This is primarily a travel blog in which I write about traveling in our motorhome. Our travels have

Nacogdoches, TX, United States
I began this blog as a vehicle for reporting on a 47-day trip made by my wife and me in our motorhome down to the Yucatan Peninsula and back. I continued writing about our post-Yucatan travels and gradually began including non-travel related topics. I often rant about things that piss me off, such as gun violence, fracking, healthcare, education, and anything else that pushes my button. I have a photography gallery on my Smugmug site (

Saturday, May 24, 2014

"Once More Unto the Breach!"

Those of you who read my blog are well aware of the troubles that plagued me and on an RV trip to Mexico a couple of years ago. Recently, I also wrote of the misfortunes experienced this year in Mexico by friends of ours. To say that my writings of Mexico and its out-of-control crime rate have been somewhat negative would be an understatement. I have not been very kind to our southern neighbors. I even swore that I would never return to Mexico!

This morning my son called me from California to tell me that his upcoming nuptials would be in Mexico. I blessed him and told him I would be thinking of him on his wedding day. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending upon perspective, Carol Ann says I have no choice. I must return to Mexico. But this time I will not be driving. We will fly direct to Cabo San Lucas and take a cab to the resort. I plan to remain on the resort property during the entirety of our stay. I will not rent a car. I will not “see the sights.” I have seen quite enough of Mexico already.

The very first time I set foot on Mexican soil was a short while after my return from Vietnam. Carol Ann and I had driven from Georgia to West Texas and the Big Bend area and thought it would be fun to go shopping on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande. We had heard about the great bargains available there, not to mention that the exchange rate was extremely favorable for us at that time. But even then I was cautious about going to Mexico. We decided to park on the US side and walk across the bridge to the small border town (I don’t remember which border town it was).

On the way to the border we stopped by a currency exchange and for a couple of hundred US dollars, walked off with a wheelbarrow load of pesos. We parked the car and walked across the the little two-lane bridge, passing the long line of vehicles waiting to cross into the US. I had been told that although trees hid it from view along the river, the town was just “right across the river.” It was a long, hot, dusty walk to the town’s one main street, which was lined with tourists’ traps shops. As we walked along the uneven sidewalk we were constantly accosted by children selling "real" gold Rolex watches at unbelievably low prices. What the Mexicans call "almost free."

It turned out that the goods in most of the shops were not great deals at all. In fact the best bargains in town were probably the gold Rolex watches. Most products were priced in US dollars instead of Mexican pesos and no shopkeeper wanted our wheelbarrow load of pesos. It was like trying to pay for something at Walmart with Monopoly money. They laughed at it. We ended up buying a quart of Mexican vanilla and a case of Mexican beer with the few US dollars we had not exchanged.

I was ready to leave. Our money was no good and I was beginning to get spooked because this little third world border town reminded me of Vietnam. Not only in appearance but also in the heat, smell, language barrier, and the extremely large number of foreigners. The big difference being that the kids in Vietnam were trying to sell their sisters or mothers, not watches. We wasted no time in walking back across the Rio Grande and the good old US of A, where I felt safe once again. We retrieved the car and returned to the currency exchange to unload our pesos, but this time the exchange rate worked against us. 

It seems that a trip to Mexico always costs more than expected. I'm sure that Cabo San Lucas will be no exception. I hear they are very proud of their hotels down there (and probably prefer US dollars to Mexican pesos).

“Hasta la vista, baby!”

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Painful Memories

I went to the dentist last week to have a broken tooth fixed. It was an upper incisor so full of old fillings that two sides of it had broken away. Fortunately the root was not exposed so there was no pain. My dentist informed me that it would require at the very least a cap, or crown, and possibly a root canal with a metal rod screwed into the canal to provide a secure attachment for the artificial tooth. At one time in my life, hearing this would have put me into shock. However, after seventy years of experiencing what this world has had to throw at me, it didn’t scare me in the least. I knew it would not hurt. This is the age of “painless dentistry.” It wasn’t always this way.

Some of my worst childhood memories involve visits to the dentist. There were always cavities to be drilled and filled, which to me, was the most excruciating torture imaginable at the time. To me, the toothpaste commercial where the kid says, "Look ma, no cavities!" was the stuff of pure fiction and Bucky "Brusha, Brusha, Brusha" Beaver was simply a pawn used by Ipana to fool kids into thinking it would prevent them from undergoing torture at the dentist.

