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Listen up, Toyota—relocate the brake pedal!

Listen up, Toyota—relocate the brake pedal to save lives!

This is my suggestion to Toyota and to all the world’s automakers. The first company that accepts my concept and converts its models in accordance with that concept has a unique opportunity to make a quantum leap ahead of every other automaker in the world. There should be no more sticking accelerators, and claims that the accelerator malfunctioned and contributed to an accident should be reduced or completely eliminated. Also it is my sincere belief that my suggestion, if adopted by all the automakers, would significantly reduce the number of rear-end collisions.

Move the brake pedal to the left side of the steering post, just as the gas pedal is to the right side of the steering post, then institute the go, no-no concept for controlling automobiles. Color the pedals red and green, with dashboard lights prominently reflecting the use of each—the brake pedal red for stop and the gas pedal green for go, just as traffic is controlled as directed by red and green traffic light signals.

Simple, huh? Make those dashboard lights prominent enough to alert any driver that the wrong pedal is being used. If you want to stop or slow down an auto and the green light is on, you are using the wrong pedal, and conversely if the red light is on and you want to go, you are using the wrong pedal. And car makers perhaps should consider adding a warning horn system and voice announcements similar to those used on commercial planes to alert the pilots in situations such as landing gear not down and locked, or airspeed is too high for landing.

And on the subject of airplanes, in the absence of an autopilot system the pilots of those conveyances use their hands on the controls to manipulate the ailerons left or right to tilt the plane to one side or the other. They also use their hands on the controls to manipulate the elevators, pushing forward to push the nose of the plane down and pulling back to put the nose of the plane up—can you guess what they use to manipulate the rudder to make a turn, either to the left or the right?

If you guessed that they use their feet to manipulate the plane’s rudder, you win the stuffed teddy bear. Yep, they push in with the left foot to turn left, and push in with the right foot to turn right. I feel that we can equate the functions of foot pedals on a plane to an automobile’s brake and accelerator pedals.

Our government apparently believes at least some of such accidents were caused because the driver confused the accelerator with the brake, and accelerated the car’s forward motion instead of slowing it, a conclusion that in my opinion appears valid.

One needs only to observe the proximity of the accelerator and the brake pedal. In a case of a runaway automobile, the first instinct is to get off the accelerator and hit the brake. In such cases the driver gets off the gas and goes for the brake, but because of the proximity of the brake pedal to the gas pedal, the driver simply hits the accelerator again and thinking that the foot is on the brake, holds it firmly on the accelerator up to the point of impact.

The error is caused by the fact that the right foot is used both for slowing and stopping and for achieving, maintaining and reducing the vehicle’s speed. In a case of a runaway auto, the driver takes the right foot off the gas pedal to change to the brake pedal then, under extreme stress, simply returns the right foot to the accelerator instead of the brake.

And at this point I must note that throughout all this action, the left foot is available but doing nothing to help out—oh, if an accident is imminent the left foot is probably exerting tons of frantic foot-pounds (get it?) of energy against the floorboard but it’s energy wasted, and that pressure will probably result in major damage to that stiffened left foot, leg and hip of the driver if a major accident occurs, plus extra stress on various related internal organs if a major accident occurs.

I am passing my suggestion on to the automakers in an effort to bring the auto industry into the twenty-first century—yes, it’s still in the early twentieth century.

Before I continue let me establish my right to speak on this subject. I began driving at the age of 12 and have been driving motor vehicles of every size, weight, color, horsepower and style including personal cars and trucks, US military and US Civil Service government vehicles for the past 66 years. For the first eight years of that 66 years I used my right foot to accelerate, maintain and reduce speed and to slow and stop vehicles with manual transmissions—the left foot was reserved exclusively for the clutch operation.

For the past 58 years I have used my right foot for go and my left foot for no-go, and I intend to use my feet in like manner for whatever number of years I retain the privilege of driving before being curtailed by old age—or otherwise.

In those 58 years I have never had an accident involving an attempt to occupy the same space as another object, whether the object was mobile or immobile. Conversely, in the first 20 years and in my first automobile, I had a head-on collision with an immovable object, namely the corner of a concrete retaining wall on a beach in Jacksonville, Florida.

I was alone and the hour was late and the night was dark and I was in strange surroundings, and I missed a turn and found myself on the beach. And on that dark night and at that late hour on a beach I learned an immutable truth of physics, namely that no two objects can occupy the same space at the same time. I had a head-on collision with the corner of a concrete retaining wall on a beach in Jacksonville, Florida.

