Catching up – Happenings Along the Way

Our past posts have been a mix of people, places, things and “you can’t make this sh*t up.” Since we have been so un-contemporaneous, This post is less about “Places” and more about reminiscing about “Happenings.”

Quite a bit of our direction, stoppings and experiences have been around our newly- and self-appointed role as “Lead-Chet-Heads.” There are 80+ NBA games in the season…we could only attend a few in person… BECAUSE there are 80+ games!! So, we needed to select the most impactful games for us to attend, and we based this on some very scientifically derived criteria:

  1. Ambient temperature (we don’t do cold, snow and we don’t want to be ANYWHERE, EVER where Tire Chains are “recommended” or…GASP…REQUIRED)!
    and
  2. The ability of “Good Trouble” to get there. Chet may travel by PJ (which does NOT mean Peanut Butter/Jelly), but we travel differently (and MUCH more slowly)

So even though we’ve enjoyed EVERY game, we did so in person, at the following:

  • Chicago — as described in our last post
  • Several on 3 passes thru OKC.
  • Minneapolis (By Plane)
  • San Francisco (x2)
  • New Orleans
  • Memphis
  • Dallas
  • Denver (By Airplane)
  • Atlanta

While we were upholding our new-found elevated status as Lead-Chet-Heads, we also experienced some of the “You can’t make this sh*t up” moments. These truly fuel and reward our desire to be on the road. For example, a couple of notable experiences in Dallas:

  • Mavs Game with the Hendrix

    As we arrived with friends Amanda and Max Hendrix at the arena, we noted LOTS of Dallas Stars Sweaters in the bars and restaurants. The Stars and Mavericks share the same arena…I started to worry – had we gotten the date wrong? Then I realized, they played Hockey in the afternoon, and completely reconfigured the arena for Basketball in the evening. WOW!

    I wish our tickets would have gotten us in early enough to witness this…

  • While we awaited the gates opening, Liz casually mentioned to some OKC fans (based on their regalia) that I was Chet’s Uncle. About 5 minutes later, we ran into the same folks – who asked if they could have a pic with “Chet’s Uncle!” Then, a bit later, some other,  RANDOM fans, in the concourse in search of beer, asked if THEY could have pic with “Chet’s Uncle.”

Now (apparently) famous, I am still awaiting the call from Nike about my Shoe Deal.

Another, “You can’t make this sh*t up” moment happened somewhere between Gulf Shores Alabama, where we spent Xmas, and Memphis just before Easter.

We decided kinda last minute to spend Xmas in GS – a place we have been before and enjoy very much. The State Park there is FANTASTIC, but it is also chock-full of Snowbirds, so we could not get a last-minute spot there.

Gulf Shores RV Spot

I had read about a new RV Park, Gulf Shores RV Resort; I spoke to the owner of that new park about a reservation…and they were able to find a spot for us. Somewhere in that negotiation, I mentioned we were going to leave the bus at the park while we went to Memphis for a game. Conversation led to “Why,” and eventually I could no longer hide my newfound fame (as Chet’s Uncle).

That’s when the sh*t happened!

Owner Lloyd, who is actually from the Memphis area, knew a guy (Andy) who was part of the Grizzlies Ownership group. Lloyd offered us the Andy’s seats for the Thunder Game. I said, “WOW, that is very kind of you,” Assuming all the while that the offer was made in conversation, and would not really come to pass. Not in a negative way … its just that an offer like this, made in casual conversation, with a complete stranger did not seem real (too good to be true?) and I didn’t think much more about it.

Anyway, fast-forward a couple weeks…we are checking in to the park for 30 days, and the manager (Lloyd’s son, it turns out), said, “Dad mentioned he hopes to have some tickets for you…” “WOW” I said. Still thinking this was conversation. I told Preston that would be very generous, figuring that was the last I would hear about it.

Memphis Seats!!!

Anyway, about a week before the game (we had moved on from GS weeks before this!), Lloyd said he had 2 tickets AND A PARKING PASS. He said to Contact Andy (Ownership group Andy) to arrange the transfer. He even said that we were NOT required to root for the Grizzlies, despite the fact we would be in an owner’s seats!  Suffice to say, Andy continued the spectacular generosity and cordiality, the seats were AWESOME, the Thunder won and we were reminded once again about the fundamental kindness of strangers.

