Sunday, September 30, 2012

How to Get to Alamogordo From Missouri

Highway 54, Conlen, TX, on the way to Alamogordo 

  1. From Jefferson City, Missouri, take Highway 54. 
  2. When you get to Alamogordo, stop. 

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Rootless Relocation, Part 10a: House Hunters Alamogordo

Back here, I described my apartment hunting experiences on one afternoon.

Now, I found myself in a classic House Hunters scenario.

Three apartments. Which will she choose?
  • Apartment #1: Amenities for a price
  • Apartment #2: Two bedrooms but kind of isolated
  • Apartment #3: One bedroom but cute

Apartment #1: Amenities for a price

The pros: 
  1. In familiar territory, I wouldn't normally find this a desirable quality, but in terra incognita, I do: It's a large apartment complex, which means I'm in the middle of a herd, which feels more secure. 
  2. Ceiling fans
  3. The one bedrooms have a den, making guest accommodation nice
  4. Beautiful landscaping
  5. Swimming pool that I might not use much, but which would be nice for my guests
  6. Small gym
  7. It's in a part of town that's fairly close to city center
  8. A bit of outdoor space
  9. Laundry facilities on site, free use

The cons:
  1. Although under my budget of $500, it's significantly more expensive than options #2 or #3
  2. Carpeted floors, which will require the purchase of a vacuum cleaner
  3. If I'm on the ground floor, noise from foot traffic in the unit above mine may be an issue, especially if there are kids
  4. There is not currently a unit available to me, so I may have to wait for a vacancy to move in, and I may have to take whatever opens up first, regardless if it's ground or second floor; or a two-bedroom versus one bedroom. (The two-bedroom is still under my $500 cap, but really, it's more space than I need or want to heat or cool.) 

The squishy:
  1. I really like the complex, based on no tangible reason. 
  2. The air conditioning factor is a plus/minus. On the plus side, it's familiar and reliable, independent of humidity. On the con side, it's definitely a budget concern.   

Apartment #2: Two bedrooms but kind of isolated

  1. At least $75 cheaper than option #1
  2. Two bedrooms, meaning private accommodations for guests
  3. An exterior courtyard that is pleasant
  4. An old, but kind of charming little kitchen
  5. Laundry facilities are steps away
  6. It's vacant, so occupancy is almost immediate
  7. No upstairs neighbors to make noise above my head

  1. Although the place isn't isolated, it kind of feels isolated
  2. The vibe seems a bit more staid than I'd like

The squishy: 
  1. This apartment is perfectly suitable for my needs, but I'm not in love with it. 
  2. Swamp cooler, about which I feel ambivalent.

Apartment #3: One bedroom but cute


  1. At least $75 cheaper than option #1
  2. Tile floor throughout which means easy maintenance and no vacuum purchase
  3. A private little gated courtyard with a sweet little tree, all for me
  4. Designated parking spot
  5. A breakfast bar
  6. It's vacant, so occupancy is almost immediate
  7. Kitchen is large enough to accommodate a small table, though I'd probably not use it for that 
  8. No upstairs neighbors to make noise above my head
  9. It's in a little cul-de-sac with some other buildings, all of which seem well-maintained

  1. Will the owner do some of the minor maintenance tasks I've asked about? If no, will that be a deal breaker for me?
  2. Accommodating guests will be more difficult than in the other two options, as there's only the one bedroom and the very small living room
  3. One of the tenants has a derelict car parked right in front and the property managers seem uninterested in talking about it to the tenant who owns it

The Squishy:
  1. At the moment, I don't have a bed. While I could make do indefinitely in my sleeping bags on a carpeted floor, that just ain't gonna work on a tile floor.
  2. There's a little free-standing fireplace in the corner of the living room that adds charm, but that also takes up space. At the end of the day, it doesn't add value to the place, but it doesn't take it away, either.

So, which will she choose?

Stay tuned.

Friday, September 28, 2012

1 and 2 Years Ago Today

Two years ago today, I had just sold my house and was on the cusp of being rootless.

One year ago today, I was spending the evening in the tiny village of Tsalaskuri, near Rustavi, Georgia. I was an English teacher in the Teach and Learn with Georgia program.

Back when time was long.
It's funny. When we're really young, it's amazing how many events and experiences we pack into a short period of time. Time seems long, when the cliche "all the time in the world" seems to hold true.

For example, I know one person who, in about 12 months, graduated from law school, clerked for a state Supreme Court judge, studied for and passed her bar exam, got married, bought a house, and had a baby.

As we get older, we pass into a period when things still happen, but it's fewer things happening for a really long time: working at one's career, raising children, maintaining a home, paying down debt, socking money away for the future. Sure, in between there are some extraordinary activity spikes, but otherwise, there are a lot of years where we're focused on arranging the big rocks in our garden. In retrospect, this time speeds by.  

But since I sold my house and went rootless, it's like I've gone back to the just-out-of-school time, when lots of new experiences have happened in a very short time, with more to come. Time is back to being long.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Cultural Lessons in New Mexico: Air Conditioners vs Swamp Coolers

And now, for the weather

Missouri is hot and humid in the summer. So hot and humid that back in the day, before air conditioning, when there was a British consulate in St. Louis, the British staff received hardship pay.

New Mexico is hot and dry in the summer. Between 8 and 10 degrees hotter than Missouri (during the day). 

In Missouri, we use air conditioners to cool (and dry) the air. The air conditioners rely on electricity and (in older air conditioners) freon to work. (In New Mexico, I notice air conditioners are often referred to as "refrigerated air.")

Swamp cooler. Credit: Allied Swamp Cooler Repair

In New Mexico, swamp coolers are common. They rely on electricity and water to work.

