve Soldiers and Marines. And every other veteran (Active Duty or Reserve) Soldier, Sailor, Airman, Marine, or Coast Guardsman deserve our utter and profound respect and pride.

My father was drafted soon after his eighteenth birthday in 1944. He served in the US Army in the Philippines during the occupation, I think. He never really talked much about his military service. I think part of that was that he was denied leave to come home for his father's funeral after a very unexpected death from a heart attack. In his words, he was guarding "empty warehouses" and nothing would change if he were sent home for a few days. Even intervention by the Red Cross would not sway the army's decision. Thus he was rather bitter about his service until much later in his life when he discovered his service entitled him to Veterans Affairs health care, which nicely supplemented his Medicare from the time he retired until his passing.

The picture to the left is Dad, in his official portrait, right after his induction.

He was awarded the Combat Infantry Badge while serving. I have one of his medals for this award. You weren't just handed this badge for being "in theater", you had to see action. So I guess at some point, he had someone shooting at him, and hopefully, he was shooting back!

What no one in the family knew, until we received the bronze plaque for his grave from the Dept. of Veterans Affairs in Washington, DC, was that he was also apparently awarded a Bronze Star. This is what I found about the awarding of the Bronze Star:
Authorization. Executive Order (E.O.) 9419 of 4 February 1944 as modified by E.O. 11046 of 24 August 1962 and the Defense Authorization Act of 2001, Section 1133.
Eligibility Requirements
Awarded to any person who, while serving in any capacity with the Armed Forces of the United States, distin­guishes himself/herself on or after 7 December 1941 by heroic or meritorious achievement or service, not involving participation in aerial flight.
(a) while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States;
(b) while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force; or
(c) while serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent party.
To justify this decoration, accomplishment or performance of duty above that normally expected, and sufficient to distinguish the individual among those performing comparable duties is required, although less than the requirements for the Silver Star or Legion of Merit. Minor acts of heroism in combat or single acts of merit or meritorious service in connection with military or naval operations may justify this award.
The recipient must be in receipt of Imminent Danger Pay during the qualifying period.
We had no idea. There was no ribbon amongst his personal effects, like the Combat Infantry Badge, but it could simply have been lost over time. Further research shows that you had to be recommended for this award by a commanding officer (not sure what level of rank this would require, but I'm guessing at least company level if not brigade or division). I am in the process of gathering the necessary information to apply to the National Archives to try to get a copy of the Citation that accompanies each award. {edit: My brother found dad's Service Record, and it lists the Bronze Star, so the VA should be able to supply the citation!}

I wish I'd had some inkling of this before dad passed away. I would have loved to know the circumstances of this award. But I guess some things just get lost in time. Anyway, again I say THANK YOU to all of our VETERANS on this special day of remembrance for them!
This is my dad with his two sisters, on leave between Basic Training and returning to his unit to be deployed to Japan, sometime around 1944-1945.

10 November 2012

A Final Election Commentary

For years, I've been bemoaning the fact that objective journalism seems to have been replaced, particularly in the television news media, by what can only be described as obvious and overt partisanship. I took some journalism classes in high school and college, and worked for several news agencies such as the university's newspaper (The Parthenon), the city newspaper (Huntington Herald-Dispatch), and did some freelancing for the Associated Press and United Press International (the wire services - what passed for the "Internet" of the news world in the 20th Century). Had I ever displayed the one-sided reporting like today's news reporting, I'd have been fired. The big TV networks do it, the newspapers do it (though mostly on the Op-ed pages where it is clear that it is opinion being offered). It's the primary reason that I quit watching TV news many years ago. It's sensationalized, very one-sided, and typically, if the subject is politics or other "controversial" subject, they are also very, very biased. As has been obvious (at least to me) during this election cycle, different networks tend to lean to the right or left, and they don't do a good job of indicating what is fact, and what is opinion and commentary. Thus the rise of such groups as PolitFact.com and FactCheck.org. "Back in the day," groups like this really weren't needed because the news media said "This side says this and we checked and this is the reality" which ever way it went.

