A WELL SHELTERED MARY AND RUDY

The sky has darkened and a strong wind rocks our RV just now.  It is times like this when it is especially easy to appreciate shelter – any shelter.  Our shelter now is what I would call 1st Class – a Thor Synergy motorhome.  But there have been times, lengthy camping trips for example, when any shelter was dearly appreciated.  

One time in particular stands out to me.  Mary and I were hiking the Pacific Crest Trail between Stevens Pass and Stehekin.  When we got to Milk Creek at the base of Glacier Peak late in the day it was raining hard.  We considered camping on the bridge deck because it was the only relatively flat, unmuddied surface we could find.  After due consideration, we decided to hike on although I can’t recall what the rationale for that was.  

From Milk Creek the trail zig zags for several thousand feet up a steep mountainside.  Darkness soon overtook us and with only our ponchos between us and the storm we slogged up the muddy trail into the night.  Well after dark we crested the ridge and searched along the trail for a clearing with enough grass to offer a better surface than mud for our tent floor.  At length we found one and while Mary held a light in the falling rain, I pitched the tent.  

Once in the tent we were relieved to find that the ponchos had performed admirably.  Our clothes and sleeping bags were merely damp – not drenched like they could have been.  

It had been a long day and we would soon be deep in sleep but not before we lay there listening to the rain and wind pelting our little tent.  The elements were so hostile that night.  We would have been absolutely miserable without that thin membrane of nylon between us and the storm.  My last thoughts before sleep overcame me were of how miniscule and vulnerable we were and how powerful the storm was.  If that tent could have understood words I would have thanked it profusely.

When we awoke and unzipped the tent’s rain fly in the morning, the storm had subsided.  A brilliant sun greeted us and a magnificent Glacier Peak towered above us – its snow-covered slopes brilliantly illuminated against a cloudless blue sky.  What had seemed a catastrophe the night before – the heavy rain and the muddy trail – had merely set the stage for a glorious morning.  

Shelter.  How I do love shelter.

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Ahh, nature.  Don’t ya love it?  Getting away from the hustle and bustle of the city.  That’s what RV life is all about after all.  Parking the RV under a nice shade tree and listening to the chirping of birds in the trees and the babble of a nearby brook.

Well, not exactly.  If you’re parked in the majority of campgrounds these days you are more likely to hear the rattle of your neighbors’ generators than the sounds of nature.  Modern RVs come equipped with a full complement of electronic gadgetry and that stuff doesn’t run off goodwill alone.  It all requires electrical power.  Our RV, for example, came stock with three TVs.  We rarely use even one of them but the fact that manufacturers include them tells you that a lot of people do.   The trend is also away from the traditional propane-powered refrigerators and stove tops.  If not for a small camp stove we carry, we would have to fire up our generator to fry an egg.  That’s because the stove top our RV came with is an inductance device that runs on electrical power.

Some generators, usually the pricier ones like Honda, are relatively quiet.  But others, usually the cheaper models, sound like unmuffled stock cars.  I call them Ghetto Blasters.  We happen to be parked next to several of these at the moment, much to Mary’s annoyance.  It’s times like this that my substandard hearing is actually an asset.  The irony is that often the worst offenders are attached to large, very expensive RVs.  A guy spends $100,000 on his RV and then he chintzes out for a few hundred dollars savings on his generator!

This campground actually has “quiet hours” from 10 PM to 6 AM during which generators are not supposed to be run.  Unfortunately, that’s several hours past our usual bedtime – or at least it used to be.

Lest I sound too sanctimonious, I should admit that we use our generator on occasion – usually to power the air fryer that makes my nightly serving of french fries. But that’s only for fifteen minutes around supper time.  Our solar panels and inverter are good for enough power to take care of all our other needs.  Our neighbors, on the other hand, have their “ghetto blaster” going from 6 PM till well into the night.  First thing in the morning, they start it up again.  I can only imagine what they need all that power for – watching soap operas on TV?

A possible solution, you might say, would be to move to a different campsite.  There are several problems with that.  First off, the campground is full and there are no available sites.  Secondly, there is no guarantee our new neighbors would be quieter.  We hear generators all through the campground.  Lastly, and most importantly, we paid in advance for ten days and that fee only applies to this site.  I’m too cheap to forfeit that fee!


