Professional Blogging: Lessons Learned

Lessons learned the hard way

After working recently as a journalist/editor/manager for an on line publication run by a dubious flimflam man who was more con than pro (as in conman versus professional) a swift exit was made from the grasp of “Frackle Media” who owe hundreds of writers monies for articles written.  It was decided that lessons learned from working for the “seasoned” SEO publisher and professional con artist should be applied to my own “blogging” site.

It should be pointed out that it was the “white-hat” SEO techniques that were utilized and not this nefarious individual’s unethical use of self promotion and lack of promised payment to writer’s/editors and managers hired. It should also be pointed out that some of the SEO used by this man were also “black-hat,” and also not used on this site.

Taking a leap backward, it was further decided that all the time devoted to a website designed to rip off everyone else should be spent on mine own site, owned, operated and published by myself via the auspices of WordPress.  Professional blogging was the catchphrase and like most other things in this life, it was done the hard way.

Firstly; WordPress.com do not support advertisements on their hosted blogs. For that to happen, one needs to deviate from the norm and go with their .org side of things.  In essence, the blogger is still using the familiarity of WordPress but with additions that include Jetpack, plugins, SEO and picking the right hosting site to power your blog and ensure that your hard work, and the advertisements attached are seen.

This is not, amazingly, very straight forward.

Awareness of the pitfalls brings us to the first word of warning.

Beware which domain purchasing/web hosting service you use.

All offer similar low starting prices, per month (which usually equate to a one-time payment versus a monthly one) and domain name registrations and ownership vary in price but not too much.  Terms like VPS, Dedicated Server, Shared Hosting and so on all help to muddy the water in the decision making process.

What is the difference between VPS and Shared Hosting, do I need to know? Should I care? More importantly is more expensive or cheaper better?

In terms of expense, the best indicator of who one should chose really revolves around two important factors.

  1. The host’s ability to keep their servers up and running (preferably 100 percent of the time, or as close as possible) is perhaps the most important factor.
  2. Running a close second is the support features offered by the host. If your site goes down, or views suddenly drop through no fault of your own, can these providers quickly and efficiently fix your problem.
  3. In essence, expense is not the most important factor in the decision process, although it may become the mitigating factor.

Lost views equal lost revenue via advertisers.

Regardless of whether you have made a penny from your new site or not, lost views equals lost revenue.  This is the “bottom line.” If a hosting company is so inefficient that your site suddenly becomes invisible, several things immediately happen.

Firstly you are silenced. Your voice cannot be heard because the net is not displaying  your articles and fans of your site, or work are not able to find your articles.

This silence means that regardless of whether you use Google Adsense or some other form of revenue generating advertisements on your site no one is being given the chance to help your site earn money.

*Sidenote*

Beware SEO strategists who want to sell you “tricks” designed to bring views to your site.  90 percent of these are black hat techniques that Google hate and they will penalize you; causing your site to lose credibility and ranking.  The best “SEO” will be basic and consist of properly writing your articles and having content that is unique, original and not a watered down copy of someone else’s work.  The basic SEO package offered by WordPress will suffice, more often or not, and while “tricks” may work for awhile, Google will catch on to you and the site, both will suffer accordingly.

Blogging “professionally” means basically that you are using advertisers to earn money for your hard work. It allows you to put your “brand” out there for others to see and your aim is to get revenue from your website while proving that your writing skills are worthy of payment. This will also help you show that, as a freelance writer, you can generate income.

It also means not writing for other sites for free.  Claims that your article will drive traffic to your site are cheap folderol tactics designed to keep money in the publisher’s pocket while you sweat out an article to their specifications.  A friend on Facebook advertised for writers on her website with the proviso: “I can’t pay, but it will drive traffic to your site and there are lots of freebies.” I responded that the only site I write for “for free” is mine own.

Although, that is not entirely true,  when using advertisements for recompense, there is “eventual” payment if one’s site garners enough views. These views, however, can not reach their true potential if the web hosting site you have chosen is not up to the task.

Bluehost.com, the first, and for a very short time current, provider for my site, should be avoided at all cost.  This hosting provider has poorly trained techs for support and if using live chat (prepare for a 30 minute wait on average)  your problems are attended to along with several others, there is no “individual support” here. With their phone support, expect either platitudes, condescension, inept/incorrect responses and a problem not completely fixed, even if it appears to be sorted.

