Monthly Archives: May 2015

I Wanna Be A Cowboy

I wanna be a cowboy. I’ve been a city boy all my life, but that certainly has not prevented me from desiring to roam the countryside on the back of a horse. As a youngster I dreamt of becoming either a fireman, policeman, baseball player, or a cowboy, like most boys I presume, when I got older. A couple of those aspirations were realistically attainable, but I have to wonder where one would even go to apply for the position of “cowboy.” My fascination with simpler times, horses, and jingling spurs most-likely stems from faithfully watching episodes of Bonanza and How the West Was Won during my childhood.

I can also recall watching reruns of The Lone Ranger, Maverick, and The Big Valley on a daily basis. (My love of Rawhide and Clint Eastwood westerns came much later in life.) I fondly remember trotting up and down the hallway and around the living room, on my imaginary steed, every time the Bonanza theme song coursed through the speakers of my parents’ console television. I would ride into the sunset at the beginning and at the end of every episode. My prancing somewhat resembled the way The Church Lady, from Saturday Night Live, would dance around at the end of “her” (Dana Carvey’s) Church Chat skits. Well, isn’t that special?

I can imagine the serenity of living on a ranch. I can even picture myself riding my horse, Prickly Pete, from one end of the property to the other while looking for trespassers and mending fences along the way. For some reason I have it in my mind that that’s what cowboys do for most of the day. The spirit of the Old West is very appealing to me (except maybe for the lynchings). Bringing someone to justice was certainly swift back then. Whether the accused, with the noose around their neck, was actually guilty or not was often a moot point. I hate to think how many innocent men were strung up under that type of justice system.

Entering through the swinging doors of the local saloon, after a long day of mending fences and searching for trespassers, seems very enticing as well. Quaffing a mug of beer or having a shot of whiskey, to cure one’s dry throat, undoubtedly would be right up my alley. Of course, I’d prefer a craft beer, or at least some Diet Coke with the whiskey, although I’ve never seen that on television. I’m not at all into the bar scene, but I would think the atmosphere of an old-time Western saloon would be quite alluring. The dancehall women mingling with the customers, the piano player in the corner doing his thing, the serious gamblers gathered at the poker tables, and the assortment of cowboys getting drunk would surely be a sight to behold.

I’ve only ridden a horse on two different occasions, throughout my entire life, but I still have the notion to become a cowboy nonetheless. The first instance was when my family called on my grandparents in Missouri, and I was shocked when I found out my grandpa had acquired a pony since the last time we had visited his modest farm. I was ecstatic after being told that us youngsters would have the opportunity to ride the miniature horse later in the week. When the anticipated glorious day had finally arrived my father put me on top of the pony, and my grandpa placed a large cowboy hat onto my small head. He then grabbed the rope, loosely looped around the critter’s neck, and began slowly walking us about the backyard.

The new experience was wonderful (for about 5 seconds) until my hat fell off, spooking the animal; therefore, the beast bucked me off onto the hard ground. I absolutely thought I was finished imitating a cowboy at that point, but you know what they say one should do after falling off a horse. I assure you I did not care, but my father whole-heartedly subscribed to the aforementioned theory, so he and my grandpa eventually convinced me to get back on the horse. I was again placed on top of the varmint, with a few tears in my eyes, but this time without the oversized cowboy hat. The rest of the ride was smooth sailing, and I’m glad I was pressured into…I mean lovingly urged to…get back on the pony.

The second time I rode a horse was in 2003, during a Caribbean cruise, while the ship was docked in Casa de Campo. My family and I had signed up for a horseback riding excursion to entertain us while we were on dry land. We were immediately given plastic helmets to wear after arriving at the site. The unattractive headgear fit our heads just about as well as my grandpa’s cowboy hat had fit mine so many years ago. Our instructors did not speak much English, but we got the gist of their basic instructions from their continuous pointing and nodding. We wandered the foreign land, taking in the exotic scenery, as a couple of guides kept watch over us.

