Independence Day

Going It Alone

No, I am not referring to hot dogs and fireworks, or an alien invasion movie. A couple of days ago, I saw those two words posted on my calendar and the meaning hit me right between the eyes. On February 24th, 2014, I was let go from my previous job with a Detroit law firm. Just the year before, I had celebrated twenty-five years with the company. Unfortunately, on that dreadful day, I joined eighteen other unsuspecting victims who were also given the ax. I have that date highlighted in my calendar as a yearly reminder of where I was then, and how far I have come since. Has it really been five years? Amazing.

Let me be clear. I don’t miss my old job one bit. After twenty-three years of managing Data Backup and Recovery, I was unceremoniously tossed onto the Help Desk. A victim of a political power play. Since a first-grader had a better command of Microsoft Office than I did, the transition was brutal. I hated every minute of it, and when I was fired it was almost a relief. I do miss the folks I used to work with though. My fellow Help Desk co-sufferers, Steve, Dawn, and Jeanne. Plus, my old boss Denise, who would listen patiently as I poured out my frustrations with repagination and other document surgery. As well as most of the staff members, who were so patient with me as I tried to puzzle out their computer problems.

The other day, my old work buddy Larry sent me a picture of some guy who was chatting with him at his desk. Since it was a side shot, I had no idea who it was. Turns out it was me! Many years ago and fifty pounds heavier. This startled me a bit. How is it that I didn’t even recognize myself in that photo? That’s easy. I’m not the same person I used to be. The past five years have done a number on me, in a good way. Where before I had avoided trying new things and taking chances, they are now part of my everyday life. From time to time, I still meet Steve for lunch. We reminisce about the old days and he fills me in on the latest office gossip. As I drive home after lunch, I thank God that I am no longer working in that toxic, stress-filled environment. I look forward to seeing what the next five years will bring.

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Trapped in Toronto

You Can’t Make This Stuff Up

Have you ever had one of those trips where just about everything went off the rails? Yep, me too. That said, our recent vacation to Maui and Kauai wasn’t all that bad. Maui had some snow while we were there, but it was at an elevation of 6,000 feet on Mt. Haleakala. I was surprised the local news didn’t lead with the story, “Michigan People Go Home!!” Other than that, the weather was beautiful just about every day. Kauai was another story. We had hit or miss sunshine, mixed with monsoon wind and rain. Not a bad trip at all, until we headed home.

As I have learned from my job at Global Discovery Vacations, you can save quite a bit of money flying to Hawaii from Toronto. About half of what you would pay flying out of Detroit. So that’s what my wife and I did. Just a week before, I had purchased a very nice 2014 Ford Edge from our local Ford Dealer. We drove it to the Hilton Toronto Airport, where we left my new baby with the valet until we returned from the islands. The car drove like a dream all the way to Toronto and I had no indication of the disaster that awaited us upon our return.

On the way back home, our flight from Kauai to Honolulu veered hard left just before landing. This little maneuver startled many of the passengers, me included. This should have been an omen, “Go back to Kauai!” Later, when our flight from Honolulu to San Francisco landed, I had some trouble getting my backpack out from under the seat in front of me. That’s because my eyeglass case (with the glasses inside) had gotten snagged, then popped out of the side pocket. I discovered they were missing during our flight from San Francisco to Toronto. Arrrrrgh! If that was only the worst of it.

We landed in Toronto and checked back into the Hilton to catch some zzzs before our drive home. After a four hour nap, I went down to the lobby to pick up my car from the valet. He saw my claim ticket and said, “Uh oh”. Apparently, while moving my car from the parking garage, he had noticed it was making a horrendous noise. Unfortunately, that was an understatement. Since it was Sunday, there were no Ford Dealers open. We had to check back into the hotel (again) and try to arrange for a tow truck the next morning. That evening, as I was finally drifting off to sleep, the fire alarm at the Hilton went off. Honestly, you can’t make this stuff up. After getting the “all clear” we staggered back to our room and crashed into bed.

The next morning, we found out it was a holiday in Ontario called “Family Day” (again, not making this up), and there were still no Ford Dealers open. We had to wait yet another day. The problem soon became, “Just how the heck are we going to get home?” There were no one-way car rentals to Detroit, and the first available train would drop us off in Windsor, Ontario at 10:30 pm. Not a good option. We eventually rented a car and drove back home. Once my baby was finally towed to the Ford Dealer, the diagnosis was a busted driveshaft! God help me. The part is on back order from the States, so we have no idea when it will be repaired. So that’s my tortured story. I’ll update this article after I return the rental and get back from Toronto with my car. Please keep me and my Edge in your prayers!