My first warning of an upcoming torture session was the so-called “appointment reminder” postcard that would show up in the mail every six months. Then for the next couple of weeks the fear and dread would build until it was time to make the short trip. My siblings and I would get in my mother’s Buick and she would drive us to Dawson, a small southwest Georgia town about 20 miles from our home of Cuthbert. The torture chamber was on the second floor of an old two-story brick office building. If I had known at the time how Mayan captives were once led up the pyramid steps before being sacrificed by the high priest I could have identified with them as I walked up the creaky wooden steps to the dentist’s office.

The dentist was a distant cousin with whom I shared the same last name. Because of this relationship and what my father (an M.D.) called “professional courtesy” (a term heard very little these days), there was never any charge for the torture that I would learn to endure. The dentist’s first name was Fain, somewhat Dickinsonian sounding, but my siblings and I called him “Dr. Pain,” not to his face, of course.

His dental assistant/hygienist’s name was Ruby. She was not related to us; however, I do believe that she may have been kin to Vlad the Impaler. Before Dr. Pain was allowed to do his evil work, Ruby would first prepare me by “cleaning” my teeth. She would place my head in a hammerlock, squeezing one side of it head into her ample bosom in order to hold me still. Once she was done chiseling and picking at my teeth with her metal implements of torture she would use an old cable-driven drill (only 30,000 rpm vs. todays pneumatic drills at 300,000 rpm) and “polish” my teeth with an abrasive substance. After rinsing and spitting out the blood, my teeth and mouth would be sprayed with a most vile tasting fluoride solution (this was before it was put in the drinking water).

After Ruby had softened me up and broken my spirit, the grinning Dr. Pain would enter the room, wash his hands (there were no gloves), and examine the tray of sharp metal instruments, which had been placed in front of me in order to scare me. After deciding which one to use first, Igor Ruby would hold my head, Dr. Pain would say “Open,” and the torture would begin with the sharp metal probes. When he located a sensitive spot (he knew because I would stiffen and pop-out in a sweat) he would push the sharp metal probe deeper and wiggle it around, sending even more sharp, electric-like pain throughout my entire body. I would have immediately confessed had I only known what he wanted me to say. Once Dr. Pain had found all of the sensitive sites in my mouth he would say, “This will not take long, so we will not waste use Novacaine.” A Kleenex tissue would be placed in my hands (had it not gotten in his way, it would have been a bullet between my teeth) and the drilling would begin. After he was satisfied that he had induced all the pain possible, he would hide the drill and attempt to cover the evidence of his dirty work by filling up the holes he had created in my teeth with some type of  “cement,” as he called it. White (if it would “show”) or a poisonous mercury compound (if it would not “show”).

When he finally tired, my mother would be called into the chamber. Dr. Pain would tell my mother, “He has soft teeth,” after which she would thank him for “taking care” of me. I have often wondered if she would have continued to take me to him every six months if she had known what was actually going on. I would like to think she would have not.

Thankfully, my last trip to the dentist didn’t require the root canal or titanium rod. Just because I no longer have to endure the pain doesn’t mean I like it.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Traveling Blues

I made my last post (Time Travel) from Coyote Ranch RV Park in Wichita Falls, TX but only told of the day I visited Fort Sill, OK. As it turned out, the trip to and from Wichita Falls was not without unexpected delays. I don’t normally make two posts in such a short time, but there are exceptions to every rule.

Our RV club rally was to begin on Monday evening so we decided to leave Sunday afternoon and make it an easy two day drive (only 310 miles). We left Nacogdoches about 3:00 PM last Sunday. It was a nice day, we were in no hurry, and I drove a rather sedate 62 MPH (slow for me) most of the way. We stopped for the night 200-miles and four-and-a-half hours later at a Walmart in Denton, TX. That left only 110-miles to drive Monday morning, allowing us to arrive rested and relaxed. Monday morning we entered the RV park address into our Rand McNally RV GPS. It is made especially for RVs because they can’t always follow the same routes as automobiles. This GPS allows for your rig’s height, length, and weight when calculating what should be a safe and sensible route for the RV. Now, it doesn’t always work out the way it should. I have been led completely around a city block only to end up right where I started, I have been instructed to turn onto non-existent roads that would have had me driving across fields and woods, it has attempted to route our 26,000-pound motorhome onto a road with a 12,000-pound load limit bridge, and it has informed me that the area in which I was driving has not yet been mapped. In other words, it would appear that the database still has a few bugs. However, we had no reason to believe that it would not lead us safely and accurately to Coyote RV Park in Wichita Falls.

