This is primarily a travel blog in which I write about traveling in our motorhome. Our travels have

Nacogdoches, TX, United States
I began this blog as a vehicle for reporting on a 47-day trip made by my wife and me in our motorhome down to the Yucatan Peninsula and back. I continued writing about our post-Yucatan travels and gradually began including non-travel related topics. I often rant about things that piss me off, such as gun violence, fracking, healthcare, education, and anything else that pushes my button. I have a photography gallery on my Smugmug site (http://rbmartiniv.smugmug.com).

Saturday, December 27, 2014

What Did Congress Leave Under Your Tree?

Get comfortable, this one is a little long.

Christmas is over and Congress, as usual, is on vacation. Let’s take a look at what Congress left under our tree before they beat it out of town.

Wow, it looks like something really, really big! Let’s unwrap it. Aw shucks, it’s just a big stack of paper, over 1600 pages of a new $1.1 trillion spending bill. But at least it will keep the country operating until October 2015.

Nobody really knows what’s included in the entire bill because no one has actually read the entire bill. However, a lot of people have read parts of it and have commented on what they like and don’t like about the bill. I read a lot of these reviews and pulled out a few things that caught my eye. These provisions make up only a very small portion of the bill so you may be able to find a lot more weirdness than I if you look through it. I would like to share what I found with you:
·      There was some give and take with small businesses. The “give” was a bone tossed to them exempting small businesses from commercial trucking regulations related to “truck weight limitations, truck driver hours of service, and hazardous material permitting. So watch out for that overweight truckload of no-permit-required hazardous substances whose driver can now log 82 hours of driving time a week.
·      The “take” from small businesses is that the Defense Logistics Agency has redefined a small business from one having a maximum of 500 employees to one having a maximum or 1000 employees. So what, you say? The DLA did this in order to force lower prices for stuff they buy for the military. How? By increasing competition for small businesses.
·      Farmers also received a little help with Congress cutting the EPA’s budget by 20%. Now the EPA won’t be able to enforce the Clean Water Act as it applies to ponds and irrigation canals. Farmers can dirty up the water all they wish to.
·      Congress reduced the Department of Education funding by about $133 million. Apparently our illiterate students are smart enough for Congress.
·      You know those Wall Street “too big to fail” financial institutions that we swore we would never bail out again? Well, Congress is looking after those fat cats by promising that the FDIC (aka the taxpayers) will bail them out should they fail as a result of the extremely high-risk derivatives trading (whatever that is) they are doing. Nobody is quite sure who actually wrote this part of the bill, but the provision is suspiciously almost word-for-word as that suggested by the Citigroup lobbyists. There are 196 lobbyists’ reports on file requesting this guarantee from Congress.
·      Anybody out there living on a pension? Well, unions can now cut pension plan benefits by as much as 60% pre-emptively by as many as 19 years into the future to protect the plan from insolvency.
·      The ultra-rich can buy even more government now that the maximum contribution to a national political party has been increased from $97,200 per individual per year to $777,600 per individual per year.
·      Now that we seem to have plenty of “cheap” oil again, Congress has decided to shift some of the funding for renewable energy research over to fossil-fuels research and development. The oil and gas industry has a lot more money and lobbyists than do the forward-thinking environmentalists.
·      Because of the lobbying efforts on behalf of the coalmine owners, the bill now authorizes the Export-Import Bank of the US to fund coal-fired power plants. That’s really going to help reduce our carbon footprint.
·      Congress decided to prohibit implementation of the International Arms Trade Treaty, which would have established common standards for the international trade of conventional weapons in an attempt to reduce the illicit international arms trade. I suppose the NRA was afraid the treaty might somehow infringe on the right to arm one’s self to the teeth. I guess it could do that if you were arming yourself with illegal weapons from the international market.
·      Congress has decided not to close the Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility and move the prisoners to prisons in the US, even though tons of money would be saved. Of course, it would be more difficult to torture the prisoners if they were on US soil.
·      To keep some of their constituents happy, Congress is barring the Department of Agriculture from closing or consolidating redundant Farm Service Agency offices. Again, why would they want to save money?
·      Over the protests of the Department of Defense, Congress, in its infinite wisdom, has seen fit to dump an extra $4 billion into the Defense budget for tanks and airplanes the Department says it doesn’t need. The Army got an extra $120 million for the M1 Abrams Tank Upgrade Program even though the Army Chief of Staff told them that the Army has more than enough tanks, including 2,000 sitting idle in the California desert. Of course, the M1 tank has suppliers across numerous congressional districts. In the past ten years there have been 37 earmarks (pork) for the M1 program, costing taxpayers over $788 million.
