Never Accept a Ride From a Stranger

Never Accept a Ride From a Stranger

When you were young, remember how your parents told you never to get in a car with a strange man? Well, this is the harrowing true story of the time a young, innocent couple accepted a ride from a strange man. And by strange man, I mean ME. A cautionary tale.

When you were young, remember how your parents told you never to get in a car with a strange man? Well, this is the harrowing true story of the time a young, innocent couple accepted a ride from a strange man. And by strange man, I mean ME. A cautionary tale.

They seemed like such a lovely young couple, deeply in love. They had their whole life ahead of them. They were on their honeymoon, without a care in the world. And then, they made a fateful decision that just might change their destiny forever. They did something incredibly reckless and impulsive, as young people are wont to do. They accepted a ride from a complete stranger. I saw the whole thing unfold because, well, um, that stranger was me.

Austin and Ali from Kansas City, KS, were vacationing in the British Virgin Islands (BVI). I now realize that they probably would not like if it I mentioned them by name, so henceforth, I will refer to Austin and Ali as Jeff and Beth from Lawrence, KS, to protect their anonymity. They were on a day trip to an idyllic tropical island called Jost Van Dyke and had taken a taxi ride to a remote beach, where they were frolicking in the ocean waves.

Unfortunately for this innocent couple, there was someone else lurking nearby: ME – and my wife, Michele. It turned out that we had similar plans for today, as we too were on vacation, and we had recently been on our own honeymoon 34 years prior. Like them, we’d heard that the most incredible beach in the entire BVI was on the opposite side of this extremely rugged, mountainous island. Austin and Ali, I mean Jeff and Beth, had just one small problem. They had no car. They would have to call a taxi driver and wait another 30 to 40 minutes to be picked up.

That’s when they made what could only be described as the worst lapse in judgment of their very young marriage, They accepted my offer to drive them to the other beach, The four of us piled into our cramped Suzuki hatchback rental car, whose main power source, I can only surmise, based on this experience, must have been four AA batteries.

This is Ali and Austin, I mean Beth and Jeff, a lovely couple on their honeymoon. Don’t they look sweet? Well, within minutes of this photo, they’d be praying to God to let them survive the ordeal I would soon inflict on them.

This is Ali and Austin, I mean, Beth and Jeff, a lovely couple on their honeymoon. Don’t they look sweet? Well, within minutes of this photo, they’d be praying to God to let them survive the ordeal I would soon inflict on them.

I was the driver, Michele the navigator. A word about roads in BVI. Even the very best of them are bad, filled with potholes, way too narrow, no lane divider markers, and extremely twisty, with lots of blind hairpin turns. And you have to confront all these obstacles while mastering driving on the wrong side of the street. But today, there wasn’t a “best road” in sight. No, we unwittingly embarked on a fool’s errand to test my driving skills on the most grueling road I would ever attempt in my life.

Michele consulted Google Maps on her phone for the quickest way to get across the island to the other beach. Apparently, the app must have thought we were using a helicopter or a zeppelin because the route it selected took us right over the very top of the island. Or perhaps the BVI version of Google Maps was designed by Satan. Because someone was out to get us this day.

I apparently missed the sign that said, “CAUTION: ONLY IDIOTS ARE PERMITTED TO TAKE THIS ROUTE” because within one minute, we had diverged from a paved surface and found ourselves routed to a dirt and gravel path barely wide enough for one vehicle.

I recall distinctly asking Michele, “Are you sure we’re on the right road? This doesn’t look right,” to which she calmly replied, “Yes, I’m sure. Google says this is the most direct route.” And of course, by “direct route,” what Google apparently meant was the most direct route to ensure your imminent death.

Very quickly, I realized we had made a horrible navigational error in choosing to go this way. If this route qualified to be considered “a road”, then having watched two seasons of Grey’s Anatomy qualified me to be “considered” a brain surgeon.

While this is not our vehicle or our road, this is a lot like the road we took, only safer.

While this is not our vehicle or our road, this is a lot like the road we took, only safer.

The trek became steeper and steeper, and narrower and narrower. The cliffs were easy to see because there were no pesky guard rails to block my view of the 1000-foot sheer drop-off. The further we drove, the rougher the terrain got. The boulders got bigger, the ruts deeper, and in many places we were attempting to scale an incline with a 45 degree angle or higher, sometimes transitioning to a switchback requiring us to make a sharp blind hairpin turn while accelerating up a steep uphill.

If there had been someone driving from the other direction, one of us would have had to make the very difficult choice to drive off the cliff, because there was no way we could pass each other on this narrow obstacle course. But I needn’t have worried about the possibility of someone coming at me from the other direction, because there was no way more than one idiot would try to cross this Highway to Hell.

As all our heads jostled up and down uncontrollably with every bump, like cheaply made bobble head dolls, I wondered what Jeff and Beth must have been thinking: “Lord, we will go to church every Sunday for the rest of our lives if you’ll just deliver us from this nightmare” or maybe, “Why did you agree to get a ride from a complete stranger? Maybe he’s a serial killer. Or worse – a Suzuki used car salesman!” 

