Thursday, January 31, 2019

Fools of the trade

Jeff and I worked in advertising for many years. Then he decided to make an honest living as a comic, juggler, magician and clown. Jeff is always working on new material for his various acts and trying it out on friends. Much of his schtick depends upon puns. So did his advertising work. It’s a transferable skill (or curse).

I, too, walked away from advertising with a skill/habit that’s either useful or annoying, depending on how and where I use it. One way to come up with new ideas is to try turning a statement around. For example, someone says, “There are too many hats.” And I reply, “Or maybe there are just too few heads.”

This or maybe trick might spark an idea. It might only be silliness to keep my brain from locking up. Sometimes (rarely) it leads to great truths.

But like Jeff’s incessant punning, I forget there’s a proper time and place for my or maybe habit. And it’s seldom in social situations or online discussions. Used among people who don’t get what I’m doing, or maybe can seem like criticism of the other person’s ideas, values or perception of reality instead of a fun way to keep a conversation going.

Or maybe is also about exploring options. “Yes, that’s a good idea. Or maybe we could do it this way. Or this way. Or this way…” I really like options. But unless the author of the first idea has thick skin and knows how or maybe is used, they could take it as rejection. Or a waste of time if we end up going with the original idea after all.

What does this have to do with wandering around in the Rolling Steel Tent? Nothing. Or maybe everything.

Up and away

I woke at 5:12. Not sort of awake. I was you’re-totally-done-for-the-night awake. What to do? Fidget in bed and stare at the darkness? I was going to hit the road at sunrise anyway. Might as well get an earlier start.

So, out to southbound I-5 toward San Diego. Traffic never really stops on California freeways, but pre-dawn traffic was flying along. Next thing I knew I was taking the 805 fork and then I-8 east. Now I was going the opposite way of the earliest commute traffic. I waved at the unfortunate drivers. “You’re going to work but I’m going to the desert, to do nothing much. Sorry.” (Not really sorry.)

Also, if I’d left later, I wouldn’t have seen the Blue Angels practicing over El Centro. They made a low level pass right over the highway. Good morning.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Back at last

A few years ago I learned about overnight camping in lots 11 and 12 on the jetty in Oceanside. It gets crowded on weekends when the weather is nice, but I still like it. It makes me feel like I’m a young dude partying at the beach.

The past few times I tried staying here, the lots were shut down for either some type of construction or for events. Rats. But the construction is done and there are no events at the moment, so here I am.

One thing has changed since the last time I was here. This lot—lot 12, the one with the view—is now closed between 2 AM and 5 AM, even if you have an overnight permit. So I’ll be moving to the less scenic lot 11 before I go to sleep. No big deal. There’s no view anyway when my eyes are closed.


Tuesday, January 29, 2019

My own beach (sortta)

A beach in Laguna Beach with a parking lot? I’m so there. No doubt the locals resent outsiders having easy beach access, but they have plenty of others we riff-raff avoid because we don’t want to navigate nineteen feet of van through the jumble of narrow streets hoping to find a spot. Ugh, parallel parking and meter feeding.

It was Monday morning, and not very sunny, so I had the beach pretty much to myself. I walked to the end of the beach where I could pretend I owned one of the houses on the bluff. Rich guy for a day.

I didn't find a single crystal

I used to live about two miles from Crystal Cove State Beach, but I never went to it. I preferred Corona del Mar Beach, a few blocks from my apartment. It was past time I visited there.

It wasn’t classic beach weather, and the surf was almost nonexistent, but it was an excellent time to avoid the crowds and be alone with my memories.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Sand and sleep

I came into a little extra money this month, so I splurged on a beach-front site at Doheny State Beach. My wee van has lots of room in a site meant for a 40-foot RV and towd. Nice bushes for privacy, too.

Traveling light

The couple next to me at the beach—Ray and Lori from Vancouver BC—have this hand-built trailer. It’s about the size of a small truck camper but weighs only 1,300 pounds. They tow it easily with a Toyota RAV4, averaging about 22 MPG. The chassis is a boat trailer. The refrigerator runs on propane and the lights and TV run on three 18-volt power tool batteries. Pretty slick.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

True word

Indeed, the beach can clarify many things in my muddled head. It’s one reason I need to visit the ocean a few times a year. And today’s weather cooperated nicely.

A little before hitting the road

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Blossoms in winter

On my way from Quartzsite to the Pacific (again) I decided to camp at the BLM area just outside the south entrance to Joshua Tree National Park. Maybe someone can tell me what this flower is.

Friday, January 25, 2019

But the weather was perfect for it

It had been a couple of hours since I’d done anything stupid, so I decided to cross the border at Los Algodones to replenish my meds. Never mind it was the height of snowbird medical tourism season. Never mind it was about 2:45 and the hundreds (thousands?) who came much earlier in the day would be lined up to get back into the United States.

