Friday, December 10, 2010


"Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By & by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie..."

- G. M. Hopkins

My shady past is not so shady any more.  The eight large trees on my lot have dropped almost all their leaves, and there are days when sunlight brightens every corner.  But it seems, now that illumination doesn't require much effort, the Sun has gone lazy.  Most days here at the beginning of winter are gray, the sky off-white and darkening toward the corners, and leaves lie about in disorderly piles, much like the dead at Waterloo.

Waterloo was a long time ago.  It does not oppress me now.  But leaves do, for soon I must rake them up, bag them, and argue with the garbagemen about going 20 bags or so over my weekly allowance.

I tell them to blame God.  I had nothing to do with it.  Leaves fall from heaven, like manna.  If they don't pick them up from me now, then they'll pick them up later.  If I let them just blow, they'll be picking them up from my irritated neighbor, or someone further down the street.  It is fate.  I urge them to accept the gravity of the situation.  It's only once a year.

Some years they have taken that argument in good humor.  Some years they leave the pile of bags at the curb, diminishing it only by the miserly allottment of 5 bags a week.

Such are the trials of living in a stick house.  If you are lucky enough to be living on the road, I advise you to stay there.  Let the wind do your raking with a clear conscience.

I've worked up a couple of excuses to leave them lie.  I'm industrious that way.  I've had another cancer cut from my left hand, and the wound is still in stitches.  Don't want to stretch that into a monumental scar, right?  Another surgery, on my right hand, is scheduled for the 22nd.  Soon I will have more stitches than Raggedy Andy.  Perhaps even enough to keep you in stitches.  And then there's this sinus infection I have only narrowly escaped, and still may succumb to.  No point in testing it with all that leaf mold and dust up my nose.

I should really move all this unfortunate ambition into the New Year, where Resolutions belong.  There, I'm convinced.  Where there is life there is procrastination.  Best to leaf it for another week, and work instead on developing a decent pun for the holidays.

In other news, Mike is back in Rehab.  The infection that laid him low last Sunday has succumbed to the miracle of antibiotics.  Deo gratias.  He is still seeing two or three of everything, and is fed through a hole in his stomach, but he seems relieved to be back.

He even asked me to give him a haircut this weekend.  Now there's a guy with a healthy sense of humor.


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Daffy Metaphor

As I mentioned in the comments last time, Mike was doing great for a few weeks there.  Then last Sunday afternoon he got a ferocious bladder infection, had his temperature spike to 107 degrees, and went into seizure.  He is now back in ICU at South Austin Hospital.  The infection is under control, but he's still running 99 degrees.

He finally got off the ventilator today, and guess what was the first thing he said to me in that croaking voice?

"Don't let this stress you out."

Me?  He doesn't want ME to be stressed out?  Same to ya, bub.

I was reaching for a metaphor recently to describe the process of Mike's "recovery".  Nothing seemed to fit.  Then I ran into this old cartoon on Youtube:

Yep.  It's just like that.  And thaaat's all, Folks!

(I wish.)


Saturday, December 4, 2010

Saying No to Bro

Early Days

In normal times my brother Mike and I lead almost entirely separate lives.  O, we manage to meet for Menudo most Sunday mornings, in lieu of Church.  He has the run of my tool shed, and I of his.  But my average pleasant day would probably drive him up the wall.  He's not that much of a reader.  And his enthusiasms leave me cold as well, since they often involve active interaction with a large group.  I mean... bowling, for chrissakes?  In a league?  Even his idea of motorcycling was primarily social as well, like forming part of an "honor guard" with fifty or a hundred other bikers at various funerals.  The racket was enough to raise the dead.

He was even involved with a "Biker Church".  Holy Harley, Batman!  Give me a break.

Mike hale and hearty?  He has his life, and I have mine.

But Mike helpless?  Mike lying up unconscious in a narrow room, surrounded by the casual brutality of a teaching hospital, with a tube down his throat?  The sight of that Mike just knocked me right out of myself.  My usual egotism was swept aside, forgotten, drowned.  What was left was a fierce protectiveness.

It seems I am not quite the independent asshole that I thought I was.  Imagine that.

It's only happened a few times, over the years.  It always surprises me.  I remember once in the seventh grade I picked up a kid my age by the throat and pinned him to the wall at the skating rink because he pushed my brother down.  I didn't plan on doing that.  I didn't even think about doing it.  It just happened.  Scared the crap out of me, when I came to my senses. I really could have hurt that kid.

It seems ridiculous to have that sort of reaction now.  Not that I'm throwing anybody around.  I'm an old guy.  But I do have a completely automatic and unreasoning desire to stand guard over Mike.  To keep him from harm.  To make things better for him.

And as part of that I suddenly found it really hard to say no to him.

If he wanted to get out of his wheel chair, I'd scour the halls and round up nurses and such to get it done.  I was polite, I think, but remorseless.  If he wanted to get out of bed to take a leak, I'd do the same.  It infuriated me that they would let him go in a diaper rather than show up instantly to help him to the pot.  I would just commandeer help and refuse to take no for an answer.  But then when he got in there, he often couldn't go, and then he wanted immediately back into bed.  And then, half the time, he'd no sooner get his head back on the pillow than some therapist would show up to put him back in the wheel chair to take him down the hall.

I came to realize I was wearing out my welcome.  There was a reason why they wanted him up in that wheel chair, whether he was comfortable or not.  There was even a reason for the visiting hours I was ignoring.  I was actually interfering with his recovery by indulging his every inconstant whim.

These people are professionals.  They have a plan.  And he has to get with the plan if he is going to get better.  Whether he likes it or not.

There's a sign on the front door of the rehab hospital that says "Sometimes Caring Means Not Visiting".  They are talking about staying away if you are sick, so you don't spread whatever you've got to the patients.  But I think it applies to obsessively protective and indulgent brothers as well.

So now I've finally gotten to where I only go up there every other day.  Mostly.  I stay an hour, find out how he's doing, and what he's been doing, bring him his laundry and such, and then I leave him to it.

