Friday, January 30, 2015

Post Retirement Recap

My friends at Shell had a retirement party for me on May 13, 2003 and my last day at work was May 29th. After I retired our intent was to buy the Alfa motorhome Kathi and I had been eyeing for over a year and begin traveling the USA.

My retirement party. John Carlson was taking pictures with the camera they bought me as a retirement gift.
Mother holding me in 1943
 My mother had a stroke the day after I retired and our priorities changed immediately. She had been in bad health for several years and lived at Pasadena Interfaith Manor, an assisted living facility for the last four years of her life. She never fully recovered from her stroke and we ended up moving her to San Jacinto Manor, a nursing home in Deer Park. After we got Mom settled and we were convinced she would be adequately cared for, Kathi and I flew out to San Diego and rented a car to drive to Camp Pendleton to watch our youngest son, Christopher graduate from Marine Corps Boot Camp. San Diego was beautiful. The colors of the flowers were so brilliant, we were astonished at the views we saw.
Mother in 1995

Mother is on the left. She and her friends from Pasadena Interfaith Manor were enjoying lunch at Cracker Barrel.
After being lost several times we finally arrived at our destination and we were able to spend the day at Pendleton following the Marines around for several different ceremonies, having lunch with other Marine families and driving away with our new Marine. After a long day, we drove to Temecula and spent the evening in the Pechanga Casino. After enjoying a few hours together we had to drive Christopher to the Los Angeles International Airport so he could report to his next assignment at artillery school in Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Driving over a mountain and getting a view of Los Angeles all lit up at night was awe inspiring. We were amazed at the sight.

Marines in formation

Marines preparing to march

All the Marine families in front of me listening to the Drill Instructor presentation.
On the way back to Deer Park, we found out Mother had another massive stroke and was back in the hospital. My sister, Carol flew into town and after a few days we decided it was time to move Mom into hospice care where she died on June 30th. We had her buried with my Dad at Veteran’s Memorial Cemetery in Houston.

With all that was going on, we were both tired physically and emotionally and I was waffling on buying the motorhome, so I guess I was in stall mode. For the immediate future we decided to travel by car and stay in hotels, while we decided what to do next.

I will continue the story in my next post.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Oh, Happy Day

Tuesday in Dickinson and oh, what a beautiful day. The sun was shining and I was glad to have an excuse to get out for a while. We picked up our Jeep from Maaco yesterday and it looks new again. Accolades to Maaco for doing a fine job with the paint and minor repairs. I highly recommend the location on Spencer Highway in Pasadena. It is hard to imagine how just painting the hood and the bumpers can influence how I view the vehicle.

We drove down Caroline Street in Dickinson and the horses that live under the power lines were near the fence, so I got an opportunity to take some horse pictures. I see no signs that the power lines affect the horses’ health, but you never know. They may all be sterile, but I could not tell from the street. Incidentally, last week when it was cold there were two horses wearing sweaters standing in the front yard of a house across the street from the RV park. They were standing together out of the wind and still looked cold. I looked for them, but did not see them today.

Kathi made Spanish rice last night and gave me a taste (two bowls full). I always love it. She filled a couple of containers to take to her brother and his family – they seem to enjoy it also, although I am sure not as much as I do. Again I am puzzled by why her Spanish rice contains the same sauce as her Italian spaghetti. I really do not care what we call it, both dishes are scrumptious. Since Kathi’s ancestry is Choctaw and English, I am assuming she is just without prejudice in the kitchen.

After delivering lunch, we drove by Love’s on Highway 225 to see how difficult it is to get in and out of when we need diesel for our motorhome. The Love’s station is at the corner of 225 and Independence Parkway. It was a madhouse. There were at least thirty semi-trucks at the station and probably twenty cars. There was so much vehicular movement in the parking lot and the street that it is not worth the drive over to get diesel. The kicker was the price of diesel at this Loves station was forty cents higher than the prices in Dickinson and with a 100 gallon tank, that becomes real money in a hurry.

