Monthly Archives: April 2016

Phone Service

I’m still trying to absorb the last week we’ve been in Pagosa Springs.  I’ve started a blog post a few times, but am struggling with how to encapsulate the experience.  It’s been a great one. But I’m not ready to share what I’ve learned since arriving last Wednesday.  I’ll do that shortly.

In the meantime, I thought I’d share some information about my recent phone service upgrade.  This will probably benefit the vagabonds and travelers that stop by the blog … we’re the ones who typically rely on our phone for internet connectivity.  If you live in one place, you probably have a broadband connection with unlimited data. That’s not the case for us travelers.

From October 2015 until I made the switch last February, my data usage was increasing substantially.  I was posting more video and still photos to the blog and to Facebook.  Plus, we were in the tent a lot more because of bad weather and with nothing else to do, I was watching more Amazon Prime videos … and you  probably know how data-intensive video is.  My phone bill was exceeding $400 on a regular basis.  Something had to give.

I’ll bet I spent at least 80 solid hours of research (spaced out over several weeks) trying to find a solution.  There are several services that advertise “unlimited data”, but it’s really false advertising.  Either your data speeds are throttled to the point of unusability or there’s an actual limit in the small print that allows the company to suspend your service if you go over some usage point.  In every case I investigated, I was already using more data than the small print limit.

I found a solution almost by happenstance … about 10 pages deep into a Google search for “unlimited data phone service”.  It was a link to a website for the Mobile Internet Aficionados group.  They’re geared towards other folks like me who are living full time on the road (although I’m sure most of them are in big RVs).

Remember those old Verizon lines that offered “true unlimited data”?  They’ve long since gone away – Verizon no longer offers them, but they continue to honor the ones that are still in service.  Not only that, the contracts on those old plans allowed for an “Assumption of Liability” (AOL) … the owners were free to transfer their lines to others.  Based on that, there’s a pretty active secondary market for these unlimited data plans.

You can find these “AOL” plans being offered for sale … and rent … on eBay.  I looked today – the offer prices range from $650 up to $2,000 to buy one.  They’re around $200/month to rent, but you should know – Verizon is doing everything they can to tighten up / eliminate these unlimited plans.  They’ve added on some wait restrictions before transferring, they’ve upped the price, etc.  Renting the plan means you’re at risk of losing the plan downstream if it’s not “yours”.

MIA recommends a couple of vendors who offer a discount to MIA members.  They also guarantee the transfer. Not only that, they will take care of every step of the transfer.  They’ll find the seller. They’ll coordinate all the paperwork with Verizon and be on the phone with you during the transfer, after which you get a chip to put in your phone.

So, I joined MIA for $59/year (as an aside, their monthly bulletin has some pretty good info on hardware, apps and other stuff to optimize your mobile internet functionality).  I contacted a guy named Jason, one of those recommended vendors.  He lists AOL plans on eBay for $2,000, but discounts it to $995 for MIA members.  I was willing to pay a premium for the guarantee and the hand holding through the entire process.

Jason was pretty cool, but a little scattered. I don’t know if there was some alignment of the planets or something, but I think he was suddenly inundated with a lot of business and was having trouble handling the extra business.  At the same time, Verizon was announcing that changes to the AOL plans were imminent. As it turns out, I was able to purchase a line a couple of days before the changes were made (which would have delayed things by upwards of 60 days more).

Anyhow, here’s what I bought:

  • The Verizon line.  It came with a 702 area code – some guy in Las Vegas was the original owner.  I paid $995 to acquire it.
  • Instead of adding the chip to my phone, I bought a personal wifi device – Verizon calls it “Mifi”.  It can connect to upwards of 18 devices.  Plus, it allowed me to keep my current phone number, which is still associated with the phone.  The 702 line is associated with the Mifi box.  Cost – $200.  I could have picked one up for less on eBay, but decided to just pay full price and get it through Jason. I figure the additional dollars paid for the hand holding.  I am so NOT a phone / hardware guy.

Here’s where the benefit comes in – I’m now paying about $69/month for the unlimited data plan, including taxes and fees.  I’m also paying $25/month for my cell phone.  I dropped all data from the phone:  I can connect it to the Mifi device to send photos and such. (And since the Mifi box is portable … about the size of a pack of cigarettes … I can leave it on in the car in case I stop to take a photo and upload it to Facebook or something).

