Friday, April 30, 2010

Fat Lady on a Treadmill - The Classic Caddie

My 1956 Caddie is a classic, but after several days of travel and way too much fun, the ole girl was feeling her age. I have to admit I’d neglected her care. Regional culinary specialties seduced me and being the weakling I am, I let them. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t regret a single bite. How can you regret indulging when faced with some of the best Tex-mex and barbeque on the planet? Passing it up wasn’t an option. As it turns out, pushing the ole girl to the limit day after day and night after night proved to be my downfall. Surrounded by faces from the past my brain made the connection and spent the weekend telling the Caddie she was still a teenager. The Caddie did her best to keep up.

I returned to the pit ready to put the Caddie through her paces. I hoisted her onto the ¾ rack and programmed the torture device for a half hour drive. The Caddie’s wheels spun. Her shock absorbers protested every bump and pothole. Instead of a well oiled machine I found myself at the wheel of a rusted out wreck. Five minutes into the drive the Caddie groaned and made for the shoulder. I knew she had more in her so I sucked more air through the intake manifold. The ole girl revved up a notch.

We came up on the second hill and the junk in the trunk threatened to drag the Caddie back down. The timer said twenty minutes to go. I shifted into low gear and shoved the junk up and over the hill. We coasted down the other side. I turned on the air conditioner (the onboard fan) and reveled at the sensation of riding with the top down. I knew the worst was yet to come. I’ve traveled this road several times. There are more hills to traverse, higher and longer than the first ones.

Fifteen minutes in – the halfway point- and the Caddie began to overheat. We came to a flat spot in the road and I poured some cold water into the radiator. She responded immediately and I thought we just might make it to our destination. Another hill, the mother of all hills loomed on the horizon. I poured more water in and tucked the junk in the trunk in tighter. My hands gripped the steering wheel like a vise. I coaxed the ole girl up the grade. Halfway up the Caddie began to lurch. I needed to do something drastic or we were going to end up grill first in the ditch.

I punched the accelerator. The fuel injectors opened wide. The intake manifold sucked oxygen out of the air. The Caddie fired on all cylinders at once catapulting us to the top of the hill. She shuddered and backfired. I eased up on the pedal, shifted into neutral, and let her coast downhill. I wiped dew off the windshield and poured more water into the radiator.

The ole girl purred. For a while there I feared my vintage Caddie had turned into a Ford (Fix or Repair Daily – or Found on the Road Dead) while I was out of town. The ride home was smooth. The ole girl preened the whole way. She had every right to be proud. She’d been in the garage way too long but true to her classic status she’d performed admirably. I patted her on her well padded seat and promised not to neglect her again.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Going Home

I’m usually a pretty mellow traveler. Post 9-11 I have developed a degree of patience in regard to airports and air travel. I’m a firm believer in security so I don’t much care what they want me to do to prove I’m harmless, short of complete public nudity. I will say this; if it comes to that I will rethink my current approach to the security line dilemma. If I’m given a choice I opt for the line with the most business travelers. You know the ones – briefcase and small roll on bag. They travel often and know the ropes. They are quick and efficient going through the line. I avoid families with young children, people unlikely to speak English (if this is politically incorrect then sue me), old people in wheelchairs or who have to sit down to remove their Velcro shoes. Other than these criteria I usually don’t pay my fellow travelers much notice. I will change my thinking on this if strip searching becomes a routine thing. I’ll still avoid the list as much as possible, but I will be scanning the various lines and maneuvering to the one with the best possible scenery, if you get my meaning. If the TSA is going to provide a show I want the best one for my time.

Like I said, there isn’t much that really ruffles me as a traveler. Delays happen. Planes break down. Weather refuses to cooperate. There are as many excuses as there are delays, none of which I can do a darn thing about, so for the most part I find a comfy spot, read, write, eat, people watch, whatever to pass the time. I’ll eventually get where I’m going, no need stressing about things I can’t change. Mostly my fellow travelers amuse me. Going to the airport to people watch is about the most fun you can have and every airport has its own unique brand of traveler. Some are full of business travelers. Some are mostly families wearing mouse ears. Some are international hubs with an energy all their own. I can spend a lot of time observing.

