Father’s D’Oh

Walter: One wrong note eventually ruins the entire symphony.

—Alien: Covenant (2017)


Let me tell you about my Father’s Day today.

It’s possible—but not likely—that this is my last Father’s Day with one of my kids in the house. Daughter is living the adult life in North Carolina, and now that Wee One has graduated from high school, we have to consider the possibility that she’ll be spending her summers working, or otherwise occupied somewhere other than this immediate area.

So I figured, hey. Let’s do a little day trip, just the three of us. And everybody was good with it, so we packed into the car and headed up to the little town of Gardiners, Pennsylvania. I had two destinations in mind. Up in Gardiners there’s a farm stand called Peter’s, which isn’t a huge deal or anything, but it’s a destination and it’s a reasonable distance from home. We head up I-83 from the city, jump off a few miles after crossing the state line, and from there it’s a bunch of rural and semi-rural roads. So…nice views, rolling hills, just relax and sing along with the radio and gab about whatever, and then buy some strawberries or whatever’s in season (plus a surprise for Daughter next time she visits). AND, as we cruise through the area, there are a bunch of little antique and second-hand stores in between that we can poke in and out of.

Shortly before Peter’s however, in the town of York Springs, there’s a place called Concrete Jungle. It’s a small business dedicated to making, and selling, concrete statues, planters, birdbaths and such for people’s gardens. We’ve been there a few times and picked up a few items for our yard. This isn't ours because, as usual, I'm writing in the middle of the night and can't take a picture. More often than not, when we get something we’re paying a pretty low price for it compared to, say, Home Depot or Lowe’s. (As a For Instance, we purchased a pagoda lantern very much like the one in this picture for about $40; anywhere else it’d be twice that.) So this time around we popped in because we were in the market for a pair of matched planters for the front of the house. And sure enough, we managed to find a couple of nice ones that went for about $50 for the pair. Sweet! They’re plain concrete right now but we can color and then seal them to match the steps. I’d take a photo of them, but they’re still in my trunk. Also, it’s dark outside as I write this.

Anyway.

We picked up some strawberries and a couple of other goodies from Peter’s, then headed home. It was during this leg of the trip that we realized we hadn’t really eaten. As we passed through the town of East Berlin, Wife spotted a pit beef place and suggested we stop in there.

And that’s where things started to go south.

The place is called Hog Wild. It’s set back from the street and fronted by a patio with picnic tables. A few other, smaller tables sat on an elevated platform along one of the walls. The walls surrounding this area are covered with vintage (or, more likely, “vintage”) signs (not a knock, I know you can get a lot of these via catalogs and such). Inside are two or three tables and a service counter. We went inside and pored over the menu for a minute. Wife had a couple of questions because of her allergy, and the guy behind the counter, who turned out to be Rick the owner, was brief but forthcoming with his replies. His attitude seemed to have a little of “these guys aren’t locals; I’m gonna screw with them a little bit” or maybe he was just feeling a little acerbic, I don’t know. But Wife ordered Pit Beef without a roll (again, because allergies) but with onion. Then she asked if there was more than one size of the French fries, and he said, “There’s only one size: small.” So she ordered fries as well, and a lemonade. I was up next and ordered a Pit Beef sandwich with a roll, and with a little bit of onion. He asked if I wanted any barbecue sauce or anything on it, and I said “Oh–sure. I thought I saw it on the table, that’s why I didn’t bring it up.” He told me that it was out there, so I told him not to bother putting it on the sandwich, this way I could experiment with the different sauces out there. I ordered a can of Coke to go with it. Wee One ordered the Smoked Dip, which is essentially a Pit Beef sandwich with a side of Au Jus for dipping, an order of fries that she wanted to split with me, and also a lemonade. Total for these three lunches: $38.11. A little pricey, but OK. However, when I broke out my credit card, he simply pointed over my shoulder to the ATM and told me I could get money from there. Ugh. A little warning before this point would have been nice. I went to the ATM, withdrew $40 (and, of course, paid ATM fees since it’s an out-of-network machine), paid him and we went outside to wait.

And wait.

And wait.

And wait some more. I thought maybe I was just being impatient and not keeping track of the time, but the timestamp on my ATM slip said that I’d taken the money out at 2:10. By this point it was nearly 2:40. I said to Wife, “It doesn’t seem like they’re especially busy and our order wasn’t that complicated; I wonder what’s going on?” Wee One noted that nearly everyone out on the patio was waiting for food, and they’d all been there at least as long as we had.

At about 2:55 our food finally came out. The girl who served us asked Wife about her food sensitivity, because she was having a problem of her own and hadn’t nailed it down yet. Before she walked away, I said, “Can I ask a question? Is a 45-minute wait for the food typical?” This was genuine curiosity on my part; I’d been in plenty of pit beef places and while all of them had some kind of wait, none of them took that long. She looked taken aback by the question, almost as though nobody had ever asked it before. She said, “It’s not fast food!”

I said, “I get that, but I didn’t think you needed to raise the cow first.” Which I admit was a little snotty, but also so hyperbolic that nobody could reasonably think I meant it. Her reply: “I’m not forcing you to eat here.” That’s when I said, “Whoa. All right, then.” and let it go.

After she left, we talked about whether I’d said anything that was truly out of line, and ended up with “eh, not really.” Because here’s the thing: it’s a yes-or-no answer, really: either the answer is “No, but we’re shorthanded/we’re busier than usual/something broke down in the kitchen/whatever” or it’s “Yes, we spend all our effort on each order before moving on to the next/we hand-cut the fries so they take longer/something else.” Going on immediate defense with something like “It’s not fast food” was a little out of left field.

We began to eat our food. My sandwich, which I’d ordered with “a little bit of onion” had nearly as much onion as it did beef, but that’s no tragedy; I took off what I didn’t want and moved along. The food was…fine. It was pit beef; we’re not talking Serious Gourmet stuff here. As we finished our food, Rick himself came out asking if there was a problem with the food. “No,” I said. “The food was fine.”

“OK,” he replied, “because you upset my daughter when she was out here, and—”

Now frankly, I don’t really remember what the rest of his sentence was, because now I’m replaying in my head and I said, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, all I asked was—”

Unfortunately for me, he was on a roll and told me he didn’t want to hear about my whoa whoa whoas. (Yes, he told me that.) I repeated: “I just asked her whether a 45-minute wait was typical.”

“Do you see all the tables in there?” All three of them? Sure, I guess. That launched him into another tirade about if the food was no good he’d be happy to refund our money and send us on our way. Again I said, “The food was fine.” Now he’s moved on to We don’t need your kind here and I’m going to ask you to leave. I’m literally just sitting there wondering what the hell is going on. At this point the most I can muster up is just “Wow….Wow…” and then “OK.” I stand up and without another word, walk away from the place. Wife and Wee One, who have said very little at this point (because they were just as stunned), also got up and left, but that didn’t stop Rick, oh no. He kept on yelling at us, and at the other customers about us. I didn’t realize at the time he was doing that, because I’d left so directly that I figured that Wife had engaged with him and now he was yelling at her. But nope: they were right behind me and he was still doing his thing as I reached my car, across the street, with the rest of my family pretty much on my heels.

