Wednesday, November 25, 2015

cashing in some memories

Memories are buried like treasures in our lives.  And, often, in the most unlikely places.

This afternoon, I was rummaging through several months of medical bills to submit to my insurer.  Due to the wide-spread use of thermal paper for receipts, two-thirds of the pharmacy bills will not be reimbursable.  Even I have no idea what I purchased.  They are lost memories. 

I need to remember to scan them when I receive them. 

But they are small potatoes.  The ones where I could still read the totals added up to $3,224 (Mx) -- or about $195 (US).  Dinner for twelve in Melaque or lunch for one in London.

While rifling through bills long paid, I ran across a type-written note.  I knew immediately what it was.  But it was an odd piece of paper to slip into my financial work.

When my brother visited in October of 2014, he told me the bathroom in his room presented a slipping hazard.  Water from the shower dampens the ceramic tile on the floor, and a fat, white boy like him could easily be injured.

The note is from my friend-sister Patti who died two months ago.  When I last saw her before I left on my trip to China, I must have mentioned the bathroom floors had safety problems -- in the eyes of some.

Several weeks later, a package arrived from Olympia.  The contents?  Four bath mats.  Two gray.  Two black.  A perfect match for the evolving look in the house with no name.

I remember chuckling when I opened the box.  The cost of shipping bath mats to Mexico was expensive -- certainly more than the cost of the mats.  But that is the type of person she was.  Her friend had a problem; she was going to help set it right.

I was going to excerpt what she wrote.  But let me give the floor to her in her own words:

Hi Steve --

Just wanted to get these off to you -- you may not get them until you return from China, but who knows?  When you were here, you mentioned an issue with the showers -- water splashes into the main part of the bath on occasion.  I think a good old-fashioned bath mat may be the solution -- you can launder it like a towel, it dries quickly (unlike a rug) and it can be hung up.  If that doesn't work for you, at least we tried!

Have a wonderful cruise, dear friend.

Love, Patti.
I immediately put the bath mats to good use.  And Patti was correct -- as she almost always was with her practical tips.  The mats work perfectly.

But why did I save that little note?  Her death was not imminent.  In fact, it appeared she was regaining strength.

And it certainly was not because I am sentimental.  I usually do not save anything for its sentimental value.  If it does not have a current utility, out it goes.

Maybe that's it.  I knew the note would have utility.  Because it brought back fresh memories of Patti's kindness, thoughtfulness, and ability to put herself second to others.  In other words, the very virtues that make true friends.

I have now transferred the note from the financial documents pile to a folder containing items that trigger similar memories concerning others.  Its contents will be my secret.  For now.  After all, nothing remains secret for long in the land of Mexpatriate.

And that may have been the cheapest hook I have ever written.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

not driving in a winter wonderland

I love surprises.

Even the one we received from Jack Frost this morning.

My dislike of driving in the snow has been a topic on these pages before.  That dislike is exacerbated by the fact that my current Escape is not 4-wheel drive.  That was not an option in Mexico for 2013 Escapes.

Usually, that would not matter.  Unless I wanted to take up off-road racing (a thought that has sauntered through my Walter Mitty imagination more than once), I have no need for 4-wheel drive in Mexico. 
But it matters now that winter has invaded the Cascades and Siskiyous.
There are two major routes to return to Mexico.  Down I-5 through California -- or through Nevada.  The I-5 option includes driving through both the Cascades and the Siskiyous.  The Nevada option includes both mountains and expanses of high desert that have already received a fair amount of snow.

It is far too early to talk about our route options.  Weather conditions tend to change day by day, and we are nowhere ready to leave.

I need to shake off my cellulitis and the remnants of a rough cold.  Darrel is still in the midst of his cold.  We are probably a week away from driving on health issues alone.

Then there is the SUV.  The ABS warning light came on in Puerto Vallarta.  Darrel and I suspected the used tire we bought (which was slightly a different size than the other three) had thrown off the sensor.  After buying new tires here, I took it into the Ford dealership to reset the light.  No go.

The mechanic said he could fit us in at the end of next week.  But he could not guarantee a completion date if a part needed to be ordered.  The fact that the Escape was built in Kentucky for sale only in Mexico was a potential complicating factor.  The dealership in Bend does not get many Mexican-licensed vehicles.