And he is getting better.

"Sometimes Caring Means Not Visiting".  Sometimes it means getting out of the way.  Letting go.  It is the hardest part of love.


Thursday, December 2, 2010

Why Am I Here?

Where in the world is Bob?

And why have I not been?

Certainly I have not been at a loss for words.  Perish the thought.  Indeed, there are too many, as usual.  But I am at a loss for discipline.  For narrative direction.  And without that, any extended tale becomes a jumble, a mucky tidal flat of vapid speculation, dotted with abandoned hulks of pointless blather.

A banal vision of rusty ruin, in other words.  A low-rent Ragnarok.  Gee, I'd like to avoid that. Wouldn't you?

And so I have been silent.  It beats becoming a navel-gazing blabbermouth.  But not by much.

When disaster strikes someone close to you, it changes their life.  But it also changes yours.  In fact, no one will escape some effect, from family and friends to the hospital staff to the usual hordes of imperfect strangers.  On and on, in widening ripples of feckless fate.  If you are reading this, that includes you.  

Welcome to my metaphoric ripple.  The boom will now shift as we jibe and bear away. Remember to duck.  Ouch.   Sorry about that.

Mike is recovering more or less on schedule.  He is seeing the orthopedic surgeon today in hopes of gaining permission to remove the cast on his arm.  He is still being fed through a tube until his swallow improves, but there is improvement.  His memory is now pretty much intact, both short and long term.  His mind seems entirely back, but he is bored out of it, and sick unto death with being helpless.  

Getting his arm and leg free will, I hope, start a cascade of improvement.  He will be able to get himself out of bed, and go to the bathroom without humiliating assistance.  He will be able to move his wheel chair by himself.  He will begin to walk.  That exercise will improve his attitude and general fitness, and strength will flow from strength.

That is the plan.  

There is a spot of worry about his eyes not focusing together.  He can see reasonably well out of either of them, but not together.  They track separately, and this results in double vision.

Barney Google, with the goo-goo-googly eyes.  

He has an appointment with a neurologist specializing in opthalmology to see what can be done about that.  Until then he has no depth perception to speak of, and tends to interpolate the edges of things erroneously.  

So.  First, mobility.  Then learn to swallow positively enough that the epiglottis firmly covers the windpipe, and thus regain the ability to feed himself.  I expect the next two weeks to be about that.  Then maybe getting him out of that neck collar.  Then we will deal with his vision.  

He has disability pay until the middle of February.  Things could be worse.

As for me, I can't see any prospect of travel before next summer.  And I may sell the Beast.  

This morning, I discovered that the City has slapped an impound sticker on my motorcycle trailer.  It has been parked illegally in front of my house since Mike's accident.  So right now I'm going to go move it over to his back yard.  I'm surprised it took this long for the bureaucrats to swing into action.  Perhaps they have been distracted by more important matters.

Bob, who had more to say than he thought.  Maybe that will happen again tomorrow.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


This blog is turning into a real bummer.  I know.

It was intended to be an upbeat travel page, but since Mike's accident my life has been consumed with daily trips to the hospital, tracking down his bills and paying them out of my own pocket, and meeting with doctors and lawyers.  Some trip.

"Lawyers" ???  Yeah, right, though I surely didn't want to.

There should be no current need for lawyers. There is no fight with the insurance company. They have agreed to pay.  Any lawsuit should be put off until we are beyond their ability to pay - at the limits of the liability policy.  We won't know how bad it gets, or what expenses will be incurred, for maybe a couple of years. There's plenty of time for that stuff later.

And we would certainly be unwise to put Mike's future in the hands of some fly-by-night contingency lawyer, who will try to take 40% off the top.  Combat pay where no combat is needed, and none is offered.

But I am now seeing lawyers.  I have no choice.  There are people trying to take over various aspects of Mike's life while he is incapacitated, and I have to defend him against them.

My contention is that everything should be kept as much as possible just as he left it on October 1st.  That is:  his bills current, his job protected, and his house empty, so that when he recovers he can step back into his life and take up pretty much where he left off.

It has only been 6 weeks.  He should be left alone to recover.  We will know more about the end of this story in a couple of months.  We can reconsider then.  But some people are in a suspiciously great hurry to change things to suit themselves.  It takes considerable expense and effort on my part just to hold the fort.

The good news is that Mike is now in a NeuroRehab hospital.  He is responding to therapy.  He is starting to regain his short term memory, and occasionally tells me "You told me that yesterday".  The other day he recognized somebody from his office while they were still in the doorway, and greeted them by name.  Yesss!!!

He left no power of attorney.  He needs to recover quickly.  If he does not, he could end up broke, disabled, jobless, homeless, and sitting alone at the curb in a rented wheelchair.  Next to the garbage cans.

He deserves better.  I will not let that happen.  But much of it could turn out to be beyond my control.

As for myself, I find that stress makes me stupid.  I know it's maladaptive, but there you are.  I am usually quite capable of keeping several balls in the air at a time, but this is different. Sometimes my skull seems filled with Karo syrup.  Doctors who appear to be about 12 years old can spout information at me, and it takes 3 tries before it fully penetrates.

Information no longer travels at the speed of light.  If it ever did.

The thing is, I know what needs to be done.  In a few hours, I could set up things to be self-paying for the next 6 months.  Little by little, I am getting most of it done, indirectly, by taking a lot on myself.  But Mike didn't leave me any tools to protect him with, other than the force of my personality.  Much of the time I am reduced to grinding gears and stomping my foot on the brake.

My message to you is this:  We all have a date with disability.  It can come at any time.  When it comes, you are going to need someone you can trust to handle your affairs.  Empower them.

If you don't have anyone you can trust, you are already disabled.

Do something about that.  Now.


Friday, October 22, 2010

Odd Signs Of Hope

A Short History of Medicine

Patient: "I have an ear ache."
2000 B.C. - Here, eat this root.
1000 A.D. - That root is heathen, say this prayer.
1850 A.D. - That prayer is superstition, drink this potion.
1940 A.D. - That potion is snake oil, swallow this pill.
1985 A.D. - That pill is ineffective, take this antibiotic.
2000 A.D. - That antibiotic is artificial.  Here, eat this root.

