Monday, November 29, 2021

Listen to the warnings

I was headed east, back to the desert on I-10 (or, as Southern Californians call it, the 10). The weather was great and I was driving with the window open. And traffic was cruising along.

Some road construction and a closed lane put me next to the barrier wall to my left. A combination of my tire tread pattern and the rain grooves in the pavement created an eerie hum-whistle-wail-howl that changed pitch with the direction of the grooves and echoed off the barrier. It was like a cross between banshees, howler monkeys and Yoko Ono.

Traffic spread out after the construction zone. The lane ahead of me was clear for about a quarter mile. There was a semi in the lane to my right and about three lengths ahead. And traffic was zipping past on my left.

Suddenly the semi moved into my lane. Why? There was no traffic in front of him. Then he swerved back into the right lane. That’s when I saw the reason for his maneuver. There was what looked like the plastic grill from some vehicle sliding across the highway. Just then, air turbulence from the semi lifted the grill from the road, about hood high, right in front of me! I couldn’t dodge right because the semi was now next to me, and there was close traffic to the left. So…


The grill skidded up the hood, nearly ripped off the wipers, slammed into the windshield, hit either the roof vent or front edge of the rack or both and…!

I don’t know what happened to the flying body part after that. I was too stunned to check behind me and too concerned about the fate of my windshield.

There were dark streaks on the glass, but none of the existing rock chips had expanded. Nothing was broken. But were those streaks also scratches? Was it time for another windshield replacement?

When I finally stopped to check things out (half expecting to see the grill caught in my roof rack) I saw there were also black streaks on the hood. They and the streaks on the windshield wiped off. The only new damage was a crack in the bug deflector. Okay, nothing serious.

Thinking back, maybe the creepy noise just before the mishap was supposed to be an omen. Monkey screeches... flying monkeys... flying body parts...?

Anyway, my friends, periodically check that your vehicle parts are well attached.

Beach Day

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Together again

In August of 2019 a group of former coworkers gathered to celebrate my successful cancer treatment, to reminisce, and to catch up on life. Our beloved boss, Richard, who was struggling with his own illness, was there. We suspected it would be the last time we’d see him. 


He passed away eight months later.

It was the beginning of the pandemic, with lockdowns and self-isolation, so the memorial service was put on hold—until yesterday. 

The same coworkers were there, plus some extras. Family, of course, and non-work friends.

I thought about my experiences with Richard as the others spoke. He was truly a benevolent, empathetic, fair-minded man. A great boss in a world of odious employers, and a model for those who went on to become bosses themselves. That’s a wonderful legacy.


Friday, November 26, 2021

I thought I’d be here longer

I’m not here anymore

I pulled into Quartzsite on Thursday with the intent of staying at least through the weekend. I needed to pick up a package at my mail forwarder, and I wanted to stock up on some discount foodstuffs from a couple of vendors. I even posted on social media that I was interested in meeting up with any online friends who happened to be in the area.

But then I got a message Friday morning from a friend and former coworker stating the long awaited memorial service for our former boss—a wonderful man, a true mensch—was Saturday. In Burbank. He had passed away months ago, but the memorial service had been on hold because of the pandemic. 

Ah. That changes my plans.

I got my Quartzsite errands done and hit the highway. I decided to break the four-hour schlep to Burbank into two segments. So I’m currently camped outside the south entrance to Joshua Tree National Park. I was surprised there were spots available, it being a holiday weekend and all. I’ll drive the final leg tomorrow, arriving shortly before the service. Then… well, I’d be almost at the beach. It would be stupid to immediately return to the desert. I’d just need to figure out where to stay. Perhaps with the friend who notified me of the service?

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Al is in the (former) house!

I’ve stayed at The Slabs a few times, although all the actual slabs were already taken and I had to settle for dirt.

I’ve stayed a couple of times at The Pads, outside Death Valley. Once when there was only one other person there, and once when it seemed everyone was there.

Now I’m camped on the back side of the old open pit mine in Ajo, Arizona. I’ve been here, oh, at least a half dozen times before, but this is the first time I approached the area from the city instead of via Darby Well Road just south of town. This route gave me a wide view of the boondocking areas as I came down the hill. I could easily see which spots were vacant. And I saw something I had missed before: the slab of a long-gone building atop a rise. Someplace smooth and level with far less dirt? Yeah, I could go for that.

