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July 2004 Archives

July 1, 2004

Why Can’t Buses Be As Kind As People?

John and Steve Fix the Lock
Our First Campground at the Reno Hilton

Our next day on the road was almost uneventful, as least compared to the day before. Tim started up the bus at 8:30 am, with me still asleep -- for about 30 seconds. I had thought sleeping on our bus would have that familiar, comforting feeling, harkening back to all the snoozing I’d done on Greyhounds traveling back and forth to college. But, laying flat in a Queen bed in the very back of our bus was anything but reassuring. All of the turns, bumps and ruts were amplified. I felt like we were careening off the road during an earthquake while swerving to avoid Godzilla. I quickly got up, staying in my pajamas (so, there is a bright spot to this whole bus thing, after all). At first, I was glad I had, as the weather had cleared and the mountains ahead in Utah were stunning. But, once we got into those treacherous beasts, destroyers of already dwindling will with their "runaway truck lane" and "steep grade ahead" signs, I longed for the insecurity of the bed in the back. I tried to calm myself. I was being ridiculous.

Tim started having trouble with the brakes. I asked what the matter was.

"Nothing, sweetie," he reassured between clenched teeth. When Tim won't even tell me what's wrong, there's trouble. I clutched Morty to my frilly flannel chest (Shula was still, of course, huddled under the bed covers), imagining our imminent, fiery demise. Suddenly, Tim figured out the problem. Rather than turn the “Jake” brakes on high, he’d turned them off. As he later explained, diesel engines don’t normally slow with compression (i.e., when you take your foot off the gas in a car, it slows down. With a diesel engine, it just keeps going). Our diesel engine bus, however, was equipped with Jake brakes, (God bless you, Jacobs Company) a compression retarder that uses the engine itself to aid in controlling the vehicle. This allows the bus to slow without using the regular brakes, which would quickly overheat on such steep grades with such massive tonnage and eventually lose their ability to stop the bus at all. Not a good thing.

To operate the Jake brakes, the driver toggles a switch with his left hand. Unfortunately, Tim had assumed that "up" was high, when in fact, "up" was off.

“Much better, huh?” He laughed, after realizing his mistake. Yup.

We arrived in Reno close to 8 pm and parked in front of his mother’s house for the night. Tomorrow, we would go to our first campground, but now, we were due at Tim’s brother’s house to join a birthday party for a niece. The bus door, however, would not lock.

At some point during the conversion to a motor home, the large swinging handle a bus driver would normally use to close the door (which trips the air lock) was removed. Instead, we had a small button on the dash that activated said air lock (so small, in fact, Tim kept forgetting about it our first day). A regular, RV door lock was also installed, but when the door frame twists even slightly, it can pop open (as also demonstrated that first day). Since the air lock does not work when there's no power to the bus, we needed both systems.

Tim got out his tools and took the door lock apart. While he did that, I worked on figuring out the ice maker in the fridge. I needed a martini. Bad. (Yeah, I know it's "badly," but I didn't need it "badly," I needed it bad, see?) While he got the lock working as well as he could, I saw that in fact, there were a few ice cubes already in the tray. Unfortunately, the manual said to discard this first set. Something about chemicals… dirt… growing a third eye… I didn’t know and didn’t care. I needed my Cosmo and I needed it. Bad.

Soon, some nieces and nephews returned to drop Dorothy home from the party. They all came in for a look and were duly impressed. After the tour, Tim’s namesake nephew, a strapping 22 year old who I was close to, took me aside.

“Aunt Doreen,” he said. “You’re a really good sport.”

“Yup,” was all I could reply, feeling no more pain, as I sucked down the last fruity, tranquilizing drop.

The next morning, Sunday, brought with it a new day… and a new mattress. Dorothy’s birthday party went off without a hitch. I noted that one of Tim’s grandnieces, an adorable three year old named Ileana, wore a lovely blue satin frock for the occasion. I was even more impressed, however, when she chose a perfectly matching balloon to take home. Now there’s a girl who knows how to accessorize.

Tim spent most of the rest of the day working on that darn door lock, this time with the help of his brother and nephew, while I spent the afternoon with Shula in bed. I still hadn’t been sleeping well and the party had been very early in the morning, the only reservation we could get for 20 people on Father’s Day.

It was noon by now and I was still too wound up to sleep, even after days of sleep deprivation. I was strung out, on edge and way too wired. But, with only a couple of hours to nap before a family dinner, I was desperate. I sat on the floor of the kitchen and perused the liquor cabinet. I was too exhausted to put in much effort. Certainly, any violent motion, as was required by the martini shaker, was out of the question. But, what would taste acceptable on its own? Finally, I spied my prize.

