BAD BEHAVIOR TRUMPS RACE, CREED AND GENDER – GARRY ARMSTRONG

What our Coronavirus and riot-plagued world does not need is even more pointless intolerance. There’s no excuse for not using a modicum of civility when dealing with others, especially in the workplace. It doesn’t matter how bad a day you’ve had. Do you know how bad the day of the person you are working with has had? Did you ask? Did you even think about him or her as a person?

We have all been living through the tensest, most frustrating, angst-riddled period since the Civil War. With the way things are going, we could be rerunning the Civil War soon.

In my 40+ years on the TV news trail, I’ve been verbally assaulted by every kind of minority. I understood it was part of my job. Many people seemed to figure it was okay to shoot the messenger.  Early on in my career, I was warned to have thick skin if I wanted to succeed.

That thick skin was tested many times. I was taunted by Black people who called me Uncle Tom or house boy. Labeled by religious fanatics who called me a Christian stooge. Feminists who tagged me as chauvinist. I sucked it up and plowed on to report the facts.

The gasoline bays.

Facts usually silenced my assailants who then wrote hate letters in red crayon.

My good stories were balanced by controversial reports that fanned the flames of ill-tempered people. I probably made it worse by writing the haters “thank you” notes. It further angered the wankers. Civilians who have never worked as journalists are surprised by how often people behave badly toward people who are merely trying their best to do their jobs.

Uhaul for the haulers

So it was that my stepson came home with a story that sounded painfully familiar. Owen manages a local garage which does repairs, inspections and has a mini-mart. He’s known for his work skills. pleasant manner, and humor. He manages to be cordial in the worst of scenarios.


Yesterday, Owen was in the middle completing one job when he was besieged by a man who jumped out of his Mercedes demanding instant access to a Uhaul truck.

Owen tried repeatedly to pacify the agitated fellow, explaining he would not be able to get his Uhaul for a few more minutes until he finished the inspection on which he was working. The customer not only refused to accept any waiting but left his car so it blocked all the gas pumps. When asked to please move his vehicle, he launched into a profane tirade topped by the ever-popular race card.

Owen is white. The angry one was a man of color.

Given several volatile national stories, this local incident had the makings of getting serious. The indignant Mercedes driver was sure the “race card” would pay off.  It almost always works. Owen has heard numerous stories about racism from his step-father (me) who specialized in covering race riots and protest marches dating back to MLK and the Freedom Rights movement. Thanks to his parents and stepdad, Owen is more than typically sensitive to anything that smells of racism.  We joke about it at home — but that’s a different story.

Today’s potentially race-toxic incident was defused by Owen who stood his ground and convinced the angry gent to leave the shop and take his business elsewhere. Eventually, the ante was upped in include a full volume and very firm suggestion that he leave and never return. No Uhaul for him.

Owen in the shop

The race card didn’t end in a riot or even police intervention. Owen is of the opinion that the fancier car he or she is driving, the more arrogant and mean-spirited is the driver. Especially those who drive Mercedes’s and BMWs.

Owen is my step and godson. I’m proud of him. He’s made of stern stuff. This country could use more of him. Way to go, O!

ME AND MY TRACTOR – Marilyn Armstrong

You may have noticed the old tractor in the middle of our garden. When we were trying to sell the house years ago, a couple of potential buyers commented that they’d have to have it towed away.

I put a mental black mark next to their names because I love that tractor. If you don’t appreciate the tractor, you won’t like my house (they didn’t)

72-Tractor-29Jun_13

It’s a rusty 1928 Fordson. It was common farm equipment in its day. I loved it the moment I saw it, sitting on a lawn up the road a piece. I wanted it. I knew it didn’t run and never would, but for me, it was the perfect garden accessory.

Some people put flamingos in their garden (yes, I have a flamingo too). Deer. Ducks. Squirrels. I have some of them buried in weeds and flowers and I can only find the flamingo who is at least taller than the flowers and weeds. Around Halloween, anything goes and for Christmas — well — we’ve all seen the lengths to which some people will go.

One family just up the road from here has a crèche, a wishing well, several gnomes and a lighthouse almost large enough to use as a real lighthouse, except it is made of hollow and rather cheesy plastic. I believe they also have several types of small animals tucked between other statuary and geegaws. It’s a very busy garden and half the size of ours. Only careful landscaping has allowed them to fit quite so much bric-à-brac in such a small space.

This stuff’s not cheap. If you’ve ever gone and priced garden statuary, a nicely done piece — cement not plastic — can cost you as much as remodeling your kitchen. Well, almost as much. Okay, about half the price.

The tractor wasn’t cheap either. It was (is) a real tractor, not some phony doodad. Someone farmed using that piece of machinery. It was, in its day, a serious investment. So I don’t understand why someone would think a fake lighthouse looks cool while yearning for a bigger bogus wishing well, but find our antique tractor odd. Maybe they’d like it better if we’d bought it at Walmart?

tractor with daffodils

Garry bought it for me as a tenth-anniversary gift. Now that is a husband who gets his wife. He knew to whom he is married.

