Monday, June 10, 2013

I've Moved

The blog has now moved to:

I'm going to give Wordpress a try.

Hope to see you there.


Sunday, June 2, 2013

Two Front Teeth

Everyone once in a while, usually when in the dentist’s chair, I think of the lyrics to this song by Don Gardner:

All I want for Christmas
is my two front teeth,
my two front teeth,
see my two front teeth!

Gee, if I could only
have my two front teeth,
then I could wish you
"Merry Christmas."

The new dental hygienist noticed my two upper caps.
“Car accident?”

No, nothing that commonplace. My mishap had drama, flair, and a piece of showbiz involving a major golf tournament at the prestigious Southern Hills Country Club. And no, it wasn’t a wayward golf ball. Here’s the story:
This happened back in the day, way back in the day, before satellite television and cell phones. (Yes, I am that old.) My Southwestern Bell crew had the assignment to assist in the broadcast of a PGA Championship golf tournament. This was an undertaking of staggering proportions back then. The work began almost a year before the actual event when trenching machines began laying video cable all over the course. Yep, that’s the way we got short distance TV from point A to point B. Our job was to not only feed the video from the cameras to the various network trucks, but to send the on-air signal to the AT&T Television Operating Center in downtown Tulsa where it was then distributed to millions of viewers. To do that, we had to erect a 60 foot temporary tower very near the final hole and use point-to-point transmission to relay the signal.

At one time during play, via one of the cameras, I could see that Jack Nicklous was approaching the tee nearest my station. I admit to abandoning my post at the microwave transmitter long enough to watch that golfing legend hit the ball. To this day, I can still close my eyes and see him puff up like a big ol' frog and hammer that thing.
Few people ever see what happens after a golf tournament, after the trophy is awarded, and all the players go home. Somebody has to tear all that equipment out and clean up the mess. One of those people was me. Cables were coiled and stored, racks full of electronics were dismantled, and oh yeah, that 60 foot tower had to come down.

Ron, my old drinkin’ buddy, and I were given the job to go to the top and start in. Two other fellas, one a new guy by the name of O’Dell Robertson, were to stay on the ground and work the ropes. The tower was made of heavy aluminum, box-like, about four  foot square if I remember correctly. It was assembled and disassembled in sections, kind of like Tinker Toys. A device called a davit, like what you might see to lower a lifeboat from a ship, was used to lower each section as the locking pins were removed. A long rope, or tag line, reached to the ground  and was used to steady the descending sections to keep them from getting hung up on the remaining part of the tower. There were guy lines of course, to keep the whole thing from falling over in a gust of wind. These lines were disconnected, section by section, as the tower came down.

Things went smooth enough although being that high in the air on such a shaky apparatus wasn’t all that much fun, but we were about done. The men on the ground removed the last of the guy wires. Ron and I hooked up another section to the davit and raised it up and over the side. O’Dell was on the tag line. To this point, O’Dell had been doing a great job of keeping the sections clear of obstructions by putting a fair amount of diagonal pull on the rope. What this collection of brilliant technical minds failed to consider was that without any form of guy line, the force being applied by O’Dell was more than enough to tip the tower over. I heard someone call out, “IT’S FALLING!”

Estimated height of the tower at this crucial moment was in the neighborhood of fifteen to twenty feet, much more survivable than the previous sixty, but still a long way to the ground. I was inside the framework of the tower and did not have a lot of options. I grabbed two round beams, one on either side, and managed to position my body between them. I clearly recall my logic. “If I can just stay between the beams, the whole thing will crash around me. I’ll be fine.”

It worked, up to a point. The problem was, I forgot to release my death grip on the beams as my feet made impact. My legs bent under the weight, forcing my now stationary and upright knees into my face that was still traveling at the approximate speed of Mach One. Goodybe teeth.

Ron managed to ride it down with one arm slung over a beam. He still had his teeth but his shoulder suffered some damage.

We were checked over at the emergency room where x-rays were taken. No broken bones thank goodness, but I still had a stop to make at the dentist office.

I can still remember his words. “Young man, you’ve had a rough day and I know you’re in pain, but I’m about to help you with that.” And bless his heart and his happy gas, he did.

