Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Last, Hard Ride- The Montana Tour With Pictures, Part 2

Yesterday, I very nearly killed myself. It is one of the reasons why when you ride a motorcycle you must remain ever vigilant- but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Click to embiggen the pictures I have posted on this piece- they are far better that way. If your subscription has run out, this feature will work anyway. It's hard work writing and editing a world class blog like this and I don't concern myself with a dwindling readership which is mostly my mother and Troy.

After blasting through the center of Montana via Columbus and White Sulpher Springs, Troy and I arrived at the Great Falls Harley Davidson dealership. Troy bought a shirt for his gal and I stared at the bike inventory. I loved one bike, priced at a paltry 38,000. The salesman said it was a steal. I told him that indeed it was- for the dealership. While I chatted him up, he convinced me to switch hotels which I did. Some advice here. If you use a booking site like you have to cancel through This was a major pain in the ass which took me 20 minutes. They even tried to tell me it was non refundable wherein I said "bullshit, it was the cancellation policy which caused me to book it in the first place. Eventually, I managed to get it done- no thanks to the Indian call center and a call taker with a heavy Indian accent.

Troy at some geyser spot near Mammoth

The new hotel was very nice. Indoor pool, jacuzzi, breakfast. There were at least 20 bikers there. I found a biker, about my age, that Troy had talked to earlier. I walked up to him and said I hadn't found a man from New Orleans that I couldn't whip. He laughed and we spent nearly 20 minutes bullshitting. While packing later that morning, I couldn't find my favorite shirt- a black polyester over shirt that I use on chilly mornings. I searched high and low for that shirt but oddly, I forgot to just ask the front desk. (I called later, they are sending it to me)

Our route from Great Falls to Choteau was a pleasant ride. I have never eaten so many bugs. Bugs everywhere. Another reason to wear sunglasses and a doo rag. From Choteau we traveled up to the Blackfeet Indian Reservation at Browning. I had a friend from the Blackfeet tribe when I lived in Missoula and he was a great guy. The Blackfeet Indians are very friendly unlike a couple of other tribes I won't mention here. At any rate, we stopped for gas. We left and we hadn't gone a mile when I noticed my phone was missing. In a panic, I turned and went back to the gas station thinking it had been stolen. The clerk told me a woman had found it outside where we were standing in the shade. What a relief. I think I would rather lose my wallet. I am forever losing shit. I think my memory was better when I was drinking.

Yours truly, (I am hyper extending my gut) at Beartooth Lake

This is the part where I am gonna plaster a few pictures and try to catch up.

Top of Beartooth Pass, cold in the 40's and windy
Mirror inside the cafe, that's me on the right in 20 years

Cool neon, abused our waitress Barb unmercifully
E. Glacier entrance at St Mary, had lunch here

Ok, so I am pretty much caught up. Thought I'd tell you an interesting story. We were having lunch at this joint and I was of course teasing the waitress, which I have learned to do during my 25 years as a cop. There were 5 people eating in the bar. All of us were bikers, the other group were Canadians. In the middle of lunch, some kid sits down and starts to play classical music on the piano. It was pretty good. The Canadian bikers, seated next to us, kind of smiled smugly at this kid who was playing. When the kid left, one of the bikers explained to me that he was a concert pianist in a Canadian orchestra. He told me if I really wanted to hear that song- I should listen to him play it. The dude looked like a construction worker, go figure.

Ok so I am gonna put up a few pictures from the park. Downloading pictures on this Commodore 64 is taking forever.

Troy harassing some nice woman

You gotta check this out. I watched as at least 20 people were snapping photos and nudging each other, acting excited at a turnout in the park. When I finally saw what they were all all clamoring about, I find Methuzaluh, the mountain goat. This mountain goat is like a dumb shit decoy for park visitors, around 100 years old was my best guess. The park probably just tethers him there at night so he doesn't walk off or fall over and visitors feel like they get their money's worth. At any rate, Methuzaluh the mountain goat hobbled ever so slowly onto the ice and just plunked himself down.

