Tuesday, December 21, 2021
2021/12/21 0959 (CST)
Maybe that's not a date and time as notable to our modern society as when Kennedy was shot, or the Challenger blew up, but not only is that the exact time this post was published, it's also the exact moment, give or take a few seconds, for us here in the northern hemisphere, that the Sun's southward movement slowed to a stop and reversed.
Based on the hard evidence of stone-age artifacts (pun not really intended) humans have been making note of this natural event every year for some 10,000 years and anthropologists speculate that humans from all over the world, from all sorts of different and isolated cultures, may have been marking this event for as much as another 10,000 years before that.
And why wouldn't they?
As far as our modern societies and accoutrements tend to distance us from the natural world it takes only the most basic of observation to realize that the Sun is key to living things here on this plant, and always will be, and the winter solstice marks the beginning of the return of the Sun.
Because of the limitations of our modern time and date keeping methods combined with the tiny wobbles within our solar system, the actual time of the solstice wanders around a bit, in fact it wanders enough that the actual event may fall anywhere from the 21st to the 22nd on our current calendars. (Next year's falls on Dec 21 at 1547. Almost 5 hours later than this year's)
Which might explain why the Roman festival of Saturnalia was spread out over a full week.
Or the Nordic festival of Yule lasted as long as it took a log, the Yule log, lit on one end, to burn through to the other. (Obviously the bigger the log the better and a particularly successful Yule could last 12 days!)
The Incas are, if not in color and pageantry, at least in duration, a little more restrained, limiting the festival to the three days before, and the day of, the solstice.
Oh, and any Christians currently living under regimes that are attempting to repress your beliefs because of political or religious doctrine, take heart. In the 16th century the Spanish, with the Pope's blessing, attempted to ban Incan practices, including Inti Raymi (sun festival) but it is still around today!
The traditional food of Dong Shi is a rib-sticking dumpling. Depending on where you are in Asia the dumpling will be filled with either rice or meat and veggies as the celebrants come together to celebrate the positive energy coming their way.
In Japan Toji is marked by bonfires, with particularly large ones on Mt. Fuji, to help hold back the dark on this longest of nights, and hot baths infused with yuzu, a citrus said to ward off colds and promote good health.
In Iran Shab-e Yalda (night of birth) is like a massive block party where people come together to protect each other on this, the longest night.
The Zuni people wait on the Pekwin, the Sun Priest, who carefully observes the setting and rising of the Sun for several days before the solstice, to announce the exact moment of itiwanna, the rebirth of the sun, which triggers 4 days of dancing and general celebration.
And yes, while it's true that the harshest days of winter are still ahead, the winter solstice is all about hope. The promise of better times ahead. And I think this is a year in particular where we could all use a little bit of that hope.
So happy Solstice - Inti Raymi - Yule - Shab-e Yalda - Toji - Dong Shi
Monday, December 13, 2021
OK, last post had me wrapping up my delayed visit with Mom (We're both of an age where every visit could realistically be the last so leaving is never as easy or casual as when I was younger.) and beginning my escape from the threat of winter by heading on down the road to the Cabelas in Dundee Michigan.
I like to wrap up my Michigan trips by staging myself here, sort of halfway between Detroit, Ann Arbor, and Toledo, so I can start the 1300 mile trip home well away from the frenetic morning traffic and spaghetti-bowl roads of the metropolitan areas.
This particular Cabelas has several parking loops out behind the store, one of which is reserved for overnighting RV's, though, because I can, I usually choose to park in the lower loop, the one closest to the big pond and designated for regular cars, to avoid listening to RV generators all night. (I don't mind listening to idling trucks, refrigeration units, or APU's, but for some reason RV generators running for hours on end drive me nuts. Maybe because to me they epitomize the arrogance of over-consumption.)
The reason I wanted to get here before they closed is that my camp-chair, which gets used a lot, even when I'm not camping, is showing signs of abuse and I thought I might splurge on a high-end chair that would be comfortable and last a good while.
Well my 'best laid plans' started to unravel right here.
