49 PALMS OASIS, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE

Growing up in Southern California in the 60’s, Mom was an avid subscriber to Sunset Magazine, a wonderful magazine about southwest living.  A monthly feature was weekend or day get-aways, one of which remains a family joke, our trip to the 49 Palm Oasis.  Driving from Los Angeles my parents listened to our constant complaints of “how much longer?” and “are we there yet?”  At the end of a long car ride and hike to the oasis, we found it in ashes.

The National Park Service describes the 49 Palms Oasis Trail as “a three-mile round-trip hike to a fan palm oasis. It requires two to three hours and is rated moderately-strenuous, ascending about 300 feet each way. This well-maintained trail climbs to a ridge where large numbers of barrel cacti dot the landscape. After winding around the ridgetop, the trail descends steeply to the oasis located in a rocky canyon. Towering palms create a canopy over clear pools of water. Large boulders provide a place to rest and enjoy the sights and sounds of this small ecosystem”.

Sister Kerry traveled from Anchorage, Alaska to help celebrate my 65 birthday in Palm Springs, and Maggie and I have taken a break from trailer life to spend a couple of days at the entrance to Joshua Tree National Park, with Alaskan pals Diane and John.

Kerry and Diane did all the research and because the Park was closed in January due to (colossally stupid)  the partial government shut-down, they found an AirB&B just outside the Park entrance.  Today, Kerry and I completed the hike and found the oasis recovering from a more recent arson in March 2018Fortunately, the past two rainy California winters has allowed the oasis to recover, but several of the Palm trunks are visibly burned.  Sadly, during the government shut-down vandals cut down some of the Joshua trees. Yucca brevifolia is a plant species belonging to the genus Yucca. It is tree-like in habit, which is reflected in its common names: Joshua treeyucca palmtree yucca, and palm tree yucca.[2][3][4][5]

My idea of a good hike is usually punctuated by 18 holes, but Kerry and I had a nice hike catching up on our fond family memories, and enjoyed the wildflowers along the amazingly maintained trail.  Mom instilled in us a love of camping in the National and state parks as our family summer vacations, and often our destinations were first read about in Sunset Magazine.  If you are planning a trip west, pick-up a Sunset, the recipes are always wonderful as well.

As Ken Burns documentary films series illustrates, our National Park’s are still “America’s Best Idea”.  If you haven’t watched the series I hightly recommend it.

YOU’RE FIRED

I have been fired from every job I ever loved.  Each time my life took a turn for the better.  Sometimes a swift kick in the ass, is a good thing. 

This blog is about an early fork in my Road2Reinvention.  Graduated from High School in 1972, and didn’t want to go to college.  Alaska offered lots of opportunity, and introduced me to unions and later public service.  A Flash Back, on the road forward.

In 1976, I was working for Alaska Airlines loading and off-loading food service equipment, and cleaning the 

aircraft over-nighting in Anchorage for early morning flights.  Passengers were still allowed to smoke in planes in the 70’s, so the interior of airplanes were gross.  The walls were covered with a thin smoke film and the ashtrays were full of cigarette butts, and sometimes chew.  I never smoked but, my Dad was a chain smoker of Camel unfiltered.   I have always thought smoking is disgusting and support any and every ban on smoking.

Our small cadre of 20 workers, stocked liquor cabinets with those cute little bottles, we checked out the food (airlines provided free meals back in the 70s).  First class passengers were served meals on ceramic plates, with flatware and beverages in real glasses, NO plastic in first class.  We also loaded one-pint cartons of milk, one carton for every three passengers.  Have you ever seen anyone order milk on a plane?  We loaded the milk and other beverage service equipment on flights going north to Fairbanks (no food).  Ninety minutes later the plane returned, and we pulled all the milk, refrigerated with dry-ice, and threw it in the garbage.  Well, we were supposed to throw it in the garbage, but mostly the employees took the milk.  It was perfectly good kept cold, if not refrigerated…  We also took lots of the un-eaten meals and other perishables.  NOT the liquor, that was carefully accounted for.

