a broadcaster, pilot, writer, and our Guest Columnist!
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On my last trip to Massachusetts, I had car trouble and ended up leaving the car out east. Needless to say, this put me a few days behind schedule and I still had one more trailer I promised to get to the next customer before Christmas. I would have to pull it with my truck. I was in the northeast part of the country and the next trailer was going southwest – to California. That’s a long way away.
I was driving down the interstate toward the southwest listening to Christmas music. I’ll Be Home for Christmas was playing on the radio. The version was done by Pentatonix, a modern group of a Capella vocalist who do some amazing songs, but I didn’t care for their version of this song. They were trying to give it an upbeat tempo - this song was meant to be solemn. It was written to be a soldier’s point of view, one whom desperately wanted to be, and would be home for Christmas…if only in his dreams. Nobody sings that song quite like Bing Crosby.
I started wondering if I would make it home by Christmas. Calculating my route and schedule, I determined: “Good Lord willing, and no more car trouble, and I’ll make it with a day, maybe two to spare.” The song really had me thinking about Christmas and home.
Edgar Allan, our cat, dips his paws into the water bowl. Melissa says he does this to create ripples, making it easier for him to see the water; I say he does it to annoy our dog, June, with whom he shares a water dish.
Edgar and June were traveling with me on this trip. In the back seat of the truck, Edgar was sitting at the water bowl. He dipped his paws into the water and watched June to see her reaction. June, with her head lying flat on the seat bench, was looking up at Edgar but gave no reaction. Edgar dipped his paw in the water again and watched June. Again, June gave no response. Edgar poked his paw deeper into the water a third time, this time flicking the water in the face of the non-responsive canine. Ha! Proof! I knew I was right all along.
With his wet paw Edgar gave two playful bats to June’s long schnoz, June pawed back at him and a ruckus was underway. A few moments later, June tired of the play stepping onto the arm rest between the two front seats, “Dad, will you tell Edgar to stop touching me?” “I’m sure you two can work this out without me.” I replied and continued down the road.
We were in Wyoming when I stopped for gas. I rolled each of the four windows down about two and a half, maybe three inches. It was fairly warm and I wanted June and Edgar to have plenty of fresh air while I was stopped. “Stay here while I fill the tank,” I told them, “and no fighting!”
The gas pump wouldn’t read my card, so I moved the truck to another pump. The next pump wouldn’t read my card either, instead it flashed a sign, “Please See the Cashier.” Inside the clerk asked, “Are you on pump one or seven. They’ve both been giving us trouble today.” I looked outside, I started on pump one, then moved my truck to pump seven. “How much do you want to put in it?” he asked.
“Can I just leave my card with you, top it off, then come back in?” I asked. I hate when they enter one amount and promise, “It will only charge you for what you get.” I don’t trust that system and frankly, I forget to check my account to see if they did credit me the difference. “Nope” he replied, “I have to enter an amount.” “Don’t worry about it,” I said, “I’ll move to a different pump.” It was frustrating, but I eventually topped off the tank so we could get back on the road again.
A mile or so down the road I told June, “This place was just too busy. At the next stop I will find a grassy area and we can play ball for a while.” June’s ears perked right up. “I’d really like that,” she said. “How are you doing. Edgar?” I called out, but he didn’t answer. A little louder. I repeated. “How are you doing, Edgar?” Hmfph, still no reply. “Edgar?” I glanced over my shoulder to see what he was up to.
Edgar wasn’t on the seat, nor on the seat back. He wasn’t sleeping on top of his litter box and he wasn’t in it, nor on top of the tote where I keep some groceries and snack. He likes to sit up there and look out the window. “Edgar?” I hollered, but got no response. I quickly turned into a business driveway, threw the transmission into park and jumped out of the truck. I ran around to the passenger side, opening the back door, I called his name, “Edgar? Edgar buddy, where are you?” Searching frantically, I moved the sheets and blankets from the pet bed. No Edgar. “Come on buddy, where are you?” I pushed my hand feeling under the front seat. He wasn’t there. I was getting nervous.