On to the point. On Tuesday night, a friend, C, came over to watch the returns with me. I don't remember agreeing to this, because I intended to vote in the morning, then ignore the whole damn thing until Wednesday, and read it online. But I must have said "c'mon over". We watched ABC most of the evening, but close to 11:00PM, C says "let's have some laughs and switch over to FoxNews".  You can see where this is going, I'm sure. We're both pretty far left when it comes to social issues, but both of us are far more moderate when it comes to fiscal issues (though we do NOT totally agree with Mitt Romney's proposals). Anyway, FoxNews is known as a conservative - far right, actually - "news organization". So we are more or less laughing at the obviously biased reporting, and just after 11, when my Twitter feed, Facebook, and three news websites blew up with the announcement that Obama was now officially projected to win, since he'd just been officially projected to win Ohio, which was THE STATE you had to win to get your 270 Electoral Votes to become the president. Then this:

C and I were first trying to figure out if we'd missed something! Every network, every news feed, the newspapers, all were now 99.5% sure that Obama had won. Now to be honest, I was hoping they'd all declare Romney the winner, then we could have another "Dewey Defeats Truman" moment, and I'd get to laugh, Laugh, LAUGH!!!! But then today, while perusing my usual news feeds, trying to find balance, I saw this op-ed piece (clearly disclosed) about the whole Rove deal on FoxNews Tuesday night. (If you're dedicated and read through this, I'll tell you about C's trip to my house Tuesday, so you'll get another laugh before you leave.)

Karl Rove rejects reality

By Howard Kurtz, CNN
updated 2:57 PM EST, Fri November 9, 2012
Editor's note: Howard Kurtz is the host of CNN's "Reliable Sources" and is Newsweek's Washington bureau chief. He is also a contributor to the website Daily Download.

(CNN) -- As televised theater, it was hard to beat. As political prognostication, it was a head-scratching moment. As partisan warfare, it was nothing short of audacious.

But Karl Rove's insistence that Barack Obama had not carried Ohio -- despite the call by his own network, Fox News, that the president had done just that -- represented something larger. It captured, for some long and awkward moments, the refusal of some in the media-and-politics game to accept reality.

And that has been a recurring pattern this year.

We're not talking here about a bad judgment call by a pundit. Everyone in the commentary business, including yours truly, has made those. If failed predictions were a felony, the jails would be filled with media folks.

Rove, to be sure, is a smart guy. He wasn't called George W. Bush's architect for nothing. He helped his guy win two presidential elections. He knows polls inside out.

But Rove occupies a rather unique perch at Fox, and not just because he jumped from the Bush White House to the role of conservative cable commentator.

Rove, who also has a Wall Street Journal column, helped create two political action committees, American Crossroads and Crossroads Grassroots Political Strategies, that raised and spent about $175 million in this campaign, most of it on television ads promoting Mitt Romney or attacking Obama. He was, in every sense of the word, a full-fledged political player.

But he was also Fox's most visible contributor, appearing far more often than Sarah Palin, delivering his political insights on shows from morning to night.

Fox isn't the only news channel to employ active partisans -- CNN has a few, too -- and media organizations long ago decided to blur the line between journalism and politics.

I know the ties are generally disclosed, but personally, I wouldn't allow anyone who raises money or holds a party position to be on a news organization's payroll. Why should viewers think they're getting anything but one-sided spin?

Still, Rove undoubtedly wants to preserve his reputation as a political seer, which is why it was so stunning when he went rogue on Tuesday night.

It was a moment of high drama.

Fox News, CNN and MSNBC {my note: and ABC and the Associated Press} were each in the process of calling Ohio -- and thus the presidential race -- for Obama. But Rove began arguing with his Fox colleagues.

