Monthly Archives: August 2011

Get Your Kicks Off Route 66

I think everyone knows that the Washington D.C. area has the worst traffic in the nation. Even though I don’t regularly drive in the bad traffic areas, I’m aware of them by means of the traffic reports from the Glass-Enclosed Nerve Center of WTOP-FM (103.5) which air every ten minutes (with the weather on the eights) around the clock. As one traffic engineer I talked to said, “We have too many cars and not enough roads.” There are a lot of people here because there are a lot of jobs and there is not enough public transportation, or at least public transportation that is good, efficient and inexpensive enough to make people leave their cars and ride a bicycle, bus, train or boat.

To make matters worse, roads must be maintained.  This seems like an obvious statement, but a road can’t be closed completely so it can be resurfaced or whatever.  I know, a road could be completely closed for a period of time, but we know the mess that results from the closure whether it’s due to maintenance or an accident.  There are miles-long backups, and traffic clogs side streets and neighborhoods.  A lot of this work is done at night or between what used to be called “rush hours” (now 24/7 as I said). Even with less traffic between, say 9 AM and 3 PM or overnight, when lanes close, traffic backs up. We picked Amy up from her big Southwest adventure at BWI Airport.  Her flight was due in about 10:15 and we left about 8:15, leaving in what we thought was plenty of time sing Google maps indicated that the 68 mile trip would take about an hour and twenty minutes, in an ideal world. With the amount of traffic and construction closed lanes on both I-66 and 495, we reached the cell lot about 10:15. That’s two hours travel time if you’re keeping track. Coming back, we sat at a dead standstill for ten minutes in the Tysons Corner subway construction area near the intersection of 495 and 123.  Once we got moving (slowly), Amy told us to take the 123 exit to International Drive to the Dulles Toll Road to Route 28 South, none of which had much traffic. It was a frustrating exercise in driving (which Becky did; I was the navigator.)

As I said, we don’t drive in these high traffic areas much.  Congestion can be bad enough around Manassas, but we know which intersections and streets to avoid.  The main commercial artery through town and beyond is Business 234 (to differentiate it from Bypass 234 which runs from Woodbridge past I-95 and on up to I-66), a classic commercial road with shopping centers, restaurants and a variety of other businesses. Business 234 goes from its intersection with Bypass 234 to the south of Manassas, through town, up to the interchange with I-66 and then through the Manassas Battlefield Park and into more rural areas until it intersects with Route 15. Between the City and the Battlefield Park, traffic is dense and slow-moving except for late at night or very early in the morning.

Yesterday I was headed out 234 about 10 AM when I noticed traffic was thicker than usual. It started crawling by the Prince William Hospital Campus, and continued for about three miles where I discovered that a road crew had closed two out of three lanes to repave them.  I supposed that they would work during the day and quit about 5 PM. I supposed wrong.  They were back today, backing up traffic and working past 7 PM. Now I know that 234 Business (also known as Sudley Road, I mention belatedly) is not I-270, but thousands of drivers were inconvenienced, frustrated and made late for their activities. Time spent sitting in traffic also has a negative impact on the economy. Couldn’t the crews have worked at night? It might have cost more but it would have been better for us all. We all want well-maintained roads but we also want reasonably clear roads.  I think we can have both.

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Home Grown Tomatoes

I love real tomatoes, the big juicy red ones that come out of gardens or farmers’ markets in the summer, not the puny, hard, tasteless faint pink hockey pucks that we are offered the rest of the year.  I can eat and have devoured real tomatoes three meals a day, at breakfast, lunch and dinner, just sliced up and lying there, so lovely on the plate.  They’re also good as a snack.  I like them on a cold biscuit.  Hey!  That would make a good name for a blog…biscuit…biscuit something…I’ll have to think about that some more.

It has been tomato season for a while now, and one point of reinforcement about the glorious oncoming of this wonderful fruit (or vegetable) was the first Summer Sounds Concert by Jay Ungar and Molly Mason back on Saturday, July 11.  One of the wonderful songs they sang was “Home Grown Tomatoes,” composed by musician Guy Clark, celebrating my favorite fruit. Here’s a link to the song as performed by Ungar and Mason:

We were fortunate to have home grown tomatoes growing up since Becky’s dad Oscar and my mom were master gardeners.  The green thumb gene didn’t take in my case: I can kill any living plant with little effort, although the hydrangeas I put in at the start of the summer are doing well. Becky has a rain forest of indoor plants in the room with a northern exposure.  Neither of us grow tomatoes, though.  We didn’t have to when Becky’s dad and my mom were living.  I remember asking her if I should try growing some tomatoes myself and she laughed and said, “Just get some from the farmers’ market.”  That was a good suggestion, and so every Saturday Becky goes to the market and comes home with some beautiful yellow tomatoes for herself and some big juicy red ones for me. So, if you’re feeling down, sing along with the “Home Grown Tomatoes” song and have a tomato!

