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Tag: camper

Polar Express: All hail breaks loose

 

With just two days left before Santa comes down the chiminea, even Arizona has decided it’s winter.

The last few days in Cave Creek — where I’m living in a (contradiction in terms alert) stationary motorhome — have been wet and cool, with temperatures plummeting at night to around, prepare yourself, 50 degrees.

We get by, and so far without turning on the heat. Instead I use three blankets and Ace. Normally, unless he’s feeling unusually needy, he’ll fall asleep with his head down by my feet and his rear pointed at my face, which is not without ramifications.

On the cold nights though, and there have been a couple, I reposition his 130 pounds so that we are side by side, pointed the same way, so that I might better absorb his warmth.

He puts up with it for a short time, then goes back to his old position.

Last night, as I reached out to give his head a final pat, only to get a handful of butt, we fell asleep to the pitter-patter — I’m pretty sure I heard both pitters and patters — of a gentle rain falling on the trailer roof, only to be awakened an hour or so later by tremendous pelting thuds of hail on the roof.

A hailstorm can be disconcerting in a real house, but in a trailer — without the attic or the insulation — it’s a lot more personal; every thud seems amplified, and a heavy hail sounds like machine gun fire.

Those whacks were enough to get Ace anxious, and when thunder and lightning rolled through he left the bed in search of a more secure hiding place.

It was as if one roof over his head wasn’t enough, and he was looking for a back-up one. He tried under the dinette table, but that was too cramped. He came back to the bedroom and crawled under the tiny ledge the TV sits on, then decided that wasn’t good enough, either.

He went to the front door, but I assured him that — given the falling hail, though I didn’t see it, sounded about golf ball size — wasn’t an advisable option.

So I invited him back on the bed, where he was more than happy to snuggle up as close as he could possibly get, pointed the same way as me, for the duration of the storm.

I threw my an Indian blanket over him, and he seemed to like that even better. I put my arm around him, and that is how we woke up this morning.

I’ve yet to go outside to check my car and my the chiminea for damage, but looking out my window as the sun comes up, the sky looks like maybe it will finally clear up today, and maybe our last few days in Arizona will bring us more sweet sunshine.

On Monday, maybe Tuesday, we’ll start the trip back east, totally unexcited about, and totally unprepared for, a taste of real winter.

Home sweet trailer

Say you forked over $650 to spend the month in a trailer in the desert – actually one of those big pull-it-yourself RV campers with popouts – and when you arrived the next day to move in, a little earlier than expected, you saw that not only were the pop-outs popped in, but the trailer was hitched to a truck, appearing as if it was ready to hit the highway.

Would you:

(A) Immediately assume you’d been scammed?

(B) Shoot first and ask questions later?

(C) Politely inquire as to what might be going on?

Fortunately I chose (C) when Ace and I pulled into Petite Acres last week to move into what, after six months on the road, we’d arranged to be our home – we presumed, a stationary one – for a month in Cave Creek, Arizona.

As it turned out, my landlady wasn’t hauling the trailer away, only moving it a few feet over so that I might enjoy my entire concrete slab patio, as opposed to just the half of it that the trailer wasn’t resting on.

After a week of trailer life, Ace and I (though I shouldn’t speak for him) couldn’t be happier.

I can sit at the dinette (across from the kitchenette — midway between the bedroomette and the living roomette) and blog while looking out my windowette and enjoying a view of the mountains, strutting quail and rabbits everywhere. At night, I hear whinnying horses and howling coyotes and a few other sounds, and soundettes, I haven’t identified yet.

Ace — when he’s not resting on my camping cot — likes to position himself at the end of the trailer, where he can lay in the shade and keep an eye on all that transpires at Petite Acres.

He has learned, somewhat, not to wander off to visit other trailers, though twice I’ve caught him at the homes of my two closest neighbors, where he tends to venture when they are cooking or eating.

One of them, who introduced himself as Romero, informed me that he didn’t mind Ace dropping by, but asked that I pick up any poop he might leave there, which, unknown to me, he had done yesterday. I apologized, and Romero, who was slow cooking some pork on an outside stovetop, was very  nice about it.

Romero’s dinner smelled so good that I couldn’t be too hard on Ace for the transgression. Besides, it had happened hours before.

