31 May 2009

Another Musical Interlude

I am riding the crest of a good mood wave. Let's do another musical interlude.

My Toads!

This is for those of you who did not believe me when I told you that I have two toads who guard my men's room at night like gargoyles. Check this out!

Another Video Tour

After extraordinary efforts I believe that I have made the worst, most boring video in the world. It is not as if I cannot make a decent video. If you will go to the February archives and take a look at Harvest 51 at February 23, you will see a pretty decent video that I did. I am proud of that one. Tonya likes it. My children like it. Spike likes it. Other people like it. But the equipment was cooking, and I was cooking when I made that one.

30 May 2009

**dum vivimus vivamus

Only the strong are going to survive this blog entry. Here goes.

As things happen so often in life, the kaffeeklatsch turned out differently than I anticipated. You just cannot plan anything. There were no widows there to look me over. Several couples came. There were two unattached ladies in attendance, but they were not there to look me over. Rather, they were extremely nice people who wanted to make my acqaintance. I enjoyed a pleasant chat (the term “kaffeeklatch” fit perfectly, John) of about an hour to an hour and a half. They fed me scrambled eggs mixed with ground sausage in a wrap with various topings—guacamole, salsa, sour cream, the usual suspects.

A Pause for Clarification

It is essential that I clarify some aspects of my earlier remarks on this blog about boats and motorcycles and the people who operate them. And yes, I used some obscenities. I was overly inclusive in my remarks.

Last night I wrote an email to Hugo about this.

Let me publicly express my deep and abiding love for Hugo and Ruthie. May God bless them until they cannot stand to be blessed anymore for all the wonderful things that they have done for me in bad times and good, including providing me with the use of their basement couch on occasion. Now, the fact is that Hugo loves motorcycles, and moreover, he is a Harley man.

Spike is not a Harley man, but he has his real soft spot for motorcycles as does his wonderful landlord, Pat, even more so.

But here was the frosting on the cake. Within the last day I finally tracked down my good friend Tonya from Dallas. I have known Tonya since the mid-nineties. She kindly took an interest in the blog and read these damned entries from the beginning to the end. She is the first Texan to have read it. I told her to correct me about anything that I have said concerning Texas. What I had forgotten was that her beloved Jerry is a motorcycle enthusiast—big time motorcycle enthusiast who participates in organized rides and all. Well now, the very last thing that I would wish to do is hurt the feelings of any of those folks because right here on this Bible immediately to my left, I swear that I love them all.

So here is what had aggravated me about the motorcycle hobbyists at Luckenbach. They did not give a damn about the music. It was just another destination for them. They would roar in unmufflered right in the middle of a great song, drink beer while they chatted with each other oblivous to the music, and then roar out unmufflered right in the middle of another great song. I am getting upset about it as I write this, but I am going to keep it under control. I am not going to say that on a couple of occasions, I wanted to call out two of them at random and beat the bastards to within an inch of their lives right in front of their womenfolk. But you see, my motorcycle people, Hugo, Ruthie, Spike, Tonya, and Jerry, would never do that sort of thing.

Also, it is important for me to be realistic about another aspect of this. Luckenbach could not survive without the income derived from the bikers. Simple as that.

Here is a great burger place in Mineola.

Here are members of the Blue Knights motorcycle club, I think they called themselves, in the line waiting for hamburgers. These men and women were okay. They were a delightful crowd. Of course there was no music being played there over the lunch hour, but still. . . . . . I'm just saying.

Similarly, with regard to the boat enthusiasts, I used the term “boat morons.” I also made some other disparaging remarks about boat owners. And here's the deal about that. My first wife, Maria, appears here occasionally in the comments section as msmith2671. She lives in Florida and is married to Gary. Gary is a prince. Gary and I have had some discussions that were wonderfully helpful to me in connection with my rock star rehab of a couple of years ago. He knows whereof he speaks. Gary is also a boating enthusiast. However, Gary sails his boats. He does not race up and down the water slicing and dicing the fish with twin 250 horsepower unmufflered Evinrudes. Gary's boats glide quietly, gracefully, and fetchingly across the water. So I should have been more precise and used the phrase “motorboat morons,” because I was not referring to Gary at all.

I feel better having made those clarifications. Now on with the fun.

