Thursday, May 31, 2007

I was misquoted

I started my first newspaper in the fifth grade. The school was Cottage Elementary in Lubbock so it seemed only natural I name the newspaper the Cottage Cheese-it.

And I've been in trouble ever since.

For the remainder of my education, I worked for the school newspaper in one job or another. Perhaps the most fun was writing a Daily Texan column for married students called "Old Wives Tail."

Trouble. It took the censors a year and a half to catch on. My faculty advisor angrily told me I would never make it in the news business because I had a dirty mind. Hell, I thought that was a prerequisite for getting into Journalism 101.

It was at the University of Texas that I met my life-long friend and future business partner, Sam Kinch, Jr. He was editor of the Texan. Sam is big, tough, smart, funny and good at his chosen work, writing about Texas politics.

Sure, Sam is a little quirky but he has an excuse. Once he was on an airplane that was hijacked out from under him. The hijackers wanted to go to Cuba and killed a passenger to underscore their point. Sam must have mouthed off because one of the bandits held a loaded shotgun to the back of Sam's head for the next nine hours. That would make anybody quirk.

When the plane landed in Cuba and the passengers were safely removed, Sam had ten minutes to file a story about the experience. It was good and Sam earned a $10,000 journalism award. "First time I ever got paid a thousand bucks a minute," he said later. I pointed out that the fee did not include travel time.

My guess is, Sam still has that ten grand. He's tight with a buck. And with reason. He and Lilas helped put seven kids through college -- on a reporter's salary.

But I think his money management goes deeper than that. Like to his DNA.

Here's proof (more trouble).

When we started our political newsletter, Texas Weekly, Sam made his aged mother pay the full rate for a subscription, which was $95 at the time. A year or so later I was posting the renewal bills and came across hers. Since his mom was in the hospital in intensive care, I asked Sam what he wanted to do about her bill.

He paused for only a moment and said,"She's better. Send it."

Wait. There's more.

A year or so later, after his mom died, I came across the out-going bill to her. "What do you want to do about this, Sam?"I asked. "There's two months remaining on her subscription."

Without missing a beat, he said, "Send it to my sister. Maybe she'll renew."

I'm really in trouble now.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

War stories

Sometimes you get an early glimpse into a person's character.

Lubbock in the 50's. Front yard football. My little brother kept pestering us bigger guys to let him play. He didn't seem to know he was six years younger, a foot shorter and about 30 pounds lighter than the rest of us. Finally, I had to punch him a few times to make him leave us alone. He went away crying -- and swearing he was going to get even with me.

Later that night, I was jolted wide awake. Lee was hitting me in the stomach as hard as he could. I had to punch him again to make him stop. Through his tears, Lee said he hit me that night because I hit him earlier in the afternoon. And he pledged to return the next night to get even.

Damned if he didn't. The little fart woke me up the next night, hitting me in the stomach. Hard. As I swatted him away, Lee renewed his pledge of full revenge the next night.

This continued for three or four nights. I couldn't sleep, waiting for the next punch in the gut. Even though I was bigger and stronger and capable of administering some junior high hurt, Lee returned night after night, enduring the pain I inflicted just to get his shot at me.

It began to dawn on me that if I was ever going to get any sleep, I was going to have to endure one of Lee's midnight attacks without any reprisal. So I covered my stomach, rolled into a ball, and took it. He banged away as hard as he could. I took it and, grudgingly, I admired the little cuss.

I don't think we ever fought again.

Later, Lee deduced that his big brother would come to his rescue if he got into a fight with anyone else. Our parents were divorced and we didn't get a lot of male supervision. The job of protector became mine by default.

When Lee shipped out to Vietnam as a young 2nd Lt. in the U.S. Army, it was like my own son was over there. For the first time in my memory, I could do nothing to protect him. He was sent out on long-range recon patrols. At night. A lot.

It was awful.

But I did what I could, sending cookies and writing often. At the time, I was working in Washington and, without thinking, often sent letters in Congressman Pickle's envelopes. The incoming congressional envelopes caught the eye of Lee's commanding officer. He thought his young lieutenant had political pull and stopped sending Lee out into the jungle so often.

