Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Paula Deen Incident, Verse Two

Okay, I'm not sure why I'm adding a second verse to a discussion that borders on insanely silly to have on my blog in the first place, but I saw another person's blog today that tweaked me the wrong way and so I figure I need to write about that.

The post, by a guy who claims to be an attorney, started out by saying that if the defenders of Paula Deen only knew the full scope of the allegations against her, they wouldn't be defending her so much.  It then went on to list the allegations against her to drive the point home.

First off, as I said in my post yesterday, I don't intend to defend her.  She doesn't really need my help, and if the allegations being leveled against her have any degree of truth to them, she certainly doesn't deserve it, either.

That said, the fact that (someone who alleges to be) an attorney would make that sort of a case blew my mind.

Normal folks who haven't been through a lot of legal wrangling and/or education, I can kinda see.  "It is alleged that..." might make a difference to some people.  But I don't care, and neither should you, and here's why.

First of all, you've heard the term "innocent until proven guilty," right?  If you're reading this from the United States, I'm fairly sure you have.  Nothing is more American, I've heard some assert, than the presumption of innocence so beautifully stated in that phrase. Except that it was coined by an English lawyer.  No matter; many of America's Founding Fathers were actually British lawyers before the events (fortunate or unfortunate depending on which side you're on) of the 1770's came to pass. Besides, if my understanding is correct, the presumption of innocence actually comes from Roman courts.

But all that is pretty much a moot point, isn't it?  Fact is, many of us Americans pride ourselves on having a justice system that is about as fair and equitable as it can be. 

That's what shocks me so much about the allegation part.  An allegation is just a statement.  You can make allegations all day long, frankly, and you don't technically have to prove any of them (unless you have an annoying Facebook friend like me).

It shocks me even more that an attorney would use allegations to make a point, because an attorney more than anybody else should know what is required to put forth a legal allegation.  What does it take?  In most jurisdictions, a trip to the court house and a filing fee.  How much the filing fee is depends on the jurisdiction.  I just looked it up and here, in Shelby County, it's $499 for a case as big as the one against Paula Deen; cases less than $10K are $299, and others in between are different amounts.

That's right--for a few hundred bucks I could go down to the courthouse and legally allege that my neighbor is a poopy-head.  I wouldn't, of course, because I have nothing against my neighbor (and quite a bit for; I happen to like my neighbors).  But my point is how much an allegation is worth in terms of Truth and Justice.

Not a lot.

Look, I'm not saying Paula Deen isn't a racist.  I'm not saying she is.  What I am saying is that we need a little bit more patience to let the facts play themselves out before jumping on one bandwagon or another.

I know that if I were the one being alleged to have done those things, I would sure appreciate the public's patience.  Wouldn't you?


Saturday, June 29, 2013

Racism and the "N" Word

I'll never forget the day I realized that my parents could do, and had done, really dumb stuff.

Now, I was raised in a very non-racist household in Mississippi.  It wasn't like we had "non-racist" nights at the dinner table or "non-racist" monthly talks, but rather that we lived a lifestyle which was non-racist.  We didn't do or say racist stuff.  The kids in the neighborhood were neither black nor white; they were just kids in the neighborhood.  The kids at school were similarly colorless.  The adults in town, at least from the perspective I was given, were neither black nor white; we were all Corinthians. 

I remember my mom recounting, with a pride that I shared, the time when she'd been a teacher at a public school down in Mississippi and they'd introduced forced integration.  The buses, she said, had pulled up at the school, and they'd let the kids of both colors off, and the news cameras had been stationed there to record the unrest that--well, that hadn't happened.  According to my mother, the kids had all gotten off of the bus and gone to class, and eventually the reporters had gone home without stories, and that was that.

At school I led a similarly colorblind life.  I don't recall there being much in the way of forced political correctness; we just did stuff together, as classmates. Sure, we had all the typical jocks and bullies and stuff, but there wasn't any underlying skin color issue. 

And then I learned, from my father's own mouth, that he'd participated in the Ole Miss race riot.

He defended his actions.  It hadn't been about race, he argued.  A bunch of folks going to Mississippi State had heard of a great big event going down at Ole Miss (right down the road, ish) and they'd been quick to jump on the proverbial bandwagon. It was, he explained, a southern boy's idea of a grand party.


