Monday, January 29, 2018

I Did A Bad Bad Thing

I would have added a little audio clip of Chris Isaak here to really punch this post up, but I can’t afford the royalties.

Normally I don’t go for 500 piece puzzles because just when I start to feel like I’m getting into them, they’re suddenly finished, but when I saw this one – well, to quote one of the Macbeth witches; By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes.

You see, my nephew is die-hard green.

I’m pretty sure he has a T-shirt or hat or something that says Friends don’t let friends drive anything but green tractors, so when I saw this puzzle I couldn’t resist aggravating him. 

Besides, he recently banged himself up by crashing during a snowmobile race so I figure a little outside aggravation will take his mind off being sidelined for a moment.

There are a number of strategies for putting a puzzle together.

You can dump the pieces out, turn them all right-side up, then go for it.

You can separate the pieces by shape, setting the edges aside as a starting point then working through the rest.

You can sort the pieces by color, which works well on those Norwegian fiord, or Newfoundland harbor puzzles.

You can sort the pieces by subject then work the puzzle from there

Or you can do the challenging ‘pick and stick’ method, where you pick a piece out of the box, check it against the image to figure out where it goes, and stick it directly on the puzzle board in its approximate position.

The puzzle I'm working on now lends itself well to the sort-by-subject method.

Though I did mix it up a little by doing pick-and-stick for the tracks and train.

Here I've completed emptying out the sky and mines boxes and am working on the mountains.

For the tractor puzzle, the New Holland (horrified gasp) tractor puzzle, I decided to make it a little more challenging for myself by doing it strictly by the pick and stick method.

So this one is for you, my thoroughly green nephew.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Wall of Shame: Dangerous Driver

I understand that some may not consider the recent actions of a 'professional' driver (and I use the term with more than a touch of sarcasm here) as dangerous. For instance I assume that the driver in question didn't think of his/her actions, excessive speed, failure to maintain safe distance from other vehicles, failure to maintain lane, as reckless, or at the least thought those actions were justified in some way, but from where I sit; you know, down here close to the road in a smallish car; those actions were highly questionable and downright scary!

I was eastbound on a piece of I-10 where the speed limit is 65 and while doing the speed limit I was in the left lane passing a cement truck. Notice the K-barriers on both sides of the main lanes in the image below? That's because, not only is the speed limit here 65, but this part of I-10 is currently under construction which makes this a double-fine zone.

How do you know how fast I was really going? Because our front and rear dash cams are equipped with GPS so date, time, and speed are embedded in the video. (And with the proprietary app rather than a generic MP4 player, so is location) Another feature of the cameras is that because of the 160 degree viewing angle, things are a lot closer than they appear in the video. A lot like that right-hand side mirror.

As I was passing the cement truck another truck was coming up behind me at a high rate of closure, which means he/she was doing well over the posted speed limit with no visible intention of slowing.

The rear camera is mounted on the vehicle's center line, Notice that half of my vehicle is still in the left lane as the driver of the truck begins passing.

Because of this I signaled and began to move into the right lane before I was comfortably clear of the cement truck, but that clearly wasn't good enough for the approaching driver who moved partially onto the left shoulder and proceeded to pass before we had cleared the lane.

Yep, this was my driver's eye view as the 80,000 pound truck (heading into the city like this these gravel trucks are carrying a full load) blasted by a few inches to my left, roaring along the rumble-strips out there on the left shoulder.

Taking the tractor # and the door plaque, DOT number and TXDMV numbers off the recorded images as this driver blew by me, (OK, time to change the underwear!) I contacted the trucking company with the details of the incident, including the fact that I had GPS-confirmed video:

Since I did get a response back from them, albeit several days later, I've blurred the company name as well as DOT and TXDMV numbers in the image above. If they hadn't responded my plan was to plaster their details here and on other social media sites.

