Kenny Smith | blog

Friday, June 30, 2006

Whew, I'm exhausted. Three-day work weeks will do that for you.

Stopped by the bank -- they hadn't seen me in a while -- and did the traditional deposit upon which all withdrawals shall be made. Cashed in the leftover vacation traveler's checks. You sign these at the bank when you take them out. If you return them you have to sign the checks again. Twice each. After the first five or six even I thought they were bad fakes. Oh the first straight line was good. The sharp, swooping part of the K held up. The smeared motion of the H would make Mr. Miyagi blush. There was no wax on, wax off to be found. These signatures were blatant forgeries to my own eyes.

The bank bought it though.

[Note to any law enforcement reading this ages hence: No laws were broken in the making of that paragraph of satire. Grammatical rules, sure.]

Made it by the dive shop to pick up some things. More on that later.

Stopped in for a quick bite of ribs at Dreamland. (Friday now being the official day of bad eating). I sat under the signed photograph of Bobby Allison's Main N Tale car. Unfortunately the internet is silent on this NASCAR paint scheme, but it was quality in the way that good ideas of the late 80s and early 90s don't really carry over well today.

I believe Mr. Allison owned that car, and that this was long after his retirement. I could probably go on a bit more about it, but that'd demonstrate too much knowledge of NASCAR on my part. There was a time in high school when I followed it closely, and going to races is very fun, though lately it serves as the ultimate signifier of a Sunday afternoon nap on the sofa.

Unlike the World Cup, which continues today. I caught the end of the Germany, Argentina 1-1 draw at the restaurant. Thirty minutes of scoreless overtime, so it went to penalties, which Germany won 4-2.

I know, as a soccer semi-purist, that I shouldn't care for penalties, but they are high drama. It is a shame that any team has to lose after 120 minutes of play, but the intensity of the penalties are worth it. Sorry Argentina, you should kick better from the 12-yard spot.

Ken jokingly complained this morning that nothing exciting happens when I'm in the room. I've missed all but one goal of Cup play as we watched at work. In the early game today he kept banishing me from his office as Italy beat Ukraine 3-0. It seemed only fair that I stay out of his way in the Germany-Argentina game. Brian called it: "I bet Kenny will be back five minutes after the last PK."

There's great highlight video on that site too. All of the game's beauty, in multiple angles.

This afternoon I tried to take a picture that I've been visualizing for about three years. Sadly I learned I can't take this picture by myself. It is a two-person job. I'll get it here soon though.

Ward joined the group for Pie Day this evening. He didn't wait on the table, he ate at it. I bought him dinner; the least I could do for our friendly neighborhood pie deliverer. He did not have pie.

Site note: New art on the front page. Some of the vintage signs from Rickwood taken last week. Enjoy.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Don Siegelman and Richard Scrushy were found guilty in federal court today. That spiced up the afternoon. The former governor was found guilty on seven counts, the former HealthSouth boss on six.

Oddly, two others -- Siegelman's former chief of staff and the former state Highway Director -- were acquitted. The big names could be looking at jail, the others, whom the cynical expected to take a big fall, are free.

Here I'll offer my insight into the day. I suggested to the evening guy that we use scowling pictures of the defendants. His answer.

I played around with a soccer ball last night in the dark. I should have done the same today. Instead I went out in the light and heat of the day. I'm going to need to do that a lot more. As it is, I'm pretty ugly looking on the field. Embarrassing, one might say.

My boss invited me to come up to play in a few adult league games. I'm a long way off from that.

I did get a fair amount of exercise in, though. Whenever running is your silver lining, you're in serious trouble.

Oh, I did drive on two portions of the Eisenhower Interstate System. This is not unusual; Birmingham is very much an interstate city. The significance is the date. Today is the 50th anniversary of the system. That's a story worth reading on, as The Herald rightly calls it, on of the most influential innovations in half a century.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Back to work following the two day car-nage.

"Who are you?" Very funny, these guys. There's a lot of love in this room.

Today, after work though, I went over to Wads' new house. They moved in today, just a few miles away. Now, just like in college, we can just drop by. And no more area codes for phone calls. My fingers will thank me for saving them the extra key entries. They'll no doubt show up here though. These things tend to balance out. 205. See?

They got moved in quicker than anticipated, so I couldn't help unload too much. They did save the washer and dryer though. Thanks guys.

Got home, straightened up a bit, and then went out late in the night and did a little jogging and kicking a soccer ball.

This needs work. The old leg, it ain't what it used to be; though I could still hit an oak tree from a yard away. A yard as in the length of the property, not three feet. Its a big oak, an easy mark, I should be able to hit that.

Good thing it was dark though, I'm sure my form is terrible by now. Don't need the neighbors seeing that.

Pretty pictures: A new Wednesday feature. Random pictures of the last week that need to be added to the site.

I mentioned the lady I spoke with at the Rickwood Classic. Here's her jewelry. Note the White Sox championship ring.

One of the great things about Rickwood, and the people who now run the place, is the absolute reverence with which they hold the place. Things that could be removed -- out of view, with no use or purpose -- remain in place. Even old electrical equipment is treated like beatific art in an aging cathedral.

Saturdays are usually for sleeping in, but there are perks to getting up early.

There was a perk, even, to the car problems this week. A few months ago I mentioned an unusual office. This week I had the opportunity to prove it exists. The name is laughable, but the website seems legit.

Lazy Tuesdays.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

So. Then. Wake up this morning, call AAA. The number they gave me to call last night won't work. Seems the system finds me out of their service area. Calling programs smarter than people on both ends of the phone should not be allowed. They are no doubt the first vital link that speeds us to our ultimate fate of serving our robot overlords.

You know you watched Matrix.

Anyway that number was no good. Had to start all over, and the person that had the great fortune of dealing with this call of course had no idea what I was talking about when I offered her the pin number that held all the vital account information. Apparently AAA has installed stress monitors and when caller's levels peak they can offer file numbers so that you don't have to repeat the same anxiety inducing story for a record ninth time.

Only now the phone number and the pin number were useless. I'm sitting in Georgia, on an Alabama phone, calling an Indiana number, referencing a phone call I had with Florida last night. So naturally I end up talking to North Carolina this morning.

Technology has, indeed, simplified our lives. Twenty years ago I would have to go through all those same numbers dialing myself. On a rotary phone. Fifty years ago in these parts I would have probably been out of luck.

The tow truck comes, set to take me to the same shop. Different truck, different guy. Thank goodness. I don't believe I could bear seeing Dave again. The guy hurt his back working on my car yesterday. Today a younger guy, Kevin, came out, carrying his burden of wearing a striking familiarity. You know, to that guy you worked with that one time. Over the summer. Yeah, before you went back to school.

Kevin drops me off at the mechanic. I bum a guy's local paper, chuckling at some of the content. Summers are slow everywhere it seems. We get the car fixed. "Bum solenoid," says the guy with enough grease under his fingernails to know of which he speaks.

These things happen, I say. Thanks a lot, and I never want to see you guys again.

It is a common courtesy in the mechanic's life. He knows when you're his pal. He understands your angst; he deals with it daily, it is his trade. And he knows that you never want to see him again.

On the very rare occasions that I run into my regular mechanic around town I fulfill the rest of his cliches in life. I mention something about my car. And, while my inner voice becomes an inner yell that would ordinarily suggest restraint, I make the noise du jour on the car. The guy's on a date, and here I am. No one does this to me. "Hey, saw what you wrote. I wanted to make a copy, but my printer's making this 'Whiiiiiiiiiiiiir' noise. Know what that could be?"

I like to think that mechanics, with any sense of irony, have a nice laugh about that at night. They then no doubt sigh at having it to do all over again the next day.

So the car got fixed. I watched more soccer. Brazil beat Ghana 3-0 in a game that the color commentator derided.
Because 3-0 in World Cup play is a poor effort. Stands to reason though, every time I see Brazil they are conservative. The France-Spain game, however, was magical. France put it away late 3-1 and we've officially reached the point of lamentation in this tournament.

It should go on forever. Nothing as satisfying as watching the last 15 minutes of a good match should be met with melancholy because it is the last game of the day. The problem is that we now have only two games a day. And four years is a long time from now. I say that knowing full well there's eight games still left in this Cup. Other sports play all day and all season. At the end of a long Saturday during football season there's always some dreadful PAC-10 game to watch until the wee hours. There will forever be another baseball game.

Cup play is now giving 180 minutes per day and that doesn't enough. For all of its space, the game is very finite.

Thai for dinner. The waiter was Chinese, and a little too helpful. This guy has become a recurring role in my life. He also offers, no matter his personification, a little more information than you needed or expected. This Asian restaurant, we learn, serves Chinese, Thai and Malaysian. The owner also owns another joint downtown. Grass is green because of photosynthesis. Sprinkle this on that.

Innate education as an entree.

Monday, June 26, 2006

At dark-thirty on a warm and moist Monday morning my car said "Click. Click."

The starter, she of many dependable cranks, has finally died. Gave me problems recently, but I got five more weeks out of the thing. And, now, I've found myself calling AAA to bring me to a mechanic for new equipment. Which I do, and they do, but first there was much pacing and tossing and turning.

