Tuesday, August 25, 2020

An Exercise in Humility

 Or, I used to think I knew how to sew.

As faithful readers (all two of you) know, I quilt. Over the years I’ve mentioned various quilting projects – machine pieced, machine appliqued, hand applique, whatever – made from typical quilting cotton, denim, and flannel. Projects have ranged in size from hot pads to king size. I thought I did a fairly decent job.

I’ve also mentioned more than once that after the S.O. and I invested in a motorhome we began volunteering as campground hosts. We’ve been hosts at both state and national parks, with my favorite being the first place we volunteered: Montauk State Park in Missouri. Montauk is possibly the most popular park in the state system and is well-known for its trout fishing. The Current River is born at Montauk where the waters from Montauk Spring and a small stream meet. I love Montauk. It’s a great park.

A couple months ago the two things – quilting and Montauk – collided. The Missouri DNR has a centennial quilt project in progress. A friend who is the current assistant park supervisor asked if I was still a quilter. I said yes. She then asked if I’d make a block for the park for the centennial quilt. Of course I said yes to that too. I quilt. So she sent me the requirements: using only 100 percent cotton fabric, create an 8-inch square block with a theme that represented the park. It could be pieced, appliqued, embroidered, or a photo transfer. In retrospect, the last listed would have been the smart thing to do – hindsight is always 20/20.

In any case, I said yes. No sweat. One 8-inch block? Piece of cake. No problem. All I had to do was come up with an appropriate theme. My first thought was to do something with the Montauk Mill. It’s a nifty historic structure, and it would likely be different from what the other fish parks would do (Missouri has four or five parks that highlight fishing – Roaring River, Bennett Spring, and a couple others that I can never remember). If you’re know for fishing, you’re going to do a fish quilt block. Or so I reasoned until I happened across a really nifty design for a paper pieced rainbow trout. Holy wah. It was a neat block. Granted, it was a design for a 10-inch block, but, hey, what’s a photo copier for if not to produce reduced copies. I’d reduce it down to 80% of original size and that would be that.

For the uninitiated, paper piecing is perfect for doing piecing that needs to line up perfectly. It helps ensure all your points are actually points, and is used a lot for doing hexagons (the classic Grandma’s Flower Garden pattern) because hexies are tricky to align neatly. Do a paper pieced trout and it would be like putting together a jigsaw puzzle with fabric. No misaligned pieces, no weirdness. 

Point of information: that trout pattern has 41 pieces in an 8-inch block. Some of the pieces are less than 1/4 inch wide, which meant the part that was supposed to show was skinnier than the seam allowances for it. It was. . . interesting.

Three or four or possibly five rejected trout and several weeks of my life later, I threw in the towel. The trout kept coming out looking more like an oddly colored orca. Even worse, the beast was assembled in modules (A through G) and when it got to the point where the modules were sewn into the final two units, they refused to align. According to the pattern, all the seams were perfect. According to the deformed not-exactly-square disaster on the ironing board, the block was a hot mess.

On to the original thought, the Montauk mill. Nothing but nice straight lines, no curves like a trout rising has, so the pieces would be nothing but rectangles and triangles (the building has gable roofs). All I needed was a decent photo of the mill to use as a guide. Got the photo, created a pattern, did paper piecing again, and managed after another several days of my life and three botched preliminary attempts to produce something that wasn’t a total embarrassment. Only 13 pieces instead of 41, although that first floor roof was also super thin and a a total pain to get looking even remotely like a roof. 

Made the mistake of trying to embroider Montauk in cursive above the mill, which is when I learned my embroidery skills (which used to be amazing) have definitely weakened with age. It was supposed to curve around and end in a fish hook. Now it just looks like someone misspelled Montauk. Still, despite my qualms about the embroidery, the block got shoved into an envelope and is now probably jammed in a USPS automated sorting machine somewhere multiple states away from here. Never again.

Maybe. Although the moral of the story appears to be Never Volunteer (or maybe never over-estimate your own ability to do stuff), I am going to try again with the trout, except this time I’m scaling the bastard UP, not down. I invested a fair amount of actual money in fat quarters specifically to build the trout. It wasn’t easy finding a good pink to use for the stripe down the side, and it will go into a fish worth keeping. I’ve got a Rolling Stone quilt in progress that’s going to include some miscellaneous blocks commemorating our travels with the late, lamented Guppy, and the fish will go into it, as will one of the prototype blocks for the mill.

The S.O., incidentally, came close to suffering bodily injury when he looked at the Mill block and said “what about the windows?” After struggling to align pieces the size of fingernails for the building, there was no way in hell I was going to screw it up by trying to embroider windows. The silhouette is right; people can use their imaginations to put in the windows and the handrails for the steps. I'm trying to take comfort in the fact that when it's set in a quilt with a gazillion other blocks and then quilted it's not going to look as crude as it does when seen in isolation. I'm in a bunch of quilting groups on Facebook; I've seen lots of stuff that looks worse but people still manage to brag about instead of cringing. 

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Living in Interesting Times

I started re-reading The Stand a week or two ago. It’s maybe not the smartest reading choice while living through a pandemic, but I picked it up anyway. For those who aren’t familiar with the book, it’s Stephen King’s usual Good vs Evil using a man-made killer disease, an airborne respiratory infection that is the ultimate in horrible influenza-like illnesses. It wipes out most of the population and leaves survivors who as the book progresses are going to be sorted into Good Guys and Evil’s Minions. Fairly standard post-apocalyptic plotting, in other words.

