“Can This Be Hell”

These words, written by Sgt. Maj. Robert Kellogg, of the Union Army were recorded as he entered Camp Sumpter in central Georgia in the summer of 1864.  My historically oriented readers may know Camp Sumpter by it’s more famous name,  Andersonville, the notorious Confederate prisoner of war camp, near Andersonville, Ga.  In this day of attempting to erase history in the name of sparing segments of our society from the unpleasant aspects of America’s Great War, I thought I would offer a glimpse into a place and time that would make Dante’s Hell look like child’s play.  America was born out of war, and war, my good friends is not a walk in the park.

Andersonville was established in 1864, designated as a POW camp for captured Union soldiers.  In all, some 52,300 Union prisoners of war, nearly all enlisted men, were held in this camp.  It was established on a 16 acre parcel, immediately adjacent to the town of Andersonville.  As the need for more space became apparent it was later expanded to 26 acres, all surrounded by a rough hewn log wall some 14 feet high.  The acreage contained a swampy area or “sink” and was home to a small creek, the camp water supply.  Both the creek and the sink were horribly contaminated by human excretement, and hordes of flies and other insects feasting on this waste.  Approximately 13,200 prisoners died as a result of scurvy (a vitamin C deficiency), diarrhea and dysentery.  Approximately 20 feet inside of the wall existed a low, weak fence known as the “dead line”, marking an area that resulted in a prisoner being immediately shot dead should he venture into it. Shelter for the prisoners consisted of rotting tents or other improvised attempts to escape the scorching Georgia heat or chilling winter cold.  Well researched historians suggest that much mortality was the result of hookworm infestations among the prisoners.  The prisoners were fed a poorly milled corn flour gruel, twice a day.  Any vermin in this weak porridge was the only source of protein for the hapless prisoners.  In truth, the guards were not much better off, receiving very poor rations.  As might be guessed, the guards were not the best soldiers the confederacy produced.
As is the case in our prisons today, alliances formed between prisoners and two significant gangs formed within the stockade.  The first group was known as the Andersonville Raiders.  The Raiders banded together and roamed the camp, beating hapless fellow prisoners with clubs in an effort to take their rations, shelter or anything they deemed to have value.  To counter the Raiders, a second group, the Regulators was formed. If a prisoner did not establish an alliance, he was far less likely to survive in this environment, where death was an everyday occurrence.  As the fortunes of war shifted, prisoners from Andersonville were farmed out to other Confederate camps, such as Florence, S.C., a camp that I have previously written about.  Many were then returned to Andersonville to wait out the war’s conclusion or death, as the case may be.

Andersonville was placed under the command of one Captain Henry Wirz.  Wirz recognized the horrors of this stockade and unsuccessfully attempted to arrange a prisoner exchange with the Union Army.  The logistics of this exchange were deemed to be insurmountable, and his problems grew as the number of prisoners swelled to four times the number that it was supposed to house.  Wirz also made numerous requests for increased rations, for both his guards and the prisoners, but military prisons were not a priority with either army in the Great War.  At the conclusion of the war, Wirz was the only soldier from either side that was tried and convicted of a “War Crime” .  Evidence of his attempts to improve conditions were either omitted or discounted and he was hanged on November 10, 1865.  (War Crimes are defined as “Crimes against Peace”, “Crimes against Humanity” or “Conventional War Crimes”.  Many soldiers were tried for criminal activities or crimes against military order that did not rise to the level of War Crimes, a tool that was used quite effectively at Nurembourg in another Great War.)

Today, Andersonville is a National Historic site and the home to the National Prisoner of War Museum, established in 1998.  There are two cemetery’s here, an active National Cemetery and a Cemetery containing the graves of 13,200 or so hapless soldiers who perished in this camp.  Andersonville is a testament to the realities and horrors of war, and marks a pinnacle in the depravity of mankind.  Nonetheless, it is a part of America’s history, and must not be subjected to the ill conceived sensitivities of folks who suggest they are offended by it’s existence.  Sharon and I are planning a long RV vacation early next month and I am anxious to visit Andersonville, where I will offer a prayer for the souls who suffered there.

As to Sgt. Maj. Kellogg’s question, “Is this hell?”, the answer is lost to mankind.  I strongly suspect if it was not hell, it was one of hell’s suburbs.

The REALLY Important Things…..

….aren’t things at all. 

