Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Failure to Communicate

An occasion arose where I needed to reserve a motel room in the small town of Heavener, Oklahoma. I have passed through Heavener several times on my way to Broken Bow Lake, but never stayed in the place. Heavener’s claim to fame is the Heavener Runestone, a rock alleged to hold an inscription by early Viking explorers. However , the authenticity of the markings are in dispute.

A Google search turned up one motel.

“Sorry, we’re full.”

Full? The week after Christmas? In Heavener, OK? Are there that many people in town to see the Runestone? Uh, okay, any other motels in town?”

"The Crane Motel,” he says.

Another Google search confirms that there is indeed a Crane Motel but there are no photos, no ads, no room rates, no reviews. Fearing that the Crane would be yet another experience to add to my list of Motels From Hell, I consult the map for the nearest town. Poteau is only 12 miles north. Close enough. Google lists three motels, all well known names.

Day’s Inn looked suitable and I dial the number at the top of the add, an 866 number. From the moment she said “Thank you for calling Day’s Inn,” I knew this gal was not from Oklahoma, unless there is a colony of East Indians somewhere in the corner of the state. Like in the country of India. I’m not talking about Apaches or Kiowas here.

Now those who know me, know that I am about as deaf as a fence post. I have amplified phones, headphones, hearing aids, even a speech to text phone for Pete’s sake, and I still struggle with phone conversations, especially a female, and more so when the female has an accent. I knew where this conversation was going before it started.

She mumbled something about room preference. That’s what it sounded like. I took a chance. “Non-smoking, lowest price.” There was a long silence. I must have guessed wrong. But she came back with “One night?” Okay, so far so good.

“So that’s one night, at Day’s in at Moore, Oklahoma?”

Moore is just outside Oklahoma City. How the hell did Moore get in the picture? Or did she really say Poteau? I was in big trouble.

“No,no, Poteau, Oklahoma as in P-o-t-e-a-u.”

“One moment, we have a lot of listings for Day’s Inn in Oklahoma.” Clearly, I was not communicating, with Annahanda, or Annabarisha, or Anaconda or whatever the hell her name was.
Storm clouds of impatience were gathering. My mood turning dark.

“Mr. Williams? I have a room at the Holiday Inn for $97 and that’s with a swimming pool.”

“Holiday Inn? What happened to Day’s Inn? Who do you work for anyway?” Then I realized, she probably said Day’s Inn, not Holiday. Had my aging ears deceived me once again?

"Darlin’, it’s been nice talking to you, but I got to find somebody that speaks Okie. Goodbye.”

More Internet searches and I find another number, a 918 number, my area code. I dial it.

“Day’s Inn of Poteau. This is Joanna.”

A native Oklahoman with a trace of southern accent. I was back among my people.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


My grandson loves to play video games. The gloating is hard to ignore when he trounces Grandpa at each and every session, but I manage. He has an X-Box, not a Play Station 3 which is the type of game I bought for him to put under his Christmas tree. The game had something to do with skateboarding, non-violent, and it looked to be more skill than competition. Grandpa could relax, watch football as grandpas are meant to do, and avoid the humiliation of being skunked at every level by an eight-year old.

The Missus and I entered the Target store, the game’s place of purchase, to make an exchange from PS3 to X-Box. The thing that caught my attention at the Customer Service desk was the sight of a young woman on her hands and knees, scooting across the counter. She was African-American, on the hefty side, and was apparently grabbing for some item in a shopping cart behind the counter. The woman was not happy. She was dropping F-bombs and MF-bombs like confetti on New Year’s Eve.

“Well this is interesting,” I say to the Missus. “Let’s watch and see what happens.”

Eventually the woman landed back on the customer side of the counter but the rant continued, big time, and loud, although I never got the gist of her complaint. A security guard shows up and the woman exits the store, expressing her displeasure with Target every step of the way. But that wasn’t the end of it.

Another woman, and I’m guessing it might have been her mother, took up the rant. The security man remained absolutely calm and professional as the older woman yelled that the only reason she was being treated this way was because she was black. The guard said that was not true and she said it was true, back and forth, back and forth, the conversation never varying from the topic of racial equality for a good minute or two. That’s when the younger girl re-entered the store. Uh oh.

By now, the shouting has caught the attention of everyone in that end of the building, shoppers frozen in their tracks, buggies at a standstill. It was a little like watching a tornado headed your way, good sense tells you to leave, but the fascination is mesmerizing. Until the girl yells “I got a gun!”

Suddenly, I felt this overwhelming urge to check out some of the sale items at the other end of the store. The Missus agreed that it was an outstanding idea.

We carefully inspected a few pots and pans in Housewares, taking our time, reading the labels, and listening for shots fired. But no. We made another stop at office supplies, weighing the value of retractable ball point pens versus the cheaper models, and then took a peek around the corner of the aisle. The coast was clear, no cops, no guns, no race riots. We made a run for it.

The grandkid can exchange his own damn gift.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Texter

It was during the Thursday morning coffee when I hear the ding-a-ling from a cell phone. Not mine, the Missus, which I ignored as always. She retrieves the device from the bedroom to check the call and finds that someone has left her a text message. This is unusual because she doesn’t text and neither do I. To me, an actual voice is much more efficient. Texting reminds me of Morse Code, a skill I failed to master in the United States Navy. That statement alone should give you a clue as to old I actually am.

The Missus decodes the message (and I present all messages here exactly as they were received.)

“Is Christy there?”

Need I point out that no one in this humble abode goes by the name of Christy, unless there’s a new cat somewhere on the premises that I’ve yet to meet. A few minutes pass, then another ding-a-ling; another message.

“Tell Christy I am horny this morning.”

Enough of that. I dial the number at the top of the message and hear something to the effect of:

“This mailbox is full.”

Hmmm. Now, I’m being charged for these messages right? It costs money to send and receive text messages doesn’t it? Enough is enough. I laboriously type out a reply. Didn’t take me more than oh, five or six minutes tops.

“You are calling the wrong number. Stop calling.”

Almost immediately, another ding:

“Is this her roommate?”

If I’d had the patience to type “What part of wrong number don’t you understand you imbecile?” I would have, but I didn’t.

Ding: “Oh, this is her roommate.”

By now we have a clear picture of the intelligence of the texter don’t we?

Ding: “so tell her i need to talk to her. i am horny.”

Ding: Is she there. I meet her once awhile back at Jacklyns place.

So what we have here is an imbecile male, texting someone he doesn’t know, declaring his state of sexual arousal, requesting that his desires be passed on to a girl that he met once. My Gawd.

I reply. “I don’t know any Christy. You are calling the wrong number. Stop calling.” (how do the kids do this so fast?)

Well that should be the end of that.

Ding: “OK”

Seconds later. Ding: “I get her number from Jacklyn.”

Kid, do your really think I give a damn where you got Christy’s number from? Knock it off. (I didn’t have the energy to send that but that’s what I was thinking.”

Then another Ding: “Bye”

Yes, he actually sent the one word message, “Bye”. Polite kid. Dumber than a box of rocks, but polite.

Texting: It’s the way to go. I wonder if he would text me Christy's phone number?

Friday, December 2, 2011

Ol' Weird Blue

The gray cat named Blue didn’t come home from the afternoon walk. Usually, that in itself, is no cause for the Missus to go into full panic mode, not yet. Yes, on most days, the Missus, her dog Juno, and Blue go for a walk in the neighborhood.

The scene of a woman with a fat dog on a leash being followed by a trotting cat as they make their way down the street is slightly strange to begin with. Most people don’t take their cats for a walk. It’s entirely voluntary on the cat’s part though. She patiently waits in the vicinity of the dog until she sees Juno’s excitement and the leash come off the hook. She then waits at the end of the driveway for the walk to proceed where she immediately falls in behind the dog, jogging along to keep pace. The procession has turned the head of more than one passing motorist.

Blue, if you recall, is strongly suspected of having mental problems. She is the one who constantly scans the skies for asteroids, Japanese Zeros, and UFO’s. A knowledge of the cat’s erratic behavior will help you to understand what happened yesterday.

Blue, you see, has this quirky habit of disappearing midway through the walk. One minute she’s there at her usual place in the column, and then—POOF—she’s gone. The vanishing act usually takes place on a dead-end road with heavy woods on either side. There she hides and wait’s until the rest of the troops pass by on the return leg home. But sometimes the cat misses her cue to fall in. Does she go to sleep and fail to hear the footsteps? No, because the Missus always calls out with her ear splitting KITTY, KITTY, KITTY call upon approaching the area. Whatever the reason, Blue often fails to show up.

