Sunday, July 29, 2018

American Traitors

Several days ago I stumbled across this picture while doing my usual internet exploring. At first, I figured it was fake until I realized I had personally heard people in this country speak in open admiration for Vlad Putin for several years now. These individuals range from a formerly well known political conservative television talking head to several rank and file morons I have the misfortune to encounter on an all too regular basis. Doesn't matter that Putin casually orders the murders of journalists in his own country to using nerve gas in Britain to assassinate dissidents. This says nothing of his relentless crackdown on basic human rights to the point Russia is pretty much flirting with totalitarianism again. Yeah, food and material goods are far more plentiful as compared to the Soviet days, but don't for a second step outside the government approved behaviors.

This bizarre and anti-American fan club started back during the Obama Administration. Yes dear folks that means there's a massive racist component to liking a tough, murderous white guy over the freely and honestly elected black guy. Oh, to go back to the heady and naive days before the 2008 presidential election when brain dead political pundits went mouthing off about a “post-racial America.” I'm sure at some point in the future, political science majors will write their dissertations on how even in twenty-first century America can't shake its racist underpinnings to the point many have abandoned all pretense to its stated principles.

To be fair, if you read some hard-left progressive writers there are a few that mouth a similar incredulous line about how Russia is just being picked on by the West. But here in America, the Putin fan club is overwhelmingly the property of the right-wingers because a similar piece of shit occupies the White House right now.

Recently I re-watched the Ken Burn's historical documentary on Vietnam. Anyone with a love of history or just a basic interest in that period needs to get Netflix and binge every episode. What caused me to laugh was the reaction true blue conservatives had, and still have, to Jane Fonda's visit to North Vietnam during the worst of that war. Yeah, while I am a solid liberal Democrat, Jane's actions were beyond the pale, especially sitting on an North Vietnam antiaircraft gun and having her picture taken looking through the sights.

Here's the issue I can't wrap around my head. All the evidence from numerous intelligence agencies clearly spells out that Putin ordered his people to interfere in the 2016 American presidential election in favor of Trump. This was an attack on par with Pearl Harbor and as far as I am concerned we are at war with Russia right now and will be for the foreseeable future. All that matters to the MAGA folks is that Putin's interference helped them. With their love of Putin's whiteness, they overlook the fact that next time he might screw them instead of supporting Trump. 

The problem now is that we have possibly millions of twenty-first century Jane Fondas here in America running around applauding Putin for is actions. Forget the basic tenets of democracy like honest elections, human rights, and open government. These people have dropped all that because they hate fellow Americans exercising their own basic rights. It's not about fair and open debate anymore, Putin is their ace in the hole. He not only represents their same backward beliefs, he's got the same skin tone as theirs.

To me, that amounts to a treasonous double whammy. From now on, I figure Jane's actions are microscopic in comparison. 

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Mysterious Bananas and Airport Security

As airports go, Orlando International actually seems like it was designed by a human being. While I'm not a world traveler by any means, I have seen enough airports to know that many have an uncomfortable resemblance to a cattle slaughterhouse. We're talking dark and impersonal passageways that tickle the claustrophobic portions of my brain and give the impression that something sinister could happen at any second. The idea around their design being the efficient movement and grouping of semiconscious travelers instead of providing an open and friendly place to ease the stress of long distance journeys.

The highlight of Orlando Airport's human-friendly design has to be the massive atrium which is shared by the Hyatt Regency Hotel and numerous restaurants. Dominated by the skylight making up the ceiling, the atrium has more than enough natural sunlight during the day to seem warm and open. The addition of small palm trees around a park-like fountain in the center of the waiting area makes visiting the airport a pleasure in many ways.

Travelers are advised never to leave their luggage or belongings unattended while inside the airport. Furthermore, never accept items from strangers and report anyone who asks that you carry a package for them. Finally, please notify any airport staff or TSA personnel if you see unattended luggage or suspicious packages or behaviors. Thank you for your cooperation.” The totally warm and friendly but strangely authoritarian voice said over the airport intercom as my family and I entered the atrium. My first thought was that if this message was not computer generated but came from a real flesh and blood human being that this man had to be related to the late Fred Rogers of the PBS show Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. My second thought was while the voice had the same saintly and patient tenor of the beloved Fred Rogers, I did feel there was the ever so slight hint of an Orwellian presence making sure everyone understood their cooperation was not asked for, but demanded.

