Wednesday, December 23, 2009

There's Comfort in Familiar

We're stranded for the day in chilly, drizzly Portland, OR, while our
motor home gets buff at the spa (transmission work, new brakes, etc.)

And instead of treating ourselves to an excellent museum, a movie or
even a day at our own spa, we go to the dog park.

We have awfully lucky dogs.

Or perhaps we're just tired after 11 days on the road and can't think
much past what's familiar. And dog parks are familiar. We can breathe
at dog parks.

This one, Hazledale, is in a suburb of Portland called Beaverton,
where all the neighboring residents kick in a dollar or two or 10 a
year to maintain the park. And, thank you, they let us play for free.
So nice, because we need to play, where it's familiar.

But play really doesn't happen. The only other dog at the park today
is Bella, an 8-month-old chocolate lab whom Jacob (my Standard
Poodle) devils and bullies. When she sees him coming, Bella's not sure
what to do, so she crunches to a crawl position, then rolls over.
Jacob gleefully thrusts his nose into her belly and barks. Hops up and
down and barks. Bella rolls back over slowly and, with her ears
flattened against her head, slinks away.

Why do you do that, Jacob!

I call him to quit and apologize to Esther, Bella's owner.

She shrugs. Bella's young, she says. All this is new to her.

While Bella slinks and crawls, Esther tells me about her own life,

About how she's moving to Atlanta, GA, soon from Portland, the land of
her birth, her schooling, her boyfriend. She's leaving behind
everything familiar.

Esther is 20-something and about to plop herself down in a brave new
world. I'll bet on many occasions she crunches to a crawl and flattens
her own ears and slinks away.

Sally forth, I tell her. And, at first, just look for what's
familiar. Take Bella to a dog park.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Sliver of Sunshine

We're cold. And tired.

We've spent the morning in battle with a snow storm high in Oregon's mountains and are now at a truck stop, well, stuck at a truck stop because a truck has broken down. A tow company busily connects the dots to get the truck towed out.

But for now, we're stuck, blocked by the broken-down truck. And cold. But, the dogs need to stretch a bit, so we leash them up and head out to where it's even colder.

And, then it begins to rain.

We are not smiling.

What's there to smile about?

And then we see her. A reason to smile. Shadow. A pretty and perky black standard poodle, staring in disbelief at what she sees: our two black standard poodles. Her tail bobs then circulates. She's so excited.

Our boys notice her, and their tails begin to bob, and circulate.

Shadow, we learn, is a trucker's cab dog. She 2, loves chasing cattle and riding the ocean's waves. And, she's stubborn, smart and perky.

The three circle round and round, in and out. Their tails a constant flutter.

And then it begins to rain harder. A lot harder. All three of the dogs drip with wet poodle ringlets. We and the truckers bid farewell and climb back into our own lives.

Even though the cold is now really wet, too, we smile some doggie brought-on smiles.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

THANK GOODNESS it takes a village

A truck driver ratted us out. And blessed us, too.

Allen pulls into a Bakersfield, CA, truck stop and parks outside the box. What he did was pull up alongside a grassy area so we could extend our slideout safely.

Our move triggers the truck driver's anger.

He rages at another motor-home driver (not at us, but about us), who then comes over to warn us, with a grin, about this man who's out to get us. He tips a non-existent hat, then lets us know, with that grin, that the truck driver was spittin' mad and was headed to the main
office to report our immense offense.

We pull up stakes and move around to fill a regular spot.

Then, a different truck driver comes over, one who hauls for Walmart, and lets us know how sorry HE is that a truck driver would act that way. Soon, the truck driver's wife stops by because she sees our dogs and wants to say hi.

There's just too little courtesy and respect in the world, we all lament. After all, had the angry truck driver aproached us, we would have just apologized and moved. Instead, a village gets involved.

We all chat for a while. No one from the main office joins in.

 The pleasant truck driver and his wife wish us a Merry Christmas. We bid them one in return.

Such nice people.

Do We Look THAT Gullible?

We're surrounded by the desert that spills from Arizona into
California, as we do in search of a fill up.

We stop in Needles, CA, and find the price of a gallon of diesel has
leaped from $2.59 cents to nearly $4.

Well, we think, this is the desert. Things are hard to come by here.
We pull up to the pump and a man on a scooter scoots around and around
our outfit. We're kinda used to this because you don't often see a
Navion pulling a Kia Soul. People, especially car people, are curious.

Allen hops out and begins pumping the liquid gold into our tank when a
young man pulling on a candy bar hollers out: "Mister, hey mister."
Allen turns and sees the man pointing to our left front tire.

"You've got a problem here."

Allen stops fueling and walks over to see what's what.

Another man joins in. This one is much older.

"Yes, yes. I've been in the business 36 years and I can see an
accident just waiting to happen. That's what you have here."

"And over here!" The young man with the candy points to our other
front tire.

I look up and past these men to a row of brand-new tires awaiting
their new holiday homes.

