Thursday, April 30, 2015

How do you spell over reaction?

I know I'm a tad out of the loop living where I do up on the tundra, but even I can't believe that professional baseball decided to bar the public from a game just because a CVS drug store got torched. WTF?

Over the weekend in Missouri we heard a little bit about unrest in Baltimore. At the time, it didn't sound like anything was happening there that was a whole lot different from the rioting that broke out in Ferguson last fall or any of the numerous other riots the country has experienced and survived without going into a total freakout in past years. You know, you've got a few city blocks where total chaos reigns while life in the surrounding area goes on pretty much as it always does. Unless the wind happens to blow the tear gas fumes farther than usual, you can be a block away from a riot and not even be aware it's happening.

In any case, back in the 1990s when south central L.A. was going up in flames following the Rodney King verdicts the Dodgers didn't decide to keep the public out of its home games. For that matter, invoking more recent history, the fact a suburb of St. Louis was a mess last summer didn't stop the Cardinals from filling the seats in their stadium. But people riot in a crappy neighborhood in Baltimore and suddenly Camden Yards is at risk? Unreal.

I know Baltimore is a rather wretched city under the best of circumstances. I've been there. You don't have to spend much time walking on Baltimore streets even in the "good" neighborhoods to recognize that the city has Major Issues. When stores located within spitting distance of the touristy stuff like the Inner Harbor feel the need to have security guards standing around in prominent positions or buzz potential customers in and out like you're entering Fort Knox instead of a run of the mill retail establishment, you know you're no longer in a typical American city.

Still, I don't get it. The news clips I've seen and the discussions I've read all keep going on and on about "the CVS store." Yep. The store, as in One Building. The crowd shots show a fair number of people in the streets during the riots, but unless the news media are doing an even lousier job of covering events than is typical for them, as far as I can tell, fans rioting after a college team wins (or loses) a championship can manage to do more damage than the "thugs" in Baltimore did. It's bizarre. One drugstore gets torched, and Wolf Blitzer starts going on and on about how he's never seen anything like it before in America. I guess the Quik Trip that burned in Ferguson a few months earlier didn't count.

Then again, who knows what the real story is? News media have devolved into a circle jerk of talking heads who have forgotten (if they ever knew) how to actually cover a story. The one source I semi-trust to do some on-the-ground fact checking, Mother Jones, is reporting that once again most of the media has managed to Get It Wrong.

I must say, though, that whatever is actually happening in Baltimore the city government and various other persons in charge seem to be doing a stellar job of handling it in exactly the wrong way. Which also is not a surprise. I could be mistaken, but when a city is having problems with unhappy young people rioting in the streets closing the schools so thousands of restless teenagers have no where to go and nothing to do is not exactly the world's smartest idea.

Update: I learned last night that the Dodgers did actually postpone several games because of the Rodney King riots. I don't recall hearing about it at the time, but that was back in the days before 24/7 cable news and nonstop social media.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Intimations of mortality

Over the years, I've occasionally thought about various possibilities that could lead to my demise: car accident, insane co-worker, being shot full of penicillin by someone who ignored my "but I'm allergic" protests, . . . it's a lengthy list, and one that tends to grow even longer as one ages. After all, one rarely contemplates the possibility of a myocardial infarction or a cerebral hemorrhage in one's teens, but when you hit your golden years and old school chums start dropping from "cardiac events," your outlook changes.

One thing, however, never crossed my mind. Death by asphyxiation from breathing in the fumes of burning piss. What's that you say? Urine doesn't burn? Well, it does if an exhaust pipe shifts position and melts the bottom of the black water holding tank on a motorhome. To say it's a rather acrid aroma would be putting it mildly.

We were bouncing along merrily in the Guppy, a mere 5 or 6 miles from the truck stop where we planned to stop and refuel both the vehicle and ourselves. This was supposed to be the Last Night on the Road; we were going to live adventurously and boondock (aka dry camp). Our goal, more or less, was a Walmart parking lot near Plover, Wisconsin.