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The Weatherman Kit

Have You Ever Wanted To Be A Weatherman?

(Dear Readers: I apologize for not publishing an article this past Monday. The reason for this omission will be revealed in my future post: Trapped in Toronto!)

When I was a kid, my brothers, sister and I always looked forward to visits from my Mom’s good friend Mary Lu. Over the years she became a fixture at our Christmas Eve family get-together.  I never quite understood why Mary Lu would always arrive with a stack of Sports Illustrated magazines. I loved to look at all the great photos, but a woman interested in sports? I didn’t get it. She would also arrive with some very unique gifts. Sometimes they were real head-scratchers, but we always enjoyed her visits. We also knew a lot of thought went into those presents.

One Christmas in particular, I received a Weather Prediction Kit. It was very cool. There was a barometer, thermometer, and a couple of other gauges for wind, tornadoes, hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes and volcanoes. Ok, I’m making some of those up, but you could calculate all sorts of different readings by using the handy dandy instruction guide. I wish I could say this lead to a successful career as a Meteorologist. Nope. It turns out I wasn’t a future Jerry Hodak (a famous Detroit weatherman). The only thing I really remember from all of those instruments and gauges is that if the barometer is falling, it generally meant that bad weather is on the way.

As I was checking out the Weather Channel app on my phone yesterday, something occurred to me. The days of my freestanding Weather Prediction Kit are long gone. With this app, just about anybody can become Jerry Hodak. That reminds me. I once met him at the Woods Theater when I was working there as an usher. He and his wife were bundled up like Nanook of the North and had come out to catch a movie. Of course, this was during a raging snowstorm. I couldn’t resist razzing him about the snow. He said, “Hey, it’s not my problem, I just tell you what’s coming.” Now that we all have a Weather Prediction Kit on our phones, it makes me a little sad. Another memory from my youth, replaced by technology. Oh well, time to bundle up and walk the hound. The app says it’s 23 degrees and snowing. Oh goody.

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50 First Dates

Seize The Day!

As I write this, there is a monsoon trying to break down the door. Not a full-blown howler, but a storm with enough thunder, lightning, wind, and rain to make me think it’s time to build that ark. I am writing this story from not so sunny Kauai, Hawaii. The monsoon I mentioned woke me out of a dead sleep. Since I wasn’t able to get back to slumberland, I thought I would use the time productively. My wife and I originally visited Kauai thirty-three years ago during our honeymoon. Our last trip to the Garden Isle was nineteen years ago when we spent a week here with our two sons. However, the weather on both trips was nothing like this. Lucky us. Oh well, it’s 35 degrees at home, so I shouldn’t complain.

The other day, one of my favorite movies came to mind. 50 First Dates. It takes place in Hawaii, so that’s probably what triggered the thought. The film stars Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it. Drew’s character Lucy, has short term memory loss from a car accident. When she goes to bed at night and wakes up the next morning, it’s like the previous day never happened. Sandler’s character Henry falls in love with her and desperately tries to get her to fall in love with him. However, since she can’t remember what happened the previous day, he is a complete stranger every time they meet. Despite her condition, Lucy finds a way to cope with her illness and lives a very happy life. In the moment. For her, there is nothing else.

One of the featured songs from that movie is Over the Rainbow by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole (Iz). Over the Rainbow has a special place in my heart and his rendition always brings a lump to my throat. The story of Iz, as he was known, is a sad one. A very large Hawaiian man who had a very large heart. He had a great love of music, as well as his beautiful home. Unfortunately, he passed away too soon and it’s sad to think of all the unrecorded music that went with him. Both Lucy and Iz teach us a valuable lesson. Life is to be embraced and lived every single day. There is a funny, but profound saying in the self-help world. Live every day as if it’s your last, because one day, you’ll be right! I’m sure Lucy and Iz would agree.

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Driving With The Windows Open

Let The Good Times Roll!

