Friday, December 23, 2016

Heading Out

I pulled into the yard, parked my car, and went over to my truck to start a trip from Omaha to California. It was just before dawn and a crisp 20 degrees outside. I unlocked the truck and put my suitcase in the storage compartment under the sleeper.

I raised the hood, checked the oil, scraped the ice off the windshield, and then climbed up into the cab to start the engine. The Cat engine had manual glow-plugs on each cylinder that had to be warmed up before starting. Once the cold engine started, it rattled like a fuel dragster waiting at the starting line.

I turned on the heated mirrors to clear the ice and got back out to do my safety check. I went around the truck to check the tires, springs. and lights. I checked the refrigeration unit on the trailer to make sure it was maintaining the correct temperature.

Once I was sure everything was good, I closed the hood and got back into the cab. I brought my logbook up to date, verified the load manifests, and headed out.

I put the 13 speed transmission into 1st gear and eased my way out of the yard into the street. The oil in the transmission was still cold and stiff so I double clutched very deliberately as I worked through the lower gears.

Once I go onto I-80, the engine had warmed up to where almost all you could hear was the whine of the turbo through the twin stacks. The transmission was shifting smoothly as I made the last shift into 13th gear and got the truck up to 70 mph. The Kenworth tractor, the big Cat engine, and the 45' Utility trailer were all now working in sync.

Another potential adventure had begun!

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Mormon Baiting

Galen and I were both headed south on Interstate 15 en route to Los Angeles. About 50 miles north of St. George Utah, I got on the radio and told him that with his help, we could mess with the minds of the Mormons in St. George. That town had a number of people who had nothing better to do all day than listen to their CB radios.

When we were a few miles outside of St. George, I got on the radio and said, "Hey Galen, what's this I keep hearing about some moron table-knocker choir here in Utah?"

"I don't know. Why would anyone want a choir of morons anyway? And what's with the table knocking?"

That's all it took.

We could hear St. George Mormons ranting about those stupid truck drivers almost all the way to Las Vegas.


Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Skankware

When I worked for Cisco, the company had layoffs almost every six months. During one of those periodic purges, my friend, Chin, our resident user interface expert, was laid off. He had been volunteering in Santa Clara county schools for many years and used those connections to get a teaching job in one of the Cupertino high schools.

Chin taught remedial math to students who had previously failed the course. In one of his early classes, many of the girls came to class wearing what he called "Skankware." He came up with a creative solution to this outbreak of inappropriate classroom attire.

He made himself a pot of hot tea, put on his wool sweater, and turned the classroom thermostat down to 55 degrees. After 3 days , the "Skankware" problem was solved.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Word Games

I grew up with well-educated parents who relished verbal sparring. This, combined with my voracious appetite for reading, helped me develop an extensive vocabulary.

After my freshman year of high school in San Anselmo, CA, my parents moved us to Pawnee City, Nebraska - population 1300. The high school there was not noted for attracting stellar teachers. Many of the school's teachers came from the nearby Peru State Teachers College.

In this school, I would occasionally exercise my vocabulary in a quixotic attempt to stave off boredom. Once, after I had completed a particularly complicated verbal gymnastics routine, the teacher, who was also the basketball coach, said in frustration, "You think you're pretty eruditic, don't you Kunkel?"

"The word is erudite."

Monday, September 12, 2016

Dale Evans vs Led Zeppelin

Years ago when I worked nights, I would sleep in the afternoon before going to work. One afternoon, I was awakened by loud, off-key, cowboy Jesus music coming from the assisted living facility behind our house. When I went out in the back yard to investigate, I found the source.

In the small room directly opposite our fence was a woman in her mid-60s dressed like Dale Evans complete with fringed skirt, cowboy boots, and cowboy hat. She had a microphone, electric guitar, and amplifier and was singing to three old ladies.

I went around to the main office and asked if they could turn "Dale Evan's" volume down a bit since I was trying to sleep before going to work. The manager said, "According to the city, we don't have to keep the noise down until after 10pm".

"OK, but remember, you're not the only one that ordinance applies to."

