Thursday, April 29, 2010

We Do Have A One-Way Ride...

Ro and Cliff

Besides the usual historic tours, engagements, weddings, birthdays and anniversaries, the company I work for, Carriage For Hire, also provides the final ride for horse enthusiasts— their funeral.

Tony, waiting for this gig to begin.

Several years ago, when Tony's original owner passed on, we provided the hearse for his services.

Last week, Tony's dad's brother, (so Tony's human Uncle) expired, and we were asked to participate.

Unlike carriage rides downtown, providing the hearse involves hauling both the horse and the conveyance offsite, usually to a location close to the cemetery, and transferring the coffin from a modern hearse to the 1840's Cunningham. A while back I wrote a blog about needing to "do" a funeral for research for a scene I was contemplating, because in order to bring the emotion and ambiance to the written word I prefer to experience some things first hand. So, when I found out that a funeral was booked close to my house, I asked Ro if I could assist.

Since the mortuary was located quite a distance from the internment, the plan was to meet up with the funeral procession along the route. Ro and Cliff found a gravel parking lot large enough to accommodate the stock trailer, unloaded both Tony and the hearse, and waited to intercept the departed about a quarter mile from the final destination.

Circa 1840's Cunningham Hearse

"Wait", here, is the operative word. Because you just can't rush a dead guy.

While the three of us killed time, we were approached twice by random strangers asking about our plans. The first person got out of his car and started asking questions about the provenance of the hearse. He seemed quite knowledgeable about varieties of horse drawn funerary vehicles, and we had a pleasant conversation with him. The second man was more interested in who died.

Warming up in the parking lot

While standing around waiting to rendezvous with the procession, we watched as a silver hearse drove by, and tried to flag it down. When they did not immediately flip a u-turn, Ro called dispatch and advised that they'd missed us. A few minutes later she was informed that it had been a different funeral procession, and our customer was still enroute.

Ro and Tony, waiting for our passenger to arrive


The correct deceased finally showed up, and the transfer process began. It was good for me to be there in person and observe, because if I am ever called on to work a funeral, on the job training is not necessarily the best way to go.

While Cliff assisted the pall bearers in guiding the beautiful natural light pine casket onto the rollers and into the hearse, Ro stood by Tony's head and held him steady; having a horse decide to walk off while loading a body into the back can be a Very. Bad. Thing.

Next it was determined that no one from the family wanted to ride up top with the driver (Cliff). This is an option offered to a representative of the deceased. Some do it, some decline. So Ro climbed up and rode shotgun with Cliff and I stopped traffic on the busy road so they could make a left out of the parking lot, then I kept traffic stopped while the balance of the funeral procession joined in.

I drove down to the cemetery in Ro's car, and walked across the grounds, meeting up with them in time for the pall bearers to remove the casket and proceed to the plot.

The thing about arriving in a horse drawn hearse it this: Most often it is because the deceased had some connection with horses. Whether it was that his family once owned the animal hauling the hearse, or the person loved horses, it represents an aspect of their life. Many of those in attendance took photos of their loved one's unconventional arrival, and several people wanted to pet Tony. One gentleman asked if the horse was Tony or Tom (Tony's equine brother and team mate, who passed long ago.)

After the beloved was removed, we headed back to the parking lot to pack up. On the return trip, Ro drove her car and I rode up top with Cliff. And let me tell you, it's high up there.

The Cunningham's interior

Now, anybody that knows me, also knows that I, upon learning that someone has an unusual occupation, will ask a series of questions that typically encompass the same theme.

And since the ride back took about 15 minutes, and because Cliff's done a lot of funerals, I had the opportunity to interview him about some of his experiences.

Note: The questions and answers are not verbatim. It's just a recap of our conversation;

SD: What is the weirdest thing that ever happened?

Cliff: We did a funeral where we used the buckboard instead of the hearse. Getting the casket in was difficult and it kept rolling backwards, which loosened the wheel nuts. When we finally got the casket in, we started forward, one of the wheels fell off and we dumped the casket. So we had to hurry up, lift the buckboard, put the wheel back on, tighten all the nuts and reload the casket.

SD: What was the funniest thing?

Cliff: The deceased's brother rode up top with me and kept cracking jokes the whole time. I laughed so hard that the hearse was weaving all over the road. The carriage company owner was driving behind us in her car and said it looked like I was driving drunk.