Yesterday I had no reason to be overly anxious. My flights were reasonably on time. (By this I mean I wasn’t going to have to sleep in an airport). I was flying two short routes in smaller planes. The weather wasn’t a deal breaking issue. (reference the sleeping in airports again). All things considered I was a pretty happy traveler when I boarded the plane in Memphis for the final leg of my trip home. The small, two rubber band, plane filled quickly. The seat next to me was still open when the traveler from hell came on board. She dropped her computer bag in the aisle seat next to me and proceeded to push, shove, flatten, remove, rearrange, crunch and mangle the belongings of her fellow passengers. I watched with trepidation as she wreaked havoc on three overhead compartments in order to make room for her roll aboard case.

A bad feeling took hold. My be-atch radar began to twitch. She flopped her designer jeaned ass in the seat next to me, stuffed her Trump embossed computer case under the seat and began poking her finger at her iPhone. By now I’d been in my seat for a good fifteen minutes. My seat belt was fastened. I had my iPod and Kindle within easy reach. I switched on the Kindle as it looked like we still had a while before they closed the doors and I would have to turn it off. (This is the one thing I dislike about ebooks. Can’t read them during takeoff and landing.)

Click…click….click….click….click….click….click. Remember the sound of ivory dominoes? My seat mate is playing some tile game on her phone. Click…click….click….click…click.

By the time the flight attendant barked out orders to turn off ALL electronic equipment my skin was itching. My foot was twitching. My jaw was locked. Click…click…click….click…click…. The flight attendant walked by and her screen went black. He stopped long enough to remind her to fasten her seatbelt. She did. I silently wished it would wrap around her neck and strangle her. The flight attendant moved on, the tile game resumed. Click…click…click…click…

Captain Crunch came on the speaker to inform us of the low ceiling in Newark which would delay our departure some 45 minutes. We taxied out to the tarmac to wait it out. Click…click…click…click…click… A few months ago I spent three hours on the tarmac waiting to be deiced. I was calm through the whole thing. Click…click…click…click…click…. Captain Crunch came on again to bless the use of cell phones while we waited on the tarmac. I developed a twitch in my right cheek. Click…click…click…click…click…

I took the Captain’s blessing to include iPods. I tuned in, turned the volume to maximum auditory damage and still, click…click…click….click…click… I turned on the Kindle, including this in the blessed items as well. Click…click…click…click….click….

I envisioned snatching the offending electronic device and crushing in my bare hands until its silicon parts were no more than sand again. Click…click…click…click…click…

At last the flight attendant issued the order to turn off ALL electronic equipment. The plane taxied toward the runway. Click….click…click…click…click…

Using the most polite voice I could muster under the circumstances I asked, “Could you turn that off? I don’t want to take any chances during takeoff.” Be-atch shot laser beams at me. I prepared to take her down for the sake of the other passengers.

“Just so you know, it’s on airplane mode, but I’m turning it off anyway.” No love lost between us. The plane turned onto the runway, the rubber bands wound tight and off we went. I breathed a sigh of relief, only two short hours to home. Click…click…click…click…click… Well shit.

