Happy Journeys, Old Friend

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This past weekend Rachel and I visited our son, Dan and his wife, Susie in Nashville. When we entered the living room of their beautiful home, I nudged Rachel and nodded toward the far end of the fluffy area rug. Stretched out and sound asleep, was an old friend, Linus. We were happy and a bit surprised to see him. We knew that his time was growing short. As we approached, he awoke, stood, stretched, and looked toward us. Because of his blindness, he more sensed us than looked at us. As I patted his side and greeted my “buddy”, Linus leaned against me and wagged his tail in his happy way. Susie and Dan smiled and said that he hadn’t been wagging his tail often these days.

I would describe Linus as a medium-sized dog. Susie said he was a cockapoo. That must mean part cocker spaniel and part poodle. He had a shaggy, light colored coat, and hair hung over his eyes. When Linus looked up at you, you could see large white cataracts, covering both eyes. He was fourteen years old. Linus had been hit by a car a few years ago and been badly injured. It might have slowed him down, but in the years that we knew him, he seemed pretty mobile. Watching Linus walk around his large home was always amazing to observe. He had his routes memorized, and while he would bump into things gently with his nose, he was efficient at finding his food and water, bed, and especially, his people. Linus had a very comfortable relationship with his partner in crime, Butters, a small chocolate-colored chihuahua.

Neither Rachel or I had ever owned a dog, or had a personal relationship with one. My mom always told us that some of my siblings had allergies. I’m not sure if that was true, or whether it was more that seven kids in a small house was crazy enough. In any case, we were a little nervous when Dan asked us to dog sit Linus a few years ago, when both he and Susie were going to be traveling for several days, visiting friends and family to announce their engagement. Because of his special needs, they were not comfortable leaving Linus in a kennel, and since I had recently retired, I would be able to offer more care and attention. Honestly, we didn’t know quite what to expect, but we were game to give it a go.

Dan and Susie provided us with all of the important supplies and comfort items. We learned that Linus would be our house guest for almost two weeks. That was a little longer than we had expected, but that was okay. At first I thought we would have Linus stay in our finished basement. It is comfortable and compact, and he could have his own space. Dan just smiled and said that the basement idea would not be the best. So we put up a baby gate at the top of the basement stairs. That way he wouldn’t have an unexpected tumble.

The days went quickly and we enjoyed our furry houseguest. We laugh, looking back on the experience, at the closeness of our new friendship, especially for Linus and me. Dan had warned us that Linus was most comfortable when he was close to his people. It probably had to do with not being able to see the people in his environment. What that meant was that wherever you were in the room and whatever you were doing, it was likely that Linus would be there at your feet. If you click on the link at the top of this post, you will notice my feet in the picture of Linus. We spent a lot of time that week like that. Our sleeping arrangements turned out to be the funniest. The first night, we tried to have Linus sleep on the floor, near the foot of our bed. We carefully scrunched up his sleeping blanket and arranged it in the perfect spot. Nope, that was not going to meet his needs. Linus communicated very clearly that he needed a lift up onto the bed. He wasn’t able to make the jump on or off the bed on his own. He spent that first night sleeping diagonally on the bed, between Rachel and me. He seemed very comfortable and slept soundly. In the morning Rachel grabbed her pillow and a few odds and ends and let me know that she would be moving to the guest bedroom in the basement. She would let “the boys” share the bed in the master bedroom. Needless to say, Linus and I spent a lot of time together, both night and day. He put up with me, and I got to know him pretty well too.

Linus passed away early yesterday morning. While a sad event, Rachel and I were glad that we happened to be visiting and got to see our friend one last time. Our memories are happy ones and still make us laugh aloud.

Farewell, buddy. Keep that tail wagging!

All the Way… To the FBI

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On Mother’s Day Rachel and I visited Laurel, Matt, and the grandkids in Manassas, Virginia. We always enjoyed our visits with them. Emma and Ian would get some quality play-time with Grandpa and Mimi. Laurel and Matt would get some rare alone-time to do errands and have a date night. We had planned on going to their cabin in the mountains of West Virginia, but the weather did not cooperate. As an alternate plan, Matt arranged a very special tour of the FBI Training Academy in Quantico, Virginia.