I am a skeptic by nature, so maybe it's just me, but though the trucking company responded with all the right things: thanks for taking the time; safety is our number one concern; the incident has been reviewed with the driver; etc., I still have my doubts since they were not interested in a copy of the video.

Rear camera video
(the 'exciting' part is about mid way into this 60 second clip)

Monday, January 22, 2018

Some of My One-Night Stands

OK, for those of you that were thinking that kind of one-night stand; thanks for the vote of confidence, but really? Even at the foggy knell of last call I’ve never been the kind to attract that sort of salacious, or maybe it’s predatory, attention, and as for me being the instigator in this bump-in-the-night then founder-in-the-morning-but-what-a-great-story-in-the-afternoon ritual, well – never been there, never done that – which is maybe why they keep taking away my man-club membership.

Though they share some similarities; like swooping in after dark and slinking out at first light; using them for you own selfish needs then never calling again; or leaving them with nothing but a faint impression and taking nothing away except a smug smile; the kind of one-night stands I’m talking about have more to do with 4 wheels and miles of road rather than two balls and highly-exaggerated inches of - - - well, you know.

Even though it’s not always made clear in blogs and forums, even by those that know better, there’s a big difference between camping and overnighting.

I don’t want to get into a whole discussion here about that, but one of the things that separates camping on a paid-for spot (Either directly or through tax dollars) from overnighting, which is often done on private property, is that, as with the other kind of one-night stand, there are, if not rules, at least expectations of a certain etiquette that goes with overnighting, though it’s clear not everybody agrees with me on that one.

For instance, even if I had such accouterments, I would never dream of pulling into Walmart in the middle of the afternoon, edging up as close to the doors as the local shoppers cluttering up the parking lot with their annoying cars will allow, dropping the jacks, extending the slides, racking out the awning, breaking out the fairy-lights, grill and lawn-chairs, swinging open the doors on the ‘outside entertainment center’ and kicking back with beers and margarita’s while watching an R-rated movie on the 65” flat-screen in full view of paying customers of all ages. (Sadly, not only have I witnessed every one of these things, there have been a few times when I’ve seen all of them done at the same time!)

Overnighting is not an item at the top of my list of fun-things-to-do, but sometimes, mostly when trying to cover a lot of miles between here and there, it just doesn’t make sense to pay a campground for a few hours parking while I grab a some sleep.

Personally I’ve overnighted at Walmarts, rest-areas, Cabella’s, truck-stops, and once or twice when nothing else was available, even in the parking lot of an ungated apartment complex. The latter falls more into the category of stealth camping rather than overnighting and I can only get away with it because The Van looks more like another daily transport vehicle than screams RV.

Some people avoid truck-stops like the plague, but if carefully selected I don’t find them any worse than a Walmart and a whole lot better than some rest-areas I’ve tried, but lately I’ve noticed Love’s truck-stops putting up One Hour Parking signs in the car/camper/van parking areas. I haven’t bothered asking inside if this is enforced at all; instead I’ve just dropped Love’s off my list of one-night stands, which means they don’t get any of my travel dollars anymore either.

What follows are some of the one-night stands I’ve hit over the years. Many are just that, I’ve been there once, both of us parting in the morning only slightly worse for wear, but some I’ve been back to more than once. Repeat wham-bam-thank-you-mam’s if you will.

Forest City, AR

There is a Walmart at exit 241. From the ramp go south to the second traffic signal and turn right onto Deaderick or Deadrick Road. (I’ve seen it spelled both ways on different maps and have no idea who Rick was or why he’s dead and haven’t asked) Walmart is about a quarter mile down on the right.


But my favorite one-night stand here is the eastbound I-40 rest-area at MM 235.

