Friday, September 30, 2005

It's been a long week

It’s finally Friday, and Freaky Friday at that!

Thanks to Karyn I have TWO reasons to look forward to the end of the work week. I always wonder what body part(s), fetish(es), or intimate act(s) she’ll describe in great detail THIS weekend.

But I do wish she’d drop the habit of using musical references to lead into her Freaky topics, though. Why? Well, now every time I hear CCR sing, “Lookin’ Out My Back Door” it has a whole different meaning to me.

(Just kidding, Karyn!)

I think it’s also time to express my disappointment in the extremely clever and talented T. of Virginia Beach, who promised to at least make an effort to post regularly to her blog. At first I thought she’d follow through. She put up several entertaining pieces, one of which garnered some 11 comments and stirred up a good controversy. But alas, she has fallen back into her old, bad habit of procrastination.

I tried threats. I tried encouragement. Now I guess I’ll see if disappointment will spur her into action.

I’m not particularly sanguine about the prospects of her changing, however. Psychologist Dr. Morris Massey wrote that after the age of about 12 it takes a “significant emotional event” to bring about a change in a person’s core values. Somehow I doubt that my disappointment will qualify as either “significant” or “emotional,” and MAY not even be considered an “event.”

(That’s kinda like the old Army joke about “MREs,” which are “Meals Ready to Eat,” a statement known as “three lies in one short sentence.”)

All of that said, I’m looking forward to a weekend with no travel plans and no approaching hurricane to flee.

This will be the first such weekend for us since we left on vacation on September 1, and today is September 30.

That, plus a Freaky Friday read from Karyn, and maybe, if I get REAL lucky, a blog post from T.

Wow. Life will be good!

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Cold front!

Oh, yeah! Big news in Victoria, TX. Our cold (cool) front arrived. Right now (6:16 p.m.) my outside thermometer (on the patio in the shade) reads only 86 degrees! Gee, yesterday at this time it was 96.

The Weather Channel says it might get as low as 60 tonight, but it’ll be back up in the low 90s tomorrow.

Oh, well. I’ll revel in the 60s temperature when I leave the house tomorrow to get in my car for the commute to work. It’s a promise of better, cooler times ahead.

New topic:

Today I spent $425 to have a new catalytic converter put on my van. The old one was rattling badly as though it was ready to fall off. The shop mechanic, a man I’ve been taking my vehicles to for years because I trust him, told me it was completely plugged and was really eating into my gas mileage.

Nice to know, just after returning from a 3000+ mile driving trip pulling a trailer! With gas at record high prices!

The darn van also has some vacuum issues. Symptoms? Well, the air conditioning blows out of whatever vent it happens to favor at the moment. It might be the floor, the dash, or the defrost vents. Or it might be all of the above at once, and sometimes it’s two of the above.

Of course, if you don’t like the vents it has chosen, don’t worry. It’ll soon change to some other vent combination without warning.

My friendly honest mechanic said he checked with the Dodge dealer and was sold a little $7.00 doohickey (that’s a mechanical technical term, for you mechanically challenged readers) that was suppose to fix vacuum problems on these Dodge vans “every time!”

Evidently my van is a pace-setter, because it is now the first of its kind on record to reject the doohickey fix. I hadn’t driven ½ mile from the shop before the cold air was blowing on my feet, and then switched all by itself up to the defrost vents. I turned the van around and went back.

Ed, my mechanic, shook his head and clucked. “John,” he said with a rueful look, “The only other thing I know to do is replace the controller assembly.” (That’s the part of the dashboard panel with all the little buttons and selectors for “Heat” and “A/C” and “Normal” and “Max,” and includes the four-speed blower selector.)

He went on, “I’m awful sorry, because the dealers are REAL proud of those suckers.”

Sounds like another $200-$300. Just what I need while I’m mortgaging the house to pay the gasoline bills for our vacation trip.

But at least the catalytic converter is fixed, so my future rate if gasoline indebtedness might not be quite so rapid.

I’m planning to take this van on our family ski trip next February. Gotta get it in good shape before that!

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Ho, hum. Another day, another record high.

Yeah, yeah, I know. Quit griping about the weather, right? If you can’t DO anything about something, why waste your energy complaining about it?

Because it’s HOT!

OK, OK! Different topic...

My return to work, interrupted by some extra time off courtesy of Rita, was smoother than I had expected. This time (first time ever, I think) I did enough routine stuff in advance before the vacation that there wasn’t a pile of it waiting for me when I returned. Plus I was able to check emails several times a week, and even answer some of them. That was courtesy of all the unsecured wifi sites out there everywhere we went, allowing me to go online almost at will.

My thanks to all of those across the country who don’t turn on the security measures on their wireless routers and modems!

Anyway, I was back for one full day last week before we shut down for Rita (and part of that day was spent preparing for her). This week I have caught up on all the invoicing and reports waiting for me, dealt with the questions people were waiting to ask until I got back, and got most of the way through my paper inbox. All in just three days this week.

Tomorrow I’ll miss some more time attending the Workforce Center board meeting (and one committee meeting), but I’m pretty much back in the groove again.

Now Greg, don’t get the wrong idea. All that was due to good management and solid preparation. It was not an indication that I’m not needed there full time!

One thing I’ve got to deal with is our hurricane manual and policies.

What? Yes, we have a manual of policies and procedures just for hurricanes. We try to state just what we’ll do in the event of storms of varying strengths.

Our events are timed with relation to the forecast arrival of hurricane strength winds. For example, H72 is 72 hours before the hurricane force winds are expected at our plant (not necessarily landfall of the eye). At H72 we begin securing all loose items, and a decision is made whether or not to shut down our production units. There are lists of duties at H48, H36, H24, H12, and H4. H4 is when the plant is staffed with a minimal volunteer crew, the gates are locked, and we hunker down and see what damage we get.

Well, this year was different! At H72 the local counties were already declaring a “mandatory evacuation.” None of our employees wanted to hang around to shut the plant down. But they did, and as time passed and the forecasts changed, more and more of them decided to stay in the area. Had the storm kept coming at us it would have been very different.

Local officials tell us that given all the problems they had, in future situations they may evacuate even earlier! This will require us to re-think all of our arrangements. Our people have to have enough time to board up (if appropriate) and get out, PLUS we need to get the plant safely shut down.

Many are unhappy that they couldn’t just take their families and go when the first evacuation was announced. Others are unhappy that the volunteer hurricane crew (who gets paid double-time wages while on hunker-down duty until relieved) made so much money even though the storm didn’t hit here. Of course, the unhappy ones didn’t want to volunteer until it was clear that the storm was headed elsewhere.

Being an HR manager is fun. Sometimes. This next week or two may NOT be one of those times.

Plus, it’s HOT! Which doesn’t help.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

What’s with the heat??

Every day of the last five has set a new record for the high temperature in Victoria, TX, and always in triple digits.

Doesn’t Mother nature realize this is the last week in September? In four more days it will be October, for crying out loud! That’s Autumn! It’s time for cool fronts and windbreakers. Golf should be played this time of year in long pants and sweaters. But we’re suffering in shorts and tees.