Allen examines each tire and assures the men he's comfortable with the
level of wear and tear.

He finishes fueling and hops in.

We drive away.

No tires sold today.

A Chance Meeting

I think dogs talk to each other. Out loud and silently.

I'm standing inside a dog park in Kingman, Az, surrounded by unusual dogs. There's a Silken Windhound, a Rez Dog, a  American Indian Dog, a Rhodesian Ridgeback and a Chinese Shar Pei. And, of course, my two Royal Standard Poodles.

Usually, a dog park provides more common fare: lots of mixes, Boxers, Schnauzers, Pit Bulls, many Labs and Lab mixes.

The kinds of dogs we meet today differ by their pedigrees, but the result's the same: a whirlwind of activity, chasing, leaping, sniffing and more chasing. And, barking. Lots of barking. Happy barking. They all speak the same language.

And while they all talk to each other, I talk to their people.

Like Alona. She creates landscapes in oils and watercolors and owns the Windhound (pic below with Allen and Joshua; notice she's airborne), whose lineage reaches back into the long-haired Borzois and Whippets.

And  Louisa, a high school librarian. She owns Patches (no pic, sorry), the Rez Dog, who was hit by a car when she was 5 months old and survived only because Louisa came along.

While Louisa unfolds Patches' life story for me, I'm distracted by what looks like the Pillsbury Dough Boy spilling out of a car in the parking lot. The dog is so big and fat, it takes a while for the all of it to collect together as one dog on solid ground.

I soon discover this big dog has one big pedigree.

Her name is Addison. She's 3-years-old and is an American Bulldog with direct lineage to the dog who played Chance in the movie "Homeward Bound." He's her great-great-great granddaddy, says Ralph, her owner, a very big man, quite like his very big dog.

Addison was a gift from his daughter three years ago when his Great Dane died. His Dane, he says, was so tall, she'd snatch stuff off the top of his refrigerator. Addison can't do that. She's big, but she's fat, mostly because she's heavily medicated for a laundry-list of allergies.

Her weight slows her down. Noticeably. Even though she's unleashed and free to roam, she stays right with Ralph, alternately standing, then sitting. I look around and notice none of the other dogs, not even my own, stop by to play.

 And the other people in the park have spread out, giving this monstrous dog and her owner space, lots of space.

And a still overcomes the park. I hear no barking. There's no chase.

After a while, Addison and Ralph lumber away. He stuffs her back into the car, like a down pillow into a duffle bag.

With Addison gone, the still breaks; chaotic dog play resumes.

Hmmm. I wonder. Did Addison order the quiet?  Did she tell the other dogs to stay away? And they all then obeyed?


Thursday, December 17, 2009

An Unusual Safety Net

     We're rested and walked (more than a mile this morning with the dogs in Elk City, OK), so we don't really need to stop at this Texas rest stop.

     But how can we not? The sign outside says it's a tornado shelter. And we've never been to a tornado shelter, so we stop (way in the middle of nowhere, about 150 miles east of Amarillo on Route 66). We snoop around looking for this protected place, one we imagine to be an underground bunker, perhaps as grand as the one hidden away for Congress at the former five-star Greenbriar Hotel in West Virginia.

    No. I think not. Too expensive.

     So maybe we'll find something as rustic as the WWII pillbox bunkers seen along England's coast.

     No. I think not. Tornado shelters must be underground because tornadoes tear up stuff above ground.

     Then I remember Dorothy, clutching Toto as she kicks helplessly on the doors to her tornado shelter. So I turn my eyes groundward (ahh, a new word), looking for a door, an entrance, a
ladder even. I see an artful brick enclosure; no, it hides a series of solar panels. I see a series of poles holding a teepee-like roof. No, it's a picnic place.

     I see a woman in a uniform. Her name is Jaque (pronounced Jackie). "Where are the tornado shelters?" I ask.

     Inside, she says, pointing to the visitor's center, a grand concrete structure with The Lone Star of Texas cut through on three sides (picture above). The earth mounds up all around, making
it look like it's exploding from the ground. Kinda like a bomb shelter. Aha!

     But inside, I already know, is a  little museum, a tourist information desk and the bathrooms. No tornado shelter.

     I go in anyway because maybe I'll find a secret elevator or ladder that escorts people out of harm's way.

     What I find startles me.

     The tornado shelters are the bathrooms.

     Not BEHIND or BELOW or JUST PAST the bathrooms. They ARE the bathrooms.

     Seriously. Here's a picture.

     The same rooms that house the toilets, sinks and stalls serve as tornado shelters. But they are just bathrooms. Little tiles cover the walls and floors where now and then drains serve to aid in cleaning. There are no cots or couches or chairs. No life-sustaining provisions. Just toilets, stalls and sinks.

     But they are lifesaving, nonetheless, Jaque says. Just two years ago, about 75 people hid out in these bathrooms while a storm cut through the countryside less than a hundred yards away. The winds tore through the roadway, too.

