Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Reflections on the news and Sage’s crazy life

the politically incorrect reporting of Nevada Jack

I hear they arrested Warren Jeffs today. That’s not going to make much news around here, but where Sage and I use to live, it will be a big deal. Jeffs is the “prophet” and “leader” of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a group that makes regular Mormons seem almost normal. Jeffs has been wanted in all kinds of crimes, but mainly arranging the marriages of underage girls to guys Sage’s age and older. He’s supposedly married to more than three dozen women and has been on the run for two years. The police were probably tipped off by a mad wife when he forgot one of his anniversaries. He was recently promoted to the FBI’s top ten list, which is not the kind of promotion you call your mom and siblings to brag about.

I couldn’t help but notice that Warren Jeffs looks a lot like Prince Charles. But the guy is definitely not royalty. He also looks a lot like John Mark Karr and with his background, he could be his father. But then, I’m just a bear and ya’ll humans sometimes all look alike.

Compare Warren Jeffs mugshot to these two guys

I was reading over Sage’s shoulder this afternoon as he scanned the newspaper shaking his head. With all that’s going on in the world, reading the news gives me a headache. The headlines were earthshaking. The lead story is about the “Danish Festival Queen” in a town sixty miles away giving up her crown when it became known that the 19 year old had appeared in wrestling videos wearing lingerie. “She did absolutely nothing wrong,” her father insisted, saying that the videos were a “legitimate way to teach self-defense techniques.” I suppose a woman in lingerie might need to know self-defense techniques, but that didn’t sound like the nature of these videos. The unreported story is that her father has just signed a contract to appear in a new reality TV show focusing on the lives of the naïve. “It’s cast-typing if there was every such a thing,” the show’s producer was heard quipping backstage.

Meanwhile on the home front, Sage has decided that one daughter isn’t enough. He’s going to try to double the fun this year with a second one. Like the first, she’ll come not speaking real good English, but unlike Ed’s new daughter (check out Ed's post for August 29), I don’t think Sage will have to worry about finding nannies and changing diapers. She’s an exchange student from Korea and was supposed to arrive yesterday, but someone got the dates wrong (luckily this was discovered 30 minutes before Sage and crew headed to the airport). She’ll arrive tomorrow we hope. This two day delay has caused Sage’s daughter, who had made a pink welcome sign for her (in English) and was waiting by the door ready to drive to the airport, to conclude that the world is out to get her.

Enough for now. Sage wants his computer back. Maybe he’ll write about his travels in Korea.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Stories from the Bakery #5: Perils of working on the Christian Sabbath

About a year after I started at the bakery, I took over the second shift oven operator position. It was a good move. The position was at the top of the hourly pay scale and I had almost a quarter of the plant all too myself, having to watch over the proof box, oven, depanner, and cooler. The oven, cooler and proofer were each the size of a house, the oven could hold nearly 1500 loaves while the proofer and cooler could hold over 4000 loaves at one time. This whole complex was automatic with lots of lights and bells to indicate something was wrong. I mostly walked around, making sure the electric eyes were working, checking the temperature in the various zones of the oven, the humidity in the proof box, and the temperature of the bread coming out of the cooler. As long as everything ran well, it was the best job in the plant. I could keep an eye on things while I reviewed formulas for chemistry or dates and names for a history class. But when things didn’t go well, it was a headache.

One Sunday afternoon (we baked on Sunday for Monday sales), a thunderstorm came through and seemed to sit on top of the plant. The lightning popped close and each strike caused us to momentarily lose power. Since the oven burners were lit by electric sparks, any lost of power automatically shut the gas off. When that happened, I had to go to work. The oven had around 50 burners and each had a manual knob that had to be turned off, then the dampers had to be opened and the oven purged for a few minutes before the gas could be turned back on and the burners lit again. This was a safety feature to reduce the risk of explosion. Once the gas was back on, I’d light the burners, close the dampers and continue on. Having this happen once wasn’t normally a problem. Working fast, I could get the oven shut down, purged and relit in about five minutes. Even having to go through the cycle twice in a row wasn’t too bad as I could slow the oven down and allow bread to bake longer to compensate for the loss of heat. But this day, we had several storms and they seemed to sit on top of us and I’d barely get the oven relit before we’d lost power for a few minutes and have to do the whole thing all over. Soon, the temperature in the oven was down 50, then 100, then 150 and finally near 200 degrees. There was no way I could slow it down enough to bake the bread, because that would mean the bread in the proofer would get way to big. We started having to throw bread that wasn’t fully baked. The mechanic on duty finally called his supervisor, the plant engineer, who told him how to rewire the panel, jumping over the safety switch. He did this and I was finally able to keep the oven lit long enough to get the heat back up. However, the though the thought of the safety being bypassed was a bit scary, but we had to do something had to be done if we were going to get back into production.