SD: And the saddest?

Cliff: A little girl 9 or 10, died in a freak accident. Her coffin was so tiny back there; it was like putting a match box in a car trunk. Very tragic.

SD: And the most memorable?

Cliff: We were in a small town out by Spanish Fork. The procession went from one end of town to the other; it was quite a distance and most of the mourners walked behind the hearse, which is customary. Little old Grandma rode up top with me and after a while I asked if she wanted to drive. She was delighted and drove the hearse for a little while, but as we got closer to the cemetery she handed back the lines and said, "Here, there are a lot of people walking around. I don't want to run any of them over, I've already killed several people that way you know…"

(And this is how it all goes back into the trailer:)

First in goes the hearse


In goes Tony


(I'd like to thank Ro and Cliff for allowing me to tag along. It was definitely a memorable experience.)

Monday, April 26, 2010

Will Walk For Donation…

It's that time of year again. Time for our annual Beg-A-Thon to support No More Homeless Pets in Utah.

Our family has been supporting Strut Your Mutt and No More Homeless Pets In Utah since we moved to Salt Lake in 2003. So you could say that the annual Strut Your Mutt is near and dear to our hearts. As was Cowboy, our Border Collie and member of our family for 14 wonderful years. Cowboy passed away this last March, so this year we are walking in his honor.

We're also bringing the new used dog, Luna, who we adopted from Pet Samaritans. This will be the first of many Strut Your Mutts to come for her. Unless, of course, she eats someone's Chihuahua. Then her SYM career will be over pretty quick.

Sammie Two Chews, resident Pomeranian, will also be joining us, but in her stroller. Sammie has luxated patellas and it's difficult for her to walk long distances, so she'll be pushed along the route. Plus Sammie doesn't like other dogs, so anything that puts a barrier between her and the rest of the common canine rabble is just fine and dandy. And she, like me, is a little on the lazy side, so any time someone else can do the work is good with her.

Because of the current economic downturn, shelters in this country have seen a rise in the number of animals surrendered. Owners find themselves in dire financial circumstances and have to tighten their budgets, which many times means the family pet is the first thing to be jettisoned. Fortunately, shelters have also seen a rise in adoptions. However, shelters still have to house, feed, spay/neuter and administer any medical treatment to the animals while they await their forever families to adopt them, and that's expensive.

So I show up here once a year and ask anyone out there with a few spare bucks to make a donation to save a life. Okay, I show up here about twice a week, but I only ask for money once a year. So that's what I'm doing. If you are looking for a good, tax deductible organization to make a donation to, go here and donate securely online. The animals thank you, and so do I.

And, because I am in fact shameless, I'll just add these pictures of cute dogs to make you feel just a little bit guilty…

Thursday, April 22, 2010

We, The PeTA

This from my friend and fellow carriage driver, Christina, who works in Philadelphia:

As many of you know, there was a carriage accident in Philadelphia, on Monday, April 19th at approximately 9:30 AM. It is believed that a car driven by Thomas Gordon of Claymont, DE was stopped behind a line of five carriages stopped at a red light at 6th and Race Sts. Eyewitnesses report that Gordon was honking at the rear carriage driven by Jane Stansbury, 23, and revving his engine. He is reported to have tapped her rear wheels a couple times with his bumper, then when the light changed, he accelerated through the line of carriages, colliding with her carriage, and pushing it into several other carriages. One carriage, driven by Brian Lafler, 52, was overturned. Thomas Gordon continued to accelerate, pushing Jane's carriage across the intersection, colliding with a fire hydrant and eventually coming to rest on the fence in front of the College of Physicians. Jane was ejected from the carriage. Brian Lafler and Jane Stansbury remain in Jefferson Hospital's ICU, Brian with severe head and facial injuries and Jane with spinal injuries. Another carriage driver, Kym Moak, is out of work for several weeks with a sprained knee.

All horses involved escaped injury beyond a couple of superficial cuts.

Two nasty carriage accidents in the same week, one in Atlanta where two douche bags were drag racing, and another in Philadelphia, has brought PeTA to the forefront of the news again. Why? Because whenever there is any type of incident involving carriage horses they gleefully circle like vultures, ready to invade the city where the incident has occurred, waving their anti-equestrienne posters in the horse's faces.(Which, by the way, horses do not like.)