Merry Christmas




Saturday, May 25, 2013

How to Shoot Yourself in the Foot with a Camera

Even before retiring from the telephone company, I had a dream of becoming a professional wildlife photographer. It was only wishful thinking at that point, but I could easily see myself traveling the highways and backroads with my pop-up camper, visiting every national park and wildlife refuge in the country, all the while adding quality images to my files. I would hook up with a photo stock company and make enough sales to supplement my meager pension from Ma Bell, i.e., beer money. I had no illusions of becoming rich and famous, far from it. Photographing wildlife was and always will be my passion; making a profit was simply icing on the cake.  
I stayed on track the first couple of years, visiting and photographing in such places as Yellowstone, Glacier, and Arches N.P. to name a few. I hit wildlife refuges from Maine to New Mexico. I submitted to and was accepted by two stock agencies.  All was roses.

Another year passes. Total image sales? About 4. Profit/loss? We won’t go there. One of many unforeseen factors was the amazing technologies going into the new cameras; auto focus, auto exposure, auto flash, more frames per second, and then came digital. Suddenly, those once in a lifetime captures were becoming common place. The grizzly bear catching a salmon in midair was now ho-hum. An eagle swooping in for a fish had become dime-a-dozen. The pros had gone from selling photos to leading tours and workshops to make a living.
Oh, I had my moments. I sold to a few magazines, a postcard company, a couple of book publishers. And once every blue moon, I would get a check for a hundred bucks or so from the stock agency. The problem was, I was getting more and more requests for free photos, donations, giveaways. “We don’t have the budget to pay you, but you will get a credit under your photo.” And yeah, that was kind of fun. Seeing your photo with your name blazoned across half a page of a glossy publication, a recognition of sorts. Made me smile.

But at one point–my dreams of becoming a pro now only a fond memory– I was shocked to get a late evening call from the photo editor of National Wildlife magazine. NATIONAL WILDLIFE BABY! Woo Hoo. Big time mag. Major player. How he got my name and number I don’t know, but he told me he needed some photos of Oklahoma’s Tishamingo National Wildlife Refuge and he needed them in a hurry. I was packing my bag and gear and headed south before the phone line got cold. Bright and early the next morning, I was shooting away at some snow geese (about the only actual wildlife I could find on short notice) but took several landscape shots. Made the 3 hour drive back home, transferred the shots to a CD, sent it Priority Mail, sat back and waited for the big bucks to roll in.
Didn’t happen. In fact, nothing happened. No thanks for your submission, no better luck next time, no close but no cigar. Well, crap.

A year or so later, I receive an e-mail informing me that National Wildlife has seen one of my photos on a web site somewhere and was wondering if I would donate it. I couldn’t resist, even though I was still pissed. It was, after all, national exposure and I granted permission.
Then, a week ago, it happened again, another request for a free photo. My reply:

 I am honored that such a prestigious magazine as National Wildlife would feel that one of my images was of such quality to be featured in one of your upcoming publications.
 I should have stopped there...but no.

 However, I would be even more honored if National Wildlife could find a few bucks in their deep pockets to pay for the damn thing. I doubt that you work for free, lady, and I don’t either.

And that my friends, is how you close out a career as a professional wildlife photographer.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Arnold buys a Trolling Motor

It had been a while since I’d dared to venture onto the water with Arnold. Faithful readers of past experiences concerning Arnold and a boat will remember the many near death occurrences as we navigated the local lakes and waterways in pursuit of a fish or two. You may also recall that alcohol was, predictably, a factor.
It started with a phone call. “I got me a brand new Minn Kota trolling motor,” Arnold exclaimed. I could hear the excitement in his voice.
“What was wrong with your old one?” I ask.

“Well, nothing until my son tried to drive the boat on the trailer while the trolling motor was still down.”(Ah, ha. Let the record show that Arnold’s catastrophes do not always happen while I’m around, just most of the time.)
“This one is a doozy. It has this feature that will keep the boat within five feet of where you tell it to stay.”

“No, no. It will. Or so they claim. We got to try it out.”

