Tom Petty, 1950-2017

So. Word just came down that Tom Petty died today (well, yesterday Central Daylight Time, but it’s still October 2 in California as I write this). Petty was one of the celebrities I always kind of hoped I’d bump into on one of our trips to California, but we never did. I don’t think. I generally have to have people point celebrities out to me, so for all I know, I walked right past him and just didn’t notice.

I first became aware of his music in 1979. I was in eighth grade and my English teacher wanted us to write the lyrics for our favorite song down as part of his poetry unit. My two favorite songs were Rock Lobster by the B-52s and Refugee. We didn’t have the Internet in our homes at the time, and so I had to try to puzzle out the lyrics by myself. I didn’t even try with Rock Lobster, so I dedicated myself to figuring out the lyrics to Refugee. I didn’t do too badly, but the bridge tripped me up. Finally I had to call my mom in for assistance. She had some really creative interpretations of song lyrics (one of my favorites was the Beach Boys asking Rhonda to “skate around in (his) heart”), but when she was actually paying attention, she was better at it than I was. At least when I was 13, she was. She threw up her hands in despair pretty quickly, so I ended up using Cliff Richard’s We Don’t Talk Anymore, which I liked okay, but, most importantly, Richard enunciated fairly clearly.

I have always been terrible about keeping up with musicians, so I generally was an album or two behind in my collection (which are pretty much all on cassette tapes; I really should start collecting them on CD (I will buy individual songs as MP3s, but for stuff that I want to keep long-term, I still like to buy CDs because I don’t have to rely on the continued existence of the server that I got the song from if I want to listen to it later)).

In 1991, Thomas and I went to see Petty’s stop at Poplar Creek for his Into the Great Wide Open tour and I had a blast. Thomas was not so much of a fan, but he was good company anyhow. I remember that concert with great fondness. About a month later, my folks and I were at the mall and I was wearing the T-shirt I got at that concert and some guy stopped me because he hadn’t known that Petty was on tour. He was very disappointed when I told him how long ago the concert had been.

Over the years, I discovered new musicians and new genres (and started listening to music in foreign languages once I got the Internet and such a thing became easier than it had been in the 1980s). I still loved Tom Petty, but loved other musicians, as well.

Then, this past year, I started thinking about him again. While training a Pandora station, it started to serve up Petty’s songs, and I remembered how much I loved them. I began to read things about his life and found out about his struggle with his ex-wife Jane’s mental illness and his own attempt to cope which ended with him becoming addicted to heroin. I read about the home in Encino where he and Jane raised their children and how it burned down. While they were having it rebuilt, they lived in the house that Xavier Cugat had built for Charo while they were married, which was apparently not a good fit, to hear Petty tell it.

And this led me, during our recent California trip, to telling Alex to keep his eyes open for a gaunt blond guy (though he was less gaunt towards the end) as we went through Encino on our way to Malibu (little did I know that after his divorce from Jane, Petty moved to Malibu). When we got home, I looked up what he was doing and discovered that when we were in Encino, Petty was on tour and that on my birthday, he’d be playing the Hollywood Bowl. Of course, by then I was back in Texas, but . . . it’s the thought that counts?

I also found that the Petty family’s home in Encino (the one that they’d built after the other had burned  down) had been for sale until just before our California trip. Not that we could have afforded it even in my wildest dreams, but I had fun looking at the pictures and imagining what I would do with that house (after I brought in a priest or a shaman or something (or both!) in to dispel the negative vibes left over from the whole end-of-the-Pettys’-marriage era).

Alex and I are still planning on taking another California trip relatively soon (like a long weekend in 2019) and a part of me wondered if he would tour and I could take Alex to see him. And that’s never going to happen now.

This has reinforced for me, though, how important it is to do the things you want to do while you can. Like taking Alex to see Weird Al Yankovic during his 2018 tour. I don’t know where, if anywhere, he’s going to be in Texas. He announces the stops on the tour, by my estimate, on Friday, October 13. So just over a week away. Let’s hope I don’t forget to check it out when he does announce it and maybe Alex and I can turn it into a travel destination as well as a concert.

Harvey Update

Well, ultimately, Corpus Christi got off easy. Houston, Port Arthur, and Beaumont, on the other hand, not so much. A lot of charities are collecting stuff for refugees and my pharmacy has filled a bunch of emergency prescriptions for patients who left their medications behind (in a lot of cases, the scripts were ready in the now-flooded area of Texas but hadn’t been picked up yet). We have a “floater” pharmacist on many Thursdays and every Friday and our floater today was amazed at how many emergency prescriptions we’d filled.