So in the end I really don’t know what set anyone off here. Maybe he was having an especially bad day. Maybe being in a town called East Berlin puts you in a Cold War frame of mind. Maybe when there are few other options for eating in a small town, you can generally get away with stuff like that. Maybe a million things. But the fact is, when you go to a small town, pay $40 for lunch ($2 ATM fee counts, in my book), and get abused out of the blue by the owner, it puts a bad taste in your mouth—you should excuse the expression—for the entire town.

Remember what I said several paragraphs ago about going antiquing as well? There are several places in East Berlin, PA that we had earmarked as potential stops when we were on the way up to Peter’s. Do you think we stopped in any of them on the way back? Not a chance. Our instinct was to get out of town as quickly as possible. But there were a few places that got our attention, and our money…in Thomasville, and Shrewsbury, and a couple of other spots on the way home.

Haddock Crateful

C.J. Cregg: You guys are like Butch and Sundance peering over the edge of a cliff to the boulder-filled rapids 300 feet below, thinking you better not jump ’cause there’s a chance you might drown. The President has this disease and has been lying about it, and you guys are worried that the polling might make us look bad? It’s the fall that’s gonna kill ya.

The West Wing, “The Fall’s Gonna Kill You” (5/2/01)


NEARLY ICKY IMAGE ALERT: If you’re my brother, don’t look at the end of this post. Maybe wait a few weeks and then come back. For everyone else, be warned that this post is long and rambling and, if I had any smarts, would be more than one post.

So my brother (the one mentioned in the previous paragraph) was recently injured in a fall at work. I told you a little about this a couple of posts ago. The fall wasn’t from a huge height, but it was a complicated one, enough so that Wile E. Coyote would be proud, I think. So, he had a broken pelvis requiring surgery and some interesting shenanigans in the rehab center that I don’t think I’m supposed to talk about.

When he first got hurt, his wife called me to tell me what had happened, and I don’t think she got more than a few sentences out before I started going through checklists in my head outlining what I needed to do in order to get down there. My brother, being pretty wise to how I think, had already issued a strict order for me NOT to come down, since there really wasn’t much I could do anyway. I took him at his word and stayed away, for a few weeks anyway.

As it happened, I’d already arranged for a visit to Beacon College, which is located in Leesburg, Florida. Leesburg is about an hour or so northwest of Orlando and just under two hours’ drive from my brother’s place. So when I set my visit date, I did it with an eye toward making it a long weekend so I could visit my brother.

Let me digress for a minute and talk about Beacon College: it’s a college which, like Landmark College (also mentioned not that long ago), is designed specifically for students with reading difficulties, with ADHD or who are considered to be somewhere on the autism spectrum. Their entire approach to educating students lies in determining how the student learns, how they process information, and then coming up with a plan of action that aims directly at that learning difference. The school itself is composed of several buildings in the downtown Leesburg area, such that you’re not entirely sure where the school ends and the town begins. Anyway, it’s a great school (and, if you’re interested, one of only a couple in the nation–and one of only 23 in the WORLD–with an Anthrozoology program) and worth considering if you suspect you’re smarter than your grades might indicate.

The folks at Beacon were amazing, and the 60-90 minute tour I’d expected turned into three hours of touring and some in-depth chat, and I’m hoping that they can pair up with my high school for some future project.

From there, I headed down to my brother’s place. I gotta say, I was pretty exhausted by this point, because I drove almost straight through from Baltimore to Leesburg, a 14-hour drive under the best of circumstances. I left around 8:30 PM on Tuesday and had no choice really but to stop in a couple of rest areas and do some catnapping (one of those catnaps was nearly three hours, in a gas station parking lot). So by the time I arrived at my hotel on Wednesday, I was pretty tapped out. I managed to get some sleep Wednesday night, but I don’t have the bounce-back skills I used to. I checked into the hotel near my brother’s house, then went to see what he was up to.

We had a happy little reunion, and ordered some takeout food from a place nearby. After dinner was a little more chatter, and he started talking about how he’d like to get out of the house for awhile, if I don’t mind. Hey, anything you want, amigo. We made plans for a couple of potential destinations on Friday, and I was back at the hotel.

Friday morning, I got to his place, and he wanted to visit his place of work. Now, getting him anywhere involves him using a walker to get to the car, and him using a wheelchair to get anywhere else once we arrive. I figure out a way to fit the wheelchair into my trunk, throw the walker into my backseat, and off we go…back to the Scene of the Crime.

Let me tell you something: they really like my brother over there at his place of work. I don’t think I’ve ever been greeted with that level of enthusiasm, anywhere (never mind at my job). He was chit-chatting with people before he even got out of the car. If you check out Frank Hagney's career on IMDB, you'll see that he has many more uncredited roles than credited ones. And in the office and the warehouse, it started to feel sort of like a scene from A Hard Day’s Night. I started to feel a little bit like the guy in It’s a Wonderful Life who does nothing but stand behind Mr. Potter and push his chair around. But it was pretty clear that they wanted him back as soon as possible, even if it was just part-time. My brother, being extra macho and whatnot, opined that he’d like to come back on a full-time basis if possible.

Our other destination was to see the water. That’s all; he just wanted to see the water. So from his workplace we headed down US19, and then a road called Alternate 19, which splits off from the main road in the town of Holiday and runs a little closer to the water. All the way down, we talked about how the area has changed since we were younger. I noted to him that there was a period of time where I’d constantly get lost because so much had changed during the year or so that would pass between visits. That actually happened to me on this visit, because I didn’t know that a road in his town had been completely re-routed to accommodate the expansion of a park.

As we got closer to the town of Tarpon Springs, he suggested that we make the turn down Dodecanese Boulevard, along the Anclote River toward the Sponge Docks. Dodecanese Blvd. is the heart of Tarpon Springs’ tourist industry, and hardly a day goes by that isn’t thronged with people who come to buy natural sponges, eat Greek food or just take a stroll along the docks to see the sponge boats doing their thing. You can even take a sponge-diving tour, where they give you the whole story of how the industry started in the late 1800s, and how the process of harvesting and preparing sponges hasn’t changed substantially since then. In fact, the Sponge Docks area hadn’t changed substantially during most of that time: the first time I visited was as a 12-year-old in 1975, and it was much the same until I was deep into my adulthood. Then along came a storm (I can’t remember which one) which, between the storm itself and the water surging up the riverbanks, pretty much wiped out the entire area. The town got a huge pile of money from the government to re-build, and nearly every building was restored.

Nearly.

Don’t let the nice paint job fool you; that paint may be the only thing keeping the insides of this building inside.

