Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Just Another Summer Ride

I set out at about 10:30 this morning with a route in mind after inventing yet another rigged scooter modification.  This one's a clear plastic pouch suspended between the mirror mounts and it's sturdy enough to hold the cell phone, GPS, and iPod Touch.  While the displays aren't worth much in full sunlight, the sounds of the phone ringing or the GPS shouting instructions are sufficiently audible even at a decent throttle.  For where I was heading I'd be needing the GPS just in case.

The first leg of the trip took me to the butt end of Scranton where I had to stop to return a few calls.  While the phone auto-answers with the headset on, I don't do a full conversation on the kinds of roads I was traveling along.  While I was stopped my stomach growled like a lion so I checked out the various restaurants nearby.  After a quick survey and calculation of the cheapness factor I decided on some pizza at a place with a Vegas theme.  It was very good stuff and I regretted that it's not closer to my end of the valley.  I figured this might be as close as I'll ever get to Las Vegas so a picture was in order.

Country roads often lead to golf courses out here and it was no surprise to find one on "Country Club Road." The sprinklers made for a good shot so I doubled back to get a snap as I'd been rolling too fast to make a stop the first time by.

Not far from there I came upon a scene that reminded me of an illustration I remember from my third grade geography class when I was about 8 years old.  There was something about that print in the book that called to me and I can still see the original scene in my mind's eye in spite of a generally lousy visual memory.  So help me, if I ever inherit untold wealth first I'll get me some minions and send them to research and find a copy of the book with that scene.  Then I'll dispatch them to all corners of the globe to find a place that best approximates the view in the picture so that I might build a home there.

This shot isn't true to that view, but the general slope down and then up on the other side reminds me of it in a sufficiently pleasurable way.

The descent down the side of the mountain brought me to familiar turf with railroad tracks to my right and the rocky face of the mountain itself on the left.  They'd paved the road since I traveled it last, last summer, and gone were the big chunks of warped pavement over which I used to roll very hesitantly while praying that some speed demon wouldn't come up behind me while I was taking baby steps.

I don't slow down in the twisties these days as I used to almost as if by instinct.  I can generally keep my pace with the posted speed limit (or better) now, whereas even in the spring I was still rolling back off the throttle automatically before entering a curve.  After three years of riding it was time to break that bad habit so for the past few weeks I worked at it remembering especially the sage advice of the Marty, the safety course instructor, when he preached to us that the bike goes where your eyes are leading it.  It really does!  And it's kind of fun to do that steeper lean than I'd been doing all along while navigating a sweet curve or twist.

The last part of the trip brought me to this idyllic setting along the bank of the Susquehanna.  Railroad tracks, a river that doesn't look dirty in the picture, and a cool bridge - why, it's as pretty as a picture!  

My days of riding are numbered now that I put the countdown to the first day of school into the iPod.  There are 33 of them left.  Oh, yes, I'll ride long past that inaugural day of the new school year, but gone will be this totally unique sense of freedom I feel when I know that I don't have to put on that tie and long slacks tomorrow and the next day and the next.  I'll savor these days and this feeling.  And I'll take a lot of pictures over which to reminisce to get me through the winter days when the scooter's grounded under the deck by ice, snow, and maybe a touch (or a whole helping) of seasonal affective disorder.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Goodbye, Old Friend!

Sitting on the curb in the official city garbage bag destined for pick-up tomorrow morning is a friend of many years who just this morning gave up the ghost. With a romantic nature that's often as much of a curse as a treasure, I anthropomorphize way too much and no less so in this case than any. Out there waiting to spend eternity in a landfill is "Ham" - the faithful (until overnight sometime) Hamilton Beach coffee maker who brewed that necessary wake-up call every morning for years, only to leave me javaless this very morning.

Ham's service was long and true. He made my cup of joe on the morning that my little girl got married, just as on so many other days, some forever to be remembered as the best days of my life, others which I still can't forget but would love to, and the great many in between that I don't even remember.