Like a steady-drinking, hard-smoking regular, she can be counted on to be there, ready and willing, at last call. This is not the newest facility in the system but the restrooms aren’t completely disgusting and the car/camper/van parking is well back from the interstate with little pockets of 4 or 5 car wide parking slots sprinkled along a winding access road that is farther away from the interstate noise than most rest-areas. The truck/motorcoach lane is not quite so nice, consisting of parallel parking on either side of the access road which is tucked up close to the interstate. I have seen small motorhomes and tow-behinds squeezed into the car parking on occasion but wouldn’t recommend trying it in modest to large rigs as there just isn't enough room.

There is a corresponding west-bound rest area at MM 243 but it's layout is reversed with autos up front and trucks to the rear so isn’t as nice. Because of this even when west-bound I use the east-bound rest area by making a U-turn at exit 233. In the morning I do another U-turn at exit 239 to get headed the right way again. A couple extra miles but hardly a blip in the overall scheme of things, and worth it.

Charleston, MO

As you approach Charleston Missouri on I-57 from either direction you will be inundated with signs for the Boomtown Travel Stop.  Skip it. Even if you are in a small rig skip it. The front parking lot is tiny and the fuel pumps are laid out for cars and cars only with a tight-radius turn sandwiched between the east end of the pumps and a dedicated windshield washing station. There is a larger lot on the east side but between the trucks(for which this place is not laid out) using it as a hap-hazard free-for all and the 24 hour security dude constantly lurking around, it’s not very restful.

If you do need to overnight around here there is a Flying J at exit 12 that’s not too bad. As for Sikeston 10 miles east, I wouldn’t recommend overnighting around there at all. The whole place just has a bad feel to it. Although maybe the billboards they used to have up years ago asking you to turn your neighbor’s meth-lab into the sheriff's office have something to do with that.

Texarkana, TX

OK, the rest area at Texarkana has to be one of my favorite spots for overnighting even though getting into it is slightly unusual, what with access to the rest area being off the frontage road rather than the main lanes.

Westbound on I-30 you take Exit 222 (Summerhill Rd.) then shortly after merging onto the frontage road take the ramp on the right to enter the rest area. Frankly there’s not a lot of room between the frontage road merge and the rest area ramp so a less stressful alternative at high traffic times is to take Exit 223 (US-71/Stateline Rd.) and stay on the frontage road through the light, past the KOA, to the rest area ramp.

When Eastbound also take Exit 223 and use the U-turn lane to cross over to the westbound frontage road.


Because the truck parking is between there and the interstate, the car/camper/van parking is nice and quiet, especially if you stay towards the east end, away from the facilities building. If you are in a larger rig, rather than turn into the truck parking, go straight through the car lot then turn left at the facilities building. Just after you turn there is a bus lot (Don’t go in there! The only way out is to back out.) and just beyond there are  4 or 5 parallel slots for RV’s

Avoid this rest area on I-30 at MM 143 if at all possible! Cramped and very noisy all night.

Note that if you are westbound on I-30 there is only one more rest area, at MM 143, before reaching the Dallas metroplex but it is one of the original rest areas, way too small for the traffic it sees, no dedicated car/camper/van parking, and sits right next to the interstate. This one is worth avoiding!!

Hillsboro TX

Frankly the I-35 corridor from north of Dallas/Ft Worth to south of San Antonio is a miserable road. There’s way too much traffic for the road to handle, which is made worse by the nearly constant construction in an attempt to ‘fix’ the issue. If there is a bright spot it is the newly renovated section just south of Hillsboro which includes nearly identical twin (north and south-bound) rest-areas at MM 362.

These rest-areas have more truck parking than many truck-stops. The car/camper/van parking is not separated from the main lanes as much as I would like, but it’s not a horrible one-night stand. North or southbound, I’ve found the quietest parking by passing up the first two car/camper/van lots and heading for the third lot past the facilities buildings. Not many people pulling in and out around me back there.


In addition to the ones along the interstates, Texas has some real gems of rest-areas tucked away along some of its highways and one of these sits out there in the lonely spaces on US-87 between Big Spring and San Angelo. Servicing both directions, it sits roughly 15 miles south of Sterling City and about 5 miles north of a very tiny place called Water Valley.