Thinking back (but not very far – as Carol will tell you my memory is suspect for any time much past 15 minutes ago), it seems as though it was all the way back in May of this year that I created my now-standard joke about the “Hades Index” and wrote my poem about finding Satan vacationing in Texas, but deciding to go home where it would be cooler!

(I’m still proud of that poem and of the Hades Index idea. If you missed it I’ll be happy to run a reprise!)

This area was supposed to get a “cool front” on Thursday to bring the daily highs all the way down to the LOW 90s (Woo-Hoo!!), but now the forecasters are saying it might stall out before it reaches us. Wonderful.

So, Robin, or Hamel, or Katie B., or even you, Mike, please send us some of your cool weather down to South Texas. We NEED it!

Oh, and one more brief note on yesterday’s post about my stolen identity...

Nankin, the same thought DID occur to me yesterday, and yes, I DID call Discover Fraud Prevention back using the 1-800-DISCOVER phone number that’s guaranteed to be the real deal. I confirmed that it WAS them that called and not some scammer.

Good thought, though. Thanks!

Monday, September 26, 2005

All better now!

Thank you all for your comments of concern and emails about my fever. It’s gone.

I have no idea what that was all about, but it was roughly 48 hours of just not quite feeling up to par, no energy, little strength, no list (listless).

So, today you should expect one of my typically brilliant posts about something humorous and entertaining, right? Right! So, here we go...

Our phone rang this morning.

“Hello, this is Joshua calling from Discover Card fraud prevention. May I please speak with Mr. or Mrs. Earle?”

“This is Mr. Earle.”

(Then we went through the identification questions and answers such as date of birth, mother’s maiden name, and so on.)

“Yes, Mr. Earle. We’re investigating some recent purchases on your Discover card which may have been fraudulent. Did you or your wife make an online purchase this weekend at for $61.98?”


“How about Sears Internet for $55.43?”


You can see where this was going. A number of purchases were made using MY card number, but each time the user gave a different (incorrect) expiration date. Somebody has got my number!

The upshot of all this was: My account has been terminated, new cards with a new number will be issued within 7 business days, I’m to notify all vendors who charge my discover card for recurring bills (like my local newspaper subscription, my cable internet service, and Netflix) that the account is no longer valid, and so on.

Big hassle! HUGE hassel!

Then I realized... Hey! I’m a victim of identity theft! I’m now a statistic!

I wonder if there’s a book in this somehow? Somebody, call Oprah for me!

Oh, one more unrelated note. I was listening to my favorite oldies station on the way home from work today and heard, among other songs, the Animals’ version of “The House of the Rising Sun.”

Although this is VERY inappropriate and politically INcorrect, it occurred to me that an updated version would go:

”There is no house in New Orleans.” And nothing more.

(We hate you, Katrina!)

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Still too hot!

Our patio thermometer (in the shade) reads 103 degrees. I won’t even try to figure the Hades index, as it clearly well in excess of 100% today.

“Too hot to fish, too hot for golf,” as the song goes. Thank goodness, it’s not “too cold at home.”

That line in the country song makes reference to the singer’s marriage, which is clearly falling apart. Thank God, mine is not. August 30 marked 37 years of wedded bliss for Carol and me. I can’t imagine that I’d survive without her.

I have sung her praises many times on these pages (screens? posts? whatever!) and don’t need to go into all the reasons she is perfect for me again today. But rest assured I never take her for granted!

I really have little to blog about today, so this will be very short. I’m running a low-grade fever (99.6) and feel pretty washed out. It’s just enough that I don’t really want to do much of anything except sit around.

So, that’s what I’ll do.

I’ve spent much of this morning catching up with all my blogroll friends’ posts from the weeks when I was gone on vacation. I sent off another 30 pages to Katie, my critique partner, and I don’t really feel like writing any more right now. Kicking back with a good book sounds just about right.

So that’s what I’ll do.

Check back tomorrow for an update.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

“The Banker and the Man from Prague.”

In this story, an American banker had frequent dealings with associates all over the world, and whenever possible would invite one of them to come to America. Usually the visit would include some uniquely American experience, like wilderness camping in the Northwest, or a visit to a dude ranch.

After several invitations, a man from Prague, Czechoslovakia, came to visit the American banker. It was decided that the two would spend a few days camping in the wilds of central Washington State, in the Bitterroot Mountains.

Once at their campsite, the two erected their tent, set up camp, and broke out their fishing gear to try to catch some supper. They had a spectacular evening, catching half a dozen trout and frying them over an open fire. They saved the remaining fish in a container, and bedded down for the night.

In the middle of the night the banker awoke to the sound of tearing canvas! A pair of Grizzly bears was trying to get to the fish, ripping into their tent. The banker shook his guest to rouse him, then scampered to a tree and climbed as high as he could, panic stricken.

In horror, he heard his guest screaming as one of the bears mauled him, then the banker watched by moonlight as the same bear calmly ate the man from Prague! The bears finally ambled off, but it was not until daylight that the banker found courage to climb down the tree and make his way to his vehicle.

He summoned help by cellular phone. A team of rangers was sent to the campsite with rifles to hunt down the bears, for once a bear tastes human flesh it is likely to repeat its attacks on other campers.

The banker went along as the rangers tracked the animals. A few miles from the campsite they spotted them, moving sluggishly through the forest! As the rangers took aim, the banker whispered emphatically, “It was the male! Shoot the male! The male is the one who ate my friend!” The rangers fired, and the male bear dropped dead as the female took off in terrified flight.

However, after dissecting the bear, the rangers found no trace of human remains and surmised that it must have been the female bear after all!

The moral?


Never trust a banker who tells you “The Czech is in the male!”

(Sorry. It’s a very old one that I just happened upon in a Word file folder and smirked at in memory. Then I thought, “What the heck, maybe ONE of my readers hasn’t seen this, or might smirk in recognition as I did.")

By the way, as Rita dumps rain on "the ArkLaTex," Victoria made it to 102 degrees today. Hades index at about 107%. What little wind we have is now out of the Southwest, coming in from the Mexican deserts.


Friday, September 23, 2005

And there she goes...

The weather today in Victoria, TX was sunny and HOT! The temp. got up to 98; Hades index only about 95% due to a steady northwesterly breeze.

Everything is closed; no banking, no mail delivery, nothing! With Rita headed off towards the Texas-Louisiana border but weakening (right now down to Category 3, 125 mph top winds, but forecast to got to category 2) our prayers are being answered.

I said early-on that I wouldn’t wish that kind of destructive force (like Katrina) on anybody, so while I was praying that MY area would be spared, I was mainly praying for the storm to weaken significantly.


Right now the storm is moving forward (NW) at 12 mph and is about 125-135 miles from the expected landfall spot. Sounds like it’ll hit around 4-6 tomorrow morning unless something changes. I don’t plan to get up early for the event.

Then, all the poor (unfortunate, not impoverished) people who evacuated towards the north will have to try to drive home through heavy rains and wind. What a great weekend.

Victoria may not even get any showers! We could sure use some rain.

But you know, I think I’ll just turn on our lawn sprinklers tomorrow and not complain.