Their pricing is very reasonable, but this is a ploy to lure you in.  Once your site starts taking off (Mine reached over 22K views per month in four short months and was in the process of climbing higher.) problems will ensue.  A mate of mine, a couple of mates actually, hosted their website with Bluehost and ran an average of 500K views per month, after Google changed some policies these numbers fell and it was only later that my friends discovered that part of the problem was with Bluehost.

This will be the first of many articles written that will attempt to point out pitfalls and issues with hosting one’s own website and blogging professionally.  For all those who have made the move already from amateur to pro and have any recommendations of web hosting companies that should be tried or avoided, please do so. Do not, however, include links to said recommendations as these show as spam and will end up in the bin.

 

 

Burger King Application: Have it Your Way…Not Poor Customer Service

Burger King Application for smartphones

There are very few customer service issues that cannot be handled with a phone call or maybe two. In the case where the service is so poor, then obviously leaving that particular company is the answer. Sometimes, things are not so cut and dried. Take smartphone apps for example.  In the case of the Burger King smartphone application? Well, it is just as well that the company ditched their old slogan of “have it your way.”

Most applications work fine, but some, for whatever reason, go off into the digital wasteland that I like to think of as the Twilight Zone. Yesterday, my BK application stopped taking my password/email combination. A little frustrated, I retyped my email and asked to reset my password.  Hitting submit, I was assured that an email reset was sent.

It was.

I reset my password and…

Nope.

The message that my “login failed” because of an “incorrect email/password” combination pops up on my iPhone screen once again.  Nothing breeds annoyance so quickly as a password problem on a smartphone.  Since losing my glasses, I sometimes have to re-enter my password, and occasionally my email, because my fingers are quite a bit bigger than my iPhone onscreen keypad. (And before some smart arse comes back with “make the screen bigger” I’ll relate that the BK app stays frozen in that one size no matter what I do with the screen size controls, you also cannot “roll” the screen on its side, which also makes the keyboard bigger.)

After a frustrating morning, I go onto the Internet to the BK app support site. Filling in a form, which frustratingly asks for my last 4 digits of my electronic application BK card (Note: Hey BK, if I cannot access my application and since there is nothing that tells me what the digits are apart from the application when I am on it, making this a “required” fill in is a bit…well to be blunt, f**king stupid.) and then requires a number of answers and then you can submit.

To the right of this frustrating form is a number to call, “If you have an immediate issue.” Which, this is. It is that time of month where I have no ready cash while waiting for my tiny prison service pension. Ergo, if I want to eat, and continue to use the free WiFi trouble free, I use my PayPal to fill my BK app and eat. The application has about  $15 loaded on it  that I cannot touch.

I call the “immediate” number and I am told that the application people will be in touch…in a day…or to wait a day for the change to correct itself. I explain, a bit testily, that I would like to eat over the next 24 hours and get apologies and the assurance that I will be receiving an email from the service team referencing my call.

I do, indeed get an email, which infuriatingly tells me how to recover my password. Something I already know how to do and have done so repeatedly with no success, hence the call.

I wait 24 hours, as suggested, and ring back today, 3 September 2015. I am told that due to the upcoming holiday weekend that I need to wait till Tuesday and if I have heard nothing by then to call back. I repeat that I have no other real way to access my money on the card and that their “advice” means that I will be starving until at least Tuesday.

More apologies are forthcoming.  The bottom line is this, I will, most likely, not get any response. Not till after the long “holiday” weekend.

It should probably be mentioned that PayPal also has issues in the area of customer service. Earlier in the year they “let the side down” on a Walmart purchase which was delivered to an old address (How on EARTH that came about is still beyond me.) I wound up paying for an item I never received.

I still use PayPal, I have to, and when I tried initially to get my money sorted via the company that I used to load $15 to my BK app, I was told to follow “protocol” and use the forms. The forms, however, do not include an option to get monies back paid on a “gift” card. It is always in reference to an item either not delivered or broken or not as promised.

Loading a gift card is not an item PayPal. Okay? Still that is another battle for another day.

In essence, despite the lovely people at my local BK, who tried like hell to help me out yesterday, my issue is still unresolved. I am still very annoyed, despite having gone down to the local Dollar Store and purchased a BK Crown card worth a tenner.