One building survived the storm, and oddly enough it was very close to the river. That building is called Sponge-O-Rama, and it’s the home of a couple of free exhibits that will teach you about the history and heritage of the local Sponge Industry. This comes in two flavors: Flavor One is the movie they show you, that loops around about every fifteen minutes. The film is dated, they’ll concede, but they keep it around because it’s such good documentation of the stuff they do. This film looked old in 1973 and it’s not looking much better, having been transferred from film to video tape and now to DVD from the video, so you’re treated to scanning errors and color bleeding. From there it’s on to the Sponge Museum, which is a labyrinth of poorly-lit full-size dioramas set behind plexiglass that’s so old, it’s started to fog up and is harder to see through every year. This area looks exactly the same way it did in 1973, and I’m pretty sure that the only thing keeping this part of the building together is the termites holding hands. And yet…it’s so goddamn charming that I can’t not go there when I’m in town. Except this time, of course, because my brother can’t get out of the car without a hassle and this was just a side trip, anyway. So after a pass through the area in each direction, we returned to Alternate 19 and continued down another couple of miles to the Honeymoon Island Causeway. We drove down the causeway, taking our time, until we got to the point where, in order to proceed, we’d have to pay a toll. Well, once again getting out of the car and into the sand wasn’t on the agenda, so I turned the car around and cruised back up the causeway. At one point I found a break in the railings and took my car down to the beach itself (about where the arrow is in the picture above), where I backed up against the rail and we sat there, chitchatting and watching the water. After awhile we headed back up the road (waiting for a sailboat to come through the drawbridge) and hit the local supermarket to get stuff for me to make dinner. He’d found a recipe in Food Network Magazine he was hot to try, but since he couldn’t stand up long enough to cook, we figured I could do the cooking and he could help with prep. (Go to the link; it’s good stuff!)

So while he was up and getting ready to cut up some peppers, he said to me, “Hey, wanna see the scar?” I, being no fool, said certainly. He told me that he hadn’t even seen it because he figured it’d make him woozy. So if you’re my brother, don’t look! Here it comes!

That's his right hip you're looking at.

Oh, and here’s some good news: he’s making his return to work, part-time, today! Go get ’em, man! They’re eager to have you back!

Too Cool School

Sue Heck: We have to do something to help. I gave up my trip, so they don’t have to pay for it. And you guys better start thinking of ways we can save money, too.
Axl Heck: No way! It’s their fault. They don’t know how to budget. They should’ve stopped having kids after me. You guys are the real money drain with your braces and your special school.
Brick Heck: I don’t go to a special school.
Axl Heck: You don’t?

The Middle, “The Hose” (10/17/12)


This week I made a visit to a college in Vermont. Not for the benefit of Daughter, who is long-graduated, or Wee One, who’s already been accepted to a school in Pennsylvania, but for the benefit of my students.

Specifically, I was invited to visit Landmark College in the town of Putney, VT for their Professional Visit Days. Landmark isn’t just any college, oh no. Landmark is a school entirely geared toward students with learning differences, including reading difficulties, ADHD, and even students who fall on the autism spectrum. Most of the students who attend there have flunked out of some other school, because that school didn’t really have a handle on their learning style. So in a way, it’s a college version of the high school I’m working in, with the overage and under-credited kids. And even with the disproportionate number of Special Education students, although they’re at 100% where we’re more like 30%.

Landmark bills themselves as “The college of choice for students who learn differently,” and everything they do is geared toward that fact. The first thing they do with students is try to figure out what that difference is, what their learning style is, how their minds work. They put a lot of neuroscience research into this, and have come up with their working definition of Executive Function (short version: it’s how your brain controls all of your processes), which they use to help the students plan a means of approaching their education. And one of the first things they do is focus on the student’s STRENGTHS rather than their deficits. So, for example, if a student has a low processing speed, that’s reframed as the student working deliberately and taking their time to get the right answer. (I usually tell them, “you’re not fast, but you’re accurate” which is a step in the right direction, I think.)

At any rate, Landmark has a very low staff-to-student ratio, and a class of 15 is considered to be pretty big. There’s an emphasis on coaching the students without constantly holding their hands (they’re still responsible for college-level work, after all), and on Universal Design in Learning, something which I’ve argued for for a long time, and frequently gotten pushback over (“If you’re accommodating everybody, then you’re accommodating nobody!”, which is crap). And while they’re not on the cutting edge from a technology standpoint, they do have a very good handle on what works with their students and what doesn’t.

Props to Craig Froehle for this image
This illustrates it well, except that it assumes that the problem is with the people, when in fact it’s also a matter of the terrain they’re standing on that’s providing hassles. Also there’s a fence, and maybe that should be removed altogether. I dunno, something’s vaguely wrong with the metaphor here, but in the end I do like it, even if I’m overthinking it.

As I noted earlier, Landmark is located in Putney, Vermont, which feels like the middle of nowhere but really isn’t. It’s only a few miles from Brattleboro, and also a stone’s throw from Keene, New Hampshire, where most of the bigger stores are (e.g. Walmart). Many students, despite their age, don’t have transportation of their own, so the school arranges lots of field trips to the movie theater, or over to Keene, or other traveling-based activities. Plus, there are lots of things to do on campus as well. For a school with only about 500 students, there is definitely more than its share of things to do.

One of the revelations I had when visiting this school was the way that the students, almost to the last, all gave me some version of “I knew I had a disability, but I really didn’t know what that meant/how it related to me.” All of them have stories about being given medication, or someone else doing their schoolwork for them, or being excluded from their own IEP meetings. From that standpoint, I have to say that again, we’re ahead of the curve a little bit, since I insist that students attend and participate in their own meetings (there’s not much I can do with truant kids, but if they’re in the building, sure). I have more work to do in this area, to be sure, but it’s good to know that I’m better than most.

Next week I’ll be visiting Beacon College in Leesburg, Florida. That visit won’t be as comprehensive as Landmark, but I still hope I’ll learn a lot and have some exciting stuff to share when I return.

 

Small Measures

Principal Skinner: Justice is not a frivolous thing, Simpson. It has little, if anything, to do with a disobedient whale.

The Simpsons, "The Boy Who Knew Too Much" (5/5/94)

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This morning, as I stumbled down the stairs in my usual fog of grogginess, a text message came in on my phone. It was from the folks at Discover; they'd identified some unusual activity on my credit card and needed to get in touch with me. I logged into my account online and got the same message, with a few details. Apparently overnight, "I" had tried to buy over $2000 worth of stuff from Franklin Covey, along with $4 of something else I didn't recognize. 

Now, Franklin Covey has some very nice stuff, but I–and most FC fans, I think–would have a pretty hard time coming up with two thousand dollars' worth of stuff to buy. So I called Discover, as requested, and spoke to the representative in the Fraud unit. They asked for a ton of information, basically trying to establish whether I actually had the card in my hands. They then went back through the last several charges (all of which had been declined because Discover thought they were fishy) until they got to one I recognized. So all is well, I'm not responsible for the fraudulent charges, and new cards will arrive in a few days. Happy ending, but not the way you want to start the day. 

So on the way to work, I'm headed up Belair Road and approaching the turnoff for the Beltway, when a guy in a silver Mercedes minivan** comes flying in from the left lane, cuts me off and continues into the on-ramp. As it happened, there wasn't anyone ahead of us, so he just kept rocketing down the ramp and disappeared into the traffic. 

And of course it's annoying because he's rude and I nearly spilled my tea and the crappiest part about it is that there wasn't even anyone ahead of him to slow his ass down, so he pretty much got away with it and that's the worst part. You're minding your own business and following the rules of the road, and you have to be extra careful when you're driving because there are ASSHATS LIKE THIS out there on the road. 

So for the uninitiated, from the Belair Road exit on the Beltway, it's maybe a mile to the interchange with I-95 and, about another mile or two south of that, the highway splits so that motorists have two tunnels through Baltimore to choose from. It's a very busy piece of road during rush hours, but for the most part it's well-designed and seems to go smoothly, even if the volume means that you're not able to go at full speed.

