Portland Drivers and the I-5 Parking Lot

(photo copyright KGW-TV)

It is wise in Portland to check GPS even if you well know the way to your destination, and even if the distance is short. A  flood of people have descended upon the town, and truck traffic has skyrocketed due to the closing of the Port of Portland to ship traffic, yet not a lane-mile has been added to the freeway system. Even in the best of times (Sunday afternoon? Weekday mid-morning?) traffic can come to a crawl. Best to know that before getting on the freeway. 

After a lovely Father’s Day dinner out this evening, wisdom did not prevail. GPS was not consulted, and we arrived on the freeway just in time to note that (a) traffic was virtually at a standstill and (b) there was no way out.

The “virtually” part is important. When a major road closes due to an accident ahead, many cars come to a stop with a few extra feet ahead of them. At some point, the drivers become anxious, and they move a few feet forward. The car behind them sees movement and does the same. Someone in the next lane sees this movement and tries to dart in. The jockeying begins. 

But then inevitably there is no room left. The accordion is out of air. The freeway has become a parking lot.

Such is what happened this evening. We got on the freeway with plans to take the very next exit about a mile hence. At 7:30pm, movement came to a crawl, and then I-5 North became a parking lot.

I-5 Parking Lot

An interesting thing happens when traffic comes to an absolute halt. After the realization that nothing is moving or will be likely to move, resignation sets in. At some point a door opens, then someone comes out of their car, someone else jumps over the barrier at the edge of the road to relive himself or allow his dog to do the same. And faceless drivers become people again.

Two lovely women, Hayden and Mallie, realized after about 45 minutes that they had some water bottles and small refreshment packs in their trunk. They gathered them all up, and began going up and down the line of stopped cars handing out their supplies. They generously gave us a pack of refreshments:

gift bag

After giving them a hug, I took their picture:

Malley and Hayden

By this time, I had checked KGW-TV.com and found that the cause of this traffic disaster was a multi-car series of accidents just ahead of us that happened when a thunder storm had passed through the area. I shared this information with Hayden, Mallie, and some of our other new neighbors, and all expressed concern that the people involved would be ok. According to KGW, four were taken to the hospital, two having been pinned in their car, all expected to survive. People I spoke with were relieved.

Finally, after about an hour and a half, brake lights could be seen in the distance, people ran back to their cars, doors closed, engines started. Once there was the slightest movement, an interesting thing happened. The jockeying began anew. We were no longer neighbors, we were not people with a shared experience; rather, we immediately become faceless drivers, not people, not neighbors.

In the rear view mirror I saw someone, who we will refer to for convenience as “the asshole,” flying down the right lane that quite clearly was coming a close where the accident was still clearing, at not less than 60 mph while the rest of us were barely doing 3mph. It was a big black BMW. Why is it always a big, black something?? Someday this blog will need to do an anthropological study of drivers of big black vehicles. Except for avid reader Randy who has (or at least had) a big black pickup but who is the absolute nicest guy.

Three lanes of backed up traffic many miles long slowly found their way into a single lane as we approached the accident site. As we passed, I had reason to question the KGW report. There was very little left of one car – just the remnants of a wrecked chassis, and what little remained of that was covered with white ash. We’ll tune in to KGW in a while and see what the latest is.

But for one brief hour and a half, the random assortment of truckers, families coming home from the weekend away, workers having to work their Sunday jobs and coming home, and fathers celebrating Father’s Day, came together to become not vehicles and faceless drivers, but people – neighbors – who were all in it together. 

 

Riding the Coast Starlight With Veronica

 

Image 8-15-17 at 10.50 AM

The Coast Starlight is the only Amtrak line with a Parlor Car. Made by Budd in the 1940’s, they are classic examples of the streamline era, beautiful constructed of stainless steel and handcrafted mahogany. Veronica was the attendant on this trip. A dark-haired Latina with a constant smile and comfortable manner beyond her young years, she seemed vaguely familiar. But I had not travelled by train for a couple of years, the last trip cloaked in tragedy, and so we spoke only briefly between meal orders and her other duties.

