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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A Tale of Two Buses

This is Drew in 1978 in front of our "green bus"

Recently - several students recalled our taking them on trips in my green bus. But what many do not recall is the second bus we owned. The green bus was a resounding success - the yellow bus a dismal failure.

Let's start out with the good story.

From 1975 to 1977 - Lulu and I founded and published a newspaper call The Tamaqua Paper. We worked very hard for two years and the paper made money. But when our kids came along - we (meaning Lulu) did not have the time to do both. We sold the newspaper to Russ Funk - used some money to pay for our home - and used the rest to buy a new car and trailer. In 1977 - with Drew just 6 months old - we embarked on a 30 day trip to circle the USA. We liked it so much - we decided to buy a bus to take people along.

We ordered a brand new 1978 Thomas Bus on a Chevrolet C30 Chassis. It took over 6 months to be delivered. It cost $10,300 - a gigantic sum back them.

This is my legendary "green bus" - the 1978 Thomas Chevrolet. I loved that bus.

The bus arrived in April just in time for Phillies baseball. We bought Sunday/Season tickets and had 20 great seats behind the Phillies dugout in Veterans Stadium. The Phillies were champions and we had the hottest tickets in Tamaqua. In 1978 and 1979 - we spent 30 Sundays in beautiful downtown Philadelphia.

We piloted that bus to Washington DC for weekends - New York City - New England - Lancaster - you name it. But the green bus earned its infamy by taking my students to Cape Canaveral and Disneyworld. We made countless one week trips from Pennsylvania to Florida - Lulu and I driving all night while my students slept on bunk beds in the back.

In 1980 - we decided to live in Orlando for a year while Lulu got her master's degree at the University of Central Florida. So - we put an ad in the local newspaper to sell the bus that had over 70,000 miles on it in two years. A company called Interstate Dress Carriers needed a bus fast and they paid us $11,000 for it! Yes - this was one of my first efforts at "wheeling and dealing" and we came out okay. We later found out - the trucking company used the bus to "haul in scabs" to break a strike. They used it for a couple months - then it sat in a field in Mahoning Township for the rest of its life. Every now and then we would visit it - like carrying flowers to a cemetery.

In 1985 - we tried to make lightning strike twice. We bought a 10 year old school bus and converted it into a camper. We put beds and a bathroom in it. We had the International engine in it rebuilt. The bus cost $1000 and it cost about $2000 to convert it - including the engine work.

This is the "yellow bus" from hell - 10 year old International School Bus. We were camped at Fort Wilderness in Disneyworld. Note Lulu's rental Dodge 600 convertible on the left.

In June of 1985 - we embarked on that bus's one fateful trip. We were going to Disneyworld. Funny how the more senile we get - we forget details - but I could rattle off the full name of each student that went on this trip. We were going to be staying at Fort Wilderness - Disney's onsite campground.

The Disney stay was excellent. On the way home we would go to Cape Canaveral and see the Space Shuttle. This was just a couple years before one teacher-in-space had a disaster just overhead at liftoff. After pulling out of the Cape - this "teacher-in-space" had his Waterloo. I died a much slower - more painful death.

We were cruising up Interstate 95. It was hot out and the bus did not have air conditioning - so all the windows were open. Lulu - for the first time - curled up on one of the beds in the back with a book. That was the first time I saw her reading on the road. Everything was so cozy - just 16 more hours or so and we would be home. A beautiful calmness had settled over the coach. Everyone was happy. Sainthood was on the horizon.

All of a sudden - "bang - bang - bang - bang" came out of the engine compartment. I quickly pulled over - getting everyone to safety. This was before cell phones - so while Lulu watched the kids - I walked about a mile to the exit and a gas station. An hour later they were towing the entire bus - students inside - back to safety. At the station they confirmed - a blown engine.

I got by with a little help from my friends. We spent the night in a cheap motel along side the highway near Daytona. The kids enjoyed swimming even though the mosquitos would pick you up out of the water every now and then.

Lulu thought to call our friends - Jim Handler and Rod Laval - in Orlando. They both had vans and cheerfully came to the rescue. We took the kids to Jim's and Rod's homes in Orlando - while Rod had the bus towed to his service garage. Rod is a car expert - and he offered to have the bus repaired.

