Trickle-Down Pumpanomics

    I believe myself to be a reasonable man. I can roll with a few punches. I can be downright accommodating at times. Knowing that my daughter is most likely proofreading this writing, I will thank her to NOT scoff at that previous statement with very audible “HAH!”

    In spite of being reasonable and accommodating (with my wife in kids now singing “HAH!” in multi-part harmony), there are some things that DO rather irritate me. In this writing, I am going to focus on a location that has provided me with a great source of irritation recently — the gas pump.

I realize that the gas pump provides several different irritations for many people. Given this, I feel that I need to disclaim some things. I am not here to lament our country’s dependence upon a supply of foreign oil. I am not here to bemoan the effects of fossil fuels on the trans-continental snow squirrel. I am not even here to the demise of free roadmaps and cartoon character drinking glass giveaways. These are all very valid reasons to be irritated. However, this is not my purpose here.

    Please, allow me to provide a bit of background here. When I was a young teen, there were a lot of things going on in our country. The country was changing Presidents, enduring a nationwide heat wave, and going through a deep economic recession. This had a huge collateral effect at the gas pump. In less than two years, gasoline prices had nearly doubled. Self service pumps were becoming more and more the norm. This required people to do more creative budgeting with their travel expenses. This also required people to show some finesse at the gas pump. Every penny counted. If you only had $5 in cash, you had to be sure you had to stop pumping right at the $5 mark. Most people would get within 5 or 10 cents of the intended amount and pump one cent at a time until they got the amount they wanted. I became very good at this. I pumped gas for my parents. I pumped gas for my friend’s parents. I was even considering going on a seminar tour on the art of pumping gas.

    However, as gas prices continued to rise, another process came into place — pre-payment for gasoline. You would go inside and tell the cashier you were pumping X number of dollars from pump Y. As you got closer to the pre-paid amount, the pump would automatically slow down and then stop once the pre-paid amount was reached. This usually occurred when you got to within 8 – 10 cent of the pre-paid amount.

Now, we are getting to the true source of my irritation (and a pox on those of you that just said “FINALLY!”) More than 25 years have passed since the gas shortage I mentioned previously. The gasoline prices have continued to rise with the rate of inflation. However, I have begun to notice that as gas prices has risen, the pump begins automatically slowing down sooner and sooner. No longer does it happen within the 8 – 10 cent range. We have long since bypassed that and even left the 50 – 60 cent range to be a distant memory.

One morning this past week, I had left my house much earlier than usual. This was due to the fact that the wonderful city in which I live had experienced its first major lake effect snow of the year and it was also quite bitterly cold. There was already indication on the morning news this had a very bad effect on morning traffic. So there I was, at the gas pump once again. I had dutifully pre-paid my desired amount. I was filling the tank so I knew this was not exactly going to be a 30 second process. I did my best to grin and bear it as the pump chugged along. Suddenly, the pump came to a snail’s pace and hummed along one cent at a time EIGHTY-FIVE CENTS AWAY FROM THE FINAL AMOUNT. REALLY?!! EIGHTY-FIVE CENTS?!! Now, I was beginning to wonder if I was going to be able to finish pumping this gas before supper time or if I should invest in some sled dogs and pick my car up at the end of the day. I figured the pump MIGHT be done by then. I finally finished the process, capped up my gas tank and drove away.

    As I made my way to work, I could envision my family and friends in much warmer climates stating that my irritation was probably made worse by the winter weather. I thought that this was ridiculous. I would have been just as irritated if I had been pumping gas at 9 o’ clock at night in July with 90 degree temperatures and 90 percent humidity. The traffic guy on the radio quickly rebuffed that theory when he uttered the words: “Allow extra time for travel”. I DID ALLOW EXTRA TIME FOR TRAVEL. OF COURSE, THAT WAS BEFORE I WAS TO THE GAS PUMPETERIA AND THEY DECIDED TO TEST THE TRICKLE-DOWN THEORY ON MY GAS TANK EIGHTY-FIVE CENTS AWAY FROM THE FINAL AMOUNT! I then decided to stop shouting at the radio. The traffic guy was just doing his job after all. I even decided not to scream at the guy who suddenly cut in front of me on I-390. I instead enjoyed a fit of uncontrollable laughter as the aforementioned driver and I were BOTH caught in a barely moving bottleneck of traffic. Like I said, I can roll with the punches.

Georgia Trip 2010 Vol. III: Where There’s Smoke, There’s Good Eatin’

I had enjoyed a great game between the great Atlanta Braves and the Pittsburgh Pirates. After enduring some delays brought on by torrential (but temporary) rain, the Braves had earned another win of what would go on to be a 9 game winning streak). We had dropped my friend, Bill and his wife, Jenny at the hotel where they were staying. We finally got home around 1 AM. I rang out my socks and lay my head down on my pillow while visions of RBI’s and homers danced in my head.

I spent the next day hanging out with Bill and his wife at my sister’s house. Bill and I caught up on the last 25 years. It was like someone had taken the needle off the record for 25 years. During our reunion, the needle was placed exactly in the groove where it left previously (though perhaps with some pops and a bit of warp). For you young whippersnappers who don’t understand that reference, ask your grandparents what life was like before digital downloading (just speak up when you do).

Bill’s wife, Jenny, was somewhat of a quiet and bashful type. She mostly kept to herself and politely declined any offer of hospitality. That was temporary. Soon enough, my brother in law, Larry began heating up a pot of oil on the outdoor grill to fry some catfish. He also had some ears of corn on the grill. Now THAT got Jenny’s attention. She asked Larry if she could put the battered fish in the grease to fry. Larry happily accommodated her. In addition to catfish, there was a bunch of other fish my Dad and his friend had caught. It truly WAS a fine kettle of fish. Larry then offered Jenny something a little different to try. Larry took an ear of corn and coated it in cornmeal. He then had Jenny place it into the grease to fry. Jenny was like a kid in a candy store. Frying the catfish was one thing. Sampling a fried ear of corn was something else entirely different. This truly illustrates the Mason-Dixon Line of cuisine. Why boil the flavor out of something when you can seal the flavor with cornmeal and hot oil?