Let us pause a moment for a breath of logic. Would it not seem, if the cat walked to the woods of her own accord, she could just as easily walk from the woods back to the house? HMMM? Seemingly not. Invariably, upon returning home and cat-less, the Missus jumps in the car and drives to the dead-end road where Blue then ambles out from the weeds and grasses with a what-the-hell-took-you-so-long look.

But yesterday, with yours truly out of town and the Missus with an afternoon appointment somewhere, did not have the time to scour the woods for old weird Blue when she once again failed to show for the return leg.

By 7 p.m., it was dark and cold. No Blue cat. My logic of the cat having a built in GPS and not to worry fell on deaf ears. Would I drive while she searched? Sigh. I get my coat and a flashlight.

The powerful beam of the light swept through neighbor’s yards with the ever present KITTY, KITTY call going at full volume. Lights came on. Silhouettes appeared in doorways. Mothers called to their children. I watched the rear view mirror for flashing red lights.

At last we reached the dead-end road. I drove to the end of it while watching for gleaming eyes in the night. We stop. More KITTY, KITTY calls and then, sure nuff, there in the red glow of the tail lights, the foolish feline appears. Go figure.

It’s enough to drive a man to drink.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Motels From Hell

Last Friday, I drove over to the Salt Plains National Wildlife Refuge in hopes of getting a few photos of Sandhill Cranes and, if I really got lucky, Whooping Cranes, a half dozen or so having been spotted a few days previously. It was not to be. Winds of thirty miles an hour, very little water on the refuge, and to top it off, the auto tour road was closed to accommodate a special hunt for the handicapped. The cranes were there but a good half mile away and impossible to get good photos of. The fact that I barely got a room at the only motel in the town of Cherokee reminded me of a piece I wrote for Photo Migrations, an on-line photography site. The article was titled Motels From Hell and is reproduced below.

Photography and motels are not compatible. Our most opportunistic time to be in the field is during those “golden light” periods when the sun is rising or setting and we get that magical glow on our subjects. Often we stay on location until dark and don’t even think about looking for a motel until our photographic lusts have been satisfied. Therein lies the problem. By the time we’re ready to relax and reflect upon our day, the rooms are all taken.

Oh sure, you could have reserved your crash pad earlier but were you absolutely sure where you were going to spend the night? Photographers need to be flexible and adapt to changing conditions, right? What if the refuge waters where all those birds were reported to be, were long gone due to lack of rain? Suppose the aspen, where you intended to make those beautiful landscapes, had all their leaves blown off by last night’s windstorm? No sense staying there. Go with the flow. Move on. Motel? Worry about it later.

However, we sometimes pay the price, a dear price, an “Oh Lord what now?” price, for our traveling independence. On one such occasion, I had arrived at a small coastal town in Texas where I had heard that a bird called an Oystercatacher could be found rather easily. Well, it wasn’t all that easy but I did find them on a narrow spit of land that you could drive onto if the tide wasn’t up. Merrily clicking away, I finally quit shooting about dark thirty and realized I had yet to find a room for the night.

NO VACANCY! It was the same all up and down Main Street when finally; I spotted a small motel at the edge of town without the dreaded NV sign but instead had another declaring “FISHING PEIR”. Not grasping the significance and grateful for any shelter, I did notice that several of the rooms had a small table and a bucket at the front door. Weird. Checked in, poured a small glass of refreshment, added a little ice, and kicked back to relax after a satisfying day of shooting. It was somewhere in the middle of Monday Night Football that I heard loud conversation outside my door and detected a bit of an aroma. Smelled something like…. DEAD FISH! Seems that I had chosen a fishing motel where the management gleefully supplies the fisherman with a fish cleaning table and a bucket for the remains. Fishermen, unlike photographers, can and do enjoy their sport all night; many of whom follow the time honored custom of sucking down mass quantities of beer while cleaning their catch. This is fine custom to be sure, and one to be respected  unless your room happens to be next to theirs.

It was at another Texas location, South Padre Island to be exact, where I once again failed to make a reservation. It seems that I had chosen a time to photograph the resident birds that coincided exactly with a ritual known as SPRING BREAK! Ten thousand drunken college students, sometimes frighteningly referred to as the future leaders of our country, had taken over the town and EVERY motel with it ¬¬¬ all but one. A small flickering light in the window proclaimed a life saving vacancy. There was one room left. With a huge sense of relief, I thankfully paid the man the princely sum of $25 and entered my temporary haven. The first hint of trouble came while attempting to close the window to the dense evening fog which had thoroughly dampened the room, including the bed, when the entire window frame FELL OUT OF THE WALL. Pounding it back into place with the base of the nightstand lamp, I realized there were even more problem areas. The bed had so many sagging curves it resembled the roller coaster at the Texas State Fair. Worst of all, the bedding looked as if it hadn’t been laundered since last year’s spring break. The sink dripped, of course, and the shower, of course. But most scary was the fact that the door didn’t lock, the only barrier between me and thousands of drunks roaming the streets. By now you have the picture; an exhausted photographer sitting up all night in a worn-out easy chair, dresser wedged under the doorknob, and hugging his camera bag like a security blanket.

At this point you may believe that all the motels from hell are in the state of Texas. Not true. I once traveled to a small town in western Oklahoma in search of prairie chickens. It was a Friday night but since there were at least two or three motels, I had no worries about getting a room. Mistake! Noticed there were lots of cars in the lot as I ambled in shortly after sundown.

“Oh Honey," the young lady at the desk said, “ I’m sorry but we’re all filled up. And so is everywhere else in town.”

“Filled up? On Friday night?” I asked incredulously.

“Yes. Didn’t you see the signs around town? This is the weekend for our annual COW CHIP THROWING FESTIVAL.”

“The what?”

“Cow chips Darlin’. Every year at this time, folks come in from miles around to see who can throw a cow chip the farthest. We have a band, eat watermelon, and just have a bang-up time. Sorry about the room. Why don’t you find a bed and breakfast and stick around for the fun?”

I thanked her, got in the old pickup, and wearily headed for the next town. Somehow the combination of cow chips and watermelon didn’t seem all that appealing.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Yellow Cat

The examination table was hard, black, and cold. The impersonal greenish-blue cast from the fluorescent lights overhead added to the uneasy feeling of what was to come. The vet entered the room, stuck a needle under the skin, and in moments, the Yellow Cat was gone. Just like that, it was over. The sedative, administered a few minutes earlier, made it easier for all of us. The cat grew quiet, the tension easing away, until he relaxed and lay down on the table where both the Missus and I stroked his fur one last time.

There was no question about doing the procedure, putting him down. He had contracted a virus called feline peritonitis; no cure, always fatal. A brochure explained that there were two varieties of the virus, one they referred to as “dry” and the other “wet”. The wet was what old Yellow Cat had. His belly was bloated with fluid as if he’d swallowed a balloon.

“We could drain it off,” the vet said, “but the fluid will return, probably in a couple weeks, maybe less. When it gets up in their chest and compresses the lungs, the animal starts to gasp for breath and panic sets in. Not good.”

There were other health problems as well. His right eyelid was cancerous, again no guarantee of success if treated, and then there was the weight loss. In the past couple months, the cat got skinnier and skinnier despite cleaning his bowl and always demanding more. Every rib stood out, his spine a ridge of bony bumps.

So, in the end, today, the options were few. But damn it, I liked ol’ Yella. Of all the cats, Yella was the best. He was perfectly happy to spend his days on the deck, curled up in whatever chair had some sun shining on it, taking cat naps, and peacefully watching the birds at the feeders. At night, he’d find a spot at the foot of the bed and not move until morning and time for breakfast. It was a far cry from his first few years here at the humble abode when Yella had the reputation of being the scourge of the neighborhood, terrorizing other cats on the block as well as the resident wildlife, earning him the nickname of the al-Qaida Cat.

He’d been a stray cat, one we brought from Tulsa when we moved to Sand Springs. He showed up on the porch one day, walked in like he owned the place, and eleven years later… he still did.

The Yellow Cat had a good life.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Icemaker Nightmares Are Back

Our new Maytag refrigerator has yet to see its first birthday, an infant really, and yet, the problems continue. There was the weird tap-tap-tapping noise a few months ago. That was fixed by the lonely Maytag repairman. But now, my old nemesis, the ice maker, has reared its ugly head once again. There were reservations about buying a fridge with a built in dispenser that spews ice out the front but I ignored the warnings. I was blinded by the tantalizing convenience of having ice and cold water for the evening spooker available at the tap. A one stop marvel. How cool is that? Tinkle, tinkle goes the ice, add a jigger of fine bourbon, top it off with chilled water, all without taking a step (provided you have planned ahead and stored the bourbon within easy reach which I of course did).