Traveling along beside the high concrete retaining wall that overlooked the beach, I saw a break in the wall ahead and I started a right turn in order to leave the beach and return to the highway. In retrospect, I don’t believe I reduced my speed before beginning the turn, and I saw the 10-foot high wall rushing toward me at a high rate of speed. As I went into the turn my lightweight high-center-of gravity 1948 Chevrolet coupe raised up on its two left wheels, so I spun the wheel left to get all four tires on the ground, intending to stay on the beach instead of turning over or hitting the wall. Yes, spun—my steering wheel boasted a suicide knob, an add-on that enabled young punks such as I to spin the wheel swiftly with one hand. Read on, and you’ll learn why it was labeled a suicide knob.

I was partially successful with my spinning the wheel to the left. I managed to avoid rolling over, but I hit that wall right at the 90-degree point. Whatever my right foot did, whether it hit the brake, stayed on the accelerator, or left the brake and returned to the accelerator was not enough to avert significant structural damage to the auto and to me—the  retaining wall suffered only minor scratches.

I struck the wall at the corner point where it came down to the beach from the highway, and there the wall made a 90-degree turn to the right. I would have been satisfied—nay, happy even—with side-scraping it, either to the left or to the right but preferably to the left, so the contact with the wall would be on the opposite side from where I sat.

The only other part of my anatomy that could possibly have been instrumental in preventing the accident or reducing the damage wrought was my left foot, and I have no recollection of any helpful action taken by that worthy. I had a habit of resting my left foot on the clutch pedal and may have been doing that just before I hit the wall, so the only action the left foot could have taken would have been to push the clutch pedal to the floor, thereby disengaging the gears, decreasing the drag of the transmission and thus increasing the speed of the car en route to the retaining wall.

My 1948 Chevrolet business coupe with a vacuum-shift manual transmission survived the collision. Both the coupe and I suffered front-end damage, major damage to the coupe but relatively minor to me. I unwittingly— and unwillingly—used the bridge of my nose against the steering wheel to slow my forward motion, and managed to break both the wheel and my nose on impact. I suspect that chest impalement and other significant—perhaps fatal—injuries were prevented by my habit of leaning to the left while driving—when everything stopped moving my body was wedged between the left door and the steering column with its broken steering wheel.

A few weeks after eliminating my paltry accumulated savings to recover the Chevrolet coupe from the body shop, I immediately traded it for a sky-blue 1951 Ford convertible with an automatic transmission, and a whole new world opened up for me. I quickly learned that rather than using the time-honored and time-wasting two-part action of lifting the right foot off the accelerator and placing the same foot on the brake to slow or stop the car, I could use my left foot on the brake and needed only to reduce the weight of my right foot on the gas.

Yep, that’s my suggestion. Simply move the brake pedal to the left and teach drivers to use the left foot for braking and the right foot to control speed. As Sophia of Golden Girls fame would say, picture this:

When an accident is apparently imminent the driver must lift the right foot off the gas, move it over to the brake pedal and push hard, and perhaps avoid an accident. But what if the foot when lifted is not lifted high enough and moved far enough to the left, and the sole of the shoe hooks on the side of the accelerator, or the sole of the shoe is not placed squarely on the brake pedal and slips off to the right and back on the accelerator? Disaster is imminent, and even milliseconds saved could mean the difference between life and death.

In summary the crux of my suggestion, and this rambling post in support of it, is that the left leg and foot do nothing to assist a driver in operating a motor vehicle. It remains idle while the right foot is constantly at work, moving from gas pedal to brake, and from brake to gas pedal, ad nauseam.

If the left legs and feet of drivers could speak, they would probably say that they would like to be involved in the vehicle’s operation, and would probably claim that they could do a better job than the right, much as the political left in our nation feels about the political right.

And furthermore, I’ll bet that an atrophy study of the legs and feet of drivers would show that the left is far more susceptible to the disease than the right caused by lack of use, simply because it is allowed to stagnate while the right does all the work—and there again it appears that a parallel can be seen in our political parties.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Postscript: There’s more to the story, including my involvement with a sheriff’s deputy, the US Navy’s Shore Patrol, the people that returned my 1948 Chevrolet coupe to service, and what happened in Jacksonville the night I recovered my car and entered the city over a high bridge and lost my brakes on the way down to street level, and I’m even less proud of that than I am of my bout with the retaining wall. However, I’ve rambled on too long already, so I’ll save the rest of the story for a later post—stay tuned.

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Let’s put the blind to work . . .

Listen up, Homeland Security!

Listen up, Janet Napolitano!

Listen up, Barack Obama!

I have a suggestion that will provide work opportunities for a group of our citizens that is in far too many instances overlooked for employment, and in too many instances are limited to stringing beads for costume jewelry or similar work. There is a niche in our federal government that can utilize the blind. Our nation’s Department of Homeland Security can provide well-paying jobs and economic security for such people, jobs that will produce immediate results by helping protect the traveling public from harm.

