Wednesday, April 28, 2010

I'm Afraid

When I was a policeman I learned not to show fear, or to let fear influence my actions, because in that realm fear can get you killed. So although at times I am afraid, I try not to ever show it or act upon it.

I was traveling last weekend and I went through airport security. I had barely made it through the metal detector after taking off my shoes (my toes were poking through my worn socks), my belt (my pants started creeping down my hips), my hat (my bald pate was luminous) and my jacket (revealing my untucked shirt) when a TSA guy boomed, "Sir, is this your bag?"

We were in Kansas City and the blue-shirted bag-examiner was triumphantly holding aloft a 13 oz. bottle of Arthur Bryant's Original Flavor Barbecue Sauce. Having just spent the weekend in KC, I knew from several days of taste tests that Arthur Bryant's is the preferred Kansas-style bbq sauce, even above Gates or LC's.

This cooking elixir wasn't in my carry-on bag though, it was in the bag of the guy behind me. I think he was trying to sneak this bottle of liquid amber gold past TSA to take it home and liven up his dinner fare.

He owned up to ownership, declined to go back through the onerous security line again after removing the offending item from the security area and offered it to the guard, who put it in a bus pan by the back window. This receptacle of prohibited items was chock full.

I sidled over to that window from the other side once I cleared the security and looked at the contraband through the glass. Inside the brimming pan were a dozen or more sealed bottles and cans of Arthur Bryant's sauce, Gatorade, purified water, Red Bull and Coke, along with shrink-wrapped tubes of shampoo conditioner and sundry makeup.

I was sorely tempted to take a picture through the window of this basket of shame to record what is going on in the fight against terrorism in the heartland of the homeland. But I was afraid that snapping a photo of the bucket of discarded items would be a "suspicious activity" that might get me questioned and perhaps put on a no-fly list.

I was greatly conflicted but I decided against the photograph. The Decider would be proud for having been successful in making me afraid.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The last year...

I recently had a birthday and observed another year of my life passing by. A decade ago I started running and dropped a lot of weight and changed my life. I stuck with it and thrived, becoming training director for my running club and then president. Great things seemed to be beckoning.

Six months ago I resigned as president after a short tenure due to an inability to get information on suspicious occurrences that centered around the club's IT department and after a series of shocking affronts directed at me personally by the arrogant young turks controlling that department (these alpha 20-somethings disliked me intensely) who were joined by a 30-something lapdog of a VP who was disgruntled with me. These boys were and are in a position of absolute power in the club and were up to no good, in my opinion. They were implacable and insurmountable. Hey, it was a volunteer position, for chrissakes. I am no longer a member of the club and although I wish it well, it needs good luck more than good wishes.

This unpleasantness coincided with an injury that has prevented me from running for the last half year. The weight I kept off for a decade has largely returned. With the aid of a soft "boot type" brace, I have attempted to get back into running, but I can barely run a mile anymore before I feel like I'm going to expire.

It hasn't been a good year, but running teaches you to deal with adversity. Reality is very precise.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

One and Done

After I worked out my differences with my shirt laundry (they found my missing shirts and we kissed & made up), I took the wise advice my readers (primarily DC Rainmaker) and went back into my morning coffee place to ask for my $10 back. It wasn't forthcoming, so I shrugged & went next door to Jack's (a more tony place--the only time I took a friend on my morning routine, she demurred on my coffee spot & went into Jack's instead) and lo, the coffee was better (Seattle's Best) and the same price. So now I have my alternative in place, although I regret the lack of devotion out there for committed customers (thanks Danielle in WA formerly IA).

No more wading through desperate DC lottery buyers to buy my morning coffee & bananas. Life moves on.

Here's a pix of the Japanese-American Internment Memorial Park (think WW2) in DC during Cherry Blossom time.

None of my friends at work has a clue about this park that it is a mere three blocks from our office. Here's another pix, one that I recently took that I like of my agency. Tell me, can you identify the (new) building in the background? (Think First Amendment.)

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Double workout

Four runs, ten miles, that was last week's workout tally. It was a start in my return to running after taking half a year off due to injury. (Left: The soft, dirt surface of the C&O Canal Towpath is perfect for running on.)

Not that I'm all better, but it's time to get back to activity. Either running or I'm going to have to find something else to do to keep active.

(Right: The park is teeming with critters.) I started off this week's workouts with a two mile lope this morning up the most formidable hill in my town and then down the W&OD Trail, in 20:03. It was such a beautiful Easter day that after a couple of hours of recovery while browsing the numerous books I'll never have time to read in the huge Barnes & Noble in Bethesda, I drove to the C&O Canal for my annual trek on the rugged Billy Goat Trail. (Left: Bridge or downed tree? This year I scrambled across the stream atop the log.)

