Friday, April 29, 2016

Hawai'i Too

Here's an addition to the memories of Hawai'i that I began writing about a few posts back. When I put an end to that post I was sitting on the patio of a small hotel in the middle of Waikiki while enjoying breakfast.

It was time to go back to work. I went to the basement where it was parked. A hotel with parking is a rare luxury in Waikiki. Then I joined the stream of commuters on Ala Moana Blvd on their way to work. With all the slow moving traffic around me I could be in the middle of a Los Angeles freeway. I found my way back to the office and met the estimator and superintendent of the company we were thinking of acquiring. The plan was for me to accompany the superintendent to all the jobs in progress and we would start with a hotel remodel on the island of Kaua'i. I don't remember his name now so I will call him 'John'. John went to the files and pulled out a book of plane tickets. For inter-island flights, the airline sell books of tickets to frequent flyers. Quite a few Hawaiians treat the airlines as if they were a bus line. They may live on one island and work on another.

It was a 15 minute flight and we landed at Lihue and rented a car. The hotel was quite close by. We parked and we took the construction elevator up to the top. The crews were remodeling the hotel rooms to become condo's. The hotel had been hit hard by Hurricane Iniki in 1992. Insurance settlements were tied up in court and all that time (5 years) the hotel had been closed up. Mold was growing everywhere, like black moss on all  the walls. All the hardware, like door knobs and hinges were corroded so badly that opening them was difficult.

I made my assessment of the work to be done and we found ourselves with 3 hours to spend before the next flight back to Honolulu. John, who was a native of Kaua'i offered to drive me around and show me some of beautiful sights on this small island. One of the first things of note were the blue tarps on the roof of quite a few houses. John said that the insurance money to replace the roofs was often spent on other things. Then we drove up the mountain to Waimea Canyon. It was an amazing place to visit; the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific". It didn't seem to take very long and it was time to get back to the airport. I knew that I wanted to come back sometime in the near future.

Another memory: John spoke with a Hawaiian accent and he spoke 'pidgin' as well. Oddly enough, I welcomed it. In 1978 I was fresh from L.A and looking for a job in Reno NV. A new MGM Grand Hotel and Casino was being built in Reno. Odd again, I knew the superintendent that was hiring. I had hired him about 10 years previous when I was in Reno to build a department store. Small world. Once we did all the handshaking and reminiscing, he hired me to be a foreman on the job. Also odd' we were working for a Hawaiian construction company, Oahu Interiors. I was going to be doing layout work on the hotel and the crew I would be working with were all from Hawai'i. And they all spoke pidgin. Within a few weeks I was speaking it as well. I tried speaking it at home but was quickly overruled by my wife. Also, it turned out that John and I knew a lot of the people I knew in Reno. Small world once again.

The next day I went out with John and we went to the Hawai'i State Capitol building. It was being remodeled from top to bottom and John had a crew working on it. It was a very impressive building and we toured it from top to bottom. I was struck by the use of Koa wood throughout. Every office had every desk and chair and table and cabinet and door made from the beautiful wood from the Acacia Koa tree. There must have been a million dollars worth of Koa in the building.

We left the building and stood in the inner courtyard of the building. The architecture was amazing! And then I noticed how hot it was becoming. I was sweating! John explained that since the walls of the building cut us off from the prevailing Trade Winds, we had lost the natural air conditioning that they brought with them. That is why the lanai was a vital part of the architecture here.  Then I remembered the airport at Kauai and the fact that none of the outer walls came up to the roof level. Air was free to come over the top of the walls and cool the airport. I imagine that they have blocked that air movement since 9/11.

We went back to the office just in time for lunch and I was introduced to Manapua, a steamed pork or  chicken bun. That's just a rough description. Truth is, they were heavenly! I ate Manapua every day for the 2 weeks that I was there. Someone in the office would volunteer to go to the box lunch place up the road and bring back our orders every day. I went a few times and was surprised to see that it just a joint in a strip mall. It may have been a joint but they sure could cook.

After lunch and until dark, I was stuck in my temporary office, calculating the projected costs versus the contract amounts for the projects I had reviewed. From my desk, if I leaned forward and turned my head to the right, I could see a small section of blue sky and the occasional cloud. My view of Paradise!