I propose hiring those in our society that are blind—not just legally blind, able to distinguish form and function but completely blind, or perhaps able only to distinguish light from darkness. Such persons can contribute significantly to the security of the United States of America.

First, as is necessary in public speaking, let me establish my right to speak. I am a retired U. S. Customs inspector, having worked on the Texas-Mexico border for twelve years as an inspector trainee, journeyman and first-level and second-level supervisor, at Customs’ Headquarters in Washington DC as a Program Officer and Program Manager, at Customs’ Regional Headquarters in Houston TX, and finally as Chief Inspector at one of our nation’s top-20 international airports. During my 26-year career with Customs I conducted and supervised and observed countless personal searches. I therefore feel that I am qualified to speak on that subject—nay, not simply qualified—I am eminently qualified—I am in fact damn well qualified, so to speak.

Under current procedures used for pat-down personal searches at our airports no searcher, whether male or female, will ever find anything by wearing plastic gloves and using the backs of their hands in an effort to detect something that may compromise the safety of an aircraft and its occupants. I realize that the searches have been modified to include using the fronts of their hands, but you may be assured that most will not do that except when the search is being observed by a supervisor—in all the searches I conducted and witnessed in my years on the border, not once did I see the searcher use the crotch-crunch technique mandated by Customs’ Headquarters. As for my own searches I tried it once, didn’t like it and didn’t do it again—at least I’m honest about it—most inspectors aren’t!

That mandate is a hard one to follow, so to speak, for any self-respecting male officer searching another male. Female searchers can detect the presence of bras and breasts on females (depending on dimensions, of course)  and male searchers can detect testicles and penises on males (again depending on dimensions), and not much of anything else. Any squeeze of a woman’s breasts by a female searcher will generate a complaint, and any squeeze of a man’s private part or parts by a male will do the same.

I doubt seriously that a sighted searcher, blindfolded and wearing plastic gloves and using the back of the hands can even distinguish whether the suspect is male or female (again depending on dimensions of certain body parts). The person being patted down may be a man posing as a woman or vice versa, a ruse that is used frequently in Middle Eastern countries by would-be suicide bombers.

You don’t believe it? Please consider Braille, the contact alphabet of raised dots representing letters and numbers that enables the blind to read texts and operate elevators. Take any blind person, male or female and ask that person to don plastic gloves and then read a sentence printed in Braille using the back of the hands. Better yet, have them use the back of the gloved hands to read Braille numbers on an elevator. Unless the elevator is in a two-story building with no basement, they are likely to stop at the wrong floor. Use the same experiment on a sighted but blindfolded person and that person will wind up on the wrong floor also.

Get the picture?

If blind people can read text and numbers with their fingers, then they can conduct pat-down searches effectively if allowed to use their fingers. Their touch is so sensitive that even wearing the required plastic gloves they will detect any anomaly. Hell, they may even find an unevenly shaped mole and by calling it to the suspect’s attention they may even save a life!

Think about it—the sex of the person being searched and the sex of the searcher should not be a factor. The blind searcher could be searching his own wife or her own husband, and it is unlikely that they would know it. And it should make no difference to the person being searched, because the blind person, regardless of what the search may reveal, could never identify that person.

That’s it—that’s my suggestion. I could ramble on indefinitely on the ramifications and possibilities  should my suggestion be adopted but that should not be necessary. The proof will be in the pudding—my suggestion to use blind people to conduct pat-down searches at airports will produce positive results, reduce complaints from the traveling public, protect our pilots, flight attendants and passengers from harm by keeping aircraft airborne and safe from actions of would-be terrorists. The benefits are many and obvious, and more discussion should be unnecessary.

Just as an aside, I seek no remuneration should my suggestion be adopted. A simple Nobel Peace Prize will do, and it should be considered. Our system will work so well that other nations will follow by utilizing their blind people to conduct pat-downs. In that event I will of course donate the monetary award to my favorite charity. Other than the Nobel Peace Prize I would consider the award of a Congressional Gold Medal, to be presented by our president, but the presentation would have to be at my home rather than the White House—I’ve been there and was not impressed, and I have no desire to return.

Of course the Nobel Peace Prize or the Congressional Gold Medal could be, and probably would be, handed over to UPS for delivery by the driver to my home just as the plaque, the one given in recognition of my 48 years of dedicated federal service that included 22 years of military service during which I helped our nation lose two wars (Korea and Viet Nam). The plaque was delivered soon after I retired—the driver placed it, gently of course, on my porch, rang the doorbell and hotfooted it back to his truck—such adulation! Such personal recognition! I teared up!

That’s my suggestion and that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!

 

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Most of the body is in the U.S. . . .