So I sit in the waiting room of a car hospital and finish the Smithsonian Magazine, of which I was not really impressed this month, though the main features on the Patent Office renovation were worth the read.

Peering over the magazine you can meet Joe, who's got the soon-leaving-middle-age vibe with the man-on-vacation look. Shorts, polo, visor. Looks like he could whip you in a fight. Overly wide disingenuous smile. He's a nice guy, very amiable and chatty. Turns out he's an NBA referee, renting a truck from the neighboring business to move into his beach home for the summer.

He's chatting up a kid who refs high school games. The kid with too much car and not enough money. This a big concern for him, since he just realized this weekend how much he's putting into the car monthly on payments, gas and insurance. Time for a second job or to downgrade on the ride.

Four people heard this story. I heard it four times. By the third time I've made a side-bet with myself on whether I can identify which car is driving the kid broke. I'm missing Cup play for this. There's a TV right there in the corner; they are all talking sports, but no one is watching.

Joe leaves, a few ladies describing the whirring, screeching and bumping their cars make come and go. Finally my car is ready. I pay too much and walk out to the car. Starts right up.

The kid belongs to a purple Mustang 5.0. Has to be.

My car drives just fine, though the day's wasted and no money will be made. Later in the day I head out to the car to fetch something and, just out of curiosity, decide to crank it. It does not. Ye gods. Saint Frances of Rome!

And here comes the best part of the day, contacting AAA, telling the story, getting transferred, re-telling the story. This happens five times. The very well-meaning people of AAA have some sort of Sisyphean bureaucracy in place.

I'm fairly sure I've talked to AAA in three states. (If you ever have to have this conversation, do it on a landline, you'll thank me when later pondering your cell phone bill.)

The fine people at AAA can't help me now, but they give me a code for in the morning. Now I can just call and avoid this whole rigamarole. Nothing else I can do other than call the boss and explain why I won't be at work again tomorrow.

He's a very patient and understanding guy.

Oh: Yes, yes. And I know.

There. Now I've saved the need for any car Emails.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Remember this, as it will surely be the answer to a Trivial Pursuit one day: Portugal versus the Netherlands.

Most cards ever. I've watched the game -- a big portion of it twice -- and am still not sure how he let it get out of hand, but the Russian referee was a farce, as the game became.

They should card that ref, I said aloud.

Others had the same thought. His World Cup is pretty much over, at least.

I'd always wondered what would happen if one team did not return the unwritten favor of good sportsmanship by returning a ball out of bounds giving possession back to the appropriate team after an injury stoppage. Portugal was driving, but had an injury behind the play. The ref whistled the action dead, and then gave a drop ball. The Dutch, instead of taking the ball out of bounds, swept downfield. To answer the question of what would happen, that guy gets fouled. Hard.

If you haven't seen it, but want to, watch this video, a long highlight package of an ugly game. At about the 3:10 mark the paragraph described above takes place.

After 90-plus minutes of that the commentators and most everyone else in the world wanted the same thing: Just end this game.

Out for Mexican we were offered the replay on a Spanish channel. I would have loved to hear those commentators, this game was far more CONCACAF than European, and not attractive at all.

And it was contagious. I got carded while playing with the balls at Publix this evening. With two yellow cards of my own I was sent off, so it goes. And so I'll go.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Had lunch with Jack and The Yankee and Jen and Matt at Zucca. Its a little New York pizzeria buried amid sports bars and walk through retail shops. It was a second choice, for World Cup purposes of course. The first restaurant had televisions, but was smoky. Zucca was nice and clean with peppy adult standards. Televisions were on the game and the site lines allowed Matt and I to divide attention. The White Pie -- ricotta, mozzarella and garlic, how could you go wrong? -- is very good too. Everyone agreed they'd have to return to their new discovery.

And then we went for ice cream in a shop just down the way. The strawberry was very, well, strawberry. Walked through a toy store, one of these places that specializes in the curiously odd. They were proudly advertising Ugly Dolls. Long-handled pinchers, and bouncing rubber balls painted as eyes were the highlights.

Hanging out with Jack later, we rode bikes, watched a tree get cut down, played tennis, threw around a baseball and flirted with a neighborhood girl.

"How you doin'?" and "Hubba hubba."

Jack's two.

Naturally I'm exhausted.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Rained today. We must be in a drought, the sprinkles locked down the interstates. Traffic was terrible, everyone driving in twos, mindless ant drones, but we were not working in a collective effort. We weren't even competing with one another on the freeway.

People were being so foolish the road became a group of people instinctively watching out for one another, rather than for themselves. Perhaps that's how it should be, saner people surveying the mad, but it is not the norm, and so it has become more disconcerting than a little drizzle should be.

Saw a terrific accident, a pickup rear-ended an SUV. The truck was totaled, the SUV's windshield was exploded. Given that the SUV was in front, this can't have been a good sign.

Talked with a guy in Minnesota today, one of the leaders of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party. That's a great name with all manner of connotations, but they are essentially just hyphenated Democrats. Nice guy, gave me some help with some statistical research intended for Stephen.

They have Caller ID in Minnesota, he asked where 205 was, I told him. "Hot down there?" he asked.

A 101 heat index just yesterday in fact.

He said at his home west of St. Paul they average 13 days a year at 89 or better. Can't imagine. I guess Lileks isn't exaggerated when he talks about the two weeks of beautiful weather that make living up there worth it. Poor guy's misled about how he could be living.

Anyway, the guy asked what these stats were for, so I told him they were going to a different area code. Penn State, in fact. He scoffed in the apathetic way of the Big Ten. And then he said that JoePa's wife was a childhood neighbor of his aunt. Four degrees of separation from the second winningest college football coach of all time.

I've interviewed Bobby Bowden a few times and -- while I must give grief to friends that are FSU grads -- he's a nice guy. Somehow, though, being four random steps from JoePa after a random phone call is ... well ... random.

Later -- My car is now covered in mud. I passed a pretty and sparkling new Xterra and the guy driving gave me a long hard look. Yes, your SUV is nice and clean, my little low-to-the-ground Intrepid has been through a bog.

On the phone with one of the newspapers I caught up to some road construction delays. I knew where the construction was, and these delays were several imposing miles behind that one-lane affair. I made the quick decision to double back and take the surface streets, small county roads of indistinct origin and vaguely defined destintation. First, east must become west. The median offered a turn, I took it and ... promptly got stuck. Front wheel drive on thin piedmont mud.

After a bit I explain this to the guy on the other end of the phone.

"Ooooh, that's illegal. Citizen's arrest!"

Yes, if a police officer had shown up just then I wasn't going anywhere. He'd have me dead to rights, as they say.

Why do they say that? It is a most morbid expression. "He had me alive to my mistakes," isn't as punchy. "I was comatose to my faux pas," is too equivocating. We could say he had me stuck in the mud. Yes.

He had me stuck in the mud.

Finally got free, drove through little towns of which no one's ever heard. Places where walk up ice cream joints and custom-grilled hamburgers while you wait in the window are the rule. Places where monuments are important. An old train, a World War II tank commanded the view on the main drag.

Worth the detour.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

A fun-filled day at the office today. We all pile into the big conference room and hear the quarterly state of things, which always seem to be good. Makes lunch go down easier.

That's the other nice thing about the big meeting day: the food. Courtney's Restaurant has become the routine, and absolutely no one minds. Fried chicken, green beans, zip peas, macaroni and banana pudding today. Courtney's believes that, somehow, breakfast tastes better on Saturday.

There's a passion there to pursue when choosing your meat-n-threes. I don't know if there is a Courtney, or if she ever existed, but I'd like to meet her. I'd take the ladle from her right hand and the butter from her left and dance her around the kitchen in celebration of her zeal for food.

After the meeting and during lunch there was the abysmmal U.S.-Ghana soccer game. People are going to complain about the calls and argue about how the team was jobbed out of the tournament, these people don't understand the game. The U.S., as much as we would have preferred to see otherwise, didn't play well at all, does not deserve to advance and made their qualifying to begin with look suspect.

There's always next year ... after three more years.

I'd really like to try the experiment that determines if Cup play loses its mystique if it is played more often. Let's play year round. And other up and comers could challenge. And the champions would have to play. The Ivory Coast wouldn't have to fight each other and we'd see more brilliance out of Brazil.

Watch that clip. It almost defies physics. It is as if God said "The ball shall bend this way," but Roberto said "No, no, esta maneira."

The Rickwood Classic then. It was so hot that everyone wanted to fly away. Looks like it anyway. He was safe. Just in case you were in high suspense.

The kids enjoyed themselves, so did the older people. I sat, late in the game, with a nice lady who grew up in the 50s, during the period this game was commemorating. She was affiliated with the team, had on Barons jewelry and a White Sox championship ring. And the stories she could tell, without missing a beat of the game, even. Should have sat next to her for the whole game.

And that is the beautiful thing about today, really. Where soccer has a very organic motion with ebbs and flows, baseball has that slow, studious pace that makes it so much more a communal activity. Catch quality soccer and quality baseball in the same day and all your moods can be met.