Trotting along the dusty trail was a dream come true, and I felt like a genuine cowboy once I forgot about the hideous helmet on top of my head. That is until our instructors decided to take our horseback riding excursion up a notch. One of the guides hollered something, and suddenly every one of the animals picked up their pace. My horse bolted past all of the other riders, including the lead instructor, and the sprinting steed kept going and going and going. The guides were yelling for me to stop (now that I understood) although I had already been pulling back on the reigns and shouting, “Whoa!,” for quite some time. The lead instructor did eventually catch up to me, only for a second or two though, and desperately tried grabbing ahold of my horse’s reigns, but he was nowhere near triumphant.

My horse was now galloping as though it was favored to win the Kentucky Derby. I realized it was entirely up to me to get the beast beneath me to stop. Making the situation even worse was that my backside was involuntarily rising up from its seated position, with every step the horse took, and then painfully slamming back down onto the saddle. The unpleasant ordeal reminded me of a game of Paddle ball: where a player continuously smacks a rubber ball, connected to a cheap piece of elastic and stapled to a wooden paddle, for as many consecutive times as possible. Obviously, my buttocks represents the rubber ball in the previous example.

My greatest fear was that the dashing horse would come to a screeching halt (like in cartoons) and I would find myself air born: soaring past the animal with only my plastic helmet for protection. I’m not exactly sure if I finally yanked the reins hard enough, or if my assigned horse simply got tuckered out, but ultimately the thrilling ride was over, and fortunately I was still alive. The consequences, for inadequately posing as a cowboy, were an extremely chaffed rump, for the rest of the cruise, and some visible scarring, reminding me of my venture, for several months thereafter. Even after the two less than perfect experiences I’ve had, with the four-legged creatures of the Old West, I still think someday I wanna be a cowboy.


Bring ‘Em Back

I am absolutely fond of traffic enforcement cameras on interstates and at intersections. (Well, there probably goes half of my readers.) Photo-enforcement is such a touchy subject, amongst us civilians these days, although it really doesn’t make much sense to me why some would be against curtailing speeders and red-light runners. Why doesn’t everyone desire safer roads? There seems to be two main reasons why some people are opposed to the cameras: they’re either certain it’s a ploy by local governments to make money, or they’re convinced an individual should have the right to confront their accuser.

It’s true that a traffic violator cannot cross-examine a camera; however, neither can anyone who’s captured on a surveillance camera when robbing a bank or a convenience store. Should all cases then be dismissed simply because the offender was not caught in the act, by an actual human being, at the time the offense was committed? Of course not. If that sort of logic is acceptable then I would think we’d have no other choice but to also render all security cameras, in all establishments, useless in the aiding of law enforcement. The right to confront the accuser, under these types of circumstances, is a weak argument at best.

Concerning municipalities receiving funds (via fines), from non-abiding citizens, I say, “so what.” If a city can garner a few bucks while making their streets a little safer then good for them. Slow down, don’t run any red lights, and it won’t matter. Besides, obeying traffic laws isn’t all that difficult. Speed cameras on freeways allow for drivers to exceed the posted speed limit by 11mph (at least they did on Arizona’s Loop 101) before snapping a photo of the perpetrator. Unfortunately, most of the municipalities in the Valley of the Sun have discontinued using the traffic enforcement technology. I miss the cameras. I miss them a lot.

The majority of Arizona’s elected officials erroneously embrace the ideology of “personal responsibility” above all else. That apparently includes the public’s safety, and it surely explains why the Grand Canyon State is one of only three states (Montana and Texas being the others) without statewide texting while driving laws. I have lived in the Valley for eight years, and I’ve utilized the same roads when there was and when there wasn’t photo-enforcement; therefore, I know of which I speak. When Arizona had speed cameras on the Loop 101, I’d set my cruise control 7mph over the posted 65mph speed limit. I’m aware I was still breaking the law, but I found 72mph to be my self-appointed “safe speed” in which I thought all drivers should adhere to when on the freeway.