This I had to see. We loaded up, stocked the ice chest with beer (of course), and took a couple fishing poles to Lake Skiatook.
It was nippy out, the wind from the north, but the sun was shining and we were blessed with a rare phenomena in Oklahoma, clear skies with only ten miles per hour wind, well maybe 15.  Of course, we could have simply motored out a few hundred yards or so, dropped the new trolling motor, checked it out, and then have a few brewskies. But no. Arnold drops the hammer on the big motor and we head into the wind to try and locate some underwater structure on his fish finder. Why? I have no idea as Arnold didn’t intend to fish it anyway.

It’s time for the big test. Arnold throws out an orange float with a lead anchor on it. This will be our point of reference. We lower the trolling motor and Arnold hauls out yet another feature of his new toy, a remote control. Yes, a remote, just like the one for your TV. Lord, lord, what will they think of next?
Arnold punches some buttons. The Minn Kota comes to life. And damned if it didn’t do as claimed. Well, maybe not five feet, but close enough. As we drifted downwind, the thing would power up, change heading, turn the boat around, and take us right back to our little orange marker. Amazing. We sat in the back of the boat, relaxing with beers in hand, and marveled at the technology.

With most people, that would be the end of the story. Not with Arnold. He decides we might as well fish a little since we’re there and heads up a narrow creek lined with dead trees. No, we didn’t sink the boat on a stump but we did run aground on a sandbar. It took a while, but a few anxious minutes later, we were able to pull ourselves free with the motor and not have to jump in and push. Did I mention the water temp was 55 degrees? I know this because the trolling motor told me so.
Arnold does catch one little bass, but that was it. We were out of beer and decide to call it quits and head for the ramp. By now the wind has risen to the more familiar rate of 20-25 miles an hour. Lots of waves, a very rough and bumpy ride, but that does not deter Captain Arnold and we speed across the lake with all the power the 150 horse Mercury can muster. That is until the brand new fancy and very intelligent Minn Kota trolling motor got a case of the dumb ass and shook loose from its mount, flopping into the water while the boat was doing a good 50 mph or so. There was a loud thump as a huge splash of cold water drenched the boat. Oh no! For a moment, I’d thought we’d torn the motor from the mount, to die a watery death at the bottom of the lake. No. The Minn Kota hung on. Arnold checks the shaft for odd angles, but all appears well.

All in all, it was a good outing. The sun was bright, birds were singing, and nobody died.
Next time, we’ll take more beer.


Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Search for the Scarlet Tanager

Scarlet Tanager: it sounds like something you might order at a bar in Cancun, but in fact happens to be the name of strikingly beautiful bird. The male, in breeding colors of brilliant red with black wings, is about seven inches long with a wingspan of 11 inches or so.  Some of you local Alert Readers may be familiar with the more common Summer Tanager, not at all unusual in Oklahoma, particularly in the, well…summer.
 For years, I’ve been aching for a chance to photograph the Scarlet but it was not to be. Oh, there were sightings, or so I’d heard, just down the road in the Ancient Forest Preserve. But the bird remained elusive to these old eyes, nary a glimpse much less an image. And so it was when I read about a place called High Island in Texas where the Scarlet is not rare but downright common in the month of April, I had to go.

High Island, Texas is on a tall salt dome on the Bolivar Peninsula at the extreme eastern end of Galveston County. Its thirty-eight-foot rise above sea level makes High Island the highest point on the Gulf of Mexico. Its wooded areas are unlike anything elsewhere on the upper Texas coast and provide a natural refuge for migrating birds working their way north.
My first day at High Island was dark and overcast; nothing like what the weather boys had predicted when I left home. So what else is new? Nobody can predict weather in the spring. The Audubon Society manages four refuges here, one of which is called the Boy Scout Woods, and that’s where I started my pursuit of the elusive Scarlet. Just inside the gate stood, of all things to see in the woods, a grandstand, for the sole purpose of watching water drip to see what birds were attracted to it. The grandstand was at full capacity. Whoa, this was some serious watching going on here. I stood at one end, watched the drip, drip, drip for a while, saw a few birds, no Scarlet, and moved on.

