Thursday, January 18, 2018

Robot 34

Another freebie

On my way back from Blythe I stopped for a shower at the Flying J in Ehrenberg.

The cashier asked, "Do you have a rewards card?"

"No."

"Are you a professional driver?"

"No."

At this point they usually ask for twelve dollars. Instead, he got on the intercom and said, "Eric, my computer shows showers 3 and 14 are available. I'm sending back a guy in a gray shirt with a white beard. Give him one of those."

"Why, thank you."

Eric directed me to shower 14.

"Thank you."

This has happened five or six times before. Or a trucker in line behind me will offer one of the free showers he'd accrued with his rewards card. There are nice people in the world. I left a tip.

Hurray for friends with skills and tools

Forrest at work

The Rolling Steel Tent had been making thumping, knocking sounds on rough roads—the kind of sounds associated with worn front steering and suspension parts. So I went to a mechanic in Yuma that had been given high scores on Yelp. He put the van on the lift, shook, jerked, twisted and articulated the steering. He showed me how the Pitman and idler arms were worn.

Some Steering 101: The hand bone's connected to the steering wheel bone. The steering wheel's connected to the steering shaft. The steering shaft's connected to the steering box, and the steering box's connected to the Pitman arm. The Pitman arm is connected to the steering linkage. The idler arm, on the right hand side of the chassis, mirrors the Pitman arm, except it's passive (idle). And all of this makes the wheels turn right and left.

The mechanic worked up an estimate: $911, most of which was for parts. "The parts estimate is based on the highest price. We might be able to knock off thirty or forty bucks."

I know mechanics mark up parts prices to help cover overhead. I don't begrudge the practice, only the degree to which some of them do it. So I went online and to the Chevy dealer to find out the actual prices. The mechanic's prices were 100% more than the dealer's full retail. Dealers are notorious for high markups. The dealer's prices were about 50% higher than full retail at auto parts stores. And the auto parts stores' prices were about 50% higher than online parts, even with shipping.

Before going back to the mechanic (or to a different one) I contacted my mechanic friend, Forrest, to get his opinion on the prices and how to proceed with the repairs. He said he was going to be at RTR (which I hadn't known) and he could do the job there if I were to get the parts. Well sure! 

I ordered the parts from Rock Auto and had them shipped to Quiet Times—a shop in Quartzsite that receives shipments for a small fee. The parts and Forrest both arrived Tuesday.

You can see in the video what it takes to replace the Pitman and idler arms. One of the biggies is an air wrench, which requires a compressor and the power to run it. Or, in our case, a lot of grunting, banging, torching and swearing. But Forrest got it done, with me handing him things he needed. Now I just need to get an alignment. And find a way to repay Forrest for his generosity.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

More cleverness

My friend Forrest keeps his wrenches nice and orderly by stringing them on self-locking clevis pins. A square one for one type of wrench, a rounded one for another type.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The start of a new video series

About half the vehicle-dwelling folks I meet are part-timers. They hit the road for a few days, weeks or months, then return to some type of home base. What's more, some of my full-time vehicle-dwelling friends have been transitioning to part-timers or have forsaken the nomadic life altogether.

Since I have no desire (yet) to attach myself to one place, and since I can't imagine (yet) living in a building again, I decided to have part-times tell me their stories. Perhaps my perspective will change.

So here's the first in the Nomads with Anchors series, starring my friend, Lesa (pronounced like Lisa).

There is no overtime

A few days ago, my friend, Vanholio!, posted a blog article asking what we’d do if we had only six months to live.

The thing is, we seldom know when those last six months start.

I learned today that a fellow nomad had died. Steve had been in and out of hospitals several times in the past few years and had a sense his end was approaching. Soon. But if there were things he still wished he’d done, he was in no shape to do them.

The last six months might not be about death. We could be alive but physically or mentally unable to do those things we keep putting off.

A friend has crossed a couple of things off her bucket list—not because she has accomplished them, but because her body will no longer allow her to.

Randy (the guy who told me about Steve passing) is losing his vision due to macular degeneration. He’ll eventually have to stop driving, among other things. He now has fewer options for his last six months, whenever they might be.

There are people here at the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous using wheelchairs, mobility devices and canes. There are people with bad backs, bad hips, bad joints, bad bones, damaged tissues, faulty organs. There are those who have trouble breathing or peeing. But they’re all trying, in their own way, to live as if they have only six months left.

A woman I met today said her van was far from being what she wanted, but she’s out seeing the country anyway because she doesn’t want to waste time waiting for the van to be perfect.

You or I might already be in our final six months. So we should start living that way now. If it turns out we have years or decades more time, then wonderful. We would’ve lived the way we wanted, with more chances to keep living that way.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Far from the madding crowd

A guy took my camping spot while I was away. I half expected that to happen because I didn’t leave anything to claim the site. But he ended up doing me a favor. I drove farther back from the road, past my friends, to where there was almost no one camped. Ah, solitude.

The closest neighbors

Subsets

Full-time nomads are a subset of the general population. Full-time nomads who go to the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous are a subset of that subset. Full-time nomads who go to the RTR and camp according to vehicle type are a subset of a subset of a subset. A Venn diagram of that would look something like a target.