I should mention that on my second or third day in Hawai'i I left the office just before it was dark and drove up to the Pali. I had read about it and just had to see it. I pulled into the parking area and I was the only one there. I walked up the path to the overlook and was amazed at the view. I could see lights beginning to turn on in far off Kaneohe. What sun was left was being filtered through dark clouds on the horizon. The cliffs of the Pali had an other worldly look to them and I could easily imagine the slaughter that took place there, so many years ago. I stayed there until it was dark; enjoying every minute of my solitude.


Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Growing old

A large part of the growing old experience for me has been an increase in the stories I remember. Not fiction, but memories of the events that were important (at the time) in my life. I'm becoming one of those old men that can tell you a story at the drop of a hat. (drop of a hat? where does that old phrase come from?)

For instance; Mr. Blue, the proprietor of life on peach eater creek has been sharing photos of his recent trip to Hawai'i and the island of Oahu. As I viewed the photos and read the story I was transported back to the days when I was visiting the islands. I didn't have the usual tourist experience as I was there on 'business'.

At this juncture in my life I was in transition from being an estimator/project manager for a very large construction company to becoming a software developer/IT specialist/instructor/go'fer for the same company. I was leaving the estimating job behind...and leaving The Boss from Hell (TBH) behind as well.

I was working from home at the time and I received a phone call from the CFO of the company. We were friends because of our shared interest in computers and spreadsheets. Lotus 1-2-3 to be exact; the only spreadsheet around at that time. Out of the blue he asked me if I would be available to fly to Honolulu the next day. I was silent for a moment as I tried to process this request. So he explained that the company was thinking about buying a similar construction company that was for sale in Honolulu and he wanted someone (me) to visit some of the jobs they had contracts for and see if the jobs had any chance of being profitable. I would visit the jobs with their superintendent and then go over their estimates. Would I be interested? Sure!

He told me to go to the airport the next day, early, and pick up my tickets. They were one way tickets as we didn't know how long I was going to be needed. Now I had to pack a bag...and tell my wife when she came home from work. My going away to distant locations for jobs had always been part of our life; I wasn't worried about her reaction to the news. Well, maybe I was a little bit worried. After all, my destination was a tropical isle and not New Jersey or Bakersfield. She might have something to say about that...

The next day came and I found myself on a 747 flying over the water. Lots and lots of water. Hours of blue water.  Our travel department had secured me an exit row window seat and so I was quite comfortable and after 5 hours I was able to see the small speck in the ocean ahead of us that quickly grew to 'island size' as the pilot began turning and descending. I recognize Diamond Head from the pictures I had seen. I saw Pearl Harbor and then we were taxi'ing up to the gate. My friend had told me that it was faster to walk to baggage claim than to wait for the wiki wiki bus and so I did. This was when I first noticed that the air smelled 'sweet'. A wonderful smell that I later learned came from the Trade Winds that constantly blow across the islands. Those same winds bring beautiful white clouds that accent the tropical blue sky. I was simply amazed! 24 hours earlier I had been laboring over some spreadsheets and here I paradise!

I rented a car and followed the directions to the office located in an industrial area close to the airport. Here I met my friend and was introduced to all the management and office staff. All very friendly.  Then I was given a space to call my 'office' and a stack of plans and specifications. No time to waste; it was time to get busy and review these plans because I was going to have to go with their superintendent to some of these jobs tomorrow. Okay...

After some time, my friend came in and said to call it a day, it was 7 PM, and he gave me directions to my hotel. It was in Waikiki, about 15 minutes away without traffic and an hour away during rush hour. I finally found the hotel, a small 4 story hotel with very tall neighbors on each side. It was a hotel that catered to Japanese tourists and it was sized to fit right in to a hotel district in Tokyo. Everything about the hotel was diminutive. Very clean and very charming. Breakfast was free and served outside on a patio.

I remember sitting there, enjoying the calm of this secluded patio. There were Palm trees and other tropical plants around me. The air was the perfect temperature and it smelled sweet. I was hooked!

I will write some more about this time in another post.


Plus and minus.

      Time Goes By has an interesting subject this morning and I joined in with my comments. Below is an expanded version of what I said....    

