My Crime Spree

Take Me Away Officer

Recently, I wrote an article about my last speeding ticket. While that incident still burns in my memory, nothing compares to the crime spree I had about fourteen years ago. At the time, my youngest son was in a roller hockey league and his team had a two-day tournament in Taylor, Michigan. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Back in 2005, I was still working at my old job in downtown Detroit. Having recently transferred to the day shift after nineteen years on afternoons, the morning and evening rush hour was proving to be a nightmare on wheels.

One day, during a particularly pokey afternoon rush hour, I had an epiphany. It occurred to me that the traffic bottleneck at I-75 & I-696 could be easily avoided if I took the Nine Mile exit and used John R road as a bypass. Unfortunately, the Hazel Park Police Department had the same idea. As I cruised down John R, marveling at my brilliance, I got pulled over for doing a whopping 33 mph in a 25 mph zone. However, the officer “took pity” on me and wrote up the ticket as Impeding, instead of Speeding. I later found out that this Impeding Scam was being used by other cities and towns in the area. Since there were no license points for an Impeding ticket, people fumed and grumbled, but paid the ticket to avoid the points. I fumed and grumbled and paid as well.

Then, two days later, our family was on the way to Taylor, for the hockey tournament. As I pulled off I-94 onto Telegraph road, there was a little red car in the left-hand lane. He was going about 5 mph below the speed limit. So naturally, I sped up a little to get around him, and of course, a cop car was waiting for me in the Gardner White Furniture parking lot. I got pulled over AGAIN, and was given another ticket for Impeding! The Telegraph Speed Trap soon became infamous. The city eventually got into some trouble over using this tactic. When I sent in my ticket payment, I decided to sharpen up my writing skills by including a heated letter, detailing how I would never set foot in their God-forsaken City again. However, to this day, whenever I drive through Taylor on I-94, I make sure to stay below 70 mph. So I guess the joke is on me. Anyway, have a safe and happy summer, and try not to get caught Impeding!

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The Rising Waters

Grab A Sandbag And Get To Work!

We have been plagued with non-stop rain for pretty much the whole month of May. This has resulted in Lake St. Clair (our mini Great Lake), and other area lakes and rivers, creeping towards flood stage. Living here in the Metro Detroit area, we usually don’t have much to worry about in the way of weather. At least in the summertime. Don’t get me started on winter. From time to time, we’ll get some severe thunderstorms that knock out power for a few hours, or maybe a couple of days, but that’s about it. However not this spring. There doesn’t appear to be any end in sight for the rain. Hopefully, June will be warm and dry. Fingers crossed.

My wife and I recently decided to get a new roof for our house. The old one was over 25 years old and we certainly got our money’s worth out of it. However, with some of the wild wind storms we have had over the past couple of years, one of my neighbors noticed our old shingles were actually flipping up like flaps on an airplane. Yep, it was definitely time. We signed the contract with the roofer, picked out our shingles, and set up an install date. Then the rains came, and came, and came. We have had stacks of shingles on our roof for three days now, and there doesn’t appear to be any end in sight. This crap is getting really out of control.

I’ve been thinking about my brothers, and my other friends who live on, or near the water. This must be a very scary time for folks who have never had this kind of experience before. The city of St. Clair Shores has declared a flood emergency and lakeshore residents have been instructed to sandbag around their property. Yikes! In regions like the Plains States, and other areas across America, this sort of thing happens every spring. I don’t know how they handle it. By all accounts, the SCS Memorial Day Parade, which marches down Jefferson (less than a block from the lake) went off without a hitch yesterday. They even beat the rain, which is the best you can hope for lately. I hope you and your family have a safe and happy Memorial Day. Today, please remember all of the servicemen and women, who died to keep our country free.  Also, please say a prayer for the rains to stop!  Amen.

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Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen

Every Good Thing Comes to an End

That was the title of the final M*A*S*H episode. It aired on February 28, 1983, and ran for 11 seasons.  I thought about that recently after watching the series finales of both The Big Bang Theory and Game of Thrones. While GOT garnered most of the attention last week, over 23 million people caught the final Big Bang episodes. Big Bang ran for 12 years, and I commented on Facebook the other day, that it’s really amazing to see what can happen when a show is given time to find an audience. This series will forever be linked in my memory to my good friends Larry and Renate. Every week, we would have some laughs as we discussed the latest adventures of Penny and The Guys. The episode where Sheldon hides in a ball pit, while Leonard valiantly tries to find him, was an instant classic. It was the first time I ever heard the word Bazinga!