My wife, daughter, and I had driven down to Orlando the day before for one of our many Disney vacations. The purpose of our visit to Orlando International was to pick up my wife's young niece, Sandra, who was flying down from her home in Alexandria, Virginia to join us for the next five days. Sandra's mom, my wife's sister of course, is a true cultured world traveler and being honest here thought it was beneath her to rub elbows with all the lowbrow plebeians. Having Sandra join us allowed her to have a Disney experience saving my sister-in-law from dealing with the general chaos associated with the unwashed masses. Truthfully, unbeknownst to the unwashed masses, my wife and I were doing them a huge favor by taking young Sandra to Disney and not her mom.

What surprised me once we reached the atrium level were the theme park gift shops located there. Naturally, both Disney and Universal Studios had huge shops that were extravagantly stocked with not just the expected cheap trinkets and t-shirts but high end items. On the Disney end for example we're talking large, framed limited edition prints that ran several hundred dollars. Strolling through the Universal Orlando gift shop, I found equally expensive items like detailed model cars and various Harry Potter stuff. What was also interesting was that Disney and the Universal gift shops had people dressed up in character costumes allowing travelers to have their pictures taken with the likes of Goofy or Albus Dumbledore.

Even the relatively nearby Kennedy Space Center was getting into the act with a gift shop selling such high priced items as models of the Saturn V rocket and the space shuttle along with limited edition portraits of various astronauts. Their character for picture taking was a stationary but detailed, life-sized model of a NASA astronaut in a spacesuit placed in front of the entrance. A few minutes later after leaving the Kennedy Space Center gift shop I found another for Sea World and Ron Jon's Surf Shop.

Travelers are advised never to leave their luggage or belongings unattended while inside the airport. Furthermore, never accept items from strangers and report anyone who asks that you carry a package for them. Finally, please notify any airport staff or TSA personnel if you see unattended luggage or suspicious packages or behaviors. Thank you for your cooperation.”

After spending around two hours in the Orlando airport, I noticed that the Fred Rogers-like male voice giving instructions on luggage, suspicious behavior and unattended items rotated with an equally pleasant but authoritarian female voice. The female voice seemed a combination of Oprah and Sally Field with a dash of Harry Potter villain, Dolores Umbridge just to get your attention.

I tried to picture just such a woman as the young twenty-something Transportation Security Agency dude was feeling up my groin for explosives or drugs, or whether he felt like going full KGB/Nazi and ordering a rectal exam. Truth be told his supervisor, a stereotypical middle-aged, middle management type told me the second I stepped up to the security line that I had drawn the short straw and was going to get the full pat down. I'm sure the absolute last thing the twenty-something TSA agent wanted to do that day was get a personal with a stranger but jobs free from crappy and demeaning tasks are damn rare. So he had to suck it up and try to meet his training standards, especially with his boss standing just a few feet away.

Yes, I felt violated and more than a little angry. But the TSA foot soldiers have a true damned if you do and damned if you don't predicament. Their job is already near impossible when you consider they must keep the flow of human traffic moving as fast as possible so flight schedules can be kept. But on the other hand, they have to be thorough with their inspections because if just one bad guy get onto a plane that at a minimum might mean the death of hundreds. From what I understand rank and file TSA agents are underpaid and overworked since to the guys and gals in senior management the idea of paying decent wages and hiring enough people are as alien concepts to them as in their comrades in the private sector. Then again such crappy jobs tend to attract lowlife douchebags who get off on the power.

What was really bothering me though was the amused expression on my wife's face as she and my daughter waited on the other side of the line. So much that what got me through the government authorized groping was the idea of screaming out some Arabic-sounding gibberish to freak out the clearly nervous TSA agent who by that time was standing behind me and feeling up my man boobs. At that moment, I was sure such an outburst would have caused the TSA agent/kid patting down my body to crap in his pants. It would also probably caused his boss to order the deployment of the nearest available SWAT team with me being whisked away to some nameless prison thus giving me a vacation I would truly never forget. 

Once my ordeal was over my wife, daughter, and I boarded the nifty shuttle tram that looks like a Disney monorail knock-off and rode it to proper terminal building. We arrived at the gate little Sandra would arrive about an hour early. The extra time we allocated to picking my my wife's niece was a precaution to the vagaries of airline schedules. We knew an early arrival beyond a few minutes was an impossibility, but we needed to know if her flights ran into trouble so we could coordinate a proper response should something happen.

