Posts Tagged With: travel

Car Trip

imageHere we are, in New Mexico. Most of my posts on this blog will be about RVs and RVing, but the need came up to take a trip to Florida to see my father in law. He’s in poor health, and since we won’t have our RV for at least another 4 months or so, we decided to get out to Florida now instead of waiting.

The question became – how to get out there? We looked into flying, but want to take our dog with us. Flying with the dog is expensive, and sounded like a real pain in the neck. Taking a train or bus sounded like it would be just as big of a problem as flying with the dog. Then it popped into my head – why not just do a car trip? I mentioned the idea to Laura, half expecting her to say no way. She loved the idea.

The car we have is the only reason I didn’t consider this first. It’s old. We are driving our 2001 Pontiac Grand Prix GTP. It’s low mileage for a 2001 car, thanks to proximity to my old job. It just turned 79,000 miles pretty recently. I bought this car brand new, using my GM Employee discount – a legacy from the time when GM owned Hughes Aircraft Company, which they continue to renew. Guess they need the customers.

The Pontiac looks pretty good inside and out, mainly because it’s spent most of the time either in the garage, or in parking structures at work. This car has rarely been in the sun for very long.

The car has had some problems, and some recent work. It has a supercharger which started leaking fluid. I could smell it….this fluid is an unusual oil that really stinks when it gets hot. I did some research on the internet and found that the supercharger could be rebuilt pretty easily, so I decided the go down that road myself. Now that I’m retired I have the time, and although it’s been a few years, I’ve done a lot of car work in the past. I used to be somewhat of a gear head when my job wasn’t keeping me late all the time.

As I was getting ready to pull the supercharger off of the engine, I saw that I had a mixture of oil and antifreeze leaking out around my intake manifold. Not great. I dived back onto the internet and started researching that problem. I didn’t like what I found. Ignoring that problem could eventually lead to water in the engine oil and hydro lock. I’ve rebuilt an engine before (a 400 cu in Ford V8 that was in a truck I used to own). That was back when I had a single family house with a three car garage. It would be tough to do at our condo. The good news – I found great instructions on replacing the lower intake manifold gasket, and I didn’t have to pull the engine out of the car to do it. It is possible to do that job at the condo – I can back the car into the garage and have enough room to work in the engine compartment.

What caused the problem? This makes me mad. GM decided to save a few dollars per car on their 3800 Series V6 engines by using a plastic intake manifold gasket instead of a metal one. These gaskets get too hot, and they always fail eventually. This usually happens between 70,000 and 80,000 miles (gee, fancy that, just like clockwork). Up in Canada, the government forced GM to recall all of these bad engines. The US Government didn’t do this. Urrrgggg. This engine was widely used in Pontiac and Buick mid-sized cars. Other than this problem, the car has been great – probably the best car I’ve ever had, and certainly the most fun to drive. It’s like a little muscle car. Mileage around town isn’t great, especially if you drive it hard, but on the open road I get 27-29 mpg.

I tore into the job of fixing both the intake manifold gasket and supercharger, and replaced a lot of other small things that made sense while I had it taken apart – belts, thermostat, vacuum hoses, and the like. Of course I used a metal intake manifold gasket on the job, so I should not have this problem again. The job took about a week to do, but I could probably do it in about 2-3 days now that I know how.

Shortly after this job got done, I had the front tires and brakes replaced, as well as the right front wheel bearing, which was just starting to make noise. The left front wheel bearing had been changed out about a year ago. Bottom line, this car is probably in the best shape it will ever be. Good time for a road trip.

We just finished our second day of driving. So far, so good. The car is running great. It likes to run fast. I have to pay attention to keep it under 90 mph. We’ve been running 75-85 mph most of the way.  We still have a long way to go, but I’m optimistic that the Pontiac will get us all the way to Florida and back without any major issues.

Categories: Life on the Road | Tags: | 5 Comments

Bertha, You’re Going Down

file0001383361696I’m sitting on the bed in the Best Western here in Las Cruces, New Mexico.  Izzy, our pup, is sighing contentedly (or else she is just bored) beside me.

Bob sits at the room’s desk with his laptop – mine is open on my lap (d’oh! It’s a LAP top, not a DESK top).

We’re a couple days into our trip, and tired at 4 p.m.  Part of it is the landscape.  I-10 is, at least at this point, a very boring drive.  I think we have one more day of boredom, across the Texas desert, until we get to San Antonio and then as we advance east, as the land gets greener and there are more rolling hills, it should be more interesting.

However, this is my land.  I was born in Phoenix at St. Joseph’s Hospital and I lived for about eight months in El Paso, Texas a million years ago.  I think I was 19, maybe 20.  That shouldn’t be so remote, but once you reach your 50’s, your late teens and early 20’s start fading a bit.  I’ve lived most of my life in Southern California and since I live in a beach community, I cannot complain at all, but the desert still draws me in.

I still have an elderly aunt and two cousins who live in the Phoenix area.  We were just passing through, so no contact this direction, but we may see my aunt at least on our way back.

The temperatures have been surprising, but I’m not sure why – the days are nice, in the 70’s although here in New Mexico, the high seems to be in the low 60’s.  The nights are cold.  Winter in the desert is exactly like that – which means it’s actually cooler than my beachy home by the Pacific.  I’m so used to scorching temperatures over 100 (but it’s a DRY HEAT) that getting out of the car at a rest stop, we had to grab sweaters to walk the dog around.  I guess that’s my surprise – the truth and the facts do not match my expectations and memory.

