Alligators 'n Roadkill

Alligators 'n Roadkill
On The Road


Monday, July 24, 2017

How I Met Your Mother (For Our Four Adult Children)

How I Met Your Mother (For Our Four Adult Children)

            It was supposed to be a blind date, but it wasn't really that simple.  Things are never really all that simple, though, are they?

            I arrived in El Paso, Texas, sometime in October of 1967, after a thirty day leave in Seattle.  I had already been in the Army nearly two years by this time, having trained at Ft. Ord, California, Ft. Dix, New Jersey, and Ft. Gordon, Georgia.  After my Basic Training, then Advanced Infantry Training, followed by Field Radio Repair School, I had spent some thirteen months stationed in South Korea.  My arrival in El Paso was because of what we then called a Permanent Change of Station, to Ft. Bliss, which is now nearly surrounded by El Paso.

            I spent most of my Leave at my brother, Mike's, home in Seattle, and while there, he and his wife gave me the contact information for some former neighbors, who were then living in El Paso.  This was Mike Robertiello and his wife, Christine, and their baby, who I think was named Damien.  It was rightly thought that it would be a very nice thing for a young man such as myself to have someone outside the Army to interact with at my new duty post.

            I therefore wasted little time in contacting Mike and Christine after I got settled at Ft. Bliss.  Incidentally, my duty at Ft. Bliss was just about the best duty I experienced in my three years of Army Service.  I was assigned to the U. S. Army Air Defense Board, which was part of the Army's Test and Evaluation Command, headquartered - I believe - at Ft. Meade, Maryland.  Our mission was to evaluate and test new air defense weaponry under extreme conditions.  Since my Military Occupational Specialty was Radio related, I was assigned to the Communications Platoon, and we provided the radio communication to the people who did the actual testing.

            I should mention that the testing required Temporary Duty (TDY) in such exotic locations as Alaska and Panama.  That's right.  Extreme cold and extreme heat and humidity.  I ended up spending three weeks in Panama, but that came later.

            Back to my arrival at Ft. Bliss.  I was invited to go to Mike and Christine's home on what was then the far east side of El Paso, when I first called them.  So, on my first free weekend, I took a bus from Ft. Bliss to downtown, and transferred to another bus that carried me east.  The home they were renting at that time was located below I-10, just west of Lomaland Drive.
            As I got acquainted with Mike and Christine, they introduced me to other friends of theirs, in particular a lady by the name of Emma Sanchez, who happened to be the aunt of a former fellow serviceman/friend of Mike.  It seems that Mike had been stationed at Ft. Bliss a short while before, and one of his friends was Bobby, who introduced his GI friends to his aunt, Emma.  Emma was a widow who lived in El Paso's Lower Valley, who had opened her home to her nephew and his GI friends while they were at Ft. Bliss.  She did the same for me.  She gave me a bedroom in her little house, told me it was mine whenever I wanted it, and basically gave me a place away from the Army.

         As soon as I was able I bought a little car (a piece of junk, really; it was a 1965 Triumph Herald, a little red convertible clunker), and was able to end my dependence on El Paso's spotty bus services.  I was thus able to pick Emma up from work on Yandell (she worked as a bookkeeper at a finance company) on Friday's, and take her home, so she could avoid one evening's bus ride per week.  I would then take her grocery shopping on Saturday to nearby Chew Din's on Alameda Avenue.  Before long Emma began talking up a young lady she rode the bus with, and said that we should meet.

         At length she provided a phone number for this young lady, and I called her a couple of times.  Emma arranged a blind date for us, but things kept happening to put our date off, farther and farther into the future.  We were supposed to meet in December, but the young lady in question had to go out of town, then something happened while she was out of town, and then her mother suffered a broken arm, and so on and so forth.

         Finally, one Friday in January, I picked Emma up from her place of work on Yandell, and we proceeded on downtown to pick up Blanca at her place of work, another finance company, located on the second floor at 109 N. Oregon St.  This was coincidentally Jan. 12, the birthday of Blanca's mother.  Blanca's recollection of the first time she saw me is that I entered the office where she worked, and approached to counter that separated the supplicants from the loan people.  I, in my normal gringo English, asked for Blan - ka (should be pronounced as blon-ka), and her response, instead of being some sort of normal affirmative, was simply, "Here I am!"

