Sunday, September 13, 2009

13 SEP 09: Forward Thinking

If you're a grandma or grandpa, Happy Grandparents Day. I mentioned it to several grandparents at church this weekend, and everyone seemed to have forgotten about it. So if dozens of surprise parties are ruined today, I hereby take the blame....

We're home from a big family surprise party, and now have the pictures posted to prove it. My older brother seemed to enjoy the 60th birthday bash we staged outside the Kansas football stadium, even though he reportedly was in a bit of a funk in recent days about turning 60. Maybe the Jayhawks should have won by more than 49-3.

A parade of stars came by the birthday tent, to offer best wishes to my big brother. We mentioned the visits by both Kansas mascots, along with a couple of cheerleaders. I tried to tell the female cheerleader I was the single guy in the group -- really, I did....

A literal parade marched by one hour before kickoff. The Kansas band walked down the hill toward the stadium, playing the school fight song. "That's not Happy Birthday," I told a friend nearby. The friend reminded me for my older brother with football season tickets, that song was close enough.

Because it was a surprise appearance, we stayed for a few days at the home of my oldest niece and her family. She has daughters ages nine and five - and the five-year-old made sure I wasn't bored, by knocking on my bedroom door last Sunday morning with a 300-piece jigsaw puzzle. She coached me well in getting it started. But too many stuffed animals kept distracting her away.

As we worked on the jigsaw puzzle, my five-year-old grandniece taught me something remarkable. She told me everyone in Hawaii "sleeps on the beach," because no one has a home. I wondered where those men lounging along the Chattahoochee Promenade got the idea for it....

It appears my grandniece got HER idea from her mom and dad, who noticed plenty of people snoozing in a Hawaii park during a vacation several years ago. Imagine the stories tourists take home about Columbus. Especially if they'd followed me running Saturday night - to see a pair of full-sized police cars driving together on the Riverwalk at Rotary Park.

While the family surprise party was the centerpiece of our road trip, we saw other sights along the way. Our first surprise was a billboard promoting the Jim Blanchard Leadership Forum -- along Interstate 85 in south metro Atlanta. Has the Columbus area run out of leaders, who need Colin Powell's advice?

Our first night on the road was spent in Metropolis, Illinois - admittedly to investigate the poker room at Harrah's casino along the Ohio River. We found two packed tables, with no room for us to squeeze in. Our $50 in chips received plenty of action - fidgeting with them on a rail at the edge of the room.

The casino is one of two big attractions in Metropolis. The other is a statue of Superman in the center of town. The superhero claimed Metropolis as his home, you know -- a town which barely seems large enough to support a "Daily Planet" newspaper anymore.

A couple from Florida happened to be at the Superman statue on the morning we stopped by. They took a picture of me with Superman, and asked if I'd seen the picture President Obama took there. I admitted I hadn't - and the husband replied: "You didn't miss nothing."

Yet Superman is NOT the biggest figure in Metropolis. On the way to the statue, we found an even taller statue of "Big John" outside a grocery store. I can only conclude one of his sacks contains a can of kryptonite....

We stayed in Metropolis at a brand new America's Best Value Inn. We drove to Kansas the next day, stopping only twice - and were stunned to discover when we finished that a hand towel from the motel was in the passenger seat, hiding under a briefcase. I meant to use it to clean off the windshield, not take the manager to the cleaners....

I was prepared to send a check to the Metropolis motel, with a letter explaining it was a "fine" for stealing. But four days later came an unusual opportunity. I passed a different America's Best Value Inn in northwest Oklahoma. Here was a chance to make amends - and clean my conscience, instead of the windshield or checkbook.

"This will sound unusual," I told the attendant at the Oklahoma motel - explaining I'd mistakenly taken the towel from Illinois. I offered to give the towel to her, and she accepted it with a smile. Whether she shipped it three states away to Metropolis.... well, I doubt a "Best Value Inn" would go to that much trouble.

That wasn't the only strange case of "paying it forward" on my road trip. I encountered two beggars at exits along Interstate 70 in rural Missouri -- exits 40 miles apart. The beggar at Exit 148 wound up with food I bought for a man at Exit 188. Did the state police swoop by and pick him up during a simple gas fill-up?

"HOMELESS VIETNAM VET HUNGRY" said the sign held by a man sitting at the end of the Exit 188 ramp. People at the truck stop there told me he'd been there for a while, and may have been staying in a tent nearby. The official farm harvest had passed, but the unofficial one apparently continued.

"Can you walk to the truck stop?" I asked the man from my car. "If you do that, I'll buy you something." The homeless Vietnam Vet signaled he could. So I drove down a short winding road to the truck stop to fill my gas tank. I didn't give him a ride, since I've heard those "back to school" reminders about not accepting rides from strangers.

I bought the beggar a 99-cent-sized bag of corn chips - but when I looked for the man, he had disappeared. He was NOT along the road heading back to Interstate 70. So perhaps he found a better deal - and perhaps the manager of a McDonald's passed his way next.

With no sign of the homeless Vietnam Vet, I drove on to Exit 148. The Ozarkland store there offers a free computer for checking e-mail -- perhaps in hopes you'll do what I did. You become guilty of stopping for a free e-mail check, and you buy a half-pound of fudge for $4.50.

As I walked back to the car with the fudge for my relatives, a woman came to my window with a story to tell. She was laid off three months ago, and her husband was out of work already. Apparently a half-pound of fudge made me look like Mr. Moneybags.

The woman told me she faces eviction from her home if unemployment checks don't start coming soon. I explained to her I'm unemployed as well, was trying to travel as inexpensively as possible - yet had encountered two beggars 40 miles apart. If I'd stopped for gas in St. Louis, Kansas City or Memphis, it might have felt like a paparazzi attack.

The woman was looking for a room or food. I couldn't provide a room for her during a road trip in the middle of Missouri, but I noted the corn chips I'd bought down the highway. She was willing to accept that -- then led me to a Saturn parked by the Ozarkland door. Her husband was inside, along with a little girl. So this story seemed legitimate -- while that other man may be looking for a V.A. Center to get treatment.

E-MAIL UPDATE: Only a couple of reader items reached us during the road trip. One was titled, "No Mo Sunshine"....

Now that have removed Harmony Mendoza the web site, seems that the clouds are hanging around more than usual?

Huh? A Google search for Harmony Mendoza's name Saturday night revealed she's still hiding on the WRBL web site, even though she no longer works there. For all we know, she might have noticed the clouds and run for cover.

Since our blogging moved away from Columbus for a few days, perhaps it's fitting that the e-mail topics did as well....

Is it true?? Ellen DeGeneras is the replacement judge on American Idol..Can she really judge music competition or is this a move to boost ratings on what could be the last days of an American institution?

Yes, it's true -- but you raise a good question. From what I've seen of her talk show, DeGeneres probably would fit better on "So You Think You Can Dance."

Isn't it interesting that the Columbus TV station which blocked some episodes of Ellen DeGeneres's prime-time comedy in the 1990s now shows her at 10:00 every morning? The management there hasn't changed. But hmmmm - come to think of it, the Pastor at First Baptist Church has.

(BLOGGER'S NOTE: We'll update local news from the last few days on Monday - we promise.)

The number of unique visitors to our blog in the first half of 2009 was up 11.1 percent! To advertise to them, offer a story tip, make a PayPal donation or comment on this blog, write me - but be warned, I may post your e-mail comment and offer a reply.

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