Friday, October 31, 2008

Road trip to Texas: Day 14

I shot two feral hogs today (with the Canon camcorder). My brother Alan did the same with his 30-06. I didn't mention this before, but Alan also shot a coyote from about 325 yards with the same 30-06 on Tuesday. All of this will be put into perspective in my 30-minute documentary about cattle ranching and the economic damage that feral hogs and coyotes cause. I'll probably run a poll asking whether people want to see the killing gunshots in the video or not.

We took off from Alan and Mary's ranch at about noon today, starting our trek home. Tonight, we bunked up in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, home of the one and only Bret Favre who, by the way, does not pronounce his own name correctly. I can't imagine anyone describing a cadre of military leaders as a "card of corporals who train recruits." What's so hard about saying Favre? It also bugged me for years that people in New Bedford made reference to Tarklin Hill Road. If you bother to read the sign, you'll see that it's Tarkiln Hill Road. Get it? It's a tar kiln. But I digress.

Gas was $2.099 just east of Houston. And the good feeling this price evoked lasted for a long, long time because it was dispensed by the slowest gas pump I have ever used. I timed it. No less than 45 seconds per gallon, making my 16-gallon fill up take 12 minutes. The only plus was that you can lock the pump nozzles in Texas. Well, make that anywhere in the entire United States south of Massachusetts. Who legislated that gas stations have to disable this ingenious devise in Massachusetts? Were people blowing themselves up on a regular basis because of the convenient locking mechanisms? I've heard the whole static electricity argument, but why is it that this physics phenomenon stops at the Massachusetts border? I digress again.

We hope to be somewhere in the vicinity of the nation's capitol tomorrow night. Wish us luck.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Road trip to Texas: Day 13

Morning hog hunt: See yesterday's post.

Still, for the past four days I've watched the first light of dawn and seen the night sky swallow the last remnant of twilight. How cool is that?

We walked for hours searching for just one of the four million feral hogs roaming Texas. If we were in Rhode Island, it'd be a lot easier. Frankly, it's quite amazing that you can wander around for three hours without seeing another human being.

By the way, while Alan and I are out chasing pork, Mary and Mary are running down to the big sale at Owl's and visiting some of the chic malls in Gonzales County. Alan and I are the only ones coming home day after day with nothing to show.

The highlight of the day was dinner. Feral hog chili. My sister-in-law makes a great chili, which is even better with ground feral hog. Their freezer is stocked with pork chops and ground meat, but it is not advisable to make sausage or jerky from feral hogs as they often carry brucellosis and parasites. You have to cook the meat thoroughly for it to be safe. Domestic hogs raised on farm factories are fed tetracycline and other antibiotics in order to kill these maladies before slaughter.

Another highlight, perhaps lowlight: One of dogs, Rosie, decided to partake in my tumbler of Bailey's while I took a quick shower. She cleaned the glass and was so proud of herself. Of course, twenty minutes later, she was swaying from side to side and we all saw what was coming from the dining room table. I've seen this look before. It's the "I've had way too much to drink and I'm going to throw up" look. Though I can't say I've ever seen it on a dog, it's the same look.

Mary and Alan jumped up to let Rosie out the front door. Too late.

Well, tomorrow is our last shot at taking a feral hog. If we don't accomplish that, I've still got plenty of footage to produce a show about the menaces ranchers face; from the runaway population growth of feral hogs to other long standing threats, such as coyotes and mountain lions.

Road trip to Texas: Day 12

Morning hunt for feral hogs: See yesterday's post. No hogs.

However, I did see a feral hog this afternoon. Judy, the Feral Hog, is a pet pig weighing in around 700 pounds. Her owner, Dale, raised her from a piglet and taught her a number of interesting tricks and behaviors. She rings a bell to get a treat, turns around in a circle, sits like a dog, and opens wide when Dale offers her a drink of Dr. Pepper. I captured all of this on video and, if we don't hunt down a wild feral hog, Judy may be the only hog you're going to see on this TV show.

We scouted a neighbor's ranch in preparation for our morning hunt. That didn't leave us enough time before dark to do any hunting, but that's only because we're counting on the sun to light the video. Alan has a night vision scope on his .308 that allows him to see in virtual blackness. A blank screen for half an hour on TV not being the most thrilling quality time, we've opted for hunting two to three hours after the break of dawn and before the end of dusk. The other option was a $4,000 night vision attachment for the video camera but, of course, that was not really ever an option.

Here's to tomorrow's hunt. It should be around 35 degrees when we get out there. Heckuva vacation, wouldn't you say?

Road trip to Texas: Day 11

Monday, October 27th, started the same way as Sunday: 6am wake up, cup of coffee, and out the door twenty minutes before the break of dawn. Getting around out in the fields and back country is pretty easy thanks to my brother's Kawasaki Mule. It's a 4-wheel drive all-terrain vehicle about 70% of the size of a Jeep. (See it at:

We saw no hogs. We did see a couple of deer, but Alan doesn't hunt deer. Deer are no threat to his livestock and ranching operations. Hogs, on the other hand, tear up hay fields, rendering them too dangerous to drive a tractor over, and they will on occasion kill sheep. Coyotes are also a threat to cattle and are unwelcomed guests on any active ranch. Newborn calves are easy prey for coyotes and they don't hesitate to take advantage.

