Tuesday, October 22, 2013

All These Coins And Nowhere To Go

$68.30 worth of change!

Not long after purchasing my plane ticket for Gambia, I began saving (hoarding?) random coins received in change from various purchases I made.  This project began last February and my intent was to take the coins to the bank just before departing for Africa to convert them to cash.  My thinking was that I would have a few extra dollars to spend by being diligent and saving all of my change.

With my departure for Africa this coming Sunday I decided that today was the day to go to Bank of America to make the conversion.  There I expected them to run the coins through a coin separator/counter and spit out cash for me when the counting was complete.  I had seen them do this for someone a couple years ago and figured the policy was still in place.  Before going to the bank and because I am an excessive-compulsive anal-retentive, I hand separated each of the coins by size (quarter, nickel, dime, penny) and put them in separate plastic bags to make the counting that much simpler.  I then tossed the entire collection in my backpack, climbed on my bicycle, and pedaled four miles to my local Bank of America branch. There I told Dannis, the hot Colombiana teller what I wanted to do with the coins.  Dannis told me that Bank of America had other plans.

No longer did they take coins at random and count them for you.  Now, “You have to put them in tubes by coin type and then we send them to Tampa to be counted.  Once Tampa counts the coins and tells us how much they are worth we can get you your money in three days.”

What? This is a bank that received $138 BILLION from the George Bush bank bailout in 2008 and you can’t separate a few dollars worth of coins for me?  I politely told Dannis that was unacceptable.  I just wanted to convert coins and get some money and pedal my bicycle home. 

Overhearing my conversation with Dannis the teller at the next window interrupted saying “Sir, did you know that Wal-Mart has a coin converter? Just go over there (pointing at the nearby Wally World) and use their coin counter.  They will do it for you and it’s free.”

Encouraged by this new-found knowledge I pedaled over to Wally World, scraped 40 points off my IQ, walked in the front door, found the Money Center, and then learned that not all glittering things at Wally World are coin counter machines.

Yes, it was true. Wally World had a machine that would sort and count my bulging supply of coins, and yes they would convert them for free (nothing is free at Wally World).  However, when I looked at the fine print I discovered that Wally won’t convert the coins to hard cash that I could carry to Gambia and spend on Gambian beer.  Nope.   Wally World will convert the coins (for free!) to Wal-Mart gift certificates that can only be spent at Wally World!  Luckily Gambia has not been infested with Wal-Mart’s – yet.  Sadly, I was screwed and didn’t get to smile about it.

Returning home with lots of coins but no dollar bills I sat down and counted all the coins myself.  It turns out I have $68.30 worth of change that I cannot convert to dollar bills.  It would be pointless to take the change with me to Africa because no foreign bank will convert coins to their currency and besides I would probably have to pay extra for an overweight bag just to drag the coins with me.

There used to be a bank in Cameron, Wisconsin called the “Bank of Cameron.”  When I was a kid, if I needed help with something the Bank of Cameron would help me.  I could go to a farm auction, buy three Jersey cows, write a check for $900, show up the next day at the Bank of Cameron, tell Orrin Grilley about my purchase and that I needed a loan.  Orrin would smile, excuse himself, walk out to the tellers and return a few minutes later with a bank deposit slip showing that he’d just put $900 in my account to cover my check.  No questions asked.  No walks to Wal-Mart.  No gift certificates.  No tubes of coins.  All I received from the Bank of Cameron was customer service.  Bank of America is no Bank of Cameron!

Now I’m stuck with about 800 pounds of coins.  I guess what I will have to do is just buy things with all this change until it is all gone.  A large coffee and a muffin at Starbucks is $4.80 and that will eat up 19 quarters.  A turkey and provolone sub on wheat at Jersey Mike’s is $7.25 and that will eat up 29 quarters.  A spinach salad at Subway is $6.25 and that will consume 25 more quarters.  Eventually I will get rid of all of this change but in the process I have learned a new phrase that I am going to use at every turn once all the coins are gone.  That phrase is “Keep the Change.”

Monday, October 21, 2013

Slices of America's Pie - Accepted for Publication

Slices of America’s Pie, a story about my successful attempt to visit each of the 3,076 counties or parishes in the United States, has been accepted by my publisher and hopefully will be available in mid-to-late 2014.  Slices of America’s Pie is made up of short stories written about one memorable county in each of the 50 states.  The quest to visit all these places ended on May 30, 2000, when I entered Deschutes County in central Oregon. It was my final county and a most fitting way to end the journey. (The Deschutes County sign at the start of this story will also serve as the front page artwork for the book).

This will be the 8th book I have published and the fourth one about travel. 