Plus I’ll take Grandma out to lunch on Sunday, if the restaurants are open by then.

Grandma knows best... least, when it comes to hurricane forecasting.

She told us on Wednesday, when the projected track of Hurricane Rita was aimed right at us, that the storm would likely turn farther north than “they” thought and that we’d only get tropical storm force winds out of it, at worst.

This morning, as I sit looking out the kitchen bay window at a sunny sky with almost no air movement, having listened to the Weather Channel’s forecast for this area, Grandma is looking pretty smart.

Our forecast for tomorrow is calling for maximum winds of 30 to 40 mph, showers and thundershowers with a possible accumulation of ¼ inch. Gee, a whole 1/4 inch! I wonder how all those people who boarded up and fled are feeling now.

Despite this town’s (and this county’s for that matter) mandatory evacuation, it’s obvious that many, many people chose to stay just as we did. My home is on a residential side street, and cars are moving past our house fairly regularly. I can’t imagine where they are going, as absolutely no businesses are open on this Friday. And based on the current forecast and outlook, I can’t imagine that they are leaving town.

Speaking of evacuation, I predict that several hundred thousand people from the Houston area will be DEMANDING an improved evacuation plan after that debacle!

I mean, how much intelligence does it take to know that the major interstate arteries out of Houston should be opened with ALL lanes going outbound? With some advance planning, it really would not be all that hard to do.

Over 20 years ago, when we lived in Corpus Christi, the ONLY interstate (I-37) serving that city was opened with all lanes heading OUT, toward San Antonio when a hurricane threatened.

Every year at the start of hurricane season there are countless meetings of emergency management and law enforcement people discussing and formulating evacuation plans. We even have them in little Calhoun County where my plant is. That would be an appropriate venue for this type of planning (to convert major arteries to one-way outbound under certain situations.)

Ah, well. Hindsight is always 20-20.

So at this writing (9:20 a.m.) it’s a beautiful day. It should be quiet, so maybe I’ll get some writing done.

Unless we decide to go play golf.

Oh, and I’ll be setting up a new commercial web site called “,” where the NOAA folks and any others who are interested can, for a fee of course, obtain accurate severe weather forecasting.

I’ll post again later if anything worth letting you know about happens. And Karyn, thanks for the offer of a place to stay, but I think you’ll be feeling more of the effects of Rita than I will.

Want to come to Victoria to escape? We have a guest room, but no pool.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Here Comes Rita!

Reminds me of an old Beatles song, “Lovely Rita, Meter Maid.”

Despite all the urgings of you wonderful readers and commenters, we will likely stay here in Victoria along with Grandma. That decision is looking a lot better as Rita’s projected track veers farther north, now taking aim directly at Galveston Bay.

Every mile farther north will mean a much easier time for Victoria. I don’t wish that kind of destructive force on anybody, but most of all not on ME!

Today we finished buttoning up the plant where I work. Almost literally. All windows are boarded, all processes are shut down and cool, every loose item is tied down, and the volunteer “hurricane crew” is ready to sit out the storm on the plant site. Their function is primarily one of trying to prevent any property damage or environmental “releases.”

The plant sits close to San Antonio Bay at an elevation of 25 feet. If the storm hit right here and the surge was anything like Katrina’s, there would be surf coming through my office. One of our last actions before leaving was to put all computer and electric/electronic gear up on tables and cover itwith plastic sheeting.

Kinda gets your attention.

This afternoon there are still no effects being felt locally. In fact, Victoria has had record high temperatures for the last two days (101). The sun is shining brightly with little breeze. It makes me think of the time before satellites and airborne hurricane hunters, when a storm of this magnitude could strike with almost no warning. Scary.

Both of my daughters called me this morning, urging us to pack up grandma and get out. But they know their grandma and understand the difficulty (impossibility?) of convincing her to go, short of brute force.

I told them that if the storm changes path again and looks as if it might hit close to here, I MAY just physically carry her out of the apartment, place her in the van, and drive west. She might disown me from being her son-in-law, but it might save her life.

The trouble is, we have no fears in Victoria of storm surge or real (dangerous) flooding. The biggest threat is either extreme hurricane winds or tornadoes. I maintain that there IS no real defense against a tornado, and they can hit anywhere, even in the “outer bands” of a hurricane.

And Grandma is convinced the winds won't be that bad here. So, our FINAL decision remains to be made, but as of now we’ll likely be staying.

Yes, I’ll let you know all about it at some point. I may be without power (best case) for a while. I may be without a home (very bad case) for a while. But not for a few days yet.

Tomorrow we still won’t see much in the way of stormy weather until late in the day. In fact, if the city wasn't under a mandatory evacuation and I thought we could get away with it, we could likely go over to the municipal golf course in the morning and play. However, I fear that the few remaining law enforcement people in town might frown upon that as frivolity, so I’ll likely forbear.

The latest estimates are for the winds to begin to rise and possible rain showers to come in late Friday, with landfall of the eye sometime early Saturday morning.

Check out this blog tomorrow for updates on our status!

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Long time between posts

Sunday, our last day in Chicago, was again beautiful. Bright sun, few clouds, a gentle breeze — in short, a great day to be outdoors.

So that’s where we spent the day. We strolled the park, walked about 6 miles down the lakefront to Soldiers’ Field (the Bears played Detroit, but we didn’t attend) and out to the planetarium. We had lunch and strolled back to Amy’s apartment on the Chicago river.

Later in the afternoon we ventured out again, this time to take a 90-minute tour on a river boat. This was put on by the “Chicago Architecture Society,” and very interesting. The best part was we got to sit the whole time!

One episode of interest involved a young woman sitting just beside Amy drinking a Corona beer from the bottle. For some reason (an insect?) she flinched her beer hand up toward her ear and sprayed the lady behind her with a liberal dousing of Corona. I don’t think the recipient of the dousing was a big fan of Mexican beer. At least, not all over her hair and blouse.

They didn’t come to blows, but neither did the young wench offer much of an apology (which I thought was very unmannerly of her).

We ate dinner at a Chipotle’s (which Amy tells me is owned by McDonalds) and had a really excellent and huge burrito that included rice, black beans, steak cubes, salsa, sour cream, and guacamole. Yum!

Then it was time for Amy to drive us back to our camper. Kenju’s fears were unfounded: it was still there, right where we had left it.

We awoke during the night to hear rain beating on the roof, and the next morning there was thunder, lightning and a downpour. Despite the weather we managed to get the camper put down, disconnected from the water and electricity of the campground, and hooked onto the car. Thus drenched (Corona might have been better—I’m not sure) we pulled out and hit the interstate heading south.

Roughly 12 hours later we pulled into Little Rock AR to eat and spend the night. Little of interest occurred during the drive except for stopping after the first 30 minutes, popping up the camper to get to the refrigerator to remove the ice Carol had left inside (lest it melt and make a wet mess).

Then, Tuesday morning, we hit the road again and pulled into our driveway in Victoria, TX at about 5:00 p.m.

Today I went back to work, just in time to learn that Hurricane Rita is taking DEAD AIM right at my section of the Texas Gulf Coast, and the county where my plant is located is under a mandatory evacuation. Wonderful.

