June 28, 2017

Seeing Gods Country

Posted on January 15, 2013 by in God's Country

Seeing Gods Country

Chicago, Land of Ice and Snow

This story is about the first time the Boss and I went to Chicago, Illinois and all of the strange and sometimes funny events that took place… which is really how this whole Seeing God’s Country column came about in the first place.

It was a Friday afternoon as I remember when the money phone rang and we were blessed with a long trip to Chicago. I went down to Galveston and picked up the load of copper tubing while the Boss packed us up for the trip. When I signed for the load the copper company didn’t have a delivery address for me, which I thought was strange. They told me that a man was going to off load me in Chicago and that the copper was actually going to an apartment complex in Indiana. They gave me a phone number to call when I was within 30 minutes of downtown Chicago.

I said OK and off I went to pick up the Boss and Bob, our dog. The copper company employee explained to me that this was the second copper load for this particular company in the last two days. My real Boss was running a flatbed one ton truck at the time, and he too left for Chicago with a load the day before. He also said that there had been a blizzard in Chicago the day before and the snow on the ground was deep. Panic! Panic! I don’t like to drive in snow, so I began praying for good weather right then and there.

It was late in the afternoon when we got started, and I didn’t tell the Boss about the snow storm. No sense in worrying her. So it was me, the Boss and Bob in a 1999 Dodge Quad Cab 2500 diesel pick-up truck with 2500 pounds of 20 foot copper tubing on the pipe rack along with all of our clothing and jackets. Now understand that Bob is a very large Bull Mastiff and at that time he weighed about eight five pounds, so we were a little crowded. I drove from home across Texas to Louisiana on I-10 and then we split off onto I-12 in Baton Rouge and rode it all the way to I-55 and then headed north before I gave it up and asked the Boss to take over. By this time it was daylight, and the last thing I remember telling her before I drifted off asleep was don’t get stopped by the police.

Within just a few minutes, she was hollering for me to wake up because we were being stopped. I immediately asked her if she was she speeding and she said no. I then saw that she wasn’t wearing her seat belt. Now in this old Dodge the seat belt shoulder strap doesn’t run from the door pillar like on a modern truck, it runs from the top of the seat and it’s most uncomfortable to wear. I myself don’t wear it either because it hurts my shoulder. We were somewhere in Mississippi and it seems that some small town had received a federal grant to work seat belt enforcement and they had been sitting in the freeway median looking for seat belt violations with binoculars. I told her to put her seat belt on and pull over. Now Bob was in the right front seat, and I was in the back seat where I had been trying to sleep. The officer walked up to the passenger side door and the boss started rolling down the window when Bob alerted and started snarling and biting at the window. I guess the officer didn’t smell just right. I grabbed his collar and pulled him down and the young officer wisely decided to go over to the driver’s side of the truck to conduct his business. He told her that he stopped her for not wearing a seat belt. I wound up having to show him my credentials to get her out of a ticket, but it ended well. The officer didn’t get eaten by Bob, the boss got out of a ticket, and I went back to sleep.

I-55 runs all the way from I-12 in Louisiana to Chicago so the Boss had a straight shot to drive. I slept long as I could in the cramped sleeping berth (the backseat) and when I woke up we had just crossed the Illinois state line. I took over the driving from this point and the Boss took her turn sleeping. We rolled into Chicago about 1:00pm on Saturday and I needed some fuel. We found a diesel pump at a convenience store and filled up. Back then the Boss was still smoking, so she told me that she wanted a carton on cigarettes. I asked the clerk for a carton of her brand and he told me it was $63.00 plus tax. My lower jaw dropped open and I decided that we just needed a couple of packs because that was almost double the price per carton for buying them back in Texas.

After we fueled up I called the phone number I had been given and the male voice on the phone gave us a location in Chicago and we headed off to that place. Naturally we couldn’t find it. (Chicago is a very big city.) This went on for about two hours before the man gave us a freeway we could actually locate. We finally just stopped in a large grocery store parking lot off the freeway and told him where we were. He sent his men to where we were. We waited about 45 minutes and I was about to doze off when someone tapped on the driver’s door window. It was a very scurrilous looking African-American male, so all of my mental alarms went off. He gave the man’s name that I had been talking to and said that he was supposed to pick-up the copper that I had on my truck. I said OK and he suggested that I follow him so he could back his bright yellow Ryder box truck up to the rear of mine so he could just slide the copper tubing off of my pipe rack into the floor of his truck. Mental alarms (something is wrong with the situation) were pounding in my head. I had him sign my proof of delivery receipt, but then I wrote down the license plate of the rental truck so if something was wrong the drivers of the truck could be traced and identified. (Turns out my instinct was right and about four months later I learned that someone had stolen the credit card of a construction company executive, and had ordered over $45,000.00 of copper tubing on his company credit card.) Talk about credit card fraud, this was a big case, and I was told that the FBI was investigating it because it crossed state lines. I got paid for making the delivery, but the copper company lost a lot of money.

Once the copper was stolen from our truck, we found a hotel that accepted dogs and we turned in to get some sleep. When we woke up the next morning and a new blanket of snow covered the parking lot of the hotel. I had to take Bob out and he literally waded out into the deep snow and hiked his leg to pee on the snow. (This is why you never eat yellow snow.) He was shocked at the deep snow and quickly did his business. I later learned that it was 14 degrees that morning. I went out to start up the old Dodge and it didn’t crank the first time I turned the key. I was in a panic about getting stranded in Chicago, so I looked at the owner’s manual and it had a cold start procedure outlined in the manual. I went through this procedure step by step and it started right up. I loved that old Dodge, they don’t make ‘em like that anymore.

We packed up and the Boss said that she wanted to go drive around Chicago and to see the Miracle Mile”. We drove around and saw some of the sights as we circled around Lake Michigan. There are little parks near the lake so we drove off into several. The Boss wanted me to drive on the paved path next to the lake and I assured her that it was not for vehicles. She kept insisting so I told her that if she would find a cop that said that it was ok, then I would do it. I saw a Chicago PD unit parked on the paved path and pulled over. She wanted me to go ask the officer if we could drive around the lake on this paved path, and I told her NOT. If she wanted to know she would have to ask and by God she got right out of the truck and asked. Naturally it wasn’t ok and I bet the officer got a big laugh at the tourist wanting to drive on the bike path. After I finished laughing at my determined spouse, we drove around downtown Chicago and saw some more sights. We had never been to the state of Indiana at that time so we took a road that pointed us that way.