As one would expect, the radical animal rights activists are already planning on exploiting this tragedy to further their radical agenda (which ultimately is to ban horse-drawn carriages in Philadelphia, and beyond, and eventually to BAN the use of horses for any sort of activity other than pasture puff... if that).

If working horses are banned in Philadelphia, they will of course be at risk for neglect and slaughter once they are re-homed, since NO company can afford to keep 20 working horses as "pets" in the city for the rest of their natural lives.

They try to bully the mayor or city council into banning horse drawn carriages (there is a standard letter; we got one when Jim decided to test his boundaries and ran for half a block…) and occasionally swoop down to do a little protesting so they get some face time on the news.

The National Park Service cannot prevent the animal activists from coming to the park and standing in our stands, waving banners and pictures of the accident mere feet from the carriage drivers, all of whom are still understandably upset, shocked, sad, and angry as a result of this "accident"/attack. However, the National Park Service MUST allow counter protesters equal access and opportunity to voice their SUPPORT for the carriage horses and the carriage drivers.

Same old tired crap. You know, the morning after the Atlanta incident a car here in Salt Lake blew a stop sign and plowed into another one, sending three people to the hospital. Did PeTA show up or send a strongly worded letter to Ralph Becker cautioning him about the dangers to people from cars? No. Why? Because PeTA doesn't care about people.

PeTA cares about money. And every time there is an incident they can use it to get free publicity and ask for money to help save the poor carriage horses. And considering their "success rate" with seized or surrendered animals, I think our horses would say, "Thank you, NO."

PeTA likes to talk about Animal Rights. Guess what, animals don't have "rights", any more than your couch or your bicycle have "rights". And you know what? You don't want animals to have "rights", and here's why:

Because the second the laws of our land give animals "rights" (and to be fair and equitable, they would have to apply across the board, not just for animals that are cute and cuddly, but the ones we set traps for and consider dangerous or a nuisance, too) some asshole will decide to make money by suing you on behalf of your animal.

Thinking of getting Fluffykins spayed? LAWSUIT! You are depriving her of her reproductive rights. Does Mr. Tomcat have a disease which is curable but will bankrupt your family if you pursue treatment so you're opting to put him down and end his suffering? LAWSUIT! You are depriving him of his right to live. You found out that your toddler has developed a life threatening allergy to your pot bellied pig Petunia? Better not even think of shipping Petunia off to the petting zoo (which RARAs would have you to believe is the ultimate in cruelty, Petunia being exploited by forcing her to take food from people and get petted and her picture taken! Horrors!)

Now, I'm against animal cruelty. Beating, burning, torturing, starving an animal is cruelty. Giving an animal a job is not abusive or cruel. As caretakers, I believe that we owe it to our furbabies to make sure they have proper care, food, housing and attention. And as the steward of my pets, it is my responsibility when they do something either destructive or dangerous to other animals or humans. That's why if your dog bites the UPS guy, he sues you, not your dog.

Please, if you can in any way come out on Saturday in Philadelphia (or can encourage others to attend) to protest peacefully in support of horses and in support of carriage drivers, the time is now to make your support known. These ghoulish activists are giddy with glee that such a tragedy has befallen us, and intend to use it to their advantage.

And why, you've probably wondered, is the "e" in PeTA so small? Because it stands for ethical.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Please Don't Eat The Tulips!

When the children of Luna's foster mom confided to Mr. Slave Driver that "she eats everything" they weren't kidding. Not that it matters, much. So far Luna's kill count includes a pair of flip-flops, a piece of PVC that holds up the Tiki-Torches, numerous toys, and my tulips.

Not the bulbs, mind you, which are toxic, just the flowers.

The flip-flops belonged to The Kid, and she had been warned. "Do not leave your shit lying around!" I'm trying not to set this dog up to fail, so everything I could think of that might be a problem had, I thought (foolishly) been addressed. The fact that Luna drags huge hunks of wood destined for the fireplace from the woodpile into the middle of the yard to chew is not much of an issue— after all they're just going to be burned anyway, right? Maybe she feels the need for a more fibrous diet. So there is no need for them to look all pretty and shit. But the tulips, well, it's not like I can put them up high or anything. I know I'm going to have to fence off my strawberry patch, but I didn't think I'd have to do anything drastic with the tulips.