Matt has been an FBI agent for several years. He was a computer scientist at Microsoft in Seattle before hearing the call to service following the terrorist attacks on 9-11. These days, Matt works as a squad leader in an FBI office that specializes in cyber-crime. He was the perfect guide for our private tour, since Matt went through the grueling, five-month training program a few years ago.

The New Agent Training Program includes classroom instruction on topics like investigative techniques, law, behavioral science, forensics, and interrogation methods. New agents must pass rigorous physical fitness tests and demonstrate proficiency with a number of different firearms. Trainees are placed in real-life situations in a simulated town, where actors play criminals, and trainees are required to think on their feet as they respond to the scenarios.

The FBI Training Academy is located on the sprawling Marine Corps Base in Quantico, Virginia, about 40 miles from Washington, D.C. The Academy takes up 547 acres. To enter we passed through a security gate manned by Marines and a second gate manned by FBI personnel. I was struck by the scenic forest that we drove through and the beautiful landscaping of the grounds. We drove around the campus, as Matt gave us descriptions of the various facilities. These included dormitories, classrooms, physical fitness gyms and tracks, firing ranges, and a large forensics laboratory building. We passed an entire area of the campus dedicated to Hostage Rescue Training, an important sub-specialty within the FBI.

The parking area in front of the main administration building was crowded, and there seemed to be quite a bit of activity for a Sunday afternoon. Several young men and a few young women were unloading suitcases and garment bags from their cars. All of the men were dressed in coats and ties. We would see many more well-coiffed, young people when we went inside the building. Matt told us that this was a special day at the Academy. These were members of a new trainee class, arriving for the start of their five month program. Most of the trainees looked like they already were in pretty good physical shape. Some looked like they might have played college sports. As I watched their faces, I saw both excitement and some nervous expressions. I wondered what part of the training would create the most anxiety for the new agents. I noticed one trainee who didn’t quite fit the mold. He looked like he had never worn a suit before and had borrowed one for the occasion from someone who wore a larger size. He had longer hair and a few days growth of beard. I thought he looked like a young, absent-minded professor. Later, I asked Matt about the diversity of his class from a few years earlier. He said that there were thirty trainees in his class. Ages ranged from mid-twenties to mid-thirties. Most were men. Matt shared that they came from a variety of backgrounds. A few had law enforcement and military experience. But there were also teachers, accountants, lawyers, and even computer scientists!

We spent the next few hours touring several buildings and walking around the campus. Along the way, we passed lots of different trainees and instructors, some walking alone and some in groups. Different categories could be identified by the color of their shirts. For example, the dark green polo-shirts belonged to trainees and instructors in the National Academy. This special program provides advanced law enforcement training to experienced personnel from agencies across the US and from over 150 different countries. Almost everyone we passed would greet us with a very formal, “Good afternoon, Sir” or “Happy Mother’s Day, Mam.” When I passed one young Asian gentleman with a green shirt, he put his hands together in front of his chest and bowed to me. Matt pointed out that the regular trainees carried blue plastic guns on their belts. This was designed to help them get used to the feeling of being armed at all times.

One of my favorite movies is Silence of the Lambs. Jodie Foster plays Clarice Starling, an FBI Academy trainee. Matt said that this was the first time that the FBI had participated in the filming of a major motion picture. Most of the training scenes were shot around the campus. Walking around, I recognized the setting for several scenes from the movie. We saw the gymnasium where Clarice practiced hand-to-hand combat skills. We walked through Hogan’s Alley, where she walked through a car chase scenario on her way to meet with Agent Crawford, the head of the Behavioral Science Unit. We saw the wooden signs nailed to a tree near the end of the obstacle course that weaves through the woods around the Academy. In the movie the signs spelled out these words:  Hurt, Agony, Pain, and Love It. The actual group of signs included a few more:  Family, Pride, Attitude, Respect, and Loyalty. I wondered how recently those signs had been added. Matt reported that the obstacle course was affectionately referred to as the Yellow Brick Road. Trainees were awarded an actual yellow brick when they completed this challenge. I thought that was fun, as The Wizard of Oz is one of my other favorite movies.

