Sunday, August 31, 2008

Downtown Where All The Lights Are Out

I had to buy gas this afternoon in anticipation of an early morning trip to Big Flat City tomorow to purchase a new shower/tub. (Don't even ask!) Earl the Truck's heavy drinking is beginning to take a financial toll, so I took my camera along to give me something to look forward to after the gouging. I wandered around my side of town for a while, taking a few shots that have been niggling at the back of my mind for months as I drive past these places.

These shots are from an abandoned church in the barrio.

I, uh, found one of the two scooters that live here in Fake Cow.

Love this guy's ingenuity. That junked car has been there for at least a year. He just painted the sign a couple of weeks ago.

Fake Cow is a dead and dirty town in a lot of ways. But underneath the disinterest and neglect there is some interesting stuff. When we come home from a trip, we always wonder why we continue to live here. But, truthfully, cities bore me after a while. Trees and mountains are nice, but they give me claustrophobia after about a week.

I like being able to see the weather approaching for at least half a day before it gets here. I like knowing the cars belonging to the people who have business out on the little road where I live and being able to pick out a strange car as soon as it turns off the highway. I like being able to hear the train, but only at 3:00 a.m. because it is a mile away and the sound carries so well at night. I like finding exciting new ways of threading my FM antenna around the bathroom so that I can pick up a scratchy version of Morning Edition while I'm getting dressed.

I like laughing at the unimaginative marquee at Taco Bell which says simply "Jesus". They are attempting to keep up with the Joneses next door at the chicken joint who excel at insipid religious marquee writing. (They had the prayer of Jabez posted on that sign for almost a year. I couldn't figure it out for months. Every time I drove past all I could think was "WTF???" Mindy finally explained it to me.) I like being deeply concerned with whether or not the band will stretch its years of consecutive sweepstakes to 75-ish, even though I don't have a kid in band.

I like the gold of the corn stalks in the late afternoon sun, even though they cause me much grief and snot. I like knowing that no one is having any luck with tomatoes this year and that it's not just me. I like how we tell distance in hours, not miles. (It's an hour to Cool City and 45 minutes to Big Flat City. My parents have moved only a half-hour away. Takes five hours to drive to Dallas. We don't even bother driving to Houston, because when the distance is greater than 8 hours, you just damn well oughta fly.)

I like the way we all cheered at the news that somebody had filed for divorce and her worthless husband was looking for work in Dallas. "Good riddance," we all said. "They'll kick his butt in Dallas." I like that every story is preceded by the complete pedigree of all the major characters. And some of these pedigrees are real doozies!

I think I'll stick around for a while yet.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Friday Cemetery Blogging

Jackson and I were on our way back from Dallas when I took this photo. We had failed to make a turn and were up about 30 miles off course when we finally realized what we'd done. We made this discovery just as we came upon a small town cemetery. Of course we stopped.

As usual, we drove slowly through the graveyard before we actually stopped to take any pictures. When we came up on this stone, Jackson stopped the car and we just sat and stared, open-mouthed. Finally one of us said "That doesn't really say that...does it?"

It does.

The stone marks plots belonging to two families. They list both family names on both sides of the stone. Those with the top name are buried behind the stone. The bottom name are in front. I have some misgivings about posting this, because I don't want to offend anyone. But my better judgment seldom, if ever, prevails in these moments, so, here it is:


Way on down the page.

I'm watching the Obama speech. "Eight is enough! Eight is enough!" And what the hell was the deal with MSNBC reading half the damn speech before we got to hear Obama give it? That was just wrong. I really like Keith Olberman, but c'mon! He ain't Barak. Chris Matthews really gets on my nerves, but I love Rachel Maddow.

Oh wait, where was I?

Here it is:

Saturday, August 23, 2008

How do you spell Kolachi?

This picture is from last Saturday morning. Jackson was, shall we say, less than thrilled that Katie and I got hungry at the ungodly hour of half past nine and dragged him out of bed and over to Mi Mexico for the Breakfast of the Aztec Gods.

He survived. And Katie got to test the camera on her new cell phone. Notice how Jackson continues my brother's tradition of wearing his place of employment on his chest at every possible opportunity? Unfortunately, you can't really see my shirt, because it's way cool. A close up of Alan Rickman. Bought it at Hot Topic. I know how jealous you all must be.

This Saturday is "something completely different".

Sometime this week Mindy will tell you the story of our newest business in town - an independent coffee shop. The story is damned hysterical and she tells it so well. We're a little behind the curve here when it comes to cultural relevance. But we do try and the results are sometimes hilarious.

