Sunday, January 31, 2016

Photo-of-the-Week #248 If I Had My Druthers, Ft. Pierce, Florida, January 2014

Yep! This photo says it all. If I had my druthers right about now, I'd be sitting on this beach at Pepper State Park in Ft. Pierce, Florida or on Manhattan Beach outside Los Angeles or on the beach on Padre Island. I'd be anywhere I've been or not yet been, as long as it was warm with balmy breezes and preferably with the sound of seagulls and the ocean surf to lull me to sleep.

This would be the view out the back “picture window” from My McVansion. I would be relaxing and reading a book, composing a new blog post, editing a chapter from one of my upcoming ebooks or possibly contemplating the route to my next destination when ready to leave this idyllic setting.

After last week's 28” blizzard snow fall (see last week's POTW), almost anyplace warmer and with no snow would be nice. Alas, at this writing, I'm still in West Virginia and My McVansion, while warm and cozy inside (I'm not staying in it at the moment), is still snowbound on the side of my friend's house. There was actually a heat wave here, today with a sunny, blue sky and an afternoon temperature that reached the low 60 degree mark. Daydreaming. Soon.

Live free and be happy. EH 

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Photos-of-the-Week #247 Blizzard 2016 – North Central West Virginia, January 2016

This week I'm going to let the photos do the speaking. Here's what I'll tell you. I'm still located in north central West Virginia on the West Virginia-Maryland border (the Potomac River) about 23 miles south of Cumberland, Maryland. This is all a very rural region. It's known as the Potomac Highlands although the small town I'm located in is actually in a small valley at about 800 feet above sea level, surrounded by mountains that probably range from 400 to 800 feet higher.

I had planned to be in warmer climates by this time, but “Stuff Happens” and, while the stuff was not of my own making, I agreed to stay around the area to provide assistance for my friend and my sister. I had no intention of experiencing another blizzard in my lifetime. I've weathered many of them in New Jersey, central New York, Annapolis, Maryland and Winchester, Virginia. My snow preference is to watch it on TV, in movies, see it in photos or, on occasion, visit the snow with the intent of immediately leaving it behind.

This blizzard impacted at least 11 states according to the news people. I needed to be far from here to miss the impact. Obviously, I didn't make it. So, I'm literally up to my butt, that is at least 28,” in snow. You can see by the photos of My McVansion, that this is serious business. It reminds me of my days living in Syracuse, New York. But, then in 2010, I was in my former hometown in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, Winchester, when a snow event affectionately named “Snowmageddon” hit the entire region and left behind about five feet of snow from two back to back blizzards. This one has been called “Snowpocalypse” and “Snowzilla.” There are areas like Winchester where 36” was logged and just north of there as much as 40.”

These photos were taken at the peak of the blizzard just before it began to taper off. The van is parked next to my friend's house where I base camp when I'm in the east. It's powered up with shore power and the battery charger is keeping the batteries topped off. I also have my tiny, ceramic, space heater heating the interior to prevent it from freezing up inside. If you look at the digital thermometer photo, the number at the bottom is the interior temperature of the van. It reads a comfortable 62 degrees.

I had already turned it down by then, but during the peak of the storm at night when the outside temperatures were in the low to mid teens, it was actually 72 degrees in the van. I turned it down again after I took that photo since I'm not staying in the van right now. My friend has graciously provided use of a cozy, warm room in her home. But, I would have been quite comfortable, though probably suffering from “cabin fever” had I been staying in the van.

The van won't be moving for several days as of this time. There is a plowed pile of snow about 6' high between the van and the road, so some melting is going to have to occur before those tires will touch pavement again. I'm now hoping that between now and the time the various circumstances keeping me in this region are cleared, no further storms appear on the radar screen. Once again, when I leave, I'll be stating I don't plan to experience another of these winter snow events.

Live free and be happy (and stay warm). EH  

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Photos-of-the-Week #246 The Heart (Engine) Surgeons at One-Stop, Hawthorne, California, January 2015

One year ago at this time I was “stranded” in Hawthorne, California with My McVansion. It was a trying time. As you may recall, I was on my way from Clovis (Fresno), California where I spent Christmas and the changing of the year with my former mother-in-law, brother and sister-in-law, my nephews and niece and my son and my former wife, his mother.