I did attend the kaffeeklatsch this morning. I will get to that later. Right now I need to get back outside for awhile.

29 May 2009

A Reminder

Oh and before I go to bed to get super rested up, I wanted to tell you that Lois from the front desk drove over in her golf cart this evening while I was cooking bacon and eggs outside to remind me about my invitation to the regular kaffeeklatsch tomorrow morning at the library.

I assured her that I had not forgotten.

Mexico Mike in the Flesh!

That is my very high end Tommy Bahama Tee of course, and I went with my hair up, as you can see.

I made my appearance at Mexico Mike's house this afternoon right on time. It is a much nicer home than I expected for some reason. I really don't know why I expected something tawdrier. Nice little tastefully done ranch house.

There is no way to happiness. . . . .

There is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way.
There is no way to peace. Peace is the way.
There is no way to enlightenment. Enlightenment is the way.

A friend has reminded of that Buddhist adage. My source for it is Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese monk. However, I believe he was quoting an ancient source.

Rick the Sailor introduced me--not literally but rather literarily--to Thich Nhat Hanh in former troubled times. I care not what your philosophical or spiritual leanings are, Thich Nhat Hanh's simple writings are a balm in those circumstances.

There you go, for what that is worth on a beautiful Friday on the border.

Errands call. I must visit the grocery. I have put that off as long as I can. I must purchase motor vehicle insurance valid for Mexico. I must visit Mexico Mike at his abode. I must admire parrots.

But first I must stand up. I am going to think about the act of standing up for a while, mindfully and entirely in the moment.

28 May 2009

Nil desperandum

After last evening I must go to bed a bit earlier than usual. And tomorrow is a big day what with Mexico Mike and all.

I could not let the sun go down on that last, somewhat smarmy blog entry without adding that this place is the best place so far. These people, residents and staff, are incredibly convivial. The plantings are beautiful, as you have seen. It is meticulously maintained and yet comes at a fair price. It is quiet. Bikers are not welcome here. My shower stall is luxuriously vast. Huge toads stand watch for me like gargoyles outside my shower and men's room building at night. Things strange and delightful to me abound.

Right now the temperature is perfect, and the excessive humidity has been washed from the air. I nodded off for a bit outside and overdid my tanning session, but not badly. And I do not think that my mouth drooped open. I know there was no saliva on the front of my shirt when I awoke.

I am quite content. I hope all who are reading this are quite content this evening, too, wherever they are. All will be well, I assure you.

"My! My! My!" said the Spider to the Fly

Oleander Acres, May 28, 2009, 12:40 p.m.

Exciting news! I have been invited to the Oleander Acres Library on Saturday morning for the regular Saturday morning kaffeeklatsch of residents and some staff. I have it through terse verbal clues and non-verbal body language that some of the widow ladies here would like to check me out at close range. So be it.

I devised a plan for this gathering already while I was running this morning. It was my intention to tell y'all about it in advance here. However, maybe some hated, long time enemy defense lawyer in the civil jury trial business has gotten hold of the URL for this blog. He or she might then blow my cover with untoward results.

I will tell you all about the kaffeeklatsch after the fact on Sunday. This manner of proceeding also has the added advantage of allowing me to tell you about the triumphant success of some other totally unrelated plan should this original plan misfire, in which case this original plan shall go unmentioned.

More exciting news! Mexico Mike, my travel consultant regarding travel in Mexico, has invited me to his house in McAllen tomorrow, Friday, afternoon. That means that I will soon be able to post photographs of myself arm in arm with the legendary Mexico Mike. Also, he tells me that his wife still has the parrots, and he still has his wife. Therefore, I should be able to post photos of the parrots, too.

I love parrots. In Iowa we have one of the great parrot rescue operations in the United States.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Oleander Acres, May 28, 2009, 2:14 p.m.

With regard to that kaffeeklatsch on Saturday morning, I have only one decision left to make:

Should I wear my hair up?

Or should I wear my hair down and just let the freak flags fly, as we used to say?

Let's review those options.


Or down?

Dr. Mark?



I would certainly give serious consideration to your votes on this issue of grave import in the “Comments” section below. In fact I would appreciate the benefit of your votes.

Lisa, Wendy, Matt, Sarah, Ed, John, and Chuck, I am not going to make a fool of myself this time, so kindly spare me any comments along those lines. You can rest easy on that score.

