Archive for the ‘Writers’ Corner’ Category

LOSING YOUR PENNSYLVANIA LANDOWNER’S RIGHTS IN THE MARCELLUS SHALE…

Saturday, December 11th, 2010

Pennsylvania Representative Camille “Bud” George states this about Force-Pooling: “…Intrusive government would be depriving an individual’s property rights to benefit private companies.”

Oil and Gas Industry lobbyists have concocted another name for it:  “fair pooling.” There’s nothing “fair” about it; Force-Pooling is eminent domain in sheep’s clothing.

Let’s say a Force-Pooling  law is enacted in Pennsylvania, and, for whatever reason, you have remained unleased to any Oil and Gas Producer operating in the new Marcellus Shale play. Judging from 37 other states where Gas Producers have lobbied it into law, here’s how Force-Pooling would work in Pennsylvania:

UNBIDDEN, A GAS OPERATOR COMES TO YOU with a lease. You may chase him away, or make an attempt at negotiating more suitable terms. The Operator and his landman prove inflexible.  You are told if you don’t sign, you face subjection to the new Force-Pooling law; that, as a “holdout,” you’re in the way of the Operator’s plans to harvest gas from the surrounding countryside, thus threatening the correlative rights of the mineral owners already leased to him.

This means a yet-to-be formed PA State commission will hear your case, most probably assigning your property to that gas Operator. He has formed a more economical area to drill (it can be of any size, but it’s probably in the range of  640 to 1,000 acres)—say, a 640 acre UNIT containing  11 other owners. Of which you will now be a fractional part. To make it easy, let’s assume each of the other owners has an equal portion of the unit.

Your return will be 1/12 of the 12½% minimum State royalty unwisely agreed to months ago, and very early in the play, by your new neighbors. If monthly production from the 8 wells in the UNIT totals $80,000, you will receive only $833. (Had you not been Force-Pooled—giving up most of your production to your new neighbors—your property alone might have held one of the wells, providing you, initially, with about $10,000 per month.)

Force-Pooling might indeed prove an advantage to the neglected property owner watching his neighbors being drilled. Through an advisor, he wangles a meeting with the Operator and signs a lease on the Operator’s terms. The Operator gerrymanders this new parcel onto his approved UNIT, granting the neglected owner a generous signing bonus and a proper pro-rata share of unit royalties.

What that neglected property owner may not know, is that the Operator wanted him added to the unit in order to Force-Pool another holdout residing within the unit. (Blocking a horizontal drill path that has been quickly redirected into the neglected owner’s conveniently tacked-on parcel, the unleased holdout is now cited for interfering with the neglected property owner’s correlative rights, then Force-Pooled by the State into the Operator’s unit.)

But, just a minute…Pennsylvania doesn’t yet have a workable Force-Pooling law! Present-day gas comes from the Marcellus Shale which lies atop the Onandaga limestone…old Oil & Gas pooling laws DON’T apply.  Oil and Gas Operator lawyers and lobbyists are putting steady pressure on PA legislators to undo what they perceive as a limitation in the old laws and, furthermore, apply restructured Force-Pooling regulation to ALL new Penna. Oil & Gas wells—no matter how, where, or to what depths and stratas they are drilled.

Years roll by…. you wonder what might have happened had you been free to walk away from the whole mess, or at least negotiate a lease more to your liking—one that would have lent some control to a few developing problems:

  • You discover that gas wells decline in first-year production as much as 65%, then more gradually in following years until they expire. Shouldn’t you have been compensated with a higher royalty %?
  • Your well water may have turned brown, or have bacteria or chemicals in it that you are certain were never there. Is any redress now possible from the Operator or the State?
  • How about damage to your crops, road, woods, and piece of mind caused by the drilling of a vertical well on the surface (unexpected, when you were thinking horizontal) and the annoyance of service work going on near your outbuildings or home?
  • What about gas pipelines (the gathering system) and possibly well and frac-water transfer pipes buried atop those lines?
  • A compressor station within earshot might make sleeping difficult.
  • The resale value of your property plummets. You find your land is now “HBP,” or held by production; it will remain the Operator’s—until the unit wells are plugged and abandoned. Nothing seems to be as it once was. But you can’t leave—it’s your home.
  • Taxes rise on the yet-unproduced portion of your mineral wealth.
  • The Operator wants to drill even deeper and exploit the Utica Shale, 3,000 or more feet below the Marcellus. Will you receive  additional compensation? Do you have any say in the matter?