I was a newly minted Deputy Director responsible for enforcement on behalf of the Missouri Gaming Commission, attending my first Commission meeting when I met a man named Bill Grace.  Mr. Grace was a crusty, self made gentleman who had parlayed his fortune into the ownership of a casino in St. Joseph, Missouri where he was known to be colorful, blunt and vexing.  I had been briefed on Mr. Grace’s attributes and walked over to his seat in the audience to introduce myself and offer my hand.  Mr. Grace gruffly told me that he knew who I was before I sauntered over.  I was also aware that Mr. Grace was experiencing personal health problems and asked how he was getting along.  He told me he was fine and dismissed me with a wave of his hand.  As I walked away, Mr. Grace called me back and told me that a lie was no way to begin a relationship, and that in fact he was dying of cancer.  Mr. Grace then offered a bit of unsolicited wisdom by flatly stating that he had all the money he needed, which really didn’t matter when you are dying, suggesting that your health “trumps all things”.  Mr. Grace and I, predictably, crossed swords a few times before he died, not long after this meeting.  According to a slew of polls conducted by a mob of folks who have an interest in such things, Mr. Grace was absolutely correct in his assessment.

I recently read a media account that suggested the three richest people in the world are Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and a relative newcomer to the ranks of folks who weigh their money rather than count it, Jeff Bezos, the genius behind Amazon.  I suspect that most of us cannot grasp the magnitude of these folks’ wealth.  A better question is what, exactly, are they going to do with all of this money, and to Mr. Grace’s point, does it matter,  if they are afflicted with a serious health concern?  Unless providence smiles broadly at me and grants me a powerball win, I’ll never know and that is just fine with me.

My research indicates that most people view money as the 5th most important consideration of the top nine most important aspects of life, with the top four considerations being family, health, work and friends.  Money was deemed to be more important than religion, leisure time, hobbies and community activities.  To keep us from wandering all over the map, the pollsters generally provide a listing of considerations for the respondents to rely upon in making these broad determinations.  When folks are queried as to what is important that cannot be bought, such things as talent, respect, wisdom, and an open mind come to the surface.  As my readers can see, arriving at a personal listing of important things can be complicated, but is worth a few minutes of your time when sitting quietly with a cup of good coffee.  I have a very good friend, a Mennonite, who likely would really upset the order of the considerations listed above, and, for the record, is one of the most contented folks that I have ever known.  

Folks like Gates, Buffett and Bezos are content with amassing vast fortunes, and I respectfully suggest that life for them is centered, if not consumed, with increasing these fortunes exponentially.  I know they contribute to various charitable causes and I certainly applaud these magnamous efforts, but is this gesture a good business practice or does it come from the heart?  Does the motivation really matter?  Why would I be concerned….the fact is, I am not.

I doubt that Gates, Buffett or Bezos has the time or inclination to push off a gravel bar on the Big Piney in anticipation of a lazy float in pursuit of a basket of goggle eye and small mouth bass.  I suspect the differences in the smell of freshly mowed alfalfa, orchard grass or a freshly cut lawn is lost on them as they are driven in their limos up the winding drive to their estates.  There is likely no way they have enjoyed the practiced skill your fishing partner exhibits as he or she carefully works a slab crappie through the tangle of a cedar tree on Truman Lake’s Hogles Creek.  All the money in the world cannot buy the warmth that one feels when an old dog lays his head in your lap with a trust that is endless. I will never forget the conversations with friends who are faced with a life ending medical issue, and seeing life through their eyes.  As many of us know, they do understand the importance of health, and would trade every material possession they have for a second chance at life, disease free.

As a final thought, it is disheartening to see religion slip down the listing of important aspects of life.  I suspect that technology and the pursuit of mathematical certainty in today’s world has contributed to this diminished aspect of life, which is based on the concept of faith, not easily reconciled with technical precision.  Interestingly, those same friends that I have watched as they faced the end of life, all seem to move the spiritual aspect of living up the scale, some considerably.  Given the uncertainty of life today, it is probably a good idea to work this concept into your meditation.  We are the most prosperous folks on the face of the earth.  It would be a shame if we substitute this prosperity for the stuff that really matters, like family, health, friends and the understanding of why we are here in the first place.  Food for thought, don’t you think?

Mrs. Johnson’s Husband……..

When you are a State Trooper, or any law enforcement officer for that matter, you become a known entity within the community that you live and work in.  The trappings of law enforcement, the uniform and the authority vested in that uniform surrounds you as you move about doing the things that are the substance of television and movies.  When you retire, suddenly your impact is diminished dramatically, and you begin that slow fade into the role of normalcy where you acknowledge your inability to directly influence the happenings of the day as they unfold.  Your family was always introduced as the wife of, son of, or daughter of (the law enforcement officer).  It is disconcerting, for awhile, and the reality, for me, sank in when I went from being Captain Johnson to being Mrs. Johnson’s (the elementary principal) husband.  As a new school year unfolds, I thought it appropriate to offer a glimpse into that role.  Although Sharon has joined me in retirement, leaving the classroom and corner office behind, her influence will be felt for years to come.  