Except lately, the tinkle, tinkle has transformed into a roar of ice not unlike an avalanche you might see on Mt. McKinley. On pressing your glass against the lever, you hear an ominous grinding noise, nothing dropping out, not yet, and suddenly… WHOOSH, ice fills the glass, overflows, skids across the tile, making wet spots all over the kitchen, and scaring the bejesus out of the cats. You cannot jerk the glass out fast enough and even if you did, the damn thing keeps on spewing for oh…twenty or thirty minutes, that’s what it seems like anyway. Keep in mind that the Missus is still recovering from a broken foot and stepping on slick ice that I failed to find and pick up could be hazardous not only to her health, but my own as well.

Clearly, this is an unacceptable condition. Did I mention the warranty expires in two weeks? No, I did not buy an extended warranty, that’s against my principles, but the Missus strongly suggested that I look into it and adding I told you not to buy one of those dispensers in the door models didn’t I? A quick check reveals that Maytag wants $144 a year for the extended service or one can choose the 3 year plan at only $369. Such a deal.

Or, and this is probably what will happen, I will go about my spooker business as usual, keep the mop handy, and cuss Maytag on a daily basis. The cats can look out for themselves.

Monday, October 17, 2011

We Was Had!

    About that amazing demonstration on how water swirls in opposite directions depending on which side of the  equator you're on as described in Day Two of the Journal? Turns out, it may have been a parlor trick. Alert reader Anonymous provided this link.

An excerpt from the link is as follows:

I’ve heard of charlatans who hang around the equator in Kenya, carrying basins of water. They’ll stand on the southern side of the equator with the basin, pull a plug at the bottom, and show that it swirls out counter-clockwise. Then they’ll walk to the northern side of the equator, fill the basin and pull the plug, and it swirls out clockwise. Irrefutable proof? Be careful! You have to know all the initial conditions in any experiment, and in this one, there is one that is hidden from you. The huckster just has to add a slight rotation to the water before letting it out (for example, pour the water in at a very slight angle to give it an initial rotation, and it will “remember” that rotation as it swirls out of the basin.

Well, he had me fooled. It was indeed hard to believe what I was seeing but there it was! Gullible Gringos.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Ecuador: Journey's End

 Final day:

A morning shoot (rather uneventful), lunch at 11, and then back to Quito, a three hour drive. Home and all the comforts are starting to look very good indeed.

Carlos made one stop at an overlook for all to stretch their legs and take a photo if they so desired. Once again we pass over the Continental Divide. Someone points out a shrine with a religious figure in silhouette. Someone else asked if it was Darth Vader and there was a resemblance. Sacrilegious maybe, but funny.

By three o’clock, we had our room assignment at the Holiday Inn Express where we dropped off our bags and climbed back into the van for a one-way ride to the market place, or Gringo Land as it was called by our driver. Visualize a state fair, with booths side by side, filled with trinkets, blankets, colorful table cloths, refrigerator magnets, souvenirs of every description including replicas of shrunken heads. Now, mentally shrink the size of those booths to no more than six feet by four feet, merchandize piled from floor to ceiling with barely enough room for the proprietor to sit and you get the idea of what Gringo Land looks like. Row after row, aisle after narrow aisle, the sellers hawked their wares as shoppers must turn sideways to pass.

As my suitcase was already packed beyond full capacity, I settled for a tee shirt and a cloth patch for my collection of places I have visited. On the mile or so walk back to the motel, we stopped at a book store to peruse the bird books for future identification of the birds we had photographed. I opted not to buy one deciding that the names of such birds was not all that important to me and I would never remember them for very long anyway. It’s an old folks thing.

Directly across the street from our hotel was a Burger King, home of the Whopper. Guess where my roomie and I ate that night. The Ecuadorian food was great, quite tasty and interesting, but the lure of some good old, down-home, greasy French fries and hamburgers was too much to overcome.

With a wakeup call for 4:00 a.m., we turned in early, ready to go home.

With a 6:30 flight, the customs line was unbelievably long. I was further held up when the x-ray attendant had a problem with something in my camera bag. A man dug through every crevice and pocket until he found the objects of concern; two skinny three inch metal screwdrivers I keep in there for emergency repair. Once found, he was satisfied and waved me on.

Houston was another story. Late out of Quito we landed with only thirty five minutes before our next departure. Naturally we had to take a tram to the gate but arrived with ten minutes to spare only to discover the airlines had changed gates on us, one that was quite some distance from where we now stood. I looked at my watch. No way. That was when an airport lady came up in a golf cart and offered us a lift. I could have kissed her. She even radioed ahead that she had three for Tulsa that were on the way.

The stewardess slammed the aircraft door behind us and we lifted off, our final leg of the journey to Ecuador and back. Back to ice water, hot showers, TV in English, an evening spooker, and maybe the most appreciated of all, putting the toilet paper in the toilet.

Oh, almost forgot. I did not see one single cat in all of Ecuador, not in the city, not in the country, not at the farm houses, not a single doorway, or trotting down the road. Maybe that’s why the people there smile so much and the hummingbirds live in peace and harmony.

Many thanks to all those who followed the  journal.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Journey to Ecuador: Day 10

Our last full day of shooting begins with clear skies and warm temps. First light is the best time for the larger birds and I am able to capture my best photos of the Inca Jay as a pair of them call raucously from the tree tops. They seldom hold still for a portrait, flitting from branch to branch, always with a visual obstruction in the way of a decent photo. But what colorful birds they are with their green and yellow feathers shining in the sun.

Potential paperwork disaster appeared imminent when one of group, John, announced at the breakfast table that he had lost his passport. Having read horror stories of such things, I had the utmost sympathy for my travelling companion. We peppered John with questions; when did you see it last, where were you carrying it, did you have it at the last lodge? John couldn’t remember where he’d last seen the document. One of our group volunteered to go through his luggage with the efficiency and thoroughness of a TSA inspector but John was emphatic that it was not in any of his personal possessions. Our lodge manager, Alejandra , suggested the American Embassy but shook his head as he did so, not a good sign.

A few hours later and to our great relief (not to mention John’s), the passport was found. Somehow, it had fallen from its home in his laptop computer case to the floor and was leaning upright in a vertical position between the bed and the wall making it almost impossible to see from above.

By mid-morning most of the birds had moved on or were taking naps somewhere. I used the time to put on a macro lens and wander about in search of bugs or flowers. Ecuador has not only a great variety of birds, but many species of breathtaking wildflowers as well. Ignorant of their official names, I simply took photos and enjoyed their beauty as I leisurely walked the trails and explored the areas around the cabins.

Toward evening, Colin and I opened a bottle of wine previously purchased at the dining area the night before. We sat on our little veranda and were joined from time to time by other members of our group as they came in from their own personal photo endeavors where we swapped stories of what we had seen during the day. To me, this is one of the most pleasant aspects of group photography, sharing sights and sounds, the excitement of capturing a new species, and now, in this amazing digital world, having the ability to see the immediate results on the back of a camera or a laptop.

What a relief to have hot water and plenty of it for a shower that night. Of course, and as with the other lodges, there was that nasty little inconvenience with the toilet paper problem. There was that.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Journey to Ecuador: Day 9

Another day of bird photography here at Cabanas San Isidro. Looked out the window this morning to see clear skies, a blue bird day; at least an Ecuadorian blue bird anyway. Started off great with another Trogan, this time at a reasonable shooting distance, followed by more jays, and then a flycatcher that looked a lot like our Western Kingbird (at least to me it did). A beautiful woodpecker landed only three feet above my head but I couldn’t get a clear angle.

Had a new experience today. While hanging around the feeders, one very curious (or hungry) hummer landed on my finger and actually stuck his bill into my closed fist. Today, we were able to use natural light for a change and I believe the photos will look much better when viewed on the computer at home. Linda heard an owl call during the night and got out of bed to look. She found it and got the shot. What a trooper.

Plans were made to locate the owl again on the following night but despite a few suggestions to organize the shoot where we could all get a chance at it, the plan went out the window at first sight of the bird when a half dozen flashes hit it in the face and naturally the owl flew off. I had no more than 15 or 20 seconds to get the shot but since I am not as quick on the trigger as the younger crowd, I walked away with nothing. Group shoots may be fine for some, but when herd mentality takes over in pursuit of a single subject, it’s not my cup of tea

At least there was hot water in the room to ease my poor old back and disappointment. This room is larger with space to walk around and keep our bags out of the path to the bathroom at night. We have a work table and shelves as well. Pure luxury.

Dinner was not up to the usual standards but there was one new taste treat, black pepper ice cream. Sounds crazy but it was very good.

