Travels With Oso con Migo

Sojourn In America

OAE On The Road Again, Around New England

20 October 1997, last letter August 4, 1997 (Letter 97i)

Gentle Readers,

August 5, 1997, Largo Hot & Muggy Florida, How Do They Do It?

Uploading the last letter was about a thirty-five minute phone call from the Largo Hampton Inn to atsvax on the far side of the Florida peninsula. I hope you all found number 97h worth it. I generally don't get to see what the images look like until after they are gone and I find a connexion to the net. This time it was from the office of of my instructor at Paradyne here in Largo where I am finally learning all the ins and outs of some telephone equipment I've been fooling around with in McMurdo for the past three years--good thing I'm going back for another winter... 

Its stifling here. Hot, muggy, hazy, wet... How do people live in this climate? Where is my cool Saco and piney forests? What am I doing here commuting to and from a place that has a bearly tolerable lunch hour and a half in a room with no windows where I'm not supposed to wear sandals. So far nobody's made an issue about my toes being out in the sultry breeze but one guy from AT&T had the audacity to suggest that we shorten the lunch period so we could get out earlier. NoWay! said I, lunch is too short as it is; there is not now time enough for a respectable siesta. Better we should make lunch longer, two or three hours, and then get out later, after all the traffic.

August 8, 1997, Friday, School's Out.

At the junction of U.S.19 and S.R.686, a.k.a. East Bay Drive, in Largo (more or less--its hard to tell where one town leaves off and another begins when they overlap so much) there is a sign on the corner where one might expect to find a Crossing Light Actuator: "Pedestrians must use Dodge Street to cross East Bay Drive."

Several blocks west of that and one traffic light south is Building "H" of the Paradyne Corporation where I have been enjoying the tribulations of acquiring the arcanum of Acculink. There is little point in trying to describe what went on in this class but to say that now I know who invented the syllabus for programming VCRs.

A more interesting part of the week has been that of exploring the various eateries recommended in the Paradyne "Restaurant Guide for our Customers and Guests" published by the Sales and Technical Training Center. "Paradyne is not endorsing any of the included establishments, nor are we advising against any other establishment in the area." This is a list of places preferred by the members of the staff but it doesn't take much to be listed: To be marked as a staff favourite requires only two recommendations.

Tonight I went to Number 19 on the list, out alongside the north end of the north-south runway (the south end of this runway is in the backyard of my room 206 at the Hampton Inn), the 94th Aero Squadron. The building is a French farmhouse with a WWI aerodrome atmosphere. Paraphrased from the back of their menu:

The 94th Aero Squadron was one of the first American fighter squadrons to see combat service; it scored more victories than any other American squadron the First World War. With such aviators as Rickenbacker, Lufbery, James Norman Hall and others, the 94th become the most famous unit of early American airpower.

The World War One aviator had to posses the greatest courage. When his frail craft broke apart or caught fire he usually fell thousands of feet to his death. He flew during a time when the full colour of chivalry appeared and the skies of France saw mounted warriors bearing heraldic markings ride forth for individual combat.

Honour and valour were respected by both sides and the victor toasted the vanquished. Such is the spirit recreated at the 94th Aero Squadron French Farmhouse.

In the pond separating the patio from the runway lives Ralph the Alligator--Do NOT Feed The Alligator says the sign in the hedge between the patio and the pond. I could see Ralph's eyes, and occasionally his nose, protruding above the still surface from my table in the dining room. I could also see the commercial and private aircraft taking off, but I'll bet the real 94th Aero Squadron didn't have an alligator for a mascot. 

August 18, 1997, Charlotte Vermont Hamfest

At this moment I'm in Charlotte Vermont at the tail end of the Charlotte Hamfest-fleamarket where I've unloaded another pile of junk on an unsuspecting public. Some old friends recognised me and we all had a good time buying and selling and swopping spit. A BC348 went for thirty dollars and an HW202 went for ten.

Charlotte was somewhat profitable. I took in US$201.00 finally getting rid of the Commadore 128 but only for the monitor. I had it marked at fifty dollars (monitor, computer and drive) and someone offered me thirty for the monitor only. When I told him he would have to take it all or none he lowered his offer to twenty-five.

