Category Archives: Personal

Polar Sea – Polar Star

Polar SeaThe USCG Polar Sea (WAGB 11) calls its homeport Seattle, Washington. She was commissioned in 1977 and has been operating in Arctic waters since 1979.

In another career a lifetime ago I traveled out to Seattle to commission systems being installed on both the Polar Sea and the Polar Star. Those were fun times working on the Coast Guard icebreakers.

I was a young engineer fresh out of college working for an international company based in Raleigh, N.C.  While there they sent me all over the world doing all kinds of neat stuff.

So I thought I would take the time, every now and then, to show you some of the places I’ve worked along the way.

I actually spent a lot of time in Seattle back in the 1985-1986 time frame. Besides the Coast Guard work we did a few things with Boeing in Renton and Everette.

One story I’ll share with you involves a project we were doing for Boeing Renton. There were 5-6 of us out there on a big presentation, engineering mockup thing. Because I was junior on the team, I ended up getting a passenger van to shuttle everyone around. We had guys coming in and out of Sea-Tac all the time.

When the work was over and everyone was ready to go back to Raleigh, I was asked to go up to Port Angeles to do a survey with a new customer. I didn’t want to drive the van up the coast so I went to the car rental place and traded the van for a new Pontiac Firebird. I took the ferry over to Breerton and drove up the coast to see the client. Had a great day and took a roundabout route back to Seattle.

The next day I flew back to Raleigh and the following day I went to the Pontiac place and bought a new Firebird.

As I said…. Those were the days.

 

 

Reflections…

I suspect I know what the root of it is, which I don’t see the benefit of going through here, but here lately I’ve doing doing a lot of reflecting.

GatesWhere I’ve been…

Where I’m goin’…

The folks I’ve met along the way.

The people who’ve made a difference…

And the people who loved me.

The people I’ve loved and stopped loving.

I’m sure it all had meaning whether I’ve seen it or not.

I’ve been blessed to see a lot of this world from Amsterdam to Cairo, Manila to Minneapolis, Atlantic Seaboard to the Pacific Coast Highway.  I’ve seen a lot and done a lot. I’ve been bad, I’ve been good and all points in between. And in the words of Jimmy Buffet, I’ve made enough money to buy Miami but I pissed it away so fast. Never meant to last.

I don’t know if I had a good childhood but it certainly has been a long one.
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It is the friends you can call up at 4 a.m. that matter.

~Marlene Dietrich

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Sixteen in ’69

Myrtle BeachSometimes I remember 1969. Sometimes I can’t. It seems like a lifetime ago. In many ways, it is. It’s a lifetime of years, marriages, jobs, stumbles, triumphs and education, good and bad, that took me from Myrtle Beach to right now.

I’m older in body, mind and spirit.

Everything up to the summer of ’69 was childhood. At 16, everything changed.

Let me make it clear that who I was and who I became is absolutely a progression of living and learning. I didn’t know it at the time but learning was my job – learn, learn, learn…

Oh, and I can tell you without any hesitation, I made mistakes. Lots of mistakes.

I would like to think I don’t have any regrets, but there are a few. I regret some decisions. I regret some actions that hurt other people. I regret some failures and a couple of successes. But even all those regrets are part of the journey that got me from back then to right this minute so in that sense, I don’t regret the regrets.

So what was it like in 1969?

Turn the clock back and remember. Richard Nixon moved into the White House in late January. His Vice President, Spiro Agnew, would leave the office five years later in disgrace, the only VP in history to resign in the wake of criminal charges. Vietnam was in full swing with dying American boys a constant barrage on the nighttime news. That July, Neil Armstrong walked on the moon and in August, 400,000 young people gathered at the Woodstock festival in upstate, NY.

I stood at the intersection of intelligence and boredom, and rebellion blossomed like Mount St. Helens. The parental units were trying to apply 1950’s attitudes to a 1960s teen. You might as well try to fight fire with gasoline. It just made matters worse. I can see today with the eyes of an adult the whole situation unfolded exactly like it was supposed to.