Public Education has been crushed under the weight of beauracracy, funding cuts and the well intentioned criticisms of the folks who have not one clue what life as an educator is like these days.  The push for one size fits all, the clamoring for a trophy for every child and the utter nonsense of no child left behind has taken the breath out of  the educators who recognize the impossibilities associated with squeezing every child into one mold.  From my perspective, I can guarantee that a large portion of Sharon’s salary was in response to the demands and inordinate patience it took to deal with parents.  I was appalled at the numbers of parents who viewed education as a social platform, demanding parties for everything from Halloween to the birthday of a student’s pet hamster.  Parents often failed to recognize that when classroom gifts were involved, a less fortunate parent could ill afford to send their child to school with the beautiful designer candy box that other, affluent parents could easily afford.  I need not comment on the hurt feelings of those who received a handful of candy hearts while sitting next to a child opening a box of designer chocolates.  Never mind the hours of precious instructional time lost to such nefarious activities on a seemingly regular basis.

Mrs. Johnson’s husband made occasional appearances at school to share in Mrs. Johnson’s experiences in an effort to understand the exasperation of Mrs. Johnson when she had no appetite for supper after a vexing day.  I so enjoyed watching the children devour a balanced meal at breakfast and/or lunch, knowing full well this might be the only meal these children would enjoy this day.  I shared in her sadness in knowing that, in many instances, the buddy packs of food sent home with less fortunate children would be locked up at home or traded for cigarettes or other items when they got home.  I watched in horror as various children would model behaviors that were seen in the home, such as rolling, presumably marijuana, cigarettes or sexual conduct.  Parents who provide these types of environments were often the first ones to suggest that one of Sharon’s educators was incompetent to teach their child.

In this age of narcisstic indulgence, I felt great pride in Sharon’s assertive discipline approach to education.  Narcissism, as we know it, has it’s origins in early childhood, resulting in the necessity of “safe areas” for our college youth who gather at the flagpole because they have been offended in some fashion, where they can wring their unsullied hands in unified agony.  In this hyper competitive age, the fact that you were awarded a pink ribbon for finishing 38th in a class of 38 will carry little weight in a job interview.  Sharon’s children understood that when a direction was given, there would be no follow-up begging or threatened consequences, beyond the first explanation as to what was expected.  That, my dear readers, is what employers will expect of their employees.  

An important tool for folks in any learning environment is discipline.  In this case, I am not referring to corporal punishment, a consideration that my generation understood clearly, rather the establishment of rigorous academic expectations and the demand to accomplish the goals inherent to those standards.  We have strayed from the real world acknowledgement that some will excell, some will squeak across the line and some will fail, in spite of the efforts of our finest educators.  There exists today, an adversion to holding a child back when that action is exactly what the child needs.  In many instances, failure is a strong incentive to be successful the next time around.

Sharon can be a handful.  Her metamorphosis from the classroom to the corner office was not easy.  She recognized early on that her concerns had expanded exponentially from a handful of troubling parents and demands to the issues of every one of her staff members.  She worked hard to incorporate today’s expectations into the monumental demand that she provide the guidance and interpretation of new programs and methods into the common sense reality of public education today.  She made it a priority to recognize excellence in the classroom, however could be cat quick when her expectations were not met.  Perhaps this is why I refer to her as my bobcat, quiet most of the time but…….well, we all know what a bobcat is all about.  

I am closing this writing with a strong vote of confidence to those who are up to the task of stepping back into the classroom for another tour.  We are behind you.  In this household, you will ALWAYS get the benefit of the doubt!

It was kind of fun, being Mrs. Johnson’s husband………the guy who fried the fish at the staff fish fry.

The Fence…….

The US Army teaches you many of life’s lessons.  They rely on experience to be your teacher, as opposed to picking up a book and reading about it, although they are notorious for their training manuals that can break the simplest of tasks down into a series of steps and considerations that are referenced in the simplest of terms.  One of those lessons is that if something is there, pick it up and move it, if it cannot be moved, paint it.  We have a nice Carnahan-White, treated lumber fence around our back yard and it cannot be moved……..so we are painting it, or staining it as the case may be.  A manual would have been most helpful.