So, we will wait on the ABS warning light until I can get it to the Manzanillo Ford dealership.  After all, we drove both ways across Baja -- including some racing terrain -- with a failed brake cylinder, using only the hand brake in a Meyers Manx (calling stirling moss).  Life always offers options.

And options we still have.  Because I have been fighting the cold and cellulitis, I have not started inventorying what I can take back with me from my mother's garage.  A quick look has made clear that it will not be everything.  Maybe tomorrow.

The surprise I would like to see next is a weather envelope at the start of next week a day or two after Darrel is fully recovered from his cold.  We can then make a reasonable drive south.

I wonder if we can do it in two days?*

* -- The printed word often disguises what would have been an Oscar Wildeian tone on that last sentence.


Monday, November 23, 2015

on the first day of -- thanksgiving

The Cotton Thanksgiving Marathon is off and running.

I have mentioned before that our family seldom celebrates holidays on the day someone in authority decided we should.  Not because we have authority issues.  Well, not entirely.

Our traditional excuse for non-traditional behavior is that our respective schedules precluded getting together on what I will call "normal people days."  That sounds good until you realize we are talking about merely four people.

Today was ham.  We will save the turkey for either Friday or Saturday.  And then we will talk about a departure date south.

That date may have just moved into December.  In one more time, I informed you my right leg has taken on the symptoms my left leg suffered last September.  There have been developments -- as you can see in the photograph.  Not all of them good.

I wanted to get ahead of the infection curve this time.  Before I left Olympia on Thursday, Ken took me to an urgent care clinic.  The receptionist was very helpful until she asked for my insurance card. 

I whipped out my Medicare credentials along with my Air Force card declaring me one of the great retired.  She sheepishly informed me the clinic could not accept Medicare or Tri-Care patients -- in a military town.

Because I wanted to start the inevitable antibiotic regime I knew was coming, I told her I was willing to pay cash for the services -- knowing full well I was writing a blank check to the clinic.  The receptionist saved me from my hubris.  The clinic cannot provide service for cash.

Flabbergasted, I headed south on the train to Salem.  My first stop was the Salem Clinic -- where Medicare and Tri-Care are happily accepted.

The doctor's diagnosis?  Cellulitis.  He gave me a prescription for two antibiotics, injected my butt with a third, and sent me on my way.  My way turned out to be worsened cellulitis.

Yesterday I stopped at the emergency room in Bend's St. Charles Hospital.  That was a very reluctant decision.  My last visit in 2014 did not commend the place to me.  Hours of tests and prodding left me discharged with the same high blood pressure that took me there.  (good news -- bad news)  Not to mention the nurse who mistook me for her 8-year old son -- or husband -- and lectured me accordingly.

But in I went.  Whatever my misgivings were, everything operated smoothly.  I was admitted even before anyone saw my insurance cards.  The doctor actually listened carefully to my recitation of the facts, and concurred with the Salem doctor.  Cellulitis.  My medications were adequate -- with an additional injection.

All in all, one of the most pleasant medical experiences I have had in the United States. 

Now, I rest and watch and wait.  The infection seems to be holding in place.  And, for now, that is all I can do.  I do know I look forward to getting off of antibiotics; I have been on some variety almost continuously since late August.

As soon as my cold and the cellulitis let up, we will be on our way south to Mexico.  Whenever that is.  After all, the Cotton Boys -- and Girls -- are not well-known for their plans.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

one more time

One thing I miss in Mexico is an efficient banking system.

Oh, there are banks.  Plenty of them.  Even though there is only one in Melaque -- a Banamex.

But efficient it is not.  When I changed the address on my bank account a couple of months ago, it took over an hour of paper processing that would have made an Italian immigration official proud.  In The States I could perform the same transaction in minutes on my computer at home.

I thought of that experience this morning in Olympia as I wrapped up my visit with Ken.  I needed to transfer a small amount of money from my account to a friend's account in Reno. 

Seven years in Mexico has made me dread walking through the door of a bank.  Lost time.  Frustration.  Disappointment.  All rolled into one emotional bundle.

