Friday, May 30, 2008

Distance you'd drive for a clean bathroom experience

Something wrings fishy about this latest caper to be perpetrated in my small town involving a $1,500 pooch, an arranged meeting at a local gas/beer/snack station, and one woman's belief that the quest for a clean bathroom is indeed a sincere quest.

I've heard of biker's getting ripped off when selling their hogs to a non-returning test rider, but this is the first time I've gotten wind of a broad daylight dog-napping.

Oh and yes, as far as I know, the Domino Fuel Stop has both male and female restroom facilities. And though I lack any personal experience with either of them, perhaps they fail in comparison to those made available to WalMart shoppers.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Warning - Grain Dust is Explosive

My wife's job takes her all over the panhandle state we live in, and on occasion she'll get to bring the family along for the adventure.

Just yesterday we returned from a few days of work-related R&R centered on the states burgeoning Agritourism industry.

Turns out the wheat harvest for the entire mid-section of the nation begins at or around Frederick, Oklahoma (a mere 17 miles north of the Texas/OK border). History and tradition dictates that the millions of acres of winter planted wheat matures in the southern most section of the nation's wheat belt first.

And since most farmers don't bother spending the hundreds of thousands of dollars it costs to buy combines and grain trucks, a great number of independent harvesters ("Custom Cutters") descend upon the farmers and their ripening wheat in a race to make the best and most amount of harvesting deals.

Think, "Deadliest Catch," only instead of crab boats on the Bering Sea, you have trailers and converted busloads of harvesters from all over the country (North Dakota, Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin, Kansas) and around the globe (Saskatchewan, Toronto, South Africa, New Zealand, etc.) with their monstrous combines and 40-foot wide headers in tow.

These groups of nomadic harvesters slowly migrate their way up the nation's mid-section, making deals, cutting the wheat, and delivering the seed to grain elevators, following the ripening wheat from it's southern environs to the northern fields of the Dakota's.

High dollar deals are sealed with handshakes (no kidding), and I've learned that there are so many things that can go wrong with every stage of the wheat harvest, it's amazing to me that even my small town's grocery store has bags of flour for sale and loaves of bread on the aisle.

As luck would have it I was egged into taking a ride up a rickety 60-year old one-man lift to the top of a grain elevator where I pondered the sign on the wall warning against smoking due to the explosive properties of "grain dust."

The day ended in grand style for my family and I as we were invited to climb aboard and plop our citified butts down in the jump seats of two of these monsters, a Case IH Axial-Flow 8010 combine harvester with a 405 hp (@2100 rpm) electronically governed, 10.3 liter 6-cylinder motor with air-to-air aftercooled turbocharger and a 36' header.

Oh, baby.

It was like being in a Robotech (Macross) battloid in Guardian Mode.

Seriously, it was that cool. The operator cab with it's huge windows and plush seats came fully equipped with a powerful A/C, killer amped up stereo system, weather radio, multi-channel communication system, GPS, and a cup holder contraption that Bentley should take note of. Even my 8-year old that was digging the ride from the discomfort of my lap was awe struck and itching to get her hands on the wheel, F-15 fighter like joystick (only with more buttons), and LCD monitor controller interface.

Wifey and PK were grain drag racing us in another identical model a mere wheat row or so over.

When it came time to send out the auger arm to dump our load, the combined skills of our 19-year old harvester operator and accompanying grain truck driver to synchronize their mega-ton rolling beasts for a moving transfer of the precious wheat seed, was truly inspiring - especially for a guy that has trouble parallel parking his 12-foot long import rice runner.

I cut together some clips of our combine ride to make a 15 meg quicktime flick here. It starts out with PK demonstrating by hand what a combine actually does to the wheat once it's cut and collected and is underscored by really cheeseball with a capital "C" music. But if it irritates you just turn the sound down and make loud, rumbly, 10.3 liter diesel motor noises while you watch the vid.

I have to say, after spending the day learning about all things wheat, I may have to relegate rice as second fiddle in the grain hierarchy of my gluttonous mind.

And okay, roaming the country cutting wheat and driving a Transformer-like combine may not be my ideal job description, but then again, there wasn't a pointed-headed boss or florescent light in sight.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Yo-yo...a license to print money

Before C's school let out for the summer break, a motivational speaker showed up to put on a show for the kids as a special en-o'-the-year treat.

It was NED.

How it works is, this guy makes a deal with the school. For $1,500 up front, you get the yo-yo show and each student gets a $6 NED yoyo. For $1K up front you get the yo-yo show, a bunch of NED stuff and 30 yo-yos to hand out as incentive prizes.