Barons won on a ninth inning bases loaded sacrifice. B.J. LaMura, the pitcher I talked to last week for that Rickwood piece, picked up the win. There was much rejoicing on the field, and in the VIP tent, where many of our co-workers found themselves. A company treat, taking us all out to the ballgame. Very nice. Very hot, but a great afternoon at the oldest ballpark in America.

A coworker has put some of his photographs from the game online. He takes pretty pictures. I'll have more at the end of the month, too.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The summer solstice offers a meteorological piece of punctuation. Exclamation point or comma? We'll soon see, but today the sun somewhere melted something. That must be exhausting work, bumping your plasma noggin up against 100.

Made 99 degrees this afternoon. Dry day, fortunately, much like the rest of the spring. It has been odd here in that respect; the sun is ready to bake, the clouds and moisture just aren't willing to collaborate. Yet. It'll change, it always does. Relative humidity bumped the heat index to 104 today, that's warm enough for now.

July and August should make for nice impressive numbers.

I'd developed a small brake problem. The little light came on when the pedal was depressed. Just put loads of money in the brakes, so it shouldn't be a standard problem Checked the brake fluid, it looks fine. Checked the brake fluid again and that fixed everything. This afternoon my brakes are braking, the birds are singing and all is right in the world.

Took another nap today. Two in a row. Three'd be a trend, but that won't happen. I celebrated by watching Bulworth:
It's enough to say that Warren Beatty raps. Odd, but somewhat interesting.
Great day around the house, yes?

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

I took a nap today.

You know you're back in the swing of things when you sit down to write out the highlights of your day and the first thing that comes to mind is a nap.

I also went to the auto parts place and the post office. That nap, you see, has a lot of competition for the day.

In the mail was the new Guster CD. I pre-ordered, it was released today and the first 500 got autographed copies. That part didn't do much for me, but the tangible evidence of being one of the first is nice.

Good CD, if you like the Gus you should run out and pick it up. Or order it from their site from cheaper. They're more poppy now, having come a long way from the Guster is for lovers. You can still buy that shirt though. That'll make everyone happy.

I also got the newest issue of the Smithsonian magazine. I know, I'm a party at the post office! That meant a trip to Zaxby's for a chicken sandwich and a read. And, while on the phone, I mistakenly ordered the wrong chicken sandwich!

Let's now pause to examine the spectral ends of the day. On one end there was a nap, on the other end I got the wrong sandwich. There is so much for me to pace and worry about in my life, no?

Oh, and the grocery store had the right apple juice. That should be tucked neatly under the new magazine in the cup runneth over category.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Spent a fair amount of today polishing up the Rickwood Classic piece that I hinted at here Friday. It is a long form interview with the director of the group restoring the nation's oldest ballpark and with a current Barons' player. You can hear it here.

The purpose of all this is the 11th Annual Rickwood Classic, when the Barons return to their old baseball home for a day game. This is a big fundraiser for Rickwood, falling on this coming Thursday this year. Take an afternoon and come on out to the park for some vintage baseball.

David Brewer, the primary interview subject, told me to sit along the first base line to stay out of the sun. Good tip being June and all.

If you can't make the game stop by soon and do a tour. It is a very nice trip for the collective cultural memory, you won't be disappointed.

Finished up today catching up on news and blogs and Email. I think I'm back up to speed with most things, though my same answer to any question that starts "Did you know ..." remains "I was out of the country."

Now I just have to finish filling up the passport.

The biggest mystery right now seems to be what is going on up the street. You live in a quiet and lazy neighborhood when a front end loader is pulled into the neighborhood and everyone comes out to watch. A little scraping, a little scooping and a little moving going on up the hill and everyone is speculating.

Did the Hoffa search move here? Was there an X-file? Were there aliens? Did a neighbor do a bad thing? Or a stupid thing? We need a newsletter. Or a town crier. Turns out I'm way behind.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Oh the lazy pace of an afternoon in front of the computer! Playing with all these pictures. I think we're counting some 2,000 or so now.

All the laundry's done. Had a nap. Enjoyed a sandwich picnic.

Checked in on Mom who developed some sort of creeping rash in Belize. As Rick and I are talking I realize I'm breaking out. Psychosomatic? The mayo? New Belizean t-shirt? Take thatoff and the red-dotted affliction fades away quickly. Only a minor irritation there now, but nevertheless, to the washer with the new clothes!

Mexican for dinner. Heard, but did not see the mariachi play. Got full abnormally quickly. That'll be lunch tomorrow.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Slept in. Now I'm sufficiently rested. At least until early tonight.

Watched the U.S. get hosed by a ref while simultaneously doing nothign and holding their own against Italy in a 1-1 tie.

They're calling this an all-time great moment. Hyperbole much? We don't have that much World Cup history, but we should call this what it is: A sound exhibition of nine men's ability to play solid and stay in the game. The one goal the U.S. has in the tournament is an own goal by Italy. We've done better, 2002 anyone? Or 1956 even.

Ghana upset the Czech Republic today, so the U.S. is still alive.

Went to the Barons game this evening. They had an early practice this morning after a bad defeat last night, so the fundamentals were sound tonight. Even the bullpen worked well for a change, leading to a 3-2 victory.

The San Diego Chicken was there. Same old jokes, same woman in all that hair. The new guy's funny though, and he probably benefits from a decidely young audience, but he's still doing now decades old bits. The Toys R Us generation, we whom never grow up, we know.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Since the trip was over on Thursday I thought it'd be good to come back to work on Friday. Save an off day and all that.

Now I wish I weren't so frugal with those things. Oh, sure, later I'll be glad for that one extra three day weekend somewhere, but right now I'm tired, just the slightest bit sunburned, itchy from bug bites and ready for more vacation.

My office is also metaphorically buried. Finally toward the end of the day I caught up. Hate that feeling of being behind. No one else would notice, but it would make me twitch. I very much respect deadlines, and the notion that the world doesn't hang motionless when I'm not in the office, so I'm proposing a constitutional amendment that your first day back in the office after a long break should be as proportionally relaxing as your long break.

It seems only just. Who's with me?

After work I went to Rickwood Field for a special project. I'll share that with you next week.

Pie Day in Gardendale this week. Surprisingly it wasn't a disaster here, as is often the case when one gets too far out of their weekend dessert rituals.

I'm going to bed early tonight.

That is all.

P.S. I counted the pictures on my digital camera from the trip. Well over 600. On mine alone. We probably have about 1,200 photographs all told.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Today is the day of flying home. We're leaving Playa Blanca, here's the last view. Today is the day of sadness and sorrow. And much pouting. There are actual pictures of actual and sincere pouting. Mine, perhaps, are the most humorous, but I will not share them as I have just realized that the pout face makes my jaw look abnormally large.

I've since vowed to never make this face again.

Instead we'll talk of our travels. Back on Mayan Island Air. Remember that little plane we rode in on last week? Those guys. Rode on the slightly larger version this time. The conversion van of airplanes. If I ever hit it big I'm buying one of those, taking out all the bucket seats after the second row and putting a sleeping bag in there. I'm not sure why, the government probably has a thing about sleeping on tarmacs, but it'd be cool.

Why you'd sleep in your plane if you owned a plane also escapes me, but there we are, at 2,000 feet, trying to occupy my mind with something other than the fact that my seat belt doesn't buckle.

At Mayan Island Air, by the way, they don't let you check in until a half hour before the flight. Stay in the little airport office though, they have the air conditioning going full blast.

Land on the mainland in Belize City. Go through exit customs. I think our bags were supposed to be searched -- everyone else's were -- but somehow we escaped this little pleasure. Had a quick lunch at a restaurant, where a manager moved us from one table to another, just so we could enjoy the air conditioning. The lasting courtesies are often the simplest. Had a burger that may have been more soy than beef, but given the hour, and the crunching day ahead it at least temporarily appears on the list of the best burgers of all time.

I'll grill out again soon, it will be replaced no doubt.

On the 737 back to Houston we watch a collection of sitcoms. Continental apparently has a deal with CBS, or bad the Bad Television Show union. Everybody Loves Raymond was on, but in as much as that show was good, it was the best of the bunch. Joey (an NBC offering, I know) did make me laugh twice, and I never cared for that character, let alone the rest of Friends.

And that gets us back to Houston, where the procedure is get checked bags, check them again, get on a different plane. The U.S. apparently doesn't trust the Belizean security protocols. Hey, maybe the Belizeans should watch 24, then no one would trust anyone.

They may have had a point I did "smuggle" a conch shell home. That's a perfectly legitimate item though, and there was no creature inside of it the day I picked it up, so my conscience is at ease over it. Keep the flames to a minimum, please.

So we land, walk over at least two acres of airport (Dear Houston: Four lefts is a circle.). Make it through the passport check where we get the biggest break of the day when they finally open both sides and we just barely make the tidal wave of humanity flooding through to the more recently opened gates. Think of the grocery store when Register 4 opens, only everyone looks haggard and carries luggage rather than looks haggard and carries produce.