“Ah, Frangelico! Come here my nutty little friar friend,” I cooed. I had that monk unfrocked so fast, he didn’t know what was sucking the life out of him. I didn’t want to deal with dishes (we had forgotten dishwashing soap, anyway), so I just drank the sweet, hazelnut nectar straight out of the bottle, sitting right there on the floor. I grabbed his chocolaty, if misnamed buddy, Cream de Cacao (who isn't creamy at all. Why is that?) with my other hand, gulping it down as a chaser. Yum. Tim walked in to get a tool.

“What are you doing?” he exclaimed, looking at his watch. I’m not a big drinker. I’ll have a cocktail on the weekends, maybe a glass of wine with dinner then, too, but that’s about it. Here it was, noon on a Sunday and I was well on the road to getting soused. On the road. Oh, God. Better have another.

While I napped, Tim thought he fixed the lock well enough to hold us until we could get to an RV service place, so we drove over to our first campground for the night. I was so looking forward to my first real shower in three days. Unfortunately, the water wasn’t hot, or even particularly warm. Apparently, even when hooked up to shore lines, we still needed diesel fuel to heat the water to a reasonable temperature, as we didn't have a hot water tank. After nearly a thousand miles since we last filled up, we just didn’t have enough left. So, we splashed around as best we could and went to bed.

The next morning, after another fairly sleepless night (we couldn’t figure out how to get the fan in the bedroom to stop cycling until morning. The communications guy was supposed to have installed a noise machine, but guess what?) Tim went to do errands with his mother. I decided to fire up the internet for the first time. At least, as I lived this new, Spartan, chaotic and at times terrifying life for an entire year, I didn’t have to completely give up my old one. The internet was my link to friends, family and everything I'd left behind. I also needed it to do my insurance review work, something I was actually looking forward to getting back to that day, as it would provide some sense of normalcy.

But, the satellite wasn’t working. I called tech support and discovered that our communications guy had not installed a crucial bit of software. Big surprise. Of course, the only way to install it was to download it. But, I had no internet.

I was now over the edge, careening into a deep gully, and the engine wasn't even on. I climbed over Shula into the bed and had a good bawl. Sometimes, that’s just what a Princess has gotta do. After a few minutes, I splashed some very cold water on my face, grabbed a floppy disc and ventured outside, searching for someone with the same satellite antenna on the roof of their rig. I quickly found one and knocked. An older lady peered out the door.

“Hi,” I ventured. “This is my first day ever in a campground, and I really don’t know the proper etiquette, but would you mind… ?”

She was very kind. In spite of how crazed and desperate I seemed (well, she did have a Doberman in her rig) she let me in, got on the internet and downloaded the program I needed. I thanked her profusely.

“You have no idea what a kindness you’ve done here. Thank you,” I said. She reassured me that her shakedown cruise, years ago, had been no picnic, either.

Tim returned soon after and wanted to head out to gas up so that we could have a proper shower. I kept procrastinating, terrified of some new disaster.

“Honey,” he said, “the filling station is less than a mile down the road. It’ll be fine.” I took a deep breath.

“O.K.” We got to the pump at 4:30 pm. We left close to 8. While I went in to prepay, Tim went out to wash the windows... then couldn’t get back in. The door lock had totally jammed.

A couple of mechanics came over to help. They and Tim worked on it for nearly an hour, without a budge. All I had was my wallet. Fortunately, Tim had his cell phone. I called AAA. They sent out the most manic mechanic I had ever seen, and in my line of work, I can assure you I’ve seen a few. Although he talked a mile a minute, flew around his truck getting tools and was a whirl of activity around the lock itself, (although I'm still not exactly sure what he did) he just couldn’t get it open. The pets were inside in the sweltering heat. Tim proposed breaking the glass on one of the small slider windows. I looked up from my 5’3”, 116 pound frame to his just over 6’, 175 pound one.

“Do you really think I can fit through that?” I asked, incredulous.

“No, but I can,” he replied. He immediately realized his mistake. “Oh, honey, “he tried to reassure me. “What I meant was, of course I would be the one to crawl through it, because I've got to figure out how to unhinge the lock from the inside.”

Hardly placated, I nevertheless turned to the task at hand, filing his remark away on the complaint form for the mythical home office I had concocted in my head, so I wouldn’t feel we were so very out there, totally on our own. There, “insulting passenger” joined, "nearly killed passenger," "nearly killed passenger," and "nearly killed passenger." Maybe they would consider replacing the driver.

