Resolutions and Sunrises

Terri - Roy Murdoch NYE illustration1966-12-31 11This illustration I did for The Southeast Missourian in 1966 shows how Wife Lila and I usually welcome in the New Year.

Follow this link to see more photos of Terri and Roy Murdoch, children of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Murdoch, and to read about their dad.

I’m not sure I ever heard Chuck Murdoch called “Charles.” He was just “Chuck,” one of my favorite sports editors. He didn’t take himself or his job too seriously, but he loved covering kid sports and did everything he could to get as many names in the paper as he could.

When did you quit smoking?

TV screen Athens 02-09-1069I recall the year that Dad quit smoking cold turkey on New Year’s Eve. We all noticed that he had gotten crankier than usual, but he didn’t tell us for a couple of weeks that he had tossed all his cigarettes in the fireplace at the stroke of midnight. He didn’t want to say anything until he was sure he could do it.

I’ve been binge-watching the TV series Mad Men, which is about an advertising agency in New York in the 1960s. I thought I was going to choke to death during the first few episodes because there wasn’t a scene that didn’t have people filling the air with smoke. When I thought back on it, that’s just the way it was in those days, particularly in the newsroom.

(The photo department became non-smoking as soon as I became director of photography. I claimed it was for technical and safety reasons, but the truth was that I hated smelling the smoke.)

Plenty of readers shared their smoking experiences.

Sunrise on the beach

New Year's Day sunrise on Lake Worth FL beach 1-1-2011In a moment of insanity on the first day of 2011, I consented to go to the Lake Worth beach to watch the sun come up. Now, don’t get me wrong. I HAVE seen the sun come up before, but it’s almost always been because I stayed up all night the night before.

Anyway, it was a beautiful dawn and I don’t regret going.


Click on the link so you can see how nice it was (and keep from having to go yourself).

Start the year off right

While you are making your New Year’s resolutions, make a note that you will click on the big red Click Here button at the top of the Buy From to Support Ken Steinhoffpage (or right here) whenever you order something from Amazon.

I get a tiny percentage of the price, and it doesn’t cost you a penny.

How about that? Here’s a resolution that doesn’t cause you to sweat, doesn’t cost you any money and doesn’t change your eating or drinking habits. You can’t beat that with a stick.


The Day Got Stranger

hari Stiver w Elvis at Mollywood 10-13-2013Shari got to meet Elvis. She was so taken by Mollywood Imports of Dothan that I thought she was going to rent a truck and leave me. The day was destined to get stranger.

Motel 6 did the right thing

I added an update to last night’s Motel 6 posting where I discovered at about 3 in the morning that my non-smoking room (with an ashtray) smelled so much like smoke that my head stopped up and my throat was scratchy.

When I checked out, I asked to speak to a manager. Yolanda said she could help me, so I described the problem to her. She asked if I’d like my money back.

“I’m not asking for my money back. The room was worth what you charged except for the smoke part. I just wanted to let you know why I won’t be back. As a separate matter, you should make a note for housekeeping that the tub doesn’t drain and that there are no non-slip treads on the bottom of the tub. I reached for a towel and nearly went down hard.”

“I think it’s a Motel 6 policy to put ashtrays in all the rooms, and none of our tubs have non-slip material in them,” she said. “I know you didn’t ASK for your money back, but would you take it if I refunded it?”

I figured I had done the honorable thing by refusing it once; I accepted the credit this time. I have to say that both Lynette and Yolanda did a great job of customer service.

 Union Station in Montgomery

Electric streetcar Montgomery 10-13-2013I’ve always wanted to see some of the Civil Rights memorials in Montgomery, so we got off I-65 and headed for the old Union Station where the visitor’s bureau lives. It was closed, so I took a few pictures of the building and this 1897 electric street trolley that was on exhibit.

1906 building

Montgomery building 10-13-2013At the end of the block from Union Station stands a building dated 1906. I’ve always been a sucker for dates on buildings, so I took this as a record shot. As I was clicking through the slides, I did a double-take. What is the long, green object toward the right side of the photo? There’s a second one to the right of the photo (the black curly thing is a shadow of the “snake” above it).. (You can click on the photos to make them larger.)

What IS that? A snake?