I could almost taste the country-fried steak at the Iron Skillet in the Petro truck stop when two things happened, more or less simultaneously. I thought I smelled something burning and the smoke alarm in the Guppy went off. We pulled on to the shoulder, I turned off the smoke alarm, and we started trying to figure out what was burning. By the time, we rolled to a stop and the engine was off, the Guppy was thoroughly full of smoke with fumes so thick I worried about the cat getting asphyxiated.

It is, incidentally, a rather strange experience to be cruising down the highway and have a smoke alarm start shrieking in your ear.

Anyway, we stopped, opened a bunch of windows, and started trying to figure out where the smoke was coming from. No clue. The S.O. popped the hood -- everything looked perfectly normal in the engine compartment, at least the part he could see. Didn't seem to be a wiring problem on the RV side -- we had a DC-powered cooler plugged in; it was okay. All the lights functioned, too, and the RV battery wasn't hot. So we decided to see if we could make it to the truck stop. We start off, everything is fine. . . for maybe half a mile. The S.O. keeps driving; I go back and turn off the smoke detector and sit on the floor for the remaining mile or so to the parking lot. That's when I see smoke seeping out from under the engine cowling.

We decide to pull into the Day's Inn parking lot rather than the gas station. At this point I'm thinking we're going to be sleeping in a motel room instead of the Guppy. It was after 7, there wasn't much daylight left in which to solve the problem, and we were tired and hungry. After we're parked, the S.O. decided to pull the cowling off to see if we can figure out just what's going on. There is absolutely no sign of any problem with the engine itself, but we discover various snacks mice and squirrels have stashed on it: pine cones, spruce cones, chokecherry pits. So maybe the problem was that the engine got hot enough that some of that crap started smoldering? It's hard to see, the light is getting dim enough that we're not sure if anything looks scorched or not. I get us checked into the motel; the S.O. clears as much rodent food off the engine as he can find. We convince ourselves that was the problem: rodent leftovers trying to catch fire on the engine. After all, it doesn't take much material to create a lot of smoke, especially in an enclosed space.

Morning comes, we resume our travels. We're maybe five miles down the road when the smoke alarm goes off again. This time I move fast enough that I see a thick plume of smoke coming out from under the refrigerator. Brief moment of total panic -- that's where the furnace lives. No problem visible in the furnace compartment so obviously the problem is under the Guppy.

Mystery solved: approximately 3,000 miles of travel that included bouncing over some truly rough pavement led to the exhaust system loosening up and twisting. Instead of being directed away from the Guppy, hot exhaust was aimed right at the bottom of the black water tank. There's no way of knowing just when the twisting first happened, but by Monday evening after a full day of travel there was plastic dripping on to a hot exhaust pipe, followed by leakage from the tank. End result? Burning piss and some truly nasty fumes.

The good news, such as it was, is that there was nothing mechanically wrong with the Guppy. The S.O. was able to do a temporary repair with safety wire and sometime this summer will rehang the exhaust system, making sure all the hangers are solid and the tailpipe is aimed in the right direction. We were lucky in that there wasn't much in the holding tank -- we'd avoided using the Guppy's toilet after using the dump station at Fort Richardson. The bad news, of course, is that we have to replace that tank. I guess when we're complaining about the cost (approximately $300, depending on the size and dealer) we'll have to remind ourselves it could have been a lot worse.

Now to invest in massive amounts of Febreze and see if it's possible to get that odor out of the Guppy before the next time we go camping.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Four States, Six Campgrounds, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Montauk State Park
We didn't set out intending to comparison shop  campgrounds, but it kind of turned out that way. Four states -- Missouri, Arkansas, Texas, and Oklahoma -- and six campgrounds, four of which were state parks (Montauk, Crater of Diamonds, Fort Richardson, and Snowdale) and two U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Speegleville and Crane's Mill). Montauk was the baseline. Having spent two months there in the past year, it automatically became the default that everything else got compared with.