Today, however, was a little different. The merge to southbound I-95 was pretty easy, but after the split for the tunnels, the traffic seemed to slow down. It was kind of an unnatural place for this sort of thing to happen, and I got worried that I'd be late to school, because I'm also aware that there is construction beyond the tunnel that tends to slow things down. Could the slowdowns actually be backing up through the tunnel and continuing another four miles? This could be bad.

In the distance, however, I saw some police lights flashing, so I figured, cool. We get past that, and things should open up. I hope. 

As I get closer to the police activity–and, sure enough, I can see at this point that the traffic is lightening up after that point–I see that it's a single marked police car, and fortunately he's not reporting on an accident; he's got a single car stopped for some infraction. 

And that car is a silver Mercedes minivan. 

This may be a good day today, you know? 

 

**you can call it an "SUV" all you like, it's a minivan unless it's actually spending some time off-road. And this thing ain't spending ANY time off-road. 

Somewhere Out There

Eric: Okay, guys. Road trip checklist…Car? Check. Okay. We’re good.

That 70s Show, “Canadian Road Trip” (5/8/01)

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A Facebook friend of mine recently posted a link to an article about someone who did a road trip around the entire United States.

The teaser for the article noted that the trip hit all the major landmarks, and was accompanied by this map:No stopover in Boise?

As far as the article was concerned, well, that was a big failure. The map wasn’t interactive, there wasn’t anything about the points that had been “pinned”, and it was pretty clear that the route described on it did NOT hit all the major landmarks of the USA. For instance, it clearly ignores the St. Louis Arch, Graceland, the Grand Canyon, and the Statue of Liberty, just to name a few off the top of my head. So I did a little digging and discovered that the map in question actually traces the path of a time-lapse video made by a guy who did, in fact, drive in a 12,000-plus-mile loop around the United States, starting in upstate New York (see the green pin? there) and heading south to Georgia, then west and so on. If you’re interested, you can see the video here. It’s kind of cool.

This got me to thinking about my own desire to take such a trip—except without the time-lapse video. I love road trips, I really do. And since 9/11, flying anywhere is a pretty miserable experience. Over the past couple of years, I’ve made close to a dozen trips to Florida, most of them by car. And I’ve occasionally taken a different route just to see what else is out there on the road. When you live in Baltimore, it’s pretty much I-95 until you get to Jacksonville, Florida, after which it’s either I-10 to I-75 and another couple hundred miles south, or jump off I-10 in Baldwin and ride US-301 for awhile until you can meet up with I-75 in Ocala. One time last year, on the way down I jumped off I-95 in South Carolina and headed west about 25 miles to a little town called Orangeburg, where I spent the night. As it happens, US-301 passes through Orangeburg, and I was hard-pressed to come up with a reason why I shouldn’t take 301 all the way down through South Carolina and Georgia until crossing into Florida, and staying there until I reached Ocala. On the way up from that same trip, I stopped in Orangeburg again, and the next morning I headed WEST to I-26 and then I-77, unfortunately hitting Charlotte NC during rush hour. I ultimately made my way to Danville, Virginia and spent another night in a hotel. All about the journey, not the destination. It’s a great way to decompress.

116--May 1953Anyway, THAT got me thinking about my great-grandmother. Mamie Devine Shine (“Nana” to pretty much everyone) was born in 1898. During the eighty-four years of her life, she had thirteen kids, eight of which made it to adulthood (only one survives today), and she saw enormous changes in the way the world operated—and that was before the Internet was an everyday thing. She went from horse-and-buggy to the Concorde; from gaslight to electric everything; she lived in the era of sixteen Presidents of the US (two of whom were assassinated). She lived through two world wars and innumerable other such actions. She had thirteen children, five of whom survived to adulthood (child mortality was still pretty common in the 1920s), and all of those made it at least into their 60s. By that time, of course, they were scattered all over the country. My grandmother and one of her sisters was in Florida (albeit many miles apart), one son was in California, another in Nevada, and a third who was on Long Island near us for awhile before moving out to Nevada and finally to Virginia. So in the early 1970s, my great-grandmother took it upon herself to visit her family continuously. She used my grandmother’s house in New Port Richey, Florida as a kind of home base (that is, her mail went there), and she’d work her way around the country, driving in her mid-1960s model Plymouth Valiant from place to place. She had a bedroom in New Port Richey, but I’ll bet I spent more time sleeping in that bed than she ever did. When my brothers and I went to visit during the summer, she was rarely there so one of us got her room while the other two slept on couches.

Nana was a gregarious type, and she managed to make friends wherever she went. She was a straight shooter with her opinion, and while she had a great sense of humor, she also struck you as the kind of person you did NOT want to anger, because you were pretty sure that she was capable of killing you. Take a look at the photo to the left: that was her in 1953, with my mom and my uncle. She was tough as nails, boy. When my brothers and I were kids, she’d give us ten bucks and send us down to the deli to buy her some beer. It was about a half-mile walk, and we were allowed to get something for ourselves. I have no idea why the deli sold the beer to a couple of kids; maybe they figured that anyone who came in with “it’s for my great-grandmother” HAD to be telling the truth, maybe it was because we were buying candy or some such alongside it. Maybe she called ahead, but I don’t really think so. Now that I think about it, it’s possible that they didn’t really care one way or the other.

So Nana would come to our place, and she’d stay for a few weeks, and there’d be the beer runs and her telling stories about people who’d gotten on her nerves, and she’d call my grandmother to find out if there was any mail that she had to handle personally, and then just like that, she’d get back in the blue Valiant and off to another relative. She’d drive in the general direction of that relative, but stop wherever she pleased and manage to find a friend and spend a night or more with them. And she’d reach the next relative and spend a couple of weeks with them, around and around the country. We saw her three, maybe four times a year as she made her rounds. When she was coming our way, we’d be ready but we wouldn’t really know when specifically she was going to arrive.

When I was in college, in my sophomore year, in 1983, I was on the phone with my brother when he said to me “Did you hear? Nana passed away.” This caught me by surprise because I’d had no idea. My brother was living in Florida at that point and I got more information regarding what was happening on Long Island than I ever did when I called my mother at home. So his being the information clearinghouse wasn’t unusual. But getting information like that certainly was. I called home. My mother told me that Nana was out in California visiting her son Bob, and Bob’s wife was brushing Nana’s hair when she noticed that the hair was coming out in clumps. The wife, being no slouch, deduced that this was a Bad Sign, and took Nana to a doctor, who essentially told her that Nana was pretty deep into Stage IV Cancer. Nana apparently had no idea she was sick. She was dead and buried out in California, all within a few weeks.

Now, as far as I’m concerned this all happened over
the phone and I have no real connection to it the way I do the loss of my own mother and grandmother. So it’s entirely possible that I misunderstood the whole thing and she’s not, in fact, dead. It’s entirely possible that she’s still tooling around the nation in her little blue mid-1960s model Valiant, at the age of 117, and sending ten-year-old kids out to get her beer. And she’ll turn up on my doorstep, looking to visit for a couple of weeks. And, of course, she’d be welcome to stay.

