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We Visit Progresso, Mexico
November 15, 2008
Mission, TX, Leisure Valley Ranch, Lot 159 — 15 days
Saturday, November 15, 2008 — Fulltimers 1 Year & 6 Months
Sunday, November 9. We go to Progresso, Mexico
 I am on the bridge looking towards the US when Dennis, Tom, and Theresa walk towards Mexico greet me like a long lost friend

I am on the bridge looking towards the US when Dennis, Tom, and Theresa walk towards Mexico greet me like a long lost friend

We had no plan for today and we figured we’d hang out with the Cranes and see what they need to do to get their Casita started.  However in the morning Tom dropped by in his golf cart and asked if we’d like to go to Mexico.  Mexico! — Well, why not?  We changed clothes and quickly got ready to go.  It was very overcast and looked like rain but it was not cold at all.  They came back in their Dodge super cab truck and picked us up.  To my surprise, Theresa was driving and the guys rode in the back seat.  It turns out that Theresa belongs to the Teamsters in Fairbanks and is a professional truck driver.  She drives their motor home and like Dennis, she is the one who always drives when they go out together.

We had a really fun day.  Theresa understood that I like to window shop so first we stopped at Ganji, a shop near the border but on the US side that has unusual household goods and clothes.  There were some very nice modern styles and it was fun to look around this shop.  Then we came to the border and parked in the US.  We walked across the bridge to the town of Progresso.  It is safe and Americanized and preferred by people in this area — just as Algodones is popular near Yuma, AZ. 

We walked around a bit and then went up to a third floor restaurant.  It was pleasant with good service and good food.  It actually rained while we were there so our timing was good.  After lunch we window-shopped and Tom bought some drugs for a relative.  (People talk about being in the “donut hole” with insurance.  That’s when they shop for their prescription drugs in Mexico.)

As Thersa pulled into our driveway, we ran into Betty and Jay so they were introduced.  A big group from Leisure Valley Ranch plans to go to a performance next Sunday.  We invited Tom and Theresa and they will join us.  The concert is well known and has a popular reputation.  Produced by La Joya High School it features, Mariachi “Los Coyotes”, Grupo “Folklorico Tabasco” and Conjunto “Los Diamantes.” We are told that they train for years and the Folklorico dancers are excellent.  Tickets for Sunday at 2:00 pm cost $6.

Monday, November 10, 2008.  Tom offers to sell his double corner lot to us.

Tom has a corner lot on W. Bogey.

Tom has a corner lot on W. Bogey.

This morning Tom dropped by and asked if we wanted to see where the nearby post office is located.  Why not?  We’ve got nothing going.  So we hopped in his truck and left.  We left the windows open and thought we’d be back shortly.  But we weren’t!  Tom had a bunch of errands to do and we ended up keeping him company for several hours. 

Tom drove west on US-83 and showed us that it soon quits as a freeway and becomes a boulevard.  We drove past the little town of Penitas to La Joya.  Tom likes the closer and smaller post office in this nearby town. He pointed out a development around a lake in La Joya.  Later we saw the Mission Post Office, which is much farther away and he says it is always crowded.

Tom is talking to us about buying one of his lots here in Leisure Valley Ranch.  I don’t know why we’re talking to him about it — probably boredom.  We liked planning our last house and it is tempting to plan something here.  Tom has a double lot on a corner just down the street that we like.  I don’t want one of these narrow lots lined up in a row.  But a double lot on a corner is tempting to me because it offers space for a garden.  No one here puts in more than one or two token plants.  There are few gardens although there are many wonderful trees and bushes that grow in this area.  Dennis is tempted also.  The most tempting thing about this place is: PRICE.  It’s cheap.  A 1.5 lot down the street is 26K.  Tom wants 40K for his corner double lot.  He says he thinks he only has 6K into it and he thinks his monthly payments are $400.  We would pick up his payments.

If we bought a lot, we would have a more or less centralized place to stow a few things during the year.  And it would give us a place to sit and rest for a few of the colder northern months.  But mostly, Dennis and I are builders and people who like a project.  I like to design and Dennis likes to build.  So we’re talking and asking questions and looking at dimensions.  The lots are 40’ wide and 75.06’ deep so Tom’s corner lot is almost square: 80’ x 75’.  Some build a pad for the RV and a rectangle or an L-shape casita and some leave a small area for a garden.  A corner lot lends itself well to incorporating a small amount of landscaping.

The other temptation is a time crunch.  This development is almost finished.  After it is 95% complete it gets turned over to a homeowners group.  It would be easier to get a plan approved by the owner/developer than by a committee.  Tom says we can take over his monthly payments.  He says we should get a plan approved and pour a concrete pad right away: lock it up.  That way we are not at the mercy of a committee a few years down the road.  Prices have gone up so I suppose if we want to develop our own design here, it is now or never.  Later, if we want to sell we could do that and perhaps make a small profit.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008.  Betty and Jay get their casita started.

Sunrise on 11/11/08 at 6:58 am. I took this from the door of our bus looking down Bogey Rd.

Sunrise on 11/11/08 at 6:58 am. I took this from the door of our bus looking down Bogey Rd.

Betty and Jay are getting ready to start their casita.  Their plan is approved and they have Oscar, the local cement guy, lined up to pour the concrete pad tomorrow.  Things move quickly here.  In Leisure Valley Ranch, ‘tis the season to be building.  Everywhere we see equipment scraping off “the organic matter” and then concrete poured and then a framework going up.  What is built is classified as a shed, not a home, and you are not allowed to sleep in it — although people put in Murphy beds and do.  With simple structures and without the kinds of codes required in places like California, things move fast.  Betty and Jay are excited and involved in all the decision details.  They are acting as their own contractor so they have to do a lot of research.  I haven’t actually had time to visit much with them.