MARY THE SCRABBLE QUEEN

Our Arizona winter has been unusual this year.  In years past, we have stayed in one place until we tire of its attractions (typically a week or two) and then we move on.  The promise of better things around the next bend in the road, the proverbial greener grass on the other side of the fence, has us caught up in a pursuit analogous to the caged hamster running on his wheel or the cartoon dog chasing a wiener suspended in front of him.    This year we find ourselves tethered to the Tucson area as if by an unbreakable chain – a chain of repairs to our RV.

Our enforced immobility has resulted in various time-killing pastimes.  Chief among them is watching documentaries (me) on Amazon Prime and cooking shows (Mary) on Netflix.  Another pastime that we’ve become enthusiastic about is the board game, Scrabble.  I mentioned in an earlier blog post that Mary found a recycled Scrabble game at a junk store for $10 – best $10 purchase ever.  Hardly a day passes that we don’t play several rounds.  We now fancy ourselves Scrabble Masters.  Gone are the days of two- and three-letter words.  Six- and seven-letter words are not uncommon.  Mary was unabashedly proud the other day when she layed down the tiles for “GEISHA”.  Not to be outdone, I came up with “CAROUSERS”.  

The irony of our situation vis-a-vis the RV is that Mary insisted on buying the top-of-the-line Class C motorhome – a Thor Synergy, believing that the extra cost would guarantee years worry-free use.  Instead, this unit has had far more problems than any of our less expensive previous RVs.  

Today is our 45th day in Tucson and we don’t know when we will be able to leave.  That’s because we are waiting on parts to arrive to fix the RV’s control panel.  In recent years, RV manufacturers have centralized the control of all the various systems – heating, water pump, lighting, sound systems, etc., to an on-board computer.  Techno types may appreciate such “advancements” but the rest of us are essentially excluded from traditional tinkering and tweaking as a way of solving system failure because the solution to a particular problem is now buried in the impenetrable depths of computer software.  In our present case, the solution turns out to be the replacement of the entire control panel.  Were it not that our repairs are still covered by warranty, this repair would probably cost us well over $1000.  

It is imperative that we take care of these problems now because our warranty coverage ends soon.  This is no small consideration.  Prominently displayed in the waiting room of La Mesa RV (who’s doing our warranty work) is a rather frightening sign: “LABOR CHARGE IS $149/HR”.  !!!!  When I peer into the maintenance shop and see two mechanics laughing, perhaps over a joke, I think “That joke just cost a customer $20 in labor charges.”

Fingers crossed, we’re hoping to have our repairs completed by Wednesday.  We’ve heard from fellow RVers that the wildflowers are spectacular at the Anza-Borrego State Park in California.  Unusually heavy winter rains have set the desert abloom this year.  With any luck, we’ll be frolocking in fields of California poppies in a few days.


MY FRIEND, MR. SAGUARO

(The above photo has nothing to do with the rest of this blog post but I offer it as a reminder to readers that we are, in fact, wintering in sunny Arizona while they are shoveling snow in northern climes.)

March 6, Tucson, AZ

Our RV’s heater has been acting up ever since we first tried it last summer on a cold morning at Yellowstone National Park. La Mesa RV, the outfit from which we purchased the RV, replaced the heater on Monday.  We had them check out the water pump while we were there (it periodically shuts itself off for no apparent reason) and we now have an appointment next Monday to have the RV’s control panel, the suspected cause of the problem, replaced.

So, we are tied to the Tucson area for another week while we await the arrival of our new control panel.  We’re “camping” in the parking lot of the Camino Del Sol Casino on the outskirts of Tucson.  The primary attraction here is the price – free.  Apparently, the casino doesn’t mind as there are probably a hundred other RVers doing the same thing which is probably a good business decision on the casino’s part since many of the RVers drop a few dollars at the casino’s gambling tables.  


CASINO DEL SOL “CAMPGROUND”

We haven’t ventured inside the casino yet but that could change soon.  Casino gambling has never held much allure for me since, by definition, the odds are in the casino’s favor.  However, through a process of mental sleight of hand, it is possible to make a case for a meager gambling fund.  I pointed out to Mary that since we’re not paying to stay here we could justify using the “free” money that isn’t going for a camp site fee and play the slots with it – guilt free.  Who knows, we might even win a jackpot!