Katie is out of town this weekend, and I'm not pushing my luck with Mr. Happy Face two Saturdays in a row, so I'm hanging out here this morning, trying to make do with a steamy cup of earl grey until he drags himself out of bed.

I am having the bestest time.

Fake Cow is not a college town. Even though we have a university which is a major employer and economic powerhouse (well, maybe economic powershed?) this is so not a college town. So, when Starbucks opened a store here on the interstate about two years ago, we all scoffed at their overpriced coffee and knew in our hearts that it was the beginning of the end for that particular franchise. And yes, our Starbucks is on the list for the first round of closures as they try to pull back and salvage some threads of their corporate dignity.

So, this week, when the new coffee house opened, it has been drawing college kids in the evenings like flies to roadkill.

Early Saturday morning is such a different story.

When I first got here, there was a bit of a line. The person in front of me was a professor that Ester and I decided years ago was most likely to be the corpse in a Murder She Wrote episode. Not because he's a bad guy, but because if you were casting a college professor, you couldn't find anyone, anywhere, who fits the stereotype any better.

Within moments there were a few other happy stragglers cuing up for muffins and chai. Saturday mornings bring out the old folks. And me. Which means... Oh, never mind.

Anyway, I'm sitting here, still enjoying the cuppa, when the guy at the bar calls to his wife - "Stace! Get out here!" We all followed his gaze out the huge windows that line the front of the place. The old guy in the booth next to me drawled loudly, "Oh gawd. This is turin' into a biker joint." We all laughed.

A gang of gnarly-lookin', white, middle-aged scooter-riders (Scooter-ers? Scooteristos? Hell's Errand Boys? I don't know what to call them.) were carefully lining up their candy-colored rides in a bad-ass line in front of the old diner.

They have flames on their helmets.

I honestly didn't know there were more than two people in this town who owned scooters. Motorcycles are another story, but scooters? Not s'much. We're on a slippery slope now, it appears. If this keeps up, the gins will stop handing out gimme caps and the John Deere dealership with start selling golf carts.

What's next? Restaurants with salad bars?

Pray for us.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Frame Of Reference

Katie has been turned to the dark side.

They did it in less than two hours. It started simply enough - an invitation to dinner. Dinner for all the brand new, incoming seventh graders at church. I felt a cold chill go down my spine as I drew the innocuous looking sheet of grey stationery from the envelope. I knew it was from the church, but it was signed by...

dum - duh - DUMMMM

...the Youth Minister.


It was only two hours, a hamburger, a board game and some wii bowling. How bad could it be, I thought? I was so wrong.

She was a 12 year old when I dropped her off. She was in Junior High when I picked her up. When we got in the car, the first words out of her mouth were "OH my gosh! This is so random! The boys were, like, so retarded!"

She's been Stepfordized.

I was still reeling when she totally switched tracks - "Are we going to church tomorrow night? Please, please tell me we're going! Even though we're not officially 7th graders until next week, they're going to let us go to the youth service tomorrow night. With the band! Please can we go?"

I considered weeping.

Eventually, in an attempt to steer the conversation into less treacherous waters, I asked how the meal was. It was good, she said. And she drank a Dr. Pepper.

"That's cool," I said. "You just can't go wrong with Dr. Pepper."

"Yeah, but I didn't know until later that they had Coke. I would've had a Coke."

"What are you? Some kind of communist?" I was rather shocked.

"What do you mean?"

"You're a Texan. All Texans drink Dr. Pepper. It's like the law or something!" My incredulity knew no bounds.

"Well, I guess I'm not a Texan," she said archly.

"Which makes you a communist." My logic was razor sharp.

"No I'm not! I'm...I'm..." wheels turned and wood burned as she searched for an answer. "I'm Chinese!" she finished triumphantly.

Once I explained why I was howling with laughter, she said "Oh yeah? Well, then, I'm gonna be from Korea!"

I could've wrecked the car. When I explained that one, she then said, "Well, fine! I'm gonna be from Russia!"

I thought I was going to hurt myself.

Guess I'll be going to church tomorrow night.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Friday Cemetery Blogging

The title of this photo should be "Thank God For Photoshop". I took this photo in Dallas. Dijea pointed this statue out to me. It's a beautiful monument and in wonderful condition - no broken wings or fingers. It marks a classy little family plot.

But those flowers? They're fake. Bright yellow and blue plastic, a la Wal-Mart. Hideous. Roses and poinsettias, I think - not exactly a naturally occurring combination. The most dead thing in a cemetery? Plastic flora. More so than ceramic fauna.