First, the online differences. More and more state park systems have updated websites that include the ability to do online reservations. How good are those systems? At this point, of the four states mentioned, Missouri's is the best. It's not unique -- it's basically the same system Michigan uses and is also practically the same as the online reservation system for federal campgrounds and recreation areas. You pick the park you're interested in, plug in the dates and type of site you're searching for, and the system shows you what's available. If nothing is open, it tells you that, too. You get to see a calendar that shows three weeks at a time along with a list of the sites in the park and their availability. If you spot a site that's open for the days you're interested in, you click on a link for the specific site and are shown a photo of that site as well as a capsule description (e.g., W/E Level Partial Shade Bathhouse 200 feet). It's a great system.

Unfortunately, the three states we visited after leaving Montauk are not as technologically sophisticated (or made poorer choices in selecting software packages) as Missouri. The States of Arkansas and Texas do have online reservation systems, but they're not particularly good. Arkansas gives you a description of the campground (x number of RV sites, y number of tents), indicates what amenities are provided (electricity, water, sewer), shows you a picture of a picnic table, and lets you make a reservation. You plug in the dates you want and it'll let you know if something is available -- but it doesn't tell you what it is, just that there is a campsite. The website says they do a senior discount but the online reservation form doesn't give you a space to indicate whether or not you qualify for one. It also doesn't doesn't have a space for indicating whether you want a walk-in tent site or a drive-in RV site. There is a Comments box, but the instructions for it just say for you to indicate any "special needs." That's where you get to guess that they want you to tell them whether you're RV camping or plan to walk in (literally) to a tent site. You don't have a choice in where you're going to end up camping; the park makes that decision. Nothing in the instructions for the Comments box indicates that's also where you're supposed to toss in the information that you're a geezer, which led to an interesting conversation when we registered at Crater of Diamonds. Arkansas state park personnel are as annoyed with the website as I was, maybe more, because they get to deal with the same complaints over and over and over, day after day.

Texas is slightly better. They do let you indicate what type of camping you're doing and what level of service you need if you've got an RV and want a site with electricity (30 amp vs. 50 amp). They do not, however, provide the option of picking a specific site, nor do they include any photos of the campgrounds. You're assigned a site by park staff. While we were at Fort Richardson, the folks there (very nice people, incidentally) said that if you've been to a park before, after you make a reservation you should call the park and tell the office staff which space you'd prefer.

And then there's Oklahoma. Oklahoma is still in the goose quills stage. Their website, to put it mildly, leaves a lot to be desired. It's confusing, it provides conflicting information, and it proved to be remarkably unhelpful. Apparently you can make advance reservations for some parks, but I never did figure out how. When I clicked on what was supposedly a link to get at the reservations page, things just looped. After going in circles a couple times, I gave up. We decided to be adventurous, just stop at the Welcome to Oklahoma information center and pick up state park information there. After all, we'd have several hours of driving between the time we hit the state line and when we got up to the Grand Lake of the Cherokees area -- lots of time for the navigator to pick a park to aim for. As things turned out, that method worked.

The Corps of Engineers uses so we had no problem figuring out where to go for the Corps campgrounds in Texas.

So how do the campgrounds we paid to stay at compare? In terms of amenities, Crater of Diamonds was probably the best, although if we'd been camping with larger equipment I might not be as enthusiastic. All the RV sites at Crater of Diamonds are full service, premium sites -- electricity, water, and sewer -- which meant using the showerhouse was totally optional for anyone with an RV that includes a full bath, which the Guppy does. The Guppy and my car both fit comfortably on the pad; we did have to disconnect the tow dolly and park it to one side. The pad struck me as a bit short for anyone with a long trailer or a Leviathan, but I don't know if the pad length was typical for the campground as a whole. One of the things I'd done was note the Guppy's length when I described our equipment in the Comments section of the reservation form. It's possible park staff assigned the site based on that information; other sites could have longer camping pads. One of the nice things about Crater of Diamonds, speaking of pads, was it had a defined tent pad area as part of each camp site.