Our little small town school opted for the "Free" package wherein we received the yo-yo show at no charge, but in exchange our office staff had to sell NED merchandise for 5 days following the yo-yo show.

Either way, this company made a pretty good nut for a 40-minute show and traveling expenses.

At our school they made a killing, as post yo-yo show sales were brisk for the entire 5-days and as of day three they had already sold over $1,500 worth of the spinning orbs, replacement strings, holsters, instructional dvds, and assorted NED merchandise.

Not a bad gig.

With the resulting yo-yo mania that had spread throughout the school between the highly successful NED show and Super Kids Day, it's no wonder that one of the activities slated for SKD was the American Yo-yo challenge.

After C showed some promise in the yo-yo challenge arena, I broke down and contributed to NED's bottom line for our school and bought C a boomerang model (twin ball-bearings for lighting fast auto return) in magenta.

She received her yo-yo on a Friday afternoon. After some instruction by yours truly, a few daddy-daughter arguments about proper technique, and several string shortening sessions, by Saturday afternoon she had the basics down and was imploring me to move her up to some string-based tricks.

Click here to check out her current technique.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Yo! Yo-Yo Guy.

The week before C's last day of second grade, her P.E. Teacher (yep, singular) hosts a school wide physical achievement field day of sorts called, "Super Kids Day."

As before, kids from Kindergarten to 4th grade are paired up and sent out onto campus to compete in a number of competitively challenging events of the physical nature.

The event relies squarely on the support and participation of what seems like a zillion or so parent volunteers, who must show up at the crack of dawn, collect their assignments and head out into the unknown vastness of the elementary school to find their Super Kid Day station for their 2-hour shift.

The last two years I've been around, I drew free-throw basketball and 200-yard dash.

This year, due to what I believe was a rare ability to demonstrate a modicum of proficiency at the particular Kid Station I was assigned to supervise, I manned the American Yo-Yo station.

Surprised? The deuce you say. Any ex-Tech Support Call Center Agent worth his/or her salt is more than a little practiced at the skills of the up-and-down-twisted-stringed orb.

What, you thought when you called in to have a tech support agent help fix your computer over the phone that he/she was actually sitting at a computer screen, reading incredibly detailed walk-throughs and interactive web-based guides on how to delete your Registry keys, or reset your Preferences?

Harv, mop bucket clean-up on aisle 9.

Most of the basic fixes were tattooed into our frontal lobes from week one of training, and the rest, well, the rest of our complicated twelve-step fixes were usually need or experience based guesses.

Guesses, btw, all made and passed onto the delicate creatures known as "our customers" while we TS Agents whiled away the hours, bouncing yo-yos, playing with our Silly Putty, or doing the prairie dog peep-up among the half-height cube farm walls.

Back on point, when it came time to find a parent to staff the American Yo-Yo station this year, I was apparently the only ex-TS Call Center Agent to step forward, grasp the invitingly familiar twin donut shaped orbs into my hands, and prove my worthiness with a quick series of flip-downs, walk-the-dogs, rock-the-cradles, and round-the-worlds.

My entire yo-yo repetoire. But it was enough to get the gig.

And I have to say, after an entire morning of coaxing, coaching, demonstrating, and goading elementary school kids in the art and noise of head-to-head American Yo-Yo competition, there wasn't a single Tech Support Call Center Agent veteran on the elementary call center floor.

But there were a few least in the yo-yoing skills category My 8-year old daughter being one of them.

But why they even had a yo-yo category for Super Kids Day this year, and how my daughter has quickly become a better yo-yo-ist than yours truly, is yet another future YASTM blog entry.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Donning Red's hat while singing Tiny Bubbles

Now that we know who "Red" Burpo was and how his family was intending to part out the remnants of his worldly belongings, we can delve into the tale of how I came into possession of one of Red's hats.

This one in particular.

I know, pretty dramatic picture huh. We have some wonderful skies here in Okie land. but I digress.

What I really came to the auction to look at were Red's old cars. Naturally.

He had a 1956 Chevrolet BelAir 4-door that was pretty complete and a good candidate for restoration. It went for $800, which was about $300 more than I was willing to give for it, but considering all I was thinking of doing with it once I had it cruising, shifting, braking, and turning was slamming it to the ground with some air bags and giving it a nice coat of shiny, flat hot rod black primer, it's probably better and more respectful that it went to a bowtie fanatic that was going to use it for parts to restore his own '56 project.