We walked through Hogan’s Alley, the small town built for training simulations. It included a bank, post office, pharmacy, motel, small office building, bar, and even a working Subway restaurant. I wondered what nefarious criminal activities took place in these innocent looking buildings. Most were unlocked and we enjoyed checking a few of them out. Matt described one of the simulations he did in the office building, serving a subpoena to a disturbed businessman. I found two metal shell casings on the ground in front of a building used to practice forced entries into buildings. What better souvenirs of our visit.

Near the end of our walking tour, we entered the main gymnasium. Again, there seemed to be a lot of activity going on. Along one wall were tables of food. In another area were a variety of games that one might find at an amusement park or carnival. A gregarious National Academy instructor waived us over and insisted that we help ourselves to pizza, popcorn, and cookies. He explained that the Academy was hosting a special group of kids for the day. The kids came from all over the country, and each of them had lost a parent in the line of duty. The day combined lots of fun activities for the kids, along with classes and counseling. The kids had already eaten, and there was a ton of food left over. Emma and Ian were more than happy to comply, and we enjoyed our feast, sitting in the grass outside of the building.

All in all, it was a fascinating and thought provoking day. The trainees and instructors who we encountered were bright, professional, and dignified. The sacrifices that they are making are significant. The risks that they are willing to take for their country are substantial. Their motivations come from somewhere beyond personal recognition and reward. Like my son-in-law, Matt, they have found a calling to serve. At a time when leadership from some of our highest elected officials is suspect and lacks even a semblance of dignity, it was reassuring to see that some institutions have maintained their integrity. I am very proud of Matt and thankful to the men and women who work to keep us safe.

Travel Tales: Lodging Fit for a Hobbit

Rachel made the arrangements for the lodging for our seventeen nights in New Zealand. She surprised me when she described the accommodations for the two nights we would spend about an hour’s drive from the movie set from the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies. We had reservations for an evening tour and hobbit banquet at the actual Green Dragon in the Shire. Rachel found a most fitting place for us to stay. It was called Underhill and would be our own, private hobbit hole.

Underhill was located on a working farm, a few miles outside of the town of Hamilton on the north island. Many years ago, before hobbits had been made famous by the movies, the farmer had built a single room, earth home next to a pond. It sounded like an early version of a man cave. The farm was passed down to the farmer’s daughter and her husband, and they decided to turn the earth home into a one-room bed and breakfast. Because of its resemblance to a cozy, hobbit hole, they named it Underhill.

Rachel and I found the farm without difficulty. We parked our rental car next to a fence by the farmhouse. We had only been in country for a few days and were still getting used to driving on the left side of the road with the steering wheel on the right side of the car. Our hostess came out to greet us and helped us load our suitcases into the back of an ATV for transport to our lodging. We climbed in and rode down a dirt track that meandered through the farm. It would have been a muddy and difficult trek on foot. After coming down a steep hill, we reached a final gate. On the other side was Underhill.

The main structure was carved into the hillside. The floor, walls and roof were constructed of natural stone and concrete. Grass grew on top of the roof and around the outside walls. Two large, wooden barn doors made up most of the building’s front wall. They were wide open, exposing the single room to fresh air, sunlight, and any other bits of nature that might want to enter. Walkways and stairs around the neat compound were built with natural stone and boulders. To the right of the house, built into the hill, was a small patio. On the patio was an ornate bathtub. Rachel and I had encountered outdoor showers during our adventures in Costa Rica, but never an outdoor bathtub. It reminded us of the television commercial for Cialis.

Two small buildings had been built near the outdoor tub. One housed a modern shower and sink. We would learn that the running water system used rainwater. The other small building enclosed a composting toilet. The instructions said to sprinkle sawdust over everything after you had used the toilet. There was no electricity at Underhill. There were a few battery-powered lanterns. The main lighting at night was provided by candles. There was a large candelabra on the table in the center of the room and many other candle sticks located on other walls and surfaces. A coal-fired stove was available for heat and cooking, and we were given instructions on how to use it.

The natural landscaping around Underhill added to the charm of the setting. A wooden deck extended out into a small pond, filled with Lilly pads. An old wooden bridge passed over a different part of the pond, allowing access to the other side. Cows could be seen grazing on a distant hillside, and we were told that we might be visited by some friendly llamas who lived on the farm.

