Thursday, July 11, 2024

So Now I Get It - Hurricane Beryl Teachable Moments

Things I've figured out over the last four days (I'm kind of slow sometimes) being without power following Hurricane Beryl:

  • Even if you prefer cooking on an electric stovetop, there's a huge advantage after a hurricane in having a gas stovetop,
  • Unless you love cold showers and baths, a tankless water heater is not your friend because it requires electricity in order to rapidly superheat water whenever you need hot, or even warm, water,
  • A  built-in home generator is worth its weight in gold if you don't have one when you need it for an extended period, and if you try to order one now, it will literally cost more than the value of a full half-pound of gold (somewhere between $16 and $22 thousand),
  • one kind-hearted neighbor who is willing to share what he has in order to ease your situation is a life-changer. 
From what I understand, the number of people without power in the greater Houston area now totals about 978,000, down from the original number of 2.3 million people without four days ago. Of course, those numbers come from CenterPoint Energy, one of the most inept public utility companies in the nation - whose executives know that when this is all over, an accounting will be demanded by the governor, the mayor, and the Public Utility Commission. 

This has all the makings of a summer that will be remembered for all the wrong reasons.

Look for Me There - Luke Russert

Luke Russert's Look for Me There is, I think, a pretty frank and honest travel book and memoir, and I want to give Russert full credit for that. But in a nutshell, for me it's: not a bad book by an author I am left with mixed feelings about.

Luke Russert is the son of the beloved and universally respected news journalist Tim Russert. Tim Russert, while at work for NBC, died suddenly from a heart attack on June 13, 2008 while Luke (then 22 years old) was traveling in Italy with his mother. By October 2016, Luke himself had been eight years on the NBC career path he began after his father's death. But he was unhappy, unsatisfied, unfulfilled (you can choose the word or right combination of words), and decided to walk away from his job in order to explore the world for himself. 

"What pains me isn't just a latent wanderlust. The last eight years have been such a whirlwind that I've never fully processed my grief for Dad. It's apparent that I've spent so much time honoring his legacy that I've never truly accepted his death. Worse, by honoring that legacy, I have failed to forge my own life. I'm thirty years old and have no idea who I am..."

 So Luke, largely on his mother's dime, begins to travel from country to country as he slowly morphs into an Instagram addict who is only satisfied after he "drops a bomb" on his favorite social media platform. He stops traveling for pleasure and what he can learn about himself and the countries he explores, and begins to imagine that his Instagram followers actually need the content he posts:

"Whereas in the past I may have taken a moment to prep for the day so I could get more out of it, now I'm more focused on just getting it done and taking the needed pictures. Pictures are my muse. They provide content and, on Instagram, give people an idea of what I do. They somehow make me feel that I matter."

 I'm still not sure if Russert is telling me that he understands the shallowness of this admission, or if he's justifying the kind of traveler he soon enough became. Part of the reason that I wonder this is how terribly he resented his mother's attempts to tell him it was time to come home and get on with the rest of his life, to find some purpose in life other than keeping his Instagram followers happy enough to attach little hearts and comments to every picture he posted. 

But here's where it gets tricky. Luke grew up an over-protected son. According to Luke, his father never wanted to take a risk; he never traveled outside the country; he always had a plan for anything that could happen to himself or his family. And Tim expected Luke to live the same way. So did Luke begin his world travels as a way to run from that part of his father's legacy? Does traveling around the world solo make Luke feels as if he's beaten his father at something?

Long after everyone around him sees it, Luke finally does come around to the idea that he is wasting his life:

"What causes me the anxiety that leads to self-medicating? What am I searching for? Why did I feel so empty after living such a full, blessed, and privileged life?...Being part of a legacy also meant I was living in loss. I come to realize that I'm also beset with not only inadequacy but also its sibling - fear of failure - along with a real fear of mortality."

 Wrong as I likely am to be, this is where I end up with what Luke Russert has to say in Look for Me There:

Luke was a young man trying to live up to the expectations of a father he completely admired but to whom he felt that he could never measure up. His answer was to give up and wander the world and life for three years, finally deciding to be more like his mother: "spontaneous, creative, and experimental." 

Nothing wrong with that, I suppose. I hope he has his life together now.

Tuesday, July 09, 2024

Hurricane Beryl Was another Doozie

Looks like I completely misjudged the impact of Hurricane Beryl on the greater Houston area. Beryl was officially a Category One hurricane when it came through Houston, so I downplayed its impact in my mind only to find that we are going to be feeling the impact of the storm for several more weeks. This one was not so much a rain event as it was a wind event, so there's that.

