Honorable Mentions

Holy smokes….how did we get to the end of June so quickly?

As I umpire high school and miscellaneous baseball games around the area that I reside in I come upon various situations that I find notable if only for the way that they stand out.  They are as follows:

  • I was working a 13U AAA baseball game as plate umpire where a parent had set up a Bluetooth speaker at the back stop directly behind home plate.  It blasted classic rock anthems between innings and made the game more enjoyable, in my opinion.  After the game I saw the parent retrieving the speaker and thanked her for sharing it with the rest of us.  Her reply “Oh thank you.  Sometimes umpires don’t like it played.”  Well lady…THIS umpire enjoys AC/DC so keep doin’ what you’re doin’.

 

  • I was working another 13U A baseball game.  “Long hits to the gap where sure doubles are turned into singles” is what I thought as the entire line up could hit the ball well…they just couldn’t run to save their lives.  Dead serious…I think I out ran them on several occasions.

 

  • I’ve completed three complete seasons without getting hit in “the danger zone” with a wild pitch or foul ball.  It’ll happen eventually…again…but until then I say a simple prayer of thanks.  #deadserious

 

  • On that subject….I was hit hard in the inner thigh with a foul ball earlier this season.  A “son of a b*tch!!” escaped my lips before I knew it.  After regaining my composure I apologized to the batter and catcher.  “Don’t worry Blue…” the catcher replied.  “I hear it all the time from Coach.”  #bruisedbutforgiven

this bruise is typical for umpires…

  • I was squeezed into a concession stand for an hour with a bunch of ten-year old players waiting out a torrential rain (without much luck).  Firstly…ten year old’s are still children…acting like children except when its something that they’ve totally bought into.  “Yeah…we’ve got football camp coming up next month” one told me.  “Is it pretty intense?” I asked the group.  “OH YEAH!!  Two hours a day for a week!” replied the ringleader in a serious tone normally reserved for only the most important subjects.  “How’s the coach?  He usually work you guys hard?” I continued.  “Yeah.  That’s him over there selling Laffy Taffy at the window.”   The coach was a rotund man in his fifties…selling concessions to keep the boys in uniforms, equipment and baseballs.  #laboroflove

 

  • Secondly….ten-year old’s sometimes have little sisters who have to tag along.  This group had a little blonde kindergartner sister who wasn’t satisfied staying on the fringes of this group of boys….she had her nose stuck in their business whether they liked it or not.  From what I saw I think that most of the boys were fine with it….or just totally ignored her altogether.  Later in the day an opposing team was chanting “we got spirit!  Yes we do!  We’ve got spirit!!  How bout you?!”  but before anyone could answer them they’d shout “WE’VE GOT MORE!!”  This didn’t sit well with little sister and she’d yell back at them from the safety of sitting on a blanket in front of her parents lawn chairs.  In-between innings I walked over to her and asked “you know that kid shouting that stuff…?” She looked up at me from behind the back stop.  “I think he’s flirting with you…”  I’ll say this…kindergarten girls know what that means because she just about cut me in half with her icy glare!  Everyone else enjoyed my little jab….but her.  #shehasthelooksthatkill

 

  • Coach Talk: “YOU STRUCK OUT THE SIDE!!” to his pitcher.  Technically speaking the pitcher being praised did strike out three batters...but he’d pitched through the batter order twice in the same half inning, allowing a ton of runs.  Needless to say the game ended at the bottom of the third inning due to mercy rules.  #18-0

 

  • There are times during the baseball season when our sweaty equipment doesn’t dry out.  Working day and night games…it gets old.

 

  • “Hey Blue!  Can I have a new ball?!”  calls the pitcher.  “Sure thing sport!”  I reply.  As I empty my ball bag into my hands I ask “do you want the one with grass stains or the one with a crease from hitting the back stop?  I got this one that’s almost as dirty as the one in your hand.”  Two pitches and a foul ball later he’s back to his original ball.  #summerball

 

  • “We’re looking for only the BEST umpires….” read the opening line to an email looking for help at a tourney that was sent to me.  “How the hell did I end up on this list?”  is what I openly asked no one in particular.  There’s more games to umpire than umpires to work.

 

  • Between rain-outs and a nagging injury that started in January with the basketball season, my umpiring season has fizzled out.  I love to officiate basketball.  LOVE.  IT.  Baseball is a springtime whirlwind affair.  Assigners email, text and call…begging for open games to be filled with umpires.  I get it….but I’m tired, sore and trying to figure out what’s in store for me with this injury hanging on.  I’m serious enough to see my doctor about it for the second time.  This….is unchartered territory for me.  #gimpy

 

  • My last game of the season.  I enjoy being the plate umpire.  I like being there for every pitch.  Involved.  Maybe its the showman in me coming out.  I know that much about myself, I like the limelight.  I’ve learned when to let the game go about its business and when I need to take charge and use my voice to keep things in order.  When I’ve kicked a call I’ve admitted it.  There’s a fine line between being arrogant and being confident.   While I’m no where close to being what I could be….I’m still better than what I was.  #workinprogress

 

  • Sterling was one of my catchers yesterday at my last game.  He’s a gamer.  Loves the sport…I didn’t need to ask…I can tell.  He’s a left-handed catcher…which is a rarity.  His throwing style was to catch the pitch and then whip it directly in front of the right-handed batters noses.  I could see that the batters noticed this…and I think it may have unnerved a few of them…being more afraid of being hit by the catcher than the curve ball missing pitcher.  Did I mention that Sterling had a mullet?  You just don’t see many mullets these days, and as far as mullets go…it was a good one.

 

  • One of my pet peeves is players not hustling.  I’ve been known to growl at players unnecessarily holding up a game.  The hotter it is…the shorter my fuse.  On more than a few occasions this season, as courtesy runners walked onto the field, to replace a runner at first, then slowly half-assed jogged towards first I, more than once, hollered “IT’S COURTESY RUNNERS NOT COURTESY WALKERS!!”   The message received, their pace quickened considerably.  #grumpyump

 

  • My last game of the season had a temperature at game time in the high eighties.  With all of my equipment on…I was sweating my ass off.  True to form…the baseball gods sent the game into extra innings.  

 

  • For the second game of yesterdays doubleheader I took the field as the base umpire.  As I placed my bottles of water along the fence I spied an elderly lady prying open a can of Pringles.  I inquired “did you bring enough to share…?”  “Of course I did.  I’m a grandmother!” she shot back.  (she didn’t offer up any for me either….)

Our games ended without fanfare…as most do.  My partner and I fist bumped and headed our own separate ways until next spring when baseball is again played in weather much too cold, on fields that have just lost their frost, by boys who are still learning the game from men too old to play.  I hope that I’m there.  #Hiswillnotmine

Thank you for coming along,

God bless…

R

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Six bruises later…

Alas…three weeks into my baseball umpiring season and these stories are the notables of what’s transpired thus far:

I belong to several officiating forums from all over the country.  I don’t participate in the forums so much as read anything that might pertain to me and be of use in my officiating.  Without question there are usually several reports of coaches, parents and even athletes behaving poorly, even threatening the umpire.  Truth to told…I’ve had a couple of instances where the coaches have crossed the line and deserved to be booted from the game.  These happened early in my career so I didn’t handle them as appropriately as I could have.  Lessons learned the hard way I suppose.  With that in mind I approach each game with an open mind and only address the coaches when I need information from them.  It keeps it professional, in my opinion.