I'm not sure how enthusiastic I would have been about the showerhouse, though, especially if I got stuck using the "accessible" shower. But this was something I've noticed in most of the showerhouses: the handicapped showers have a distinct lack of some common sense items. like a hook on the wall on which to hang your clothes or your towel. They're also designed in way that practically guarantees everything in that shower is going to get wet, not just the person showering. Then again, that's a flaw that the non-accessible shower stalls tend to have, too. Out of the six campgrounds, there were only two where it wasn't an issue for me.

One thing that annoyed the heck out of us at Crater of Diamonds was their check-in procedure, or lack thereof. When you arrive at the park, the first signage you see says campers must check in at the office. The office closes at 5. When we went to the office building, there was a list posted of "late arrivals" that gave the specific campsite number. However, despite it being a large bulletin board with a lot of empty space, there was no park map posted nor was there a map specifically of the campground. There is signage, but it's not particularly well-designed. There is also, as far as I could tell, no campground host. Why no map on that bulletin board? I don't know -- maybe someone figured that would make too much sense.

I also wasn't particularly favorably impressed the following morning when I went to check us in. First, I got to go in frustrating circles with the woman working the cash register over the senior discount business -- I didn't appreciate being told I should have said I was a geezer in the Comments section on the reservation form when the form tells you to describe "special needs." I wasn't aware being eligible for a discount was a special need. I could understand her annoyance -- if I was irritated by the process, so must be a zillion other park visitors. After you've had to deal with the problem hundreds of times, you're going to get irritated by having to do it again. But please acknowledge it's the fault of the design of the site instead of blaming the customer for failing to read a web designer's mind. Then, there was a complete and total lack of any information about either the park itself or the local area. One of the things that Montauk State Park does is hand every camper an information packet: there's a copy of Montauk Talk, a newspaper that provides information about past activities at the park, describes events scheduled for the current season, has a park map, and is loaded with ads for various local businesses; a copy of a park map; and a flyer for events happening within the next few days, like mill tours or naturalist talks. What did I get at Crater of Diamonds? A receipt. Period. Not even a copy of park rules. It felt . . . odd.

The other quibble I have about Crater of Diamonds is security. There is no host, and the only park personnel we saw in the campground was a maintenance guy driving through in the middle of the day. So what do you do if there's an emergency or the campers a few sites over turn out to be loud, drunken louts? Who knows? It's a mystery.

On the plus side, Arkansas offers a geezer discount to everyone regardless of where they're from. So does Oklahoma. Texas State Parks only give discounts to residents of Texas.

Speegleville Park
The other parks all offered both water and electricity at their RV sites. After leaving Crater of Diamonds we spent two days at a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers campground, Speegleville Park on Waco Lake. The site was nicely designed, close to level, and seemed well maintained. The park was clean, the grass was a normal height, and we saw contractors working on routine maintenance while we were there. A crew was going around checking campsites, and that same crew also powerwashed the showerhouse. The only drawback to the site we'd reserved was it was farther away from the showerhouse than we'd prefer; if we camp at Speegleville again, we'll know to pick a different site. Of course, one of the major attractions of any Corps campground is the low rate -- we've got a federal geezer pass so get a 50% discount. Our onecomplaint about Speegleville wasn't the campground itself but the online directions on how to find it. Whoever did the description must not have consulted a map printed after 1970 because the instructions made no sense based on the current configuration of the highway.

Of course, the directions to the other Corps campground we patronized weren't much better. They don't bother mentioning that it's about 14 miles from where you turn on to a state highway and the entrance to the park, which is weird because they do tell you how far it is for the first couple turns you have to make after getting off I-35. That leaves the highly erroneous impression that the last stretch isn't very long. You keep expecting to see the park coming up any time and instead it starts to feel like you're going to be in New Mexico before you get there.

Crane's Mill Park, Site 25
The second Corps campground we stayed at was Crane's Mill on Canyon Lake. It has the potential to be a really nice park. Unfortunately, this is a location where the Corps has issues -- and, based on the reviews I read (after we'd already been there, unfortunately) it's had issues for multiple seasons. It is a park that really highlights the folly of relying on campground hosts as your primary maintenance staff. Most hosts are retirees, geezers, people who may or may not be in the best shape physically or still have a decent work ethic (assuming they had one to begin with). The showerhouse at Crane's Mill went for 8 straight days without being checked or cleaned. How could I tell? Among other things, one of the sinks got really messed up the first day we were there and stayed that way for over a week. I don't know what happened -- maybe someone decided to bathe a filthy chihuahua in it -- but there were odd stains and mud. And those stains and mud stayed there for over a week.