As we wandered about, following Chet, several other things happened; some Basketball-related and some not so much.

MUCH time was spent trying to learn about and understand the rules of Basketball. Keep in mind, we are HOCKEY FANS. Our newfound responsibilities as Chet-Heads, not to mention CHET’S UNCLE (and Aunt) have us at least trying.

Our confusion starts right at the beginning of the game. A 7:00 Hockey game actually starts at 7:00. That’s when the puck drops; count on it. A 7:00 Basketball game will start at 7:10 or so…maybe later, maybe earlier.

And, throughout the game, in Hockey there is silence from the PA system, and patrons are expected to remain in their seats or in the concourse where they have procured beer until there is a stoppage. Because, people might actually be watching THE GAME. Whereas in Basketball, the circus is continuous, there is constant noise and music from the PA system (and there is also a game going on at times).

Another example: Fouls. You can apparently bump, push, slam and generally manhandle folks as they drive the ball into the lane. But at some point, the very mere-est brush on the arm becomes a foul. Or, you can take a charge, which is a fantastic defensive result, but if 3 hairs on the back of your leg are imperceptibly (except to the referee) moving, it becomes a blocking foul – NOT a good defensive result. And, often, Replay Challenges provide no enlightenment whatsoever.

Contrast this with the rules in hockey: If you swing your stick and hit someone in the face, it is high sticking, resulting in 2 minutes in the penalty box. If there is blood, an extra 2 minutes in the box are assessed. SIMPLE, easy to understand and explain and UNAMBIGUOUS on replay or in the moment.


Besides, I like saying I am a kept man…a boy toy and arm charm!!

 

Unrelated to Basketball, Liz started collecting Social Security!!! We did a detailed, multivariable analysis of WHEN to file for these benefits.  We considered the potential investment income, Required Minimum Distributions from IRAs, Tax implications (in multiple states, even).  What we discovered after all that: In general, it is a bet on your own longevity. If you live to 100, you should wait.  If you get hit by a bus next week,  you should have started receiving benefits.  We DID determine that if Liz were to start her benefits “early,” it would pay for 2 tanks of diesel and 2 balls of yarn per month until I am 66.6 and start my benefits (at which point she will receive my Spouse Benefit regardless of when she filed for hers’).

That is like getting $30k in free money for the next 18 months. Have you SEEN the cost of diesel lately? Yarn? How could we pass this up??!!

The Bus…up for anything!?

Along the way, we have had a couple of “old bus” issues. Nothing out-of-line or unexpected for a 40 year old vehicle. The first was a leaking seal on a Hydraulic pump – which Liz thinks I created by actually articulating OUT LOUD that we were going to our favorite mechanic near Gulf Shores with “No List of things to do.”  As though having no list, and verbalizing this, caused the universe to create one!!

The leaking seal causes (bigger) spots on driveways…which is just an easy way to tell how much people love us! If they ask us back anyway, they love us (or they also own a Blue Bird that leaves spots on driveways).

Our favorite mechanic (Lazzari Truck Service in Daphne, AL), noted that the spots were coming from a hydraulic pump, and leaking seals NEVER get better, so we decided to have the pump rebuilt.

Overnight in the shop

The first challenge was the pump was at an AWFUL location, requiring a skinny mechanic (most of the guys at Lazzari are of the “Stouter” variety, but there is one guy there who can meet this need) to crawl on top of the transmission after dropping the drive shaft to reach and remove the pump.

Neighbor in the next stall

The next challenge was that the BB community identified the part no. for the rebuilt kit, but we did not realize that we needed to order TWO such kits. The pump on our bus had 2 chambers, vs. one on another bus of our era. Getting another kit took an unexpected extra day, even with overnight shipping. 

That meant staying inside the mechanic’s garage for the night, because the drive shaft was disconnected and the pump was off…bus could not move!!! Far from a problem, our friends at Lazzari deputized us and appointed us to the “Security Team” for the evening.

Anyway, the pump was rebuilt and reinstalled, and I learned my lesson…NEVER say out loud that there is nothing to do, or there will be!