        That was pretty much it.  Emma rode in the back of my little car, on the way home, and she and I kept up a running conversation, but Blanca hardly spoke at all. We dropped her off at her home, and then went on to Emma's.  Blanca and I later spoke on the phone at length, but she had proven to be a tad shy upon our first face to face encounter.

        Our first date?  It was in fact a double date, with another couple.  She was an old family friend of Blanca, and he was another GI, from Ft. Bliss.  We went to the drive-in on Montana to see the movie, "How The West Was Won."  Apparently, John Wayne was in it.  I do not remember much about it, and had to rent it many years later, when it was available on VHS, to actually see it.  One of the interesting aspects of our dates, including that first one, was that Blanca had to be home by ten P. M., each and every night.  Well, that all began on Jan. 12, 1968, and we were married at the Center Chapel at Ft. Bliss, on June 22, that same year.  And, yes, we are still together, all these years later.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

We Arrive At The Beginnings Of My Blog.

Part IX………fun and games in El Paso’s Lower Valley……..
We then drove around the neighborhood looking for the thief, but saw nothing.  Later that morning, we learned that some neighbors – who had also been burglarized – did chase him down, and beat him up before letting him go.  They did recover their stolen items, but we never did see the missing car stereo.  The police speculated that he had someone waiting nearby with a car, and they likely got away clean, albeit the one guy had to take his lumps.
During these years, we still struggled, but we had a good time.  I learned/taught myself how to work on cars, as I had to do my own maintenance, and many repairs.  In reality I became a plumber, an electrician, a carpenter, and an all around handy man, as I replaced water heaters, evaporative air coolers, electrical things of all kinds, and pretty much kept up with all of our homes, over the years.  I also continued with electronics as a sort of paying hobby, repairing and installing car stereos for friends and family for many years.  We also, from the time we lived on Valley View, made many trips to Chihuahua, Mexico, where Blanca still has a lot of family, and where my best friend lives.
Our kids all remember the rush to load the car with them, an ice chest (for the beer, of course), a few clothes, whatever we were taking to whoever had asked for it, as soon as we got off work on a Friday afternoon.  Then, four hours on the road, where the kids had to listen to Dad’s tapes of the Beatles, Billy Joel, Atlanta Rhythm Section, etc., while I smoked my head off, all the way to the home of our friends, or Blanca’s Aunt and Uncle, or a cousin, and a weekend of partying.
We lived on Moses from June of 1986, until we sold it and moved to Tom Ulozas Drive, on El Paso’s East Side, in December of 1993.  By this time, our two oldest had left the nest.  Arthur graduated in 1989, and went off to UT - Austin, never to return, except, of course, for visits.  John, Jr. graduated a year later, and first went into the Army, then moved to the Denver area, before returning to the El Paso area, in late 1993.  Since Blanca was teaching in the Ysleta District, all of our children were able to continue their schooling in the same district, so that they were able to stay with their childhood friends.  Blanca, Jr. (AKA, Ikis) graduated from Ysleta High School, then took classes at UT, before coming back home to attend El Paso Community College, and work at a number of jobs.  Andrew, our baby, changed schools in his senior year, to Hanks High School, which was much closer to home, and then graduated from that school.
We were very happy in this house (me, mostly because it had a swimming pool, so a lot less grass to cut; never could get any of the kids to help me out with cutting the grass…), and our first grand daughter was born while we were there.  Bryan, our oldest grandchild, spent most of his weekends with us, and a lot of his summers, after his parents divorced.  After he started school, while he lived with his mother, I drove across town every Friday afternoon to pick him up, and he spent his weekends with us.  There were some job changes during the years we spent on Tom Ulozas, for both of us, until Blanca reached a point where she felt that she could not find a decent job in El Paso.
So, in the summer of 2004, we went to visit Blanca, Jr., in Arlington, and while there Blanca landed a job with the Dallas ISD.  I didn’t really want to leave El Paso by this time, but while in Arlington, I went online and found a job during the four days we were there.  So, I returned to El Paso, gave notice at my job, packed a few things, and returned to Arlington, where we both began new jobs in the first week of August.  Once we were there, I first worked as a Telephonic Case Manager, with a commute from Arlington, all the way up the Dallas North Tollway, almost to Plano (nearly forty miles, one way).  This was doable, but I really didn’t like the work, and hated the commute and the odd hours (I went in at 10:00 AM, and got out at 7:00PM), so after only four months there, I changed to doing a Medicare fraud investigative thing for the insurance company that serves as third party payer for Texas Medicare.  This still involved a long commute, in very heavy traffic, but the hours were a little bit better.  While there, I was approached by a head hunter to go to work for a company that wanted a bilingual RN Case Manager.