In one of the first games of my season I was the plate umpire.  I wear $95 MLB shin guards, a $100 plastic & foam chest protector, a $30 Shock Doctor protective cup and a  $150 hockey-style mask with $4.95 detachable throat protector.  I do whatever I can to protect myself and still do a good job.  Second batter of the game swings at a pitch and sends a screaming foul ball directly into my throat.  In an instant I’m spun around and doubled over clutching my throat.  In the milliseconds it replays in my mind I see my throat protector fly off into the air.  Both coaching staffs and my base umpire rush to my side to make sure that I’m okay…which I am…thank God.  The ball hit above my chest protector, below my helmet and directly onto the cheapest part of my equipment…bending one of the two snaps that hold it onto the mask.  One coach stood with me while a coach from the other coaching staff worked on my helmet…manhandling it until the throat protector was reattached,  A few days later a couple of bruises appeared on my collar-bone where the energy of that foul ball was expended.  My point is…these coaches didn’t have to come out and help me.  I’d like to think that they came out of their dugouts out of compassion and concern for another human being.  I believe that the vast majority of coaches are good people with good intentions. #thatsbaseball

In the same game a batter swung at a pitch and fouled it off of his face.  This was a big kid for his age.  Literally six feet, two inches tall and only fourteen years old.  He started yelling immediately.  The pain he was experiencing was completely obvious to anyone within earshot.  His coaches took him into their dugout as mothers for the team hurried about getting Advil and ice for the injured young man, while one wiped blood from his mouth.  I felt that he’d lose a tooth or two, maybe even fracture his jaw.   Baseball can be a brutal game.  #brutal

 

In the second game of that day I stopped into the dugout of the team of that injured young man.  “How’s #23 doing?” I asked to no one in particular.  One kid looked at me and replied “He’s right there….”.  Number twenty-three leaned forward, looked at me and in mid-bite of a Snickers bar answered “ahh…okay…”.  No lost teeth.  No broken bones…just a resilient, hungry teenager getting ready for the second game of a doubleheader.  #dangkids

In the second game of the same day, I was behind the plate again…none the worse for wear.  My collarbone ached from the earlier hit, but that’s part of the job.  The first batter got up, swung at a pitch and sent it back into my face mask, knocking it askew with its force.  Its been my experience that one foul ball to the mask doesn’t hurt, though it definitely gets my attention.  Some are so fast that they’ll make my jaw ache.  This particular batter looked back at me and asked if I was okay.  I adjusted my helmet and replied “I’m good.  Let’s go.”  The batter smiled and countered “Wow…that’s twice in one day that I’ve nailed you!”  It was the same kid that got to me in the first game with a foul ball to the throat.  #ouch

In a more recent game a pitcher was throwing heat, and had a curve ball that would occasionally curve, which is about right for 13U baseball.  While up to bat the oppositions coaches would yell to their batters “stand as far back in the box as you can!!”  Over and over the coaches pleaded with their team to “STAND BACK IN THE BOX” thus giving their hitters more time (albeit milliseconds) to see and attempt a swing at the incoming fastball.  One such batter glanced at me, rolled his eyes and slowly shook his head at his coaches exultations.  He stayed put in the box.  Struck out swinging.  #goodforyouson

And lastly….as a plate umpire I introduce myself to the catcher of each team prior to the first batter.  It goes like this:

  • Dust off the plate
  • Ask the batter if they’re ready
  • Extend my hand to the catcher and say “I’m Rich”

The catcher returns my handshake (some begrudgingly…) and usually replies with his name.  If not I won’t let his hand free from the handshake and reply …and you are?”  I don’t do this to intimidate the kid….I do it to get them into the habit of practicing this for when, and if, they move up to high school baseball.  I finish this little ritual with a pat on the catchers shoulder and tell them “if you have any questions just ask me, we’ll sort it out together…okay?  Let’s have some fun.”  

In my fifth and final game of the day I started this little ritual again.  My catcher was only about four feet tall and maybe sixty pounds.  He was his teams third-string catcher but made up for it with hustle and determination.  When I told him my name he replied “Demetrius”.  I replied “Nice to meet you Demetrius”.  The kid shook his head and tried saying his name again without me understanding it.  He lifted his tight-fitting hockey-style mask up just enough for the pads to clear his jaw and replied “GLAD TO MEET YOU.  I’m Cal.”  I chuckled and told him “I like Demetrius better.  Let’s see what happens and have some fun Cal.”  Good kid that Demetrius.  #smallbutmighty

Thanks for coming along and reading.

God bless..

R

 

Lessons learned on gravel roads

How I came to love pick up trucks so much probably lies in the way in which I learned to drive.  I grew up in eastern Iowa amongst some of the richest soil that God blessed Earth with.  Mile upon mile of mostly flat prairie that had been plowed under and replaced with hundreds of thousands (probably millions) of acres of corn and soybean fields interrupted by occasional rolling hills, all connected by gravel roads.  One afternoon while riding with my father on those gravel roads he stopped our truck, asked me to sit on his lap and while he controlled the accelerator pedal and brake, I steered.  It was a simpler time to be sure…in the late 1970’s and I was probably around eleven or twelve at the time.  At first I was terrified, not wanting this responsibility nor wanting to crash.  I learned how to counter-steer when the truck started to fishtail.  How to keep the tires in the “path” and not in the loose gravel along the sides of the road…and how to get over when you met a big old John Deere hauling a disk towards you.  While all of these lessons were unnerving I grew to love driving trucks.

“Truck One” was my Dad’s truck.  Fairly basic.  It had an AM/FM radio and shifter on the floor.  I drove this truck on my very first romantic encounter with a young lady from a neighboring town named Becky (the girl…not the town).  I won the girls affection and attention for a few short-lived months.  Truck 1.  Car 0.

Dad’s truck. I treated it like it was my own.

“Truck Two”.  I had turned sixteen years old and the first car of my own to drive was a pick up truck.  If I’m remembering it correctly it was a 1972 Chevy LUV.  Basic transportation.  Rusty.  Needed new brakes.  Manual stick shift and no power steering.  AM radio.  Would hold exactly three high school sophomores.  Dad and I bought it for $800 as a “project” for him and I to work on, grinding out the rust, filling the holes with Bondo putty or cutting sheet metal and riveting it to the body then spraying with gray primer.  After a $99 Earl Scheib paint job it was sold.  It was a safe and reliable means of transportation.  Truck Two was tough to drive and ride in and a pleasure to get rid of.

I found out quickly that I didn’t like sanding and grinding rust off of metal. I must have had a grayish pall during my sophomore year since I was constantly applying primer to this heap.

Here’s that same 1972 Chevy LUV after A LOT of sanding, Bondo and a $99 Earl Scheib paint job. Firecracker Red.

 

“Truck Three” came in 1987.  I had my first full-time job. I was making $300 a week and was rolling in money.  Literally…rolling in dough.  Single and wanting a new, more reliable vehicle (one that would start when I wanted it to start) I traded in my 1975 Ford Maverick and bought a brand-spanking new Madza B2000 pick-up.  Small four cylinder engine, stick shift, heat, bench seat and no radio (though I added one in the months to come).  A short time later I took out the future honorable Constance Sue Ripley in this truck.  After the vows were spoken (and not to be taken back) the Mrs. admitted that she wasn’t exactly beholden to me at first glance. “You showed up wearing cowboy boots and driving a truck…”.  Its a good thing that I still had a full head of brown wavy hair back then or else I still might be single.  Dead serious.  Anyway…romance won out.  Truck 2.  Car 0.  I also took Connie to the hospital in this truck when Jordan was born.  Cold, dark and windy in the predawn hours of a December morn…bucking snowdrifts along the way.  Sturdy and reliable we eventually traded in Truck Three on a minivan for a growing family once Kid Two came along.