Initially, I didn’t really warm up to Big Bang. It wasn’t because of the nerdiness of the cast. God knows, computer geeks like us are definitely as quirky as those guys were. For me, it was the awkwardness of the boy genius, grown into a man, Sheldon Cooper. To say that Sheldon is lacking in social skills is a massive understatement. What really made me squirm, was how his first response in every situation was always one of massive selfishness. Like Dr. Cooper, for some reason I am hardwired to react in virtually every scenario with one question, “How will this affect me?” I have recognized this flaw in my character and over the years, I have tried to battle it with self-reflection and empathy. However, Sheldon still has the ability to make me cringe.

As my wife and I sat down to watch the final back-to-back episodes of Big Bang, I thought about my friends Larry and Renate. We had all left the company we used to work for at different times, so we never really had a chance for a group goodbye. As my wife and I laughed and cried at the final episodes of Big Bang, plus the Young Sheldon crossover episode, I thought about my friends and how much I miss them. However, Larry is currently helping me develop the new home for this blog, so I talk with him, via video-chat from time to time. I haven’t seen Renate since we left our former positions. Just like Big Bang, every job comes to an end. However, if we continue to reach out to our friends, it doesn’t have to be goodbye, farewell, and amen.

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The Value of a Good Laugh

There’s Nothing Like It

Recently, I got together with some good friends at a local bar for a few beers and some good laughs. Thankfully, I was able to find a table at the back of the room so we wouldn’t disturb the other patrons too much. Once everyone arrived, we all figured something out. By our calculations, we had not been together as a group for about thirty years. After catching up on how everyone was doing, and how their families were doing, the stories started to flow. A trickle at first, but soon a flood. Every story that surfaced brought along a few other tales as well, to the point where I was making fast and furious notes for future articles. I haven’t gone back to look at those blurbs yet. Hopefully, they’ll make some kind of sense.

At one point in the evening, a story was being told that didn’t cast me in a very good light. As the tale unfolded, it got even worse. When I was younger, I would immediately try to change the subject, and let some other poor sucker be the source of entertainment. However, over the years, I like to think that I have matured a little and developed a thicker skin. Plus, I think I have developed the essential ability to be able to laugh at myself. In my opinion, there are just too many people in this world these days who can’t take a joke. Just yesterday, I read a story about a comedian who told a joke and a couple in the audience called the cops on him. What the heck? Have we come full circle, back to the days when comics like Lenny Bruce would routinely get tossed in the clink for using the F-word? Today, the crime is offending somebody. You know what they say if they can’t take a joke.

Anyway, what was I talking about? Oh, yeah. The tale being told about me was a good one, and I will certainly not repeat it here. At one point, I was laughing so hard tears began rolling down my face. I haven’t split my sides like that in years. It felt wonderful. Generally, I’m the one who brings up the stories that get everyone cracking up. It felt really good to be able to let go, and laugh my head off. Somebody made the comment that we might all need Depends if we decide to get together again. Just as a precaution. We’re all in our late fifties after all. I think a good laugh has a way of cleansing the soul. It cuts through all of the garbage we go through in life and it hits that sweet spot in our being. It taps into our storehouse of instantaneous joy. I’ll have to have a good chuckle more often. Even if I have to go back and watch some reruns of Wipeout and America’s Funniest Videos. I hope you enjoy a good laugh today and pass it on!

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Have You Ever Thought About Becoming an Entrepreneur?

It Might Not Be Too Crazy After All!

Hello, and welcome back to The Brown Parachute Club! I hope you enjoyed last week’s article about College vs Vocational Education. Hopefully, you know a young person who could benefit from it. This week, I wanted to tackle a topic you may (or may not) have been thinking about. Becoming an Entrepreneur or a Small Business Owner (SBO).

I know what you’re thinking, “I don’t have two dimes to rub together and you want me to think about starting a business?” Well, yes. I want you to think about it. There are many successful businesses that have been started by folks in our age group. Many of these people were laid off from their main source of income. I’m not going to lie to you, it’s probably not the best set of circumstances to start a business. However, necessity is the mother of invention.

There are two schools of thought. Use your years of experience at your old job and strike out on your own as an Independent Contractor. Or, take stock of your resources and try to make a business out of your biggest hobby or passion. An article on CNBC’s website states that many laid-off people chose to start a business simply because their re-employment chances are so abysmal.