"I don't know what the outcome is gonna be, but you shouldn't, you gotta be careful about calling things when you've got something like 991 votes separating the two candidates and a quarter of the vote left to count," he said. "Even if they had made it on the basis of select precincts, I'd be very cautious about intruding in this process."

Rove was, of course, wrong; Obama won Ohio, and a second term. But what is striking is that he was challenging the decision-desk professionals at his network in a way that looked like he refused to accept the country's judgment.

This, unfortunately, has been a recurring theme all year. When Romney was down in the polls, some conservatives complained that media organizations were putting out biased surveys (which led to such sites as unskewedpolls.com). When unemployment dropped in September, even critics as prominent as Jack Welch accused the Obama administration of cooking the books without a scintilla of evidence.

And when Nate Silver, The New York Times' number-crunching blogger, predicted Obama had a 90% chance of winning, conservatives accused him of bias. Turns out he called the outcome correctly in every state.

Donald Trump, who hardly distinguished himself in this campaign by pushing the birther nonsense, ranted on Twitter on Election Night that Obama's victory was a "disgusting injustice." So he not only doesn't accept that the president was born in Hawaii, he doesn't accept that Obama won the election fair and square.

I wouldn't suggest that Rove believes in any of this conspiracy stuff, though he doubled down on Thursday by saying the president won by having "suppressed the vote," which flies in the face of Obama's efforts to boost turnout. But for a brief moment on Election Night, we got a glimpse of pure partisanship in the guise of journalism.

 Still with me? Now I get to make fun of a very dear friend. I can't remember if C knows about my blog, so if you do, and you read this, it's all in fun! As mentioned, I forgot that I'd agreed to this evening. But since I said "OK", I try my best not to renege, and C is a long time friend (over 30 years, one of the first people I met when I moved to Virginia back in 1980). We had agreed on 7PM, with pizza from me, snacks from him. I sent C directions to my house from HIS house, about 40 road miles south of me. But at about 4:30PM he calls me and says "I am in Richmond already" - where he had lived for 20+ years. I said "OK, where are you?" and gave  him what I considered very simple directions to get to my house from where he was:
Get on P-e South ("I know where that is")
Follow it to C-house Road
Bear right on C-house Road
Go through the stoplight, and turn right on C-ann Drive
Follow C-ann Road until it ends, and turn left
Go through the stop sign and make the first left onto {my street}
I am at the end of the street, house number is on big green sign on the mailbox post (highway style, engineering grade Scotchlite, visible from 300 yards away)
At 7:40PM, he hasn't arrived. Then the phone rings. It's C. He's on Midlothian Tnpk. He just passed a mall ("It was on my left" indicating to me that he was headed WEST, the correct direction) about 3 miles from where to turn to get to my house from this spot. I tell him that and he hangs up. Twenty minutes later he calls back. He's on another road altogether, and going the WRONG WAY! It takes another 40 minutes to get him turned around, talk him through two more wrong turns, and get him to my house. In the meantime, I have discovered that the pizza that had been delivered 40 minutes earlier and that I was keeping warm, was all wrong. So at least we had fresh pizza since I called Pizza Hut and bitched them out. I have to admit I was more than a little put out. I mean, I gave two sets of clear, concise directions to my house. And C simply could not follow them. He told me he'd put his location in Richmond in Mapquest, and didn't understand the directions. Thus my 7 step directions, which he didn't follow. Nor does he know what a fricking SatNav (GPS) is. ARGH!!!! I mean, I put a street address into my Garmin Nuvi 350 and I get where I'm going. He finally arrived at about 8:20PM, and we had a good time laughing at the Republicans and the biased news media reporting that they seemed to just keep adding to. He did finally admit that in his "I need help" call, he'd told me that the mall was on his left, when in fact it was on his right. If I'd known that then, I could have turned him around and saved an hour of grief. Anyone else not know their left from their right?!?!?!?!

OK, long post is over. Part rant, part rave! HAHAHA! Unusual for me!

