Why Rock the Boat?

One of the most amazing thing I have witnessed in my lifetime is the evolution of the automobile. I have memories galore about the difficulty my father went through to provide our family with transportation. I loved to listen to his stories about early adventures as a single man in a new country. One thing he did very early on was to buy automobiles the names of which have long disappeared, namely one he called a Hupmobile. His stories always entailed fixing problems on the side of the road with minimal tools and parts.
Summer Sunday afternoons was the best time to hear him describe the many adventures he had. Usually with a buddy who was also involved. Dad loosened up quite a bit when alcohol flowed freely through his system. Oh how he laughed when he told the story, especially when telling us how the Hupmobile threw a rod half way to the farm in Michigan and they wound up overhauling the engine on the sandy shoulder of the highway.

The car I remember from my early childhood was his 1929 Buick Century. Oh what a splendid tank it was. He owned that car from 1942 – 1952. One of his daunting tasks was to find tires and gasoline. World-War-Two put a damper on auto ownership, but Dad used his car as an part-time insurance salesman. I specifically remember him taking Mom shopping one evening, and she took the three os us with her. He dropped us off at a store, and continued on to his client meeting. When he returned we had a surprise waiting for us. The running board on the side of the car was gone, and the back door was dented. He had to hoist us up one at a time to get us in. He told us he was broadsided by a car that blew a red light. The other car had to be towed away, we drove home.

Dad’s string of cars after the ’29 were a 1939 Buick Special, followed by a 1938 Dodge, a 1954 Plymouth, a 1959 Ford, 1968 Ford, and last a1982 Chevy. all were used cars except for the last three. Each one had it’s share of problems which he continued to fix. His favorite phrase was “Ford, Fix Or Repair Daily.” Just about all of his cars were sold or traded when they reached fifty thousand miles.

My experience with cars is much the same, with one exception. I kept my rides for eighty thousand miles, except for the one I own now. The odometer has 181,000 miles on it and (knock on wood0 everything still works and the only major expenses have been for tires, brakes and batteries.

There is a gremlin in my head that keeps poking me in the ribs to buy a new car because this one is 16 years old and everything still works, the interior is still in fine condition, and there is no sign of rust any where. One day, I will walk home from the roadside, having abandoned a car that died. Or, I will be involved in a minor fender bender that will total the car and force me to send it to the junk yard. I lose sleep over having to spend a fortune on a new car, most likely my last one. Then, this morning while scrolling my phone I found an article that made my day, “These Cars Have the Longest Lifespans
Some cars last longer than others – a lot longer.”

https://apple.news/A5-M4pvjaQZ6yHaRLElSn0w

Inside the article is a list of ten long life vehicles:

1. Toyota Sequoia 296,509

2. Toyota Land Cruiser 280,236

3. Chevy Suburban 265,732

4. Toyota Tundra 256,022

5. GMC Yukon XL 252,630

6. Toyota Prius 250,601

7. Chevy Tahoe 250,338

8. Honda Ridgeline 248,669

9. Toyota Avalon 245,710

10. Toyota Highlander Hybrid 244,994

there, at number nine is my car.

Wow! My car might last for another sixty thousand miles. At the current rate of driving that could be six more years. By then, the State of Illinois will most likely tell me I’m too old to be driving. On the other hand, my brother is ninety-one and he still drives back and forth a hundred miles to his summer home in Michigan.

The prospect of buying an electric vehicle at a time when gasoline powered cars are enjoying the best reliability in history is scary, I think I’ll just buy a slightly newer model from the same company that made the one I drive now.

An October Day

The view from my office window is simple, a beautiful sunny day, with an azure blue sky and a few wispy clouds. The temperature is 50 degrees Fahrenheit which requires a light jacket to endure. The trees around the neighborhood are holding their leaves and providing us with an array of yellows, reds, orange and some green. It is a beautiful fall day, one to behold and cherish. In the year 1961 this was the eve of my wedding. The actual wedding day was a carbon copy of today. The milestone matched the day, beautiful, exciting, refreshing, and eventful.