You would think that getting there an hour before closing on a cold and rainy Thursday night (November 11) would ensure few shoppers - at least that's what I thought - but I was seriously wrong! On reflection I think my mistake was that I hadn't taken into account hunting season which was either here (bow) or just around the corner. (gun)
But I had been planning this stop since my favorite cousin's wedding invitation hit our mailbox, so I manned up, masked up, and went in anyway.
What an unnecessary exposure and a waste of time that turned out to be!!
As expected, the selection of camp-chairs was varied, as well as expensive, but every one of them was the same crap I could buy for less at Walmart.
Now to be fair about that crap statement, my current chair is a Walmart purchase and it has held up well considering the abuse I give it, but I'd had high expectations of walking away with a new Cabelas chair of higher quality.
Expectations that were now dashed against the rocky shore just like one of those ships broken and lost during a Great Lakes November storm. So I slunk empty handed back through the rain and dark to the sanctuary of The Van and tucked myself in for the night, hoping one of those November storms didn't sneak in before I could get out of here in the morning.
Morning came, well - at least almost morning since I'm an early riser, with no storm and I hit the road.
So far so good!
But as short as I'd have liked to trim the loose thread dogging the fabric of my plans, today that fickle bastard fate got ahold of it again and the unraveling continued.
This sunset photo was taken on a previous trip from the same spot I planned stop for the night on this trip, an Illinois rest area on Rend Lake just a little shy of 500 miles away from Cabelas,
but instead I ended up with this photo of the sunset over the Goodwill building
taken from the edge of the Marion Illinois Walmart parking lot.
You see, when I got within a mile of my planned stop, a very bucolic and peaceful place, especially for a highway rest stop, I saw the dreaded 'rest area closed' sign. This is something Illinois seems prone to do for no discernible reason so it wasn't a complete shock, but it was still disappointing.
But, though it wasn't my first choice, at least I had a safe place for the night, and like the first day of the trip home,
the plan for the second day was to cover four more states, but this time the total distance would be a little longer, as in just shy of 700 miles, which would set me up for a final, short 3 hour run to The House.
But here's where "The Plan" unraveled so bad the shirt fell right off my back.
I was right about here when I won some sort of sick lottery and the fickle hand of the Gods reached out and dope-slapped me up-side the head.
I was still some two hundred miles short of my destination for the day, but I had gotten an early start and was making good time, skirting the edges of Texarkana up in the northeast corner of Texas early in the afternoon, when the dash lit up.
First it was the battery light, which is bad enough, but this was quickly followed by the coolant temp shooting upwards. Because I have an aftermarket gauge, a proper gauge, on this all important parameter (Why buyers don't insist on this gauge from the factory for every vehicle I don't know!) I saw it happening before the idiot-light lit up on the dash - but it made no difference. Either one of these conditions, battery or temperature, was enough to shut me down.
I managed to limp my way off the loop, through two traffic lights and into a parking lot - discovering along the way that I also had no power steering - where I was finally able to shut The Van down and hope the 240 degree temp I saw on the gauge hadn't done any permanent damage. (I don't know what happens at 250, maybe the engine disintegrates into another dimension, but according to the users manual that's the max The Van can take.)
Needless to say - and yet I'm saying it anyway - this was not exactly a pleasant couple of minutes - to be snatched so rudely out of that calm, detached, comfortable, almost meditative state that I achieve when long-distance driving, and be thrown into the tumble-dryer of a trip-ending emergency ranks very low on my fun-o-meter!
After giving myself a moment to adjust to this new reality I shuffled through the mud and trash, (I never said it was a good parking lot, but then again it's not like I had much choice.) and popped the hood.
Why I don't really know.
Ask me to design, build, and operate a $4,000,000 data-center with a couple dozen sub-contractors and thousands of moving parts - no problem, but frankly I have no business being under the hood of a vehicle.
But in this case, based on the symptoms, I already had a good idea what the issue might be. And sure enough, the serpentine belt had failed - as in it was gone, not even a little shred of it lurking there in the engine compartment.
Since it seemed most important at the moment, I first spun the water-pump pulley, yep, still works - or at least turns, reached down and spun the alternator, shifted to the other side and spun the power steering pulley, reached way down and spun the AC compressor, then reached for the - SON-OF-A-BITCH that's hot!