·      At least $8 billion of the Pentagon’s budget is devoted to a single aircraft, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The aircraft has been nothing but a problem and is fast becoming the most expensive weapons system in Pentagon history. This program is number one on the GAO (Government Accountability Office) annual report of “at-risk” Pentagon development programs. The F-35 is ten years late being put in service and total cost is around $400 billion so far. The 2001 estimate was $233 million. The additional money has gone to contractors to pay for additional research and redevelopment of goals set by the Pentagon that the contractors failed to meet. I didn’t realize that failure to meet contractual goals resulted in bonuses for everybody. In the real world the contractor would more than likely pay a penalty.
·      Congress has also provided the Defense Department with a “slush fund,” which is exempt from spending caps that apply to the rest of the government. Does that mean they can spend as much as they want, even though they said they didn’t need the extra $4 billion?
·      To help pay for the extra $4 billion and the unlimited slush fund, Congress has slashed the planned military pay raise from 1.8% down to 1%, they have increased military prescription co-pays, and decreased the military housing allowances. That’s thanking the military for a job well done over in those shit holes!
·      Congress set aside $65 million for the Center for Domestic Preparedness, Homeland Security’s Weapons of Mass Destruction training center in Anniston, AL. If you are a state, local, or tribal government emergency responder your training will be completely funded by Homeland Security, including all transportation, meals, and lodging costs.
·      $25 million is provided to the National Pre-Disaster Mitigation Grant Program. This program provides funds for hazard mitigation planning and projects that should, supposedly, reduce local, state, and tribal governments’ reliance on federal funding if an actual disaster were to occur.
·      Funding was cut for the Independent Payment Advisory Board, the group charged with achieving cost savings for Medicare. Healthcare doesn’t cost enough?
·      In a flash of brilliant insight, Congress added $5 million to the $12 million LEFT OVER from previous years for abstinence education. Since 1966, more than $1.8 billion has been spent on abstinence education in the US. And, believe it or not, he rate has actually dropped. From a birth rate of over 90 per 1,000 teenagers in 1960 to just a little over 25 per 1,000 teenagers in 2013. Could the fact that oral contraceptives became available in 1962 have had anything to do with this decrease, or was it indeed due to abstinence education?
·      The Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation received a paltry $150,000. This program provides cash awards to outstanding individuals and groups, primarily middle and high school students, who innovate ways to serve their communities. If it is such a good thing, why only $150,000?
·      There is a provision for $5.5 billion to combat Ebola, with nearly 90% of the money going directly to Africa (probably war lords and such). There are no accountability safeguards to prevent corrupt misuse of the money. This is more money than the US spends annually on cancer research, it is double the aid to Israel, and it is five times what WHO (World Health Organization) said was needed.
·      The bill provides $1 billion in “war funds” for a “European Reassurance Initiative: to enhance our military’s presence in Europe,” where we are not at war. This will allow us to deploy more troops in Europe, including Poland, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine among other countries. Maybe we can get a war started over there.
·      Congress is providing Egypt, a Muslim country run by a military dictator “President,” with $1.3 billion in military aid and $150 million in economic aid. Egypt bars US citizens who bad-mouth their “President” from entering their country. Unless, that is, he happens to be carrying the $1.3 billion check!
·      Another Muslim country, Jordan, is being given $1 billion in military and economic aid plus additional funding for refugee assistance.
·      To make sure that Egypt and Jordan don’t go crazy with our military assistance money, Congress is giving Israel $3.1 billion in overall aid plus $619 million in military aid. This is in addition to the $225 million we gave them a few months ago.
·      For all you yachtsmen out there, you will be happy to know that your next cruise out to Catalina Island should be more pleasant as a result of the $8 million Congress is giving California to dredge the channel for pleasure boats.
·      Not forgetting themselves, Congress has granted themselves an extra $1,000 per year to help cover their luxury car allowance.
·      Congress has also renewed a Nevada travel promotion program championed by Harry Reid and the Las Vegas casinos.
Just in case you didn’t realize how well our US Representatives and Senators are supported in their lavish lifestyles (even though the majority of them were millionaires before being elected to Congress), here is a partial list of what is included in their compensation packages:
·      Annual base salary of $174,000
·      Only 112 work days in 2014 (averages over $1,500 per day)
·      Free airport parking
·      Free on-site gym for House members
·      Weakened insider trading restrictions
·      Health-care subsidies under Obamacare despite making more than four times the poverty level
·      A better retirement plan than Social Security ($59,000 annual pension after 20 years service)
·      Most of their flights to and from their home states are funded by taxpayers.
·      The family of a Congressman killed while in office receives $174,000 while the family of a U.S. serviceman killed in action only receives $100,000
·      Members of the House receive a $900,00 annual allowance for a staff plus a $250,000 annual allowance for travel and office expenses while each Senator gets an annual budget close to $3.3 million
Unfortunately, it seems that the U.S. taxpayers still can’t match the rewards from corporate lobbyists, as our Congressmen seem to listen to them more than to their constituents. Like they say, we have the best Congress money can buy!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Econ 101...The Law of Supply and Demand