Times 2, as it turns out!

New Door on an Old Bus

A little further down the road, we had a x2 problem with our Refrigerator. First, the outside access door flew off, somewhere between Houston and Marble Falls, tx., leaving an open hole in the side of the bus. With the help of another Blue Birder (actually a former BBer), I fabricated a “temporary” cover, to keep the rain out.

Coincident with this door-departure (unrelated, as far as we can tell), the fridge started failing when using Propane. It’s a fridge that can work electrically or on gas, depending on if we are plugged in. On gas, it barely uses electricity at all – just a little for the controller board…which makes Walmart overnights (or longer) off the grid WITH COLD BEER quite practical.

THIS was a huge problem for us…we need the gas side (and cold beer)!

Now, RV Adsorption Fridges are simple – they have NO moving parts. There is a heat source, a refrigerant running thru tubes and cooling fins, and … that’s it! Realizing that throwing money at a 40 year old appliance might not be the best choice, we looked at replacing the fridge with a new, 12v, super-efficient one. The economics, though: $1,500 for a new one, $875 to have the Amish rebuild our existing one, or $150 for Dan to replace the burner element and thermocouple/propane flame sensor. It was a gamble, but those ARE the only parts, really, beside the controller board…which I verified WAS working. I replaced the burner while Liz defrosted the freezer (which COULD have been involved in the problem) and SO FAR the $150 option is holding!!!

Wheel Studs

Wheel Stud Issues continued…we had one break off at the shop in Daphne.  Now,  the wheels are held on by 10,  so not yet dangerous.  But, tired of continuing issues,  I needed to identify, source, have shipped and get a whole new set installed.   

Turns out,  there is some ambiguity as to WHICH studs…and it took a beat to find the right ones.    

Wheel Stud “Shop ”    

Replacement finally happened at a shop in El Paso.  Well “Shop” is an extravagant word…it was a fenced lot with lots of trucks in all stages of repair.  They were gracious to drop everything,  pull old and put new studs on and torque them properly.

Finally, and perhaps most impactful for our next several years on the road,  we made what amounts to a “configuration Change” to our Towed Vehicle (AKA “TOAD”). The Jeep, acquired with 150k miles in 2018, was starting to feel cramped and old. We had been maintaining it and could continue to do so, but decided at 210k on the odometer…which does not run when towed… informally to look for something a little bit newer, a little bit larger and quite a bit more comfy.  No rush, but moving up on the to-do list.   

One option presented itself when our Iowa friends, the Florers, mentioned they were selling their 2011 Cadillac SUV. It had over 100K miles less on it than the Jeep and was flat-towable like the Jeep. Perhaps most importantly, it was owned and maintained by Steve…who is mechanically the most careful and practical and thorough machine-owner I know. I asked Steve, point blank: Would he buy his car? He said, absolutely!!! We had pretty much decided to do this…intending also to sign over the title of the Jeep to Steve, who could better benefit from the tax advantages of donating it to the local high school for auto mechanic class.

It was already set up 100% for towing with our exact tow apparatus AND brake system!!!

 

Then, just to upset the applecart, we crossed paths with Peter Haggins and Susan Camilleri…Blue Bird friends from Vancouver Island who we spent some time with in Arizona/NM. Peter mentioned that Randy Dupree (a Blue Birder also … and operator of the “WOG” (Wanderlodge Owners Group) Internet forum for us Blue Bird Brains) was selling HIS Toad. The advantage of THIS vehicle: It was already set up 100% for towing with our exact tow apparatus AND brake system (vs. Steve’s, which would require some effort and cost).

Buying from Randy also gave us some level of mechanical-comfort. This made sense to us, and even to Steve!!

I was selling the tow apparatus and brake system, tossing the car in for free

 

 

But now, this presented a logistical issue. We still had the Jeep in New Mexico, and all the “sh*t” (Liz corrects me every time I call it “Stuff”) in the Jeep and more sh*t in the top pod on the Jeep. We needed to sell it. And somehow convey all said sh*t to South Georgia, where Randy’s vehicle was. Short of selling the Jeep TO Randy and transferring the sh*t in HIS driveway,  we were gonna have issues. 