For the record, I did take him apart and peer inside where I found no parts I'd be able to fix with a little spit and paper clips. And I did take in the distinct smell of some burnt electronic part, probably on the circuit board which was his brain. Yep. Brain death. The final curtain.

Tonight, with Ham still sitting curbside in his blue bag I'll be off looking for his replacement and will likely bring it back with me, tossing old Ham the further indignity of seeing the new guy's arrival. There will be no crowning of the new by the old. No retirement packages nor sign-on bonuses. No playing of taps nor of anything joyful by way of celebration. Yet, it feels like there should be some sort of noble send-off for the old pot whose regular service always made morning feel like it should even when it came way too early.

On the brighter side of things I finally discovered how to make crispy chicken wings. Past attempts always left me with something rubbery and greasy to which the hot sauce would not cling evenly.

Coat a bunch of wing pieces with peanut oil.
Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and onion and garlic powders.
Bake at 400 for an hour in a shallow baking pan. Don't turn.
Grill on a medium flame till crispy, turning once.

HOT Wing Sauce
Start with maybe a cup of Louisiana Hot Sauce.
Cut bunches of hot peppers of many varieties into the pot.
Simmer on low for a long time to evaporate most of the water.
When they're soft, mash the peppers up with a potato masher.

If you're brave, slather the whole mess onto the wings and enjoy. If you're less than brave, push the mixture through a sieve and dip the wings in only the mush that comes through.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Easier to See on a Bike

There are certain things that by virtue of their simple position in the universe are much easier to spot when you're out on two wheels than on four or more.  One, for example - the elusive flat squirrel which is all too easily camouflaged against the pavement when you're traveling at a moderate speed and there's a full hood blocking your line of sight to the shoulder of the road.

Another example can be found in just about any sky because there's no roof over your head to obscure the full effect of what the heavens have to offer at any particular moment.  I was much more mindful of this when I first started riding the scooter and realized that I didn't have only the panorama before me that could be seen through a relatively small rectangle.  I can't claim always to appreciate the amazing view above when I'm on the scooter, but when I'm conscious of it I'm always thankful for the opportunity to savor it as I couldn't in the car.

Finally, there's that view of one's own soul that's uniquely visible when you're out on a cycle.  Sometimes it's a joyful sight.  Sometimes it's as ugly as sin.  But it's stark in being utterly without pretense.  Somehow when you're rolling along on two wheels and you're pondering the significance of your existence and evaluating choices you've made, you find it impossible to lie to yourself.  Though it's scary, it's also refreshing and relieving to confront yourself in all honesty.  Therapy?  Confession?  Exorcism?  Sometimes, all it takes is a good ride.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Highway Tax Dollars at Work

Hats off to the genius who decided that the sinks, urinals, and toilets in select Pennsylvania rest areas need to be given "names" as it were. Here's our trusty buddy Men's Urinal #3 waving hello with his single silver finger.

And good ol' sink #5 lends his mirror to the production of this jazzy shot of yours truly.

Our governor keeps appealing to the Fed to allow Pennsylvania to make I-80 into a toll road and here we have an apparent surplus of highway funds which allows somebody to earn a living in part by stenciling identifying numbers onto walls above porcelain fixtures. My only guess is that this would allow some plumber, who is barely literate to find the crapper that needs to be fixed. I'm not sure why he wouldn't be able to find it, for example, by looking for the long puddle easing its way to the floor drain, or listening for the one that won't stop flushing. Nope. He'd need to be told, "Go in and fix MT2." I suppose this is to spare us from paying to fix the toilet that isn't broken?

I'd truly like the name of the person who decided that these numbers need to be painted so I can personally thank him for his brilliance. I'll bet he's a good buddy of the same guy who decides that 20 miles of highway need to have barrels blocking a lane so work can be done on 30 feet of the actual roadway.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Requiem æternam

The phone woke me at 7:42 this morning and I learned of the passing of one of the truest gentlemen it had ever been my pleasure to know. This was his "throne" at home and I took this picture of his empty chair only a week ago, after I visited him at the hospital for the very last time, said my goodbye, and kissed him tenderly.

