One veteran’s view: Houston VA parking worse than ever

Yesterday I hit the big 6-0. I suppose now that I am officially an old man means I should be grumpy. Well, I’ve got new for you. I’ve been grumpy for a long time now.

One matter which gripes me today that has pissed me off for a number of years now is the parking situation at the Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Houston.

It has been quite awhile since veterans who use the Houston VA hospital were told of progress in, if not alleviating the parking problems, making a dent in the chaos which now seems worse than ever. In 2013, the head of the Houston VA hospital crowed about how well the parking situation has been handled by instituting a valet service:

“First and foremost, we encourage all Veterans coming here for an appointment to take advantage of our free Valet Parking service,” said Adam C. Walmus, the Houston VA hospital director.  “The Valet allows Veterans to exit their vehicles in front of the Medical Center and come right in.  You really can’t beat that.”

Can’t beat it, huh? Why yes you can, Doctor. You can beat it all to hell and we will likely keep seeing the same old, same old problem.

Houston VA Hospital: The more things change the more they look like things.

Houston VA Hospital: The more things change the more they look like things.

When one walks up to the main entrance of the hospital a long line of non-moving automobiles is the first thing that is seen. That would be your valet parking. That sight, plus another vision greeting patients is the number of seemingly disorganized individuals who wander around like lost geese and who are looking for the car they are to take to the valet parking lot. Those would be your “valets.”

The parking situation confronted upon driving into the hospital complex is not “us vs. them” but instead, “patients vs. employees.” It appears that half of the parking spaces is for the employees with another area for various transportation and doctors close to the hospital. Then there is the valet parking in which the lost individuals seen at the entrance turn into dangerous-looking people who seem as if they would start banging on your car if you even thought about entering their lot.

Then, there is the patient lot. Actually, it is more than one lot, or so it appears, but nothing is in certainty there because there is usually only one gate with cross arms open. Most of the time, well, some of the time, a patient can take a ticket from the dispenser, the gate opens and you can park. Some of the time. And then after an appointment, the clinic where you see a medical person will validate that ticket. Some of the time. More often than not there is a VA police officer who will let you in so that you may park. Some of the time.

I give the preface “Some of the time” because it is honest. Prior to an appointment a couple of weeks ago, I spent 45 minutes driving around in circles within the parking lot. Luckily, the clinic I went to had understanding staff. It was at my appointment where a couple of nurses said patients were not the only ones doomed to a parking lot hell. These employees said they both will have to drive around for minutes at a time in order to find a space.

If the patients can’t find a place to park and the nurses can’t find a place, then who can park?

I became so upset driving endlessly around that day I finally called the VA police, who are over parking. I had once sent a complaint about the parking and a sergeant called and told me that things were improving. That was a couple of years ago. This time another lady, I don’t remember her name or title, actually came out to help me find a parking spot. I don’t know if her action came from actual concern or if it had anything to do with my statement that I was about to call the Houston TV stations and have them out here to do a story.

The unnamed lady finally had the police let me through a barricade and I was able to park in a spot that was set aside for emergency room visitors. There was a limit of 30 minutes of parking in that spot but I was told not to worry. That didn’t stop me from worrying, of course. But when I reemerged a couple of hours later, my truck was still parked there, unmolested.

I don’t know why parking has grown so out of control at the Houston VA. Maybe many more veterans are being seen, something I have heard but have not yet verified, or the person or persons responsible for the “improvements” in the department of parking affairs were incompetent. Maybe there is are a little bit of both factors at play combined with those forces of which I do not know. That is certainly possible because the VA has become a seemingly less transparent agency than in the past.

A new multi-space garage is supposedly under construction. It was seen some time ago as if it was the answer to all problems. Although, it might just be that the facility could become obsolete as soon as it is finished.

I don’t know if it ever occurred to those in charge of the hospital or its parking that having to drive around in circles for nearly an hour is definitely not helpful for one’s mental health. I am no doctor, but I would guess such stress can’t be healthy for a patient’s physical well-being either. Just as I am chewing on a piece of jerky right now, perhaps those folks in charge of parking or the hospital or both need to chew on this problem for awhile. Or might I say, may they might need to do even more chewing.





In case you wondered, I’m on vacation!

