Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Boy Toys

Remember when you were a kid and Christmas seemed like it would never get here? To make it worse, they let you out of school for Christmas break, and you didn’t have anything to do to pass the time except wait for Christmas to come. Sure, Mom would try to come up with activities to keep us out of trouble. Popping corn and forcing us to sit for hours with a needle and some string to make garland. You count ten popcorns and then you string on a cranberry. Of course your big sister would rat on you and you’d get in trouble for eating two popcorns for every one you managed to string on without sticking your finger. I can hear her now, “Mom, he’s eating the popcorn!”

Mom’s next project would be to cut strips of red and green construction paper and instruct us how to glue together endless paper chains to be used to decorate the living room. Red tissue paper bells that folded out from two flat bell-shaped pieces of cardboard that clasped together were hung in between the arches of paper chain. We had been making paper chains for years, but there always seemed to be a need for more. “Mom, he’s using too much glue!” In my defense, the glue came in little bottles with rubber tops and if you pressed a little too hard on the paper with the rubber top you couldn’t control the flow of glue very well.

When we finally got to decorating the tree, the only thing I was allowed to put on the tree, along with the smaller kids, was the tinsel. Seems I had logged too many broken ornaments to be trusted with that task. We had to wait for the lights to be put on, and then the garlands and the miles of paper chains and the ornaments and then we tinselers were put into service. We were expected to put one strand of tinsel on a branch at a time. The shorter ones would work on the bottom and the taller ones worked the higher branches. Even though I’m sure it looked better, I’m just as sure Mom made us do it one strand at a time because it took longer. Putting tinsel on a tree, one strand at a time can take hours even with five, six or seven of us doing it as the tinseler population increased over the years. “Mom, he’s clumping it!” You don’t see tinsel on Christmas trees much anymore.

Needless to say, I ultimately got into trouble anyway, numerous times, and not just for wasting glue, eating popcorn meant for garland, or clumping the tinsel. I was threatened with Santa not even bothering to fly over the house, let alone leave me that special present I had been waiting for all year. I can’t tell you the number of times I was afraid that Santa wasn’t going to show, but somehow, he always did. I think my mother either lied about that naughty and nice list or Santa didn’t have a good memory. Or maybe on Christmas Eve you just got a commutation regardless of what petty crimes you might have committed. Parents start the “threatening” the first day of Christmas vacation though. “Santa Claus is watching you. He knows what you did and he’s marking it down.” Total crap, but we were afraid not to believe it. Funny how we were only reminded about this Santa tallying stuff during the final two weeks before Christmas. I think it would have been helpful to point this out at other times during the year as well.

When you’re an adult you spend the month of December trying to figure out how you’re going to pay for everything, and Christmas is always the day after tomorrow. Whatever happened to Christmas Clubs? You know that special bank account that you would start in January and deposit a little each week in anticipation of a small Christmas fortune available in December. I guess if I would have had a Christmas Club account this year I would have cashed it out in August to make the car payment anyway, and I’d still be trying to figure out how I was going to pay for Christmas. Christmas has become a major expense item that needs a year of careful planning. Something I have never been able to do. Christmas, with luck, gets paid off just in time for Christmas to come again. When we were kids we saved our meager allowances, or shoveled walks, or did extra chores to fund our Christmas gift giving. I wonder if anyone needs their sidewalk shoveled.

What do I want for Christmas? When you’re a kid that thought process starts long before the temperatures drop, the snow falls and you have to break out the rubbers. Yeah, we called them rubbers, and if you had the kind with a zipper up the middle, you were a sissy. You had to have the buckle rubbers to be cool. My mom, of course, bought me zipper rubbers. I’m sure she got a hell of deal on them, but her excuse had been that they were the only kind they had left. Girls wore zipper rubbers that came in yellow, or red, or green. Guys wore buckle rubbers that came in black. At least my zipper rubbers were black. I avoided wearing rubbers as often as I could. I still remember the taunts I received about the zippered rubber boots even from my “best” friend.

The method of closure wasn’t really that important anyway because you left them unbuckled (or unzipped) most of the time because it was easier to stuff your pants legs into them. Even if someone didn’t notice that you had on zipper rubbers though they’d find out because you could buckle together buckle rubbers and sling them over your shoulder on the way home from school. You couldn’t do that with zipper rubbers. You had to carry them in your hand. You were less likely to lose a buckle rubber for the same reason. You buckled them together in the cloak room to keep the pair intact. A zipper rubber could get separated from its left or right and you could spend a lot of time trying to match up a right or left zipper rubber with the other sissy’s rubbers in the cloak room.

I still marvel today that my parents were able to afford Christmas. I have three brothers and three sisters. We didn’t have three-page lists of what we wanted for Christmas like my clever grandson, Connor Michael Burton. In his phone message to Santa you could hear him turning the pages as he reeled off the things he wants for Christmas this year. My favorite item on his list was “any type of boy toy”, kind of covering all the bases for anything he might have left off the list, and it got me to thinking about those special Christmas gifts I had gotten over the years. We were allowed to pick one thing. We always got more, but we got to ask for one special “big” thing.

One year it was a bike of course. The coolest 26 inch Schwinn, two tone beige bike on the block. That was when bikes had fenders and headlights that worked on C batteries. In the summer we would add a motor sound to our bikes with playing cards and clothespins. You could get six or eight cards on each wheel and get a fair chuck chuck sound. Mom would start having trouble winning at Solitaire and realize that a few cards were missing from the deck. That usually didn’t go over well.

I spent a lot of my lawn mowing money on patch kits and inner tubes for that bike. I always seemed to have a flat tire. I got pretty good at changing bike tires over the years. You had to use two screwdrivers in tandem to stretch the tire back over the rim without sticking one of them through the brand new inner tube, which happened a time or two. If that happened, you started over and got out the patch kit.

I had some pretty good wrecks on that bike. Once when I was riding Jeff Hartman on the back, he got his foot stuck in the spokes and I went flying over the handlebars landing and sliding down the sidewalk on my face. I woke up several hours later lying on the couch with Dr. Booth looming over me. The first words out of my mouth were, “Is my bike okay?” I wasn’t supposed to be riding people on the bike, but the fact that I didn’t suffer any permanent damage probably had something to do with me not getting in too much trouble. As soon as I was allowed outside I went straight to the garage to check on the bike. Some bent spokes and some scratches on the handlebar were all it had suffered.

I got hit by a car once, on the way to school, by one the teachers. She didn’t see me or I didn’t see her as she came out of the intersection in front of the school. I ran right into the front fender of the Buick and went flying on to the hood of her car. I remember looking through the windshield at her shocked face, lying there spread eagle on her car, my face pressed to the glass. I didn’t suffer a scratch. I don’t think Mrs. Redding ever quite recovered.

The most embarrassing mishap on the bike happened on the way home from football practice one fall afternoon. I had slung my cleats over the handlebars and headed down Burkitt Street. As I began crossing Main Street the right cleat caught in the front spokes and locked the wheel. I went flying over the handlebars head first, again, and landed in the middle of the street. The light changed and four lanes of traffic started honking. Some kindly old gentleman jumped out of his car, having seen the entire performance, and wanted to know if I was okay and helped me walk my crippled bike back to the curb. I learned how to straighten spikes a lot when I was a kid, but I don’t think my wheels were ever really round after that.

I rode that bike for well over ten years, but secretly wanted the 3-speed English Racer that I had asked Santa to bring me.

Another year I asked Santa for a miniature tape recorder. My Dad had one of the bigger reel to reel recorders and it had always fascinated me. I remember I said “Grace” for him on one of his “Christmas Radio Shows” that he was always putting together at Christmas. I didn’t think it sounded like me when played back, but everyone else he recorded sounded like them. When I got older we would trade “Radio Shows” at Christmas, instead of greeting cards. We would MC the shows, tell jokes in between recorded acts, interview special “guests” and pretend, for example, that Bing Crosby was in the kitchen after just having sung “White Christmas” on the show. He was, of course, on the record player. But it was fun and had really started those many years earlier when I got the miniature Sony tape recorder.

My first major recording after, “Testing, testing, testing” (you always said it three times for some reason) was the 1968 Sugar Bowl game between the unbeaten WAC Champion Wyoming Cowboys and LSU. I sat in front of the TV and held the microphone in front of the speaker for the entire game. I have it all on tape, somewhere.

I can remember how excited we all were that the Cowboys were in the Sugar Bowl. The game was televised coast to coast in color! We had a black and white set. Wyoming led for most of the game, up 13 to nothing at half-time, then sophomore, Glenn Smith, came off the bench and became the first sophomore in Sugar Bowl history to win the MVP. They beat us 20 to 13. Smith ran for 74 yards in 16 carries and scored the winning touchdown on a 1 yard run. We never scored another point. Glenn Smith finished his career at LSU without ever starting a game. I sat there for two hours holding a microphone to the speaker of the TV and I never played it back. It’s probably still around here somewhere. I lost interest in the tape recorder shortly after.

Another year I got one of those Hockey games where the players are connected to 5 levers on each side of the game. An oversize puck is dropped in the center and by pulling and twisting the levers in turn, the three inch metal players can pass, backcheck, carom the puck and shoot on goal. One of the pucks was magnetic for a more controlled game and the other had a ball bearing in the center for a more fast-paced game. Within a few hours Christmas Day I was deadly with the ball bearing puck. I could control the puck to the Center and slam the shot on goal before anyone could react. Most importantly, before my Dad could react. I beat him game after game. Finally, late that day, in sheer frustration he ripped one of the controls right out of the game trying to block a shot. In fairness to my Dad, he fixed it later, but I was a bit upset that my greatest game of all time lasted less than a day before it was broken….by an adult.

The most amazing gift I ever received from Santa was a photographic enlarger. It was the kind of gift that was clearly out of my parent’s price range. I didn’t ask for it, because I knew by that time how Christmas worked, who Santa really was, and how expecting something as expensive as a Bogen 35mm Enlarger was just ridiculous.

I had built a darkroom in the basement in the old coal room. I was developing my own black and white film and printing test sheets by laying the negatives on a piece of photo paper and exposing it to light. Then developing and fixing the sheet. An enlarger was the next logical addition.