Sign at the top says no dog showers
Bathing dogs in the showerhouse is apparently an ongoing issue at Crane's Mill. There were signs on the doors to both the men's and women's sides warning you not to wash your dog in the showers. Very strange. Who on earth would decide that a shower at a campground would make a good dog wash to begin with? The shower nozzle is placed high enough and sprays wide enough that anyone bathing a dog is going to be bathing themselves, too. It's a mystery.

The other maintenance issue at Crane's Mill was the grass. It was practically tall enough to bale when we arrived; it didn't get mowed until a week later. By then, there were thistles four feet tall on some of the campsites. We were lucky -- our site was thistle-free -- but the height of the grass did bother us a little. After all, Texas is notorious for snakes, ticks, and fire ants. When I'm running around in sandals and high water pants, I don't want to be walking through a hay field. Once the contractor arrived for what was obviously the first mowing of the season, he did a good job, but maybe the Corps needs to revisit that contract and change the dates so mowing either starts earlier or happens more often.

As it happens, both incompetent camp hosts and overgrown campsites were complaints mentioned on Trip Advisor so they're apparently ongoing problems at Crane's Mill. Interestingly, Canyon Lake is one of the Corps locations where their advertisements on ask for a 6-month commitment. I'm think that's just too long. The Corps does have a policy of requiring a minimum of 90 days, but 6 months? That's an open invitation to (a) shrink the size of the applicant pool and (b) allow camp hosts who are in place to get very, very lazy. After all, it doesn't take a whole lot of brain cells for even the most incompetent host to figure out that once he's set up on the host's RV site at a campground, it's going to be hard to dislodge him before his time is up.

Despite the shortcomings we noticed at Crane's Mill, we stayed for 9 days. It was a good location for playing tourist in San Antonio and in the hill country, it was close to where the S.O.'s nephew lives, and our actual campsite was quite nice. We were on two different sites -- 4 nights on one, 5 on the other -- because when we asked about extending, it turned out that someone had reserved the site we were on. So we moved to a walk-in (aka first come, first serve) site. I didn't get a close look at the tent camping area (it's a considerable distance from the RV area), but the RV sites are all nicely designed. Most have long pads (75 feet), the utility hookups are in a good position, there's both a fire ring and a barbecue grill, and the picnic table is huge (10 feet long) and is roofed over to provide shade. There's also a lot of space between the sites if you pick one on the outside of the loop. The ones on the inside of the loop are a little tighter, but still have more space between them than the typical campground or RV park. The site was so close to level that the S.O. had to do minimal blocking under the Guppy. It's another place I could see staying at again despite its shortcomings -- that geezer pass does compensate quite a bit for the flaws.

Fort Richardson post hospital
From Crane's Mill we headed north to a Texas State Park, Fort Richardson. It's also a State Historic Site and a National Historic Landmark. The fort was built in 1867 as an occupation fort during Reconstruction, but gets interpreted now as a frontier fort intended to help keep the Indians in check. There are several original structures remaining at the fort -- the post hospital, the commandant's house, the magazine -- and two reconstructed barracks buildings. The campground is walking distance (the park is not real big) but out of sight of the fort buildings. The campsites are a mix: there are primitive tent sites, there are RV sites (including four full serve), and there are mini cabins, including a couple with air conditioning. Texas is like Arkansas in that park staff assign camp sites: you find out where you are when you check in. However, as noted above, if you're familiar with a park, you can call and request a specific site. Fort Richardson was the only place we camped where we had a pull-through site, which was convenient -- it meant not having to unhitch the tow dolly. It's a nice park; we'd camp there again if there's ever a reason to be in that part of Texas.

