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March 6th, 2024

Did I Really Need Another Annual Pass?

Yes…yes I did…

This is for Disneyland in Anaheim California…the original park, which I went to for the first time last year (and I still haven’t posted about that here…sorry…). At that time California Adventure became my new favorite theme park and I knew I was going back every time I visited family in California. So I began thinking about getting one of their annual passes too, or maybe even forgoing the Disney World pass for one at Disneyland, because both might be a bit too much to maintain on retirement income.

I’m still amazed I got it…Disney annual passes are Hard to get these days because park attendance just keeps going up and up and they’re trying harder now since COVID to keep a lid on it to keep it enjoyable…and yes, keep their costs down. I’d already decided to take a road trip to Oceano after I got some maintenance done on the Mercedes, and I was pretty sure that while I was there I’d do another Disneyland visit. I was about to go to bed last night when I randomly decided to check to see if the passes were on sale again. They only open up a short window of opportunity for just one day and for just a few hours until they hit their limit on sales. I’ve logged in before only to discover I missed the date by a few, but they seem to only whisper when the passes will go on sale and if you aren’t tuned in at just that moment you miss it. I logged in late last night and lo and behold they were selling them, and I picked one, got dropped right into a waiting queue, and then almost immediately was presented with a form to complete my purchase. I’ve no idea how I lucked out that much, but it happened.

So now I have a Disneyland annual pass too. I will probably renew the Disney World one at least once this year when it comes up: I already have a reservation for Port Orleans Riverside, my favorite, when that time comes around. Whether or not I renew it after that depends on what the renewal price is. But I am keeping my Disneyland annual pass. The political climate for folks like me is much better in California, and that is the land of my birth anyway. I’d wanted to retire back to there but it’s too expensive now, and I have a cute little house with an easy mortgage in a very nicely walkable neighborhood here in Baltimore.

I’ll do another road trip to California sometime around end of July or August.

by Bruce | Link | React!

October 17th, 2023

Back Home!

I should post some about my three month stay in California, now that I’m back home and I don’t have to worry about anyone reading my blog and knowing my house is unoccupied… 

by Bruce | Link | React!

July 22nd, 2023

Been A While…

…since my last post here, I know.  I’ve been on a wee road trip to the ancient Garrett homelands in Oceano, California. It took me through the amber waves of grain, up to nearly the tree line in altitude on I-70 in the purple mountain majesties, through stunningly beautiful canyons and across the Utah/Nevada/California desert in the ongoing blistering heat wave. Car trouble was experienced and diagnosed at a Mercedes dealer in Utah, I was able to proceed to my brother’s house in Oceano, where I shall hopefully and shortly finally get the emission system recall done and give my car some detailing love at a local place that always does excellent work.

I’ll tell more about it later. But I just want to add that I’m not kidding about how hot it was going from Grand Junction almost to the California coast. You stepped out of your motel room or your air conditioned car and into a furnace. Then I get to Oceano and start unpacking the car and it’s in the high 60s and there’s lovely cool breeze and I might not go back home until there is snow on the ground in Maryland.

As I write this it’s sunny blue skies and 56 degrees here in Oceano. 

by Bruce | Link | React!

June 2nd, 2022

Back Home

I’ve been away for a few months, staying at my brother’s house in Oceano post retirement. I haven’t written much about it here because these days it’s a tad risky to let the world know that your house is unoccupied. My new alarm system lets me view my security cameras remotely, and my neighbors all were watching the house, some even mowing the lawn and checking for packages and flyers left on the front porch to make the house look occupied. But I was still reluctant to post about my road trip to California, my stay there, and the road trip back here on my blog. I used Facebook (alas) for all that and set the posts to friends only. Time was, before Facebook and Twitter and such, I’d have been babbling about it like crazy here. You can see some of my old road trip posts in the archive.

But now I’m back. Here’s the traditional end of trip stats off the Mercedes’ trip computer:

(All this includes bopping around Oceano and vicinity, as well as the trip there and back)

Total miles: 7919
Driving Time: 163:29
Average speed: 48mph
Average mpg: 34.4

Fuel prices were the big deal this trip…especially when I got to California. But the fuel economy of my car’s diesel engine made the price of topping off the tank a bit easier to handle, even there where I saw prices go over 7 bucks a gallon (the most I ever paid was 6.60). Mostly on the highway I got high 30s and in town low 30s. On the leg back home from Greenfield Indiana to Baltimore I was getting just a tad under 40mpg (39.6). 

I stressed the entire time I was in California about the feral calico cat who has befriended me for the past decade or so. The look on her face when she saw me packing the car to leave after I’d given her a place in my house for the winter was…awful. But when I got back home she was still alive and kicking and has forgiven me. Somewhat.

by Bruce | Link | React!

February 11th, 2021

Bridge Freezes Before Roadway

I’m watching Weather Channel reporting on that awful chain reaction pileup in Texas, and noting that it happened on a long overpass.