That’s when we first ran into the “Tolls of Chicago”. It seemed that every road we got on there was a toll charge and when we finally got down to just a few cents left in change, we decided to get back on I-55 and head back towards Texas. (I keep a whole door full of change for the car wash, it is ridiculous the number of toll roads there.)

After getting a hotel on the outskirts of town, we left Chicago early Monday morning and headed south towards home. Since we weren’t hauling a load we took our time and made about 350 miles per day. Basically we had sort of a mini-vacation on the way home. We visited the Hennepin Canal Parkway State Park and saw how the old time mariners moved freight via water. Snow and ice were everywhere and we had a grand old time.

Chicago

Old man made canal used by the early mariners who mover cargo overland to and from Chicago via boat or barge.

Then we headed towards Oxford, Mississippi to visit with our baby daughter who was attending Ole Miss University (The Harvard of the South). This is the first time we met her beau, who would later become her husband. After leaving Oxford we found the Natchez Trace Parkway. This is a very scenic route that the Boss talked me into seeing for the first time. Now I was ready to get back home so we could get another load to somewhere, but the Boss is in charge on the return trips so we rode the Natchez Trace Parkway for quite a while. The top speed for the scenic route is 50 miles per hour at its fastest and it can slow to as low as 20 miles per hour. The old truck has a five speed manual transmission and the road was slippery due to cold weather and snow melt. We were driving along and came to a peak that had a scenic overlook. The Boss got out and walked around and Bob and I decided to stay in the warm truck.

 

IcePics

Beautiful icicles created by God in the land of ice and snow.

 

Within about two minutes from the time we stopped it began to snow. Lightly at first, but then it started coming down fast with big fat snowflakes. I being scared to drive in snow begged the Boss to hurry, but she insisted I get out and snap some pictures. I saw where the water had frozen coming out of the rocks and created beautiful icicles. We stayed there and enjoyed the snow for about an hour.

 

Snow

Snow storm on Natchez Trace Parkway

 

 

By the time we got going the road was covered with snow. I was easing along real slow trying my best to keep the old truck on the road, so we didn’t run off the road and tumble down a cliff. Within an hour we got to a lower elevation and the snow had stopped. Finally the Natchez Trace Parkway was closed due to road construction and we had to get off. The Boss was disappointed, but I was secretly happy. I just don’t like driving in the snow.

Near Jackson, Mississippi we took I-20 and headed west towards Texarkana so we didn’t have to ride I-10 all the way home. We made it home after four days, and I was glad for the rest. It was another trip that went well and made us a little money. We have been to Chicago many times since this trip, but this was our first one so we tried to see all the sights. Now when we get close to Chicago on a trip we try to detour around it because of all the tolls and the heavy traffic. Well this is all of the space the Boss has allowed for this little article, so till next time, take the side roads and enjoy the sights. Be safe out there.

 

The Working Tourist

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Run to Corpus Christi

Posted on November 26, 2012 by in God's Country

The money phone rang with a short Houston local run and I told the Boss she had been cooped up in the house too long working on the magazine.  She happily agreed with me and off we went.

We picked up the first load in Houston, and delivered it to another place in Houston.  The receiving company was supposed to receive the product, enter it into their computers, and then repackage it with some other items, and ship all of that to Galveston.  While we were waiting on that to occur our day got even better. Sometimes you’re just in right place at the right time. They got another run going to Corpus Christi and gave the Galveston run to another truck. We happily switched loads and headed out to a beautiful vacation destination.

Fajitaville

Fajitaville, beach front dining and drinking.

I hadn’t slept too well the night before, so the Boss suggested that I climb into the sleeping berth and cop a few zzzz’s, since I was gonna have to drive back tonight.  I located my pink and black eye shade blinders and dozed off for two hundred or so miles. I finally woke up and drove the last fifty miles into Corpus Christi. This partner thing really works out well for me sometimes! It was still daylight when we got there as when we drove over the large bridge near downtown and we got a great view of the aircraft carrier, the USS Lexington.When we got unloaded I asked the nice security officer if there was a good place to eat nearby. I should have asked if he knew of a good cheap place to eat. He gave us directions to Fajitaville and said he had not eaten there yet but people have told him that the food is good there. He also added that Fajitaville is right on the water near the USS Lexington. That suited the Boss just fine because she wanted to walk on the beach too. (After the load is dropped, the Boss gets “things her way” for the rest of the trip. I find it’s a good compromise for having a great partner to drive with me.)

 

Fajitaville is a three story building with a patio bar on the first (sand) level.  The next level (2nd floor) is the family dining level, and the third level (3rd floor) is an over 21 club. When you walk into the place a hostess greets you and questions you to discover what your pleasure is for the visit. Then we all boarded the elevator car together, and she walked us all the way to our table.  That’s a first for me and the Boss, it’s a high level of service in my opinion. The second floor walls are all glass windows on three sides that face the Gulf of Mexico and the USS Lexington.  I’m almost certain that I’ve seen this particular view of the USS Lexington in a TV commercial put out by the Corpus Christi Chamber of Commerce a few years ago.  It’s a great view and makes you want to linger over your dinner.

 

The Boss ordered a steak and shrimp meal called the Big Eye Rib Eye.  It’s a grilled 12 oz. prime cut rib eye steak complimented with a couple of bacon wrapped shrimp.  Now I know that the Boss is never able to eat all of her entrée no matter how hungry she it. She always orders a salad and fills up on it before her entrée arrives.  So I made plans to take advantage of this knowledge and save a little money by ordering an appetizer and sharing my appetizer with the Boss in exchange for some of her entrée. I ordered the Queso Fresco plate that consists of a unique blend of cheeses (Monterey jack – white cheddar – pepper jack – parmesan – and Queso Fresco) topped with grilled chicken and served with a tube of fresh made tortilla chips. The Boss and I shared our bounty and it was excellent. On the way out of the restaurant we saw a sign the Boss made me get a photo of. It was rules she liked for unattended children.

