Back in time

Well sort of. We’re now only an hour and six days from home base. One hour in time zones and six more days of driving around the good old US of A. National Parks and general meandering around. Yesterday in Colorado Springs however brought a nasty reminder of how things can catch you out, but also an object lesson in using available resources to sort it out.

In short, an old health problem raised its head. My back locked up. A legacy of years of weight training and generally abusing my body with physical exertion. Two muscles, specifically the Quadratus Lumborum that help stabilise the lower back took it into their fibres to spasm and seize up. Now if you know anything about this condition you will understand two things; firstly it is paralysingly, spine gratingly painful. Secondly you cannot bend or straighten, and walking is sheer torture. It’s a show stopper. Even the slightest misalignment of the back when lying or sitting is agony. A bed or chair that is too hard or soft renders you immobile, teeth clenched, and there is no painkiller short of Morphine that will make a dent in the pain. How do I describe it? Like someone has jammed a rusty crowbar in your lumbar vertebrae. Then twisted it. Attempting to move or bend is impossible. Yes, it’s that bad. I’ve suffered from periodic episodes since I was in my late twenties.

There is a trick, however, that works when painkillers or traction will not. All you need is a nice firm ball like one used to play Softball and something to roll it between you and the unlocking pressure points. This will start the ‘unlocking’ process and with a half days rest, will return you to almost full working order. Ideally you’ll need 36 hours of proper rest to let the muscles fully unwind or run the risk of recurrence.

Fortunately I am happy to report that there is an additional short cut. A Shiatsu massage chair like this one. One of those things you find in some malls and service areas. The ones that cost a couple of quid, Dollar or Twoonie to operate when they haven’t been switched off because the mall rats or someone’s messy little four year olds have been hogging them. I spent the best five dollars of my life and fifteen minutes in one yesterday. It hit all the pressure points and reduced my pain from excruciating to mild discomfort. Today I found the pain completely gone and full mobility returned. For five measly bucks. Something my UK doctor would only prescribe painkillers for. Painkillers that took forty eight hours to even begin returning me to normal, yet dulled my other senses and reduced my effectiveness. Yet a toy ball and five bucks in a massage chair did the trick, no chemicals required within twelve hours. Bloody marvellous.

Colorado Springs? Nice place. Very tidy downtown. Recently upgraded with a lot of money being spent on tidying the place up. Quite a few beggars around until the Police patrols hit the streets around 10am, then the crusties evaporate like morning dew. That was yesterday. Today we’ve been up above the snow line, letting our little Subaru strut its stuff in the fog and ice when other vehicles on their summer tyres were slip sliding away. Tonight we’re stopping over in Grand Junction, feeling relieved and quite pain free. Looking forward to the rest of our trip and also planning the next.

What day is it?

Colorado Springs and we’ve been on the road so much I’ve hardly had chance to put fingers to keyboard. We crossed the great plains yesterday, racing a big storm that looked like it was after us personally. To the south and east a huge dark core, at its heart a tornado, on the edges, long fingers of cloud clutching north and west like a dismembered hand still moving inexorably toward a victim. Ghostly grey virga curling tendrils of smoky rain drifted toward the ground from these dark grey bellied monsters. I was driving, and the illusion of parallax made it look like those grasping fingers were hungrily converging with our little tin box, hurtling across the wide rolling expanse of Western Kansas and Eastern Colorado at sixty five miles an hour. Elsewhere it was less fun for those who could not get out of the storms path. Hope their insurance is good.

We’re back in mountain time today prior to cutting across to the national parks via Bonneville salt flats and various other stops. While en route in various hotel lobbies we’re seeing a lot of news reports about the big fire up near Fort McMurray, Alberta, which had burned a lot of peoples homes to the ground and displaced a whole lot more.

There are rumours and informed speculation that the original fires were started by people. Some think careless campers, others have more darkly suggested radical environmentalists. Okay, so no human deaths to date, but for the livelihoods, property and wildlife destroyed still really bad. It’s so bad our photo-op seeking Prime Minister hasn’t put in much of an appearance. Heaven forfend he might get his glossy hairdo all messed up. Me, when we get home in a weeks time I’m off to volunteer what help I can give from the BC end instead of bleating that it’s all to do with the mythical man made climate change like some hideous little tools claim.

