Wednesday, June 26, 2013

A bagger, a bigot and a story worth telling

The lovely Miss Wendy and I were out and about yesterday, running errands and attempting to ignore the heat and humidity hovering about the Land of Cotton. We managed to beat an afternoon rain storm to our neighborhood supermarket where, it seems, we spend our free time and free cash every couple days in search of icy and tasty treats.

Since we had a plan before entering the store, it only took a few moments to gather up the items on our list and make our way to a checkout aisle. Wendy, as usual, waited for the cashier to do her thing while I stood around in that useless sort of way that husbands often do; glancing about, slack jawed and bored, just this side of comatose.
And then something caught my attention.
The guy handling the bagging chores seemed all atwitter, his arms waving about as he talked with the nearby clerk. I couldn’t actually make out what he was saying but I could see that he was agitated.
Truth to tell, what I mostly noticed is that he was talking a lot and not bagging any of our groceries. Impatience, clearly, is another guy thing and something that I think about working on when the idea of self-improvement crosses my mind. But I digress.
The man continued his story and then I heard a woman standing behind Wendy in line gasp and stammer, “He said what?” That got my attention and I finally focused on the bagger and the story he was detailing.

I’ve seen this man around the market for years. He’s probably just the other side of 70; a little bent with time, wrinkles spread across his face that, as often as not, is filled with warmth and a toothy smile. We’ve only shared a few words, but what I recall is his always addressing me as “young man” and Wendy as “young lady.” It’s a southern thing!

His name is Howard and, after finishing up his tale, he took only a moment or three to bag up our groceries, then offer a grin and remark, “Here you are, young man.”
As we walked from the air-conditioned market into the blast furnace of summer, Wendy told me the bits and pieces of the conversation I had missed. It seems that only moments earlier, Howard had begun bagging up a man’s groceries when the customer turned to him and said, “Boy, don’t touch my food.” It was clear from his tone what he meant.

Oh, I forgot to mention. Howard is black.
It took just that bit of context to help me revisit all that I had witnessed – the waving arms, angry and melancholy tone, bent shoulders and world-weary expression that flickered across Howard’s face. It also helped me understand what the woman behind Wendy had offered up only moments earlier, after asking what had been said.

“I apologize,” the woman said. “I apologize for what that man said.”
Howard shook his head and shrugged his shoulders, a gesture that seemed to suggest no apology was needed. He had simply walked away from the bigot after telling the jerk he would pray for him.

This little bit of drama seemed to fit nicely with all the talk in the last few days about Paula Deen and her admitted use of racial slurs in the past. The idea that such bigotry is dead and buried across Dixie is, of course, nonsense. Just ask Howard.
The moment also had me thinking back to one of the pivotal scenes in the movie “42”, the Hollywood biopic released a few months ago, celebrating Jackie Robinson’s role as the first black player in the modern era of Major League Baseball.

At a critical juncture, as he’s being considered for the move that would open the door for blacks into big-time sports, Robinson asks: “Mr. Rickey, are you looking for a Negro who is afraid to fight back?”
Branch Rickey, the general manager of the Dodgers, responds: “Robinson, I’m looking for a ballplayer with guts enough not to fight back.”

I don't think we'll be seeing any biopics about a supermarket bagger anytime soon, but I'm pretty sure that Howard and Jackie Robinson share more in common than just the color of their skin. Guts, it turns out, are as important in the 21st Century as it was over six decades ago.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Life can sometimes be a pain!

I was deep into a wondrous world of light and shadows earlier this week when a nagging call came my way. It pulled me from the tranquil calm of REM sleep and demanded my attention.