The further I drove, the worse conditions became, Then I noticed that the pitch of the thoroughfare sloped noticeably to the right, and I had to fight to keep the car from drifting rightward, towards the cliff. Going downhill wasn’t any easier. I kept pumping the brakes over and over, to keep this freight train from barreling off the cliff as I tried to negotiate one 160 degree turn after another. But I stoically kept my fears to myself, so as not to alarm our passengers – except for the four or five brief moments when I came upon yet another gut-wrenching hairpin turn and I blurted out, “HOLY SH*T, WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE!!!”

I’ve been to Italy’s ancient star-crossed city of Pompeii. Two thousand years later, their roads still were in better condition than what I had to contend with. During our nerve-racking ordeal, I was increasingly worried that this might end badly. I had visions of the lead story on CNN the next day: “HONEYMOON COUPLE MURDERED BY TERRORIST SUICIDE DRIVER,” followed by a related story on how Suzuki hatchbacks are not recommended for off-road travel.

Can you find a road in this picture? Neither could we. But this is a photo of the road we took. In many sections it was almost impossible to tell where the road was. This is a “road” my ass, Google!

Can you find a road in this picture? Neither could we. But this is a photo of the road we took. In many sections it was almost impossible to tell where the road was. This is a “road” my ass, Google!

This misguided journey took us over the literal peak of the island, through what was inarguably the most treacherous terrain I had ever attempted. If you could ignore the fact that in minutes we were all most likely going to perish in an agonizing 1000-foot crash, I have to say, the panoramic view from up here was rather magical.

After what felt like three days, but was probably closer to 40 minutes, we reached the most beautiful sight I’ve ever seen: a paved street. Somehow I had delivered the newlywed couple to their destination physically in one piece (albeit emotionally in tatters). I thought about asking them for $25 for having provided them with a thrilling memory they would undoubtedly tell their grandkids one day, but Michele thought that would be in poor taste.

Hopefully, someday Jeff and Beth will be able to forgive me for the terrifying experience I put them through. Maybe they’ll even laugh about it. They had to head back home to Kansas the next day. I briefly thought about offering them a lift to the airport. But something told me they’d probably prefer a taxi instead.

That’s the view from the bleachers. Perhaps I’m off base.

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© Tim Jones, View from the Bleachers 2021

The Challenge of Getting People to Follow Instructions

The Challenge of Getting People to Follow Instructions

Recently I sent an email asking my 11 racquetball buddies to fill out a 30-second survey. I asked them to indicate when they’d prefer to play, choosing from six available times. That was apparently a much harder ask than I realized. I might as well have been asking them to provide the formula for the next COVID vaccine.

Recently I sent an email asking my 11 racquetball buddies to fill out a 30-second survey. I asked them to indicate when they’d prefer to play, choosing from six available times. That was apparently a much harder ask than I realized. I might as well have been asking them to provide the formula for the next COVID vaccine.

For years, I’ve played racquetball with a group of about a dozen men ranging in age from 62 to 83. Until COVID hit, we played doubles games every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 8am to 10am. We would rotate teams after every game so that everyone had a chance to play. That is, until COVID shut the club down.

Recently, our club has partially opened back up but with strict health safety restrictions, including only allowing two people on the court at a time. (There’s only one court.) So, I was asked to send out an email survey asking everyone which time slots each person most preferred to play.

Okay, how hard can it be to get the group’s input on this simple question?  Turns out, way, way harder than I thought. Here’s how the group attempted to answer my 1-question survey.

GROUP EMAIL FROM TIM: Hey, everybody. The club is re-opening for limited racquetball play. So, I was asked to send around this survey to ask everyone when they’d most like to play. Because of the limit of only two players on the court at a time, we want to avoid having all of us show up at the same time, understand?

It’s a really simple survey. Just look at the six time slots available. Then email me back your preferred time slots to play, from 1st choice to 6th. Easy Peasy. To make it even easier for you, I provided this simple pre-filled example grid, to show you how to respond.

 

 

 

RAY’S REPLY: Yes to all.

TIM: Um, Ray, Not sure what to do with your response of “Yes to all.” Can you just fill out the survey with 1 for your top choice and 6 for your least preferred time slot?

NED’S REPLY:

 

 

 

TIM: Um, Ned, it appears you just copied and pasted my example and sent it back to me. Can you replace my example numbers with your own preferred times? Thanks, buddy.

GEORGE’S REPLY: Monday: 1, Wednesday: 1, Friday: 1

TIM: Hey, George. Thanks for replying so quickly. But you can’t make all your choices 1’s. Please stack rank the six time slots from 1 to 6. If this is still not clear, just call me.

CORY’S REPLY:  Tuesdays work best for me. I could also do Saturdays.

TIM: Sorry I was not clearer in my email, Cory. Tuesdays and Saturdays weren’t options. Have we EVER played on Tuesdays or Saturdays? If you slow down and re-read my instructions, you’ll see there are six time slots to choose from, two on Monday, two on Wednesday and two on Friday. Okay, buddy?

NED’S SECOND REPLY: Oh, sorry about my confusion earlier. Here you go!

 

 

 

TIM: Ned, you’re still sending me back my example survey, just like you did before. Please give me YOUR preferred times, okay? You don’t need to use the grid if that’s too complicated.