Luckily for everyone involved, we soon learned that Sandra's final flight was scheduled to arrive in Orlando on time. But that still left a significant wait for the three of us. My wife quickly fell into one of the several magazines she carried. Barely a minute of two later after sitting down and pulling a magazine out of her bag, a bomb could have gone off and she would be oblivious to the aftermath. I on the other hand didn't bring anything to read leaving me at the mercy of people watching.

Travelers are advised never to leave their luggage or belongings unattended while inside the airport. Furthermore, never accept items from strangers and report anyone who asks that you carry a package for them. Finally, please notify any airport staff or TSA personnel if you see unattended luggage or suspicious packages or behaviors. Thank you for your cooperation.”

After hearing the male-female voice combo warning about the dangers of leaving your luggage, strange people, and unattended packages twenty to thirty times, it sort of started to merge with my unconscious. You have to wonder what effect such repeated warnings have on those who work at the airport. Is there a tendency to begin to look upon everyone as potential terrorists? Or does the incessant but unfounded warnings breed a contempt for institutionalized and government approved paranoia?

Whatever the case, I was sitting at the gate little Sandra was scheduled to arrive in about fifteen minutes eating a giant pretzel when I noticed the a white, middle-aged woman two or three seats to my left. The woman was an immediate curiosity for me since the first thing I noticed was her agitation. The easiest way to describe it was that she seemed like a long-tailed cat locked up in a room full of old people sitting in rocking chairs. I got the strong feeling that if something was suddenly shattered that lady would jump so high the airport maintenance staff would be pulling her out of the ceiling tiles.

Wearing a conservative flowery dress that, to me, looked on the expensive side along with numerous rings and flashy necklaces, this lady she fit in perfectly with the other upper middle-class types floating around the airport. In the seats to her right and left the lady had obviously emptied the contents of her carry-on bag which were books, a generic computer tablet, and other items I couldn't identify. My assumption was that she was about to go on a trip but wasn't cool with the idea of flying. This being the case, I turned my attention elsewhere for a minute or two watching a mom and dad chase after their toddler twin girls who had both decided their parents were a serious drag and had decided to make a run for the nearest exit.

When I looked back in the direction of the middle-aged lady, I caught sight of her leaving the gate area with her bag. Curiously enough while she had clearly put her belongs back into her bag, she had left a lone banana in her seat. The banana was in near perfect condition so I couldn't figure why she had purposelessly left it behind.

Finally, please notify any airport staff or TSA personnel if you see unattended luggage or suspicious packages or behaviors. Thank you for your cooperation.”

Call it a testament of the times but for a couple of minutes I actually thought about alerting the TSA to the suspicious banana that now lay innocently a couple of seats over from me. I couldn't help but wonder was it possible to weaponize a piece of tropical fruit? I tried not to think about the dipshit a few years back who had packed his underwear with explosives. His attempt to detonate his ill-conceived device resulting in massive third-degree burns to his groin. Did that banana constitute a similar threat to the well being of hundreds of innocent people in the terminal, most whom were there to visit the various Orlando area theme parks.

Part of me wanted to call the TSA, I had this vision of them mobilizing their assets and surrounding the banana with men wearing heavy body armor and carrying loaded assault weapons. Leading the pack would be the twenty-something kid who had earlier patted me down with an intimacy usually left to a girlfriend. But it was the arrival of little Sandra that caused me to throw caution to the wind and leave the lonely banana unmolested.

As my family and I left the airport and finally reached our car for the drive back to Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge, I waited for the alert of a suspicious package to be announced. None ever came leaving me to wonder the ultimate fate of the strange lady and her abandoned fruit.

The banana in question.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Official Vacation Photos-The Last Batch: Disney's Hilton Head Resort

Well, like all great vacations mine ended far sooner than I was comfortable with. As of this posting, we're all back home with my daughter doing her fifteen year-old stuff and my wife returning to her incessant puttering around the house. All I can do is return to my mental special place and take refuge. The picture above was taken Tuesday morning with me sipping coffee and looking out at the marsh. 

Another Tuesday morning picture with me carrying on a conversation with a default Disney employee. Such employment does have its risks. While I was still sitting on the marsh earlier a beautiful hawk was being chased away by an irate bird of unknown species.

The main pool on the primary resort grounds. The other being at the beach house which I didn't take any picture of this trip . It was a hot but beautiful day with the pool water refreshing. 

The other side of Shelter Cove Marina next the restaurants and gift shops. The buildings of the Disney resort can be seen in the background. Not big on motorized yachts, but these babies are all quite lovely. For years many of the yachts and sailboats in Shelter Cove seemed to be permanently moored. But many the yachts and sailboats I came to expect to see there are gone. The recent hurricanes probably had something to do with that situation.   

