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  • May 6, 2024

    WET, COLD AND MISERABLE

    SAFELITE OFFICE ALTAMONTE SPRINGS

    Winter was drawing to an end, and spring was right around the corner. We were driving from California to Florida – on smooth roads and rough –  dodging big rigs, pot holes, and road debris. We love road trips, and those grey and chilly days in February and March are the perfect time for us to pack up and head across country.

    But then, a couple of days into the trip, we heard a small ping as we sped east on Interstate 10. When we pulled over later that day, we discovered we had been hit by flying debris – probably a pebble or other object picked up by a big rig and flung into the air. It was just a tiny chip, but enough to notice.

    By the next day, the tiny chip had grown into a small but noticeable crack. Day-by-day we watched the crack slowly expand across the corner of our windshield as we traveled east. By the time we made Florida, the small chip had expanded into a large circular crack across the right-side of our windshield.

    It would have to be replaced before we headed back to California, so we went to the Safelite windshield repair store in Altamonte Springs to get a new windshield. In the Safelite commercials, people get a crack in their windshield on the way to their kid’s Little League game. By the fifth inning, there is a Safelite van in the parking lot, and before they break out the soda and snacks at the end of the game, wham – they’ve got a brand-spanking new windshield.

    Maybe that’s how it works in the major metropolitan areas, but in Altamonte Springs, Florida, not so much. Turns out we had to make an appointment 24 hours in advance to get our windshield replaced. So that’s what we did. A half-hour visit to make our appointment, and then we got the windshield fixed in three hours the following day. All good. It was the day FOLLOWING that day that the real trouble began.

    We left for California around 11 a.m., traveling across country to Interstate 95, but the minute we got up to cruising speed we heard an annoying, loud whistling sound. It seemed to be coming from around the new windshield. Obviously, we had a small leak around the windshield, but we were already off to a late start, and we had hotel reservations in Tallahassee for that evening, so we pressed on.

    That whistling sound was going to drive us nuts all the way across country, we thought, but we’d just live with it for the seven or eight days our trip would take. The second day out, after a long drive to Walker, Louisiana, we fell into bed exhausted. That’s when the nightmare really began. On a very rainy morning following an even rainier night, Carmela opened the door to our truck to find the inside was flooded. The cup holders were filled to the brim and spilling over, the seats were soaking wet, the floor was a big puddle, and the rain was still pouring in from all around the windshield.

    The whistling sound had been annoying. What happened next was a calamity. We pulled the truck under the shelter of the hotel entrance, where we dried out the front seats and floor as best we could. Then we plotted our next move.

    It was Sunday in Walker, Louisiana, and Safelite was closed. We decided to try to patch the leak and move on – not really wanting to sit around in Walker, Louisiana any longer.

    As luck would have it, there was a Walmart just a few traffic lights away from our hotel. We drove over, and Carmela ran in to buy some heavy-duty tape for the edges of the windshield and a tarp that we could drape over the windshield if the tape didn’t work. I drove around to find a sheltered spot out of the rain while I waited for her.

    As I drove around looking for a place to hold up, I found that if I drove at least 25 or 30 miles-per-hour, the leak slowed down to almost nothing. If I drove slower, the deluge returned. Good to know.

    The problem was, we were just east of Baton Rouge, and Baton Rouge is always a traffic nightmare. We couldn’t really count on keeping up our speed. Carmela bought the tape and the biggest tarp I’ve ever seen, and we returned to the hotel and parked beneath the sheltered spot at the entrance. We carefully taped up the windshield. By that time, the rain had slacked off a bit and we decided to drive west as fast as we could.

    We pulled out, hit the freeway, and the tape immediately blew off the windshield and started making loud flapping noises as it banged on the roof. We pulled off at the first exit, removed all the tape, and made a run for it. The rain had slacked off to a drizzle and we were anxious to keep heading west. Checking the phone, we saw that the farther west we drove, the better the weather.

    Unfortunately, before we could get through Baton Rouge and across the Mississippi River, the rain returned, the traffic slowed to a crawl, and our windshield began once again to pour rain down upon us. It wasn’t just the truck interior that was soaked. We were too.