Today we did a few errands but not much else.  I did a fast thirty-minute walk yesterday morning.  This morning I did thirty minutes of core exercise with the balls and stretch cord.  I don’t want to overdo it and then get discouraged so I’m taking it slow.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008.  Financial reverses at the masonry.

Tom dropped by and gave us more details on his lot.  He has 15K into it so that is what we would have to do for a down payment.  And his monthly payments are something like $575 — almost $600 a month.  So this would be a stretch for us.  It would be nice to do business with Tom because he’s been here six years and he knows all the ins and outs of developing a lot here.  He would be helpful and facilitate construction, I’m sure. But it’s a big outlay for us so Dennis said he’d think about it. 

No sooner had Tom left than Dennis got a call from Sylvia, who works for Dennis at the masonry.  I could tell it was bad news.  No money has come in.  Once again the masonry is in jeopardy.  Some jerk hasn’t paid and jobs aren’t starting because money is tight.

Dennis got very quiet and very depressed.  I hugged him but didn’t make him talk too much.  What can be said?  He will probably need to go home to see what can be done.  We are an eight or nine day drive away from home.  It is almost 1,900 miles.  Fuel costs are down but all in all, it would take about $1,000 or more to drive home.  We both noticed that the minute we thought about extending ourselves financially, we got a warning shot across the bow!

We didn’t go out.  I published webpage number 60, “Bryce Canyon Mules”.  Now I have posted ten new letters since October 24th.  I’m making headway.  That is better than three per week and that is quite good.

In the evening Tom and Theresa dropped by and we shared our news.  We can’t consider buying a lot at this time.  And the truth is we were saved from ourselves.  We are not so enamored with this place that we would choose to return every winter.  There are so many other places to be!  For one, I’d like to be nearer to my family during the holidays.  What about somewhere near San Diego or somewhere in the desert near Palm Springs?

Thursday, November 13, 2008.  Dennis may have to fly to California — wish I could!

This morning we walked the dogs and then we went over to the Crane lot to see what progress there is today.  It was overcast and breezy and in the mid-sixties.  (Later we reached a high of 77° and a 17 mph NNE wind brought rain.) I left to do my fast walk around Bogey Drive.  Betty came by in her car to ask if I wanted to keep her company on a quick errand.  We drove to La Joya ISD, the school district where she is registered to be a substitute teacher.  I did not mention our financial worries.

Tom and Theresa came by in their golf cart and he put up the mailbox.  Theresa came inside the bus to visit for a while.  She has a friend in the hospital, Nancy, who will have heart surgery tomorrow.  She is worried.

Dennis called Sylvia and got email copies of office reports and the latest financial status.  I didn’t ask whether he would have to fly home.  I just got busy and used Expedia to look up airline costs.  He could fly direct from McAllen to San Jose round trip next Monday for $390.  If he must fly home I don’t want it to drag on into Thanksgiving week.

Fill dirt is spread and forms laid for concrete on the Crane's lot. I am standing on a pad to the rear and one lot over where the Crane's are staying temporarily while they develop their lot.

Fill dirt is spread and forms laid for concrete on the Crane’s lot. I am standing on a pad to the rear and one lot over where the Crane’s are staying temporarily while they develop their lot.

About four, we decided to go out and look for a decent nearby local restaurant.  We drove west to La Joya to the post office and turned north on Tom Gill Rd. where we found a substantial building that didn’t look too run down and it had several cars parked by it.  So we decided to try El Meson de Poncho Villa.  We chose from the Platilloes (plate) menu and had a very adequate meal.  The place was large and clean and the waitress spoke English.

After that, we drove to the closest HEB on Abrams Rd.  What a mistake to go at 5:00 pm after work.  It was rush hour traffic and the store was crowded.  It started to rain as we parked and it was raining heavily when we came out but it stopped shortly after that.

We know the shortcut now to return to Leisure Ranch but there is construction and it is pitch black at night with no streetlights on these country roads.  Back at the ranch we saw a fair amount of flooding so we drove around the development to see what parts get most flooded.  Dennis says Tom got a map and figured out the high ground before he bought a lot.  Some areas were very flooded and there are big drains on the streets for run off.

Friday, November 14, 2008.  We go out to dinner with Betty and Jay.

We woke to heavy morning fog.  It was so thick one wouldn’t want to drive.   With this kind of ocean weather, why not live on the ocean?  Later it cleared up and the sun came out and it got quite warm with a high of 82°. Winds from the SE reached speeds of 14 mph.

I was late going out to walk and by the time I did it was hot.  I decided to take Rudi and make him heel so I could do my fast walk.  I put on his halter and used a short leash that I tied to my belt.  I took a baggie and some ties.  I walked on the left and made him heel on the curb.  Without Margot and on a short leash he was very good and just trotted along with no barking.  I was able to walk with free hands.  When he pooped, I tied the baggie to his halter.  There are no pet trash bins anywhere on the Martin Valley Ranch grounds — a pet peeve of mine (pardon the pun).  I am going to buy a small stuff bag and tie it to his halter — or buy a saddlebag!  I’m tired of holding a poop baggie for an entire half hour walk.

This method worked so well I came back and got Margot.  We took a shorter loop and she also did very well.  Both dogs seemed to enjoy themselves.  Afterwards I drove the Honda around Bogey Dr. loop.  It is 1.2 miles and I walk it in about 25 minutes.

I spent the day assembling webpage 61 “Chase Crew 101” about the first day of the Salina Balloon Festival.  I arranged it as instructions for a Chase Crew with a complicated arrangement of 77 photos.

In the evening we went out to dinner with Betty and Jay.  She asked where we wanted to go and I suggested Carrino’s, an Italian chain that we’ve run across in other cities.