Excuse me now. I need to go work on my tan.

The Little Camper Trailer that Could

Oleander Acres, May 28, 2009, 7:37 a.m.

This is the first storm that came through yesterday afternoon just as I was finishing photographing the plants here. It rolled in from the east over that corn field next to the campground. I am not accustomed to storms rolling in from the east. Clearly, it came in from the Gulf. There has been a lot of rain and very significant wind with these storms. There will be more. The Zip Code here is 78572 should you wish to plug that into your favorite weather site. This would also be the first storm that I have ever ridden out in this camper trailer.

27 May 2009

The Plants of Oleander Acres

My contribution to the blog from the daylight hours today will be weak. Laundry and other personal matters needed attending to. However, I would like you to see some of the plantings from my new surroundings. For those of you accustomed to warm weather plants out of doors, this will be old hat. I am thinking particularly of folks like Sheila who have had so many opportunities to enjoy warm weather plants in their natural setting. I have enjoyed warm weather plants, too. . . . .but only in pots. It is a delight for me to see warm weather plants growing out of the ground.

Like for example one of my favorite potted plants, sanseveria or "mother-in-law's tongue." I was brought up short to see these growing out of the ground.

Oleander Acres at Night

May 27, 2009, 12:55 a.m.

I made it. I am here in the Rio Grande Valley at Oleander Acres RV Park in Mission, Texas, next to McAllen and 15 minutes from the International Bridge.

Oleander Acres is where old folks from up north come to winter over. It is tropically hot and humid right now though. The sweat dripped off me as I set up. All the old folks have gone home except for me. I need to get my bearings in the daylight.

Jesus. Oleander Acres. I cannot believe that it has all come down to this.

Actually, I'm kidding. The place is delightful, and I can get cheap dental work done. Check that out at their web site.

What the hell are oleander anyway? I need to look that up.

For the first time on this trek I have access to a dynamite wifi connection in my camper, which is where I am now. I don't know yet whether that is good or bad.

In the meantime you can check out a webcam shot of traffic going into Mexico and coming out of Mexico at the International Bridge here.

24 May 2009

Crap that I have owned for years.

I call these things “Tie-Me-Downs,” not because I have any special attachment to sado-masochism, but rather because I have never learned the proper name. They are the stretchy cords with the hooks on the end, and they come in all different sizes.

Tie-Me-Downs are an amazing invention. It does not matter what the job is that you have for them. It does not matter what size Tie-Me-Downs you own. They are always, always either too short or too long. And here is the really miraculous aspect of the product. If you find that your Tie-Me-Down is too long for the particular job at hand, then just do a double wind. Suddenly and like magic, it will be too short.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

For the second straight week, Oatmeal Creme Pies have been voted the favorite dessert among the residents of Site No. 4 at the Armadillo Farm.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

We have had to undertake a repair job on my black dress boots. They are made of reptile skin of some sort. My recollection is that it was held out to be python when I purchased them, but that purchase took place more than 15 years ago. My recollection is hazy. Anyway, there are clearly scales on these boots.

They suffered a laceration recently, and a strip of the reptile skin was hanging loose. I consulted with CBS about this when he was still with me. He recommended a new miracle product called Shoe Goo. Apparently, there are different varieties of this Goo stuff for various tasks. I had never heard of it. So off to Walmart I went. I have been in Walmarts more times over the last month than I have been in Walmarts during the entire previous ten years of my life combined. That is how low I have fallen.

I have now glued this strip of reptile skin down with the Shoe Goo. The picture above portrays my dress boots with the Shoe Goo in the process of curing. The label indicates that it may not reach its maximum strength until it has cured for 72 hours.

Now here is the puzzling aspect of this deal. That job required only a teeny, tiny little dab of Shoe Goo. I have this huge, nearly untapped tube of Shoe Goo left. What the fuck do I do with it?

I am thinking that perhaps I could open a little shoe and boot repair shop down in Luckenbach right next to Tony's Hat Shop. Other than perhaps a couple of cheap plastic clamps, the only tools or supplies that I am going to need is this Shoe Goo according to the label on the tube.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

This is my friend Bill at the only place that I have ever seen him, in the General Store at Luckenbach. Bill is delightful to visit with. We do not chat in Texas. Tax and spend liberals chat. In Texas we either visit or pass the time of day. Bill is masterful at both visiting and passing the time of day. The phrase “chewing the fat” might be laying it on a little thick. Someone using the phrase “chewing the fat” might be a Yankee pretender.

