Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Opening Ceremonies

Are you watching the Olympics?  I said recently that I probably wouldn't see  very much of the coverage.  I only saw the 2008 opening ceremony on reruns or news clips, but what I saw was really spectacular.  This year, especially since just about all other TV programming was reruns and since the Red Sox are easy to miss (and as it turned out the Friday game was especially easy), I decided to watch some of the London opening.

Some of it was pretty good, like the first hour or so and the spectacular lighting of the torch at the end, but in between was lot of very less than exciting stuff.  Like the McCartney song.  Wow!  That just went on and on and on.  It wasn't even well done and all I got out of it was the belief that McCartney thought he was the Olympics.

Some of that first hour was real interesting to watch as the history of England was attempted to be shown.  The scenery changes and the thousands of people all getting into their places were spectacular.  Some was a little less, though, such as the music through the years segment. 

I've read mixed reviews of the Queen's and James Bond's parachuting into the arena from a helicopter.  Of course neither did as doubles were used, but it was fun watching the mini-play.

I was really impressed with the forging of the Olympic Rings and their rise into the night sky.

The arrival of the torch at the end was also exciting as it was passed to a group who ran around the stadium and eventually to the lighters of the official torch.  Each member of the selected youth group carried the torch for a short distance and it was a run that I'd bet none of them would ever forget.  The official torch rose into the air officially programming, "The Games have begun."

After thinking about it, I think the Beijing opening was a whole lot more spectacular.

Now the athletes are competing.  I probably won't be able to offer too many comments on that.


Thursday, July 26, 2012

A scary moment

We've all had those moments when a little event tries to set the tone for the day.  Shucks!  At my age, I've had many of them.  One of mine is as recent as the pasr Thursday.

The day started off as usual, well.  I am scheduled to be at a local fitness place at 6:45 for an hour of torturing my body every Tuesday and Thursday.  There are only five of us left who participate in a "Senior Fitness" program which isn't nearly as demanding as the programs the 'youngsters' are going through right next to us in the gym.  But what we do does get the heart pumping blood through the body, sweat flowing, and muscles being reminded they haven't totally atrophied, yet.

Going to that session requires an early rising.  Among other things, I put on a pair of pants (I haven't worn anything resembling 'trousers' since I retired.); extra hearing aid batteries went into one pocket; my car keys found another; and finally, the wallet slipped into a back pocket.  The last item before leaving is placing the hearing aids into their spots.

I felt each pocket and all was well.

One other and I finished our routines but he had to wait for his wife, a member of our group, to finish hers so we went to the waiting room to solve the day's problems before we left for other places.

Every four weeks I must stop by NorDx in Scarborough to have my blood tested.  This was the day.  There was some confusion there as the Maine Medical Center building is undergoing renovation.  NorDx had temporarily moved but I found it on the absolute opposite corner of the structure.  Very easy parking at the new location so I was delayed only a few moments.

I decided to put my insurance cards in my shirt pocket as I was heading into the building to make it easier inside.  I reached for my wallet, the one I had carefully slipped into the back pocket and even checked it as I was leaving home.

You're right:  I had no wallet!!!!

I'm not sure which gets a heart beating faster, not finding a wallet or the exercise at the fitness place.  One second thought, yea, I do!

For the second time this year I used my cell phone to make a call.  I calmly explained my plight to my wife who then searched every place I had been before heading out.  No wallet.  We could not find the phone number of the fitness place so I did the natural thing, I headed back there.

I held on to my calm and kept the car under 100 mph.  Puffing into the building my first question to the receptionist was, "Has anyone by chance turned in a wallet?"  Fat chance of that happening but I held on to a knowledge that just about everyone there that time of day was decent, honest, and just one of the gang.  Interesting word there, isn't it?  No one had turned it in.

With permission to return to the gym to look for a lost cause, I was greeted with no one rushing to me excitedly saying, "Dave!  Lose something?" and holding a wallet high in the air.  The pounding inside the chest began as my head began trying to name the credit cards, etc., that had to get canceled while I headed for the final station I had used, a stationary bike.