I’m not being real ambitious about it so I’m maybe only about 40% into the thing, which maybe should be called The Doorstop or The Brick instead of The Stand. The sucker is humongous. It was a fat book the first time around, and what I’m reading now is the revised edition, the one where King got to indulge his writer’s ego and plug in all the sections that publishers made him cut in the name of corporate profits.  nhi there’s a calculus publishers indulge in, a formula that incorporates the author’s past performance, likely sales for the new book, and how many pages a book can run before it slides over the line into Not Worth It. When the first edition of The Stand came out, King’s work was selling at a decent clip but hadn’t yet hit the point where Doubleday or whoever could have slapped the name Stephen King on the cover of a New York phone book and seen it top best seller lists. A few years later, of course, King had slid into golden territory and could do more or less anything he felt like doing. Result? A book so fat that calling it a brick would be massively misleading. It’s more like a cinder block. Or maybe one of those giant sandstone blocks that Cheops used to build the Great Pyramid at Giza.

But, as usual, I’ve begun with a long digression. I’m re-reading The Stand while the world is dealing with a pandemic. I have to say King did his homework (and he does acknowledge the help he received from epidemiologists and other experts). He invents an air-borne infection, a respiratory infection that is remarkably virulent. The infection rate is close to 100%. So is the mortality rate. And it’s fast. Victims are exposed to minuscule amounts of virus; 48 hours later they’re dead after coughing out humongous amounts of snot and then choking to death with swollen glands.

To me, King’s super-flu reads like a cross between typical influenza and diphtheria. Diphtheria victims basically choke to death, although not quite as messily as the super-flu victims in The Stand. Diphtheria used to kill a lot of people in the usual depressingly random fashion all diseases kill people. A diphtheria epidemic hit the U.P. in 1916. Locally, one family went from being a married couple with 8 kids to a widower with 5, a set of twins had one girl die while the other never got sick. The randomness really makes it easy to see why people want to believe in supernatural factors. Why would the three boys in a family die and the five girls survive? When everyone is living together in a tiny log cabin, how can some people never get sick? Depending on time, place, and culture, the survivors have either been blessed by God or are the Devil’s spawn.

The Stand picks its victims in a similarly random fashion. Some survivors have major exposures – handling a sick person repeatedly with no precautions – while some victims are exposed in such a random, tiny way (walking past someone who is infected but not yet visibly sick, for example) that if a person didn’t know that such casual contacts really can spread disease you wouldn’t believe it.
Then again, maybe that’s one reason why so many people enjoyed reading The Stand. Most people didn’t understand disease transmission really can be that simple so they viewed it all as just fantasy. From the way some people freak out over the idea of wearing masks, it’s obvious way too many people still don’t get it. If they can’t see it, it’s not real.

Out here in the real world, of course, there are no diseases quite as virulent as King’s Captain Trips. There are some that come close, especially at the novel stage and hitting a na├»ve population (i.e., one that has never been exposed before), but generally none manage to kill 99.9% of a population in one fell swoop. It took repeated smallpox, measles, and other epidemics of European diseases to eliminate millions of indigenous persons in the Americas, and even that had help – the American military giving smallpox-contaminated blankets to Native Americans, for example. 

Today, of course, COVID-19 is getting a helping hand from all the idiots who somehow smell a government conspiracy or an infringement of their rights every time they're asked to behave like civilized members of a community instead of the selfish twits they actually are. The bizarre part is that even when the twits hear about fellow cov-idiots who proclaimed loudly that they would not wear a mask, the virus was a hoax, it wasn't any worse than the flu (which they conveniently forget kills thousands of people annually, too, just not quite on the scale COVID-19 does) and who then became infected and died (or came close to it) the twits still proclaim proudly they are fine in their own personal little delusional bubble. A friend suggested that maybe we should just let natural selection take its course, but natural selection isn't particularly smart. It won't just take out the cov-idiots; there'd be collateral damage: the twits' friends, family, strangers who were exposed because one selfish twit was too lazy or too stupid to believe the science.

Given the way hot spots erupt almost every time people decide they're tired of being cautious and go to large group gatherings or hang out in crowded spaces I'm thinking we're going to be living with COVID-19 for a long time. It's not fading into obscurity until mask wearing becomes the new normal for everyone. I pin no hopes on a vaccine. Even if one is developed soon many people won't benefit -- it's pretty clear  Big Pharma won't just give it away. They'll price it the same way they do everything else: obscenely high. 

