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Sunday, February 2, 2014

My Colonoscopy Journal


As my wife (or just about anyone else I know will tell you) I hate doctors. I classify them as a necessary evil on society. A blood sucking bunch who generally thrive off the misfortunes of others (or is that attorneys.... but I digress) to have us help pay off those ridiculous student loans they took out in their youth. So when I tell you I have been blowing off a colonoscopy for 10 years....you can understand my apprehension whenever the subject comes up.

Hey, I've read all the literature. Yes, I know it's important, I know the incidence of colon cancer is high and a real killer of men and women when left undiagnosed. But I, like many folks apparently, have an innate distrust of anyone that suggests introducing anything to traverse my Who-Who. As my doctor rattles on about the advances in the medical procedure, the minor inconvenience of drinking the colonoscopy cool aid and having your insides violently ejected from your inner being, my eyes roll back and I have flash-backs of the movie "Fantastic Voyage (1966)" and visions of Rachel Welch making a wrong turn and exiting out my butt instead of the eye. Ain't happening!

My wife, on the other hand, has always been quite the cheer leader for the medical community and I have gotten the speech and disagreeable stares about once a year when the question comes up about getting it done. I have always dodged and weaved the discussion by reassuring her I will contact my medicine man and get an appointment. We have this unwritten code that she asks, I nod my head in a serious manner and that's the end of it for the next 365 days.

Then a peculiar thing happened. A co-worker of mine (one of those damn rule followers who just turned 50) was extolling the virtues of this colonoscopy God who had done the procedure on him the day before and had nothing but great things to say about the experience. He was now on a crusade to get everyone he knew to get a colonoscopy from this guy. When he learned I had yet to have the "C" experience, he picked up his phone and called the office and handed it to me to make an appointment. I am usually not that spontaneous but not wanting to appear scared (he did double-dare me which meant I had to respond....right?), I made the appointment.

The strange part was they didn't ask for an office visit prior to the procedure. I have been brought up to believe that all doctors wanted that first "get to know ya" visit to collect copious amounts of personal and medical histories to transmit to whatever secret Government office they report to and pad their bill. These folks asked several pertinent medical questions over the phone, got my medical plan information and gave me dates to choose from. It seems that, unless there is some serious underlying medical problem, they don't need to see you. Cool.

A few days later, I got a package from the doctors office with a prescription to fill and detailed instructions on how to prepare for the procedure. I had to get something called Supprep(I love their website)and the day before I had to mix a 6 ounce bottle with 16 oz of water and drink one at  5 pm, chase them down with two more 16 oz glasses of water over the next two hours. I needed to do it again at 9 pm. The whole time not eating anything only drinking clear fluids (including soda and broth). Sounded easy.

Mind you I had heard all the horror stories of drinking gallons of bad tasting gunk but this stuff didn't taste like anything and had a little after taste I compared to the after taste of a cherry Fizzies(anybody remember those?). I downed the two glasses of water immediately and waited for a reaction. I didn't have long to wait. I took the time (because thats what I do) to read the two page information brochure which has this very medical explanation of what happens next and I quote,(big word alert!)" 12.2 Pharmacodynamics: The osmotic effect of the unabsorbed ions, when ingested with a large volume of water, produces a copious watery diarrhea." That was an understatement.

Exactly one hour later, I was quietly reading and got this distinctive urge to go to the bathroom. I assumed the position and indeed produced a copious watery mass that I can only describe as a "double flusher" if you know what I mean. For a moment I contemplated the possibility that something unintentional might exit as well. Quickly as it happened...it was over. Taking the second dose at 9 had the same but a lesser reaction. I felt good enough and confident enough to go to bed and slept through the night.

The next morning, I made breakfast for Dianna and strangely didn't feel hungry at all. We drove to an out-patient surgical center and checked in. Promptly at the appointed hour, I went to the pre-op room and disrobed into my gown, that really cool open back number. Besides I'm really not that into plaid. I thought the cap was a nice touch too. Dianna joined me and proceeded to photograph my situation and update Facebook as she always does(but forgetting to mention WHY I was there...lots of inquiries followed).



We then met the anesthesiologist. Yes..thankfully they were going to knock me out. My guy walked up and after introducing himself proclaimed, "I am going to be your best friend today." I had to agree. He said he was going to introduce something into my IV he whimsically referred to as, "Jackson Juice" (a little thing called Propofol)which would cause me to fall asleep and not awaken until it was all over. Dianna and I said our goodbyes and the sleep doctor and nurse wheeled me into the operating room.

As they plugged me into various devices a young man entered the room. At first I thought he was lost and I was about to direct him to the waiting room to find his mom when he introduced himself as Dr. Agha the colonoscopy God and icon of the Institute for Digestive Health I had contracted with. He gave me a brief explanation of what he was about to do and asked if I had any questions. With my usual aplomb (and inappropriate sense of humor) I asked if he had an opportunity to clean the probe off from the last procedure. Without missing a beat...he said he had. I asked if he had to do that little "X marks the spot" Sharpie thing surgeons do to insure they're in the right place. Again, he quickly said that, in this case, it wasn't necessary (as many of my friends can atest to)I'm really starting to like this guy.

I was placed on my side and the sleep doctor said I should just breath deeply about six times to relax. I distinctly recall breathing in an out once, twice, three and , "Hey Nick, we're all done." I looked up at the clock and realized I had completely lost track of the last 45 minutes.