St Louis Weather

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Avg. High 37° 42° 54° 66° 76° 85° 88° 87° 78° 68° 54° 41°
Avg. Low 20° 25° 35° 46° 56° 65° 70° 67° 60° 48° 37° 26°
Mean 28° 34° 45° 57° 66° 75° 80° 78° 70° 58° 46° 34°
Avg. Precip. 1.8 in 2.1 in 3.6 in 3.5 in 4.0 in 3.7 in 3.9 in 2.9 in 3.1 in 2.7 in 3.3 in 3.0 in
Degrees in Fahrenheit


Alamogordo Weather

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Avg. High 56° 62° 68° 78° 86° 95° 94° 91° 86° 77° 66° 57°
Avg. Low 28° 32° 38° 45° 54° 62° 65° 64° 57° 47° 36° 28°
Mean 44° 47° 54° 62° 70° 78° 80° 78° 72° 64° 51° 44°
Avg. Precip. 0.7 in 0.5 in 0.5 in 0.3 in 0.5 in 0.9 in 2.3 in 2.4 in 2.0 in 1.3 in 0.7 in 0.8 in
Degrees in Fahrenheit

The above info is from Country Studies

Humidity specifically

In July, Missouri typically has a relative humidity level between 50 and 80%, depending on time of day. 
In July, Alamogordo typically has a relative humidity level between 32 and 62%, depending on time of day. 

Generally, humidity is lowest during the hottest time of day. 

The humidity factor is important because swamp coolers work best when the air is dry. Too much humidity and they just generate hot, wet air. 

In Missouri, then, swamp coolers won't work. They won't work in the swamps, either. 

What the hell is a swamp cooler? 

Otherwise known as "evaporative" coolers, here is a really good explanation of swamp coolers. Complete with a moving graphic that shows the process.

As with air conditioners, swamp coolers will reduce the interior temps by, at most, 20 degrees. The drier the air, the more effective the cooling capacity.

With a swamp cooler, you must have a couple of windows open to create air flow. This is counter-intuitive, but that's just the way it is.

Swamp coolers are far cheaper to run than air conditioners, and they don't require the freon, which we know messes with the environment. 

On the other hand, swamp coolers do require water, which is an issue in some places. Per the link above, they can require between three to 15 gallons of water per day.

In New Mexico, there's the monsoon season in July and August. So you guessed it, that's the time of highest humidity, making the swamp coolers the least efficient during part of the hottest time of the year.  A nice quote from the linked site:

   "They only get 7-8 inches a rain a year, unfortunately it all falls in about 45 minutes".

Which is better? 
As you can see above, both have their pros and cons. In the places I looked at to rent, one has "refrigerated air" and two have swamp coolers. 

Being frugal, I'd prefer the swamp coolers. I'm told that where I might pay up to $200 for a month's worth of "refrigerated air," I'd likely pay less than half that with a swamp cooler. 

The trick is if the owners properly maintain the swamp coolers, as they do require more maintenance than air conditioners. But maintenance for a swamp cooler is sort of like cleaning out the gutters or getting an oil change - somewhat tedious, but not expensive like it can be for an air conditioner. 

So, my first culture lesson as new New Mexican. Swamp coolers.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Rootless Relocation, Part 9: Roof Over My Head

About a month before I left Missouri, I started looking for possible places to live in Alamogordo.

What I didn't want

I knew I didn't want to live in a free-standing house. Didn't want the yard maintenance, mostly. On a lesser level of concern, I wanted my abode to be one among others rather than standing solo. Felt more secure.

Also, while acknowledging that Alamogordo is basically a desert land, I didn't want my immediate environment to be like a barren parking lot, bereft of any landscaping.

I didn't want to spend more than $500 per month.

What I did want

The perfect-world scenario would be a furnished casita in someone's back yard. Barring that, I wanted: 
  • Apartment, one or two bedrooms
  • $500 or less rent
  • Some charm
  • Some attractive landscaping on the exterior - no water-sucking lawn needed, but certainly indigenous shrubs and other plant life
  • Within Alamogordo city limits (as opposed to nearby Tularosa or La Luz)
  • Landlords who maintained their property well

The above were must-haves.

I also preferred a place without carpet, so I wouldn't have to buy a vacuum cleaner.  Every durable good I buy, I'm going to have to get rid of in a year, so I'd rather not accumulate stuff like that unless absolutely necessary.

Where I looked before I came to Alamogordo: 
  • Craigslist
  • Apartment complexes that have websites
  • Real estate companies that have rental properties listed on their websites
I had no luck looking for properties on the local newspaper's online site.

Also, websites such as - waste of time in places like Alamogordo.

Once I arrived:

The afternoon I arrived in Alamogordo, I looked at potential apartments:

Visited the apartment complex that looked the most attractive to me in my distance search. Priced under $500 for both one and two bedrooms. The one bedroom had a "den" that could accommodate my guests. Beautiful landscaping. Pool and small gym. Alas, no vacancies at the moment, but I was able to look at a two-bedroom empty apartment that would soon have a new tenant. The manager gave me a head start in some energy-cost realities in Alamogordo. Because it's so hot and because this complex uses refrigerated air (versus the swamp coolers), summers are very, very expensive energy-wise. He noted that the ground-floor apartments were easier to cool than the second-floor spaces. I completed an application on the spot so I could be ready if someone should decide to move out at the end of this month.

Looked at three apartments offered by a real estate company I'll call Sweetheart Realty. This is because the receptionist called me sweetheart. The way it evidently works in Alamogordo is, if you want to look at some apartments or other rental properties, you go to the real estate office, let the staff photocopy your driver's license, they give you the keys and an hour to look at the properties, then return the keys to the real estate office.