But on the very first trail, high in a tree, a flash of red. YES! At last, a good look. The problem was, I had a 400 mm lens, hand held, and the bird was a good 30 yards away. Here, let me just say that a 7 inch bird, at that distance, bobbing on a twig in 15 mph wind on a dark overcast day, is not an easy subject. I grabbed two quick frames and whoof, the bird flew away. A quick review of the LCD screen confirmed my fear, not sharp, not sharp at all. ARRGGGGHHHH! Surely there would be other more photographer friendly opportunities, but nooooo. It would be the only Scarlet Tanager I would see for three more days.
One of the events that High Island is famous for is the so called “fall out”. This is the rare phenomena where a weather front from the north moves in with falling temps and high winds, effectively halting the bird migration. The birds, exhausted from fighting the wind and cold, land at the first wooded spot they see–High Island–and stop to rest, maybe have a drink or two. My plans were to leave the next morning, but after watching the Weather Channel that night, I changed my mind. The prediction (there’s that prediction thing again) was that the temperature would drop to 58 degrees overnight with rain and 15-25 mph wind out of the north. Hey, are we talking fall out or what? I made a new reservation.

This time, the weather folks were right. The rain, the cold, the wind, all happened just as they said it would. I was at High Island at first light. So was half of Houston. The parking lot, only dotted with cars the day before, was packed, with the overflow stretching down the road for a hundred yards or more. The word was out. Damn birders.
I had a spot in mind. It was a mulberry tree just a short walk from the parking lot where several species were observed the day before, enjoying the fruit; Indigo Bunting, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and Eastern Kingbird, to name a few. Guess what other bird loves mulberries? Hee,hee, you guessed it.

But someone had beaten me to the tree. A guy in typical birder/photographer apparel–vest, floppy hat, long-sleeved shirt with pants tucked inside his socks, binoculars, and a camera– was staring intently into the branches. I quietly asked him if he had seen any Scarlet Tanagers.
“Yes, he said, enthusiastically, his eyes bright with excitement. “Not more than a few minutes ago.”

Hoo Boy.
But the guy was like a Jack Russell Terrier with a squirrel up a tree. Round and round the tree he went, never stopping, poking his lens between the branches, effectively scaring the bejesus out of any bird that had any inkling of landing for a quick berry or two. I watched, I waited, hoping the guy would give up and move on. Didn’t happen. That’s when I spotted a Scarlet Tanager amidst a very thick tree, the branches so dense, a photo was impossible. I could see the poor bird was starving for a mulberry. I wanted to tell the guy, “Hey dumb shit, get the hell out of there and quit scaring the birds.” But sensing that particular comment would not fit within the Birders Rules of Etiquette, I tried a different approach.

“Excuse me, sir. I’m rather new at this but I was thinking, maybe if we backed away from the tree a bit, perhaps the birds would be less fearful in their approach.”
The man looked at me and blinked his eyes like a bullfrog in a hailstorm. “Yeah, he said. “Okay.” and went right on with his manic maneuvers, flitting around and poking between the branches with his point and shoot.

The Scarlet Tanager, bless his brave little heart, said hell with it and made a dash for the tree. I had the camera set to six frames per second and got off three quick shots, only one of which was decent before the Scarlet said Screw this. This ain’t the only mulberry tree in town, and left for parts unknown.

The fall out? Didn't happen. Not that I could tell anyway. I guess birds don't always follow the rules.
All in all, it was good outing. Got a few new photos, enjoyed the fresh Gulf air, even saw an alligator or two. I would make one small suggestion to the Audubon Society. Have one day for birders and one day for photographers, maybe alternate days. Let’s face it, the two species do not mix well. Violators would be banned from High Island. Seems fair to me.






Sunday, March 31, 2013

Losing It

We’ve all done it, lost our glasses, our cell phone, our car keys, the remote, a wallet, or sometimes, temporarily, a kid or two. I’ve noticed that age is a factor in losing things. The older you are the more items you tend to misplace and misplaced sounds much less drastic than lost as in the ship was lost with all hands. All you know is that it wasn’t where you thought it was. And if you find it, it wasn’t really lost was it? Out of sight perhaps or absent without leave, but surely not…lost.
In my recent case, it was the checkbook. I had the bank record of where I’d written the last check but that was 20 days ago and when the man who just finished some tree work for me wanted to be paid, no checkbook. Luckily, I found another pad of new checks but where on earth was that familiar blue cover and its precious contents?