I flowed with the majority of the traffic (at 72mph), and I wasn’t at all concerned about human law enforcers even though they had every right to pull me over. I never had the propensity to tap my brakes either, when going past the photo radar, because I knew I was within the “acceptable” speed. Now that the cameras no longer exist I am literally one of the slowest drivers, if not the slowest, on the 101. I’ve increased my “safe speed” to 73mph (sometimes 74mph) in an attempt to keep pace with the rest of the drivers…but to no avail. The vast number of vehicles whizzing by, and the rate of speed in which they’re traveling, is absurd and undeniably unsafe. Removing the red-light cameras, at most of Arizona’s congested intersections, was just as ridiculous and just as unsafe, and their absence has contributed to the decline of our state’s public safety as well.

It is not uncommon, after one’s traffic light turns green, to encounter one, two, three, and sometimes even four vehicles carelessly (and illegally) veering directly into their path of right of way. That definitely was not the case when the cameras were in place. I have learned over the years that leaving “personal responsibility” up to the individual is almost always a monumental mistake because many people tend to take a lackadaisical approach to their responsibility. One need only read the blog, “Responsibility…And The Blame Game,” by the talented up and coming writer, James McCleary, to understand what I’m saying. Sometimes we need our government to intervene, on behalf of its citizens, to make our world a safer place, and I think this is one of those times. I miss the traffic enforcement cameras…I really do. I wish they would bring ’em back.

King Of The Mountain (part 2)

What did I get myself into? How much further could it possibly be? Why on earth did I start off this journey by jogging? Those were a few of the questions swirling through my mind as I’d periodically raise my weary head and gaze into the heavens. I had been clambering up Mount Elden, for well over 2 hours, and I was more than a little disappointed I had not yet reached the crest. I still had plenty of water (although dehydration was not the problem) because I had been rationing the first bottle, and I was saving the second one for after reaching the peak.

The higher I ascended the more strenuous the terrain had become, and I was having some difficulty catching my breath. The 9,000 ft. plus elevation was surely contributing to my exhaustive state. A few times throughout the hike I found myself gently falling to my knees, in apparent defeat, only to regain my footing and my perseverance. I strongly considered turning back, but that’s not who I am, so I kept climbing. Three hours had passed, since I’d left the comforts of the campground, when at last I reached the mountain’s summit.

I felt an overwhelming sense of accomplishment after conquering the 3-mile high Mount Elden. I celebrated by munching on trail mix and tapping into my second bottle of water. I phoned my wife so we could wave to one another, but neither of us could see the other’s flailing arms from that distance. I disappointedly placed the phone back into my pocket, rested a few more minutes, and then began retreating down the massive heap. I was hungry, and I was extremely eager to return to the campsite. I previously had been told hiking to the top of the mountain and back would most-likely only take a couple of hours. It did not.

I was also informed my skater shoes would be sufficient enough for the quest. They were not. Several times I lost my footing, as I hurriedly descended down the mountain, but I was able to keep my balance with my catlike prowess…for awhile anyway. Suddenly, while slowly jogging around a bend, I found myself in a horizontal position. I had slipped on the graveled path and out towards the rim of the mountain. I somehow managed to grasp onto a rock along the trail, as I went sliding past, and fortunately the protruding formation was stable enough to halt any further momentum. Both of my legs, from the knees down, were dangling over the side of the mountain.

I breathed a sigh of relief, carefully morphed back into a vertical position, and brushed the embedded pebbles off my arms. Out of curiosity I took a peek over the edge just to see what might’ve been. I was a tad taken aback when I did not spy any boulders or jagged rocks down below. The only thing visible, over the rim, was a colossal cluster of enormous pine trees. Regardless, I doubt if landing on the tree tops, several feet below, would’ve been a whole lot better than landing on rocks. I thanked the Lord. I then continued my descent, but this time I did not jog, scurry, or scamper. I simply walked this time although apparently it didn’t really matter.