Bill is a very big man, as are a disproportionate number of Texas males. I look like a midget next to him, but as many of you know, I love midgets. Bill and his pal James, now deceased, used to be the main gun bartenders at Luckenbach. They would close her down at 2:00 a.m. and have it cleaned up all by themselves by 6:00 a.m.

Bill was bar tending during Willie Nelson's last concert in Luckenbach ten years ago, 1999. It was an outdoor affair. Bill, James, and Luckenbach generally, were totally unprepared for what occurred. Out of the blue more than 18,000 people showed up. I cannot do justice to Bill's colorful description of the mess that ensued. It involved desperate efforts to resupply the beer so that a riot did not break out. They could not get beer hauled in fast enough. The port-a-johns were over tasked with results that you do not want to hear about. Bill and James were damned near killed in the fracas.

Bill allows as how Willie Nelson had simply outgrown Luckenbach by 1999.

Bill is on crutches right now with a game leg that seems as if it is never going to heal. He stands with great effort. This morning, Sunday morning, he was wearing a cheap, off brand pair of jeans that he did not care for at all. Every once in a while he would slowly stand, shift around a little, and sit back down. After doing this two or three times he explained to me, “These jeans are like a cheap hotel. No ballroom.”

See that outfit I have on? That is what I was wearing this morning. You are not going to believe this. I was sitting at the bar drinking my free coffee in the General Store at about 10:30 a.m. visiting with Bill. A tourist lady asked if she could have her picture taken with me. Her husband took the picture. I am serious. This happened.

This is the first time a husband has taken my picture while I was with his wife, although I understand this sort of thing goes on quite commonly nowadays.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

My folks have never even heard of the “Two Year Rule.” Believe me, there is shit at the farm that is in exactly the same place where it was set down 40 years ago. Sometimes that works out though.

Before I took off, I was digging around through old camping equipment and the like to see if there was anything at all that was still serviceable and that might be of use. I came upon these items. Army folks would call this a “mess kit.” There is also a set of silverware—knife, fork, spoon—that locks together for ease of carrying. All those pieces of the mess kit fit together like nesting dolls so that when it is all fastened up, it is one neat little package.

These items were purchased for me as a present by my Aunt Hazel when I was a Cub Scout and was eight or nine years old. They have never been used before. They are being used now. They are my only flatware and silverware, and they are all I need. I am thankful to her for them.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Lisa, the photo of the new pair of Wrangler jeans is now up back there in the applicable entry.

23 May 2009

Back South

May 23, 2009, 1:33 p.m., Luckenbach Dance Hall

I arrived back in Luckenbach last evening at around 9:00 p.m. The trip counter in the truck said roughly 350 miles. This is the second time that I have put up the camper in the dark. I am getting that process down.

One of the things Mr. Miller loves to do is discuss and compare various ways to get from Point A to Point B on the highways and byways of the State of Texas. So before my departure from Pine Mills yesterday, we got out my road atlas and discussed the best route back to Luckenbach. He had me going over hill and dale on back country blacktops, and I am really glad he did. It forced me to slow down and soak things up a bit more. On the other hand I really did not lose that much time because I was traveling much more nearly to the way the crow flies.

It was the scenic route for sure, especially after Waco. Texas Farm Road 116. Texas Farm Road 580. And others. (Don't ask me why “farm road” and not “ranch road.”) Gatesville and then little places like Pidcote, Rumley, and Topsey, Texas. The Brazos River at Waco, and then the Leon River and the Colorado River at Marble Falls. Marble Falls is really quite a stunning river town visually. They really should have more photos of the city at their web site.

But the real and ongoing pleasure of the drive was simply the Texas countryside during the second half of that drive back into the Hill Country. It is extremely pleasing to the eye, I must admit. I did not stop to take pictures. It was just this vast, rolling, moderately wooded countryside with beautiful, beautiful ranch houses.

These ranch homes gave new meaning to the term “ranch home” for me. They are huge, sprawling affairs of one story, of course. But most indicate that some very serious architectural thought was given to harmonizing them with the surroundings. They are not garish at all. Just impressive.

