Sunday, November 29, 2009

Watch out for these things

Cactuses are pokey. Little safety tip there.

I walked out to water the desert one night, relieve myself of some lemonade if you know what I’m saying. I was camped way out somewhere south of hither, east of yon, but I thought to myself, well, I’ll walk out a little further. Don’t want to start a flash flood so close to the Minnie Winnie.

It was dark. And I walked into a cactus. A low-lying variety I would later have identified as "cholla." Pronounced "choy-yuh."

Piercing your shin with a cholla is pronounced "son-of-a-[gun]…what in the [for goodness sakes]…"

The spines, I guess they’re called, have some manner of barb to their design, because they don’t pull out that easy. The skin on my leg pulled up a good half-inch before the little [buggers] let go.

Bula got into a patch and learned her lesson. Tried to bite the cholla bulb off her foot and got a snootful of barbs for her trouble. I’ve brushed prickly pear and wished I hadn’t.

The worst I’ve heard is Jesse’s uncle, who was out four-bying in a Landcruiser with the windshield down, and the rig drove over some cholla, which flew up and attached itself to his face…I don't know how that was pronounced, but I bet it was worth hearing.

Young artist has mastered the pigeon portrait

I’ve been seeing some top-notch artwork on this galavant through the southwestern zone.

The riders painting is hung in the museum in Wickenburg. The pigeon painting is currently on display in the living room at the home of Jesse Rens, propped against a lamp. His daughter Savannah created that. And aside from her brush mastery, she is a formidable kickball player. I can vouch for that.

Jesse, Brennan and Savannah let me park the Minnie Winnie at their place and showed me around Prescott.

Things to do in Prescott include: go to Jesse’s parents for Thanksgiving dinner. Go there again for Thanksgiving leftovers. Go there yet again for enchilada soup, which is my new favorite food, edging out caeser salads.

All we need is Love, backwards…and Revolution, together, somehow

The youth of Yarnell, Arizona seem to be more politically active than most youth, based on this sign here they put on the side of their youth center. They also don’t give up easily, as this picture was taken a couple days ago, which is a good long while since the election. But they’re still pulling for him. Hang in there kids.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

What are you talking about, this badge doesn't smell

Well, I got a new hat. And bandoleer. My old one was, I don’t know, it was getting kind of stretchy. Bullets were falling out once in while and this one here was on sale at Macy’s and I just thought, you know what? I’m going to do it. What the heck. I’m going to buy myself a new bandoleer – and then I shot the shit out of the ceiling in there, celebrating my impulse purchase with, you know, squeezing off a few rounds and security did not like that. Not one bit. But we smoothed it out and I do like this new ‘brero.

...and then a right on Harsh Reality

Even when there’s accidents on the Carefree Highway, nobody cares. Police show up, fenders are smashed, radiators boiling over, cars demolished, thousands in damages and the officer looks at both drivers, they look at each other and they all just start laughing.

“Ah, what the hell, we’re on the Carefree Highway.” The cop tears up the ticket and accident report he was starting to fill out, casts the fragments to the wind and then they all just run off out in the desert, playing a game of tag.

I’ve seen it a million times. But only on this road.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Crispy Chicken Bombing Range

That there is what my campaign headquarters looks like on the inside.

Which I never did get to show Hector. He was my first prospective buyer for the Minnie. I had just … I mean, just, put for sale signs in the windows, then walked across the street to the Verizon store to straighten out my far-talking magic box.

If Alexander Graham Bell had been shown a Blackberry, and had it explained to him how he could add a line, friends and family, phone is free after additional mail-in rebate with a two-year contract, upgrade nights and weekends, off-peak minutes, blahty blahty blah … The first phone call ever might have gone like this:

“Mr. Watson … smash it, destroy it … we’ve created a monster … and I forgot to put you on my friends and family list, Watson, so this call is costing me a fortune … text me back, lol.”