The clerk turned out to be from Acapulco.  We chatted a bit about Mexico.  I then told her what I wanted to do.  Simple, she said.  I withdrew the money from my account electronically.  She then deposited it in my friend's account in Reno.  Total time: about six minutes.

A chat and a quick transfer of money.  A perfect example of how customer service should work.

I am currently on an Amtrak train on my way to Salem.  When I arrive there,  I am off to a clinic to determine if the American medical system can perform as well as the banking system.

During the drive up from Mexico, I developed a cold.  A rather nasty one with lung congestion, headaches, and sore muscles.  I ended up staying in bed for most of my visit with Ken in Olympia.

This morning I woke up with pain in my right ankle.  I immediately recognized what it was.  That is how the "infection" in my left leg started back in August.  And, sure enough, the skin around my ankle has the same red appearance.

So, I will be off to a clinic to see if an American doctor has any more luck in diagnosing my condition than did my Mexican doctors.  I suspect I know the answer to that question.

And that is why I miss some things about living in Oregon.  Others, not so much.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

a moses moment

I am a stranger in a strange land.

Each trip north, I find it more difficult to slip unobtrusively back into my American identity.  Some of that is good.  Some is bad. 

Driving within orderly strictures up north feels far too confining to me.  Mexico has freed my inner Andretti.

And everyone here seems to be so distracted by their pressing busy-ness that they are not aware of their current surroundings.  That is the only way I can explain the higgledy-piggledy method of allowing shopping carts to clutter shopping aisles while the driver wanders aimlessly amongst the cans and jars.

But the shopping is good.  I can always count on Best Buy or Safeway or Walmart having what I need -- and a clerk who will actually joyously assist me in finding it.  America understands that customer service and a consumer-driven economy have a symbiotic relationship.  Like a shark and a remora.

And the king of that odd marriage is Les Schwab Tire Center.  You may recall that one tire on my Escape was just waiting to hurtle Darrel and me into the archives of tire blowout deaths.

Rather than accept that honor, we replaced it in Melaque with a used tire that had enough life left in it to make the 2500 mile drive to Bend.  It worked perfectly -- even though the Escape kept flashing that its ABS system was not functioning.  But who needs brakes in Mexico?

This morning, I dropped off the Escape at Les Schwab to line up with a crowd fearful of the onset of snows.  I would have been one of them.  I hate driving in snow -- whether or not I have the appropriate equipment.  It is one reason I live on a tropical beach.

Because the parking lot was full, I left the SUV (and about one thousand dollars) with the good people at Schwab.  They were to call when I was fully outfitted.  I suspected that would be a day or two based on the crowd.

Darrel then drove me to the Redmnd airport about an hour ago.  While on our way, the tire center called.  The Escape was ready.  He will pick it up for me.

He will pick it up because I am heading north for a couple of days to visit my friend Ken.  I was unable to come north for Patti's funeral -- due to the swelling in my left leg.  It should be a bittersweet reunion.  But one I am looking forward to.  I will then jump a train and head to Oregon later in the week.

Last night we briefly watched what passes for "the news" these days.  The political coverage is bad enough.  But even the tone on the act of war perpetrated by ISIS in Paris sounded as if it had been written by the Entertainment Tonight staff.  I certainly do not miss that in Mexico.

The best reason for coming north is to visit family and friends.  Even the shopping trips have lost their allure.  And the rest is merely a good reason to get back home as soon as possible.

And I will.  Soon.  As soon as the notion gets so strong I can no longer stay.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

bend it like cotton

It is done.  I have returned.  The eagle has landed.

Choose your own hoary cliché.  After 2500 miles of driving in three days, the Cotton Boys are in Bend.  You can accomplish a lot when unencumbered by a plan.

When we left Arizona yesterday morning, we thought we might split the remainder of the trip into two segments.  Gila Bend marked the half-way point.  If it took two days to get through Mexico, we were ready to concede that we would need two days to drive through Arizona, California, and Oregon.

Those of you who know western roads are probably asking why we were crazy enough to drive through California when transiting Nevada would seem to be the most logical choice.  And shooting through Las Vegas and Reno would have the bonus of giving me an opportunity to visit the state of my legal residence.

