Drive by Grandpa – Episode 20

Good morning! Living in Florida for almost 30 years you get used to the hurricane season and the fickle nature of these storms… we’ve lived through and hunkered down for more than a couple over the years… of course, if you’re in the path of one take precautions, listen to the experts and protect your family above all else!

Drive by Grandpa says if you see that Cantore guy… get out of town!

Drive by Grandpa – Episode 15

Drive By Grandpa – Episode 14

Drive By Grandpa – Episode 13

She Came From the Sea…

She came from the sea
Wind in her hair
Salt on the air

The guls mournful cry
Outward she gazed
As the nets swayed

A brilliant palette sets
Wind in her hair
Salt on the air

Authors note: This is inspired by the courageous daughter of a dear friend

2020 RANT

Well, this shitshow started out normal enough, but that didn’t last very long… anybody roll out of a NYE 2020 party resolving to stay in your house all year, scream at the television every night, wash your hands 13,000 times, gain 20 pounds, stockpile 42 cases of toilet paper, 7 gallons of hand sanitizer, and count the steps to your living room as a major exercise accomplishment?

No, I didn’t think so… anybody think medical care would include poking a huge Q-tip up our nose to the base of the brain, or one of those cool home kits you drool into – thanks for playing we’ll get back to you in oh ten days or so. Nothing anxiety producing about that, never mind the ever-shifting list of symptoms ahhh Covid19! 

On a positive note, I was able to solidify my goal of being an Olympic level social distancer. Since I was distancing, I figured I better find a way to maintain my magnificent physique. I decided to try this intermittent fasting thing; you have heard of this right? Let me just tell you, there is nothing intermittent about not eating for 18 hours – that’s just plain fasting. In my book intermittent means skipping some snacks, not all of them, just you know, intermittently – totally misunderstood that.  

I appreciate how many of you have reached out asking, well more like demanding an EPIC rant for this year; which honestly hurt my feelings a bit, cause aren’t they all epic? But I understand 2020 deserves a next level rant, something that lives up to the unparalleled insanity of this year and captures the unbelievable confluence of events: a new social awakening, “autonomous zones,” a truly insane Presidential campaign, then top that off with a global pandemic and all its trappings… 2020 – so one epic rant coming up. Admittedly, I am tad anxious about starting this with a week left in the year; feels a little like tempting fate to pull one last “fuck you”. 

Now, I have a feeling you guys are morbidly curious to see how I handle the long list of important and conflicting topics out there: Covid19, Trump/Anti-Trump, Biden/Anti-Biden, BLM/ALM, ANTIFA, autonomous zones, white privilege/guilt, “woke” movement, cancel culture, lockdowns, mask mandates, Dr. Fauci – cause why not, right… damn I almost forgot the vaccine! Probably a dozen more we could add to that list and if you think I’m jumping into that minefield with both feet… read on.

There are a few things I need to deal with from the top though; and this is classic rant material so hang on. Without getting into whether wearing a mask is the right, safe, respectful thing to do can we just talk about the asshats that wear it over their mouth, but not over their nose? Seriously why bother, never mind that it looks ridiculous, this kind of foolishness just irritates me. If you are a Covid non-believer that thinks masks don’t help, breed deadly lung diseases all while increasing your CO2 consumption I suggest you just don’t wear one. Now if you are a believer and subscribe to the current (for now) wisdom that masks will curb the spread, flatten the curve, and are a perfect vehicle for your cutting-edge fashion sense then cover your nose. There’s no place for you “in-betweeners” in this new Covid world – time to pick a side.

We need to talk a little more about this social distancing thing as well, now truth is I have been a long-term fan of social distancing; in fact, the more distance the better. Six feet is the prescribed measure, this shouldn’t be too hard to figure out – most places are actually marking it out for you so pay attention. However, we all know that you can ignore social distancing if you are at Walmart, Target, Church -in some states anyway, a friendly rally (you can decide what that means) or in an airplane. Do I need to explain that last one? Pretty simple actually, it’s six feet in all directions and that’s impossible on an airplane – so maybe the mask thing is a good idea after all… simply put: don’t get all up on me dude. 

Normally I don’t get “geographic” in these rants, but I think I would be remiss if I didn’t invite all of you down here to Florida… Our governor has legislated that Covid is not allowed to exist here so Floridians have decided it’s time to get back to normal. The weather is great, so come visit and hang out at a beach, a bar, or your favorite amusement park – might I suggest you fly down. I almost forgot we make our kids go to school here, so if you have little ones you might want to consider a move!

