Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Cost of Hubris

Okay, my brain is swimming in confusion. More to the point, I have pains in my cerebral cortex where a man of my age shouldn’t. True on some level the pain is good. It reminds me of the simple fact that there is still a lot in this world I need to learn. However; I shouldn’t be having to go through this sort of crap even if it is my own damn fault.
            Okay, I suppose I should back up a bit, you see my dear reader, two weeks ago I posted a blog about my own hubris getting the best of me. If you’ve read that then you may know why I am in such an unstable mental state.
            You see, in 1985 I bought my first computer. It was a membrane keyboard computer that hooked up to a television, had a tape recorder to save all your programs on and no onboard memory. It cost me one hundred bucks. I spent countless hours using that thing and programing in Basic language. I made a couple games, a really bad word processing program and even some eight bit graphics of girls names who I thought would be impressed with seeing their names on the screen of a television. It took me all of two months to outgrow that basic processing unit. Matter of fact, I realized how shitty the computer was when I was introduced to the Apple IIe and its amazing power and programing book.
            That was the last apple product I ever touched… until this past week.
            Thirty years have passed since those early days of personal computing. In that time I’ve become a Microsoft user and have been able to navigate my way through all of their upgrades and variances. True, there is a learning curve to be mastered almost on an annual basis but I seem to have a knack for getting the hang of their latest and greatest systems.
            However; this is not true for the Apple products. Remember the last interface experience I had was with a IIe. Now, in my hands is an iPad Air 2 with all the bells and whistles of the Apple conglomeration. I have no clue what I’m doing. And, as is the case with most new things that come across my path, I threw myself into learning about this device. In particular, the iMovies and its own version of Powerpoint… I think it is called propresenter, but don’t quote me on that. (After all, I’m still trying to figure this thing out.)
            As for the learning curve on the iMovie program, no problem. Well, that is if you have another computer ready to use that has access to youtube videos. It took me only a couple days to record video with a wifi camera and transfer that data to the iPad and begin to edit an hour long movie. Truth be told… I really dug what I was doing. Then everything fell apart. When I went to transfer the file to my photo files, a process that took almost two hours and in the end failed because there wasn’t enough memory on this machine I was beside myself with disappointment. So I decided to clear out all the unused video footage.
            When that task was done I tried to replay the video I had created. A very nice error message popped up on screen saying “Video Content Not Found”. Apparently I had deleted everything including what I’d spent days working on.
            So I started over from scratch. Reloading through the wifi of the camera and the tablet all the rough videos I’d taken. Then loading them into a file onto iMovies. For the next four hours I edited the movie. Now I’m done… sort of. It seems the presentation program does not like the length or the cues of what I’ve done during the editing process. Which means this eight hundred dollar piece of metal, glass and plastic is about to get a face lift with a ten pound maul.
            No, not really, after all, I would never do that to something. But I will say, that I’m flummoxed and in no mood to look at another Apple product again for quite some time. But I will. Simply because I need to get this project finished. I need to have it up and working. Not for myself but for the betterment of visiting customers of where I work. To show those customers what being a part of a transportation system really means. To instill in them the meaning of graded crossings and safety. As well as basic model train information.
            I feel sorry for my generation and the generations that came before us. Everything is different and seems to change exponentially as the days pass into months. I have no idea what sort of gadgets will be in the hands of my grandchildren or their children. I’m just happy I will be at a stage in my life where I won’t have to learn the newfangled tech.
            Hell, I’m having a hard enough time with my cell phone and yet now I’m trying to film, edit and produce a movie about the toy trains I work with. Sure in the end I will be more well rounded in the ways of my job and have more attuned social networking skills that others in similar positions may not have but it comes at a price. A price of learning.
            A wise man once said “Knowledge is Power.” Well, I’m gaining knowledge and it does not come easy. Yet, I don’t think I’d have it any other way.

            Have a great week.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Ideas and Repurcussions