So I’m in the middle of trading phones and mine rings. “Hello? How much you take for the RV? I’m standing right here, are you inside sleeping? I got cash.”

I’ll be a few minutes, I say. I’m across the street.

He calls back. “Hey, it’s Hector. You coming? And what about this truck? You selling that? Because I’m standing right here and want to see inside … you know what, don’t worry about it. Bye.”

That kind of got me worried about it. Bula the wonder dog was inside and things just did not sound above-board.

Signed a bunch of agreements in a hurry to get out of Verizon – I think I’m now an organ donor on nights and weekends, as long as you’re a Verizon customer – rushed over there, but no Hector.

I called him again. “O, hey. My uncle, he’s the one who wants the motor home, but we ate at [anonymous restaurant] and he had a real bad reaction … first, he…”

“Uh, Hector,” I cut in. “I don’t think I want to.…”

“…first he was just vomiting, O man, all down the car, we had to peel out of that parking lot…and now he’s been in the bathroom for like 20 minutes and from the sounds of it, he…”

“Hector, please. I don’t need to…”

“…seeeeerious diarrhea. O man. Sounded like a bombing range in there…Hold on. I’ll listen at the door to see if he – Ohp, he’s still at it….”

We did not come to an agreement for the purchase of the Minnie Winnie, Hector and I. But I wish his uncle all the best. Also, I’ve developed something of a standoffish attitude toward crispy chicken sandwiches with special sauce.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Gila Bend, AZ

Was heading south to visit Don Lawyer, my buddy Jude’s father. Last time I visited D. Lawyer was at his place up in northern California in the redwoodsy country.

He was talking to us, and without pausing or seeming to think about it, reached over for the neck of the stand-up bass that was leaning in the corner, then started thumping out a bass groove to the conversation we were having. It was great. Every discussion should have a soundtrack. And his cabin was great. Old records. Guitar. Harmonica. Very musical, D. Lawyer. And a helluva artist. Surfer. Full of stories. Great guy.

I remember him cooking a meal for Jude and I, chopping garlic cloves in half, not dicing them up tiny-style like normal. “That’s what’s wrong with Americans,” I recall him saying, “they’re afraid of garlic.”

I don’t know if that means we’re vampires, or what. But I do enjoy me some garlic, so I was all systems go to visit him in Ajo, Arizona…which, unless my Spanish has fallen off more than I think…Ajo means garlic in espanol, and him moving there now makes perfect sense.

But it was not to be. I got detoured north for aggravating reasons that involve Verizon and the worthless Crackberry phone they’d sold me and I needed to get that sorted out, so I had to take a left instead of south to Ajo.

While in Gila Bend, I saw this mural. Creative, and well done, but what is that guy doing with his hand? I mean, it looks like he’s got an imaginary pet on a leash, or it’s a Michael Jackson dance move, or?....I simply don't know.

Children of Light

Left Yuma, climbed a big steep hill, then stopped and found the tailgate on my pickup had been down, with all my tools still in there, somehow.

Agua Caliente Hot Springs on the map looked perfect, off the highway and looking oasis-like. Drove out there and it wasn’t so perfect or oasis-y. Spring had dried up. Old resort abandoned. Tumbleweeds. Lonesome flute music playing in the background…well, maybe not all that, but might as well have been.

They’re not big on road signs out there. I wasn’t entirely sure how to get out of there, as my map situation had some deficiencies….but Rooper called right then and I had him look up directions on his computer back in Oregon.

Before turning around, I beheld this sign for the ‘Children of Light.’ Sure, it has a rainbow, but it still creeped me out. I looked it up later and I’m told they’re a religious sect from Canada. So I was correct in being creeped out. No. But I wasn’t going down there and drinking any Kool-Aid, that was for damn sure.

I Don't Know, I Don't Know If I'll Have Time...

special bulletin to Morgan Jenkins, somewhere hunkered down watching birds in Virginia:

Mojo...I went to a Bed, Bath & Beyond. Really. Mostly just for an experiment. But don't do it, man. I'm telling you. There are things in there that are confusing. I don't know what they are. Many of them are frilly. Stay away.

