IH-10 Traffic Report: Beaumont-Houston-Beaumont

Today I spent a hour-and-a-half driving to the Houston VA hospital for a shot. Yes, a shot, in my knee that they couldn’t give me for whatever reason at the Beaumont VA Clinic. Fortunately, I went to their “Injection Clinic” which is held on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons and although I waited about 45 minutes, it was more because I was early and I was ultimately done with my 1:15 p.m. appointment around 1:25 p.m. Then, back in the >160K-mile-plus Tacoma for another hour-and-a-half drive back to Beaumont. That was four-and-a-half hours that caused me to completely rearrange my week. The final shot next week will also cause me to rearrange that week, plus this week as a VA appointment in Beaumont scheduled for next Tuesday when I get that final shot had to be rescheduled for Friday. Between my part-time job with Uncle Sugar and my seemingly-never-ending medical appointments with the Department of Veterans Affairs I seem to answer my own question as to why I can’t get any of my work accomplished in my profession as a freelance writer.  Horse pucky, as my old Navy senior chief Ron Smith used to say.

Driving to and from Beaumont-to-Houston and Houston-to-Beaumont on Interstate 10 has never been a joy. As a matter of fact, for a kid from the East Texas piney woods the journey left me for a long time with the twisted thought that the Texas Coastal Prairie was nothing but flat, butt-ugly, seemingly never-ending series of rice fields bordered by oil company service shops or crop-dusting hangars. I had to live in the area for awhile to recognize the beauty of the grasslands bordering the western Gulf of Mexico. Indeed there is some beauty in the grasses and the marshlands.

That trip of some 80 miles one way still is not the most exciting. The small towns that seem like no more than exit ramps from the Interstate — Winnie and Anahuac mostly — seem to thrive as stops for travelers either on I-10 or en route to the beach.  The bridge over the Trinity River seems like a pretty good climb until you realize everything around you is flat. Nonetheless, the crossing does offer a pretty good vista of the big river where it becomes Trinity Bay. In recent months, the continual construction on I-10 to widen it to three lanes from Houston to Beaumont, seems pretty much done for now save for the Trinity Bridge itself.

The steep, 50-year-old bridge was torn down and drivers are now traveling over a new span until another span 10 feet away can be finished. The two spans will then carry the nearly 50,000 vehicles a day over separate, three-lane, east and west bridges, according to the Texas Department of Transportation. You drive by the workers toiling away on top of the newest span and look down then you realize that is the last thing that those workers should want to do.

A bit more to the West and you get into the Lynchburg and Baytown areas. It seems the marine industry has certainly grown around Lynchburg or whatever they call the area near I-10 with all the barges and tug boats these days. I don’t remember seeing that much activity in years past. What I remember most about the area is you can look to the south most days and get a full view of the 575-foot San Jacinto Monument, which Guinness lists as the tallest monument column in the world. I have never been up in the monument to the observation deck. The monument itself, being Texan, is 15 feet taller than the Washington Monument. I have visited the area and toured the USS Texas, the nearly century-old battleship.

On a clear day ... you can see the San Jacinto Monument from I-10

Preliminary work is underway to “dry-berth” the battle wagon which has long been nestled in the slough where in 1836 Sam Houston and his Texan Army of about 900 men defeated the more than 1,300 Mexican forces of Santa Ana. The victory established the Republic of Texas, which less than 10 years later was admitted as one of the United States of America.

Back to this century though, Baytown just a ways from the bay, surely has grown over the years. I remember it in my younger days as mostly the “Humble” later Exxon and even later ExxonMobil refinery. There was also the first highway tunnel I ever experienced there. It was later scrapped for the magnificent cable-stayed Fred Hartman Bridge over the Houston Ship Channel on Highway 146 between Baytown and LaPorte. Today, Baytown has almost 70,000 people and a good bit of development out to the Interstate.

Just outside Houston to the east, the Anheuser-Busch brewery still stands tall above the prairie even though it seems to have lost some of its luster. I suppose what I most miss is the rotating neon sign perched on top of the brewery. The sign had a logo that morphed into a colorful flying eagle. It was there that I saw, I believe for the only time, the Budweiser Clydesdales. My Dad, Mom and I stopped by there on the way back home. It think it was after my Uncle Ted’s funeral — my Dad’s brother — if I am not mistaken. We got a chance to look at the magnificent horses and my Dad got to drink a complimentary Bud, which I am sure he appreciated.