I had never been recruited for any job, and have to say that I did enjoy the experience.  I kept refusing, and they kept raising the offers, until I couldn’t say no.  Meanwhile, Blanca was doing fine with her job, but then, she had a fall on MLK Day in early 2005, and she broke her left wrist.  She received pretty crappy care, and had to go to a second specialist after coming out of her first cast, because the first Orthopedic Specialist never set the broken bones.  The break healed crookedly, leaving her wrist with a permanent disfigurement.  She had to have an Open Reduction, Internal Fixation procedure in March, after coming out of the first cast.  The surgery by this second specialist involved placing pins and plates, and some metal screws, and of course, then they put her in a bigger cast.  All together, she spent something like five months in casts, and then had many weeks of Physical Therapy, with the end result that her wrist has lost a lot of movement, and even looks crooked today, more than five years later.
By making the move to Arlington, we were able to immediately accelerate our retirement plans.  We stayed with our truly darling (yeah, I know.  I don’t talk this way, do I?) daughter and her girls for just over one year, then bought a house in Farmers Branch, located between our two work locations.  We stayed there until our move to Costa Rica, in early 2009.
I began drawing a small pension from the state of Texas when I turned sixty, and that income became the basis for our application to live in Costa Rica as pensionados.  Blanca then retired at the end of the 2007-2008 school year with something like 21 years service as a classroom teacher.  I continued working mostly because we had a mortgage and knew that this was not a time to be trying to sell a house.  This part of our life all ended rather abruptly when I was suddenly laid off on Jan. 5, 2009.  I had been very ill, in bed over the New Year holiday, and I remember at one point, sometime around the first of the year, in the midst of all the sneezing and coughing, I got up to go to the bathroom, and discovered that I had developed double vision.  This was, to say the least, a bit off-putting, which is just a way to avoid saying that it scared the podwaddin’ right on out of me.
I had to wait a day or two, until Friday of that first week of the new year, to get to the doctor, and he immediately arranged for me to see an Ophthalmologist (that same day), and scheduled me for an MRI, which was then done on Tuesday evening, the 6th of January. 
The Ophthalmologist said that something was causing pressure on the fourth cranial nerve (a condition usually associated with high blood pressure, or Diabetes, but I had neither), and this pressure was causing the double vision (dipoplia). This condition usually lasts for six to eight weeks, and then gets better on its own, depending on the root cause. The temporary fix was that I had to find a pair of glasses with plain lenses (after four years of no glasses), not an easy thing to do, and then, upon returning to his office late that afternoon, his staff affixed a plastic ‘prism’ lens to the inside of the clear lens (I later learned that this is what is known as a Fresnel lens, and if you want to know a little something more about a Fresnel lens, read Jimmy Buffet’s charming book, Salty Piece Of Land).
The weirdness was just beginning: It was my Right eye that was focusing wrong, by the way, but it was to the left lens that this prism was affixed. This bends the light before it gets to the retina, causing that eye to match (more or less) the weak eye. Not comfortable, and not really clear vision, but it is better than double vision. I could at least watch a little TV, but reading was pretty much out of the question.
Now, comes the bad news part of this little episode:  I called my boss on Monday morning, January 5, 2009, to let her know what I had learned, and to bring her up to date with what I considered a potentially serious personal health issue.  Coincidentally (I’m with all those TV detectives, in that I don’t believe in coincidence in situations like this – and, yes, the pun is intended), not two hours later, I received a conference call from the big boss, my boss, and a third party, informing me that at an unspecified point during the previous year a ‘business’ decision was reached in regards to the “Texas Market” (blah, blah, blah, blah, yada yada yada yada), and my position had been eliminated, effective Jan. 16. It was supposedly also decided that previous year to hold off on informing me until after the holidays, so as not to spoil my holiday. Very generously, they “offered” me a three month extension of COBRA, in addition to paying me through the end of January, provided that I sign a waiver saying that I wouldn’t sue them, or talk about them.  Well, the company is called Coventry Health Care, so I guess you can easily surmise that I did NOT sign their frickin’ chicken$hit waiver.
Well, I got over it (obviously), but it was still a very low blow.  In the wake of this sudden job loss, I decided it might be the better part of valor to just go on ahead and move to Costa Rica at that time, rather than to continue working for a couple more years.  So, in February I put in for my Social Security, since I was already 62, and arranged for a mover, and we got everything packed, took a final, farewell tour of Texas to say goodbye to kids, grandkids, and family, and flew on down there on April 29.  The rest, as they say, is history.  OMG, that was more than eight years ago!  And, that is just about where I began writing my Blog, aptly (I thought so, anyway) named "Grumbles From Arenal."

