The Time My Mom Dropped Her Cane Down an Elevator Shaft

Recent text message exchange between me and my mom:

Me: “Every once in a while when I get on or off an elevator, I think about that time you dropped your cane down an elevator shaft.”

Mom: “That was a good one. Thought for sure I would get a new cane, but no go.”

Later that night we spoke by phone.

“That cane has quite a history you know,” my mom tells me.

“Really? Like what?”

“Well, one time when your dad and I were living in Omaha, I lost it down a storm drain,” she says.

Mom worked at a hospital in Omaha, NE in the early 1970s. She walked and took the bus all over town, and her white walking cane acquired from the Iowa Commission for the Blind always went with her. Walking to the bus stop on her way to work one morning, she lost the cane down a storm drain.

“I tried to think who I could call to see if it could be found,” she explained. At a friend’s suggestion she tried the fire department. After explaining she was blind and had lost her cane down a storm drain (this took a bit of convincing), she identified the intersection where the cane was lost. My mom remembers the intersection to this day and rattles it off as she’s telling me the story. The fire department agreed to search for the cane, and, “within an hour or so they were at the hospital to bring it to me.” Perhaps they were thinking, well, it’s no fire, but at least it’s a break from the cat in the tree thing.

In the elevator incident, mom was getting on the elevator and the tip caught in that narrow crack between the building wall and the elevator car. My mom lost her grip and the cane slipped down into the shaft.

“So when you lost the cane down the elevator shaft, were you thinking that was it?” That surely this is the last time I’d lose that cane, and I’d have to get a new one?” I asked.

“Well yes,” my mom said. The way she answered led me to believe she wouldn’t have been too upset had she lost the cane for good that day. Not that it wasn’t a fine cane, but after 20 plus years and all it had been through, maybe it was just time for a new cane.

But, just like the Omaha incident, the cane returned to her again. This time, building maintenance workers were recruited for the job of cane retrieval.

“What else has happened to it?” I asked.

“Oh, it’s been run over by cars a few times,” she responds nonchalantly, as if this should be of no surprise. I didn’t probe but suspect there’s at least one interesting story there.

There was also the time several years ago when she was shopping at Target, and the cashier at checkout called security because she insisted the cane was a ski pole my mom was refusing to pay for. Has Target ever sold ski poles?

A similar incident occurred when my mom was young and in a grocery store with my grandfather. That cashier thought the cane was a mop handle.

My mom has had that same cane for about 45 years. She doesn’t use it as often anymore, but it’s still ready to go after all these years. It’s never met a storm drain, car, elevator shaft, or cashier it couldn’t handle.

Posted in Family, Stories | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Have You Ever Been Stuck on the Phone With a Heavy Breather?

Following is an over analysis of having to listen to a heavy breather on the phone during conference calls.

Annoyed. Disgusted. Distracted. These words come to mind to describe what I’m thinking when I have to sit through a 60 minute conference call while someone participating on the call breathes heavily through the phone. The…entire…call. This happened to me (and about 10 others) recently at work. What’s worse, it was nose breathing. You can tell, right? You can tell the difference between heavy breathing coming from the mouth, and heavy breathing coming from the nose. Heavy mouth breathing sounds, well, like breathing. Nose breathing sounds like someone broadcasting over the radio standing in hurricane force winds. Sometimes it’s not necessarily heavy breathing when it’s coming from the nose. It just sounds like that because the handset or headset is positioned poorly. My bet is this person was wearing a headset where the microphone boom was angled in such a manner that the mic ended up in the line of fire. Nonetheless, how in the world does this person not hear the noise (hurricane wind)? I think most people have probably let the accidental heavy breathe slip into the phone receiver. But for most, we hear it and think “was that me?” And if there’s any possibility it was, the handset or headset is adjusted to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Most people don’t want to be the heavy breather on the call.

The only possibility – aside from a complete lack of care resulting from an utter disregard for self awareness – is a hearing problem. Under that condition, I extend sympathy. But when no one on the call exhibits signs suggesting a hearing problem, annoyance, disgust, and distraction result.

One time I was on an open-line call with around 50 people, and while most of the participants had muted their phones, naturally, the heavy breather in the crowd had not. The best part? The call leader called the person out.