The facilities at this recently renovated rest area, strategically located for the West-Texas traveler, are top notch and though it’s not the largest rest area out there, for this sometimes lonely stretch of road there is plenty of parking for small and large vehicles.

Ft. Stockton, TX

For most travelers, Ft. Stockton, out there in Pecos County, smack dab in the middle of West Texas, is just a place to pass through on that grindingly long trip across the state on I-10 (In El Paso you are closer to the California surf than you are to Houston traffic, and from the eastern border of the state you are closer to the Atlantic Ocean than you are to El Paso) This makes the town’s Walmart, on business I-10 towards the west end of town, a popular one-night stand.

In keeping with the modest size of the town, this is not the largest of Walmart’s and some evenings the parking lot looks more like an RV show than a local store! But if there's no room left, the road that wraps around the west and north sides of the Walmart is wide and  lightly used so is often used by overnighting trucks and late-comer RV’s

Marshal, Illinois

Illinois has its faults, one being the habit of closing rest-areas for long periods of time as a miss-guided budget-cutting measure disguised as renovation, but, if they happen to be open, there are a couple of rest-area gems in the state. And one of them is near Marshal at MM 149 on west-bound I-70.

If you happen to be east-bound in the area do not rely on the rest area ahead of you just over the Indiana state line. That one has been closed for years now. Instead U-turn at Exit 154 to get to the west-bound rest area then U-turn again at Exit 147 to get headed back the right way in the morning.

For cars/campers/vans the appeal of this rest area is the parking situated at the back, well away from the interstate. For the quietest night (Of course quiet is relative in a rest-area) I like to drive past the facilities building and park where the building is between me and the truck parking area.

Rend Lake, Illinois

But by far the best rest-area in Illinois, and one of the best in the country, is on south-bound I-57 at MM 79. (If northbound do the U-turn dance at Exit 83 to get there and Exit 77 when leaving in the morning)

This rest area sits right on the shores of Rend Lake and is laid out so that there is a whole lot of separation between car/camper/van parking and the interstate.

Unfortunately it has been a victim of closure lately (Supposedly these closures are for updating and renovating but I rarely see anything more than the care-taker's pickup parked back there.) It was scheduled to open again late in 2017 but I’ll believe that when I see it.

Iowa 80 Truck Stop

For the non-commercial traveler, generally speaking truck stops are truck stops, but I have run across a few worth mentioning.

One of those is the Iowa 80, near Walcott Iowa at Exit 284 off I-80, supposedly the largest truck stop in the world. Well, it is pretty big, but what makes it worth mentioning here, besides having  one of the few remaining truck stop sit-down restaurants if you are so inclined, is a recent renovation that resulted in a whole lot more car/camper/van parking as well as a dedicated RV parking area, all nicely separated from the truck parking.

Diesel users beware though! This is a BP fueling station so don’t grab the green handle like you would most any other filling station because here it’s gasoline!

Grand Island, NE

Another truck stop worth special mention is the Bosselman Travel Center off I-80 at Exit 312. It’s not as big as the Iowa 80 but it is a supersized truck stop with loads of parking. Though there isn’t any dedicated RV parking there are some 400 truck slots so there should be some room. Anf for Car/camper/van parking, in addition to the lot out front, there is a nice little cul-de-sac lot on the north side lined with a grass-and-tree strip on three sides that keeps traffic to a minimum though there's not much to be done about the noise of a busy truck stop

North Platte, NE

Get off of I-80 at Exit 177 and take US-83 north. Shortly after crossing the Platte River turn right onto East Leota and the North Platte Walmart is on the left. This is a really big Walmart with an equally large parking lot, but if you are a large RV they ask that you park over towards the Dollar Tree.