So, I’m now paying $94/month for what had been averaging about $410 over the previous 4 months.  That’s a savings of $316 a month!  That $1,250 I spent for the line, the Mifi box and the MIA subscription will be fully recovered with my May phone bill, and I’ll wind up saving over $2,700 over the first year of use!

Not only that, I’ve been able to enjoy watching a few more movies and TV shows at night in the Nutshell.  I can watch baseball. More Youtube videos. Whatever.  Last month, I used over 125 GB of data.  In the past, I had to restrict my usage. Not anymore.

So that’s it.  You need to calculate what your own usage is to see if this works for you.  But if you’re like me – traveling around the country full time while bumping up against data usage limits – I’d highly recommend you join MIA and seriously consider buying one of these AOL plans.

Feel free to send me a message (the form is on the About page) if you’d like any more information beyond what’s included here.

(P.S. – after all of this, it’s kind of funny.  I’m spending a few nights camping at The Last Resort, the campsite I used when I was in the area last summer.  I have no Verizon coverage here.  Zero bars of service. No phone. No Mifi device.  I’m connecting via the camp Wifi service.  Nothing’s foolproof.)     :o)


Posted by on April 20, 2016 in Resources


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We wanted to let everyone know there’s a new “About” page on the blog.  Simply put, the old one didn’t really apply anymore.  I’m not the same person I was 15 months ago, when the original was written. I don’t have the same pessimism I had back then. The depression is for the most part, gone.  My anxiety is under control.  I’m enjoying being engaged in the world.  And for the first time since I don’t know when, I feel at peace.  I feel expectant. I feel grateful.

Here’s a link to the new page.  Thank you for being part of my ongoing transformation into a human being.

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Posted by on April 17, 2016 in Musings


Adios, Texas

I so very much want to skip ahead and write about our Pagosa Springs experience over the last couple of days, but that would leave out way too much stuff. Some good, some “you’re not gonna believe it” … but nothing really bad.

We left Lewisville last Sunday, as planned. Pretty uneventful, easy drive … we headed straight down I-45 towards Houston and turned east a little past Huntsville. By 6 o’clock, we were all set up at a small RV park in the thriving metropolis of Pumpkin, TX. Population of about 150 and located right in the middle of the Sam Houston National Forest. As an aside, I’m really grateful for the Passport America subscription. All we had to pay for the overnight stay was $12.50! Compare that to the $50 I usually had to spend at Motel 6’s along the way when we were living in a tent … my budget has been helped a lot going forward.

Anyhow, we headed out to Livingston Monday morning, arriving at the Escapees offices around 10:15. Fed Ex hadn’t made its delivery, but I had a fair amount of other mail. I told the woman behind the counter that I was going to just wait “over there”, pointing to the Nutshell parked across the street. I no sooner went through the mail (a new AAA membership card, the Passport America permanent card, Blue Cross bills … I thought I went paperless, have to check that out), than there was a knock on the window – it was the receptionist, with the Fed Ex envelope in her hand. After thanking her for walking it out, I opened it while holding my breath. Sure enough, there was the title to the Nutshell, signed on the back by the dealer who was going to act as “seller” in this case. Long story – it’s not worth recounting at this point. I’m just glad we were finally ready to register the thing in my name. At least that’s what I thought. Here’s where the “you’re not gonna believe it” part comes.

We drive over to the county tax assessors office to take care of registration. I hand the title to the woman behind the counter and ask her for the registration documents I’ll need to complete. She was still looking at the back of the title as she pulled out the paperwork and slowly handed it across the counter. Then came the words I didn’t want to hear:

Wait a minute …

Uh. Oh.

“You’re missing a signature. This top section needs to be signed and notarized. You’ll have to get the dealer to do that.”

So close, and yet so far away. I’m thinking, “Are you freaking kidding me???” followed by, “Shit, stuck back in Livingston for at least 3 days.” I figured that’s how long it’d take to overnight the title back to Vegas, get it signed and notarized, and then arrive back here via a second overnight. I went back out to the car and sat there for about 5 minutes, just trying to let everything sink in.