Several former bus drivers (and possible candidates) approached during that particular ordeal, offering advice and assistance. Finally, someone looked up the number of a locksmith down the street. I called. He could be there in 15 min.

When John Smith and Steve Lauricella of ABC Lock and Glass arrived, they were like something out of an Abbott and Costello routine.

“Don’t pick the lock. He says he has a key,” John said to Steve, nodding over to Tim.

“Oh, that wouldn’t be too bright, would it?” replied Steve, still picking the lock.

“You said you wouldn’t do it,” said John, “but you’re still doin’ it.” Steve shook his head, while still picking the lock. “No, I’m not,” he replied.

They were not inspiring much confidence. I burst into tears. John immediately spun around, looked me in the eyes and said, “I will not leave here until you get into your bus.” I immediately stopped crying and gave him a weak smile.

Tim told me to take a walk with him.

“Honey, I am so sorry for dragging you on this trip. This whole bus thing was my idea. I can't believe I'm putting you through all this." I knew how much this year meant to him.

“Look, it was your dream, but I don’t blame you. I did agree to it. And,” I lied, “I’m not ready to throw in the towel just yet.” He gave me a dubious look, but we returned to our own private comedy team.

As they worked, we started telling them about all our mishaps. Steve kept saying how envious he was that we were doing this for a year. Tim kept saying if he was so envious, he was sure I’d give him a great price on the bus.

After about an hour, they got it open. I ran in and checked on the pets. When I got out, Steve was getting the bill ready.

“Sorry about this, folks,” he said. “Is $85 OK?”

“For the bus?” I exclaimed. “Sold!” They all laughed. Only, I wasn’t joking. John promised he’d come by the next morning to permanently fix the lock. They ended up sending someone else as John had quit. I'll always wonder if seeing a grown psychiatrist cry is simply too much for any human being.

By the time we got back to the campground, it was too late to go out to dinner with Tim’s mother. I got into the shower first.

“You’re sure I can use all the hot water I want without taking away from your shower?” I asked Tim. He assured me that was the case. It felt so good to wash my hair for -- I hate to admit it -- the first time in four days. As soon as I finished, Tim stepped in and soaped up. The water stopped. All over the bus.

“Damn,” he exclaimed. "I must have hooked something up wrong." He toweled off, went outside and fixed the problem. Some hook up thing. On his return, he asked, “aren’t you glad that happened to me and not you?”

“It’s truly unfortunate how little pleasure that gives me at this time,” I replied. We got dressed and went over to the casino next door for a quick supper. I ordered a Marguerita.

“12 or 24 ounce?” the bartender asked. I asked her to point out the 24 ounce size. It was gargantuan. There was no way I could finish it, so I ordered the 12. Five minutes later, I had downed that little strawberry sucker and was back at the bar for its towering sibling. When Tim saw me return with it, his eyes grew wide. They grew wider still when I downed it. Quickly.

Tim was up all night with food poisoning. His mother apparently had it, too. They must have gotten it while out that day for lunch. Mercifully, I was spared. For now.

July 11, 2004

Random Selection

Bat Flight

Shula Under Bedcovers
Carlsbad Caverns (note the humidity as witnessed by my hair)

How Was I Supposed to Know I Have A Bus Phobia?

The night before we left Reno, we had Tim’s family over for a dinner party of sorts; we got take out. We had been too busy trying to fix the toilet to figure out the kitchen appliances. A valve was broken, so there was no water to flush. The only way to use the toilet was to pour water in it from a bucket. It was Little House on the Prairie meets Magical Mystery Tour Bus. Frankly, I wasn’t too upset. At least we had water in the rest of the rig. I knew now from experience that it could’ve been much worse.

It was at about this time that “the bitch” as we came to call her, started talking.

“Alert!” she’d squawk. “Fresh water system, three-quarters… grey water system, seven eights.” She apparently lived in an upper kitchen cabinet, along with all the master control systems for the bus. Tim and I dubbed her, “the bitch” because she never said anything really useful, like, “Alert! Front door about to fly open!” Or, “Alert! Cat about to pee in bed!” Or, more useful still, “Alert! This bus thing is the stupidest idea you’ve ever had!” Within a few days, after we realized that the pronouncements she did make weren’t even true, i.e. we had far less fresh water than she said we did, we starting calling her, “the lying bitch.”

As we prepared to leave Reno, I noticed Tim procrastinating. He finally admitted he was wary of the next disaster down the road. An insecure driver behind the wheel of over 40,000 pounds of bus is not a good thing. I tried my best to console him.

“I know I’m not being rationale,” he said. “I know nothing’s going to happen.” An irrational bus driver is even worse than an insecure one. And, if Tim really thought no more bad things were going to happen on this most accursed of trips, he was quite irrational, indeed.