30 October 2012

It's Over

My area of Virginia (usually known as Central Virginia) escaped the worst of Hurricane/Tropical Storm Sandy. Sandy thankfully took a more northerly route before turning inland and all of us should send our thoughts, prayers, and positive energy towards New York and New Jersey where the damage is pretty damn awful. Many people have died (I'll touch a little more on that in a bit). NYC will be more or less shut down for days thanks to flooded subways, flooded electrical systems, damaged roads and buildings, and a construction crane that fell over. The engineers had to climb 74 flights of stairs to get to where they could even evaluate the situation. Good luck with that one, folks. My blogger friends here in VA also seem to have escaped more than some seeping water and some driveway flooding. After a four day weekend, it will be back to work tomorrow.

Time for some Periodic Rants:

1) My employer has for the entire time I have worked there, used plain English to communicate closings to students and employees. For employees, they would just say "Central office and 12 month employees do not report", or "Central office employees and 12 months employees report". For the most part, employees who work less than 12 months (teachers, some support personnel, etc.) don't report unless students report. Here is the notice that was first put on the website telling us we were closed on Monday:
This is in plain English, and makes so much sense. Later on, the website was changed to this:
Now if we see a closure notice on TV, we're going to have to go online (or carry a cheat sheet with us - maybe the county will cover cheat tattooes) to see if any particular class of employee has to come to work. Code 0 is "no employees report". I like Class 0. But leave it to a bureaucracy to make a simple system complicated.

2) Many people died during the storm. Up and down the coast, people lost their lives, many times through their own stupidity. I noted earlier on my Facebook page that "...Two storm-related traffic fatalities have been confirmed by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner." Here's my rant: Why in the heck does it matter that two traffic fatalities are attributed to the storm? Every fricking time it rains around here, at least two people die in traffic-related accidents, but they don't get an official attribution in the VDEM press releases. No one can drive in the rain in Virginia. It's like the roads turn to ice and all brakes fail.

End of rants. Must get sleep so I can get in early tomorrow to avert the almost certain disaster that will await us as we try to bring 23 schools back online and functioning within about an hour before the bell rings!

28 October 2012


Due to the storm approaching our area, and Governor Bob McDonnell's declaration of an emergency in Virginia, the Dept. of Emergency Management (VDEM) has activated the Emergency Operations Center (EOC), and they have also activated the Amateur Radio Communications Auxiliary (ARCA). This is preparation for the likelihood that some locality's EOCs could lose normal communications routes and need Amateur Radio to communicate their needs to the EOC and their vast resources (even FEMA has a table in the EOC).

I spent ten hours operating the ARCA amateur station at the EOC on Saturday. It was fairly boring since nothing had hit the state by then, but it was nice to be able to get familiar with the equipment again without a lot of pressure. I also discovered that although I was able to access the Internet using the internal WiFi network, I could not access the WebEOC system which is a web-based system used statewide by all EOCs to communicate needs back to the VDEM EOC (which is conveniently located about 3 miles from my house in the basement of the State Police headquarters on Midlothian Turnpike). I emailed the support folks, one gentleman came down and confirmed the problem. A little while later, when the second ham showed up to work, he found them clustered around the servers that host WebEOC (sound familiar?). I happen to glance over at one of the screens and there it is! All loaded up and ready to go. But, now we have no Internet access. And it's affecting everyone who is using the WiFi network. This time, they get the networking folks involved, and within about 20 minutes, everything is working again.

About 11PM, I headed home, as did the other ham. Several others showed up early this morning to cover until 7AM Monday when four more of us (me included) will return for another 12 hour shift (or longer, partially depending on what happens at work on Tuesday). At least they feed us!

22 October 2012

And what a weekend it was!