The Pennsylvania legislature has just pleased the Oil & Gas Industry by voting down a severance tax on gas production; will it next please the Industry by coming up with a new Force-Pooling act?

Those legislators who have chosen to support the passage of Force-Pooling into law must know they are on the edge of public defiance—the abrogation of Article 1- Section 1 of the Pennsylvania State Constitution, stating that citizens have certain “inherent and indefeasible (that which cannot be lost; inalienable) rights,” including those of “acquiring, possessing, and protecting property and reputation”; as well as Article 1 – Section 27, saying: “the people have the right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic, and esthetic values of the environment.”; and lastly, making a mockery of Article 1 – Section 10: “…nor shall private property be taken or applied to public use without the authority of law and without just compensation being first made or secured.”

Is your Pennsylvania State Representative or Senator on board with the Oil & Gas Industry — or YOU?   Better call or write them for an answer!

WHITHER GOEST THE E-BOOK?…

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

This past weekend I attended the “Gathering Of Authors” convention sponsored by INFINITY PUBLISHING at the Raddison Hotel and Convention Center in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. I was set back on my heels by two speakers in particular–Dan Poynter (that  estimable  guru of Self-Publishing from Santa Barbara, California) and Marc Schulman, consultant and President of MultiEducator, New Rochelle, N.Y.

Let me list, paraphrased in outline form, what they said that so jolted me:

1. ebook publishing and sales is on a rocket-ride upward, while conventional trade publishing has visibly begun to take a back seat.

2. If you drew a graph of book sales, ebooks would be rising straight up, Barnes and Noble sales would still show a moderate increase, and the smaller  independent books stores would describe a line falling into the cellar. (Some people say even Borders might be teetering on the edge…)

3. Consider that you can download many ebooks of classics set up for viewing on Amazon’s Kindle ebook reading device for NO COST. (You can download MY book, 3 ACES, should you so choose,  for a modest 99 cents from my Amazon Kindle Page. Then enjoy it, any time of your choice, on your Kindle reader.) True enough, the prices of many other ebooks reach into the area of $4.95 to $9.95, but that’s a long way from the $25 to $35 hard cover prices one has been used to. These days, PRICE has become a HUGE consideration for the beleagured reader.

4. CONVENIENCE is the next biggie: consider that you can carry a whole library of ebooks on a single reader–be it a Kindle, Apple iPad, or a Barnes & Noble Nook eReader. This eliminates bookshelving in your home! If you move,  just take your eReader, Kindle, or iPad along with you in the car. The books are there–at your touch!–any time you choose to call them into sight.

5. How about the equipping of schools with ebook readers, either student by student, or by on-screen projection for entire class viewing. What does this do to the market for $130 school textbooks which students can no longer comfortably afford? What might this do to promulgate greater learning among the underprivileged? Here we have price destruction (beneficial to students) combined with ease of access. You might ask how those school texts ever got to prices in excess of $100 in the first place! It seems a bit of price destruction is well in order in the realm of education.

Well, that short list  is  just a starter–to get your head spinning. I’ll have more to say on  this sprightly new path the publishing world is taking.

BUMS OF LAS VEGAS…

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

Visitors to Las Vegas may not be aware that a  part of their number are the truly indigent–the down and outer. You won’t bump into them on the bus, train, or plane, or on your arrival at McCarran International Airport. Just when they do  arrive in Vegas, and what their means of transport might be, often remains a mystery. But arrive  they do, and many become full-time residents.

Let’s be clear who I’m talking about. These are not  gamblers who  find themselves suddenly broke; they are the ragged, the unbathed, the often quarrelsome folks who have lived like this for months or years on end – those who have found themselves taking up space on Earth without  a means of  support. More than a few are obvious mental cases, thrown to the elements by some governmental authority that closed the facility where they were housed.