There was a 1953 Chevrolet 4-door as well, but without a drive train, major rust in the quarters and trunk, and too-far-gone-to-restore interior, the little sedan brought a generous $125. Probably cost more in gas to haul it away.

Red's 1952 pickup (pictured in the auction flyer here) was a true runner and brought in $3,700, which was a steal considering it will probably be flipped and sold on eBay in a week or two for two to three grand more.

His '69 shop truck went for just over $1,200 (great buy), and his assorted tools, parts, shop equipment, and hardware all went for some bargain basement prices. True to Red's rep, his stuff was well worn, well used, and bore the scars of a lifetime of service to Red and his customers.

Surprisingly, the only items I ended up bidding on -- and winning, were several boxes of old Christmas decorations (a mandate from my wife to all the members of her auction attending family is to never pass up on boxes of vintage Christmas decorations -- one of her many collectible passions. Oh the stories I could tell you...), and this item...

It's a Korean made, brand new in the wrapper, Samick ukulele. Online eBay price, about $40.

Now ukulele purists would scoff at such an instrument, but to a person who spent the summer of his 10th year in Oahu, learning to play the uke under the loving tutelage of his long deceased Grandmother, and has been jonesing to pick it up again to teach to his own kids during the coming summer months, this little ukulele was solid gold.

And for the back-and-forth bidding price of $10, it came home with me.

Along with Red's hat, complete with cigarette burn on the front, and size 10 1/2 head bowl. Why the uke and the hat were oddly paired up together for bidding is a mysterious quirk of the auction spirits better left unquestioned. Even higher up in the query list for me is why Red had a ukulele in the first place.

Regardless, picture if you will, my efforts to tune the little uke (Pineapple Pete's Uke School website has come in handy), the sheer will it's going to take to relearn the chords and lyrics to some of Don Ho's greatest hits, and all the memories that will inevitably start flooding into my heart and head with each plink, plank, and plunk on this little treasure, all compliments of "Red" Burpo.

Who knows, maybe I'll even don his hat for an impromptu concert for the girls.

Tiny bubbles, in the wine...make me happy, make me feel fine.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Who was "Red" Burpo anyhow?

He was just that old dude in a truckers cap, sitting in a beaten down barcalounger in front of that auto shop garage downtown that's still standing but no longer open for paying customers.

Every small town in the world must have one of these guys...long ago retired from the rat race of small business, the old motorhead now spends the salad days of his winding down life clock watching the world drive by, anticipating a stray customer or acquaintance of old to drop by at anytime to shoot the breeze, share a stick of Clark's Teaberry or perhaps even seeking advice of an auto maintenance matter.

His face is ruddy, pocked marked and scarred from a lifetime of hard wrenching beneath the hoods and undercarriages of cars that bore the mark of the bowtie, the blue oval, and the Mopar M.

However, when cars started having more computers and silicon chips behind the dash than NASA had for Apollo 13's launch, he saw the writing on the wall and the ASE Certified Automotive Technician patches on the young mechanics at the dealership and knew his days of carburetor rebuilding and cylinder head porting were over.

The old gear grinder's kids were all grown and succeeding somewhat at becoming respectable members of society. His beloved wife was buried a few short years ago in a plot of ground next to what will someday be the final garage bay for his own vintage chassis.

So there he sat, the long ago polished crankshafts hanging serenely behind him on the makeshift rack, making a sort of chrome steel backdrop for the throne on which he rests.

And watches nothing in particular.

And waits for no one in particular.

Then one day out of the blue, a younger fella walks up, with guarded smiles and sincere nods. He's not from around here, but tells the wizened welder of old that he's just moved here from California and was admiring some of what he deemed, "vintage gearhead wall art," scattered around the shop.

He was especially fond of the crankshaft/camshaft wall-of-fame/shame and seems particularly interested in the cars of old, as opposed to the cars of new -- even though he motors up in one of them import jobbers the size and shape of a really streamline egg.

The two get to talking as certified car guys will, and before they know it an hour has passed, a few cans of Dr. Pepper have been drained, and the young fella heads out to pick up his daughters from school and get on with his afternoon chores.

In the near future, a few more of these conversations would occur, almost always dealing with the same topic - cars - and always ending with a warm handshake and a sincere, "come on back anytime, enjoyed the visit," uttered by the older of the two gearheads.

