The Helped

I find myself spending too much time thinking about the world I will leave to my 13 year-old, Rachel. There seems to be a whole lot of bad news some days. Recently, the attacks in Belgium just seem to be latest senseless act of a growing set of desperate people who feel they are not being heard. The mayhem always has the violence porn industry in tow. I wonder if there is an antidote to the hopelessness, fear and impending doom Rachel sees every day.


Then I remember Fred.


Fred Rogers, that’s Mister Rogers to you and me, seemed to be the world’s ambassador to children. He delicately explained the world to us in all it’s wonder and all it’s chaos. He seemed to instinctively know what we needed. That sweater and those sneakers were our symbols of certainty, sanity and safety before we even knew what those words meant. He spoke our language in a steady voice which never stooped to condescension. I guess Mister Rogers learned well the story of Job in seminary because his patience seemed to be unlimited.


Do you remember how he told us we could think about a disaster?


He told us the story of his mom’s advice about how he could think about disaster and violence porn. She told him simply, “look for the helpers.” In our language, he told us faith and hope would be found in the “helpers.” He felt so strongly about his mom’s helper concept that he urged the violence porn industry not to edit those helpers from their porn.


Did you watch Mister Roger’s Neighborhood as a child?


I look for the helpers today. I find great solace in them today. I think Jesus would have been a helper. In spite of personal danger, these people run toward the fire. Many have no skills to bring to bear once they make it to the breach. They might be bricklayers, garbage men and window washers but, they try to help anyway. Knowing their only contribution might be human kindness, they are willing to give it. Their split-second decision is to love.


Do you know people like this?


In my recent spiritual spring cleaning, I have made a decision to look for the helpers. I have made a conscious decision to reduce the influence in my life of people who seem to take pleasure in violence porn. I want to replace those people with helpers as influences in my life. This is an endeavor for me and not a transformation. I have however found peace in the journey. It is not my nature to run toward the fires of this life but, there is peace there. I have to be honest here. It is not my nature to serve those I don’t feel worthy. I feel that there are people in my life who build fires in their’s every day. My nature is not to run toward those self-made fires.


Have you had your feet washed in a figurative or literal sense lately.


I think back to all those who washed my feet. There were times I did not deserve it. There were times I would not have washed my own feet. Helpers have been everywhere in my life. Those helpers came exactly when I needed them. Fortunately for me, they didn’t ask questions. Perhaps some of them once had the same done for them. Perhaps they washed out of gratitude. Perhaps they washed out of a longing for peace. Regardless, the affect on my life has been profound and lasting. I am grateful for the helpers, the foot-washers. They are the perfect antidote for the darkness which visits all of us. I pray that there are lots of helpers in Brussels. I pray that the children of Belgium get to see plenty of those helpers in action.



Picture Credit

George Washington for President

The Sunday Morning Sermon

In case you haven’t noticed, this is a political season in America and I have to tell you, I am a little fed up. I am so tired of half-truths, spin and outright lies I am starting to feel sick when I turn on the news. Truth has somewhere, somehow died a slow and painful death and I am pretty sure I missed the funeral. Through it all however, I believe most of the ugliness, pettiness and divisiveness would be gone tomorrow if we agreed not to support people who lie.


I am sure you heard the candidate who told us most in the illegal Hispanic population were rapists and drug dealers.


That statement was more than crude and in my 53 years I have heard crude. It was more than racist, because I believe the statement would have made Bull Conner blush. It was more than insensitive, because I can not fathom the kind of dinner table questions Hispanic moms and dads had to answer. It was decidedly more than unchristian but, not for the reason you might think. It was more than cringe-worthy, in a season with a pretty high cringe-quotient.


It was a lie.


When did we begin to honor dishonesty? When did we start giving little Johnny a cookie when he told a whopper? “I am so proud of Johnny. He is a natural born liar.” When did we begin rewarding little Suzy when she copied her homework answers? “We are so proud of Suzy. She cheated her way to Valedictorian.” Do they give you a medal at WestPoint now for lying? “For meritorious and capricious lying, the Congressional Medal of Dishonor goes to…” Has the story of George Washington and the cherry tree been erased from our national memory? “I am not sure little Georgie has a future in politics. He just can’t tell a lie.”


We still have a zero-tolerance policy on the fib at our house. Should we change that? Have you?