We lost a couple thousand loaves of bread that Sunday with the thunderstorms, but it wasn’t anything compared to an incident that also occurred on a Sunday afternoon a few years later. At this point in my bakery career, I was a new supervisor. Things had been humming along as we were making the pound and a half squared off white bread, the type that has no taste but was so popular back in the late 70s and early 80s. We’d often make 45,000 loaves of this bread a day. John, my oven operator called over the intercom this Sunday Afternoon to say that something was wrong. The dough was rising nicely in the proof book, but as it came out on the conveyor between the proofer and the oven, where lids were placed on the pans, the dough suddenly dropped to only a few inches in height. We had a problem.

The white spongy squared-off bread that was so popular back then wasn’t mixed in a traditional mixer. Instead, it was “created” in a machine that mixed the dough at high pressure and speed for just a few minutes (traditional mixers had cooling jackets and the dough was mixer slowly at cool temperatures). This machine not only mixed, but also cut the dough into shapes and dropped it into pans. It was fed automatically with flour, corn syrup, shortening and a brew that smelled like some bad beer. The brew contained a bit of flour, the fermented yeast, salt and all kinds of additives and each batch, which was mixed up in large stainless steel tanks, made enough to make approximately 3000 loaves of bread. That meant that if we had a bad brew, I had at least 3000 loaves of bad bread in the proof box, about forty minutes of production. It was a frightening thought. I went back to the mixing area and with my mixing operator we checked everything over and over again. I had him checking and recording the dough’s ph and temperature continuously. We checked the temperature of the brews. Everything seemed fine. I assumed something got left out of the brew.

As this “fallen bread” started to come out of the oven, I had to pull some employees from the wrapping department over to dump the pans of bread because it was too small for the depanner to pull out of the pan. Soon, back beside the cooler, there was a large pile of hot bread on the floor. Our production goal was to keep cripples to .5% a day. There was no way I’d make that goal for the day, or even for the week and probably not for the month with all the cripples being generated. When it got time for the next batch to start coming out of the proofer, I was hopefully that the problem would be over. It wasn’t; the bread continued to fall. I then had my mixing operator to shut down, dump the brews and to start over with fresh ingredients. I watched carefully making sure that everything was measured just right. It put a large gap in production, but we had to find the problem. By this point, we already had a few thousand loaves of bread on the floor, and with another 6000 in the system, I was about to panic. I called the plant manager and the general manager and they both came in. It was a mystery. The roll line wasn’t having a problem, it was just the bread. I watched with anticipation as this new batch, made with new brew, made it way through the proofer. The bread rose nicely, but so had the early bread. I was there, along with the plant manager and general manager, when that dough came out of the proof box. But again, once it got between the proofer and oven, it fell. At this point, the plant manager suggested even more drastic actions. We stopped production and got all new ingredients from a different shipment. This meant that we had to send people to a warehouse we had to get new ingredients. We also changed the silo we were drawing the flour from just in case something was wrong with the flour.

While we were scurrying around trying to pinpoint the problem, a crisis was building back behind the cooler. There were huge mounds of crippled bread. Generally crippled bread was packed in 55 gallon barrels and sold for a couple of bucks to small time hog farmers for feed. They’d bring back the empty barrels to get them refilled. Or the unsliced bread was put into bags and sold to a seafood place that made crap cakes. We called the crab company and they took a thousand loaves. We called our hog farmers and told them that if they could bring trucks, we’d give them all they could carry. We had to get the bread out of the plant, having that much warm bread sitting around unwrapped could develop into a mold breeding ground. So as the farmers arrive, an employee would use a scoop on a forklift to fill up the back of his truck with bread. We still didn’t get it all gone and the next day some of it had to be hauled to the landfill.

When the dough once again started to come out of the proofer, everyone was there to watch, including the owners of the plant who had also been called in. When the bread didn’t fall, I let out a deep breath. We were now making bread that could be sold, but we still had no idea what the problem had been and we had thrown away nearly 24,000 loaves of bread and had wasted almost a whole shift. Since we were only running two shifts, everyone got to work a lot of overtime, and we called the next shift in early so that no one had to work 16 hours.

It took a few days to pinpoint the problem and our answer came from a chemistry lab where we sent samples of the bread and our ingredients. It turned out that the enrichment we were using, (to make “enriched bread”) had three times as much iron as it was suppose to have. The excess iron made the heavily machined bread weak and caused it to fall when it left the moist warm air of the proof box. We got rid of that salt and the supplier got to help us recoup our cost and I didn’t lose my job even though I was known as the supervisor who threw away more bread than anyone else in the history of the bakery.

I never liked working on Sunday.