On Christmas morning (we opened presents right after midnight Christmas Eve) I was handed a small shirt box, expecting just that when I opened it, but inside was a folded piece of paper and on it was written in my Dad’s perfect printing “Go To The Dining Room.” I walked into the dining room, flipped on the light, and there on the table was a Bogen 35mm Enlarger. I was absolutely, totally speechless. I couldn’t figure out how in the world this had happened. How in the world anyone knew what I really wanted for Christmas for one thing. How in the world my parents could afford it. I was just amazed. I probably never thanked my Dad near enough for that gift, but I learned later in life, when I managed those same Christmas surprises for my own kids, what that feeling is like. There is no better feeling in the world.

I was in the basement coal room almost the entire day and there was no heat down there. I made it upstairs for Christmas dinner and to say “Grace”. Saying Grace had been my job since I had first memorized it when I was eight.

“Bless us oh Lord, and these thy gifts, which we are about to receive from thy bounty, through Christ our Lord, Amen.” The same way I said Grace on the reel to reel that Christmas day on my Dad’s “Radio Show” recording and didn’t sound at all like me.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Voyage of the Titanic - An Epic RV Adventure

Chapter 3 – We Christen Thee Titanic

Charles A. Manson stood in the doorway of the 33 1/2’ Southwind beaming, his fat belly swelled out with pride, straining the front of his shirt.

“I told ya she’d start right up, runs like a top, nothing wrong with this baby.” I was guessing he was more excited about the fact that it did start right up, at least in front of me.

He said he would leave the charger on it for a while to make sure the batteries were good. “We’ll put new ones in if they don’t hold a charge.”

From “new” I assumed “different” and coming from the pile of batteries that was just inside the gate where the man and the battery charger had emerged.

“So, we ready to make a deal? This one isn’t going to last long, and we’re practically giving it away.”

I would later remember that statement vividly and think that they probably couldn’t have given it away, let alone find a sucker like me that was willing to actually pay money for it.

“I guess,” I replied. I was figuring that my credit wasn’t good enough to get the loan anyway so I had nothing to lose but the rest of my afternoon going through the motions of buying the Southwind. Filling out the credit application, waiting for the credit check to come back, talking about the N.A.D.A. suggested retail price for a “pristine” 1982 Fleetwood Southwind, 33 ½ foot with all the options. Well, there were some options missing. It did have an awning, a 3-way refrigerator, a driver’s side entrance door, air conditioning on the roof and a dash AC that didn’t work, but we didn’t know it at the time. You can’t live in Arizona without air conditioning and literally very few did until air conditioning was invented. After AC it became one of the fastest growing parts of the country.

Anyway, that was the list of options, and the N.A.D.A. book said it was worth $12,000 in its current excellent condition, low mileage and new rubber all around. Charlie looked it up himself, but declined to show me the book page where he got the information. One epic RV adventure later, I checked the N.A.D.A. book myself for that big box on wheels and it clearly showed an average retail of $3,065.73. Pretty close, and with a slight profit, to the amount that Mr. Manson was telling me would be required for the down payment. But then, I was just expecting to be told that the loan didn’t go through, and so I told him I had the $4,000 and I did.

“Okay,” he said. “How do you want to give me that four thousand, check, cash, credit card?”

“I’ll be writing a check,” I said, “but you’ll have to give me a couple of days to move the funds from my savings account.”

He didn’t think that would be a problem, just that we wouldn’t be able to pick up the coach until it cleared, and he had to check out all the systems anyway before he could, in good conscience, let us drive her cross country. Then he wanted to know when we wanted to pick her up.

“Don’t I have to fill out a credit application,” I asked a bit confused?

Charles A. Manson, turned around and pointed to the sign above his head behind his desk that screamed out, “Good Credit, Bad Credit, No Credit, We’ll Give You Credit.” Funny how I hadn’t noticed that before.

“Don’t need that,” he said, “just sign this retail contract right here. We’ll finance the balance at 15.3%. It’s all detailed right here.” And he pointed to the barely legible standard contract entries detailing the total cost, down payment, financed amount, total interest, total financed amount, monthly payment and late fee. I didn’t remember Charlie making all those calculations, but there they were.

I turned to my wife, hoping she would put a stop to this insanity. “Well, hon, what do you think?”

She didn’t even pause. “I think we should we do it,” she said. And Charles Manson smiled what looked to me like a very wicked smile.

So we wrote the check. I made my wife do it because I have a real problem writing checks with one zero, let alone three. We signed the contract and told Charlie we would pick up the coach the first week in April. I’d like to think it was April 1st, because it would fit the story real good, but it was probably that Saturday, the 5th,1997. That day may live in infamy. I reminded Charlie again that I wanted the windshield fixed and he said he would. I didn’t however have a “Due Bill”, that list of things the dealer promises to do before delivery, but I didn’t think about that then, just took Charles Manson’s word for it. I did have a contract that said I was buying this “As Is” and without that due bill, you have no proof that anything other than that was agreed upon.

Early on Saturday, we went down to Desert RV and picked up the 33 ½ foot Class A motor home that we had been wanting for years. Charlie went through all the systems with us, showed us the repaired windshield, went through the engine compartment, and showed me where to put in the coolant, where to check the oil and the transmission fluid. He just walked us all over that Southwind and we were feeling pretty confident after a while that we knew how everything worked. An hour or so later we were tooling down Benson Highway on the way home, trying to keep the monster between the white lines and wondering how the hell I was going to park it at the house. We had been on the road about 10 minutes.

All of a sudden an incredibly loud rushing sound started up and built into a louder and louder roar, like the sound of a jet engine when an airplane takes off. Almost as loud too and I couldn’t hear or talk to my wife sitting in the seat next to me across the engine cowling where the noise was coming from.

“What the fuck is that?” I screamed in her direction.

“I don’t know,” I heard her yell back, faintly.

Just as quickly as it started it wound down and stopped.

“What the hell do you think that was?” I said it in a normal speaking voice.

“I don’t know,” she said again, “but it’s stopped.”

Well, I guess that made it all right, because it didn’t do it again as we maneuvered the coach down the narrow streets of the mobile home park and pulled up in front of our house. There was barely enough room to pull around us on the street and the front of the coach was up in the small grass patch we had in the front of the double wide, the rest on the driveway, half over the curb. Within seconds our neighbor’s across the street, Mel and Mary, came running out of their house. Their two girls followed.

“Weeeuw,” Mel whistled, “What the hell did you do? That thing is big, ain’t it?” I was looking out at him through the sliding glass window on the driver’s access door.

“Easy to drive though, like driving a Cadillac,” I said, acting like I was an expert.

I wonder why everything big you drive is described like driving a Cadillac? I’ve never driven a Cadillac. I was in one once, and I remember it feeling like driving down the highway sitting on your living room sofa. This was like that, only you were on a recliner chair instead of a couch and you could even cross your legs under the bus-like steering wheel.

“Reminds me of the Titanic from that TV show, Trapper John MD,” Mary says.

Dr. “Trapper” John McIntyre of MASH fame worked with a Dr. George Alonzo “Gonzo” Gates. Gonzo was a resident surgeon at San Francisco Memorial and he lived in a rusted but, by all appearances, functioning Winnebago that he lived in out in the hospital parking lot. He called it the “Titanic”. He often spent time on the roof drinking and relaxing in lounge chairs. I immediately envisioned myself doing that on the trip. It was never determined during the run of the show whether the Winnebago could move, and where he was getting his utilities for that matter.

My wife jumps right in. “Yeah, that’s it, we’ll name it the Titanic. Perfect.”

If you haven't already figured it out, we name all our vehicles. Our current vehicles, a 2008 Toyota FJ is Burgie because of her burgandy color, and the 1999 Ford F-350 Dually we just traded in was The Hulk because it was big and green. The new 2008 Tundra Limited is still waiting for a moniker.

“Okay,” I said, “I’d break a bottle of Coors Light over her bumper and say, ‘We Christen Thee Titanic’, but the bumper would probably fall off and it would be a waste of beer.”

A few minutes later, while we were giving the “tour”, I caught a glimpse of the park manager out the front windshield, leaving what appeared to be my front porch, and walking off quickly, trying not to be seen. I walked over to the porch later and retrieved the letter which was stuck between the jamb and the screen door. The gist of it was that we could not park the Titanic in front of our house and we would have to move it immediately. It was against the park rules. We figured that, hell we knew that it was against the rules to park a motor home on the street. We fought with the managers every day about something that was against the "rules", but cheeeeeeez, the Titanic had only been docked for 15 minutes. He must have seen us drive in and typed our name on the letter as we were driving to our space. Maybe it had leaked out that we were bringing a motor home on the property and he had the letter already prepared. I started to wonder who the leak was, Mel, no he would never tell. Someone Mel told? I would never find out but I knew they weren't that efficient in posting notices of violations. At any rate we would discuss with them the need to have the motorhome parked there for short periods so we could load it, we had already arranged a place to store it.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Voyage of the Titanic - An Epic RV Adventure

Chapter 2 – New Rubber All The Way Around

Manson sat in the middle of the faded blue fold-down sofa, his arms outstretched, his legs stretched out across the blue kitchen-type carpet, almost filling up the entire space. The carpet was not original or new. He revealed damp pools of sweat in wide circles under both arms. The top of the sofa was now soaking it up too. Sweat was running off his forehead like a dripping faucet. He repeatedly pulled out a handkerchief and dabbed at his forehead with it. It was getting hot already in the desert southwest, and, even in March, it was pushing 90s this late in the afternoon. It was pushing 200 degrees inside this box with wheels.

I sat in the passenger seat of the rig, which was a love-seat of sorts, a blue vinyl two-seater high back that could be turned around to face the sofa and also could be reclined into a bed, “for a tike”, as Charlie put it. I was watching my wife look and touch.

“This baby’ll sleep 10 easy,” he had said earlier.

I only saw beds for maybe four and a small kid, if you counted the love-seat. Maybe he was talking about putting sleeping bags on the floor. Like those tents they tell you will sleep up to eight. You have to lay out the sleeping bags and the sleepers according to a precise diagram to even remotely attempt to fit eight people in the tent. They don’t tell you how to get the eight people into the tent and into the sleeping bags, which will clearly take some sort of plan. They don’t explain how you would get out of the tent, if you need to take a leak in the middle of the night for example, either.