Missourians are a unique people.  Most folks that I know are loathe to pay someone to do something they can do themselves.  I suppose this characteristic has it’s roots in the adventurous nature of the folks who settled this state where our beauty is measured in rivers, rocks and vast forests.  It is said that necessity is the mother of invention, and we decided to transform our nicely greying fence into one of the terrific stained fences that many of our neighbors have, a consideration that we considered a necessity.  We decided to merge the fence painting project into a deck staining project and “git ‘er done” as the cable guy would say.  Never mind the task was begun in the hottest week of the year thus far, with humidity levels chasing the thermometer.  As folks do these days, we hopped on the internet to help us find the sweet spot that exists between expense, efficiency and quality before diving into this job.  We found that many people who write about such matters really don’t know their butts from a bucket of paint resulting in us attempting to stain hundreds of feet of fence with a roller, garden sprayer and brush.  I can attest that if you have enough time, you can paint a long fence with a toothbrush and Q-tip, but that would not constitute working in the aforementioned “sweet spot” .  We bought two different garden sprayers, suffered through the laughable experience of “backbrushing” the the mess they created and pitched them into the dumpster.  Our fence is a staggered board style and does not lend itself to being stained in this fashion.   I admire the garden sprayer industry for their remarkable marketing savvy in locating enough shills to write about their great success with these devices in convincing terms.  I am confident the folks who are pushing this technique are writing under an assumed name so as to avoid being beaten to death with a garden sprayer.

My good friend, Neil Atkinson, was also caught up in a staining project involving a new deck at his home.  Neil advised me to buy a simple Wagner airless sprayer, apply the stain and pitch the thing afterwords.  These sprayers can be had for 80 bucks or so, and really do a nice job.  I own one, am about halfway through the fence and it is holding up reasonably well.  Oil based stains and paints constitute their own particular kind of hell, clogging up equipment, requiring copious amounts of mineral spirits to clean, and producing a fine mist that effectively stains everything around you, to include your ceramic bar-b-cue grill, extruded aluminum deck furniture and stainless steel prep table close to the grill.  Mineral spirits go for about 10 bucks a gallon and leaves your exposed skin tingling after you scrub the stain off. We found that about a gallon of spirits is necessary to clean the Wagner up to the extent that it may again be used for it’s intended purpose.  We would have to have some sort of license to buy enough spirits to clean up everything else we have managed to stain.  I should offer a hearty shout out to Neil, as his advice has been most helpful, as long as reasonable precautions are taken to protect everything else you own from the overspray that can drift ever so easily.  While walking the neighborhood, I did locate an enterprising young man who had just finished spraying his own fence and upon my inquiry, indicated he bought a handfull of sprayers from Harbor Freight for the price of a hamburger, used one each day and then gave it a toss as the clean up would have cost more than the sprayer.  Every neighborhood has a resourceful guy who relys on guile to get the job done.

About my theory that I don’t want to pay someone to do what I can do myself.  I found that folks who do this stuff for a living and can powerwash your fence and stain it over a three day period want somewhere between a thousand and two thousand dollars, including the stain.  Outrageous you say.  a quick breakdown of our expense for this project looks like this:

A new power washer, on sale at Home Depot                     300.00

Gasoline for power washer ( 10 gal. X 2.25 gal.)                    22.50

Cabots semi-solid stain    ( 30.00 a gal. x 15 gal.)                  450.00

Mineral Spirits          (10.00 a gal x 4 gal.).                               40.00

Wagner Sprayer                                                                            80.00

New extruded aluminum deck furniture                              500.00

Two garden sprayers                                                                    30.00

Miscellaneous.                                                                            250.00

The miscellaneous category includes four serviceable shirts, four pairs of pants, two hats, two pairs of tennis shoes and socks, two bundles of paint rags, filters for the Wagner sprayer, drop cloth for work table, brushes, and contractors trash bags.  

The experience of doing it yourself and the satisfaction of a job well done is priceless.  I said that?  Excuse me while I pour another Bailey’s and coffee.  There was a time when I changed my own oil, maintained my own lawn, washed my own vehicles, and did my own exterminating. ( I still do my own interior painting, latex of course, where the clean-up is as close as the nearest faucet).  In a year or two, depending on which shill is evaluating the stain that you use, this job will need to be done again.  You may be assured that I have no intention of seeking the satisfaction of doing it myself and thus preserving that proud Missouri tradition of not paying someone to do what I can do.  The power washer will be perfect for the RV and the Wagner will be reposing in a landfill somewhere.  

Tom Sawyer had it right all along!

                                                     

Retired Traffic Cops and Road Rage…….