Of the old thermionic valves 41 went in one sale at a dollar each but by the end of the day I practically gave away the rest at ten cents each.

We had some incredibly fantastic and fascinating lightning here in the campground last night. It looked like two cells went past, one to either side, and we got some rain but none of the torrential downpours nor hail that was being talked about on the weathernets. Now the muggyness has been relieved and the cool dry air should make for a good day driving south. Last week I played guide for two of my sisters and their kids on a tubing expedition down the Saco river for three and a half miles. Along the way we saw one maple tree with a single branch showing a cluster of bright red leaves--and its still only August.

August 23, 1997, Mum Upon The Waters

My mother never liked the water much, never went in the few times I remember we went as a family to Revere Beach or Walden Pond (at least I think it was Walden Pond...) and Gerry's Pit. But she always said she wanted to be cremated: 
                "Its the cursed cold, and its got right hold 
                   till I'm chilled clean through to the bone.
                Yet 'tain't being dead--its my awful dread of the 
                   icy grave (not to mention the slimy worms)
                   that pains;
                So I want you to swear that, foul of fair,
                   you'll cremate my last remains."
                     [with apologies to Sam McGee and Robert Service]
...and to have her ashes scattered on the water.

My sisters came bearing ashes and The Book; we met at a bend in the Saco where there are some burbling rapids and flat rocks where I gambol and nap in the sun--where we'd lunched a couple of times whilst tubing down the river. It has been a special place for me for many years, now it will be even more special; and for them also. Mum had been decanted from the plastic bag and shoe box the mortuarium provides into wine carafe and we all stood in the river and sprinkled ashes, taking turns while another took turns reading from The Book. My sisters read from The Burial of the Dead and The Twenty-third Psalm and I read my favourite part, Ecclesiastes 3:2-8.

August 29, 1997, All's Not Well In Denverdenver LANd

It was a pretty good trip all in all but the results are somewhat ambiguous. I've written about the personality profiling and psychological evaluation that goes on in order to qualify winter-over participants in the Antarctic Programme so I'll not go into that detail again but to say that this time I did not pass. Perhaps I did not receive a passing score on the five-hundred odd multiple-guess questions that have no right answers. Or maybe it was something faulty in the logical reasoning test or the person to person interview. Maybe I really do need some more time off. Stay tuned for details. 

August 31, 1997, Working On The Railroad

The old camp looks little different from what I remember of more than twenty years ago. As I walked up the road I felt for the bump on my noggin where Bruce dropped a hammer from the roof while we were helping shingle the roof. This time C.E.R. was up to his elbows in mortar, rebuilding the bridge and culvert under a section of his seven and a quarter inch guage model railroad track. We did not hug nor shake hands but picked up a conversation that might well have been set aside at our last meeting. Later we went round the other side of the pond to visit another back yard with an outdoor railroad. Ten acres of rolling stock and track, trestle and draw bridges. On my ride around on a flat car I picked a handful of puffballs for my dinner and swatted at the last of the summer's mosquitos. 

September 3, 1997, Collecting Old Stuff

Jim collects old stuff, especially old friends. He has 400 short wooden rules, dozens of tin cookie cutters and brand name glass jars and bottles, brands you no longer see on the supermarket shelves. Walls are festooned with print drawers holding little boxes, thimbles, matchbooks, lead soldiers and the like. All sorts of things and stuff. We chatted long of camps and hikes and others we know in common and it occured to me that the older I get the more important to me my older friends become.

This week is the second more or less formal shakedown cruise of The Cat Dragged Inn, the first ended with a ruptured oil line. So far this has gone well except for some problems indicated with the steering. But I am typing this whilst my compatriot drives and shortly I will post it via the cellphone connexion so at least the communications are functional even if we can't drive a straight line.

Pending the outcome of appeal, finding work on some other remote tropical island, or further vacation time crawling around under the bus funded by unemployment assurance I'll most likely not be returning to The Ice this summer due to having flunked the 500 multiple-guess questions with no right answers of psychological evaluation. Probly cos I told them how I was expecting to have so much fun partying out there on Bleak Island.