Meanwhile - it was my job to get these kids home safely. My first thought was to throw them in the back of a Uhaul truck - but I could see the headline now, "Teacher suffocates 20 kids in truck while riding in AC comfort." Lulu was calling all over. Finally she struck a deal with Greyhound. For $45 a kid (my money) - they would get us home.

The next day - after a big bon voyage party in Jim's one bedroom apartment - we boarded the Greyhound home. It took 24 hours - including stops at every city on the east coast - a long walk in Philadelphia between stations with the kids carrying all their stuff - to catch a bus to Pottsville. Finally - late at night - we pulled into the Pottsville Bus Depot to rendez-vous with some very anxious parents.

The yellow bus spent the next year in Orlando. Rod replaced the engine. We flew another group of kids down to Disneyworld to pick up the bus. We spent the week in the bus in Disney - but the engine failed again. This time we were veterans. Lulu got train tickets home on Amtrak. This time the parents were waiting in the Philadelphia Train Station.

Our "group travel adventures" were over. Two years later - we spent a year in Tallahassee where Lulu got her PhD. Now 25 years later - every summer - she takes a group of 20 students to London and Paris. History repeating itself.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Remarkable Airbus 380 - London Air Show

While in London - Keith and I attended the International Air Show. Not only is it for airplane enthusiasts - they are selling planes to companies and countries.

You know you are getting old when you are more impressed by large practical transport planes than the small "sports car" types. Although the F-35 and Eurofighter were really hot - the plane that opened my mouth wide was the new Airbus 380.

Airbus is the direct competitor of Boeing. They make a majority of Europe's commercial airliners. Their newest is both practical and beautiful.

Simply - the Airbus 380 is bigger than a football field. It can carry 600 seated passengers. It has four - large - quiet - efficient engines. Passengers ride on two full decks - almost like a cruise ship.

During the demonstration at London - the pilot fired it up and made a super short takeoff - almost like on an aircraft carrier. I was surprised at what seemed like a rocket assisted launch - though it was done without the expected noise. No sooner was the plane off the ground when the pilot did a wingover and made a full 180 degree turn and came back over the field. After a series of lazy figure eights - he did a low pass over the crowd that squealed with pleasure. The jet was going so slowly you expected it to fall out of the sky.

After about 20 minutes of some spectacular showing off - the crew made a really short quick landing - taxied up to the crowd - opened the doors - and invited everyone in for a tour.

This was one of the greatest sales pitches I have ever seen. I was even checking my wallet to see if I had enough cash to buy one.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Brandon Taylor Reporting From Western China - He is George and Mary Ruth's Son

I just got back from a 10-day trip with my girlfriend to Xinjiang, China's western most province/autonomous region. Let me tell you, it was quite adventurous.

Background first: Xinjiang is China's dominant muslim province. The people aren't Han Chinese, but closer in looks to Turkic people of Central Asia. I did research on the area in college and wanted to see this place first hand. It didn't fail to impress.

The region is so diverse is crazy. You have deserts next to mountains with snow then more deserts and the base of the Himalaya mountains. We visited ruins, vineyards, two gorgeous lakes, numerous animal markets, visited with local families and even took a 2-day overnight trip through part of the desert on camel back! At one point, we were about a two hour drive from Afghanistan.

1 - Tuyoq near Turpan in Central Xinjiang. The ruins are a pilgrimage area for the local Uighrs.

2 - Old stone buildings in Turpan

3 - A lot of Chinese and Uighr locals like to have their photo taken with foreigners. And I'm about as foreign as they come.

4 - At a local street market, one of the specialities is fresh meat. That thing the guy in the chair seems to be blowing into are lungs. He's inflating them so the man buying them can make sure they are good quality.

5 - People come from near and far on certain days of the week to buy and sell animals. I got a quick photo before all these sheep became kebabs

7 - A Tajik woman walking near a yurt. Notice the snow covered mountains in the background.