Yesterday, near Terrell, TX, I filled my car’s gas tank for ONLY $1.99 a gallon. That sounds cheap doesn’t it? I suppose it does to those of you a little younger than I. The problem is, I can still remember paying less than 25 cents a gallon for gasoline. I am not an economist and will not or cannot presume to make any economic predictions. But I did take Econ 101 in college and can make a few comments on what happened.

We know that the price of oil has dropped tremendously. Here are a few facts. Yesterday, December 18, the median price was right at $57 per barrel. Back in June the price of oil was around $115 per barrel and most of this decade has seen oil prices hovering around $100 per barrel. In 2008, the U.S. oil production was 5 million barrels a day. By November of this year production was 9 million barrels per day, almost double that of 2008. The price of oil in 1998 was only $17 per barrel.

So, why has the price of oil crashed? All you really need to know comes from Econ 101 and is known as the Law of Supply and Demand, which I do not believe has been rescinded. There are four parts to this Law:

1.     If demand increases and supply remains unchanged, a shortage occurs, leading to higher prices.
2.     If demand decreases and supply remains unchanged, a surplus occurs, leading to lower prices.
3.     If demand remains unchanged and supply increases, a surplus occurs, leading to lower prices.
4.     If demand remains unchanged and supply decreases, a shortage occurs, leading to a higher price.

So, for the answer to what happened all one needs to do is to look at the four parts of the Law. Specifically, read part 4. Supply outstripped demand, leading to lower prices That’s right, high oil prices had the oil and gas companies pumping and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, as hard as they could. They were making a killing at those prices (just check their stock prices). Unfortunately for them, this created the oil glut in which they currently find themselves. They simply produced more oil than we were using or were willing to purchase.

Is this good or bad? That depends on who you are. Obviously, if you are dependent upon the profits of the oil and gas industry, it is not so good. On the other hand, if you are a farmer, trucking company, airline, railroad, or customer of any of these businesses, then the crash in the price of oil is a good thing. A drop in manufacturing and transportation costs could lead to a drop in retail prices, which would benefit all consumers.

From a strictly personal point of view, one of the best things that could result from these lower oil prices would be the death of fracking. Fracking is a severe threat to the ecology of the earth. It pollutes the air, soil, and water. It also requires millions of gallons of fresh water per well and that water is lost forever. Fracking renders the water too toxic to be recycled for reuse. Large portion of the U.S. oil producing areas  are currently in the third or fourth year of one of the most severe droughts on record. We should not be destroying this precious, life-sustaining, and irreplaceable resource.

The cost to pump oil from a fracked well in the U.S. today is about $65 per barrel. The industry can’t continue to pump oil at a cost of $65 per barrel and sell it for $57 per barrel and stay in business (I learned that in Econ 101 also). However, fracking will continue as long as the price of oil is high enough to cover the variable costs of pumping from wells already drilled, but once they have sucked the existing wells dry I do not imagine there will be many, if any, new wells fracked.