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Life goes on

The Guppy is gone. We left the beast parked in a storage lot in Arizona in mid-May along with instructions to The Younger Daughter to try selling it. We weren’t particularly optimistic about it going anywhere. After all, her instructions included being totally honest about its various mechanical flaws: the problem with the gas line, for example, and the fact it had a mystery relay problem that the S.O. was reasonably sure he’d finally solved but was burnt out on dealing with. Then when you add in the metal pan sitting under the engine with transmission fluid dripping into it. . . We were more or less resigned to seeing the Guppy again in November.
It took the YD a few weeks to get to a point where she knew for sure she’d be around to deal with potential buyers – she’s an archeologist so does have to get out in the field on a regular basis – but she did get it listed last month. Her phone immediately blew up with messages. Apparently ancient RVs of marginal reliability are in greater demand than one would think. She posted the ad on a Monday; by Friday afternoon the Guppy was gone, heading down the highway to its new home.
The Guppy went for a proposed use that was more or less exactly what I thought would happen. Cheap local housing. The young woman who bought it was a single mom with small children; they were part of a multiple generation household. She was living in her grandfather’s house. The Guppy was going to get parked in her grandfather’s yard; he said he could easily connect the sewer and water to his own. For a relatively small amount of money, they acquired a two bedroom, one bath addition to his house. The young woman was enthusiastic about getting a room of her own. The kids would get the dinette bed and the bunk over the cab. Grandad was not thrilled with the fact the air conditioning was dead on the Guppy, but you know the old dude was going to remedy that pretty quickly. Paying for a cheap a/c unit to keep the granddaughter comfortable would be a small price to pay for getting her kids out of his house.
It was actually the perfect solution. We would have felt a tad guilty if anyone bought it planning to actually travel with it, but for affordable housing? I have no doubt that when the time comes that the woman no longer wants the Guppy, she’ll be able to resell it to someone else locally for a similar purpose.
It does feel a bit odd to know that it’s gone. The S.O.  and I experienced a strange mix of relief and regret when we got the news. It sold for less than our asking price but more than the amount we had decided we had to get so I guess we’re happy. I know the S.O. is not going to miss having to work on the Guppy’s engine. Thanks to the design and the way everything was crammed under the hood, it was never fun. Lots of inaccessible parts. You shouldn’t have to put a vehicle up on a jack stand and remove a wheel just to change spark plugs, for example.
As for why we decided to jettison the Guppy. . . the bottom line was it had gotten to the point where we couldn’t relax in it. I knew the S.O. would have eventually gotten the mystery problem solved, but we also knew that even if he did solve it, we’d always be expecting something equally weird to happen. There’s only so many times you can sit by the side of the highway waiting for a tow truck before you have to admit the beast should have been painted bright yellow. It wasn’t a fish. It was a citrus fruit.
On a side note, when we decided we’d try selling it, we rented a U-Haul truck to get our stuff home. We had an amazing amount of shit crammed into not many square feet. Stuff really does expand to fill whatever space is available. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Meaningless phrases

I probably managed to annoy a few people on Facebook this morning. A friend shared a meme that asks the reader how often they thank veterans for their service. My answer? Never.

"Thank you for your service" has to be the most annoying phrase since "Have a nice day." I am a veteran (Vietnam era) and it irritates the hell out of me. It's totally vacuous, a mental sneeze. I'm guessing maybe one in a thousand people actually mean it, if that, but everyone spews it. What exactly are you thanking people for? I was a medical records clerk. Are you grateful I mastered the alphabet and was willing to risk paper cuts? Or do the thanks only apply to combat vets willing to shoot peasants in shit hole countries?

Do you seriously believe that people who served during the Vietnam conflict (one of the many wars the U.S. has managed to lose in the past 60 years) prevented the Viet Cong from invading Santa Monica or Big Sur? Over 47,000 U.S. troops died in Vietnam and for what? I'm reminded every time I shop for clothes that the Vietnamese won that one*; I have no doubt that if the U.S. ever admits all we're doing in other parts of the world is supporting companies like Boeing and Lockheed and stops shooting and/or bombing people unlucky enough to be Muslim that we'll start seeing cheap shit labeled "Made in Afghanistan" or "Made in Somalia" on the shelves at Dollar General. The Chinese are already moving sweat shops out of China into poverty-stricken regions in Africa. For that matter, Ivanka Trump had (probably still has) a shoe factory in Ethiopia, a country where the U.S. has targeted terrorist organizations like al-Shabaab. The First Daughter didn't even wait for the conflicts to end before going in search of people desperate for work.

Bottom line: Want to thank a veteran for their "service," which, as the accompanying meme makes clear isn't service at all but an endorsement of endless war? Then do something concrete. Lobby your congress critters to improve funding to the Veterans Administration. Volunteer at veterans' care facilities. Thank people through deeds not platitudes. And never ever vote Republican.

*Whenever I notice the Made in Vietnam label on heavy winter jackets or other cold weather gear, I wonder what the workers sweating in Vietnam's heat and humidity think of the parkas they're attaching fake fur to. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Hitting a flat spot? Apathy? Burnout?

The S.O. and I had been sheltering in place in Arizona for longer than we really wanted to, especially once daytime temperatures crept into the 90s. With the sun shining directly on the Guppy, the interior walls felt warm -- there is effectively zero insulation in the beast. Still, given the COVID-19 situation, we were kind of stuck. Couldn't head for home until we knew snow levels in Upper Michigan had dropped to the point where we could drive into our place. So we hunkered down, invested in a small window air conditioner, and were quietly grateful the electricity at the fairgrounds RV park isn't metered. The original equipment a/c on the Guppy wasn't working when we bought it, but it was never an issue until this year.

