Sunday, January 25, 2015

Photo-of-the-Week #195 A Different Point Of View, The Eastern United States From 30,000 Feet, October 2014

Don't you just love photos shot from an airliner window? That's a rhetorical question. I typically don't shoot aerial shots from airliners these days, BUT I usually opt for an aisle seat, so I'm not near the windows. Let's face it, I think most amateur photographers are looking for that one in a million shot and I'm no different. You occasionally see one of these photos in my Photo of the Week series. And, to be honest, I have had, in my opinion, a few close to the one in a million shots over the years. No winner, yet, though.

This photo was shot from about 30,000 feet on a flight from San Antonio, Texas to Washington, D.C.'s Dulles International Airport. I don't have a clue as to the actual location of this shot and, frankly, it's not one of my better aerial shots, however, it does highlight the vast regions of green that make up the major part of the United States between the East Coast and the western parts of the country where there are vast areas of desert and high mountain ranges.

Doing most of my travel on the ground at this stage of life, I don't get to see vast panorama scenes like this often unless I'm on a fairly high mountain. However, since there are no 30,000 foot high mountains, a perspective like this is still not truly possible from a terrestrial vantage point. The occasional air excursion does provide an opportunity for me to see the vast area and terrains I now explore on the ground. It actually helps keep things in perspective. You might even say it keeps me "grounded." (Pun intended)

Of course, from this point of view, I don't see or enjoy the tiny villages and hamlets, the local points of interest or the interesting variety of people I meet along the way. Each mode of transportation has its pros and cons. I feel these occasional high speed, high altitude jaunts make the ground level journeys more interesting and fulfilling.  

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Photos-of-the-Week #194 - From Sea to Shining Sea and Gulf to Lake, America the Beautiful, 2014 - 2015

From Sea - The Atlantic Ocean

To Shining Sea - The Pacific Ocean

From the Gulf Shores - The Gulf of Mexico

To the Great Lakes - Lake Erie

I've been sitting here in sunny, warm southern California enjoying the time I'm spending with my son as I await the recovery of My McVansion from it's "heart attack" (engine failure). I began recapping the past 12 months of travel My McVansion and I have enjoyed and experienced. I have literally been from sea to shining sea and from the Gulf to the Lakes. What a wonderful year.

So, all I can say is that life is good and personal freedom makes it even better. Don't misinterpret my thought. It's not like there haven't been a few challenges and adversities. Of course, there have been some of those. Life would be pretty boring if everything was perfect all the time. And it's certainly not that I haven't been to both oceans and the Gulf of Mexico and the Great Lakes before (although it has been a long, long time since I've been to the Great Lakes). But, to experience all four extremes of our beautiful country over land, without the assistance of an airliner, within a 12 month period is definitely a first for me.

I was actually at the Atlantic a second time and at the Hudson River, the north shore of the Long Island Sound, on the shores of several of the Finger Lakes in New York State, at Ocean Pond (a large lake in northern Florida) and Lake Jackson in Sebring, Florida as well as crossing the Ohio River (at several crossings) and the Mississippi River again and at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi River, a place I've never crossed the Mississippi river before. I was next to the torrents of water passing over Niagara Falls and found several other waterfalls in New York State, one of which had a longer vertical drop than Niagara Falls. And there has been so much more and even more to come.

The amazing thing is that I've only begun to scratch the surface of seeing this great continent and country. It's not like I haven't been traveling most of my adult life through college and ever since. But, it's different now. I get to see it all from the ground view rather than the eagle's view. Additionally, I get to see it on my terms, not the terms of some business deadline that had to be met.

If you're a fellow traveler, you know exactly what I'm saying. If you're not, you don't know what you're missing. Americana is waiting for your and calling you.   

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Things Are Looking Up For My McVansion

If you look over the fence, below and left of the street
 number, 12501, you can see My McVansion's roof.
Today is the eighth day My McVansion has been undergoing "treatment" for its "heart attack." I admitted it to One Stop Engine Rebuilding a week ago Tuesday. Wednesday of last week, the master engine surgeons began the procedure of disassembling and rebuilding, from the basic engine block up, a completely rebuilt "heart" (engine) for My McVansion. Eight days after they began, the heart of My McVansion is firmly seated in its cavity in the front of the patient.