So I looked at the three properties, each priced at about $450, and I was pissed. In two of the three apartments, the linoleum floors in the kitchen and bathroom had to be from the 80s, if not earlier. There were gouges in the floors. The carpet was that two-shaded brown short shag, also from the 80s. The counter tops had bare spots along the sides where the laminate had broken off. Didn't look as if the walls had been painted since the last tenants. The back "yards" were a barren slice of gravel and dirt, oppressed by the sun.  I took the keys back to the real estate agency and asked (in a neutral voice) whether the agency owned the properties or managed them. "Sweetheart" said it managed them, and I replied that I'd take a pass, as the owners did not maintain these properties; they didn't invest in their upkeep. I politely asked for the  photocopy of my driver's license and "Sweetheart" replied that the agency needed to keep it. I asked why, and she said "for our records." By this time, an agent had emerged from her office to conduct some sort of business. I asked the receptionist again, in a non-confrontational tone, "why"? And she responded "for our records." I tried one more time, "I understand you want it for your records, but why? What do you do with the photocopy"? For a third time, incredibly, Sweetheart said "for our records." The agent who'd emerged instructed her to give me my photocopy as it was clear I wouldn't be doing business with the agency. She was right, and I accepted the photocopy.

Note: Renters aren't serfs seeking the favors of a lord. Renters are paying for a product and landlords are selling the product for a time. A landlord wants to know a renter can pay the rent and give reasonable care to the property. In turn, the renter wants to know a landlord respects the renter and property enough to invest in its upkeep. A landlord who expects the renter to sign a one-year lease has a responsibility to assure the renter that he will keep his side of the deal by providing good maintenance. 

I visited another real estate agency, that I'll call The Good Company, about its rental properties, and the atmosphere couldn't have been more different. No "sweethearting" me here. When I was asked for my driver's license to photocopy, I asked if I could have it back when I returned the property keys, and the rental agent immediately agreed. I liked both properties. One had two bedrooms, the other had one bedroom but it had a charming, albeit tiny, enclosed courtyard with a juvenile tree. I returned the keys, said I was interested, but they were my second choices after the ones at the large apartment complex. The agent explained the application process, gave me an application form, and I was on my way.

With three possible options in my pocket, I turned my attention to a hotel for a couple of nights.


I'd already selected my motel option before I came, based on internet research. The White Sands Motel. Checked in. A killer place. Great wifi (secured). Clean, clean room. Nice mini-fridge and microwave. Coffee machine. Nice TV. Clean telephone. And here's a thoughtful touch: A power strip on the large desk that makes plugging in various electronics a cinch. No crawling under and behind clunky furniture. Immaculate, tidy, nicely landscaped, and colorful exteriors.  All for $50 per night. Fabuloso.


Also part of my lodging plan was to camp at the Oliver Lee Memorial State Park until I found a permanent place. So after I looked at the rental properties, checked into the hotel, and had lunch, I drove out to look at the park. Gorgeous. Gorgeous. And at 10 bucks per site, wow. It's about 12 miles from town, so there's a trade-off in convenience, but I'm not going to invest in a hotel til I move into an apartment.

On my drive away from the park, I saw a black tarantula cross the road. Think about it. This spider was large enough to grab my attention in the road ahead of me as it crossed. Gol-lee. I briefly revisited my camping plan. I'm not even going to find a photo to upload. Would just give me the shivers looking at it.

Monday, September 24, 2012

On the Road to Alamogordo, Day 3: Welcome to New Mexico

I left Roswell, NM, for my final leg to Alamogordo about 10:00 a.m.

Bought a postcard at the motel, then went to the Roswell post office to get postcard stamps. I know, who sends postcards anymore? Well, there are two littl'uns in Missouri that I'm going to try and send one postcard a week to.

Gassed up.

And I was on my way to my new home base.

Somewhere past Hondo, I passed by something I love about New Mexico. Someone had placed an altar in a niche on the mountainside. But it wasn't just an altar. It was art and a personal plea, too. By that I mean, for example, in the Midwest, it's not uncommon to have a Madonna statue in a yard, perhaps surrounded by flowers or a small pond. Sometimes instead of a Madonna, there's a St. Francis.

But look at this altar. There's the red paint, the arrows, the supplication "God Bless Us."  There's red paint inside the alcove also.

Near Hondo, New Mexico.

Near Hondo, New Mexico.

I stopped in Ruidoso at the Billy the Kid visitor center for a pit stop. And there, I received my first "welcome to New Mexico" from the woman on duty, upon learning I was going to be a New Mexican for a year. It was nice.

Billy the Kid Visitor Center, Ruidoso, New Mexico.

The view of the masses of yellow flowers on a nearby mountainside was uplifting.

View from Billy the Kid Visitor Center, Ruidoso, New Mexico.

A few days ago, one of my uncles told me about a trip he took to the Ruidoso or Cloudcroft area many years ago. He came upon a dramatic view that stuck in his memory -- seeing the vast white sands in the plain below.

So I was driving from Ruidoso and I noticed a distinctive mountain on the left and then .. that dramatic view my uncle saw. I pulled over to the shoulder. A biker was already there with his camera. 

View of White Sands, New Mexico

View of White Sands, New Mexico

 A little farther along the road, I got a different take.

View of White Sands, New Mexico

And so I proceeded on my way.

In short order, there I was. In Alamogordo, my new home.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

On the Road to Alamogordo, Day 2: I Killed a Tumbleweed


I left Chandler, OK, at about 9:00 a.m. I wasn't in much of a hurry. I try to remember lessons learned from Caucasus Georgia (be flexible, don't worry so much about time), though often unsuccessfully.

Note my new use of "Caucasus Georgia" instead of "Republic of Georgia," both designed to distinguish it from the state of. I didn't come up with Caucasus Georgia - a guy who wrote and edited a new guidebook on Georgia did, and I like it. I'll reserve any linky love to the book until I find out how the author(s) addressed Rustavi, or if they did at all. There are some folks who purport to know what's what in Georgia, but who have either never been to Rustavi (3rd largest city in the country) in the last five years (if ever) or who dismiss it out of hand as a has-been industrial backwater. 