- Anonymous

Yesterday my brother Mike had what we hope is his final operation due to the motorcycle wreck, to reconstruct his face.  The fractured bones of his cheeks and at his right temple were screwed to small titanium plates.  The operation, by all accounts, went very well.  When I saw him in the ICU afterward, I was surprised at how invisible the procedure was.  The plates under the eyes were inserted from inside the mouth, and only a small suture at his right temple shows where that plate went in.  Perhaps 10 stitches.

His face was not badly swollen.  You cannot see the plates.  She realigned his bite to where his upper and lower teeth met properly.  He has something of a boxer's nose now, with a slight bend to the right.  The surgeon tried to fix that, too,but the problem is in the soft tissue, not the bones.  When she tried to insert a plate there, it showed through the thin skin, so she decided to back off.  Instead he will wear a sort of splint on the outside for a time, to see if the tissue will straighten out that way.  If not, further surgery can correct it when he has healed up from the rest.

I doubt he will bother with it.  He is not that vain.  Or perhaps he is, but in that curious way that sees a few scars and a bent nose as interesting.

One good bit of news:  the attachment to the plates was stiff enough that she did not have to wire his jaws shut as a splint.  He was talking up a storm in the prep room before surgery, answering questions, able to understand where he was and who we were.  It was obviously a strain to be cogent, but he took the strain well.  The principal sign of not being quite together was a tendency to repeat himself several times.  Hell, I do that even on some of my better days.

This was the most he has been present with us since the accident.  I fully expect that in the days to come we will not be able to shut him up, and he will begin to take soft food.

He even blew one nurse a kiss.  I take particular heart from this.

And when another asked him how he felt, he said quite clearly "Not worth a shit."  That's Mike. There's nothing he could have said that would done more to convince me that he was on the mend.


Saturday, October 16, 2010

Give That Guy A Hand!

Every day I go visit my brother Mike in the hospital.  And every day has its ups and downs, but the overall effect is of idling in place.  All the peripheral junk, like bill paying and insurance faxes and disposing of the remains of his motorcycle and cleaning up his house and yard - all that stuff has been taken care of, is being taken care of.

But he can't talk worth a durn.  Only the simplest communication is possible.  "Are you hurting?"  A nod of the head.  "Where are you hurting?"  "Gurgle, gurgle, wha doan yah keh, gurgle, gurgle."  "Okay, okay, just try to relax."  A miserable tired smile, if only from the eyes.

I go for the nurse.

He can see okay out of his left eye.  When asked what he saw out of his right, he said "Chalk". Of course he has a neck collar on, so mostly all he gets to look at is the ceiling.  They are afraid that eye got dried out in the days after the wreck, when he was sedated and his eyes didn't close fully.  Plus the right eye was more swollen.  They now have a patch over it, to keep the lid closed.  They are applying artificial tears, and some sort of ointment.

He has hallucinations.  It may be due to what they call "hospital psychosis", an effect brought on by being drugged, naked, and helpless, not being able to move, never knowing what time it is, being awakened at all hours and never getting any rest, etc.  It may be due to small bruises on both frontal lobes, where his helmet met the pavement.  They seem to be getting better.  There was also some bleeding at the back of his brain, but again it was not severe and is not getting worse, according to the latest cat scan.  The area is beginning to be reabsorbed.

He spent some time the other day picking invisible things out of the air with his good hand.  When I asked what he was doing, he said "Hairs".  Then he started pulling at his tubes and poking at his good eye, so they tied down his hand.  He fights the restraint occasionally, but not violently.  Sometimes he can wiggle his toes on command, and sometimes he doesn't.  He moves around quite a lot, by increments working his way down to the foot of the bed, or getting a leg over the guard rail on the left side.

They come in and reposition him.  "Damn" he says.  I think he would get up and run out the door if he could.  I have the advantage of him there.

He has so much bloody stuff coming up from his lungs and down into his throat from his mouth and nose they can't keep up with it.  And I'm not much good at suctioning, though I suppose I'm better than nothing.  My principal talent is to run get a nurse when he seems to be in unusual distress.

I get lots of practice.

He's not getting worse.  But he doesn't seem to be getting much better in a hurry, either. Supposedly he is scheduled for an operation on his facial fractures next Friday.  But I don't see how they can suction out his throat with his jaws wired shut for weeks afterward.  All that stuff is settled right on his vocal cords, and right above his windpipe.  He could choke at any time, and suck it down into his lungs.

The surgeon and I are going to have a talk about this.

The nurses are better at cleaning him out than I am.  They are not afraid to bring tears to his eyes.  After they get through, he can occasionally make himself well understood.  Yesterday as I was leaving I took his good hand and said "I'll be back tomorrow, Mike."  And clear as a bell he replied:

"Don't have a wreck!"

I had to laugh.  Still do, considering the source.  Whatever else might be injured, his sense of humor is intact.


Saturday, October 9, 2010

Bad News and Good News, etc.

The bad news is that my brother's insurance company, Scott and White, refused to pay for his further care at Seton Hospital, where he was progressing through all the necessary operations, and where we thought he was being well cared for by competent, hard working surgeons and an excellent nursing staff.  The insurance company insisted, on the very eve of plastic surgery on his face, on removing him to a Scott and White facility in Temple, Texas.

His facial surgery has been postponed for 7 to 10 days, "while he recovers and the swelling goes down".

The good news is that his new surgeon has a glitter of confidence about her, which is all I have to go on in this matter, at least in the last couple of days.  And I will say she made a plausible argument for waiting, and gave a good explanation of the procedure.  She will slip small thin titanium plates between his skin and the broken facial bones, and secure them to the fragments.  She says they will be permanent, but will not show.  He should look much the same as before.  There will be two angled pieces under each eye, and another at the left temple.  The rest of his face, in particular his jaw, escaped injury due to the full face helmet.