Of course, the skyline of Houston has grown over the years. Also developed over the years is a second city center in the Southwest Houston near the Galleria Mall, the old Astrodome and now newer Reliant Stadium. Of course, the latter is all close to Hermann Park and the Houston Zoo as well as the world-class Texas Medical Center. The latter place is where I seem to be spending so much time these days as the Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Hospital — where I have to travel for “specialists” (don’t get me started) — is at one edge of the gigantic medical complex which has some of the world’s best hospitals.

As for the traffic, which is in the headline, I had nary a tie-up or bumper-to-bumper this trip. It’s kind of unusual for a visit to the nation’s fourth-largest city, no matter what time of day. Nor was there any similar problem on I-10 to-from-and-through Jefferson, Chambers and Harris counties. Oh, but “Smokey” was out earning a paycheck today, especially in Chambers County westbound I-10.  Within a three mile stretch I encountered two Texas Highway Patrol traffic stops, both appeared to be so-called “drug interdiction” pullovers since troopers were looking through people’s belongings in the trunk of the stopped cars. A third stop within that three miles found a big rig was stopped by a “license and weight” trooper.

Well, that is what I got out of my drive to Houston and back. That and a shot in the left knee. It hurt for a nanosecond and then it was over although my knee hurts this evening, I think it’s from the arthritis. Most of the shots I have had so far in the knee don’t hurt. Neither do the trips to Houston. They just leave me stiff and in need of more gasoline, which seems to be getting more expensive every day.

A good idea for veterans that could be made even better

Each year it seems that more and more businesses are honoring for Veterans Day those who serve or have served in the U.S. military. Several years ago active duty service members and veterans could go into only a couple of places such as Golden Corral and get a free meal. Now the numbers of places offering free or discounted goods or meals have expanded.

Just a short while ago I received an e-mail from Chili’s which is offering some free entrees to veterans and those who currently serve to make up “for all those MREs,” or Meals Ready to Eat.

“Come in Thursday, November 11, and get your free choice of one of six great entrees, none of which are served in vacuum-sealed plastic bags, or even require hydration! You’ve served your country. Now we look forward to serving you!”

It’s a pretty sharp marketing tool as well as a sentiment that I am sure will bring a few chuckles. It must be said, though, that while we didn’t have MREs when I served, I did eventually go through a box of them given to me by the Texas National Guard during Hurricane Rita. I found a lot of the MREs pretty good groceries, though I can see how eating them day-after-day would be a major pain.

Chili’s joins those who this year say thanks to those who serve:

Thanks to Bobbi Gruner, Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Hospital, Houston, public affairs officer, for the bulleted info.

I have to add that while I am grateful that all of these businesses and entities are showing their appreciation for military and ex-military, I really commend Home Depot for their discounts every day for veterans and active duty personnel that were once reserved for special holidays. I think these discounts and freebies are a  bandwagon that more businesses should climb upon.  It’s not like asking the local Chevy day to give vets a free Vette! Although if they want to give me one I will be happy to give them my phone number.

It might take a city council meeting or two but how much is a city going to lose to let their veterans ride free on the local bus or subway on Veterans Day? Some companies offer so-called “Veterans Discount” but it is something you have to pay for before you can receive.

Companies and government aren’t the only ones who could show their love for military and veterans a little more on Veterans Day. I have suggested this here before but I will do it again. If you see a military man or someone you know who is a veteran, offer to  pay for their meal, or just do it!

At the very least, say “thank you” to veterans and military folks, either those you know or even those you don’t. They deserve it. Oh, and I am not saying that just because I am a veteran. Certainly many did much more than I ever thought about doing in the service. I just served and am glad I did. An early “Happy Veterans Day” expression from “Double-Nickle Dick” of EFD.

Camo camo everywhere and not a place to hide

Camouflage has long been a popular item in the world. Animals use their natural colors and patterns to blend in to keep from getting blasted from a hunter who is dressed in camouflage to keep from being seen by the animals they are a’ blastin’. Of course, the military has long used camo to keep from getting whole armies blasted by whole other armies wearing camo. Seems like a lot of blasting is associated with camo.

