I’m sitting in a PennDOT Driver’s License waiting room in Southampton, Pennsylvania, waiting for my number F539 to be called. The line for getting pre-screened and given a service number took about forty minutes, and I’ve been sitting now for about thirty minutes more. My butt is hurting from sitting in a cheap, plastic chair, and the highest F-number called so far is F532. It doesn’t seem like a good idea to be crowded inside with seventy-five other breathing people. Thankfully all are wearing facemasks. The Omicron critter … The only bright spot so far is there’s an attractive woman sitting beside me reading the New York Times on her cell phone. I’d kinda like to talk to her, but is it appropriate? In this setting? What if she doesn’t want to be bothered?

There are twelve stations where driver’s license technicians could be helping with the backlog, eight are currently staffed. Probably several are out sick with Omicron. I’m facing the south wall where Stations 1, 2, and 3 are located. Apparently, this is where applicants get their photos taken. These employees don’t have much to do, and when they do have a client, the transaction is brief. Ten minutes go by and I observe the four driver’s license technicians sitting at the photo stations talking with each other, sipping soft drinks, things like that. Why are there four employees in three stations? And why are they doing nothing when there are empty stations on the other sides of the room? I can’t actually hear what they are talking about because of the distance and the large plexiglass panels protecting them from their clients, but it doesn’t seem like they are doing driver’s license technician kinds of things.

I scroll through my email on my cell phone deleting older ones one at a time. Some stir up recent memories, most I have no recollection of. I am, however, remembering past waits in DMV waiting rooms. After I left home there was Dallas, then Philadelphia, then Dayton, Ohio. Wonder how many driver’s licenses I’ve had? I run through the chronology of my driving life. It takes a while because I’ll be turning seventy soon and I’ve moved around the country a good bit. Why have I moved so many times? Good question.

This is my third time getting a license in Pennsylvania. Apparently, there’s no fast-track for repeat customers. I’ve also had three in Louisiana, plus the ones in between. OK. Counting today, assuming I’m successful, that’ll make ten driver’s licenses. Maybe I should be a consultant for DMV offices around the country? How do they compare? Best practices? It’s easy to name the best one – fastest, one-stop, everything done – that would be Richmond, Indiana. Took a written driver’s test, got a new license, new titles, and license plates for two vehicles, and registered to vote in under an hour. Maybe I should move back to Indiana.

“Now serving F535 at Station Number 6,” blares from the speakers. What happened to F533 and F534? Did I drift off? The woman beside me is now reading a book she brought with her. Good idea. Smart woman. In fact, this would be a great place for a library branch. Give all the waiting people something to do. Increase the reading capacity of Americans. Might become an incubator for entrepreneurial ideas …  and ways to improve productivity!

One of those ideas might be – YES, cross-train the photo-taking driver’s license technicians to do the work of reviewing and approving driver’s license applications. Then, when there’s no one waiting to get their photo taken, employees like the four I’m facing who have not had a single client in the last fifteen minutes, could be getting people processed, taking their money, and getting them back outside in the cold January air where they’d have a much lower risk of being infected with the Omicron variant. Most people who get it are having mild cases apparently, but some are hospitalized and some are dying! I don’t like that range of possibilities.

I glance out the glass storefront. About a dozen masked people are rubbing their gloved hands together, stomping their feet, while waiting to get into the building for pre-screening.

Two lighted notice boards hang from the ceiling, listing the numbers for clients being served. The board in the corner of the room lists different ones than the one in front of me which seems to be accurate. Some of the numbers listed on the board in the corner have not been called out, I’m sure of it. What is this? Is it like horse racing where they report the results of races taking place on other racetracks across the country?

“Now serving C009 at Station Number 12,” blasts from the speakers. The woman beside me gets up and gathers up all of her things except one manila folder.

“Do you want this?” I ask her.

“No, put it in your briefcase,” she says to me. Which I do because she’s my wife and I have a briefcase for our paperwork.

I sit alone waiting to hear the magic words – Now serving F539 – thinking of other ways PennDOT could streamline the driver’s license process. How about taking your cell phone number, have you wait in your car, and they call you when they’re ready for you? Same amount of waiting, but less spread of COVID-19. Yes, I think that could help. Wonder how many levels of supervision it would take to get that procedure approved?