Methuzalah, center ice, preparing for the afterlife

That night we found a hotel in Kalispell. Troy got in trouble over a video clip he took in Glacier that he posted on Facebook wherein he uttered "Show me your ****! to some random woman. Oddly his non random girlfriend did not approve so Troy stayed in to make nice and sweet talk his way out of that mess. I went out and found the tightest no limit poker game in the history of mankind. Those guys play for lunch money. I've played in home games with more action and money available. I managed to lose 40 bucks which I considered a huge victory given the circumstances.

That night and the next morning, we decided to deviate from our plan and try to make it home on Saturday. Butte hotels were full and Sunday was supposed to be the hottest day this year. (It was 111 in Boise today) So we hauled ass for Missoula and some breakfast.

I try to give every waitress as much shit as possible. It's just part of my DNA. Our server in Missoula was no different. Although she was only 21, smart, attractive, classy, and a college student with a real major- I think I convinced her that the rest of her life would be miserable, mundane drudgery dotted with periods of depression and divorce. Maybe she will have a couple of no account kids. That's what she has to look forward to. Her best years I said, were probably behind her. I think she realizes I was right. She was a sweetheart and because of that, we added a dollar to her tip for a total of two dollars. That's how we roll. She was kind enough to pose for my last picture. Thanks Taylor, I gotta feeling you will buck the odds.

Puts up with smelly, obnoxious, old men

I was not looking forward to the trip home. From Hamilton south to Boise is 300 miles of non stop curves, switchbacks, and suicidal deer. I actually donned my helmet. The other problem was that I was tired, sunburnt, and the heat was killer hot- over 100 degrees.

I run pretty hard. About 20 miles outside of Challis I was running along side the Salmon River. I was inside a left handed curve going away from the river. I entered the curve too fast. It turns out as I looked at it later, that this curve is a reverse superimposed curve meaning that it banks left but it is sloped down and away (opposite) toward the river. I have only seen a few reverse supers in my life. Road engineers are well aware of the dangers and hazards of these poorly engineered curves. I noted that all of the asphalt was torn off the road edge because so many drivers had done the same thing as I had. It was that torn up asphalt which slowed me down and allowed me to keep the bike upright. I hit a roadside hole so hard that it popped out the flush mount gas cap that I have and sprayed me with gas.

On a bike, there are no second chances. When you make a high speed mistake on a motorcycle, you usually pay for it. I lucked out plus- I didn't panic and try to turn my wheel which would have put me down. That's my experience helping me out of this jam. I would have been better off vaulting off the road at 40 or so and into the river upright. In Challis, I used a spray wand to clean off  all of the tar and dirt from my downward facing oil cooler and gathered my senses a little bit while looking for leaks or broken tire beads. The bike was unharmed. The rider however, had a serious wake up call and did the rest of the trip at or below the speed limit. From Kalispell to Boise the mileage is right at 500. It was a hard ride for an old man.

I can't wait for the next one.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Great Montana Tour- Part 1

On Tuesday, I left for Idaho Falls and Troy's house. It was an easy, 4 hour ride.

On Wednesday, we traveled through West Yellowstone and through the west park entrance. There were four or five lines of cars about an 1/8th of a mile deep. It took us 20 minutes or so just to navigate up to where we would pay our additional government tithing of 25 dollars per motorcycle or 30 dollars per car. I have always been annoyed by the fact that at least 15% of my salary gets hijacked annually by the Federal Government and somehow you'd think that would entitle you to one free park visit of this real estate which you allegedly own. Not so.

At the very least, the fucking mob in Vegas used to buy our drinks and give us free rooms when we gambled. Maybe the mob should run Yellowstone instead of these criminals. We need some crooks with a sense of fair play.

I had forgotten what a zoo the park is. Imagine thousands of shitty drivers, many from foreign lands, driving on the wrong side of the road and slow, brandishing cameras and phones outside the windows of the car, and abruptly slamming on the brakes every time they see a chipmunk. This is Yellowstone.

Holy shit. I think Troy was ready to turn around and go home. He doesn't have the patience for this. Coming in a close second is- yours truly.

The park is still awesome. We skipped Old Faithful and went through the northern part of the park and Mammoth. We pulled into a parking lot on the way there to look at some roadside attraction and while we were walking through the parking lot- a crow had jumped into the bed of a pickup and snatched a sandwich out of someone's cooler. The sandwich was still in the baggie. I was shocked to actually see a sandwich in a baggie- although I have heard of people who use baggies for sandwiches. The crow dropped the goods on the roof of the truck and began pecking at it and trying to tear open the baggie. Some oriental types, with camera phones ever ready, were taking photos of the burglary and seemed very amused.

