a broadcaster, pilot, writer, and our Guest Columnist!
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I think every parent has done it, became frustrated with a child and ordered them, “Go to your room.” So, the kid goes to their room where they keep the best of their toys, books, games, maybe a TV and other exciting things. Being sent to your room. Has it ever really been an effective discipline? In some cases, it could be considered a reward.
Case in point: I don’t know any mother raising children, who wouldn’t love to be sent to their room. “Are you kidding me?” they will say with hope, “Sending me to my room for an hour or more – preferably more” Moms relish the very thought of being sent to their room.
To most women, with or without kids at home, being sent to their room is an opportunity for a much needed, mid-afternoon nap; some quiet time with a book and maybe a glass of wine. (Hey, it’s her room. She can have wine in there if she wants to.)
I think we can assume it is not punishment for kids nor moms to be sent to their room. But what about men? Where do you send a man? I don’t know the answer to this question, but I’ve got an idea.
The other day while traveling on I-24 through Paducah, in the beautiful state of Kentucky, I saw a sign for Husband Road just one mile ahead. I thought this sounded like a place where wives can send their husbands for some remedial training.
She’ll give you a stern talking to – asking you questions she knows the answers to. “You didn’t clean the garage like I asked you to?” You had good intentions, but how could you clean the garage? Your buddies were driving by, saw the garage door open and stopped to talk about baseball for a few minutes. Naturally you wanted to be a good host and offered them a cold beverage and before you knew it, the afternoon was gone. What choice did you have? You certainly didn’t want to come off showing anything less than good hospitality.
There are lots of scenarios that might include promises to clean the basement or rain gutters. Fix the garbage disposal or vacuum cleaner; replace a leaky faucet or a bad light switch. All different situations and yet the same basic thing.
Maybe you did something you shouldn’t have done – or worse yet, forgot something big, like a birthday, anniversary, etc... There was a day when any of these things would have landed you in the proverbial “Dog House.” I guess the dog house has been replaced by Husband Road.
If your wife knew about Husband Road, she’d shake a finger at you, “You mister. You are going to Husband Road for some retraining. Go on now, go pack a bag because that’s where you’re going! This will teach you a lesson!”
All these thoughts made me consider sprucing up my own act, lest I should be sent there. I decided to check it out for myself, in order to forewarn my friends that such a place really exists. I turned off at exit 11.
One building in particular had my attention. It took the shape of an old river steamboat with fancy smoke stacks, each topped with a crown. There was a big paddle wheel of sorts on each side and a balcony ran all around the second floor. I got closer to read the sign on the front of the building. “Four Rivers Harley Davidson.” Humph. A Harley dealership? On Husband Road? I was confused.
Exploring further, I found the Warehouse 11 Bar and Grille with plenty of outdoor seating, next to the bike shop. Then there was the Range America Gun Shop with an indoor firing range. On the other end of Husband Road is Power Sports of America – a Can Am cycle dealership. They also sell those really cool Polaris Sling Shots. Wow! This was just the kind of place a man would like to be sent to “think about what you just did.”
I was going to write a story about Husband Road, but then thought maybe I shouldn’t. Maybe this place is a secret haven the men of Paducah, Kentucky don’t want the girls to know about. I mean to say, I know a lot of woman who ride motorcycles, like to fire their guns and toss back an occasional shot with a chaser. Nope. I’m not going to be the one to let the cat out of the bag. I should leave this subject alone.
Men, go ahead and send your wife to her room once in a while, she’ll appreciate the time off. While she’s in there you may want to finish cleaning the garage, mowing the lawn or whatever task is at hand, lest you be sent to Husband Road.
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Everyone likes to hear their name even when it’s used not necessarily referring to them. I tend to have a special feeling for people, characters and places that share my namesake. For example, when Tom is chasing Jerry, I always root for the cat. Tom Terrific is my favorite cartoon hero; Tom Selleck was the best TV detective ever and Tommy Johnson Jr., is my favorite drag racer.
On a Sunday morning, I stopped for gas in historic Wallace, Idaho, an absolutely beautiful town nestled in the Rocky Mountains. I got online and checked church schedules and found I was too early for mass at St. Alphonsus, in Wallace. If I drove down the road another hour, I would be twenty minutes early for the 11:00 mass at St. Thomas the Apostle, Catholic Church in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho – another gorgeous town. What are the chances I would be in one of my favorite places in the world, the Rocky Mountains, just in time to catch mass at a church bearing my same name? I drove west.
The morning was beautiful. The scenery around me, the cool fresh morning air – I could just feel it, this was going to be a good day.
Inside, I used the restroom before mass. While I was washing my hands, a priest came in to wash his hands in the other sink. He asked where I was from. We chatted for a few moments and he said, “You’re going to like it here. The people a very welcoming and friendly. I’m glad you’re joining us today.” He made me feel very comfortable.
Sunlight shining through the stained-glass window filled the church with brilliant, warm colors. The organ began to play and the processional began. There must have been at least six seminarians on the altar joining in the celebration of mass. Father John delivered a very interesting homily that held my attention from beginning to end - It was a spiritually rewarding morning for me. After mass, June and I continued west on I-90.
The next morning, I stopped at a rest area in Coburg, Oregon – about ten miles from our destination. On the sidewalk across from where my car was parked, an old man sat on an upside down five-gallon bucket. Next to him was an empty red plastic coffee can and a sign that read, three things are forever: Faith, Hope and Love. Love is the most important. Nobody stopped to talk to the old man to say hello, or good morning, let alone asking if he needed help. People looked the other way to avoid making eye contact as they walked past him. The man just sat quietly with his can and sign.
