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.

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.

When Cars & Age Don’t Mix

I began driving (gulp!) nearly a half century ago. I figured out that factoid yesterday after buying a new car left me feeling Ancient.

My decade‐plus car gave up its air conditioning last week.

Second time in two years. I shouted Sayonara!

A plethora of car research later, I headed out on the road.

Blast from the past: when gears want a push, not a pull.

Inside car #2 at the second dealership, I guffawed at the dashboard: push‐button gears? 

My mind flicked back to childhood. In my mind’s eye, I saw Mother struggling to shift the skinny gear stick that poked out of the steering column like an Auto Gumby. Further back, I spied, from the back seat, as my grandmother Allie pushed what looked like sticky buttons on her dashboard then her big car inched forward.

Other car memories dropped in. None of our autos had:

  • Air conditioning
  • FM radio
  • Center console
  • Seatbelts, or
  • Power anything: windows, locks, brakes, or steering 

In the demo car, I eyeballed the dashboard, looking for the familiar, the necessary.

CD player?” I asked the salesman.

Nada,” he said. “Bring your phone and play your own music.”

I didn’t dare mention I have never downloaded music. I play CD’s or an old radio. Both serve my audio‐challenged purposes.

I asked about the car radio. He turned it on. I spied nirvana: high‐definition (HD) radio. Interrupting his chatty spiel, I hijacked the dial and searched for my favorite music — the tunes that calm, never crank‐ify, me. Eureka! Classical music!

The salesman interrupted my reveries, sharing other shockers about today’s cars (is this what I get for hating to car shop?):

  • Tires filled with nitrogen, not air
  • Auto inspections = no more stickers
  • Keyless entry = bigger fob, and
  • Cameras and radar eyeball parking, lane centering
The orange‐circled headline (lower right corner) screamed at me in the checkout lane the day I got my new car.

All these radar sensors, linked together by cameras and computers, come with repeated assurances about ‘spectacular’ safety devices.

I swallowed the Kool‐Aid. It’s called New Car Giddiness.

But I swallowed hard the next day when I spotted Consumer Reports. A cover article revealed a multi‐billion dollar industry now salivating over its planned “harvesting” of driver data from American cars.

Their goal? Million‐car tracking next year alone, salivating at a multi‐market revenue stream.

All fine, if data is used legally. But everything has a cause‐and‐effect. And a price. As do new cars with new gizmos.

I head off here now — to learn how to silence most of what I just bought.

When Voodoo Beats ‘Rona

I smiled at the fence and whispered, Ah, Dorothy, we’re not in Portland…” 


Memories of this infamous shade of pink — and the tasty product it telegraphs — drew DH and I to burst our bubble of coronavirus quarantine.

The lure?

Newest location of Voodoo Doughnut. In Houston.

As it’s been eight weeks since we’ve driven into The City, this road trip felt like an excursion into a foreign land. A first after 40+ years of Big H living.

We expected a repeat of our first Voodoo experience.

Portland, Oregon. Summer, 2018.

The locals swore a Must‐Do was sampling Portland doughnuts. Not a normal food choice for either of us. But DH and I share a hard travel rule: wherever, whatever, indulge as the natives do. Within reason, of course.

A two mile walk from our hotel, we discovered the Voodoo crowd: 

The never‐ending line outside Voodoo Doughnuts, Portland, OR (Image copyright, DSC_0242.jpg.)
Whatever you can doughnut, plus more.

Their wall‐mounted menu elicited a “Holy moly!” shriek. What you see to the left is one section of a three‐paneled menu.

Hard to see the variety. I remember what we ordered: Viscous Hibiscus, Blueberry Cake, Raspberry Romeo, Voodoo Doll, and School Daze PB&J. 

Good!” understates the divinity. 

But, truth is, the ensuing sugar rush hijacked my blogger’s eye and writer’s brain. And I no longer remember what else was on the menu — doughnuts or drinks. I do remember The Pink. 

The same Portland pink dominates the Houston store, too.

I smacked on these local bites of heaven but my eyes rebelled at all the Pepto‐Bismol pink.

Maybe that’s the point? 

A second point: after you eat your box of doughnuts (because who buys or eats only two or three Voodoos?), you need yummy tummy medicine! 

So, why not sell PB in your stores, Voodoo Doughnuts? A commission later?

Oh dear reader, I beg your forgiveness for my doughnut‐brain. This post does stink like a commercial. I promise the only green exchanged came from my own pocket. And it was a pricey grab: $2.80 per doughnut on average.

The second ouch! came two days later when I stepped on the scale. 

Alas. Must we always pay in both pennies and pounds?

Can’t we catch a break in these pandemic days?

Does Climbing Ladders Equal a Road Trip?

I didn’t plan these 48 hours: climbing ladders and cleaning attics.