Just walk right into Mexico

Some diabolic villain must have designed the entry point into Mexico. You can’t see the line to return to the US, and thereby judge whether you want to endure the wait, until you pass through the one-way turnstile into Mexico. Of course, you could ask those who just returned what the wait is like, but that would mean talking to people. Ew.

I came out of the Turnstile of Doom and…

¡Holy mierda!

The line was the longest I’d ever seen in all my visits to Los Algodones. Several blocks down the street, over the crest of the hill and out of sight.

On the plus side, the dental and optical hawkers had hustled themselves dry, and the farmacias were practically deserted. Everyone had already gotten their ultra-low-cost prescriptions filled and now they were queued up at the border. I was in and out of the shop in five minutes.

As I trudged to the end of the immigration line I worked at getting my mellow on. Breathe deeply. Release all care. Absorb peace and love. Be a Zen master.

I took my place at the tail of the tired, the poor, the huddled masses of aging Americans and Canadians yearning to breathe free. I exhaled. I settled in to wait. And I resolved to remain standing. I wouldn’t sit on one of the benches. I wouldn’t even lean against the fence or trees. I would tough it out. Serenely.

One does not simply walk into Mordor

But at least the line was moving. A few paces and wait. A few paces and wait. Whenever I wondered if the line would ever move again, it always did.

I had only my light sack of pills. A few others (obviously novices at this border crossing game) were lugging things like life-sized plaster desert tortoises, steel-and-stone wading birds, hand-painted satellite dishes, four inch thick solid wood coffee table tops…

Well into the second hour I was near where the line makes a sharp right turn into the high-fenced chute. There’s a one-way turnstile at the end of the chute that opens into the roofed and fenced courtyard of the immigration building. Immigration officers were at the beginning of the chute to check if folks had their passports. Despite two hours in line, some still had to fumble for their documents. Officers pulled them aside so they and their concrete Aztec calendars wouldn’t block those who had their mierda together. Keep the line moving.

The line splits in two in the courtyard. Two lines for two doors. This is where veteran travelers suss out the crowd. Which of their fellow supplicants is more likely to clog the flow? I spotted a guy with a bulging rucksack. He’s going to get searched. In the other line was a frail man who seemed disoriented despite his wife’s help. Hmmm, rucksack or disoriented… rucksack or disoriented… I chose disoriented. It was the right call.

It was finally my turn with a gatekeeper of freedom. She scarcely took time to compare my face with the photo, swipe my passport and see I was clean before waving me on. Keep the line moving.

As I strolled calmly out of the facility and back to the Rolling Steel Tent, I wondered what stupid thing I could do next.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Please speak clearly into the van

When I have the windows closed and the stereo off I sometimes hear a soft staticy, scritchy, hissing sound that comes and goes. Is it a critter in the dash again? Broadcasts from space? Just a new tinnitus sound in my head?

I finally tracked it down. Or, rather discovered it by accident. It turns out my rear-view camera has a built-in microphone.

Okay, but why? So I can better hear my bumper crunching when I back into a tree or rock? So I can hear a pedestrian shout, “Hey, I’m walking here?” So I can hear him scream in agony as I back over him anyway?

I’d rather have a speaker back there. A big loud one. I’d like to be able to tell tailgaters to either pass me or back off. Or tell someone their turn signal has been on for the past eleven miles. Or even to thank someone for letting me merge. (Like that's ever going to happen.) It would be nice if it had a processor to make me sound like God. Or James Earl Jones. (God would probably like to sound like James Earl Jones.)

Meanwhile, I’ll just listen. They say you don’t hear the bullet that gets you. But maybe I’ll hear the howling brakes of the semi that’s about to plow into me. (Sent by God as punishment for the wisecrack above.)

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Shadow man

Off American Girl Mine Road, Ogilby CA. Again.

Problem, solution

As the Rolling Steel Tent ages, I’m ever more diligent about watching the gauges. (It’s a good thing the van has actual gauges instead of just idiot lights.) How’s the temperature? How’s the oil pressure? How’s the charging system?

Ever since I bought the van the oil pressure has read between 40 and 50 PSI while cruising along. Nice and normal. But this past weekend I noticed it creeping below 40, down toward 30 PSI. Hmmm, was something going wrong?

I pulled off the highway and checked the oil level. It was hard to read because the oil was very clear. I’d just gotten an oil change the week before. As near as I could tell the level was down just a bit, so I topped it off.

The pressure remained low. Rats. I continued on to my campsite, driving lightly.