Today’s panic was about gasoline supplies. Apparently the trucks with the gasoline for San Antonio are delayed by the flooding. We’ve been assured that there is gas available, it just will take about a week to get here. So now everyone needs gas right now and so the stores that had gas are sold out. Personally, I have about a month’s supply in my tank right now (I don’t drive much — in fact, I mostly end up needing new tires because the rubber degrades from lack of use), and if it takes much longer than a week, I can always take the bus to work on days when I start or end early enough (it’ll add about an hour to my commute time total on a daily basis, but it’ll save gasoline).

I’ve got Alex working on finding old clothes of his that we can donate to the cause. One of my coworkers was collecting clothing and things, but we couldn’t find the clothing in time. I hope that he’ll find it tomorrow and I can take it out on Saturday. Maybe I’ll ask my coworker where to drop them off in her name. . . .

I’m pretty sure I’ve posted about my project where I’m paying myself to study foreign languages. My goal is to get good enough at one of them (I’m really pulling for that to be Chinese) that I can go right to graduate school in the language once I’ve paid myself the thousands of dollars that I would need to pay the tuition and fees. By then I’ll probably be a retiree, but it’s something to shoot for. For reference, so far, including interest (which will go up tomorrow), I’ve paid myself $289.57 in 289 days. So we’re looking at just a titch over $1 per day. The, oh, $16,000 or so it’ll take me to pay for an MA in Chinese will take me about 43 years. I may have to step it up a bit.

Of course, by the time I can afford the degree I may not actually need the degree, except as a piece of paper to prove that I really do know how to do what I’ll probably have been able to do for 20-some years by then. Or maybe even longer if, you know, I step it up a bit.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got Chinese to study.

Harvey’s On Its Way

Author’s note: I started working on this post late on August 25 and while working on it, it became August 26. As a result, read all of the “tonight”s as “last night”s, all of the “tomorrow”s as “today”s and so forth.


Hurricane Harvey made landfall not that long ago down in Corpus Christi. I’m really fond of Corpus and it looks like Alex and I may be visiting there again to see what it looks like after the storm sometime in the not-too-distant future.

Until then, though, here I sit in San Antonio, looking at the map of my city and noticing that my neighborhood is pretty much surrounded by rain.

They’re expecting some flooding for San Antonio and at some point the electricity is going to go out. I got home from work a bit late, as we spent some time covering electronics with plastic bags and things, just in case the roof caves in or something. Then I got to work using electricity while I have it. Alex and I cooked some turkey bacon, I did a load of laundry (and probably will do another one while I settle down for bed), I’m running the dishwasher, and I’m charging pretty much everything that needs to be charged (I’m almost done charging my phone-charging batteries and am about to start on the bluetooth speaker that we bought for the Nebraska trip).

I’m probably going to do a lot of reading tomorrow (particularly if the electricity goes out), since the wind will probably stop me from really going anywhere. I may take a hike down to the creek, which is usually dry, to watch the water flow past (which will make a dent in the 6,700 steps I need to make to get caught up with my goal). And maybe I’ll start to make a dent in my next National Geographic post and, maybe even work on the post that will be the preface to our California trip, which will explain how Thomas and I ended up going to California for the very first time, in the mid-1990s.

Or maybe I’ll just stay in bed all day. That’s a possibility, as well.

Happy New Year!

Generally I write my posts ahead of time and schedule them to launch at midnight of the day in question, but since I’m up at midnight, I figured I’d write one in real time for publishing immediately.

This was an exciting New Year’s Eve. I’m trying to build on my current foreign language skills and pick up Vietnamese, so I spent most of the day working on that. On New Year’s Eve, I did eight Duolingo lessons, three each of Vietnamese and Mandarin Rosetta Stone lessons and read two chapters in Kiêu Hãnh và Định Kiến (Pride & Prejudice in Vietnamese).

I also have started doing the lessons at Codecademy. I don’t know if I’ll learn enough coding there to become employable eventually, but it’s worth a shot.

I can hear the amateur fireworks of my neighbors going off in the distance and hear Ricky Martin singing “Livin’ La Vida Loca” on television as I write this and think about things we can do to make the world (and the United States) a better place  in 2017.

Navy Pier fireworks August 10, 2016
Not my neighbors’ fireworks.

First, be kind. What’s that saying about how everyone is fighting a battle that you know nothing about? It looks like it was originally said by John Watson, under his pen name of Ian MacLaren, according to the Quote Investigator. So, yeah, do that.