My next post I will discuss our trip to the Grand Canyon before we bought our motorhome.

Shiney new paint job on the hood of our Jeep.

The bumper looks better, also.

Pretty horses under the power lines.

The grass is not much greener outside of
the fence.

Rudy's on Highway 45 in League City. Fry's Electronics is in the background.

Working on our TV A/B switch.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Sunday in Dickinson

Kathi and I have spent the day inside. A few weeks ago I discovered I neglected to scan a lot of our photos into our computer, so I have been doing some catch up on scanning. I will not try to do all of them at once, because it is too time consuming and I like to do other things to break up the monotony. One thing I realize every time I look at old pictures is that we have a lot of family members we have not seen in a long time. In fact, a lot of the pictures I saw looked like strangers. Kathi will help me with identifications later.

Our Jeep is at the Maaco shop on Spencer Highway in Pasadena. We asked for an estimate to paint the Jeep and the estimator told us that was not necessary, because most of the original paint was still good. We thanked him for his honesty. They are painting out hood and both bumpers.

 The paint has been off the hood for several years and Kathi always hated the do-it-yourself paint job I did with a spray can from Walmart. I thought it looked passable, but I was probably influenced by my wallet. I think the original problem with paint deterioration on the hood was the high temperatures generated by the exhaust of our motorhome. Kathi also wants to redirect the exhaust away from the back of the motorhome and vent to the side, which is a good idea. I am using the same wallet excuse and I think she is getting ready to help me out. I would take her cash gladly, but this may not be what she has in mind when she says “…help you out.” I eventually get around to everything, I just have a different schedule than is often desirable by my dear Kathi.

When we put our Jeep in the shop we called Enterprise Rent a Car. As we were driving to the rental car location on Beltway 8, the lady told us we would need a driver’s license, proof of insurance, a utility bill stub and proof that we paid our rent last month. We explained that the request seemed unusual and assured her we have never had to do that to get a rental car in the past, but she was unmoved by our pleas. Since we do not normally carry several of those items when we go to an auto shop we asked her to make a U-turn and drop us back at Maaco, so we could make other arrangements.

I checked the bus service and found out we still do not have buses in Pasadena, Deer Park and La Porte. Oh, well. Kathi called Hertz that has a rental location at the Monument Chevrolet dealership on the Pasadena Freeway. They had the usual requirements and we drove away in a Malibu within an hour of calling for a ride. We asked for a full size car and the Malibu is what they gave us. My feeling is that Malibu is only full size for rental charges – but we needed a ride. I have a long upper body (a little wide, also) so I put on a show every time I get in. If I sit on the seat first, my head will not go through the door, so I have to lean over, stick my head in swivel my hips (oof) and crawfish my tail into the seat. I want my Jeep back and we will finally get it back on Monday morning. I can hardly wait.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Cool Day in Texas

Kathi and I have been at home all day today. She is making pot roast to take to her brother and his family later today. Larry was feeling poorly yesterday and Kathi and I spent the day with him at Methodist Hospital. They added some blood and some platelets and he is much better today and still in remission from Leukemia. We are all working to build up his strength so he can get a bone marrow transplant soon. Lots of protein enriched milkshakes are on the horizon.

I like pizza from Pizza Hut. I usually get pepperoni and Italian sausage on a thin crust pizza. Today I went to my normal Pizza Hut in Dickinson and found it had been replaced by a real estate company. Since there was no other Pizza Hut nearby, I chose Domino's on Highway 146 in Bacliff. The pizza was excellent, but I will never get used to my pie being sliced into rectangles. I am a traditionalist and my first impression of pizza was wedges. I am sure I cannot adjust to rectangles at my age.

I was on Facebook earlier and saw my favorite sports story of the day. All I saw was the headline, then Facebook updated my page before I could share the headline from the original source. It said, “Belichick fires ball boy for not deflating one of twelve footballs.” This has to be the best sports story of super bowl month.