Basically, if you want to know what came next, you can go back through the links in today's Blog, and find all of my entries from our three years in Costa Rica, through to today.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Funny Thing Happened On The Way To My Career As A Nurse

Some six months after I had earned my license as a Registered Nurse, I went to work for the El Paso City/County Health Department in September of 1977.  My first assignment was to the Ysleta Health Center, located at 9060 Socorro Road, across the street from an old cotton gin.  Just next door used to be (I think) a Boys' Club, with an outside swimming pool, that was filled in a long, long time ago.  My boss, the Charge Nurse at the clinic, was Mrs. Christine Barron, RN, who was a long time Ysleta resident.

This was one of several buildings put up all over the county at roughly the same time, either during the 60's or the early 70's.  I recall the same essential building in Tigua, Northeast, San Juan (on Trowbridge), Buena Vista (not too far from ASARCO's smelter), Moon City (on North Loop), and Canutillo:

The clinic building still looks much the same, all these years later.  I do not believe that the cage at the entrance existed way back then, and the handicapped access ramp was added in the 1980's.

I am sorry that I no longer remember Mrs. Barron's maiden name, but I do recall that she talked about growing up in the Ysleta area, and spending time on both sides of the border, as her father had a ranch just across in the Zaragoza area.  She was a widow, with two grown children, both of whom had gone on to live their own lives.  I believe her daughter was already in Austin, and her son was married and starting his own family.

She, like most of the older female RN's and LVN's I worked with way back then, took me under her wing, and tried to teach me the important aspects of Public Health Nursing.  In the late 1970's almost all of the Public Health Nurses in El Paso were graduates of one of the finest Nursing Schools in Texas, The Hotêl Dieu School of Nursing.  Hotêl Dieu was a Catholic Hospital, located down on Stanton Street, between Arizona and Rio Grande.  Across the street, at the end of the block on Arizona, was the School of Nursing, which later was taken over by UTEP's Nursing School.  Believe me when I tell you, the graduates of that old Diploma school were far superior to anything that has come out of UTEP.

Mrs. Barron was amazing, and set a standard so high that I was really worried that I could never reach it.  One of the most important services that we delivered in those days was the administration of routine childhood immunizations to all children in El Paso.  In Ysleta, we did pre-school kids on Tuesdays, and School aged kids on Friday afternoons.  She could provide immunizations to many more than I could, perhaps 4-5 times as many.  It did take me months to get up to her speed.

Back in those days, a very important part of what we did in Public Health was provide educational talks to our 'captive' audiences of parents and grandparents, just before we started calling out the names of those who were to be immunized.  I did not speak much Spanish at that time, and our audience was always very heavily weighted towards no English at all.  Mrs. Barron pushed me very hard to improve my Spanish enough so that I could deliver my share of these talks.  The easy part was that no script was followed, but something short and sweet needed to be delivered in each talk.  We might talk about mosquito control, or household hygiene, and we always provided information about how to care for the children in the hours and days following their shots.

So, while I got an education into Public Health, my Spanish was being improved.  I worked with Mrs. Barron for some years, and learned a lot more than Spanish from her.  She taught me a lot of the Ysleta area history, and about what it was like for her growing up in El Paso's Lower Valley.  She reminisced, at times, about her family, and told how her father owned a ranch on the Mexican side of the border when she was a girl, and her family used to cross back and forth all the time.  I learned about some of the families that had lived in that part of the county for many generations, and some, whose names are known today.

