Sunday, March 29, 2015

Photo-of-the-Week #204 Partying with the Phoenicians, Phoenix, Arizona, March 25, 2015

Normally, my photo-of-the-week posts are of some scenic sight or point of interest. This week I've taken a different course. I always tell people that my true wealth, besides the time I have on this Earth, is my friends. And, here are some of my friends. I rolled into Phoenix sent out an email and had hoped to find a time to get together with each of my friends individually, fitting into their busy schedules. Lo and behold, they all got together and just like that, we had a small party put together.

These are friends I've known for decades from my membership in the National Speakers Association, an organization that has blessed me with some of the best friendships of my life. Seated around the table with me beginning at the back of the booth on the left with Naomi Rhode, then Jim Rhode and Ed Scannell. On the right side, I'm in the back with Kathleen Thoren and Don Thoren. All of these terrific folks are participants in the Veteran Speakers Retreat and have been designated Legends of the Speaking Profession. I was honored to be the coordinator of the VSR for 12 years where we awarded the Legends designation and shared time with each of them during the retreats.

As a side note, besides the fact that each of these people are uniquely talented and very wise, intelligent individuals, I credit Jim Rhode as being my muse and inspiration in the creation of the SuccessTrax audio magazine I created in the early 80's. One just never knows who will cross your path and become pivotal in where you future will go.

At any rate, I salute you all, love and appreciate you and thanks for the impromptu birthday celebration that spontaneously occurred. It was a delightful evening at The Cheesecake Factory in Phoenix. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Good Morning, Phoenix

I arrived in Phoenix, Arizona about 8 PM last night. As I expected, while rush hour was long over, the Interstate and main roads in this city located in the middle of the desert were packed with cars, all, seemingly, in a hurry to get somewhere. The question always crosses my mind when I arrive in virtually any major or medium sized city (and more and more, even in small cities) where is everyone going?

Yes! It's true, there are a few people like me, travelers passing through, maybe staying for  a few days, but not permanently locating in the particular city. There are also the 18 wheelers and tandem trucks transporting all the worldly goods of every description from one place to another. Commerce is what keeps a country like the U.S. alive. But, what about most of the vehicles all driven by local residents. Where are they all going and why?

I'm sure there are far more reasons for going to all kinds of local places then I have the patience to listen to. Worse, yet, when I lived in built-up, congested areas of the country, I know I was one of those vehicles. But, now, after realizing that my time is priceless, resources are not unlimited and I'd rather be sitting quietly in a dark desert or forest or at a secluded lake or ocean beach taking in the billions of stars, watching for the occasional shooting star and, perhaps, sharing a conversation with a few like minded people about the meaning of our lives, I don't get it anymore. What was so important in my life back when I was one of "Them" that I had to be on the roads creating congestion and pollution (sound, light and environmental)?

Morning in Phoenix

I dozed off about 12:30 AM after a friendly and enjoyable phone call from my friend back in West Virginia where I hang my hat and work on My McVansion when I'm back east. I had some wifi available from the Sam's Club parking lot I gained permission to spend the night in and caught up on some of the TV talent series "The Voice" until I was too tired to watch any longer.

It was a restful sleep . . . until about 5:45 or 6:00 AM this morning when I awoke to the sound of . . . yep . . . speeding cars, pick-up trucks, delivery vehicles and 18 wheelers and tandem trailer trucks. There they were again. Everyone in a rush to get somewhere. And, of course, I'm only picking on Phoenix because I'm here this morning, but it's the same in every major city and metropolitan area.

Sometimes it causes me to ask the question, "What hath man wrought with the invention of steam, gasoline combustion, diesel and electric propulsion?" I shouldn't be casting stones since I am far from without guilt. But, have we created a world that is so complicated and busy that there is little time left for real "downtime?" Seriously, it's virtually impossible to find anywhere in the U.S. including the middle of a secluded desert where there isn't some kind of reminders of modern society. As, I wrote that last sentence, I jet liner flew overhead to add to the sound pollution of the constant drone of the traffic.

Am I wrong to think we need to have some serious break from the light, sound and congestion pollution? As I was camped out in the desert near Quartzsite, Arizona, a couple of the people I was there with were checking the schedules to see when they could view the moving dot in the sky that is the ISS - the International Space Station. If, indeed, there is a God, is God not WE! But, that is a very deep and complex topic indeed. So, I'll reserve that for another time.