AJ's umbrella damaged by high wind in Austin.
We talked to our son, AJ in Austin this morning and they had ice on the streets. They had snow in the forecast, today, but so far, no snow. I am including a picture he sent me of his umbrella. It was damaged in the high wind in Austin yesterday. He uses public transportation, so the weather is more important to him than it is to me.

Other photos are from the Appalachian Museum in Norris, Tennessee. We were there in 2004 and recommend the site if you are ever in the Knoxville area.

Peacocks in Tennessee

Peacocks in the woodpile

A real turkey

Re-creation of a small town school house in Appalachia in the early 1900s.
Remember to click on the pictures to enlarge them.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Trip to Yosemite

I apologize for not posting for a few days. Kathi was sick with a stomach virus and I guess I got a mild form of it myself. Yesterday was the first time we had been out of the RV together for a week. Anyway, I am back and glad to continue discussing our 2004 travels.

On August 26, 2004 we reluctantly left Twentynine Palms, California on the way to an Escapees RV park in Coarsegold, California. We did not get to see our son Christopher for the last few days we were in 29, because he was so busy, but still it was time for us to go.

We had an uneventful drive to Coarsegold. I was moving pretty quickly as it was a 375 mile trek, so Kathi watched me more than the scenery and I pretty much kept my eyes on the road. We got to the RV park in Coarsegold and it was closed for the day. They left instructions for late arrivals to find a boondocking spot, stating they would assign us an RV space the next morning. We did not feel wanted or at home there, but we parked the RV in the boondocking area and unhooked our car, then drove through the park to check the sites that were available. We found most of the sites were taken up by long term occupants who probably owned their individual lots. We were at the base of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, so we should not have been surprised at how unlevel the sites were, but we were surprised. So much so, that we just hooked our car back up and drove on down the road and scratched Coarsegold off our list for future RV ventures.

We backtracked a ways to The Yosemite RV Park in Fresno and checked in for the night. This RV park is now called Blackstone North RV Park, so I am not sure if we got the name wrong or the signs mislead us. Either way we had a new home. Incidentally, the first time I ever saw the word Yosemite was Yosemite Sam in Bugs Bunny comic books. I called him Yosh-Might Sam for many years before I actually saw a Bugs Bunny cartoon at the movies and heard the correct pronunciation. I was embarrassed, but I do not know why, I never said the words Yosh-Might aloud, just silently to myself as I read.

Kathi and I went to dinner in a real restaurant. Did I mention there is no place to eat in 29, except fast food? We rested for the evening after a long travel day and toured the city of Fresno the next day. On August 28th, we finally drove into Yosemite National Park. Huge mountains, a lot of curves in the road and big trees. Yosemite is one of the places we have been that make the mountains our favorite viewing sights. The waterfalls were spectacular and the air was cool – really cool, when compared to 29.

Note the waterfall at the top right.

Rock appears to be sheared in half.

Gorgous views.

View off a mountain about 1,000 feet down to the Visitor Center. 

We have been through Yosemite several times since coming from Lone Pine, California through the Tioga Pass on California 120 and on through the Yosemite National Park, but it has never felt like the same place we saw in 2004. Driving though the mountains on winding roads in an RV is completely different from driving in the car when we could pull over and enjoy the sights.

California has a lot of beautiful sights and Yosemite National Park contains many of them. I highly recommend a visit, if you get a chance.

Remember to click on the pictures to enlarge them.

Friday, January 16, 2015

There Be Sunshine

I woke up to a beautiful day in Dickinson, Texas today. After over a week of overcast and wet, we had a day with full sunshine. Yesterday we had a hint of sunshine, but today is great.

Kathi and I took her brother, Larry to Methodist hospital yesterday morning for a blood test. We waited for test results and his doctor’s permission to take him back home. Larry passed his blood test and away we went. We sat and talked with Larry for a while at his home after leaving the hospital. On the drive home from Larry’s house, I thought everything was going great, then Kathi started getting stomach cramps. She spent the rest of the afternoon, evening and this morning in bed with low fever and body aches. She does seem some better today than yesterday.