But now there has been a setback in this convoluted financial scheme because yesterday we spent $55 on fuel for a trip that, in my words, was a “big fat f—ing zero.”   We drove to the Chiricahua National Monument, intending to spend several days there, only to find “No Vacancy” at the single campground.  The campground host told us that the camp sites are all reserved to the end of the month.   He suggested we might try the nearby National Forest land, which we did, but after proceeding six miles down a murderously washboarded dirt road we gave up on that too.  All we got for our effort was a thick coating of dust on the exterior and interior of our RV.  I found the dust to be annoying but Mary, the resident house-cleaning specialist, was thoroughly disgusted by it.  

On the return drive back to Tucson I was forced to factor into my convoluted financial calculations – the same calculations that had identified the “free money” available for gambling – that our bank balance had just suffered a $55 defecit on wasted fuel.  Since our so-called surplus money only accrues at the rate of $20/day (the cost of a campsite), it will take three more days to get out of the red!  

I’m currently brainstorming for some other, as yet undiscovered, source of funding that would balance the books in favor of a trip to the casino.  We have noticed that Tucson is a mecca for panhanlers.  Every other stoplight is manned by some pitiful person with a hand-lettered cardboard sign soliciting donations.  Hmmm……..



PRIZED CAMPSITE

Spring is bustin’ out all over.  The sun is shining and the weather is warming.  This is what we came to Arizona for, not the freezing temperatures and rain and snow of recent weeks.

We are parked in the Gilbert Ray Campground of the Tucson Mountain Park – something of an accomplishment in itself.  You see, even though there are 175 campsites in this campground, obtaining one is more than a matter of paying the $20 daily fee.  Each morning, hours before the official 9:00 AM opening, the RVs start lining up to wait for a chance at one of the possible vacancies.  

It is easy to understand why campers want to be here: the natural setting,  Tucson’s proximity.  Also, the campground is nicely landscaped with desert flora and picnic tables.  Each site has a power hookup.  And $20 is less than most comparable campgrounds; so much less that it is hard to understand why they don’t raise their fees.  Mind you, I’m not complaining but it is such a clear-cut example of demand exceeding supply that the situation begs to be brought into equilibrium.

Oh well, I’ll shut up about supply and demand and accept my good fortune.  Today’s post is about the curious dynamic of people competing for a scarce resource; how cracks appear in the thin veneer of politeness that normally governs our behavior.

As I said, Gilbert Ray Campground is filled to capacity each day and many prospective campers are turned away.  Vacancies are filled on a first-come-first-served basis.  There are no reservations.  To get one of the coveted sites you have to be one of the first in line.  And don’t try parking overnight by the gate to stake your claim.  There is a strictly enforced $250 fine for that.  

Shortly after dawn the RVs start getting in line.  Never mind that the registration office doesn’t open for several hours, the candidates for one of the prized campsites congregate amongst their parked vehicles to compare strategies, swap tales, and calculate the odds; all the while keeping close tabs on their place in the virtual “line” that is forming as new RVs arrive.

Watching all of this play out, I realize how rare such situations are in this land of plenty.  The wealth of the average American is unprecedented in history.  Walmart and Amazon readily supply us with any object we can afford.  We’re used to getting what we want when we want it.  The stampeding crowds of Black Friday shoppers come to mind as an exception but other than that it is rare for adult Americans to be pitted against each other to lay claim to some commodity. At Gilbert Ray that commodity is a campsite.


WAITING AT GILBERT RAY

I wouldn’t call the competition cut-throat but there is palpable anxiety in the air.  Many of the “contestants” hover near the office door for what can only be fear of losing their place in line even though everybody knows the order in which we all arrived and someone would have to tell an outright lie to cut in the virtual line.

We are overwhelmingly retirees by trade and have much in common.  Ordinarily the chatter at a gathering of RVers is friendly and informal.  Much valuable knowledge about places to visit and places to avoid can be had in these setting.   I’ve learned a lot about new gadgets to solve the unique challenges of RV life and met some interesting people in more casual settings but the scarcity of campsites at Gilbert Ray has transformed these benign geezers into competitors.