I have to be honest. I am a failed Entrepreneur. Many of the businesses I started over the years failed. Mainly because I didn’t have the time or money to give the business an honest shot. I have tried everything from government auctions to partnering with travel agencies, to building mobile websites, just to mention a few. Some of them could have made it if I had more time to spend on them. I think that’s the reason many businesses started by the over-50 crowd succeed. Especially if they have been laid off. They have the time necessary to build their new business.

As you probably know, the majority of new businesses in this country fail. Motley Fool states that 4 out of 5 new businesses fail in the first year. Not great odds, but looking at it from the other side of the equation, that means that 20% of new businesses make it through the first year. The businesses that do succeed seem to have one element in common: PASSION. You have to be passionate about whatever you decide to turn into a business, or it is more than likely doomed to fail. Also, it takes the time and money that I mentioned earlier, but passion can take you a long way.

In this article, I am going to give you examples of folks just like us, who started their dream business after 50 and are doing very well. These people have truly taken lemons and made lemonade, or coffee, or bagels, or wine. Whatever their passion may be.

One way to start a business is to turn your hobby into a business. Say, you’re a stamp collector with some degree of knowledge in that area. You could start a website offering up some of your more valuable stamps for sale. If your website catches on, you could make money by putting up other collectors’ stamps for sale on your website. That’s just off the top of my head. If you choose to do this business, don’t forget your inspiration! I accept tens and twenties.

What really can get you sick is when you read a story about some guy who is pulling down six figures in the corporate world. Then he GETS BORED. He starts up a company based on his lifelong hobby of butterfly collecting, or some such thing. The company is a huge hit, and inside of a year, he’s a millionaire. Meanwhile, we are having a hard time making ends meet, let alone starting up a company based on our interests. We don’t have the luxury of “Getting Bored”.

However, it might be easier than you’d think. In this day and age, the Internet has become a worldwide marketplace. Just look at Amazon and eBay. There are people from all over the world selling products on those websites! The only problem with that sort of business is that the competition is very stiff. Your company might be so far down the product list only a dedicated bargain-hunter might stumble across it by accident!

I guess to me what it all comes down to is this. Do you go big, or go home? Unfortunately, most folks in our situation, we don’t have a load of cash sitting around, just waiting for an investment in a fledgling business. You may need to find other sources of startup cash. But remember, whether your business succeeds or fails, you still owe that money! For that reason, I would stay away from Ricco the Loan Shark.

I found an article on Arkenea. It features a list of people who started their own businesses after the age of 50. This includes one female bodybuilder, who started her business at 56 and is now 78! Good Lord! One guy started a bakery without any baking skills! Maybe he was good at eating donuts? Yet another guy started a coffee company with his wife, in Hawaii no less! Also, many of the people in this article have started up an online business. I have to admit, looking at some of them, I wouldn’t think they could turn on a PC, let alone have a successful online business!

The point is if THEY made it YOU can too! At least that’s what I keep telling myself! I found that article very inspiring. It shows that, regardless of your age, with the right amount of timing, money, and luck, you can still build a successful business in America. If not, there’s always the Lottery. That reminds me, the Powerball is up to almost $460 Million. Got to buy a ticket today!

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The Unicycle Diaries

Cue The Calliope Music

As we enjoy our annual week down here in Destin, Florida, I am always struck by all the different types of wheeled transportation rolling down Old 98. That’s the local name for the beach highway in front of our condo resort. Since yesterday was Saturday, the normally sleepy street was filled with cars, motorcycles, noisy little scooters, and three-wheeled go-carts. The sidewalk was also overflowing with skateboards, rollerblades, and bicycles. My wife and I rented a couple of bikes for the week, so we have become part of the mobile community cruising up and down the beach each day. For some reason, all of these vehicles sparked a memory of my unicycle days.

No, I had not run away and joined the circus. Although, I do have great respect for anyone who can ride a unicycle and juggle at the same time. Now, that requires some major concentration. A friend of mine named Bob had a really nice Schwinn unicycle, and I was fascinated with it. Once you learn how to ride a bicycle as a kid, it’s like driving a car as an adult. You just hopped on and started pedaling to get where you were going. You never gave it a second thought. Not so with a unicycle. Any ride down a city street was fraught with hazards. A pothole or crack in the road could knock you right off of the uni. You had to have quick reflexes, so you didn’t wind up doing a face plant in the middle of the street. That’s why I always rode close to the curb, so I could bail out for the grass if needed.