Slowly, a small square came into view from under the bike.  The excited pounding increased dramatically as I could see it was a brown wallet.  "Probably empty," I muttered out loud, in spite of my knowledge of the caliber of the people there.  Don't we always assume the worst?

A quick look, however, showed it was intact.  All my credit cards, my insurance cards, any other stuff were all there.  I had left the house with six dollars.  The wallet still held on to that fiver and singleton.

I'll bet I haven't had as big a smile as it was at that moment.  I gave my thanks to the only One who took care of my wallet while I was away, called my wife (third call this year) to let her know the good news, and headed back to NorDx. 

I love it when those little glitches have a happy ending.


Sunday, July 22, 2012

Three random thoughts

Every once in a while along comes a rather interesting radio commercial, one that truly shows imagination.  One currently playing on local radio is a spot by, I think, the Maine Department of Transportation (MDOT).

Rather than just telling people the obvious, there's construction on I-295 through Portland, this spot turns it into a clever driver reminder.  Rather than simply warning of construction zones, the announcement invites drivers to just slow down and enjoy the wonderful sights of concrete barriers, narrower driving lanes, occasional delays, etc.  Instead of warning us of the dangers, the ad cleverly points out the dangers of driving through construction zones by pointing out why I-295 is a popular tourist attraction in Southern Maine.

The ad doesn't warn.  It doesn't lecture.  It simply points out that road construction is a part of summertime driving in Maine and there are dangers to both drivers and workers.  It's one of the better radio advertisements that have come out of our state government.

Speaking of ads, there are several TV commercials that I've noticed lately, mostly for shops specializing in fast foods such as coffee and hamburgers.  These long standing national franchises have moved into the specialized coffee market.  You know, lattes and stuff like that.  I can't comment on the qualities of the drinks as I have never, and I do mean "never," had one and probably never will. 

But the commercials fascinate me.  We see the tall cups of these exotic coffees filled over the brim with foam, which I assume is whipped cream or the like, with other syrups poured over them.  Then the buyers allegedly take drinks through straws from them.  The tops never move down in the cup.  I often think these drinks must not be very good as the drinkers only want a tiny sip just to pretend they're drinking the stuff.

There is one with some of the drink missing, but some guy literally takes a full one away from his companion.  All I think of when I see that one is, "I sure do hope she sees what kind of guy she's with and dumps him right away."

Yep!  I see the commercials so they must be more effective than I'm admitting.  I don't think they are as I cannot name the companies associated with them.  I just notice how bad the ads are.

Those of us who use the Maine Turnpike are heading for higher fees.  We're told a previous Authority administration did what is turning out to be an unfair job of structuring huge bonds that paid for new bridges and widening in the southern section over the past several years.  Bonds, of course, have to be repaid with interest. 

The earlier payments apparently were primarily just interest and minimal principal amounts.  Now significantly larger principal payments, along with the interest, must be made.  Traffic on the 'Pike is down, according to published reports, exacerbating the problem.  So tolls must be adjusted.  We don't know the final adjustments, yet, as they are currently being discussed by the Authority's Executive Board. 

It is pretty apparent that the York toll will increase to $3.00 from the current $2 and other exit tolls, such as those in Gray-New Gloucester, the Northern end, the Falmouth spur, and the exit leading to I-295 will increase.  We also led to believe that users of EZ-Pass will see usage increases.  I haven't read that returning tolls to all those places between Gray-New Gloucester's booth and Augusta will be restored.

The people on the northern end of the 'Pike feel they are paying an unfair share.  The people on the southern end have expressed the same concerns.  I do agree that cash users passing through most booths with a dollar charge and then pay even more to get off at York, Gray-New Gloucester, I-295 or Falmouth to U.S. Route One while others can get off with no additional fee might be a wee bit unfair. 

I also wonder how a state that relies so heavily on tourists can possibly believe that paying $3.00 to enter or leave in York is inviting to our guests.  Some toll must be collected to pay back the huge bond debt that has been created; but in a trip my wife and I took earlier this month to Pennsylvania, we went through several toll booths, such as the Tappan Zee Bridge, the New York Thruway (which may have used its EZ-Pass lanes to charge only trucks and other commercial vehicles), and the Delaware River bridge at the Pennsylvania border on I-78, where tolls were charged in one direction only.