Second, learn something this year. It doesn’t matter what. While I’ve loved my time in school, some of my favorite people are self-educated, and thanks to things like MIT’s OpenCourseWare, there is really no limit to the number of things you can learn for free, or at least for the cost of a textbook. I also love the mission of the University of the People. The University of the People is an accredited university with no tuition fees. Students pay a $60 fee to apply and $100 for every final exam they take. A bachelor’s degree takes around $4000, payable as students finish each class. Even spread out over a long period, $4,000 is a lot of money for some people, so there are also scholarship programs. And since it’s a distance learning school, they have students from all of the world taking classes together.

Third, support serious journalism. There’s so much emphasis on not taking sides in journalism today that people are getting the impression that nothing they do matters. And that’s just not true. There are serious journalists out there not taking sides. Support them. (If someone had told me ten years ago that I would someday subscribe to Vanity Fair magazine to support serious journalism, I would have asked what they were smoking).

Beyond that, be well. Exercise, and eat better than you did in 2016 and take some time off to have fun. Engage in your hobbies and pet the cats (or dogs or lizards or whatever).

Sorry About the Missing Post

My home is in the area where the hail hit on Tuesday, April 12, 2016.  Fortunately, I’m not in Helotes, which is a suburb just outside of FM 1604 (commonly referred to as “Loop 1604”) and was pretty much the hardest hit.  Their H-E-B (a large supermarket chain) and Walmart stores were both closed by hail damage.

However, my father’s and my cars were parked outside and both sustained pretty bad damage.  Fortunately they were under a tree, so it wasn’t as bad as it might have been.  My dad has an appointment to get his damaged glass replaced next week and if that works out as smoothly as the people on the phone promised I’ll be getting my damaged glass replaced soon after that.

Nevertheless, worries about my car, and my roof, and debating whether to make a claim (I finally did so, but I may withdraw it depending on how my dad’s glass replacement works out) took up far more of my mental faculties than I could spare this week.  I’m finally getting it together and finishing up the December 2015 National Geographic, so expect that writeup on April 19 followed by Manitowoc, Wisconsin, on April 21.

September 2015 Supermoon

Alex and I just returned from looking for the “blood moon.”  It was too cloudy in San Antonio to see it, so I looked at the Clear Sky Chart website and saw that the sky seemed clearer out west on Interstate 10.  It seemed that the farther west you go, the better viewing conditions were, so Alex and I headed west.  We drove until we left the city lights behind and then went even farther west on local roads.

When we finally reached a place where we could see the moon, we put on our hazard lights and pulled over to attempt to take some pictures.  A family in an SUV stopped to make sure we were okay, and we explained what we were up to.  They recommended that we drive even farther out on that road, so we did.

We stopped just about at the maximum of the eclipse and attempted to take some pictures.  I say “attempted to take” because it was still pretty cloudy, so all we got, for the most part, was darkness with a little smudge of light in it.  I am thinking about getting one of those apps that will average them together and perhaps bring the moon out a little more in the pictures, but maybe I will decide that just having made that drive and seen the moon is sufficient.

All I know for certain is that it’s getting towards 11:00 here and I’d better get to bed if I want to get up to see Alex off to school in the morning.

I played around with the edit functions of my phone last night and came up with some kind of image representing the moon that I saw last night. It’s not perfect and, in fact, is kind of blobby looking, but at least it’s visible.

September 27, 2015 Blood Moon
The supermoon eclipse of September 27, 2015, seen from northwest of San Antonio, Texas

Jimmy Carter Has Cancer

Jimmy Carter is my favorite person who has ever held the office of President of the United States.  Just about everything I have heard about him tells what an awesome person he is.  And he is also the only President I have ever met (and he was a sitting President at the time).  Not that he’d remember the meeting.  We were on another trip to Florida (1979, this time, so I haven’t covered the trip in my My Travel Memories topics yet) and we decided to take a side trip to Plains, Georgia, which is President Carter’s home town.  President Carter was in town at the time and we stood with a crowd of gawkers waiting for him to come out of church, of all things.

President Carter came out and my mom grabbed my hand and pushed it through the crowd, yelling for President Carter to shake my hand, which he did.

And now he has metastatic cancer.  All of our heroes have to die eventually, I guess.  90 years is a good run.  He raised his children to adulthood and saw most of his grandchildren grow up.  But I am still distressed by this news. I can only pray that President Carter and his physicians have the wisdom to make the best possible choices for his care.