“Now serving F539 at Station Number 9,” shakes me out of my slumber. I’m glad to get off my butt and moving again. Need to bring a pillow next time. Next time? Maybe I should stay in the same state for a few years. Think of the time savings …

The driver’s license technician at Station 9 greets me with a smile and a pleasant voice. She takes my paperwork and in a few minutes, she’s ready for me to insert my credit card to pay the fee. It’s $60-something.

“I thought it was $30-something,” I say.

“It’s $30 more because you asked for REAL ID.” Right. I sure don’t want an UNREAL ID. “Are you sure you’re OK with that?” she asks.

“Yes, I’ve had REAL ID for the last six years, three in Louisiana and three in Indiana before that. I thought REAL IDs were required for everyone by now.”

“The deadline is somewhere out there.” She shrugs her shoulders. “I don’t know, 2024?” She gives me back my Louisiana driver’s license with four small square holes punched in it to make it void and hands me a piece of paper to keep in my billfold to prove that I’m driving legally until my REAL ID driver’s license arrives in the mail two weeks hence.

“So, I don’t get my new driver’s license today?” I ask.

“No,” she smiles. “But you can go take a seat in the waiting area and wait for your number to be called.” O Lord I want to be in that number …

“OK,” I say. “I also need to get new titles for our two cars and Pennsylvania license plates.”

“Oh, we don’t do titles and plates here at PennDOT,” she says. “You can go down there for that.” She points outside the office to someplace else in the shopping center like I’m supposed to already know that.

“OK. Thanks.”

“But they won’t let you get new titles and plates until you have your REAL ID.”

I nod and walk away. Pennsylvania law requires new residents to get PA plates within two weeks of residency. They give you up to six weeks to get a driver’s license. But you have to have a PA driver’s license before you can apply for license plates. Go figure.

My butt has just hit the waiting chair seat when the speaker announces, “Now serving F539 at Station Number 3.” Remember, there’s no waiting for stations 1, 2, and 3 because they don’t have much to do because the seventy-five clients who have managed to get inside PennDOT are waiting for service from the five staffed stations that have way too much to do. The friendly technician at Station 3 accepts my paperwork, takes my picture, and sends me on my way. Takes two minutes.

I step outside, away from the waiting line that has grown to about twenty-five people, remove my N95 mask, and take a deep hit of cold, fresh air. Good job. My wife awaits me on the sidewalk.

“Let’s get the titles and plates now,” she says. “There’s a title agency right here.” She points.

“Privatizing,” I mumble.

We step inside together. There’s one employee at the counter and one customer filling out paperwork, both unmasked. Before we can say a thing, the employee yells, “We only take cash,” like she’s selling cold beer at a baseball game.

My wife and I look at the fee schedule on the wall. Looks like it’s going to be at least $130 or so, per vehicle. I look at her and shake my head. She shakes hers in agreement. I open the door and we step out.

On the sidewalk, I say, “Not bad. We got half the job done. Let’s head home.”

“How about Starbucks?” she asks.

“Great idea.”

“It’ll have to be drive-through, you know.”

I give her a questioning look.

“Their dining areas are closed. COVID-19.”



Overcast, 38º, N 8mph, wind chill 30º

Lately, when I’m writing, I go for a walk around the block about once an hour. They say that’s enough to offset the negative effects of sitting at a computer. I’m not sure that’s true, but it’s good for my soul to be outside, feeling, hearing, and smelling the natural world – and breathing in the cold air. Today, that’s triggered memories of quail hunting with Dad on days like this. When I got back from my latest walk just now, I checked to see what the weather is like in Ruston, my hometown – it’s overcast, 38º, N 8mph, wind chill 30º.

I can picture Dad holding the Chevy steering wheel with his knee while he unscrewed the top of the thermos that Mabel had filled with hot, black coffee, and drinking it with one hand while maneuvering the blue truck along a dirt path through a pine tree push over. I loved the way the coffee smelled though I could not stand the taste. It’s an acquired taste for many, like whiskey.

Then we’d get to the next place we were going to hunt, pick a couple of quail dogs that weren’t tired yet, and set out on the hunt, shotguns loaded, with safeties on, barrels pointed to the ground. Walking a few yards apart, we stepped over logs and thick underbrush, briars tearing at our thick canvas hunting pants, cold wind chilling our hands and ears, watching where the dogs were running and following their lead.

The way I remember those times now – it feels like I was in a magic place, not just a cold, deserted land where tree-harvesters cut all the pines for pulpwood and tractors pushed up the waste into rows. When they were finished trying to burn the waste, they planted pine seedlings in rows about five feet apart and then left not planning to come back for twenty years. Briars and other seed plants took root, and pretty soon coveys of quail wandered from the woods and made the place their own and multiplied.

