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Common Sense — Do The Right Thing To Win. #EOS

January 12th, 2018 · Tags: Politics · Satire · Sports

Imagine, if you will, a closed-door meeting in an NFL team executive office.  The owner is there, presiding.  The coach is there, along with the vice president, the general manager, the head of player personnel, the head of operations and several of the top player development/scouting professionals.

The team has an astronomical budget — both assets and debts alike — but the team’s success is declining.  Other teams perpetually are getting bigger, faster, more successful.

The group discusses a turnaround …. “How can we make smarter decisions to become better?”

The coach turns to the group and suggests the team’s downfall is a personnel issue.  He urges the general manager and the player development people to do more homework, to watch more film, to gather more information and to stop drafting players from smaller, inferior schools … schools with less stringent educational standards … schools with substandard training programs … schools whose traditions and practices are not in line with a successful NFL franchise.  

The coach offers up an example, and says, “Why can’t we draft more people from Alabama, or Stanford or even Oklahoma?”  Why not focus on successful programs as a source of talent?  He says he loves the name of Slippery Rock University, but thinks there are better quarterbacks on the market.

Everyone nods in agreement and immediately sees the validity and wisdom … and just plain common sense of what the coach is saying.  Football is a game they all love, but they have no misconceptions.  Football is a business and it is their job to make the best decisions to win.

No one accuses them of racism for a common sense approach to business.

 

Know what I sayin?

Shake Your Moneymaker: “Process” & Uncanny Coincidence

January 2nd, 2018 · Tags: Arts · Music · Satire

Branding

 

I had not been awake for long the morning that a text came in telling me that my friend’s new PingWi-Fi t-shirt had been delivered, way way up north in the top of the Texas Panhandle.

In my groggy state, it seemed appropriate that I should give him some BS line to make it seem like the shirt was really special.  “Cool.  You know that is the only PingWi-Fi shirt within 200 miles of the Capulin Volcano. (Capulin, yes, a volcano in New Mexico, just across the Texas border, lies dormant … but is an awesome photo opp.)  So anywho … “dormant volcano nearby” — that was the best, seat-of-my-pants response I could come up with to make the shirt seem mo special in Dalhart, Texas.

Ha … about as much planning went into that response as the actual shirt design itself.

You see, for a couple of months and numerous e-mails back and forth with two graphic designers, the concepts for the Ping shirts just weren’t coming together.  Then one day …

One day I was cruising west on my motorcycle, enjoying nice weather and great tunes on my iTunes shuffle, when this old, old blues standard song popped up.  It was actually part of the British Blues movement, and the band’s name — Fleetwood Mac.  However, this was Fleetwood Mac back when there wasn’t a single female in the band.  Lindsey Buckingham was unheard of.  The only similarity of this 1960s iteration of The Mac and the one we know is the namesake, the spindly, hollow-staring Mick Fleetwood on drums.  And there were none of the pop sensibilities perfected much later by Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie.  This Fleetwood Mac song was a raw interpretation of American Blues strained through a Union Jack filter … I digress.

So this Limey (Peter Green, I believe) was warbling on with an old, old blues line, “Come on and shake your moneymaker …” for a second, I thought “Why in the world do I own that song … don’t even like it much?”

 

 

Then it hit me.  I nearly slammed on the brakes in the middle of the highway.  “That’s it!”  That’s the line I want on the next PingWi-Fi t-shirts … what a funny old blues way of saying “get up and dance” … much like the later disco era philosopher said, “Shake yo groove thang.”

Would anyone know what it means?  Would anyone know where the line comes from?  Who cares?  In my mind it was just obscure enough and quirky enough for me to run with the idea.

7 Pings = perfect score

 

But the line needed something to graphically enhance the words.  Well, if you have ever seen the rating system — the 1-7 scale of quality on PWF — you may have notice the likeness of a lanky, tuxedoed guy, raising a leg in the air, twisting, pointing fingers in time to the music quite awkwardly … In effect “shaking his moneymaker.” Logically, that became the artwork to go with the silly words.

Additionally, it seemed the headline needed to have a little more significance for the blog about Wi-Fi, so one word was inserted.  The old line, first recorded by Elmore James in 1961, who borrowed the line from something else became, “Shake Your Wi-Fi Money Maker.”  (No … it makes no sense whatsoever and that is exactly why we like it. I digress …)  And it went to press. 

Great Moneymakers In History:)

Somewhere in the process, I Googled “Shake your moneymaker” and saw that some rap artist had also borrowed the line from the old men of Blues, and recorded a song.  Then, now, and forever, I don’t pay rap no mind.  I figured most of the PWF readers would also care not. So … no biggie.

Then it got crazy.

Well you know how this old universe just laughs in our face sometimes or tries to entertain us with the absolute craziest coincidences.  It turned into one of those.

A couple of days after I picked up all of the Shake Your Money Maker t-shirts, I was hangin out and binge watching a little TV at home.

Earlier that day, I had watched an episode of the violent Irish gangster series “Peaky Blinders.”  After The PBs, it seemed like a good time to lighten things up a bit, so I searched the comedy genre.  Hmmm … I had never heard of “The Big Short.” 

No. I don’t get out much — at least not to go sit in a theater, so I may have been the last person alive to know about the film.  I read the description … it was some dark comedy about the mortgage/banking crisis of a few years back.  Woohoo … now that sounds “hilarious.”  J/k …  Certainly not my cup of tea!  But you know what?  For some unexplained reason, I defied all odds and fired it up.

You probably guessed it.  In this film about money, the love of money and the crazy schemes to make obscene amounts of money — about a third of the way through the film — the soundtrack takes an active role in the film — even showing a rapper and dancers performing to … yes … (a somewhat lewd take on) “Shake Your Money Maker.”  I nearly slammed on the brakes (which is really weird because I was on the couch …)

What are the odds!?!  Unbelievable!  I was completely blown away.

I have no doubt this was a very strong message sent to me directly from the universe or even better from it’s Creator.  Don’t know if it was a good sign, or a bad sign … I just feel it was in some way relevant.

So … anywho … the shirts are in.  Many have been mailed out already.  If you want one, don’t be shy to let me know.  The only thing I ask is that someday in the near future, you wear the shirt and shake your own moneymaker in it — in a cool venue of your choosing. — for a photo. Then send the picture to me for the ViPings album on Facebook.  And no, you don’t have to climb down inside a dormant volcano for a good photo … but it couldn’t hurt.

Know what I sayin?

2018

January 1st, 2018 · Tags: Uncategorized

 

Heart Of Dallas Bowl: Utes Down Mountain Men

December 28th, 2017 · Tags: Cities · Sports · Uncategorized · Wi-Fi

TD Celebration, Called Back

“Never give up on your team.”  I preached that to my kids for years, the kids that I coached, or anyone who would listen.  It makes me a little furious when I see fans leaving the stadium before the game ends … even if their team is behind by three scores or whatever. Never give up.  Plus … just support your team, through the good and bad … (Ha! I guess some people never saw a famous Mike Leach come-from-behind-win … I digress …)

So it was disheartening to see West Virginia fans slipping out early from the cold/wet Dallas environs at the Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl in the old Cotton Bowl.  (Yes … I have been calling it the Yardbird Bowl, in honor of Zaxby’s extra crispy …)  I mean, the game had so much potential going in, despite the two teams’ records … West Virginia 7-5 and Utah 6-6.  Should have been pretty evenly matched, except for one minor detail … West Virginia was without their star quarterback Will Grier … out with a bad finger (I had to say that rock ‘n’ roll pun … I digress).

 

Three Utes

 

Mountain Cheer

 

Huntley, Protection

Sad to say, I felt like I too had betrayed the Mountaineers.  No, West Virginia isn’t “my team,” but I was favoring them slightly since they have a former Texas Tech/Mike Leach protege at the helm in Coach Dana Holgorsen, but also because the Mountaineers hail from the Big 12 Conference.  So, when I left the field and took the elevator back up to the warmer pressbox, escaping the cold drizzle, I felt like I had turned my back on them.  In reality, I would have gotten out of the cold sooner, but I was waiting for the Mountaineers to make a big play and breathe some life into the game … for a photo opp.  It hadn’t happened.

 

Up The Ladder, Gary Jennings Jr.

For series after series, I had positioned my camera and my person behind the end zone anticipating some big play from the Mountaineers.  With about 6 minutes left, I gave up.

I never even got to hear the WV mountain mamas sing that song by the Texas Tech guy … “Country Roads, Take Me Home …” (John Denver … Blue Ridge Mountains … Google it.)