The next day, I placed a step ladder next to the fence facing the room where Dale Evans played. I set a boom box on the top step and put in a Led Zeppelin II cassette. When she started her singing, I cranked up Led Zeppelin's "Heartbreaker" to full volume. When she stopped singing, I stopped "Heartbreaker". It took about 3 iterations of this before she finally gave up and turned off her amplifier.

A couple of days later I happened to see our 70-year-old neighbor, Chet, whom I had told what I planned to do. He said, "Well Dave, it looks like you put a stop to that off-key caterwauling, but I think the cure might have been worse than the disease."

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Payback

In Saigon, I worked in MACV headquarters as a Lieutenant. My boss was an Army Major and his boss was a Marine Lt. Colonel. Along with others of their grade, they spent almost every evening drinking themselves into a stupor in the officers club .

The Lt. Colonel had extremely short hair and made of point of telling me I needed a haircut whenever he happened to see me. Sometimes he would vary the message by informing me that my sideburns were too long or perhaps castigating me for the vile offense of having my hands in my pockets.

I wasted no time getting around to exploring Saigon and quickly became known as the go-to guy for trips downtown. After several months, the Lt. Colonel approached me and asked if I could show him around downtown Saigon sometime.

I said, "I'm sorry sir, but the Vietnamese just don't have much use for guys with really short hair. Why don't you get back to me after you've let your hair grow out a bit."



Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Management

After I completed Officers Candidate School, I was commissioned as an intelligence officer in the Army. Serving as a lieutenant was the only time I've ever had a job that qualified as a management position.

In Vietnam, I worked in the top secret area of the Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV). It was a mini-Pentagon that had the command structure of all branches in one place. My group generated background intelligence summaries on Cambodia and Laos to support the real-time briefings.

The six sharp guys that made up my team did some really good work. Whenever a general or colonel came down to thank me for something we'd done, I always deferred to those who did the work. I would say something like, "Jim and Evan did the heavy lifting on that, they're the ones you should talk to." I gave the credit to my team when things went right and took full responsibility if there was any kind of problem.

The Army has a well-know saying, "Shit rolls down hill." This refers to the standard practice of passing the blame on to those below you when things go wrong.

I had a special name plate made for my desk at MACV. Below my name it read, "Shit rolls down hill until it gets to me."

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Recycled Coffee

I pulled into a gritty industrial area of Chicago one morning to deliver a load from California. It was 5am when I got there and the warehouse didn't open until 6am.

The old gray building across the street had a small cafe in one corner with a faded sign on its dingy window that read "Coffee Shop". I went in and sat at the counter under a fluorescent light that was flickering and buzzing its death throes.

Four people were scattered around at separate tables, hunched over their coffee. Near me at the counter was a gnarly old guy wearing dirty bib overalls and a faded striped engineers cap. The whole place had an eerie colorless look that would have fit right into a Stephen King novel.

The middle-aged waitress with a jaded, almost surly demeanor, asked me what I wanted. I said, "Just coffee, please."

She poured me a cup of coffee from the pot behind the counter and put the grimy cup in front of me. While I was deciding whether or not to drink out of it, the old guy next to me got up and left.

The waitress came over, picked up his half-empty cup, and poured what was left into the same pot that my coffee had come from.

I decided I could do without coffee that morning.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Straight Line

When I was 5 years old, we lived in Dillon Montana. One morning I woke up to find a blanket of new snow covering our yard. As soon as I finished breakfast, I put on my Montana gear and went outside to play.

After I had been outside for about an hour, my mother came out to check on me. I guess I must have looked frustrated because she asked, "What's wrong?"

"I'm trying to make a straight line in the snow. I keep putting one foot in front of the other, but my line keeps getting crooked."

"If you want to make a straight line, then don't look down at your feet. Look at something like that tree over there and walk toward it."

She was right. Much to my amazement, I created a line in the snow that went straight to the tree. I don't remember much from when I was 5 years old, but I remember that lesson very clearly.

Monday, June 6, 2016

The Crossroads

I made a point of avoiding main roads when traveling on my motorcycle. Early one morning, I came to a crossroads while riding through rural North Carolina. I pulled off the road and stopped to consider which of the choices to take.

I hadn't been there long when a farmer and his wife came by in their pickup truck. They stopped beside me and the farmer's wife asked, "Do you need any help?" I said, "No thanks, I'm just sitting here enjoying the sunrise and trying to decide which way to go."