I was just trying to fit in, something kids have been trying to do since Cain threw a rock at his brother. Frankly, I didn’t handle it much better than Cain did. I would act without considering outcome — never a good course of action.

Myrtle BeachThat Woodstock lifestyle appealed to me. I threw in with the hippies. The music was better than the jocks and the expectations certainly were much lower. I never made it to my Sophomore year in high school. I was too busy tuning in and turning on.

My parents didn’t know how to be parents and I didn’t know how to be a son. I didn’t know how to love or receive love. Maybe I thought the Woodstock Nation would be a good place to learn. Maybe I was wrong.

The fall of ’69 would be my last one in the same home with mom and dad for many years. I never considered the ramifications of that decision either.

Before I knew it 1970 was here and I was a victim of self-will run riot. But that’s another story.

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Cat Stevens elegantly and movingly explains the essential dynamic of every father/son relationship, in his song Father and Son:

Father: “Take your time. Think a lot. Why think of everything you’ve got, for you will still be here tomorrow, but your dreams may not.”

Son: “From the moment I could talk I was ordered to listen, now there’s a way and I know that I have to go away.”[/box]

My Dog

My DogThis is my dog.

I have always thought of myself as more of a cat person — a free spirit in the cat-box of life. I never had a dog. Having a dog was like a real commitment and I’m not a world class commitment kind of guy. To say I’ve struggled would be like Custer saying he found a few Indians.

A cat can take care of himself and when he/she needs food or water, he/she will let you know and that’s the extent of the relationship. Now if they could only clean their own cat-box.

The fact that I have a dog who thinks I am his owner is somewhat of a novelty. What did I do that gave him the idea I was his owner. I dunno but he is obviously confused.

The dog is very smart. He has good taste in owners.

Baby Boomers

Baby BoomersWe are seventy-six million strong. We are that group of children born post WWII – 1946 to 1963.

We went to Woodstock and Vietnam, we rode city-buses and protested in Central Park. We partied in the Village, surfed the coast, souped up our cars, chopped out motorcycles, grew our hair long — went to war, or Canada, as the case may be.

According to a sixties song we are a generation lost in space.

I was  born in 1954. I qualify.

After World War II, men came home from Europe and the Pacific, combat weary and ready to raise a family. By the millions they starting having babies.

Society was on the brink of a shift in culture never before seen on this planet. The simplicity of life was about to get a whole lot more complicated.

Baby BoomerWe watched an enemy we didn’t know park atomic warheads 90 miles from Florida. We climbed under our desks in response. (I still haven’t figured that one out.) We were this close to being wiped out by an media built enemy. I’ve learned that Children in Russia can die just as fast as children in South Carolina. I didn’t know that then.

We watched Kennedy get shot in Dallas and sometime later his brother met the same fate.

We watched men walk on the moon.

Everything changed and we went along for the ride. Elvis, The Beatles, and The British Invasion stepped aside for Donna Summer and Disco.

Nixon resigned, J. Edgar died, Twiggy was the rage, and Laugh-In rebuilt television from the laugh-track up.

From the 70s to now we saw major technological advances in computers, health care, communications and space exploration. We started having children.

The 80s gave us the internet and some short years later our children were having children. We had gone from the counter-culture to grand-children in the span of 30 years.

Today we are on the verge of crossing the finish line at the promised land of retirement.

Funny thing is the game changed on the way to Social Security. Now that we are here the folks guarding our investment are saying … “Oops- we didn’t know you were coming so soon. We had to use your money to pay for other things — like war and bailing out auto companies and saving mortgage bankers from the cost of their own greed.”

A day of reckoning is upon us and the old chants of the 60s may come in handy…

“By the time we got to Woodstock… we were half a million strong. And everywhere was a song and a celebration.”

I am baby boomer – hear me creak!

Baby Boomer

The Journey

The JourneyThere’s always a question that leads to another question that rounds the bend of an answer on the way to the next question. It’s the journey. We leave the womb and for the rest of our days do essentially two things. We learn and evolve. The actions are just part of the learning. We act, sometimes doing good – sometimes doing not so good, and paying the price either way.