Of course, camo has become a fashion statement over the past number of years. It seems it is something the chic and the redneck have in common. There are all sorts of camo clothing — camo bikini tops and bottoms, camo prom dresses and tuxes. It isn’t limited to people. There is various camo wear for that special dog in your life, cars, trucks and SUVs can be found in different camo patterns and of course, your favorite deer stand.

I thought I had seen it all in camo until today while driving down a country road in nearby Hardin County near the Big Thicket National Preserve. Just past a field of donkeys or jackasses or whatever they were I spotted a mobile home with a forest-type camo pattern. Parked next to the mobile home was about the reddest, uncamouflaged pickup truck I have ever seen with tires that seemed as if they were my height — I am just a 1/2 inch short of six feet not accounting for surgery on my neck which may have taken off an inch or so — that made the top of the pickup cab seem as if it was about as tall as the trailer house.

Trailer houses are what we folks from East Texas used to call mobile homes before companies started calling them “manufactured homes.” Yeah, they’s manufactured all right. They’s manufactured like a trailer house. I am not being snooty or anything here, believe me. I lived in a trailer house one time, right by a railroad track that ran through the woods so that when a thunderstorm came up at the same time a train went by you didn’t know whether it was the SP freight train or a F-3 tornado.

Back to camouflage, it’s now in every color imaginable. Camoclothingonline.com has got your traditional woodland camo patterns, city camo (which I don’t understand at all,) sky blue, stinger yellow, desert camo, ultra violet, OD, pink and a few more.

The best gag gift I have seen comes from Stupid.com.  They’ve got Camo golf balls. “Bring the frustration back to your golf game,” their ad says. That is just pure fun, unlike the stupidity of the new “shipboard” camo found with the new Navy Working Uniform. The NWUs, as they are assigned with an acronym, are basically the same as the Army and Marine Corps working uniforms, BDUs in the ARMY and MARPATs in the Marines, only with blue camo. That camo is supposed to hide stains and blend in with colors on shipboard as well as utilize the traditional Navy blue, according to a Wikipedia article. That’s probably the best explanation I’ve heard so far. Although I think the Army BDU is a very functional, and not a bad looking combat utility uniform, I think it has no place on a sailor.

Even the blue jumpers with the rolled collars which I used to wear for working uniforms in the 70s look better for a sailor than does something making them look like GI Joe. That is, unless of course, they are in a combat situation that calls for the NWU and camo, such as in Iraq or Afghanistan. And while we’re on the subject, and I know I have probably covered this here somewhere before, but the Navy Service Uniform is just hideous. No more Winter Blues or Summer Whites. The Winter Blues were really a black shirt and black pants but I thought they were a sharp looking. The summer whites were a pain to wear for more than a special occasion during the summer like a change of command, but they also looked pretty snazzy. The new uniform combines the two, I guess to save money, and makes sailors look more like Marines. That shouldn’t be, you know, because of the relationship between the Navy and Marines. The Marines are a corps, which is part of the Navy. It isn’t the other way around. Not saying anything. That’s just the way it is.

Well, I glad I got that off of my chest, especially since I cannot foresee myself ever getting back into any kind of Navy or other military uniform. I am sure the young sailors who actually do the work these days have their own feelings. This is just what a Navy veteran says and I doubt my opinion counts much in the Pentagon, the Octagon or even the Trapezoid.

The camo trailer house though, that was something pretty unusual to see even for Southeast Texas.

A best picture race for an Oscar and the surrounding hoodeleyap

It’s the day after the primary elections here in Texas. I hope everybody’s candidate won. Think about that for a minute.

These days I don’t make it to the movies much anymore. I don’t know why. But I have been following all the buzz about a nominee for Best Picture at the Academy Awards this week. Of course, there is always some buzz surrounding the coveted of the coveted Oscars. It’s office politics, which I don’t like at all. So I sure as hell don’t like the office politics of the Oscars. This year in particular it’s disgusting — sort of — and I’ll tell you why if you don’t go off in a huff and leave what you are reading. Don’t worry, I’ll get there soon. Soon enough.