She says he will only have his jaws wired shut for a couple of weeks after the operation, as a sort of splint to prevent him from moving the healing bones above.  Much better than the 6 weeks the other surgeon mentioned.  The sooner he can talk the better.  I hope to get some information from him before the operation so that I can pay his bills on line.  I can't find anything in the rat's nest of his filing system.  Just a short conversation with him will make long and tedious conversations with his creditors unnecessary.

More good news:  they removed the ventilator tube and brought him up from sedation yesterday for the first time since October 1st.  The only sign we have had that he was still in there for the last week was an occasional squeeze on a finger.  He had a hell of a time clearing his lungs, but seems to have done so.

He started trying to speak Friday, but it was impossible to tell what he was saying at first, as the tube has been rough on his throat and vocal cords.  He was able to respond to simple verbal commands.  They are feeding him through a tube in his stomach because he is unable to swallow without choking.  There is a continual drip of blood to the back of his throat, and I have learned to suction this.  He is able to purse his lips and bring it forward.

I explained his situation to him in simple terms, but more out of hope than conviction that he understands.  Then today he was able to get out a coherent word or two.  As I was leaving for the day, he clearly said "Goodbye, brother."

That gave me a lift.

Another lift came from a late phone call from the insurance company representing the other party in the wreck.  They have accepted responsibility in behalf of their client, and have asked for an itemized hospital bill to date.  There may not be enough money in the world to pay for all his operations, but at least somebody else will be making a stab at it.  The practical effect for us is that Mike will not have to make the 20% deductible.  Even that is apt to be a sizable sum.

The bad news is that there is probably a limit of liability on the policy.  In that short conversation I did not ask the agent what that limit might be.

The bad news is that I have heard rumors that they might move him out of ICU, once again, before the operation.  I can't escape the feeling that it can't be good to be passed from one set of hands to another so often.  Something is bound to slip through the cracks.

O, and the good news is that apparently his neighbors like him.  They have volunteered to mow his lawn and clean up his house next week.  Bless 'em.

Bob, trying to keep up.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

O Brother!

Mike, in happier times, chowing down on chicken-fried bacon.  That's right. 

I've been trying to figure out my brother's finances, in the hope of keeping his affairs in order while he is incapacitated.  He's been unconscious since the accident October 1st.  But going through his papers is like rummaging around in the bottom of a hamster cage.  I keep thinking I'll find something meaningful, if I can just put together enough snips and bits of litter.  Riiight.

He doesn't have files.  He has piles.  Literally.  Stacks and stacks of old bills and papers laying around on the rug of an empty bedroom, in boxes in the corner of the dining room, and on, in, under, and behind his desk.

He probably banks on line.  His computer might be helpful there, if

1)  I could find a password file, and

2)  if it were not actually the slowest computational device since the Babbage Engine, or at least since monitors glowed green on black.

I spent almost 10 minutes trying to get a single file to open.  I kid you not.  I nearly dozed off.  But then I haven't been sleeping well.

I can't tell if he owns a checkbook.  I do not have any power of attorney.  I am perfectly willing to pay his mortgage and other bills for a while out of my own account, but before I can pay them I have to know what to pay and who he owes and when it's due.

When he recovers, I'm going to suggest that both of us go down to see a lawyer and draw up mutual medical and emergency powers of attorney.  No one ever thinks they are going to be in this situation, until they are.

For now, I think, a tactical surrender is in order.  I'm going to wait for him to wake up, late fees be damned, and ask him how to do this.  That may happen tomorrow.

They finally took him off sedatives this morning, but then he had anesthesia during the operation on his right arm.  They have to get him conscious tonight or tomorrow to do a neurological exam and see if there are further deficits and problems.  So far surgeons have treated multiple open compound fractures to the right arm and leg, and a ruptured disc.  They've put in a feeding tube to his stomach, but he is still on a ventilator.  They cannot do a tracheostomy to insert an air tube yet because of the proximity of the fresh suture from his disc hernia repair yesterday.  He's developed a bit of pneumonia from having his mouth open all this time.  Along about Friday he will be transported to Brackenridge, where they will try to reattach the bones of his face.

I hope by the time his son arrives in town on Monday he will be recognizable.

And I really really hope he doesn't wake up for the first time tonight, alone in a dark empty room at 3 in the morning, in horrible pain, choking on intubation, with the terror of a near fatal collision as his most immediate memory.  If he does, the nurses are going to have their hands full.

My only nightmare has been his "filing system".  His will be worse.


Monday, October 4, 2010

"That Bike Won't Fix."

Totaled.  Note the intact windshield.

I don't know if it is a blessing or a curse.  Maybe it's an artifact of being so long a fireman.  But I don't immediately respond in an emotional manner to catastrophes.  Instead it is delayed, while I get into the details.  I have worked out Mike's leave from his job, and faxed the appropriate forms.  I've been on line with MetLife, arranging his STD pay.

No, get your mind out of the gutter.  It stands for Short Term Disability.

I've notified the Known Universe of Relatives.  I've kept a diary of doctors and procedures.  I've stripped his bed and done his laundry at his house, and pondered the complex futility of paying his bills on time without a power of attorney.  I've recovered the contents of his saddlebags from the wreck, filed a claim, and documented the damage.  I've arranged to receive an official accident report, and interviewed the officer first on the scene.

I'm running out of things to do.  Things to keep me busy.  It is only the surgeons who really can help him, and that leaves me staring at the walls of his room, feeling increasingly useless while trying to remain civilized and polite to well-wishers.  He's going to need them.

The first jitters came visiting when I saw the wreck on Monday.  Looking at that flattened front wheel made it real.  I could see it from his point of view.  And then I saw the helmet.  I got the shakes.

He wore a full face helmet.  He was just driving with the traffic.  As he slowed approaching the signal at the intersection, the light turned green, so he proceeded through.  Facing him in the other lane, an Isuzu Trooper abruptly turned left right in front of him.  It was too late to stop, but apparently he tried.  He collided with the passenger side of the vehicle.  He flew off the bike, somehow clearing the windshield.