So in a way, at least in my mind, I was able to offer a little protection one more time.


Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Pickle lite

Getting back to work is slow after a long holiday weekend. Nobody is in the mood for meaty stuff so let's crank up another story about Congressman Jake Pickle's unique perspective on life.

The man had fun. Clean fun. (Remind me to tell you about Cotton Bowl tickets and John Connally.)

Mr. Pickle always had a listed phone number so his constituents could call. Most of the time voters would abide by the Geneva Conventions and called only during normal hours.

There was a notable exception. Around 2 a.m., Pickle's bedside phone rang in Washington. It was an angry, drunk guy calling from Austin. His electricity had been cut off (non-payment) and he wanted to know what his congressman was going to do about it. Although Pickle explained that the man had a city problem and not a federal problem, the drunk would hear nothing of it and kept making his case. Over and over.

Pickle got the last laugh. He's an early riser. Five a.m. every morning. And Austin is in a different time zone. It's always an hour earlier.

When his alarm went off, Pickle rolled over, picked up the phone and called the drunk back in Austin. It was 4 in the morning back in Austin and the drunk was near catatonic with a hang over. Pickle described the man's condition as "laying in the gutter with his belly to the sun."

The phone rang and rang. Finally, the sleeping drunk picked up. "Hi. This is your congressman Jake Pickle calling. I just wanted to know if your lights are back on yet."

Friday, May 25, 2007

My mentor

When you die, can I have your clothes?

Two reasons:

One, to take a load off your family. Cleaning out the closet is often very stressful for survivors. It releases a torrent of memories not yet ready to be re-lived. So if I am in town, I'll come empty the closet for you.

Two, I give the clothes to Bobby Lee (see yesterday's post below), who gives your stuff directly to poor people, street people.

Many times, Bobby has been known to jump in his truck and drive to Austin just to pick up a box of clothes, turn around, and drive back to Houston.

That's just one of his scrambles. Bobby helps everybody, young or old.

For a long time, Bobby has been mowing the yards of seniors living in the Fifth Ward. For free, of course. Push mower. That's his signature.

Bobby was born a hustler. His parents ran a night club not far from the ship channel. He learned to run numbers and women. Today, he hustles scholarship money from black athletes to help bright kids get into a college they couldn't otherwise afford.

He sees opportunity everywhere. Every day, I toss pocket change into a jug by my front door. Takes a couple of years to fill it up but when it's full, the jug holds between two and three hundred bucks. That's when I call Bobby. He scoops loose change into plastic sandwich bags and gives them to kids in the 'hood. Bobby doesn't take credit. He tells the kids there's a white guy in Austin that wants them to have a burger on him.

By his actions, large and small, he teaches neighborhood children that love trumps hate.

Real warriors aren't afraid to show heart. For a street-savvy tough guy, Bobby has more compassion than anyone I know. His writing and his art can be edgy. But that's because Bob Lee cares so passionately for people, no matter their color.

His lawn mowing days are over. Bobby has multiple sclerosis and can barely walk. By normal standards, Bobby should have been in a wheel chair years ago. But Bobby isn't the normal patient. For years, he has done battle with the meanness of this deadly disease with only the help of Tylenol Extra Strength. He explains it this way: "If I take the medicines, they will weaken me and I'll die in the wheelchair."

So Bobby endures. Without complaint. If you talk to him today, he'll tell you something about beauty.

Bobby and his wife, Faiza, came up from Houston to have breakfast with us the day we left Austin for Minneapolis. He drove, aching legs and all. In good humor.

What a beautiful send-off for us.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Writer, artist, shooter

This is a tough story to tell.

Remember back a few years ago to when Junior Byrd was chained behind a pickup truck and dragged to a horrible death outside Jasper, Texas. That man was the cousin of my friend, Bob Lee.

Bob is no stranger to violence. He's been stabbed repeatedly and left for dead. He's been jailed. He shot a burglar. God only knows what else.