Oklahoma has a pleasing terrain and once you get past Oklahoma City, you've also got the red earth to capture your eye. I'd planned to stop for lunch at Lucille's in Weatherford, a place my mother and I enjoyed on my last pass through these parts, but I missed the exit. I could have backtracked, but that isn't in my genetic make-up, so I pushed on. 

Speaking of OKC,  I saw the damnedest thing. As I drove onto a highway ramp, I saw two police cars on the right. As I turned my head to look at why they were there, I saw more LE and I saw a black, SUV-type vehicle straddling a deep, wide concrete ditch over by a fence, which was adjacent to a mall or some other sort of large building complex. And when I say straddling, I mean that the vehicle's front end was on one side of this trench and the rear end was on the other. How the hell did that happen? I imagine the cops wondered the same thing when they first arrived. 

Turned off at another Route 66 town, Clinton. All of these small towns are worthy of exploration for their Route 66 artifacts and vibe, but there's only so much time. Had a ho-hum lunch at Gayla's Cafe at the Market. Weak coffee, a real sin in my book. A good yeast roll, though.

For God's sake, people: You can always make a strong cup of coffee weaker; you can't do a damn thing to make weak coffee stronger. If you can see through the coffee in the glass pot, it's too weak.

While on the subject of coffee, I pulled up later at a c-store for a pit stop. I like to buy something when I use the facilities, so I was searching for something not too expensive and settled for a cup of coffee. The store guy stood right by me as I asked if the coffee was very strong (having been recently disappointed by Gayla's). He said, "Pour a little in the cup and try it." (Give him 10 points for good customer service.) I did, and it was lukewarm, and very weak. I said in a neutral voice, "It's lukewarm." He said, "Add a little hot water to it," pointing to another dispenser. (Fire him.)


The I-40 West Texas Welcome Center is among the most beautiful in the country, I think. Dramatic views from the picnic shelters, elegantly designed. An informative and graceful center. Didn't have to stop there this trip, however.

In Amarillo, I veered off from I-40 to Highway 60, via which I'd pass through Hereford and then Clovis and Portales.

Somewhere on Highway 60, I saw a tumbleweed begin to cross the road and through the vagaries of wind and timing, I ran right over it. A little piece clung to my front hood latch for awhile. No immediate damage to my car's underpinnings seemed to occur, so I carried on.

The land between Hereford, TX, and Clovis, NM, is dotted with huge plants of some sort. Processing plants or factories of some kind. Definitely among these are packing plants. Beef. In one spot, I smelled something yeasty, like bread. It smelled kind of good. Later along the highway, I smelled something not-good a couple of times; I think these were beef packing plants.

A couple of times, I saw hundreds of cows in short-term feedlots, awaiting their fate.  I say feedlots because at one place, I also saw hay bales. At another, I didn't notice any hay. Maybe one place was for an upcoming auction.

I also saw a number of long trains. Several of the trains carried trailers from companies such as FedEx. Kind of funny: Transportation carrying transportation.

The view through a bug-stained window, accompanied by a sad tune from Johnny Cash:   

A roadrunner ran across the road.

Road death

On I-70 in Missouri, I see electronic MODOT signs that say "535 deaths on Missouri roads this year." (Now it's 598.) Then it says 63% of those who died were unbuckled.

So when I saw a similar Texas DOT sign on Interstate 44, you can imagine my shock at the number of fatalities: 2058.

As shocking as that is, Missouri's per capita traffic death rate is (as of the 2009 figures) two people per 100,000 more dead than Texas. 
Roswell, New Mexico

I stopped for the night at the Super 8 in Roswell, NM.

I had no cell phone service anywhere in town. Odd, don't you think? What are they trying to hide?

Roswell, New Mexico.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

On the road to Alamogordo, Day 1: Faith and Fury

Joplin tornado mural, 20th and Main, Missouri. September 2012.
Joplin tornado mural, 20th and Main, Missouri. September 2012.

First day on my relocation drive to Alamagordo.

There are a couple of routes I could have taken, but I wanted to stop in Joplin, Missouri, so that ruled out Highway 54, a route that charms me because I can take it from my home base all the way to Alamogordo.

So the plan was to take Interstate 44 and then 40 - the Mother Road - the old Route 66 that some people like to say is dead and not worth riding. (Another iteration of the song, "There's nothing to see there!"?)

I had a stroke of luck that lunchtime coincided with my proximity to Hood's truck stop restaurant off of Exit 61 in Bois D'Arc, Missouri, about 20 miles west of Springfield. Hood's is a dive-y sort of restaurant that has never failed to cheer me with good flavors, good prices, and good service.

Hood's Restaurant, Bois D'Arc, Missouri

Joplin, Missouri

I wanted to stop in Joplin to see two things: 
  1. The mosque that was burned
  2. Wildcat Glades Audubon Center, which I only discovered after learning about the (now complete) Exit the Highway campaign

Mosque. It is so disturbing that throughout the world, after millenia of such violations, we still destroy others' places of worship. It must be a visceral thing. When someone wants to do real damage to another, they go for the core of the other's identity or personal space, like rape.

I wanted to see the burned mosque, to look at the devastation wrought by a human, designed to violate the essence of others.

(Note: This was the second fire at the Joplin mosque in the space of about a month. Investigators did confirm that the damaging July fire was a result of arson (the FBI is now offering a $50,000 reward for information leading to a conviction); the investigation continues for the August fire that destroyed the mosque.) 

The mosque fire in Joplin was especially poignant, as the city had already suffered deeply from the tornado in May 2011.  After the tornado, the Muslim congregation, like congregations of other faiths in Joplins, had offered its facility as a shelter for relief workers and also made donations to survivors.  

