Thursday, February 28, 2008

Greetings from Yuma

The spot where we’ve parked for the next couple of weeks is pretty close to the road, and the railroad tracks. It’s a Bureau of Land Management area just outside Yuma, and we’ll be waiting about 2 weeks for a new windshield. Yeah, another one. There’s a reason they call them windSHIELDS…they shield you from pebbles and things kicked up by the big long hauler in front of you. Problem is, every time they do their job, you get one step closer to the inevitable deductible payment and obligatory two-week minimum wait for shipping and handling.
The insurance lady was quite nice about it…made all the arrangements and put the process in motion. So I guess it could be a lot worse. We do get to watch the little skinny crack make its inexorable way to the top of the windshield, right up the middle, but at least we know help is on the way.
Oh, yeah. The trains. I’m told by my wife that they run every 17 minutes on the weekend. She timed them while I was asleep. During the day, truck traffic and the occasional siren provide a variation in the background sounds, and they drift away pretty much at night. During the week, it would appear the trains run less frequently. I haven’t seen too many during the daylight hours, and I’ll have to check with my wife about overnight.
But it’s free. 14 days at a time, you can stay and “dry camp” or “boondock”, your choice, at no charge. It’s very peaceful here, and I have a chance to savor the most recent experiences of our adventure.
Just before Christmas, we found ourselves in a small campground in Kansas, where I was temporarily working for a big on-line catalogue company. Each night (our 11-hour shift began at 5 pm), we were assured by the foreman that we were Santa Claus for millions of customers all over the world. That, together with a pretty good base pay, night shift differential and overtime inspired us for the several week duration of our assignment. At break time, there was an additional perk…free TV. Infomercials all night. That’s where I learned abut “Miracle Putty”, an epoxy that you mix with your fingers and it fixes anything. Anything. Permanently. I remember saying to myself “I’ve got to get some of that.” Oh, yeah.
From time to time, when I had a couple of days off, we would bring the rig into town and do fun things like laundry and email at the library. An occasional visit to The Gourmet Great Wall Buffet kind of put the sweet & sour sauce on the shrimp, so to speak.
Well, one fine day as we headed into town with laundry and Chinese food on our minds, there was this sound. It was vaguely familiar, and not a good sound. Something told me to pull over, and look in the rear view mirror. As soon as I spotted it lying on the side of the road, I knew why that sound had been so familiar. I’d heard it a couple of years earlier, actually, in California.
When you want to watch TV in a motor home, you crank up the antenna. Sometimes people forget to crank it down again. Not something easily tolerated by, say, your wife who has previously told you to hang the keys on the antenna crank so you don’t forget to…well, you know.
Anyhow, there was the sound. I got out the driver’s door and walked the several dozen feet back to the antenna’s resting place, and carried it back to the rig. This was not a happy time in our Kansas period. Eventually, I got the antenna into a bay underneath us, and made it a point not to mention it again until I had a chance to fix it.
Come Christmas, I found that with wives it’s not quite possible to put things behind you and move on. I now have a hand-lettered sign hanging very close to the antenna crank, which was one of the very first packages I opened. It reads, “If at first you don’t succeed, try doing it the way your wife told you!”
OK. OK. But I still don’t have to hang the keys on the crank.
Now, when this happened in California (yeah, yeah. Well I can’t be expected to remember EVERYTHING) I had to pay to have the antenna fixed. Parts had to be replaced, etc. But this time, after we arrived for a family stop in New Mexico, I remembered something. That’s right! My steel-trap mind flashed back to lunch time at the catalogue company, and it hit me like a blinding inspiration: Miracle Putty! Yeah! Fixes Anything! Off to the hardware store. Got the nearest equivalent product to the “not available in stores, only 19.99” original, and I was set. This stuff even works under water. Which will be good if it rains. Before you know it, TV is available again and yours truly is OUT of the doghouse.