Why do such people choose Vegas? Think about it…it’s warm here nearly the whole year round, it’s got thousands upon thousands of monied tourists to hit up for a handout, and even more interesting, it’s got a county and city police  trained to humanely handle the indigent and steer them to shelters–steer them, that is, if they will go. Many won’t, and end up establishing residence in the flash-flood drain pipes under the Strip casinos and the downtown casino and commercial area.

Clark County drain pipe bums were recently featured on a Sunday morning TV network show. The existence of vagrants in this hidden network of  pipes came as a surprise to me. I visit Vegas more often than most, but these huge conduits for flash-flood waters are not something most of us would ever have cause to search out. The TV show was not helpful in pinpointing exact locations, but it was obvious that hundreds of vagrants call these dry drainage pipes home. God help them when infrequent  desert rains set off  flash-floods, a certainty several times a year. Cruel as it seems, their few belongings will be destroyed, along with the  food and bedding  they have squirreled away in these lonely steel tubes. The drainage pipes become the  scene of chaos, heartbreak, and – most probably – death for some.

Roaming Fremont Street (downtown Vegas) you’ve probably noticed uniformed, helmeted cops, dressed in black uniforms, patrolling (the touristy part under the Fremont Experience light show canopy) on speedy  two-wheeler Segways and bicycles. In conversations with several of these cops I found that the bums roaming the downtown area are a major source of concern to the police department – and why would they not be? In addition to breaking up fights amongst the indigent, the police do their best to separate  them from the  gaze of tourists. One city policeman told me that Medicare and the ACLU are active in legally and medically  sheltering any Vegas vagrant seeking help. Numerous vagrants claim they are subject to “depredations and acts of cruelty” at the hands of the Las Vegas and Clark County police – sour grapes on both sides. Take a look at what I’ve observed while strolling downtown Las Vegas:

MOUNTED BUMS:  vagrants on battery operated senior citizen scooters. They’re not racing around out of control – the cops see to that. Only a few bums have managed to set themselves up this regally. One even carries a pet dog  in a  satchel, a Pomeranian! A favorite hangout for this particular bum is the bandstand plaza  west of the Fremont hotel and casino.

SUN-SOAKER BUMS:  love to crouch against the east wall of the Four Queens hotel/casino (far enough off Fremont so that you don’t quite see them) and, as the name applies, soak up the sun like lizards. If they have imbibed or shot up  a bit too much they may spread out lifeless, there at the foot of the wall, face-up on the narrow sidewalk…a group obviously near the end of their rope.

SPITTING-ANGRY BUMS: I caught half a dozen of this variety hunched against the 3rd Street (east) wall of the Fremont Hotel and Casino about 6:00 a.m. one morning. That wall apparently retains heat from the prior day’s sun. A bicycle cop had politely asked them to move out before morning  tourists began to fill the plaza beneath the Fremont Street Experience. One rose and defiantly told the cop where to go. To his credit, the officer maintained his cool. I gently inquired of the bum where he hailed from and received a string of epithets and spit that would have cowed Arnold Schwarzenegger. I quickly found myself in sympathy with the cop.

ELITE BUMS: This is a very different  bum, a gaily costumed type who will be a close (or proximal) facial match for the celebrity impersonated. A favorite  is “Elvis” and his companion “The Showgirl.”  Neither sings nor dances, they simply pose in the evening for photos, when the light show attracts thousands. This couple is young, the girl most attractive, well-coiffured and costumed – although Elvis would do himself a favor in losing a good fifty pounds. They probably make a fair living out of their dress-up.

Perhaps the most amazing of the elite is the “living statue”, clothed in a greenish, gold-spangled set of tails and top hat. His skin is rubbed with a non-reflective cream-colored compound which leads you to believe he’s inert. When a tourist draws closer to examine the statue, it wordlessly – ever so slightly – moves. Then stops! This performance goes on for hours, attracting entranced viewer after viewer. Tip money flows generously to this incredible poseur.

On another night, twenty feet from Fitzgeralds’ main entrance, I caught a striking black girl in a statuesque pose. Tall and slim, with the striking build and facial features of a New York high-fashion model, she was scrupulously dressed in a white wool pullover sweater, tight green skirt, and black stiletto heels. She too was immobile, but so shocking was the vision she presented (for Vegas, that’s a real statement!) that she actually caused the crowd to part around her. I watched for fifteen minutes:  no money changed hands; no one spoke to her; she spoke to no one. Was this a prostitute?..a mental case?..a classy vagrant with a bad formula?  Dunno, but I had to give up typing that one. Such elite bums mean you no harm; they are simply trying to survive in their own inventive way.

