Monday, September 26, 2011

Good things, bad things, and flaky things.

I have concluded: change is neither good nor bad, it is simply change.
Example, my part time employer has decided to lay off all of its truck drivers. This is a bad thing for the drivers. Many of them have been working at the paper for more than two decades. In fact, one gentleman, I am convinced, has been working there hauling papers for Frank Gannett since the time of horse and wagon. It is a bad thing to be laid off; most definitely.

There is an unexpected positive to this lay-off. It is happening two weeks after the last day of summer, two weeks into autumn, two weeks closer to winter, ice, snowstorms, whiteouts, impassable roads and an insignificant number of plows. Most of the driving for the newspaper happens between 1 am and 3 am. In western New York, the only people on the roads at those hours during the winter are flakes, if you get my drift.

The one exception to insignificant snowplow presence is the New York State Thruway. If the forecast calls for snow starting around 2 am, the plows are out in the turn around by 1 am. The yellow beacons on top signal to motorists that all is well, and serve as a warning to any flakes that their interference to the motoring public will not be tolerated. Having seen those plows, standing guard at 2 am, I have felt such peace and safety that I have set the cruise control on the truck, put my feet on the dash, and leaned back to nap.

Other thoroughfares are not so fortunate. The number of snowplowing sentinels of snowfall is most insignificant. One rather horrid night I was driving towards Batavia, New York, via Bergen and Leroy. The wind and snow combined to make travelling hazardous. That is what the National Weather Service Office from Buffalo said, and they were right. I could only see a few feet past the hood of the truck; I drove half watching the banks of snow on the side of the road to make sure I stayed on the road and not in the snow banks.

Just before I reached my destination, I came to a halt. It was not a screeching halt for two reasons. First, that would be cliché, which I try to avoid at all costs and second, I was stuck in a snowdrift. It was a slow, gentle, fluffy, can’t-go-anywhere halt.  I walked around the truck in a drift that was up to my waist. It was impossible to tell it was that deep when I drove into it. I had no hope of getting out, until a farmer drove by in her bucket loader…at 2 am. She stopped and began to dig me out at 2 am. Did I mention this was two o’clock in the morning?

Finally, I was unstuck. I drove up the road to the drop spot. One plow had made one pass, leaving me one lane to drive in. I did not need more than one lane, but if anyone was driving the other direction and we met, the consequences could have been distasteful.  Upon reaching the drop spot, I realized that the storage units were on my left hand side and the door on the truck to unload the papers was on my right hand side. This was another example of bad urban, I mean rural planning.

I decided to drive down to the next intersection and turn around. I had no idea where that was, but I was going to find out. Before I reached any intersections, I saw the plow that had been plowing the lane I was driving down, in a ditch. This did not bode well. I decided to drive on past the snowplow and into the uncharted and unplowed territory, which lay before me. Dumb, dumb, dumb. The road alternated between bare, wind-swept pavement, and large drifts of snow. I lined up on the drifts and hurtled through them. Snow exploded over the cab of the truck and I could not see a thing. Over and over, I repeated the sequence of lining myself up so that after I barreled through a drift, I would still be on the road when I exited the other side of the drift.

Then two thoughts struck me. I was glad it was just a thought and not a vehicle, because if a vehicle were approaching from the opposite direction while I was in the middle of a drift and I was struck by it, the result would not have been distasteful, rather it would have been catastrophic. Second, if I got stuck, this was in the middle of nowhere, there would be no farmer with a bucket loader to dig me out, and the only snowplow in the county was stuck in a ditch somewhere behind me. I was convinced I would be there until spring. My poor wife, married to an ice-man. Maybe my kids would finally think I was cool.

Change is good and bad, but I know I am not going to miss driving in the winter. It is not the snow that bothers me, it is all the flakes-if you get my drift.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Eldest, a road test, and a trip down memory lane.