I’ve written about performing Customs duties on the Mexican border, but I have not gone into the specifics of individual actions. The work was very exciting and educational to me, especially in the early days of my Customs career, and I’ve decided to share some of those events with my viewers, and trust me, the posts will be considerably briefer than I am accustomed to writing—and as Martha Stewart would say, that’s a good thing!

On a busy winter day at the Port of Progreso in South Texas, a man died on the inbound sidewalk in the middle of the bridge, the victim of a massive heart attack. There was only one bridge in those years (the seventies), with only one vehicle lane in each direction. There have been lots of changes since then. The image at right shows the old bridge. Click here to see the old and the new.

It was late in the afternoon on a wintry Saturday. Traffic was fairly light outbound to Mexico, but the line of vehicles inbound stretched across the bridge, through the city of Las Flores, Mexico and a mile or so farther in, according to inbound travelers. Millions of winter visitors—snow birds—were in the Rio Grande Valley, and they and locals were returning from Mexico after shopping and visiting friends and relatives. Saturdays were always busy, but this one appeared to be a record breaker.

I was working vehicle traffic at the primary inspection point, and a lady driver told me there was a man lying on the bridge near the international marker. She said she believed he was dead. She told me that he was lying on his back and his eyes were open and he was not moving. When I was relieved from my duties I walked out to the center of the bridge to see for myself.

The man, an Anglo that appeared to be well past middle age, was lying just as the woman had said. He was dressed casually, as most winter tourists are dressed, and was lying near the international marker. His eyes were open and his face had begun to darken from the lack of blood and oxygen. I could not detect a pulse in his carotid artery.

I returned to the Customhouse and told the supervisor, who in turn called the police in Weslaco some ten miles away, the closest place that could send an ambulance and medical technicians. He told them of my findings, and they asked whether the body was lying in Mexico or on the United States side of the international marker. I told the supervisor that he was lying across the line, partially in the U.S. and partially in Mexico.

Several hours passed before an ambulance arrived from Weslaco. It seems that officials in that city had called federal officials on the Mexican side of the bridge to determine which country was responsible for the dead man. The Mexicans said that they had viewed the body and they agreed that the body was lying on the international boundary, but they argued that more of the body was in the United States than in Mexico. They therefore declined any responsibility, and eventually medics and police from Weslaco arrived, stopped traffic on the bridge, recovered the body and things at the Port of Progreso returned to normal.

That was just one incident that occurred on one day in the six years that I worked at the Progreso bridge. A work shift rarely passed without at least one untoward event taking place. The image at right shows the new four-lane bridge with its covered walkways, completed in 2003. I began my Customs career at Progreso in 1971 and transferred six years later in 1977 to a supervisory position at the Port of Roma, almost 80 miles upstream on the Rio Grande River. In future posts I will detail some of the incidents that transpired at that port also, so stay tuned.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 

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A household of many aunts and uncles, including Braxton . . .

In my grandparents household, the grandparents on my mother’s side of the family, there were numerous sons and daughters, with the result that I had many aunts and uncles. All were born considerably earlier than I, and since I am near completing the eighth decade of my life, all have sloughed off the mortal coils of this life and transferred to another, perhaps a better one than this—at least it is to be hoped that it is a better one. I know of nothing that would have caused the powers-that-be to sentence them to a worse life for the remainder of eternity.

Did you get that—remainder of eternity?

Does eternity have a remainder?

That’s kinda profound, don’t you think?

The youngest of the brood of children birthed and reared by my grandparents was a boy named Braxton, known to family and friends as Brack), but to me he was  Uncle Brack. I was far advanced into adulthood long before he left us, but I never had the temerity to call him by his name—he was always Uncle Brack, a man I idolized and longed mightily to be like when I grew up—I wanted to be just like him and do the same kind of work he did.

Over the years Uncle Brack was a share-cropper farmer, a farmer in his own right, a store-keeper, a used-car salesman and a bus driver. Only the profession of bus driver attracted me. He worked for the Miss–Ala Stage Line, a bus company that plied a route between various towns, and one of its routes moved passengers back and forth between Vernon, Alabama and Columbus, Mississippi, a distance of some 30 miles. Vernon was a small town with few people and few amenities, and Columbus had many, including theaters, restaurants, department stores and small industrial components that provided jobs for people from Vernon.

Get it? Miss–Ala? Mississippi plus Alabama?

Uncle Brack’s bus driver uniform was a white shirt with black bow-tie, gray trousers with a black stripe down the side of each leg, and a gray hat with a large metal cap badge and a shiny black brim—he always wore the cap jauntily cocked to one side like our World War II aviators wore theirs. A holster on his belt at his right side held his ticket-punching machine, one with which he always executed a quick-draw, twirled it several times with it coming to rest in his palm, ready to punch a passenger’s ticket. In the eyes of a small boy in the 1930s, he was a combination of all the heroes in Zane Grey novels and in James Fennimore Cooper’s stories of the Native Americans of our great Northeast. In short, when I was a small boy I wanted to be exactly like my Uncle Brax.

