A great day ...
A great day today. Rolled out of bed a little before 6 o'clock, and since I was the first human of the house to get up and about, I was in charge of the morning animal routine, which goes something like this:
Put the dog out in the backyard to do morning business; go back to cat's room and load cat automatic feeder while starving and bulimic cat meows over and over; return to dining room and put some dog food in dog dish; let dog back in.
Dog eats, while cat -- who by now has inhaled her first portion of the day's feeding -- sits nearby, waiting patiently to see if the dog leaves anything behind. I take a seat on the couch with my coffee, checking email and book sales and such, hearing dog crunch its food, while cat waits patiently for any leftovers to be had. Crunching stops, so I get up and go look to make sure the dog dish is empty, because if there is some food left, cat will quickly scarf it up and regurgitate a few minutes later.
Bowl looks empty, both animals are fed and watered. Time for me to finish my coffee, get dressed and head out for my 7:15 tee time. Then, I hear some faint crunching sounds coming from the area of the dog dish. What the heck? Dog is there on the sofa, so it must be ... it's the damn cat. Dish was not completely empty. Shoo the kitty away, secure and cover the dog dish, return to couch.
A few minutes later ... retching sounds from down the hallway, and voila! Neat pile of regurgitated dog food on the carpet. Good grief ...
Never fear, though. Dog likes its food both at room temperature or warmed to a cat's body heat, and slightly moistened. All that was left for me was to spray a little cleaner on the spot and scrub a bit with a wash cloth. All done!
That was not what made today a great day, though. I finally had a nice round of golf, after a couple weeks of stinking up the place. I trounced my friends Bubba and Gator, took ALL the winnings from our usual wager, and used my windfall to buy a burrito for lunch. Even had a little change left!
July 13th, 2015
Had the privilege of speaking on the phone for nearly an hour today with Dan Rice, who was in his car on some backed-up California freeway headed somewhere in his never-ending quest to preserve one of America's great historical landmarks -- Route 66.
I recently completed the 2,400-mile drive along the Main Street of America, from Chicago to the Pacific Ocean at Santa Monica, Calif. Rice, 45, owns a souvenir shop on the Santa Monica Pier and that was my last stop before heading back home. Unfortunately, Dan was not there, but one of his employees, a young man named Bryan, assured me he would leave his boss a message and my card.
As we stood there talking, Bryan asked me if I was a Christian. I told him, no, not really. I consider myself more of a seeker.
"Oh, that's cool," Bryan said, smiling. "You are seeking the truth, then?"
I said, yes, and after I bought a couple of Route 66 T-shirts, Bryan asked if he could pray for me before I left. Sure, I said, and he extended his hand across the counter of the small shop. With hundreds, probably thousands, of people bustling back and forth along the famous pier, this guy I'd never met and will likely never see again held my hand and prayed for my blessing and safety.
It was pretty cool.
Dan and I emailed back and forth a couple of times, but never connected until this afternoon. He's a pretty amazing guy -- one of those genius entrepreneur types who was on his way to earning a doctorate in psychology when a terrible car crash nearly killed him. It took him a long time to recover, but now he has built a small and growing empire centered around his love for Route 66, and efforts to preserve what he fears may be a dying part of history.
This guy has driven Route 66 not once, not twice, not 10 times. How about 29 times? He told me that his grandfather, who was from Chicago, showed him the downtown streets where Route 66 begins when he was a little boy, and told him it was a road that traveled all the way across the country to Los Angeles, where Fonzie (remember Happy Days?) lived!
Young Dan was hooked, and several years later, traveled part of the Mother Road for the first time with his father. Now, he is one of the leading experts on Route 66 and its history, and he told me some wonderful stories, including what Route 66 means to him. His comments were personal and heartfelt, and once again, as is always the case when people bare the souls in response to my questions, I was honored.
Dan wrote a book, "End of the Trail," about his experiences on Route 66, along with his eight-year struggle to recover from Traumatic Brain Injury following his car accident.
I'm excited to be able to include my interview with him in my upcoming book about my trip on the historic highway.
Time to get to work ...
