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For first time readers...my journey begins here: THE VERY FIRST BLOG POST (CC1)

Meaning of life

"The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away." ~ Pablo Picasso

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Cancer Chronicles 18

Surviving Cancer

The Dark Side

I’ve been home over one month now, recovering. I’m tired for sure. I can’t seem to get my energy back. Things that need to get done…don’t. My weight has not increased, still 117 lbs. The feeding tube is still in place and will be for some time, if not indefinitely.

Recently, I’ve developed a problem swallowing. I’ve become a lawn sprinkler. When I swallow it comes out my nose. Some might consider this a talent. I’m finding it to be a real pain in the ass!

When I returned home, my Dr. suggested a Handicap Parking Placard. So, I went to the DMV. After they gave me one, I sat in the car for 15 minutes just staring at it. It was a reality check for sure. I haven’t been well for a long time, but never admitted this was necessary.

I’m finding the less I’m able to accomplish, the more useless I feel. This is bound to lead to depression. I have to fight it, if it hasn’t already crept in. I’ve dealt successfully with everything in my life thus far, but this…this is by far my greatest demon. Do you allow this monster to consume you while you wither and die? Or, bust out of the darkness swinging? I'm a warrior. I fight! Cancer will not win! Stay away from the Dark Side!

I will have a complete baseline study in November, as well as surgery on my right eye for my new found cataract. I don’t want the rest of my life to become a series of doctor visits, CAT scans, and IV drips. That isn’t living to me. In a way it goes against the natural order of things. I often feel I should just let nature take its course.

Feverishly I write my book when I have some energy, just in case I lose my battle. Why??? I’m not really sure. I think it’s something innate in all of us, to leave something behind in hopes we will be remembered. Perhaps so there will be a record of my life for others to learn from. But the reality sets in, once you’re gone, you’re gone. Your presence fades and only memories keep you alive. In time those memories fade and the next generation comes to pass. Within two generations you are nothing more than a name on your family tree.

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Book 6


Morning came quickly. It was sure hard to get out of that comfortable bed, but we had to keep moving. Back in the car and almost ready to cross the border into California, I spotted Lake Tahoe on the map. I didn’t realize how close we would be to it. We had not planned on visiting Tahoe at all, but we were so far ahead of schedule. I’m not sure why. Humm…do you think it had something to do with the speedometer not working???

We agreed to drive all the way around the lake, just so we could say we’ve seen it. It was breathtaking to me. Each mile more captivatingly beautiful, being 22 miles long and 12 miles wide, there was a lot of nature to see. Between 2 to 3 million years ago the Lake Tahoe basin was formed by geological faulting. (Fractures in the Earth’s crust caused blocks of land to move up and down.) Welcome to earthquake country boys! With the help of glaciers from the Ice Age, the modern freshwater Lake Tahoe was shaped as we know it today. It is the second deepest lake in the United States, over 1,600 feet. I wanted to swim in it, but it had to be 50 degrees, too cold for my tootsies! The clarity was amazingly unequaled. They say you can see 100 feet down and the water is 99% pure.

As we drove over 6,200 feet above sea level, every bend more breathtaking, we would pull off the road to take pictures and enjoy the dramatic scenery. The powerful aromatic scent of pine was heavenly overwhelming. Jeffery Pine, Lodgepole Pine, White Fir, and Red Fir dominated the landscape. One particular stop was Emerald Bay. The bay water was a deep dark green with an island bulging from its center. I was mesmerized by Fannette Island’s granite beauty.

Emerald Bay - Lake Tahoe

Fannette Island - Emerald Bay - Lake Tahoe

While taking pictures of the awe-inspiring scenery we were approached by a team of adorable little chipmunks scurrying amongst the surrounding rocks and pine cones. Craig grabbed a bag of Cheetos from the car and it was feeding time. Without hesitation, Chip, Dale, Alvin and his entire family consumed the puffs of yellow right out of our hands. One by one until the bag was depleted, they fattened themselves up for winter. We were so captivated by the site, we both used up several rolls of film just on the chipmunks. Of course, when you return home and review the 200 photos of rodents munching and only 20 photos of the most beautiful lake you’ve ever seen, you ask yourself, “WHAT WERE YOU THINKING!?”

Crystal Bay - Lake Tahoe

As we jumped back into the car, completely devoid of snacks, we continued our drive until we approached Crystal Bay. It was then that I began to realize we just had to spend the night here. We were so close to San Jose, yet we might never pass this way again. I don’t think it was hard to convince Craig. We had already passed through South Lake Tahoe, where some of the larger gambling resorts were, as we discussed our plans to spend the night on the lake. We found ourselves pulling into the famed Cal-Neva Lodge on Tahoe’s North Shore.