Back at recovery, Dr. Agha reported a textbook procedure. He had photos of my inner workings and gave me a quick guide to the colon and intestines. I noticed some of the pictures were bright and some looked rather dark. The good doctor smiled and explained he first traverses the entire colon with light then (and yes, he actually seemed excited to report, almost giddy really), "I turn on my "polyp scope" and look for polyps on the way out...see...here's one" like he was holding up a prize Bass. He also proudly remarked I had done an outstanding job on flushing myself which made his job easy. I asked if I could get a sticker or something to that effect (don't laugh, Dianna reported that they sent another guy home because he hadn't done it right). Again....without missing a beat he said they were out of stickers. Damn it!



Back into my clothes we were back in the parking lot two hours later. On the way home, thinking now of food, we agreed to get Cowboy Chicken take-out (I, of course, got the grilled chicken salad and Dianna got the cut up whole rotisserie chicken, twice baked potato and sweet potato casserole, lots of leftovers for lunches) for my much anticipated convalescence.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Grandson



So there we were dead asleep at 2 AM when our lives changed forever. No we didn't hit the Lotto (although that would have been pretty cool) but we did get the call our daughter was in labor with our first grandchild. Well...... I should say I got a call after missing two texts from them. Seems my last iPhone update set my "Do not disturb" setting to "on" which muted everything except calls from my "Favorites" phone category between 12 AM and 5 AM. Who knew?

Baby's Coming Code
I rarely get calls at that hour so fearing the worst (son in jail, somebody in a wreck, or the cancellation of NCIS or General Hospital) I grabbed my phone and answered.

I was rewarded with the voice of my dear daughter who, rather calmly, told me she was in labor and they were at the hospital. My wife was now sitting upright in the darkness taking this all in. When I hung up she sprang up and headed for the bathroom to dress. I said she had just gotten there and it might be hours before anything significant might occur. She turned and returned to bed briefly before stating it was now impossible for her to go back to sleep so we were going. There was a, "You don't have to go....I can go and call you when things get going." I have been married for quite some time and I know a trap when I see one. You know, like when they ask," Does this make me look fat?". I'm sure this was a test of some kind and I wasn't falling for it. I did what any man in my position would do, well the smart ones anyway. Got up, got ready to go and off we went into the cold dark night.

The trip to Centennial Hospital was thankfully uneventful. Recall we were just coming out of the throws of a major ice storm event and although it was still below freezing (aka "butt cold"), the roads had a chance to thaw enough to make the roads passable.


After reaching her room and exchanging some pleasantries (really...what kind of chit-chat can you conduct when some one is having contractions every two minutes) we left her to further gestate. We then returned to the darkness of the "Family Waiting Room" and proceeded to watch Jim Belushi in Animal House and then the live broadcast of Nelson Mandella's funeral which turned out to being covered by EVERY network on cable. Not the waiting room kind of entertainment to while away the hours with.


Well 2 AM became 6 AM and the garage door just wouldn't budge. The contractions subsided but with her water broken she wasn't going home so new Dad Rob let us know they were in a holding pattern until things progressed. With Rob camped out bedside, we decided to split up and head home. I had to go to their Savannah community home to retrieve their dogs and get them to our house for safe keeping. Dianna was heading home to get back online and get some mortgage loan work done (damn that Internet ball and chain).

Roads out west toward Denton were still a little dicey as I made my way in the darkness that is US 380. It was rather surreal in that the darkened landscape was broken with the staccato of bright flashing emergency lights flickering off various cars and trucks akimbo in the bar ditches alongside the road, victims of the evil black ice that formed in what my dashboard temp gauge said was 17 degrees.


Buffy
Peanut
I was able to navigate my way to their house and after corralling Peanut and blind Buffy (kind of sounds like the name of a jazz act) I slipped and slid my way back to our Frisco hostel. Of course, now with four crazed dogs (Peanut, Buffy, Marley and Jenna) confined to the interior of our first floor, it was bedlam and I could see Dianna was not getting much work done tending to Peanut and Buffy. Both seemed to be unusually high-maintenance compounded by Buffy's blindness skittering around bumping into our unfamiliar abode was nerve racking for the similarly anxious future grandmother. So my reaction was.... to abandon her to the chaos (I know....bad husband). In my defense, I did need to get Buffy's medication I had forgotten earlier and to make a rocket run to the Cracker Barrel Restaurant in Denton at US 380 and the I-35.  Somebody had to do it.

Ok....for those of you who don't know, I was not there for the weekday special (Monday - Friday: Grilled Chicken Country House Salad with choice of baked potato or cup of soup...yeah, I checked). But they do have a selection of pretty well made rocking chairs for sale in the store. You see, when Nicole was born we had a rocking chair I had given Dianna as a gift several years before. It came in handy during those 2 o'clock feedings I did when I got home from my 6 PM to 2 AM Patrol days which allowed Dianna to sleep through the night in those early days (I know....what a great guy). The decision had been made (well...Dianna decided) to get Nicole a rocker when she had her baby. Due to the uncertainty of her delivery date (I believe the last time we had a definitive answer was "sometime in December") we had procrastinated and not gotten out to the restaurant to pick one up.