Yep, the tensioner pulley is frozen up solid. And while the belt was burning itself up on that it half-melted the two small plastic-ish guide rollers too.
Of course knowing this does me no damn good at all since I don't have a spare belt, let alone pulley replacement parts, in my pocket.
Texarkana is one of those natural choke-points along my route. Even though I'm frequently wandering off on other roads and trying new routes, it's a place I usually have to go through to get from here to there. I would guess that in the 40 years I've been making this trip between current home in Texas to childhood home in Michigan I've been through Texarkana in one direction or the other some 60 or more times, but other than the Red Lobster once (Back when The Wife still traveled we didn't go from here to there, rather we went from restaurant to restaurant until we eventually got to there.) and overnighting at the welcome center just inside the Texas line on I-30 a few times, I've always just passed on through.
So, not knowing anybody or anything in town, it seemed like a good time to pull out the roadside assistance card and share this trauma with someone else.
At this point the gods must have decided I could use a bright spot in my life, whether I recognized at the time or not, and the anonymous person on the other end of my roadside assistance card sent me Neeley's Towing Service.
I'll explain the bright spot a little more in a moment but for now Abraham picked up The Van and delivered us to
site A8 of the Texarkana RV Park, also courtesy of that anonymous person at the other end of my roadside assistance card, because, being a Saturday afternoon, I was stuck here until at least Monday.
So I spent the rest of the weekend twiddling my thumbs and fretting over how I was going to sort out this mess, which probably wasn't doing my blood-pressure any good, especially since I was now dividing up what little meds I had left and spreading them out in order to try and make them last.
Don't get me wrong, for a commercial campground the RV Park is a nice place with huge, clean, single-person toilet/shower rooms, an equally clean and functioning laundry room, and they gave me the Good Sam discount even though I'm not technically a Good Sam member, (I pay for the roadside service but not the membership.) but frankly I didn't want to be here!
On Monday morning, two minutes after their website said the service department opens, I was on the phone to the Texarkana Mercedes dealer. I clearly described The Van as a Sprinter and the problem it was having and they said 'Sure, bring it on over!'
Because driving there was not an option, my next call was to Neeley's Towing because - well - I didn't know anyone else in town did I?
While waiting for Abraham, the same guy from Saturday, to come drag me from campground to dealer I readied myself for worst-case by emptying my pack so I could then load it with the stuff I would need just in case I had to spend the night, or worse, in a cheep motel room.
When Abraham got me to the Mercedes Dealer it took less than 10 seconds for the service manager to shatter any little flicker of hope that had been sputtering in my belly since I called them this morning. I walked up, he glanced up, and said 'We don't work on those."
OK, I'm back. Had to take a mental-health break and walk away from writing this post for a while.
You know that "Too Soon?"question that sometimes comes after a miss-timed joke? I guess maybe writing this is too soon.
So why bother writing about it at all?
Yeah - I've just been asking myself the same thing - But the truth is, even the best life isn't all silk-sheets and fresh-strawberries. Once in a while it's potholes and wet-farts.
In order to be honest and not twist this blog into a Halmarkish 'life-is-all-roses-and-hot-apple-pie' parody of my real life, I have always tried to include the wet-farts, even when they are of my own making. (see my attempts at rebuilding hydraulic cylinders on the tractor or the time I got my ass handed to me on my first attempt at the Dog Canyon Trail.) Besides, there are good people involved in this incident that deserve special recognition.
So it turns out Mercedes of Texarkana, sitting right there on I-30, a busy trucking route between Dallas-Ft. Worth and all points east, as well as being located in a hub city for the otherwise rural corners of four different states, can't be bothered, and I quote the service manager, "to sign the contract and pay $20,000 for the large tools necessary to work on Sprinters". He informed me that I would have to take The Van to Shreveport to get it fixed.
By the time I slunk back to the wrecker Abraham, who because of his local knowledge was pretty skeptical of this dealer actually doing anything for me in the first place and had been kind enough to not to drop The Van right away, despite Neeley's being extraordinarily busy this Monday morning, was on the phone to his dispatcher and next thing I knew I was at the Neeley yard-office being offered a seat and drinks while they sorted out how to get me the 80 or so miles to Shreveport. (Abraham's truck was a little light to be dragging The Van that far.)