There was history here and I wanted to feel the vibe. The lodge opened in 1928 and was once owned by Frank Sinatra in the 60’s. The entire Rat Pack, Frank, Dean, and Sammy all performed here. During this time a buddy and known mobster, Sam Giancana was Frank’s special guest. When the gaming commission found out, they forced Frank to attend a hearing to fight for his gambling license. He eventually lost his license and entirely gave up his beloved Cal-Neva he fondly called, "The Lady of the Lake."

There was also the well publicized story of Marilyn Monroe associated with the lodge. She had a short lived affair with Sinatra. It was also said that John F. Kennedy, our 35th president, had a horizontal liaison with the breathtakingly beautiful star there. Happy Birthday Mr. President!

Marilyn was found dead of a drug overdose in her Brentwood, California bungalow one week after meeting JFK at the lodge, so the story goes. Some say she was murdered to keep her quiet about the Kennedy affair.

That night we settled into a cabin on the lake, said to have been the very one where Marilyn once "slept." Awestruck by the spectacular sunset that fell beyond the snow capped mountains I witnessed from our cabin, I reflected upon how great this adventure was unfolding, despite leaving a trail of car parts across America. It was time to settle into another welcomed comfortable bed. Move over Marilyn. The day had brought great joy and serenity, but now it was time to rest and prepare for the final leg of our Great Automobile Adventure. Goodnight John Boy. Goodnight Frankie, Dino, and Sammy. Goodnight Norma Jean.

Goodnight Boys! (wink)

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Book 5

California Here We Come!

We jumped into that car early morning and hit the road with extreme excitement. I had made a log of where we would be and what times we’d be in certain cities, so we could plan meal stops. It was soon evident that the log was useless when we realized the speedometer wasn’t working. Do you think that would stop us? Just a minor detail, after all, the engine was still running!

We were making good time. No problems until somewhere in Nebraska we came upon a storm of bugs. I’ve never seen such a wave of flying insects. I can only liken it to a blinding snow storm. They were everywhere. It was time to see how well those new wiper blades worked as the windshield became covered by the rain of bugs.

Craig pumped the windshield fluid and it flowed perfectly onto the glass. Then the wipers began. I remember, as they started, feeling so proud we fixed the pump and replaced the old wiper blades with new ones. As the wipers passed before me, swatting off the mass of bugs… once, twice, three times, SHAA-WING! Off flew the entire head of the passenger blade, leaving only the wiper arm. I began to laugh out loud until I realized the wiper arm was etching a permanent half circle deep into the glass as it screeched across it. What do we do? What do we do?

As the insect cloud subsided, I rolled down the window crawled half way out, as Craig continued to drive at some unknown speed. As the wipers banged back and forth, one screeching loudly, I grabbed the headless monster by the neck and bent it towards the front of the car, leaving it pointing towards the heavens. Getting back into my seat as quickly as possible, I rolled up my window. The wiper arm was still moving in rhythm with the one “complete” driver’s side wiper, only it was waving to all the other cars as we drove on. I have no idea why we just didn’t pull over. I guess it was the “Dukes of Hazard” coming out in us.

We were in Wyoming, around 3 AM and almost out of gas. Thank God the gas gauge worked! After getting some information from the truckers on the CB, we found we had only one option for gas. We exited the highway and traveled about three miles to the closest gas station only to find it was closed. The plan was to drive non stop, but plans change when you run out of fuel. We slept in the parking lot that night.

Morning came, 6 AM and Craig had filled up the car and bought some breakfast for the road. We were back on the road. We drove until it was time for lunch. We would soon be in Salt Lake City. As we exited the highway in search of Wendy’s Hamburgers, we came to a light. While in the left hand turn lane, the car filled with thick, lung choking, gray smoke. FIRE! FIRE! Get out of the car, it’s on fire! Smoke billowed out of the open windows. The car didn’t have air conditioning. We only had a vent fan and open windows to keep us cool. It looks like the piece of shit car has officially died! We are stranded!

Craig popped open the hood. We both expected flames to dance out of the engine compartment. But no, the engine was still purring perfectly, no smoke, no flames, not even spark knock! As smoke continued to waft out of the interior of the shit box, I looked at Craig and said, “What the hell is causing the smoke?”

The smoke cleared quickly, the hood now closed, engine still purring, we got back into the car and pulled into Wendy’s parking lot as if nothing happened. The car had a burnt smell to it, electrical. Then we figured it out…the vent fan was no longer working. It seized up and burnt itself out. We’ve had it running ever since we departed Michigan. That sure was a lot of smoke for such a small fan!