Some years ago, driving back home from a visit to California family, I ducked as far south as I could because the forecasts were for snow and ice almost as far south as the Mexican border. No kidding, there was snow along I-8 just west of San Diego and I saw people pulling their cars off to the shoulder and kids getting out to scoop up handfuls of snow like they’d never seen it before. Probably they hadn’t. One night I stopped well before the sun went down in Odessa Texas. I stopped early because I was aware the temperatures would drop below freezing after sundown, and I didn’t want to be on the roads then. Even so, I noted in the motel parking lot, little puddles of ice trying, and failing, to melt. I asked the desk clerk about the weather and she told me they’d had an ice storm and only recently got their power back on.

Next morning I packed the car and continued driving east on I-20. And I am not exaggerating here: every bridge and overpass I went by, even if it was just over a small dry run, had an accident on it, or just past it. Fortunately none of them looked fatal. But there were tractor-trailers on their sides, there were banged up cars and pickups. I saw what looked like a brand new and expensive pickup that was all torn up on on the driver’s side where it had bounced off the bridge railings. And I could tell that the locals don’t really grok how snow and ice change driving conditions, because it did that to them so rarely.

Climate change is giving them a new reality on the roadways, and the high local interstate speed limits (85 in most places west of Dallas), combined with a less than intuitive understanding of how bridges and overpasses freeze up before the rest of the pavement does, was a perfect storm of accidents waiting to happen. They have no infrastructure down there for dealing with snow and ice, because that’s costly to maintain and why would you when it gets like that so rarely. But times are changing.

This horrific chain reaction pileup happened on a long overpass and I’m sitting here watching the reporting and I just know what happened. The locals, too many of them I reckon, just don’t get, from lived experience how even if the roads are good the bridges probably might not be, and you have to pay attention to falling temperatures, even, or especially, when there hasn’t been very much rain beforehand. The slightest little bit of wet on the bridge and the temperature goes down and Newtonian forces will do their thing when you transition to the pavement on that bridge. You probably won’t even see the danger. Thin enough ice and it’ll look dry and it isn’t.

by Bruce | Link | React!

June 6th, 2019

Flashback: Disney Summer Vacation 2015 – Wanderwonder

Something I posted to Facebook some years ago, that I should have posted here instead because this is what a life blog is for


Walt Disney World, June 6, 2015, 2:07 AM

I’m up on the 12th floor of the Dolphin. I have a great view of the surrounding terrain from my hotel window. First thing you notice is how flat this part of central Florida is.

My room is situated such I can leave the windows wide open and still have privacy. It’s night, I have insomnia, and from my bed I can see lights from various objects near and far. In the middle distance to the north I can make out the Contemporary hotel, and to the left of it Space Mountain and to the left of that Cinderella’s Castle. Closer in there is a line of very bright amber-ish lights I’m guessing is the parking lots around the Transportation Center. Headlights from cars driving down the highway from there towards I-4 blink through the trees.

If I get up and go to the window and look to my west, I can make out the Expedition Everest ride at Animal Kingdom. Beyond that,intriguingly on the far horizon, twinkle lights from some distant city or town I can’t place without looking at a map. Which for the moment I don’t want to do. They can remain a beckoning mystery for now. Time was, before in car navigation systems, I’d have grabbed a compass, taken my bearings, and when morning came hopped in the car and tried to find some roads to take me to where the lights were without even consulting a map. Sometimes even the compass was not needed. As a young boy I was fascinated by a particular string of lights I could see at night, twinkling down the coast from Ocean City New Jersey. They were so regularly spaced and uniformly bright they stood out from the rest and I figured it had to be the boardwalk at Avalon, which was the next big beach resort town down the coast. Visiting again later as an adult with a car of my own, I traveled down coastal roads and over bridges, stopping here and there to evaluate the streetlights at each little barrier island along the way until I finally found the string of them I was looking for. It wasn’t Avalon, but another barrier island, and they weren’t boardwalk lights, but street lights. That one little narrow barrier island didn’t have a boardwalk at all, but the road came close to the shore and its streetlights stood out because there were so few other lights on it.

So I’m looking out my 12th floor window at Dolphin and wondering what that town I’m seeing in the distance is. I suppose Tampa is too far away for it to be them. Kissimmee would be more to my east which I can’t see from my room. I’m wondering what’s there. I know what’s coming next. They say the journey is the destination, but for me the journey is also in the wondering and imagining. Lights twinkling like stars on distant horizons have called to me since long before I got my first driver’s license. They’re as mysterious and fascinating as the stars in the sky above, but unlike the stars those lights are reachable. I can go see what’s there at some point, and savor the mystery in the meantime.

by Bruce | Link | React!

January 29th, 2017

Heaven Is…

I keep wanting to do a riff on those drawings that say “Heaven is where every (Dog/Cat/Pet) you ever loved comes to greet you”. But mine will say Heaven is where every car you ever loved lets you drive it again. And sign it with a nod to Seanan McGuire.

by Bruce | Link | React!