And then, commensurate with the rising temps, the Kid mentioned she could smell gas when sitting in a lawn chair next to the Guppy. The S.O. checked and, oh shit, gas was visibly dripping from the top of the gas tank. A fuel line was leaking -- higher temperatures apparently pushed enough gas up or through the line to make the leak noticeable. Okay. Definite problem. Need to fix that.

Fixing it kind of implied dropping the gas tank, not an easy thing to do while the Guppy was parked with limited maneuvering room under it. Still, the S.O. figured out a way to siphon the contents of the tank -- there was a fair amount of fuel in it because we'd gassed up in Lordsburg on the way to Safford, and Lordsburg is only about 70 miles away. He gets the gas out, and then goes to work on trying to drop the tank. Bolts are suddenly rusted in place, of course. Everything under the Guppy is solidly rusted in place. After fighting with it for a few days, spraying on penetrating oil, getting a longer breaker bar, trying with a chisel, he decides maybe just smearing some sealant on the area in the line that's leaking would work as a temporary fix. So he does that.

He then starts putting fuel back into the tank. Gets enough in that it should be possible to get the Guppy running again. Except it won't. It's fuel-injected and it's now air locked. So he spends more time trying to eliminate air from the fuel line. Nothing's working. . . and then it hits him. Maybe the problem is the leak in the fuel line still exists and that's how air is getting in. What to do. . .

Well, the Guppy has two fuel lines. One from the gas tank to the engine; one from the gas tank to the generator that would provide power to the "house." Except that generator doesn't exist; it was a basket base when we bought the Guppy 7 years ago. The gas line is still there, but it's not being used. The S.O. re-routes it, and, voila, success! The Guppy fires up and all seems to be well. We're now into May, so it's safe to head north. We proceed with getting ready to leave.

Departure day comes, we get everything squared away, and we head out. Stop at a gas station to fill the tank, and then aim for New Mexico. Barely 20 miles out of town, the Guppy starts losing power. The S.O. pulls over, tries to figure out just exactly what has gone wrong this time, admits defeat, and we call AAA. Several hours later we're back at the fairgrounds.

And that's when we decided maybe it was time to cut our losses. This was the third time we'd called for a tow truck on this trip; I had no desire to experience a 4th any time soon. We'd list the Guppy on local sales sites, the equivalent of Baraga County Stuff for Sale, and let the Kid handle it for us. At first we considered leaving the Guppy at the fairgrounds, but it turned out we'd have to pay the regular full monthly rent. They had no provision in place for allowing seasonal residents to leave RVs in place at a reduced price. The S.O. figured out the problem with the Guppy was electrical -- a relay of some sort was heating up and cutting out -- so he was confident he could get it running long enough to move it to a storage lot. Which he did. When the day came, with the engine cool, the Guppy fired right up and ran just fine the two miles down the highway to where it's now parked. 

Next step was figuring out what to do with the ton of stuff that was in the Guppy. We rented a UHaul truck and a tow dolly. Minor glitch with the UHaul, of course. We made the reservation on a Saturday, went to pick up the equipment on the day specified, and the incompetent woman working at the Thatcher Chevron had managed to lose the reservation. No truck or dolly available. Holy fuck. Pissed doesn't begin to cover how angry we were. We had reserved a 10-foot truck; the idiot woman tried talking us into renting a 26-foot one instead. And no tow dolly.

Fortunately, the UHaul dealer in Safford did have a truck and tow dolly available. After we told him what happened with the Chevron station, he rented us a truck and tow dolly at the rate the original rental would have cost us even though the truck was bigger (a 20-foot, still a lot bigger than we needed, but not as ridiculous as a 26-foot would have been).

We decided to totally empty the Guppy even though there is a possibility we'll be back in it in the Fall. The S.O. thinks he may have figured out the problem -- the ignition control module -- but we were out of patience. It is really hard to work on anything when outside temperatures are hitting triple digits. If the Guppy sells this summer, we'll call it good, and if it doesn't we'll try getting it on the road again in November. But for now we're heading home.

As a side note, emptying the Guppy was a revelation. We had an amazing amount of stuff stashed in it, way more crap than we actually needed. I think it was a rolling example of what happens when there are empty spaces. The storage existed so we felt compelled to fill it. If we go out in the Fall to spend the Winter in the Guppy, it's going to be a lot emptier. We'll just have what fits in the car. I have a hunch this will be a good thing. Less clutter, less claustrophobia. But of course whether or not we ever see the Guppy again is unknown at this point. The Kid might get lucky and have a buyer materialize. After all, the Guppy does run. It just doesn't run far. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Pu'ukohola Heiau National Historic Site

Everyone who visits the Big Island of Hawai'i tends to visit the National Park, the one with the active volcano. I always wonder how many tourists also get to the three smaller units of the National Park system that cluster along the coast, two north of where we were staying in Kailua-Kona and one that is south. They're all different and they're all interesting.

Pu'ukohola Heiau NHS is on the northwest side of Hawai'i near the modern town of Kawaihae. It is the site of the last traditional Hawaiian temple built and was constructed by Kamehameha I after hearing a prophecy that if he built a temple to the war god on Whale Hill he would succeed in uniting the islands under one leader, himself.