I kept busy on this day, washing and waxing my Volkswagen Bug in readiness for the great escape following our wedding. I hid the bug in my Mother-in-law’s garage so my groomsmen wouldn’t get any ideas about bedecking the little runt of a car with tails of dangling tin cans and white ‘Just Married’ signs painted on the windows. These acts of love were often carried out by friends of the groom in a show of endearment and jocularity. Our plan was to be chauffeured all day by Gene, my wife’s cousin, in his massive Cadillac. All I had to do was show up at the church which I did in plenty of time. Amazingly, I do not remember how I got there.

Barbara was of Polish heritage and I of Hungarian we decided to get married in her church which was heavily attended by Polish people. To appease my mother, I asked father Joe Adams, a priest from my parish Our Lady Of Hungary to officiate. To this day, I never understood my mother’s animosity towards any nationality not Hungarian. Mother never accepted Barbara until after our first child was born. At that point she must have figured that if she can’t beat her she would join her. We had a very happy family for the entirety of our years together.

Our wedding party was held at the American Legion hall in the town of Summit at 57th and Harlem. Chicago was on the east side of Harlem and the Legion hall on the west. This location was but a couple of miles from Barb’s home. It was ten miles from my family and friends. We hired Bill Kenny, the brother of Barb’s Aunt Frances to play for us. His repertoire was all Polish music. Needless to say we danced the Polka all evening. The food was cooked by a Polish lady, a friend of my mother-in-law, it was Polish faire. Right there are two reasons my Mother didn’t like me to marry outside my ethnicity. She survived, as did all the other Hungarian friends that attended. A few years earlier when my brother Bill married, Mom got to be the ultimate Hungarian hostess, so she was batting 500 between the two of us. Bill married a girl he met while serving in the army in Germany. She came to America to get married. After they were married here, they returned to Germany and married there too. Both mothers got to deliver their best.

I had called a motel in Chicago to book a room for our wedding night. The reservationist insisted that I was booking Saturday, and I persisted that we were arriving on early Sunday morning. That was my first lesson in booking hotel rooms. We got to the motel at three a.m. to learn that we did not have a room. They played my game and booked me for Sunday which in their world is includes Sunday night. I was wrong and they were right, I should have booked a room for Saturday which would have included Saturday night. After a considerable amount of time arguing who was right and who was wrong they relented and gave us their honeymoon suite for the night with our promise that we would move into a regular room the next day. I’ll skip the boring details of our activities of the next couple of days.

On Monday we fired up the Bug and headed for Miami, Florida. We landed in Indianapolis, Indiana in time for dinner. Barb used her iron to freshen her dress and that is how I learned that many hotels have only DC current. She burned out her iron, but her dress was wrinkle free that evening.

Along the way we stopped to tour a cavern along the Tennessee-Georgia border. It was another first for the both of us. We enjoyed seeing stalactites and stalagmites although we took a lot of shit from the tour guide once we let on that we were honeymooning. Eventually, we crossed the border into Florida and stopped at St. Augustine for a couple of days. We lived the uniqueness of the city. Old by US standards having been established in the 1600’s. There is a competition between St Augustine, Florida and Santa Fe, New Mexico for the title of first city in North America. I don’t think there are too many people that visit both towns since they are so far apart so the guides in each town make the claim and people go along thinking they know the truth. The truth is that the Spanish established Santa Fe first.

Eventually we landed in Fort Lauderdale. After a couple of days looking around we found a flyer advertising a three day trip to Nassau, Bahamas. We bit, and booked the tour. Another first for the trip, a flight in a DC3. It was noisy as hell but the trip only took 45 minutes. We fell in love with Nassau immediately. This was long before I knew what a passport was and didn’t know for many years after, as none were required. The unique thing about Nassau was that everyone spoke the King’s English. Coming from Chicago we were familiar with blacks and seeing blacks was not strange, what was strange was to hear them speak perfect English with a British accent. Twenty-five years later we returned to Nassau to find that the blacks had dropped the British accent and English in favor of Ebonics.