I spent the rest of the day and all of the next researching possible causes. Oil pump going bad? Worn main, rod and cam bearings? Worn rings? Clogged oil pickup? Maybe. Any of them would be an expensive pain in the mechanical ass to repair, requiring the engine to be hauled kicking and screaming from its hidey-hole under the dash. If the engine was going to be pulled, would it be cheaper to rebuild it or to replace it. And if I replaced it, would a lower mileage junk yard motor serve my purposes, or should I play it safe and go with a freshly rebuilt engine? Or should I just start looking for a replacement vehicle? Whichever way I went, where would the bucks to do any of it appear from? I’ve had no luck with the lottery or money falling from the sky.

I consulted with my mechanic friend, Forrest. He replied, “The most common issue is an O-ring at the oil pump. But again unless you drop to zero I wouldn’t worry about it.”

I’m not good at not worrying about the fate of my home.

Well, one of the basic principles of auto repair, when you’re not sure of the cause, is to try the least expensive solution first. That got me thinking back to that recent oil change—the one where I decided to switch from conventional oil to synthetic, thanks to something I’d read about extending the life of older engines. Could the synthetic be causing the pressure drop? I did more googling and found a mention that oil pressure might decrease “a little.” Okay. Forty bucks for another oil change sure beat thousands for any of the other fixes.

So bright and early this morning I went to an oil change place and specified conventional oil. Fifteen minutes later I had the results of my experiment. Yup, it was just the synthetic oil. That probably means the lower pressure wouldn’t have been a problem. It just would’ve been the new normal. But I feel better having things back to the old normal. Long may it last.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

It’s the 99¢ of temperature

Forty degrees seems so much warmer (or less cold) than thirty-nine degrees. “Oh, it’ll be in the 40s, not the 30s. That’s way better.”

I know it’s just a stupid mind trick—one of many I play on myself. Does thinking it’s warmer make me feel warmer? Perception is reality, right?

But where would I be if I didn’t lie to myself once in a while? Or lie to myself constantly in a low level way? Slightly grumpier and more disappointed, no doubt. And shivering more.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Another full day

I read. I wrote. I sent some email. I ate a little. I played some games. I walked. I looked at the scenery. I thought about things. I made some vague plans. And that was enough.

I didn’t spend any money. I didn’t burn any gas (except just enough to realign my solar panel to the sun). I didn’t need to or want to.

And now I’m going to sleep. I really love sleep.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

This is what happens when you leave the boonies

Good for the Girl Scouts, bad for me

Nuts to me

Back the first time I fixed the windshield washer on the Rolling Steel Tent I lost the nut that secured the passenger side wiper arm. I also lost the plastic cap that covers that nut. I think it was because I was pulling, wiggling and pounding that wiper, trying to remove it, which cause the nut and cap to flee to someplace safe, like the unreachable crevices of the engine compartment.

Since the wiper showed no interest in coming off, I didn’t worry much about the missing fastener. But I was in a hardware store today and decided to get a replacement nut. I considered the various options. Standard nut? Nylon insert lock nut? Or, oooooo, a chrome acorn nut? I got all three. But the acorn nut was the clear winner. I guess I should get another one for the other wiper.

Moon bathing

It’s one of those tossing and turning nights. My body can’t get comfortable. I dream in short bursts.

I woke thinking—hoping—it was near dawn. But it’s only 3:53. What am I going to do about this?

Go outside, I guess.

Hey, it’s bright out here. Oh yeah, it’s almost the full moon. What are they calling it this time? The Zombie Banana Slug of Fearful Enlightenment Moon? The Invent a Mystic Meaning Moon? The Monthly Media Hype Moon? Oh yeah, the Super Wolf Blood Total Eclipse Moon. Sheesh.

Well, by the power vested in me by me, I dub tonight’s glowing orb the Standing In the Desert In My Underwear Realizing It’s Not Cold and I’ll Blog About It After I Pee Moon.

UPDATE: It has clouded over, so I probably won't be seeing any kind of moon tonight. Not live and in person, anyway.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Hiding from the Border Patrol

Actually, this is just a few yards off the highway, so I would be easily found. But it’s a nice spot to rest.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Why I left Rubber Tramp Rendezvous

Was it because of the enormity of the crowd, with vehicles and humans from horizon to horizon, sea to shining sea, to the moon and back, oh my god oh my god oh my god?

No. I expected that. I knew it would be bigger than last year’s gigantic swarm. I was mentally prepared for hugeness, which is easy for me, because even though I like being far from humanity, I also like cities, even ad hoc ones in the desert.

Things were better coordinated than last year, so it was surprisingly mellow.

Then I must have fled because of all the fucking rules and restrictions, right? Don’t fence me in! Don’t tread on me! Live free or die! Death to tyrants!

No. See “better coordinated” and “mellow” above.

Then it must’ve been the Great and Terrible Pit we were forced to drive through to get in and out of the site, and the Los Angeles rush hour traffic jam it created as one rig after another was mired in the wash and sucked down to the bowels of hell, and as thousands died, unable to flee plague-infested, fire-breathing flying monkeys and the volcano that erupted in the middle of the morning meditation circle.