He landed on his right side, heavy leg bones snapping and bursting from the skin.  And then he slid on his face.  You can see the white crack on the chin bar of the helmet.

The helmet defines and outlines his facial injuries.  He was injured wherever the helmet was not, a Lefront type 3 fracture running from one temple across the orbits of the eyes and the bridge of the nose, to the temple opposite.  His face below the eyes and above the jaw has broken loose from the skull.  His jaw and teeth were undamaged where the helmet protected him.  His brow is intact.  His brain sustained only slight internal bleeding.

I think that $400 helmet I kidded him about paid for itself.  I just couldn't see it at the time.

One by one, surgeries are correcting the damage.  It is estimated that he will be in hospital for at least 6 weeks after all surgery is complete.  If all goes well.  His jaw will be wired shut that long.  Possibly 3 months.  Then there will be months more of therapy.  

Mike had a tediously slow and careful approach to riding.  He wore his helmet and gloves every time.  I kidded him about being slooow when we were in Arkansas.  I could stop, fill up with gas, and go in to pay while he was still shucking his gloves and helmet.  But he paid me no mind.

When someone turns in front of you, it doesn't matter how careful, how methodical, how thoughtful you are.

Car 1, Motorcycle 0.  Every time.

Tonight I got the shaky blues again, sitting on the back porch, smoking a cigar.  Trying to relax.  I could just see him sitting in the chair opposite, sipping a beer as the sun went down, telling me about some character at work.

Mike is good company.  But he won't be telling stories for a while.


Saturday, October 2, 2010

One thing after another

It's just one thing after another.

I got behind posting here while traveling back to Texas.  Then I immediately had an operation on my left hand that interfered with typing.  And then yesterday, just when I was about to finish up and post 3 or 4 items, my brother was involved in an accident on his motorcycle while driving home from work.

He is in ICU, with compound open fractures of the right arm and leg, and multiple fractures of the face.  He had his leg set last night, and all is going relatively well so far, with no swelling of the brain and no internal bleeding.  He is being kept sedated, and I have not talked to him.  I am headed back over there right now.

I'll be back.  But it's going to be a little longer.  Wish him luck.


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Fixin' Things Up

Err.... I got it in a knife fight.  You oughta see the other guy.

Well, I got back on Friday, just in time to mow a month's worth of grass on one of the last sweltering days of the summer.

There is also some news on the Save Bob From Himself front:

1.  Remember my shock that I'd lost 4 inches in my waist?  The warnings that unexplained weight loss was a sign of dire things to come?  The inches are still off, but the weight loss was only 13 pounds.  That must have been all in the waist.  I can't explain it.  My brother may have been right about motorcycles being good for your waistline.

2.  The operation on my left hand for a spot of skin cancer was entirely successful.  The surgeon had drawings to go by, or she might not have found the spot.  Pathologist says there's nothing there, and the wound is healing nicely, though it is problematic to touch type.

3.  I had my left leg X-rayed where I hit a rock while bouncing down a mountain road.  Just a bone bruise, which will heal completely in time.

So far, so good.

The only bad news is that Le Daze got an owie when the suction cups that held the cell phone antenna to the back window let go unexpectedly and the darn thing fell and hit a bit of plastic trim:

Ping!  Ouch!

Le Daze is in very good shape for her age.  But the fact is that plastic trim dries up and becomes brittle over 18 to 20 years.  It still looks good, but it is no longer flexible enough to take a sharp blow.  I think this example can be cured with Superglue, but I really have to watch it.  There is plastic trim everywhere, and it may be hard to find replacements at this remove in time.

That's the news from central Texas.  Back in the house again.  Catching up on "Mad Men".  As soon as the bandages come off my hand, I hope to begin some of those Andy Baird inspired improvements to my travel gear.

Happy Trails till next time, buckaroos!


Friday, September 24, 2010


Double Rainbow in New Mexico - no pot, though, and no gold...

All right.  Let's start out with a few cliches.  You ought to be used to this by now :

"Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home."  - J. H. Payne

"Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in."  - Robert Frost

"A man's home is wherever he prospers."  -  Aristophanes

"Home is where you can say anything you like because nobody is listening to you anyway."  - Anonymous

Ah.  I like that last one best, since it describes this blog so well.  When I am here I am at home.  Anyway, favorites are a matter of reciprocal loyalty.  And judging from the comments section,  Anonymous is by far my most faithful Reader.

Home.  Today I am writing in one of them about driving one of them back to another one of them.  Texas.  Though were it not for a doctor's appointment for surgery on my hand, I might wander further west, toward that ocean inappropriately called the Pacific, along the shore of which there is every chance I might prosper.

That would be another.

When you buy an RV, you become a man of many homes, and returning eventually seems much like setting out.  You may also become chronically confused about where you "belong".

Like most people, I settle for thumb rules.

Today I staggered out of bed with my eyes glued shut, reached around blindly and yet easily found my glasses, managed to get coffee started without fully waking up.  Then I took a short walk - crunch, crunch, crunch - out into the nearby desert to take a whiz in the full bare sunlit glory of boxer shorts and sandals, without getting snakebit or freaking out any neighbors.  A place where you can get away with all that is a rough definition of home.

It'll do for me.

But I have promises to keep, so it's back to Texas.  Naturally I prefer the scenic route.  I saw a place on the map called "Natural Bridges", and nearby the "Valley of the Gods".  How could I resist?

South of Monticello I ran into fog and rain.  Clouds actually floating just a few feet off the ground.  The sky was inauspicious.

Natural Bridges National Monument is a small place, with a narrow one way road running round to the various sights.  Limited parking at view points.  The campground was designed for tenters, but was stuffed full of small RVs.  I barely got through there in my 22 foot Daze and 16 foot trailer.  All in all, not a place for big rigs.  Be warned.