Everyone at work asked why I came back just in time to leave again. My answer? “Just stupid, I guess.” What else can you say?

Tomorrow I will plan (unless something changes overnight) to come into work for at least a half-day, and then either pack up and join the west-bound throng, or board up, hunker down, and hope for the best.

The ONLY reason we’re not definitely planning to leave is Carol’s mom. She lives one mile from us in an “independent living” retirement community. She is not very mobile, doesn’t travel well, and plans to stay. That MAY change if her rental management decides they are closing the facility, but if not we will probably stay here as well. Carol’s mom is a widow, and Carol is her only child.

Tomorrow may bring new direction to Rita, or other changes. We pray for weakening, whichever direction the monster goes. I've just learned that my home county (Victoria) is now also under a mandatory evacuation.

I should get another post up tomorrow unless we evacuate with the masses. We’ll see.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

A Great Saturday!

Well, I never got around to writing any more about yesterday than the post about the view and our plans. Here’s how the day went…

Once again the weather cooperated beautifully. We had crystal clear skies, bright sunshine, and a high temperature of 79. Perfect weather for shorts, short-sleeve shirt, and outdoor activities.

We waited too long to try to get on the river/lake front boat tour, which was quickly booked and sold out on this Saturday morning. So as an alternative we took the FREE train tour around the loop, during which the tour guide pointed out historical and architecturally significant buildings and gave us a smattering of local history and lore.

Much of the afternoon was spent strolling the huge Millenium Park or downtown city streets, brushing past thousands of others on Michigan Avenue along the “Magnificent Mile,” and just getting caught up on Amy and Tom’s lives and jobs and plans. And that is what a family visit should be all about, right? Right!

Dinner at Buca di Beppo’s was great. OK, I know, it’s a chain Italian Restaurant and thus probably not as “authentic” as a family owned spot might be. But hey, we’ve been to Italy and eaten in local, family-owned spots there. It doesn’t get much more authentic than that. All we wanted was some good food in a very pleasant, comfortable atmosphere, and we got that.

For those of you who are food enthusiasts and haven’t been to a Buca restaurant, they serve the food family style. If you order the small Caesar salad (we did), they bring it on one large plate and then enough small plates so you can divide it among the diners.

We opted, at Amy’s suggestion for the pasta Quattro al Forno (samplings of four standard pasta dishes, which we divided up among ourselves), and the Lattini meat platter, which included roast chicken, Italian sausage, steak and pork chops. What a great combination! Not being wine snobs, we just took the 1.5 liter jug of their house chianti.

Of course, it was WAY more than we four could eat, so we brought home the leftovers in a “doggy bag.” I use quotes because there is no doggy involved, but Amy and Tom will enjoy the uneaten meat later this week.

For dessert we ordered the chocolate cake. They bring you a HUGE “slice” (about ¼ of an entire round 3-layer chocolate cake with chocolate frosting) sitting in a puddle of chocolate sauce.

OK! I know you’re hungry. Go eat something!

I’m writing this on Sunday morning in the quiet time just after dawn when nobody else is up yet. I came to as the first light stole in through the blinds, and watched the red sun creep up out of the lake. I even tried to take a picture of it. If it comes out, I’ll share it with you.

Today has a bittersweet feel to it already, as this evening Amy will drive us back to our camper in a south Chicago suburb, and tomorrow morning early we’ll begin the two-day trek back to Texas and our regular lives again.
Yeah, it’ll be good in a way to get home. But this sure has been a great vacation trip!
But I’m NOT looking forward to the weight loss program that’s got to follow.

Saturday, September 17, 2005


That word describes the view of Lake Michigan and the city of Chicago from 42 floors up.

One entire wall of floor-to-ceiling glass looks east. Below is the Chicago River flowing out into the lake next to Navy Pier with its visually dominating Ferris wheel and colorful boats. Beyond lies the marina breakwater; and then the lake, stretching out to the sharp, clear horizon.

This morning’s sunrise was spectacular! We could see far around the end of the lake well into Indiana, until the sun rose higher and a slight haze developed.

Looking further south and through another wall of glass facing that direction we can see parts of Millenium Park. At the far end of it is a huge museum and then Soldier Field. Our view of much of the park is blocked by another building, but we can just see the domed planetarium on its spit of land protruding out into the lake.

From the south-facing windows, if we swing our gaze around towards the west, we can see much of the Chicago skyline. That view includes the top of the Sears Tower and many other buildings that soar well above 42 floors.

Yes, I’ve spent time in large cities before. But I live in flat South Texas, and the contrast is dramatic.

I’m not sure which is more awe-inspiring: the immensity of the ocean (and I think the Great Lakes are in that category, as they stretch out to far beyond the horizon and thus seem to be as large), or high mountains rising out of the plains (like the Front Range in Colorado). In this apartment I feel as if I’m on a high mountain looking out over the ocean. Pretty awesome.

Amy’s plans for Saturday activities include a tour-boat ride up the Chicago river and out into the marina, a walking tour around the downtown area, and (of course) our Italian dinner this evening.

More later. Maybe.

Last day in Maryland.

(And this was supposed to have been posted Friday evening. Oops!)

Not nearly as exciting as yesterday, though. No horse riding, for which my sore butt and stiff thighs are grateful. No hay hauling, although today we did find the hidden air tank covered neatly by a tarp in a shed in such a way that it didn’t look like anything as large as an air tank could possible be hidden underneath.

But today gave me a chance to spend a couple of hours alone with my mom while Carol and Betty drove off to shop and show my sister our new camper. Since Mom is 89, having some quality time alone together is a treat that may not be repeated too often, although you never know.

We reminisced about how she raised her two children according to standards that were taught her by her own mother. Many of those same standards have now been passed on to Betty’s and my children, and will be passed on to their children.

She re-told me stories about her own growing up after her father died when she was still small and her mother struggled to survive on very little income. Although my mom was very intelligent, there was never a chance that she might go to college. Girls in the 1930s didn’t do that, especially those who didn’t have money.

We compared stories of her raising us to some of us raising our own kids. She told me of experiences I had as a very little fellow that I have no memory of, but which to her are as clear as if they happened yesterday.

Today was just a good day to sit around and talk and remember. But mainly it was a good day to remind each other how precious our past has been together. As old as I am, it still feels good to know that my mother accepts me and approves of most (if not all) of my life.

We finished the afternoon with another of my sister’s home-cooked meals: baked ham, macaroni and cheese, green beans and cole slaw (made my favorite way with chunks of pineapple in it!), and some strawberry torte for dessert. Soul food if there ever was any.

Tomorrow will be another long day of interstate driving. We hope to land in a southern Chicago suburb before dark and get the camper set up.

I have no idea when I’ll get a chance to put this post up on Blogger.

I’ll try to find another wifi hotspot somewhere and go online long enough to post. Which reminds me: Carol and I went into Williamsport, MD this morning for about an hour to do some laundry at a Laundromat. Williamsport is a VERY small town. Do you think I had any trouble finding free, unsecured wifi internet access?


Ubiquitous, I tell you!

Trail ride, and other activities.