With the sands of the hourglass slipping away...it became imperative we acquire one before Nicole returned home so since I had to drive halfway there to pick up Buffy's meds, it seemed to be an efficient use of my time so I made the round trip and got the chair too.....and conveniently extend my time away from the menagerie which had become our home.


That done, I arrived just in time to learn the situation had changed and the decision had been made for Nicole to have a c-section to end her now 14 hour labor. This delivery was a replay of Dianna's labor back on that incredibly hot 4th of July in 1984 with Nicole. She too was heading into her 16th hour of labor when the OB gave her two options, continue to labor and have Nicole sometime in August or do the c-section and be done with it. She practically tore the pen from the doctor's pocket protector to sign the consent form with the promise of immediate pain meds to stop the contraction pain.



So we headed back to the hospital to see her prepped and wheeled out to the delivery room. It turned out to be a short wait. She left around 6:35 PM and they wheeled the baby out around 20 minutes later. We followed the pediatric nurse to the post delivery room where Rob got to help weigh and measure the little dude where we learned Rob Jr was 8 pounds, 7 oz and 19.2 inches long.



We watched her poke, prod, stretch and medicate the little man with a practiced hand. It looked like she had done this before, no wasted movement. When she was done, we learned Nicole had already made it back to the room and was taking visitors. All in one hour. Amazing.

Baby was quickly reunited with new mom for the first breast feeding and the rest is history. I can assure you there were many photos and videos documenting every yawn and wince baby Rob produced. I think I got a case of repetitive motion syndrome just snapping away on my iPhone. And it's just his first day of life.

So now we begin a new phase of our lives as new grandparents to our grandson Robert Xavier Orbe (pronounced Orbee)Jr.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Freeze of 2013

The winter residence Friday Morning
Here we are the first full weekend of December embracing the 72nd commemoration of Pearl Harbor Day and we're stuck at home. For those of you who missed it (like you Southern Californians), we encountered an unusual weather event for Texas. A massive cold front rolled out of the northwest (those darn Canadians) and met enough moisture to rain then turning to sleet which stuck with accumulations of several inches in some spots. Overnight temperatures dipped down to the teens making all those ice crystals meld together into a giant sheet of ice with all the downed power lines and slippery highway chaos that goes along with it.
Nicole's dog Peanut discovering snow

Now it does freeze from time to time in Texas but it's a rare moment when ice storms blanket such a large area and virtually shut down most of North Texas.  Luckily (if you want to call it that) it was a well established fact early in the week and many businesses and schools had already decided to close prior to anybody having to suffer the roadways. The downside was that we were forced to remain cooped up in our Frisco winter residence for the duration.

For Dianna this was a mixed blessing. Her new job means her office is our home. She works remotely over the Internet (thanks Mr. Gore) so she doesn't have to drive the treacherous roads but it does mean she has no excuse not to work because of the weather. My job at the Courthouse was cut off based on the local school district deciding to close Friday morning. We were now landlocked with only our wits and the food we had in the house (and the copious amounts of alcohol) to help us survive. I wonder how it would have gone if the power hadn't stayed on.


This caused quite a stir with the dogs in that they are primarily outside dogs and are clearly confused by having to remain indoors. However the confusion disappears when it's time to go out for potty breaks. They clearly have a need until the door opens. Jenna (the white Lab mix) is a bit more heartier than her brother Marley (chocolate Lab) and runs out to the slip-n-slide that our backyard has become. Marley feels nature calling and reluctantly makes a dash out onto the frosty ground to do his business and dash back to the back door and the inner warmth it provides. Marley is all southern dog....no Yankee in that K-9 what-so-ever.

And there is our new found discovery about Marley's flatulence. Being an outside dog, we had not realized our dog has been struggling intestinally. This didn't become evident until the afternoon of the first day. I always feed them their main meal early in the morning before work and give them a half bowl when I get home. On normal days we bring them in at bedtime. Once they started staying in full time, we began to notice a periodic release of toxic gas that would permeate the room and drive us out. This became so regular an occurrence, we instituted a regular regimen of sending Marley outside at the slightest eye contact he made with either one of us. He would be lying there quietly when, without warning, a sharp odor would rise up, a kind of brain-freeze would occur as it enters your sinuses.  I feared the heater might kick-on and ignite something. Beside smoke and carbon monoxide detectors...I think someone needs to develop an animal methane detector. Forget about your cow flatulence...this could be the answer to the whole Greenhouse Gas dilemma Al.

Thus we are now contending with the fact Dianna and I are housebound and can't get away from each other. This has been born out when we both are occupying the kitchen. Some of you may know our kitchen is enormous. The center island is big enough to launch small airplanes. So imagine both of us tottering around this cavernous chamber and unable to avoid each other. The common interception point is the Keurig coffee machine. I seem to always be underfoot as she throws another K-cup into the device. More complication was added when I chose to expand the dogs horizons by opening up their normal range of master bedroom and living room to include the kitchen. They could be dead asleep but when they hear us move into the kitchen they are up and roaming right behind us, virtual shadows. They quickly get underfoot while Dianna is trying to pour a new glass of wine or make some coffee. It may be they just love us very much and want to be apart of our wandering but I'm just as sure they are hoping we'll take pity on their predicament and hand them a Scooby snack.