Something told me to go back in and ask to speak to a supervisor, so that’s what I did. I explained my situation to her and asked if there was anything she might recommend that would get me on my way sooner. I have to say, she wasn’t the least bit bureaucratic in demeanor. From the way she was intently listening to my plight, I thought, “If anyone’s going to help me, this person will.”

Sure thing, she came up with a workable solution. “You’re supposed to do a first time registration in the office, but if you mail everything back to my attention, I’ll take care of your registration and mail the tags to the Escapees address. They can get them to you from there.” She then calculated my exact fees, gave me her card and told me to call her if I had any questions.

Pretty cool, huh? Frank and I were free to continue our travels as planned. I spoke with the dealer, told him what had happened and he agreed to expedite the signed paperwork on his end once he got them. We stopped at the post office in Rice, TX on the way north and got off the overnight package. As an aside, the return package is due to arrive this afternoon at Keith’s house. I’ll fill everything out and send it back to Livingston on Monday afternoon.

So, on towards Pagosa Springs … but first, another stop. One that I was really looking forward to.

Jack and Juanita live outside of Mingus, west of Fort Worth on I-20. It was right on our path and I had been looking forward to seeing them since late October. Jack is another high school classmate from Dallas. Both he and Juanita have been following our travels and routinely respond to our Facebook posts.  Anyhow,  Jack emailed right after we lost our first tent in Corpus Christi, offering for us to come up and stay with him for a while. While I wanted to see them, I had already laid out a hefty deposit for our next stop. Plus, they were a good 6+ hour drive away. We agreed that I’d stop by to see them when we were in Dallas.

The previous Friday, Jack retired after serving 41 1/2 years as a Dallas policeman. At the time of his retirement, he was one of only two Captains on the entire force, Dallas having eliminated the position some years earlier. Jack wore a variety of caps as he progressed through the ranks, most recently running the dive squad. Simply put, I am honored to have him, and his wife Juanita, as friends.  Here’s a link to an article in a local paper, announcing his retirement.  Once you start reading, be sure to follow the link in the first paragraph to an earlier article about the dive team – it’s a truly magnificent read.

Through their dedicated efforts, Jack and his men were able to bring closure to thousands of people not knowing what had happened to missing friends and / or relatives.  From the outpouring of retirement well wishes and tributes that were posted on his Facebook page, you could tell that Jack was loved and respected by a lot of people.

Juanita posts a lot of photos and videos out at the ranch.  Many of them include grandchildren, playing and laughing their heads off.  I’ve always been struck by how happy everyone is in them. Uncontrollable glee! And then there’s Hamlet.  Hamlet is Juanita’s pet pig.  I have to admit that I was really curious as to what Frank’s reaction was going to be.   It was really pretty funny.

Frank and I actually made it to their home before they returned from looking at some nearby lake property, so we hung out on their front porch.  Jack arrived first, with two of his granddaughters in tow.  Juanita was on her way back with the realtor.  Jack and I hugged, and after he got the kids squared away, brought me to the backyard.  That’s where Hamlet was.  The girls got him out of his pen … and that’s when Frank did one of the best double takes you’ll every see from a dog.  It was like, “Yeah, they have a do … what the hell is that??? That’s the ugliest dog I’ve ever seen!”

From that point on, Frank watched Hamlet wherever he went.  He wouldn’t go near Hamlet, but he was sure watching him.


On arrival, I told Jack, “I’m here to do you a favor, my friend … I’m gonna make you look skinny!”  :o)

Jack turned on the grill.  “We’ve got some good food planned tonight!”  I hadn’t actually planned on staying for dinner. In the back of my mind, I was thinking we’d stop by, spend about an hour or so visiting, and then we’d be back on the road heading west.

“I guess that means you’re inviting me for dinner?,” I asked.

“Well of course, you’re staying for dinner.  And breakfast.  Wait ’til you see what I’ll put on the grill after we finish making dinner. We’re having grilled pork chops for breakfast, son!”

I learned that Jack has a very simple rule when it comes to barbecue cooking:  “If the fire’s still hot, there’s still food to be cooked!”  That night, we cooked burgers, steaks, vegetable kabobs and cream cheese-stuffed jalapenos wrapped in bacon.  It was a feast worthy of a king!