On the drive out of Reno, Shula spent the entire day sitting in the “buddy seat” with me. It wasn’t that she’d suddenly gotten courageous, but rather that we had decided to keep the door to the bedroom shut (we really liked our new mattress). She climbed up to my lap and dug her face in against my stomach. See no evil, hear no evil, is no evil, I guess. Occasionally, she’d lift a terrified eye in my direction for a quick, accusatory glare. Tim said, “looks like she’s saying, ‘Mommy! Make the nightmare stop!’” After a little while, I actually though she was purring, but soon realized the “purr” was coming from her haunches. Trembling was more like it.

The rest of the trip to our next campsite was uneventful. Tim even managed to navigate through aggressive rush hour traffic without using the locomotive quality air horn he’d had installed. (Well, to be honest, he had many an opportunity, but didn’t want to give Shula a heart attack.) Once we stopped, he showed me his still shaking hands as he recounted how, during his bus driving lessons with an RTD instructor (the wife of a nurse at the hospital), they had encountered heavy freeway traffic. When Tim balked at her suggestion to change lanes, thinking no one would let him in, she calmly informed him, “Sometimes you just gotta move the bus.” It was this refrain he had heard in his head, guiding him through the nearly bumper to bumper mess.

After we parked for the night at a campground, we high-fived each other, exclaiming, “our first trip without a disaster!” We spoke too soon. It was over a hundred degrees in the desert, but when we hooked into shore power, there was none to be had. We then tried to fire up the generator, but it was overheated. So were we. So were Miles, Morty and Shula. The maintenance man for the campground came by and explained that the entire line of campers went down as soon as we hooked in. Although they’d been upgrading their thirty-year-old electrical system, some of their sites just couldn’t handle bigger rigs like ours. We were moved to another spot, several rows away, but I suspect the problem was campground-wide, because as we lumbered down the lanes to our new place, nearly everyone got out of their rigs to shoot us the same looks obese people get when boarding airplanes.

I found myself becoming phobic about the bus. (Actually, I could very well have been bus phobic for years without any opportunity to know it until now.) Not just that something terrible would happen, like getting locked out, or the generator not working or even finding no room at a truck stop, all problems we had already encountered and which had proved survivable. No, instead, I found myself fearful any time the bus was in motion. On the slightest downhill, I’d try to mind-meld with Tim, to get him to put on the engine break, my foot stomping on air. At every turn, I’d clutch the seat, anticipating a roll over. At every dip in the road, I’d hold my breath, listening for the sound of bending steel, a portent of our imminent, albeit mercifully swift, midsectioning. It didn’t help that the glasses in the wine rack clinked together all the time. What was I afraid of? I kept asking myself. The answer was always the same: careening off the road amidst the sound of all our belongings crashing. I didn’t even get so far as to imagine my own or anyone else’s demise. It was the careening and the crashing. Careening and crashing. Phobias aren’t rational.

One day, on a particularly hilly, winding and dipping road, I was particularly scared and particularly quiet. As a good shrink, Tim noticed.

“What’s wrong, honey?” he asked.

“Nothing.” I realized I’d better start talking about something, anything, before he caught on. Just then, we happened to pass a highway sign announcing the number of miles to Albuquerque. Without even thinking, I launched into a rousing rendition of the old Partridge Family hit:

Point me… yee
In the direction of

And, then, with a bit too much feeling:

I want to go home.
Please let me go ho-o-o-ome.

Sometimes, a song is just a song… but not in this case. By the end of that line, I was sobbing. And, although I’m sure Tim didn’t recognize the song, he clearly realized that those fake TV 70s singing group lyrics could hardly plumb such depth of feeling.

“What is wrong?” He asked, again, this time more insistent. I mulled over my response. I’ve always found that it’s just not worth keeping things from my husband, for not only does he find out eventually, but I always somehow manage to feel better after confiding in him. I guess that’s part of why he had such a busy psychiatric practice. Yet, this seemed to be a special case; telling him that I was terrified of riding in the bus, while he was driving the bus did not seem like an especially good plan. On the other hand, he knew something was wrong, and keeping it from him would let his imagination run wild, although how he could possibly imagine something worse was beyond me. I took a deep breath and plunged in.

“OK. Look,” I began. “I can tell you what’s wrong, if you really think you want to know what’s wrong, but if you don’t,” I breathlessly continued, “you should tell me right now, because I don’t really have to tell you… especially while you’re driving.” After an introduction like that, how else could he respond but, “tell me, already!”