As we ate lunch it dawned on me that we were going to cross the Salt Flats (aka The Great Salt Lake Desert) at high noon. No air conditioning, no fan (RIP) and 112 degrees in the shade! SHIT! I had thought of this way before we turned the key to start this voyage. That’s why I planned everything out so carefully. At 60 mph (the speed limit was 55 at the time) I planned to cross the desert at midnight, but having no speedometer and napping for gas changed those plans a bit. Oh well what can we do? Let’s stop and take a dip in the little lake they have here to cool off!

We stopped to see “The Great Salt Lake.” The lake is said to contain over 4 billion tons of salt and contains 2 percent more sodium than the average ocean. This was something I wanted to see. A nice refreshing plunge into the cool water, sounded great on such a sweltering day.

When we arrived it wasn’t what I had expected. I guess I spent too many summer vacations on Fort Lauderdale’s beach as a child. It wasn’t a resort beach at all. There were Brine flies congregated by the millions lining the outer edge of the lake, hovering low. It had a stench like rotten eggs. The lake was shallow. I didn’t walk out far enough to even go past my knees. That was enough. This was unlike any beach I had ever seen. I had no interest to ever return.

We loaded up the car with soft drinks and headed for an oasis far beyond the desert. Next stop, Reno! Floor shows, gambling, and a hotel with a real bed! The Sands Hotel was on our radar. After we checked in, we asked what the best show was to see in town. Hands down we were told, “Don Arden’s, Hello Hollywood Hello!” This was going to be our first titty review! Topless shows were a real novelty at the time and we were too young to even be in the casino, but we had our ID’s! Titsville here we come!

We made our way to the Ziegfeld Theater, located in the MGM Hotel, which claimed to have the world’s largest showroom stage. The stage was 180 feet deep and 242 feet wide, an acre in size. There were 133 singers and dancers that would grace the stage before us. This was going to be one helluva show! I really wanted a good seat.

After getting tickets, we hit the casino to wait for the show. We were fish out of water for sure. What do we do now? I guess we should gamble. That’s what they do here, right? We came upon a woman who was sitting at a dollar slot machine. She had six large buckets all filled with silver dollars. Back then there were no such thing as tokens, you used REAL coins! I was amazed, she just kept winning!

We watched her pull that handle and listened to the bells ring. This was so exciting to me. My first time in a casino and this woman had overflowing buckets of coins surrounding her. I had to ask how much she had won. She was kind, but busy winning and gave a quick answer, “About 600 bucks.” She saw the expression on my face and followed up with, “It’s not always like this. This is just a good day.”

I explained this was our first time in a casino and that we were here to see the show. She told us to tip the maitre d’ to get a better seat and also mentioned that she was a dealer here at the MGM. She offered to teach us to play Black Jack and to come find her after the show. Her shift started at Midnight and if there was nobody at her table gambling she was allowed to teach beginners! I’m all in for sure! Oh, wrong game. She then gave us each a handful of silver dollars and said, “Here, go try your luck.” I think she wanted to get rid of us since we were just hanging around.

We played with the silver dollars she gave us until security came to ask for our ID’s. I guess this is the true test. I think Craig shit a brick and to be honest I had enough to build a small home. We remained calm and handed security our home grown ID’s. We were told to wait right where we were. He left, but returned quickly, returned our ID’s and said, “Sorry for any inconvenience. Enjoy your evening.” I have to admit, that was probably the best five dollars I’ve ever spent. (for the fake ID)

We left our bricks on the casino floor and headed for the showroom. That was just too close for me! We were near the front of the line as the doors opened. I used to carry a money clip and bills were organized from largest to smallest. I had several one hundred dollar bills to make traveling easier. The maitre d’ asked, “How many?” I pulled out my money clip with a one hundred dollar bill showing and said, “Two please, and can we get something down front.” He snapped, “Absolutely!” He turned his back to us and marched us right to the center edge of the stage with his opened hand behind his back, fingers twitching.

Craig whispered, “Tip him.” Ah, that’s why his hand was opened like that! I get it! I pulled out a ten dollar bill and placed it in his hand. He stuffed it into his pocket without ever looking at it. We had others seated at our table. There was an old man, had to be in his sixties, sandwiched cozily between his two daughters. Hum, maybe not daughters, they were too young, maybe early twenties. Actually, they didn’t look like him at all. One was a beautiful Asian girl and the other blond and built! I was too naive to understand the reality of the situation at the time, but I will say he saw more than one show that night and the second was a bit more expensive!