Following is a synopsis of Slices of America’s Pie as it will likely appear on the back cover of the book.

A simple question posed on a moonlit Wisconsin summer night sent author Craig Faanes on a journey.  Tens of thousands of miles later the journey ended on a highway in central Oregon when he had visited every county in the United States.  Where most people are content to visit all 50 states, Faanes took the challenge one step further and visited every county in each of the 50 states.  His travels provided an intimate glimpse into the foibles and faults and funny characters making up the core of the United States.

This story began in the 1950s when everyone knew their neighbor and when you could leave a car on the street with the keys in the ignition and fully expect it to still be there when you returned.  It ends in the 21st century when the probity of earlier days is more difficult to find.  This series of short stories reveals that, despite its sometimes mercurial nature, America’s innocence can still be discovered whether it’s a baffled woman at a Jimmy Buffett concert on Waikiki Beach, or a recently-enlightened Lion’s Club member in Palco, Kansas, or Bonnie the waitress with her bouffant hair do at a truck stop near Cuba, Alabama.  The only requirement is a desire to seek out what lies beyond your backyard fence.

The chapters in the book and their titles follow:

Chapter Titles in Slices of America’s Pie

Chapter Title

How It Began
Black-eyed Peas for Lunch
Staring Down a Moose
Looking for Trogons with Jennifer
A Special River Runs Through It
“What Are You Doing to Those Sea Otters?”
When A Leader Can’t Be Trusted
New London
A Tropical Outpost on a Connecticut River
Bombay Hook Isn’t In India
If They Shoot, Shoot Back
What Language Are You Speaking?
The Best Buffett Concert Ever
Two Million Acres of Wilderness
A Safe Haven for Venomous Snakes
Fossil Hunting in Crawfordsville
Des Moines
Walking in Aldo Leopold’s Footsteps
A Meeting of the Palco Lions Club
Mr. Peabody’s Coal Train
The Gator Cove
Barna Norton’s Puffins
See It Before It’s Gone
Is Carly Simon On The Island?
Wolves and Moose and a Great Lakes Island
When WCCO Radio Ruled the Upper Midwest
The Pascagoula Run
A Baseball Game in the Ozarks
Hunting the Elusive Wapiti
Tornado Warning!
On Top of the Ruby Mountains
New Hampshire
This Car Climbed Mount Washington
New Jersey
Cape May
The Marshes of Avalon
New Mexico
The Mexican Mountains of New Mexico
New York
New York
An Irrational Fear of a City
North Carolina
New Hanover
My First Time on the Ocean
North Dakota
Tranquility Wrapped in Prairie Grasses
Never Forget Kent State
In the Aftermath of Timothy McVeigh
The End of the Quest
An Urban Center for Environmental Education
Rhode Island
The Clam Diggers of Point Judith Pond
South Carolina
Where the Northern War Began
South Dakota
“We’re All Going to Die” 
The Dry Home of Gentleman Jack
The Potential Energy of Dwight Lee
San Juan
Monkey Wrenching With Hayduke
The Northeast Wilderness
Riding the Orange Line
San Juan
Where Killer Whales are Guaranteed
West Virginia
A Wild Plane Ride from Pittsburgh
On The Banks of the South Fork
The Otters of Teton Marsh

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Its Time to End the US Embargo Against Cuba

In response to a threat of Russian nuclear devices pointed at the United States from the island nation of Cuba in 1962 the United States implemented an embargo ostensibly to punish Cuba and the Castro government for their cozy relationship with the commies.  In 1962 that made sense but as time has gone on it has become increasingly more obvious that the embargo that is still in place today hurts only the United States.   It should have been lifted ages ago but politics and hysteria and tradition have kept it in place.  Its akin to the Rural Electrificaiton Administration.  The REA was begun during the 1930s during the height of the Depression.  Its purpose was to provide electric power to rural areas that could not otherwise obtain or afford electricity.  Today is 2013 and there is STILL an REA in the US Department of Agriculture!  Americans are able to communicate with their thumbs on a key board of a phone slightly larger than a match book now but still we have the REA because, well, its always been there.  The same ridiculous view holds for the Cuban embargo.

In 1962 when the Embargo was put in place the human population of the United States was 179,000,000-.  Today in 2013 the human population of the United States is 309,000,000.   Simple second grade arithmetic shows us that 130,000,000 people, fully FORTY PERCENT of the United States was not even born when the Cuban embargo was put in place.  I wonder how many of those 40 percent are incapable of fathoming the issue.  I was in the 6th grade when the embargo happened and I still don’t understand the why behind it.  Imagine someone born in 1970 trying to get their head around it.