But the sunset in the parking lot was quite nice.

R.C. and the Towmasters

I only have one Towmaster, but Towmaster*s* plural makes it sound like a pretty great band name, with maybe some horns and Jimmy Lloyd Rea playing bass. So I’m going with that.

R.C. is the guy who finally helped me get the tow bar affixed to my truck. Up to then, dealing in the underworld of tow bars was a dark chapter in our hero’s life and I’d rather not dwell on it. I’m all cried out. It hurts when your tear ducts have the dry heaves.

But I will say that Herb, out past the Yuma Proving Grounds, did me right by turning over his Towmaster for $150. It’s the scoundrel who assured me “O yeah, it’ll bolt right on there,” to whom I’ve sworn vengeance. You will pay, sir. You will pay.

R.C. runs the machine shop behind the NAPA store on 10th in Yuma. He owns 51 vehicles, from drag racers and classic wagons to Power Wagons, Mustangs and I can’t remember what else . . . he also has 5 dogs. And a Blackberry phone.

Getting a new phone was also a dreary passage in my life and I don’t want to talk about it. Except to mention I was sold a Blackberry phone, allegedly the best way to hook my laptop up to the internet on the road.

I don’t like to be caught making assumptions of people, but I didn’t expect R.C. to be a member of Crackberry Nation. But this new Blackberry in my pocket starts ringing – it’s Mike Baird calling to report on his elk hunt in Hells Canyon – and I figure I’ll call him back when I finish up with R.C. here, but I can’t figure out how to turn the ringer off.

R.C. says, O, you’ve got a Blackberry, then pushes the button I’m looking for and gets the exact same Blackberry out of his pocket, explaining features and showing how to run the thing better than the Verizon folks did back in the store.

Then he explains a vehicle he built that has a Ford chassis, Chevy engine, Dodge transmission, or some combination thereof. I think the windshield wipers are off the space shuttle. I don’t know. But we might want to hire R.C. to fix the economy. There seems no limit to this guy’s capacity for making things work.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Operation Minnie Winnie: Now Arriving in Yuma

$175 dollars in gas to get from the Wallowa Mountains to Yuma, Arizona.

I find Al and Jennifer Bell in the overflow lot at La Mesa RV on Gila Ridge Road. Their new motorhome is parked next to the Minnie Winnie and Jennifer is busy making trips down the steps of the Minnie and up the steps into the new Allegro, moving.

We do some hugs, though I fear I may knock them over as I haven’t showered since leaving home.

Sure enough, I knock them over. Found smelling salts and revived them, then Al showed me around the Minnie Winnie.

I started having questions. You’ve got one battery system for the engine, and one for the living quarters. You can connect the two, or bypass or . . . then the generator plugs into this, which will power that, unless . . .

After explaining it several times, Al says, ‘it’s all in the manual.’

I ask to see this manual. Al does some yoga stretches to loosen up his back, then hoists down from a storage bin a gigantic accordian briefcase.

It looks like a government document, just by it’s sheer size. I’ll have to hire a research assistant to ever find information in there. I ask Al to please put it out of sight. It’s intimidating. He declines, pointing out that it’s my owners manual now. So I borrow his pallet jack and put the thing away.

Al and Jennifer are anxious to get on the road in their new coach . . . ‘coach’ means RV, I think. I’ll have to start a list of this new vocabulary.

The guys at La Mesa RV have kindly agreed to let me stay for a day or two until I get things sorted out, so I begin with looking for a tow bar for my pickup. I think that shouldn’t be too difficult. And I am wrong.

License and Premonition, Please

Drove by a great sign in Vegas stapled to a telephone pole advertising the services of a ‘licensed psychic,’ with a made-up name like Shandar or something.

I really, really want to visit the facility where they issue licenses to psychics. Is it like the DMV? Probably not. You wouldn’t have to take a number because you would just know when it’s your turn.