We needed a few things at the grocery store and since Kathi was not feeling well, she let me go to the grocery store alone. I went to the new H.E.B. on League City Parkway. I was low on gas, so I pulled up to a pump on the way to grocery shopping and the gas pump offered me a car wash for a reasonable price, so I opted in. When I got to the car wash and got in line there were two cars ahead of me and one being washed. By the time I got on the wash rack, it looked like a parade behind me. Each wash was taking ten to twelve minutes, so I called Kathi and told her my quick trip to the store was going to be longer than anticipated

All the other cars I saw looked like they just came out of the garage and they were going to the car wash anyway, so I assume everyone was enjoying the sunshine. Our Jeep looked like a ball of mud, as it often does, and that is why we bought a dirt colored Jeep. It is “Trail Rated”. I took that to mean it is supposed to look dirty.

On the way home I paid particular attention to the golf course here at Green Caye Village. The ditches were still full of water so I anticipated there would still be some water on the golf course, but I saw no standing water. There was only one golfer on the course. I checked to see if he was wearing white rubber boots, since I hear they are popular in this area. He was wearing regular golf shoes, so I knew right away he was an optimist. Him being the only one of his foursome to show up made me think his pals were not as optimistic.

I hope everyone is enjoying the sunshine as much as I am. My next post will be about our trip to Yosemite in 2004.

HEB gas islands. Excitement everywhere.

The long driveway to the car wash

Car wash prices and fire extinguisher

Services you can actually read

More excitement than you can imagine

The Green Caye Golf course clubhouse. This is a nine hole course on Caroline Street in Dickinson. The owner takes good care of the property. We have been staying at their RV Park each winter for about six years.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

A Month at Twentynine Palms

A quick update on our current location: We are at the Green Caye RV Park in Dickinson, Texas and plan to stay here for an extended period of time this year. My brother in law, Larry Clark has leukemia and we are helping with logistics to get him to doctors and chemo treatments. Kathi and I are also scheduled to see doctors and dentists in the near future. Some of them I have been putting off while we traveled and now it is time to catch up with my health evaluation.

It has been mostly Texas winter weather the last week – cool and damp. Taking pictures has not been fun since the sky seems to be overcast every day. I heard Al gore was giving us a break soon and allowing some sunshine. I’m ready for it.

Meanwhile I will continue our story about our 2004 travels. We arrived at Twentynine Palms, California on July 29th and stayed a month to be around the Marine base while our son, Christopher was in town. During the month we made several excursions around the area, including a weekend trip to Las Vegas on August 8, 2004. We left our motorhome in 29 and made a pleasant drive from Twentynine Palms east on California 62, then north on U.S 95 straight into Las Vegas and almost no traffic the entire route. We made a whirlwind trip, staying up late each night and getting up early each morning. Christopher had a one week vacation, but we only spent three days in Las Vegas to conserve our funds. Kathi got ahead a few times, but nothing sustainable. Kathi and I were glad just to spend some time with Christopher before his next deployment, which would be to Iraq.

We spent the rest of his vacation in the motorhome watching “West Wing” and “Stargate” episodes I had recorded to video tape to save for Christopher. Kathi was probably bored, but she did not complain. When vacation time was over, we took Christopher back to the base and saw very little of him for the next few weeks. He was busy training with some British soldiers on a new artillery piece.

We felt lucky to have some rain to cool things for a few days, but when the rain stopped, it was hot every day – up to 85 degrees inside the RV in the daytime and near ten pm before it got cool enough to sleep. We said good bye to Christopher and all the young Marines we had met and finally left 29 on August 26th headed for an Escapees RV park in Coarsegold, California.

Our Alfa RV has basement air conditioning, which a lot of people do not like. We like it because it is not as noisy as roof air. The problem with basement air is that the cool air stays below waist level on hot days when the sun hits the roof of our RV. After that summer, we started looking for another option to lower the temperature inside the RV, in case we got caught in hot summer weather again. Our first option for summer is the Oregon coast with sixty degree highs during the summer months. We purchased a supplementary air conditioner for the summers we cannot get to Oregon. We have grown to appreciate our Edgestar AP 12000 S supplemental air conditioner. It helps cool our RV and our temperament during summer weather and will make July and August more pleasant in Texas this year.