In fairness, that's how some of our collections take place on the Maine Turnpike.  Cash riders pay to enter at the South Portland entrance, for example, pay a buck, but leave at, say, Exit 48 with no further charge.  There are, of course, additional charges if those riders exit at one of the previously mentioned exits.

I can't help but wonder if ridership is down now how making it even more expensive will improve that condition.  I do, however, understand that more money must be collected to pay for the poor planning of the previous Authority.  It tried to keep tolls down then, but often such decisions eventually come back to bite us.  It's time to bend over.


Thursday, July 19, 2012


I've been sitting here for a while trying to think of something that interests me so I'd have a topic.  That "while" has been getting longer and longer, but nothing seems to be entering my mind.  I've been told that one must first have a mind.  I didn't understand that.

If I were still offering my thoughts on things political, I'd have a lot of stuff in that blank mind.  But I promised myself when I returned to these essays that I'd do all I could to stay away from those thoughts at least until after Labor Day.

This has been such a nasty summer with one guy doing exactly what we knew he'd do and attempt to convince us the other guy is the most dishonest, unbelievable candidate in history even though just about all that has been said has been proven to be dishonest in itself.  The other guy has fallen into the trap and has no clue on how to change the focus around.

I use the term "guy" here because as I've mentioned lately, the nominating conventions haven't even been held yet so we're just assuming we know who the presidential candidates are.  I'm really not naive and know we're really only seeing a preview of what's to come.  Hmmm!  Did I read this week that the Republicans will have two choices at their convention? 

Maine has chosen its candidates for national offices.  But so far, the campaign has been rather low key, almost like those running are using the same political season calendar I use.  Right now, I'd bet precious few Mainers could name all the candidates for the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives.

At least in this non-political essay I haven't named any names nor have I mentioned any specific issues so I'll rationalize in my own mind I haven't yet broken my self-imposed promise.


Sunday, July 15, 2012

Our Pennsylvania Trip

My bride and I have returned from our vacation in Pennsylvania.  I had planned when the vacation started to post outstanding pictures and great pictures here and on my Facebook page when I returned.  As I am often wont to do, when I reached for my camera, I discovered I had left it on the kitchen counter.  Well, at least I didn't have to spend a lot of time framing outstanding and great shots.

Oh, in case you're wondering and leaping into other regions of this vast Internet, there is no Gator in Maine Facebook page.

We were disappointed this year, for the first time, in the Pennsylvania Dutch Country.  Many of the places we liked to visit were no longer.  There are a couple of huge shopping outlet centers just outside Lancaster.  I didn't do any counting, but in one of them, the largest, it appeared that at least half the stores were vacant.  In fact, stores in a couple other outlet centers and a couple of Mall type centers also had many vacant stores.

There's one good thing about the commercial part:  I don't have to declare anything on my Use Tax this year.

We did enjoy the presentation of the Sight and Sound Millennium Theater's original production of Jonah, the story of the biblical Jonah and the whale.  But, unfortunately, we didn't feel the production was up to the standards set by many other productions we've seen there in the past.  We did take the Behind the Scenes tour for the first time.  That was truly interesting and anyone who happens to go to that theater should include the tour.

I did have some fun observing the drive.  For example, on the New Hampshire toll road, a very old, vintage 1960s or perhaps earlier, car passed us going as fast as I've ever seen a car go on that roadway.  "I think he's trying to get home before he breaks down," observed my wife.  As we crossed into Massachusetts, we passed the car off to the side with its hood up and the driver standing there wondering what to do next.

Connecticut driving is always interesting, especially through Hartford and on to the NY state line on I-84.  Most of it has a posted speed limit of 55.  Obeying that could lead to death.  We, admittedly, were speeding and our car was still the slowest on the roadway.  Others were passing us at speeds at least 75 mph or higher.  Don't ask how I know they were going at least that fast.  I laughed at two signs I saw directly opposite each other on the highway.  The first said, "Keep right except to pass."  The other proclaimed, "Exit left."