(Sorry. This was supposed to have been posted several days ago. Thought I'd done it!)

This morning (Tuesday, 9/13) we went trail riding for about an hour. Carol and I discussed the issue and decided that the last time we had been on horseback was during our trip to Hawaii in 1998.

She opted for western gear, while I chose English tack. My sister Betty came too, along with her resident riding instructor Katrin, who did most of the work of collecting the horses, putting on saddles and bridles, and helping us older folks climb aboard.

The horses looked at us, looked at each other, and grinned. Well, they didn’t exactly grin, but that’s what it looked like to me. It seemed they were thinking, “Ah! Older riders who don’t look or smell like they’ve been around horses much. This could be fun!”

My sturdy mount Amber was determined to be in the front of the line and wanted to trot the entire hour. Every time I’d relax my constant back-pressure on the reins just a touch, she’d immediately start to trot.

Carol’s horse Toby was reluctant to go at all. He kept lagging behind and had to be urged on. He also wanted to grab mouthfuls of the lush grass along the roadside and munch a while.

Betty and Katrin both expertly controlled their mounts without issues while we other two had to remain vigilant.

Things changed a bit once Toby apparently realized we were more than halfway around the circular route and thus were getting closer to the barn instead of farther away. Once that happened he took the lead and Carol had to fight to slow him down. Amber, meanwhile, liked the look of what Toby was doing and decided she wanted to race the others to the barn. Or at least to the pasture.

At the end of the hour’s ride, my butt was ready to stop getting bounced around on hard leather. Now, some 10 hours later, I have the feeling that my thighs are going to be sore tomorrow. But the ride was enjoyable!

After lunch Betty asked me if I would help her hitch the hay wagon to the pickup truck and drive the truck and wagon to a nearby field. She was going to drive her tractor to the field and load round hay bales onto the wagon so we could put them in a barn. The forecast calls for rain tomorrow.

It was to be a half-hour chore. Or so.

But first we had to remove the ball from the pickup’s trailer hitch, since the hay wagon tongue simple pinned to the hitch (no ball). That task required a 1 5/8 inch wrench. We couldn’t find one amongst her tools. I found a 1 5/8 inch socket, but no ratchet or other drive handle to turn it. We searched. Finally we uncovered the drive handle (in a barn on a table near a tractor that had been worked on recently). I was able to remove the ball and hitch up the hay wagon.

We drove to the field, where Betty learned that the round bales were MUCH larger and heavier than any she had handled before. The hydraulics on her little tractor strained to lift them, and the wagon held only two instead of the six she expected us to haul each load. She thought there were 12 bales.

So I pulled the wagon with 2 bales on it the ½ mile to her hay barn while she followed me on the tractor carrying a third bale. As we were nearing the barn I realized that one of the wagon tires was flat, so pulled over to one side.

Betty has a compressor, but it’s at her house (not near the barn, where we were).

Oh, but she has a portable air tank that we could charge up at the compressor and haul to the wagon to air up the tire (in case it had a slow leak). Where was the air tank? Well, we looked.

We looked everywhere, from the house at the compressor, through the sheds and barns, and even out in the fields where a cart had recently had a flat and been filled with air.

No air tank.

And no spare tire.

By then over 2 hours had elapsed of our ½ hour chore, and we’d only brought in 3 bales!
Betty spent the rest of the afternoon hauling bales on the front of the tractor one at a time. It turned out that there were 15 bales, not 12.

Thus goes life on a farm, where Murphy is alive and well, and his law is especially active.

Tomorrow is our last day and night in Maryland, and then we head west toward Chicago for our last stop.

Maybe my sore butt and thighs will be feeling better by then.

Friday, September 16, 2005


It’s Friday morning, 9/16. We left Texas two weeks and one day ago. This is the first experience of other than near perfect weather we’ve had the entire time.

What’s great about that is: This weekend we have no outdoor activities planned. Well, other than maybe some sightseeing in and around Chicago. But all of our beach time in Florida and a solid week of great golf in Georgia was scheduled in unbeatable weather.

Yesterday was, as I had expected, a very long day of interstate driving. We mad about 625 miles in under 13 hours, including stops for breakfast, lunch and gas. (That’s fuel, not internal gas, for you purists).

Lots of big trucks were out on the roads, but we never ran into any really heavy traffic. The worst was as we approached Chicago from Indiana, and that’s about the time the cloudy sky began spitting occasional light rain.

We worried that we might be in the middle of a downpour when it was time to set up our camper, but the rain held off until after we had everything pretty much in place. When we left the campground to go find something for supper we drove out in a light steady rain, but by the time we were back after eating it was a steady moderate rain.

Later, as we lay in bed reading, came the downpour. Could have been a lot worse!

This morning the rain continues to come and go, with low clouds and a north wind. The forecast calls for clearing later today with moderate temperatures and no further rain for the rest of the weekend.

Our daughter Amy will drive out from downtown and pick us up later this morning. I plan to post this when we get to her apartment.

I promise to then regale you with tales of our last family visit of this vacation trip over the next three days, and tempt you with stories of the meals we plan to experience. As a teaser, I’ll tell you Amy’s plans.

She tells us she’s found a really good Mexican restaurant near her apartment, and plans to continue the tradition she started in Austin that Friday night is Mexican night. Then on Saturday she’ll take us to a fantastic Italian chain that she and her husband discovered called “Bucca di Beppo’s” (literally, Beppo’s basement).

Ha! I can tell you’re salivating already! (So am I.)

But when we get home it’s going to be diet, diet, diet.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Monday, 9/12 – at the farm.

We made it to my sister’s farm this morning and had a good day visiting with Betty and my Mom. If you’d like to see more about my sister’s place, click HERE.

Oh, go ahead and click. They spent a lot of time and effort putting up that web site.

Thank you.

My mom is doing great for an 89-year-old. She is unsteady on her feet, but can get around OK if she has something to hold onto for balance. She says her vision is slowly fading, and she’s concerned that she’s lost a few teeth and some of her hair since I last saw her. But her mind is as sharp as ever, and although she’ll acknowledge that she may not have a whole lot of years left, she’s not ready to cash in her chips just yet.

She’s very interested in what’s going on with her two children, and their children, and their children. She is aware of world events, and although she’s seen an incredible amount of change in the world in her lifetime, she embraces and appreciates what the new technology can do. I think she’s pretty amazing.

Betty’s farm is much the way we remember it, except she has more horses (16, including several she’s boarding for others), fewer dogs (down to about 5, although I may have missed one or two), and cats without number. Betty’s cats are like unsecured wifi hotspots in a population center – ubiquitous.

Speaking of that, she is currently contributing to the plethora. Her own wireless router (called “homefires”) is unsecured. I will be using it first thing tomorrow to post this message to my blog.

On tap for tomorrow is more catching up with all the family affairs and news, and a trail ride in the afternoon to check out the surrounding area from horseback. I haven’t been aboard a horse in a number of years, but I’m looking forward to it. So is Carol, believe it or not. She is also a pretty amazing woman, as I’ve made clear in earlier posts.

