Saturday, June 30, 2007

Spill the Wine

Suna and Becano dance in one of the reception rooms

Prince and Flo took us on an outting to the Childress Vineyards. The vineyard has an impressive main building built to resemble the great house on a traditional European vineyard. Its huge rooms are available for confrences and weddings.

The vineyard cost tens of millions of dollars to get started. It produces only a fraction of the grapes needed for the bottling process. Additional grapes are purchased from other local growers as part of a program to ween the North Carolina agricultural economy from tobacco. According to the tour guide, wine production must at least double for the winery to be profitable. We bought several bottles of delicious wine to help with the effort.

Stand by your pig
Phot by Suna

Suna, Becano, and I had a wonderful time touring the production facilities. When you drink a bottle of wine, you don’t realize just how industrial the bottling process has become. There are tons of equipment and storage tanks holding thousands of gallons of grape juice. The smell is amazing, not at all like the chemical plants of my youth.

After the tour, we had a bite to eat and took a tour of downtown Lexington, where the picture of me and the pig was taken. Apparently, pigs are big in Lexington.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Old Man

The Prince Relaxes in the Garden
Old Man, look at my life. I’m a lot like you were.
—Niel Young

Today, I met Suna’s father and his wife. My first impressions of them were all positive. The Prince and Princess are very nice, and the Prince genuinely cares about his daughter, who has forsaken her royal titles. They are a very active couple in their eighties. Something was always happening in the household.

I had been a little worried about sleeping arrangements as Suna and I are not married and I knew that the Prince was an officer in his church. (It turns out that he was retiring from a global leadership position in the church around the time of our visit.) But my worries were for naught. On our arrival, he cheerfully helped us carry our bags into the guest room, where we were greeted by two twin beds on opposite walls.

Even the step walls were home to flowers in pots.

I believe the house was built in the 1930s or earlier, but it was well-maintained and improved. It was in much better shape than my house would have been had I already finished all of the renovations I planned but never got around to. There was a substantial addition, central air, nice bathrooms, and hardwood floors. Really lovely.

Speaking of air conditioning. You could really tell that we weren’t in Texas. The nights were cool enough that I would have turned off the air and opened the windows. The days were warm and pleasant. The only complaint I heard was that the air conditioning couldn’t get the house down to 70 in the daytime. I would never think of running the air that cold; I couldn’t afford a bill higher than my house payment.

The Princess is a retired photographer and active gardener. She kept the grounds lovely and always had fresh cut flowers for every room. She has a quick laugh and a wonderful sense of humor. Can you tell that I got along with and liked them both?

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Good Ole Boys

Police at Play
Photo Source: Legacy City

This is the first post as I try to recapture the events of the past week of wonderful vacation. I am back-dating the posts to keep them in some semblance of the correct chronology.

One thing this vacation reminded me of is that I hate—let me emphasise the word hate—driving in Georgia.

I made good time on Monday, in spite of having left the house much later than I wanted. I ended up stopping within fifty miles of the designated midpoint and was able to eat dinner and get to bed before eleven. I am not one of those who advocate driving for twenty hours or more, even though I have driven big trucks—maybe because I have driven big trucks.

So I woke up Tuesday morning, ate breakfast, and started driving with the stated intention of not hitting a major city at peak traffic. The second half of Alabama was fine.

Then I hit Georgia. I stopped for fuel at Exit 8. I had not even got back up to highway speed when I saw a sea of blue flashing lights coming at me in the oncoming lanes. I started slowing down, knowing something stupid was bound to happen.

Chrysler 300 The Chrysler 300 is too awesome a car to destroy
in a random police chase!
Photo Source: Auto Online

Sure enough, it did. About a half-mile in front of me, a silver 300 attempted to cross the median. That move almost never works. Medians tend to be softer than pavement. Plowing into them at highway speeds usually ends up being just that—plowing. Not only did the bad guy plow new furrows in the middle of I-20, so did a dozen of Georgia’s finest. Someone even managed to start a grass fire in the process.

So the traffic stopped. One trucker put out the grass fire with his federally-mandated fire extinguisher while we waited for the cops to sort things out. We sat there on the Interstate, waiting for what seemed like hours while cops came and went.