For all practical intents and purposes, the engine is almost all new except for such things as the engine block and the camshaft. It's been cleaned, machined and refitted with everything it needs to return to its job as the powerhouse that drives My McVansion. The only things they are still working on are finding (or fashioning) two hose configurations dealing with the heating system. Since this particular engine has basically been out of production since around 1996 or 1997 or slightly less than 20 years, some parts are a bit challenging to locate.

All things being equal, according to Wilson, the head engine surgeon at One Stop, everything should be back together and My McVansion's heart will be restarted tomorrow (Thursday) and road tested a couple times, at least. If everything checks out and it's fully expected it will, the patient will be discharged. I'll receive a call and I can pick up My McVansion.

There will be a recovery period (break in) of a couple thousand miles. After that everything should be running to full factory specifications again.

Interestingly, they found a significant amount of rust on the engine. Several bolts broke trying to remove them and had to be drilled out and re-tapped. One of the valve covers had so much rust that it had actually eaten a hole through the valve cover.

And here is a shot of My McVansion with the rebuilt engine back in place where there had formerly been an empty cavity. You can see right into the cockpit area of the van that is usually covered by a "doghouse" engine cover.

Once My McVansion is back in my hands, I'll take it to the nearby Walmart in Torrance, California where they will either repair the flattened new right rear tire if it's repairable. Or, I had them order in a replacement tire (it's a special order tire) to have it there just in case the tire can't be repaired and has to be replaced.

I'll pick up some provisions, put everything back in the van I removed prior to the work beginning and, if all goes well, My McVansion and I will be on our way to Quartzite, Arizona on Friday morning, looking to arrive at some reasonable time on Friday afternoon to join up with the rest of the Vandwellers gathered at the annual Rubber Tramp Rendezvous. I had hoped to spend a good part of the two weeks there, but it appears I may only get to spend about four and a half days there. I'll have to do a lot of making up for lost time.

The next post should be from somewhere other than Hawthorne, California.    

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Photo-of-the-Week #193 - Griffith Observatory, Griffith Park, Los Angeles, California, January 2015

Here is the Griffith Observatory. The Observatory is prominently located on what may be the highest point in Griffith Park on Mount Hollywood, a 3,000 plus acre preserve donated to the city of Los Angeles in 1896 by Col. Griffith J. Griffith. In his will he also left the funding to build the observatory with detailed specifications. The observatory was built in the mid 1930's as a WPA project during the Great Depression. It was officially opened to the public on May 14, 1935. It is and has always been free to the public in accordance with Griffith's will.

In addition to the huge planetarium theater in the large center dome of the observatory, there are large telescopes in the east and west observatory domes. During World War II the observatory was used to train pilots in celestial navigation. During the 1960's the observatory was again used to train Apollo astronauts for the lunar missions. The observatory has undergone at least a couple major renovations over its lifetime. The latest one took from 2002 to 2006 and included a major excavation project under the observatory to add more exhibit space. It also included the installation of a huge, modern Mark IV Zeiss projector inside the new dome of the planetarium. The older projector was installed in a second theater built underground during the renovations and expansion.

If you look closely you can see the Goodyear
blimp slightly right of center and above the
opening in the clouds.
There is way too much to tell about the fascinating exhibits housed inside the beautiful Art Deco structure. And, as of this time, I have not had the opportunity to experience the inside of the observatory. Pete, my son, and I arrived at about sunset and reaching the observatory on the two lane, winding road leading to the too small parking lot was impossible at that time. So, we found a great vantage point overlooking the Los Angeles Basin and captured photos of the sunset. We later drove up to the top of the mountain, but there was nary a parking place to be found and the traffic and congestion up there was like being on an L.A. freeway at rush hour on a Friday afternoon of a three day weekend. So, this becomes another addition to my life list of places to experience.  

By the way, this photo was taken from about a mile away as the crow flies. The photographic quality, of even an inexpensive point and shoot (in this case, my Samsung WB250F) camera, amazes me. The long lens in this little camera (and I wasn't even close to fully zoomed) provides great detail, remarkably sharp images and, for documentation purpose, very useable photographs. And, while this camera has a 14 mega pixel resolution, I usually use a 5 mega pixel resolution to keep the file size down to allow for faster up and down loading. Ain't technology great? 

Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Good, The Bad, But There Is No Ugly Today

Today's article is going to mainly be a photo essay. It is said a picture speaks a thousand words and in this case, I think that's truer than not.

