Monday, December 30, 2013

Black Ice Follies

Nope, this is not about race, except maybe a race to stupidity. The Black in the title refers to a particular kind of ice. As any experienced Minnesotan knows, during extreme below zero weather, car exhaust lays down a thin coating of ice on roadways that is hard to see and thus treacherous. Add a dusting of snow over the top, and everybody either really slows down or pays a price. I only bother with all this background because I realize not everybody understands black ice, or has experienced it. And if today is an example, many manage to forget they ever have.

Today was one of those days. I heard it actually made it to 2 above in the metro by suppertime, after starting in the teens below this morning, still lower temps outside the heat island. Morning rush hour laid down the first coat of black ice. Snow was falling by mid morning, the teeniest of flakes, the kind which seem to have no traction, no grip on neighboring flakes.  It wasn't really necessary for the problems of the day, since I spotted the first cars in the ditch much earlier, but it contributed even more.

I turn into a little old lady driver on days like these. Apt, eh? Of course, these kind of roads have turned me into that kind of driver since I started driving. I'm unapologetic about it. There are reasons.

Today, for example, I was hitting a spot where freeway and lesser highway diverged in a v shape. My route required me to take the ramp off to the right and follow it in an "s" curve over cross streets until it merged with the other road. It was as icy as everything else, so I slowed way down for the curves. My rear view mirror showed me four cars tailgating each other following my course. I judged their speed to be way too high for conditions, and decided to keep an eye on them as they came up behind me, in case I needed to tap the brakes to signal how slick it was.

I lost sight of them as I cleared the first curve. Continuing to glance in the mirror as safety allowed, I navigated the second curve, then kept watch as the road straightened for the long merge.

They never appeared.

Christmas Lite

To all of you who may still be waiting for my annual X-mas card to arrive, well, I've decided along with Steve that this is not the year for it. My apologies for those disappointed. If you're not, in fact dread their arrival, then you're welcome.

I had plans to send them out. I took several pictures this year with the thought that this might be the picture for the card. There were some wonderful fall pics along the bike trail last October, before taking Steve down to Arizona. We took a leisurely 2-scooter ride down the west arm of the trail. Fall colors were starting, interesting fungi and seed pods were visible next to the path.  While my scooter battery ran out, requiring Steve to push me with power from his, and my camera battery ran out at the far end of the path, a few wonderful pictures were taken.

An early season snowfall resulted in a couple nice pictures, and a new grandbaby offered others. A family reunion, Brundy style, offered yet others. Choices needed to be made. They were postponed, until, in early December, life got just a little too interesting. What energy was left after going survival-mode was diverted, along with funds enabling their production and mailing.

The holiday was still celebrated. I flew to join Steve for nearly a week just before the actual day, and spent that with family up here. Both were wonderful, and well-needed.

I do know folks who send their X-mas cards/letters out a few weeks late. If you think I haven't given that some thought, well, I have. But life is no less interesting now than it's recently been, And that extra energy I might have is getting aimed at tax quarterlies coming due in a couple weeks, both figuring net income and where the tax payments are going to come from. The dog has some new (expensive) health issues. Minnesota weather is unabated, thanks to La Nina. I'm hunting for my missing Mother's ring, thinking now that the cat, on one of her few occasions of being allowed into my bedroom, may have discovered a pretty shiny and highly portable new toy, after I took it off to avoid losing a stone after spying a missing prong. And the dealership still hasn't been able to duplicate my new car's starting problem.

And so it continues. So ...

Happy Holidays All!

Friday, December 27, 2013

Glitch: Yet Another New-To-Me Car

The real fun began just after I got up for my first day back at work. The car wouldn't start. Mind you, it was -12 out there. So what? I had yet to have a Hyundai that refused to start even as cold as -25, about all the colder it ever gets here these days, one teeny benefit of global warming. I turned the key, and ... nothing. No cranking sounds winding down in pitch from a dying battery, no click click click click from a dead one. Just, nothing. I tried again. Nothing. After two tries, I double checked to be sure I hadn't done anything as stupid as forget to put it in park. I figured it must be the battery. Maybe.

Lucky for me, Paul was home since it was X-mas Eve. Even better, he has long jumper cables, reaching my battery from his even though he was in front of me and both cars were pointing the same way. After an endless minute of connected cables and Paul's foot on the gas, there was nothing resembling a crank. After a full two, it started. Yay!

The 24th of December is always slow, so I first drove down to Vadnais Heights, a full 35 miles, to the Panera  to pick up a loaf of bread for Paul's contribution to X-mas dinner at Steph & Ben's the next day, to go with a jar of his homemade jelly. I was out of the car maybe 5 minutes. The guages said it was warm, and since the sun was up due to my late start, I had driven 30 of those miles with the headlights off. I turned the key and ... nothing. Again ... nothing. I had no cables with me, and even if I had, I was not parked anywhere another car could jump mine. I wasn't sure why on earth I should need them, but it seemed to work last time. Or perhaps it was just coincidence. It didn't really act like a battery issue. At any rate, I called in to dispatch, putting myself out of commission and asking them to try to dig up somebody with cables.

Then, just because, I tried starting it again, and... purrrrrrrrrrrrr. I let dispatch know I wasn't going to shut it off for the rest of my work day. I drive with both keys anyway, one set in each pocket, so I'm never locked out. Now I could lock it with the spare key while it was running. I think it's quasi-legal.

With the holidays, my first chance to contact a dealership  to get it in to be fixed was the 26th. I called before leaving home, but found out that the 27th was their first available appointment, especially since I needed a loaner car. I made it clear on the phone that the car was the job, and I'd need one to use for work, not just to get to work. I was told that was OK. And yes, you better believe I made note of the name of the guy who told me that!

The 25th, I had to start it after we got home from X-mas dinner, swapping cars in the driveway so mine was 1st out the next morning. While Paul was sweeping off snow, I tried to start it. It took two tries. So all the 26th, I left it running. Same the 27th until I reached the dealership. There I shut it off. If it wouldn't start again, it was their problem.

We were going through the usual routines of paperwork and getting the loaner, when it occurred to the guy to ask me if I was going to use the loaner to make deliveries with. Yes.

So what kinds of stuff would I be putting in the car?  These days, mostly medical stuff, some envelopes and car parts.

Hmmm, he needed to check with the head of the loaner car division. (They have enough of them to justify a division?) I figured there might be some problem along those lines, and pulled out the guy's name who'd told me I could have the car for that purpose.  Eventually he came back to me, letting me know they'd let me have the loaner this time, justifying it with the fact that my car hadn't been stickered with the company name yet. It smelled like a case of plausible deniability to me, but I wasn't going to say anything that might give them an excuse to change their mind.

I finally met the head of the loaner car division, and while going over the paperwork with me and showing me that this car was a "brand new" -meaning 2333 miles - Elantra, he wanted to impress on me my need to take vary good care of this car. I heard several horror stories of how others had mistreated their loaners, including one woman who used her car to move all her possessions to a different apartment, returning that car in very rough shape.

Fine, so I was suitable impressed. I assured him I was a very careful driver, and a very careful parker as well. There is, after all, lots of space around a handicap spot. I also spread the throw blanket I had for emergencies across the back seat to keep any possible dirt, snow/salt, or whatever off the pretty tan upholstery. He kept emphasizing it, however. I thought maybe it was just the way he dealt with everybody.

It dawned on me as I drove off that I had early in our conversation mentioned that I bought the new car they were working on after having totaled my last one. No wonder he might not have fully trusted me, as I hadn't bothered to add the gettin-old-now-story about my sitting stopped at a light and getting rear-ended by a school bus.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Home Again

Back from Arizona - Dang it!

It was a lovely week off from all the stress. It did start to creep in again the day before returning when Steve's daughter called with the bad weather news from up here. I hate snowy/icy driving even more than I did before my new X-mas theme song became "Grandma Got Rear-Ended By A School Bus". And just to be clear, I hated it plenty already.

But to update: I now own a new 2013 Hyundai Accent, 4-door hatchback, cruise control, and a bunch of other bells and whistles that I'll eventually work out how to use... or ignore. I've "moved in", meaning all the old junk in its old places has found new places to sit, mostly where I know how to find them. The cubbies have moved around since 2008.

Mostly I love the new car, except for one thing. Kinda major, really. At a mere -14 yesterday, it had to be jump started. And after my first stop, 35 miles down the road with lights off so there should have been a fully charged battery, it refused to start again despite a nice warm engine. It finally did start, and I didn't shut it off the rest of the day until it got parked in the driveway. ( I always drive with 2 sets of keys, so I can lock it while running.) I didn't even gas it up before parking, since doing so would have required stopping the engine. I get to make an appointment with the dealership first thing Thursday morning. And boy, they better take me in! And I mean ASAP.

I'm not sure what's wrong. The dashboard lights all came on when the key turned. But no grinding like it's trying to start, no clicking like the battery is all but dead. Nothing. When Paul jumped it, even with his car running, it took a couple minutes before it started.

It was fine at the dealership last week, of course. I took Rich with me to the dealership, so he could drive the new one to the rental car place to return that one, then go with me to the airport and drive the new car home. A couple other stops had been planned, but the dealership dodos took so long over the financing that we had to change our plans. Glad they weren't urgent.

It seems it's a problem to finance just a minor portion of a new car. I had been told when I put my deposit down that it would be just fine to bring in the insurance check and just sign it over to the dealership, financing the rest. Nope. They wouldn't finance less than $10 grand. Fine, I'll write a check for the rest and finance $10 grand. Of course, it still wasn't that simple, because when it came time to sign papers, I was asked to write a check for an even $4,000 and finance the balance, leaving me with an extra $4,000 in the checking account after that cleared. Fine, I'll just make a big first payment.

Well, maybe not so big as all that. It turned out that I decided this would be a great time to replace that crappy back door on the AZ house that won't lock or keep anything out smaller than a coyote, and replace the master toilet with a handicap height water saving one. Oh, and let's do the same in Minnesota. And....