 

The boss wanted to walk along the beach, so we headed back up towards the USS Lexington.  We found a parking space near the entrance, and I noticed a parking meter in front of my truck.  Wanting the be a lawful visitor, I dug into my pocket for quarters to feed it, but alas I was financially embarrassed and had to call on the Boss once again to bail me out.  She dug into her bright yellow shoulder bag and pulled out what appeared to be a gray colored sweat sock like they issued for high school football. She produced six quarter coins out of it because as it turned out, that sock is a coin purse.  Who would have thought that?  Then she looked at the meter and it clearly read no charge for parking after 6:00 pm on weekdays.  That was about eight minutes of time that we’ll never get back and you just lost a couple of minutes reading about it.

 

There is a long wide concrete sidewalk that runs right along the shoreline for pedestrian travel. We could have walked along this without getting our feet sandy, however the Boss rejected this idea and wanted to walk near the water’s edge.  Needless to say I was wearing the wrong shoes for this.  I had on some black “Roman Warrior” style sandals that are very comfortable to drive in, but there are open straps that run all over the shoes. (I was at work an hour ago.)   Naturally I had to stop several times to get the broken pieces of sea shells out of my feet, but I’m a trooper, I didn’t complain.  We didn’t have a real flashlight, and it was dark now, so the Boss asked me to turn on the emergency white light app on my Iphone so she could look for shells.  Within ten minutes, she was cold and the beach walking was abandoned.

 

We walked over to the USS Lexington dock and I tried to take some of the ship and a Blue Angles jet, but they weren’t very good. We headed back across the (brightly illuminated) big bridge and headed north. I was watching my speed closely as we entered the City of Odem and the limit dropped to 45 MPH in town. I was doing about 43 MPH when I saw the red and blue flashing lights in my rear view mirror. Turns out my license plate lights had gone out, both of them.  The very courteous young officer issued me a warning ticket to remind me to fix the problem. Now fully energized by “fear fueled adrenaline” we headed on towards home.  I wasn’t sleepy at all and we were making good time till we saw those darn searchlights.  It was very dark, but the sky was clear and the Boss could see two searchlights off in the distance. We located their source just outside Port Lavaca, Texas, it was a huge carnival.  It was part of the Calhoun County livestock show and rodeo. The rodeo – livestock exhibit portion of the day’s activities was over, but the carnival portion was going strong.  People were parked everywhere, and we had to search a few minutes before finally finding a place to park out in a pasture.

 

We got out and stretched our legs, which is good to do. We couldn’t eat anything because we were both still stuffed from dinner, but we walked around and enjoyed the lights and sounds. I used the air powered, full automatic,  laser equipped, BB  rifle to try and shoot the small red star off of a piece of paper at ten feet.  Didn’t make it, was so surprised!  I guess the sights were off.  The Boss spent a couple dollars worth of quarters on some other games, and people watched. There was set of twin little girls with big pink bows on their headbands that were lit up. You couldn’t lose them in the crowd and they were “just precious” according to the Boss. After about an hour we got back in the truck to home. We made a little money, had a little fun, ate some good food, and got home safely.  All in all it was a great trip. Travelling with the Boss makes these trips all the better, because she doesn’t just drive, she makes sure we have some fun.  Till next time try to take the road less travelled, you will enjoy the trip.

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Seeing God’s Country ……. Fun Trips

Posted on August 28, 2012 by in God's Country

Seeing God’s Country ……. Fun Trips

 Fun Trips

Freight has not been moving very well lately and I’ve had a couple of weeks in dry dock, so I decided to write about some of our more memorable trips we’ve taken.

Pensacola Beach

Pensacola Beach, Florida is a beautiful resort town and we were fortunate enough to get a run there.  Back then we were driving Ole Gray, a 1999 Dodge 2500 diesel with a pipe rack on it.  The Boss actually bought this truck for me after I retired and it already had 95,000 miles on it.  Now don’t get me wrong, for a Cummins diesel motor this is just about break in mileage, so it was a heck of a deal.  It had a five speed standard transmission and what they called a quad cab design.  The back bench seat was about 12″ wide, and hard as a chunk of concrete, but we managed to sleep on it when we had too.  It was later sold with 438,000 miles on the odometer.  It was a damn good truck!

Pensacolla Beach

But back to the story… I had never been to Florida, and we were both excited to make this trip.  I had been to the Pacific Ocean on a motorcycle vacation trip once, but the Boss hadn’t ever seen anything but the Gulf of Mexico. We loaded the material on the pipe rack and headed out on our exciting journey.  As I recall it was a straight through drive, so we had to drive all through the day and most  of the night to get there, so we arrived bone tired.  We arrived at about 6:00am CST, and we couldn’t deliver the load till 8:00am EST.  I would like to mention that the drive along IH-10 across the Florida Panhandle is a long desolate haul.  There are very few fuel stops or towns along the way.  I noticed that there were call boxes about every half mile to call for help if you broke down.  These were left over from a time when cell phones didn’t exist.  We didn’t have any problems, so I don’t know if they still worked or not.

Pensacola Beach

We found the drop point and it was near the beach, so I told the Boss that if she wanted to go see the beach, we could drive over there and I would take a little nap.  She agreed and we found a parking lot just off the sand and we walked around to check it out.  I had watched a lot of Miami Vice and seen pictures on the TV, but when they said that the sand was a white powder, they were really telling the truth.  I’ve walked on the sand in Galveston before and it packs when you step on it, but this stuff never packed down, and it was like walking on volcanic ash.  Each step was laborious, and we didn’t go too far.  There were two beach patrol officers sitting in a four wheel drive Ford SUV, and an ATV.  Since it was in the winter time the beach was empty, but they were there just in case I guess.

Pensacola Beach

The most unusual thing I found was that the water was an aquamarine green.  I had never seen water so beautiful and so green.  There was no brown in it like the water in Galveston, Texas.  Down the beach a ways was a long pier that stretched out over the water for about half a mile.  It was a wooden pier, but appeared to be in good repair.

That’s saying something because the reason we were there was to deliver some high dollar copper pipe to repair some apartments that had been damaged by a recent hurricane.  Parts of the town were still showing signs of damage, and some of it was closed off to public traffic, but the beach was open, and was strikingly beautiful.  We sat there for a while and saw two tractors with big balloon tires go by dragging beach sweeping rakes to drag any debris off the sand.  Apparently the city fathers understand that the beach attracts the tourist’s dollars, so they went about cleaning and maintaining it first, after the storm passed. Most of the tourist places were closed for the winter season, so we didn’t stay too long, but given the opportunity to go again, I’d sign up for that trek in a heartbeat.  I’m sure that during the summer months that it’s a great vacation spot with a lot of fun things to see and do.

