My fellow Americans: America is already pretty great

We don’t need to make America great again because America never stopped being great.

We can’t live in the past or move backwards out of a flawed sense of nostalgia for an America that can only be seen through rose-colored glasses.

“We, the people” must move ever forward as we strive to become a “more perfect union.”

America is the undisputed leader of the world in many areas, but a follower in other areas – and that’s okay.

The United States of America is not perfect
. No nation is, was, or will ever be perfect.

We can’t allow ourselves to be defined by fear, anger or hate.

Humility, accurate self-reflection, good-faith intent and measured self-confidence are the hallmarks of mature, stable people – and nations.

A great nation isn’t a bully and isn’t run by bullies. 

A great nation isn’t motivated by fear, anger or hate.

A great nation doesn’t intentionally seek profit at the expense of weaker, poorer nations.

America faces two roads that diverge – two roads that lead to very different futures.

History is a quiet, patient teacher that will let us learn a lesson the hard way.

Before we willingly chose a path of anger or populism, we should look at the history of the many failed nations and empires that made similar choices for similar reasons.

We should never forget that ideas have consequences.

We must not forget how we earned our current place in the world – by standing up for our best principles, by fighting hate at home and abroad, by welcoming huddled masses who yearn to be free and by valuing the inalienable equality of all humanity.

Many of us are understandably frustrated and angry with the political shenanigans that have plagued our system in recent years, but we can’t succumb to our baser instincts in the moment to support a cure that will very likely be worse than the disease.

Looking back on my totally insane school bus project

skewlysite-headergraphic

In early 2005 I was surfing the web when I stumbled upon a random website about a guy who converted an old, yellow school bus into a motorhome. I was intrigued. The project was cheap, creative and a little bit crazy — all words that could be used to describe me.

Later, while driving near my neighborhood in the Nashville, TN area, I noticed a used school bus for sale at a very reasonable price.  After a quick mechanical check and test drive, I was the proud owner of an old, yellow school bus of my own.  I immediately began the process of converting the bus into a recreational vehicle.

IMG_3156
This shot was taken the day I got the bus, March 15, 2005. I couldn’t wait to start removing some of the junk that I hated. The old, rusty school bus mirrors and windows were the first of many things to come off.

Believe it or not, there are lots of people who have converted school busses into all sorts of things. School bus conversions are collectively called “Skoolies” around the Internet. I liked the name, but wanted to personalize the idea a bit, so I decided to call ours the Skewly. To complete my conversion project I creatively “borrowed” ideas from lots of people and even came up with a few ideas of my own.

The main reason I wanted to do this little project was to have a hotel room on wheels that would allow my family to travel across the continent in style, for as little money as possible.

I bought the bus from a church and it looked as if it had been waiting to be purchased for quite a while since it had a nice coat of rust and mildew over every square inch. I wasn’t sure on first glance if the bus was going to be a keeper, but I jumped in, turned the key and the motor instantly started.  The engine and chassis were in good shape, so I overlooked some of the more glaring body problems.

I spent several months prepping the bus and removing anything I didn’t think I would need. I only wanted the empty shell of the bus, the engine and the drivetrain — everything else had to go.

I probably should have taken more pictures of this process, but I was having way too much “fun” doing it. What a pain! I estimated it would take me about a day to get all of the seats and other junk out of the beast. Three days later I was finished. Rusty bolts, creative aftermarket engineering and other interesting time wasters were a large part of the process.

I can tell you one thing, though. I don’t think any RV out there is built as tough as a school bus. This thing is steel EVERYWHERE. It is built like a tank. I pity the standard fiberglass and wood motorhome that tries to go head to head with this baby.

beuatyshot
I used professional automotive paint and techniques to paint the bus and it actually looked pretty much like a factory paint job. With air conditioners, an auto-tracking direct broadcast TV satellite dish, an awning and tour bus mirrors, the bus looked quite different than the average old, yellow school bus. This photo was taken Sept. 3, 2005.

After months of engineering and tinkering, the final bus was ready to take on the road. For our first trip we had traveled through 5 states: Tennessee, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky and Washington D.C. We traveled nearly 2500 miles.

We had the bus for a few years, but I decided to sell it to another bus conversion hobbyist after taking a job overseas.  It was an incredible project that I will always look back on with fondness.

The finished interior
The finished interior
The driver's seat
The driver’s seat

“Semper Gumby,” Always Flexible

Gumby
“Semper Gumby,” Always Flexible

One of the interesting catch phrases I learned while working as a civilian employee of the U.S. Army is “Semper Gumby,” which means, “Always Flexible.”  It is used as a tongue-in-cheek war cry when something inexplicable occurs to necessitate an abrupt course adjustment or change in plans.  I’ve learned that it is a very valuable personal philosophy for the workplace.  As I go through the daily process of accomplishing my designated mission it has become clear to me that I must endeavor to remain flexible, if for nothing else to retain my own sanity. As I am presented with an especially challenging circumstance (or person), I find it comforting to invoke those simple words and change my attitude.

I have a job to do.  If I can remain flexible and open to possibilities, I can navigate any difficulties that arise while maintaining a reasonably pleasant outlook.

As I go forward and deal with a particularly prickly co-worker or a inordinately intricate mandatory procedure I remind myself that I must always remain flexible.

So, like Frank Costanza’s cry of “serenity now” from the TV sitcom Seinfeld, I chant “Semper Gumby” and press on…

Texas-shaped things

I’ve been meaning to write a blog post about this ever since I noticed the Texas-shaped thing phenomenon here in San Antonio. As a new resident of Texas, I wasn’t aware that many household items and other common things come in two forms: the normally shaped version and the obviously improved Texas-shaped version.

Texas-shaped Snack Platter
A Texas-shaped snack platter in the local grocery store
Texas-sized jelly beans in a Texas-shaped container
Here are more Texas-sized jelly beans in a Texas-shaped container.

It seems that Texans are intensely proud of their state — apparently, even the shape of it. I’ve lived in several states, but I’ve never been in a place where the people seem so intensely interested in the geometry of the geography.

Below are some examples of Texas-shaped items I’ve seen since I started living here in San Antonio:

A suede, Texas-shaped pot holder
A suede, Texas-shaped pot holder.
Texas-themed shapes are everywhere
Don’t even get me started on the longhorn-shaped things everywhere. Remember the Alamo!
Texas-shaped cookie cutter/biscuit form?
I’m guessing you can make Texas-shaped cookies or biscuits with this.
Texas-shaped waffle iron
I even found a Texas-shaped waffle iron at a hotel where I stayed while I was looking for a house.
Texas-shaped waffle batter
You pour in a lake of Texas-shaped waffle batter and…
Texas-shaped waffle
…end up with a Texas-shaped waffle. I have seen these Texas-shaped waffle irons in every Texas hotel with complimentary breakfast.
A Texas-shaped peanut confection.
Even candy is Texas-shaped.
Texas-shaped birthday cake
Of course, our family felt it was only fitting to participate in this Texas-shaped madness. My daughter baked and decorated this Texas-shaped birthday cake for a friend’s birthday.
Texas-shaped, cowboy-hat-shaped and cowboy-boot-shaped cookies
I forgot to mention all of the cowboy hat and cowboy boot shaped things.
Texas-sized Jelly Beans
These jelly beans aren’t Texas-shaped, they’re Texas-sized.