“Fine,” I began in a rush of words, “It’s not that I don’t trust your driving. You’re a great driver. It’s just that people are idiots!” I exclaimed, never for an instant including my idiotic self in that assertion. “What if someone makes a sudden stop? What if we hit an elk? What if the brakes go out? I keep imagining us careening over the edge of the road. I don’t even imagine the dying part, just the careening. The screeching of tires, the shattering of glass. But, most of all, the careening. The CAREENING. I can’t take it anymore!” He gave me an incredulous look. I nearly lost it.

“HEY! Hey, driver! Eyes on the road!” Tim shook his head, but resumed facing forward. I continued.

“And, the overpasses! Remember the WMD!”

“What WMD?” He asked, exasperated.

“Exactly!” I cried, triumphant. “The government lied about WMD, they could lie about the overpasses! How do we know they’re really as tall as they say? Whenever we go under one, all I can think is, ‘it’s going to sheer us clean off!’”

“I can’t believe it!” Tim exclaimed, “You’re phobic about the bus.” So much for making me feel better. I guess he gave at the office. I certainly didn’t need a shrink to tell me I was phobic, especially when his solution was to pull over to a deserted parking lot so I could learn to drive the thing, to “feel it’s power.” Maybe in my next life. Just my luck, I’ll come back as John Madden’s wife.

I must admit, we had a thoroughly enjoyable respite in Carlsbad. The campground was lovely: Spacious, well maintained sites and a hot tub for adults only. We toured the Caverns and stayed for the evening bat fight of hundreds of thousands of Mexican Freetails. I didn’t even scream as they spiraled out of the cave. I guess that’s one plus of my new-found bus terror: even a phobic’s gotta prioritize.

I calmed down a bit after several stationary days, until Tim decided to fire up the stereo for the first time and couldn’t get enough base. He thought perhaps it had to be adjusted through the TV, so he lowered the 42 inch flat screen from it’s tucked perch in the ceiling… right onto the only ever so slightly ajar stereo doors. They and their glass inserts cracked into hundreds of splinters. I should know, I’m still pulling shards out of my feet.

The next day, Tim decided to tackle the combination washer dryer which consists of just one space-saving unit. I cringed as he got out the instructions.

“Don’t worry, honey,” he tried to reassure. “What’s the worse that can go wrong?”

“Oh, I don't know," I mused. "How about a flood? And if that happens, I guarentee you, the locusts and pestilence won't be far behind.” He ignored me and started perusing the manual.

“Christ! This isn’t a washer dryer. It’s the control panel to the space shuttle!” I relaxed, figuring it would take awhile for anything to blow up. Then, “OUCH!” While peering around the machine to try to familiarize himself with it, Tim hit his lip. It was bleeding. I guess HAL didn’t feel like washing clothes just then.

Tim, Miles, Shula, Morty, the lying bitch, HAL and I settled into a routine while parked in Carlsbad. I would do insurance reviews and write during the day, while Tim did paperwork to close out his practice, some bus or Jeep maintenance and hike with the dog. We’d rendezvous late in the afternoon and do something together, as by then even I was itching to get outside. Either we’d take a walk or a bike ride, swim or go into town. Afterwards, we’d have happy hour: Tim had discovered some local beer and I’d make myself a fruity martini, something I was becoming quite expert at. (It’s amazing what forced self sufficiency allows one to accomplish.) We’d drink, have some snacks, sit on lawn chairs near our rig, Miles lying by our sides and watch the sunset. A neighbor might stop to say hello, especially if he or she was with dog. After an hour or so, we’d cook… er, thaw, a rudimentary dinner. Afterwards, we’d sit inside, listen to the stereo and talk. The days and nights passed pleasantly. At home, we would have watched a network Evening News show while eating dinner, then both work for a couple of hours before watching a little TV before bed. It seems our communications guy had done us a favor by not hooking the TV up. We were “off the grid,” in our own little steel and fiberglass world. It finally felt good.

Until we started moving again.

July 17, 2004

Leave the Driving to Zarcon


From Carlsbad, we headed for Roswell, NM and the second annual UFO Festival. I had first heard of it from the short-lived WB series, Roswell, about a group of stylish alien teens trying to keep their other-worldly identities secret from government agencies bent on dissecting them, while still managing to go to prom. (I’m a sucker for teen dramas.) As two shrinks, Tim and I eagerly anticipated the UFO Festival as the perfect opportunity to observe weirdness recreationally, without the expectation that we do something about it.