Now, Dianna and I have not been arguing or giving those dart like stares yet but that could be coming. See I decided to utilize my time in catching up on some baking and food preparation while Dianna worked and then settled down into some serious TiVo watching. You see this weather event coincided with a holiday tradition Dianna has had for years (since the invention of the VCR/DVR). My wife will record legions of Hallmark channel holiday movies starting at Thanksgiving all the way to New Years. You know those sappy holiday love stories where boy meets girl, girl (or boy in this politically correct world) gets dumped by boy and they miraculously meet again years later and rekindle their love and live happily ever after. Then there's the inevitable Santa crisis where he's unavailable and some mortal or elf takes over and makes Christmas happen. Lots of cute little kids with sad faces then bright smiles all around when they discover (again) that Santa is real and the world is a better place for it.

My M.O. for this is to sit and kibitz. I will point out the obvious flaws in the story line or scientific impossibilities which make Dianna roll her eyes and suggest I go write something for my blog or shovel the driveway....guess which one I picked. Hey....I'm a paid professional observer and I report what I see.

So I decided to do some baking and be responsible for preparing our meals (and try to stay out of her way). I whipped up one of my world famous Key Lime Pies to assuage her cabin fever as well as preparing lunches and dinners for my bride and I. So with a little help from the Food Channel and online, with the assorted ingredients from pantry and fridge, I made some tantalizing concoctions which have kept up our morale and energy up. Well, there was that first tragic attempt to make a scratch pie crust for a pecan pie filling we had on hand. It's really not too bad if you heat it up....hopefully the power will keep the microwave functioning.

As I write this it's still below freezing. So, as we look toward a new week we have to ask ourselves...will the ice break and life return to normal or will we run out of food and be relegated to just drinking our way through the rest of our imprisonment? Only time and our supply of vittles will tell.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Going Home

As Thomas Wolfe said, "...you can't go home again"  (or more poignantly, "you're always 17 in your home town", thanks Cross Canadian Ragweed 2002).  Well, of course you can.... but its always fraught with trepidation. When you've spent most of your life in one place, when you leave, you subliminally (with a very critical eye) always make silent comparisons with those new places like it matters or somehow your prior home will label you disloyal.

I recently returned home for a short visit with my Mom, Delia. It was her birthday and I needed to visit. It must be noted that I have been a bad son in that this will have been the only visit to her La Mesa home this year. Every year I promise her I will come often enough to relieve my conscious but something always comes up like work or other minor crisis that, in hind sight, really shouldn't have kept me from going but it helps me sleep at night to think I tried. There's got to be some Freudian theory to explain it (hopefully nothing involving cross-dressing) but there is some kind of block about visiting.

Seeing her is always a pleasure and even our phone calls (no....I don't call her enough either) are always fun when she describes in her broken English (Mom's originally from Mexico) her visits to church (devout Catholic with a capitol 'D'), her trials and tribulations with her sisters Mom's been labeled a "hoarder" because she likes to save sentimental stuff), as well as their little getaway trips together (recently to Solvaang, chocolate capitol of California where they got in trouble for being too loud after hours at the motel....those crazy septuagenarians).

As if to salve my tender emotions, I was able to work two things into my brief trip. It was the Veteran's Day weekend and one of my former co-workers at the San Diego District Attorney's Office was available for lunch. They were told to go home at noon to start their weekend early and Diane was able to meet me at one of our favorite places, Adams Ave. Grill . She had the Pot Roast and I had the Salmon Wrap sans tortilla. 

Each meal comes with dessert (chocolate cake...can't beat that with a  stick). We had a little over an hour to get current.  Her, step Dad passed away, no new man but new dog. Me, new job, first grandchild on the way, recent home improvements. It is always good to see Diane, she has this crazy infectious laugh that rises up from her diminutive center and has the ability to stop conversations across the room.

The second was my sister who was also able to drop down from Irvine. We spent a day together recalling old times, current events, looking at old pictures and generally cutting up. Beatrice and I have this innate ability of immediately connecting at our infrequent meetings (in the almost thirty years they've lived in Irvine, I have only been to their house twice..yeah, I know, bad brother too). But it seems like we immediately take up where we left off.

Of course, when I visit Mom, we have to go places to eat. She's 78 and her arthritic hips keep her from getting out much. She has a penchant for really bad Mexican food (she thinks Jack in the Box has great tacos...remember she's from Mexico) and seafood. So, on arrival, I took her for dinner at Red Lobster. I had the Tilapia and she had the coconut shrimp.

The following morning, she requested Mimi's Cafe in Mission Valley. A favorite breakfast place for her and Dad. After ordering, she remarked, "like father like son" (well, actually it came out, "you just like'a yur father"), he too was a pancake guy. The special was pumpkin pancakes with an apple compote drizzled (more accurately "poured") over the top. She had the Countryside Two-Egg Breakfast.

Sister arrived around brunch and we shared some homemade Tamales (the beef with salsa was awesome). My sister determined we needed to take a ride and Mom asked if we could cruise Del Mar. She wanted to scope out how to get there for a future foray with her sisters.