 

Kinney

So, I returned to my computer upstairs — warming my hands wit Wi-Fi — looked out the window down at the game, just as The Mountaineers scored a touchdown with a few minutes left on the clock — an 18-yard touchdown pass to Ka’Raun White … and of course, I also missed the Mountainmen recovered the ensuing on-side kick.  See!  See!  Never give up.  It ain’t fat until the over lady sings … Wait.  Reverse that.  But … the comeback was not to be.  Utah held on, 28-14.  Perhaps the most interesting stat to me — The WV Punter Bill Kinney had a career day: 424 yards punting, with four of those kicks pinning the opponent behind their 20 yard line.  But sometimes kicks just aren’t enough …

Demari Simpkins Catch

For The Utes, it was their fourth winning season in a row, as they got on the bus at 7-6 for the year.  The 2017 installment of the HOD Bowl is Utah’s fifth consecutive bowl win, btw. The Ute’s stingy defense held the normally potent WV offensive to 153 yards total.  That could be an individual stat — a mediocre one at that — in WV’s home conference.  And while the Ute D didn’t give up much, they took freely, forcing four turnovers down from the mountain on the day.  Zack Moss carried the load for the Utes, with 150 yards on 20 carries.  Ute QB Tyler Huntley won the air battle for the day, 12 of 26 for 165 yards. Huntley added 57 yards with his legs, on 25 carries, with two touchdowns to show for it.  The other bright spot for Utah — Daren Carrington’s four catches on the day, totaling 62 yards.  Matt Gay was three for three on Utah field goals.  And Boobie Hobbs had 46 positive yards on three punt returns, and we are grateful so we could work his name into the blog.  Thanks Boobie!

 

Holgorsen

So it was a cold game and it was not pretty.  It was not exciting, excluding those few choice moments at the end.  It was the kid of day when I had to balance between being upset and also laughing at the West Virginia fans heckling their own sideline: “Open up your playbook, Dana” … perhaps forgetting the starting quarterback’s lack of playing time this season.  “No, you can’t get on the plane yet!” “Beer here!” And, the favorite: “It’s not as cold when you’re winning.”

This game seemed to be one of those that might not have justified its existence (well unless you’re on the team or have a family member on the team for Utah. They have big families too … sorry … I digress.) Have you heard all that … the criticism of so many bowl games now that teams with losing records or .500 seasons are finding their way into post-season play?

Well for the record, I say stretch the football season to go year round.  Nothing in sports is as exciting as college football.  It’s good even on a bad day.

The Art Of Football

 

And sometimes there are some unexpected diamonds in the rough.  Alumni of my school were skeptical of our alma mater Texas Tech deserving a bowl game with a record of 6-6.  Maybe they were right.  Maybe they are now gloating that Tech lost, ending the season 6-7, after their bowl.  But, I guarantee you, the hot/cold Red Raiders gave the unproven, now 11-2 South Florida Bulls their money’s worth, carrying an upset bid down to 18 ticks on the clock.  Some maintained the game should never have been played.  In actuality, for those who watched, it was one of the better games of the entire bowl season.  Never give up on your team.  I digress …

Now … end of soapbox and time to get into some in-depth, sideline reporting.  If I accomplished nothing on game day at the Heart of Dallas Bowl, but this, I score it a win.  I have always been intrigued by the West Virginia mascot.  The bearded, buckskinned one in the deliciously politically incorrect coon skin cap.  Love it.  I’ve seen that mountain person on TV dozens of times, and dang it … I was gonna grill him with some real “activist” type questions.

Lucky for me, he was in a pretty good mood, early in the fourth quarter, despite the weather … and the scoreboard … and the game … and the scent of wet, re-purposed deer flesh …  

Mountain Unit

 

WV Mountaineer

After this coonskin-capper-nik put his flintlock rifle down, and quit jumping around scaring everyone, I posed this heady question to the professorial-gone-survivalist looking Trevor Kiess.  (You know how those bearded, professiorial types love a good philosophical question, over at the coffee shop …)

“So. I have a deeply philosophical question for you, sir.  Daniel Boone or Davy Crockett?”  Ha … he looked all serious for the first part of my question, but loaded up a big smile for the payload at the end.

“Hmmm. That’s good.  That’s real good.  … Never thought about it.”  (WH-AAAT?) “I guess I’d have to say Davy Crocket.”  Ah … nice … a purist!  (But hey, it’s not like he was going offend actor Fess Parker’s ancestors, either way he answered. I digress …  Google it.)

 

Kiess

Continuing this terse, hard line of questioning, I fired the obvious follow up to such monumental tv trivia.  So, hairy dude, “Ginger or Maryann?”  Ha … this time I could tell the topic hit the mountain man where he lived … perhaps too many seasons in a log cabin in the woods … I don’t know.

“Ginger or Maryann?”

“Oh.”  (Huge smile.)  “Maryann!”

Well played, buckskins!

Know what I sayin?

Army Ground War Outlasts Aztecs In Armed Forces Bowl

December 24th, 2017 · Tags: Cities · Sports

 

Chapman Under Center

Young players and fans attending the 2017 Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl potentially may have learned the military term “hunker down.” … Talk about two quarterbacks playing under center!  

Both Ahmad Bradshaw for the Army West Point Black Knights and Christian Chapman of the San Diego State University Aztecs at times hunkered down “old school,” bending the knees and crouching under the center … barely visible to the defense … and the cameras.

Perhaps The Army hunkered just a little bit better, pulling out a win in the final seconds. Down by seven, Bradshaw and charges marched down the field in a grind-it-out offensive drive, lunging across the goal line with 18 seconds left in the game. Darnell Woolfolk brought Army within one point of SDSU on a one-yard dive, 35-34. But apparently Army was done hunkering … and they decided to go for the win with a two-point conversion, rather than kicking the PAT and sending the game into overtime.  Army’s two-point conversion was successful making it 36-34.

 

Final Rushing TD

Gutsy.  Love it.

“Take calculated risks.”

– Gen. George S. Patton Jr.

With only seconds left during the ensuing kickoff, The Aztecs made several lateral pitches and throws across the field, trying to break loose a miracle finish.  But Army intercepted  a lateral and ran the ball back for the final score, 42-35. (Interesting … scored as a “fumble” on the official game stats.  I did not know that.)

And don’t think the ground game can’t be productive.  The teams combined for 726 total yards of offense, only 31 of those in the air. That’s crazy! Pity … the final stat sheet doesn’t include the number of pitches from the quarterback option.  Although — to me — it seemed that Bradshaw opted to keep the ball rather than pitch much more this year (compared to our covering Army in the Heart of Dallas Bowl last season).

 

Bradshaw On The Run

 

Run For Daylight

Bradshaw led the Black Knights with 180 yards on the ground.  The Aztecs’ Rashaad Penny led all ground-gainers with 221 yards and a bountiful four touchdowns on the day.  The Armed Forces Bowl marked Penny’s fifth consecutive game rushing for 200 yards or more, tying an FBS record.  Penny also set an Armed Forces Bowl record for the longest rushing touchdown, just 1:24 into the game, with an 81-yard scamper, drawing first blood.

 

Lead Blocker Bawden & Penny

 

Penny, Big Screen

This was funny, as I left the sidelines to return to the press box, several other reporters and I overheard the intercom announce the very first Army pass attempt of the game … Ha … Army finally launched and we missed it.  On the day, Bradshaw was 1 of 3 for a glorious six yards.  (I guess I can say that was a six-yard elevator ride … I digress …) Later, Army receiver Kjetil Cline threw 30 percent as many passes as Bradshaw … “completing” his single pass to the other team unfortunately, on an ambitious end-around reverse-and-pass gadget play.

 

Reverse

 

Reverse Pass

On the sidelines, trying to photograph the action, most of the day or at least during the Army’s clock-eating, quarterback-option attack I just focused my camera on #17 (Bradshaw) … that’s where the action and the shot would be … I digress …

The Aztec signal caller, Chapman, was the golden arm of the day, completing six of 10 passes for 25 yards (and one interception).  Yes … a war in the trenches, but still an exciting, fairly high-scoring fight to the finish.

Penalties were one of the more lopsided stats of the day.  Army was flagged just four times for 47 yards.  The Aztecs were backed up 82 yards on 10 infractions.  Among the more egregious SDSU penalties, late hits and at least one unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, resulting in the ejection of a leading defender.  If I might editorialize (hey it’s my blog):

An Aztec fan and I discussed the disparity in penalties on the sidelines, because it almost seemed like the military “horse in the race” may have been getting the old “home field advantage” in the military bowl.  I can’t say … but … it would seem to me that if you are playing Army — the team that represents the most disciplined body on the planet — you might want to keep your adrenaline in check … or at least shut it off when the whistle blows.

 

Warriors

 

Daddy’s Home

Overall, a great football game … And lots of patriotism and military might on display throughout Fort Worth. On the field during breaks, sponsors presented checks to non-profit organizations.  A Wounded Warrior received a new truck … But my favorite moment of the day was during a tv commercial that stopped action on the field.  The bowl team announced that a young Army wife and her children would walk on the field to see a special scoreboard video message from their GI who was deployed overseas.  When the video streamed on the Jumbotron, and the family watched, a camouflage-clad soldier snuck up behind them, kissing and hugging these ladies.  Ha … yes … the dad was actually brought to the game to their surprise.  The mother and daughters were quite surprised … and hugged and teared up freely … It was very heartwarming.

Know what I sayin?

