Tuesday, July 22, 2014

No Coincidence at 16,000 Miles

Let me begin by saying that it was about fourteen years ago when I reversed my thinking about coincidences of the good sort.  Until then I'd believed that uncanny occurrences were simply the operation of mere chance, but it was in in 2002 when I saw unfold a number of unrelated events that came together to cause a transition in my life that could have been catastrophic but instead became glorious.

It was two years ago when again, a number of circumstances and events happened nearly concurrently in just the right order to enable me to be in a place where I was needed, but where I'd never have been able to be had not the events that coincided happened as they did.

I was a philosophy major in college and at that point in my life I enjoyed a good philosophical argument of just about any sort, but where I am now, I'm not out to win any battles or change any minds.  I know what I believe and will continue to believe it despite the protestations of those who might want to draw me into battles of words for which there are no endings nor winnings.

When I set out on my ride this morning to my cousin's dental office in Tunkhannock, it was without consciousness of my odometer's reading being under 100 miles under another 1,000 mile milestone, although sometime last week I had noticed that.  After my appointment I took the long way home along back roads and byways, deciding at various junctures which way I'd go without a plan in mind at all.  I was back in Kingston, in the hustle and bustle of city driving when I remembered that another milestone had been near last week.  I glanced at the odometer at that point and was stunned.  There was the 16,000 mile mark, including a zero in the tenths place!

You can call it mere chance, some subconscious mental operation, or whatever you'd like to account for my having arrived at 16,000.0 miles at exactly the precise second that I remembered that I'd been close to achieving it.  I see it as God's way of reminding me that He's in my life, not as a bystander, but as an active participant in it.  I see it as His saying, "Hello!" lest I ever become lax in knowing that He is always here, even in what would seem to be the small and insignificant moments.  I'd have been horribly disappointed if I'd discovered that I'd ridden past that milestone without being able to get the picture you see above.

The rest of the ride back from Tunkhannock...

I'm not sure why, but the parking situation was much better in Tunkhannock this morning than it had been last week.  I scored a space right on the end of the block where Chris's office is located.  It's a picturesque town along the Susquehanna River, nestled in what's known as the Endless Mountains section of northern Pennsylvania, and the name is derived from an Indian name of "Bend River Place."

If I had been in the very same place at the end of a school day, I'd never have lingered near a storefront to get a picture such as this of classic tin toys from days long past, but when the hours of a summer vacation day lead from only one relaxing minute to the next I take in as many visual delights as I can without hurrying to kick off my shoes and slow down from a long day of teaching.

A slow cruise along the side of the river is always something I want to do when I have the luxury of time to play with and the park in Tunkhannock between the railroad tracks and the course of the river itself makes for a scenic passing of the time.  It seems to me and others who've made the similar observation, that the greenery this year seems to be much more lush than in typical years.  We wonder if it's because there was so much snow this past winter.  Old timers would have us believe that lots of snow makes for wonderful subsequent growth of farm and garden crops.  If it's true, perhaps it works its magic on the "regular" greenery as well.

Something that makes my love of taking pictures such as this one so much easier, is the nimbleness of the scooter and its ability to do a U-turn quickly.  So many such photo opportunities are lost when I'm in the car only to drive by a scene that I'd like to capture in a photograph, but without an easy chance to reverse direction in sight.

A stop to have lunch gave me this view of the mountains in the distance.  From a good vantage point, I'd be able to see mountains such as these around me in all directions.  There were places on my way back from here where I'd wished I could capture some such pictures but with nowhere to pull the scooter over where I might safely shoot, they were lost except to my memory of them.  I was on long stretches of two lane roads with nothing but dirt and gravel at the shoulders.  I won't stop on such a shoulder for anything short of an absolute emergency lest my foot roll out on the gravel when I put it down.

I always enjoy the sight of a creek from above, and on roads in the Susquehanna River's watershed they're abundant.  I can lose myself in thoughts of water flowing down from the mountains as I can in pondering that God had no beginning in time.  There is something remarkably peaceful to me in watching water moving here in this part of Pennsylvania along its course toward the Chesapeake Bay and ultimately the Atlantic Ocean.