Or, it’s possible that she’s not, that her journey across America has, indeed, come to an end. In which case, that’s a torch I’d like to pick up someday. I don’t have relatives all over the country, and I’m not nearly as friendly and outgoing as she was, but I could easily take up her Road Warrior legacy and see what this country has to show me. Who’s with me?

The Hooker, The Grifters, and Me

Leon Tao: It's not technically a crime to scam a scammer!

Person of Interest, “All In” (3/20/13)

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This has happened to me at least three times while traveling along the I-95 corridor:

I’m in a rest area, usually on my way to or from the rest room, when someone approaches me. Not Pictured: The guy's actual tank gauge. He (it’s always a guy, so far) tells me a story about getting a job up north (usually Pennsylvania is the culprit), and the job didn’t work out, and now he’s on his way back home to Florida/South Carolina/Georgia (it’s always the next state south—even the time I was approached while northbound), and of course they’re short on cash and the car is Running On Fumes (every single one of these cars is Running On Fumes), and could I spare a couple of bucks for gas money?

And because their story is always the same, my response is also always the same: “Well, I don’t carry any cash on me, but if you want to follow me to the next exit, I’m happy to put a few bucks worth of gas into your car.”

Now, the first time this happened, we were in the Georgia Welcome Center headed south. The guy actually said to me, “OK, well ya know, I could do that but I’m afraid that the car’s going to run out of gas before we get there.”

I told him, “If that’s the case then giving you money isn’t going to do you any good, because there’s no gas pump in this rest area. Either way you’re taking that chance, right?” He muttered some noncommital reply and so I said “OK, I guess I can’t help you, then.”

The next time around was in South Carolina, so the guy needed to get to Georgia. It was late at night and I was kind of tired, so I wasn’t really concentrating on what he had to say to me. I do remember that in this variation he was with his wife “in the car way over at the other end.” I gave him the same response and again ended with “Can’t help you, I suppose.” Because there were only a few vehicles in the rest area, I was able to see which car he moved to next, so I pointed him out to an attendant who was passing by: “Hey, you know there’s a guy over there trying to scam money out of people?”

“Oh, he is, is he?” said the attendant. Guy took it pretty personally and headed right over there. I didn’t stick around to find out what happened next because I had to pee (I was in the rest area for a reason, duh).

The third time around was in the Maryland Welcome Center, which, curiously enough, is 36 miles deep into the state. I guess you really have to commit before you’re welcomed in. Night had just fallen, and I was returning to my car from the rest room/vending zone. And the guy came up and gave me essentially the same story with the job, and the returning home, and needing money, and I gave him my stock response. However, this time around he clearly hadn’t encountered that kind of answer before, because he just stood there, looking stupid and stammering for a reply. “Er…ah, um…” I stopped him and, perhaps to help him save face a little bit, said, “You know what? That’s what everybody says when I give them that answer.” He just shrugged and walked away.

So flash-forward to the present, or the near-past, anyway: this past Friday, the weather was supposed to be bad, so nearly everyone in the school left only a few minutes after the students did. As a result, I was one of the last people to leave the building, but not THE last (for a change).

There’s a back door to my school that opens out to the parking lot, and this was the door I used to exit the building. The building has a bit of an L shape to it, and my car was around the bend, so I couldn’t see it. What I could see, though, was a large white pickup truck. And standing next to the truck was a skinny African-American woman, looking at herself in the mirror.

My path out of the building made it look at first as though I was headed for the truck, and she suddenly jumped, telling me that she was just getting a look at herself. She started to walk toward the stairs up to the sidewalk, which was the general area where my car, and a couple of others, were parked.

Kia didn't look as good as this. She told me her name was Nita, and she was going to come into some money in the next couple of weeks, but “in the meantime I do all kinds of odd jobs, you know, clean houses, I paint, I date…anyway, I have to get to [I forget where] down on Patapsco Avenue and I’m a little short on the bus fare, can you spare any change?”

Now, I did catch the code word in that sentence, “date”, which means she’s a prostitute. I’d accidentally picked up a prostitute once before (I thought I’d told that story in this space but I can’t find the relevant post), but that was 13 years ago and I’ve picked up on some of the nuances in that time. So, just for a lark I said to her, “You’re going to Patapsco? I’m headed that way; I’m happy to give you a ride.” (A lie, but I knew where this was going.)

Nita seemed delighted by this, but as we got closer to my car she asked me, “Do you date?” I smiled and shook my head. “Noooo,” I said. “That’s not really my style.”

Go figure; that’s the point where her tune changed. She “suddenly” realized that she had to go up the block to collect her mail; could I wait until she got back? “You mean US Mail? Postal mail?” I asked. She replied in the affirmative, and I told her that I was sorry, but I was already running late and if she wanted the ride we had to leave right away. She thanked me and headed up the steps and on her way.

In retrospect, here’s the weird thing: I actually respect Nita a little bit more than the out-of-gas guys in the rest area. At least she was offering up some kind of service in exchange for the money/ride. The rest area guys had nothing for me.

What’s Opera, Doc?

Josh Lyman: I'm just sayin' if you were in an accident, I wouldn't stop for a beer.

Donna Moss: If you were in an accident, I wouldn't stop for red lights.

The West Wing, “17 People” (4/4/01)

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Nobody was buying that Butterfly was fifteen years old. Last weekend, the Lyric Opera House here in Baltimore staged a production of the opera Madama Butterfly, by Giacomo Puccini. Students from our school were invited to attend one of the dress rehearsals on Wednesday, so I decided to go, taking Wee One with me since they had the space and I knew that she’d be interested.

Despite it being a dress rehearsal, the streets surrounding the Lyric were pretty full, so we had to park in a nearby garage. Naturally, the garage was charging the “event” rate rather than the hourly rate, and they were cash-only, but they were happy to hold onto my ID (and my car, of course) until I went to an ATM and came back with the money.

So the show itself was pretty cool. Instead of taking the assigned seats that were set up high enough for us to pack oxygen tanks. we opted to grab some vacant seats on one of the side balconies. We had a great view of the actors and the pit orchestra, which was (naturally) more casually dressed than one would usually see. This also put us in the position of being able to show the students the monitors mounted just below the balcony to each side of the stage, so the actors could see the conductor no matter which way they were facing. The students ran at about a 50% rate with regard to whether, in the end, the whole experience was interesting, but I look at it as an “exposure” type of event. In the end I think maybe we could have prepared them just a little bit better for the whole thing.

Wee One, on the other hand, had apparently taken some initiative and looked up the story on her own, so she had a better idea of what was going on. And, of course, she was all kinds of impressed with the actors, what with all the breath control and other dynamics. So after the show, while I circled the block looking for the ATM, we bumped into a couple of the actors and she got the opportunity to go all Fangirl over them.

In the car and on the way home. We’re headed north on Harford Road when we approach 25th Street, which is a busy intersection for that road. As it happens, we have the green light as we approach the intersection, but I also see a police cruiser coming into the intersection, with lights on and siren wailing. I braked hard, hard enough that you could feel the antilock brakes do that shuddering thing, but we stopped partway into the crosswalk.

The bad news is, the car behind us didn’t get the memo. We were stopped for a good second or so when suddenly: BANG. And now we’re all the way into the crosswalk. We’d been rear-ended.