I'm composing this article as I sit parked on the beach in the SoCal city of Manhattan Beach. My son's home is approximately three miles from the beach and the office he works at is conveniently about half way between his pad and the beach. So, this is not a bad arrangement.

The Good!

So, the good is that while My McVansion has suffered an automotive heart attack, I'm fortunate enough to have close family in an idyllic location, especially considering the weather conditions back at my eastern base camp in Keyser, West Virginia. The temperatures there for the past several days have been in the 0-10 degree range at night with 25 to 50 mph winds creating wind-chill temperatures in the -10 to -20 range. Additionally, they have had a nominal blanket of snow on the ground.

So, here is my current location as I compose this piece for, you, my loyal readers --

Surfers on Manhattan Beach, California at
 73 balmy degrees

A small party of onlookers on the beach
in the late afternoon sun
A tanker at anchor off Manhattan Beach

Some volley ball beach babes practicing
Not a bad place to live - if you can afford it

A Pacific Ocean sunset at Manhattan Beach, California

The Bad!

The bad part of this situation is that My McVansion sits about five miles from my present location with a large cavity where its heart (its engine) resided until yesterday. Since my son was kind enough to let me have his car for the day, I took a little time late this morning to visit my micro-condo on wheels and take a look at its current condition.

Here are some current photos of the "patient."

My McVansion with its chest cavity empty - its heart has been removed
The engine block undergoing steam cleaning
One of the two heads and the camshaft
awaiting cleaning and machining

This may be the "bad boy" - one of the pistons is very badly damaged -
the other seven pistons had their miles showing, but were 
generallyin much better condition.

The NOT Ugly!

So, while this is not a convenient or a planned set of circumstance and turn of events, I don't see anything truly ugly about it. First, I get to enjoy some great time with my son. This is something we haven't had the privilege of having very much over the past decade or so. Second, I'm located in a warm, sunny and very pleasant environment. One couldn't ask for a better situation under the circumstances. Third, this failure of automotive technology was neither planned nor was the expense in the budget, so it's going to take a significant bite out of my resources. However, it will only alter my lifestyle a very small amount.

The upside is that I will have a like new engine in the van that should last many, many miles. This will provide reliable travel and opportunities for exploring more of Americana and the adventures that lie ahead.


Thursday, January 8, 2015

Beautiful Downtown Tinseltown - Hollywood, California

It's a beautiful southern California day, The sun is out. The temperature is a moderate 70 degrees or so with a gentle breeze and all the local folks and tourists are wandering the streets in their shorts, mini skirts, tee shirts and tanktops. Of course, there is a pretty steady stream of traffic.

I'm sitting in front of the Tiago Coffee Shop next to the Emerson Theater at the corner of Hollywood Blvd. and La Brea. The sidewalk in front of the coffee shop is part of the Hollywood Walk of Fame with the stars honoring those entertainers who've earned the privilege of being so recognized. 

A  few blocks down Hollywood Blvd. is the famed corner of Hollywood & Vine. During the mid-1970's my Washington, DC business, Audio-Video Cooncepts, Inc., aka AVCon, had made arrangements with a Hollywood audio production business located on one of the corners of Hollywood & Vine, to use their address as AVCon's Hollywood branch office. Those were pretty heady days for the aggressive, young, 20 something, recording entrepreneur I was back in those days. It's interesting how time mellows us. 

About five or six years ago I visited Hollywood for what I called my "Final Hollywood Tour" to see what was still around from my days here in the 70's and 80's. To be perfectly honest, I was never enamored of this town. The same is true of New York City. My favorite recordiing center was then and still is Nashville. I was disapointed to find that while most of the major structures were still evident, other than the iconic Capitol Tower (home of Capitol Records), I could only find about two other studios still in operation from the "Golden Age" of my youthful days. Even the building we used for our Hollywood address at Hollywood & Vine had been razed and was a hole in the ground.

So, here I sit, one more time, about 40 minutes from my son's abode in a place that is still bustling, but seems to have changed quite a bit over the years, but doesn't everything?

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

California, Here I Am!

Yes, I am in sunny, warm (finally) southern California. But, not without challenges getting here. I'll recap the travels in another post devoted just to the mostly uneventful trip other than my eight day stay in Cherokee Village, Arkansas. But, this is the view from where I am composing this article today.

