Strange weather

There we were, eastbound on I-10 approaching the New Mexico border, speed set at 75, enjoying life in the slow lane, when I drove into a hurricane.

(I know a lot of you will scoff for driving the speed limit, but I’ve learned that the little four-banger under the hood doesn’t like being pushed to 80. That reduces my mileage about ten to fifteen percent and that gallon or two of gas can pose problems when you’re looking for a bathroom or a large enough bush in the undeveloped portions of the southwest. ‘Sides, I’m retired and have plenty of time.)

We were on our way to Fort Collins to see Darren via I-25. What remained of the hurricane was scheduled to punish Tucson but the weather forecasters missed the steering winds from the west. We watched the news that morning on several channels and decided we would be driving behind the storm. We decided to avoid the Flagstaff route, which would add a few hours to the trip, and take a chance on the route along the Rio Grande.

The storm stalled. The wipers went on and stayed on until we were near Albuquerque. Not a fun day behind the wheel.

We spent the night in Santa Fe and headed north the next morning on a two-lane highway. Nice leisurely drive until we crossed the border into Colorado and arrived in Alamosa. We were supposed to take Highway 285 along the edge of the Rockies but a DOT readerboard reported a fatal wreck on that road. We decided against that route and headed north on Highway 17, a more direct route. Just south of Villa Grove is a junction where 285 meets 17 again. Five miles later we passed through Villa Grove and stopped. The accident that was reported in Alamosa was two miles north of Villa Grove. We sat in the car about five minutes and nothing was moving. The accident was on top of a hill and we could see emergency vehicles but no activity. We turned around and went back to the village of Villa Grove. Any alternate route would have cost us at least fours, so we decided to wait it out.

Villa Grove may contain 50 or more people but I didn’t see many houses. There is a cute B&B and a small cafe/store. For two hours we wandered in and out of Loretta’s Cafe waiting for the accident to be cleared. We didn’t eat much since we were between meals, but the pies looked good. There’s a dirt track (maybe three miles long) that was being used as an alternate route but it was closed temporarily while cops investigated a second accident involving two semis on the detour (one rear ended the other in the dust raised by all of the vehicles.) Cops finally reopened the detour but were pacing vehicles about a minute apart. Fun time, although we did meet some interesting people.

Next time you’re in Villa Grove, stop at Loretta’s and tell her we said hi.

We had a good time with Darren and toured Rocky Mountain National Park one day. Nearly all above tree line with several passes over 9,000 feet (and one over 12,000) and incredible views. Had a picnic at Horsetooth Reservoir (fresh Alaska salmon cooked over coals in tin foil) with a great view of the lake and mountains, followed by a tour of one of the several breweries.

The trip home was uneventful. We spent the night in Las Vegas and the contrast with the Las Vegas in Nevada was interesting.

I started writing about  weather and lost my train of thought. Anyway, southern Arizona was impacted by more tropical storms this year than Florida. The monsoon extended about a month longer than usual and our summer rain was near normal (it has been running several inches below normal in recent years.)

Here’s a story for you.

First date

“Hi Mom. Hi Dad.”

“Well hello, Katy, Daniel. How was the movie?”

“It was good. But the fun part was after.”

Katy’s father developed a stern look. “Oh?”

“It was interesting to say the least. I think Danny should tell you.”

Danny gulped. “Well we left the movie and were walking down the sidewalk to my car and when we went under that canopy over Henderson’s Hardware this great big spider dropped down right in front of my face. Scared me to death. It was about the size of a volleyball and all black with white eyes bigger than my thumb and black legs hangin’ down.”

Mrs. Brown’s hand went to her mouth. “Oh, my.”

“I pushed Katy behind me and swung at the spider but it was still swayin’ so I only hit it with my forearm but I knocked it loose from its web or whatever it was hangin’ from and it fell in Randy’s wagon. I know you’ve only been here a month or so, so I don’t know if you know Randy. He’s mentally….”

“Mentally handicapped?” offered Mr. Brown.

“Yeah, that’s it. Really neat guy and everyone saves their papers and cans and bottles for him. Anyway, his wagon was fulla papers so the spider landed on somethin’ soft and it just sat there starin’ at us. Well, a buncha people from the movie were behind us and everyone started to gather ‘round and look at this thing when Deputy Webb came saunterin’ over from the Honey Bea Café–we all think he’s more interested in Bea’s daughter than in the food. He took a look at the spider but wouldn’t get any closer than we would. Randy keeps a push broom on his wagon and Deputy Webb grabbed it and unscrewed the broom from the handle and reared up like he was goin’ for the fence in Wrigley Field and let go with a home run swing before anyone could move or stop him. He hit that spider solid and it blew up all over the people that were watchin’. Everyone was covered in orange gore.”