Betty said, “Is it nearby?”  I think Betty doesn’t really like to eat out and she doesn’t want to spend a lot of time on going out to dinner.

I said, “Nothing is nearby!”
Jay said reprovingly, “Oh now, Elsa!”

Jay thought I was complaining, but I wasn’t.  I was stating a fact.  There are no nearby restaurants.  You have to drive 12 miles on the freeway and another five miles on boulevards.  As we agreed, it depends on your definition of “nearby.”  We did go to Carrino’s on Nolana Dr. past 10th St., near the Chinese Buffet where we went with Tom and Theresa.  They enjoyed it and liked the appetizer we chose, stuffed mushrooms.

They are tired.  They’ve made a lot of calls and errands as their lot has begun development this week.  The leveling and forms have been done and the electrical and plumbing.  Next Monday the concrete will be poured.  They are their own contractors so they are busy making choices on roofing, siding, doors, windows, etc.

I hope our satellite is not giving out.  It has a clear shot at the southern sky but we’ve lost reception a few times the past few nights.  Maybe it’s the rain and fog?  Does it need to be cleaned?

I am in deep doo-doo.  When we first got the bus I threw dental floss in the toilet until Dennis noticed and told me to stop — but that was many months later.  I stopped before he got the macerator but that is what has clogged and broken the macerator.  It is a big mess and could be very expensive to repair or replace!  Dummy me.

Last night at 1:45 am, we woke up as a breeze came through out open bedroom windows.  From the NNW, within fifteen minutes this breeze turned full force with a maximum wind speed of 32 mph and gusts up to 44 mph. Rain spattered sideways through the window.  I closed the window and this sudden storm lasted less than an hour.  It was like a squall that passed quickly through our area.  These desert locations!  You never know what will happen.

Saturday, November 15, 2008.  I fall and end up in emergency.

(This is a photo I took on Wednesday.) On Friday, I stumbled on the 3" raise of this concrete pad. There were chairs and people and the dogs and I was looking ahead instead of down and didn't see it. These raised pads are everywhere. No one marks them with tape and I think they are dangerous. Essentially, everywhere I go, I must remember I'm on a construction site — including the pad where we are parked.

(This is a photo I took on Wednesday.) On Friday, I stumbled on the 3″ raise of this concrete pad. There were chairs and people and the dogs and I was looking ahead instead of down and didn’t see it. These raised pads are everywhere. No one marks them with tape and I think they are dangerous. Essentially, everywhere I go, I must remember I’m on a construction site — including the pad where we are parked.

It was foggy this morning with a low of 47°. However by nine o’clock the sun was out but it was only 60° and the wind came back.  It reminded me of Cherokee Springs.

Today turned out to be a bit of a disaster.  I fell and ended up spending the morning in emergency.

Betty called in the morning and told us they are getting the lot ready to pour on Monday.  She told us to come over and see all the activity.  Dennis took Margot and left before me.  Fortunately it was chilly so I decided to wear jeans and a jacket and my jogging shoes — so had some padding on me.  I took Rudi and walked to the lot where the Crane’s are staying.  A group was standing at the end of their RV lot watching the work on the Crane’s lot.  Rudi was straining at the end of his extended leash to pull ahead to catch up with Margot who was barking and pulling on Dennis to meet Rudi.

I was looking ahead at the dogs and the group.  Because of the commotion caused by the dogs barking, they were turned to look at me.  All these lots have a concrete driveway and a 3” raised concrete pad that marks the end of the driveway and the beginning of a casita — whenever it will be built.  They are very dangerous as it is easy not to notice them.  We have the same thing on our lot and I have almost stumbled several times walking over it either up or down.  This time I didn’t see it so I stumbled and did a belly flop forward with my arms stretched out.  Because I was walking quickly and Rudi was pulling me, I fell fast and hard with no time to catch myself.  I took the blow primarily on my right knee and on my chin.

Betty ran to me and grabbed the dog leash.  Dennis ran to help me sit up.  I didn’t cry but I knew I was injured because my jaw felt funny where it attaches under the ears.  It felt like my jaw had been shoved up and toward my left ear.  My knee hurt and my chin hurt but what worried me was that I had somehow dislocated my jaw.  My ears and neck hurt.  Betty put me in her car and drove me back to the bus.  Dennis brought the dogs.  We agreed that I needed to see a doctor and get x-rays.

Where to go?  I took an Ibuprofen and we spent half an hour in investigation.  Betty wanted me to go to a nearby clinic that she knew about.  I called Tom and he thought I could go to a doctor with an office at the end of the Western Rd. next to the Parker Ranch office.  I looked on the Internet.  Betty’s clinic and Tom’s doctor were not open and the clinic did not have emergency care.  I chose the hospital where Tom and Theresa have been visiting their friend.  I called the Rio Grande Regional Hospital and the operator put me through to emergency, that told me to call 911.  We didn’t want to do that so I got the address and we left in the car.  It was easy to find and it only took us twenty minutes to get there.

I took a book and my notebook and I was prepared for a long wait in the emergency room.  I was remembering a long wait at Stanford years ago.  But we were surprised.  They sat me down immediately, took my vitals and got the facts.  We sat down in the waiting room and I was called within five minutes.  We spent a few hours in a cubicle with chairs, a gurney and curtains.  They put me in a gown and I was shivering so they put warm blankets around me while they got my history and my insurance.

Here’s a tip that we’ve learned and that everyone should take time to do.  We have all our history typed on a form with a list of prescription medications and our doctors, etc.  (We use a Meditag Personal Information Form.) When they come to take a history I give them the form with my information and they take it away to do their data entry.  It’s easy!