JOHNNY’S REPLY:

 

 

TIM: Johnny, have you taken your meds yet this morning? Not sure what to make of your responses. And what exactly do you mean with “okay?” Can you help me out, dude? Let me try this one more time: I’m looking for one number, 1 to 6, in each box. Got it?

FRANK’S REPLY: Here you go, Tim. Thanks for putting this all together.

 

 

TIM: Um, very helpful feedback, Frank. Great job at not falling into the trap of actually following any of my instructions.

RICK’S REPLY: I would like to play. Thanks for asking.

TIM: Rick, buddy, throw me a bone. Just READ THE FREAKIN’ INSTRUCTIONS!! Fill out all the boxes. Put a number 1 – 6, in each box. This is not rocket science.

RICK’S SECOND REPLY: Sorry about that. I wasn’t wearing my glasses before. Here you go.

 

 

TIM: Much better, Rick. Mission accomplished, buddy. I think it might be time for your nap.

NED’S THIRD REPLY: How about now? Better?

 

 

TIM: Ned, whatever you’re smoking, can I have some of it? Your latest response establishes a fairly lucid awareness of several days of the week. But I have to ding you 5 points for your final answer. Technically, “banana” is not a day of the week. I’ll send you a copy of our home game just for playing. Now, go have a donut. You’ve earned it.

NORMAN’S REPLY: Tim, when you say, rank our preferences from 1 to 6, with 1 being our top pick and 6 being our least preferred pick, do I win anything if I guess all the correct answers?

TIM: Yes, Norman. Yes, you do. You’ll win The Congressional Medal of Honor. Thanks for asking.

BERT’S REPLY:  Do I need to wear shorts?

TIM: Bert, what an excellent, totally on-point question. You can show up however you like, in boxer shorts, a tuxedo, or your favorite clown costume. I really don’t care. Sorry for taking you away from watching Judge Judy.

GROUP EMAIL FROM TIM TO ALL:  You guys are all killing me. Just read the F*CKING INSTRUCTIONS. As I stated in plain English – which apparently is a second language for many of you – I just want you to list your time preferences, ranked from 1 to 6. How is this so hard to comprehend? You know what? Never mind. Forget it.

The more I think about it, I need to apologize. I failed to grasp the enormous complexity of my survey question. It was not fair of me to ask everybody to give me answers using the first six numbers of our counting system. In hindsight, I realize now that I should have included a five-page set of instructions, with diagrams, a refresher on how numbers work explaining how 1 is a smaller number than 6, along with a detailed FAQ anticipating likely questions such as “what is a number?”

Forget about giving me 1 to 6 answers. Instead, feel free to reply any way you’d like. Perhaps just send your opinion on which is better, pie or cake. Or maybe share a quote from your favorite Tom Hanks movie. Or just enclose a photo of your favorite pet from your childhood. Any of these will be every bit as helpful as the feedback I’ve received thus far. Thanks.

That’s the view from the bleachers. Perhaps I’m off base.

PS: If you enjoyed this week’s post, let me know by posting a comment, giving it a Like or sharing this post on Facebook.

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© Tim Jones, View from the Bleachers 2021.

How to Create Your Own YouTube Channel in 386 Easy Steps

How to Create Your Own YouTube Channel in 386 Easy Steps

I recently launched my own YouTube channel. It will be a smashing success, just as soon as I convince Oprah to endorse it and Elon Musk to invest in it – or buy me out for $3 billion.

I recently launched my own YouTube channel. It will be a smashing success, just as soon as I convince Oprah to endorse it and Elon Musk to invest in it – or buy me out for $3 billion.

Recently I launched my very own YouTube channel. Why did I decide at the age of 65 to undertake such a daunting new challenge? Simple: I’m an idiot. To fully understand why I did this, I need to go back eleven years, to 2009. That’s when, on an otherwise uneventful August day, I did something unbelievably reckless: I listened to my wife.

She suggested I write a humor blog. Being an obedient husband, I did just that. 11 years, 450 articles and a few thousand frosted cinnamon pop tarts later, I’m still writing. I’d have been a millionaire by now, if only someone had offered me a million bucks – to stop writing. But no one did, so I’m still at it.

Not sure what my point was. Oh right, never listen to my wife. A few months ago, she had another brainstorm: “Hey, honey? Why don’t you start your own YouTube channel? Bring your favorite humor articles to life.” Being a slow learner, I did just that.

I spent sleepless nights pondering a name for my channel. I decided on – now this may surprise you – View from the Bleachers. Having perused the nearly 60 million YouTube channels out there, I noticed there is a serious shortage of juvenile humor content. I figured I’m just the person to fill this void.

This venture has made me a wiser man and I feel it incumbent upon me to share that wisdom. First, if you are even remotely toying with the notion of starting a YouTube channel, DON’T DO IT! If you are a glutton for nitpicking, critical feedback and flame comments from strangers who are easily offended about everything, then sure, go for it. However, to retain any shred of self-esteem, I recommend stamp collecting as a hobby instead.