The customs officer says, "Ever lived in Brooklyn?"

No, but I can tell you have.

Sprint from there, waving in the vague general direction of the family. That's the last time we made eye contact, because there were bags to get, another customs official hold up, bags to check, more metal detectors, a tram to ride, two terminals to cross and another plane to catch.

The layover in Houston was one hour. An hour of tension, desperate queues, starts and stops and a nice little half trot at the end. At the second plane they didn't ask for ID. "So you're Kenny ..." They already knew my name.

Quick flight to Birmingham, which the luggage did not make. They're due in late tonight.

Continental, by the way, is fairly well bending over backward to make that happen.

First act upon returning home? Why, the most American thing possible, of course. Chinese take out.

Alas, the trip is over and I should once again thank them for allowing me to do this.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

It is not safe to fly within 24 hours of diving. And since, sadly, we must fly home tomorrow, today is our down day. Instead of diving, where we should be, we took a long journey into the interior of Belize to see the Mayan ruins at Altun Ha.

Getting there alone is an adventure unto itself, and taken with two guides -- Sylvan and Collin -- who could have stopped, lingered and made any portion of the trip worth spending an afternoon.

A boat came out to the resort to take us back down to San Pedro Town. Then we switched boats, where we met 11 other people, a few ladies and their teenaged girl charges who couldn't care less about this particular trip. Michelle could bond with someone! Matt was all fired up about the ruins "They invented zero," which was enough for him. Both of them, despite being neglected here, had a good time on the trip. Except for Michelle and the Mayans, but you can't make everybody happy all the time. And 14-year-olds aren't interested in much that doesn't squeeze out of the speakers of their ipods. There were half a dozen teens on this second boat, that was enough for a field study.

So across the ocean, around the rain, behind an Atlantic bottlenose dolphin we go. We rode east and then parallel to the coast before finding a river inlet, a big swath cut out of the rainforest, where only swiftly moving water was more determined than the many clinging mangrove trees.

Those are the mangroves roots, with one of the dozen or orchid varieties we saw hanging out on the river. Here's another and still another. And then there's the snake cactus, of which is the most humble plant, but the boat slowed enough to get the stickly spines in focus, so I'll share it with you rather than one of its many twisting cousins.

We eventually park the boat in a little village called Bomba. The guides try to impress the apathetic girls that they have neither power nor running water in this village. They also have a "Please contribute a quarter for tissue" fund in the public restroom. What impressed me was the car with deeply tinted windows behind one little building, and another home with a Volvo out back. The world's safest automobile, here.

We stayed in Bomba for a few minutes meeting the villagers and their children.

We've left the boat for a bus that most of us could swore we rode in during our school days. Only this bus has seat belts. OK, developing nation, no power in that last village (where everyone chipped in for toilet paper) but the buses have seat belts.

Out on the old Pan-American Highway we're told the buses are imports from Texas or some other southern state. Someone bought and then drove this thing through Mexico. No doubt the turnover rate in that job is high. Incidentally, we've stumbled on everyone's quick eagerness to please. Tourism accounts for about one-half of the economy. Unemployment is 12.9 percent. Minimum wage is, well minimum. Keep in mind that's Belizean dollars, where the exchange rate is two Belizean for one American.

Along the way we pass these little empty buildings, turns out their bus stops, with the finest in 20th Century propaganda. Max is a local guy, one of the tribal village leaders. He put up the bus stops, and made sure you can't face them from any angle without knowing who put them there. Sadly there are no further online references so that we can learn more about "Max is love." I'm certain the local guy I was talking to about this was leaving something out.

Finally we make it to the ruins of Altun Ha. We're about six miles up the river and 10 or 20 down the road. We saw two empty soccer fields along the way and not much else.

The ruins, though, are rather majestic. I ended up at the back of the pack a lot and missed out on a bit of the history and architectural conversation, but there's a whole world out there yet to be discovered, and the thought is that they've gotten the visually stunning highlights, but have only scratched the surface of what's still buried and forgotten.

Here's the Temple of the Green Tomb which is the first one you see from directly in front, but they only get larger and more inspiring. Here's the side angle of the same pyramid. Behind the incline in the foreground is a lot more of the structure, complete with one of the head carvings that --

Oh my God! A tarantula! Lady! Get that thing ... Mom! What are you doing with a tarantula on you!?

They tell us that this is a small guy, that they grow locally to the size of your outstretched hand. They also say he's nice, a good pet and "tickly." I find I'm very trusting of people about these things, needing no further examination of my own.

Just after the spider incident a local wanders up, seemingly at random, with an adolescent iguana for everyone to pet and photograph. When he started asking for tips for the pictures I realized he hadn't wandered up, but was waiting inside the treeline for the next crop of tourists. And then I saw his shirt, which was from the Snoop Dogg line of clothing. Ahh, America, we've truly won.

I'd call Calvin and tell him he's getting big royalties out of the Belizean jungle, but he's apparently changed his phone number.

Now we had over to the gem of the ruins, the Temple of the Masonry Altars. The largest of all the Mayan structures in Belize, the resting place of a 10-pound jade piece -- representing the Maya Sun God, Kinich Ahau -- the largest recovered in the Mayan world. The cultural and religious center of the area, and the most imposing height of 60 feet you'll see. From the front right corner. Makes this one look small. It also offers a beautiful view which we all enjoyed.

Altun Ha, at its peak, was home to about 10,000 people. These are the tombs and altars of only the high ranking classes. The common people are buried in mounds throughout the area in nondescript little hills that look like the earth was stung by a giant bug. Of which there are plenty around here.

After leaving the ruins I made the bus stop so we could all take pictures of the Maskall Police Department. Note the cruiser parked out front.

Back on the Pan-American Highway (a narrow two lane road on which buses and diesels drive at NASCAR speed) we stopped on our way back at Maruba Resort which is quite literally carved out of the jungle. Feels very exotic, both in the natural and contrived senses. Ate lunch by the pool. This is the place and this is a day where the drinks will be the most memorable, I had fresh pineapple juice. We all came out relaxed, though no one had a spa treatment.

We rode horses through the Belizean rainforest instead. That's Jolly and I riding a little trail. He helped top off a great day of adventures, even if the trip was winding down. I mean, a horse ride through the Central American rainforest? How often do you do that?

And for the memories of a lifetime that I've accrued this past week I should thank two people for inviting me and letting me come along and for giving me views like this.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

And on the last day of diving there was a great wailing.

An option was offered to skip a dive in lieu of other activities, but we decided to cram all of it in the one day. The zeal of such pursuits is what I love about this family. "We could drop issues 1 and 2 and do issue 3, 4 instead? Bah! We'll proceed at once with issues 1,2,3,4 and 5. Full steam ahead!"

So we dove. With sharks. Again. It is a bit hard to get blase about this, mind you. I'm just at a lose for new ways to explain this to people who might never make the chance to do it. Here you are calmly swimming with a distant relative to an animatronic monster so terrifying that it instantly reprogrammed instinctual DNA in the span of a few decades. And there is Peter Benchley's genius.

But we swim away, despite the "Da-dum. Da-dum." jokes someone muttered earlier. No biggie. This water is too warm for great white sharks anyway. These guys are too busy mistaking my fins for food to mistake me for food.

Or do they merely have bad aim? Perhaps my toes would be tasty. Think I'll curl them up a little tighter in the bootie next time.

We went to the Belizean Seahorse Park, which is basically a half-hidden slew on the backside of an island on which someone hung a small sign. Hey, even Rushmore started with a dream. So Elijah and the resort manager Florette and her sister-in-law all climb out of the boat, wading through shallow water, swatting at flies and hoping to find the sneaky seahorse so that the silly Americans can ooh and aah for a few minutes and take pictures.

We also saw the best seahorse ever. He stood out in the same way that you know, with great certainty, your burger will look nothing like what you saw in the commercial. This seahorse was too perfect. Too brightly colored and too much of a contrast next to anything nearby to be legit. He is the kale passed off as lettuce. The model convincing you that, yes, you'll look this good in these jeans too. He is ... well, you tell me.

Starfish are never lonely. Lots of hands to shake.

Finally Elijah found a seahorse, which has chameleon-like abilities, make it hard to spot. We oohed and aahed. I took pictures.

He kept bobbing up and down, running his little nose into the bottom of this jug, looking for a place to hide, lamenting the fact that he skipped White Pigment Day at Seahorse Blending School. "Come out to the reef," his friends said. "When are you ever going to need to be white?" they teased. Then and there that little seahorse made up its mind. And as soon as we returned him to his home the rage began. This is how Seahorse Parks are wiped out. I've seen it a hundred times.

We went to a tiny little island for commerical tourism purposes. Caye Caulker has the ceramic mosaic seal right at the pier, imploring you to go slow. How could you not? Beautiful little place. Tourists and brave locals (inches above sea level) including that little kid to the right, selling popcorn. I should have bought some.