Other bakery stories:
Bad things can happen at night
Frank and Roosevelt
Linda and the summer of '76
Harvey and Ernest

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Breaking News

Scientists have declared that Pluto is no longer a planet. This comes as no surprise to thousands of school children worldwide who have maintained all along that Pluto is a dog and splits his time between Disneyworld in Florida and Disneyland in California. This reduces the number of planets in our neighborhood to eight. Some scientists, especially those teaching school, lobbied to drop the number to seven. Seven objects are more easily remembered than eight, hence the seven digits in a phone number. But they were overrule when no agreement on which of the remaining planets should get the boot. One scientists was overheard quipping, just give us time and we'll destroy earth and then they'll only be seven planets left.

Please remember to say that you heard it here first.
-Nevada Jack reporting

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Ramblings on the way back from the beach

Of course, I’m not writing about everything that happened at the beach. I realized that I didn’t write anything about how my daughter, as soon as I would come out of the water, would entice me back in. “Come on, Daddy,” she’d yell, standing in the edge of the surf. And I’d obey. Hence, I only read about half of what I was hoping to read, but I had a good time in the water. Last summer I wrote a piece on body surfing, a favorite activity of mine on the beach. If you’d like to read about it, click here.

Tidbit # 7 (Tips on solving the energy crisis): Driving nearly a thousand miles in each direction, I burned up plenty of gas. This gave plenty of time to come up with suggestions for beating the energy crisis. I have two. First of all, restaurants should be required to close their drive thru lanes. I can’t imagine how much gas is spent waiting in line and it is even worst when you have to wait at two different restaurants because two of your passengers won’t eat the same thing. I could care less. Ralph, a friend of mine, has always maintained that if you have to eat in a car, you’re not living right. He’s got a point. If we stopped cars from sitting and sipping gas while creating extra emissions, we’ll do something for the energy crisis and for pollution control. A secondary advantage is that by forcing people out of their vehicles, they’ll get a bit of exercise to offset the extra calories that come in a standard fast food sandwich. And who knows, we might even force people to deal with other folks face to face, which would be a baby step toward building a safer and more peaceful world.

My second suggestion is that hotels be required to use the same kind of mixing valves in their bathroom. I wonder just how much water is wasted in trying to figure out just how the contraption works. At home, I can set the water, wait a few seconds, and get in. In hotels, I’ve been known to spend 10 minutes trying to get the water where it is warm but not scalding.

For your information, the cheapest gas I found was in Ohio. Findlay offered the best deal at $2.63. Next cheapest was Wytheville, Virginia with gas being $2.69. Not surprisingly, the most expensive was along the West Virginia turnpike, but if you fill up in Ohio, you shouldn’t have to buy gas there.

Tidbit #8 (For mature audiences): One of the advantages of driving a truck is that you get to be a bit higher than everyone else. As I was driving up I-77, on that long grade that snakes up into the Virginia highlands, I got caught behind a line of slower moving vehicles. I started to pull out when I saw a vehicle in my rear view mirror pull out and give it gas. I hesitated, noticing that the guy speeding up quickly. Then as he got closer, he pulled the women who was riding shotgun over next to him and pushed her head down into his lap. As this red Subaru station wagon made its way around the line of cars, you could see her head bobbing up and down. The car had West Virginia plates on the back. "Almost Heaven, West Virginia," came to mind and
I laughed, although I’m not sure that was what John Denver had in mind. When asked why I was laughing, I made up a lame excuse. I was glad my daughter was in the back seat on the other side of the truck. The girl in the Subaru may have just been giving a show for the line of cars they were passing. After all, he was doing at least 80 and I can’t imagine how he kept the car in his lane as the highway twisted back and forth. I gave him plenty of extra room just in case. If I am ever in the market for a used red Subaru station wagon, I’ll make sure the one I’m considering has never been registered in West Virginia.

And finally, for those who believe that the media is liberal, just read this column by Eric Boehlert. What would it take to have a media that is neither conservative nor liberal, just truthful and fair?

Monday, August 21, 2006

Ramblings from the beach, Part 2

Tidbit #5: The sun should have already been up when we run through the inlet. But it’s foggy. My brother DT is at the helm. He maneuvers the boat at Dad and my directions, trying to stay in the shifty channel. As we get closer to the ocean, the waves build and the bow rises up only to pound down time and time again. Dad and I, standing next to the center console, hold on tightly. Each wave grows a little taller until finally we’re in open water. The seas are still rough. Off to the southwest a shrimp trawl, appearing ghostly in the fog, makes his way toward us. There are no other boats. We set out four lines, hoping to tie into a school of Spanish Mackerel. Out off the sides, running from the T-top, are two rods each trailing a spoon near the water’s surface. Off the stern, another two rods are set deep. Their lines are hooked to quick releasing planes that cause the line to dive deep. We trail two lures at about 15 feet under water. We pound our way up the coast, running parallel to Holden Beach, a couple hundred yards out. There are no birds and we get no strikes. Occasionally a fish shows up on the depth finder, but none take the bait.