I worked the swing shift, beginning at 5:00 p.m. and clocking out at 1:00 a.m.  Our crew was called Fleet Service and we were all woman, with one exception, our token guy we named “Fuzzy”.  He was a skinny guy who took horrible ribbing from the ramp-rats (real men) that loaded the baggage, but he was a very nice guy and hard worker.  We treated him like our puppy.

I had been working for Alaska Airlines Fleet Service for a couple of years.  It was a very good union job, great pay and benefits, including non-revenue flight benefits.  I could fly to Seattle for $25 round trip, if there was an empty seat.  I was in my 20s, graduated from High School, but really had no interest in going to college.  Fleet service might have become golden handcuffs, a great job with benefits and no need for a college education.  But, thankfully one summer evening when I left the facility at 1:00 a.m. in the morning there was an airport police cruiser sitting nearby.  Remember this is Anchorage, Alaska in July which means 1:00 a.m. is full day light, the Land of the Midnight Sun.  I was carrying a small box containing cartons of milk taken from the returning flight from Fairbanks.  I put the box in the bed of my Toyota pick-up and drove toward the airport property gate going home.  The police cruiser followed me.  I really didn’t think anything of it.  Not much going on at 1:00 a.m. on a beautiful bright Alaskan, night full of day light.

As I neared the property gate, the cruiser turned on his lights and siren.  I pulled over.  Let me first say this “airport cop” was a DICK.  He really had an attitude.  Here is how I recall the conversation:

Cop: Give me your license and registration.

Me: Of Course.

Cop: Where are you going?

ME: Home.

Cop: Where are you coming from?

Me: Work.

Cop: Who do you work for?

Me: Alaska Airlines.

Cop: What is in the box?

Me: Milk.

Cop: Where is the milk from?

Me: Alaska Airlines garbage.

Cop: Come with me.

Me. Where?

Cop: I want you to follow me to the station.

Me. Okay.

I will make the events that followed brief.  We went to the station, the cop spoke to my boss, and let me drive away without a charge and the milk still in the bed of my truck.

The next day, however, when I clocked into work, there was an envelope in my time-card slot paraphrased: “you are fired for theft of company property”.  My replacement, apparently a friend of the boss was already there and suited up to do my job.

Thankfully, I was a union employee, in fact I was a shop steward.  Under the collective bargaining agreement an employee terminated for cause, was entitled to a post-termination hearing within 3 days.

The union representative was incompetent and a drunk.  We met for 5 minutes before the hearing and all he said was, “don’t say anything, let me do all the talking”.

The hearing was worthless.  When I walked out of the hearing with my union representative I asked, “can I say something now?”  He said yes, and I said, “you are fired”.  He said, “no you don’t understand, you can’t fire me, I am the union representative.”  I said, “watch me”.

I will skip forward here.  I did fire the union and hired a family friend who was a management attorney.  One of my rules to live by: If you are firing your union and fighting an employer always hire a management attorney.  But because I fired the union, I signed an agreement that I was responsible for all costs of the grievance procedure and holding the union harmless.

Six months later Peter my kick ass management attorney and I entered an arbitration hearing seeking my reinstatement.  It was the most fun I had ever had, (remember I was in my early 20s).

Under the International Association of Machinist (IAM), arbitration was the last step of the grievance procedure.  There was an independent arbitrator selected by both parties – the employer and the union.  Also, a union and management official official sat with the arbitrator comprising a three-judge panel.  However, I remember the arbitrator saying at the beginning of the hearing, he was in charge and would be making the final decision.  Fine by me.  

The employer has the burden of proof to demonstrate they fired me for “Just Cause” (not just cause).  The employer thought “theft of company property” was a firing offense, you would have thought I stole a 727 aircraft, not garbage milk.