If you’re still intent on pursuing your own YouTube channel, there are a few tidbits you need to attend to as you embark on your journey toward fame and fortune… and eventual disappointment and despair.

Step One: What is Your Channel About?

First things first. You need to decide on your focus. What do you want to communicate? Is it teaching orangutans to sew a quilt from jungle leaves? Helping inept husbands create gourmet meals without torching the kitchen? Or perhaps something even more futile, like teaching teenage texters the importance of punctuation.

Step Two: Get Your Equipment

Now that you’ve crystalized your message to the world, it’s time to blow your savings on the rudimentary gear needed to produce your incredibly fascinating video series on the history of Paper Mache. You need: a high-def camera, large green screen background, quality lighting and stands, lavalier microphone (a must-have), tele-prompter device (to scroll the script), video editing software program, an agent to promote you, an accountant to launder your vast earnings in the Caymans, and an attorney in case you get sued for copyright infringement. 

This is my recording studio. I’ve taken over our guest room. Can you tell what’s missing? You guessed it: a cat. Also, any chance of success with such a cutting-edge set.

This is my recording studio. I’ve taken over our guest room. Can you tell what’s missing? You guessed it: a cat. Also, any chance of success with such a cutting-edge set.

Step Three: Ask Friends for Input

Accept that you’ll no doubt make several rookie mistakes, like not noticing that your cat was licking its privates in the background through the entire shoot. Invite your friends to give feedback on initial test videos – on what works and what doesn’t. They’ll have no trouble with the latter, offering helpful advice, like, “Slow it down, dude! I can’t understand a word – not that I’m really interested” and “The lighting is way too dim. I can’t see your face – but your bald spot shines through” and “Do you have the slightest idea what the hell you’re doing?”

Step Four: Find New Friends

You’ll soon learn that everyone’s a critic and nothing you create measures up to your friends’ high standards. The most encouraging suggestions I’ve received so far have been: “We can’t all be winners” and “I’m sure you can find a buyer on eBay for all that equipment you blew your money on.” Who needs friends like these? Best to say adios to these dream killers. There are scores of folks eager to friend you on Facebook. Just don’t discuss politics. Trust me.

Step Five: Find a Video Editor

Creating a humor video is 20% humor writing and 80% technical wizardry. I already had a ton of content from my eleven years of writing. All I had to do was read it with some flair, right? Wrong. There is recording (1 hour), editing a five-minute video (five hours), removing all my verbal stumbles (3 more hours on a good take), locating background images, choosing theme music, and honing my acting skills. When it was all done, I noticed I had forgotten to wear pants. I needed a lot of help (in more ways than one).

There are services that will connect you with independent video editors who can do everything you need for incredibly reasonable prices. I found a very capable video editor in Pakistan. Oh, to be sure, he doesn’t understand English, and I can’t speak a word of Urdu, and all my videos end up running in reverse order. But he charges a very fair rate. And he says if I ever make it to Pakistan, he’ll let me ride his camel.

There are literally thousands of videos like this one, promising to reveal the hidden secrets to make your YouTube channel a success. All you need are some web tools to improve your keyword selection, creative social media strategies, and Stephen Colbert to host all your videos.

There are literally thousands of videos like this one, promising to reveal the hidden secrets to make your YouTube channel a success. All you need are some web tools to improve your keyword selection, creative social
media strategies, and Stephen Colbert to host all your videos.

Step Six: Learn How to Maximize Traffic

What good is having your own YouTube channel if nobody knows it exists? That’s why you should google topics like “What was I thinking starting a YouTube channel?” There you’ll find helpful tutorials explaining the 5,000 critical tasks guaranteed to propel your channel to the top 25 million most watched.

You have to learn about keyword maximization, search engine optimization, meta tags, and much more. Thankfully, there are tons of free tools out there to help build traffic to your new channel, just as soon as you upgrade to their Pro version for only $15 / month, or better still, the Platinum package for just $49.95 / month.

There are about 379 more steps, give or take, to optimize your channel’s one-in-a-million chances of going viral. Personally, I suggest just doing all your YouTube videos in the nude – especially if you’re Scarlett Johansson. I’m confident your channel will be trending in no time.

As for me, I’m committed to doing whatever it takes to make my new YouTube channel a tremendous success – unless someone wants to offer me $500 today to walk away. No reasonable offer will be refused.

That’s the view from the bleachers. Perhaps I’m off base.

PS: If you enjoyed this week’s post, let me know by posting a comment, giving it a Like or sharing this post on Facebook.

Subscribe to my new View from the Bleachers YouTube Channel and request notifications to see my latest videos.

© Tim Jones, View from the Bleachers 2020. Edited by Betsy Jones.

Travels With Grumpy

Travels With Grumpy

This is me, Grumpy, with my owner. I’m the one in front. We have been together for over 40 years. One of us, on a good day, still has the maturity of a nine-year-old. I’ll let you guess which one.

This is me, Grumpy, with my owner. I’m the one in front. We have been together for over 40 years. One of us, on a good day, still has the maturity of a nine-year-old. I’ll let you guess which one.