Montgomery building 10-13-2013

I called Shari in her room. “In all your years of construction, did you ever hear of suspending a snake from a string on a building you were working on?”

Once I convinced her I wasn’t kidding her, she said she had heard of putting owls on a building to scare off birds, but the snake thing is a new one.

“When I told her about the second snake, she asked if they looked alike; that would mean they were fake.”

“I see them suspended from what appears to be a single point and they don’t form an arc like the St. Louis arch does,” I told her. “The snakes DO appear to have similar curves, but they’re facing different directions, so they are a little hard to compare.”

Have any of you folks heard of stringing up snakes (dead, alive, fake or real)?

Motel Saga Continued

Shari Stiver at Fanning Spings 10-12-2013Friend Shari and I had another good day on the road. We left Ocala at a reasonable hour (for me, at least) and headed for Steinhatchee, where I had been talking up the blue crab claws at Roy’s for days.

We stopped at the Fanning Springs on the Suwanee River because that’s where we let the kids run off some steam when we were passing through. I told her we have pictures of Son Adam as a naked baby being sprayed down at a water faucet, but she declined to replicate the event.

She WAS willing to pose next to the bridge that spanned the river in 1934.

What!?!? No crab claws?

Roy's Seafood - 10-12-2013When we got to Roy’s, I told the waitress that I knew exactly what I wanted: an order of steamed blue crab claws.

In a tone that indicated that she had delivered the sad news more than once, she said they were out of crab claws AND oysters.

“You’re OUT of crab claws?!?! We drove 300 miles to taste those wonderful things. Are you SURE?”

She was sure.

We ended up with an excellent salad bar and a seafood platter that was good, but it wasn’t crab claws.

Establishing motel standards

Motel 10-12-2013_5773You may have read about the difficulty we had agreeing on a place to stay Friday night. One porridge was too hot; one porridge was too cold; one porridge was too expensive; another porridge was, well, you get the idea.

Just outside Perry, I spotted a MOTEL sign on the other side of the road. I braked just short of smoking tires, did a U-turn and pulled to a stop in front of the place.

“I want to establish a set of standards of acceptability so we don’t go through what we went through last night. Let’s see if we can agree on a the minimum that we can live with.”

Do you like plants in the room?

Motel near Perry FL 10-12-2013I thought she’d like to have plants in the room. The fact they are live and not plastic should add points.

Clean bathroom important?

Motel 10-12-2013_5790When we were coming into Mariana, I asked if she wanted to stop there or journey on to Dothan, 40 minutes up the road. She plugged “Starbucks” into her mapping program, found out the nearest Starbucks was in Dothan, and said, “Take me to Alabama.”

Are you influenced by sale prices?

Motel near Perry FL 10-12-2013Conversation lagged, so I fired up the MP3 playlist that I use on my bike. It might have been my imagination, but I thought she sang along to “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” with just a little too much feeling.

Is a mural desirable?

Motel near Perry FL 10-12-2013Shari saw some of the works of the Florida Highwaymen, a group of 26 black artists who painted iconic Florida landscapes in the 1950s, and was taken by their style. I thought a room with a mural would get a high rating.

Do you require black-out curtains?

Motel near Perry FL 10-12-2013Does the room have to be completely dark for you to sleep?

Ash trays in non-smoking rooms

Non-smoking ash tray 10-12-2013We ended up in a Motel 6 in Dothan close enough for us to double back to Mollywood so Shari can be photographed with Elvis.

Lynette, the front desk clerk, was one of the high points of the day. She was funny, helpful and put up with our bantering. She did tell us to expect one curious thing when we got to the rooms: the rooms are non-smoking, but they have ashtrays in them.

“That doesn’t make any sense.” I argued.

“People lie,” she said. “They smoke anyway, and they were burning holes in our sheets and carpets, so we put ashtrays in all the rooms.”

I warned her that I’d be back if I could smell any smoke in MY room. As it turned out, the room was acceptable (and, better yet, it was only $35.63. I’ve paid a lot more for a lot less before).

If you decide to stay there, tell Lynette, a Chicago transplant, we said “Howdy.”

