Sunday, May 31, 2015

Circling the Wagons

Yesterday, we circled the wagons.  Not only my pals Blanche, Eddie and I, but neighbors, friends, cousins, nieces and nephews, brother in-laws, grandchildren, and virtually anyone else who was attached in some way to the family, all circled the wagons.  Most of us know the routine, someone passes, there's a wake and a funeral and all of the sympathies and condolences one could make.  It's one of those things in life you just have to go through, sadly, every once in awhile.

For the three of us, it was personal.  It was family.  Last Sunday Rich's dad, Francois, passed away suddenly after a long, long illness. For him it was an inevitable and somewhat merciful ending to a long bout of suffering.  For Rich and his family, it was the mournful loss of someone very special. And so we circled the wagons.

I've only gotten to know Francois, the nickname given to his dad by his son and my pal Dita (his real name was Francis) really well the past six or seven years or so, since the time of my breakup with Joe and the time Rich became a much bigger part of my life. I consider myself fortunate to have gotten to know both he and his wife, Flo, the way that I have.  A couple of years back I visited their house down in Virginia during a roller coaster trip and the experience was so moving to me that I blogged about it soon after I had gotten home (check out A Weekend of Memories at Flo and Francois').

Through them, it's easy to understand how Rich is such the good person, and friend, that he is.  He's developed in his own life the perfect combination of his parents' greatest attributes.  That is, he inherited his mother's kindness and caring and his father's impeccable sense of humor.  That being said, all three of us would have circled the wagons for him because he is our friend, our family, but Francois (and Flo) are special enough to us to warrant our presence all on their own.

This was something I'd already known, but it was nonetheless heartwarming to see the outpouring of love and admiration for Francis.  He was a lucky guy, but it was obvious to see that he got back just a tiny bit of what he gave.

Frank was the father of two sons, Kenny and Rich, and a daughter Cathy, the grandfather of four granddaughters, Erin,, Ellyse, Ashley and Laura, and the great-grandfather of little Jake and even littler Charlotte.  He had a large family of nieces and nephews, in-laws and friends, and everyone seemed to have the utmost admiration for him, and that was due to no only the kindness and devotion he showered upon his family, but his comedic wit, as well.  Some of the greatest laughs I've shared with Rich over the years have had to do with something his dad either said or did to elicit laughter. Even up until late in his life he was putting out his famously hysterical one-liners.

Francois was also a Navy man in his younger days and was given military honors at his service yesterday.  It was a fitting ending to a week-long mourning period and an honorable tribute to one of God's great works.  I only hope that my own legacy will be as heartwarming and loving as his.      

Really, circling the wagons is what you do when you lose one of your own, and through our friend Rich, his dad and his mom are one of our own.  Being there for them never warranted a second thought for any of us, and the three of us, and all the rest of those who came from far and wide to pay their respects to Francois, will circle the wagons even further in the days and weeks to come.  Rest in peace will live on...



Friday, May 29, 2015

When You've Seen One Gold Ceiling, You've Seen Them All


One of the downsides of the trip to Europe, admittedly, was the educational tours we had to endure. Being a school trip, our itinerary was peppered with guided tours of several places we had visited, including the Doge's Palace in Venice, the inner towns of Lucerne and Florence, and a bus tour of Paris. Now I've never been the kind of traveler who likes guided tours.  No, I've always been an explore-it-on-your own kind of guy.  With the exception of one very unique and interesting guided tour of the Vatican Museums in 2000, I've never been on one I really enjoyed, and the ones I experienced on this trip were no exception.

As a person with an aptitude for writing, I have my own unique point of view, and so my observations of an experience are usually different from most.  During these guided tours in Europe I paid more attention to the guides themselves rather than the things they were pointing out, and I can say with certainty that there is a common thread to what brought these individual people to their jobs.

Ever since I've been a teacher, I've learned that different personality types draw teachers into their content areas.  There's no doubt that people's natural attributes make them well-suited for one job or another, not only in the teaching world, but in every vocational area.  I often brag that I can tell what type of teacher a person is after just  a few minutes of talking to them.  ESL teachers, like me, are nurturers first and foremost, and they love culture.  Social studies teachers tend to like to speak...a lot, and are pretty opinionated in their views.  English teachers, of course, love literature and their manner of speech is impeccable, and so on and so forth.

Like teachers, tour guides are all strung together by the same personality type as well.  First of all, they all have an affinity for history or art, or a combination of the two.  Most of them probably wanted to be teachers of some sort, and for whatever reason they were swayed into this particular vocation instead.  They are all extremely passionate about their subjects, delving into the most minute details that not many other people would find interesting, and they don't seem to have any empathy for the tourist experience when they're giving their tours.  They continue on in their passion without much regard for how their 'student' are enjoying the experience.  Thus, sadly, they can be very boring.