Right now I am sitting in the Luckenbach Dance Hall listening to the afternoon show as thunderstorms roll through outside raising hell with the motorcycle hobbyists. But I know everyone is pretty well sick of reading about Luckenbach. I will spare you that this Memorial Day Weekend, and then we will find something new in Texas to explore.

22 May 2009

Miscellania Addendum

May 22, 2009, 4:38 p.m., Waco Starbucks

Smooth sailing so far. I remembered what I wanted to tell you about.

A couple of days ago I was at the laundromat in Lindale, Texas, doing a load. In the men's room there was a pump bottle of Family Dollar hand soap. Somebody, presumably connected to management, had scrawled on the bottle the following with a Sharpie pen:

If you steal this, we don't need your business.

I do not know why that makes me laugh, but it surely does. I am not yet a certified expert on Texas. However, I have studied it enough now to tell you that that is pluperfect Texas. I can hear the person saying it.

If you steal this, we don't need your business.

I love that! And it had worked so far obviously. That bottle was still there.


Today is a travel day, Pine Mills back south to Luckenbach. The camper trailer is down, packed, and hooked onto the truck. I have stopped at the Mineola Public Library on the way south through town to check my email and make sure I haven't died and gone to heaven. I hope that if that has happened, someone would let me know.

Now here is one of the nicest men in the world. This is T-Roy's daddy, Mr. Miller to me. He has been my landlord for the past week. He is a master of the art of passing the time of day, one of the few men I can sit and visit with for as long as two hours without knocking back a six pack of beer while I'm doing it. I hope to see him again soon.

Back to the camper for a moment. You know, the stuff you pack in the camper for a road trip of any length is going to get the hell beat out of it back there. After towing that camper for a day, it's as if someone had gotten in the thing and laid about inside with a baseball bat. So there is one thing I have discovered. If you find a screw lying loose on the floor, put that thing away and save it. God did not start spitting out screws and distributing them on the floor of your camper. That screw came out of something, and sooner or later you will stumble onto the empty hole that needs a screw. . . . . . . Come to think of it, you should write that down. Words to live by.

Wednesday evening I drove down to Tyler to see T&C Miller play at a winery there. I actually put on some slacks, loafers, and a Tommy Bahama silk shirt with a collar. I should have taken a picture of myself.

In any event, Tyler is dry. It is a very bustling town, and it is strange to drive through a place like that and see nary a bar. But here is the deal with the winery. In Texas if you are selling a product that is produced from local material, you get all kinds of special dispensations. This winery operation grows its grapes in that county, and therefore, they are allowed to sell their wine to take out or to drink in their shop in Tyler. This was a very pretty place and quite large. Among the big casks of wine in the back were several trestle tables where the alcohol starved of Tyler can actually go in, sit down, drink wine, and get drunk in public. T&C Miller did a great show there, 6:00 to 9:00.

There is something else I wanted to tell you, but I cannot remember what it was. I will think of it on the road.

Oh I know what one thing was. My running route in Pine Mills was out on a blacktop straight west toward Little Hope, Texas, to a bridge where I turned around and ran back. That was a perfect 5K. Yesterday, I got out there a little late in the morning. We are just on the edge now of some serious Texas heat, and I took a beating on that blacktop. The Pointer Sisters on the iPod had to carry me up that last hill. From now on I am getting out there for the running a lot earlier. The running in midday is all done now.

20 May 2009

Boring Day-to-Day Stuff

May 20, 2009, 9:45 a.m., Pine Mills

For many of you camping in a camper trailer is old hat. Others of you have done it, but only for two or three days. Still others have not done it at all. During this little lull in my activities, I thought I would write down aspects of living long term in a camper trailer that those of you who have not done it might not have onsidered. I have an ulterior motive, too, though. As those of you who are old salts with camper trailers get a handle on my situation, I would surely appreciate any ideas that you can contribute from your own experience that might make my life easier, more comfortable, more enjoyable, or all of the above because—and I do not want to shock anyone here—I am all about making my life easier, more comfortable, more enjoyable, or all of the above.

First and foremost is the simple fact that space is so limited. I have quickly learned the primary rule that must be honored because of that overall space limitation. Before you take something out, put something else away. Disregard this rule at your peril. If you do, you will soon be dealing with real chaos.