One parting shot; if radical environmentalists did set the original fires to shut down the oil sands production for good, then they and their sponsors (Rockefeller, Tides foundations, Sierra Club) should be made responsible for fixing all the damage done. To everyone. Hell, they’ve got the money. They could spend it on something useful for a change.

The heat is on

Or it ain’t half hot Mum. Well it was, honest. Now it’s not.

Charleston at the end of April and Mrs s and I were wilting a bit by the end of the day. We’ve been exploring history on the run up the the US Civil War, which had roots way back in the US Declaration of Independence and the compromises made to bring the plantation owning slave owners in with the rest of those rascally rebels against King George. What we’ve learned is that the actual fighting was simply the hot phase of a conflict over ‘States Rights’ which had been going on for years before a shot was fired. Oh yes, and Fort Sumter is actually a lot smaller than I’d imagined. Somehow I’d expected it to be much bigger for the focus of such a momentous event. Mrs S and I have decided that in two days we’ve barely scratched the surface and are going to grace the Palmetto City with a second visit sometime.

Chattanooga was a bit of an overnighter, and we ended up giving Lookout Mountain a miss because of the weather. So we checked out Nashville for a couple of days. Sunday night we ended up downtown watching such oddities as ‘Pedal bars‘ carrying whooping groups of partiers. We, being of a more sedate years, chose to enjoy our drinks in more peaceful surroundings, and despite our obvious grey hairs, had to show ID before getting alcoholic libations. Apparently it’s state law in Tennessee.

The weather recently hasn’t been our friend, what with the odd passing thunderstorm, but we made the best of it by getting me some new cooking knives (Proper Sabatier’s) and a chef’s apron for when the cooking muse hits. Plugged some holes in our old movie collection with a Bogart compilation and some others we fancied at the moment while it bucketed down in Nashville. Picked up a couple of the more obscure CD’s we’ve had trouble sourcing in BC. Overall, despite downpours, we had a good time. The only downside was our hotel. Advertising itself as three star was a bit of an exaggeration. Two would have been more appropriate. I could go into detail, but I’ve saved that for a rather scathing comment on booking.com.

As for the political news, well there’s a fine howdy-do and no mistake. However, I made my feelings plain on this issue back February 25th based on this story. Is the big C destined to win the Democratic nomination only to get whumped in the real thing by the big T? Will this encourage voters to put their X where their heart tells them, and not where they are scared to by the lamestream? Intriguing…

Anyway, this evening finds us in St Louis on the Illinois side, plotting and planning our visit to the Cahokia Mounds and perhaps one of the local plantations, the day after to the city centre to see the big arch and perhaps visit a few museums.

Today I am…

I wrote this post two days ago, but fell asleep before completion because I was so damn tired. I blame noisy hotel air conditioners waking me up in the wee small hours. Never mind.

Today I am……. Well, er (Cough, splutter, cough) very young indeed and my inner geek has been let out to play. Taking me back to the days when my heroes wore names like Carpenter, Glenn, Grissom, Schirra, Armstrong and Aldrin. Not for young Bill Sticker the dream of being a mere driver of steaming trains or Omnibuses, my dreams, then and now have always been among the stars, away from the cosy (and sometimes not so comfortable) security of dear old Mother Earth. So this particular little days outing connected a memory trail that almost brought a tear to my cynical old eyes.

For me it was a boyhood dream come true, a day out at Cape Kennedy. Number two on my lifetime bucket list. Rockets, capsules, sound and fury on a beautiful Floridian day. I have touched a rock from another world, sat in a mockup Space Shuttle cockpit and felt how intuitively the controls fell to hand. I’ve had so many pleasurable flashbacks to my less tainted self today that frankly chums, I’ve almost (But not quite) rediscovered my boyhood innocence. Which is a sensation I thought I’d never feel again. For me this almost Proustian sensation brought both joy and melancholy. Joy at feeling what I felt as a boy without the patina of years, melancholy in knowing that certain things will never come to pass for me.