Now that we are post-Super Bowl and staring down the barrel of Valentine’s Day, our thoughts in Southeast Michigan naturally turn to spring and warmer weather. It has been a very schizophrenic winter so far. Virtually no snow at all, followed by a dumping of up to 8” in some areas. Then, the Polar Vortex came screaming through town. This plunged the thermometer waaaay below zero and brought along nasty wind chills as a bonus. Then, finally a warm-up came, but that was quickly followed by another deep freeze.

In Detroit, there are two events that signal the arrival of spring. The first is Opening Day at Comerica Park. Temperatures can be anywhere between 25 and 70 degrees when the umpire yells, “Play Ball!” Over the years, this game has evolved into a city-wide holiday. Detroit’s version of Groundhog Day, when winter-weary Tiger fans emerge from their burrows, blinking at that strange orb in the sky. Thousands of tailgaters swarm downtown Detroit at the crack of dawn, as their beloved Tigers make the annual run for October.

There is also a second event that tells us when spring has definitely sprung. Driving with our car windows open. The day when we’re finally able to “crank” (yes, I’m making the motion) open our car windows and blast out some Old Time Rock ‘n’ Roll is always a special time in the Detroit area. After being cooped up in our homes from mid-October to late May, there’s nothing like that blast of warm fresh air as you sing along with AC/DC as they take you down the Highway To Hell. Unfortunately, this glorious time only lasts for a couple of weeks. Then summer comes rolling into town with scorching temperatures. This forces most of us to flip on the air conditioning just before Memorial Day. However, for that brief window, heaven!

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Breaking Out Buzz

He’s Running Out Of Air!

Whenever my wife and I are traveling and we see one of those hotel room safes, we immediately have a good chuckle. We are instantly transported back to a family vacation in Orlando. My youngest son Kevin had managed to lock a VHS tape entitled, Buzz Lightyear of Star Command, in one of these safes. I distinctly remember hearing a metallic “click”, then hearing my older son Jeffrey shouting, “Kevin, what did you do?!” 

What followed was an embarrassing call to the hotel maintenance guy. His task was to find a way to crack open the safe and free Buzz from his Kevin-imposed death chamber before his air ran out (dun-dun-dun)! The safe was opened in the nick of time and Buzz was freed to continue his mission. Protecting the galaxy from the evil clutches of Zurg! Anyway, this whole episode was completely erased from our memories for many vacations. However, Jeff brought it up recently when he spotted a safe in a Las Vegas condo. I had completely forgotten about the whole thing.

What I do remember was how I had reacted to the whole situation. Back in those days, when it came to our vacations, I was a disciple of the great Clark W. Griswold. Everything had to go just right and if our plans went off the rails, I was not proud of my reaction. I think I have come a long way since then, although I still do have my “Clark Moments” from time to time. When this happens, I try to take a deep breath and remind myself to enjoy the vacation process. If nothing else, when things go bad, it can make for some entertaining family stories.

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Taking Heat For Granted

Waiting On The Whoosh

It happened last year. For about two and a half days, our furnace was out. Of course, it was the middle of January and temperatures were in the 20s. Our house got down to a frosty 56 degrees, and it was NOT pleasant. My poor fish Wolverine was swimming in one place and eyeballing me as if to say, “Heat Dude!” Our hound dog Skittles spent those days curled in a ball with her nose buried in her fur. It was nice to know my wife and I weren’t the only miserable ones.

As it turned out, the controller board on our furnace had gone belly up. Since it was the dead of winter, it took repairmen the aforementioned two and a half days to get our heat up and running again. In order to facilitate some warmth in the living room, I picked up two space heaters with built-in fans that, when properly positioned, actually brought the temperature up to a livable 62 degrees. Once I heard that wonderful click and whoosh of the heat coming back on, I thanked God, and whoever had invented forced-air heating. After that misadventure, I had hoped we were out of the woods for good. Nope.

On Wednesday, January 30th there was a fire at a natural gas pumping station in Armada, MI. That station distributes gas to about half of suburban Detroit. Not good, especially since we were in the middle of a record subzero cold snap. An emergency request popped up on social media, from the CEO of Consumers Energy. She asked everyone to dial down their thermostats to 65 degrees or less for a couple of days. Here we go again! Ironically, after two and a half days, we received the all clear to crank it back up. What I have learned from these two episodes is to NEVER take heat for granted. Keep that in mind, if your power goes out during a sweltering summer. Take it from me, it could always be a LOT worse!

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