And, then, after some years, she reached the point where she basically tested me by telling me a joke, in Spanish, that she tied into the Ysleta area, and when I realized that I could understand her joke, I knew that I had at last arrived.

There used to be a general medical clinic in Ysleta called the Johnstone Clinic.  Dr. Johnstone was very well known in El Paso, after establishing his practice here in the years following WWII. His clinic was where generations of Ysleta area residents went for health care for the entire family.  At one point in time, there was a lady named Juana, from Mexico originally, who had moved to the Ysleta area, and began taking her family to Dr. Johnstone.  Over time she wrote letters home to her Comadre, (literally, co-mother) urging that she bring her ahijado (Godson) to live in this area as well.  "Comadre," she wrote, "Come live here.  You'll really like it, and we have this really great doctor, who I just know will be able to help mijo (my son)."

Well, finally, the Comadre was able to relocate (quite legally, I assure you) to the U. S. A., and she settled in the Ysleta area.  Now, it was up to Juana to arrange for her godson to be seen by the great Dr. Johnstone, so she made an appointment, and the two Comadres took little Chuy (nickname for Jesus) to the clinic with great anticipation.

When the staff called the little boy's name, both mother and godmother eagerly entered the exam room to see what could be done for little Chuy.  The staff member told them to put the little boy on the exam table, and to take off his little shirt and his pants, and they covered him with a sheet, for his examination.

Finally, when they felt like they could take it no more, the great doctor entered the room, in a rush. "Good Morning, ladies," he said.  "What can we do for (looking mostly at the chart) Jesus today?"

"¿Que dice, Comadre?" (What did he say, co-mother?), asked the new arrival, of Juana. Juana explained, "He asked what we are here for."
"Oh.  Esta bien."  (Oh.  That's good.)

Juana explained to the doctor that she was concerned that maybe her godson had a problem, and she just knew that he could fix it right up.

"OK," said Dr. Johnstone, "Let's have a look here."

Juana then had to explain to her inquiring Comadre what the doctor had said ("vamos aver"), as he began his examination of the little boy.

He did all the usual things, listening to the chest, feeling up and down the arms and legs, and so on.  He asked some of the usual questions, as well, for which the caring Godmother, Juana, translated as best she could, but rarely well, you understand.

At length, he turned to the women, and said, "Well, it is pretty obvious.  This little boy is mentally retarded."

"¿Que dice, Comadre?  ¿Que dice?"
"Pos, que todo est bien, Comadre.  No mas llevese el niño a la casa y ponle mentolato en la tarde."

Friday, July 7, 2017

Why Do You Suppose El Paso, Texas, Has No Changes?

I found a link to this information this morning, and find it to be very interesting for those of us who live in a stagnant location like El Paso.  Why do you suppose our elected representatives are always yammering about revitalization, rebuilding downtown, stimulating this or that, and attracting "new" business, growth, etc., ya da ya da ya da???

The fact is that, while our property tax rates remain among the highest in the nation, our real property values remain unchanged for many, many years.  And, if I think about what has happened, and is still happening elsewhere, I can only wonder why our elected representatives fail to address this real issue, instead of going on and on about that other Bull Shit.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Married Life After the Army

Part VIII……..out of the Army, and the newlyweds arrived in Seattle…….
We bought our first home on North 36th Street, in what was known as the Fremont area, in early 1969.  Here is what that house looks like as of June, 2016:

And, here is what it looked like in 1937, according to the Fremont Historical Society:

I have no idea who Denny + Hoyt’s refers to, but I did see that caption on some other photos located on the web site for the Fremont Area Historical Organization.  I suspect it may have been the names of the people who lived there at that time.

And, this is the only photo of it from our time there.  That is Blanca standing on the little porch:

After a short 14 months or so in Seattle, we decided – literally overnight – to move to El Paso, mostly because Blanca’s parents arrived mysteriously for a visit, the very day after I had gotten fed up and quit my job at Boeing.  It just seemed somehow convenient to have their assistance with loading our things into a U-Haul, and to make the drive back down to Texas.  (Yes, there is another story here, but I think I’ll save it for the novel).