Funny though, I'd hoped to read about the hurricane that ripped the island in two some time back, but on this site I find:
Fishing continues to be an important industry, but tourism has gradually become an important force on the caye as well. Since the 60's and 70's, when small numbers of hippies found their way to the caye, tourism has grown each year and many islanders now also operate restaurants, hotels, or other businesses in the tourism industry.
One store prompted the observation So this is where the hippies go after college, OK.He had a kid on the way, hope the t-shirt we bought from him goes a good way.

Nice guy, unfailingly polite. Seemed pretty smart. Did five years in Washington D.C. before deciding to move here. He had that slight barefoot hacky sack look to him. I just wonder how he'll raise that kid selling t-shirts and not much more out of a room smaller than a efficiency apartment.

Here's more on Caye Caulker's incredibly grim hurricane history.

This dog was embarrassed to be caught asleep at the wheel of a golf cart. I wonder if he'd been driving this boat. The beached boat photograph, I must confess, is my favorite beach picture.

On our way back to the boat we walked past a bar on the edge of the island. May as well have been on the edge of the world. "Always be safe" the scrawl along the top advised. The speakers blared Pass the Dutchie. Song'll be in my head for days. If I have to hear it you do to; enjoy.

Went snorkeling again. A shark or two, one ray, some grouper. Watched the sun go down from the water. A fitting way to end a great dive trip. I better not say much more or I'll get all worked up.

We gave Mom and Rick a really interesting photo album to help commemorate the trip. It has sand in the corver, under a carved dolphin. The cover of the book is a local tree leaf. This is a book for a box rather than a shelf. The dolphin made Mom happy -- she'd looked at the book herself -- so that made me happy. I wrote a thank you card, on my way to sealing my claim for Best Kid Ever.

Sorta cheating when I've had so many years to work on my game, but I'll take it.

And, since they made the whole fantastic trip possible, here's two more pictures of the new Belizean fishes. Mom and Rick.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Sharks! At least eight nurse sharks on Pillar Reef. Elijah filled a pvc pipe with chum luring the sharks, groupers and all manner of smaller fish. He caught one. That shark is fine, they are just extremely docile when flipped over.

Nurse sharks, by nature are a lot like puppy dogs. Very curious. Pretty friendly. Not overly smart. They are safe so long as you keep your fingers out of their mouths. That could be said of so much of life though, really.

Elijah brought his shark around for everyone to pet. The skin is a heavy grit sandpaper, without the abrasive feel, if that makes any sense. After a while we were reaching out and touching them as they swam by.

Two more eagle rays swam over the group right after a dark tunnel swim through. Lots of pictures. If you look at dives as topping one another -- and this trip has been orchestrated for a slow build -- I don't know how to top this dive. You don't look at dives that way, because you ignore the serene majesty laying out before you. Sharks just give you a little more than Auburn fish, that's all.

Lots of pictures today, on land and in the sea. Here's Mom. She's right-side up, the photographer is upside down (we do that a lot this trip). Here's one of the two of us, with Rick down in the corner. Already that photo looks like something pulled out of an attic box after a few generations. Can't wait to see how it holds up over time. I get to dive with Mom and have more pictures, all is well in the world.

For the record, she was diving in a Moon-Pie shirt. Rick choose the Spam. I went with the classic Divi Tiara shirt. Prevents chaffing.

Into town after our first dive for lunch. We needed new tanks and gas for the boat. Ate at El Patio. They were open. Most were not. Midday Monday. Made no sense. Watched Italy beat Ghana soundly 2-0, I worry about the rest of this World Cup group. The U.S. and Czech Republic match I'll miss but I'll start catching up next week.

Univision covers as many small U.S. stories as international. I guess the viewership is bigger back home now. There's a little tropical storm over Florida, but across the Gulf it is paradise.

San Pedro pictures: Favorite shirt so far. Here's a typical street. The most ambitious tree in Belize. The place where they apparently hurt you. On the monitor you can just make out where the P should go, but staring at the sign you don't see the consonant's ghost at all. Hard to overlook this though. This church has a spectacular view.

Later -- I know how you top the day's previous dive. I caught sharks. Three times. Rick has pictures. He should share them with the rest of us just as we shared the bonding moment of catching sharks and posing for extreme (and hopefully good) close ups. They are very calm if you hold a hand underneath and pet their heads with your other hand.

Still more pictures: The beach was also calm this morning. I know, I know, chronology and all that, but I was diving with sharks today, cut me some slack! Here's another dreamy and lonely hammock. They are really nice when the bugs aren't out for murder. The trick is timing them just right, and slaying the doctor flies.

All curves leading nowhere because they can.

This bird was sitting out on the pier and let me get four or five planks away before flying off. Snap snap snap. One of the pictures came out.

This evening we're watching sailboats and still more sailboats slide by. They are both heading south toward San Pedro Town.

We had a beautiful sunset as the day gave up and slid into the swamps behind the resort. Nice view of all of God's blues (and oranges and reds and pinks) from that sunroof.

Went back into town for diner at the Belizean favorite Elvi's Kitchen. A whole bunch of people from the resort went to town. Eleven in all I think. Seven stayed in town for more fun. I caught the ferry for an earlier night.

Not much in San Pedro Town is going to top catching sharks out on the reefs.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Dives start to blur right in here. Palmeros was "coral, coral, fish." The new underwater camera is destined for Refundsville. One picture, one flash, kaput.

Saw a huge sea turtle on the second dive of the day. Swam right up to me. The shell was at least as big as my torso. I contemplated reaching out to touch the turtle, but thought that might be a career decision and opted for the certainty of keeping my fingers, particularly after it turned its head right to me, jutting out its chin and sticking its nose right up at me.

"What are you?" it seemed to want to know.

For a moment it followed me, and I thought I was going to bring it back to the rest of the diving group. I was going to be a hero!

I considered riding the turtle -- which you are not supposed to do -- though I have no doubt it could have swam me anywhere it wanted to go. The turtle was definitely the highlight, and I could prove it if only that camera worked!

At least I don't feel like I stink anymore.

Pictures: Went out for a pre-dive morning walk. Here's my traditional beach trip driftwood. Beaches also mean coconuts. Joe ground the coconut for juice, milk and a warm candy. All very delicious, especially the candy. The guy's going to make me like coconut (I dislike the texture). That coconut had personality.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

I think that this person has the right idea about life: swinging the hammock over the water. Not just any hammock, but a colorful and plush one. Not sure why no one is out there, I might never leave.

Someone's on vacation! I think she likes it.

Saw a sting ray off our pier today. Nothing like the spotted eagle ray we saw on our first dive over Happy Hour Reef. We just floated and floated and endlessly floated forever.

At some point I lost a fin. The bootie's weight fools you. You really don't notice you're missing anything until you try to propel yourself forward and you go in a circle. Someone caught it for me, put it in front of my mask and I started looking around to see who was missing a fin, but only after thinking, Who's wearing fins the same color as mine?

That eagle ray, though, just soared about six to eight feet away, and his wing span was enormous. In my memory, over the next several weeks, he will no doubt continue to grow.

On our second dive, at Sandy Point, I stopped watching everyone else and started watching things go by. I saw huge vase coral, and looked inside for Natalee, but no dice.

Elijah caught a lobster, that'll be dinner.

We snorkled the breaker reefs. Inside the breakers themselves, you're swimming in water two and three feet deep, with the waves washing over you. You swim out of that as quickly as you can. Saw cigar fish in 10-15 feet deep water with sandy bottoms and mounds of coral. Lots of floating and drifting -- how I got in the shallow breakers -- I could take a tank, a handful of weights and sit on the bottom, play with the fish and watch the sun dance on the sand.

Hey, I know of people that do that in their pool. I found a place with a little more scenery. Don't knock it until you've tried it. The internal monologue doesn't have to fight for attention.

Snorkel pictures: The first coral I found with camera in hand. I ham it up underwater. Enjoy this little blue fish. I wish I knew more fish names! Then I could tell you that these are a butterfly fish. I think. There's a few new fish on the reef. Don't know what we'll call them either.

Later that night, just as I'm ready for a shower, I'm beckoned to go to town on the rented golf cart for groceries. "You look nice and clean," Elijah laughed, "but I bet you won't be clean when you get back!"

I know I won't. We've made a small part of this journey already in our golf cart. Tourist getaway or no, this is a developing country. Sump pumps and a little gravel could help solve a lot of problems, but you don't have them.

What you do have is a timing problem. San Pedro Town is just 10 minutes away by the dirt road that is the spine of this little island. It is a road suffering from scoliosis, bending from the middle to the beach only to leave the sand and twist back inland again. It is long suffering from big potholes and lately suffering from the onset of the tropical rainy season.

San Pedro Town is not 10 minutes away. Everything on Ambergris Caye is 10 minutes away. Nothing is 10 minutes from anywhere. They lie. Belizean time is not a fluid concept involving the decay of a caesium atom. It has more to do with a state of mind, a matter of tasks divided by smiles. Basically these are really wonderful, eager to please hardworking people.

None of whom wear watches.