I can't really say which of our European tour guides was the most boring.  They all had their own individual quirks, but they all exhibited the same personality traits I describe above.  Perhaps I'd give the prize for the worst guide to the lady in Paris, who, sadly, put each of the chaperones, including me, to sleep.

Ah, I see I've put all the chaperones to sleep!  Perhaps we should wake them up so we can get up and walk around, heh? She said to the kids.

Startled awake by her comment, we were all jolted from our slumber to return to the monotony of the tour.  It was here, though, that it got a little better as we left the bus to check out a park and get some fresh air.  That didn't last long, however, as the boredom set in soon after as we boarded the bus once again to continue the tour.  I'm not sure if it was the monotone sound of her voice or the fact that we were sitting and not walking that put us to sleep.  I only know that I was quickly in la la land almost as soon as the tour began, and fidgeting the rest of the time that I was awake.

Ugh, these tours were absolute torture!  I can never understand how anybody can find such thrills in the tiniest minutae about the Medici family or a gold paneled ceiling in the Doge's Palace, or even the map gallery in the Vatican Museums.  God, when you've seen one gold paneled ceiling, you've seen them all!  Though there were moments of interest during some of the tours, like the Lion's Carving in Lucerne or the Bridge of Sigh in Venice, but overall...ugh!

So if you should ever find yourself on vacation in Europe, or Asia, or any other place for that matter, I highly recommend you stay away from guided tours, that is, unless you actually enjoy minutiae and monotone voices.  Trust me, you'll be happy you did!

When you've seen one gold ceiling you've seen them all!

This way to the Doge's Palace

Check out previous posts on my Europe trip below and stay tuned for more...


Saturday, May 23, 2015

Something Wicked This Way Comes: Six Flags New England's Wicked Cyclone

It looks like I'll be traipsing on up again to Agawam, Massachusetts this summer.  Last year was my first time visiting Six Flags New England and I found it to be one helluva park,  With such awesome coasters such as the mind-blowing Goliath to the twisting, turning Mind Eraser and the absolutely thrilling Bizarro, this park's got enough steel monsters to whet any coaster lover's appetite, and now they've added a new thrilling wonder.

Wicked Cyclone is a brand new spin on an old favorite.  In June of 1983, the Riverside Cyclone, a woodie inspired by Coney Island's famous landmark, opened at what was then known as Riverside Amusement Park.  The ride operated for more than thirty years, serving over 15 million riders, and closed for good last June, and in the months since, the ride has undergone a major transformation and this weekend the new coaster opens to the public.

Wicked Cyclone is a hybrid coaster, mixing steel track with wood construction.  It is the first of its kind on the East Coast and it looks like a doozie.   With 3,200 feet of track, this hybrid falls from 10 stories high and moves at speeds of up to 55 miles per hour, careening through two zero G rolls and a 200 degree stall as it makes its way through the track.  Take a look below at the park's animated preview of the ride, and if you're in the vicinity of Six Flags New England this summer, you're gonna want to get there...

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Making a Memory at the Eiffel Tower

Continued from here...

After spending an afternoon in the vicinity of the Sacré Coeur, we headed on over to Paris' Latin Quarter for some dinner.  The dinners throughout the trip were not exactly five star, and this night was no exception, but the sights and sounds of this seemingly trendy neighborhood of eateries and gathering places definitely whetted my appetite to want to come to Paris again.  At one point on the walk to our restaurant, we passed an outdoor food fair and oh man, so much scrumptiousness!

After dinner, it was off to the one place that is most iconic in this city, the Eiffel Tower.  I tell ya, this was the one site I had looked forward to seeing, and for some stupid reason, I expected it to be much like the replicas found in two amusement parks I've been to, King's Island and King's Dominion, but those replicas in no way prepared me for the real thing.  We arrived at the iconic monument via subway, and man, it was huge!

We were probably about a quarter of a mile away from it when we came out of the station and I couldn't take my eyes off it.  The tower is magnificent sight to behold, standing there at more than 1,000 feet tall in all its golden splendor.  As we walked towards the monument, I was reminded of that other famous iconic structure in New York, a gift from France as a matter of fact, just by the throngs of people waiting to climb.