The orchestra began to play. Then curtains opened and I was just overwhelmed. Act 1 - Scene 1 – “Flying Down To Reno.” Holy Shit! There was an airplane on the stage! An airplane!!! Next, gorgeous girls in feathered headdresses, a Fred Astaire tribute, a Grand Staircase of more beautiful bevies, never ending action! Soon, “The Great Earthquake of 1906” with more girls, more dancing, more singing, more feathers, more jeweled G-strings, more boobies! Then a three story waterfall appeared on stage. I have no idea where all the water came from, but there must have been one helluva mess in the basement!

I can’t explain where two hours had gone, but the show was more than I could ever imagine. The costumes, the talent, the props, the money it must have taken to produce this show, unfathomable! Did I mention the boobies??? The show ended with the entire company on “The Great Midway Walk” singing and dancing to, “It’s Not Goodbye, It’s Just Hello Hollywood Hello.” AMAZING! BRAVO, DON ARDEN! This has been the highlight of the entire trip. It just couldn't get any better, could it?

After the show we went back to the casino for our Black Jack lesson. As we were educated on counting to 21, we couldn’t stop talking about the show. Our new dealer friend asked if we remembered to tip. I said, “Sure did. It got us right down front!” She said, “That must have been a big tip you boys gave him.”

“Not really, just 10 dollars,” I told her. “You don’t get down front for 10 bucks boys,” she quipped. It was then that I realized, the maitre d’ must have noticed the hundred dollar bill on the outside in my money clip and thought that’s what I was giving him. Oops!

I’m not sure how long we were schooled on the finer points of “21” but it was getting late and we still had a lot of miles to log before we reached San Jose. So, back to the Sands to “drift” off to sleep in preparation for the next leg of our journey.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The Book 4


A much needed break was upon me and I needed to get away. A friend I’ve known since grade school, Craig called me up and asked if I wanted to help him drive out his cousin, Dale’s car from Detroit to San Jose, all expenses paid. You don’t need a college education to answer that question! Let’s go!!!

This was going to be a tour of the West! We were to drive Dale’s Ford Capri to San Jose, California. Then we would fly to Los Angles and meet Craig’s parents who would fly in from Detroit to begin their family vacation. We planned to visit Disney Land and Knott’s Berry Farm. After LA we would all rent a car and drive to Las Vegas, stay at the fabulous Flamingo Hilton, see a few shows, then drive on to Salt Lake City for his father’s Barber Shop Quartet Convention. What a trip! Who could say no to that! I was able to commit to all but the drive to the convention as I had to fly back to Detroit before classes resumed.

Since we were going to be in Vegas I knew we were not old enough to gamble. Do you think that would stop us? I wanted to pull a few one arm bandits! We needed faked ID’s. In college you can find just about anything you need if you ask the right people, or the wrong ones depending on your point of view.

I had been given the name and address of a Detroit Police Officer who could fulfill our need. "BAD BOY! BAD BOY! Whatcha gonna do? Whatcha gonna do when he comes for you?" He not only had the real driver license card stock, he had the equipment too, in his home no less!

We went to procure our new ID's aging us by a few years only to find a production style operation. A line of people led to the front door and one person took your information. Next, the information was added to the blank card. Then into the kitchen where they had the same camera set up as the DMV. You paid a cashier, received your new identities, and out the back door you’re escorted. All this for five bucks! What a country! The line was out the door! I think half of Detroit was there to grow up a few years!

It was midnight when we arrived to pick up Dale’s car. He had been transferred to San Jose for work and had to leave his precious car behind. Now it was our job to get it to him. I remember the car had no interior lights working. It was dark, had a funky smell, and the seats were sticky. We drove the car back to Craig’s. I dropped him off and took the car home with me. We agreed my father would look over the car in the morning to assess the soundness of the western bound pleasure craft. We also figured it might need to be cleaned up a bit.

The next morning I awoke in horror. I called Craig, “This car is a piece of shit! Wait until you see this thing. Hurry over we have a lot of work to do!” Despite its appearance my father found the car to be sound. He detailed a list: The brakes appear new, tires have plenty of tread. The engine runs well, it has fresh oil, and there is no serious damage to the car. The only thing he could recommend at the time was new wiper blades and to fix the pump that squirts the window washer fluid. “It should make the trip with no problems.” He said with confidence. (Remember this.)

Craig shortly arrives. We both have a good laugh over how crazy this is. What a shit box! The seats have years of beer or soda on them. It’s like some sort of tacky glue. The ashtray overfloweth, as if Mount Vesuvius had erupted all over again. There was ash everywhere! Credit Card receipts are strewn everywhere like confetti in Times Square on New Year’s Eve. The carpet is filthy dirty and our shoes stuck to it. What appears to be food is fused to the carpet. Lumps of Fuzzy fries from McDonald’s are found under the seat. This isn’t a car, it’s a science project!