Go to to see the murals at 29 Palms. We took our own pictures of these murals in Twentynine Palms, but our pictures did not turn out. Either a bad disposable camera or a film processing error

Our portable air conditioner has been a life saver. It vents out a window.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Visiting Twentynine Palms

On July 29, 2004, we drove into Twentynine Palms, California and moved into the 29 Palms Golf Resort and RV Park. The golf course was plush and green and everything else on the property was rocks and sand. There was no shade and the sun was really hot on the roof of our motorhome in July and August in the high Mojave Desert with elevation near 2,000 feet above sea level. Days were hot and nights were not quite as hot with average high temperatures at 102 and average lows at 75 degrees. We plugged into electricity, turned on the a/c and put out all our awnings and took a drive in the car.

While we waited for the RV to cool down, we drove to the Marine base to get a drive in pass for our car. There was a line of about twenty five people waiting. Their process was to give you a form to fill out when you got to the front of the line and wait for you to fill it out, before the next person was served. I went up to ask for a form that I could fill out before I got to the counter. The Marine MP told me something like, “Get back in line, Sir and wait your turn.” I did as I was told. After an hour and a half, when it was my turn I filled out my form and when I turned it in, I asked if I could have another form to fill out before I came to the base next time. He conferred with the other Marine MP and they finally agreed that giving me a blank form to fill in at home would not break any of their rules. We got our drive in pass. Thereafter, I stopped by the guard office several times while we were in the area and finally found a sergeant on duty on a day when it was not crowded. I made a suggestion that they make the forms more readily available. On subsequent trips, they had the forms on the counter so visitors could pick them up and fill them out while waiting in line.

The next few days, while we waited for the Marines to land we drove around in the area and went into Palm Desert. We saw a lot of green grass and some beautiful flowers. We passed several lush looking golf resorts on our drive. The next day we drove into Palm Springs and saw more big homes with well-manicured lawns. We had lunch at an Olive Garden. We expected to eat at home more frequently after we got our RV out of the shop, but found it was too hot to cook in Twentynine Palms, so we were back to eating out most meals. We only ate sandwiches at home.

Our son, Christopher finally arrived at the base about 10:00 pm on Wednesday night, August fifth, but he was not allowed visitors until the 7th. We were relieved that he was back on American soil and did not mind waiting to see him. We were in a fortunate situation being retired, so we had time to wait. Many other parents could not come at all, because they had to work. We finally picked him up on the evening of the 7th and had fun at a Palm Springs casino for a few hours, then returned him to base, so he would be fit for work the next day.

After talking to Christopher for a while, we got a better understanding of the MPs at the base entrance. Marine MPs are not professional policemen, they are taken from other units and serve a temporary assignment as an MP. We also found that Marines are taught to do exactly what they are told and nothing else. I thought to myself, “Good luck with that. It will never work with Christopher.” It turned out I was right about that. He was 28 years old when he entered the Marines and was not as easily convinced to do unnecessary things as the younger Marines were. It caused him some trouble, but it also got him some good assignments during his time in the service.

Christopher in casino driveway

Christopher ready to see us.

Boot Camp graduation in San Diego.

Boot Camp photo

More boot camp

Bird of Paradise

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Waiting to See Our Marine

Our motorhome was finally released from the Alfa factory on July 22, 2004, after the ten days it took to complete minor repairs under factory warranty. As it turns out we would have paid less money if we would have paid a repair shop to do the repairs instead of using the warranty service -- $80 to $100 per day for a motel and meals eating out cost much more than the repairs would have cost, again proving the adage that free is not free.