July 30th, 2016

Flashback: Topeka Car Wash Voguing

I didn’t buy Spirit, my Mercedes-Benz diesel sedan because I wanted a status symbol. What I wanted was a Mercedes-Benz, because I believe them to be the best built, best engineered cars made, and I like having solid things in my life. It’s a pattern that runs all through my life. When I was a teenager and I needed a new tool I bought Craftsman. I couldn’t afford the entire sets so I bought the individual tools one at a time. When I turned 40 and I finally was able to afford an apartment of my own and I needed a vacuum cleaner, I bought a Kirby. That was back in 1993 and I still have it, it still does its job without complaint, and all I’ve ever needed to replace on it besides the bags is the roller brush and some belts.

When I was a teenager, the saying was the first hundred-thousand miles on a Mercedes diesel is just for breaking it in. I was looking at a news article a couple months back about a man somewhere on the Mediterranean coast, a taxi cab driver, still plying his trade with the Mercedes diesel sedan he bought new in the 1970s, that had nearly two million miles on it. And it was no junker; there was a photo of the proud owner standing next to it, and from the look of the car and with the old Mediterranean buildings behind them you’d have thought it was taken in the 70s. Building a car, building anything, to that level of quality and durability (provided you take care of it) costs money, which is why they’re expensive.

The essential idea behind the Mercedes-Benz philosophy is this: if the car is properly cared for, it will work out to be cheaper in the long run. While Mercedes-Benz is rightly associated with luxury, its cars are also built to stay on the road for as long as you care to drive them. -From the article, Why Does Mercedes-Benz Require OEM?

I appreciate that the purchase price makes them status symbols in the eyes of some. They have no art in their souls.

I posted this to my Facebook page while on the road last month…


Gave Spirit a run through the best car wash in town. They did an excellent job inside and out. Because while the driver may accumulate road dust as the miles go by, the car must always look its best.

And so it did. The car wash wasn’t all that far from my motel, and when I got there I could see it was as popular with the locals as the Auto Spa is here. And like Auto Spa, the run through the wash was only a first step. After the cars came out, they were parked out front and attended to by a bunch of energetic youngsters, with portable vacuums, electric buffing tools, spray on tire treatment, and so forth. People brought their cars there to give them the works. I didn’t see a single car while I was there just roll out of the wash and drive off. Nobody was getting the budget wash, at least not that day.

We all sat in the Please Wait Here section, outfitted with vending machines and places to set and watch the finish work being done on our cars. It was an impressive operation. I glanced around at the faces among us, all watching the process raptly, even as they were chatting with their neighbors. Every one of those cars was its owner’s baby. I chatted briefly with a young lady who’s mini SUV came out just before mine. She’d just bought it and was the happy new car owner. A new model Mustang convertible came out after mine and I glanced around to see which face lit up. It was a middle aged guy who had more the serious minded businessman’s look about him than a Mustang owner. It’s not unconditionally true, but if you see a car that’s being meticulously taken care of, it’s the owner’s inner self. Yes, I am a Mercedes diesel sedan kind of guy…

“The Mercedes-Benz diesel-powered mid-size sedan is as durable a notion as you’ll find in autodom. Mercedes created the world’s first production diesel-powered passenger car in 1935 and began putting oil burners in its mid-sizers (a.k.a. Pontons) in 1955. The very words “Mercedes diesel” conjure all kinds of associations, from college professors who have forsaken their Peugeots, to wiry German mechanics, to cab drivers in Kabul. It’s an archetype; a 911 Turbo for meerschaum-smoking squares, a Shelby Mustang for people who got beat up in high school…” –Eddie Alterman, Car and Driver.

Just before they finished with Spirit, an absolutely huge pimped out pickup truck came out of the wash. I was surprised it even fit. Jacked up, oversize tires, painted in a gaudy two-tone orange and red, spotlights on the front, on the top, blue sideboard running lights…you get the picture. I looked around. Next to me a thirty-something young guy in khakis and a polo shirt smiles at me. “You like it?” he asks. “It’s mine.”

“Impressive” says I, smiling back, trying to be polite. Insulting someone’s car is on a par with insulting their mother. And really, whatever floats your boat is fine with me if I can see you’re really into taking care of it.

“It’s for sale.” he says.   Ah, thinks I, this is why he’s here…to make it look nice for the classifieds. For a moment I feel sad for the pickup. It’s one of the big GMCs. Under all that makeup there’s probably a pretty solid American made truck in there. But he’s found another love and needs some money. But I am not a potential sale.

I point to the lovely metallic blue four door Mercedes-Benz in the lot. “That’s mine” says I. Mr. Pimped Out Pickup’s smile kinda freezes on his face.

“It’s got just over ninety-four thousand on it,” I add. “Almost broken in.”



by Bruce | Link | React!