Jack has a number of “rules”, and I took great pleasure in hearing him recite them with his granddaughters.  My favorite is “Jack’s Rule #1”:

Life is short. Sometimes it can be cruel and heartless.  Always eat dessert first!

Ya gotta love it!  :o)

After dinner, Jack to the realtor and me on a ranch tour.  I don’t remember exactly how many acres he has. I want to say it’s about 60, a lot of it left natural.  There are a couple of 4-5 acre fields where he’s going to plant different grains, three tanks and a couple of work buildings where the equipment’s stored.  Between you and me, I think Jack’s work in retirement is going to rival his efforts as a cop!

By this time, it was getting dark and we went inside for the evening.  Juanita and I sat at opposite ends of a huge couch.  Frank was between us but sitting right next to me, eyeing Hamlet as Jack showed us some of the tricks he’s taught their “dog”.  Hamlet, sat up, danced in a circle, lied down, and even took a treat that Jack held out from his mouth.  I looked at Frank and said, “Why don’t you do any of that stuff, huh?”

After that, Jack had to excuse himself – he was teaching an online class in Organizational Development.  While he was doing that, Juanita and I visited.  Meanwhile, Frank sat stewing over my having compared him to a pig!

It obviously  didn’t sit well with him … while he was upset over being outsmarted and out tricked by a pig, Juanita called Hamlet over to get up on the couch next to her.  But Frank was going to have none of that.  Hamlet jumped and Frank said, “That’s it!”  He growled and then snapped.  What followed was a cacophony of squeals, barks, and me yelling at Frank to “be cool”.  I told him, “You’re a guest in this house, buddy.”  He had a very hurt look on his face, upset that I was siding with a pig over him.  “He was just trying to protect you,” Juanita volunteered.  While it was nice of her to say, I still felt Frank was acting like an ass.

Hamlet retreated to his nest on the floor next to Juanita – some pillows and a big blanket that he likes to cover himself with.  Frank put his head down on my lap with a “Pfffftt” … he did not like getting scolded.

Jack finished his class, we visited for a little while longer, but then it was time for bed.  Juanita brought a blanket and some pillows out and we bedding down on the couch.

Hamlet bedded down in his kennel.  Being out of sight, Frank slept like a log, as did I.  The next morning … as promised … we had barbecued pork chops for breakfast, accompanies by eggs, fried potatoes and biscuits.  What a meal … surpassed only by the wonderful conversations we shared.


Frank and Hamlet, chowing down!

By that time, it was approaching 11 o’clock and we had to get on the road.  Juanita took a few photos of Jack and me and then wanted to get some of Frank and Hamlet.  I’m thinking, “Good luck with that,” but Jack came to the rescue.  He held out some of Hamlet’s treats and sure thing, Frank was right over there.  Pretty soon, he and Hamlet were nose-to-nose, both eating out of Jack’s hands.  Feuds are one thing … food is another story.

With that, we were on our way.

The rest of the day was pretty uneventful, with the exception of a couple of hard rains we had to go through.  I wasn’t going to stop to put Frank’s thunder shirt on him because we were supposed to drive in and out of the storms.  He managed by lying under his magic blanket – what you can’t see won’t hurt you, I guess.

We made it to Santa Rosa, NM about 6:15 pm, Mountain time.  By 6:30, we were set up in our spot and ready to hit the sack.  As usual though, we had a couple of folks stop by wanting a look at the Nutshell.  One guy, Kyle, stayed for a while afterwards and we shared information about places we had been, offering suggestions to each other.  He was driving his folks back home to eastern Missouri.  For years, his folks made the drive to Tucson, AZ for the winter. But as they got older and driving became more difficult, Kyle took over. He’d drive them to Tucson and fly home in November, then reverse the process in April.

Kyle was a great source of info. I learned of a number of places in southeast Missouri … both campsites and places to eat. I plan on taking advantage of those in 2017, when our itinerary has us heading back up through the midwest so we can spend the summer along the Great Lakes.

Wednesday’s drive wasn’t bad at all.  Because we covered so much road the day before, we only had a five hour drive ahead of us.  The scenery was beautiful, transitioning from high desert … to city … to rocky plateaus glistening multiple shades of reds, oranges and browns in the sunlight… to mountain forests as we made our way into Colorado.  We arrived a little before 3pm.