She also wanted to stop at Mt. Soledad for that panoramic view of La Jolla Shores but when we got there, there was a Veterans Day event going on at the summit and there was no parking so we just drove round and left. Some of you may be familiar with the on-going controversy over the monument and cross at the top of the mountain. Things have really settled down since the memorial was taken over by the Mt. Soledad Memorial Association

On the way back, we discovered that Chick-Fil-A (huge in Texas....relatively new to Southern California) had planted a restaurant in my old home town Santee (no...I didn't drive by my old house....that too is just too hard to do). Mom had never been and asked for a chicken sandwich. I had a salad but sister and Mom had their chicken salad sandwiches which Mom gave her approval and vowed to go back when she craved fast-food chicken.

This brings me back 'round to my feelings about visiting. It's just....well it's just depressing to be there. Don't get me wrong, I love Texas and all that comes with it.....but we left the fun and sun capitol of the world where all my favorite hangouts reside, people I grew up with, worked with and memories around every street corner. And the ocean. I really felt I was immune and didn't think it was a big thing until I came on this trip. Let me elaborate.

The night before I left, Dianna had sent me off with a wish to have me coat myself with the smell of the ocean so she could smell it when I arrived home. Dianna is a native San Diegan, born in La Jolla and spent most of her life within a short drive of the beach. She grew up in Linda Vista and I in Serra Mesa where, when the wind was right....you could smell the salt air penetrating the coastal plains and canyons that surrounded us. And, while we're on the subject...Mountains. To be fair, Texas does have a few high points like Guadalupe Peak (8,749 ft) and Bush Mt. (8,631 ft...no relation the either president)....but that's it. Yeah, yeah...there is Palo Duro Canyon and the like but the place is pretty flat the result of being a former ocean floor. If you're driving you can see where you're going to be three hours from now. San Diego geography varies from sea level to 6,140 feet (Palomar Mountain). All in the same County! But.... I digress.

To grant her wish, I decided to make a beach run on the way back to  the airport and get her some sand she could run her fingers through from the beach at the foot of the Ocean Beach Pier. As I knelt down to shovel a handful  of sand into a sandwich baggy (yes...people were watching me), I had a moment of regret that I was no longer a member of that part of the world and was acting like the classic tourist bringing home an obnoxious road-trip gift for a loved one. Like going to Florida and buying a stupid seashell you realize you could have picked up at the beach for free. I then returned, looking forlorn, bulging sandwich bag in hand, to my trusty Kia rental car for the trip back to the airport, the check-in and the ever-appealing security screening at the old Lindberg Terminal 2.

Typing away in the Gate 2 cafe sipping my Sweet Tea (yes, Texas has left it's mark on me) hearing, "Do I have to take off my shoes?" for the 800th time, I searched for answers of my own. Once boarded, I sought out a center seat over the wing (statistically the safest spot) and the fact I never got better than Zone C on Southwest. The flight attendant actually suggested that the letter C refers to the word "Center Seat" because if you're in that boarding group...all that's left are the center seats. He was right.

As I wended my way east, the quickly darkening skies driven by the time change added to my funk. I wondered aloud to my now snoring seat mates whether I would ever be able to let go of my old home and be content with where I am today. The answer struck me almost immediately. Home is where family is. Let's face it, we are the sum of what we've done, who we've met and where we've been so I will always be connected to those places and people. We are inseparable. And that's fine with me.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Key West


The run to Jacksonville was easy enough dropping the rental off and after saying goodbye to  my new friend Angela, easily made the gauntlet of security to my gate. A short hop got me to the vast Miami Airport. The flight to Key West was parabolic in that as soon as we got to altitude, the pilot turned on the seat belt sign and announced we were on final approach to Key West International.

Not being sure where Islamadora was became clear when Dianna picked me up. As it turned out, although advertising they were "close" to Key West, the resort was, in reality, about 78 miles north of Key West. Islamadora is a recently incorporated community made up of several small islands at the halfway point between Miami and Key West. So each day we returned to Key West, we had to make a 156 mile round trip, about a two hour drive one-way, along the mostly two laned but scenic US 1 Overseas Highway, always on the lookout for Key Deer (yeah...little cute things live on the island chain), with speeds that vary from 30 to 55 miles per hour. Thank goodness for unlimited mileage car rentals.

Right across the street from our resort, the Islander Bayside, was the  Green Turtle Cafe. First night I had the blackened Tuna and Dianna had the Tortellini and the bread pudding was melt-in-your-mouth good. The wine shop next door, thankfully, had just begun stocking Dianna's favorite Barefoot Moscato wine.

Key West is a fun place with lots to do. The name comes from the Spanish "Cayo Hueso" (Pronounced kayo weso]). It literally means "Bone Island" or "Bone Cay" (a low-lying island). When Ponce de Leon came by in 1513, the island seemed littered with the bones left by the former natives who did battle there. The southern most point in America and a stones throw from Cuba (90  Miles), Key West has always been a destination for tourists and criminals alike. Developing the Keys (and Florida for the most part) was due to Henry Flagler. Mr Flagler was the co-founder of Standard Oil and when he got out of the business decided to become a philanthropist. He did a lot of traveling and at one point made his way to Florida. He fell in love with the place and became it's biggest cheerleader. He decided to develop south Florida and began building a railroad from Miami to Key West.

This was  a daunting task and was frequently interrupted by hurricanes the worst of which was the big  storm of 1935. A giant sea surge and 200 mile-per-hour winds killed about 400 people, 300 of which were out of work WPA World War I Bonus Army vets recruited for the work. Islamadora has a memorial to the memory of those who lost their lives. US 1 is  the original roadbed of that railroad including some amazing over-water bridges the longest of which is the "7 mile bridge"  over open ocean.