Eventually, an Indian (India) doctor came in.  He was the cold techie type who wasted no words and spent less than one minute with me.  He looked disapproving but ordered x-rays.  Eventually I was wheeled on the gurney to an elevator and up to x-ray where they took photos of my knee, neck and my “mandible” (jaw).  Back down in our cubicle we waited until the doctor returned who used ten seconds to say I had nothing broken.  I have “contusions” and a sprained knee.  I could go home.  I felt like the little old lady who makes a big fuss about nothing.  But how was I to know?  My jaw hurt badly and I had to be sure nothing was out of place.

We were at the hospital for about an hour and a half.  It was after one o’clock by the time we left and I was ready for food.  The sun was out and it was a beautiful sunny day with a high of 72°.  We drove to nearby I-HOP where I chose a minimal chewing breakfast of eggs and pancakes.  I was very hungry.  At that time I took a Tylenol.  Because of liver disease I use Tylenol very sparingly and I can’t take any other drugs for pain.  We came home and I lay down and soon fell asleep.  When I woke I finally looked in the mirror and saw a very noticeable red abrasion on the tip of my chin followed by a black bruise under my chin and on my neck.  It looks ghastly.  My knee is covered with a big bruise.  Although I hit my chin and my chin hurts, the major discomfort is around my ears.  My ears are clogged up as if I were on an airplane.  My jaw and neck ache.

Tomorrow we plan to go to the Folklorico performance so I hope I feel better by then.  I certainly will look awful….

Mission Is Not What I Expected….
November 8, 2008
Mission, TX, Leisure Valley Ranch, Lot 159 — 8 days
Sunday, November 8, 2008 — Fulltimers 1 Year & 5 Months

Saturday, November 1, 2008.  We drive to our winter headquarters in Mission, TX.

We get a glimpse of Corpus Christi from the freeway.

We get a glimpse of Corpus Christi from the freeway.

It was wonderful to be near the gulf and the beach towns. I loved Port Angelus and Padre Island. I wish we could have stayed to see Corpus Christi and more beaches. But our rent in Mission starts today, so we left Rockport at 10:20 am and drove straight through without stopping until we arrived at Martin Valley Ranches in Mission, TX.

Mission is 80 miles inland from Port Isabel and South Padre Island. It is next to the Rio Grande by the Mexican border in the Rio Bravo Valley of Hidalgo County. Our drive was an easy shot south on US-77 and US-281 and it took about three and a half hours.  The scenery was tedious — typical Texas flatlands.  I think we felt tired and just wanted to arrive at our destination.  Also we were anxious to see our new winter headquarters where we are committed to stay for two months.

We were about an hour early as we passed south on US-281 through Edinburg and turned west on US-83 through McAllen toward Mission.  I called our landlord, Tom, to give him a 15-mile warning.  Tom and I both felt it might be difficult for us to find his lot in the development.  So we arranged to meet at the Martin Valley Ranches office just off the freeway at the Springer Rd. exit.  We pulled in at 2:00 pm.  Being the weekend, the office was closed so we let the dogs out in the parking lot and looked around.  The one-way frontage road parallel to the freeway is half dirt with construction to widen the road.  Western Rd., perpendicular to the freeway, leads to the “ranch” and it is paved.  Tom and his wife were visiting a friend in the hospital in McAllen and he had expected us to arrive an hour later so we waited for about forty minutes. I was anxiously wondering what we might find ahead of us on this unadorned rural road.  It was very hot — 86°. Tom and Theresa pulled up in their blue Dodge truck and we followed them the last mile to an entrance road into Martin Valley Ranches and to the section of this RV housing development called Hidden Valley Ranch.

The official entrance to Hidden Valley Ranch is Long Drive. At the corner past the flags, turn right and you arrive at our temporary lot.

The official entrance to Hidden Valley Ranch is Long Drive. At the corner past the flags, turn right and you arrive at our temporary lot.

The entrance to the ranch is certainly understated. No masonry walls or fancy gate flank the entrance. Further down Long Dr., there are some palms and flags. Tom led us to a lot with a big metal shade cover stretching over the entire concrete pad.  He parked on the grass of the lot next door so I did too.  I was wearing sandals and as I stepped out of the Honda a sticker immediately stabbed me in the foot.  I had to stop to take it out and I walked gingerly to the street.  What the hell are these things? After that I avoided the grassy area.

Dennis backed in and got hooked up.  I didn’t know that Tom had a shade canopy and I was shocked because I knew it would block our satellite reception.  It turned out that it is not his property.  He asked friends to let us use it because the electric utility company had not come out to put a meter at the electric outlet on his lot.  I was not pleased.  For one, I can’t program to record on cable.  I record with DirectTV, which only works with the satellite.  For two, we were situated right by the sewage area and you could smell it.

Tom’s friends who own the lot pulled up in a golf cart and we all introduced ourselves.  After we got situated we followed Tom in the Honda and he showed us where he lives and where his lot is located — the one we should be on.  It has no shade cover and it is not near the sewage.  He has waited for the meter for a month!  There is no guarantee that utilities will show up tomorrow or anytime soon.

No one mentioned TV reception: we didn’t and they didn’t.  We returned to our bus where Dennis reported that he couldn’t hook up the cable because the connection was a male and he had to find a female splice.  So I looked up hardware stores and restaurants and at four o’clock we went out to find the part and find something to eat.