Damn, saddened by the news of Ken Stabler's death from "complications associated with colon cancer." I guess that means the treatments are what actually did him in. Best known for his years playing quarterback for the Oakland Raiders under legendary coach John Madden, he was 69 years old.
Gone too soon.
Stabler, an all-American in college at Alabama who was nicknamed "The Snake" in high school for his elusive style of play, was one of the great characters in the NFL, on a Raiders team full of characters, like Ted Hendricks, John Matuszak, Lester Hayes, Dave Casper, Jack Tatum, Gene Upshaw, Phil Villapiano, and who can forget the great wide receiver Fred Biletnikoff. What a team that was, winning Super Bowl XI in 1977.
Always known for his coolness in pressure situations, one of my favorite Stabler stories was the time during an overtime game when a charged-up Madden called his quarterback to the sidelines to talk strategy. With the game on the line and the crowd going wild, Stabler looks up into the stands and says, "These folks are sure gettin' their money's worth, ain't they, coach?"
He was one of the best, and certainly one of the most colorful quarterbacks during one of the NFL's greatest eras. Remember these names?
So long, Snake ...
Cup o' java ...
Had to hustle today to find a story for this Friday's paper after my interview fell through at the last minute.
I'd been down to John's Java House in Copperas Cove a couple of times, and the owner looked like an interesting guy -- tall, friendly, long salt-and-pepper ponytail down his back -- and I had him on my mental list of possible story victims, I mean subjects, so I decided today was the day.
When I got there, he was behind the counter, talking to some dude, and when I explained who I was and what I wanted, he paused for half-a-minute, then kind of smiled and said, "OK, sure, when you want to do this?"
"Right now," I said.
We sat on opposite sides of the corner table and he asked if I wanted a coffee. I probably should have taken him up on the free offer -- never turn down something free -- but I'd already had some coffee at home, and it's all I can do to finish one cup. That first sip in the morning is absolutely glorious, but it's all downhill from there for me. I usually drink about half a cup, and then I'm done for the day.
"Well, I want one," he said, jumping up and heading back for the kitchen. He came back a few minutes later and I turned on my recorder, after snapping a few photos of him sitting there with his cup of coffee.
It was a great conversation, but I'm gonna make you wait until Friday to find out more. Turns out his name is indeed John, and he's from Minnesota by way of California, spent 15-plus years in the U.S. Army and has suffered his fair share of trials and tribulations during his 53 years.
It's always amazing, and one reason why I love writing about people. Everyone has been through "stuff." Some worse than your stuff, and some not-as-bad. But all of us go through hard times, one way or another, suffer pain and setbacks and loss and everything else.
And it affects people differently. Like John said, you can react to it in a negative way or a positive way. Some people become angry, bitter, resentful, depressed, while others respond just the opposite.
Look for the story in Friday's Copperas Cove Banner, available at various locations throughout town. For you out-of-towners, you can go to covebanner.com, click at the top on e-edition, then click on the front page icon, then on current edition. My column runs on p. 5.
Adios, y'all ...
A shocking day ...
I fully expected the Earth to open up and swallow me on the way home.
After a blissful late sleep until 9 o'clock, a nice cup of coffee and some doodling around on the laptop, the wife and I were off to the Verizon store in Copperas Cove.
A few days ago, I said, 'Let's go Monday to be treated rudely and get new phones.' Unfortunately, I was mostly being serious. My old phone has been on its last legs for a while, and last Thursday, I went down to the aforementioned phone store, spent about 15 minutes being completely ignored, before I finally walked out.
Today was Round 2.
To my surprise and delight, a young lady named Rachel greeted us with a big smile as we walked in the door, and provided the best customer service I've had in ... I don't know how long.
While I was on my Route 66 trip, I reported a grocery store cashier to the manager after the girl ignored my 'How are you?' when I walked up, never said a word or made eye contact, just took my money, practically threw my change at me and turned away. Not a thank you, a screw you, have a nice day, have a rotten day -- not a word, a smile, nothing. Same thing on Sunday when we stopped for breakfast tacos on our way back from Galveston.
So I was ready for more of the same today, but it was a more than pleasant experience. Rachel took care of us with smiles, laughter and a sense of humor, not to mention impeccable professionalism. If you're a Verizon customer and you need anything, ask for Rachel and go when she is working.