8 - I wandered around the Taklemakan desert for a day and a half. During the night, it rained three times and got kind of windy

9 - My camel wasn't the most well behaved camel in the world, but he got us from the main camp to our spot out in the desert without too many problems

Thursday, August 26, 2010

What a Difference a Day Makes! - I Got My Old Ford Painted

When I was a kid - a 13 year old Ford would be nothing but a pile of rust. They don't make them like they used to - thank goodness. Of course here in Florida - they do not have to throw salt all over the roads in winter.

I bought this truck because I wanted 4WD for doing chores around the yard and down by the lake.

There is a Maaco paint shop on the other side of the town. This is the third job that I gave them - and I have been happy with the results. I like the quality for the price. I like that they can do it quickly - and will negotiate the price.

On to the next project.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

We Visited the New Panama City Beach Airport on the Way Home

Southwest Airlines offers discount flights all the time even a non-stop to Baltimore

Delta and Southwest are the only carriers right now

The line through security was very light.

Auto traffic at the airport was mild - wide open traffic patterns

Walking from short term parking into terminal

I felt like Hoke "Driving Miss Lulu" to the Piggly Wiggly

To be correct we have to call it the Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport - but at any name it is something really new and exciting on the Panhandle. It is the first international airport built in the USA since 9/11. To make it even more interesting - Southwest Airlines has chosen to fly there - offering some very inexpensive non-stop flights to our neck of the woods.

The airport is very nice - reminds me of some of the island airports we saw in Hawaii. It is not extravagant - but it has an airy soaring atmosphere about it.

We left the beach at about 11 AM. The airport is 12 miles inland on the other side of the Bay. It was built on ground donated by the St. Joe's Paper and Land Development Company. The gamble was to make the entire Emerald Coast a destination location. This plan was pre-depression housing bust and pre-oil scare away tourist bust. Right now the roll of the dice looks a bit scarey.

It took about two hours of driving to get home from the airport if you do not include the stops at the Blountstown Piggly Wiggly and the Lake Talquin State Park. The highway was two lanes most of the way - but it was wide open and had very little traffic on it. It was hot and humid all the way home - that prevented us from getting the bikes out and pedaling a spell. There is a really nice view of Lake Talquin at the boating ramp at the state park - but we did not see one boat in sight for the miles up and down the lake. Lake Talquin is a hydroelectric dam run by the city - very similar to Lake Wallenpaupack in Pennsylvania both in size and height. It produces about 3% of our electricity.

Blountstown is the seat of Calhoun County. It is the only town along Route 20 large enough to offer highway services - McDonald's - Burger King - etc. We got a good dose of local cracker flavor at the Piggly Wiggly grocery store there. We went shopping and filled our cart with cases of Coca Cola. Cans were on sale for 20 cents each - and I stocked up on 7 cases.

Before we knew it - we were home. We didn't even have the Honda van unloaded and were having a late lunch - when a silver BMW pulled into the driveway blowing its horn. It was Bob Proechel - our old neighbor from Orlando in 1980. He was in town on business and we were lucky to be home to touch base with him.

So Lulu had her three days on the beach - and now we were home in time for a new school year and Seminole football and volleyball seasons. We got to see Panama City Beach before the oil got there.

Greetings From Beautiful Panama City Beach - Lulu's Wildwood South

Panama City - Florida - was named after Panama City - Panama - because a local fruit company wanted to developed a strong connection with the fruit trade through Panama. Unfortunately - Tampa took over that claim - but the name stuck here.

Lulu and her Flamingo Motel - 7 stories high - 7 apartments wide. Our place was in the exact center.

Sunset over the Panama City Beach Pier. This place has the most beautiful white sand beaches I have ever seen - like walking in powdered sugar - it even barks.

Lulu having dinner at Barack Obama's Firefly Restaurant

Harry had breakfast with Marilyn Monroe

Lulu was harmonizing a few bars with Elvis

Panama City and Panama City Beach - two separate political communities are on the Florida Panhandle about 100 miles west of Tallahassee. US 98 parallels the coast and forms the backbone of the local transportation system. On a busy day - not today - it is a difficult task getting across the road to the beachside.

Due to the oil spill - although the beach is spotless and the water warm - hotels are empty and support businesses are feeling the pinch. While we are here - the place is enjoying the afterglow of President Obama's visit last week. Also - on Monday - Tiger Wood and his wife Elin chose the local court house to finalize their divorce that supposedly gave her a $700 million settlement.