We met my cousins Cathy and Suzanne and Uncle Wilmouth for lunch in Cuero. Half the crew ordered chicken fried steak and other half Mexican plates. If you have never had chicken fried steak, change that.

The evening hunt was again uneventful. Back to it in the morning.

Road trip to Texas: Day 10

The first morning of our feral hog hunting venture started at 6:00 a.m. We wanted to be out before dawn started breaking because these hogs generally stay in the woods and are nearly impossible to find during the day. I had my tan field pants on with a camouflage shirt. Unfortunately, these field pants weren't broken in enough--no demand for this kind of clothing at work and I'd only been out in them a couple of times before--and they were unbelievably loud when the legs rubbed against each other. It sounded like I was wearing two pup tents strapped at my waist. Needless to say, this was a signal for any feral hogs residing in Gonzales County to stay clear.

In the afternoon, we drove to Gonzales to pick up a pair of Wrangler camouflage "quiet" pants. I also bought a couple of cases of clay pigeons to entertain the kids back at the ranch. Our daughter and son, Sarah and Dan, came down from Dallas with grandson, Timothy. My nephew and niece, Pat and Angie, and their spouses also joined us. We knocked a few clays out of the sky with my 12-gauge trap gun and put a few holes in a silhouette target with a variety of revolvers and pistols. Good, safe fun without the aid of a video game console.

The evening hunt, though not nearly as noisy, was equally uneventful. The pigs are safe until tomorrow.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Road trip to Texas: Day 9

We made the trip from El Paso to my brother and sister-in-law's ranch, about 670 miles, in 9 and a half hours. We started the day at our grandson Christopher's basketball game in El Paso where, if we didn't take the initiative to keep score ourselves, everyone would have left with their self-esteem intact. Always the contrarian, I believe that competitive sports are meant for competition, the measurement of which happens to be the score. That's how life works. Get used to it. Anyway, our team won 30 to 28. Hey!!! You other kids suck!! (Just kidding.)

Our first potential encounter with feral hogs will be tomorrow morning. My brother, Alan, has his .308 readied with a night vision scope and I've got the Canon XL-1S loaded with Sony DV tape. If we're lucky, we'll capture the thrill of the hunt along with a back story as to why these wild pigs need to be controlled.

With the dial-up connection here at the ranch, I'm feeling a lot like Frank Pannorfi, technology-wise, so I'll have to wait to post photos until we're on our way home. I did take several more El Paso scenic shots before we left, which give you an idea of how large and polluted this city has become. It makes L.A. look healthy.

See you tomorrow...

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Road trip to Texas: Day 8

Mom and Mary in Sandwich, Massachusetts, several years ago.

We visited my mom today. She's 83 and pretty far into the stages of Alzheimer's disease. I'm no expert on this disease, but I can see how it has robbed her of her quality of life. I used to be able to call and chat with her several times a week. Now she no longer answers the phone. Perhaps it's better that way with the number of lowlifes out there who try and take advantage of disoriented senior citizens.

She lives in a facility that specializes in the care of Alzheimer's patients. They had to move her to the "lock down" area about a year ago after she started wandering and was found out in the parking lot. Wandering is a milestone on the timeline of this disease; obviously not a good one.

My brother (Dale), my sister-in-law (Sallie) and my niece (Laura) live in El Paso and give a great deal of their time caring for Mom. It is a tough job and extremely frustrating because of Alzheimer's progressive nature. There is simply no way to thank Dale, Sallie and Laura enough.

There are ups and downs, of course. Periods of lucence. Periods of nonrecognition. Today, I was kidding with her and she laughed--like I remember her laughing. That was worth the trip. A minute later she was in a blank stare and then fell asleep. And so it goes...

We also spent some time with the grandkids. They sported their Halloween costumes for us.

Finally, here are a few shots of the mountains and desert city of El Paso, Texas.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Road trip to Texas: Day 7

We spent the day in El Paso, seeing the grandkids and doing a little shopping. This is the part of our road trip that is meant to be relaxing and uneventful. And it was.

Our grandson, Christopher, is playing soccer and basketball on teams being co-coached by our son, Chris. Here are a couple of pics we took yesterday at his practice. He's the one on the right.

People often don't think of Texas as having mountains. Certainly the scenes from the TV show "Dallas" would indicate that the state is rolling grasslands as far as you can see. In the background of this second pic you can see the Franklin Mountains, which are part of the Rocky Mountain chain. El Paso is actually further west than Denver, the city most associated with the Rocky Mountains. I hope to get some more photos tomorrow to give you a better perspective of this desert mountain area.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Road trip to Texas: Day 6

We arrived at our western-most terminus of this trip today--El Paso, Texas--and had dinner with our sons Chris and Jeff, our daughter Gayle, our daughter-in-law Celina, and Chris and Celina's three kids: Christopher, Trinity and Troy.

