LOST IN THE U.S.A.

Map

No vacation is truly an adventure, until something goes wrong.

Based on that statement, our recent excursion into the Excited States was actually a roaring success.  It all started just after we crossed the Niagara River, and pulled up to the American Customs booth.

I had packed our Koolatron, a mini, portable refrigerator, the night before we left, with all kinds of drinks, Pepsi, iced tea, bottled water, orange juice….  As I was packing the car, the wife added some snacks to keep a diabetic’s blood sugar up – snap peas, baby carrots and cherries.

The border guard asked if we had any fruits or vegetables.  I said ‘no,’ and the wife startled.  He wasn’t worried about the peas or carrots, but Canada has cherry mites.  Wifey says, ‘That’s okay.  They’re Washington State cherries.’  ‘Let’s see them.’  The bag she had just finished was Washington, but the replacements she brought along were from British Columbia.  ‘They have to be quarantined.’ he says, and into the garbage they went.

Still distracted and smarting from the loss of the cherries, I was one lane too far right, and ended up heading south towards Buffalo, instead of swinging east towards the New York Turnpike.  A situation usually easily rectified, at the next exit I pulled up, over, and back down.  I practiced a bit of Zen driving, by following a Greyhound bus that looked like it knew where I was going.  I was right.  He led me well into Pennsylvania.

Our Canadian cell phone plan won’t talk to American cell towers.  Several miles down the Turnpike, the wife’s phone rang.  Is the car haunted??   It was our Canadian Virgin Mobile plan.  “For a mere $7/day, we’ll contract AT&T to provide you full phone service.  We realized that you were outside Canada by GPS tracking your cell phone.”  Great idea! and I didn’t hardly feel stalked at all.  We got Google GPS on the wife’s phone.  I wanted to call the new voice Navigator Nancy, but that name was already taken.  She became just Google Girl, and I now have three female voices in the car, telling me where to go.

The second episode of Lost, was filmed in Wilkes-Barre, PA, where we stopped for the night.  Frenchmen and ballerinas call it wilks – bar, but the locals insist that it’s wilks-berry. The address of our motel was right on a main access road, but we couldn’t find it.  By finally asking a convenience-store clerk, we discovered that it was actually up a hill, behind a U-Haul storage facility, and accessed from a small side-road, by going through a TGI Friday’s parking lot.

We didn’t learn that until we’d been past it 4 times.  I pulled into a small side-road to turn around, only to discover that it was the entry ramp for the Interstate.  We went nine miles back North.  I tried my patented up-over-and down maneuver©, only to find that the down ramp took me to a narrow, twisty State highway which only eventually got me back to what passes for civilization.

I must have earned some positive Karma points.  The next day’s highway mishap actually brought me out ahead – still behind, but not as far.  We wanted to go from an Interstate, to a State Highway, in Harrisburg, PA, to save about 60 miles.  All three female voices told me to take exit 5B.  I thought that 5B would be on the far side of the overpass, but like the one I missed in Buffalo a few years ago, both were on the near side.

Just as I realized this, and tried to reach the off-ramp, a local air-conditioning repair truck swooped out of the outside lane and cut me off.  Oh well, we’ll go down to exit 4.  No ‘up-over-and-down’ in the middle of a city, Ethel’s directions took me ‘down here,’ and then ‘across there.’  The wife complained that, if I must get lost, I should at least do it in an area with stately, historical homes, not the grubby factory and warehouse route we took.

When I reached the highway up-ramp, I manage to insert my vehicle into a ‘volume of traffic’ jam.  When I looked in my mirror, I found the air-conditioning van 3 or 4 spaces behind me.  After inching along for 3 miles, because of two more feeder ramps, we finally got back to ‘highway speed.’

In a previous blogging challenge, I’ve said that Life makes me happy.  Just before we leaked out of Pennsylvania into the Maryland panhandle, we curled around the base of a small mountain, just in time to see 10 colorful hot-air balloons rising up its sides.  The long, smooth, descending curve allowed us to observe them from a variety of angles and elevations.  Perhaps not as large or exciting as the Taos, NM hot air balloon festival, I still took it as a sign of apology and reward for the travails of the previous day.