I also have a plethora of raspberry bushes. So many that I often get tired of picking them half way through the season and just let them rot on the vine. I'm lazy like that. Every couple of years I go out and do a slash and burn, pruning them back to stubs. It's a Neolithic way of gardening, but I'm not into horticulture enough to care. Plus the stickers on those bastards hurt. And, apparently, they snag a lot of dog hair. So much so that it looks a little like we're growing a hybrid form of cotton out back.

Also, we're going through toys like KFC goes through chickens. There used to be two boxes of dog toys in the house. Now, every toy that was in one of the dog toy boxes is out in the yard. Once removed to the yard, covertly, they are systematically destroyed. Every toy is first given a squeaker-ectomy. Then, after a bit more torture, for the stuffed ones the coup-de-grâce, a doggie style Hari-Kari is performed. It looks like Gettysburg for Care Bears out there, people. I kid you not.

The plastic toys are chewed into small pieces. But in a very precise manner. Luna begins at one end (usually the end that once housed a squeaker) and shreds it into small bites, not swallowing but discarding the plastic in the grass. I suppose I should be thankful for her not eating them; I hate trying to recognize stuff when it's wrapped in a package of dog crap.

Several years ago I was enjoying an adult beverage while floating in my pool. The Kid, whose chore it was to pick up the dog messes in the yard, was cleaning up when she came across a pile with two bright orange pieces of foam rubber, intact, in one of the piles.

The Kid: "Mom, Cowboy ate your earplugs!"

Slave Driver: "Uh, okay…"


The Kid: "Do you want them back?"

Slave Driver: "No, I'm good."

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Readin' Writin', And 'Rithmetic

I'm currently in Park City, Utah, for my RWA chapter's annual retreat. It's supposed to be all about having time to write, write, write. So far I've attended a URWA board meeting, a workshop, a critique group, sat in the hot tub, wrote out checks to reimburse people for expenses, missed seeing a moose, and watched while a couple of the ladies used Tarot cards to do a character profile. In an hour we will have our Paul Sheldon ceremony, which is something that is hard to explain and really, 1) it's a writer thing, and 2) you have to be there. Plus it's a little weird, but so are we.


I've done a little bit of writing. I bought a program called "Snowflake", which is supposed to assist with character development, plot outline, and once filled in will essentially give you an almost submission ready synopsis.

Let me tell you, if the only thing I get out of it is a synopsis, it was well worth the $40 bucks.

I've worked on the first chapter for book 3 (book 2 is temporarily on hold, half finished because it's a sequel to book 1, which is currently with an agent. I figured that if the agent doesn't like book 1 why work on book 2?) This is the same agent who asked me for a synopsis for an idea I pitched, off of the top of my head, mind you, which will end up being a Romantic Suspense, and, best of all, she will be staying in our room this fall at our conference. So, since she will be my our captive guest, I will be able to force my manuscript on her while I've got her tied up inquire if she is interested in seeing the full MS while she is here, and pitch it to her yet once again, just in case she's forgotten it.

So, that's where I am. Doing some reading, a little writing, and of course, arithmetic.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Lights! Camera! Nike!

Charlie all dressed and ready to visit Park City for his movie role. I hope they're filming in "wide screen". they'll need it to get all of his butt in the shot...

I've probably mentioned this before, but besides carriage rides around town, weddings, engagements, and the odd specialty like the Pirate Gig Ro and I did last August, the company I work for occasionally is hired out for movie shoots.

Hardrock being upstaged by a smiling, happy-to-be-alive Harley in the background.

One night last week they filmed up at the local amusement park, Lagoon. This past Saturday they had to load and drive up to Park City for the same film. Hardrock and Coco, part time stable employees (ie whenever they need someone to do something goofy, and they have to be boys, as opposed to asking Ro and I) were part of the shoot. Hardrock got the horses ready

No, it's not snowing, there wasn't enough light apparently.

and then changed into his costume. Here he is, in all his western splendor (it's not a western but it is a historical so there are period costumes involved.)

Hardrock, head to toe

And he looks pretty good, considering he's driving the vehicles and being a stuntman. But he did sneak a little "modern guy" into the mix.