After a while, I asked if William was still working the Parlor Cars. William is a most distinguished gentleman with a basso profundo James Earl Jones voice, an aristocratic manner, and a vast knowledge of railroading, all prominently contrasting with his Rastafarian dreadlocks and Bob Marley knit cap. The Parlor Car offers wine and cheese tastings every afternoon, and passengers would hang on William’s every word as he described in glorious detail each tasting. And if you could spark his sense of humor, he would beam and bellow with deep, rumbling laughter. Veronica brightened when I said his name. “Yes! He’s still working the Parlor Car. And he’s my best friend. In fact, we’re going to be working together in a few days.” I asked her to give William my best, and she took a selfie of the two of us so she could show him.

She said I looked familiar, had we perhaps travelled the Coast Starlight together before? I told her I’d travelled it many times, but that it had taken a couple of years to be ready to take a train trip again. The last time I was aboard, I related, we were pulling out of the San Luis Obispo station and within a mile the emergency brakes were triggered. Even at 30 mph, a trainset of only 8 cars and 2 locomotives takes a long time to come to a stop, by which time our car was at the RR crossing the locomotive had already crossed. Looking out the windows of the Parlor Car I saw a young man sitting on a bike, looking at the train, looking down, shaking his head, looking back, looking down, shaking. All activity had come to a stop. No one was moving outside. Just looking at the train. It was hushed in the Parlor Car. No more clatter of rails, no more horn blaring, no conversation, and then someone looked out the other side of the Parlor Car and gasped. A young man lay lifeless, wrapped around a steel post, half of his clothing ripped from his body, his backpack sprawled nearby, his headphones still hanging across his neck, and the ground below his head growing increasingly red.

The first person who jumped out of the train to help was a young Amtrak employee who stayed there with him, gently placing towels where he was bleeding, covering his partially naked body, and simply being there, doing what little she could do until Fire and Rescue came and took over. After a long but fruitless lifesaving effort, his body was taken away and the train backed up the mile to the San Luis station where we waited for a replacement operating crew.

“I was on that train!” she said. “Now I remember you. I was the dining car manager and served you. When the accident happened that night, I was the first one on the scene.” She told me the young man’s name. He had been walking with friends on the railroad right of way, on their way to a birthday party. He was leading the way down the tracks, with his headphones on, and never heard the train’s blaring horn. His friends yelled out at him. He did not hear them either.

“That was my first” she said somberly, it being obvious that it will not be her last. It is an inevitable part of railroading – pedestrians walk in the right of way, and cars and trucks ignore warning lights and crossing guards. She now has over 4 years as a railroad woman, and will no doubt continue for a while. On this trip, the dining car manager, the conductor, and of course Veronica the Parlor Car attendant were women. Having two daughters and five grand-daughters, I was pleased. Perhaps the crew in the locomotive were women too.

This trip ended with no drama. I will travel Amtrak again, hoping to see William and enjoy his Parlor Car discourse, and perhaps finding that Veronica will be the conductor. Or maybe even the engineer. And despite the odds, I am hoping that her first will be her last.

[This was one of my first posts, when few were following this blog. I am re-publishing it now for those who did not see it the first time.]

Dispatch from the Field: An Anthropological Study Of Modern Day Cowboys

cowboys at the bar

Tehama County is cattle country, and Red Bluff is its center of gravity. The Green Barn is the steakhouse of choice here, and when the cowboys come to town, this is where they congregate. You can tell a lot about modern cowboys by watching them at the bar.

Older cowboys lead with their stomachs, wear long sleeve check shirts and cowboy hats, and drink Crown Royal Whiskey. Younger cowboys work too hard to put on much of a gut, wear t-shirts or even hawaiian shirts, don baseball caps, and drink beer. I asked  Jake Bunting why the difference.

jake bunting

He said “we’re just different generations.” I got the feeling that his own kids’ generation might go back to cowboy hats just to be different from their dads. Jake was nice enough to offer to buy me a beer.