There’s more to come, so I’d like you to come back.  😀

Taos Balloons

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’18 A To Z Challenge – Flood

Challenge '18

Letter F

Unless the Mayan calendar apocalypse comes to pass, my little home town, situated where a river meets a lake, will never have a flood.

Lake Huron’s levels are closely monitored and controlled by the St. Lawrence Seaway commission, the geography is stable, and it would take something larger than a falling Chinese Space Station, to cause a tsunami.  The land quickly rises, so that most of the town is 50 feet above water level.  My birthplace house is more like 70’.

The closest thing to a flood is the spring ice-breakup in the river.  It starts 3 miles upstream, below the little rapids.  The thin ice breaks, pushing downstream against the thicker and thicker layers, partly impeding the water flow, until finally it lets loose.  Suddenly, thousands of tons of ice blocks, 2 – 3 – 4-feet thick, and as big as buses, thunder down the canyon, scour the harbor docks, and spew into the lake.

I’m told that it is an awe-inspiring sight and sound, but silly little things like education and employment have never allowed me to be present.  In late fall, the docks are cleared.  Ladders for swimmers and boaters are unbolted.  Fishing boats are winched onto the concrete, and placed well up on the banks.  After the cascade, ice that’s in the way is bulldozed back into the water.  Blocks that aren’t, are still melting beside the little park, well into June.

***

When we made our pitifully few visits to the lower United States for vacations, we were usually fixed on getting to our destination as soon as possible, and took the Interstates.  Humming along steadily for hours, at 110Kmh/70MPH, the extra distances were made up for by not having to follow some farm tractor, or stop at every stop sign and red light in every goober little town.

The time we took our On Top Of The World trip, we decided that we had the time, not to go 100 miles from Buffalo to Erie, PA, to get on I-79.  Instead, we took State highways down and back, from Buffalo, through Pennsylvania.  The entertainment and education justified the decision.

We passed through Du Bois, PA, named after W.E.B. Du Bois, a 19th century Negro civil-rights pioneer.  Both names are pronounced ‘due–boys’, rather than the French ‘due-bwah.’

We found a small PA town that clings to a mountainside so steep, that the northbound lane of the highway/main street, is 8 feet above the southbound lane, with a guardrail to prevent cars from falling in.  The industry in another Pennsylvania town was a Weyerhaeuser paper mill.  We could smell that one 3 miles before we got there, and 3 miles after we left, and rolled the windows down to clear the stench.

Rolling into one town we were faced with 6 or 7 truck-docks, at the back of a large plant.  Each dock seemed to be a different color, red, green, orange blue, purple.  When we got closer we found that it was a Pittsburgh Glass plant, and what we’d seen was hundreds of pounds of broken bottles and other glass, all sorted by color, which had fallen below the docks as it was being brought back in for melting and reuse.

As we were coming back north, we reached a spot where a secondary road met the highway at a T-intersection to our left.  Suddenly, in the middle of Nowhere PA, miles from any town or city, I was faced with the first roundabout I’d ever seen.

Like the 1942 song That Old Black Magic says, “Down and down I go.  Round and round I go.”  Round and round the roundabout I went, missing the northbound, uphill highway.  Instead, I continued ‘round, and exited onto the westbound, downhill road.

Six miles this steep, two-lane blacktop weaved its way down and down, with not a sign of a turnoff, another side-road, or even a farmer’s lane, to turn into to turn around.

Finally, after losing hundreds of feet of altitude, we reached a sign that said, “Welcome To Johnstown PA”.  Johnstown??  Like in the Johnstown flood??  Sure enough, there was the Conemaugh River, before we started our long trek back uphill.

In 1851 a dam was built 14 miles upstream, to provide water for area industries, and for a barge-canal system.  Later, trains replaced barges, so the dam was sold to a railway company.  The Railway Company wasn’t in the ‘dam’ business, so they didn’t maintain it, even removing and selling piping that could lower water levels behind it.