We had talked to our son, Christopher and he was not due to return from the Far East for at least another ten days, so we opted to stay in Chino, California for another week instead of moving to the high desert in Twentynine Palms. The Marines are never told exact departure and arrival times or even their travel routes, but we did know a ten day window when they would arrive back at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center. Because of our previous trip to Twentynine Palms, we knew there was nothing there for visitors or tourists, unless you like cactus and sand. This area meets the true definition of desert.

We moved a few miles to the Prado Regional Park in Chino, which had a reasonable weekly rate for RV parking and spent more time driving around the area. Kathi and I both enjoyed having our own bed and furniture to relax in our own home. We lost electricity about one in the morning on our second day in the park, so we opened windows and it was a pleasant 65 degrees in the evening. We used our batteries to run our fans. This was our first experience living off our RV batteries and I did not know how to manage battery power. It took many more trips before I felt comfortable boondocking and living off the batteries. It was blistering hot in the afternoons, so early the next morning we discovered the space we were in had a bad breaker and we got them to move us to another space. After moving, we went to the grocery store to pick up a few things for Kathi to cook. She likes her own cooking, maybe not quite as much as I do, but home cooking is tremendously better than eating out every day.

The next few days we drove around the area and saw a lot of nice stucco homes with well-manicured lawns and beautiful landscaping. We saw one home with a huge bed of bird-of-paradise plants, which we never saw growing in Texas. We made another grocery run to stock up since we knew there were no super Walmarts in southern California – a big loss for shoppers in the area, since no one can match Walmart pricing.

It was too hot to take pictures in 29 Palms, so I am displaying a cute pig puzzle picture.

Another picture puzzle picture.

Twentynine Palms is east of LA about 200 miles. We visited casinos in Palm Springs and Palm Desert south of 29 Palms while we were in the area.

On July 29th we left Chino and drove east on I-10 to Desert Hot Springs, then north on California 62 through Yucca Valley and into Twentynine Palms. It was only about 110 miles, so we took our time and enjoyed the drive. We moved into the 29 Palms Golf Resort. The golf course was plush and green and everything else on the property was rocks and sand. At least we were in town and anxious to meet the Marines. It was hot, hot – eighty degrees was about the lowest temperature we could get to in our Motorhome. The sun was scorching and no shade. We planned on minimal movement and cooling off in the car, if it got overwhelming and some days it did.

Next: The Marines arrive home.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Our LA Story

As a reminder, Kathi and I are currently staying in the Green Caye RV Park in Dickinson, Texas. Yesterday it was cool and sunny and today it is cool and overcast. We are expecting a freeze tonight, so I filled our tank with water, just in case the water pipes are frozen in the morning. That has not been much of a problem in Texas until Al Gore started controlling the weather. My brother in law, Larry Clark goes back into Methodist Hospital in the morning for five more days of chemo, as part of his ongoing leukemia treatment. I go to the dentist for a crown and another crown prep tomorrow.

While we are staying in Dickinson, I have been discussing our 2004 travels. This is a continuation of the California portion of our 2004 trip. For the period of July 12 through July 21, 2004 our Alfa RV was in the Alfa Factory repair shop. Today I am going to tell you some of the things we did while waiting. Since we did not have access to our motorhome during this time, we were staying in a motel and eating out every meal. I like to watch TV, but it is very difficult to watch TV for very long in a hotel room – the furniture is just too uncomfortable.

Every day after breakfast, we drove by the Alfa factory to check progress on our motorhome repairs. For four days in a row we were disappointed, then elated when it finally moved. It turns out the elation was premature, as they were nowhere near being through with the work.

I did not mention in my previous post about traveling to Chino, California that the tow bar which pulls the car behind our motorhome broke. We were lost and in a residential neighborhood at the time. We were going downhill when the tow bar broke and our car banged into the back of the Alfa. Very little damage, but a lot of aggravation. While our Alfa was in the shop, we found a Blue Ox dealer and Blue Ox agreed to replace our broken tow bar for free, if we paid the freight charges, which we readily agreed to do. I like the Blue Ox Aladdin and we used it for several more years. We have always been happy with Blue Ox towing equipment and most of the failures in the products we owned were due to driver error. Since Kathi refuses to drive, I guess that means me.