Since slab and pad were already taken, what could I call this place? Hmmmm. Oh, I know: The Patio.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

HIKES: Saguaro National Park

I did this hike two days in a row because my phone footage was awful. So I did it again with my GoPro. Yay, exercise!

I was warned

I think this sign originally said, “Don’t back up any farther or you’ll get a cholla pod in your calf.”

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Time warp

I knew I had camped at Ironwood Forest National Monument last year, for several days, but I thought I had also been there two or three years before, pre-cancer. There was a really nice campsite I wanted to return to. 

Back then

I checked the Google maps I keep of my camping locations. 2019? No, nothing there. 2018? No. 2017? Nowhere even in the Tucson area.

So I went back through the blog posts, searching for Ironwood. Yeah, a couple of posts from 2020, but none about the particular site I was looking for.

Okay, let’s look at my 2020 map. There it was. March of last year. Why did it seem so much longer ago? And now that I’m at the spot, why does it still seem like it has been years since I was here? What new old man brain weirdness is going on?


Saturday, November 20, 2021

Discoveries in the neighborhood

I spotted the bone first, under a creosote bush. A white curve against the tan earth. The rib of some football-sized animal. A juvenile coyote or javelina?

Next to it were the exoskeletal remains of a millipede, its squishy insides consumed by tinier organisms, or turned into bug jerky by the desert sun.


It all started with Lou being dissatisfied with the free phone he got with his Visible account. After careful shopping he ordered a better one.

I had been skeptical of Visible ever since I’d heard of it. Unlimited data, with no throttling, for as little as $25 a month? Lou assured me that was true. Hmmmm… It got me rethinking my mobile communications setup. 


The past year my mobile stuff has looked like this:

I had been with Verizon for a few years, mostly because of the availability of their signal out in the boonies. I had a phone and a hot spot, both with unlimited data, but both throttled after 22GB. So two devices allowed twice as much data use before throttling.

When my phone was paid off I thought about the trouble I had getting a Verizon signal in some places (like a friend’s place near Taos and at Lou’s place). Maybe I should get a phone from a different carrier so I’d have two options. 

Just then, as if specifically to answer my question, the newly-merged T-Mobile and Sprint introduced a hot spot plan with 100GB of data per month. Ah-ha. I could dump the phone from Verizon, get a cheap prepaid phone for actual phoning, add the T-Mobile hot spot, and be paying less each month. So that’s what I did. I sold my iPhone and got a $40 LG phone from StraightTalk, with 5GB of data.


With Lou convincing me Visible was a solid choice, I got thinking some more. I could get unlimited data with Visible (which is a subsidiary of Verizon and uses their signal) with one of their phones and end up with Verizon and T-Mobile. And I could let go of the Verizon hot spot and shut down that account. Then my setup would look like this, and cost a lot less:

I did some careful shopping of my own. I compared the various phones Visible was offering, looking for that just right Goldilocks solution—something toward the low price end of the scale, but still capable—and not too huge. The Google Pixel 4a 5G fit the bill.

But before I finally made up my mind, the Pixel 6 was released, and Visible stopped offering the 4a. Well damn.

Ah, but I could bring my own phone. I found a lightly used Pixel 4a 5G for a reasonable price, from a well-reviewed vendor, on eBay. It arrived, looking good and functioning well. 

I ran the IMEI number through Visible’s compatibility checker and… Not compatible. What? I entered the number again. Still not compatible. I got on a chat with Visible’s notoriously bad customer support. “Yeah, we stopped supporting the Pixel 5 and 4 when the 6 came out. Sorry.” Well damn again.

My options would be to resell the Pixel 4a and get a phone Visible still supported, or add the Pixel to my Verizon account. Ummmmm…

I decided to go with the easier but less economical second choice. I fed the Pixel’s code number into the Verizon compatibility checker and got an okay. Then I went to the Verizon store in Silver City where William helped me out.

Transferring a phone number from one carrier to another is usually a simple thing. Usually. Looking at his screen, William said, “It says here it might be up to 48 hours before the phone can be activated, but it should take way less than that.”

Forty hours later, with the phone still refusing to activate, I returned to William. He checked his computer, made a calls to both Straight Talk and Verizon, got transferred and put on hold several times (all while trying to handle other customers in the shop) and finally learned Straight Talk had an incorrect ZIP Code on the account. With that fixed, and the number released to Verizon, we should be able to activate the phone within three hours.

