Squirrels stole all the bird seed at our wooded site in Washington so I oiled the pole in an effort to keep them off the feeder. Their cartoon attempts at climbing and sliding down the pole were eventually rewarded when they scaled the pole, looped over the top and dropped onto the feeder. It was a one way journey however.
If you’re worried about squirrelly’s fate it was only about a four foot drop to the grass. It didn’t stop him climbing the pole again, and again, and again . . . .
It’s hard to know where to begin. I was thinking of starting at the end, but that might be courting disaster as this might not be the end so I’ll start in the middle. I have my technician standing by to help with the terminology.
Said technician was doing his usual fiddling and checking. We were parked in a beautiful Arizona desert campsite; we’d had a pleasant lunch in the sunshine and things were just a little too perfect so himself went looking for trouble. “I thought that tire looked a bit flat. It has a faulty valve. Can you hear it hissing?”
“Put your ear next to the valve.”
“I’m comfortable here.”
I grunted to upright, lumbered over to the wheel and grunted to a crouch. I heard it. “Is that the new tire they put on yesterday?”
“Yes and it wasn’t enough that we waited 2 ½ hours for them to even think about starting to put the wrong tires on.”
“No. It was the previous place that put the wrong tires on. They put the right tires on yesterday, then had to take them off and put the wrong tires on.”
A little background in case you think the desert heat had fried our brains: We had only done 8,000 miles towing the trailer when Jimmy noticed that the front pair of trailer tires was wearing, so we had them replaced in Natchez, Mississippi. The tire rating was slightly different but they would know what they were doing, wouldn’t they? Wouldn’t they?
About 1400 miles later, the rear tires showed considerable wear so they had to be replaced. This was done after much web searching in Yuma, Arizona for a reputable tire shop where the correct tires, i.e. crossplys were fitted. My technician, at this point, decided to ask the tire shop tech why they had fitted D rated tires when the front newish pair were R rated. You guessed it. Or maybe you didn’t. I’m lost too. But anyway. The first shop fitted radials in error so the correct crossplys had to come off to match the erroneous radials. We now have four radials on the trailer and a crossply spare.
WAIT! Don’t glaze over yet.
When we had a puncture in St Petersburg FL, Jimmy removed the flat tire with the Mecanno/Erector set jack we had on the Chevy and I had 40 fits when the hitch was about to topple off it’s block nearly planting the trailer nose down in the dirt. This time we made a stepped ramp with some bits of wood, LEGO-style, and towed the front wheel of the dual-axel up – bump, bump, bump – to get the rear wheel off the ground. It was marginally less precarious and much more Heath Robinson/Rube Goldberg (bilingual again!) than the spindly jack.
All went well after that, the valve was replaced in five minutes and we put the wretched thing back on in time for a slightly before the sun-over-the-yardarm glass of wine.
We’ve been stiffed all over the country with this trailer right from its purchase from a bunch of cowboys in Washington State who couldn’t even add up. The company manager couldn’t get his head ‘round the difference between a rebate and a deposit. He was convinced that one cancelled out the other. I had to explain to him that the two were added together and deducted from our purchase price. We were overcharged for the awning arm replacement just off the Interstate in Florida, overcharged for a service in San Antonio in Texas (where I suspect the guy did nothing at all but charged anyway) and were the target for a con in Wells NV.
Is the trailer jinxed?
Oh, by the way, this latest episode was in the town of Hope!
For every little thing that is bigger and better in America, according to Americans, it’s that much bigger and better in Texas, according to Texans.
When describing a spider and saying 14 inches, a Texan will hold his hands out at full arms breadth. And of course there’s the story about the Texas rancher bragging about his family’s property to an East coast farmer. “My Daddy can drive his truck from dawn to dusk and still not cross our property.” To which the East coast farmer replies, “Yeah, my Dad had a truck like that.”
There is no doubt that Texas is a big state, 268,601 square miles (bigger than Spain and Portugal combined), the largest state after Alaska so driving is a daily pastime. “We might drive a hundred miles to the grocery store. To a European, that’s a vacation,” our neighbor in the campsite boasted to us. We drove 49 miles to the interstate the next day and didn’t encounter another soul on the lonely road.
The 22 million of population in Texas is concentrated in the east of the state. Parts of west Texas have a population destiny of less than one person per square mile – no urban sprawl, in fact no urban – with vast tracts of desert and mountains.
The parched and empty landscape is tranquil in winter but deceptive. Wide dry river beds and deep gulches, new patches of road and new bridges where the gulches run through, give an inkling of the ferocious rains and flood waters of summer. During the previous September floods had caused extensive damage in Big Bend National Park.