The occasion for this gathering was a video livestock auction taking place the next day. Kind of like the Barret-Jackson auto auction except if you win, you can’t just stick what you bought in a garage, you have to feed it. A bankruptcy judge once told me that when a big rancher or farmer files bankruptcy, he makes them sell anything that has to be fed or uses aviation fuel. A Ferrari may be more expensive, but you wouldn’t believe what a 2000 lb cow eats every day.

Jen and Ellington

Bulls are another thing altogether, and Jen (on the left, above) is Queen of the Bulls. Our server said she is the bravest person around here. The only woman among the 20 or so cowboys at the bar, she was the demarcation between the old cowboys and the young ones, as if holding court, or keeping the peace between the two factions. In addition to selling Bulls, she does the book-keeping for the auction, so she was everyone’s best friend. It’s been a long time since she has had to buy her own drink.

Ellington (on the right, above) runs the show, and invited us to attend the next day. We declined since I sometimes get an itch and rub my nose, and our 19th floor condo would not hold many head.

cowboy John

John (above) runs cattle and operates a Christmas tree farm. He tried to sell me a truckload of trees that I could then sell, thinking that would be a good way to cover the cost of diesel fuel to get our RV back home. Once again, I politely declined.

Server Anne

Anne was our server. She said the cowboys come every month, and she’d love to take care of them every time but in fairness she and the other server alternate who gets to serve them. She said they are really nice people.

It was somehow comforting to talk to these cowboys and watch them as they talked about the gamble that is their livelihood. I had the feeling that if I had been here 50 or 100 years ago, it would all seem about the same.

They talked about the relative benefits of red Angus, the cost of feed, and what June calves were going for. Politics? This is Trump country, but I never heard them say anything about politics. It’s just assumed. “Oh we love him,” one cowboy said. “But our wives don’t.” Are you worried about a trade war? “No, it will all work out.” Everything will work out. To be a rancher, you have to believe that.

There are signs along the freeway as you come into Tehama County: “Coming Soon – the State of Jefferson.” You begin to wonder who the yahoos are who want to break off into their own state. It was reassuring to know that these cowboys weren’t trying to secede or start a new state or other movement. They just want to run cattle, get enough money from selling them to cover their costs and put a little away, raise their families, and buy a beer for a gray-haired writer who happens to show up at the Green Barn when the auction comes to town.

The Brett Favre Rule

I always root for the gray-haired guy.

Mark Martin in Nascar (even though his sponsor was Viagra and their logo was splashed all over his car and merchandise – geez!). mark martin 2Chase Utley in baseball. And in football Brett Favre, which is how I backed into becoming a Green Bay Packer fan.

Brett had an amazing career, but when it was time to hang up his jockstrap for good he was enticed by another team to come back. It was not the come-back he had hoped for. That was a life lesson for me that I call the Brett Favre Rule: know when it is time to go. And then stay gone.

And the best time to go is when you are at the top of your game. Don’t wait until you feel nudges from your co-workers, clients, and others.

I’ve thought a lot about the Brett Favre Rule since I passed the Oregon Bar exam, especially with the swearing-in taking place tomorrow. Will I return to active practice? Oh, it is so enticing. Memories of past victories and satisfied clients cascade through my brain. Do I still have something to offer? Can I return to past glories?

But I retired for a reason. Actually many of them. Travel. Writing. Photography. And about a three and a half dozen other passions and pursuits.

To help figure all this out, I headed to the mountains this last weekend, all by myself. Sitting alone in the forests of the Cascades it all became clear. I needed to go back to practicing law. Until about 5 minutes later, when it became equally clear that going back would be folly. This continued, back and forth, the entire day and night.

Finally, watching the sun rise the next morning through the mottled pattern of green above and surrounding me, I recalled the Brett Favre Rule. The career I loved for 38 years had come to a right and proper conclusion. No nudges needed. A dignified end. Let it go.

cascade lake

Brett Favre could have chosen a different path. He could have used his skills and hard-fought experience to help younger players. But trying to be 30 or 35 again, at the height of his career? Not happening.