We have a Garmin GPS device to help us along the way.  It and I don't always agree on what's best.  It wanted us to take primarily toll roads all the way to PA; we prefer as many toll free roads as possible.  The most fun was leaving Lancaster on Rte. 30 and Rte. 222.  We went opposite from where the device wanted us as we turned right out of the motel.  It wanted us to turn left to eventually take the NJ toll roads and I-95 back to Maine.

It spent the first half hour of our trip recalculating trying to get us turned around and back on its course.  It finally accepted that we weren't turning around when we went right passed its desire for us to take I-76 (the PA Turnpike) back to I-95 off 222 and recalculated to use 222 to I-78.  We sent it back into palpitations, though, when we got to I-287 to head north.  Garmin, naturally, wanted us to continue on 78 to I-95.  Once it accepted that change, it was O.K. for the remainder of the way home, which we knew anyway without it.

There were no problems on the trip, except for passing Haverhill on I-495 in MA.  An accident slowed travel down to an inch an hour (perhaps just a slight exaggeration).  We never did see the accident but a fire truck and police unit forced their way up the middle of the highway to get to it.  By the time we got there, it had been cleaned up and only a freshly laid plot of Speedy Dry was there and traffic speed picked up immediately to normal.

And one final observation.  Toll booths.  We have EZ-Pass.  In York, we dutifully slowed down to the 10 MPH so gained a minute or so on those paying tolls.  At the time we passed early in the morning, there were no lines.  Then we got to that road speed toll both in New Hampshire.  That was nice passing the toll at 65 MPH.  The Mass Pike has "Fast Lanes."  Interesting name.  The only thing "fast" about them is they're 15 MPH compared to Maine's 10. 

Except for the Tappan Zee Bridge, which was at 35 MPH, the other toll roads we used had the road speed pass through lanes for EZ-Pass. 

The New Hampshire one, though, got me to wondering.  Why couldn't the Maine Turnpike Authority simply erect some of those Jersey barriers, tear down 4 booths in the middle, and allow the high speed tolling?  That would still leave the 'Pike with four or five cash lanes outside the barriers, just like NH.  I guess my solution would be too simple.  Knowing the mindset of the MTA, I do understand it would take a 5-million dollar study over three years and a 25-million dollar bond issue to accomplish the task using the space already in existence.  But then, I'm not an engineer and don't understand these things.

And that was my disappointing trip to Pennsylvania.


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

July TV sports doldrums

I don't find this season to be most exciting time of the year for sports on TV.  All the college tournaments are behind us and the next season, most notably football, doesn't begin for another month and a half.  Now that'll be the best TV time of the year for this old Gator.

The Little League World Series will begin later this month.  I think the Big League division starts on July 25th.  It's early in August, the 6th, I think, that the regular LLWS gets underway.  Of course, there are local, state, regional tournaments heading up to the World Series.  I haven't seen a TV schedule, yet; but I do like to watch the innocence and dedication of the kids.

Also later this month the Olympics begin in London.  I can't tell you why, but I rarely watch any Olympic coverage.  I just can't get excited by professional athletes pretending they're amateurs. It does seem like fewer and fewer are trying to convince us of the pretense, though.  Nevertheless, I probably won't see too many of the games.

If you have followed my comments at all over the last few years, you already know how I feel about so-called All Star Games.  Seems to me there was one recently.  I was true to my form so cannot offer any comments.  And I never watch the pre-game hype stuff in any sport, including my beloved football.

I know I'm in a very small group that has these opinions of some sports.  My Fearless Friend, for example, watches most of the shows I dislike.  If I were a gambling man, I'd bet that FF's favorite sport of all is auto racing.  I'd hate to try to remember all the times I've asked him a question about racing and the answers just rolled out of his fingers with ease.  He does know how I feel about the non-game activities and rarely even mentions them to me.

I have been watching some of the Red Sox games, but that isn't easy.  I also check in with the White Sox games.  They've got a player in Chicago that must be giving Red Sox decision makers nightmares.  Youkilis is his name.

Of course there still are some real exciting sports events on weekly.  Golf comes to mind.  I used to watch PBA bowling regularly back in the days when matches were bowled.  Does anyone really watch tennis?