Lulu and I also got a chance to appear with two iconic celebrities after breakfast yesterday. For dinner - Lulu chose the Firefly - a really nice restaurant where the Obama Family dined last week. How many places can boast two presidents in two weeks?

After a few hours of beach this morning - we plan to visit the new Panama City Beach International Airport and then drive the two hours home. This airport is the first new international airport opened since the 9/11 disaster in NYC.

We stayed at the Flamingo Hotel - an old (translate cheap) 7 story tower motel directly on the sand. The place is directly out of the 50s and is decorated very similarly to the old Fountainhead Motel where Lulu and I spent our honeymoon on Miami Beach in 1971. Back then we spent $8 for a hotel right on the sand.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Noon at Panama City Beach

The Gulf Looks Clean From Here

This morning from our motel room. Clear skies - low waves - white sand - warm water - few swimmers.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

We Are Going to the Beach for Three Days

Lulu and I will be spending - Monday - Tuesday - Wednesday - on the beach in Panama City Beach Florida. It is 100 miles west of Tallahassee -and has some of the nicest sandy beaches in the world. The sand is white and the consistency of sugar. So far - no tar balls found.

It take about two hours to drive over along the coast.

Monday is a big school days in town - all three colleges start - and the country school system is having their first classes.

This is the first "vacation" Lulu has had in a while - all her other trips have been business.

We will pack the bikes and beach tent into the Honda van in the morning and shove off.

Out hotel is the Flamingo Motel and Tower - right on the sand. Nancy got a full suite with ocean view for a very low price. I will send lots of pictures and video from our balcony.

You can see the motel web page here -

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Top Running Back in Nation Chooses FSU

James Wilder Jr., the nation's top-rated running back, committed to the Florida State Seminoles Wednesday evening during a news conference at Plant High School.

Wilder made his decision public a day after an Internet report surfaced Tuesday afternoon saying the blue-chip prospect would commit to Georgia. Wilder played along with the report by emerging from behind the stage curtains in a black shirt and a red vest.

"It had gotten around that I committed to Georgia and it got on a radio station and it got out on Facebook," Wilder said. "I think that everyone thought I was going to go there when I came out in red and black.

"I already knew three days ago that I was going to go to Florida State."

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Dog Days of Summer - I Sold a MacBook Air

Not much happening in the way of news in Tallahassee.

I just sold a MacBook Air on Craigslist for $900. It was a nice little laptop that we had around as a spare. We were not using it much since we got the iPad.

The MacBook Air is a very lightweight laptop computer made by Apple. It weighs just over 2 pounds - but has a full size screen and keyboard.

The MacBook Air was still covered by the AppleCare extended warranty until April 2011.

It sold for $900. It was in very nice - lightly used - shape.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Things Are Quiet in Tallahassee

We are having a little lull in Tallahassee right now. We are still adjusting from the fantastic three weeks in London and Paris. We still get up early - before 6 AM - jet lag.

The students are not back in town - so things are quiet. When 80,000 kids are added to the mix for the three colleges - things perk up. Also sales on Craigslist pick up.

George and Joel are in Africa. They are supposed to be home Thursday. They will only be home for a short time - then they go back to Africa for another three weeks. They will be working in the schools there. They will be missing lots of the football season.

Weather has not been bad - 90s and humid - a bit of rain - but no big storms. I can get a little yard work done on the houses in the morning. With the heat and rain - the grass grows over two inches in a week.

The pool is back to normal after being green when we were away. We put new water in it - the water coming out of the hose was 75 - the pool was back to 80 in two days.

Next week - we plan a three day vacation to Panama City. This is Lulu's first non-working vacation of the year. Panama City is 100 miles west of here and has some of the prettiest white sand beaches in the world. (They never got oil)

Our next trip is to Australia in September. Lulu will be speaking at the IASL Convention in Brisbane. We will spend a few days in Sydney and then 5 days in Brisbane. We will stop in Hawaii each way for two days to adjust to the jet lag.

Right now - our family plans to spend an early Thanksgiving here - November 16th - the week of the Clemson game. We hope to see them all sooner than that - but it will be nice.