We make mistakes. We have triumphs and failures. We turn left when we should have turned right and would not know until long after the turn was made. It’s the journey. We do not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We want to turn from our mistakes but sometimes we repeat them in spite of the lesson.

I’m not some big philosophical giant with spiritual underpinnings that provide immediate buoyancy in the face of disaster or chaos. I’m very human with human frailties and flaws. I’ve made mistakes along the way. Haven’t we all?

Over the past several months I’m written something here every day, most of it mindless regurgitation of things that mean a lot to me and other things that mean very little. Stupid little observations about the world around me just to fill in the page so I could say I blogged today, and to what end?

What have you learned about me other than my ability to string a word or two together in some coherent way to inform, instruct, or on rare occasion bring a little insight into the author.

In the future I want to do a better job of writing about the journey. What brought me to this moment? And maybe even more important, what got us to this point. There is an intersection of journeys going on every day. People, animals, institutions, countries, politics, attitudes and ideals, all converging on this rock, on this journey, headed towards something.

I don’t know what or where that something is. All I know for sure is this…

It is a journey and, at times, quite the adventure. In the future I am going to do a better job of sharing my journey with you, the good, the bad, the ugly, and occasionally the horror. And maybe in discovering my journey it will allow you to see your journey from a different angle. If we all learn something in the process it was good work. I’m going to do my part.

[box] You should live every day like it’s your last day because one day you’re gonna be right. — Ray Charles [/box]

1987 – A Reflection

1987In a person’s life certain times come along that propagate major upheaval, a significant shift in thought, emotion, or action. For me that was pretty much all of 1987.

I didn’t realize until recent weeks, as the 25 year anniversary of my nephew’s death loomed, the significance of that tragedy in my life.

March 4, 1987, fell on a Wednesday. At the time I was occupying an engineering cubicle with an International manufacturing company based in Wake Forest, NC. I had been there two years. We were preparing for a big startup at a Liquefied Natural Gas facility on the coast of Belgium.

The phone rang. As soon as I answered and heard my brother’s voice I knew something was wrong. He’s never been the kind of guy that just called to ask about the weather.

He was calling to tell me in the wee hours of that morning our nephew was driving home from an outing and likely fell asleep at the wheel. He did not survive the crash. Jeffrey was 25. I was 32.

I didn’t really connect it until recently that it was more like losing a little brother than a nephew. He was my sister’s second son. Johnny was a year older than Jeffrey so essentially I grew up with those boys. I watched Jeffrey travel some of those same paths I covered and never connected the dots on where it might lead.

When you are young you want to think you are bullet-proof, that it won’t “happen to me.” It’s a lie we have to tell ourselves so we can keep doing what we are doing, rationalize our behavior and justify our actions. It could have just as easily been me on hundreds of occasions.

The next morning I left Raleigh headed to South Carolina for Jeffrey’s funeral. When I made the turn south on I-95 at Benson, N.C., the song that came on the radio was James Taylor‘s Fire and Rain.

Just yesterday morning they let me know you were gone…

The words hit me like a ton of bricks and I wept as the song continued to play.

I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain
I’ve seen sunny days that I thought would never end
I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend
But I always thought that I’d see you again

Frankly the memory of the next few days is fleeting. To me Jeffrey was more than family, he was a friend. I watched my sister grieve the loss and felt powerlessness of unimaginable depth.

I returned to Raleigh a few days later to get ready to head to Belgium. A few weeks later I flew across the Atlantic. I have little recollection of the trip or the time spent there. We stayed on the coast at a little town called Zeebrugge. Evenings found me sitting in some pub trying out a never-ending flow  of those really good European beers.

Neither my head or heart was in the game. I climbed into a bottle and ran from my grief. I don’t recall much but I do know that sometime near the end of the Belgium project I hopped on an airplane and came home. My position with the company was in peril.

That August I found myself in divorce court one more time. I don’t remember the drive back to Raleigh. Without getting into a lot of detail I checked into a treatment center a few days later, August 24, 1987.

I have been clean and sober everyday since.

Life is good. I still miss Jeffrey.