If given the chance to live somewhere like this where the next jug of milk or loaf of bread are miles away instead of a few blocks, I'd probably stay put right here where I can touch my next door neighbor's house from my own front porch, but I do envy the folks who make their homes in the country and are happy with being there.  That distance from "civilization" seems to me a thing that one must be born into in order to appreciate it fully.  I like it on vacation, but couldn't take a steady diet of it.

The little guy on the left came out of the barn to watch me watching him.  Curious animals nearly make me giggle with glee.  It was only a few years back when I learned that if one stops along a cow pasture, eventually every last cow will come over to gawk at the viewer who is watching them from the other side of the fence. Pigs do it too, much to my amusement.

I admire folks who live in the middle of nowhere and keep up their homes to fit in beautifully with their pure surroundings.  For every hovel I pass by while riding through the country, it seems that there is a property such as this which looks so cozy and inviting.

There's that sky again making it appear as if the road I'm on just drops off at its edge in the distance.  Surprisingly, on a ride around here coming to that spot in the distance often reveals the sight of another group of mountains stretching as far as the eye can see.

When I came around a bend and caught sight of this unfortunate fellow whose truck is firmly embedded in the pavement he was on the left, out of the frame of this picture, approaching the truck with the long board he's holding.  The guy motioned for me to pass, but I called out, "Go ahead!  I need to get a picture.  This is too cool!"  His grin was priceless.

And, here I am at those 16,000 miles which are nearly twice the perimeter of the continental United States.  Long before I'd ever thought about getting a scooter, I dreamed of someday going coast to coast in a motor home.  Now and then I dream of doing that on a scooter. Thank God dreams are easy!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

A Tough Decision

It was back in college when I was playing the accordion in a polka band that I believe I damaged my right knee.  I was trying to dance like an Eastern European who knows what he's doing, specifically the maneuver where one squats quickly, jumps from the squat while extending one leg, squats again and jumps extending the other leg, and then repeats the move a number of times.  Forty pounds of accordion didn't help the night I was dancing like that at a dumpy club in Nanticoke, PA and I heard something crunch in my knee and felt a stabbing pain.

It was my senior year, a few months before finals when I went to an orthopedic surgeon who summarily told me that I had torn cartilage and that the knee needed surgery.  Against his advice to have it corrected immediately I waited because finals were coming up in another month or so and I didn't want to miss classes.  I figured that after exams I'd get it fixed, but by then the pain had gone away, and being the guy I am, I avoided that return trip to the doctor.  Gradually, through the years, and insidiously, the damage apparently worsened.  Maybe ten years ago or so the knee started hurting again, and the pain and resulting limp have only been getting worse as the years have been steadily marching on.

Severe osteoarthritis was the diagnosis when I gave in
 to the caterwaulings of loved ones who clamored for
me to get the old knee checked out again.

I got a handicap parking plate for the Impala some months ago because the pain and its resulting limp had gotten truly debilitating, and it was shortly after that when I finally caved in to the annoying pleas of those who love me to have the knee looked at again by an orthopedic surgeon.  The good news is that it won't need to be replaced yet, though I'm walking now and then with a cane or using a shopping cart as a walker, and at times avoiding going out all together when the pain is pronounced.

I was a little surprised when I filled out the application for the plate for the car to see that one could get a handicap plate for a motorcycle.  Although I could see that being handicapped and a bike rider weren't mutually exclusive, I wasn't certain that the powers that be in Harrisburg would see it that way.  I thought I remembered Dr. House on HOUSE M.D. parking his bike in a handicap space, but then again, his character might not have cared if he was legally parked.

During the summers, especially, and whenever the weather allows, I use the scooter for local and semi-local errands, but there were times when I'd take the car simply to enjoy being able to park closer to the entrance of wherever I needed or wanted to be.  I had a problem with applying for a handicap plate for the Piaggio, namely that the plate that was on it was a vanity plate gotten for me by my younger daughter, and on it were letters that had special meaning for her and me.