After the fire, the Joplin faith community embraced the Muslim congregation with tangible and intangible support.

It saddens me when I hear Americans emphasize Barack Obama's middle name, Hussein, as a sneering insult or accept, without any examination whatsoever, the calculated lie that President Obama is a "secret Muslim." As if being Muslim were something malevolent.  Former Secretary Colin Powell (Republican) expressed my feeling perfectly in 2008, when he said:
"I'm also troubled by, not what Senator McCain says, but what members of the party say, and it is permitted to be said. Such things as 'Well you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim.' Well the correct answer is 'He is not a Muslim, he's a Christian, he's always been a Christian.' But the really right answer is 'What if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country?' The answer is 'No. That's not America.' Is there something wrong with some 7-year old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she can be president? Yet I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion he's a Muslim and he might be associated with terrorists. This is not the way we should be doing it in America.
Source: Washington Post article, Powell Rejects Islamophobia

Remains of Joplin's burned mosque

Tornado mural. After leaving the mosque site, I worked my way back to Main Street (Highway 43) and saw, by chance, a colorful mural on the side of a commercial building, next to the Conoco station on the corner (20th Street and Main). The artwork expressed the hopes and self-reassurances for recovery and memorials for the irretrievable loss of family and friends. Only a mile or so away from the burned mosque, the beauty of the mural underlined the creator/destroyer dimensions of the human animal. 

Joplin tornado mural, 20th and Main, Missouri. September 2012.
Joplin tornado mural, 20th and Main, Missouri. September 2012.

The tornado. Nothing hit me in a more physical way about the tornado than this video of people taking shelter in a c-store storage room before the tornado approached, as it arrived, raged overhead, and departed.

Wildcat Glades Audubon Center. Pretty. Took a short walk. Then took the same walk again when I couldn't find my reading glasses, which I subsequently put on a leash, the damn things. The visitor center exterior is pretty cool, a sort of earthworks construction with lines, seam-like, engraved into the walls. There are quite a number of short trails to choose from. Alas, the trail signage completely sucks, and the trail map is of little use (with no signs to complement it), so it's a crap shoot if you get or stay on the trail you want. (But I'm directionally-impaired, so that is also a factor.) There was a very large and friendly rabbit inside the visitor center. The center is so close to Interstate 44 that it's a worthwhile place to stop to stretch your legs, use the bathroom, and take in a little nature education.  

Wildcat Glades Audubon Center, Joplin, Missouri

A slide show


Chandler, Oklahoma

"Oklahoma," a Cherokee word that means "do not drive into smoke,"  said translation frequently announced on the the state's highways.

Credit: Albertelli. Note: I made it black and white for more clarity.

My mother and I stopped in Tulsa and Oklahoma City on a road trip awhile back, so I felt no need to do so today. As I passed Tulsa, though, I remembered the art museum we visited, where absolutely no photos were permitted. That's my only take-away from that museum. A pity. If I had photos (without flash, of course), I could revisit that museum in a sense, and share what I saw with others, who might then be moved to visit the museum for themselves. Fortunately, I do have this, and can now remember that it was the Gilcrease Museum, and the lone photo I posted was from the National Gallery of Art and not the Gilcrease.

OK, I digress with what is evidently a grudge against the Gilcrease bureacrats, and move on to Chandler. Stopped here for the night after an abortive stop earlier at a Super 8 that wanted something like $70 for a single room. Are you kidding me? So I pulled into Chandler, where I knew from highway signage there was an Econolodge and a Lincoln Motel. The Econolodge had a worn exterior and the receptionist inside, well, did not inspire confidence in the room quality, but nevertheless, she wanted about 70 bucks as well. Ridiculous. So I politely said I'd check out the other motel in town. It took awhile to find it, as Chandler's street layout is the most peculiar I've ever seen, but then I saw it. A Route 66 gem.

Lincoln Motel, Chandler, Oklahoma. September 2012.
Lincoln Motel, Chandler, Oklahoma. September 2012.

Lincoln Motel, Chandler, Oklahoma. September 2012.
Lincoln Motel, Chandler, Oklahoma. September 2012.

Loved it. Went into the lobby. Price = $45 and with tax, $50. Honey, I'm home!

Two middle-aged men sat outside on a bench smoking what must have been the longest cigars I've ever seen. Another two men, also of a certain age, bikers, were guests, as well. The Mother Road had called them, I'm sure.

OK, the exterior is magnificent. The interior ... needs a little work. Here's what was good: Clean sheets, clean towels, clean bathroom, a mini-fridge, a microwave, free wifi (secured), air conditioning, television. Not so good: The walls and switch plates were dirty. Maybe the carpet, too. And late in the evening, I saw this really gigantic (gigantic) flying insect - like a 1950s radioactive thing - that fluttered quietly on my sweatshirt that draped on a chair.  I had no killing weapon other than a hand towel from the bathroom that I intended to wield if it got rude and attempted to invade my space. Otherwise, I just tried to ignore it and hoped it did likewise. And it did. In the morning it was gone, but you can be sure I checked every bit of my belongings the next morning to make sure it didn't suddenly fly out while I was driving on the interstate.

The next morning, I told the manager what I liked about the place - and there was a lot! - and what I didn't. Would I stay there again? Probably, though I'd see if there were a room with cleaner walls.

A note, again, to hoteliers (and Caucasus Georgian train employees) everywhere: I don't care if your furniture and decor are dated. I know it costs money to replace these things, and I'll trade au courant decor for low prices any day. But it costs virtually nothing to clean your switch plates, telephones, remote controls, and walls. And if you're the manager or owner and you've got to do this your own damn self, then just do it. 

So ended my first day driving to my new home base.

