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Archive for September, 2010

billboards

September 26th, 2010 by

As we drove across the U.S., covering darn near every inch of Interstate 40 from California to North Carolina, we entertained ourselves (when we weren’t talking to the cats) in whatever ways were available.  Sometimes all it took was looking out the windshield and paying attention to the signs passing us by.  If you’ve ever undertaken a ginormous road trip, and driven for long hours at a stretch day after day, you’ll understand why some of these made us buck and snort (see a reference below to a small town in Tennessee famous for its wildly muscled, heavily gyrating professional athletes).  Kevin threatened to undertake the challenge of dining at the first place bulleted below, which is apparently famous for offering a huge meal for free if you can eat it all in an hour and a half.  As it turned out, he wasn’t hungry when we drove by.

These are listed in no particular order, other than grouping them by what seem like common topics.

  • 72ounce steak—FREE FREE FREE (in my delirium, I thought it said FLEE FLEE FLEE).  Warning: clicking on the link to this fine dining establishment will produce musical accompaniment your boss or cubicle-mate may not enjoy.
  • Clean restrooms!  Large clean restrooms!  (we looked at each other and wondered aloud about the lack of any other selling point for a place to stop)

For spiritual inspiration:

  • check out the Texas Catholic Superstore (interesting that the link to the site does not have a .org suffix; making a profit off Jesus?)

..and remember that

  • Jesus Christ is not a swear word (we saw this, in big letters, on the side of a truck)

and when you’re hungry, don’t forget to

  • Come get a Heavenly Burger!  (on the sign for a bible store/Baptist restaurant)The Roadkill Cafe, Seligman, AZ

…of course, if one were not inclined toward God’s food, one could also eat at the Road Kill Café in New Mexico

In the mood to buy?  For sale, we saw:

  • Quilts 9 – 5, RVs Welcome (on the side of a barn)
  • and a few choice lots in Hawg Lake, just call the realtor
  • Perhaps our favorite sign combo,  toward the end of our trip, just before entering Tennessee:  in big bold letters, Guns! right next to Bootlegger’s Discount Liquor and Wine; the two always go great together

Welcome to our state!  Now behave:

In Oklahoma, the welcome sign read:  home of Roger Miller, King of the Road (does anybody still remember that song?)

Then, entering Arkansas:

  • A Warm Welcome to Arkansas, the Natural State

closely followed by

  • Speed Limit Laws Strictly Enforced, No Tolerance.

In other words, we’re glad to see ya, now slow the f**k down (we saw a lot of tolerant drivers in the Natural State).

Some enticing parks and their scenic sites:

  • Pig Trail Scenic Byway (we are, emphatically, not making these up; I include links here for the skeptical) in the Ozark National Forest
  • Toad Suck Park, in AR
  • Mouse Tail Landing outside Memphis in a Tennessee state park.  According to the TN state parks’ website, the name comes from mice turning tail when a tannery burned on the site during the Civil War.
  • Frozen Head State Park outside Knoxville; named, perchance, for a cryogenics experiment gone awry?  No, it has more to do with a natural formation than something unnatural.

A Town Name that made us laugh out loud:

Bucksnort TN (perhaps named before there was a written language so as to describe it phonetically).  Wikipedia tells us Bucksnort is the home of two or three professional wrestlers, including Dirty White Boy and Bunkhouse Buck.

keep on truckin’

September 21st, 2010 by

Most guys about to have their 50th birthday get the Porsche. I’m just a little different. First off, with a couple seasons of racing Formula Mazdas under my belt, and having owned one of the first Dinan supercharged M3s for 12 years, the sports car thing is fun, but not essential. (No, honey, this does not mean that I no longer want the Aston Martin, and my birthday is coming up…)

I was so much slower then; I'm faster than that now.

Second, I never have to worry about convincing my wife that we should have a sports car. Evidence? Kevin’s car = a practical, comfortable five-passenger station wagon. Laura’s car = bright red two-seater convertible sports car. See? The girl likes to go fast. One test drive in the Aston Martin and it’ll be a done deal. (Hmm, I wonder if she’ll read this?)

