Archive for May 2008

“Damn The [Gas Prices]”

May 21, 2008

Tomorrow we’re going full speed ahead with our cross country trip. First stop, southwestern Virginia. Second stop, northeast Pennsylvania. Third stop, the Jersey Shore. Finally, southwest Virginia again and then back home sometime in mid-June.

Because I’m not sure two of those stops include indoor plumbing, much less internet access, this means a nearly month long hiatus for the NorLa Blog. ‘Till then . . .

Public Service Announcement

May 20, 2008

If you need a good mechanic, my advice is avoid Carroll’s Service Center on Captain Shreve Drive. Why? Consider my experience with them.

Our van needed an oil change and I also thought the breaks might be ready for some work, so I had the wife bring it by Carroll’s. She asked them to change the oil and check the breaks. Here’s where the problems begin.

First, they charged us almost fifty bucks for the oil change, and didn’t even fill up the windshield wiper fluid. O.K., whatever, they aren’t oil change specialists, and maybe their time is worth that much more than places like Express Lube. I wasn’t going to complain, but I’d know better than to bring it to them for oil again.

Second, they told my wife the van needed shoes and pads within the next couple of thousand miles, and quoted her (in writing) a price of almost four hundred dollars for the job. She didn’t think much of the cost, but when I saw it, my first question was “What the crap? Are they gold plated?” You can get pads and shoes at the parts shop for less than $50.00 total. And putting them on shouldn’t take more than an hour. Still, though, I was going to let it slide. If they’re that proud of their work, that’s their business. I’ll just take mine elsewhere.

So, that’s what I decided to do. (Actually, I decided to buy the pads and bring them and the van to a friend’s, where I would sit on a shop stool and keep him company while he changed them.). That leads us to the third problem, the one which caused me to write this post.

We (figuratively speaking) changed out the pads and then removed the rear tire to check the shoes. Guess what? They were, and are, perfectly fine. They’ve got thousands of miles left on them. What did the guy at Carroll’s tell my wife, though? That the pads and shoes needed replacing soon. So not only did they give us an outrageously expensive quote, but the quote included completely unnecessary work.

I can only think of three reasons why he said the shoes were shot, when in fact, they ought to last for tens of thousands of miles. One, he didn’t even bother to check, just figuring that if it needed pads it needed shoes. Two, he checked and decided he’d rather just say we needed new shoes than tell us the condition and let us make up our own minds. Three, he really thought the shoes were shot. I don’t what was going through his mind, but whatever it was, I’ll never again give that shop a dime of my money.

Summer Vacation, Day 1

May 19, 2008

7:15. Get out of bed, absent alarm. Two hours later than usual.

7:15 – 8:30. Have breakfast, drink coffee, read news (I will interpret the Mets taking two of two from the Yankees as a good omen for the summer), plan ride.

8:30 – 9:00. Enjoy first 8 miles of ride. Sunny, cool. Monday morning and I’m not at work.

9:00 – 9:10. Discover road I need to take is now dirt, as it’s in the middle of repaving. Curse Shreveport Times, as this was NOT on today’s list of road closures. Debate taking 4 mile detour, decide against it, and head off road. Bike now filthy.

9:20. After leaving dirt road and getting on next leg of trip, discover that a mile stretch of that road is still under water from last week’s storms. Curse Times again, because, again, this was NOT on the list of road closures. There is no detour this time. Debate riding through, but when it reaches my hubs, I turn around and decide on another route. Bike now fairly clean.

10:15. Reach turn around of new ride. 30 miles so far.

11:00. As I make my way back into town, car pulls along side me and I get ready for a cussing. Instead, it’s one of my riding buddies. He asks what I’m doing, I say “enjoying the first day of summer” as I watch him drive off in his suit and tie. Heh.

11:30. Roll into the driveway. 52 miles total.

11:30 – 1:00. Shower. Lunch (three eggs, english muffin, two large glasses of grape juice). Post on blog.

[What follows is the plan for the rest of the day]

1:00 – 4:30. Watch kids while Momma goes to work (heh). Ideally, they will sleep for at least half of this time, allowing me to read my book for a while and also take a nap. Otherwise, we’ll play at the house, then maybe load up the bike trailer and go to the park, or maybe the coffee shop or Sonic.