Truck Three was my first new “car”. No radio or AC. Bench seat. But it was all MINE

 

Truck Four was my Dad’s truck…again.  This time around it was for a drastically different reason.  My folks were moving off of the farm and didn’t need their truck.  A 1999 Ford F250 three-quarter ton with a V10 engine.  I bought it because we needed a another vehicle at our household.  Dad had kept it in awesome condition and it gave me considerable consolation after his death.  At times, while driving it, I could hear him speak.  I know that sounds stupid, but that truck helped me some days when I missed him a great deal.  I eventually sold that truck to my brother who still drives it to this day.

Truck Five was my nicest truck.  Purchased brand new in 2007.  It had many nice things that I didn’t have in most of my early trucks.  Air conditioning.  AM/FM radio with CD player.  Crew cab so that we could fit the whole family and go on vacations.  ABS brakes, power windows and door locks….all pretty standard stuff but for a guy who remembers using the hand crank to roll down his windows on a hot summer day it’s almost an extravagance to have something like power windows.  We moved all three daughters out of our house and to college in these last two trucks.  I started officiating basketball and baseball games in these two trucks.  I’ll tell you something….a truck makes a great umpire vehicle.  Just park it, drop down the tailgate, sit down and get your equipment on for the game.  I really loved Truck Five and didn’t see an end to its service to our family but things change.  We’re empty-nesters now.  No kids to ferry about (and no grand-kids on the foreseeable horizon…).  Warranties expire and things are going to need fixed or replaced eventually.  We usually keep our cars and trucks until they die or cost us too much to keep up.  I debated for several months on what I should do, if anything.  It seems to me that you’re either making a monthly payment on a new vehicle or paying to have the older one fixed.  This is why I reluctantly traded in Truck Five on a new car.

Ed…my 80+ year old neighbor said that my Silverado looked like a fire engine. What a great compliment!

Our new car has so many features in it that I may have to hire an eight year old to show me how to use them all correctly.  A six speaker music system that’s pared through Bluetooth with the ITunes on my phone (good-bye multiple CD’s in my armrest!!).  It has Sirius radio for several months!  Instead of a gear shifter it has a dial near my arm rest that I turn to select a gear.  It has a back up camera.  I can call folks while driving. It doesn’t have keys and I push a button to start it.  While the engine is half the size that I’m used too its turbo-charged and very responsive.  I actually have to “think” to use this car because its so simple to drive.  I’m not saying that its idiot-proof…but its a big step in that direction.  It’s also a really sharp looking blue.  Electric Blue….to be sure.

This car is too nice for me. Sporty and fast…it’ll take some time to get used to it. Maybe listening to some Johnny Cash while driving it will help

I’m going to be honest…I got a little misty when I turned my truck in.  While most folks view their cars and trucks as purely utilitarian objects I’ve come to love each and every one of my trucks.  Each time that I’ve driven them they take me back to a time in my life.  A first date.  Going to basketball practice.  A time in our garage working with Dad on a repair.  My last date as a charming single guy.  A trip to the hospital with a very pregnant and uncomfortable spouse.  Moving our kids around.  Road trips and vacations.   A time when I could still sit on my Father’s lap and steer his truck around those winding gravel roads of my childhood.  I miss many things in my life that shiny new buttons and whistles will never, ever replace.  I guess I’m still just that farm kid at heart.

The Ripley boys after a day of painting.  From left to right.  Brian, Dan, Me and Dad

 

 

Two moments defined…

I’ve posted twice in the past year, which is pretty paltry.  I used to crank out blogs with regularity.  Now…unless I’ve got something to say I’ll just take a pass on blogging.    That being said I’ll let you know what’s been going on here at RIPLEY INDUSTRIES.

let me fill  you in.  I’m a fifty-two year old guy.  I’m middle-management at a small grocery store, have been for almost thirty years (THAT…ladies and gentlemen is a Cal Ripken-like streak).  I referee basketball games in the fall and winter, baseball in the spring and summer.  As for the present moment I’m just cooling my heels waiting for the weather to turn warm enough not to snow.  I was supposed to umpire five games last weekend until it snowed seven inches.  I’m supposed to umpire a double-header this Saturday.  I drove past the ball field this morning and its still 40% covered in snow….so yeah.  Not feeling real good about getting out there.

Consequently, though, I spend my days off from work lining up baseball games to work this season.  There’s USSSA.  American Legion, Perfect Game, high school games  and an adult wood bat league all of which will keep me busy each night of the week if I’d like.  Its just a matter of not double-scheduling oneself on the same night in two different places.  I had it happen to me twice last season where a partner didn’t show up to help out.  Ever try umpiring a game by yourself…?  Not easy.  Anyway, here are my favorite two stories about basketball refereeing.  One is from personal experience.  The other is one that I heard second hand.

I enjoy refereeing basketball more than baseball.  Here’s one reason.  Those “feel-good” stories.  It was Senior Night at a local school.  While our crew waited in the shadows of the bleachers each Senior basketball player (it happened to be a girls game that night) would get her photo taken with her parents, one on each side of the player.  This particular team had a special needs girl on their team.  I looked up just in time to see her and her parents photo being taken.  OMG…she beamed, people.  She absolutely radiated light, hope, joy and LOVE with her smile.  Her parents were drunk with happiness…them…sharing a moment together before their name was announced and the three of them walked arm in arm to center court, roses in hand, for the crowd to acknowledge with applause.  I choked upDead serious.  A beautiful, tender moment got to me.     Fast forward to us referees speaking with the head coaches and the school athletic director.  They’d hashed out a plan for this special girl.  She would start the game.  The home team would let their opponents win the tip, go down and score…then they’d let the special girl score, followed with a quick time out to sub in for her (it was a conference game late in the season).    Everything goes as planned, almost.  The visiting team won the tip and brought the ball down court when the home team didn’t let them score.  In fact…they played great defense and got the rebound.  The home team threw a long pass down court to their special teammate who immediately knocked down a tough eighteen foot jump shot from the wing.  The gym…EXPLODED!!  I mean it.  Absolutely ape-shit crazy.  I looked at her coach, who was wildly calling for a timeout, and granted it.  Her teammates poured onto the court hugging and high-fiving this special girl…the full gym rocking with cheering.  Again…I swallowed hard.  Dang kids making me sentimental.  #lovethissport

The next story is second hand.

During Christmas break a local high school teenager drowned.  The referee crew who was to work at the deceased students school right after the break ended wanted to donate their game checks to the young man’s memorial….on one condition…that their donation of their game checks not be announced, it was to be confidential.   The schools athletic director was floored, absolutely floored by the officials offer.  He thanked the officials, literally begging for their permission to announce their good deed.  The officials wanted no attention, nor recognition and that was that….until the officials started their way back to the gym after halftime of the varsity game.  It started with kids intermittently shaking the crews hands outside of the locker room.  As the officials made their way into the gym they heard a smattering of clapping that grew into applause from the whole of the bleachers.  Then players from both teams stopped warming up, turned towards the officials and joined everyone else by clapping.  Apparently the athletic director announced during halftime that the referees of that nights contest had generously donated their game checks to the young mans memorial.