Our time in Nassau was unforgettable and a topic for another post. When our plane landed in Fort Lauderdale we found our car packed and ready to leave for home. I made a big mistake in navigation and instead of back tracking the way we came I routed our trip westward toward the Gulf of Mexico. I wanted to visit New Orleans. On the map it looked doable, but it is clearly five hundred miles longer going that way. We crossed Alligator Alley toward Fort Meyers and turned north along the Gulf coast. The drive could best be described as driving through jungle. Lots of tall palm trees and dense foliage along both sides of the road. Small town dotted the road sides and gave us views of the gulf. Occasionally, we stopped at a white sand beach to take pictures.

By the time we rolled into New Orleans I was tired of driving. It was dark and busy with traffic on very old and narrow streets. I got lost making four circles around the city until I finally found a corner that was the key to exit. I have never returned to New Orleans since. We found a motel north of town, and collapsed. The next morning we got a good start, and drove straight through to Chicago, my second mistake of the return. The drive took twenty-nine hours. I’ve never done anything so stupid again. Thank God we arrived home safely in time to go to work the next day.

It’s Time

This is one of those days when I don’t have a clue about what to write. The words will come as I compose. My life was very different this week, and I wound up driving a lot of miles. The driving only woke me up to the fact that my body has changed since 2015 which is the last time I undertook a major drive of 1850 miles in one stretch. I’m not so sure I would be able to do that as well as I did back then. The last six years have been somewhat stressful on my system. Today, as I took my walk, I decided that I must undertake a vigorous training program to get into shape to take another driving trip. A few months ago, I posted my thoughts about taking one last trip around the United States by car before I hang up my driving gloves for good. Before my post was completed I decided that maybe that kind of effort has gone and left me behind. Driving around the perimeter of the USA and up and down a few times in between to cover all the points I would like to revisit added up to a bunch of miles that would take weeks, no months, to accomplish. It would be the ultimate “Burning Gas” post.

This week I kiddingly told my daughter that this kind of trip would be best taken in a sleeper van, camping along the way covering the warmer southern states in the winter months and then heading to the northern border for the summer and fall. Surprisingly, she agreed with me. Over the years, I have done this trip, mostly camping along the way, except I did it in two week stretches covering a period of twenty-five years. Ask my kids about it. A couple of them have never traveled since, and another took up discovering the world with her girlfriend. None of her trips were by car. She wised up and learned from the boring miles she spent in the back of the van as her father had to make the miles to a new destination. She learned that what took me days to cover by driving she could do in a few hours by airplane. The difference between us is that on my trips, I saw and savored every mile of the country in between destinations. She slept as she flew over the boring oceans between her destinations. I tell people that one has to experience the space of this country by driving across the Midwest. The vast flat plain between our home in Illinois and the Rocky mountains was always a bore that even I would have done differently if I could. I remember very vividly dreaming about how nice it would have been to drive our van and trailer onto a railroad flat-car and to navigate the plains by train. There actually were some services that provided such accommodations between the east coast cities and Florida, but I don’t think they exist anymore.

I stopped driving trips when I neared retirement. It was time for Barbara and me to take the easy way, we flew to dream destinations at home, in Europe, and the far east. That didn’t last very long because she became sick and died within months after I retired. To honor her memory, I took a solitary driving trip to our dreamed about winter residence. The driving alone part I vowed never to do again. During that trip I thought about all the long distance truckers who spend their lives driving their loads from a to z daily logging five to six hundred miles over and over again, living and sleeping in truck stops or the back of their tractors. I decided I could never have made a living as a truck driver.

After a couple of years of living alone I found a new partner who wouldn’t fly. So I took up driving again, and loved it. She turned out to be a very good travel buddy, never complaining about the hours, or the monotony of covering miles. We toured the western United States and Canada east to west over our ten years of good life together. We spent the last five years keeping each other company as she ever so slowly descended into the inner depths of her mind.

I have my first wife Barbara’s advice to me from her death bed embedded in my brain, “it’s time to get on with your life.”