Eldest recently took her road test. I was amazed when I was teaching her to parallel park how quickly she learned that skill. She easily seemed to master it. It seemed to take me forever to learn that skill and when I actually took my first road test, I backed up onto the grass next to the road. There was no curb for me to hit, so I just kept blissfully backing until I was entirely off the road and parked on a grassy knoll. Thankfully, it was not the infamous ‘grassy knoll’ in Dallas,Texas, since I was taking my road test in Warsaw New York.

Things were different then. When you finished your test, the stone-faced examiner would simply get out of the vehicle and leave. Leave you to wait and wonder if you passed or not. I was sure I had not, but there was a little bit of hope. Blind hope, which is hope that the examiner was half-blind and did not notice that the van was leaning hard to the left and that the guy mowing the grassy knoll had to mow around the van parked on his lawn.

Being a young person, full of eternal optimism and idealism, I checked the mailbox dutifully for the results of my road test. Opening the box and peering in, I kept hoping that my results had come and that I had passed. Day after day I had that hope smashed when all I found was mail from Ed Mc Mahon announcing that I may have won lots of money. Taking that envelope, I fell to my knees. Looking heavenward, I yelled, “Curse you Ed Mc Mahon. There is a better chance of winning a million dollars with you, than having passed my road test.”

The much-dreaded letter from the Department of Motor Vehicles eventually did come, and I passed. My mother, who witnessed the entire backing onto the grassy knoll incident, was incredulous. “How could they pass you? How could they?”, she kept muttering.

Eventually I had to take my road test again, this time in a bus, and I had to parallel park again. The examiner instructed me to imagine there was a car parked along the curb. “Pull up next to it and parallel park,” she said.

I did, flawlessly this time. Except, I think I may have scraped the imaginary car. If you came out to your imaginary car about 17 years ago and found yellow scrapes along the side, I am sorry, deeply sorry. Now close your eyes and imagine a nice big insurance check in your hand. There? Isn’t that better?

I passed that test too. Now I could drive a bus. I remember talking to my father on the phone and sharing the news with him. In the background, I could hear my mother. “What? He passed? He can drive a bus? How could they?”

Imagine my delight when  Eldest told me that her examiner said her parallel parking was the best he had seen in a long time. Now I just have to get her to drive a bus.

Friday, September 9, 2011

The first day of High School loomed large.

Just before the beginning of school, I took my three daughters to their schools to set up lockers and scout out the terrain. After dropping Eldest and Middlest off at the High School, I accompanied Littlest to the Middle School. Littlest, being a returning student to the Middle School, knew where all her classes were and only needed to set up her locker.

Having your locker set up makes the first day of school much more welcoming. On that first day, opening a set up locker is like the school saying, “Welcome back friend; the summer has been empty and lonely without you, thanks for returning.” Of course, as the school year progresses, the locker fills up more and more; until at some point, the door opens and the contents spill out. That is like the school saying, “You people make me sick. All this noise and carrying on. All of these old tests and papers, stuffed inside me is nauseating,” as the contents of the locker vomit onto the feet of the hapless student.

Littlest got her locker set up in less time than it takes a NASCAR pit crew to change four tires and then we drove back over to the High School, which is large enough to span across three counties. It is huge, monstrous, intimidating. The school has all the doors numbered, and we parked in a prime spot and entered the building through door number 7001. I know this because eldest wants to be an engineer and is very good with that mathematical stuff. She is not, however good at other specific things. For example, when I walked into the building I called her cell phone and asked where she was. She replied, “Still in the High School.” I asked where, since we were entering the building. She started rambling on asking me if I knew where such and such a spot was, then she said, “Oh wait, I see you now.”

Looking down the long empty hallway, I made out two small figures, almost tiny dots on the horizon. One of the figures started waving her arms in, what I can only assume was, semaphore for, “Greetings, oh great and awesome father. Proceed straight ahead and in three miles we will meet.” Littlest and I walked and did indeed meet the other two girls.

