Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Fire - I Saw It Happen

 
I spent the last three days back in Corpus Christi.  The weather was great and the hotel the best.  I stayed at the Grand Marina along the water.  I saw the sunrise every morning from the ninth floor of the hotel.
 
The school was also the best in terms of culture and attitude.  We all worked together well.  It was a good time had by all.
 
This afternoon though, we went to lunch in the cafeteria.   As a teacher I go to the front of the line both for food and the register.  There are 850 students who eat in thirty minutes all crowding into the space at one time.   A true logistical nightmare.  It looks like a prison system you see on television.
 
I headed to the front of the line and as I reached the cash register, someone next to me said, "look at the smoke".  Most students go to the cafeteria with their cellphones and listen to music or text.  A girl had just sat down and put in her earphones when all of a sudden you heard "like a large window splintering" and then a billow of smoke.  The girl jumped up and with her headphones still connected the phone went flying and so did the smoke and fire.  Her cellphone exploded. 
 
I've heard of it, seen it in videos, but had never seen it in person.
 
Now I am back in San Antonio and ready for a week of relaxation while I find a tenant for the house.  The painters should show up tomorrow.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Feeling Anxious

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Came home today so I can prepare for my trip to Corpus Christi.   We had a wonderful breakfast with Leyla and Kirk our friends from Arkansas.   We stopped by to see them this summer.  Juan studied under Leyla with his first Fulbright.   They rented a condo for a week in Puebla as Leyla gave a talk to promote her program and also to see alumni from the last 14 years.   We have invited them to come to Mexico again and travel with us to San Miguel de Allende.  Great couple and we get along great.

I took VivaAeroBus airlines today.   Cheap by any means but the service stinks.  I always promise not to use them ever again and today was no exception.   Too much to go into but if you want cheap and you have patience, go for it.  It's all yours.

I said "anxious" in the title of today's post because I have a few things to finish up this year.   Two courses this week in Corpus, rent the house in San Antonio, and also work for six weeks trying to bring new students into a bilingual program.   

Once that is done, we are off for about six weeks to Mazatlan and we will do what we do best.   Be with friends, have fun and just relax.  It's been a very good year, I've never had a bad one.   I hope to have many more.  

This week at the convention was very fulfilling.  I made a commitment and I stuck to it.  I'm back in the fold and will continue to be a faithful member of the organization.   I have decided to dedicate the next year to increasing membership in our state chapter of Mextesol. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Puebla Convention

 
Great day today!  Saw many old friends and met some new ones.  Good thing is, the association is attracting young teachers as well as student teachers.  There seems to be big interest in EFL (English as a foreign language) and it is growing as schools become bilingual and others offer more hours of classes per week.
 
My presentation was a success and I had over 175 teachers who attended.  They had fun and so did I.  Juan was in the room and said comments were great.  One teacher approached me afterwards and said that I probably didn't remember her.  She pulled out a diploma she received from me 25 years ago at a workshop I gave in Saltillo.  Does that date me or what?



Here we are at breakfast this morning out on the terrace of the hotel.  Best breakfast ever.  A croissant with a fried egg, a slab of panela cheese and ham served with a small salad with pesto dressing and potatoes on the side for 50 pesos ($3.90).   Fantastic! 
 



After dinner with our gorgeous friend Annette from Cuernavaca.  She lived in Monterrey for almost two years and would come out to what she called "the ranch" on weekends.  We had a few drinks before hand and yucked it up.   Always good laughs.
 
 
Juan at our National Geographic stand at the exhibition.
 
 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Off To Puebla!

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Our flight leaves at 10:30.  Although it is a national flight we are flying a super discount carrier who insists you be there two hours before the flight and they really mean it.  It takes talking to a supervisor to get on the flight if you get in line after the two hours.  Tight seats, regimented service but the price is right and they are always on time. 
 
Juan and I will both be speaking at the convention.  Tomorrow I will present:  Working In Teams:  Making Communication Truly Fact to Face.  I've only been working with it for over 20 years but very few teachers use cooperative learning.   I thought I Texas it would be common practice but it's not, it's the traditional classroom.  That's why so many learn so little and are left behind.
 