The trouble with choosing addresses from a list is that when you don’t know the area, you don’t know what is near and what is far.  Sometimes you get a list by distance but it all takes time and we were in a hurry to get settled.  I didn’t see any Ace but I saw two True Value hardware stores so I put down their addresses and we set out.  I assumed they were in Mission and nearby.  I didn’t realize that we were not near downtown Mission but in the outskirts. This is a gigantic metropolis with a dozen small and large towns, including Mission, scattered across a very wide distance.  I put the first address into the GPS.  Unfortunately, it was 22 miles east in Alamo — past the towns of McAllen, Pharr and San Juan — a fact I didn’t recognize because the distance and time on the little GPS map are small and I didn’t look closely.  The GPS did not plot our route on US-83, the freeway but on a nearby parallel boulevard called Business 83. Half an hour later when we finally got to N Alamo Rd, we could find no hardware store.  It was gone.  Dennis was bitching that we’d gone too far and he could have found something closer.  I was saying, “By all means, find it then!”  (I’m sure I didn’t know where.)

I plugged in the second address, which took us 15 miles west for another 20 minutes back to Mission at E. Griffin Parkway between Shary Rd. and Bryan Rd. — names we were beginning to recognize.  Again the GPS did not put us on the freeway but on a road parallel to Bus 83 but further north. It is variously known as E FM-495, W Pecan Blvd. and E. Griffin Pkwy. as you pass through Camp Alto, San Juan, Pharr, McAllen, Kane, and Sharyland. This hardware store was also closed — permanently.

By this time we were at each other’s throats.  Dennis turned around on Griffin and began to drive in a mad fury —east — away from Mission.  By then I was disoriented and didn’t know up from down.  My instinct told me we were still east of Mission and needed to go west to get back to Martin Ranch. As Dennis fought rush hour traffic, we observed that the districts through which we drove were very poor and rural with empty fields and vacant buildings but with busy streets crisscrossing in all directions.  Dennis kept slowing down on the two-lane boulevards peering at the many strip zone malls as we looked for a hardware store — but none materialized.

Martin Valley Ranches are 7 miles east of Mission and 14 miles east of McAllen.

Martin Valley Ranches are 7 miles east of Mission and 14 miles east of McAllen.

Finally, near the small town of Kane, west of McAllen at W US-83 (Bus 83) and N 23rd St. I spotted a sign on the corner — Brownie’s Hardware, Farm and Ranch Supply.  Dennis made a U-turn and we pulled into the parking lot.  It was going on five o’clock and I was afraid it would be closed.  It wasn’t and it was a huge, old-fashioned hardware store so he found the splice and another part he’s been looking to find.  Having seen no decent restaurants in our travels, I plugged in I-HOP on Shary Rd. because I knew Shary was nearby and westward en route back towards Mission. We stopped to eat and pull ourselves together. I noticed our Mexican waitress seemed nervous and worried about her English and I tried to be extra accomodating. Our GPS accepted the intersection of Long and Bogey and put us on the freeway. We got back to the bus at 6:30 pm.

Dennis hooked up the cable, but no luck.  We should have known.  Tom’s friends are not using this site and it isn’t rented so they haven’t activated cable reception. So we had no TV.  I resigned myself to missing the news.  I thought, “well this is okay for tonight but what about my Sunday shows and what about election news as we approach the big day?”  (Mind you this is three nights before election day and by now we are addicted to the news.)

We took the dogs out for a walk.  There are many lawns on un-purchased lots.  The lawns, however, are kind of mowed fields with grass.  They are filled with sharp burrs that get into the dog’s feet as soon as they step off the street. We soon learned to keep them on the concrete.  Of course Margot and Rudi wanted to go into the fields, so this was just one more annoyance.  When we got back on the bus we had to pull out dozens of stickers.  They are lethal.  We’ve never seen anything like it.  The dogs limp as soon as they get one in their paws — and they get stickers immediately if they step off the street.

The evening cooled down to a nice body temperature and the sky was pink with a nice sunset.  That was the only good thing I could say about our first day in our new winter headquarters.  We got off to our very bad start indeed.

Sunday, November 2, 2008.  I make calls at the Obama Headquarters in Edinburg.

I woke up at 3:45 am.  Actually it was 4:45 daylight time but today we returned to standard time.  (Just as I get used to Central Time I’m thrown back to what was daylight Mountain Time!)  I couldn’t sleep.  I worried.  What will we do?  Will Tom’s owner friends install cable service?  How long will that take?  Can we find another lot to rent until Tom’s lot is ready?  Will Tom get a meter installed on Monday?  (I doubt it.)  Should we dry camp on Tom’s lot for the next few days so we can watch the election news?

I got up and checked my e-mail.  Kevin spotted me online so we traded a few words.  He’s the only one I know who keeps these hours.  He was back from a party.  After my wee hours chat with Kevin, I wrote some thoughts in my journal as follows.

“We have the windows open.  It is 62° right now.  Tomorrow a high of 85° is predicted and 86° for the rest of the week.  With the windows open I hear birds chirping.  They are noisy suckers.  However, I don’t hear any trains, cars or freeways.

‘I don’t like it here.  We got off to a bad start anyway and now I have a bad impression.  I was afraid of this.  Like or not, we are pretty much stuck for the next two months.  Betty and Jay love it here.  I don’t know why.

‘Well, I know they love the weather.  Betty says, “I can wear shorts all winter.”  They don’t like humidity.  It was more humid in Rockport because it’s near the gulf — but not bad.  I loved the beaches on Mustang Island.  I love the marine breezes and seventy-degree weather.  I don’t like hot, dry weather in the high eighties.  I knew it would be hot and dry here but I thought other amenities would make up for it and also I hoped it would cool off soon.

‘Betty and Jay like it here because it’s cheap.  You can buy a 45’ x 70’ lot for 20K, (they got theirs three years ago for 10K), pour a cement pad, park your RV and build a long garage-like structure next to it.  Voila, a casita and pad with hookup for your RV.  The casitas look like trailers but I guess they’re built from scratch.  Some have a metal shade canopy placed over the entire lot.  The casitas are all white, gray or beige, sitting side by side on small concrete lots.  The effect is a gray concrete monotone of streets and driveways and repetitious concrete lots with little or no trees, bushes or greenery.  There’s no space to put much vegetation and owners don’t want the maintenance.  These lots and casitas are nothing like the ones in Yuma, which are much larger.