So we took some pictures there and headed up to the Mammoth area. The town of Mammoth is beautiful and sits just north of the giant Mammoth Hot Springs. There are elk wandering all over town, munching grass in various yards and doing elk things. We saw lots of buffalo and one good sized brown bear. Someone had run over a giant rock chuck in the middle of the road and squashed it- I remember this because I thought it would be pretty hilarious to put a picture of that in the Yellowstone wildlife section of this blog. However, had I attempted to stop and get that picture- there might very well have been two giant squashed bodies laying in the middle of the road.

I am having a difficult time trying to transfer pictures from my phone to this blog so I thought I'd wait to try it when I get home and the tech boss can help me out. (I need to download the app) I will just squash a bunch of photos with captions in here.

I have heard people say Beartooth Pass is awesome and beautiful. Let me say this. Words cannot capture Beartooth Pass. It is without a doubt- the most rugged, savage, hellacious place I have ever been to in the lower 48. It is windswept, rocky, snow drifts and mini glaciers everywhere, and I don't know how many bodies of water dot the mountain sides. The switchbacks have switchbacks on this pass and quite honestly- I got tired of stopping and taking pictures and doing so- is kind of dangerous. Troy said it reminded him of some of the terrain in the movie "Jeremiah Johnson." The pass is right at 11,000 feet. I have been on higher terrain in Colorado but not like this. Temperatures on Beartooth Pass mid-day yesterday had to be in the 40's with windchill. On the low ground near Red Lodge it was 85 degrees.

We spent the night in a campground near Red Lodge, Mt. It rained a little on us because this has become a part of our trips. We teased the shit out of our waitress Barb, at the Red Lodge Cafe. Almost everywhere we go there are "help wanted" signs. Every time I enter a business with that sign posted out front I walk in and announce, "I'm here for the job, when do I start and how much does it pay?"

Tonight we are spending the evening in Great Falls. We had a largely uneventful day blasting through the midsection of Montana. We didn't take any pictures. Tomorrow we are going to attack Glacier National Park and see what happens. We'll get some pictures and hopefully post them on the blog when I get back home on Sunday or Monday.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

When I Wore A Younger Man's Clothes- The Sunday Collage

Growing up was never really big on my personal list of goals and achievements. We all know people that seem mature beyond their years- old souls. People who always use sound judgement and frown on any devious behavior. Those mature types always bored the shit out of me. I can envision them now- playing shuffleboard and Gin Rummy (never for money) down at the rest home.

Last week, I was coming home from the gym and stopped at a stoplight next to some kid in a two door Acura. We were the only two vehicles at a stop light which goes straight up a hill for about 1/4 mile. The kid in the Acura looked my way- nodded his head up the street- and gave his throttle some gas. I was on Elvis the RoadKing. No way I thought- can this kid take my bike. That's when my youthful brain took over. The light changed. I hadn't fully committed to this endeavor but clearly the kid in the Acura had.

The kid found the hole shot and had me beat by 20 feet. I was stripping gears like mad yet I couldn't gain an inch on his car. After the obligatory 1/4 mile or so- I took my beating like a man and gave it up. Even with a better start I'm not sure I could have beat that Acura. Some of these kids in Boise have seriously fast cars. I don't know if they could beat our 1970's- GTOs and 'Cudas- but it is good to know that the spirit lives on. The fast cars today are far more civilized than ours were. Our muscle was thunderous. Today's muscle lurks under hoods with small, fuel injected engines and quiet mufflers. Getting whipped on Elvis or driving the 1.8 Elantra can be a humbling experience and to be honest- I'm not sure I can take it much longer.

My next car is gonna be one of those little Cadillacs with the big engines.

On Friday, I took Elvis to a wedding. Let me tell you a little something about this guy that I will think you'll find amusing. I am beginning to see that speed has become an emerging theme in this week's blog.

About 15 years ago, I had a late start out of Boise after helping to teach a class that went late one evening. The trip home from Boise is about 150 miles over some of the most desolate and vacant highways you will ever travel. In addition to driving through the desert, I also knew that the resident state cop in that area was on vacation. I had spoken to him the week earlier. He was a notorious ticket writer.