Bob is a historical figure. When he was only 24, Bob was featured in a documentary called American Revolution II: The Battle for Chicago. He was an organizer for the Black Panthers. In the film, he is shown helping poor blacks -- and poor whites -- negotiate the government systems. Recently, his life was part of a new play.

Although there's been a lot of hurt in Bob's life, there has always been a lot of help, too. He evolved into a social worker for Ben Taub Hospital in Houston. Aids patients, his speciality. Poor people. Street people. Along the way, Bob became a free-lance writer and a researcher of black history. I would call him a renaissance man, if I knew how to spell it.

When news of Junior Byrd's murder reached Houston, Bobby jumped in his truck and drove to Jasper. Late one night, sitting alone in his motel room, Bobby began to doodle as his mind raced trying to make sense of something senseless. Later, no telling how much later, Bobby looked at his drawing and liked what he saw.

A primitive artist was born out of that tragedy. Bob printed hundreds, thousands of his drawing and gave stacks to ministers to distribute. It helped keep the fragile peace.

Many of the young men want to set fires in the piney woods forest and burn Jasper to the ground. But some how, some way the black community managed to hold on to what sanity was left. If my cousin had been dragged to death and be-headed, I don't know what I might have done. What incredible restraint. What inner strength.

But Bobby snapped from torment when the KKK was granted a parade permit. Not once, but twice! He got a nine-millimeter Glock pistol and picked out a corner where the parade would pass by.

(Bob was telling this story to a room filled with academics who had come to his art opening some time later in Houston.)

"I was going to kill everybody within 15 feet," he told the gathering of art patrons, art professors and sociologists from Rice University and the University of Houston. "But in my mind, I caught a vision of that man's face," he said, pointing to me in the back of the room. "And I can't kill George." It was a symbolic statement. I'm not a member of the Klan and I've never been to Jasper.

I gasped at the weight of his words. No man has ever paid me such a meaningful compliment.

I'll tell you more about Bobby Lee as we go along. He is my brother.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Pride and prejudice

My friend, Bob Lee, was giving me a tour of Houston's Fifth Ward one evening after feeding me home-cooked Creole gumbo. It was late, nearly midnight. Few cars were on the street.

"My brother, El Franco (a county commissioner for more than 20 years) got that community center built." Bobby said. "And he was instrumental in that project across the street." All through night, his pride in the neighborhood was showing. It was an eye-opening drive for me, even in the dead of night.

All of a sudden, Bobby was on full alert. "Cops," he said, looking down a side street.

"Now, George, if that cop pulls us over you be real careful to do everything he says. Don't look him in the eye. If he says lay down on the hood of the car, you lay down on the hood of the car. Don't mention Texas Weekly. Don't mention El Franco. Don't say nothing unless he asks you."

It wasn't fear talking. This had the ring of solid advice.

"But Bobby, why would a policeman stop us? We haven't done anything wrong," I said.

"Look at us, man. White guy, black guy driving around the Fifth Ward at midnight. To the cops, we look like drug dealers," he said. "Be cool or they will beat the s**t out of us."

This was coming from a man who is well-known in his community as a social worker and political organizer. Bob is "Da Mayor of Da Fifth Ward."

Fortunately, the police were not interested in us that night. But I will never forget it. Now I understand what's behind the phrase: driving while black. Profiling.

White people don't live wary of the police because they aren't routinely curbed and searched. Black people should not have to live worried about cops.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

In the sweet by and by

It was August in Texas. That's hot.

Congressman Pickle and I were working our way through the 10th District and called on his friend and supporter, Dude Allen, the Postmaster in Smithville. Dude went to get us some iced tea while Pickle sat down at the piano and tinked out a church tune. "Do you know the name of that song?" Pickle asked. I did. He played another. Yep, I knew that one, too. Little did I know I was being reeled in.

Pickle laid out his challenge: a buck for every song he played that I couldn't name. Deal.

Mercifully, he stopped at ten. I was amazed. Not only did he know ten church tunes I had never heard of, he gave a little history about each song.

And that's when he told me that church songs were a life-long interest.