More friends and family joined the occasion. We all sat in the living room and socialized while my sister incessantly nagged me to play some guitar and sing a song or 17. According to my sister, I “promised”. My debate over the alleged promise aside, I banged out a few chords. With my Dad’s help we sang some Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, and Johnny Cash (with a dash of Hank Williams). It was a bit hard on the tendonitis but I must admit I DID enjoy fulfilling my “promise”. It seemed like my vacation couldn’t get much better. The next day would be the icing on the chocolate cake.

We drove about an hour or so east to visit my Aunt Judy in a nice town called Juliette. The last time I remembered being in Juliette was when I was about 14 and did a bunch of fishing with my brother and some uncles. I didn’t do any catching but I did a lot of fishing. Juliette’s main claim to fame is the filming of the movie “Fried Green Tomatoes”. Anyway, I digress. Bill and Jenny live about another 2 -3 hours east of Juliette in Savannah. The plan was that Larry would drive in one car with my niece and her boyfriend. I took the opportunity to ride with Bill and Jenny. Bill planned to drop me off in Juliette then head straight home to Savannah. Bill called on his mother on the way there while we rode. Bill wanted to let his Mom know he was on his way home. “Where’d you go?” she asked. “I went to Marietta to see Shane.” She confusedly replied “…the movie?” Bless her heart; it HAS been 25 years after all.

I introduced Bill and Jenny to my aunts and uncles. They all greeted Bill and Jenny with hospitality and hugs. My uncle Richard asked Bill if he was staying to eat. Bill said that he was planning to head home to Savannah. Richard motioned Bill and me over and opened his smoker. Suddenly we were all inundated with the sight and smell of smoked chicken. Bill decided to stay a spell. Richard can be very hospitable but his smoker is VERY persuasive.

I was treated to good eating and good times. My late mother’s cousin, Jackie was there. I had not seen her in nearly 30 years. She presented me with some childhood pictures of my mother that she had scanned for me. That simple gesture was a great gift. On the other end of the generation gap, my second cousin, Amanda, blessed us all with her beautiful singing voice. Little by little, we all began to depart. Bill and I hugged and promised it would not go another 25 years before we saw one another again. I gave hugs and handshakes to all my family.

As we were pulled out of the driveway to go back to Marietta, there were some horses running in a field. Suddenly, we had to stop the car while two wild turkeys crossed the road. While all of this was happening, “Free Bird” was playing on the radio (if I’m lyin,’ I’m dyin’). You couldn’t have written a better ending to the week (with all due respect to Fannie Flagg).


I Dub Thee – Starship Laptopia

Over the past three years, I have owned a laptop computer. I have waxed on previously, ad nauseam, about how much I love my laptop. I have used it for work. I have used it to listen to the radio. I have used it for school work. I have used it to talk to friends and loved ones worldwide. I could go on but I think I am beginning to add to the ad nauseam. Besides, I have a bad habit of going on literary tangents and I never cared much for geometry. Mind you, Pythagoras really had some good idea with the triangles and all. Oops, there I go again. Forgive me, I’ll try to avoid the bunny trails going forward and stick to the subject. I’ll also try to avoid using non-sequiturs because I really like dogs.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, I was talking about my laptop. The thing is that I was using my laptop for so many things; I actually had a laptop table set up at my bedside. On some days, I would sit for hours at the side of my bed doing the any one of the aforementioned ad nauseam tasks. This was not only inexcusably sedentary. It was really not that comfortable. I’d occasionally relocate myself and the laptop to different areas of the house: the dining room table, the living room couch, or (in warmer months) the patio table outside. The change was often welcome. Still, I’d even wind up back at that uncomfortable spot at the side of my bed with my laptop perched atop a plastic folding tray table. Again, it got to be rather uncomfortable and yet I’d stay there and suffer in silence (though some might debate if I was actually suffering or silent).

Clearly, it was going to take some ingenious brilliance to solve this issue. I have been known to come up with a few good ideas here and there. However, in this case, the ingenious part came from the innovative ingénue of the house (aka the missus). My wife decided that it was time to invest in a desk and chair to use my laptop. What can I say? She can be the epitome of ingenious. OK, I realize I have been throwing in a couple of alliterations in this paragraph. Please bear with me, when I am avoiding tangents and non-sequiturs, I must have some kind of an alternative.

We got the desk and chair home and began unpacking the parts. I sat on the floor and spent the next 45 minutes or so engaging in ergonomically injurious assembly. In spite of the tremendous aggravation to my tendonitis, everything went smoothly. My wife even told me I looked “cute” with my Braves hat on backwards. I tried to take that as a compliment.

The desk and chair were completely assembled. I transported my laptop to its new location in an almost ceremonial fashion. Other items soon found a place either on the desk or next to it: lamp, headset wit microphone, harmonica set, guitar (next to the desk), house slippers (underneath the desk), and a miniature rubber ducky that blinks when you hit it (which I love doing). I sat in my new desk chair to get a feel of my new acquisitions. The chair’s comfort was a welcome change. I now sit at my desk and it’s like my laptop has a new perspective. I feel powerful. I feel like I have just taken command of the Starship Laptopia. OK, it’s a lame name but let me have my moment. I am a new productive machine and the world is my oyster. Yes, I realize I just used two metaphors in that last sentence. After avoiding tangents, non-sequiturs, and alliterations, not much else is left.