Day 10 In The Keys……

Experience is a wonderful teacher and we have enough time on the ground in the mystical Keys to offer a few more random thoughts for those who have always wanted to see this part of Florida. Let’s jump right in and talk about what we have discovered thus far.

As I mentioned before, the atmosphere is distinctly laid back, with the beauty of the seas all around. The coastal waters will stimulate your senses with a palette of color, sounds and smells. Navigation in these waters requires either a great deal of experience or the services of one who has that experience. You can be miles off shore and find yourself either aground or running in 3′ of water, and the changes occur rapidly. We have enjoyed the skills of Billy Thompson, seen in the photograph, who is a Fish and Wildlife officer stationed here and also my nephew. In a sense, running down here is akin to the upper reaches of Truman Lake where knowledge of the channels and bars is necessary to prevent an embarrassing day ending experience. We fished in 100′ of water and as much as 600′ of water all within an hour or two of the marina. Unless sunbathing in an anchored boat, fishing here is work, skipping a dead Ballyhoo (baitfish) across the surface behind a trolling, rocking boat. The breeze while trolling is most welcome. Predictably, the equipment is very stout and heavy. The fishing has not been excellent, however; day to day we have boated enough Dolphin and Mahi to keep the skillet hot. These fish, fresh from the water and dropped into a smoking hot cast iron skillet after a dusting of Bill’s excellent blackening mix makes the entire trip worthwhile.

We drove down to Key West where the pace quickened a bit and the traffic was brutal. If you make Key West a priority, be ready to walk a lot and pay a hefty toll to park somewhere close to the action. It was as expected. Duvall Street, in the heart of the historic downtown was a collection of small shops selling just about anything from t-shirts to the tools necessary to enjoy your favorite herbal concoction. In between hordes of tourists, locals sauntered by, often barefoot on bicycles, drifting in and out of traffic on very narrow streets. There are a number of historically interesting places, including Mr. Truman’s summer home and Mr. Hemingway’s house. I liked the old Coast Guard Headquarters building where a museum, named after the treasure hunter, Mel Fisher, was located. Apparently, Mel Fisher was renowned in his area of expertise, as was another Mel Fisher that I worked for several years ago. A nasty thunderstorm interrupted our visit downtown, forcing us to take refuge in Garbo’s, a small eatery that is highly rated in Key West. We enjoyed a respectable lunch while we drip dried to the delight of Tazzy who cannot get enough water! We can say that we have been to Key West but are not in a hurry to return, as opposed to the destinations in the western and mountain reaches of America. If you want a colorful and rich experience visiting the old south, I can absolutely recommend Charleston, S.C., where the charm is palpable, or the “forgotten coast” of Florida’s panhandle, a subject of past blogs. This leads to another perspective.

Generally speaking, the Keys do not remotely approach the Florida panhandle in terms of seafood. It was disappointing to see a Rinehardt or US Foods truck backed up to these restaurants unloading the same frozen foods and staples that we enjoy at Red Lobster in the heart of the Ozarks. The seafood in the Apalachicola area is absolutely superior to the touristy foods in the Keys, with the exception of a select few eateries that require the services of Trip Advisor to locate, well off the beaten path. I will suggest the folks in the Keys do not approach the reverence in seafood that Kansas City and St. Louis do in terms of barbecue. Only a very few eateries that we have visited merit a second visit.

There are a number of RV parks spaced along Highway 1. Most are fairly average, often crowded and not as well manicured as Grassy Key Park, the location we have managed to luck into. I talked a bit about this park in an earlier piece, and RV enthusiasts among my readers would do well to remember this park. It is adult oriented, although kids are in residence, very neat and managed for the comfort of it’s patrons. It is ideally located in the center of the Keys, has a nice Marina and the salt water pool is a great place to burn the uncomfortable afternoon heat. You must be willing (and able) to rely solely on your RV, as there are no shower houses or restrooms beyond what you towed or drove in. This should not be a problem for 99% of the hard core RV’ers out there.