Wichita KS

I-35 through Kansas is a toll road, but if you find yourself out there between Wichita and El Dorado anyway and are looking for a spot to overnight, the service area at MM 65 is just the ticket.  It’s got a reasonable amount of car/camper/van parking and has recently been updated to add a whole bunch of extra truck/RV parking.

This is one of those between-the-main-lanes centers so when you leave in the morning pay attention to which direction you’re going because if you don’t – well that could suck!

Kingdom City MO

There are a handful of truck stops off I-70 at Kingdom City Missouri (Exit 148) but the Petro has the most car/camper/van parking with the lot south of the building being the quietest.  There is no dedicated RV parking, but if your rig's total combined length is in the 40-45 foot range you can fit into a pair of end to end parking slots there to the south of the building. Unfortunately larger rigs often tangle this lot up a bit as the two, too-large rigs in the image above show, so pick your parking spot carefully.

Blytheville AR 

The Walmart at Blytheville in the north-eastern corner of Arkansas has a bit of a split personality. It has a large parking lot and overnighting is OK, (preferably over on the far eastern side of the lot) but they also have height barriers on most the entrances so anything over 10 feet high better pay attention!

Height restricters at red X's, yellow shows best tall-vehicle path into the lot.

The best way for tall vehicles is to go east on Armorel Dr. and turn in the entrance between the Murphy’s gas station (Which doesn’t take Walmart cards for some reason) and the Burger King. Drive straight back through the Lowes parking lot and just before you hit the building take a hard left into the Walmart lot.

Fort Wayne IN

Fort Wayne is a big place and there are 5 Walmarts in and around the city, but the one-night stand I like best is the one on Maysville Rd. off of Loop 469 (Exit 25)

This is another one of those big Walmarts with plenty of parking. On top of that, right now the store beside the Walmart (to the right in the image) is empty so that lot is a good choice for staying out of the way.

This Walmart has something I haven’t seen elsewhere. See that turquoise roofed building in the top right corner of the Walmart lot? That’s a buggy barn where the Amish of the area can safely leave the horse and buggy while they’re shopping. It’s been in use every time I’ve been there.

One more note here. There’s a Cracker Barrel across the road from the Walmart but it’s pretty small with no space for RV parking.

Cecil, OH

If Walmart’s just aren’t your thing there’s a somewhat hidden little rest area not far away, near US-24 a little east of Fort Wayne near Cecil, Ohio.

This quiet little rest area is now actually on Ohio- 424 which used to be US-24 before the highway was moved a half mile south during a rebuild. Exit the current US-24 at US-127, go north to 424, hang a left, and the rest area is just over a half mile on the right.

It looks abandoned what with any facilities, other than parking, that may have been there in the past now gone, but I’ve actually seen people in there cutting grass, planting flowers, and trimming brush, so apparently not.

If your quest is a quiet spot, this is it, with only local traffic on the road out front.

Alamogordo, NM

There is nearby BLM as well as State Trust land, not to mention the dispersed camping available in the nearby Lincoln NF,

but if it’s to be the modest Alamogordo Walmart, look to park in either the northwest corner of the lot or in the less-used area on the east side of the gas station.

Dundee MI

And finally, I would be remiss is I left out the Cabela's in Dundee.

This Cabela's is only an hour or so from my most common Michigan destination so I don't normally have cause to use it as a one-night stand but it is laid out pretty nicely for that with a lot tucked well away from the highway, and even far from the activity out by the front door, that is specifically reserved for RV's. And, like many Cabela's, there is a self-serve, token (Ask when you make a purchase) or for-fee dump station available as well.

When you’re covering miles in a hurry, and on a budget, and in the right kind of rig, one-night stands make sense sometimes, and those were a few of the ones I've used.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Hi Ho – It’s Off To Work We Go

When out and about with The Van I’m either hiking or biking most every day, so ‘working out’ is just part of the lifestyle, but when I’m hanging around the homestead (and the three or four regular readers I have might remember that I burned the hell out of my travel budget by mid-2017 so have been spending a lot of time hanging around the homestead since then waiting for the budget to trickle-charge.) staying in condition is something I have to pay attention to.