After fed my dog, June, I walk over toward the man. His truck was parked in front of him. It was an older, beat-up, white Ford pickup. Both taillights had been broken and were covered with red plastic film, fastened to the truck with duct tape. The glass door was missing from his topper allowing me to see inside where there was a makeshift bed and what appeared to be all of his possession. The side windows had old towels hanging over them as curtains.
Although his was sitting down, I could tell he was a fairly tall man. His white hair and beard were not washed, but they were combed. Missing most of its buttons, his thin, blue cotton shirt was open, exposing his chest. He wore tan pants that were dirty and his slip-on, loafer style shoes were very worn. I greeted the man with a simple, “Good morning.”
“What’d you say?” He practically shouted back
Quite a bit louder, I repeated “Good morning.” then asked, “Have you had anything to eat.”
With his hand, he cupped his ear toward me, “You have to speak up. I don’t hear so good anymore.”
The rest of our conversation, although civil, was just short of yelling at each other in order for him to hear me. I asked again if he’d had anything to eat. He tipped his red coffee can to look inside. It was empty. “Well, not yet.” he said. I asked if he would like something to eat. “Well, I’m a little hungry.” he said in a humble but loud voice, “I suppose I could eat a bite.”
I lifted the tailgate of my Subaru, then opened my cooler. On a paper plate, I prepared a ham and cheese sandwich with some chips on the side, a few baby carrots, four big, fresh strawberries and a banana. I tucked a plastic spoon in my shirt pocket and pinched a single serving can of pork and beans under arm. In my other hand I carried a gallon of water.
The old man was appreciative and set the plate in his lap. I asked if he would like a banana, “Sure, bananas are good.” he said. I gave him the fruit and the water. I offered the can, asking if he would like some beans. His eyes got wide and a big grin shot over his face, “I really like beans.” I gave him the beans, then left him to enjoy his meal.
June and I went for twenty-minute walk around the rest area. I kept thinking about the way the man’s face lit up when I offered him those beans. I had another can in the car and decided I would give him those as well.
I offered him the second can of beans, “Well I can’t eat them now but I’ll take them for later, if you don’t mind.” I handed them to him, and struck up a conversation. I learned his name was Darrel and he had served in army.
“The VA hospital takes pretty good care of me. They keep saying they’re going to get me a hearing aid, but they ain’t done it yet. I think they forgot me.” He shook his head, “I can’t complain though,” he said pointing to a long, purplish colored scar on his chest, “they fixed my heart and I need my heart more than my hearing.” Darrel coughed as he laughed about that.
“I’ve got another scar where they took out my appendix and a several scars where I got shot when I was in the Army.” Darrel got quiet for a moment, reflecting, then said, “When I got home from Vietnam, no one seemed interested in hiring me for a good job so I spent most of my life working in restaurants – until I got too old.” He scratched his beard, then picked up his bible, “I already served my country and my community. Whatever time I got left, I’m going to spend serving my Lord.”
Darrel paused, then smiled, “I’m not going sit somewhere watching TV, so I come here. Maybe I’ll get a few dollars to get something to eat or maybe I’ll just meet someone like you to talk with for a bit.” I felt good for spending some time with Darrel. As much as he was hungry for food, he was lonely – yearning for someone to talk to. I handed him some cash, we said our farewells, then June and I headed west to Eugene, Oregon.
After I reaching my destination and finishing my business, I started the long trek east; headed home. I had a story bouncing around in my head. It was one of those stories that was so clear, there was no way I could forget it. It was the story about Darrel. A little voice kept whispering to me, “You’re going to forget this story if you don’t stop to write it now.” The voice was right and there was a McDonald’s at the next exit so I pulled off the highway.
Near the end of the exit ramp was a sign with golden arches, an arrow to the right and the numbers 3.5 – I don’t like it when a sign is posted for a restaurant so far off the path. I pulled right back onto the highway where two exits later there was another McDonalds – this time right off the end of the ramp. I took that exit.
When I was walking toward the restaurant, I could see a girl with two sizable duffle bags on the ground, standing near the entrance. People seemed to be going out of their way to avoid her. She had stopped a lady and I could see they were talking briefly. The woman shook her head as if saying no, then went inside. Another couple stopped, the man shook his head, and they walked by.
As I got closer, I could see the girl was pretty young. We made eye contact, then she quickly looked away. She would glance toward me, then look away again. Her eyes were red and swollen, her face flushed. I could tell she had been crying. She seemed like she wanted to address me, but was afraid, or, too embarrassed to say anything, so I asked her if she was okay. She started crying again, “No, I’m really not.” she said. Breathing hard, through her sobs, she asked me, “Are you going anywhere near Portland.”
“I could be.” I responded, “Why don’t you tell me what’s going on.”
The girl explained, “I just got kicked out of rehab because I lost my temper and told one of the counselors what I thought of them.” I told her she probably shouldn’t have done that. “I know,” she said, “and I’m sorry I did it but it’s too late now.”
She went on to tell me she only had a couple dollars and didn’t know what she was going to do. I asked if she had friends in Portland and she said, “My dad lives there.”
“Do you have a cell phone? Can you call him?” I asked.
She explained, “You’re not allowed to have a phone in rehab so my dad has mine.” I offered her my phone to call him. She dialed a couple different numbers and when the party answered she would say, “I’m sorry. I dialed the wrong number.” She looked despondent and said, “I can’t remember his number, it’s in my contacts on my phone.” I suggested she call her own number. When she dialed it, I could hear a message in her voice, “This is Emily. Leave a massage.” She handed the phone back to me. “It went right to voice mail. He doesn’t have it turned on.” She began crying again, “I just want to go home to my dad, but everyone I ask says they can’t help me.”
