Saturday, June 22, 2013

I hate Texas!

Have I mentioned lately how much I hate Texas?

It's hot, humid and muggy, dusty at times, windy at others, an occasional rainfall that washes everything away because the ground can be so dried out from lack of said rainfall.    This rain becomes flash floods washing away houses, cars, buses, and the occasional livestock, or just as importantly, the occasional village idiot that thought he could safely cross a roaring storm filled stream.  And, in the winter, bitterly cold, with a wind from the North that feels like it is straight from Alaska.   Ice storms shut down major cities - primarily because no one has snow removal equipment - after-all, this is Texas.  And the cites, oh my gosh, don't get me started on the big money fat cats driving a million miles an hour to important meetings and dinners with people of their own ilk.  I pity them not when I am reminded of the endless hours they sit in stalled traffic around the hubs of Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, or Austin.  I'm pretty sure most of the big city folks are from somewhere else.   Either way, I'm glad it's them and not me.  


The gentle hills of central Texas, the quiet rivers, mirror finish lakes, the flowing majesty of the mighty rivers, the seemingly endless pasture lands, the quaint communities of small town middle America, the deeply forested areas of east Texas, the bays and bayous of southeast Texas, the endless flat plain of the Permian Basin of the north, and the arid yet remarkably beautiful deserts and reaching mountains of the western plains.  Nights filled with stars so bright under the desert sky that you feel as if you're surrounded by twinkling Christmas lights (You're familiar with the old song lyrics "The Stars Are Bright In Texas"?), while during the Bluebonnet season the ground is covered with colors more vivid than a rainfall.  Fresh air blowing across the Davis Mountains that will refresh you as surely as a new born.  Texas is like no place else in America with its diversity and people.  That quality is what I love about Texas.

The small communities surround themselves with church, local rodeos and fairs, waterside BBQ's, trail rides, honky-tonk bars, ice houses, drive thru beer stores, deer, duck, and dove leases, and football.  Always, and always football.

The history of Texas is full of tall tales of adventure, hardship, exploration, exploitation,       determination, independence, rebellion, and a deep rooted sense of loyalty and greatness.  People speak of Sam Houston, David Crockett (who, it is purported to have said after losing a reelection to Congress in Tennessee, "you may all go to hell, I am going to Texas"), Jim Bowie, William (W.B.) Travis, and Juan Sequin as if they are immortal; and in many ways they are.  The members of the Gonzales Mounted Rangers ("The Immortal 32") and the many memorials that cover the state speak in eloquent terms of the history of its people.  Truly, "Remember the Alamo" and the proud heritage passed down through generations of families, explain the significance of the annual San Jacinto Day holiday within the state.  What was won on April 21st, 1836 was more than freedom from Mexico, it was a manifesto to greatness.

Modern day history is just as rich with tales of wildcat oil rigs, with overnight fortunes made and lost in towns big and small.  Oil platforms dot the gulf coast, while refineries sprang up along the bayous of Baytown & Pasadena, the explosion of the shipping yards of Galveston, and the space industry in Clear Lake.  The Houston Astrodome, once called the 8th wonder of the world, was said to be an impossible dream.  Yet texans built it, and later, built something even bigger right next door.  Texas Rodeo stars and Country and Western performers have become world famous.  Politicians from Johnson to two different Bush's have held the nations highest office, while down home, Anne Richards held the reins of power as Governor and only as a true lady of Texas could have done.  Old money Houston, battled the "Nuevo" rich of Dallas-Fort Worth over who should more greatly influence these same politicians.  Neither group ever truly succeeding, yet with each political cycle, both small and large, they continue.

Modern hero's began or ended their lives as Texans; Audie Murphy, Admiral Nimitz, and Robert (Bob) Howard.  Men, and women, from World War II to Vietnam.  Chris Kyle and Marcus Luttrell, Texans, have fought their own battles in foreign lands, but they never forgot their Texas roots and came home as quickly as they could.  And when these Hero's die, the funeral services have to be held in a stadium to accommodate the crowds that wish to pay homage to their passing and to gently remind the family left behind that they are there for support.