So, why on earth are we considering liars for public office… I am not sure considering is strong enough, how about seeking? Yup, instead of disagreeing with the other side, whatever that is, we want our politicians to turn the other side into fire-breathing, hell-bent bonafide monsters. So if public office means a suspension of reality, then I hereby nominate Aslan for President. Peter would make a good Supreme Court Justice while we are at it. I am sure Justice Scalia would be proud of our choice. Of course neither of them would make very good liars.


Do you think Aslan the lion would ever win a political election in this country?


I understand how useful hyperbole and exaggeration can be at times. Those devices are extremely useful in comedy and storytelling. Sometimes, exaggeration is useful in education to help define cause and effect. There is a place for things not exactly true especially when the speaker eventually tells us the truth and explains the why a lie was useful.


Have you heard such an explanation this political season? Is the fault in our stars or in ourselves?


I think we made it this way. We have rewarded fiery speakers who tell us lies about our ideological opposites for too long. We love people who think like us. We especially love those who demonize our “enemies.” That may be the crux of our problem. Somehow, our fellow citizens have become enemies. People who think differently must be stopped. We can no longer agree to disagree. We want our politicians to label our ideological enemies as unpatriotic, greedy, weak or evil. Those labels have become the talisman of a true believer. When merely saying it is so loses its effectiveness, we want them to use a religious interpretation, shoddy statistics, science-for-hire, stereotypes, prejudice… to prove our point. Any form of the lie is ok, if it leaves our ideological enemies in a figurative bloody pulp in the gutter.


Have you seen people this season in more than a figurative bloody pulp?


If we don’t mind a lie and actually encourage it, then what is next? I think all things are possible including moving from the figurative to the literal. In a democracy, we must agree to disagree from time to time. As we learned in kindergarten, things don’t always go exactly as we desire. Kick-the-can fans have to play in the sandbox from time to time and we don’t get to verbally or literally beat-up the sandbox voters. The kick-the-can voters can opt to play by themselves but, in a democracy, the game is set by the majority. A kindergartener knows outlawing all community games, because we didn’t like the vote, is not an option either. Somehow a five year-old knows telling lies about the sandboxers won’t change anything for the better. They instinctively know what we seem to have forgotten. Without the sandboxers, they won’t have enough kids to play kick-the can and some of the sandboxers make excellent kick-the-can players.


Picture Credit



Anniversary Salute

I had a little anniversary a few days ago. It seems that 32 years ago, when I was 21, I raised my right hand to become a private in the US Army. An odd institution, the Army. Although I had signed a contract, the oath was the binding instrument:

“I Dal Ogle do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”


I took that oath at a MEPS center in Nashville, Tennessee. MEPS was one of the first in a long line of acronyms I would learn and use every day in the Army. In this case it stood for Military Entrance Processing Station. Later I would learn the art and the joy of the backwards acronym. You know, Bag, Sleeping or Jeep, Personnel…Yup, the American military is its own subculture and they teach you everything you need to know about your new chosen culture in twelve weeks.


Do you know anyone shipping off to Basic Training?


Basic Training is probably the understatement of the millennia. The physical part of basic gets all the press but, the important part is unlearning everything you have learned in life to that point. Once you have properly forgotten you can then relearn the Army way. From rank identification, who to salute, to how to sign and date your signature, you have to learn it all. I still date some documents the Army way. The beautiful simplicity of the day, month, last two of the year, is a sort of secret handshake for all in the club. See, the numbers are separated, it avoids confusion, if you go to Europe you won’t be lost…


I guess you can take the man out of the Army…


After my basic at Fort McClellan, I went to advanced training at Fort Gordon, Georgia. In case you are unfamiliar, Fort Gordon, outside of Augusta, is the hottest place on earth. I drank more water out of a smelly canteen there than…well, I drank tons of water. I drank it mostly out of fear. They told me if I contracted heat stroke I would be Court-Martialed for insubordination and who needs that? I guess they would have gotten me well then sent me to stockade.


Doesn’t the Army have curious ways of looking at things?


On a 90-degree day in October I left what I knew of the world in Charleston, South Carolina and my crying mom. When I landed in the alien land they called Germany, it was 45. It snowed two feet that night and stayed on the ground till July. The first order of business for me was to get a roll of what looked like play money, put that money in huge toy telephone and call mom. I reassured her that we were not lost somewhere in the Mid-Atlantic then asked her to do me a favor. I asked her to dig out all those catalogs we had received for years and find the largest coat she could buy. I asked her to ship it immediately.


Have you ever had long stretches where your bones were chilled?