Once more my feet failed me, but at least this time I fell backwards onto the path. However, my left knee was bent underneath my body, and the “popping” sound I heard while going down wasn’t all that comforting. I detected a burning sensation in my knee, but I was able to rise up and continue on down the mountain…with a limp. I was flabbergasted when I saw my lovely wife at the base of the vast heap. She had gotten worried and sent out a search party (of one) to look for me. My wife was ecstatic, as was I, when our paths finally crossed. Neither of us had imagined that hiking Mount Elden would’ve been anywhere near a 5 hour ordeal.

I told the missus all about my completed mission, purposely omitting the part about my dangling legs of course, as we walked back to the campsite hand in hand. My entire body was sore (I had knee surgery a few months later), but the elation I felt, mainly for being back on level ground, overshadowed all of the aches and pains. I took a much needed shower before scarfing down my breakfast even though the clock on the wall said it was lunchtime. I’m pretty sure I ate some lunch, with the rest of the “happy campers”, as well. A short while later the 24 hours I had promised my wife were over, so we loaded up the car, said our goodbyes, and headed home to sweet civilization. I thought I had permanently satisfied my wife’s desires, but I’m afraid her yearning to camp has resurfaced. It has already gotten to the point where she is willing to inconvenience herself solely for the purpose of letting her wishes be known.

Recently, while my wife and I were shopping, I ventured off to take a gander at whatever manly things the department store had to offer. During that time my wife came across a t-shirt she felt she needed to show me. She carried around the garment (she had no intentions of buying) throughout the store, for several minutes, until she saw me coming towards her. My wife playfully held up the t-shirt which read, “Take Me Camping!” (or so we thought). Upon further investigation it actually read, “Take Me Champing!” Neither of us could decipher what champing meant, but I got her point nonetheless. However, if the next time we go camping I find myself saying, “I must climb that mountain,” I will know to be better prepared (hiking boots in tow), and I certainly will be better at pacing myself. I don’t want to have to labor so much, or risk my life, to once again become King of the Mountain.

King Of The Mountain (part 1)

One day my lovely wife suggested we go camping with her aunt and uncle. I was a bit baffled by her increasing fascination with the great outdoors. I’ve only gone camping two or three times, throughout my entire life, if sleeping in a tent in one’s own backyard counts as doing the deed. My criteria for camping is having immediate access to indoor plumbing, air-conditioning, and television. My wife’s aunt and uncle’s newly purchased camper offered all three amenities, so I was willing to sacrifice part of my weekend to make the missus happy. That’s what good husbands do for their spouses. It’s not that my wife has ever been an avid outdoorswoman, at least not in the thirty-two plus years we’ve been together, but suddenly she was adamant about giving it a try.

My wife and I arrived at the campsite, located in Flagstaff, Arizona, and quickly unloaded our car before settling into our “new home” for the next 24 hours. Our “roughing it” experience began with a harmless cookout. The outdoor gas grill churned out some delicious burgers, and the refrigerator inside the camper kept the side dishes from spoiling. Afterwards, the four of us congregated to our comfy lawn chairs, situated on a small cement slab next to the camper, so we could chat and simply enjoy the summer’s eve. We were accompanied by a cooler of ice-cold beer. It rained off and on, but it really didn’t matter since we were nestled underneath the camper’s extended awning.

I could not help but notice the gigantic mountain towering above us in the near distance. I kept glancing at the magnificent mound, in between our enlightening conversations and swigs of craft beer, until I finally decided to inquire about what I’d been spying. I found out I was looking at Mount Elden, and it was within walking distance from the campsite. I continued probing into the matter throughout the evening, and eventually I was reminded of a quote from the classic holiday movie, A Christmas Carol. After coming to his senses, and being overcome with a childlike excitement, Ebenezer Scrooge declares, “I must stand on my head.” I found myself to be outright giddy, like the former curmudgeon, while surveying the mountain, and ultimately I concluded, “I must climb that mountain.”