More on Tiny Living

CNN has an intriguing article here, Tiny Homes Hit the Big City.

I've written about this before:

Tiny Living

Voluntary Simplicity

And, currently, my tiny allotment of material goods has moved out of a closet and into my car.

New York City's Mayor Bloomsburg wants to encourage the establishment of mico-apartments. Homes that are 300 square feet or less, including the kitchen and bathroom.

On one hand, I think, yeah, cool. More people can afford to live in the city. Smaller carbon footprint and all that. There's probably another side effect that helps the city economy - when your place is so small, you may find yourself going out more, thus spending more. In other words, reallocating your disposable income in a way that results in wider distribution than if you spent far more of your income just on rent and utilities. 

On the other hand, I think of the goat versus cow story told to me by an Ethiopian academic many years ago: As land was handed down to sons by their peasant fathers, their descendants - subsistence farmers - owned smaller and smaller pieces of land as it was divvied up with their brothers. The plots of land were becoming too small to support cattle, the traditional livestock of choice. Some smart people, perhaps with USAID, had a great idea: Encourage peasants to switch from cows to goats. The goats provide meat and milk like cows, but take up less space and consume less resources.

Upon hearing this, I said, "Hey, that is a great idea. Creative!"

And the Ethiopian academic said, "No, it's forcing the peasants to do all the changing. The oligarchy doesn't have to change anything. They keep their wealth and vast properties. What needs to happen is land reform."

So I like the idea of going smaller with our living spaces. But I wonder how big Mayor Bloomsburg's house is.  

Friday, September 21, 2012

Rootless Relocation, Part 8: D-Day Minus One


Today is the last day of summer. I thought it (the 21st) was the first day of autumn, but no, it seems to move from year to year.

A good omen, though, beginning the move to my new base on the first day of a new season.

The closet of my temporary base in Missouri is empty.

My mother's garage no longer stores my camping gear; it is now lined up alongside my car, ready for loading.

Suitcases packed.

Chacha packed. I wonder if there are Georgians in Alamogordo. If I find any, I will share Neli and Irakli's fine chacha with them. (This time last year I was just starting to teach at the school in Rustavi.) 

Irakli, who makes fine chacha in Kardanakhi

All of my worldly belongings - all of my tangible property - will be in my car. If something doesn't fit, then it'll have to go to a new home.

This afternoon, I took a box of children's books to the local Adoption and Foster Care Support Group. The group will either sell them at a fundraising event soon or distribute them to kids in the system. Whatever they do works for me. I'd bought them to take to "my" school in Rustavi, but I just couldn't make them fit in my luggage, so I had to leave these behind.

My mother made me a special farewell lunch (and last night made me a special farewell dinner).

Tonight my daughter, son-in-law, and I will share in a mutual send-off, as I leave for New Mexico and they on a cruise. 


Got everything into the car with only two sacrifices.

Insanely, I still have a bin of my paperback sci-fi classics. I had to take these books out of the plastic bin they were in and put them in a bag, leaving the bin for a family member to claim.  I'll slowly release these books into the wild as I cross America and New Mexico.

Earlier in the day, I realized a cooler had bit the dust, so I've laid it to rest.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Rootless Relocation, Part 7: D-Day Minus 2

Two days before the move to New Mexico.

More good-byes.

Washed the car.

Filled the tank.

Trying to finish a book before I have to return it to the library on the way out of town, called Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America's Class War. Engrossing, but may not finish. If not, I'll have to borrow it from the library in Alamogordo.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Rootless Relocation, Part 6: D-Day Minus 3

The big move to New Mexico in three days, so what's important to do today?

That's right, a pedicure and other beautification projects.

Some good-byes.  

Monday, September 17, 2012

Best Travel Movies of All Time?

I think there's a difference between a travel movie and a movie about living indefinitely in an exotic place that's different from your place of origin.

For example, The Daily Beast includes Out of Africa on its best-travel-movie list, but I view this movie as a story about a woman who lives in Africa, not about travel. Ditto for a movie like Slumdog Millionaire, a movie on several "top travel movie lists," but in which travel doesn't occur, unless we're talking travel between socio-economic strata. It just happens to be set somewhere other than the first world. On the other hand, I agree with its listing of Up, Raiders of the Last Ark, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Borat as travel movies.

So for what they're worth, following are some lists of best travel movies:

The Daily Beast: World's 12 Best Travel Movies

T-Roy at Top 10 Travel Movies to Get You Going

SeattleTravels: Top 30 Movies About Travel

Budget Travel's 6 Most Inspiring Travel Films of the Year (2011), via NBC. I would have linked this straight to Budget Travel, but that site is riddled with in-your-face pop-ups.

Based on the above lists, I'm going to check out these two movies I haven't seen:
  • Into the Wild
  • Eurotrip

Living Rootless' List of Best Travel Movies:  


The Wind Journeys. The action is pretty interesting, but the diverse scenery in Colombia is other-worldly. Some day I will go to Colombia, all because of this movie.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Almost all of the IJ franchise movies are good, but this is the best.

Up in the Air 

National Lampoon's Vacation

Star Wars

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (how can this not be on any lists of best travel movies?!)

O Brother, Where Art Thou?

The African Queen

Little Big Man

What are your favorite travel movies?

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Taking a Budget Road Trip

I've done up a new page on how to plan for a budget road trip here.

Or better yet: just look up toward the blog title and click on the page tab that says "Taking a Budget Road Trip." 

From my Louisiana road trip in December:

What are your tips for a great budget road trip?

Friday, September 14, 2012

Replacing a Laptop Battery

Rustavi, Georgia.

Buying a replacement battery for my laptop

You wouldn't think it'd be a pain in the ass to replace a laptop battery, would you? But it was, kind of.

