Tuesday, May 26, 2009
I spent a quiet holiday evening at Coyote Joe's -- my favorite hangout and the only Adult Daycare Center in existence that I know of. I had a good meal, but kept my visit short, after watching the NASCAR race end early, due to (what else?) rain, of course. They had run a little more than half the race at that point, so they declared the leading car at the time to be the winner and everyone went back to the house, to get ready for the next race, next Sunday. After that, I had a little conversation, on and off, with a few friends, and then headed out, back to the Dawg House, to get ready for the busy day I'll have today. On the way home, I stopped to get some sodas and an ice cream cone and got to the place at the same time that Mom Nature decided to act bitchy again and dump a thunderstorm on our heads.
I sat in my pick-em-up truck for maybe ten minutes, before it let up enough so that I just had to wade to make it to the door and not swim for dear life. You cannot move far, very fast, with the lung disorder I have; ten yards at top speed and you'll be gasping for breath. You quickly learn to pace yourself, so that you're not totally winded by the time you get into the place. So, it's pretty slow going and, naturally, you can get pretty wet in the process. Let's just say I got well-dampened before I made the front door of the gas station/C-store where I stopped. I got what I wanted quickly, then back outside and made my way as quickly as I could to the front door of the Baskin-Robbins ice cream store that's next door to that particular Pilot. Another day, another Pilot -- that corporation is headquartered in K-Town and they pretty much dominate the motor fuel business around here. And they have some state-of-the-art C-Stores, to boot. But enough about that -- Baskin-Robbins was calling me.
Baskin-Robbins Ice Cream -- ah, yes. One small tidbit of my youth that I've never quite outgrown. They say everyone has an inner child that we need to indulge from time-to-time and B-R allows me to indulge mine, now and again. Simple pleasures and still the best danged ice cream money can buy, as far as I'm concerned! I waited patiently in line and treated myself to a double cone of my favorite flavor -- Nutty Coconut. Still raining outside, lightning flashing in the distance, so I sat down at a table and devoured my frozen holiday treat. One cold, creamy bite, two, three, and -- ahhhhhhhh! My taste buds were overjoyed, savoring every nibble. Crunch! went the many nuts, buried in the ice cream, as I chewed and licked my way through the two massive scoops on my cone. For the next few minutes, I was in a Heaven on earth
Ice cream melts fast, especially in summer weather, thus forcing you to focus on your treat and eat it quickly. Nothing sucks more than watching one of the scoops you paid for and savor so much melt and fall off in the floor when you lick it. So, you do what you have to do, to avoid having that aggravating experience. Anybody remember what ice cream does to you when you eat it too fast and it freezes the sinuses in your face?? Ouch!!! Hurts, don't it?? But it's kind of like getting sore when you make love for the first time ever -- it hurts good!!!
I had that experience, still fondly remembered from childhood, all over again last night. My face ached, but I finished that double dip off, smiling with my memories of an earlier and much simpler life, and didn't feed any of my treat to the floor. I gulped it all down and even peeled off the paper wrapper and ate the entire sugar cone. That's the best part, I've always said. What's the point of having a sugar cone, if you don't eat it too?? When I was done, the rain had slacked off to a drizzle and I smiled all the way home. I need to visit that Baskin-Robbins store more often -- I think ice cream can be very therapeutic!!!
Monday, May 18, 2009
Went over to Coyote Joe's -- my favorite biker and all-around hangout -- Thursday night, for a few cold ones and some supper. I was into enjoying my "vacation" week, after quitting my job for health reasons; generally blowing money I shouldn't be blowing. But life's too short to worry about minor things like debts all the time. So, screw it -- let's ride, as we Harley-Davidson enthusiasts are so fond of saying. Maybe it's just as well that I've had no little rugrats in my life, because if I had any kids, all they would inherit would be my bills, when I finally take off down that highway into eternity. I'm kind of like Willie Nelson when it comes to that. "I raised your little ass(es), so now you can pay me back by paying off all my debts!! Hi-ho, hi-ho, it's off to work you go!!" I call it my TANSTAAFL Principle: There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch. Enough said.