Texas weather and conditions include tornadoes, hurricanes, drought, floods, wild fires, earthquakes, tidal waves, plagues of locusts, snow, searing desert heat, biting cold and sometimes all at once. Texans are given to exaggeration though, as a tsunami erupting from the Rio Grande in west Texas where we learned of this lively weather seems unlikely.
If the wild extremes of weather aren’t enough, they have their share of horrifying creatures in Texas – tarantulas, black widow spiders, funnel-web spiders, vinegar bugs, scorpions and ninos de los terras, which I was given to understand were scary little snakes, but the only reference I can now find to those words is children’s shoes. Still dangerous but slightly more warm and fuzzy are mountain lions and bears and even a big cat that was thought to be extinct but lives an elusive existence amongst the 309,331 square miles of Big Bend National Park, but that’s all according to Texans.
Our first sighting of the comical roadrunner was of said bird running on the road – Beep! Beep! – just like his cartoon persona. Also new to us were javelinas – cute little bristly pig-like creatures that are not pigs.
Click pic to enlarge.
We had attributed all of these real and imaginary creatures and phenomenon to Texas but we were new to the Southwest and all the marvels it had to offer.
“And how about your skin?” I questioned our waitress, Rebecca, who had moved recently from the humidity of Florida to the arid atmosphere of Ft. Davis. “How does the dry air affect it?”
“Well my lips are so dry and cracked they feel like they are going to fall off and my arms and legs are parched. Other than that I’m perfect,” she said endearingly. But she lives in a tree house so I’m not sure I can take her word for anything.
So how ‘bout it. Any Texans out there? Just what are ninos de los terras? Am I even spelling it correctly?
In checking my facts with that irrefutable source – Wikipedia – herons eat a number of aquatic creatures – fish, reptiles, amphibians, crustaceans, molluscs, aquatic insects. I don’t know why I felt the need to bother as most of my poems are nonsense.
There is almost always a choice of routes to take. I’ve opted out of making a final decision. Whatever happens after we set off will be Jimmy’s fault. The interstate, a U.S. route, a state route, a county road, a farm road – his choice.
Traveling from Deming in southern New Mexico to Bisbee, Arizona, Jimmy took the scenic route, a pale pencil mark of a road in the road atlas, and he regretted it almost immediately as our teeth juddered in our heads and the trailer bobbed manically behind us on the rough road surface.
Struggling steadily uphill, we emerged onto a high plateau of desert where a huge azure sky formed a canopy to distant golden mountains. We were adventurers on a high sea of desert and we had this pristine landscape to ourselves. We settled into a companionable mutual admiration of our surroundings until hunger distracted us.
The narrow verge offered no place to stop but a picnic area was marked on the map just over the Arizona state line. We cruised until it came into view and . . . there was a car. Our desolate picnic stop was marred by evidence of humanity when we hadn’t seen another car for at least an hour.
The driver’s door of the car was hanging open, legs were dangling out of the passenger window and the hood was up. Something at the back of my brain struck me as odd that in 79 miles of deserted road this car was able to break down at the picnic area. And the lounging legs seemed a little nonchalant for potentially being stranded in the desert.
The paved picnic area was spacious so as Jimmy pulled off the road I dismissed my concerns and I began routing around on the back seat for the picnic bag, bottles of water, potato chips, a useless cell phone.
I had hopped into the trailer to retrieve some crackers when I heard, “Sir. Excuse me, sir. Do you have any water? We have overheated,” in Mexican-accented English.
“We’ve only got drinking water,” Jimmy replied.
Not wanting to seem uncharitable I didn’t care to waste our meager supply of bottled water into a possibly empty and leaking radiator. “I think there’s a little water in the tank. I’ll see if I can fill the kettle,” which I did and handed it out the door. I now saw a slender dark-skinned lad of about 22 with Jimmy and they walked across to a silver sedan where another lad stood. They were both dressed in jeans and checked, collared shirts and both spoke good English – just a couple of Mexican/American young men driving an American car – nothing unusual as we were no more than 25 miles from the Mexican border.
As I busied myself with setting up our lunch on the picnic table a faint unease settled over me. I heard the lads querying Jimmy about a Border Patrol checkpoint we had been waved through earlier in the day and the distances between there and the town of Douglas in the opposite direction. Didn’t they know which way they wanted to go?
Checking my phone, it was still searching for service so it was useless. I began calculating the distances between the trio at the silver car bent over the engine, myself, our car and trailer – both unlocked, my handbag, my keys and considered sprinting to . . . . . . where? What did I think I was going to do? Lunge for the car and scream, “Run!?” Uncertainty tinged with fear prickled through my body.