This may sound so simple, but it requires great self-discipline. For example one of my major storage areas inside the camper is the space under one of the dinette set seats. Lots of stuff is stored there. But to get at it, I must maneuver around the table, pull off that wide cushion, which is an awkward hinged bottom and back affair, and lift a lid. And usually there is something lying on that seat. And if I have company there may be somebody sitting on that seat. So getting at that storage area requires just enough effort to discourage you from doing it. Know what I mean?

Then there are the plastic tubs. Most of my small items of tangible personal property are stored in 20-gallon plastic tubs. I do have two 15-gallon tubs, too. I have a plastic tub for books; one for cords, lamps, small fans, and other electrically related stuff; one for cookware; one for the first aid kit, toiletries, clippers, and such; one for athletic clothing, and a couple for regular clothing. I store the two smaller tubs for toiletries and the electrical stuff in the back of the cab of the truck. I store the other larger bins outside under the camper trailer, all in an attempt to keep the limited inside space maximally free in the camper. The Texas summer facilitates this because the worst precipitation one deals with is usually only a heavy dew.

The next rule is closely related to the one set out above. If you acquire something, you must dispose of something. This rule is giving me fits right now. When I take down the camper and move, I am packed to the gills, both in the camper itself and in the truck. This is primarily because I had to bring my bicycle, which is lying on its side and locked to a grommet in the truck bed under the tonneau cover. I love having my bicycle, but it eats up space back there.

I store all of the plastic bins except those two that are in the cab of the truck on the floor of the camper before I crank down the roof. The cooler then fits right inside the bottom door of the camper such that I can get at it on the road. I have a tool box behind the passenger seat of the truck. I have a couple of briefcases with papers in the truck. My laptop, digital camera, video camera, and iPod are always in the cab of the truck unless they are being used. Everything else is stuffed hither and yon.

Here is what I am up against this week. CBS generously left me with a new larger cooler, another folding chair for guests, and his very nice Coleman coffee percolator. When CBS and I left the Armadillo Farm, I had to leave some items there to accommodate his stuff, including my little white plastic dresser drawers on cute little tiny casters. When I try to put those items back in the mix, there will be no room for the percolator in that plastic bin for cookware. I do not yet know where I am going to carry that larger cooler. Even the additional folding chair is going to test me in terms of finding a place for it. On top of all that, I purchased a guitar last weekend. That is now really forcing me to consider what has to be jettisoned permanently.

Here is another rule. Quit whining, and sweep. I am alluding to the fact that I am never parked on concrete. Therefore, no matter what I do, dirt, leaves, and detritus in general get tracked into the camper during the day. I tried a system for awhile where I would leave my new-to-me-from-Jim Unversity of Texas sandals outside the door and step into them going out and step out of them coming in. That is a pain in the ass. Now I simply sweep out every morning and wash the floor once per week. By the way the sweeping utensil is not a broom. There is no room for that. The sweeping utensil is a whisk broom, which means that I am sweeping out and washing the floor on my hands and knees like a charwoman.

In the next installment of “Boring, Day-to-Day Stuff,” we will discuss urine and the handling, storage, and disposal thereof.

Zen in Pine Mills

May 19, 2009, 8:59 p.m.

I am due back at the Armadillo Farm in Luckenbach this coming Friday for the Memorial Day weekend. At the end of Pickin' in the Pines on Sunday I had planned to go back to Canyon Lake, a cheap place with which I am familiar, and set up camp there until Friday. Before leaving here on Sunday, I asked T-Roy's father what the charge would be to stay here. When he said $5.00 American per night, I jumped on it. There is both running water and a hot shower within steps of my camper. More importantly, at the risk of repeating myself, this little piece of timber is prettier than a picture postcard.

The thing is, I thought this was a regular day-to-day campground with that special event occurring here twice per year. It is not. Nobody explained that to me. This timber is only open to the public for Pickin' in the Pines in May and in September. The upshot is that I have this place completely to myself. Mr. Miller has left the water heater on in the shower building for me and only me until the end of the week.

The evening is enchanting here right now. It is perfectly quiet. The whip-poor-will is not even mouthing off yet. I can hear a dog barking way, way off somewhere. Dogs just cannot abide a quiet night, can they? It is probably 72 F and heading toward a low in the mid-fifties. The last two nights I have had to run the propane heater in the camper a bit in the early morning hours to keep the chill off.