It’s kind of weird when you get into this sort of accident, being hit from behind. You really need a moment to comprehend what’s happened. Wee One even asked me, “What happened?” and I told her that someone had hit us. I asked her if she was OK and she said she was. I told her to stay in the car and got out.

When these things happen, you also have a moment of thinking, “This isn’t going to be so bad.” Then you look at the car and you say something like “Jesus H. Christ on a Pogo Stick! Look at THAT mess!”

I snapped this just as the cop arrived.

I got out of the car and the other driver, a young lady about 25 years old, was already out of her car. She was apologetic and said that she’d hydroplaned (it was raining) and couldn’t stop her Jeep Liberty. By definition, “hydroplaning” is not what was going on here, but whatever. My car was clearly a mess and it was clearly her fault. I called 911 and they told me they’d dispatch an officer.

I got back into the car to start fishing the insurance and registration information out of the glove box. When I got out again, the officer had just arrived. Efficient! I greeted him with a cheerful “Whassup!” In retrospect, it’s kind of amazing that he didn’t ask me to blow up a balloon right there. He started asking us about what had happened, and actually seemed kind of surprised that the other cruiser—the one I’d stopped for with the lights and the siren—hadn’t stopped what they were doing and turned their attention to us. Meanwhile, there were two people on the corner, who had been waiting for a bus, and offering to testify on my behalf. “Do you got a baby in that car? I seen everything! She was tailgating you, she was going too fast.” I let the officer know that we had some witnesses, but he didn’t really care since the girl had already admitted it was all on her. After a few minutes he concluded that there really wasn’t any point in leaving the cars where they were in the middle of Harford Road, and we moved the vehicles over into the parking lot of the check-cashing place on the southeast corner. I had to make two trips, since my bumper was in the middle of the road. So one was on foot, moving the bumper, and the other was moving the car itself. Miraculously, the car was capable of moving on its own. 

So while I’m in the parking lot and awaiting the paperwork, I called Wife and told her to come get the Wee One. She showed up and was suitably impressed by the damage to my car. She told me she’d take Wee One home and then come back for me, since I was still waiting for the policeman’s paperwork.

By the time she got back to the house, Wee One started complaining that her head hurt, and it was possible that she’d hit her head against the door when we were hit. Wife wanted to take her to the hospital after getting me home. I told her that I was starting to feel it too, and maybe we’d both go get looked at. When she got back to me, the police had left, the other driver had left (her car had remarkably little damage, and I’m dumbfounded that her air bags didn’t deploy. By now I’d also taken the bumper and put it into the car, in the fully-reclined passenger seat. Wife wanted me to have the car towed; I knew that it was actually drive-able (if not totally aesthetic) and she should just follow me in case it turns out not to be able to make it all the way home.

We did manage to make it home, and off we went to GBMC, where we were poked and X-Rayed and such, and both given clean bills of health and a few pain pills. In the cold light of morning...well, it doesn't look any better. Wee One’s headaches persisted for another few days but further testing showed no permanent damage. We got home around 4AM and fell directly into bed. I don’t often fall asleep that quickly.

The next day, I spent on the phone fielding phone calls to and from the insurance companies. Let me tell you something: insurance companies get a bad rap, and I’m sure some of it is deserved, but the folks I dealt with at both companies were all GREAT. Everything moved efficiently, and when I told them that they needed me to walk through the mechanics of some of the procedures, they were kind enough to simplify it for me. The biggest delays came from the fact that there was a National Holiday in the middle of all this, which delayed some of the mail involved, but that was it: the time from accident, to inspection, to the car being declared a total loss, to receiving my check was two weeks flat.

So here’s the rundown on the damage: both quarter panels were crushed. Both light assemblies had damage to them; in fact Wife told me that I had working tail lights, but the brake lights didn’t come on when I stepped on the pedal. The third, center brake light came on but you can’t see it anymore because the trunk lid is crunched upward. That trunk lid, incidentally, was there to stay. It’s moving neither up nor down from the position you see here. The bumper was knocked off (you can kind of see it through the window, to the right), and the whole assembly behind the bumper was bent downward. The rear window was smashed completely. Some of the contents of the trunk were pinched in between the floor of the trunk and the lid. In order to get what stuff I could out of the trunk, I had to flip down the back seat and reach through.

Oh, here’s a saving grace: when the car was struck, it had very little fuel left in the tank; I was going to stop and put gas in the car before I got home.

So it’s a couple of years earlier than I expected, but I now have a new (to me) car in the form of a 2013 Hyundai Sentra Hybrid. I’m still getting used to it, of course, but I’m rather liking this car. And in the meantime, it’s Goodbye, Old Paint.

Off We Go Into the…Wait, Never Mind.

B.J.: I got as far as Guam and all flights are canceled, nothing going in or out. I’m sitting there in this crummy officers club, and this guy comes up to me, and says, "You Hunnicutt the doctor?" Now, I didn’t like the sound of that, so I said, "No, not me, pal, I’m Hunnicutt the chaplain." He says, "Well, chaplain, you’d better start praying for a miracle, because you’re going back to Korea to do surgery."

M*A*S*H, “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” (2/28/83)

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It’s been a tumultuous year since last June, when my mother died.

Mom died just a few weeks after her brother, under incredibly similar circumstances despite the fact that my uncle had been in very poor health for many years and she was in pretty good shape. The thing that really complicated matters was that my grandmother was still alive.

Ponder that for a moment: she outlived both of her children, and lost them within weeks of one another.

So my mother was a pretty shrewd planner, and (perhaps presciently) set up a trust fund for us to maintain the house for my grandmother just in case she predeceased her mother.

That happened six months before she died.

I promise, there won’t be a lot of single-sentence paragraphs after this one.

So my mom died on June 8, 2013, and I took over the money aspects of maintaining the house. One of my brothers, who lives nearby, took care of some of the maintenance items. His wife helped with keeping the house clean and keeping the medication straight. My nephew stayed in the house with my grandmother and generally helped out with the day-to-day stuff. We hired in an aide service and in-home medical attention. It was definitely a group effort.

With Daughter, 1991I came down to visit in October, and made sure things were going okay, cleaned out a few closets, and so forth, and headed back home. At that point my grandmother was in good health, in a pretty reasonable state of mind, and in a fairly good mood. I’d been told that she did have moments of depression, but who would hold that against her? Everyone said she was in pretty good shape, considering she was going to be 91 in a few weeks.

I suppose that’s what made it a bit of a surprise when I went down a few weeks ago. My brother tried to convey it but while I knew it intellectually, seeing it was another matter. There had been some bouts of confusion and clearly she couldn’t be left alone anymore. They brought her into their house and essentially converted their living room into her…well, most of her universe. There was a hospital bed just a few feet beyond the front door; next to that was an oxygen generator that she used when she went to sleep. A powered recliner chair sat a few feet from that. In between those was a portable commode chair. At the Hard Rock Casino a few weeks ago. And every day there was the project of moving her from the bed to the commode, then to the recliner chair. And at the end of the day the process reversed. There was the talking about, or to, people who weren’t there. There were the worries that the only reason I’d come down was to move her into a nursing home. When we took her out somewhere one afternoon for a couple of hours, she enjoyed the time outside, but it also took a LOT out of her and she was weaker than ever for at least a whole day. The person I’d known all my life was gone.