Nineteen years later, I love my tractor more than ever. It has stood the test of time. In another 9-1/2 years, it will have its hundredth birthday. In its second life, we have planted around it and vines have grown over it. It is as much a part of the garden as the earth on which it stands.

Love me, love my tractor.

ON THE ROAD AGAIN – Marilyn Armstrong

Not a rainy day nor a sunny one. Just a day. Cold, no snow or rain. Coming home from Connecticut. Feeling better about the world.

Good thing I had a camera. Traffic was mostly bumper-to-bumper from when we left the Curley house until we were almost home. At least occasionally, until it was fully dark, I had something to do.

Not exciting pictures, but … pictures.

A cloudy sky

Clouds through the trees

Too many cars

Still too many cars

Darkness is falling

Through a tunnel

And back on the road, but getting too dark to shoot

I tried some interesting textures since the subject wasn’t exactly thrilling. I had fun playing with photographs. There’s not a huge amount of excitement between Connecticut and Massachusetts. Just too many vehicles.

A SOGGY AUTUMN THURSDAY – Garry Armstrong

Politics or weather and cars? That’s an easy one. Weather and car stuff!

Yesterday, it was me, a quick dental visit confirming that the previous week’s marathon procedure was a success. I still have some eating problems, but it is much better.

Today, it was the car dealer. A couple of weeks ago, we took the car in for a warranty repair and to replace a recalled part … and along the way, a piece that keeps the car’s hood attached to its body broke.

Welcome to Imperial Auto Mile!

It is the right-side hood latch; I’m sure it has a special name, but I don’t know it. I don’t think the Service Manager knew its name either. It’s a widget of unknown origin.

The Blues Brothers — full size, but totally plastic!

Just hanging out, waiting for their car to be finished

Our dealer is a fun place to hang out.  While the automotive Dr. Zorba figures out how to fix our 2015 Jeep Renegade, there’s a ton of stuff to look at. Sometimes, we go there just to take pictures. It’s that kind of place.

Look! Up in the sky! It’s a … car? An old one?

The dealership venue is wonderful to prowl. The owner is a collector of Hollywood and automotive artifacts, souvenirs and other stuff. Whether or not you’re a car person, it’s not boring. It’s also a brilliant idea to help customers cope with pricey repairs. You can hang with the Blues Brothers who occupy a front and center position at the entrance to the main showroom.

Welcome to our accounting office

Not for drinking!

The Boys grab your attention if you’re not cool with the cooking show on the giant TV screen. I actually watched the cookie program for a view minutes as the manly chef whipped together some kind of oat-filled casserole. It looked interesting but I’ll pass on anything related to oatmeal which is right in there with lima beans on my “Thank you, but NO” list.

There also are lots of nifty celebrity photographs. I’m not sure whether we’re supposed to believe these folks were car buffs but who cares? It’s the image that counts. If you’re blinded by the reflections, sorry. I tried my best.

Dean Martin and guitar – Photo: Garry Armstrong

You might want to chat with the Rat Pack replicas. Maybe they’re rehearsing for a gig, so if you want to splurge on a luxury car, Frank and Dino are pleasant companions –Las Vegas-style. Apparently, there are still people who have disposable incomes. I vaguely remember that term from my working days when I briefly considered buying my dream car. Until I realized we wouldn’t be able to eat or continue living in our yuppy-priced apartment. Decisions, decisions.

The Elvis Expo

There are lots of knick-knacks to remind you of the good old days for car owners. You can almost hear the ads of yesteryear: “See the USA in your …”  It was the wrong ad for this dealership, but you get my drift.

I didn’t own a car until I’d graduated from high school. I felt so deprived when I saw my classmates with their cool wheels. Memories rush through my head as I gaze over the showroom. These cars don’t have the distinctive character of the rides of our youth. That was when you could tell a Chevy from a Caddy from a Buick and you didn’t even have to be “into” cars. The price of progress, as Spencer Tracey warned in an old film.

The weather probably impacted the business. It was quite a storm that started last night and continued through most of today. Not many people outside, looking over all the cars waiting for a home and owners who’ll treat them with care. It was gray and windy with rain hovering on the horizon.

Outside, the weather threatens

There was powerful wind out there today. Like some Washington bigwig had passed gas again, spinning tales like a used car salesman. Or a Lawyer who promised to turn his life around after chasing his last ambulance.

Our car received a temporary prescription. Check with Dr. “Trust Me ” Zorba in two days.

The ride home was an adventure. Lots of Steve McQueen types on their own road to perdition. That two-lane road doesn’t allow for Le Mans-style driving but try telling that to those jokers.

Route 16

The trek gave me time to observe the rapidly changing autumn foliage, too. The sun drifted in and out of the cloudy sky and the wind-tossed leaves blew hither and yon. Every turn in the road offered a new technicolor scene. This is when I really appreciated living in our valley of rivers, creeks, dams, and woods. People still come to the valley from all over just to see the leaves.