Why, you may ask, am I still annoyed? Well, I cannot reload this card. The Crown Card system does not take PayPal, which is the only “money” I have at the moment. So, it looks like I’ll be having to go back down to the store and buy another card…or two…if I want to eat, at least till my pension comes in.

Apart from that things are just peachy. (If one does not count the snotty response received from CBS EXPRESS who informed me that while I had access to SHOWTIME photos of shows, my little site was not important enough to get professional access from CBS, this after already being given access. Apparently my asking twice for access to videos of shows that I — USED TO  recap and review was annoying enough to warrant that response.

So, how’s your week been? Anyone else planning on starving over the Labor Day weekend?

Skeleton image via Google Images
Disclaimer. While this whole thing  is annoying, I won’t really “starve” over the long weekend…I will, however, lose weight.

 

Dark Matter Episode 11 and Beyond (A Fanboy Discussion)

Dark Matter promo shot
Sometimes you have to take off your journalistic cap and write as a fanboy. This, is one of those times where third person just does not hack it. Simply put, I adore this series and watch each episode numerous times. Dark Matter, to me, is brilliantly put together and completely addictive. It also has enough nods and winks to other things in the genre, like the Pandorum-like episode, where Two was bitten, and the (in my opinion) nod to the Mass Effect verse last night in episode 11.

I have to say that I practically cheered when O’Neil came back on board as Two, aka Portia Lin, or Lynne. When Two was shot out of the air lock last week, the expression on my face matched that of the crew members on the screen. Open mouth shock-face describes it best. That this take-charge, kick-arse character had just been “killed off,” stunned me and, to be frank, upset me.

As mentioned in the first paragraph, I watch each episode numerous times and on my second, or third, viewing realized that Two was most likely going to survive and said so in my review. Of course she has now popped back up and while I was off the mark as to why, I’m glad I was able to read between the lines.

That Mallozzi and co are able to shock me like that is one reason I keep coming back to this verse and eagerly await the decision to have another season approved. For instance, Episode 11 had two shock points in it (three if you count the exploding planet at the end).

The return of Two, who turns out to be an engineered person, and Five killing Cain.

*Sidenote* I did not see that one coming. Granted, I’ve been concentrating on each episode to see what would be revealed about each character. The “Man” himself, Joseph said that as the season progressed more would be shown about each person on the Raza and he didn’t lie. I also did not foresee Five shooting anyone. Cue more “shock-face.”

While Two being her usual deadly self was pretty cool, the underlying theme of the show; that the crew are bonding brilliantly, was just as noteworthy. One motivating his fellow male members, as they choke to death on carbon monoxide, was entertaining and touching. That this tycoon who is not a mercenary at all could pump up Six, Four and Three into following him shows just how much these folks have grown to care for one another.

The other theme from the episode, which really started from the pilot, was that these memory wiped mercenaries are intrinsically good people. The chance to compare “our” crew to Wexler’s band of merry murderers was brilliantly timed. Since the crew of the Raza came out of stasis, memories gone and ship crashing, they have all strived to “do the right thing.”

Some, think Three here, more reluctantly than others, but they all ultimately do what is right. Two, who really got her wish last night, really wants to change. Perhaps with good reason. While Four appears to be, on the surface, the ultimate fighting machine, Two is the deadliest. Take the casino mass killing in front of Five in an earlier episode. The commander of the Raza did this almost effortlessly and without having to think about it.

This begs the question, was this why Two was engineered? Is she a better weapon? Time will tell.

The killing by Five was just as shocking as Two’s being shot out into space last week. This “loss of innocence” (seeming, loss) is an interesting twist on the image projected of pickpocket and petty thief waif. Sure this waif is a computer wiz who is desperate to be a member of the crew and wants the mercenaries to be her family, but she apparently lived on the streets as small time homeless criminal before turning up on the Raza.

This brings us to the message that runs through the show. “Bad guys,” when given the chance, want to be good. Even Two who, after bitterly telling Wexler that she is nothing like him, coldly pops the mercenary leader out of the airlock once she gets the code to the vault.

I get the feeling that Two has a lot of searching to do.