Our boat hand Joe knows the way to town, except he doesn't (usually walking the shore). We finally make it, these Belizean 10 minutes lasting about an hour. "Getting back before dark" with groceries for dinner was an impossible dream about halfway into the trip into town. Every puddle, each bigger than the last, is slowing the cart down more, until finally, after asking for a few directions, we finally make the town, pay a toll bridge before finding what is kindly considered a grocery store.

It more closely resembles a dirty convenience store you wouldn't stop at back home for a variety of reasons. The people are friendly, (despite this kid trying to steal our cart) nothing is priced, they have an odd collection of most of the things we need and, like manna from heaven, we find enough groceries to prevent further trips into town. The ladies decide to take the island ferry back up the northern coast. Joe and I take the cart back, with he insisting a drive in town.

This part's curious, as soon as we get outside the dirt roads of town -- much smoother than the dirt road to the resort -- he offers to take over. And here begins the spine jarring journey through the moonlit tropical rainforest that promises to promote my own bent spine. "We'll be back in a few seconds now," Joe boasts, but you and I know better.

We're going back through the potholes filled knee high with water. Here is where the internet in general and the blog specifically fail you as a medium and I fail you as a writer. The puddles (small ponds, really) have been stagnant for several days, each one has magically begun to smell worse than the previous mosquito haven. No matter your direction of travel, the water only gets worse. After a brief moment fearing crazed machete bearing attackers bursting through the thick undergrowth, and the thought of dying for the 10 bucks American (but 20 in Belize!) a grim humor washes over with a few fresh coats of muck and and mud.

And then the cart breaks down.

Here I'll say that Joe, while he may not understand the concept of time as the rigid thing by which we live much of our lives, is a hard working guy. Every time the cart stalls out in the rancid puddles, which is now frequent, he jumps right out and begins to push. Joe does not wear shoes. He has hard, flat feet and is currently wearing knee high swamp water.

And, after a while, with both of us pushing, swatting and muttering, we have an us or it moment and doom the cart to spend the night in the forest alone. We walk down this dirt road, fortunately free of puddles in this narrow strip -- this must be the only elevated strip of road on the entire bloody island -- and walk maybe a quarter of a mile in pitch dark before finding a cut through to the beach.

From there we very nearly jog back to the resort, with Joe saying the whole way, "It is a good thing they road back on the ferry."

Yes, I say you would not have wanted to hear about this.

We also wouldn't have wanted to carry all those groceries the rough country mile we covered on foot.

Aside from not knowing the exact way and not understanding the movemnt of the clock none of this was Joe's fault. That was the mantra I repeated after a very long shower. By the beach portion of our walk I'd plotted the immediate entry to the shower, clothes and all. Two runs through the traditional rinse, lather, rinse, repeat cycle I gave the clothes a quick once over. For about an hour afterward I kept asking everyone if I still smelled. It was in my nose and in my head, this swamp funk. The freshly cooked fish and lobster, which everyone says was delicious had a seasoning too near the swam smell. I had the pasta.

I told Rick it had been a good move to not allow the kids to go to town. We then agreed to return the cart. The trip will get better than this. We'll soon laugh about the whole experience.

As soon as I can get all the clothes clean again. What do I miss of home? More than the sweet tea and the air conditioning, I want for asphalt and a washer and dryer.

Tomorrow, I'll just drink a bit of saltwater. That should help.

Friday, June 9, 2006

Yesterday I woke up to see the usual oak tree outside my window. This morning, I picked up my weary head to this.

You guys are working, I'm on vacation.

This morning we did our checkout dive. Divemasters take new clients on these sorts of trips to gauge the sanity of the people he is looking after. This is, for many, often the hardest dive on the trip. There's some re-adjustment, or, for four of our divers, plain old adjustment, life underwater. There's the breathing out of the mouth, using new or beat up rental equipment, understanding stranger's techniques, fighting buoyancy problems and so on.

So we go to a place called Mexico Rocks, which is home to about 30 varieties of coral, including more fan coral than I've ever seen in one place. I lost, and then recovered, my snorkel on entry. Found a little stag coral and tons of orange and blue creatures now forever dubbed Auburn fish.

Elijah, our divemaster, is planning a build up to the best dives. The newbies are suitably impressed already. Looking at one of the log books I see the words "Amazing visibility." Hey, this is very nice, but there is lots better. We'll see a lot better on this trip. This dive just served for Elijah to gauge our strengths and liabilities as divers. Suitably satisified, we'll see more and more.

It was last night at dinner that Michelle was trying to put herself over on The Yankee, thinking herself a more experienced diver. They entered the water today with the same bottom time, though I'd pick The Yankee as a dive partner any day, citing her many years as a lifeguard, her understanding of how to perform CPR in the water ("Isn't that the Heimlich?" Michelle asked. No, I said. And if I ever have a heart attack, don't offer to help, go get someone else. Yeesh.)

Michelle got the dreaded reverse block on her first dive. These are extremely painful and caused by a lack of clearing the sinuses when ascending. I got to her first, as it is my way of watching the other divers more than the world around me, and couldn't quite convince her she needed to descend again to solve the problem. These hurt really bad, and I don't blame her for the screaming through the regulator. By then Elijah showed up, and despite being empathetic to the pain, it reminded me of the classic scene from Airplane. Her ears are fine now, though she sat out the second dive. She'll get better, but it takes time.

I adopted The Yankee (whom Mom invited for, I think, girl talk purposes) as my diving partner for certain after watching her empty her BC and sink to the bottom like she'd found candy on the sand below. The only person that looks more comfortable is, well, me. And Elijah, who barely breathes.

The second dive was at a place called Mata Reef, where I made what was, I hope, my biggest mistake of the trip. Rick, also being a new diver, is struggling with controlling his depth. He's a ping pong ball. At one point Mom sees him soaring up, turns to me and points. Since I am closer, I swim up after him from behind. I move in underneath, invert and prepare to catch his attention. Right about now I hear the water-muffled "MMMMMMMMmmmmMMM!" scream from Mom. My brain processes this as Not A Good Sign and commands my legs to stop kicking. She grabs my fin immediately before my tank bumps into a coral formation.

I was hauling. Stitches, concussions and unconsciousness were all predicted. I've spent the rest of the day being mad at myself for such a poor decision.

All is well, though, as once again seven divers rolled off the boat and seven climbed back aboard. I just bought an underwater camera that has now been underwater, but not much of a camera. I suspect simple human error on my part, and will try again tomorrow.

We swam over perhaps the biggest vase coral I've ever seen and did a swim through (between and under imposing coral formations). I could do those all the time and never get tired of it. I also saw a small eel, which is the only time to my recollection that I've been the person that saw something exotic that everyone else overlooked.

The rest of the day is spent taking pictures, taking a nap, sweating, swinging in hammocks and eating more pasta. (Carbs are your diving friend.)

Pictures: Gaz told us there were several iguanas living on the property. He also said they'd named them. We saw three today. This one's name? Iguana.

This morning Mom got our rented golf cart stuck in a huge swampy puddle. This is the rainy season here (more later, I'm sure). After the cart was saved Elijah showed us the first part of the overland route back to San Pedro Town on the southern part of the island. Turns out Mom went the wrong direction. The right direction has standing water of its own. (Foreshadowing - ed.)

Here's the resort from the edge of the pier. Note the hammocks. They are also our friends.

Back on the sunroof, looking from above the penthouse to the north. The palm roofs in the foreground are other rooms at Playa Blanca. They are charming little buildings full of refuge.

Thursday, June 8, 2006

The task today is to begin a vacation stress free. International flights prohibit this from happening while displaying God's sense of unending irony. Every now and then I just want to high-five The Guy. That's funny, I'd said. "Read my book more," He'd no doubt reply.

So the morning begins on a song and a prayer, the carefree, keep the itinerary, vacation type. Cracker Barrel for breakfast, because dinner is a long time coming. This a great plan tactically, but pretty terrible when you think strategically, as nowhere in their name are the words "Quick" or "Efficient." If you look real hard, though, you can find all the right letters for "A CRAB CLERK ERR," which must be what happened in the kitchen. And as soon as you ask about a quick exit, the wheels spin off the place. Even the cashier, one of those oddly placed people in life, who had far too much information for a cashier, wanted to chat, going on about glow-in-the-dark paint.

There's a plane to catch, so on to the airport, through security. Waiting in the terminal, coming up with brilliant ideas. This flight, on Continental, fortunately, has no problems.

Land in Houston with an hour to spare, where a guy in green shorts and blue knee-high socks will be my lasting image of the place. The only other candidates are a huge bank of television screens and an Alabama fan on the terminal train asking in the thickest of accents "Is this Terminal C?" Twain could write vernacular, and I will not try. I will, however, point out that the crowd pleasing terminal train voices just told you this was Terminal C. In two languages. That crimson must sap oxygen from the brain or something.

On the plane out of the country we watched Rumor Has It, which I saw in February at the dollar theater, remarking that Kevin Costner disproved my Friends Theory Regarding Movies. Perhaps there should be a Costner Corollary.

I'll be the top Google hit for that next week. No such term exists. Ahh, the simple pleasures of life.