I think I still have something to offer. I have been told I would be great at mediating conflicts among and within families who are struggling with their businesses. I have done some of that work, and it is rewarding to me. It allows me to use the skills and experience I acquired as a lawyer to benefit others, without returning to the grind of practicing law. And I can take on limited projects here and there, without giving up the prime time of my life to travel, write drivel like this, and generally goof off. Along with pursuing those three and a half dozen other things I want to do. This makes sense to me.

So tomorrow, at 1:30pm in Salem, Oregon, I will raise my right hand and take the oath of office as an Oregon attorney, and promptly thereafter I will elect inactive status and retire – the shortest Oregon legal career on record. My Bar Admission certificate will find a hallowed place in a closet somewhere, along with my other dusty diplomas and certificates, a reminder of the 2-1/2 months of intense study of which I had thought I was no longer capable.

But on my wall, in a place of honor, I will hang something even more important: a photograph of Brett Favre at the height of his career.

brett favre hero.jpg

On Taking the Bar Exam at Age 65

Retirement comes easier for some than others. Despite years of reading and preparation for retirement, it was hard for me to accept that I could simply sit around doing whatever I wanted to do without contributing in some way to the good of humanity.

“Fransen family guilt syndrome” (you can look this up in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, DSM-5 – it’s just below “I can’t believe you are really looking this up”) kept calling out to me: “by what right are you occupying this piece of earth?” and “how are you contributing today to the good of society?” and “what have you done today to deserve the breath you just took?” Not to mention the lack of positive reinforcement that comes from a daily flow of satisfied clients. All of a sudden, on January 1, 2016, that flow stopped when I retired and nothing had taken its place.

Initially retirement was great. We took delivery of our motorhome, and immediately headed out for a road trip. By April of 2016, however, while lazily enjoying the spectacular view from our RV site in Southern California, I found myself googling information about taking the Bar exam in our newly adopted home state of Oregon. The deadline was the next day.

So, almost two years ago to this day, I feverishly put together and timely mailed my application package to take the Oregon Bar, and sent in my $3,000 to take the Bar/Bri bar review course.

Three days later I broke my hand.

The Oregon Bar people were nice, and gave me some of my application fee back. Bar/Bri however exerted a vice-like grip on the funds I paid them. NO refunds. Period. OK, how about I donate my Bar review course to a needy law graduate who would otherwise be unable to pay for it? NO. Period. May I defer and take it another time? Yes, until Kingdom comes. So I deferred every 6 months until last Fall. By then, I had gotten tired of dealing with Bar/Bri, and it irked me that I could not get any benefit from the bar review course I had bought unless I used it myself. And, I needed something to do during the dreariest winter months in Portland. With no plans to go back into law practice, and really for no good reason at all, I re-applied to take the Oregon Bar exam to be given at the end of February 2018, and started the bar review course on January 1. I figured that it was my personal Alzheimer’s test. If I can pass the Bar exam, then maybe I don’t have Alzheimer’s. Yet.

I quickly realized that there was way more material to learn than can be mastered, even though the course was basically all day, every day, 7 days a week for two months. During those two months I asked myself over and over again, why am I doing this? Avid reader and cousin Dave, in whom I had confided, cannily observed that enduring the Bar exam with no clear purpose to use your law license was the definition of insanity. I had no defense.

It was tempting to bail. Almost no one would know. But every time I got close to withdrawing, I started a new practice exam and once started could not stop. Every fact situation was a new problem to be solved. It was addictive.

Many people have asked “how was it?”

You would think it would be a lark, since I had passed the California Bar in 1977 on my first attempt, and had practiced law for almost four decades. You would also think it would be low stress, since I really did not have plans to go back into practice. To the contrary, my heart was pounding out of my chest cavity the first morning of the exam. I’m still not sure why. Maybe the potential embarrassment at failing now is worse than the potential inability to provide for my family was 40 years ago.

And for a number of reasons it was actually harder than the first time:

  • In 1977, I had just finished three intense years of law school study covering all the Bar topics; now that working knowledge is 40 years old (meaning, gone forever).
  • In 1977 I had a 25 year old brain; now I have a 65 year old brain which does not retain nearly as well.
  • Decades of hard won wisdom and experience turns out to be worse than worthless. Here is the analogy: the Navy and Air Force prefer non-pilots for pilot training. Private pilots have to un-learn civilian techniques before they can learn the military way. Same here: everything I knew about California law I had to un-learn, so I could learn the common law, the majority view, the minority view, and the model code. Everything except the actual law of California or Oregon!