Third, Fred is going to have a studio. The studio will be for furniture design, photography and other artistic pursuits. It will have tools; the big and heavy kind, and it will need to be fed a steady diet of wood, metal and money. (Nah, I’m pretty sure she doesn’t read these…) In order to assist in the care and feeding of the studio, I need a method of conveying the above staples of studio-existence.

In short: I need a truck.

Of course, what with me being me and all, not just any truck will do. I need a special truck. I know this, because whenever I tell Laura I need a truck, she just looks at me and says “Now isn’t that special?”

I learn a lot from her.

You see, a pickup truck won’t do, because I need to convey things, like woodworking machinery, that are too heavy for most pickup trucks. And sheets of plywood, MDF, OSB, and other similarly three-initialed voluminous items that are too large to fit in the bed of a pickup truck.

“Well, how about a van?” you say. (I’m pretty sure I heard one of you say that…) Well, that’s a little better, but we still have a weight and size issue. (No, with the van smart asses, and I’m dieting, OK?!) Anyway, a van wouldn’t do the trick either.

So we then move up the truck food chain to a box van, technically known in the truckbiz as a cutaway van. Heavier load capacity, and adequate size. Should do the trick, right?

Well, honestly… Yes. And so I’ve been looking for one. The problem I’ve encountered is that finding a good one is tough. Really tough. On the other hand, crappy ones are plentiful. What is crappy? Ones that have over 100k miles, no cruise control or power-anything, and have been used as rental vehicles until their transmissions, engines, springs, shocks and rear-ends are as reliable as a BP-owned offshore oil rig or a NorCal gas main. Lots of them also have rust issues. All in all, not so good.

A few months ago, I found a good one-owner Ford diesel box van, complete with the essential hydraulic liftgate, in Pennsylvania, but one day before I was scheduled to fly out and buy it, the dealership sold it out from under me. That really sucked, and I vowed to not let that happen again if I ever found another truck of similar quality.

And so I looked, and looked. And then looked some more. If anyone needs a good, cross-indexed set of search parameters and terms for finding a used box van, feel free to write to me; I got ya’ covered.

My new baby

Big wheels keep on turnin'

And then it happened: I found a truck. Of course, as these things tend to happen, it wasn’t a box van at all, but rather the big brother of a box van, known as a ‘medium-duty’ truck. There it was, right on the home page of commercialtrucktrader.com. (I’m kind of surprised you didn’t notice it there yourself; it was right on the front page. Geez!)

A 2004 Chevrolet Kodiak C4500 8.1L V8 gasoline-fueled 19,000lb GVW not-so-little piece of truck heaven.

And, most appealing to me: It was weird. Waaay weird. It’s a Hollywood film truck, hence the LA location and my rebound trip right back to the West Coast just two weeks after leaving it.

In Hollywood, the major studios and their vendors all use big, five-ton capacity trucks to move around all the paraphernalia that it takes to make a movie. They are big and white and shiny, driven by teamsters, with all kinds of diamond-plate aluminum and polished wheels and lower box compartments to store stuff in. If you’ve ever stumbled across a production site for a movie or TV show, you’ve seen them before. They’re really large, really fancy, and really expensive.

Well, it turns out that there was a celebrity photographer in LA that was enamored with these trucks — and he needed a truck — so he went out and had a baby version of a five-ton movie truck made, with only a twelve-foot long box, but with all the same fancy fixins’ that the big trucks have, including a 2,200lb capacity, dual-hydraulic-ram liftgate at the rear. Up front, it’s got A/C, CD stereo, power doors and windows, cruise control and a bunch of other stuff that you might not expect to find on a big heavy work truck.

Once he got this truck, he went to load it, and found out that he really needed one that was 14ft long, not 12ft — talk about a big “Oops!” — so he sold it, with a whopping 4,000 miles on it, to a prop company that was located on the Paramount lot and used it to do deliveries… to production companies that were, for the most part, also on the Paramount lot.

It made a few road trips, but now in 2010, the truck has a whopping… 24,000 miles on it.