Speaking of which, the Ranger there warned me away from the road south to Muley Point.  It was a good paved road, he said, except for about 3 miles of gravel switchbacks.  "Right along there it is only nominally a two lane road.  And the drop is spectacular."  But I have been many close places in the Daze, so I was confident we could make it.  Only 3 miles of it.  Besides, I like the sound of "spectacular".

When we got there it started raining hard.  There was a "last chance" turnout.  I hesitated there a while.

The Valley of the Gods?

Then I started down, hoping not to meet another fool like me.  The drop was sheer.  The road was wet.  I was very aware of the weight of the brakeless trailer behind me.  Half way down I made a shaky stop to take another picture.

Whew.  Made it.  No gods encountered on the way down, either.  Nor in the muddy valley below.

I can live with that.


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Desert Daze

I liked the night so well, I decided to sit right here and sample the following day.  This is the busy season at the park campground, because in late September it is finally cool enough to bear being here.  In the height of summer this place is a frying pan, and at noon even today it was 90 degrees in the sun, but only 72 in the shade.

So I stayed in the shade.

I read all morning, evading the sun as it wound around the Daze, moving on when it caught up with me.  The Daze makes a serviceable sundial.  And I am the photophobic minute hand.  I spent the day quite literally close to home, circling the Daze in this way, thinking long thoughts about short subjects.

Hoodoo, Hoodoo, who do you think you're foolin' ?

This is, I suppose, about as green as it gets around here.  Lots of rain lately.  The largest vegetation is the Juniper, which dots the near distance with green.  The brightest color comes from the tiny yellow buds of the rabbitbrush.  The bees seem to like that stuff, though there is a strange dearth of rabbits.  I suppose they come and go in cycles.

Then of course there is the ubiquitous fragrant sagebrush.  Also a green and black plant called Russian thistle, which when dry is known to all as tumbleweed.  It says here that this iconic plant of Western movies is actually a Russian invader, first introduced into North Dakota back in the late19th century.  Immigrated out of Asia sans papers by hitching a ride alongside bundles of imported rapeseed.

The real Old West never had the stuff.  Once it got here, though, it made itself to home, thriving in niches native plants couldn't be bothered with.  It is sort of the kudzu of the high desert.

There's a lot of daily activity in this supposedly empty country.  A small silver and black butterfly is flopping around amid the bees above the rabbitbrush.  Ants ignore me, intent on their toil.  Some sort of black beetle flits and buzzes above them, occasionally striking down and raising a bit of dust.  I can't tell if it is eating the ants, or just annoying them.

Some sort of small peeping bird continuously claims the juniper the owl occupied last night, making patrol from branch to branch.  A large crow went cawing by, but didn't dispute her ownership.  While I was sitting behind the trailer, the wind picked up a small reddish torus of dust and played with it, which I thought entertaining until it turned on me and filled my ear with sand.

Not to mention my coffee.

A light green lizard whipped his long tail, skittering lightly over a warm expanse of rock.  When he reached shade he stopped a bit to regard me soberly, then moved on.  I am too big to be breakfast, and too small to be God.

Not much good for anything, then.

All these animals seem dignified, aware, and purposeful, busy getting on with their lives.  Only I am on vacation.  Only I am retired.  Only I am idle.  I understand there are authorities who claim that animals are conscious of everything but themselves, and humans of little but themselves.  The only thing I know for sure is that out here in the desert consciousness requires lots and lots of water.

Whenever I quit drinking, I fall asleep.


Wednesday, September 22, 2010


The view from here...

I didn't have any place to be today, so I went out looking for one.  I ended up in Utah.

The Beehive State

Lately I have not been into seeing things so much as being places.  Less schedule and more staying.  For my sins, I have been resisting this urge to always be going forward. Serendipity cannot bear too much planning.  The desert west of Monticello, Utah, seemed like a good place to subvert travel and merely sit.

I didn't plan to be here.  I simply arrived.

I arrived late, of course.  Towards dark, 65 miles down a slow road, I found myself entering the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park, staring at a sign that said the campground was full.  I had to go back 5 miles or so and find what rough comfort I could in the surrounding BLM land.  That effort led to one of the best nights in a long time.

Didn't look like much at first.  Red rock and sand.  Dry.  Flat.  Quiet.  Empty.  But somebody left a jumble of a fire ring and a bit of wood.  And then the moon came out.

Colors slowly deepened toward purple, then black.  And the stars.  My God, the stars.  They took my breath away.  Later, high clouds like fingers played hide and seek with the moon.

From a juniper nearby, an owl interrogated me.  I built a fire and cooked a steak.  After that, the only sound was what I made myself.

Perhaps I have been cooped up by the short horizons of mountains for too long.  Everything is different down here.  Without the thin brittle social varnish of modern technology, it would be easy to lose track of everything in these canyons, forget where you came from, your home, your job, your friends, yourself.  And then perhaps in a year or two someone finds your bones, and wonders idly who you were.

Even people who thought they knew you might wonder that.

Not everyone is the dying type.  Some dry up into seeds of themselves, waiting for some damp violence to bring them to thorny life again.  You can see that sort of weathered waiting in a few faces down in Monticello.

Odd that such an empty place should people my imagination with spooks and nightjars.  The wind has a lonesome feeling, but it is not cold.  It does dessicate.  I attenuate by the hour, turning transparent.  It's an anorexia of the spirit, exhalting and frightening in equal measure.

Or maybe I just need an aspirin, and a good long drink of water.  Moonlit thoughts on a moonlit evening, down in the canyonlands.

Bob, off to bed.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

A Reverie Runs Through It

"Suzanne takes you down
To a place by the river...."

- Leonard Cohen

I have been lazy today, after the Big Ride.  Spent most of it down by the Dolores River behind my campsite, letting the sound of water carry my cares away.  A few fishermen passed through, but mostly they left me alone.

And yet I didn't feel alone.

Not like being watched, exactly, but rather in good company, granted the sort of benign neglect fishermen allow each other, each content to pursue their own folly in their own space.  Eerie to feel that sort of presence in the company of inanimate objects.  But not scary.   There was friendliness in the broad sunshine.  Familiarity in the rippling water.  Good humor floating on the breeze.  