I asked one of the officials why they did it.  His answer…”We’re all parents.  We all love our kids.  Isn’t that what we should all do…?”   I know of several stories like this….where the game fees are turned back to the school or towards the fund-raising efforts of a student who’s fighting cancer, or whatever.  It happens…you probably just don’t hear about it because we don’t shout about the good things nearly as often as we do about perceived slights.  Change that in your life.  Yell about the good.   #positivechange

Well kids…that wraps up today’s edition of RICH RIPLEY.  Take care of yourselves until next time.  God bless…

R

 

Thanks Dad….

Thanks Dad…

 

My dad recently passed away.  He was a good man. A good husband to our mother. A good family man.  A Christian.  I’ve been compiling a list for the past couplea weeks, that even though it’s not entirely complete, I’m posting now. I’d like to take a moment to thank him, in no particular order, for the following:

  • For his love of our family.

 

  • For teaching us to honor our parents and elders by watching him honor his.

 

  • For wrasslin’ us boys in the middle of the living room floor, then years later…wrasslin’ his grandsons and granddaughters in that same living room.

 

  • For leading us in prayer before meals.  You and Mom taught us to pray.

 

  • For playing catch with me until your arm dropped off. Then showing up at our ball games to watch us play, or ride the pine…either way…you and Mom were there if you could be.  For teaching me your “running jump shot”while cutting through the lane.

 

  • For teaching me (and my two brothers) to drive…on gravel roads with a manual transmission no less.  For teaching us to counter-steer when we started to fishtail, and teaching us that if we accelerated then popped the clutch we could peel out.  (maybe he didn’t teach us that….but he didn’t discourage it either).

 

  • For buying me my first car, so I could have something to drive to school and take to college.  It wasn’t Camero or Mustang, but it sure beat walking.

 

  • For letting me use your cologne when I started dating.  Cedar & Scott counties women were never the same after that.

 

  • For providing for our family, both with your city job and on the farm.

 

  • For teaching me and my two brothers how to pick out a woman as a wife; to love, cherish and respect her.  Dad and Mom were married for 55 years.  He adored Mom.  He backed Mom’s decisions (at least in front of us boys).  He and Mom were a team.  Teams sometimes have disagreements…but at the end of the day….they were still a team and they still loved each other.  I remember a time when Mom left for a week to help with the care of one of our newborn nephews.  Upon her return to our farm Dad had made a big banner that said something like “Welcome Home Marcy!! I love you!”  I was a teenager at the time and thought to myself “Jeez…the old guy still has it going on for Mom.”

 

  • For welcoming our fiancées into the family as genuine daughters that he and Mom never had.  Both Mom and Dad made our wives feel accepted and loved, because they were.  It’s a true testament of that loved returned when I saw my sister-in-laws & my wife sitting with Mom at Dad’s bedside at the hospital and at the nursing home.  When the chips are down, love shows up and waits it out.  Love.

 

  • For taking time to listen to me, and encourage me when the situation called for it.

 

  • For letting us know that being “disciplined” is a form of love.

 

  • For teaching your sons a strong work ethic.  One’s a captain on the fire department with 30+ years of service and a medal for valor in the line of service.  The middle son travels the world for the company that he works for, and has several patents in his name and has worked  20+ years for that company.  And me…I’ve worked 22 years for the company that I’m employed by.  I may not have the technical brilliance or book smarts of many others, who surround me, but the good Lord gave me a quick wit and enough commonsense to stay out of trouble….and that’s been enough up to this point.

 

  • For saying to an eight year old Rich Ripley “sure you can try my snuff!  Take some!”  For anyone who hasn’t tried snuff…it’s horrible tasting finely cut tobacco that burns your mouth and gets into every crevice, makes your nose run and your eyes water.  I couldn’t wash it out of my mouth fast enough at the barn water hydrant!  I haven’t touched the stuff since. Lesson learned Dad.

 

  • For allowing me to try alcohol at home.  I found out that it, too, was nasty tasting stuff.  And when I was old enough to drive he’d square up with me, look me in the eye and tell me “if you’re going to drink tonight, call us….we’ll come get you.  We love you.”  I doubt that it was reverse psychology…my parents never made any bones about telling you what was on their mind and what they expected out of you, but when Dad said that, I was usually home, sober, by ten at night.

 

  • For being a super Grandpa…dollhouses and toy farms built for our kids.  For wagon rides behind the lawnmower for our kids.

 

  • For Dad and Mom showing up and helping out at countless moving in’s and moving out’s at colleges, first apartments, first homes and second homes.

 

  • For the free technical advice/service on home and car repairs.

 

  • For loaning, sharing or just giving us whatever Dad and Mom had that we needed at that moment.  Whether it was a hug, advice, a loan or some kind of tool….if you two had it….we could use it.

 

  • The interest-free loans in college and life from Mom and Dad.

 

  • For the advice…whether we wanted it or appreciated it at the time.  It was given out of love and concern.   I know that now.

 

  • For the love of hitting the road early when leaving on vacation.  I don’t remember how many times we’d leave on vacation in total darkness.  Mom and Dad in the front seat, my brothers and I piled into the back seat.  One of my fondest memories is waking up, a couplea hours later, the sun rising, smelling coffee that Mom was pouring from the Thermos for her and Dad to drink.  I don’t necessarily like to travel far for vacation, I didn’t inherit this from my parents….I don’t know how as my two brothers love the open road.  In my childhood Mom and Dad drove us to Disneyland in California, then four years later drove us to Disney World in Florida (from Iowa) There were other trips too, though I was too young to remember, but old timey super eight movies prove that I was present…a scowling tow headed toddler that looked none to pleased to be away from his dog and cats on the farm.  Mom and Dad drove us to places far and wide in either a pick up truck camper or in a ’72 Ford LTD with Aristocrat trailer in tow.  Lots of miles behind the wheel for his wife and boys.  I’d go back to school in the fall and tell the other kids where I’d been and what I’d seen only to find out that they hadn’t gone anywhere.  I realized at a young age that I was blessed to have these parents.

 

  • For serving our country during the occupation of Germany after World War II.  His love of our country was wide and deep.

 

  • For letting me know how proud Mom and he were of their sons and their families.  Some people never hear those words come from their parents, but I heard it just about every time I saw them.

 

  • For comforting me as I tried to comfort him in his final days.  Try as I might….I couldn’t not cry as I told him “it’s okay to go Dad.  We’ll take care of Mom.  You’re work is done here.  You and Mom did a great job of raising us boys.”  He’d look up at me, hold my hand and whisper, “I know.  I know.”

 

  • What gives me great comfort is a conversation that we had a couplea years ago.  I was taking him for a drive one morning, out in the country.  We weren’t talking much; just me driving, him looking out the window at the snowdrift covered farm fields.  I asked him “how are you doing spiritually Dad?”  He replied, “Jesus is my Savior.”  That’s what gave me comfort then.  It’s what gives me comfort now. Thanks for showing us the way Dad.  We’ll see you later.

Love,

Richard

Me and my big mouth…

Have you ever had one of those seemingly innocent conversations that, in hindsight,  ends up costing thousands?  If you have…welcome to my world.