“Can the person who’s breathing heavily into the phone please mute their line?”

Awesome. A Darth Vader reference would have been cool too.

Someone should invent some sort of apparatus that attaches to the handset or headset and alerts the user with a visual indicator when heavy breathing is detected. Heavy breathers, of course, would not purchase this product because of the aforementioned hearing problem or self awareness issue. But others who discover the identity of the heavy breathers would now have access to the perfect white elephant gift during the holiday season.


Posted in Stories, The Cognitive Me, Work | 2 Comments

Viewing the International Space Station or Why Twitter is So Cool!

A few weeks ago I was on Twitter searching for new people to follow. Specifically, I was looking for astronomers and the like. I already follow Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson), Reasons to Believe (@RTB_official), and others, and in a flash of thought one afternoon I decided to seek more space scientists and enthusiasts. In that search I came across Darlene Cavalier (@scicheer) founder of Science Cheerleader.

Just a few days after following Darlene, she tweeted something about Twisst (@twisst). I was unfamiliar, so I investigated. Twisst is the work of a group of journalists, programmers, and scientists who designed a notification service that tweets alerts when the International Space Station is visible from a Twitter user’s location. This was nerdy enough to be cool to me, so I signed up. A recent Twisst tweet alerted me that the ISSPhoto from would be visible from Charlotte the morning of August 8. So, I woke up early to try and catch a glimpse.

The Twisst alert said the ISS would be visible beginning at 6:08 am, but I wasn’t sure what it would look like or even if I would be able to find the ISS in the sky. Twisst informed me the ISS would appear as a bright star, and sure enough, as I began scanning the horizon with my binoculars, there it was. Through the view of my binoculars, it was unmistakable and stood out clearly against the early morning sky exactly where Twisst said it would be. It was barely visible to the naked eye, but with the binoculars it was bright and beautiful. Seeing it bright against the morning sky was rather thrilling and inspiring.

Of the people I follow on Twitter, I know few of those people outside Twitter. Only 10 at last count (not counting companies/organizations I follow). Most of the people/organizations I follow, I follow because of my interests. Twitter users often hear, “I don’t get Twitter,” from non-Twitter folk. And yeah, I understand. I didn’t get Twitter at first either. I signed up on Twitter in early 2009 but really didn’t start playing with it until last year. I got Twitter when I found I could just follow people with similar interests, which eventually lead me @scicheer, which lead me to Twisst, which lead me to viewing the International Space Station in the sky for the first time. You don’t have to get Twitter. You just have to know what you’re interested in and then find people on Twitter who are interested in the same thing.

Your interests may not be nerdy like many of mine are, or lead you to get up early to gaze at the sky. But you never know what you may discover simply because you follow someone on Twitter with similar interests.

Posted in My City, Nerd!, Stories, Tech | Tagged , | 2 Comments

NASCAR Hall of Fame

“You’ll be a NASCAR-lovin’ redneck before you know it.” This is what I heard from a few friends when I was living in Pensacola, FL. in 2006 as the news of my move to Charlotte, NC started getting around. Someone even gave me a NASCAR/redneck influenced t-shirt. Given some 90% of NASCAR teams are headquartered in and around Charlotte, I guess people assumed the dense NASCAR presence here would convert me to fandom. I’ve been in Charlotte since March 2007 and do not consider myself a NASCAR fan, but I have had two NASCAR experiences this year, and I have to say I now have a greater sense of appreciation for the sport.

In May I had the special opportunity to attend the Coca Cola 600. I say special because I was lucky enough to experience the race as a guest in the Bank of America hospitality suite. This is a temporary structure erected on the infield of the track right behind the first two spots on pit row. The structure is two levels; the lower level is enclosed and air conditioned; the upper level is a platform with seating and a great view of most of the track. The day also included a tour of the garages and pit row. For me, this was the perfect way to experience a race.

Just two months later, my son and I visited the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Uptown Charlotte. I was not by any means overwhelmed with the experience, but I will say it’s done well. The facility is modern, spacious, and you don’t have to do a lot of walking to get through everything. There’s a 12 minute film covering the history of the sport, a lot of hands on attractions, quite a bit of memorabilia, and of course, a lot of cars. Unfortunately, the Hall of Fame is struggling financially. The Charlotte community in general is really pulling for it to be a success. If this were some other attraction, like an aquarium perhaps, the community would probably be more critical. But Charlotte is proud of and quick to defend its NASCAR heritage. And for that reason, I’m optimistic the Hall of Fame will find a way to be successful.