I understand it’s difficult not to focus entirely on Covid, it is after all a pandemic, so maybe we can just talk about politics. Fact is I usually avoid politics; not because I care what anyone thinks, but because I find most people aren’t interested in a substantive conversation involving the exchange of ideas, which means actually listening to each other. In my opinion the level of acrimony within our national dialogue is a poor reflection on all of us. After the last few election cycles though I am beginning to wonder if collectively we have simply lost our minds or at least our imagination, you people do realize we keep electing folks that are clearly past their expiration date – at this rate we don’t need term limits we need a long-term care facility. 

So, what does that even leave to rant about? I may have been to Starbucks a dozen times this year and honestly, I don’t even have to order now my favorite drive-thru barista knows what I want. No morning commute so no reason to bitch about the minivan in the Dunkin’ line that can’t figure out what donuts the kids want. Hell, I’ve only driven on the freeway a couple of times so if peeps are still out there texting at 90MPH I wouldn’t know it. Let’s see, no air travel so fake service animals in sequined vests aren’t a real concern and if someone wants to push their way to the front of the plane to get off first… nope don’t care. 2020 is seriously cramping my rant style. 

There is the whole grocery delivery situation, do you think they train these people to pick the bruised avocados or is it just luck of the draw?  And before you start any shit about first world problems or privilege – I’m pretty much working all the time and I am not going to go hang out with the below the nose mask morons at the grocery store… just saying. As long as we are talking about avocados and let’s add mangos to this; why the hell is the pit so big? Do you think the Almighty actually thought that was a good idea or did some celestial engineer completely fuck up the schematics? Fact is I have a whole list of questions like that, take giraffes for instance – wouldn’t it have been easier to make shorter trees? Or pineapples, who thought it should take two years to grow a pineapple; clearly no one was thinking about how that takes twice the space it should… questions without answers I am afraid.  

Setting the whole celestial engineering thing aside, as I reflect on 2020 it strikes me, we have been here before. Our relatively short history is punctuated with upheavals, our own seismic shifts – belief systems competing like tectonic plates that grind against each other eventually creating something new. I read somewhere that all change is violent by its very nature, I’ve had time to think on that a bit this year. War is clearly the violent application of force to achieve a political aim; social unrest, technology leaps that fundamentally change society, or the thrust required to escape the gravity of this earth – each in their own way adhere to this principle. Simply put achievement or change is disruptive and by extension violent. 

Easy to recognize in retrospect – the frantic lines on the seismograph of our history – but here in the midst of it we are just hanging on; resisting the inevitability of it.  This time will pass like all others before it and we will adjust to the new landscape, gather our breath and begin that journey to the next upheaval. If 2020 taught us anything it’s that during these points of acceleration you can choose to participate or not, but change is inevitable and affects all of us. 

So, is it really all so dismal? If you flit across the surface of things jumping from one negative meme to another you might miss the beauty underneath. Let’s not debate the decision making surrounding Covid, I would rather honor the indomitable will and compassion of front-line healthcare workers, many times providing the comfort family wasn’t allowed to. We locked down the world, but did you see the videos of entire Italian neighborhoods serenading each other? Consider the millions of folks that got up each morning kissed someone goodbye and spent the day delivering stuff to those of us who couldn’t or wouldn’t leave the house. Will there be costs and logistical issues with a vaccine, of course, but how incredible that brilliant people were able to craft hope in so few months? I think it is human nature to focus on the turmoil around us, but as we reflect on this complicated year remember where we shined. 

Instead of allowing 2020 and the pandemic to disconnect us we used technology to bridge the gap, to do church, work, and keep friends and family close. In many ways I am more connected to folks today then I might have been under “normal” circumstances. We are getting to see a more intimate view of each other, our homes, our kids, our parents, and grandkids… there is no extracting them from the virtual space we now occupy and how wonderful it is. We share at a different level; experiences, fears, hopes, pieces of ourselves we wouldn’t bring to the office. Our humanity is starting to shine through… and it’s a beautiful thing.

On a personal note, 2020 has created an opportunity to hold my immediate family closer, when your circle is forcibly limited you no longer take relationships for granted. I think about the many more meals I am crafting at home and how much I really enjoy the creativity of making a weekly menu. Dinner conversations have a different gravity now and I find myself reaching out to my boys in Seattle, my sister in NM, and friends in a more frequent and regular cadence than before. Those connections have a different tenor now and although 2020’s issues may dissipate I don’t want to lose this more tangible and precious connection we have forged. 