A brand new species here. Not sure of the scientific name but Colin dubbed it the Yellow-booted Rufous Crown. See below.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Journey to Ecuador: Day 8

6:30 a.m.:

 Raining again. Ugh. A few of us gather under the portico shivering in the cold. Our cameras are on tripods, power off, and silent. Photo ops are few, if you don’t count the birds we’ve already shot dozens of times. Some thankful soul went in the dining room and found a pot of coffee  for which we were all grateful. And so we stood around in our coats, watching our breath,  waiting for some decent light, and something new to appear.

There was one particular shot I wanted. A Swordbilled hummer feeding on a flower. Up until now, most photos of hummingbirds had been with them perched on a stick or at the man-made feeder. But the Swordbill, as the name implies, has a particularly long bill, the only hummingbird with a bill longer than its body. The tongue is even longer than the bill. The bird itself is about 51/2 inches long making it one of the largest hummers we will see. His bill is particularly adapt, as you might expect, at getting nectar from long and deep blossoms that the other hummers are physically unable to reach.

There was one such flower, red and yellow, visible from our chilly position, where others had observed the Swordbill doing his magic. One or two lucky souls already had the shot but my memory card was barren of Swordbills on flowers. The bird didn't feed there often,once or twice a day, being the norm. Tom sat on the spot for hours and didn’t get the shot. At last the rain gods smiled upon me as I patiently sat there with my lens pre-focused on the flower when the bird did his thing. Made my day.

Pancakes for breakfast, a first. Cereal and milk, reminded me of home. At 11:30 it was time to pack ‘em up and move em out. The scenic drive to our next lodge was beautiful. The road followed a raging rapids cutting between deeply divided mountains. At one point Carlos pulled over to let us get a good look at three distinctly different waterfalls cascading hundreds of feet down the mountainside.
After a brief stop at an internet café where Tom took care of some business, we arrived at our last and final birding lodge. Our cabin here is very nice, lots more room than the last. We even have a tiny front porch with our own hummingbird feeder out back, although we have yet to see a bird use it. Colin got the first bird of the day, a dazzling Inca Jay, very similar to the green jays of south Texas and Mexico. The game plan here, according to Tom, is do the hummers in the afternoon, and then devote the morning hours to the larger birds who frequent the lights where moths come in during the night.

Rather than the usual sticks and jumble of vegetation, this lodge has some actual flower stems where the birds sometimes perch, making for a much more pleasing photo. While some of the group seems content to capture as many species as possible and not worry about the setting, I prefer the more photogenic backgrounds, clean and colorful if possible. A little wing action doesn’t hurt either. If nothing else, there is a great view from the parking lot.

Much warmer here, back to tee shirts. Two rooms to a bungalow. Alejandra is our host and gives us a little welcome to the lodge speech. He tells us there is Wi-Fi here but it seldom works. How about never works?

The rain ended at noon. Weather is perfect. No wind! Not even 1 mph. Tomorrow looks promising.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Journey to Ecuador: Day 7

 Guango Lodge: Morning.

I awake at 6:30 to the sound of rain, from light to drizzle to mist and then downright heavy. Luckily there are two covered areas from which to photograph the birds. Problem was, we had already captured almost all of the resident birds to our memory cards so there was nothing to do but try to improve on what we already have. Overcast days can be fine for photography, a light overcast. Heavy and dark? Not so much.

By three, the drizzle had stopped. Mike and I were standing in a grove of plants, flowers, and palms. I had just made some shots of a Jack In the Box flower when some large but colorful bird flew between Mike and I and only knee high. We looked at each other. What the hell was that? Mike found the bird sitting on a walkway. It was another Trogan, the illusive bird we tried so hard for at the last lodge. Obviously, there was something wrong with it as birds do not normally sit on the ground while a half dozen photo geeks surround it. At one point Tom tried to pick it up with the intention of posing it on a limb but the bird found sudden life and flew, but not far. It found a nice limb and sat for photos for several minutes before it eventually took off, allegedly to find a doctor. The theory was that the bird had flown into a window somewhere and knocked itself silly just as the bird brains in the USA do.

One of our group, Rod, did not show up for breakfast where we learned he was ill and had put in a rough night. His roommate took him bananas and crackers during the day. Others have complained of queasy stomachs including yours truly, but all seem reasonably healthy today.

Between showers I took a hike down to a raging stream with white water crashing over and around boulders and as far as I could see. One slip and I would have ended up in Chile. I enjoyed the half hour of solitude with no competition to rush to and stake out the best spot for bird photos, and there’s always one best spot. Instead I concentrated on plant life, landscapes, and the stream.

We have four more nights in Ecuador. I ran out of whisky yesterday. Normally this would be a panic situation but fortunately Pilsener beer is available almost anywhere. Three bucks at this lodge. I can handle that.

Not sure what we ate today but feel confident it wasn’t Guiana pig. All evening meals start with soup. Tonight was tomato but had a yellow color to it. Very tasty as usual. Tuna patties, cubed potatoes, lightly fried, with asparagus. Dessert was delicious as always but I have no earthy idea what it was. Best guess was prunes with two pieces of cheese shaped like French fries. The meals here are served with a touch of artistry. A carrot slice had a star shaped cut out of the middle and stood on edge. The dessert usually has some sort of pattern or design to it.

Oh, I was wrong about the relaxation of the no toilet paper in the toilet rule. It was hidden in the guest book in a drawer. The big news is hot water! A good powerful spray to stand under and soak our aching muscles from handling heavy photo gear all day. It made up for the toilet paper nonsense.

The beds have three heavy wool blankets, a fluffy comforter, and one pillow. Enough to keep us warm at night but the room is c-c-c-cold. We have one electrical outlet. A thin extension cord runs to a single bedside lamp but instead of the lamp plugging in as normal, the plug is missing and the wires are poked into the end of the extension cord. In the interest of safety, electrical tape is wrapped around the whole connection. How thoughtful of the management.

My multiple outlet cord has been a trip saver. Between Colin and I, there are two AA battery chargers, two laptop chargers, multiple camera battery chargers, and one charger for my Kindle reader. If that doesn't overload the circuits and start a fire, nothing will. But come to think of it, a small fire would feel pretty good.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Journey to Ecuador: Day 6

Up at first light where we get our first good bird of the day, a Turquoise Jay, same shape as our jaybirds at home, but with deep blue feathers and black markings on the head. Someone spotted a Toucan waaay up in a tree, but no photos were made.

Okay, so we didn’t leave sharply at 8, more like 8:45. This after a breakfast of more granola mix and yogurt but this time with two fried eggs on the side.

It was a long ride back through Quito where we gassed up. During the bathroom break we couldn’t help but notice a uniformed man patrolling the pumps with an ammo belt across his chest and carrying a chrome plated shotgun. I think it’s safe to say that gas thievery at that particular station is rare.

Then east over the Continental Divide, ele. 12, 400 ft. and on to the next lodge, Guango. It took us nearly three hours in our not so plush van. Did I mention the driving here is terrifying? Our driver Carlos is quite skilled (or crazy) and misses collisions by mere inches. Passing on curves is common as most of the roads are a continuous series of s-turns. Cars cut in and out of lanes at will when clipping of bumpers seems inevitable. But nobody honks, close driving is a way of life here. However, Carlos had my heart in my throat today when he passed on yet another blind curve and met an oncoming truck. Hard breaks and a quick jerk of the wheel got us back in our lane with only seconds to spare. I tried my best so communicate  to Carlos how I felt, something like “Carlos, you’ re scaring the crap out of me.” Carlos shook his head to acknowledge his mistake.

Don’t know the temperature here, but it’s very chilly. A pullover hoodie felt good. Our room is clean but as usual, no heat or air. Colin and I have some concern about how cold it will get tonight. Best of all, there is no sign saying not to put the toilet paper in the toilet. (the rule was in effect, I just didn't know it) We have two towels apiece and an actual washcloth, a first. Hot water availability is unknown at the time of this writing.

Tom tells us the only birds we are likely to see here are more hummingbirds. I may have seen enough hummers to last me a lifetime. Some are incredibly fearless. When one tiny blue green hummer began feeding at a spot less than an arm’s length away, I decided to test his tolerance and slowly moved my hand toward it. Believe it or not, the bird actually let me pet him on the tail.

Dinner tonight was chicken stuffed with mushroom and spinach. Cucumber soup, rice, with a lettuce leaf and tomato slice. Desert was crepe with pears inside. Preceeding that, the waitress brought each of us a glass of hot drink, some kind of fruit juice with a spicy cinnamon taste. Ummm.

At the end of the day it’s raining again, a downpour. What adventure will tomorrow bring? Washed out roads perhaps?

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Journey to Ecuador: Day 5

We leave Mindo Loma at 10:02. I know this because Tom strives to keep his schedule tight and on time. The morning was more of the same, hummingbirds and more hummingbirds. I interrupted the routine with a few flower and fern photos. A Trogon, a relatively large and brightly colored bird, was spotted briefly. One member of our group got a quick shot but it looked to be a quarter mile away. All that I saw was his rear end disappearing into the jungle.