Blame two insurance companies and Covid‐19.

The latter led to what I call a Double D.C. with DH.

Translation:  DeCluttering & Deep Cleaning Project with Dear Husband.

OMG! We have to clean this? 

With time on our hands and remembering last fall’s house‐clearing experiences, we began The Project.

This weekend, it was the garage; today, the front closet and our attic. Of all the ancient goods we rediscovered, only two of each now remain: boxes of books and nearly‐new suitcases.

There’s an ancient stuffed reindeer bagged up there, too. A post for next year’s holiday blog?

I’m grateful for an unused bedroom. It’s now two feet high with donate‐ables, all Goodwill‐bound when ‘Rona bails and frees us to venture wide again.

When an attic ladder meets sisterly memories…

Post‐attic, I scaled a second ladder, this one at my sister’s house.

Standing at its highest rung, I looked down. Gulped. Hard. The ladder’s lowest step peeks right into her empty bedroom. 

Sniff, sniff. I’m still not used to her absence, six months ago last Thursday. 

A broken heart does what it must.

I climbed the ladder because we’re checking Mimi’s roof. Big Leaks, we fear. Total repairs are guess‐timated $26K+, funds none of us has. Hearing that number, I ouched louder than I’ve cried since this nightmare began.

But as I stood atop this ladder, my inner fight grew.

Get roof repairs fully funded, somehow! Either by the crotchety manager who just cancelled the existing homeowner’s policy because we don’t insure vacant houses or the new company which insists we’ve got to see the roof! 

Me climbing ladders, much less two within an hour, marked a first. In these days, it’s particularly curious as Uncle Sam considers me ‘high‐risk.’ I stepped up anyway, scaling rungs and standing higher than nine feet, nearly twice my height.

Boys will be Brave & Adventurous?

Before the afternoon ended, I rejected a third climbing opportunity. No go! to the roof, I nearly shouted. Instead, two young hunks, shod in Super Soles, shimmied up to play their high‐in‐the‐sky games. 

I played mine. I stood on terra firma and I spun around. My eyes spotted him.

A headless man, climbing a tree. Desperate to escape. Is that a stand‐in for me, today?

Play “name this scene!”

Take a peek: what do you see?

Your answer echoes the moral of my post: climb two ladders, save half your things, then go play.

Your life will be richer.

For each and every experience you name.

When a Census Counts…and Doesn’t

Thank the U.S. Census for repeating itself last week.

Such are my days:

  • I received a pair of 2020 census forms: one at our house, another at my sister’s house;
  • Two flashbacks followed: one to 1980, my year as a census enumerator, another to five months ago

I wish my parents had snapped a photo of me as a census girl. We didn’t take many photos 40 years ago. Each print! It costs money! If I had a picture from those days, you’d see a Melanie‐circa‐1980‐Census photo:

**right here**

I prized the homemade outfit I assembled. Over‐coordinated in perfect reds, whites, and blues, I reminded myself, “I’m working for the U.S. government!” 

I also proudly toted the government‐issued shoulder bag, a cheap black vinyl thing that swamped my small frame. It arrived with a massive U.S. CENSUS! sticker slapped on the diagonal across the bag’s front.

If I had a photo — again — you’d see that bag:

*right here**

But I grew to hate the bag’s wide black straps. They bit into my shoulder, the gouges deepening each day I criss‐crossed the streets of my Pampa hometown.

Many of its roads I’d never driven, much less walked. At 23, I was frighteningly young, long sheltered from another side of life in a small Texas town.

When Derek opened his door, I recognized him as a high school classmate and former football star. He now lived alone with his mother in a unpainted shack south of the tracks.

He grimaced, remembering me. I smiled. It was my job.

A day later, I stood on Mrs. Wilson’s porch. Her youngest daughter had been my best friend in first grade. Mrs. Wilson complimented my outfit, validating my sense of style.

But her face remained blank. I didn’t know whether to feel hurt or gratitude.

Fast forward four decades:

My family received two census forms in, yes, two different mailboxes: my house, plus the same form at my recently deceased sister’s home.

I opened Mimi’s first. It read “To Resident at….”

I entered her census ID, expecting questions about her status.

Instead, a plethora of questions gushed forth like a wave, all focused on the structure at her address. I answered that no one was living in the house. The computer responded:

Swallowing the lump bulging in my throat, I asked the screen, “Empty doesn’t matter?”

On our census form, DH confirmed we still occupied the building as “residents of the address.” Up popped a question about our names. Answering led to gratitude from Uncle Sam: I know, I know. The census exists to count people for many reasons.

But we only matter if we’re living? 

Yes, I’m still grieving my sister’s sudden death. Last week marked five months.

Time does ease the loss. It won’t go away when reminders keep coming.