When it was time for me to leave Florida because of work and social commitments, she didn’t want me to leave. I promised that I was coming back in about two weeks. “Two weeks” would have meant roughly the end of this week.

Last night, my brother called during dinner. He said that the nurses were on-hand, that she hadn’t gotten out of bed at all that day, that they were saying that the end could come at pretty much any time, now. Could be minutes, could be a couple of days. I started making plans to fly down the next day. While I was making the reservation with the airline, he called back and said it was over.

That’s it; all the generations ahead of mine are gone now.

This morning I had to go to work for a couple of hours; the first thing I had to do was tell my principal what had happened, and that she wasn’t going to see me for another week. My next project involved setting up a meeting of my Special Ed team because a parent asked for a meeting. That didn’t quite go as planned, because a change to the software we use for the meetings wasn’t getting along with my browsers. I finally managed to get it done and I got out of there.

When I got home, I only had to pack for a couple of days’ worth of stuff because Wife would be following me down a day or two later. So I threw some clothes into a bag, along with some paperwork I figured I’d need while I was there. I got into this weird head space where I’d think I was done, then I’d think of something else I needed and go running for that.

My brother called and said the funeral home we were sure my grandmother had pre-arranged with had no record of a transaction with her. This seemed peculiar to everyone, as we remembered her doing it during my stepfather’s funeral a couple of years ago. Plus, a couple of us had a memory of seeing some materials from them a few months earlier. Mysterious! However, I also knew that this particular funeral home was the second place she’d pre-arranged her services; back in 1984 she’d pre-paid for services at another funeral home. I had that paperwork around the house somewhere because I remembered taking it home with me. Searching in the places I was sure I’d had it proved fruitless, however. I was a little worried that I’d be down there without it, but what are the odds that TWO places can’t find paperwork?

Not pictured: Me and a rapidly-growing line. My mother in law was designated to take me to the airport. She was anxious to go, perhaps to beat the weather, so we wound up leaving early, and I got to the airport at 4:30 for a 7:15 flight. (I know, you’re supposed to get in early nowadays; in the pre-9/11 days I’d get to the airport about thirty minutes before departure, usually because I only had a carry-on anyway. Sitting there waiting to board is such a drag.) I got in the Express Bag Drop-Off line, which had about eight stations and sixteen kiosks, staffed by two people. And one of those people wasn’t even running both of the kiosks at her station. So the line took forever.

Per Southwest procedure, when I got to the front of th
e line, I dutifully scanned by boarding pass. The screen flickered and told me: THIS FLIGHT HAS BEEN CANCELLED. There’s a lot of bad weather going on out there, and my flight was one of many that was affected by it. The attendant looked at the rosters she had and determined that there were no openings at all for the evening, but I could take the plane that’s leaving at 6:15 in the morning. I wasn’t happy, but Southwest doesn’t control the weather. I let her book the flight, and then started texting Wife to come get me.

So as I write this I’m still a few hours away from getting down to Florida and figuring out which funeral home we’ll be using, and all the other things that go into planning such events, and I’m pretty irritated that I’m not there already and getting some rest for the busy day I’ll be having tomorrow, but there is a bright side to all this: I managed to find the 1984 funeral paperwork after I got back home. Go figure.

Holding Pattern

Homer: Now, we play the waiting game..
[pause]
Homer: Aw, the waiting game sucks. Let's play Hungry Hungry Hippos!

The Simpsons, “Mr. Plow” (11/19/92)

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In our last episode, I was about to get on a plane to Florida because my mother had a severe stroke and my brother was coming apart. For all the bitching I did in the airport, the plane trip itself was uneventful. Because I bought one of the last tickets, and therefore was one of the last to get a boarding pass from Southwest, of course I didn’t get a great seat (center seat—which I hate—and way toward the back), but the company was pleasant enough and I managed to stay occupied with my Kindle. In fact, I was so deep into reading (and my ears were quite pressurized besides) that I didn’t even hear the “turn off your electronics because we’re landing” announcement; a flight attendant had to give me the heads-up.

I got my luggage and moved to the car rental counters, and that went without a hitch as well. Once I got on the road I called my brother (hands-free, thank you ) and let him know that I’d landed and would be at his place soon, or should I go straight to the hospital? He told me to come to the house.

Shortly after he hung up with me, he got a call from the hospital saying that my mother’s blood pressure had dropped and maybe he should come in. He waited for me and we both made our way to the hospital. After a few minutes with a security guard who was having trouble with the Visitors Pass Badge software, he let us through and we headed up to her room. By now it was nearly 2AM.

The figure in the bed was my mother, and yet it wasn’t her. About four IV bags led to a single line inserted in her arm. A ventilator tube was in her mouth. This wasn’t sleep, it was something else again. Shaking her wasn’t going to do any good; this much was obvious. Of course, there weren’t any doctors in the area at that time, but I spent a few minutes with an RN who gave me the score: we’d been called because her blood pressure had gone way up; they gave her some medication and it went way down; by the time we arrived it had more or less stabilized. In short, she’d had a hemorrhagic stroke. Based on the scans, it was likely that something had been going on for awhile, on the order of more than a day. and it finally manifested itself on Friday morning when she wasn’t waking up. According to the neurosurgeon, she continued, operating would have had no positive effect on her situation. While there was some breathing on her own when she was first admitted, it was quite irregular and that’s why the decision to insert the tube was made. In short, we were looking at a very poor prognosis, her time remaining being on the order of somewhere between hours and a few days. My brother and I sat with her awhile and went home to get a few hours’ rest.

“A few” turned out to be far more accurate than I meant it to be; I slept for exactly three hours. Not wanting to disturb anyone, I stayed holed up in my brother’s guest bedroom for another hour or so, mostly reading and contemplating things. When I finally emerged, it turned out that everyone else was also up. We got our act together and headed toward the hospital. First stop, however, was my mother’s house.

One thing in which I struck rather lucky was in the fact that my mom planned ahead for a lot of things, including this eventuality. She’d pre-paid for her funeral, so nearly all of the expenses are covered. She’d set up trust funds for family members. She kept telling me that I was to be the executor of her will, and on and on. At one point over a year ago, I said to her, “Mom, this is all great but I have no idea what it means.” I don’t want to know how much I’m getting after she dies, I need to know who to call, where the accounts are, and so on. Finally she arranged an appointment for the two of us to meet with her attorney. During that meeting she assigned power of attorney to me and set me up as her healthcare proxy. She also signed a Living Will on that day and made some modifications to her Last Will, including a provision that my grandmother be permitted to remain in the house as long as necessary, should she predecease her mother. That was this past December. Prescient, no?

The next day, we returned to the hospital, along with my grandmother, my nephew and my sister-in-law. By now I had the legal documents in my hands and the doctor—who had rather poor bedside manner but I appreciated his candor—went through some of the details and explained them to me. The bottom line regarding the Living Will was that it didn’t really apply in her case because of her condition. This wasn’t someone in the last stages of cancer or a traumatic brain injury where she was able to continue on her own without machines. This was someone, he explained, whose prognosis is Nil. There were no miracles in this case; this wasn’t someone who was going to squeeze your finger on command, then blink their eyes and wake up. At this point, he said, we were due to be approached by a representative from a company called Life Link, which is a local outlet for organ donation, since my mother was listed as an organ donor on her driver’s license. At that point I decided that we really didn’t need everyone hanging around and being on some kind of Deathwatch until the very end. I suggested that my nephew, sister-in-law and grandmother say their goodbyes and go home, and my brother and I would stick around.