When I lived in Florida, I used to love to go bowling.  I threw 11 straight strikes once (never even came close again).  You talk about choking.  That 12th ball rolled almost the length of the lane in the gutter.  When I returned to Maine, the gal that would become my wife and I went candlepin bowling.  There's a difference between a 16 pound ball and that little one.  My first attempt never hit the lane and bounced off the wall at the end.  The manager came over to say a few words to me.  I forget what they were.

So, if anyone really cares, there are some thoughts of TV sports this July.  I can't wait for my vacation in Amish Country, PA.


Sunday, July 8, 2012

Those computer calls do more harm than good!

Except for a very humid Saturday, the just passed weekend was a pretty nice one.  I might go so far as to say it was the kind of weekend Mainers have come to exspect in July.  Did we accomplish anything special?  Of course not!

Last time I visited you I mentioned I was planning to spend some time seeing if our planned vacation to Pennsylvania was still a "go" or not.  I didn't have to do a thing.  Both the theater and motel where we have reservations sent me an e-mail reminding me I had reservations and hoped I was still going to visit them.  They also included cancellation and refund information, neither of which we'll be using.  So, we're all set for our trip later this month.

I am already so tired of robo-calls that I'm now simply rude when I get one.  I just hang up on them.  I'm assuming they're promoting the non- presidential candidates, but I suppose some could be issue orientated.  The majority never even get to speak to me as I do have a personal rule.  When I answer the phone, especially calls with no caller I.D. or with numbers obviously spam, such as "800 service" numbers, I just pick up and hang up. 

Sometimes those prerecorded computer generated calls don't begin for several seconds.  If I haven't already hanged up, I silently wait three seconds secretly hoping I can be rude to someone, then hang up.

I became especially irritated the other day.  The phone rang, and although I didn't recognize the number, at least a normal appearing one showed up on the I.D.  I answered.  The return was a very loud "Boing!" followed by a shouting voice.  I wear a hearing aid that "Boing" was amplified to an even more irritating level than already it was.  The screaming voice did start to identify itself explaining I was among the chosen to comment on a new campaign ad.  The beginning of that call was one of the most obnoxious I've ever received.  I can't comment on the rest as I didn't hear it, but in retrospect, I wish I had so I'd know who or what not to support.

As far as I'm concerned, campaigns shouldn't start until Labor Day.  But they already have and I'm already tired of them.  And we don't even have a presidential nominee for either party yet.  November will be easy.  "No" on all issue questions.  "No" on all bond questions.  Write in someone for the Presidency.  After all, my write in vote will bring the same result as voting for either of the probable nominees.

Not to worry.  I won't dwell on the stuff all they way to November, but the process itself is enough to drive me to occasional venting.  Like that damned call did the other day!


Thursday, July 5, 2012

To Trip or Not To Trip

Now that the holiday is over, my wife and I are setting our sights on a vacation we'll be taking to Pennsylvania.  At least that the plan for now.  We had planned to take that vacation later this month, but now we'll have to do some "homework" to see if our planned destination is O.K. to visit.  As you know, much of the mid-Atlatic area has been hit by some pretty severe storms.

We like to visit the Lancaster, PA, area.  That's right below Philadelphia so some investigating will be necessary.  That's how I'll be spending the next few days, making sure it's safe for us to travel there, checking on accomodation availability, and if the theater we visit is O.K.

We choose Lancaster because of that theater, the Sight and Sound Millenium Theater right in the middle of Amish Country.  There's also an excellent dinner theater, the Dutch Apple, which we include on our schedule. 

The productions at both theaters are absolutely excellent, but totally different.  The dinner theater is a quaint place with a small stage that produces mostly older Broadway productions.  The Sight and Sound theater is a massive theater with an equally massive production.  All its productions are Biblical and feature the stories of the First Testament. 

The stage is a sort of semi-circle that half surrounds the audience in the floor seating.  The multi-level production utilizes the full space, including the aisles.  Live animals along with the actors take advantage of the space.  This year's production is "Jonah."

We've seen all, or nearly all, of the productions in the last several years and have looked forward to the next one.  We haven't visited the theater every year, however, as some of the productions are so massive and powerful they run for two years.  I think just about all showings are sold out each year.