I had just made the rounds for additional painting supplies and was returning home when a monstrous lady in an older Explorer shocked me back to my days as a traffic cop.  There are a number of intersections in and around Springfield where folks use the shoulder as a right turn lane, thus creating an undue hazard for those of us who lawfully turn out of the traffic lane onto the intersecting road.  Two cars turning at the same intersection from two lanes, onto a single lane,  create an interesting situation, and the collection of car parts in these intersections suggests collision as an all too often result.  I looked at this princess and shook my head, a gesture that was met with her disgust, evidenced by her rolling down her window and extending a middle finger at me while clearly suggesting that I should go home and entertain sex with myself.  My blood pressure jumped, and this witch had invoked what is referred today as “road rage”, but I knew better than to respond……….

Virtually every trooper begins his or her career as a traffic cop.  In Missouri, troopers are involved in any number of mostly law enforcement activities, many of which are far more glamorous than traffic enforcement.  I have great respect for our criminal investigatory prowess, indeed once commanding the Bureau which provided these services, but my heart goes out to the men and women who work hard to lend dignity to the movement of traffic on our roads and streets.  Traffic crashes cost America 871 billion dollars a year, and in 2015 resulted in 38,300 folks being killed while another 4.4 million good people were injured.  The regulation of this great enterprise is in the hands of traffic cops, a challenging and rewarding business.  Traffic accident investigation has evolved tremendously from the days of a number 2 pencil and a simple two sided form which captured the basic identifiers at the scene of an accident……and not much more.  There was no blank on this form where the officer could indicate road rage as a contributing circumstance, although we often saw unmistakable signs of rage as a possible factor in a crash.  The ability to instaneously respond to errant behavior on the road was a tool in the traffic cop’s repertoire, and was rewarding in ways that are hard to explain.  With this disclaimer in place, let’s have a look at the gratifying aspects of this business that is seldom featured in dramas written for the big screen and television.  

Under the watchful eyes of Jim Lauderdale, the prosecuting attorney and Roger Slaughter, the associate circuit judge, two energetic young troopers were turned out in Lafayette County to enforce the many pages of traffic law.  It may have been the busiest and most rewarding years of my career.  Mike Mulholland and I established an early work ethic that saw thousands of citations issued and hundreds of crashes investigated to the best of our ability.  We were in fertile grounds for traffic cops with a busy interstate and a rather large rural population base in a tier county just outside of Kansas City.  In those days, you attended to the needs of the drunk driver you just arrested from the moment you approached his vehicle until you slammed the jail cell door behind him.  The look of horror in the drunks eyes as he was hustled into a cell and the reassuring clank of the closing door behind him was exceedingly gratifying.  Today, when I see an obviously intoxicated driver in traffic, I have few options and it invokes an anger that is short of rage, leaning  heavily toward frustration.  The drunkest individual that I arrested during my career, first name Carl, was busy driving back and forth, from ditch to ditch,  across M-213 near Higginsville, Mo.  I knew immediately that I had a bell ringer….Carl was not a mean drunk, rather a nearly comatose one who complied with my commands without question.  I handcuffed Carl and placed him in the front seat of my Sergeant’s patrol car, borrowed for the night as mine was being serviced.  Somewhere  between Higginsville and Lexington, the county seat, Carl, without warning, projectile vomited what appeared to be beanie weenies and cheap whiskey all over the dashboard, radio and my right leg. After wretching, Carl looked at me and announced he was going to be sick, a warning just a little behind the event. To compound Carl’s problems, this offense was a felony, as Carl had more experience with Breathalyzers than I did.  I spent most of the remainder of the shift attempting to vacuum vomitis from the air conditioner vents in the sergeants patrol car.  This arrest was gratifying, no rage here, as I was able to do something about the situation.

On another occasion, Mike and I were working a two car radar operation on I-70, a racetrack on most days.  Mike, in the radar car, checked a vehicle at close to 90MPH.  As was our custom in those days, I was positioned down the highway far enough to permit my exit from the patrol car to flag the violator down.  As the vehicle approached, I noticed it was occupied by at least three black males, who were all returning my gaze with interest.  The driver decided he was in no mood for a ticket and accelerated.  I gave chase and managed to catch the car within a mile or two, where it suddenly braked hard and slid to a stop on the shoulder.  Predictably, I slid past him and stopped in front of the violators car, not a good position to be in.  When I approached the vehicle, I determined it was occupied by what appeared to be three black males, all seated in the backseat, with no one behind the wheel!  I was able to safely remove the occupants from the vehicle, place them in a search position and begin aggressive questioning that resulted in identifying the driver.  To compound my problem, these individuals were cross dressers, and I was unsure if I was dealing with men or women, a situation that was quickly resolved when we arrived at the lock-up.  The sheriff, not a particularly patient man, was most helpful in finally determining that we were dealing with folks who possessed mostly male characteristics…..if you understand what I mean.  This arrest was gratifying, no rage here as I was again able to do something about a potentially bad situation.