Every Thursday in Washington, members of Congress held a bi-partisan prayer breakfast. And Pickle got three minutes each time to give the history of the hymn chosen that morning. Who was the author and what inspired him? For more than 30 years, Pickle shared his insights at the prayer breakfasts.

Over the years, I wrote hundred and hundreds of speeches for Mr. Pickle. Often, he would call from the floor of the House and say he needed a five-minute speech and here's the points to make.He needed the speech in ten minutes and that included travel time from our office to the Capitol. But we were in sync. I came to think so much the way he did that it helped my personality.

The only time he ever flatly refused "my fine French hand" as he called it, was once when he asked for a speech for the Prayer Breakfast. My form of religion did not match up with his. I never did understand the fine French hand remark. Turns out, he used that term with other staff writers. I did understand, however, that his faith was stronger than mine.

Pickle is gone now. But I'll bet he's still reeling in the money at a dollar a song.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Break the gasoline addiction

Yesterday, we paid $51 and change to fill the minivan. Next week, it will certainly cost more.

Now before you get on your high horse about driving a minivan, we need it to ferry three seniors. Old bones don't settle well into these newfangled bitty cars as much as we would like to drive them. Sure, we can get in the little cars. But getting out requires the Jaws of Life, Vaseline, and an active prayer life.

Since we are on fixed incomes (but who isn't?), we've begun to consider alternative transportation. Right away, we knew mules would not work in our urban setting.

Wait a minute. Urban setting. Light bulb goes off.

We are fortunate to live in the geographic inner city of Minneapolis. There are sidewalks, bike paths, alleys, light rail transit, neighborhood groceries, CPA's and therapists. We are within an easy bike ride of a farmer's market, libraries, fast food shops, laundries, movies, ATM machines, drug stores, a regional park, the Mississippi River. And, if we start riding the bikes more, we can hit the pastry shops.

In Minneapolis, hundreds, if not thousands, of people commute to work on their bicycles. Can you imagine?

The light rail transit allows us to take our bikes on board. That opens up more of the city. The LRT already covers trips to the airport and the Mall of America. Say, this is getting interesting. Can you the remember Victory Gardens of WWII?

We are serious about parking the van and using the bikes more. But what about you folks in the suburbs? Urban planners (is that an oxymoron?) did not consider gasoline banditry when they laid out the 'burbs. A bike ride to the nearest stores often requires sharing the road with high speed automobile traffic.

Out of necessity (high cost of gasoline), we are willing to do our part. Hell, I'm looking forward to buying our first coal-fired automobile. But I still don't like the thought of those turkeys at Exxon getting richer and richer at our expense.

And don't tell me they aren't. They give highway robbery a new definition.

Friday, May 18, 2007

What hypocrites!

The Democrats in Congress are balking at lobby reform -- even while the Jack Abramoff scandal still simmers. Instead of putting real limits on fund raising by lobbyists, instead of closing the revolving door from the halls of Congress to lucrative lobby contracts after they leave Congress, instead of stepping up to any moral high ground at all -- the Democrats are about to pass a reform bill that looks a lot like the earlier Republican version that the Democrats ridiculed.

Short term gain for individual congressmen, long term damage to our Nation. Leaves the lobby in charge. Big money foots the bills in expensive elections. No guts.

Unnecessary. The Republican Party is imploding from incompetence, cronyism and bald-faced lies. The Democrats just need to do right. Pass laws that help the most people, hurt the fewest. Screw the lobby.

Instead, the Democrats strut and preen and come off looking just as stupid. Their hatred of George W. Bush does not go poof and turn into a decent legislative program.

However, there are faint signs of hope in the hinterland. Signs that Middle America is getting weary of the extremists on the left and the right, weary of all this crap that polarizes us into red state/blue state stuff.

Maybe in this next round of elections the Hobbits will win back Middle Earth. Oh hell, that was just a fairy tale.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Tweet, tweet

I'm not sure I can do this little story justice. But here goes.

Did I tell you the Mystery Woman and I were high school sweethearts fifty years ago?

But she married someone else (as did I) when we were in college. For the next 30 years we had no contact but I sorta kept track of her through mutual friends. She got divorced about eight years before I did. When I learned of her divorce, my first reaction was: did she ask about me? She didn't.

