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DRIVING WITH ST. CHRISTOPHER

ST. CHRISTOPHER KEEPING US SAFE

I’m not a person who wears jewelry.

I have a simple gold band that I wear on the fourth finger of my left hand. I wear it there, and I never take it off because it means something important to me. And now I have a necklace that I put on each morning and wear throughout every day, because that also means something important to me.

Carmela and I visited our cousins Roger and Nancy in Florida earlier this year, and before we left, they told us there was something they wanted us to have before we hit the highway home. Then they took the St. Christopher medals from around their own necks and helped us put them around our necks.

We were both touched.

Although Carmela has been familiar with St. Christopher – the saint of sailors and other travelers – all her life, I didn’t really know the story.

As it turns out, St. Christopher started his life known as Reprobus. He was 23 feet tall and had a “frightening” face. Reprobus, in searching out the strongest power that he could serve, met a hermit who convinced Reprobus to carry people across a dangerous river, which he could easily do, since he was 23 feet tall.

One day Reprobus was carrying a small child across the river, but the river kept getting higher, and the child kept getting heavier. After both of them almost drowned, Reprobus got the child safely to the other side, where the child revealed himself to be Christ. From then on, Reprobus became known as St. Christopher, from the Greek name Christophoros, which means “Christ-bearer.”

I’m not religious, but the sweetness of the gift meant something to me. I don’t know if our St. Christopher medals will keep us safe in our future travels, but I’m pretty sure they are not going to hurt. And maybe, just maybe, St. Christopher really is looking out for us and keeping us safe.
We can only hope.

– George Lee Cunningham

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WILD THINGS

GEORGE AND HAROLD HANGING OUT
GEORGE AND HAROLD HANGING OUT – Photo by Carmela Cunningham

We used to have a little blue budgie named Harold.

He flew up to our back balcony in Long Beach on January 1, 2000 when Carmela was cutting my hair and trimming my beard. We lived at the time in a second-story apartment on the beach.

Harold was clearly exhausted when he arrived. There was an offshore wind at the time and the next destination for this sweet little blue bird was going to be high above the Pacific Ocean with little chance of making it back to land.

The scientific name for Harold is a budgerigar – a small parakeet native to Australia, but a popular pet for people half the world away. Harold immediately popped on to Carmela’s outstretched finger, then looked at each of us in turn, cocked his head, and jumped up on my shoulder.

Carmela being the kind person that she is, immediately got Harold a little box to live in and placed an ad in the local weekly throw-away paper trying to notify his owner.

Several days went by and Harold had a new name, a new cage, bells, toys, and a mommy who loved him. Then we got the phone call. Somebody had seen the ad.

Although this was an answer to the ad Carmela had posted, by this time, Harold was family, and she was devastated that somebody else might have prior claim. With great foreboding she called the number.

The woman on the other end, who lived just a little inland from us, said she was not the owner, but that Harold had stayed with her for several days before flying away. She would take him back if we didn’t want him, she said.

No, Carmela said firmly. Harold was now a member of the Cunningham family – to be known from that day forward as “Harold Tweedy Cunningham.” And that was that.

GEORGE AND HAROLD TALKING THINGS OVER
GEORGE AND HAROLD TALKING THINGS OVER – Photo by Carmela Cunningham

Several years later, we could tell Harold was getting older. He was still a daredevil on wings, flying across the room, seemingly ready to crash into furniture, then at the last minute, popping up, skimming across the top of a table, then turning sharply and flying through the rest of the apartment. He still perched on his dad’s hand and fought with his thumb, and he still did tricks. He had just gotten a little slower than he used to be and he tired more easily.

Then one day, exactly 10 years, six months and 28 days after Harold had first flown in, when I was scheduled to give a talk to one of the harbor-area trade associations, Harold died.

I was practicing my talk when we heard a strange cheep from Harold. We rushed over to his cage-home and he was laying on the bottom. Harold never went to the bottom of his cage. I scooped him up and cupped him in the palm of my hand.

Harold raised his head up, gave a little good-bye tweet, and died while I held him. We were devastated. Years later, we are still devastated. We miss that little bird, and we will miss him until we die.

But in our grief, we had to wonder if people should own wild animals. Harold had a good life with us. But even if he certainly would not have lived as long, would he have been happier being in the wild, impregnating a little girl bird, helping take care of their chicks, and being a little wild and free spirit?