In 1889, a ‘Century Storm’ dumped 12 inches of rain in the mountain valley in two days.  The dam finally failed, and the flood roared through several small towns and Johnstown.  It caused $17 million 1889 dollars worth of damage, almost $500 million today, and killed over 2200 people.

I quietly drove back up to the highway and home, to compose this happy tale for you.  Stop back again later, when we visit The Rockies and talk about avalanches.  😯

‘17 A To Z Challenge – T

Challenge2017

letter-t

You just know that a darkness-loving troglodyte like me would be fascinated with being underneath things, and by;

TUNNELS

With tunnels and the like, I am intrigued not merely with the fact that I am under, but what (specifically) is over.

At a place in England, it is necessary for a narrow-boat canal to cross a river. It does so on a multi-arched aqueduct.  It is fascinating to see photos or video of a west-bound river steamer passing directly beneath a south-bound canal boat.

When we had tired of going from Windsor to Detroit, or back, on the big bridge, and driving above ships in the river, I decided to try the tunnel. While it’s a little more distance, back then, the connection to I-75 was quicker and easier.  I never worried about the tunnel collapsing, but it was interesting to think that I might be driving directly under a 1000-foot-long lake freighter.

When we used to go to Niagara Falls, down at the other end of Lake Erie, I took the opportunity to return home via a tunnel under the Welland Canal. It’s possible that I drove under that same freighter from Detroit.

It costs a lot of money to dig a road tunnel, especially through rock. Most of the American Interstate system, at least in the eastern mountains, goes around them.  One exception is I-40, from Knoxville, Tenn. into North Carolina.  There are two tunnels within a few miles – but only if you’re travelling East.  If you’re heading West, at one of the tunnels, the divided highway hangs along the side of the mountain.  Being in the tunnel there, only means that you’re under pine roots and raccoon shit.

Skyline panorama

We came through Pittsburgh one time, following the Interstate down the edge of the river, 30/40 feet higher than the water. I-376 suddenly crosses the river, and plunges into the side of a 150 foot stone cliff on the other side, and doesn’t seem to come up for air until you’re almost into Indiana.

It’s one thing, especially at spaghetti-junction highway interchanges, to be driving underneath other cars or even big transport trucks. On the west side of town, the Conestoga Expressway passes under not only several surface streets, but the main railroad line, so I’ve driven under trains.

To accommodate our new street-railroad system, two of the major, downtown streets have been excavated under the rail line, so I’ve had even more opportunities to drive under trains. A couple of blocks from the daughter’s place, there is an old, shallow underpass, where I’ve often driven under trains.  I try to be sure that, when I drive under something, I can get all the way out the other side.  Despite signs warning of “Low Underpass,” a couple of times a year, THIS happens.

Tunnels

There’s an underpass like this, somewhere in the States, that’s so famous that it has its own website. With a name like ‘elevenfootsix.com’, you can access it and watch live video from a traffic-cam, or access archived footage and photos.

At least twice a week, some big-rig, or local delivery truck like the one above, rips the top off and gets stuck. There must be a Ryder truck-rental agency upstream, because every second truck is a (now-damaged) Ryder.  It’s (almost) amusing to watch RVs swoop under it, but peel off roof-mounted canoes or air-conditioning units.

I have finally driven under an airplane. One day, coming around the Expressway, on a sunny, cloudless day, suddenly I was in a shadow, and then out again.  What was that??  Ah….a 20-passenger commuter plane, heading for the local airport.  But it’s mid-afternoon, and the sun is off to the west, so I wasn’t directly under it, merely in its shadow.

All that changed on my most recent drive to Ottawa, to visit the Grandson. The highway goes past a Canadian Forces Airbase, and there were two big military transport planes angling in for a landing, 45° ahead and to my left.  Can I?  Can I?  I hope!

The first one crossed the highway and went to final approach.  A minute later and a mile further east for me, and lower and nearer for the second….VOOOM!  I went right under him!  When a C-16 cargo plane passes 200 feet above you, there’s no mistake.  The sonic vibrations pounded me and the car.  I could see his nose out the passenger side, while his tail was still on my driver’s side.

