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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!”


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.

it would have been easier

April 27th, 2010 by

Read my sweetie’s post, below, and you’ll understand.  It would have been easier to buy a house.  That was how I started when we decided to chuck it all, retire early, and move to a place where land is measured in acres, not square feet.

After all, I said then, my needs are simple: I want lots of big windows, so the sun streams in and opens up the house.  I want openness, spaciousness, a feeling of clean, clear and easy.  At the same time, I want privacy, so everyone in the neighborhood isn’t looking in those big windows and watching what we do.  (We have a neighbor now who is a wonderful neighborhood-watch kind of person, always knows what’s going on, but on the other hand I’m not sure I want anyone to know EVERYTHING I do.)

Kevin had already begun to influence my architectural appreciation, and I agreed modern would be good.  So of course we’ll find a nice, existing, modern house with clean lines and the conveniences we want–like zoned HVAC, double-paned windows that keep the heat out in the summer and the cold in the winter, a nook in the kitchen for my espresso machine.  Of course.

Well, I love Eichler’s courtyards, and Neutra’s off-kilter sense of style, and I’m a big fan of Frank Gehry’s studied weirdness.  But they don’t have houses for sale in a warm place at a reasonable price that aren’t also in great need of …a little love… and a hammer and nails.

So we started looking into affordable ways to “build,” at first, particularly prefab.

prefab house

One of Marmol Radnizer's prefab homes, from the Skyline series.

And while they were affordable (if built near the factory), and interesting to look at, and had the windows and clean lines, we still had the land issue; building near where they are tended to mean paying through the nose (ouch) for the land on which to put the house.

Believe me, we had some animated, painful, lively, difficult discussions.  I kept insisting we should buy an existing house–that didn’t, so far as we’d seen yet, seem to exist–and Kevin kept insisting we should build.

But it’s cheaper to buy!  I’d say.  Buy what? asked Kevin.  Something we can’t stand to live in?

I hate it when he’s right.

why build? aren’t there enough houses already?

April 26th, 2010 by

The “why build?” question is one that often comes up in semi-polite company, usually delivered in conjunction with a look that says “Aren’t they cute? They think they can actually do this without killing each other.”

Invariably, our potential house building discussion partner suddenly finds that he has to help the hostess vacuum the dog or put the sushi in the oven. I suppose it’s fair that the thought of building a house sends most people running for the (already fully-developed and subdivided) hills. The thought of designing, coordinating, managing, permitting, insuring, funding, financing, acquiring, and being held liable, responsible, inspectable, culpable, and certifiable—for some reason—seems to intimidate most people.

Houses for saleTherefore, in order to find a place to live the aforementioned “most people” generally gravitate to structures where others—anonymous builders and designers—have run the gauntlet described above, and have emerged with an inventory of houses placed into an inventory of subdivisions that conform nicely with other subdivisions approved by a county and governed by a State. Sadly—in my admittedly skewed opinion—what comes out the other side is a clusterclump of simulhouse-clones that are designed and constructed to look as if they are about to encounter the late 1800s. Hence the pseudo-shutters that are nailed—open, of course— to the side of the house, and the oh-so-handy faux hay-loft door perched above the modern three-car garage complete with a genuine reproduction wrought iron rooster wind-vane on its genuine reproduction cupola.