Hi, there. I’m Grumpy. No, not that Grumpy. I’ve never met Snow White. Do I look like one of her minions? No, I’m Grumpy the bear. My owner, Tim Jones, adopted me in 1980 when I was a mere cub, barely 4 inches tall (and wide). I’m still the same size today because he never feeds me.

I need to get some things off my chest. I’ve kept silent for the past forty years. That’s in part because, technically, I’m a stuffed animal, with no vocal chords nor, for that matter, a mouth – unless you call this tiny strand of yarn below my nose “a mouth.”

You see, I’ve been bounced around by Tim, his sister Betsy, and their pal Dale for decades. The three of them have traversed the globe, taking turns with me riding shot gun. I’ve been to five continents – six if you count Iceland. Go ahead – correct the brainless bear by pointing out that Iceland is technically not a continent. Why would you expect a stuffed animal to be an expert on world geography? I’ve had virtually no schooling, since Tim and his cronies never saw fit to take me to school with them – , or even so much as let me watch a TED Talk. So cut me some slack, okay?

Over the past forty+ years, I’ve trekked to Paris, Berlin, Rome, Ireland, Switzerland, Russia, Botswana, Zambia, Malawi, South Sudan (during a civil war, I might add), Indonesia, China, Machu Picchu, Bali, and Scranton, PA, just to name a few. (Gotta say, I was surprised how much I liked Scranton. Good people.) Oh, and one more destination: The North Pole. More on that later. Dale, through his contacts at NASA, arranged for me to ride on the Space Shuttle, but then they cancelled all Space Shuttle flights forever. A pretty extreme way of keeping the Grump from exploring outer space.

Lest you’re thinking, “Wow, Grumpy, what a charmed life you’ve led. I’m so jealous,” – don’t be. These were not exactly Rick Steves tours – with the exception of a Rick Steves tour we took of Northern Italy. Um, what was my point? Sorry. With fluff for brains, I get easily distracted.

My point is that most of these journeys were no picnics. While I have explored all four corners of the globe, it is usually in cargo, in the bottom of a suitcase, inside a shoe, with no view and no free soda and peanuts.

When Tim and I flew to Paris, sure, he took a selfie of us in front of the Eiffel Tower. But did he let me check out the view at the top? Heck, no. It was one quick photo, then slam – back in the backpack.

Top row, L to R: Grumpy balancing atop a termite mound in Botswana; studying a map of Ireland in a B&B in Shannon; NOT catching the view of Mont Saint-Michel, France, from our hotel room. Middle: Grumpy checking out Komodo Dragons in Indonesia; downing Fanta’s with the locals in Zambia. Bottom: Grumps contemplates his empty glass of Merlot, oblivious to the 9th century Mahayana Buddhist temple behind him; so close to bathing at a sacred temple in Yogyakarta, Indonesia; examining the wrought iron work on a balcony in Paris.

Top row, L to R: Grumpy balancing atop a termite mound in Botswana; studying a map of Ireland in a B&B in Shannon; NOT catching the view of Mont Saint-Michel, France, from our hotel room. Middle: Grumpy checking out Komodo Dragons in Indonesia; downing Fanta’s with the locals in Zambia. Bottom: Grumps contemplates his empty glass of Merlot, oblivious to the 9th century Mahayana Buddhist temple behind him; so close to bathing at a sacred temple in Yogyakarta, Indonesia; examining the wrought iron work on a balcony in Paris.

One time, Tim, Dale and I trekked to Zermatt, Switzerland, home of the world-famous Matterhorn. I was stoked to join them skiing down the powdered slopes, taking in the incredible vista. But Tim shattered my dream,  claiming skis didn’t come in my petit size. I doubt he’d try that lame excuse on his true favorite stuffed animal, his brainless beagle Snuffles.

When Betsy ventured to Machu Picchu, she made certain to snap the classic tourist photo of me with the ancient ruins in the background. But before I could ask, “Is there a Starbucks nearby?”, boom again, back into the duffel bag, wedged between a leaking water bottle and her sweaty socks. I gave her a scathing Yelp review.

Throughout these wanderings, I’ve spent countless nights in dodgy lodgings. Man, these three people are cheap. They seemed to prefer hotels without elevators. Picture me scaling the stairs on my half-inch paws to Dale’s 4th story room in Jakarta. Whoever manufactured me didn’t know much about teddy bear paw design. But there was a bed – which  Dale wouldn’t let me snuggle in. I had to crash in the sink. Not even a pillow, much less a mint.

Here I am at the North Pole, thanks to a really crappy cruise ship. Not complaining, but the all-you-can-eat buffet sucked, and they wouldn’t let me play shuffleboard unless I agreed to be the puck. So unfair. [This is a real photo of Grumpy at the North Pole. At top is a photo of the actual Russian ice breaker Grumpy took to reach the pole.]

Here I am at the North Pole, thanks to a really crappy cruise ship. Not complaining, but the all-you-can-eat buffet sucked, and they wouldn’t let me play shuffleboard unless I agreed to be the puck. So unfair. [This is a real photo of Grumpy at the North Pole. At top is a photo of the actual Russian ice breaker Grumpy took to reach the pole.]