Tragedy After Maria In Puerto Rico; Other Stories

December 9th, 2017 · Tags: Arts · Cities · Coffee Shops · Hotels · Satire · Wi-Fi

Rooftop Filter, Carolina

The Dirty Gig is full of characters … never a dull moment … And Puerto Rico was no different.  Working at the storied El San Juan Hotel in Carolina, Puerto Rico, one of my colleagues supervised a laborer named Ura who just stood out above the others … for his personality and attitude … not to mention his willingness to do whatever he was asked on the job.  He was always beaming a smile.  He sometimes jogged or almost danced through the workplace.  When it was safe, he jumped over stacks of empty boxes about four feet high, almost in a single bound.  As if by command performance he did a standing-still backflip the other day when I asked if he could.  No prob.  Of course, he can juggle too.  The guy is just a born entertainer. (I challenged him to take up the unicycle … I digress…)  Although I suggested he should move from Puerto Rico stateside and be a sports team mascot, my colleague nailed it mo better. She said he should try out for some role at Disney … bingo.

 

Linda, Ura

Ney

I hope that someday Ura is starring in made-for-teens comedies, recording records and having dances named after him on the mouse ear channel … 

After getting to know Ura and his friends, I was reassigned.  I left the hotel site and on Saturday returned to a project at a documents storage facility, 20 minutes to the east in Rio Grande, Puerto Rico.  The following Monday, I received bad news from workers at the documents job.  Apparently, a worker in Carolina was abducted off the street in Carolina, after work.  Authorities found the body late Sunday, I think it was.  Even though I had bounced between two different projects, many of the workers knew each other.  One of the laborers on my team was beside himself with grief, but worked anyway because things are pretty tough in Puerto Rico after the hurricane, to say the least.  The mourning working told me his brother had been killed.  Wow … I knew one of his brothers, and asked if that was the one.  It wasn’t … Later I learned the sad man was referring to his childhood friend as “his brother.”  I was relieved to find out it was not the real brother who I knew.

However, as more pieces of the story fell into place, the man who died was the real brother of my friend Ura.  How horrible.  I can’t imagine surviving a hurricane, scraping by to live after your real job has been washed away — all while keeping such a great attitude — and then having such a major part of your world whisked away by violence.  So  horrible.  A couple of days later I left the island, without having a chance to talk to Ura.  My condolences, mi amigo!

What good times with many of the workers in Puerto Rico … hardworking people, but always laughing and treating one another with such respect and affection.  Ha … I even benefitted from this familiar attitude, receiving a 10-inch Puerto Rican style flan dessert on the morning I left the job.  Yum … (message me if you want the recipe …)

So … I am going to learn to cook flan, without a Jello-brand box.  I learned much in PR, including the meaning of a word very, very similar to Ping or my last name, Pingel … change just a letter or two, and you have one of the most vulgar words in the language.  Ha … Now why doesn’t that surprise me?  No more jokes about Pingo Rico …

The last three weeks in Puerto Rico, I stayed at the El San Juan Hotel, where I also worked temporarily.  What a grand old hotel.  I knew it was pretty opulent the moment I walked in, even though there were plastic sheet barriers in much of the lobby, and fans airing out the hotel after the recent storm.  Ha … a few days later, I found out I had only seen a side entrance.  Behind the plastic barriers there was a showcase of beautiful woodwork, a hidden casino, an immaculate theater and one of the largest crystal chandeliers I have ever seen.  Yes … opulence. 

 

El San Juan Reflections

My room at the ESJ Hotel was excellent.  Much of the property was unscathed by the storm.   This was not the case for the top of the hotel.  Apparently there was at one time a barbecue restaurant up on top, with what looked to be a pretty expansive greenhouse-type enclosure on the roof.  I say it looked to be because most of the outer covering of the structure was gone after the storm, with only parts of the frame remaining.  How do I know this, since my job at the hotel was in the basement? Well … what can I say?  I am prone to wander.  One night, I was lured to the top floor after hearing about the giant, super moon/blood moon phenomena.  I rode the elevator to the top, slipped out a door and was outside looking over the downtown area of Carolina.  There was little danger.  An earlier rainstorm and its lightning had long since passed and there was a safe fenced enclosure on the roof.  But, unfortunately, the clouds were still hanging around.  By the time the moon peeked out from behind the clouds, it was high in the sky and not all that spectacular.  Oh well … I like to explore these properties when I can, snapping a few photos here and there.  … Shot some time exposures of an old school neon sign … The neon was unplugged, but a nearby exit sign shed light on the topic. (The pelican was added at a later date … I digress …)

 

Time Exposure, Photo Composite

Oh, by the way, the Wi-Fi at El San Juan was excellent in my room every night, even if I had to continue to re-up with my room number for the free service each night. 

You may have seen in a previous post that just a few weeks prior, I had been staying at a really nice Wyndham resort property — but being further from the city, the Wyndham didn’t have satellite TV or Wi-Fi inside or on the roof.  (I checked.)  … Ha … it got worse.  One night after work, I reached the Wyndham around 7 p.m. and headed straight to the nice buffet.  Immediately after dinner, I was returning to my room when people started poking their heads out of rooms up and down the hallway.  The power had gone out.  Well … actually there was no power being delivered to the hotel already — the infrastructure of the island had pretty much been wiped out.  Everything was on generators.   So … as soon as the power went out that night at the hotel, all of us guests — all of us working in the disaster industry — all cursed one person collectively.  We all knew someone had forgotten to call the diesel tanker to come fill up the huge portable generators — the life support machines for the huge property. (We were not on the job at this hotel, btw, just guests.)

Why this night of all nights to lose power?  It was very discouraging for me, because I had absolutely no more clean work clothes and already had plans to do laundry.  But … did I mention there were no working washers or dryers at The Wyndham?  Yes … my big laundry night was going to be handwashing clothes … in a shower stall, with no tub, to boot.  Then couple the handwashing laundry evening with no light in the room.

I had to tell myself this was nothing but a minor inconvenience. All around me every day were people who had lost everything … people who barely had any clothes left, much less a washing machine or electricity.  Some were eating leftover military rations handed out as the first responders first arrived at the island.  So, I wasn’t too worried about hand washing in the dark.

 

Ha … I decided to make the best of it.  I fired up the remaining battery power on my laptop and played some sweet tunes from my iTunes shuffle.  For light, I was in luck.  That evening I happened to have brought “home” my flashlight from the job.  But, the narrow-but-bright beam wasn’t cutting it.  I remembered an old photographers’ trick I learned from one too many readings of American Photographer magazine, and I snatched up a bottle of purified water from my table.  A plastic jug is great for diffusing light. I shined the flashlight through the clear jug of water and it acted like a nice lamp shade, spreading the harsh, tiny beam into a warm glow … kind of a disaster relief style holiday “luminary.”  Ha!  “What atmosphere!”, as I sloshed around in the shower, fully undressed, all of my clothes soaking in the soapy suds under my feet.  It was quite the scene.  I figured it must have looked like someone cleaning the wooden casks at a monastery winery … “Stomp, stomp them grapes …” … Ha, the voice of Mel Tillis filled my imagination.

“I’ve got to lose these blues

before I take myself back home … 

Stomp stomp them grapes.”

Hmmm … I wonder if Mel repeated “stomp”  in the lyrics is for emphasis or because he was famous for his stuttering??? ( I digress …)

Washing the clothes by hand was no problem.  Hang drying them in a hotel room with no open windows in a place as humid as PR was another story.  Literally, it took about three days for the clothes to dry, and that is if I also took a hot iron to them.  Never before have my steel-toed work boots stuck out from below a pair of pants with a crease.

The concern, of course, was mildew.  I think I was successful in preventing my workclothes from becoming a walking Petri dish of fungi.  I mean … it was raining almost every day, sometimes twice.  As discussed earlier, the first few weeks in PR, I felt cheated if I hadn’t seen at least two rainbows per day.  Yes, there was fungus among us …

 

But, when life gives you fungus, make toadstools … or something like that.  A couple of days later, with semi-fresh clothes, I headed out for one of my first days off in Puerto Rico.  Like a bullet, I shot out for El Morro, the old colonial-era fortification overlooking the ocean on the north side of the island.  I don’t have a bucket list, per se, but if I did, El Morro would be planted somewhere near the top of the list.  But dang it … When I got to the fort, the gates were locked.  The park was closed.  All the other turistas and I had to settle for walking around the massive walls that protect the main structures.

NYU Friends

 

I was disappointed to find the fort locked up, but hey, I only had to drive 15 minutes from The Dirty Gig project.  My friend and co-worker Rony explored and I talked to two young tourists who had scheduled their trip to Puerto Rico months before Hurricane Maria “whooped up” on the island.  The two NYU students visited the island anyway, unable to get refunds … they too made the best of the situation.  Nice ladies … fun.

 

So … all of us photo buffs circled the property, getting the obligatory external shots of the guard windows … the nearby cemetery … the outside of the fort … and thats when I saw some unusual subject matter.  Yes, the fungus to which I just referred.  Huge mushrooms were everywhere, fluorishing or should I say “sporing” in the lush, green, overly moist grass surrounding the park.  I crawled on my belly up an embankment to shoot the wild mushrooms at gnome level, hoping to also catch the military structure in the background of the photo.  It kind of worked … Not a bad shot for my fungus album.