Juan's presentation is titled:  Globalized Professional Development Through The Use of Scholarships.   Working in the state department with scholarship programs he will be promoting various programs that are available for university level students.
 
I come back a day early to prepare for my trip to Corpus Christi on Sunday where I will have two courses Monday and Tuesday and then off to San Antonio to rent the house and follow up with the painters and all the details. 
 
I am looking forward to our trip to Mazatlan.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Thinking About Winter Plans

 
I survived last week's marathon.  What a tough job and one that can be unrewarding at times.   I pretty much have made the decision that this will be my third and last year doing the SAT/ACT.  I will start looking now to prepare for the following year or for next summer.   Too bad I'm not Canadian, they make a ton of money workcamping in provincial parks.  I could get lucky at the convention this week and land a part-time position with National Geographic.  We are supposed to have a get together there.
 
I worked with over 1200 students in a week's time.   It was fun but challenging.  Making my way to San Antonio was fun pulling the trailer behind me.   The rental needs a complete paint job inside and I never realized, after so many years in Mexico, what it costs to paint a house.   That is a good business where you can charge over $2000 per 1000 sq ft of house for the interior.   That said, you could make over $75,000 a year.   I had over seven estimates in three days.  The ranged from $2200 to the final negociated price of $1500.   The last bid includes everything; repair of walls, cracks, woodwork, doors, texture where needed and the primers and paint.   Others didn't include some of the above and several were painters I met as I walked the aisles of Home Depot.   The last guy has a crew and he started out at $2000.  When I told him I would have to lower the estimate and only paint certain rooms he came right back at the $1500.  The others, young guys, wouldn't budge.  One even came covered in paint in his 2012 Mercedes Benz.  That was in very bad taste.
 
Over those three days I purchased supplies, helped the neighbor who is doing the cleaning, got the locks changed among other things.   My neighbor across the street helped me bring home a new closet door.   Get this, the door comes drilled with all the holes for the door know, strike plate and lock (no hinges) and the minimum charge to hang a door is $130.  
 
Apart from all the bullshit rules in Texas regarding renters, driving, can and can't dos my life is short for the U.S.  I continue to distance myself from there more and more as times goes on.   I am also working on a refinance in hopes it will be more attractive to buyers.   Liability is the biggest issue in the U.S.   I went to change the hydro into my name and they wanted a deposit of $210.  For what?  For me to use their power and pay for it?   Water has a deposit of $75.   Ludicrous. 
 
I happily returned to my Mexico Sunday morning.  I stopped at one of the two largest HEB supermarkets.   On Military and I-35 in southside San Antonio the HEB has 160,000 sq ft.   It was incredible.   I met a guy working there whose father just bought a farm in Zacatecas.  The guy I talked to just returned from a visit and he said if people want to know what dangerous is, try the West, East and South sides of San Antonio.  He is moving there in two years to work with his dad after he retires from HEB. 
 
Did you also know that Mexico has closed some aduana checkpoints also known as Km 26?  Reynosa and Nuevo Laredo are now closed with only INM agents.  No more second red light stands or SAT officials, only at the bridge and immigration offices.   "Eliminating a second layer of inspection at the border that President Enrique Peña Nieto said had become unnecessary and cumbersome".
 
Also, our bank in San Antonio issued it's first chipped credit card.  The U.S. is way behind the rest of the world in processing credit and debit purchases not having card readers which are expected to slowly appear in 2015.  Also being mentioned are "tokens" and a streamlined IRS system.  Wow, Mexico has had all three for the last five years.   The current credit card system in the U.S. is over 40 years old and requires a new infrastructure.  And people wonder why their credit cards and accounts are being compromised in mass at Target, Home Depot, and JP Morgan.
 
If you've read this far, I forgot about the title of this blog post.  We are seriously thinking about taking the new road to Mazatlan for six weeks this winter.   An easy two-day drive and lots of relaxation.   We may not stay on the Isla but only because I need to go to the gym everyday.
 
One of my many brothers is a poet.  He has published many books of poems he has written over the years about his time in Vietnam.   Sunday he published a video of his time there and includes readings of his poems.   I will post it tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Latest

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This is the auditorium of one of the schools I do in the valley.  This was my third year here.  Always a pleasure but I'm not allowed to take pictures with people in the room.  So you get an idea of what it might look like full of students.  This venue holds 500 students. 
 