    RAINY DAY WOMAN

    We jumped off at the next exit, looking for a sheltered spot. The rain slacked off once again, and we were able to drive toward the river, keeping up our speed and making rolling stops at intersections when necessary.

    We reached the bridge, got across it with little problem and sped toward better weather. By this time though, we were wet, cold, and had picked up some kind of a bug. We just wanted to get home. We got across the Sabine River into Texas, through Houston, and stayed in Luling, once known as the roughest town in Texas because of its rowdy cowboy days, but now known for it’s never-ending supply of ready-made, yet still hot, brisket sandwiches at the largest Buc-ee’s in the country. It was a dry and lovely night. The next day we drove through San Antonio, and all the way to Fort Stockton to spend the night. The rain had obviously slacked off and the forecast was for continued dry weather.

    Unfortunately, despite the sunny forecast, when we got up the next morning in Fort Stockton it had rained overnight and our truck was once again flooded. We dried it out as much as possible and started driving. The original plan had been to visit friends in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico – but we both just wanted to be home. We told our friends we would have to skip our visit and drove like hell through the day and most of the night, which we finally spent in Buckeye, Arizona. We drove the rest of the way home the following day.

    Our wet and soggy tale does have a happy ending. When we got home, we called the local Safelite office in Westminster, took the truck over and waited while they took the windshield out, cleaned up the shoddy work that was done in Florida, and replaced the windshield as guaranteed.

    They were very professional, but we could overhear them complaining about what a terrible job the Altamonte Springs franchise had done. In less than two hours our new windshield was tightly sealed, and we were back on the road – although it was only across town to Huntington Beach.

    We were still sick and whatever bug we encountered driving wet and cold across country lingered for weeks afterward. But it didn’t matter because Dorothy was right, of course, there’s no place like home.

    THE BLACK EYE

    BLACK EYED GEORGE

    Another strange thing that happened on our soggy trip across the U.S., was that on that rainy night in Louisiana, I fell into a deep sleep with my watch still on my wrist. I slept resting my face against my wrist and as I tossed and turned, and my watch gave me a black eye. My black eye continued to deepen and grow during our long trip home.

    I looked like I had just lost a cage match in some martial arts fight or maybe I just smarted off to my wife one time to many times.

    It was that kind of trip.

    – George Lee Cunningham

    If you would like to subscribe to our work, you may contact me at george@georgeleecunningham.com and let me know and you will get an email reminder of blog postings. Your name will not be shared and you may cancel at any time.

     

  • April 27, 2024

    Deadman’s Curve

    KINGSLEY AND JOANNE FIFE — Photo by Carmela Cunningham

    My buddy, Dr. Kingsley Fife, is 91 years old, hard-of-hearing, and happy in his skin.

    I spent the night at Kingsley’s house in Pacific Palisades – a beautiful home high in the hills with a clear day’s view of the Pacific Ocean and Catalina beyond – while Carmela spent the night with Kingsley’s wife, Joanne, who was at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center for a medical procedure.

    Kingsley is a driving force with which to be reckoned. That night we drove on rain-slicked streets from UCLA to his house, he in his sleek Acura and me in my big, much wider, F-150 pickup.  He knew the shortcuts and was quick to turn here and cut-in-and-out there.

    The final zig-zag stretch along Sunset was Kingsley at his best – slowing down for no one and cutting through the night like Bruce Wayne in his Batmobile. When we arrived at his home, I was just happy to be there and glad to have survived the trip.

    “Hey Kingsley,” I said. “Didn’t we just drive around Deadman’s Curve back there a bit.

    “Oh yeah,” he said, cool as a cucumber. “Deadman’s Curve.”

    Deadman’s Curve has changed quite a bit since Jan and Dean sang about it in their famous 1964 song about a road race gone wrong. Many speeding drivers lost their lives to Deadman’s Curve back in the day, but it’s been much upgraded and improved since then.

    But that doesn’t stop people from driving too fast and too recklessly along the stretch of highway – especially on rainy nights.

    Some of them crash and die and some of them – like me – just tighten their seat belts, follow their buddy, and live to tell about it.

    – George Lee Cunningham

    If you would like to subscribe to our work, you may contact me at george@georgeleecunningham.com and let me know and you will get an email reminder of blog postings. Your name will not be shared and you may cancel at any time.

