Friday, September 23, 2005

To Live in LA

To live in LA. I left LaConner on Tuesday night at 8 pm. I had Chris, the Toyota mechanic, check out my oil leak. He said it didn’t look too bad, so I decided not to go back to Jim Smith’s house in LaConner, but just to head out on the highway and do some night driving.

I drove until 2 am, getting well past Portland. I pulled over to the rest area and slept for 90 minutes. I kept going. By sunrise I was nearing the California border. I made another rest stop. I pulled into the town of Mount Shasta by 10 am and visited the Metaphysical Bookstore because Stuart Welch at Rexville asked me to stop there. He knew the owner, a woman named Missy.

But Missy wasn’t there anymore. She left eight years ago. She sold the business to Otto, a nice man. We talked. I read a book about crop circles and I left. I didn’t like Mount Shasta.

I drove south another 150 miles to Corning, in the center of the olive orchards. I found a wonderful campsite by the Sacramento River in a grove of oak trees. I slept all afternoon in the shade. I woke up at 5 pm, made coffee, took a walk, listened to reggae music on the portable radio and went back to sleep at 8 pm, hearing the wonderful music of crickets under a bright moon. The air was balmy. I barely needed the sleeping bag.

I woke up at 5 am and kept going. I had bad luck near Gilroy later that morning. A beautiful white dog darted into the road. He stopped right in front of me. I was going 65 mph. Such a beautiful animal. For a split second it looked me in the eyes and it was terrified. There was nothing I could do. It happened in a second. I hit the dog. It must have died instantly. The traffic was heavy right there. It took me a half mile to pull over and stop. I was shaken. Terrible.

I got the Los Angeles that evening. Now I’m at the coffee shop near the beach in Venice. I just talked with Eric Liner – a man unassuming in appearance, but an important real estate investor in Venice. “When is the bubble going to burst, Eric?” I asked. Eric is not very forthcoming about his own investments. He said, “I’m not sure. It might be slowing a bit.”

Who can talk about real estate anyways? Everybody’s mind is on the Texas Coast.

I called Nick West, the editor of the Palacios Beacon. Palacios is a small town in Matagorda County to the south of Houston, with a large fleet of shrimp boats.

The prediction now is that Hurricane Rita will hit the coast further to the north and that Palacios will only get a sideswipe. Nick was relieved, although he said the town was completely empty and that he has trucked out all the newspaper’s computer’s to higher ground. He remained alone in his office with his laptop.

Nobody ever goes to Palacios, but it’s real pretty. If you ever get to the Gulf Coast and if you’re looking for a place away from the tourist hustle – check out Palacios – pronounced in Tex-Mex style as “pallashus.”

Here’s what I wrote in this week’s column for the Wilson County News:

Prose and Cons, September 28, 2005, No. 11

Worrying about the Future

By Fred Owens

There are three things that you can do about the future – pray, worry, and buy insurance. Praying comes first. I’ll let you listen in on my prayer:

I said, “Lord, I don’t know what’s going to happen next, and I’m getting worried. Why are we having all these terrible storms?”

God replied, “Oh, there was wickedness, sloth and corruption in that city and the people did not hear My words, so I smote it with fury.”

I said, “You smote it? But why? Sure there were bad people there, but so many others were innocent. What about the children and the old people? What about all this pain and suffering?”

God answered, “Did you say your name was Job by any chance? Job wrote a book about Me in the Old Testament. Maybe you should read that.”

I said, “All right, so You had Your reasons, but what about the future? I know You have a plan for me, and I’m sure it’s for the best, but I just wish I had some clue about what’s coming next.

Silence.

I tried again, “Lord, can You at least give me a general direction? Are you planning more terrible storms?”

More silence.

“Okay, well, thank you, Lord. I’ll stay in touch.”

Boy, what good did that do? The skeptics say that praying is a waste of time, but maybe I did get an answer. The answer is that I should leave the big picture to God, and take care of what’s right in front of me.

This is where worrying comes in – reviewing contingency plans and keeping the essentials on hand. Start with bottled water, canned food, flashlights, batteries and a portable radio. Don’t forget duct tape. Duct tape is the greatest invention since barbed wire. You could build a guided missile out of scrap materials if you have plenty of duct tape. How about a gun and ammunition? Yes, but I only advise this for people who have a calm disposition and a sturdy character.

Then make two plans. The first plan is to stay in your home and defend it with your life. The second plan is to flee on a moment’s notice. But you can’t choose ahead of time which plan to follow.

Camping is fun, isn’t it? Making do, using what’s at hand, practicing what you learned in the Boy Scouts, remembering those skills from the old timers. And how about dropping in on those cousins of yours in Wichita, Kansas – the ones you haven’t seen in ten years. No need to phone ahead – after all, they’re family.

Or you might have unexpected company yourself. These days you never know who’s going to come knocking on your door. Life can be so surprising. So much for worrying – a little bit goes a long ways.

The third thing you can do about the future is buy insurance. People insure theirs lives, their health, their house, their property and their businesses. If you think about it, the insurance industry is involved with predicting the future, calculating the risks, and spreading the cost across thousands of policy holders.

So the question – are we going to have more terrible storms? – is a central concern for insurance companies. The government will subsidize reconstruction on the Gulf Coast, but housing and businesses won’t be rebuilt if they can’t be insured. You can be sure that insurance people are in deep conversation right now with climate scientists who predict global warming. Insurance companies are about to pay out billions in hurricane damages. They are powerfully motivated to investigate future risks if ocean temperatures continue to rise. And they will make decisions that affect each and every one of us.

They are not lovable people. We resent the necessity of insurance. Those building codes that determine how you build your house – you can blame the government for these sometimes difficult regulations, but it’s the insurance industry that calls the tune and lobbies the legislature. The future is uncertain except for one thing – the cost of your insurance is going to rise.

Then I heard His Voice again, saying, “You worry too much. You must be getting old.”

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