After a time of self-pity, God spoke through Private Donald Sponcelor from Los Fresnos, Texas. We were not men of the world but, during a Dopplebock fog, he had a moment of clarity. “I heard you could go to Frankfort on a train for ten marks,” he said. I could even do the math on that one. With our exchange rate, that was about three bucks. We weren’t sure what waited in Frankfort but, it was better than a drunken pity party in the barracks of Bad Hersfeld. A month later we began our tour of 22 countries for train tickets which cost less than cab fare.


My work in Germany was spent on the East/West German Border. Someone called it the Frontier of Freedom. I was a Calvary Trooper. I must say, I still love the smell a Lycoming gas turbine makes when it warms up in the morning. I would love to report to you some heroic exploits but, it was mostly boredom.  The only shots fired at me in anger were mostly from drunken East German and Russian conscripts trying to shoot defectors or something.


I don’t think I was ever in any real danger from the enemy.


Later in the Alabama National Guard, I would go to the other border in South Korea. The difference was stark. The East Germans and Russian conscripts acted as if they could shoot you if it was a necessity. The North Koreans acted like they would take great joy in killing you and eating you. No one ever seemed to escape over that border. Korea was also a cold place. At the time I was in South Korea, it was also very poor. They were very nice people who were desperately poor.


Have any of you been to those places lately?


They tell me goat herders have taken over the fences on the former German Border. I also have word that those South Korean rice fields I witnessed being fertilized with human feces have given way to huge car and TV manufacturing facilities. Being an old Cold Warrior, I am happy things turned out so well in Germany. I am sad however, when I hear that hundreds of thousands of people continue to starve under the thumb or Kim Jung-un or whoever is in charge North Korea these days.


I miss MY Army.


My experience has now, apparently, been relegated to history. All those countries and good times are a thing of the past. My new Army brothers and sisters have been in a real shooting war for over fifteen years now. They deploy, rest for a few months, deploy…Most of them have lost at least one of their brothers and sisters-in-arms. Many of them have been maimed. Most of them suffer deep mental scars few will ever have to feel. The scars that come from seeing things which should never be seen and doing things which no one should ever have to do. I think about my Army experience and how different it is from the 21 year-olds raising their right hand today. I am honored, humbled and grateful, beyond words, that someone would raise their hand for me. I feel so blessed everyday that they will.


Godspeed my brothers and sisters.

This will defend.




Picture Credits:

Pigpen is Blown Away

I seem to be in a little funk lately. My real job is not perfect. My daughter is beginning to be a teenager. I need an outbuilding for my yard tools and lawnmower. It will have to be a brick monstrosity worthy of my new subdivision. The Taj Mahal of garden sheds complete with bricks and windows. My cat uses plants instead of a litter box. I have a best friend I haven’t seen in six years. I need to see my sister more. I need to visit my mom and dad more. At some point, I become aware of my problem.


I am so grateful to have a mom and dad to go see.


So what if I am not getting the respect I desire at work. I have a great job practicing civil engineering. A job, incidentally, I believe God made me to do. Otherwise why would he have planted the seed so early in the sand box? Why would I have been in such awe of a simple bulldozer? Now, I have a hobby I love as much.


By the way, thank you Mr. or Mrs. Reader!


I see people griping about cars parked in the road or trash cans left an extra day in my neighborhood. I see people griping about the Hispanics who mow their grass and build their houses. I see people griping about their taxes. I see people griping about their kids. I see people griping about their doctor or hospital. I see people go on for days about their spouse. I see people run down teachers. I see people who refuse to see anything good about our country. I see people who believe the world is an awful place.


Are you like me? do you find yourself joining the Pig Pens of the world occasionally?


You know those people. They drive a great car, live in a great neighborhood, have a great job, pretty good kids… They have had a big pile of breaks in their lives. They went to a great school. They got a chance to go to college. They had a great support structure with public roads, churches, bridges, parks, schools, families, friends…but, somehow, they did it all by themselves. Their work entitles them to a cloud of anger, fear and some kind of weird fantasy of a perfect life in the past. The cloud follows them around like Pig Pen. Sometimes people run the other way.


Do you feel like you have borrowed Pig Pen’s cloud sometimes? I know I do.


When I see a cloud forming I know how to blow it away. The question always becomes; how long will I indulge myself with the pity party. When I am done, it is as simple as dropping the Gratitude Bomb. A little gratitude will fix most delusions in my head. When I feel victimized at work…I get thankful I have a job. When I feel like someone is getting over on society…I remember the kind souls in my life who gave me something I probably didn’t deserve. When I feel, I know I should first feel thankful.