From Texas, we moved on to Oklahoma, the state where we left finding a campground to chance. When we stopped at the information center, we picked up a guide to camping and outdoor recreation in the state. It included descriptions of the state parks. Combined with the highway map, it led us to try Snowdale State Park. It was in a convenient location (only a few miles off US-69) and we figured that because it was a Tuesday there'd be space available. As it turned out,we were the only RV campers at the park.

Snowdale State Park
Snowdale was interesting because it's tiny -- less than 40 acres. It's on the lower end of the Lake of the Cherokees and has a small beach and a boat landing. It's open seasonally (April through November) and, according to the camp host, is always busy on the weekends. I believe it. It would be a great little park for a family get-away. It has 17 RV sites, all with water and electricity, and a bunch of tent sites. The concrete pad for the RV was totally level -- no blocking of any sort required. It also sits right next to a housing development. There was a high fence providing a visual barrier between the camp sites and the McMansions, but it still felt a little weird.

Snowdale, incidentally, had the best shower of any I experienced in our travels. The showerhouse is not new and definitely showing its age, but it was designed in a way that meant the stuff I wanted to stay dry was actually going to stay dry and that water from the shower wasn't going to cover the floor in the dressing area. It's another campground that I'd stay at again, although given that it's a first come first serve park, I don't know if I'd try for a spot there during the summer.

At some point I suppose we should try out a private campground, like a KOA, but given how cheap we are, I don't see that happening any time soon. Can't see spending $40 or more per night when there are so many nice state and federal campgrounds available for a lot less money. Even at full price a typical state park is half what a KOA would cost. And then when you toss in the geezer pass for federal sites. . . we're a lot more likely to find ourselves boondocking in a Walmart parking lot than we ever are to end up paying to park in a privately-owned campground.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Random road trip thoughts

Bluebonnets, a Texas paradox: they're toxic to cattle. 

Arkansas is a strange state. For some reason, it always feels small and claustrophobic to me. Except for Buffalo National River, of course, but we didn't go anywhere near BUFF on this trip.


I used to think the worst drivers in the world were in Atlanta. Not anymore. They're in Texas. Not only did we get to see the classic right (or left) turn done at the last possible moment across 3 or 4 lanes of traffic multiple times, we also witnessed gems like the woman in Waco who sat through a really long red light (i.e., lots of time to think about what she was about to do) and then turned the wrong way on to an extremely busy one way street. How a person can sit there witnessing 3 lanes of traffic all going west and then decide to turn into one of those lanes to go east is beyond me. And you know that business with speed limits being set at 75? As far as I can tell, one of the unintended consequences is it encourages impatience -- and a whole lot of deciding it's a good idea to pass vehicles despite the double yellow line running down the middle of the road. There seemed to be a plethora of roadside memorials in Texas. Coincidence? I think not. . .

And, to continue speaking of Tejas, everyone tells me the state is wonderful place to live because there's no income tax. Hey, tax haters, take a good look at the bottom line on a sales receipt the next time you go shopping: you're paying a sales tax that's over 8% , Even worse -- Texas taxes groceries. I noticed the receipts from HEB and Lowe's (two of the supermarket chains we patronized) had a provision for "nontaxable" items. What those items might be is a mystery. Every time we went shopping, everything we bought got hit with sales tax, and most of what we bought was food.

On the positive side, Texas has great roads (no doubt another reason so many people drive like they believe they're running a qualifying lap for a Sprint Cup race). Of course, the climate helps. It's easy to maintain good pavement when frost heaving isn't much of an issue.

Why is Texas so famous for cattle? It seemed like we saw a lot more goats grazing in various pastures than we did cattle. Lots and lots of Boer goats, which makes me wonder just what type of meat is going into the chili and/or barbecue in the state. Not that it matters much. Goat is edible. I did not realize, however, that the market for goat meat was extensive enough to warrant raising a gazillion goats anywhere. I wonder if the goat meat is for the export market? I've been told that goat gets eaten a lot in Mexico, but I've never seen goat meat on a menu in a Mexican restaurant in this country. The only restaurant I've ever patronized that admitted to serving goat meat was Ethiopian.