The UFO festival takes place over 4 days, but if you’re not an aficionado of all things alien, a little goes a long way. We first went to the Civic Center where, the Duras sisters from Star Trek, Next Generation (unfortunately, sans Klingon costumes), greeted participants at the door. We then entered a large exhibit hall, where a dozen or so authors sat at their booths, hawking books like, Flying Saucers Are Real, Diary of an Alien Abductee, Dear Mr. President: 100 Earth-Saving Letters, Underground Bases and Tunnels: What is the Government Trying to Hide? Also available to answer questions, was the journalist who, as was described in the conference brochure, “retired early to a mountaintop in southern Arizona to explore his relationship with reality.” As an expert of sorts on reality, I could’ve told him that if you have to explore your relationship with it, you probably don’t have one. But, it was only when I turned and came face to face with a large display of the book, Alien Log, that I completely lost it. If you can’t get in touch with your inner 12 year old for that one, I’m sorry; I’m not going to explain it to you. Suffice it to say, I started laughing and couldn’t stop. Tim put his arm around me and ushered me away. He was afraid we’d be stoned as disbelievers.

“Don’t worry, honey,” I reassured him. I was by now able to stifle my laughter, but tears still streamed down my face. “They’ll think I’m crying because all this is triggering memories of my own abduction.” He was not placated. We walked over to another booth, where a couple sat and where I made the mistake of glancing at the woman. As soon as I did, she launched into her spiel.

“My husband,” she nodded over at her partner, “kept his abduction a secret from me for 18 years. He never talked about it with anyone, even though THEY didn’t tell him he had to keep it a secret,” she confided. I looked over at her wild-eyed husband. I’d seen that look before in untreated manic-depressives. She continued, picking up his tome, “this book is in large print for older people,” she proudly asserted. Well. Guess who just lost whatever slim chance she’d had of a sale. She went on, digging herself an even deeper hole, “and I made him take out all the profanity and sex so it’s suitable for kids.” That proved it; these people were certifiable. Fortunately, a true believer happened to arrive and distracted her with a question while I made my escape. I whirled on Tim, accusingly, “Why didn’t you rescue me?” He was just as fierce in his reply, “Don’t you be making eye contact with these people.”

We stayed to hear a lecture by the “original civilian investigator of the Roswell incident,” but decided to forgo hearing other ones entitled, “Who Are the Rogue Elements Involved in The Alien Agenda, An Insider Speaks,” and “Listening to Extraterrestrials: Telepathic Coaching by Enlightened Beings,” and “Are There Really Military/Intelligence Agency Abductions?”

Instead, we headed over to the UFO Museum on Main Street. Most of it is devoted to the “Roswell incident” of 1947 and the government cover up of said incident (weather balloon, shmeather balloon), although there was also a small exhibit covering ways to determine if one has been abducted. What particularly caught my eye on that list were unexplained bruises. These people should try living in a bus - you’re banging around so much, the pain doesn’t even register. I guess I’ve been “taken” many a time. I was, however, pleasantly surprised that there was nary a mention of “anal probes.”

One of the most intriguing theories for why aliens have returned to our planet so often and taken so many of our citizens is that we’re someone’s crop. Does make you stop and think, doesn’t it?

On our way back to Carlsbad, we passed the Eastern New Mexico State Fairgrounds, just on the outskirts of Roswell. Since we had tickets for the UFO Festival Concert there the following night (Willie Nelson was headlining – you don’t suppose… ?), we drove the Jeep in to see if there might be a place to park our rig. Sure enough, the Fairgrounds had RV hookups “around back, by the swine barn” (oh, Princess from the Island of Long, how far hast thou fallen?) and we reserved a spot.

The next day, as we rolled on in on the bus, everyone at the Fairgrounds – campers, staff, and cowboys – stood on their feet, waving at us with what can only be described as reverent stares. We were used to the “celebrity” treatment, but this was a bit much. It was only when we parked, got out and were approached by several people who asked, “Is Willie Nelson in there?” that we realized what all the fuss was about. I pulled Tim aside, “If we say ‘no,’ they’re liable to turn ugly.”

“What do you suggest? “he whispered back.

“Let’s tell ‘em Willie’s sleeping… but we can get them his autograph for $5 each,” I replied. Tim shook his head at me and started walking back to the crowd to explain.

“We’ll say it’s for Farm Aid!” I called after him, weakly. Guess we won’t be enjoying diesel on Willie this trip.

July 25, 2004

Chiggers and Humidity and Tractors… Oh, My!