No one knows how long oil prices will remain low. But from your Econ 101 lesson you can guess what will, in all probability, occur eventually. If you aren’t sure, just check out part 4 of the Law of Supply and Demand.


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Lame Excuse for a Riot

As expected, the decision not to indict Officer Wilson caused riots, not simply protests, in Ferguson, MO. There was massive and indiscriminate destruction of the property of innocents who had nothing to do with why the rioters were doing their best to burn down their own neighborhood. They have burned buildings, businesses, and automobiles and smashed windows and greedily looted the stores belonging to their neighbors. This only creates needless suffering and hardship for people who bear no blame for the reason of the protests. This violent, destructive, criminal activism causes their neighbors to suffer massive losses and overshadows those who attempt to protest peacefully and legally. These criminals have used the Brown shooting as an excuse for this type of behavior. This turns people, such as me, who are attempting to be sympathetic to their cause, away from offering any support. It took a long time for me to come around to it, but with the help of my wife Carol Ann, I have turned into somewhat of a “bleeding heart liberal.” I can’t really believe it myself. Still, I simply cannot support any “cause” using riot as their method of protest. I believe you will find this true of many people, especially Southerners such as me, who were born in the 1940’s and are personally acquainted with racism.
Let me explain why it was so hard for me to change. I was born in 1944 in Savannah, Georgia. It was a “mere” 79 years after the end of the American Civil War. I grew up in a small southwest Georgia town in which one might never know that the war was actually over and the South had lost and slavery had ended. I remember waving Confederate flags, learning that damnyankee was only one word, and shouting, “Save your Confederate money boys, the South will rise again!” 
The town was less than twenty miles from the Alabama line and not much more than seventy miles from the Florida line. The radio station that teenagers in my town listened to was WBAM, 50,000 watts of AM radio at 740 on the dial. It was called the Big BAM, boasting to be "The Voice of the Deep South" and was located in Montgomery, Alabama, one hundred and ten miles away. It was the only radio station we were able to receive that played Rock and Roll music. When the Freedom Riders got to Montgomery, the Big Bam DeeJays referred to them as the Free Dumb Riders, told jokes about them, and dedicated songs like "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" to them after one of the buses was burned. Blatant racism broadcast over a very large area and sponsored by Golden Eagle Syrup, White Lily Flower, and Golden Flake potato chips among others.
We never heard the word “racist,” but that’s what we were whether we knew it or not. Black people, or “Colored people” as they were known, were still treated much like slaves. They were dirt poor and poorly paid for their work, mostly uneducated, and subservient, not only to white adults but also to children. The races did not mix. I never attended a class with a e person until I went to the university. The only movie theater in town had a balcony for the black people. Churches were either black or white. There was no “separate but equal,” only “separate.” To underscore this, conspicuous “Colored Only” and “White Only” signs were posted over doors, water coolers, and any other place that served both races.
My father was one of three physicians in the county and he treated both black and white people and made house calls to both. There were black and white waiting rooms in his office and in the small local hospital. The hospital had private and semi-private rooms for white people but there were only two large wards for “Colored Men” and “Colored Women.”
My parents employed a black female maid/cook and a black male “yardman” at our house. These positions were highly sought after in the black community because of the perks that came with working for my dad. Not only did our “help” get free medical care, but my dad also paid their rent and utility bills. Of course their wages were only ten or fifteen dollars a week.
Many black people had some type of life and/or health insurance and would bring a blank claim form, known simply as a “blank,” to my dad’s office with them. Because most were illiterate, my dad would fill out the claim forms for them. Insurance salesmen, known as “policy men,” took advantage of black people by selling them cheap insurance. The policy men made weekly rounds to collect the twenty-five or fifty cent weekly premiums. I have no idea how good or bad these policies were.
We were not taught to hate black people. There was no brainwashing. It wasn't necessary. Simply by mimicking the adults we “learned” that black people were a lower class of people who had to be treated almost like children. The white people always seemed to know what was best for the black people. As wrong and misguided as it may have been, we thought we were actually looking after them. It was a totally different world back then and it really didn't begin to change until Montgomery and Selma happened. Still, any change that did occur came about very slowly and reluctantly. 
