Pandemic Road: Finally Some Good Stuff

Boo!Finally! Some good news to report! Amazing how in the middle of a global pandemic, it just doesn’t take too much to excite me. My First Sighting of Halloween Decorations in local stores! Yes, I may have found these at PetSmart. That doesn’t matter. The point is that local retailers are selling Halloween decorations! Usually these gems show up for me at either the annual Halloween Store or Home Depot or Target. Typically this happens sometime in September. However, I don’t mind this occurring early this year. Everything else is different because of Covid. Why not Halloween?

I have seen some posts on Face Book about Halloween being cancelled this year. Has everyone lost their collective minds? No, don’t answer that question, because I am honestly beginning to believe that is a side effect of this virus. You don’t have to actually catch this disease. You can lose your mind just by hearing about it day in and day out while self isolating and worrying about friends and loved ones.

Of course we are celebrating Halloween this year! It’s more important and essential than ever! Since March we have all had to face our fears about life, death, and the uncertainty of our individual universes. Haunted decorations of viruses chasing us wily nily around our homes or neighborhoods should be a shoo in. What a great opportunity to find humor in our human condition. Most costumes involve masks anyway. Relieve stress through humor.

By all means, continue to wear your masks, wash your hands and socially distance. Do everything you need to do to stay safe and healthy. But take the time to relax. Self care. Halloween mindfulness. I personally am coming up with some creative ways to decorate my balcony. My neighbors can enjoy the decorations while continuing to social distance. I will certainly enjoy the decorations.

Old Radios, Aging Broad

Despite years as a radio journalist, I never looked inside the machine that sent my stories out into the world.

Then I found this, the backside of my grandmother’s old radio:

Guts-eye view of my grandmother's 1948 Crosley radio
Guts‐eye view of a 1948 Crosley radio: aren’t those vacuum tubes gorgeous?

At the bottom of the picture, as if lying down for a long nap, lies what you’re no doubt looking for: the radio dial. Here it is, full frontal:

Four wave bands — AM, FM, shortwave, and police — with push buttons for on/off, sound, and station controls.

I’d forgotten that radios once had shortwave and police bands on top of the information and music channels we utilized most.

In my grandmother’s day, AM radio was primo. Lawrence Welk was her favorite! When he switched to television, so did she.

Scope the station buttons on the lower right of the picture. You’ll find my grandmother’s favorite AM station, KPO, marked by its broken, smudged glass. It’s an old San Francisco radio station. Did Welk produce his show there?

From the station buttons, my radio friends will recognize KGO, KARN and KONO. The others are all California‐based, still on the air, 70+ years later.

The FM band would have meant Future Media to my grandmother. But I wonder if she ever listened to the police band. Maybe shortwave radio? On a lonely Saturday night after her son had left home for university?

This old radio enchants as does the larger set of my grandmother’s furniture.

Entertainment center with cocktail cart; console includes turntable on upper left with storage for 78‐speed records below.

I remember the glitz of her Adolphus Hotel apartment. Dinners included soft jazz emanating from the black box and cocktail ice clinking from the cart. Fancy, intimidating moments for a little Pampa girl.

Perhaps it’s not the memories, but nostalgia for old equipment? Today’s gizmos can’t replicate the simplicity of a one‐function device. Solid state and digital technology isn’t as warm as wood and doesn’t glow like tubes. Also, satellite voices talking to the masses never impact as deeply as locals who name names.

But you reach a point where the past can’t keep talking to you.

So, we donated these pieces to Vintage Sounds Houston. They’ll find a home for these gems.

Meantime, I clear out my space, listening to the future now.

Which voice do you tune in?

Pandemic Road: The Going Gets Bumpy

You’ve seen her before. This is my cat, Hannah. Isn’t she beautiful? She’s 15 years old, but doesn’t look it. Suffice it to say that I love this cat. I would do anything for her. Risk life and limb? What exactly is meant by “risking life and limb”? Let’s consider, the events that took place two weeks ago when Hannah was having a bit of a medical emergency.