Rony, El Morro

 

Uprooted

 

No Wi-Fi to go with the no admittance at El Morro …  Even so, the return trip, a week later was to share the historic site with Rony.  We shot more photos, then drove downhill into the heart of Old San Juan.  Wow …. I was going to show him the huge U.S. military hospital ship anchored over by Senior Frog’s cantina … but the darned thing was gone.  We kept exploring, and found the true sign of civilization.  Past the massive, uprooted banyan tree in the plaza, beyond the rum bars at the nice street market, we spotted our old friend, the green mermaid of Starbucksdom.

Know what I sayin?

Immersed In Puerto Rico … Same Same, Yet So Different

November 26th, 2017 · Tags: Cities · Restaurant · Wi-Fi

Puerto Rico … take two.

As with many a mainland kid in the ’60s and ’70s, Puerto Rico first showed up on my radar with the reading of Pastor Nicky Cruz’s “coming of faith” book “Run Baby Run.”  The gritty Christian bestseller chronicled Cruz’s take on Puerto Rican culture, dating back to his childhood memories of voodoo on the island, to his rise through the ranks of a brutal New York street gang, The Mau Maus, to his miraculous acceptance of Jesus Christ.

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/1998/april6/8t418c.html

Years later, my cultural education continued as I encountered millions of Puerto Ricans on Fifth Avenue in New York City for the annual Puerto Rican Day Parade — a multitude of beautiful brunette women, vibrant floats, red, white and blue triangular flags and flashy-clad men … all pulsating to the blaring salsa beat of the Caribbean.  Another spicy slice of life …

Then there was my stint dating a New York public relations professional of Puerto Rican heritage (a PRPPR) after our meeting at an electronics convention in Las Vegas … Coincidentally, my PRPR friend attends the very church in Manhattan, started by Nicky Cruz … I digress …

Each example listed above provided a true glimpse of the culture, yet none was any more conclusive than the fact finding in the parable of the “Blind Men and the Elephant.”  That is to say, each observation is valid but also woefully incomplete. Insufficient data.

Now in 2017, on the island at ground zero after Hurricane Maria, my Dirty Gig in Puerto Rico “completes me.”

After a month on the island, my limited world view is broadening with every person I meet … with every staple meal of pork and various rice iterations … with every stucco building, mountain pass, waterfall and palm tree … the survivors and victims of one vicious woman’s rath.

The other day, as the Dirty Gig ended another day (Dirty Gig — my disaster recovery assignment) our team of disaster experts, insurance adjusters and laborers mustered to discuss the day’s progress, plan our holiday schedule and remind the workers to return on Friday.

Someone made a joke warning the workers not to show up on Black Friday, still drunk or hungover.  Most saw the humor, laughed and heeded the warning.  One young professional came over and expressed an emotional, yet diplomatic protest.

“This is Puerto Rico.  Thanksgiving is about family.  We don’t get drunk.  That’s Mexico.  Thanksgiving is about family getting together and eating and giving thanks.”

I believe him.  Puerto Rico is about family and all the natives are family … at least that is my most recent observation.  They are the most relationship-oriented people I have encountered.  Each morning, the job begins with all the men and women giving each other a warm, polite kiss on the cheek and sometimes a fond hug.  All of the working men shake the hands of all of the supervisors and their coworkers to begin the day and to end the day.  Every one of them.

Often, a project-oriented task is slightly delayed for conversation and pleasantries to be exchanged.

Ha.  I ain’t gonna lie.  Sometimes, when some task is pressing on the job, I don’t do well with that part of the culture. I was raised in a very task-oriented, no-nonsense, farm family.  I confided in a co-worker that I love to socialize on the job, AFTER the work is done.  That is backward thinking on this island.  Accordingly, I seem to get less kisses than others from the locals on these scraggly cheeks. Hopefully I will learn warmer skills from this people-oriented culture.

Once the kissing stops and the work begins, the Puerto Rican laborers can hold their own with any workers I have seen in my travels.  They work hard and intense and smart and team oriented.   Once you get them started they are a workforce to be reckoned with.

Lately, I am seeing more of the hand-to-hand combat in the war against Maria.  My time at the wheel of the supply truck is over.  Now I work with the laborers lifting boxes from a warehouse of documents, and freezing the wet documents to arrest mold growth.  Pretty exciting, huh?

But, there was light at the end of the reefer trailer.  A day off on a Sunday, followed soon after by the Thanksgiving holiday.  Road trip!  Yes, the task of moving boxes from point A to point B does allow plenty of opportunity for this writer’s mind to wander, but little time to jot down the obscure thoughts.  But, get me behind the wheel, with a pen and a notepad, and soon, a blog is born.

 

On the day off, I hopped in the van and retraced my steps south of Carolina, PR through the mountains, to the coastal city of Ponce, PR … through some backroads where I encountered fresh floodwater from the previous night’s rain … hmmm “Turn Around, Don’t Drown?” … and then on to Highway 2 around the southwest corner of the island and eventually north to Hatillo, PR and then back to San Juan and Carolina (in a torrential downpour, by the way).  The roadtrip was basically a six-hour, clockwise rotation of about two-thirds of the island perimeter … “good place to get some thinking done.”

I thought about Puerto Rico as a whole, now a month into the visit.  I think Puerto Rico is a wonderful opportunity for all Americans.  The Territory of Puerto Rico is as American as Alaska or California or Vega, Texas.  If you travel in Puerto Rico, you can always encounter someone who is fully bilingual and friendly and helpful to send you in the right direction.  You see many of the same businesses to which you are accustomed to, back in The States.  You meet great people who have served in the U.S. military branches, dedicated to the same freedom goals as you and me.  But … but it is so different.  At times, you might forget you’ve left the contiguous United States.  In the next moment, you can experience some cultural difference that makes you think you are in another world.  It is a great way to explore, yet have the comfort or familiarity and security of your own culture.  It is the present … and it is the past.  It is common … and it is strange.  It is hospitable … and it is “foreign.”  You may belong … and then again, you may not.

The workers are great.  There’s more than one Juan, a couple of Hectors, two Angels, Sarai, Karina, Axel, Raul, Linda, Matt (PR’s version of Call Of The Wild’s Turtle Man or maybe Crocodile Dundee), Stefani, Carlos, Kellyan, Ura, Onix, Ney and many, many more.  Perhaps my new friend Danny is most impressive.  He is very proud to have been a Ranger in The United States Army and he wears his intense work ethic like a metal on his chest.  He leads the other workers by example.  He translates for me and he  is understanding when my instructions for the team sometimes seem to make little sense.  Ha … he even had to gracefully put up with my seldom-seen, but substantial temper one day … (for which I felt bad and was apologetic).  Ha … Danny’s wife even made an extra dessert for me on Thanksgiving — a very rich rice pudding treat that had exactly the same spices as my mom’s famous applesauce spice cake … delish.  If everyone in the U.S. services is like this guy, we are pretty darn well protected.  Oh … and the moment Danny really won me over?  When he told me that not only is he a drummer … he agrees that Rush’s Neil Peart is the best drummer on the planet.  Oh how I like to talk music on the job … I digress …

So … one day … I was driving along …

Lord only knows what sent my thoughts to my old favorite pastime — coining bogus band names, but I was toying with these: The Lincoln Logs, and also The Erector Sets … or better yet, Lincoln Log & The Erector Sets … I digress …

Driving in PR is a trip!  Forget about those white stripes dividing the lanes … everyone else on the island does.  It seems the white or yellow lines are suggestions, not mandates.  If you hit an open stretch of highway, slow down and make sure you go exactly the same speed as the car beside you so that no one gets around.  Conversely, if you go through a neighborhood or around a curve in a congested street, speed up for all the glory your multiple-dented car is worth.  Parking spaces seem to be about 20 percent tighter in the ultra-scarce lots on the island, and every car carries those battle scars.

 

iGuana:)

As wounded as the cars appear, they got nothing on the iguana.  Back in the states, we all know about roadkill.  In my native Texas, it is typically a rabbit, a possum or an ever-so-bland armadillo that seem to blend into our roads, once they are smashed.  Well let me tell you about the red and green spectacle of jungle island roadkill.  So sad.  My first sighting of an iguana on the island was the most spectacular combination of bright red bodily fluids, spilled out underneath an almost fluorescent green lizard chassis … about 2 feet of carnage, forked tongue to tail.  Yuck, man.

But not to worry.   Plenty more iguanas where that one came from.  One day on the Dirty Gig I was strolling over to the lunch tent when a green flash swept right beside my feet, out from behind a stack of scaffolding parts.  The thing almost scared the bodily fluids out of my chassis.  I have seen iguanas in college dorm rooms and on TV, but never trotting through a parking lot.  Yes, it looks like the awkward, almost mechanical movements of some Japanese horror flick, when you break it down in detail.  But, the creature somehow puts all this ugly movement into a pretty fast pace.  Weird.  I was so amazed.  I looked at the local workers nearby, to imply “Did you just see that!?!”  They were like, “nyuh!”  While I was marveling at the reptile mechanics, they told me they were thinking “you know iguanas ‘make good eatin.’”