STRIP BUMS: Most generally found on the crossover walkways above and alongside the busy Strip traffic lanes. They are of  three types: WATER-SALESMEN BUMS, COLLAPSED BUMS, and SMUT BUMS. The water-sellers hold out $1 clear plastic bottles of water (God only knows what’s in them, or where the bottles came from) and keep pulling bottles from scarred foam coolers as quickly as tourists totally parched by the desert heat chug down the contents. The mode of salesmanship is rude and crude, delivered as you might to a prisoner about to be guillotined.  Out there on the strip, the collapsed bums are truly collapsed: they’re sun-baked all colors of a roasted chicken; they can be found not only sprawled dead-center on crossovers but sometimes on the floor of the senior citizen elevators at either end.  Smut bums sell nothing directly. They are paid to dish out promotional brochures chock full-o-sexy young gals and phone numbers. I am told that the services offered by the young ladies pictured consist largely of a con-job. If you want to be party to an elaborate and expensive sexual scam, accept one of the brochures and start dialing.

Aren’t you pleased to have learned a bit more about what awaits you in Las Vegas? And aren’t you very glad that what happens in Las Vegas, manages to stay in Las Vegas?

3 ACES NOW ON KINDLE; READERS IN THE NETHERLANDS…

Saturday, July 31st, 2010

The Kindle production of 3 ACES is now downloadable from the Kindle Store. You will find every word faithfully reproduced from the soft-covered paperback production, along with the chapter indices, interstate highways, and military map pages so necessary in filling out my interwoven story of a distraught young woman (Dawn Carlisle, the great granddaughter of the Sioux chief Red Cloud), a solitary truck driver (Abner Weaver, the SF recon Vietnam vet.) and Pip, my injured half-breed pit bull. It’s a great way to take along  my 3 ACES story on your August vacation or a weekend trip to the beach.

On Wednesday of this week, in downtown Las Vegas, I was enjoying an afternoon swim in the rooftop Binions’ pool far above Fremont Street, when a lithesome female form popped from the water. Perfect English, delivered with the hint of a Rhineland accent, and her soft smile had me at ease before I realized I was face-to-face, conversing with “Gonne” of the famous Jack and Gonne team from the Netherlands. The three of us agreed to meet later on, down at the Four Queens bar, street-side on Fremont. Along with a round of drinks, Gonne gave me a formal request for a copy of 3 ACES, which I was happy to fill from the last one remaining in my luggage.

Next day, they were on their way to San Francisco and I was packing for the trip back home to the Endless Mountains of Pennsylvania. Only then did it dawn on me that, when they returned to the their home across the Atlantic Ocean, I would have my first known readers in the Netherlands. What a nice way to end a fun-filled week in Vegas….

ODE TO MY FRIENDS, THE SPAMMERS…

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

Having just set up a new desktop computer – my old faithful homebuilt crashed after eight years of steady use – you can understand why I haven’t posted much of anything these past weeks. Another reason is that I just got tired of mostly putting stuff out there for you spammers to make money from. Yes, after two years of writing blogs, that I hoped would stir up interest in my 3 ACES website and perhaps an occasional purchase of my novel, 3 ACES, I’ve come to the realization that perhaps the only guys and gals (if you really have a corporeal form) voraciously gobbling up my blogs are you Spammers.

I honestly didn’t know what a Spammer was. So I had to look you up on the internet, just like you looked me up. Except that I find you really aren’t a “you” at all. What you are is a “spambot,” some kind of spider that goes crawling around looking for peoples’ work to glom onto and send out in bundles that somehow makes you a lot of money with the tap of a computer key. Doesn’t sound very nice to me. Or ethical either. But you are going to do it, just like Congressmen who ply their trade of scamming the public by accepting bribes from business through middlemen (and women, often their own relations) called lobbyists. I guess your Spammer middleman is the very same implement that I am using to get this blog message out. Does that make me a kind of Spammer scammer too?