The above photo is a mockup, to scale, of what the secret licensing facility for psychics is believed to look like, with radar dish absorbing registered mental waves and storage silo for unlicensed predictions.

Road coffee

My mother taught me many things. Like how to swordfight, hotwire cars and track deer at night using only my sense of taste . . . wait, no. That wasn’t Mom. That was someone else entirely.

She did point out the following irony to me years ago, and she’s absolutely right --

You’re on the road. You need to use a restroom because you’ve been drinking coffee while traveling. You feel obliged to purchase something from wherever you’ve just used their restroom, and oftentimes you get a cup of coffee to go because it’s cheap, you like coffee and it doesn’t matter because you just went to the bathroom.

However many miles later, that cup of coffee you got to go is making you have to go. And you feel like you should buy something, since you just used their toilet.

It’s the snake swallowing it’s tail. A perpetual motion machine of gas station coffee you keep drinking for all the wrong reasons, and keep drinking more of to get rid of the last time you shouldn’t have had more of it.

That is one great advantage of an RV, having a bathroom ten feet away at all times. And a coffee pot.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Operation Minnie Winnie: Day Two. Leaving La Viva Las Vegas

Sleepy 100 miles north of Vegas. The dog and I pull off at the gas station in Ash Springs, I think it is. She's been driving so it's my turn.

We get out and Bula the wonder dog frowns at the ‘No dogs on grass’ sign. I also frown. No dogs on grass? Is that what it’s devolved to? I think that’s one of the signs in the Book of Revelations. I must remember to repent.

It occurs to me we should stay in Vegas that night. The World Series of Poker is going on, and it'd be cool to take a peek at a final table.

It’ll be 8 pm when I get there. Been on the road since 8 am. Get some dinner, play poker for a little while. Get some pocket aces. Win a gigantic pot. Pay for my gas and the RV that way. This plan sounds better and better.

I never was a huge fan of Vegas. My first impression was after coming over the dam. I stopped to look at Hoover or Boulder or whatever they're calling it these days. Signs explained how the project was a necessity for growing crops and whatnot. Then I followed the big extension cord into the neon of Las Vegas with massive geysering fountains, mondo swimming pools and acres of pulsing, blinking, maddening lights and I thought . . . waaaait a minute . . . theeese aren’t crops.

If I had to live in Vegas, I’d go into the fake rock industry. I’ve never seen so many faux rocks outside of Disneyland. It just seems like . . . Disneyland. But with buffets. And a lot of activities you don't see in a Disney film.

That was years ago. Then Jeff Parrish corrupted me and taught me how to play Texas Holdem. I soon won a tidy sum with a full house, queens over eights, I believe it was, and that instantly made me enamored of the game. And I now notice that has changed my attitude toward Vegas.

Drove over the hill and there she was. That blob of electric light I remembered. Hence the blurry photo here.

Drove through the strip to get my bearings. Turned around, and an hour later I was still driving around, after getting rejected by some mystery street that put me on my way out of town. I heard on the radio the World Series of Poker had wrapped up at 3 am.

Didn’t care for the cut of the jib on the first hotel manager I talked to. Nor did he think much of mine, because we had words. I don’t even know what about. He just got pissed, so I did too. And left.

It may have been a bad sign that you had to do business through a bulletproof glass window, instead of walking into the lobby.

Next place, I pulled up to park, preparing to go walk to the bulletproof glass window lobby, and the curtains open in the room directly in front of my headlights. A woman in lingerie peeks out, then closes the curtain. Uhh...what the what? says I.

Then she opens the curtain again and holds up a handful of cash to show whoever’s in the car next to me behind the dark tinted windows. At this point I eased the Toyota into reverse and decided this neighborhood was not for me.

Got directions out of town from a very, very short man working the cash register at a convenience store. I bought some coffee because it felt like I had to buy something, drove south and slept off the freeway in the back of my truck next to a sign that said: Heart of the Mojave Desert.