The Billy Goat Trail is a two-plus mile hard scramble off the towpath over sharp boulders and across sheer precipices that border the tall rock cliffs above the upper Potomac River in Maryland. Two hours later, with my tender ankle aching and my hat brim dripping sweat beads, I was done, having registered a double workout for the day and entertained a fervent hope that I'm on my way back to some modicum of fitness again. (Right: The spectacular views of the Potomac are well worth the strenuous hike.)

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Staying together...

I'm happy to report that we've decided to stay together after all. I'm glad because we've been together for almost a decade.

Being a bachelor, I don't do ironing. My work shirts get laundered by a dry cleaners down the street while I merely shake out and fold the rest of my clothes after washing them, once they dry on the clothesline in my basement.

Recently I paid $6.25 to pick up my shirts, which seemed to be too much because I didn't remember dropping off five shirts. I dimly recalled bringing in only three shirts.

I could immediately tell the shirts I received weren't mine because they were of a color other than merely white or oxford blue. But each time I handed the bundled shirts back to the clerk, whom I have known for years, she showed me that the work order stapled to the completed job bore my telephone number and that each shirt had a ticket that matched the work order fastened to a buttonhole.

We definitely had a translation problem going and finally I just shrugged, left the five laundered shirts behind and departed. I was most puzzled that I couldn't get a refund but neither the money nor the missing shirts were worth a big hassle.

I despaired that my sense of loyalty was being sorely tested though. How come the laundress just didn't immediately act like I was right, being a long-standing customer?

This happened on the very same day that I had an overcharging dispute with my favorite coffee shop near work (see my last post, Breaking Up). I was thinking that I'd have to locate a new shirt laundry as well as a new morning place, in addition to changing my typically understated and quiet interaction with service personnel.

You know, start raising a little hell. Changes.

But me 'n my shirt laundry are back on. I went in one last time to ask about my shirts, and they had found them.

Smiling profusely and expressing apologies, the clerk handed over my shirts, all washed and ironed. We even got the money issue straightened out without any trouble.

Making up is something that's better than breaking up.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Breaking up...

My office is a two-block walk, or a six-block walk from a Metro Station, depending on which stop I get off at. Almost all of my co-workers alight at Union Station, two blocks from the office, and either get their morning coffee there or at a delicatessen halfway to my building.

I usually opt for the six-block walk, even though it goes right past two different homeless shelters and sometimes I have to work my way through knots of people gathering outside of each place in the morning and fend off their requests for spare change. It is the sooner stop, so I make up a little bit of the lost time the further walk entails by getting off the train two minutes earlier and occasionally I would even jog it, although I feel self-conscious running along the sidewalk, even easily, in work clothes.

I always got my coffee at a crowded convenience store along the way which is run by hard-working immigrants who don’t speak English all that well. In this establishment they sell coffee, bananas (three for a dollar, very ripe) and lots and lots of scratch-off and weekly drawing lottery tickets.

The store is always crowded each morning with dreamers, hard-luck people picking strings of numbers that they hope will make them fabulously rich in the weekly games and scratching off chances in the instant games. Us coffee drinkers have to work our way with brimming cups to the cash registers through knots of people calling out numbers to impassive clerks feeding the logarithms into whirring lottery ticket printing machines.

I like this store, as it gives me a little immersion into the soul of the city, and perhaps the nation, each morning before I ensconce myself into my job as a federal bureaucrat. The store is also cheaper, by a lot, than the tony shops around Union Station.

Today I looked in my wallet when the cashier rang up $1.75 for a medium coffee, and all I had in it were a single and several twenties. Thinking it was a shame they’d have to make so much change for such a small purchase, I gave her a twenty, took my change and moved aside to let the next customer be rung up.

But something wasn’t right. I had received some coins, which I slipped into my pocket, and a slight cluster of bills which started with a single and ended with a sawbuck. As I looked more closely at the small stack of bills, the rest were singles except for the last five-dollar bill.

I had received change for a ten, not a twenty. I held out the handful of bills and said, "I gave you a twenty."

The clerk pointed to the cash register tape which showed $1.55 being subtracted from $10, leaving $8.25, which is what I received back. It was obviously what she had punched into the machine during our transaction.

"But I gave you a twenty," I repeated. "And you only gave me change for a ten."

"No, no," she said, pointing again to the printout. "Look here, it says ten dollars."

I tried again, saying, "I didn’t give you a ten, I gave you a twenty. You owe me ten more dollars in change."

I thought about the several years that I had been coming in here three of four times each week, spending a couple of dollars each trip. I knew or thought I knew from having looked at my wallet a few seconds earlier that the only thing in it that morning besides the still-present solitary single had been some twenties.

As I held out the bills for her to see, the cashier, who had taken my money each morning ever since I had started coming in years earlier, looked impassively me. My words hung in the air.

After a pause, I said quietly, "I’ll never come back here again, thanks." I took my coffee and left.

Breaking up is so hard to do. I hate it that now I have to find a new coffee outlet, because the old one felt like an old brown shoe.