First leg of my leave was Biloxi/Gulfport in coastal Mississippi. The first two years or more of my Navy years were here in Harrison County, Miss. This was just one place I frequented. I will write more when the spirit moves me!

The Three Rivers area near Gulfport, MS. The sandbars and cold water brought us Navy boys to the Little Biloxi River, north of Gulfport, MS. This is one place I found in searching for my old haunts this weekend.

The Three Rivers area near Gulfport, MS. The sandbars and cold water brought us Navy boys to the Little Biloxi River, north of Gulfport, MS. This is one place I found in searching for my old haunts this weekend.


Area Coast Guard officer faces wide range of possibly harsh punishments

UPDATE: A U.S. Coast Guard panel found Coast Guard Chief Warrant Officer Richard M. Clark innocent of all charges with the exception of conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman. The information on a sentence was not immediately known.

(Note: As happens sometimes, I edited after a previous version was published accidentally. If you are confused, well, sorry.)

“It suffices to add “military” to a word for it to lose its meaning. Military justice is to justice what military music is to music.” Georges Clemenceau.

Whether area Coast Guard Chief Warrant Officer Richard M. Clark will feel that way in eventual proceedings remain to be seen.

The above quote was attributed to Clemenceau, who was twice elected as French Prime Minister during the first bloody 20 years of the 20th century. The total saying is perhaps more important than its latter sentence part, which came to “modern” usage during the Vietnam War.

The late journalist Robert Sherill penned a book named for that latter sentence of the French leader’s quote. I bought “Military Justice Is To Justice, As Military Music Is To Music” in a bargain book bin most likely in Mississippi during my first Navy assignment. The book explored a number of military justice cases which were widely seen as unjust if not abominable. It was a book I kept in mind as I worked in my second assignment which was a legal yeoman on a destroyer based in San Diego. It is a book I would recommend for any young person who is joining or has recently joined the armed forces.

I was what today would be seen as a “paralegal” in civilian terms. I only saw so-called “non-judicial punishments” which could land one in some hot water, but mostly the hearings which were conducted by a unit or ship commander is similar to misdemeanors in the non-military world. It would be some 30 years later before I saw a court martial. I was then a newspaper reporter and those accused were Army soldiers tried at Fort Hood, Texas. One military court was that of Spc. Charles Graner, who was allegedly the ringleader of abuses that took place at Abu Ghraid in Iraq.

Clark, now serving in Galveston, might indeed see hard time if convicted for the charges he faces. His sentence might possibly even eclipse the six and a half years of a 10-year sentence Graner served in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Certainly, any victims in the Clark case might hope so. But one never knows what a court martial panel, the military jury, will hand out.

The charges against Clark allegedly happened while he was stationed in Port Arthur, Texas, in my county and about 15 miles from where I live. The warrant officer faces:

  • Five counts of aggravated assault with a loaded weapon.
  • Three counts of assault and battery.
  • Two charges of sexual assault and aggravated sexual contact.
  • One count of DWI.
  • One count of obstruction of justice.
  • Four counts of conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman.

The specifications, as the above mentioned counts of an article, included in an updating of Article 120, Rape, in the “Uniformed Code of Military Justice.” The definitions of the article now incorporate more widely used terms in the civilian justice system such as aggravated assault. The areas of sexual assault are also broadened, or are more specific. This includes touching and what is known in the civilian world as “date rape.”

A particularly quaint definition of “sexual act” has also been broadened. The definition during my time read: “Penetration, however slight, is sufficient to complete the offense.” Today, the definition of a sexual act is:

 (A) contact between the penis and the vulva or anus or mouth, and for purposes of this subparagraph contact involving the penis occurs upon penetration, however slight; or

 (B) the penetration, however slight, of the vulva or anus or mouth, of another by any part of the body or by any object, with an intent to abuse, humiliate, harass, or degrade any person or to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person.

 It is definitely more graphic.
Clark’s case was referred after an Article 32, which is similar to a grand jury investigation. He faces a general court martial where punishment options for those offenses Clark alleged committed range from fines, bad conduct and dishonorable discharge, to hard labor in prison.
Defendants in a court martial can have an appointed military attorney as well as a civilian attorney at no cost to the government. And something to remember, as the Coast Guard release rightly points out:
 “Charges are accusations against the individual and the accused is presumed innocent unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt by the military justice system.”