I hope they don't shoot any close-ups of his feet…

Friday, April 9, 2010

Just Another Post About Mostly Nothing

The new used dog, Luna, likes to smile a lot

She also has a freaky floppy double dew claw. It's really weird looking. Plus it means there is one more nail to trim.

Apparently water provided in a small, Pomeranian size bowl tastes much better than water from a larger, Great Pyrenees size bowl. That is, according to Luna. How do I know this? Because instead of drinking from the big bowl in the hallway, Luna prefers to continuously empty Sammie's water bowl in the bedroom.

Who knew?

I was supposed to work last Monday with MBA, but because the weather-persons predicted a huge snowstorm, we were called off. And it did snow, but it did not nearly become the cataclysmic blizzard of epic proportions that the prognosticators warned us of. Still, I was glad not to be in the middle of it trying to sell carriage rides. I know futility when I see it, and that would have been a huge waste of my time.

The tourist season is in its pre-vacation phase right now, and those folks wanting to miss the Memorial to Labor Day crowds will be visiting Salt Lake and, specifically Temple Square, soon. Across the street from where we stage the flagship store for Deseret Books opened last weekend. It is in almost the same spot where once there was a Borders Bookstore. We really liked the Borders. Not because, while out some pleasant evening one of us would suddenly feel the urge to ask another driver to hold our horse and cross South Temple to peruse the current list of best sellers and purchase a riveting novel to read while standing around waiting for a ride. But because on the second floor of Borders there was a small café with a barista willing to craft for you a delicious cup of coffee or a frothy hot chocolate. This was a lifesaver when we would be cold, tired, thirsty or bored and be in dire need of something to perk us up.

This was what the building looked like last spring.

Deseret Books doesn't offer amenities like coffee. They might, however, have a water fountain.

Deseret Book's flagship store.

Also across the street a new, fine dining establishment is opening. Now, this is something that we are interested in because, as I have often lamented, there really is no place for us to get a bite to eat besides the drive-thru of Carl Jr's, and I'm not a huge Carl Jr's fan, so I've never taken a carriage through there. I have, however, gone to the Applebee's at The Gateway Mall and utilized their Phone Ahead/Pick up spot. It's nice because the server brings your order right up to your vehicle, runs your credit card, and hands you your food, piping hot, complete with silverware. It’s a little tricky trying to cut up a sirloin while piloting a carriage, but hey, if you’re hungry enough, you manage.

The new restaurant location last spring.

So soon this new, classy restaurant will open and I'm sure, knowing our penchant for eating, we'll wear a horse poop littered path from our staging area through the crosswalk and into their lobby, leaving a scent that, without a doubt, will prove what big fans we are.

What the restaurant's location looks like now.

Unless, of course, there's a dress code, and they won't let us in the door. Of course, if fancy is what they require, I do have a tuxedo jacket. But I'll still smell like horse.

(The rest of these photos are for the benefit of those drivers who no longer work in Salt Lake. Because inquiring minds want to know.)

Progress of the 32 story condo building at the corner of South Temple and West Temple. It looks good, and we'll be happy when they start to fill it with people.

The skybridge across Main Street.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Agony And The Ecstasy

Mr. Slave Driver is in heaven.

Okay, not literally. It's not like he died or anything. But he is in a constant state of euphoria. He loves, loves, loves his new dog, Luna, and couldn’t be more pleased with her.

Yeah, she pulls on the leash some, and she digs in the yard a little. But otherwise, she is smart, (he already has her trained to wait while he pours her food in her bowl, and wait still until he tells her, "Okay." Then she gets to eat.)

But she really is a joy, for us, and everything is fantastic… With one exception: Sammie Two Chews absolutely, unequivocally, and without one shred of doubt, hates her. Now, I know that my little dog has a, well, a little dog complex. She is suspicious of other dogs, and avoids them at all costs. When she was a puppy, because she's a Pom, I wanted to make sure she was socialized with people because we had had a problem with another dog not allowing anyone but family around. So I took her everywhere there were people. Soccer games, 4-H, AWANAS, you name it, that dog was exposed to people. The only dog she was exposed to was Cowboy. And all he ever did was stare at her. Now, the new dog, Luna, well, here you go:

So the things we thought were going to be a challenge (chewing issues, digging issues, I caught her sneaking out the dog door with one of my shoes...) will be nothing compared to getting Sammie to accept her.