When I first came to Bill's home two years ago as a house guest I was a total stranger to him. By the time I was leaving he asked when I'd be coming back and told me that I was always welcome, and each time I visited after that he'd ask the same question and extend the very same graciousness.

I lost my first hero, my grandfather, a few days before I turned 12. In many ways, 35 years later, knowing Bill was a little like having him back with me for a while.

Bill was a lawyer and until he was stricken ill two months ago he was still going to the office every day at age 86 with as much of a spring in his step as he could muster. And, oh! Could he tell a story! When he amused us with tales from his past we never knew when the line between reality and bull was crossed and the trained twinkle in his lawyer's eyes never gave him away. It didn't matter if the stories had actually played out as he told them, because it wasn't the words themselves that mattered, but simply that we listened.

In some ways my life is going to change hugely in that after he is laid to rest and his estate is settled I'll never again be a guest in the magnificent home it had been my great pleasure to visit. But more than that, I won't hear ever again about how he once dated the Queen of England, or bailed from a plane without a parachute. I won't again get to deliver to him his morning cup of coffee or help him to put on his shoes on his way out the door to work. I won't get to hear him ever again ask, "What do you know, Joe?" for me to come back with, "I don't know nothing about nothing."

As John Donne knew so well, the passage of any man from this life into the next diminishes those of us who are left behind. I will miss Bill terribly even as I hope his reunion with his beloved wife this morning was one of the most joyful occasions heaven has seen in a while.

May the angels lead you into paradise;
may the martyrs come to welcome you
and take you into the holy city, the new and eternal Jerusalem.
May choirs of angels welcome you
and lead you to the bosom of Abraham;
and where Lazarus is poor no longer may you find eternal rest.

Rest in peace, Bill, and thank you for being a highlight of my life whom I'll never forget.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

With Love as Always

I wrote a few days ago about taking pictures and later figuring out why I took them.  Not so today when I came upon this truck and had to double back to where it was being unloaded to get this shot...

BIMBO!  I laughed audibly when I saw that emblazoned on the side of the truck.  In my first year in the classroom I was warned by the guy who ultimately gave the thumbs up on my hiring that there were a lot of bimbos in the class I'd be teaching.  He meant it, I'm sure, affectionately.  The girls in that class will be turning 40 within a year and have long outgrown their bimboish ways of wearing make-up like war paint and acting less smart than they actually were, but any time I hear or see "bimbo" I think of them - "with love as always" which is how the other words on the side of the truck translate.  It was the gentleman who was unloading the truck who snapped the picture with a chuckle for me at my request.  

Another shot was this simple reflection of me on the scooter in the side curve of a car next to which I'd parked to make a call.  It just looked kind of neat.

Mocanaqua, Pennsylvania, the turn-around point of today's ride found me beside the same railroad tracks that run right behind my house and connect Canada to many points south on the east coast.

And although I didn't happen to catch the roll over on the odometer, I crossed the 9,000 mile mark on the BV!  It's going to be fun to add that next digit, hopefully by the end of the summer if the weather cooperates!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Going Where?

If you've been here more than once, you know that I like pictures.  All kinds of pictures.  I take some every day though they're more often of the mundane variety than of the profound.  I have no real reason to take most of the photos I shoot.  I take them because with digital equipment it doesn't cost as much as traditional photography once you get past the initial outlay.  I'd think that most folks shoot pictures because there's something in their heads which would explain why they're shooting what they are.  With me, it's often different.  I shoot.  And I shoot some more.  Later, here at the computer, sometimes I get a notion of what it was about a scene that spoke to me in the first place and which led me to make a snapshot of it.  More often than not, the pictures simply get filed, usually as "scooter,"  "people," or "misc" until I fill the picture directory with enough bytes to burn another CD or DVD of them.  I burn the disc and archive them all to an external hard drive, and often in the evening, especially in the winter when I'm house bound I'll go through some of them in random fashion and remember the times of my life, most of them, like most of all of ours fairly ordinary.