Bob gets out of the way as I start the tractor

As we traveled through New Mexico, I had to admit that on a bus, one did get to see and experience places in a way that would not be possible by plane or even train, (although the old beat up Subaru I was planning to sell after this meltdown cruise was looking better and better all the time). In the midst of my in-motion terror, the welcome sign into one small New Mexico town did bring a smile to my face: “Portales, Home of 12,000 Nice People and 2 or 3 Grouches.” We left the State none to soon, however, for after spending only a few days in the Southwest and after buying my first cowboy hat, I had started speaking with a distinct twang. Now I know what got into Madonna after she moved to London.

I had downloaded instructions to the home of Tim’s father, Bob and his wife, Frances in Arkansas from Mapquest. We called to let them know we’d be there the next afternoon.

“Do you need directions?” Bob asked.

“Nope,” Tim assured him, “Doreen got ‘em off the internet. Right to your door.” What we soon learned about Mapquest is that while it certainly provides the most direct route, the most direct route is not necessarily the most drivable one - especially for an oversized vehicle. Bob and Frances live in an unincorporated part of small town, Van Buren. The internet directions seemed easy enough. We got off the highway and started following the instructions. The roads kept getting smaller and smaller. Soon, we were traveling over tiny, one lane bridges perched precariously over creek beds. We passed a “No Trucks” sign.

“We should turn back!” I exclaimed.

“We’re not a truck,” Tim blithely responded. “Besides, there’s no place to turn around.” He was right. We had no choice but to continue on. We arrived at a bridge with the sign, “Limit 30 Tons.”

“How many are we?” I cried, reeling with bus phobia.

“Twenty,” he replied, “Don’t worry.” We made it over that bridge, only to quickly come to another, this time with the sign, “Limit 13 Tons.” That was all I needed to turn my reel into a full fledged centrifuge, as I felt my lunch separating itself from my intestinal tract.

“WE’RE 20 TONS! WE’RE 20 TONS,” I screamed, grabbing the seat back to steady myself. That there are no armrests turns out to be a serious design flaw when the “buddy” seat is inhabited by a bus phobic.

“Don’t worry,” Tim assured me, a manic gleam in his eye as he barreled onward, “It’s too small for us to have all three axels on at the same time.” He hit the gas and we sped to the other side. I don’t know which is worse: A bus phobic wife or her bus crazed driver husband. Finally, we came to an obstacle that would even have lent The Simpsons' Otto pause: a washed out culver. Tim stopped the bus, climbed down and inspected the impasse first hand.

“We need to back up,” I moaned, weakly. The lack of airsickness bags was another huge design flaw. That this was probably due to the absence of a seatback in front of me was little comfort. “We won’t make it.”

“I might agree,” Tim said, “but we still can’t turn around.” He was right. We were on a single lane road, with no room to park the Jeep, let alone turn the bus around. He got back behind the wheel and gingerly maneuvered us through the stream. When we finally made it to his father’s house, (I think I kissed the ground, but I can’t be sure… it’s all a blur) Bob and Frances had a good laugh when they heard how we came.

“We won’t even drive our cars that way!” Bob exclaimed.

While we were on Bob’s farm, I asked to drive the tractor. I may not have been willing to get behind the wheel of our bus, as Tim thought I should, but at least I could attempt to partially counter my phobia by driving some type of big rig. When Bob showed me the clutch and the seven speed pattern with high and low differential, I turned to him and asked, “Don’t you have one with an automatic?” He looked at me as if calculating the increase in insurance premium I was about to cost him. But, wearing my new cowboy hat, jeans and pair of old cowboy boots left over from my days in Tucson, I drove the thing across his cow pasture and back, without injury to man or beast. I guess all it takes to drive a tractor is the right outfit.

Arkansas in July. No wonder that upon hearing where we were going for our shakedown cruise, our friends shook their heads in disbelief. I was truly, more than ever, ready to call the home office and fire the bus driver. Buffalo Gnats, Chiggers, and my hair! Remember the Hindenburg Disaster? Oh, the humidity! It had been raining for the past week (the same rains that had washed out the narrow roads nearby) and parking in Bob and Frances’ front yard was probably not the brightest idea. We started sinking and by our second day there, were pitching distinctly starboard. Whenever Tim was in earshot, I couldn’t resist singing in my best falsetto, “Nearer My God to Thee,” alternating with an even more overwrought rendition than the original “My Heart Will Go On.” I still have a bruise on my chest from the climactic thumping part. Where’s Celine Dion when you need her?

One morning, we were awoken by Frances banging on the bus door.

“Tim! Tim!” She cried, “Come quick!” We both assumed something terrible had happened to Bob, but soon discovered that it was cousin JT, who lived down the road a piece, who needed help. While jump-starting his tractor that morning (and standing in front of it) he had gotten run over and was refusing to go to the hospital. Bob wanted Tim to go take a look at him. My first thought was, “OK. I guess my husband the psychiatrist can ask how JT feels about his near-death experience,” but before I could say anything, Tim had run out the door.