Small things do indeed amuse small minds. It’s better than being under suspicion, under investigation, under the influence, under arrest, or under a misapprehension.  What things would you admit to being under?   😕

***

By the way:  Happy New Years guys.  The best of good wishes for the coming year, and thanx for your ongoing company and support.  😀

What’s Cooking?

Hot Sex*

Wife was preparing to fry an egg when her husband came home and shouted: “Attention ! Attention! More oil! We need more oil! It will burn! Attention! Turn it over! Turn it over! Turn it over! Attention! Are you crazy? The oil will end! Oh, God! Salt! Don’t forget the salt! …”

Wife, being already annoyed at this, asks him: “Why are you screaming like that? Do you think I’m not able to fry an egg?”

The husband responds very calmly: “That’s what it was like to give you an idea just how I feel when I drive the car and you sit next to me…”

***

The other day, a guy went to the dentist’s office to have a tooth pulled. 

The dentist pulls out a freezing needle to give him a shot.

“No way! No needles! I hate needles”, the man said. 

The dentist starts to hook up the laughing gas and the man immediately objected. “I can’t do the gas thing either; the thought of having the gas mask on is suffocating me!”

The dentist then asks the man if he has any objection to taking a pill.

“No objection”, the man said. “I’m fine with pills”.

The dentist then returns and says, “Here’s a Viagra tablet”.

The guy, totally at a loss for words, said in amazement, “WOW, I didn’t know Viagra worked as a pain killer!”

“It doesn’t”, said the dentist, “but it will give you something to hold on to when I pull your tooth.”

 

***

A Tennessee State trooper pulled over a pickup on I-65.

The trooper asked, “Got any ID?”

The driver replied, “Bout whut?”

***

A Virginia State trooper pulled a car over on I-64 about 2 miles south of the Virginia/ West Virginia State line.

When the trooper asked the driver why he was speeding, the driver said he was a Magician and a Juggler and was on his way to Beckley WV to do a show at the Shrine Circus. He didn’t want to be late.

 The trooper told the driver he was fascinated by juggling and said if the driver would do a little juggling for him then he wouldn’t give him a ticket.

He told the trooper he had sent his equipment ahead and didn’t have anything to juggle.

The trooper said he had some flares in the trunk and asked if he could juggle them. The juggler said he could, so the trooper got 5 flares, lit them and handed them to him.

While the man was juggling, a car pulled in behind the patrol car. A drunken good old boy from West Virginia got out, watched the performance, then went over to the patrol car, opened the rear door and got in.

The trooper observed him and went over to the patrol car, opened the door asking the drunk what he thought he was doing.

The drunk replied, “You might as well take my ass to jail, ‘cause there ain’t no way I can pass that test.”

***

 

Archonology – The Next Generation

 

A couple of years ago, I wrote of finding an old English bus ticket from 1942, in an old book. If you didn’t read the post, you’ll have to take my word for it because, despite my impressive filing system, I can’t seem to find it.

Like father – like daughter.  Recently, LadyRyl picked up an old hard-cover book at a Thrift Store.  As she was reading it, out popped an old post card.  Anybody remember them??

Image

Isn’t this darling? And isn’t that pile of concrete impressive?  It has all the architectural magnificence of a Russian tenement.  What a building!  You just know that important stuff happens in there every day.  Stuff like….merchandise marting.  Kind of like the Pentagon of its day.

Image (2)

Here’s the back, where the more interesting, human-interest stuff shows up. It was mailed on Jan. 9, 1946, from Chicago.  Who wants to be in Hell-frozen-over Chicago in January?  Sent home to Grand Rapids, Michigan – a 185 mile, 3-hour drive these days, but probably most of a day, back before Interstates.

It was sent to ‘Bobby’, but the phrase “be a good girl” says that she was Barbara Jane.  It cost a whole penny for the stamp to mail it.  Back before ZIP-codes were even a gleam in a bureaucrat’s eye, it was addressed to Ward (8) in Grand Rapids.

The aunt and uncle senders were Val & Al – too cute for words. I don’t think Big Al had much to do with this piece of mail.  Aunty says she tried to call Bobby’s father, “but the line was busy.”  The entire family seems well enough off to afford a trip to Chicago, and a telephone when most folks didn’t have them.  I’m amazed that the phone was busy.  Without Facebook, YouTube and Instagram, what could they have had to yak about?