Overcast, 38º, N 8mph, wind chill 30º — a perfect day.


2020: A Year That Reminds Me – We’re All In This Together

I have a feeling that 2020 is going to be one of those long-remembered years, like 2001 and 1968. Brilliant observation … I know.

From the soap opera drama of our national government to the argument over masking, to the loss of many from the novel coronavirus, I want to scream at the top of my lungs  >>  A PLAGUE ON BOTH YOUR HOUSES! like Mercutio. Perhaps human nature is much the same as 428 years ago when Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet.

Screaming is not my normal, but in this situation, it seems like a darn good idea. Rage is not really rage if you don’t get it out, right?

Wait just a minute …

Okay, I’m back. I stepped out in the back yard and screamed. I feel better already! Sure hope the neighbors are familiar with Shakespeare and didn’t take it personally!

A new voicemail awaits. Ochsner Medical research folks wanting to know if I’ll volunteer for a Stage 3 Covid-19 vaccine study. Yea. That sounds right. Finally, something I can do to help besides stay at home, zoom, worry about family, friends, and everybody, and mask when I’m out. So I enrolled along with 59,999 other brothers and sisters from the United States, Belgium, and a bunch of other countries.

I got my shot. 50/50 whether it was the vaccine or saline. Don’t know which I would have preferred. Kinda glad I didn’t have to choose.

Virtual elbow touch, my friend. 



A middle-aged man, a stranger to me, walked awkwardly along the rails-to-trails path this morning as I ran north toward the town of Abita Springs. Just as we passed each other he yelled out, “You’re an inspiration, man!” For the remainder of my run, I thought about people and places that have inspired and lifted me over the years. Here are a few:

I hated putting my face in water, but my mother made me go to swimming lessons year after year with the other kids until I realized she was going to make me go until I learned. Mom’s determination turned into inspiration and I learned to swim in a couple of days. Later I became a boy scout swimming instructor and lifeguard.

For a science fair project in high school, I was attempting to replicate Abraham Michelson’s 1887 interferometer, a breakthrough experiment about splitting a light beam into two parts. After seeing my futile attempts day after day, my father told me he thought the concepts were too complicated for me to understand. I took that as a challenge and soon I’d built a working interferometer that took me all the way to the state competition in Baton Rouge.

In north Louisiana, there’s a river called Bayou de L’Outre, the River of Otters, that runs through bottomland hardwoods and empties into the Ouachita River just north of Monroe. Towering cypress trees hug the river’s banks; pines and hardwoods dominate the higher ground beyond. The river seems almost untouched by humans and that makes it feel like a treasure. When I need to feel more at peace, I just close my eyes and picture Bayou de L’Outre. 

At age forty-seven, I met Eva. We snapped together like two long-lost magnets and I wrote love poems like a maniac. Pure inspiration – I needn’t say more.

In college, a sociology professor graded test papers immediately when they were turned in – right while you were standing there. He marked the grade in red ink in his grade book and on the test paper and handed it back. Then he had a brief exchange with the student and sent them on their way. I had struggled in college at first, but this was the semester when I was trying to turn the corner. I made an “A” on the first two tests. When I turned in the third one, the professor looked at me, not the paper, and said, “What grade did you make?” I said an “A” and he marked “A” on the paper and in his grade book and sent me on my way. Through that one act, I knew that it was up to me, not anyone else, to do my best all the time, and I became an adult.

Inspiration comes in many forms and we give it to each other.


The Garden of Eden

Ten years ago my wife and I attended an educational event at the University of Delaware on a cold, rainy evening. The featured speaker was Alan Bean, an American astronaut who walked on the moon during the Apollo 12 mission in November 1969. Bean resigned from NASA in 1981 to devote himself to painting full-time. He said his decision was based on the fact that, in his 18 years as an astronaut, he was fortunate to visit worlds and see sights no artist’s eye had ever viewed firsthand and he wanted to express these experiences through the medium of art. He described his experiences while displaying a series of large paintings he’d made since leaving the space program.

More than 40 years after he walked on the moon his memories were still quite vivid. He said that in spite of the grave danger, the uniqueness of being on the moon, and the incredible adventure of it all, what impressed him most was — there is absolutely nothing on the moon. No colors, no wind, no sounds … no trees or living things of any kind. As he looked out into space, the sun’s light was so bright he couldn’t see the stars. He saw and felt only the vast black emptiness of space.