  • April 15, 2024

    On The Road Again

    HOLIDAY INN EXPRESS, BUCKEYE, ARIZONA

    My wife and I love road trips.

    Forget airplanes – hopscotching across the country from one big city to another in big aluminum tubes with people strapped down and packed inside like sardines.

    On a cross-country trip we get to see the rest of America – the nation that is woefully unrepresented on the nightly news delivered via TV from a collection of self-important, college-educated scribes with little real-world experience. These are the folks who every evening come on the air to tell you what’s important and what’s not. Too bad they get it all so wrong about most of the country.

    On a road trip, you get to see for yourself. You get to go as far as you like for as long as you like. You can start early and drive late into the night – or even all through the night if you want. You can take as many detours and get places as slow or as fast as you choose.

    Of course, road trips also present a fair number of challenges. A trip across the United States by car will take many days. That means finding someplace to stay every evening. Our needs are pretty simple. We look for places that offer clean sheets, a clean place to shower, a comfortable bed, a microwave to heat up supper, and a mini-fridge for cold beverages. In short, a place to relax for the night at a reasonable price.

    We don’t need a full-service luxury hotel with an on-site restaurant and bar, room service, convention facilities, valet parking, and exorbitant resort fees, including $20 extra a night for an internet connection. We’re looking for a “traveler’s hotel.”

    Some of the brands that have traditionally met our needs include: Holiday Inn Express, Best Western Plus or Premiere, Hilton Home2 Suites, and Hilton Hampton Inns. Each one of these chains has its challenges – some are more expensive than others and some are not consistent in their offerings. Although the chains aren’t necessarily consistent across the country, we’ve identified the hotels that work for us. For the past 13 years, we traveled with Henry, the Wonder Dog, and so hotels that welcomed him were the only ones on our list.

    But times have changed. We just got back from a cross-country trip, and after about 15 nights in 13 hotels, we’ve had some experiences that have put a few of our tried-and-trues on the “no way in Hell” list.

    One is a Holiday Inn Express in Arizona and the other is a Hilton Home2 Suites in Florida.

    The Holiday Inn Express in Buckeye, Arizona, was the most expensive hotel we stayed in during our trip – just over $300 for our 10-hour stay. The night desk clerk who checked us in at 11:30 p.m. was lovely, but in the room there was a cryptic note from the hotel general manager Debbie DeMarco.

    Here’s a sample of her message:

    • Guest room thermostats are “motion activated.” Please come down to the front desks and let us know if you would like that adjusted.
    • Housekeeping service consists of a daily refresh every day and a full room clean every 5 days. For housekeeping service please ensure Do Not Disturb sign is not hanging on the door.
    • Our hotel offers a daily complimentary hot breakfast M-F 6:00am to 9:30am and Sat/Sun 6:30am to 9:30am.

    Does that mean the hotel in the middle of the Arizona desert has chosen the temperature for my room and if I want it cooler or warmer I have to go ask somebody to adjust it for me? Yes, it does.

    And what does “motion activated” mean? Does that mean if I lay down or sit quietly, the air conditioning or heating shuts down? Can I really not turn up the heat myself if I get cold around 3 a.m.? Or, if I’m too warm, does it mean I cannot adjust the heat without asking permission and getting assistance? Yes, again. That is what it means.

    I’m not sure about “refreshing” the room every day and cleaning it every five days. What does that means exactly? I would like to know before I rent the room if I am at day one or day five of the cleaning cycle.

    But, with all those frustrations, it was the “complimentary breakfast,” which really put this particular Holiday Inn Express at the top of the never-again list.

    The entire Holiday Inn Express chain offers the same basic breakfast – not bad, but not necessarily what we would order at a restaurant. And let’s face it, Holiday Inn calls it complimentary, but we all pay for it in the price of the room. Personally, we wish they would lower the room price a few bucks and let us buy the breakfast we want somewhere else.

    In Buckeye, we went down to breakfast, got some coffee and looked for some milk to put in it, but we couldn’t find any. We couldn’t find the breakfast attendant either. When we finally tracked her down, she was in the lobby, chatting to her friend at the front desk and clearly very irritated to be disturbed by a guest.