Meanwhile, I will continue on with my plans and projects for the day, none of which require me to bust my behind quarters. They are just things I want to achieve for my own convenience and satisfaction. I hope, wherever you are, you have a pleasant and relaxed day and can minimize your exposure to all the sound, light and congestion pollution and have a fulfilling day. 

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Photo-of-the-Week #203 The RV Village at the Quechan Casino, Winterhaven, California, March 21, 2015

This photo shows a small portion of the RV, vandweller and truck parking area at the Quechan Casino on the Quechan Indian Reservation near Winterhaven, California and Yuma, Arizona. The casino is behind where I was standing when I took this photo and is a beautiful resort hotel and casino with good restaurants and live entertainment. It's located on Algodones Road and is located just a mile and a half from the U.S. - Mexican border at the small town of Los Algodones, Sonora, Mexico.

Here you see only a small number of the RV's and vans still in the RV Village as the "snowbird" season winds down. They represent about 10% of the RV's and vans that can fill this "village" when at capacity still here as the "snowbird" season is drawing to an end. There are no amenities (water, sewage, shore power), so you have to be self-contained. However, there is no charge to park here for as long as you choose to.

If you look dead center in the photo, you'll see the "famous" My McVansion, dwarfed by much larger RV's. It's a very friendly village for the most part, but sometimes one needs to change location in the village. Many of the "big rigs" have large generators that make considerable amounts of noise when you're parked in front or beside them. Also, the very large diesel pusher RV's make a substantial amount of noise when they are started and warm up.

A couple days before I shot this photo there were three of us vandwellers and we created our own small courtyard so we could take advantage of the shade provided by our vehicles. With a nice breeze and some shade, the 90+ daytime temperatures are actually very comfortable.

In the background beyond the casino's water treatment plant is the small Mexican town of Los Algodones about a mile and a half from the RV Village. Los Algodones is famous, especially among RVers and vandwellers, as THE place to get any kind of dental work you can think of (including implants and cosmetic). It's also noted for glasses and contact lenses and pharmaceuticals. To a lesser degree there are some MD's and chiropractors, too. Americans and Canadians flock to Algodones every winter primarily to get all their dental work done, by excellent dentists, at 25% to 33% of what the same procedures cost in the U.S. and Canada. Pharmaceuticals of all kinds are available at extremely low costs.

I'll be telling you more about the dental and pharmaceuticals in later articles based on my personal experience. But, I can tell you, at this time, my experience has been excellent. 

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Photo-of-the-Week #202 - Sunrise-Sunset, near Quartzsite, Arizona, January 15, 2015



"Sunrise, sunset, sunrise, sunset, swiftly fly the years . . ." I'm sure you remember that familiar refrain from the award winning Broadway musical "Fiddler on the Roof." Those words passed through my mind's eyes as I was extracting this week's photos for this post. As you know, I love shooting sunrises and sunsets and that's no different here in this part of the Sonoran Desert outside Quartzsite, Arizona.

Quartzsite is a small town of less than 4,000 full-time residents located on I-10 about 18 miles east of the Colorado River crossing into California and about 100 miles west of Phoenix. It's a very popular location for RVing, vandwelling and tent camping "snowbirds" who come here during the winter months to escape the colder northern climates. There is also a very large RV show here as well as a rock and mineral show (since that's what this area of the desert is noted for). Quartzsite is known as the "Rock Capital of the World."

I don't know the exact numbers, but just in driving through the area, I'd be willing to wager there are more RV pads in the RV parks than full-time homes in the area. This doesn't include the thousands and thousands who dry camp or "boondock" on the massive BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land surrounding Quartzsite. I was last through Quartzsite in April or May of 2010. This time there seems to have been some very noticeable changes in the way of some new businesses. Most notable is the Pilot and Love travel centers and a few new fast food restaurants. Unfortunately, they create a lot more light at night that may mask some of the billions of stars.

This portion of the desert is surrounded by mountains. I took the sunrise shot this morning just as the sun peeked over the eastern mountain range. It was readily visible from the side window of My McVansion since it was parked facing east. (I move the van's position a couple times during the day to provide maximum shade from the very brilliant and hot sun). The sunset shot was taken last night looking to the west (of course) over another mountain range. I love how, while sunrises and sunsets are basically the same everywhere, every location makes them totally unique. The colors, the majesty, the vastness can take one's breath away.