What can I say? Anyway, it amused me at the time, and perhaps that is all we can expect from our little sojourns on this earth. A little gratification, a few smiles and accepting that we are but mortal flesh. I will never be an astronaut, well, unless some bloody miracle occurs and my peculiarly eclectic skill set is the only thing that can save humankind, and I have to be shot into orbit. Nah. I’ve helped raise a new generation who may produce another who will live my dream for me, and that at least makes me smile with a little parental pride.

Anyway, speaking of smiles; this Trump fellow, hasn’t he just upset the Republicans political apple cart? Not only knocking it over, but making apple sauce and pies out of the debris. This with over four hundred delegates still in the wind. So much for #nevertrump and other such online campaigns. Hashtags which seem to be cutting very little ice with grass roots Republicans, and the groundswell seems to show no sign of letting up. I think it’s a blue collar revolution folks. The party elites don’t like it because all their cosy sinecures may just disappear down the plughole. Maybe it’s the future for a new brand of politics, taking power from the hands of the distant and unaccountable. And not before time.

TTFN

Half a bottle of wine later…

…my equanimity is on it’s way to being restored… and we’re in Tallahassee after yet another satnag failure at a critical juncture. For four hundred miles the bloody thing behaves itself impeccably, but ten important minutes from our destination our route gets erased. Wiped. Eradicated. AWOL. Now I was driving and I’m naming no names, but there’s only two of us in the car, and one was supposed to be reading instructions off the screen to the driver. Now I wonder who that could be? Cough, “User error” cough. Bloody thing.

Anyway, I’ve decided to save our destinations as offline bookmarks in future, so a certain person, yes dear, can’t lose our directions because there won’t be any. Directions that is. Just a general set of instructions because whenever there’s a set of road works appear blocking off our plotted route so does a certain persons navigational flexibility and it’s all tears before bedtime.

Fortunately I took the precaution of memorising the directions to our hotel for tonight, and apart from some arse parking a bloody big red bus blocking our turn, I followed the Sticker family motto that I learned from my late mother which goes; “If at first you don’t succeed – cheat.” Well, it works for me. You have to know what the rules are to understand when they can be considered mere guidelines and broken on the rack of experience. Adapt and improvise, that sort of thing. Vocibus nihil mali est? (No harm, no foul, right?) Whatever.

We are here ready for the next hop to Jacksonville, but the launch I wanted to catch has been rescheduled for June, so we’ll be going to Daytona Beach instead. Rule two: always have a fallback option. Anyway, I’ve had the lions share of a bottle of wine so I’m not really bothered. Well, you can’t win ’em all. Time for bed, said Zebedee. It’s been a long day on the road and I’m ready to crash.

Oh yes, if you’re in the USA and need a good low carbohydrate feed, the carnivores among you could do a whole lot worse than visit Dickey’s barbecue pit. They might not have Wi-Fi, but they sure as hell do cook great barbecue meat meals. Tell them Bill sent you, and just watch their faces go blank.

Nighty night.

Après le déluge, nous

Two weeks into our road trip and we’re out of Houston and in New Orleans. The storms have passed and the sky is as clear as if nothing has happened. Our first morning in Houston was another matter. Lightning, thunder and the car park and road outside at least two inches deep in water. All we could do was stand and watch the fireworks, mainly because I didn’t have to drive and didn’t really want to. Road trips are supposed to be fun, right? An adventure at least. So far it has been, but Houston is a business town more than anything else, and although the parks and museum districts are interesting, the rest, well, I’d give it a miss next time round.

After the morning rains passed, we took the bus into the Museum District, only to receive a friendly warning about walking around looking like Canadian tourists from the transit station security people. I can see what they mean, our end of Houston did look a bit worse for wear even after the flooding, and on the way home we had our first real stoner encounter. Talk about a zombiform human. A white guy in his 20’s, buzz cut sandy hair, hollow, hopeless eyes and a shuffling gait. He managed to sneak up close behind Mrs S, but I got her on the bus before he made contact. He was probably harmless, but my beloved certainly isn’t. I probably did him a favour by whisking her away.