There is no answer to that question, but we have never caged another bird. Harold is irreplaceable in our hearts. There is never going to be another Harold.

Now we have wild pets.

This was a concept introduced to us by Carmela’s uncle Ken Cable.

He used to feed wild birds and made sure they had enough to eat so they would come around to his home for frequent visits. From his window and sometimes even closer, he would watch them go about their daily lives, gathering food, raising their offspring, and living their wild and free lives.

HUNTER GETTING FED BY MOM
HUNTER GETTING FED BY MOM – Photo by Carmela Cunningham

 

Right now, we have a couple of Orange Crowned Warblers, we have named Honor and Honorie, sharing our lives. They hang out in our courtyard for a good amount of time every day, sipping from the hummingbird feeders, dipping their beaks in the baths, and sticking their noses up all the flowers. Recently they both disappeared for a couple days, but they came back with a smaller, fluffier version of themselves in tow, whom Carmela has named Hunter. He is a noisy little fledgling now, but he seems strong and healthy.

 

 

 

 

HUNTER GETTING USED TO THE WORLD
HUNTER GETTING USED TO THE WORLD – Photo by Carmela Cunningham

We are also often visited by hummingbirds, all of whom we have named Anna as a form of private protest against the movement to rename all birds that had previously been named after human beings. This particular hummer was named after Anna Masséna, the Duchess of Rivoli. Anna is a beautiful name, and for us it remains the name for all of our hummingbird visitors.

Then there is the finch family, who showed up recently and frequent our feeders, baths, fuschias and petunias. The man – Mr. Redfinch has a beautiful red head. Mama Finch is brown. They have quickly ensconced themselves as members of our wild bird pet collection, and the whole group seems to get along just fine together.

We love watching their interactions, we worry about their safety, and we will miss them when they are gone. We give them food and water and brightly flowered shrubs to shelter in. They give us joy.

That’s a pretty nice trade-off.

– 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.

Unintended Consequences

THE ORIGINAL MCDONALD’S, DES PLAINES
THE ORIGINAL MCDONALD’S, DES PLAINES, ILLINOIS 1956

The problem with minimum wage laws is that they raise a slew of unintended consequences, and they pretty much never work the way we all would hope.

For example, if you raise the minimum wage for fast food workers to $20 an hour, then the guys who supervise the workers will need to get a raise to $30 an hour. The trucking companies that deliver supplies to McDonald’s will need to raise their prices to cover raises for all of their drivers who must be paid more, and the franchise owner – the person who takes all the risks of having his own business – will have to get by with fewer drivers to do the same amount of work.

Many fast-food places have put in self-serve kiosks so they can lay off the people the minimum wage law was supposed to help. All of which means that a bunch of those people with newly increased pay will soon be out of work altogether.

Part of the problem is that being a fast-food worker was never meant to be a full-time life career. It was generally a part-time job for kids putting themselves through school and making a little cash on the side. It hopefully taught them about dealing with customers, providing a needed service on a schedule that didn’t interfere with their school work, and answering to a boss.

With the new minimum wage laws, people are trying to stretch those $20 an hour after-school jobs into full-time careers – complete with sick leave and vacation time – aimed at supporting their families. Even after the employees get a $20 an hour wage, they soon find that the attempt to raise their salary set off a chain reaction that raises the cost of everything they buy.

Last week we stopped by a McDonald’s, there were just a handful of tables at which to sit, and there was not one employee who even looked younger than 50. We didn’t want to use the kiosks, and the workers were so busy dishing out burgers to motorists that it took a while to get somebody to actually come to the counter.

Frankly, the newly mandated fast-food wage doesn’t work. If you don’t believe me, read a little Adam Smith or perhaps Milton Friedman. In the meantime, consider the $5.19 cost of a Big Mac, which has now become kind of a medium Mac as McDonald’s attempts to hold down costs by giving folks less meat for their money.

At the end of the day, most of those workers at McDonald’s with their new higher wages will not be able to afford to take their families for a night out at McDonald’s.

That’s not rocket science – it’s Econ 101.

– 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.

WET, COLD AND MISERABLE

SAFELITE OFFICE ALTAMONTE SPRINGS
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
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
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.

 

Deadman’s Curve

KINGSLEY AND JOANNE FIFE
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.