This is from the small yard, but adequate for my son, Pete's, (and currently, my) needs in the city of Hawthorne, California, one of the cities that makes up what most people call Los Angeles, the "City of Angels." His small house is actually a guest house located behind the small main house that faces the street. It's actually very quiet and secluded back here. I can't see anyone and no one can see me.

Pete's small, but adequate yard
Now, lest I lead you to believe my son lives in some palatial compound, the reality is that his little accommodation is not in great repair, is very Spartan and quite small. But, the rent is extremely reasonable, includes all utilities and serves his purposes quite adequately for the moment.

His very private entrance to his secluded abode

Generation Gap

My son is a member of what is termed Generation X while his father is part of the Silent Generation, the generation immediately preceding the Baby Boomer Generation. So, he and I have somewhat different world views and, yet, we share many of the same values. 

I find it most interesting that while I was born only a year before the "official" beginning of the Baby Boomer Generation, I, for all practical intents and purposes, grew up as a Baby Boomer. My father, would also be considered a member of the Silent Generation though he was born one year prior to that generation and would be considered part of the Greatest Generation, but I share most of his values. I found this all quite interesting as I did some research on the generations for this article.

The thing I find most interesting is that my father (parents) grew up during the Great Depression. This was a time when a large part of the U.S. population lived frugally and without large accumulations of material "stuff." However, he did his level best to make our lives (my two sisters and mine) much better. We lived what would have to be considered something just north of a solid Middle Class lifestyle. Nice homes, two, then three cars, a couple TV's, eventually, we had multiple bathrooms and each of us kids had our own bedrooms. And, of course, there was quite a bit more "stuff" that accumulated.

My son grew up in what would be considered a solid Middle Class lifestyle. Larger homes, multiple bathrooms, extra bedrooms, multiple vehicles and too much stuff. It took me way too many years to realize the folly of bigger homes, multiple vehicles and the accumulation of way too much stuff. Of course, I couldn't imagine how stressful it would be to have to downsize, economize and live simply. It's an ongoing process, but I'm now an advocate of this lifestyle and have no desire to return to the excesses of my earlier life.

Where Did I Go Right? (But, I Really Don't Take The Credit)

The really interesting thing to me is that my son, a member of a generation that became even more self-indulgent, has actually embraced minimalism, frugality and simplicity since he left the nest. Believe me when I say that as an only son, who grew up in an entrepreneurial Middle Class, Baby Boomer home, he was doted on and spoiled. Yet, somehow he found the pathway to greater freedom and happiness at the onset of his adult life rather than dauntingly going through 40 or 50 years of excess and the accumulation of massive amounts of "stuff."

So, as I sit here at his modest abode, I marvel at this interesting circumstance. I guess it wouldn't hurt to elaborate a bit by saying he lives his frugal, minimalist, simple lifestyle by choice. He is a self-made man in his mid 30's. He is currently employed (his first full-time employment in about 10 years) by a division of one of the Big Five international accounting and consulting firms. He earned his stripes as a contractor for some of the largest high-tech and e-commerce businesses in the world over the past decade.

He earns a healthy, six figure (before the decimal point) income with an enviable benefit package. The other people he works with choose to live in high cost housing, drive Bimmers, Benzes and other, so-called, Yuppie cars, shop in the trendy upscale stores, wear the latest fashions, travel high on the hog, etc. He sees this income as his opportunity to create his future freedom. By choosing to live simply, minimally and economically now, he will be able to be free to travel the world and work on his own terms in the not too distant future. He's already a world trekker and has been for years.

The main house, the guest house and the property are all for sale (short sale), so he may have to leave here soon. But, he figures he'll stay here as long as he can while keeping his eyes open for another similar housing opportunity to make a move to when this property sells.

Above is a view of the front of the main house and to the right and below are views up and down the street. As you can see, he's only a half block from the I-405 (The 405) Freeway and he's pretty close to the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), yet, it's amazingly quiet in his small, secluded domain.

While this small place could be considered a larger "Tiny House," other than a few features of the floor plan, I would find this small place very accommodating at some time in the future when it will be time to ultimately hang up my keys. I'm not figuring on that occurrence until somewhere after age 100.

Where Is My McVansion?