    Carmela told her there was no milk and asked if the lady could bring some more out. “Nope,” the attendant replied. “There will be some more tomorrow morning,” she told us. Of course, by tomorrow morning, we would be 400 miles away. Clearly not the attendant’s problem.

    We returned to the breakfast room. One of the guests decided he would like some pancakes from the automated pancake machine, but there was no batter to pour into the machine. We told him where to find the attendant – still by the front desk chatting with her chum.

    On the guest’s prodding, the attendant reluctantly went and got some batter mix and put it next to the machine. A family with a couple kids came in, poured themselves bowls of cereal and looked around for the milk. “No milk,” the attendant growled. “You have to eat it dry.”

    Carmela suggested, “why don’t you go to the store across the street and buy some milk?”

    “Can’t leave my post,” the attendant replied from where she was again leaning on the front desk, again chatting with her friend, and still clearly irritated that she kept being interrupted by pesky hotel guests.

    “Maybe you could get Door Dash to deliver it,” someone else suggested.

    “Not my job,” she answered.

    The question, of course, was why would she leave the self-serve cereal out if she knew there was no milk.

    The remaining guests – mostly traveling business types, some families with kids – started talking about the hotel, the rooms, the $300 a-night price, and how they are never staying there again. Good job, breakfast lady.

    The other hotel horror story was the Hilton Home2 Suites in Tallahassee, Florida. We’ve stayed there before, but things have truly gone downhill. We had reservations, but checking in meant standing in line with our bags for at least 20 minutes while the one clerk on duty dealt with a large and aggressive woman over what she thought should be a discounted rate for her room.

    He seemed to be doing the best he could, but by the time he got to us, he was completely frazzled. Meanwhile, the line of guests waiting with their bags to check in had grown substantially longer. No other hotel staff were to be seen.

    The room we had booked online was for one king-sized bed, with a king-sized bed room rate. But the clerk told us the hotel only has five king-sized beds, and we had to have two queen beds. OK, no problem, we said. What we got was two double beds shoved awkwardly into one side of the room and a musty smell in both the bedroom and the bathroom. The paint in the bathroom was peeling. There was mold in the shower, and the baseboards were cracked. The TV didn’t work. All of the ice machines at the hotel were either empty or broken.

    The next morning, Carmela went down to get some coffee to bring back to the room. When she poured a little milk in it, it came out in a curdled glub. Meanwhile, people who had ordered cereal and poured curdled milk into it were literally spitting it out and loudly complaining.

    The attendant responded by pointing out that the expiration date on the milk showed that it was still good and would be for several more days. No apology. No offer to get fresh milk. No realization that even though the expiration date hadn’t been reached, the milk had gone bad.

    Definitely not a good look for the Hilton brand.

    Those were the worst hotels this trip, but from coast to coast most of the hotels we stayed at have taken a hit. Hotels – like so many other businesses in the country – have been severely impacted. The extended economic shutdown plus new minimum wage laws have taken their toll. Hotels have cut back on their staffing and deferred basic upkeep and repairs to save money. At the same time, they’ve raised prices. As hotel guests, it does not make us happy, but we do understand that the financial model is not penciling out these days.

    Most disappointing was that at most of the places, there wasn’t anybody in charge who could make an independent decision or make things run better.

    At the Holiday Inn Express in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, the water suddenly stopped working. We had already showered, but we had to use bottled water to brush our teeth. In the lobby, guests with soapy and wet hair, wanted to know how long it would be before they could rinse off. “No clue,” said the unconcerned gentleman at the counter. He said the water was off all over town, but when we met friends for breakfast at a restaurant down the block, the water was on, and no one at the restaurant had heard that there had been any problem with the water.

    Bad things happen. Everybody understands that, but the man on the desk didn’t know what was going on, and he didn’t seem that interested in finding out. He just made up a lie to get people to go away and leave him alone. In a well-run hotel, the guests might have been offered an apology and a plan on where they might go to finish their showers.

    My guess is the man at the desk was not the man in charge. In fact, across the country the hotels we stayed at seemed to have nobody who was authorized to make a decision – such as awarding a discount, promising to find a solution, or even giving a sincere apology. The result is a plethora of hotels with toilets that don’t fully flush, TVs that don’t work, missing light bulbs, moldy and broken showers, and a general take-it-or-leave-it-attitude.