This has been a year of challenges for our country and it would be easy to push the popular narrative or skip over controversy completely, but that isn’t really what the rant is about is it? I can’t speak for anyone but myself and maybe for the first time I am considering the consequences of speaking my own truth. That dismays me on a deeply personal level, not because I am insecure in what I believe, but because it seems we have come to a point where no matter your beliefs some will be in violent opposition. There was a time when we could disagree, argue our point, try to enlighten those that may not have seen the “wrong” in something – where did those days go? When did it become okay to punish those that think differently? Of course, the true measure of courage is whether you are willing absorb the consequences of your beliefs, easily said not so easily done. In fiction the tests are obvious and monumental… in life I have found it is the everyday opportunities that make the difference.

Some would say we are past the time for such platitudes, that change needs to be accelerated. Maybe they are right, I see my children standing up for what they believe, even to the point of taking to the streets in protest. I may not agree with every position, but I am incredibly proud of them, I understand their passion, their impatience, and their courage. Maybe it’s the perspective of experience, but I worry that obstinate intolerance ultimately dooms the conversation benefitting no-one. I believe it’s incumbent upon all of us to craft a dialogue that moves everyone forward, and that, requires the ability to listen respectfully – even when we disagree. Like many young people mine are making an effort, lifting their voices, is the dialogue comfortable – not always, but it’s necessary. In some respects, it doesn’t matter what side of things you find yourself, as long as you make the effort to participate in the conversation – it’s important.  

So, my friends smile at the insanity, push the fear aside and embrace the challenge to rise above. In my mind it all comes down to this: if you are going to order some ½ decaf soy chai latte with a mocha drizzle made backwards, park the Prius and go the hell inside. 

Stay the course and Happy Holidays my friends,

Joe

PS: Do you remember the quiet though? During the early days of the lockdown, I would sit on the porch and listen… no traffic, no freeway noise, no construction… just nature’s symphony – I think it forced me to take a breath, take a moment, and just be still… I miss that… 

Two Cases of Jam

A somewhat true story lightly based on actual events…

The whole thing was fucked up Ashleigh thought to herself, the sulphurous breeze rushing through the Ford’s windows whipped her long brown hair haphazardly across her bronze shoulders, she ignored it lost in the hum of the tires and the static of an AM country station out of Jessup. It had been almost two weeks since she had been headed to the Lil Cricket for a pack of Marlboros – she had gotten sick – twice – in the stained bowl tucked in the back of the store between the stacks of Styrofoam cups and cases of Mountain Dew – a pink plus sign later she had run not knowing where she was headed or even why. Now two hours from the Florida border with less than twelve dollars in her pocket she still wasn’t ready to accept that all of this was real, but home was still home.

They say fate will find you where you are, and you can’t hide from your destiny; but she would be damned if she wasn’t going to try. She hadn’t wanted any of this, hell you couldn’t be more careful than she had been. Two more positives in a CVS bathroom had confirmed that God must have some kinda fucked up sense of humor – it had only been one time and not much at that she thought with a sad smile, hell they weren’t even really together. Should have learned my lesson with the last asshole, she thinks to herself picking up 17 South and heading toward the Georgia border. She didn’t have a destination, but she couldn’t face any of them and the only thing she loved in Florida, her dog Charlie, had died in an accident so she sure as hell wasn’t going home. It just wasn’t fair she had dreams, plans, places she wanted to see this wasn’t supposed to happen, not now… not ever she cries as the hot breeze sweeping off the Carolina low country dries her tears and the miles sweep by.

The roadside sign promised home-made baked goods, local vegetables, and boiled peanuts; it wasn’t much more than a lean-to-shack a few feet off the road – grass growing through the gravel pull off betrayed the lack of traffic. She can hear the tick and ping of the engine cooling as she heads inside in search of something cold to drink. Eyes adjusting to the dim light she can barely make out the ancient black woman in the corner, “Come in child all is well…” She doesn’t say anything else and Ashleigh isn’t sure if she had even heard her right, and she was pretty damn sure all wasn’t well and wasn’t going to be anytime soon. Forty minutes later and a few miles down the road with two bottles of water and three jars of homemade elderberry jam she still wasn’t sure it had been real but the gentle clink of the jars in the seat next to her were reassuring in a strange way.

She ate shrimp in a parking lot in Statesboro wishing the a/c worked her feet folded under her a sweet tea sweating in the cup holder. Taylor county had peach trees ripening in the afternoon sun as far as she could see – pulled off on the shoulder she wandered down the rows picking a few of the low hanging fruit listening to the silence around her. A couple miles further on at the farm stand she added two jars of fresh peach jam to her collection. A day later she had hiked up the base of the Toccoa falls listening to the roar of water drowning out the noise in her head, standing in the mist the drops of water shining like diamonds in her hair as the sun set behind her she had cried again. On her way back to the car she had wandered through the college – a life she had thought about before life had happened.