Just say no to fake flowers.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Back at home and back at work.

Dallas is indeed a hellacious place in August, but it's survivable. Humidity is an amazing thing. Give me dry and dusty any day! (Any day in August, anyway...)

The conference I went to has generally been some of the best training that I attend in an average biennium. This year was slightly different. A few years ago, in the midst of one of those governmental shakeups that happen every so often just to see who's staying awake, the Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse was officially kaput-ed. Bits and pieces of their operation were taken over by a brand new, made-up, state agency with a ridiculous acronym. (The agency's big-wigs threatened the employees with disciplinary action if they referred to the agency by the term "dishes" which is basically what the acronym spells.)

Over the past couple of years, the people who administered the training were either forced out or decided they didn't want to play anymore. This time there was a whole new team running the program.

Shake-ups aren't necessarily a bad thing. I'm generally a fan of change. I know all about those "last seven words" *.


The first speaker pridefully informed us that this training now complied with all - ALL - applicable state rules and regulations. Talk about a kiss of death! As a result the training was thoroughly and predictably horrible.

Thankfully, there were plenty of things to do after the classes ended each day. Jackson seldom made it back to the hotel before 10:00 or 11:00 at night, so I spent my evenings on blogger blind dates. The first was with Dijea.

We had a fabulous dinner at a Salvadoran restaurant. Just the thought of it makes me hungry. (Or maybe that's because it's supper time and we forgot to turn on the crock pot this morning!) Dijea has some wonderful stories - she kept me laughing the whole time. I felt like I'd known her forever - it was a great blind date!

Then she took me to a wonderful cemetery in downtown Dallas. Dijea has a great eye for photography and we had fun traipsing among the tombstones. Some of them were beautiful and some were just odd. I've got some great new material for cemetery blogging. One of her shots from that evening is posted on her blog. Check it out.

The next night I hooked up with a whole posse of revgals. We spent hours in an Indian restaurant, eating, drinking and laughing. I'd never had Indian food before, and I might be a convert. Which is bad, because there is basically NO Indian food to be had in this part of the state. We think Indian food is basically dried buffalo jerky and flatbread.

Dogblogger and Alpha, Mid-Life Rookie and Gifted/Talented, Mary Beth, Elastigirl and the Vicar of Hogsmeade were every bit as fun as you would think. When I got back to work, everyone wanted to know how the meetup went. I told them it was just like having lunch at work - nonstop laughter and instant camaraderie.

I was a little late for dinner because I drove by the place three times before I found it. That was ok, because on the third pass, I had a lovely conversation with a terribly exuberant Asian man in a big white SUV stopped next to me at the traffic light. Evidently I have a very friendly twin by the name of Misty living somewhere in the metroplex. I didn't have the heart to tell him it wasn't me.

My conference ended on Wednesday; Jackson's classes continued through Thursday. We returned my rental car Wednesday night and I rode along with him the next morning to his venue. I was going to explore downtown while he did his thing.

He had to be at the Hyatt Regency by 7:00 a.m., so we paid for parking and he headed off to class whiled I wandered around downtown. I wandered the streets for a while, watching the sun come up between the high rise buildings.