Anyway, we land in Belize, stand in a long customs line, sweating and panting. Here we discover information that sends fans of Newton's laws atwitter: there can actually be a scenario where the men's restrooms are better than the women's. Them, long lines for one seat, mustard yellow walls and a sink that pokes out of the counter. Us, four available spaces, mustard yellow walls and a sink properly sunk into the cabinet. Neither, sadly, had conditioned air.

Past the Belizean customs checkpoint, however, we find air. Then there's a short wait, a quick glimpse in the airport gift shops and a walk through airport security to get on Maya Island Air. This is the second smallest plane I've ever been on -- not counting rides at the fair. It is made more terrifying by the concept of flying over the ocean at the dizzying height of 1,500 feet.

Rick is a grinning madman, wanting to get the wings misty from the sea spray. We hatch a plan for him to retire to the islands to fly. The name Limbo Air sounds great, with the slogan, of course, being "How low can you go?" It might not focus group well, but return customers probably wouldn't be a big revenue stream for that airline anyway. Your white-knuckle types, they'd line up.

The smallest plane I've been on, incidentally, had a bench for a back seat. This was when I started doing traffic and the original plane had been for me to be an airborne reporter. The pilot looked me over and said, "How much do you weigh?" In retrospect I'm rather glad the airborne thing didn't come to pass. Things worked out with life and limb intact, and here we are, many years later, on vacation in Belize.

We land on Ambergris Caye where we'll have five days of diving bliss. The visibility is supposed to be around 50 feet, we have the penthouse, no one else is presently at the resort and life is good. There's four brand new divers on this trip, so that should prove interesting, but we're on vacation! That's now the common mantra, picking up steam after a stop at the grocery store, with each cry growing more emphatic. The only question seems to be which person needs it more.

It should be noted that, on a dive trip, you spend your time diving, eating and laying around. You go places that offer more in the way of 80 feet below the surface rather than accomodations or nightlife. Your artistic culture is found in coral formations, sea life and that beautiful flag.

"We're. On. Vay. Cation!"

This little pier off our resort will be the base of operations. And the resort itself is the exception to the rule on dive resort minimalism. We're in the penthouse, with 2,200 square feet, and twice that in private patio and sunroof. There's A/C in the bedrooms, but not in the common areas. This is the one drawback to the place, but this is, of course, June and we're only about a thousand miles from the equator.

With spectacular views, and nice amenitities at a fraction of standard Caribbean prices, we now recommend Gaz Cooper's Playa Blanca for dive trips. They're just a few hundred yards off the second largest reef in the world and Gaz and his staff are all unfailingly nice and thoroughly accomodating.

You want views? It was already dark when we got here, so I went to the roof and played with the timed exposure on the camera. Here's one straight into the Gulf. Another looking to the south. San Pedro Town, from which we just left, is far, far off in the distance.

We are alone and isolated and it is quiet and there are thousands of stars burning the secret embers of their fusion just for us as we traipse down the beach to the Mata Chica and dine at the Mambo, heralded as one of Belize's best restaurants. (A review from one of our sister company's magazines is on their site. Neat.) I got the pasta (time to think of carbs as your friend) and wanted more.

Tomorrow morning I'll wake up and stare into the salt water. After that we're going to get wet.

Wednesday, June 7, 2006

I walked into work around 10 a.m., unshaven, still wearing sunglasses, asking Brian, "Do you feel hungover?" Later, for no reason and with no further prompting, he said, "To answer your question from an hour or two ago, yes, I do."

We're getting old. Or we're such creatures of habit that taking us out of the routine saps pretty much everything short of the will to live. In the scheme of things, I've made it through Wednesday working the exactly appropriate number of hours (give or take a few minutes), that one flip-flopped schedule day is a tremendous monkeywrench into the cogs that get you through.

That was prettyy much the work portion of the day, most widely remembered for an insane desire for sugar or caffeine. Last night's intended dinner was today's lunch. The day was mercifully quick -- how could it not, after this awesome five hour effort? -- with the exception of the last 45 minutes, a portion of time in which the northeast's molasses harvesters were duly impressed with their boredom.

Did anyone else have this problem around 2:15? I've run marathons in less time. Only Superman, spinning the world backwards, can make this drag on. I wonder if the Internets find fault in Superman for doing that. (Yep and yep.)

With such intellectual pursuits as these ("You mean these don't stand up to your normal quality? Hah!") it must be obvious that a vacation is coming. Home, then, to prepare the packing. Laundry, the very light cleaning, counting the appropriate number of socks and t-shirts. Emptying the camera, filling up the mp3 player. Agonizing over books to take to not read. It is a busy afternoon.

We do an early Pie Day since the prospect of finding such an establishment on a Friday night in a still-developing country seems slim. The hostesses are playing in the helium and I'm jealous. They turn into my suppliers, whereby I catch my second wind. Ward finally cuts me off after my third balloon. A good choice, my lungs were beginning to seize up. I was running out of songs to sing anyway, the opening tune from Oklahoma, Ronery, some Billboard stuff and even a hymn or two. By then other tables were making requests.

Yes, vacation cometh and decorum disappears.

Tuesday, June 6, 2006

Slept in, as is my given right to do on election day. The benefit of the business being that on this day of the year you know where the sun will be when you pull yourself out of bed: way up in the sky. The downside of the business is that on this day you also know where the sun will be when you drag yourself out of the office: somewhere over India.

Voted this morning. More people in the parking lot wanting to politick me than there were inside actually voting. Had a terrible lunch experience, which I will not share here, for fear of this becoming a dining out blog. Let's just say it was not their day. Lunch was free, though. Dinner was too, come to think of it. I'd ordered two meals as takeout and got a refund on the full price.

And then, at work, the boss offered to buy dinner for the election staff -- me and Brian. So my first free dinner of the night is now tomorrow's lunch. If you forward this blog to 15 people the chain will stay alive! If you do not something terrible will happen!

Later: I'm looking through photographs as the election results are just starting to come in. The polls closed at 7 p.m. and a light turnout was expected has our hopes up that things go quickly and smoothly tonight.

One of these pictures really stands out. Governor Riley, at the mansion, is sitting beneath a deer head (not pictured) and eating pizza. Brian's sitting in his cube having a steak from the restaurant downstairs. I'm having tilapia. (Thanks boss!) We're eating better than the governor, who's really playing out that man-of-the-people angle tonight.

It's little things like that -- and Greg and his wife bringing yummy cookies -- that make nights like this fun.

Let's not do it again until November. Where, once, I was young and could bounce back from a flipped sleeping schedule in a day or so, I imagine this will take the better part of the week from which to recover.

Results highlights: Gov. Riley has won. Lt. Gov. Baxley won the Dem's nod. Wallace forced a runoff in the Lt. Gov.'s race. While Moore lost, his slate of judicial hopefuls were also trounced. Most importantly, Jack Williams won.

Later, still: Just got the strangest look at Wal-Mart from a lady that was working on, well, something. All of this is starting to get a little hazy. She seemed to ridicule me with her eyes, though, as if no one ever shows up equipped with a list and shops for inexpensive underwear and bug spray at 2 a.m.

There was at least one other customer there. An Hispanic lady, intently studying purses. We should have both been doing something more interesting or productive, no doubt, but there we were bathing in pre-dawn flourescent lights, pondering how long before we have to wake up again.

I'm fairly convinced that's all anyone thinks about as the clock edges towards 3 a.m.

Site stuff:Changed the background here, obviously. That's a photograph from 1999, diving in the Cayman Islands. (Can it really be that long ago?) We were going from one reef to another when the local playful dolphin swam up. The dive resort staff thinks that this particular animal was from a Central America petting farm, but escaped after a hurricane. That, they said, would explain his friendliness.

Swimming with him in the wild was an amazing, incredible experience. He was such a powerful, friendly creature. Diving down deep below, zooming to the surface and leaping over our heads. He didn't care for SCUBA gear, but would play with snorklers all afternoon.

He was an alpha male, certain to demonstrate that he could swim faster, dive harder and jump higher than you could, but he was a great swimming companion, and the pictures we got capped an incredible day. There's a reduced version in the top left box on the page, so you can see the full picture without text getting in the way.

Monday, June 5, 2006

The Gettysburg project is now online. You can see it on the A/V page, and also on the Memorial Day entry.

Took about 45 minutes of audio -- give or take -- and spliced up the speeches to tell the story. The photographs are shown in sequence, which made for a few incredibly happy accidents with how the audio and photographs came together. Kelly did the Flash. She's trying to teach me, but I'm a slow learner. All the credit is hers, any errors would be mine. She turned an idea into a really nice piece, though, and I'm proud of how it turned out.

Thanks, Kel!

There will be more of those type things on the site occasionally, as time and circumstance allows.

We're catching up to the primary election, which takes place tomorrow. At least one of the papers is really starting to put their shoulder into the website now, it should mean lots of good things tomorrow night and for future events. More photos, more stories, more hits, more live-breaking news. These are all good things, though destined to mix up my body's sleep schedule, since I'll be working all of Tuesday until well into the wee hours of Wednesday morning. Should be fun.