Barb is walking around inside the 6’ 8” X 30’ interior box. She sits on the queen-size mattress that takes up the entire bedroom area in the back, and looks around, pleased, then down the aisle, through the open door, at me way up twenty-some feet in the love seat. I’m watching her, following her with my eyes. She steps in and out of the bathroom quickly, not much to see in there, toilet, sink, medicine cabinet. The medicine cabinet is clearly not one of the original components, and not designed for the RV industry, so it looks out of place. The bathroom door shuts but she can’t get it to latch, so she gives up. The tub and shower stand alone on the other side of the aisle, and there is nothing that shuts this bathroom area off from the rest of the living space. Presumably someone could be watching TV….. wait, there’s no TV. I just notice it. Not even a place where a TV might have been. I see there’s a “custom made” plaque of sorts, where TVs go in the newer coaches, in the center of the area above the windshield and the roof, with three circular needle gauges about three inches in diameter, a temperature gauge, a barometer, and a compass. None of them appear to work. The temperature needle, I notice, is off the grid, so it might be working. It feels like its well over its maximum possible reading, in the coach. She pulls the shower curtain aside and checks out the tub.

Next she looks over the small L-shaped kitchen with the three-burner stove and the little oven. She pulls the oven door down, looks in. This obviously reveals a non-appropriate situation by the look on her face. She does the same to the micro-wave, a forty-nine dollar Target add-on probably bought at a garage sale. The micro-wave shelf is a hastily built box, stained a color that isn’t even close to the rest of the cabinetry. The cabinets above and below the sink all have a mismatched assortment of latches and pulls. She opens each one and looks in. She tries to open the little slatted window over the sink but the knob appears to be stripped and turns with no effect. There are broken and missing slats in the mini-blind covering it also.

Next to the tub, on the other side of the aisle, is a built-in wardrobe with two drawers underneath. She pulls out one of the drawers and has difficulty forcing it back shut. I make a mental note that the drawer slides are obviously damaged, maybe missing. She opens the wardrobe doors and looks in. Next to that is a three-way refrigerator.

“This refrigerator works on propane, 12V battery, or 110 house current depending on the switch you set it on,” is how it was explained by Charlie. Ultimately, I think it worked on 110 only, if at all.

She opens that too though, and I’m sure she almost passes out from the stench, but she tries not to show it. In my case, I’m not sure if the new stench is coming from the refrigerator she just opened or what’s sitting on the sofa. Both are down-wind of me. She flips up the shelf at the end of the counter and it falls right back down on its hinge. This would give her an additional ten inches of counter space if it had stayed up, making a total of two feet of usable counter space, maybe, but very difficult to walk down the aisle without bruising a hip. The kitchen and bath area are covered with a fake wood floor, also not for the RV industry, and not original.

Finally, the inevitable words come out of her mouth.

“I really like this one.”

That was all she said. I didn’t really like this one much at all. It was too big. It had clearly seen better days, and even worse, I was to find out later. It had a lot of “extras” that were not, shall we say, engineered correctly. It did only have 54,000 miles on the odometer though. Not bad for a 15-year old coach, less than 4,000 miles a year. I was going to have to succumb to the illusion that the mechanical on this Southwind was maintained better than the interior of the coach.

There were a lot of things on this coach that might not work properly, even though Charlie promised that everything would work when we drove off the lot. For one big thing, there was a one and a half inch gap above the windshield on the passenger side, and it looked like the glass was ready to fall out of the opening completely. A good push would have sent the huge piece of glass shattering to the gravel parking lot below.

“Gonna have to fix that,” I said.

‘Of course, no problem, we were going to fix that anyway,” Charlie shot back.

“I don’t know,” I start. I’m talking to Barb. “Lot of work here.”

“I know, but we can do it,” she said. “Mostly just needs to be cleaned up.”

Eternal optimism, if we just clean it up it will be good as new. This place was going to take a lot more that just a sponge, a mop and a bucket, a lot more.

I got up and walked outside to check out the exterior. Manson grunted himself up and followed me. You could tell he was happy about getting back outside. Then he said it again.

“New rubber all the way around, lotsa miles left in those tires, that’d cost ya a thousand by itself.”

The tires did look new; they at least looked shined up. They all had air. Each of the six of them has about 100psi, for future reference.

The outside of the Southwind was clean but had a dingy, un-waxed look.

“You can wax this right up,” Charlie says when I bring it up. “Just been out in the sun a lot. You’ll get it to look like new.”

I glance over the huge exterior surface of the coach and think that if I ever get this to look like new, it will kill me for the effort.

Well I figured I better ask, since we seemed to be sidestepping this issue, “does it run?”

“Sure it runs, starts right up.” Mr. Manson seemed offended. I dare I question that it would run.

My wife is walking around the coach and is at this very moment on the other side, away from me.

“I’ll just go get a key and be right back.” He disappears into the sales shack.

My wife comes around from the back of the motor home. “So what do you think?” she says.

In my head, I think we’re crazy, but I say something else. “It could work.” Pause. “We can probably afford the down. Did he say how much it was?” Pause. “I wonder how much the payments will be?” Long pause. “It does have new tires.” My wife doesn’t answer any of these queries.

Manson comes waddling back with a key on what looks like a hotel key ring. Big orange oval with a number on it, Room 237 I think.

He climbs back into the coach with a grunt or two and plops down in the driver’s seat. The big coach sways. I follow him in and watch him as he, inserts the key, pushes the shift into park, and turns. Nothing. He turns the key back then tries it again. I could hear a few faint clicks and then nothing.

“Battery’s dead, been sittin’ out here too long. I’ll get her plugged in and the batteries will charge up just fine. You should keep it plugged in anyway when you have it parked, just to make sure you have a full charge in the batteries.” Another lesson on the proper care and operation of the motor home, from Charles Manson, whom I am now convinced has never owned one of these.

He left out the part about motor homes having two, sometimes three DEEP CELL batteries. “DEEP CELL” translates into “fucking expensive”. In fact the most expensive batteries you can find, and, at the moment, I just believe that all they need is to be charged.

Charles Manson, sweat pouring from his brow again, yells out into the junkyard.

“Kurt, bring that charger up here and get the Southwind hooked up. Batteries are dead.”

A short, bent over, old man appears from the shadows, through the gate, pulling a large industrial battery charger, the cord unraveling and falling behind him as he goes. It’s plugged in somewhere back in the abyss of motor home parts and pieces, in a lean-to shed that will, I’m certain, ignite with the smallest of sparks, and has no business having power run to it. Certainly a Code issue. He hooks it up and, I assume, sets it to start the engine, because Charlie goes back in and, in a few brief seconds, the beefy V8 roars to life. It runs.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Subtle Signs of Spring

Tony Hillerman died last Sunday. He was 83. He died from what was reported as pulmonary failure. The lungs fill with fluid and you stop breathing, but it’s all related to congestive heart failure. Tony had survived two heart attacks and surgeries for prostate and bladder cancer. In his last years he was losing his eyesight, hearing, and had rheumatoid arthritis so advanced that it made it very difficult for him to continue pounding on his keyboard, but he did. I think I’ve read most every book he wrote, and have recommended him to countless others.

But what makes Tony Hillerman special to me, and why I am, maybe, more affected by his death, is I had the pleasure of taking classes from him at the University of New Mexico. He was an integral part of the Journalism Department when I attended undergraduate classes there in the early 1980s. I had him for several core classes. He was a past executive editor of the Santa Fe New Mexican and started his journalistic career as a reporter and editor for the Borger News-Herald in Borger, Texas. He also worked for the Morning Press-Constitution in Lawton, Oklahoma, and related a lot of stories about his days with United Press International in Oklahoma City. Tony later became head of the Journalism Department after I had graduated.

One class I had with him, on Monday, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 10:00, was one geared towards editorial and column writing. Professor Hillerman would have us write short pieces every week about any subject, which he would then review, grade, and pass around for all the students to read if he thought they were good enough to share. Only one of my submissions was copied for the class that semester, as I remember. Each week, on Friday, after passing out the work, he would take us, individually, out in the hallway, and give us feedback on our effort for the week.

One spring day on my way to school, I drove by this rather rotund lady bending over pulling weeds out of her flower garden, with, as I put it in the later piece, “Her posterior pointing heavenward and casting a shadow the length of the lawn.” It was a column about the subtle signs of spring, and I was rather proud of it.

Tony had, of course, read all my work. I know he did because I’ve still got his copious notes in red pencil all over the now yellowed typed copies. You paid attention to his critique because he was a published author, a mystery writer. He would later be President of the Mystery Writers of American, and winner of their Grand Master Award. He would also win the Golden Spur Award from Western Writers of America, among others.

So that Friday, after all the stories had been graded and returned, and the reading for the period passed out, Professor Hillerman called me out to the hallway about half-way through the session. He said that this was the best thing he had read of all my work and he emphasized that I should stick with humor writing. He went on to say that good humor writers are hard to find but usually an easier road to success, and that I could be “The next Mark Twain.” Oh yes, he said it, and for years I wanted to believe that he thought I was good enough to be the next Mark Twain. He didn’t say Royko, or Rooney, he said Twain. Of course, I think we all know what he probably meant, in context. I would settle for being the next Jean Shepherd, Robert Fulghum, Patrick McManus, or Tom Bodett, those being some of my personal favorites.

Speaking of favorites, one of my favorite Hillerman novels is one of the few that does not take place on the Navajo Reservation, “A Fly on the Wall.” In this book, the lead character is newspaper reporter, John Cotton, who stumbles onto a story of government corruption after the mysterious death of a friend and fellow reporter. We end up in New Mexico, though, in the end, fly-fishing on the Brazos River, where John Cotton is almost murdered. It was one of Hillerman’s earlier books, and we never got another book with John Cotton as a character. It didn’t get good reviews, but, I still count it as one of my favorites.

We did get several novels with two of his more famous characters, Lt. Joe Leaphorn, and Jim Chee. Professor Hillerman told us during one class session of how he had to buy back those characters so he could use them again. He had made the mistake of selling full rights to a studio for a movie that never materialized. He said all he could think of at the time was how excited he was that they were going to make a movie out of his book, how he was about to become rich, and he trusted his agent. The latter mistake he didn’t make again. After a few years of nothing from the studio, he decided to write another book surrounding his characters, and that is when he found out that he no longer held the rights to them, even though the studio had no intention of going forward with the movie. So for a price that Tony Hillerman indicated was a “bunch of money”, and a hard lesson, he bought his own characters back so he could include them in future books.