When Tim and I flew to China, I was exhilarated! Maybe I’d see the Great Wall, or perhaps the Terra Cotta soldiers. Wrong again. Turns out, he was there to adopt some cutesy baby girls, not travel with Grump. In fact, my presence was an accident as I wasn’t even supposed to be in his luggage. Guess how much attention he paid me once he stared into their innocent googly eyes? Correctamundo. None. I would have been better off back home hibernating.

Don’t ask me what the food is like in London, Lugano, Leningrad, or Lusaka. How would I know? Tim, Dale, and Betsy rarely took me out for dinner. I haven’t a clue how I’ve survived these 40 years without a proper meal. Oh right, because I’m an inanimate object made of stuffing. Duh!

Even my trip to the North Pole was bogus. A friend of Tim’s booked passage on a Russian cruise ship sailing out of Murmansk and I hitched a ride. The view from our cabin? One star. Nothing to see see see but sea sea sea. The unlimited buffet featured only unlimited cod. Do I look like a seal? No casino, no wave pool, no Trivia Night. A total bust.

We fought pack ice for seven days before finally reaching the pole. I picked the wrong time of year to shed my winter coat. It was freeeeeeezing out! But what a thrill to step onto a massive ice floe. Not bragging, but I’m pretty sure I’m the first fake bear to have set foot, er, paw, at the North Pole. Talkin’ to you, Fozzie. After that fleeting commune with nature, I was back below deck.

Through all these misadventures, I’ve stoically accepted my place as the quiet, accommodating sidekick. I never complained, despite the fact that not once in all of my globe-trotting did my travel buddies let me bob in the hot tub or order room service – or even use the remote. That’s why I had to set the record straight.

Uh oh. I just overheard Tim talking about another trip to Paris. Oh, non, non, non! Parisians are such snobs.

That’s the view from the bleachers. Perhaps my owner, Tim Jones, is off base.

L to R: Dale, Cousin Betsy, Tim, Sister Betsy, Dave

L to R: Dale, Cousin Betsy, Tim, Sister Betsy, Dave

[Author’s note: The story behind the story: When I was in my twenties, I bought a small teddy bear. Round and about the size of a softball, he had a frowny face. So, I named him Grumpy. I decided that all my closest friends needed their own Grumpy’s, including my sister Betsy and my friend, Dale. So, I bought them each their own. I wasn’t going to share mine! See photo.   

It eventually became an ongoing challenge between me, Betsy, and Dale to take photographs of our respective Grumpy’s in increasingly exotic locales. The three of us have been doing this for the past forty years. 

Many of the most extraordinary trips mentioned in this piece were taken by Dale or Betsy, both of whom share a love of travel. But it was my Grumpy who actually sat on the pack ice at the North Pole, having trekked there in a Russian ice breaker. Suck it, Dale and Betsy! – TEJ]

PS: If you enjoyed this week’s post, let me know by posting a comment, giving it a Like or sharing this post on Facebook.

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© Tim Jones, View from the Bleachers 2020. Edited by Betsy Jones.

I Think I Need a Haircut

I Think I Need a Haircut

With the Coronavirus pandemic, I’ve been doing my best to shelter in place. I sure wish I could get a haircut, though. It’s starting to get a tad out of control.

With the Coronavirus pandemic, I’ve been doing my best to shelter in place. I sure wish I could get a haircut, though. It’s starting to get a tad out of control.

Throughout my life, I’ve never had what you would call “long hair.” I’ve always sported that clean-cut, All-American look – the kind when I was young that endeared me to any dad and got me a free pass to date his “little girl.”

Why, you ask, as a child of the 60s, was I not a long-haired-hippy-freak? For starters, I attended an all-boys military school that had a strict dress code. “A cadet’s locks shall not exceed two inches nor touch the top of his ears”, lest he incur the wrath of the Headmaster and receive two demerits for hating America and disrespecting God.

You’ve probably guessed that my parents were of the conservative bent, who believed that any teenage lad with long hair was either plotting to bomb an Army recruitment center or become a ganja-fueled roadie for Bob Marley and the Wailers, both equally unacceptable.

Don’t get me wrong. Despite my restrictive, cloistered upbringing, when I got to college, I tried shaking things up with my appearance. Like the time I bought a pair lavender corduroy striped bell-bottoms. (What were you thinking, Tim?) I was thinking it would be groovy to sew a large Smiley Face patch on the pant leg. (Seriously, dude, have you no sense of fashion?) The answer would be a resounding “No” – not then or even now, according to my wife.

During graduate school, I finally broke out of my squeaky clean Pat Boone persona by growing a beard. Just my luck, it came out white and orange. I resembled a walking creamsicle. Speaking of ice cream (my favorite dinner time staple) donning a beard made eating a deeply unpleasant culinary experience. Dribbles of Rocky Road would drip off my whiskers or get encrusted in the tangle of my mustache. Something had to go – and it wasn’t going to be my Rocky Road! After only two months, I was squeaky-clean-shaven once again – much to my father’s approval.