Across from our future site is a lot under development. Forms are being set for a concrete pad. (That is another diesel pusher in the background — not ours.)

Across from our future site is a lot under development. Forms are being set for a concrete pad. (That is another diesel pusher in the background — not ours.)

‘I expected the Mission area to be rural — something like the Paunsaugunt Plateau with a town here and there connected by some highways.  Rural areas are not convenient but with fields and trees they can be pretty.  I knew there were nearby towns, like McAllen, where we could go for supplies — just as we did when we drove to Hatch and Panguitch and Cedar City.  But actually, this area is neither rural enough to be pretty nor urban enough to be convenient. It is entirely built up with a freeway running through it.  The towns merge one into another. This is about 200 square miles of a sprawling metropolis with strip zones of stores along the streets.  It is 100% flat with no landmarks in terms of hills, water or even city skyline. It is poor and shabby and ugly.”

After these depressing thoughts, I went back to bed at 4:45 am and Rudi woke me about 6:30 am.  I was amused to note that I never had to manually change any of my clocks!  My Mac and my SkySkan clock and my cell phone all switched times on their own!  Welcome to the 21st C.  I brought coffee to bed and we discussed what to do.  Dennis is talking about pulling forward out from under the canopy and buying longer cables for our hookups.  We will try pulling forward first to see if it works.

I am depressed.  I don’t like it here so I just wish I could leave.  I keep thinking about the beach.  I absolutely loved Port Angelus and Padre Island.  Of course, Dennis doesn’t like the beach because it makes his bus dirty and it causes rust.  He is fine with this place.  He is much more flexible than I am.

At 8:30 am I put on shorts and a sleeveless top and my old jogging shoes.  I wore my Omron and we walked briskly around the Bogey Drive loop.  It took 26 min. and I took 2,733 aerobic steps.  The Omron says we walked 1.4 miles.

If we try to pull forward then we have to shop for the supplies to extend our hookups.  That means, go find a Wall-mart.  This afternoon I am supposed to drive 17+ miles east to Edinburg to make calls for Obama.  Of course I am tired because I got up last night — as well as feeling cross and out of sorts.

You know what?  I would love to win that opportunity to go to Obama’s election night celebration in Chicago.  They are choosing five volunteers.  But Dennis wouldn’t.  He would put up all kinds of objections.  He wouldn’t want to do it at all.  Hell.

At 11:30 am, we pulled the bus forward until the satellite came out from under the metal canopy and could see the southern sky.  We are facing NNW.  The King Dome is over the front wheels so we are sticking out about four feet.  We have TV!  The satellite works.  Dennis hooked up again and we had enough length for the electric and water but not the dump hose.

Long St. is the entrance road to Hidden Valley Ranch and is divided with palms in the middle. We are walking towards the entrance/exit (Western Rd.), which unfortunately is next to a sewer plant (see distant tank on horizon.)

Long St. is the entrance road to Hidden Valley Ranch and is divided with palms in the middle. We are walking towards the entrance/exit (Western Rd.), which unfortunately is next to a sewer plant (see distant tank on horizon.)

Dennis looked up Camping World and printed Google directions.  He handed them to me and we left.  This was a big mistake.  I should have plugged the address into Mapquest because the Google directions were inadequate, as was the tiny map with half of it cut off.  We don’t have a local map yet.  I put the address into our GPS and because it was on E Expressway 83, it wouldn’t take the street.  I tried Highway and 83, etc.  So I tried to follow the map directions and we drove for a full hour!  I finally got us on Bus 83 and then called Camping World and we weren’t too far away.  It turns out that the Expressway is the one-way frontage road on either side of the US-83 freeway.  We were less than eight miles from where we started.  Dennis was so mad and frustrated and I was trying to stay calm and figure out where we were.  By the time we got there I was so upset I had to stay in the car where I had a good cry.  I was tired and hungry and I’ve had it with this place.  He went in and got the stuff and came out twenty minutes later.  It took only ten minutes to drive back to the bus.  We’ve been navigating our way around strange cities for a year and a half and we’ve never had these kinds of difficulties before. While Dennis took a shower I wrote the following.

“What with last night and this morning I am in despair about this town or towns.  It’s worse by far than Billings.  At least Billings was a real city with a centralized downtown and some primary streets leading like the spokes of a wheel out to suburbs (with shopping malls) and then to open country. This is spread out like LA in the late 40s but with no mountains or ocean as landmarks. It is flat and poor and just rural enough that they often don’t put up street signs at the intersections.  Our GPS for this area is not up to the task. It won’t recognize the east and west 83 Expressway addresses that are the one-way frontage roads next to the freeway, US-83. To make it worse, there is also a Bus 83 boulevard.

‘I am waiting for the homeowners association to tell us that we can’t pull this far forward in the driveway.  We should be five feet back from the street.  I am looking for any excuse to pull out of here and leave.  Although Tom has our $400 for November perhaps he could apply it towards December — after the meter is installed. I’ve volunteered to make calls for Obama so I’ve got to get ready to drive to Edinburg this afternoon.  At least when I get back we will be able to watch MSNBC and hear the news.”