During the four hours before he returned, it started to pour. Now, I could almost feel the bus getting bogged down. Would we ever be able to get out? Did the local AAA have a flatbed truck to rescue us with? Was there even a local AAA? Would the entire earth swallow us whole and if so, what would I do with the pets? I decided that with Tim AWOL, I was acting captain and would be forced to go down with the ship. The only thing to do, then, was huddle under the covers with Shula, contemplating our murky demise. As I turned off the bedroom lights (the better to cower with), I remembered the large extension cord plugging the bus in to an outside outlet, allowing us the electricity to run our air conditioning, appliances, etc. Might we be electrocuted before we were submerged? It seemed as if Sunnydale’s Hellmouth had opened a franchise in Van Buren, Arkansas, trying to reclaim a lost member to the fold – our very own hellbus. Unto every generation, a pathetic Princess who listens to her husband’s idiotic plan is born. Oh, Buffy. Where were you when I needed you?

Cousin JT finally agreed to go to the hospital after Tim told him that in his medical opinion (he left out that he was a shrink), JT would die if he didn’t get proper care. Good thing, too: turns out he had two punctured lungs, four broken ribs and a broken clavicle. The muddy ground that was my nemesis turned out to be his savior, because if that tractor had run over him on dry land, he surely would not have survived.

Later that day, as we drove into town for a quick errand, Tim broke out his best Dr. McCoy as he tried to explain to his father the folly of calling on a psychiatrist to make a house call during a medical emergency: "Damn it, Dad! I’m a psychiatrist, not a real doctor!”

Bob showed us the correct, non-Mapquest way to leave for home in a few days, but unfortunately, there was construction, considerably narrowing the two lane road. It had Jersey barriers that I found… disturbing.

“Are you sure we’ll fit?” I kept asking Tim, nervously. Yes, yes, he tried to reassure me.

“But, look how small that is! What if you hit… ” Finally, Tim interrupted with an exasperated, “Maybe we can get Bob and Frances to drive you to the highway.”

“Maybe we can get Bob and Frances to drive me to the airport,” I immediately shot back.

One night, we drove a few miles to the cabin of Joanne and Jay Rainwater. There, most Wednesday evenings for the past ten years, Jay and his friend, Don Murphy, play blue grass music together. Jay, a distinguished 70 year old with a ready, knee slapping grin (unless he has an instrument in his hand, in which case he compensates for the lack of knee slapping with an even wider grin) plays guitar and mandolin. Don, a handsome, lanky man in his early 60s, plays guitar and banjo. We all sat out on the deck, with another neighbor couple and the Rainwater’s two year old Chihuahua, Troubles, running from one to another of us, begging for a lap. You might say Troubles seemed a bit troubled herself, since as soon as she got the lap she seemed to be craving, she’d decide there was better lap to be had, and insist on getting down. Tim and I each held her, many a time, knowing full well there’d be hell to pay when we got back to the bus, in the form of accusatory looks from our own animals when they figured out we’d been cheating on them.

As we sat out on the deck, surrounded by tall, graceful trees, night fell and hummingbirds gave way to fireflies. We saw a deer and her fawn at the edge of the yard. Jay and Don would play a few tunes, then let their fingers rest while everyone chatted for a spell, then play some more. Don laughed at times while he played, presumably because he’d made a mistake, although I never caught one. As Bob told him, “If you didn’t grin, no one would know you’d hit the wrong note!” During one of their breaks, Don told of a cow he had with a muscle disease which caused it to stink real bad. Jay commented that he himself couldn’t tell, because he couldn’t smell: his nerves had been cut during a dental procedure.

“But,” he went on with that ready grin, “there’s a guy at work who can’t taste or smell, so I figure I’m ahead of the game.” Don, we were told later, had been offered tidy sums of money for his banjo - up to $18,000 - but he refused to sell. It was over 80 years old and had the best tone of any he’d ever played. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to hear too much of that wonderful sound, as Don left early, for he had to be up at 3:30 am to make his shift at the manufacturing plant.

As Tim and I talked later about how much we enjoyed the evening, he remarked that it was a throwback to a simpler time, when people depended on each other for entertainment, rather than technology. I wonder which is simpler, really; relying on TV for social glue, or on ourselves and each other, leaving it to our imaginations and talents to delight and ultimately bind us together.

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About July 2004

This page contains all entries posted to What Do You Want From Me? by Doreen Orion in July 2004. They are listed from oldest to newest.

June 2004 is the previous archive.

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