Determined not to let that stop us we got to work. After all we were California bound! Together we began by washing the car. Not a simple project. We removed soot, road tar, and bugs from a prehistoric era. It was looking better. We could see the true color. We found a nice metallic copper color with a black vinyl top underneath. A coat of wax and some vinyl top dressing and the outside was looking great.

Onto the inside... I don’t think either one of us were ready for this task. Craig grabs the vacuum cleaner, as I put the finishing touches on the paint. He opens the trunk to start there and bursts into laughter. This was just the beginning of what would be non stop laughter throughout this whole “experience.”

From washing the car, the trunk had completely filled with water! We had our own portable pool. I can’t figure out how we filled it up, but I had visions of driving in the rain with our luggage floating in the moat. What do we do? Maybe we should stock it with trout!

I got a drill, bored a few holes in the trunk bottom from underneath and all the water came rushing out. We’ll put our luggage in plastic bags to be safe. Problem solved. Well, the first big problem anyway.

Upon looking at the interior it was obvious to us, after all the crap was removed, the interior needed the same treatment as the trunk. It was uninhabitable. I got a box wrench, unbolted the seats and completely removed them from the car. Craig wheeled the vacuum wand like Excalibur, sucking out the interior, stabbing at the enemy. Armed with hot soap and water and a scrub brush as my weapon, I entered the battlefield. Brushing the tan vinyl seats, I removed most of the crap, leaving a very acceptable seat, almost new in appearance. Victory was upon us!

While I scrubbed, Craig opened the passenger door. He noticed some rust around the hinge that holds the door on. Well, logically he thought it best to remove this. Using the vacuum he sucked out the flakes of rust. Then all of the sudden with a squeal, the door just dropped, about an inch below its original position. The door was about to fall off! Pull up and shut it quickly! He had a hard time, he was laughing too hard. Piece of crap car! Our sides hurt from laughing. How are we going to get in the car? We agreed Dukes of Hazard style. After I get the seats bolted back in, the door was never to be opened again. We would roll the window down and jump in. This was going to be so much fun! Get in before Boss Hogg and Sheriff Coltrane catch up with us! Surely nothing else could go wrong!?

Craig finished vacuuming the interior with great caution, avoiding rust at all cost. The back seat was removed and scrubbed, the carpet cleaned and left to dry. We were still laughing. Are we both crazy to take a 2,000 mile voyage in this rattle trap? YES! I think the vacuum was ready to burst after Craig finished.

I replaced the rear seat. It looked great. You could actually put your shoes on the carpet and not have to pry them off. The passenger seat went back in and the drooping door was sealed for all eternity. More laughter ensued.

As I replaced the driver’s seat, I tightened the bolts and sat down to move it back and acquire more legroom. As I pushed the seat back to position it, it hung up. So, I pushed harder. The next thing I knew is I was staring at the headliner of the car, flat on my back, head in the back seat. I lost it. The problem was the car didn’t have a reclining seat as an option. Now that it did, I wondered if the car was now worth more. I thought I couldn’t laugh any harder. I just laid there and laughed hysterically as Craig joined in the chorus.

The seat had broken! When I tried to put the back of the seat up, it just fell back down. This can’t be happening! Now what do we do without a drivers seat? A 2x4 propped between the rear seat and the back of the front seat held it in place nicely. Just don’t adjust the seat…ever! We worked hard that day, but nothing wore us out more than all the laughter.

We crowned our accomplishment with new wiper blades. We found that a rubber tube had melted in the engine compartment keeping the washer fluid from being ejected onto the window. An old air tube from a fish tank was the same diameter and worked perfectly. We were ready to roll! Nothing could go wrong now!

I went to AAA for every map and guide book we’d need. I laid out a plan on our TripTik, where we would be and when. At 60 mph we will be here by noon. We can eat here for dinner. It looked good. We would drive non-stop rotating six hour shifts until we got to San Jose. With all the car problems resolved we were getting excited about our adventure.

My mom offered us a CB that looked exactly like a car phone of that era. It was very cool and gladly accepted. We mounted the magnetic whip antenna and installed the CB radio. It was a very good idea, especially if the car were to break down. I was very familiar with CB’s. My father had several cars with them over the years per my request, and I had one in my own Mustang. Traveling with one made it safer and much more fun. 10-4 good buddy!

California Here We Come!

Words To Live By:

"The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service to others." -Mahatma Gandhi