When Edgar was a little kitten, we were on a road trip in New England. He was sprawled out sleeping in the front window on the dash when an ambulance went by. The loud, ear piercing siren scared him. He jumped off the dash, and ran to the back crawling behind the back seat. It’s a very small, tight area with a stationary seat back bolted to the wall. The space is not accessible without dismantling the trucks interior. He would go back there whenever he was scared.
I was sure he wouldn’t fit back then anymore because he is so much bigger but I had to check. I looked but could only see a few inches. I reached my arm behind the seat on the passenger side, but my arm was too big. I couldn’t reach in far enough. I ran to the driver’s side, looked and reached, but could not see or feel him. “Edgar? Are you back there?” I called gently to him, “Come out buddy.” There was no reply. I was on the verge of panic and wanted to cry.
In my mind I retraced my stop at the gas station. Surely those windows were not down nearly enough for him to get out and I didn’t leave a door open. I started thinking about how busy that street was. “Oh, Edgar!” Fearing the worst, I jumped in the truck and raced back to the gas station.
There was a maintenance man working on the car wash. I stopped and quickly jumped out. “Have you seen a black cat wearing a blue harness roaming around?” “No, I haven’t.” he said, adding, “and I’ve been here for a couple hours.” I quickly scribbled my phone number on a scrap of paper, handing it to him. “His name is Edgar Allan. If you see him, please call me.” The man took the paper and said he would.
I walked several feet away, breathing hard, anxiously turning circles in the driveway. I looked blankly around, calling his name. “Edgar? Edgar Allan! Come on buddy, let’s go.” I sighed bewildered. “Oh, Edgar...” I felt empty, helpless and completely lost. I was scared and wanted to throw up, but instead I prayed, “Oh dear God, please help me find him.” Then a voice said to me, “Go get June, she will find him.”
I ran to the truck. June was in the front passenger seat where she’s not supposed to be, but there was no time for discipline. I put June’s leash on her and said, “Come on, June. You have to help me find Edgar.” June looked at me and calmly said, “He’s behind the back seat.” In disbelief I said “What? He can’t be. I looked, I felt for him.” June repeated, “I’m telling you, he’s behind the back seat.” I opened the back door and looked. Edgar was sitting there at the edge of the small opening, looking at me.
Every parent has experienced this rush of emotions: when you go from being worried sick and praying for your kid to be safe; desperately longing for them; fearing you’ve lost them and promising God you will give anything if He will just bring them back…to suddenly wanting to ring the kids neck!
Edgar looked up at me with his big remorseful eyes and let out a soft meow. He said, “I got scared when that ambulance went by. It was so loud.”
I recalled moving my truck from pump number seven back to pump number two, opposite of pump number one – the first pump that gave me trouble. While I was fueling my truck, a SUV pulled up to pump one. The man was grumbling. I walked around to his side and asked, “Is it not accepting your card?” “It’s telling me to see the cashier and I know my card is good.” he said. “Yeah,” I explained, “It did that to me too. Pump seven is doing the same thing.” The man and I both turned and looked to the street as an ambulance went racing by with all the lights on and sirens blaring. “Man, those things are loud.” the man said, then asked, “Did you say pump seven is doing the same thing?”
I reached behind the seat and pulled Edgar out, lifting him into my arms. I instantly went from wanting to ring his neck to needing to console him. I cuddled him close to my chest and kissed his head. “I’m sorry about that ambulance buddy.” I said then assured him, “It’s going to be okay. You’re safe. I won’t let anything happen to you. You’ll always be safe with me.” Edgar started purring. I held him for a moment then set him back down on the pet bed on the back seat.