You have to be special to have the passing lanes on virtually every interstate in the country named after you.  Such was the case for a meat packing and transport company from Greeley, Colorado.  Troopers across the country recognized Monfort Trucking for their big trucks whose drivers were known for speed in the passing lanes.  These guys were skillful, but fast, and the arrest of a Monfort truck was cause for celebration.  In our day, the outside lane was the Monfort lane….still is to old timers like us.  To their credit, when you were able to defeat their radar detectors and CB radios, they were gentlemen, usually sporting creased jeans and tucked in western shirts.  No rage present when you were able to summons one of these guys, as you were in a position to do something about their propensity to speed.

The difference in our response to stupidity and arrogance on the road then and our response today is why retired traffic cops develop ulcers while driving on our roadways.  Then, we could do something about it, now, we quietly seethe and harken back to the day we would respectfully request your operators license and registration.  I recall, fondly, stopping by the county jail and offering the greeting of the day to the truck driver, first name Timothy, who knocked down our scale house intentionally during a New Year’s Eve snow storm.  He apparently had endured unpleasant experiences at the hands of our weight officers and decided to close the scale house by destroying it.  Our Troop commander, then Captain C.E, Fisher, was spared feelings of rage by Timothy’s timely arrest and the placing of a temporary trailer and set of portable scales at the sight of the demolition, thus insuring the continuous operation of the weigh station.  The responding officers and their commander were able to stave off rage, because they could do something about the mindless violence of Timothy.  

I should note, before closing, that traffic cops also possess some degree of sympathy for the plight of folks who are in bad situations for reasons not entirely within their control.  I have warned hundreds off violator’s when a summons could have been issued, chief among them veterinarians hurrying to a remote farm at the beckon of a panic stricken livestock owner, doctors  in rural environments summoned to a country ER to attend a stricken individual and obviously very sick individuals who needed a helping hand rather than a scolding hand.  On the other hand, I detest littering in any shape or fashion, and had the good fortune to drive an unmarked cruiser for many years, thus putting me in a great position to see the errant beer can or McDonald’s wrapper expelled from a vehicle.  I might have excused the violator who was throwing a rattlesnake out of his window, but certainly would have checked to make sure it was alive and presented a danger, before issuing a warning!  Today, I can do nothing about the jackasses who discard trash on our highways.  I keep Tums handy in my vehicles.

I suppose there are folks who have the countenance of Ghandi, who are unmoved by the stupidity and arrogance of the thoughtless drivers like the nasty old crone who flipped me off over my head shaking at her indiscretion.  I am not one of them, rather I suspect I am in the company of most of my readers who have uttered oaths and snarled quietly at the antics of the mindless individuals who have managed to obtain a license to drive.  Old traffic cops are textbook examples of restrained road rage…….

…….restrained only because we know better!

Gym Musings………

I grew up on Army bases where kids generally stayed active doing kids stuff like playing catch and hitting golf balls at the local driving range.  I was fortunate in that I acquired a couple of well used bicycles along the way, thus facilitating transportation to the swimming pool or a local creek, which nurtured my love of all things fishing.  I don’t recall ever entering a weight room or doing calisthenics for the heck of it.  In high school, I turned hour upon hour of playing catch into a relatively productive pitching career where I lettered in baseball, all the while carefully avoiding the weight room and running when I didn’t have to for reasons other than beating out a weak ground ball on the diamond.  The Highway Patrol Academy, under the watchful eye of one G.P. Corbin, marked the beginning of real time in the gym where calisthenics became a daily ritual and running became a daily challenge. While I certainly did not rise to the level of Forrest Gump, I came to appreciate the sound of Converse sneakers on asphalt.  A very active lifestyle then became my conditioning regimen until retirement when I reigned in the horses and relied upon a far less active lifestyle to, well, temper my level of conditioning.  Predictably, my new lifestyle resulted in weight gain, high cholestoral, an open heart procedure and the energy level of box turtle.  It was time for a change and my daughter was the catalyst for this change.  Stacey, a gym rat, reintroduced me to the concept of conditioning, and I began my third career venture as an active member of a gym.  I am a little over two years into this career and thought I would offer a little insight into the humbling and humorous aspects of the gym culture.

Calisthenics, for the most part, have been replaced by a series of nifty resistance machines that will accomodate every level of strength and stamina.  I have noticed that very large folks, the folks who were most likely told by their doctor to begin exercising or cultivate a relationship with the local funeral director, prefer the devices that permit you to recline in a fashion similar to your favorite reading or television chair.  They will lie back, with the device set to offer little if any resistance, and pull, push or peddle with the the same effort it would take to squash an errant bug.  Their 16 minute workout provides at least some activity and provides ample justification for a stop at a local C-store for a Red Bull and Snickers.  I suppose that you have to start somewhere and they are at least showing up.  