After London - with all the family and friends - it has been a bit of a let down. Things will be exciting again soon.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Bike Riding with a Deer at Southwood

Lulu and I were bike riding out at Southwood this morning. This deer did not seemed to be bothered by us or the bikes. The video was taken and sent from my iPhone.

Home From London - Page Views Are Down

Is There Anyone Stupid Enough to Use a Pressure Washer While Wearing Sandals

At least it make a nice clean cut

Sunday, August 08, 2010

What a Difference a Day Makes - 24 Hours Later - The Pool is Clean

From This.......

.......To This

When we came home from London - we were greeted by millions of new guests - little green algae. Lulu loves her pool - Harry does not look forward to maintaining it. A pool is a whole in the ground where you dump some of your money and all of your spare time :-) But if Lulu loves it - we will always have a pool.

We had a choice of fixing it chemically or physically. I chose the latter.

I turned on the pump and opened the exit value. It formed a river to the pond and in 4 hours - the 19,000 gallons of green water was gone. Then I used my pressure washer to clean the pool. Next I used a shop vacuum to remove the last 100 gallons of green water. Then it took 19 hours by garden hose to refill the pool. The city charges about 15 cents per 100 gallons or about $30.

The water coming in from the garden hose was 75 degrees. The pool will be back over 80 degrees in no time at all. This is the first time we changed the water in 3 years.

From green to clean in 24 hours.


Friday, August 06, 2010

Safely At Home in Tallahassee - Looking Forward to London Next Year

Our transportation system is truly amazing. At 5 AM Thursday we left our apartment in London. We walked down to the corner - got the bus to the train station. At the station - we took the express to the airport. By 9 AM we were winging our way west at 500 miles an hour racing the sun across the Atlantic.

It took 9 hours to Atlanta because we had a headwind. Then going through customs there nearly made us miss the short hop to Tallahassee. Lucky for us - they reopened the plane and let us crawl up the steps.

By 5 PM - we were in our living room - it was still light out. Our bags arrived a few hours later - but everything was intact. Door to door was 17 hours adding the 5 hour time change.

While in Atlanta we crossed paths with George and Joel Dawson. They are in their 70s and leading an expedition to Tanzania - but were looking for us as we came down the escalator. We only could exchange hugs - but it was nice to see them. What a wonderful attitude they have about life.

On the last day in London - Lulu took her class to the Hard Rock Cafe. In return - they took this picture of us. We told them the story of how we are in our 40th year of marriage. Most of them were shocked - but one student made my day. She said, "Who's older?"

Jimbo Fisher Started His First Football Practice at Florida State Yesterday

John James "Jimbo" Fisher is currently head coach at the Florida State University.

As a senior student at Samford University Fisher was the NCAA Division III National Player of the Year. From 2000-2007 he served as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at LSU. From 2006 to 2009 he was offensive coordinator, quarterbacks coach and, beginning in 2007, head coach-in-waiting for the Florida State Seminoles. Bobby Bowden, Florida State's head coach of 34 years, retired after the team's appearance in its 28th consecutive bowl game on 2010 January 1.Fisher took over as head coach soon after. Florida State is Fisher's first head coaching position. From Wikipedia.

As much as I am unhappy with the way FSU fired Bobby Bowden after his 34 years of service as head coach - Jimbo Fisher did not do anything wrong. He will get my benefit of any doubt. Harry.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Safe at Home in Tallahassee - but We Did Not Get Bumped Like Marylou and Jean Did Yesterday

We left our London flat this morning at 5 AM. Took the bus to Victoria Station - took the train to Gatwick Airport. Our plane left on time - but took a while to get to Atlanta because we took the south route and also had a headwind.

In Atlanta - customs was slow - and we missed our plane to Tallahassee. When we got to the gate - the ramp was pulled back - etc. Nancy was trying to get the gate people to open the door again - they said no dice. Just as they were booking us on the next plane - the pilot came by - they were waiting for him. The plane crew then said there were tow empty seats because they bumped someone off for them. Although there were 5 people at the gate - they gave them to Lulu and I. So they took people off the plane - and then later gave us their seats. Someone was bumped for us!