The unique monuments of San Jacinto, La Grange, or the Alamo, stand beside the battleship Texas in places to visit.  The state is covered with more historical roadside markers than most other states will ever manufacture, and for the simple reason that Texans will never tire of being proud of her heritage. 

Country music, blues, jazz, rock & roll, soul, latino, even a touch of reggae, can be found in all corners of the state; from the college crowd of 6th street in Austin, to the tiny ice house's in Brownsville, to the high society clubs in the highest buildings in Houston, or the crystal palaces of Dallas.  The oldest dance hall in Gruene, can readily compete with any place in the state when Willie Nelson or George Straight could, and have, shown up out of nowhere just to sit-in and play.  A former bank on the north side of Houston continues to draw the biggest blues singers of the day, and Pasadena became a landmark of the 80's due to a little honky-tonk named after it's owner, a dancehall called "Gilley's Dance Club".  The down to earth lyrics of Jimmy Buffett could even once be heard in the bars and honky-tonks along the coast from Beaumont to Galveston when he started his career.  Music is alive and well in Texas.

Towns with names like "Cut and Shoot" , "Luckenbach", "La Grange" and "China Grove" really exist, and are not the imagination of some song writers fantasy.  TV personalities have generated major motion pictures, that all true Texans knew was garbage (can you say "Best Little Whore House in Texas"?), but the blown-out-of-proportion story made a narrow minded little bigot of a Houston newscaster into a local star, and shut down one of the states oldest post thanksgiving traditions.  Round Rock Texas became famous not for it's rock and river ford crossing, but for another movie entitled "Texas Chainsaw Massacre".  And although countless Texas girls have ridden the bull at Gilley's, even die hard Texans admit that Debra Wringer did it best in "Urban Cowboy".   Yet there's a reason the movie industry should stay on the west coast in California.  No one has ever captured Texas as she truly is.

The most important ingredient in Texas however, are her people.

The largest ranchers, the oil field families, the small town farmers, the local school teacher, the big city cop, the college professor, the street singers, and music professionals, the loggers of the forests,  the aptly named "rednecks" (a badge of honor) of the eastern most bayous, the single parent college student, the bad ass street bikers, the rig workers, the ship chandlers, the medical professionals, the space engineers, the shrimpers on the bay, the rodeo clowns, the rodeo performers, hell even the rodeo dogs, are all united in one simple fashion.  They are Texans.  They may occasionally set aside that business suit to swagger in cowboy boots and summer or winter stetson, worn out jeans, and button shirts, or they may glide through a club in the latest designer dress for a favorite fundraiser, but underneath they all fantasize about riding their horse next to a chuck wagon on a trail ride to the annual Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.    

Well, maybe not the dog.

Texans are unique.  They may have started as immigrants from Germany, Ireland, Mexico, or northern states at some point, immigrating and settling German communities in the hill country, or Irish settlements on the coast, or Spanish ranch empires in the southwest.  Yet, they are personable, hard working, friendly to strangers, loyal to family and community, and yes, perhaps even god fearing, church going, and with a healthy dose of gun toting individualism.  This is a truism that relates to native born Texans as well as "I-got-here-as-soon-as-I-could" adopted Texans.   You will find no more loyal friend, nor more deadly and wicked an enemy than a Texan. 

Whether severing up ice cold Shiner beer and BBQ, closing a deal on a multi-million dollar oil sale, performing a life saving medical transplant, or planning and coordinating a deep space penetration, Texans will always treat you with dignity and respect.  It's an ingrained part of the culture and community regardless of where you go.  On a deserted Farm and Market road, in the middle of nowhere, it is not uncommon for a slow moving vehicle to pull over to the shoulder to allow another vehicle to pass; and the pulled over driver will wave a thank you for doing so.  Yes, it happens everyday.  Where else but Texas?

The combination of weather, diversity of landscape and culture, and the deep seeded roots of honor and tradition help make this state the unique melting pot that helped shape it's current makeup.

Come to think of it, maybe I don't hate Texas nearly as much as I thought I did.