Next up, we have the “clankers”.  These are the testerone laden, muscle bound behemoths that can, and do, pick up twice their body weight while squatting and standing.  They are easy to recognize when they enter the gym.  They will be sporting wide leather body wraps, presumably to keep from blowing apart when they jerk the equivalent of a small car from the floor, wife beater undershirts, and a quart or two of (presumably) protein drinks to help them bulk up.  The clanking comes in when they drop the weights to the floor, thus eliciting a “look at me” response from the rest of the patrons.  These folks usually bring their own bar into the gym and prefer the mirrored corner of the weight room where they can admire themselves and see who else in the gym is fascinated by their style and effort.  You won’t see these folks using the resistance machines, unless there is a comely lass in close proximity, which will result in them hopping on the next machine, setting the weight to several thousand pounds and doing two repetitions, while carefully eyeing the lass to see if she is suitably impressed.

Another segment of the gym population is comprised of “spinners”.  In all fairness, this group is mostly made up of the fairer sex, who will make their entry in form fitting Lycra, makeup just right, hair pulled tightly in a bouncy ponytail and wearing a carefully coordinated outfit, replete with matching sneakers and a bottle or two of artesian well water.  Trust me when I tell you these ladies, each sporting body fat in negative numbers, can climb onto an elliptical, stair-stepper or treadmill and burn the damned thing up, all the while sweating not.  I am not talking about a 15 minute, maximum effort sprint……I am talking about a hour or more in a single session sprint that is far scarier than watching the clankers.  While I have no way of knowing, I Imagine their heart rates are somewhere in the teens………and they breathe only when necessary.  I admire their focus and discipline, but would become quickly bored with their Ewell Gibbon diets of wild hickory nuts and granola.  

To be sure, there are a number of pretty normal folks who show up to pursue a reasonable level of fitness.  Their gym attire ranges from a well worn pair of jeans and a pair of normal tennis shoes to sweats, shorts and t-shirts adorned with graphics that suggest they have the means to travel to such far away haunts as Destin or Panama Beach.  You will see a lot of Under Armor adorning their physiques, which, by the way,  range from pretty well trim to portly.  They love the resistance machines and are walkers, who will occasionally climb aboard a vacant treadmill.  I suppose I fall into this category, having tweaked my daily regimen with input from Stacey and our resident fitness instructor.  We are a little more likely to offer a greeting to other members of our group and perhaps engage in a short conversation every once in awhile, usually near the water cooler or blood pressure cuff.  We certainly have no interest in one-upping each other on a resistance machine or impressing the spinners with our ability to do a million or two inclined sit-ups.  Our reward is lowered blood pressure, a reasonable resting heart rate and the preservation of what little muscle mass we have left.  Experience has taught us that excess, in any form, to include exercise, is likely not in our best interest.  Our motivation at this point in our lives is to break even when the reaper calls, and to have the energy to do the things we like.

My readers know that I am a numbers guy, so a brief numerical summary is in order.  I have averaged 3.7 trips to the gym each week over the last 27 months.  My goal is to be in the gym at 6:00 AM, Monday-Friday, and my typical workout is 70 minutes long.  I utilize the treadmill, inclined, (30 minutes), 7 resistance machines and a one measured mile walk as a cool down.  I have doubled the weight on the resistance machines that I rely on with one exception, and that exception is related to the thumb surgery last February.  I stay away from the mirrors as I am reminded of my age every morning when I shave, and have no desire to compete with the Schwarzenegger wannabes, and other narcissistic toners, tanners and marathoners.  My health care team has convinced me that I can prolong my time in this world with a reasonable physical effort and my experience tends to support this hypothesis……..My equipment consists of Bose earbuds that I use to listen to the morning news on one of the many televisions on the walls and my I-phone, to connect me to Spotify.  Weather permitting, I ride the Red Baron II to the gym, exactly 8.9 miles away and usually end my workout session with a short Americano from the closest Starbucks, decaffinated of course.

Thank you Stacey, for recognizing that I was declining at an unacceptable rate and suggesting, in Johnson fashion,  it was time to get off my ass and into the gym.  They are great places and offer a rare peek into human nature as a bonus.  I can recommend it and think you will enjoy your experience with the gym culture.