Jimmy loped back to the picnic table at this point, empty kettle in hand, and as he sat down beside me I tried to dismiss my misgivings. After a top up of cool water in their engine the boys had settled into their earlier relaxed poses.
Staring across at the boys who seemed to be out for an afternoon’s nap in the desert I asked, “Was the engine very hot?”
“No. It didn’t seem hot at all.”
“I don’t like this. Something’s not right. I think we should go.” Jimmy snatched a sandwich from me as I began to repack the picnic. He was ravenous and had more hours of driving ahead of him.
Just then the Border Patrol pulled up – a car and a van – in their distinctive livery of white with a bold green stripe. “Look at that Patrol car. They’ve hidden themselves behind our trailer.” Once the Patrol car was in place, the van did a swift u-turn and parked on the opposite side of the road. They were prepared for a pursuit in either direction. Fear should have kicked in, but curiosity got the better of me and anyway we weren’t in crossfire range.
Things were looking up now. An American citizen and a green card holder, passports at the ready in the glove compartment, we felt safe in the company of the Border Patrol so as I unpacked our picnic again, we watched the drama before us.
No one moved for a few minutes, as though the Border Patrol had just stopped for an afternoon break. Then a tall, dark, handsome Border Patrolman, in his uniform of green combat dress, his hips swinging with a black belt full of paraphernalia – revolver in a holster, radio, cell phone, night stick, hand grenade, no, not a hand grenade – now strolled casually over to the lads who no longer looked relaxed. “You guys haven’t gotten very far.”
“No. We’ve broken down.”
“What’s the problem?”
“The engine has overheated. We’re waiting for it to cool down.”
Which of course was not the truth but the rest of the conversation was lost as I attacked my salad of cucumber, celery and other noisy food that always makes Jimmy want to abandon me at mealtime so he didn’t hear any more either. The Patrolman strolled back across the road to his three colleagues and everybody just stayed put.
We ate lunch, the Border Patrol waited and the boys tried to pretend that none of us were there.
“Nope! No water!” the Patrolman shouted across to the boys after a few more minutes. Which couldn’t be the truth either. Border Patrol in the desert with no water?
Eventually the boys in the silver car sat up, slammed their doors, started the engine and pulled off slowly in the direction we would be going, calling out clearly to the group, “It’s cooled down now. We’ll just take it easy, not drive too fast,” and they coasted out of sight.
Happily the end of the show coincided with the last bite of our lunch so we prepared to leave. As we got to our car, the same man who had spoken to the boys approached us, “Have these guys been here long?”
“They were here when we got here.”
“How long have you been here?”
“About 20 minutes.”
“Was the hood popped when you got here?”
“Yes. They asked us for water too.”
“These cats are playing a game with us,” he said grinning, although I don’t think he found it amusing. “They’ve been cruising up and down this road all day.”
We came to the conclusion that the boys in the silver car were making a pick up – drugs? illegals? – when we became part of their plot. The hood was popped as a ready excuse and they even drew us in when they asked us for the water that they clearly didn’t need.
We set off no more than five minutes behind the silver car on the winding desert road that led only to Douglas, 40 miles away, with no turn offs and no more picnic areas, clear views in all directions for miles. Keeping up a steady 50 miles per hour we never saw them again.
For all the years I lived in England I had to get in the long queue with all the other refugees in Europe at airports and immigration checkpoints. I’ve had my passport thumbed, queried and stamped and my face peered at with alternate glances at the passport photo that bore no resemblance to me after my most recent trip to the hairdresser.
I struggled to answer difficult questions coherently when sleep-deprived after a night flight. “Where have you flown from?” That one always threw me.
“Ummmmmm. Baltimore.” It was already a world away and seemed a lifetime ago.
“Are you married?”
“What? Oh. Yes.” Pause. Expectant look. If he’d wanted more information he should have asked an open question.
“Where is he?”
“He’s standing behind you.” And had been for come considerable time as he’d queued with the privileged, waived his British passport at some checkpoint Charlie person and loitered on the suspicion-free side of the immigration desks waiting for me.
Living in a foreign country (that would be England) I’d endured laughter at my American pronunciation, tolerated asides and jokes and subtle references that were rooted in the English consciousness from 30 to 40 years ago. I was often the only one who didn’t “get it.”
“I’m Julian and this is my friend Sandy.” Uproarious laughter from himself.
“I’m not with you.”
“From Round the Horne.”
“A Sixties radio show.”