So I set my cruise control on 90 thinking that this would be an uneventful trip home. I was blasting through the desert around 1030 or 1100 P.M. Suddenly, I see lights in my rear view mirror. After stopping, I can see a brand new recruit and his field training boss from the neighboring Sheriff's Office come lurking- ever so cautiously- up the sides of my car. After asking for my license, the new kid says, "Do you know how fast you were going?" I said, "yup, I do." Well he says, I had you at 87. I told him that was odd because I had set my cruise control on 90 so it must have bled off a little. He was all fired up when he heard that but his boss wouldn't let him write the ticket. We spent about a half hour bullshitting in the middle of nowhere that night. It was during that conversation that I realized what a really good guy this new recruit was. About a year or two later, I hired him. It was one of the best things that I ever did. I would not have known anything about this kid really, had I not bent the law a little that evening. *Laughing as I write.

I told that story at his wedding on Friday. He was still pissed that he hadn't written that ticket. I cannot think of a better human being. He is a very caring, empathetic, "go the extra yard" kind of cop. People love the guy. He is also a straight arrow sort of human being- which means absent his boss that evening in the desert- I would have most certainly been issued a well deserved speeding ticket.

On Tuesday, the big motorcycle trip through Montana begins. I had three guys tell me they were interested in making the ride and I have not heard one peep out of them since. It's a five day trip through Yellowstone National Park and Red Lodge, Great Falls, Glacier National Park, Whitefish, Libby, and Butte. The weather is supposed to be perfect. My first leg will be east across the state to Troy's house in Idaho Falls.

The problem with retiring while I still have a few marbles left- is that most of my friends still have to work for a living and taking additional time off is hard. Such is this great, new economy. I've been making preparations all week long, putting on the traveling kit, new tires, new helmet just in case. But it looks like it's just going to be Troy and me- like Easy Rider- and Troy already told me he's gonna be Peter Fonda. It's Dennis Hopper for me. So while doing the last minute preparations, I was driving around town a lot last week.

My RoadKing is very loud. I have a two into one Rinehart muffler. The other day, I fired it up at the grocery store right next to some little kid getting into a Subaru. He immediately starting bawling and carrying on like he had been gut shot, his mother trying to console and quiet him down. I smirked just a little. He will probably grow up to be a cop who stops speeding motorcycles in the desert or one of those snobby BMW riders.

So I think I am going to do one of those running, travel blogs. Ya know the kind where you take pictures of stupid shit along the way, only I have a little bit better idea which I will "reveal" during the week. I have to try something to boost these sorry ass numbers on the blog. I am too old to attempt any sort of quality writing and that has never been my strong suit anyway.

So Happy Father's Day and first official day of summer. Please stay tuned this week. I'll try to bring you some funny stuff and post it during the trip.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

When Honor and Courage Mattered- The Sunday Collage

You will never do anything in this world without courage. It is the greatest quality of the mind next to honor.

The other day, I was reading more about Bill and Hillary Clinton's "Clinton Foundation" which is nothing more than a protected conduit for bribery. Rather than go into all of the criminality that is a way of life for the Clintons'- I've selected this item summary for your perusal. (It only relates to her scandals as Secretary of State)

It begs the question- how can an entire country seemingly look the other way? How does this translate to us?

Everywhere in America tomorrow, people will have opportunities to do great things. Most people will hardly recognize those opportunities, much less act on them.

No person was ever honored for what he received. Honor has been the reward for what he gave.
-Calvin Coolidge

Throughout my life I have seen people who have acted with honor. I've found them in strange places. Often you will be alerted to an act of honor when suddenly someone deviates from our usual expectations because it will take some measure of courage to do so. You cannot predict when or where it will happen.