Did a nature walk of the nearby Pickney Island and spotted numerous groups of hermit crabs living their crabby lives in the mud of the marsh. Being me, as the resort naturalist was giving her little lecture on their life cycle I couldn't help but associate the crabs with human existence. My point being that those little guys and gals crawling around in the mud have absolutely no inkling of the wider,and infinitely complex universe. It doesn't taken much for people like me to see how humans are in a quite similar circumstance. Sure, we've discovered much about the nature and workings of the universe but the vast majority of our species never seem content on just waving their arms around while living in the mud.  

One of the regular events at the resort is a campfire sing along where they cook up some smores afterward.  

Literally took this picture as we were driving out Friday afternoon on our way to Savannah. What you see here are "marina cats" that have taken up residence at the now closed Captain Gillan's restaurant. Not sure of the exact store concerning these relaxing felines. For the last several visits to Disney's Hilton Head Resort it was common to see a cat or two strolling around the grounds. I assumed they were pets of people who had their boats moored in the marina. From what I have heard now though, they appear to have made the closed restaurant their home. I guess that would make them strays but no one seems in a hurry to rescue or even evict them from the area. Not worried about Captain Gillan's reopening, that building has a long history of failed businesses and with so many other eateries in walking distance the cats should have a home for a good while.  

Added this picture because I like it so much. The lone kayaker seemed so peaceful and relaxed last Thursday evening.  

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

On The Beach

The clouds, all pure white and fluffy like cotton candy gave a much needed contrast to the baby blue color of the sky above Hilton Head, South Carolina. Truthfully, there was a bit of the surreal with the picture perfect nature of the sky. The fluffy clouds seemed too beautifully plump and organized. Someone a little too involved with technology wouldn't be wrong to think it all might be a computer simulation. At least that was what I thought reclining in my beach chair.

Where things went off kilter, giving a much needed boost to mundane reality was the lack of a real breeze and the blistering hot temperature. If reality was just a computer simulation, our god-like programmers could have coded in at least a refreshing breeze and enough surf to supply the sound of small waves crashing onto the shore. Waking from a fitful nap in my beach chair, I got up and repositioned it to get back under the shade of the umbrella that my wife and I rented that morning. Just for clarification, the beach chair was a rental as well. Its wood frame possessing a brown patina from what had to been the sweat of countless tourists who used it before me. The nylon mesh used for the backrest and seat obviously brand new or close to it.

My wife, who upon our arrival at the beach had taken the chair beside mine was nowhere to be seen. Being the early afternoon, it was easy to assume that she had returned to the beach house to get lunch at the small bar and grill located there. While not really hungry, given the crowded nature of the beach house, I realized it was prudent for me to pack things up and head in so I could order something myself without having to wait so long it became my dinner.

Taking a moment to survey my surroundings, the beach had long since become packed with fellow tourists all clamoring for their share of the sun and ocean. It was a huge gathering of all ages and apparent economic castes. Being South Carolina, the one thing glaringly obvious in its absence was any other ethnic group. Given the amount of pale white skin being exposed to the harsh ultraviolet rays of the sun, I figure a couple of hundred dermatologists will easily get their kids through college treating stupid Caucasians in the coming years.

Without wasting anymore time, I gathered up my backpack and sandals leaving the shade of the umbrella and the much cooler sand under it. For about half a second, I considered putting on my sandals but figured that being raised on the coast and having endured the hot beach sand since my childhood, I didn't need the protection.

The distance from my rented umbrella refuge to the steps leading up to the beach house and its protective shade had to be about forty feet. Just a few steps into my walk it was easy to figure out I had significantly overestimated my ability to withstand the current temperature of the sand beneath my feet. Honestly, I can't decided if whether I was just mistaken on having walked through similar hot sand, or that years away from prolonged and regular exposure had reduced my ability withstand the temperature. But the one certainty I can relate was that the bottoms of my feet were being cooked.

An old beach trick is that in such circumstances to get some relief a person digs their feet underneath the sand where the temperature is cooler. The technique worked up until the loose sand became hard packed and I again had to walk on the surface. This is where things start to get ridiculous but unfortunately true.

Before my nap underneath the beach umbrella a fellow group of tourists setup their own beach tent in front of my wife and me. During the course of the morning both my wife and I had some minor conversations with them that never went much beyond the exchange of names, our hometowns and professions, and how much we all love Hilton Head.