I arrived at the airport with plenty of time to clear security. Good thing, since I took three times the time everybody else did. It's due to traveling with the scooter. It's a great way to avoid standing in those long lines and having to walk all the way to what is always the very last gate on the concourse. But it needs its own security check. Plus with my shoulders these days, I get the pat-down instead of the arm lift in the security thingy. That means waiting for one of the rare female agents to clear up. My TSA agent was cute, in attitude as well as the usual way, and did her best to reassure me she wasn't going to cop a feel while she was feeling up everything. I think she was more embarrassed than I would ever be.

I bought a bottle of water for $2.75 in the gate area. Not too unexpected, since you can't bring one in with you and they have a monopoly. I thought that was steep until I heard the prices for beverages, sandwiches and snacks on the plane. Glad I planned ahead and brought my own everything. Then I rolled down to my gate, dug out the Kindle, and prepared to wait. After a bit, they announced the plane would be about 10 minutes late.The one we would be flying out on had first to come in from Seattle. After another 20 minutes, it became 20 minutes late, then a half hour, and then they just said "late." It wound up being an hour late for take-off. How did they not know how long a delay it would be? It had to already be in the air well before their first late announcement, right?

Whatever. It would be going, and I would be on it. I'm a bundle of nerves on flight days. I love to fly. I'm just afraid I'll miss the plane, or weather will cancel the flight. I had time to make two restroom stops before the flight, cancelling any need for one on the plane where maneuvering is a royal pain.

One note: MSP has wide aisles and a really huge handicap stall in the ladies rooms. PHX not so much. More of an obstacle course, especially when the cleaning cart is left right at the 90 degree turn into the area.

I was approached by a gate attendant informing me that I needed to register my scooter with them, getting the proper baggage labels on it, and since I needed/wanted it for the trek down to the plane, I needed to line up with the wheelchair bound folks for first entry. As the only non-airport-transported rider, they wanted me to head up the line. They were obsessing about getting the scooter back up the covered runway, through all the passengers waiting to board, down another hall, and into the belly of the beast, er, plane. Once at the door of the plane, however, they decided it could simply be taken down the outside stairs right there to be loaded.  But anyway, I was the very first passenger!

I had no assigned seat when I arrived at the ticket counter. I found out they keep a full row of seats behind first class for handicapped folks. There is a wall separating first class from us undesirables, so no under-seat storage as I had hoped for. My purse had to have the kindle, water, jerky, pills and cough drops removed and stowed with the magazines in the pouch so I'd have access during the flight, my purse and jacket stowed overhead. As everybody loaded, it became obvious I had the row to myself. There was another woman on the other side with her row all to herself as well. Yee-haaaa!

The flight was uneventful, barring one thing. As we landed, I had the wonderful feeling of coming home. Not arriving for a vacation. Home. 

I had Super Shuttle reservations, linked to flight arrivals and departures, and knew they kept track of which were late. I looked at my printout again to find the proper door to exit and wait for my shuttle. While sitting at the median curb, I noticed something peculiar about all the traffic whizzing past. It finally came to me what was wrong: none of them were all covered with salt!

Steve and Fred headed out the front door while I was waiting for the lift gate to get in place and lower me down. Fred was so happy to see me that he broke away from Steve and waddled out to the van, tail swooping in a full circle of happiness. I was afraid he would get trapped under the descending ramp, but the driver stopped him with some petting. We got reacquainted before Steve and I did.

It was a wonderful lazy week. We'd had plans to head to the pool/spa, but upon arrival found out they were repairing something. We should call to find out when they would reopen. Yep, that happened after the temperatures dropped enough that we no longer had an interest in going. It warmed up again just in time for me to get ready for the flight back here, into the land of ice and snow, fresh just that morning, of course.

There was a bunch of cleaning once I arrived. I swept up half a Fred from the floors, did laundry, grocery shopped (with Steve), cooked, did dishes including the now two hummingbird feeders, made a new batch of nectar. Lest it sounds like all work, or only I worked, Steve proved his increasing skills as a cook, and I made it through 5 books on my Kindle. The X-mas tree went up and we decorated it together. Steve had recently injured one shoulder, but still had one good one for getting lights to the top of the tree. As long as he remembered which to avoid using!

There were a couple of visits with Joan and Bob. We planned to scooter down to the local Mexican restaurant, but they announced they were picking us up because it was raining where they were. (The forecast was for dry until midnight. They lied.) By the time they arrived, it was raining here as well. A good soaker, .75 inches in the backyard rain guage, .17 officially. The second visit was a ride over at night to see their X-mas lights and decorations, only properly appreciated after dark, of course. Wayyyyy more work that Steve and I were interested in doing in the few days I was down. Maybe after I retire and we can start around Dec. 1.

There were also calls to schedule either the work on the house or the measuring for the work on the house. The toilet is now in. There should be a phone call next week on the door. Home Depot was fun. I started the phone conversation with the idea that we don't have transportation to get there, could they please just send out the outfit who does the measuring? HD's guy replies that we should measure the space and come into the store to talk..... So I got to repeat what I'd told him, adding we both knew they never took the customer's word on the measurement anyway, so let's just start with the official measurement, eh?

OK, but there is a price for that. It applies to the door if you follow through.

Yes, I've done this before, I know. Here's my card number.

When they get us the results, you can come into the store and....

Yeah. Right. I'll head into the store in Minnesota, get the info, and call down there to set everything up. Just like last year with the other door we replaced. And maybe he'll get his head out of his ass far enough so that his ears can work.

The plane home was not as late as the one heading down. Too early as far as I was concerned. But I didn't get to spend that extra time with Steve, so what the heck. I was in bed by 1:30 or so, up at the alarm at 6.

Good thing I got lots of sleep down there.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Ambulance Chasers

I'm going to reserve that thought for the end of this post. It's kind of like the punch line, not much good without the shaggy dog story preceding it.

It's been a few days of pushing the minutes on a normally very generous cell phone allottment. Lucky for me I get a warning in time to adjust my behavior or brace for a big bill.  Most of it has been talking to insurance people from both my company and the bus company's insurance company. Heck, even finding out who the latter was took about 25 of my minutes as well as some lucky guesses digging through the phone book.  I knew I had the right person when I mentioned the accident and he responded with it's location. It also, reassuringly, indicated they didn't have a whole lot of claims against their bus drivers.

My company has been great. Farmers, if you care. I turned to them in frustration with how long it was taking for the other company to acknowledge me, answer questions, return phone calls (How's never? Does never work for you? Me neither.), supply progress reports. I have pages of info now on what documents to copy/send where, and what to expect will be done after I do my part. I'm amazed at how many folks think I have access to a fax machine, however. I settle for older school. I can't bring myself to think of fax as that modern, with e-everything replacing all else, so it's claiming the category of old school. Mailing paper is older school.

An adjuster has been out from the bus company's insurance, and let me know that even without checking deeper than surface look, the damage is too much for them to bother fixing it. He estimated six grand damage to start. I was able at least to supply the info that I'd just put in a new tranny. With 320,400 miles on it, I knew they were going to rock-bottom-line it. It works to remind them that the whole car isn't that old. Last one I replaced was just after a new tranny too. It made a difference. I now save those receipts.

I'm back at work, getting used to driving a rental Dodge. Even as a fairly small dodge, it feels like a battleship. I can't get used to where my car's boundaries are, so I'm extra careful about what I get near to. Even a scratch will cost me both repair and loss-of-income. It took other adjustments too: where were the controls and more important, how do they all work? The sweet young thing from the rental place gave directions on adjusting the side mirrors that I finally figured out about 3 driving hours later. Meanwhile I kept adjusting the wrong mirror in the process of working on the other. Just when the first got right enough, I'd look at the other and discover it was now looking at the far ditch, the sky, or back at me. Not helping! And  fixing that mirror messed up the first. And so on, and so on. How to feel stupid in 3 easy lessons.

It took someone else to show me how the radio worked. Fortunately, he was an old Dodge driver. Technically, I am too, but that was years ago and it's all changed. I now have my three top stations programmed, and it only takes two tries to get to the one I want most times.

The gas hog has one redeeming feature: cruise control. In the two days I've been back working, I've done a fair bit of out-of-town work, and what I'd hoped for is true: the CC does help keep my legs from cramping from being in the same position all day. I haven't had it on a car of my own, just used it on those times I drove my folks' cars to and from Arizona before they decided to have one car in each location and fly back and forth. I've rented cars with it, but figuring how it worked.... For some reason auto manufacturers just have in itch to change everything on the dash each couple of years.

I'm sore about the neck and shoulders. After taking just one goofy pill, I decided to stick with ibuprofin instead. I like having whatever little mind is left, and can't possible imagine trying to drive under the influence of Percoset. If ibuprofin is good enough for my knees (well, not actually, but....) then it's good enough for the neck. Only hitch is my schedule has been so out of whack these last few days that my usual cues for when to take which pill are missing. I'm convinced I've missed a dose or two, but being unsure, haven't taken what might have been a double dose. So, ow. And don't even start me on how long since how many carbs!

It's not just going from a working schedule to non-working and back to working. The working schedule has been turned on its head. I'm not complaining. I mean, when dispatch asked me if I wanted the 5:00 AM pickup out in Eau Claire, knowing it meant setting my alarm for 2:30 instead of 6:00, I agreed, even before knowing it was getting me over $200 in pocket, and leaving me much of the day to add more work/income. Those three days off may be getting mostly reimbursed, but not immediately. Anything extra helps. And by yesterday morning it didn't hurt just to be sitting behind the wheel like it did when I picked up the rental car. But yes, the personal schedule is a bit to keep track of.

Then, the two wheeler doesn't fit well into the rental. Oh, it goes, but then where's the room for the freight that it's supposedly there for? Or with that freight, where's room for the wheeler? So, dispatch was requested to limit me to light weight loads. That works fine... when the customer is honest about the weight. First morning everything was 20-30 pounds over stated weight, and couldn't possibly have been simple dock-to-dock work.  No, they had to be going from one office up/down stairs, down a hall, and halfway across a parking lot to where I could legally park an unmarked vehicle.