Do you know people who write gratitude lists?


It is not a bad practice but, I like to say my gratitude list. I think there is a great listener. I have also found gratitude a powerful teaching tool for a thirteen year-old. Sometimes gratitude even helps blow away the cloud for other Pig Pens in my life. After all, what does it cost to be grateful? What could it hurt for me to try? I am pretty sure my misery can always be refunded.


Pigpen picture courtesy:


Johnny’s Joy

There was a man in my home town named Johnny. He lived in Belgreen outside the town of Russellville where I grew up. I think he lived with his sister. Johnny was “special.” Everyone in northwest Alabama knew him because at some point, they had given him a ride. See, Johnny didn’t drive. He still liked to visit the big cities of Muscle Shoals, Florence, Sheffield and Tuscumbia. There were things to eat, places to shop and wonders beyond those Belgreen had to offer. You always knew for days when you had given Johnny a ride.


I am sure you know people who feel showers are overrated.


Johnny frequently went on odysseys which stretched over several counties. At the end of these odysseys when he was headed home his request was simple, “tate me to Belgreen.” It always amazed me how he could move around such a huge area simply on the largess of those willing to give a hitchhiker a ride. Most of those rides were given by people who knew they were about to receive an aromatic gift which would keep giving for several days.


Would you have given him a ride?


Johnny was always so excited to see you. My friends and I had given him many rides but, one stands out. He had been to a shop in downtown Florence on that day. He had forgotten to close the back door of the car because he was so excited. Apparently he had located a trinket or dust collector which made the perfect gift for his sister. It may have been a ceramic frog or a rabbit or something…I can’t remember. Although he did not speak very plainly, we were able to piece together that Johnny’s sister loved that kind dust collector and had many of them throughout the house. He was beside himself with pride.


I wish you could have met Johnny.


Sure, Johnny would give us a beer from time to time. We also had a laugh or two at his expense. There is something funny about a child in a middle-aged man’s body. Mostly, however, we genuinely liked Johnny and how could you not like Johnny? I think he liked us. God chose to freeze him at place where we found ourselves. We were not quite adults and not quite children anymore. His permanent adolescence made him one of us with all its wonder. Yeah, it is safe to say that Johnny, for many of us, was our first lesson in packaging.


Does God hide his best surprises from you sometimes?


Johnny, unshaven, unclean, and repulsive in many ways was one of my first opportunities to see and feel unbridled joy. The legend, I later learned, was that Johnny was headed to an Ivy League school on scholarship before the train accident. The unrecoverable brain damage left him in a childhood state of, well, joy. Every day was an adventure. He was doomed, blessed maybe, to forever live in the moment. I imagine he never had a regret when his head hit the pillow in Belgreen. I am sure a part of Johnny’s brain visited the past from time to time but, I never witnessed regret. Sure, people played tricks on him from time to time but, he never held a grudge. He loved his drivers and they loved him.


Johnny passed away several years ago but, we still talk about him often. We always have a laugh or two. The laughs always remind me of that twilight between childhood and adulthood. There is wonder and joy in those times. There is also pain. Johnny taught us that the pain is fleeting and grudges only rob us of real joy. There were a hundred reasons to avoid Johnny. We could have marginalized Johnny but, it would have been our loss. The gift of permanent childhood joy would have remained unopened and our lives would have been a little darker.

Our Better Angels

Maybe I should change the Sunday Morning Sermon to the Late Sunday,,,err,,,Mondayish Sermon.

Antonin Gregory Scalia died yesterday. He leaves his wife, Maureen and nine children. He leaves many friends including Ruth Ginsburg and others. He was a man I can imagine wearing his house slippers and sitting in his recliner. I can imagine he was a granddad, doting and bouncing the grandbabies on his knee. With his rich intellect, I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall as he read or told stories to his grandbabies. Today, someone is explaining to those grandbabies how he won’t be around to read those stories anymore. I don’t know his pet name around the house but, I bet that name will be uttered with a tinge of pain today.


I bet you have memories of a jolly old grandpa.


I also bet you are hearing less about grandpa and more about “but” today. The but you have been hearing is the dehumanizing but. But, Senator McConnell won’t confirm the President’s appointee…But, liberals will now run the court…But, Citizens United will be surely struck down…But, this presidential candidate said this and that presidential candidate said that.


I am not sure if he was Jesus or a monster but, the way people are talking, he surely wasn’t a granddaddy who would be missed.