After several days of intestinal distress which was stressful for both Hannah and me, I decided it was time for a trip to the veterinarian’s office. So early on a Thursday morning, I put Hannah in her carrier and began walking towards my car. Since this in the middle of a pandemic, I no longer carry a purse. I was carrying the cat carrier, sunglasses, mask and water bottle. Of course being in the middle of a Houston summer, my glasses fogged up as soon as I stepped outside my home.

As I neared my car, things started going out of balance. I was trying not to drop anything.…most of all the cat carrier. My glasses were still fogged up. Next thing I knew I was headed down over the cat carrier. Yes, I went head first onto the concrete floor of the garage. When I stopped falling, I realized that my glasses were broken and there was a certain amount of pain coming from various parts of my body.

Now please keep in mind that I am the same person who grew up in the South with a mother who spent lots of money for years while I took dancing lessons at the Jane Bischoff School of Dance. Nine years worth of tap, ballet and jazz so I could turn out to be a graceful and dainty Southern Lady. Oh well, some dreams just don’t work out.

I got myself up and was grateful no one witnessed my uncoordinated and very ungraceful tumble. When I stood up I realized that no bones were broken in my legs, arms or ribs. I put Hannah in the car and drove her to the vet. After depositing my cat, I returned home and surveyed the damage. I had small cuts over and under my right eye. The skin around my eye was beginning to turn various shades of purple. I could see out of my eye and I could move my eye. Both good signs. I guessed I would have a black eye for a couple of days so I laid down on the couch with an ice pack over my eye. Except for picking Hannah up from the vet’s office Thursday afternoon, I stayed on the couch with the ice pack to combat any swelling as much as possible.

Except for feeling a little achy all over, I was amazed at how much pain I didn’t feel. There were no signs of a concussion and I was grateful that the fall was not any worse than it was.

Then Saturday happened. I blew my nose. The skin under my eye blew up like a balloon and my eye was swollen shut. A quick call to my Dear Friend and we were off to the Elite Care Emergency Room. A cat scan later showed that I had broken one of the bones under my right eye. After following up the next week with a surgeon, I was delighted to discover that I did not need surgery. Just time to heal.….and go at least a month without blowing my nose or sneezing.

The trip to the vet was a total cliche. One old broad takes her geriatric cat on a road trip and damn near kills herself. The most important outcome from this adventure? The cat is doing just fine. Is she a fur‐baby or a four‐legged‐ supervisor? Yes.

Until next week.……

Fast, Masked & Waaay Far Apart: Corona House Closings

Six months to clean, 73 days to sell, and ten minutes to close.

That’s a pandemic time stamp to wrap up the “house” part of my sister Mimi’s life.

This timing mimics, with numbing speed, the roller coaster of grief and estate matters that first hijacked my life last October.

Like clockwork, coronavirus hijacked our last biggie: the closing of my sister’s house last week. But this day brought the quick dealmaking I’ve ever experience with a house sale.

The red alerts began with the title company’s final email the day before: 

Email screams: “This is not your average house closing!” At least we were warned: nothing ‘ordinary’ here. But we’ve known that since last fall…

We gathered at the house of my other sister, Merrilynn Stockton. The thick wad of house‐closing papers arrived.

Thank the hand model (Merrilynn) for displaying the customary wad of dead trees, all “required” for a house closing.

We sisters signed. And signed. And signed. Even as our fingers and palms cramped and ached.

DH had paperwork, too: a silly affidavit with legalese about inherited versus community property.  

Merrilynn delivered the completed papers. I took the historic photos. Terri, the Title Lady, inspected our signatures.

Who’s missing from this party?

Yes, the buyer.

A young couple from outside Houston bought our sister’s house. From the documents we’d signed, we discovered they had sat in their own remote location the day before. They wrote their names a bazillion times, too. All we learned or saw of them was their signatures.