A note or two about the necessities of everyday living. There are the normal drug stores, markets and enough medical services to be stabilized should you develop a suspicious chest pain after eating a meal of frozen, farmed shrimp from Thailand. There are a number of stop and robs offering fuel at mainland prices and plenty of ice to keep your cooler at peak efficiency. You can buy your fishing permit online with ease, and the out of state saltwater licenses are reasonable (10 days, 30 bucks).

I suppose that Missouri with it’s show me philosophy, will always be where my heart is and I am sure that among my readers there are a number of folks that absolutely loved the Florida Keys. We have at least two more adventures on out list while we are here, the turtle hospital and hand feeding the Tarpon at an establishment called Robbies. Pure tourist stuff, but hopefully educational. I am glad we came, and we will be back…….to the forgotten coast!

The Keys……….

An Ozarkian’s Impression Of The Florida Keys…..

My heritage is southern in nature, with most of my family still residing in South Carolina and northern Florida. This past week or so, Sharon and I have enjoyed a jaunt through northern Florida and are now taking up RV residence in Grassy Key RV Park, on Grassy Key, very near Marathon Fl. In many ways, the Keys remind me of a boyhood in the lowlands of South Carolina, where heat and humidity this time of the year are to be expected. In this writing, I am offering a glimpse into our first impressions as we begin week two on Grassy Key.

The ocean, whether it be the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic, each within a few feet of each other in this part of the world, is compelling. The color and clarity of the water is beautiful and, well, immense. I have exactly one fishing trip under my belt, having travelled some 15-20 miles offshore to an area of huge, floating grass beds where our efforts were rewarded with a single barracuda with a terrible attitude. My sister, her husband and a carefree nephew well versed in the art of fishing this water were the guides and despite the dearth of fish, we had a great time. The ocean currents around the Keys are something to behold and until this trip, I was oblivious to them. When it takes a half pound of lead to hold a bait on the bottom in 100′ of water, you are fighting major current. (We did a little bottom fishing on the way back in.). The gear is big compared to the stuff I am used to when jerking crappie or teasing trout back in Missouri. I sat out yesterdays trip, and the gang tied into several nice Mahi, which were expertly blackened and served under a nice Mango salsa that brother-in-law whipped up last night. Predictably, fishing is a huge part of the Keys experience.

You need to be careful or enjoy the guidance of experienced Key travelers when dining out in the keys. A lot of the seafood in the trendy places is thawed just before preparation, that is, it is not freshly caught. Thankfully the family knows where the “locals” dine and we have been treated to some wonderful table fare. Sharon and I often rely on Trip Advisor for tips on diners and dives and found a little hole in the wall named the Twisted Shrimp where we enjoyed a very honest lunch of fried shrimp and dirty rice served on paper. It was wonderful and reasonable, attributes that do not abound here. Tourists are easily amused by the many flashier eateries that exist here that know how to exact a heavy toll on your wallet. This is to be expected.

The Keys are old. There are long expanses of mangrove undergrowth and barren sand between the better known and very commercial settlements like Key Largo and Islamorada. There are fabulous beach homes scattered about and any number of mostly dated motels and “resorts”. Advertising and clever photography can turn pretty average into glamorous, similar to the magic that real estate sales people rely on to turn pretty average into fantastic. We have not made it to Key West just yet, but have received much unsolicited advice about the merits of visiting this universally known area. The absence of a Wal-Mart is both refreshing and disconcerting! The Walton clan has not, as of yet, penetrated this market. We located a dated K-Mart and a really nice Bass-Pro, that surprised us with a great inventory, very nice clothing and reasonable pricing. Naturally, it is salt water oriented, but an exceptionally nice store, worth your time as you pass through.

The RV parks can be dated and a bit seedy. Not so, Grassy Key RV Park. This is a crisp, immaculate, small and convenient park, located adjacent to Highway 1, the traffic artery of the keys. The landscaping is beautiful, the small salt-water pool just right, and it has it’s own little harbor for those needing to tie up for a few days. A word of advice is in order here. “Jack” the proprietor is a rules guy, good for the type of patron he attracts. He is security oriented, with numerous cameras, some infra-red, throughout the park, and believes strongly in the adage there is a place for everything and everything in it’s place. I like the guy, in spite of his stiff demeanor and, thus far, we love this location. RV’ers know that parks come in all shapes and sizes, and we would strongly recommend this location to our RV friends.