My father's been gone from us for many years, and so for lack of better evidence I'll have to just say that I'm skeptical.  It's true that they didn't have Twitter and Facebook and such back then to tell them what was really behind the "party" at Ole Miss, but they had to have known something about what was up.

All that said, he was a young man, and it was the 60's, and I'm really not in a position to judge the man who later on taught me to accept people no matter their skin color. No matter why he did what he did back in 1962, he ended up being a father who raised a couple of sons who would never consider making judgments about someone based on race.

My grandfather was a different story altogether.  That man was of an entirely different generation, to be certain.  From what I remember, he couldn't speak of a person whose skin tone was different from his own without a epithet containing at least one derogatory word, and the "N" word was his favorite.

You know, that's our history.  Was it right?  Absolutely not.  But all that history taken up together, the fact is that many of us in my generation would rather not even mention the color of a person's skin, less because being Caucasian or colored is an unimportant distinction and more because it's a sensitive issue.  Fact is, I'd never dream of using the "N" word.  Period.

That leads me to the current news regarding Paula Deen. I've been watching it unfold, unsure of how I really feel about it.  I mean, I've always liked Paula Deen's on-screen personality.  And yes, I'm also certain that few of the on-screen personalities are the same as the off-screen ones, on the Food Network or elsewhere.

What I've heard about it has been fairly vague.  She admitted that she'd used the word in the past, years ago.  That, I certainly can't condone--but should something she said years ago make a difference as to whether or not I enjoy watching her cook on television now?

I think the issue is compounded by all the racism accusations flying back and forth in the political undercurrents these days.  Seems like a politician these days can hardly mention that someone is of a certain color skin, or even that someone has characteristics others believe belong to those of a certain skin color, without being called a racist.

Yet they often get to keep their jobs, even when the accusations have some truth to them.

Racism, like most other isms, we don't concern ourselves with until it evidences itself in words or actions.  We don't, for example, look at someone walking down the street and say "I wonder if he's a racist," unless of course he's wearing or saying something that gives us reason to do so.  Paula Deen could in fact be a racist through and through, but none of us would've ever known it if not for the deposition.  She might not be, on the other hand, despite the use of a derogatory word years ago.  I'm sure her close friends know the truth, but frankly I'm not looking to be her close friend.  I just enjoy watching her cook. 

What do I think?  I think she should never have used derogatory words in the first place, of course.  But I also think that her business partners were a little hasty to distance themselves from her over the matter.


Friday, June 28, 2013

Real Life vs. Dungeons and Dragons

I woke up this morning to the symphony of a thunderstorm.

I'd missed thunderstorms. The Tacoma area, where I was stationed last in the Army, got months and months of rain but very little thunder and lightning activity that I can recall.  Phoenix, where I moved after Tacoma, was the opposite: lots and lots of thunder and lightning but not very much storm to go with it.  In the desert it seemed sometimes like Odin forgot to turn on the sprinklers when he started his fits.  Then I moved to Anchorage, where the atmospheric conditions just never do get riled up enough, thanks to the general lack of heat up there, to coax out the full fury of nature.

Not so down here in the South, though.  Biloxi, Richmond, and now Memphis, all do get some terribly awe-inspiring, wicked t-storms.

I love 'em.  Most of the time, I should say.

It's funny how differently our reaction is to these events depending on our own plans, isn't it?  When I'm at home, snuggled into the sheets, hearing and feeling the natural fireworks outdoors is awesome.  When I'm headed out to golf or to fish, though?  Not so much.  Baseball players and fans are well known for being disappointed by stormy weather.  With farmers, meanwhile, it depends on the timing--storms while planting or harvesting can bring disaster, but at other times the crops desperately need the rain.

Laying there snuggled in as I was this morning, I couldn't help but expand mentally on the differences in reactions to storms and then to think about my old Dungeons and Dragons group.  Strange connection, I know, but the fact that came to mind is that they never experienced good ole' thunderstorms.