Four of the Navajo mysteries did make it to film. The first, “The Dark Wind”, which starred Lou Diamond Phillips, was supposed to be a theatrical release in 1991. However it was never shown in theatres and went directly to video. I remember there was a lot of controversy during the filming in New Mexico centered on the use, or lack of use, of native actors in major roles. In 2002, PBS’s Mystery, aired “Skinwalkers”, and “Coyote Waits” in 2003. “A Thief of Time” was the last film made of Hillerman’s work and aired in 2004.

Tony Hillerman was a decorated war hero too. He was a member of the 103rd Infantry Division that sailed from New York in convoy four months after D-Day on Oct 6, 1944. On October 20th they entered the port of Marseilles, in the south of France. Known as the Cactus Men, they were the first Allied troops to enter the port following the German withdrawal. The Germans had defended it strongly following D-Day in June.

The 103rd committed into it’s first action on Nov. 11, 1944 near St. Die. From there they began a six-month campaign, covering 500 miles up the eastern side of France, spending Christmas and New Year’s in foxholes, and finally making contact with the 5th Army in May of 1945 in Austria. It was during this campaign, at Lorraine-Alsace, that Professor Hillerman was severely wounded having both of his legs shattered. He returned to Oklahoma with a Silver Star with Oak Leaf Cluster. He always walked a bit labored, although few of us knew why.

So another in a line of people that have had an impact on my life is gone. He leaves the world better for having been in it, and a legacy of over 20 books and numerous citations to his credit. He was a success. He was acclaimed. I’m blessed to have had the opportunity to know him.

I have to admit I haven’t worked very hard to attain that expectation of being the next Mark Twain, but I haven’t given up yet.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Voyage of the Titanic - An Epic RV Adventure

Chapter 1 – Sounded Doable

I remember getting the call, but I don’t remember actually getting it, if you know what I mean. I don’t know if I was at home, work, or on the way to or from work. I know the call came on January 15th, 1997. Not a day that will live in infamy, necessarily, but a date I remember for some reason. I might have gotten the call on the cell phone. We actually had one at the time, the big bulky flip phone with the antennae and the roaming charges. When you were out of the 2 mile service area that rarely worked, you paid a roaming charge. If you used your cell phone a lot, it was like taking on the national debt. Roaming charges were ugly.

“Daddy,” the voice said excitedly, “Tracy and I are finally getting married.” If I was out of the service area when I heard that announcement, it had already cost me $5.50. They’re right about weddings being expensive.

“Well congratulations,” I said. “When is the wedding?”

“June 6th. I’m so excited. We’re going to have it at the canal park, in the gazebo. It’s really beautiful. Flowers everywhere. You have to be there. I want you to give me away.” This call was going to cost me a fortune whether it was inside the service area or not.

I had already technically given her away to my ex-wife about 5 years ago when they moved to Buffalo, New York with her new husband. The second one or third one, I’m not really sure. Actually it was North Tonawanda, New York. Kind of rolls off the tongue doesn’t it, ton-a-wan-da? The new husband was from there originally, I guess, maybe not. I figure it’s an American Indian word for “Suburb of Buffalo.” Like Tucson, where I was living at the time, being an Indian word for “The spring at the bottom of Black Mountain.” But, actually it is. Indian shorthand of sorts, one word replaces eight. Probably have a hand sign that eliminates the word altogether. Bet it utilizes a middle finger.

“Don’t worry,” I told her, “We’ll be there.” How in the hell we were going to accomplish that feat, I wasn’t at all sure.

We were barely, and I stress that word, getting by, paycheck to paycheck, living in a 20-year-old double-wide, in a mobile home park that was a few miles east of the “Corridor of Death”. So named by the local Tucson press to identify the area where the majority of homicides had occurred in the Tucson area in the last few years. This corridor pretty much ran the length of the main drag in South Tucson, an incorporated city by itself, also known as the barrio. We had lived in the area for three years now. The very day we were moving in there was an incident involving firearms. Police were everywhere, and they kept our U-Haul truck from entering the park for several hours while they cleared up the matter. We should have known then. No one was hurt, and they found the suspect hiding under his girlfriend’s trailer we learned later. No one was hurt except me, who had to pay for an extra day on the U-Haul truck in order to finish moving in.

I had to leave town the next day, and left my wife and daughter to fend for themselves without water, electricity, heat, and facing a possible armed conflict in a high crime area. I left them for a week. It was because I had to be in California for training on my new job. I was staying at the Holiday Inn outside of LA and although I had heat, electricity and water, I also had a hotel full of cheerleaders running through the halls screeching, playing in the elevators, and practicing their routines at the pool, in the lobby and any other open space they could find. I was slowly going insane. My wife and daughter, to this day, have not forgiven me for leaving them without utilities in the drab little double-wide though. I, to this day, insist I suffered more. These weren’t Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders, or even high school cheerleaders, it was a competition for Pop Warner cheerleaders. Yep, average age of 8.

Did I mention the drive-by shooting at the nearby high school? That changed the face of high schools throughout the city a few years back, and was also one of the homicides chalked up in the “Death Corridor.” It happened at my daughter’s new high school. High schools throughout the city now had fences, razor-wire, and guards. It was said that our prisons looked like schools and our schools like prisons. They looked at least similar to me. The difference being one was to keep people in and the other was to keep people out. Although, once you were on the high school campuses, getting out wasn’t easy either.

I only tell you all this so you understand the conditions we were living under, and why the idea of purchasing a Class A motor home and driving it across country 5,000 miles might have been a bit insane, even if we could have afforded it.

But that is exactly what Plan A became. We would buy an RV, a used one surely, drive it to Buffalo, NY in four days, go to the wedding, and save all kinds of money by staying in our own “hotel”. We added the Ford Museum, Hannibal, Missouri (boyhood home of Mark Twain), Canada, Niagara Falls, and would hit Washington DC and Graceland on the way back. Sounded doable, at least it did at the time. We immediately began shopping for the motor home.

We had recently owned a “conversion van” of 70s vintage. Those are the Class B motor home classification. They have a raised roof, or a lowered floor, so you can stand in them, a pull out bed, table, a stove, sink and ice box with some limited cabinet storage. We had completely remodeled the inside of this one, and then sold it, at a considerable loss, after the transmission went out. I remember my father, who was visiting when the transmission went out, saying “That’s too bad, it still has good rubber.” I think that goes back to the war days when rubber was a scare commodity and tires that weren’t bald were just as scarce. “Good rubber” became a very important element in this greatest of RV adventures to come.

Transmission failure was the monkey on my back. Every used car I had owned in the last five years had developed transmission problems. I had had two of them rebuilt on two different vehicles and they amazingly cost the same amount: $1,700. I chose not to rebuild the van’s transmission, but I’m sure it would have cost $1,700. I took a road trip with a friend once, and the transmission went out on his car in the middle of the night outside of Stillwater, Oklahoma. The monkey didn’t care if I owned the car or not. The nice old mechanic, that worked all day on a Sunday to rebuild the transmission, charged us $1,700.

The Class B was a Chevy van. Yeah, can’t you almost hear Sammy Johns belting out the chorus about making love in his Chevy Van? Our Chevy van was known as the “Park N Bark” by our friends, because of a local dog grooming business that used an identical vehicle. We called him Bernie. He had a gas-sucking V8, a foot of extension at the back, and a foot and a half of fiberglass roof cap that ran the length of the conversion. We put a swamp cooler in it (not able to afford the preferred AC unit) so we could survive the Arizona summers, the dry heat travels even to the highest elevations, and we had gone camping in it on many occasions. It was the first of a long line of Recreational Vehicles we would own over the years. The Class A motor home was the dream though.

We actually drove a used one on the same consignment lot where we had purchased Bernie. It was great sitting in the armchair driver’s seat and maneuvering the coach the few blocks the dealer let me drive it. It was fully self-contained, had automatic levelers and the coach was in excellent condition with less than 12,000 miles on it. We didn’t have anywhere near the $28,000 asking price, so I reluctantly gave back the keys and told him that, even though it was, it wasn’t exactly what we were looking for. That was a year prior to Plan A, but it was where the dream to own a Class A started.

It so happened, that every day on my way to work, I passed a dirt lot with a bunch of motor homes on it that looked every bit like a junk yard. I had always thought it was a place where motor homes went to die and be parted out. But it had a sign out front, “Desert RV”, and there were a few coaches parked under the sign that appeared to be in one piece, possibly running, and for sale. I starting thinking this might be a place to get a bargain on a used coach. They obviously enjoyed a low overhead, and maybe they passed that savings on to the buyer by way of their margins. Here we might be able to get a Class A that we could possibly afford. Well, could at least afford the down payment. I’d seen many an older motor home still running down the road, and I knew that mileage was usually low on these units. People just didn’t get to use them much after they bought them. They ended up parked for months at a time in storage yards, beat to death by the elements so the outsides looked grim but the interiors were often in excellent shape. Even if their past owners were “full-timers”, people that actually lived in them, whether by choice or otherwise, they usually stayed in one place for long periods of time.

So I told my wife about it, and that following Saturday, sometime in March 1997, we drove up to the sales shack, I’m not kidding, on the lot of Desert RV and parked in front. Immediately I noticed that I was right about the junk yard. There were motor home parts and pieces everywhere behind the chain link fence with the razor wire. This was predominantly a place were moving vehicles no longer could be made to move. As soon as we got out of the car, the proverbial car salesman emerged from the shack. He was dressed in yellow plaid pants, a noticeable amount short of the tops of his white, I’m still not kidding, white leather shoes with a matching white leather belt. The wrinkled short-sleeved white shirt clung to his ample frame and looked like he had slept in it for several days, maybe weeks. Dark circles of sweat were visible under his arms and the way he smelled, I was going with weeks. A crumpled and stained yellow tie rounded out the ensemble. He reached out his meaty hand and I reluctantly shook it.

“Well, what can I do for you folks today?”

“We’re looking for a motor home,” I said.

“I see”, he said. “Well we have a few here. How much are you’all thinking of spending?” This is the trap question, the one that drags you in to commitment, the question that limits to a great extent what you are going to be shown. This question has to be answered carefully.

“We’re just looking,” I said. It clearly didn’t please him, but he kept up the cheerful front.

“Well, what do ya want to look at?” He put an emphasis on the word “look”

I had my eye on a Class C that was a step up from a conversion van, but still built on a van chassis. Class Cs have the signature cab-over bed. He opened up the door and we climbed inside. I could tell right away that she didn’t like it. The “she” being my wife.