Then he described the incredible experience of looking at Earth — a magnificent blue-green sphere in the deep blackness of space — and he realized that he was looking at the Garden of Eden … Paradise. His words sent a shiver down my spine the way profound truths always do.

Earth is our Paradise and we have everything we need to live out our dreams.


Work the Problem

There’s a lot to worry about these days. So much is beyond my ability to influence. I reached a low point on Thursday night though I knew I shouldn’t wallow in it.

Friday morning when I awoke a scene from the movie Apollo 13 came back to me. At that moment in the space flight, the three astronauts were in deep trouble. Life support and electrical power were insufficient to get them home alive. In the midst of the panic and confusion, NASA Flight Director Gene Kranz (played by Ed Harris), told the room full of engineers and flight experts —

“Let’s work the problem people. Let’s not make things worse by guessing.”

Immediately the team got to work focusing on their areas of expertise, explored every system and developed a series of solutions that miraculously saved the astronauts lives.

So I took that on as my new mantra — Work the Problem. Learn all I can and take the steps I can to protect myself and others. And celebrate every day of life in spite of the circumstances. Exchange worry for work.

Peace, friend.


The Invisible Cloud

Just inside the glass doors of the grocery store, I happened to glance up at the security mirror and I saw a scary-looking, gray-haired man in a faded orange tee-shirt, tan pants and work boots wearing a brown face mask. Immediately the thought popped into my head — That old man’s gonna rob the store! My heart bumped and I turned around to get the heck outta there. The store attendant who was disinfecting the shopping carts, laughed so hard she dropped the roll of paper towels she was using! I had quite literally mistaken myself as a grocery store robber!

As I found the items I needed, taking care not to interact with anyone, the heart-bumping incident unleashed a flood of sadness that had been building up inside. I like to chit-chat with people I run into, offer a funny line, wave at children, and smile at people who look depressed. And I certainly do appreciate it when others do the same for me.

Zoom, phone calls, emails and texts are good, but let’s face it — there’s no replacing eye-to-eye contact, the real sound of each other’s voices, and the non-verbal things we communicate without thinking.

I miss the strong, Southern voices of the women who cut my hair and the stories they tell about Guinea pigs, yummy purple-hulled peas with cornbread, and the latest storm. I miss trading sports quips with the 20-something fellows across the street who are heading out in their pickup truck for a night on the town. And I miss tossing the football with the ten-year-old boys on the street who play in their front yards way past the time when it’s too dark to see.

So when we all get out from under this invisible cloud, I’ve promised myself I’ll never again take for granted the everyday opportunities to be friendly to friend and stranger alike. There’s just so much to life that I don’t want to miss. Stay safe and I’ll see you in person on the other side!



SET-UP — Here in South Louisiana we have a lot of water. Many houses have ditches, 2 to 4 feet deep that run along beside the street and sometimes in between yards. If it weren’t for the ditches, everyone would have water in their living rooms.

I was returning from an early morning run a couple of days ago when I came upon a crew of bored-looking workers in our neighborhood standing around a trailer stacked full of beautiful cedar boards and beams. Not being one to miss an opportunity to chit-chat, I yelled out, “Y’all building a bridge?”

One of the fellows yelled back, “Nope. A fence.”

It was a short conversation, but it got me thinking … Fences or bridges? What do we need most? I concluded right away that we need more bridges and not so many fences, and I recalled a story about a fellow named Bob.

I worked for about 25 years in several states in the field of affordable homeownership, so I spent a lot of time raising money. Everywhere I worked I dealt with cities, states and the federal government, as well as foundations, to attract the grants and loans needed to make the deals work.

When I started working in a state not to be named, I heard through the grapevine that Bob, the government official I’d be working with for grants, was unfriendly, uncooperative, and generally a pain to work with. This was discouraging to hear, because Bob was the gatekeeper for grants, and I had no other choice but to work with him. Building quality, affordable housing is a tough job to start with. To be successful it takes a lot of hard work, a good deal of luck, and an unreasonable expectation of success. What I heard about Bob added to the weight of the task ahead. So I did what I often do when faced with a big hurdle, I slept on it.

Sure enough the next morning, I popped awake with one thought in my head … Bob’s going to be my next best buddy. I had no idea how I’d try to make Bob my next best buddy, but I had a clear goal and that’s always a good place to start. That day I called around to three or four other folks who, like me, worked with Bob for grants, and I asked them what he was like. I heard a lot of groans and complaints, and then someone mentioned that Bob loved basketball.