However, at its peak some 2.3 million people were without power, and around half of those folks are still without power - including my entire part of town. We have had no electricity since 9:15 a.m. Monday, and have been warned that it could be another week before we get it back. I'll leave it up to you guys to imagine what life is like in the high humidity aftermath of about 8 inches of rain and temperatures approaching the mid-nineties. Let's just say it's not pleasant.

So I spent the afternoon grilling meat before it could go bad from thawing out all at once, and inviting the three grandchildren over to share a big meal toward the end of the day. Until a couple of hours ago, we were completely cut off from the internet, television, email, text, etc. so it felt a little like living in the 1950s. Luckily, a kind neighbor loaned me some kind of battery inverter that should give us about eight hours of just enough power to plug in the fridge, a fan, and the net. When it gets dark, we'll opt for a lamp or two until the thing fizzles, and then we'll try to find a way to recharge the battery in the morning.

So just checking in. Unsure how much I'll be around, but wanted to let everyone know that things are going relatively well considering all the wind damage we had. The eye of the storm went almost exactly over the top of my house, and I'm impressed by what 75-85 mph winds can do. 

I'll check in later...

Sunday, July 07, 2024

What I'm Reading This Week (July 8, 2024)


As I begin to prepare this update, Hurricane Beryl seems to have finally aimed itself almost directly at the Houston area and should be arriving in another twelve hours or so. That said, this is supposed to be a Category One hurricane, so it probably won't do the kind of damage we've become so accustomed to here in the last few years. My biggest fear at this point is losing power for an extended period of time.

My reading schedule has been a little different than it usually is because of all the driving I've done in the past two weeks. I did manage to finish up one book and read another while on the road: The Big Door Prize by M.O. Walsh and Off the Books by Soma Mei Sheng Frazier. Both books were enjoyable enough, I suppose, but I have mixed feelings about Off the Books. I found Frazier's style a little difficult to get comfortable with, and still haven't figured out how to describe the book accurately. I suspect that a formal review of that one is going to come together rather slowly.

I found this edition of Helen Keller's autobiography in the gift shop of her birthplace and home in Tuscumbia, Alabama last week. I'm one of those more familiar with Keller's girlhood as it was represented in the movies about her life than anything else about her, so it was fascinating to walk the same hallways and see all the rooms that were so important to her during her life - especially I think, the water well pump behind the house where it finally "clicked" that the signs she was feeling in her hand signified the word for "water." I'm curious to see how Keller tells her own story.

The premise of Off the Books is kind of interesting: a recent Dartmouth drop-out comes home to Oakland with not much of a plan for what's next. She finds herself driving a limo for a company that keeps her busy enough until her grandfather buys her a vehicle large enough to cut out the middle man and keep all the cash for herself. After a while, Mei seems to specialize in driving regularly for a cast of shady characters - and then Henry and his huge suitcase come into her world and it all gets even weirder. The writing style is not nearly as interesting as the plot, though, so I'm still digesting my feelings about this one.

Leslie White's Three Years a Traveler is one of those books that seems to have come out of nowhere for me. A few days ago, I had never heard of the book; today, I'm almost done with it and have thoroughly enjoyed accompanying White on her journey of self-discovery as she grieves the loss of both parents to cancer within a few months of each other. White needed a fresh start, and she found one with her decision to purchase an RV and hit the road as a traveling histologist willing to contract her services for a few months at a time in various hospitals all over the U.S.

 I haven't been reading as many books at the same time as I usually do because of my limited reading hours, so I'm wide open to new reading choices for the upcoming days. Here are a few of the ones I'll be choosing from after I finish Three Years a Traveler and Helen Keller's book:

Homegoing is historical fiction covering 300 years of Ghanaian history, and the descendants of Ghanaians who came to America as slaves.

The Dark Wives, scheduled for August 27 publication, is book number 11 in the Vera Stanhope series by Ann Cleeves. I've been holding off on this one, but I feel myself giving in now.

I'm a big fan of the Jane Tennison television shows but I've never read one of Lynda La Plante's Tennison novels. This one kind of fell into my hands recently, and made me wonder what I've been missing.

I'm at least three books behind on reviews I want to write (and hoping that my notes jog my memory in all the right places), so my reading time will still be a little limited this week. Too, it remains to be seen how much disruption the approaching storm will cause. Hurricane Beryl seems very determined to tour the Houston area before she's done, so we'll see how it all turns out. I'm still hoping for a big fizzle from Beryl. Have a great reading week!

