The Kind of Guy I Am

Yesterday my mobile phone broke, which is to say I broke it by inserting the recharge plug upside down and screwing up the jack. This mistake has changed my whole world.

I don't know when I got my first mobile phone, maybe twenty years ago, and I bought it off the rack at a 7-11 convenience store, so it was an official "burner phone," the kind used by drug dealers and hit men because they aren't assigned to any particular user. It was a Virgin Mobile phone, and I just paid them some money whenever the minutes of usage I had ran out, and it kept going.

There wasn't any real plan or anything, it was just a "pay as you go" type thing that I ended up being quite proud of it. I think it cost about fifteen dollars and could be used for voice, texting, and could even take real crappy pictures that I could send to an email address.

But, mostly, it just worked (although all the uses were more expensive by the minute than any "real" phone provided by a carrier through one of their plans). And, since I rarely make or receive more than one or two calls a month and text even less frequently than that, it was all I needed.

Until yesterday, that is.

Once, about five years ago, I had to replace it and pulled another "world/s cheapest phone" off the rack at a Walmart or some such place and moved the SIM card over and was able to keep the same number. That phone is the one I broke yesterday.

Obviously, everyone in my life and everyone around me had better, fancier phones that could do a great deal more, but they also cost tons more, both in cost and in monthly service charges. Mine actually *could* go on the internet (for an additional charge) and attempt to display web pages that were monstrous to navigate, but it could be done.

I mostly used it for emergencies, and it performed pretty good at that.

Anyway, like I said, yesterday I killed it and was very upset with myself. Although the solution was obvious at once, it took me a few hours to admit it. Virgin Mobile no longer sells or supports anything except iPhones and, as it turns out, those are pretty damn pricey. There are still burner phones out there, but none for sale near me, and since I had to bite the bullet, I decided to go to a real phone store and get a real phone, the kind all of you have had for years.

So, I did.

I believe I got the cheapest phone with the cheapest plan that Sprint has, but I probably could have done much better. When something like this happens, I panic and try to fix the problem ASAP. I chose Sprint because I heard someone once say that their Verizon phone kept dropping, but more because Virgin Mobile uses the Sprint network to carry its traffic.

I don't think that really matters one bit.

I don't know about other people, but it took me an hour and a half in the phone store to get everything all sorted out and my phone number transferred to the new phone. My concern now is moving my current contacts and numbers over to the new phone before the old one's battery completely runs out and I can't see them any more.

Ever again.

Also, since everyone has one now and has for years, smartphones no longer come with any directions or instructions. It took me a minute or two to figure out how to turn the damn thing on. and everything else is "intuitive," except it's not.

Now I know how all those new computer users felt when we sat them in front of one at work. There's a steep learning curve, but I keep telling myself that I'll have the hang of it all in a month. Or two. Or several.

Morning Dropoff

Six or seven hours ago my morning was interrupted by the unmistakable sound of a car driving on the street with a flat tire. Sure enough, a few minutes later, an SUV (Ute) crested the wash and drove slowly past my place and turned onto the dirt road, where it came to a stop.

Now, some six to eight hours later, it's still there and the only change is that my dogs have stopped barking at it. The right rear tire's sidewall is split open all the way around, so a patch isn't a viable solution.

As much as I gripe about my existence at times, I have to remember to be grateful, too. I'd like to think that for the past several years, at least, losing a tire would only be a five minute annoyance. Other than some thirty years ago, I've always carried a spare tire and a spare, and the only time I didn't was with my first Jeep, the used literal life guard Jeep, that had no place to carry one.

That Jeep, of course, did have a flat tire once, and I remember being stranded on the side of the freeway in the early morning, probably on my way to work, but it may have been later in the day on some weekend.

I don't remember exactly when in our relationship it happened, but I walked off the freeway to a phone booth (!), called my girlfriend (or fiancee, or wife), and pleaded for help. I remember sitting next to the stricken Jeep until she came to get me, feeling completely worthless and close to tears. She told me later that she laughed at the sight ("Poor (boy). You looked so miserable sitting there with your wheel."

I imagine I directed her to tire place I knew about, got the tire changed, drove back to the Jeep, and put it back on.