I went off last weekend to the Fall RASSFest. RASS is short for the Richmond Area Speleological Society - note: cavers and caving...not spelunkers and spelunking...as our bumper stickers say, "Cavers Rescue Spelunkers" - whom we consider to the t-shirted, tennis-shoed crowd with a single flashlight apiece and way too much booze in them to be safe in any cave! I've been a member of this particular grotto (chapter) of the National Speleological Society since 1986. I spent about 12 years on the board of directors. One of the more contentious issues was the idea of buying some property to be used as a base camp, somewhere west of the Blue Ridge Mountains where caving country starts in Virginia. Finally, in about 1993, we found Eden in the Virginia mountains. In a place called Green Valley, we discovered 26+/- acres, and a motivated seller who did NOT want the property going to the adjacent landowner so he could expand his hunting guide business. We bought the property for next to nothing and set out to improve it.
The house the lady lived in needed extensive repair. We re-roofed it, put on a front porch that wasn't rotten, repaired the stoops, chimneys, and floors, and built bunks in all the rooms other than the kitchen. Upgraded the electrical service. The bunk house was born. We repaired the well, and beefed it up to provide water to the newly constructed bath house that included two flush toilets each for the men and women, and two shower heads for each gender. Hot showers are a godsend after a wet, muddy cave trip. Later on, some electricity was added for campers, and a pavilion was built for our gatherings to have a central spot. We have an official bon fire pit (since moved once we bothered to look UP and see that it was directly under the power lines serving the bath house). We are very careful with fire, and all campfires are required to be in metal rings, plus, we comply with all county fire bans, etc. After about 20 years of using this property, I posted this to the group's Facebook page yesterday:
An Open Letter to the members of RASS:
I admit I haven't been as active as I once was, but I was on the Board at the time we decided to look into purchasing some property in caving country. There were months of back and forth, pros and cons, and finally, we bought the RASS Field Station. 
The reason I write is to make sure one of those "forths" and "cons" has been put to bed:
I was thrilled to see the condition of the Field Station this weekend. WOW! RASS members and their guests have done an exceptional job of maintaining this property in pretty much pristine condition. I would like to say THANK YOU to everyone who has helped maintain the buildings and systems, and to everyone who has been so careful with maintaining the roads and camping areas, and have left it in better than they found it condition after visiting. It would be hard to uphold the old argument that "it'll just get trashed and ruined" after seeing the property after nearly 20 years of continuous use by RASS, VAR, members and guests, and so many others! It's GREAT to be a member of an organization that cares so much about the things they have that make their caving and camping and socializing and everything else so much easier. You all deserve the highest praise for that accomplishment!
NSS #####RL FE (I blanked my membership number because that can lead to some very personal information...RL means I am a Regular Life Member of the National Speleological Society, the FE means I am a Fellow of the {National Speleological} Society)
It really was great to be in this pristine spot in Green Valley camping with some of the nicest people I know.
As you read above, I haven't been particularly active with the cavers - and haven't been underground in a lot longer, but once a caver, always a caver.

One thing that my long absence from camping allowed me to realize was that there were four basic reasons why, as an Official Olde Farte (OOF), camping wasn't as attractive to me as it once was. The first of those reasons was that I am tired of sleeping on the ground. I don't care how expensive your "ground pad" is, if it is 7/16" of an inch thick, it will NOT be a comfortable thing to sleep on if you are a bony old man like me (even though I am pretty well padded). The second is that I have to, as an OOF, get up to pee more times than I care to count in the night. As a younger Olde Farte, I used a pee bottle - camp with me, never drink out of a square Nalgene bottle! Sleeping in a tent makes the use of a pee bottle almost mandatory in the winter - even the late fall months in the mountains. Number three..."Three shall be the number thou shalt count, and the number of the counting shall be three"...I am tired or dressing and undressing in a structure that is 36" high. Even my high dollar, top notch, best of the best mountaineering tent that I used in snowstorms with 50MPH winds and 12-15 inches of snow being dropped overnight, is only 44" high in the center. Getting dressed as an OOF in a freaking tent sucks in those conditions. And then there is the whole crawling out of a tent thing. Nothing like starting out the day officially damp...you get to crawl out through the dew/rain/snow. In any case, you are wet before you even start the day. Ugh. When I was young, OK, I could cope, deal with it, whatever. Now, not so much fun.
 So I went out and I bought a tent! But a different kind of tent. It attaches to the back of my Xterra. Now I can sleep in the back of the truck, off the ground, on a nice fat air mattress. I can slide out, and stand up to get dressed. Here's a  picture of my "spaceship":