Nine o’clock is nigh and a park official arrives with a clipboard to take names and record each party’s place in line.  We are #8.  In an exasperatingly slow trickle, RVs check out and their sites are immediately assigned to the first names on the clipboard.  After about half an hour, the eighth spot opens up and our name is called.  It occurs to me that it could have been worse.  It is a testament to the civilized nature of this crowd that there have been no punches thrown nor angry words exchanged.

We start the engine and slowly pull through the throng of waiting RVs..  Here and there, several pairs of envious eyes track our entrance into the promised land.   


RUDY SCANS THE NEIGHBORHOOD FOR CATS AND ……….

Our dog, Rudy, is a twenty-pound terrier mix.  We keep him on a leash whenever we go for a walk because he’s apt to take off in pursuit of anything that moves.  Consequently, he’s never been in a real fight with another dog or even a cat.  As a result, he’s never learned the hard way that he’s not as tough as he thinks he is.  He loves to snarl and strain at the leash when we encounter much bigger dogs like pit bulls and German shepherds – dogs that outweigh him by a factor of four.

On the other hand, I’m not so sure that Rudy isn’t secretly aware that he’s hopelessly outclassed in the canine combat arena.  You see, I’ve noticed that when he goes into his Big Tough Aggresive Dog routine, he’s careful to look over his shoulder at me first, as if to say “You’re with me on this, right, Lief?”  I think he knows he’s a punk dog who would have trouble taking on any dog larger than a Chihuahua or a cat larger than a kitten.  

And then there is the matter of his attitude toward African-American men.  He goes nuts – baring his teeth, growling, barking.  What’s that about ???  Doesn’t he know that racism is a Class-A felony in 21st Century America?  This alarming behavior came out of the blue.  I’d never witnessed it until we came to Tucson.  You see, there are no African Americans in tiny Chelan, Washington so I don’t know where he picked up the habit.  He’s incorrigible though.  I scold him when he goes into his tough guy act but it has no effect.

In other news, Tucson has been touched by the hand of winter.  Tonight the forecast calls for a hard freeze.  Twenty-nine degrees that is.  That’s no Minnesota winter day but it’s darn cold for Tucson.  To top it off, our RV propane heater has been balky of late.  We’ve had to rely on a little electric space heater.  Mary won’t let me leave it on at night.  She has an irrational fear of electric space heaters burning us alive as we sleep.  We’ve closed off the RV cab with a barrier made of a quilt and it helps insulate but the interior still drops into the forties by morning and the feeble space heater takes hours to bring the temperature back up to seventy degrees.

Also, my brother, Lars, and his wife, Hilda, came up from Green Valley the other day and we four went to the Pima Air and Space Museum.  Lots of cool airplanes.  Among them were two vintage WWII planes that my dad flew: the SBD dive bomber and the F7F night fighter. What a thrill it must have been for Dad as a young hotshot pilot to have the F7F’s 4000 horsepower at his command!


MARY AND LARS BY THE F7F


Pundits aplenty have shared with us their takes on the rapid pace of change in this new century – technological marvels, the fluidity of gender identity, the wrath of the political correctness Nazis, etc.  I doubt I have anything original to add to the public discourse on these subjects.  But who out there is talking about dog turds?  Eh?  In this possibly cutting-edge blog post, I stake my claim to one of the least talked about and radically changing subjects of 21st-century life.  

Have you noticed signs like the one above popping up on a street near you?  I mean, really!  Who would have dreamed of bagging dog turds ten years ago?  Certainly not me.  Were I walking my dog on a city street or in a suburban neighborhood and he assumed “the position” and dropped his load, I may have smiled apologetically and given passers by a What’s-a-fella-to-do? look but actually picking the offending object up would never had occurred to me.

Now I see these signs everywhere.  Maybe I’ve been living in the mountains too long where this problem is not an issue.  My dog has twenty acres on which to do his business and the rain and the sun disintegrate his “deposits” in a timely manner so that I don’t even notice them.  But until the last few years, even on my infrequent visits to a city, I never saw one of these signs.  For that matter, to the best of my recollection, I never saw an overwhelming amount of canine fecal matter either.  But then, such matters were not among my priorities.