I cursed the humidity yet again when I first took my camera out of the bag. It was wet! I cleaned the lens and then tried to take a photo of the old red courthouse. The lens fogged up again before I could snap the picture. It turned out to be kind of a cool effect. I was getting sort of hungry, so I found a man taking out the trash and asked him where I could get a good breakfast. Garbage guys are always a wealth of information as well as surprisingly jolly people and this guy was no exception. He directed me a couple of blocks over to a good breakfast spot.
The restaurant was just opening up for the day. They hadn't even turned on the air conditioner. It was ungodly hot. Sweat was trickling down my spine while I ordered a couple of breakfast burritos and a diet coke. I decided to take 'em to go, since it was cooler outside. After collecting my repast, I hit the streets again. I wandered through the bus stops in the West End. The juxtaposition of wealth and poverty there is sort of mesmerizing. People came in hordes from every direction, trying to catch their ride to work. They carried sacks or bags and stared either at the ground or at me. Just one block away, people - mostly men - were arriving from the suburbs to their jobs down town. They carried briefcases and newspapers. They stared either at the ground or at me. I found a bench right in the middle between professional world and manual labor world. I shared the bench with a passed out guy. You can see him in this photo - below the walk sign, wearing white, sorta slumped on the bench. The burritos were bigger than I expected, and I was considering waking him up to offer him the second one, but I figured that wasn't really a very good idea. While I was snarfing my breakfast and managing not to spill hot sauce on my shirt - which was easily the most incredible event of the day - people continued to stream past us on the way to catch the bus. Without warning, one of them plopped down on the bench between Sleeping Beauty and I. (He didn't seem to mind. Or even notice.) The lady who squeezed in amongst us didn't have anything to say. She was carrying a tote bag and an almost empty bottle of orange soda. She sat there for a moment, surveyed her surroundings, then reached into her bag. She pulled out a whiskey bottle wrapped in a paper bag. I recognized the label, because I'd seen one just like it in the cemetery a couple of days before. She proceeded to fill the soda bottle with whiskey. There was just enough of the orange drink left in it to mask the color of the whiskey. Once that was done, she hopped up and hoofed it down the street to the bus stop. I finished my breakfast, then explored a while longer. You can see and appreciate tons more stuff when you're on foot. For instance, I had never seen the gargoyles on top of the old courthouse before. Have you? The courthouse wasn't officially open yet, but I snuck in through an unattended door and hung out with the security guard for a while. He was a fun guy who hooked me up with some trivia about the building. I figured he was way more interesting than the museum itself, so I left before actually taking a tour. It wasn't just past 8:00 a.m. and I was already tired of the sweating. So, I took a seat on the benches by the fountain in Dealey Plaza and watched the cars go by. It was cool just to watch people and pick out interesting details in the buildings around me. Eventually I decided to move, so I walked a little further on, close to the Dallas Morning News building. There was a fountain there that had a real Mary Poppins vibe. You'll be relieved to know that this did not make me sing. I snapped a few more pictures before heading back down to the Hyatt for the frozen comfort of their lobby. I passed this bit of electrical engineering which reminded me of the War of the Worlds. But, maybe that's just me. All in all, I had a great time. Maybe we can go back again before long. Hopefully in the WINTER.

* "We never did it this way before."

Friday, August 08, 2008

Friday Cemetery Blogging

It's still Friday for another half hour or so.

That gives me just enough time to post a picture I took in Dallas.

Let me know how this looks on your browser. I'm having trouble - maybe? - with pictures appearing darker on the blog than they do otherwise. I know this is pretty subjective, but does it appear too dark to you? It's supposed to look gloomy, but not totally midnighted!

I had a great time in Dallas - especially on a couple of fabulous Blogger Blind Dates that I will have to tell you about later. But now, I'm goin' to bed!

Sunday, August 03, 2008

The road to hell...

I flew into Dallas this morning.

It was a full flight and being one of those people who don't print their boarding passes until the morning of the flight, if at all, I was in one of the later boarding groups. I managed to find a seat in the front of the plane, squeezed between a couple of female readers.

The aisle reader was a lady I'd noticed in the terminal. She was reading serious literature. She wore socks with her sandals, a denim skirt and her graying hair was in a thin, fuzzy braid that snaked down to her shoulder blades. You've seen this woman, right? You can always trust 'em to be perfectly compatible seat companions. They just want to read.

The woman in the window seat was younger. Short black hair. Kicky black framed glasses. Pale skin. Indecisive. She brought a copy of Cosmo, and a skinny paperback; both of which she ignored as she flipped through all the printed material that was in the seat back pocket in front of her.

We were a very quiet row.

As we began our descent, I put my book away and looked past the pale girl and out the window. Two reasons for that. One, I can't read when the plane is bouncing as it always does on its way down to the ground and two, I always play a little game in my head during landings. It's called "Can I Survive A Fall From This Height?" No real rules, just sort of mentally estimating my chance of survival. My estimates are admittedly unrealistically optimistic, but that's probably normal for us superhero types.

Anyway, as I was looking out the window, the pilot made a weird turn that made the plane feel like it was pivoting on the left side wing. (Port? Starboard? I think port, but I wouldn't put money on it.) Pale girl dropped the sky mall magazine and grabbed for the armrests.

No sooner had he straightened out, than the pilot dipped us violently to the other side. Pale girl was even more so.

I smiled at her and finally spoke. "Nothing like coming into town at a freakish angle, is there?"

"Nope," she said with a nervous laugh. "I really hate to fly."

I smiled at her again, hopefully encouragingly. By now we were very close to the ground and the plane started to dip back in the other direction. I thought I would make some small talk to help take her mind off the landing. I glanced back out the window.

"Hey look! We're flying right over the cemetery!"

Not helpful. Soooo not helpful.