The bottom line is, I can’t pull off long hair (or a beard, for that matter). Now that I’m in my sixties, if I go for three days without shaving or grooming (trying for the trendy grunge style), I look like I woke up from a bad bender – which sucks because I don’t even drink

And now I find myself, like everybody else, stuck in the middle of a pandemic with orders to shelter in place. It’s been over three months since my state’s governor first issued a mandate to stay at home as much as possible. Oh, sure, conditions in my area have been slightly loosened in recent weeks. We can now go to the hardware store, so long as we wear a mask, maintain a safe social distance, and are completely encased in bubble wrap.

I don’t mean to sound like my problems are worse than anyone else’s. After all, I have Amazon Prime and Netflix, so, technically I could hole up in my man cave, eating frozen pizza for several more years. But it sure would be nice to get a trim. It’s been five months since my last one. If I have to wait much longer, my daughter will start braiding my hair and I’ll qualify to be the backup drummer for Metallica. I know I shouldn’t complain. After all, my three older brothers went bald decades ago – a fact I enjoy pointing out whenever we get together.

Even my cats are tired of my shaggy, messy guise, unless they suspect a mouse is hiding within. I lack the cool factor to pull it off. That’s why, back in March, thinking ahead, I bought a Nose / Hair Trimmer on eBay.

This is me circa 1977, with the longest hair I’ve ever had – until now. Man, I was such a radical back then.

This is me circa 1977, with the longest hair I’ve ever had – until now. Man, I was such a radical back then.

It finally arrived this week, after a mere three-month wait. I missed the fine print that stated it was being shipped from China, via Pony Express. Unfortunately, what I thought was a Nose AND Hair Trimmer turned out to be a Nose Hair Trimmer. So, every day, my mane continues to look increasingly like an Old English Sheep Dog. On the plus side, my nasal follicles have never been more perfectly coiffed.

Thankfully, our governor announced this week that Phase Two has begun. This means hair salons can resume business. The place I usually go to has an app by which you can check in remotely and it tells you what time to show up. After three hours, they even called me to tell me I was third in line for a haircut. So, I headed over to my local hair styling establishment and announced my arrival. The receptionist could not find me in their system. It turns out my reservation somehow got re-routed to a sister salon located in Oregon. Did I mention I live in Washington state? I figured I’d probably be late for my appointment.

“When can you get me in today?”, I asked my local salon. That elicited a hearty laugh from the receptionist. “Oh, there’s no way we could possibly get you in today. Try back next week.” Since then, every time I have checked, the wait time has been four hours or longer. I guess I’ll have to continue doing my Rod Stewart circa 1973 impression a little while longer.

In the meantime, I need to find my nose hair trimmer. I think my nostrils are due for another trim.

That’s the view from the bleachers. Perhaps I’m off base. 

PS: If you enjoyed this week’s post, let me know by posting a comment, giving it a Like or sharing this post on Facebook.

Check out my latest humor book: YOU’RE GROUNDED FOR LIFE: Misguided Parenting Strategies That Sounded Good at the Time

© Tim Jones, View from the Bleachers 2020

My Awesomest Extreme Prank

My Awesomest Extreme Prank

Sometimes people worry that there are no depths to which I will not sink to pull off a practical joke. They’re probably right to be concerned. This is the true story of the best practical joke I ever pulled – which almost got me arrested.

Sometimes people worry that there are no depths to which I will not sink to pull off a practical joke. They’re probably right to be concerned. This is the true story of the best practical joke I ever pulled – which almost got me arrested.

I love to play practical jokes. Hard to believe, I know, being as shy as I am. Sometimes I pull off an Oscar-deserving gag – like the time I ambushed my oldest friend at the Columbus airport in disguise (see photo at right). Due to the resulting lawsuit for mental anguish, I cannot use my friend, Bill Anderson’s, real name here.

Though we both grew up in Albany, NY, I had migrated to Seattle and Bill to Baltimore. One day, Bill’s wife Johanna phoned to invite me to visit. “I know Bill would love to see you.” I replied, “I wish I could, but I used all my frequent-flyer miles for an upcoming family reunion in Columbus.” Johanna became really excited and asked, “Columbus, OHIO? Really? When are you going?”

It turned out that Johanna and Bill were going to be in Columbus the exact same weekend as my daughter and I (to attend a wedding). They were arriving one day after us, which got me thinking… and plotting….

Bill and I are life members of Pranksters Anonymous, always one-upping each other. This was a golden opportunity to pull a huge one over on my old buddy.

The stage for my plot was set: the Columbus Airport’s baggage claim area. I scrounged up some fake rotted out teeth (think Deliverance), donned dark sunglasses, a baseball cap, and a whistle. For extra measure, I stuffed a pillow under my shirt, making me appear 60 pounds heavier. Even to my daughter, I was unrecognizable.

As Bill, Johanna and their kids descended the escalator, I launched my sneak attack. Waving a pair of tickets, I started shouting, “Get y’ar tickets hee-are fer duh Columbus Crew sockuh game.”  Imagine a melding of hillbilly drawl and chain-smoker’s growl.

Cornering an unsuspecting traveler, I bellowed, “Howdy, mistuh. Y’awll look lahk a good sport. I got deez two tickets faw tanight’s soccuh game. Wanna buy ‘em? – half price. I need thuh money for alimony. Mah Ex is bleedin’ me dry. Help me, please.” I made sure I was loud enough for Bill to hear the entire play-by-play. The poor chap bolted into the crowd.