After my divorce, I worked up my courage to call her. Shazam. The friendship was still there. For the next 20 years, we would correspond, talk on the phone and send goofy flamingo presents in the mail. A couple of times, she came to Texas. Once, she brought her long-time companion and they stayed at my place.

About a year ago, we really reconnected when we discovered we were both on the available list at the same time, for the first time. And we've been inseparable ever since. Here's the thing -- everytime I look at her, I see the 17-year-old inside.

The Grand Adventure now includes retirement living in Texas and Minnesota where we outrun the sun. This way, we escape the harsh summers and winters, enjoy a blazing fall and bask in two springtimes since the growing season starts earlier in Texas. I've re-ignited her love of really spicy Tex-Mex and BBQ and she is teaching me to love walleye.

She was diagnosed with cancer before I was. Hers was breast cancer, double mastectomy. Mine was colon but the surgeon caught it early. Thankfully, both of us are now cancer free. I sport a pacemaker and a defibrillator. She doesn't.

We laugh a lot. But we always did. We accidentally wear the same color clothes so often that people think we're on a bowling team. Bicycles, gently ridden, are a new passion.

The Mystery Woman is no dummy. She has written four books on education so her mind is often busy. That breeds quirks. I've only co-authored one book, so I'm not so quirky.

Have I told you how she gave spooning a bad name? The first time we did dishes, she unceremoniously dumped all the knives and forks into the silverware drawer. Unsorted. That means I have to search through the clutter every time I need a spoon.

"I have more important things to do with my time," seems like an omnibus excuse.

Later, if you're interested, I'll explain why she keeps the TV channels written on a 2 x 4 block of wood. I told you she was quirky.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Katie Couric reality check

The Mystery Woman's 86-year-old mother, Virginia, is a tough cookie, not easily impressed. She's her own woman and damn well isn't afraid of telling you what she thinks.

Yesterday, I was on the phone and couldn't hang up when Virginia ambled through the living room. Later, I apologized and explained I was talking with a reporter from the New York Observer about Katie Couric's troubles at CBS.

I paused, giving Virginia ample time to be suitably impressed. After all, we are in Minnesota and New York is half a continent away.

In a flash, she replied:"What the hell do you know about Katie Couric?"

This is so much fun.

Well, my stuff did make the New York Observer the next day. But what if Virginia was right? .

I still don't know how to link. Click here for the full story --

Jerry Falwell meet Jake Pickle

How are Jake Pickle and Jerry Falwell connected?

Two ways: Congressional hearings and his book, "Jake" co-authored by Cong. Pickle and his daughter, Peggy. Believe me, this is worth reading to get to the kicker.

Pickle writes about the hearings in the book. It was the late 1980's and the IRS asked his oversight committee to take a look at tax abuses by non-profits, including the televangelists. And the television preachers were hostile.

The witness list was a who's who of who was going to heaven: Jerry Falwell, Jimmy Swaggert, John Ankerberg, Paul Crouch, Robert Tilton, Ernest Angsley and Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker (who declined). Interestingly, this host of preachers didn't want to be in the same waiting room with Oral Roberts, who had recently talked of "coming down from the tower" where God told him he would die if he didn't raise more money.

Among the abuses the committee investigated:

-- a television minister held extravagant receptions and had an island vacation home. One minister paid his home mortgage from ministry funds without board approval.

-- another TV minister used the services of an exclusive fund raiser. Virtually all the money raised was split with the fundraiser with very little cash going to the poor.

Without boring you further, suffice it to say IRS rules got tougher on non-profits as a result of the hearings.

OK. Here comes the kicker.

Congressman Pickle was never known as a fashion authority. Throughout his public career, he consistently wore outlandish sport coats with matching ... well, read on.

Pickle wrote in his book: "The shenanigans of television ministers had another side effect, one I take personally: evangelists helped make white shoes and white belts unfashionable! I always liked the crisp white belt and matching shoes, so I'm mad at evangelists for ruining a perfectly good look."