New Orleans is a totally different kettle of seafood. It’s a party town, and we spent all nof today wandering around the French Quarter, finding one of the best breakfast spots in town (Camille) and inadvertently wandering into a gay bar for a beer. All of which completely failed to faze either Mrs S or myself. Maybe I’m just getting to old to worry about that shit any more.

I’ve decided I like New Orleans. It’s everything Vegas aspires to be but with attitude. Less of the glitz but more about people. The Big Easy has a history and culture which Vegas lacks, but more than that. At the grass roots it has a real beating heart made up of people. We had more small kindnesses come our way from the locals than in our entire journey so far. Nothing much. Unsolicited directions to great eating and sightseeing experiences. We got a little gentle backsass from certain locals, which we gave right back and got a laugh out of each encounter, which was fun. Even if the local accent is a bit broad, drawly and difficult to understand with all the background noise. Which made us want to return and do the place a little bit more justice than we could in our schedules forty eight hours.

New Orleans is a town not afraid to have some fun at it’s own expense. To be honest, if I was ever forced to walk the streets again, I wouldn’t mind doing it there.

Howdy y’all

Yes, Texans really do say this, but it sounds quite melodious and somehow genuine when they say it, mainly because they’re pretty nice people. Until they get behind the wheel of a car, then all bets are off. I’m very glad I don’t have to commute around Houston and San Antonio for two reasons;

  1. With all the high speed lane cutting that goes on, it’s like a cross between NASCAR and Wacky races
  2. The minimalist road signage requires split second timing and the luck of being in the right lane for your turnoff.

Which at speeds over sixty to seventy plus in high density traffic can make for some quite lively driving, let me tell you. I’m no novice driver, having survived the rush hour M25 many times without a scratch, but there were quite a few brown trouser moments and missed turns requiring much back tracking, many U-turns (Which the city fathers of both San Antonio and Houston make ample provision for), and several heated arguments between driver and navigator about whose fault it was we missed our exit.

At first some of the antics of my fellow motorists left my chief circulatory organ wedged firmly between my teeth until I started picking up the various clues from other drivers and failing to let them faze me. In the end I just left two and a half car lengths between my front end and the vehicle in fronts arse and let everyone else do what the hell they pleased. With or without signalling. I could have flashed my lights and sounded my horn, but would it have made any difference? No. So we’ve learned to just give the crazy ones the road and keep our distance from everyone else. Now give me a week and I’d be carving up and swerving across three lanes just like the rest of them.

Yesterday’s little hiatus and wander round San Antonio’s river walk gave us time to catch our breath and chill out a bit after the previous days series of panic attacks on the cities maze of overpasses, underpasses and quantum shifting side roads that tend to dump the unwary precisely one block from their destination, being taken in the wrong direction by a Byzantine one way system. Fortunately, due in part to one piece of inspired guesswork on my part (“Don’t you mean jammy?” Says Mrs S), we actually found our way to where we needed to be. On this driver’s day off we’d elected to take the Transit (Bus) downtown so we could have a drink or two after visiting the famous Alamo.

The Alamo itself is an interesting place, despite a relative paucity of exhibits. All there was on display were a number of flags, a lot of display boards, a couple of antique rifles, various documents, a model of the besieged mission complex, a few scraps of fabric and leather and many notices bearing imprecations not to touch the walls. What really impressed me was the sense of tranquillity we encountered in the well-tended mission gardens. It was so peaceful that the heavy grumbling noise from a running truck engine from behind one wall took several minutes to register on our senses. A feeling I’ve only experienced in the inner sanctum of various churches and temples. That air of inner stillness which is so hard to find, except in such places of reverence and awe.

En route to Houston today we had an interesting stop at a rural service station just outside San Antonio; firstly the whole anti-smoking thing seems to have had a limited effect down here. You don’t have to select your inhalant of choice by guesswork, there are whole walls full of cigarettes, cigarillo’s and eCigs on show for everyone to see, and in the case of cigars, in a special humidor room (I estimated ten feet by ten feet) to keep the tobacco in perfect smoking condition. I was almost overcome by a sense of nostalgia. A member of the anti-smoking righteous would probably have a terminal coughing fit. Secondly there was the ammunition. Under glass of course. $6.99 for 20 rounds of NATO 5.56 or .223, hunting and full jacketed. Spare magazines and enough hunting paraphernalia to give a virulent vegan activist several heart attacks before even reaching the counter.