I read. I twitched. I squirmed. I’m pretty sure the people ten rows back could hear the music from my earphones. Click…click…click…click….click…

From my little oval window I cursed the full moon. I should have known better than fly on a full moon. Three rows ahead of me was first class. Two short curtains hung in front of the coach seats doing nothing to prevent the insane cattle from seeing the dozen or so favored cattle on the other side. Click…click….click….click…click…

The flight attendant offered me a soft drink. My hand shook as I took it from his hands hovering somewhere above the be-atches lap. One slip and the evil little device would be soaked in diet cola. Too late to order the sticky, sugary stuff. Click…click…click…click…click…

There’s a curtain for the aisle between royalty and the commoners. It’s twisted and wrapped into a sort of obscene textile sculpture. Click…click…click…click…click…

I’m entertaining ways to disable my seatmate using only the contents of my purse and computer bag when much to my relief she turns the damned game off and snuggles under the two blankets she removed from the overhead in order to make room for her bag. I could be nice and turn off my overhead light or turn down the volume on my headphones, but every shred of generosity and kindness toward my fellow travelers has been wrung completely out of me.

Eventually we descend into the cloud cover. Goodbye moon. The bad news is- we can’t see Newark. Not a good thing when both rubber bands are nearly spun out. The good news is- we can’t see Newark. The plane drops lower. Newark lies below us like a rusted hulk. The be-atch wakes. We’re on final approach. I’m prepared to spring into action if she fires up that game again. If I’m going to crash it isn’t going to be in Newark because of the be-atch and her clicking.

The wheels screech against wet concrete. I breathe a sigh of relief. Click…click…click…click…click… I resist the urge to pummel her and the mini monster in her hands. We’re on the ground. Surely I can stand a few more minutes.

Captain Crunch reports in. We’ll be parking here for a few minutes while we wait for the ground crew to get to the gate. From my portal I can see our gate. The jet way waits off to one side for us to park. No ground crew. No one. Nada. Zip. Click…click…click…click…click…click…

If I’d been seated in an exit row I would have popped the door and slid down the inflatable slide right then. I did consider climbing over be-atch and storming the door. How far could it be to the ground from a two rubber band plane anyway?


Friday, April 16, 2010

Fat Lady on a Treadmill - Six Days on the Road

I started out on this road trip intending to be home on the fourth day, a whirlwind trip down south to see Daughter #2, then home and back to my usual routine. As with all good intentions, they are subject to change. A phone call from Daughter #1 a few hours after I’d hit the road extended my trip by two days and over six hundred miles. Not that I’m complaining, but I’d packed enough clothes for three days with a few incidentals and accidentals. Those are the clothes you take in case the weather dude was wrong, you end up eating someplace where the food doesn’t come in a paper wrapper, and of course some clothes to wear to the hotel pit.

I’ve been trying really hard to eat well and make it to the pit six out of seven days each week so I knew the trip wasn’t going to be easy. Sitting on your ass for hours a day behind your only heavy lifting consisting of a sweaty fast food paper cup does not make for healthy living. I have a new respect for long haul truck drivers. I honestly don’t know how they do it. It’s a wonder more people aren’t killed on the nation’s freeways each year by truck drivers whose hearts give out from the kind of food they eat every day.

Truly, I have no excuse for eating like a truck driver. My vehicle is of a standard size and I can pull into any parking lot, anywhere so my eating choices are greatly expanded. It was my decision to either take advantage of this freedom and eat as well as one can reasonably expect to do on the road, or chuck it all and enjoy myself. I decided on a modified approach to the problem, after all I was well south of the Mason-Dixon Line where food is serious business.

Day one wasn’t so bad. I managed to eat reasonably well. I declined the French fries with my chicken wrap and opted for the unsweetened iced tea. Of course the waitress looked at me like I was an alien from another planet. I was a conundrum and clearly she was confused. I spoke with a Texas accent, acceptable in this part of the country, but I ordered like a Yankee. That’s when I got the phone call. Perhaps I should have gotten the sweet tea after all, because I clearly wasn’t thinking straight when I agreed to extend my trip and drive even deeper into the South on a recon mission.

