Random thoughts are in full bloom

Random thoughts as spring makes its way into summer:

I have an ideal way to stimulate the economy: have all members of Congress and all government officials checked for back taxes they might owe. Imagine how those funds would fill the treasury.

Once in a while a phrase just seems to sum things up perfectly. My favorite recession term for 2009? Toxic assets. And, how many comedians will be forever sustained by material provided by the term ?stimulus package??

Which Kansas institution of higher learning has nine national titles, two titles in a row and three titles in the past five years, and what is the sport? Answer: Wichita State University bowling teams.

Our daughter recently completed her first year of college at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va. Once we passed St. Louis on our trip out to get her in late April, we didn?t see many Kansas license plates. When we stopped to stretch our legs at the welcome center just outside Huntington, W.Va., however, we overheard another couple talking about being on the way to a wedding in Harrison?burg. I thought that in itself was an odd coincidence, but then I heard the woman mention the pair had been traveling from Topeka. What are the odds?

On that 2,400-mile round trip, we didn?t get many opportunities for sightseeing, but we did manage to take a couple of short diversions. One was to the highest (or second highest, depending upon your source) non-suspension bridge in the world near Fayetteville, W.Va. The bridge is 876 feet tall and spans 3,030 feet of the New River Gorge, which ranks it as the second longest of its type in the world.

We found out as we walked a trail at the visitors? center that the bridge is closed one weekend in October so that extreme sports enthusiasts can hurl themselves off it. Bungee jumping was banned following an accident in 1993, but base jumping, rappelling and ascending are all demonstrated during the festival.

Locals rightly claim that the completion of the bridge in Octo?ber 1977 cut the time required to cross the gorge from 45 minutes to 45 seconds.

Ironically, the New River is considered by many geologists to be the oldest river in the world. Others claim it is second to the Nile, but the issue may never be settled to everyone?s satisfaction as rivers are reportedly very difficult to date accurately.

This trip to Virginia was my first as a 50-year-old. I decided, kind of on a lark, to invest in a membership in the American Association of Retired Persons, even though I am probably a decade or so from retirement.

I must look at least as old as I am, however, because just before the trip and once on our journey I received ?senior? discounts at restaurants, even though I had not requested them. My $16 membership has already paid for itself as I also requested and received 10 percent off on motel stays. As they say, old age has its benefits.

Question: Why do motels that do not have continental breakfasts cost more than those that do? All the less expensive places, Motel 6 excluded, seem to offer some sort of morning dining included in overnight stays. A Holiday Inn where I recently stayed in Lawrence, however, offered nothing, despite a much higher room rate.

The trip from Hillsboro to Harrisonburg is actually quite an easy one. It is nearly all Interstate driving, first I-70, then I-64, followed by I-81. We noticed that the farther east we went, the higher the traffic count and intensity. I-81 runs through the heart of Virginia from the southern end of the state to Washing?ton, D.C., up north.

By the number of cars and trucks on the road, one certainly could not guess that the country is in a deep recession. Low gas prices, I guess, should receive partial credit for this. Some may find it interesting that I paid a low of $1.79 per gallon in Virginia.

I pulled a handkerchief from my back pocket the other day during class, and the students looked at me like I was Typhoid Mary. How could I unfold that rag, use it, and put it back into my pocket? Was I insane? This from kids who think nothing of pulling open the collars of shirts and sneezing down their chests. Has the hanky become obsolete?

I always liked Kathleen Sebelius as governor of Kansas, but she left us high and dry on the coal-plant issue. I am all for generating more electricity, but not at the expense of millions of tons of carbon dioxide emissions. The door on her departure had not even latched before new Gov. Mark Parkinson opened the lid on a deal that will fill our skies with pollution and empty our river beds (please see the April edition of Free Falling for a possible explanation).

Finally, please allow me a couple of brief rants. First, I have been using a product called ?Face Saver? by Remington for a number of years. It is a dry powder in stick form that is used to prepare a face for assault by electric shaver. The product has always been readily available at Wal-Mart.

Practically overnight, however, the entire chain pulled the product from its shelves. No clearance racks. No fanfare. No warning. After searching in many stores across several states, I have given up. I ordered two sticks over the Internet. And retailers wonder why consumers prefer to shop online these days.

My second rant concerns modern parents. Last week, a number of Hillsboro High School seniors took an unauthorized ?skip day.? Now, I am not necessarily opposed to the concept, though seniors already finish their confinement more than a week ahead of the rest of the students. But, I am appalled by adult guardians calling in the seniors as ?sick.? Folks, why not just tell the truth?

I am not aware of the school district having any significant penalty for a once-a-year skip. Parents need to understand that there are only so many ?teachable moments? for them to ingrain morals and values in their offspring, and lying to school administrators is not setting a good example at all.

Everyone in the high school knew what was going on, so the message was also received by younger siblings and future seniors. If a detention is a consequence for skipping, perhaps the parents who falsified information to the district should serve the time.

Third, I would like to chime in on the treatment by Tabor College of one of its own students when he dared to voice an opinion contrary to the administration?s concerning staff and program reductions at the liberal arts school. I don?t blame officials for getting angry with the young writer, and maybe he didn?t choose the most tactful approach, but to declare that he had no business speaking out and then taking him to task in various offices on campus is way beyond extreme.

I?m guessing the experience taught him a lesson, but I am not sure it is one found in the college classroom or one that Tabor would be proud of.

I will simply ask readers of this newspaper to note this: the columnist spoke out and was willing to sign his name to his opinion?and it was just that, one person?s opinion?while those who complained about his words had a golden opportunity to respond in kind, but not one person chose to. Rather, it was through other means the message was delivered.

Which side, I ask you, showed more courage?