We’ve yet to encounter any javelina, those wild pig-like creatures who roam in the desert nearby, but I thought one morning I heard some snorting outside the trailer. We have a woodpecker friend who hangs out on the telephone pole in my dusty yard, and other birds — since I generally keep the trailer door open — have wandered inside to look around.

Yesterday, I went outside to absorb some sun — not to tan, just to bake out the morning chill. I’d just about dozed off on my lounge chair when a bird landed on me. Feeling little webbed feet on my thigh, I jerked awake, scaring him off before I could see what kind it was.

I found my temporary home on Craigslist, and, though it’s a trailer, it’s actually wider than my former rowhome in Baltimore — at least when the pop-outs, in the living room and bedroom, are popped out. I worried a little bit about hitting the wrong switch while in bed and getting compacted — hydraulically turned into a John-ette — but it turns out keys need to be inserted for the pop outs to move.

My landlady, Tami, has been wonderful, jumping on any problems that arise, showing me the ropes of RV life, and intent on making sure — though I’m only here for three more weeks — that I feel at home.

She took me to the library to get a library card, introduced me to some of her dog-loving friends and left me stocked up with movies on DVD, since there’s no TV reception. She invited me to join her and some friends at the American Legion Hall last night.

Ace and I have checked out the biker bar next door, The Hideaway Grill, enjoying some nice time there before being informed that, because of a recent incident involving a customer tripping over a leash, dogs are no longer invited to sit on the patio, at least not on busy  nights. Last night, I visited the next closest bar, The Buffalo Chip, where Wednesday nights feature bull riding. Not mechanical bulls. Real ones. Dogs are welcome there, but not on bull riding night, or Friday nights, so Ace stayed home. I didn’t ride a bull. Maybe next week.

We’ve found some nice spots to romp nearby — down the dry river bed just a few hundred yards away, at the foot of a mountain across the street, and a conservation area just a short drive away.

In addition to not getting TV reception – maybe a good thing — we don’t get mail delivery, and I have to walk my trailer trash down to the Dumpster next to the biker bar.

We’ve had some minor plumbing issues — the trailer, not me — but they were quickly resolved. (Oh, and that missing dental crown? I found it on the car floor while unpacking, and have reinstalled it in my mouth.)

I couldn’t imagine pulling this trailer — it’s a late 90′s Sea Breeze — down the highway, getting it leveled and hooked up at every stop, but, sitting still, it makes for a cozy little home that sways only slightly when Ace jumps on or off the bed or the couch.

I’ve thought I should give it a name, like John Steinbeck did with his camper, Rocinante. (Feel free to submit nominations.) There’s one I like — it’s both modest and Spanish-sounding — but it isn’t original. I saw it etched into a sign at a gift shop:

Almosta Ranch.

Holing up in Cave Creek, Arizona

We are a two-legger and a four-legger on a three-legged  journey.

Leg two, as of this week, is complete. Leg three begins with sitting still for awhile.

Ace and I, as of yesterday, have moved into Petite Acres (partly because we loved the name so much), a trailer park in the otherwise mostly upscale — but not pretentiously so — town of Cave Creek, about a half hour north of Phoenix.

Here — in what appears at first glance to be colorful, not overly crowded, dog-friendly territory — we will spend December, or most of it anyway, resting some, gathering our thoughts and catching up on some things we have let lag, like cleaning the car, emailing friends, eating vegetables, social skills and personal grooming.

After six months on the road we felt the need to slow down, not that we were moving that fast.

We left Baltimore in May, traveling through Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Tennesee, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah and back. That — with all our stops along the way, the people we met and the stories we told —  took three months.

Then, we spent another three months on the move, leaving John Steinbeck’s former home the same day he did 50 years ago and roughly following the route he and his poodle took for “Travels with Charley” — up to Maine’s northernmost tip, then west to Seattle, and down through California.

Unlike Steinbeck, who gave short shrift to Arizona on his way back east, we’re going to give it long shrift. We will linger for nearly a month before returning to the east coast. Step one was getting the car unpacked, which took two days.