The trip bore some interesting tidbits:
  • Passing through Trent, Texas, we noticed a nicely appointed football stadium (not unusual in Texas by any means) and did a double take at the mascot, a gorilla. That is pretty unusual, in my book, as I don't recall ever hearing of another team nicknamed the Gorillas. My first thought was this is a team that must have shed a politically incorrect name, like the Indians, Redskins, Chiefs, etc., in favor of something less offensive, but my research indicates that this has been a longstanding moniker. It's a town of 318 people with a school population of just under 200. (A lot of the kids come from the neighboring farms in the county.) They play 6-man football, fielded from a squad of 12.

  • In the same area along Interstate 20 is the town of Sweetwater, which has become the center of Texas' renewable energy industry. Mary and I measured nearly 40 miles of windmills on both sides of the freeway. Forty miles! There were literally thousands of units, a large part of the 4,300 megawatts of wind energy currently installed in Texas. An additional 17,000 megawatts worth of projects have been identified and will be developed as transmission lines become available in the wind rich areas. Of course, this is Texas, and in the foreground against all of those windmills are pumping units extracting oil from the Permian Basin. All energy, all the time. Check out this 20-second video that I shot a couple of years ago:

  • Another interesting aspect of this cross-Texas trip is the 80 mph speed limit west of Midland. The 300 miles from Midland to El Paso go pretty fast at 85. (Hey, it's less than 10% above the limit.) By the way, the car is still doing fine. The poll today sits at 10 votes in favor of the car making the trip without a breakdown, and none who have predicted a failure.

Pictured above: Chris and Celina; Nana Mary and Troy; Trinity and Chris; Gayle and her wonder dog, Nikki.

I added a few pictures to yesterday's post, as promised, showing a few of Ft. Worth Stockyards highlights and one of Mary and Bryan.

Check back tomorrow...

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Road trip to Texas: Day 5

We made the short drive from Rockwall to Ft. Worth this morning (about an hour) and spent the day with our son, Bryan. He's our 2001 graduate of Sandwich High School and 2006 graduate of Texas A&M with a degree in industrial distribution.

He chauffeured our tour of downtown Ft. Worth and TCU (Texas Christian University), pointed the way to the Colonial Country Club (home of the PGA Colonial Golf Tournament), and showed us the unbelievable amount of development and redevelopment going on in the city. It turns out that Ft. Worth sits right on top of the Barnett Shale natural gas deposit, the largest formation in Texas and possibly the entire country. The influx of money from taxes and royalties is driving this economic boom and revitalizing the once quiet and laid back Cowtown.

We spent a few hours at the Ft. Worth Stockyards, visiting the Cowboy Hall of Fame and many shops, and then watched some cowboys herding a dozen or so long horned steer down the street. Lunch was barbecued brisket sandwiches and dinner was a real treat; the best open flame grilled tenderloin steaks you'll ever sink your teeth into.

Mary is now speaking Texan 24 hours a day. The "y'alls" are back and I'm being called "honey" and "sweetie" more than I can remember. All good, I declare.

Tomorrow, we're off to El Paso, a short 600 miles west of here. There we have three more grandkids, my middle brother, and my mom. Time to pack it in.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Road trip to Texas: Day 4

We had a nice, leisurely day; no timetable; no driving. Temperatures ranged from a low in the high 50s to a high in the mid-80s. The day's highlights were:
  • Having lunch at a restaurant overlooking Lake Ray Hubbard. It's a 22,000 acre lake on the East Fork of the Trinity River. There were plenty of people out on the lake, mostly sailing and fishing. On the western shore sits a Bass Pro Shop. If you want to give your future rod & reel, or kayak, or boat a tryout, you can take it out the back door and down to the lake for a spin.

  • Mark, Sarah and I later went to test our skills at the batting cages. I love batting cages. In fact, I cannot remember a time when baseball wasn't a part of my life. I'm told by my brother of a particularly good hit I made when I was 4 or 5. The fly ball went directly for the neighbor's car, Alan watching it zero in on the windshield but, fortunately, it went through the open driver's side window and landed in the back seat. Stroke of luck.

  • Our son, Bryan, who is selling pneumatic devices for Sun Source in Ft. Worth, came by for dinner. We'll be spending the day with him tomorrow in Ft. Worth and I'll post some pictures of the stockyards and other sites around Tarrant County.

Road trip to Texas: Day 3

After a few more McCafe lattes and another tank of gas, we made it to Rockwall mid-afternoon today. Rockwall is about 25 miles due east of Dallas, which is our oldest daughter's daily commute to her office at Ernst & Young. She passed the CPA exam recently, by the way, and will soon receive her license. I'm very proud of her and she's a Red Sox fan to boot.

Speaking of the Sox, I wasn't surprised at tonight's result. Certainly the Rays have been dominant since the All-Star break, and Varitek's hapless strike out in the 9th seemed to sum up his season, but I was pumped that we didn't go down seven nothing in Game 5. It was thrilling.