Politicians of all stripes, but especially Republicans, wax poetic about the need to keep a heavy thumb on Cuba because it is a “communist” government.  That alone, supposedly, is reason enough to keep horrible policy in place and at the same time hobble the ability of American companies to invest in Cuba and for American citizens to travel legally to Cuba. 

Curiously the American government has absolutely no qualms about maintaining diplomatic relations and numerous business ventures with the communist government of Vietnam, a country in whose own civil war we meddled at the cost of billions of dollars and 58,000 American lives.  Concomitantly the American government has absolutely no qualms about maintaining diplomatic relations and developing business relations with the communist government of China, the largest communist nation on earth.  In fact, the George Dubya Bush administration sold 40 percent of America’s budget debt to China.  So, theoretically, China OWNS 40 percent of the United States.  That communist government is ok, but shaking hands with a neighbor who needs friends 90 miles from our coast is akin to treason.

Every day airplanes flown by Delta, United and American Airlines land in Shanghai, Beijing, and Hong Kong China.  Further United Airlines has landing rights for service to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) Vietnam from Hong Kong.  Yet the only air service from the United States to Cuba is occasional charter flights. 

I have traveled to Cuba twice.  Of the 72 islands in the West Indies that I have visited Cuba ranks in the top four of my favorites.  My travel to Cuba has all been legal because I travel there on a US Treasury Department license, a thing required by the Trading With the Enemy Act of 1917  (its real name).  If I did not have a Treasury license I would be in violation of the law.  Hilarious also, because Vietnam WAS our enemy during the Vietnam War and China is no pal (other than owning 40 percent of America) yet Cuba who has done nothing to the US is considered an enemy. Such bullshit.  

Curiously when I traveled to China in 1992 I simply sent my passport to the Chinese Embassy in Washington DC and for a fee they pasted a visa in my passport.  Similarly when I traveled to Viet Nam in 2006 I simply walked my passport over to the Viet Nam embassy in Washington DC and for a fee watched them paste a visa in it.  In a matter of seconds I was legally allowed to freely travel to these countries that were our enemies.  Now they are our pals but Cuba is a threat.  Go figure.

My first trip to Cuba I flew on Cubana de Aviacion, the national carrier of Cuba from Toronto to Varadero, a beach resort on the north coast of Cuba.  Because of the ridiculous embargo we were required by Federal law to fly directly to New York, then 200 miles offshore from the United States south to Andros Island in the Bahamas. There we could make a right hand turn and fly into Varadero. The trip took 5 1/2 hours and we had to do so because it was a Cuban aircraft. Had we flown on Air Canada (that also had nonstop service) we could have flown directly over American airspace the entire way and made the trip in 3 1/2 hours.   My second trip was in 2007 when I flew to Guantanamo Bay from Fort Lauderdale.  I made the trip only because a friend had a connection on the US Naval base at Guantanamo Bay and we received permission to travel there - again only after completing a circuitous route to get there and on our return.

Just like me, this Cuban Pygmy-Owl photographed by Mark Oberle on our Guantanamo Bay trip in 2007, is wondering when all of the political nonsense will end and everyone can travel freely again to Cuba.

Today I wrote a letter to the World Trade Organization asking for data on who many American corporations conduct business daily and legally with the communist governments of both Vietnam and with China.  I want to use any data obtained to plead a case with myopic Florida legislators who steadfastly oppose normalization of relations with Cuba.  That letter to the WTO follows.

Ironic isn’t it!  

Today at 2:18 PM
Dear World Trade Organization

I find it increasingly frustrating that the Congress of the United States steadfastly refuses to allow the normalization of relations with the government of Cuba ostensibly because it has a communist government. At the same time, however, the Congress and American businesses fall all over themselves in various business ventures with the communist governments of Vietnam and China.

I have searched the internet trying to find a piece of information that would be useful in arguing against the continued policy against Cuba because of its communist beliefs.  However I have not been able to find that information anywhere.  I'm hoping that the World Trade Organization has that information or could at least direct me to a source that does.

Specifically I would like to know how many American businesses (that we know of) have formal agreements to conduct business (eg maintain offices, factories, etc) in 1) China and 2) Vietnam.

Also I would like to know how many American businesses (that we know of) have entered into Memoranda of Agreement and other formal agreements to facilitate trade between them and the governments of China and Vietnam (e.g., the Jones rice company having an agreement to ship rice annually to China, etc).

Lastly I would like to know if there are any estimates of the amount of money $US) spent by American corporations to develop, support, and maintain their business ventures in China and in Vietnam.

Thank you in advance for any assistance you might possibly be willing to extend.