Friday, February 1, 2013

SWETT Warrior Weekend / Las Vegas Jan/2013

Several people have asked me about my recent trip to Las Vegas, and I admit, I was guilty of posting a bunch of pictures on FaceBook while ignoring this Blog.  So, let me correct that error here and now.

I was invited to attend the SWETT Warrior Foundation weekend held at the Cosmopolitan Hotel from 24 - 29 January.  My friend, Chris, attended with me as my guest (and with permission and encouragement from her husband!).  The event was designed to honor the Service and Sacrifice of our Service men and women wounded in action related to the Global War on Terrorism.  There were about 60 warriors and their guests.

Chris and I upon late (2135) arrival Thursday Night

The obligatory picture upon arrival - this was Chris' first visit to Las Vegas

As part of the trip we had a helicopter tour provided by Sundance Helicopters of LV - awesome despite the weather

Yes, we were guilty of mugging it up for the camera

Chris and I with John Ratzenberger of Cheers fame - great guy and huge supporter of the WIA's. Somewhere around this time frame I started earning the new nickname "Santa."  yeah, don't ask.

Colonel (Ret) Bruce Crandall, US Army, CMOH holder from the Vietnam era posed with us at the Helicopter event - we spent some time talking about our mutual time in Vietnam. A lifetime ago.

As part of our agenda we went to the CirqueDuSleil show Love - there were restrictions on no picture taking anywhere.

Of course, we would n-e-v-e-r violate a request like that

Jennifer P - Managing Director at Swett & Crawford held court in the lobby bar each evening or after an event.  I can't imagine how many shots were ordered (70 at a time, 3-4 times an evening) by the end of the 5 day affair.   You can bet Jennifer won't do that next year!

Group Shot of the attendee's.  Don't bother to check; Yes, I'm there but I tend to hang in the back of these things.  It's more about the younger generation of warriors in my view.

Having survived the first 24 hours we prepared to venture forth on Day 2

At a scheduled pool side event, the WIA's and supporters walk through the hotel hallway lined with a few hundred public supporters.  An awesome experience.

Gary Sinese (Lt Dan or CSI) is a huge supporter of the WIA's and made several remarks at the pool side event.  He left early for a sound check because his band was playing at that evenings Gala black tie party.

Yes, Chris and I clean up well.

My best guess for the attendance at the Gala was about 500 people.  Humbling to say the least.

A couple of my personal Hero's.  Ryan & Laura Keogh and Chris Powell - both these brave Rangers sustained serious injuries in OEF.

Brian, an Air Force Service Member wounded by a rocket in Iraq, is the most seriously injured AF member in the history of the Air Force to survive his wounds.  Despite the loss of both legs, and his right arm, he and his wife Ashley are an inspiration to other WIA's with their active lifestyle.  An incredible couple and role model

The Grog Ceremony at the Gala, SSG Davenport, an Army Special Forces Weapons Sergeant injured in OEF, represents the SOF community and poured a bottle of whiskey into the mix!  (If you don't know about the ceremony I encourage you to look it up on Google)

Lt Dan Band plays at the Gala...up close and personal

Everyone dressed up for the Gala!  Jessica and Todd and their K9 companions Bradley and Toby (aka "The Lush") Note their formal wear

Chris on the dance floor with Mike Thornton, US Navy SEAL, CMOH holder from Vietnam.  They can hold there own on the dance floor!

Shamelessly sucking up!  Gotta luv it.

Mike T and Bobby having a ball. . .or what looks like it anyway.

A Johnny Depp look-a-like showed up and scooped up Chris while I was off at the bar.  Don't tell her husband that I took my eyes off her too long.

Back to the bar.  More shots!  Thanks Jennifer.

Even a blind squirrel gets a nut every once in a while.  Sheryl and Ashley took pity on me while Mike held Chris hostage on the dance floor.  I didn't notice she was gone!

After the Gala we all retired to the lobby bar.  Toby was giving me advice on how to pace myself.

Advice he obviously took seriously.

One of the medics checking Toby to make sure he was still keeping pace with us.

Yeah, now you know why we called him "the lush"
(and he was fine.  Really)

Open Bar, repeat as necessary.