There are only a couple of troopers assigned to the Keys. Most of the law enforcement work is done by the sheriffs in this part of the country, and their presence is felt. The sheriff leaves patrol cars, sans officers, at various locations along Highway 1 to deter speeding, usually parked in the shade of a roadside tree. I am sure this is effective as a very large percentage of drivers are from out of state and are not alert to this effective ruse. One of my nephews is a Florida Wildlife officer, assigned to the Keys, and has been instrumental in helping me to understand the law enforcement scheme here. His agency is not restricted to just wildlife enforcement but is involved in virtually every aspect of law enforcement activity. He leads an exciting life!

I should mention the rain and thunderstorms down here. It is amazing to watch a thunderstorm build, blow up and die without moving more than a mile. I am told the evening rain and storms are normal and they can be impressive. We are used to fronts and squall lines in the midwest, not the case over the keys. The lightening is spectacular, the storms hard hitting and the necessity to keep a close watch on the weather around you is paramount, especially if offshore or sloppy with your RV awnings! We were able to roll our Airstream awning in just ahead of a storm a night or two ago. As I write, I am watching one of these “shake and bake” storms form up not far from here. They are beautiful as you watch them develop just off shore.

There is a magic attraction to the Florida Keys, fed by the likes of Bogie and Bacall that need to be experienced by everyone at least once. If you like boats this is a must stop for you, as the Keys are to boats what salsa is to chips. The locals are very laid back, the pace is slow and, if you are careful, the seafood good and beer cold. Bring plenty of SPF 500 and absorb the local flavor. This is a great venue for the wedding of a niece next week, our draw to the Keys in the summer heat. Timing is everything and if you are diligent, you can catch this experience somewhere between the heat of summer and the crush of tourists during the winter.

The Keys………

Can We Talk……..

First a disclaimer. I have no personal experience with marijuana. I have spent a good portion of my professional career fighting the proliferation of marijuana in all it’s forms, to include developing a training program for the Missouri State Highway Patrol used to facilitate the highway interdiction of illicit drugs as they travelled through our state. I have arrested a good number of folks who were under the influence of marijuana, for a variety of offenses influenced by this substance. My observations set out in this writing are simply an attempt to frame some of the considerations attendant to the recent sanctioning of it’s use in Missouri for medicinal purposes, from the perspective of a career law enforcement officer.

Medical benefits. There is evidence on both sides of the argument supporting the efficacy of marijuana in the treatment of certain afflictions. The problem lies in the relatively low number of carefully controlled studies that might quantify the positive benefits of marijuana in certain applications. The reason these studies and controlled studies do not exist is the classification of marijuana as a Schedule 1 substance, with “no current accepted medical use, and a high potential for abuse”. I am not making an argument either way here, merely pointing out that there will likely continue to be little objective research into the possible benefits of this drug until such time as it is removed from this classification. To date, the vast portion of evidence to support the use of this drug in certain applications is anecdotal in nature, with no deep studies to lend dignity to the argument. If marijuana has legitimate medicinal use then legalize it and trust production to federally regulated production facilities, where the strength and efficacy of the drug can be tightly controlled, and then trust the dispensing to trained pharmacists.

Legalities. I suspect attorneys around the state are sharpening their pencils. There are any number of legal considerations that will most certainly lead to litigation in both the civil and criminal venue. Our law is crafted to place the medical provider in the position of simply certifying the existence of one of the several conditions that merit the use of marijuana to treat. I am not an attorney, but am concerned that we may be placing providers in the position of “enabling” the use of a federally prohibited substance. Could litigation arise out of a decision to certify PTSD, as an example, in an individual who smokes legally dispensed marijuana, and then takes his own life or the life of another? Remember the reasons for placing this drug on the Schedule 1 listing. A reach? Perhaps, perhaps not. What about a medical complex (hospital) from which a provider certifies an individual for purposes of obtaining this drug? We mustn’t forget they have deep pockets, the favorite venue of trial attorneys. My argument here is simple. If you do not like the law, work to change it, don’t violate it. We are a country of laws, a fact lost on those that seek to force change by wholesale violation of existing law. I see significant legal jeopardy for those involved in the enabling of marijuana use in the face of existing federal law prohibiting it in all forms. Civil disobedience does not justify wholesale violation of existing law.