She spent two days in Helen, a Bavarian style little town nestled in the North Georgia mountains, eating brats and pretzels – dancing with the old men in their lederhosen she was almost able to forget, but she had finally headed West with three jars of apple butter added to her growing collection. She spent a night camped out at one of the big lakes along the North Carolina border listening to the night birds and an orchestra of frogs singing her to sleep, Waffle House for breakfast and she had headed Southwest towards Alabama stopping in Rome debating whether to continue further West. As it happened she had accumulated another two jars each of strawberry and cherry jelly along the way – she was up to eleven jars now.

It was in a small diner outside Bowden Corners when she started to question herself, it had been nine days since she had left and although she hadn’t reconciled this whole having a kid thing yet, she also knew this odyssey wasn’t going to last forever. Climbing behind the wheel she heads East her jars clinking in floorboard next to her, she had moved them into a box two days earlier. The pecan orchards flash by, the long rows of tall stately trees quiet sentinels to her inner struggle. The orchards give way to the open fields of the few remaining cotton fields sprinkled throughout the red dirt, the puffy boles ripening in the late summer sun a testament to simpler yet harsher times. She can smell the lowlands and the paper mills as she approaches the coast and the way home.

She carries life with her and with a wan smile she realizes her life is on a different trajectory, one she couldn’t have imagined and had never wished for but that had found her nonetheless. There were conversations to be had, plans to be made, and a life to figure out. The road stretches out before her leading her home, forward, and into a future unplanned but still hers to define… and she has jelly lots and lots of jelly.

Thoughts on Irma – The Aftermath

*This is a five part piece – I encourage you to start with “Thoughts on Irma #1” and read forward… JC 

It’s been three days since Irma turned North and hit our little town dead center, about half of us have our power restored, a few stores and restaurants are opening back up, but normal still seems a fair bit off. There are long lines at the few gas stations that have fuel and those that fled early are unable to return for fear of running out before making it home. On every street the steady whir of chainsaws fills the air from dawn till dusk and the scent of fresh cut wood is inescapable. The piles of limbs and brush line the avenues and side streets, growing in stature as the once mighty oaks fall to the blade, some as much five or six feet across having seen hundreds of years – now lie dead in the unblinking sun. Leaves cover the ground and streets like fall in New England – an unexpected blanket of green.

As evening approaches folks start to return to their homes, grills are fired up, candles lit, and the rhythmic chatter of a generator punctuates the still air. It’s hot and humid, the air lies heavy and still – not even a hint of breeze as if the wind had exhausted itself earlier and now is slumbering somewhere far from here. It’s not quiet but the sounds are all different, no TVs, no music, even the traffic has disappeared – they have been replaced with the hoot of a hunting owl, laughter from a few doors down, the tireless chirp of the lake frogs, and the stray bark of a lonely hound.  News is exchanged on the sidewalk and the interaction of neighbors harkens back to an earlier and simpler time.

Life is already moving on, the inescapable pace of today’s society can’t and won’t wait for our emotions, anxiety, understanding to catch up. It’s going to take time to fully process this experience, we talk about it – sharing the memory, the feelings, coming to grips with this brush against our mostly ignored mortality.  Today we hung the pictures back up and moved the porch furniture back into position – symbols of normalcy. The electric is back on – something we celebrate with embarrassed restraint as there are so many still waiting. Tomorrow will bring a trip to the grocery store to replace the provisions that have spoiled in the unforgiving heat and life’s mundane routines will begin reasserting themselves.

I imagine it will take weeks to fully restore all power, services, and cleanse the landscape of wreckage and in that time we will exchange our stories of that night and come to grip with our personal lists of would have, should have, could have – but the reality is our psyche will only allow a tepid remembrance lest we live on trapped by the understanding of our insignificance.

Thoughts on IRMA #4

Dawn is finally breaking – grey streaks begin to penetrate the darkness. The wind is still present, but reminds me of the summer thunderstorms of my childhood, not the incessant fury of last night. I am sure analogies will abound today – our 24 hour news media trying to convey the experience and those mavens of disaster over at The Weather Channel with their hundreds of campaigns under their belts explaining to us just how it was. I understand, but the reality is so much different than their LL Bean protected forays into the “heart of the storm”.