Literally a few months ago Connie and I were sitting in our living room when I mentioned that it’d be nice to replace the carpeting in our living & dining room.  It was at least fifteen years old, had survived three daughters running across it, had absorbed multiple spills, had obtained a black stain about the size of a quarter that I think was asphalt and was an easy target for one rogue cat that had occasional bouts of the stomach flu…spitting up juicy hairballs.  It started its career as a pristine, beige in  color, medium pile carpet.  It ended its life as a well-worn speckled beige-like floor covering.  What began as a “thought” took on a life of its own.  Not only are we getting new carpeting in the living and dining room but also new flooring in our entryway, half-bath, kitchen, up stairs bathroom and carpeting up the stairwell and upstairs hallway.  Its true.  Most of the flooring in our home on the main and second level were from the 1990’s and (wait for it….) 1980’s.  While showing its age, fashion-wise, it was holding up fairly well considering all of the traffic that our and the previous families had put on them.  No sooner had we brought up the idea of getting bids on the flooring when Connie brought up the fact that our furniture in the living room was past its prime….so we went furniture shopping as well.  Oh.  My.  Goodness.  Between trying to match fabric samples verses carpet samples my right-brained analytical wife went into overdrive.  A new couch, chair, end-tables, coffee table and entertainment center are inbound to the Palatial Estates.  I honestly just lost interest and turned the decisions over to her.  Here’s another little deal….you can’t have new furniture and carpeting without….wait for it….a new paint job in the living and dining rooms.

So…the floor guys are here now.  They’re not being quiet.  There were around three or four layers of older vinyl flooring beneath the one that we thought was way past due.  They’re pounding the life out of our kitchen floor.  Literally…hammering away on it like their very lives depend on hammering away.  Stripping, sanding and hammering.  Our refrigerator and stove are in our dining room…as is the breakfast bar and kitchen table.  Its all a mess.  A big, noisy mess…so be careful of what you say. 

Our living room…full of kitchen stuff while Connie paints the living and dining rooms a different…more relaxing shade of….tan? Beige? I don’t know.  She’s hosting a party here in four days.  She’s just a little stressed out.

Onto another topic (stay with me now…its been two full months since I’ve blogged so deal with it).  I was removing the leaves from our ancient oak kitchen table when I had one of those “jeez…just think if this table could talk” moments.  It all started back in 1988 when Connie and I were newlyweds.  A co-worker had this old table that she wanted $100 for.  She had bought it from a farmer then stripped the paint off.  Stained and varnished it looked pretty good to us… being poor,  and needing a table we jumped at the chance and our seller threw in four chairs from a former pizza place.  What a deal!!  Our new table was built to last, hefty and if you accidently grazed your sock covered foot on one of its thick oak legs then you probably broke a toe as the table always held its ground like a fortress of heavy oak against that puny little toe.

The table is over a hundred years old.  Built to last.  Its seen multiple moves from rental house to apartment to first home to this home.  It was with us before we had kids…but not before nephews acting silly with Grandpa.

Connie with our nephews and Dad. Do you like our fashion sense? All that really mattered was family. We didn’t have much…but we had each other.  1989

Its seen our family go from two, to three, to four and eventually grow to five.  Feeding a young one in a highchair as we had supper.  Wiping up spilled milk as it ran between the leaves and onto the floor.  Thousands of meals.  Plenty of talk…lots of laughter and maybe a few lessons learned along the way.

Dad with Karalee and Jordan…drawing pictures for each other.

Many a birthday parties and holiday meals were shared upon this table.

Later on as we gained a dining room it became a “kids table” during the holidays.

Did I mention that it was built to last? I don’t think very many tables these days are made like this one. Its oak…solid…no particle board.

The holidays were probably your most used times…holding court as others mixed up ingredients and frosting.

If you ever want to get a message to me….leave a note on the kitchen table. I’ll get it there.

Once the kitchen flooring is done the table will return, minus any leaves.  We simply don’t need that large of a table.  In its heyday it held fifteen of us one Thanksgiving, though now it’ll just be the two of us…again.  Its kind of weird how things in life circle back around like that.  Weird and yet reassuring.  I hope it finds another good family after we’re done with it in a few years.

Thanks for coming along.

God Bless you,

R

 

 

I walk with giants

A blog 28 years in the making….RETAIL…LOVE IT or just keep doing the job…either way you’re probably okay.

This month marks the twenty-eighth year that I’ve worked for the same company.  Mind you they’re not continuous years.  My first stint lasted fifteen years, eleven months when I left the company.  My second stint has lasted since May of 2005.  All in all….its been a good ride.  Some days are better than others…that’s probably true of any job.  The majority of my time has been in the position of middle-management, just important enough to be held accountable for many things but not everything.  It’s safe to say that no two days are the same.

Over the years there have been many changes in retail.  When I started back in June of 1985 whoever thought that customers would want our store to offer free wifi?  Or bottled water sold by the case?  Bud Light was only three years old.  We still took rolls of film and sent them off to a regional photo lab where they took two days to get processed.  Movie video rentals were something new to the business.  We had special weekend hours.   Who’d want to visit a store after 9 PM?  What’s a Super Target or WalMart Super Center?

The following is a list of what’s changed and what hasn’t.

Changed:

  • Customers.  They’re in a rush these days.  Plain and simple.  It doesn’t matter if it’s just a pack of smokes or cart full of groceries…they want to get in and out as fast as they can and they’re not concerned with letting you know if they’re not happy.  It’s a grittier age.
  • Employees.  It used to be that when I hired new employees you could count on one or two being exceptional, two or three being good and the rest being average.  Currently the attrition rate of new employees is alarming.  When I hire now I know that many will leave within a few months.  We’re not alone in this predicament.  It’s so very difficult to hire and keep employees.  I don’t know if it’s the economy, the low unemployment rate or the culture….but it’s hitting all facets of the job market.
  • Products.  There are so many different variety’s now.  Thousands!  Remember old plain Triscuit crackers?  There are dozens of different flavors now all vying for a place in your shopping cart and they’re not alone.  Multiple flavored Cheetos’, toothpastes, spaghetti sauces, paper towels in “select-a-size” and candies to name a few.  Remember when beer only came in quarts, six packs and twelve packs?  Now your favorite brew is available in practically any size package you could dream of.  Remember pink, blue and light green Charmin toilet paper in four roll packs?  Toilet paper used to be SCENTED.  (I miss the days of lightly scented pale green Charmin)  Gluten-free products, soy milks and range-free eggs?  Who would have thought that they’d be so popular?  Upside down bottles of ketchup for those who need ketchup two seconds faster than the rest of us…we have you covered.
  • Muzak.  We used to pipe in mindless elevator music to our stores.  Nowadays we have practically every genre available and we program it accordingly.  FYI…Hits of the 80’s is my fav.
  • Technology.  What industry hasn’t had seismic changes with the use of technology?  It’s used from everything from hiring, ordering, pricing, scheduling, e-mail, labor control etc. etc.  It’s mind-boggling to think how far we’ve come with its assistance.  I communicate with our employees more with texting and Facebook  than I do in speaking with them personally some days.  The old days of calling their home phone, via land line, and leaving a message then hoping that they’ll get back to me is ancient history.
  • Alcohol and lottery.  It wasn’t that big of a deal back in 1985 when we started selling it.  It is now.  Very, very big.    One of these days it wouldn’t surprise me if we sold medicinal marijuana.
  • Store hours.  Customers want to be able to purchase their products when its convenient for them.  We’ve changed as best as we can.  We used to have special Saturday hours 8-6, Sunday’s 9-5 and limited holiday hours. Holidays are for people who don’t typically work retail and food service.  I don’t mind it anymore.  Its just another day to work and serve our customers.
  • Competition.  I touched upon it earlier though the addition of WalMart and Super Target into the retail landscape has altered things forever.  Add technology into the mix where customers can use their smart phones to look up WalMart’s price then ask if we’ll honor it and it really gets interesting, or ordering it from Amazon and having it delivered.  Who would have thought this was possible.  It makes me wonder where we’ll be in ten years.