Law Enforcement. States that have gone ahead of us report significant, measurable increases in auto accidents and impaired driving cases. Are we ready to deal with this increase in adverse affects? Irrespective of medical benefit, the use of this drug in any therapeutic amount will affect judgement and will result in judgement related incidents that law enforcement must deal with. Here I do have experience and can state, anecdotally, that marijuana highs are not all mellow, goofy, events. Often paranoia accompanies chronic use and can result in problems to first responders who must deal with folks who are “stoned”. Again, there are precious few studies and trials to help folks in this chain to understand the behaviors and implications of marijuana use.

As a final note. I am not in a position to challenge the efficacy of marijuana in some medical settings. I am however, deeply concerned with the notion of plowing ahead in the use of this potentially significant, mind altering substance with a “high potential for abuse” without deliberation and consideration within our legislative arenas. Most “legal” grow operations today are operated as a cash business, with traditional banks and other financial institutions avoiding transactions with them, wary of the possible legal ramifications on the federal level. There exists today an industry centered around the business of transporting large sums of cash from this very profitable industry. It takes little imagination to conjure up the problems associated with large, cash transactions.

I leave you with a simple question. What are we thinking……..or are we thinking at all?

Got Milk?

This morning I screwed the cap off a fresh quart of Hiland Dairy’s skim milk and was temporarily transported back in time and space to a small farm in rural South Carolina where I spent a considerable amount of time as a kid not yet 10 years old. I lived with my grand-parents, E.C. Cooke and his wife Ethel in a small three bedroom, cinder block house surrounded by tobacco, cotton and a productive summer garden. Those were wonderful days, filled with the normal responsibilities of a kid in an environment where everyone contributed to the maintenance and lifestyle associated with rural America in the late 50’s. My responsibilities included feeding the free range chickens, cutting fresh produce in the garden for meals that same day and staking an old milk cow out in a “pasture” that was mostly comprised of weeds and enough grass to keep the old cow going. If she had a name, I have long since forgotten it, but will never forget her gentle disposition and the necessity to keep one’s bare feet out from under her hooves as you moved her about looking for something fresh to eat. We had no fences and the old girl was tied to a stake that you had to drive into the sandy soil we lived on. Nights and bad weather saw her to a stall in the barn.

Her milk was wonderful but likely not palatable to those used to the pasteurized and homogenized milk that we take for granted today. Grandmother kept a pitcher of milk in the ice box and once every two or so weeks would carefully churn the cream, skimmed from the milk into a smooth, rich butter. I suspect a number of my readers have never tasted “raw” milk, a delicacy I cannot recommend from memory. I do remember Ethel milking the cow with a practiced dexterity, after carefully and gently wiping down her udder to remove the dust ever present on the farm. Ethel delighted in her ability to offer a squirt of milk to the farm cats that gathered around to watch the milking, eliciting giggles from the cousins as we watched. In those days, milk was considered a super food, dense in nutrients and a universal beverage in virtually every home in America. Later in life, I drank copious amounts of milk while serving in the US Army, where milk and coffee constituted the bulk of our liquid intake outside of water. In my teen years, milk was slowly replaced by carbonated beverages, dense in nothing more than sugar and various preservatives, relegating milk to the tastes of a few traditionalists that still enjoyed it’s flavor and texture. Occasionally, I would eat breakfast or lunch at school cafeterias where Sharon held forth as a principal, and delighted in noting the presence of cartons of fresh milk served to these kids, some of whom were consuming the only nutritious meal they would see that day. Today, the winner of the Indy 500 will drink a cold bottle of milk in celebration, a tradition that was started by Hall of Fame driver, Louis Meyer in 1935. Louis didn’t care for champagne, preferring the milk over other possible drinks after the grueling race. Thanks, Louis, for reminding us of this timeless delicacy.