We take a short detour to a butterfly garden, admission $5. Here we see dozens of species of butterflies and all relatively easy to photograph. I am happy to spot the unique Clearwing butterfly, having seen only photos of it on the Internet. Here too is the Owl Eye butterfly with its distinctive and relatively large, black and yellow wing spot.

It’s a short drive to Bellavista, our third lodge, and we arrive just before eleven o’clock. If ever there was a dwelling in the clouds, this is it. The van travelled a one lane, rough and rocky road along a ridgeline with drop-offs so deep you couldn’t see the bottom. Mist and clouds moved in ghostly patterns across tree covered valleys and jagged mountain peaks. Our room here is a pleasant surprise, made entirely of bamboo, including the floor. I even have a bedside lamp for reading, my first since leaving Quito. But, let’s talk about the bathroom for a moment. As usual, each person is allotted one towel and one towel only. We are now at peace with this custom but here we have a new wrinkle. A tiny sign on the wall reads: Please do not put the toilet paper in the toilet.” Does anything seem horribly wrong with that statement? The instructions continue: Place all paper in waste can beside toilet. EWWWEHHH. Yuck! Is there no sanitation department in Ecuador? Can you say disease and plague? Okay, maybe not plague but can we agree on odor to make your eyes water. Does smell travel through and penetrate bamboo walls? Yes, it does.

Our first meal at Bellavista is lunch. Fish, rice, pumpkin soup, and broccoli on top of a tomato slice. Pumpkin cake for desert. The day is dark, overcast, with occasional light showers. A three o’clock rain has become routine. There are the usual multiple hummingbird feeders but here, the rule is NO FLASH. We don’t know why. With no light to speak of, and very quick birds, photography without flash is less than ideal, much less.

After a night of steady rain, the morning dawned with blue sky, fluffy clouds, and multiple layers of mist in the mountains. Colin and three other adventurers in our group sign up with a guide to take them deep into the forest in search of a magnificent bird called the Andean Cock-of-The-Rock. It’s bulbous red head make it a prime target for birders and photographers alike. Our foursome returned with some great shots and proclaimed the fee and the hike were well worth it despite the early departure time, five a.m.

My day didn’t begin until 6:30 when I peered out my bamboo window to see photographers scurrying around like ants, looking for targets of opportunity. Having previously captured several species of hummingbirds, my goal today was the Trogan. There are several varieties of Trogan so don’t ask which one I eventually got, but with the first sighting, my heartbeat jumped up several notches. With bird photography, one of the bigger challenges is to get the bird without twigs and leaves between you and the subject and in the Ecuadorian rain forest, there are very few clear fields of view. This was the case with the Trogan. Great bird but the brush sucked. When the bird eventually flew off, I went on to other species. There was a Wood Creeper, at least three times larger than the Brown Creeper I sometimes see in my backyard, that posed ever so nicely on a moss covered tree truck. Another cute little guy, the Cinnamon Flycatcher, cooperated for several minutes by sitting on a clean branch and just outside my room to boot.

The lodge has a myriad of trails. I chose one of only medium difficulty and set out to immerse myself in the lush tropical forest of ferns, elephant ear plants, and so much green you begin to think there are no other colors in Ecuador. As with other trails I’ve tried so far, this too was slick and somewhat muddy, but thankfully lacked the abrupt changes in elevation of the others. It was on a mountainside, with green going straight up on one side and green going straight down on the other. Sweeping vistas were hard to find. It was the classic case of not being able to see the forest for the trees. At one point , the silence was interrupted by the rustle of great wings. I looked up to see two parrots departing a tree directly above me. To my chagrin, I was unable to get a photo or appreciate their beauty.

Meals continue to be surprising. Breakfast was a type of granola, a mixture I have never seen in my life, and topped with not milk, but a thin yogurt. As always, a side dish of fruit, usually a banana, cantaloupe, and some unknown green thing. Lunch today was barbeque something, two small potatoes, and a salad. All this preceded by soup. Dessert reminds of some sort of cream pie or cake but nothing like I am used to. As of yet, I have made a happy plate at every meal, turning nothing away. I did read the Ecuadorians sometimes eat Guina pig, but to date, I’ve seen nothing that resembled the rodent. I never did find out what the barbeque was made from though.

It was during lunch that I reached up to adjust one of my hearing aids and found it missing. Now we’re talking a couple thousand bucks here. A major calamity. My feeling was that the most likely place to look for it was on the trail I had walked that morning. What with constantly switching shoulders while carrying the tripod and the overhanging limbs, I could easily have knocked it out of place.

Backtracking my trail was unlikely to be productive, the many rocks and twigs easily covering a little old hearing aid so I started with my room. And there it was, halfway between the bed and the bathroom, on the floor. How I avoided stepping on it is unknown.

The three o’clock rain arrived thirty minutes late and I used the time to peruse a huge photo book on the birds of Ecuador that I found in the dining area. I believe one could spend a lifetime here and never see them all. Amazing, amazing variety of species.

Tomorrow we leave sharply at 8 a.m. for another lodge and more adventures in bird photography. My chronic back pain is still with me but so far, not debilitating.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Journey to Ecuador: Day 4

After breakfast at Mirador, we shoot for a while and then take off for our second lodge on our itinerary, Mindo Loma. Eating and sleeping area are separated here with many steps up a hillside to reach the rooms. Perhaps in deference to my age, I am given a single room beneath the office. My first look was not encouraging. One bare bed frame was in the corner of the room; no mattress or pillow, no table, no AC, no heat, no towel, nothing. A young men tried to assure me with a combination of Spanish and English that the room would be ready later in the day and it was. On my next check, I had a mattress and blankets, even a night stand. But that evening I learned there was no hot water, zero, not even a hint of warm. And there never was.

Bird feeders are mostly on the rear deck with one in a courtyard in front of the office. We are allowed to move chairs from the dining room and place our cameras in front of the feeders and wait for a bird to come in, my idea of ideal nature photography. A cold Pilsener by my side helped to make the waiting times pass quickly.

During our evening meal, a Kinkajou was seen through the window taking bananas meant for the larger birds. The Kinkajou is sometimes called a honey bear but is a member of the raccoon family. To some, its face looked a little like an opossum. We were ready for it on the following night but once the flashes started, the animal became quite leery and only some of us were able to get a decent photo. I wasn’t one of them as my best shot is slightly out of focus..

Someone suggested a hike to a waterfall. My spirit was willing but my body wasn’t. The trail was very slick, muddy, and quite steep. I did a U after fifty yards or so but Colin went all the way only to fall twice more. Again, his equipment survived the spill.

It was almost a Twilight Zone thing. A man who was not in our party approached our man John as he sat in the courtyard and said “Aren’t you John Thornton?” Turns out both men were on the faculty of Oklahoma State University at the same time. Here we are, 3000 miles from Stillwater in a remote lodge deep in the rain forest of Ecuador, and two old friends cross paths. What are the odds?

The courtyard and walkways here are built of cement with embedded river rock, pretty but hard to walk on, and treacherous when wet. Those multiple steps leading to the other rooms are completely unlit at night, navigable only if you own a small flashlight. I can only conclude that Ecuador has very few personal injury lawyers.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Journey to Ecuador: Day 3

We gather in the dining area of the Holiday Inn for breakfast where we meet our entire party of photographers. Included are three Okies, Colin, John, and myself, four North Dakotans, Mike, Alice, Rod, and Jerry, and three from Montana, Jan, Tom our leader, and his girl friend Linda. Outside, a large van awaits, driven by Carlos, our chauffeur for the entire stay.

After a long drive, we arrive at our first birding lodge, Mirador, overlooking a beautiful green valley with a rushing river at the bottom. The Mirador is nothing like the Holiday Inn but it is adequate and we are not here for creature comforts. Who needs hot water or temperature controlled rooms anyway?

As it turned out, we had to stay at a motel three blocks from where we booked our lodge as we were bumped from our rooms by government officials. No further explanation. Our room was stark and devoid of amenities except for a TV that we never turned on. One towel apiece, no washcloths, two bars of soap. One overhead light. Tile floor. Luke warm water.

After a morning shoot with stunningly beautiful hummingbirds at multiple feeders, I had my first Ecuadorian beer for lunch, a Pilsener. It comes in a 22 oz. bottle and is quite palatable. Cost? Two bucks, such a deal. Our meals here are typical of what we would eat throughout our journey. Breakfast was scrambled eggs, no sausage, no bacon. Lots of brown bread but not toasted. A fruit dish was a common side. Coffee or café’ as they pronounced it, was slow getting to the table and rarely more than luke warm.