Her face took on a wistful look and then she said, "I'm sure you'll enjoy whichever road you choose."

Monday, May 16, 2016

Flying Hill

My wife, Lan, loves to play blackjack. When we first started going to Reno, she had yet to learn how to count cards and would usually play until the money she brought with her was gone. She often ended up in marathon sessions with very little sleep.

On our way home from one of these Reno trips, Lan was really tired and spent most of the time sleeping in the car. She happened to wake up just as we started up the Altamont pass towards Livermore. It was a windy afternoon and almost all of the turbines on the huge Altamont wind farm were spinning furiously.

She looked out the window for a minute and then said, "I don't care how many airplane engines they put on that hill, it isn't going to fly."

Wedding Vows

When Lan and I decided to get married, we opted to keep it simple and cheap. After our blood test results came back, we went to the court house and paid $5 for our license.

Once we had our license, we waited upstairs in the judge's antechamber for him to perform our marriage ceremony.  He came out about 4:30pm and said, "I have to listen to losers and their lawyers all day, so I like to perform a few marriages before I go home. It puts me in a much better mood."

When the judge got to the part where he asked Lan to say I do, she started to laugh. As we were leaving the court house I asked her why she laughed when the judge asked her to say I do. She said, "The judge asked if I do, but I did already."

In Vietnamese, du translates to fuck.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Rainbow

I was headed east on Interstate 40 in Arizona just before sunset. A huge thunderstorm was gathering strength in front of me, and behind me the sun was about to dip below the horizon.

The setting sun was bouncing gorgeous shades of gold off the rocky cliffs that lined both sides of the the highway. Suddenly, a vivid, full spectrum rainbow appeared painted against the black eastern sky. Its ends seemed to be anchored in the illuminated cliffs.

I pulled off the freeway to stop and take it all in. Within minutes, cars were stopping on both sides of the freeway. People got out of their cars to take pictures, show their kids, and just marvel at the spectacle.

It was the Arizona desert at its most magnificent!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

New Years Eve

About half-way through Officers Candidate School I received a 2 week pass for the Christmas holiday. I took a Trailways bus back to Nebraska and spent Christmas with my parents in Aurora. On Dec 29 I boarded the bus for the 3 day trip back to Ft. Belvoir, Va.

Angela got on at the Chicago stop and sat down next to me. She was returning to Washington D.C. after spending Christmas with her sister. Angela was an attractive young woman with a great sense of humor and a quick wit. We had a lot of fun traveling together.

We were crossing Pennsylvania on December 31st when we realized that it was almost midnight. Most people traveling by bus on New Years Eve are not among those who have been dealt the high cards in life. Angela and I decided that the new year should be celebrated even if we were only passengers on a bus.

At the stroke of midnight, we went up to the front of the bus and wished everyone a happy new year. I kissed Angela and then we started down the aisle.

She kissed every guy traveling alone and wished each one a happy new year. I did the same for each of the women traveling alone. The handful of couples traveling together kissed and wished each other a happy new year.

By the time we got to the back of the bus, everyone was laughing and exchanging new years greetings. Bottles of booze mysteriously appeared and were passed around along with all sorts of cookies and chips.

Somewhere in the middle of Pennsylvania, 40 strangers became 40 friends celebrating the new year together.

 

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Book Covers

When I was in high school I was an avid reader of Mad magazine. One month Mad included tear-out book covers with seemingly sensational titles to cover otherwise boring books.

One of the fake covers had "Sex and Love" in large text and in tiny text at the bottom it read, "and 10,000 other words are included in this abridged dictionary." Another book cover had "Lolita" in huge text with a picture of an attractive young girl below it. At the bottom in tiny text it read, "is not the title of this boring book."

I applied "Sex and Love" to a copy of "King Lear" and "Lolita" to a copy of "A Tale of Two Cities". The next day I took both books to school with diabolical intentions in mind.

When I went to my study hall class, I  sat down in front. The teacher, Mrs. Eckland, was also the Home Economics teacher and a well-known guardian of student morals. I gave her a few minutes to get settled and then I picked up "Sex and Love". She looked over at me, stormed over to my desk, and grabbed the book.