New Mexico was very nice. A pleasant stay. (A bit longer than expected because the registration paperwork for our rig took, well, two weeks longer than it should have to get to us.) Good to see family again. Get a tour of the new construction downtown. And then, off to Arizona, enroute to California, enroute to Washington, enroute to South Dakota, enroute to the rest of our life.
There are Fairgrounds and small public parks in Arizona, where they don’t charge you 70 dollars per night to stay. Really. You just have to look for them. And we found one, hooked up, and felt good about 12 bucks for electric and water. Stayed a couple of days, then learned that we had to get out because a big RV rally was coming in that weekend. And that would have been that, except for a couple of things that happened, you know, just by chance.
The dump station at this fairground (yes, dumping was included in the 12 dollar fee) is surrounded by rather thick, long blocks of solid wood. That’s to protect the water pipes etc. from the occasional bumbling RVer who might drive into them. There are people like that out there. Well, on our way out of the park, we decided to use the dump station, and make a clean getaway, so to speak. Everything went fine, until we started to pull away. Now, being an excellent driver, I had pulled close enough to the facility to easily reach the opening with my hose. It was just mere coincidence, or maybe Fate, that caused the events of the next few moments. I pulled away slowly and carefully, confident that my rear wheels, which had been several inches away, would clear the barrier with no problem.
And they did.
But as Fate would have it, my tailpipe hung behind the wheels, just below the rear portion of the rig, and when I pulled away, that tail end swung inward, closer to the barrier. Now how could a reasonable person be expected to anticipate that? I ask you. Of course, I realized something was amiss as soon as I saw the big wooden chunk bouncing in the dirt just in back of us. As I hauled it back into place, I glanced at the rear of the rig. It seemed OK. Something was a little different, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Oh, well.
On the way back to the rig, I looked again and realized something was not there that should have been. Then it struck me: the tailpipe (remember the tailpipe?). I couldn’t see it. Where did it go? Upon closer inspection I found it, a couple of feet further under the rig than it should have been. Uh, oh. With a kind of sharp crease pinching it off where it was bent back. Uh, ohhhh.
I was contemplating the bill at whatever local muffler shop we might be able to find as we pulled out toward the gate, watching the first vestiges of the RV rally pulling in.
I say Fate caused the little mishap for a couple of reasons. It goes without saying that I would not normally make a mistake of the caliber that produced our tailpipe predicament, and I was still puzzling over how I could possibly have done that, when my wife spotted one of the early rally arrivals. On the side of his tractor, in five-foot letters were the words, “RV Repairs”.
As I was talking to the repair guy about the unfortunate tailpipe incident, a roundish guy in a golf cart drove up and greeted us. Within the next five minutes, three major things had been accomplished:
I’d been assured the tailpipe could be unbent, probably for a lot less than the 6 or 7 hundred dollars I’d seen flashing before my eyes a short time ago.
Our plans for the next week had been changed, and we were officially registered as part of the “big rally” for which we’d been leaving to make room. ’Turns out it was the Gypsy Journal Rally, and the roundish guy was Journal editor Nick Russell.
Although I didn’t know it at the time, my fate had been sealed and I would leave this place with an entirely new perception of the word “rally”
So we settled in after a quick trip into town for a laundry-fest and a few groceries, and started to look over the schedule of events. My wife and Nick had briefly discussed something called the “Cactus Queen Pageant” while I was busy with the tail pipe guy, but I thought little of it at the time, and didn’t see it in the printed material. Seminars on how not to be stupid about RV repairs and safety, getting your computer to do neat things while on the road, and various other features like coffee and donuts for breakfast and nightly door-prize drawings arrayed themselves before us, and we happily highlighted our copies of the schedule.
Now, I have become more open to new things since getting on the road full-time, but every now and then, something comes along to kind of push the envelope a little. That was what the aforementioned and previously insufficiently noticed “Cactus Queen Pageant” turned out to be.