Just as I stepped on the hard pack sand with it beginning to cook my feet again, I noticed one of the ladies in that group leaving the beach house walkway coming towards me. She was a young thirty-something wearing a dark green bikini with the bottom portion of her swimwear being damn close to a thong. Legalistic niceties not withstanding, the line where a bikini bottom becomes a thong I have no idea but the difference can't be all that much. But when you combined this lady's body with her brown hair and graceful walk I defy most men not to act like nervous teenagers.

Let's get this out of the way before going any further. Yes, I noticed what she and the four other ladies in that group were wearing! I'm a heterosexual guy dammit, and one with enough sense not to do anything disastrously stupid that might wreck my marriage or bring about a lawsuit. All told, that puts me ahead of numerous politicians, celebrities, and rich television preachers. I have long since reached the age where I harbor no illusions about my looks or ability to attract other women. More importantly my wife is a lawyer, a damn good one, and if I did suffer from some delusion of being a “player” she would have my balls hanging from her car's rear view mirror before the ink dried on the divorce papers.

Still though, some small remnant of masculine self respect wasn't going to allow me to panic and fall all over myself to put on my sandals before my feet started smoking. So guess what I did?

Gathering all my mental and physical strength, I continued walking across the hot sand ignoring the blistering pain coming from my feet. Internally, I was counting the seconds until I passed this lady and could run up to the beach house walkway.

“My God,” this lady said to me as we passed, “isn't the sand burning your feet? I couldn't even leave the shade without putting on my flip flops.”

“Naw,” I replied nonchalantly deciding to go for broke and really pile on the bullshit. “I was raised on the coast and lived there most of my life. I've walked through hotter sand.”

We passed each other without saying another word. Being a crappy but typical male, I did suffer the heat a second or two more to turn around and admire the view- yes the lady, not the beach- one last time. That's when the pain really decided to kick in requiring that I run the last ten to twenty feet to where the beach house walkway started. Actually, I jumped the last foot or two trying to land on a part of the walkway that was shaded by the overhanging limbs of a tree.

Were my antics juvenile? Very much and while the middle-aged guy feels some shame the twenty-something version of me doesn't have a problem with it. Better still, no one saw my panicked dash then desperate jump to keep my feet from truly being burned. All things considered, I'm calling the encounter an overall win. 

Monday, July 9, 2018

Official Vacation Photos# 2: Disney's Hilton Head Resort

As usual, I was up before sunrise heading to the beach. Despite it being July, the temperature this morning was quite pleasant. Plus, there was a persistent breeze that made it seem even cooler. I later found out there was a tropical storm not far off the coast of the South Carolina heading north. That probably had a lot to do with moderating the temperature.    

Despite it being summer, the beach was surprisingly empty. Not that I minded that situation, the solitude was refreshing.

Returning to the room I pulled out the trusty mug and relaxed with several cups of coffee while looking out at the marsh.

After getting the family up and going we spent the day at the beach. Sorry, no pictures of all the scantly clad young ladies because I've reached the age where sneaking snap shots seems sort of gross. We did head to Santa Fe Cafe for lunch where I got the soup, salad, quesadilla special. Honest to God, I would drive down from Columbia on a normal Saturday just to have this lunch, only to have to drive back home afterwards.  

Going a little conspiratorial, this sprawling condo complex has always seemed excessively underused. You can always detect activity at the Disney's Hilton Head Resort, where we are staying. This one across from us is well maintained but I can count on my two hands the number of people I've seen using the beautiful pool, walking the grounds, or using the kayaks that are stacked next the water. The lack of use of the pool is particularly weird to me. During the summer the Disney staff almost have to force people to leave the pool in the evening. During a previous summer visit, our room looked out at that complex and it stayed quiet the entire day.   

I finished my day walking around the resort taking in the beauty of the marsh. The heat and humidity finally kicked in late in the afternoon making things seem sticky. Looking forward to repeating everything tomorrow.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Officially On Vacation: Disney's Hilton Head Resort

Began a long awaited vacation back down at Disney's Hilton Head Resort. Yes, that is one ugly face but surprisingly I didn't break the camera.
Despite the human traffic a species of terrapin decided to lay her eggs close to the resort fire pit. Talked with the a member of the staff and she said the babies are due Monday morning, if the obey the schedule from the time they were laid.

Hoping to get some relaxation in the coming days. There will be more pictures tomorrow.