My battery started losing its life essence last year, but I hobbled along in Georgia (Republic of) until it finally faded away entirely and I had to stay plugged in all the time. One of my colleagues gleefully shared that she was waiting to replace her battery when she returned to the States because she could get a replacement for only 20 bucks. Wow, 20 bucks, that sounded good.

While I was still in Georgia, I went online to order a replacement battery so that it'd be waiting prettily for me when I returned to Missouri.

I wanted a four-hour battery like my original. I went on to the HP site.

And that's when I hit the walls.

First of all, the HP site is not intuitive. For example, you'd think when you enter "replacement battery" in the site's search field, you'd get some prompts asking for details about your original. No, you don't. You get a list of lots of different products with no guidance about how to locate your particular part. Eventually, I think I did finally find a listing for a replacement battery, with a cost of more than $100! Were they serious?!

So that's when I went to Amazon for my after-market need. And this is where my ignorance came into play. I wanted a four-hour battery that would fit my laptop. To my consternation, I discovered that the only time anyone talks about the charge life of a battery is when you're looking at new laptops. So, yes, I knew I needed a 6 Li-ion battery, but are all 6s good for 4 hours? Just because an after-market battery fit my laptop, how can I know anything about its charge life or endurance in general?

I decided to wait til I returned to Missouri and physically visit a Best Buy (where I'd purchased my laptop) to get my replacement battery.  Where I discovered they don't stock replacement batteries. Instead, the clerk looked at my battery and then went to a magic page on HP where he could enter the original battery details, found a list of two replacement batteries, one at more than $100 and the other more than $80, neither of which was accessible. Website glitch? No longer being manufactured? No real answer to this on the HP website.

So the clerk went to Best Buy's go-to replacement battery provider, Lenmar, where it was easy to find the battery that would fit my HP.

But then came the discussion between me and the clerk:

Mzuri: How do I know if a battery is a four-hour battery?
Clerk: Well, you don't really because ..... [lots of words]
Mzuri: Then can you tell me if a 6 Li-ion battery might only be for one hour?  
Clerk:  Oh, more than one hour
Mzuri: More than four  hours?
Clerk: Probably not more than five hours.
Mzuri: Can you give me a range?
Clerk: Could be anywhere between 3 and 5 hours.
Mzuri (weakly): OK. So I'll take this one (~ $53 all told)

Ordered online at Best Buy and shipped to me. 

Here's an example of a website that is not particularly helpful: What Should I Consider When Buying a Laptop Battery.  Although the author writes well with a clear and pleasant style, it's not helpful because:  
  1. No date on the information, not even on the comments. If tech info is before 2010, it's probably obsolete IMNSHO. 
  2. The first paragraph is just filler; ditto for the first half of the 2nd paragraph. 
  3. Then there's the cruel sentence:   "Choose the battery with the longest life available for your computer." As if such data were out there somewhere, sending readers on a merry wild goose chase. 

I will grant the author kudos for a very reader-friendly discussion about the "memory effect" on two types of batteries (if they're even being used still).

Anyway, I've now got my new battery and am in the process of testing its charge life.

[Later same day: 3 hours and 15 minutes.]
[September 17: 3 hours and 6 minutes.]

Getting rid of my old laptop battery

Lithium ion batteries contain:

There's a controversy out there about whether or not these batteries really are or can be recycled and why (guess --> $$$), but for now, I found out where to recycle my laptop battery by going here. In full disclosure, I found this website via the HP website, but I'm thinking a manufacturer has an obligation to be even more proactive in helping customers get the needed recycling information. The least they could do is to put a sticker on the battery that has an url or phone number to call for recycling guidance.  

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Bucket Lists

Crepuscular #4


Every couple of years, I look at what I call my goals list, but what others might call a bucket list. I created mine almost 29 years ago.

Out of nine dream jobs I listed, eight involved working overseas (see "inevitable"). The exception was to be a chimp trainer, a la Roger Fouts and my chimpanzee heroine, Washoe. One of the nine dream jobs I crossed off my list a long time ago as being no longer interested in, was that of working for the CIA. Just couldn't stand all of those invasive questions on their application. Yes, I know. The irony.

Another item on my list - as yet to be achieved - is to hire and maintain a housekeeper. It's the maintaining part that's important. Come home, the house always clean, dinner ready.

I have a list of people I wanted to meet or correspond with. Some have died, putting them out of reach (although...), such as Bette Davis and Katharine Hepburn. I didn't meet or correspond with Robert Heinlein before he died, but I got pretty close when his wife replied to a letter I wrote to Mr. Heinlein. I have a postcard from Isaac Asimov that he sent me in response to a letter I wrote him.  I met Maya Angelou (using the word "met" broadly, if you include standing in line just for the opportunity to stammer something really banal, after I followed a truly eloquent colleage who had said to Ms. Angelou everything I could possibly have wanted to say).

I don't think I'll be learning Russian, but I'm not x'ing it off the list yet.

Playa light

Other people's bucket lists

I was going to put up some links about other people's bucket lists, but there are so many. Just google on "bucket lists" and 10 bajillion will come up. 

Dwan Light Sanctuary #4, Montezuma, New Mexico

So instead ...  

Here are a couple of resources I like. I've referenced them in workshops I've developed** to help people look at life goals, changes, and happiness. Or bucket lists.

Bias disclaimer: If a potential resource makes any reference to "find your passion" [gag], I tend to skip by.  

The Dash video. A little corny, but even so, inspirational. It will probably make you cry, so have some kleenex handy.

A Simple System to Achieve Your Goals - download the "whole package." Personally, I think the workbook stands alone just fine, but you might enjoy the book part. It's free, but you can also shoot Paul Myers (the author) some money.  The workbook is exhaustive. It's not simple at all, really. But by God, you'll have some things on your goal or bucket list when you're done. And maybe take a whole new path in life. 