“What do you think?” I said. “Pretty nice. Lots of room. Looks like it’s in good condition. Look, it only has 75,000 miles on it.” I added that last part pointing at the odometer as though we should really believe what the odometer reading was.

“Has brand new rubber on it,” the salesman said. “Hardly driven a’tall. Look at how good a condition everythin’ is. Looks to most like brand new. And I guarantee everything works, or we’ll make it work ‘fore you take delivery. We stand by what we sell.”

Our salesman’s name was, you’re not going to believe this, Charles Manson. I swear to god. He gave me a business card with “Desert RV, “Charles A. Manson”, the address, and a phone number crossed off on the bottom, and a new number penned in. I wondered if he did it on all the business cards he had or just a few at a time. I could see him sitting at his desk in the shack passing the time by crossing off the phone number on his business cards and writing in the new one.

“I’ll bet you get a lot of comments about your name,” I snickered.

“Not much, why?” he replied.

I let it go. I could hardly wait to tell everyone that Charlie Manson was trying to sell me a motor home.

When Barb stepped inside the 1982, 33 1/2 foot Fleetwood Southwind, with the queen bed in the back, there was no turning back

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Minute I left Garcia's

I did it again. I’ve done it several times in my storied career. If I had been alive in the 1940s, there would have been a lot of ships sunk. “Loose Lips Sink Ships”, the famous slogan from World War II. Someone tells you something, they tell you not to tell anyone, or specifically a certain individual, and you do it anyway, for whatever reason, probably an abbreviated version of the something leaving out key identifying source information, and it invariably gets back to the source who told you not to tell, that you did. The interesting point of all that, is the person that told you the something in the first place, was probably told the same thing, not to tell anyone.

The impact to me of these “breaches of trust” has been loss of friends, loss of jobs even, and loss of being trusted with “sensitive” information. The worst thing the teller of the something can say to you is “I guess I can’t trust you anymore.” Trust me to do what, not do what they just did, or when did they actually decide they trusted me with information they were entrusted with? That’s right; don’t tell me, or most anybody for that matter, anything, because it will probably be repeated. In my experience, it runs about 90% of the time that you tell someone not to say anything, they do it anyway, and to someone they trust not to tell.

As I was getting the full diatribe about the breach from the person yesterday about the something, I flashed back immediately to the feeling I had the day Glenn Holm called me into the break room first thing on a Monday morning in 1973 to tell me we were no longer friends. It was an absolutely horrible feeling and it’s stayed with me to this day. It wasn’t a breach of trust, per se, it was that situation where you tell someone you ‘trust’ something, and you trust they won’t repeat it to the person you said it about, because you don’t want the person you’re talking about to know what you said about them, and the person you told knows that right up front. But they tell anyway, and in this case, they told the minute I left Garcia’s. I guess the information was just too good.

Glenn and I started at Mountain Bell in Laramie, Wyoming, at virtually the same time. He was hired as a Commercial Representative and I transferred to Laramie from Santa Fe, NM, as a Service Representative. Similar jobs, but one paid twice as much as the other, and it wasn’t my job title. When I first checked into the job openings available in the Laramie office I talked with Office Manager Charles (Chuck) Holt, and he told me that he did indeed have a Service Rep opening, but said nothing about the Commercial Rep opening that was also available. Now this was right around the time that AT&T had signed a consent decree with the government to put more emphasis on non-traditional jobs, putting women outside hanging from the poles, and putting men inside sitting at the desks and switchboards. Chuck having me as a Service Representative in his office of six woman was perfect for him to meet his quotas. The Commercial Rep job was traditionally a male job because one of the responsibilities besides acting as an Assistant Manager was collecting the pay phones, a job which required lifting hundreds of pounds of coins from the car to the airport freight terminal. Glenn was his man for that job.

So I show up with my family, wife and infant daughter, find an apartment, and go to work a few months after that first conversation. Glenn had already been working for a few weeks, remember, in an office full of woman, and gladly took me under his wing when I started. We immediately hit it off, taking coffee breaks together, talking football, wives, women, the usual stuff. Hanging out after work at a happy hour now and then, or watching Monday Night Football at his house, going to the Wyoming Cowboys’ games, and even going to get a “Dream Steak for Four” in Bosler after the game once with our wives. The thing was, Glenn was paying for everything; the drinks, the game tickets, the dinner tabs, and the beer on Monday night. I wasn’t making enough money to pick up a tab at the time, let alone afford to go out and have drinks, but I truly looked forward to the day when I actually could reciprocate. I’ve bought a lot of dinners, drinks, tickets and beer since those days, but I never got to pay back Glenn for any of it, and I always felt bad about that.

The breach of trust incident occurred at one of those after work, Friday night Happy Hours. The ones where you get home at 1:00 am but you promised your wife you would only be going out for an hour or so. After a few drinks too many, sitting with Glenn, myself, and three other guys from work, all in outside plant jobs, I said the something to Tim next to me, when Glenn went to pee. I probably don’t need to add that Glenn was buying for everybody.

Tim said to me something like “Glenn’s sure a nice guy, isn’t he?” We were almost at that “love ya man” point in our drinking that evening.

I said something like “Yeah, but I should have had his job.” I went on to describe how that damn Chuck Holt hadn’t even told me about the opening and I was certainly qualified and that it was all about this damn Equal Employment Opportunity shit, and I think I finished right about the time Glenn got back to the table. That’s what I said and that’s how I remember it.

True to form, as most often is the case, what I said, got embellished quite a bit in the retelling by none other than Tim whom I expected, drunk or not, not to tell Glenn I had said those things. I left shortly after Glenn returned, because I had made the mistake of calling home and telling my wife I would be home in an hour, three hours ago, and well, it was just time for me to go home. I thanked Glenn profusely for buying yet again and headed out the door.

That following Monday morning Glenn walked up to me the minute I arrived and said he needed to talk to me. We went to the break room and I got my coffee. Glenn was sitting back from the table arms folded in front of him, waiting for me to sit down. I had no idea what was up, but it didn’t look good.

And that’s how I started the conversation, “Man, what’s the matter?”

“Look,” he started, “I don’t mind picking up the tab for people, I like doing it, but I don’t like it when somebody talks behind my back.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” I stammered back.

“You know. I pay for your drinks, I’ve paid for you and your wife to go out to dinner, I’ve picked up the tab a lot, and then you go and tell people that you should have had my job? I don’t get it?” There was an awkward pause. “But it’s over. I’m not doing it anymore.”

I sat there literally stunned. I couldn’t talk. This feeling of incredible sadness came over me and it seemed like all the strength was being sucked out, not knowing if I was feeling sorry for myself or what I had done.

“Glenn, that’s not what I meant. I just meant I should have had a chance at the job, not that you shouldn’t have gotten it.”

“That’s not what I heard you said. Tim says to me, ‘What’s that guy have it out for you or something? Told me he deserved the Commercial Rep job, not you. Kind of biting the hand that feeds him isn’t it?’”

“I don’t let people do that to me. That’s it, he said, consider us done.”

The words stung and I just sat there. No argument was going to change this. I had said it after all. He got up from the table and walked out, back to his desk at the back of the office. I did the same.

Not too long after that, Glenn quit Mountain Bell and bought the Sears Outlet franchise in Cody, Wyoming. I offered to come over the Saturday morning they were moving and help them load up the U-Haul truck. He told me to come by around 10:00. When I drove up to his house that morning, the U-Haul truck was driving off. He couldn’t have timed it better. Man, you can believe how that felt.

My wife and I were traveling through Cody on our way to Yellowstone Park a few summers later, and I drove down Main Street to find Glenn and Nancy Holm’s Sears Outlet store. I found it easy enough. Right there on Main Street. Glenn was outside sweeping the sidewalk when I drove up and he recognized me right away. He ran up to the car window and asked how we were doing. What we were doing in Cody. The usual stuff. He wanted us to come on in and get caught up. I told him we couldn’t; we had to get going to make the park by dark. We had reservations. He understood.

“Good to see you,” I said.

“Yeah,” he said. “Have a good time in Yellowstone.”

That was the last time I saw him, but I think about him a lot. Every time I’m in one of those “breach of trust” situations. The feeling is always the same. I wish people wouldn’t tell me things. Maybe someday I’ll learn to tell them I don’t want to know.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Have You Been Drinking This Evening, Sir? - Relief and Disbelief

My appearance date was set two months out, so I would be expected to appear and, of course, plead “not guilty” on the appointed date in May. I counted the days, made sure I knew where to go (remember I had lived in Tucson for less than a year), checked on everything I could find about DUI on the web, asked everybody I knew about what to expect, and scheduled a vacation day for that date. The one thing I didn’t do was get an attorney.

As the date approached I got more and more nervous about what was going to happen to me and less and less comfortable with my decision not to enlist the help of a capable attorney. My decision was predicated by the fact that I didn’t have even close to enough money to pay for one. So, I was hoping at the very least, I would get a public defender assigned to my case. I watched enough TV to know how this process worked, not having any direct experience with the criminal justice system.

On the appointed date, I headed down into the bowels of the city of Tucson, found the Municipal Court Complex and waited outside the door for the building to open with a handful of other unhappy looking people. I was told I would find my docket number, assigned courtroom and judge on a bulletin board just inside the door. I found the board with a list of close to 75 people, just inside the door on the left. I crowded to the front, got the information and wrote it down on the legal pad I had lifted from work.

Okay, have 2 hours to kill before court is in session. Judge William McCoy. Court Room number 575. “I wonder if he’s the ‘real McCoy,’” I thought, trying to make light of my current situation.

I headed for the court building and sat in the courtyard wondering how I had landed myself in the dregs of society. You know what I mean, there is a certain segment of the group milling about the courtyard that is familiar with the system, and then there is that other small group that looks, worried, upset, lost and totally out of place. I was definitely in the latter. I read for a while, and then watch the people. I’m intrigued by a girl standing on the corner of the courtyard yelling up three stories to some guy who is leaning out the window of the detention center.

“They’re not letting me out, Maria,” he screams down onto the street.

“What am I supposed to do?” Maria says. She looks around to see who is watching. I avert my eyes to the sidewalk. “I don’t have enough money to get bail. I don’t know what to do.”

“You have to get me outta here,” he pleads. I’m surprised that they are not speaking in Spanish, as most of the others in courtyard. “Please get me outta here. Go talk to (I can’t make out the name.) She’ll help you.”

“I don’t know what to do,” she repeats. “Miguel, what I’m supposed to do.”