I know a few people have run across my blogs and read them for pure enjoyment. I’ve actually received comments from such people, and can tell you that it really makes my day when that happens! It’s not a regular occasion, mind you, but it’s sure welcome.

Well, I hope the content of this blog will sail out there with the content from the others. And maybe whoever ends up using my content to promote their own business will have little twinges of embarrassment when they read this content that they have purchased from the Spammers in question and stop giving them business. It’s really not right.

As for all the kind folks who have said nice things and posted legitimate comments to the articles on my 3 ACES site, keep ’em coming!

SPEAK OUT – AND SELL YOUR BOOK…

Sunday, February 14th, 2010

Yes, there’s a terrific amount of competition out there meeting anyone who promotes and attempts to direct-sell a self-published book. Forget the fact that a sea of new books hit the market every month. Look at it this way: if you manage to reach a few potential readers every month, that no one else is pitching at the same time, you are likely to convince them that they cannot do without a copy of your book. That, of course, assumes you have an appealing and fully professional volume to present. What better way to communicate your subject matter than appearing before them?…

Instead of spending money with one of the marketing hucksters who promise you lists of available speaking engagements all over the U.S.A., consider your own back yard. It’s an expensive process traveling to distant speaking engagements; every mile in your car costs you a minimum of 40 cents, not to mention time consumed, meals, and the cost of lodging. For those reasons alone, you’ll want to address groups as close to home as possible.

How many people will you be addressing? Probably no more than 50, and often less. After all, most of us are not famous; such turnouts should be considered gratifying. How many of the audience will buy your book when you are done speaking? Ten percent – if you have a novel that really interests them – more, if you have a non-fiction book that realistically outlines a method of health or financial improvement. (Any publisher will tell you that novels are a tougher sell than a non-fiction work. )

Okay, how do you line up the speaking engagement? Well, the easiest way is through a friend. In my own case my first several speaking engagements were suggested by people who knew me well and thought a group they belonged to would enjoy listening to what I might have to say about my self-published novel, 3 ACES.  I don’t really know what they expected to hear, but I do know I have a lot of interesting information to impart about my book – a “relationship” story, with trucking, gambling, and Vietnam as the background – a writing and publishing effort which occupied the better part of 7 years. With my background of professional acting, I was confident I could read my own work to a live audience in a fashion that would pique their interest.

Having lined up several speaking engagements, I pondered how I might present the most compelling parts of the book in the limitations of a one hour presentation. Personally, I don’t like readings that drone on for over an hour, especially if the reader is speaking too fast, trying to cover too much material. My writing is dialogue-heavy and I enjoy doing the character parts, which provide variety and, despite my best efforts to avoid slips of the tongue, some occasional levity.

I try to cover my book in seven or eight selections, each  stressing different characters and plot points. The reading of each section lasts no more than 4 minutes. During a practice reading, I’ll time the selections, reading slowly enough to be understood…two minutes per page. When I have allowed enough time to read slowly enough to be understood, but not so slow as to be monotonous, I know I can relax and enjoy myself. Varying timbre, speed, and volume to match the passage being read is equally important. Keep in mind though, that the tendency for any reader is to proceed too quickly – I can’t stress that enough. You must make an effort to read distinctly and clearly, without rushing.

Another thing I’ve hit on, is to preface each segment being read with a little informal “confession” of what went astray in the writing and was corrected  editorially before publication, or just what ideas gelled that formed a given character, or what kind of research I undertook to get vital information. I’ve become somewhat of a bug on research, so I enjoy spilling the beans on myself in disclosing what I’ve done to fully understand my subject matter.  I try to restrict each pre-reading discussion to four minutes.

Some groups will have meals served at the meeting. In that case you will eat with the group and present later. It’s normal to have some people leave early – they’ve come for the meal only, so don’t take it personally. Even worse, where there is no formal meal, there may be a refreshment table. People will be getting up and down for cake and coffee. You can’t let that rattle you – even when some snack and leave. I like a meeting where there’s no food at all. If anyone walks from that one, you know for sure it was YOU! It’s most gratifying when you discover you’ve held a good-sized audience in their seats for a full hour.