And that’s where I’m going to end this part of the story.  Pagosa Springs in general … and Keith in particular … deserve their own chapter.  I’ll post that over the weekend.

(The above photos were taken by Juanita Bragg, by the way.  Thanks very much, my dear!)  :o)



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Posted by on April 15, 2016 in Travels


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Screwups and Skillets and Fate (Oh My)!

We should have been out of Lewisville by now. But we’re not!

And that’s kind of a good thing.

Frank and I have been stranded. Granted, we’ve been stranded in a sort of paradise. What with the great weather, the beautiful lake view, the friends I’ve made here at the camp, AND the time spent with dear friends … some of whom I had not seen for almost 45 years … it’s certainly been like paradise. But we’re not “supposed” to be here!

I’ve been waiting for some paperwork to arrive. It concerns the Nutshell and it’s well overdue … for over a month and a half. There’s been one glitch after another, not really anyone’s fault per se. Just a series of miscues and screwups. I thought it was going to arrive back in Livingston three days ago. But that hasn’t happened.

Given the setting here at Lake Park Campground (and the benefit of an $8/night rate for seniors), I decided to stay until Sunday and then park near Livingston Sunday night … that way, we’ll be at Escapees when the paperwork arrives. It’ll be a quick stop at the County Tax Office to pick up tags and then we’ll be on our way to Colorado. Or not – if the paperwork arrives too late in the day to file at the Tax Office, we’ll be delayed another day.

So, the bad news:

  • We’re behind “schedule” four days.
  • We have to backtrack to Livingston, adding 4 hours, 500 miles and a tank of gas coming from a place we were just at two weeks ago.
  • Our Pagosa Springs stay has to absorb the delay. That’ll be less time available to visit with Keith, an old NJ high school friend. Out of everything, this is my disappointment.

The good news … well that’s what the rest of this post is about.

First off, I handled the delay pretty well. Umm, I did okay. Alright … yesterday morning, my anxiety started to get the best of me while waiting for news. The paperwork had to go from Denver to Las Vegas for a signature before it could be sent to me. Are you ready? It was lost in transit between Denver and Vegas!  It was supposed to in Vegas on Tuesday and here it was Friday morning and it wasn’t there yet! And don’t even get me going on the Post Office support. It was worthy of a Saturday Night Live skit.

So Friday morning I was very anxious. I posted something on Facebook about the anxiety, and the idea of having my first gin & tonic at 10 o’clock in the morning. It lead to the following exchange with my buddy in Houston:

Mike: Chill
Me: Yeah, I know. I don’t do well in helpless situations. Hits too close.
Mike: I meant chill the gin.
Me: Nice

Mike’s second reply brought out a huge guffaw … loud enough to stir Frank from the sleeping bag. And deep enough to break up the anxiety. At that point, I wasn’t sure if the paperwork would make it to me by Monday. But then this thought: “So you have to stay an extra day. It is what it is.” And I was able to let it go. That’s pretty good, only a morning of anxiety over a four-day wait. The paperwork did arrive Friday afternoon, by the way. It’ll be in Livingston by noon on Monday and we’ll be back on our journey by 2 pm at the latest.

The second part of the good news to Chief Navigator’s benefit. Right after the exchange with Mike, Frank was chauffeured over to Railroad Park, home to five acres of fenced-in open field reserved especially for him and his canine pals. Frank didn’t play much – there were four pretty aggressive pit bulls running around, so he chose to spend about 45 minutes sitting on the bench next to me. They finally left and he was able to spend about 30 minutes galloping around with a border collie.

I think Frank’s had more fun here than at any of our other stops. We’ve had dog neighbors for a number of days and he’s had a blast making new friends. Dutch and Daisy are to our north – a 5 year old male and a 4 month old female. Both labs. Frank has taken to sparring with Daisy. Their leashes allow them about a half-body of overlap, so they get in just the right amount of play without either of them getting too feisty. Dutch just sits and watches … he is a very mellow dog.

Cowboy is to our south and arrived a couple days ago. he’s a 14 year old Chihuahua / Papillon mix (is that a “chillon” or a “paphuahua”?). He and Frank don’t really “play”. They spend all their time marking over the other one’s pee. Pretty funny to watch. He’s also had a couple of brief visits from Watson a basset-beagle mix that walks by with his owner every now and then. (That was his first encounter with a not-so-distant cousin.) Overall, he’s had more canine companionship than at any time since our dog park mornings in Charleston!