It’s not quite as old as my bus ticket, but it’s further before her birth, than mine was for me.  Like me, Ryl is guarding and preserving this piece of historical ephemera.  It speaks quietly from the past, of a society and lifestyle, a little more gracious and courteous, and far less crowded and frenetic than the ‘modern’ one we endure today.

SWEEEET!

American money

To help finance our recent trip to visit Cordelia’s Mom, in Buffalo, I did a little unintentional crowd-sourcing. Son Shimoniac and I are almost impossible to buy presents for. I don’t even wear ties, so gaily-wrapped tee-shirts, socks or underwear often show up.

Grandson WillowThorn had been desperately searching for suitable presents for both Shimoniac and I. Our birthdays both occurred just before this trip. He had finally found something suitable for me, which he will now delightedly hold until Christmas. When he heard about our trip, he went to a bank and presented each of us with $50 US cash. That’s the joy of a gift of money. It’s always the right size. Let’s have a nice round of applause for one of the nicest grandsons/nephews in the world.

The son worked a midnight shift till 7 AM, Saturday morning, came home, showered, changed, had breakfast/midnight snack, and helped me load the car after I’d had *?*? hours of sleep. He normally goes to bed about noon, but sometimes gets excited by the weekend before him and stays up till 3 or 4. With the trip ahead, he was so high on adrenalin, I could have towed him to Buffalo like a kite.

I had decided to cross the border from Queenston to Lewiston, partly to save a bit of extra driving, but mostly to keep Ethel, the snotty GPS, quiet. Fifty miles of the drive were along a highway named for the Queen, The Queen Elizabeth Way – The QEW, which Ethel rendered to ‘The Q EWest’. I’m lucky she didn’t call it ‘The QEast/West’. Before we left, the son entered the address of the motel out in Batavia that we would stay at. Ethel didn’t get snotty till I decided to pull off I-90, to get to the restaurant. We forgot to tell her we were stopping for lunch.

Cordelia had already wisely backed out, but CM has two other quite intelligent daughters, both also smart enough not to want to have anything to do with mom’s two rotund Canuckleheads.

CM had to go down to the basement, where she managed to slip off the electronic monitoring ankle bracelet, unchain Mr. CM, and drag him along. He must have majored in Performing Arts in College, because he acted as if he actually enjoyed himself.

SDC10886 our restaurant, The Grapevine

Having already pulled an illegal player substitution on us, CM then proceeded to execute an end run. Two days before kickoff, she emailed me to say that she had invited another blogger and his wife http://markbialczak.com/ . Talk about feeling like a fifth wheel – more like the third rail.

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Sadly, they couldn’t make it. I seated The Bear across from Mr. CM. When he left, he still had both ears, so I guess the son didn’t talk one of them off. I posted a blog called Funny Money, about Canada’s new, polymer plastic bills, but it was before CM knew me, so she hadn’t seen it.

Loonie toonie

They both were aware of them, as well as our Loonie and Toonie – the $1 and $2 coins, but hadn’t actually seen them, so I hauled some out for their inspection. They were fascinated, especially hubby, with the holograms.

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Lunch was delicious, (and paid for by someone else) and the company was sparkling. I remembered to present CM with a refill on her maple candy, (this is where the SWEEEET comes in) and LadyRyl sent along a cloth chew-toy for the dog.  I don’t know if Not CM sneaked in or not.  I kept glancing around for strange looking people, and found everyone staring at Shim and I.  We were It.  😛

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Kooky, the Coke-sniffing drinking bear got to make some new friends. Afterwards, we were invited back to our hosts’ home to meet puppy Cody, and view the almost-completed repairs.

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Possibly overwhelmed by the size and the hair on The Bear, Cody was understandably reticent. It took some skill and patience to get a shot of her. CM then led us on a merry chase down to The Galleria Mall. After another minor episode of not quite being where we should, (wait till you read what I managed on my own later) she abandoned left us in the rain, outside a Sears store.