He was an inveterate joker—he could no more resist making jokes, practical or otherwise, than the sun can resist rising in the east and setting in the west, and he  regaled any gathering which he attended with his stories. One that he told repeatedly involved a lady that had sneaked a black cat on when she boarded his bus. He said that before he left the station he saw the cat in his rear-view mirror and announced that The lady with that black pussy will have to leave. He said that five women left the bus and the others crossed their legs.

I never believed that story—I thought it was funny, even though I wasn’t sure why it was so funny. I didn’t believe it because in those days people rode the bus with pet cats and dogs, and even with a shoat in a gunnysack—for those unfamiliar with that phrase, that’s a pig in a poke, an actual young porker purchased at an auction in Columbus and now en route to a farm in Alabama where it would be fed and pampered until it became a hog, then slaughtered in the fall for the larder of a farm family, and that’s a fact—I’ve seen such cargo carried on a Miss-Ala  Stage Line bus more than once, and I’ve also seen such cargo carried on trains that ran between Columbus  and various small towns in Mississippi—that’s a subject for a future posting, so stay tuned!

People often bought baby chicks from a Columbus hatchery and boarded the bus with 100 peeping baby chickens in a flat box, similar to a pizza box but somewhat larger, with small round holes built into the sides of the box to provide oxygen for its occupants. Uncle Brack loved to tell the story of the time a lady—a very large lady—boarded his bus with such a box. En route to its destination of Vernon, Alabama, bumping along on a rutted potholed graveled road, the box fell from her lap and spilled the baby chicks, called biddies by country folk—out on the floor, and they scampered to all points of the globe, constrained only by the limits of the bus. The lady frantically ran around gathering them up and putting them back in the box, and at one point she leaned far over from the waist and the pressure on her stomach produced a certain sound, one that resonated all over the bus. A drunk passenger was watching the lady in her quest for the biddies and spoke up with a sage bit of advice, saying That’s right, lady, if you can’t catch ’em, shoot ’em! I remember other Brackisms, but most are not completely suitable for postings on WordPress.

Uncle Brack was a likeable fellow and ladies found him attractive, and he took full advantage of that attractiveness whenever the opportunity arose, so to speak. According to my mother—his sister—when Uncle Brack came in from a night out, usually tanked up with Alabama moonshine or beer illegally transported across the Alabama state line from Mississippi, his mother—my grandmother—would go through his pockets and retrieve any items that were manufactured ostensibly for the prevention of disease, but in those long ago days were mostly used for the prevention of pregnancies—condoms. As my mother told the story, on his wedding day she presented a gift, a cigar box filled with unused condoms. I believe the story because I believe my mother—had Uncle Brack told the story I would not have believed it.

After all that carousing around in search of a bride—that’s what he told his mother he was doing—Uncle Brack married a widow, a sturdy no-nonsense woman with two children from her first marriage, a six-year old girl and a boy of 12 years. The couple stayed married for many years, adding three more children to the family, and the marriage was ended only by his death. During those years of marriage I never heard a word—not even a hint—that Uncle Brack ever returned to his errant ways with women. It was, in effect, a marriage made in heaven.

There’s lots more to be told about my Uncle Brack, but I’ll hold it in abeyance for future postings, so stay tuned.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 
 

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An odd thing happened en route to the slaughter house . . .

Long, long ago, across the river from a land where bad things frequently happened and are still happening, I was working the dog watch—12:00 midnight until 8 AM—as the sole United States Customs Service inspector at a small port on the Texas-Mexico border and a strange thing happened during a la madrugada of my eight-hour shift—a la madrugada is Spanish for the wee small hours of the morning.

At that time the midnight shift at the port consisted of three people—one Immigration officer, one Customs inspector and one civilian toll collector for outbound vehicles and pedestrians. When I say a small port, I mean really small—it had a total of one inbound lane and one outbound lane—I don’t believe they get much smaller than that!

A bit of background first—the exportation of live animals to Mexico was legal and authorized provided that certain requirements were met, requirements established by Mexico and the United States. Live animals could be exported to Mexico only if veterinary facilities existed for the examination of such animals and quarantine facilities had to be present in the event that bovine diseases were suspected. Since there were no such facilities opposite my small port, the exportation of live animals was not permitted, a hard and fast rule with no exceptions permitted.

The Immigration officer on duty was manning the entry point for incoming traffic, both pedestrian and vehicles, the toll collector was manning the toll booth and I was in the Customs office studying our fascinating Customs regulations—hey, that was a long time ago and I refuse to say that I may have been snoozing—that wasn’t allowed while on duty, regardless of how sleepy one became and regardless of the absence of incoming traffic—I have a future posting in mind on that subject.