At 2:20 pm I left to find what I assumed was a home address where I volunteered to make calls for Obama.  Naturally the GPS did not recognize the address.  This time I had printed Mapquest directions and I plugged in a nearby intersection.   I managed to find the address and it turned out to be a commercial plaza with an office that was an Obama headquarters.  There were four people there.  I shared an office with a Latino woman, Marsha, from Mission.  In her thirties, she had a long, thick black braid down her back and she was very forceful and funny and I had a good time with her.  I went through 50+ calls and it took me about two hours.  I was calling Florida and I was surprised to reach many Obama voters.  I got there at three and I left at 5:20 and got back to the bus at six.

The effort cheered me up and I felt better when I left.  They were grateful for my contribution.  Marsha invited me to the election night celebration at the Democratic headquarters in Mission.  I said I would come back tomorrow and try to bring Dennis.  They said Dennis could help by putting up signs.

Monday, November 3, 2008.  Countdown.

We pull forward until the King Dome can see the southern sky.

We pull forward until the King Dome can see the southern sky.

Today we ventured out for breakfast.  It was 81° and breezy when we set out just before noon.  This time we know to take the freeway east for ten miles and exit on Shary Rd. where we turned north to find breakfast at I-HOP.  After breakfast we shopped at a nearby supermarket called HEB.  It is gigantic and has nice goods but it has a very peculiar layout.  I would prefer Albertson’s but HEB is the only game in town. There are no other supermarkets to be seen.

This area is such a peculiar combination.  Every block has one big substantial building, like the I-HOP and the rest are junk business buildings, small junk strip malls and empty lots.  Corners often have left over, derelict buildings, deserted but never torn down.

I was supposed to work at the Obama Headquarters but I felt so tired that I didn’t go.  The rest of the day I was happy to rest.  I am catching up on old letters for Letters From A Bus.  I’ve posted six new letters.  Now I’m working on last June ninth, “Life in Cherokee Springs”.

In the evening we caught up on our MSNBC news analysts.  We all feel very hopeful but also frightened.  McCain could still pull it out of the bag.  Sometime this week, Rachel Maddow said, “Do you wake up at night in a cold sweat, worrying that McCain will win?”  Apparently, I am not alone in suffering from this nightmare.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008.  The nightmare is over. We elect Obama

This is the day.  At last we will know the answer to our future — one way or another.  We basically killed time while we waited to watch the election returns.  We had to renew our prescriptions so we drove east on the freeway to a big Wall-mart on Shary Rd.  Then we got fuel and after that we explored the area a little bit. 

This is a World Birding Center. It is an important crossroads between tropical and temperate habitats. Many birds are found nowhere else in North America.

This is a World Birding Center. It is an important crossroads between tropical and temperate habitats. Many birds are found nowhere else in North America.

We drove west and then turned south from the freeway.  This area is only a short distance from the Rio Grande River and the Mexican border.  It is more rural and therefore prettier with big empty fields.  We stumbled across some RV parks that looked pretty with big palm trees along the entrance streets.  We saw Green Gate Grove and Mission Bentson-Palm RV Parks.  Then we came to the Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park Wild Refuge.  I was looking for it as this area is well known for the variety of birds attracted here.  We stopped to walk to the entrance and collect information but it was too late and I was too hot and tired to go on a tour.

We came home and watched the election returns.  We didn’t have the excitement of going out to vote because we voted long ago with absentee ballots.  Most of my friends voted in California and watched the results with friends.  I missed the sense of community in going out to vote and then celebrating the results with my friends.  The San Francisco Bay Area is solid blue.  And it is not difficult to vote in California.  They mail a sample ballot to you and your name on the front means you are set to vote.  Polling places are local — often within walking distance and placed in people’s homes or a community building.  Lines are minimal.  I don’t understand why polling places are not plentiful elsewhere and why some states turn voting into an endurance contest.  It seems ridiculous and very wrong.

Together with CNN and MSNBC, we all kept an eye on the key “battleground” states of Montana, North Dakota, Missouri, Indiana, Ohio, North Caroline and Florida.  I used the online CNN Election Results map to keep track. At 8:03 pm EST Obama had 77 electoral votes to McCain’s 34 votes. Actually McCain always trailed.  At 8:42 Pennsylvania brought Obama up to 102 electoral votes.  By 9:38 Ohio brought him up to 194 votes.  At 10:12 he had 207 votes.

It all looked good and soon the experts were explaining that McCain could no longer win enough states to add up to the required electoral votes.  I held my breath.  The polls closed at 8:00 pm on the west coast and promptly at 10:05 pm Central Time all the channels called the results for Obama.  Wow!  That was earlier than I expected. At 11:13 EST (after the west coast closed their polls) Obama had 297 votes and it was all over.  At 11:41 EST he was up to 338 electoral votes with 51% or 46,036,833 popular votes.

Amazingly, Obama took Indiana, Ohio, North Carolina and Florida.  I don’t know what happened to Missouri.  Seven states changed parties: Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Iowa, Indiana, North Carolina and Florida.  It was an impressive and decisive win.

I wanted to run outside to wave and cheer with neighbors.  But it was dead quiet outside.  No one was celebrating in this red state — no one that I knew about anyway.  We stuck with CNN and MSNBC and then the most amazing thing happened.  The analysts got choked up.  Black and white, they were overcome with the import and meaning of that historic moment.  We listened to McCain’s gracious concession speech and finally President-elect Barack Obama came out with his family and spoke.  He and Michelle looked quiet and introspective and overwhelmed.  They fully understood the impact of history in the making.  I saw the awed faces in the crowd and I saw Jesse Jackson crying.  I saw that the brilliant Eugene Robinson, of the Washington Post and a regular MSNBC commentator had been tearful and could hardly speak and then I started to cry, and Dennis had tears also.  At last I can feel proud of my country.  At last, America rose up and did something great.  At last our citizens stopped listening to lies.  The electorate took a good look at the past eight, dreadful and shameful years and said, “Enough.”  They turned to a brilliant, young African American and said in effect, “We trust you to get us out of this mess.”