A guy who lives most of his life in the midwest such as myself gets about 250 evenings as wonderful as this in his lifetime if he lives to 70. That is not enough. Actually, the situation is worse than that. In our younger days during a breathtakingly beautiful evening such as this one, we are completely distracted by this and that such that the evening wanes and disappears without our having truly noticed it. We are occupied with such things as pulling the boat out of the water or watching the steaks on the grill or putting some goddamned thing or other away or trying to get into some woman's pants or, GOD FORBID, mowing lawn or any number of other things. (I would love to get Thoreau's opinion on lawn mowing in 21st Century America.) We are so habituated to that kind of mindless, bullshit activity that it is very difficult to sit our asses down, be quiet, and focus on the moment Zen style. I am going to practice focusing on the moment Zen style this evening as soon as I shut off this laptop and have one of Little Debbie's individually wrapped Oatmeal Cream Pies because we simply miss too many of those 250 evenings like this one that are right under our nose. Every evening like this one that I have left in my life is going to get my undivided attention.

I do not know why people have to study this Zen thing so diligently. It is a piece of cake, and I am off to do some more right now. . . . . .

In my jammies already.

19 May 2009

Paper Plates

May 19, 2009, 12:05 p.m., Public Library, Mineola, Texas.

Rick, I have been doing my best to give up paper plates, but it is harder than quitting smoking. I have a “value pack” of foam plates, the worst kind, stashed in the camper and probably should get rid of them just to eliminate the temptation. However, I have been successfully staying out of them for some time now in deference to our friendship and joint love of the environment.

But last Sunday morning, these boys, who were my neighbors at the Pine Mills campground, cooked breakfast. They offered me scrambled eggs and American fries with strips of sausage and left over sirloin steak mixed in. . . . . . .on a paper plate. I tried to form the words, “No, thank you. Rick and I do not use paper plates in deference to our friendship and joint love of the environment.” I also tried to form the word "vegetarian." Rick, the words would simply not come out. I wolfed down that breakfast and disposed of the paper plate in the trash can.

This morning, I cooked myself. One of my main dishes was rice out of the pressure cooker. Without thinking and after days of not using them, I dished up my helpings of rice on one of those foam plates. Using that paper plate Sunday was like lighting up a cigarette after a long layoff. Other paper plates quickly follow. I must invoke my paper plate relapse correction program.

Pickin' in the Pines

May 19, 2009, 11:22 a.m., Public Library, Mineola, Texas.

I have been buried far, far back in the piney woods of east Texas for several days. I have come out for a quick touch of civilization before going back in. My intention is to stay at the campground in Pine Mills until Friday morning, May 22, when I will break camp and drive back to Luckenbach for the Memorial Day weekend.

Troy Miller is the male half of the duet T&C Miller. Folks in Luckenbach call him T-Roy for some reason. He is a profoundly gifted and talented guitar player in the same league with Dennis McMurrin or Craig Erickson. T-Roy's parents own a beautiful piece of timber next to Pine Mills, Texas, which has been owned by members of T-Roy's father's family since the 1840's. Carved out of the middle of it is a small old graveyard, oddly enough, because the timber surrounding it is now used as a campground twice a year for the spring and fall sessions of Pickin' in the Pines.

Pickin' in the Pines orginally developed as a outdoor gathering for musicians to get together at the Pine Mills campground for a weekend and play music for each other. There were no stage acts. In an effort to spare T-Roy's father the expense of subsidizing this gathering, stage acts were added and a very reasonable admission charged so that the public could drive in, camp for the weekend, and get to hear great acoustic music. And the musicians could still get together as before.

Typically, on Thursday there is an open mike night so that amateurs can come in and show their wares. Then professional bands play on the stage that T-Roy and his friends constructed on Friday and Satruday evenings from about 8:00 p.m. until close to midnight. None of that sounds very unusual, does it?

What sets this thing apart is the campfire sessions after the last professional has sung his or her last note. Everyone forms circles around campfires. Then the players in each circle take turns going around the circle playing and singing. These sessions go on for the rest of the night. I could make it until somewhere around 3:30 a.m. or 4:00 a.m., and then I had to go to bed. Cigar Box Steve always made it to sunrise without fail.