Ace’s crate, which has ridden folded up and unused for six months, is back in business, though he uses it more as security nook than anything else. I set it up on my cement patio that abuts my trailer. The rooftop carrier is off my car (though not unpacked), and the car will get washed, and more importantly vacuumed.

In cleaning out the car, I found Ace’s toy, and my other travel companion — bobble-head Jesus, who started the trip off in my cupholder, but ended up buried beneath shoes and garbage behind my car seat. No disprespect intended. I still have not found my missing dental cap.

I hope to be entirely unpacked, and have everything squirreled away in the various nooks of my trailer by the time it’s time to start packing again.

Shortly after Christmas, we’ll head back east to an undisclosed location — undisclosed only because I haven’t figured it out yet — in time to meet my obligations for promoting my new book, “Dog, Inc.: The Uncanny Inside Story of Cloning Man’s Best Friend,” coming out at the end of this month.

Until then, we’ll continue blogging, having some new adventures and writing about life in Petite Acres and Cave Creek — a town I’m eager to explore.

Ace will be learning more about cacti, for sure. He’s already started showing them some respect. He’ll likely learn too about javelina, a wild, pig-like creature — though some contend its actually a monstrously big rodent — that one living in more remote parts of the desert confronts fairly regularly, I’m told.  You don’t want your dog messing with them, especially the males, which have tusks.

There are also supposed to be mountain lions, bobcats and rattlesnakes in my new neighborhood, as the trailer park backs up to a wash — or dry, usually, river bed — and is situated in what’s still mostly semi-wilderness.

I’ll introduce you next week to my temporary home, which will be providing me with the first RV experience — although a stationary one — of our trip.

Why, after nearly 20,000 miles, did we stop? Mainly to get organized, and for a dose of stability, but also to get caught up on the various components of my multi-hundred dollar Internet empire — ohmidog.comTravelswithace.com, Dogincthebook.com and Johnwoestendiek.com.

Why stop here? Mainly, because it’s where, on Craigslist, I found a one-month, dog-friendly lease. It’s also near where my father and brother live. And I love the desert — particularly those parts of it man hasn’t mucked up yet.

Then, too, there’s this: Today’s high was 70 degrees. Tomorrow’s high will be 70 degrees. The day after that, I think predictions call for a high of 70 degrees.

Where Steinbeck’s saga began, and ended

The ashes of the man who inspired our — as of today — six months on the road are buried in the town where he was born, at the Garden of Memories in Salinas, where another funeral was underway when Ace and I pulled in.

There was a trumpet playing on the other side of the cemetery as Ace and I sought out John Steinbeck’s final resting place. Members of the Garcia family were — in a ceremony that included the sounding of some joyous notes – sending off one of their own.

As trumpets played a peppy tune, and with help from a sign, we found the short, flat grave marker of the author whose legend looms large as redwoods, and we stood there silently.

Not all of Steinbeck’s ashes are here. Some, after his death in 1968, were spread by his family at Point Lobos, a state reserve in Carmel, where, one can only imagine, they scattered in the wind, caressed the rocks, and made their way to the churning sea.

Our gravesite visit — along with scoping out Steinbeck’s boyhood home, now home to the Steinbeck House restaurant and gift shop — was sandwiched between the highly informative four hours we spent at the National Steinbeck Center.

In the morning, my dog waited in the car while I spent two hours talking to Herb Behrens, a curator there who I could have listened to all day.

Then Ace and I walked around downtown Salinas, grabbed lunch and drove out to the cemetery, where I explained to him that urination, or any other bodily functions, would not be permitted. Between making sure he was well-drained beforehand, keeping him on a short leash, and uttering a few “No’s” when he got to sniffing, that was easily accomplished.

Back at the center, Ace waited in the car again as I spent some time wandering through exhibits based on Steinbeck’s books, ending with “Travels with Charley.” That’s where we finally spied Rocinante — the camper, named after Don Quixote’s horse, that Steinbeck and Charley toured the country in.

It sits behind protective plastic shields, restored and gleaming, with a foam Charley in the passenger seat. Of course, I had to reach over the barrier and touch it, likely leaving a greasy fast food fingerprint on its well-polished green surface.

Rocinante ended up at General Motors headquarters in New York City after Steinbeck’s trip with Charley, where it was displayed in a window.