July 3rd, 2016

Gunshots That Echo Forever

Wandering  the all new Disney Springs today. Almost the entire area that was once Downtown Disney and Pleasure Island has been massively redone. The old maps in my head are half wrong now. But staying at a nearby hotel makes it possible to get it out of my system without having to deal with the new parking garages and street changes. Tuesday I go to  my DVC room at Boardwalk for a few days. I reckon I’ll hit the water parks in the morning and the theme parks in the evenings. Maybe. Boardwalk is nice enough I can just hang out there all day too. This makes for a nice respite from travelling the great plains last week, and my cameras being mostly disappointed this trip. But I got a few good ones. Tell you more later.

Disney Springs is crowded this holiday weekend. That’s to be expected. Normally I hate crowds. But every now and then they bring me nice things. Like beautiful young visiting latinos who still wear briefs, out of style though they seem to be in this country, and silken athletic shorts over them that, long and baggy though they may be, make that fact clearly evident, and let you see the seams move as they walk along in front of you…

I made reservations for the dining room at Wolfgang Puck’s tonight since it’s holiday crowded here and I wasn’t sure I could sit at the bar downstairs. Turns out that was no problem, but there was a bar upstairs too so I sat there. It’s not that I have to drink Every Night. But sitting at the bar makes it easier for the single traveler to talk with his  fellow diners. And if the bar is empty, as it was this night for some reason, there’s always the bartender.

I was wearing my rainbow Mickey pin and the bartender noticed. He began telling me about his friends who were at Pulse the night of the shooting. Three guys, two of which were on the fence about going that night, and the third who really wanted to go, so the others went along with him, and they died and he lived, and now he can’t forgive himself…


by Bruce | Link | React!

June 15th, 2013

Mercedes Love…

“The Mercedes-Benz diesel-powered mid-size sedan is as durable a notion as you’ll find in autodom. Mercedes created the world’s first production diesel-powered passenger car in 1935 and began putting oil burners in its mid-sizers (a.k.a. Pontons) in 1955. The very words Mercedes diesel conjure all kinds of associations, from college professors who have forsaken their Peugeots, to wiry German mechanics, to cab drivers in Kabul. It’s an archetype; a 911 Turbo for meerschaum-smoking squares, a Shelby Mustang for people who got beat up in high school…” –Eddie Alterman, Car and Driver.

“One thing I feel most passionately about: love of invention will never die.” –Karl Benz

“The best or nothing.” –Gottlieb Daimler

“When you get into the car and time stands still for a second…that’s my dream car.” –unknown

…still in it.


by Bruce | Link | React!

April 12th, 2013

A Wee Vacation

I’m just back from a brief, ad-hoc Disney World trip.   This week was going to be a stay-at-home vacation. I’m helping finance a place to live for my niece for her last semester at college, so until July I have no money for big vacation trips.   But pity me not.   I have no kids of my own so it isn’t like I’m mortgaging the house to put any through school.   I’m just helping out.   So this was going to be a staycation but I made the fatal mistake of checking the weather in Florida and then I was off. Spring was darn cold here in Charm City.

I had to do it on the cheap.   But I had some advantages.   First, I have an annual pass.   So I didn’t need to have spare cash for tickets into the parks.   Then, passholders get discount offers.   So I hit the Disney web site and looked in the passholder’s section to see if there were any specials.   There were.   I got a really nice price on one of their “value hotels” for three nights.   Then I had just over a hundred bucks worth of reward points on my Disney card, which paid for half my eats and drinks in the parks for two and a half days.   Then I had accumulated enough Holiday Inn reward points for one free night, so that helped out with motel charges on the trip down and back.

And then…there is my Mercedes diesel.   Here’s a few notes from my trip computer, plus fuel chits. This was from Baltimore City to Walt Disney World and back.

Miles: 1980
Hours (actually driving the car): 32.34
MPH (average): 61
MPG (average): 40.1

That’s a tad over forty miles per gallon in a mid-sized German luxury sedan, and this trip my trip computer registered the best mileage ever, on the stretch from Baltimore to Richmond, Virginia: 44.9. Once I got on the higher speed limit stretches of I-95 my mileage went down a tad. But still. Forty miles per gallon in a car as big and nice as a Mercedes-Benz ‘E’ class is not bad.

Total cost of diesel fuel: $195.57. That’s the highway trip plus farting around in Disney World. The annual pass gets you free parking at all the parks, so having the car with me means I can go when and where I want and it’s not an extra expense. I started out from Baltimore on a full tank. Just over the South Carolina border is Dillon. In Dillon they have the best prices on diesel on I-95 between Baltimore and Key West. Half a tank gets me from Baltimore to Dillon. Another 2/3 tank gets me to Disney World. There are reasonably priced Hess stations in the park, one of which (the one on the way out of Magic Kingdom) sells diesel. So I fill up before coming back, hit Dillon again, and that gets me home.