Now, the few of you who know me personally know that I have a quite warped sense of humor, and it would come as no surprise to you that the letters on my plate referred to a nickname my daughters coined for me after I told them about a gut bursting comedy sketch I watched late one night on cable that made fun of a kid who couldn't read.  Well, not one kid in particular, but that one kid in everybody's class who couldn't read the most basic sentences without sounding out syllables awkwardly, even at age 17 and in the seventh grade.  The kid in the sketch reads "bear" as "Bee-Are" and my girls started calling me that because I was their big teddy bear of a daddy.  Not "bear."  They called me, "Bee-Are."  It was some phonetic variation of that which my baby had put on the vanity plate she got me in 2008, and it was because it was a very special gift from her that I was reluctant to replace it.

Funny on another level, is that my Grandma
occasionally called me "Bruno" endearingly.

Well, it was a few weeks ago, after the first orthopod had me visit another who specializes in replacements of deformed joints, that I broke down and decided to get the handicap plate for the scooter.  It was only after much gut wrenching indecision and some tears on my part that I made the decision, and then after I turned in the application I had pangs of remorse and regret with which to contend.  I didn't want my daughter to be hurt by my choice because the plate she got for me means so much, but I was tired of walking like my Dad did before his knee replacements with that extra distance to trudge through parking lots whenever I took the scooter shopping or to keep appointments.  I'd timed turning in the application with the start of my second summer trip so I wouldn't have to think about it while I was away.  The nice lady at AAA told me that it would take about three weeks for the plate to arrive, so I left town more or less forgetting about the whole thing.

When I got back yesterday there was a message on the answering machine.  I'd assumed it was my dentist's office confirming my appointment for today, but it was AAA letting me know that my handicap plate for the Piaggio had arrived.  I ran up to their office to pick it up, but when I got it back to the house I was in no hurry to swap it out for the precious plate that was already on the bike.  I hemmed and I hawed, and then I hemmed some more.  The plate sat on my desk in its envelope until it was almost too dark to make the change, but with a heavy sigh I took off the old one and put on the new.

It wasn't until an hour or two later that I got up the nerve to call my daughter and tell her that I'd retired the plate she'd given me, and it was through tears that I told her what I'd done.  "Dad!" she admonished me through a knowing chuckle, "There's no need to cry over a license plate."  In my head I knew that, but other parts of me felt as if I were burying a member of the family.  Although technically I think I'm supposed to destroy it, that vanity plate will be one of the things I'll take to the nursing home with me when it's time.  It will remind me forever of one of my finest achievements in this lifetime, that of being a Daddy - a Daddy who was a big, sweet, cuddly bee-are to his girls.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Shoe Factory

I got up this morning at 6:20 because I needed to make a call at 6:30.  Unfortunately, once I'm up with the alarm there's no going back to sleep for me, no matter how tired I might still feel, so here I sat before 7 thinking about what I might do with the day.

It's one of those alone at the house days, as most of my summer days are now that the girls are grown and gone.  Having had only one car during most of their growing up years, and me NOT having it during the daytime hours most days (and this having been in the pre scooter years) the kids and I didn't really go anywhere most summer vacation days anyway except to the few places worth the walk.  Luckily, the girls were were fairly self sufficient though not friends with each other by any stretch of the imagination.  The only thing that's different now is that I don't have to put on the striped shirt and whistle every morning in order to referee their squabbles, and I don't need to serve lunch except to myself.

I figured I was due for a blog entry, but the think tank on my shoulders was bone dry.  I opted to take one of my typical nowhere in particular rides to see if anything would pop into my consciousness that could be worth a few words.  I got more than I had bargained for...

I was only a few blocks from the house when I passed by the street on which is the building which housed the shoe factory I worked in for a whole summer during high school and a solitary week during college.  The uncle who was like a big brother to me worked there for most of his life, and I'll never understand how he could stand it.

I did grunt work the year I worked there in high school.  I moved boxes from the end of the assembly line into their appropriate piles for delivery and then moved them again onto the trucks when they'd arrive.  I mixed huge boxes of rubber pellets to be molded into the soles of the lower end sneakers and slippers they produced there.  And I did whatever junky things the boss could find for me to do.