My all time favorite act of honor and courage came about during a very rare meeting between our district's judges, prosecutors, court clerks, and head law enforcement officials. Probably 20 of us. We had been called together to discuss problems we were having mostly as they related to the elimination of a burgeoning amount of arrest warrants and the transportation of  prisoners within the state. The problem was that our local Sheriff refused to spend the time and money to transport prisoners arrested in remote parts of the state and return them to our jurisdiction. By refusing to pick them up- people with warrants were habitually released because the arrest warrant had mileage limits on it. Thus people with outstanding arrest warrants never took care of them and the amount of warrants increased. I opened discussions that day with, "If we at the very least arrested these people and made them post bond- it could be forfeited and sent to the appropriate jurisdiction whether we picked them up or not." The Sheriff said no to this because some of the prisoners could not post bond therefore he and his men would have to go pick them up. He said it was not "cost effective" to spend 300 dollars in gas and mileage to pick up a prisoner with a 100 dollar warrant.

I had heard this line of reasoning before. I expected the usual silent agreement and nodding of heads every time this logic was offered up when suddenly a judge, clearly departing from Robert's Rules of Order blurted out- "Since when and who was it that decided that the criminal justice system must be cost effective?" "We are not a business. We administer justice in the state of Idaho. If we wanted to operate in a cost effective manner such as that- we should simply shut down the state prison and release the prisoners. That would be cost effective."

I nearly choked when I heard that. It took great courage to say that given the like mindedness of the people in attendance.

People will act selflessly with honor rarely or most usually- they will act selfishly with cowardice. Which simply means that people will usually do what is in their own self interests. They no longer care about honor or courage. They see those virtues as items which might kill their careers and paychecks. When an opportunity to act with honor and courage presents itself- cowards always remain silent. They secretly rationalize that what they are doing is the intelligent choice.

In a vacuum where honor and courage no longer matter- Bill and Hillary Clinton have found a place to call home. Apparently no amount of corruption, bribery, destruction of evidence or loss of life with it's associated lies about Islamic video graphers- will be enough to investigate or actually charge Hillary Clinton with a crime. All of those Federal prosecutors, state prosecutors, and local law enforcement officials with jurisdiction in the Clinton affairs are cowards and that of course includes the President. Void of any sense of honor, integrity, or courage in our leadership- our society is disintegrating in front of our eyes.

I know this sounds crazy- but I have actually considered making a citizen's arrest of Hillary Clinton having read a few statutes that I believe she has violated. Is that what it is going to take? Does a citizen have to get the ball rolling and if so, can you imagine how they would try to dissuade and smear you? It would be painful indeed. That's how nuts this country is becoming. We accept all of this piss poor performance just like the cowards in Washington who actually get paid to enforce the rule of law.

There will come a day when honor and courage are valued again. Call me a pessimist but I'm just not seeing it anytime soon.

I shall leave you then with this.

One isn't necessarily born with courage, but one is born with potential. Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can't be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest.
-Maya Angelou

Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Invisible Road- The Sunday Collage

I'm bringing back the collage. I think I am capable of writing one decent or insightful piece each week and sharing it. The old Sunday Collage was simply a collection of observations and thoughts- things that happened to me as I went about my small, petty, and meaningless life each week. A few of the Sunday blogs were pretty good, many of them sucked.

First off- a funny story from last night.

There wasn't a doubt in my mind that American Pharoah would win the Belmont Stakes and thus the triple crown yesterday. There is an absolute dearth of competition in the 3 year old horse racing world this year. I made that observation while watching Dortmund set leisurely and uncontested fractions in the Kentucky Derby. He should have had plenty of energy left  for the stretch drive but he simply folded up shop and finished 3rd. This was an undefeated horse. After the Kentucky Derby- American Pharoah stomped the competition at the Preakness. He won the Belmont by at least five open lengths.

At odds of 3/5, I'm just not interested in betting 200 bucks to win 120. So I passed the race yesterday and played cards instead. No limit Hold Em.

I'd like to tell you about an interesting hand and a little fun that I had with it. I have a friend I have been playing cards with for at least 20 years. He is 73 and deaf as a stump. He is a very funny guy, always laughing and flapping his gums. I enjoy playing with him. Anyway, he is sitting on my left yesterday. I am playing pocket 8's. During the hand and just after the flop, I catch a third 8, which makes my hand pretty strong. I bet 20 bucks into this pot and I get three callers- along with my friend Darrell. On the turn, the last 8 arrives and that card makes my hand unbeatable. I bet 20 bucks, Darrell goes all in, and some goofy kid goes all in as well. I am thinking what in the hell do they think they have?