Even though you don’t have to stop as often for fuel, when it’s bug season you still have to pull up to the pumps just as often to clean off your windshield. But that’s fine because it’s good to take a break. I have a Flying-J loyalty card that gets me breaks on coffee and snacks. So whenever I have to make a Clean The Glass stop I refill my coffee mug and hit the bathrooms, which are usually cleaner at the Flying-J travel plazas than the highway rest stops are.

So a short trip to Walt Disney World was do-able.   And now that I’m back and all the housework I’d been planning to do with my stay-at-home vacation is still staring me in the face it was worth it.   Sometime later this summer, after my niece graduates, I’ll do a longer stay at a nicer in park hotel.   It’ll be dead of summer then…just right for fun in the water parks.

by Bruce | Link | React!

January 6th, 2013

Notes On The Road This Time

I’m just back from one of my semi-annual road trips to California, in case anyone reading this blog was wondering where the heck I went. My job at Space Telescope came with a wonderful vacation benefit, but the workload now on JWST is pretty steady and taking a couple weeks off at one go is getting harder and harder to schedule. I figured the Christmas/New Year’s break would be a good time to take a road trip to California and see my brother and give the Mercedes its first taste of the great plains and the southwest. As we get closer and closer to launch it will become very hard to schedule a long road trip west.

Time was I’d take everyone who reads this blog along with me for the ride.   But these days it probably isn’t the smartest thing to let the whole world know you’re away from your house.   So the blog went silent.   But I’m back now…I have pictures to develop and post…I have stories to tell.   But I also have unpacking to do and some settling back in to my little Baltimore rowhouse.   So for now let me just jot down a few notes while the road is still fresh in my thoughts…

First, a few statistics from my car’s trip computer:

  • Total Miles: 6,420
  • Average Miles Per Gallon: 36.8
  • Average Speed: 60 mph
  • Total Driving Time: 105.59 hours
  • 2917.4 miles from my brother’s house to mine, mostly along I-40.

I’ll total up the fuel chits later.   West of the Mississippi you get highway speed limits higher than 70mph and sometimes higher than 80. You cover distance faster, but mileage suffers. Still, this is absolutely the most fuel efficient car I have ever owned and that’s saying something.   My first car was a 1973 Ford Pinto with the little 1600cc engine and one barrel carburetor.   It did 35mpg tops. The little Geo Prism got high 30s and so did the Honda Accord. For a car this size and this sumptuous the fuel economy is just amazing. At the end of some days on the road this trip I was pushing 39mpg. But when I hit the high mountain passages my averages went down into the low 30s.

Bio-diesel was not a major problem. First bio-diesel pump I saw on the way west was at a Love’s just west of Little Rock. I’d put a tad over a gallon in the tank before I noticed this little sticker…

…and quickly shut off the pump. That sticker, which I saw on every pump selling bio-diesel, is not helpful. But next to it (usually) is a bigger green sticker that does specify the grade you’re pumping. I never saw anything lower than B10 on the road, and nothing higher than B15. Mostly it was B10.

So there I was with a half tank of regular diesel left, plus I’d driven from Maryland with a full five gallon spare diesel can as insurance…that it eventually turned out I didn’t need. The Pilot truck stop across the highway had the same set of stickers on it. But across from the Pilot was a Petro and it had a Chevron station attached to it that had regular diesel pumps and I was able to fill up.

That was pretty much how it went all the way to California and back. Wherever I ran into bio-diesel I was always able to find a station nearby that had regular. But it was completely random as to which brand was a problem. Most often it was the Love’s. But I ran into it at all of the truck stop chains at least once. Usually it was the Shell or Chevron stations that had usable diesel, but I ran into it there too occasionally.   But wherever I ran into it I nearly always found usable diesel right across the street.   Just once in Arizona I had to drive to the next exit.

And there was no noticeable price break on the bio. If anything, the regular was usually cheaper, and sometimes by a lot. At one location in New Mexico there were two big truck stops, a Love’s and a Pilot, both selling bio at $3.95 a gallon. An independent travel center nearby was selling regular diesel at $3.73 a gallon.

My path this time took me well south of I-70. I have no idea how bad it is further north in corn state territory. But for now at any rate, I can drive my car from the East Coast to the West. How long that remains the case remains to be seen.

Truck Stops Are Now “Travel Plazas”. There are five big chains you see all the time on the road, Travel Centers of America, Love’s, Flying J, Pilot and Petro and while the truckers are their bread and butter business, they’re all vying for the long distance passenger car market and some like Flying J/Pilot are even offering us “loyalty cards” now.   Flying J/Pilot is the chain that seems the most determined to remake itself as a general purpose highway “travel center” with a clean, uncluttered common floor plan and mini food/coffee court. I could walk into any Flying J or Pilot from Maryland to California and see pretty much the same layout and after a while you knew where everything was when you walked in the door.   Their coffee bar was especially handy and the coffee was very good, with half to a dozen or so coffee dispensers all lined up with various blends in them.   By the time I got to California I was making it a point to stop at one of these and I ended up getting a “Flying J/Pilot” loyalty card because I was stopping there so often for their coffee and breakfast muffins.

