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 (

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Airlines are Alive and Well

We recently returned to Texas from our trip out to LA to visit with our son and his fiancĂ© and to meet his in-laws-to-be. Each leg of the flight was about two and a half hours, the seats in United’s Economy section were not comfortable, and there was not enough room for me to change positions to prevent my butt from going to sleep. I am of average height, five feet ten inches, and my knees almost touched the seatback in front of me. My wife and I raised the armrest between us to gain a couple of inches but we still bumped elbows. 

We did not check any luggage. The fee for one checked-bag was $50 and up to $200 for an “oversized” bag (I don’t know what that means). An "overweight" bag (I don't know what that means either) could have cost up to $400. Each of us carried a personal item, which would fit beneath the seat in front of us, and a carryon bag that met United's size requirements. I was relieved not to be carrying any deer antlers or a vaulting pole. Those would have cost an extra $150 to $200 each to check. The fee was the same ($150 to $200) to check a bicycle, kiteboard, surfboard, or wind sailboard. I had none of those either.

We purchased our tickets through one of the many on-line services and downloaded the boarding passes to our iPhones. Had we desired paper tickets, the fee was $50 per ticket. By purchasing on-line we also avoided the $25 fee per ticket to purchase from United by phone. The fee to purchase at United's City Ticket Office is $30 and $35 to purchase it in person at United's airport counter.

Our boarding passes assigned us to boarding group four on each leg of the flight. I was afraid that by the time we reached the aircraft door we would be made to check our carryons. I was relieved when we were able to board with the bags. I went through my ritual of looking for the “Airworthiness Certificate” as I entered the aircraft. The FAA requires it to be posted in a conspicuous location near the door. The certificate shows the aircraft's date of manufacture and I feel much better on a flight if the plane was manufactured in this century. However, I was unable to spot the certificate before being forced down the aisle so would just have to keep my fingers crossed. When we reached our assigned aisle there was no room in the overhead luggage bins, requiring me to find space for our bags near the rear of the plane. This meant having to wait for everyone to exit the aircraft before being able to retrieve our bags.

On the back of the seat in front of me was an HD video display that showed the same trailers and ads over and over and over. At the end of each round, the words “SWIPE CARD” were displayed. I still see these words when I close my eyes. United does offer Internet access on some of their aircraft, including the one we were on. I thought I would surf the Internet instead of watching a movie but there was a fee for access so I decided to read instead.

Since it had been a few years since I last flew, the number of additional fees surprised me. In addition to the fees already mentioned, I could have upgraded to Economy Plus (there are sixteen different pricing options for Economy Plus) to get an additional five inches of legroom. Had I not wished to stand in line while waiting to board, I could have paid a fee to moved from boarding group four to boarding group one. I wonder what would have happen if every passenger on the flight had paid not to stand in line?

Lunch was offered on each leg of the flight, for a fee of about $10 for a sandwich or cheese plate. There were no snacks (such as peanuts or pretzels) offered, but at least the soft drinks were free.

Each additional fee can also result in a separate charge to your credit card (they are not added to the ticket price for a single charge). To avoid the hassle of paying the additional baggage fees, United offers a “Subscription” starting at $349 per year. You can also buy a “Subscription” for more legroom (Economy Plus) for $499 per year. At least United has not yet begun to charge a fee for seat selection. Some airlines charge up to $99 for the privilege of selecting a seat when buying the ticket.

A bit of research revealed that airline fees have increased by 1,200% since 2007, when there was no fee for checking a bag on United. This gigantic leap in fees was facilitated by the $2.5 billion that American, Delta, United, and US Airways have charged since 2007 in bag fees alone.

I did not use the restroom or the power outlet provided between the seats on either leg of the trip. I was afraid there would be a fee for use.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Spread 'Em!

Carol Ann and I will be heading out to California Thursday morning. We will be traveling on an airplane rather than in the motorhome. This will be a quick trip out and back-- only four nights. The reason for the trip is to meet our son's in-laws-to-be (should help us recognize them at the wedding in February). Rob, our son, and Kasey, his fiance, will meet us at LAX and we will spend two nights with them in Marina Del Rey and then two nights with Kasey's parents in Newport Beach. Rob has just about every minute of our visit planned out, he hates for us to have free time for naps and such.  Such a waste of time.  Not really.  He actually does a very good job of keeping us entertained. One afternoon he will take us out in his Hunter 45CC sailboat, which should be a lot of fun -- if it's not too much like work. Rob also plans to take us to an indoor Go Kart track where we will all drive electric Go Karts on a concrete track. Sounds like fun. Then, on Saturday afternoon in Newport Beach he has scheduled a gondola cruise of the harbor. He said all we have to do is sit in the boat and drink for a couple of hours while some guy with an accent and funny hat drives the boat. Hopefully, we will be celebrating Georgia's victory over Missouri. The game will be on TV at 9AM Saturday. I've never watched a football game so early in the morning. It just doesn't seem right.