       I retired at age 64 (I'm now 75) because I could not stand the thought of another week of flying to and from, here and there, and then sleeping in a motel for the week followed by another week just like the week before. Only the airports and motels changed and after awhile they all became the same. Even the Phoenix Inn in Lake Oswego (home of The Crabby Old Lady) became boring. They were also the first to call me by my first name when I walked through the door. I dreaded seeing the blue airport shuttle pull up in front of the house...
       I thought that retirement would be my salvation from a job I had come to hate, and retirement would deliver the perfect life I had dreamed of. Sure enough, the job I hated soon faded from memory. That was a good thing. I had begun race walking (the silly walk) before my retirement and now I could devote myself to the sport. I had completed one marathon and many half marathons, 5K's and 10k's. I planned and competed in 4 more marathons. 2 of them in Portland, one in the Redwoods of California and one in Anchorage Alaska. We were going to explore the USA by car and by marathon. Yes, I do know that I had to get on a plane to visit Anchorage. Then, at age 68, my body gave out. Before my office days, I had spent 30 years working in construction. I worked in steel framing and drywall (a job I loved) and because of that physical abuse I've now had 4 back surgeries and the pain is still with me. I take pain meds on a regular basis. I had epidural injections 3 weeks ago and they failed to stop the pain. I've now been taking pain meds for 8 years.
      But not all is negative. I returned to art and began to paint regularly. I sold a few paintings and then, 3 months ago, I was given a show and my art was seen by lots of people. I was interviewed for the University newspaper.  I paint even more now. That part of retirement has been fulfilling; creating something of value and something that is appreciated by others.
      Next week I will be having another round of epidural injections. So, I'm not giving up and I feel  the positives of retirement simply outweigh the negatives.

Friday, April 1, 2016

What I remember. And what I don't...

Weird happenings. For me. I went to my neurologist this week to hear the results of my MRI brain scan. With some relief I heard that I did not have Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus. What is happening is my brain shrinking (they all do) and the ventricles don't. The ventricles have not enlarged as first thought to be the case.

While at the doctor's office I had to have a 'brain health' test. This is done yearly and it is meant to show early signs of dementia and other terrible diseases. I was doing fine, I thought, with just minor mistakes. Then it was time to 'identify'. The assistant would point to an object and ask me to tell her what it was. Again, I thought I was doing fine...until she pointed to an object hanging from a hook on the door. What was it? I didn't have a clue, yet I knew that I should know what it was. I tried and tried to dredge up the name of the object without any luck. She finally relented and told me that it was a stethoscope. Yes! Suddenly it was clear to me. But why this object, an object that I wore around my neck when I was in the Navy? How could I forget that? Even with that error on my part I was told not to worry and that I had done better this year than last.  

The doctor also told me that he wanted a MRI of my neck. Less than a month ago my neurosurgeon had me have an MRI of the upper and lower back. Followed by the MRI brain scan a week later. That's three MRI's in a month. Once I had the spinal cord stimulator removed, it seems as if everyone wanted to se more of me...internally. The neurologist wants to see if there is any narrowing of the vertebra within the neck and if so that could explain why I am sometimes unsteady. If I don't hear from him, that means all is well and he will see me in six months.

I know that's too much 'medical talk' for this blog. But 'medical' describes our lives lately. If lately means the past year. Appointments, appointments and more appointments. We looked at our tax form and we spent over $18,000 for medical last year. And that is with Medicare and a supplemental. So don't ever tell me that I'm lucky to be getting the free Medicare and that everyone else is paying for my health care. Not! These figures just made me  fully aware of just how deficient Medicare is. I can pay the $18k but what about the elders that can't? Why don't we have universal healthcare? We could, but it would upset some Generals and the defense industry.

Speaking of art. I wasn't but I will. I'm finally going to have my gallery wall(s). My son-in-law is coming over on Sunday to get up on the ladder and hang the high work. The living room wall is 12' high and I'm devoting 5' plus of that height to art. The wall is also about 18' long and I'm using 12' of it. We arranged all the art on the floor and then I took photos of our arrangement; I think it will speed up the process.

Since I didn't sell any of my large pieces, they will take up a good portion of the wall. I do love to paint 'large. But what do you do with them afterwards? I would like to sell (some of) them but opportunities are rare. Yesterday, I went to Aaron Bros to pick up some earthquake adhesive to anchor the frames so they are level and stay that way. And while I was there, I saw that they were having a sale on canvas. I tried to say no but I came out of the store with three 30"x48" canvasses. Three beautiful blank white canvasses! Now I need some inspiration...