I went down there with a book, but didn't get much reading done.  Just bearing witness seemed like plenty to do.  Something kept winking at me, at the very edge of vision.  Ah. Only light on the water.

Occasionally I moved my chair to stay in the shade.  Tough job, this, but somebody has to do it.

Off and on I dreamed of Suzanne Langer.  Ages ago, back in school, I ran across a book of hers, called "Philosophy in a New Key".  The part I remember now is this: Music is an analog of thought.

Music has rhythm and order and change, challenge and response.  It mimics our interior life. Music is mere sound taking the form of Mind.  When we hear it, we recognize the familiar shape of ourselves.  We see our shadow.  That's why it appeals to us.

But what of the music of nature?  All day long I kept returning here to sit by the river, listening to the whisper of wind in the trees, the mutter of water on stone.  A dance of order and rhythm and change, going on and on.

O, sometimes Nature can break us in two.  Bat us aside.  Even hold us to account.  But then, sometimes, we just get a bye.  On a day like today, we can occasionally, unaccountably, be allowed the illusion of thinking, even deep thinking, without the unpleasant rigor of thinking anything in particular.  Let alone coming to a conclusion.

Sitting by the river on a soft summer's day can be a bit like watching a campfire deep into the night.  Flicker and flow, shiver and glow, but where does it go?

It goes where we cannot follow.  Or maybe the other way around.

Ahhh.  A lazy and undeserved pleasure it is to be alive.  Like the gift of Grace without the worry of good works.  Adam in Eden must have felt this way.  And like Adam in Eden, I dabbled all day in the naming of things.  I had this sense there was something important for me to hear, or perhaps to say, and yet when darkness finally fell all I could manage to salvage were a few cliches.  I put them aside for later.

Cheap thrills.  Perhaps that's all it was, sitting there hour after hour, completely content to loll about in the loose grip and grace of something that seemed greater, more complicated, more complete, more benign than myself.

There it is again.  Dang.  Missed it.  Wait.  There.  Can you hear that?  The band is still playing.


Saturday, September 18, 2010

Silver Bob's Scenic Byway

"So put me on a highway
And show me a sign
And take it to the limit one more time."

 - Eagles, suggested by JG

When you have a Beast, every road is a Scenic Byway.  But most of today's ride was actually marked so on the official state map.  I strung several of them together for a Super Scenic Byway, most of which had "Silver" somewhere in the name.  

Call it Silver Bob's Scenic Byway.  I like the sound of that.

The ultimate reach was the Colorado National Monument at Grand Junction, and the "Rim Road" in the mountains above the city.  I started off at 10 am, about 20 miles north of Dolores on 145.  The road runs along the Dolores River up into Lizard Head Pass, and down the San Miguel on the other side.  I think "Dolores" translates as "Sorrows", which is an odd thing to call such a beautiful bit of rushing water.  Spanish is a romantic language.

Or maybe it's ironic, like calling a fat kid "Tiny".  Or the next town up "Rico".  

Rico may have been rich once, but that was long long ago.  In particular it is poor in places to get breakfast, which was my first concern.  I tried the hotel.  One Chinese girl folding towels inside.  She didn't seem to understand complete English sentences.  I tried monosyllables.


"Ah!", she replied, nodding her head up and down.  "No.  Cafe.  Down street."  She pointed.  I had already been there.  It was closed.

Lots of buildings with some reference to food on their weathered signs, but they were all closed.  After circling a bit, I went back to the edge of town and found a coffee shack behind the only business that looked open, a filling station.  There was a sign that advertised coffee.  And breakfast tacos.  It was open.  When I entered, the sole occupant was cleaning a grill behind the counter.

"Man, it's hard to find breakfast in this town!"  I said.


"Are you talkin' to me?"  she says.

I looked around.  One tiny room.  Nobody else there.  "How much are your breakfast tacos?"

"Six dollars.  If I had any.  But I'm out."

"Then I guess I'll just mosey on down the road."


And so, my stomach growling, it was up and over the pass and down into Telluride. Pity the fool trying to find a handmeal in Rico.  Or a handout.  Or a job.

The road down was treacherous to motorcycles, with ruts and heaves in the road.  A car might just feel them as bumps, but some of them were wide enough to grab a motorcycle tire and send it flying.  Fortunately this morning I could see them coming. At first I took them to be the result of too many heavy trucks, or frost heaves, but then I noticed they often extended continuously lengthwise down the road for a quarter mile or more, cracks two or three inches wide bisecting the right hand lane.  Weird. Subsidence?  But they continued in my lane even when it wasn't the outside lane.  I found these things all the way down to Telluride, and then periodically west half way to Naturita.  In my lane mostly, cracks down the length of the road, running for a hundred yards or more, reappearing every few miles.  Bad base?  Poor construction?  Drunken bozo on the grader?

Bad mojo for motos.  When I could afford to look up from the road, the country was gorgeous.  I stopped in a turnout viewpoint and got my picture taken with the Beast. The old mine behind me, said the sign, was the site of the first AC electrical generating plant in the USA.  Down there somewhere among the trees.

Bob tries to restrain the Beast

"O, that's beautiful!" the lady said, as she peered through my viewfinder at the Beast and me.

"I presume you are speaking of the mountain?"  Lame but engaging, that's our Bob.  

After she attempted to laugh, she said there was a Blues Festival in Telluride.  If I didn't mind crowds I could find breakfast there.  I nodded, but when I got down to the T, turned west instead.  Given the choice between hunger and crowds, I'll put up with hunger for a while.

Finally I found some eggs over easy and hash browns for 7 bucks on the balcony of a yuppie-looking hotel in Placerville.  At noon.  That ought to hold me.  Even prosperous looking businesses like this one have "For Sale" signs on them around here.