The further South I went the worse my decisions became. Let me just say that I don’t think anyone can travel through the Southern United States and not succumb to the food there. I found myself eating in places called Biscuitville and Kountry Kookin. I couldn’t pass a Cracker Barrel without drooling. I decided early on that I would limit my intake of artery paste (they call this gravy in the South) to once a day. This is not easy to do. Everything on the menu comes with artery paste on it, or at the very least offered on the side. You get used to words like smothered, drizzled, and topped. These are code words meaning there is a sauce involved. Everything has one of these words in the description. Asking to have something plain is a tip off that you aren’t from around there and suddenly you notice everyone is giving your table a wide berth. Everyone in the restaurant eyes you as if they’re afraid you may infect them with your Yankee-ism.

Frying is an art form in the South. Everything on the menu can be ordered fried. This includes vegetables and dessert. Some things proudly declare this in the name as in Chicken Fried Steak and Fried Tomatoes. Other things are more subtle, okra for example. I don’t think this green vegetable can be found north of Mason-Dixon, but is a staple in any good southern kitchen. Being a southerner myself I know there are only three ways to serve okra, pickled, stewed in gumbo, or fried, but southern menus only list okra. It’s not until you see it piled on your plate that you understand they were referring to fried okra on the menu.

On the fourth day I made the error of asking simply for tea. Here you don’t have to specify iced, it’s assumed and unless you specify otherwise you will receive sweet tea. I realized my mistake as soon as the waiter delivered the half gallon glass and there was no little box of sweetener packets on the table. I took a sip which confirmed my suspicions. I had long since decided that I didn’t want misery for company on the remainder of my trip, so I drank the syrupy brew. There’s nothing quite like the combination of caffeine and corn syrup (yep, this is what makes sweet tea sweet) to get your motor running.

It was downhill (pardon the pun) from then on. I gave in to temptation. I ordered fried stuff, smothered stuff and gave up my quest to eat healthy. I reasoned that when I returned home I would resume my low fat, low sugar, no artery paste lifestyle so what would be the harm in indulging my taste buds for a few days. By day six there wasn’t a trucker on the road with more cholesterol in his blood than me. With just one more road meal ahead of me I swung my four wheeler into the parking lot of a burger joint. Up until then I’d avoided the national chains. I had eaten one burger, but it was grilled at the ball field and I’d turned down the potato chips and washed it down with a diet cola. I was due a fast food orgy.

The smell of grease and charred meat filled the air. It was intoxicating. I lost my head. My numb backside pushed for the salad menu, but I remembered a news segment about the hidden calories in fast food salads, so I gave in and ordered the cheeseburger and fries. Yep, fries. The counter lady asked me what kind of drink (they filled them for you). I eyed the tank of sweet tea. In a rare moment of sanity I ordered a diet cola, not that it was going to make much of a difference in the grand scheme of things, but it eased my conscience.

Salt is cheap. It must be because it is used liberally at that place. I was revved on fat and salt and caffeine so I ordered a cup of frozen chocolate dairy product to go and headed for the freeway. I was less than two short hours from home and fueled up. With sweaty paper fast food cup in hand I put the pedal to the metal, so to speak and headed north.

As I wove in and out of the line of eighteen wheelers I shoveled spoonfuls of cold chocolate soft serve into my mouth. I cranked up the radio to hear what was now my theme song. I breezed like silver lightning around another truck grinding his way up the next hill while I sang…. Six days on the road and I’m gonna make it home tonight.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Diamond Dust

Next weekend when our youngest steps into the Batter’s Box for the last time it will mark the end of our families eighteen year association with Fastpitch Softball. Our oldest began playing when she was nine and her younger sister followed in her footsteps at the tender age of four and a half. She wore pink knee socks for her first game and fittingly, at age twenty-one will wear pink knee socks in her last game. Over the years the girls have played on many teams, some good ones and some not so good. We traveled the country to see them play on Competitive Travel teams, High School and College teams. As this chapter of our family life draws to a close I can’t help but think about what, if anything, the girls learned from so many hours spent on the softball diamond. In the following team and teammates may be read as co-workers, friends, or family, whatever suits you.