Our son, Dan, is recovering from a broken right arm, the result of an attempted escape from an "arm bar" in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu gone wrong. In case you're unfamiliar, this is a martial art that focuses on ground fighting. (Dan is the one in the blue pants.)

Grandson Timothy looks a lot like the kid on the E*Trade commercials.

Here are a couple of pics from this summer (I'll get some updated ones tomorrow):

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Blackberry animal cruelty?

Am I the only one who has noticed that the dog in the new Blackberry TV commercial is injured? He goes up to catch the Frisbee and is clearly favoring his right hind leg when he comes down. He then walks gingerly, keeping his weight off of the injured foot.

I found the ad on YouTube, but this may not be available for long:

Perhaps the editor of the ad could have used a little more discretion than to have cut a commercial evidencing apparent cruelty to an animal.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Road trip to Texas: Day 2

We made it to Memphis, Tennessee, at about 7:30 this evening. We're now about 1,350 miles out of 1,780 on this first leg of our road trip. Tomorrow, we'll set out for Rockwall, Texas, where our oldest daughter, Sarah, her husband, Mark, and our 1-year old grandson, Timothy, live. Timothy is the star of a couple of YouTube videos I've posted:

I almost forgot that our son, Dan, is living with Mark and Sarah also. He's in grad school at the University of Texas at Arlington and should receive his master's degree in May.

By Mary's calculations, we're averaging right at 28 miles per gallon, which isn't too bad considering that this is what the car got when it was brand new in 1997. Gas prices in Tennessee are running around $2.70 a gallon.

We were in several "cruise control" races today. This is what happens when two cars have their cruise controls set at the same speed. Ours holds the speed very constant up and down hills, but some other cars will slow down slightly climbing hills and gain some speed coming down. This results in multiple lead changes through the hills of Virginia and Tennessee. The races invariably break up when one of the cars has to pit (exit into a comfort station).

In another interesting maneuver, some guy in a Ford Windstar was behind us and gaining on us very gradually. (Cruise control racing again.) Pretty soon, he was right on our tail and, without warning, darted into the passing lane without signaling and passed us just before the underpass. It occurred to me that this is a classic NASCAR move where the second place car is drafting the leader around turns three and four and, just before the finish line, moves high or low and noses out the lead car to take the checkered flag. I was beaten by a Darrell Waltrip wannabe driving a minivan. How embarrassing.

Speaking of NASCAR, it's definitely big down here. We passed two stock car toting rigs outside Nashville and, when I turned the hotel room TV on, the default station was the Speed Channel.

Tomorrow, we'll start the trip by crossing the Mississippi River into Arkansas and head for the famous town of Hope, Arkansas, home of one of America's greatest politicians, who is a pretty good musician as well. In fact, we saw his new show on Fox News tonight. He did a nice job. Of course, I'm talking about Mike Huckabee.

For now, I'm returning to the Sox game and SNL to watch Sarah Palin.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Road trip to Texas: Day 1

For those of you who bet on the car making the trip... So far so good. (Cast your vote at the top of blog's home page.) We arrived in Roanoke, Virginia, at about 8:45pm after a lazy start around 8:30 this morning, a distance of 708 miles. We were in 9 states today: MA, RI, CT, NY, NJ, PA, MD, WV and VA.

  • The latte at McDonald's new McCafe is pretty good. Strong. Perfect for staying awake on the road.
  • We saw a sign over a traffic light in Pennsylvania that read "Wait For Green." That seemed to us to be kind of basic when it comes to rules of the road. Do PA drivers really need to be reminded not to take off on red?
  • A woman flipped us off in New Jersey, apparently because 70 mph is considered dragging tail there. She raced away after maneuvering around us; I felt like Jed Clampett being left in the dust on Hollywood at Vine.
  • We went to Cracker Barrel for dinner after checking into a Holiday Inn Express. My smothered chicken was akin to something I might have made for myself when I bach'd it in college. A 2.0 on a scale to 10. Mary had the meatloaf, which she rated 6.5.
  • What struck us about Roanoke is that, only 700 miles south of Massachusetts, everybody talks just like Mary here. And when they start on that southern twang, Mary joins in like she never left the chorus. Eeeee-haaaaa!!!
  • Obama was in Roanoke today. Just missed it.

Here is our conversation as we drove away from the house:

Mary: Did you turn off the coffee pot?

Randy: Yes, hon.

Mary: Did you lock all the windows?

Randy: Yes, hon.

Mary: Doors?

Randy: Yes, hon.

Mary: Did you set the house alarm?

Randy: Yes, hon.

Mary: Did you forget it's our anniversary today?

Randy: Yes, hon.

Mary: [Silence]

Randy: Uhhh... What was that?

Mary: [More silence]

Randy: [Rewinding the conversation in his mind.] Of course not. Happy anniversary! Look what I got for you. A road trip to Texas.

Mary: I love you, too.

Randy: Yes, hon.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Road trip to Texas: The Night Before

If you've been following this blog for awhile, you've seen stories about my wife (Mary), my kids, and my brother (Alan). So I thought it would be interesting to post a daily entry for the next two weeks, during which Mary and I will be heading south on a road trip to Texas to see our kids, my mom, and my two brothers.