Deliverance - James Dickey


James Dickey's Deliverance is a remarkable novel. The first time I read it, in mid-1971, I appreciated the novel for its sensationalism and thrilling plot about four city slickers who are forced into a kill-or-be-killed battle of wits and weapons in the Georgia backwoods that will redefine their lives. This second reading of Deliverance, however, has left me thinking about aspects of the novel I barely considered in 1971. Maybe that's because I'm (hopefully) a better reader than I was 53 years ago, but more likely it's simply because I realize now what people (even some of the "good" ones) are capable of doing to each other when they think they can get away with it.

The city boys are:

  • Ed - an ad agency art director who also serves as Dickey's narrator,
  • Lewis - the muscle-bound self-appointed leader of the group who has supreme confidence in his leadership abilities and physical prowess,
  • Drew - a financial advisor specializing in mutual funds, and
  • Bobby - a sales manager for a soft drink company.
The four men are happy enough with their work, but each of them craves a break in their daily routine, some kind of weekend adventure that will rejuvenate them by for another few months of what their daily lives have become. So when Lewis, who is also a champion archer, hits them with the idea of a canoe trip down a river valley that is about to be dammed up and flooded forever, it doesn't take much prodding to get the other three men to agree to the idea. And despite their complete lack of experience, and not not having a clue about what to expect ahead of them, all goes relatively well the first day.

Nothing, though, could have prepared the group for the violence and death they would face on the morning of the second day when two of them are viciously set upon by two of the scariest predators on the face of the planet: human beings prepared to take everything they own from them, including their sense of dignity and self-worth. Even though what happens in a sudden burst of explosive violence leaves Ed, Lewis, Drew, and Bobby shaken to their core, they know they can't allow the truth of what they did ever to be told - and then they realize that their attackers feel the same. There's only one solution...kill or be killed.

And this is when the novel changes from a thriller into something deeper in which Dickey explores the mind of a good man pushed to the brink, a man who comes to the realization that in order to protect himself, his family, and the only life they have ever known, he is going to have to become a completely different man than the one he believes himself to be. Can he do it? Should he do it? These questions are what make Deliverance so different a novel than the one I first read in 1971.

James Dickey, who died in 1997, was primarily a poet. He was an avid outdoorsman and archer who made his reputation as a National Book Award in Poetry winner and eighteenth United States Poet Laureate in 1966. Ironically enough, he is best known today for his first novel, Deliverance, which was followed by Alnilam in 1987 and To the White Sea in 1993.

Saturday, July 06, 2024

I'm Back - Just in Time for the Storm Watch

Even though it's been only fourteen days, it seems like I've been gone forever. Turns out that reading while wandering the backroads of Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana (along with a little bit of Tennessee) is not nearly as easy as I hoped it would be - mainly because I was pretty much exhausted by the heat by the end of each day for the entire trip. I am way behind on book reviewing - and the books are growing hazier in my mind by the minute - but I decided to begin with a quick "Hello Post" and a few pictures as I ease myself back into Book Chasing. 

So here are a few pictures that give a taste of what I've been up to for the last two weeks:

One of the 20-or-so murals on buildings in Clarksdale, MS

A view from the side of B.B. King's Gravesite 

The only surviving structure in the Vicksburg Battleground Park

Another of the Clarksdale, MS, murals

Friendship Cemetery, Columbus, Ms, site of America's first Memorial Day celebration

"Contraband Camp," Corinth, MS, home of freed slaves during the Civil War

Birthplace of Elvis Presley, Tupelo, MS

Muscle Shoals Studios, AL; toilet Mick Jagger composed "Wild Horses" on 

Hellen Keller home near Muscle Shoals, AL

Louisiana State capitol building, Baton Rouge, LA

View from one side of 27th floor, LA State Capitol

Cathedral in Lafayette, LA

500+ year old tree on cathedral grounds

All of these photos should be "clickable" for a larger, more detailed look.

The pictures are kind of all over the map - and so was my wandering. I never had more than a general destination in mind, and usually lost a lot of potential road time in favor of long conversations with the locals. It was a great trip, and it was exactly what I needed at that moment. More later if anyone is interested, but I do promise to get back to book-talk very soon. I've missed all of you, and can't wait to catch up on what everyone has been up to. for Hurricane Beryl, it's looking better for the upper Texas Gulf Coast today. We are likely to get some decent rain, but not the flooding rains we often get - and not a lot of wind.