After that, we stopped by Arby's for a couple of to-go chicken salad sandwiches -- very good stuff -- and, once again, were greeted with smiles, courtesy and friendliness.
I was sure disaster would strike before we could make it safely home, possibly when we reached that sinking spot on the new bypass between Walmart and 2657. That's where we'd be swallowed whole.
What's the deal with that sinking spot anyway? They were out working on it again.
Anyway, cheers and Happy Trails, y'all ...
July 4 ...
Grilled hot dogs and hamburgers; fresh, sweet Hempstead, Texas watermelon; homemade chili con queso and chips; lots of cold drinks and assorted gourmet Jello shots; old friends and new ones playing marathon volleyball games and rounds of redneck golf under partly cloudy skies, with the Gulf of Mexico providing a soothing backdrop throughout the day.
Top it all off with watching fireworks from the hotel room balcony and it couldn't have been a much better 4th of July.
My friend and brother, Bobby, hosted a big holiday shindig at his beautiful beach house on Galveston's west end, and it was an excellent day.
On Friday, we had dinner with another childhood friend, Craig, who lives on the other end of the island. Bobby and I have known each other since at least 1st grade. Craig and I met at track tryouts in 7th grade, and ran together on a helluva good little 220-yard relay team.
We won district in 7th grade, and qualified for the regional championships, at Houston's Delmar Stadium, I think it was. We were naturally excited, and then when they called for our event, we headed over to take our positions on the track, and watched as the other team members lined up, as well. Every one one of them was six-feet tall, with bulging muscles, huge afro hairstyles, sideburns and beards. Craig and I -- who ran first and second legs on the relay team -- looked at them, then at each other, and started laughing.
We slapped each other five, then got ready for the gun.
Sure enough, we got smoked. Never stood a chance. Those other guys took off like greyhounds after a rabbit, and we came in dead last.
Good times. We love telling that story to whoever will listen.
We'll be heading back down to Galveston in a couple-three weeks to do some crabbin' with ol' Craig and his wife, Angie. Talk about fun and good eating. If you've never done it, you gotta try it sometime.
All you need is some kite string, a package of chicken necks or wings, and one of those long-handled nets -- a small net. Not the big, deep nets that are used for hauling in fish. If you use a fishing net, you'll never get the crab out after you catch him.
Just about anywhere along the shores around Galveston Bay -- there are other places, too -- is a good place to catch as many blue crab as you feel like catching. Apparently, nowadays you have to have a fishing license, and the crabs you keep have to be at least 5 inches across. Also, they can't be an expectant mama crab carrying eggs.
Anyway, what you do is, take about 10-feet or so of string and tie a piece of raw chicken to one end. Now, about two feet or so from the chicken, tie a little loop in the string. Anchor or tie the other end to something, and toss the chicken in the water. Put out a half-dozen lines or so and wait. It shouldn't take long, before a line straightens out or starts moving around. When it does, there's probably a crab on the other end.
Grab the net and slowly pull in the string. If the line goes slack, let go. The crab will likely find it again and pick it back up. If it stays taut, keep pulling -- slowly -- until you see the little loop coming up out of the water. Then, keeping the line taut, take the net and reach about two feet or so past the loop, coming in behind the unsuspecting crab, and scoop him up. That's it -- you got one!
Chunk the chicken back out in the water. Dump the crab in a cooler half-full of ice, being careful not to let one of those claws latch onto a finger (I've done it, and it's not fun) -- and you're on your way to an amazing meal.
Along with boiling your catch, cracking open the shells and enjoying some of the finest stuff known to man, here's a great thing to do with crabmeat. Get some fresh mushrooms and break off the stems; fill the upside down caps with crab; top with cheese; bake until browned. Good grief ...
Continued happy summering, y'all ...
A good day ...
When you swing a golf club with effortless smoothness and balance, and connect purely with the ball, sending it high and far and exactly where you wanted it to go, it's one of life's more enjoyable things.
I did that today, quite a few times. Like on no. 14, when I ripped my drive down the middle, a slight draw well past the 150-yard marker and coming to rest about 80 yards from the green. I neatly put my second shot on the putting surface and nearly holed the birdie putt.