I brake for accident victims

Yesterday was pretty odd. I may write more about a couple portions of yesterday that deserve more thought and time. I’ll just leave it at that before I start explaining myself.

I stopped to get a late lunch at James Coney Island in east Houston after visiting the VA Hospital for more tests. Upon leaving I eased onto the far outside lane of the Interstate 10 access road. It looked like smooth sailing as a long line of cars were interested in the lanes which turned left and underneath an overpass of the street that intersected. I saw one reason for the cars turning left.

There was someone flat on his back in the middle of the access road just maybe a few feet from the cross street. I drove by the person. I looked at him and looked at what was a crushed bicycle on the side of the road. There was at least one young guy who stood next to the victim. But that was about it. I decided to stop and see what, if anything, I could do.

As I later explained to a Houston cop and a volunteer firefighter who stopped at the scene, I was once certified as an emergency medical technician for about 10 years. There didn’t seem to be much I might do that would help this young man on his back, helmet on his head, and a cell phone to his ear. The prostrated young cyclist was laughing when I approached him. That unnerved me for just a second. But he was telling someone on his cell who might have been his mother that he had been hit by a truck. Then he started crying. I quickly saw why.

The other young man, who was standing, was on the phone as well. It sounded as if he was trying to tell 911 what was happening. It turned out that this fellow was driving the truck that struck the man on the ground. I quickly saw that the victim’s right foot was not where a normal foot might be had he been merely lounging on the access road. His foot was a good 30 degrees from normal. It’s very likely his ankle was either broken or was dislocated.

I tried and succeeded in asking the victim if he was hurt anywhere other than his foot or leg. He said it was just his leg.

I couldn’t help but notice that his bicycle helmet had some kind of black marks on it. These may have been a portion of the tire tracks from the yellow truck that hit the bike rider. I didn’t touch his helmet. I didn’t touch anything. This is because, first, do no harm. I wanted him as immobile as possible so the ambulance people could get him on a back board and onto the “bus.” I did try to look in his eyes. I looked for signs of a possible head injury because it seemed at least a bit of the helmet seemed to have taken a hit. His eyes looked okay and nothing, not even blood, seemed as if it was coming out anywhere. That could be a bad sign, or a good one.

A fire truck finally came up with what I knew were paramedics. I asked the cop if he needed me for anything else. He asked if I saw the accident and I told him I didn’t. I decided it was time to get going. The officer thanked me for stopping.

I didn’t know what to say to the victim. I started to walk off but said something like “Hey, take care, bud.” The victim said: “Thank you, sir.”

Those words made it seem like I had done something to help. Well, I guess I did in just being with the victim and taking an interest in him. Whatever it was, he seemed to appreciate whatever I did to help.

What a day. I have a feeling the injured guy was going to be okay once he was all looked over and fixed up by the medical people.

I took away a couple of lessons from that scene. First, if you are in doubt as to whether or not to stop for an accident then maybe you should stop. You don’t have to go into full rescue mode. Second, and this one is for me as well: wear a helmet.


Thoughts of disgust from an unrepentant band-wagoner

HOUSTON — Damned Astros! I hadn’t intended to watch the Astros this year. When the team changed from the National League where they had been for, forever, to the American I said that is it. I will no longer watch them or like them. I like the Texas Rangers okay. They are American League with their designated hitters. That’s fine. But the Houston of Mike Scott and Nolan Ryan and Larry Dierker and the Killer Bs. They were born National League – the National League of the slugging pitchers and no DLs.

But alas, I fell into the bandwagon. The Astros were contenders for most of the year and they got into the playoffs the hard way, with a wild card berth.

As of this morning the Houston team was leading the series and could have finished off Kansas City this afternoon. And it looked as if that would happen with the Astros leading 6-to-2 at the bottom of the seventh inning. Oh, but the Royals came back in the final two innings to ensure no joy was to be seen in Mudville. The mighty Astros had struck out. KC lived to play another game as they whipped Houston like a rented mule 9-to-6.