The first time I saw one of these signs, I imagined “the act” would be performed in the most straightforward way – picking up the poop in the same way one would pick up a dropped set of keys – barehanded.  No way I was going to do that!  “These people are nuts” I thought.  But then one day I witnessed a responsible citizen performing this civic duty .  Quite ingenious, I thought.  Using a small plastic bag as a mitten, the feces  was grasped, then the bag was carefully inverted so that what was heretofore outside the bag,  was now inside the bag.  This procedure may seem obvious to some; it wasn’t to me.

Even after I had been apprised of this handy technique, it was a while before I could bring myself to actually do it.  And when I finally summoned the courage to do it, the realization of what that warm, squishy thing between my fingers was, triggered a gag reflex.  But, like any number of unpleasantries in life, familiarity breeds complacency, even intolerance.  To wit, now, when I witness a scofflaw like my former self scurrying away from the site of his dog’s freshly-laid pile without retrieving it, I murmer “Barbarian!” to myself.  “Some people!”

Notwithstanding my recent conversion to the ranks  of responsible citizenry, I am dubious of several claims in the above sign.  Which diseases, exactly, have been traced to dog feces? – polio, tuberculosis, measles?  And how, exactly, does one contract these diseases from dog feces?  After all, most people’s contact with dog excrement is minimal to say the least.  Does one have to merely pass within ten feet or must the object be handled? sniffed? ingested? injected intravenously?

And how about those supposed fines?   Is this within the purview of the average Tucson cop?  I haven’t witnessed any ticket writing of this kind.  No flashing red & blue lights.  No dog owner spread-eagle against the wall to be frisked while his dog stands quizzically to the side, cocking his head this way and that at this strange human spectacle.  And what is the difference between a $25 offense and a $250 offense?   The number of distinct turds?  Their weight?

Perhaps the neighborhood where we’re staying could stand more rigorous enforcement of TCC 4-97.  The block around which Rudy and I walk for his morning constitutional is a veritable minefield.   This walk is a daylight-only event because one needs to know where one is stepping.  Some people!

One last thing.  Here’s my favorite version of anti-poop sign:

arduino

ARDUINO ADVOCATE

I can’t stand just sitting around.  I always have to have a project.  Chelan Traveler followers of recent years (my mother and cousin Dona) will remember that two years ago during Mary’s and my time in Tucson my project was studying German.  Last year it was hiking and biking the Arizona Trail.  This year it looks like I will be fooling around with an electronics project kit called Arduino.

For the unbelievably low price of $56 I got everything I need to do hundreds of projects.  In addition to the obligatory wires, capacitors, and resistors, the kit includes sensors for light, motion, sound, water level, as well as small motors, keyboards, power supplies, digital displays, etc.  I have my son, Nick, to thank for the tip that Arduino exists and China to thank for the cheap price of my kit.

Full disclosure:  I had to buy a new computer ($279) to input instructions to my Arduino because it won’t talk to my iPad and two books for tutorials ($45).

Ideally, I would have a spacious work area to spread out my components.  In our cramped RV, I have a few square feet of tabletop on which to spread out my components.  When I’m through experimenting for the day, everything has to be put back in its storage box and moved out of the way or there is no room to eat our supper.

Arduino advocates claim that it can be the controller for diverse practical electronic applications.  So far I haven’t come across any convincing examples of that but we shall see.  In the mean time, I’m having fun making LEDs flash, piezos beep, and servo motors flip around on my table like a fish on land.

 

 


RAINBOW OVER THE RILLITO

Wenatchee has its Riverfront Park that borders the Columbia River.  Tucson has the Rillito Park that borders a wide, usually dry, wash known as the Rillito (Little River?).  Both are meccas for bicycling and strolling with their asphalted paths.  This week the Rillito actually has water in it as a result of recent rains.  To be sure, it’s no Columbia.  The water is at most a foot deep and perhaps 100 feet wide.  The water in the Columbia, as every schoolboy knows (or should know), empties into the Pacific Ocean.  I’m not sure where the Rillito water goes but I suspect it disappears into the pourous sand of the Arizona desert somewhere west of here.  While I expect the local cacti appreciate this uncommon refreshment, the rain is cramping my lifestyle.  We came here for the sunshine and warmth and we’re impatient for it to return.  Riding my bicycle in the rain is not an option!