The road home

I had the Sinatra station going on our car radio. My kind of music. It played well on my drive as I realized late afternoon had crept up on me. A late autumn afternoon when the sky darkens quickly, imbuing it with color changes, adding shadows to the trees swinging in tune to the increasing wind gusts. I sensed a need to get home quickly before the skies opened.

Trees in the front

Through the wood glider with sun peaking through

Sinatra was singing “When The World Was Young” followed smoothly by Ella Fitzgerald’s “When Sunny Gets Blue,” Tony Bennett’s “Once Upon A Time,” Sammy Davis’ “Mr. Bojangles.” As I pulled onto the road to our house,  Sinatra was back again with his vintage “Autumn Leaves.” It was perfect timing. Thanks for the company “SiriuslySinatra.”

Beware of Scottish Terriers

A quick survey of our home showed Mother’s Nature’s darkening mood as the late afternoon stretched lazily down our driveway and across our front and back yards. No picnics today as the clocks rolled toward dinner time for the dogs who waited, with precious little patience, for their dinner.

Maybe I could get Sinatra to sing for them. How about “Young At Heart,”  my furries?

CARS AND TRUCKS – Marilyn Armstrong

Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge: Cars and Trucks

Out here in the country, I don’t feel as surrounded by internal combustion vehicles as I did in the cities in which i lived: New York, Jerusalem, and Boston. I feel safer crossing the street, safer breathing the air.

Most of the world lives in much more densely populated quarters. I often wonder if any of them remember breathing air that wasn’t at least just a teensy weensy bit polluted.

WHERE IS STEVE McQUEEN WHEN I REALLY NEED HIM? – Garry Armstrong

It must be payback. Karma, hubris – or both.

For more than 30 years, I drove a succession of fully loaded convertibles with Steve McQueen in my brain. Once, I was racing to a story in the dead of night when a State Trooper pulled me over. He asked the traditional question. He smiled when I told him I was heading to a fire. After being cautioned to drive responsibly, I sped on to the scene. Steve McQueen was with me.

Nothing fazed me. Not Boston crazies or New York cabbies. Oh, hubris!

My convertible days are behind me. Thanks to retirement, an income adjusted to social security, “wonderful” pensions and too many tickets from my Steve McQueen days, I drive like a normal guy, more or less. You’d think I’d paid my dues, atoned for my sins.

Not hardly, Pilgrim.

I’ll admit I still drive too fast, even if I’m doing the speed limit. That’s because I wasn’t born in the Valley and I don’t have Valley in my blood, so to speak. You see, in the Valley, driving is a leisurely business. Very leisurely. Twenty miles an hour is fast for a lot of our local people and not only in school areas. We are talking normal stretches of road with no special considerations or construction.

Not a racing car exactly!

I’m convinced there’s a legion of slow drivers waiting for me to pull out onto the street. I’ve been targeted. Wherever I go, they are waiting. It’s particularly frustrating when I’m heading to an appointment. These days, it’s usually a doctor appointment for my wife or me. We usually allow extra time for possible traffic jams, construction, weather delays, and accidents.

The X-Factor is the slow driver. (Drum-roll.)

They usually appear just as we are pushing up to the speed limit and think we’ll be able to make good time. We’ll get to our destination and have time to relax. I’m beginning to think about playing some music for the drive.

That’s when they show up. In the blink of an eye, they appear. The dreaded slow drivers. A whole conga line of slow drivers. No way to maneuver around them because our local roads are two lanes. One in each direction and narrow to boot. I can feel the anger and frustration beginning to boil up inside me.

If I’m driving alone, I allow the profanities full volume. If my wife is with me, I mumble, tighten my wrists and think evil, vile things. The slow drivers sense this and slow down even more. It is torture. What would Steve McQueen do?

Photo credit: RolexMagazine.com

Photo credit: RolexMagazine.com

Sanity and common sense kick in only because I know we can’t afford accidents with me as the culprit. That makes it more infuriating. They slow down, even more, sensing my plight. Could it be worse? Never ask that question because the answer is always yes!

It gets personal when I realize nature is calling. Home isn’t that far away but it could be an embarrassment if I don’t get there in time. The drivers drive even slower.

I whisper a prayer, forgiveness for my wild days on the road. I turn onto the road home. I can do this. I can make it. Traffic slows to a halt. What would Steve McQueen do?

Gritting my teeth, I see two cars ahead of me. They are staring at the road. They are texting. They are not old but rather part of the legion of slow drivers targeting me. All seems lost as I swing and sway to delay disaster, traffic begins to move again.

Slowly.

Minutes that seem like hours go by until I reach home. I pull down our long driveway. I race into the house with personal shame just narrowly averted. I calm down before returning to the car to collect my things.

I look up at the street. There’s no traffic. The slow drivers have disappeared. Is it a conspiracy?

What would Steve McQueen do?