She barely had time to get settled in her chair again when I popped up "Lolita". She came unglued! She marched over to my desk and grabbed "Lolita" out of my hands. She went back to her desk, picked up "Sex and Love",  and took the books and me to the principal's office.

Here she launched into a shrill rant about what a horrible degenerate I was reading such filth right there in the classroom. When she finally calmed down a bit, I picked up "Sex and Love",  turned to the title page, and pointed out that the book was actually "King Lear".  I then showed that "Lolita" was actually "A Tale of Two Cities".

I said, "I realize that King Lear is a bit controversial in some circles and A Tale of Two Cities is just plain depressing, but I don't think reading either of them merits this level of opprobrium. As a matter of fact, in English class last year, both of these books were required reading."

I turned to Mrs. Eckland and said, "I think there's a lesson we can all learn from this. Perhaps it's true that we shouldn't judge a book by its cover."

The principal, Mr. Frerichs, said, "Mrs. Eckland, why don't you go back to your class and I'll take care of this." When she was safely out of earshot, he shut the door and burst out laughing! He said, "Dave, as principal I should be telling you that you shouldn't do things like that. It's disruptive to the class etc, etc, but I have to admit it was pretty damn funny!"

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Bikers and Blue-hairs

1976 was our country's bicentennial so I decided to attend the summer long celebration in Washington D.C. I quit my job, put together a minimalist pack, and headed out of Omaha on my Triumph.

I was going through Cincinnati when I saw a British motorcycle shop. I decided to stop in and get some chain lube. While there, I got to talking with some of the guys who were hanging around. It turned out they were planning to make a trip to Bowling Green, KY the next morning to attend the National Motorcycle Drags. Their small group of British bikes was going to make the trip together with a large Cincinnati Harley group. They invited me to join them and I accepted.

All together there were about 40 bikes. The Triumphs, BSAs, and Nortons were all clean, well-maintained performance bikes. The Harley group included everything from high dollar choppers to oil leaking rat-bikes. They also had an old school bus that was driven by the wife of one of the Harley riders. It brought up the rear of the convoy and was there to deal with breakdowns.

These guys had obviously done this sort of thing before. I've seen military convoys that weren't this organized. Everyone kicked in $40 before leaving to cover tolls and gas. Any money left over was earmarked for beer when we got to Bowling Green.

You can imagine the chaos that would ensue if 40 bikes each had to stop at a toll booth and fish for change. The leader of the Harley group went through the toll booth first, counted the bikes through with the toll taker, and then paid all the tolls at one time. It was a brilliant solution.

When we stopped for gas a similar approach was used. You couldn't have each of 40 bikes put in 1 or 2 gallons of gas, go inside, pay, and then pull out. The gas station would be jammed up for an hour. Instead, all the bikes lined up at one pump, filled up, and then pulled out into the parking area to wait. When the last bike filled up, the Harley group leader went inside and paid for all the bikes.

At one gas stop, two well dressed, blue-haired old ladies walked out of the gas station to their Oldsmobile just as the bikes started filling up the parking area. Soon they were surrounded by motorcycles of all types. What happened next was truly amazing. The old ladies started walking around the growing collection of bikes, talking with the riders, and asking questions. It was almost like a couple of grandmothers had happened to run into their grandchildren at a gas station.

I marveled at the stereotypes that were being shattered.  






Sunday, January 31, 2016

Hunting Season

I was on my way to Portland when I stopped at a cafe in Lava Hot Springs Idaho for lunch. I sat down at the counter next to a guy who turned out to be a park ranger. He told me it was the middle of Elk Hunting season in that area and the California hunters were a constant source of amusement.

He said that in the past, the forest service kept a bunch of mules for packing into remote areas of the park. When they were no longer needed, the mules were just turned loose. It seemed that at least once a year some hunter would shoot one of those mules.

He said his exposure to California hunters came during his first stint manning the hunter check station. Hunters that shot an elk had to have it checked to verify that it matched what they had a license to shoot.