            Well, I had an idea, okay, not just one idea, most of the time, on a daily basis that is I have a plethora of ideas. Ideas which I rarely act upon or attempt to make corporeal. Mostly what I do with my ideas is I forget them. I toss them into a mental locker along with all my other ideas, slam the door shut and put a lock on it. I don’t think about them, I don’t act upon them nor do I ever try and vocalize them.
            However there are exceptions. On occasion, very rare occasions there is an idea that refuses to be locked and hidden away. This type of idea happened about five months ago. Now, to say it is an original idea would be extremely pompous of me. No, this idea has been around for a long time. Others have had it and have acted upon it. My only twist to this notion was to have this idea dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century. It was an idea that just wouldn’t go to sleep.
            So I acted upon it.
            Now, saying I acted upon it means I had to think outside the box to bring it into fruition. I had to reassess how my job is done and how one in my position goes about getting things done. Fortunately for me I know how to maneuver in government employ. It is something I have over twenty years of experience with. I did what I had to do. I made the appropriate insane requests and then submitted my idea for the idea I wanted.
            It took some finagling, some presentations of examples and some wise words from other people to convince my supervisor and my director what I wanted was for the betterment of the museum. It worked. Much to my chagrin.
            So the order was placed for an extreme amount of product. When the last item ordered, which was the first item to arrive, I was a bit disappointed, I started a learning process which I am mired in right now.
            I am trying to fulfill my vision. I am trying to learn new technology and forms of communication. This is a job for a much younger person. A person who has been raised in the ins and outs of multi-media. Instead, I’m stuck with trying to learn what hashtags are. What specific links to specific people mean and how the whole world wide web works.
            I’m a fish out of water.
            Yet, I’m learning. I’m trying to do what is right by our society and its insatiable appetite for content. A content made for consuming and finding out what is in their interest and makes them get up out of their chairs and go out and see what is going on in the world.
            People who will eventually come see me and what my vision is. A vision of trains and what they bring to our lives. A vision that most people don’t see or understand. After all, everything you own in your life has spent some time on a train.
            This is the only point I try to instill in everyone I meet. All goods and services have traveled by rail in their life. Also, at one point, those goods and services have held up traffic. Traffic in which you and I sit in. Traffic in which we curse the gods of nature and all the lives and breathes from holding us up from our lives. Yet on those box cars, the hopper cars, the gondola cars and the intermodal cars lies our life.
            Yes, my vision was and is to show the people who visit us what life is like on the rails. It is a vision that has come to fruition. A vision that means I need to learn new software, hardware and programing in order to make it work. In other words, I’ve more than doubled my workload. And why? Simply put, to make people, the general public understand.
            I have no idea if what I have envisioned will work. But I do know that those who see it, will be blown away by the simplicity and the ease of access to which they’ve experienced.
            Yes, I have a lot of work to do, but in the long run, I believe what I’ve done will only enhance what I’ve been doing and show others what and important mode of consumerism they have brought upon themselves and the luxury to which their life holds with just menial delays.
            Have a great week and enjoy the future videos of trains I will be posting on my Facebook site.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Sunday Riding