Hopefully they learned a few life lessons (in no particular order) such as:

v You don’t have to like everyone on your team, but you do have to learn to get along with them. Not everyone in life is going to be your friend, however, you can’t always quit, expect them to change, or fire them, and therefore you need to learn to work with them for the good of the team.

v Sometimes you have to take extraordinary measures to reach your goal. It may be necessary for you to dive for a catch or slide into a base. This is your decision, based on how badly you want to achieve your goal for yourself or your team.

v Sometimes you may be the sacrifice so someone else can get a step closer to their goal. This is where you must learn to put your personal goals aside in order to let someone else have their moment in the sun. Yeah, swinging for the center field fence is more fun and more glamorous, but a bunt that dies a foot in front of the plate may be what is best for everyone concerned. Putting your own glory aside may be the right thing to do.

v Every pitch is another opportunity. Not everything that comes your way is going to be worth the effort of swinging the bat. You will have to make the decision. Is it too far out for you? Is it beneath you? Is it too high for you to reach or close enough you have to cut your losses and run or get hit? Maybe it’s just right for you, waist high and over the middle of the plate. Do you swing at it with everything you’ve got or stand there and watch it pass you by?

v Sometimes your best isn’t good enough. If you gave it your all and still the score wasn’t in your favor, then you have nothing to be ashamed of. If you didn’t give it your all, then you have no one to blame for the outcome but yourself.

v A graceful loser is a winner. Hold your head up and congratulate the winner. They played a better game than you did, that’s all.

v Sometimes the winner isn’t the team with the highest score. How you react to winning is more important than actually winning. If your opponents played to the best of their ability then respecting their efforts will cost you nothing and in no way diminishes your accomplishment.

v One word of praise will do more for your team mate than a ball bucket full of criticism. I need not elaborate on this.

v You can’t do everything yourself. This is why there are nine players on the field at one time. You need to learn to rely on them and work with them to achieve your common goal.

v Sometimes you may not be the best person for the job. You may have to sit on the bench while someone else takes center stage. Being a big enough person to accept that and cheer on the other person is a difficult thing to do.

v There’s no place like home (plate). It’s good to know that when your foot touches home there will be people there to welcome you. Your teammates want you to come home as often as you can.

v The decision won’t always be the one you wanted. As in life, often someone else is deciding things for you. You may not like the call, and you may need to go through the proper channels to appeal the decision, but in the end, whatever the outcome, sometimes you just have to accept the call and move on.

v The final outcome never comes down to just one play. Over the course of seven innings lots of things happen to affect the final outcome of the game. Everyone remembers the last thing that happened, but the end result is an accumulation of all the previous plays, good and bad.

v When you catch the ball, squeeze your glove shut and hold on tight. When an opportunity comes your way and you are lucky enough to catch it, hang on tight so it doesn’t slip away.

v No matter where you are on the field, when the batter hits the ball you have a job to do. Don’t let your team down. Know where the play is, and anticipate the future so you will be ready to react when the time comes. You can’t always predict what will happen, but if you are paying attention to the signs and signals you can anticipate and react faster and more efficiently.

v Keep your eye on the ball. If you don’t know where the ball is, you aren’t playing the game and you’re likely to be hit upside the head. Being blindsided is never a good thing.

v Bruises are battle scars. If you’re playing to win you might get hurt. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and try again.

v Know your opponent. Do your research, especially if you’re the pitcher. Know the batters strengths and weaknesses.

v Learn as many pitches as you can. The more things you can do, the better your chances of winning. Be versatile, adapt to the situation. If one pitch isn’t working, try a different one until you find the one that will achieve the desired outcome and never, ever, throw one over the center of the plate.

v When you hit the ball, turn your eyes toward your goal and run like there’s a bear chasing you. Good advice in any endeavor. Don’t look back, just run until you are forced to stop.