Because there hasn’t been much to look at through the car window, we’ve been listening to a podcast that Bob somehow found, The RV Navigator.  Ken and Martha do the podcast and you can tell they always have a good time – not that they’re boozy or cracking jokes, but in the quiet way of a couple who are truly enjoying their retirement and each other.  They love to travel all over the world, so not just in an RV; they refer to cruising as “RVs on steroids.”  Never would have thought to put it that way, but I guess you can justify that you’re just going to travel in your steroidal RV when you hit the cruise line or fly to India.  I’m not sure I’ll ever be quite that ambitious in my travel plans.

Nine years ago we went to London – it was Bob’s first time and my second.  On the advice of a friend who traveled a lot, we bought a massive Samsonite suitcase which we named Bertha.  Bertha has been our go-to piece of luggage on all our trips, as she basically carries anything and everything for both of us, so we only have to worry about one piece.  However, she’s big and unwieldy, and wedging her into and out of the trunk of the car has proven to be just too much.  “No more,” Bob has already declared, as she is threatening to throw his back out in one of these machinations.  The final straw, though, came today when the handle at the top of the luggage snapped off.  Now, he has to wrangle it kitty-corner-wise to lift it up and over the lip of the trunk because it has no handle.  Let’s face it, Bertha’s a bitch.

And she’s going down.

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Half the fun (okay a little less than half)

An Atlas Page

An Atlas Page

I love maps and atlases.

When I was a kid, I could get lost in the Rand McNally Atlas’ pages.  What was it like in the middle of Kansas or Nebraska?  Where did state route 11 go?

I would imagine the people who lived in these (to me) exotic locales.  Were they having a type of simple fun like catching fireflies in jars and picking blackberries in the woods, or were they living lives of domestic drudgery, clothespinning sheets on the line and handwashing dishes?  Did they enjoy math and hate p.e.?  Did they spend their summers working on the farm?  Did they wonder about a person like me?

I suppose, growing up in the suburbs, that I spent more time imagining the life of those living in small towns somewhere in the south or midwest.  Somewhere that was leafy and green during the summer and probably cold and even snowy in the winter.  Definitely something different than my Southern California life!

So planning a trip allows me to indulge my map and atlas obsession (I wrote “fetish” but that’s just way creepier than I think it is).  I take a day-glo highlighter and trace over I-10 from Los Angeles all the way to I-75 in Florida and then south to Ocala, which is somewhat north of The Villages.

Just to be clear, there is no specific place on my Florida atlas that says “The Villages”.  It makes you think it is more of a state of mind than place, but that’s not true.  My dad has a postal address of The Villages, Florida.  What The Villages really is, though, is a huge amount of developed land that crosses three counties and encompasses many different communities of senior citizens.  I think he said it’s the largest senior citizen community in the Untied States.  Which I believe.  You keep driving and run into varied village squares, state of the art medical facilities, and golf carts.

Ahh.  The golf carts.  Most garages have special places to park them (they are garages and a half); there are golf cart pathways snaking around and through the various villages; and you can decide to have a “mercedes” or “woody” golf cart to impress your friends and fellow carters.  They are much more than just a way to get from the first to the 19th hole.

You would be excused if you begin to think they have the right of way over cars – because let’s face it, they do.

So this is where we are headed to.  This state of mind and place where golf carts rule and you probably have to travel a ways to find a decent Starbucks.  Where Dr. Pepper rules over Pepsi or Coca Cola and grits are a substitute for hashbrowns – always.

And where the early bird special is just called supper.

Categories: Travel Plans | Tags: | 2 Comments

A Road Trip? Yes, Please.


I mentioned my father in the last post about our elderly parents. He’s 83 and not in great health.

He started smoking when he was 11, rolling his own. He quit awhile back when he was told if he didn’t, he’d die and pretty soon.

Not that the threat of death stops smokers.  I have a close girlfriend who was told the same thing and she decided to continue smoking – she died in April of this year from severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (yes, the elephant on the chest – COPD). And she was only 57.

But in my dad’s case, the threat worked.   The damage to his cardiovascular system was done but stopping  smoking staved off additional damage that would have hastened his death.

So two big problems – a dissection in the descending aorta (a rare condition, and the one that killed the actor John Ritter), and then as that stabilized and the doctors decided not to repair it surgically, he was told his ejection fraction rate is lowering over time.  A normal ejection fraction (a measure of blood flow through the ventricles) is 50-65 and my dad’s is like 17.

My understanding is that eventually as his EF goes even lower, he will probably die from I guess a heart attack.  I’m not clear on exactly what might kill him.  I’m also not clear on why they say there is no further treatment available, whether that is a medical decision or one based on his age.

What I know is that he sounds very labored on the phone, like he’s trying to catch his breath and he reports that he has to stop and sit or lie down frequently.  He just doesn’t have all that much energy and gets winded quickly.  That’s not good.

He says he’s ready to die.   He’s more religious than he was, so I guess he’s comforted by his belief in heaven and of meeting those who have gone before him, including his parents and his beloved third wife (he’s currently remarried – a surprise for everybody).

So when we got a note on a birthday card that said “Come visit – we’re getting old” we took notice.  I don’t know if this will be the last time I see him before he passes away, or just a nice trip.

Which is why this retirement stuff becomes important.  It’s like, “Wait a minute, we’re retired, so we could take our time going cross country, visiting and then returning.”  Well . . . yeah.  We could do that.

So next week, we’ll hit the road and begin to post about our adventures.  Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to get a motorhome yet, so this trip will be in the car and stopping at motels.  The nice part is that Izzy will be part of our trip.

Oddly, or maybe not, with both of my parents smoking (and my nearly 80-year-old mother still smoking), I never started.  I had other vices of course (cheesecake, anyone?), but cigarettes were never one of them.  I’m thankful for that, but when it came to my son, he started smoking at 19 and although he’s tried quitting with variable results, he’s smoked on and off for the past ten years.  I had no idea it skipped generations.

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