The toll collector sent an outbound citizen, one driving a stake–bed truck with high sideboards, loaded with a half-dozen head of live cattle—bovines if you will—to the Customs office with a question. The driver wanted to know why he could not export cattle to Mexico. He said he was taking the cattle to the slaughter-house at Rio Bravo, a city some fifteen kilometers—about nine miles—into the interior of Mexico and that he had already made the requisite payoff to the Mexican officials and would lose his mordida—his cash bribe—to the Mexican officials if he was not allowed to cross before morning.

I patiently explained the law, stressing the absence of inspection and quarantine facilities on the other side and the requirements established by Mexico’s importation laws and our exportation laws. I told him that no live animals could be exported. He briefly meditated on that information, then thanked me profusely, turned his truck around and headed back into the interior of the United States. A short time later, an hour or so after the driver’s departure, the toll collector called me to come to the toll booth, saying that my attention was warranted.

And so it was—I found a truck loaded with six dead cows, animals that had been alive earlier. The driver had gone to a remote location several miles away from the port of entry, parked the truck, sliced the throats of each animal, waited patiently until most of the blood had drained from the truck and then returned to the port to legally export a half-dozen dead cows—dead as opposed to live.

Yes, I authorized the exportation—there was nothing in the Customs regulations that prohibited the exportation of dead cattle. Those dead animals, regardless of their physical condition, could not possibly contaminate cattle herds in Mexico so they posed no threat to that sovereign nation’s food supply, and given the present circumstances of this particular exportation I felt sure that the Mexican officials would allow the importation of dead cattle into their country.

Hey, before you condemn the three of us that contributed to the demise of those six head of cattle—the driver, the toll collector and I—just remember that the toll collector and I had were unwittingly involved—we were simply the victims of circumstances. Had the cattle been exported alive and frisky they would have died a few hours later anyway because crews at the slaughter house in Rio Bravo were waiting for the load, and would have done the same thing to the cattle that the driver did, perhaps using a more humane way to slaughter them, but I seriously doubt it.

I know it’s a sad story, lamentable and gross, but that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 
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Posted by on July 5, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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11th Street South and a gravel pit . . .

Eleventh Street South is where I lived for a couple of years that included my first year in elementary school. It was the second house we lived in following our migration from Vernon, Alabama to Columbus, Mississippi. That first house, located on Fifth Street South, has some vivid memories I intend to share with my visitors, memories that are just as fresh as when they were acquired. The house was where I and my youngest sister were administered to by our mother—medicated—when she became convinced that we both had or soon would have scabies—the itch. Click here for that story—it’s worth the visit!

I lived on Eleventh Street with my mother and three older sisters in a small frame house, a three-room shot-gun house, so called because it was said that one could fire a shotgun through the front door and the shot would go straight through the house and out the back door. The house boasted electricity and running water but had no bathroom. The necessary, a one-hole privy or outhouse, was located a few yards from the back door. Ours was the next-to-last on the block, and Fuqua’s Grocery was located at the other end of the block, a mercantile that figured prominently in our lives, especially mine—it’s a fit subject for a posting, and deserves individual attention. It’s mentioned in a previous posting, and among other things includes a discussion of my first job and my first firing—click here for that posting.

The last house was the residence wherein resided my best friend Tootie—his name was Edward Earl but he was nicknamed Tootie and for good reason—he had a predeliction for producing gas—flatulence—he would have been more aptly named Flatus—that has a nice Roman ring to it—a Latin lilt, so to speak. Tootie figures prominently in this posting and will be featured in a future story concerning a significant Saturday, a day when Tootie and I were privileged to ride in a city police car for a short distance and a day on which in current times would have warranted an Amber Alert.

Just as a harbinger of tales to come, Tootie once nailed the door to our privy shut—I’m unsure why, but the act was probably his revenge for something I had said or done. My mother had to borrow a hammer from a neighbor in order to pull the nails and put the family back in business.

Just as an aside, back in the 1980s while living in the Washington, D.C. area, I spotted an auto license plate that read FLATUS. I was traveling to my job in downtown D.C. with a friend and his wife. I laughed when I saw the plate and they asked me what was so funny. I told them and they both laughed, but after a short pause the wife said, “What does that mean?” Her husband unashamedly admitted that he didn’t know, so I had to explain. In their defense, I must tell you that they were from Minnesota, born and bred there—that should be adequate explanation for anyone that remembers Rose Nylund on  TV’s Golden Girls, portrayed by Betty White as a typical native of Minnesota.