Then there was no. 15, with the tees moved up a bit, so hitting a driver might have put the ball in the big lake that sits, I don't know, 280 yards away, the fairway running slightly downhill to the water. So today, it was a 3-wood off the tee, and I nearly whiffed it. The ball squirted out there about 100 yards, and I had to lay up in front of the lake, and then I hit a nice little 6-iron fade right into the drink. Ker-plunk.
That's golf, though. I wound up with 86, and beat my buddy, Bubba, by one shot. Our friend, Gator, wasn't quite with it today, and I'm not sure how he finished.
But, it was a great day. Any day out on the golf course is a great day. Some are greater than others, but still, it beats the heck out of working, I can tell you that.
Almost home ...
Thought I'd be sleeping in my own bed tonight, with a pair of comfortable warm arms and soft hands holding me close, but I didn't quite make it home from El Paso, about a 550-mile drive. Fatigue started to set in and then it started getting dark and the skies opened up as I got to Junction, Texas, and so I reluctantly decided to call it a day.
A good move, I think, as it continues to pour down outside this nice little Best Western. I was slip-sliding away a few times on the highway, and that'll make your heart rate go up a little bit.
A few days ago, on my trip along Route 66 in California, I stopped at a convenience store near a place called Newberry Springs. After I gassed up the car, I went inside to use the servicios, and there was a dude sitting in a metal folding chair seriously bending the ear of the girl behind the counter. I mean, this guy was doing some talking, yo?
I saw an opportunity.
On my way out, I stopped and introduced myself, and he jumped up and grabbed my hand and shook it. I told him I was traveling Route 66 and interviewing people along the way and he looked to me like he might have some stories to tell. Would he mind answering a few questions?
Sure, he said, with a big smile on his face, you wanna buy me a beer?
No problem. I paid for my gas, bought him a cold one and we went outside and stood in the shade and off he went.
Turns out his name is Ricardo Polanco-Navarro, son of an Apache mother, Spanish father, and a descendant of Geronimo. Ricardo, 59, was born in El Centro, Calif., graduated high school in 1975 in Redlands, and a year later, he joined the Army, with high hopes of taking full advantage of all the opportunities the military can provide.
Things didn't turn out as planned. He left after two years.
"I joined, and so I decided to take my ball and go home, because they weren't fair. They used me as a scapegoat for some things, and it just wasn't good."
He went back to Redlands, angry and resentful over his treatment by the military.
He did some landscaping work, married once, and had some other relationships that resulted in three children. Now, he is living with his 78-year-old mother, helping her and helping other people when he gets the opportunity.
Life, he says, hasn't gone exactly as planned, but he relies on his faith to keep going one day at a time.
"Like in the Bible, I'm a sojourner. I'm an adventurer. You know, things could be better, but I can't wait for Jesus (to return). That's what I'm waiting for -- the rapture, you know? I just take things one day at a time. I like to try to help people whenever I can. That's what it's all about, really.
"I want people to know that Jesus is the law, and Jesus is Lord. That's the main thing. There's one commandment that really matters: Love one another. Take care of each other. If we all would just do that, everything else would take care of itself."
Can't really argue with that ....
Heading home ...
Headed home today after my 12-day odyssey along Route 66. Instead of the serene backroads following the ol' Main Street of America through small-town U.S.A., it was time for pedal-to-the-metal interstate travel.
Nonetheless, it was beautiful cruising along Interstate 10 out of California and into Arizona, as you can see from the photos I snapped while motoring 80 mph (OK, maybe a little faster sometimes). Most of the past two weeks, I drove with the car radio turned all the way down, preferring to let my mind wander wherever it wanted to go, thinking about this and about that, concentrating on my surroundings. Meditative travel. Quiet is a good thing.
Today, I listened to the radio, and it was a little disturbing.
Along with being a writer, I am also a musician. I've played guitar in bands. I've written some decent songs, and played acoustic sets at different open mic nights and coffee shops and such with my talented-singer wife. But I really don't like to listen to music when I drive. I like talk radio. I don't know why. I just do.