He said, "A hunter from California checked in with what he had tagged as a cow elk. I took one look and saw that he had actually shot one of those mules. I went into the check station and asked the veteran ranger in there what I should do." The old ranger said. "Let him go. Every time he stops on his way to California he's going to brag about the cow elk he shot. Eventually someone is going to point out that he actually shot a mule. Let's not spoil that guy's fun."  

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Restauranteur

Downtown Omaha had what is euphemistically called a residence hotel. Its $25 per week rooms were home to winos, derelicts, and over-the-hill barflies. It was also home to my friend, Stan. Stan was a big gruff guy around the age of 50 who had a very low tolerance for posers and bullshitters. He lived in the hotel by choice. According to him, "It was one place where there weren't any phonies."

Omaha had a horse track called Ak-Sar-Ben that was so notoriously crooked that the sports books in Vegas wouldn't take bets on its races. Stan spent a lot of time there during the racing season.

One evening Stan and I were having dinner in the hotel's restaurant. He explained to me how he had figured out the pattern to the crooked track. It seems that they were rotating the wins through the various stables. In less than a month he had used this knowledge to make over $10,000 which was real money 40 years ago.

While we were sitting at the table, the owner of the restaurant came over and sat down with us. He launched into a long rant about what he didn't like about running the restaurant. After about 15 minutes of this, Stan had enough. He said, "Either stop whining or sell me the goddamn restaurant."

The guy said, "Give me $3,000 and it's yours." Stan went up to his room, came back to the table, and slapped down $3,000 in cash. The guy got up, gave Stan his apron, picked up the money, and said, "You've got it!"

Stan spent the next couple of days cleaning up the place and he got rid of the menus. He was making enough money off of the track that he didn't really care if the restaurant made money or not. He decided to only cook what he liked and what he liked was steak.

His new menu consisted of steak, baked potatoes, french fries, and salad. As a sop to the weenies who couldn't handle steak, he included hamburger on the menu. He located a source of top quality beef for his steaks and hamburgers and ground the beef for the hamburgers himself.

Stan hired a couple of the resident barflies to help out as waitresses and he was in business.

Stan had a real knack for grilling steaks and his were outrageously good. The hotel was only a couple of blocks from Omaha's financial center and it wasn't long before word got out. The financial center crowd was soon making the trek to his restaurant for lunch.

You could order your steak cooked any way you liked, but what you would get would be medium rare because that's the way Stan liked it. If anyone complained, he would kick them out of the restaurant and give their steak to one of his friends in the hotel bar.

Stan would also kick anyone out of the restaurant that he didn't like. It got to be like one of those trendy clubs where people try to get past the bouncer at the door. At that time it was the style for men to wear pastel colored suits. He derisively referred to them as the ice cream suit morons.

I tried to stop in there at lunch time whenever I was in town. I could enjoy a great steak while watching the pathetic ice cream suit morons trying to get the best of Stan.


Monday, January 11, 2016

Hug Monster

We've had a family tradition since the grandkids were toddlers. I would chase them around as the Hug Monster and when I caught them, I would pick them up and give them a big hug. It was something they all thoroughly enjoyed.

When our grandson, Steven, was in the first grade, I was working nights so I had time to pick him up after school. I would wait outside the classroom door with the other parents until the bell rang.

When the bell rang, Steven would take off running and I would chase him down saying, "The Hug Monster is going to get you." When I caught him, I would pick him up and give him the big hug he was expecting.

This went on every day for a couple of weeks. One day after chasing and catching Steven, I looked back and saw a half-dozen little 6 year old boys lined up by the classroom door waiting for their turn to get "Hug Monstered".


Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Tale of Woe

The engineering group I worked with at Cisco used some very expensive Unix-based software for chip design, circuit board design, and testing. My friend, Billy, was responsible for keeping all of this up to date and working.

To run properly, each of these programs required specific settings. Billy created individual wrapper scripts that would set program requirements and then run the executable. It was an elegant and well documented solution.

Just before Billy was to move to a completely different group, an engineer came to his office with a problem. This guy had cobbled together some hacks of his own rather than using the provided wrapper scripts. The unsurprising result was that he couldn't run the programs.

Billy listened patiently as the engineer told his tale of self-inflicted woe. When he had finally wound down a bit, Billy leaned forward and said in an almost conspiratorial tone, "It must really suck to be you."