And 40 years later, I remain sad about those porch moments with Derek and Mrs. Wilson. 

Interesting, isn’t it, remembering what we’d like to forget.

Cold Days & Corona Hands

When I lost my voice last week, I knew I was Bad sick.

Ten days after Round One. This demanded Doctor Time.

There were shots — steroids in the backside — bedrest orders and a trio of prescriptions, plus specific eating and drinking menus, too.

Sick counter loaded for healing. Face mask for good measure!

As I recovered, I read good and bad novels. Slept (ten hours one night — long time since that’s happened!). Took meds. Ate chicken noodle soup (yes, this vegetarian). Guzzled orange juice. Sucked on cough drops.

Repeated the cycle. Over and over and three days later playtime beckoned.

What else is a bored mind to do? Especially when it can’t leave the house?

I’d heard a coronavirus advisory about hand protection. I searched for rubber gloves. Found only an old pair of cotton gloves, used at bedtime for lotion‐slathered reptile hands (i.e., really cracked palms and fingers—like I once experienced). This time, I saw something new.

Overmedicated minds and too much nap time = Corona Hands!

Opportunity!

Not jazz hands! Too passé!

Then, let’s make…

Corona Hands!  

Those hipster sunglasses protect sensitive eyes. Like the face mask, they both protect nothing.

And the hand sanitizer? It’s making up for what cotton gloves don’t offer in a viral pandemic.

Zany humor only goes so far?

One vital element that matters in these times is the Truth, and it’s too hard to find.

In a previous life, I worked as a crisis communications consultant for companies all around the globe. We taught our clients to always tell the truth, even if—especially if—it’s bad.

In 2020, telling the truth @ #6 overrules #1 (show empathy) from 1991.

Our wallet card listed truth‐telling as Rule #6. This was the 1991 world when DH and I still carried a pager.

Eons before social media took over, outing everyone at nanospeed.

Interesting, isn’t it: the do’s and don’t’s of crisis communications haven’t changed in 31 years.

Same as humans getting sick and infecting each other. Think 102 years ago and the 1918 flu pandemic.

We can learn from this crisis road, can’t we?

The wise words from Clarissa Pinkola Estes offer us all a how:  “One of the most important steps you can take to help calm the storm is to not allow yourself to be taken in a flurry of overwrought emotion or despair – thereby accidentally contributing to the swale and the swirl. Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach.”

Coronavirus is an opportunity, folks.

Let’s use it.

Be kind. Be well.

NOTE: With this post, I am moving to an every‐other‐week publishing schedule. My abundant writing projects demand it! Thank you for understanding — xo

Springing Forward into a Wild Week

I’m baaaaack!

My blog sabbatical**  extended an extra week, thanks to a seasonal cold that kicked me flat and left me off the road.

Interesting, isn’t it, that every member of Team Mimi got sick?!

Is that Life’s commentary on the impact of stress and grief? But, if we all had to get sick, I can give thanks for the timing.

Look at this week: a return to Daylight Saving Time and International Women’s Day, Monday’s a Full Worm Supermoon, and a Friday the 13th. These four events lead to the biggie: next week’s Spring Equinox.

My garden celebrates a lonely rose and an early spring.

So much activity compressed into 12 short days? Normally, I don’t wig out on calendars. Curious, I found connections and learned new trivia:

  • It’s Daylight Saving Time, not Daylight Savings Time.

The worst part of this spring forward/fall back shenanigan? More car accidents and road deaths occur on the Monday after the spring time shift.

A Stanford University study analyzed 20+ years of highway accident figures and reported a 5.3% hike in the “spring forward” Monday accident rate. Blame sleep disruption.

Drive carefully tomorrow, friends!

  • It’s International Women’s Day this Sunday. For 43 years, we’ve been celebrated. Why don’t I feel better about this event?

First, it took until 1977 for such a day to be declared? Why not sometime in the previous 1,977 years?

When’s real change going to occur? This isn’t a political statement. It’s more like a truth‐check for Women.

We’re half the population. Why can’t a woman be America’s president? If not our generation, when? 

  • It’s a Full Worm Supermoon on Monday at precisely 12:48p Houston time. Thank Native Americans for the naming. It’s how they tracked the year’s seasons. Every March, the tribes noted that earthworms returned to the topsoil, encouraging birds to feed again.
Full Moon as shot through what looks like a forest: it’s only my backyard!

Supermoon” merely means the lunar orb appears bigger and brighter because its orbit that month involves “perigee” that swings it closer to earth.

Get ready: we’ve got full supermoons each month through May.

  • Friday the 13th looms large for those with paraskevidekatriaphobia. Yes, that’s fear of Friday the 13th. I’m looking forward to it. If you add up the numbers — as in 1+3 — it equals 4, my luckiest number. Bring it on, baby!