Big Sky at Sunset

I've included this third photo of last nights sunset with a much wider angle lens to illustrate the "big sky" and the interplay of the clouds. If you look carefully in the sunset shots, you'll see a small (relatively) white van below the mountain and slightly to the left of center. That van is named Esmeralda and belongs to my new friend, Sylvianne, one of several friends I'm enjoying this site with including Charlene, Lois, LaVonne and Carl.

I hope you gain at least a fraction of the enjoyment from these photos that I'm having. You can't possibly gain the full impact unless you are here or have been here. 

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Photo-of-the-Week #201 Skechers Factory Store, Moreno Valley, California, March 2015

This week's photo of the week was taken just yesterday. As I was driving from Hawthorne, California to Palm Springs, California on Friday evening, I passed one of the largest warehouse structures I've ever seen. It was along CA-60 Between Long Beach and Palm Springs in an area (town) named Moreno Valley.

Now, when I say this warehouse was huge, I really mean HUGE. The recently constructed and opened facility housing the warehouse and distribution center for the second largest U.S. shoe company, Skechers. This structure encloses 1,820,000 square feet. Yes, I wrote it and your read it correctly, 1.82 million square feet. It's so long that it takes 30 seconds at 60 miles per hour to pass from one end to the other on the freeway. As a comparison, large, enclosed shopping malls range from 500,000 to 1,000,000 square feet.

The new structure consolidated six smaller warehouses, a truck fleet (to move merchandise from one warehouse to another) and downsized the personnel requirements to around 500 people. According to articles I read about the facility, shipments can be received, unloaded, moved to the appropriate location in the warehouse, stored, picked, moved to shipping and shipping all without being touched by human hands.

Once more, here is an example of the best and the worst of technological advances. On the "best" side of the equation, it eliminates human error, increases efficiency and, ultimately reduces operating expenses. On the "worst" side of the same equation, it eliminates what John Naisbett, author of the best selling book, MegaTrends, calls "high touch" or the human element in the work place.

At the eastern end of this humongous structure is the "Skechers Factory Store" shown in this week's photo. The store is huge, full of Skechers shoes of every description for men, women, children and a special clearance section. There is a team of employees available to assist customers. The store is open from 9 AM to 8 PM except Sunday when it's only open until 7 PM. There is plenty of parking for customers, too.

Yes! I went shopping and found a specific shoe I was after. Since they were having a "BOGO" (buy one, get one for half price) I walked out with two pairs of shoes that will, hopefully, last me for at least a couple years

If you've going to be out in this region of the country and need some new shoes, don't hesitate to check out this factory outlet store. I believe you'll find it worth your time. 

Friday, March 6, 2015

My McVansion Update: Prepping to Leave Los Angeles

Today is the seventh day since I regained possession of My McVansion. It was finally discharged from the Heart (Engine) Hospital last Saturday. Since then, I've been driving it around the area to regain confidence in the "heart."

On Monday I drove it to the nearest Walmart with a tire center to have them repair or replace the brand new tire (of two) that I had installed the day before the engine failed. The tire went flat after picking up a load of metal debris on the shoulder of I-405 (or The 405 as they call it out here) just 15 miles from my son's place in Hawthorne. To recap, I drove the van on the interstate shoulder at 10 to 15 mph after the engine failed on the way up the mountain. It was 84 miles from the western side of the mountain to go through the Tejon Pass at 4,200 feet from the San Joaquin Valley into the San Fernando Valley.

The Walmarts don't stock my specific tire and my tire couldn't be repaired, so they ordered it. That required a return visit on Tuesday to have the tire mounted and installed. That went well except they were extremely busy so it took up most of the afternoon. The tire center manager ended up actually mounting, balancing and installing the tire when most of his crew left at the end of their day. One more job done.

Wednesday I drove to the beautiful small town of Calabasas in the San Fernando Valley. It was about an hour drive with mid day traffic. There I met with Sharon Linkletter, the late TV celebrity and entrepreneur, Art Linkletter's daughter. I also met her husband, Art. Yep! Art! But, Linkletter is not his (or Sharon's) last name. For privacy, I won't divulge their last name. They were really terrific folks, very pleasant and unpretentious. Sharon had checked out the blog, read some of it and listened to the recent radio interview. Both she and Art were interested in "the lifestyle." She related some experiences she had with her family and a motorhome they once owned when her kids were younger.