Closing on a house used to be fun. Now, it’s only memorable.

This one I’ll remember as the most creative. Which has taught me one thing.

When chaos reigns, you can do anything — even clean, sell, and close a house.

All you need is willpower.

By the way, have you updated yours—your will, I mean?

I promise that’s my last friendly reminder.

You don’t want to live this road trip.

Have Shields, Will Travel

Four months buried in the ‘burbs, this RoadBroad needed a break.

Off to The City — that’s Houston, by the way — I drove, my trunk bearing sack loads of face shields. Each was destined for other broads, all writers like me.

We Wednesday Writers “talk” weekly to share stories either written or read in the previous six days. Yes, it’s a Zoom chat — what else is there nowadays?

Each visit renews my life. Literally. And connection matters.

During last week’s screen visit, I casually mentioned a recent find: face shields, available by the table‐full at a local store.

What do they look like?”

The question landed in multiple. I tried to describe: It’s a sheet of clear plastic that hangs below your chin, almost to your chest, with a blue plastic band that goes around your head.

I modeled mine then volunteered to gather more for those interested. On Sunday, I delivered, realizing on the way that the drive marked only my second trip into The City since March. Another first in 30‐plus years living here.

How many more firsts will I live? How many in this pandemic alone?

The next surprise came with when I saw my writer friends for our carefully‐planned, all‐masked, mostly‐distanced reunion.

Happy.

No hugs.

Sad.

I learned it’s hard to stay physically away from people I care about. It’s triple‐hard when it’s several people.

I learned real human connection delivers a buzz that nothing else can. That buzz amplifies the more I connect with others in person as evidenced by another friend reunion later that day.

Maybe that’s my Big Learning from this entire coronoavirus pandemic: relationships really do matter to me, the self‐proclaimed, fiercely fiesty, independent creature.

Pandemic Road: Week 17

Last I wrote, I was on the cusp of beginning a 10‐day writing intensive retreat. I had planned on doing this in Boulder, Colorado and sharing the glories of a road trip with my faithful readers. However, thanks to Covid‐19, the road trip turned into a zoom fest. I imagined the flat irons every time I logged on for a meeting.

While it wasn’t as scenic as actually being there, I did get a lot of writing done. So much so I wore out my printer. No problem, you might think. I thought I could get a printer today via curb side pickup. Silly, silly me. My dear friend and I looked up both Office Depot, Microcenter and Best Buy.

Apparently too many people are working from home and ink jet printers are nowhere to be found within the city limits of Houston. We even checked with Amazon and could not get the printer delivered in under 10 days. Great big expensive laser printers.….no problem. Practical, compact, inexpensive ink jet printers.…..no luck. So I ordered one that should arrive before the middle of July. I will keep my fingers crossed that my old and cheap printer will last.

This wouldn’t be a problem, except that I’ve just been invited to join a new critique group. It meets via zoom once a week and I need to be able to print out submissions so I can give feedback. I will figure out a way. I am honored to be included in this group and many thanks to Fern Brady, author and publisher for inviting me.

All this reminded me of how things have changed during the global pandemic. Tuesdays used to be the day that DF and I would enjoy culture from any of the local museums followed by a quiet and relaxing dinner at one of our many favorite restaurants. Bollo Woodfired Pizza was one of those establishments that we would visit.

Today we dined again at Bollo’s…virtually. We ordered the pizza by phone, picked it up and took it home. It’s amazing how easy it was! Have credit card, will charge!

Printer ink will be delivered tomorrow, critique group begins later this week, and the printer will show up soon.….I hope.

Please send positive thoughts to my old printer so it won’t die in the next 7 working days. If it does, I will come up with “Pandemic Printer Plan B”.

Until next week.……

Why I Became a Street Walker

Note to Reader: She’s on the war path. Just sayin’…

I walk four miles every day.

Before dawn each morning, I don my black pack then stuff my orange towel into the waistband.