After a while I had recovered enough to look up the number for the dealer in Shreveport but about that time Terri, the dispatcher, bottle-washer, and pretty much the glue that keeps Neeley's running, (My impression anyway.) called out from her office asking me if I'd talked to the Shreveport dealer yet. At which point she looked up the number and personally called the dealer for me.
Now to put this into context, as one of the family, Terri, who is mama-bear to all her drivers, constantly looking out for them, is pretty much on call around the clock for this family owned towing service and Neeley's had just come off a record weekend in terms of number of call-outs and so far this morning - it wasn't yet 1100 - she had fielded an additional couple dozen calls, so it's not like she was just sitting around. She was, in fact pretty much run off her feet.
But she still took the time to call the dealer for me and confirm that they could do the repair. Then she asked what kind of time-frame I would be looking at.
TWO WEEKS? To replace a belt and a few pulleys? This was so ridiculous that Terri made a unilateral decision and hung up on them.
Shame on Mercedes Shreveport, and Mercedes USA as a whole! They actively promote the Sprinter to small businesses, the local plumbers, florists, and caterers, but how are these people supposed to survive with this kind of inadequate repair network and ridiculous turnaround times?!
Back in 2010 when I bought The Van I made no bones about the fact that I would have preferred a Ford Transit instead, for exactly this reason. Unfortunately Ford hadn't yet brought the Transit to the US at that time and Dodge was in the process of getting out of the Sprinter business in favor of their own Promaster line, which also wasn't quite on the US market yet.
Anyway, drained of any residual hope I might have had left, now I have visions of spending 12 hours on a Greyhound to get home then another 12 in a couple weeks to get back to pick up The (finally-repaired!) Van but, in between her real work, Terri was still working the phones on my behalf and soon hooked me up with Forza European Auto Repair right here in Texarkana.
Because they would have to order parts (from Houston since they gave up on trying to order parts from Shreveport) it would take until tomorrow to complete the 3-hour repair, (You hear that Shreveport?! Three hours!) and yes, they very graciously said I could stay in The Van on their lot while we waited on the parts.
Not only did Terri save me from a really expensive long-distance tow, she also saved me two weeks and a two-way bus trip. She mothered me, some broken-down stranger briefly passing through her busy life, the same way she mothers her drivers.
But almost before I had time to properly thank her Alan was loading The Van up onto his roll-on truck (Remember, things were pretty hectic at the tow-yard and Abraham was already off on other calls by now.) and we were headed to Forza. (Holy Cow! Alan has a nice truck and all but even with The Van on it the suspension is harsh - with a capital H-A! That poor guy is going to end up with his kidneys shaken down into his boots!)
While Alan, with no drama, one-time-and-done professionalism, dropped The Van into the very tight space that had been cleared for it, one that he could only approach at an angle, the people at Forza, in addition to letting me stay in The Van on the property overnight, told me exactly what they would do, when they would do it, and how much it would cost - then they turned around and did exactly what they said they would.
By the next afternoon The Van was in working order again and I was back on the road, almost exactly 72 hours after the dash lit up and - well, dashed my plans. I drove out of town with a big ol' sigh of relief and a grin so wide it was splitting my face in two. (No offence Texarkana!) But I didn't try making it home that night because rut had deer dashing all over the roads (wouldn't it be nice if, like deer and Vulcans, us humans had a short and predictable rut and behaved sensibly the rest of the time?!) and driving in the dark just wasn't worth the risk of killing a sex-crazed deer or banging up The Van, so I went as far as the Sun allowed then tucked myself into a safe spot for the night.
But I was very glad to finally make it home the next morning and start getting caught up on my meds!
- Breaking down on the road sucks! Of course I'm not very likely to break down in the driveway am I?