Where was I?? Oh, yeah, Coyote Joe's. Well, Thursday is Bike Night over there and there's always something interesting taking place on that particular night every week. One week they had a biker lawyer giving a talk about your legal rights when some moron in a cage runs your butt over on the street. You think bikers are intimidating?? Imagine a few of us with law degrees!!! Short of wearing one of those brilliant orange sleeveless shirts that they sell at some biker shops -- the ones that say "CAN YOU SEE ME NOW, ASSHOLE?" on the back -- a good biker attorney is your only defense against all those seemingly blind car drivers who can see everything except a person on a motorcycle. This is 2009, not 1979. Today you don't kick dents in the door of their car when they invade your space; today you swerve out of the way and if you fall off on your butt you sue them until they are blind!! Be sure to bring a fully-loaded wallet to court with you. Not seeing me is gonna cost your ass BIG!
That was a good one, but last week was better, because they had karaoke night again. Amateur entertainer night, where anyone who wants to can groan, croak, or stammer his or her way through a popular song that they think they can sing. Lotta good laughs, watching drunks make fools out of themselves, and unlike the American Idol outtakes, this is live. To be fair, though, some of the guys and gals who participated actually have some talent and a few sounded pretty danged good! One gal in particular -- a chubby but cute blonde -- really belted her way through a rendition of Gretchen Wilson's Redneck Woman. She was great and got a well-deserved round of applause.
The host, Clowny Boy, tried to get me to audition, but I was having none of it. Nope, not me and I won't ever get that drunk -- I'd pass out first. You don't want to hear me attempt to sing -- not at all. I sound like a corroded, cranky two-stroker with a terminal rod knock and a major manifold air leak. Like a cross between a rusty buzz saw and a bull moose with a bellyache. I might belch one out, but I can belt nothing except my pants, and I prefer my suspenders. One fractured note from my COPD-infected lungs and everyone would go running for the closest exit.
So, of course, I had to try it out, being the nice guy that I am, 89.7 percent of the time. And his offer to buy me another Bud Light if I did it helped, too. I asked him if he had Kenny Rogers' Ruby, Don't Take Your Love To Town in his machine and he came up with it. I used to be able to do a passable imitation of ol' Kenny on that country classic, but that was before I had these gasping attacks. Plus the fact that I've never done it on a stage, in front of people!!! OhmyGod, I gotta be NUTS to do this!!! Talk about panic attacks!! "Well, I guess you're all wondering why I called you here . . ." I whispered into the microphone. A few laughs and then Clowny started the music.
First, I got totally behind the beat from the beginning -- twice. On the third attempt, I started on cue, finally. Somehow, I got through it and to my surprise, got scattered applause, instead of the boos and fake gags that I was expecting. Clowny told me that if I practiced it more, I would be good on it, as it was right in my key. At least two people told me they enjoyed it, even if I was as rusty as an old Ford on a junk car lot. I thanked them and sat back down, my three minutes of "fame" having expired. And now I'm finding myself ripping the tracks off of my two Kenny Rogers CDs onto my computer, converting them to MP3 format. Well, it's show biz, baby --what can I say?? Where's my rhinestone jumpsuit and Elvis sunglasses?? Hey, be careful how you treat me, girls, I'm a celebrity now, y'know?? Yeah. Right. Sure.
But all good things must end, and it did. I figured I'd run through enough cash for one night and I paid up, put a tip in the girls' jar and headed for the door. Only to find that it was raining outside, and not just rain by itself. I heard the rumble of thunder and saw lighting flashes in the sky every few minutes. Distant, but still a thunderstorm. Well, poo-poo, I said (to sanitize my language a bit!!) That sucked. So, I sat back down at a patio table and waited for the rain to let up.
Forty-five minutes later I came to the conclusion that it wasn't going to let up, at least in my lifetime, or so it seemed. We who are about to drown salute you; I gathered my courage up to face the inevitable and headed for Miss Velvet. I'd parked her under the awning, so the seat was dry at least and I wouldn't get my butt wet -- much. I cranked Velvet to life, buckled my helmet and rode out of there. It wasn't until I made my turn onto a deserted side street that I noticed my gloves, still lying on the gas tank, where I'd laid them after taking them off a few hours before. I stopped in a closed bank's parking lot and put them on before they fell or got blown off and lost. The light cooperated anyway, and I made my way down Merchant Drive, toward the Dawg House. I didn't even make the first intersection before I noticed that my boots were already soaked and my feet were all squishy inside. Amazing how water can penetrate boot leather when you're running 30 mph.