The lovely Miss Wendy needed me awake. The last time I had gotten such an early wake up call was three decades earlier after Wendy had gone into labor. This time around the problem was just as urgent – at least for the moment – but involved a much different sort of pain!
Wendy, who’s up before the sun each morning, was feeling just a little faint and puzzled by a growing pain in her chest. It was the sort of feeling that moved around a bit and the sort of problem that toys with all those existential fears we push aside when night gives way to day.
And it persisted; the pain a pulsing tease, the thoughts a growing concern. Wendy talked and detailed the problem. I listened and diagnosed. We weighed our words and spent a few moments handling the issue in a high-tech sort of way, fishing about the web for answers. All we managed to do, of course, is raise additional questions and scare ourselves silly.
I’m thinking most of us of a certain age have played this little game; measuring out the problem and viewing it from all angles, then trying to figure out exactly what needs to be done. The problem is there’s nothing “exact” about the issue, unless you happen to be a physician and also keep an EKG parked in your closet!
And so it was that the lovely Miss Wendy and I found ourselves in the emergency room of one of the mega-hospitals in our little corner of the world, listening to the beeps and bings of all the gadgetry that defines modern health care today.
Five hours later, the hospitalist – that’s a term I’m thinking Marcus Welby never heard back when doctors made house calls – announced that Wendy was not only fine, but “the healthiest young lady in the entire emergency room.” Let me repeat his diagnosis: Wendy’s fine!
He smiled. We smiled. Hope, yet again, rested easily on the horizon.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Part I: How I spent my summer vacation

Mother Nature takes charge and causes
all  sorts of problems for folks in The Land
of Cotton and others headed in that direction.
The lovely Miss Wendy and I are just back from a little fun under the broiling sun of South Florida. We had a delightful time with family and friends in and around Orlando, Daytona and the Fort Lauderdale area.

What’s mostly floating around my noggin at the moment, however, is our last day in the Sunshine State and the not-so-wonderful experience we had trying to escape back home to the Land of Cotton. Mother Nature, it turns out, did all she could to keep us cooling our heels at Orlando International Airport.
A little context might be helpful.

Like lots of travelers, I get a little anxious on travel days. I’m the sort of guy who gets to the airport early – hours early. There are just too many unknowns when flying, especially out of a new and unfamiliar complex.
The bothersome stuff most recently was a jarring mix of logistical issues – dealing with traffic and finding the airport in Orlando; figuring out where and how to return a car rental and figuring out where and how to find the Delta terminal.

And so it was that we were headed out to the airport at least five hours before our flight was scheduled. The good news, unfortunately, also turns out to be badly tarnished. There was little traffic and, despite our GPS announcing it couldn’t locate the airport, we had little trouble finding it, thanks to a map my brother Larry had given me.
One of my greatest concerns, returning our rental car, took minutes and couldn’t have been simpler – thanks and a tip-of-the-hat to Enterprise! There were one or two challenges once inside the airport, but several helpful clerks and security guards pointed us in the right direction.

So, as mentioned earlier, all this good stuff meant that we were at our gate and ready to go. The not so good news is we had four hours to kill. Yikes!
We walked around a bit and checked out the sites – fast food restaurants, a newsstand, a few retail shops and a duty-free store. We ate a late lunch, then walked around some more before settling in at our gate to do some serious people watching.

Our view on the world was mostly filled with a parade of sunburned folks, sporting Disney ears, T-shirts and tons of fat and cellulite, euphonically blended with groups of business types in sport coats (the men) and Vera Wang basic black (the women). Okay, truth to tell, I wouldn’t know a Wang from a wong, but you get the picture, right?
There was a palpable sense of energy and rhythm about the place. People coming and going; lives in transition. It was all a little dance that played out smoothly; that is until Mother Nature took center stage.

The first blip appeared around 5 in the afternoon when the departure board burped and our flight was delayed. For whatever reason, takeoff was pushed back an hour, from 7:30 to 8:30. A bit later, a message flashed on a nearby digital screen that flight times were being changed and that additional info would be provided when available.
The terminal remained energized, but the smooth little dance – a foxtrot, perhaps a tango – quickly deflated with all of us stumbling about, anxious and attempting to figure out what was happening. Families huddled together, and business types got busy on their smartphones. There was a lot of standing around and long lines of passenger waiting to talk with agents.