My next mark was within three feet of Bill. I hit my stride with an even trashier story:

“Exkyoose mee, sirrr. I’z awuhndrin ifn you’d lahk ta buy deez here tickets. Great price. I cain’t use ‘em cuz thuh wife dunn grounded me onaccounta me gitten drunk and sleepin wid her sister Shirley. Again. Wudduya say, buddy? Help a poor felluh out.” With utter revulsion, he scrambled away, mumbling “Hell no.”

I was confident my ultimate target had heard both pestering conversations. Time to go in for the kill.

I invaded Bill’s personal space with the same sandpapery, hillbilly, slow-talkin’ sales pitch: “Whutta purty family you got der sir. I bet duh kiddies would love to see a perfessional soccuh game. An’ I just happen to have some tickets. Best price in town.”  Bill was surprisingly gracious, replying, “Thank you for the offer, but we have other plans.” He hustled his family away like a papa bear protecting his cubs from some predator.

I surreptitiously followed them to the luggage carousel, It was clear Bill had no idea who I was. As  he reached for his bag, I came out of nowhere and grabbed it. “I got it, sir. Hey there! Fancy bumpin’ into you again! This sure is yer lucky day!” Bill was taken aback and momentarily flustered. My chance to close this deal.“Now, ya’ seem lahk a man who knows a good investment when it’s staring him in the eyes,” I proclaimed, as I shoved the tickets in his face. “Chance of a lifetime.”  

 “Um, no thank you,” Bill  anxiously muttered, as he futilely tried to wriggle out of this awkward situation without it turning ugly.

I looked to Johanna and remarked, “Wooo-eee! Is this lovely lady your wahfe?”

Full frontal attack with a party horn, soccer tickets and a little too much personal touching by an absolute stranger.

Full frontal attack with a party horn, soccer tickets and a little too much personal touching by an absolute stranger.

“Um, uh, yes,” Bill stuttered, inching in front of Johanna as if to shield her from an encroaching snake.

I was a dog on a bone. “Heck, mister. I can tell yer a upstandin’ Christian, and duh Good Book says to help out dose dat’r down on their luck…Please. Jus’ $50 – a steal.” 

Now, the art of practical jokes is to push the target almost to the brink of losing it, and then make the big reveal. We were almost there.

I cajoled, “You look lahk awfully nice people. I’m willin’ to just give ya’ duh dang tickets – No charge. Deal?” 

Bill sheepishly caved, no doubt just to get rid of me. To his horror, I started cheering, “Yeehaw! You are one lucky man!” I pulled out a party horn and blew loudly, announcing to the gathering onlookers, “Folks! This here gentleman is going to the Co-lum-buss Crew soccuh game! Woo-hoo!”  I presented Bill with the prize tickets like he had won the lottery, patting him on the back and making a raucous scene.

Bill desperately wanted to escape this close encounter of the uncomfortable kind, so I decided it was time for the Final Act.

I started to turn away, paused, looked back, and asked, “Hey buddy, don’t I know you from somewhere?”

“I’m quite certain you do not,” Bill rebuffed, suddenly becoming assertive.

“Are you absolutely certain?”

“Positive!,” Bill said even more forcefully.

Here I am with Bill after my big reveal. If I tried this stunt nowadays, sadly, I might not need the “fat” pillow. Sigh.

Here I am with Bill after my big reveal. If I tried this stunt nowadays, sadly, I might not need the “fat” pillow. Sigh.

Cuz you sure look an awful lot like this fellow I once knew named … [long dramatic pause]… BILL ANDERSON.”

“How do you know my name?” Bill was completely flummoxed – how could this annoying vagrant ever have been an acquaintance?

Well, I gotta say, it’s kinda disappointin’, Bill. To think you don’t recognize me,” I continued with my thick-as-molasses gravelly drawl. “Cuz I sure as shootin’ remember you. You really don’t remember…. (slowly removing my teeth, sunglasses, and pillow, and then in my normal voice) … “your oldest buddy in the world, Tim Jones?”

Bill’s jaw hit the floor two levels below. Speechless, he stood there in shock and disbelief for almost a minute. Then he burst out laughing. “That was awesome!!” he exclaimed with a glint in his eyes – a rather mischievous glint. And I knew right then there will come a day – I don’t know when and I don’t know where – when Bill will undoubtedly even the score. I can’t wait. Your turn, Bill.

That’s the view from the bleachers. Perhaps I’m off base. 

[Postscript: As I was writing this column, my daughter Rachel informed me that as I was playing my little charade, unbeknownst to me, airport security personnel were watching and moving to intervene. Rachel was able, somehow, to keep them at bay by explaining that I was harmless, I was her dad and that it was just a lighthearted practical joke I was playing on an old friend. So they backed off. I had never known this part of the story until just now.]

PS: If you enjoyed this week’s post, let me know by posting a comment, giving it a Like or sharing this post on Facebook.

Check out my latest humor book: YOU’RE GROUNDED FOR LIFE: Misguided Parenting Strategies That Sounded Good at the Time

© Tim Jones, View from the Bleachers 2020