When you finish, don’t forget to thank the audience for coming. Don’t neglect to tell them about your website – www.richardide.com, in my case. Before your talk make sure you have at least five shiny new books piled on a table beside you, with an opened box below. I place my special bookmarks and a few cards alongside for anyone who wants one and close, mentioning a discount for anyone at the presentation who wants to purchase a signed copy of 3 ACES.

That’s it…hope I’ve given you a few ideas for your own presentation.

THE ROAD TO FLORIDA – HALF A YEAR LATER…

Sunday, February 7th, 2010

If you recall, in my blog of July 26th, 2008 – LEAVING I-95 AND LOVIN’ IT… -I stressed the financial chaos experienced, at the time, by the casual automobile traveler to Florida. I referred, at the time, to a quick trip of my own in late June, made from the Endless Mountains, west of Scranton, PA to the Sarasota area. Stressors then had been generally intense traffic flows, especially through the Washington, D.C. area and on down to Fredricksburg, Virginia; erratic and/or deceptive posted gas and motel prices; and the endless spin on every radio station about a recovering economy and “green shoots.”

Last week I took another quick trip to Florida , the object being a speaking and reading engagement at the Tarpon Springs Library. Watercolor artist, Sherri Patterson, had paved the way with The Friends Of the Library and Linda and Jay Linebach (old family friends) were my hosts for the four-day stay. The experience of discussing and reading from my novel, 3 ACES, proved most pleasant, not to mention one wonderful luncheon on the sponge docks, at the Hellas Restaurant. I am pleased to recommend their superb crab-stuffed grouper!

But I must tell you, that in just 7 months, the stressors of June, 2008 have done a mighty flip-flop! No more is there talk of “green shoots.” The high gas prices are now erratic to just plain weak, and traffic in general has thinned out something fierce! What?..all this in just 7 months?

“Job loss” rules! President O’bama has been shaken from his Health Care coddling by the loss of a Democratic Congressional seat in Massachusetts – jolted awake by the jobs situation. The boys and girls of the Labor Department, down there in Foggy Bottom, have shifted into high gear monkeying up the numbers; they’d have you believe things are forever getting better. Their latest computation – 9.7% underemployment.

But add in the 2.5 million people looking for work over the past 12 months, and the Labor Department’s 9.7% grows to 11.3%.  Tacking on 8.3 million  folks forced to take part-time work because they can’t find the full-time version, you arrive at a 16.9% underemployment number.

And, oh yeah – what about the poor devils so discouraged with their search for work that they’ve just given up?… Toss them into the mix, and we’re at 26.7 million – or a total of 17.5% underemployed!

Consider that the American public’s spending accounts for 70% of GDP (Gross Domestic Product) under our “capitalistic” economic system, and you find that we are wading in ever deepening doo-doo!

What I saw on my drive down to Florida reflected this distress. I took I-81 to 1-77 and at Columbia, South Carolina I-26 to I-95 in order to bypass Friday traffic around Washington and on into Virginia; both of which take a toll on your patience. Holding to I-95, you can lose up to four hours.

On I-81, rolling past Carlisle, PA, a major transportation hub – a spot from which I often drove long haul while gathering the information to write 3 ACES – I witnessed any number of enormous, new warehouses with no visible activity at their doors or on the loading docks. The vision of inactivity so stark, that I wondered if these structures were not headed toward bankruptcy proceedings. (Further back on I-81, up around Buck Run,  I had caught sight of several huge new plants and warehouse operations that looked underutilized, but witnessed nothing quite that dramatic.)

Then, while on 295 and I-10 in Florida, I sighted any number of dealer lots overloaded with tractors and trailers for sale. Not just one or two, here and there, but dozens – in every lot! When I left long haul work in 1997 to begin my book, you would have been hard pressed to find even a handful of such vehicles for sale in these same lots. Goods not being warehoused; goods not being shipped. Major consumer turndown, anyone?…

Once on 1-95, covering South Carolina on into Florida, from Friday afternoon rush hour to 9:00 that night, the lack of four-wheeler traffic was shocking. Trucks, even with their reduced numbers, were the dominant vehicles. I-95 traffic was a fraction of what I’d experienced last February and June on trips to Sarasota.