That really got to me – she needed her dad. I could only imagine one of my own daughters being stranded and scared and having no one to turn to. I could only hope and pray that someone safe would help my child. “Emily,” I said, “I have to sit down and work on my laptop for about an hour. If you want to wait for me, I will be driving right through Portland on my way back to Minnesota. I will give you a ride.”
She was genuinely appreciative, thanking me over and over again. I asked if she had eaten anything, she said, “No, I only have about two dollars on me.” I went to get an ice tea for myself and bought Emily a sandwich and a drink. When I came back, she fumbled nervously with the sandwich, “Can I ask you something?” I nodded, yes. “You’re not going to kidnap me, are you?”
Her question broke my heart. She was so scared and yet so desperate she was willing to accept a ride from a complete stranger. I forced a smile, and said gently, “No Emily, I’m not going to kidnap you. I’m going to get you home safe to your dad.” I asked her how old she was and she told me twenty. I opened my iPad and brought up a picture of my kids to show her. “Emily, I have a daughter just a few years older than you. I hope if they are every stranded and in trouble, someone safe comes along to help them. You are safe.” With that said, she seemed to relax and ate her sandwich.
I was trying to write, but couldn’t stop thinking about Darrel at the rest area that morning, and now Emily. He was hungry – she was scared. Both of them just needed a little help, but people just passed them by – going out of their way to avoid any contact. I couldn’t concentrate.
I put my laptop back in the bag. “Come on, Emily. I can work on this later. Let’s get you home to your dad.” As we walked to the car I said, “I probably should have mentioned, I travel with my dog, June. I hope you’re okay with dogs.”
“I love dogs.” Emily replied. I put her bags in the back of the car, then introduced Emily to June. We had a nice visit during the two-hour drive to Portland. She explained to me that she was in rehab for a drug addiction, and she really wanted to stay sober. “I’m six weeks clean from being in rehab and I want to stay that way.”
As we got closer to Portland, I told her that when I give people rides, I will only drop them off at a public place. (For my safety, I won’t take them into a residential area.) I dropped her off at the market where her dad worked. I got her bags out of the car and we said our farewells. As she started to walk away, I called to her, “Emily?” She turned around, “Get back into another rehab program. You’re not the only one who struggles with a drug addiction. They will help you.” She set her bags down and came back to give me a hug. That made me feel pretty darn good.
As I headed for home, I kept thinking about the two people I’d met that day. I wondered why the good Lord keeps putting me in places where I run into such people whom I am able to help out. I don’t know why He does it, but I am sure glad He does.
I started thinking about the coincidences in my life. The day before I, Tom, was at St. Thomas the Apostle Church, where I met Father John, of all places – in the john.
Father John gave the best homily with the most in-depth history on the gospel, I had ever heard. I felt blessed and truly inspired by his homily. Would you like to guess what the gospel reading was? That’s right – the parable of the Good Samaritan.
I said a prayer for the new people I had met over the last day and a half – Father John, Darrel, Emily and a special man named Fred. I prayed for each of them, calling them by name, because I think everyone likes to hear their name…
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There’s on old saying; When in Rome, do as the Romans. I have not been to Rome, but I have been to Canada many times. That concept applies to all countries – not just Rome.
Canada and America are much alike. We both drive on the right-hand side of the road and slow traffic should stay in the right lane, except to pass. Other things are similar, but a little different.
We both like doughnuts. In the U.S. we have Dunkin Donuts. Canada has Tim Horton’s. In the states one can buy almost anything at Walmart, while up north Canadian Tire has it all. On either side of the border a big yellow M is a burger joint and the long-haired lady wearing a crown, inside the green circle is coffee.
Language can be a barrier in some parts of Canada, but I do okay understanding a little French. When visiting our friends to the nord, knowing your directions is a good idea: nord is north, sud is south. Quest will take you west, and est is the same as our east – it’s just missing an a, which surprises me, in a country that uses the A so frequently, eh?
Other common French words I understand are overt, which means open. Aret is stop. Reduced speeds will debut (begin) ahead and resume to normal at the fin (end) of a school zone. Other words and terms can be figured out if you just think about it. Speed Measuring Warning Devices Are Prohibited. (No radar detectors.) Most Canadian’s speak English. I know I’m in a French speaking area when I’m greeted, “Bonjour Monsieur.”
Pictures on highway signs are helpful and mean the same in both countries. A bed with a roof is a motel. A fork and knife will lead you to restaurants and a pump means you can buy petro at the next exit.
I had to brush up on my metric conversion skills when I started traveling to Canada. I still get a little excited to see gasoline (petro) at just $1.26 but the thrill quickly diminishes when I remember, that’s per liter, or, $4.77 per gallon, which seems really expensive until you calculate the US/Canadian currency exchange rate, then it’s only $3.57 which is still higher, but not as bad as it seemed. Oh my! All those conversions combined with the extreme run-on sentence, just gave me a headache!
An American traveling in Canada should be aware of our differences. For example, in the United States, OPP is a 90’s rap song. It means Other People’s Property. In Canada, OPP is the Ontario Provincial Police, who will come after you if you have OPP in your possession! The OPP will also be there should you fail to correctly convert miles, to kilometers-per-hour.
Both our state troopers and OPP officers are nice people, so long as you stay on the right side of the law. I’ve learned, a heavy foot in America is also a heavy foot in Canada and both law enforcements agencies are on the lookout for speeders.