Rest rooms in the big chain truck stops are often Much cleaner than the state run highway rest stops. You need a high tolerance for country music though.

When stopping for the night, make sure your cell phone network isn’t crappy before checking in. Unless you really want to be disconnected from email and the web. I bought into the iPhone when the first one came out and that was an AT&T device only. Since then they’ve added other better carriers, but the one with the best network, Verizon, uses a digital signal that prevents their iPhone from doing both voice and data at the same time. So I stick with AT&T. But its network in the out of the way spots is crappy. The nice thing about cell phone technology is you aren’t dependent on your motel for internet service. But you need to remember to check your signal before you check in.

Almost any cheap motel room can be a good night’s sleep if you bring your own pillow and a sleeping bag that can double as a comforter. During winter travel you should always carry a good sleeping bag with you anyway, in case of breakdown. Also food and water. Take some good ear plugs (I use silicon ones) and I also bring along one of these white noise generators, because screaming dysfunctional family of five, or selfish TV volume up full jackass will probably be given the room next to yours. Note that these amenities can be found in expensive motels too, so if you aren’t as willing as I am to go with the cheap room you still need ear plugs at least and I strongly recommend the white noise generator too.With these four things, pillow, sleeping bag/comforter, ear plugs and white noise generator, all you really need to care about is is the room clean and the mattress reasonable.

Check the ersatz Continental Breakfast on your way out to see if there’s anything worth taking on the road with you. It’s included after all. Occasionally I am able to make a good breakfast muffin out of the sausage and egg servings. But it’s rare the cheap motels serve meat and eggs in the morning.

And…no matter how tired and irritable you are when you get off the road an into a room, smile and be nice to your desk clerk. I’ve worked late night and over night shifts a time or two in my life. They are not fun. And depending on how far into the sticks you are, that clerk checking you in may be desperately wanting to go with you when you leave the next morning.   Once in a very small town in southern Utah, I was checked in by a young girl who chatted with me for a bit about her dream of getting onto American Idol.   It was going to be her ticket out of there. I tried to suggest and tactfully as I could that her ticket out of there was to just get up and go.   But the Unknown is a very frightening ball and chain on a person…I know this from personal experience, I suppose everyone does to some degree.   Be nice to your desk clerk.   Also everyone who serves you on the road. Especially in the sticks. Notice how they sometimes look at you like you are nuts when you tell them you’d love to move out of the city someday, into some nice quiet out of the way place in the country Just Like This One.

Don’t drive long into the night.   Shift your schedule forward instead.   Get off the highway early, early…like around six or seven. Then get back on the road next morning early. That way you have no trouble at the end of a long day on the road, getting a good room on the ground floor you can back your car up to. And early in the morning traffic will be very light to non-existent, which is a better way to start your day (obviously that does not apply in Washington D.C. or L.A.).   And speaking of traffic…

Truck traffic was very heavy this trip actually.   Which is good, because it means the economy is picking up. My own private economic indicator is train whistles. Here in Baltimore, when I hear them often I know heavy bulk goods are on the move, which is good. Whenever I am stopped for the night in Kingman Arizona (it usually works out that way somehow), I go watch the BNSF main line for a while. When times are good the trains are about fifteen minutes apart. When they’re not so good you maybe see or hear only one or two in a night.   This trip the trains were running pretty constantly through Kingman, but not at fifteen minute intervals.

The new Mercedes loves the open road as much as its driver. 19 degree gale force winds in Virginia and crappy Arkansas highways barely rate its notice. And there is nothing more satisfying than hearing that muscular diesel engine sound in the morning as you repack the trunk, as though the next seven or eight hundred miles ahead of you that day are but a mere trifle on the way to its first hundred thousand miles. I chatted briefly at a diesel pump in Arroyo Grande with a couple young guys driving a very beat up old 240D. It had lost both its bumpers and its paint job was worn almost to the primer and its owner had bought it for $600 dollars and was absolutely in love with it.   Tattered and worn as it looked he said it was the most solid and reliable car he’d ever owned.   His friends he said, told him it was more like a piece of farm equipment than an automobile. But to a Mercedes aficionado, that is a complement. What most Americans don’t know unless they travel abroad, is Daimler is the world’s biggest maker of heavy trucks and buses, and the Mercedes diesel sedan is often seen doing taxi duty in other countries.

To make an automobile that is that heavy duty and substantial, yet also agile, comfortable and beautiful, is a serious work of engineering art. This is the car I’ve been dreaming of exploring the open road with all my life. I’ve owned it for just over a year now and put nearly 30k miles on it. But that was mostly on several drives down to Florida…three to Disney World and one to Key West…which were acceptable to it I suppose.   Most days it’s just sitting in front of my little Baltimore rowhouse.   I can walk to work, and to the grocery store and The Avenue and Cafe’ Hon in Hampden, and I absolutely hate city traffic. For a year now it may have been sitting there wondering if the slovenly pointless life of a computer geek’s status symbol was its fate after all.