It seems the “Cactus Queen” selected during the next to last night of each rally is chosen by audience applause, generally gets points for outrageous behavior and outlandish dress, and…oh yeah…is a guy. So it slowly dawned on me that one of the things my wife and the roundish guy were talking about had to do with me, and that next to last night of the rally. I have to admit, the arguments used to convince me seem less than compelling in hindsight, but at the time…well…
“It’s all in fun!”
“Lots of guys are going to enter.”
“You need to expand your horizons…don’t be such a dull stick-in-the-mud.”
“It will really make me happy!”
“You’ll look soooo cute!”
And the clincher, delivered in an incredibly weak moment:
“If you do this, I won’t get mad at you the next time you mess up. No matter how bad it is!!”
Whoa. No matter how bad it is?
No matter HOW bad it is?
“Oh, OK.”
Rallies can be quite educational in a number of ways. One thing I learned that evening was that Miracle Putty equivalent may very well work under water, but it does not do well in strong wind. It had seemed just fine up until the afternoon we stepped outside and found the TV antenna dangling from its coaxial cable, kind of twisting back and forth. When I got up on the roof to take it down I could see my wife’s head shaking back and forth, like she’d known the fix wouldn’t last. But, hey! It was working just fine up until then. I’ll figure something out. Maybe some duct tape…Well, I wasn’t going to worry about it just then. I just put it inside till I could get to it.
I have a beard. Not just a regular beard; short, dignified, low maintenance. No. It used to be that way, but for the past four years, I’ve been letting it grow, and using it for “Character” development. Characters like an old miner, a Gold Rush story teller, and maybe soon Santa Claus. In spite of a “No Makeup” stipulation in my agreement to compete for the Cactus Crown, my wife insisted the beard had to be, shall we say, “modified” for the occasion. So there I was, mere hours before standing up on a stage in front of a record number of rally attendees, with bobby pins, mustache wax, an abundance of hair spray, and, yes, hair curlers adorning my beard.
Then there was the red skirt…the one-piece bathing suit doubling as a low-cut top…and…the two identical balls of yarn. (Soft, but firm and sturdy) And some nice, tasteful leather sandals that showed off my legs.
I arrived at the Main Venue incognito, and quickly made my way behind a curtain, where a full half dozen of the ugliest femmes fatales I’d ever seen waited.
It was a memorable night to say the least. One by one, we were introduced, “strutted our stuff”, and sat in folding chairs in full view of the gathering. As I maneuvered the slit in my skirt to expose as much leg as possible, I kept remembering the words that had gotten me there: “No matter HOW bad it is!”
Eventually, it was over. I did not claim the new title of “Cactus Queen” (although Nick assured the audience I was his personal favorite), and there were a couple of people we met the next day who had not attended the pageant. So, all in all, not a bad outcome; and I had a major “won’t get mad” tucked away securely in my back pocket. That could cover lots of territory. It could last a long time. A long time. Heh-heh.
Fast forward just a bit, to the day after the rally. All’s well. We’re all packed up, and except for a relatively brief rainstorm the night before, the weather’s pretty good for traveling. A little mud in the parking area, but no big deal.
We said goodbye to our new friends, including Nick and his wife Terry…really nice people we’ll be happy to meet again down the road, and got ready to leave.
On the way out we planned to get some propane, and following instructions we’d gotten at the rally, we turned right on the main highway and started looking for a tank with a hose sticking out of it.
We kept looking, but no tanks appeared, so we drove a little farther.
No tank, no hose.
A little farther.
Still no tank.
Still no hose.
So, after not much longer we decided we’d missed it. (Which it turned out we had)
I started looking for a place to turn around.
Up ahead, we noticed a rather interesting building…probably a grain silo of some sort. Big trucks, farm equipment go there. Should be plenty of room to turn around.
