Friday, June 4, 2010

Houston Texas

Van Aller Residence, Houston Texas

I arrived in Houston Texas two days ago after my drive across the Bayous of Louisiana. This is my first time in Texas and am excited to check out the Lone Star State. I am staying with The Van Aller's who are a Coast Guard Family. I have somewhat of a sad story to tell.

The picture above was taken in Seattle in 1989. Pictured is Dan Adelsburger, Gary Van Aller and the kid. Gary passed away from Pancreatic cancer two years ago. He was 43. Tragic. He was my immediate supervisor aboard my first Coast Guard unit, USCGC Polar Sea, homeported in Seattle. He came into my life at a critical time. Only 2 or 3 years older than me, he had a maturity about him that I just lacked. He was a natural leader, very disciplined and intense. Of his subordinates Gary required the same work ethic and discipline. At the time this was a painful transition for me. He was not easy to work for, but you always knew where you stood and what was expected. He could be brutal sometimes and was relentless with me at a time when I was a directionless punk who needed his guidance. At the time I had no idea of the shaping that was going on and the deep impact he would have on me.

Gary would turn a painting detail into a space shuttle launch. This was serious business and not only would the end product be done correctly, but the process leading up to the painting had equal weight. The ends do not justify the means. For example, Gary would require of us to know all the nomenclature of a paint brush, understand the different types of hair on said brush and by god you never dip that brush move than 1/4 the length of the bristles into the paint bucket or you'd be cleaning all the brushes aboard ship in the paint locker. I always thought it a bit extreme that he would make me calculate the dew point daily and read the surface temperature of the bare metal to ensure we always painted 5 degree's above the dew point, in accordance with the Colors and Coatings Manual. I find it troubling that I still remember these details after 22 years. But as Gary would say, "details Allaire details."

I developed a somewhat different leadership style, less intense than Gary. But I was left with core traits passed down from him. Don't baby people, but treat them with respect. Don't abuse power, but use your power when appropriate, but sparingly. And sometimes, when in charge of many people, especially folks less than two years out of boot camp, you must set a strict tone or your division can and will descend into a range of disciplinary problems that will dominate all your attention. Not all people who join the military and make it through boot camp belong in the environment. A good leader will spot the ones who will thrive, but need direction and guidance, such as Gary did with me. Conversely, I could spot the ones who would not make it from miles away. I likely would not waste my time with them. The rub with this is, the ones that you care for and want to develop are the ones who likely will find you, say a little brash. They will think why is this guy riding me all the time. But after a period of time you end up with deep friendships. This is how things worked between Gary and I. After awhile, he eased up on me, kicked me out of the proverbial nest and watched me take on more and more responsibility.

Here is a lesson from all you boneheads like me. Gary called me and left a message on my work phone. I was constantly on the road and staying in hotels and when I received the message I failed to call him back. Just busy. He said, "hey scumbag, you forget where you come from?" He passed away maybe two months later. I had no idea how sick he was and certainly didn't volunteer this information. Not in his nature.

I am staying with Gary's wife Peggy and their two children, Eric and Alex. Gary met Peggy during  that era in Seattle. What a great era it was. I've never me their children before, but I surely can see he left his permanent stamp on them. Very respectful. A real chip off the old block. It is obvious that he prepared his life in such a way that his family will be well cared for once he crossed the bar.

The VA's and Me

So thank you to Peggy and the kids for hosting me on my journey west. It is greatly appreciated and I think Gary would be pleased know I stopped at the home he and Peggy build. RIP Gary!

Capt Chris

PS: Any and all comments are appreciated. Don't forget that I have to push the publish button on the comments, so they will post soon after you comment. Next stop Austin Texas!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

New Orleans

India House Youth Hostel, New Orleans LA

I rolled up the tent and was off before 8am this morning, bound for New Orleans. Was an uneventful 200 mile drive and I arrived and was checked into the India House by noon time. It has been awhile since I stayed at a youth hostel and it always is an experience. Youth hostels are not for everyone, that is for sure. The requirements for India House are you must be an American Student or a foreigner on "holiday." Since I'm an admitted student and I hold a Florida drivers license, I made the grade.