Entering Wichita Falls from the south on US 287 North (a limited-access, divided highway) we could see two very large billboard-size Coyote Ranch RV Park Signs on the left. Randie (the female GPS voice) instructed us to take the next exit (Fisher Road - remember that name). We drove up the exit ramp to the stop sign at Fisher Road. A few feet to the right of the stop sign was a very small sign sporting an arrow pointing to the left and the words “RV Park” beneath it. However, Randie was telling us to make a right turn, which didn’t make much sense to me. It made more sense to turn left, cross the overpass, and return to US 287 on the southbound side and drive back toward the large signs where I assumed we would find the RV park. I pointed this out to Carol Ann but she insisted we follow Randie’s instruction. I turned to the right.

We crossed several railroad tracks before Randie had us make another right turn onto US 287 Business (southbound). There were some curves and underpasses involved and we were led back to US 287 southbound. Randie then told us to make the next right onto Stevens Ranch Road. As I began the turn I noticed the road was dirt, contained large potholes, and required crossing two rough railroad crossings, uphill. I was already committed and had no choice but to make the turn. The two large Coyote Ranch RV Park signs were only a couple of hundred yards ahead and to my right, on the other side of a fence. I stopped after crossing the second set of tracks and checked my options. There were three. I could continue on the dirt road (but it sported a “Dead End” sign), turn right (but it sported two signs, “ONE WAY” and “DO NOT ENTER”), or the third option, which would put us back on US 287 heading north (away from the RV park).

I decided that my best option was to call the RV park to ask for directions. Lynn answered the phone and I described where I was. I let her know that I was on Stevens Ranch Road and could see the RV park signs. She didn’t seem to know where I was but as we were talking a car pulled up and a man asked if I needed help. He was very nice and told me I needed to get on US 287 North and exit at Fisher Road. He even agreed to guide me. “Follow me,” he said. We followed him back onto the highway and as we approached Fisher Road he gesticulated wildly with his left arm out the window, letting us know that we should exit there. I did so and we found ourselves right back where we had been earlier when Randie told us to turn right. We were sitting at the stop sign for Fisher Road. As before, Randie was telling us to make a right turn. This time I convinced Carol Ann that a left turn was in order. I turned left and as expected, it put us back on US 287 but headed south. After driving south for two miles Randie instructed us to make a right turn. This was when I realized it was the same rough dirt road we had turned onto after our first trip down Fisher Road (when we turned right). This time, instead of turning onto the very rough dirt road as directed, I passed it and continued southbound until I could find a crossover and return to US 287 North. It wasn’t long before we were once again, for the third time, exiting onto Fisher Road. While we were sitting at the now familiar stop sign trying to decide what to do a car pulled alongside the RV. It was the same guy who had led us back to Fisher Road earlier! We told him that we were still unable to find the RV park. “Follow Me. I’ll take you right to the gate!” he said. We turned left followed him across the overpass and back down onto US 287 and headed south again. Only this time he exited to the right before we reached the dirt railroad crossing. It was a Stevens Ranch Road exit of which Randie was apparently unaware. The good Samaritan did as promised and took us right up to the RV Park entrance. The third time was a charm. We had made it!

That night at supper we related our story to the other club members and learned we were not the only ones who had trouble finding the entrance to the park. Apparently most GPSs led their owners over the same obstacle course. Two of the couples related stories of a woman leading them onto the “ONE WAY” “DO NOT ENTER” road (turns out it was only for a very short distance) directly to the RV Park entrance. We would be able to attend our rally after all.