Jessie was a black man who worked as our yardman for most of my childhood years. I remember him as always being old. He was bald except for the “wreath” of hair around the sides and back of his head. I thought he looked like “Uncle Remus” should have looked. I believe Jessie would have done anything to protect my family. Once, when I was playing with matches in the garage, I started a fire. Jessie came to the rescue by picking up a galvanized metal washtub that was full of water, running into the garage, and extinguishing the fire. Those old washtubs held fifteen to eighteen gallons of water, which would have weighed around 130 pounds, yet Jessie picked it up as if it were nothing.
Jessie was illiterate but could print his first name in what looked like a first graders hand. He had a son named Willie, who Jessie always referred to simply as “Boy.” Jessie lived on the other end of our street, about a mile from our house, across the railroad tracks that divided the white and black neighborhoods. Jessie walked to and from our house every day, pushing a wheelbarrow in which he carried leftovers home for his supper. 
Lula was our maid and cook for most of my childhood. She was “inside help” as opposed to “outside help” (as was Jessie) There was a definite pecking order and “inside help” was above the “outside help.” Lulu was paid slightly more than Jessie and after the family ate lunch, Lula would sit at the table and eat her lunch. Once she was finished, she prepared a plate and took it out to Jessie who ate in the garage. Lula and Jessie shared all leftovers to take home with them for supper.
Lula lived on the other side of town and my mom would pick her up in the morning and take her home in the afternoon. When I turned sixteen and got my driver’s license I would relieve my mom of taxi duty whenever I could. Lula automatically got in the back seat of the car. I never told her to do so and I don’t know if my mom or dad ever told her. It seemed to have been what both the black people and the white people expected or accepted.
When Jessie was on his deathbed and dying from a stroke, my father, mother, and I sat beside his bed with my mother holding his hand until he drew his last breath. A few days later Willie, probably fifty years old, showed up at our house and took over his dad’s job as yardman as if it were his duty and responsibility to do so. Like Jessie, Willy was also illiterate but could print his name.
Even though Willie lived within walking distance it was an excuse for me to drive, so I often drove him home. Unlike Lula, Willie would get in the front seat with me and on the way to his house there would be a big grin plastered on his face as he waved to every black person we passed. He was riding in the front seat of Dr. Martin’s car and he wanted everybody to see him and know it. Willie worked at our house for a relatively short time, especially compared to Jessie.
My dad went out to the old family farm, where he was born and raised, after Willie left and brought Sonny and his wife to town. Sonny was about my dad’s age and had lived on the farm all of his life. He and my dad played together as children. Dad had a small frame house built for Sonny not far from where Jessie had lived and died. Sonny was something of a “Man Friday” for my dad. Not only did he keep the yard and garden in good shape, but on my dad’s day off would become his driver and they would drive around much of the afternoon with Sonny in the driver’s seat and my dad in the passenger’s seat. My dad enjoyed riding along the dirt roads out in the country and looking at the farms. He knew who lived on almost every farm. I suppose it helped him relax, not to mention that no one could get in touch with him (no cell phones back then). Sometimes he and Sonny would leave the house after lunch and not return home until very late in the afternoon.
I never really got to know Sonny well. I was in high school and would be off to the university soon. Sonny was nice but he had a little problem with alcohol, but then, so did my dad. I remember dad once made some peach brandy. He had about five gallons in an earthenware crock covered with cheesecloth. He put it in a dark corner of the garage to “age.” I vividly recall the day my dad went out to the garage to see how his peach brandy was coming along. When he removed the cheesecloth he was looking at the bottom of an empty crock!
“Sonny,” he shouted, “What happened to my peach brandy!”
“I don’t know suh,” responded Sonny, “Must ‘a ‘vaporated.”
I hope you can see how much of a change was required for someone raised in the environment I have just described to become a liberal . But now, when I watch the news on TV and see mostly black people with a token number of white people setting buildings and cars on fire, smashing windows, and looting stores it makes me angry. I understand their desire to protest and make their feelings known, but I cannot condone the destruction of property and the blatant thievery that is occurring.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