The other day I was entering Sarnia, Ontario, Canada, from Port Huron, Michigan. Traffic was heavy. I was in the righthand lane pulling my Scamp trailer. Coming over the tall Blue Water Bridge that spans the St. Clair River below, I could see the lines were long at the border crossing. I was trying to read the overhead signs to see if there was a special lane for RV’s and campers.
The far-right sign read, Trucks. The lane I was in said, Nexus and the rest of the lanes were open to all traffic. Not knowing what Nexus means, I had my signal on, trying to merge left. Every car inched up closer to the vehicle in front of them and no one was going to let me move over. Getting closer to the booths, I finally just stopped, waiting for an opportunity to merge left, but the impatient driver behind, laid on his horn and wasn’t going to let up until I started moving.
There was a pickup pulling a camper and another towing a boat and several cars ahead of me. A motorhome was at the head of the line, so I assumed I was okay to be in this lane with my Scamp. This line was moving faster than the others, still uncertain, I kept trying to move to the left until I reached the concrete barrier dividing the lanes.
I pulled to the booth with my driver’s license in my extended hand. They always want your ID first. Ignoring my ID, with a monotone voice, the officer asked, “What’s your plate number?”
“My plate number?” I repeated, never being asked that before.
“Yes. Your license plate number. What is it?” He asked.
“I don’t know it right off hand. Can I get out of my car to read it?”
He seemed perturbed at my question, “It’s on your vehicle registration.”
I shuffled through the glove box but couldn’t find the registration. I looked in the center console, the side door pockets and sun visors, then confessed, “I can’t seem to find it.”
“Give me your Nexus card.” He said.
Feeling ignorant, I answered, “I have no idea what a Nexus card is.”
“You’re not a Nexus member?” He snapped in disbelief. Moving from perturbed to the edge of angry, he said, “Yeah, get your plate number.” He snatched my license from my hand and hastily slid his window shut as if slamming the door in my face.
I got out to read the number on my license plate. I kept repeating it until I got back in the car, grabbed a pen and quickly wrote the number on the palm of my hand. When he opened his window, I read the plate number to him. He was irritated, “What are you doing in this lane?” I explained I was trying to move over and… Disinterested in my answer, he interrupted me, “It’s marked halfway out the bridge!”
“I know.” I said, “I saw the signs. I didn’t know what Nexus meant and I was trying to move left but as you can see, traffic is backed up, bumper to bumper and no one would let me move over.” Then I asked, “Is there someplace I can I turn around and go back to another lane.”
“No! You cannot turn around.” It seemed he thought I was trying to pull something over on him. He demanded, “Why were you even in the right lane to begin with?”
Becoming annoyed with his rude attitude, I took a deep breath to stay calm before answering him. “Because U.S. rules call for trucks and slower vehicles to stay in the right lane. Since everything behind me is still the United States, I was simply following U.S. law and IF you allow me to pass through, I intend to follow the Canadian laws on the other side to the best of my ability.”
The man glared at me. I had much more to say to him but quickly considered my dog, June. Her health papers and rabies vaccination documents were in the same plastic sleeve with my vehicle registration and proof of insurance - lost. I was in no position to get smart or challenge him at this point.
He handed me a card upon which he had checked several boxes. “Take this to the building over there.” I asked if I would need to pay a fine or something there. “Yep.” He seemed to answer with delight. “You’ll have to see an immigration officer. They’ll tell you how much the fine is and next time, stay out of the Nexus line!”
IMMIGRATION? Good Lord! This was starting to sound serious. I pulled ahead having visions of spending the next 20 years in a Canadian prison.
At the next building, two officers directed me where to park. The younger one greeted me, then asked why I was sent there. When I handed him the card and explained briefly what happened, he asked, “Why were you in the Nexus lane?” I started to explain, but he cut me off. “You’re going to have to see an immigration officer.” He saw June and said “You can’t take your dog in the building.” He pointed to a small kennel that looked like a jail cell. “Leash your dog and go put it in the cage.”
I was concerned for June. I was the one who messed up. There was no need to send her to the cage. “Can I leave her in my car? She’d be much more comfortable in here.”
“It’s too hot to leave a dog in a car,” he said, “she has to go to the cage.”
It wasn’t that hot out and we were parked under a canopy, completely out of the sun. “I can leave the air conditioner on for her.” I was almost pleading. I didn’t want June going to jail.
He was adamant, “You can’t leave your car running unattended. She has to go to the cage.”
The second officer stepped up. He was more compassionate, sensing my worry. “If you leave your car running, do you have a way to lock the doors and get back in?” I assured him I did, presenting my spare key. “Okay, go ahead and lock it up. She can stay in the car while you’re inside.” Completely relieved, I thanked him and went into the building.
I stood line waiting my turn. Without looking up, the agent called out, “Next.” I walked to his window and handed him the citation card. “What’d you do?” He took the paper, still not looking at me.
“Apparently I went through the wrong line.” I answered.
He looked at the card, then looked up at me. “Why were you in the Nexus lane?” I explained again, telling him I didn’t know what Nexus meant. “Have you been to Canada before?” I told him I had been there many times. “And you don’t know what Nexus is?”
“I’ve only been through at Port Huron a couple of times. Normally I enter at Grand Portage, Minnesota, near Thunder Bay. I’ve never noticed a Nexus lane there.” I told him.
“Nexus is at every point of entry. Go to the waiting area until your name is called.”
In the waiting area there were several people. I’ve never been to jail before but I could imagine this is what it felt like in a holding cell at the county pokey. I struck up conversation with another inmate - a young man, “What are you in for?” I asked. His name was Jeremy.