After about thirty minutes of running eastward, we turn around and come in a bit closer to land and begin trolling toward the inlet. Running this direction, we surf across the swells and the ride doesn’t seem nearly as rough. We approach the shrimp trawl which has dredged its way across the mouth of the inlet. It’s the Miss Bee. Behind her are the birds, feasting on that which the trawl throws back. Before we get to her, she too makes a turn and begins running the opposite direction, heading back across the mouth of the inlet. We’re inside, between the trawl and the inlet. From the brownish water, we can tell where she’d just dragged. Sometimes fish follow the trawl, feasting on the food its nets have dragged up off the bottom. But that’s not the case today.

We continue on western, running parallel to Ocean Isle Beach several miles. Dad pulls a package of salted in the shell roasted peanuts out and gives us each a handful. We continue trolling, chumming the waters with peanut shells. Afterwards, we pull drinks out of the cooler. Dad wants his Coke with ice, David drinks his Mountain Dew out of the can, and I drink water from a bottle. I can’t handle a soda this early in the morning. When we turn about, the waves once again pound the boat and we hold on for a rough ride. A pod of porpoises appear just off starboard, their speed matches ours. This isn’t good as they’ll chase away the Spanish, which have been non-existent anyway. I watch their graceful arcs through the water as we approach the inlet. The Miss Bee is turning again to make another run back across its mouth. We pull in our lines and pound ourselves though the mouth. At the helm my brother watches the depth gauge as Dad and I observe the waves, directing him back and forth through the channel. It’s now low tide. The bar running across in front of the inlet is only a few feet underwater, but we make it easily. Soon we’re in back in the waterway, making the run for home.

Tidbit 6: “Come on, B,” my Dad commands, smiling. He grabs my mother’s arm and pulls her from her chair. Hand and hand they approached the surf. When they get out to where the water is about mid-calf deep, where the surf swelling around their legs, Mom tries to pull away. Having never learned how to swim, she’s not ever been much for the water. But she adores my Dad and doesn’t want to disappoint him. Dad encourages her to go further and gets her out just beyond the breakers, in water that’s between waist and chest deep. Mom appears both terrified and extremely happy. After a couple of waves, in which she jumps to keep from getting soaked, Dad finally lets her go in. Dad trying to get Mom out in the water is a scene that’s been replayed hundreds of times. I’ve witnessed it many times, but it’s been a while. I haven’t seen them play in the water since I was kid. Yet the ritual remains the same. Mom laughs and acts sly around the water, but you can tell she relishes in my father’s attention. They’ve now been married for 51 years and the magic is still there. My father is so patient with her. It doesn’t matter that she won’t remember any of this, for he too relishes her attention

I’ve mentioned before (breaking my not to talk about family rule), my mother was diagnosed last summer with Alzheimer’s. As sad as it is to consider, it was her illness that got us all committed to having a “family vacation” together this year.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Ramblings from the beach, Part 1

I’ve spent this week with my extended family at the beach. My siblings and I rented two five bedroom houses across the street from each other. For the first several days, we were all there: all my siblings, our spouses, our children and my parents. It was probably the longest we’ve all be together since I was in high school. Then my sister had to go back to work. She left on Tuesday. But she doesn't have any kids. The rest of us continued enjoying the sun and sand and water. We had to be out this morning and now I'm back at my parents home. Tomorrow we'll visit a family reunion up near Carthage, then it'll be time to head back north.

This been a great week of soaking up the sun, digging toes in the sand, fishing, swimming, reading, sleeping and eating (we took turns fixing the big meal of the day and most of us are good cooks, so we had great food). It’s also been a great watching my daughter. She has only recently started swimming, now she’s growing gills. It's not been a great week for internet access and with no local phone access, I wasn't going to pay $10 an hour or drive 10 miles into a larger area for wireless. Hence, I haven't been online since Monday. I'll post some of the "tidbits" I've written over the next few days. Here I go again breaking my rule of not talking about my family.

Tidbit #2: Last Sunday morning we went to the worship service on the beach. The guy leading the service this day was a famous singer/song writer that I never heard of. I think he mentioned Jesus at least twice in his talk (a few more times in songs), but he talked a lot about his friends in the music business. We learned about how he once toured with the Beach Boys for six weeks. Then there were other bands that he played with like the Loving Spoonful. Supposedly he wrote a song for the Oak Ridge Boys and a couple other groups. As for a worship service, it lacked a lot. He sang a few songs and gave us a rehearsed testimony centered on his best friend in High School dying from alcoholism poisoning. He made a few jokes about drugs and the 60s (such as if you remember the sixties you probably weren’t there). He then said something about he’s now okay because his Momma prayed for him and because of Jesus (this was one of the Savior’s two mentions). Nothing was ever said of what Jesus did or how he came to know Jesus or of what changes took place in his life other than he quit doing drugs and drinking alcohol. Furthermore, there were no scripture readings and no real allusions to scripture and no prayers. When it was over, my sister said something about she thought we were going to a church service and not a NA/AA meeting. She continued saying, “I’m sure glad we were outside, I don’t think his head would have fit inside a church building.”