Adventure Travel

My tiny town of sixteen thousand has three camper sales businesses. Seems like a lot of campers for such a small population. Ever since I got married I became fascinated by campers and camping. The basic camping lifestyle is learned in Boy Scouts, tent, backpack, wood fires, and sleeping bags. A more sensible or nonsensical camping style depending on how one wants to live is to put your six bedroom, eight bathroom, nine thousand square foot house on wheels and drive it to the edge of the woods. Maybe you would have a small fire to make samores with the kids.

When I got the bug my wife did not have a clue about camping nor did she want to learn. She was that way mostly because I tried talking her into back packing. That wasn’t going to happen and it never did. Instead I got my fill of the rough style by working with the Boy Scouts. That cured me.

Along the way I morphed into going camping in a pop-up trailer. It was the lightweight version of house trailer camping. I dreamed about getting one or better yet building a pop-up tailer. I drew plans for one but never got excited enough to begin building. Instead I began looking at camper trailers at the outdoor show. They made sense, but Barb still couldn’t be convinced that this was for us. Then I saw a used pop-up for sale near where we lived. I called and convinced Barb to come look at it with me. She grumbled and balked a bit but decided to come with me. In fact the whole family went. The seller had set up the unit in his driveway with the attached fly extending out from the tent. Under that fly he had a home-built portable kitchen set up ready to cook meals. The kitchen had pots and pans, dishes, utensils, a stove and wash tubs for cleaning dishes. All of it packed into two boxes that were neatly partitioned for all the goods. The sides of the boxes folded down to make a counter top.

The tiny trailer was a canvas tent set up on wheels. Inside, there was room to sleep six, we were five, and a table with seating for six. There was a tiny indoor kitchen with a sink and ice box for keeping food.

By the time Barb moved from the outdoor kitchen to the inside she was sold. We bought the trailer. It was the beginning of a new life for us. We named the trailer Gypsy II. The two was because our first gypsy vehicle was our tiny Ford Falcon in which we traveled.

Just prior to buying Gypsy II, I had bought a new family truck, a 1967 Dodge van. Vans were a new idea back then, and they became very popular, they still are to this day. I had intentions of converting it into a camper van. After buying the trailer that notion changed. I did build a section behind the rear seat to give the kids a place to play and to nap when we drove. Barb made curtains for all the windows in the back to keep the sun from burning the kid up. That van remained our faithful camping partner for five years. Then, I stepped up to another van, a larger one, with more power, and air-conditioning. We became a two-van family. I sold off my going to work car which was a Toyota Corolla wagon. It was a genuine pre-quality Japanese piece of shit. I couldn’t wait to get rid of it after only two years. I didn’t buy another Toyota until thirty seven years later. It happens to be the best most reliable car I ever owned, and I still have it.

With the new van I sold off Gypsy II and bought a new pop-up trailer with very firm side walls and solid top and a complete kitchen. We named it G3. Our camping trips became more frequent and we ventured much further from home. One summer, I took the trailer back to the manufacturer for warranty work. G3 was stolen from the manufacturing company in Indiana. Eventually G3 was replaced by G4. Five years later I bought a new GMC van with a super interior and a coral full of horses under the hood (~400 HP) it pulled that big trailer like it wasn’t even there. We took the adventure camping trip of our lives, a five week tour of National Parks extending from Chicago to Seattle, down to Los Angeles, and back to Chicago via the Grand Canyon and Santa Fe, New Mexico. The only regret I have about that trip is that it should have been ten weeks instead of five. As it turned out, that was the last time we had all three of our kids with us on a vacation at the same time. The next year the two older ones got jobs and we couldn’t travel long distances any more. Barb had totally adapted to the camping lifestyle and became a magnificent planner for meals along the way. She pre-cooked and froze many meals which we kept frozen until we needed them. She needed a vacation from cooking too, and this is how she accomplished that. We enjoyed her home cooking away from home.