Lunch was fried potatoes, chicken strips, soup, and some vegetable that I forget. Probably broccoli.

Twice, I ordered fried shrimp for the evening meal and it is was delicious. It seems different than the American version as the cooking oil, whatever they use, is light and thin, and doesn’t leave the crusty oil coating that we are used to.

The next day, we continue to improve on our shots of the hummers. A small trail winding beneath the lodge had several gorgeous flowers that resulted in some decent images. But a gardener pointed out an amazing  green lizard, so hidden and camouflaged it was almost impossible to see. All of us were thrilled with opportunity to photograph it. The lizard didn’t move more than ten inches in two days.

Colin slipped on a wet board while crossing a foot bridge and took a hard fall. Thankfully there was no damage to his camera equipment. We photo geeks do have our priorities you know.

The remainder of the day is cut short by another afternoon shower. We use the time to edit some of our shots and to download from our cameras to the laptops. What a change from the old days of film where you had no idea what you had until several days after returning home. The instant feedback allows corrections to be made in mere seconds, then shoot again until you have it right. Makes you wonder how Ansel Adams ever lived without it.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Journey to Ecuador: Day 2

A few of us board a van for a tour of the city, an extra charge, but something I wanted to do. May never pass this way again and all that. Our tour guide is Roberto and the driver is Eduardo. Roberto speaks very good English and is quite knowledgeable about his home town. Our group is warned to leave our money and passports at the hotel as there are many crafty pickpockets in Quito. We visit a town square crowded with people, and a couple of magnificent churches, one seeming made of gold.

Photos were not allowed in  some of the churches but I came across a scene inside one of them that I would have loved to photograph. An elderly woman sat alone near the front of the altar, eyes closed, smiling, her lips moving, seemingly in prayer. The beatific look on her face was of complete serenity, talking to her God. What an image… until I realized she was actually yakking on a cell phone!

We drive to the top of an extinct volcano and peer into the now green and grassy core. Wooden shelters at the rim serve as shops for the locals to sell their wares to the tourists, everything from flutes to scarves to coats.

Next stop is a tourist attraction for those who want to say they have been to the equator, latitude 00°00’00’’. On the way, Roberto points out a structure built several years ago that was believed to be located on the exact line of the equator.

Later, modern GPS revealed that the location was inaccurate. The true equator line was 600 meters father north. Oops.

As we arrive, another guide explains how there is no equinox in Ecuador. The seasons here are rainy and not so rainy. One demonstration was particularly interesting. A basin on legs was filled with water from a bucket. The guide told us to watch as the water drained and in particular, the direction of the swirl. A few small floating leaves were in the water as a visual aid. He then moved the basin no more than ten feet to the left of the actual equator (this time confirmed by GPS) and repeated the action. The water swirled clockwise. Next he relocated the apparatus ten feet to the right of the line and once again we watched as he pulled the plug. The water swirled counter-clockwise. Unbelievable that so few feet would make the difference.

A demonstration using a vertical stick mounted on a platform, showed a small shadow much shorter than the length of the stick. It was explained that in a few days, there would be no shadow as the sun would be directly overhead.

Roberto takes us to a nice restaurant in downtown Quito. The meal is not part of the trip cost and we pay for it out of our own pockets. I hand the man a fifty dollar bill and he shakes his head no, he won’t accept it. Roberto explains: There was a time when some bad currency was floating around Ecuador, particularly hundreds and fifties, and most merchants are wary of taking them. As most of the money I brought with me is in large bills, it seems I may have a problem. How about a bank I ask. Will they change it? No, says Roberto. Another uh oh. Back at the hotel, I smile at the girl behind the desk and hand her a Ben Franklin. No problem, she says and hands me my change in twenties. Thankfully the Ecuadorians use the same currency as the U.S.A. Whew!

Ten days of bird photography begin tomorrow morning. Woo Hoo.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Journey to Ecuador

When I learned that my friend and pro wildlife photographer Tom Ulrich, was leading another trip to Ecuador to photograph the exotic birds that live there, I was tempted. But the old body isn’t what it used to be, chronic back pain, neuropathy in my feet, and deaf as a stump, I was fearful that that old bones would not hold up for the scheduled two week stay or that I would not hear my flight number and end up in Argentina. Then Colin Smith, my companion of many journeys, called to say that he had signed up and would volunteer to be my “ears” and to help with the heavy lifting. I plunked down my money and the planning began.

Day 1: Travel Day

Colin and I arrive at Tulsa International in plenty of time to deal with long lines and security checks but upon arriving at the gate, I realized that I did not get a baggage claim ticket at check in. That could be a problem in Ecuador. There were no airline officials in sight and so I was faced with the dilemma of returning to check in, get my claim ticket, and going back through those agonizing lines all over again. I checked the departure time once again and weighed my options. What to do, what to do? I already have a quandary, and I’m not even out of Tulsa yet. A man with a uniform shows up and I ask if they can somehow send a copy of my claim to the gate for printout. He asks if I have checked the back of my boarding pass. Huh? Yes, there it was, of course, securely stuck to the form. Not a good start.

We change planes in Houston and arrive in Quito, Ecuador, population around 2,700,000, about 11:30 p.m. after a five hour flight and 2,800 miles. We are the last plane allowed to land due to incoming fog. Holiday Inn has a van waiting and Tom checks us in with no problems. First new experience was with the elevator. You push the floor button but nothing happens. Found out you had to use your key card and wave it across a sensor, a security thing I guess. The elevator doors open to a dark hallway but motion sensors turn the lights on. We are soon to learn that electricity consumption is held to a bare minimum in all of Ecuador. Not sure if it’s an ecological thing or the price per kilowatt hour. I am told it’s the latter.

Like the hallway, our room is also dark and the switches seems to be ineffective. We locate another key card slot on the wall that accepts our room card and activates the switches. Remove the card and the lights go out. These guys are serious about their lights.

There is heat and air, after all this is a Holiday Inn, but the thermostat instructions are complicated and all in Spanish. I devote all my forty odd years with electronics to solving the puzzle, finally figure the damn thing out and soon, cool breezes drive away the stuffy air. But if you leave your room and remove the card from the magic slot, the AC shuts off and you have to reprogram it all over again.

The rooms are nicely furnished but slightly different from most hotels I’ve stayed. The shower head, about the size of a dinner plate, is mounted in the ceiling directly over the tub. The beds have a bottom sheet but use a thick stuffed comforter for warmth, obviously for the Gringos who can’t figure out how to turn the heat on.

The TV had multiple channels but all were in Spanish with the exception of Fox News. I didn’t watch much of that.

To be continued.

View from the room at Holiday Inn Express.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ten Years After

For the past week or so, numerous TV programs and newspaper articles have taken us back to that horrific day—September 11, 2001. Everyone has his or her personal memories of the event; where you were, what you were doing. Mine is of little difference from the majority of Americans on that fateful day nor is it particularly interesting, but I wanted to write about it anyway.

Harley, my black lab, and I had just turned from the driveway for our routine morning walk, when I heard a radio from somewhere, the volume on high. Turns out it was coming from the pickup of a bricklayer involved in new construction of a house across the street from mine. The announcer was saying something about a fire at the Pentagon.

Hmm, I think. Wonder what that’s about? Probably a faulty electrical system or sparks from a careless welder.

The dog and I covered the usual distance and as we returned from our loop, the radio voice, still blaring, said one of the towers of the World Trade Center had just collapsed.

What? What was that? Surely I didn’t hear it right. The World Trade Center? No way!

Inside, I click the TV and tune it to CNN. The screen is filled with an image of New York City enveloped in smoke and dust, gigantic dirty clouds billowing up and eastward, obscuring most of the buildings.

My mind seems unable to comprehend what my eyes are seeing.

That can’t be New York City. Can it? How can that be? This is the United States of America. We don’t lose entire cities. What the hell is going on?

The phone rang. My son asked, “Are you watching TV?”

I was, but it looked more like a horror movie or some video game than live television.

Soon, the replays began; the planes and the horrible collisions, the people jumping to their deaths to escape the flames, the gut wrenching collapse of the towers, Tom Brokaw explaining what I was seeing but didn’t want to believe.

When I began to hear of the panic that was sweeping across the country and the growing lines at gas stations, I called the Missus—who happened to be in Missouri at the time—to discuss the options. Knowing she could make the return trip to Tulsa on one tank of gas, she would fill up at the local pump before starting out. Running out of gas on the highway on this day could be a major problem.

Later, she called to say that the first station she tried did indeed have a long line of cars and people were already getting ugly, some jumping the line with shoving and shouting. A second station had only four cars in queue and she was able to fill the tank without incident.