A little later, when my daughter wasn’t around, she continued, “I don’t think what he was talking about was appropriate for children.”

“Yeah,” I agree, “I was just glad she found the pelicans, (who were busy dive bombing fish out in the ocean) more interesting.”

Tidbit #3: Squadrons of Pelicans fly in precision formation just above the water, rising when a wave approaches only to drop back behind the swell. When the first bird begins to flap its wings, the others follow suit. When it goes into a glide, all the birds glide. They maintain formation as they cruise just off shore in search of fish. It’s fun to watch Pelicans attack a school of menhaden. Individually, they take turns diving at amazing speed into the water. If one catches a fish, he’ll sit on the water and toss back his head. You can see the fish drop down through his long neck. Then he’ll just sit on the water with a look of satisfaction. He’s accomplished his mission.

Tidbit #4: Wednesday, August 16, 2006, Ocean Isle Beach, NC. Yesterday, a six foot long killer whale that had been playing with a family on Ocean Isle Beach for the past three days headed back out to open water. This patient beast allowed the family’s kids to jump on it and to drag it up on the shore and in general abuse it. After several days, the kids neglected their large friend. With hurt feelings, the beast took advantage of a strong breeze off the land. The air filled whale quickly took to the seas. And attempt was made by the father who grabbed a buggy board and tried to swim out to the whale and entice it back. But this was to no avail. The whale was too fast. The beast was last seen as it dropped over the southern horizon. (Editor’s note: Just in case you missed the clues, it was an inflatable whale. And to set the recond straight, Sage and his extended family were not involved with the incident except to watch with amazement.) -Nevada Jack Reporting

Friday, August 11, 2006

Rambling Rambles

I’m out for two weeks, which is why I ain't been around much. This is my last trip before the hectic pace of life returns in September. (Here I go breaking my role of not talking about work and family.) This here is a real family vacation as we’re all going to be together—Mom and Dad, my brothers and sister and spouses and kids. My 87 year old grandmother may even come for a couple of nights with my sister, who can only make a couple of nights (she uses her job as an excuse). Starting tomorrow, the extended clan gathers. We’ve gone in on renting two 5 bedroom beach houses on Ocean Isle. By luck of the draw, I’ll be housed with my younger brother and family, his which makes sense since [notice the clever use of words] he has kids my daughter’s age. We’ll have to wait and see what kind of vacation this might be. Putting the two of us together is kind of like mixing oil and water, or maybe more like combining a spark and gas flumes. He’s just to the right of Attila the Hun and sometimes makes Rush Limbaugh seem down right reasonable. His unquestioning devotion to our President strikes me as a violation of the first commandment. Heaven help us if this place has cable. I can’t stand seven days of Fox News and their biases. (Did I pack wiresnips so I can cut the cable?) And to add a little more fuel to the fire, several decades ago, when I was a teenager and my younger brother was a toddler, I tormented him mercilessly. This here, my friends, is just another example of how a thing that goes around comes around.

Let’s see. I’ll have a week at the beach with the family, a family reunion with lots of folks I never met, and nearly two thousand miles behind the wheel… By the time it’s over, I’ll be ready for another vacation. However, I won’t be able to afford another one after paying European prices for gasoline. Are BP’s problems on the North Slope a bad omen? Maybe! Pray for me and for the gas supply. One second thought, don’t worry about me. Instead, ya’ll have fun and I’ll attempt to occasionally drop in and post some tidbit of wisdom.

Here’s tidbit #1: “No Creek Primitive Baptist Church.” What a name! I caught a glimpse of the name taking the backroads across North Carolina. It was somewhere between Mocksville and Lexington that I spotted a sign pointed down a side road to the this church. I’ve been up the creek without a paddle a few times, but at least I had a creek. However, having no creek seems to be a ritualistic challenge for a Baptist Church, especially a “primitive Baptist.” It seems to me their name imply they don’t have one of them there electrically heated pools up behind the pulpit. A long time ago when I was living in rural Columbus County, in this great state, I lived down the road from a "Fire-baptized Baptist Church." They didn't need a creek. I always wanted to visit just to see what went on there, but it was way out of the comfort zone of this Presbyterian. There were never more than six cars in there on Sunday morning, mostly older makes. I now find myself imgaining one of their deacons calling an insurance agent and requesting a quote on fire insurance.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Bad things can happen at night: Stories from the bakery #4

I haven’t filed any bakery stories in a while. Here’s another one.

During my five years at the bakery, it seems bad things often happened at night. Shortly after I started a the bakery, a woman working the night shift on the roll line was raped in the women’s locker room. I never knew her, don’t even know if I ever saw her and she never came back to work. As a new employee, I don’t have much memory of this except that the protocol for getting in and out of the plant became more stringent. It was probably long over due as the perpetrator, who was not an employee, had slipped into the plant and hid in the women’s locker room. I don’t even remember if they caught him.