A New York banker named William Plate saw it there and bought it, using it for hauling hay and other light chores at his farm in Maryland.

After putting another 10,000 to 15,000 miles on it, Plate donated it to the center — a museum and memorial to Steinbeck that opened in 1998.

Steinbeck opted to travel the country in a camper mainly so that he could remain anonymous. Staying in motels and hotels — though he ended up doing that more than the book lets on — might have led to someone identifying him, which he wanted to avoid. He wanted to experience regular people being regular, not fawning over or trying to impress a famous author.

So he wrote to General Motors.  “I wanted a three-quarter ton pickup truck, and on this truck I wanted a little house, built like the cabin of small boat.”

The truck he received was a new GMC, with a V6 engine, an automatic transmission, and an oversized generator. The camper was provided by the Wolverine Camper Company of Glaswin, Michigan.

The decision to take his poodle, Charley, along, was actually an afterthought — one that was encouraged by his wife, Elaine, who reportedly had concerns about her husband traveling alone.

Inside the camper, Steinbeck had a pretty sweet set up — a refrigerator and stovetop, lots of wooden cabinets and a big table to write on, though most of what he wrote during the trip consisted of letters to family and friends

Rocinante is probably the ultimate, and definitely the heaviest, piece of Steinbeck memorabilia that has ended up at the center, where items continue to arrive.

Behrens showed me two of the more recent acquisitions – a chair and globe from Steinbeck’s apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, where Steinbeck was living at the time of his death in 1968. His widow remained there until 2003, the year she died. Some of the apartment’s contents were put up for sale at an auction this year. The globe and chair were purchased by a man whose father lived in Salinas, and he donated them to the center in his father’s name.

The light-up globe lights up no more. Its electrical cord is still attached but there’s no plug on the end of it. On the globe, there are lines either John or Elaine drew, indicating the trans-Atlantic trips they had taken.

But the trip Steinbeck remains best known for was the one with his dog.

Almost every year, Behrens hears from someone who is repeating it — with a dog, without a dog, on a motorcycle, in an RV.

When I asked Behrens why — what moves people to retrace the path of “Travels with Charley,” moreso than they do Jack Kerouac’s route in “On the Road,” or William Least Heat-Moon’s in “Blue Highways” — he answered the question with a question:

“Why are you doing it?”

I hemmed and hawed — it being a question I’d pondered silently, in my own brain, over much of the 18,000 or so miles Ace and I have traveled thus far.

A complete answer might have taken another two hours, given all the variables: My respect for, and interest in, the author. To see America’s dogs. To further bond with Ace. To feed the blog. To revisit places and people of my youth. To retrigger memories. To maybe someday write a book about it — a “Travels with Charley” for modern times. But I gave him the condensed version:

“I guess because I’m unemployed, and it gives me something to write about,” I said.

And maybe the real answer is as simple and gramatically incorrect as that: A writer’s gotta write.

Clearly, considering the body of his work — fiction and non — that was the case with John Steinbeck.

For him, it was an obsession, and a private one. He valued his privacy so much that, when he lived in Sag Harbor, Long Island, where he wrote “Travels with Charley,” he built an eight-sided shack to write in, and  built it in such a way that only one person could occupy it, Behrens said.

Selling books was never Steinbeck’s strong point, Behrens said. “He felt his job as a writer was to write, and not go on book tours. Nowadays he would be a failure because he wouldn’t go on tours and talk shows.”

His last complete book – not counting those compiled by others — was “Travels with Charley,” not his most powerful work, but clearly his most beloved.  Unlike “The Grapes of Wrath,” which was burned in several locations, Salinas included, “Charley” was, for the most part, adored by America. And it still is.

Behrens — and I agree with him — gives Charley most of the credit. “Without Charley, I don’t think Steinbeck would have sold 10 copies,” he said. He was exaggerating, but only to make a pretty valid point. The author’s skills and fame aside, there’s one reason the book was such a hit, one reason its popularity hasn’t wilted:

The dog.

Charley is buried back at Sag Harbor, beneath a tree in the yard, in a grave with no marking, at the opposite of the continent from where Steinbeck’s ashes rest and are still visited by flower-bearing friends and fans, and once in a while, a dog.

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