At a certain level--why would they?  After all, D&D is a game about going places, meeting people and monsters, and figuring out which ones you need to kill to get the maximum lewt and that most important of awards, the ex-pee.  There's really no need to bring up the fact that in order to get to those places, our noble band of heroes might have to slog through a few miles of miserably-pounding rainfall on a freshly muddy road while dodging lightning bolts.  There's no Challenge Rating (that I know of, anyway) associated with storms, nor is there (again, as far as I know) a lewt table associated with beating (aka surviving through) one.

It's just assumed, I suppose, that sometime during the twenty-three second pause in the action while the Dungeon Master gleefully describes your trip by way of "You all walked for three days and then arrived at..." that the party just kind of travels.  There's no good travel days, no bad travel days, no good weather, and no storms.  There's just a beginning, an end, and a hazy stretch in-between. Unless, of course, your party meets a band of bandits or ogres or dragons or anything else with a Challenge Rating along the way--but in that case, that becomes a stop in itself.

That's quite the opposite of how life treats us, isn't it?  Take, for extreme example, my family's most recent journey down the Alaska Highway.  The Dungeon Master would've said, "you drive for two weeks, and then you arrive at the dungeon--er, house--you do think it's just a house, one you would never suspect might face an infestation of massive insects--in Biloxi."  That's it.  No mosquito scourge.  No driving through a forest fire at 20 mph.  None of the good stuff, or the bad.  Just--You Arrive.

Hmmph.  And that, I must add, is our fantasy world, the world we use to escape into, a world in which the journey is rather boring and normal and, thus, overlooked.  The only thing that matters, it seems, is the destination.

Or is it?

Anyway, that's something to think about for today.  I'm expanding the idea for a post in the future, one in which I hope to present an actual set of D&D characters going through a real-life start to the day.  You see, as I lay there in bed this morning, what I was really thinking about was how much I wanted to stay there, snuggled in beside my wife and puppies, instead of tackling some (albeit interesting) stuff at work.  Rain does that to me, really; one one level it's spiritually invigorating, while on another it saps my desire to leap out of bed and face the world.  Wouldn't it be likely to do the same to our characters?

Of course, the scenario I'm writing won't likely ever appear in a book.  After all, who wants to read a fantasy story where fantasy matches reality?  Hopefully what I'm in the midst of creating, though, will be humorous and interesting enough that you want to read it at least in short doses.

Till then,


Sunday, June 16, 2013

My Favorite Line?

Part of the reason I moved to Memphis recently was to take on the challenge inherent in a new job.  I'm quite happy with the new office, too--bigger school, more students, bigger paycheck, etc.  It has been a positive move, professionally.

That said, I landed right in the middle of an assignment.  The college's current professional development effort centers around the leadership reading and working through the application of a management book named The Oz Principle.  It's a well-written book, and (surprisingly to me, at least at first) it's not by Dr. Oz.  Instead, the Oz in the title refers to the fictional world created by L. Frank Baum so many years ago and populated by a trio of witches, a wizard (spoiler alert: he's not all he seems to be), and in at least one installment of the story a young girl from Kansas, her little dog too, and a lion, a tin man, and a scarecrow, oh my.

If you're as confused as I was at first, take heart.  The book actually does a thorough job explaining, both with actual quotes from the masterwork and with references to the "behind the scenes" part, how Dorothy and her cohort followed appropriate management principles in the areas of individual and organizational accountability to successfully cast the unknown aspects of the wizard aside and, um, achieve the ultimate success in business, which is--um, going home.

If you're scratching your head, welcome to the proverbial club.  To me, the authors took what could've been a perfectly good metaphor and tied it down, beat it to within a hair of its life, and then tarred and feathered the poor thing.  It's been so bad in that arena that I've had difficulty reading more than a few pages without either giggling or throwing the book across the room. 

The current assignment, though, stopped me short.  I was asked to identify my favorite line from the book.  Me, an author!  My favorite line out of a vessel that is full of them.  I.  Can't.  Do.  That.  To me, that's like asking a guy with lots of offspring to identify his favorite child.  No!

I even got the joke wrong.  My first response, based on my level of appreciation for the metaphor used to push the underlying management principle, was "The End."  Nope, there isn't one.  If you flip to the end of the actual material, prior to where the "we're trying to sell you the follow-on stuff" begins, it actually says "The Beginning."  Useful sentiment, that.  