Milk production is not for the faint hearted or lazy genre. It requires a 24 hour a day commitment, a love for living creatures and the ability to work endlessly in a day where your efforts are likely to be rewarded by the selling of your herd and exit from the farm. In America, 3,000 dairy farms folded in 2018, amounting to 6.5% of our milk producing capacity. Wisconsin alone lost 700 farms, amounting to two a day, a number that has grown to 3 farms a day going out of production thus far in 2019. Cows require milking twice a day, 365 days a year, leaving no time for a weekend getaway, much less an extended vacation. Our banks will not make loans in this environment, sealing the fates of producers who are struggling to maintain their existences. You must have an appreciation for the gentle, demanding nature of dairy cattle, and the heartbreak associated with the necessity to kill bull calves at birth as they have little value as beef in today’s demanding society. Today’s production practices and equipment is expensive as is the housing and maintenance of your herd. Today’s markets are simply not supporting this effort.

What is happening? Milk is being replaced with any number of alternatives believed by many to offer superior nutrition. Almond, coconut and soy milk products come to mind. There are any number of nutritionists who condemn milk and any dairy products. Trade wars and an incredibly tough pricing system have contributed to the demise of milk’s popularity. Milk is inconvenient in today’s market driven by products that don’t spoil when kept for inordinate lengths of time. In a society where common water is sold at prices inconceivable to us just a few years ago, milk is a forgotten alternative. A quick perusal of the beverage choices in your market will reveal valuable marketing and display space devoted to alternative beverage choices at a ratio that clearly does not favor milk that must be refrigerated and discarded when it reaches the end of it’s relatively quick shelf life. We are watching an industry in decline.

From the simple one cow operation on my grandparents farm, I grew up with milk as a staple commodity in the military, where it was not only served fresh daily in our mess halls, but could be bought on base at the “Dairy Bar” a retail outlet set aside for milk and milk products. Thankfully, milk is still served in our schools where our children, for awhile, will be able to enjoy this delicious alternative to the preservative and chemical laden drinks that are passed off today as being “nutritious”. I am thankful that I can still dial up a milk-fat percentage and select a carton of milk at our grocery to suit my tastes.

Join me today as we watch the spectacle unfold in Indianapolis and ending when the winner spins his way into the winners circle. Grab a glass of cold milk and celebrate with him. Mr. Meyer had it right……

Got milk? No home should be without it.

While You Still Can….

Suze Orman is a motivational speaker, financial guru, and author who just happens to also be a multi-millionaire. I suspect that life in the rarified atmosphere of untold wealth tends to influence your perspective in regard to the life we live and want to live. She is an eternal optimist, entertaining and offering sound advice to those of us who care to admit that we just may not have all the answers to living beyond fifty. Anytime I am not “doing something” I am reading and I recently perused her take on the rules of retirement in the September issue of AARP, the magazine. Clever lady.

While I have not amassed great fortunes, I have managed to live awhile in a cluttered world leading me to develop a personal philosophy for what is important to me as my ability to do “stuff” declines. I thought I might share a perspective or two developed from years on the streets, some of which were located in countries offering far less in comfort than we currently enjoy in America.

Friends are a high priority for me. We all develop many acquaintances over time. Some of these acquaintances develop into friends, and fewer still into close friends. If you haven’t done so lately, it might be a good time to take stock of your friend inventory and recognize them for the treasure they really are. What is the difference, you might ask, in levels of friendship. Real friends will always tell you what you NEED to hear as opposed to what you WANT to hear. They can absorb a difference of opinion with you, smile and hug you anyhow. Call it tough love and always remember this love flows both ways. I recently enjoyed a wonderful evening with an old friend that, literally, had my back in life and death circumstances. Mike who lives not far from me, was a bright, razor sharp trooper who joined the Highway Patrol a year or so ahead of me. We laughed hard, tears flowing down our cheeks, at the peccadillos we found ourselves in, and on occasion, shot our way out of. Between the two of us, we might be able to muster up 50% of the horsepower and enthusiasm we possessed 50 years ago…maybe. It occurred to me as we enjoyed bar-b-cue and beverage that I owe Mike, the least of which is an honest effort to maintain a friendship honed in circumstances that are unimaginable. How many friends like this are you ignoring or, in more pleasant terms, taking for granted? One of these days, one of us is going to be begin that final journey under a sheet and it will be too late to offer our appreciation for the other’s contribution to our life. So, thank you Mike, I love you brother.