Not sure why I'm feeling the urge to insert this book here, but I'll go with the mental flow. Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. Small book, but one guaranteed to provoke serious contemplation.

I don't get any compensation for the above plugs. I just like 'em.

Mid-morning light, Jefferson City, Missouri

**Oh, did I never mention that I can design and deliver workshops for front-line through executive staff that pertain to all kinds of cool stuff?

Monday, September 10, 2012

Cultural Superstitions

Superstitions: Ecuador

When I was in college, I did a summer study in Ecuador and Peru. In Ecuador (Quito), I lived with a host family. A husband and wife owned the house. They had grown children and grandchildren who visited frequently. This was a well-educated family, probably upper-middle class. The husband was a doctor.

I went to the ocean one weekend and found some seashells. Oh, they were gorgeous! I placed them on the dresser in my room so I could admire them daily. Until the lady of the house noticed them there and freaked! Bad luck to have sea shells in the house! Find a new place for them immediately!

So I took them outside and placed them on a ledge or something, only to discover the next day that the grandkids had found them and after playing with them, had scattered them all over the tiny yard.

New plan: I stashed them on top of the carport roof where they were both out of sight and out of reach of the grandkids.

Next day: The man of the house backed his car out of the carport, out the driveway, into the street, and BAM! was struck by an oncoming vehicle.

Day after: I found a new place for those seashells.

Awassa, Ethiopia

Superstitions: Georgia (republic of)

Walking barefoot on the floor will freeze women's ovaries.

Drinking cold water or eating ice cream may cause sore throats.

Most illnesses are from a "change in the weather."

American superstitions

Salt kills.

Bottled water is better than tap water.

It's important to take vitamin supplements.

Coffee dehydrates you.

Your body needs 8-10 glasses of water per day.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Becoming Rootless: Inevitable

Road to Monument Valley

At least I think it was inevitable that I'd become rootless. The only unknown was what form it would take. 

Sure, I've been into travel and inter-cultural stuff since I was a wee'un. But you can be rooted and also travel and get into intercultural things.

But from the start, I think probably I wasn't rooted to a place.

First, it was the books. They carried me away to different lands, different times.

When I went to high school, I walked every day. It was about a mile, most of it on the road alongside Lake Erie. As I walked to school every morning, I was rarely in a suburb outside of Cleveland, Ohio. Nope, I was off in dreamland, in an imaginary place and era, usually the heroine in an adventure where some days I was the rescuer and on other days, the rescued. Those walks sped by.

Many years later, I made a plan to walk from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego when I reached a certain age. This didn't come to fruition, and it still gives me shivers to remember the story of a similar wandering guy who, unbeknownst to him til a passing car driver alerted him, had a mountain lion following him on the otherwise-deserted highway in the Yukon or thereabouts. Jeez. 

Subsequently, I played with the idea of selling my house, buying a small camper, and becoming an itinerant worker while traveling throughout North America.

So fast forward 12 or so years, and there I was. All of the planets were in alignment and it was time to go rootless, the details of the execution different, but the concept the same.


Some good reads about long walks:

Kent Treptow's Walking Across America.

... and a motherlode of hiking journals here. Pace yourself.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Getting Things Done

Getting things done

There's a whole industry out there focused on the art and science of GTD - getting things done, sometimes referred to as "life hacks" or more prosaically, "productivity." 

Laying street tile, Tbilisi, Georgia.

As my interregnum between teaching English in Rustavi and relocating to New Mexico begins to close, I sometimes fret about my pace at getting things done. The truth is, though, I've put one GTD step in front of the other pretty well in regard to transitioning from one rootless chapter to the next. So I'll give myself a good grade on that.

Working the farm, Holstein, Missouri

In other ways, though, I struggle with GTD. It'd be easy to point to the usual suspect, procrastination, but that's just the external behavior that arises from the true culprits:

  • Fear
  • Discipline
  • Process design (knowing the goals, whether you've got the *right* goals, efficiency, correct priorities, capacity) 

Putting up plums, Gurjaani, Georgia

GTD porn

There's no shortage of books, websites, consultants, apps, motivational speakers, life coaches (or GMAFB, "life design" coaches) out there devoted to helping us get things done. Some of it is good and some of it is schlock.

Unfortunately, if you're like me, sometimes you can be so entranced by the life hack literature out there, it keeps you from getting things done. A good summary here:

Joining a Facebook group about creative productivity is like buying a chair about jogging. 
Merlin Mann

Carrying hay, Ethiopia

Here are some resources I like:

A worthwhile investment of two hours of your life is to watch Randy Pausch's lecture on Achieving Your Childhood Dreams, and his lecture on Time Management.  You may already be familiar with Randy Pausch. He was a professor of computer science (virtual reality and other cool stuff) at Carnegie Mellon University. He died of pancreatic cancer in 2008. If your internet connection isn't up to watching the video on Youtube, you can download a copy of the lectures here.

Making apple butter, Holstein, Missouri

Stepcase Lifehack. From the site: ... dedicated to lifehacks, which is a phrase that describes any advice, resource, tip or trick that will help you get things done more efficiently and effectively.

43 Folders, specifically: Getting Started With "Getting Things Done. I first cited 43 Folders when I talked about going paperless.

It can be a dry read and it's more than 20 years old, but: 7 Habits of Highly Successful People. The ideas in the book can be life-changing, although they're super-hard to practice.

Old Missouri State Penitentiary, Art in the Park, Jefferson City

So, back to me:

Even though I feel good about some of the things I'm doing to reach goals, I've got stuff out there awaiting my attention. These range from tedious maintenance tasks that mitigate system failure (the not if, but when, remember?), to a long-deferred overhaul of a website I have, and so on.

As a former colleague liked to say, I need to get crack-a-lackin'.