The temple is constructed of loose laid volcanic stone, no mortar. According to records -- and there was actual documentation from multiple sources; by the time Kamehameha was building the temple Europeans were visiting the islands -- the rock was moved from where it was quarried (collected) many miles away by a human chain of warriors loyal to Kamehameha. One gets the impression from the descriptions that it was similar to a bucket brigade. One guy would pick up a rock, carry it a short distance and then hand it off to the next dude in line. Like a relay race of sorts, except instead of batons they were passing along boulders.

The temple platform is huge, a massive structure on top of the hill. Unfortunately, on the day we visited the trail that leads to the top of the platform was closed. We were disappointed, of course, as the view from up there must be amazing. Other tourists were also disappointed and complained rather loudly about missing out on whale watching. The site is known as Whale Hill because it has always been a great location for seeing whales (humpbacks and others) come in fairly close to shore. Humpback whales apparently migrate to the area around Hawaii, Molokai, and Lanai every winter to give birth. We saw no whales from a vantage point along the trail that parallels the shore, but then we didn't stop at the park expecting to.

The Visitor Center at the park struck me as being a distinctly Mission 66 architectural style. I could be wrong. Both the Center and the restrooms building were built using volcanic rock, which makes perfect sense considering the stuff is everywhere. The Visitor Center is quite nice and, despite being fairly small, has an interesting display area with information on Hawaiian history. The restrooms building was closed for repairs/renovations/something, which definitely was not good. The porta-johns meant to substitute for it were, to put it mildly, disgusting. The contractor was apparently failing to keep them pumped out as often as they required.

We discovered after the fact that we missed one nifty feature of the park: the John Young home. Young was an Englishman who was shipwrecked in the islands and became a good friend and adviser to King Kamehameha I. He married the king's niece, became governor of the island of Hawaii, and his granddaughter, Emma, became Queen when she married Kamehameha IV. His home was the oldest European style building in the islands; today the site is basically a ruin with interpretive signage. It's located on the other side of the highway from the entrance to the main part of the park. We managed to miss signage for it as we continued on our way north. Moral of story: always read the entire park brochure before leaving the park. 

Monday, April 20, 2020

The countdown has begun

I'm sheltering in the shade of the Sparklight pole, watching traffic zip by on US-191, and thinking that it can be really hard here in rural Arizona to grasp that big chunks of the rest of the country are a mess. People elsewhere are dying from a virus that not long ago only virologists knew existed, but other than stores putting up spit guards to protect the cashiers not much has changed locally. Well, Walmart did do an interesting barricade using shopping carts to channel people going into the store into a single line and get them to think about social distancing. The barricade was kind of cute. They also put trash cans next to cart returns in a no doubt vain attempt to get people to put their disposable gloves in the garbage instead of on the ground.

And it's not actually just rural Arizona. I can understand people here in Safford or Thatcher still acting like not much has changed. Graham County has had two confirmed cases of COVID-19, both of which were diagnosed over a month ago and both of which did not require hospitalization. It's hard to take a disease seriously when you see no local evidence of it. Tucson, on the other hand. . . Pima County has not been as much of a hot spot as the Phoenix area, but it has had quite a few cases and at least (as of the last time I checked) over a dozen deaths. We were in Tucson on Saturday. It was a bit odd.

Our first stop in Tucson was -- no surprise here -- at Pull-a-Part.The S.O. was looking for a part for my Focus. It being Saturday morning, it was busy. There was a line of people waiting to get into the store/junkyard. Parking was tight, and got tighter. The Kid and I were waiting in the car for the S.O. She finally got bored enough that she went for a walk to see if he'd even made it into the store yet. He had -- no sign of him in the line. When she got back to the car she said things were tense in the parking lot. When a car went to leave, there were multiple cars wanting the empty slot. Two guys got into a shouting match, both obviously totally pissed off and yelling in rapid fire Spanish. She said they were talking fast enough that she didn't understand anything except one phrase that must be universal: Fuck You! I would have sworn that Spanish contains some really colorful insults, ones that are much better than fuck you, but maybe they had exhausted all of them and the fuck you was just the final shot. Pull-a-Part. It's not just cheap car repair material. It's also entertainment.

It can also be lunch. There's a guy with a mini-van who sets up not far from the store entrance. He sells bagged snacks, cold drinks, and has food of some sort that requires condiments. Hot dogs and burros maybe? He's even got a few folding chairs so you can dine in rather than walking your snacks back to your car. We chose not to patronize him. Instead, after the S.O. emerged triumphant, we went looking for a Popeye's drive-through for lunch, and then decided to seek out a Target.

Holy wah. The parking lot was full. You would not have known there was a Stay at Home advisory in place. The store had signs up saying they were limiting the number of customers in the store at a time, but you could have fooled me. It looked like Target always does on a Saturday afternoon: crowded. If I end up dead from the world's worst chest cold, I'll have to blame the desire for cheap cat toys, because that was about all I purchased -- a scratching post for Beelzebub. Oh, and some Oregon Chai. In any case, it was pretty clear most of the people in Target were not taking social distancing seriously. They were also mostly young (as in not gray hairs), the age slice of the population most likely to walk around asymptomatic.

The Kid and I had talked about stopping at JoAnn's Fabrics but when we saw the line there changed our minds. JoAnn's was keeping in store numbers low; there was a line of probably 100 people waiting to get in, all spaced the recommended 6 feet apart. You know, I like fondling yard goods as much as the next person, but there isn't a bolt of batik on the planet that could get me to stand in line for more than 2 seconds, let alone potentially hours. The ladies in that line must have a serious addiction to sewing and crafting.