- Despite what the news-feeds would have you believe, there are a lot of good people out there. We may not ever know their names, or even hear about what they're doing, but, despite what the misbehaving celebrities and politicians we're always hearing about would like you to think, it's not them, but rather it's those unsung, hard-working, thoughtful, and caring people that actually grease the skids and make our communities work. -- There was the woman in the motorhome next to me that wanted to make sure I had enough food for the weekend. -- Ronnie of the campground that, just as I was being towed out of site A8 on Monday, roared up in his golf-cart to let me know that if I needed anything, anything at all, like maybe a ride somewhere, (apparently Texarkana has no ride-sharing services.) all I had to do was call him. -- The drivers of Neeley's Towing - and yes, everyone of them that I met was big and burly, but despite the impression those so-called reality towing shows might cram down your throat, everyone of them was also very professional and kind. -- The competent people at Forza that did exactly what they said they would when they said they would. -- And a special mention for Terri of Neeley's who went way above and beyond and made this experience so much better than it might have been.
- Oh - and I should always carry extra meds with me no matter how short I plan for the trip to be, because chances are, sooner or later I am going to get bit on the ass again.
Monday, December 6, 2021
OK, two posts ago I was barreling north through the seasons into the teeth of an artic winter like I knew what I was doing, and the last post had me spending the day wandering a trail in Michigan while bundled up in what passes for my winter clothes these days.
The ignored elephant in
the room the posts was just what the hell was I doing all the way up in Michigan in November in the first - and second - and third place?!
After all, I grew up here, you'd think I'd remember that it snows in Michigan in November.
|Thanksgiving Sunday a few driveways from where I overnighted in The Van just a couple weeks before.|
You'd think, after over 40 years of living so far south-of-snow that it's impossible to buy all-season window-washer fluid in the stores, that I'd know better than to risk encountering that darkest, and slickest, of the seasons this far north.
Well yes, I would, and do, know better - but then there was this wedding - - -
Originally the wedding was planned for next May which would have been ideal for me, but both participants being contemporaries of mine (That's a nice way of saying they're as friggin old as I am!) decided waiting made no sense - so here I am.
We don't always like to admit it, but 'family' often means obligation. And not the good kind. The burden of providing assistance that can't be squirmed out of kind - or accepting an invitation that can't be ignored. Well let me go on record right now and say that's certainly not the case here.
We were born only a few months apart, and practically grew up together, but that's not the reason she's my favorite cousin.
She's my favorite because of who she is.
Despite being saddled with certain challenges and hardships pretty much from birth that often saw her being dismissed or ignored, even by those that should know better, she is the most gracious, giving, and forgiving person I personally know.
And when I met the groom/husband a few months ago at the family reunion the rightness of their match-up was immediately apparent. And not just because they have matching stature. I mean this guy, a life-long non-camper with mobility challenges, has already gone out and rented an RV so they can attend next year's family reunion as weekend campers and not just day-trippers! He's clearly ready to trade in his scooter for a tandem bike so the two of them can ride to the future together.
So when I heard a couple months ago about the change in wedding date (Now to happen on November 6) there was no question that I would gladly be there for their day.
But then in October, citing credible sources, HuffPost turned around and released a report on current Corona spreading activities - - -
Not surprisingly, topping the list is restaurants and bars, crowded outdoor venues like concerts and stadium-events, and - well Crap on a Cracker! - rounding out the list of activities where you are most-likely-to-contract-Corona, is small, in-door private events - - -
But even this report wasn't enough to keep me away from their wedding.
Before the report had been released, in preparation for the event I had gone out and gotten the first flu shot I've had in years, (Mine is normally an isolated life so I haven't seen the need) then a couple days after that alarming HuffPost report, the day after the CDC signed off on the FDA's booster recommendations, I walked into our local pharmacy - no, seriously, that's it's name - to get my booster so I'd have nearly two weeks until the wedding to maximize my resistance.
|This is now an event venue called the Union 212, named for its address, but if it looks kinda familiar you're right. It used to be a Masonic lodge and there are twins of this building scattered all over the country.|
As an introvert, with a capital "I", gatherings like weddings are not my favorite place to be. I tend to get pretty jittery at events like this and gravitate to a corner, preferably a corner near a door! So my plan for this event was to get there early and park The Van just outside so I'd have a place to escape to when I needed a break.
But this was a beautifully done wedding with both ceremony - simple and to the point - and reception - also simple and to the point - held within the same venue. Because it was a small venue and I was able to sit at a table with people I know with my back mostly to the room and a view out the window, I didn't have to implement my escape plan once!
I was able to simply enjoy the bride and groom enjoying their day.