It was made up for when I got the run down to Chatfield. I know, I never heard of it either, but it's a couple towns south of Rochester. One of those hospice meds runs.  Sometimes, though, that company is less than accurate about the location of its patients. (Occasionally they even are a bit late with updating the life status of them as well. Hospice does have a known ending.) I knew I was facing one of those issues again when I found the house and saw that I was the first set of tracks through where the road plow had banked snow and down the driveway to the house. How many days since snow? I rang the bell anyway, enjoying bird tracks in the shallower snow around the house. It looked from the shepherd crooks in front that the birds were used to being fed, but nothing had been hanging on them this season, I judged.

After half an hour wait, it was determined that this patient had in fact been transferred to a nursing home... in Roseville. Not only was I to be paid for the trip down, but an even longer trip back, plus loadtime for the wait. Sweet. And by then I'd be done for the day.

But with Friday's super early start, I decided to call it a day mid-afternoon. I passed a dealership on the way to my last drop and decided to check out what they had available on my way home. I'd already checked out the internet, and was pretty sure my car would not be repaired. The availability of comparable used vehicles was worse than sparse, and new ones are still climbing in price every year.

I'm fussy. (What? You're surely not surprised?) I want what I had: economical to purchase, run and maintain, easy to drive and maneuver in small spaces, good cargo area unencumbered by useless seating and compartments. In short, I wanted another Hyundai Accent. Only this time, let's throw in cruise control. This would, if located, make my 6th Hyundai: 2 Excels and 4 Accents, all hatchbacks, and barring accidents going to or very near 400,000 miles. Why change?

Just before I arrived, I pulled over to take a call. It was the claims officer from the bus company's insurance. She made an offer on the car that frankly shocked me, though in a good way. When you start with a 2008 used car I paid $9,000 for, plus one for painting it white, put over 300,000 miles on myself, doing the usual maintenance plus a tranny, I figured they'd start at "worth zero" and go up from there. Slightly. She ran down the list of what they'd be paying for, adding in stuff like transfer fees, and came up with an offer of just over ... ya ready? ... $8 grand!

Of course I agreed. I'll be showing up in their White Bear office Monday morning with a copy of the tow bill (another check to me) and the green title card to sign it over, and walk out with their check on the spot. They'll swing by to pick up the old one later that day, as I'll leave the keys ...... you didn't think I'd put that on line, did you? Oh, and if necessary, due to my vacation, they'd pay for one more day of rental car if needed for the 24th, so I could work after my plane landed.

So I walked into the dealership in an entirely different frame of mind. I was now looking for a new car. I figured financing a bit over $6 grand would be a snap, and not a bad deal for replacing a car facing major maintenance soon with one not needing any for over a year.

"My" salesman was interesting. After a bit of not understanding what I was looking for and how necessary white was, we finally got on the same page, and he started showing me listings on his monitor. There was one difficulty at first. I had to ask him what it was about putting in cruise control that added about $3,000 to the price tag? He wondered what I meant. I explained I'd been on the internet and everything was in the $14,000+ range, not what he was showing me. I was ready to walk out.

He walked over to talk to his manager,who, though talking to his own customer, simply pointed at the Accent in hideous green with a large silver bow on top sitting on the showroom floor right next to them both. The big sticker on the windshield said $14,030. ("Oh, there must be something wrong in the computer system." Ummm, sure, uh huh. Do your research, kiddies.)

Was I still sure I needed it in white? He suggested I think about it while I sat in the showroom one and checked it out. Yep, cruise control. Lots of other dashboard changes, and the automatic shifter now goes in a zigzag pattern rather than push a button to set in position up and down a straight line. The overhead light is just over the windshield now instead over the back of my seat, much easier to reach. And what's under the hood looks even more complicated than the last one. No more do-it-yourself tune ups. But I gave those up with the '08 model anyway. The battery, washer fluid, and oil input are still recognizable, but the back of the headlights looks encased in something that now requires a well-informed mechanic to change a little bulb.

But hey, yes, I wanted it, and yes, STILL IN WHITE.

Well, the nearest white one was in Iowa. They'd have to work on a transfer. (Go ahead, work away. It's still gotta be white.)

As it stands, they will try to have the car here sometime Monday. They'll call. It depends on the swap, a driver, and acceptable roads/weather. If it's here, then Tuesday Rich and I will hop in the rental, go to St. Louis Park to pick up the car, drive both back up to Forest lake to turn in the rental car, and run me to the airport before he goes and picks Paul up from work. Otherwise, Paul's car will get into the mix and we leave the house several hours later. If the car is later, this happens on the 26th, after I'm back and they're open again.

They're trying for Monday/Tuesday. Money sooner is better. I agree. Car sooner is better.

So, now we're finally getting to the reason for this post title. Keep in mind that the insurance company has just built up a lot of goodwill with me for a generous rather than stingy payment for the old car. My surprise over that lessens just a bit after I am home starting to relax in my recliner, and Paul brings over quite a thick stack of mail.

On top is a letter from an attorney firm. Fortunately, it says "Advertisement". I could start to get worried. Especially when the next, and the next, and a fourth show up. They all want to be very helpful in making sure I get whatever is coming to me after my accident.

Minus their cut, of course, which they don't quite get around to spelling out in their very solicitous letters. Yep, solicitous, any way you want to mean it. It's the parade of the ambulance chasers. No knowing how many more will be in the mail yet to arrive. But I'm happy with all the coverage so far, having agreed to the replacement details for my car and being in contact with all the very helpful folks from my own insurance company who handle the medical and then get to deal with the other company for reimbursement. As for a little residual pain? Well, at this age there's always some, and if nothing changes for the worse, it's not interfering with life or work.

On the plus side, they're supporting the post office, and everything sent so far is recyclable.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Not My Best Day

I don't claim that the way I experience things is the same way everybody else does. For that matter, I don't claim to be different from everybody, either. My ego is just not that big on either end of that spectrum. However, I do think most of you will agree that yesterday was not my best day. Nor would it have been yours.

I was stopped at a light, focused on waiting for either the light to change or cross traffic to clear a long enough swath for me to make my right turn in slick conditions, meaning a long slow pull out. So the first impression, and indeed the lasting and repeating impression, was of just how incredibly LOUD it is when you get rear-ended by a school bus.

WOW, YOU GOT REAR-ENDED BY A SCHOOL BUS?  I lost track of how many times that phrase got tossed my way yesterday.

Nearly simultaneously after that were the sensation of pain in the lower neck/upper back, awareness that despite my foot on the brake I was sliding about 20 feet forward, gratitude that I wasn't actually pushed into the cross traffic, noting that none of said traffic slowed or much less stopped, and that there was a heck of a lot of orange in my rearview mirror.

I didn't actually turn around to see the bus. As discombobulated as I was at the moment, it still didn't seem like a good idea. Other things were important. I had freight on board, and I wasn't going to be delivering it. I had to call dispatch. But first I had to call 911. Which pocket was my cell in this morning?

As someone who wears female-type pants, I never have a belt, and thus no belt clip phone holder. At work they usually ride in my uniform shirt pocket. Yes, they. My personal cell and the Blackberry. With cold weather, and this was COLD weather, I added enough layers that the shirt pocket was not accessible. My uniform hoodie was my usual outer layer, and its pockets typically carry my first set of car keys, a pen or two, and the Blackberry. Sometimes the Blackberry stays in the car on the console for easy access and because it tends to shut itself off more often when it bumps against the flip phone for some reason. Annoying. Other times both are on my right pocket, and still other times the flip is in my right pants pocket with another pen, in case I run out, and my backup keys, in case I try to lock myself out of the car. Again.

I found both phones, and called 911. Where was I? I gave the wrong street. Now how do you do that? Like I said, I was discombobulated. The street I focused on for some reason was the street that actually dumped into this one, the street I had written in my tripsheet as the address where I had just picked up the package on board. I got the cross street right, but the 911 operator was getting impatient with me as where I claimed I was didn't connect on her map and, having said I might be injured, and mentioning a school bus, she naturally wanted to get help to us ASAP. As soon as I figured out my mistake (hey, I could have just looked up at the street sign), she transferred me to the proper jurisdiction to give out hopefully better information on the accident details.

It worked. I was clearing a little bit. Still maybe not enough for them. When the bus driver came up to me to find out if I was OK, I actually rolled down my window to tell him I was on the phone with 911. I got scolded over the phone, being informed that they were the ones needing my attention. I had just been trying to be polite, but I turned away from the bus driver and rolled up the window in his face. It was letting in a lot of cold air, anyway. The car was still running, so why didn't the car get warmer now?

A little tinkle from the back told me. It was one of the last bits of my rear window falling into the back of my car. Yep, gonna be drafty. I was informed that emergency vehicles were on the way, and I took advantage of the minute it took for them to arrive (1 fire dept. truck with 2 paramedics, 1 ambulance, 3 or more sheriff deputies because nobody could figure out just what jurisdiction I was in, Arden Hills? Mounds View?) to contact dispatch so the freight could get removed from my car and delivered.

The first deputy asked for my driver's license, and when I started to reach for my pocketbook on the passenger floor, he verbally stopped me. I was not to move. When I pointed to it, he asked me how to get to it. I keep my doors locked, but trying to tell him which button on the door to push to unlock it was beyond me at that moment. I just asked him to bring the door closer to me so I could push the right one. Muscle memory trumps forebrain under severe stress. I was handed my pocketbook so I could get the DL out. Yeah, partly so I couldn't claim anything missing because folks do that, and partly because, well, would you like to try and find where I keep the thing? And by the way, when it was handed back later, I didn't even put it in the right slot myself.

You know, I like to think I actually have a brain, but there was precious little proof of that then.