So I turned into the narrow little dirt road that apparently lead to the silo. It seemed wide enough to handle the rig with no trouble, and it certainly would have been ok. More than ok. Except that we’d had a relatively brief rain storm the night before. And the dirt road was now a mud road. As I slowed down and tried to avoid a lake directly in front of me that I hadn’t seen till we turned the corner, I noticed that we were moving sideways…not something you normally associate with the operation of a motor home. I also noticed a definite shift in the center of gravity, and a tilting that could in no way be a good thing. And I was right. In no way was it a good thing.
The passenger side of the motor home was firmly submerged up to the hub caps in the kind of material people pay outrageous amounts of money to bathe in, in certain parts of California and other exotic places. The concept of friction as it applied to our tires was strictly a theoretical construct. There would be no movement under our own power from that moment forward, without outside intervention.
I called the roadside rescue service, admitted to my wife that it had been a mistake to turn up that little road, (although, really, any reasonable person probably would have done the same thing, I think.) then sat back to wait for the winch guy.
Then I realized something REALLY ominous. My wife was not mad. My wife was NOT mad. Suddenly my back pocket felt a lot lighter. I checked. Sure enough, no “won’t get mad”. It had disappeared without a trace.
A few hours later we were headed down the road, back in the direction we’d come from, and the mud was working its way out from between the treads of our tires. We ended up spending an extra night at the fairgrounds, because it was too late to go anywhere else. The next day we got to wake up to the arrival of a big stock show right under our bedroom window, and finally made our way down the road.
Sunny day. Most of the mud had dried up, and we were headed into some clear, pleasant weather. So, ok. Life was still good. What else could happen? Right?
About an hour and a half down the road we heard this sharp CRACK kind of sound, and looked all around to see what it might have been. Checked everywhere we could see. Nothing out of place. Nothing was hanging off anything. No effect on the ride. Hmm.
We kept driving. Pulled into a little RV park for the night a few hours later. We’d been there about an hour when we noticed it. A thin, long little crack making its way from a nearly microscopic indentation at the bottom of the right windshield, where a pebble from the road had obviously hit. Right. My question at the end of the previous paragraph had been answered. With a vengeance.
Insurance lady: “I’ll need some information to process your claim. Ready?”
Me: “Ready.”
It is 6:30 a.m. Not on the east coast where the insurance lady is, but here, where I have just gotten out of bed to answer the cell phone.
Insurance lady: “Policy number?”
Me: (I read the number)
Insurance lady: “Claim number?”
Me: (I read the number)
Insurance lady: “Now I need the coded information you will find printed in the lower right corner of the windshield in question.”
At this point, my cell phone chirps the message that it is about to go dead, ending the call and the processing of my claim. I plug in the charging cord and turn on the generator, earning the undying ire of our fellow boondockers. At this point we have arrived in Yuma, and the crack has made sufficient progress to motivate my call to the above mentioned Insurance lady. We are now engaged in Stage Two of the claims process.
After plugging in the phone and asking her to wait a minute, I make my way to the windshield in question, and look in the lower right corner. I copy down a series of numbers and letters, all of which appear backward because the glass is printed to be read from the outside. I’m not dressed because it’s 6:30 in the morning, and so I use my mirror brain, and copy down the info.
Insurance lady: “Thank you. It will take approximately 7 business days for your windshield to arrive. Handy Andy’s Dandy Windshield repair and Deli will be your technician. Is there anything else I can help you with today?”
(Anything ELSE? This isn’t ENOUGH?)
Me: “No, no. I can’t think of anything. Thank You.”
Insurance lady: “Thank YOU for choosing Murkurdle Limited. Have a good day.”
So, here we sit for the next 7 approximate business days, with at least one holiday thrown in for good measure. It’s kind of loud what with the trains and the highway, but the neighbors are nice. There’s a flea market in town we plan to go to, and I have another tube of Miracle Putty equivalent, so I’m going to take another crack at the TV antenna. If I play my cards right, maybe I can get another “won’t be mad” without having to put on a dress.
Blog at ya later.