Either that or they flunked me cos they think I need more time to recover from the death of my mother whom we just scattered on the river last week but who really died nine years ago when my sisters moved her into the nursing home after mother forgot who all her children were. She never could tell us apart anyhow and always called AlfredGordonTeddyGlenSusanFloraDonnaAnn-Marieeee---Suuupperrr...

How, after all this time, can you fail a pysch exam with no right answers? Maybe there is some truth and honesty involved--I need to get a copy of the report, not just the results, but therein lay part of the problem. The doctor says that the report is owned by ASA and so he will not tell you what is in the report he just wrote, you have to get it from the company. ASA medical says they don't get a copy of the report, only the result and recommendation of the doctor, you have to get the report from the doctor. Round and round... Its coming to be called the "Hammer Syndrome"... Maybe I really need some time away from this stupidity.

There are 500 multiple guess with no right answer questions that attempt to delve the arcanum of one's personality. Questions like-- would you rather live in a small cabin in the woods or an apartment in the city. And--would you rather be a baker or a school teacher. If you saw two kids fighting would you a, break up the fight; b, place bets with your friend on the winner; c, take sides and egg them on?

Then there is a logic test: Which word does NOT belong in this set: a, cat; b, dog; c, chicken. Now it could be chicken cos cat and dog are both pets but wait, dog starts with a D and the other two start with a C so it could be dog. I put cat as the one that does not belong in the set cos dog and chicken are both stupid.

And in this set: a, to; b, too; c, two. Which word does not belong?

In this series of numbers: 1,2,3,5,8, what is the next number?

And it goes on and on. Then there is an interview with a shrink and another quiz with some of the same questions but, rather than a do it your self quiz, it is conducted by an attendent wearing a lab coat and wearing the now ever-present latex examining gloves.

But the real test is how well you do with all the paperwork involved with trying to wade through expense reports and how many times it takes for you to get it right. Then they measure your stress response when after the umpteenth time they tell you they've lost your travel report and all the receipts and that you'll have to do your blood test over again cos they lost that too. They are into me for over a thousand dollars of reimbursable expenses a month overdue--I am now going to start billing them for interest and collection expenses. 

September 19, 1997, Land o' Goshen

This week I am learning what it takes to be officially unemployed, up to now I've been living off my vacation budget. First I went to the town hall and obtained an information packet of questions, answers, and forms to fill out. I filled out the forms and sent them in to the UI office in Laconia. That's the closest one to Conway. There's one in Berlin and another in Dover or someplace down there but Laconia would be more or less along my way to visit my sister in Nashua so I chose that one. They sent it back after a few days with another form attached saying that since I was making a claim against work done for a company in Colorado I had to file in Colorado. Colorado has an 800 number. So I called UI in Colorado... Press 1 for ... --I was at a rotary phone, remember them?-- ... or stay on the line and your call will be answered ... we estimate your wait time to be ten minutes (of KAFU music on hold). I put the phone down and went to make a pot of tea and get my book. Presently I'm reading the second volume of _The Collected Stories Of Philip K. Dick_. One of them has the title "Human Is".

Eventually the first available service person interrupted KAFU. Are you a human, I asked? Before I get started on my claim, I said, I have a suggestion for you--You should hire some of the unemployed that are keeping you so busy that it takes ten minutes to get answered and put them to work answering your phones.

My life has taken on somewhat the mundane that you write yours is like--not worth writing of. But even the mundane is exciting. Yesterday I learned about applying for Unemployment Insurance. And the day before that I went round and round with my John Hancock what- do-you-call-those-people-who-answer-when-you-press-1 agent of the moment. Certainly not like the old guy who use to come around once a month and have coffee with my mum and collect premiums and explain the finer points of insurance to eight kids at various levels of comprehension. Today you press 1 for customer service and then enter your policy number and press the pound key. "The pound key is below the number nine ..." Back when TouchTone keypads were first making their way into the public consciousness Ted Everett use to carry on at length about the pound key, a.k.a. the number key. That symbol's proper name is "octal thorp" but it had about as much chance of catching the public fancy as calling the key below the number seven the asterisk or the key below the number eight the zero. 