I also pointed to the glove box as where my insurance papers were. I have no idea whether anybody pulled them out. Right then they were putting a very uncomfortable collar around my neck to hold it immobile. One of the deputies sent the fire dept. folks on their way, though I guessed somebody checked out the kids in the school bus. Yes, it was full of kids, I found out later when I asked, and all were OK. Well sure. They had the soft stop. I was the one who got the jolt.

I was asked whether I thought the bus needed an inspection done for failed brakes, but everybody on site agreed that the abundant ice covered by fine snow was the culprit. I wanted to add, "Yeah, but I managed to stop OK without skidding," thinking the bus driver should have started stopping well before he actually did. The ice wasn't limited by any stretch to that one corner. Aren't school bus drivers supposed to be extra extra careful, safe drivers? I mean, had I even seen it approaching
from behind, I'd not have been concerned, thinking surely he'd have known how to stop on this crap. Any other vehicle, I'd be slightly paranoid. I tend to assume ordinary drivers are idiots and do my best to keep out of their way. It mostly works for me. No insult intended to the reader, of course.

The next big question was where did I want the car towed to? We were actually close to headquarters, and I called dispatch (WOW, YOU WERE REAR-ENDED BY A SCHOOL BUS?) to see if it could be left there. Unfortunately, somebody would have to pay the tow, and I was going to be removed from the scene by ambulance. I could have actually driven the car out of there but for that. It was still running just fine, and I'd actually backed it up a bit from where it stopped to be clear of any cross traffic that decided to go out of control. It would have been a bit too well air conditioned for comfort, but still fully drivable.

But no, it couldn't be left at HQ. So, I gave my OK for it to go to the impound lot, and got the deputy's card so I could call and get a phone number later to find out just where that was. But now, how about the stuff inside? Dispatch said the relief driver was still half an hour out, as nothing was moving on the roads. The deputy asked where exactly HQ was, and hearing how close, offered to take it, and my clipboard with important paperwork needing to be turned in at HQ that day, and drop them there if the tow truck arrived first. (Apparently our driver arrived first, I found out later. And I know who has my clipboard.)

Did I need anything else out of my car before my ambulance ride? I had both cell phones and my pocketbook already. I had started breakfast, a whole three bites, but it was cottage cheese with grapes, nothing convenient to haul around with me. My cooler had more food in it, so I asked for that, thinking too it had room for everything to get dumped in it. I also wanted my Kindle, forgetting I'd removed it from the cooler after reaching my car that morning. It remained behind on my passenger front seat as I was escorted to the ambulance. We were enroute before I realized I'd forgotten it.

My escort was two strong young men, one holding tight to each arm, all of us careful not to slip on the ice as we walked alongside the bus back to the ambulance. I'm sure the kids got an eyeful as well as quite the story for their day. Once there, getting in seemed insurmountable, But the men pointed to the support bar on the door frame, and pushed from behind as I went up both high steps that I'd never manage with my knees under the best of circumstances. They were good!

I sat on the stretcher for about two seconds before being assisted to lie down, got covered with thin blankets and fastened in with two seat belts, one for the torso, one for the legs. Then we sat for about 20 minutes. The gal in the ambulance had questions, and somebody tried to take my blood pressure through two sweatshirts and a work shirt. I also recall a thermometer. A deputy required a car key for the tow. I was asked which hospital I wanted to go to. Let's see: Regions? St. Johns? When they said any hospital, and knowing there would be insurance companies, plural, paying for the ride, I selected Fairview Wyoming. If I were going to be there a while, my own doctor could check in. If not, it was closest to a ride home.

Oh boy, another problem to deal with: a ride home.

The ride up in the ambulance was a novelty. Fortunately.  I've never been in one, nor seen one, aside from TV and shipping Daddy off once or twice. Of course my view was limited to the ceiling, both for what seemed like a very long boring drive, siren-free, and for the entry to the emergency room. Nobody bothers to finish the ceiling in the ambulance bay, so the view there is mostly corrugated steel roof, structural supports and water pipes. After a succession of sliding ceiling acoustical and light tiles, I was slid off my gurney onto a rolling bed in the ER. The head was raised, giving me a view of the typical private ER room. Those I have seen, and can judge.


Clothing was removed. The only surprise was that the crew neck sweatshirt open wide enough to slide up over the collar without problems. The open-in-back gown barely covered modesty, if I had any at that point. Untied, it didn't help with warmth either. Everyone who touched me commented on how cold I was, and brought in warm blankets. Being flannel, the heat lasted approximately 8 seconds each. Getting an arm pulled out for a BP didn't help for heat. Nor did finally being allowed to walk over to the nearest restroom, with accompaniment of course, in case of falls or whatever. I did feel borderline queasy afterwards, granting me an anti nausea pill. Swallowing might have disturbed my neck, so the pill was a dissolve-on-your-tongue variety. Strawberry flavored, the cheap fake candy flavor, which turned to just plain bitter several minutes later.

X-rays were mandatory, (WOW, YOU GOT HIT BY A SCHOOL BUS?) full cervical and thoracic spine sets. The hall qualified as a wind-chill tunnel. Removing shoulders of the hospital gown because of metal snaps and unzipping the bra because, hey, metal zipper, also added to the fun. At least the first set was taken with me horizontal. They wanted my shoulders down further than they were. Due to normally high shoulders and high muscle tension, that would up requiring one of the techs pulling on my hands during the shot.

That part wasn't what hurt. Next they wanted my arms up and out of the way. With both shoulders having rotator cuff injuries, that just wasn't happening. We did what we could to adapt, giving me a slight diagonal angle with the least painful arm up. They thought it could hang there for the several minutes it took to set up the shop properly. I disagreed. Eventually that shot got taken, however.

The radiologist read the films to that point, and it was decided the collar could come off. That was a relief. Not only was it just uncomfortable, it squeezed my head enough that I was feeling my pulse all through it, and was getting a headache. Ahhh, movement again. Ow. Careful.

Now I got to stand for the rest of the films. Of course, I took that to mean that I got to sit between takes. Even a couple seconds helped the knees. I was surprised to find out that some of the shots were through the open mouth, completely logical if you think about it. Mine just doesn't open that wide. And there were more of the raise-your-arms shots, though this time they brought over bars I could hold onto, giving minimal relief.

Re-zip, re-snap, re-blanket, and return through the windchill tunnel to my room. And wait. Add another trip to the restroom, involving a wait while a grumpy elderly gentleman informed me that the room was occupied when I found the lock engaged, as if that weren't clue enough. They put on a finger cuff and tried taking my BP again, finally figuring that if they took it via the upper arm rather then the forearm they'd get a more normal reading. (Who takes it via the forearm, anyway?) By normal, I mean the second number was 110 instead of 120. The first was sticking at 158. They excused that due to the stress. I wasn't so sure. I mean, sure, lots of stress. LOTTTTSSSSSSS. But I want to get a reading under actual normal conditions to make sure the new meds are still doing what they ought.

An actual MD showed up eventually (SO, YOU GOT HIT BY A SCHOOL BUS, EH?), letting me know there was nothing broken and no major soft tissue damage. X-rays show that now? Anyway, he was letting me go with a prescription for Percoset. I was going to feel much worse the next few days before I felt better, and he didn't want me back just due to pain control.

Now began the discharge parade. One took monitor readings. One had a handful of paperwork, including my Rx and cautions about possible symptoms requiring further medical attention. (Note to self: be sure to read those.)  One allowed me to get dressed. And one, poor thing, tried to get insurance information. Well, there's my vehicle insurance, due to it being a car accident. But there's the school bus insurance (WOW, YOU GOT HIT BY A SCHOOL BUS?), since they were at fault, and being removed from the scene, I didn't have that information. It was during work, so there'd be maybe a contribution from the work accident insurance we're required to purchase even though we're independent contractors. And no, the Workman's comp form she brought back wouldn't be relevant either. And of course, there's always Medicare. Finally she just thrust a blank form at me, told me to figure it out, fill it in, and send it back to her.

Eventually I was released to wait for my ride. I called Rich, interrupting his sleep. His schedule is always weird, but right now consists of his being on-call to drive his brother to and from work, arriving at 6:00 AM, departing 6:00PM, and sleeping during the day between trips. Paul's license is temporarily suspended because he didn't have proper proof of insurance in his car when pulled over for a speeding ticket. The reason for the no-insurance proof is that he wanted to hang onto the old card because it had an accident claim number on it after a previous encounter with an attack Bambi. When the updated card arrived, rather than keeping both cards, he just left the update home. And after the ticket, he, um, forgot to update his information with the county. He knew he was properly insured. He just didn't quite realize how important it was that the county knew it too. So until it gets straightened out, or his work permit arrives in the mail, his brother drives. At least his child support is up to date and his license is valid.

On the other hand, it meant there was a car and driver available for my use. Rich took half an hour to arrive, which I mostly spent on the phone, to Steve, my insurance company, the county sheriff, the towing company to locate my car and get info on springing it, and dispatch to keep them informed.

About 2:00 we walked into WalMart to get the Rx filled. I hadn't eaten since those few bites of breakfast, so I treated Rich to the other half of a Sub while we waited. Then he drove me to almost downtown St. Paul to the impound lot where, after half an hour, I was allowed to drive my car out and home.

Yes, it drives fine. It's a bit too airconditioned for -2 degrees, never mind windchill, but the rear end collision didn't do anything to the driving parts. The hatch is caved in, bumper much the worse for its experience, and glass lights broken. Despite that, I had one brake light working and both turn signals. Rich followed me home, after lending me his winter jacket to cover my legs since he was in a warmed car.

Upon arrival, I finally took ibuprofin, and we unloaded everything from the car. Looking at the damage, it's my guess they'll total it out. I expect they'd value it at zero with its 320,400 miles on it, if I hadn't just replaced the tranny. I sent Rich to bed, offering to drive down and pick up Paul myself. On the amount of sleep Rich had gotten, I figured that was much the safer option. I could wait to take Goofy Pills. And Paul's car would be warm.