In any case, I think that was the last trip to Tucson for us. This was the third time we'd been there this spring; that's more than enough. Traffic is horrible, and there's always something kind of seedy and run-down feeling about the city even in the good neighborhoods.

As I've mentioned before, the S.O. and I are staying home, sort of, in the Guppy parked at the Stables & RV Park at the Graham County fairgrounds. It is not a bad place to be -- it comes with built-in social distancing because the RV area is only 25% occupied (total of 5 RVs in area that could accommodate 20) and those RVs are widely spaced. That's better spacing than we would have gotten had we been able to get into our first couple of choices, both of which were totally full and are set up with sites so close together people with slide-outs get to worry about hitting the neighbor's rig. There is a communal shower house but it's pretty clear I'm the only woman using the ladies' side. The S.O. tells me that for the last couple of weeks it's basically been just him on the men's, too. In short, no fears of contagion from that particular facility.

In any case, here we sit waiting for it to get far enough into May in the Upper Peninsula that we can be reasonably sure of being able to drive the Guppy on to our property without either having to bust through snowbanks or sinking in axle deep mud. Going by photos a friend who lives a mile or so away from where we do, the smart thing to do is just sit here until the next rent payment on our site is due, which is still a good 2-1/2 weeks away.

I had been worried about just where we'd stop with the Guppy en route. I was having visions of Walmart parking lots and interstate rest areas. Well, turns out KOA has opted to stay open nation-wide. They rightly view campgrounds as essential services. There are a surprisingly large number of fulltime RVers out there. Folks who do not have a bricks and sticks home to go back to; their RV is their only residence. Some of those people got left hanging when work-kamper jobs got cancelled, some were doing the ambling around the country spending the maximum allowed time in state and federal campgrounds, and some were extended stay to begin with: KOA does do monthly rates.

And then there are the snowbirds, of course. People like us who went south for the winter and would like to go home eventually. KOA campgrounds have closed communal facilities like shower houses but noted that people traveling in motorhomes or with travel trailers are self-contained. As long as there are hook-ups, they can shelter in place in their RV with minimal social contact. The KOAs are now set up so you can register and pay for a spot using a phone or the internet; no need to step into an office and talk with anyone in person.

I have to say quite honestly that KOAs would not be my first choice when ambling home. I'd much prefer a state park or federal campground. But, as the cliche goes, any port in a storm. Now all I have to is get out the KOA directory and start plotting a course north.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Easter in the desert

Sitting in the shade of the Sparklight pole and getting caught up on what's been happening in the world. Life where we are at the moment has a definitely surreal feeling (which is no doubt true of almost everywhere else, too, in various ways). Saw one of the neighbors in the RV park going for a walk this morning wearing a face mask. Okay, dude, that's a little weird. It's a bright sunny day in Arizona, there are no other humans within a hundred feet of you, and everyone that is around the RV park has been here as long as you have. I can see wearing a mask into Walmart, assuming a person has one, but when the only other warm-blooded creatures outside at the same time as you are a couple of horses?

On the other hand, we went over to The Kid's yesterday for Easter dinner. Saw one of her neighbors getting picked up by his car pool to head for the Morenci mine (yes, leached sulfide copper mines apparently qualify as essential because the local mines are operating the same way they always do, full shifts seven days a week). No mask, of course, just casually stowing his hard hat and back pack in the vehicle and heading for work like he does on a regular basis. Not that it was particularly surprising to see him without a face mask.

In what is a not surprising and typically American reaction to a public health crisis, way too many people are doing the exact opposite of what would be logical. Young people hear that COVID kills old people so they don't worry about it. The CDC and state health departments are running nonstop PSAs explaining why self-quarantine and face masks in public are necessary, but it's not registering with the people who should be hearing it. The purpose of the face masks, after all, is not to protect the wearer other than it stops you from touching your mouth or nose without remembering to wash your hands first. A homemade cloth face mask or even a genuine N95 mask is not going to stop most viruses from being inhaled if you happen to walk through a high enough concentration of them.

Corona viruses, like all viruses, are unbelievably tiny. Remember, a virus isn't even a living organism, it's just a chunk of DNA or RNA with a thin protective coating (one that breaks down fast in ordinary soap and water, in direct sunlight, and when hit with bleach or other strong cleansers)(for what it's worth, Purell is useless. Purell can kill bacteria, but bacteria are alive and viruses aren't).

Nope, the purpose of the mask is to keep people who are asymptomatic or are in that infected but not yet sick stage from spewing their pathogens on the rest of us. The mask may not keep viruses out, but it can keep your disgusting virus-laded spittle from landing any place other than the inside of the mask. Remember, one of the more insidious things about COVID-19 is it has a really high percentage of persons who are either asymptomatic or have such mild symptoms they pass the few symptoms they have off as a mild cold or a touch of a seasonal allergy. For about 80% of infected persons, COVID-19 is a minor blip, not an issue.