4:30 – 6:00. Go to store to get stuff we need for BIG TRIP. Plan route for BIG TRIP.

6:00 – 7:30. Play with kids, have dinner, get kids ready for bed (yeah!)

7:30 -? Sit on front porch and drink bottle of wine. Catch up on shows we dvr’d last week. Watch Hornets-Spurs game seven. Read book. Go to bed whenever I want. It’s not like I’ve got to got to work tomorrow.

Why I Hate Republicans

May 19, 2008

During last year’s guber election, I said on more that one occasion that I would vote for Bobby Jindal if I believed anything he said about eliminating corruption and opening up the government. Looks like my cynicism was well founded, and his campaign promises were just what I though they were: Republican election speak. At least Democrats are honest about their faith in Government. Wrong, but honest.

My first crawfish boil

May 18, 2008

I think the residency requirements for Louisiana need to be expanded. Sure, you need to get a state driver’s license and motor vehicle registration like in every other state. And, like many other states, every vehicle needs to be inspected at a state-authorized inspection station. However, Louisiana with all its uniqueness, really needs to add at least one requirement for an individual to be able to call themselves a true Louisianan. Each person should have to attend a bonafide crawfish boil.

Let me preface what I am about to say with this: I am not some city-girl who’s never been exposed to outdoor eating or a good fish fry. Growing up in north Mississippi, whenever people came over to eat, nine times out of ten, that meant we would be eating on the front porch gathered around a vat of boiling oil from which fresh-caught catfish and beer-battered hushpuppies were cooked together. So I didn’t expect anything too different from that last night. Boy, was I wrong.

Soon after we showed up at my friend’s house, the two other ladies started laying out layer upon layer of newspapers over the table. I asked if I could help…then I asked what in the world they were doing. They both smiled (knowing I was a crawfish virgin) and said to wait and see. So, I continued playing with all the kiddos and let them continue the preparations. I was waiting for the part when one of them would go inside to get plates, forks, cups, etc. I knew I could help with those things. However, before anyone headed in to get utensils, the guy in charge of cooking walked over to the table with a huge steel drum of crawfish, potatoes, corn, sausages, and hotdogs. I rushed over to see if I could help him set it down somewhere when he dumped the entire thing over on the newspapers. I just stood there and stared. Surely, there’d been some mistake! But no, Michelle and Carley immediately sat down and dug in. I watched a few minutes while they laughed at my expression, then Carley took mercy and showed me how to pull the little creature apart to get to the meat. She laughed even harder when I exclaimed, “But, they have eyes!” (I have a thing about eating anything that resembles itself in its live version.) However, I managed to mutilate two or three crawfish enough to get a taste of the meat…enough to realize that I much preferred the hotdogs and Cajun sausages to the crawfish.

In the beginning, there was a huge pile of crawfish in the middle of the table, but as the evening wore on, the piles of shells in front of each individual grew to rival the pile in the middle, until finally, the shells took over the uneaten pile. A few times, I glanced down at my “pile” of three shells and felt slightly inadequate. And then, I’d grab another potato or sausage.

If you’ve never been to a crawfish boil, you need to go. It truly is an experience. What kind of experience, I’m not sure…but one that makes me now, for the first time since we moved here last year, feel like I belong to this crazy state.

And, to give you an idea of what this looks like in real life, check out this site.

School’s Out

May 16, 2008

We finished school today, so I thought I’d provide my thoughts on my first year as a teacher.

First, I like it much better than being a lawyer. It was last year this time that I submitted my two week notice to the firm. No regrets. Well, I do miss the lunches. Otherwise, teaching is much better. Most entertaining and low stress job I’ve ever had. There’s all that sentimental idealistic crap, too.

Second, I had no idea how much you have to struggle to be able to teach. And not with the kids, with the bureaucrats from the feds on down to the school principal. The amount of classes, meetings, and paperwork required by the state and parish is stunning. Little of this does any good, and whatever good it does is erased by the time it all takes away from your class preparations. Then when you make it into class, the office constantly interrupts with announcements, surprise assemblies, meetings you must leave to attend, random uniform checks and any number of other non-educational bothers. I’ve been shocked at how many things are working to keep you from focusing on educating the kids.