Meanwhile, My McVansion, my micro-condo on wheels, is located about 2 miles from my son's pad with a large vacant space where the engine usually resides. It's at an engine rebuilding shop that comes with very high reviews. Unfortunately, after making it 3,233 miles across the U.S. from my departure point of Keyser, West Virginia to 2,500 feet up the extremely steep climb to the 4,160 foot Tejon Pass out of the San Joaquin Valley to the San Fernando Valley, the poor little engine that could . . . just couldn't anymore and had a "heart attack." It's beyond bypass surgery, it needs a complete rebuilt heart. 

So, I had to limp the final 84 miles to my son's place with a barely functional engine. I finally made it over the 4,160 foot pass and the rest of the way by driving on the shoulder (fortunately, pretty wide) with my emergency flashers on, often at speeds of only 10 to 15 miles per hour.

Adding Insult To Injury

Of course, there was one other delay of about an hour and a half when the brand new, right rear tire ended up flat. Fortunately, it happened at a wide place off to the side of the 405 Freeway just 15 miles from my son's house. The new tires were installed at the Walmart in Clovis, CA the day before my "trip from Hell" and only had about 200 miles on them. My AAA Plus membership took care of getting the tire changed. Again, fortunately, I had the spare checked the day before and had it filled when we found the tire pressure was nearly zero.

So, after the engine is replaced, I'll be heading to the Walmart in Torrance, California to have the tire repaired (if repairable) or replaced if it isn't. Once more, fortunately, I had the foresight to take the road hazard warranty.

Circumstances and Choices

Thus, by circumstance, I have the good fortune to be able to spend more time visiting with my son (when he's not at his office about a mile and a half from his home). Since we have been residing on opposite coasts for the past eleven years, we don't have this opportunity very often. I would have much rather enjoyed this visit by choice. Regardless, it still provides me with an opportunity to enjoy his company and learn about and explore his world. But, this is the scary part. I'm finding out how much more alike we've become as he's matured into a sharp, young professional.

I consider myself lucky. I don't know what I did to deserve having such a great kid. I'm sure I made all kinds of mistakes as a father. It's a big credit to him that he still figured it out and is living his life productively, freer than most people his age and, apparently pretty happily.

Life Is Good! 

Living life free and happy is great. There will always be challenges along the highways and byways of the journey and some may certainly be difficult. But, attitude goes a long way to overcoming any challenge thrown your way. 

I'll be leaving a few days later than I planned for Quartzite, Arizona to attend Bob Wells' "Rubber Tramp Rendezvous" (RTR). But, I will get there and that's the important thing. I'm looking forward to meeting up with a bunch of other seasoned and newbie vandwellers and swapping all kinds of war stories.  

Monday, January 5, 2015

Photo-of-the-Week #192 - Tiny Town - Tiny Post Office, Tinnie, New Mexico, December 2014

So, could this photo represent one of the reasons the U.S. Postal Service is losing money every year?

This is a tiny post office in the town of Tinnie, New Mexico, a tiny town in a group of tiny towns I passed through on my way to California. Personally, I don't see any problem a tiny post office like this one. I was once served by a tiny post office in Cross Junction, Virginia. However that tiny Virginia post office served a large part of the rural area of Frederick County, Virginia.

The thing that struck me is I would drive through tiny town after tiny town, all within only a few miles of one another - possibly two to five miles - and each tiny town had another tiny post office similar to this one. It seems to be that there are probably hundreds, if not thousands, of tiny post offices like these across the U.S. Each one has an overhead including to salary for one to two people plus one or more mail carriers, rent or construction cost, land cost, building and grounds maintenance, utilities, insurance, etc. It would be my guess that most of these post offices don't generate enough revenue to pay for their overhead.

So, why not consolidate three, four, five or even more of these tiny post offices into one central, slightly larger post office, eliminating a large amount of overhead and expense. Then, since most of these tiny towns typically has some kind of convenience or general store to support the local residents, let the stores set up a USPS kiosk to offer most basic services. The USPS would sell the postage to the stores at a discounted rate. The store then offers the postal services as an additional line as they do with gasoline and other products.

It's my thought that, while it might not completely eliminate the USPS annual deficit, it would certainly put a dent in it. As an aside, I dropped off some Christmas cards I needed to mail at the tiny Tinnie, New Mexico post office. But, I already had my stamps, so I just deposited the cards in the mail collection box. I could have just as easily dropped thin in a collection box at the local general store.