Rachel & Chris with Mike Thornton

Mike asking Chris "whats that good looking woman doing hanging out with a Ranger like you?"

Chris Powell and I agree our two women made us look good.

As you can see, Toby, and the rest of us, were just fine the next morning during our visit to the local AFB.

Our tour of the base included a personal US Air Force Thunderbird air show.  From the middle of the runway it was an awesome display.

The last night included a stop at Treasure Island to watch the "Sirens" show

The mandatory stop at Caesars

The mandatory stop at the Fountains - and note that Full Moon!

Although it comes to the end, we're still standing and already plotting how to do this again.
I hope y'all enjoyed the pictures (out of 200+ these were the ones that made the final cut) and our short story for the weekend in Las Vegas.

None of this could have happened without the generosity of Swett & Crawford who flew us out and gave every bit of their collective heart to show us a good time.  We often forget that these types of organizations are putting forth great effort to show their support for wounded warriors of this latest generation.  I'm grateful and humbled that they included me in this event.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Nebraska & Black Hills

After leaving Iowa, I travled north and west to South Dakota, stopping in Nebraska along the way. I was surprised at the highway system in Nebraska as it was really bumpy for most of the trip - especially in the Omaha area where anything over 55 mph threw things around inside the HH as if the road was angry being put to work.
At any rate, I eventually arrived in the Rapid City, SD area where I stayed at the campground at Ellsworth AFB.  The park had recently undergone an upgrade and the site was not only level and clean, but had a great view of the surrounding countryside.  Having it close enough to the Black Hills, Mount Rushmore, and all the rest was an added bonus.  And, as usual, the cost of staying at a Military CG has it's own advantage.
My only negative observation, and one I revisted throughout SD and later WY and MT, is that there are a million and one hills everywhere...drove me and the Hula Hut nuts with the transmission kicking in and out of overdrive so much, but, what cha gonna do, eh?
Before I get into specifics, let me just be clear on this....the Black Hills were awesome, just amazing, and I was more than disappointed that I didn't have the bike with me for this portion of the trip - more on that later.


GEO Center of the United States - (well, not really, but close)

My first day running around the Black Hills included a trip to what was supposed to be the location of the GEO Center of the US.  It turns out that it's close - actually it's located in a farmers field about 3/4 of a mile from the marker - but it was an interesting place none-the-less.  It's located in the small town of Belle Fourche, SD.  Worth the trip, just to say you've been there, but there's not much else to see around there.

My next stop was Sturgis, yeah, had to do it, bike or not.  Since this was my first visit there (and no, it was not bike week) I was really interested to see how the place looked, and how the people acted while there was no real "weirdness" going on...wrong assumption.

Although the drive is beautiful out there, and man, there were bikers everywhere, the area of Sturgis was really somewhat disappointing.  Perhaps it is because of my upbringing in Florida (where fleeching tourists is an art), but I was really disappointed in the commerical aspect of the place.  I'm not sure I was expecting that part, and it was everywhere you looked for 50 miles around Sturgis, it seemed like every business was there to seperate bikers from their money in some respect or another.

One other aspect of Sturgis that I wasn't prepared for was somewhat funny - it seemed like I never ran across a biker that didn't qualify for AARP for the whole week I was in the area.  At first I thought it was just my imagination - yet, even when I was trying to find younger bikers, they were few and far between!  The funniest aspect was seeing bars, resturants, and biker places with "Welcome Seniors" and "Sturgis Bike Rally" signs hanging side by side.     The irony of the whole thing?  If I had had my bike with me, I would have been one of those seniors out there on the road!        Oh my.

One of the places I was really looking forward to seeing was Deadwood, SD.  I'm not sure I can explani the reasoning other then to say I just like historical places where history took a decisive turn at some point.  Deadwood has that with the history of George Custer discovering gold, the indians being pushed out by people swarming in from everywhere, and all the drama that evolved.  The HBO series from a few years ago didn't do it total justice, but it made it entertaining.  The drive to get there is spectacular and the town itself is nestled in this small valley with a river running close by and surrounded by shear mountains and narrow passes.  Beautiful country.