Now the paperwork dance begins.

And my cell company just texted me the warning that I'm close to the limit of my minutes for the month.


Thursday, December 5, 2013

More Schadenfreude

I am not too morally superior to revel occasionally in schadenfreude. Especially when it's a case of bad drivers getting what the laws of physics decree is coming to them. Or sometimes just laws. We're familiar with seeing the speeder getting pulled over for a ticket, right?

Yesterday was one of those days where physics took over. I have long since been the slow driver in the right lane under those conditions. When traction fails, inertia takes over. In this case I was in the center lane, heading north on the freeway passing Forest Lake. The right lane there is exit-only, not where I was going. 40 MPH seemed quite sufficient for conditions, and most of the right lane agreed with me.

The left lane, however, was reserved for more optimistic (a.k.a foolish) drivers. One was just getting ready to pass me at about 50, and just as it approached my front bumper, started to skid. I was instantly white knuckling the wheel, trying to keep an eye on the skidder while slowing and checking out right lane escape options. There was an opening, with one car ahead of "my" space and one behind, though the one behind was fairly close. I hoped he/she was paying attention, or if not yet had been alerted by my tapping of the brakes a couple times, because I was sliding over into about a quarter of that lane. On purpose, I might add.

Meanwhile the skidder was busy over-correcting, fishtailing his way into the concrete center median. He impacted twice, pieces flying off each time, and accomplishing a 180 between impacts. Fortunately, none of the flying pieces flew far enough to concern me, and I eased past and back into my lane to continue safely on my way. And yes, schadenfreude was definitely part of the trip, helping counter the very uncomfortable adrenaline rush.

This was before 9AM, and the rest of the day had the same road conditions, snowing or even sleeting the whole time. Before long 30 MPH was more the rule, where traffic wasn't actually stop/skid and go/skid, with cars in ditches and semis backing down slights slopes they weren't able to pull their rigs up. At the worst it took me an hour to go between 394 and 55 in the Plymouth/Wayzata area. I managed to complete a mere 5 runs the whole day, and of those, two went one direction and three the other, not 5 zig-zagging all over the place.

And lucky me, I get to go out and play on those roads again today!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Black Friday

I'm not sure why this merits comment, except to note why some of us - well, this one of us anyway - go out of our way to avoid getting caught up in it.

There are always the knees, of course. I carefully choose where and when to physically go out and shop these days. There has to be very limited walking, or a shopping cart/scooter. It's why I chose Wally World over Target, much as I politically hate supporting the former.  Most days there is an abundance of fully charged carts available in a Wally World. Target is much stingier in supplying them. Black Friday is one of the days where finding a scooter is impossible, not to mention just getting handicap parking.

There's the internet. I can carefully select and research my purchases from the comfort of home with my feet up. Most anything is available these days, ordered, paid and delivered, barring groceries out in my small rural community.

Most of the Black Friday sales are nothing I want to buy anyway. If the sale is truly wonderful, it's not in my gifting budget. If it's for myself, that's never the right time to replace an old TV, say, or washing machine. Those never break down just at that time of year or any time there's a major sale on. Life just doesn't work that way. And any wonderful sale will be limited in supply to those who are willing to get up or stay up until some ungodly hour and fight for a spot in an ungodly line, racing to the spot in the store where the coveted item sits.

Not me.

I prefer to gift shop throughout the year, seeing that special something that is just for a special person and available when/where I am. Or else, picking up supplies throughout the year to make something just for that special person. The last few years I've been making jewelry, finding stones or beads to go with each person on the gift list, or finding some special thing at an auction or on my travels. Those things are never reduced on Black Friday. Most aren't even available then.

Then of course, there's work. Most years I remember to put my name down on the time-off calendar in time to stay home for a four-day weekend. Not this year. I had'nt even thought about it this year before the fleet message got sent out that the time-off calendar was full and the rest of us should plan on working.


Well, maybe not so much oops. I've taken a lot of time off this fall, between Arizona, a new tranny, and the hospital, with another week scheduled in Arizona before X-mas. I could use any extra income, even what I anticipate from a really slow work day like Black Friday. So I'll be out and about, just not in the stores.

Not even to pick up my new glasses, which should be in then.  They'll wait. Maybe the next Monday or Tuesday, depending on my evening work schedule. Which schedule I'll find out about Monday or Tuesday evening. And which glasses cost twice what the last pair did a few years back. Ouch! I'm not adding the frustrations of Black Friday to that errand.

So if you want to be out there, go ahead. Just don't expect to see me there.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Flying Jewels

As if I needed one, I've found another reason to feel deprived wintering in Minnesota: our only hummingbird, the ruby throated, has flown south. Most of my life, they're the only kind I've seen. They are tiny and highly territorial, the males typically spending most of the energy they get from a feeder in driving other hummers away.

I saw one exception to that. Years ago I took my granddaughter tent camping outside Hinckley in St. Croix State Park. A large feeder was hung outside the main building, and perhaps a dozen hummingbirds were swarming it at any given time.

Closer to home, shortly after moving into this house, I had a garden patch filled with Asiatic lilies, with rope circling them about 2 feet off the ground to help prevent the tall top-heavy blooming plants from blowing over in the wind. A pair of hummers, which I decided were a mother and fledgeling, landed on the rope. Mom took a long drink from one of the lilies, then both flew up a little ways, joined bills, and gently spiraled nearly to the ground before separating and landing on the rope again. Junior was getting feeding lessons.

When my folks became snowbirds, I found a whole new world of hummingbirds. Arizona is home to seven species. Mom put out a feeder which attracted a male Lucifer with his brilliant violet purple throat. Between drinks he perched in the spiny tips of the century plant in the neighbor's lot. I tried for pictures, but the light was always wrong.

A first of several trips to the Sonoran Desert Museum included a stop in their hummingbird house. With patience, and the good manners of your fellow humans, you can watch several kinds of local hummers. In February you can even see the parents nesting and taking care of their young in tiny nests make of spider webs and lichens. I fell in love with Rufous (also found in Alaska in the summer) and broad billed hummers. Any trip to the Tucson area almost mandates another stop there.

Steve put out his first hummingbird feeder in Sun City a few days ago. It had to be mail ordered, as the local stores were out, plus I'm fussy about how easily cleaned they are. I hate to kill the birds I'm feeding because I can't remove the black mold that eventually grows on the feeders. It hangs under the patio roof where he can watch the birds while sitting in his favorite chair enjoying his pipe.

I'm getting daily, or several-times-daily reports on activity. At first, the visitors were generic. Could have been females of nearly any of the local species. Tuesday a Rufous stopped by. Yesterday a male Broad-billed was a frequent visitor. Like me, Steve fell in love with the royal blue color.

He wants more feeders.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

400 Reasons For Tears

There are a whole lot of awful things happening in the world right now. Wars, weather, earthquakes, child abuse, politics - the list never ends. Any one of them is worthy of tears, from all of us. We could cry the rest of our lives and never fully give tribute to the awfulness out there.

And yet, that's not what makes me cry. It's stories like the following that get to me.

Harold Jellicoe Percival was a WWII veteran from England. His funeral was yesterday. He was 99, outliving nearly all his fellow soldiers. Never married, he had no children surviving him. He lived quietly. His nephew, making his funeral arrangements, estimated that maybe two or three mourners would attend. The notice in the newspaper stated that any military personnel who might be able to attend would be welcomed. It got on Twitter and the news spread.

One estimate says 400 people showed up. Those unable to fit in the small chapel stood outside for his funeral, despite the rain.

That's what makes me cry.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Louisiana School "Science"

This little tidbit over the radio had me ROTFL yesterday. The topic was what's going on in the Louisiana public schools with regard to teaching evolution and the so-called alternative, creationism. Both are now being taught, by recent law, as if both have equal value in a science course. It's Christian creationism, of course. Who'd teach Native American beliefs about a giant turtle being the creator in any Louisiana public school? Or any other beliefs, for that matter?

One woman who moved to Louisiana from California recently had been checking out schools for her family. She was looking for some real science, wanting her children to grow up well enough educated to get into a top college if they chose. The only schools she found where creationism was not part of the curriculum were the Catholic schools!

And in case you were wondering, they're open to non-Catholic students: Protestants, Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, even atheists. You just need money.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Premie Watch: Over (Revised)

One little girl has been giving her family a run for their money. I'll refer you back to  my Sept. 26 posting, when my newest granddaughter made her first attempt to arrive in the world.

It wasn't her last. Mom has become a regular arrival in the hospital. Each time the family call goes out, but each time Mom has been sent home again. One particular scare included the worrying addition of an irregular heartbeat by the baby, but it got solved and - yet again - Mom was sent home, baby snug and safe, to hang out and grow some more.

The family started laying bets on her actual arrival date. Steve had picked 11/8. I figured if she'd hung around through all the hooplah this far, she'd confound all of us and show up a week late.

Tuesday the story repeated. This time even the nurse in the hospital thought it was finally the real deal, but Mom wound up getting sent home again. I figured the kid found out what the weather was doing - snowing - and decided to heck with that nonsense, she wasn't gonna show up in that crap.

Yesterday (Wednesday) evening on Facebook Daddy was expressing his frustration that yet again the cycle repeated. How much more of this could he stand? We all agreed it'd be as much as it took. About an hour later the posting came through that Mom's water broke in the ambulance on the way back to the hospital. (So who's doing the posting anyway and just where are they?)

Finally! We now knew it was for real. Since at least back when Paul was born, the standard was 24 hours maximum between breaking water and delivery. The goal was minimizing complications, including infections.

About ten minutes later Steve called. Serenity didn't wait for the hospital, but arrived in the ambulance. (Before the hospital could send her home yet again, eh?) We're awaiting the details on size, weight, and all that good stuff, as well as just when it'll be a good time to swing by and meet her.