Lending substance to the sharp drop-off in automobile traffic was my experience in checking into motels. At Exit 2 – Kingsland, GA – I checked in and out of one low priced motel (their internet connection too weak to get me online) and then tried two other motels nearby. All three had internet systems that proved somehow inoperative, and I rejected the rooms. Two were quick to drop their prices when they saw I was walking. THAT had not been the case the year before! Then it had been a case of landing a room, at any price, before it disappeared. One room clerk admitted their winter tourist traffic was down at least 50%!  The room I took that night in Florida, was at a popular upscale chain, internet functionality guaranteed. Nonetheless, I pulled the walk-away routine and the room price quickly melted 30% – without an argument – the clerk bending over backwards to accommodate me! Bartering is back;customers have the edge.

Gas prices are still sticky, but this year they were rising and dropping with each unpredictable jump or fall of the dollar. I shopped, as time and fuel tank level permited, for the cheapest “regular” fill-ups I could find. Highest price paid: $2.79, on 1-95 in South Carolina…lowest $2.44, off I-95, on Georgia Route 17.

It’s a great time to be on the road. If we have any more financial shocks, it will only be to the traveler’s further advantage.

SO YOU WANNA BUY A LOCKHEED LIGHTNING?…

Monday, January 18th, 2010

I was sixteen, still full of the excitement of World War II. An intact war-surplus P-38 had been sitting, forsaken by its owner, on the tarmac at the Wilkes-Barre – Scranton airport and had been offered to me for $1,000. Trying to convince my father the fighter could be disassembled and stored in a neighbor’s barn, he asked if “I had my head on straight,” saying it was “a fool’s dream.”  My Dad refused to come up with the money.

Forty-five years later, on the road as a long haul trucker – gathering the information to write 3 ACES – I would visit the air museum at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and learn that the “piece of junk” my father had ignored was currently worth at least $1 million dollars – whatever its condition. The plane had finally been sold for scrap.

And here I was, about to board a Jet Blue A320 for JFK, 3000 miles away, at the very Burbank, California airfield that had been the birthplace of that fighter plane and thousands like it. The Lockheed plant was now a parking lot.

The Burbank airport is tiny compared to JFK, the personnel folksy, its TSA people even managing smiles.  I stood a moment in the hallway leading to the security check-in, admiring a chiseled bronze statue of Amelia Earhart surrounded by photos of her famous Electra parked before some of the old Lockheed hangars.

Once in the air, we climbed through a filmy layer of pure white clouds to 36,000 feet. Scudding at 460 miles per hour through a clear blue sky, I read for most of the flight, but spent the last two hours in conversation with a student occupying the window seat next to me. Deep into criminal law, he had spread his schoolwork out on the little seat tray before him. He wanted to know what I did, where I was from, what my life had been like – and what I thought of his girlfriend. His questions were sincere, very much in earnest. I did my best at the answers, and he thanked me by saying the conversation had not been like talking to “just another old man.” Those questions of his opened up the age gap in a way I’d never experienced. On the ground at JFK, when we shook hands at the baggage carousel and parted, I felt like I’d just lost a chunk of my past.

Getting off the Air Train and approaching my car in the long-term parking area, a queasy feeling hit me. The weather here very cold during my week in Ojai, something told me my battery was dead. The key went into the ignition switch very carefully…I turned it…and my 1987 Dodge Diplomat roared to life! Then came a sharp rapping on my driver’s side window – a frantic young couple pleading for help: it was their battery that was dead! Half an hour and two jumper cables (in series) later – after one hell of a cranking session – we got their newly bought Chevie running.

An hour later, I was coming off the lower deck of the 59th Street bridge, proceeding west in Manhattan on 60th Street. May I advise Mayor Bloomberg that his 60th Street is an ungodly mess of dips, patches, and thick steel plates?.. Cars double-parked in the middle of the night, buses and taxis converged on me more rudely than ever. West on wider 57th was little better. Relief came only when I emerged from the Lincoln Tunnel and found myself running almost alone on New Jersey 3, west toward Scranton and Tunkhannock, PA and the peace and quiet of the Endless Mountains.