The point being I've been in a position where a quick fix wasn't available, but mostly just pulled over, used the jack, put the spare tire back on, and drove on my way in a matter of minutes a little dirtier but none the worse for wear. This poor guy, whose SUV is stuck near my front yard, is experiencing a ruined day and while I almost take it for granted, it's much better to be able to be prepared. It's a luxury that I need to be grateful for.


This story about my eye goes back awhile, and I have no idea how it ends.

In the early years of this century I was working, producing web content, for a guy whose cousin was an eye doctor. My right eye was bad, had developed a cataract, and its vision was like looking through wax paper. All that I knew about cataracts at that time was that my dad had had one and his was very noticeable, very white, and obviously obscured the pupil of the eye that he was blind in, anyway.

I couldn't see mine, but the doctor told me I had one and that he could rid of it.

I don't know exactly why I went to him since my cataract had been developing for awhile, and I'd recently lost my job and had no insurance. Maybe it's because Elliot, the guy I worked for, told me his cousin  could give me a good deal and I'd been making noises about going down to Mexico to have it done.

I don't remember his name, but Elliot's cousin had a nice, clean, spacious office (including a surgery downstairs), and drove a Porsche Cayenne.

I don't remember ever haggling over the cost or if I did, indeed, get a good deal. It cost $3,000 dollars and my sister had to drive me there and back. Well, technically she only had to drive me back but since neither of us were going to leave our car in Inglewood, one of us drove there so that she could see where it was.

The morning of the surgery I remember using an eyebrow pencil to draw arrows on my face pointing at the eye that was to be worked on because I'd heard stories on the news of people having their wrong limbs amputated and things like that and was taking no chances.

I got the procedure done and it went smoothly as far as I could tell and I was soon back home and took off the bandage that had been put over my eye. Also, the doctor gave me some dark glasses to wear, the same ones he said he used, and that didn't look all that funky and no doubt protected my eyes from everything they needed protection from.

The first thing I remember noticing was how bright everything was. Not that it was clearer or anything, but it was sure brighter, even at night.

For the next month or so I kept going back and he kept measuring my vision and it reached 20-20, at least in that eye, and I remember being pretty damn happy. I also remember complaining about my peripheral vision in that eye being seemingly blocked, but he did some tests and said everything was fine.

And that was that.

Some six or seven years later, however, that eye was useless as far as seeing out of it was concerned, and I went to an optometrist at a nearby mall to see what the hell was going on and he told me that in 25% of the cases, something I though of as bubbles form behind the artificial lens, and I guessed I was one of the lucky fourth of people.

He said it could be treated and gave me the name of what was going on, and I remember looking it up on the internet where I learned about the 1/4 of people and what I called the bubbles. Since I'd been questioning the wisdom of getting the earlier eye surgery at all, I decided to not do anything about it (my usual reaction to things) and just learned to live with it.

By the time I moved up here, I think vision had mostly returned to that eye so I wasn't thinking about it at all any more, but as part of my health insurance they wanted me to have annual eye exams so last year I went to an (the?) eye doctor near where I live. He is neither a very friendly, or personable, or particularly quick doctor, but he's the one my insurance sends me to so...

Last year he reminded me about the bubbles and said they could be removed by LASER, but nothing more came of that. This year, when I went back, he said a cataract was developing in my other eye (the left one), which I think I already knew and talked again about the LASER treatment for my right eye and told me to call in for an appointment.

I did, but a few weeks went by without hearing back, and I figured he may have requested something but that the insurance denied it, and my vision was okay so I didn't press the issue. Then, about the time I'd forgotten all about it, his office called and set up an appointment for the LASER treatment.

So, yesterday I went in at 10:00 and he began the treatment right before noon. It seems he hasn't gotten quicker over the years, but I was able to watch the end of Men in Black and the start of Ghostbusters in his waiting room on the combo TV and VCR player. Yes, it had a tube.

I was seated in a chair, my head held in position with a strap, and spent no more than a few minutes staring at red lights while he aimed the LASER, clicked it, and I could see what looked like smoke showing up on the periphery of my vision. Then, he said it was over, told some technician that he'd done sixty-one one point threes, and I was good to go.

