Driving Myself in Circles

Because of where I live, I do a lot of driving through the desert.

Most of my driving, I'd say, is done between 50-60 MPH (80-90KPH) because, well, as you can see from the photo, why not? The roads are mostly straight, mostly level, and there isn't very much in the way of obstacles.

The speed I drive is determined by two things: what mood I'm in and how windy it is. Lots of time I just cruise along, taking in the desert, and enjoying the views of the surrounding mountains and whatnot. At night, when it's dark, I can't see anything except half a football field ahead and the occasional light on a property, but I still drive the same speed.

If it's windy, as it often is in the desert, I sometimes can't drive as fast as I want because my Jeep has the aerodynamics of a brick. Heading into the wind feels like hauling a full trailer, and I just do the best I can.

I mention this because it's not a rare thing for me to be passed by someone when I'm driving into town or taking a trip across the desert, most often during the early morning or evening by someone who I imagine to be going or coming from work.

But not always.

I tell myself that a lot of the passenger cars that zip around me, safely or not, are tourists whose only desire is to get the hell out of the desert as quickly as they can. I can understand that. The desert isn't for everyone, and it's nothing but something to endure for most of the people who want to either leave or get to the coastal cities from the rest of America.

The Mojave desert, where I live, is a big place, and it can take hours to get through it, and it's not the only desert in the southwest. You can get from Los Angeles to the forested mountains of northern Arizona in a day, but then its more deserts all the way through the rest of Arizona, New Mexico, and into Texas.

So, yeah, a lot of people just want to get the desert over and done with. I don't mind it a bit if they want to pass me, and I don't mind it, either, if it's a local person in a pickup who can't stand the thought of having his masculinity challenged by driving slower than he wants and sees my slow Jeep as a challenge he can't just ignore.

Many of the people who live in the area around where I live have to travel forty miles or so to work and back every day, and they have no time for sightseeing or enjoying the desert. I, on the other hand, have all the time in the world and all the expanse of the desert to spend it in.

The only thing that bugs me, and that's only sometimes, are the radio stations I can receive. There's a local station (one) that plays popular music because, well, the lowest common denominator means something, and that one comes in just fine. I guess there may be others that play some version of country, but I never listen to those because I like country music even less than pop.

There's a Las Vegas station I can pick up that plays oldies, but mostly songs I didn't like all that much back when they were popular. When I'm in the right place, I can pick up a local NPR station, and that's great for listening to jazz on nighttime drives through the black desert and non-local news during the daytime hours.

And, there's an AM station that is ... different.

Late at night, the AM station has a conspiracy theory program that is, in a word, astounding. In the early morning there's a couple gay guys who are funny, and later on, of course, they play Rush Limbaugh and a bunch of Limbaugh wannabes.

I don't listen to any of those.

My Jeep's radio also plays CDs, so I've made some of those, but they invariably start skipping as soon as I leave the paved streets, which I do pretty often. Sometimes they get scratched, so my CDs have an expected life that can be measured in hours and I get used to missing parts of songs. Jose is too old to have a USB or media port, but I don't have any iPod or iAnything for music, anyway.

So I do a lot of driving, a lot of it in silence, and it's all part of the desert life. When  you're miles from anywhere, you get used to driving, and it helps to have a dog along for the ride.

In the End, Not Much Happened

After about seventeen hours, my power is back on.

Last night it was so warm I decided to hide from the heat by taking a nap. That was going fine until I woke up around six PM and was hot. Also, the little portable AC unit was off, as was everything else that likes to use electricity.

It's the sorta thing I'm getting used to.

This time, however, the power didn't come back on after a minute or so, and I had no idea how long it had been off. So, I did what any normal person would do and panicked (but just a bit). It was around 95 or so inside the cabin (mid 30s, centigrade) and while I could stay reasonably cool thanks to water and wearing a damp T-shirt, I worried about my dog.

This week's waste of money was getting him one of those "Cool Beds," which are basically a hot water bottle filled with some spongy stuff, big enough for a dog to lie on and a couple fingers thick. He wants nothing to do with it. In his defense, it's not very cool, either, but I guess it would be if I could fill it with cold water. Since the cold water that comes from the tap is warm, I'd need to refrigerate the three gallons or so, and there's just not that much room inside the refrigerator.

But ... onto events!

After calming down a bit, I loaded Vinko into the Jeep and we drove down to the dog park. It's usually cooler there, but that may just be because of the half hour or so it takes to get there. We stayed there until it was too dark for me to distinguish him from some of the other dogs, and then stopped at the market to pick up some food. I'd heard on the radio that someone had run into a power pole and it could be a few more hours until power was restored to my area, so I wasn't sure I could use the electric range.

It was around nine at night and very dark driving home, but I passed by a number of homes that had electricity on, which I took to be a good sign. A few miles away from home, I didn't see anyone had power, so I braced for the worst and made it back to the cabin.