What hasn’t changed:

  • Customers.  I love ’em.  They could’ve chosen any store to shop at and they chose us. Many have become unofficial friends of mine.  I’ve hired them or their kids when they’ve needed jobs.  I’ve hugged them when their husbands pass, or draw a funny picture of myself and sent it along with them to give to their wife at the nursing home.  I’ve given rides to some who’s cars won’t start in our parking lot.  I’ve listened as they’ve poured out their concerns about cancers,  sicknesses or a loved one in the hospital…and I’m not alone. I work with folks who, like me, have stayed with the same company and same store for decades.  If a customer has a problem they know that they can visit with one of us and we’ll do our best to make it right.  Customers still appreciate good service and good value.
  • Employees.  I walk with giants.  At 28 years of service I’m one of the rookies when it comes to time spent with our company at our store.  There are three with over 40 years of service and many more with over 30.  Do we all get along?  No.  Most brothers and sisters don’t…but when the chips are down bet your ass we’ve got each others backs.  I love ’em. Another thing that hasn’t changed with the years, hiring teenagers for their first job.  Some are serious, others goofy.  Many have pushed my buttons through the years, but I’ll tell you one thing…this old dog has his eventual day in the sun.  That wise-cracking teenager from 1996 is now thirty-seven, married with three little ones.  I see him occasionally and we chuckle about how he used to act.  “I was your worst employee” he states.  “No…but you had your moments” I reply.  The passage of time helps us to see more clearly what kind of person they really are.  I don’t regret hiring any of them.  Its part of the journey.  I’m very proud of them and how far they’ve come and what they’ve accomplished.  I hope they all know that.
  • Promotions.  I’ve been promoted.  I’ve had various title changes.  I’ve had ten bosses.  The more things change the more it stays the same.  Hustle.  Take care of the customers. Take care of the employees.  Honesty.  Integrity.  Value.  Safety.  I can’t please everyone, but I try hard too.  Have fun.  Laugh.  Two words.  Rowdy Rich.
  • Weather.  Customers hear the word “snow” and we get very busy. Other companies close for snow days.  We stay open.  Nuff said.
  • Products changing.  They come.  They go.  Never a dull moment.  Viagra.  Body wash.  Flavored Ritz crackers.  Seasonally flavored coffee creamers.  K-cups. Sports drinks like Gatorade/PowerAde. Sodas in every shape and flavor. AXE body spray. The demise of English Leather cologne (probably not a bad thing….) and many others.

I’ve been blessed to have worked with thousands of people through the years.  Thousands.  I’ve also been blessed to have been able to work for a forward-thinking, cutting-edge, socially-minded company that has given me good pay, health insurance and a great store that attracts the people of our community.  Several years ago I had a customer who had just moved into our town.  I learned what her name was and I used it when I saw her.  She asked me why I did that.  I replied “I make it a point to learn who’s putting food on my family’s table.”  She liked that analogy because its true in its basic sense.  As we get bigger, leaner and busier I pray that I never forget that.

In the beginning of my career I had a head-full of beautiful brown wavy hair. Nowadays…not so much.

Twenty-eight years in the rearview mirror.  Its been a great ride.  I can’t wait to see what’s going to happen next!

Take care and God bless.

R

The journey home

As previously mentioned on RICH RIPLEY, the blog, I traveled to Berlin Germany to visit our youngest daughter.  The sights, the food and drink, as well as getting to visit Macy, was well worth the price of the tickets.  I’ve traveled alone to Japan and Germany in the past few months, and what I’ve discovered is that there are friendly folks all over this planet.  Getting through international airports, from one terminal to another and finding my next flights gate can be a daunting task.  I’m not necessarily the smartest guy around (stop and take that in….it just blew your mind!) but I’ve usually been able to find someone along my path to guide me to where I need to go.  Politeness, common courtesy and a friendly smile go a long way in most situations.  The following are some notes that I jotted down during my vacation, flying to and from Germany.

  • At O’Hare airport in Chicago: the rule of thumb for any Starbucks situated in a big, busy airport is to only have two employees working behind the counter while a third is seemingly constantly on break (standing on the customer side of the counter-talking to the two that are working).  Scheduling any more than two, or three, would mean that the line waiting for coffee would become shorter than twenty customers.
  • At O’Hare airport in Chicago: It amuses me what folks choose to wear when traveling.  I usually wear nicer, but comfortable clothes.  Other folks wear suits or nice dresses, whereas some folks wear wild, brightly colored jogging suits from the 90’s or a combination that looks like they got dressed in the dark at a rummage sale.  I call these travelers wardrobe  “flea-market circus”.  I like the name so much that I might trademark it and start a clothing empire.  “Flea-Market Circus.  When you want to stand out from the crowd but blend in with the clowns”.  Coming soon to a strip mall near you.”
  • While flying into Charles De Gaulle airport in France on my way home:  The French countryside looks stunningly beautiful, so did the English countryside when I flew into London coming over.  I realize that even though I’ve traveled quite a bit there’s more of God’s green earth that I’ll probably never see in this lifetime…but I’m okay with that.  At least I got to see it from “up here”.

I was supposed to fly into Paris Thursday morning, then waltz over to another terminal and make my connecting flight back to the good old U S of A at noon, BUT the early flight to Paris was sold out (remember that whole computer glitch thing at United Airlines when I started this trip?  It was still kind of biting me in the butt.)  The next morning flight into Paris left a 70 minute window for me to: land, get my bag, find the train to the other terminal, find my gate and check in….and totally freak out when this didn’t happen.  Sadly I had already purchased that ticket from Expedia.com (w/o insurance of course) and spent roughly forty minutes on the phone with them (without an international phone plan=$78 phone call).  Long story short I bought a ticket that would leave Berlin early in the evening on Wednesday and get into Paris around 8 at night….where I’d have a SIXTEEN HOUR WINDOW of time to really, really get to know Terminal 2A at Charles De Gaulle airport.  I’m glad that I did since it took me over an hour to make it to the correct terminal on Wednesday night.

Once on the ground and in the correct terminal I noticed that the shops and food stands were shutting down, at nine at night.  I hastily made a purchase of some junk food to stave off hunger though the long night, and connected to their free wifi.  Thank God some of my friends kept me awake by “talking” to me through Facebook Messenger, where it was 8 PM their time in the States though 3 AM my time in Paris.  Connie, the honorable Mrs. Ripley, decided to do our income taxes that night as well…so there were more than just a few messages sent across the Atlantic that night regarding that.

Terminal 2A at 2 AM. Not. Much. Going. On.

Do you wanna know what happened in Terminal 2A the night of my overnight stay?  Here’s a quick rundown:

  • The guy riding a big floor scrubber did hot-laps for three hours right past where I was sitting.
  • They changed the ceiling light bulbs right outside of the McDonald’s.
  • The soldiers armed with automatic machine guns disappeared.  Apparently once they saw me they figured “old Rowdy” had this area under control.
  • Late arriving flight crews walk past, laughing…headed off to a hotel for the night.  Their work is done for this day.

3:13 AM…Hey hey!!  I’m at single digits until I’m taxi-ing down a runway…headed westward home!!