We met in an amazing hallway, lined with botanical gardens on the outsides, and large spacious aquariums up through the middle. I gazed and gawked at the scenery, while the girls stormed ahead, on their scouting mission. They chatted away incessantly and occasionally paused and waited for me.  “Catch up Dad,” they blurted out, seeing me trailing behind them.

Middlest was busy finding each room where her classes were going to be held. First was Latin, then AP World History. Each room was a small hike and many twists and turns from the last one. First down the lime colored hallway, then the pumpkin, then through the candy-apple red hall. After a while I thought I was in a fruit basket. On her way to art class, we went down a hallway with even more plants and fish in it. I looked at these new aquariums and marveled at the variety of turtles and eels on display. My girls blurted out, “Heinz…HEINZ!” I looked at them, wondering to whom they were talking. “Heinz dad! Heinz!” they repeated.

“Who is Heinz?” I asked.

They laughed and said, “Catch up Dad,” as they turned and began their assault on the halls of academia once again.

After, and I kid you not, two hours, we finished finding all of Middlest’s classrooms. Yet again, we found ourselves in still another hallway with lush vegetation growing along the edges and built-in, vibrant aquariums through the center of the hallway.

In amazement I asked, “Eldest, just how many hallways like this does your school have?”

She looked at me a little confused. “Just one Dad.”

“One?! Just one? You mean we have been walking around in circles for the past two hours?”

“This is High School Dad. What did you expect?”

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The second miracle from John's Gospel.

A few weeks ago, I re-told the first of the miracles recorded in the gospel of John. This week I am retelling the second miracle recorded in John.

Sometime later, in that same city, Cana in Galilee, there was Royal Official Dude (Rod) whose son was dying. He heard that Jesus was just a two-day trip away. He remembered the wine from the wedding, and he had heard rumors of Jesus healing other people throughout the countryside. Without wasting a moment, he left to find Jesus.

His staff, of course, was in an uproar. They scurried after him. Frantically, they emailed on their black berries, and asked him questions about important royal governance stuff. His security team unobtrusively moved ahead of him, scanning the crowd as they swiftly moved down the road. No one noticed the team, except that they kept saying weird things into the sleeves of their robes. Things like, “pile of donkey dung twenty clicks to north”, or “incoming camel at about your seventh hour”, or “herd of swine approaching, deploy Angry Birds”.

Rod was an important man, with important stuff to do. However, his son was dying and that was taking precedence as he and his entourage hurried the two-day journey to find Jesus. As they approached, crowds parted and people stared. The man searched the crowd, wondering where Jesus was, what he would look like, and what Jesus would say when they met.

Finally, he saw Jesus. He was not what he had expected. This man was dusty from travelling, his clothes were shabby, his skin was darkened and weathered from days spent in the sun and wind, his hands were gnarled from manual labor, and a dozen suspicious characters, each of whom looked more unkempt and distrustful than the last, surrounded him. His security team were talking to their robe sleeves apprehensively. His advisors were snapping pictures and uploading them to “Face Scroll” indiscriminately.
Used to all the kowtowing, bowing, and backslapping requests made of royal officials, Rod pleaded. He pleaded for his son’s healing. The crowd stood by, watched, and waited, eager for another miracle. Something exciting, something they could talk about; something they could tweet.
The hush grew over the crowd as Jesus spoke, “Unless y’all see signs and sensations, you won’t believe!”
The royal official blinked, then swallowed. His mind raced.  His son’s life hung in the balance. The silence grew and spread, even the security detail stopped talking to their sleeves. “Sir,” the official pleaded, “come down before my son dies.”

“Go.” Jesus said, “Go. Your son will live. Now go on, git outta here.”

The man did not wait to see if it was so.He believed and started home. The second day of his journey back home, servants came from his house, meeting him along the way. “Rod, your son…He is alive.”

“When? When did he get better?” Rod asked.

“Yesterday, just after lunchtime.”

“Slamming!” Rod exclaimed, and told his family and friends his story. “It was yesterday, right after lunchtime that Jesus said my son would live!”