I made my first appointment to meet Bob and showed up at his office. I left my project plans on a chair in the waiting room on purpose. I introduced myself and asked Bob about his history and it didn’t take long before we were talking basketball. We must have talked about basketball for 20 minutes before he asked me why I was there. So I retrieved my plans from the waiting room, rolled out the blueprints and introduced my project.

For the next eight years I worked with Bob on one project after another and secured a good number of grants. He was tough on project feasibility, but that was his job. He had only so much grant money to award and he wanted to fund projects that had a high probability of success.

Basketball was the bridge between us. It was a lesson I carried forward to my next state and the others that followed. I discovered that there were people like Bob everywhere I worked, so I looked for the bridge … the human connection that makes all things possible.  



According to Merriam-Webster the COMMON MAN (PERSON) is defined as: “the undistinguished commoner lacking class or rank distinction or special attributes.”

I don’t know about you, but all the people I know on a first name basis are commoners. They are kids, schoolteachers, nurses, parents, waitresses, engineers, retired people, social workers, writers, programmers, mechanics, librarians … and one is an actuarial mathematician. Not a single one is a famous politician or criminal, TV or movie star, singer or entertainer, admiral or baseball player. When I think about the top-20 people who have been instrumental in my life — 100% are commoners.

I think Noah Webster, and George and Charles Merriam got the definition wrong. Let’s break it down:

Class — I worked for a department head many years ago who had so much class that when he had to fire an employee, he looked the person in the eye and was so straightforward and honest they shook his hand and thanked him on the way out. 

Rank Distinction — my mother, without a doubt, ranks #1 in many regards including communication, organization, loving us kids well and letting us go free.

Special Attributes — one professor in college, in the space of short interchanges on three consecutive Fridays, tipped me into taking full responsibility for my study habits and grades, and that took me all the way through graduation and into the work world.

In my retirement years I’m spending more time doing creative writing and self-publishing. Sometimes I tell people that my writing goal is to be famous posthumously. That usually gets a laugh. But now that I’ve thought about it a bit more, I’ve decided I’d rather be common posthumously. That way I’ll be in good company.



“Stories make us more alive, more human, more courageous, more loving.” Madeleine L’Engle

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” Joan Didion

In third grade I decided that writing stories might make me live forever, or at least to 120. A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since then, but I think that is a little slice of the truth.

I remember:

  • Dad’s story about Granddaddy getting the family car (a 1930s Ford Model A) stuck in the mud overnight somewhere between Louisiana and Texas in a snowstorm.
  • Mom’s stories of her father driving her and her friends around Arcadia, Louisiana in one of the first automobiles in that part of the country.
  • My children telling stories of their misadventures in school.
  • Exactly where I was and what I was doing on Friday, November 22, 1963.

Come to think of it – just about everything I remember is a story of sorts.

So why tell stories?

How could we not?

  • Without stories we’d wander only in the present, batted around by the stuff that happens around us.
  • Without stories we wouldn’t have a past. Like a kite without a tail, spinning around and around in circles.
  • Without stories we’d have no idea of a future to move toward. Like a car in the dark without headlights.
  • Without stories we couldn’t look back and laugh at the way we were in the past, or the difficult things we lived through.

Sharing our stories, layer upon layer, gives the human race a past, a future, and brings greater meaning to our individual lives.

Why do you tell stories?



Hey, I was THINKING to myself the other day about something, I can’t remember what anymore, when it occurred to me that “THINKING TO MYSELF” is a weird thing to say, or even to THINK, because how else can one THINK?

I tried to THINK of the last time I THOUGHT WITH MY WIFE, and that’s never happened. I’ve been in a lot of committee meetings over the years and don’t recall a single instance when we THOUGHT TOGETHER! 

Maybe there have been a few times when Ginger, our cat and I have THOUGHT TOGETHER, but he’s not at all inclined to talk, at least not with me, so I really can’t be sure of that. 

Now that I THINK about it, there’s another weird thing people say – “I’M THINKING OUT LOUD.” No you’re not! You’re TALKING OUT LOUD. I don’t know about you, but when I’m talking my mind is also THINKING! THINKING is just not the same THING as talking.

Hey, did you ever notice that THINK and THING have the first four letters in common? The only difference between them is a K (as in King Cake) and a G (as in Ginger).

Well … maybe I’m OVER-THINKING all these THINGS. I THINK I’ll go have a piece of King Cake with Ginger and lighten up.