Home grown tomatoes, home grown tomatoes

What'd life be without home grown tomatoes
There's only two things that money can't buy
That's true love and home grown tomatoes!

Yes, indeed!

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Dodging A Bullet

We’re located in Manassas (and by we I mean my family and I live in Manassas, Virginia. The use of “we” to refer to a single person is called “the majestic plural.” Mark Twain once allegedly said that “Only kings, presidents, editors, and people with tapeworms have the right to use the editorial ‘we.‘ “), about 25 miles or so west south west of the center of Washington DC. The weather here over the range of local broadcast stations can vary greatly because of the topography (mountains in the west declining gradually eastward to sea level shore line with weather also ameliorated by the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean to the east), so exact forecasts for any region are tricky. Snowfalls from east to west or north to south can vary by as much as a foot and temperatures by 10 to 15 degrees.

We are generally on the western edge of any hurricane that comes up along the coast as Irene did, so we weren’t hammered as the unfortunate communities along the Carolina, Virgina and Maryland coasts were. New York City got off easier than expected as the storm weakened. Locally, we got about two inches of rain measured by my working rain gauge) and winds seemed to run 20 miles an hour as far as I could tell using my Cub Scout silver arrow point weather unit skills whereby one estimates wind speed by the movement of flags, trees, small children and large heavy rocks. (Not as accurate as anemometer, I know. Gotta get me one of those.)  Becky said we lost power early Sunday morning but I was asleep. We got off easy.

The earthquake this past week and the hurricane the past few days have served as definitive reminders of the power of nature, if any of us had forgotten.  In the form of tornadoes, tsunamis, earthquakes, blizzards and hurricanes, nature can unleash brutal power that we can do nothing to stop.  I once heard someone call in to a radio show to ask an expert on atomic weapons if one or more nuclear weapons dropped on a hurricane might break it apart and render it harmless.  The expert chuckled and replied that the power of a nuclear weapon, as great as it is, would make no difference to the structure or movement of a hurricane.

Just for the record, here’s a picture of my hurricane readiness kit:

In case it’s hard to tell from the picture what the special items are, they are, from left to right, cranberry sauce (I can pretend it’s Thanksgiving, one of my favorite holidays, and be happy), rice ( I love rice.  This is microwave rice and takes 90 seconds to fix!  Ninety seconds!), dark chocolate (good and good for you!  Eat up!), a saltine cracker (not elegant, but this is a survival kit, after all) crossword puzzle (must keep the mind sharp and active) and pencil (this one doesn’t have an eraser–it’s just a prop. I couldn’t find one with an eraser.  I’m good with crosswords, but not that good), Kindle (needed to be charged. Oops.  Hope the electricity holds up), chilled Pepsi in a can (delicious sugar infused water!), Art Garfunkel CD (Art is my man and makes me feel better.  Sing “Bridge over Troubled Water” for me, Art!), harmonica (for that lonesome prairie cowboy vibe), cat food (so my cat won’t eat me), TV remote (to control the set while I watch my poor Nats leave dozens of men on base and lose again), American cheese ( symbolic since Bloom had pulled all the cheese off the shelves as they prepared to close early Saturday evening.  No brie for me!  The American cheese product stands in  for it) and battery-powered radio (with little Sony speakers so everyone can gather around and listen just like the Fireside Chats) set to WTOP-FM, home of  the  glass-enclosed nerve center.

Seriously, though all this display of the power of nature was enough to make anyone think and enough to make anyone more than humble.  And thankful for what we just avoided.

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Apocalypse Now and Later

As of this writing on Friday, August 26 about 9:00 AM , we experienced this past week one of the biggest earthquakes on record in Virginia and are now awaiting the effects of Hurricane Irene which is somewhere off the Florida coast.  It has been a news week that you just know had news people about to spin their heads off their necks with excitement while they salivated about all those newsworthy events happening in close proximity.  This happens every once in a while, such as the week of William and Kate’s wedding. A couple of days before the royal event, a number of tornadoes ravaged the South.  It was horrible.

While I would not ascribe any eschatological significance to an earthquake and a hurricane in the same week, some might see it as evidence of the ending of the world. I certainly respect anyone’s right to such an interpretation: I just think we don’t know when the end of times will come. The Bible chronicles an ongoing series of disasters including floods, famines, the plagues of Egypt, pestilence, whirlwinds, mighty winds, storms, earthquakes, drownings, collapse of buildings and walls, conquests, captivities, destruction of cities, wars, and falls of empires.  Beyond the Bible, historically we know we have experienced more wars, more conquests, slavery, poverty, starvation, the plague, diseases of various sorts, economic exploitation, the nationalistic wars of the nineteenth century, colonial exploitation, class, racial and sex discrimination, World War I, the Great Depression, World War II, the use of atomic weapons, the Cold War, terrorism, and the war on terrorism.