In many ways the Bar exam tests the wrong things, and fails to test actual competency to practice law. It would be like medical students having to learn the proper placement of leeches, rather than modern diagnostic and treatment protocols. Maybe the point is not to determine what you actually know, but rather your ability to learn a vast amount of material, in a very short period of time, in a high-stress environment, and regurgitate it in a prescribed way. If you get through this, you may not be ready to practice law, but you are ready to learn how. Like a private pilot license, maybe it is just a license to learn.

As the day approached when the results were to be announced, I found myself ambivalent. If I failed, that was that, I can close the Bar/Bri file forever, and no need to think about it ever again. If I pass, though, decisions need to be made. Should I take the oath and pay the Bar dues and insurance premiums? Then I’ll need to look for something to do with my ticket just to cover expenses. Or should I just take the oath and immediately go to inactive status, which makes all of this an utter waste of time and money. Yes, it would be much simpler to flunk and remain on the retirement trajectory to which I am slowly becoming accustomed.

The letter from the Oregon State Bar arrived at home this week while we are still on our latest road trip. Daughter Kate had been checking our mail and called me. I stepped out of a busy restaurant to take the call. “Well.” I said, “what’s the word?”

She started out “you know Dad, it is a very difficult exam.” Ahh, she is letting me down easy. She started reading the letter to me: “The minimum score to pass the exam is 274. Your combined score was…” OK, I flunked. I knew that because when I took the California Bar you only got your actual score if you failed. If you passed, they only told you that you passed. No score.
She continued: “Your score was 325!” The Oregon rules are now different. They tell you your score whether you pass or fail.
I passed.
Now decisions will need to be made. Life may get a little more complicated. But at least I don’t have Alzheimer’s.
Yet.

Dispatch from the Field: Bloggers on Bikes

bloggers on bikes

I met Mandy and Barb in Podunk, Oklahoma. To orient yourself, it is half way between Clinton – home of the  world-famous Route 66 Museum – and Elk City.

They’re from Pittsburgh and Detroit, respectively, and were riding Indian motorcycles all around the country. Their blog is IronHorseGypsies.com.

iron-horse-gypsies.jpg

They said they are trying to find everyday American heroes. They write: “Amazing people are changing and saving lives in your home town.  Tell us their story and why you think Iron Horse Gypsies should travel to your town to do a feature story about your American Hero.” I think that beats throwing a dart backwards over your shoulder toward a map of the country to find your next place to ride.

They are hoping to make a living traveloguing their way around the country. (Good luck on that.) Mandy was a firefighter, and worked a forest fire on Mt Hood one summer, but thought it was insane. Of course, she also said traveling year-round by bike, tenting along the way, is insane. They’ve ridden through horrible winds and torrential rains. But on this night there was nothing but a beautiful sunset…

art sunset

(what is art, is this art?)

… and moonlit sky.

sunset-in-podunk.jpg

Dispatch from the Field: Signs

So Hip

Driving across country, you see a lot of forgettable signs, but some stand out:

“Dance like no one is watching. Drive like everyone is!”

Some try to cajole us to better driving habits by appealing to our vanity: “Road Rage Causes Wrinkles.”

Or “Motorcycle Helmets Make You Look Smarter.” Not sure that one would be effective with most of the Harley crowd I see.

You see so many “Buckle Up for Safety” signs you ignore them, but how can you ignore: “Buckle Up Buttercup.”

Some signs are popular with families playing the ABC game:

How do you pronounce Zzyzx? - Funny Sign

Parking meters do not often cause one to smile, but someone carefully wrote this post-it and placed it on a Portland meter:

Portlandia parking meter

 

Isn’t that just so Portlandia?