Okinawa – 1974

I’m a veteran. I spent nearly four years in the U.S. Army from January 1972 through August of 1975. My last duty station was Okinawa, Japan.
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“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

 – Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities[/box]

Normally I wouldn’t whip out Dickens to compare my circumstances on a small Pacific island nearly forty years ago to the alcoholic attorney, Sydney Carton.

Still, it fits. It was the best of times and most certainly the worst of times. By bits and pieces I was beginning to kill myself in slow motion and didn’t even know it.

I arrived on the island around July of ’73. At that point in my life I hadn’t been to too many places outside the deep south. Beyond my ‘Summer of Love’ excursion to Atlanta and my last duty station in Tampa, the world was my oyster and I was looking for a Pearl. I was 19, married with a young son and had the maturity of a circus clown. It was not a good mix for the likes of me.

The next few months were pretty much a booze filled blur. I had some good times on the island. I got into Scuba diving which was incredible in the crystal clear blue waters surrounding Okinawa.

As they say, all good things must come to an end. My extracurricular activities got worse and I ended up divorced and in my first treatment. Looking back today with the benefit of vision, I didn’t have a clue how bad it had gotten for me.

The Army decided I was a lost cause, not a good candidate for rehabilitation, and in August of ’74 sent me home with discharge papers. I look back on my military service with mixed emotions. I was the beginning of a journey without end, an ongoing odyssey that continues even to this day. With sober eyes I have been blessed with the vision of where I went wrong and where I went right. Some days it’s a curse. Other days it’s a blessing beyond measure.

I’m not the man I would like to be but thank God I’m not the man I used to be.

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“I am a disappointed drudge, sir. I care for no man on earth, and no man on earth cares for me.”

— Sydney Carton – A Tale of Two Cities

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New Calendars

CalendarsWhat’s the best thing about 2012’s arrival?

It’s a new tax year? Hardly.

That much closer to next Spring? Maybe.

Daytona is just a few weeks away? Possibly.

How about you’ve been looking at the same calendar day-after-day for twelve months and now you can replace it. What started out last January as a fresh visual addition to the ambiance has become stale and mundane. The 2011 calendar has collapsed into winter like spoiled fruit ready to be thrown out and replaced. You’ve shopped for just the perfect replacement and anxiously count the days until January arrives and you can hang the new months.

So the first day of the new year drops in like the shimmering Times Square ball and you rush to renew that boring wall space. You hang that new calendar and the first thing you do is cheat. You flip ahead a month or two, maybe three, ruining the surprise waiting for you a mere 31 days down the road.

You might murder the opportunity for marvel by scanning many months ahead. Some people even glance at them all. The return trip on the new months is diminished by one’s calendar curiosity and by the time fall makes the scene you are already anticipating the next new calendar so you can repeat the process all over again.

Of one thing I am sure… Next January I get to pick the calendar. [insert eye-roll here]

The horror…. the horror.

Tattoos

It seems everyone is getting tattooed these days. It’s not just the domain of convicts and bikers. Celebrities, soldiers,  and the girl next door are as likely to get tattoos as make a trip to the dentist.

Did you know President Teddy Roosevelt had a chest tattoo of his family crest? Not many people did. Chest tattoos are easily hidden from the public.  Caroline Kennedy has a small butterfly tattoo she got on a trip to Hong Kong in the 80s. Even the former Prime Minister of England, Winston Churchill, had an anchor tattooed on his right arm. (His mother, Lady Randolph Churchill, had a snake tattoo on her right wrist. I imagine that was quite the scandal in those times.)

15104And then there’s John Fedderman, the Mayor of Braddock, Penn. Fedderman has been described as “America’s Coolest Mayor.” He has the zip code of his town, 15104, tattooed on his left forearm. On his right you will find six dates inked into his skin. These represent days when a citizen of his town died under terrible circumstances during his tenure. One refers to a child who froze to death after she was left in a park overnight by her father. This mayor is one cool dude!

You know tattoos have really gone mainstream when even Lego’s are getting inked.

Lego Tats

A Google for “Tattoo” images returns over a million hits. Must be getting very popular.