Mrs. Brown’s hand was still covering her mouth. “Did anyone get hurt?”

“Naw. It was a punkin–an overripe punkin–that someone painted black and glued on buttons for eyes and made legs outta twine.”

Both Mr. and Mrs. Brown began to laugh and the intensity increased as Katy and Danny joined in.

“Now, I gotta go home and tell my brother that was the best joke he’s played yet.”


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People often ask me where ideas for my stories come from. They come from everywhere and from nowhere. By everywhere, I mean just that: from a story on television, a sentence in a book, a line in an overheard conversation, an old remembrance. By nowhere, I mean from my head; A pair of the remaining brain cells will shake hands and a glimmer of an idea will form. In my book, “Nicky, Sasquatch, and Pink Elephants” I wrote a series of events from 45-year-old memories, based on a kernel of fact that evolved into a story.

What I feel to be more interesting are the decisions that are made prior to actually writing, and while writing, a story. This story came from a very short (six word) comment I made on a friend’s Facebook post. I’ll present the story, then discuss some of the decisions that had to be made.

Bobby’s run

Bobby ran as if the devil was after him. His nine-year-old legs pumped as fast as he could make them go. It was two hours before closing time on the last night of the county fair and the grounds were packed to capacity. He dodged between lovers holding hands, kids running amok, whole families walking side-by-side and filling the street. The devil had accosted him at the carnival and he had to get to the ag building where he knew his brother would protect him.

He turned the corner of a building and ran down an alley behind the gem and mineral building and had to force his way through a mass of pick-ups loading up for the return home. He finally arrived at the ag building and burst through the barn doors at full speed. An arm wrapped around his chest. “Where you goin’ in such a hurry?”

Bobby Looked up to see the arm was attached to Johnny, his older brother. Bobby was short of breath from the run and had trouble getting words out of his mouth. “Mmary Alice.”

“What did you do to her?”

“Nnothin’ but she said if she caught me she wwas goin’ to kkiss me.”


A friend posted a photo from a sixth grade dance and I commented something like, “You danced with gurlz?” When I was in sixth grade girls had cooties and I think I was allergic to them (the girls, not the cooties.)

So, first decision: write a story around that four-word quip. For the second decision, I had to determine the length: saga, novel, novella, short story, or flash fiction. I wanted it to be short and sweet so flash fiction was obvious, although to build tension, I wanted it to be a little longer than the 55- or 100-word ultra flash fiction. Next came the location. I lived in Antelope Valley, an area that could have doubled for “American Graffiti,” from second grade through tenth, so I elected to use the AV County Fair.

Character names can be tough. Do I want a masculine name (Remington Steele comes to mind), a redneck name (Bubba is always easy), a noble name (Charles Emerson Winchester III)? Cultural names can be difficult since many readers will automatically assign their own prejudices to that character; I avoid them unless I am using a character who runs counter to the stereotype. For the main character I invented a kid named Bobby.

Once I have the front-end decisions made and I know the ending, I figure out how to start the story and begin writing. “Interior” (or writing) decisions are constant and will require another discussion.


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A rant

We just returned from a hurried trip to Seattle to see family. We were hoping for some cooler weather but enjoyed the 90-degree days and high humidity without the benefit of air conditioning.

The Tucson monsoon began on July 3, right on schedule, and we had a few good rains before we left a week later. Rains continued until we arrived home but the rain disappeared for about a week. Now the monsoon is back with almost daily rain. The downside is that weeds are sprouting all over the yard.

I guess I had a somewhat unusual childhood. My dad worked construction for some of the big players like Morris-Knudson and Peter Kiewit. As a result, my early life was spent living in a trailer (no “mobile homes” in those days) in largely rural communities. We semi-settled in Antelope Valley, California, which at that time was an agricultural area with alfalfa fields, orchards, and turkey farms. It also included Edwards Air Force Base, where the USAF tested numerous aircraft, and USAF Plant 42 in Palmdale, where aircraft such as the Space Shuttle and B-2, are/were assembled and modified and flight tested. My friends at elementary school and AVHS were offspring of farmers and aeronautical engineers. This area could have doubled as the location of “American Graffiti” with the drive-ins, car clubs, cruising, and the variety of personalities.

Just before starting my junior year of high school, my dad took a job at the Nevada Test Site where they were testing A-bombs. Since the nearest town of any size was Las Vegas, I spent my final two years at LVHS. Las Vegas was somewhat like Antelope Valley in that we had drive-ins, a number of hot rods, and the variety of personalities. One of the major differences was that our cruising street was Fremont, a half-mile strip of wall-to-wall, neon-clad casinos. I also attended a small college there of 3,500 students named Nevada Southern University (when I returned from the service the school had been renamed UNLV.)