The exterior
The interior (the mattress isn't pushed fully
into the truck)


My LED headlamps are hanging from the hooks at the top. The sleeping bag is a down filled, zero degree bag. I sleep on the mattress, and use the bag as a blanket. COMFY!!! I like comfy. And warm.
Dinner on Saturday was a real treat. I helped cook since I'm still not in any shape to go caving. Big, round and oddly shaped is a disaster waiting to happen in a cave. The cooking crew started at 11AM chopping vegetables, and threw it all into a 20 gallon cast iron cauldron over the fire.
This is the pavilion as we started dinner prep at 11AM.
Everything is so nicely laid out!
I chopped about 50 full cloves of garlic, 20 onions, lots of
celery, a bunch of yellow, green, red and orange peppers,
then about 10 pounds of smoked sausage.

Here's the veggies softening.
This turned into 10 gallons of spaghetti sauce! Here, the smoked
sausage and the 140 meatballs have been added to the mix.
Stirring is an art, so you bring out the flavors of the eye of newt
and tail of dragon!
This is the bread topping...they are slicing the tops off about
50 full cloves of garlic, which are then soaked in olive oil and
slow cooked for about 3 hours...then the garlic is squeezed to
get the meat into the dish, mixed with butter and some Italian
seasoning, and spread over Italian Pugliese bread. 
Here, Bob, John and Rich pour out the last
of the 20 pounds of spaghetti into serving
pans, the garlic bread is in the foreground. 
One of RASS' younger members ladling out
some of the ten gallons of spaghetti sauce.
There was none left after the line had gone through.
Remember that empty pavilion? Here it is at about 7:15PM as
80-85 people chow down on spaghetti, sauce, bread, salad (36
quarts worth) and...yeah...just wait...
Dessert was four "dump cakes"! 
Top to bottom: Apple and Pineapple with
Coconut topping, Apple and Pineapple with
Nuts and Coconut topping, Apple and Pineapple
with Nut topping, and Apple and Pineapple with
no topping! These were heavenly!!!
After the dinner, we gathered around the fire. It's a big fire. Ten feet in diameter, and soooo warm. 
The fire. 
Some of the crowd. 
We have some professional musicians in the club, and
they entertained us around the fire. 
And I leave you with this:
My feet. The bottle of Evan Williams is just out of sight to
my right! 

06 October 2012

A Bus Ride

I'm going to start out by asking you, no matter what your religious beliefs may be, to start this playlist while you read this post. I think you will understand the post a lot more if you do. I typed this through the tears of joy at remembering a seminal event in my life. One that solidified my religious beliefs and also contributed more to my movement from kid to adult than almost anything else ever in my life. And it revolved around a bus ride.

I used to be a very active religious kid. I was at church two or three nights a week. When I was in the sixth grade, I discovered youth choir. The music program at the church I attended had a very charismatic director, and he pulled us kids in right and left, and made learning music and performance fun. The next summer, between the seventh and eighth grades - 1972, we were encouraged to go to a Southern Baptist music camp. This camp was held at some neglected summer camp facility somewhere in the middle of nowhere. I didn't much like the camp. I am sure a lot of that was due to the fact that my voice picked that very week to crack for the first time. OH NO!!!! All the other boys were either not at that stage, or enough past it that it didn't matter. So I stuck out like a sore thumb. Other than that, it was a wonderful experience, and on Friday night, we performed the musical we had worked on all week for our families  then packed up and went home on Saturday morning. I decided I was going back the next year, come hell or high water, because I had something to prove - that my voice had settled down.
Of course, fate has a way of intervening in the best laid plans of mice and men. December 1972 saw my family moving from South Carolina to West-by-God-say-it-with-a-smile-Virginia. I was devastated in more ways than one. But I had no choice, and off to West Virginia I went. That's where I discovered the Fifth Avenue Baptist Singers, known as the FAB Singers (not "fab" but F-A-B). They also performed what were called folk musicals, and I fit right in.
Image being 14 and realizing you would be performing on this stage in
6 days!!! To a guaranteed full house!!!! Part of the pipe organ is
visible in the upper left. That's about a fourth of it.