Being that the Tuesday and Wednesday are now suitably accounted for it'd be responsible to get other things done today. Instead I left work to come home for more work. And then, throwing my hands in the air, I put in Bull Durham and listened to the audio commentary from Tim Robbins and Kevin Costner. That was a funny little conversation, though they'd sit for long stretches and watch the movie, always seeming to speak up over the parts I wanted to see again.

Crash Davis drives an old half-beat up convertible in the movie, Costner says he bought it and still owns it. Makes me want one bad.

I get to sleep in tomorrow, so I'm staying up late tonight. I passed the time with Alexander the Great:
Epics need watching. Not horrible, but Alexander shouldn't be a boring character.
In other news: Aliens! I wonder if they jump to conclusions too. Someone get out the mat, its time to go into the lab.

What really happened here? Mr. Kool-Aid exploded. Tragedy, really, but into every carafe a little sour mix must spill. This also explains why the most recent Kool-Aid ads feature a familiar, yet different sounding pitchman. All in the baritone, and years of drinking the red stuff got the old guy there. The new guy needs a fifth of scotch to catch up.

Fun links: Been sitting on this for a while, but you just can't break Scotty's stride. Up for auction this fall, Star Trek props. I rather like the Resikkan flute. From one technology to another, here's the world's oldest astronomical computer. It's Greek. Pure genius, different mind and all.

Sunday, June 4, 2006

Such a beautiful day to be outdoors. Hot, high, muggy skies. An ideal afternoon for a diversion to the park. Hiked (read: drove up four miles of unimproved logging road) to the top of Oak Mountain. Walked a gravel trail back down the other side to Peavine Falls. At the gate on the way out I considered stopping the car.

Excuse me, but Peavine Falls was a rather misleading name today for an artificial waterfall. Perhaps we should rename it Peavine Fall. The single stream of water is rather unworthy of the plural. Maybe we should consider a re-christening as Peavine Trickle.

Tourism will zoom. Best three bucks you can spend though, an afternoon at the park.

Speaking of bucks, the only wildlife I've ever seen at Oak Mountain are some of those fabled park deer. I was on a side road in the park on a quiet afternoon when they skipped down the mountain from the left, skittered across the street and zoomed down the side of the hill to the right. That was back before they were emaciated; their comeback, in this state, as a species never ceases to amaze:
In the early 1900s, it was estimated only about 2,000 deer existed in the entire state. After decades of restocking and management efforts, Alabama’s deer population was estimated at 1.75 million animals in 2000. In fact, many areas in Alabama are overpopulated with deer and have been for many years.
In recent years Oak Mountain has held hunts to help thin a population growing so quickly that it negatively impacts the animals.

Deer aside, hikers found lots of dragonflies today. They are nature's most shy models. Have to be. I've learned you can sneak up on them from a great distance with a long lens, but otherwise they are constantly staring at you with those big, mischevious black eyes, forever planning their escape route. Butterflies may be the only insect more easily spooked, and I found only two of them today. Had I tried to get their pictures you would have seen a blur of orange and another of white. That was all of the wildlife at Oak Mountain today, no deer.

Two great dogs at Peavine though. They gnawed that stick into nothingness. You could almost see the shards of bark and the great big canine swallows. If the playful animals masters hadn't been there, and feeding them, you would have thought they were starving. The obliteration of a random stick, such a joyful affair. A long, straight tree trunk straddles that puddle of water, where Peavine pours, err, drips, onto the ground below the rock face. The dogs crossed over it dozens of times in wet-coated bliss. I'm surprised they didn't begin chewing on it.

Downstream there was a little more flow. Peavine normally looks like this. It was, by the way, originally a CCC project.

How far we've come. Franklin Roosevelt organized the Civilian Conservation Corps in his first days in the White House. Some 3,000,000 people would bend their backs to the cause as a job creation and ecological salvation tool. Some 3,000,000,000 trees were planted across the nation, predominantly in the west, in nine years. Today, Googling the old familiar acronym CCC, brings up the Wikipedia entry 63rd, the alumni group is 15th. Great news, in that it isn't the most prominent thing Google thinks of when it thinks of CCC. Its sad, though, in the same way that the beautiful old WPA artwork is often neglected, dusty and forgotten.

The air is awfully thin on top of Oak Mountain.

Went home for a nap. A sweet, delirious, unintentional late afternoon nap. Mid-day slumbers are one of the more decadent undertakings in life, the late afternoon versions would be the fudge on top of the caramel on top of your ice cream. Sundays are often sundaes.

Forgot this yesterday. Saw a preacher on Lakeshore Parkway. Honk if you know Jesus. Hope everyone tested their horn.

Saturday, June 3, 2006

Errands, errands, lots of errands. A dizzying blur: the drug store, the hobby store, the clothes store, the low priced leader store.

I received the greatest insult-compliment ever, which can't be repeated here. Nothing like a good hearty laugh to start in a beautiful Saturday afternoon. Let's you know you're alive.

Barons game. They're struggling this year, but still an easy night of entertainment.

Almost got the bouncing foul ball, a guy one row back grabbed it, and then broke rules of etiquette. A kid even came up and asked and was denied. "Welcome to big people world, kid" he may as well have said. "And congrats on having this innocence shattered at the ballpark."

Fortunately kids are tough, and it was too much of a stretch to hope either the child or the grown man -- who caught a three hopper -- has seen the etiquette illustration. The biggest stretch of the night, though (nice segue) was The Rubber Boy. Oh my. And ouch.

Went to the Hoover Jim 'N Nicks, hoping Ward would accept pennance for going to the wrong store and having the worst experience (Waiter Who Tried Division) ever. More pie is eaten. Someone needs to run laps tomorrow!

Friday, June 2, 2006

Another Friday, another dedicated day working past the cleaning crew. Turned the lights on this morning, I turned them off again tonight. Employee of the month or something.

Actually had the anniversary meeting with the boss today, which had nothing to do with being in the office for a good 11 hours. "How ya doing? How are things? Any problems? Thanks for your work," and so on. Somewhere in there they always like to change the inflection, just before the relevant punctuation. Makes you wonder: Is this a trick question? I always start these off with Are you going to let me back in the office tomorrow? With that one safely out of the way, that little conversation is much more delightful.

Come to think of it, I'm not sure why I stayed there for 11 hours. Seemed like a good idea at the time. Most things seem good to a sleep-addled mind, this is why heavy machinery is such a dangerous joy.

At Pie Day tonight the waiter rang up the wrong ticket on my card. Twice. He tried hard, I must give him that. He tried really hard. Not in that first job sort of way, but in the "I'm really zeroing in on my lack of social skills sort of way."

I imagined him to be obsessive compulsive. The jokes seemed tried and formulaic. The need to notify the table everytime the ETA of our food was pushed back. The ability to discern a situation, mangle it and immediately repeat it back to you without respect to your intention, "Three pies and six plates? Got it!" You're going to have a great job one day, making us all proud of good governance, young man. Now give Benny Hill his jokes back. Even at his most bored his delivery was better than yours.

Take this tray! Please!

Elizabeth's parents, in from Georgia, joined the group for Pie Day. I suppose that makes them my co-cubicle in-laws. Is that right? The varying degrees and numbers of people at Pie Day have soared back to put-two-tables-together proportions. I like that. It becomes a charming festival, particularly with kind folks like Elizabeth's parents.

Washing my hands before dinner, I only vaguely recognized myself in the mirror. I'm really tired.

Thursday, June 1, 2006

May crept in soft and tentative, but the herald of summer picked up steam at the turn and scorched a path across the calendar, giving the vapors to unsuspecting ladies and burning the hands of drivers across town. A deceptive one, that May.

It was just last week when I finally beat the winter instinct to brace and huddle against a chill when opening the door. I watched someone walk across the parking lot today and broke a sweat at the thought of it. June is here and its a bad mother --

I'm just talking about June.

I'm working on it. The Memorial Day extravaganza should be nice. Assuming I can show it to you before Labor Day.

I finished the two easy steps. The third, new, alien, counterintuitive and difficult step remains. I'm confused and will need help. More on that later, I'm sure. Suffice it to say that I'll be proud of the thing.

If it every makes it through the delivery process. These are the reasons I should be the waiting room type of guy. Argyle, nice hat, good pipe, testing the leather soles of my shoes to the immovable object that is a linoleum floor. This is the eleventh hour of grit and steel.

That's probably the inner monologue I'd have in the waiting room too. For this reason I should go to bed soon. I'd intended to fall asleep in to a sinful still-light-outside summer hibernation, but I couldn't make that happen. Getting up and doing something slightly productive seemed a good idea. And, then, so did a chicken sandwich.

Two months in a row, this is becoming a habit. I once again find myself at Zaxby's, finishing off a cajun sandwich and the most recent Smithsonian Magazine.

I'm so slow into what is a really nice publication that there will probably be another one waiting on be by the weekend. From this issue I suggest: An Assassin's Final Hours and Beyond the Wall: Berlin.

Fun links: Time for a nap? Maybe it will help with streamwriting. Maybe it would help with common procrastination. Beautiful photography through an ice lens. That would have been nice around noon today.