That didn’t happen, so back to William the next day. More calls, more time on hold, more lack of answers, more having calls dropped, more recalling, more transfers to more people who didn’t have a clue, more customers to handle in the store… And through it all, William remained determined. All too often, people in his position would’ve just told me within the first few minutes something like, “Well, sorry, but we don’t know. Guess you’re screwed.” But William kept plugging along, being assertive with the people on the other end of the line. “As far as we can tell,” he told me, “Straight Talk released the number to Verizon and it fell into a crack somewhere in the system. I’ve got my manager and the regional manager working on it at their level. Thank you for your patience.”

At this point I was willing to just get a new number, but William said he didn’t think that was possible without opening another can of worms, since things had already been entered into my account. We both sighed. I thanked him for his dedication and determination and went to get some lunch. (Carne asada burrito from Fidencio’s)

Shortly after I returned, the manager stepped from her office, giving me a thumbs up. She fiddled with my phone as she approached. William’s phone rang. She confirmed the number. We were activated! Hallelujah! Finally! I thanked William again for his great attitude and said to his boss, “He deserves a raise. Hell, he deserves a part of the business!”

Two thumbs up for William

In small towns it’s hard to find anyone to fill jobs, much less competent and dedicated ones who are good with customers. So despite all the trouble, I lucked out.


So, I’ve ended up not saving as much as originally planned, but I have a more livable communications system. And a story to tell.

Friday, November 19, 2021

Go west, but not all the way

I was convinced it was National Oversized Load Day on I-10 today. Or something like that. But I arrived in Tucson with no problems, stopped in at Lowe’s for a new floor mat, picked up a few items across the street at Fry’s, then continued on to Ironwood Forest National Monument. I found a campsite next to a saguaro, propped up the solar panel, and enjoyed the perfect 80° weather. Break out the shorts!

Wednesday, November 17, 2021


Lou has been holding steady the past few months. On his oncologist’s advice, he has expanded his diet and put on a few needed pounds. He’s still weak and tires easily, but he doesn’t seem to be in decline.

So I’ve decided to move to my winter habitat near Yuma. I told Lou before leaving that if he needs me I come back from wherever I am.

My first stop is just 25 miles down the road at City of Rocks State Park where I’ll poke my head in on Debra Dickinson’s KOKO Fest, see what’s up and who’s there. Then most likely on to Ironwood Forest National Monument near Tucson, then probably Ajo after that.

Here are some shots from City of Rocks.

Friday, November 12, 2021

More tilt

I hadn’t planned on tilting my solar panel back when I first mounted it to the Rolling Steel Tent. After a winter of less daylight I decided tilting was a good idea. 

Since the cables went through a hole on the passenger side of the roof, I hinged things so I would raise the driver side. But that meant I had to use my trusty folding chair in order to reach high enough to tilt the panel and affix the support struts. Not a big deal, just a small annoyance.

After living with it like that or a few years I decided to change things around and tilt the panel the other way so I could simply stand in the rear and side doorways to erect the panel. The trouble was, the cable length now limited how far I could raise the panel. But… eh… it was good enough.

Now that I had new batteries it seemed like a good time to do something about my limited tilting ability.

“Hey, Lou, do you happen to have some extra solar cabling and MC4 connectors?”

“Of course.” I figured he would, because he has wired and rewired several systems several times. And he never throws out anything that might be useful someday.

So this morning we added about a foot to the length of my solar panel cables. More than enough. And to keep the extra cable from slapping on the roof when I drive, we zip tied a bit of pool noodle around it.

Monday, November 8, 2021

Another day, another river

I had just learned about this nearby stretch of the Mimbres River that’s a state riparian preserve. It would’ve been a great place to escape the summer heat, but I might not have had it to myself, like I did today.

But, hmmmm, park/don't park?

Thursday, November 4, 2021

Attack of the porcupine bush

I went for a walk today along the Gila River, near Gila, New Mexico. (Video to come.) Clear sky, pleasant temperature, last of the fall colors, lots of crunchy leaves on the trail. And some type of bush with grabby seeds that look like tiny porcupine quills.

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Don't go thinking so fast, buster

This morning I became aware that, with cooler weather, bugs aren’t a problem anymore. Particularly flies. They used to drive me nuts. Excellent. I was thinking bug season was over.

Then, a couple of hours later, while making lunch… flies. Only three of them, and not the type that love to buzz around my face, but still.