Speaking of parking, too many signs can be a money-maker for cities. I was once towed from a parking space in San Francisco that had so many signs plastered up and down and all around the meter post, I apparently failed to see the one that actually applied on a Monday between 11am and noon, when the moon is in the seventh house and Jupiter aligns with Mars. The barber in the shop in front of which I had parked smiled and told me it happens all the time.

There are signs advertising cannabis all over the West Coast, but the sign I never thought I would read was the large one on a field adjacent to I-5 near Eugene OR: “Pot Farm For Sale,” complete with phone number.

Almost as unlikely as: “Re-Elect President Trump.”

The Just Say No crowd still has its adherents in Maine:

So no to pot

Gratuitous “butt” reference for the grandkids:

gratuitous butt reference

Finally, I wonder if the Oregon DOT won the humor award at the National Road Sign Makers Conference when they decided to juxtapose these two Oregon town names on the same sign:

Boring Oregon - Funny Sign

Dispatch from the Field: Some Politics-Free Observations about Mid-America

cornfield.jpg

Random thoughts following a trip through middle America on the way home to Oregon last Fall:

  • If you can afford to live on the West Coast or the East Coast, you can live like royalty in mid-America. Homes are comparatively cheap. For the price of a nice home in Portland, you can own a mansion anywhere from Michigan to Arkansas – and it probably has lake frontage. Gas is cheap. Food is cheap. For a restaurant meal, you can budget about a third to half (or less) what you would in a foodie city like Portland. Of course, you’ll be eating meat loaf, mashed potatoes, canned peas, and pie, but you won’t go away hungry.

pies

  • On the left coast, you head to the mountains or the desert or the coast to go camping. It would be unthinkable to travel 10 or 20 miles to camp in a campground that looks about the same as your own backyard. In mid-America, however, people do that all the time. I finally figured out the reason: out West, you can go hoodviewsomewhere fun and interesting and completely different to camp that is an easy weekend drive. For example, from the heart of California you have the following choices for an easy (1 hour to max 4 hour) drive: LA, Lake Tahoe, San Francisco, Yosemite, the Napa Valley, Sequoia National Park, the central coast, Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara, Monterey, Big Sur, and if you stretch it another hour or so, you can add Mammoth Lakes, San Diego, Death Valley, and Las Vegas. In mid-America you can travel hundreds of miles and it is pretty much all the same. If you leave your home in the corn and soybean country of Iowa and travel 3 or 4 hours, you are still in corn and soybean country. If camping is your thing, and you live in mid-America, you might as well go to the KOA that’s 20 minutes away rather than the one that’s 4 hours away, and spend more of your time in the campground rather than on the road. It’s all going to look the same anyway. The result is that even as Fall
    comes,and it gets cold and damp, the campgrounds in mid-America continue to fill up on the weekends with families having fun just being in their tents and trailers, cool car koaand enjoying the hokey things all the campgrounds do to get and keep you there, like hay rides, crafts, bicycling around the campground, breaking limbs on play structures, kayaking on the pond they dug out. Decorating for Halloween is an art Halloween at the campgroundform there too. Hey it’s either go camping or head to the casino. So camping in mid-America is generally not the experience of exploring some place different and adventurous. It is the experience of just hanging out at the campground.KOA people
  • In mid-America, tourist bureaus have to work hard to get you take the off-ramp to their town. So just about every interchange has signs for the attractions they hope will draw your left hand to the turn signal. And there were attractions everywhere. How can you resist, for example, “The World’s Largest Golf Tee” at Exit 129 in Kansas? Or the World’s Largest Sycamore Stump in Kokomo? Or the Hubcap Lady in Jeffersonville?
  • We did resist Uranus Chocolates (motto: “The World’s Best Chocolates Come From Uranus”).
  • They really like their cars in mid-America. Every town seems to have its own dirt Yeager cartrack, and there are car museums everywhere. We missed the DeKalb turnoff, which thereby wiped out the possibility of seeing no less than 47 auto-related museums. The 500 Museum of Wheels (500 what? we don’t know) in Terra Haute had an open wheel racecar with an airplane engine that had been driven by Chuck Yeager (the first person to go BOOOOM! in an airplane that did not blow up.) Notable quote the day he broke the sound barrier: “Hey Ridley, I got me a little problem. I fell off my horse last night and busted up some ribs; I can’t tell these guys because they won’t let me fly today.” “OK Chuck, let me see what I can rig up.”
  • Where but the heartland would you find the one and only, and world-famous, Quilter’s Hall of Fame?