No dear…I love you better than that…

[Edited a tad…]

by Bruce | Link | React!

April 7th, 2010

Accepting Yourself For What You Are

So I went to Key West a few weeks ago, for a little vacation with some friends.   I love Key West.   I absolutely love the climate (at least the winter climate…I hear the summer swelter is a bit much…).   Even more, I love its laid back live and let live attitude.   It’s a place where people go, creative people, intelligent people, non-conformists, go to live lives away from the mainland mainstream.   The t-shirts on sale everywhere there celebrate sex, drinking, cigars, smuggling, toking, Harleys, growing old and not giving a damn, being poor and not giving a damn, drinking, drinking, and sex.   Levittown it ain’t.     It’s San Francisco and New Orleans but more laid back.   It’s Taos but instead of mountains it’s surrounded by a beautiful turquoise tropical sea and never gets below freezing.

The old town part of the island shelters dozens of historical landmarks and structures with history going back to the first Americans, embracing pirates, salvagers, smugglers, shipwrecked settlers, writers, artists, actors and presidents.   Hemingway, Truman, Hunter S. Thompson, Tennessee Williams, Robert Frost and Thomas Edison called it home at one point or another.   The locals call themselves Conchs and call their island home a nice little drinking place with a tourist problem.

In 1982 the U.S. Border Patrol put up a roadblock between Miami and Key West, and vehicles were searched for narcotics and illegals.   The roadblock put a huge dent in tourism.   The city council complained to the Feds and got nowhere.   So Key West declared itself The Conch Republic, seceded from the Union, declared war on the United States (by way of the mayor breaking a loaf of stale Cuban bread over the head of someone dressed in a military uniform…), then immediately surrendered and asked for a billion dollars in foreign aid and war relief.

Well they didn’t get their billion, but the roadblock came down.

I love Key West.   Ever since my first visit, I’ve thought often about moving there someday.   I love its laid back, away from the mainland mainstream attitude.   And it is a party town, at least around Duval Street.   You practically can’t spit in any direction without hitting a bar, at least one of which, The Garden of Eden, is clothing optional.   There are strip clubs, gay and straight and the dancers will walk over to customers to negotiate commerce, barely legal and possibly otherwise as well.   A blind eye is turned to a lot of things as long as no one causes any trouble.   For all its open sexuality and drinking, there is actually very little rowdiness.

You have to love a place where all this can be going on and yet it stays laid back about it all.   I could love to live in a place like that.   The ironic thing is, this trip to Key West really emphasized it for me that I am not that.

I have this love/hate relationship with my Baptist upbringing.   Sometimes I feel like it made me grow up entirely too inhibited.   Sometimes I am deeply grateful for it.   There are values, moral values, I still hold to, and find ever more vital as I grow older, and see more and more of what a world without them looks like.   Honesty.   Prudence in ones financial matters.   Earning your keep, and the trust of others.   A regard for social justice, tempered by a little humility every now and then, when the urge to thump your pulpit strikes.   But for every positive, I can find a negative.

I was never allowed to think of myself as beautiful or desirable.   That was vanity and it was a deadly sin.   Once when I was in my middle teens, mom, grandma, and a few other family members were at the beach.   I had decided to wear the new swim suit I’d bought, which I knew might raise some eyebrows but I thought I’d dare it.   It wasn’t terribly sexy by today’s standards, but it was colorful and showed my body off at a time when I definitely had one to show.   I strolled out onto the beach with it feeling beautiful for one of the rare times in my life, and just loud enough for me to hear some of the folks made a few off color cracks about it…precisely aimed to embarrass the hell out of me.   I must have blushed fifty shades of red and went back to the hotel.   I never wore it again.

I’ve had trouble my entire life with being sexually inhibited, and it isn’t just the beating my psyche took being a gay adolescent.   But there is inhibited, and there is reserved and it’s taken me the better part of adulthood to discover that my sexual reticence isn’t all the result of having the bible beaten over my head all throughout my childhood.   It’s been like carving out a hunk of marble to find the shape within that is really me, and not the stone cast around me from an early age.   I think I’m about down to it now, and swear I’d have thought the inner uninhibited me was a tad more footloose and fancy free then this.   But…no.

My friends stayed in “Big Ruby’s”…a gay “clothing optional” bed and breakfast.   I stayed at the Coco Palm, just around the corner.   Let me tell you about that.   Two of the guys I went down with are a couple.   The other is a party kind of guy, and not to put too fine a point on it, he went down there for the sex.     So this guy makes some arrangements for rooms at Big Ruby’s and the night before, he sends me an email asking if I wanted to share a room with him.   I had a pretty good idea what he was going to be getting into down there and I didn’t want to be sharing a room with him if he was going to be bringing guys back to it.   So I made a polite excuse…told him I’m an “only child” who always had his own room and I like my privacy…blah, blah, blah…   The next day I learn he’d made arrangements for himself and my two friends at Big Ruby’s, but not me.   So I guess “yes” was the right answer.   But…NO.