“You mean in the olden days when they called it the wireless. You know I didn’t live here then.”
Now it’s Jimmy’s turn. He’s the foreigner and I frequently say to him, “Oh, yeah,” in an off hand, of course! tone of voice when he queries the little nuances of life, customs and history in the U.S. I can quote the first few lines of the Gettysburg address for whatever good that does me. I’m not proud of this but I can sing along to the Mickey Mouse Club lyrics. I can say, “You remember Foster Brooks don’t you?”
English, as she is spoke in America, has to be repeated to himself when his ear is not tuned in to American English as mine wasn’t to the Queen’s English.
I’m not wanting him to be in a predicament like the time I had to get off the coach bound for Paris from England. I was the only passenger with an American passport. All my fellow passengers cheered when French Immigration let me reboard the coach after the interrogation. They thought it was funny. I did not.
I’m just glad I haven’t got the feeling of being the odd one out any more.
Have you wondered why a bird that dives for fish for a living has feathers that get waterlogged so it can’t fly? It doesn’t make any sense or does it? A cormorant’s lack of preening oil – which makes water run off a duck’s back – makes them speedy underwater and better at fishing.
Jimmy turned his head to me with that startled expression I could read only too well. Oh, bugger. “Where is your green card?” I whispered, already knowing that it wasn’t on his person.
“It’s in my passport.”
“Which is . . . ?”
“Under the slide.” I blew out the breath I was holding and my shoulders slumped in dismay as he turned back to the Border Control patrolmen, who had already scanned the back seat and open boot compartment of our SUV for stowaways. “It’s in the trailer,” he told them.
“Can you pull over please and get it out for us?” The trailer on the road in front of us had stopped at the checkpoint for only a few seconds and then moved on. We were at least 10 miles from the Mexican border. Why was there Border Control here? As we pulled over I said, “Show them your Washington driver’s license. That should do for ID.” We were naïve about the policing of the Mexican border in Texas.
Jimmy stepped out reaching for his wallet as I leapt out of the other side of the car even though Border Control did not seem the least bit interested in me.
The dark complexioned patrolmen were dressed in plain green fatigues and I have a mental image of them clutching machine guns to their chests. Of course they weren’t. I just thought they should. I felt like I was in a movie.
Jimmy offered his driver’s license as he tried to explain how difficult it would be to get his passport and green card out of the trailer. “I’ll have to get the supports out of the locker and snap them into place in order to pull the slide out so I can go in the trailer and get under the dinette seat and get the file box out to find my passport.”
Well that wasn’t the response Jimmy had hoped for. The patrolmen were pleasant enough but they meant business. Dark hair, dark mustaches, dark glasses, their faces softened a little when they smiled but they weren’t prepared to be too friendly yet. The taller of the two of them, about my height, clutched Jimmy’s license possessively. The other one came up to my nose.
Why is it I find short men with olive skin tones and black mustaches so menacing? Was it because we’d had a run in with a restaurateur of similar stature and complexion in Toledo, Spain? (We were completely in the right and he was completely in the wrong for your information.)
“Can you use my driver’s license instead of my green card?” asked Jimmy expectantly.
“We can run an identity check with it. It could take a while.”
“Fifteen minutes, two hours . . . ?” and then he shrugged.
“I’ll get my passport.”
Being an American citizen with an American passport (somewhere in the depths of our stationery-cum-file-drawer locker) and standing on American soil I, perhaps foolishly, decided to bait the Border Patrolmen. Jimmy would have dug me in the ribs with his elbow at this point but he was busy trying to protect his own identity and grunting as he pulled out the slide (our bed-in-a-drawer that slides out the back of the trailer). “Don’t you want to see my passport?”
“You trust me then?”
“I don’t sound American.”
Jimmy had pulled the rear slide out and walked around to the door. The Border Patrolmen hustled after him and stood outside the door. They obviously didn’t trust him.
I kept Menendez and Martinez company while we waited for Jimmy who was crashing around in the trailer.
I was feeling distinctly left out of the process now, so called in to Jimmy “Can you bring my passport as well?” They could look at it whether they wanted to or not.
Once the green card was scrutinized and the American passport was ignored smiles broke out and we established that there would be more border Patrol checks starting with El Paso, then New Mexico and Arizona and on into California.
The passports now reside in the glove compartment much to Jimmy’s annoyance instead of well hidden and safe in the trailer. Don’t tell anyone you know where they are.
“You should have just told them we were both American citizens. They would have let us straight through.” But do you think he would do that? Of course not but then he would be the one to get into trouble wouldn’t he?