The customary location for safekeeping was, of course, barren of checkbooks. Secondary sites were scrutinized; the top of the dresser, jeans pockets, jacket pockets, the car I was in when the last check was written (at least I think that was the vehicle I was in.) You see, the longer you think about it, the harder you try to remember, the more the mind starts playing evil little tricks. Where exactly, if anywhere, did you visit after writing that last check; the grocery, a Wal-Mart, maybe the liquor store? Think! Think!
The search began, cursory at first, after all, it has to be here somewhere, not far from its regular home base, doesn’t it? Doesn’t it? You pat pockets, run your hand behind the cushions, look under the couch, question the Missus, give the evil eye to the cats ( oh, they’re quite capable of knocking items from shelves and dressers you know), check the magazine rack, the trash can, the bed, but no.

I go to the web and the online banking site. Whew! No bad guys have used the account, not yet anyway. I decide to call on my friendly banker and check my options for lost checkbooks. A very serious looking lady explained, “Well Sir, you have ten lost checks. I can put a stop on them for $30 a check.”
"WHAT! Three hundred bucks? You’ve got to be …… Surely, there’s another solution."

“Or, we can cancel the account and set you up with a new one.”
Hmm. That was an option all right, but not without consequences. There was auto bill pay and auto deposits to deal with. Geez.

“One other thing we could do is to freeze the account for ten days. This means no one can use it, not even you without personally talking to us again.”
I chose door number three and went home with renewed determination to find the damn checkbook. Since it was late in the day and happy hour was at hand, I opted to continue the search come sunrise. I would go through the cars and the house, room by room, inch by inch, searching every niche and cranny, no matter how unlikely, until I was absolutely positive that any area larger than 3” by 6” by ¼ “ was devoid of little blue folders.

With sun shining and birds singing to welcome the new day, I grabbed a flashlight and began my quest. Hoping that I had not yet reached the early stages of dementia, I reasoned that the car was the last known place of checkbook occupancy and started there. Besides, it was a smaller area to search than a whole house.
 I backed out of the garage for better light and access and started in; driver’s side pockets, under the seat, sun visor, console box, nada. Moved to the passenger side, nothing on the floor, nothing in back, checked the glove box for the fourth time, and …hold it! HOLD IT! There, in the back, on edge, vertical against the rear of the box, now revealed in the glare of the spotlight, a familiar blue cover.  The lost (I mean misplaced) was found. Keep in mind that the Missus and I had reached in that very glove box, removed the contents, and examined them piece by piece. Not once, not twice, but thrice, yet always in the semi- darkness of the garage and without a flashlight. With the dark blue against the black, well, you can easily understand how it happened, right? Just one of those things. Could happen to anyone. Getting old had nothing to do with it.

That doesn’t mean I’m ruling out the cats as the root of the problem, not yet.





Saturday, February 16, 2013

Swan Sexting

Mr. Arnold has a pond. E-I-E-I-O.
And on this pond he has some swans. E-I-E-I-O.