It was a bit of a special time for me since it was the first time all of us had actually spent a Christmas together in 25 years. For me, that was a really nice Christmas present. Unfortunately, I didn't know what new “adventure” was awaiting me when I would leave Clovis on January 5, 2015.

I had just had the van hand-washed and an exterior detailing job done. It looked pretty. I had two new tires mounted on the rear of the van. I took off heading over the mountains from the central valley of the Golden State and as I was climbing to the Tejon Pass on I-5 heading to the LA area to visit my son at his place . . . My McVansion suffered a “heart attack.” Yes! The heart of my condo on wheels blew halfway up the mountain to the pass.

Fortunately, I could get the engine to run again. It was pretty noisy and had no power. I limped at an average of 10 to 15 mph over the mountain, through the San Fernando Valley and to the South Bay area, Hawthorne, to be precise, where my son lived. I drove on the shoulder of I-5. It was a very long and tedious drive, never knowing when and where the engine may completely die. But, I made it.

Here I was, about 2,800 miles from my familiar home territory and my mechanic of 25 years. But, then the greatest thing happened. I went on line searching for a place to look over the engine and determine the situation, and, of course, break the bad news I was expecting. I found a place in Hawthorne, only about two or three miles from my son's place, by the name of One-Stop Engine Rebuilding.

I called and I reached a gentleman by the name of Wilson. And a gentleman he was. We chatted by phone and he told me to bring the van over the next day for an “examination” and “diagnosis.” I did, and as I suspected, the news was not good. But, thankfully, all was not hopeless and My McVansion wasn't terminal.

I found a cracker jack, top drawer team of automotive engine technicians, all certified by the ASE. They were courteous, careful, knowledgeable and highly skilled with a reputation that preceded them. Wilson, the owner and leader of the team of “surgeons” couldn't have been a nicer person to work with. He was honest and always in control. He also had a wonderful personality and sense of humor.

Wilson's father had started in the engine rebuilding business in the '80's. Although he had suffered a stroke, he was still active in the business. Wilson also had a brother who worked with them. The rest of the team were terrific, too. I couldn't have asked for a nicer bunch of people to work with and handle this problem for me.

In the photo at the top of the article, Wilson is the second from the right. There are two other members of the team who are not pictured, they were not available when I took this photo.

They took the engine out of My McVansion, stripped it down, steam cleaned everything, replaced specific vital components with new ones, machined and made sure anything that could be re-installed was perfect. Here you see My McVansion's “heart” re-installed after being rebuilt into the next best thing to a new engine. They were terrific and allowed me back in the shop throughout the entire process to see everything they were doing. Even though I had studied automotive technology in the mid 1960's a lot had changed. They gave me a good understanding of the modern V8 engine and what makes it tick.

Once the engine was rebuilt and installed back in the van's “chest cavity,” it was a thing of beauty. It ran perfectly. Well, perfectly except for a problem with overheating exhaust manifolds. That presented a new can of worms. With a like new engine that ran like it had just come out of the engine factory, this wasn't right.

Wilson wouldn't release the van to me this way. He now realized that the demon that had caused the problem in the first place, was still dwelling somewhere in the engine or something connected to the engine. He also knew that if he released it to me, it wouldn't be very long before this demon would create the same conditions and the engine would blow again. Wilson, in his collaborative and communicative way explained, even though everything about the engine was running to factory specifications, my engine didn't display the typical reasons engines fail when they are brought to him.

He explained that most engines he receives and works on come with no oil in the crankcase or no coolant in the cooling system and sometimes both. My engine's coolant was perfect and so was my oil and the levels of both were to factory specifications. Whatever it was was, for him and his team, an anomaly. Here, again, is something I admire and am very happy about. Wilson refused to give up until he found the problem and resolved it.