Like most everyone else, I stayed glued to the TV for the next three days or so going from sad to angry to compassionate, unable to comprehend that someone or some group could do such a horrendous act.

Ten years later, I have the same feelings.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Losing It

One minute you have it in your hand and the next, it’s gone. Ever happen to you? No? Get ready. It’s coming.

It starts with the little things, a newspaper, a screwdriver, maybe a soft drink. You look at it, use it, drink it, set it down—just for a second—and it disappears. You didn’t lose it. Someone moved it, or worse, stole it. There’s no other explanation. How can a solid object vanish into thin air? It defies logic.

As you get older, the condition escalates. Instead of misplacing something simple like a pen, or the card with your doctor’s appointment, or God help you, the TV remote, now it’s the car keys and you’re running late and WHO THE HELL USED MY KEYS LAST?

Lately, I’ve been having a problem keeping track of my cell phone. Not so much misplacing it but actually losing the damn thing,  like it was on my belt and now it isn’t thing. Okay, so a couple of those times I did leave it in the car, but one day, I couldn’t find the phone anywhere. Yes, I tried calling it from a landline, running from room to room, checking the wife’s car, the pickup, over and over until the battery apparently went dead with nary a single ding-a-ling within earshot.

It showed up, eventually, where I’d dropped it on the floorboard of a relative’s car. But then, last week, same story. I retraced my previous day’s route and found it at the local Walgreen’s where some kind soul had left it at the counter.

Losing a cell is serious enough but consider this sad tale: It was the grand opening of a new Tractor Supply store right here in Sand Springs. Tractor Supply is a lot like an Atwood’s with all manner of things for ranch and farm, salt blocks, horse meds, fencing, things like that. The ad in the paper offered $10 off any purchase including bird seed, an item in which I was of dire need. Have to keep my feathered friends happy you know.

At the checkout, I open my wallet for my well-worn blue Visa card and…it’s not there. Surely I’ve misplaced it and not lost it. It has to be in there somewhere, behind something, in the wrong slot maybe. I’m digging and poking and the clerk is giving me one of those not another one of you people looks and I’m panicking. People are stacking up behind me with their own $10 off coupon and things are getting ugly. Luckily, I find enough one-dollar bills and pocket change to cover the charges and the management allows me to leave without a call to the Sand Springs Police Department. The credit card however, was gone.

All manner of scenarios are playing through my head on the drive home. Where did I use it last? Did it fall out on the floor somewhere and right this minute some dude is charging High Def TV’s, Play Station 3’s, and .357 magnums to my account? Got to call the bank, that’s the first thing. Cancel that baby out. But what if I get some guy from India named Ahmad and I can’t understand him and he gets mad and tells me in his little sing-song accent, “Mr. Williams, you are screwed”? Where does that leave me?

Back at the abode, drenched in sweat, and nervous as Mike Tyson reading a book, I lay all my cards on the kitchen table and go through them one by one. There’s my driver’s license, my AAA card, my medical card, my fishing license, my red Visa card, my Sear’s ca…wait a minute, RED Visa card? RED? It was one of those moments, senior moments we like to call them, but what we really mean is that dementia has us by the throat and the light is fading.

My blue Visa card you see, had expired, replaced by a shiny red one. Yes, I swapped it out but I hadn’t used it since, hence the mental lapse.

 However, I’m not ruling out an alien force, a mysterious laser-like beam from outer space, and able to cloud men’s minds. Don’t laugh. They’re gunning for you as well, and one of these days….

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Butt Honey, I Didn't Mean It!

It was a typical early evening here at the humble abode, sitting around, sipping a spooker, watching Brian Williams on the NBC Evening News, when I hear a call from the bathroom.

“There’s something wrong with my butt. Come take a look.”

Now I’ve been married to that particular butt for over fifty years and have seen it in a variety of conditions; clothed, nude, wet, dry, pale, shining, sun burnt, and chigger bit. I have seen it young, wrinkle free, and ahem…otherwise. At this stage in life, nothing about that butt could surprise me, or so I thought.

“Check out my right cheek,” says the Missus twisting for a better angle in the mirror. “It’s deformed.”

She was absolutely right. There was a notable difference between the left and right mound. The right, I hated to admit was, and how can I put this delicately, sagging. The left, admittedly but a shadow of its former 19-year-old self—first observed on a memorable wedding night in Kansas City—remained relatively perky. The right, however, was that of a much older woman, one in bad health and possibly suffering from malnutrition, seemingly belonging to some poor Jewish woman in a Nazi concentration camp.

But after thinking it through, a theory came to light. Since her accident with the broken right foot, that side of her body, from the waist down, had been without a lick of exercise, grown soft, and yes, saggy. The left, on the other hand was muscled up, toned up, and growing stronger by the day, probably due to that peculiar one-footed bunny hop up that she does going up and down the hallway. So strong in fact, that I have fears about her kicking my ass with her new Super Foot.

It was in that light, that I made my carefully measured response.

“Oh love of my life (or something to that effect) fear not. What you see is a perfectly natural condition due to your unfortunate accident, and with the proper care lovingly bestowed by your faithful husband, a little bit of professional therapy, and a reasonable amount of time from Mother Nature, your butt shall return to its natural beauty before you know it.”

Her reply? It was a direct quote from Joe Wilson, R-South Carolina, to President Barack Obama in the middle of his speech to congress.

“You lie,” she said.

She had me there.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Shopping Insanity

For nearly two months now, ever since the Missus came up lame, I have taken on many new tasks, not the least of which is grocery shopping. Until recently, my typical grocery list was quite simple, a 12 pack of beer, a frozen pizza, maybe some chips and salsa. Done. In an emergency, I sometimes made a run for a bottle of Spicy Hot V-8 juice for a Bloody Mary but that was about it. That has now changed.

Now I’m picking up the whole nine yards of food stuffs; lettuce, tomatoes, potatoes, onions, soups to nuts. I could go on but you get the idea. Shopping in the real world is a completely new skill set for me, one that I have yet to master. Rookie errors such as the following were common. Consider:

• A gallon of milk with an expiration date two days away.

• Bananas with dark spots.

• Tomatoes with soft spots.

• A 5 lb. sack of potatoes rather than the more economical ten pounder.

• Wrong kind of lettuce. (Got a big deduct on that one.)

And who knew there were so many varieties of soup? You got your reduced fat, your salt free, your big cans and little cans, not to mention dozens of brands.

Tuna, my list said. Sure wifey, what kind? Tuna in water? Tuna in oil? Tuna in a soft pack or tuna in a tin? Six ounces or twelve?

Butter and cheese? I’m not even going there. It was maddening.

And how do you ladies find this stuff? I walked eleven miles looking for something called dill; the single form of which I thought was a pickle. Nope, it’s a spice. But all you savvy shoppers knew that.

Which brings us to the checkout lines. Suddenly it became crystal clear why the Missus often returns from the grocery with a less than cheerful attitude. The lady in front of me with the tattoos was evidently buying for half the families in her trailer park. As the cashier rang up a dozen or so items, the lady would stop him, dig out an envelope from her purse, sort through the loose money, and settle up. The process was then repeated, more items, another envelope, more money, another transaction taken care of. Why there are not more homicides in grocery stores shall forever be a mystery to me.

At last, it was my turn. The checker was a pimple-faced kid that looked freshly promoted from his last position of retrieving carts from the parking lot.

“Broccoli?” he asked, holding up a strange looking green thing.

“I hope so pal. Ask that woman with the tattoos. That gal knows how to shop.”

Saturday, August 13, 2011


My reluctant role as neighborhood animal serial killer was  in play again this morning. You may recall the rabid—or seemingly so—raccoon in the backyard. Then there was the mortally injured stray cat at the end of the street. Today , while on my morning walk, I happen upon an opossum, also in the middle of the street. It was lying on its side and I naturally assumed it was dead. Not the case. As I approached, it got to its feet but instead of running off, stood there and looked at me. I did a walk around and checked for damage but the only sign of harm was what looked to be bloody saliva around the mouth. A neighbor came out and said the thing had been lying there for at least an hour. Got to be internal injury I think and judging from its near comatose state, probably not survivable. Once again, I felt that a quick death would be the merciful thing to do.

Now I’m not about to pick up an injured wild animal and tote it to the woods; not smart. I return to the humble abode for gloves, a live trap, and the shotgun. Back at the scene, I open the door to the live trap and give the poor critter a gentle nudge toward the opening but he/she is having none of it and gives me a look like, “You touch me one more time and you’ll be working with nine fingers or less.” So there we are, in the middle of the street, at a standoff, each waiting for the other to make a wrong move.