It wasn’t always that way.  Up until a few years ago (OK, maybe more than a few but I can still remember those days so it can’t have been all that long ago!) I was able to coast along on the remnants of my youth so ‘working out’ was a nice, responsible, grown-up thing to do, but not necessarily required. But now that I’m old enough that I will soon be shifting from years to months as I count my way down to Medicare, if I don’t stay on top of it, if I allow too many of those well it’s a little wet, or cold, or hot, or late, so I’ll do it tomorrow days to slip by without moving the muscles, banging the heart, and just generally getting’ the blood flowing, I find myself needing a rest-break on the journey from one side of the grocery store to the other. And let me tell you, it’s highly embarrassing to be pointed and laughed at by a cart full of sticky-faced rug-rats pushed along by a frazzled, and judging by the looks I get, disapproving parent, because I’m sprawled across a nest of family-sized bundles of toilet paper I’ve pulled down off the shelf (Clean up on isle 5!) since the floor is just too damn hard and far away to lay down on anymore, gasping for breath as I try to recover enough get-up-and-go to get-up-and-went all the way over to isle 8!

By the way, I’m not at all convinced about this shrinking-as-you-get-older crap. If that were the case then why does the floor, and everything floor-adjacent, such as my feet, keep getting farther and farther away every year??

(Nope, not me. Just something I stole off flicker)

Anyway – over the years I’ve done a lot of ‘fitness plans’, the Royal Canadian Air Force Fitness Plan (Screw this! I’m not Canadian!!), Billy Blank’s Tai Bo videos, (Dude! My legs wouldn’t go that high even when I was a kid!) Bo-flex machines, (Oh the hell with it, I’ll never look like those guys.) and the like, but the one thing that I seem to be able to stick with on a regular basis is cranking out a few sub-20 minute miles sandwiched between a warm-up during which I try to convince my body that it really can move that way, and a cool-down during which I gasp for every breath as if I’m about to go under for the last time. (And yep. This spectacle is also highly embarrassing which is why I prefer to do it in private.)  

Here on the near-side of the property, the side of the pond where the barn, driveway, electric easement and meadow create some open spaces, I’ve mowed a looping track from the gate (east) to the pond (west) and side-to-side between both the north and south fence-lines that adds up to just over a third of a mile. It’s not quite mall-walking, there’s a little bit of up and down involved and the ground under foot isn’t paved, but except for that climb up to the gate, which is a 9 percent-er, it’s pretty mild and even my mother was out there on it last time she visited.

But after the first lap or so it gets pretty mindless and boring. So much so that in order to keep track I have these three stones sitting on the water tank we use for the fire-pump. As I pass the tank at the end of each lap I grab a stone and put it in my pocket. If there are no stones left I pull one back out  and leave it on the tank. When all three stones are back on the tank I know I’ve made right around 2 miles and can switch over to my combination yoga and tai-chi cool-down. (which makes up part of a desperate attempt to remain flexible and retain some balance into my older years)

There used to be more trail on the mostly wooded back-side of the property. In fact years ago I had a little over a mile’s worth of walkable trails back there, but then one day, down in a ravine on the back side of the main ridge, a pair of trees fell during a storm, stacking themselves like dominoes right across the trail. The lower of the two trees was propped up on it's own branches about 8 feet above the trail with the upper tree sitting about 6 feet above that.

There was no way I was going to mess around under those unstable trees and risk ending up looking like road-kill! I suppose I could have cut a bypass around them but they were pretty big trees and it’s really difficult to cut trail all the way around them down in that thickly vegetated ravine, so, what with plenty of traveling and large shop-projects to keep me active at the time, I took the easy way out and abandoned the back-side trails.