A year or so later, on a hot sticky night when I was working night shift during my summer break from classes, I drove up to a surreal scene. Police and ambulances with their lights flashing were parked in front of the plant. The chalk outline of two bodies could be seen on the sidewalk. The bodies were being loaded up into a waiting ambulance as I arrived. A mobile crime lab drove up. Walking around the police tape, I wondered if I should even go to work that evening. It was eerie walking into the plant as I was oblivious to what had happened, except that it was obvious that there had been deaths. As soon as I got inside, people began to tell me about the few exciting seconds. There were all kind of stories running around, the only thing anyone was sure of was that no one from the bakery had been involved in the shooting. It turned out, as we learned the next day in the newspaper, that the shooter was a jealous husband who lived in a housing project across from the bakery. He hid in shrubbery out in front the bakery waiting for his wayward wife and her lover to walk by. When they did, he stepped out and shot her. He then took aim at her lover, but missed. As Don Juan ran for his life, the husband turned the gun on himself.

I often rode my bike to work. During my first year out of college when I worked the night shift as a supervisor, I had a small office, just large enough to store my bike. I got into the habit of only driving a car when the weather was inclement or on Saturday night. With the housing projects across from the plant, it was just too risky for a white guy to ride a bike through the neighborhood at midnight on Saturday night.

During the year I worked as a supervisor on the night shift, I was always nervous going to work at night, but had only one disaster and it was a small one. This happened on a rainy night. Harvey, my oven operator, was on vacation. John, who had taken over the second shift oven operator job from me when I was promoted to supervisor, was working Harvey’s shift. This particular night, I was short staffed in the mixing area and was pitching in when I got a desperate call from John telling me that he was having problems getting the ovens up to the proper temperature. It was still 30 minutes before the bread would be coming out of the proof box, so I wasn’t too concerned. As soon as I could, I headed back to the oven with a mechanic. About the time we got to the oven, one of the truck drivers who hauled bread to the warehouses around eastern North and South Carolina, came running back yelling that the roof was on fire. Something clicked. I knew immediately that John hadn’t shut the dampers on the oven. As the mechanic headed to the roof with a fire extinguisher, I told the driver to call the fire department and started shutting the dampers. Sure enough, the dampers were the problem. Lighting the oven, which was about the size of a house, required that one first open the dampers and purge the oven with air to insure that no gas was present. This was a safety feature that reduced the risk of an explosion. Once the oven was purged, one could then open the gas valves to each of the seventy some burners in the oven and engage the electric lighters. As soon as the burners were lit, the dampers were closed. John forgot that part. The oven kept calling for more heat to get to the desired temperature. The flames grew larger and were drawn up into the dampers which, we discovered the hard way, hadn’t been cleaned in some time. One of the damper had a build-up of grease and it caught fire. As soon as I shut the dampers, I grabbed another fire extinguisher and headed to the roof where the mechanic had already extinguished the fire. The rain had kept the fire from spreading, but there was a small section of the roof that had to be repaired. The fire department arrived and checked things out, and the night returned back to normal.

Working the night shift, especially as a supervisor, had its challenges. It was always difficult to find a replacement when someone called in sick. There weren’t too many qualified replacements to start with and even fewer available at 2 A.M. The night shift mechanics often found places to hid and sleep. But mostly it was monotonous and I was always relieved when morning came. I got good at anticipating the time the sun would rise and a few minutes before, I’d grab a cup of coffee and head out to the loading dock. Standing on the side of it, caressing my cup in my hands, I could look back toward the east and watch the sun rise between the plant and the flour silo across the street. I always felt better watching the sun rise. I knew my time was almost up and pretty soon my worries would be over and I’d be in my bed sleeping.

Other bakery stories:
Frank and Roosevelt
Linda and the summer of '76
Harvey and Ernest

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Book Review: The River of Doubt


Candice Miller, A River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey (New York: Doubleday, 2005).

Millard tells the story of Roosevelt’s journey down an uncharted Amazon basin river in 1914. Following his failed bid to retake the White House in 1912, running as a third party candidate for the Bull Moose Party, Roosevelt was looking for something exciting. He was invited by an Argentine museum to give a series of lectures. As he prepared for his trip, he joined up with an old friend, Father Zahm (a Catholic Priest who had traveled in the Amazon). Zahm was hoping to put together a trip on his own into the Amazon. Before departing south, Roosevelt trusted Zahm and his team to take care of the details of an interior expedition. Zahm enlisted Anthony Fiala, a sporting goods clerk who had lead a disastrous trip into the Artic, to be in charge of supplies. The American Museum of Natural History encouraged and helped Roosevelt recruit a team of naturalists (George Cherrie and Leo Miller) with the hopes that they could add to their collections. Also joining the team was Roosevelt’s son Kermit who was living in South America building railroads. Kermit’s mother asked him to take care of his father, which he agreed to do even though he had recently become engaged.