*Sidenote* I love the exposition speech by Five to the rest of the crew after the vault is opened. You have to admire the ability of the Trevor Finn and Paul Mullie to work in a quick and dirty run down of what happened to Two when she was outside the Raza. Just as clever was the interchange between The Android and Two, more exposition but done smoothly and wittily, “You did not ask.”

Amusingly, the four male members of the team still have doubts about Two, probably even more so since she survived what should have been certain death, and they still have issues with her leadership. With the episode ending on the stolen device “killing” a planet, things have been set up for the mercenaries with a “collective” heart to get in more trouble.

Overall, Dark Matter could be described as an ensemble “buddy picture” type series. Each episode tests the boundaries of the crew and either shores up or tears down relationships between the members. The casting of this show is spot on and given American audiences the chance to see some dynamite Canadian actors go through their paces.

The only two performers I was familiar with out of the show were Jodelle Ferland and Roger Cross.

The 20 year-old Ferland has made a career out of playing the creepy little kid in more productions than Carter has little pills. She has a great attitude to being cast as the scary one, in one “making of” featurette Jodelle laughingly describes going for “comedy” roles only to be cast as the creepy kid.

Cross has been in a slew of films and television shows including The Chronicles of Riddick, X-Men 2 and television series like Arrow and Continuum.

Anthony Lemke has become a firm favorite as have Zoie Palmer, Alex Mallari Jr. and Mark Bendavid.

Now I will admit to a certain snobbishness when it comes to American television. There. I’ve said it. I lived in a country that, even though I loathed the TV license, had award winning television to show for it. The UK have consistently knocked it out of the park in terms of quality shows. Not always, but an awful lot.

After a 32 year absence, I now have the standard “yank” telly to watch and lets face it, most of the shows on offer are abysmal drivel. (Interestingly, most of my favorite shows on telly right now are Canadian, something that immediately makes me think of Holland, The Littlest Hobo and Night Heat.) Which takes us nicely to a wrap up as Dark Matter is, Canadian.

*Sidenote* My second wife and I would consistently burst into gales of laughter each time a Dutch announcer would do a lead in on the Canadian cop show. The chap would always mangle the name,but he did so with an excited pronunciation that indicated he too was a fan of “Det. Giambone.” (which was always pronounced Jam-bone-ee.)

I always write every review, and recap, of either a television show or film from the viewpoint of a fan. Albeit one who has worked in the industry (very little over the years but I’ve met and worked with a load of folks, including Ian McShane, Alexis Denisof and a number of others along the way) and who worked as the Entertainment Editor of an online publication that had over 7 million views and visits each month.

Regardless of how I might be watching any production, big or little screen, I just pass on what excites me and what does not. But not nastily, if I can help it, this is someone’s baby and that, if nothing else, deserves a modicum of respect.

Dark Matter was a lovely discovery. I became an instant fan from the first few frames of the pilot episode. I became even more of a fan when the show creator started tweeting me on Twitter. (Only one other show creator has taken the time to acknowledge what I write. Both these gentlemen are stars in my opinion.) I can only hope that the show is brought back for more seasons.

Episode 11 (Bet you thought I’d forgotten ey?) was a great blend of events, information and satisfying conclusion. Pretty much like every episode of the series thus far. If SyFy do not opt to renew this show and opt instead for the inane and stupidly popular Sharknado franchise, I could go right off the network.

Dark Matter is great TV, I know it is because I end every review with a variation of that statement as fact. Tune in and enjoy the last two episodes, the show airs as part of SyFy Friday.

BREAK THROUGH THE BARRIERS OF REDUNDANCY TO GET BACK INTO WORK – AN A-Z “HOW TO’ GUIDE by Sandra Bellamy (Interview)

Amazon.com ebook Sandra Bellamy was made redundant for the second time in 2009 and as a result she immediately began to dream of helping others who faced similar problems. She began to write the book in January 2013 and has worked steadily to get it published, finally succeeding in 2015. The book can be found on Amazon.com on both the US and Uk sites.

Ms. Bellamy is also a blogger and her site http://www.quirkybooks.wordpress.com has been a platform that Sandra used to publicize her journey. I’ve known her, through the site and the blogging community since 2012. Now that Sandra’s book has been published, an interview seemed to be in order and she graciously agreed to have a chat about the book and what it can do to help those who are facing redundancy or been made redundant.