And what does it say about me that I actually recognized what breed those goats were?


Just where do the Amish in Missouri actually live? Once again, as we traversed the state on US-60, we saw the "Share the Road" signs and even witnessed assorted Amish persons with their horse-drawn buggies and wagons. Where do these people actually live? I've never seen a wagon parked in a farm yard in Missouri; all I've ever seen are the usual pickup trucks and cars along with humongous tractors. How far off the beaten track does a person have to go to actually find an Amish residence? It can't be too far because the effective range of a horse-drawn wagon is a lot shorter than that a motorized vehicle. It's a mystery.

The signs are a mystery in themselves. Why do they show a buggy with side curtains when the only things I ever see the Amish driving are buckboard wagons?

Intersections with traffic signals that disrupt the traffic flow on a major 4-lane divided highway that has a posted speed limit of 70 mph are a really, really bad idea. But if you are going to stop traffic flow, at least make the signals last long enough for the Amish to make it through that intersection without having to whip the horse into a trot that turns the wagon into a racing sulky.


What is the per capita ratio of Indian casinos to state residents in Oklahoma? I could be wrong, but it did appear that the Indian nations have seriously overbuilt. We saw multiple casinos as we cruised up US-69 and none of them appeared to be doing a booming business. Granted, it was on a weekday, but when a casino has fewer cars in its parking lot than a typical Kmart, it's not exactly doing a booming business. They may attract some out of state gamblers, but somehow it seems unlikely that Miami, Oklahoma, is going to turn into a destination that rivals Las Vegas, its cluster of casinos notwithstanding.

I did notice that REO Speedwagon was headlining at one of the many Indian casinos we passed. Next stop for those guys? Branson. I can see it now: The Take It On The Run Theater, with a dinner show starting at 5 p.m. so aging fans are guaranteed to be back at their motels before it gets too dark to drive.

The most expensive gas we purchased on this road trip was in Oklahoma. And, going by the prices posted at the gas stations closest to the casinos, we got off cheap compared to the gamblers. General rule of thumb for traveling through the Sooner State: Never buy gas at a service station located adjacent to any of the Indian casinos. You'll be paying at least a dime per gallon more than you will at the other gas stations in the state.

And, one last thought on the Indian casinos: the architectural design for every single one was garish and ugly beyond belief. Truly horrible. Here's hoping the construction was so cheap and shoddy that none will last long because, holy wah, calling them eyesores is a massive understatement.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Speaking of coincidences

We've kind of vanished into Intertubes no-man's-land. Not really feeling much like keeping up with blogging when I've got to do it at the McDonald's closest to the campground.

Which, incidentally, is in Startzville, Texas, if anyone is interested. We're at the Crane's Mill Park on Canyon Lake. Your tax dollars at work -- it's operated by the Corps of Engineers.
It's a nice campground, but expect a longer post at some point in the future on the folly of relying solely on less-than-ambitious "park hosts" to do routine maintenance.

And, yes, the bluebonnets were amazing this year.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Another meh moment

I was doing my usual ambling aimlessly around the Intertubes yesterday and stumbled across a post by a fellow who was musing about giving up his blog. On one level, I found myself thinking, Well, that's considerate of him. If his blog goes silent, anyone who read it on a regular basis won't be wondering if he keeled over with no warning and is now taking a dirt nap. At the same time, I have to admit the dominant reaction was more along the lines of "Who cares?"

Seriously, unless a person is getting paid to post something on a regular basis or if you have real (not virtual) friends and relatives following your blog as a way to keep up with your health and well-being, what difference does it make if you do a post daily, weekly, or maybe once every couple of months?  Blogging isn't supposed to be a chore. It's not a job. There is no formal production quota that if you fail to meet you're going to find yourself out in the cold, cut off forever from cyberspace and your 3 regular readers. When you're doing something as a hobby, it's never supposed to feel like work.