So when the action gets to me, I kind of hem and haw, like I am pondering what to do. I wonder out loud whether to fold or not- and then I say " Well, I gotta see what you guys I have." I call. I don't remember what the last card was and it didn't matter anyway. When Darrell turns over his hand, he has nothing. I started laughing while telling him that a 10 high busted nothing is not going to get the chips. The goofy kid just mucks his hand and leaves the game. Darrell says repeatedly that he misread his hand while he buys more chips. I am trying to tease him but he is so deaf that I don't think he can hear me. Most of the fun of playing poker, I think, is that I get a chance to tease these goofballs once in awhile and have some fun. I can't do that when they are deaf. Maybe I will buy Darrell a hearing aid. Switching gears....quickly...

Maybe it's our tribal nature or maybe we're just not as fully evolved as we should be.

Right now, in America, there is not a more hated class of people than police officers. It has become an epidemic. It would be rather easy for any sort of real leader to step up and stop this insane hatred but squandering opportunities seems to be our President's real legacy. Obama needs to find his way.

For years, I was in awe and quite literally dumbstruck- at the absolute inability of our society to take personal responsibility for their mistakes and irresponsible actions. Rather than accept responsibility, our society blames everything on something else. Gone are the days when the sad, simple truth about any given mistake was that you had nobody to blame but yourself. And why not? We have an entire class of professional enablers, crappy parents, lawyers, clinicians, co-dependent friends, none of whom are paid to tell you what you need to hear- instead they are paid to tell you what you want to hear. It's not your fault.

What a bunch of shit. You can't possibly become a better human being until that aha moment arrives, that moment when the clouds part, and God himself says, "You are the biggest problem in your life- quit blaming everyone else."

I am weary of every class of people whining about how bad they have it. The Indians are still blaming us for stealing their land. The blacks are still waiting for reparations for slavery. Women whine because they aren't paid what men make. The hispanics whine because they think they should be entitled to illegally cross our borders and receive every benefit that the citizens of this country have already paid for. They feel discriminated against. The younger generations think the boomers screwed them, the boomers think the younger generations are filled with idiots. The 99% hate the 1%.The old white guys think we're the only unprotected class and we get picked on. Obama thinks Fox is out to get him.

And millions of Americans think cops are the problem. Are you starting to see where I am going with this?

My very best moment arrived when it dawned on me that the biggest problem in my life had always been me. As much as I took responsibility for my decisions, I had rationalized away some of  my other poor decisions. I saw that as an opportunity. I can work and fix me. I can't fix the Indians, the blacks, women, millenials, or even some drunk. But I might be able to change the way I see things and improve the way I live. Until you get that piece of information and truly buy in- your road here, the really happy one, is invisible. It is not available to you. You will wander aimlessly, blaming others and squandering your gifts and your life, consumed with hatred, jealousy and contempt for the people you think are doing better than you. It's a sickness.

The worst part about our culture right now- is that they have no instruction and no leadership. I like to use President Obama because he is such a perfect example of what I am talking about and he is our chief law enforcement officer- the alleged head of the executive branch. Obama can't find the invisible road. He is busy blaming the GOP, Congress, Fox News, everyone but himself for his problems. That's all he cares about- himself and protecting his image. The dude is completely unconscious. It's a weird thought but I almost hope that Obama never discovers that he was his own, worst problem. I can't imagine having to spend the rest of my life knowing that not only was I the problem- but had I discovered that fact while I was still President and in a position to lead people- I could have inspired a nation to take responsibility and helped heal it's people. Instead, I made it worse. That's a lot of guilt to carry around.

Sometimes, I think, there might be a few folks who are better off not knowing what might have been.


Friday, May 29, 2015

The Epic Flight of Lawn Chair Larry

About a week or so ago, I saw a blurb on television about "Lawn Chair Larry." This dude is not an urban legend or myth- this guy is an urban truth. Of all of the crazy shit I have witnessed in my life, I'm not sure anything can top the epic flight of "Lawn Chair" Larry Walters, age 33, on July 2, 1982.

I was midway through my last year in college and I had just started an internship with the local sheriff's office when I read a story in the newspaper about this guy. Having exited the chaos of the 70's, I considered Larry Walters to be just another lunatic from California. I was wrong.