By the time I got home I think my underwear shorts were even soaked. My face, hands, arms, legs and feet were dripping. I got my girl into the garage without crashing her on the slick, finished concrete floor and wheeled her around to my parking position without incident. My leather vest had kept the rain off my back and backside pretty well, but I looked like I'd dived into a swimming pool in my clothes elsewhere and I sloshed when I walked across the garage. I took one boot off and tilted it up, but no water poured out, so I guess it wasn't that bad. A few more miles in that, though . . .
I wiped Velvet down a little and PUT MY DAMNED WINDSHIELD BACK ON!! I'd taken it off to clean part of the bike and decided that since it was hot, I'd just leave it off. Big mistake. So, I quickly corrected that one!! The danged wind noise had nearly driven me nuts without the windshield, too, so I had yet another reason for re-installing it. Without the windshield, it's either muffle the noise and boil your brain in a 3/4 open-face helmet, or wear the half-helmet I usually do and be driven nutty as a fruitcake by the constant whoosh of the wind. I chose the skid lid helmet behind the windshield as a happy solution.
I had pre-registered for a poker run on Sunday, but I passed on it, as it turned out. For one thing, I was all fuzzy-tongued from Saturday night at Joes, where I tried (unsuccessfully) to drink them out of Bud Light and really tied one on, listening to a kick-ass local band that I'd heard about several times. My ears were also still ringing from being parked for two hours about three feet away from one of the amplifiers. Yeah, I got pretty inebriated, but what the hell? It's the first time I've even been drunk in about twelve years! I earned it and nobody was going to deprive me of it!! So, I got wasted and had a blast!!
Another reason for not going on the run was that I found out that they wouldn't be telling us specifically where the checkpoints were. We'd get a map and we had to follow it and find them ourselves. For the uninitiated, let me explain: A motorcycle poker run is like a game of poker on two wheels. You follow a pre-determined route and have five stops on it. At each stop, or checkpoint, you draw, or are issued at random a standard playing card. When you get all five cards, you have your poker hand complete and then you go to the meeting place where there'll be food and drinks available. Once you're there, for an extra donation to the charity that's sponsoring the run, you can draw up to three new cards and discard your duds, trying to improve your hand. Then they draw for the best hand, the next-best, third best, and the worst hand and give away prizes. It works just like a standard poker game. If you aren't familiar with poker and the value of the hands, look it up in Wikipedia. I'm not making this entry 500 pages long explaining all that to you!
Anyway, on some runs they tell you where the card-drawing checkpoints are specifically located and on others, they don't. This was one of the "don't" ones and I wasn't feeling like taking the chance of missing a checkpoint and getting lost. This is easier to do than you would think. MOST of the time, there'll be other bikes ahead of you and you just watch where they go and stop and that'll most likely be the checkpoint you want. BUT it all depends on how many bikes are entered in the run. The more, the merrier, but the iffy weather made a lot of the potential riders back out of this one and with fewer riders you'll often get separated, sometimes by miles, especially if you make a pit stop for a bathroom break, or to grab a quick soda. My doctor recently changed my blood pressure meds and the new diuretic she prescribed for me is peeing me to death! I don't for the life of me know why peeing is so good for your blood pressure, but they give you shit that's more powerful than coffee and beer combined. I would have to stop, maybe two or three times, and when I rolled into the checkpoint areas I was risking seeing no other bikes around at all and missing it.
Actually, I had that experience once and rode around in a circle for a half-hour before I found the danged place. A friend of mine was riding in a poker run with a pal of his once and they couldn't find one of them. It was hot, so they stopped at a local saloon and had a cold one. When they finished, they went back out and saw a group of bikers heading down the road. They followed them out to the Middle Of Nowhere before they learned that the group they were following wasn't even in the poker run at all. They had followed them home!! So, yeah, it's easier than you think to get lost in an area you aren't familiar with at all. Not me, not this time. I was still too hammered from the night before to deal with that.
I took a rain check Sunday, but maybe next time . . . ??
Saturday, May 9, 2009
There are countless miles of roads in our nation and in the past eleven years, I have seen my share of them, day-in and day-out. But roads are not without an end. They have to start somewhere and they have to end up somewhere else, ultimately. You run down a road long enough and eventually it will merge with another road, or it will reach a dead-end; a point at which you can travel no further.