One thing that concerns me about this trip is the flight. I haven't been on an airplane in a long time and am a bit anxious about getting through the TSA security check(s). Things like that always make me nervous, even though I have nothing to hide. I'm afraid that the Houston Intercontinental airport TSA agents will notice my nervousness and think I'm hiding something. I don't want to be singled out for a strip search behind a little curtain.

I've been singled out before for "additional screening." At Shreveport's airport, after removing shoes, belt, jacket, and emptying my pockets I still set off the metal detector. I was taken behind a "privacy screen" and told to unbutton and unzip my jeans, whereupon they checked every single rivet in my jeans to make sure they really were rivets.

At the ticket counter in London's Heathrow airport I gave the wrong answer to the question, "Has your luggage been with you the entire time since it was packed (or similar)?" and was immediately whisked away by two uniformed gentlemen with my luggage to a small room where I was searched and my luggage unpacked, inspected, and x-rayed. I suppose they have to find something after going to that much trouble so they were quite excited when they found the nail clippers that were "hidden" in my luggage. My nail clippers were confiscated and I was properly chastised about my attempt to carry a deadly weapon aboard the flight before allowing me to continue to the boarding gate.

I was also pulled out of a line of autos at the Mexico/US border (by "our" guys!) because I was in a rental car. The car was searched and x-rayed but there was nothing to find so I was allowed to re-enter the US.

I do hope that I am not perspiring when I get to the security checkpoint tomorrow. I would really rather not be isolated for suspected Ebola! 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

"Plant a tree, a bush, or a shrub" (Lady Bird Johnson)

It has been almost three weeks since my last post, my only post during the month of September actually, and just in case anybody missed me, I'm still alive. My time has been dominated by moving into our new house. It's only about a five minute drive from the old house so we have made an untold number of trips hauling "stuff" to the new house. We have a six-passenger Chevy Traverse that we have been using like a truck. With the back four seats laid down to make a cargo bed you would be surprised what one can haul in that vehicle. Sam, my son-in-law, used his construction trailer to haul some of the big stuff and we hired a local mover to move the "precious" things (great grandma's "antiques"). All of the little stuff is being moved in our car. It is a bit frustrating when after umpteen trips the new house is filling up and we seem to have made only a dent in the old house! From 4,800 square feet to 2,600 square feet is challenging. What to take, what to throw away, and what to sell. There is enough furniture left in the old house to "stage" the house, in hopes that doing so will help sell the house. Once it is sold we will have a humonguous "We Ain't Dead Yet" estate sale.

Time not spent totin' stuff has been spent working on the landscaping of the new house. I'm trying to get a lot done before winter in order to have a head start once spring arrives. I have sowed (or sown?) the front yard with annual winter ryegrass seed, which should hold the soil in place and give me a rich green lawn this winter (I wonder what it's like to mow grass in the winter?). I will plant a more permanent kind of grass in the spring. The back yard is quite small and we have covered it and the side yard in something like pea gravel, but a tad larger. Much of my time has been spent building flower beds and planting all sorts of plants. I visited a wholesale nursery and went a little crazy. I must not have been thinking about having to dig a hole for each plant I bought.  I purchased just a few each of bottlebrush, dwarf fountain grass, rosemary, nandina, and Texas sage, to name a few. But I bought thirty-five crapemyrtles (Red Rocket), twenty-eight jasmine (a mix of Carolina and Confederate), a dozen spirea (Bumalda and Prunifolia), and fourteen red yuccas. I also bought a red oak, three Japanese maples, and three Chinese Pistache trees. All in all, about one-hundred and twenty plants (I still have about twenty left to plant). I have moved many wheelbarrow loads of dirt and shoveled a mountain of mulch (I had ten cubic yards delivered). Each day I spend about an hour watering the plants to keep the Texas sun and drought from killing everything. I have installed a drip irrigation system in one of the completed beds and plan on doing so in the other beds before I'm finished. This is all rather new to me as I have never enjoyed working in the yard. Strangely though, I have found that I am actually enjoying the work now and am rather proud to state that so far I have lost only one plant out of the entire lot.

The Stephen F. Austin State University (SFA), located here in Nacogdoches, is home to the Pineywoods Native Plant Center, which will have its annual fall plant sale this Saturday. I know I shouldn't, but I plan to be there when the doors open.