A week later, Spring arrives on March 20th. Then the calendar slides back into routine, day‐to‐day. Breathe… 

I’m so ready. It’s been a tough four months but I’ve turned a corner.

Self‐care matters. So does forward movement.

Let this week pass, then let spring begin!

** NOTE: A special shout‐out to Ellen: thank you for understanding and carrying forward with RoadBroads. I am grateful for you!

Bumps In The Road

Last week I wrote about how exciting it is to live in a big city like Houston. We have theaters, operas, movies, ballet and other types of dance performances, plays, and Broadway musicals.

This week I am going to talk about one of the more irritating aspects of city life. The speed bump. They are everywhere. I live in the heart of the city and must travel over at least 5 or 6 a day. You would think that since we are civilized people, we know.….just by common sense.….not to drive too fast while trying to be nice to others on the road. Oh well, that was a nice thought. Apparently we need to be told many times to slow down. What’s the rush?

But really, whose bright idea was this? Why are there so many?

Are they called “speed bumps” or “speed humps”? After querying several of my friends, I decided to ask the professionals. I did a Google search.

Oh my!

Speed humps are sections of raised pavement across a roadway. Speed bumps have a more abrupt design. According to sources on Google, these various creations are “traffic calming devices”. Let me repeat this,.….traffic calming devices. Now, my dear reader, stop and think. When was the last time you went over either a speed bump or speed hump and felt.….wait for it.….calm. Me neither.

This family of traffic calming devices use something known as vertical deflection to slow vehicle traffic and improve safety conditions. I tried to get you a definition of vertical deflection, but it was so scientific that my eyes rolled back in my head and I passed out. Who knew there was so much science regarding speed bumps.

And, dear reader, if you don’t like the name speed bump, speed hump or road hump, then you can try these variations:

There are “speed cushions”, but that conjures up images of having a pillow fight with either asphalt or concrete. This sounds painful.

There are “speed tables”, but that sounds too much like something I had to memorize in school and promptly forgot as soon as the test was over.

I also saw a reference to “woo woo boards”. Seriously. This brought up visions of witches standing around the street with a cauldron casting spells to create humps in the road to cause innocent drivers distress.

Those who construct these traffic calming devices swear they will not hurt your automobile as long as they are used properly. That means you are supposed to drive over them going no faster than 20 miles per hour. Now when was the last time you felt “calm” driving 20 miles an hour in Houston traffic? Again, me neither.

I don’t remember speed bumps playing a major part of my childhood. (Okay, yes, I am a Boomer.) Maybe that was because they weren’t invented until 1953. A lovely gentleman by the name of Arthur Compton is credited with this invention. This is the same Arthur Compton who was a Physicist and won a Nobel Prize in 1927. He also worked on the Manhattan Project during World War II. Physics, nuclear reactors, and speed bumps. Who knew they’re all connected.

Now don’t you feel smarter? You’re welcome.

Until next week.….

Taking a Rest on the Tree of Life

Tree of Life, copyright Oisin Kelly.

Years ago, renowned Irish sculptor Oisin Kelly hand‐cast his interpretation of the Tree of Life.

His artwork hung in my mother’s den for years.

Its recent re‐discovery offers new meaning in a life battered by Big Change.

Creation’s trunk?

In Kelly’s detail work, I spy more than a simplistic image of the Garden of Eden story. 

I see a strong center, rising in bands up from the ground, each aiming skyward in search of new air.

I count the threads of strength — four — and find my favorite number. Is there a message here?

I find a solid base, anchored deep in the earth but not buried there. Holding there for a strong foundation from which to rise.

Branching out to expand Life.

In these branches, I see possibility. Make that possibilities.

I discover multiple limbs stretching out and up, seeking further growth.

I count bud after bud of either leaves or acorns, I do not know. Maybe some scarabs (of the mystical Egyptian kind?

I spot finger‐like growths stretching past boundaries, hungry for something new.

Curious about the sculptor’s artistic life, I discover (thank you, Wikipedia) where he’s cited in “Glanmore Sonnet” by Seamus Heaney:

These things are not secrets but mysteries

Oisin Kelly told me years ago

In Belfast, hankering after stone

That connived with the chisel, as if the grain

Remembered what the mallet tapped to know.”

I read these words and know instantly why I was drawn to this Tree of Life.

The message comes as clear as Kelly chiseling the stone that became his creation above: take a six‐week sabbatical from RoadBroads.

After weeks of intense, unending work, it’s time to chisel out the final mysteries of my sister’s life and estate. These revelations promise critical conclusions, both of which demand my focused time and energy.

Thus, I return to this blog in late February.

Call it a different kind of birthday present.

What better blog return than the day your life finishes its annual solar return?

In six Sundays, I’ll write here again.

Promise.

That’s the day after Leap Day.

Perfect!