El Paso was a struggle at first, but we did manage to find work, and even were able to buy a house within about three months of our arrival.  The struggle continued from 1970, until a friend prevailed upon me to finally use my head for something besides a hat rack (“Use the GI Bill, fool, before it’s too late!” he said).  We already had two children when I started college, and by the time Blanca finished her university, we had four.  We spent many years on the brink of disaster, living from paycheck to paycheck, never seeming to get ahead.

All of the above having been said, I am reminded that this was supposed to be a more positive piece, uplifting, as it were, as compared to what I usually write.  So, to get back on track, let’s focus on some of those more positive things.  Eventually, as the kids grew up, our careers advanced, and we not only made plans for our eventual retirement, and (despite some adjustments along the way) we ultimately reached a point where we felt we could end our working lives, and begin our new life in Costa Rica.

This is not to say that our lives begin and end there in what we thought was paradise, because we certainly have many fond memories of people and many other places.

We had many great times while living in El Paso’s lower valley (8153 Valley View) where all the kids were born, and launched on their educational paths.  We lived there for some sixteen years, and these are just a few of the highlights:  Arthur, the oldest, was born in 1971, started Head Start, and attended Pasodale Elementary, Ysleta Junior High, and Ysleta High School – we moved from this address in about 1986, when he was going into his junior or senior year of high school.  John, Jr., was born in 1973, and followed the same path, with the possible exception that he may have missed Ysleta Junior High (correct me if I’m wrong, John).  Both of them were able to graduate from Ysleta High School.  Blanca, Jr., our darling daughter, was born in 1977, and was able to graduate from Ysleta, but had to go a year or two to other schools (one year in the Socorro District, and another year of Junior High with her cousin, Melissa).  Andrew, the baby, was born in 1979, and started school in Ysleta, but switched to Socorro District when we moved to the edge of El Paso, very close to Socorro, in 1986.  He did attend Ysleta High School, like his siblings, but graduated from Hanks High School.

We moved from the Ysleta area, to the very edge of the city of El Paso, almost to the town of Socorro (we found ourselves located about three houses from the city limits, on Moses Drive) in 1986.  We had decided it was time to move when our home was burglarized while on one of many trips to Mexico (Chihuahua) over Easter Weekend in, I believe 1986.  This new neighborhood was a very different kind of neighborhood, with the homes on our block being owner occupied, mostly owner-built, but we were surrounded by lower class developments, and two street gangs (Los Ortiz Bros and La F Troop).  This was a fantastic home, with some 2400 sq. ft., four bedrooms, two and a half bathrooms, a living room, a den, and a room that had been converted from what was originally intended to be a garage, into a play room, and a huge yard.  We had a pool table there, with a wet bar and a beer fridge (that actually stayed with me from Valley View, up until we moved to Dallas many years later; here’s another side story.  I bought it used from Bertha, Blanca’s sister.  It started life as one of those milk dispenser fridges you see on the back counter at a diner, like Denny’s.  It is still working today, reclaimed from the garage at Bucko’s house in Austin.  I foolishly gave it to him while we were in Dallas because I bought a new, slightly bigger fridge that I then sold before we moved here.  I recently blogged about restoring this old friend:  see my entry of Saturday, May 13, 2017, "American Restoration, El Chuco Style." 

The time spent there (on Moses) was, overall, very good to us, but it was marked by a frequent sound of actual gunshots, followed by the sirens of the police and ambulances, and accompanied by the police helicopter, with high intensity searchlight sweeping the night sky looking for whatever gang members were responsible for the latest violence.
Oddly enough, we only had one incident while living here, where a thief from Mexico came into our yard, took clothes off the clotheslines, and stole a stereo from my brother-in-law’s motor home that had been parked in our driveway.  What made this even more odd was that Blanca happened to get up early that morning (a Sunday, I think), and had gone into the yard, maybe to bring in the clothes, and encountered the thief, carrying a bag and some sort of implement in his hands (maybe bolt cutters).  They were both so startled that neither reacted in a manner one might expect.  Blanca told the guy, in Spanish, that he was on private property, and walked him out the front gate, and he left.  Then, we discovered that some things were missing.  The clothes were found on the ground near the back fence, as if he had moved them there to pick up later.  The gap in the dashboard of the motor home (where the stereo used to be) was not noticed until sometime later.

So, we’ll leave you now, while the hunt for the thief continues……… Part IX.