Back to John Hancock and their customer service. I'll try to look at this as a new opportunity of spiritual growth. If your call is not too important please press 1 now. If your call is very important please press 2 now. If you really need to talk to someone who cares please press 11 now and if you are calling from a rotary phone hang- up and call again...

I have been paying John Hancock Life sixteen dollars and fifty-five cents a month since sometime back in the early sixties, when sixteen dollars would fill the gas tank of my Volkswagon Beetle several times over. There is enough money in that policy now so that the annual dividend coming back is greater than the annual premium I have to pay. So I thought maybe since the options were available I should make a choice and a change and rearrange things so the annual dividend would pay the annual premimum and maybe even send me a check for the difference. You'd think that would be as simple as finding a musty yellowed application form somewhere in the archives deep in the third basement below the John Hancock Tower in Boston and just noting on it that the A option was henceforth to be the B option.

Not so. Not by a long shot. First of all you have only a ten day window around the policy anniversary date to make such profound alterations. It is precisely during this period that one will find himself in a land of *rotary phones*... Have you ever tried to whistle DTMF? I sent my letter requesting this change of options via the U.S. Postal Service and for once the rates didn't go up between when I posted my letter and when it got delivered. But John Hancock can't read. In this time of computers they don't know what to do with paper letters signed with real signatures. Well I could carry on and belabour this item til the cows come home but suffice it to say that here we are six months down the road, I've spent more time waiting for the next available service person than I have writing all those four hundred and twenty checks and licking all those four hundred and twenty stamps and John Hancock still hasn't been able to change Option A into Option B.

Maybe that's why the octal thorp is called the pound key. 

September 21, 1997, El Ni¤o's Fingers Reach All The Way...

Yesterday I went for another shakedown cruise. We had done some major rework of the air system and pulled out several yards of old wires and I wanted to see what still worked. Everything went well to the top of Crawford's Notch. Its a steep climb up U.S.302 from the south side, first and second gear for the old bus, and then beyond the crest, the hill down the north side is less steep. At the top of the notch are found the headwaters of the Saco River and the old Crawford House Railway Station. The Conway Scenic Railway runs daily excursions from North Conway to Fabyan's, a few miles beyond Crawford's, and the northbound train was taking on passengers. As The Cat Dragged Inn passed the staion she picked up speed and the automagic transmission upshifted to fourth gear; I engaged the cruise. Then, just beyond the crest of the hill I had two catastrophic failures, one of them potentially life threatening. The automatic throttle locked in the nearly full on position sending the bus hurtling down the hill to the north at 70 plus mph. I was able to keep her under control (she is quite stable at high speeds) whilst looking for a wide spot in the breakdown lane. Then just as I was about to stop I lost my air which made stopping imperative to say the least. To make matters worse a fine rain was making all the foliage pretty and the road wet. Eventually found a plastic air line had melted, probly from being too close to the turbo housing, so I managed to tape that hole and disconnect the auto-throttle but it seemed prudent to turn around and head back to the barn before the entire air line melted. Twice more I had to stop and retape the hole before limping into the garage with the low air alarum buzzing furiously. 

Three generations of friends and neighbors, some of them Old Observers from the Mount Washington Observatory, gathered at the Snowvillage Inn to sing Auld Lang Syne to Alex McKenzie (W1BPI). Alex is the last of the crew who were on The Mountain during the First Happy Big Wind Day on 12th April 1934 when the sou'easter blew 231 miles an hour setting a record that still stands. Now he is embarking on a new adventure which will take him and his new wife to Pennsylvania. We all told Alex we would miss him very much and think of him on every Happy Big Wind Day and he reminded us that he was still a trustee of the Observatory.

Happy Equinox, Spring or Autumn, Where Ever You Are.

Stay Gold, bcnu, Love, ajo

The best way to avoid paying for an analyst is to write a book.

 A.J.Oxton, OA, OO, OAE,  k1oIq

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