We seem to have reached a point where we won’t even wait till the body is cold. We especially can’t wait when it comes to politics. First, we dehumanize those who disagree with us. They are insane, unpatriotic, evil and my favorite, a Fascist. In case you have been sleeping for the last 60 years, Fascist is code for Nazis and Hitler. That code, I believe, is used today as nonchalantly as we empty the litter box. We compare those unspeakable acts 60 years ago to, well, anything we can’t like.  I can tell you for sure, the people who are capable of that kind of unspeakable act do not have grandbabies and will never be missed.


Have you ever dehumanized someone you disagree with? I know I have.


Antonin did everything society asked of him and when called to serve, he obliged. To be sure, I disagreed with him on almost everything. Instead of hating his sin however, I should hate my own. I should hate the sin which allows me to justify any means to his marginalized end. At his end, he was a public servant who did the best job he could. His decisions were informed by a life experience which is not mine to validate. His character, family or legacy should never have to suffer assassination for his supposed transgressions. This good man, grandpa and public servant’s memory should only be met with my gratitude.


How many people wont serve us because we can’t agreeably disagree?


It is long past time we quit listening to those drunk with power who appeal to our lesser angels. We know when the ends justify the means, we only really lose ourselves. The man or woman demonized, dehumanized in this political parlor game is in the mirror. I should deny those lesser angels because they are mine. When I subscribe to the us and them culture it may be immediately gratifying but, it is not working. Good people with a heart for public service are suffering. In my silence, they suffer at my hands. I, we, are better than that.


By Supreme_Court_US_2009.jpg: Steve Petteway, 
Staff Photographer of the Supreme Court 
(evidence that he took it is here 
(LinkedIn profile here U.S. Federal Government. 
Supreme Court archivist's office confirms 
that this is photo number 2009-03882 and that a 
permanent catalog number will be assigned.derivative work: 
Wehwalt (talk) - Supreme_Court_US_2009.jpg, 
Public Domain,

Cane Creek Preserve

In 1979 Jim and Faye Lacefield bought fourty acres in a part of Colbert County, Alabama which can only be described as untouched. A natural canyon with 350-foot limestone walls in some places, the area wasn’t much good for most settler activity. The sheer limestone cliffs and overhangs however, had some prehistoric appeal. Archeologists have discovered pretty clear evidence of a thriving Paleo-Indian culture dating back 10,000 years very near the Cane Creek Preserve.

 Have you located your hiking boots yet?

 Over the years the Lacefields have added acreage. Today’s incarnation, frozen in time, should be a delight for hikers, naturalists and even those looking for a Sunday afternoon stroll. Today’s 700-acre preserve boast’s vistas guaranteed to make you catch your breath like the “Point” and the “Citadel.” Rock formations like the “Hogback” and the “Fin” are just the start of a geologic trip back in time. Footbridges cross Cane Creek and its tributaries to give the most perfect view of numerous waterfalls, gurgling brooks and thunderous clear streams which inspire a quiet reflection not approached anywhere else.

 So, are you ready to take a trip with me?















36 min.










We began the trip at the main parking area. We stopped for a minute to say “hi” to Jim who was sitting in a rocker on the upstairs wraparound porch of the Lacefield home. We set out immediately a few minutes after 10:00. Our first stop is known as the Waterfall. The trail is well kept, well marked and a pleasure for the most directionally challenged. Today however, there is still a little ice on the trail and it is a little treacherous. The view is well worth the extra surefooted effort. We have had more rain than usual and on this day it seemed there was another breathtaking waterfall on every corner. This one still wins the prize. After a small side trip we were back on the Shelf Trail.


IMG_1862I recommend Cane Creek Preserve for a winter romp because the views will knock you out. With the leaves off, there are postcards everywhere. The shelf trail gently descends into the Beaver Pond Wetlands and the beavers had been busy. The beaver family which resides in this area might be a little lazy or smart or both. They have learned to use Jim’s footbridges to weave their logs and mud into a work of engineering art. We found a good ford and headed for Delony Hollow.


Once out of the bogs, the trail hugs the limestone bluffs again. There are tons of rock shelters to explore and I found myself wondering about the ancient peoples who traversed these same hills. The trail gently ascended to an outcropping limestone formation named the Fin. Of course it is the Fin. We took a second to climb the less dangerous section and took a few pictures. I must restate, with the leaves off, pictures kind of take themselves. You just have to get in the way of beauty for a few seconds to see Wagnon, Wheeler and Hawk Pride mountains in the distance. We stopped for a rest at a fire pit at the north end of the traverse before moving on to the Sinks.