A couple of years after that Barb was diagnosed with breast cancer. One way she used to beat the deadly beast was to dream about camping. I found a used almost new class C, mini-motorhome, and bought it. She and I used it to take respite trips to help her forget her battle with the disease. Our youngest was eleven, and he traveled with us as we explored Canada and the Eastern states. another five years later we used the MH to take respite trips when Barb was caring for her dying mother 24/7.

After our young son was in college I finally sold the motor home and Barb and I began taking trips using airplanes and staying in hotels. We often discussed camping, but never did again. Instead I wanted to show her the hotel lifestyle and to give her a complete vacations without cooking. She loved it and so did I.

Today, I watched a half a dozen short videos on people who live in their cars or who convert a van to live in. I loved it still, the juices are flowing again. I’m afraid however that I would not fare well sleeping in my Toyota while camping in the wilds of Wyoming and Montana. I’d need a more substantial living space and a more drivable vehicle. It would have to be a professional van conversion with total off the grid capabilities, and I’d have to stay in super-safe campgrounds away from the wilde-beastes.

My how times have changed as has my penchant for adventure.

Cross At Your Own Risk

Illinois is a great state to live in if you are socialist. We put California and New York to shame when it comes to one party politics, graft, and families who make politics a business. Our last election put a democrat governor back in the statehouse and our legislature can’t increase taxes fast enough. The increases are not going to fix real problems but to fuel unmet pension obligations for public sector workers. By law the pensions are funded every year, but our politicians have seen fit to use the money elsewhere. The funds are in dire straits. My town is loaded with retired teachers and supervisors. All I can say is what I observe. These people live a whole lot better on a pension than they did working.

Meanwhile we have some very serious infrastructure problems which are going unaddressed. One in particular is the Inter-state 80 bridge over the DesPlaines river in Joliet. Here is how the Illinois politicians have addressed the problem.

https://www.fox32chicago.com/news/392512332-video

By the  time you see this sign it is too late to exit I80. To convince myself of the seriousness I tested the bridge last Saturday afternoon by driving over it. The structure seems to be sound, but the road surface is a total mess. I found my self in the center lane of the three lane road. I could not change lanes because I was in a sea of trucks in front, back, and on the side. I slowed down to make myself feel like that was the correct thing to do. At the very center of the crossing the road surface dips a full four inches over a twelve foot span. On land this would not concern me, but while crossing a river a hundred feet in the air it scared the crap out of me. On land when a road dips it is because the roadbed has compacted but on a bridge there is no dirt below the road surface, only air. This is a terrible accident waiting to happen at any moment.

Why is IDOT waiting to repair the problem? Good question with many answers none of which will hold water after the section of road decides to take a swim. On my return trip I exited the interstate one mile before the bridge and took the city streets. I’m lucky I know the area well enough to be able to do that. What if you are a vacationer from another state passing through. You will ignore the sign even if you do see it, and proceed.

Anyway, when the event finally happens Illinois will be on the map right up there with California and New York. The world will see the news broadcasts of our finest politicians passing the buck and blaming the republicans. Oh wait, they can’t do that there are no republicans.

Why is this bridge crumbling? It is a long story. Once upon a time there was a Congressman from Frankfort whose name was George Sangemeister. There was also a giant parcel of US Government land know as the Joliet Arsenal. George wanted to leave a legacy so he legislated that the land should go back to the people. The arsenal was no longer being used to make bullets, bombs, and torpedos, and is made good sense. George’s plan split the land into three parcels. The first parcel created the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery for veterans. The second parcel created Midewin National Tall Grass Prairie. The final parcel was designated for business. I’m sure George made some side money on that one. The business that settled there is a giant terminal for transporting goods coming from China. This is the culprit. There are thousands of trucks coming into and out of the terminal. Container trains come in from the east and the west they get unloaded and then trucked to our local Dollar General stores with all the crap the Chinese send us. We get cheap goods to fill our garages and basements with and the states get a bill to rebuild highways, and  bridges. Now how cheap is that? What we don’t pay for in goods we wind up paying for infrastructure.

GR3A0941AbeElwood Enterpise Zone22032357_119192876909