Miami

When the call came in for this run I was tremendously excited. Being a big fan of Miami Vice in the eighties, I expected to see skimpily clad women and Cuban cocaine dealers hanging out on every street corner. My kind of trip!

The load was a crate that was supposed to weigh 3200 pounds and be 48″ wide by eight feet long.  I went to pick it up and it turned out to be 4800 pounds and 50″ wide.  When the forklift operator put it in the bed of the Wonder truck I heard a crunch. When I looked in the bed, I saw that the inside fender wells had been smashed flat by the excess width and weight.  The wonder truck has a suspension enhancement system on it, so the springs didn’t collapse, and the tires seemed fine.

Miami Beach

I said to myself, “what the heck, the damage is done now”, I might as well haul the load and get paid for it.  I didn’t mention this to the Boss till we were well on our way, and she wasn’t pleased.  After that, I now make sure to verify the weight and dimensions of all the loads I haul.

Experience is a hard teacher some times.

 I hit the load/haul button on the Wonder Truck’s transmission, activated the jake brake, and off we went.  The crate filled up the entire bed of the truck, but it didn’t catch too much wind, so I got reasonable mileage. We made it to Florida without any problems, and then made the turn to go south all the way to Miami.  The Boss is the navigator, and she wisely made the decision to get us on the toll road that travels south from IH-10 to Miami.  The trip is long, but we didn’t have any problems, and we got there on time because of it. The delivery point was a freight station where they accept freight, send it through customs inspection and then it’s forwarded overseas.  We had about a two hour wait to get unloaded, and I had a communication problem because the receiving clerk spoke minimal English, and a lot of Cuban.  I sat waiting, listening to the other drivers chattering in Cuban. Not understanding a single word, I felt embarrassed for not having taken Spanish in high school when I had the chance.

Miami Beach

When I got unloaded I was able to see the damage to the Wonder Truck and it wasn’t pretty.  The truck was still very new at that time and I felt bad for getting it damaged.  The load was delivered and it was now sightseeing time.  The Boss directed me around and we saw all the waterfront cafés and eateries that we had seen on TV many times.  Something I had never noticed before was that all the outside dining tables had green overhangs on them to block the sun. They had a water misting system attached to them to cool the patrons as they ate or drank coffee.  It was kinda like the supermarkets do to the vegetables in the produce section. Weird, but necessary I guess.

We wanted a hotel room that faced the ocean because we don’t get to Florida very often. The one we found had a small elevated U-shaped driveway where you parked and went inside to check into the hotel.  I parked the truck and left the motor running with the Boss inside the cab.  Apparently they move your vehicle if the traffic gets backed up, because when I came back out my truck had been moved, and the Boss was very excited about it. She said a handsome Cuban man just got into the truck and moved it farther down the driveway.  I was highly annoyed but the Boss assured me that the young man was very polite and took great pains to assure her that she would be OK.

I think maybe she was a little happy to be in the company of what she described as a very handsome young man. 

The hotel was very expensive, $250.00, for one night.  It was a nice hotel, but once you got up into the room you could tell that it was very old, and was in the process of being renovated.  Our room was nice and faced the beach.  We took a nap, and by the time we woke up it was nighttime, and a lot of the beach and pool amenities were closed for the day.  We put on our swim suits and made it down to the beach any way. We found that for about fifty feet the green Atlantic water was choked with sea weed.  We braved the sea shrubbery and waded out into the water, but it was quite cold, so we didn’t stay long.  The pool was closed for the night so we couldn’t swim there either.  We gave up swimming, got us a bite to eat at a Cuban sandwich shop and went back to bed.

On the way back, we took a route that took us along the west side of the Florida peninsula.  We saw many small towns and tourist traps.  By this time I had run out of cigars, so the Boss went  about finding me a smoke shop.  We stopped at this little place and the clerk sold us a few cigars, and then I jokingly asked if he had any Cuban cigars? He said he did and that they were $15.00 each.  I didn’t dare spend that much on one cigar, but the Boss decided otherwise.

She went back inside and bought me a Cuban Monte Christo cigar.  The band read Hecha de Cuba (Made in Cuba).  I saved that cigar for almost a year because I decided I wanted to smoke it after my youngest daughter’s wedding.  We made our way back home without any problems.  The sightseeing in Florida was great, but make sure you bring plenty money if you intend to stay in Miami.  All in all we had a great time and I don’t know if that cigar was really made in Cuba or not, but by the time I smoked it, it really didn’t matter.

Possibly smoking a REAL Cuban cigar after walking your baby daughter down the aisle… life just doesn’t get any better than that.

The

Working Tourist

 

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Rural America

Posted on July 26, 2012 by in God's Country

Rural America

It was Thursday afternoon and I was mowing the front yard on the riding mower, when I saw the Boss waving her arms at me from the front porch. She had the cordless house phone in her hand, so I turned off the mower and hollered at her, “Who is it?” She said, “Its Nellie”, our boss. I answered the phone all hot and sweaty and he asked me if I wanted to make a run to North Carolina? I immediately said yes and he told me that I needed to rent a trailer, because the company wasn’t sure that the two tool boxes that I was going to get would fit in the bed of the wonder truck.

Amish Parking     I called a local equipment company about two   blocks from the house and they had a 16’ car hauler that I could rent. I called Nellie back and told him that I had found a trailer, and that’s when he explained that the load was actually in Hamilton, Michigan. He said that we needed to pull an empty trailer to Michigan, load up two tool boxes and then bring it all back to Houston.

I should have known that this was a bad omen, because this was to be no ordinary trip.

We had to drive straight through to Michigan, some 1245 miles, and then drag the loaded trailer home to Houston and be back by the following Monday morning. That meant we needed to make the 1st leg of the trip in twenty one hours. I explained that there was no way we could drive that far in that amount of time. He just said “do the best you can.” I rented the trailer, fueled up the wonder truck, and bought a few things from the grocery store, and by the time I got back home the Boss had packed up everything and within just a few minutes we were off like a herd of turtles.