The third part of the good news is culinary in nature. I am now the proud owner of an old electric skillet, a gift from a fellow vagabond.

Art’s from Lake Worth. He’s about my age. His mother gave him her RV, the one she and her husband took only a few vacations in. It looks to be about 20 years old, but in pretty good shape. Then again, it was owned by a “little old lady who only took it camping after church on Sunday.”

He said that getting the RV was a sudden thing, and that he had made an equally-sudden decision to take some time off from “life”. He put his stuff in storage three months ago and hit the road, staying around home while waiting for the weather to get better.  His was to head to California, which for some reason just …. I don’t know. First impression didn’t lend a “California” vibe.

Art wanted to see the Nutshell, of course. He said he’s been trying to downsize from his mother’s RV and hoped to get into something smaller (“but not THIS size,” he chuckled, looking at our setup).

I showed him the galley. Told my usual story about coffee before and after the Nutshell’s arrival and casually added, “the only other thing I’m going to pick up is an electric skillet. You know, for eggs in the morning. That would be nice. Then I’ll be set.”

He made a funny (odd) face – the “an idea has struck” face – and said, “Wait a minute … I’ll be right back.” And he was right back, carrying an old, ugly blue and white electric skillet. The kind I remembered my Aunt Pat having years and years ago.

“Do you want it? I’m telling, you … I’m trying to downsize.  I need to get rid of a lot of stuff and remembered seeing this in a cupboard the other day. I know it works fine but I never use it, so if you want it, it’s yours. Do you want it?”

You don’t need it?” I appreciated the offer, but it just seemed kind of funny to me. Here I just met this guy and he was offering to give me an electric skillet. “You have another one?

“No. I’m okay without it. Like I said, I’ve not used it once,” he replied.

Then, absolutely. But let me give you something for it, at least. How about $5? You can get you some gas.” Five dollars, I thought, was a generous garage sale price.

“No. You’re doing me a favor by helping me get rid of it. Merry Christmas. It’s yours!”

Actually, my birthday is next Saturday … and I told him that. Art laughed and changed his pronouncement to, “Happy Birthday”!

I was part dumbfounded and part giddy with glee. Over a freaking old skillet. I thought, “you’re happier over this thing than you were when you bought that $700 grill for the backyard in San Jose!” And I was! :o)

I told him, “You know, you’ve only been on the road for three months. Three months out for me? That’s about the time I started missing omelets. I want to make sure you’re not going hit August, want an omelet, and say, “Damn! Why’d I give that guy my electric skillet?”

Art laughed. “I’m a vegan. I don’t eat animal products.” California made sense now.

“God bless you,” was all I could think of saying. Partly for the skillet. Partly for that much more eggs and bacon that would be available for me!

We wished each other well, shook hands, and Art rode off on his electric powered skateboard with the handle bars. It had escaped my notice until that very moment. Yep, California made a helluva lot of sense.

So I will christen the skillet in the morning, before we pack up and head back to Livingston. And as an aside, I would’ve had to wait to do that if it weren’t for the Nutshell. We’ll be able to clean up from breakfast and have everything ready to travel in about 30 minutes.  What a luxury that is!

There’s one more bit of possible good news, but I’ll wait to share that in the next post. Just want to make sure it happens first.

So that’s that. I don’t really believe in fate. I don’t believe we’re put on this earth for a specific purpose. (Danny’s mother does … when we visited last week, she told me, “You may not believe it, but God has a reason for you to still be here”  We’ll see.)  I think someone could be called upon to do something while they’re here, whether it’s an inner urging down a particular career path; being witness to a burning bush; or hearing a voice inside your head that says, “Chuck all this. Go live in a tent.” But I don’t believe we’re here because we’re supposed to pull some woman out of traffic at 4:12pm on October 17, 2019. Or that I was fated to stay an extra few days so I could meet Art and pick up an elecric skillet!  That it was meant to be.

What do I believe in? I believe in serendipity. Little things happen out of circumstance. By chance. But you have to facilitate that. Good serendipity only happens in the right circumstance!  If I was feeling angry and pissed about having to delay our journey, I might not have been as open to greet Art and strike up a conversation.