MikesFilmTalk: Hi Sandra. Thanks for taking time to chat about the publication of your book and congratulations on finally reaching the end of your journey. Now that your book has been published how about talking a bit on how the whole thing works.

Sandra Bellamy: Thanks Michael for talking to me about the process and what my book can do for those people who have been devastated by the loss of their job. While my book is primarily aimed at those who have been made redundant, it is also a valuable tool for anyone seeking a new job or who want to vary their career.

MikesFilmTalk: The book is touted as a “complete system” can you explain what that means?

Sandra Bellamy: My book provides eighty benefits to my readers and covers twenty-six aspects of redundancy. It is referred to as a system because each chapter is broken down into five components of “redundancy”. In order to succeed you need to “master” all the components. The book takes a holistic view of redundancy and it should revolutionize the way you think about redundancy, job-seeking and life in general. One of the key components to master first of all is wellbeing skills, before exploring what options are available to you and learning the practical job skills. Although they are interwoven throughout the book, because what we feel and think about on the inside (our internal environment), reflects on what actions we take to change our outer environment.

This book is different because it does not just focus on one element of redundancy, but on the many barriers you need to conquer if you are to successfully get back into work. I show you how to deal with the inner trauma and turmoil of being made redundant such as grief and depression; before focusing on the practical elements such as job-hunting, CV and cover letter writing; and dealing with tough interview questions, so you can make an informed choice about which future path you should take.
The 5 components of redundancy are:
1. The inner elements (Care for the inner you)
Wellbeing:

• A is for Antidote to beat redundancy blues
• F is for Fun
• L is for Love Yourself
• R is for Rejuvenate,
• Z is for Zebra
Mindset and attitude:
• J is for Job-hunting
• K is for Keep
• P is for Persistence
2. Practicalities:
• B is for Breathing Space
• H is for Help
• I is for Interview
• Q is for Quit your job
• V is for Voluntary Work
• W is for Work Experience
3. Exploring options:
• D is for Dream Job
• O is for Opportunities
• S is for Self-employment
4. Outer elements (How others perceive you):
• C is for Confidence
• E is for Express Yourself Clearly
• G is for Great Customer Service begins at home
• M is for Marketing
• N is for Networking
• U is for Unquestionable
5. Persuasion Skills – An irresistible offer:
• T is for Transferable Skills
• X is for X-Ray (Xtra Reasons to Appoint You)
• Y is for Yes
Focusing on wellbeing skills first is essential in getting back into work. For example, if you have job skills, but not the confidence to project that to recruiters in an interview, you are not going to get the job. Confidence is achieved by learning to love yourself for who you are and believing in yourself, when others don’t. I show you how to love yourself and project confidence to recruiters to get that job.

MikesFilmTalk: What motivated you to write this book?

Sandra Bellamy: When I was made redundant for the second time in my career in 2009, after dealing with the initial grief, I discovered I had a talent for writing outstanding cover letters to accompany my CVs that got me almost one hundred percent response to my job applications. That seemed unheard of, particularly in a recession. Upon reflection, I realized I had great insight into what an employer was looking for in a CV and cover letter, because I had recruited as part of my management roles. It was then that I decided I could help others who had been made redundant. I wanted to help them get back into work and I could use my passion for writing, to enable me to do this. I noticed how frustrating it was to have to trawl through a plethora of websites searching for jobs, recruitment agencies and courses, as well as trying to learn about the various aspects of redundancy, such as dealing with the grief of it. I wanted just one website to go to, that would give me access to all of these and that’s when I had the idea of www.beatredundancyblues.com and www.beatredundancyblues.co.uk. These websites are your one-stop resources for redundancy, with access to job sites, recruitment sites and course sites, from within the one site. Just like the book, they tackle numerous other redundancy problems such as time management and preparing for an interview.

MikesFilmTalk: Can you expand on your recruitment experience?

Sandra Bellamy: I have worked in management roles for seven years. Part of my management duties entailed interviewing, recruiting, training and coaching staff and I took part in every aspect of the recruitment process from placing the advert to completing staff inductions and training. I have also experienced the other side of the recruitment process, when I was applying for work and being interviewed for jobs whilst redundant. I have been made redundant twice and each time managed to successfully work my way back up the career ladder. It is from experience that I have gained insight into both points of view and I am able to help others.