IMG_1881After the Sinks came the Pancake Boulders. I wish I had stopped to take some pictures but, we had picked up the pace. The trail back descended to the lowest point of the hike at a little less than 500 feet in elevation. The trail hugs Cane Creek with lots of bridges and the occasional privy which I greatly appreciated. The running gurgling water always brings peace and privy visits. Enough lollygagging, it was time for the leg burner.

Saving the Steep Trail, or what I affectionately call the Leg Burner, for last somehow seems to be a tradition. Even avid hikers will find the leg burner challenging as they ascend almost 300 feet in less than a quarter-mile. You can organize your hike so that you descend this section early but, I would not recommend it. It is quite uncomfortable and somehow goes against my nature to voluntarily walk off a bluff. With leg muscles burning however, the reward is on the way.


IMG_1887The reward is the Point. Cane Creek Preserve has tons of named and unnamed overlooks like the Citadel, the Fin and others but, the Point is the pièce de résistance. From the Point you see most of the Preserve with Hawk Pride Mountain in the background. Like the rest of the Preserve, there is a perfectly placed bench for contemplation. Someone will almost certainly be by in a few minutes which will snap a picture of you and your fellow hikers. For some reason, I always feel compelled to do so. Life is short and we never know if we will need a fresh picture of the Point.


By the time we were back to the main parking area, Faye had joined Jim on the porch. It was Sunday afternoon and there were 30 or so vehicles in the parking area. The breath and depth of geography and people represented always amazes me. There are lots of Tennessee, Mississippi tags but, it is always surprising to see New York or Canadian tag. We returned our walking sticks and maps as we signed out. By the way, please sign in and out. Wanderers frequently get lost and the Lacefields would like to send their Saint Bernards if you come up missing…just kidding. We, as always, shared our gratitude with the Lacefields as we said our goodbyes.

aee07ba6e9b21201c0b8d23ad35c9774scaledCane Creek Canyon Nature Preserve
251 Loop Rd.
Tuscumbia, AL 35674
Hours of Operation:
Open year-round

Happy Birthday to Curiosity Just Because

I saw a meme on the internet about how Curiosity, one of the Mars Rovers, sings Happy Birthday to itself on the anniversary of its landing on Mars. Of course I went outside to look at Mars and I tried to take its picture. I ended up with a sunrise picture of Venus for the cover shot on this article…err… more or less.


I hope you can make it outside this morning.


Once back inside I checked out the meme on the internet. As we have discussed before, internet memes are, well, made up from whole cloth sometimes. That is a nice southern way of saying they can be giant lie. I found the delightful video which might be attached, err, maybe, to this article.


I have pulled out all the stops for you today. Videos, pictures…I am really stretching the limits of my nerdom today.


mars-curiosity-rover-msl-horizon-sky-self-portrait-PIA19808-br2It seems they needed a way to shake the dirt samples down into the little laboratory inside the rover. You know, to test for the building blocks of life or whether, or not, Elvis had visited. The weight of a mechanical device to perform this task, was extravagant. In the space flight business, weight is always a premium. So instead of an arm or something, some very smart person thought resonance might work…You know, Ella Fitzgerald, is it live or is it Memorex?


Perhaps you are too young to remember Ella breaking a wine glass.


To use resonance, all you need is a relatively light speaker. Since they had the speaker, well, the road to “Happy Birthday” ran right through the last bite of bologna sandwich. Let me explain. The best ideas, the ideas which capture the imagination, are always hatched while everyone is chewing on the last bite at lunch. It is a time when thoughts and conversation drift from weather, report cards and new Hondas back toward work and the project. I believe a Supreme Being loves that twilight, I believe all things are possible.


When do your best ideas seem to show up?


In this case, it was a bunch of real, live rocket scientists finishing their lunch. Someone with a half-mouthful said why don’t we let it sing to itself! I am sure the idea was dismissed out of hand…too much battery power, it could corrupt our samples and the most critical of all questions, why?


Did your mom ever tell you why was a crooked letter?


I think I was one of those children who relentlessly peppered his folks with questions. My poor stay-at-home mom was the unfortunate victim of most of them. I think her exasperated answer held meaning which is still useful for me today. The letter “Y” is indeed a crooked letter. I think in her exasperation with her child, she was telling me that today, it was the best answer I would get.  As an adult, I think sometimes, she was telling me no answer might be the best answer.