For those who have expressed interest, our dinner tonight was a standing rib roast (medium), baked potatoes with all the fixings, peas, salad and Key Lime Pie for desert (along with fresh coffee).

By the end of this trip I’ll have gained 20 pounds at the rate we’re packing in the food.

Oh, and for Christina – in reply to her comment on yesterday’s post – I was aware of the double entendre in my last line, and was also expecting that “someone” might “rise” to the occasion. But not YOU!

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Sunday, 9/11. On the Road Again.

Yes, today’s the anniversary of 9/11. Just like the day John Kennedy was shot (if you remember that far back), you probably remember exactly where you were and what you were doing when you heard about the World Trade Center towers being hit by passenger jets, and then watching in horror as the buildings fell, one after the other.

Unlike that day (I was at work, but found a television), today we are driving through six southeastern states. As I write this Carol is driving us north on I-81 through western Virginia.

No, I am not driving and typing on this laptop at the same time. Although I am multi-talented and can multi-task on occasion, I am not a lunatic.

Well, at least most of the time I’m not. Although Carol might dispute that.

My topic for today is the price of gas. We finally found ourselves at a point where we needed gas, and there was not a convenient opportunity to get far enough off the interstate that we could find gas below $3 per gallon.

Always before I’ve been able to “shop” for price by watching billboard ads or gas station price placards, and find gas at or below $2.99. In many of the small towns in Georgia we saw (and bought) gas for less than $2.80. The cheapest gas I’ve bought this entire trip was for $2.69, but they limited you to ten gallons.

Just now, before Carol started driving, I paid $3.02.

I know; that’s only a few cents more than $2.99. It just seems as if a line has been crossed!

I imagine you’re thinking, “Quitcher bitching!” And you’re right. I have a choice. I can always turn around and go home and wait for prices to go down. But I’m not going to do that.

No, I’ll just stay the course, pay the price they ask and have less money at the end of this trip than I had planned. Logically, though, it galls a bit. Since the small town stations can sell gas for $2.79 and still make a profit, you KNOW the stations near the interstates are getting a windfall and are resisting competitive pressure to lower prices as long as possible.

And it’s always been like that to some extent. But when the average price of gas nearly doubles “overnight,” seeing retailers squeeze an additional few pennies out of us just seems wrong.

Ah, well. Only another 150 miles to our destination. This tankfull will more than get us there, so I won’t have to buy any more gas for a few days.

Oh, yes; to finish last night’s post… It was Carol’s birthday, and we drove into Madison, GA, to the Chop House for dinner. Since I KNOW Karyn is wondering, we BOTH ordered the pecan-crusted trout. It was just as delicious as before!

Tonight, since we’re staying in a commercial campground (as opposed to a state park), I think we’ll have internet access right there without having to search for somebody’s unsecured wifi signal. If so, you’ll see this posted on Sunday (today). If not, I’ll get it up tomorrow.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Saturday, 9/10.

Today is Carol’s birthday! She is now, once again, as old as I am! And of course, I take great delight in rubbing that fact in. Though now a very old lady, she still appeals to me in just about every way you can imagine. (Even YOU, Karyn!)

This was the last day of intensive golf on this vacation. Now, what’s that sound I hear? Is it cheering? Are both my blog readers cheering the fact that they will not have any more golf stories to read about?

Ah, but there’s always TODAY’s stories!

Today we played again the course that we’ve decided is our favorite among these Georgia State Park courses, The Creek at Hard Labor Park. We even took some pictures to share with you after we get home, get the film developed, scan the negatives, and put them on the internet. Then publish a link to them on the blog.

For now you’ll have to put up with some description. We saw deer, one wild turkey (no picture – it disappeared into the woods before we could get the camera ready), three raccoons, more deer, and quite a few wild golfers. Carol took some scenery shots of the gorgeous golf course, too.

I was disappointed in one of the wild golfers. He was on a tee about two holes behind us when he hit his shot, shouted, “Damn, damn, damn, damn!” and slammed his club into the ground three or four times. We both started laughing and had a hard time stopping.

Why was I disappointed? He didn’t execute the “wave goodbye” maneuver to his golf ball! You’re supposed to do that BEFORE you shout whatever curses come to mind. And golf is a game with very specific rules and etiquette.

Oh, well. Maybe nobody has told that guy about the etiquette of waving goodbye first.

After the golf we came back to the camper, cleaned up, and went into Madison for dinner one final time. You’ll have to wait to find out what we had, because I’m posting this BEFORE we eat. From some wifi hotspot we happen upon. If there’s a story in that, I’ll have to tell it tomorrow.

Tomorrow will be a LONG day on the road as we drive to Hagerstown, MD. Then we plan to spend 2-3 days with my sister and my mom before heading west to Chicago.

More on our travels soon!

Friday, September 09, 2005

Thursday, 9/08.

Another day of golf. Another gorgeous day of weather in Georgia, and another beautiful golf course.

This time we drove about 90 minutes to another state park course near the border with South Carolina. The golf course was located along the shores of a huge lake, with 4 or 5 holes featuring shots across the water.

They might have been picturesque, but they rapidly became expensive for me. Both in terms of money and (mainly) my score. No, not Carol’s score, just mine. I don’t think she lost a ball all day. I lost … Well, let me just say that I found more than I lost. That ought to count for something!.

I know that most of you are bored with my golf tales. That’s OK. Sometimes your blogs bore me, too. So there!

On a different topic, I continue to be amazed at the number of unsecured wifi signals out there! This evening we drove back from the other state park (Richard B. Russell State Park, if you care) to Madison for dinner. We stopped at a convenience store for some ice and Carol immediately located about 8 wifi networks we could log on to.

She chose one (called “Linksys,” which is the name of a company that makes wireless routers and other equipment, and a lot of the wifi sites we find have that as the “default” name) and was soon connected to the internet as we sat in the convenience store parking lot.

I checked our emails and she browsed to the Weather Channel site to see what Hurricane Marie was doing. I didn’t have a blog post ready yet, so we logged off and drove back to the campsite after picking up some food for dinner.

Thus far on this trip we have logged onto the internet from inside our van in front of several motels, in front of a Best Buy store, in front of a Radio Shack, near a restaurant in Madison, GA, and tonight in front of a convenience store in another part of Madison. WiFi sources are becoming ubiquitous.

(Go ahead; look it up. I’ll wait.)

You know, that reminds me of the old song about Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Clyde the camel. You don’t remember that one? Well, at one point in the song a reference was made to Santa Clause, and a child-like voice proclaimed, “He’s EVERYwhere! He’s EVERYwhere!”

That’s ubiquitous.

Consider that your vocabulary lesson for today.
Oh, and remind me to tell you about this friend of mine who recently ordered DSL service for high-speed, always-on internet, and wanted wireless (wifi) so he could move his laptop around the house and go online without dragging a network cable around. He asked me for help selecting a wireless router.

I’ll tell you about that later. It’s a funny one.

Tonight it’s time for bed, and tomorrow we have another LONG drive to yet another different state park (Georgia Veterans’ State Park in Cordele, GA).

I’ll try to find one of those ubiquitous wifi hotspots tomorrow while we’re on the road and post this message to the old blog.