Jeremy went through the Nexus lane too, not knowing what it was. He said, “When they saw my Airforce ID, they told me to report to immigration.” He expressed his frustration saying, “I’m about to just turn my truck around and go back to the States. I don’t need this BS.” I suggested he not do that. “Why? What can they do if I decide to turn around?”
I explained, “Once sent to this building, if you drive away, they’ll assume you did something illegal and they will come after you. If you get into a rift with Canadian Immigration, I got a hunch the Airforce isn’t going to be happy when you return from leave.” He agreed.
Our attention was diverted when four officers wearing protective gear marched out the front door. A few moments later, a fifth officer went rushing by with a rather enthusiastic canine wearing a badge. I hoped and prayed they weren’t going near my car with their dog – June would go berserk!
I couldn’t tell where they went, but a female officer came back to the waiting area. “Who left a dog outside in their vehicle? We’re trying to work our drug dog and your dog is distracting her.” Oh my gosh!
My heart raced instantly. This was getting worse by the minute and I didn’t have June’s papers with me. Jeremy and I responded simultaneously. “In the white Subaru?” “In the red truck?”
“The dog in the red truck is trying to jump out the window. You’re interfering with an official border patrol search. You need to restrain your animal – now!” She was serious and forceful. Jeremy went outside with the officer. Another lady got my attention and waved for me to come to a window where she was. Saying something in French I didn’t understand, she pulled my arm moving me to a place where I could see what was going on. I was grateful and stupidly said, “Gracias.”
From the window, I could see the officer escorting Jeremy to put his dog in the cage. Sitting in my driver’s seat, June was intensely watching the commotion, but not barking at all. “Good girl June Bug.” I whispered, “look, but do not bark!” I was very proud of her.
The drug dog and handler made circles around a dark blue Dodge Caravan. The dog was very curious about the open tailgate. Officers removed luggage from the van, setting it on the ground. The dog sniffed a couple bags, then started pawing at one. An officer opened the bag, looking inside. The handler pulled his dog back and began petting her with praise, then gave her a treat or something from his shirt pocket.
I too praised the canine for a job well done. I wanted to watch the bust playout, but a voice called, “Thomas? Thomas Palen.”
At the window the interrogation began. “Why did you try to go through the Nexus lane?” I explained I had no idea what the Nexus lane is. He explained, “It’s an express lane. You have to be pre-qualified with a background check and have a currently paid-up membership.” He went on to say, “Sometimes people will try to bring things into Canada that they shouldn’t. They think they’ll get right through in the Nexus lane, but our officers are very well trained to watch for such people.”
Then came a barrage of questions: Why were you in the right lane? Do you have any marijuana with you? Have you been to Canada before? Why are you coming to Canada today? Do you plan to buy any marijuana in Canada today? How long will you be here? Do you have cash amounting to more than $10,000 Canadian? Do you smoke marijuana? Any guns, alcohol, or drugs, including marijuana? Have you ever smoked marijuana? I answered all his questions.
He paused, “Have you ever been arrested before.” I assured him I had not. “If I detain you to do a background check, will your answers prove to be true?” I told him they would. He looked me in the eye, “Are you telling me the truth?”
I raised my right hand, “The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God.” He cracked a smile and asked why I said that. “Because they always say that on Judge Judy and she’s a Canadian so I figured it was the appropriate thing to say.” I actually got a little chuckle out of him over that.
“Is she Canadian?” He inquired.
I shrugged my shoulders, “I think so; maybe; I thought she was; I don’t really know.” (She’s not, she’s from New York)
He pounded my citation with a big red rubber stamp, scribbled something on it, then tossed it in a small white basket to the side. “I’m not going to fine you today, but you better start paying attention to the information signs and watch your speed. The OPP will be watching it too.” He handed back my license, “You’re free to go.”
I thanked him and walked away, wondering why Other People’s Property would be watching my speed. Then I remembered I was now in Canada. The Ontario Provincial Police would be watching my speed.
“Express lane my foot,” I grumbled walking to my car. Excitement and anxiety made the time pass quickly, but I was detained for just under one hour.
June and I both avoided a jail stay and I learned a lesson: if you don’t know what a word means, you better find out before proceeding. I overted my car door and debuted our journey across Canada.
Leaving the entry point, I reminded June, we all have to follow the rules. “When in Rome, do as the Romans and when in Canada? Well, do as the…French?” We shared a good laugh over that. I set the cruise control at 100 kilometers per hour. With a full tank of petro, we headed est on the 402 toward Niagara Falls.
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Every now and then you see or hear something so far from being normal (whatever normal may be) that it causes you to say: “That’s messed up.”
The kids were coming for the Fourth of July weekend. The house was in good shape, but there were a few things I wanted to do before they arrived. Even when the house is clean, I feel like I should clean it again before company arrives. At times I get distracted, or just forget things, then end up rushing to finish my tasks at the last minute. Determined that wouldn’t happen this time, I did something I doubt any man has ever done in the history of household preparation – I made a list.
The problem was, I had six days. Some of the tasks couldn’t be done yet. If I mowed the grass today, it might need to be cut again by Wednesday. I couldn’t go shopping yet, lest some of the groceries would no longer be fresh when the kids arrived. Waiting until Monday to start working on my list seemed the logical thing to do.
Monday came and I wanted to get started, but I needed to finish some writing I was doing. Just like that, it was afternoon, then evening and time to make dinner. Not to worry, I still had two days to get everything done - well, almost two days.
Tuesday came. I was up early, ready to start on the list. Oops, I forgot about an appointment in Duluth to have my car serviced and I needed a haircut. There was still no rush. My oil change was scheduled at eight a.m. Afterwards I would get my haircut and be home well before noon to get started on the list.