It seems most Houston sports teams cannot finish the deal. Maybe some of the Rockets round ball teams are excepted. Maybe it’s this damned humidity that Houston gets from its sub-tropical geography. But it seems those teams always play like hell, only to have themselves passed up at the end and left bloody — in this case on the diamond of Minute Maid Park.

Game 5 starts after 7 p.m. Central Wednesday, Oct. 14, at Ewing M. Kauffman Stadium in KC. The temperatures will be mild with mostly clear skies says the Weather Bureau. Maybe the Astros will remember why they are there. It is for something called “winner take all.”

Let’s not even talk about the American League Championship Series, or, heaven forbid the World “Freakin'” Series. Not yet. But if the Astros get as far as either one, yes, I will be band-standing with the best of them.


McCarthy leaves the House Speaker race. Now what?

That already disorderly body of folks known as the Republican House members went ever farther off the tracks this morning with the announcement Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., — the front-runner for the job — would not seek the Speaker position.

McCarthy recently let the cat out of the bag that his party in Congress had purposely held hearings on the Benghazi episode to discredit the front-running Democratic candidate for the presidential race, Hillary Clinton. Oops! McCarthy told members he didn’t want to be a burden in the process of picking one of the most important seats in government. He said he didn’t want to make electing a speaker hard for members.

Two other top GOP House members had announced they too coveted the Speaker’s job: Reps. Jason Chaffetz of Utah and Daniel Webster of Florida. Chaffetz is known for his chairing the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, other than that, he bears a striking resemblance to a cartoon chipmunk. Webster is less known, despite a namesake who was a key antebellum orator and statesman who served in the Whig Party. The living Webster was a former Florida House of Representatives speaker. Whether he was elected on name recognition only is not known.

The Hill is reportedly all abuzz. That would be Capitol Hill, not the publication, flabbergasted over this sudden eruption in Republican leadership. The two announced candidates would not make me feel secure were I Republican. No one knows much about Webster other than his Florida House history which included his involvement in the Terri Schiavo case.

Obviously, Chaffetz is questionable as a House Speaker candidate due to the recent scandal over the Secret Service accessing the congressman’s personal file that noted when he applied for a job with the agency in 2003. He was turned down for that job for what was allegedly a “Better Qualified Applicant.” Some 45 Secret Service officials are known to have seen the file. So far, no information has come forward that tells the reason Chaffetz was rejected for the position he sought.

No front-runners have emerged since today’s announcement by McCarthy that he was dropping out of the Speaker’s race. Although I have not been in a position lately to speculate who might be a winning candidate, I know of a good many congressmen — about 425 or so and from all parties — I wouldn’t recommend.


I don’t care, I don’t care, said Jimi

Some days are just meant for a meaningful tune. The problem is, I am not sure why the tune I think of, Jimi Hendrix’s “If 6 Was 9” is so meaningful. I think to myself why is it meaningful to me?

YouTube Preview Image

 “If the sun refuse to shine

I don’t mind, I don’t mind …

If the mountains, fell in the sea

let it be, it ain’t me

Alright, ‘cos I got my own world to look through

And I ain’t gonna copy you.”

Okay. But here I am and why am I copying Jimi? Ya dig?

” If 6 turned out to be 9

I don’t mind, I don’t mind

If all the hippies

Cut off all their hair

I don’t care, I don’t care … “

It is a quirky song that is simple in its lyrics. The form and fashion of a loud grinding hard rock song pounded out on guitar by a young black dude who had no equal. No copy.

It’s just a simple thought of a song that is simple in its lyrics but it is, like, heavy. Ya dig?

“Sing on brother, play on drummer.”


Revelations from a trip in time to H-E-B*

“What it is?”

Man, I hadn’t heard that in a long while. I push my cart seemingly nowhere. I don’t catch full conversations. Oh, I am grocery shopping, by the way. I hear the music.

“Don’t you worry about a thing, he-eng, he-eng … “ Stevie Wonder. I bought “Innervisions” when I was a junior in high school.

Stevie has some good tunes. Some of Innervision were like the blues wrapped up in jazz wrapped up in rock and roll. The songs like “Living For the City,” that’s what I’m talking about.

 “A boy is born, in hard time Mississippi/Surrounded by four walls that ain’t so pretty … Living just enough, just enough for the city.”