It would take pages and pages to capture what last night was like – I honestly can’t imagine what a CAT 3, 4, or 5 might be like. The wind and rain had picked up its intensity around midnight, I hadn’t contemplated it being able to get much worse than it was – I lacked context, but that’s no longer the case. We lost power around 1AM about the time the eye wall was approaching our town, our neighborhood, our house.  You see on the TV it’s just a dot on a map, but the reality is it’s the four walls and the person next to you – and the fury and ferocity isn’t directed anywhere else – its personal.

The battering gusts of wind had been coming in waves for what seemed like hours, each subsequent rotation with increasing intensity – until it all blended together into a singular focused battering ram, which is when the power went out creating all consuming inky black. I understand with much greater clarity now the destructive power of wind like this – it’s an unstoppable force – there is a constancy that is maddening in its consistency. I think that may be the most difficult part to deal with emotionally – the simple fact that at the height of things there simply is no break, no where you can escape to, no way to stop it – and it is everywhere for hours…

We lay in bed in the dark holding hands, I’m not ashamed to say it was terrifying – if the power of nature doesn’t intimidate you – well you simply haven’t been paying attention and the arrogance of humanity has penetrated your being. The winds song is the background beat, the bass track if you will it sets the tone for everything else. Now layer in the creaks and groans of the house – you truly have to experience it to understand, but it seems like it is going to come apart around you – the percussion of blowing transformers, falling trees and debris clattering off the windows round out this symphony of destruction that has no intermission. We exchange fitful attempts at sleep finally settling into a semi-conscious state that seems almost dreamlike.

I must have drifted off at some point, because the winds had died down and the windows were no longer rattling, greeted by the soft grey of the coming dawn I began to fill the coolers with whatever food could be salvaged from the fridge and freezer hoping the ice would hold us long enough for the power to come back. Its already getting warm and the day promises no escape from the heat and the unblinking sun that is Florida in the summer. I’m already missing my morning coffee and the prospect for a cold glass of ice tea is pretty bleak. Soon the calls and text messages will come in earnest from those scattered all over the country waiting to hear that all are safe, the check-in with local family, friends and neighbors will follow shortly after. It may take days or even weeks for some to return to normal – air conditioning, carefully manicured yards, the erasure of impending anxiety – but the experience can’t be expunged – the greater understanding of how truly insignificant and powerless we are as mother nature decides our fate with no concern for our opinion or preparation…

Thoughts on IRMA #3

The weather started deteriorating around noon today as we watched Irma come across the keys and head north toward us. The benefits or modern technology, weather radar, social media and the wall to wall news coverage is obvious – prepare, prepare, prepare – but on the other hand nothing ratchets up the anxiety like watching the slow march of an inevitable disaster. No question being informed and prepared is the better option, but it takes an emotional toll. The calls, texts and messages from friends and family continue to pour in, they are watching the same coverage we are – geography goes out the window at times like this, Florida is a big state – but we live in Florida and that’s enough.

A couple of interesting observations today though: it’s a strange experience taking down your pictures, wrapping them in plastic and boxing them up. Backing up your computers, debating what to pack and store in the center of the house and what to leave in place. It’s like moving but being told you can only take what can fit in three or four boxes and oh we are leaving in six hours so hurry up. Then there is the network of folks that develops around you in these situations, the folks you know, long time friends, and neighbors – all of us sharing in an experience none of us would have willingly chosen to be part of, but the “check-ins” and messages of support go a long way toward dispelling that feeling of isolation being locked up in your house creates.

I took a walk around the house late this afternoon between rain bands, checking and rechecking – wishing I had tightened that gutter up, probably should have trimmed that tree back – an inner monologue of should have dones, too late now to do anything about, it will be what it will be. A final check with the kids, “are you sure you don’t want to come stay here?” They have their own homes, pictures, fears, and plans – I understand but still wish they were here so I could know for sure they were okay. My two boys on the West coast stay in constant communication, I’m sure worried and feeling helpless to do anything.  The family has decided on hourly updates via group text, it’s a poor substitute for having everyone together, but measurably better than not knowing.

Dark has fallen now, the wizards at the Weather Channel are discussing whether there is an eye or a center of rotation – neither choice changes the forecast of 100MPH winds in the next few hours. The wind and rain have picked up substantially and you can’t avoid the eerie whistle and staccato of the driving rain against the windows, the shadows cast by the streets lights undulate through the windows strange patterns cast by the wildly swaying trees. The band of storms is moving so quickly the thunder seems to roll across the horizon from right to left creating a strange symphonic effect. The thought of this elevating in intensity is disconcerting, but the experts say the worst of it should be here within the next few hours…