Third, the next time someone suggests extending the school year as a way to solve education problems, tell them schools just need to learn how to better use the time we have. See the above paragraph for some of the ways schools waste time. At our school, for example, the next school year will be about 36 calendar weeks, not counting holidays. In reality, though, after subtracting days lost to testing, prep for testing, assemblies, trips, and all kinds of random silliness, we will have about 27 weeks for instruction. One great way to save time? Instead of interrupting the year with state-wide tests, replace final exams with state-wide standardized finals. That would put 3 more weeks of instruction on our calendar next year.

Fourth, one great way to really improve schools would be more expulsions. In the seventh grade at my school there are about ten or fifteen students who do absolutely nothing other than interfere with the other kids’ educations. You could ask each teacher to independently list the twenty most troublesome kids, and at least fifteen would be the same on every list. This is not a teacher problem. I don’t know why these kids are like this, I don’t care. I’m not a social worker, minister, or psychiatrist. I am a teacher, and these kids are preventing me (and the other teachers) from fully educating all the other kids. Eliminate the problems, and the rest of the kids will greatly improve. Continue with the fuzzy headed “every kid is salvageable” nonsense, and everyone suffers.

Fifth, it does not take much effort to earn the boss’s favor. Come to work every day. Submit your lesson plans on time. Keep your class under control. Do that, and your principal will think you are awesome.

Sixth, it does not take much to enjoy your job, either. Remember you only work for half the year. Remind yourself that kids are a pain in the a**, but they are really entertaining, too. Have a sense of humor, especially about yourself. Don’t fight the system, just do the stupid paperwork, submit it, then close your door and teach your class the best way you know how. And of course the kids don’t know anything and don’t know how to behave themselves, that’s why you’re there.

Seventh, I have no idea what it takes to really be a good teacher. Maybe I’ll figure that out next year.

Finally, it’s a cliche, but it’s at least a funny version:

California Legalizes Gay Marriage

May 15, 2008

Here’s the story (with a link to the opinion about half way down the page):

In a monumental victory for the gay rights movement, the California Supreme Court overturned a voter-approved ban on gay marriage Thursday in a ruling that would allow same-sex couples in the nation’s biggest state to tie the knot.

Having not read the opinion, I won’t say much about it right now. But I don’t expect to find much new, most of the arguments are the same, even if adjusted for each state in which they are made. (See, e.g. cases from New York, Arkansas, New Jersey). Those in favor of gay marriage argue, correctly, that equal protection means the state has to have a legitimate reason to offer one group of people a benefit it denies to others. States give heterosexual, but not homosexual, couples all kinds of special marriage benefits. Sexual orientation, however, the gay rights advocates assert, is not a legitimate reason to give benefits to the one group but not the other. Hence, gay couples deserve the same rights as heterosexual couples. The anti-gay side then responds with three different arguments: One, the distinction is legitimate, because the goal is to promote healthy children, and gay couples can’t have children.  Two, this is none of the court’s business; whatever the other two branches want to do about marriage is final. Three, we’ve always done it this way. I think the pro gay rights argument is legally correct, and that decisions against gay marriage are almost always motivated by political or religious beliefs, rather than strict adherence to the law.

Like I said, though, I have not read the opinion. Nor am I a practicing attorney anymore. So I don’t want to discuss the legal niceties. I do want to say that I am not only sure the California Court reached the correct legal result, I am glad it reached the correct legal result.

I used to be the kind of person who would have shouted down this court decision as an atrocity that would bring God’s wrath down on America. Then I became the type of person who could distinguish between legal and good, supporting the right to marry, even if I personally disapproved of it. Now If any of the gay couples I know wanted to go to California to get married, I’d help buy the tickets. And when they came home, if they wanted to protest our own state’s legally sanctioned bigotry, I’d probably join them.

The truth is there is no reason to oppose gay marriage, or gay anything. There’s lots of superstitions, and myths, and ignorance, and fiats from ancient books. If you take the time to actually meet a few gay people, though, you’ll discover there isn’t any basis for your blanket prejudice. Sure, there’s the obvious, and sure, you can make general statements about “gay people” (just like you can “black people” or “southern people” or “British people”) but essentially, they aren’t any different than any other “type” of person. They’re individuals just like any other individuals and if you ignore the animosity towards “gay people” and treat them that way, you’ll have a hard time retaining the animosity. I did anyway.