    For the most part, it is sadder than it is infuriating.

    It’s important to note that along the way we met folks, old and young, in some of those same establishments who were doing the best they could in very trying circumstances. They wanted to be helpful, they wanted to make the hotel guests feel comfortable and welcome.

    Even if they were short-staffed and out of ice, they were doing their best, and we appreciated it.

    TWO OUTSTANDING EXCEPTIONS

    GULF OF MEXICO VIEW IN THE EARLY EVENING FROM PENSACOLA BEACH HOTEL ROOM

    In our Hotel Hell trip, there were two outstanding exceptions – the kind of exceptions that we hesitate to mention because we don’t really want the word to get out and for them to be all booked up when we show up again.

    One is the Holiday Inn Express in Pensacola Beach, Florida. It has one of the best views of the Gulf of Mexico on what is known as the Florida Panhandle – that section of the state that extends west from the Florida peninsula.

    In the panhandle, the beaches are facing south and are more accessible to visitors from Alabama than they are to most folks in Florida – which has provided the region with the nickname the “Redneck Riviera.”

    We were there during the stormy winter months, which we love, yet the waters of the gulf were still warm enough for a quick dip and a walk along the beach. The prices go up as the weather gets warmer, but this is still a deal and a lovely place to spend a few days.

    The other hotel of note is The Crystal Bay, a vintage hotel in St. Petersburg, Florida with an interesting past. Marilyn Monroe stayed there in the day and so did Babe Ruth, among others. Nowadays it is surrounded by a lot more traffic and commercial developments, but it retains the kind of ambiance that makes it one of our favorites.

    The rooms are clean, comfortable and have the old-world charm that screams Florida. The rates are reasonable, the staff is extremely friendly, and the complimentary breakfast buffet is one of the best in our experience.

    But please, let that be our little secret. We don’t want too many people to learn about it and horn in on our good time.

    – George Lee Cunningham

     If you would like to subscribe to our work, you may contact me at george@georgeleecunningham.com and let me know and you will get an email reminder of blog postings. Your name will not be shared and you may cancel at any time.

  • March 24, 2024

    HAVERING A GOOD AND MAGICAL TIME

    HAVERING IN THE TWILIGHT

    My wife Carmela has never really understood me. Like most females, she remains very practical about the literal meaning of many things.

    For instance, if I say, “You know honey, I would really like to move to Alaska and build a log cabin.”

    Then she would say: “Where exactly are you going to get the logs, how are you going to buy the pipes and install the plumbing, where is the running water going to come from, what about the disposal of sewage, and where is the nearest grocery store going to be?”

    Now that I have been challenged, I end up making some crazy off-the-top-of-my-head comments about buying an axe, cutting down trees, building a log cabin, diverting a nearby stream for water, and somehow digging a hole in the frozen tundra to install a septic tank. As far as nearby grocery stores, I would go out and catch some fish in the stream, snare some rabbits and birds in traps, and once in a while shoot a moose. She could gather wild berries in the summer to can for later and collect eggs from the chickens we would take with us.

    Of course, the more I talk, the more ridiculous it sounds, and she would just shake her head like I’m an idiot, and declare she was not moving to the middle of nowhere and living on berries and moose meat. End of subject.

    My mistake, of course, is trying to defend what I am saying. But recently, I have learned a new word that describes exactly what I am doing.

    It comes from a Scottish duo named the “Proclaimers” in a song titled: “I would walk 5oo miles.” The song describes a man who is totally devoted to a woman and vows in the chorus:

    “I would walk 500 miles

    And I would walk 500 more

    Just to be the man who walked a thousand

    Miles to fall down at your door.”

    I like the song, mainly because much like the lyrics, I am also devoted to a woman – although sometimes she clearly does not understand me.

    The magic word, I’ve finally found, comes in one of the verses of the song, in which the singers proclaim.

    If I get drunk, well I know I’m going to be

    I’m going to be the man who gets drunk next to you

    And if I haver, yeah, I know I’m going to be

    I’m going to be the man who’s havering to you.