My exercise comes from a habit born of a health crisis. It mimics, on a much smaller scale, this Covid‐19 nightmare that whacked us all three‐plus months ago.

The lessons, however, are the same.

I walked and I’ve kept walking. Then the neighbors joined in. Great! I thought.  A collective pursuit of better health!

Not so great anymore. Now, we’ve got neighbors of neighbors walking our sidewalks and pedaling our streets.

Frustration overwhelms me these days because of this one simple irritant: a common lack of sidewalk manners.

I do not mask up to walk. I would suffocate in such a four‐mile adventure.

I do, however, step off the sidewalk when someone approaches. In one fluid move, I cover my nose and mouth with my towel and never lose my stride.

The two actions matter as much as my breath. Together, the pair of moves protects my fellow walkers. And me.

In these recent weeks, a minority of walkers has matched my move. Sometimes they even beat me to covering up or stepping away.

But the more common reaction involves what I call the barrel away. These strangers scooch steadily toward me, never slowing. As they barrel into their shortened version of social distancing, I hop down to the street. These walkers, oblivious, continue their barrel away down the sidewalk. It appears only their walk matters. Is this their corona daze?

On the worst walks, crowds come. I’ll spot three to five walkers jammed in a horizontal line across the concrete, aimed head‐on at me. And as I step down, they glide by like an incoming tide.

The guiltiest party involves the high school track team but I’ll forgive them. They’re teenagers, self‐involved.

Even so, age shouldn’t matter—aren’t we all in this together?

Elected officials have re‐opened most places. To get to any of those locations, we must walk. Through parking lots, malls, and airports; along beaches and dirt roads, into/out of restaurants and shops; even down to the mailbox. Then there’s those of us who walk to live.

Can’t we all walk and, when it may save a life, step away from each other? It’s only for a few feet and a few seconds. It might keep all of us safe.

Perhaps it’s a futile question and I should give up my rant and pray. Maybe, ultimately, the littlest among us are correct in their offering of sidewalk calm:

Pandemic Road: Week 16

Has it really been two years? Just over two years ago in May of 2018 I retired from my long long time career as a Social Worker and set off to become a full‐time writer and artist. One of the first things I did was to take a road trip with Melanie to Boulder, Colorado to attend Max Regan’s Writing Intensive. It was magical. Pearl street mall, Boulder Bookstore, the Flat Irons. I attended classes with Max at the Boulder Bookstore and then we met at the Boulder Dushanbe Tea House for one‐on‐one meetings. No matter where I was in Boulder, I could look out and see the Flat Irons. I was happy. I was writing. My future and my next career were in front of me.

This is how our blog, RoadBroads was born.

Two years later I wanted to go back to Boulder. I wanted to revisit the Boulder Bookstore and the Pearl Street Mall. I had made reservations for living arrangements and paid a deposit for my space at the Max Regan June Writing Intensive. Then Covid‐19 happened. Travel cancelled. The Writing Intensive moved to an on‐line class. There are still approximately 20 of us who want to engage in this writing exercise. Those of us who want to develop our writing craft skills are willing to meet online and share our collective wisdom. Share our stories, exchange ideas, and listen to one another. But it won’t take place in Boulder. Instead of looking out at the Flat Irons, I will look out at my living room. I will see all of the wonderful writing companions via Zoom. Little boxes with heads inside of them.

Online is not as good as being there; however, it’s what I can do for now. I love my writing community. I value their input. I will enjoy spending time with them for the next 10 days even if I’m not in Boulder. This promises to be a new adventure in my writing life.

Until next week.….

Pandemic Road: Week 15

What have you been doing during this pandemic? Have you cleaned house? Have you finished your novel? Have you returned to work or are you still working from home? With over three months of time on our hands, I initially thought that I would give my home a thorough cleaning. I have started several times. Other than wiping down everything with bleach and rubbing alcohol, I have not done much in the way of cleaning out closets or organizing art supplies.