The humongous heap I had been observing all evening was a far cry from the mountains I had scaled back home at Thunderbird Park. It certainly was nothing like the snowbanks I used to conquer as a rambunctious adolescent growing up in Iowa. I fondly remember when a pile of snow and a couple of friends typically meant only one thing: playing a testosterone-fueled game of King of the Mountain. It was good to be king, but sometimes the consequence of playing the physical game was “his royal majesty” would be left with one or two less friends by game’s end although usually for only a day or two at the most. No, the beast now currently before my eyes was definitely going to be more challenging than anything I’d ever climbed before.

The next morning I got up early, had a cup of coffee, and grabbed two bottles of water, some trail mix, and my cellphone before heading out on my newfound mission. I jogged on a dusty path leading from the campsite to the numerous trails beginning at the bottom of Mount Elden. I found the sign pointing to where I desired to go, looked up to the heavens above, and then began my anticipated 2 hour roundtrip journey. After following the trail a short distance I came across what I could only assume was a family of visiting tourists. They obviously were of a different nationality because I could not understand a word they were saying. They were taking turns snapping pictures of one another while posing atop an assortment of boulders along the trail. I flashed them a smile as I meandered through all of the commotion.

I soon noticed the path I was navigating seemed to be heading downwards. It’s not uncommon to encounter a few patches of declining land when mountain climbing; however, experiencing them so early on, and at such a rapid descent, was undoubtedly confusing and too much for me to simply ignore. Thankfully, at my time of uncertainty I was greeted by someone heading in the opposite direction. I informed him of the situation at hand, and I asked if he knew what might be happening. He did. The local man explained how we were on the Fatman’s Loop trail, which only went around the mountain, and how I must have wandered off the Elden Lookout Trail; therefore, missing the entrance to Mount Elden.

The friendly hiker assured me there were signs, a ways back from where I had just come from, indicating where I should go. I traipsed back a bit, and sure enough there were the signs: labeled with bold letters and in plain sight. I contemplated how I possibly could’ve missed them until I realized I was standing in the exact spot where I had earlier run into the presumed family of tourists. The posing family members surely would’ve blocked anyone’s view, of the informative signage, when standing on top of the boulders. I had lost a little time (and energy) in search of the correct path to take, but I was now officially ready to scale Mount Elden.

Responsibility…And The Blame Game

I am a huge fan of responsibility. In general, I’m also keen on laws, rules, and regulations because then everybody knows exactly what’s acceptable and what’s not, or at least they should, and there ought to be no excuses for not abiding by them. That’s partly why I favor the Affordable Care Act. “Obama care” forces people to do the responsible thing, obtaining some form of health insurance, or else having to pay a fine come tax time. I was versed about responsibility, at a very early age, and that there are consequences to one’s actions. I was even taught when you borrow something you need to return it in the same condition, if not better, than when you took possession of the item. That’s certainly the responsible approach to take in that type of situation.

I also learned when you make a mistake you should admit it, and try rectifying the circumstance, instead of attempting to lay blame elsewhere. Back in the good old days unwed couples automatically tied the knot after learning they had conceived a child. I miss those days. That was responsibility at its best. However, responsibility has apparently fallen by the wayside, in this day and age, along with respect and common sense. A person need only watch Judge Judy once to comprehend the scope of what I’m trying to convey. Practically all of the cases on the show involve defendants blatantly shirking responsibility for their actions, and bringing them to court is the last chance plaintiffs have for receiving due justice.

It’s almost unbelievable how clueless some people are, concerning responsibility, and what they’re actually willing to say and do in order to avoid accepting any deserved blame. Many cases are about someone borrowing a car, from either a friend or a relative, having an accident, and then not understanding why on earth they should have to pay their friend or family member for the damages. Their defense, more often than not, is that their friend or relative is at fault because they should not have allowed them to borrow the vehicle in the first place. What?! No matter how long and hard the Daytime Emmy-winning judge tries, to make all of the ungrateful borrowers understand, her common sense explanations virtually always fall on deaf ears. Judge Judy shouldn’t feel too bad though because some people simply refuse to understand.