Time stood still and, for a moment, it seemed I had landed in purgatory, just this side of tourist hell! My life and those of my fellow travelers were on hold. Delta and Mother Nature were in control; and, for the most part, they weren’t talking!
It was at this point that Wendy pointed out a nearby TV monitor that featured video of a swirling storm – slashing rain, hail and lightning underneath dark and brooding skies – battering homes and buildings. Trees, street signs, telephone poles and utility lines were literally twisting in the wind. At the bottom of the screen a map of the area was prominently displayed. The storm was hovering over, wait for it, Atlanta!

Our already delayed flight was pushed back a bit more, from 8:30 to 8:50; then to 9:10 and, eventually, to 9:30. The flight was now two hours late and Wendy and I had been at the airport for an exhausting seven hours.
The news continued to be bad.

At 9:30, when our delayed flight should have been taking off – and the original flight should have been landing – the squeal of a microphone silenced the terminal and it was announced that all service into and out of Atlanta was temporarily suspended.
Isn’t there some old cliché about it being darkest before the dawn? Well, dawn seemed hours away when, in fact, a ray of light peeked out only moments later. As I wandered about, I glanced back in the direction of our gate and spotted Wendy wildly waving. It turned out Mother Nature was growing tired and it seemed a small window of opportunity had spilled across the Land of Cotton.

Wendy, I and 150 or so other folks were hustled aboard a waiting plane, tucked in as the pilots hurriedly pushed back from the gate, then collectively sighed when it was announced, yet again, there was another delay. Fortunately it was short.
After 30 minutes or so of simmering on the tarmac, we were airborne and headed north. Interestingly, the two hour flight only took an hour. Go figure!

It would take another two hours – waiting, yet again, on the tarmac in Atlanta; making our way to an offsite parking lot, driving from here to there – before we made it to our little corner of the world. It was 2 a.m., the power had been knocked out in the area and debris seemed to cover the world.
But, at the time, I had to agree with Dorothy. I jumped out of the car, tapped the heels of my sandals together, and happily announced to my sleeping neighborhood, “There’s no place like home!”

UP NEXT: My response to Delta’s “How Did We Do?” survey!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

New high-tech answer to old-timey problem

“Ring and Run” isn’t a new rock group but an old-fashioned way for kids to annoy their neighbors. It’s pretty much what it sounds like – dash up to a house, ring the doorbell, then dash away into the night.

Kodak moment: This kid forgot to smile
when he dashed up to Lauren’s home recently to
cause a little mischief. PHOTO / R2D2
It all sounds pretty darn innocent but it can also be pretty darn annoying if it happens to be 1 in the morning and you’re snoozing soundly in bed. That’s how it all played out recently in my neighborhood.
If it was Friday – at least for a few weeks in late spring – the lovely Miss Wendy and I could pretty much expect our doorbell to chime once the sun sailed below the horizon. The good news, I guess, is many of my neighbors were suffering along with us.
Finally, irritated and frustrated by the ding-dong foolishness, I checked out the area around the front of our house every 15 minutes or so one evening and, wait for it, I spotted a group of neighborhood teens casually walking down the street. A moment later they scattered, each dashing up to a nearby home.
Just as a kid approached my porch, I switched on an outside light and pulled open the door. The kid bolted and I began racing after him like a demented banshee – even though I’m neither Irish nor a female. After only a moment or so I realized I had no idea what I’d do with the youngster if I actually caught him.
Truth to tell, the whole stalking about and chasing was a bad idea. It only encouraged the teens to return and ring away some more. Once I began ignoring them, the tribe – I’m thinking they were way too preppie to be labeled a gang – grew bored and, I’m happy to report, have apparently found other ways to amuse themselves.
An interesting footnote to all this drama: A few weeks after all this played out my daughter Lauren called and said the “ring and run” pandemic had spread to her neighborhood. The big difference this time around is that Lauren’s hubby Josh is a high-tech guru.
That pretty much means he’s wired their house with the latest digital gadgets – flat-screen TVs, streaming music, multi-magic light controls and, of course, motion detectors and video cameras. So within a few moments of a kid ringing and running at their home, they had his image downloaded off their video monitor and onto Facebook.

I’m thinking they need to stick his picture on their front door now and offer this advice for other would-be pranksters: At this house it’s called “Ring, Run – and Smile!”