I wonder, if you put an iguana on a leash, can you walk it into Starbucks as your service iguana?  I digress …

Just as life is different on an island for humans, it is a different world for other mammals.  There was a time at the worksite when we would see four or five stray dogs wander through each day.  And then there was one.  Four dogs have disappeared without explanation.  Interesting, about the same time the strays disappeared, an entrepreneur starting showing up at the job, service fried meat pies out of the trunk of their beat up car.  I pray there is no connection.  But if so, so be it.  Those empanadas are good eatin’.

And then there was one.  The remaining dog is the best, smartest dog I have seen in a long time.  He is a mixture of different ancestries, with Beagle appearing to be his strong suit.  He is a survivor and has a wound and a distinct limp … probably parked too close at the supermarket … sorry.  Everyone is taking care of the dog, although in this storm-torn economy, no one has rushed the dog to the vet, as we would in The States.  Here, people are already in survival mode … and accordingly, four-legged members of the family tree are a little lower in priority.  Ha … I suspect this dog will eventually develop doggie diabetes from all the handouts he is fed three or four times a day.  And his leg is getting better.  Just the other day, I saw a very nice gentleman at the company sneak up to the dog with a spray can of antiseptic.  Ha … the dog was wise to it.  Poochie lingered for just a moment, then darted away when the can was raised toward his wound.  He is a special dog … like this island … a survivor … resilient … he will heal with or without help.

I have suggested to the crew at the job that we should have a contest to name the dog.  Hmmm … Lincoln Dog … maybe …

 

On my drive through the mountains I spotted luckier dogs.  After I pulled off on a mountain side road, I rounded a corner that ended in a parking lot, hidden from the main road.  The lot was empty at one end except for some small Asian-made car that had been torched and burned to a special-recipe crisp. Near the incinerated car was a bit of graffiti extolling the importance of preserving the environment.  No idea if the two events were related messages. At the other end of the parking lot was three or four cars, some people on foot and a few dogs in a circle.  It was not a a dogfight — although cockfighting is totally legal here and there is a cockfight-a-torium about a block from my four-star hotel … I digress …). This was more of a love in.  Yes, good old fashioned, sanctioned, animal husbandry.  The people were apparently letting their pets breed … in the parking lot.  Ha … how charming.  It was weird.  One can’t help but to gawk for a second when such a deed is spotted, out there in the asphalt jungle, before looking away.  And this event was also bizarre, because one young man — all of the sudden — chased away one of the dogs with a swing of a baseball bat.  Ha … talking about ruining the mood.  I theorized one of the eligible bachelors must have jumped the line.  I drove away, puzzled.

Back to the green, green mountains.  I may have already used the comparison that the distant mountain peaks are covered in green grass that is as bright as the color of moss … almost fluorescent colored … not unlike the remains of a not-so-lucky iguana.  These sculpted, angular mountains must be what Diamond Head looks like on that other American Island.  Beautiful … impossible to capture photographically without a drone or an iguana cam …

It rains here most days — usually a brief downpour as ocean clouds hopscotch over the island.  To my enjoyment, our team sees 2-3 rainbows on most days.  The morning rainbow, the afternoon rainbow, the evening rainbow.  It was no more than 20 minutes after I commented that it was “always a partial rainbow” that my colleague Duan and I spotted a full arc of the seven colors (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet, for the record).

All the rain makes for good eatin’, as the local horses might say.  Once you leave the most urban of the island streets, there are horses on the side of the road, tied up, with a tether fastened to a light pole or whatever, reaching just short of the roadway.  People tie off and graze their steeds just about anywhere.  Throughout my day of driving, I only encountered one horse gone rogue, walking down the middle of the highway … somehow missed by all the drivers as they strayed in and out of their lanes.  On one small-town street, I spotted a dozen horses dining take out in about a one-mile stretch. In another small town — Guayanilla — I spotted a rusty, decrepit, painted pony that had seen better days.  There was a closed, abandoned amusement park visible from Highway 2.  I pulled over hoping to get a photo or two.  Drats.  The park had a security fence and locks that didn’t allow a clear view, despite my trying all the back roads.  (Through the magic of Google Maps and satellite imagery, however, I found the merry-go-round in a pre-Maria aerial view from 2016) … mucho mas merrier days.

 

Sadly, I saw one of the boniest horses ever, underneath a young teenage boy — “abajo el muchacho” — seen first on the streets of Guayanilla, and also later across town after he made pretty good time, strolling through an open air marketplace near the sports arena.  Despite the horse’s meager condition, the youth looked so proud — a man about town — perhaps with his first “set of wheels.”

 

Back on the highway, there were many other horses that were neither tethered nor painted nor parked. After I passed through the college town of Mayaguez, it must have been time for some horse show, rodeo or other there were a helluvalotta birthday parties, somewhere.  The roads and the highways  were filled with horses being transported down the roads. However, I didn’t see but one or two horse trailers the entire day.  In PR, it seems the vaqueros simply accessorize their pickup truck beds with some railing, and load the horses straight into the truck bed.  Hmmm … I can barely remember on our family farm, that we had some livestock racks that would fit our old stepside ’64 Chevy truck … but I don’t think my dad ever hauled any animal taller than a pig or a calf in the truck … I digress …

They were everywhere — as many as four ponies in some pickups.  Unlike The States, I suppose in PR you can tell the size of a man’s horse by the size of his pickup truck.  LOL.

On a sadder note, I think I saw one of humanity’s saddest human conditions.  On the main street of Mayaguez, I noticed a beggar limping along in the median of the road.  As I approached, it was evident that one of his legs was swollen almost twice the size of the other.  His oversized leg was discolored and also had a huge open wound of some sort.  Getting closer, I noticed he had only one healthy arm.  One was a nub, stopping at the elbow.  In this day and time … was it leprosy?  I will never know.  Surely not.  It could have been any one of a multitude of illnesses.  It could have been the result of infections from intravenous  drug use.  It could have been some totally innocent malady.  So sad. As I drove by, I saw the man’s face.  He looked as if he could have been some handsome college professor with a beard and blondish-brown curls.  Man!  The rest of us are so fortunate.

(For the record, Internet sources say there was a leper colony originally on Cabras Island and then as medicines improved, located much closer to San Juan in the 1930s in Trujillo Alto, but the disease was eradicated from PR in the 1970s.)

I can’t think of an appropriate segue after such a horribly sad scene … suffice to say I continued on down the road.

Back to my original purpose in this blog, I stopped at several businesses — looking for Wi-Fi — in the fairly modern city … After so many small country stores and backroads, Mayaguez was obviously a more contemporary city, complete with the retail chains and restaurants you would see in any mid-sized American city on the mainland.  Ha … in an earlier blog, I referred to the Longhorn Steakhouse chain as a vital landmark, when I was lost and getting mixed signals from my GPS unit.  So … what the heck.  When I saw a Longhorn Steakhouse in Mayaguez, I pulled over.  After a month of mostly pork in PR, I “deserved” a steak.  It was peppery, in the black, cracked sense of the word.  Delicious.  But, alas, no Wi-Fi in Longhorn, at least not since the hurricane.  It was a Sunday morning, and I had beaten the “church crowd” to the restaurant … So, I had my pick of tables, and I was the only entertainment for the waitress.  She was impeccable, spoke English better than me, and she hung around just enough to make a conversation, but knew to back off to a safe distance when I started slicing beef and feeding my fat face:)  Ha … while I was sad there was no Wi-Fi, I chuckled that Longhorn Steakhouse in Mayaguez featured classic rock on the sound system.  While in the car, I have been listening to two choices on local radio: either the local favorite — salsa — (which I like) or the repititious, shallow pop music imported from The States, which I deplore. Ha … as I sliced sirloin in Puerto Rico, I was treated to “Rocking Down The Highway” by The Doobie Brothers.  Bon appetit.

About three doors down from Longhorn was Coldstone Creamery.  How could I resist?  So my first steak on the island was followed closely thereafter by my first pistachio- and amaretto-flavored ice cream, Puerto Rico style.  Yes! WI-FI too!  Also, Coldstone, true to its name, had the best air conditioning I have encountered on this planet.  The sweet, fully-bilingual college student serving up the cream was wearing a fur-lined, hooded parka … no, well I lied about the parka … but she agreed it was way too cold.  Had it not been for the opportunity to warm my feet around the Wi-Fi hotspot, I would have taken my cone to the car.  After a brief exchange of the Wi-Fi code … I was treated to the my first taste of the Internet in several hours … It was delicious.

Know what I sayin?

Viva Puerto Rico! Reclaiming Paradise Lost To Maria

November 12th, 2017 · Tags: Uncategorized

Well, as some of you know, The Dirty Gig (a disaster recovery assignment) has taken off to PR … Puerto Rico.  As a communications type, I am still trying to get used to seeing the PR abbreviation without thinking “public relations.”

The Texas driver for the airport run was scheduled to arrive at 4 a.m., which should have allowed me to sleep until 3 a.m. But wrong.  The body clock didn’t want me to be late, and said “Get up at two.”  Reluctantly, I listened to my body and did as I was told.  We picked up two more guys and were to DFW Airport by 5:15 a.m.