As we were being introduced to our new abode, our hostess mentioned that because of the natural construction and surroundings, there were mice that sometimes visited, especially at night. We were assured that they stayed under the cupboards by the sink, and that the traps were currently empty. Rachel and I were a little overwhelmed by the day, and I don’t think either of us really reacted to the idea of sharing our room with small, furry guests .

The set up for meals was very simple. Later in the afternoon, the farmer delivered a portable ice chest with our dinner preparations and breakfast food. The menu for dinner included a large porterhouse steak, a package of eight giant sausages, a bag of salad fixings, a loaf of bread, and two pieces of chocolate cake. We laughed at how the meal was quite heavy on the protein side. There was a new-looking gas grill for cooking the meat. Breakfast consisted of yogurt, granola, and more fresh bread.

We spent the afternoon relaxing around our private hobbit hole and enjoying the property. I even did my Tai Chi routine out on the deck, looking out on the pond. Early in the evening, I grilled our steaks, and we enjoyed our meal, sitting out on the deck. We were struck by how quiet and serene our surrounding were, not your typical bed and breakfast.

It had been a stimulating day, and we chose to go to bed early. The bed was custom designed for the space and was unique. It was built into one wall and the shape was irregular and rounded. The person sleeping on the inside was against the stone wall and would have to climb over the other person to get out of bed. Rachel offered to take the inside. We got out our headlamps, placed them near the bed, and blew out the candles. It was very dark. We had just begun to doze off when we heard the first scratching coming from the cupboards under the sink. For the next few hours we listened to intermittent mouse activity, hoping that eventually they would figure out that there was no food out. Instead of the noises going away, they eventually changed in character. In addition to the scratching, now there was a banging and even high pitched mouse vocalizations. I told Rachel that I thought a mouse must be caught in a trap. It was time for a midnight, wild animal safari!

Rachel and I had learned, as seasoned adventurers, that sometimes you have to improvise and make do with the tools that you find around you. I donned my headlamp and explored the kitchen area for weapons. I found a heavy sauce pan and a spatula. Rachel intervened and encouraged me to switch out the spatula for a set of salad tongs. With the headlamp switched on and armed with a dangerous sauce pan, I slowly opened the cupboard door. Inside was a mouse with one limb caught in a spring trap. He or she was dragging the trap around and banging into anything that was encountered. At a different time, I might have evaluated a variety of possible actions. But not that night. I bonked him with the sauce pan, picked him up with the salad tongs, and plopped him in the pan. I carried the pan outside and left it to be dealt with in the morning. My heart was beating a mile a minute!

I felt a sense of triumph. We had faced danger and responded to protect our home. Rachel and I crawled back into bed and lay next to each other, savoring the silence. Rachel propped herself up on her elbows and looked over at me. “I am not staying here another night!” she said with a tone in her voice that suggested that this was not negotiable. “That’s fine,” I replied. “But think of the great story we’ll have to tell about our night in our own, real hobbit hole.”

In the morning we made arrangements to spend the night in a different bed and breakfast in Cambridge, a town about half-way closer to the movie set. That turned out to be a bit of an adventure as well. Perhaps that will turn into another found story,

 

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“Underhill”  Hamilton, New Zealand, 2017

If I had a billion dollars, I’d buy you a …

This found story was motivated by an article in today’s Monday morning paper about the jackpot for the Powerball lottery. The jackpot was projected to grow to 1.3 billion dollars for the drawing on Wednesday. That would set a record for the largest lottery jackpot in world history. Now that’s a record! The article said that the odds of winning were somewhere in the vicinity of one in 292.2 million and that seventy-five percent of all possible combinations of the six numbers had been purchased for this past Saturday’s drawing. Still, no one won the jackpot. For Wednesday’s drawing, the percentage would probably be even higher. Someone was bound to win! While the rational part of my brain knew that the odds were not going to improve, deep down inside, I could sense that my chances were getting better and better.

Talking about the plan for what one would do with lottery winnings is a favorite topic of conversation in millions of homes and workplaces during weeks like this. It has never been to hard for me to imagine what I’d do with a few million dollars. But I found that 1.3 billion dollars was much harder to wrap my head around. That’s moving into Gates, Buffett and Zuckerberg territory. Any plan would have to include other strategies than just gifts to family, friends and favorite charities. It would be challenging to find enough stuff to buy. I decided that a little research was in order, so of course, I turned to the internet.