My old fishing buddy Arnold lives just up the road. Arnold has made many improvements to his home over the years, the neatest one being the digging of a pond out back. Arnold and I have spent many a pleasant evening sitting on his patio, sipping spookers, while watching a variety of birds come in; Green Herons, Great-white Egrets, song birds, and of course, Canadian Geese.  The geese began making daily appearances. At first, it was kind of cool to sit and watch the big birds come swooping in, honking and carrying on, making dramatic splashdowns in the water. But the novelty faded as the goose population grew. Then they began laying eggs.  Arnold had a problem and we all know what that problem was don’t we? Yep, goose poo.  There was poo around the pond, there was poo on the grass, poo on the sidewalk, and poo on the driveway. Everywhere the goose traveled, he left a stinky trail behind.
All manner of deterrents–short of the lethal ones–were tried in an attempt to discourage the rampant homesteading. Nothing worked for long. That’s when Arnold heard about swans and how territorial they are. A pair of swans would drive off the geese–or so went the theory–and wouldn’t they be pretty; swimming around so elegantly, displaying their beautiful feathers for all to see? Immigration problem solved.  Good photos ops too.
The search began and as luck would have it, a mated pair of mute swans was located within a few hours’ drive. The birds took to their new digs immediately, paddling round and round in quiet contentment. Eagerly, Arnold and I watched the skies for the return of the geese. What would happen? Would there be blood and broken wings? Would something like an avian gang fight break out leaving the lawn covered with feathers lost in battle? Not exactly. It was more on the lines of, “Hey boys, come on down. There’s room for everybody. Want a beer?”
Oh, there were a few brief skirmishes, head down, feathers up kind of charges, but no actual contact. By all appearances, a treaty was drawn up and home turf established. “You guys take the north side and we’ll hang around the end nearest the house and the shade tree.”
Time passes. Mated swans do what mated swans do; they mate. Then there were eggs. Then there were baby swans, cygnets they're called, four of them. Three grew to adulthood. The fourth disappeared in the night, fate unknown. So now, in addition to the throngs of Canadian Geese, the swan population has jumped to five. Arnold insists he does not need or want five swans. Ads in various forms of media went out with a couple of interested parties responding. But there was a catch; the potential buyer’s wanted to be sure of the sex of the birds, a male and female preferable. So, which of the five are boys and which are girls? Arnold had no clue.
The male swan, called a “cob”, has no external genitalia. The female, called a “pen”, hides her privates as well. (Who comes up with these names?” The Internet sites are of little help, most citing the difference being the size of the black knob at the base of the bill with the male’s being slightly larger. The thickness of the neck can also be an indicator, or so they claim. In real time, with five birds bobbing on the water, it’s a tough call. But Arnold has a plan.
“It’ll be a two-man job,” he says.  “I’ll use my shad net to catch ‘em. Then you’ll put a hood over their head and hold them while I part the feathers, do the exam, and tag ‘em.” How did I get involved in this?
I agree to the strategy, but only under the condition that Arnold mixes up a pitcher of margaritas for a little liquid courage before we begin. The plan seems simple enough. What could possibly go wrong?
The details are being finalized as we speak. I see this as the historical reenactment of the Okie’s famous last words. “Here, hold my beer and watch this.”




Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Out of Gas

The first sign of a problem appeared in the form of an electric bill. OMG! The thing was at least a hundred bucks higher than I’d ever seen before, this with a relatively mild month. Clearly, something was amiss. Did the electric company raise their rates? Sounds right, sort of like the oil companies do in the summer with more cars on the road. But no, a look at the kilowatt hours revealed a much higher than normal usage. How could that be?

Let us a pause a moment while I explain my heat and air system.  I do not have natural gas or propane. The humble abode is all electric. My hot and cold comes from a single device called a heat pump. This little engineering marvel performs both functions…to a point. Below 30 degrees, or thereabouts, it reverts to a more common method of heat, namely a fan blowing across a heated coil. Sort of like a giant toaster, but much more expensive. In this mode, referred to as “auxiliary heat”, the little silver wheel on the electric meter spins like the tassels on a well endowed stripper (not that I would know about such things mind you).  

I went into my professional diagnostic analytical troubleshooting mode and came to the brilliant conclusion that the “heat pump” portion, the compressor part of the system, had up and died, leaving the heating duty to the kilowatt sucking toaster coil.
Not to worry, I think, the unit is less than three years old with a parts and labor warranty.  I call the company that installed the contraption. No answer. Well, those boys are all out on the job. I wait till the end of the day and try again. No answer. Not even a recording. I try again the following day. Same results. Damn, damn, damn.

As a member of Angie’s list, I check Angie’s site for a reputable service in the heat/air department. The woman who answers seems to have a bit of an attitude, but she does promise to send help… tomorrow. Next morning, the guy, apparently of Mexican descent, shows up and pokes around with a flashlight. The problem, he proclaims, is that two copper lines are lying against each other and due to the vibration of the compressor, have rubbed a hole allowing the refrigerant (what I call the gas)  to leak out. He shakes his head.  I wait for the rest of it. “The refrigerant is not covered by the warranty.” Figures.
“Okay, big whoop. Fix it and fill it up. What choice do I have?”

An hour or so later, he hands me the bill. HOLY MOTHER OF GOD! It looks like the bar tab for Randy Travis. Almost 600 bucks! I rant. I rave. I curse Angie and the horse she rode in on. I call the Mexican’s company and complain. I find a heat&air forum on the Internet and rant on that. I get no compassion, no refund, no consolation, no  “Oh boy did you get screwed” sympathy cards , nary a tear. The new gas, the R-410 it’s called, can cost up to $45 a pound I’m told. Who makes this stuff, BP?
“The R-410 is better for the environment,” the Mexican explains.