My personal road, as a commercial truck driver, reached its end on Saturday, May 9, 2009. As I write this, I am at home to stay and am no longer employed in my former occupation. I delivered my final load on Friday, then returned to my terminal, where I gathered my belongings up for the trip back home.
The reason my career has ended is medical. I have been diagnosed with COPD, or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, which can take the forms of asthma, emphysema, chronic bronchitis, as well as a couple of other nasty varieties. The symptoms are similar and often interchangeable because all of those forms amount to the same blanket disease. In my case, it is early emphysema, and although it is not yet severe enough for me to lug an oxygen bottle around, I may end up doing so in future years. COPD is described as "progressive" and "irreversible," in doctor language. Once you have it, it doesn't stop, but keeps going. It can be slowed down, but not halted completely. There is no known cure.
One of the symptoms is coughing, sometimes in fits, and expellling excess mucus from the lungs. Another symptom is shortness of breath, sometimes quite severe, taking the form of an asthma-like attack, where you can't fill your lungs with sufficient air to give your body the oxygen it needs. It's like someone has placed a fifty-pound dead weight on your chest and your lungs can't expand enough to suck in the air you require. Quite alarming. It's downright scary, in fact, and the panic reaction sets in automatically, as your body goes into survival mode. The panic reaction makes everything much worse and you begin to wheeze loudly and gasp for air. That's what happened to me early last Monday, on the fourth, when I ended up in an ER in Parkersburg, West Virginia, for several hours, undergoing outpatient treatment. The pure oxygen I was breathing and the inhalation therapy got me unstopped and breathing normally again, but at that point, the writing was on the wall for me. I had already had a couple of very bad attacks prior to that. But this latest one was the worst one so far and they certainly weren't going to be getting any better.
So, it came as no surprise to me when the ER doctor at the hospital advised me to seek a different occupation. The two EMTs who had treated me at the rest area where I was parked, and transported me to the hospital had already advised me thusly, but the doc was the clincher. What if? What if I had a coughing fit while driving, lost my breath and passed out from lack of oxygen while at the wheel of my truck?? Are you okay with the idea of an 80,000 pound truck roaring down the highway, out of control, with an unconscious driver at the wheel? Of course not! Who would be, in their right mind? Too much to risk. Way too much. I didn't feel safe and when a driver doesn't feel safe, there's only one thing that can be said -- GAME OVER.
So be it. Exit, stage left. I'm outta here for good.
Eleven years of my life. A ton of memories, some good and some not so good. A few just plain bad ones. I will always be grateful for the opportunity I had to go places and see things that I otherwise would never have seen at all. I've seen the sun come up over the skyscrapers of New York and I've seen it set over Tampa Bay. I've seen the majestic purple mountains in the early light and I've seen them frosted with snow in the winter. I've watched the wind ripple in the wheatfields of Kansas, and the vast cornfields of Illinois and Iowa. I've watched shooting stars over Lake Erie and seen a rainbow over the St. Louis Arch. I've weathered a tropical storm in Fort Pierce, Florida, outran one hurricane and drove through the aftermath of Katrina. I've been close enough to one tornado to feel those powerful winds.
I've been lost and found and then lost again. Driven roads so narrow that I was only an inch or two from trading mirrors with the passing trucks. I've been stuck in sand, stuck in mud, stuck in gravel, and stuck on ice and in snow. Sometimes I got my own ass out, sometimes I needed a little help. I've blown every tire there is at least once and one time blew out four all at once. I've broken down, torn up, dropped valves, torn up one clutch and watched helplessly once as a busted turbocharger sucked all the oil out of my pan and burned it in the engine. I've torn off more than one trailer door. Even ran the hell over one of them. I never claimed to be perfect, even once. But I learned from my mistakes. Failure is the Mother Of All Teachers.
It's all called "experience" and there has been plenty of that in my time at the wheel. I wouldn't trade it for anything else I've ever done in my entire life. Take the good along with the bad and it all adds up to one incredible eleven year ride and it's been an unforgettable one.
This blog isn't going anywhere, my readers. I'll still be right here, maybe a little more frequently now. It's still a Dawg's Life, after all. That life has just changed now, that's all. One chapter has closed and another has opened up. Not an end at all, but a new beginning.