MikesFilmTalk: You have merged an A-Z guide with a “how to” book, why did you do that?

Sandra Bellamy: Each of its A-Z chapters is about an element of redundancy, and within each chapter it explains how to do things related to that element to break though your barriers of redundancy and beat your redundancy blues. That’s what makes it a quirky book.

MikesFilmTalk: One of your Facebook pages updates stated that you are creating a book trailer. How is that going?

Sandra Bellamy: Great! It’s going to be awesome. It’s something I am really looking forward to and excited about. I haven’t spoken publically about the content of my trailer so you will be the first to know about it. It’s an exclusive. I am working in collaboration with a friend who is studying Television Production in London, in the UK. In fact, he was recently on TV as an audience member of Big Brother’s Bit On The Side, which is an extremely popular show in the UK. At the moment we are still in the early storyboarding stages. Essentially though, it will be a short 2-5 minute video. But we won’t go down the usual root of jobseeker failing to get a job time and time again, and then getting one at the end, because not only is that type of thing predictable; my book is to help people successfully get back into work quicker, with less rejections. Instead, it’s going to be centered on my own redundancy success story, with getting my book published and living the life of my dreams, in the hope to inspire others to achieve theirs. I like to think of it as a mini Hollywood Blockbuster snippet and I am going to be playing my own character, which will be a great quirky concept to intrigue my fans. Expect emotion, drama, and inspiration.

Although my book is a self-help book, it also has an autobiographical element to it. My book tells of my own redundancy success story. About how I had a goal to be a self-employed businesswoman and writer, and despite having a lack of support and belief in my abilities from my nearest and dearest, I managed to achieve it by believing in myself. I want that to be a message to anyone who is reading this post or my book, that you can achieve your dreams, despite facing adversity. That you can achieve anything you put your mind to. I want people to realize that their future is their own to create and that all their choices in life belong to them alone. They can shape their destiny.

MikesFilmTalk: Will this be your first time in front of the camera?

Sandra Bellamy: Oh no! I’ve done quite a number of things in the industry. I was an Extra in the 13th episode, series one, of a show called Torchwood; that was a spin-off from the popular Doctor Who Sci-fi series, in the UK. I was screaming and running away from a monster in a white PVC jacket. I was in the trailer for that too and the Episode was called End of Days, if you want to check it out online. But blink and you may miss me. I have also appeared on Channel 4s The TV Show in the UK, debating some content of the popular reality TV show Big Brother, and that was filmed in front of a live studio audience. My Drama Teacher said that I should go to acting school, but I was too shy back then. I love acting and presenting and was a voluntary hospital radio presenter for 17 years. I have also had a number of work experiences within the media industry, including newspapers.

MikesFilmTalk: What is your goal for the future?

Sandra Bellamy: My goal is to be a world-renowned author with books on a variety of topics to improve people’s personal and professional development, and to be an inspirational speaker on stage in London.

MikesFilmTalk: Your book is available from Amazon?

Sandra Bellamy: You can buy from it from Amazon via Kindle. Like other Kindle books you can download an app if you don’t have a Kindle. Here is the link to the UK site: http://www.amazon.co.uk/BREAK-THROUGH-BARRIERS-REDUNDANCY-GUIDE-ebook/dp/B0128RWB5O and the USA site http://www.amazon.com/BREAK-THROUGH-BARRIERS-REDUNDANCY-GUIDE-ebook/dp/B0128RWB5O I am currently working on a printed version so if anyone would like to be emailed when the printed version is out, they can email me at quirkybooks@quirky-books.co.uk

You can follow Sandra on Facebook: www.facebook.com/beatredundancyblues
www.facebook.com/quirkybooksnet www.facebook.com/sandrabellamyUK

or Twitter: www.twitter.com/beatredundancyb
www.twitter.com/quirkybooksnet www.twitter.com/sandrabellamyUK

or subscribe to Sandra on YouTube www.youtube.com/quirkybooksTV

Stop by and like her book page at http://www.facebook.com/breakthroughthebarriersofredundancybook

MikesFilmTalk: Thanks for taking the time to chat about your new book Sandra!

Sandra Bellamy: Thank you!