The lines were two to three hours long, depending on which observatory you wanted to ascend to.  I probably should have gone up, but I wanted to check out the area, and besides, just like in Amsterdam and the Anne Frank House, it was either wait the two hours to climb or use the precious time to explore, and I don't regret my decision.  The tower was spectacular and so were the many views I had of it from exploring the surrounding areas with a couple of my fellow chaperones.

The area surrounding the Eiffel Tower is as cool as the tower itself.  Directly across from the structure sits the hilltop area of the city known as Trocadéro, home to the beautiful Palais de Chaillot. This was our destination as most of the kids waited to climb the tower with Joanne and Audrey.  Ivan, Steve, Francesca and I, headed up and across the Seine to this trendy neighborhood of eateries and shops to grab a quick bite to eat and walk around a bit.

On the way up the hill, we stopped at the big traffic circle in between the tower and the Trocadéro to admire some cars.  Oofah, there at the circle sat not one, not two, but five Lamborghini's, all of a different color and their owners were offering drives around the city for the bargain price of just 80 Euro for twenty minutes.  Ivan and I thought about it for a hot second, but since we'd have to do one at a time and each pay that amount, we just posed for a couple of pictures of the wicked wicked vehicles.

For the next couple of hours after that, we casually dined on some meats and cheeses in the restaurant of a hotel.  It was cozy and comfortable, and to make matters even better, our server was beautiful...and kinda flirty.  Once the time neared to meet the rest of the crew at the tower, we paid the check and headed back.  By then it was nightfall and with some good fortune, there was a full moon out that frame the tower perfectly.  That, coupled with the twinkling of a gazillion lights every hour on the hour, gave the whole evening a extra sense of wonder.  The views didn't capture good on camera, but it was a magical sight nonetheless that I won't ever forget...

Check out my other posts on my Europe trip, as well as a few more photos below, and stay tuned for more...

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Hello Paris: An Afternoon at the Sacré Coeur

Paris was probably the one destination on our European trip that I was looking forward to the most.  I mean, who hasn't ever dreamed of visiting the City of Lights with all of its sites and romantic, cosmopolitan reputation?  Paris now seems like a big blur, and like Amsterdam, I want to check it out for myself more in depth, someday...

We arrived in Paris on the Thalys train in the early afternoon, and from the bus ride from the train station to the hotel, I could plainly see that we were in a city much larger than Amsterdam.  This city is sprawling, seemingly the size of all the boroughs of New York in one gigantic tract of land, and as surprisingly diverse as my home city. Our hotel was in one of the outer districts of the city, and so much of our two-day whirlwind through Paris would find us on its subway system.

The Paris subways are pretty easy to navigate.  I can say that now only because our tour guide Steve lead the way and the experience wasn't as harrowing as I'd heard it would be.  Our first destination in the city was one cool place...

As you might guess from the looks of it, the building in the picture above is a church. It's called Sacré Coeur, or The Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris. The basilica sits atop a hill offering spectacular views of Paris, and the surrounding area, towards the bottom of the hill, is a quaint neighborhood full of great eateries, shops and more.

It was Easter Sunday and the place was bustling with people. In fact, the basilica was so crowded I didn't have the energy to fight my way inside, opting to enjoy the scenery from below the church and above the city. We had only about two or three hours here, and I spent it with my fellow chaperones Joanne, Audrey, Kristen and Francesca. We had a nice lunch in a French restaurant, walked around a bit, and took a few selfies...

Looking back, this particular afternoon was one of the more enjoyable afternoons spent on the entire trip, especially being a place I hadn't anticipated, or heard of for that matter, within the city of Paris. It was relaxing, amazing, and oh so enjoyable, and I had a taste of some authentic French food, which I'd never tried before.  


 Real French onion soup, only they just call it "onion soup"

Steak and real French fries, only they called it fried potatoes.

Some kind of dessert...cheese and sugar!?!?

Should you ever find yourself in Paris, France, you definitely need to check out this beautiful, quaint little area.  Just look for the Sacré Coeur, and spend an awesome afternoon taking it all in.  

Be sure to check out my other posts so far from this great adventure in Europe, and stay tuned for more... 


Tuesday, May 5, 2015

It Was the Sixth of May

Though it is finally spring and the weather makes everything all nice again, this particular time of year is also one of reflection and sadness for my family.  You see, six years ago tomorrow, my dad, George Myers, passed away.  It's hard to believe it's been that log, but not a day goes by that I, and everyone else in my family, don't miss him.

Since I missed his birthday last month, April 2nd (I left for Europe that day...of course with thoughts of him in my head!), and I don't want to go the whole season without remembering and honoring him in some way.  So I'm posting a piece I wrote for Yahoo Voices on the day that he died, May 6th, 2009.  Read on...