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Minor league baseball, major fun

You want to enjoy American roots again? Try minor league baseball.

Last night, the Mystery Woman took me to see the Saint Paul Saints shellac the Sioux City Explorers 10-2. Although some universities have better stadiums, there was plenty of green grass, blue skies and lots of unabashed goofy fun, including:

-- a piglet mascot named Garrison Squealer,
-- men in dresses dragged the infield during the seventh-inning drag,
-- pre-game tailgate parties,
-- barrel-rolling contest for kids,
-- and some pretty good baseball, all for a ten dollar ticket.

They call it the Beer League. And vendors in the bleachers wore T-shirts proclaiming "Free Beer." In small print, "Tomorrow."

Speaking of beer, it flowed. But I didn't see anybody get sloshed. We left early (metal bleacher seats) so I don't know if all teams follow this custom, but in San Francisco, they stop selling beer in the stadium after the seventh inning so nobody drives home drunk.

Now, if we could just get steroids out of the major league.

Commercial segue.

File this under shameless self promotion. See that book cover in the upper left corner of this blog? Four of us wrote the book. It's about our experiences covering the JFK assassination for KRLD-TV in Dallas. Two of the co-authors, Bill Mercer and Wes Wise, are old sports writers who have covered baseball (and other sports) for centuries. Both guys have been inducted into the Texas Radio Hall of Fame. Wes, of course, went bad and became Mayor of Dallas.

I'm not kidding about covering sports for centuries. Both men did play-by-play from a ticker tape without ever being at the games. That was before electricity and expense accounts were invented.

Buy the book on Amazon. When the News Went Live. Third printiing soon.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Who killed the truth about Kennedy's assassination?

Oliver Stone ought to be horse-whipped.

Today, more than 75 percent of Americans believe there was more to the murder of President John F. Kennedy than was documented in the Warren Commission Report. Seventy-five percent! And that's due, in large part, to Stone's unfounded assumptions in his twisted film, "JFK." What an injustice to history.

In the first national poll taken after the assassination, the majority of Americans trusted the findings of the Warren Commission. But after 43 years of pounding by conspiracy theorists, that trust has seriously eroded.

Now comes a new book 20 years in the making, 1,612 pages thick, and expensive at $49.95, which proves Oswald did it. Already, conspiracy junkies are lining up to shoot down this new research tool. No surprise.

Buy the book. Read it. Take your time. Then make up your mind.

I can't quite get my head around what I'm about to say next because the subject is just too big for my small brain. But it goes something like this:

America is getting dumbed down. The rich are getting super rich while the middle-class and poor people are allowing themselves to be whipped into a non-thinking boobs easily manipulated by spin-doctors and mugs who shout on television.

Nobody trusts the news anymore. So fewer people read. Nobody trusts government. So we elect power-driven politicians rather than folks who stand on principle.

"Oh, the bloggers will fill the vacuum." I call BS on that one. Some bloggers actually do original reporting and reach spectacular success. But the vast majority of the 50,000,000 blogs are opinion pieces, family stuff, humor -- like this one.

Buy the guy's book. "Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy" by Vincent Bugliosi.

Grumble. Wish I were smarter. Bet you wish I was, too. Maybe coffee will help.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

GeezerMan, action hero

No sooner had I put the last period on the posting below (Wart your friends) when I got a phone call from a former Austin neighbor. She's crusty, loveable woman in her mid-eighties who is now raising hell in an assisted living joint in Odessa.

LaVelle's son, Mike, mails her this blog from time to time and she wanted tell me how she enjoyed at the squirrel roping item from a few weeks back.

And that, friends, is why I mess with this blog. I love the image of LaVelle laughing out loud. Strangers, too, get in on the act. A Brit visiting in New England rambled across the blog with the same results. Grins and laughter.

When I first started this blog, I was riding a white horse, expecting to save people whether they wanted to be saved or not. Saved from what? Mostly, I was (and still am) troubled with AARP and Congress and George W.Bush. Older people deserve better. Our nation deserves better.

But my inner imp soon bubbled to the top of my consciousness and I began to noodle with humorous bits and political stories. Just fun stuff. Another Brit wrote that mine was the "least philosophical blog" he had ever read. Yes! I agree.