v Once you make the decision to throw the ball or swing the bat, put your whole body behind the effort. If it’s worth doing, then don’t do it halfway.

v Sometimes you have to stand and watch the ball go over the fence. Every so often something happens and there is nothing you can do to change the outcome. It’s cliché, but change the things you can and accept the things you can’t change.

v Sometimes you hit a foul ball. Not everything we try turns out the way we want it to. Forget it and try again.

v Sometimes you strike out. There will be another ‘at bat’, if not today, then soon. Do what you can to be ready for it.

v A walk is as good as a hit. If you can make it to your goal by your powers of astute observation rather than by taking aggressive action, then good for you! The run across home plate that started with a walk counts the same as the one that started with a hit.

v Sometimes you drop the ball. Hopefully your teammates will be there to back you up. That’s what they’re for.

v Listen to your coach. Coaches come in all kinds of packages and in every stage of our lives. They are there to guide and support us along the way. If we have chosen them well then their advice and counsel will be invaluable to our success.

In the end, when your foot lands on home plate that final time and the diamond dust has settled, if you can say, “I played the game to the best of my ability and I have no regrets,” then your teammates will be at the dugout door to welcome you home with open arms.

Thanks girls for eighteen years of fun.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Fat Lady on a Treadmill - The Primate Exhibit

The other day at the pit I was trying to push my vintage Cadillac just a little further on the ¾ rack, rocking out to Steppenwolf’s Born to Be Wild, and trying to ignore the family across the street in the minivan stuffing their faces with greasy burgers and fries. The street between the pit and the fast food place isn’t all that busy usually, but on occasion traffic will backup from the traffic signal as far as the pit. This was one of those times.

I was seriously thinking of chucking the whole workout in favor of a jog ( a big move for me because as noted previously – I don’t run, that includes jogging) across the street to pick up another spare tire and some junk for my trunk when I noticed the couple in the Bubba truck stopped between me and the object of my obsession. Movement in the cab drew my attention away from the promise of marginally cooked mystery meat to the occupants of said Bubba truck.

RayBob pointed a gnarled finger in my general direction. His mouth moved. “Lookie thar BobbieRae. That’s one of them orange e tangs.”

BobbieRae leaned forward and craned her steel wool topped head to see what RayBob was talking about. “Well I’ll be. I didn’t know we had a zoo.”

At that point I had no doubt I resembled an orangutan at the San Diego Zoo. The dew was falling pretty good and heaven only knew what my hair was doing. I looked around for something to throw at the glass like any self respecting primate. The only thing handy was my water bottle and I needed that, so I considered a few bird like hand gestures instead. I quickly dismissed that option as conduct unbefitting a southern bred woman and instead wiggled my fingers in a friendly manner.

“Well don’t that beat all BobbieRae; they done went and trained that one.”

“How did they learn that poor dumb animal to do that?”

“I seen it on the tell-e-vision. They give ‘em a treat ever time they do something right.”

Pavlov had nothing on me. Dangle a doughnut in front of me and I’d do just about anything. In fact, after failing to locate the secret donut stash at a former pit I didn’t want to make the same mistake at this one, so when I signed up I asked the kid at the front desk where they hid the doughnuts. He looked me over and said, “We don’t have a secret doughnut stash, Ma’am.” His vocabulary choices told me I was old, his perusal told me I didn’t have any business eating more doughnuts. Certain there weren’t any pastries to be had I’d turned my attentions and conditioned responses to the burger joint across the street. I wiped a spot of drool off my chin as the woman in the minivan took another giant bite of greasy burger and popped a starch stick in her mouth.

“We should bring the chillum back. They’d like the zoo.”

“Maybe next week BobbieRae. We got to get over to the dump before all the good stuff is gone.”

I waved goodbye and good riddance to my new friends when the light changed. Maybe they’ll bring the chillum back next week. I’ll have to learn some new tricks before they do.