June was still sitting in the front passenger seat with the door open, her leash dangling from her collar. “Do we still get to go for a walk, Dad?” I detached the leash from her collar, “Not right now Bugs. It’s too busy here. But we will stay longer at the next stop where I promise you, I’ll find a grassy area and throw the ball as much as you want.” She seemed a little put off, but said, “Okay. I can wait.” I gave her a good rub on the head, “Thank you for helping me find Edgar, June Bug. You’re the best dog in the world”
I got back into the truck and looked over my shoulder. Edgar was sitting on top of the tote looking out the window. June was sitting in the front seat with her head hanging low, looking at me with an expression that said she knew she was doing something wrong. “It’s okay Bugs, you can sit up here with me for a while.” I lowered her window so she could poke her nose out into the fresh air and let her ears flap in the breeze. I thought to myself, “Whether I make it to my house or not, I will always be at home with these two around.”
I turned right onto the road, merging into the busy traffic then adjusted the volume on the radio. A commercial just finished playing, talking about being home for the holidays. Then a jingle ran promoting the radio station: “Happy holidays from Kxxx, where we play the most Christmas music…” The music started and a smooth, gentle tenor began crooning, “I’ll be home for Christmas, you can count on me…”
I got a little tear-eyed as I pulled onto the ramp leading to the interstate. I turned the volume louder. Nobody sings it quite like ole Bing Crosby.
Merry Christmas, everyone!
Tom can be reached for comment at facebook.com/tompalen.98
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Some people get the idea that every trip I take is perfect and trouble free. That simply is not true. My last trip was an example of when good trips go bad.
My dog June and I were headed for Massachusetts with a Scamp. The trip was going very well - at least the first thirteen-hundred miles were. That’s when the car started to overheat. Not good. I waited on the shoulder of the highway for the engine to cool down, added coolant and limped along until we reached Moosic, Pennsylvania, where I found a mechanics shop.
Bobby, the mechanic, explained, “You’re blowing antifreeze out the tailpipes, that’s what’s causing the white smoke.” he said.” That is not what I wanted to hear. He went on “It could be a head gasket, a cracked head or block, or a variety of other problems.” This was not getting better. Then he dropped the bomb. “You’re going to need a new engine.” I left the car with him and rented a U-Haul to get the trailer the rest of the way to Mansfield, Massachusetts. At least that part of the trip went smoothly.
Mandy, and her parents, Joe and Lynda, were excited for me to arrive with her new Scamp. Joe and June quickly became good friends; they eventually disappeared off together. We spent a couple hours together, going over everything on the trailer. It was cold outside and we were working in the dark. Afterwards, they invited me in for coffee. We shared some nice conversation. I thanked them for their hospitality, then I said, “I need to go find a motel, which is not always easy to do when traveling with a dog, so I better get going.”
Lynda had some good suggestions for motels, then handed me a bag. “We wanted to give you a little gift for bringing the Scamp.” she said. Inside the bag was a box of pastries from White’s Bakery. “There’s a lobster tail in there and a couple of Boston eclairs.” They sure sounded delicious, but it was pushing ten p.m. and I didn’t want to eat that late. Mandy said, “I got you something too. It’s a bottle of juice we make at work.” Made of fruits, vegetables and other healthy things, it was a bright orangish color. Very pretty! I thanked them again, gathered my treat and we said our farewells. I opened the truck door, “Come on Bugs, let’s go.” June said goodbye to Joe, then ran to me and jumped up into the cab.
The juice looked really good and it was healthy, so I went ahead and drank that while we headed out to find a room. The motel we booked was nice, clean, very reasonably priced and they allowed pets with no additional fee. June and I both liked that. I was actually surprised how low the price was, it was a great value especially in Massachusetts where motels seem to be high priced.
After a good night’s rest, I took June for a walk in the cool morning air. I fed her breakfast, then headed down to the lobby to get a bite to eat for myself. Not finding the breakfast area, I inquired at the front desk. “I’m sorry,” the clerk said, “we don’t serve a breakfast.” Looking forward to breakfast, I was disappointed, but they did have coffee, so I grabbed a cup of decaf and returned my room.
Inside, I gave June a rub on the head and told her, “They don’t serve breakfast here, but the great rate was a good trade off. And, you being able to stay free was worth far more than a cheap waffle and some bagged scrambled eggs.” June said she appreciated that, then offered, “We could share what’s in that bag from White’s Bakery.”