One of those people are Joseph Jessie Corrales. The 24 year-old recently pled guilty to second-degree murder in the beating death of a 17 year-old while robbing his home. During Mr. Corrales sentencing he said, “I am not a criminal, I’m a man who made a mistake in life.” Those hollow words do not ring true because Corrales was already on probation, for a different robbery, at the time of the murder. Unfortunately, the convicted killer was not the only one in the courtroom making excuses for his appalling behavior. The murderers attorney, Kellie Sanford, suggested he deserved leniency since men his age do not possess the cognitive thinking needed to avoid bad situations. I’ve heard that theory before: the brain isn’t fully developed until a person reaches their mid-twenties; however, I’m convinced all 24 year-olds have at least a general idea of the difference between right and wrong, and I absolutely think they know that murder is reprehensible.

Saying anything to the contrary only signifies how this country tends to coddle and enable those who make the wrong choices in life and shirk all responsibility. Another example of what I perceive as a nationally “acceptable” irresponsibility is that of those small disclaimers on the back of those humongous dump trucks. What’s the deal (as Jerry Seinfeld would say) with all of those signs reading, “not responsible for falling debris,” and, “not responsible for broken windows,” etc. Does posting a disclaimer really exonerate a person from accepting responsibility for their actions? I reckon I even thought so, at one time, since I would hang up a couple of “not responsible for accidents” signs whenever my lovely wife fancied having a garage sale at our house. Regardless, I don’t care if the truck has a sign or not because if the load is too big, not secured, or if the bumper’s debris had not been properly brushed off then I positively will hold the driver of the truck accountable for any damage done to my vehicle.

Recently, I realized I was searching for someone, other than myself, to blame for my own carelessness, so I’m painfully aware how tempting it sometimes can be trying to shirk responsibility and falling prey to the blame game. I came home one day, after a refreshing morning at Starbucks, to find a traffic cone placed at the end of my driveway. The City of Peoria had previously sent out flyers warning the neighborhood they’d be repaving our streets, one lane at a time, so I knew the orange pylon meant our side of the street was to be repaired first. I moved the cone, parked my wife’s car in the garage, and then purposely repositioned the rubber pylon in approximately the same spot. After a while I decided to run some errands since the city had not yet started their project.

I backed out of the garage and was quite startled when I felt (and heard) a “clunk,” but of course I instantly knew what had transpired. I had completely forgotten about the traffic cone, and I had not seen the small structure in any of the mirrors when backing out. I quickly got out of the Hyundai to assess the situation. The Elantra appeared to be fine, but the orange pylon was significantly bent underneath the car’s frame. I was unable to remove the cone with my hands because it was wedged in there so tightly that it would not budge, so I pulled the vehicle forward a bit and…ta-da. No harm, no foul, or so I thought.

The next week my wife was leaving work and noticed the rear panel of her Elantra was slightly split at the seam. It did not take a genius to figure out how the damage may have happened. We took the fairly new vehicle to the Hyundai dealership since the car was still under warranty. I showed the service department representative the split seam, but I did not offer an explanation as to how it may have occurred. The representative gave the entire backend of the car a thorough once over (mainly with a confused look on his face). He concluded, after finding a few scratches down low, the Elantra must’ve been hit; therefore, it would not be covered under our warranty. The service department representative also informed us they would have to replace (not repair) the whole back panel, and he gave us a $1,000. estimate to fix the car. I was utterly in shock.

The blame game had officially begun. I rationalized the destruction done to the vehicle was the City of Peoria’s fault. Someone on the city’s payroll after all was the one who originally positioned the traffic cone in my driveway. In addition, if they would have begun resurfacing our street immediately, after placing the pylon, I never would’ve even considered leaving the house that day to run inessential errands. I then reasoned if the city wasn’t responsible then surely somehow the Hyundai dealership was at fault for not honoring the warranty. Ultimately, I came to my senses and stopped searching, for someone else to blame, and I finally admitted I was solely responsible for the damage done to my wife’s Elantra. I’m certainly disappointed I chose to dabble in the blame game, but at least in the end I got it right.