There was lots of chatter on Facebook about the jackpot and plans for the winnings. My favorites were from my sister-in-law, Pat and her granddaughter, Ella. Pat reported that she would buy a house on Maui so that she could have a place close to her grandson, Henry and his parents. Then she could split her time between Wisconsin and Maui. Not a bad plan. Ella’s idea was simpler. I liked that. She would buy lots of guinea pigs. Maybe her dream was to have a guinea pig ranch. Another post that impressed me was from someone who wrote that they would buy houses in Florida, Arizona and Hawaii. It sounded like they hadn’t quite decided where they wanted to go, but it needed to be somewhere warm and sunny. One fellow posted that his wife would be the one who decided how they would spend their winnings. I hoped that she would let him buy something for himself like a new chain saw or fishing pole. Someone else wrote that they would donate most of their winnings to their church. I hoped that it wasn’t one of those mega-churches with more television revenue than the NFL.

I remembered a song from the 1990’s by the band, Bare Naked Ladies. The lyrics outlined a list of things that the singer would do if he had a million dollars. That might give me some ideas. I looked up and printed out the lyrics. The lyrics suggested that the singer was telling his “love” things he would like to buy for her or for their home, if he were rich. I assumed that the love was a woman, because one of the items was a green dress. Other planned purchases included a house, furniture, a car, a cool tree-fort, a refrigerator, a fur coat, an exotic pet like a llama or emu, a painting, a monkey, and for some reason, John Merrick’s remains. I think John Merrick was “the elephant man”. There must be a story there. I thought it was notable that his thoughts were of his “love” and not himself.

For years my brother, Bill outlined a complex system that he would use to determine how much of a gift he would give to each of his six siblings after winning the lottery. That would include me! It had something to do with their annual income and then some kind of second drawing. I liked the randomness of the system. Bill would not be accused of playing favorites. Now that many of his siblings are retired, the system may require some adjustment.

I’m going to try to not over-think this. Here, in no particular order, are some of my ideas of what we would do after Wednesday’s drawing, when Rachel and I win the Powerball jackpot. Rachel and I have talked about this, but she has not signed the binding agreement yet.

1. My preference would have been to remain anonymous during the process of obtaining our winnings. Some states allow the winners to choose to remain anonymous. I checked, and Missouri is not one of those. Lottery officials in Missouri will always release your name, your city, and the amount of your winnings. So it goes. As an alternative, I would hold onto the ticket for a month or two before turning it in. Maybe the hype would die down a little. It would also give Rachel and me time to decompress and do some planning. We could put our team together, including an attorney, accountant, psychic, driver and bodyguard. Maybe we’d do this planning on a nice beach somewhere. Rachel asked if I minded if she chose to stop working right away. I assured her that she could do anything that she wanted.

2. The other preliminary question is whether to be paid in a lump sum or in monthly payments over 29 years. If you die during the 29 years, the payments continue going to your estate. What a relief. If you choose the lump sum payment option, the current estimate for the payout amount, after federal taxes, is approximately $806 million dollars. In many states like Missouri, winners still pay state taxes on that amount. It seems like 1.3 billion dollars just doesn’t go as far as you’d think. Rachel and I thought we would choose the lump sum option. We wouldn’t want to be dealing with taxes and other financial details when we were in our nineties.

3. Once the funds were in the bank, so to speak, the fun begins. What to do? The first thing that we decided to do was to write a check for fifty percent of the winnings to our favorite charitable organization, Doctors Without Borders. That would immediately take some pressure off. The funds would be put to use in an amazing way, and no matter what else happened, we would have accomplished something special. Rachel gets credit for that idea!

4. Early on, we would probably want to get out of Dodge, to maintain a sense of privacy and sanity. We have a favorite beach community that would work well for that purpose. It is located somewhere in North or Central America. We would find a nice house or condo, close to the beach. It would not be extravagant, but big enough for company.

5. In the simplest way possible, we would share some funds with family members:  children, grandchildren, siblings, parents, nieces and nephews. The amounts would be enough to take away any financial worries for a while.

6. Rachel and I have a few favorite “charities” that would receive nice donations. These would include non-profit community service organizations, international wildlife and environmental groups, public radio and television, local theatre companies, and a couple of churches that are important to us or family members.