Philosophy is hard for a nuts and bolts engineer, so bare with me.


See, in the return-on-investment, what have you done for me lately world it is unacceptable to say, “why is a crooked letter.” You need talking points, charts and a YouTube video chock full of reasons why in today’s immediate gratification world. If you don’t believe me ask the people at the Large Hadron Collider. When their answer to the question, “why are you spending all this money,” is, “we think but, we are not sure,” people’s eyes glaze over and the discussion is over. That is why American scientists are in Europe and not in the United States, right now doing science which might change everything we know about physics. See, there is no satisfaction and certainly no immediate gratification in the “Y is a crooked letter” argument. Neither is there satisfaction in the argument’s cousin, “because.”


Truth is, Curiosity singing “Happy Birthday” to itself 46.8 million miles away, more or less, might be the coolest thing a child hears today. If the child plays the video, it could motivate the little girl or little boy to hear it for himself one day. We don’t know. We, and the scientists at CERN really don’t know what the Large Hadron Collider will find. We already know about the Higgs-Boson Particle. Otherwise, we don’t know.


Do you think there should be payday at the end of every human endeavor? What ever happened to wonder?


I remember watching Neil Armstrong on a little 19-inch black and white TV in Nashville, Tennessee with my Daddy. As a nuts and bolts engineer, I really have no idea if it had any kind of psychological affect on my life. I am bright enough to believe we are sum of our experiences in many ways. You can call it a waste of battery power if you want but, a little robot singing a song a tens of millions of miles away has its own kind of power. Inspiration defies being quantified or monetized. Why something inspires is… well, Y is a crooked letter…And who knows, Elvis might be listening.




An Afternoon at the Dealership

My apologies as SMS turns into the Sunday Evening Sermon.

The day before yesterday Jennifer’s car had a flat. I dutifully checked the tire like my father had taught me touching and caressing the tread looking for metal invader to no avail. I came to the realization that I needed professional help diagnosing the tire’s specific ailment.

Where did you carry your last flat?

Well, for me, I guess I have fully subscribed to the one-stop world of the car dealer. Yup, you can buy a car, get an oil change, fix a flat, buy running boards, get a car wash and while you are doing all those things you can even get a hamburger at the café. The hamburgers are to die for by the way. They grill them on a real grill with Dale’s sauce…

If you are into guilty pleasures, I would highly recommend the car wash and a hamburger.

I swapped cars with my wife in her work parking lot. Well, I swapped her a truck for a car but, that is another story. Soon I was in the queue at the Quick Lube at the dealership. A modern invention, the Quick Lube, allows you to get many services while minimizing human interaction. Instead of a waiting room you get to… no, you are required to sit in your car. You know, there are insurance regulations.

Have you ever seen the insurance inspector shewing people out of a shop?

IMG_1844It was a normal winter day in the south. Our winters could usually pass for spring anywhere else. It was funny though, you would have thought we were on Mars and there were precious life-sustaining atmospheres in each vehicle which might escape. People were only cracking their windows long enough to tell the attendant their malfunction. Once closed, they went about looking at their lap again. I reached the front of the line and when the attendant arrived with his clipboard, I asked him how his day was going. The attendants are called “service advisors” and you can tell them apart because they dress like Tiger Woods and have a conspicuous lack of oil staining. He was a young guy whose grimace turned into a half-smile to say, “man I am great.” His mouth said great and his face said… well, not great. I wanted to chat some more but, he quickly barked, “sir, can you give me your mileage.” After a few minutes, you guessed it, nothing wrong was found with the tire.

Is there some kind of force field around mechanics which temporarily fixes the brokenness in cars?

I decided to reverse my bad tire Karma by getting Jennifer’s car cleaned for her. The people in that line also had had something important going on in their lap. After my turn in the tunnel, I was greeted by the interior washer. I asked the young man how he was doing too. Unlike the service advisor, he apparently actually did the dirty work of cleaning cars. He was a little shocked by actual conversation but, quickly recovered. “I love pretty days, we are so busy, the day goes by really fast,” he said adjusting his toboggan with his blue hands. The day was pretty but, cool. I chatted with the nice young man for a few minutes then left the car for the waiting room. As I walked down the hall to the waiting room it sounded like a lively place. I could hear a conversation about college football and other little side conversations. I picked a chair next to a man in a suit and began to assess my surroundings for the best weather or football small talk. Sadly, the football conversation was on the Paul Finebalm show on TV. I was really looking foreword to discussing the finer points of the Clemson defense with an Alabama Fan.  Then I noticed the all the chit-chat I heard down the hall was with people not in the room.