About a second after I took this shot I realized what it was that compelled me to park the BV right there and capture it.  That long view down the top of the dike made me think wistfully about where I am, and where I might have been if I'd taken roads long ago that I rode past.  I'm in that stage of life where one can't help but ponder what might have been if other choices had been made, other pursuits had been followed, other dreams had been dreamed.  I look at my mom and dad in their golden years and wonder if they've felt like this for the past twenty-five or so years, and wonder too, if they did, how they managed to get up day after day to face a new morning.

Change is in the air.  Major change.  I have a lot of wrestling of self to do.  I only half joked as an undergrad that I chose psychology as my first major in order to figure myself out.  It was 30 years ago back in May when I walked across the stage to get my degree and I'm really no closer to knowing myself now than I was then.  I need to back up.  I need to take some roads I was afraid to take as a kid.  

Doing that in life is a lot like doing it on a scooter.  There's no reverse gear.  The only way to back up a long distance is to turn around - to put your back to where you were headed and your face to where you'd gone before till you find where you sort of left yourself on the side of the road.  It's not quite time to turn the bike around prudently, but the time is coming and in the mean time I'm gearing up to do that one-eighty.

My time off from school will continue for a few more weeks, but because of various issues my "vacation" is essentially over.  The dirty side of being grown up and responsible is about to bite me in the butt.  When all that dust settles it will be time for me to take stock and do what I need to do so I won't spend the next chapter in my life thinking about what might have been while I still have the power to make a difference to myself.  Who knows?  I might even trade in the scooter for a motorcycle at some point.  

Sunday, July 11, 2010


I'll take a milestone anywhere I can find one, in this case with five of a kind showing on the old odometer.

I was about a mile and a half away from rolling over onto this display when I noticed the odometer so I calculated the next minute or so of riding in order to pull into a safe spot to get the picture. As it turned out I found a parking lot just as 6/10 was showing and after a spin around its perimeter and a bit of a coast into a space the eights were all lined up and ready to say cheese.


The diameter of the earth is roughly 7900 miles.

It's 8080 miles from New York, NY to Bethlehem, South Africa - as the crow flies.

Yeah, I've gone quite a way, though never much farther out than about 50 miles from the house.

Today's Sunday afternoon ride rolled me to where I took the motorcycle safety course to get the motorcycle endorsement on my driver's license two years ago. There was my instructor, Marty, still at it. With a hearty chuckle, a rich spirit, and a face that combines an amiable grin with twinkling eyes he was going as strong as ever. When I think about how many great weekend rides he's given up to conduct the classes from spring through autumn - there's one of the good guys!

I was thrilled to see a scooter in the mix of riders going through the paces. That bike looks an awful lot like mine, but I'm kind of a scooter racist; they all look the same to me some days. I didn't stay to watch the riders do their qualifying runs for their endorsements, but I hope this young lady scored hers easily.

If the slugs stay away it should be a great year for my hot peppers in the garden. I have nine different varieties planted - one of each kind that the farmer was selling the day I got them. I went nuts and got 72 plants to take advantage of the discount on a dozen flats of six plants each. If only I had counted instead of being lured into that bulk purchase mentality, but they won't go to waste.

When the peppers start to ripen I'll pluck them and dehydrate them for future use in Joe's not so famous but very hot and delicious wing sauce. My best moment with said sauce was when my friend Lou visited and was looking forward to some hot wings. He took one bite of his first wing slathered with my sauce and screamed, "This is crazy! How do you eat this?"

"I thought you like hot wings," I replied as Lou ran for the sink with the illusion that water might somehow quench the burn.

"Yeah! But not like THIS!" he exclaimed while gulping a huge glass of water and refilling.