When it was time to register for camp, I got mom on the job. By early spring, I was registered and looking for a way to get to South Carolina and back. What mom sort of neglected to tell me was that I wasn't going back to that awful summer camp facility, I was going to Furman University to the HIGH SCHOOL camp! Since I'd jumped from the 8th grade to the 9th grade because of the move, and the camp groups were based on school grade, not age. So  I was headed to a university to spend a week on campus, living in a dorm, and performing on Friday night in a 2000 seat auditorium with a HUGE pipe organ! Furman is located in the northwest corner of South Carolina in Greenville, and is a private Baptist school.

More interesting to me was that my mode of transportation was to be by Trailways bus! Excuse me? No roadtrip with mom and dad behind the wheel??? Oh. My. God. I was elated. And so scared I felt it in my balls.
I can remember surrendering my suitcase to the bottom
of this monstrosity, and having to manhandle my guitar
on board and overhead. 
Mom took me down to the bus station and we bought a roundtrip ticket from Huntington, WV to Greenville, SC. The trip down sucked. The bus was on a milk route. Meaning...it stopped at every damn crossroads between WV and SC. The 330-odd mile trip took nearly 24 hours. The worst part was that we didn't drive over the West Virginia Turnpike (back then the WV Turnpike was said to control the excess population of WV so maybe it was better we detoured around it). However, the "nearly parallel" road was far worse. Barely two lanes wide, and having no improvements like wide turns, it was a sea sick nightmare, though I did manage to avoid throwing up. Unlike several others on this train wreck of a bus ride. Most of them made it to the toilet located in the right rear of the coach. Note I said "most". Ugh. Route 16 in West Virginia should be demolished. Actually, now that the West Virginia Turnpike has been upgraded to almost-Interstate-grade, it is used by the few buses that traverse the state. It has to be easier riding. And driving. And far less sickness inducing.

Mom had arranged for a ride from the bus station to the university campus. I honestly don't remember how I got from the station to the campus, but I do remember having to drag my stuff what felt like halfway across the damn state to my dormitory. This stuff included clothes and my guitar. My roommate was a cool dude, and we hit it off immediately. Saturday night was an introduction to the week. We'd have various music classes in the mornings, then some lunchtime/early afternoon down time, then 3 to 5 hours of intensive rehearsal of the musical. (If you didn't start the YouTube playlist at the top, here it is again so you'll know what we were up against. We had a band, but in the recording the parts played by the orchestra were covered by the organ and band.) In the evenings there were social activities, more rehearsals, and bedtime. The next day, we'd get back at it. It was intense, to say the least, but I was loving every second of it. I had a classical guitar class. Totally awesome. Voice class. Music theory. Then the mass rehearsals. There were about 200 of us. Professional actors provided what you hear as the narration in the playlist. Soloists were selected from our midst. Our guitar class played our guitars for several pieces.

I just got to the Lord's Prayer part. Pardon me while I pray.
"Our Father, which art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy Name.
Thy Kingdom come.
Thy will be done on earth,
As it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive those that trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
The power, and the glory,
For ever and ever.