I can’t see myself watching an entire NASCAR race on television any time soon, and I have no plans to attend the Bank of America 500 in October. But I’d probably go to the Hall of Fame again. Maybe next time I’ll wear the t-shirt.

Posted in My City, Stories | Leave a comment

Like the Scoville Unit for Peppers?

Every once in a while I get to enjoy a day full of variety. Variety of new and rare experiences. Variety of location. Variety of the people with whom I encounter. Today I started my morning in Raleigh, NC., finished part two of a two-day training session, visited Crabtree Mall in Raleigh to look for socks (Crabtree is a really nice mall), visited a Starbucks in Raleigh I had not been to previously, then hit the road for Norfolk, VA.

Here are a few highlights that contributed to the variety of my day:

  • Upon exiting I-95 North onto US 58 East at Emporia, VA, drivers today were presented with the following road construction sign which read: “Asphalt may buckle under extreme heat.” That was it. No further instruction provided as to how one should safely respond to a driving condition where buckled asphalt becomes part of the driving experience. I’ve driven US 58 many times, and if you’ve not had the pleasure, I can tell you I was not surprised in the least to find this sign on that road. It’s an awful, awful road to drive for so many reasons.
  • My brother had shoulder surgery today, so I thought about him a lot throughout the day. He did great and the surgery went well.
  • For my listening enjoyment during the drive from Raleigh, NC to Virginia Beach, VA, then to downtown Norfolk: Guster’s Ganging up on the Sun album in its entirety, The Roots, How I Got Over in its entirety, and TWiT episode 309.
  • I ate dinner at this cool burger joint on Virginia Beach. Todd Jurich’s Burger Bar. The menu overall is unique for a beach burger joint, and the hamburgers are grass feed beef that is ground daily on site. I was disappointed by the lack of craft beer on the drink menu though. Burger bar…craft beer. Come on guys…natural fit.
  • I saw several fighter jets circle and land at the Norfolk Naval Station. That’s always cool to me, because I don’t get to see fighter jets in the air every day.
  • I learned that a voice over gig I had volunteered to do for a promo video for a non-profit fell through.
  • Arriving at the Marriott hotel in downtown Norfolk to check in, I gave the girl at the front desk my last name.  She said: “Like the Scoville Unit for Peppers?” “No!” I responded. “But you made my day by asking.” No one has ever asked me about that before, so I was excited to encounter someone familiar with the unit of measure bearing my surname, at least in pronunciation.

What I enjoy most about days like these is the texture and depth. Even the mundane – like driving 3 1/2 hours, ironing a shirt, getting gas, and responding to work e-mails – become enjoyable.

Posted in Stories, The Cognitive Me | 2 Comments


Quarters were valuable to me as a child. I would save them until I had several dollars worth. I had a specific use for them; one that had nothing to do with a piggy bank. The location for my deposit of quarters? The arcade game Galaga.

The small convenience store on the corner of the street on which I grew up had Galaga for years in a back corner of the store. I would go to the store, sometimes buy a soda (or “pop” since I’m from Colorado), or a candy bar, and then plant myself at Galaga. The duration of play depended on whether or not I had brought my “A” game, and, of course, how many quarters I had in my pocket.

Over the last few years Galaga has taken a new form: upright consoles that combine two classic Namco/Midway arcade games from the 1980s: Galaga and Ms. Pacman. I was never into the Pacman games much, and if given a choice between a classic upright Galaga console and one with both Galaga and Ms. Pacman, I’d go with the Galaga-only version.

Galaga is really the only arcade game I thoroughly enjoyed. There are web and hacked versions available online, but I’m a purist. The only time I play Galaga is when I find the upright console. Incidentally, the correct pronunciation of the word Galaga seems to be open to interpretation. If anyone knows the correct pronunciation or comes across a reliable source that can confirm and explain the pronunciation, please share.



Posted in Tech | Tagged , , | 4 Comments