In retrospect I’m glad I didn’t stay there.   My two friends got themselves a nice apartment room with a kitchen that we all used as a headquarters.   We used the kitchen for making lunch and sometimes dinner too, and we all relaxed around the pool during Big Ruby’s happy hour.   Since I wasn’t a guest there I couldn’t drink their booze, but the landlord was fine with my bringing my own liquor and sharing with the others.   And as I walked in and out of Big Ruby’s, I got an eyeful of the stuff going on there and sometimes it was embarrassing.   They had a hot tub…     Walking past it was a real challenge.   Part of me would be deeply embarrassed while that damn logical/analytical part of my brain was absolutely fascinated, full of questions.     Don’t they have lovers…???

I watched several naked guys rise from the hot tub at full attention and I was not only unaroused, but actually turned off by the whole thing, and I swear the thought crossed my mind right at that moment that maybe I’m not gay after all.   Later I tried to think of a situation where I would be aroused.   Immediately one came to mind, but it involved not a group of guys but one…one special one…just him and me in the tub all by ourselves.   The plus side of having the high intensity imagination I do is I can make myself all hot and bothered pretty easily.

Yeah, I’m gay all right.   Just not the kind of gay guy who goes for casual hooking up in the hot tub with a bunch of strangers regardless of how gorgeous they are.   While reading John Steinbeck’s Travels With Charley I came across this saying: Cold Feet, Warm Heart. At the age I read it I kinda thought I knew what it meant, but it took years of growing up and passing through adolescence to really understand it.   Yeah.   That’s me.   Cold feet, warm heart.

So I wandered for a time amongst the party crowd at Key West, enjoying myself very much, but coming to an understanding, finally, that I am not that.   I am a quiet little romantic, who feels suffocated wherever people have to stifle themselves in order to survive.   I’m a shy little homebody looking for his soulmate, who despises people who impose particular gender and sexual roles on others.   I’m a gay man who understands intimately well how conformity kills the soul.   I’ve watched it happen.   I will not willingly live in that world.   Even if I could pass for normal in that environment…I couldn’t.   But I am not that.

by Bruce | Link | React! (4)

June 10th, 2009

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity-Jig…Goooood Evening J.R….

So…I’ve been on the road for a few weeks.  And I’ve not been updating my blog very much.  And there’s a reason for that and it isn’t that I’m not talkative anymore.  I’ve actually been very active on my Facebook account while on the road.  And the reason for that is there is a handy little Facebook application for the iPhone that works…sorta kinda.  There’s a lot it’s missing, but for basically updating your status, sending Facebook email and posting photos off your iPhone it works okay.

There is a WordPress app for the iPhone too, but I need to upgrade my WordPress software to enable it and as I have some customization in amongst my php files that isn’t a simple chore.  I need to set aside some time for it.  I could also enable email posting too I suppose…but again I need to set aside some time to experiment with it.

Anyway…I’m back at Casa del Garrett again, and I have lots to talk about in the coming days.  But for now I need a rest.  Here’s some quick stats from Traveler’s trip computer…

6753 Miles
29.6 Miles Per Gallon Average
61 Miles Per Hour Average
111:04 Hours Driving

30.7 Miles Per Gallon Averaged Today (6-10-2009)

That last figure is from the time I started the car this morning in Vandalia Illinois to shutting it down just now in front of Casa del Garrett in Baltimore.  That’s almost entirely highway driving with the cruise control on, which I did more to keep me safe from speed traps then for gas milage. 

I’ll total up the money this weekend.  I didn’t buy as much turquoise this trip as I usually do when driving through the southwest.  But I got a couple of really nice pieces, and one very nice amber bracelet in Chinatown.  Brother-Mine has promised me a custom jewelry box to finally give all this turquoise a nice home.

I’ve got tons of photos, which I’ll work on over the weekend too.

I love my native state, California.  I often dream of living out there.  That was the plan, once upon a time.  But then I got the job of my dreams, and a nice little Baltimore rowhouse to go with it, and so Maryland is probably where I’ll spend the rest of my life too.  But…it’s good to be home.  I love to travel…I love the open road.  But…it felt so nice to walk into my house a few hours ago.  So very, very nice…

by Bruce | Link | React!

May 29th, 2009

Western Light

Yes…I haven’t been very talkative here lately.  I’m on vacation and these days I try to keep the world at arm’s length when I am trying to rest and relax.  I’m at my brother’s house in Oceano for a bit…then on to San Francisco and the Java One developer’s conference.  At the moment, I just don’t want to deal with the world.

Here’s some images for you, until the talking feather comes back my way again…








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