A while after they left, the representative from Life Link arrived. What she told us about the mechanics of the donation process was a little different from what the doctor told us, but it made sense. Here’s what happens: after we give the final consent for them to collect organs for donation, we complete a medical history questionnaire. Then lifelinklogoLife Link obtains two letters for the file, called “Brain Death Notes”. The time stamp on the second note becomes the Time of Death for the patient. At that point she essentially belongs to them: staff stays with her the entire time and they take over pretty much everything. Tissue and blood samples are collected for testing and screening, and types are determined for cross-matching to potential recipients. The recipients are notified to get to their transplant center ASAP. When everything’s in place, they set up a time to bring the donor into an operating room. The sterility conditions for this OR are more strict then typical, because they want to reduce the risk of infection as much as possible. Once the organs are harvested, the ventilator is disconnected.

Now, this whole process takes about 24 hours total. We didn’t know that earlier; we thought that she’d be disconnected not very long after we had the initial meeting with Life Link. So the closure to this was being delayed another day for us. Not so great in the short run. They promised to call once the OR had been set up so that, if we chose, we could visit once more. What they couldn’t tell us is what time they’d make the call; it all depended on the other pieces falling into place. The call could come at 4AM or it could come at 4PM. So we were essentially on standby, waiting for the end.

This afternoon, I got a little impatient and curious and called them to find out what was up. The person who answered the phone said she’d get in touch with our coordinator and she’d get right back to us. Five minutes later, a young lady named Inga was calling me up. As it happened, she was just about to call to tell us that the OR would be ready in about 90 minutes. I told her that we’d be coming down. This time around it was just my brother and me. Inga told us to take as much time as we needed. I let my brother go in first and let him say his say. Then I went in.

I’m not going to share what I said to her; I spill enough of my secrets here that you don’t need that too. But I’ll tell you that, even if the timeline didn’t work the way I expected it to, I’d managed to be a little selfish in the way I set things up. I needed my sister-in-law and my nephew out of there. My grandmother—oh, my god, my grandmother. She just buried her only other child a couple of months ago. This is such a perversion of the “natural order of things” that I still haven’t fully wrapped my head around it. But she really didn’t need to be around at the end, so she needed to be out too. With my brother and me, I made the point of sending him in first, for numerous reasons but there’s still a selfish one in place, and I’ll own that. As the oldest brother (there’s a third brother who could not get there in time; we were in constant contact with him throughout this), I got to be with her first, therefore I was taking the “privilege” of being with her last, as well.

When I emerged from the room, my brother was barely holding together about ten feet down the hall. I went to Inga and her assistant, Matt, and told them that we’d be going. They thanked me for our generous gift, “and thank your brother, too,” Matt said, nodding down the hall. “Make sure you thank her, too, “ I said, pointing my thumb backward toward the room. Matt promised he would and I joined my brother. We hugged each other for a long minute and then he voiced the same thing I was about to say:

“Let’s get out of here.”

Up, Up and Away

Mr. Garrison: Gentlemen, imagine being able to travel safely at incredibly fast speeds and not having to go to the stupid fart face airports.

South Park, “The Entity” (11/21/01)

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This afternoon I received some bad news from my brother: my mother apparently (they’re still doing tests, etc. ) had a stroke and it doesn’t look good.

When I got home, Wife was through the door right behind me, already in “Go” mode. She told me to start looking for flights to Florida. In my head, I was preparing for a lengthy drive. But the bottom line is, she’s right and I need to get there as soon as possible. I’m already feeling guilty about the fact that I’d planned to call her last night and got distracted. I don’t need to drive to Florida and discover that I didn’t really have enough time to do that.

I started looking at the usual travel aggregators but wasn’t having much luck because, after all, I’m looking to fly out the same day. So she suggested that I go directly to the airlines’ websites. As it happens, our local airport (Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall Smith Kojak Pinocchio Redwyne Khaleesi Continued on Next Sign Airport) is a major hub for Southwest Airlines. As a result, that’s the website I went to and, sure enough, I found a flight this evening: 8:20 departure, 10:35 arrival. Not bad, but we have to book and leave almost RIGHT NOW. While I was online, I also booked a rental car; we don’t need any more distraught family members driving the streets of Pasco County. It’s bad enough the locals are doing that.

Not pictured: motion of any kind. For those of you far from the East Coast, or reading this in the future, a tropical storm is riding the coast, which means that pretty much the entire southeast corner of the USA is getting rained on. Consequently Wife had to drive me to the airport as quickly as possible in a driving (heh) rain. So I’m already looking forward to trying to get out of Baltimore on a Friday night with the rest of the tourists and families going on summer vacation; now we’ve got this. And naturally, because half the world is trying to get out of town, it was impossible for Wife to drop me off anywhere near the entrance to Southwest. We were actually outside the canopy, getting rained on when I took my bag out of the car and hugged her and the Wee One goodbye.

OK, so on into the terminal, where I got a little pleasant surprise: even though I’d already checked in online, I had a bag to check. Turns out that Southwest has a line for people who are in just such a spot. The bad news, of course, is that while the line isn’t long at all, I couldn’t get to it because of a couple of self-entitled, over-packed morons who were in the wrong line and were in a state of temporary paralysis about where to go, even though a Southwest employee is standing there telling them where to go. Finally they move there eighteen bags enough so that I (and the people behind me) can get through, and I get my bag checked without trouble. The person who checked my bag, however, took note of my flight number and informed me—with just a little too much cheer—that my flight has been delayed, to 9:05 That means an 11:40 arrival. Fabulous. So now I’m going to be in the terminal for longer than I’ll be in the air.

Next up, of course, is the TSA check. I’m an experienced enough traveler that I don’t wear a belt to the airport, I wear shoes that slip on and off easily, and I have a TSA-friendly bag for my laptop, so I don’t even have to take it out of the bag. I just open it out flat and push it through the X-ray. I want this as quick and painless as possible. Of course, given that I’m traveling on a Friday night and not, say, a weekday morning, it’s all kids and dawdlers and first-time flyers and EVERYBODY MOVE ALREADY DAMMIT. When I finally make it through the scanner, I grab my shoes and my laptop bag and I move into the terminal about a hundred yards before I even think about putting the shoes back on. Sure, I look a little weird but at least I’m not milling about in anybody’s way.

Of course, this is about the point where I realize that I brought my iPod and my laptop but I don’t have any headphones. This means that I have to buy overpriced airport headphones and they’re probably going to be buds, which I really hate because they’re damned uncomfortable. I go into the electronics store and I can’t even get across to the girl in the store that I’m looking for over-the-ear style clips. She keeps pointing me to the big honkin’ cans that also cost about fifty bucks. I give up but discover that, in the newspaper stand where I’m buying Tic-Tacs, they have discounted Skullcandy phones (buds, natch), so I spring for a pair. They’re actually not bad, comfort-wise. Go figure.

So I’m sitting in front of Arby’s, waiting for them to call my flight (any minute now, I figure) and dealing with an unreliable wi-fi signal so I can head south and…I don’t know. I guess I'll figure it out on the way.