Risk, Reward and Numbers……

A recent article in the Kansas City Star prompted a trip into research land to assess the validity of the information they offered as gospel as it relates to motorcycle mortality.  It turns out they were pretty well on the money with the data they cited.  America is mechanized, at virtually every turn, and life is all about finding that sweet spot that exists between risk and reward.  Like most things these days, that sweet spot is best expressed in some numerical fashion.  I ended my professional career as the enforcement chief in the regulation of casino gambling,  a place where numbers are the real game and the consequences of being mathematically challenged work to the distinct advantage of the house.  There were dollar signs behind every number in that environment, the reward…..as opposed to betting your life on some adventure, such as riding a motorcycle or flying an airplane for fun.  It is easy stuff when you take a minute to look at the realities. You are risking your life in mechanized adventures and risking your money in the casino.  Let’s take just a minute or two for a reality check.

There are folks who sit around in dark rooms with calculators and reams of information and assign a risk factor to virtually everything that moves, makes noise or creates some form of excitement.  These very smart folks are called actuaries, and their work has touched virtually everyone that is alive today, in some form or another.  If you own or participate in some aspect of life that touches the aforementioned categories, they have drawn conclusions that influence the thickness of your wallet and depth of your checkbook when you pay insurance premiums.  These good folks salivate when NHTSA or some other federal agency releases their latest compilations relative to driving, riding or flying something. They use, for instance, the 8.3% increase in motorcycle deaths from 2014 to 2015 in their calculations when assigning a risk factor to those of us who enjoy motorcycles.  This nominal increase in deaths represents 4,976 people who were killed on a motorcycle in 2015.  I have written before, in an offhand fashion, about the differences in motorcycles.  Loosely defined, there is the broad category of “motorcycles”, followed by a category cleverly referred to as “sport bikes” and a third category aptly named “super sport bikes”.  As a motorcyclist, on any type of bike, you are 29 times more likely to die in a crash than as an occupant of a car, and 5 times more likely to be injured.  This is where the types of motorcycles come into play.  “Standard” motorcycles result in a mortality rate of 5.7 deaths per 10,000 vehicles as compared to 10.7 deaths per 10,000 sport bikes and a whopping 22.5 deaths per 10,000 super sport bikes.  Traffic cops (yes, virtually every trooper begins life working traffic, a job that certainly isn’t as glamorous as solving homicides, but, for me, was tremendously rewarding and a hell of a lot of fun) all know that sinking feeling that swells in your belly when you meet a super sport bike who rings the bell on your moving radar.  The rider also knows he has caught your undivided attention and both of you know what it means when his dark visored helmet turns back as he looks to see your brake lights and you hear him downshift the screamer he is astride.  If the circumstances favor the trooper, you have a chance, but if it is open road with no aircraft around, throw him a kiss as you clearly understand his 150+ MPH super sport bike is going leave you wondering where to stop for lunch….

By now, any reader who can balance a checkbook understands the big picture.  We all know that “speed kills” and super sportbikes are all about speed, but those of us in the business of law enforcement  know that quickness also kills.  American drivers are conditioned to rock their vehicles around town and country somewhere between 20 and 75 MPH.  We condition our reflexes to anticipate and react to the unforeseen circumstances within these manageable parameters and are able to avoid most collisions.  Not only are the big super sport bikes capable of unholy top end speed, they can get there in a matter of two or three heartbeats.  Please accept as gospel my opinion that folks who buy, insure and ride one of these crotch rockets isn’t doing it because he or she enjoys laying down on a gas tank, holding your head up at an awkward angle and enjoying the vistas as they cruise our roads.  No Mildred, they buy them because they enjoy the thrill of raw acceleration and speed well beyond the limits established by law.  The only statistical positive associated with these machines is that you generally will not linger long as you await the peace associated with death at 100+ MPH on a motorcycle when a mistake is made.  I have officiated at a scene or two involving these exits from our world and can attest the riders didn’t have long to think about things before they slipped into the afterlife.  Judgement is an acquired attribute, and poor judgement lurks at the scene of serious motorcycle crashes, more often than not.

To wrap this all up, we should also understand how deep we are wading in the risk pool when flying.  Statistically speaking, driving is 6 times deadlier than flying, but only if you are in a common carrier, or airliner.  Outside of commercial flight there is another type of flying refered to as general aviation or GA for short.  This is the world of piloting a privately owned airplane or helicopter for all the reasons that we, as pilots understand. Flying is thrilling, fun and challenging. Your chances of killing yourself and your passengers in a GA crash is 19 times greater than driving or riding in a car.  These statistics are very  comparable to riding a motorcycle!  Again, the participant is wise to carefully consider the risk as it relates to the reward.  For me, I plan to continue riding and flying for awhile longer……

At my age, the sweet spot between risk and reward is shrinking, but not gone.  God willing, I plan on some day sitting around talking about the day when I “used” to ride a motorcycle or fly an airplane…….the memories will be my reward!