In Ms. Orman’s article, she points out another disturbing fact regarding our entry into the “golden years”, a description that I am sure refers to the cataract induced halo that begins to affect our vision as we age. American’s are loathe to plan for retirement when they are younger and can make decisions not affected by some current circumstance. A whopping 54% of us have no retirement plan beyond a few thoughts that rattle around in our heads. Even scarier, 34% of Americans have nothing, not even a random thought about tomorrow. That leaves around 12% of us who have spent time with a financial guru to establish a plan for the time when the aforementioned halo becomes a cane and trained canine. I suppose if you live hand to mouth with no hope of retiring then planning is a matter of keeping ahead of the ever present hand out to grab your precious “discretionary” money. If that is your lot, God bless you for your honest effort to carry your own freight until the end. I am not remotely qualified to offer financial advice, but there are many folks who are. They might make an interesting addition to the list of friends that will tell you what you need to know as opposed to the alternative. We love our advisor and have long since welcomed her into our inner circle! We took advantage of her expertise, while we could.

Finally, life itself. I will deliver a pristine, very low mileage Harley Davidson motorcycle to a friend of a friend this week. I am not looking forward to this inevitable closing of a great chapter in my life. Serious issues with my feet and arthritis have combined to make throwing around this big iron far less than pleasant. I am thankful that I was able to work 6 or so years of road “freedom” into a full life but hate admitting that quitting is the absolute right thing to do. Buying a new “lighter” bike is not going to bring back the sharpness that is intrinsic to managing the odds of a motorcycle surviving in traffic, and I am forced to acknowledge that while I could once heft a 150# person and carry them up an embankment when the need presented itself, today I have to steel myself to heft a 50# bag of kibbles into the mud room. Another venture into life at an age when many folks are shutting down their involvement involves piloting an airplane. I have always wanted to do this, and while I had a little left, undertook flight training. I progressed through soloing, cross country solo flights and was, as my instructor said, “ready to be kicked out of the nest”. At this point, aging stepped in and reminded me that I needed to rethink this wonderful pastime. While I can fly very light aircraft on my driver’s license, my AME (flight surgeon) tells me that I likely will not pass a third class medical exam. So, I decided to concede on this issue as airplanes are expensive and I damned sure would buy one, but for how much longer? I should have considered this business a few years back……but I didn’t. To my flying friends, kudos for grabbing this ring when health was not an obstacle, but beware. You all know exactly what I am talking about.

So, where are we. I have enough close friends to help get my pine box to the crematory and share my checkered existence with Sharon over funeral potatoes and ham. God granted me just enough patience to accept the few times that I was told no, either by circumstance or more directly. I have learned to accept failure when I simply wasn’t up to the task and I seldom am forced to acknowledge that I should have done something “while I still could”. My hat is off to those who read this and can say the same. If you are among those who are harboring regrets, get up off your comfortable duffs and do something about it. I am still not through tackling new adventures and will continue to do so, but will be much more cautious and outcome oriented. Can you say the same?

Tackle life while you still can!

Assembly Required

These simple words strike fear into the very souls of folks who have acquired the latest offering from China designed to make life either easier or more fun. Sharon and I often utter gentle oaths at the Chinese when we acknowledge their raucous laughter at Americans struggling to put one of their offerings together with a “few basic tools”. It is getting better, though, at least the directions of late are spelled out in a crude form of English, accompanied by little drawings that will send you to the coffee maker for a fresh cup of common sense. Before we hurl additional invectives at the folks over there bent on acquiring America a little at a time, let’s have a look at our own evolution.