    So, we’re listening to the song, and Carmela asks, what is “havering?”

    I have no idea, so I look it up on the internet. It turns out that “havering” is a Scottish term for talking nonsense.

    And just like that I have found the perfect word to explain the kind of things I often say to my wife that make her think I’m not quite all there.

    A few days later, we’re driving through the desert in New Mexico, just after sunset, and the whole twilight world turns soft and fuzzy in the afterglow of the day. The time between sunset and darkness has been a bit magical for me ever since I was a child, chasing fireflies before being ordered to bed.

    So, I say to my wife, “You know, I would like to pull over, grab a light blanket from the back of the truck, walk a couple of miles into the desert and lay down in the soft sand and spend the night.”

    And right away, she starts talking about rocks and thorns, spiders and snakes, and other little nasty creatures that will crawl into our ears and fly up our noses.

    “Honey,” I tell her, “I know all that, I’m just ‘havering’ because it looks so magical driving through the desert at this time of evening.”

    I wasn’t trying to be practical. I was expressing how the beauty of what we were seeing made me feel.

    And best of all, I think she finally got it too.

    – George Lee Cunningham

     If you would like to subscribe to our work, you may contact me at george@georgeleecunningham.com and let me know and you will get an email reminder of blog postings. Your name will not be shared and you may cancel at any time.

  • February 20, 2024

    PRIDE AND HORROR IN A LOVING PERSON

    20-SOMETHING CARMELA AT WORK

    Around midnight on February 2, two B1-B Lancer stealth bombers used 125 precision-guided missiles to strike 85 targets in Iraq and Syria. The bombers had flown all the way from Dyess Air Force Base in Texas, then returned home in what was a 44-hour mission. The targets included command and intelligence centers, rockets, and drone storage and supply chain facilities.

    The politics aside, it had special meaning for my wife Carmela Cunningham.

    Back in the early 1980s – when a mid-2os Carmela was still Carmela Castorina – she worked in public relations for the B1-B program at Rockwell International.

    She interviewed the people who built the plane from the folks who carefully laid out the complex electrical connections that controlled the aircraft and its moveable swept-back wings, to the engineers who helped design everything from the landing gear to the avionics, and to the company executives that oversaw the program.

    And she often had to babysit sometimes-hostile members of the press.

    She had the privilege to climb aboard the aircraft while it was being built and after it was completed. She helped host celebrations in Palmdale with test pilots, Air Force brass and aviation legends such as retired Gen. Jimmy Doolittle, who led the B-25 raid over Tokyo in 1942. One of her work friends was test pilot Doug Benefield, who died shortly thereafter when he crashed in the Mojave Desert during tests of the B-1B’s low-altitude, radar-avoiding avionics.

    It wasn’t all test pilots and chasing down the runway during takeoffs and landings. There was also the politics – the retired generals who used their influence to land cushy executive positions with the company; the congressmen who toured the plant, gave a talk after lunch and received an “honorarium” for their efforts; and the grown children of politicians and military brass who spent their summers in well-paid and cushy jobs at the company.

    And though she grew weary of the politics and the never-ending corporate meetings on how to improve employee morale and how to boost the company’s image, she remained proud of the aircraft and of the hard-working people who had poured their talents into developing technology and making it all come together.

    So, when she read about the mission and how successful the plane fulfilled the purpose for which it was built, she couldn’t help but feel at little proud of the small part she had played. She was also sad and a bit horrified about the people who had been killed and injured in the bombing.

    The numbers of casualties depend on which side is doing the counting, but there were scores of fatalities and a larger number of wounded. And there is much controversy over the politics of the mission and the political fallout, but that will be an argument for those so inclined.

    Carmela remains proud of the aircraft she wrote about and promoted and the smart and hard-working people she met during her time at Rockwell. And the blood on her hands? That’s something she also has to acknowledge.

    It may not make her happy, but she knew 40 years ago what the plane was designed to do, and what it finally did. And she’s willing to live with that.

    – George Lee Cunningham

     If you would like to subscribe to our work, you may contact me at george@georgeleecunningham.com and let me know and you will get an email reminder of blog postings. Your name will not be shared and you may cancel at any time.