I was delivering a plaque honoring and inducting her father as a member of the Legends of the Professional Speakers fraternity. I also returned some videos she had sent me to use during the presentation ceremony. Someone else accepted the award for her and I thought it had long ago been sent to her along with returning her videos. To my embarrassment, while I was going through the old files for the Veteran Speakers Retreat, an event I coordinated for 12 years, stored at my virtual assistant's home, I found the package that was, inadvertently, never sent. So, I took it upon myself as a final commitment and responsibility of my VSR coordinator tenure, to personally deliver the plaque and videos.

Before I left, both Sharon and Art asked to see My McVansion. Both were very pleasantly surprised at how comfortable and inviting, albeit, compact, it was. And, as I prepared to leave, I received an invitation for a return visit the next time I'm back in the LA area. That was very nice, indeed. And, once again, it's part of the reason I love this lifestyle. I meet amazing and interesting people all the time.

I took the interstate route over to Calabasas to see how the van was going to handle the higher speed driving. On the way back I took it over the mountains with plenty of up and downs and hair pin curves through Topanga Valley. Then along the Pacific Ocean on the Pacific Coast Highway to Santa Monica Pier. Then through stop and go downtown traffic through Santa Monica, Marina Del rey, through the LAX airport traffic and finally down through the aerospace/defense corridor back to Hawthorne. So, My McVansion had a taste of all kinds of driving situations and performed flawlessly. But, to be honest, I'm still babying her.

Thursday, I took the van to another auto service facility recommended by the "Head Heart (Engine) Surgeon" to have the front end of the van checked and make sure it was still in alignment. I had hit some serious road hazards/obstacles driving on the shoulder limping into Los Angeles. I didn't want to end up with undo wear on the older front tires of the van. So, Marco, at Song's Alignment and Auto Repairs, did the job.

He made some adjustments and showed me where my front disk brake pads were getting very (almost dangerously) worn. He estimated about 10% of life left on the current pads. So, in a few minutes, I'll be heading over to have the rotors resurfaced and new pads installed.

With everything complete, I'll take care of a few final things at my son's place and one last bit of business with him at his office. Then, I'll be ready to leave the Los Angeles area for Palm Springs, California after 61 days. This has been both an adventure and an expensive misadventure. All part of the lifestyle. More to come.


Sunday, March 1, 2015

Photo-of-the-Week #200 Out Of This World, Roswell, New Mexico, December, 2014

Last week's photo was from the macro world. This week we are going out of this world. Roswell, New Mexico seems to be the center of all the lore about some really "illegal aliens." You are looking at the International UFO Museum and Research Center. It sort of looks like an old art deco movie theater, wouldn't you say?

Roswell seems to have made a minor industry out of all the extraterrestrials that have, supposedly, arrived from some distant place in the universe. I call it a minor industry because there really wasn't as much extraterrestrial "stuff" as I had led myself to believe I'd find when I reached Roswell. Basically, this museum is the center of the UFO lore and commerce. Across the street is a tee shirt shop aptly named Alien Invasion. There are a few other shops around the museum with UFO themes. Otherwise, besides the little green men painted on the windows at the Roswell Walmart and a McDonald's built to look somewhat like a flying saucer, I found nothing else.

I was really looking forward to dining that evening at the Crashdown Cafe. I had heard about this place and it sounded like it would be a fun experience even if the food wasn't that good. The menu was reputed to have all kinds of items with "out of this world" names. Unfortunately, and from my understanding, the Crashdown Care had crashed and burned. Well, to be more accurate, apparently, due to poor management, the local eatery had shuttered its "hatches." So, I, unfortunately, settled for typical McDonald's fare at the, sort of, flying saucer shaped McDonald's. The only saving grace was that I met an interesting fellow sitting at the table next to mine. He was a local and filled me in on a lot about Roswell, which, other than the few establishments capitalizing on the supposed UFO landings, is a pretty typical American small city.

Unfortunately, due to some (darn) self-imposed time constraints to get to Clovis, California by Christmas, I didn't have time to really explore all the (limited) UFO and extraterrestrial places. I arrived at the Museum just a few minutes before 5 PM and, of course, they closed at 5 PM. I know I'll be passing through Roswell again in the future. I'll just have to save up my curiosity for what is inside these "out of this world" emporia. And, who knows, maybe the Crashdown Cafe will rise from the ashes like the Phoenix, under new management, possibly aliens?