Any day at any given minute, I may yet again write about the injustices of the world. GeezerMan to save the day! As soon as I finish my nap.

But in the interim, I plan to just giggle some more with my pals, like you and LaVelle.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Wart your friends

This Internet stuff is slick.

And a boon for retired people. One day last week I got emails from:

-- a buddy cruising in the Sea of Japan,
-- my old business partner and friend driving through Tennessee,
-- a former colleague in assisted living quarters,
-- my high school sweetheart,
-- two of my kids (ahem),
-- a Washington muckraker,
-- a host of people wanting to help my nether parts grow,
-- and a few fiscally-challenged Nigerians.

The connectedness (is that a word?) is beneficial for the geezer set. Remember when your parents retired and all their friends seemed to vanish? Not so anymore.

And blogs have hidden benefits for the scribblers. Maybe I'm too easy, but the sense of accomplishment is genuine every time I manage to post up something pithy. Many retirees suffer from losing their "badge" from the office. Hell, start a blog. Wart your friends. Today, there are 50 million blogs and counting. One more won't overload the system. Besides, you can benefit from the discipline, the structure.

Sorry, I started preaching.

We now can be as connected as we want to be. We now can research practically any topic we can conjure up. Tomorrow's news right now. All sorts of information only a click away. And it's nearly cost-free. Imagine that.

Thanks to Al Gore.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Take a liberal to lunch

Most, if not all, of my childhood friends grew up to become conservatives. Lubbock in the 50's was not a city of many options.

I, too, was a conservative for my first 30 years. While working in Washington, I was invited to a cocktail party for the protesters who had come to D.C. to march against the Viet Nam War. Most of the evening, I drank only water, afraid that Scotch (my favorite) would loosen my emotions. And I felt strongly that the marchers were wrong-headed.

All night, I listened and nodded but said little. But around midnight, I cracked and asked for a Scotch. Make it a double.

"What happened?" asked my host. "This time, they've gone too far," I growled. "They can complain about the government all they want. But now the SOB's are insulting Walter Cronkite!"

Gradually, ever so gradually, my thinking came around to where I am today. After 9/11, I think we were right to go after the bastards hiding in Afghanistan. But I was always against the war with Iraq.

Flash forward to the present. I was at a party last week listening to a woman from Dallas express her wonderment that so many people in Austin wore flip-flops. Even in restaurants! "It's because Austin has so many liberals," she said knowingly.

"And in Austin," I replied gently, "we have a name for those liberals. We call them Patriots."


We need national leaders who can bring this nation back together. Not red. Not blue. But American.

Stop playing politics. Stop lying. It isn't working. Both the President and the Congress suffer rock bottom approval ratings. Nobody believes anybody in government. This quagmire in Iraq is going to require the best thinking from both sides.

My conservative friends are good people. My liberal friends are good people. We just need to stop letting the politicians manipulate us. Stop the BS. Get smart.

Grumble, snarl, gripe, complain.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Road Warrior

Oh woe.

My worst fears have been realized.

I wore pants with an elastic waist. For comfort, you see, on the four-day driving trip from Texas to Minnesota.

And a polyester, no-wrinkle shirt. Every day.

And I drove a minivan.

And I "watered the dog" at rest stops. On a red leash. While she-who-knows-things was shopping in the antique stores, I sat outside on the bench with the dog in my lap. Strangers began to pat the dog.

Worse, I got carded in a Holiday Inn club so I could have a glass of wine with dinner. Carded to make certain I am over 65.

It seems like only yesterday that I was cruising around Austin in a red Mercedes convertible and living in a downtown condo where the wine merchant a block away knew my name.

So this is where cool goes when it evaporates.

What's next -- voting Republican?

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Flooding, storms on road trip

Ah, the American imagination runs wild when you get off the interstate highways. To pass the time on this northern migration, we watch for whimsical signs.