All that said, an assignment is an assignment.  I'm gonna complete it somehow, even if I have to close my eyes, open the book to a random page, and point.


Saturday, June 15, 2013

A Little Kindness, A Long Way

Yeah, so it's been a rough week here.  We finally finished, physically anyway, this 800 mile move.  We successfully managed two households for five weeks, on budget.  The drive from Richmond, Virginia, to Memphis, Tennessee, went without a hitch, twice.

And then it fell apart.

The night we got back we assembled the furniture that the movers' delay hadn't left us time to assemble prior to the drive.  That's when I noticed that it was overly hot upstairs (I hadn't really been upstairs for any significant time up to that point).  So I found the upstairs thermostat and turned it on.

Bad move, apparently. The house's air conditioner stopped cooling the next day.  We called and got a service appointment, but the soonest that could happen was the following day.

The following day, the air conditioner guy showed up and said it was working just fine, we just needed a new (thirty dollar, ouch!) filter.  Then the refrigerator stopped working.  Then the dishwasher stopped holding water inside itself.  Then the washing machine started smelling like a dead mouse.


We replaced the filter in the A/C, and it worked for a day.  Then it stopped again.  Meanwhile the refrigerator guy came out to work on that unit.  He got it running again by defrosting the coils and ordered a replacement part, to be installed when it arrives.  The dishwasher guy ordered new gaskets.  The washing machine--well, my wife removed the dessicated remains that had apparently entered while it was being stored, ran a few cycles of bleached water through, and it seems to be just fine now.

As the long week finally ended, and I merrily departed work on Friday after a long day, I found that my tire was flat.  Somewhere along the drive it had picked up a screw and held it closely.

Wow.  Whaddaweek.  A friend of mine replied to my rather annoyed post on Facebook with "what doesn't kill us makes us stronger."  Yeah, I've used that phrase before on other people, and I agree with it in general, but right then I was a little bit tired of getting stronger.

I got up this morning, and first things first--I drove the car, on its doughnut spare, to the closest tire shop.

Sort of.

Actually, my lovely bride, sensing my overall "tired of putting up with crap"edness, did me the favor of looking up the closest tire shop.  She plugged that into her own GPS (we both call ours Bertha) and set off in the Jeep with me following.  Sure 'nuff, Bertha led us wrong.  Way wrong, in fact.  She led us up the road to where it passes over Interstate 40 and said turn right there, right in the middle of the dang overpass. 

Yeah--GPS's.  Don't trust 'em.  Luckily, we didn't.  We continued on to the next safe spot and discussed what to do.  There happened to be a Firestone across the street from there, and so we tried them.  No luck; they were booked up for the rest of the day (a fact attested to by the presence of what seemed to be the entirety of Memphis in their parking lot).

Disappointed and kind of hungry, we went to the second-closest tire shop, Gateway Tire.  Dropped the car off and drove around the corner to try a new (to us) Vietnamese restaurant. 

And that's when the day turned around.

The restaurant, Green Bamboo, was great.  Good food, good service, and all.  I left there full and happy, taste buds content to face the rest of the day.

By the time we finished lunch, the tire was repaired.  And back on the car rather than where I'd had it in the trunk, having been put on to replace the doughnut spare.  And which had also been put back where it goes.  And--get this--at no charge to me.  The guy at the counter smiled and said, "This one's on us."

Wow.  Holy crap.

Granted, a store that sells tires probably doesn't even notice the profit a tire repair brings.  I certainly could've afforded the normal repair cost, at that.  Yes, I found out from my neighbor that Gateway makes a policy of repairing a tire the first time "on them."  None of that mattered, really.  What really mattered to me was how that simple act spun my day completely around. 

How about if we all tried to do that?  If we just once a day, once a week, once a whatever, tried smiling at someone else and announcing that this time's on us?  Would that not make one heckuva difference in the world?


Internal Connectivity and Captain Kirk

We just got back from watching Star Trek: Into Darkness.  What an awesome movie!


Okay, I admit, I'm a sucker for dashing military officers, beautiful women (especially when they have, um, tails), and heroic battles within battles.  The movie had all of those.  What it had more, though, and greater than any other movie I can recall seeing, was connectivity to other movies in the same story franchise. 