Probably the best wedding I've been to - ever - including my own. (Ahem, I'm obviously referring to the first one, clearly not the second one since I'm still waking up most mornings next to that bride - and want to keep it that way!)
So that explains why I risked November storms and came up to Michigan, but it doesn't explain why I'm still here putting boot to trail instead of gas-pedal days after the wedding is over.
And unless you are familiar with this part of the country you might not understand just how much of a risk it is. Yes, the Edmond Fitzgerald sank during a November storm in 1975, but that wasn't an exception. There have been many other 11th-month tempests too, including the 1913 "White Hurricane" during which 12 ships sank with all hands lost, and 29 other ships were blown ashore. Then there was the 1940 Armistice Day Blizzard, and the Mataafa Storm of 1905.
True, The Van doesn't float, so big waves out on the lakes shouldn't be an issue, but these storms also produced upwards of 30 inches of snow and 10 foot drifts - and The Van doesn't do snowshoes!
So, again, why the hell am I still here?!
Well that's more family stuff. Unexpected family stuff.
You see, I had the trip carefully planned out to minimize storm-exposure. A quick in-and-out.
Leave on a Tuesday, two and a half days driving to get from here to there, a day and a half at The Brother's for a little shop time, (We built a form, then used his wife's oven to heat plastic and bend it around that form, now clamped to her counter-top, in order to create parts for this-year's vintage racing sleds) go to the wedding on Saturday, down to The Sisters' driveway that night, then ride with them and Mom Sunday on a three hour round-trip to a family birthday party, (My family does birthdays BIG and for the first time in decades I was going to be around for one.) Monday would be used for a little one-on-one Mom-time, then two and a half more days to get me well south of the snow-line and back home by Thursday.
Well you know that line about 'the best laid plans of rodents and fools'? Or something like that anyway.
Yeah - - - Well - - -
The day before the wedding word went out that Mom was put in lock-down that morning. Seems her quilting group got a little out-a-hand - OK, that statement might be redundant since it's hard to imagine a gathering of 16 old ladies with needles in their hands being anything but out-a-hand - but this time one of them tested positive after the fact so all of them were put into quarantine.
You don't know my Mom but she is very - as in VERY - family oriented, so this was devastating for her. To have to miss out on both the wedding and the birthday party - oh yeah, and also one of my rare visits - while sequestered in her apartment with her meals delivered to the door was a major disappointment.
|Shortly after setting out on the Losee Lake trail one morning I spotted a rare forest creature. See it lurking in the trees up there just right of center?|
Since she is vaccinated this was only a 7 day quarantine, so I immediately did some calculating, counted up the meds I had with me, and changed my plans - you know - because I'm retired and can do that- Oh, and also because she's worth it.
And yes, I suppose in a way this was an obligation, but like the wedding it was an obligation of the heart and not of guilt. And that's a good kind of obligation.
I had enough meds with me to last through next Sunday, (The Wife was on standby to overnight additional meds if necessary) Mom would be out of quarantine and available for a visit on Friday, which meant I could start the two and a half day trip Saturday morning and be home mid-day Monday, in plenty of time to catch up on any Monday meds I missed out on that morning.
But no big deal.
With all those trails beckoning my wayward feet I wouldn't be hanging around camp anyway.
In fact, I got word Wednesday that Mom was getting tested and released a day early
so I abandoned my camp a day early, headed back to The Sisters' driveway, and got myself tested as well. - You know, because I had just been at two of those small-private-gatherings super-spreader events myself, so it was the responsible thing to do.
We both tested negative so on Thursday, exactly a week after I arrived in Michigan, Mom and I got together for the day at her community.
She made us blue-berry pancakes for lunch and treated me to dinner at one of the newly renovated dining-rooms.
In between we walked around the perimeter of the community where some of the landscaping was definitely hinting at Christmas decorations, checked out the dog-park, just because we could, (At least I don't think she expected me to pee on the fake fire-hydrant!) worked on her current puzzle, and just visited.
As planned, I left sometime after dinner in order to drive the hour to Cabelas before they closed. But in keeping with that old 'best laid plans' warning, that was pretty much the end of 'as planned'.
More on that sorry saga next time.