Almost instantly he turns ugly. “Get the fuck outta of here,” he screams, “Useless fucking bitch! Just get the fuck outta of here!” he pauses for effect. “Puta! What the fuck good are you?” and he disappears into the building. She looks around the courtyard again to see who might be watching. The entire courtyard is watching.

She screams up, “Miguel!” No one comes to the window. The windows are slender, tall, and tinted very dark, with the bottom foot or so, folding out. He had to stick his head out the window to talk to Maria, but he doesn’t reemerge.

I immediately feel sorry for her, but know there is nothing I can or will do to help. She waits a few minutes then walks out of the courtyard and down the street. I think she’s probably more worried about him getting out, and I wonder just how much she did to facilitate his release. She almost seemed to skip down the street when she was leaving. We, the dregs of society, look at each other for a moment and then go on with what we were doing, reading the paper, reading a book, or smoking a cigarette, waiting for our appointed hour to arrive.

“Can I bum a smoke?” A horrible foul smell reaches my nostrils. I look up to see a guy in a tattered brown blazer standing very near to me, but not in front of me, so I didn’t see him approach. He’s wearing a straw cowboy hat. There’s a pretty large hole in the crown. His front teeth, bottom and top, are missing. He’s not carrying anything, but is obviously a member of the homeless society. There are a lot of them in Tucson because it’s warm most of the year. I don’t want to give him a smoke. I want him to get a job. I realize that’s not realistic. I tell him instead it’s my last one.

He sees the pack in my shirt pocket, so he doesn’t believe me.

“Come on man, I need a smoke.”

I reach in my pocket and pull out the pack intending to give him one. He snatches the pack out of my hands before I have a chance to react, and is sprinting out of the courtyard at a pretty good clip. I can imagine the satisfaction on his face. It pisses me off, but there is nothing I can do about it. I’m not chasing some homeless person through the streets of downtown Tucson for a half-empty pack of cigarettes. I notice how I think it’s half-empty instead of half-full.

It’s now 9:30 and I’m to be in the courtroom by 10:00. I start for the door and the metal detectors, and I notice several others are moving in the same direction. Someone else presses my floor on the elevator buttons, and I watch the numbers. We stop on every floor. When 5 is highlighted I get out. Four others get off on this floor as well. I’m struck by how much this reminds me of a college classroom building. I find 575 and go inside. There are two guys in suits, one girl in a yellow pantsuit, and a uniformed person, walking around the front of the room, behind the railing and in front of the bench. The suits, all three of them, are stacking files, pulling stuff out of briefcases, preparing.

I take a seat in the middle row close to the aisle. The room is starting to fill up. I sit there staring at the suits, my hands clasped to the paperback book I brought. I want a cigarette, but I know I don’t have them anymore and I can’t smoke in here anyway. One of the attorneys from the Tucson Prosecutor’s Office starts calling off names. I’m pretty sure I heard my name. Pretty sure, so I listen up.

“Those people I just called, please come down to the front row and take a seat,” he says.

Yellow pantsuit smiles at us as we shuffle into the front row. There are six of us, four guys and two girls. We range in age from, say, 24ish to 50ish, I’m guessing.

The attorney reads the names again. Now I’m sure I’m in the right place. I heard my name clearly. One of us is missing. His name is called twice, then the file returned to the desk stack, the remaining manila folders, he holds between his hands, and looks directly at us.

“You all tested below the legal limit,” he says, “charges are being dropped. You are all free to go.”

We look at each other in relief and disbelief, and then he adds, “You will have no arrest or arraignment record.”

The bunch of us gets up almost at the same instant, file out of the bench, and head out the door of courtroom. I think we’re all thinking we better get out of here quick before they change their minds. No one speaks to anyone as we wait for the elevator. Within a few minutes I’m back out in the courtyard thinking I should go look for that vagrant, and see if he has an extra smoke.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

I'm Heading for the Nearest Circle K

I have a John McCain story. Yes, theee John McCain, the one running for President. Granted, my John McCain story will be a lot more valuable if he actually wins the election, but, still, I tell everyone that I personally know John McCain.

I would like to point out up front that he probably doesn’t remember me from Adam, but he sat in the chair next to my desk on several occasions and we chatted as though we’d known each other for a long time. He’s a very easy person to talk to, as you might imagine.

I was the Town Clerk in a small southern Arizona town, and John McCain was and is a Senator from that state. It was prior to one of his now famous “town halls” that he was sitting in the chair by my desk, making small talk about the major topic of the day: smoking. Or more correctly, the 60 cent per pack tax that was on the ballot in the upcoming general election in Arizona. This tax would raise the price of a pack of cigarettes to well over $2.00 at the time and was to be used by the State partly to educate young people not to engage in the habit. All because then Governor Jane Dee Hull and the legislature had cut the funding for the Tobacco Education and Prevention Program. Know as TEPP. A very successful program and well know nationally, which was launched in 1996. I smoked. I wasn’t happy about another tax on cigarettes.

John McCain had been an admitted two-pack a day smoker for 25 years, and had finally kicked the habit in 1980. He had had some health issues related to skin cancer and just plain decided that smoking wasn’t a good idea. Maybe because he thought he needed more time to get to the presidency. A lot was made of it in the press at the time, as I remember, a lot of it front page.

This proposed increase in the cigarette tax was a pretty big topic of discussion in the small town of Sahuarita, Arizona also. A majority of the town council, town manager, and town staff, smoked. None of us was in favor of paying 60 cents more in tax for a pack of cigarettes. That would bring the total tax on a pack of cigarettes to $1.18, almost doubling the cost.

I argued with John McCain, while he was sitting in my office chair, that it would hurt the low income individuals the most. How about the fixed incomes? Senior citizens made up the majority of the population in this small community and they had been smoking since smoking was cool. Some of these people in their eighties still smoking two packs a day of Pall Mall Reds and Camels. TEPP advertising wasn’t having any effect on them for sure.

By the way, if you had seen these ads, you would have wondered why we were spending tax money on this drivel. They were almost sickeningly humorous. Talked about for their weirdness, sure, but effect, I didn’t think so, especially with the teens they were targeting. We all thought they were being produced by some Madison Avenue ad agency. In actuality though, they were done by a local Phoenix company which grew to be one of the largest ad agencies in the state, predominantly from the TEPP contract money. I wouldn’t waste time betting that there wasn't some shady negotiation in that contract award.

Arizona only spends a small 4.5% of the estimated $518.4 million in tobacco-generated revenue on educating the masses of the ills of smoking. I should mention that some of that five hundred million dollars is part of the tobacco settlement payments and not a result of the cigarette tax.

I continued my argument that smokers shouldn’t have to pay to educate people not to smoke. Shouldn’t that come for that very tobacco settlement and not from me? And how about the loss in tax revenue if the program really was effective and people stopped buying cigarettes?

I also maintained that banning smoking, getting rid of Joe Camel and educating against tobacco use was only serving to make it more attractive to kids. Even if they were showing ads on TV with blackened lungs in jars, and people having their cancerous jaws removed, and people with artificial voice boxes. The bottom line is it was a forbidden thing, and that made it real attractive to a teenager.

McCain generally agreed with my points, or so it seemed, but issued the prerequisite response.

“You really need to quit,” he said.

I used my prerequisite response to everyone who says that to me.

“I have quit, Senator McCain, quitting is easy. I’ve quit at least a hundred times.” I think I’m funny but admittedly steal a lot of my lines.

“I quit smoking over ten years ago,” he said, “and let me tell you, the craving never goes away. I still want a cigarette right now.”

He paused for a second. Looked out my window to the desert outside, and then turned back to look me in the eyes.

“My friend, let me tell you, if the Russians ever push that button, the first place I’m heading is the nearest Circle K and buy me a pack of cigarettes.” And then he smiled.

It’s my own personal McCain story. It might not be much, but it happened, although the witnesses are nil. The cigarette tax issue did come up during the town hall discussion, but it centered around the impact the added cost would have on the residents there. John McCain just gave them a lot of political lip service, but didn’t talk about his personal smoking experience.

The cigarette tax initiative passed by a very, and I mean very, slim margin. It was something like 17 votes. It was hailed as a victory and a clear indication that the citizens of Arizona wanted TEPP and thought it was worth the millions being spent. That figure being around $23 million per year. And it has, according to sources, resulted in significant decreases in the ranks of smokers both adult and young adult (18-24) in Arizona. They also claim a reduction in the number of smokers that are low income and low education (their labels). Ya think? But do you think, really, that the Tobacco Education and Prevention Program’s $23 million dollars was responsible for that? It was a direct result of Arizonans voting to double the price of a pack of cigarettes and give over 50% of the cost to the state.

And let me tell you, they lied and told us the money would be used for additional health care expenses that smokers bring to the table. Instead they ended up with a huge budget surplus that ended up in the general fund, and they spent it anyway they saw fit.

I still smoke. I still pay exorbitant taxes for the pleasure, or whatever you want to call it: habit, addiction, rebellion against society. It’s probably the most unfair, yet profitable for the states, tax there is.

And if they're hugely successful in their attempts to reduce the number of smokers in Arizona, they're going to have a serious budget shortfall. Might want to think about that.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008



In the fall of 1972 I was wanted by the FBI. My mother told me this, frantically, on the phone. I told her to calm down. She was rather freaked out by the FBI knocking on her door, as you might imagine. Two agents actually went to our house, showed their IDs, and asked where they could find me. I told her I had taken care of it, not to worry, and that it was just a big misunderstanding. I had just returned for my second year of college, and had to hang up because I was late for “Work Study”.

Work Study for me was climbing inside, literally, huge pans and stainless steel mixing bowls, in an attempt to clean them for the next day’s food preparation. I also ran the “macheen,” as my co-worker, Manny, called it, in between inserting myself into food-encrusted pots. My friends all worked in the offices around campus, or in the library. I made the mistake of putting my summer experience as a fry cook, on my Work Study application. For this, I was banished to dish and pot washing at the Connor Hall cafeteria to help pay my tuition. I was severely jealous of my fellow Work Study recipients, and I tried every semester to have my work assignment changed. It never happened. For those of you who never had Work Study, just so you know, your paycheck went directly to the Registrar’s Office to pay down your tuition bill.