Poetry of poverty turned to poetry for profits. Poetry for profits was an idea of mine that never came to fruition. It was kind of in the same category of “Mechanical Bullshit.” Yeah, that was actually an idea I had back in the 80s.

I wasn’t a big fan of “Urban Cowboy” — neither the movie nor the fad that came behind or along it. It was one of those movies I would have never paid to see if it wasn’t for a girlfriend. You all understand that, don’t cha?

Up until John Travolta came to the screen to dance again — remember “Saturday Night Fever?” — I used to pretty much dress in Western-style garb. A Western-style shirt, pressed jeans and cowboy boots. No hat, usually. I wasn’t in the cow business even though I lived in a farm-house that I rented. My only roomies were a herd of cattle on the nearly 100-acre spread.

I was going to college when this whole drugstore cowboy thing exploded, thanks to Bud and Sissy. So I quit wearing cowboy chic and started dressing, well, not-so Western. I also became pretty damn antagonistic to the fad. Thus came mechanical bullshit.

One night I stayed past closing at a favorite nightclub in town. It went through the Urban Cowboy fad, although country-western was a fact of life in Texas then as now. A friend, who is now a big city TV news reporter, was a bartender. This friend let me ride the mechanical bull as the night’s crowd left and club folks began cleaning up. Now this was not THE mechanical bull at Gilley’s, of Urban Cowboy fame, which was the Houston-area honky-tonk owned by country singer Mickey Gilley.

I must confess to having a few adult beverages. The drinks were gratis courtesy of my friend the bartender. With all of that in mind, I got on that ol’ plastic bull or of whatever it was made. I stayed on the contraption at least 16 seconds — or four, or two, at the lowest bucking level available.

Now since surviving a mechanical bull ride, a plan came busting out of my potential business idea like a bull bucking out its chute.

I devised this plan to encase a variety of nuts and bolts into a clear acrylic block, Ta da … I didn’t think long and hard about this idea because I believed the more I thought, the more I would screw up. Sorry, that was an accidental pun. But come to think about it, screws would also work as the mechanical bull scat.

I ran this idea past friend who got excited about it. We just never acted on it. You know how things go sometime.

The same girlfriend I mentioned earlier also made me see “Saturday Night Fever.” Of course, this movie brought about a “disco fever.” Well, you know, fever most often is applied to a high body temperature and that’s not usually something to tout. Still there were some decent songs from the movie’s soundtrack. I liked “More Than a Woman,” by the Bee Gees okay. Like so many songs it reminds me of a particular time in life. I recall this song upon returning from sea duty in the Pacific. I was back only a few months before leaving the Navy. We didn’t do a whole lot once our ship returned to San Diego.

I loved those few months I was on the ship in home port. I had the world ahead of me. I had a loose plan but it turned out vastly different during the following years. But for the time, I was loving California, the Pacific and the mountains. There was plenty of scenery and adventure. Included was all the fun and zest for life when you are 22 years old, and world really is your egg.

All of a sudden, I’m in the grocery store shopping and turning 60 in a few weeks.

Before checking out, I head to the aisle for razors. At the end of the aisle was a rather large woman on a motorized cart. I hear the woman on the cart ask me something but her voice is soft and I do not understand her. I have to ask a couple more times, the last with my ear cupped with my hand as if I am hard of hearing.

“What’s good for pink eye?” she asked. “Is breast milk?” She adds, saying that she was from Louisiana. Perhaps she is explaining why she comes up such an odd remedy.

“Well,” I said, thoughtfully. “I suppose it wouldn’t hurt.”

Suddenly, the woman who was standing and the one who was sitting burst out laughing. I give a puzzling look, then laugh, before pushing my shopping car toward the cashiers.

So much of my life gets examined in the 30 minutes of shopping. It’s like a time machine — or maybe psychoanalysis. And it only cost me $45.

*H-E-B is a large privately-held grocery chain based in San Antonio that operates in Texas and northern Mexico. The letters stand for Howard Edward Butt, son of the founder Florence Butt.

News of the Day: All the news that fits

Some news for the day. Or, some news for the day. It always depends on how you say it and how you interpret it.