Anybody who has visited an old port city will feel right at home. Lots of places to eat and drink and some museums and points of interest along the way. Our first venture was an afternoon run to catch a late lunch so we could get on board the Ghosts and Gravestone tour at 8 pm.

What you find out right away is that parking is at a premium in downtown Key West.  There is little, if any, street parking available and what's there is permit resident parking only. So we had to find pay public lots. I would recommend the parking structure at  the Westin resort. Very close to the main attractions, well lit and secure.

We made our way toward Duval which had most of the restaurant/bars. There we walked into Sloppy Joe's . Not the original restaurant but one of the most famous. The original bar is down the street where Captain Tony's Bar  is now and where Ernest Hemingway spent many a day and night drinking and hanging out with his friends. Ernie spent many years living in Key West where he penned several of his books. His home is a museum. Like most places in Key West kind of pricy but that day the live band was doing nothing but 70s and 80s tunes. Since the kids had gone back to school, there was a much older clientele there and we noted that many of the places we visited seemed to be catering to that generation.

We walked back toward Front Street and Mallory Square. Much of  that  area had been a Navy Base from 1823 to 1974. It began when Key West was purchased from Spain as an anti-pirating squadron to halt illegal trading of prohibited items and human trading within the Caribbean. It ultimately included a Sub base to patrol the straights between us and Cuba. There is also NAS Key West one of the first Naval Air Stations opened in 1917 that still operates today on the north-east corner of the island. Although Key West was part of Florida at the time of the Civil War (TWONA), it remained a Union held area during the war and assisted the Norths blockade of Southern ports.

Mallory Square was also ground zero for an attempt by Key Westerners to secede from America. You may recall the Conch (pronounced KONK) Republics efforts to leave the Union over a grievance with the Border Patrol. The Conch shell is a symbol of the city so much so that natives refer to themselves as "Conchs" and there is a tradition that when there is  a new birth, the family displays a Conch shell on a stick outside the home announcing the birth of a new Conch.

It was during the Cuban Boat Crisis where many Cubans were trying to make it to America to escape Castro's Cuba. At that time the rule was, if you could make landfall, you could claim asylum and we couldn't send you back. So the Border Patrol set up checkpoints in Key West forcing people to prove their citizenship whenever they got stopped. This caused a serious backlash and, unable to stop the abuse, many organized to secede and remove the Feds from their shores. There was even a brief battle in Key West harbor between the forces of the Conch Republic and the Coast Guard involving a lot of squirting water and firing of loaves of bread at the Coast Guard vessels. It was all in good fun and the Conchs did ultimately surrender to the Feds but it did bring the issue to the forefront and led to the cessation of the checkpoints. The Conch Republic still lives on with many residents and businesses still displaying the Conch Republic's flag around town. The battle has been celebrated every year since.

Oh yeah, the haunted tour...Anyone who has been to Key West hears the story about Robert the Doll. The doll belonged to artist and writer Robert Eugene Otto. Eugene was given the doll in 1906 by a Bahamian servant who was skilled in black magic and voodoo and was displeased with the family after they fired her. Soon afterward, it became clear that there was something eerie about the doll. Eugene's parents said they often heard him talking to the doll and that the doll appeared to be talking back. Although at first they assumed that Eugene was simply answering himself in a changed voice, they later believed that the doll was actually speaking.

Neighbors claimed to see the doll moving from window to window when the family was out. The Otto family swore that sometimes the doll would emit a terrifying giggle and that they caught glimpses of it running from room to room. In the night Eugene would scream, and when his parents ran to the room, they would find furniture knocked over and Eugene in bed, looking incredibly scared, telling them that "Robert did it!". In addition, guests swore that they saw Robert's expression change before their eyes.

Besides the usual stories of haunted places, our tour guide pointed out the large number of homes we passed that had blue colored ceilings to their porches. He explained that many Southerners suggest that blue porch ceilings originated out of the fear of "haints". Southerners have a name for the ceiling paint used on porches – the soft blue-green is referred to as “Haint Blue” (Sherwin Williams Paint has a listing...if I'm lying I'm dyin').

“Haints" are restless spirits of the dead who, for whatever reason, have not moved on from their physical world. Haint Blue, which can also be found on door and window frames as well as porch ceilings, is intended to protect the homeowner from being “taken” or influenced by "haints". It is said to protect the house and the occupants of the house from evil. According to the guide, a problem arises when people paint the blue prior to checking to see if any spirits are already in the home. See...it also works in reverse. Spirits apparently can't leave a house with Haint Blue on the outside so they get caught inside. Hopefully they're nice spirits....opps.


More about food....A word about Key Lime Pie. Both Dianna and I are big fans of Key Lime Pie since our first trip to Florida way back in the 80s. Now we found ourselves in the birthplace of the stuff. As you may know, the Key Lime, also known as the Mexican lime, West Indian lime or Bartender's lime is in a class all of its own. Much smaller than regular "Persian" limes you get at the store, the key lime ranges in size from a ping-pong ball to smaller than a tennis ball. The peel is thin, smooth and greenish-yellow when ripe. The flesh is also greenish-yellow and full of highly poly embryonic seeds (two or more plants from one seed). The interior is divided by 10 to 12 segments, quite juicy and has a higher acidity than regular Persian limes.