Some of the more interesting aspects of this trip might be:
  1. We're driving a car with 177,000 miles on it. We turned in our 2005 Nissan Murano at the end of its lease on October 1st and are following the advice we've been dishing out to our clients: Hold on to your cash and lower or get rid of any credit accounts you have. So now we're a one-car household and, to make things more interesting, I've added a poll on the home page of this blog so you can weigh in on whether we will be delayed by one or more days because of car trouble. (The car is a 1997 BMW 528i.)
  2. On our last road trip to Texas, I got a little too cute with the video camera; something having to do with Mary in the shower at a Holiday Inn Express. Hopefully, I'll stay out of the doghouse this time.

    When we get to my brother Alan's ranch outside of San Antonio, the order of the day will be to videotape a feral hog hunt. There are literally millions of these pigs roaming through Texas, tearing up ranchers' fields and endangering livestock. See more about this at: My brother also has a friend who has a pet pig that weighs around 700 pounds and fetches beers from the fridge (or something like that). What a hoot.

I hope you find these posts interesting and entertaining. Gotta pack.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Town Neck Beach: Past, present, and future?

Paul Schrader and I wrote this article which was published in the environmental supplement to The Sandwich Enterprise newspaper called "Preserving Cape Cod" on September 19, 2008. It is reproduced here with permission of the publisher. The video that we are producing about Town Neck Beach and Old Harbor Marsh has a working title of "Town Neck Beach, Sands of Change" and will be available to Sandwich residents who have Channel 13 on Comcast as well as from the town and school libraries in February 2009. For updated info, see

Town Neck Beach: Past, Present, and Future?


Editor's Note: Beach erosion is an environmental concern faced by all those who love the landscape of the Cape. Shifting and disappearing barrier beaches and the damage left in their wake are a reality in many locations on Cape Cod and the Islands. In the following article, Randy Hunt and Paul Schrader describe some of the specific problems facing the Town of Sandwich. Mr. Schrader and Mr. Hunt are collaborating on a video that they hope will bring the erosion problems facing Sandwich into the spotlight before it's too late.

The Town of Sandwich and indeed all of the area we know as Cape Cod were created about 25,000 years ago when the last continental glaciers retreated from the area. As the ice melted, it deposited the sand and rocks that make up the surface layer of our geography. Over eons, vegetation grew and created topsoil in some areas while in other places the sand was exposed to the elements. Natural actions of wind and wave and rain have continually modified the original terrain. The wonderful sand dunes we admire and that are the distinguishing characteristic of the Cape are the direct result of these processes.

Human activity has also been a major factor in changes to the land and seascapes. Development and construction have modified primal configurations. Seemingly benign activities like walking through grassy areas of the dunes are likely to disturb the topsoil and vegetation that serve to protect the underlying sand. Once exposed, the sands are easily eroded. Anyone who has constructed a sandcastle or otherwise observed sand at the seashore knows that sand moves much like a liquid. It is carried by ocean currents in the bay and generally moves from north to south in a counterclockwise direction. For ages, sand from the White Cliffs area of Plymouth moved toward Scusset and Town Neck beaches in Sandwich while sand from those beaches moved toward Spring Hill and Sandy Neck.

For generations, the dunes we call Town Neck Beach have served as a valuable attraction, important recreational and economic resource for both locals and visitors. The area is also home to several species of protected birds. Perhaps most importantly, the dunes serve as a barrier between the ocean waves, the marsh, and downtown Sandwich. We are concerned that the buffer that once protected the Town of Sandwich is quickly disappearing.

The most important human impact regarding Town Neck Beach occurred when the Cape Cod Canal was completed in 1914 and renovated in the 1930s. The natural process of sand replenishment was interrupted, and sand that was once deposited on the beach was swept into the canal or farther out into the bay. The problem was exacerbated in the 1960s when the jetties and groins intended to protect the canal were reinforced and lengthened to reduce the movement of sand into the canal. Sand that previously moved into the canal was now being deposited on the northwest side of the canal on Scusset Beach. At the time, it was understood that Town Neck Beach would “require replenishment at suitable intervals.” While this has been done sporadically, it is at best a temporary solution. Unfortunately, it may well be the only one available because the potential alternatives are all prohibitively costly.

The erosion caused by tropical storms has also been a major factor in the loss of sand. Several near breaches have been created, and there is a real possibility that cut-throughs similar to those in Chatham and Martha’s Vineyard could develop. This could quickly sweep away sediment in the marsh and bring the ocean very close to downtown Sandwich. We need not dwell on the consequences of such an event.

The Town of Sandwich has been working with the Army Corps of Engineers and the Mirant Canal Plant for several years to obtain the spoils dredged from the canal and have them placed on the beach. The town has also been working on a plan to relocate the Old Sandwich Harbor inlet. The goal of this plan is “to improve and stabilize the inlet, to provide erosion protection, reduce upland flooding, promote beach stability, and develop appropriate beach renourishment.”