Donald Trump unleashes his “Republican” tax plan. Donald Trump is about as Republican as Joe Lieberman was a Democrat.  Regardless, Trump is pulling out smoke and mirrors to lessen the tax burden on the rich, as he is. People making $24,000 a year or less per year or $30,000 for a family would pay no taxes. Some argue they already pay no taxes. If he is talking about cutting withholding taxes then that would qualify for a tax cut. But he should go beyond that 24K limit. I just learned today of a pay increase which raises my pay to $43,000. I would call that a pretty good amount for me, who has barely made it beyond $30,000 over 40 years. However, I would only receive 43K by working 40 hours a week. And over the past year I have worked 32 hours a week.

So my salary really amounts to “Trump change” if you take away that extra day of work and withholding, Social Security, Medicare, Retirement, etc. The rich? The rich get rich and the poor get poorer — under Uncle Donald and probably any other plan Republican or Democrat.

Russian leader Vladimir Putin on 60 Minutes last night said, in so many words, everything is cool man. Yeah, I am a sleaze ball spy-turned politician, but I’m cool as a Siberian fireman. It seems like Putin is trying to out-cool President Obama. That’s not happening though.

Putin, in an answer to a question by CBS anchor Charlie Rose, said he hopes that Russia is a major power because it possesses nuclear weapons.

“Otherwise, why do we have nuclear weapons at all?”

Well, isn’t he the big kid on the block? Russians love him, or so it is said. Who knows how far this former KGB agent will go to make all of the news favor his point of view. I bet Obama would whip his ass shooting hoops and Putin would come away black and blue, while Obama, well …

The Iranian President Hassan Rouhani provided some “bulletin board” material for Republicans after speaking with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour. Rouhani said he has watched GOP live on television and found the candidates “quite laughable.” The Iranian leader said he doubted that these wannabes could even find his country on the map or could distinguish the difference between Iran and Tehran.

One can be sure Rouhani must have been smoking a large bowl of Afghani hash to find humorous the U.S. Republican presidential campaign.

“Dude, let’s go to White Castle,” Rouhani says while gigiling. “Get the jet ready.”

Enough news for the day. Any more and I will gain some knowledge. I don’t want to do that. As for you, well, you got a mouse?



It’s crying time again, but not for the Speaker of the House

“Oh it’s crying time again you’re going to leave me/I can see that faraway look in your eyes … ” — ‘Crying Time’ — Buck Owens

John Boehner announced today that he was leaving his position as both a member and as Speaker of the House come the end of October. The Ohio Republican known for his tearful disposition did not have a faraway look in his eyes Thursday as Pope Francis delivered the first address by a pontiff in history. No, Boehner, a Catholic, looked as if it was all he could do to hold back tears.

One cannot blame the 65-year-old House leader. For someone whose job is more difficult than herding cats, day in and day out, the job of shepherding a GOP-led Congress could make many a grown men cry.

... "and 10 bucks for a f***ed up duck." White House photo by Pete Souza

… “and 10 bucks for a f***ed up duck.” White House photo by Pete Souza

A pot-calling-the-kettle-black quote from no less than New York Republican Rep. Peter King announced: “The crazies have taken over the party.” And all this time I thought King, who media critic Jack Shafer once described as “an exploding carbuncle masquerading as a member of Congress,” was a monarch of the crazies. Maybe King was not royal enough to be called King King of the Crazies, but at the very least he could be the Earl of Squirrels.

Perhaps the most personally encouraging news from the Boehner’s resignation is that the chance of a government shutdown has been lowered, at least according to some political experts. Whether that report from Politico is merely based on spin from some pols is hard to know. As was the case in the previous shutdown and all of those times such a lockout threat existed, this has not kept the government and its employee unions from telling workers to get ready. That is the only responsible move to make but that makes such warnings no less scary.

Boehner was seen by many as a moderate Republican although his more radical colleagues did not have the same opinion. His “go along to get along” attitude could often cast him as one with his crazy political family. My opinion of the speaker — as kindly as I can say — is he has been a rather talented political flake. There were times when I was tempted to admire him and a minute later declare what an ass****.

I have no reason to believe any of those mentioned who are

once Boehner is gone will be better for the country than what is around at the moment. I have to predict the worse because that is what we have received from Republicans for so many years, so many decades, now.

So read ’em and weep. But don’t cry for John B. I’m sure he’ll land a cushy lobbying job.