My thoughts drifted back to the two hour ride that morning to the Burbank airport, with Tom and Christine, my hosts for the past week. We’d left their peaceful home in the Ojai Valley bathed in 80 degree sunshine, to climb route 150 along the edge of the Sierra Madre Mountains then descend steeply into Santa Paula (an area setting for the Daniel Day-Lewis movie, THERE WILL BE BLOOD). Those quiet agricultural valleys, framed by leafy, sandy hills had left me partly in another world.

A quick Cheeseburg platter at my favorite diner polished off the transition back to the East Coast. As always, Frankie and Charley (I’ve no idea of their real names) were on duty. “Frankie” sits on a stool as you enter the diner. He escorts you either to a table or the counter. When I indicated the counter he grunted, his face curling in a sour smile. My platter came “up” as though it had been waiting, the Cheeseburg delicious, and “Charley” slithered from the kitchen, waving an empty milkshake glass at the Strawberry phizz machine; it spit a horrible thin stream of rosy liquid into his glass. A dejected look on his puss, he moved off to the empty dining room.  At the register, “Frankie” grunted again, took my money and waved a menu to three wise-guys who, elbowing me aside, had just come up the diner’s brick steps. Yeah, yeah, yeah…I was back in Jersey. But traffic was light and the diner business was hurting.

Four hours later I turned the key in my door and set down my stuff. Just for fun, I unzipped my overnight carry-on bag: I didn’t need the TSA’s pre-printed, stamped tag to tell me what had happened. Those smiley faces at Burbank had dumped the contents, pawed through every smidgeon, then jammed it all back in again. The inspection probably triggered when the metal in my surgically corrected hip and shoulders set the bells a-ringing, which in turn had brought a fierce sweat to the TSA fellow’s brow; combing my frame with his wand, he couldn’t get the bells to stop ringing. (When was that bomb he thought I was carrying going to explode on him!) I’d stuffed the transformer, wires, and cables for my laptop into my overnight bag (along with the mouse and batteries in the toe of one slipper) to make my laptop case lighter to carry. Wonder what kind of a sweat my bag had raised on the forehead of the X-ray techie?…

Well, it’s a changing world, folks. Moving a little too fast for this old man…and maybe way too fast for the poor devils at the Burbank TSA.

WHAT’S A DOG DOING IN MY TRUCK? – OR HOW “PIP” POPPED INTO 3 ACES.

Sunday, December 13th, 2009

Whenever you pull alongside a big truck and glance up at the driver, you may spot another face staring down at you, that of man’s best friend. Truth is, many drivers – not to put down their womenfolk, at home with the kids – welcome a dog’s company. Reciting your troubles to a canine pal won’t get you any answers; on the other hand, it won’t produce any criticism. When you’re all done kvetching to your four-legged friend, what you will get is an impulsive slurp or two on the kisser accompanied by an enthusiastically wagging tail. Your long haul pooch is happy just to have you all to him or herself.

A trucker faces often impossible delivery deadlines, grueling hours behind the wheel, arguments with his dispatchers, and telephone battles with the home front – if there’s anything left of the marriage after a few years of regional or long-haul driving. You want to rest assured there’s no one breaking into your cab while you’re in a truck stop shoveling down a meal or enjoying a good, warm shower; a snarling beast steaming up the windows of your truck is a wonderful deterrent. (more…)

RESHAPING MY VISION OF NORMAN ROCKWELL

Sunday, December 6th, 2009

Growing up during World War II, one of the things I most looked forward to was running to our roadside mailbox and greeting the weekly arrival of the Saturday Evening Post. Each issue was sure to feature a cover by Norman Rockwell. I didn’t realize it then, but those incredible magazine covers – and the associations they represented – were to become an indelible part of my life.

In the course of nine years of long haul truck driving – the main purpose being to gather information for my recently published novel, 3 ACES – I often ran trips to New England, each time routed up I-84 to reach the eastern portion of the Mass. Turnpike. Only once did I run the western section, unaware, at the time, that I had passed a few miles north of Stockbridge, Mass. and the Norman Rockwell museum.

Last Saturday, returning home in my car from a holiday visit in Boston with my son’s family, I found myself driving west on Mass. Route 102. I decided to both reawaken a few childhood memories and make up for that occasion I’d missed visiting the Rockwell Museum. At Route 183, a bit beyond Stockbridge I turned left, then left again less than a mile down the road, into the tree-shrouded Museum drive. (more…)

 

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