The former "Carter Rubber" factory on Darling St. in Wilkes-Barre

I remember this week, the Fourth of July week, that summer.  The whole plant shut down for the week.  Except for the boss, a couple of other kids, and me who came in every day except for the 4th itself.  We did special crap work then, like clean out the insides of sticky glue machines with some kind of solvent that make my knees weak and gave me a headache.  I distinctly remember being overjoyed that I wasn't picked to clean the alleyway around the back of the building in which it was reported that there were veritable thriving plantations' worth of poison ivy.  I didn't even want to think about the spiders.  That might have been the only summer of my life during which I looked forward to the start of school.

I also remember, as if I could forget it, a quite humbling experience that I scored on a day when I was sent outside to mow the strip of grass between the sidewalk of the factory and the street. Of course for extra good measure the mower kept stalling and I had to keep restarting it every few minutes.  There I was, fighting with the mower and cutting what grass I could between restarts when a monstrous gas wave hit me square in the gut.  It was the kind where you pray that you'll make it to the bathroom, and then again when you get there that there will come a moment when you will think it might be safe to leave.  I killed the gas engine on the mower though the one inside me was going full throttle, and bolted into the building through the main doors.  Luckily there was a bathroom right there and I made it!

The grass I had to cut a few times that summer

It was after I came out, my thanks to the Almighty still on my lips for having gotten there in first place, when I was cut down at the knees.  There was the plant superintendent waiting to tell me that the bathroom I'd just used was for him and the other bosses.  I was supposed to be using the one for the peons in the back that had a trench urinal and stalls that I don't think even had doors on them.  There has never been a moment since in my entire life, nor before that one that I can recall, in which I was made to feel what prejudice must feel like.  What the caste system in India that I'd read about in school must feel like.  What being stomped on simply for not being "good enough" for something must feel like.

Eventually all of Carter's manufacturing jobs went
overseas, but the portals to the hellish nightmare of
its existence remain.

Riding by that rotten old shoe factory also reminded me of a day on which I kind of did the same thing to somebody else.

During the summer in college when I went back there to work, as I mentioned, I only lasted a week before I quit outright.  I believe it was between my freshman and sophomore years.  The jerk who admonished me for using his precious bathroom hired me on that year, I think, only as a favor to my uncle.  I distinctly remember him introducing me derisively to the new "lifers" who had hired on after my prior stint in shoe factory hell with, "This is Joe.  He's a college boy with us for the summer."  All the zombie like regulars heard was that "college boy" and he might as well have had said, "This is Joe, and he has leprosy" for the warmth with which I was welcomed into their midst.

He had me doing the same basic things I'd done four summers before, but as each of the five days passed before I quit, my spirit sank lower than it had ever been in my 20 or so years on the planet.  God forgive me, but I was feeling the exact opposite of what I had felt that day I came out of the toilet to be told that I wasn't good enough to use it.  I was feeling that I was far better a person than to be reduced to doing the crap kind of manual labor I was doing.  And worse, I felt that I was far better a person than to have to work with such low-lifes, ne'er-do-wells, and losers who would have been lucky to have scored a high school diploma before selling their souls to the shoe factory.

It was during that week when I sat by a table in the break area alone to have the sandwich my Mom had packed for lunch when I was approached by a girl from an adjacent table where she'd been sitting with two other girls.  She asked me if I'd like to move to their table, and, again, God forgive me, I declined her offer.  I have never revisited that memory without feeling like an absolute idiot because even though I said, "No, thank you," politely I can't imagine that my scorn for that young lady and her friends wasn't written all over my face like some kind of billboard.  How dare I think that I was better than she and her friends?  How dare I now be the one saying, "You're not good enough to share MY space," with another person, especially with a person who was likely reaching out to do me a kind act and to be a friend?  It's hard to forgive myself sometimes when I think back on stuff like this that I've done, but I'm grateful that there is Someone who forgives us all no matter what and no matter how often we come to Him and say, "I'm sorry.  I did it again."

I'm still no huge fan of manual labor and look for a way to get out of it anytime it comes near me, but I'm not stupid enough to think that I'm somehow better than the folks who do it for a living.