While town, state and federal officials and agencies consider what might be done, there are some steps that we can take to mitigate the problem. In the course of making a video to highlight the problem, we noted that, in spite of warning signs, people trample through the dunes, damaging the topsoil and grasses. Within view of the "No Dogs Allowed On Beach" signs, many people bring their dogs, letting them run free and leaving their waste behind. On one occasion a human apparently thought the area a septic system of sorts: we have the video to prove it. This was accomplished by crawling under the protected bird species "crime scene" tape and climbing up the dune grass to her makeshift porta-potty. To say we were surprised would be an understatement. The word "agape" comes to mind.

Let's face it; we understand the importance of protecting nature much better than we did when we were kids. Memories of skidding down the dunes on mats of cardboard are familiar to many of us. Pulling up some beach grass to stoke the campfire was commonplace. But we also rode home in cars without seat belts, and no one gave a second thought to taking the wheel after several drinks. Times have changed, and we all have learned. We believe we all must be accountable and do what we can to preserve the environmentally sensitive area for ourselves and for future generations. We hope everyone who enjoys the area will use this precious resource with care.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

300 miles to lunch

I’ve never been one to threaten to do something… And not follow through. Ask my kids. They were never subject to empty threats. No, the threats I made came with a good dose of follow through. And in that there were some good life lessons.

Lots of people warn their kids not to misbehave and then dream up a laundry list of things that they will do to them if they fail in this mission. Speaking of laundry, my wife used to tell the kids that she would put them in the dryer if they didn’t settle down. This, of course, was an idle threat—really a tongue-in-cheek way to distract the kids for a minute or two while they contemplated just how much fun it would be to spin around in the cool cycle.

The problem with this harmless “Things Said in Las Vegas Stay in Las Vegas” approach is that things don’t always stay in Las Vegas. While trying to do the grocery shopping in a crowded supermarket and, at the same time, playing ringmaster of a three-ring circus, Mary was getting a little frustrated with her co-shoppers (aka Chris and Bryan). She started her threat with “If you two don’t settle down,” which they finished in perfect unison: “We know. You’re gonna throw us in the dryer!”

In the following two seconds, the crowded, noisy grocery store turned into a silent, guilt filled courtroom. Fortunately, this happened before cell phones existed or there would have been a baker’s dozen of speed dialed calls to the DSS. “You guys know that we only joke about that. Right? Right. Just jokes. Jokey, wokey. Let’s check out now.”

I love my kids. (And now for the big…) But, I can’t stand it when they abuse things like innocent, unassuming doors. Slamming doors somehow gets on my nerves, particularly after, say, the 75th slam. Such was the case one Saturday afternoon.

We had a three-bedroom house with six kids—four boys and two girls—which was configured in the obvious way. With two sets of bunk beds in the boys’ room and little other room to spare, I understood that tempers could sometimes be short. I don’t pretend to know what the ruckus was about, but I yelled my threat from the living room. “If you guys don’t settle down, I’m going to do something about it!”

I was sure that all four of them were feeling like the lead character in “Dead Man Walking,” but the slamming of the door some fifteen seconds later interrupted my basking in satisfaction. Time to follow through.

I headed into the garage and collected my flat blade screw driver and hammer from the toolbox. Calmly I walked down the hall and opened the bedroom door. All four of them instantly stopped what they were doing and froze in position. I was, after all, wielding a hammer in one hand and a screwdriver in the other. I would have worn a hockey mask to up the tension, but I couldn’t find one.

They silently watched me while I wedged the flat blade between the door hinge and hinge pin. With one rap, the pin popped out. After repeating this procedure twice more, I pocketed the hinge pins, tucked the door under my arm, and returned to the garage where the door took up residence for the next week.

Not a word was spoken about this episode—at least not to me. And after that, I don’t remember having to remind any of the kids, including the girls, about proper door etiquette. That is the benefit of follow through.

Chris and Dan will confirm this as they surely remember the road trip we were on when I threatened to expel them from Denny’s without their breakfast if they didn’t settle down. It was a long 300 miles to lunch.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

My tribute to Erkki Alanen, cartoonist

Anyone who has been to my office has seen my ten cartoons hanging on the wall. People often compliment me on my artistic talents but, although I was the gag writer, I did not draw them. The wonderful artist was Erkki Alanen, someone I met on the Internet, collaborated with, but never met face to face. Unfortunately, Erkki died a few years ago. Originally from Finland, he was a big guy with a big heart. I will miss his genius and knack for interpreting and developing my raw ideas.


I posted this article on October 4, 2008 and today, March 11, 2009, I received the following email from Erkki’s wife, Cathy. It's interesting how the Internet can bring people together from across the globe.

Dear Randy,

Thank you so much for your kind words and the many illustrations by Erkki Alanen, my late husband. Erkki's brother, Juhani, brought the article to my attention and I was thrilled to see it in a sweet, sad kind of way. Glad that he is remembered, sad that he has passed away.