I ran a couple other errands while in Duluth then stopped in Two Harbors on my way home to do my grocery shopping. I forgot to get Hershey’s Chocolate Bars for s’mores, but I could get them at the Holiday gas station in Beaver Bay. I still forgot them. I finally got home a little past noon, or so I thought. I looked at the clock. “3:49 p.m.? That’s messed up.” I said out loud, knowing there was no way it could that late. I checked a second clock. 3:52 p.m. Humph.
I was getting a little concerned, but not worried - yet. I still had 24 hours to get my chores done – probably more because I knew our daughters wouldn’t get out of Waterloo, Iowa on schedule which would give me extra time. I figured at best they would be on the road at 3 or 4 pm, arriving between 11 pm and midnight. I stripped the guest bedroom and master bedroom sheets and started a load of laundry.
While the laundry was in the washer, I could check Facebook and a couple items I was watching on eBay. A couple new, similar items had been posted. I checked them out and just like that it was after eight p.m. I shook my head, looking at the clock, “That’s messed up.” I said it as if this was all the clock’s fault. No problem. I could still get some work in that night. “I’ll go to bed early and get up at 6 a.m. and have all day tomorrow to get things done.”
I put the sheets in the dryer and started a load of clothes in the washer. In the kitchen I grabbed my list, drawing a line through item four; wash bedding, make the beds. “First thing checked off - I’ve got this.” Looking over the list, I smiled, drawing another line though item one: get groceries. Feeling confident I boasted, “I’m so far ahead of schedule…”
While the sheets were in the dryer, I turned on the TV then laid on the couch to watch an episode of M*A*S*H. The opening theme was playing and just like that, my alarm was going off. Why did I have an alarm set for the late night?
Confused, I rubbed my eyes then looked at the screen on my cell phone. 6:40 a.m.? “That’s messed up,” I said, then shuffled to the kitchen to double check the time. The green LED digits on the stove read 6:40; the microwave clock concurred. Resetting my alarm for 7:30, I went back to lay down. After hitting snooze multiple times, I rolled off the couch at 8:20 a.m. June and Edgar were looking at me. “Alright guys, up and at ‘em. We’ve got a lot to do today.”
Edgar immediately jumped on the couch, curling up on the center cushion to claim the warm spot I left. June was standing in front of the couch, eyeballing the cushion to the right of the cat. I went down to the basement and returned with a laundry basket of fresh linens.
Edgar was sprawled out on the couch, sleeping on his side. To make certain there was no room for the dog, he had his front paws extended way out beyond his head, and his long tail stretched toward the other end. June was sleeping on the floor in front of the couch. I just shook my head and said, “That’s messed up, Edgar.”
"Come on June, let's go make the bed.” I said carrying my basket to the guest bedroom. June followed close behind. Edgar came flying down the hallway, into the bedroom, one hopped the bed and crash landed into his window hammock. Pulling one suction cup loose from the glass, the corner of the cat bed dropped. Edgar started to fall through but caught the fabric with his front claws and pulled himself back up. June watched it all, saying, “That’s messed up, Edgar.”
Edgar laid in the hammock, June sat on the floor, both watching me make the bed. When I was done, June and I started back for the living room. Edgar launched from the hammock like a steel ball being shot from a cannon. He one hopped across the smoothed bedspread on top of the bed to the floor. Nearly running over us as he passed, he went tearing down the hallway. In the living room, he jumped up and sprawled out in the middle of the couch making sure there was no room for the dog. June looked at him then surrendered to lay down on the floor. “That’s messed up, Edgar,” I said. That cat is smart - too smart. One day June's going to get even!
I went to start on the kitchen but remembered I hadn’t made the bed in the master bedroom. I went back to do that, then returned to the kitchen to look at my list. Edgar was on the counter, sitting on my paper. “Edgar, move. I need that paper,” I said.
“What is it,” he asked.
“It’s my list of things of things to do,” I answered.
“That doesn’t look like Mom’s handwriting,” Edgar noted.
“That’s because I wrote the list,” I explained.
Edgar looked at me, questioning with disbelief, “You wrote your own ‘honey-do’ list?” He shook his head, “That’s messed up, dude.”
I gave him a glare, “It’s not a honey-do list, It’s my own to-do list.” Edgar snickered until I shooed him off the counter.
With the bedding washed and the beds now made, I drew another line through item four. It felt like real progress to mark another, well actually, the first completed task off the list. Reviewing the list, I pointed my finger to item seven: the kitchen. Being my favorite room, I find it fun to put a shine on the countertops, arranging and rearranging things so they’re just right. I got side tracked thinking about what meals I would cook on which nights and lost track of time. Everything in the kitchen was done but I wanted to mop the floor again, which I planned to do when I mopped the rest of the hardwood floors in the house.
About 3:00 I got a text message. I knew it would be from one of the girls letting me know they would be on the road within an hour or so. It was from my daughter, Annie: “We got on the road at 12:30. Just finished lunch. With gas stops, we should be there about 8:00.:
What? Now I was concerned, worried and a little agitated. I hadn’t even mowed the lawn yet. How on earth could they be on the road ahead of schedule? That’s messed up!
The floors in the house looked good; I had cleaned them just a few days before, but I wanted to hit them again. It just seems like the thing to do with company coming. I picked up my pace vacuuming the oak floors, then filled my mop bucket with warm water. I like to use a little Murphy’s Soap Oil for the hardwood floors, and Pine-sol cleaner for the kitchen and bathrooms. I mopped all the floors in the house. The day was warm and humid. I was sweating and wondered how the floors would possibly dry in this humidity.