I can eat the stuff with a spoon - as long as I have the day off the next day to tend to the cramps which are SO worth it!

Happy riding, and eating, and everything else that's good!

Saturday, July 10, 2010


I would prefer that all my scooter pictures have me in them, but it's often a pain to set up a tripod or otherwise mount the camera to get an interesting shot. Admittedly, too, I'm a bit self conscious about obviously taking my own picture beside or on the BV in moderately traveled areas. Folks who don't dwell of scooters sufficiently to write blogs about them just wouldn't understand the brand of dorkiness required to shoot one's self portrait with one. So it is that many times I just point and shoot while I'm off the bike. Now and then I get lucky...

I know this shot makes some kind of statement. I just don't know what it is.

It's a place to which I travel often simply because it's either empty and peaceful or uplifting in being full of family types involved in soccer or baseball games.

It's a place in which I often find myself when I'm in emotional turmoil without anyone who'd understand with whom to talk things over or from whom to seek advice.

It's a place that fills me with something good when I arrive empty of such things.

The picture summarizes the goodness of the place to me, but I don't know if it communicates any of it to you. I'll have to hope that it does.

My elder daughter, from my example, is as much a shutter-bug as her old man. It was she who did the research that led me to get the DSLR that has become the best camera in my arsenal - research she was doing while contemplating her first purchase of a "really good" camera.

A few weeks ago she called and asked if I'd make the hour or so drive to her town to be with her when she purchased her final choice. I was delighted to drive down. After all, she was there when I got mine to cheer me on and share in my delight.

I was more delighted when the very first picture she shot with it was of me.

She's out of college a few years now which is very strange because in my own mind I'm not much older than she is. She's married and on her own with her new husband. I liked being her daddy most of the time while she was growing up. It's even better, though, being her friend and having her as that somebody with whom I can share my best pictures knowing that she'll respond gleefully.

Now, if only I could get her on the back of the scooter like her sister!

Her camera of choice - the Olympus PEN. You might have seen the commercials for the PEN shot with PENS themselves. It's an impressive piece of equipment and it's fun to look at too!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Keeping an Eye Out

Wilkes-Barre City has never, in my humble opinion, done anything great in my lifetime.  The latest boondoggle - surveillance cameras all over the city and people who are paid to watch their live feeds.  I don't really care whether big brother is watching or not; I'm not out there doing anything about which I need to worry.

The claim is that the cameras will enable the police to (insert specific wish for the police to do their jobs here).  For every police car on patrol there's another one sitting in a lot near Wilkes-Barre Blvd. or across the street from Abe's Hot Dogs on South Main Street.  Skip the cameras and demand a visible presence and reasonable response time from the police.

The city opened its new intermodal center this morning.  Sorry for being a stick in the mud, but to me "intermodal" suggests something much more grand than a place for buses to board and discharge passengers.  Get some light rail into the city that might take passengers to interesting places that are worth visiting and we'll discuss the nomenclature.  A bus stop given a pretentious name is still just a bus stop and I'm sure the old ladies who ride the county buses up and down the line to visit their cronies aren't going to call it "the intermodal center" no matter what the signs say.

The bank next door, however, has a cool camera in place next to the drive-up teller windows.  There I am on the monitor perched on the scooter and taking my own picture.

A short hop across the border took me into Wilkes-Barre Township where all the real action is.  The mall and that strip that every medium city and bigger has with their Applebees, WalMarts, every cell phone carrier in the country, and other chains aren't in the city but in the adjacent township.  

Look at that pretty scooter frolicking under the sprinklers at Cracker Barrel!  On a hot day like today, it's just what every little scooter needs.