I've got an appointment to go back next week, to check the progress, I assume, and last night and this morning I noticed my vision is a little bit brighter and maybe even a little clearer!

I have no idea if he's going to do any more work with the LASER, if he did everything he was going to do with that, or half, or just started, but I wasn't hurt and I can see clearly, so as far as I'm concerned I'm good to go.

--The End--

A Damp, Maybe Moist, Desert

It rained a bit overnight, but since the roof doesn't leak I didn't know about it until I woke up and went outside.

One thing that happens when it rains, at least from April to November or so when I have the top down on the Jeep, is Rama gets wet. When I'm smart enough to think about it, I can toss a tarp over the top, roll up the windows, and keep the interior dry. That's assuming, of course, that what I don't do is dump the water that's collected on the tarp inside the Jeep.

It's been known to happen. Fairly frequently, if I'm honest.

This time I didn't do that, due in part because I never put the tarp up to begin with. When I was first looking around outside I could tell right away that some rain had fallen because the sand was crunchy and made noise with every step I took.  Beach sand doesn't do that, but my desert sand does.

Also, the air all smells like creosote, a very pleasant smell that you have to be in this part of the desert to ever experience or know about. I don't know -- I never knew about creosote bushes until I moved here, but maybe they grow other places.

A couple things in my life change when it rains. For one, the streets (usually in the same, known places) flood and get covered with sand and water. Related to that, snowplows appear (really!) to scrape the sand off the paved streets and graders sometime show up to take care of the dirt roads that need some help.

On a more personal note, whenever Rama gets wet enough, her radio dies.

I have no idea what part of the radio gets wet and causes it to stop working, but (so far) it's a part that also dries off in, at most, a couple of days, and the radio works again. It scared  me the first time, but by now I've sorta gotten used to it. There's still a niggling concern that it will never come back, but I've had a few cars with no radio in my life and if hers dies, well, it won't kill me.

The other nice thing about a little rainfall is that my dogs can be busy outside for hours sniffing all the new desert smells. I can't smell as well as I used to (none of my senses are what they used to be), so I can only imagine how nice it is for them.

The other big thing this rain has brought is sticky, unpleasant humidity, so my whole body feels like the under boob sweat that I hear so many women complain about. The new thing it does is render my new little, portable swamp cooler useless. Any time the humidity gets over 40% or so, it still goes through the motions, but can't cool the air.

I'm not all that crazy about it, anyway, but I refuse to believe I made a mistake in buying it. No, even though it says it will cool five hundred square feet (a quarter more than the cabin), it hasn't been able to do that yet. That may be due to the humidity, or maybe I was just ridiculously optimistic, but the good news is it does project a nice cool breeze if I'm within three feet (1m) of it. Which, maybe, is mostly what I wanted it to do, because I can set it up right near my bed and actually sleep at night without running the air conditioner.

But -- oh! -- it's wonderful to drive around in the desert after a rain and see what's changed. Pretty much makes everything else worthwhile.

Happy Surprise (But Maybe Not)

I had a happy surprise yesterday morning when I turned on the Jeep's radio and it worked!

Those of you who have been paying attention the way you should might recall that about a month ago we received a tiny bit of rain up here in the desert where I live, about 1/8" or 2-3mm of the stuff. It was just enough to spot the Jeep's dashboard but not enough to even form a shallow pool in the useless depression built into the top of the dashboard, the one that looks like it would hold something until the first time you turn the Jeep either left or right and have to pick it up from under your feet or dig it back out from the passenger footwell or out from under the front seats.

It would seem, though, that minor as it appeared, that little rain was enough to kill the radio. Oh, not entirely, it still turned on and displayed the time, which it even does when it's off, and would even display the icon for a CD being in the drive, but, no, it wouldn't produce any sound.

So, as far as I was concerned, it didn't work.

I tried pushing all the buttons I normally use and then some I never do. None of them did anything, but I was able to eject the CD that was in the drive. It did that a couple times, mostly as a test.