Oh, on more thing. This is for Karyn: For dinner tonight we picked up a medium Meat Lovers’ Pizza from Pizza Hut. Mmmm, indeed!

(That’s to make up for the golf stuff. Yes, I read your comments!)

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Wednesday, 9/7

Golf. Wonderful golf. Gorgeous weather, few people on the course, an occasional deer munching on leaves, manicured fairways and greens… What more could we ask for?

At home in South Texas the terrain is almost completely flat. We live on the coastal plains, after all. By contrast, here in Georgia the land is more like piedmont, with some significant elevation changes among hills and gorges.

It’s fun to launch a golf ball from a tee on top of a hill and watch it soar, hanging in the air longer than normal as it falls, then carom down the slope.

As long as it stays in the grassy area (fairway) between the ranks of tall pine trees on either side. If it strays off course, you must face the direction it’s going, raise your right hand and sadly wave goodbye as it disappears over a steep embankment and rattles around the tree trunks further down the hill.

I’ve learned that “wave goodbye” maneuver from years of experience. It is equally effective in flat country when the fairways are bordered by water, tall weeds or trees with undergrowth around them.

Carol has not yet discovered how well it works. Of course, she would seldom have occasion to apply it so it’s of little use to her.

There are times when I’m tempted to use a different gesture as the ball disappears into the _______ (water, trees, weeds, rough: pick one), but golf is supposed to be a gentleman’s game with manners and etiquette, so I refrain.

Yes, sadly, as you may have surmised, I had the opportunity to use that “wave” maneuver more that a few times today. But that didn’t diminish the beauty of the surroundings among the cathedral pines; the only sounds being the birds chirping in the trees, the distant muted roar of mowing equipment, and the occasional ”SHIT!! from a nearby tee just before a golfer executes the “wave” maneuver.

Well, some use a different word, but this is a family blog, and golf is supposed to be a gentleman’s game with manners and etiquette.

Today we played our 36 holes pretty expeditiously (weekdays the golf courses are usually not too crowded, especially when school is in session), so I’m writing this as we sit on the sofa in our nice camper with the air conditioner running, and a cold beer beside me.

In an hour or so we plan to drive back to Madison, GA, to find a grocery store and perhaps to have another meal at the Chop House. Plus we’ll hop aboard the wifi signal from the Olde Colonial Restaurant, post two days worth of blog posts, and check emails.

A fitting ending to an altogether lovely day!

Tuesday notes 9/6.

Since yesterday’s post made it online yesterday, you already know that we located a wifi hotspot and were able to go online. Here’s the story:

We set up the camper in (probably) record time and drove back to Rutledge to se if there was any place to eat there.

There wasn’t.

Carol suggested that I turn East on Dixie Highway and drive towards Madison, GA. It was only about 12 miles away, and it is, at least, the county seat of Madison County, so there ought to be SOMETHING there. We drove through Madison on Main Street, and did see two restaurants near the middle of town.

At the far end of town we turned around and parked at courthouse square. Carol is the official navigator and operator of the GPS unit with MapQuest on our laptop. Before we shut down the van I suggested that she scan for available wireless networks.

Would you believe she found about a dozen? Four were “unsecured,” so we picked one and tried to connect. Success! We were able to check the weather for the next few days, check our emails, and finally, to post my blog entry.

Then we shut down the laptop, locked the van, and checked out the restaurants. We opted to try the one called “The Chop House.” It was basically a bar with a bunch of tables including a few out on a sidewalk.

Here’s the incredible part. The weather was cool and dry, and we opted to sit and eat outside. Apparently a cool front had blown through a day or to before, and the results were still around. Carol ordered a pecan-crusted filet of trout, and I chose the tenderloin of beef on rice pilaf. The prices were very reasonable – no more than you’d pay for a routine meal at a casual dining place like Chili’s or Applebee’s. But the food was just excellent!

I consider that place an official “find.” We plan to go back there before we leave the area. Madison, GA. Who’da thunk it?

Then this morning we drove about 65 miles to another Georgia state park to play golf. 36 holes. Wonderful! This is what a vacation is supposed to be like.

Tomorrow we play the course right here where we’re camping. No driving, no delays. Likely another 36 holes Wonderful!

What? Who won today? There you go, wanting to know about scores and all that. Don’t be so anal!

OK!! If you must know, Carol won(as usual). My score was lower for the second round, but so was hers. But the golf today was not about winning or losing. It was a beautiful course, beautiful weather, and just a very pleasant day all around.

I hope we have several more of those this week.

Gotta go. I’ll try to find another wifi hotspot tomorrow and post this.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Georgia, on my mind.

Sunday was a nice relaxing day; our last with Joy, Johnny and Trevor. We had such a nice visit with them. Leaving their home last night was definitely bittersweet.

We spent much of the day together -- including lunch at Whataburger, several hours at the state park where we were camping hiking along the river looking for alligators, and then cleaning up before ordering pizza and watching a rented movie.

We saw no alligators, but we DID see a snake (yes, we got at least one or two pictures of it) and a huge Great Blue Heron (again, at least one picture ought to be good) during the hike. Trevor seemed to enjoy the hike, riding in his stroller. He’s just 4 ½ months old, so the wildlife went unnoticed by him.

Yes, I’m biased. I’m his grandfather. But he is the cutest little guy! He’s very good-natured and has so many facial expressions that he always seems to be communicating. We’re already looking forward to the next time we see him. He’ll be changing so fast at this age.

This morning we were up before dawn and were pulling out of the campground by about 7 a.m. We expected pretty heavy traffic along the interstate since this is the last day of a holiday weekend, but it was only what I would describe as moderate. Consequently we covered the 450 miles to Hard Labor Creek State Park in Georgia by about 3:45 p.m.

Weather here is clear, temps in the 80s; just gorgeous. We found a nice, level, paved (DRY!!) campsite and will probably have the park pretty much to ourselves for the next few days. We’re planning on playing all the golf we can stand for the next 4-5 days before heading north to Maryland.

One interesting note is the number of free, unsecured wifi spots we’ve come across. Just about every time we get off the Interstate for gas or food we’ve found between two and 10 opportunities to connect and go online for no charge. Hopefully this evening we can find at least one in Rutledge, GA, so I can post this message.

If the post is dated 9/5, you’ll know I was successful!

(If not, no telling WHEN it’ll get on Blogger.)

P.S. I’m missing being able to keep up with those of you on the blogroll. Also, I rarely get to read comments.

Ah, well, the price we pay to take a vacation trip!

Sunday, September 04, 2005


This will be a short post. Kind of an update on our trip. We took some pictures today, but you’ll just have to wait for them.

I know, I know. Patience is NOT one of my readers’ strong points. But BOTH of you will just have to put up with the anxiety of not having any visual reference for a while. I have neither the time nor the resources to post pictures while on the road.

You’re lucky to even have this text to read. Well, OK, that’s a matter of opinion. Maybe you’re NOT so lucky. Regardless, even though some of the pictures WERE taken with Joy’s digital camera, I just don’t have time tonight to upload them.

Oh, stop grousing! You’ll see them soon. (I hope). (Maybe later during the trip. Or after I get home. Whatever.)