You may be interested to know we married in Helsinki in 1979 and have three children. Erkki lived the last 20 years here in El Paso. I was a journalist and the cartoon editor of the National Enquirer when I met Erkki. I grabbed onto him and wouldn't let go and so he finally married me. He was the star of the family and always made us laugh. He has a son, Mayo Alanen, who is now a famous ballroom dancer. Google him and you'll find out all about him. We didn't name him after his dad as we didn't want to stick an American boy with an unpronounceable name. His youngest son followed in Dad's footsteps and is now an architectural intern in Dallas. I live here in El Paso with our disabled daughter, Mia. She has Angelman's Syndrome.

Erkki was such a talented person and such a huge part of the family. It was a terrible shock when we lost him to a stroke in 2005. My eye sight went from being nearsighted to farsighted and has stayed that way. I thought that was weird, but after all he had been the center of my world for 25 years. His passing changed much more than my eye sight.

Thanks again for the great article.

Cathy Alanen


The idea of creating cartoons started with my eldest son, Dan, who came home one afternoon from middle school announcing that he had joined the school newspaper staff.

"That's terrific," I said. "Are you going to be a reporter?"

"No," he replied. "I'm going to be the cartoonist."

"Really? When is your first cartoon due?"


Anyone with kids knows that this is par for the course. Whether it's two dozen cookies that your young scholar promised his classmates or the lava mountain that needs to be completed for the science fair, the answer to the 64 million dollar question is always tomorrow.

So we set out to come up with a clever cartoon, something school related and G-rated. What we came up with was a gag about report card day as it might have played out in the caveman days.

I'm still looking for my son's original cartoon. If I ever find it, I'll post it here, but I do enjoy Erkki's version of this gag, which depicts the joy that must have highlighted every report card day until someone finally invented the rest of the alphabet (or at least the letters B through F).

I made the connection with Erkki Alanen shortly after this emergency cartooning session while surfing the Internet. I found his website and discovered that he was living in the same city as I, although it wouldn't have mattered if he was still hanging out in Finland. That's the beauty of collaborating via the Internet. For the next several years, I would periodically send Erkki a gag and he would develop the idea into a cartoon.

Some of my gags were inspired by everyday things. Some by things I heard, or misheard. And some by random, silly notions like the following one that attempts to draw a parallel between a dog and a geyser.

Erkki's reduction of Old Faithful to a 100 square foot spectacle is part of his genius. It makes the cartoon work.

You'll see that several of my gag ideas came from word plays. In the following cartoon, one simple letter has an odd effect on the Ruler of the Undersea.
In another word play, I wondered what the abominable snowman would look like if I had the "stomach" to change a few letters.

This next one has its genesis with a news story that came from the west coast of Florida. Beaches were forced to close because of the large number of sharks that were congregating nearby. One Florida city banned sightseeing excursions that several boat operators ran, chumming the waters to attract sharks for photo ops and entertainment of their clients.

One of these tour operators, with a heavy Cuban accent, was interviewed by a local TV news reporter. So you understand, in Spanish there are no words that start with the letters "sc" or "sp." Instead, those words start with the letters "esc" or "esp," such as escala (scale) and espirito (spirit). Well, this guy claimed that the city was making "escape goats" out of the tour operators.

That was enough for me to start imagining what an escape goat would look like and Erkki hatched the following depiction.

I had a similar experience while listening to the radio on my way home from work one time, except that the mispronunciation was in my head, not with the speaker. I misheard someone saying NBA, which gave rise to the next cartoon.

For much of my adult life, I have avoided life-threatening places like steep, ice-covered roads, cars with their engines running in enclosed garages, and grocery stores. This is me trying to negotiate the confusion of our local supermarket.

I've seen stories about people thinking that their PC's CD ROM tray is a cupholder or the one about the blonde using whiteout on a computer screen to correct an error, but the following dialog actually occurred and I was there to hear it. The confused person was my youngest son, Jeff, but I had Erkki substitute my wife for the comedic effect.

Let it be known that I have all the respect in the world for paramedics. That said, I have run into other "paras" that I thought took their credentials just a little bit too seriously—namely paralegals. A few of them seem to believe that they've earned the title of attorney through some bizarre process of osmosis, skipping over the inconvenient steps of completing law school and taking the bar exam. After a run in with one of these self-annointed Oliver Wendell Holmes types, I pondered how ridiculous it could get if this attitude spread to other disciplines.

Finally, in my over-the-top, most politically incorrect gag, I wondered what might have happened if L.A.-style drive-by shootings had been thought of 150 years ago. Realizing that Smokey The Bear and spray paint are 20th century inventions, the cartoon incorporates these anachronisms to make it that much more ridiculous.

If any of these cartoons made you chuckle or groan, then that is a fit tribute to my friend Erkki Alanen. May he rest in peace.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

O Brother, Where Aren’t Thou?

This is a piece about obsessions. I have a few (like writing for my blog) that often take me late into the night. I enjoy other things—editing video, writing music, and watching the Red Sox, to name a few. But I’ve never expected to win an Academy Award for editing a blockbuster movie, take home a Grammy for writing a number one hit, or throw out the first pitch at Fenway.