I drove all that day and at about 2:00am the next day, we had to stop and buy more fuel so I had the Boss take the wheel. Now she is a good driver, but she has very little experience pulling a trailer. Being a real trooper she took off, and after a few minutes she calmed down because she said that this little trailer was easy to pull. It had little marker lights on the front part of the trailer fenders that she could see in the rear view mirrors and it did not sway at all. This helped her a lot and she drove about 300 miles while I tried to sleep in the back seat sleeping berth. When I woke up she was pulling into a truck stop to get more fuel. I asked her if she had any trouble and she said no. She said if we ever bought a trailer, this was the kind she wanted to buy.

I took back over the driving duties, and we made it to I-55 headed to Chicago, IL. The Boss was reading the map and decided we could avoid all of the traffic in Chicago if we detoured east through rural Indiana and then turned north towards Hamilton, Michigan. I agreed, so we detoured through the Indiana heartland and saw miles and miles of farms, crops, small towns, and not much else. The Boss noticed that all of these farms were all impeccably well cared for by their owners. You never saw any dilapidated buildings, high grass, old cars, etc. They all looked like something out of a travel catalog.

The Boss found a highway that the map indicated was scenic that ran along the east side of Lake Michigan and decided to take it so she could look at the water as we passed. This was a bust, because we couldn’t see anything for all of the trees. Michigan calls itself the land of lakes, but they should be called land of lakes hidden by big tall trees.

Hamilton is a small town, but it had a few restaurants, a grocery store, and most of the basics of a small town. We finally got to the Trans Canada power generating station where we would get our load, and we were two hours late. We were supposed to be there at 8:00am, and we arrived at 10:03am. I was sure that the people there were going to be angry, but when I talked to them they didn’t even know to expect us on that day. So much for driving hard to meet a deadline. The Boss was some kind of upset at all of this nonsense, and I must agree with her.

Anyway I got the two tool boxes loaded onto the trailer, (they could have fit into the bed of the wonder truck with room to spare). I was talking to the man that loaded the boxes and he asked where we had driven from and I told him Texas. He asked about the weather, and I explained that it was hot, damn hot. He laughed and said that he understood hot, cause he was from the bayous of south Louisiana. He said that he and his wife had moved to Michigan because she had gotten sick and could no longer stand the oppressive heat. It was about 68 degrees where we were standing and very comfortable for a summer morning.

Naturally after such a long drive we were both starving, so we went to Hamilton to get something to eat. Using the rule of which restaurant has the most cars in the parking lot, we choose a place that was half ice cream parlor and half restaurant. Being north of the Mason-Dixon Line, I stuck with the classic Philly Cheese Steak sandwich, but the Boss ordered fried fish. She said that she could smell the fish.

She thought that being that close to so many freshwater lakes that it would be fresh and good. We waited a while, and then the meal came out. I went at mine like the starving dog I was, but the Boss tasted hers and pronounced it “fishy tasting”. Needless to say I was shocked and awed at this statement, but she is entitled to her own opinion, so I encouraged her to send it back. She pondered this for a minute, and then decided to just eat the french fries and salad and leave the fish. As we were eating a woman at another table apparently smelled the fish and went on and on to her companion about how good the fish was at this particular establishment, and lamented that she wished she had ordered the fish.

The Boss grimaced and I suggested that she just turn around and trade plates with the fish loving lady, but she thought might be unacceptable. We finished and left and the Boss was still hungry. Imagine that!

On a different trip the Boss had found a woman in an Amish community somewhere in Pennsylvania that sold handmade fresh butter. The Boss loved it so she bought about ten pounds of the creamy stuff and we packed it back home in a cooler. She had great homemade butter for several months, and she wanted to repeat that experience by going to Elkhart, Indiana. It was supposed to be the big Amish community in the area. She gave me my directions, and drifted off to sleep. I was headed to Amish country pulling the trailer loaded with toolboxes, in search of butter. We didn’t get too far before realizing that we were both exhausted, and we stopped for the night in the middle of the afternoon.

Amish CountryAfter sleeping like dead people till the next morning, we got back on the road to Elkhart, Indiana to resume our butter quest. We were headed down I-196 near South Haven, MI when I spotted a billboard that read Dutch Farm Market.  We had been driving a few hours so I knew the Boss needed a bathroom break.  I showed her the sign and she agreed that we should stop.   We parked the truck and trailer in the large parking lot and walked in to find a host of fresh and frozen vegetables offered for sale.  Out on the porch there was a large bin of fresh asparagus spears.   I showed them to the Boss and she proclaimed them to be the most beautiful asparagus she had ever seen.  She checked the price and said that they were a great bargain.  We spoke to the ladies inside and they assured us if they were kept cool they would make it back home, and still be edible.  As we talked I learned that one of the ladies has two children that live in the Houston-Galveston area, so it was like talking to a neighbor.  We bought a few things, used the restroom facilities and went on our way.  We still hadn’t found any Amish butter, but the Boss thought that things were looking up.

We rolled along seeing the sights, and finally made it to Elkhart. We saw a sign for an Amish Farmers Market and pulled in to see what we could see. As it turned out the place was closed, but doesn’t it make a pretty magazine cover? It was a huge building complete with buggy horse hitching posts and weather vanes. I took a few pictures, but alas we had to move on down the road in our quest for the creamy delicacy that had so far eluded us. We drove through Elkhart and all we saw was a slew of places that made RV’s and travel trailers, but no quaint simple people driving horse and buggies. We stopped at several roadside fruit vendors sights along the side of the highway, but no one knew where any Amish butter makers could be located.

Finally we stopped to eat lunch at a nice little restaurant, and when we went inside we noticed that all of the waitresses were dressed in Amish apparel. We just knew that we had found the Holy Grail of Amish country and that pounds and pounds of butter awaited our arrival. This was not the case, but being wily and cunning the Boss began to interrogate the waitress and manager of the restaurant and a twenty something year old plain looking girl stepped up and said that we should go to the town of Shipshewana, Indiana. She said that was real Amish country. It was about ten miles down the road, so off we went.

When we drove into Shipshewana it was like driving back into the 17th century.

Black buggies and dark colored horses crowded the road and since it was a Saturday, plain looking men and women, boys and girls, babies and dogs were everywhere you looked. Something I’d never seen before which was interesting were all the Amish young people riding bicycles. Young men in plain dark clothing wearing knit caps, and young women wearing long dresses seemed to be the only ones riding the bicycles.