A Change of Pace

I created this blog in November of 2011 for the sole purpose of reporting on a 47-day RV Caravan that I was about to embark upon to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. Needless to say, I kept the blog going and have posted experiences on other subsequent RV trips. However, to call this a “travel blog” is no longer correct, as many of my posts have not been about my travel experiences. If you look back over my previous posts you will find I have written about topics such as my 50th high school reunion, the Texas primary, my dog eating broccoli, Monarch butterflies, Mardi Gras, the American Civil War, football, Texas music, bad drivers, government shutdown, Sasquatch, computer crashes, money and its influence, my favorite bands of all time, telemarketers, war, English Common Law, atomic clocks, Oktoberfest, cable TV companies, dieting, Walmart, creationism, age discrimination, movies, the NSA, the NRA and gun control, open carry, painless dentistry, my army training, fracking, and the Apollo 11 moon landing.

I have attempted to instill humor into most of my posts while a few have been deadly serious. I have attempted to keep politics out of the blog but am finding it more and more difficult to do so. I am 70-years old and have come to the conclusion that I should write about anything I damn well please. So, with this post I intend to start by telling the world what pushes my buttons and in what I believe. I imagine my rants will include such controversial topics as in politics/government, gun control, energy, immigration, religion (the Bible and creationism vs. evolution), environment, and anything else about which I have a strong feeling.

Consider this my first installment.

Let me state for the record that I really don’t care for politicians. But I will exempt local politicians from this discussion because I don’t believe the majority of them plan or expect to move up the political ladder. As for the rest of them? I just don’t trust them. Most of them think they are smarter than I am and many may be. But I believe that I am as intelligent if not more so than the average politician and I know without the shadow of a doubt that I have more common sense than most of them seem to have. Every politician I have ever listened to seems to have the opinion that they are smarter than everyone else and that only they know what is best for America. Unless you are an idiot, you have already observed that most politicians are condescending when they speak to a group of voters. They seem to think that only they could possibly know what is right for everyone. Therefore, I find it somewhat perplexing why anyone with a modicum of intelligence would vote for some these people and I find it extremely frustrating that voters even re-elect some of these people. 

Politicians seem to have an animalistic cunning, or survival instinct, rather than actual intelligent reasoning. The bottom line is that most politicians will do whatever is best for numero uno while giving lip service to their constituents. 

There are two things that influence politicians and change policy; power and money. Martin’s (this author) Axiom states, “It takes wealth to gain power and power to maintain wealth.” Which one came first? The power or the money? I don’t believe it is of much consequence because once the cycle has been kick-started it is self-perpetuating and difficult to shut down as it continues to be fueled with money. Stick your head or hand into that engine and you may lose a body part. It is great wealth rather than acquired knowledge or common sense that influences political decisions. The individual voter can do little, if anything, to effect legislative policy or political change. This has been proven in several studies (Google it). Mr. (Ben) Franklin’s Republic is being transformed into an Oligarchy (rule by wealth) and there is virtually nothing we can do to stop it. This is not as far-fetched as one might think. The Koch brothers are currently on a buying spree.

I call myself a “progressive independent.” Progressive because I believe that the ultra-conservatives are attempting to reverse the hands of time, undo much good that has been done, and rewrite the history and science books to reflect their backward beliefs. I am an Independent because I refuse to be a member of any organized political party that tries to tell me how I should vote or questions my patriotism should I vote differently. My politics are a little too far to the left for me to be called a Republican and I can’t be a Democrat because I don’t believe in a continually expanding and over spending government or free handouts to those not in need or deserving of them. Yet, I have no solutions for our political problems and at age 70 I doubt there will be much change during the remainder of my lifetime. It is my children and their children who will be left saddled with the mess  our generation has created.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Airlines are Alive and Well

We recently returned to Texas from our trip out to LA to visit with our son and his fiancĂ© and to meet his in-laws-to-be. Each leg of the flight was about two and a half hours, the seats in United’s Economy section were not comfortable, and there was not enough room for me to change positions to prevent my butt from going to sleep. I am of average height, five feet ten inches, and my knees almost touched the seatback in front of me. My wife and I raised the armrest between us to gain a couple of inches but we still bumped elbows. 

We did not check any luggage. The fee for one checked-bag was $50 and up to $200 for an “oversized” bag (I don’t know what that means). An "overweight" bag (I don't know what that means either) could have cost up to $400. Each of us carried a personal item, which would fit beneath the seat in front of us, and a carryon bag that met United's size requirements. I was relieved not to be carrying any deer antlers or a vaulting pole. Those would have cost an extra $150 to $200 each to check. The fee was the same ($150 to $200) to check a bicycle, kiteboard, surfboard, or wind sailboard. I had none of those either.