Part of it is the acting, honestly.  The kids who play the young Kirk, Spock, Bones, et al, have clearly studied the parts as portrayed in the movies of yore.  There's just something about a young Kirk making the same comment that you would imagine the Kirk you grew up watching making that is outstanding.

It's not present in every movie in every series, either.  I wanted to enjoy Mummy 3, for example, but the loss of continuity in the part of Evie just killed it for me.  In this case, it's easy to imagine each of the characters in the 2013 movie being younger versions of the characters in the 19, um, 60's (gawd, was it really that long ago?) TV series and in the several movies that sprouted from it.

They even have a tribble, a nod to a quirky idea on the original series that has now connected it, the follow-on Next Generation, the follow-on follow-on Deep Space 9, and now this movie.

To put it mildly, I'm impressed by the storytelling that is able to keep an audience interested in modern quality drama and effects while connecting us old Trekkies firmly to our roots.

All it lacked, really, was Kirk falling for a three-breasted green alien.  I guess aliens with tails will suffice, though.


Friday, June 14, 2013

A Slacker Am I

"If we aren't failing, we aren't doing anything interesting." - Kristen Lamb

Just finished reading my daily dose of OPB's (Other Peoples' Blogs) and was struck by what I read in Ms. Lamb's commentary on her new book, self-publishing, and stuff.  I've never heard/read anyone compare self-publishing to herding crack-addicted chickens; I thought that feeling was unique to us college deans.  But I do see what she's talking about, having now dealt with the self-publishing process for five works (and, incidentally, you never stop dealing with it).

Anyway, I'm probably getting back in the swing of things after way too long a period of slack-ology.  Oh--by "things" I mean writing; I've been in the swing of working the day job and working on the house for a while.  But I haven't been writing.  You can probably tell that already; my last blog post was made on Monday, and prior to that it was a few more days back.  I'm two posts behind just for May, and with three posts on June 14th that makes me eleven posts behind for this month, which brings me to the nice round number of thirteen posts behind!

Eh, I'll catch up.

I did write some, creatively, last night.  It was only a few hundred words on my Spaceman Spiff--er, Professor Kinder (sorry, Calvin!)--story, but they were a few hundred good words.

Well, okay, honestly, the last few sucked.  But they'll be replaced tonight, trust me.

Problem was, I'd gotten hung up on details.  See, it's one thing to know where the eventual story is going.  The heroes get trapped and imprisoned by the bad guys, but then they escape and win the day!  (sounds like nearly every Star Trek episode, minus the part about Kirk getting it on with an alien girl, right?)  Problem is--how do they escape?  How in the heck do they escape, that is, given that they're imprisoned by a technically and physically superior race?  Hmm, didn't think much on that, and it stopped me cold last night.

Hmm, maybe if Cap'n Kirk talks the three-boobed green-skinned girl into releasing him in the name of love....  Oh, c'mon, Stephen--no, no.... *smack*

But I got it now.  Worked it out while I was driving to work this morning.

So tonight and this weekend, back to writing.

No, we're still not settled into our new house.  That saga is surely going to generate a whole string of blog posts once the plot arc is done.  For now, I'll give you the chapter headings:

  • Furniture Proves Breaking Up Isn't Hard To Do, After All
  • Air Conditioning Blows, Not Cool
  • Dishwasher Washes The Floor, Too
  • Refrigerator Prefers Room Temperature
  • Flat-Screen TV: So Thin It Disappeared
  • Tech Works For Half An Hour, Causes A/C To Work For Two Days
  • Spiders Spiders Everywhere
  • The Great Ant Visit of 2013
  • Maybe They Should've Screwed The Light Fixture Up Differently

So.  Still writing that memoir, but overall it sounds like fun, right?


Monday, June 10, 2013

An Ending Point, Sort Of

Whew.  Move is done.  Family is back together under one roof, here in Memphis, with most of our stuff in one piece.  Found several companies to be incompetent.  Found a few to be awesome.  Got lots of blog fodder for the next several days.  My wife once again proved herself the strongest woman I've ever met.  Got lots of unpacking to do, but only after we've gotten some sleep for tonight.