     Another time, Jaque herded a few dozen people inside to wait out a storm.

     She giggles as I take a picture of the bathrooms.

     "It just seems odd to me," I say.

     She grins. "You're not the first."

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Jacob, Stop Whining!

     Jacob (one of my French Poodles) has thousands of miles under his belt (collar?) so I don't understand why he's so fussy. But fuss, he does.
     He's whining through the night. He leans up against me when I sit at the dinette, and lays his head on my chest and moans under his breath. Then he raises his paw and plops it over my knee. And looks up at me,  wistfully. Pathetic! 
     I know he's not sick. He just wants to play. With rabbits, squirrels, gophers and groundhogs. He's what I call squirrelly. He just wants to get out of the motor home and run and chase and jump and play.
     So, he whines incessantly. Gee, Jacob. Stop.
     So, I look for a dog park sooner than I thought we'd need one.
     But what do I find? Snobs. And a lot of 'em.
     I find one dog park in Terre Haute and several in St. Louis, but none willing to let a traveling family come in and play unless we bow to extortion. One wants us to pay $10, per dog, then a $10 deposit for the special key that opens the golden gates. For 30 minutes?
     Another wants $25. Per dog. Still another asks $80 for the first dog, then $25 for the second.
     These outrageous fees scream one thing: Keep out. These private-member doggie clubs shun riffraff like us. They serve their own.  Snubbed. We've been snubbed. By big city doggie parks. Hrumpf.
     But wait. What's this I see, tucked outside big-city limits in the sprawling countryside of Troy, MO. A caring veterinary called Troy Hawthorne Animal Clinic, its tidy grounds surrounded by a fence and littered with doggie toys and jumps and tunnels. The Troy Dog Sports Park.
     Jacob squeals.
     And we are welcome to come in and play. No fees required. Just a verbal promise about adequate vaccines and non-aggressive attitudes.
    See the pictures (not many and not great, but it was cold) and you'll see this little park's loads of fun.
    Go to their Web site and you'll see this as one or their core values: "Be guided by the highest level of integrity in our daily work."
    Nothing pathetic about that.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Little McHumor

        I'm standing at the counter of a McDonald's in Terre Haute when I
notice only one of the workers is younger than 30. In fact, most are
over 40 with a few 50- or 60-somethings sprinkled in.
    A sign of the times, I think to myself. Flipping hamburgers counters

    Good for them, I think. I wonder if there's a journalist back there
squirting mustard on a McDouble. Or an auto worker deep-frying hash
    "They're here!" my cashier squeaks, jolting me back to my breakfast
order. I follow her twinkling gaze to a box of shoes her boss sets on
the counter.

    She tilts her head toward me: "If I wear these shoes with special
treads and fall, then McDonald's will pay for the medical
bill." (She's so willing to share!)
    She's thrilled.
    "I'm 5 months pregnant and I find myself falling a lot."

    She needs the insurance. In this economy, we all need what help we can

    While she giggles about her new shoes, I move on down the line to pick
up my feast from a lively and lovely 30-something, who encourages me
to enjoy my meal, have a nice day and enjoy this Christmas season.

    I'm lovin' this place. Which is good, because I get to come back.

    I grab my bag of food and scramble back to Otto. As I unpack
breakfast, I notice the McMuffin is lighter these days. Alas, I think,
also a sign of the times. Joblessness and the economy. Cutbacks.

    I shake my head.

    I unwrap the skinny treasure to find the McMuffin isn't just thin. It
has NOTHING inside. It's not the economy, I laugh. It's a mistake!

    I scramble back inside. "What'd I forget?" asks the lively and lovely
30-something. I unwrap my McMuffin and she hoots! "JUST THE MUFFIN!"

    "My fault, my fault," she assures the rest of the crew, peaking out
from behind fryers and heat lamps to see the naked sandwich.

    I get a new one. And a story to tell.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

On the road again ...

Today is Day One of another adventure.

We're heading to Seattle from Syracuse for Christmas, New Year's and a
few birthdays, then on to Death Valley, CA, maybe Quartzite, AZ, then
Padre Island in southeastern Texas. We also plan to touch base with
family in Florida at some point.

What this means is there's a lot of driving. Well, I do lots of
riding. So, unlike for adventures of the past, I lined up a few things
to do while I ride.

Today is Day One and I've done them all.

Well, I haven't completed them all. Just DONE them all.

I've finished off a few crossword puzzles, read a few pages of my
book, pulled out my needlework (cross-stitching two pillow cases),
napped, snacked on apples, grapes and cheese, and listened to "City of
a fabulous Christmas present from our friend, Tom. Thank you,

I've played a few online games and read through the news. I tried and
failed to install a map on my blog that I found on another blog. So I
spent time reading other blogs.

Now I'm playing more games.

OK. Only about 3,600 miles to go to Seattle.