Enter my brother. We’ll call him Alan for purposes of this essay. I have no doubt that, if he pursued my favorite hobbies, he would have Oscars and Grammys on his trophy shelf next to a photo of him hurling a fast ball to Varitek.

You see, Alan doesn’t take up anything as a casual hobby. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth spending the effort to get it right and be the best. By the way, the various events I’m about to recount are not necessarily in sequence and I’m not claiming a high level of accuracy—they’re simply my recollections of what happened. Kind of like the movie as opposed to the book.

We’ll start with Alan buying a motorcycle. To be more precise, a motocross racing bike. We lived in the desert city of El Paso, Texas, and there were literally thousands of acres of free range on which to ride. Fun and relaxing at the same time. Not good enough for Alan. He prefers harrowing and death defying to fun and relaxing.

I remember going over to his house to see his brand new 125cc Honda Elsinore. This is a racing motorcycle that weighs next to nothing and develops about 20 horsepower. That may not seem like much, but if your 4,000 pound car had the same horsepower-to-weight ratio, it would be sporting 425 horses under the hood.

When I approached the garage, I heard the sound of a drill boring through metal. What the heck? Alan was drilling holes in the motorcycle. He was putting his dirt bike on a permanent diet. Hey, if 188 pounds is good, then 185 pounds must be better. I’m just glad that he didn’t take the same approach when he bought his first sailboat. More on that later.

Anyway, the first time I watched him compete in a motocross race, there were teenaged kids flying over the whoop-dee-doos and whipping around the hairpin turns. After the dust of these throw-all-caution-to-the-wind maniacs cleared, here came Alan bringing up the rear, keeping his bike firmly in contact with the ground at all times.

Fast forward a couple of months and it was my brother leaving a dust cloud for the other riders to eat. He was winning in his class and taking home the hardware for his trophy shelf to prove it.

This is how things went for years. Alan decides to lose some weight and takes up jogging. Six months later he’s running 5, 8 and 10-K races. Running takes a toll on his body so he tries cycling, turning into El Paso’s own version of Lance Armstrong, right down to shaving his legs to knock a few seconds off his 50-mile race time. I’m not thinking I’d be willing to shave my legs for any reason, which is why I’m relegated to being a hobbyist.

When my brother bought his first sailboat, I suspected that “fun and relaxing” would go overboard at the first tack. Sailboat racing not being a solo sport, Alan recruited his wife and two kids to crew for him. I was never there to watch this family bonding exercise in action, but I imagine that it produced some stressful situations from time to time.

The decision to move the sailboat from Elephant Butte Reservoir in New Mexico to San Diego, California, was a logical one after having sailed every square foot of the lake on the Rio Grande. But the trip to San Diego was an indirect one. Wouldn’t it be more fun (read that death defying) to put the boat in the water in San Francisco and sail it down to San Diego? I’m pretty sure this was the trip that my sister-in-law puked her guts out while drafting a divorce decree on the last roll of toilet paper.

Alan is a true renaissance man. He served his tour of duty in Vietnam as a second lieutenant and left the Army as a captain. Graduating from college with an accounting degree, he passed the CPA exam and worked for a number of years in public accounting and private industry. He later returned to school to earn his teaching certificate and taught high school for over fifteen years. In the middle of his teaching career, he and his wife moved from El Paso to an 88-acre ranch east of San Antonio where they raise cattle, grow and bale hay, and care for their horses, miniature donkeys and several dogs. They both continued to teach in San Antonio until their joint retirement this past May.

Along the way, Alan brewed his own beer, spent three weeks roaming the countryside of Ireland, straddled his Gold Wing motorcycle on a 9,000 mile road trip, and developed the perfect .308 caliber round for ridding his ranch of destructive wild hogs. I must give huge kudos to Alan’s wife, Mary, who has supported him through this amazing journey. What a trooper she is.

A word about those wild (feral) hogs. There are millions of them trekking across South Texas, tearing up hay fields by rooting for onions and other delicacies lying just below the surface. This creates ruts that eventually render a hay field too dangerous to navigate with a tractor and potentially life ending for a horse or cow that breaks its leg stepping in a hole. The speed at which the feral hogs accomplish this is astounding. A single night in a field is enough to necessitate costly rehabilitation.

It’s the perfect setting for a new hobby (obsession). In a short time, Alan has become Gonzales County’s number one hog hunter and trapper, in demand by neighboring ranchers who were being overrun by these prolific animals of mass destruction. Equipped with a night vision scope similar to the equipment used by our Army Special Forces, a rifle with specially prepared rounds that shoots groups of three quarters of an inch at 100 yards, and five self-designed and built hog traps, my brother has logged over 250 hogs trapped or shot in a few short years. Move over, Crocodile Dundee.

My wife, Mary, and I will be heading down to Texas on our own two-week road trip this month. We look forward to spending time on the A. M. Hunt Ranch and sharing those experiences with everyone back here on the Cape via my edited video with an original music track. It may not win an Oscar or a Grammy, but you can be sure that making it will be fun and relaxing.