 
I finished early only because the students had advisory day.  They had to vote on a homecoming queen.  I'm glad that had priority over a course that helps prepare them for life not to mention the fact that the parents paid a pretty penny for the course.   Advisory is mandatory. 
 
I went to FedX to send my reports and then went to the warehouse for more materials for Wednesday and Thursday.   500 sets fit in the SUV but with little room for anything else.  I headed back to the rv park and said my goodbyes.  I hooked up and headed for Corpus.   I passed through the checkpoint and they asked the big question, "are you a U.S. citizen?"  I rolled down the backseat window and stuck his head in, laughed and said, "high school prep course!"
 
As I pulled in to Kingsville, Tx the moon made a wonderful appearance.   Too bad I didn't have time to stop.  The sun was behind me and the moon in front of me.  Truly a sight to see.


A short story about my trip home from Corpus on Monday.   On highway 77 south, I saw two highway patrolmen in cars talking and then an unmarked car pulled up next to them.   I never turned my head to look at them but I have that instinct.   Sure enough, about two minutes later an unmarked Crown Victoria is about 200 meters behind me.  After another minute it is beside me but in my blind spot.   So I tap the breaks to release the cruise control and the car pulls behind me and then accelerates.  I thought for sure he was going to hit me when his lights came on.   I pulled over and rolled down the windows.
 
He came up on the passenger side and asked in his poorest Spanish for my "tarjeta de circulacion" or title and my license.  He then said that he pulled me over because I had a tag from the rv park hanging from the rear view mirror and that was illegal in Texas.   He said he would just give me a warning if I took it off.  He asked me what I was doing and what was in the boxes and I explained.   He said again that he was just giving me a warning.  I then asked him if he wanted to see the car title and he said, "nah, don't worry about it" and he handed me my license and walked away.  I wondered, "what about the title, don't you want to see the car title?"   Obviously he thought he had caught someone with something.  It isn't illegal to have an ID tag hanging from your mirror.  An invented violation for which there was no formal warning.  Imagine what Mexicans go through traveling in the U.S.  Abuse and discrimination.
 
Sorry Junior, just an old English teacher with a bunch of books!


Saturday, October 4, 2014

Lazy Saturday In The RGV

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Got up early this morning and sent off my reports.   I went by the office (storage) and picked up materials for Monday in Corpus.  I'll leave sometime tomorrow afternoon, drive by the school to make sure I can get there without any issues (GPS) and then to my hotel.   It will be a small group of about 60 students. 
 
I came back and had a late breakfast and then a short nap.  Believe it or not, I stayed up late last night.  I had some internet signal so I took advantage of it.  I'm now doing a load of wash and writing this from the clubhouse.  Still no Winter Texans.
 
When I left Corpus on Friday I dropped by Evelyn's Rv Park in Robstown.   I want to stay there Tuesday night.   I will need to finish my course in McAllen, pick up materials, hookup the rv and head to Corpus for the night.  Sounds complicated but it's more time consuming than anything else.  I read reviews about the park that weren't too good but it actually looks okay especially since it less than two miles from the school.
 
One thing I wanted to mention was the heavy police presence on the RGV/Corpus Christi corridor.  I've never seen so many unmarked cars.   Every couple of miles there would be a Narcotics Police unit stationed or chasing after a car.   I saw three different situations where a person or persons was standing about 150 feet in front of their vehicles, two with hands over their heads, while the police person searched the vehicle.   Pretty scary from my standpoint driving an SUV with Mexican plates.  As I drove by a highway crossover, there was a narcotic's police unit sitting there.  As I went by he spun his wheels and took off coming behind me.  Scared the holy crap out of me.   He drove by and pulled a guy over.  Dust and gravel flying everywhere. 
 
I have to make this drive two more times, tomorrow and Tuesday.   With the trailer I don't expect any issues though.   
 
If I were to live in an rv for a long period of time, I would want a big kitchen.  I didn't go rv shopping today as I had planned.  Too late now because they all close at noon on Saturdays.