Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Beginning of the Journey

Tomorrow night, Alexander and I will begin reading The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. We read The Hobbit almost a year and a half ago. I remember reading the series for the first time when my friend Rusty Thrower gave them to me when I was in Elementary School. I read them again in High School when I was working at Six Flags and once again during the summer working for Delta Air Lines during college. I always would take an evening shift and come home around midnight or so. Since it was difficult to get to sleep, I'd make a sandwich, listen to some Patrick O'Hearn music and read the books. The music is so ingrained with reading the stories for me that I will most likely put some tapes in the deck upstairs and listen to the music as I read them aloud to Alex. We just finished The Princess Bride last night.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Getting a Ticket

Insert "RANT MODE" here.

Yesterday afternoon I received a speeding ticket going to an appointment. It was for going 44 MPH in a 30 MPH zone. The officer was friendly and to be honest, quick in his citation writing. I have no complaints about him at all. I have three complaints however with the City I received the ticket in however.

  1. Arterial roads with 30 MPH speed limits. The Texas Department of Transportation sets speed limits on roads by measuring the speed of vehicles travelling down the road. It takes the 85th percentile of those speeds and then sets the limit. The limit may be modified up to 5 MPH above or below the 85th percentile. This way the road is driven according to its function.  The road I was on in is a functional class minor arterial. There are numerous collector roads from the surrounding subdivisions that feed into the road. It is a link in the frankly dysfunctional east/west arterial system of the City. Only three roads within the City Limits travel completely through the City without a disconnection. Two other disconnected roads fill a 2.5 mile gap between two of the major arterials. There is a significant amount of population living within that 2.5 mile gap. This situation shows a lack of ability and will to adequately finance and construct arterial roads through the City. Only now is one of the primary arterials being widened through - there are two major sections which have not been widened at this point - (both in the City which I received my ticket).  My point being -  more functional arterials = greater mobility = faster (but not unsafe) speeds through the community.
  2. The police vehicle which pulled me over was a Ford Expedition with no discernible markings whatsoever. While, I'm not debating the fact that a police force should be able to have unmarked vehicles - using them for the sole purpose of traffic control is primarily a revenue generator and not speed enforcement. A marked police car sitting at the same point on the road would "show force" that the City means business about the 30 MPH speed limit on that street. I would have double checked my speed instead of driving quickly to my appointment. I would have complied. No problem. I make a mistake in front of an unmarked car and immediately I owe $175 to the City. There is a difference between enforcement and revenue. It works in Code Enforcement - my department will issue a notice of violation - a "hey watch what you're doing" and provide you an opportunity to comply prior to issuance of a citation. A marked police car does the same thing. I honestly didn't know I was going over the speed limit. I fully realize that - but I'm not given the opportunity to correct my actions prior to punishment for infraction because the City is in a revenue mode.
  3. The final issue I have is the Municipal Court. I got up this morning, read the information on the back of my citation and headed to the Municipal Court to receive my paperwork to begin the process of defensive driving. The citation clearly states that I would lose all privileges of defensive driving if I don't contact the Court prior to the deadline written on the citation. There is not anywhere listed on the citation that I have to wait four to five days prior to contacting the Court to allow the citation to be entered into the computer. So I arrive at 8:00am (by the way, the citation states the office hours are M-F 8:00am to 4:30pm - the sign on the door says 7:00am - ugh, I'm late to work for this?) and I arrive to find out that my citation written a day earlier is not in the system and they can't get my paperwork together to allow me to pay my administrative costs and begin to get the ticket dismissed. I'll have to come back next week. I'm attempting to be a model citizen by doing my diligence in getting things accomplished and this is how I'm treated. Again, my community has automated ticket writing instruments which allow officers to write tickets, print a citation to the defendant and the information is transmitted wirelessly to the primary computer server and entered into the system. The City in which I received the citation has a contract for police enforcement with an adjacent smaller city - does the smaller city know they have a substandard system?
Again this is not a rant against the Police Officer who issued me a ticket (other than his bad handwriting which is almost impossible to read on the triplicate form he gave me) but against the system of management set up in the City which allows these things to occur. Better roads designed for higher (but safe speeds); marked police cars for traffic enforcement to ensure safety and compliance instead of punishment; and the utilization of technology to allow the necessary bureaucracy to function on a more efficient basis. These things make a better community - instead of one where form over function seems to be the course of order.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Oklahoma Trip

We had a lovely time in Oklahoma. We stayed at the Sheraton Downtown - which was much nicer than many people posted on review websites. It was especially nice since we paid Priceline.com prices for it.

We arrived in town on Friday July 23rd in the early afternoon - I was surprised by the shortness of the trip. I had thought it would take longer. Driving to Austin is much more harrowing. We checked into the hotel and went for a (hot) walk around the Bricktown area just adjacent to the downtown.

Bricktown was originally a storage warehousing district located adjacent to the conjunction of railroad lines at the southeast corner of downtown. It was named Bricktown because of the proliferation of red brick structures. In 1993 a public referendum allowed economic development funding through taxes and bond sales for the redevelopment of the district. The plan was to create a multi-use entertainment district centered around a minor league baseball park. Additional effort was placed to create a link throughout the district by way of a canal. The canal, constructed below street grade allows for pedestrianism separated from the streets and a brief respite from the driving heat of the day. Water taxi boats ride up and down the canal.