But now, forced by budget into a long, unbroken stay at home, and with my current string of projects shrunk down to a non-aerobic table-top sized, the idea of opening up those old trails again was looking better and better.

Since the dam is the only connection between the front and back sides of the property, the first step was to carve a tunnel through the Live Oak that drapes over it.

After that was cleared I could throw my tools over my shoulder and trudge off up the hill like some mutant cousin of the 7 dwarves and spend a couple hours at a time opening up those old trails again,or, in some cases, cutting entirely new trails.

Depending on where I am back there, in a couple of hours

I can clear as much as a few hundred feet of trail per session, or as little as 20 feet.

It may seem a little perverse in this modern age, but I prefer clearing trail with hand-tools. It is slower, but it’s a lot quieter, and one heck of a lot less risky, than using a chainsaw. Besides, what’s the damn rush anyway? When finished I will use the trails to help maintain my physical conditioning and all that lopping and sawing and bending and straightening and pushing and pulling and lifting and dragging is a pretty good workout too, so why waste the opportunity?


 But there was one spot that required more than my puny little hand-saws.

After 6 or 7 years the domino’ed trees have settled to the point where they are fairly stable and the lower tree has sagged down to about chest high,

but I clearly needed to drag out the big guns if I was going to cut my way through. I had hoped my small, 14 inch chainsaw would do the job, but a quick measurement slapped that idea into the debris underfoot and I had to drag the bigger, and way heavier, 24 inch chainsaw up and over the hill

to clear the way instead.

After 3 to 4 sessions per week for a couple months I have managed to open up old, or cut new, trails as shown in blue. The next step is to cut another new trail along the red line and create one more option for getting to the back fence-line. (You know, in case some other tree decides to come down over one of my fresh new trails, which, since we had 45 mph winds around here overnight, is certainly a possibility) but I already know that’s going to be a long slog to clear because of a steep-sided and heavily overgrown ravine right about where the jog in the red trail is.

You see, walking these trails isn’t a stroll around your Grandma’s retirement community, dodging golf-carts driven by the mostly blind and waving to all the porch-perchers so they don’t talk bad about you at bingo.  Though the difference between the low and high points on our 14 acres is less than 100 feet, there are no flat spots anywhere. (We had to carve into a hillside in order to create a spot for the barn to sit.)The average grade overall works out to about 5% but there are a few 12% hills out there too. Steep enough to generate a little burn, in both thighs and lungs.

Speaking of which, it’s time to stop writing and get back to work.

Monday, January 8, 2018

A Two-handed Shooter I'm Not!

I was standing at my computer desk doing - well, who the hell knows what I was doing - in the barn. The doors at both ends of the building were open, sunset was approaching, mostly unnoticed, and then the light suddenly changed.

Panic stations!!

I grabbed the camera and ran out the front of the barn. That's the farthest away, since my computer station is only a couple steps from the back of the barn, but the trees crowd in pretty close back there so the best long-range views are out front.

When I skidded to a halt on the gravel driveway with all the grace of a world-class hockey player getting set for a one-touch slapshot deep in the blue-zone (OK, so my skid was more like a crash landing, but I saved the camera!!) I was confronted with a rainbow in the east and a pretty spectacular sunset in the west.

Now I'm a child of the 60's and grew up on Saturday afternoon westerns but I'm crap at two-handed shooting, what with being solidly left handed which means I don't have all that much control over my right hand. Besides, I only have the one camera. Unfortunately I also have only seconds before the light will change again and both of these magnificent views will be lost forever, so I start desperately fumbling with the settings on the camera while trying to figure out which way to shoot first. (On top of that, point-and-shoots are absolutely terrible at capturing lighting conditions like this, wanting to 'normalize' everything into a generic, studio-lit portrait instead, so auto is useless but the manual settings are clumsy when you're in a hurry.

By the time the light changed and the sky was boringly generic again I was feeling kind of dizzy, so I'm pretty sure I forgot to breath as I shot and adjusted and shot and spun around and shot and adjusted and - well, you get the idea.