From time to time an old third generation El Camino will cruise by the shop, the waving driver resembling the young buck who stops in to visit, but the aged eyes of the old man deny him the clarity to verify his hunch. Still, he waves back and hopes the driver can keep the old car/truck on the road since they are about as rare as a ten cent cup of coffee these days.

One day the old guy finishes his day of watching and waiting at the shop and pulls shut the chain-driven 15-foot door for the afternoon, piles into his weathered Chevy half-ton and heads home for some soup out of a can and maybe a Miracle Whip sandwich, not realizing that the shop would never again open it's doors for business, or casual car-talk visits.

And somewhere within the confines of the small town's city limits, the young fella is opening the local newspaper and reading about the death of yet another old timer in a town filled with old timers, and mourns his passing with a late night melancholy cruise downtown in a classic El Camino.

Next up, how the young fella finds "Red's" hat.

Friday, May 16, 2008

My quest for Red Burpo's hat

In my small town a curious mourning ritual occurs after the death of an elderly family member.

It's called....the auction.

When a family member passes on and their collection of their life's belongings have been scattered to the wind blowing through the closets of the surviving family, the remaining items are separated, sorted, boxed up and set out on tables by an auction house hired by the executors of the deceased persons estate.

In some cases it may be the Tax Man who initiates the auctioning off of goods, in others a distant relative, or as the case was in the most recent instance of my auction attendance, the surviving children.

This particular auction ritual could only take place in the environment that is Oklahoma. While the jaded, pessimist in me assumes there must be some incidences of petty theft and thievery occurring within the unguarded boxes of auction items, I couldn't begin the imagine the mayhem, theft, confrontation, and ultimate chaos that would erupt at such an event in any other place but the small town environs of mid-America.

Basically, it goes something like this...

You get wind of an auction by flyer, newspaper clipping, word of mouth, or you happen upon a metal sign stuck out on some county road advertising the upcoming auction event.

Show up the day of the auction early (to peruse the goods), step up to a 5th wheel acting as a mobile auction office on wheels, get a number card (just like at Christy's), show them some ID and wait for the bidding to start.

Boxes of stuff usually start at a dollar and can go as high as the bidders will tolerate. Often boxes are combined with other items when no bids are given.

Vehicles usually go about noon, furniture earlier than that, and if a house or mobile home is being sold, it'll usually be last or next to last to go.

The other day this auction flyer came in the daily mail to our home...



"Red" Burpo's life was over, and now his stuff was being sold off to the highest bidder.

I am so there.

Next up, who was "Red" Burpo and why was I destined to attend his auction.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

What photocopiers were made for

What the report didn't state was that along with the photocopied greenbacks, the arresting Officer also found xeroxes of the boy's smashed face, obscenely gesturing hands, and his pressed ham backside, which according to this article, results in many a broken photocopier machines.

In a later article, we would find out that young Mr. Photocopier Counterfeiter would be slapped with a serious charge by the county DA and may be facing some prison time.

Don't mess with the dead presidents in my small town.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Living the life of a Doctor's Wife

She had to be just shy of 20, rail thin, hair pulled back in a tight bun, bright eyes with wholesome good looks that most men would be proud to introduce as their daughter.

Her fingers were deft and sure as they flew across the keypad of the cash register at the combination gas station/beer cave/munchies stop/Subway Sandwich establishment in the smaller town a few miles south of my small town.

In front of me in line was a slightly graying gentleman, maybe 8-10 years my senior who was buying a bottle of water and a newspaper. After he made his purchase and skedaddled away from the counter allowing me to place C's turkey and cheese minisub on the ring-up spot, the young waif uttered the following phrase..."I sure wish I was his daughter...or married to him."Observant enough to notice my upturned easterly eyebrow, she clarified her seemingly nonsensical statement by nodding knowingly and telling me that the HE in question was a doctor.

To which the fully liberated son of a working Mom mindset within my noggin replied, "why don't YOU become a doctor."

I saw the incomprehension creep across her facial muscles immediately, and found myself looking straight into the eyes of a person to which higher education and lofty goals which included something more than her small town had to offer was as foreign as the fuel injected powerplant sitting in my Canadian-made Japanese car.

I'll not bore you with how the rest of the brief conversation went, but suffice it to say, there was no way a middle-aged man, paying for his daughter's minisub with a debit card, was going to convince her that indeed, she too could become a doctor, a lawyer, a software engineer, a librarian, a teacher, an astronaut, or NASCAR mechanic.

And I can't help wondering at what point along the way in her short life thus far, had she convinced herself that any or all of these options were beyond her scope of reality.