We drove all the way through town seeing the sights. This took about ten minutes, and then we turned back around and stopped at a hardware store. The Boss just knew that we would find butter here, and she wanted to buy a large plastic cooler that would keep our treasured butter cold all the way home. They had a few coolers but none met our needs and the prices were astronomical. This particular hardware store however did have anything and everything that an Amish family might need to run a large household.

The next place we stopped at was kind of an Amish tourist trap. You could buy everything from a Thomas Kincaid painting to a full blooded boxer puppy dog. Nowhere in town was anyone selling butter. We stopped at an Amish grocery store feeling sure that they would have butter because it was a large store.

Bulk Food StoreThe Boss went inside and found many a strange food, (inexpensive I might add), and it was like the food was the deconstructed version of what we (the English) eat. You could buy things like a two pound bag of the multi-colored marshmallow pieces from a box of Lucky Charms cereal. No cereal, just the marshmallow bits. When I saw her buy a fifty (50) pound bag of fresh potatoes for less than $10.00, I knew that the Boss was infatuated with the place.

We bought a whole shopping cart full of groceries and had to find room inside the wonder truck to get it all back home. A little Amish boy (about 12 years old) wheeled our purchases out to the truck and hefted the bag of potatoes into the truck like a grown man. Embarrassingly I asked him if it was alright to tip him and he said sure. I gave him a five spot and he wheeled off riding on his cart like it was a roller skate. Curses, we still hadn’t found any butter. The quest continued unabated.

We drove away headed down the road for a place called Amish Acres in Nappanee, Indiana. This is kind of an Amish showplace where they have musical theater, a historic farm, and country style dining. The Boss felt sure that someone there could direct us to an Amish dairy farm where she could find the golden yellow butter she sought.

We drove along the back roads of this flyover state just amazed at the beautiful pastoral scenery. When we arrived and I could see rather quickly that this was a tourist trap. We walked inside of the gift shop to look around and the Boss bought was a little magnet depicting an Amish horse and buggy for our oldest daughter who collects such things. We got to talking to the older Amish woman running the place and she didn’t know of anyone selling homemade butter, but she thought that the restaurant portion of Amish Acres might have some they would sell her.

I waited in the truck while the Boss went to the restaurant building to investigate and negotiate. Within a half hour she came skipping back to the truck with a pound of butter, and she was beaming with a smile from ear to ear. Finally our butter quest had ended. Great balls of fire, I was sure glad.

I really didn’t want to drive back to Pennsylvania from here, (you know just down the road a bit), to buy BUTTER!

The ride back was somewhat anti-climatic. The trailer pulled fine, the weather was mild and we delivered on Monday before noon. Till next time, travel when you can, enjoy God’s country by getting off the superhighways and taking the road less travelled. Sure it may be bumpy at times, but if you slow down a little and are open to new things I guarantee that you’ll enjoy the trip. “Till next time, be safe out there”.

The Working Tourist

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California Dreaming

Posted on March 17, 2012 by in God's Country

 

 

“Go west young man” as the saying goes and it finally happened for us.  After many trips across this vast country, we finally got the call to make a hotshot load to California.  Visions of meeting movie stars danced around in the Boss’ head I’m sure. I went to California on a motorcycle vacation trip back in the late 90’s, but the Boss has never been and she has been asking for this trip for several years. We had about 45 minutes to pack our clothes, close up the house and make arrangements for our two dogs. Being a real trooper, the Boss pulled it all off within the allotted time.  We would have been at the pickup point on time if not for an 18 wheeler accident on I-45 near the South Loop that help up traffic flow for about 45 minutes.  Naturally nervous Nellie (the owner of the hotshot company) called checking up on us, but he had to deal with the Boss, so it all came out alright.  He is the type fellow who calls you every five minutes to see where you are, and when you’re going to be able to pick up the load.  He is always in a near panic every time he calls, thus the moniker “Nervous Nellie”.

 

After waiting for about 45 minutes, we finally got loaded about 1:30pm and set the GPS for Colton, CA, the delivery point. It showed that we had 1505 miles to travel in two and a half days to make the delivery at 7:00am Pacific time.  That Pacific Time requirement would come back to bite us in the behind several times before this adventure was over. We headed out west on I-10 and made it to within 80 miles of El Paso that first night before pulled over in a rest area to sleep. We figured that we’d save the cost on a hotel, since we were only going to sleep a few hours.  Now I’m 6’3 and the “wonder truck” is about 5’3 from one door to the other.  While the Boss is able to sleep comfortably in the back seat, I’m folded up like an accordion in the front.  When I’m exhausted I can actually sleep pretty good, but I pay for the cramped sleeping quarters in my arthritic knees and back later.

 

Since we are always under a time limit before the load gets delivered, we eat mostly what we can buy at truck stops when we stop for fuel. Despite the heavy tool box we had on the “wonder truck”, we managed to get just over 20 mpg on the highway. The new higher speed limits on IH-10 really helped us rack up the miles.  The speed limits ranged from 70 to 75 and then to 80 mph. Going through El Paso on the second morning we tried to stop at a place where they sold (allegedly) handmade Native American Indian (NAI) blankets.  Despite a valiant attempt to get to the place (we made three U-turns along the feeder road trying to get there), the time change had put us there one and a half hours before the place opened. Crunch… the first bite of the time change.  Too bad, it looked like a huge store with all kinds of things the Boss would be interested in spending my (I mean our) money on. But being a true driving partner, she said that we didn’t have that much time to kill if we wanted to stay on schedule, so off down the yellow brick, (err: I mean concrete highway) road we went.

 

We crossed over into Arizona and went through miles and miles of rural country side that really didn’t look much different than West Texas, except for the distant mountains and buttes. At about 11:00 am we pulled off the freeway into a small sleepy Arizona town and began looking for a place to eat lunch. It was lunchtime for us, but with the time change, the hometown folk were still eating breakfast. The Boss doesn’t really like chain restaurants, so we use the “who has the most cars in the parking lot rule” to determine where to eat. The streets were empty except for this one place. As I passed it I saw four pick-up trucks pull over and stop. I told the Boss that looks like a place we need to go. We walked into this café and we were the only gringo’s in the place. There were a lot of young and old Hispanic men in straw hats sitting at their tables eating some type of soup with large white spoons. This aroused the Boss’ curiosity.