As it  turns out, there are many Key Lime Pie bakers in town claiming to be the best but I think we found the one. The Key Lime Pie Factory  at 412 Greene Street they make them right there in the shop and use 8 eggs in their recipe making them extra stiff, tangy and creamy. The graham cracker crust wasn't squishy and just crunchy enough to require you to push your fork through to snap off a piece. Awesome.

Our second day was to eat, walk and shop. Recalling most of downtown Key West was a Naval Base, there was an interesting stop we had to make. President Truman began a long standing  tradition for Presidents to visit the island. A former Officers Quarters on the base became a vacation spot known as the "Little White House".
Truman really liked the tropical feel of the place and made several trips there to relax and work. The Officer's Quarters had been a duplex but the Navy remodeled and combined the two making a 9,000 square foot home for the President. Truman began vacationing there in 1946 and most of the place and the furniture remain the same today. Several Presidents made it their vacation spot from Eisenhower to the Clintons. It was abandoned for 12 years when the Navy closed the base but was purchased by a private party who refurbished it as an historic landmark and occasionally still is used as a government retreat and meeting place. When the Secret Service needs the place, they station snipers on all the rooftops and make the local residents stay in  their homes with the curtains drawn.

Whenever we go to a place, we like to visit their cemetery. Cemeteries can give you a snapshot of a towns history and tells you more about how they might of lived. Key West has a traditional above ground cemetery typical of the coastal south. But more importantly it is the resting place of men caught in a terrible moment in history. It contains the remains of 62 of the 266 dead seamen from the Battleship USS Maine (229 are buried at the USS Maine memorial at Arlington National Cemetery).

The Maine had been stationed at Key West. Tensions were high between the Spanish still holding colonies in the Pacific (think the Philippines), Caribbean and especially Cuba. The Maine was anchored in Havana Harbor taking a break from it's anti-pirating and flag waving patrols when suddenly, on February 15th, 1898, the Maine inexplicably blew up and sank killing and injuring most of the crew. Until recently what was thought to be a limpet mine may actually be the result of a coal fire below decks causing an explosion.

Navy Plot
The nearest US military hospital was in Key West and all the dead and wounded were brought there. They quickly filled up the Marine Hospital so the Basilica of Saint Mary Star of the Sea Church school emptied classrooms and the wounded were cared for there. Those that died were buried in a beautiful plot at the Key West Cemetery. The result was a sense of Spanish treachery and with a cry of "Remember the Maine!, to hell with Spain!" (helped along by the sensational Yellow Journalism of Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst), America went to war with Spain, got Teddy Roosevelt up San Juan Hill (well actually, it was Kettle Hill), got Spanish holdings here and all over the Pacific, propped up the new Cuban government and set the stage for the Cuban Revolution and resulting in our continued embargo of that country for the last 60 years.

Definitely worth a return trip, we learned Key West is a popular stop for several cruise ships and that would provide us an easy return without airline tickets, paying for bags, the drive and worrying about parking.

And there is all that uneaten Key Lime Pie to get rid of.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

FLETC

As some of you know, I recently began working as a Court Security Officer with the Feds.  With my new job came an opportunity to attend training at the Federal  Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Georgia. It goes by it's acronym "FLETC" (pronounced "fletsy"). Try Googling Glynco and you may not find it. The address I got, using Glynco as the city, came up as unknown as well as Patty my Tom Tom GPS device. If you use the nearest large town Brunswick, Georgia you can locate it. I can only suppose this is some attempt by the Feds to mask the location so  the terrorists and zombies can't attack.


The Brunswick/Glynco area is coastal Georgia and a one hour drive each from the nearest major airports in Jacksonville, Florida or Savannah, Georgia. There are two major islands that form part of the coast, St. Simons and Jekyll Islands. Interestingly, on the drive up, I noticed a series of "wear your seat belt" signs on the I-95 once I got into Georgia. Is it just me or doesn't this sign kind of look like a sort of Confederate Flag looking thing?

FLETC sits on the former Glynco Naval Air Station established in 1942, a base for the Navy fleet of airships, commonly known as blimps, which patrolled the coast for marauding German submarines during World War II. There are still the tell-tale boxy structures typical of bases throughout the world interspersed with much more modern wood and stucco buildings and some of those temporary classroom buildings you may recall from elementary school. The facility is in the midst of a mature forest of moss shrouded Live Oaks and beautifully tall Southern Pines. But there is a real campus feel to the place with large Holiday Inn like dorm buildings, a student union center, a bank and a convenience store. They sell beer and wine as well as mixed drinks at the bar at the Student Center. Yes...they even have a Starbucks. It's a college for big people who just happen to have guns.

What is revealing is the sheer number of Federal agencies that train here. In  1970, training was handed over to the Department of the Treasury with the mission to standardize law enforcement training throughout the Federal Government. All agencies would utilize the facilities in Washington, D.C. except the FBI. In 1975, Glynco was selected to be the permanent facility and after 9/11 was absorbed into the Department of Homeland Security. About 134 agencies use FLETC as primary and recurrent training for hundreds of Federal agents and visiting foreign students from all over. There is a several acre driving tactics track on the northern perimeter as well as at least 6 weapons ranges all over the facility. There is a full mock Port of Entry and town I passed on my way to my Dorm. Everywhere you go, you cross paths with folks with all sorts of different uniforms from US Marshals to TSA, FEMA, NCIS, IRS to the Hoover Dam Police.