Ha … right off the bat it started … this Larry David-like syndrome of random stuff that seems to follow me around:)  I found a lost laptop computer in the plastic trays that are stacked in front of the security screening line.  It is, of course, not mine, but since I found it, I am immediately suspect.  And of course, in this day and time, I thought “what if this is a terrorist booby trap?”.  It was not.  I was sufficiently harassed, a little over X-rayed on my electronic devices that I did not find … and happily on my way.  I wonder how many other travelers had seen the lost Lenovo laptop, but were smart enough to just let it be.

Hmmm … we were scheduled to land in San Juan, Puerto Rico just after lunch, so I thought I should buy some food for the plane.  Funny thing about airport  carry-on food, it’s about $5 per piece of bread. So, I think the airport is the one place where buying an overpriced-but-quality-ingredients Starbucks sandwich makes sense.  Granted, they no longer have the cool goat cheese and ciabatta bread foo-foo sandwiches at DFW International Airport like other Starbucks, but the turkey sandwiches will suffice.

Ha … I always get funny looks when I buy food only, and forego the caffeine at a Starbucks … Ha …. I thought I was going to get screened again for suspicious behavior.

Finally onboard, there was FREE in-flight Wi-Fi from my old, old friends Gogo.  However — be advised — they pulled the plug on “free” somewhere over the Gulf Of Mexico … and I am sure my pen pals who where enjoying very engaging conversation on-line suddenly wondered if my plane had gone down.  Rumors of my having to parachute are greatly exaggerated.  Well … did they pull the plug or did American lose ground-to-air Wi-Fi? Hmmm … Or does American have satellite to air Wi-Fi connectivity?  (They had ground to air …)

We land.

We go to get our rental car.

It has been rented to someone else, so we go to a second rental desk and score a mini-van.  Ha … anything will do, knowing the island is overwhelmed with shortages.

We headed east out of San Juan, Puerto Rico and continued toward Carolina, PR and Rio Grande, PR, with directions provided by one crazy GPS … We had input the hotel address but the “fool-proof” technology decided to show us the countryside — via a tiny, winding two-lane strip of asphalt up and over the large hills, with a multitude of oncoming cars, swerving tight around the curves, all racing toward the same goal … their afternoon beer. After several near misses with the locals who know the curves better than us … or at least they try to drive like they do … my co-worker and I turned around and stopped to ask directions from three caballeros who were drinking beer at a tiny gas station on the side of the hill.  Total serendipity.  One of the guys was wearing a colored arm band from the hotel, because he worked there.  Nice guy.  Gave us great directions, and soon we found our hotel.

 

The night before we reported to our work site, we checked into the once-opulent, previously luxurious Wyndham Grand Rio Mar Beach Resort.

http://www.wyndhamriomar.com/#gref

 Wow.  This place must have been something back in the day, prior to Hurricane Maria having her way.  The hotel footprint is huge.  Lots of marble.  Immaculate swimming pools surrounded by remnants of the tropical rainforest “nextdoor” … lots of palm trees and unseen, exotic songbirds.  It’s a resort’s resort, with a casino, golf course and its own little piece of beach.  For the most part you can still see and appreciate the domed great room of the lobby, the marble columns, festive tile work but there are also places where lot of wet drywall had been removed, with scaffolding set in place for the rebuilding process.  

A gentleman at the front desk is from Brooklyn and has been working at the property for 20 years. The surrounding grounds are a spectacle of palm trees, with cloud covered mountains for backdrops.  The golf course looks immaculate … and totally empty for the time being. (I am kind of wondering if the bird chirping is electronic … haven’t spotted one of those birds yet!:)

Through the huge lobby, and down several hallways, past the casino, we find a convention room transformed into the dining area, for the buffet. The tres leches was #TDF … but served only one night!?!  There was an unusual mix of people — mainly men — all on the island to provide an area of expertise to rebuild the island … primarily electric utility repairmen, security guards, Doctors/Nurses Without Borders types, Army National Guard and a few of the disaster recovery people I work with on what I call “The Dirty Gig.”

The unusual mixture of vocations led to interesting dinner conversations.  A young security guard, prayed before eating, and told me he was missing his family back in Tennessee.  He’s the son of a pastor who was an Oregon Duck trackster in college, fortunate and fast enough to have run the relay with former Dallas Cowboy Mel Renfro back in the day at Oregon.  I am reminded of a co-worker (sadly now deceased) from previous Dirty Gigs who also played sports at Oregon — a linebacker on the football team, if memory serves.  My friend Al — rest in peace — did a stint as a Hollywood stuntman back in the day … performing the famous Belushi-falling-from-the-ladder scene in “National Lampoon’s Animal House.”  I digress …

A few days into the trip, interesting conversations seemed to be everywhere.  I think the turmoil and upheavel on the island  was making people more drawn to conversation …

 

I met an ex-patriot from Brooklyn — now a full-time PR resident, who had no kind words for the outspoken Puerto Rican officials who had so crassly criticized our (and their) President Trump … in effect biting the hand feeding the storm-ravaged territory. The gentleman, a plumber by trade, said the people of Puerto Rico had never been much for taking care of business, or themselves or anything.  Sounded a bit like an over-generalization to me … but what do I know?  He described a welfare mentality, a land of no income taxes and a vulnerable society with no home owners’ insurance in this often-targeted hotspot of “Hurricane Alley.” He said most either have no car insurance or have insufficient coverage … and many are now without transportation.

That is all hearsay.  But what I can tell you is that Puerto Rico is wounded much deeper than what you see at first glance.  Sure there are massive traffic sign pillars here and there, bent over like so many discarded children’s toys … and the once lush green mountainsides and valleys look like shrapnel hit them in a war zone … but many buildings appear to be okay.  The deeper problem — as I am sure you have read — is the power situation … the lack of electricity.

I saw a line of 400-500 people waiting on the sidewalk of a local The Home Depot on my second day on the island.  Talking with a security guard, I learned the line was allowed into the store for one item only.  Everyone was buying electrical generators … or “plantas” as the locals say … (as in power plant, I presume).  The Home Depot had set up the store with one way in, one cash register area open, and one way out … all traffic and trade was to distribute the precious generators ASAP.  Pretty efficient.

It is interesting, and so very sad to talk to some of my native co-workers on The Dirty Gig.  They show up at 7 a.m. and put in a long, hard, days work as if nothing was out of the ordinary.  But if you take a moment to find out their situation, it breaks the heart.  One of the most positive, energetic and resourceful workers on the job is living in his car, next to his demolished house.  He bathes outside with water from lord-knows-where … probably from the daily downpours.

Another worker told me half of his home was out of commission, and his mother’s home was destroyed.  Meanwhile, he and his wife and baby are staying at a relative’s house, sleeping under the stars on a balcony.  Each morning they wake to find more insect bites on their toddler.  It is so endearing to see people so strong and tenacious, and grateful for the opportunity to make some money in this horrible situation.

I can’t imagine the hardships they are experiencing.  I am not even handling this off-the-grid thing … It has been days since I have been able to get Wi-Fi on my laptop, with only a few spotty hits on my cell phone … Thank goodness for Wal-Mart.  Most of their stores I have visited here have Wi-Fi up and running.  My cell phones have been pretty useless most of the time … so far.  My first time off the grid since about 2003. Wow.  Where are the Google Loon Wi-Fi spheres I have heard so much about (Wi-FI balloons launched to provide connectivity to the island)?  No Wi-Fi in The Wyndham … but what a great hotel, although she’s sporting a nasty black eye earned in her fight with Maria.

A sandy beach butts up to the back of the Wyndham resort property, the only thing between us and the ocean.  The sunrises are real and they’re magnificent (yes a Seinfeld reference … I digress).  Pretty much every day begins with light showers, and then scattered clouds, resulting in a morning rainbow …  And there is usually an afternoon rainbow too. Rats, I wanted a rainbow for a backdrop when I stopped at a stadium Roberto Clemente built for kids to play baseball in Carolina, PR.  Then sunshine.  The another rainbow that night on my long drive back from Hatillo, PR … a nice little city near the northwest surfing corner of the island.  (They say the stadium suffered several million dollars worth of damage.)

 

Without TV, I was totally out of the loop for the entire World Series.  Ha … I thought I had heard and misreported to someone that Houston had already won the series … then I found out there was still a game left.  So, yes I am a prophet.  Actually, there was one TV at The Wyndham that worked.  But it was at the bar, down around the pool.  On the last night of the series, I slid into the water and splashed around prior to the game.  There was more luck.  Puerto Rican TV was featuring just about every Pudge Rodriquez career highlight ever recorded.  Pudge will always be one of my favorites, having revolutionized the position behind the plate … and doing it in Texas, for the most part.  So, I was swimming around and catching highlights, gazing up at the stars, feeling the ocean breeze and thinking that things couldn’t get much better … but they did.