 

She ordered a stuffed chili relleno pepper wrapped in a flour tortilla and I ordered a bean and cheese burrito plate. We both ate what we ordered, but the Boss pointed out the soup that everyone in the place had ordered. She determined she wanted what they were having. I told her she didn’t even know what it was but to order it if she wanted it and I would help her finish it, if she couldn’t.  She asked the cashier to give her some of what everyone else was having. He asked her if she knew what it was and she said no. He told her it was menudo. She said ok and confirmed that she wanted some. I had heard of this Mexican delicacy before, but I did NOT know what it was made of or how it tasted. When she got her bowl, she took one sip and pronounced it was way too hot for her palate, but proceeded to add the fresh chopped onions and squeezed lime on top of it so she could eat it like they were. Being a “HE MAN” who is used to eating hot food, I told her that I would eat it for her. Little that I know that menudo is a very hot tomato based soup that conceals boiled cow intestine. I ate several spoonful’s before the sweat started pouring and I realized that the meat was chopped up cow gut. We didn’t finish the menudo and I wasn’t hungry for quite a while after this breakfast. This will be our first and last foray into menudo I think.

 

By now I have run out of cigars and the Boss just started using my new I-phone (given to me by my #1 son-in-law) to locate some stores. Once we finally found the place with the help of the I-phone GPS, the cigars were so expensive that the Boss only bought five. The leather couches in this place cost more than all of the furniture in our house. I know it’s funny that I let the Boss choose my cigars for me, but it’s because she has a better memory than I do, and she remembers the ones that I tell her that I like. She also has a better recollection of prices, and usually always stays within the budget I set for her. Thanks sweetie! We reset the GPS and it took us back to I-10 so fast the Boss didn’t really have the chance to look around Tucson very much. We did stop at one place for fuel and they had a plethora of allegedly NA Indian trinkets on sale. I checked the stickers on some of these things and saw they were made in China, so much for real  NA Indian artifacts! We got back in the truck and checked our watches and wallets to make sure we hadn’t been scalped at this tourist trap.

 

As we neared Phoenix the Boss spotted a roadside flea market. I needed to stretch my legs so we stopped. Apparently the flea market was winding down, because there were only five booths still open. The first little place was a semi-permanent rock sales place called Poor Man’s Rock Sales. Hundreds of rocks of all types and shapes were displayed on some wooden boxes set up on saw horses. The Boss loves rocks. She bought a piece of pink quartz and a sea shell that caught her eye. We were both confused on how the man’s display had so many sea shells in the middle of a desert.  Maybe he had them imported from China? Legs stretched and trinkets bought, we loaded up in the truck again headed to California.

 

We were stopped at the state line and we were grilled by a man at the checkpoint for fruit that all travelers must go through upon entering the State of California. Now I understand the reason for the checkpoint, because in the past decades someone brought in some type of insect (parasite) that devastated the California citrus crops. What I didn’t know was that they demanded to know if you had a dog of any kind in your vehicle and wanted to know where we were going and why we were going there. They also wanted to know where we were coming from.  I guess the next thing will be that you have to have travel papers to cross state lines, ala (Nazi Germany). Pretty stern for a fruit and vegetable inspection point in my opinion.

 

We travelled down I-10 through California just fine until we ran into a traffic jam just outside of Beaumont, CA. Traffic was stopped and it took us about three hours to travel twelve miles. As we sat waiting for the traffic to move, we saw motorcycles driving in between the stopped cars. I know this is illegal in Texas, but based on the number of motorcyclists doing it; it must be legal in California. They were also driving on the median lane on both the outside and inside portion of the road. We even saw an 18 wheeler gasoline tanker passing on the outside median. In one spot a woman and her friends pulled off the road and ran up under a tree to relieve themselves. I guess they couldn’t wait to get to the rest area. We finally got through this mess and got to our hotel in San Bernardino, CA. While checking in we asked the clerk for a good place to eat dinner and she recommended a restaurant named Coco’s just down the road from the hotel. Rachel Ray claims this is the best way to find good food in a strange town (ask the locals).  She is not always right, it wasn’t that great. We went back to the hotel and passed out. The load had to be delivered at 7:00am PCT, which meant I had to wake up at 4:00am CST to deliver it.  Needless to say the very tired Boss was not pleased being woke up at Pacific time (Crunch).

 

The GPS got me to the location where the delivery was supposed to be located, but it wasn’t there. The location was a business park. Finally, I found someone coming into work and they told me to go the other direction. Sure enough the address I needed to go to was almost a mile from where the GPS told me to go. Load delivered, finally. We have an agreement (the Boss and I) that once the load is delivered, she is in charge of the route and the fun begins. She wanted to see the (PCH) Pacific Coast Highway. I had extolled the virtues of the scenic beauty I had seen when I took my motorcycle vacation and had driven the PCH from San Francisco to Los Angeles. So she selected a route that would place us on PCH near Laguna Beach, Aliso beach, Dana Point, etc. At Laguna Beach the City of Laguna Beach provides a covered parking area for the small sum of $1.50. The concrete walkway down to the beach was beautifully adorned with flowers and plants and was expertly manicured. We took many pictures of the rock formations, the pristine beaches, the flowers, etc. Trekking through the deep sand and the numerous steps down to the sand wore out these two old flatlanders, but it was beautiful. See the photos?

 

Just a few miles further down the PCH we came to the Aliso Beach facility. While not as elaborately adorned as Laguna Beach it had great waves. That morning they ran about three feet, but they were perfectly formed and loud. The photos can’t show the crashing noise they make, but we are going to try to upload the video we took. It was a little too cool for surfing, but I can only imagine how crowded this beach is in the warmer months. We got lost a few times because in this portion of the PCH is highly populated and in some spots it’s an eight lane highway. You have to look down the alleys between the houses in some of the towns to even see the Pacific Ocean. The Boss was very disappointed at this turn of events, but we still had a good time. All went well until the Boss chose a scenic highway called CA-74. This turned out to be about thirty miles of sharp turns, switchbacks, and ignorant people driving through this dangerous area like their pants were on fire. The Boss had a touch of motion sickness due to this mountainous road, and it wasn’t pleasant.