And so much of what is going on in this country nowadays is pathetic and ridiculous and ... scary. I don't care if you consider yourself liberal, moderate or conservative, Republican, Libertarian, Democrat, or none of the above. I fear for the future of our wonderful country. I really do.
OK, enough of that ...
Yesterday, I mentioned the group of 60-something bicyclists from Switzerland that I met along Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica. These guys, remember, rode bicycles 2,400 miles along Route 66 from Chicago to California. Here's their photo again:
I haven't transcribed the interviews I did with these gracious men, who took the time to tell me all about their adventure -- after I used about seven different cameras and tablets to take this same photo for them :) -- and their accomplishment to me is amazing. They shipped their bikes over here, and said they planned to return to Chicago on a three-day train ride, then fly home.
They took some rest days along the way during their month-and-a-half trip, and at one point, as they pedaled through the Mojave Desert, ran out of water and became concerned not only for their ability to complete the ride, but for their survival.
Still, Urs, the tall guy in the middle, told me that on the final day, as they rode into Santa Monica, the emotion he felt was sadness, because their journey was coming to an end. It was the same for me.
I've talked about how this trip compares to walking the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in Spain. Talking to these gentlemen only reinforced that for me.
Route 66 is absolutely America's Pilgrimage.
On the Camino, walking miles and miles each day is absolute freedom. You meet wonderful people along the way. You see amazing things, have unforgettable, once-in-a-lifetime experiences. You experience history. And when it all comes to an end, you feel a bit of sadness. You don't want it to end. You want it to go on, and on, and on.
Same thing on Route 66.
If you ever have the time and the inclination, even if you can't get away for two full weeks, go travel a part of Route 66. You'll find the heart of America ...
Later, y'all ...
Santa Monica ....
Made it. The end of my tour along Route 66, starting June 13 in downtown Chicago and finishing today in Santa Monica, California.
A total distance of 2,400-plus miles, driving through Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California, all the way to the beautiful Pacific Ocean. An amazing journey that I am so glad I made. When Route 66 hit the Los Angeles area, I kept hearing Jerry Jeff Walker singing, "If I can just get off of this L.A. freeway without gettin' killed or caught ..."
I grew up in Houston, Texas, and the traffic there is unbelievable, but gawd-almighty. There's a bunch of people out here, and they drive like freakin' maniacs.
The beach at Santa Monica was incredible. I'm used to the Texas beaches at Galveston, Port Aransas and South Padre Island, but this place is ... well, breathtaking. In Galveston, the beach is a few yards wide, but here? At least a few hundred yards of smooth, light brown sand between Ocean Avenue and the waters of the Pacific.
That's looking from the walkway along Ocean Avenue towards the famous Santa Monica Pier. I went there to find Dan Rice, who has traveled Route 66 more than two dozen times, and operates a souvenir kiosk on the pier, but unfortunately, he was not there when I arrived. I left one of my cards and hopefully Dan will contact me. I'd love to hear some of his stories.
I had to park about a mile from the pier and walk over there, so it was a little disappointing to strike out on what was to be my last interview opportunity of the trip, but as I walked back to my car along Ocean Avenue, through the beautiful parkway filled with hundreds of people enjoying what has to be one of the most beautiful spots in the country, I spotted a group of five men in bicycle riding gear, adorned with various Route 66 patches on their shirtsleeves. They were milling about, taking pictures of each other.
I walked on by, but after about 100 yards, my journalist/writer/author instincts kicked in and made me turn around. I walked up and introduced myself, told them I had just finished driving Route 66, and from their outfits, I assumed they had ridden Route 66. One gentleman had an Arizona patch on his sleeve, so I figured they had ridden from Arizona to California, an amazing accomplishment in itself.
But, no. These five men, all in their late 60s, all from Switzerland, rode bicycles more than 2,400 miles from Chicago to Santa Monica. They started on May 5 and arrived today.
I was amazed. They asked me to take pictures of them all together with all their individual cameras and tablets and such, and then they told me their stories. I took a photo, of course, with my own camera, and recorded our conversations, so there will be more later on that.
Riding a bicycle from Chicago to Los Angeles?