While Alfa was in the shop, we saw Spiderman 2 and The Terminal. We do not see many movies anymore. There is seldom any we want to see and they have clamped down on the buttered popcorn. It was no longer worth our money to watch Hollywood people’s hate-filled diatribes about people that do not agree with them politically.

Within two days we had seen all the great landscaping and gorgeous homes in the immediate area, so we decided to branch out a little more. We drove into the Angeles Forest and saw a couple of ski resorts. Kathi told me she would hate to drive on those winding roads when the ground was covered with snow. I agreed with her, but at that time snow was not the problem. In July in California, there were fires all over the area. We smelled smoke or saw smoke all around the forest.

We took one day to brave the traffic for the forty mile drive into Los Angeles. Some of those highways have six lanes in each direction and they are packed with cars going seventy plus mph, weaving around the mountains. Very interesting. If I had known where I was going it might not have been so bad, but there were so many curves I lost my “dead reckoning” sense. I never knew what lane to be in, so I usually stayed near the middle of the road. We did manage to see the Hollywood sign on the hill and actually got to Hollywood. We saw Graumanns’s Chinese Theater, the Kodak Center, Paramount Studios and all the stars on the sidewalk. It was a nice experience, but we found everything in Hollywood more seedy than glamorous. I would like to say more, but I got out of town faster than I came in. I saw nothing there for me, but in retrospect Kathi would probably have liked to have stayed longer until she searched out the glamour. Maybe next time.

Next Stop 29 Palms.

Monday, January 5, 2015

The Alfa Factory

We bought our Alfa motorhome in 2003 soon after I retired. Alfa had been in business several years selling fifth wheel trailers, but 2002 was their first motorhome model. When we started talking and thinking about retirement, we began looking at RVs. We wanted to sell our house and do some traveling, because we did not do much traveling during our working years. We flew to Vegas for a few days each year for several years and that was about it.

We were leaning toward buying a Safari Cheetah motorhome, until I saw the Alfa at Lone Star RV on I-45 north of Houston. The d├ęcor in the Cheetah and Alfa looked similar. The main difference was that the Cheetah had a gasoline engine and the Alfa was diesel. Since my vision was climbing mountains in Montana, the Alfa sounded like a better fit for us. It also had all the options included in the base price, plus a five-year warranty.

Since the Alfa was so new, many RV repair shops did not work on Alfas, so we had a trip to the factory included in our 2004 travel plans. We had several small items that needed repair, including a windshield replacement.

We said goodbye to our son, AJ in San Francisco on July 11, 2004 and stopped overnight at the Viking RV Park in Kingsburg, California on the way to the factory in Chino. We got to Chino on July 12th and checked in at the Alfa factory. It took us a while to get someone’s attention, but we finally found a service writer. Without asking what needed repair or why we were there he produced a service ticket proposal for $1,800. I helped Kathi up off the floor and gave him my complete attention. We negotiated the price to zero and we insisted on doing the work we wanted and not what his computer said we needed. The kicker was, if we left the RV for service, they kept it in a locked area and we were not allowed to stay in it while they made the repairs. Kathi was not happy, so obviously I could not be happy either. We reluctantly turned over our keys and went in search of a hotel or motel to stay for a few days.

We drove by the factory every day to see the progress on our motorhome. It did not move from the locked in area for four days. I am serious, no mechanic looked at it to find out what parts to order and no one seemed to care that we were spending big bucks for California living in accommodations we hated. Kathi was mad as a hornet before the third day and I was fuming quietly on the inside. Yeah, sure, quietly.