And now, as I type this while waiting for take-off in Nashville on the return leg of my journey, the pink slip is in my pocket and that sucker is mine!

Stay tuned for future episodes of ‘Pimp my Truck’. I’ve got big plans for it; I think I’ll get a license plate frame for the back that says:

“My other car fits inside this car!”

well, that was easy…

September 21st, 2010 by

Almost.

Whew! OK, not easy exactly, but we’ve finally done it. After all variety of crises, including medical, transportation, realty, mechanical et al, we have finally managed to free ourselves from the gravitational field of the West Coast and make it to North Carolina!

Granted, I’m writing this while sitting on a plane that is flying to Los Angeles, but let’s not let that factoid sully our victory lap, OK? There is a perfectly good reason for my rapid return: I have to go see a man about a truck. We’ll let you know how that one turns out in another post.

But back to the festivities at hand; we survived — and dare I say even enjoyed — our epic RV-based cat-conveying trek across the heartland. (By the way, if the Midwest and Central states are “the heartland”, then what are the coasts? Do we now live in “the spleenland”? Feel free to discuss among yourselves.)

Luckily, our latest delay allowed us to find a great guy named Steve who is a professional driver. He brought the RV to us from North Carolina, so we did not need to do the two-way shuttle of the land yacht that we had planned previously. With the benefit of hindsight, let’s just say that Steve’s contribution was much appreciated. 3,000 miles of I-40ness was quite enough for us in one sitting.

My lovely bride is a truckin’ mama at heart, and was a tremendous help with the driving, navigation and RV park coordination for the whole trip. (Well, the “shortcut” through Pigeon Forge might have been a bit of a reach, but we’ll just chalk that up to an exploration of cultural diversity and leave it at that…) She’s the best, and I’ve almost got her convinced that we could be a husband/wife over-the-road team as our second career should Fred experience major cost overruns.

Almost.

Our most precious cargo tolerated the eastward journey very well. We ended up putting them (and us) in a hotel for the two days that the movers did their thing in California. Once the house was stripped bare, we transferred them to the RV and set off. The RV had a bench seat along its right side that held all of the fellas’ carriers very nicely, and allowed us to keep an eye on them as we rolled down the highway. Gus stayed true to character, which means that he carried on a fairly consistent monologue of commentary on matters of the day, laced with a protestation every once in awhile when he felt that the radio was too loud, the road too bumpy, or the road noise too voluminous. Gus likes to talk. I have no idea where he gets that from.

George was unruffled, as expected, with the added benefit that it seems the RV does not make him carsick. (I suppose that would technically be RVsick, no?) In any event, he wasn’t, and that was a pleasant and welcome surprise, as it’s the first time in our memories that his long-haired Maine Coon-ness hasn’t required a BP offshore-esque clean-up effort after transport.

The guy that we were most worried about was my buddy Jack, who possesses nerves of zinc. Amazingly, he was actually pretty calm throughout the trip. Granted, when faced with a new environment, he still proceeded with great caution, complete with lowered tail and ground-hugging abdominal region, hence his new nickname: Abraham Slinkin. In every case though, he recovered from slinkinmoden (I think that’s the German term for his disorder) within an hour or so and avoided the quivering fear-induced paralysis from which he has previously suffered.

The RV itself was surprisingly easy to drive, given that it’s 31 feet in length and sprung like a ten-year-old mattress at a Motel 6. Other than one mechanical scare that came about ten yards into the journey — it stalled going down our 14% grade street and therefore lost both power brakes and steering — its performance was flawless throughout the trip. It almost got us thinking about buying one.

Almost.