Details: Born a little before 9:30 PM, in the ambulance, stopped on the Lafayette Bridge in St. Paul for the event. Yes, they blocked one lane of traffic on a bridge already complicated by ongoing construction. She weighed in at 5 lbs, 9 oz., and was 19 1/2 inches. Her pictures are all over Daddy's Facebook page. She looks especially tiny compared to him.

Welcome to the world, baby girl!

MPR: I Expect Better Of You

I will, when provoked, play grammar police. On occasion, things get said that shouldn't have, or perhaps not in the most artful phrasing, or just display a tongue tripping all over itself utilizing whatever room might be left in a mouth with a foot already shoved well inside. I do understand that. I'd never consider a career on the radio. I'm prone to mis-speaking myself. However, I hold the professionals to a higher standard. I mean, if I can learn the difference between "less" and "fewer", something apparently rare, I feel I can criticize much more egregious bad language use.

This afternoon I was half-listening to the BBC News Hour on MPR. Or as they pronounce it, the Nyooz Ahhhrrr. It's one of many things that irritate me about that program. So it was almost a relief when it was interrupted momentarily for the emergency alert. The beeps/buzzes/tones/whatever-you-call-'ems sounded. Still just half listening, since I was driving to an unfamiliar address.

Then the announcer came back on with, "The following was a test of the emergency alert system."

Wait. What? "The following was...?"

He didn't sound like an ESL speaker. He didn't sound all that stupid either, aside from what he'd just said. Maybe another something to blame on Ambien?

I don't care about excuses. I simply expect excellence from MPR. Lucky me, maybe not-so-lucky them, due to my membership I have the number an actual human answers in my cell phone. I called it. I quoted what I'd heard, expressing my expectations for better use of language. Yes, I was polite. Of course. Unless you think it's rude to say that the quality of what I heard was worthy of FOX.

OK, maybe that was a low blow.

But how do  you not know the difference between "following" and, say, "previous"? It's like saying black is white, male is female, up is down... OK, the FOX comment wasn't such a low blow after all.

So, MPR, if you guys made fewer stupid mistakes, especially in scripted, repeated PSAs, I'd be less inclined to call you up and complain.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Elmer Fudd Fantasy Playbook

I'm beginning to understand Elmer Fudd. Yes, I get that he was comic relief, no redeeming social values, fat and funny-sounding, incompetent.. in fact, so bad we all cheered his failures. But I get his side of the story. Even if Bugs Bunny only stole carrots and played silly pranks. I get him.

Those wascally wabbits have invaded my front yard. The one in Sun city, of course, where we just finished planting a whole bunch of things, and thought they might be safe because other people had those plants too without the rabbits coming by uninvited for nightly smorgasborg.

I get Elmer Fudd. I too want to destroy them all. Dead dead dead!

I plot revenge. Shooting them all, setting up various trip wires to pull triggers as they approach. Setting leghold traps. Live traps, where enclosed they can be drowned in a garbage can of water without mess and fuss. Inviting in the local coyote population to chase down, snack on, remove bodies to their dens. Setting out poisons attractive only to rabbits, ranging from lesson-giving nasties to deadlies, various levels of suffering, and of course, universally perfectly effective and perfectly targeted.

Of course all the evidence would be cleared away before daylight, before nosy neighbors and legal authorities would garner any interest whatsoever in the goings-on in the front yard. If they knew how the rabbit population was declining, we'd be thanked, of course, likely silently.. If they didn't, nobody would feel the need to express their opinion on whatever methods were used or how cute baby bunnies look. Garbagemen would haul away anonymous bags of bunny bodies all unaware of contents beyond the label of garbage. Coyotes that everybody pretends to hate would be rewarded for their activities in reducing the scourge by feeding their families.

Of course, the ugly truth is that one can indulge in fantasies all day and night long, and plants still fall victim to predation. Elmer Fudd always fails because nobody wants to see a cartoon where the wrong critter gets hurt or dies, or Elmer gets hauled off to jail. So my front yard is going to be turned into a prison camp, where each plant grows inside its own cage of chicken wire, and the bunnies, if we're really lucky, wander off to the golf course to munch grass. If we're really really really lucky, folks would stop planting and watering acres of green bunny food to walk on and hits balls on, and they'd all starve.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

A Little Tarantula Research

Our recent encounters left me curious. Fortunately, research can be done online these days, and not up close and personal.

Our tarantulas would have been males, out looking for females. It's mating season. Many will not survive it. The Sonoran Desert location decrees that they were "Blonde Tarantulas" or Aphonopelma Chalcodes, and the darker coloration furthers decrees that these were males. Females are lighter in color, and tend to stay near their burrows. They also live about twice as long as the males, partly due to less wandering, partly due to making a tasty post-coital snack of their mate.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Apache Trail: Watch For Wildlife

Wildlife was the very last thing on my mind when I thought of the Apache Trail. First was offering it up as a bribe/reward for Paul for finishing the wall of bookshelves in the den in time to do something more fun, rather than digging his nose into a set of books by an author he'd never encountered before, James Doss. (We offered him the opportunity to bring the set home with him to finish, and I could bring them back down to Arizona in the spring.) This trip was close enough to be doable, and still offer him a great desert experience.

Second was my memory of how harrowing a drive it had been for me years ago when I drove my folks over the trail. I remember little of that trip except extreme relief that I was eastbound, where my side of the road was the uphill one. Westbound was the one where any inattention, or encounters with foolish RVs, could send one in an extreme downhill direction. That spurred me to hustle Paul up enough to be able to finish the drive, at least as far as Lake Roosevelt, by the time it got dark. No way I'd want to be anywhere on that road after dark. Besides, if you can't see the scenery, what's the point?

And scenery there is to be seen! It starts modestly enough, low hills covered with saguaros, prickly pear, bushes and grasses. True Sonoran Desert habitat, unchanged for the most part by humans. It's nestled right in the foothills of the Superstition Mountains, and as the terrain became more rugged, my appreciation for its history and the earlier inhabitants grew along with my awe at its beauty.

Late in the afternoon, the sun was hitting that golden light which photographers love. In the two hours it took us to drive the trail's 44 miles, half unpaved, light was the main feature. It was most noticeable when Paul pointed out some bright lime green rocky surfaces. We wondered whether this was a fluke from the sun angle or perhaps there were some lime-colored lichens covering the rocks. As we drove and climbed, eventually we got close enough to these rocky areas to determine lichens were responsible. It was tempting to think about bring a sample home for the garden, but nearly everything I saw was the size of the car. Too, there was the idea of not being stopped on the trail when the hypothetical next car behind us caught up around a tight curve.

Actually, that never happened, not once on the trek, though we did see perhaps 20 oncoming vehicles. Once was on the "one lane road" spot along a cliff face the signs kept warning us about. I hit a pull-off and waited for it to decide we were stopped and it could proceed around the two more curves to pass our position.

Every curve was a new view, more spectacular rocks and cacti, cliffs and valleys, lake views, and as the afternoon progressed, glimpses of salmon, rose, fuchsia, and finally grey clouds. So even with the signs telling us to watch for wildlife, it was the last thing on our minds.

There were birds, of course, mostly small unidentified ones startled out of bushes as the car came around  a corner. A pair of black squirrels and the occasional chipmunk or ground squirrel were what we thought completed the wildlife show. But Paul was the first one to spot what became the show-stopper - and the car stopper. A wild tarantula was crossing the road!

Neither of us had seen one other than TV and pet stores. Paul got out for a closer look. It didn't bother the spider. It just kept steadily on its way across the road. Once it cleared the way, we went on ours. Paul was close enough to tell by the pedipalps just what the gender was, had he remembered what that configuration meant. He also couldn't tell species,  just noted it was solid black except for a light brown/tan band across the top of the torso. He had thought about offering the critter a chance to walk across his hand, but decided not to risk the spider-hair itching powder phenomenon.

We commented on the irony of having not brought any camera. I had judged before leaving that there was too little time to complete the trail in good light for us to try to pack in any photography as well. I know me. It would have added at least an hour onto travel time. Having not done that what was what put us in place at the right time to see the tarantula, but again, nothing to record it.

Oh well.

About ten minutes later, or a mile along the road, it was my turn to spot a tarantula crossing the road. This one was far enough across that I pulled the car up next to it safely for the spider, where Paul could roll his window down and look straight down on it. This one decided the car was a threat, posturing as if ready to attack. Since we were upsetting it, I decided to just drive on.

Several minutes later, yet a 3rd tarantula was crossing. Paul again got out to observe closely. This one was slow, and in an effort to speed it on its way so we could drive on without harming it, he blew on it. It backfired. The spider completely stopped for a minute or so before finally continuing on its way.

All three were the same species, by their markings. He also reported (did I say I never left the car?) that the first and third were the same gender. The 2nd was posturing enough he didn't get a good view. And all three were crossing the road going uphill. Was it for the nearly-gone light? Temperature changes? Leaving or approaching shelter or prey? A combination? Coincidence? We may never know and they weren't telling.

We managed to reach Roosevelt Lake and Dam with enough light to appreciate the size of the lake and the shrinkage apparent from the rime left behind. Also the lack of facilities, aka bathrooms. It turned out to be 30 miles on good, paved highway to Miami, where after a brief stop we hooked up with Hwy. 60 and a (relatively) speedy drive home, with enough time left for a little packing for next morning's departure.

There was one more incident along that 30-mile stretch. It was a passing lane, and I'd moved over so a pickup with obnoxious lights could pass. Suddenly it braked and veered into the empty oncoming lane, and seeing no possibility for it making a left turn, I went on alert and slowed. That turned out to be a good choice. What was that? My first reaction was an armadillo, low, long snout and tail. Second reaction was it was furry, and as I finally braked to a stop, got a good view of the white stripe all along its back. It, like the tarantulas, passed our trail safely, for them and us.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Landscaping, Phoenix Style

It's going piecemeal. The first fall, warped sickly cactus were removed from the back yard where the dogs could/did get spined. That winter, a fellow was hired to remove the oleander bushes from in front of the house and dig up the stumps from where the realtor let two citrus trees die because she wouldn't spring for water to keep them alive a few months until the house sold.