I believe in karma. Well, maybe I want to believe in karma. You sure as hell don’t always get justice in this lifetime. I hope there’s a next lifetime where things even out, as promised.

I’m getting to the point where I believe “letting go” is the best relief for anxiety. I’ve known it at a head level for quite some time, but knowing it and believing it – putting it into practice – are two different things. “Believing it” is becoming a reality.

Good things happen to good people. Bad things happen to good people. It doesn’t mean you’re bad. Or damaged. Or undeserving. Shit happens. It’s not about you. Let it go.

“It is what it is,” is my new mantra. I’ve been saying it a while, but it finally means something. If “it is what it is,” then there’s nothing you can do about it. Let it go.

I don’t know what’s going to happen next.  Let it go.

There’s an element of peace in that.

Let it go.


Posted by on April 9, 2016 in Musings


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Nick, Danny and Jeff

Back in high school, my two best friends were Danny and Nick. Danny’s father owned a Shell station just off Marsh and Walnut Hill Lanes. The summer before our junior year, he gave me a job pumping gas and that’s where I learned basic auto maintenance. Danny was already working there and at some point along the way,  Nick joined us . I think it was about 6 months after I started working there.

The Shell station was a hub … a meeting place for all our friends. We were pretty busy during the day. But after dinner, when the services bays closed down and all we were doing was pumping gas, guys would come by to visit. We’d sit on the two or three chairs that were outside and shoot the breeze, stopping only when a customer would drive in. Those were the “full service” days, when washing the windows and checking the oil was done on every car that came in. You didn’t think one way or the other about doing it … it was part of the job. Hell, if a cute girl was behind the wheel, we’d almost be fighting to see who got there first.

I used to get mad at Nick – sometimes when I pretty girl came in, I’d beat him over to the car. But then once I had set up the gas to pump, I’d turn around to wash the windows and he’d already be at it, chatting away with her. After all, I wasn’t rushing up there to work the gas nozzle! It was a chance to engage in a bit of conversation while you were nonchalantly checking her out through the windshield while the squeegee was doing its job. And when he horned in?  Man I’d be all over him after she left, whether it was trying to get him in a headlock (which was tough because Nick was 6’4″) or trying to hit him with a sopping wet washrag. It wasn’t like Nick had trouble with girls!  He was a charmer – the exact opposite of me!  Anyhow, everyone would laugh until the next car came in … and if it was a cute girl, it’d be my turn to try and turn the tables on Nick! I don’t think I ever again had a job that was as much fun as working at the Shell station.

Danny worked there, too. From what I remember, he and I worked most of daytime hours during the two summers I was there. He usually left at dinnertime but I stayed on … anything to keep from going home. I used to work 60-70 hours a week during the summer months, double shifts as many days as I could. A lot of nights, Danny came back up to lock up the station for his dad and after that he’d come back with me to my house and we’d go right into the backyard to swim in our pool. Sometimes we’d be out there until after midnight talking about the typical stuff that was on the minds of teenage guys: sports, music, cars … and girls.

We also hung out at Nick’s house a lot, too, along with other guys (who coincidentally all worked at the gas station at one time or another). Nick’s mom wasn’t home that much during the day and I hardly ever saw his dad. And Nick had Playboys in his room which I always thought was pretty cool. Nick always had the coolest stuff, from his stereos to his clothes to his car – a beautiful Dodge 442. I can’t tell you how many nights we’d all be out looking for trouble in that car. We used to do some wicked shit together (and that’s all I’ll say about that!)

Danny’s home was another story. Both his mom and his dad were really cool people. I spent a lot of time over at his house during those years. It was a respite from all the turmoil in my home. His mother was especially kind to me. In all honesty, she was the mother I wished I had. It wasn’t Beaver Cleaver by any way, shape or form. But they always acted like they loved each other.

Danny and Nick both had girlfriends. I didn’t. I never felt I could. There was no way I was bringing anyone home to meet my parents! There were a couple of girls that I really liked, but I’d never take anyone out more than a couple of times, even if I wanted to. That’s just the way it was.

Danny wound up marrying his high school sweetheart, Leesa. Nick and I were both groomsmen … his dad was his best man. I came back from Nebraska to be in the wedding which took place a year after we graduated from high school. We had all pretty much gone our separate ways and it was back to that after the wedding. I saw Danny only once after that, during our 20th high school reunion. And I never saw Nick again.