All over town are signs linking it's past to significant events.  How accurate are they?  Who knows, but it makes a nice touch.

There's much more to produce for this part of the trip...but I'm already tardy with posting this, so I'll post this section and start working on the remainder shortly.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Reflections on Vetrans Day Weekend

A friend of mine and I were speaking the other day about life.  On occasion it doesn't quite live up to expectations.  But, ultimately, there is one thing that is certain.

Death.  That thing we all know is coming, somehow, sometime, somewhere.  For some, death came too soon, too violently, too far from home.

Some, myself included, have avoided it on occasion.  But, it was a close thing.  The reason, through luck or divine intervention remains a mystery.  I can say this - without a lot of emotional attachment - it's not as mysterious as it once was to me.  I do however, have some lingering questions...the list keeps growing, but I can wait.  For awhile.

We started on this macabre subject quite by accident.  We were discussing the upcoming Veterans Day and the various people we have known over the years in uniform.  Just as importantly, we began talking about those friends of ours who have paid the ultimate sacrifice, and for who we pause, or should pause, on Veterans Day to remember.  In my mind, its far more important to remember the fallen than it is to remember the ones who have survived.

Thankfully my list of fallen friends is far shorter than some.  I take a moment, a bottle, and a quiet spot, pause to remember my brothers, and somehow they remain alive.  Young men, primarily in their early 20's, full of life, full of hope, full of the future.  They will remain young forever. 

I can't dwell on or separate those we lost and never found, those who died defending the bodies of brothers already fallen moments before, or those recovered who died in the arms of those that brought them out. In the end, the dead are simply gone.  The circumstance matter only in the details of their honorable service to our great nation.  But, we MUST remember them.

Among them were leaders who could have shaped the world, future Doctors, Lawyers, Politicians, or perhaps truck drivers, plumbers, or farmers.  Who knows?  Based on their backgrounds, they could have been whatever they chose to be. . . and they would have been successful too.

So, I ask you to join me on this upcoming Veterans Day to pause from your BBQ, your family gathering, or your well earned rest, and remember that there are names, faces, families, and lost futures behind this important moment that we all celebrate.  

Monday, November 5, 2012

My Thoughts on the Election

The Election

I’ve been quiet.  Until now.

First - Get out and VOTE!

I don’t much care who you vote for – that’s a personal decision.  I’ve been described as a conservative liberal, or a liberal conservative.  The reality is that I vote for who I think has the closest values to my own, and I really don’t care what party that person is associated with.  And, by the way, I don’t really care about their gender, color, or religion either.  I only care about what America stands for, who she stands with, and how we apply those values.

Here’s my opinion on a few things that help me decide...

I do believe in the Constitution.  Most of it anyway.  The parts I have trouble with, I’ve learned to live with.  That’s part of being an American.

I believe in Capital punishment.  Although I think the list of crimes is far too short, and I think we should ‘fast track” those people on their way to the next phase in the grand journey.

The Second Amendment.  Read it, it’s simple, but I don’t want my neighbor to have a .50 caliber M2 Machine Gun on his front porch.  Other than that, leave me alone and don’t bother me when the zombies come.

I believe that ALL men are created equal.  Equality means that you gain what you work for and that the Government does NOT have an obligation to take care of you.

I believe that women have the right to choose what they do with their own bodies, and that includes abortion rights.  No religion, Government, nor individual has the right to make that decision for them.  For you guys, do you really believe you’d allow the Government or someone to make a decision like that for you?  Get real.

I believe that women are as capable as men.  But that doesn’t mean I think they should serve in a combat related arms in the defense of this country.  Call me sexist or perhaps just old fashion.  Stick with being President when your time comes.

Rape is a crime.  It’s NOT assault, or criminal mischief.  If found guilty, a rapist should be locked up for life with other rapists.  No pardon, no parole.

Child Molesters, if found guilty, should be executed.

I believe that Lawful Permanent Residents (Green card holders) have entered into a contract with our United States.  If you break our laws you’ve broken that contract and you should be deported.  Regardless of age and regardless of how many family members you have to take with you.  For those “others illegally present” (a thoughtful phrase from the Immigration Reform Act), if found, you should be arrested, prosecuted, and if found guilty, should be permanently barred from re-entering the country after serving a term in Federal prison.