My 35-year-old ponytail palm (called bottle palms down here) was set in the front yard last fall to see if it would survive, and last spring I brought down 2 small ponytails to add in the front of the house, arranging to have them watered over the summer. As a bonus, they received rabbit cages. While nothing had bothered the old one, the new ones had low foliage which was being sampled regularly, until then. I'd thrown some seeds in the ground near the old one where watering would occur, to see if red yucca plants could be started that way. I harvested them out of a couple pods I plucked off a plant before I left AZ last December. No signs of life yet.

This fall, the verdict on the old ponytail was it was living and growing but set where it was getting too much sun. It needed a new spot, and has been relocated next to the two little ones where the roof shades it much better, as the house faces north.

I also arrived with some plans for that north side: aloes and similar shade tolerant plants. Like all plans, things changed.

It started with a visit to a well-reputed garden center. What I found was high prices and low selection in succulents. No sale.

A trip to WalMart included an impulse stop in their garden center. Yes, I know. Caution is advised. Know your stock and its limitations, check for vitality. So... They had a variety of Aloe Vera, the basic aloe one uses for burns. I grabbed two. Riding through the plants rows revealed two sizes of Red Yuccas. Again I picked out two, the cheapest size. No major gamble.

After more thought, I talked Steve into a drive. It was also a scouting trip to see if the Desert Botanical Gardens had suitable little plants for sale in their gift shop. Just hitting their shop, one avoids paying admission, and it's right by the entrance so little walking. Plus frequent benches and water fountains. Win win. It turns out they just had their semi-annual plant sale (50,000 plants) the previous weekend, and there were a few remaining in what I was looking for. We would up with 3 varieties of baby aloes and 3 varieties of agaves, two pots worth of one kind.

We also picked up a sunny area plant, called variously a pencil plant or ladyslipper. It basically grows waxy twigs, sprouting the occasional leaf, and blooms in a weird-looking flower which attracts hummingbirds. It's in the back yard next to the patio. The larger agaves needed sunnier locations, so locations had to be adjusted to that. The circle where the old ponytail had been now holds both red yuccas in the background and the variegated agave in the front. After the first night, they each also received a chicken wire cage. The local coyotes are not quite keeping up with the rabbit population in the neighborhood. Holding that thought, the ladyslipper also got a cage. The aloes hadn't been touched, so must not be as tasty as the others. Not having an unlimited supply of cages, that is a good thing.

Think we're done?

My next move was to go online, trying to see what else might be out anywhere, new and different varieties which met the criteria. I found something. It happened to be local, if you can stretch the boundaries of "local" to include southwestern Chandler. I called the listed number to find out if what I was interested in were actually in stock, justifying the long drive. Yep, about a dozen or more, and best yet, if we picked them up, the price was half the listed price which included shipping and lots of risk to the plants.

Road Trip!

Steve again came along to lend an opinion. We settled for six more plants, this time including some haworthias, much more shade loving even than the aloes but with similar forms. I could have bought more, but there's time for research before next fall this way. Plus, the plants needed to go in the ground and I was only going to be around one more day. Digging that crap is hard work, even when you water it thoroughly to change it to mud.

Then there were rocks to scatter among the plants. I still recall those folks who teased me for moving rocks down in the truck from  Minnesota. Didn't I think Arizona had rocks? Well, yes, of course. Not, however, the lovely granites I spent months collecting for my northern rock garden. Mostly they sunk in the clay and hid under weeds up there. In Arizona, dry as it is, they'll just sit and stay put showing off, as well as tactfully discouraging people from walking through the area where right now teeny little plants are hiding, trying to become bigger weird little plants. And Arizona rocks? Well, I've seen them. Solid red. Or solid off-white. Don't forget grey.

My favorite plants? Ponytails, of course. But of the new ones, there's an aloe hybrid named "Christmas Carol". It's red and green, swirling leaves out from the center horizontally, with each leaf tip curving over toward the next leaf. I actually bought two, part of that run out to Chandler to a place called Arizona Cactus.

I'll likely go back next year. And maybe head down early enough next October to hit that 50,000 plants sale at the Botanical Gardens.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Day 5: Last Leg

Steve wanted me to admit I was wrong. I've been saying for years that you don't see pronghorns in the same field with cattle. It's been my experience, 'till now, and I've been wondering why. Well, yesterday he pointed out to me that we were passing a field where they were clustered separately but adjacent to each other in the same field. Now mind you, he'd been sound asleep until then and popped his eyelids up just in time to spot this and point it out to me. I'm not sure he believed me that I would have commented on it but didn't want to wake him. I'd have thought of it later.


 I also was too tired to mention yesterday that I stopped with Steve in Milan, NM, at a place called "Kachina Country". He oohed and ahhhed over the kachinas, pottery, and their bank vault door, among other things, and wound up buying a carved bear pipe. I picked up a couple tiny dishes with Mimbres designs, one fish, one turtle, and a small black pottery bear with carvings on its back.

The room in this motel was hot. We turned on the AC a bit last night until we got chilled, and again a bit this morning. The extra heat has proven enervating, and it's taken a bit to get ourselves going. Good it's a short drive, relatively.

It took a detour on the way. Not a long one. Just over to the local Del Taco.  Steve's been dreaming and drooling about this chain, noticeably absent in Minnesota. So after hitting them for lunch, we pulled into our driveway what turned out to be about ten minutes later then the neighbors from British Columbia did for their winter stay.  We got power and water on upon arrival. Gas waited until after dark the next evening. We turned the dogs loose in the fenced back yard - all of us happy for no more leashes. After a little list making, the first of what became several shopping trips to the grocery store stocked the fridge. A call to Dish got the TV up and working. WiFi would turn out to be days later than promised, so this is being typed from the community center.

Paul showed up via his Super Shuttle ride in time to go out for supper, joining Joan and Bob, Minnesota friends who moved down here permanently years ago. We went to Steve's favorite local sit-down Mexican restaurant in scooter range, where he was welcomed back by the entire staff. I'm just guessing, mind you, that he visited it a bit more often than he told me he did last year. Whether or not that's true, he was still thrilled by all the recognition the next day. We kept this visit short, leaving just enough time to hit the pool/spa at the community center before they closed.

Temperatures are in the 80's, low 90's now. Kids call from home with tales of snow. We sympathize.

And smile.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Day 4: Nothing Much

Posing the philosophical question: If there wasn't much to write about, and the camera stayed in its case, did anything happen?

Drove from Pueblo, CO to Holbrook, AZ. Another time zone change. Tired, tired, tired.

Day 3: The Dam Store and a Family Reunion.

As lazy as we were getting up and out, there was still frost to scrape off the windshield. Of course the Weather Channel had declared the temperature to be 39, but perhaps water freezes at different temperatures in the mountains like it boils at different temperatures? No? But the weather people are always right, aren't they?

Once frost was scraped, we had a lovely view of the mountains. Steve's mountains, according to him. The front range of the Rockies was the view he grew up with. With figuring we still had time before the noon shindig in Aurora (yes, that Aurora), we decided to head to Loveland, see what we could see a month after the flood. I hoped to make it as far as The Dam Store (Best Store By A Dam Site!), if it even still existed, and if we were allowed to get that far. 34 was closed at some point before heading up Thompson Canyon.

The first stop in Loveland is always the lake. They have great bronze statuary in a park along the lake, and I love to shoot it. Plus, if you can zoom in, you can get white-capped mountains in the picture, the "fourteen hundreds" of RMNP. While I was doing the latter, a woman walked by and we started a conversation. While a local now, she was originally from Little Falls, MN, and you know how the next couple minutes of conversation goes. We got to my hope to visit The Dam Store: did she know if it still existed? Not only did it still exist, it was the turnaround on the road past the semi-baricades where you could still proceed to "local businesses only".

Hearing that, we got back on the road and started that trek.

It was quite a sight. Huge piles of bulldozed mud lined yards, roads and parking lots. Piles of household now-junk littered the highway shoulders, along with other huge piles of tree branches, chopped down to a size that wouldn't impede traffic. Views of the riverbed showed new mudbanks, downed trees, a couple wrecked RVs, and occasionally heavy equipment parked, possibly due to it being Sunday morning. One small bridge over the river going to one of those local businesses, an RV park, bore yellow tape in places. Though about 30 feet up from where the river sat now, it had steel side rails either removed or severely bent from heavy debris slamming into it on its way downstream.

Yes we took pictures, though not until on the way back, after visiting the Dam Store and having a better idea of our remaining time.

Once at the store, there were seriously manned barricades, allowing only the cement trucks through, about one a minute each way. A sign pointed us off the road to a small parking lot. Upon hiking in, we announced to the cashier our feeling that if she was keeping the store open under these conditions, and we both had been occasional customers in previous years, that we considered it a moral obligation to stop in now and support her with our shopping. Which we did. Steve, a lover of bill caps, got one with their name on it. I picked up a "basset hound guard dog" kind of sign, a glass hummingbird window hanger, and a little something as a present for somebody who occasionally reads this, so nevermind. We found wonderful t-shirts with PETA: People Eating Tasty Animals, and a smaller print statement that wildlife always looked best next to mashed potatoes and gravy. Of course, they had only smalls and mediums in stock. Dang!

There was an amazing amount of traffic on the freeway into Denver for a Sunday morning. Not sure if it's up due to other roads being closed for repairs or if this is typical. Not going to stay around to find out. Despite that, we made it to the reunion only a minute late, if that counts. My excuse for that is not turning on the only corner that allows access to the park, which in this case translates to a side street which allows parking and a hefty walk in to the playground/picnic tables area. I do mean hefty. The other sides border back yard fencing or a 4-lane road with no parking allowed.

The playground in Rocky Ridge Park is great for kids, a huge slightly sunken pit with an elaborate system of things to clime and slide down, along with a "dinosaur" skeleton in pieces which also encourage climbing and imaginative play. There were a whole lot of kids there. I'm not sure about how many were with our group.