quilters hof

quilt 1

  • If you judge an area by what you see from the Interstate, you would conclude that Missouri is all about adult stores and fireworks factories. (Sorry, no photos.)
  • Rest areas are an art form in mid-America. In New England they basically do not  exist. In many parts of the country, they are reluctant after-thoughts by highway departments that have run out of money.  But in mid-America, they are roadside attractions in their own right. Look closely, because each of the following is a picnic table shelter at a roadside rest area somewhere in the heartland:

picnic shelter 4

picnic shelter 3

picnic shelter 2

picnic shelter 1

  • Finally, motorhome aerodynamics are carefully engineered so that the first bug landing on the windshield after you cleaned the windows at the last rest stop will land right in the middle of the driver’s field of vision. Every time. I believe that the engineers do their real world testing in mid-America.

 

Dispatch from the Field: 10,000 miles in 90 days – the rhythm of an RV road trip.

 

best campsite

After two months touring Canada, we left Ontario ready to get home. The more direct northern route was not promising weather-wise, and I wanted some warm dry weather before returning for a Portland winter. A meandering south by southwestern course brought us through the heart of mid-America, on to Arkansas to meet an old friend at the U of A, west (quickly) through Oklahoma and Texas to New Mexico, there to search for aliens and explore Carlsbad Caverns, then a few warm, sunny days in Tucson, on to battle traffic in southern California, and a week in California’s central coast, that being my happy place, but I am not the only one. San Luis Obispo regularly places in the top three “Happiest Places in America.” Then, like a horse heading back to the barn, we made a beeline up I-5 to Portland.

After 10,000 miles, in 90 days, we made it home, having witnessed only two wrecks (neither serious, likely no injuries), and with nothing having gone seriously wrong with the motorhome. How could anything go wrong, after all. Anything that could possibly break has already broken at least once, and been fixed. Repeatedly.

There is a rhythm to a long distance road trip. The first hour of the first day takes forever. You look at the odometer – only 50 miles! Geez, this is going to be a long trip. By the end of the first day you are questioning the wisdom of the trip. The second day is not much better. But by the third day, you settle in, and the miles start clicking along, you stop looking at your watch or the odometer.

You have reached road trip zen.

Just getting onto the road in a motorhome takes longer than in a car. In fact it takes about an hour to button everything up, removing all the utilities (power, water, sewer), packing for travel, pulling in the slides, hooking up the toad (the cute name used for a towed vehicle), and installing the auxiliary braking system. Once under way, EVERYTHING takes longer in a motorhome. Starting with acceleration to cruise speed. And stopping. Much longer. Especially if you have delays for horses and buggies (though they could probably outrun you):

delays for horse and buggy

So you drive much more conservatively, letting people by when you can. Speed limit is 70 mph? Not for a motorhome pulling a toad. Try 55 mph in some states. But that’s ok, because you never have to worry about passing that slow vehicle ahead of you – you ARE that slow vehicle. So courtesy calls for frequently pulling over to let others pass. And serious hills and mountains are taken (both up and down) at 40 to 50 mph, not full cruise speed, since getting towed out of the runaway truck ramp takes even more time.

If Mr. Google Maps says a trip should take 4 1/2 hours, I figure at least 6. This includes the mandatory nap after every few hours of driving. You laugh? Some friends we met on the trip relayed this dialogue that happened only a few weeks before our visit:

She: “Getting tired hon? I can take over driving.”

He: “No, I’m ok. We’re almost home.”

Car: “THUD!” as he shortly thereafter nodded off, ran off the road, and hit a tree.

They were both fully recovered by the time of our visit. The car, not so much.