The plane landed in Tallahassee at 4 PM - and our bags were still back in Atlanta. We waited around a bit and they promised they would deliver them to the house by 10 PM.

We got a ride home from the airport from JP and Wanda. Wanda is Lulu's buddy - another professor that teaches in London.

In the Atlanta Airport - we got to see George and Joel Dawson just for a minute. They were heading to Africa. They will be back in 10 days. They are leading an expedition to Tanzania.

The house looks great. George and Katy did a good job watching over it. The grass needs a trim - and the pool is a bit green - but they will be back in no time.

Oh Yes - I almost forgot - Jean and Marylou got bumped on their flight home yesterday from London. They were given a flight home on a Virgin Airline Boeing 747 four hours later. They were given a $500 flight voucher plus a $10 meal voucher plus all the wine they could drink on the 9 hour trip home.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Our London Flat - 12 Bedford Place

This was our 2010 apartment - it also will be our 2011 place.

Compare it to our Janet Poole House flat from 2009.

Compliments to Lulu - my one-take camera girl.

London is a City of Bikes

The blue bikes are rentals. That is the FSU Campus in the background in gold.

Check out the prices. Multipy pounds by 1.5 to get dollars.

400 pounds would be $600

These electrics cost $2200

This rental system just started up Friday

Simply put - you buy a key fob - pull a bike out - use it - and park it at another station.

There are several factors that make London ann excellent city to use bikes as your major transportation. First - being along a river on a plain - London is level. Second - the summers and winters are mild. Third - gasoline costs over $8 a gallon. Fourth - there is limited parking for cars and it is expensive. Finally - to drive your car into downtown London - it costs you $16 just in "congestion fee."

Every car has a sticker on its windshield. The sticker is read by TV cameras - and you are charged every time you are seen on a camera. If you own a car in this town and use it - you are either very rich - or very broke.

Just last Friday they started a bike rental plan that is very interesting. All over downtown - there are bike stations with racks of bikes and kiosks. There is a bike station about every 300 yards. To use the bikes - you first go on online and buy a key fob. It is like a credit card for the bikes. The key fob costs $1.50 a day - $7.50 a week - 0r $67 a year. When you want to use a bike - you swipe your key fob at the kiosk. You pull the bike out of the rack and go. When you are done you take the bike to another rack - swipe your key fob - and you walk away.

If you use the bike less than 30 minutes - they is no charge. If you use it up to an hour - it costs $1.50. The price gets steeper and steeper as you go up. 2 hours = $9. 6 hours = $52. 24 hours= $75. If you keep your rides under 30 minutes - it costs you nothing. The whole idea is to take bike from one station to another - anywhere in downtown. You can "daisy chain" bike after bike after bike - for free - but you must wait 5 minutes between bike changes.

You cannot go up to a kiosk and pay cash - everything is on an account. If you "lose" a bike - that will cost your $450! These bikes are very strongly build - to buy one would cost about $1200. We saw similar setups in Paris - Rome - Munich - Milan. They have had some problems with theft there and also bikes breaking down.

This is a very good idea. It encourages people to exercise - also not to use precious fuel. It cuts down on the amount of auto congestion. It cuts down on pollution.

Next year - I plan to open an account and bike all over London - next year.

The Busiest Apple Store in the World - in London

London Apple Store on Regent Street

This line is not an exception - it is a normal line to the cash register. It was not the day a new product was being offered.

It moves fast

People wait patiently to try new products

This is Thursday morning at 11 AM looking in the front door - note glass steps going up to classrooms and lecture area

This NEW Apple Store will open in 4 days - it is at Covent Gardens - just a mile from the other Apple Store. That curtain was on a corner and goes down the other street just as far.

I spent way too much of my time in the Apple Store in London. They offer free classes on different Apple hardware and software. They start at 8 AM and go to 8 PM. The Regent Street store sells more Apple products than anywhere else in the world.

In a couple days - they are opening a much bigger store at Covent Gardens - about a mile away in the theatre area. This store will occupy the entire first floor on a corner in one of the busiest shopping areas in town. One can have dinner - buy a computer - and go to a show - and not have to walk 100 yards.