The asymptomatic factor, incidentally, is one reason I think health departments should be testing as many people as humanly possible, not just people who are unlucky enough to have symptoms or know they've been exposed. One of the big unknowns with COVID-19 is just how widespread it is. All the numbers we see now are based on known cases, and the only way a case becomes known is for a person to be tested. How far has the virus spread? Has it hit the point that Tony Fauci fears, a level that will turn it endemic, a widespread pathogen that never goes away but has seasonal flare-ups like influenza? Or, horrifying though the numbers currently are (well over half a million known cases), is the virus still confined to a relatively small percentage of the U.S. population? As an eternal pessimist, I tend to think along similar lines as Dr. Fauci.

On a more cheerful note, The Kid and I spent a few hours yesterday morning hiking at Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area. We were hoping the cacti had begun blooming, but not quite. By next weekend the prickly pear should be spectacular out there. We did a fairly short hike, one that started close to the wildlife viewing platforms overlooking Bonita Creek, wandered up to the Kearney monument, ambled along the edge of the Riverview Campground (really nice, by the way, -- the BLM does a nice job on developed campground design), and eventually looped back to the wildlife viewing platforms. We sat for awhile, admired the soaring abilities of turkey vultures, and decided that once again we were there at the wrong time of day to see bighorn sheep.

The BLM day use and camping areas are still open. Maybe their management decided their designs have social distancing built into them. I know every BLM campground I've seen has the individual campsites widely spaced and even picnic areas position the tables and grills pretty far apart. I'd kind of like to camp out at Riverview because maybe then we'd actually get to see some of the wildlife, but I'm not real keen on us driving the Guppy over a one-lane road with 19% grades (short ones, granted, but not super short) and some interesting blind hairpin turns. Then again, I woudn't be behind the wheel. . .

Photos are from yesterday's hike. Can never remember what the yellow flowers are called, but there were a lot of them. River view is of the Gila River as seen from the Kearney memorial. The monument commemorates where Phil Kearney and U.S. army troops camped while en route to California in 1846. One assumes they actually set up the encampment down by the river and not on top of a hill, but who knows?

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Sometimes you dodge a bullet

Along with the usual reasons for wanting to spend part of the winter in Arizona -- avoiding snow, seeking sunlight, visiting friends and relatives, expanding one's mental horizons through travel -- The Kid had made plans for a family vacation elsewhere. She had decided to be generous and once again used her time share resort plan points to book a week in mid-February in Hawai'i.

The first time she shoved us on to an airplane back in 2016 it was just me and the S.O. This time she was able to find a two-bedroom suite in Kona so all three of us could go. At the time, there was some talk on the news about a novel virus affecting a region in China, but it didn't really register with us. We weren't going to China. We were going to Kailua-Kona. Mai tais, ahi ahi, palm trees, tacky shirts. People dropping dead from pneumonia half a world away did not affect us.

Except of course it could have. We traveled through two major airports, both with a lot of international travelers, going to Hawai'i and coming back -- Phoenix and Honolulu. Honolulu especially processes hordes of tourists and business people traveling to and from various Asian destinations. We saw numerous Asian travelers all wearing face masks. It did not register. If anything, we all assumed it was the typical notorious Japanese/Korean/Chinese germaphobia and industrial pollutants fear. It's been pretty common in China for many years for people to wear face masks outdoors because the industrial pollution is so bad. In retrospect, thank you numerous Asian travelers for wearing masks that may have protected some of us naifs from pathogens you were unknowingly exhaling.

[Blogger just did an interesting hiccough. Screen went blank and my draft post wound up published. Very strange. I will continue editing and eventually this may all seem a bit less unfinished. There may even be photos.]

In any case, we had a good time on the Big Island, wandered around playing tourist and doing some of the obligatory stuff (a luau, which turned out to actually be worth what it cost). I stumbled across a promotion being sponsored by local quilt shops -- an island shop hop in which each participating shop gave visitors a free pattern based on traditional Hawaiian petroglyphs -- and The Kid and I also found a decent book store. We dined at a restaurant we found out later is rated as one of the best in Hawaii, not just on one island, and we dined at low budget eateries that served traditional plate lunches. We visited Hawaiian Volcanoes National Park. I wondered again why anyone would want to live within 50 miles of an active volcano, let alone within spitting distance of one. We even lounged by the pool, all in blissful ignorance, cheerfully believing novel coronaviruses were a Chinese problem.

Ferns trying to grow in an old lava flow
That blissful ignorance persisted for several weeks after getting home. Heard occasional news about the virus being found in this country, but, hey, a couple of cases, no big deal. The CDC and the state health departments will handle it. No problem. As a former CDC employee I knew the agency had been worried about outbreaks and national coordination and snuffing stuff before it could spread for a long time. Back in the waning days of the Bush administration I edited the final draft of the National Biosurveillance Strategic Plan that laid out some of the problems and made suggestions for future action. The Obama administration took the issues seriously; a specific office within the CDC was created to address preventing epidemics from turning into pandemics. I was optimistic.

I did not know then that the Moron in the White House in his bizarre eagerness to do as much damage as humanly possible in the shortest amount of time had eliminated that office. I did know he had slashed the CDC budget, but how much of an idiot do you have to be to get rid of an office designed to prevent something that could make The Walking Dead look like a reality show?  Whatever that level is, Trump apparently has achieved it multiple times.

I found myself hoping recently that Trump had managed to French kiss Boris Johnson sometime in the past few weeks, but no such luck.

More thoughts in a day or two.