We purchased our tickets through one of the many on-line services and downloaded the boarding passes to our iPhones. Had we desired paper tickets, the fee was $50 per ticket. By purchasing on-line we also avoided the $25 fee per ticket to purchase from United by phone. The fee to purchase at United's City Ticket Office is $30 and $35 to purchase it in person at United's airport counter.

Our boarding passes assigned us to boarding group four on each leg of the flight. I was afraid that by the time we reached the aircraft door we would be made to check our carryons. I was relieved when we were able to board with the bags. I went through my ritual of looking for the “Airworthiness Certificate” as I entered the aircraft. The FAA requires it to be posted in a conspicuous location near the door. The certificate shows the aircraft's date of manufacture and I feel much better on a flight if the plane was manufactured in this century. However, I was unable to spot the certificate before being forced down the aisle so would just have to keep my fingers crossed. When we reached our assigned aisle there was no room in the overhead luggage bins, requiring me to find space for our bags near the rear of the plane. This meant having to wait for everyone to exit the aircraft before being able to retrieve our bags.

On the back of the seat in front of me was an HD video display that showed the same trailers and ads over and over and over. At the end of each round, the words “SWIPE CARD” were displayed. I still see these words when I close my eyes. United does offer Internet access on some of their aircraft, including the one we were on. I thought I would surf the Internet instead of watching a movie but there was a fee for access so I decided to read instead.

Since it had been a few years since I last flew, the number of additional fees surprised me. In addition to the fees already mentioned, I could have upgraded to Economy Plus (there are sixteen different pricing options for Economy Plus) to get an additional five inches of legroom. Had I not wished to stand in line while waiting to board, I could have paid a fee to moved from boarding group four to boarding group one. I wonder what would have happen if every passenger on the flight had paid not to stand in line?

Lunch was offered on each leg of the flight, for a fee of about $10 for a sandwich or cheese plate. There were no snacks (such as peanuts or pretzels) offered, but at least the soft drinks were free.

Each additional fee can also result in a separate charge to your credit card (they are not added to the ticket price for a single charge). To avoid the hassle of paying the additional baggage fees, United offers a “Subscription” starting at $349 per year. You can also buy a “Subscription” for more legroom (Economy Plus) for $499 per year. At least United has not yet begun to charge a fee for seat selection. Some airlines charge up to $99 for the privilege of selecting a seat when buying the ticket.

A bit of research revealed that airline fees have increased by 1,200% since 2007, when there was no fee for checking a bag on United. This gigantic leap in fees was facilitated by the $2.5 billion that American, Delta, United, and US Airways have charged since 2007 in bag fees alone.

I did not use the restroom or the power outlet provided between the seats on either leg of the trip. I was afraid there would be a fee for use.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Spread 'Em!

Carol Ann and I will be heading out to California Thursday morning. We will be traveling on an airplane rather than in the motorhome. This will be a quick trip out and back-- only four nights. The reason for the trip is to meet our son's in-laws-to-be (should help us recognize them at the wedding in February). Rob, our son, and Kasey, his fiance, will meet us at LAX and we will spend two nights with them in Marina Del Rey and then two nights with Kasey's parents in Newport Beach. Rob has just about every minute of our visit planned out, he hates for us to have free time for naps and such.  Such a waste of time.  Not really.  He actually does a very good job of keeping us entertained. One afternoon he will take us out in his Hunter 45CC sailboat, which should be a lot of fun -- if it's not too much like work. Rob also plans to take us to an indoor Go Kart track where we will all drive electric Go Karts on a concrete track. Sounds like fun. Then, on Saturday afternoon in Newport Beach he has scheduled a gondola cruise of the harbor. He said all we have to do is sit in the boat and drink for a couple of hours while some guy with an accent and funny hat drives the boat. Hopefully, we will be celebrating Georgia's victory over Missouri. The game will be on TV at 9AM Saturday. I've never watched a football game so early in the morning. It just doesn't seem right.