First things first: selling the Jeep. I advertised it on the WOG for $2,500…at that price, the comment was made that I was selling the tow apparatus and brake system, tossing the car in for free, which is almost true. A VERY aggressive price.

As a result of that ad and/or the WOG grapevine, I got a call from Pat, another Wanderlodge Owner. His Bus and Toad had been HIT BY LIGHTNING, and eventually totaled by the insurance company. He now needed a quick and dirty temporary toad for his new Blue Bird…which the Jeep definitely was!!!

“I live in Wichita, but DO YOU EVER GET TO OKLAHOMA CITY?”

So Pat knew we were in New Mexico. Trying to find a midpoint for the transaction, He said, “I live in Wichita, but DO YOU EVER GET TO OKLAHOMA CITY?” Now, mind you, we were actually ON THE WAY TO OKC for a homestand, in our roles as Head-Chet-Heads!!!! We were gonna be there in 3 days!!! I suggested we meet at a Walmart outside OKC, and Pat agreed.

Jeep sh*t In Chet’s Garage

As to the sh*t, Chet agreed to allow us to unload it all to the back of his garage and keep it there until we could get back in 30 days or so for the NEXT homestand!!

After unloading, we went to Walmart, where Pat drove the Jeep around the lot and I explained how to hook it up to his bus and prepare the transmission for towing. Then he handed me an envelope full of unmarked, non-sequential $100 bills, and we left ASAP before the Walmart manager could call the police about the apparent drug deal going down in their lot!

Our New Toad

With sh*t stored and jeep sold, half the transaction was now complete…we drove rapidly to Georgia. There we parked in front of Randy’s and did the deal. The Car, a 2015 GMC Acadia was exactly right … 120k fewer miles than the Jeep, super-fly in “Denali” trim, including ass-cooler as well as warmer seating!! All set for towing (more or less) and in seemingly EXCELLENT condition.

We did the deal!

We ended up having two issues, still.

First, not 10 minutes after handing over the $$$$, the Audio Amplifier (a BOSE system) died. It’s not like Randy knew about this – it worked fine when we test drove the car, then it died. Ahh well, no radio, you say. Well its more than that! Every single sound the car makes, from turn signals to key-in-ignition warnings and Hands-free Phone audio go thru this amplifier!!!

Felt just like fixing things on the bus…easy fixes complicated by impossible access!!!

 

The good news: Replacement amps were readily available online, and not really expensive. The bad news was it’s installed in a terrible spot. One Youtube video showed the process…and recommended using a particular type of stubby screwdriver, without which you would NEVER be able to get to one of the fasteners holding it in!! Felt just like fixing things on the bus…easy fixes complicated by impossible access!!! I bought the amp and the screwdriver, and spent ½ day cursing and skinning my knuckles (just like Blue Bird Work indeed!), but got the amp changed out.

The next challenge: Temporary Tags and Titling the vehicle. Illinois would NOT issue Title OR transfer plates online because:

  • We needed to RENEW the plates (less than 90 days to renewal) first.
    And
  • You cannot renew until a pending emissions test is completed.

This Emissions Test was for the JEEP, which we no longer owned.

No amount of discussion would convince Illinois Sec. of State to accommodate us in any way – even though they readily admitted that if we turned up in person, they could somehow magically make the emissions test issue go away. We knew we were going to be in Memphis for a game in the next week, so we realized we would simply have to drive an extra 3 hours (each way) to touch Southern Illinois to get this done. We had to drive the car to Illinois. Period.  This is when we discovered that Georgia would NOT issue temporary tags for a private sale to an out-of-state resident. Period. No further discussions or options. 

Sooooo….on the horns of a dilemma: 

  • No way to make the car legal to drive
    YET…
  • No way TO make the car legal to drive without driving the car to Illinois!

We hooked up the car, put the un-transferred Jeep Plates on it and the Bill of Sale in the Glove Box and towed it to Memphis and then drove it to Anna, Illinois for the paperwork. Risking a ticket (or worse) for invalid (stolen?) plates, taking care to violate no traffic laws or otherwise attract the attention of the local gendarmes along the way, we got it done!!

So we continue on,  into our EIGHTH YEAR on the road…no end in sight…way more sh*t you can’t make up in store!

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