 

Just after Pudge threw out a baserunner on the TV, I saw a little black mouse run past one side of the bar, and he was turning on the speed and trying to steal away to the second bar, when out of nowhere jumped this badass, semi-wild, mixed variety cat.  Swoosh!  The little mouse was “dead in the water” so to speak … no he was out at home.  As if in celebration, the cat then snatched up the mouse and started parading around the bar … Running to my left.  Then rushing back to my right, as I was floating around.  Ha … then a couple of hotel employees joined the parade, chasing the cat (with mouse in mouth … the cat’s mouth) back and forth.  It was pretty hilarious.  What a perfect night at the pool … what with highlights and Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom-worthy survival-of-the-fleetest action to boot.  I digress …

 

For me — the journalist me” —  The Dirty Gig in Puerto Rico began with much promise.  When I reported to work, I was told I was “just the guy” for supply procurement and delivery … LOL … a.k.a. the truck driver.  This made me very happy, actually, because the first few days saw me travel to Carolina … to Bayamon … to Hatillo (on the far northwest corner of the island) and way down south to Ponce … yes as in Ponce De Leon.  What more could a road-tripping blogging conquistador wish for, than to hit the road with purpose and see the beauty of the island and the devastating aftermath of the storm as well.

I was loving it.  You may know, I “cut my blog teeth” on an 18,000-mile roadtrip, solo, throughout the entire mainland United States.  when I drive, I always put a note pad beside me, because lots of blogging ideas come to mind, behind the wheel.

Ha … my job was much more than driving from point A to point B to load supplies.  It was much more of a contest to see where supplies might be available, traveling over roads that might be open, using one of several GPS units I was carrying, all of which just may or may not be working.

As the rough roads began to massage my mind and throw in gear my imagination, I envisioned that my supply guy job was much more like the duties of the old character on a TV western:)  Anybody remember cowboy Rowdy Yates on Rawhide? Ha … if memory serves, that was the role played by Clint Eastwood, and he was the scout looking for water on the pioneer trail, ahead of a wagon train.  (I may be mixing several gems from the Western genre in this day dream) … but anywho, as I drove the truck through the wilds of Puerto Rico, that was my main objective — to find water (well, packing boxes too) for the hundred plus workers back at the job.  In the mainland, when was the last time you lived more than a day without electricity, and had to scramble to find water to drink?  Not only was potable water hard to find in PR, when I did find it, often the retailers had imposed a one-case-per-customer limit.  So, I had to ride my pony … er, drive my van to several stores to get just a few cases of water … 

About that water … Love the name of the local bottled water — Nikini … to me this speaks of the most minuscule, bare swimsuit.  But, after perusing the contents on the bottle, I have found enlightenment.  Inspired by the indigenous tribes that once populated this island, in the tongue of the Taino culture, “’Ni’ means water and “Ki’ means the spirit of the earth.”  There … we all learned something.

It was not just the water that was hard to find — it seems in Puerto Rico, at least at The Home Depot — customer service and any sense of urgency are more scarce than Aquafina.  Granted, we on The Dirty Gig are spoiled in The States.  When we enter the Pro Services area of a Lowe’s Home Improvement or The Home Depot, our company logo is immediately recognized, because we are one of the biggest national purchasers at those stores.  In PR, the locals had never heard of our company.  Ha … at first they would barely give me the time of the day, never stopping their friendly chit-chatting with local carpenters or mom&pop subcontractors, or woever to help out a crazy Gringo (me).

At first, I will admit, I was chapped.  I worked in retail early in my adult life and still remember the archaic concept of customer service.  So that’s what I expect.  But, bear in mind, this is Puerto Rico.  Technically, it IS The United States … but it is totally different.  One must move slower, converse more freely, laugh and smile more and do the cordial smalltalk … and then maybe you discuss what the jobsite needs when everyone is comfortable with that.

The salespeople were just not coming round quick enough, so yes, I pulled out the big guns.  I played up the crazy Gringo to the Nth power … yes … I rapped in Spanish one day for the fine people at the Pro Desk at The Home Depot.

“Yo tengo tres amigos … muy fieles y muy buenos … son estos companeros …”

Ha … I don’t know if they were laughing at me, or with me, as the saying goes.  Did they think I was funny … or just an imbecile.  I don’t know.  Nor do I care.  All I know is that somehow my bilingual skills, or lack thereof, had worked the magic.  All of the sudden — after I quit being the ugly American, always in a hurry — the staff in the store started grabbing my stuff (merchandise … merchandise!) and actually pulled down the pallets of supplies from the shelves … Crazy but true.

Ha … I realized I had used good cop/bad cop strategy, with me playing both roles.  First I came in barking, then I left rapping about “mi perros ladran bien” (translates “my dogs bark good”).  Ha.  I bonded with the Home Depot peeps at three or four different stores over an area of a couple of hundred miles.  Never let it be said that I won’t take one for the team … playing “the foo” to get what I needed for the troops.

And I just thought the employees at the stores were slow … you should have seen the rate at which consumers “moved” through the stores.  Yes, once again, initially I was put out by this and thought my eyes rolling would get guys to move to one side of the aisle.  It did not.  So … finally I realized humor was the key to getting inside the heads of my Puerto Rican brethren.  Here’s an example.  One day these two guys were pushing a big load of 2X4 lumber and some ladders stacked high on the special little orange supply carts at The HD.  They of course parked their load as close to the cash register as possible, never caring that their load was blocking in-and-out traffic for about a quarter of the store.  I stopped my advance … as if there were any choice.  I rolled my eyes, to no avail.  I stopped.  I thought about it.

I yelled “Everybody Limbo!”

And I bent backwards from the knees, stomping around and swaying in my steel-toed workboots, slinking down toward the ground like a noodle, and I acted as if I were going to try to limbo under the obstacle.  Ha … the gruff carpenters laughed and smiled and bumped fists with me and got the hell out of the way.

Off to another Home Depot for more of this rich, cultural exchange.

 

Ha … did I mention I was carrying multiple GPS units?  Well … My personal iPhone from AT&T was pretty much useless.  My work iPhone from Verizon was worse … very, very little cell signal throughout most of the island … Because of this, someone on the job had the nice idea to get me another phone … one with a local provider.  So … each day, while I was out of coverage areas, the messages would build up and marinate in my inbox.  Then when my travels took me through an area blessed with cell coverage, all three phones would sound off like the calling birds back at the hotel.  Actually, the rapid fire buzzes, vibrations and electric alarms were more akin to the rapidfire of an assault … but I thought it was too soon to use that analogy … I digress.

Ha … after several old messages came in, then there would be an onslaught of messages from several people asking me to respond to all of the other messages I had just gotten.  And here is the most hilarious part.  I would respond that I “could not respond earlier” because my messages would not go through.  Finally when I hit a really good area of coverage, my messages would go through, and I would get alerts from the arrival of my own messages … because people had put all three of my phones in the message thread.  Ha … I had messages propagating … or multiplying like rodents in my inbox.  It was a bit annoying … especially since I had signed a company pledge stating I would not read messages while driving.  Do you know how irritating it is to drive in a strange land, where traffic lights are not working at all in any intersections … very dangerous … and then having to pull over to read a message … and then realize it is your own message being delivered to your other phones.  Not funny, ya’ll.  I digress.

So, one day, I was headed to a new Home Depot — there were two in the city of Bayamon.  One of my GPS units found the first store easily.  Luck of the draw, the pallet of empty boxes I was picking up, had been secured at the second store in that town.  No worries … I punched in the other GPS coordinates.  Great.  The magic technology took me deep into the heart of a PR barrio … pretty rough.  I would have pulled a u-turn, but the streets were too narrow for the truck I was driving that day … not to mention littered with broken palm trees, displaced trash dumpsters, new and age-old wreck cars, unrestrained Pit Bulls and a few rogue pieces of a McDonalds or Burger King indoor kiddy slide.  I pulled out another GPS and punched in the address … It rerouted me for a few minutes, then pointed me back into the urban no-man’s land I had just left.  F-F-F-F-Frustration!  What could I do?  I drove back to Bayamon HD #1.  They assured me I had the right address.  But to be safe, they gave me oral directions.  I followed their instructions, which passed no noticeably orange bigbox retailers, but however, took me into the aqua, pink, purple, sky blue and other pastel colors of Old San Juan … where the streets are even more narrow than my favorite barrio.  I was not amused, and finally got out of the tourist area, and its one-way maze of nightmares.  I made big circles on the more prominent streets.  No HD.  I returned to HD #1 and this time they actually hand-sketched a map.  I give them a 10 for their effort and about a minus six for their cartography.

I followed this explorer-worthy map to the tee … No HD!  By this time, my Locks of Love hair was in danger of hasty removal, falling prey to my anger and confusion.  Finally, I remembered something a Home Depot lady said about a Longhorn restaurant near the Home Depot.  I punched in the cafe name, and voila, the GPS took me straight to the objective … just two hours late.  Ha … Guess what.  When I finally, finally got there, my order wasn’t ready.  And for the record, the mapbuilders had left out a crucial turn on a major thoroughfare … but they had good intentions, and they knew what they meant.