Eventually, I saved up enough money to buy an off-brand unicycle from a local bike shop. Since I already was fairly competent from riding Bob’s, it wasn’t long before I was, that guy on the unicycle. Part of the attraction of unicycle riding was being able to do something other people couldn’t do. Also, I incorrectly assumed that once I stood out from the crowd, girls would flock to me. Yeah, not so much. I do remember one time when I rode my unicycle quite a long way to a cute girl’s house to impress her. Then, I had to pedal my butt off to get back home. Since you never stop pedaling a unicycle (no coasting), it was a very long ride. I was walking bowlegged for a couple of days after that. Now that Memorial Day Weekend is coming up, I’m sure there will be some unicycle riders in the St. Clair Shores Parade. Better you than me, buddy. Maybe I’ll pay one of those kids a few bucks to see if I’ve still got it. Maybe not, my reflexes aren’t what they used to be.

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Being An Unsung Hero

Doing The Right Thing When Nobody’s Watching

This morning around 3:30 am, I woke to a loud mechanical banging sound. I mentally searched my audio database of strange noises, for a possible match to the clangin’ and a’ bangin’. Since this racket occurred in the wee hours of the morning, I was a little woozy at first. However, once the analytical section of my brain kicked in, I decided to time the noise. As I suspected, it repeated every minute. I felt that “lead ball in the gut” feeling I used to get when I worked the afternoon shift in a computer room. That all-too-familiar, “Sounds like it’s going to need repair, and it won’t be fixed for hours.” feeling. Once upon a time, a similar clang in the computer room meant that one of the A/C systems had gone out. It would usually take a few days, and a couple of portable cooling units, before it was finally fixed. However this morning, I determined the ruckus was just a resort elevator door opening and closing, every minute, all night long.

Back in the day, I used to work the afternoon shift by myself. A mechanical failure, that was going to keep me at work until the wee hours of the morning, was the absolute worst. One particular night sticks out in my memory. We used to have these disk drives that were about the size of your average washing machine. They used portable disk packs that held a whopping 288 megabytes of data. Roughly, about one-third the size of an average CD. Needless to say, this was back in the early 90s, and data compression wasn’t anywhere near what it is today. The last thing in the world you ever wanted to see on one of those drives was a Red Fault Light. If you were unlucky enough to be cursed with one of these buggers, you just bought yourself an additional five hours of work, minimum.

One evening, as I was heading home after a rough shift, I noticed a flashing red light out of the corner of my eye. A Fault Light. I felt like a ton of bricks had just landed on me. Did I really see it? If I left now, they could deal with it in the morning. However, I knew that the firm would be offline for hours, while they tried to restore the data. So I ran through a litany of swear words, heaved a heavy sigh, and went back to work. Five and a half hours later, I was done. The employees coming into work that morning had no idea of the ordeal I had just endured. When I finally made it home, I collapsed into my recliner for a few minutes, before heading to bed. At that same moment, I heard a newspaper thump off the front door. Hey, at least I beat the paperboy home. I dragged my weary butt out of the recliner and went to bed. I had about an hour and a half before I had to get my boys ready for school. As my head hit the pillow, I sure felt like an unsung hero.

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Concert Bucket List

These Bands Aren’t Getting Any Younger

About ten years ago, I put together a concert bucket list of groups or individuals I had either never seen live or wanted to see again. This list included The Eagles, The Police, Bob Seger, Bon Jovi, Journey, Def Leppard, Foreigner, and Shania Twain, just to name a few. Some of these shows I attended alone because I couldn’t get anyone to tag along. Never let flying solo prevent you from seeing a great show. It might feel a little weird at first, but once the lights go down and the show starts, nobody cares!

Because the stars have aligned perfectly this year, I am going to be able to knock off three more shows from my concert bucket list. ELO this summer in Detroit, Billy Idol in Las Vegas in October, and Bryan Adams in Orange Beach, Alabama. The Bryan Adams show was just dumb luck. I was able to get some last minute tickets for the concert tomorrow night. The big score was that the tickets were only $31 each. Websites like Vivid Seats, StubHub, and SeatGeek have really changed the way I shop for tickets. Ticket prices vary by city. So checking a band off your bucket list, while you’re on vacation, might just save you a lot of cash!

As I mentioned in my article Don’t Stop Believin’, Journey was the second concert I ever saw in my teens. My first was Queen, who I caught twice. Seeing the movie Bohemian Rhapsody reminded me how amazing Freddie Mercury was on stage. Unfortunately, over the past few years, The Grim Reaper has been very busy in the world of music. We have lost icons like Glenn Frey, Tom Petty, Gregg Allman, Malcolm Young (AC/DC), David Bowie, Prince, Aretha Franklin, and one of my personal favorites, J. Geils. I don’t want to sound morbid, but if one of your faves is coming to a nearby amphitheater this summer, you may want to catch the show before The Reaper beats you to it!