One thing that concerns me about this trip is the flight. I haven't been on an airplane in a long time and am a bit anxious about getting through the TSA security check(s). Things like that always make me nervous, even though I have nothing to hide. I'm afraid that the Houston Intercontinental airport TSA agents will notice my nervousness and think I'm hiding something. I don't want to be singled out for a strip search behind a little curtain.

I've been singled out before for "additional screening." At Shreveport's airport, after removing shoes, belt, jacket, and emptying my pockets I still set off the metal detector. I was taken behind a "privacy screen" and told to unbutton and unzip my jeans, whereupon they checked every single rivet in my jeans to make sure they really were rivets.

At the ticket counter in London's Heathrow airport I gave the wrong answer to the question, "Has your luggage been with you the entire time since it was packed (or similar)?" and was immediately whisked away by two uniformed gentlemen with my luggage to a small room where I was searched and my luggage unpacked, inspected, and x-rayed. I suppose they have to find something after going to that much trouble so they were quite excited when they found the nail clippers that were "hidden" in my luggage. My nail clippers were confiscated and I was properly chastised about my attempt to carry a deadly weapon aboard the flight before allowing me to continue to the boarding gate.

I was also pulled out of a line of autos at the Mexico/US border (by "our" guys!) because I was in a rental car. The car was searched and x-rayed but there was nothing to find so I was allowed to re-enter the US.

I do hope that I am not perspiring when I get to the security checkpoint tomorrow. I would really rather not be isolated for suspected Ebola! 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

"Plant a tree, a bush, or a shrub" (Lady Bird Johnson)

It has been almost three weeks since my last post, my only post during the month of September actually, and just in case anybody missed me, I'm still alive. My time has been dominated by moving into our new house. It's only about a five minute drive from the old house so we have made an untold number of trips hauling "stuff" to the new house. We have a six-passenger Chevy Traverse that we have been using like a truck. With the back four seats laid down to make a cargo bed you would be surprised what one can haul in that vehicle. Sam, my son-in-law, used his construction trailer to haul some of the big stuff and we hired a local mover to move the "precious" things (great grandma's "antiques"). All of the little stuff is being moved in our car. It is a bit frustrating when after umpteen trips the new house is filling up and we seem to have made only a dent in the old house! From 4,800 square feet to 2,600 square feet is challenging. What to take, what to throw away, and what to sell. There is enough furniture left in the old house to "stage" the house, in hopes that doing so will help sell the house. Once it is sold we will have a humonguous "We Ain't Dead Yet" estate sale.

Time not spent totin' stuff has been spent working on the landscaping of the new house. I'm trying to get a lot done before winter in order to have a head start once spring arrives. I have sowed (or sown?) the front yard with annual winter ryegrass seed, which should hold the soil in place and give me a rich green lawn this winter (I wonder what it's like to mow grass in the winter?). I will plant a more permanent kind of grass in the spring. The back yard is quite small and we have covered it and the side yard in something like pea gravel, but a tad larger. Much of my time has been spent building flower beds and planting all sorts of plants. I visited a wholesale nursery and went a little crazy. I must not have been thinking about having to dig a hole for each plant I bought.  I purchased just a few each of bottlebrush, dwarf fountain grass, rosemary, nandina, and Texas sage, to name a few. But I bought thirty-five crapemyrtles (Red Rocket), twenty-eight jasmine (a mix of Carolina and Confederate), a dozen spirea (Bumalda and Prunifolia), and fourteen red yuccas. I also bought a red oak, three Japanese maples, and three Chinese Pistache trees. All in all, about one-hundred and twenty plants (I still have about twenty left to plant). I have moved many wheelbarrow loads of dirt and shoveled a mountain of mulch (I had ten cubic yards delivered). Each day I spend about an hour watering the plants to keep the Texas sun and drought from killing everything. I have installed a drip irrigation system in one of the completed beds and plan on doing so in the other beds before I'm finished. This is all rather new to me as I have never enjoyed working in the yard. Strangely though, I have found that I am actually enjoying the work now and am rather proud to state that so far I have lost only one plant out of the entire lot.

The Stephen F. Austin State University (SFA), located here in Nacogdoches, is home to the Pineywoods Native Plant Center, which will have its annual fall plant sale this Saturday. I know I shouldn't, but I plan to be there when the doors open.