Monday, July 5, 2010

When "I'm Sorry" Isn't

I was at the hospital this morning waiting for somebody to undergo a test and rather than "wasting" the good book I brought with me by reading it in that smelly, clinical setting I decided to peruse some of the magazines laid out in the waiting area by the kind souls who supply them because the corporation that owns the hospital is too cheap even to offer something other than their own propaganda brochures or advertising materials to occupy the poor souls who are there waiting and worrying.  It was in a large print version of the Reader's Digest in which I found an article written about a tangent of political correctness.  The author suggested that we've been trained (by the liberals) to accept more or less automatically any apology tossed in our directions for any or all transgressions committed against us.  He suggested that sometimes there's healing to be had in holding a grudge.  I don't necessarily agree with his thesis, but I have had it with the insincere apology that really isn't one in the first place.

Most guilty of these worthless, most insincere forms of apologies that don't really count as apologies at all are the proprietors of businesses whose policies are in place for their own convenience and protection.  A sign, for example that says, "We cannot accept checks.  We're sorry for any inconvenience," is both a lie and a false apology.  They certainly CAN accept checks; they simply refuse to because they don't want to get burned.  But, here's the kicker.  You can't say you're sorry for something that you can change but refuse to change.  If you were truly sorry, you wouldn't cause the inconvenience!  I'd rather read the honest, "We do not accept checks."

Here's where the article I read in the hospital comes into play, in a sense, though.  When we as the consuming public read one of those "Sorry for the inconvenience," signs we're inclined simply to think, "Oh, that's okay," and reach for another form of payment as we tuck the the checkbook away.  We should not be so quick as to accept those false apologies because they're not honest.  If you're "apologizing" for something you're doing that causes me grief, and you're truly sorry, then stop doing it.  Or, at the very least, stop lying to me and making as if you don't have any control over it when it's your choice to inconvenience me!

Any good Catholic who does some time in the box (confessional) knows that you can't confess a sin that you haven't yet committed.  Likewise you can't apologize for an ongoing policy that makes life harder for the people who give you their hard earned money for the junk or services you sell. If you're sorry, then you're wrong - and if you're wrong, knock it off!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Happy 4th of July!

A few days ago I adapted yet another camera mount for the BV, not to try to get moving video while riding (because I discovered that it's quite boring to watch a ride after the fact) but simply to get the shots I enjoy taking to post here.  It's a small mount that came with some long broken and gone surveillance camera and I bolted it to the "driver's side" of the crate that sits on the back of the scooter.

Screwing the camera onto the stubby 1/4 inch threaded bolt takes only a few seconds and I'm ready to shoot - with the timer of course if I want to get my own mug into the shot as I typically do.

I'd been through the small hamlet where I found this bridge over a large creek hundreds of times before, but only this morning did I discover the bridge and pause to take the first picture using the new camera mount.

I rather enjoyed the spot and tarried a while to make a friendly phone call while the water below gurgled merrily on its way downstream.  While setting up the tripod on the other side of the roadway to get the following shot I realized that another mount - one with a strong magnet - would have been perfect to attach the camera to the bridge's girder.  After that I kept thinking about how I might make some kind of mount that could attach to just about anything.  I saw an expensive piece of plastic pipe with a couple straps of Velcro at the camera store last week and realized that I could adapt something like it myself for whole lot less money.  I'd get carried away, though, because I'd try to think of all possibilities.  For example, a short length of hook and loop fastening tape isn't going to wrap around the trunk of a good sized oak.  Elastic with hooks?  A long stretch of rope?  DUCT TAPE!

Okay, so the brown water itself wasn't so pretty.  All I could think of is that it must run through part of one of the old coal mines.  Could that be, though?  Wouldn't some state or federal agency in charge of wasting our taxes on the environment have already done something to stop this brown sludge from making its way to the Susquehanna, then the Chesapeake, and ultimately the Atlantic Ocean?

Speaking of those wonderful governmental powers that be, a Happy 4th of July to all of us here in the U.S.A.!  This appropriately decorated building is just around a few corners from the bridge and while I didn't head in its direction to get this picture today, that's where I found myself ready to take advantage of the opportunity to sneak in the patriotic theme.