Man … the much-sought-after hardware store was nextdoor to a multi-screen cinema and a Wal-Mart.  The parking lot was busier than rush hour in Bangkok … no it was worse … it was more like an anger-filled Dallas Cowboys parking lot after a lost to The Eagles (only an example) …  I escaped with my life and lived to get lost another day … 

Speaking of Bangkok and Thailand, especially around the northern town Bayamon, there are some pretty impressive limestone cliffs rising out of the terrain, in the middle of cityscape.  The formations are similar to the cliffs that make up James Bond Island in the Andaman Sea off the coast of Thailand. Ha … you would think my friends the mapmakers might have used one of those huge landmarks as a landmark on my map … but ny-oooooh.

Bayamon … Ha … is that an old Ricky Martin song?  I am not up to speed on my Ricky Martin hits, so I just pretended it is and drove around the town singing it to the tune of one of his songs.  Interesting.  One of the guys I met at lunch told me Ricky Martin keeps a home in PR.

To carry on that comparison, after the tornado hit the island, to me, PR looks like Thailand if shrapnel hit all of the trees.  The trees have made a comeback and there is already lush foliage all around, but you can see lots of broken and barren trees in the thick woods … and of course there are lots of huge uprooted trees laying over on their sides all along the roadways.  This is scary, in the mountains there are still broken, downed power lines outlining the roads.  One has to assume that there is no danger at this point in the game, but then again, one must never assume.  Also scary … lots of concrete utility poles left leaning along the sides of the roads, with God only knows keeping them up.  I confess, I pucker up a little every time I drive by one of those.

Know what I sayin?

Wild Belle Rings Out Seduction Of Casanova At Kimbell

October 15th, 2017 · Tags: Uncategorized

The Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth is making me fall in love with my city all over again.  Last night’s Kimbell Fest, put together by the museum, concert experts Fortress Fest and local sponsors was way too cool for people like me to even attend.

But I’ve never let that stop me.  … stayed start to finish anyway.

This time of year Fort Worth may still “enjoy” high temperatures right up to sundown, and then some.  But last night — the eve of today’s cold front and lower temps — was perfect.  If you have not been, The Kimbell facility itself is an art masterpiece — a world renowned architectural gem by the legendary Louis I. Kahn — surrounded by somewhat stark gardens, avant sculptures and a majestic reflecting pool glimmering under the stars between the main structure and its little sister, The Piano Pavilion (named for the architect Renzo Piano) to the immediate west.

The Piano

It was overlooking that reflecting pool that I was fortunate enough to rub shoulders with some of Fort Worth’s most influential, enjoy conversation with a new friend, and watch battery-powered & neon-illuminated modern dancers, twirlers, jugglers and such … all while the entertainment fired up in the background at a stage about 100 yards away.  (It must have been pretty good conversation … I didn’t even check the Wi-Fi network, although I know it is there.)

 

Last’s night festival was in conjunction with the museum’s latest exhibit, Casanova: The Seduction Of Europe.”  The evening was filled with painted masterpieces, a parade of Renaissance-masqued bicycle riders, opera, farcical skits, acrobats and two pretty hip rock bands.  Something for everyone, on a very lovely evening, with mild temps, cool breezes and spotlights flashing on the Will Rogers Tower in the background.

Of particular interest inside the museum — the first known painting of Michelangelo, the somewhat comical or animated demon-filled painting “Torment Of Saint Anthony” … one of the multitudes of paintings in the Kimbell permanent collection (as of 2009).

Torment Of St. Anthony

Ha … but I especially liked a work that will remain nameless.  Visit the museum and ask any docent to show you the “magic foot” painting.  As demonstrated to me last night, if you stand on the right side of the painting, one of the subject’s feet almost appears to be a second-left foot.  But as the viewer walks past the painting, the foot appears to change structure and shape to become “the right foot.”  It is weird and cool and I may have to take up drinking again someday and go check out the visual effect under the influence.

Seduction Of Casanova

Perhaps the time has probably come in my career for me to stop commenting on music, because what is considered to be good and popular today has changed much, much more than my tastes allow me to bend.  However … however, I still enjoyed both Henry The Archer and Wild Belle … especially the latter.  (Special note: Ol’ Hank Arch has a song called “Wi-Fi Pets’ that did not go unnoticed in our research …) So much for what I think … I also noticed the young cool types, and the families spread out on blankets as well also enjoying the scene.

 

 

Check out the sultry vocals of Natalie Bergman, who fronts WB, and the soulful sax of her brother Elliot Bergman on the streaming source of your choice.  As for old-school me, I think I will actually buy some of their tunes today on iTunes … 

Natalie is a bit mysterious on stage, bathed in rich red or blue lighting, appearing somewhat mature and perhaps brazen or sexy lounge singer-like, sauntering in her skin-tight silver metallic pants and long blonde hair.  But, as I learned in seeing her in the “we-sell-vinyl” line after the show, she’s young … in her late 20s.  Put a long, sleek cigarette holder in her hand, and a little more harsh lighting, and she easily could have been some flashback to the 1960s siren era … just biding her time, waiting for her chance to sing a James Bond theme song.  Ha … but like I said, she is young and pretty, but has those stylized pipes that evoke raw sensuality and images of the ghost of go-go past.  (I would love to hear her tear up a cover version of “Gold Finger,” or “These Boots Are Made For Walking” … I digress …)

The band’s music is smooth … maybe a taste of funk at times … an overwhelming dose a baseline, a touch of that … perhaps blue-eyed soul (although I couldn’t make out her eyes) and some nice reggae rhythm chops from time to time.  The roots flava makes sense, given brother Elliot’s formative years at The U. of Michigan, playing a host of instruments in an Afrobeat outfit called NOMO.  At first blush, the band sounded so familiar … I don’t know if maybe I have heard some of their songs featured in movies or tv shows … or perhaps their vibe just channels my inner-martini … but they sounded so familiar … and good.

Stayed until the end, and lined up to see the band, doing what they do — meeting with fans and pushing merchandise in that glamorous rock ’n’ roll lifestyle … a road they have traveled since appearing on Conan back in 2012.

 

 

Lastly … to emphasize and revisit the earlier point about Fort Worth.  What a great show, so easily accessible in Fort Worth’s pristine cultural district … free parking all around … no mass traffic jam, a decent-sized crowd on a Sunday night, but no long lines and no sweaty pushing and shoving to get to the front of the stage … just perfect concertdom on a plush lawn.  Our festival is better than your festival … You know, unless you like overcrowding, attitudes, and essence of too many human.

Know what I sayin?

What Is Burnt Orange & Crimson All Over? Hook ‘Em Sooners

October 13th, 2017 · Tags: Cities · Sports

The Red River Shoot Out! What tradition!  Spectacle.  Pageantry. Spirt. Tailgates.  Obnoxity.* (*Not a word).  Have you been?  If not, picture deafening chaos with 90,000 screaming fans, many drunk, half in burnt orange and half in crimson.  Pretty easy to see where the lines are drawn in the bleachers.  May the best team win.

Special good luck to Texas Tech’s former second- or third-string quarterback.  Anyone else think John Snow of Game Of Thrones is Baker Mayfield and vice versa?  I digress …

So about the orange and the red.  Sometimes the lines blur.  Ha … that is my set up for an old story.  This is a story from The Old Cotton Bowl at Dallas Fair Park … a legendary stadium with no Wi-Fi back then.  (The Wi-Fi is spotty at best these days) … I digress … The actual Cotton Bowl is nothing like the venue for the modern day Cotton Bowl game later in the year at AT&T Cowboys Stadium, a veritable audio visual Wi-Fi nirvana.

Back in the day I was the PR guy for a company that was always out to top its most recent guerrilla marketing stunt. We put together the first USA-wide roadtrip by a blogger.  The company even paid for an advertisement tattooed on some numbskull’s head.  We handed out just about ever branded chotsky known to man — yoyos, slinkies, pens, candles … anything on which the company logo could be branded.  Ha … I think we had t-shirts printed up for about every event known to man.

Well, one year the Red River Shootout became no exception.  Oh we did t-shirts …  As PR guy for the firm, I was sent to the game with The Human Billboard in tow, and was asked to come up with ideas to get more attention.  This is where the line blurs.  The Human Billboard and I carried in a duffel bag half-full of crimson colored t-shirts.  Yes you might have guessed it.  The other half of the duffel was filled with burnt orange t-shirts.

All of the t-shirts had white lettering, and all said the name of my employer and Red River Shootout (not that sissy “Red River Rivalry” PC crap …).  Half the shirts said, “Beat OU!”  Half said, “Beat Texas!” … Ha … the football crazed fans were almost ripping the shirts from our hands when we started passing out the shirts.  The fans didn’t care.  They were in an orange-vs.-crimson frenzy … and they quickly snatched up all the shirts.  Some people just put them on as fast as they could, right over their current shirts.

Few even read the shirts’ messages, just grabbed them up or put them on.

Then slowly we could see the realization and puzzlement* on the faces and we could see our little joke spreading through the stands around us. (* That is a word.)  The red shirts were imprinted with “Beat OU!”   The burnt orange shirts proclaimed, “Beat Texas!

Bass ackwards!

It was quirky and unexpected.  We thought it really funny.  Some of the people were laughing about it too.  Most kind of scratched their heads.  No fights broke out … a good thing. Branding accomplished.

Good luck all … no matter what color. 

Know what I sayin?