I look forward to beginning the spinning of this tale.


Tuesday, June 4, 2013

A Tale of Two Companies

"Your goal as a company is to have customer service that is not just the best but legendary." - Sam Walton

"It is not the employer who pays the wages.  Employers only handle the money.  It is the customer who pays the wages." - Henry Ford

Customer service.  It's pretty easy to define, isn't it?  After all, we know what a customer is, and we know what service is.  Put the two words together, though, and some business people just completely forget them.

I had two completely opposite experiences today, and the lesson paints a stark picture of what a customer's takeaway from an exchange can be.

The first one was positive.  Very positive, in fact, and it started from a negative.  When I moved into the house we're leasing, the gas company guy couldn't get the water heater's pilot lit.  I called the property manager and he sent someone who once he finally made it to my place (he couldn't make it the first day because he had a court date, a bit of knowledge that left me a little concerned) replaced the thermo-doohickey-whidget.  Yay, I had hot water.

For a day.

I noticed it was out again and called the property manager again, and in the meanwhile he'd figured out that there was a home warranty in effect.  He called the proper company out, and they did what they needed to do to reset the system and relight the pilot.  Yay, I had hot water.

For a few days.  It went out early in the weekend.

I left a message over the weekend, and it took till today for the property manager to get back to me with the appropriate approval information.  The result is a few days of irritatingly chilly showers.  Thus, I was primed for a fight when the service company rep told me they couldn't have anybody out till tomorrow morning or afternoon.  I didn't get one, though.  She apologized for the schedule, put me on it when she could, and promised to see if they could get someone sooner.  She checked and there was a tech in my neighborhood, and he dropped by and got the water heater back up and running within minutes.

Happy Stephen.

It bears pointing out that I had no financial interest, personally, in the transaction; the payment is made by the warranty company to the service company.  This company is specified in the warranty document, so it's not like they needed to please me to keep doing the work.  They could've kept going with their normal scheduling procedure and faced no negative consequence to speak of, and yet instead somebody thought creatively and solved my problem.

Then there's my moving company.

They're already on my bad list.  We'd scheduled a pickup at the old address several weeks ago, with the pickup to occur on the Tuesday or Wednesday after Memorial Day.  They called me that Sunday asking if we could do Thursday instead; it was challenging, but we rearranged what we were doing the rest of the week and called back--yes, we'll do Thursday.  Didn't hear back, so we assumed Thursday was probably it since they'd told me they would call with a schedule once Dispatch had it figured out.  Then they called me Tuesday morning saying a truck was on its way and would be there in an hour.

Grrrr.  What's on first and Who's on second, and neither one is paying attention to the coach.

So then they called me yesterday saying they'd deliver my stuff today between nine and one.  Yay!  I can't get my work done while I'm waiting on our stuff, but at least I'll have furniture again.

When they hadn't shown up by one, though, I called to find out why.  "You did mean nine to one in this time zone, right?"  "The driver will call you right away," the service rep told me, and I believed it as I watched my phone not ring for an hour.  I called back, a little more perturbed this time, and asked her if "right away" meant something different where she was.  She put me on hold for nearly fifteen minutes.

When she got back to me it was to ask who called me yesterday.  Hell, I don't know.  It was a girl, I remember that.  Apparently there wasn't any record of the call, though, and unfortunately my delivery would take place on Thursday, not Tuesday.  So sorry.  See you on Thursday, though, and make sure you take another half-day off of work so you can be there when the truck arrives.

See the difference?  One company, the one I'm not paying anything to directly, responded to my need and went above and beyond to meet it.  The other company, the one I'm paying thousands of dollars to, gave me bad information and blew me off a couple of times when I was trying to check on it.


Al-Can Adventures Part 23: Decisions and Life

"Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans." - John Lennon

Sorry for taking a break over the past few days, my wonderful readers.  I've gone through a lot recently, severing one relationship and re-kindling another--and no, not in the romantic sense.  On that matter, my lovely bride and I have been apart for four and a half of the five weeks we'd planned, and I can't wait till the flight home Thursday night.

Oh, and I get to see my fluffy spastic puppy once again.  Yay!