We were in good spirits as we left the park on Friday morning. Since Monday, we had learned how to find our way into and out of the RV park. We exited the park on on US 287 North, drove a couple of miles, and exited at Fisher Road-turn,” likes to “make a legal U-turn,” as the GPS likes to say. I was ready to turn left at the stop sign and cross the overpass to get on US 287 South but Randie wanted us to turn right again. Carol Ann said we should do as Randie said. I turned right. We crossed a set of railroad tracks, and after a couple of hundred yards stopped at another set of tracks to find the last half of the last car of a train of grain cars (hoppers) was blocking the turn onto US 287 South Business. I pulled up to and stopped just short of the red and white striped signal arm blocking the way. The front of the train was around a curve and could not be seen. The time was somewhere in the neighborhood of 10:50 or 10:55 AM, the temperature was only 73 degrees, and the sky was beautiful. After a few minutes I switched off the engine to save fuel. I said nothing to Carol Ann to suggest we should have turned left instead of right but after about ten minutes I was beginning to become a little impatient. I noticed a sign on the crossing signal. It displayed an 800 toll-free number and a location identification number. The 800 number could be called to report a signal malfunction. I decided to call the number to find out how long the train intended to sit at the crossing. The call was answered by a man in a maintenance department and I related the situation to him. He was very polite and transferred the call to the Burlington and Northern Railroad. Again the phone was answered by a very polite man to whom I once again related the problem. He transferred me to the dispatcher who, I was told, would be able to give me an answer. I explained the situation for the third time to the dispatcher who checked his computer and told me that the train was adding cars, was almost done, and would be moving soon. I asked him if “soon” meant five to ten minutes or half an hour or more. He said he had no way of knowing (then how did he know it would be moving soon?). I suppose it would move when it moved. I thanked him and hung up. We had been sitting at the crossing for a little over ten minutes by this time. There was nothing else I could do. There was no room to urn around and backing up the motorhome while towing a car was impossible.

The last half of the last car at location 274996P, Fisher Road, Wichita Falls, TX
After twenty minutes of waiting I became resigned to the idea that we could be there for a long time and tried not to stress over it. It actually wasn’t so bad and I decided to make a mental list of what we had going for us.
·      We were the first in line to go once the crossing was clear (actually we were the only ones in line – everyone else must have known about this crossing).
·      We could extend our slide-out rooms and awnings and sit outside enjoying the nice weather.
·      We had provisions for three or four days and enough cat food for weeks (not for us – for the two cats with us) so food wasn’t a problem.
·      We had half a tank (45 or 50 gallons) of diesel to run our generator for electricity. At one gallon per hour we could go for at least two days, three if we didn’t run it all night.
·      With the electricity we would have air conditioning, lights, microwave, television, radio, and the ability to keep our iPhones and laptops charged.
·      We had our own bathroom and bedroom.
·      Our waste tanks were empty but so was the fresh water tank. Water would be the key to our survival. We had almost a gallon of milk, about half a gallon of iced tea, maybe a dozen sodas, and two bottles of wine. We could ration the liquids to make them last three or four days if necessary. The wine would be last, to make the end a little easier.
·      We could signal for help with our emergency road flares should the situation become too desperate.
After thirty-five minutes of waiting, I happened to look in my rear view mirror and discovered we were boxed in. Another train was crossing on the tracks behind us. Once it had passed I expected “our” (I had begun to think of it that way) train to move. But it didn’t happen right away.
It wasn’t until 11:40 AM that the train began to move and we were allowed to head home. Our wait had amounted to at least forty-five minutes. I have no idea how long the train had been there when we arrived. Fortunately, it had not been necessary to resort to the emergency measures, but it is always good to be ready, just in case.
BNSF (Burlington Northern/Santa Fe) RR spokesman Gus Melonas says a 10-minute rule is the railway’s internal policy for freight trains. Melonas also said that vehicle drivers may call BNSF’s network operations center (800-832-5452) if a train is blocking an intersection for longer than 10-minutes. That’s the number that should be on the sign, not the number for reporting malfunctioning signals!
By the way, while researching on the Internet, I learned that railroad crossing regulations vary from state to state, but most states allow no longer than twenty minutes for a train to block a crossing (per Warren Flatau, Federal Railroad Administration spokesman). Section 471.007 of the Texas Transportation Code makes it a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $100 to $300 for obstructing the crossing for longer than ten minutes. However, the state statute was overturned by the fifth Circuit court of Appeals in 2001, because state law is trumped by federal law (federal law places no time limit on crossing obstructions). The Texas Attorney General ruled in 2005 that the Texas law was unenforceable.
I may have to write some letters – if I can determine to whom I should write. It would seem logical to write the Texas Railroad Commission except the agency website identifies its programs as alternative fuels, mining, oil field cleanup fund, oil & gas, pipeline, propane, liquefied gas, and compressed gases – but no mention of railroads. The Railroad Commission’s website also allows one to submit online complaints regarding coal mining, uranium explorations, and gas bills – but not railroads. They need to change the commission’s name. Maybe I’ll just write to Rand McNally and vent about Randie giving us inadequate directions.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Time Travel