Seems I've never really given much gray matter processor time to the old adage, "we can't all be brain surgeons," and how it may dictate the lives of so many people.

Enough for now. Gotta go online and look for a kiddie brain surgeon summer camp for the girl's to attend next month.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Fast food for thought

Some recent controversy has arisen over my small town's one and only Sonic.

Several weeks ago the letterboard marquee warned the local towns folk and drive through environs of the impending closure due to a restaurant retrofit on the grandest, mega-corporate scale.

On the one hand, it was nice to know that the Oklahoma-based entity, (NASDAQ: SONC) thought enough of our town's franchise to invest the time and money for the upgrade.

On the other hand, from a drive-in, drive-up, drive-through anthropological point of view, experiencing the pangs of cherry-limeade and #1 Sonic burger withdrawals with the citizenry of my small town may prove to be an interesting endeavor.

And a healthier one as well, dietetically speaking.

Perhaps, anticipating the perceived severe impact the temporary closure of the drive-by caloric shooting entity would have, the management purposely ignored the built in spell-check that Microsoft includes with all of it's roadside sign boards, giving us the following sight of deciphered sadness...

On a related tanged, overheard recently in the school lobby while waiting to pick up my 2nd grader...

Don't you just get so angry at people who order food at the drive-up line at Sonic! Drinks only in the drive-through people, puh-leeez!"

Apparently the rules of drive-through fast-food engagement are changing in my small town as lives get busier and the quest for fast-faster-fastest-food becomes a priority.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Want a snack, check your weapons at the door

The field trip permission slip for my youngest boldly announced that we were once again going to be making the trek to the city to take in the fine sites and living splendor of the always wonderful Oklahoma City Zoo.

Strange how I now know this zoo better than I have ever known the venerable zoo of my youth, the LA Zoo, but that's what having two kidkins of the zoo visiting age will do to even the most hard boiled Los Angeleno native.

Still, after all my dozen or so trips around the displays, into the bathrooms, in-and-out the playgrounds, and round and round the Endangered Species Merry-Go-Round, I had never come across this sign, or any others like it at the zoo...

As the girl's contentedly consumed their four buck containers of Dippin' Dots which we purchased at the cafe where this sign was posted, I did some hard core brain musing about just what this sign was about.

Are the zoo staff normally armed against invading field-trippin' toddlers bent on destruction of the native animal habitats?

Do they open up the zoo once a year to big game hunters in an effort to save on their animal kibble budget by periodically thinning the herd? And if so, why aren't they allowed to partake of dippin' dots and Dr. Pepper slushies?

Did zoo officials post these signs prematurely, in anticipation of this legislation being passed into law and eventually spreading its influence onto state owned amusement venues?

Good thing I left my Sig Sauer in the car.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Yawning through the melodies

For the past 61 years a dedicated group of educators gather together to put on a county wide arts festival for the elementary grade level kids.

Included in the school-year end event are contests in fine art and poetry readings as well as a graded singing competition between the various schools in the 112-year old county.

The rivalry, if it exists at all, is usually manifested in minimal amounts by the parents of the neighboring schools, as the kids don't seem to hold any inkling of animosity toward their fellow elementarian brethren.

Naturally, they are curious about their peers from other nearby schools, but for them, it's a chance to sing a few songs in a gym that isn't theirs, ride a bus with their classmates, and not be stuck in a classroom for several precious hours.

Sadly, kids don't build walls until we teach them how to do it.

Other than some truly unobjectionable moments of "this is what life is about" as my wife, my in-laws and myself enjoyed C and the entire 2nd grade of her school perform two rousing numbers complete with hand gestures complicated enough to qualify as a parapara dance, the concert went without a hitch and her class received top marks for their performance.

I, however, caught myself yawning on a more than semi-regular basis through the entire mornings concertina - through no fault of my own, I might add.

Let me explain.

Open your mouth wide open right this very instant. Hold it open for a few seconds and tell me you didn't have to stifle the urge to let out a big ol' honking yawn.

Now, multiple that reflex by about 400 kids (about half of which seem to be afflicted by the yawning effect brought on by the opening of their mouths to belt out their well rehearsed musical ditties), and you'll understand why I too found my trap opened and lung capacity being expelled an inordinate amount of times.

I don't know. Maybe it was the dwindling amount of oxygen in the old gymnasium we were sitting in. Or perhaps the stress of performance was taking it's toll on the American Idol's in training.

Or, like the rest of the world, we were all just going on a little too little amount of zzz's from the night before.