And that was my big night in Vegas.

Operation Minnie Winnie: Night One, Boise, ID. Kesey is Cheesed.

(confidential to the state of Idaho: If I was you, I’d name a town ‘Girlsie.’ Then you could use those paper doll cutout pictures of men and women for some of your road signs. Brilliant, I know.)

Stayed the night at Fargo and Cathy Kesey’s in Boise. Their boy, Mac, has this for his full name: Cormac Harrison Jess Kesey. Jess is a family name, recalling the Kesey who trapped golden bears in California for a living back when.

Cormac, Harrison and Kesey could double as a reading list, and that seems to have soaked in with this kid. He’s reading at a fifth-grade level while still in first grade. He’s a machine. Doesn’t seem to sound things out, just looks at a word he’s not familiar with and makes the connection.

Cathy said go ahead and test him, so we picked random labels that were handy on the kitchen table and asked Mac what they said. I pointed to ‘fiesta’ on a salsa jar. He pronounced it right, then asked what that meant. He was a little unsure about ‘vinaigrette’ on the salad dressing label, but I just now had to look up the spelling on that myself, so I won’t hold that against you, Mac.

His dad, Fargo, is writing a story I’m looking forward to seeing in print. Goes like this – he grows weary of hearing “We’re going to end up like Canada,” during conversations about health care reform here in the U.S. In part, he suspects these people don’t know anything about Canadian health care, aside from hearing rumors that it has fangs, eyes like a serpent and steals children in the night. I think Fox did a story on that.

So he goes home and calls people in Canada to ask what they think about their health care situation. Talks to a lumberyard worker, a teacher and the owner of a bed and breakfast. Then calls around to a lumberyard worker, teacher and B&B owner in Boise to compare and contrast what they think about their health care.

It’s good stuff. The title is ‘Cheesed,’ from a comment made by one of the Canadians who is ‘cheesed off’ about . . . well, I’ll put up a link when it gets in print.

Fargo made me some sandwiches in the morning, a bag of Cheez-Its and I hit the road, facing 15 more hours or so of driving until my date with destiny in the form of a 1998 Class C Minnie Winnie in Yuma. I was beginning to be vinaigretted off at myself for not just getting a plane ticket.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Operation Minnie Winnie

So I bought a motorhome.

Sure, I'd had a few beers when the idea came to me. But the next day I had coffee and it still seemed like a good plan. Then I even had some water and it continued to seem like a sound proposition.

I’d learned of an RV being traded in for a sum I considered to be an outrage. So I called up and offered my friends the same outrage. They said OK. But I had to come fetch the thing down in Yuma, Arizona. Pronto.

It turns out depositing cash in someone else’s bank account takes some doing. I had to provide photo ID. Then I was asked to furnish my social security number…uh, this is cash, I mentioned. You'd better ask ol’ Ben Franklin there about his identity, not mine.

My sisters both worked at banks in the long-ago, so I’m aware of reporting procedures for large amounts of C-notes, keeping an eye out for highwaymen and the like. But this wasn’t all that much money, really. It’s not like I was asking to make a deposit in the form of kilos or fenced jewelry. Still, they wanted that SSN and they got it.

Drove home from the bank, winterized my house in four minutes, threw the dog in the truck along with a toothbrush and a sleeping bag, then hit the road.

For the next two days I would try to pass those goddamned RVers going too slow on the freeway, listening to radio commentators poke the corpse that is our national economy. ‘Disappointing indicators’ this, and ‘unemployment crisis’ that. I kept waiting for a report on how the used-RV sector was a bright spot. How that’s where the smart money was being invested. But no.

And that’s how me and a 29-foot Winnebago known as a “Minnie Winnie” started our life together. I’ve got some time, now that I’ve retired early and joined the RV circuit. So I’ll be checking in with updates as Operation Minnie Winnie progresses.

Because if NPR won’t report on second-hand motorhomes as a wise investment strategy, well then, by God, I will.