Monday, January 1, 2018

The Continuing Saga of Elmer; The Good News, And The Bad

The good news is that Elmer hasn’t thrown himself in the bay again - yet, the bad news is that to make up for that he threw his phone in the bay.

This is only the latest phone-icide in a string of many over the years. Half the time he accompanies the phone into the bay, the other half the phone makes the trip on its own. This time he claims the phone just jumped out of his pocket and flew into the water and it was over so fast there was nothing he could do about it.

I’m a little skeptical.

Apparently there’s no credible witnesses to verify this one way or the other, but the fishing hasn’t been great (By Elmer standards) and I’m not entirely convinced Elmer didn’t sacrifice the phone to the fishing gods in the hopes of more plentiful bait-snatchers. When the fishing is good Elmer is a happy guy, when it’s not he can be sullen and morose. Happy Elmer is preferable to Grumpy Elmer, but for crying out loud! Surely there’s something a little less inconvenient that would satisfy the fishing gods!

The good news is that when we got word of this latest incident-on-the-bay via Ike’s phone (Which, as far as I know, has never been sacrificed to the bay; though come to think of it, Ike doesn’t catch near as many fish as Elmer.  Could Elmer actually be onto something with the phones??) we just happened to already be on our way down to meet Elmer and Ike for lunch in a half-way-between town. It also just so happens that town has a Verizon corporate store so we dropped in, picked up a replacement, paid the upgrade and activation fees, (the bad news of course) had them load The Wife’s contact list (Largely the same as Elmer’s list which was now swimming with the fishes.) onto the new phone and had it ready to hand over to him when we got to the restaurant.

The good news is this was a rare Friday meetup (most are on a Monday) so The Texas Roadhouse was open for lunch, which includes their unequaled fried onion blossom starter. The bad news was, not only was Elmer grumpy, but he also chose to leave his hearing aids back in the trailer. (Don't need the damn things!) So instead of just a collection of old farts gathered for a nice lunch and some conversation, the shouting, constant repetition and misunderstandings drowned out everyone around us and turned our table into the obnoxious clown-car in a one-ring circus. (I can’t be sure, but I think there was a smattering of applause when the door closed behind us as we were leaving.)

And finally:

The good news is that as Elmer and Ike (Ike doing the driving of course) peeled off to stop at Academy (For some curly-tail lures) and then Sam’s (For a big box of frozen Jimmy Dean breakfast muffins [take one out of the box, pop it in the micro for 90 seconds, tear the plastic wrapper off, lick the melted cheese off the wrapper, then eat the muffin – good stuff! I know all this because Elmer has told me, in detail, about a hundred times now.]) Elmer had a working phone in his hands. The bad news is that the phone wasn’t working too well. . . At least in Elmer’s hands.

Other than some sleeker rounding to the edges and much cleaner keys, the new phone is identical to his freshly sacrificed flip-phone, but for some reason Elmer just can’t seem to get the knack of using this new-phangled piece of crap fone!

Now struggling with technology can be expected from someone that is old enough to remember when the first electric light was brought into their home, but what do you mean you can’t figure out how to call anyone?? It’s the same damn phone! (On which he managed, with little trouble at all, to make over 570 calls last billing period. Thank God for Family Plan!!)

 Of course not being able to call anyone doesn’t seem to include calling The Wife who received some 30 calls from Elmer in the two days following the Great Phone Switch. I had to leave the room once because if I heard her tell Elmer ‘press the dash key at the top right to get your contact list – press the dash key – press the dash key – Dad! press the dash key – press the dash key’ one more time I just might have reached right down the phone-line and pressed the dash key for him. . . and that could have been ugly.

Oh well, one day soon I'm going to be old(er) and then it will be my turn to pull an Elmer. . . (Is it bad that I'm already cackling with malicious glee at the thought of driving The Daughter nuts?)