So, in trying to relive my youth, I belong to several “growing up in…” sites on Facebook. What I find interesting is that on the AV sites, discussions of the AV Fair, chasing lizards and snakes in the desert, restaurants, and aeronautics dominate. On the LV sites, The Strip, Fremont Street, casinos, and clubs tend to dominate.

I also belong to a site for the town in Arkansas where my mother grew up. I don’t know anyone there – just interested in the history.

But what I find interesting (and disheartening) is that both communities seem to be failing in the education department. People of my era (baby boomers and earlier) mostly know how to spell and write a complete sentence. Subsequent generations, and these sites include people who graduated from the 1940s to the 1990s, become progressively worse in simple English. Some of these people, appear to be incapable of expressing a simple thought, and I’m not speaking of writing like Hemingway, just expressing a thought. After studying a few of the comments from all these communities, I still had no idea what the commenters were trying to say. Admittedly, some may be writing on a phone and using abbreviations, but this doesn’t explain the lack of verbs or nouns, lack of capitalization, capitalizing wrong words, misspellings so bad the reader has to guess, missing words. What may surprise a lot of people (but not me) commenters in the Batesville, Arkansas site are better at writing skills, although may be attributed to older folks dominating the website.

This is not to sweep everyone into the same pile: plenty of baby boomers have difficulty with English while plenty of the younger generations are fully capable of writing coherently. Facebook friends of both our kids write (and think) well with proper spelling and structure as well as thoughtful and easily understood sentences.

But it is becoming more pronounced. It is truly a sad state of affairs for our country.

I’m done ranting for now. I wrote this story last week and I hope you enjoy it.

Barking dogs and irritated neighbors

Sven Olson looked up from trimming the hedge when the rumble of an old Dodge 1500 announced the arrival of Bobby Murdock, the neighbor on the other side of the hedge. Bobby’s three hounds in the back yard, recognizing the sound of the motor, increased their howling.

Bobby was a strange one, a failure at everything he had ever attempted. Despite his size, six-foot two and 230-pounds, he never advanced beyond second string on the high school football team. He had tried welding, automobile repair, and many more occupations but his limited intelligence, lack of commitment, and stand-offish personality had resulted in a continuous string of pink slips. That is until five years ago, six years after squeaking through high school, when he landed a job driving a semi for the local bakery. He worked the night shift, hauling a load of freshly baked bread from the bakery to a distribution point 150 miles away. At this he excelled, probably the result of working by himself coupled with an innate ability to drive a big rig. He had inherited his grandparent’s house and furnishings when they both passed away; he had moved in three weeks prior.

When Bobby turned off the motor and stepped down from the cab Sven greeted him. “Morning Bobby? How are you doing?”

Bobby stretched to loosen the kinks from being behind the wheel for nearly eight hours. “Doin’ good, Sven. How ‘bout you?”

“Not so good. It’s hard to sleep with your dogs barking all night long. Is there any chance you can put them in the house when you go to work?”

“I tried that, ‘member? They tear up the house when I’m not home.”

“Well, it’s not fair to your neighbors to listen to that howling all night long.”

“Sorry ‘bout that, but I ain’t got no other choice. I gotta get somethin’ to eat. See ya later.”

George Jensen, who lived in the house on the other side of Bobby, was finishing his morning walk and had stopped to listen to the conversation. “That boy’s a little rude, don’t you think?”

“Sure is. I’ve asked him three times now, politely, and it’s time for more drastic measures.”

“You aren’t going to hurt him are you?” Sven was the opposite of Bobby, being successful at everything he tried from starting at quarterback for three years (despite his size at five-nine), being state Golden Gloves champion for two years, graduating from both high school and college with honors, and owing his own business from which he was now retired.

“Naw. Even though I could as long as he didn’t get a hold of me. Time for some old-fashioned subterfuge.”


Eight days later Sven went out to check the mail box and ended up chatting with George about the weather. Bobby was loading his belongings into the back of his truck.

“Hey Bobby, what are you up to?”

“Movin’ out, man. That damn house is haunted. Strange moans and voices and all kinda weird noises all day long.”

“Well, you know your grandparents lived in that house for over fifty years. When they died the same day their souls may have remained in the house. Sorry to see you go.”

“I gotta get the dogs and I’m gone.” He walked into the house and opened the door for the dogs. He locked the door then opened the rear door for the hounds who gleefully jumped in. “See ya around.”

After Bobby left, spewing gravel and dust, George laughed. Okay, Sven, just what did you do?”

Imitating Bobby’s somewhat whinny voice, Sven said, “I didn’t do nuthin’ man.” Reverting to his own voice he added, “I found a CD of haunted sounds and just put a remote speaker in his heat duct. Since I controlled the volume from my house I was really messing with his head by increasing and decreasing the volume. The noises came from every heat duct and the tinny sound from bouncing through the duct made it even spookier. That really helped.”


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