They kept our RV for ten days and actually worked on it less than four hours. We were ecstatic when they finally called and told us our RV was ready to pick up. The same service writer we saw when we came in for service presented us a bill for $1,800 and started reading down the list of work they had done. Everything that was on the original estimate was still there and the maintenance that was actually done was added at the end of the list. I had already talked to the mechanic supervisor to find out how repairs were made, so I knew what they had actually done. I could not talk directly to the mechanic, because none of their mechanics spoke English. The supervisor did all the troubleshooting and told his crew what and how to affect repairs. We got the money figures removed for the bill, but the service writer would not remove the other items. He just wrote a note saying recommended service was refused by the customer. For future reference, we marked factory repairs off our list.

Alfa RVs have a problem with sidewalls where the paint blisters and chips, leaving pock marks. Alfa lost the court battle over who was responsible for the sidewall issues, so they declared bankruptcy in April 2008. They closed their sales and service facilities and created a new company called Alfateers who sold Alfa parts to RV owners and repair shops.

This is the sad part of the story. My next post will discuss what we did for ten days while our Alfa was held for ransom. 

Saturday, January 3, 2015

San Francisco 2004

On July fourth 2004 we left our RV in Redwood City and drove into San Francisco to pick up our son, AJ. We drove around to see a few of the sights in town, including Telegraph Hill. Telegraph Hill is actually a neighborhood surrounding the hill itself. Back before telephones were available, there was a semaphore system on Telegraph Hill to let the people in the city know what kind of ships entered the Golden Gate. This was early warning for commodities traders to know what cargo was coming into port, so they could adjust prices. It was like an early version of the stock market before ticker tape and computers.

It was a beautiful day, as most of them seem to be in San Francisco, so we drove south through Daly City, then along the Pacific Coast Highway through Pacifica checking out the beaches. There was a lot of wind and we enjoyed watching the waves crash into the rocks along the shoreline. Next, we took California 92 east out of Half Moon Bay and went over to California 82, then south to the Stanford and Palo Alto areas. We were all hungry, so we had lunch at a Marie Calendars restaurant in Palo Alto. Marie Calendars has never been one of my favorites, but Kathi and AJ like to eat there. After lunch we took AJ home and returned to the RV for the evening. After dark they had fireworks over the South San Francisco Bay that we could see through the front windshield of our motorhome. The fireworks display went on for so long, we got bored and went to bed before it was over.

Baskets of flowers were plentiful along the streets in downtown San Francisco.

Enjoying the Pacific Ocean.

A statue of Christopher Columbus on Telegraph Hill

Kathi in front of the Valley of the Moon vineyards tasting room

Another vineyard visitor center

Lovely grape vines

Another vineyard and their visitor center.

A small empty beach area

Another view from Telegraph Hill

The Carneros Creek visitor center

We stayed home for the next couple of days doing a little housework and laundry. On July seventh, we went back into the city to get AJ for a drive north across the Golden Gate Bridge. This is a toll bridge and I never went across when it was not crowded. They have movable lane dividers so they can have more lanes coming into the city in the morning and more lanes leaving the city in the afternoon. The bridge is painted international orange, which looks like a rust color to me. They never stop painting it. The painters start at one side and paint their way to the other side, cross back over and start painting again. Talk about job security.

After we crossed the bridge we went up a hill toward the Golden Gate Recreation area. We found a pull out and got out to take some pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge from an elevated position. We only went up a couple of hundred feet and the temperature dropped about twenty degrees. It was way too cold to take many pictures. We continued our drive north through Sausalito, Marin City and on into the Sonoma and Napa areas. We loved seeing the vineyards, especially the ones on a hillside. I think it was too early for harvesting grapes, but it was perfect viewing weather. After viewing many, many vineyards, we drove west to Petaluma where we stopped for lunch. The conversation was great – Kathi and I really enjoyed spending a few days with AJ.

The next day we drove back into the city and while I worked on AJ's computer, AJ acted as a tour guide for Kathi. They took a bus to the Macy’s to do a little shopping. AJ was used to public transportation, since he does not drive. The experience was new to Kathi, but I think she enjoyed it. They were gone for several hours and I was through reloading software on AJ’s computer before they returned. It was a great visit, but it was getting close to time for us to move along.

Next stop: the Alfa factory for some repair work.