“Hey! I forgot about that.” I said as I broke loose with a big smile! Digging into the bag, I felt like a kid on Christmas morning, opening presents. “Wow!” I said, my mouth watering over the goodies inside the box. June stared at me, waiting for her share of the treasure. “You already had breakfast and you don’t get people food anyway!” I said, taking a bite of an eclair while the filling oozed out the sides. June licked her lips and watched with envy, hoping I would change my mind...or at least drop some on the floor.
The lobster tail is a crispy pastry horn, shaped like a...well...lobster tail. It was filled with a delicious Bavarian cream. The Boston eclairs were also delicious. All three were gone in no time at all. Wiping my mouth with a napkin, I said to June, “Where else but in New England can you eat lobster tails for breakfast and it’s okay?” We shared a good laugh over that - well, I did anyway. June grumbled that I should have split the pastries with her since she was the one who remembered them being there.
We checked out of the motel and loaded our bags into the U-Haul. The Scamp trailer was delivered, now we had to figure out how we were getting home.
Flying was not an option as June is too big to ride in a seat and I won’t make her ride in an airline cargo area. We could rent a car one way, which is very expensive, or buy something. We started looking at some used car options to possibly replace the broken down car, or something I could drive home then sell again when I got there.
The rest of the trip was filled with several more automotive frustrations and set-backs before we finally figured out our way home.
So, as I said, not all of my trips are trouble free. But I did get to visit an old friend who lives in Salem, Massachusetts, and spend some time with my daughter and her husband in Harrisburg, PA.
As far as all the other troubles, I would say having a lobster tail and Boston eclairs for breakfast pretty much makes up for all of that.
Tom can be reached for comment at Facebook.com/Tom.palen.98
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I wished my first person of the season a “Merry Christmas” this morning.
After fueling the car, I went inside the C-store at a Pilot Truck Stop near Omaha, Nebraska and grabbed two bananas. A man in wheel chair was in line ahead of me paying for his items. When the cashier handed him his change, he dropped a coin.
I set my fruit on the counter, freeing my hand so I could bend over to retrieve the coin for him. The quick cashier rang up my items and said, “Fifty cents, please.” Just as quick, the man reached down and picked up his fallen coin - a quarter. He set it on the counter, saying, “Here. I’ll pay for one of them.” I smiled and thanked him. Before I could dig my change out of my pocket, he poked through the coins in his hand, placing another quarter on the counter saying, “Let me get them both.” I again thanked him, “Wow! Nobody ever bought me a banana, let alone two! Thank you!” We shared a good laugh over that. Very sincerely I said to him, “Merry Christmas, my friend.” He nodded upward with his head, “Peace, brother.” he replied. I left with my bananas, feeling really good about that whole exchange.
A few miles down the road, I reached for my coffee. “What? I forgot to get coffee?” No problem, a blue road sign indicated there was a Mc Donald’s just a mile up the road. I turned off at the next exit.
The man in line ahead of me was wearing a florescent green vest with the reflective stripes. After ordering his breakfast the cashier told him his total. He handed her a bill saying, “Here. Take it out of this five hundred.” I smiled and said to the cashier, “I hate to see him break a five hundred dollar bill, just for breakfast. Throw my coffee on there too, to make it worth breaking.” We all had a good laugh.
The man said, “It was five hundred pennies, not dollars.” then told the cashier, “but go ahead and get him a coffee.” “I was going to have a cookie too.” I said. “Well, then give him a cookie, too.” he told the cashier, shaking his head, still laughing. The cashier asked me, “Chocolate chip, or oatmeal raisin?” “Seriously? It’s breakfast time.” I said, “Oatmeal raisin, of course.” I then muttered, “Are you kidding me? Who eats chocolate chip cookies for breakfast?” We all shared another laugh.
A girl behind the counter handed me a tray with my cookie and coffee. I thanked the man again for his generosity and wished each of them a Merry Christmas. “Merry Christmas to you, too.” they both replied in unison.
A lady behind us was listening to all of this and with a southern drawl said, “What about me?” The three of us - the cashier, the man in the fluorescent green vest and myself, simultaneously said, “Merry Christmas!” She smiled from ear to ear and replied, “Well, Merry Christmas, y’all.” My day was made.