I should point out that even in the best and brightest of nights, I can't see anything inside the Jeep when I park it away. It has no working interior lights (but I might be able to fix that by pulling some fuse), so I can only grab what I can feel and anything missing is lost until the next morning. I didn't lose Vinko, but it was too dark for me to dissemble and eat the rotisserie chicken, so I dined on cole slaw and went outside to watch the meteors.

My view of them was somewhat compromised by a lightning storm far off to the north that kept ruining my night vision, but I saw a few great shooting stars and any number of smaller ones even in spite of the small number of clouds overhead.

Then, I decided to go to sleep and wake up early and catch the last few hours of meteors before the sun rose. I went inside the cabin, and the temperature inside hadn't dropped a bit, so I did the next best thing and surprised Vinko.

Among everything else, I have a portable mattress, yoga mat type thingy that's a couple inches thick and rarely gets used. I've always been a bit wary of what goes on outside at night, but it was such a nice night out (maybe 85 or so), that I threw caution to the winds, got wet in a cold shower, and laid down in my underwear on the mat behind the cabin to watch stars and fall asleep.

Within a matter of minutes, Vinko got up from where he'd been lying on the sand and joined me on the mat and, as far as I know, we both fell asleep.

For a couple hours, anyway.

Around two in the morning it got a bit chilly outside bivouacing, so I went back inside. It was cooler there, too, and we slept until dawn.

In the process of all that, which honestly isn't very much at all, I'd managed to break my flashlight and awakened to a cabin that still had everything needed for modern living except electricity. I learned that, if I'm desperate enough, I can make and drink room temperature coffee, but that's about it. I knew better than to heat up the stuff inside the refrigerator by opening it, so I again packed up Vinko and we headed back to the dog park. I stopped at a gas station for some coffee (which tasted great!), and we got to the park around six-thirty in the morning, greeted everyone and their dogs, and sat around watching and chatting.

It got too hot for that by eight thirty in the morning. Since the local radio said the power outage was now supposed to be resolved by noon, I took the Jeep in to see if there was something wrong with its wheel alignment. For the past couple months, once or twice I'd hit a bump on the road and the front would shimmy and it would take a couple seconds for me to regain control. The alignment is fine, and the guy said it's a Jeep thing, took ten dollars from me, and gave me a free keychain (one of those caribiner things.

It wasn't anywhere near noon, so I had the oil changed, the tires checked for proper inflation, stopped at a couple stores, and drove back home. I called the power company and the new, updated time for power to be restored was three-thirty in the afternoon, but now the outage was a result of the light winds and they'd called for extra help (I'm guessing from Palm Springs).

We got back, I fixed the flashlight by taking it apart and putting it back together, and I finished a book I'd been reading. It was in the low nineties when I decided to take a nap, and within five minutes of my lying down, all the clocks beeped.

It was just after twelve, about seventeen hours after the power went off, so I turned on the computer, paid my electric bill ($47.57USD) and sent them a "thank you" message. Then, I wrote this.

Man Down(ish)

Yesterday I woke up with neither my phone nor my Internet working.

My Internet connection died Tuesday afternoon, and I'd hoped that by unplugging everything and giving everything the night off would solve the problem. When it's working, my modem displays five lights -- power, system, transmit, receive, and LAN. The power light comes on when the modem is plugged in, but even getting it to light is not as easy as one might think.

The power connection reminds me of an older audio type connector. It's round and has a number of pins and requires a fair bit of twisting to get them all to align so I can actually plug it in. Then, instead of fitting securely in the socket, it just lays there and the power LED goes from blue, which is good, to red, which is not.

Sometimes I end up by putting some stress on the power cord by wedging it against the wall so that it's shoved firmly into the socket. When it's at its worst, if I even look at the damn thing sideways, it gets loose and turns off.

I've come to terms with it, though, and it only occasionally annoys me. Live and learn, as they say.

When the satellite dish was installed and the guy got me up and running, he warned me that this model of modem had a tendency to overheat and die, and he recommended I keep a small fan blowing on it. As luck would have it, I already owned a small fan, which I used to use to cool myself before moving here, and during the summer months I keep it trained on the damn thing.

Wednesday I noticed it was quite warm on one side, but other than keeping the fan on it, there wasn't much I could do. Then, sometime in the afternoon, the modem displayed just one light, the power on one.

Without either the system light, which I take to be a sign the modem is running its software correctly, it's LAN light, which goes on when it can see that it's connected to something, I wasn't surprised that Windows couldn't find the Internet or let me connect to anything. So, I just unplugged everything and called it a day. This has worked in the past, and I figured it would work again.

So, early Wednesday morning, I plugged it back in and nothing had changed. No flashing transmit and receive lights, no system light, no LAN light. Just the power one.

I says to myself, Grrrr, and fixed another cup of coffee.