The story of Lawn Chair Larry is one of the most outrageously funny stories of all time. Larry you see, had a dream. He wanted to fly. He had no pilots license, his eyesight was bad, and he didn't have the means or the money to accomplish his dream. So Lawn Chair Larry did the next best thing. He built his own flying machine and dubbed it the "Inspiration 1."

It was a lawn chair with 42-45 (depending on varying accounts) helium balloons attached to it.

Now just in case you think Larry Walters was a lone nutter, please remember this. Behind every good nutter is a woman who is equally as nuts. In this case it was Carol Van Deusen, Larry's girlfriend. Rather than trying to dissuade Larry with (I don't know, maybe) some safety concerns, Carol actually bought the balloons and helped Larry by forging a document which allowed Larry to obtain enough helium to fill all 45 balloons.

Having fully thought this through, Larry strapped on a parachute. He had some sandwiches and soda, a CB radio for communications, a camera, and a pellet gun to shoot the balloons with once he had decided to descend. He also tied a number of milk jugs filled with water to the chair for ballast. The entire contraption was tethered to Larry's jeep and launched from San Pedro, Ca.

Upon severing the tether that restrained the Inspiration 1, he lost his eyeglasses and rapidly ascended to a height of 15,000 feet. Larry then drifted into LAX airspace where he was seen by several pilots. Larry was in contact with people during his flight via CB radio.

Larry got cold up in the atmosphere and after about 45 minutes he started shooting weather balloons until such point that he dropped the gun overboard. He was then at the mercy of the trade winds and subsequently- a slow and uncontrolled descent into some power lines. Rather than be electrocuted, Larry was able to exit the Inspiration 1 and was immediately arrested by Long Beach Police for something. They didn't know what exactly. He was subsequently fined for the episode.

Larry lived his dream. Later, the Smithsonian asked Larry for his chair but alas, he had given it away. It is now displayed at the San Diego Air and Space Museum.
In a cruel, but not entirely unforeseeable event, Larry took his own life (1993)- 11 years later at the age of 44.

Some 33 years later, I still find Larry's story just as fascinating and funny as the day I first read about it. I guess Larry was put on this earth to live that one dream.

Click here to see the epic launch of the Inspiration 1.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Poker Room

Life has a perfect economy.

I watched Dick carefully as he walked into the room. He was hunched over and listing to the right. His glasses, always a little crooked, tilted down and to the left. His ball cap bill was straight and unfolded. His face was a little wrinkled but not too bad for a guy I figured to be in his early 80's. He gripped a cane in his right hand and he had a very tight hold on it. Just as soon as he sat down, he hunched over in his seat and barely peered around. I will always remember him looking over the top of his glasses. I wondered if his eyes were so bad that looking around the room just wasn't worth the effort anymore.

These are the kinds of things you wonder when you know you are next. On deck, I call it.

I first met Dick when I was 21. That was 33 years ago. I figured Dick was in his late 40's back then. He stood pretty tall, around 6' or so, and still had enough hair that wearing a ball cap wasn't part of his daily apparel. Dick often just kept to himself, playing far more hands than he should have. Once in awhile, he would have one of those divine days where he would get extraordinarily lucky- hitting every draw. I remember a few of those days. Dick could also lay into opponents that criticized his style of play at the poker table when he was having one of those good days. But mostly Dick was quiet and un remarkable. One of those guys who fills a seat in a poker game but rarely gets noticed.

Unless you played cards with him every weekend for 25 years.

I quit playing poker, more or less, about the same time I was getting divorced and being "retired." That was 8 years ago. On rare occasions, I still play a little. Mostly though, I have been beaten into submission by time and the cruel vagaries of luck. When it comes to cards, I just don't have that much luck.

I think Dick is one of those guys too.

The old guys remember our time in the poker room. We laugh and joke about the old days- the night we drank pussy drinks- which was kicked off when one of the guys at our table ordered a green grasshopper. I must have drank 30 drinks that night, green ones, pink ones, copper camels, white russians, sex on the beach, gawd did we get drunk- the entire table. We laughed until 6 am that morning drinking with our pinkies extended and talking like chicks. People talked about that game for years.