Yes, I have been writing.….some. I have also been walking a lot. You may remember in previous blogs I have written about walks in the Houston Arboretum and Hermann Park. Unfortunately, the hotter it gets this time of year, the more I look for inside venues for exercise. The YMCA has an indoor walking track. This may be my best bet. I can go there and not have to touch anything but two elevator buttons to get in and out. It amazed me that during this time of pandemic I could think through on such a detailed level going into a building to walk. And of course I will wear a mask the whole time I’m there.

What I have done a great deal of the time is divide myself between binge reading and binge television watching. That explains why I have to walk so much. The pictures show just a few of the books that have taken up my time. Sometimes books and movies are connected. I have both binge read and binge watched The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. The next book I will begin tonight is The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes also by Suzanne Collins. I read If It Bleeds by Stephen King and found it very relaxing in light of all of the craziness and uncertainty going on around the world these days. A couple of books of poetry always sit on my coffee table to peruse when the mood hits me.

What have I been watching on television? My goal is to find something comical to put a dent in the stress of the day. Men In Black, Ghostbusters are both fun movies series. I have also binge watched the television series Cosmos and What We Do In The Dark. Lately I have started watching movies from the 1930s and 1940s. These include all of The Thin Man movies starring William Powell and Myrna Loy. I have watched Arsenic and Old Lace with Cary Grant twice and have it saved for Halloween. Next I am going to watch the original Sherlock Holmes  movies starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce.

If this keeps up for much longer either things could get really strange or I may find myself writing and cleaning house.

What are you doing with your time?

Until next week.…..

When FART = New CAR

Can six characters determine a car and its future?

His guffaw offered the first clue. My second glance confirmed the news.

This new car of mine is, shall we say, special! 

I’d called the insurance agent to report I needed to update our auto policy, thanks to new wheels.

He asked for the car’s VIN, short for Vehicle Identification Number. You know it as that windy string of numbers and letters tucked deep into the driver’s side of a car windshield.

The line of figures lies so low and tiny along the dashboard even children can’t read it. Thus, when I read the figures out loud, I concentrated on reading each letter and number. Each meant nothing.

But when the agent laughed, I scrunched my eyes, leaned in with my magnifying glass then echoed his guffaw. What slipped out was, “And I thought I bought a hybrid.”

After the phone call, I resorted to my old reporter days. I dug in for information. Thank you, Internet. Early popped up this VIN translation:

Image copyright. www.drivingtests.org.

The above graphic reveals the meaning behind the 17 characters that comprise a VIN. Imagine an automotive Social Security number. The VIN teases out the vehicle’s manufacturer, type, brand, model, series, engine size/type, year made, assembly plant, and vehicle production.

The first three digits comprise what’s called the WMI, short for World Manufacturer Identifier. In my new car, that = “7FA.”

The only problem? Those characters don’t fit WMI’s own rule. Said guideline states these identifiers refer to the car manufacturer’s country plus the vehicle’s maker and type.

Translation (and apologizing in advance for all these automotive acronyms): in WMI language, “7FA” indicates I now own a “multi‐purpose vehicle” manufactured by an unidentified car maker in Oceania. The latter includes only Australia and New Zealand.

True fact is I bought a Honda CR‐V, manufactured in Indiana by a Japanese‐owned car company. The window sticker verifies that, as does the rest of the VIN. Either I don’t know how to read long sets of characters. That’s somewhat probable. Or maybe there’s a secret system to protect against vehicle hijinks (aha! global conspiracy!).

Interesting that only the first three digits are wrong in this VIN. But it’s so simply corrected.

Change “7FA” to 1HA” and there’s my car: an American‐manufactured Honda “multi‐purpose vehicle.” (It’s actually a sport utility vehicle, but who wants to quibble?) Add that 1HA” to the existing “RT” and you get “1HART” — a car I’d drive with just that.

Alas, I’m stuck with the VIN I have. So I’ve named the car.

She’s Gassy.  For grins.