Well la-te- freakin’-dah. I now understand the term going green. It means the folding green in your wallet is going bye-bye.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Deadly Distractions

It’s not unusual, not at all, but it happened again, some idiot crossing the double yellow stripe, heading straight at me. I’m sick of it.

Between the humble abode and downtown Sand Springs lies a section of narrow two lane highway with a couple of 40 mph curves. Of course no one actually slows to 40 mph, that’s understandable; this is after all, Oklahoma. But it’s not the speed that scares the crap out of me, it’s the fact that so many drivers cannot seem to master the simple skills of staying in their own lane as they negotiate a curve. There is no escape route. It’s either the ditch and the telephone poles, or a head-on collision. Not a great choice.

Of course, we know the real reason for this, don’t we? It’s not a lack of skills. Even a reasonably sober person could accomplish the maneuver with ease. Nope. It’s cell phones. If you watch closely as the other driver zooms past, and I always do, he or she will be talking on their cell, driving with one hand, a glazed look in their eyes, totally unaware of the highway menace that they are.

Don’t believe it’s dangerous? Check out the daily paper where they list the traffic deaths. There’s a pattern here .

·         Failed to stop at intersection.

·         Crossed the center line.

·         Went off the side of the road and overcorrected.

Folks, you don’t make those kinds of mistakes, we’re talking fatal mistakes now, if your eyes and attention are focused on the road ahead.

Don’t even talk to me about texting while driving. Dumb. Dumb. Dumb.

And now, as if we didn’t have enough distractions, nearly all the new model cars are coming out with a center dash GPS and entertainment center. Go ahead, reach over there and scroll down through the songs you want to hear. Type in that address. Dial up the weather satellite. Hell, Tweet somebody. You’re only going 65-70 mph, a hundred feet a second, inside a two ton missile. What could possibly go wrong?

I’m going to tell you a story about the time I almost killed two little boys. I tell it to everyone that will sit still for a minute. I tell it often because I think it illustrates a point.  If you’ve heard it before, you can stop here. So long, nice talking to you.

The City of Sand Springs has something in common with San Francisco; they are both quite hilly. The similarity ends there. It was a sunny weekday afternoon. I was in my old pickup, going down a steadily declining grade leading into the heart of downtown.  I was in no hurry, holding at or around the speed limit, when I came upon yet another cross street. Red octagonal stop signs were in place to halt oncoming traffic from both right and left. The street to my right was not only steep toward my direction of travel, but mostly hidden from view by a good sized hill where an old house sat.

As I approached the intersection, my peripheral vision picked up movement on my right. In one split second, there were two young boys directly in front of me, riding double on a bicycle. The look on their faces is a snapshot forever imprinted in my brain. Mouths open, eyes wide in total terror, they went with their natural instinct to survive, to get as far away as possible from the monster machine flying toward them, and tried to jump from the bike. At one moment in time, I had two scared boys directly in front of me, and the next instant, frantically slamming the brakes, they were gone, disappeared, out of sight. Where were they? Under the truck? Dead? Dying? Was there a thump? I didn’t think so but…

I jumped from the truck and ran to the front, my heart about to jump out of my chest. The boys were getting to their feet, brushing themselves off.

“Did you get hit? Are you hurt?”

“No, we’re fine.”

“Are you sure? If the truck touched you, I’m calling the police and an ambulance.”

“No, we weren’t hit.” They seemed adamant about it.

“You know you blew through that stop sign don’t you.”

“Yeah,” they admitted.

And with that, they hopped back on the bike and peddled off.

An old man sitting on his front porch had seen the whole thing and approached.  “I see those two boys do that, run that stop sign, almost every day after school. I figured, one of these days…”

So here’s the thing, the moral of the story. If my reaction time had been one fraction of second slower, if I had been dialing a number on my cell phone, if had reached for a CD , or if I had had so much as a couple of beers, those boys would be dead or seriously injured today. From a legal stand point, I would have probably been found not guilty, circumstances like they were. But the faces of those boys would haunt me at night for the rest of my life.

Sure, I’ve been distracted with the very things I’m ranting about.  Drink and drive? Oh Lord, many times. But not in a long, long while. I’ve been lucky.

Luck doesn’t last forever.