My grandfather worked out of a tool chest about the size of an Army footlocker. In it were enough basic tools to keep an old John Deere tractor running smoothly as well as craft necessary wooden masterpieces for everyday farm use. He could work on the well pump, mend a mule harness or replace a porch rail with little exertion and his trusty tool box. An extension cord wasn’t required to operate the brace and bit and carefully sharpened hand saw used to work wood. A basic set of wrenches, screwdrivers, pliers and two hammers rounded out his equipment, a ball peen and claw hammer to be exact. His wizardry with a few hand tools is the stuff of legend. My own evolution was tempered by necessity. My first new bicycle was acquired after I was employed as a Highway Patrolman, thus necessitating the ability to keep a succession of used bikes running with those few precious tools that were lying about. My own father was not particularly mechanically inclined, however; could field strip and reassemble any small arm in the Army’s arsenal in a matter of minutes, blindfolded. In spite of his prowess with the weaponry of the day, I remember him baffled by the simple design of a closed face spinning reel. I did take the time to learn to set the points in a distributor, gap a spark plug and change the oil in my cars. These fine arts are of no use to me today as ignitions are well beyond points and condensers and Jiffy something or other can handle your oil change before you can polish off a bag of popcorn provided for your entertainment while you wait. We gladly pay for convenience these days and wonder why we need alcohol to settle our nerves when we crack open a box with a simple table needing assembly.

Recently we acquired a set of rock guards to keep rocks from beating the daylights out of our aluminum RV. They came in a box proudly proclaiming assembly was required. How difficult can this be? I cracked the box and had my answer immediately. The rubber guards had to be trimmed and a series of holes punched into them for mounting screws. There was the very real consideration of spacing on the stainless steel support poles and a bag or two of screws, washers and such that easily weighed a pound. The folks in Beijing were kind enough to provide a punch that was to be used to create the mounting holes. This punch was useless as the force needed to drive it through the industrial, reinforced rubber mats required inhuman force through a five pound hammer. I finally prevailed, and the guards look good. I am confident my readers understand this frustration. I suspect that all of us at one time our another have struggled with a wall mount for a television or the simple task of assembling a set of steel storage shelves for the garage. The Beijing engineers smile knowingly at each other as they adjust the presses that spit these shelves out to be just a skosh out of square presumably to offset the latest tariff on their products.

Recently, I decided to change the oil in the pads that line my motorcycle helmet. After a full season of riding in the midwestern heat, my full face helmet was acquiring the aura of Peppi LePew, and needed to be refreshed. The pads are designed to “pop” out, and after a few hours of soaking in Woolite and drying out, are ready to be “snapped” back in. There are 8 of these little pads that must be snapped in a specific order and are not interchangeable from left to right. Don’t do this at home, pitch the helmet and buy a new one…

I smiled knowingly at a photo sent to me by one of my sisters this past Christmas. Her husband is a construction manager who oversees huge construction projects. The picture was of him and his son-in-law both totally engaged in assembling the latest gizmo for the grandkids. They were totally engrossed in this project and laboring furiously as this device needed to be ready for action on a time table provided by the jolly man in a red suit, due any moment. Completing a multi million project on time and within budget is one thing but a race with Santa is something far more serious!

After retiring from the Patrol, it occurred to me that retired police officers were not particularly in demand as our skill sets were generally out of the mainstream of American commerce. I hired out, at 10 bucks an hour, to a general contractor, with the intent to learn to build a house from the dig-out to finish trim. It was a fascinating and instructive adventure. I then put these skills to use and contracted as well as participated in the build of our Truman Lake home. While I certainly wasn’t ready to begin contracting as a vocation, I took great satisfaction in knowing that I could do something with my hands besides cuffing a suspect or drafting an accident report. We have come a very long way from those days when my grandfather was the mechanic, carpenter and general handyman that we quickly google the services of today. I applaud those who can still function in today’s world without googling “the guy” to handle most of our tasks. I worry about the new generations who will never know the challenge of “some assembly required”. A week or so ago, while shopping for a new lawn mower, I watched a young couple negotiating the purchase of a mower for themselves. They wanted it “assembled” which in this case meant popping two bolts through the handle after extending it. The salesman told them that assembly was a flat 20.00 additional charge. That was okay and the deal was closed. This couple was not going to take the bait and opt for anything that required assembly.

They probably just finished assembling a set of steel shelves from Beijing, or Heaven forbid, a plastic garden box, some assembly required!

Arthritis, The Ultimate Bully….

Police officers, even those of us in remission, are trained to despise bully’s. We are what often stands between bully’s of all stripes and those that are bullied which presents a real problem for the bully as we are also trained to not lose in confrontations. That being said, I am writing this at 2 AM because my personal bully, arthritis, is on the job. My readers who suffer from any one of the hundred or so types of arthritis know what I am talking about, however; a review of this disease’s impact on our lives might prove interesting to everyone.