Since it displayed the time, I figured it hadn't blown a fuse and was getting electricity okay, but since it always displays the time, I couldn't tell if it was off or on, and I spent a lot of time pushing the on-off button and also the the one that selects AM or FM, in countless vain attempts to see if it would help bring it back to life, but it never did.

It took about an hour for me to resign myself to having no sounds in my Jeep, but I've had two or three cars with no radio in my life and it's the sort of thing I get used to. It's easier where I am now because there's only a few stations, anyway, and none of them are KROQ.

It's easy for me to skip the oldie stations because they pretty much only play songs I never really liked when they were popular. About half the time I can play my CDs if I really want to listen to anything, but I can only do that on good roads (otherwise I bounce around so much, every time I listen to one it skips and gets dinged).

I spend a fair amount of time re-burning CDs.

A couple days after the radio died, I was still hitting the buttons every fifteen minutes or so, and the radio was still doing nothing. I thought some about buying a new one but mostly told myself that it was just another example of the "Life of Deprivation" I live up here. There's too many other things I need to spend money on a radio.

But I looked, anyway. I used to get replacement radios at car radio stores, but there's only one of those up where I live and it's all high powered stuff. Walmart, as it turned out, carries a little cheap  one that would serve me okay, but I'd have to install it myself and it's smaller in size than the one that comes with Rama.

The installation kits, which they didn't have in stock, anyway, would make buying it even more out of reach, but I wasn't about to try that in any case. The electrical connections didn't worry me, but one thing I've learned about the desert is that the only thing it has less use for than standing water is plastic, and Rama's dashboard is pretty much all plastic.

While I used to be halfway decent at working on engines and the like, bodywork was always a closed book to me. All those little clips and knowing where to pry things apart were never in my book of knowledge. When I considered that it would be at best a 50-50 chance that I could get out the old one without destroying the dashboard, I gave up even thinking about putting in a new one.

Plus, since the new one was smaller, it would leave an unsightly hole even if I could get the old one out and put the new one in.

So I decided to keep practicing my favorite way of fixing things, which begins and ends with seeing if it fixes itself.

I think I'm a patient man, so the waiting part is right up my alley and that's just what I did. Oh, sure, I'd hit the on-off button and some of the other ones, but I'd pretty much given up hope when yesterday the radio surprised me by working!

You can imagine my delight when instead of just continuing to show the time, the display changed to say "Volume 9." Eureka! I turned it up to fifteen or so so I could hear what it was doing and, lo and behold, it was playing! I got to drive to the dog park listening to the show I liked (and had missed) and when we got nearby, slipped in the CD with the Bananrama songs I liked to have playing while I entered the park.

Now it's been a day and I'm happy to report the radio still works and still gets both AM and FM stations, can switch between them, and can play any CD I slip into the drive. Just like it used to! It's like it never died at all!

The only thing giving me pause is the knowledge that I did nothing to fix it. It fixed itself, sure, but that just reinforces this idea I have that things will do that and give me even more reason to not do anything.

Those clothes aren't going to put themselves away and the dishes aren't about to wash themselves no matter how much time I give them. So, instead of doing anything about them, I'm writing about how things take care of themselves if  you give them enough time.

Up the N202 Trail

After a few false starts trying it on my own, I found some friends from the dog park who were willing to take the back road up to Big Bear, one of whom knew exactly how to get there.

Where I live is in the Morongo Basin which, as the name implies, is like a dinner plate up three thousand feet (1km) in the mountains and is surrounded on all sides by higher mountains. Near the top of one of those mountains, to the west, is the ski and resort town of Big Bear, which also features a lake. Actually, there are two lakes, one a reservoir, but because of the drought, it's dried up.

There are, of course, a couple highways up there from various directions, and they are all nice mountain routes with all the curves and trees you'd expect. But there's also a well known trail from the SW part of the basin to the summit, N202. I'm not sure exactly, but it may be a fire break or fire trail, or just an offroad trail and until the 1950s was the only way to get to Pioneer Town. There's now a nice paved road to get there from Yucca Valley, the biggest town in the basin and only several miles farther SW of Pioneer Town.

So, if you don't feel like driving around to the north or south of the mountain range that's topped by Big Bear mountain and have something that can make the twenty mile climb, you can take the direct route up N202.