It started off as a regular Sunday. I woke up late. Tried to eat. Puttered around the house and then hopped on my motorcycle and rode to church. I didn’t go into the sanctuary, not because I didn’t want to. No, I didn’t go in because the last time I was there, sitting in those theatre seats, my back started to hurt. Hurt as if there were a hundred pairs of boots kicking me in the in my lower back. When you have that kind of pain, it is very hard to concentrate on anything. So this time I sat in the lobby, near the speakers which were broadcasting the sermon. Nobody bothered me and I could move and shift into any position I needed to.
            After church, an impromptu lunch with my family and then as we walked out to our vehicles, my wife asks if I’m going home. I said yup. She then asks if I was going to take the long way. Our daughter chimed in and said most sarcastically “Uh, yeah, he is.” I just smiled, put my helmet on and fired up my bike.
            Twenty-five minutes later I stopped at a local park to have a cigar and use the facilities. It wasn’t long before two other bikers showed up and parked next to me. After twenty minutes of conversation about our respective rides and a beverage (my poison was a Red Bull, theirs drinks were hidden in paper bags) they invited me to ride with them to the state line. I agreed. After all, it was a beautiful day and I had nowhere to be.
            We pulled out in formation, I was bringing up the rear. We rode as if hell hounds were on our trail. Speed limits were ignored, curves were navigated with total disregard to safety and only slowed down when traffic got in the way. It was a good ride. Cares and stress melted away with each passing second and the deep rumble of our engines muted out any negativity my inner voice usually is spouting at the top of his lungs.
            We reached our destination, took a nice break sitting on a picnic bench and just spoke about nothing and everything. Other riders were out enjoying the day, solo riders, clubs and guys like us who had met serendipitously on the road and decided to join up. We poked fun of the foreign bikes, questioned the sanity of their style of riding and in general lost ourselves in the camaraderie of our mutual ideas.
            When we left, once again, I was bringing up the rear, we passed by more bikers out enjoying the day. We always made sure to acknowledge them regardless of what they were riding. After all, they are riders too. We sped down back roads and eventually ended up on an interstate. The four wheel traffic was against us. Cars and trucks in the passing lane were going slower than those in the thru lane. Our leader took some risks, signaled each lane change with his hands and turn signal and navigated us through all obstacles.
            The second rider eventually turned off to head home, I took his place and followed the man who seemed to know where he was going. Miles later, we ended up taking another break at a little dive bar where the juke box hadn’t been turned on in days, the pool tables were rigged for free play and all the televisions were muted. There were only eleven people in the bar and that included us, the bartender and the cook. It was also a bar where one could smoke inside of. We sat at a large table, had some drinks and talked. Our conversation only interrupted by the bartender and patrons who would come over and introduce themselves to me.
            This experience stirred within me something I had thought had been lost. You see, back in Wisconsin, this was the type of bar I would go to. A place where nobody wanted to listen to music or the news, a place where just being around like minded people and getting to know them was more important that the latest pop song.
            A place where it didn’t matter your race, religion or creed. All that mattered was if you wanted to know people without prejudice and hate. This place seemed to be a carbon copy of those long forgotten rooms.
            I met a woman who is in the midst of battling cancer. Her shirt a blazing pink with the words “I’m gonna beat this shit” in stark contrasting black letters. Her bandana, covering up the loss of her hair was also pink and she looked like the type of person who’d sooner kick your ass than give you the time of day but once you talked to her, you realized she is a sweet, loving and tender person.
            At the bar, an old man wearing a Viet-Nam military ball cap, sat nursing a beer. He came over, sat down, introduced himself and bought us drinks. We talked about his service in South East Asia and all the shit he was now going through with the VA because of his failing health and the effects of Agent Orange on his body. He was an old biker. Said he started riding when he got home from the war, but now, his health issues prevented him from riding his bike or driving his car. He’s fought for America and now is fighting for himself and he can’t even enjoy the wind on his face.
            The bartender, a young girl with two kids and a world of problems I’m not comfortable with sharing here, seemed as if her life were built on nothing but bad luck and bad decisions. Yet she was happy to be working and knew every customer by name. She also made sure everyone had the drinks they wanted and knew who was drinking what. My water glass never got empty. The beers of my fellow table mates were always replaced before they were empty as well.
            As the daylight waned, I knew it was time for me to leave. The patrons didn’t seem as if they wanted to leave and when I said my good-byes several people came out to see my ride and wish me safe travels. I was hugged by men and women whom I’d only known for an hour and it felt like I was being hugged by long lost family members.
            Yes, this place is a dive, it’s a biker bar and a place where all sorts of hell raising goes on. But you know, they opened up their hearts and minds to me as if it were the most natural thing in the world. These men and women, most of whom you’d never even give a second glance to in life seem to be the salt of the earth and the backbone of America. They are good people with real problems and live life by accepting the gritty, raw and unattractive nature of it. They don’t make excuses, they don’t want what isn’t theirs and they respect people who respect them.
            You meet the coolest people on a Harley when you’re on the road and when you open yourself up to life. Then again, I suppose you could say that is true for most situations. If you keep yourself open to people, real people, honest people you find out you have more in common with them than you think.
            I can’t wait to go riding again. Matter of fact… I think I’ll go right now.

            Have a great week.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Spring Derailment

Spring is finally here. The trees are blooming, the grass is growing and everywhere you look the animals are chittering, tweeting and frolicking in the warmth after a cold and crazy winter. I’m glad for the changes. It makes me want to be outside more than ever. It makes me want to hop on my motorcycle and race the sun. It makes me want to be free from the restraints of my life.
            I can’t be the only one who feels this way. Can I? Of course not. However; there is one thing about this physical change in season I don’t like. Doing taxes. Sure, I’ve been doing them for three decades and you’d think by now, what with all the tax increases, salary changes, medical charges and the rest of the rigamarole a person of my age, or any age older than me would have paid enough into the system so that they don’t have to pay anymore.
            Sure, I understand the need for keeping our military paid, our roads fixed, our national treasures secure. I know that freedom isn’t free. But the cost seems to be growing radically in a northward direction. I know I shouldn’t complain. I have rarely ever had to pay more this time of the year. Truth be told, I usually get money back. This happens because I give too much. Which is okay with me. I don’t mind paying my share. It just seems my share is getting larger and larger as the years grow shorter and shorter.
            We, our nation that is, fought a vicious war against a tyrannical government over a two percent tax on a beverage. Yet, two hundred and some odd years later, we are more than happy to pay over fifteen percent of our income to the federal and a somewhat less percentage to our states. Lastly I can’t really see the effects of what we are paying for. I wish I could. But I can’t. Hopefully one day I will.
            I suppose what I’m saying is, I’m confused about the whole process. I mean, I see people who hardly put any money into the system get back more than they put in. I see others who are wealthy get back almost everything and then there are us. The middle class. Paying for so much stuff we barely see enough to pay the water bill. It just seems broken.
            Okay, I’m about done for now. I didn’t want this blog to go this way, so I’m pulling the plug and I’m going to go sit on my porch and enjoy the beautiful weather before the doom and gloom set in again.

            Have a great week.