Like these:

Adult Day Care (outside a biker bar in the Ozarks)

Coming soon -- storage

Yard sale -- inside

T'Molly (Mexican food)

Mex It Up

Steep and Crooked next 16 miles (advice works both directions, too)

Litter Bugs Suck (hand-lettered)

My favorite -- Move in with your mom and store your stuff with us.

Before leaving the Lone Star state, we visited the lovely little town of Jefferson in East Texas. And Caddo Lake. Mystical. Primordial. Alligators. Spanish moss. Must see.

Light rains caught us in the Ozarks. But the rains created clouds of mists in the valleys and only added to the beauty of the region. Time on the road doubled but who cares in the midst of such vistas.

We've been lucky this trip and have managed to slip between major storms which have hurt Kansas and Missouri. Rivers and streams are out of their banks in many locations. And you must have read about the killer tornado outbreak. We just got lucky. We by-passed Independence, Mo., and lucked out again. Their municipal water system had been breached by the storm. Originally, we planned to overnight there and tour Harry Truman stuff. Next time.

Today marks the end of the blue highways as we enter the Interstate for the gun lap that ends in Minnesota six blocks from the Mississippi River. Rolling.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Toll Road Irony (Guest Geezer)

Here's another tidbit for your geezer column, or as I call it More Jake All the Time.

The Texas Legislature just completed action (subject only to veto by Gov. 39 percent) that would give the new Texas 130 corridor from Georgetown to Seguin the HONORARY name of the Pickle Parkway. What a hoot! It's going to cost about $4 and change to miss all the traffic on the regular interstate in favor of the toll road. And part of the profits go to the Cintra-Zachary combine (half-Spain, half-San Antonio), owner of the southern segment of the toll road.

I'm sure Jake would have been pleased that people would pay good money to avoid going through his home town. But those of us who remember the little green pickles would much prefer to have them available again to throw into the toll-collection bins. On the other hand, those who avoid the tolls on Texas 130 can recall the old liberal line from back when Pickle first became major domo of the SDEC: "Dollars for Democrats, But Not a Nickle for Pickle." (I could kick my sorry butt for giving the last of my bumper stickers to Frankie Randolph. She used it to raise money the libs selling to a collector.)

Sam Kinch, Jr.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Migratory workers

Pardon the hiatus. Just as my readership thronged to ten or eleven, I took some time off to ready myself for the great northern migration. About this time every year, the Mystery Woman kidnaps me and rolls me uphill from the Hill Country of Central Texas to the Lake Country of Minnesota.

It's not an even trade. All the walleye in the world cannot compensate for the lack of Tex-Mex. And let's don't even talk about cheeseburgers. Or chicken-friend steak. Or BBQ.

Oh sure, they have those foods in Minneapolis, but they are timid and pale. No heartburn. No kick. Not ever.

To compound matters, we are separated by a common language (a stolen phrase). My dulcet cowboy tones often don't resonate in the northern ear. Once at a drug store drive-through, the young woman behind the glass asked me to repeat my home address four times before finally admitting she just wanted to hear me say it. At the post office, the Asian clerk never could understand me and finally asked for a translator. Seriously.

I told them I used to be on radio and TV but they only nod knowingly, "That was in Texas."

Humor gets me in trouble Up There, just like it does down home. Once I was trying to throw a weighted line over a tree limb so we could put up a swing for the grand daughter. A couple older than me stopped to watch from the sidewalk. Never said a word. Just watched. Finally, after several unsuccessful attempts, I coiled the rope in my hands, looked at the old couple and said: "It's damned difficult to rope a squirrel." They took off like a shot. Never saying a word. Crazy Texan.

Actually, I like their playful, understated sense of humor. Norwegian, I think. With a touch of Lutheran for emphasis. Garrison Keillor live! And I like escaping the brutal weather in both regions. This winter in Texas, we missed weeks of below zero weather and umpteen feet of snow that fell upon our neighbors in Minnesota. And last summer, we outran the long stretch of blazing 100 degree days in the Texas sun and sipped white wine on the front porch in Minneapolis. Clink.

So, for the ten or eleven who read this blog, fair warning -- we're going dark for a week. But we're taking notes. Expect thrilling new episodes the end of next week.

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