I believe in what the Unions once stood for….but that doesn’t mean that Union members should get breaks that the average person does not get, and the Union is NOT always right.

I hate racists.  All of them, regardless of color or gender.  There’s just no excuse for ignorance.

I believe in the simple explanation of Sheep, Sheep Dogs, and the Wolves.  Everyone falls into one of those categories.  You are what you are, be happy with that, but don’t pass judgment on those of us that choose to fight the wolves.  Even those of us lying on the porch, head resting on our paws, watching the younger Sheep Dogs doing all the work these days.   We are what we are.  Be happy we’re here.

I was Baptized in my youth.  Twice.  My Mother was convinced it didn’t “take” the first time.  As I have gotten older, I think she was right.  I was in trouble in Sunday school while learning the 10 Commandments because I was disappointed to learn there was no asterisk (*) on anything that indicated “except under the following circumstances”  My point is that no one, every time, will get it right, each and every time.   Be flexible.

I know for a fact that War is never nice, and it’s not like you see in movies or on TV.  It should not be entered into lightly, but once engaged, you never, ever, quit, until the other side are either dead or submit to your national will.  Anything less is an insult to the men and woman who have died or bled for this great Nation.

I believe that if you think “so-and-so” lied to get us into a war in Iraq (which I didn’t support by the way), you’re not informed and should read the history of abuse in Iraq leading up to 2003.  I was there, and even I am at a loss for words on what I saw in person.  I believe that the majority of people in that country are better off today as a result, and I shed my blood and left it in the sand for my belief.

I believe that religion is whatever you hold dear to your soul as true belief.  No book, individual, or Government should tell you what religion to follow.  No one religion is the “true” religion in my view.  We’ll all know who’s right when we take that last great journey after this one.  Do we need to discuss “tolerance?”

I believe that who you have sex with, or how many partners at a time, and when, is not anyone else’s business.  And, yes, I have no problem with the idea of two people of the same gender being in a relationship.

Adultery is a word not a crime.  When was the last time you were a virgin?  Don’t ask me for my personal view on this one unless you really want to know.

Marriage, in almost all cultures, is a union of individuals.  Rules or understandings within that union are not anyone else’s business. (See “Adultery” if you still have questions about where I stand on this one)

I believe Global Warming is an outrageous fraud supported by global leaders who make an awful lot of money on the fears of gullible people who mean well and want to feel like they are doing something for the common good.  How about just being nice to everyone you come into contact with and show a little compassion that way instead?

Lastly, I’m very disappointed in so many of you who have taken an extreme position during this run up to the election.  Many of my oldest friends (on both side of the spectrum) have used some of the foulest arguments, the most bizarre stories, and some of the most inflammatory descriptions I have ever seen in an election.     Yes, it’s important, but where is your common courtesy?

Agree or disagree. . .it’s my opinion.  Just vote, and let’s get on with being Americans united as we should be every day.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Iron Warriors - Iowa

The guys in Des Moines really reached out and treated this traveler with style.  Special thanks to "Bug" who made all the arrangements, and a special shout out to Dick who patched me into his special "WWDD" club.   The rules are simple.  What would Dick Do?  It would take too long to explain here.  Trust me.

The Texas Chapter meets the Iowa Chapter!

Famous Dick....yeah, I said it.  WWDD?

Dick was trying to explain why this patch has to be stapled, not sewed, in place.  The reason ?  That's what Dick would Do!


Babes....why is it always babes?

Everyone who knows me, knows I'm just a sucker for blondes, and I'm even worse where redheads are concerned.

So I suppose it's cosmic justice that my heart has been stolen once again by a couple of blonde haired babes in Iowa of all places. . . .

Thank gawd they're not mine, I'd be locking them up for about the next 20 years or so.  Can you imagine, an Olympic hopeful and a future rocker?  I won't admit which one has my hand-me-down harmonica to drive her Daddy nuts.   hehehehe