4:17 AM…Hot dog!!  Foot traffic is picking up.  Airport employees and blurry-eyed travelers getting to their gate for their early morning flights are arriving.

5:25 AM….Screw it.  I’m headed down to customs to see if they’ll let me through to my gate.  So tired.  So.  Freaking.  TIRED.

6:10 AM….At my gate.  Six hours til boarding.  This gate is totally sweet!

Breakfast of Champions

 

7-8 AM…Dozed sitting up.  Bobble-headed it.  I don’t recommend it.

8-11 AM…Cannot remember anything.  Been awake for the most part since 7 AM yesterday.

11:30 AM…The gate crew is very nice.  Total professionals and very patient.

12 AM…Got a seat on the flight.  THANK YOU JESUS!!  This planes a beauty.  787 and the seat next to me is empty.  SCORE!! 

I have a glass of white wine.  Then I have another, then a third.  I watch a movie.  Start another and have supper.  I wind up sleeping four hours, which is a record for me on a plane.

Blazing Saddles. One of my all-time favorites

We land in Chicago a little after two in the afternoon.  I travel to the correct terminal, find my gate, get some pizza and root beer then settle in until they call my name for a stand by seat, which I’m told “isn’t available”.  They board the plane.  “Dear God…I’m going to be stuck here until the next flight at 9…and even then there’s no guarantee that I’ll get on it.” Everyone’s boarded…then…my name is called.  They have a seat for me“Do you mind an emergency exit seat?” they ask.  “I’ve been traveling for around forty hours.  I don’t care where you put me, Ma’am.  I’m just happy to be on that airplane of yours” I reply.  I get a seat and a little over an hour later I’m walking to my pick-up truck.  She’s never looked better.  The air is fresh and crisp.  Someone near is plowing, I can smell that unmistakable scent of freshly turned soil as it hits the air for the first time since last spring.  I’m home, and soon I’ll be in the arms of the woman that I’ve missed.  It’s been a glorious week.  Its about to get better.

Thanks for coming along.

God bless,

R

My Germany journey begins

When you have adult children living and working in different countries, and you wish to see them…like I do, you travel to them.  In this case, Berlin Germany.  I’d never been there, in fact, up until a year ago the only other country that I’d visited had been our good neighbors to the north, Canada.  Our daughter Macy has lived in Berlin for eight months.  I hadn’t seen her since we dropped her off at the airport last summer.  It was a tough moment for my wife and I.  Here was our “baby”, little Macy Sue…all twenty years of her…flying off to be an Au Pair in Germany.  My wife and I would finally be “real” empty-nesters.  Our girls would all be quite a ways away.  Jordan in Miami, Karalee in Japan and now Macy in Berlin.  Needless to say our mood during the ride home from the airport and subsequent evening were “subdued”, almost in mourning.  Our kids….gone.  We missed them already.

Fast forward to January when I started booking my visit to Germany.  I’d be going alone, Connie had to work, plus she had gone over the holidays when I was working.  I fly standby much of the time so I go to the airport and hope to catch a flight.  Normally it works out fairly well, but with United Airlines computer glitch the day before all of my options for flying standby to Germany evaporated the day prior to my departure.  My plans went like this:

  • Cedar Rapids to Charlotte; Charlotte to Paris; Paris to Berlin (all tickets sold out)
  • Cedar Rapids to Chicago or Dallas/Fort Worth; DFW to Paris; Paris to Berlin (all tickets sold out)

It was decided that my best option would be to buy a one-way ticket for a flight leaving Chicago and arriving in Berlin from Air Berlin.  I bought a ticket that way, BUT it wouldn’t use the front end of a connecting flight from Paris to Berlin so I called Expedia.com to see if I could still use the back-end of the return flight Berlin to Paris when I wanted to return home.  Literally an hour and a half on hold with them and I finally reached a person who could tell me “no”, I could not do that.  Airline policy prohibits it.  So, at three in the morning of my departure I purchased a one-way ticket from Berlin to Paris to hook up with my return flight.  Done deal.  I’m good to go!

After arriving at my starting point at the Cedar Rapids airport (at 4:30 AM) I received an email from Air Berlin that my Chicago to Berlin flight had been cancelled overnight, less than twelve hours after I had purchased it,  (I was really, REALLY getting anxious and irritated at this point) BUT the email went onto read “American Airlines picked up the flight, with a transfer to British Airways in London.”  Thank God!!  The trip was still “on”.

My Cedar Rapids to Chicago flight was just fine, I had a twelve-hour layover at O’Hare.  Once you’ve spent time in a big airport terminal, that’s pretty much enough.  I’ve been there several times and appreciate its amenities, though pretty much just waited until my 5:25 PM boarding time.  My flight from Chicago to London went well.  We flew overnight.  I caught a glimpse of the northern lights, which I hadn’t seen since I was a kid growing up on a farm….and I didn’t sleep a wink.  I usually don’t sleep on airplanes, even though it’s not because I’m nervous or anxious.  My day began at 2 AM and it’d be a long, long “day”.

We arrived at Heathrow airport.  The English countryside looked amazingly beautiful and London looked to be a cool city to explore someday.  My layover was only seventy-five minutes, which isn’t much when you’re:

  1. Arriving at one terminal and needing to get to another terminal of a huge airport.
  2. Need to find the shuttle/tram/bus to get to that terminal.
  3. Go through security again. (my tiny tube of Crest toothpaste was eyed closely) AND I received a complimentary pat-down in the home of some of my ancestors.
  4. Locate the gate of my departure only to find out that they wouldn’t post it until forty-five minutes prior to departure. (is it any wonder that we rebelled and formed our own country with airports posting which GATE YOU’RE FLYING FROM in a timely manner?  Just sayin’)

Fortunately I researched the whole “how to get from Terminal 3 to Terminal 5” question while I was sitting in O’Hare for twelve unremarkable hours and found the shuttle easily.  Terminal 5 at Heathrow is really nice.

I was told that the information desk that I was looking for was “down there in the middle.” Do you see it? Yeah…neither did I when I walked around down there.  Those danged Brits and their dry sense of humor.

As with many of my trips I try to gather as much information as I can to ease through airports and such.  Sometimes it works, sometimes you just go on faith that it’ll work out.  I’ve found that being polite, patient and courteous go a long way when asking for information when out of the States. (I can spot Americans at foreign airports, they’re the ones being loud).

While waiting for my British Airways flight I struck up a conversation with a fellow American from Joliet Illinois.  She was traveling to see a sister in Germany and we had a good laugh about the different things just between the English and Americans.  Our flight to Berlin was boarding so we wished each other a good trip and settled into the (quite) nice British jet.

Once on the ground in Germany, the Tegel airport in Berlin is rather old.  They’re building a new airport but it’s not in use as of yet.

Holy smokes!! England and now Germany, plus I got to see the English Channel.  I got a window seat since I’m a big shot in the States.  True story.

Once I was off the plane I got in line to have my passport checked.  Honestly…the guy really gave me a once, then twice over.  Perhaps he was just super impressed to have ANOTHER American enter his country OR that he recognized me from Facebook, regardless he stamped my passport with the authority of a LeBron James slam dunk and handed my passport back.