The asphalt pavement ended at our house, and the two-lane gravel road continued straight for a short distance and then made a sharp left turn, almost ninety degrees, before continuing on into rural areas, outside city limits. If, instead of turning left, a driver or pedestrian continued straight on a two-rut road for a mile or so, they would come to a large gravel pit filled with water—cool, clear, blue and deep water, a magnet for the boys from a nearby orphanage, the Palmer Home—and for me. Click here for a brief history of the home. Over the years the orphanage has grown and is now known as the Palmer Home for Children. Click here for an update.

My mother often threatened to send me to the Palmer Home unless I changed my ways, specifically concerning my frequent trips to the gravel pit. I never told her that I would welcome the transfer because I envied the kids there. They had all sorts of animals—cows and horses and dogs and goats and a farm where they grew vegetables—they were allowed to feed the animals and milk the cows and work in the garden and had what appeared to be unrestricted access to the gravel pit—in fact, the gravel pit was on property owned by the Home.

For those unfamiliar with the term, gravel pits are created when material—gravel—for use in road building and construction, is mined in an open pit. Because the water table was high in my area, a grand swimming pool was formed—a pool of cool, clear, blue and deep water, a magnet for the boys that lived at Palmer Orphanage, and of course for me.

On a memorable day in a hot summer, memorable for the heat and the cooling effect of gravel pit water, but most memorable for me a day in which my mother came to the gravel pit looking for me and found me. I was blissfully floating around on my back in the middle of the pit, face upturned to the sun and eyes closed, and a clamor arose.  I looked around and watched my friends from the orphanage scramble for their clothes and head away from the pit towards the orphanage in considerable haste. And I saw my mother standing on the bank, my short pants in one hand and my leather belt in the other.

With the departure of the other boys the area grew silent, a silence broken only by my efforts to stay afloat and offshore as long as I could. After awhile my mother told me I might as well come on in because she wasn’t leaving without me. I stayed out in that cold clear deep water until my lips turned blue and everything I had shriveled up—you know, like fingertips, toes, etc. When I finally came out my mother refused to let me have my shorts, but instead pointed me in the direction of home and ordered me to march.

And march I did, driven on by frequent pops on my bare derierre. With each pop I accelerated my pace a bit, but each time my mother told me not to run, that it would be even worse when she caught me. The blows from the narrow belt were not delivered in anger—I would like to believe they were delivered with love, but with repetition they began to take a toll, much as does the fabled Chinese water torture process. She whipped me for the full mile, all the way to our house, along the two-rut road and into the middle of the street, past Tootie’s house where that worthy was standing on the front porch, laughing and pointing at me as I hopped, skipped and jumped along, and finally after an eternity, through the front door of our house.

No, that derierre above is not mine—that’s a plastic replica of Donatello’s sculpture of David. The colorful ones on the right are those of naked cyclists, presented here only because the colors are as fascinating as they are functional.

I learned a lesson that day, not to stay away from the gravel pit, but to be far more furtive—sneaky, so to speak—in planning my trips to the gravel pit. I couldn’t help it—it was in my nature—as a child I was a vagabond and probably would have been well served with around-the-clock supervision. Had I been a a few years older I would have been riding the rails with the multitude of others during the Great Depression.

As a child I was inexorably drawn to water in all its locations, whether pond, lake, creek, river, swimming pool, mud puddle or sewage ditch—yes, sewage ditch—our next home, also located on the south side of town, was adjacent to an open sewage ditch where I spent many blissful hours. Because of water’s attraction I had great difficulty staying at home, a trait—call it a fault if you will, but I consider it a trait—less admirable than others but nevertheless a trait rather than a fault. There will be additional postings in reference to my fascination with water in all its aspects. That’s a threat as well as a promise, so be forewarned and govern yourselves accordingly.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 
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Posted by on June 11, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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Bus driver, or cowboy . . .

Preamble: A preliminary statement, especially the introduction to a formal document that serves to explain its purpose.

A preamble is normally written before a document—I’m adding this preamble after I posted the document below. My daughter, the one that lives, loves and works in Northern Virginia, the one that I love best, but don’t tell the other two daughters I said that—tasked me with answering several questions concerning the person in this photo. In the interests of levity, I assumed the character of a criminal investigator in analyzing the photo in response to my daughter’s request. I identified her merely as a relative in Virginia, and she took umbrage—this addition to the posting is my attempt to correct my blunder.  And in the interests of full disclosure, I am not now, nor have I ever been, nor will I ever be a criminal investigator, not in Washington DC or any other location. I merely presented myself as such in order to bolster my analysis of the photo.

The photo is an accurate depiction of my mother’s youngest son—me—and virtually all of the information I posted is true. The only time I seriously strayed from the truth was the part about  studying photos from various high school yearbooks while working in the Washington DC area—I freely admit that it was a real whopper! However, that I worked in that area for three years is a true statement—so help me, you know Who.