Friday, April 3, 2015

I am an Asshole

A little over fifteen maybe twenty years ago I would get off work every morning and drive an hour to see my Mom. She was going through a rough patch as most of us do and I worried almost every moment I wasn’t with her. When I arrived at her home, I’d coax, finagle and literally drag her out of bed, make her take a shower and get dressed while I cooked some breakfast. Afterwards, she’d do the dishes, I’d take out the trash, mow and trim the lawn and then sit and talk to her until I was almost too exhausted to drive home. I normally did this alone.
            However; on some occasions my wife would join me. This was usually on a Saturday or Sunday. Which is when this story takes place. On a Saturday.
            We arrived at my Mom’s house around nine in the morning. By the time we got her up and ready for the world it was almost ten. After breakfast and polite conversation my mother asked if I’d burn her compost pile since she was selling the house and she didn’t think the new owners would like to look out the windows and see a four foot tall, eight food diameter pile of compost that was overgrown with weeds. I agreed.
            She then told me to get some gasoline out of the garage to start the fire. I went to the garage and located three separate cans of gasoline. One was a five gallon and two were of the three gallon size. I picked up the lightest of the three gallon cans and made my way out to the edge of the property line. I walked around the pile eying it for any good places to start the fire and realized I might need to loosen up the decomposing mess. So I went back to the garage, got a shovel and went back to the pile and dug a few holes, made a few trenches and began to pour gas into all the turned over decay.
            It wasn’t long before I ran out of gas. So I put the shovel and empty can back in the garage to give it time to soak into the mound. When I returned I noticed my mom and wife looking at me through the window of the breakfast nook. I then heard a plane flying above the house. I looked up. It was a single engine Cessna. I waved to the plane, pulled out my lighter and ignited the pile. Which is about the time I realized how much gas I had poured onto this particular pile of trash. Over two gallons.
            When the first flames started, the fire began to slowly burn, then as if by some satanic force of nature, I felt the air around me start to rush towards the pile. I turned my back to the pile and not two steps later I was engulfed in flames and no oxygen to fuel my lungs. I started laughing even as I felt the hair on my head and face begin to singe. I ran. I ran as fast as I could to get out of the inferno I had started. My laughter was lost in the unearthly sound of high powered accelerant fueled by the cool air of the day and the dried and rotting food, trash and biodegradables that had been used to build it.
            By the time I got clear, my faded jean jacket smoking almost as much as the pile itself I fell on the ground holding my sides in an attempt to stop myself from the fit of laughter that had overtaken me. In the sky above me, the Cessna was no doing circles around the bonfire of garbage, its engine silent in the wake of the roaring flames not thirty feet from me.
            Which is about the time I heard my mother screaming “You’re an ASSHOLE. My God, you are such and ASSHOLE.” And on the tail end of her repeated tirade, I heard my wife’s laughter followed by her saying “Well, he is your son.”
            I sat up, the heat from the fire was almost unbearable so I made my way back into the house with the unending screams of my mother filling my ears “You are such an asshole.”
            This revelation did nothing but bring an even larger smile to my face and make me feel as if I had accomplished something. I didn’t know what I had accomplished but I knew it was something important.
            As a matter of fact, it wasn’t until about four years ago that the events of that day and the results of my actions led me to an epiphany of sorts. You see, it’s true, my Mom was in a very bad place. She was clinically depressed, taking all sorts of medication and had no drive or desire to do anything. But on that day, the day of me being called and confirmed an asshole, there was a change in her.
            She sold her house, moved into an apartment and started her life over. We saw each other every day for over a year. It was a great year. We talked, went to movies, hung out and drank coffee together and bonded in a way that made us both realize neither one of us is perfect and we don’t expect anything from each other but a good relationship.
            When she left to move North, my heart broke and I knew we would never have the closeness we had shared for that brief period in our lives. Although I am grateful for those days and nights of talking or just watching a football game on television.
            She has come a long way in those years. She is happier than I have ever seen her in her life. She has a loving husband and friends who honestly care about her and share common hobbies and interests. In other words, she has done a complete 180 degree turn from the woman she was to become the woman she is intended to be. I’m proud of her. I’m proud call her mom and I’m even more proud that I’m able to tell her dirty jokes, make inappropriate comments and just be myself around her. Even if it is when we are talking on the phone with half a continent between us.
            I’m sure I still frustrate her with my brash comments and my sometimes crude behavior, just as much as I’m stunned by her sometimes over-appropriate and polite demeanor. However, we have a relationship not many mother and sons have. For that I’m grateful and honored. Also, I can’t help but think to myself “You are an asshole and you did some good, no matter how small it was, you did it.” Which I believe makes our bond much stronger. After all, I have to say at least I didn’t set fire to a river bank.
            I love you Mom.

            Have a great week.