Start with Steve's long deceased grandmother Stanberry, and come down through the generations of cousins, kids, in-laws, and everybody was connected somehow. Steve saw people he hadn't seen for 50 years, and many more he'd never met. Ages ranged from 85 to 4 months.  Some were local, as in from Colorado. Others came from Alabama and Ohio, to name just a couple places.

Despite his intention to take lots of pictures, he was so busy talking to everybody that I decided to do duty capturing everybody I could, know them or not. (Usually, not. No earthly clue.) Do not assume I didn't have a great time, despite my usually hating crowds of people. There was always a new one or two people to chat with. There was one really odd duck there who I decided after a bit must have (undiagnosed?) Asperger's. The 4-month-old was very cuddly and got passed around to everybody who need their baby fix, including me. Before everybody left, groups were lined up for pictures - all the cousins in a particular generation, or a family. Eventually Steve and I had our turn before the line-up. Of course they waited till the end after wind had blown my hair into a freak show, and where we lined up it came from the direction guaranteed to raise the most hair rather than smooth any down.


About 2/3 of the way into the event, I just had to go open my mouth, wondering aloud to Steve (Yes, I did see him occasionally) just when people were going to start calling this the "first annual" family reunion. Vi, Steve's young half-sister by his dad's 2nd marriage well after Steve was grown and gone, spoke up.She was the one who planned this on the Denver end after Steve suggested it. She found us a park, changed the location after that one got flooded. She announced she'd gotten involved when it was just a "let's get together for lunch on our way through" with Steve, and suddenly he announced there's be 50 attending. The next one would be planned by somebody else!

And so it was, right on the spot. Lee and Joan live in Kersey, just outside Greeley, and have a large yard for parking right next to their front door. Instead of waiting a whole year, let's all do it in April, when Steve and I are on our way back up to Minnesota.

Eventually it was time for hugs good-bye and the long trek back to the cars. It was only 5:00, so Steve decided we'd head down to Pueblo, getting a good start on the next day's drive. I was more let's see how it goes, but Pueblo it was.

Ahhhh, bed!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Day 2: Digging Out the Camera

Yes, things got more interesting visually. We skirted around the eastern side of the Black Hills, avoiding traffic slowdowns, and still found several occasions to pull over and shoot. Stream beds, even if dry despite melting snow and another 3" of rain a few days earlier, sported meandering rows of yellowing cottonwoods, or occasionally one lone sentinel tree. Different variations on that theme caused several delays. With less than 400 miles planned, there was plenty of time.

While I happened to see a few more dead cows, I neglected to point them out to Steve. They were few enough to overlook if your attention was elsewhere, and he'd been upset enough with the carcasses of the previous day.

Our route took us through Hot Springs, most noted by us as having a great back lot behind a closed business for the dogs to get a little practice in leg lifting. At some unmarked spot we crossed into Wyoming. Steve and I both looked at the terrain and decided this was perfect country to spot pronghorns. Within two miles we were proved right. It was too quickly upon us to stop the car safely and without startling them, so I pulled over another quarter mile up the road and circled back as traffic allowed, this time to slowly pick the perfect shooting vantage point on the wide shoulder. This particular grouping contained three, and we shot at length.

Shortly thereafter we spotted over a dozen, then a pair, then over 25, and on and on. There were easily over a hundred spotted in about an hour. None of the others were any place where good shots might be had, so we just appreciated them as we passed. One of the nicest herds was on a field inside the city of Lusk, just past the Port of Entry. We figured there must have been no shooting allowed in city limits and they felt safe there, just far enough back from the road to be left alone.

Coming over one rise in the road, suddenly there were real honest mountains in front of us. We had been close, but the long hills blocked our view until then. Steve dug out the map (it was my turn driving) and identified them as the Laramie range, with the significantly tallest one being Mt. Laramie. There was no good spot to grab a shot, and before we got much closer, we hooked up with our freeway and were heading south, leaving them behind.

My original thought for that night had been to stay in Estes Park, with a quick duck into Rocky Mountain National Park before heading into Denver the next day. The flooding changed all that. I got over (most of) my disappointment a month earlier, and the government shutdown proved no further inconvenience on that particular score. So maybe Loveland instead?

We had the 1-800 number for Super 8 with us, and Steve started by asking if there in fact was a Super 8 in Loveland. She couldn't understand him until after he spelled it out the 2nd time. Did he want to make a reservation? And they had this deal whereby we could save $30 on our next reservation. (Sound familiar, you regular readers of this blog?) As we were still moving, but planning to stop at the next McDonalds we found, he just told her we'd call back later.

This time I made the call, only to be greeted by a super chippy voice like the guy who does the Movie Phone recordings on steroids insisting everything connected with this call and their company was WONDERFUL!!! I'm not even sure what he actually said because I was recoiling from the attitude. When the sweet young thing finally answered the call in person, asking how she could help, I suggested the first thing they could do was rerecord the intro and take it down a peg. There was a pause, after which she asked again what she could do for me. At least I'm pretty sure that's what she said. The accent was pretty thick. Hmmm, overseas call center, maybe? I asked her whether she understood anything of what I had just said to her? Apparently I was off the standard script, because her only response was to ask if I wanted to make a reservation. I didn't think we were communicating very well. I asked her what country she was located in. She was in the call center. Yes, but what country was it in? Up to this point I was just curious, and still willing to try to work with her, difficult as it was. That is, until she started spouting some baloney about not being allowed to disclose that information for security reasons.

Security reasons?

So... what? If I find out she's in, say, India or Pakistan, and that somehow ticks me off because she's not American, I'm going to come over there and search through the whole country for her? The ridiculousness of that excuse does in fact annoy me, enough so that I decide my best course of action is to just hang up on her because there obviously can be no meaningful communication here.

I did have a Plan B, but it just wasn't going to be free. Dial 411, and get the specific number for the Super 8 I wanted to talk to. Once connected, I found out what in retrospect was obvious: they were fully booked. Of course: construction crews, displaced canyon residents, cleanup crews, all needed places to stay. I'd be surprised if there was a room open in the whole town.

So we went to Plan C: drive into Colorado about 40 miles or so and stop and ask at the next Super 8 we found. Or possibly the next after that. We wound up in Fort Collins. Nice room, tired travelers, lots of sleep. Didn't even use the free WiFi. Slept in, even.


Friday, October 11, 2013

Day 1: Who the Hells Cares Where's Wall Drug?

Well, actually, we kinda do. We're in a nice Super 8 about 4 blocks away. After 600 miles driving, it seemed a good place to quit for the night, unwind, and be familiar enough with the TV to find "Blue Bloods" in a timely manner.

Theme for the day: WINDY. I think we circled most of a strong high pressure area. Or it circled us. The winds changed from southeast to south to southwest to west to northwest to, finally, north. Brrr! And yes, there's still snow in patches from that monster blizzard that hit here last week. The other holdover from then is clumping of dead cattle along the last 20 miles or so. It is unexpectedly cheering to see scatterings of live ones grazing here and there.

Going back to the winds, the first time I stepped out of the car, with just the first foot, the door slammed back on my leg.  I should be used to that, as this car has doors which fail to "lock" in the open position, and a slight upward slope when parked will let them swing shut without any help. A headwind has the same effect. Everywhere we were today, the wind was a headwind. By afternoon, it was so steadily strong that Steve wound up holding my door open long enough for me to get in again. I sometimes found it impossible to hold it with even two arms long enough to sit and pop the second leg in by myself. Steve then managed to go around to his door and get himself in without assistance.

The rest of the trip has been smooth.

The car got packed last night with Paul's help. It started with Steve's new scooter getting getting put in its component parts: platform with folded down steering column, front basket, rear basket, seat, 2 arms, 2 batteries, battery casing, ans rear wheel section. Oh yeah, almost forgot the charger. No, really, it was left on the ground plugged into the extension cord until I spotted it, unplugged it, and set it behind the passenger seat. To be suitable impressed, first understand that he got the BIG scooter, then recognize that it had to fit in what was left in the hatchback with the larger part of the 60/40 folding back seat reserved as seating for the dogs, and finally, find spaces for two carry-ons, a case of water bottles, two bags of Brisk bottles, a box of apples, trip foods for us and dogs, plus dog dishes, a laptop bag, a camera bag (Steves. Mine both fit in my carry-on.), and all the tools Paul needed in the car for doing the first wall of bookshelves in the den for us. Said tools included a chop saw. The two jackets just got tossed on the top of everything else prior to locking the car up. I'm not counting maps, purse, napkins, ibuprofin bottle, sunglasses, pens, and miscellaneous smaller items as they fit in door pockets and little nooks and crannies built into the car.

The dogs have been well-behaved. A few short walks on leash next to trees, a drink of water mid-trip, a generous supply of Milk Bones as bribes to retake their cushy seat with a quilt over it, and they're good.

Weather started good, aside from ever-increasing wind, mostly a blend of sun and clouds. Half an hour's downpour did a splendid job of soaking the previous day's collection of windshield bugs for easy removal without leaving the car. The scenery hasn't been much to blog about, though there has been one mystery crop in the fields which neither of us recognized. It's about half the height of corn, total, and the lower part of the plants somewhat resemble corn without ears. The top is a fat seed spike, green before maturity, a lovely reddish brown after. Every so often a taller seed spike pokes above the rest.

Blackbirds are beginning to flock, particularly around sunflower fields. Corn stalks have been rolled up like hay littering fields. Combines raise huge clouds of soybean dust. Fall colors mostly mean tan, brown and black down here, making me miss our local abundance of sumacs and maples.

But tomorrow the terrain becomes vertical. We'll pass lots of great places to see, with plenty of time to see them before we're due in Denver.

Of course, most of them will be closed. Unless, while we've been traveling with no radio on, the government shutdown has ended. I don't know about you, but I'm holding my breath. It'll all end in the next 3 minutes, right?