The trip that Father Zahm had planned was not too risky, involving going over territory that had already been explored. However, once they got to South America, they were hooked up with Canidido Rondon, a Brazilian Army Officer who had been building a telegraph line across the nation. Having discovered a river that was previously unknown (it was called the River of Doubt, now known as the Rio Roosevelt) in a 1909 expedition, he longed to go back and explore the river. Although skeptical at first, he soon realized his opportunity and the expedition became known as the “Roosevelt Rondon Expedition.”

Rondon spent much of his life in the Amazon jungle, mapping and exploring and building telegraph lines. He had lost many men to the jungle: to disease, to the hardness of life, and to Indian attacks. In 1909, when he discovered the River of Doubt, he and his men nearly starved. In the river were many piranhas whose sharp teeth cut their fishing lines. In desperation, one of his lieutenants’s tried dynamiting fish (I like this story better than the guy fishing with dynamite with the game warden). He tossed a stick of dynamite into a pool above a falls and then collected the fish below. His hands being full of fish, he stuck one of the stunned fish in his mouth while he continued to collect others. The fish woke up, took off a part of his tongue, and he nearly bled to death. (page 79)

Although a tough man, Rondon showed restraint with dealing with the native populations of the Amazon, refusing to allow his men to shoot at the Indians even in self-defense. Roosevelt and Rondon respected each other and got along well (they had to converse primarily in French or have Kermit Roosevelt interpret). Roosevelt always insisted on showing difference to his Brazilian co-leader, respecting his customs and wisdom. One example was on the overland journey to the river, in which Rondon brought out two chairs and gave them to Roosevelt and Zahm, Zahn immediately accept the chair, but Roosevelt refused to seat unless Rondon also sat in a chair. (p. 106). The Roosevelts (Theodore and Kermit) quickly won the admiration of all the Brazilians including the camanados (natives who worked for the expedition), for their hard work and willingness to sacrifice. Zahm was the first member of the American team to be “sacrificed.” Feeling himself privileged, he insisted that Rondon have four Indians carry him in a chair, saying that Indians don’t mind carrying a priest. Roosevelt agreed with Rondon, who was incensed at Zahm’s request, and the priest was sent back. (p. 105-106) In all, only three Americans made the trip down the River of Doubt.

The trip to the river was difficult. Roosevelt’s expedition had not been properly supplied for such a wilderness journey. In addition, the shear volume of gear was problematic. As they made the journey, they kept reducing what they were carrying. They also made a decision to split the team, with one group going down the Papagaio River (a still dangerous but previously explored river). The three Americans made the descent on the River of Doubt were Theodore and Kermit Roosevelt and George Cherrie. The river turned out to be more difficult than previous anticipated. There were long stretches of rapids, which had to be portaged by building long roads through the jungle. They lost boats and provisions and even one man in rapids they attempted to run whitewater. They became sick with malaria and other diseases. They even had to deal with one difficult camanados, Julio, who had proved to be lazy and untrustworthy (he was caught on two occasions stealing food). One day on a long portage, he killed another of the team members. Roosevelt wanted them to hunt Julio down and kill him. “He who kills must die,” the former president insisted. (p. 291) Rondon demanded that Brazilian laws be obeyed. Brazil had no capital punishment and Julio would have to be taken back. However, Rondon was not willing to stop to pick Julio up three days later when they saw him on the banks, insisting that he was busy with his survey of the river. He did send a group back to retrieve him, but they never found Julio and it was assumed that he died in the jungle, perhaps from the natives who had been watching the expedition from a distance and the safety of the jungle. (p. 305)

The expedition finally made it through the difficult parts of the river. Roosevelt became very sick from an infection in the leg and many were worried he would die. He also considered suicide as a way to save the expedition. However, they finally met up with rubber workers who helped them quickly make their way down the Madeira River and back home. Roosevelt recovered (although weakened by the trip, he died in 1919). The Cinta Larga Indians who watched the expedition from a distance (they never saw them, only abandoned villages, etc), stayed away from the encroachment of civilization until the 1960s. (p. 349-350) Kermit took his own life in 1943, while stationed in Alaska. Rondon lived a long life, dying in 1958 at the age of 92. A few years before his death, Brazil named a large territory (94,000 square miles) Rondonia in his honor. He’s still a hero in Brazil.

Candiace Millard, an editor for National Geographic, is a wonderful storyteller and writer. She does a graceful job of telling the adventures while interweaving details about region’s history and natural settings. This is a good read; I recommend it.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The Joy of Reading (women's edition)

To atone for my obvious chauvinistic bias, I am redoing the below meme, using only women authors.

1. One book by a woman that changed your life: Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (this was the first book I read in a summer of hiking the Appalachian Trail and it opened up a new way of observing nature.)