Anyway, we’re all safe and sound, trying to find old movies on the hotel TV in amongst dozens of TV channels dedicated to talking head political op-eds denouncing this Trump fellow as one of the many “ist’s”. They call themselves ‘news’, but that’s so far from what these broadcasts actually are. Which is regurgitated dramatised drek for the gullible. Mrs S, genius with the remote she is, has located an old James Bond classic ‘Dr No’. Which we’re currently enjoying, even though she still forbids me to do my Sean Connery impersonation. Not sure what we’re doing tomorrow, so watch this space.

Bye for now.

Texas blowout

Well wasn’t that an adventure young Bill? Well, sort of. Possibly. Maybe and probably not. Today we were heading down one of the lesser trafficked routes from Abilene to San Antonio, Mrs S at the wheel, when a horribly familiar blap-blap-blap sound suddenly assailed our ears. “Pull over, Hon.” I said.
Er Bill, I think we’ve got a flat.” Mrs S replied.
I think you’re right. Pull in over there.” I gestured at the first possible widening of the highway and we ground to an uneven halt. Swinging out before we’d actually come to a full stop, I waltzed around the back of the car to be greeted by the following sight;Texas blowout It was pretty plain we were not going to fix this one with our instant puncture repair kit. The outside of our rear left tyre was as you can see, pretty much shredded.

Out came all our luggage from the boot (Oh all right, the trunk) and I pulled out the skinny spare while Mrs S watched my back. Wind up the jack, keeping an weather eye out for anything that might convert Ma Sticker’s youngest into roadkill, I swapped the thoroughly trashed rear tyre for the spare. “You drive.” Mrs S said. I gave her a terse nod. As family guard dog my job is the tricky stuff, and we were a hundred miles from the nearest known dealer. Also, Mrs S was feeling a little nervous about driving on the skinny and perhaps a bit upset from having a tyre trashed beneath her. It’s the sort of thing that can put a crimp in anyone’s day.

Fortunately we were only a mile from a small settlement, and after asking for directions at one of the local spares stores (They even understood my accent) we arrived at a small tyre dealership. After about ten minutes checking, the owner showed us the quarter inch hole that had started the trouble and told us that he had no tyres of the type we required. He could probably get one by tomorrow perchance? We declined as we wanted to make San Antonio for this evening and were directed to a Tyre retailer forty miles down the road. Driving fifteen miles an hour under the limit, pulling on to the hard shoulder whenever faster traffic came barrelling up my tailpipes, we made it to the specified retailer, whose advertising proclaimed that he stocked tyres of the make we required. A few phone calls later, he regretfully announced that there were no tyres of the type we needed within forty miles. So off we went again, driving like Miss Daisy, and after being buffeted by the backwash of what felt like a couple of hundred big rigs passing at speed, we tracked down a main dealership for our little Subaru just short of San Antonio. The rest was a bite into our credit limit and a little time to drink coffee and reflect that it could have been a whole lot worse.

Now tucked up all safe and sound in our San Antonio hotel, we’re stopping for a full day tomorrow to let Mrs S hit the shops and me to wander around the museums. As an aside; we’ve been in the so-called gun happy USA for almost two weeks, and the only firearms we’ve come across have been in historical brochures and shown on television. Must be all those concealed carry permits, I thought, they’re so good you can’t see the guns.

Challenging my preconceptions

Tonight we’re well into central Texas (Abilene no less) and it’s raining. Again. Worse than Manchester on a wet day. And lightning. No risk of Tornadoes today in our neighbourhood as they don’t form this far south and west (Allegedly).

Anyway, How do I describe northern Texas? Flat. Currently wet. Prone to flooding. Full of Wind Turbines. If my British reader thinks East Anglia or Lincolnshire is flat, sorry, the fenlands are comparatively lumpy compared with the country between Amarillo and Lubbock. I have honestly never seen a land horizon so straight. Which incidentally makes for seriously dull driving, even at Texas’ generous 75 MPH speed limit. Mrs S, in the co-pilots seat for this leg of the journey, was chafing at me well before we’d even gone a hundred and fifty miles, but once she’d taken over at the wheel after a placatory Ice Cream, equanimity was restored.