I'll concede it's nice to throw out an occasional warning if you're planning to deviate from your normal routine, but what's the worst that happens if you don't? A few of your "followers" may notice that nothing new from you has shown up for awhile, they may wonder briefly what happened, but in the overall scheme of things it's going to be a nonevent.

If someone were to ask me why I'm even bothering to think about a blogger's musings about possibly shutting down his blog, I guess it's because I tend to see that type of thing as a plea for attention. You know, it's an attempt to generate comments that will say, in essence, "Oh, please, please don't stop posting. You're so wonderful that I'll be lost without your words of wisdom." If there are events in the real world that are going to take you away from the computer, just say so, e.g., "I'm going camping for a week" or "Other obligations mean I don't have as much time as I used to." Then walk away. Don't turn cutting back or giving up blogging into some sort of never-ending farewell tour where you keep promising to leave but never actually do. In short, how can we miss you if you won't go away?

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Moving on

Sunset over Loop 1
Today we'll be hitting the road, sort of. After the S.O. is up and moving (he's not a morning person), we'll do the few things left to do to get the Guppy ready to roll out.

It's been an interesting month. I'm told it was a lot quieter during the first couple of weekends than usual -- the wintry weather discouraged some groups so either not as many people showed up or they were more subdued.  It did seem less busy than it had been in the fall, and the campsites less elaborate, i.e., fewer large pavilions.

Low budget camping using an up-cycled 1978 Ford Ranger. These guys didn't
have particularly elaborate gear, but they were nice enough to bring a keg
instead of multiple cases of Busch Lite. End result? No cans in the fire ring,
Even better? All their red SOLO cups went into the dumpster. They let their
site spotless. 
There were one or two groups that got a little noisy, but we only had one weekend where other campers came knocking on our door late at night to complain about noise.

That was, IIRC, the same weekend the law enforcement ranger got to haul someone off to the drunk tank after the fellow persisted in driving backwards (as in Reverse, not as in ignoring the One Way signs) around the campground. Apparently most of the month has been a little colder and nastier than usual for Missouri in March (it must be Obama's fault), so even though all the reserved sites have been 100% reserved just about every Friday and Saturday, not all of them have been occupied. I personally do not understand how people can be so casual about paying in advance for a campsite at $23 a night and then not bother using it, but then I come from a long line of cheap frugal ancestors and live with a person who, as the saying goes, "knows the value of a dollar."

Another low budget rig. When I saw this coming into the park my first thought
was "Someone dragged an ice fishing shack to Missour?" It's just a box made
from OSB with a door at the end facing the rear of the trailer.  There's an OSB
 patio,  too, in front of the door. They were another group that had a good time but
left their campsite in great shape.
One thing I did notice this year more than in October was how many campers seem to be confusing the fire ring with a trash incinerator. This past weekend there were at least half a dozen fire rings that were absolutely disgusting: filled with half burnt food waste, plastic, tin cans, etc. It's one thing to imbibe a few too many beers and start tossing the Busch cans into the flames; it's quite another to deliberately try to get rid of your trash by burning it instead of bagging it and taking it to the dumpster. I don't understand how people can do that -- they'd complain like crazy if they got here and found a fire ring that looked that bad, so why do they think it's okay to leave the site filthy? I'm tempted to mutter about "trailer trash" because with a few exceptions, the nastiest fire rings were left by people who are camping using large, expensive trailers. It's not the low budget or the tent campers who make the worst messes.

We've already been asked by a number of people if we'll be back next March. At this point we have no clue. It's possible that the simple purchase of an electric blanket and few more modifications to the Guppy (e.g., insulated vent covers) would convince us cold temperatures wouldn't be as annoying. It's equally possible we'll decide to try a longer volunteer commitment at one the National Wildlife Refuges or National Parks farther south, someplace where snow is a lot rarer than it is in Missouri. We may decide to do what a lot of people do -- just head down to the cheap RV parks in south Texas and hang out there doing nothing for several months. We could opt for volunteering at a different park here in Missouri, just out of curiosity. Or we could just stay home. Who knows?

One thing we do know is we'll be back here at Montauk in October. Maybe then I'll actually go fishing.