Sandra Bellamy
Sandra Bellamy, author of BREAK THROUGH THE BARRIERS OF REDUNDANCY TO GET BACK INTO WORK – AN A-Z “HOW TO’ GUIDE

Life in the Real Desert: Death is a Red Car

Red Volkswagen sans heavy set woman driver
While the urge to apologize is almost overwhelming, I will post this Life in the Real Desert sans soppy sorries and jump straight in. Death, I have learned, is a red car. A Volkswagen Beetle, current model and the driver is a middle aged woman of Mexican lineage, or possible Native American, and the portly lady wears glasses that are coke bottle thick. Were it not for sheer luck and the later warnings of two lorry drivers on break, my life would have ended a three weeks ago.

On my daily pilgrimage back from the local town, I was on the long straight stretch of road that runs between a pest control warehouse and the “Super 8” hotel. Both sides of the road are covered in aggregate, sand and rock. In the evening, around 6 or 7 o’clock, there are not many drivers out and about and it is usually this spot where I stop for my first gulp of water and where, if it is hot enough, I take off my shirt for the remainder of the ride home.

The night that I met death, and defeated it, it was not too hot, but it was uncomfortable enough to warrant removing my vest, aka T-Shirt. Coasting on the edge of the paved road, I pulled off onto the aggregate just as a red Beetle passed through the space on the road that a scant second previously I, and my trusty Schwinn, had occupied.

Practically falling off the bike, I stared at the vehicle, which was moving so slowly that I could have caught up to the driver by walking quickly. As I watched, the car crept forward and swung out to the right as it began a long leisurely about-face in the road ahead. When the car was facing my way again, it pulled over onto the aggregate shoulder and sat idling.

The driver, as mentioned above, was a heavy set female, black hair with grey shot-through and thick glasses. The lenses distorted her eyes, making them look insectile and huge. I froze and waited to see if I could be quick enough to get out of this mad woman’s way when she headed back to town. After a moment she took off, hugging the shoulder on her side of the road.

I stood watching the spotless red Volkswagen move slowly towards the truck stop and the entrance to the highway. When she drove out of sight, I turned and shakily got back on my bike. The thoughts running through my head had to do with luck and timing saving the day. I was so rattled that the T-Shirt stayed on and I continued on toward the hotel.

Two men, lorry drivers, stood outside the back of the building next to the road. They were drinking either Red Bull or some local equivalent. As I approached the two chaps they turned toward me staring. I checked to make sure I had my pepper spray handy, as a precautionary measure since it was getting dark, and one leaned toward me.

“You want to move man, she’s not looking,” he said. His companion repeated the warning, “Yeah, get off the road man, she is not looking at all.” The alarm in his voice got me onto the aggregate once again and just as before, the red Volkswagen Beetle passed the space that I had just vacated by nano seconds.

One of the drivers muttered something about the driver and I said, “That’s the second time she almost got me.” I never stopped the bike and kept pedaling, attempting to put as much distance between me and death as possible. Around 10 minutes later, I heard a car coming up behind me. With my heart in my throat I zoomed off the road and onto the shoulder.

It was not the red death car but a truck. While this driver did not give up too much space on the road, he did not get close enough to run me down either.

Later, as I sat sweating in the night heat, I reflected on the way the woman had driven and then sat looking at me with those huge eyes magnified by glasses so thick that they did not look real.

I got the shakes. The way you do when surviving a close call and having the gravity of situation hit all at once.

In my mind I could see myself not leaving the road the first time. The bug-eyed woman would have driven slowly over me and my own red vehicle. I would be knocked down and under those Beetle wheels, which would roll over my bones crushing them as I screamed in agony. This vision was so real and disturbing that for the next two weeks, if I heard a car coming up behind me on the road, I would scramble off and on the shoulder, heart racing and blood rushing to my head.

Finally, I have calmed down enough that I do not see that heavy woman and her red instrument of death sitting on the side of the road and looking myopically in my direction, in my mind’s eye. I have racked my brain wondering who I may have upset enough to try to run me down, in slow motion, not once but twice, turning around and having another go but missing each time.

Who ever it was has left me with a phobia about red Volkswagens, not to mention one’s driven by visually challenged heavy set Latino women who do not go faster than a crawl. All the better to drive quietly and sneak up behind someone to run them down.