The surrounding cliffs turned from gray to red as made my way mile after mile down the San Miguel.  There were signs warning me to slow for construction, but then I'd ride a mile or more, and no construction.  Once I even encountered a guy with a sign stopping traffic, but after we went by there was nothing again for miles ahead but one bulldozer parked riderless on the side of the road.  Finally, just before Naturita, we got out of all that construction, and the country opened up into one of the grand agricultural valleys that Colorado is famous for.  Fine vista, but impossible to capture with any lens I had.  

I turned north on 141 to stay with the river, which gradually cut farther and farther down through sandstone until I was riding along the rim of a deep canyon.  I stopped to take a picture of the remains of the San Miguel Plume.

Sticks and stones can break your bones...

See all the little boards on the bare rock below?  In 1888, this was the famous Plume, which carried water for miles down the San Miguel, gradually growing more confined and building up pressure until producing a stream powerful enough to cut the face of the cliffs themselves, revealing ... well, not much.  The Plume was a wonder.  The mine went belly up.

How would you like to be the guy who crawled out on that ledge with ropes and such to anchor those boards 120 years ago?  Amazing that there is anything left to see, after so long a time.  The past is different, and yet so much the same.  Nobody building the Plume looked up into the night sky and saw lights moving from cloud to cloud, and knew that men were up there.  But some did dream such things.  What unlikely dreams of ours will some day seem so ordinary?

Soon after the Plume, the road descended to run beside the river.  The Beast was just loping along with his usual gutteral grace, when suddenly I saw some greenery at a turnout that piqued my interest.

What's this?

Looking closer, I found a Weeping Wall, where a spring comes right out of the cliff 30 or 40 feet up, descends as just a sheen on the rock, and collects below in a rock cistern for the refreshment of travelers.  There was an iron pipe in the bottom of the rockwork where water ran out.

I tried the water.  It was clean and tasteless.  People today probably think it undrinkable without an attached treatment plant and just zoom on past this thing.  But in decades past many a dusty pilgrim must've been grateful to the unknown samaritan who took the time to build it.  After decades of mining upstream, the San Miguel was probably suspect even then, when it ran at all, but water right from the rock face comes filtered by Nature Herself.

From there on, the canyon closed in colorfully around us.

We were coming around a corner at speed when the Beast came to an abrupt halt. What's this?  A Fellow Beast beset by vandals?

A Beast in Need is a Beast Indeed.

Only one part need fail.

It was a 1982 Honda 500.  Its rider, Brian, was nearby hiding his tent and other valuables.  Brian was not having a good day.  He had ridden his Beast all the way from Minnesota, only to drop it that morning and bust the front turn signals.  Then, he thinks, he got some bad gas at Gateway, and it stranded him here.  I told him there was nothing at all for 70 miles behind me, and it would be best if I gave him a ride back to Gateway and he could call a wrecker from Grand Junction.

He looked to heaven, but was not reassured.  He said he had to be in a meeting in Phoenix at 6 pm the following evening.  "My wife let me come on this trip...."   He looked off.  He was despairing.  

So we tried some things, and spent an hour emptying his tank and his carburetors (remember those?), fed it some fresh gas, and it started, but only for a few minutes at a time.  Finally he conceded that he probably wasn't going to make his meeting. He hid the rest of his stuff, grabbed the most valuable things in a small pack, and strapped them to the back of my Beast.   

We gave him a ride 11 miles to Gateway.  I let him off in front of a hotel at 4:10 pm.  

"You're my Savior!" he said, shaking my hand.  "Not me," I said, "your Savior is the wrecker you are going to call right now, an hour before he gets off on a Friday afternoon, and who decides going to drive all the way out here to bring your bike back in to Grand Junction where you can get it fixed.  And maybe a flight to Phoenix by tomorrow night.  You'd better get to work on that right away."

He nodded, said thanks again for "just having someone to talk to out there", and disappeared into the hotel.  

An hour later I emerged from the mountains a few miles south of Grand Junction at Whitewater, where Hwy 141 meets Hwy 50.  Here's a vista from just before that, coming round the bend:

It was 5 o'clock.  If I turned north, it was Grand Junction for the night, probably in a cheap motel.  No way to ride the National Monument and get back before dark.  If I turned south, I might just make it.  I really didn't want to ride that rough road up to Lizard Head in the dark, when I couldn't see the cracks and traps ahead of me.  But I also didn't want to do the roach motel bedbug macarena.

I could probably make it.  I turned south.  The fabled Rim Road would have to wait for another day.

I admit to breaking a few speed laws on that flat broad valley highway down to Montrose, and ate quickly at a Mexican restaurant.  "Amelia's", I think it was called.  A carnita chimichanga, about a gallon of water, and a couple of margaritas.  Somewhat restored, I then roared on down to Ridgeway, where I could see the mountains I currently called home in the distance.  

Where I have been, there I am going...

I got up into the saddle of Lizard Head just as it got full dark.  You know, when you cannot tell a white thread from a black.  And it was cold.  Like a fool I didn't put on my wind pants, mistaking numbness and tingling for residual warmth.  My legs became really dead cold before I got back into camp at 9, and I got cramps later.  But I slept almost 12 hours.


That's Bob's Big Ride.  Too much for even a game geezer.  And I didn't quite get to where I was going.  374 miles, 11 hours.  Magnificent country, but I had to ride too fast on the way back.  And next time I could be the one broken down instead of Brian. So I've got to restrict my rides in future to 250 miles round trip.  That's about when it stops being fun.  

More than that, and I just need to move the Daze nearer.

And never, never, never do I ever want to be self-trapped into riding mountain roads in the dark again.  I can see far enough at 70 with my brights, but I am only safe up to maybe 45 with my dims.  All the rest is cold and darkness.  Either I am blinding and being blinded by oncoming cars, or passed at speed by those behind me.

Night riding is too much like rushing to an appointment with Fate.  At my age, just being on time seems good enough.  Or even fashionably late, as long as I have clean underwear.  

There's a good chance, at speed in the dark, of finally finding that poor wandering confused elk who has my name stamped on his rump.  An elk of that ilk would be awkward indeed.

"I am for you."  You trekkies know what I mean.