Pretty much ever since I called Hughesnet and got connected, they'd been advertising a newer, faster plan than the one I have, one which requires a different modem. I wasn't interested in it for a couple reasons, but the last time I called them about a problem, Amanda (remember her?), mentioned that the plan and setup I have is pretty much past its sell by date.

Since I wanted to keep that plan for as long as I can, my first thought was to buy a replacement modem. This required two things: One, they still needed to sell them, and, two, I needed to call them and see about having them send me one or two.

Which is when I noticed the second problem. My phone couldn't find a signal (either!) and was stuck in "searching" mode. Another Grrr, another cup of coffee.

Before my Internet died, I'd seen some posts about people up here losing their cell phone coverage. Most of the people up here, of course, live in the cities and have those fancy ass G type things that let them use smartphones, so I hadn't given it much thought. Also, I can go for over a week without using my phone at all, so it wasn't any big deal to me.

But I did catch the end of the local news on the radio, and they were saying something or other about the outtage, so I waited.

I didn't have a working phone and had no Internet, but my TV worked, I had things to do, and books to read, so I was unhappy, but not without options.

A couple hours later my phone found a bar and I called Hughesnet to see about getting another modem. Instead of the usual options, I heard a recorded message saying they were having severe system problems, which they hoped to fix by that afternoon, and because of the volume of call, the projected wait time would be half an hour before I could speak with anyone.

I hung up.

It's been rather hot the past few days and it was expected to be even hotter today (yesterday), so I figured it would be a good day to drive up to Big Bear. It's always quite a bit cooler up there and I figured since he can't go to the park and play with other dogs because of his bronchial thing, I'd see how he felt about seeing a standing body of water.

So, I loaded up the Jeep with water and things, and drove the fifty miles or so up a winding mountain road to get to Big Bear. That was done mostly without incident, but I did overshoot one corner and a thrilling moment wearing a thousand miles off the tires as I skidded around the hairpin and out of my lane, but other than that the trip was uneventful.

We made it to a park next to (what's left of) Big Bear lake, and I met some women who'd taken their dog there, and we chatted a bit. Of course, they said lots of nice things about Vinko, and after a bit of that, we headed down to the shoreline.

Vinko, to my surprise, acted as if he didn't notice the water at all. I didn't expect him to get excited about the ducks, which he recognized as birds and, therefore, of no interest at all, but he didn't seem to notice the water, either. He waded right in, up to his ankles, and walked back and forth a bit, still on his leash. I didn't let him run free.

He was fine with wading until he spotted some moss on a nearby rock, gently waving as the water lapped the shoreline. That spooked him, and he'd have nothing more to do with the water and its wiggling plants for quite awhile.

He eventually got back in, again far enough to cover his feet, and that was about that.

When we got back home, my phone still worked and the Internet still didn't. I called Hughesnet and got an updated message that said the problem would be fixed later that night, and went about my business. Before going to bed, I tried Hughesnet again, and they'd gone back to the "sometime this afternoon" message, and we slept as best we could through another warm night.

Then, this morning, I plugged the modem back in and everything came up as good as ever. Also, it works and here I am, on the Internet and with a working phone, just like a regular person!

"Could be worse"

Back when I was married, my father in law would typically respond to any "How's it going?" or "How are you doing?" greeting with a shrug and "Could be worse," even occasionally extending it to the more common "Come va?"

I can't say that I'd ever heard anyone say that before, but I liked it and immediately picked it up as being not only a little different, but also true.

I've struggled with how to respond to these social niceties for quite awhile now, mostly because I worry too much about things. Yes, I know when someone meets me and asks "How are you?" they don't really mean anything by it, but something in me still makes me see it as a real question that deserves an honest answer.

Which I'm not always comfortable giving,

Because of my attitude and mental makeup, "fine" or "okay" aren't often the truth, and I don't want to lie to people and give them the wrong impression on the off chance they really are asking. And, even if I'm in the right frame of mind and have the time, I doubt whomever's asking really wants a full account of what's going on with me.

My ex-father-in-law's response, however, is a good quick way to answer. No matter what's going on with me, no matter how good or bad I'm feeling, it could always be worse. In fact, it could always be much worse, so I say "Could be worse," and feel I'm looking on the bright side.

What's interesting is how many people respond to that comment as if it's a bad or negative thing. I'm not keeping score or anything, but it seems like about half the time when people hear that, they react as if I'm saying things are horrible or at least very bad.

I don't get that.

The only thing I can come up with is they word worse and are thrown for a loop. Ohmigod, maybe they think, he's saying things are the worst, when, in fact, I'm saying the exact opposite. I've decided such people, naturally enough, aren't really listening to what I say, don't really care how I answer, and are just making idle chit-chat.

But I can't help taking even simple, everyday greetings as not being a legitimate question. Well, maybe I could, but I don't. It could be worse, I suppose.