The FBI was looking for me because I was a draft-dodger. I was ordered to report for the Armed Services Physical Examination in Casper, Wyoming in August 1972, but I didn’t show up. I didn’t show up because I told the 92-year-old lady at the Selective Service Office that I would be back in New Mexico by then, that I was getting married in September, and then returning to school. I asked her if it was possible for me to take the physical down there which was scheduled for the end of September. That was fine with her, she said, but maybe she said it because she secretly enjoyed getting us young men put on the FBI’s most wanted list. Not a lot of exciting stuff happening in that small town. I never got anything in writing, my first lesson with regard to that rule.

I was ordered to report for the Armed Services Physical Examination because I scored a low number in the annual Selective Service Draft. Your birth date became a lottery number 1-366 randomly pulled from two drums, one with the birth date and one with a number. So, for example, if September 10th was pulled from the one drum, and 127 pulled from the other, then everyone born on September 10th would have a lottery number of 127. Then you had a letter drawn, A-Z, to determine the last name order for each local board. Then you had the number of inductees needed by the armed services to meet troop levels.

My draft lottery took place on February 2, 1972, for those of us born in 1953. Nine days before my 19th birthday. All the Freshmen men sat around in the dorms that day, waiting for the numbers to be announced, like college football players waiting to be drafted, but we didn’t want to go in the first round. I got number 26. The year prior my birth date got 351. Just my luck. We had two big “winners” in the draft lottery on my floor of the dorm; a #3 and a #6. That afternoon they both got drunk and enlisted in the Army. If you enlisted, the theory was, you could have some control over your military career. The “control” part wasn’t really true, we later found out, and you served a four-year enlistment instead of the inductee’s three. There were other enticements they used, though, to get you to voluntarily sign up. One of them was the automatic induction if you didn’t show for the draft physical. The fact that you held a lottery number in the top third was still their best recruitment tool, however.

I started doing the math, not one of my strongest subjects, but I refused to cave. I knew, for example, that 49,514 men between the ages of 19 and 26 had been inducted in 1972. (There were an estimated 70,000 draft-evaders and deserters living in Canada by that time also.) I expected it to be less in 1973 since the induction number had dropped every year from 1969, when the first lottery was held since 1942. Prior to that, the draft, which was still in place, was done by oldest first.

So I still, in my feeble opinion, had a pretty good chance of not getting an induction notice even though my number was 26, depending on how many men were needed. In the 1970 draft the highest lottery number called was 125. So everybody with a higher number 126 through 366, and likely some individuals with #125 because of last name order, were not drafted. In 1970, 162,146 men were inducted through the draft. As a general rule, the Selective Service said that the upper third of the list would be inducted, the middle third would probably not, and the bottom third would definitely not have to forcibly tote a gun and wear green for three years.

Then there was President Richard Milhous Nixon, who campaigned for his second term on the promise to end the draft as soon as he was re-elected. Since he was also intending to withdraw from Viet Nam, I was putting my faith in the hope that the draft would indeed end in 1973, before my number came up.

So if Nixon didn’t follow through on this promise to end the draft and pull out of Vietnam, like most politicians once they get in office, then I still might have a chance of not being drafted since they would pull all eligible men from the other lower 25 lottery birthdays first to fill the quota. Where they got the quota from is something I was never able to determine, and wouldn’t it suck if you were the last man drafted? The last man drafted to make the 400,000 troop strength number, but you were really number four-hundred thousand and one. Would they let you go once they did the recount?

Registrants with low lottery numbers had to report for a physical, mental, and moral evaluation at a Military Entrance Processing Station to see if we were fit for military service. So that summer, after the draft lottery and my #26, I got the order to report for the Armed Services Physical Examination which was being held in Casper WY in August. I was home for the summer working at the Drive-Inn 4U, my now ill-fated food service experience.

I knew there was very little chance of me not being classified 1-A, but I was hearing about all kinds of ways to beat the draft. One that I actually heard a lot was that you could inject yourself with peanut butter to raise your blood pressure temporarily. I’m not sure how that worked. I can’t imagine peanut butter going through a syringe, but needles were out for me anyway. Another was simply to not register since it would take them a while to find you. Already missed that one, but it usually only took them a week to find you and then you risked immediate induction. You could say you were a homosexual (they weren’t “gay” yet). That would raise some eyebrows, but not always work, although some really practiced at it. I know of at least one lottery “winner” who just walked out of the physical. Many tried to score as low as possible on the mental segment of the test. That didn’t work either. Intelligence wasn’t a requirement to get shot at, I guess. I wasn’t going to be able to get that college deferment that filled up the universities during the 60s either, because they reformed the draft in 1971. You could only get a deferment now until the end of the current semester unless you were a senior, then they would allow you to finish the academic year. Still that could buy you some time if the draft was going to end before you were called up. And then there was my method, I just didn’t show up for the physical. It took the FBI two weeks to find me, probably because I was from a small town in northern Wyoming, still, not a very effective method of avoiding the draft, unless you were already packed and headed for British Columbia.

So I got it all straightened out by reporting to the local Selective Service Board in Las Vegas, NM, where they scheduled me for the physical at the end of September, in Albuquerque, Albuquerque being the closest MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Station). We traveled there on a military “school” bus. You know the ones with the hard fiberglass seats. The trip was about 124 miles and would take us 2 hours. We were to arrive at the bus to leave by oh five hundred hours. Yeah, that’s five am.

Within 5 minutes of my arrival at the bus, I was elevated in rank. I was now responsible for the conduct of everyone on the bus, I was told. I didn’t know exactly how I was going to accomplish that, but it was clear that they had picked me because I was the smallest, weakest and least likely to keep order on that bus. In other words, they picked me, seated ignorantly in the front, for their entertainment. I didn’t know anyone on the bus, and most were Hispanic, talking amongst themselves in Spanish of which I couldn’t decipher a word. Well, not exactly true. I did know how to say phrases like, “This street is beautiful,” “Turn to page 3”, “Where’s the bathroom,” and “I want some more beans (or another beer), please,” among others. I didn’t hear any of those familiar phrases in the bus on the way to Albuquerque.

The trip was uneventful. I know this because I’m sure I would have mental scars from my attempts at maintaining order on the bus, and I don’t seem to have any. We disembarked on a downtown sidewalk in front of a tall brick building, and were ushered inside, up two flights of stairs, two abreast, to a classroom, where we were told to take a seat. That’s when the fun started. We were told what our day would entail, how long it would take, and how we were getting home. We were each handed a clipboard, told to fill out the information on the top of several forms, then we counted out in tens. Then the first group was, “stand up, shoulders back, follow me, single file, no talking,” the rest of us were to wait our turn.

The first thing I noticed was the yellow shoe prints on the floor in the hallways with “This Way” printed on each one, going in one direction, and back the other way on the other side of the hall. There were other directions on the shoe prints, like “Stop”, “Wait” “Go Left”, “Go Right”, I later discovered. It was like a yellow brick road. Follow the yellow shoe prints. They were on the floor in a normal stride, so you could actually step from shoe print to shoe print, and we all tried to do that, as we were led down the hallway. The heel and sole cutout must have been made from a size-13 shoe though, because it dwarfed my foot as I went from “This Way” to “This Way”.

The first station we came to was a blood pressure check. Four positions in an 8 X 8 cubicle, each manned by a soldier in a white smock, obviously with no medical experience, putting on the cuff, squeezing the bubble several times, releasing the pressure, making the reading, writing it down on the chart on the clipboard and we were told to follow the prints to the next station.

The next station was a vision check. We were told to read the middle line of an eye chart. While I was standing there trying to focus on it, I heard two different series of letters coming from the two men on either side of me. So, I just said “L M O 9 D G” without pausing. They checked me off. I either hit it perfectly without seeing them, or they really didn’t care whether I could see or not. After all, I was being tested to see if I was physically fit enough to be a target.

Follow the yellow shoe prints to the next booth and the next. Getting our ears looked at in one, our throats in the next. All in an assembly line system. All done very quickly and no one has failed yet, that I can tell. We follow the shoe prints to a door where we seem to be stacking up. The shoe print says “wait”. So we do. Up to this point we have stripped down to our pants, carrying our shirts and t-shirts with us along the trail. Finally the door opens and we are herded into a large room, a gymnasium. We follow the yellow shoe prints to a circle which runs around the center of the floor. There are now 30 of us. Three group of ten.

The sergeant yells for us to get out of our pants. Put our clothes in front of us, clipboard on top and face out from the circle. Several of us don’t understand the directions and are screamed at until we are all facing out, standing in only our tighty-whities (thank god I listened to my mother and am wearing clean underwear) or our colorful boxer shorts, but we try not to look at each other.

“Face forward,” the sergeant screams, and I mean screams, at the man next to me. My eyes are locked on the wall. He walks around the circle. I know he’s a sergeant because my Dad was one in the Army. He was a staff sergeant, and I’ve seen his stripes. I know this guy is at least a higher rank than a private.

“Drop your shorts around your ankles,” he screams. The room echoes. Then there is only the quiet shuffling sound of men dropping their drawers. I feel the cold air contracting the balls. “Arms, at your sides,” he screams. Then he walks from man to man around the circle, telling them to turn their head and cough, as a doctor-type follows and writes whatever result they are trying to determine on each man’s clipboard. I found out he wasn’t just following. He was actively involved in poking his fingers half way through your lower abdomen while you were turned and coughing.

“Everybody turn around. One eighty. Do it now! Keep eyes front. Bend over and grab your ankles!” I’m sure that was a sight. You could hear a pin drop after that order was executed. Then footsteps, stop, footsteps, grunt, footsteps, stop. They’re behind me, groping where I would rather not they grope, and then they move on. I assume I’m an acceptable asshole. I don’t move. Footsteps. Stop. Footsteps. Stop.


Someone has obviously come up with a unique way of getting out of the draft. We all strain looking up-side-down through our knees to see what’s going on. We must have looked like a flock of ostriches. The only thing I can make out is a naked guy with his drawers at his ankles waddling quickly out of the room dragged by his arm. The double doors open and shut and he is gone.

“Don’t anybody move!” our leader screams. The review continues, and then we are told to turn back around pull up our shorts, and get dressed. We follow the yellow foot prints and amazingly end up walking down the hall we started in and turning into the classroom where we began. We are told to turn in our clipboards and take a seat. The “mental” part of the test is ready to begin.