And yet through all of this, people of faith and people of good will have comforted the afflicted, fed the hungry, worked to bring peace, and served the cause of justice.  I believe that they represent humanity at its best, and that’s part of what William Faulkner was talking about in his speech given for the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1949 (the speech was delivered in late 1950) in which he famously declared,  “I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.”
We have had an earthquake and we have a hurricane coming but we also have faith, hope and strength. Most of all, we have each other. May each of you go with God.

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First Children, Stuck CD’s and Leaving Well Enough Alone

Our younger daughter Alyssa likes to point out that she is the only second-born child in a family of first-borns. This is true, since Becky, Amy and I are all first-borns. I received some help determining this from a web site.  Here it is if you want to figure out your birth order:


How to figure out your birth order


If you were born first, you’re a first-born. If last, you’re a last-born. If you’re a middle child, you need to ask whether you’re closer in age to an older or a younger sibling. If you have many older siblings and are close in age to one or more of them, you can expect to be more like a last-born than a first-born, although you will have some firstborn traits by virtue of the fact that you have a younger sibling. 


Now that we’ve settled that, we’ll proceed with the business at hand.  It’s my understanding that there is mixed scientific support for the idea that birth order influences personality since there are so many factors that affect personality. The concept is still solidly a part of pop psychology and culture. Here’s a quick rundown of the characteristics, shamelessly lifted from some website:


The First Born


Strongest Personality – First-borns are usually the leaders. They usually have the characteristics and qualities that enable them to make decisions easily. This maybe due to the special attention they receive since they are the first, and parents would be very excited with them.

Family Minded – First-borns take the position of their parents when they are not around, making them the decision makers. They would then think of the family as their own, thus they are protective and responsible for their siblings. They are unselfish and caring by nature.
(I like this description and believe it to be true. :^) ) 

The Middle Child


Peacekeepers – Middle children are peacekeepers by default. They are the mediators between the siblings. They are sometimes associated as “people pleasers” due to their weak personalities, but not all of them have this characteristic.

Attention Getter – By being born at the middle, middle children do not receive much attention. This causes them to get attention whenever they can through any means possible, so often they become the black sheep of the family. Lack of attention can cause a chain reaction making them lose confidence, friends and so on.
(“Weak personalities?”  Hmmm…don’t think so. Alyssa is the polar opposite of a “weak personality.”) 

The Last Born


Smartest – By being the last, they have seen the rights and wrongs of their siblings, making them the smartest. Often, the youngest will be exposed to matters between their siblings which are older, thus making them a bit mature for their age.

Spoiled – By this time, the parents are tired of their children. Most of their energies in disciplining the children have been used up, thus having none for the youngest. Because of this, the child becomes accustomed to no discipline at all, making them spoiled and hard headed.
(Sorry, last-borns. I think it’s harsh to say that parents are “tired of their children with the last-born . Also calling last-borns “spoiled and hard headed” is not nice.)

(Remember this blog is intended for entertainment purposes only and should not be confused with actual information.)

Anyhow, the point is this story: Alyssa recently acquired a new (used) car and sold me her Mazda station wagon. I had always liked the car and find it a delight to drive and useful for carrying things. I can actually get four ten foot long plastic pipes in it, which would have stuck out the back of my former pickup with the miniscule six-foot bed. That’s one of the reasons I no longer have the truck.  That and it rode like a tank.

The Mazda sw has a Bose sound system with a CD player (changer, actually, I found out) which has an incredible sound.  Being a guy, I stuck a CD in the slot, which is how most CD players work. It wouldn’t play. Not would it eject.  Being a first born, I wanted to fix the problem and stuck various slender objects into the slot to try to free the disc. Nothing worked and I had to get to a meeting. I was already planning to take the dash apart to get at the CD and free the disc.

I came out after my meeting and started the car…and the CD ejected itself. Whew!  Upon reading the directions (contrary to my guy nature), I found that I should have pressed the “Load” button to the top of the slot.  When the display read “Load” I could insert the CD. Imagine that.

I think it was my first-born status that made me stick the disc into the slot without knowing what I was doing.  I like to forge ahead without any idea of what will happen in a given circumstance.  Sometimes bad things happen but it’s always exciting. I’m trying to think things through before I jump in, but old habits die hard. Trying to pull the CD out of the player is typical of my impulsive nature. I should know better but I don’t.

I console myself by remembering that I am “unselfish and caring by nature,” and not possessed of a “weak personality” or “spoiled and hard-headed.” Thank goodness for that. Right?