Melissa walked in the door around 4:30. Rubbing her arms while walking to the hallway, she asked, “Why is it so cold in here?” Looking at the thermostat, she exclaimed, “60 degrees? Why do you have the air conditioner set at 60?”
I answered quite smartly, “Because the air conditioner is a dehumidifier and I’m using it to dry the floors.” Then added, “I also have all the ceiling fans turned on high to help circulate the air.” That created a wind chill inside the house.
She shook her head. Pulling her light sweater closed for warmth. She repeated, “60 degrees?” Although she didn’t say it, I could tell she was thinking: that’s messed up. With the floors drying the only thing left to do was mow the lawn.
I sat in the seat of the John Deere lawn tractor and fired up the motor. After letting it warm up for a bit, I started to back up. As the tractor started to roll, a bunny ran out from under the mower deck. I said, “That’s messed up rabbit.”
The little guy ran about ten feet away and sat in the grass, right where I would start mowing. I went over to talk to him. He let me pet him a little. I lectured him, “Under the mower is not a good place to sit. If I would have started those blades, it would have been a bad situation.” I gave him a little nudge on the rump, “Get going now. I have work to do.”
The bunny hopped away running parallel to the firewood stacked under the edge of the deck. He stopped there – right where I was going to mow. I walked toward him to shoo him away, but now he was sitting in the grass about five feet in front of the wood. I looked again and the rabbit was still by the wood pile. I looked back and forth. He was sitting both in front of the wood pile and out in the grass. “That’s messed up.” I said, thinking I was seeing double! I looked ahead of me and there was a third bunny sitting next to the pine tree. Was I seeing triple?
All three were the same size – small bodies with great big back feet. Snowshoe rabbits. They must be from the same litter. They all sat and stared at me. For a moment I thought the three of them were going gang up and attack me! It felt like a scene from a low budget horror movie. I walked briskly back to the tractor.
When I came around the corner on the riding mower with the blades spinning, headed in their direction, the three bunnies scurried away seeking shelter under the low branches of the pine tree. I laughed thinking it would make another great scene for that flick.
In all I saw seven snowshoe bunnies in the yard while mowing, each retreated to that same pine tree. I kept an eye toward the base of that tree with each passing. Maybe they were plotting a sequel movie: Revenge of the Snowshoe Hares - The Bunnies Are Rabbits Now. The idea was messed up; maybe I was catching some exhaust fumes from the tractor, or I was just getting tired.
I was worn out by the time I finished the lawn, but I felt good. Everything on my list done. The girls stopped at Black Beach, to spend some time on the shore of Lake Superior before dark, then arrived at the house around 9:00 p.m. We had snacks, beer and good conversation before bedtime.
The next morning, I noticed water spots on the tile in my shower. Although the bathrooms were already clean, cleaning them again before company arrived seemed like the right thing to do, so I had put that on my to-do list. I wondered, had I forgotten to polish my bathroom shower? No way, I thought to myself. I did everything on that list. I dug through the kitchen trash can and found the sheet of paper.
Item five was scratched off: main bathroom, shower/sink/toilet, etc. Item six was also scratched off: master bathroom, sink/toilet, etc. “What,” I questioned without accepting responsibility. “Nobody wrote, ‘polish the master bath shower’ on the list?” I shrugged my shoulders, “That’s messed up.”
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We’ve all had one (or more) of those moments where something happens and just scares the daylights out of you. It’s not something as serious as someone getting hurt – it usually involves a material item, but boy can it make your heart stop! Just such a thing happened to me the other day. And I mean to say, it really scared me!
I make frequent stops at McDonald’s restaurants all over the country. There are several reasons for this. In order to make good time traveling, I need to make each stop count. If I am stopping for gas, I will often get something to drink and walk June, my dog who travels with me, at the same time. McDonald’s restaurants are usually close to gas stations.They serve a good cup of coffee and, I think, the best fresh brewed unsweetened iced tea, hands-down. Their employees are always friendly and helpful and their Wi-Fi service is unmatched.
To use my iPad to look at anything online, I have to have wireless internet service (I do not carry a smartphone). No one has more consistently reliable, fast Wi-Fi service than McDonald’s. As they are remodeling their stores across the country, each restaurant is adding areas where people can relax and get online. Most of the stores now offer outlets to charge your device and some have USB ports available. Many of my stories are written in their restaurants.
The other day, Wednesday, about 9:30 a.m., I stopped in Findlay, Ohio. I refueled the truck, then drove across the street to McDonald’s. It’s easier for me to use my iPad than to start my laptop, especially if I’m only going to be online for a few minutes. I thought I might be doing some writing that morning, so I carried my laptop bag in with me as well. I ordered a cup of coffee and an English muffin, then sat at a small, round table, setting the computer bag in the extra seat on the other side.
Using my iPad, I re-checked my routes on Google maps, looked at few other things online, then started to think about what I was going to write. I was drawing a complete blank - writer’s block, and I had it bad. It was another 565 miles to our destination in New Jersey and we didn’t have time to sit around; if I wasn’t going to be able to write, I needed to get going. “I’ll try again later.” I said. I closed my device, went back to my truck and June and I headed down the highway, eastbound.
We did our business in New Jersey, and stopped for the night. Early the next morning I fed June her breakfast, then we headed out - westbound, toward home. About 9:30 I needed gas and saw signs for a McDonald’s ahead and a Pilot truck stop, together at the exit for Clearfield, Pennsylvania. Perfect! Two birds, one stone.
The weather was hot that morning, and there was no shade available. I left the motor running with the air conditioner on to keep June cool, then parked the truck right outside the front picture windows of the restaurant where I could keep an eye on her. I locked the door with my spare key and went inside.