So, looking forward to "getting away from home" for a few days later this month is what's in our plan book.

We're also planning a pretty nice weekend, although Saturday might be an interesting day, and I hope you will have one also.


Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy Birthday, America!

Today we celebrate our nation’s birthday so I resurrected today’s tribute from previous years.

Many folk use this day not only to honor America but also to celebrate with family and friends together. The Gator clan will be having its cookout shortly after noon. Celebrations will be held about anytime from noon on and many folks will head out for some spectacular fireworks demonstrations.
There is one new addition to the celebratory time this year.  Maine now has a law allowing the sales and use of consumer fireworks.  Many, I dare say most, cities and towns took advantage of a provision of the law to  ban both sales and use; but sales are allowed in my town of Scarborough and there are two fireworks stores in town.  However, the setting off of the works are restricted in our town to five days a year, one of which, of course, is today.  So on this Fourth of July, for the first time since 1949 consumer fireworks will be in use until shortly after midnight.  It will be interesting to see how this all turns out.  I do believe that consumer fireworks are just a little different than they were when I was a youngster in the '40s.  (Only folks past their 21st birthday can legally purchase of use firewalks under the new law.) 

On this day, we celebrate the 236th year of the Declaration of Our Independence from England. We thank and honor all those who have come before us and those during our time that have made sacrifices to make sure our Freedoms long endure. So on this day, let’s all join in and sing Irving Berlin’s immortal “God Bless America”:

God bless America, land that I love
Stand beside her and guide her
Through the night with the light from above
From the mountains To the prairies,
To the ocean white with foam
God bless America,
My home sweet home.

Happy Birthday, America!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Who's not talking about the weather?

How about that weather we had last weekend.  Around my neighborhood, a couple of showers came through but we certainly didn't get the storm damage that other parts of the country experienced.  It was hot.  Really hot.  On my deck, my temperature device got into the 90s, but those carefully protected "official" device operated by the weather service and TV stations didn't get that warm.  I often stick my body into the outside and decide my device is closer to the truth.

Those terrible forest fires out in Colorado bring back memories of Maine's most devastating forest fires back in 1947.  Because of my dad's business, he was able to volunteer manpower and equipment to help in the evacuation process.  He reluctantly let me ride along on one of the trips.  I saw the fire up close and but at my young age I couldn't fully understand the enormity of the destruction taking place around us.

We didn't have the instant communications back then that we have now so my knowledge is mostly of stories I heard.  Today, thanks to television, we can see the fire consuming millions of acres and the loss of homes and forests up close and personal.  I'm really glad I live in Maine but that doesn't diminish the sadness I feel for my fellow Americans losing all they've built up in lifetimes.

We feel equally as badly for the people in the mid-Atlantic states who have also undergone storm related disasters in the last few days.  All that's going on in this country right now makes Maine a good place in which to live, in spite of the few 90 degree days.

As I mentioned last week, the fireworks season is underway.  Consumer fireworks cannot legally be shot off until Tuesday, but just like every year since they were banned 63 years ago, fireworks have been fired by people who had brought them in from out of state.  This year, of course, they can be purchased legally in Maine and in communities which have not over-ridden the new state law allowing their return.

I'm not sure if it's the new law or people have moved away from my neighborhood, but, even though we have heard a few early blasts, so far this has been one of the quietest fireworks season, at least since we moved here.  Perhaps the neighbors are just waiting for the Fourth to have a real show.  We'll soon know.

I've always said that for me the real election season doesn't start until Labor Day so I'm trying to stay away from mentioning my political feelings right now.  With the plethora of Internet news and those ever-arriving e-mail "forwards," it is hard not to think about the upcoming election.  And, technically speaking, we don't even have any presidential candidates, yet.  Oh, yes, it would appear that President Obama and Mitt Romney will be their respective party's nominee, but the actual nomination conventions don't take place until later this summer.  Hard to believe, isn't it?

Nevertheless, I did receive one "forward" from my Fearless Friend, although he wasn't the originator of it, that caught my attention.  It said simply, "Try and fathom the hypocrisy of a Government that requires every citizen to prove they are insured...but not everyone must prove they are a citizen."