To Be Continued………

Monday, September 29, 2008

Have You Been Drinking This Evening, Sir - Continued

The ride to the substation was uneventful. I watched my house recede into the distance as we passed it, and kept flipping-off the ride-along who thought it was polite to stare at a guy with his knees under his chin. I still have no idea where the substation is, I was “impaired” at the time. Being thrown into the back seat of a police cruiser will sober you up fast however, I discovered.

I wasn’t booked into custody with the fingerprinting and the mugshots, just told to take off my boots (it was during my “cowboy” period) and they put me in a concrete holding cell. The only thing that wasn’t concrete was the toilet in the back corner. I vowed to stay away from that completely. I sat down on the concrete bench. I waited. I freaked.

Some time passed. I was sitting there contemplating my circumstances, when the officer and his ride along showed up at the cell door, opened it and led me into a hallway. They went through the balancing and dexterity tests again, which are harder to do, by the way, in your stocking feet. But I still felt that I had passed them. I was then led to a room that looked a lot like a break room with a conference table, and told to sit down. The officer and the ride along sat across from me.

Officer: “Count from 1 -50 backwards.” Pen poised over a clipboard.

Me: “50-49-48-47-46-45-44….” This was easy. He stopped me at 35.

Officer: “Recite the alphabet.”

Kee-rist, was I in kindergarten? Was that how they treated “impaired” drivers, drivers operating “under the influence”? I start. “A, B, C, D”

“No, backwards,” he says.

Me: “Shit, I don’t think I can do that sober!” Dumb thing to say. I try, and I do pretty well I think. I have to pause every once in awhile to think, and he stops me on “h”.

Officer: “What color pants are you wearing? Tell me without looking.”

Me: Staring at the officer. “Stonewashed, black, Levi 501s, button fly.” Just like Garth Brooks, I think, but don’t say.

The officer does not seem impressed.

“Okay,” he says. “Step over here to the breathalyzer.” After setting it up, he hands me a straw-like thing and tells me to blow. I do. A receipt comes out the side. He looks at it. Puts it down.

“Do it again.”

I do. The receipt pops out; he looks at it and puts it down. I’m pretty sure I’m not going to give him two out of three.

After an uncomfortable pause, me standing there in my stocking feet, rocking from side to side and back and forth and wanting to sit down, “You didn’t test over the legal limit”, he says and he truly sounds disappointed. (At the time, the legal limit in Arizona was .10, it’s .08 now.) “You tested .093.” He shows me the “receipt.” I never see the other one, so I figure it must be lower. “So I have the option of charging you with Driving Under the Influence or not. I’m going to charge you. I also have the option of suspending your driver’s license.”

“What the hell did I do to make him so mad,” I’m thinking. Then I realize that he has to make an arrest because he brought me back to the substation alleging I was DUI, wasted two hours trying to impress a ride along with his tests, and now he had to make it into a legitimate stop and arrest. After all, remember, all I did was turn left on a red arrow as the light was changing, and admit that I’d had a couple of beers that evening. If he hadn’t left me in the cell for as long as he did he probably would have gotten that extra .007. I have been in custody, I note, for almost two and a half hours. It is 1:30 a.m. on the wall clock in the test room.

He hands me back my driver’s license. I guess he decides he’s punishing me enough.

The real truth is DUI can be prosecuted in Arizona (and most other states) either by showing that your driving ability was impaired only to the slightest degree as a result of the consumption of alcohol (or those other “influences”) or the “per se” law, which says you can’t drive a vehicle within two hours of having a blood alcohol level of .08 or greater. How they know what your blood alcohol level is two hours prior, I don’t know. You should know, that violating a per se law has absolutely nothing to with your ability to operate a vehicle safely, it’s all about blood chemistry. The only question becomes how high the blood alcohol level was at the time of driving. Since, as I pointed out, the breath or blood alcohol test is always given after the time of driving, it could be the same, higher, or lower than it was several hours ago when I was driving. Wow, the “Don’t Drink and Drive” signs are making a lot more sense now.

The officer asks me to sign his citation and I do, which of course is not admitting guilt, only agreeing to appear. I have the right to a jury trial, or I have the choice to waive a jury trial and have a judge hear the case, he explains. The arraignment is set two months away, and I’m able to drive until then because he has chosen not to suspend my license.

“Do you have a way to get home?” he asks. I’m taken aback by the complete opposite tone in his voice. He’s being nice. Why?

“Well, I don’t know where the hell I am, for one, and I don’t have a car, obviously.”

“We’ll take you home,” he says. “I have to get back on patrol in that area anyway.” So I get out of jail free, and I get a ride home.

There is absolutely no conversation on the way home. It takes about twenty minutes and he drives right up to my house without me giving him any direction whatever. That makes me a little uneasy, but I thank him for the lift and at 2:30 AM my arrest ordeal is over.

Coming soon.....The Trial.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Have You Been Drinking This Evening, Sir?

Why is it, when you’re driving home from “league” while “under the influence” the cops you never see on a normal drive home, are at every intersection and following you? Last night, I saw more cops on my drive home than I thought worked in Reno. Does a person driving “under the influence” give off some sort of glow in the dark?

I want to make it clear to all those MADD supporters out there that I wasn’t driving home whilst “intoxicated”, I was driving “under the influence.” Big difference. Was I impaired? Not in my mind.

You know they changed that designation from DWI to DUI so that they could fit those other substances, included prescription drugs, under the law, because being intoxicated is not being “high”, technically. You don’t get defined as intoxicated on Heroin. But the real reason is a .08 blood alcohol level is really not intoxicated in truth. That’s like two beers for most people, kind of a two-beer buzz.You drink any alcohol and you’re by god going to have some level of it in your blood. That’s the delivery system.

“Don’t Drink and Drive”, doesn’t make sense. You drove to the bar, right? You parked in the lot which they provided. And you have to get home when you’re done drinking right? Is the bar parking lot an overnight storage for patron’s vehicles? “Don’t Drive If You’re Shit-Faced and Can’t Get Your Key in the Ignition” makes more sense. The problem, I guess, is the “shit-face or not” decision is made by the person with the key who is, well, shit-faced at the time.

Calling 911 to report drunk drivers doesn’t make sense to me either. I see those little blue signs all over California along with “Click-it or Ticket” signs. How is that call going to go?

911 Operator: “What’s your emergency?”

Reporting Driver: “Some asshole just cut me off on the freeway and I almost lost control of my car, and there wasn’t even enough room to pull in front of me because I was following the car in front of me too close, so I had to slam on my brakes, and then she swerved off to the next lane and cut another driver off, and then she took an exit.”

911 Operator: “Was the driver drunk, sir?”

Reporting Driver: “How the hell am I supposed to know? Would a sober person do that?.........Oh yeah, I guess they would.”

I have been arrested for DUI. I was even charged with DUI. And, interestingly, the charges were dropped and the arrest record purged. Let’s just say, I’ve only been “caught” once. It was not fun. Here’s how it happened.

We had just moved to Tucson, Arizona from Albuquerque, New Mexico and had been invited over to a new acquaintance’s house to play some pool. Beer was provided. I think I had three, maybe four, beers during the course of a several hours visit. The company turned out to be enjoyable and we left, my wife, daughter and I, at about 10:30 pm. All three of us in the front seat of the Brown Ford Ranger.

Now, in New Mexico, where I lived for 12 years, the intersection signals for the turn lane come on after the main signals go red. So if I’m make a left turn with an arrow, I would pull into the intersection and then wait, until the traffic signal turned yellow and when the intersection was clear I would start to turn as the turn signal went green. Not to be confusing, in Arizona they work the opposite. If the light is red, you get the left turn arrow first, then the cross traffic gets the green light. So as I came up to the left turn, approximately three blocks from my house, I pulled up into the intersection waiting for the left turn arrow to turn green. It didn’t. I’m now half way out in the intersection and I have no choice but to turn on the red arrow or get broadsided by oncoming traffic. I can't back up as other cars have formed a line behind me. This is as 8-lane intersection. So I go. As I go, driving “under the influence”, with an open container gratiously supplied by my host for the ride home, I spot one of Tucson’s finest in the inside lane of the opposing intersection. Within minutes of safely clearing the intersection, he is behind me.

I panic. Cops make me panic. I could be doing absolutely nothing wrong and a cop behind me will send me into an absolute panic. I’m trying to hide the open container. I set it behind the seat and make my right turn onto my street. I’m now FOUR houses down the street from home. The colorful lights come on and the siren wails. I pull over. I can see my house from the windshield.

The officer approaches. I roll down my window.

Officer: “Good evening sir.” Cops always fuck with you like that. Your evening is no longer good once you’ve been stopped.

Me: “Yeah?”

Officer: “Do you know why I stopped you?”

Me: “I turned left on a red arrow.” Then I try to calmly explain how I’ve just moved from New Mexico and it’s the opposite there and, and….he’s not buying any of it.

Officer: “Have you been drinking this evening, sir?”

I have since learned the correct answer to this question. The answer, even if you can’t form words that don’t sound like slurs, is NO. You do not tell the truth, period. But I did.

Me: “Well, I had a couple of beers.” Statement results in immediate action.

Officer: “Sir, step out of the car.”

Me: “What’d I do?” My daughter, who is ten, starts to cry. They’re taking her dad away and she’s not happy about it. On the other hand, the cop is clearly enjoying it. I step out of the car and he walks me to the back of the squad car. I go through the routine, arms outstretched, touch the nose, stand on one foot and then the other, walk a straight line. Tests I appear to pass without a problem. The coup de grace is when he tells me to take six steps, start on my left foot and end on the same foot. It is then that I realize he has a “ride-along.”

A ride-along is a civilian who is doing just that, at his request. Anybody can do it. Just call the Police Department and set it up. The cop, is clearly showing off because of it, probably due to the lack of crime that evening to show his ride along how a professional police officer does his job. When I start counting out my six steps starting with the left foot and ending on the right, the wrong foot, and I can’t seem to understand why, the cop jumps in.

Officer: “Sir, I feel that you are impaired, and I am going to take you down to the station. Can someone drive your vehicle home?” I can see my house from the sidewalk where I’m standing.

Me: “They can walk home. My house is right there,” and I point.

Officer: “Fine. Get in the car.”

Now the back seat of police cars, intentionally I find out, has no room for the legs of a six-foot individual, now the person in custody. My daughter, I can see through the windshield is crying hysterically, and the cop is talking to my wife. I found out later what that conversation was. Mainly the officer of the law with his ride along was trying to find some damning evidence. Like an open container of beer.

To Be Continued Tomorrow……….