I have fought arthritis with every imaginable resource to include a terrific set of rheumatologists, one at the Cleveland Clinic and one in Springfield, two pain management specialists, again one at the Cleveland Clinic and one here, an orthopedic surgeon here in Springfield and my PCP. These efforts are directed to the management of the disease with no chance of curing it. As all sufferers know, there are bad days and days, well, that aren’t quite as bad. I have experienced two thumb surgeries to relieve pain, trading this relief for the strength normally found in a thumb. I have also experienced a series of x-ray guided injections in my lower back. The point here is that I am trying to keep old “Arthur” at bay.

Post surgical X-ray of my left hand.

Dr. Mathew Bunyard, of Cleveland Clinic fame, began our association by suggesting there is much that doctors know about arthritis and much more they do not. After an exhaustive head to toe examination, x-rays and extensive blood work, he concluded that my arthritis might be a type associated with European descendents afflicted with an anomaly in the way our bodies manage iron. My affliction is associated with the more common osteoarthritis as opposed to the more dangerous rheumatoid arthritis. After all of these medical interventions, we are left with two strategies to combat “Arthur”; symptom reduction and slowing the progression. The emphasis here is on symptom reduction, a strategy that presents a new set of problems as the medicines all have sometimes dramatic side effects.

I rely heavily on prescription strength NSAIDs. These medicines combat inflammation and provide pain relief. They are a two edged sword with the benefits being offset by gastrointestinal bleeding and a negative impact on cardiac function accompanied by an increase in stroke probability. The second approach involves powerful pain relievers, such as Tramadol, a synthetic opioid believed to be a safer option in terms of dependence and abuse. Tramadol works very well, however; you cannot set foot in the cockpit of an airplane while taking it, even though I seem to function normally. There are a few drugs that are thought to slow the progression of Arthur, but their efficacy is questionable.

Next comes the diet approach. There are a number of theories here, often contradicting each other. Generally you should adopt the Ewell Gibbons (of Grape Nuts fame) approach, eating rocks and sticks and other stuff that is disgusting. One should avoid baked goods, sugar in any form, red meat, fried foods, salt, refined grains, cheese and corn oil. Even some vegetables, such as tomatoes, are not in your best interest. Apparently boiled eggs and kale are your go to treats! I am not handling this approach very well.

Although counter-intuitive, exercise in moderation is thought to be very good for those of us in relationships with Arthur. I am fine with this premise, although some gym functions are not pleasant, especially ones that involve the hands to any extent. Exercise also falls under the heading of “two edged sword”, just as the meds do. Grin and bear it….

Now, how does Arthur impact my daily life. I have given up most forms of fishing as I do not have the dexterity to tie a Palomar knot or decent blood knot. Handling a 2# tippet is out of the question. In addition to the dexterity necessary to handling terminal tackle, I cannot handle a trolling motor pedestal for much more than a few minutes. With weakened hands, I imagine I would look like a harpooned walrus trying to get back in the boat after tumbling out, an event that has happened on occasion. The simple manipulation of a rod and reel is accompanied by pain, especially aggravating if the conditions are cold. I am incapable of putting more than 4 rounds of ammunition into a pistol magazine without relying on one of the many excellent load assist devices on the market. It is a race when I mow the lawn, with the pain in my feet and toes competing with the hand pain that begins building immediately after the mower is started. I love yard work, however, there is a price to be paid when outside. I am determined to ride the Harley as long as I can, but even short trips challenge Arthur to a duel. My clumsy footwork does not lend itself to the smooth flying of an airplane on those days when I am not taking a med for pain control. I am adapting but refuse to concede in this conflict.

One in four Americans will suffer from some form of arthritis. I absolutely do not feel sorry for myself as there are many who are in far worse shape. I can remember a time when I had little respect for this malady, thinking it to simply be an inconvenience. I can assure you that Arthur is a monumental pain in the butt, a world class bully. In a final attack on the dignity of people suffering from Arthur, many specialists now believe that coffee aggravates this malady.

Oh hell no……I am having none of that!