Here is the original posting, unchanged. The only difference is the addition of the preamble above—my search for an antonym to preamble was fruitless. I suppose we could call it a postamblewe could run that term up the flagpole and see who salutes it!

I recently received this photo from a relative in Virginia, accompanied with a request for me to apply the training I received over many years in the field of law enforcement and answer as many of the questions below as I could, with the answers based on the expertise I acquired—expertise in the use of observational techniques and in the questioning routines I used in conversations with subjects suspected of various crimes.

These are the questions:

Tell me something about this fella—-where he was mentally and physically at this time…How old was he? What was he was thinking about? What aspirations did he have?  He looks so pensive and serious. What was he dreaming about?

It was an unusual request, but it posed a challenge for me. There are, of course, more visual and physical traits to be observed when faced with the actual suspect, but some definitive conclusions can be reached simply by studying a photograph.

This young man, for example, has an exceptionally well-formed head with an Adonis-like visage. Each feature—eyes, ears, nose, mouth, cheekbones and chin—are in perfect harmony with the other features. Any observer would view him as a handsome young lad, undoubtedly popular with the girls and envied by his male peers. That beautifully coiffed hair places the boy in the company of Narcissus, and at this age the lad undoubtedly spent lots of time looking into a mirror. Narcissus, of course, fell in love with a reflection in a pool, not realizing it was his own. The photograph reflects no doubt—this young fellow knows exactly what he sees in the mirror and he is well-pleased with the image, a pleasure bordering on self-adulation.

Whether this teenager ever enjoyed any significant contacts with the opposite sex based on his looks would be pure speculation, and an investigator never, ever speculates—any investigative conclusions must be based on demonstrable facts.

Some conclusions may instantly be made—the photo is that of a young boy, perhaps in his early to middle teen years—he is white, Anglo-Saxon, with perhaps a bit of the old Irish in him. His age is  somewhere between fourteen and fifteen years. He has a delightful sprinkling of freckles, indicating that most of his years have been spent in sunny southern climes in a state, or states, well below the Mason-Dixon line. The hair style is representative of those affected by youths in the middle to late 1940s. I believe this photo was taken in late 1946 or early in 1947.

The source of the photo can often be helpful. One can deduce that the photo is not the work of a professional portrait studio. If it were, it would show the company’s name and logo near the lower edge—Olan Mills, for example. By an unusual coincidence, I worked in the Washington, D.C. area for three years, and on an unrelated assignment I studied student photos in the yearbooks of  several schools in the DC area—although some 13 years have passed since the assignment, I still vividly remember the photos.

This photo, judging by the pose of the subject and the clarity of the portrait, matches very closely the attributes of yearbook photos taken of students at Suitland High School in the city of Suitland, Maryland—the photo in question was published in that school’s year book for the period cited.

An astute observer will instantly be drawn to the left eye—it’s ever so slightly squinted, caused by a deliberate but subtle lowering of the eye’s upper lid. No definite conclusions can be drawn from that squint, but  here are some possible causes:

It could be that the photographer is an attractive young female, and her subject is speculating on his chances of getting it on with her, a term similar with today’s term of making out. It could be that the photographer is a school staff member, one for which the subject has no particular fondness—the squint could be saying, “Don’t screw it up—either do it right, or don’t do it!”

That squint is, perhaps, in imitation of some Hollywood actor favored by the subject, and is thus used in such situations. I must confess that I use it, but infrequently, and I believe that one of my own three offspring also utilizes the squint as needed in certain situations.

This unusual and interesting habit of squinting one eye is sometimes reflected in a person or persons closely associated with the squinter—a brother or sister, or a relative of the squinter, perhaps a daughter or son—daughters and sons sometimes tend to imitate one or more habitual physical traits exhibited by their father.

That squinted left eye leaves me with the thought that this lad did, for one reason or another, not complete the current school year at this high school. He probably dropped out of class near the end of the second semester. His failure to complete the year may have been caused by having to relocate in a distant city, or because he converted his thoughts concerning the photographer into action, or perhaps he broke his leg while playing in an American Legion Little League baseball game, or for some other completely unrelated reason.

As for this lad’s aspirations for the future, that’s very difficult to discern. My best guess is that his aspirations at that time were similar to those of Jethro, of Beverly Hillbillies fame—Jethro vacillated between becoming a brain surgeon or a short-order cook.

I believe this lad, at this time in his life, vacillated between becoming an old-time cowboy, broad of shoulder and tall—yeah, good luck with that—and lean of hip, with steely gray eyes perpetually squinted from checking the horizon for Indians and badmen—either that, or a bus driver.

Of course I could be wrong.

 
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Posted by on February 19, 2010 in actor and acting, Humor, PHOTOGRAPHY, sports, Writing

 

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