Carol Ann and I have been in Wichita Falls attending an RV club rally since Monday. Today was a free day so I tried to go back in time 45-years by traveling one-hour north to Fort Sill, OK.

In 1969 I spent eight weeks at Fort Sill learning how to be a “fire direction control specialist,” or MOS (Military Occupation Specialty) 13E20 but found nothing today to jog any memories of that time. In the spring of 1969 I was assigned to Delta Battery of the 7th Training Battalion (D-7 it was called). That unit is no longer active and there is no longer a 13E20 MOS. Almost everything has been remodeled, torn down and rebuilt, or otherwise changed over the past 45 years – including my memory.

While at Fort Sill chasing my youth we visited the US Army Field Artillery Museum where I had hoped to find something familiar. The museum’s displays cover the history of artillery from the very beginning to the current time. Only a small portion is devoted to the Vietnam War, but it did include the 155mm howitzer, towed, and the Field Artillery Digital Automatic Computer (FADAC). I was familiar with the artillery piece because I spent thirteen-months in a 155mm howitzer battalion (the 2nd/11th Field Artillery Battalion) attached to the 101st Airborne Division, Airmobile, at Camp Eagle, near Phu Bai, in the Republic of Vietnam (which no longer exists).

The FADAC was the first fire direction computer ever built. The Army called it the M18 Gun Direction computer. It was a very rudimentary portable (at about 200 pounds) computer that calculated firing data for a battery of six guns. Only after mastering the manual computations using slide rules ("slip sticks"), firing tables (similar to log tables), and trigonometric calculations were we taught to use the FADAC. As you may imagine, computers in the 60’s were extremely slow, the FADAC being no exception. It was so slow that two manual fire missions could be calculated in the time it took the FADAC to calculate one. The FADAC was also an extremely sensitive piece of equipment and experienced a lot of down time. Maintenance was frequent and the need for repair common. Its poor reliability coupled with its slow speed meant it was used very little in Vietnam – especially when troops in the field were screaming for artillery support “NOW.”

In the April 1969 issue of Fort Sill's "The Field Artilleryman,"an article by MAJ Martell D. Fritz stated:
"The M18 Gun Direction Computer (FADAC) has become the primary means of computing firing data for artillery units in Southeast Asia. The FADAC is a general purpose computer and will perform any computational task for which a program has been written and inserted into memory."
(I added the emphasis as a bit of sarcasm because the Major either didn't know what he was talking about or was simply repeating what the brass wanted to hear.)

Here are a few photos I took in the museum.  The quality is poor but I will blame that on the museum's poor lighting.

"Slip Sticks"

FADAC (side view)
The "Matrix"
Number keyboard (looks "homemade")
The museum’s FADAC is the only one remaining in existence. At some point in time, after I had left the Army, all of the FADACs were rounded up by the U.S. Department of Energy and disposed of as HAZARDOUS WASTE because of the use of radium (a radioactive element) on the dials. So, in addition to Agent Orange and god knows what else, I have also been exposed to ionizing radiation. Hopefully, in such small amounts as to cause no harm.

After leaving the museum we drove to the Food Court (open to civilians) at the main PX. There were about half a dozen fast food outlets and several shops at the entrance to the PX. It was similar to a shopping mall with the PX being one of the mall’s anchor stores. There was nothing like this in 1969. But I do remember walking to a much smaller PX with my buddies, sitting at a picnic table in the beer garden, and drinking from quart bottles of Coors Beer (3.2% military) under the cottonwoods in the afternoon after classes. In some respects I miss that. After all, it was my youth, and it completely changed my life.