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Road Trippin'

Time to Hit the Highway

My wife and I are in the process of our yearly migration to Destin, Florida. Our hurried preparations yesterday morning reminded me of road trips we used to take with our kids. It also brought back memories of my family’s road trips when I was just another rugrat in the backseat. The process of getting from Point A to Point B has come a long way since the days of the Family Truckster. Depending on your mode of transportation, long sweaty journeys have been replaced by all the comforts of home. I am actually typing up this article as we are driving through Alabama, on the way to the Emerald Coast. Try doing THAT back in the day!

As I mentioned in a previous article, I have always been a practical car owner. I knew the acquisition of our first Minivan would change our travel lives, and I was right. Always on the cutting edge of technology, I purchased a 9-inch TV/VCR Combo, just for our road trips. I also bought a cassette audio adapter that allowed our two sons to watch Star Wars, in realistic surround sound, from the comfort of their very own captain’s chairs. I also constructed a TV Stand from an idea borrowed from my sister-in-law and her husband. Thanks, Patti and Mike! That stand allowed us to put the TV in the prime viewing position. My boys quickly became used to trips down to Destin, or Virginia Beach, while enjoying the latest movies and Pokemon episodes, recorded on our home VCR. They had no idea how good they had it.

When I was a kid, The Lambert Summer Vacation was a trip to Clark Lake in Irish Hills, Michigan. Back in those days, my Dad didn’t have access to Google Maps. His route involved a great deal of zig-zagging across Michigan, through exotic towns like Manchester, Bridgewater, and Saline. The signposts for upcoming turns were local landmarks like The Big Green Barn and the Road With No Sign. If they ever painted that barn to match its neighbors, we were done for. Even though the journey was under two hours, I’m sure with four squabbling kids and a dog, it probably seemed endless for my parents. However, the payoff for over an hour and a half of sibling-poking purgatory was a glorious week at Clark Lake. Right now, my wife is at the wheel, and we are just over two hours away from glorious Destin. Here’s to The Great American Road Trip! May you have a great one, without any Griswoldian Moments!

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Busted By A Hairdryer

Slow It Down, Pardner

A few years ago, I was driving home after dropping off our crazy dog Skittles at Bark-A-Bout. It’s her home away from home whenever we’re on vacation. Since my wife and I were preparing for our annual trip down to Destin, Florida, I was already in beach mode. Sunshine, seafood, and beer were on my mind. That said, I didn’t notice the flashing crosswalk lights in front of the Havel Elementary School on Schoenherr road. The speed limit is normally 50 miles per hour in that area, except when those lights are flashing. Then it drops down to 35 mph. Since I was the unlucky gazelle at the back of the herd, I got pinged by a cop aiming what looked like a hairdryer at me. Unfortunately, I knew exactly what that meant, radar gun.

After Officer Too Young To Shave pulled me over, I was fuming. If I had been in the middle of the pack, I’m sure I would have been safe from his clutches. Curses! When he strolled up to the car, I decided to play the Cop Card. My brother is a retired police officer, so I expected the Law of Reciprocity to kick in. After I mentioned my brother’s name and rank, Officer Fresh Out of Diapers reply was, “I don’t know him.” WHAT? I didn’t ask if you knew him, I was cashing in my Cop Card! I don’t pretend to know the procedure when somebody drops a cop’s name to beat a ticket, but I’m pretty sure the answer isn’t “I don’t know him.” Later, as I complained about this to my brother, he said the new kids on the block don’t recognize the Ticket Barter System (my term, not his) that has served family members and friends of police officers for decades. I tossed the ticket on the passenger seat and grumbled all the way home.

Since I had some time on my hands, I decided to appear for my court date and see if I could catch a break. Officer Poopy Pants showed up, of course. The Judge gave all of us miscreants in attendance a One Time Offer, to plead Guilty to Impeding (the topic of a future article). Since this would result in paying a fine without having any points being added to our licenses, most of us took the deal. However, the penalty for Impeding was $175!! Good Lord! I reluctantly paid the ticket, while grumbling something about the Judge’s mother and resisted the urge to burn rubber out of the parking lot. However, I have learned my lesson, at least where that school is concerned. Now, whenever I head down Schoenherr, I am constantly aware of whether those lights are flashing or not. It still smarts that I was the limping gazelle at the back of the pack, in a red car no less. Picked off by a Peach-Fuzzed Cop, with a hairdryer. Oh well, live and learn I guess.

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