Most of the hoodeleyap (Hey, that’s a good word I just made up! It’s pronounced “WHO-del-e-yap,” only faster and means bodougleypot. “BO-doo-gul-e-pot”) concerning the Oscar for best director is over the 2/3rd’s computer-generated Avatar directed by James Cameron and Hurt Locker, which is directed by Cameron’s ex-wife Kathryn Bigelow.

Certainly, the media has made much of possible Oscars going to one of a divorced, but friendly, ex-couple who directed these films. Also, if Bigelow wins she will be the first woman to win the hideous-looking gold statuette for directing. Other sideshows to this story have likewise appeared to build up the hype for the Oscars and their potential winners:

  • While Hurt Locker — a story about an explosives demolition unit on a tour of duty in Iraq — has received critical acclaim the film also has drawn the ire of some Iraq veterans and active duty soldiers. They say the thriller doesn’t realistically portray soldiers doing their job, that it makes troops seem reckless and has other less-than-authentic aspects. This is even though Defense Secretary Robert Gates liked and recommended the movie while the military withdrew its assistance in the film in 2007 for unflattering portrayals of soldiers. Uh, you want reality? Go watch C-SPAN.
  • Yesterday Nicolas Chartier, one of the Hurt Locker‘s producers, was barred from the Oscar presentations for e-mailing messages to Academy members that ask for their votes for the film. No tux and red carpet for you, Mr. Chartier!
  • Today an Army master sergeant and bomb expert filed a suit against the film’s screenwriter, who is also one of the producers, for exploiting the sergeant’s service. The soldier claims the film is based on his experiences and that he coined the term “Hurt Locker.” Maybe he did. Maybe he didn’t. Maybe he halfway did.

Well, like “they” say, no publicity is bad publicity. Or maybe it is. But it’s Oscar time! Break out the 40-year-old single malt and the good silverware! That’s not in my case of course, and I most likely, more than most likely won’t be watching the Oscars. But I have to admit, I would like to see the movie, the Hurt Locker.

It’s another one of those far-off Hollywood happenings — the aforementioned hoodeleyapthat don’t really mean anything or matter in the least to the average beer-swilling and gun-toting American who washes up once a week and goes to the picture show. But I suppose all the hype makes us want to watch the car wrecks on the big screen which will, in this case, be big improvised explosive devices that go “boom.”

Happy Veterans Day: I'm no hero



I am a veteran.

I didn’t fight in any war when I joined the Navy in 1974 but because our nation’s involvement officially ended after the events surrounding the fall of South Vietnam in 1975 I am called a “Vietnam Era Veteran.”

That doesn’t mean a lot, especially to those who actually fought and endured the unimaginable in Vietnam. But we couldn’t stop having a Navy after Vietnam and somebody had to steer those ships and swab those decks and, in my case, push and type those papers. Someone had to do it during a time when being in the military wasn’t the coolest thing a young person could do.

Although my parents had a Navy sticker on their pickup — I was the third son to join the Navy — you didn’t see ribbons on cars with the names of their soldier boys who were serving listed on it. You didn’t see every sunshine patriot and vote-needy politician calling those of us  who served “heroes.”

 It wasn’t the best of times to be in the service. And it wasn’t the worst, by a long shot. It was, after all, the 1970s.

 You can bet your ass that I bitched and moaned throughout my tour of duty. It’s what service members do. There were petty, little regulations that seemed absolutely stupid. You could often find yourself following your orders from a tyrant, but unlike in the civilian world you couldn’t talk back or couldn’t quit because you could end up end trouble. The worst case scenario would be the brig, or jail. Those Marine guards in the brigs didn’t exactly play nice, at least that’s what I heard. Remarkably, I never — officially — got in trouble and wound up with an Honorable Discharge and a Navy Good Conduct Medal. The last I figure was quite an achievement considering all the hell-raising I did both on and off duty.

 So I am no hero. I was just a kid out of high school who needed a job, wanted badly to attend college but couldn’t afford it, the Navy needed someone who did their job and did it very well. After finishing my job, the government paid me a nice little stipend under the GI Bill that made it most helpful to become a college graduate. And the rest is history.

 That’s my veteran story. It isn’t a heroic tale but it’s my own and I’m sticking to it.