No. Because that’s ridiculous. And because the road just wasn’t a problem.

I left because my social awkwardness had taken over. Again. I had given myself several pep talks beforehand. I was going to talk to strangers, share histories and ideas, maybe make some new friends. I was going to shoot more Nomad Origin Stories.

N-n-n-n-o. So there was no point hanging around.

Now I’m with an old friend as other friends pass through. I can deal with that. (Though I have no idea how was I ever able to make these friends in the first place.)

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Summer in January (in the Northern Hemisphere)

No, it’s not weather for shorts and air conditioning. It’s that no food makes me think fondly of summer more than tomatoes on toasted sourdough. Sort of BLT without the B or L. Thank you horticultural science, market systems, and modern transportation that make vine ripened tomatoes available in winter.

Desert stealth

Doin’ the RTR again

The Rubber Tramp Rendezvous had been in full swing by the time I arrived a few days “late.” This is my sixth one. There’s a new location, and a new (and welcomed) (by me, anyway) level of staffing, organization and traffic control.

Rumors and guesses say there could be as many as 10,000 attendees this year. Alarmist curmudgeons insist it’ll be much more and that there will be mayhem, plague and mass death. Hourly. I haven’t talked to anyone who might have semi-official, semi-accurate numbers. Whatever the total, it was too much for some of my friends. They left before I got here.

Things were calm, though, as the sun rose and few people had crawled out into the new day. Or fired up their generators.

I won’t stay long. I wanted to come and see for myself so that when others tell their tales I’ll know what they’re talking about. And whether they know what they’re talking about. Some people are so full of it.

My view of some of the neighbors

Friday, January 11, 2019


Sherita is traveling the country in her minivan, hoping to find the right place for a yurt and a garden. Perhaps New Mexico. She creates curricula to teach English speakers Spanish, and Spanish speakers English. Y ella es muy encantadora.

Where I was

To me it’s not crazy to drive from Arizona just to spend a day at the Coast. It’s the opposite. It keeps me from going crazy. Or crazier.

The surf was calm at the notorious Wedge. No surfers, but two dogs. And a semi-crazy old dude who lives in a van.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019


One of my favorite authors, Craig Childs, wrote the other day about stray cats that have passed through his family’s life. One sentence grabbed me:
Feral means reverted to an untamed state from one of domestication.
Most of us nomads have escaped domestication, turning from house cats to free ranging owners of our own life. There are those who want to take us in, feed us, clean us up, vaccinate us, chip us, declaw us, neuter us. We decline. Been there, done that, got the mortgage. But thanks for the shower. And wifi. Gotta go.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Appropriate typo

V and B are next to each other on the keyboard, so earlier today I accidentally typed behicle instead of vehicle. Oops.

But then I thought, “Maybe a behicle is a good thing. A place where one can be, in the Buddhist/Taoist sense. Be rather than do. Be present, now, rather than moving from place to place in search of… something.”

If you see the Buddha on the road, give him a lift

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Fahrenheit 451

Personally, I’m not a fan of fires. It’s because of the smoke and lingering odor in my clothing. And probably because my mother once took me to her classroom that had been destroyed by fire, and because of a friend’s house that burned down.

But I don’t begrudge those who burn wood products for useful purposes, like heating and cooking. And thumbs up to those who turn waste paper and cardboard into paper bricks.

If you’re going to make your own paper bricks, you might as well do it with as little fuss as necessary. Easy is a good thing. So here’s a video demonstrating methods that are within reach of full time vehicle dwellers—unless you live in a damp climate where drying the bricks might be a problem.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Minivan pantry

Set up the table, hook up the stove, and cook away.

Heat is heat

In the seemingly unending quest to declutter my existence, I gave up the propane heater I had been carting around and using infrequently. After all, I already had a heat source—one that was more compact, less complicated and multipurpose.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Chillin’ in the desert

Sometimes Canadians aren’t all that blows into Arizona from the frozen regions. It has been annoyingly cold (by local standards) the past couple of days. The forecast for last night predicted sub-freezing temperatures. Definitely double quilt time.

When it gets down to about 55°F/12.7°C in the Rolling Steel Tent I fire up the heater for a few minutes to take the chill off. But this morning the thermometer said 37°F/2.7°C. Yow. But I felt okay after I heated the van to 50°F/10°C. It’s all relative.

I’ve been colder in the van. In October of 2013 I was in southern Utah when it got down to 26°F/-3.3°C. Frost on the inside of the windows, ice in the water jugs, painfully cold feet. I don’t want to do that again. I do not understand people who camp in freezing temperatures on purpose.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019


I forgot about the Somerton Tamale Festival this year.

Accepting reality

The long range forecast says it’s not going to be a balmy winter here in the southern desert, so I’m packing the shorts away and getting out the long sleeve shirts. And the wool cap. And the gloves. And the down vest.