I remember the absolute worst beat I have ever delivered to another human being. He was a loudmouth and an arrogant guy, not unlike myself, although I must say Jim S. probably deserved the lifetime achievement award for ego. The hand, the beat, should have never been played. In fact, my hand- held by a rational human being using just a smidgen of sound judgment- would have been discarded. But big egos make for giant stories and this is one of those.

We were playing 10-20 limit Hold'em with a full table. Jim S. had raised, been re-raised by me, and subsequently took the last raise before the flop. There were five players in the hand and we had each invested 40 bucks before the flop. I had an A-10 suited. I was sitting chilly behind my loudmouth friend who came out firing just as soon as the flop showed up. The other players folded, leaving only Jim and I in the hand. The flop was K-9-9. I had nothing. Hoping he was bluffing, I raised him to find out. He raised me back. That's when I knew he had something. I don't know why- but I made a bad play. I called. The turn card was another 9. Now the board showed K-9-9-9. This time he checked. I began to think he had nothing so I bet 20- he check raised me and made it 40. I made another bad call just before the miracle happened. The 4th nine came on board. The board was K-9-9-9-9. He bet, I raised him and he was suddenly reduced to a caller and loser while simultaneously delivering the most ungodly howl of disgust and profanity I have ever heard in a poker room. It continued for the next 30 minutes.

In Texas Hold 'em, the best 5 cards play. In this case, no matter what he had- I had four 9's with an ace kicker or the best hand possible. When he rolled over pocket kings- I realized I had caught the only two cards I could possibly win with other than ace, ace.

And for just one moment, in the 33 years that I have been playing poker, I considered the possibility that there might be one guy on the planet more unlucky than I was. In fact, I have never seen Jim S. in the poker room since that time- although I have heard various rumors regarding his disappearance that had nothing to do with that hand..

There were plenty of bad moments in that room as well. Heart attacks and deaths at the table, cheaters, big losses, fist fights, a confrontation with my father once, thrown drinks, I even think poker played a large role in my divorce although at the time- I was in denial. Other couples played. My ex and I both played. Once the divorce was final- my ex never played again.

Last night, I recalled some of those memories with the old guys. We laughed a lot only because I skipped the re-telling of the bad stories. Nobody wants to hear those. I missed every draw for 10 hours straight but I did manage to win the biggest hand of the night with three 5's.

I kept glancing over at Dick from time to time. Broken down by life, hunched over and clutching his cane as he sat quiet- I couldn't help wondering if that's how it's gonna be for me. If that's how it is for all of us. Little caricatures of once mighty men. As I sat there- Dick who was seated across the room, glanced up, saw me, and smiled. I walked over, shook his hand, and told him it was good to see him. That might be the last time that I will ever have that chance.

Every once in awhile, somebody will remark to me what a waste of time all of those years in the poker room were. That of course is nonsense. No time is wasted, there is simply no such thing.

I spent thousands of hours in this room. Nearly a lifetime. I used to look at old people in the room and feel so detached from their reality- like that will never happen to me. Maybe I didn't want to think about it. I realize now, after spending thousands of hours with guys like Dick, that my time is coming. I wish that I had taken more time to get to know my opponents over the years.That's a shame. Not because I wasted so many years in the poker room- but because I failed to spend more time talking with these people for the countless hours I spent seated next to them at a table. People and their lives are infinitely more interesting than a deck of cards. Mostly, I think, I missed an opportunity. I could have nurtured so many friendships. Maybe I was there to learn that. Maybe, guys like Dick are there to help me with my old age apprenticeship.

In a poker game in New Orleans, I had a gal tell me about a book that changed my life.

In life's economy, nothing is wasted. People are living and learning- sharing knowledge, hope, and time in any number of venues like a poker room. I realize now that I spent those years in that room because I was supposed to be there. And when I learned what I came to learn, either via the soft way or the hard way, I moved on. I can't really quantify what I learned in that place. But if you insisted on having me answer the question, "Brian, what did you learn in that poker room?"

I might tell them, "I learned something invaluable. I learned to be a better human being in that room."

Today, I am not sorry for one moment I spent in that room. Life offers a perfect economy and I am very grateful for the lessons I learned in that place. If I see Dick again, I think I'm going to ask him out to dinner.

**Here's a link to an older piece I wrote along the same lines.