I woke up this morning, as I do many mornings, with a song in my head.  Only the tune that landed in my head today was related to what was going to happen in just a little while.  The song, “Papa Was a Rolling Stone”, by the Temptations opens with the lines I’m still hearing now as I write this:

It was the third of September.
The day I’ll always remember,
Cause that was the day my daddy died.

Today George Myers, my father, passed on, and I awoke this morning knowing that it was going to happen.  We’d been dreading it for four days now, knowing that any hope of survival was near zero percent.  From the moment he was taken into the hospital, we were told that he had gone far too long without oxygen and that his brain was no longer functioning.  As the hours and days passed, we knew this was the one time he wasn’t going to beat it. 

We’d decided late last night to remove the support machines keeping his body alive, but we had to put it off for today because one of us was unable to be on hand.  It was an unpleasant situation, to say the least.  We all wanted to get past this anguish.  And having to wait until morning, waking up with the knowledge that your dad was going to die, is just too odious a circumstance to be in. 

Twenty eight years ago, my dad was diagnosed with Diabetes.  At first, none of us had been too familiar with the disease, but what we did know it was controllable one if you followed the guidelines associated with the having the condition.  In the beginning, dad was great about it.  He quit smoking.  He stopped drinking.  Changing his dietary habits, though, proved too difficult for him and this allowed this debilitating sickness to attack his body slowly and steadily for so long.

Early on, dad’s kidneys began to malfunction and he was sent to undergo dialysis treatments three times a week.  He was placed on a list for a kidney transplant.  I hadn’t known what dialysis was at first, and I don’t wish to speak of it here, but I know from dad’s experiences that it is not pleasant.

As is common with diabetics, one problem invariably leads to other problems.  To make things easier for his dialysis treatments, his doctor placed a plastic shunt in his arm.  I recall almost immediately there were infections, blockages, and other problems associated with the multiple shunts that were eventually placed within his arms.  These problems foreshadowed the more serious and painful things to come.  I can’t possibly recall the numerous problems dad’s experienced over the years, but here are some I remember:

-          - While working in a local supermarket, a 2 liter bottle of soda fell off a shelf and landed on dad’s big toe.  An infection began to materialize.  That was in May.  By August, the infection had gotten so bad; he had to be hospitalized for over six weeks.  It was the first time we thought we were going to lose him, but he persevered and eventually pulled through.

-         - A little over ten years ago, dad got a call that a person with a donor kidney had passed and he needed to get to the hospital ASAP.  In what turned out to be his happiest hospital stay, dad’s surgery was successful and he got to spend Christmas with the greatest gift he’s ever received.  Dialysis was now a thing of the past.

-          -About two years ago, dad began to have trouble hearing in his right ear.  It was soon discovered that he had a massive, benign tumor growing on his cerebrum.  With his state of health, surgical treatment was not an option, so he underwent 39 radiation treatments.  Soon after the treatments had finished, his hearing improved once again, but his new kidney had begun to fail.  In what turned out to be the beginning of his end, dialysis treatments once again became a necessity.

-          -A more recent infection on his foot hadn’t been responding to treatments.  Intravenous antibiotics were no help as circulation problems were preventing the medicines from reaching the infected site.  A surgical bypass on his leg was ordered by his vascular doctor.  During pre-surgical testing, though, a blockage was found in his heart and a resulting angioplasty put off the vascular bypass.  The cardiac procedure was successful, and he was released from the hospital with the infected ulcer still oozing and painful on his foot.

-          -Two weeks ago, and six weeks after the angioplasty, dad was brought back in to the hospital for the original vascular bypass to help fight the infection, which had gotten so bad that he had developed tendinitis in his Achilles tendon which prevented him from walking anymore.  He had had to give up his job and his car, which crushed him.  This surgery was successful, and the infection had begun to heal.

These episodes represent only a fraction of the seemingly countless health-related issues dad has had to contend with.  Late night phone calls became all too familiar.  Every time there was a new emergency, the situation led from a dire to insignificant, a false alarm.  Dad took each case in stride, with rarely an utterance of complaint, even through two toe amputations (Though he always hated the needles!).  We became too used to these episodes, expecting the same result each time.  We’d lulled ourselves into a belief that dad was a fighter who’d always bounce back and be around for years to come.  But it wasn’t meant to be this time.

The day after dad came out of the hospital, he experienced this episode which ultimately led us to today.  Now I've skipped ahead a bit from the first part of this story, but this part of dad’s story is more pertinent to the freedom from suffering he earned today.  Having been faced with the decision we all made, we knew we had no choice.  Dad deserved no more pain. 