The thing about these circles is that the players have all different levels of skills. There are some beginners in these circles, and there are players who have been earning a living at it for years. Everyone is supportive of everyone else. It is very cool. As soon as I saw this, I realized I needed an acoustic guitar. The demise in 2005 of the garage band with which I played had thoroughly disgusted me and hurt me a bit, too, to be honest. I had put the electric guitars, the amp and the sound system away until my preparations for leaving Iowa when I passed the guitars and amps out to my son, my son-in-law, and David Murrell, who is a semi-pro.

Cigar Box Steve and I drove down to Lindale first thing Saturday, and I picked out a moderately priced acoustic guitar there. We celebrated with a huge store-bought breakfast in Mineola and came back. I played in a circle in the wee hours of Sunday morning and then again with a delightful bunch during perfect weather late Sunday morning and into the afternoon.

Pickin' in the Pines has been a transformative experience indeed. Here are a couple of the many great characters I met there.

This is Mike Low with one of his home-made dobro guitars that he had previously sold to the Texas Taliban of Blues. It is called a Low-bro. Mike also constructs guitars and banjos. He sold a newly constructed cigar box banjo to Cigar Box Steve over the weekend.

Making this man's acquaintance was truly one of the highlights of the weekend. This is Bradley Blackwood of Tulsa, the harmonica man. Over his career he has played with everyone—at least, the people he has not played with are not worth mentioning. Currently, he plays with the Texas Taliban of Blues, but a lot of the other players ask him to join them for a song or two.

Here he is playing with C.C. Cross at the Friday night show.

This is Brad and his melodian that one of the members of the Texas Taliban turned over to him to work with. Brad is working his ass off learning how to play it. And he will learn how to play it.

Mike Low, who insisted that I wear his hat, Me, and Brad.

I will tell you one of the major problems with life on the road right now. It is the problem of saying goodbye to people like these too soon after you have met them.

Cigar Box Steve Nicholas

Pickin' in the Pines was a transformative experience. I have never been quite sure what people mean when they use the phrase “transformative experience,” but I love the sound of it. It makes the experience sound really important, and this one was.

CBS and I in the coffee tent at Pickin' in the Pines.

My new best friend Cigar Box Steve works for Ms. Jenkins at the Armadillo Farm Campground during the winter months. He was the first person I met there when I first showed up looking for space and Miss Jenkins was gone. The next time I saw him was onstage in Luckenbach at Tony's birthday party on Saturday, May 9. He was playing his cigar box banjo. So I struck up another conversation with him when I saw him again a couple days later at the Armadillo Farm.

In the meantime I had developed a major fondness for the T&C Miller duet, whom I mentioned earlier. At a break during their afternoon appearance in Luckenbach on May 11, I asked where they would be playing again soon. Candace explained that they were leaving the next day for the Pickin' in the Pines festival up north. I was interested right then.

During my conversation with Cigar Box Steve later that day, I mentioned that I was considering decamping and heading up north for that festival. This is when I discovered that he was going. Picken' in the Pines was going to be his time off after a season of working for Miss Jenkins. After the festival he was heading on further north to Michigan to see some of his children. Then he was spending the rest of the summer in Kentucky helping to build an outdoor stage. We determined to throw in together for the trip to Pine Hills, Texas, for the music festival.

CBS's life experiences are far too varied to be captured in a little blog article or two. Suffice it to say that one of his skills is as a traveling and camping companion. I write this the day after he left for Michigan, and I miss him already. However, I have inherited his big cooler with some food in it, his Coleman coffee percolator, a second folding chair for a guest, and his sorry assed towel. But these valuable things have not served in any way to compensate for the loss of the man himself.

Hippies from the Sixties from Uncle Steve on Vimeo.

Gosh, I was full of myself that day. Sorry about that.

We're Gonna Get High [on the Right Stuff] from Uncle Steve on Vimeo.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Should you look in here, Steve, you left more of your worldly goods with me than you intended to, as I am sure you have discovered by now. I have your tent, your air mattress, and your cellular telephone charger among other things. I am not concerned about those items. You can replace them. But I do not know where you will be able to find replacements for these bright yellow Converse Chuck Taylor All-Star high top basketball shoes. I do not remember seeing you wear these amid the cowboys at Pine Mills. In any event I will leave all these items with Miss Jenkins.