Wednesday, November 5, 2008.  The country celebrates

I guess we were emotionally worn out.  We didn’t go out all day.  We should have.  I didn’t think about it but I should have gone to find a newspaper to keep.  I wish I had. 

Dennis sat outside in the shade provided by the canopy.  But it is a tricky deal.  If the bus is running A/C, the sound echoes against the canopy and it is too noisy to enjoy sitting outside.  Also the canopy makes the interior of the bus seem very dark.  It is gloomy.

Thursday, November 6, 2008.  We move our bus to Tom’s lot.

Margot is all dolled up — no more mats.

Margot is all dolled up — no more mats.

Thursday morning I got busy doing research to find a dog groomer.  Rudi and Margot are beyond dirty.  They are a matted mess.  Someone told me that I wouldn’t find a groomer who has any openings for more than a month because Winter Texans all bring their little dogs and keep the groomers busy.  Mercy!  I hope not.  I’ve put this off too long and I really need to get these mats combed or cut out and get the dogs washed and combed.  I began making calls.  Half way down my list I found Isabel, owner of Pampered Pooch.  I explained about what a Coton is like and said that Margot has hair like a sheep and probably has to be shaved.  She said to bring her in right away and she’d take a look.

So we hopped in the car and took both dogs with us.  With the help of Mapquest, we found the Pampered Pooch in one of those little junk strip malls near Bus. 83 and Conway in Mission. Isabel, the owner, is a force of latino personality. I liked her immediately. She examined Margot and said, “What would you say if I said I can save her?”  Not shave her down?  I was thrilled.  We left her right then and there and four hours later, she called us to come back.  Margot was trimmed down and had not one hint of a mat anywhere.  Isabel’s secret is a little brush.  I bought two of them.  She showed us how to remove these terrible stickers with the brush.  We’ve been cutting them out!  I made arrangements to bring Rudi in on Friday and we took home our beautiful, rejuvenated Margot.  It cost me $32 plus two $3 brushes and a tip.  What a bargain!

Meanwhile, while Margot was being groomed and we were doing more errands, Tom called and said his meter was installed and we could move the bus to his lot.  We went back to Martin Valley Ranch and moved the bus from the older development, Hidden Valley Ranch to the newer development, Leisure Valley Ranch — about half a mile away on the same street, Bogey Rd.  Tom came over to make sure everything was working properly.  He is very easy going and laid back — a pleasant man.  We no longer have the shade canopy but I think I prefer it that way.  It is hot to sit out in the sun but it is a more open location, less closed in with surrounding casitas and with less traffic.  Without the canopy we have our usual outlook with good light coming through the windows.

Today we have wind speeds up to 22 mph from the SW and a high of 84°.

A short while later Tom called and asked if we’d like to go out to dinner with he and his wife, Theresa.  Dennis drove and they told us where to go.  We got quite a tour all around town.  I think they felt badly that we’d had such difficulties trying to find our way around.  They took us out a back exit and up Abrams Rd to 3-Mile Rd. and then east all the way to 10th St. in McAllen.  We went to Lin’s Chinese Buffet, a big restaurant with a wide variety of buffet choices.  We enjoyed visiting with them and after cautious feelers we discovered they supported Obama.  They also celebrated alone but Theresa says she called a few of her Republican friends in Alaska to gloat!  Tom and Theresa come down here for the winter but their permanent home is in Fairbanks.  They grew up in Kansas and Tom’s accent reminds me of my cousin, Jim Peeke.  After dinner they showed us where the big mall is on 10th and Theresa pointed out Macy’s to me.  Hurray!  I do feel much better now that we’re oriented.

Friday, November 7, 2008. 

Friday morning at 10:00 am we dropped Rudi off at the Pampered Pooch.  His long fine hair is not as thick or as badly matted as Margot’s was.  Margot had dreadlocks right down to the skin.  We did some errands, came back to the bus and returned to pick up our “pampered pooch” at 3:00 pm.  What a relief to have both dogs clean and looking good.

Over the past few days the heat has dropped and we’ve had cloud cover.  There is a stiff and cool 20 mph northern breeze and temperatures maxed at 78°.  This is much more to my liking.  It looks like rain but it doesn’t rain.

Saturday, November 8, 2008.  The Crane’s arrive from Rockport.

Betty directs Jay as he backs into a temporary lot where they will park until their casita is built.

Betty directs Jay as he backs into a temporary lot where they will park until their casita is built.

The Crane’s have friends here who tried to contact us but we kept missing connections.  Finally Dava and Bill found our new location and dropped by to introduce them selves just as the Crane’s arrived in the early afternoon.  We were all glad to see them.  Betty was pleased to see that we are about 150 steps away from their lot.  They are allowed to stay for free on a Martin Valley Ranch lot (for sale with concrete pad already in place) situated next to their own lot while they put in a pad and build their little casita.  Dava and Bill are next door to them so we are all nearby and a feeling of old home week prevailed.  This is the third season in Mission for the Crane’s and now at last they are going to build on their lot.  Betty is very excited and I’m excited for her.

In the evening we three couples drove all the way over to McAllen to a particular pizza parlor that Dava recommended. They serve slices of pizza and other Italian dishes, buffet style.  It was quite a long drive, very cold inside and very noisy.  I thought the pizza was OK but not worth the effort it took to get there.  It was an opportunity to get acquainted with the Crane’ friends, Dava and Bill, but it was quite noisy and distracting — not a pleasant environment. I’ve noticed that the retired RV folks often gravitate towards buffets of any kind — lots of food and inexpensive.

Today I published my ninth new letter, “Fishing at Tropic Reservoir” about events that took place on 6/12/08.  My letters are hopelessly behind the times….