Today we went to the beach. We drove from Zephyrhills (yes, that’s all one word – look it up if you don’t believe me) to Madeira Beach (notice the diphthong in “Madeira?”) and found a section of public beach. I even have a few pictures of that, but again you’ll have to wait.

We only spent a couple of hours there, but we all enjoyed it. Especially Trevor, as you’ll see if I ever get the pictures… No, that’s enough about pictures. I know you! You’ll both complain from now until I post them.

You know, they say a picture is worth 1,000 words (or is it 10,000?). Regardless, this is a verbally oriented blog, not a visual one. I’m a writer, not a photographer. I’ll post the shots when I get a chance. Meanwhile, stand by for a few thousand word in lieu of visuals.

During the whole day the area had no rain, a hot sun and a steady breeze. By the time we came back from the beach our campsite was almost dry. We could actually walk from the camper to the paved roadway without getting our socks wet.

Then we showered and changed for dinner, leaving the campground at about 6:30 to drive into Zephyrhills, pick up Joy, Johnny and Trevor, and go to a restaurant. We drove under a rain shower. By the time we got to town (10 minutes) there were large puddles everywhere. Well, that shower must have been proceeding straight to the campground, because by the time we got back for the night, the campsite looked just as wet as it had been when we checked in the day before.

Tomorrow is our last day to visit Joy, Johnny and grandson Trevor, so we’ll try to make the most of it.

Maybe it’ll rain all day. If it does I’ll sit in Joy’s house using her computer and the internet to post some pictures.

But don’t count on it.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

On to Florida

Nothing remarkable about the morning. We hit the road by about 7:00 and figured we’d pull into our campground by mid afternoon, quickly set up camp and be at Joy’s house before she got home from work.

It didn’t happen.

We angled down from Montgomery through Dothan, AL, and picked up I-10 west of Tallahassee. Traffic wasn’t really bad all day, but there were a lot of big trucks on the road going slower up hill than down, so it was rare that I got to just set the cruise control and let it protect me from radar speed traps.

We noticed more convoys. Lots of them. Some were trucks like those we’d seen yesterday from different electric utility companies. Others were just lines of those muddy-orange colored tree-trimming and removal trucks that have ASPLUNDH painted in black on the sides and back. All were headed west.

Well, they were all headed west until we turned south on I-75 towards Tampa. Then they were all headed north. Occasionally we saw other convoys consisting of either Florida State Trooper cars (often in lines of 10-15 cars, and sometimes with their lights flashing but no sirens) or fire trucks (in lines of 6-8, but never with lights flashing). Were they also going to disaster areas?

I could see that the fire trucks might be needed, but would Florida State Troopers have any authority outside the state? I doubt it. Were they needed in far west Florida (Pensacola)? We hadn’t heard reports of many problems in that area, but we wondered.

We saw gas prices as low as $2.85 and as high as $3.15 per gallon for regular, but the trick was finding stations that had gas to sell. Many just had plastic shopping bags over the pump handles to indicate no gas.

Through planning we were able to avoid too much anxiety about gas. By “planning” I mean that we filled up whenever the tank dropped below half-full.

That, of course, meant twice as many fuel stops as usual. The day wore on and the road, as the song says, seemed to go on forever. Plus, I’d forgotten about crossing the time zone and losing an hour as we headed east.

Joy called us, home from work (often she gets off a bit early on Fridays), to ask where we were. We told her we were still an hour away from the campground, but should be there by 5, set up camp in about 30 minutes, and then it’s a 15-minute drive to her house.

Good plan. But…

It has rained a LOT in this part of Florida lately. The campground at the state park had a number of camping sites under water! Getting checked in took far longer than it should have, because there were folks in the office seeking a refund for their pre-paid camping fee after they’d found their reserved site underwater. Since our “camper” is well up off the ground, we weren’t too concerned. Unless the water was inches deep. And had snakes and alligators in it.

Well, suffice to say that our site was just barely usable. We both got shoes muddy and socks wet during set-up, but compared to some sites we were well-off.

But the conditions slowed us down even further. We finally arrived at Joy’s house after 7:00 p.m. Didn’t get to dinner until well after 8!

However, as several of you have pointed out, safety is a LOT more important than speed, and we now have a nice long weekend to visit, see Trevor, take pictures, see more of Trevor, catch up on Joy and Johnny’s lives, spoil Trevor, and more of the same. By Monday I imagine they’ll be glad to see us hit the road.

Friday, September 02, 2005

On our way!

6:05 a.m.: We pulled out of our driveway, camper in tow. Headed northeast toward Houston in the pre-dawn. A good, early start. No stress, no angst. Two happy campers going on a long vacation!

7:10 a.m.: Stopped at a McDonalds in Wharton for a nutritious (HA!) breakfast.

7:55 a.m.: Came to a full stop on Houston’s Southwest Freeway just south of Sugar Land. Endured stop-and-go traffic for the next 10 minutes.

8:20 a.m.: Endured more stop and go congestion near downtown Houston. Finally passed the downtown area and headed outbound. Traffic dropped off immediately.

11:05 a.m.: Stopped for gas on the outskirts of Nacogdoches. Paid $2.83 per gallon. Had seen prices as high as $2.99 not too far back, so thought I was getting a good deal. (NEVER thought I’d say THAT at $2.83!) Learned two blocks later that I’d been had! A corner Diamond Shamrock station had regular at $2.72! Dang it!

1:10 p.m.: Crossed into Louisiana at Shreveport. Stopped for lunch a bit later at a Wendy’s in Bossier City.

After lunch, Carol offered to drive for a while, so I’m being a dutiful blogger and preparing a post for later in hopes that we’ll have an internet wifi opportunity tonight in Montgomery, AL. Assuming we make it that far.

Lots of traffic on I-20 for a Thursday afternoon. Like us, many others are probably using this as the principal east-west route since I-10 is shut down in places.

More later, if anything of interest happens.

It’s now later. Much later. We noticed in Louisiana several roadside signs announcing that there was no access to New Orleans. Well, DUH! But we also noticed a number of convoys of electric company repair trucks also heading east on I-20. They included a lot of trucks with “man-lift” baskets to enable technicians to work on elevated lines. There were pole augers and other specialty gear.

Then I noticed the license plates. One whole convoy was from New Mexico. Another was from Oklahoma. They were all heading towards I-55 from Jackson, MI down to the Gulf coast.

Once we passed I-55, still heading east, we noticed a LOT more of these convoys coming from the east.

My point: Help is coming from far afield to get those devastated communities back on the electric grid. That’s an essential step in helping them get their lives back together.

We gassed up before we crossed the line in Mississippi. Good thing. The next station we found that had any gasoline to sell was well into Alabama.

Lots of trees down along the interstate in Mississippi. Some in Alabama. But no damage even remotely like what you’ve seen on the news from the coastal areas.

We pulled into Montgomery at about 9:30. Here we’re spending the night.

Irony here: the place we’re staying offers FREE HIGH-SPEED INTERNET! OK, I’m connected to their wireless router, but no internet. Come to find out, their internet service provider (local cable company) is temporarily down.