Friday night arrived. Unfortunately mom and dad couldn't make the trip down. I had 3 siblings that needed tending, and dad was busy at work. But that was OK with me. I saw how so many of the others were stressing out because their parents would be there. I was just scared my voice would crack again (it had once in a while on particularly high or low notes), or that I'd forget the guitar chords, or that I'd pass out from fright or I'd just somehow screw up what was, up to now, the largest performance I'd ever been a part of. And as predicted, the house was full. Every seat. Our entrance was down the aisles, the guitars playing, everyone singing, the organ going full tilt. It was so emotional, but we managed to keep it together and the whole ensemble assembled onstage. Then it got intense.

It came off tremendously.

But now the week was over. As the postlude to this post, if you haven't listened to the whole thing, at least click on this link and listen to the postlude of Celebrate Life! We all hung out in and around the auditorium until we were chased away. It was a bittersweet time. I made my way back across the campus to my dorm room and sadly stuffed my clothes back into my suitcase, cased up my guitar, and undressed for bed. Sleep was fitful.

One reason I had trouble sleeping was that I had no idea how I was getting back to the bus station the next morning. I finally got a few minutes, or hours (maybe) of sleep. Saturday dawned much too early. I was up, dressed, and out of the dorm. I had breakfast and started pulling my stuff back towards the auditorium, still unsure how I'd get back to the bus station in Greenville. Imagine my surprise when a van pulled up beside me and asked if I needed a ride. It was obviously a church van, with 5 or 6 of my fellow campers already in it (none of whom I knew). I explained my situation, and within a couple of minutes we were headed towards the Continental Trailways bus station in Greenville. I waved goodbye to my new found friends as they pulled away, and went into the bus station. It was a rather depressing cinder block building with a parking area much too small for many buses, as far as I could tell. I went up to the counter with my (round trip) ticket that had been purchased at the Trailways bus station in Huntington. The clerk looked at it. Then he looked at me. Then he handed me my ticket and said "I don't know where you got this, but we don't have a bus to Huntington". I was stunned. I asked what the heck I was supposed to do. I explained that I had bought the ticket in Huntington, as a round trip. His response was that Continental Trailways did not have a bus traveling to Huntington, WV and that basically, I was shit-out-of-luck. I suppose that I teared up, and started to cry. I might have been 14 years old, but I was a scared kid, 300+ miles from home, and I had just been told that I wasn't getting home by the prescribed route set out a few weeks earlier. The man looked at me, and said "Greyhound runs a bus up there". I asked what I was supposed to do about that. He said "Greyhound will accept your ticket from us and get you there." My next question was "how the {fuck} was I supposed to get to the Greyhound bus terminal?" His response was "take a taxi". I didn't know much about travelling by taxi, but I knew I had about two or three dollars in my pocket. Maybe a bit more. Back then, spending money for teenagers was a lot less than it is these days, and I (as planned, I guess) had little need for money.

But I didn't care. I got into a taxi out front. Told him to take me to the Greyhound bus terminal. So he did. I paid him with whatever cash I had. Then I confronted the man at the counter. There was some argument, and probably a few adolescent tears, but soon I had a ticket to Huntington, WV! Via Charleston, WV (40 miles from Huntington), with a 4 hour layover there.

I called mom collect. For those of you who might not know what a collect telephone call is, go read this. She was pretty upset that things had changed, but my distress actually calmed her, and she said "OK, we'll see you when you get here". I got on the bus. It was another long trip, but nothing like the milk run I'd endured coming down. The bus, a Greyhound this time, arrived in Charleston, WV at 2:00AM.

I called home again (collect), waking everyone up (I'm not sure I cared at that point). The connection didn't leave until something like 7:45AM. I could get home in 3 hours instead of something like 8 hours. Mom sent dad to get me. He wasn't particularly pleased, but I got home a lot sooner!

I grew up a lot during this adventure. I learned that my parents trusted me a lot. I know that my God looked out for me a lot. I was on my own, and overcame a fair number of obstacles. And I know that my God loves me! Thank you, God.