 

The Boss wanted to see the Pacific Ocean on this trip, and I wanted to see the Grand Canyon. We headed that way, and as the elevation of the highway rose, the weather turned colder. Then it started lightly snowing. Now I do most of the driving on these trips, but I do NOT like driving on snowy pavement. It never got heavy enough that I felt it necessary to turn the driving over to the Boss though. She has more experience driving on snow and ice and I gladly let her have it when necessary. The Boss had procured us a pamphlet that explained that the North Rim portion of the Grand Canyon National Park was closed during the winter months due to snow, but the South Rim portion was open to visitors year round. We arrived at the Grand Canyon National Park at about 4 o’clock in the afternoon and the temperature display on the “wonder truck’s” computer said that it was 22 degrees outside.  The parking lot and the walkways had been swept, but there was about eight inches of snow on the ground. I don’t really know the elevation of the parking lot, but I can assume that it’s high, because the Boss and I both had trouble catching our breath in the thin air.

 

We went to the Grand Canyon Visitor Center and the Boss spoke to one of the helpful U.S. park rangers.  He directed us to Mather Point, that’s just to the right of the building. Now remember we had been driving all day, we were exhausted and hurting from walking in the deep sand of the beaches, and were having trouble breathing. We finally made it over to Mather’s point after a few stops to rest and were treated to an exquisite wintertime view of the Grand Canyon (that’s one of them on the cover).  Now I’ve seen many pictures of the Grand Canyon and they all show a summertime landscape. I’ve never seen snow pictures of the canyon, so I shot photographs as fast and furiously as I could. This was a location I wanted to see on my lifetime bucket list and I was not disappointed. We stayed for about an hour and we were both freezing to death. On the way out we saw some of the wildlife of Grand Canyon National Park. We were driving along towards the exit gate when we saw several cars stopped ahead. Being seasoned park travelers we knew that this usually means some type of wildlife has stopped to pose for pictures. I used my cell phone camera to take several pictures of some adolescent mule deer as they pawed through the snow to forage on the grasses underneath. Really pretty deer!

 

After we left the park we took a scenic highway towards Flagstaff, AZ. Then the light snow started. It was dark, so I slowed way down and managed ok until I came to a stop sign in town. I stopped completely I thought, I had my foot on the brake, and I felt the truck still moving forward. I looked over at the Boss and exclaimed, what in the heck caused that? Then we both realized that we were on pavement that had a layer of ice on it, and the tires did not have any traction. We made it through the stop sign and got further into town. We were going very slowly, and the truck was sliding around, and so I pulled into the first hotel I found. We stopped and checked with the clerk and everything was looking good till I asked for a smoking room. That’s when she told me that there were NO smoking rooms at the inn. Thankfully, the Boss had taken it upon herself to get behind the wheel, and I was regulated to the passenger side. I climbed in, quietly relieved, pulled my seatbelt tight, said a few quick prayers and we were off.

 

Now the “wonder truck” as I call it because it’s a wonder that the Boss let me buy it, (long story) is a 2008 Dodge Ram diesel that has a great deal of torque when it comes from the factory and I have installed a power adder that develops a great deal more torque. To put it bluntly the accelerator is very touchy. Immediately after pulling out onto the street the back tires started losing traction and it made the back end of the truck start sliding sideways. The Boss started complaining about the tires and saying that they should do better on this icy road. I explained that they were street tires and were not designed to handle icy roads or snow. This went on for a few minutes until we finally we found another hotel that had smoking rooms. It was a few dollars more expensive than I wanted to pay, but it had an attached restaurant, so I didn’t argue. They red-lined us to a room in the back of the hotel where the undesirable portion of the populace who smoke are sent. The Boss had a great deal of trouble getting the truck through the parking lot because it hadn’t been plowed, but we finally got into the room and we walked down to the lobby of the hotel that led to the attached restaurant.

 

It was Valentine’s Day, so the Boss ordered a steak, (medium well) and I had a Cajun Alfredo dish with shrimp. The Boss decided that due to all of the stress of the icy road driving that she would have a cocktail and ordered a margarita on the rocks. We waited, and we waited, and we waited some more and about twenty minutes later the waitress finally came over with the Boss’s cocktail. She had one sip of the concoction and said it was terrible and too tart to drink. She wanted to tell the waitress to take it back, but she never came around again until she walked up with our meals. First thing out of the box, the Boss cuts into her steak and it was almost raw. It had a nice char on the outside, but the inside was blood red. The chef must have thought we ordered it medium rare. By that time we were starving, so the Boss gamely proceeded to eat this slightly heated piece of bovine. My dish was prepared with some type of round macaroni that you buy for children to decorate their artwork with. I managed to eat it, but it was NOT good.

 

When the waitress came around a few minutes later, the Boss politely mentioned that her steak was undercooked and tough as boot leather. The waitress apologized and flittered away. We both understood that the waitress had NOT cooked the steak herself, so getting mad at her was pointless. Much to our surprise the manager came over a little while later and asked about our meal, and after the Boss explained about her steak and drink, she said that she would comp our meal. We told her it wasn’t necessary because we ate the meal and rightly should pay for it, but she insisted that the establishment would absorb the cost. That was a first for us. Never in all of the meals that we have eaten in our travels has a business ever comped a meal that we didn’t like. I must say I was impressed. We were so impressed, we went back there for breakfast the next morning. It was great and we didn’t mind paying for that meal.

 

We managed to get out of the snow and into the casino area of Arizona. We stopped at Sky City, AZ and the Boss fed the one armed bandits, while I slept in the adjoining hotel. She didn’t win anything, but she had a good time and I caught up on my rest for the drive back to Texas. If you have ever had a hankering to drive to California, I hope this little story helps you out. There really is a lot to see “out west” and it’s a beautiful place. The people were polite, although they are in a mighty big hurry. The hotel and food costs were mostly reasonable, which surprised us. Diesel and gasoline fuel prices are between fifty and sixty cents higher than in Texas, but I think it’s a state tax that causes that difference. And you always hear about how strict the gun laws are in California, but in almost every small town we saw a gun shop or a pawn shop with a “guns for sale” sign.  I was flabbergasted.  Come to find out California has a CCW law just like forty eight other states.  It’s only Illinois that still hasn’t really read the 2nd amendment to the constitution yet. All in all it was a great trip, and it’s one that I’m glad we took.

 

 

The Working Tourist

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