7. Our best guess is that all of that would just put a dent in the funds. That is where the team comes in. We would create a small foundation to invest the funds wisely and to manage their use. Under our guidance, consultants and a small number of paid staff would do most of the work. Rachel and I would define the mission of the foundation and establish guidelines for how funds are spent.

That’s about it. We decided that we don’t need a mansion or a house in every state. We don’t want a boat. I don’t want to learn to golf and Rachel doesn’t want to take up skiing. We will probably travel a bunch more, but grandkids will take up much of that time.

Rachel and I each purchased ten Powerball tickets last week for the Saturday drawing. We did not match a single number on any of the twenty tickets. What are the odds of that happening? They must be astronomical! I’m feeling lucky. I need to sign off so that I can take a trip to the local Shell gas station to pick up ten more tickets. This time… for sure!

Good luck!

Tim

Sometimes healthcare can really hurt!

Rachel and I just returned from two weeks in Costa Rica. We visited three small, beach communities on the Pacific Ocean and celebrated our wedding anniversary at the Ylang Ylang Beach Resort. We had exchanged vows on this secluded beach, ten years ago.

One leg of our Costa Rica travel was taking a car ferry from the town of Paquera, across the Gulf of Nicoya to the town of Puntarenas. We arrived at the ferry about an hour before the scheduled departure. I paid 300 colones to use the primitive restroom. Rachel purchased a Coca Cola Light for our voyage. While we were seated at a picnic table, waiting for the ferry to arrive, we watched an ambulance pull up to the docking area. The rear door was opened and we could see a patient on a stretcher. Seated next to him was a young woman in white, who we guessed was a nurse. A woman who looked like the patient’s wife, was also in the back of the vehicle. I could see an IV attached to his arm and another monitor attached to his index finger.

The nurse and wife stepped out of the ambulance, and the driver walked to the rear to join them. She was wearing some sort of uniform. Several men came out of the ferry’s staging area to assist. They looked like unskilled workers, not medical assistants. Rachel and I looked around and noticed a modest-sized motor boat tied up to the side of the main dock. It had a canvas tarp to protect passengers from the weather. The logos and lights on the boat made it look like a medical transport boat. A two hour boat ride appeared to be the preferred way to continue the journey to get to more sophisticated medical care in San Jose, the national capital.

The ambulance personnel and their assistants pulled the patient out of the vehicle. The gurney unfolded as they pulled it out, so that it could be rolled down to the waiting ambulance boat. Rachel and I wanted to satisfy our curiosity and watch the drama, but also felt like the patient and family probably wanted some privacy. I suggested that we move a little further away. We had just turned away from the procession when we heard a crash and a loud scream. We turned and saw that the gurney had collapsed suddenly, dropping the patient onto the sidewalk. Everyone was talking loudly at once. It was a chaotic scene. The patient continued to moan loudly. The wife was holding his face in her hands and trying to comfort him. Several other people were in action, some giving instructions and others just trying to right the discombobulated gurney. I noticed that the patient had been strapped to a back board. A several foot fall onto the hard concrete was very scary.

After a few minutes, the patient was gently lifted back onto the gurney and the gurney was slowly carried, not rolled down to the waiting boat. As soon as he was strapped in, the boat pulled away, and started the trip across the Gulf of Nicoya. At least the weather was sunny and the winds calm.

Afterwards, Rachel commented that it was fortunate that no one had their fingers caught and cut off in the collapsing gurney. What a disaster that would have been. We wondered what the incident reporting process was like in Costa Rica and who would be held responsible, if the patient’s injuries had been aggravated as the result of the fall. We talked about how we take for granted the easy access to our primary care doctors, specialists, hospitals, urgent care centers, and outpatient surgery centers. All can be found right in our neighborhood.

Our hopes and prayers went out to the patient, his wife, and the men and women trying to care for him.

Travel Tales: Beale Street Boogie

Rachel and I traveled to Memphis for Thanksgiving weekend to meet up with my son, Dan and his fiancé, Susie. Susie was originally from Memphis, and their wedding was going to be held there in eleven months. It was a chance for us to meet some of Susie’s family for the first time, and to help with a little of the wedding planning.