I probably won't post much this weekend.  Just--FYI.

Anyway, the rekindling of the friendship with a former coworker and boss got me to thinking of the broader scope of life circumstances that surrounded my most recent trip down the Al-Can.  It was a big move for me; transitioning from being the Dean at the largest campus in a small college group to being the Dean at the smallest campus in a much larger college group.  I was leaving Alaska, my home of fourteen years, and returning to Mississippi, the state of my birth.

And my mom passed away when I was halfway down.

You know, sometimes we make decisions that are good, and sometimes not so much.  My mother had been sick with lung cancer for several years, her strength of character on full display as she battled both the disease and its treatments.  She cheered for me when I got the new job, and then her health turned hard south.

The timing just plain sucked.  I mean, there's never a good time for such things to happen, but there are degrees of badness to the timing, and this was way down that chart.  I'd already flown down to Mississippi and seen that campus through a successful start.  I had two weeks of unofficial paid leave to fly back, pack the U-Haul, and get it to Mississippi--honestly, as such things go, not a bad deal.

As we were loading the truck, we learned Mom had been moved to "hospice care," which basically means the end is near.  The doctors were saying she had only a few weeks.  Now, I'm not sure what all my options were at the time because I didn't investigate much.  To me, the idea of unloading the truck and returning it to fly down to Phoenix for an indeterminate amount of time couldn't even really be in the realm of consideration.

Our arrival in Montana was both blessed and cursed.  I've already described the border crossing, in which we ran into one of the newer agents with something to prove.  Then, just past the border in Babb, we pulled off at a wonderful cafe called Two Sisters to get a bite to eat.  It's really cute, and the folks in the cafe were extraordinarily friendly as we talked about the fact that my planned route over to Kalispell to spend the night with Heide's aunt was still under about six feet of snow.  Then one guy--the one you see minding his own business in the picture--actually let us follow him along the alternate route, and he went nice and slow so that we didn't blow up our radiator any further.

Yes, I said any further.

Coming out of the Two Sisters I noticed small green tendrils of fluid running down the grill of the truck.  Vehicles generally only have one kind of fluid that's green, and it should never make an appearance in the open air unless you're doing work on the cooling system.  We weren't doing such work, and so the tendrils alarmed me greatly.

Now, the bad thing about the cooling system is that if it's not performing its primary function you can melt an engine down.  The good thing is that it doesn't have to be in perfect working order, generally, to perform its primary function of keeping the engine from melting.  It just needs to maintain enough fluid circulating to transfer the hot out of the engine.  After looking at the radiator closely I figured that it would most likely make it to a more populated spot, and so we pushed on.

Thus it was that we arrived at Heide's aunt's beautiful home in the vicinity of Kalispell, Montana.  We were in a rush to get done with the trip so I could get to my mom, and it was late Friday afternoon and our radiator had gone from little green tendrils of fluid to--well, larger green tendrils.  Its end, in other words, was also near.

And then the keys got locked inside the U-Haul (yes, I'm perfectly aware that sentence is in passive voice, because I'd prefer that you added "by zombies"--the typical test of passive voice--rather than pointing out who actually was responsible for the mistake).

Monday, then.  Monday, we were told by the friendly guy who unlocked our door for us, we'd get a new radiator and be off.  That gave us a nice relaxing weekend on a fairly large piece of property with springtime deer running across it.

The next morning we got the call.  My cousin's somber voice at the other end informed me that my mom had finally lost her battle.

It's difficult to lose your mother.  It's even more so when you aren't there with her because of a decision you made.

You know what helped?  Deer.

Heide and her aunt took off for the entirety of the day after murmuring all the concerns and condolences they could muster.  They actually found the family's old homestead and gallavanted.  Me?  I brooded.  I sat and watched the deer as they wandered across the yard.

It's amazing how therapeutic something like that can be.

I don't remember much of the weekend, really.  I remember that I really liked Heide's aunt and uncle.  They're awesome folk who I hope to see again, and hopefully under less tense circumstances.

The fix went pretty much as scheduled; we rolled out of Kalispell with a new radiator right on time as the next week started.  The rest of the trip--well, I guess that's another story to be told.