Fifty cents for two bananas and $1.14 for a cookie and a cup of coffee. Those two gestures were worth far more than the forty dollars worth of gas I just put in the tank.
I started the car, depressed the clutch pedal and moved the shifter into first gear. I glanced at the GPS. “529 miles to Boulder, Colorado.” I said out loud to my dog, “Put your seat belt on, June. This will be a fast trip.” June stared at me blankly as if to say, “What about me?” Giving her a brisk rub on the head, I said, “Merry Christmas, June Bug.” “Merry Christmas, Dad.” She said, then smiled and looked contently out the front windshield.
Tom can be reached for comment at Facebook.com/Tom.palen.98
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There was a tall blonde lady standing in front of me at the fast food restaurant in Washington, who had just finished placing here order. “Will that be all?” The cashier asked her. “And, whatever these two, want.” She replied, motioning toward the two girls behind her. Each girl being tall and blonde, bore a strikingly similar appearance to the lady. It was my assumption the girls were her daughters.
I tapped the lady on the shoulder. “What about me?” I asked, “I’m hungry too.” I said. The lady cracked a smile, laughed, then told the cashier, “Sure. Why not? And, whatever he wants, too.” The lady and I shared a good laugh about that. The two teenage girls looked at each other, puzzled, as if to say, “Who is this guy? And why is he talking to our mom?” Although I am sure the lady’s offer was genuine, I told her I was just kidding and she didn’t have to buy my coffee. The three of them went to sit at a table. I ran out to my car to grab something.
I came back into the restaurant, walked up to the lady and handed her a small rock, just slightly larger than a dime. “What is this?” She asked. “It’s a quartz rock I picked up on a beach in Lake Superior Provincial Park, in Canada.” I said. “Really? You brought this rock all the way across the country from Lake Superior?” She asked. “Yep.” I said, “It’s an international rock.”
I explained that I travel all over the country. “When I visit different bodies of water and walk the beaches, I collect rocks or seashells. Nothing too big or significant, just small rocks or shells. I keep them in my car. From time to time I run into people whom I wish to give a little present.” “And why are you giving me this rock?” She asked. “Because you offered to buy me dinner. I just wanted to return the nice gesture.” Then I told her, “It’s a special rock; as long as you keep it with you, it will bring you good luck.” She thanked me, turning the rock over and over in her fingers, studying it. I smiled and walked away.
I paid for my drink, then found a table to sit and sip my coffee, while writing. A few moments later the lady walked up to my table. She said, “It’s funny you should give me that lucky rock today. I’m going in for a surgical procedure tomorrow and I’ve really been nervous about it. Somehow this little rock from a stranger makes me feel like everything is going to be okay.” That kind of choked me up, leaving me speechless.
She continued, “We travel all over the country, too, and I buy little things I don’t need, but sometimes its good to have them to give away.” With that said, she handed me a postcard, “I picked this up in southern California and I’d like you to have it.”
The postcard was very colorful with all the planets from our solar system on it. A logo on the bottom read, “Ron Jon Surf Shop.” It was one of those 3-D hologram cards. As I held it in my hands, I turned it from side to side studying it. It looked like the planets were moving about inside the card. “This is really cool!” I said, as I gladly accepted her gift, “Thank you very much.” She in turn, thanked me again for the rock, saying, “I will take it with me to my surgery tomorrow.” I smiled warmly and said, “You’re going to be just fine, my friend. I know you will.” She returned the smile, we said our farewells and she walked away. I kept looking at the card, thinking, “Someday after I’ve traveled the whole world over, I’ll explore the universe; and now I’ll have a map to take with me.” I laughed, “Maybe I’ll collect moon rocks next.”
I continued turning the card back and forth in my hands, mesmerized by the planets as they moved about. I looked up and outside. The lady was passing by the windows. She was looking down toward her hands; turning something small in her fingers, studying it.
Tom can be reached for comment at Facebook.com/Tom.palen.98