Was this a huge inconvenience to me? It sure was. I ended up imposing on my son's hospitality for two months. But, my son was great and, frankly, we hadn't spent that much time together in almost 12 years. So, it was an unexpected gift/blessing for me. But, it was also a major inconvenience to Wilson and his team. He had limited space and bays to work on other customers' vehicles. Now, he had this one behemoth van taking up much needed space. Not to mention he hadn't charged me a dime, so far.

At long last, his perseverance paid off. He tried everything he and the team could think of. Then he finally consulted an automotive “neurosurgeon” who found this tiny gremlin hiding deep inside one of the engine systems. The system was replaced and, viola, EVERYTHING was perfect finally. He road tested it and then had me road test it for a few days. Happy! Happy! Happy! Finally, the van was no longer blocking his space.

He presented me with the final costs and, as I stated in the beginning, Wilson is a gentleman and honest. The bill was exactly as he said it would be. He added nothing on for all the extra time he and his team had to continue working on it. The only thing he added on was the cost of the automotive “neurosurgeon's” services finding and fixing the elusive gremlin.

So, if you're ever in the LA area and have engine problems with your vehicle – van, car, pick-up, SUV (I don't think he can tackle a larger RV, but you can always ask him) and you have an engine problem, I can HIGHLY recommend and commend One-Stop Engine Rebuilding as the first place to call and take your vehicle. Fair prices. Honest people. Certified technicians. Stand behind their work. Courteous. Friendly. Can you really ask for more?

The engine now has 12,000 miles on it and is performing perfectly (although I still knock on wood as I write this - who's superstitious?). It's about ready for its next oil change and I'll be switching over to synthetic oil, my preferred kind of oil for all my vehicles for the past 40 years.

So, while I'm still here in the east. I plan to make my way to visit with Wilson and the team when I get back into the LA area. Never lose a valued contact and connection when you're a nomadic traveler. Live free and be happy. EH

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Photo-of-the-Week #245 Winter Sunrise On The Atlantic, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, January 2009

There isn't much to say that this photo doesn't say for itself. As you know I love sunrises and sunsets. This is another one that takes my breath away. Of course, it was even more awesome in person, standing on the beach as I experienced the event.

A travel buddy and I decided we needed to travel a little to get away from the drabness of the winter in the Washington, DC area where he lives and I was staying at the time. This was just what the doctor ordered for us. I hope you enjoy these sunset and sunrise pictures as much as I enjoy taking them. 

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Photo-of-the-Week #244 Feeling Lucky? Q Resort & Casino, Winterhaven, California, March 2015

They sure are elaborate. Gambling casinos, I'm talking about. For the longest time the only time I had been in a gambling casino was back in the 80's when I was at the Resort International Casino in Atlantic City to record a seminar on telemarketing. I went down to the casino the first evening, took $20.00 with me (locked the rest of my cash in my room) and returned to my room with . . . $0.00. Lesson learned.

Since that time I've been in casinos in West Virginia, Florida, Arizona, California and Oregon. There may have been one or two other places, but they obviously didn't make a big impression on me. Actually, they all pretty much look (and sound) the same to me. They are glitzy, glamorous and noisy. I can add gambling to the number of things I'm not prone to becoming addicted along with alcohol, drugs of any kind, adrenalin rushes and compulsive buying. Now, I do enjoy eating, but I'm not particularly addicted to any specific thing. What does that leave . . . hmmm, sex? Not sure I've ever found myself in a situation to test that as a possible addiction, well, maybe once. But, I can't say I'm addicted. So, I guess I can cross that off the list, too.

I don't get it. I go into these casinos and walk through from early morning until late at night, actually all night long, there are people there. They sit at the “one-armed” bandits, although they are all electronic now, like zombies playing one, two and three slot machines at a time. It boggles my mind. Obviously, some people must get lucky, but I just can't buy into it. I stay at casinos when I travel because most of them offer free overnight parking for RVers. I'll go in and usually patronize their snack bars and restaurants (many have really great breakfasts at excellent prices). Beyond that, like I said, I just don't get it.

Live free and be happy. EH