Finally, they opened up one lane. Then the other. Traffic crawled past what was left of the crime scene. The 300 was up on a flat bed wrecker. The car had some damage to the front end and at least one flat. I counted three (maybe more) cops changing the tires on their cars after crossing the median in hot pursuit.

But that wasn’t the end of the fun in Georgia. Traffic came to a stop again at the Atlanta by-pass. Rather than risk having my ass kissed by a dump truck, I detoured a couple of miles through a slum and caught the by-pass from the opposite direction.

The by-pass turned out to be the smoothest sailing in Georgia.

Once I turned onto I-85, traffic was just stupid. Speed up. Stand on the brakes. Ensuring that this idiocy was maintained, the Georgia Patrol had a car stationed under every second or third underpass. Literally, traffic was smoother driving through the part of Alabama where construction had closed all but one lane than any part of Georgia.

Within five miles after I crossed the South Carolina border, traffic had smoothed out. People started driving sanely again. It was as if we had passed out of the influence of the intelligence-dampening ray that covered Georgia. And it’s not that there were fewer people or more lanes. Once they got out of Georgia, everyone breathed a big sigh of relief and started thinking again.

I won’t be going back that way unless someone pays me a lot of money to drive that route. From now on, when Georgia is on my mind, it will bring with it more than just a little apprehension.

Although to be fair, it was in Georgia that I came up with a name for the triangle of interstates that connect Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio—The Texas Traffic Triangle of Torture. But that’s another story.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Homegrown Tomatoes

Home grown tomatoes, home grown tomatoes,
What’d life be without home grown Tomatoes,
There’s only two things that money can't buy:
That’s true love and home grown tomatoes.
Photo by Suna

Guy Clark said it, and he was right. This is a picture of the first of the crop. I’ll let you know how it tastes later. I’m pullin’ this baby off the vine and tossin’ it in a salad. Hopefully, there’ll be more. The trees are shading these plants a bit more than they’d like, so they are protesting by not putting on more flowers.

Ummmm. Delicious.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Sing a Song

Beccano’s Band
Photo by Suna

Something keeps telling me to get a band together. When I looked at this collection of Beccano’s figures, I thought the one on the left was playing rock ’n’ roll guitar and singing his heart out. (Actually, he’s holding some kind of a weapon.

So I bought a bass amp this weekend. XRM gave Beccano a guitar amp for his birthday. With that combination, we have most of what we need to form a family band. Beccano and me on guitar. TubaBoy on bass and tuba. Suna on harmonies. And me filling in whatever gaps I can.

It’s a dream. Lets see how it goes.

Friday, June 01, 2007


“I hope your aim is good.”
Image Source: Elfwood Art

ALE announced that it would RiF 8,000 people world-wide (roughly 10% of its employee base). Naturally, that happened on a day when I was tasked to the point of immobility and could not keep up with the news (or very much else)—and on a day I had not drawn cards to warn me.

ALE once had a reputation as a great place to work. It took pride in that reputation and its culture of entrepreneurship. We all thought that we were working toward something bigger than ourselves. We all felt like we were doing important work that was bigger than ourselves.

Well, a few years ago ALE management killed that culture. Yesterday’s announcement is only another nail in that cultural coffin. Today ALE is just another big company.

This all comes immediately after my department went through a re-org, and several team members (roughly 10%...hummm) were told to find other work. Lets hope that means my department has already RiFed its requirement. Either way, lets focus on kindness and civility in trouble times. Contrary to popular belief, these are not diametrically opposed to being at the top of your game.

So later that same day (today), we had a meeting where Director Guy laid out the poop for us. The 10% number is real. They hope to accomplish “some portion” of it through natural attrition, but the people who have already left without being replaced do not count toward the 10% goal. The stock price is up, and morale is down. Imagine that!

It brings to mind the word decimate. While the term has come to mean to cause severe damage, decimation was originally a punishment heaped upon an unruly Roman legion. One in ten were summarily executed or crucified. The troops themselves had to choose which ones were to die.