Customs!  It’s where they really, REALLY go through what you could possibly be bringing into their country.  Since I fly standby I travel very light.  Small suitcase that holds a couple of days worth of clothes and a small backpack.  I read their customs sign carefully, slowly, making sure that I wouldn’t get into the wrong line and end up causing a commotion.  I had to go through the “green door”.  My qualifications indicted that I had to be screened once I entered the “green door”.  “Dear God!!  What could I possibly have to endure?”  The passport guy was intimidating enough!!  I cautiously approached the green door, glanced around…no one else was even CLOSE to going through this door.  I’d probably set off a series of alarms, guns would be drawn and K9 units would chew on my tuchus. (one of my best attributes!!)  I pushed the door open, glanced around and looked at a guy sitting on a stool.  I looked at him.  Him at me, then he pointed to a gate for me to go through where (wait for it….) MACY WAS THERE!!  Holy smokes!!  Home free!!  Well…not quite home free.  We still had an hours-worth of bus and train rides to get across Berlin to my hotel.  I was so tired but gave Macy what I had left in the form of hugs.

After the bus and train rides we made our way up to my hotel, which was just a few blocks from where Macy lives, and checked in.  I’m not sure how much English the hotel people know, but with Macy as my interpreter (she’s fluent in German) the transaction was done in German.  I had booked the hotel on Expedia.com, which is quite easy.

The view from my hotel window. It’s set in a quiet neighborhood.

My room. It cost around $50 a night.

The lobby of the hotel.

After quickly settling in we went out for supper at a….wait for it…TURKISH PLACE!!  They have these gyro-like things that they call doner’s.  Two words.  DEE.  LISH.

Meat on a pole. MMmmmm….meat.

Macy and our doners.  Say it like “duner”

Around the neighborhood that I stayed, and in fact, around Germany are “stumbling blocks”.  Small, cobblestone sized brass memorials for those victims of the Holocaust. Every stumbling block has the name of the victim, the date of their birth and the date of death.  These blocks are set in the pavement of sidewalks in front of buildings where Nazi victims once lived or worked.  There are around 25,000 stumbling blocks in 600 different cities around Germany.  Its the worlds largest memorial, and its still growing. The name of the death camp is stamped on it as well.

Stumbling blocks

With supper finished I tell Macy that “its probably close to six or seven o’clock” and that I should retire for the evening and get some sleep, I’ve been awake for over thirty hours.  She replied “its four o’clock in the afternoon Dad.”  Regardless…I head to the hotel, take a hot relaxing shower, send out a few messages to family and fall asleep at seven, not waking up until six the next morning.  The hardest part of the trip is over, I have four days with Macy in Berlin.  Let the fun begin!

God bless!

R

My dirty secret…so comfortable

Spring time

Much like the famous migrating swallows who every March return to the Mission of San Juan Capistrano from their winters in Argentina, I too migrate.  I migrate to the Men’s departments of several large department stores, but not to build mud nests and lay eggs (I’m so over that phase of my life….) but to fortify my work wardrobe with a fresh arsenal of fresh ties, new snazzy shirts and black slacks that haven’t been snagged or frayed from use.  Titillating read so far, heh?  Stay with me now.

My career choice was retail management.  I wasn’t smart enough for many white collar jobs.  Accountant?  Forget about it.  Loan officer at a bank?  Couldn’t do it.  NASA rocket scientist?  Not smart enough AND I look too cool to pull off the whole “nerdy slide rule” thing without raising eyebrows.  I’m not mechanically inclined.  Don’t get me wrong…I can DO outdoorsy stuff and work in the garage, but anything much more than that and I may as well make an appointment at the walk-in medical clinic for forty-five minutes after I began said project. “Hello?  Nurse Marlene?  Rich Ripley here.  Connie wants me to hang a bird feeder on one of our oak trees.  Can you clear an examination room from 10 to 11 o’clock this morning?  Get the x-ray machine warmed up and make sure that you have plenty of gauze, iodine, two feet of thread and a couplea good stitching needles on hand.  I’m feeling really good about getting this bird feeder thing done quickly.”

Anyway…my whole work clothes thing is nice.  I wear good-looking clothes and nice shoes which don’t always look so good when I get home…but the customers and my coworkers seem to appreciate my efforts.  Dress shirts…I have around 28.  I can only wear one at a time.  Ties…over 30.  Same deal as the shirts.  Actually…I have more ties than that.  I can’t stand to part with them, I mean…we’ve been through so much.  A good shirt/tie will last me two years.  A great one, three to four years.  Most of my ties are great.  They’ve been worn through:

  • countless trucks being unloaded in all kinds of weather (our dock is outside).  Blizzard?  Back up it…get it done.  Thunderstorm?  I ain’t made of sugar…I won’t melt.
  • Miles and miles of walking around the store.  MILES
  • Consultations, hiring’s, schedule writings, orientations, meetings, trainings, buying shows, interacting with customers/employees and multiple crisis’…and all the time they’ve hung with me.  I can’t just leave them behind.  After a while…I just donate them.

Then there’s my Dad’s ties.  They’re funky colors and dare I say….retro.  I’m keeping those suckers!  I even put one or two into the Ripley Fashion Rotation every month, they appreciate it and I enjoy having them around.

I ain’t no rooster

So I used to wear my umpire and basketball referee warm-ups to the gym when I worked out, meaning I was dressed pretty much in black from chest to toe.  I didn’t like the idea of spending money for different colored clothes when I was just going to be sweating in them.  That is until I saw another guy…dressed completely all in black working out like I was. Two words.  Dork Alert!  As if I don’t already fight the whole “Duke of Dorkdom” thing with my goofy grin, bald spot and shrill laugh (my mother says that it sounds “intoxicating”) so I certainty don’t need to “pile it on” by doing something so blatantly idiotic.  Sooo…..I went out and bought some new work out shorts, socks and shirts.  I had a dizzying array of fabulously brilliant colors to choose from, many of which would likely been seen from outer space.  Blaze orange shorts?  Why the hell not?!  Hot lime green socks?  Only if they make me run faster….which they most certainly will!!  Nuclear yellow dry-fit work out shirt?  Why not?  The whole ensemble would make me look like a tie-dyed rooster strutting across the work out floor….minus the hens.  For the record I stuck with red and blue shorts that are six inches too long.  Apparently when we’re finally invaded by gangly legged aliens we’ll already have plenty of flamboyantly colored shorts to go around for them.

My secret…brace yourselves…

So my last stop on this clothes shopping craze was Men’s Warehouse.  I was hoping to score a few more ties (my addiction) and dress shirts…but found a pair of jeans.  Now let me say this…since turning 45 (give or take a few years) finding blue jeans that easily fit me and looked good has been a rare event.  If they’re comfortable…they’re too big.  If they look good on me…then they’re too tight to sit down in.  (I’m vain…okay?  Deal with it).  My waist is somewhere in the nether region of thirty-five inches.  Blue jeans skip the odd numbers and either punish you for growing old and fat and entice you to wear the lesser number or swim in the larger number and cinch your belt up two more notches. (First world problemsAm I right or am I right?) So I tried on a different brand of jeans and VIOLA!!  A FREAKIN’ THIRTY-FOUR WAS TOO BIG!!  I tried a thirty-three and it fit well, was comfortable and still had room in the front for me to gorge myself with food and still be comfortable in them.  Their secret?  (let’s be discreet now…I’m beggin’ ya.  I’m not real proud of this….but) The fabric is 84% cotton, 16% (wait for it….) POLYESTER.  Ugh.  There.  I said it….and they feel great.  You can’t even tell without looking at the label (hidden in the inside crotch…thank goodness).  Anywho…that’s who I am now.  A middle-aged man wearing polyester blue-jeans.  Deal with itI’m so comfortable.

May God have mercy on my soul.

Thanks for coming along.

R