We love our little RV but it does present a few challenges.  One is the making of the bed.  This is not a problem for me since I never make the bed but Mary finds it to be a challenge.  There is no place to stand at the side of the bed which makes for some awkward maneuvering.  She recently saw a video on a new way to do this.  The new technique is one where the bedmaker gets in the bed, under the covers and simulates making a snow angel with arms and legs waving.  The following photo captures Mary in the process:


MARY THE BEDMAKER EXTRAORDINAIRE

Perhaps she needs more practice but Mary reports that the new technique is not to her liking and she will revert to her former method of kneeling over the covers and stretching them into place.

As to another mundane detail of RV life – what’s on the menu this week, I have this to report. Chili is out; fried rice is in.  Mary prepared a large bowl of tasty chili last week which provided a week’s worth of suppers.  One well known side effect of chili beans, however, has pretty much canceled out the benefits of this healthful and thrifty dish.  Given the cramped quarters in which we live, the concentration of toxic gases had risen above tolerable levels.  In addition to the olfactory aspect we found it prudent to avoid open flame for fear of a catastrophic explosion that would blow the windows out.


FOND MEMORIES

I had a checkered career path as a young man.  Five years was by far the longest tenure I could claim at any single job (teacher) and my longevity at many jobs could be measured in months or weeks.  In a few it was a matter of hours.  It wasn’t until well into middle age that I settled into work that I enjoyed and for which I was well suited – building rock walls.  I spent 15 satisfying years in that line of work and I have often told anyone who would listen about the perks and pleasures of being self-employed and being known and respected around Wenatchee, Washington as The Rockman.

I’m retired now from my Rockman business going on eight years. Mary and I winter in Arizona in our RV.  We’re in Tucson now.  As I was riding my bicycle yesterday through the back streets of Tucson I was reminded of a business of sorts that I once had and that may have surpassed even my beloved years as Rockman as a perfect match for my natural proclivities.    There I was, liesurely coasting on my mountain bike, observing the wide variety of Tucsonians going about their various tasks, taking in the sights of a city at work, and checking out the endless variety of a city that I have just begun to explore, when my thoughts drifted back to a summer long ago when I was a boy of ten with a bicycle in the small town of Indianhead, Maryland.

My father, an Air Force officer, was receiving training at the Navy’s Explosive Ordinance Demolition school that spring and summer. My school was out for the summer and my responsibilities at home were little more than making my bed and putting away my toys.  After a quick bowl of corn flakes for breakfast most days, I was on my own and the day was mine to do with as I pleased.  And my favorite way to spend the day was to hop on my bicycle and ride around Indianhead looking for discarded soda pop bottles.  My bike was equipped with a wire basket attached to the handlebars and should I be so lucky as to locate five or six bottles, the basket was up to the task of transporting them to the liquor store where I could exchange them each for a two-cent deposit.  

Summer jobs for ten-year-old boys are not easy to come by then or now but I doubt I would have been interested in one even if they were.  It wasn’t the money, paltry as it was, that lured me out to my summer rounds each day.  It was the freedom and variety of experience that I loved most.  To explore the back alleys, to chance upon discarded treasures or misplaced coins, to outride the neighbors’ snarling dog,  to watch the destroyers and submarines chugging up the Potomac to the Washington Navy Yard – these and countless other encounters awaited me each day.  Nevertheless, the bottle collecting I now realize, was a necessary component of those summer days.  It gave purpose and structure to what would have otherwise been aimless wandering and I have always been a goal-driven person.

Along about supper time I would show up at home, tired but contented, deeply browned from long hours in the sun,  and deposit my take for the day, usually no more than twenty or thirty cents, into an amber-colored glass piggy bank.  I remember the summer’s total amounted to something like five dollars but being comprised of a lot of pennies, nickels, and dimes, it filled the piggy bank to capacity.  

At summer’s end, Dad’s training was complete and the family packed up to return to George Air Force Base in Southern California.  I had been a pop bottle collector in California and knew that bottles had a three-cent deposit there – a whopping 50% premium over the Maryland deposit.  I tried to convince Dad to transport about twenty bottles along with the other family cargo back to California.  He nixed the plan.

Practical considerations aside, I think collecting pop bottles on my bicycle was the best job I ever had.