UPDATE on Motel 6 room

When I checked in, I pulled down the bed cover and gave the sheets and pillow a quick sniff test. They seemed to be OK in my ashtray-equipped non-smoking room,

I finished this post and rolled into bed around 2 a.m. Central time, which would have made it about 3 a.m. Head Time since I live in in the land of Eastern time. The bed was great; the pillow was OK; the air conditioner was a bit noisy, but kept the room at the right temp. Life is good.

Smoke embedded in innards

I was out like the proverbial light. For about an hour, that is.

I woke up with my nose stopped up and a scratchy throat. My quick sniff test hadn’t been deep enough to pick up the smoke deeply embedded (pun not intended, but I’ll take it) in the mattress, pillow innards or some other place. I popped an antihistamine that helped, but I was conscious of that smoke every time I woke up.

The price was great; clerk Lynette was a delight, and the room was much better than expected, but I’ll never stay in a place again that puts ashtrays in non-smoking rooms. And, I have a spot reserved in a very hot, smoky place for people who smoke in non-smoking locations.

I don’t know if the ashtray thing is a local option or if all Motel 6 locations do it. I think I’ll solve the problem by never staying in one again.

Fireplaces and Basement Stairs

I like working in the basement here in Cape. I miss my nice office chair and my film scanner and all the negatives just a swivel away, don’t get me wrong, but the basement is very conducive to my style of writing. It’s a procrastinator’s paradise.

First off, there’s the fireplace. Mother has a gas furnace, but she also has a basement fireplace that helps heat the basement and the rest of the house. The chimney for it runs up the wall between the kitchen and the living room, so when you get the fireplace good and warm, the wall becomes one big radiator. It feels so good to lean up against it and suck heat into your body after you’ve been out in the cold.

The best part is that you have to futz with it.

When I’m working back home, I’ll sometimes go for hours except for necessary breaks and naps. With a fireplace, you have to get up about every 20 minutes to give it a poke. The wood’s pretty dry, so you have to add a piece about every 30 minutes.

If you ignore it and let it burn down to coals, then you have to add some kindling and coax it into life with a few puffs. When the wood stack gets low in the house, you have to wheel the garden cart outside to reload it. That means you have to reapply the tarps that keep it dry. You calculate for a minute if you have to bring in a sandbag full of kindling we made when we cut up an old picket fence down in Dutchtown.

Then, there’s the decision about whether or not to let the fire to burn out so you can carry the ashes outside. That leads to another assessment: are the coals dead enough that you can pour them out in the backyard or is there a danger they might flare up and catch the leaves on fire?

Now that newspapers have gotten miniscule, you have to husband the few scraps of paper you can glean from junk mail and cardboard boxes and decide if you want to go for broke and build it all at one time or do you get a little kindling started and then add the bigger wood. Are you going to use the dry wood from last year or should you ration it out as firestarter for later in the winter?

See how much time you can fritter away tending a fireplace?

The only time I considered smoking

I worked with a reporter who was a pipe smoker. He could control the ebb and flow of an interview by how he worked his pipe. If he wanted time to think of the next question, or if he wanted to let silence build hoping that the subject would feel awkward and fill the silence, he’d reach for his pipe.

First, he’d go through the ritual of cleaning it out. Then the fumble in all his pockets for the tobacco. He had to find the right tool to tamp it down in the bowl. That was another search. Eventually he’d need a match. More inventory-taking. Sometimes when I KNEW he had a match, I’d watch him ask the subject for one just to get a flow going.

The only other guy I saw milk a tobacco product as effectively was Hal Holbrook playing Mark Twain smoking a cigar. Those guys had it down to an art.

I did a personality assessment and decided I couldn’t be a pipe smoker. I was like the old cheapskate who said, “When I’m smoking my own tobacco, all I can think of is the cost. If I’m smoking another man’s tobacco, the bowl is packed so tight it won’t draw.”

Basement stairs for cardio

If I want a drink or a snack in Florida, it’s about 20 feet straight into the kitchen. Way too convenient.

Here in Cape, I have to walk across the length of the basement – that’s 11 steps (15 if I divert to check the fireplace) – then it’s up two stairs, hit the landing, turn, then 10 stairs up. People pay good money to go to the gym for that kind of workout on a Stairmaster.