We arranged to eat Thanksgiving dinner at the beautiful Peabody Hotel. The Peabody is famous for its resident ducks, who spend their days swimming in a fountain in the lobby, and then every evening, waddle across the lobby to an elevator, to be transported upstairs to their lodging for the night. I kid you not. We also visited the Stax Museum of American Soul and learned a lot about the important role Memphis played in the evolution of “soul” music. We recognized many of the names of the original musicians, including Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, Booker T. and the MG’s, and Wilson Pickett. Being movie buffs, we recognized many of the songs from movies like The Blues Brothers and The Commitments.

One of the surprises of our visit to Memphis was walking down Beale Street on a quiet Thanksgiving afternoon. This street, in the heart of downtown, is usually bustling with people. Tourists come to shop, eat, drink, and listen to live music. We were staying at a hotel just a few blocks away, and on Thanksgiving day, Beale Street was unusually quiet. Most businesses were closed, even the restaurants and bars. As we strolled up and down the sidewalks on a pleasant afternoon, we passed a few other couples and singles. Some were dressed to the nines, and looked like they were going out somewhere fancy. Almost everyone was African American. Everyone smiled, greeted us and wished us a Happy Thanksgiving. Rachel and I had commented on the friendliness of Memphis people during previous visits.

As we passed a small park, sandwiched between two buildings, two older gentlemen were setting up an amplifier and microphone on a small cement stage. The man with the microphone pointed at us, smiled, and waved us over. Rachel observed that the small audience, seated on a few park benches, all looked like homeless people. It was a nice afternoon and we had time to kill. We decided to join them. We took a seat on a bench at the rear of the seating area. The group of men and women in front of us all had white grocery bags that looked like they contained leftovers from a Thanksgiving dinner. They also each had a large can of beer. When I was in college, my friends called the large sixteen ounce cans, pounders.

After a few minutes of waiting, the duo was ready to play. They placed a Kentucky Fried Chicken box in front of the stage for tips. The older gentleman at the microphone welcomed us and wished us a happy Thanksgiving. The other fellow, carrying an old electric bass guitar, approached the mic and just said, “gobble, gobble.” Then they began to play. They were great! They played a wide variety of soul songs. We recognized most of them. I especially enjoyed their rendition of Sitting on the Dock of the Bay. They played a raucus version of Mustang Sally and succeeded in getting the growing audience to sing the chorus with them. Rachel and I did our best to add our voices to the homeless choir. The singer tried to get Rachel to join him onstage to show her dance moves on a song called, Walk the Dog. Rachel politely declined.

About forty-five minutes into the set, a homeless women set down her can of beer, got up from her bench, approached the stage, and began dancing. Many people in the crowd clapped and the singer was encouraging. She was Caucasian, middle-aged and dressed in jeans and a large grey hoodie. Her dirty hair and the lines around her face gave the impression that life had probably been somewhat hard for her. But she was an uninhibited dancer, and she was fun to watch. The musicians got quite a few tips during that song.

A bit later, Rachel and I dropped a few dollars in the Kentucky Fried Chicken box, waved to the musicians, and continued on our way. It was time to get ready for dinner at the Peabody. When we got back to our room that night after dinner, I powered up my laptop and glanced at the news headlines on my homepage. One caught my eye. It read, “Naked woman arrested on Beale Street”. I clicked on the article and the first thing I saw was a mug shot of the woman we had watched dancing a few hours earlier. Her photo had already made the national news wire. The accompanying article said that she had been arrested for disorderly conduct for dancing naked. At first we laughed a little, and then we felt more sad. We were sure that the fun of the afternoon had taken a downward turn.

There was a place for people to write comments about the news article. The first person who responded posed the question of what constituted disorderly conduct and what her real crime had been. He suggested that if she had been dancing with clothes on that she likely would not have been arrested. Her real crime was nudity. Was nudity really the same as disorderly conduct? Was being naked a crime? His comments made me think of Time Square in New York City. There had been many articles in the news about women posing in just body paint, on the streets around Time Square. Some were painted as super heroes and some as American flags. For ten or fifteen dollars you could have your picture taken with them. While creating some controversy, the nudity was legal in the city and the naked photo business was “taking off”.

Rachel and I talked about her several times during the weekend. Our experience with the Beale Street dancer added both a wacky and somewhat melancholy vibe to our otherwise, great trip to Memphis.