For twenty bucks I have a bunk with 7 others. Shared bathroom (male and female combined, we are in an enlightened age mind you) galley, pool, wi-fi and tons of people from all corners of the planet. It really is a trip. Mostly folks in there twenties, everyone is either computing or texting, or Skyping. Most are drinking beer and lounging at the pool. A real scene indeed!

After a brief respite, I walked the 31 blocks to the French Quarter and Bourbon street. Pretty much what I had expected. It is very charming, but for a guy who doesn't drink, it's kind of hard to partake of all the debauchery.

Onward. Pat Hood and I go many years back. In fact we were stationed together aboard USCGC Washington in the early 90's. You can check some of those pictures by clicking here. Pat is just finishing up his tour with the Coast Guard here in New Orleans. Well he popped his head in at the India House unexpected like. I had not seen him in over 10 years, and then there he was.

Pat took me for a quick spin around New Orleans, especially the hardest hit areas from Katrina. Pat knows a thing or two about the storm. He is a Marine Investigator with the Coast Guard and was stationed here during the storm.

Condemed House Lower Ninth Ward

He took me to the Lower Ninth, which still looks like a disaster zone. The place is pretty sketchy. We didn't do any stopping along the way to chat with folks sitting on destroyed porches. Pretty sad. Not convinced it is worth it to re-build such a place. But I fully recognize that I don't come from the place and don't want to be cavalier about it.

We then took a spin to a little restaurant that sits adjacent the New Orleans Coast Guard Station. I woofed on some Cajon Gumbo and a salad. Pat also took me to the exact spots where the levee's broke sealing New Orleans fate. You can see the discoloration in the cement below where new concrete has been used to patch the levee. We also checked out the two dozen or so gigantic Cat Diesel pumps used to pump out the flood zones and control the levels in Lake Ponchatran. What a trip.
Levee Break Lower Ninth Ward   
Tomorrow I take off for Houston. I don't think I need another day in New Orleans. I suppose there are more things to check out, but time is pressing me west and if I'm going to burn time I'd rather do it else where. So I leave you with the below picture I took today. I love the paddle wheel boats, otherwise known as Steamers. Reminds me of Benjamin Button.

Capt Chris

Monday, May 31, 2010

Happy Memorial Day!

Fort Pickens National Park, Pensacola Florida

A huge thank you and shout out to all veterans, especially those in combat previous and present.

Pensacola Florida

 Today I left my parents house in Central Florida to start my drive out to San Francisco. I sprinted in light traffic for about 425 miles and secured a campsite at Fort Pickens National Park in Pensacola by mid afternoon. The place is wonderful and more desolate than I expected. The park sits on a barrier island named Santa Rosa, at the entrance to Pensacola's voluminous bay. The Fort was erected in 1824 and has multiple batteries facing the sea to repel invaders.

It is very beautiful here as you may be able to gather from the pictures. I set up shop and headed to the beach for a swim. The water must be in the 80's, calm and teeming with life.  A gaggle of bat rays went swishing by me as I was standing in water up to my knee's. I pressed further into the park on the bay side and was really bummed to see a fleet of boats deploying boom along all the bayside beaches. I suppose it is good, in the sense that they are getting ready, just in case the dreaded Gulf Oil Spill impacts Florida.

I've now set up a small base of operations at my picnic table  at campsite Delta 23, where I am typing to you from. Wonder how I get on the internet? My Blackberry is tethered to the Macbook. What cool technology for those of us who like to be connected.

I plan on pulling stakes tomorrow morning and heading for New Orleans. First time for me in the Big Easy. I'll catch up with you all then.

Camper Chris