I'm told that one woman used to make the trip twice a day to get to work in her Chevy Nova, but I think you'd be more comfortable doing it in something with some ground clearance, something like a Jeep.

We all have Jeeps, but the guy who knew the route chose to ride shotgun in the Jeep owned by the other guy, a much newer and nicer Jeep than mine, I might add, and also a few models up the scale from my vanilla one.

After we assembled in Pioneer Town, we headed off to Rimrock, a small community a couple miles north, and the end of paved roads and the start of trail N202. In the distance we could see the mountains we were to tackle, and I patted Rama's dashboard and scratched my pups' ears, wishing us all luck.

We turned left, got to the end of the pavement, and began the journey.

As you can see, the trail starts off easy enough, just a dirt road, really, and stays like that for several miles as it passes by the occasional home or ranch.

There is some traffic, though, but no bad ruts or anything that threatens your suspension. The trail gets slowly, but progressively, rockier the farther up it you go, but neither of us needed to use 4WD on any part of the trip. There were no soft patches, and half the trip was no worse than maybe a poorly maintained dirt road. We kept climbing, but not too high for Joshua Trees to flourish.

Thee scenery out the driver's window, when I tired of looking at "White Leader' (as I called him on my walkie-talkie) looked like this. They usually referred to me as "Yellow Tail," by the way. I figured any eavesdropping militia types might enjoy hearing calls to White Leader, and this area seemed to me like the kind of place they might set  up a compound.

Beyond the limits of the Joshua Trees, we stopped to look around and let the dogs explore. The part of the world that we stopped at looks like this, and here you can also see the guys I traveled with. Eric, the one in the hat, was the one who'd taken this trail in the past and was our guide.

I think one of Tte main reasons Eric had picked this spot for us to look around was because of unusual rock formation in its vicinity

Refreshed after our short stop and anxious to see what else we could discover up the trail, we all got back in our Jeeps and continued climbing.

After some more climbing and probably a stop or two to make sure our kidneys and bladders were still working, we came to the only part of the journey that scared me: an old, abandoned copper mine. The only thing that scared me about it was that my tiny, little pup Sami would want to investigate. If you look closely enough to see her, you'll see she was excited as could be about it. I was worried all the time we were at that spot that she'd get inside and go beyond some boards set up just inside the entrance to keep anything larger than a five pound (3kg) pup out. None of us could get on the other side of the blockade to rescue her, and there were lots of nooks and crannies for her to get stuck or trapped in. Even in the best of times, she's not real good about coming when I call her, but she never ventured more than a couple feet (1m) inside. When not worrying about her, we humans tried to figure out why whoever dug this mine out decided to do it at that particular spot and not a few feet to either side.

Outside the entrance to the mine were some animal tracks. I thought they might be goat, but was corrected and told they were deer tracks. I never saw anything larger than a bunny during the trip, but I'm not much of a wildlife expert or spotter.

Onward and upward! About a third of the route was over patches of fist-sized rocks, which gave me my only concern. I didn't worry about Rama being able to get over them or anything, but that's the kind of thing that can rip a tire to shreds if you're not careful. Over those parts we drove like a pair of little old ladies. Also, as you can see if  you examine the pictures, were many skull sized rocks that we tried our best to drive around. This one, sitting out all by its lonesome, was easy to see and avoid.

Near the end of the trip was the only hazard, only it isn't a hazard at all any more. Before they set up this concrete bridge, there was a gully to traverse, which was especially nasty when it was filled with flowing water. Now it's just another spot to stop and let the dogs out.

After crossing the bridge, we kept climbing, but once again near some private property, some of which showed signs of one of the other things Southern California is famous for that isn't celebrities

On the top of a ravine, I was able to grab a quick shot down toward where I live. Landers and the rest of the basin is on the other side of those mountains in the back, but it looked a lot prettier than the picture shows! This happens a lot when I take a photograph.

We finally near the end of the drive, the outskirts of Big Bear, and what remains of the Baldwin Lake reservoir after ten years of drought. You can't see them here, but around the "shoreline" are lots of homes that I'm sure people paid a pretty penny for. I felt sad for them, but with any luck the water will return and they'll once again have a use for their docks.