I decide on an action where I slide the trap in as close as possible and in one quick move, give the possum a boost on the butt and tip the trap vertical, allowing the door to slam shut. It worked and all my ten digits were still attached. We take a short drive to the back of a dead end street where several acres of woods begin. I open the trap, expected a hasty retreat. Didn’t happen. I upend the trap with open part down and try to shake it out of there. Nope, not leaving; the wires firmly in the grasp of all four feet and tail. Hmmm. Did it sense where this was going?

I found a small stick and used it as a prod through the wire mesh and eventually the opossum came out. A couple minutes later, the possum hurt no more.

So why do I not feel good about this?

(photo not the actual possum in today's blog)

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Saga of the Bunn continued:

Two days had passed since the Bunn coffee maker stopped piddling water across the kitchen counter. This due to my absolutely brilliant ability to not only troubleshoot and find the problem, but repair the leak with a few drops of common household glue. My arm was getting sore from patting myself on the back and so I shared the story with a friend, one who has a background in the medical field.

The friend informed me that he would never drink water or coffee that had been in contact with glue. Can definitely harm your liver he says. Hmmm. Keeping in mind that my liver has taken some major hits over time from the evils of demon rum, something akin to the Joplin tornado, I rethought the situation. Although the only parts listed in the Bunn user manual were things like a spray head and a carafe, I check out the Bunn web site anyway, just in case. I find the customer support pages and on it there’s a form to describe your problem and what part you need. AHA! I had to find something on the unit called a Date Code.  That wasn’t easy. Picture juggling a device with a metal tube filled with scalding hot water and a warming plate that can take your skin off, all the while trying to find a tiny number on the bottom. I completed the form, hit the Submit button, and waited. Now under normal conditions, I’m a pretty patient guy, but waiting on e-mail replies from a major company is not one of my strong suits and after several hours of staring at my “in” box, I reluctantly dial the Bunn 800 number dreading the endless menus that I’m sure await me.

But no, the recording says to hold the line for a representative and within sixty seconds, I hear the voice of a living person. The woman with whom I talked—and I assume it was Mrs. Bunn—confirmed my fears. “I’m sorry sir, but we don’t sell replacement parts located near the electrical connections.” I wanted so badly to tell her of my qualifications, especially my FCC license, but knew it would be useless to buck company policy. Mrs. Bunn then asked if my coffee maker had a date code on the bottom. Thankfully, I had found it earlier.

“Your unit is under warranty” she says. “We’ll mail you a new one. Just use the box to return the defective unit.”

Whoa! What just happened? It couldn’t be that simple. There had to be a catch. Maybe like a $200 shipping and handling fee? Nope, that was it. New unit on the way. Happy days are here again.

Later in the evening, I happen to check my e-mail and right there at the top of the list is a reply from Bunn.

Dear Mr. Williams,

We are sorry you are having a problem with your Bunn coffee maker. A replacement is being shipped to your address. Please return the defective unit using the same box.



Holy Crap. I’ve been double Bunned. Sure, I could be the dishonest sort and keep both but what happens when Mrs. Bunn opens my empty box? Just from the sound of her voice, I knew I did not want that woman standing on my doorstep, angrily throwing coffee grounds in my face. I call Kim to abort the shipment. Too late, Bunn #2 has left the building.

Eventually Kim and I come up with a plan involving labels and forms to resolve the problem and everybody’s happy. Well, except for the UPS man delivering two coffee pots to my door in 113 degree heat. He might be a little pissed.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A Lime of Another Color

Ever since my bride came up lame a few weeks ago, I’ve been wearing many hats. As well as my usual Lord of the Manor and chief handyman lids, I’ve assumed the role of homemaker, cook, nurse, and of course Keeper of the Cats. So when the coffeemaker sprang a leak, I donned the handyman hat and with my trusty battery-powered mini-screwdriver, took that baby apart. The brand under scrutiny was a Bunn, one of three we have owned over the years. The thing about a Bunn is that it’s the closest thing to instant coffee you’ll ever see. Stick in a filter, a little coffee, pour a pot of water in the top and by the time you walk out to fetch the morning paper, you got 10 cups of java waiting on you. Okay, so it’s not ecological friendly as it keeps a tube full of hot water at all times. Some might say it wastes electricity. I say screw it. I’m old. I deserve some conveniences in life. The Bunn is one.

Problem was, this particular Bunn was losing water all over the countertop. After a detailed study using my razor sharp analytical mind, the trouble was determined to be a leaky gasket between the incoming cold water and the hot water reservoir. Buy another gasket you say? No, no. Doesn’t work like that. No, Mr. Bunn wants you to buy a brand new unit to the tune of $99 and that’s when it’s on sale. What it needed, I figured, was some kind of sealant or maybe caulking of some sort. Rummaging through my handyman supplies, I discovered a tube of something called Stick & Seal. Perfect! I dabbed it around the gasket, let it sit for the required number of minutes, and made a pot of coffee. Was there water on the countertop? NO! Did it make coffee like a new one? Why yes it did, thank you for asking. I took a sip. Whoa. The coffee seemed to have a whang to it. I check the label on the Stick & Seal.

Do not inhale, ingest, or come within twenty feet of this product or you will die a horrible death (or something to that effect). But wait, the water shouldn’t have come in contact with the poison. Something else was wrong. The Missus speaks up, “You should probably delime the pot.”

Now the only lime I’m familiar with is the one that goes in a gin and tonic. What does lime have to do with a coffee maker? But according to the manual and homemakers that deal with these kinds of things on a regular basis, the pot needs to be cleaned periodically because of deposits from impurities in the water. Vinegar, it turns out, is the simple solution. You pour a bunch in, let it sit, swab it out, and there ya go. Who da thunk it?

Now I lie awake at night wondering what other routine household duties I’ve neglected and which one will be the next to bite me on the Bunn …I mean butt.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Maytag Repairman

Alert readers of this blog will remember the numerous problems associated with the icemaker in our last refrigerator, a Whirlpool. Solutions ranged from cleaning switches, replacing thermocouples, and finally, replacing the whole damn icemaker, twice! The refrigerator itself worked fine for over 20 years although the compressor ran about 23 hours a day. It was a smallish unit with the freezer at the top making every item that wasn’t on the front of the shelf near impossible to reach if you are an old man with a bad back. Every so often, when the bones allowed, I would stoop down and find all sorts of surprises at the bottom rear including a few new multicolored life forms.

The day came and the decision made to replace this antique. The new model, a Maytag, had the freezer at the bottom (no doubt designed by an old person) with ample space up top. It was well lit with multiple bulbs for weak eyes, another blessing. A special vent in the door was discovered to keep milk up to and beyond the expiration date, an event never seen by the Whirlpool. Icemaker? Oh yeah. This baby had a dispenser in the door right alongside a chilled water spigot. If you were mixing a drink, it was one stop shopping with ice and water right there at your fingertips. Hoo Boy. Life was good.

But then, a few months later, I began to hear a strange noise coming from the new Maytag. It was a tap, tapping sound. Only lasted for few a seconds, but the next day, tap-tap…tap. The sound, I noticed, was heard only during start up when the compressor came on. But as the days went by, the tapping grew louder and more frequent. Well sum bitch.

Being under warranty, I call the Maytag repairman—in this case, a woman who takes calls—and describe the situation. I explain that the unit doesn’t make this weird noise in every case but there does seem to be some sort of unnatural act going on in there. The Maytag repair-woman makes it crystal clear that if she sends someone out and they don’t find a problem, I will be billed for a service call. What? So it’s a roll of the dice? If he hears the problem I’m covered, but if he doesn’t and the warranty expires I’m screwed. Is that about it? The answer was, you are and you will be.

I gamble and the repairman comes out. He’s about the size of the guy in the old lonely Maytag repairman commercials, maybe bigger, actually about the size of Sasquatch but not as hairy. I have doubts he can bend over far enough to inspect the parts. I hear a lot of tinkering around back there; battery driven screwdrivers, wrenches and such. Small pieces fly out and hit the floor. I hear grumbling. Finally, like a bear coming out of a winter den, the guy emerges with a scowl and a diagnosis.

“The whatsis was installed wrong. It had liquids where gases should have been and something something was backing up in the whosis and causing the noise. No charge.”

“Uh, okay.” The no charge was the only part I understood.

Two days later the trouble in the whatsis was back.

I reach Sasquatch. “I’ll call the factory,” he says. I wait and watch the warranty days tick away. I get a call. It’s my new friend Sas.

“The factory knows of the problem and has issued a special repair kit. I’ll be out as soon as we get it in.”

Sure buddy, I'll never hear from you again.

A week or so passes and sho nuff, here’s Sas ringing my bell. He crawls behind the fridge and twenty minutes later, all fixed. That was a month ago and no more tap-tap…so far.

Conclusion: Maytag’s aren’t what they used to be and the repairmen are lonely no more.