Now onto the task of making our last ever rental house a home. As we enter the close of the ‘pre-Fred’ era, I feel closer than ever to our loving and somewhat furry family. As the spare tire cover on the jeep that we saw for three consecutive days of our trip so aptly said:

Life is good.

cats on a cool screened porch

September 18th, 2010 by

Two cats on the porchWe (well, really I) were so worried they’d have trouble adjusting to a 3,000 mile move to a new house that we 1) rented an RV to move them in, so they wouldn’t be freaked out by airports and changing planes; 2) found someone, namely a friend of my good friend Lin, to drive the RV here from North Carolina for us; 3) spent nearly a week in said RV with them as we drove it from Castro Valley, CA to Chapel Hill, NC, with all the hilarity and close-quarters messiness you can imagine that would provide, and 4) rented hotel rooms at both ends of the trip so as to be certain they wouldn’t escape and be lost to us as we loaded up our belongings into an enormous truck and then unloaded them at the other end.

SO……….here they are, or two of them at least, looking really scared, right?  Right.  Chillin’ on the porch, watching the birds and deer that float by outside.  Sniffing the interesting-smelling air of a promising North Carolina morning.  Gus and George, right to left, cool as cucumber cats, posing for pictures.

Now all we have to do is find some land and build a house.

first stop: needles

September 9th, 2010 by

Leaving was tough.  Not so much because we didn’t want to go to North Carolina, more because taking off in an RV with three cats was fraught with uncertainty.  And, as if to reinforce that uncertainty, the RV stalled as we pulled away from the house we were leaving.

I think we were both on tenterhooks all that first day, driving 525 miles from Castro Valley to Needles CA.  Constantly checking on the guys, making sure they weren’t dying from dehydration or fear or catching their claws in the carrier doors.  We’d gotten a late start, and by the time we got to the Palms RV Resort it was nearly midnight.

The place was a little odd, really; part RV park, part subdivision, part mobile home park (as in the kind tornadoes inevitably hit).  And when I got up to shower the next morning, it looked like a scene from a zombie movie; no humans in sight, no sign of life but one maintenance guy in a golf cart zooming slowly by.

Why do they call it Needles?  Could be because the temperature there moves the needle high on a regular basis—triple digits aren’t unusual for Needles.  Maybe it’s all the desert vegetation that has spiky green pointy things instead of leaves.  Maybe it’s because to live there you’d need IV medication.

More likely it’s the mountains—one of which is called Needle Mountain—that look like deep red spikes spearing the sky nearby.

It was our first stop, and the spookiest and strangest.  Things got better from there.  (Fred looks happy to be leaving.)

Fred D. Bear leaves Needles, CA

Fred D. Bear leaves Needles, CA

insularity

September 7th, 2010 by

Somehow, when we planned to move 3,000 miles from one coast nearly to another, and to rent an RV to get our cats from the old home to the new, losing touch with the outer world wasn’t one of the things I thought about.

But when you’ve lived in tech central for more than a decade, it doesn’t occur to you that large swathes of the U.S. don’t even have reliable cellphone service, let alone 3G or wi-fi. That even getting a radio station to stay available for more than a few minutes as you drive 70 mph on I-40 through Arizona or New Mexico would be a real challenge.

Or that having your world sharply focused on a few cubic feet of living space containing your whole family (one other person and three cats) would narrow your mental field of vision to a tiny point.

But that’s what happened.

There could have been a nuclear war, and as long as the few towns along I-40 weren’t affected we wouldn’t have known.

And, for the record, there are few towns along I-40, at least in the Western and Central parts of the U.S. A couple major cities and many, many truckstops (for which I have a new appreciation, more on that in a later post), but not much else in the way of settled towns.

We saw billboards for guns, knives and Jesus and park signs for Mouse Tail Landing and Frog Suck Park…stayed in RV parks named for Smoky Bear and a river through a desert. We met people who were home-schooling their kids in an RV and people drinking moonshine by Tennessee moonlight.

We saw landscapes that boggled the imagination, beauty you couldn’t dream up…stark desert-scapes and mesas, sheer red rock cliffs and broad sparkling rivers. I learned that Arkansas is filled with gorgeous scenery and New Mexico is even more wonderful than we already thought. And that the cows in Oklahoma get lighter as you head east.

There will be particular posts here on each of our stops and some of our adventures, and photos of our mascot, Fred the bear, in relevant poses. As I write this we are still waiting for our furniture to arrive here in North Carolina, but our lives here are beginning; we got our cars today.