2. One book by a woman that you've read more than once: Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies: Some thoughts on faith

3. One book by a woman you'd want on a desert island: Flannery O’Conner, The Complete Stories

4. One by a woman book that made you laugh: Sarah Vowell, Partly Cloudy Patriot

5. One book by a woman that made you cry: Doris Betts, Souls Raised for the Dead

6. One book by a woman that you wish had been written: Dawn’s Life as a Radical Feminist Photographer

7. One book by a woman that you wish had never been written: Jane Austin, Pride and Prejudice (My sarcastic answer stands, for philosophical ramblings, see the post below)

8. One book by a woman you're currently reading: Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray and Love (I'm listening to the unabridged audio version while at the gym)

9. One book by a woman you've been meaning to read: Denise Giardina, The Unquiet Earth (I’ve had this for several years and haven’t gotten around to read it yet. Don’t really know why, I enjoyed her novel, Storming Heaven)

The Joy of Reading

This little “Meme” about books came from Kevin Stilley. The only rule is that you can’t use the Bible (I suppose this is to keep us from attempting to out sanctify each other). It seems like the perfect thing to work on when I don't feel like writing what I need to be writing...

1. One book that changed your life: Paul Woodruff, Reverence: Renewing a Forgotten Virtue

2. One book that you've read more than once: Herman Hesse, Siddhartha

3. One book you'd want on a desert island: Roy Blount’s Book of Southern Humor (I suppose I should chose a book on shipbuilding, but I never claimed to be smart)

4. One book that made you laugh: Guy Owen, The Ballard of the Flim-flam Man

5. One book that made you cry: Willie Morris, Taps (I also laughed some, you can’t help but laugh reading Morris)

6. One book that you wish had been written: Long Strides and J Stokes: Decades of Hiking and Canoeing by Sage

7. One book that you wish had never been written: Jane Austin, Pride and Prejudice (That’s my sarcastic answer. I only nominated it because of memories of having to read it in the 10th grade. This is the hardest question here to answer and deserves some philosophical discussion. There are few books I’ve read that I hate enough that they shouldn’t be written since I would stop reading them if they’re that bad. Then there are books that have misled mass groups of people and inspired evil and caused great tragedies, such as the The Protocols of the Elders of Zion or Mien Kempf. Then there are books like Elie Wiesel’s Night and Iris Chang’s The Rape of Naking which are very important, but I wish they were not written because I wish the events they describe had not take place. But since the events occurred, I’m glad the books stand as a witness to what happened.)

8. One book you're currently reading: Taylor Branch, Parting the Waters: American in the King Years, 1954-1963 (I've been reading this one for several weeks and have completed several other books while reading it)

9. One book you've been meaning to read: George Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life.

10. Now tag four people: I don’t believe in tagging folks, but if you’d like to be tagged, let me know and I’ll put your name here, in bold letters! Okay, here is one: JADEDPRIMADONNA

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Dog-day Musings

It seems most everyone is on vacation now. If they’re not, they should be, it’s too hot to do anything. The kid who mows our lawn went on vacation last week while we were staying on the lake. He got his friend to mow our yard for us. As we’ve been getting some storms and rain, the grass was looking pretty healthy when I stopped by on Saturday to check on things. I was wondering why it hadn’t been mowed, when P., the replacement mower knocked on the door. He was supposed to mow on Thursday, and he was all apologetic about not getting it done. He intended to mow our yard on Thursday, except that he got our house mixed up with our neighbors. As our neighbors were also on vacation, he mowed their yard and didn’t discover the mistake until his mom asked him just what he was doing when he supposedly was mowing our yard. Our neighbors got a free lawn mowing and, as he mowed it Saturday, the grass was freshly cut when we came back home.

Being at the lake was wonderful. Sleeping with the windows open and without the AC, I listened to the sounds of the water lapping on shore and the drone of a boat out fishing at night or in the pre-dawn hours as well as enjoy an early morning breeze. I didn’t fish a lot, but was often out in the canoe at sunrise as much as to watch the change of colors as to taunt the fish. The same was true for sunsets. Toward the end of the week, the crescent sliver of the new moon could be seen above the western horizon. During these times I always caught a few fish, most on a fly rod, but occasionally with a spinner. There were plenty of bluegills, but I landed one nice smallmouth bass on a fly rod and a couple northern pike that took spinners.

Sweet corn is now plentiful; you can buy it at a dozen roadside stands (most of whom you just leave the money for the amount of corn you take, on the honor system). Local grown tomatoes won’t be far off. It’s hotter and more humid than it should be; this combination that has created some nice thunderstorms. I like to be out in the breeze right before the storms strikes. I’ve always been more fascinated than afraid of storms; enjoying the wind and feeling like I’m in communion with God when the breeze rises and cools off the land. Somewhere I heard that the Hebrew word for Spirit also means wind and that feels right.