As far as the scenery is concerned, once you get past Lubbock it’s not so linear. As you pass through the oilfields, the landscape is peppered with Nodding Donkey a.k.a. “Pumpjack” engines and the periodic smell of warm oil straight out of the ground. Further south, yet more wind turbines pepper the landscape and brood over the tops of the Mesas. More are going up all the time. We saw a trainload of turbine blades and passed three tower base units on their way south and east on Highway 84.

In my idle moments I’ve been experimenting with collective nouns for huge expanses of Wind Turbines. Front runners are ‘blight’ or perhaps ‘obscenity’, as they sure as hell ruin the view for precious little return. The relative lack of visible transmission lines and some Amarillo folklore also tweaked my bullshit antenna. Apparently the local power grids in Amarillo and Abilene do not get any power from these massive whirligigs. Instead, all the electrickery they produce goes direct to Houston, some five hundred and fifty miles distant. If you understand anything about power grids and transmission, that’s whole a lot of conductivity losses and no mistake. Even at 110kv. Two hundred miles, okay. That’s not too bad, but over five hundred and fifty miles? Ouch. Something is missing from this story.

And if any F4-F5 Tornadoes touch down only twenty or thirty miles west of their usual track, as they have been known to do, there is a risk of serious damage to these big wind farms. While F1-F3 Tornadoes won’t hurt most wind turbines, a big F4-F5 tracking through a wind farm would be a different matter. How often do the big ones occur in this neck of the woods? Not that often, but I wouldn’t underwrite the insurance risk. I guess time will tell, and there will be much wailing, gnashing of teeth and pointing of fingers when it does.

Anyway, at the moment all the downpours mean everything is green and fecund. Even in the desert areas. Whatever happened to General Philip Sheridan’s famous “If I owned Texas and Hell, I would rent out Texas and live in Hell” Civil War quotation?

Then there’s the food. Specifically the steaks and pork ribs. The Texans do meat very, very well. Perhaps even better than that. I’ve taken to tucking into a 6-8oz slab of beef and salad every other day. By comparison, last year we resided in Paris for a month and on several occasions were treated to a splendid plate of ‘Steak Frites’. But the Texan version is better. Much better. Sorry mes amis, but the Texans win the Bill sticker award for serious steaks. Even in relatively average roadside eateries.

So. Do I like Texas? Well so far yes and occasionally no, but it certainly is challenging my preconceptions of the state as a dry and dusty wilderness. We’ll see what San Antonio brings.

Time travel for beginners

Bit of a breezy drive today, and a few bursts of rain as we were clearing the Eastbound pass out of Albuquerque. Which saved me getting the car washed. Lots of crosswind as we drove along I-40, which made keeping our ever-steady little SUV on track a bit awkward, and we appear to have made it from rough desert and prairie into farmland. One of the issues we’ve come up against on the Eastbound leg of this epic trip has been time zones. We’re currently two, or is it three, hours adrift of our usual Pacific Standard Time. Time travel diagramNo, I’ve just checked and it’s definitely two. At present we’re on Central Time. What threw a spanner in the works of the normally efficient Sticker travel machine was Arizona, which has not adopted Daylight Savings Time, and thus thrown our calculations off by an hour.

So tonight we’re overnighting in Amarillo, catching up with the laundry and resetting our clocks before scooting off to Abilene. Mrs S has elected to take on the washing tonight as she says I never do it properly. Which suits me just fine. Sometimes being an ‘unreconstructed male’ as she is wont to describe me, has it’s advantages.

So we’re in Texas for the next week. Yee-haw! Mrs S has decided that we’re making an early start for Abilene in the morning so she can hit the Malls. Ah. Bugger. Was that a Tornado warning for just north and east of town? I think I just saw a pillar of cloud pass by in that direction and the girl on hotel reception says to head for ground floor if the warning sirens go off. Ooo-er.

Expatriate expostulations from Canada; a.k.a. A Sarcastic man abroad

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