Primarily composed of restaurants - there is little retail - the area felt a little abandoned on an early Friday night. Most of the restaurants are not especially geared towards families and more to adults - which is fine. I did overhear conversations that the place gets really crowded on baseball game nights and post 8:00pm weekends. Sonic corporate headquarters is located there as well as a large movie theater. Very little housing is located in the district - which to my jaundiced eye makes me wonder about it's long-term sustainability.

We ate at a restaurant overlooking the baseball field and then went back to the hotel for swimming in the small, but adequate pool. Alexander found a friend to play with and Ford was fascinated that he could touch the bottom of the pool. There was a lot of wind that evening which was nice. We sat and watched the cranes building the new Devon Energy building - which from what I understand will be in the top 30 tallest buildings in the United States.

Saturday morning we met our friends Connie, Heather, Ali and Drew and their son Gibson at the Oklahoma Zoo. The zoo is rather large in acreage. I think it is larger than the Fort Worth Zoo. We had a terrific time. My favorite part was feeding the parakeets nectar in the bird enclosure. I had at one time five sitting on my arms and shoulders. The birds freaked Alexander and Ford slightly - so we went to the petting area where they were able to pet sheep and goats.

The guys thoroughly enjoyed the bats and nocturnal creatures area, Grizzly Bears and the gorillas.

After lunch we parted with Connie and her family and went to the Science Museum right next door to the Zoo. All of us (including Ford) were able to ride Segways. Alexander and Ford climbed up a two story treehouse; Alex enjoyed working a robotic arm and lying on a bed of nails.

That evening, we went to the Thomas' home in Yukon and had a great dinner and friendship conversation. The guys played Wii and we enjoyed the company.

Sunday we checked out of the hotel and went to the Oklahoma National Monument - the park setting at the location of the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. The area affected Meredith quite considerably. She was moved by the chairs and the reflecting pond. I was interested in the design and decisions made to incorporate the reality of the terroristic act into the space and the reclamation of the space integrating into the downtown. There is a open plaza in front of the museum in which sidewalk chalk is provided for children to draw on specially provided sidewalk areas. It was haunting in the warm morning air with church bells ringing and echoing through the downtown.

Later we went back to Bricktown to ride the water taxi through the canal system and then ate some terrific barbecue. Alexander and Ford shared a smoked bologna sandwich which was testing their boundaries a bit.

We drove south and made a quick tour of the University of Oklahoma in Norman. I quite liked the way the campus was part of the southern area of town. I didn't see the level of private development surrounding the campus that I've seen around Texas A and M and the University of Texas, however.

That afternoon we arrived in Davis and checked into our hotel/cabin area near Turner Falls. We drove up to the lookout over the falls and finalized our decision that we didn't want to go there - it looked extremely crowded and a little dirty. We did drive over to the Chickasaw National Park in Sulphur, OK and drove through several of the park areas. Free to access, there were several areas on the creek areas which were small waterfall areas and lots of families swimming. We checked out the Junior Ranger Station were Alex and Ford made paper lizards and received their workbooks that once finished, would allow them to receive badges and patches declaring them "official" junior park rangers.

We went to the nature center to begin filling the workbooks; watched a short film about the park, and then walked up a 3/4 mile trail to one of the original natural springs which fed the creeks in the area. Sulphur gets its name from the more sulphur/bromide springs which come from the lower rock formations and aquifers in the area. Each of the remaining five springs in the area has a different mixture of minerals in the water coming from the different geologic strata. Each week, the park service tests the waters for ecoli and other biologics to assure the quality of water for swimming and for drinking - as many people come to the area to fill water bottles of the stuff. The water coming out of the ground is approximately 68 degrees so it was gloriously cold in the heat of the afternoon.

We went back to the cabin and had a light dinner and watched movies anticipating our big day of swimming.

Monday at 9:00 am we arrived back at the national park. We had a waterfall called "Little Niagra" all to ourselves for over an hour. We stayed there walking over the waterfalls climbing up the side of the boulders placed there 70 years previously. The water was cold, but it was fantastic. I took to occasionally jumping off of the waterfall into the 7'+ deep pool underneath. It was fun watching others arriving at the creek and taking their first steps into the cool water and then making the plunge.

We eventually convinced Alex to jump into the water with me from the waterfall. He said afterwards that the best part was jumping - the worst part was landing in the cold water.

Later we loaded back into the car and drove south to look at the rest of the national park area and went to a swimming /picnic area on a point in the Lake of the Arbuckles. All of us got into the lake which was much warmer in comparison to the creeks. The lakebed was very stony and we all had fun dredging up rocks from underneath our feet and tossing them across the surface of the water. There was much teaching of the proper size and shape of skipping stones and the correct angle they should be thrown in.

That evening we showered and went to Ardmore for dinner. Looking around, we settled on Two Frogs near the interstate and had a terrific cajun dinner. Ford ate a child's plate of fettucini alfredo which was almost the size of his head.

Afterwards we drove through a thunderstorm back to the cabin and saw a full double rainbow. We ate fried pies and went to bed.

Tuesday we packed up and drove completely around Lake Murray. I was disappointed with the lodge, as my memory had it as a much nicer place. It was fairly run-down and had a musty smell. The privately-owned play area was very expensive for the time and activities they had. We climbed to the top of the tower on the lake and took pictures.

We arrived back home a little afternoon and had lunch at our favorite steak place in Roanoke. For a small vacation, we were able to do a lot of stuff and were happy with going to Oklahoma City that we want to make a return trip to see some of the other museums and activities. Chickasaw National Park will be a definite return trip as well.