On arrival at the campground you stop to register, and are shown to your site. Figure about 15 minutes, more if there is a line at registration. Parking often involves some fine-tuning to make sure you can reach the utilities, nothing will interfere with the slides, and hopefully no tree branches will block your satellite tv reception – yeah, I know, this is really roughing it. Then another half hour or so to level the coach (one button), open the slides (4 buttons), hook up the utilities, set up the furniture, and move everything back into place. This includes the chairs you set up outside in order to enjoy the sunset.

sunset in mid-america

By then, it’s usually time to raise a toast to the Queen (a British tradition we have adopted), make and enjoy dinner, clean up,  and finally relax and enjoy the evening. One of the best parts of staying in a campsite rather than a hotel is the campfire. Most hotel chains, I have found, frown on campfires in their properties.

campfire

As you can see, this does not allow a lot of time for writing. Especially after toasting the Queen and eating a hearty meal. Nodding off, yes. Writing, no. Hence no posts for most of the way home.

Having left this blog somewhere in mid-America, it is time to bring it home to the Pacific Northwest. The next few dispatches will hit a few worthy highlights along the way as we cannonballed our way west.

 

 

A Few Thoughts On Turning 65

It started when I went to McDonald’s for a coffee over 15 years ago. The young kid at the register said “25 cents please.” Startled, I handed over a quarter and looked around the posters on the windows looking for the special on coffee. Nothing. Puzzled, I sat down, started to sip, and my eye caught the receipt, containing the horrible phrase: “Senior Coffee.” I wasn’t even 50!

Next it was at a movie theatre: “$10 please.” Wait, admission is $7.50 each, so for two that should be…OK, sure, I get it, here’s $10. Without even asking, I was getting away with paying less than full money’s worth, compensation for having avoided the early death lottery.

I started getting comfortable with the notion. For some reason though, I hated the words “senior discount.” Instead I coined my own term: “Gray Hair Discount.” When asked whether I was a senior, I’d just point to my silver mound of hair, and ka-ching – out popped the discount.

There’s more to turning 65 than discounts. My good buddy and avid reader Randy recently turned 65 while on a flight across the ocean. Since he happened to be occupying the left seat of the cockpit, this required that he immediately exit the pilot’s compartment and take his place in the cabin. No one gets to fly airliners at age 65. Care for some warm nuts?

Turning 65 also means medicare, medicare advantage plans, medicare supplement plans, medicare Rx plans, Part A, Part B, Part D – is it really this complicated? Or I am just getting old?

I don’t think anyone in their 50’s feels like a senior citizen, yet as soon as you turn 50, the AARP somehow finds you and sends you pictures of healthy, virile, active men and women with grey hair. Sign up and you get even more discounts! And magazines with more gray-haired people, including starlets you remember lusting over when you were a teenager. They have grey hair now too, but the wrinkles are all photoshopped out.

In your 50’s, even your early 60’s, you can fool yourself that you aren’t a senior. You’re still middle-aged, getting older, but not a senior citizen. My dad was definitely a senior citizen at that age, but not me.

When you hit 65, it’s all over. You cannot deny it any longer. You are the very definition of a senior citizen.

I just turned 65. I am a senior citizen. There – I said it! But I still don’t believe it!

On reaching 65, a male born in the 1950’s no longer faces an early death. Too late for that. Any death from now on is timely, he led a full life, he beat the odds, he lived beyond life expectancy, wasn’t it nice that he lived as long as he did?

It’s just the passing of another day, another year, yet this is a bigger milestone than anything since turning 16 and becoming able to drive (and fly an airplane solo). Less fun, but at least as meaningful.

Oh sure, they say, growing old is better than the alternative. But really, how do you know? It isn’t like someone tried both, and came back and said this is definitely better, keep on trucking, don’t do that other thing. We just accept the notion, realizing that the aches and pains will not dissipate, the sharpness of thinking will not improve, and the ability to make wild, passionate love all night long might survive as a memory of earlier times but that’s about it.

So we persist, thankful that we made it this far, making the best of every day, doing what we can to ignore the side effects of living life this long.

© 2017 Ken Fransen

The writer is a retired attorney who now travels North America, still living in denial that he is now a senior citizen.