Dorm 185

Cool Room
Ok....before you hear it from anyone else, there is the story about my jog on the first morning and the matter of my getting lost. I had decided to continue my jogging while at school. See my first class began at 7:30 so I had calculated my run to include cooling off, showering, getting to the cafeteria for breakfast and arriving on-time for class. When I got there Sunday, I had reconnoitered the area to familiarize myself with my trusty map. Did I mention I had done all this in the daylight? Ok...I think you can see what's coming.   In the dark I began my run about 5:45 am and almost immediately stumbled upon a doe and her baby. I mean like 10 feet away. I was quite surprised to see I hadn't startled them at all. They seemed quite unimpressed seeing me dash by. Although mom did turn to watch me, I wasn't sure if it was out of an abundance of caution or merely Moms curiosity as to why this stupid human was out in the crushing morning Georgia coastal humidity at oh-dark thirty.

As I mentioned, the place is huge. I got well into my run making well intentioned right turns in my grand plan to arc my way back to the dorm.  Well...what seemed like a lot of time passed and now I realize I'm looking at stuff around me I no longer recognized. I zigged and zagged in a vain attempt to find something I recognized  but to no avail. Finally, I could see one of the entrance gates in the distance so I made my way there. I was met by one of the security guards and, not wanting to appear lost (yeah, that wasn't obvious), asked to verify directions back to Dorm 185. The guard (clearly aware of my plight) stifled a laugh and did his best Swamp People accent with a "whewww...you way off course...(pointing off into the darkness) its wayyyyy over that a way....you got a long ways to go."

I toddled off (I would say "jogged" but that would imply I had some athletic ability) with a renewed sense of direction. My speed increased as I checked my watch to see it was now 6:30 as the darkness gave way to the rising sun. I finally rounded the curve and into the lobby of my dorm as Mickey's hands moved toward 7 am. My carefully laid plan now shattered as I desperately tried to cool off by cranking the room air conditioner down to the "meat locker" setting. Jumping into the shower, I dried off as best I could, dressed and with time ticking away, completely forgot to shave. With my clothes still sticking to me like wallpaper, I got to my car and drove, sans breakfast, to my classroom and still got there five minutes late. Of course, I was the only one late and one of the instructors turned out to be my US Marshal boss for my Federal Court District. Perfect.

Classroom Building 216
Training consisted of the practices needed to keep the staff, the public and ourselves safe and secure within the courthouse. The best (and scariest) class involved the intricacies of identifying explosives and weapons that may make their way into our courthouse. The classroom work brought back to me that there are lots of bad people who use their skill and energy to purposefully injure or kill others to satisfy someone else's or their own agendas. The next morning we got to go to the ATF explosives range to watch and feel the concussions and heat of binary (combinations of chemical explosives), high and low explosives. In relatively small quantities that can easily be hidden on people and in their belongings. A lesson in why the TSA won't let you bring more than 3 ounces of a liquid onto an airplane. Sorry Dianna.

Spectacular as they were, it was both scary and humbling that a mistake on my part could cause some serious injury, death or at the minimum, substantial damage to the building I'm charged with protecting reinforced by lots of post explosion photos of suicide bomber incidents in the Middle East.

There was down time after class and many of us made our way to  the surrounding towns to eat and drink. In class, I met up with another new CSO, Angela Blanchard working at the Federal Courthouse in Lafayette, Louisiana. Angela was, interestingly, the only female in our class and reinforced the  fact our work doesn't seem to attract many women. Not that the Cafeteria (and it's never ending supply of free food) was inadequate, but we had to venture out to try the local fare. I had a rental car so we made our way to dinner on nearby St. Simons Island on two nights. St. Simons (as well as Jekyll Island) are outer bank islands about 20 minutes from FLETC. It is a very scenic place with tree lined roadways shrouded with hanging moss so typical of the south.


We tried a place called Mullet Bay . It was a great place and we decided to eat on the outside patio. Although it was a little warm and humid, it was quite pleasant with the evening breeze out of the east fanning us as we people-watched folks passing on Ocean Blvd. I had the Tilapia and an appetizer of Jalapeno poppers. Angela had the Calamari as an entree and fried green beans (way good).

After passing our written test and preparing to leave the next morning, the last night we returned and took in the Blue Water Cafe. A second floor dining room gave a wonderful view of the bay overlooking the pier. I had the meat loaf and Angela had the Fish Tacos. Margaritas all around. Terrific food and service.


Memorial to Fallen Federal Officers
Rising at oh-dark thirty, we loaded up our stuff in the rental then Angela and I made our way back to the Jacksonville Airport. I had re-arranged my itinerary to head to Key West, Florida. See.... several months prior,  Dianna had scored a great hotel deal in Islamadora, Florida on LivingSocial. The online deal called for four days on the way to Key West. It was set to expire at the end of September. But then my training trip to FLETC came up the first week of September. So we decided to travel separately and meet in Key West when I got done in Georgia. Reworking my itinerary was crazy with changing costs and fees but we were able to finally hook up at the Key West airport on Thursday morning.