In the end, he passed peacefully with his wife, his six children and other significant people in his life all around him.  The room was filled with anguish, devotion, love and a sense of collective relief as George finally let go of all that pain. 

So long dad!  I love you!

It was the sixth of May…

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Joanne's Broken Wheel

Who the heck is this Joanne person?

That was one of the first questions I'd been asked by my friends after I got back from Europe.  I'd been posting pictures on Facebook from over there, and she was in many of them.  I don't really talk about her to my friends at home, so that's why they'd never heard of her before, but I'm so glad she was a fellow chaperone on this trip.  She provided a lot of laughs all around and she and I spent lots of quality time together.  The two of us have became closer because from the whole experience, as have we all, but she and I definitely took a lot of selfies together.

You have to really know Joanne to understand her.  She is a character, and her sweet, almost naive way and her genial nature make her easy to like, and easy to have fun with.  Case in point: the broken wheel...

Now this was one of a couple of humorous incidents that happened with Joanne in Europe.  It happened on just our third day.  We'd just left the hotel in Amsterdam and we were scheduled to catch the high speed Thalys train to Paris.  All was fine until we got to the train station and had to unload the bus with all of the luggage.

Our bus driver was a mannish woman, and she tossed out the bags from the belly of the bus like a pro, except when she got to Joanne's.  Somehow, one of the two wheels on her big bag got caught up on the lip of the baggage area and it came off.  We had all been rushing to catch the train...we had to walk some to get there...and no one noticed, except me.

She broke my wheel!  Joanne yelled out as she rushed up behind me, now practically dragging a wheel-less, and heavy, bag down the cobblestone street.  I couldn't help but chuckle a little at the site, and I offered to switch with her.

I can't believe it! What am I gonna do now?

She was more worried than angry, thinking about going the next ten days like this.  

I gotta buy a new bag!  

Okay, so that was definitely a plan, but I still found the whole thing pretty funny.  We finally got to the train station and we gathered on the platform waiting for the train to show up.  She was still all ruffled about the wheel, and I suggested taking a picture to remember the incident.

Okay Joanne, hold the wheel up and show how angry you are...

I'm laughing now even as I post this... 

Joanne, you are angry!  That woman broke your damned wheel.  Show me you're a tiger...

Okay, well I guess I was making her laugh.  She started to try...

Finally, she got angry...really angry.  Way to go Joanne!!!  You did it!

Just another day later and Joanne bought a new bag in Paris.  She no longer had difficulties lugging a big bag around sans wheel, and she was happy...until the next incident...Love her!

Check out my other posts about my trip to Europe:

Amster...dam, Part III...The End!

Looking back at that Europe trip, it seemed as if Amsterdam was the place we spent the most time in, and even then, it wasn't enough.  I'm hoping to go back to Europe in the summer of 2016 and when I do, I'm definitely going to spend much more time there...

After leaving Volendam, we headed back into the city of Amsterdam for one last visit.  The plan was to visit the Anne Frank House, one of Amsterdam's most popular attractions, and have some free time to explore the city a little on our own, but there was one last unplanned stop at another site for which this country below sea level is famous for...windmills.  

There it was, right alongside of the road back to Amsterdam, one last bastion of old Dutch life. Without even investigating it any further, I would imagine that the Dutch use much more modern forms of energy harnessing, and so this surely is a relic of times gone by.  Cool!

After a few snapshots by the old mill, we headed back into the city of Amsterdam for one last time. The line at the Anne Frank line was least a two-hour wait to get in.  We were all given the option to either wait, or get three-plus hours of free time.  Since I am one of the very few people who never read The Diary of Anne Frank, I wasn't too keen on waiting that long, so I opted for the free time.  Besides, if I hadn't, that would have pretty much been it for Amsterdam, and I so wanted to explore!

My fellow chaperone and music teacher Audrey and I then embarked our own, long exploration of the city...and we had a blast!  We ate at a rooftop restaurant with beautiful views of the city, we walked around, interacting with several Dutch people, all of whom were very nice, and we shopped. I even got a cool new sweater out of the deal!  It was a wonderful way to end our first leg of the trip.

All in all, visiting Amsterdam was a great experience!  The next morning we were off to Paris, but I have definitely put this place on a future travel to-do list...there's so much more to experience!  Here are some final pictures from Amsterdam.  I hope you've enjoyed all that I've shared about the place and perhaps dream of visiting there yourself.  Check out my past posts on Amsterdam below the photos and stay tuned for Paris...

Look what I found at the flower market!

This pancake looks like a pizza, no?

Me n my pal Joanne!

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