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I Feel the Earth Move

Well, of course all the buzz yesterday was about the 5.8–6.0 earthquake the area experienced yesterday, perhaps the strongest ever in Virginia (although Thomas Jefferson predated the Richter Scale so I wonder how historians determine the strength of earthquakes before more scientific measures came along. Maybe accounts of damage to the tobacco crop). The strongest previous quake in Virginia was a 5.8 in 1897. In spite of what my students used to think, I did not experience that one myself.  Neither did I know William Shakespeare personally. I think your momma did, though.

I was on my deck working on extending part of an extension ladder for easier access to my attic (it’s complicated) when I heard a rumbling like the furnace was going to explode. The deck swayed back and forth two to three inches for about 45 seconds. Ace builder Don Libeau rebuilt the deck several years ago after it partially peeled off the house on one Fourth of July (with Becky standing on it). If it were not for Don’s overbuilding I would have landed in the back yard. The swaying stopped and I thought, the Marines must have some big new guns (we can hear explosions and such from the base at Quantico about 23 miles away).Then I figured that it was an earthquake.
My neighbor came out and asked if I had felt anything.  I replied that I did and that I thought it was an earthquake.  I stepped inside the kitchen area and turned on the TV. As the World Turns (or something similar) was airing, so I switched on WTOP radio, an all-news station in D.C. They were reporting a magnitude 5.6 quake with the epicenter in Mineral, VA.
 I tried to call Becky but the phone lines were loaded up and I couldn’t get through. A few minutes later she called me to report that she was in her office on the third floor of the church and thought the furnace was rumbling (brilliant minds think alike) at first and then that the Marines were setting off ordnance (after nearly 37 years of marriage we frequently experience mind melds). The ‘quake knocked one of her African animal carvings off the shelf and she knew it was an earthquake then and evacuated the building.  After a few minutes she went back.
I was interested that texting worked, and I soon heard from Amy who reported that she sheltered in the laundry room which is a small space with large metal objects all around.  Good idea that, and she could have clean clothes for the apocalypse. She also had the foresight to schedule a massage at 2 PM, fifteen minutes after the event.  Good going!
Alyssa texted to report that she worked in a fortress at SRA. Fortress of Solitude, maybe.  She sent an account of her reaction and that of a colleague:
The earthquake started, and like most everyone else, I thought it was something else.  Specifically, I asked my coworker Kelly if she also felt a herd of buffalo running under her desk.  She said yes, and we agreed that it was an earthquake.  Then we wondered what we should do.  “Google ‘What to do in an earthquake’?” I suggested.
 “I think we’re supposed to stand in a doorway,” she replied.  So we stood in the doorway.  
“In case we die, I love you,” I joked with her.  
“I love you too,” she replied.  
(We have known each other for about three weeks because she just started with the company, but it was coworker love at first sight.)  
Then we stood there for a while while the rumbling continued. 
 With nothing else to do while standing in the doorway, we resorted to Your Momma jokes.  “I didn’t realize they let your momma jump on the roof!”  
Our hilarious joke fest was interrupted by my boss, emerging from the men’s room and exclaiming “THIS is what happens when you make me mad!” and laughing maniacally down the hallway.

Your tax dollars at work, folks.

So everyone was accounted for and I took a nap.  I’ve been checking Facebook where a lot of people shared their experiences. That worked. It’s a brave new world out there. I’m glad no one seemed to be badly hurt in the earthquake and damage was minimal. I’m also glad I don’t live in California. I don’t think I could take it.

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Ukulele Lady

I would probably have to say that I have an ambivalent relationship with the ukulele but recently I have come to love it. I used to think it was a silly little instrument with only four strings that sounds like a creature from the planet Treblelina.  On the other hand, sales of ukuleles during the craze for the instrument during  the  1920’s probably enabled the Martin guitar company to survive. If the company had gone under, there would have been no D-28 or D-18 dreadnaught models, the ne plus ultras of guitars as far as I am concerned. The ukulele can be masterfully played by the likes of Jake Shimabukuro (check out his version of “Stars and Stripes Forever” on You Tube) and Israel Kamakawiwoʻole, a Hawaiian musician whose ukulele accompanied version of “Somewhere over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World” was used in numerous commercials and television shows as well as becoming a hit in its own right. The first time I heard it was during an episode of E.R. when the song is played during the death of Dr. Mark Greene (Anthony Edwards). I was ruined by that song and still am.

Our younger daughter Alyssa, the H.R. wizard, took up the ukulele recently.  She had tried guitar and found as many new players do that the strings hurt her fingers and the stretches to form the chords were too much for her small hands.  So she got a ukulele and began learning to play it. She reported last week she knew three chords and seven songs. With my father in the hospital this past week, she visited him Sunday with her ukulele and played “On Top of Spaghetti” and “You Are My Sunshine.”  I’m glad I wasn’t there or I would have been ruined again.  Ukuleles can do that to you, those “silly” little instruments.

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