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I’m not much of a believer in superstitions, but the finding of lucky, welcoming pennies just continued – three days, three pennies found, the first by Shimoniac, on a hip-high shelf in Sears. Please return next week for the story of our stay in a small town city, out in the sticks.

It’s Not My Problem

 

Normally, I’m Joe Niceguy, willing to go a little out of my way to help others.  Like Bart Simpson, I don’t give up till I’ve tried at least one easy thing.  I recently read an article by a female columnist about this.  I basically agreed with her – until she got to whining about motorists who won’t let other drivers in.  There’s definitely two sides to that story, but then, she’s the one who got all upset about people who claim that they are spiritual, and believe in God – but don’t go to church – as if one has anything to do with the other.

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She made me think of the times and places where you just can’t be nice.  You have to present folks with a problem to solve or they don’t learn nothin’.  Too many of them are too self-centered and/or dumb to learn, even when presented with a problem – but I keep tryin’.

When I first moved to this burg, you could hold street dances on the main road from my place out in the sticks, to downtown.  Nowadays, especially during that oxymoronic “rush hour,” bumper-to-bumper volume of traffic creeps along.

As I go down the hill from a set of traffic lights, towards the daughter’s place, there’s always a line at a stop sign at a side street, hoping to get out.  I occasionally let one, or two, into line, and then laugh at numbers three and four who think I’m going to sit there all afternoon.  If they went a block further, to the cross-street with the lights, they could get in.  Think ahead – without your ego and sense of entitlement.  It’s not my problem.

We left town the other day, and pulled onto the Superhighway.  A half-mile from the overpass bridge, there was a warning sign that it narrowed to one lane for road work.  A quarter-mile further, there was another warning sign, and yet, when we got to the spot where the right lane disappeared, drivers in the inner lane were cutting off drivers in the go-through lane.

I saw in my rear-view, a semi that couldn’t move over, since he couldn’t accelerate to match traffic speed, because yahoos were using the down-ramp, exit lane to the plaza, to rush ahead of him and cut back in, before cutting off more drivers up ahead.  I slowed my line almost to a stop and let him in, then snuggled up to his tail, and let the rest of the blind car drivers behind him figure it out for themselves. It’s not my problem. The fact that I didn’t get a wave, a flash of headlights, or a honk, soured it a bit for me, but I soon restocked my niceness.

A couple of blocks past the daughter’s place, the four-lane road narrows to two lanes.  Bumper-to-bumper, and at a complete standstill, I watched a driver come roaring up the inside, to the barricade.  Then, despite the fact that I couldn’t move, he bitched at me, because I wouldn’t let him in.  “My lane ends.  Where am I supposed to go?”  Exactly!!  Think it through!!  It’s not my problem.

At my Jeep-part line in the auto plant, there was a large chute next to my press where I dumped the cut-off edge trim and knockouts to feed into a grinder on the floor below, for recycling.  Because of increased production and normal deterioration, the grinder increasingly stopped working.

One day, the line’s material handler rolled over on his forklift and told me that the grinder had stopped working again, and not to feed the chute.  Then he disappeared.  I started throwing my stuff on the floor, quickly building up a huge pile.

My inspector/packer asked me why I didn’t just pull over a wire basket and put my scrap in it.  If I made it my problem, it would quickly become always my problem.  Worse, it would always be a problem.  If the fork-lift driver didn’t think to supply the basket, and objected to having to clean up the mess, he could complain to a supervisor.

Made aware of the mess, the supervisor could direct the maintenance department to get the grinder running. If maintenance couldn’t get the grinder running, they could pass the buck back to the supervisor.  If the grinder needed a capital budget for repair or replacement, the supervisor needed to chivvy management.

If I accepted responsibility, and performed the extra labor, none of that would happen.  It’s not my circus.  They’re not my monkeys.  My problem is that too many of these airheaded dipsticks don’t learn from experience.  Niceguys finish last.

Okay, now it’s your turn to bitch.  Come on, you know you want to.  Everybody works with or sees this shit.

True to form, I leave the old year with a rant, but I want to wish all of you the best in the coming New Year.   😀