I only carried in my iPad as the writer’s block was still looming over me. I would grab a cup of coffee while checking Facebook, catching up on a little news and check weather along my route. It was going to be a hot, humid day.
When I got in the truck it felt warmer than it should even on such a hot morning. I checked the controls; the AC was on with the fan on high. The temperature was set as cold as it would go and it still felt like hot air was blowing around. Looking over my shoulder, I saw the rear window on the passenger side was wide open. June must have stepped on the switch and lowered the window while I was inside. I rolled the window up, the truck cooled off quite nicely and we made our way down the interstate.
About ninety miles later, my mind became flooded with things to write about. It’s funny how I can go from a complete blank to being overloaded with ideas. I had to start jotting down some notes before my thoughts slipped away. I started making notes on a napkin.
Along with the ideas that were swarming my mind, I thought about other things too. For some reason I thought about feeding June that morning. I always put her food container right behind my seat, along with my laptop computer bag. I didn’t recall seeing the laptop bag this morning. I reached for it, but it wasn’t there. I looked behind the passenger seat, and on the front floor. It wasn’t either place. I started to worry and pulled onto the shoulder, then halfway into the grass.
I got out of the truck, opening the back, driver’s-side door. I looked all over; under the pillows and behind my bag, around the cooler. I ran around to the passenger side and opened the door. June wanted to jump out to play. “Not now June. Go sit up front.” I searched the whole truck. My laptop was gone!
I felt sick. How many photos and memories are on that machine? All the stories I’ve written are on that computer. My chest felt tight with anxiety; levels as high as I’ve ever known them. I felt lost and alone. How could I ever recover what I lost on the laptop? I started to panic. “Think man, think. What are we going to do?”
The first thing I needed to do was calm down. Panicking has never helped in any situation – ever. Talking out loud to myself, I began to retrace my steps. “Did I take it in with me for coffee this morning? I don’t think I did.” Then I remembered the open window. “Oh my gosh. June opened the window and someone must have reached inside and stole my computer!” Although I wasn’t panicking, I wouldn’t say I was thinking very rational thoughts yet either.
I reached in my pocket for the McDonald’s ticket. The phone number for the restaurant was on there. I called and asked for a manager. I explained that I had been there about two hours earlier and asked if anyone had found a computer bag. He told me they had not.
I told him about leaving the truck running for my dog and the window being opened when I returned, then asked if they had outdoor security cameras on the front of their store. I was hoping they would have video of someone stealing my bag. “The only outdoor cameras we have are on the drive-up,” he said. “I’m sorry, I can’t help you.” I asked if the truck stop had cameras, He said he didn’t know, I would have to call them, then gave me the number for Pilot.
Again, I explained everything to the manager at the convenience store and asked if they had outdoor cameras. “We do.” He said, “But all our cameras out front are pointed to the fuel pumps. We don’t have any that would show the McDonald’s parking lot. I’m sorry, I can’t help you.” I thanked him for his time and hung up.
Resigned to the fact that I would never see the laptop again, I still felt obligated to go through the futile efforts of trying to find it. I pulled out my envelope of receipts. I had stopped somewhere for an ice tea last night, but I couldn’t remember what town and couldn’t find the ticket. “That’s probably where it is.” I told June. The next register tape was from the previous morning, when I stopped in Findlay, Ohio. I called the number listed.
“Thank you for calling McDonald’s. This is Brooke, may I help you?” She sounded like a nice lady. I explained the situation and asked if by any stretch of the imagination, had anyone turned in a computer bag. “Can you describe the item,” she asked.
Just the fact that she asked for a description gave me hope. “It’s a black bag, nylon I suppose, it has a strap with a sliding pad to rest on your shoulder. It has three compartments that are orange inside and a thin orange stripe on the strap. There will be a silver HP laptop computer in the main section, the middle section has charging cords. And the third compartment is empty.”
I was excited and hopeful and don’t believe I took any breaths or pauses between sentences. When I finished, Brooke said, “Yes, we have your computer here.” I think my heart stopped again; I couldn’t believe it.
“You do?” I asked, astonished.
“Yes. We have a computer here that matches that description.” She said. Instantly the weight of the world was lifted from my shoulders. I was liberated from the cloud of gloom that surely would burden me the rest of my life had I not found my laptop.
“I’m 89 miles away.” I told her, “My GPS says I will be there at 1:30 p.m.”
Brooke laughed a little. “Take your time and don’t get a ticket. The computer is safe in the office. I’ll be gone by then, but I will let the next manager on duty know you’re coming for it.”
I arrived promptly at 1:30. There was a manager walking back from the dining room toward the kitchen. Her name tag read, Amber. I told her who I was and what I needed; she smiled knowing exactly what I was looking for. “Let me go get it for you.” When she came out with the black bag, I felt like I was reunited with a long lost friend. I thanked her repeatedly and offered her a tip, or reward. “No,” she politely refused, “we’re just glad to help you get it back.”
I went to the counter and ordered a large ice tea to go. On my way to the front door I noticed a lady sitting at a table with a sandwich in one hand and a paperback book in the other. I watched for a moment as she held the book, managing to turn the page one handed with her thumb and kept reading. What talent, I thought to myself. Watching the way she held the book, I also thought society is way to dependent on devices – myself included.
I stopped at her table. “You’ve really got your hands full there, ma’am.” I said, then suggested, “I can handle that sandwich for you, if you’d like to use both hands for your book.”
She looked at me, paused, and said, “I’d rather you sit and read to me.” Then continued looking at me over the top of her glasses as if waiting for an answer while she took a bite from her sandwich. I smiled. It turned out to be a darn good day after all.