Years go by. And I mean years! Danny and I began an email correspondence about 6 years ago. I don’t remember how that happened. What I do remember is that I was in the middle of one of my depressive episodes when it started. I tried to keep up my end of the string but stopped. I know Danny could tell that I wasn’t in a good state of mind. He kept the emails coming for over a month but after a very short time, I stopped answering. Almost every day, I’d get an email from him. And while he was offering up all sorts of moral support, all it did was make me feel worse. Why was I such a failure? Why did I have to struggle so much to be happy? Why was I so ashamed to let him in on everything I was dealing with?

Anyhow, the emails stopped coming.  I was allowed to retreat back into my own hell.  It was one thing to suffer on my own.  I sure as hell didn’t need to do it with an old friend looking on!

Over the years, I had tried to track Nick down. At the reunion I mentioned, I asked almost everyone I talked to, “Have you heard from Nick? Do you know where he is?” No one had. The talk ranged from “drugs” to “nervous breakdown” and no one had a straight answer.

My last big push to find Nick came this summer while I was on the road. I came across a gal who was a year behind us, but who knew Nick’s family. After a couple of connections, I was led to Nick’s younger brother and wrote him via Facebook, telling him I was looking for Nick and really wanted to talk to him. No answer. About a week later, I wrote again and again, no answer. I put it aside, knowing that I was going to be in Dallas a few months later and would try again after I arrived.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t to happen. In December, I got the news that Nick had passed. I also found out that he had been suffering from bipolar disorder, and had fought other personal demons his whole life. As a result, he had shut himself off from everyone … all of his old friends.  The same as I had.

I can’t begin to describe the sadness I felt on hearing about his struggles. If there was anyone out there who understood his pain, his desire to go inward and to shut people out, it was me. I did the very same thing for most of my life. I don’t know that I could have done anything to help him. Maybe if he knew that someone else understood where he was coming from, it might have provided some solace. Maybe. Maybe not.  I don’t know that it would have reached me if the shoe was on the other foot. Nevertheless, I felt incredible sadness and regret. I’ve lost a number of dear friends from school over the past 10 years, but none of them hit me like Nick’s death.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  If you’re suffering in silence over depression, anxiety, abuse … whatever, don’t do that!  Try to get past yourself and tell someone. Anyone!   And if you know someone like that, be proactive and reach out to them.  People like us aren’t always successful at opening doors and letting other people in. Sometimes it’ll be up to you to reach out to the sufferer.

Last week, I visited Danny’s parents. His mother occasionally wrote to me on Facebook and sent me a note after my Dallas visit last July. She said how disappointed she was that I didn’t come to see them. I told her that I couldn’t and that the main reason was “shame”. I just didn’t want them to see what I had become. I promised her that I’d see her the next time, not knowing if I would keep that commitment or not.

But I did. The peace I’ve found being on the road the past several months brought me to a point where I could go see them. It was a wonderful visit. At one point we talked about the abuse I was subjected to. His mom said, “Joe and I never liked the way your parents treated you, but we had no idea you were going through that!” His dad volunteered that they would have “come and got” me had they known. Oh well.

Before I drove down to see them, I emailed Danny. In brush strokes, I told him why I stopped writing and what had been going on with me since then. I told him, “I’m not asking for your forgiveness. I don’t think I deserver that. But I wanted you to know what’s going on.”

Danny sent me a very loving email back, telling me that he had been worried about me … much as I had been about Nick, I suppose … and had been praying for me. He offered a couple of uplifting Bible verses and I’ve got them pinned on my browser. We weren’t able to work it out to see each other this time … logistical problems … but we’ve started emailing again. Hopefully we’ll get a chance to see each other next March, when I’m back in the area. I’m grateful for that. But I wish I had a second chance with Nick.

It’s funny how things work out. Nick, Jeff and Danny, in that order. Nick suffered and I was trying to reach out to him in my worry. I suffered and Danny tried to reach out to me in his. I did the same thing that Nick did, but I get a second chance to reconnect and Nick didn’t.

Why? That doesn’t seem fair.


Posted by on April 6, 2016 in Musings


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