Friday, April 10, 2020

The blogging drought has ended. Maybe.

We have been in Arizona for over two months now and I have basically posted nothing. No photos since San Angelo, no thoughts on what we did or did not encounter along the way, no discussion of how we wound up camped at the county fairgrounds instead of an RV park with more bells and whistles, and for sure nothing about COVID-19 except one cartoon.
Only time fairgrounds have been busy; a rodeo weekend in February.

It's been an interesting two months. We had a wee bit of trouble getting here -- the mechanical issues in Texas capped by negotiating a messy snowstorm as we traversed the Davis and Guadalupe Mountains -- and then were greeted by a singular lack of available RV spaces. I knew getting into the 55+ RV park we stayed at in 2016-2017 was a long shot because we weren't able to make reservations. I did not, however, expect the second choice park to also be full. And the third choice. We were starting to wonder if we might end up dry camping out in the Coronado National Forest in one of the dispersed camping areas. There are a couple spots that the Guppy can get into without too much trouble, but it wasn't something we really wanted to. We also thought about the established BLM campgrounds, another option we weren't overly keen on -- the Guppy could manage the road out to the Riverview Campground in the Gila Box National Riparian Conservation Area, but the single lane road with the blind curves would not be fun.

Then I remembered seeing signage several years ago for RV parking at the county fairgrounds. So that's where we are: the Kevin Burns Stables & RV Park (or maybe it's RV Park & Stables) at the Graham County Parks & Recreation Complex. The RV sites are lined up along a fence that separates the parade paddock from the stables. There are 20 full hookup RV sites; at the moment, only five are occupied. Given that the other RV parks were bulging at the seams when we arrived in February, a combination of snowbirds and copper miners (the Safford and Morenci copper mines are both hiring so if you know any down and out depressed unemployed coal miners tell them to check out the Freeport-McMoRan website), it surprised me a bit that the fairgrounds park was so empty.

Granted, there is always a faint whiff of horse dung in the air, but other than that it's really not much different than any other Arizona RV park. The site is basically bare dirt, and there's no shade for most of the day, but that's true of just about every RV park I've seen in this state. It's fairly bare bones, no clubhouse, swimming pool, or laundry room, but it does have an amazing view of the Pinalenos, Mount Graham and the Pope Scope. It's quiet. It's secure. If you want to do extended stay here you have to pass a police background check. Because it's part of the recreation complex, there are some nice picnic areas close by, there are playgrounds (currently closed thanks to COVID-19), and there's a trout fishing pond stocked by Arizona's fish and wildlife agency.

One thing the fairgrounds lacked was wifi. That definitely cramped my style as well as keeping me out of the Internet swamps as much as I normally like to wade in them. My phone is a TracFone; it doesn't have a whole lot of mobile data for me to burn. We were going to the Safford Public Library to check emails and do other Internet stuff, but that had its limitations: the library was open only 4 days a week, it tended to fill with kids (junior high and high school in the afternoon; preschoolers being read to in the mornings), and it wasn't real close to the fairgrounds. Then health officials found two COVID-19 infected persons in the county. County officials moved remarkably fast to shut things down and to encourage people to stay home. They were ahead of the state when it came to taking things seriously. Although I can't dis the Republican governor too much. He did issue an executive order closing bars and restaurants in counties with COVID-19 cases pretty quickly, at least compared with what's happening in a lot of other red states.
It's been a wet spring; there are gazillions of wildflowers.

No library, no easy access to wifi. Choices became burn data on the cell phone or sit on a bench in the middle of Walmart. Notice I left out the third and most logical choice: forget about the Internet, Facebook, blogging, whatever for awhile. After all, we're lucky enough to be sheltering in place in a location with no near neighbors (we see the other RVers only in passing, not to talk with), where the days are sunny and pleasant, and we could do other things, like sit outside sipping cold beverages and reading. If we were back in the U.P., we'd be stuck inside watching it snow and cursing the slush covered mud (the muddy slush?). We don't need the Internet.

Except I sort of do. I do the online stuff for the Baraga County Historical Museum -- the EBay sales (anyone interested in some instant ancestors? We have some late 19th century cabinet cards we'd love to unload), the Facebook page (which hasn't been updated in much too long), the Amazon book sales, the emails from various people asking questions that always make me want to respond with "Would you like me to Google that for you?" In short, in addition to my own desire to waste time with social media, I'm obligated to be online occasionally for other reasons.
Discouraging grave robbers?

So how am I on the Internet now, inquiring minds want to know. Corporate generosity, believe it or not. One of the local ISPs decided to set up a couple free hot spots in town to help out folks who were in that category of people who relied on places like McDonald's or the library to stay connected. One of those free hot spots is in a fairgrounds parking lot. It's not quite close enough to the RV area to reach the Guppy, but it's a whole lot closer than a bench at Walmart. So here I am, sitting in my car in the shade of a telephone pole with an antenna on it. A pole which, incidentally, does not actually cast much shade and this is Arizona. My Focus is evolving into a sauna. Time to salt in a few photos, proofread, and then head back to the Guppy for the above mentioned cold beverage.

Next time, I may actually do my version of A Journal of the Plague Years. Or not. In these interesting times, you may find a description of the best RV camping in Fort Stockton, Texas, (the Walmart parking lot) more diverting.