Here's a group of people with modified step vans.

And here are some people with the same model of Ram ProMaster-based Winnebago.

Other countries get some cool vehicles

Spotted at the Albertson's in Blythe, California. An all-wheel drive, turbocharged Mitsubishi something-or-other with right-hand drive and British Columbia plates. It's a little shorter than a minivan.

Cleverness

Christine from New Mexico, who travels in a first-generation Ford Transit Connect, uses an oil change catch tank for her gray water. Its low profile works well in her limited space.

She also has the option of popping a hose onto the sink drain and letting water run out on the ground.

Meandering in the desert

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Is it a sickness or a cure?

I’ve wandered around a lot in the four and a half years since I’ve become a full time nomad. A day here, a couple of days there, a day farther down the road, and so on. And on.

It’s not that I haven’t yet found the perfect spot to settle into. I’ve been to some great places, places my former self would’ve been thrilled to live the rest of my days. But that was then. Now I could have a free place on the beach, with perfect weather, and good friends, and I’d still be itching to take off after a week or so.

Is it like getting out of prison after serving a 61-year sentence? Is it a fear of commitment? Is it too much curiosity? Is it because I hear the big clock ticking and catch occasional glimpses of the Grim Reaper? Is that I’m one of those people who doesn’t form a lot of attachments? Is it that I just haven’t found contentment yet?

I don’t know. But I’m not going to spend much time wondering about it. Wandering works for me. At least at the moment.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Indicator

You can tell I plan to stay a while when I bother to erect some shade and put out the chair.

Amenities

A new feature at RTR. Enough to satisfy BLM regulations,
 but not nearly enough to satisfy the crowd

More people

Today's the start of the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous and the tribe has pretty much gathered. Compare today's photos you yesterday's.

I don't think folks are packed any tighter than last year's record breaking crowd, but they're spread over more area to both the north and south.

Apparently Bob has some staff this year to help keep him from being overwhelmed. Perhaps he could also enlist some large, intimidating people to handle any rule breakers.

"Dude, those using generators must camp over there."

"Hey you! Clean up after your dog. Now!"

And so on.

But things have been mellow so far. Maybe it'll hold for the next ten days.




Tuesday, January 9, 2018

We homeless scum have started to gather

The annual Rubber Tramp Rendezvous starts later this week but people are already arriving. Fifty, sixty, seventy rigs so far? There were several hundred last year and there's talk of maybe a thousand this year. We'll see how that works out.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

To infinity and beyond

My new unlimited data plan started a couple of days ago. The primary motivation was to be able to do what I normally do, and maybe a little more, without worrying about overages toward the end of the billing cycle. But then I realized, duh, I could do anything onlineJust like when I lived in my house. So, after four and a half years of feeling all sanctimonious because I no longer watched TV...

Stream, baby, stream

Friday, January 5, 2018

Thursday, January 4, 2018

I hope I was helpful

I was at the rest stop on I-8, next to the Imperial Dunes, carrying a sack of trash to the dumpsters. A blue Ford pickup rolled my way, the driver waving at me. Was it someone I was supposed to know? He pulled to a stop next to me. The driver was a white-haired Mexican man, skin like saddle leather, with a walker stuffed in the passenger seat.

“¿Los Algodones?” he asked. Did he mean he remembered me from one of my visits there? I must have looked confused. He repeated himself, this time pointing in random directions.

“Ah! How do you get there?” I replied.

“Si. Yes.”

I wish I had been able to answer, “Ve por allí, dieciséis kilómetros, al lado del casino.” Instead, I pointed east and said, “That way, about ten miles, by the casino.”

He smiled and nodded as if he understood, then drove away in the correct direction. The casino is a very obvious landmark, and there’s a sign at the off ramp pointing to Mexico, so I assume he got to Los Algodones okay. I just wish I knew more Spanish.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Monday, January 1, 2018

Hide and seek

Frustrating things can happen when you don’t drive for several days. And you’ve been moving things around in your van. And you’re an easily confused old fart. Frustrating things, like misplacing the van key.

I had been parked in the desert since Friday, chilling, reading, avoiding holiday traffic. But I was getting antsy and wanted to go into Yuma and maybe have a meal cooked by someone else.

The key almost always gets tossed on the counter along with my wallet. Sometimes it stays in my pocket. But it was neither place today. It also wasn’t on the floor, the bed, between the mattress and the wall, under the bed, in the laundry bag, in the pockets of the pants in the laundry bag, in the cupboard, in the cabinet, in the storage boxes, on the ground outside the van, under the driver’s seat, in the wastebasket… I even checked in the poo bucket. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

I had resigned myself to getting the spare from its hiding place under the van and having another key made when a small idea made its way into conscious thought. “Check the mailboxes.”

I have a row of mailboxes along the wall where I store underwear, socks, odds and ends, and medication. I can usually grab the pills I need by touch, but the other night I emptied that mailbox while trying to find the aspirin. Then I scooped everything from the counter and dumped it back into the box. I hadn’t noticed “everything” included the key.

The upside of this, besides finding the key, is knowing it hadn’t been a case of intentionally putting the key somewhere that made perfect sense at the time and then forgetting where.