It is a good question.  And the answer can be summed up in one word.  Snow.

I had initially considered making the drive in September.  But circumstances intervened.  That left Darrel and me heading north on the shoulder of the western snow season.  I hate driving in snow.  Darrel is very good at the task.  I am not.

So, we skirted Nevada -- which had already had snow on the ground.  While stalled in traffic in San Bernadino, we checked the weather.  A storm front was making it way toward the Siskiyous and Cascades.  Right across our flight path.

Thus was born the idea of a 17-hour drive to arrive in Bend late on Saturday.  And we did.  I drove Arizona and Oregon; Darrel drove California (with its atrociously-maintained I-5).

The best scenery in Oregon and northern California was in the dark.  What could have been stunning views turned into a boring drive.  But we succeeded.

For me, the most interesting sights were the signs posted by farmers attempting to retain their access to water during California's drought.  I had seen them on earlier visits -- mainly blaming Nancy Pelosi when she was a power broker.  Now, they simply bewail the amorphously-labeled "Congress."

Government cronyism has created part of the problem.  Nature has provided the rest.  My libertarian response might resolve the first part of the equation, but it can do nothing about the second.  It is futile to attempt to regulate either Mother Nature or the economy.  At least, without suffering adverse and unexpected consequences.

So, here I am in Bend to pick up boxes I have stored in my mother's garage the last few years.  I will perform another triage (the first was when I moved the boxes from the sale of the Salem house).  Some items will go to Goodwill, some to the dump, and some to Mexico.

And when will Darrel and I make the return trip?  Probably, after we celebrate Thanksgiving dinner on some day other than Thanksgiving.

But that is starting to sound like a plan, and that is not the Cotton way.

Friday, November 13, 2015

down and out above the border

Despite its reputation, we escaped from Culiacán this morning unscathed.

Darrel announced that it was about as anti-climactic as leaving Detroit in one piece.  Promises of mayhem almost always go unmet.

Instead, we were up before the sun to head off through the remainder of our road trip through northern Mexico.  I often hear Mexicans, from further south in the country, referring to northern Mexicans as being hybrids between Mexico and The States.

I do not know about that.  But the north has long been culturally different from Mexican lands to the south.

The north is one of the areas where the Apaches and Comanches limited the northern expansion of Spanish and Mexican settlement.  That is one reason the Mexican government invited American settlers into Texas.  Of course, that did not end well for Mexico -- with its defeat in the inevitable Mexican-American war.

But what remained of the northern area of Mexico proved to be a volatile mix for the country.  It is where mestizos came to find a less-hierarchical life.  They built the Mexican cowboy culture -- a culture that was adopted by cowboys north of the Rio Bravo.

And, being free of Mexico City's cultural (and, often, political) grasp, the northerners built their own view of their region.  Very similar to what would be known as Whigs -- the country party -- in England.  Distrustful of central authority.  Willing to gauge a man by his talents, rather than his birth.

It is one reason many northern Mexicans see narco lords as modern day Robin Hoods -- gathering wealth and sharing it with their community.  And then celebrating them in song.  One of the best examples is, of course,
Culiacán itself.

But we did not stick around long enough to determine if all of that is merely another Mexican myth.  Instead, we spent the day driving through the fields and deserts of Sinaloa and Sonora.  As well as the state capital of Hermosillo -- with its bustling traffic that rivals Los Angeles in its quest -- for whatever such people seek.

Most of our Sonora drive (from Santa Ana to the border at Sonoyta) was in the dark.  I am not fond of driving in the dark -- whether in Mexico or elsewhere.  It is usually as boring as night flights.  And the drive was a bit frustrating because I know how stunning the scenery can be on that drive.

But this is a Cotton Boy road trip.  We like to stretch our destination points as far from our departures as we can.

In this case, we are spending the night in Gila Bend, Arizona at the Space Age Lodge.  It is not our first time here.  Professor Jiggs, Darrel, and I spent a night here in 2009 (racing arizona).  And nothing has changed.  It is still over-priced (costing more than the Best Western across the street from Disneyland).  But for two tired vagabonds, the room is adequate enough to recharge for another long day heading further north.

And that is not bad for a situation comedy episode.