After over three hours of driving, exploring, and climbing another three to four thousand feet (1km), we got our first view of Big Bear Lake. In the foreground you can see an elevated walkway that now looks pretty useless since there's no water under it. Big Bear is resort spot, filled with shops and eateries and is quite a bit cooler than the desert down below. We stopped at the informative Discovery Center (I bought an atlas) and looked at exhibits of stuffed birds, bears, and other animals, and I learned (but shouldn't have been so surprised) that the underlying mountains and land were all just part of the same desert where I live before being lifted up by activity along the San Andreas fault.

Okay, after suffering through all of that, here's some pics of my pups. It's never very easy to get a good shot of Sami because she's quick and runs around a lot, but she was there with Vinko, who takes his time, looking around to see if anyone's dropped some beef jerky or a steak, and does his best to look like a dog. She tries to blend in with the landscape.

And, after all that, they thought it best to rest up for our next adventure!

Who Knows?

This morning on the way to fill up the Jeep with gas that annoying engine warning light wasn't lit up, which may or may not actually mean anything.

Maybe it burned out.

While I can't rule out the problem fixed itself, I sincerely doubt that any of my efforts fixed anything, either. All I did was poke around under Rama for a moment looking for some obvious problem and found nothing, but who knows? Maybe he (or she) just wanted a little attention. Stranger things have happened.

When the light first came on I looked up the error code (P0456) on, of all places, the Internet and as should be expected got several thousand results. I didn't check them all, but one I did visit had some guy talking about it, with what may turn out to be an interesting symptom.

The problem, generally, has to do with a tiny leak in the gasoline vapor recovery system. It might just be a California thing (because of our history with smog we're pretty much aware of emission problems), but over the last forty years or so great strides have been made about cleaning up the air. In addition to efforts to clean up what leaves through the exhaust system, I take it the whole fuel system is now sealed as tight as a walrus' butt hole. So, instead of the gas in the gas tank evaporating into the air the way it used to, now that vapor is collected and sent to the engine to be mixed with and burned with the regular air when the pistons fire.

So far, so good.

Unless, of course, some sensor that's looking after the integrity of that system decides it has a leak somewhere (in my case, a "very small" one). It might even be that all the hoses and things are fine, but the sensor is faulty.

Anyway, that guy I mentioned earlier said that he got that error, but never when his tank was full of gas. It only showed up after driving around awhile, when some of the gas had been used and the tank was, I guess, filling up with air.

I should mention that for my Jeep, those engine warning lights will go off if the problem isn't there any more and the engine has been started three times without triggering whatever caused the light in the first place. All of which means the engineers also recognize that anything can happen once, but it also means that if the problem comes and goes, it's maybe not as easy for the Jeep to be checked out when it's in an error condition.

This has happened to me once before, and I choose not to describe the steps I went through to have the error show up at the same time I had my earlier Jeep scheduled for service when it decided not to light up the instrument panel the way motion sensitive lights illuminate someone at night messing around on the Hollywood sign.

Getting back to the present, the light had been on for four or five days, annoying me all the time. Since I didn't think it was a big deal, not like if the error was "timing belt missing" or "crankshaft melted away," I figured I'd do my best to ignore it and see what I could do or have it fixed when I felt a little better about things.

Then, this morning after I decided the dogs needed to go to the dog park and the hell with the light, we all got in Rama and the light was off. I was so happy we took the longer shortcut through the desert on one of the many trails instead of sticking to paved roads, and Rama never complained but, in fact, performed flawlessly (I should mention that other than that damn light, I never noticed anything wrong with the Jeep, even when the light was on).

After going to the park, the light was still off, and it stayed off even after filling the tank with the precious commodity known as "gas."

The light first went on when the tank was about three-quarters full and was off this morning when it was closer to one-fourth full. Now, I'll see if it comes back on. I'd like to think it's gone for good, but will be expecting it to show up after I've burned off some gas and will then decide if it's something I'll learn to live with for half a tank of gas or so.

I should also check back to see if I can find that guy's post again and see what he did.