Does it strike you as strange that of a dozen or so people, none of them were talking to each other?

IMG_1843I sat there watching Paul next to the tall guy in the suit. I learned that he believed gas would be less than a dollar a gallon unless there was a war. From the attractive lady in scrubs, I learned what Kim really needed was a reality check. From the lady with big hair, I learned that dogs wouldn’t walk themselves. Others were feverishly taping out texts. I tried to read what the young boy with the oversized North Face jacket in the black four-wheel drive was texting but, he turned his phone away when he saw me watching him. After ten or so minutes of being alone in a sea of people, I gave up and went outside. Some guy was griping to the nice blue-handed toboggan guy about unclean cup holders, crappy service and something about hard-earned money. I stood in another cluster of waiters and complemented a young man on his white Mustang. Before he could reply he had to take a call. Blue-hands waved me over. I complemented him on his thorough interior cleaning abilities and we chatted for a minute. Before I drove away he handed me a card to go online and fill out a survey. He said he got a bonus for each good survey. I took his card and drove away.

How many texters do you pass in the slow lane?

On the way home I passed quite a few.  Somehow, I think texters feel safer in the passing lane. I guess they don’t have to worry as much about rear-ending other slower cars. For the life of me, I have no idea what text would be so important to risk something soooooo dangerous. Believe me, I have seen the accidents and they are my least favorite part of being a transportation engineer.

Does the world seem a little more self-centered and alone to you?

I admit, I have been a little self-involved this week. It was a pretty tough week at work but, my outlook always changes when I can do or say something nice. Service for me is the antidote for the blues. Sometimes, in this world we have made, it seems a kind word can’t be shoved in edgewise. A wave or smile at a traffic signal is well, out of the question. We have made a world where it is easier to talk to your old friend in that town in Egypt than a new one at the car wash. My spiritual medicine for the blues seems to be in short supply. I can’t like that one bit.



Making My Mark

IMG_1802Just as you cross into Alabama from Mississippi on US-72 after the welcome sign, brought to you by the governor, there is an interesting monument. It, too, was brought to you by former Governor Dixon and, of course, Director Shaddock. Apparently, in the early forties, the Highway Director and the Governor decided to commemorate Alabama statehood, whose centennial had arrived back in 1919, with a monument. Since you can’t sling a dead cat in most places without hitting a monument of some kind, they didn’t exactly hit on an original idea. Did I really write that thing about the cats?


If you are a cat lover, I want to formally apologize right now.


IMG_1816It is actually a pretty stretch of road and a nice place for a Sunday drive. If you are ever around these parts I would highly recommend the side trip. A little over four miles into Alabama, just before the Buzzard’s Roost Bridges, on the same road, is our locally famous “Shoe Tree.” For a reason I can’t exactly describe, I find the Shoe Tree, well, creepy. The Shoe Tree is a converted Sycamore tree in an impressive limestone rock cut. Some people write messages on their shoes before they tie the laces and fling them on the tree. I am sure this is also, not an original idea.


Can you tell where this column is heading?


IMG_1817We were never sure when a shoe had done its job and become litter at the Tuscumbia District. We also really never knew what to do with the granite monument. Is pressure washing enough? Should we honor, err, statehood with Daisies or is Creeping Juniper ok? How many people, exactly, stop and look at it anyway? It would take a very good set of binoculars and real talent to read it at cruising speed.


I have a few pairs of old shoes. Should I write a note and fling them at the Shoe Tree? Will the monument my family buys to plant me under suffice or should I make arrangements for something else?


How will I make my mark?


When I read the obits in the paper, I usually look for someone I know. Age is a dead giveaway…let me rephrase, in finding people I know, age is a very good place to start. In the south we must then sort by funeral attendance, or not, by funeral visitation, or not, by flower arrangements, or not…I usually make my determination using the niceness quotient. Was he nice to me? Was someone in her family who was nice to me taking the death pretty hard? Like any good engineer, I have data and a test for most of life’s mysteries.


Do you have a rule for funeral attendance?


So, I guess part of my mark will be constantly working on my niceness quotient. As for the other things, I think they will take care of themselves if my niceness quotient is sufficiently high. Truth is, most of the things we do for our legacy are fleeting. Shoes rot and monuments fall down. Our actions are what make people show up to help plant us. If someone misses me, I am pretty sure my mark will be made.