The employer called my boss and other witnesses, I don’t really remember who.  But the star witness was Cecilia, a German woman who had worked at Alaska Airlines Fleet Service longer than I had been alive.  I loved working with Cecilia.  She was about as round as she was tall, and when we were waiting for our plane to land in the snow and darkness of winter, Cecilia would tell me about growing up in Hitler’s Germany and stealing bread for her family.

There was Cecilia on the witness stand sworn-in, to tell the truth and nothing but the truth.

Company Attorney: How long have you worked for Alaska Airlines?

Cecilia: 30 something years (I really don’t remember how long she had worked there).

Company Attorney: Have you ever taken Alaska Airlines milk?

Cecilia: I raised 3 kids on Alaska Airlines milk, I haven’t bought milk since I went to work for this company 30+ years ago.

I laughed so hard I thought I might cry!

There is a rule in testimony, never ask a question you don’t know the answer.  I really felt bad for the company attorney, he was very young, and it may have been his first arbitration, possibly his last.

Sure, there was a company policy that employees aren’t to take Alaska Airlines milk but throw it in the garbage.  But, if the company has a policy and doesn’t consistently enforce the policy — forget policy.  Companies have to enforce policy in a consistent manner. The employer can’t one day decide to enforce a policy it has ignored for years.    Fair and consistent application of policies is the key.

The company called a recess and asked to speak to the arbitrator, a few minutes later we were called back into the hearing room.  The company wanted to put me back to work immediately, pay my back pay and all arbitration costs.  Good news!

There was just one remaining issue, “back pay”.  I was fired and had not worked since my termination 8 months earlier.  Employers can reduce back-pay awards from wages earned during the disputed termination.

The arbitrator put me on the stand and swore me in.

Company attorney: Have you been actively seeking employment since your termination?

Me: Yes

Company attorney: Why do you think you were unable to find alternative employment?

Me: On every application I submitted there was a question “Why did you leave your last job?”   I completed the question, “Theft of company property”.

I was reinstated with FULL BACK PAY, with no reduction.  Because, I fired the union, my attorney got 90% of my back pay, but it was worth every penny.

I walked back into the Alaska Airlines Fleet Service and worked for another 4 months and quit to go to college.  No surprise the BOSS that fired me, wasn’t there anymore.  There is justice in the world.

Years later I would represent state employees unjustly disciplined or fired by arrogant bosses — like the guy who “TRIED” to fire me.  I would train union stewards and represent workers in the workplace.  Ironically that same airport cop that pulled me over that night was an ASEA union member, I worked for in the 1990s.  He needed representation, and  I represented him and got the whole thing thrown out.  I remembered him, but he didn’t remember me.

As a union representative, workers would often tell me they wanted to hire an attorney.  I would give them my business card and tell them, “have your attorney call me”.  They never did, there aren’t lots of attorneys looking to represent workers, there isn’t any money in back-pay awards, and no punitive damages.  They got quality representation for their monthly union dues.  I loved doing arbitrations and beating the employer.  I learned how to do it watching my attorney, being quick, having a good case, and mostly a passion to kick the employer in the ass.  If the worker deserved to get fired, I would cut a deal with the employer to allow the worker to resign, and get on with their life.  No one wants to work with a bad employee.  But if the company fires someone unjustly, I loved beating the employer represented by their attorney.  I am not an attorney, but loved beating them.

I am forever grateful to Alaska Airlines for firing me, it set me on my Road2Reinvention.  I still fly Alaska Airlines whenever possible, and chuckle.

Tucson, AZ

Where does the time go?  Retirement makes all days seem like Saturday!  I have been settled into Cactus Country RV Resort on the east side of Tucson, Arizona, since mid December. Next week I will again hook-up and head west to Palm Springs, CA for the rest of winter (February, March and mid-April).

Tucson has been nice to be planted in one place for more than a month, after the marathon drive from Long Island to North Carolina to Austin to Tucson.   Cactus Country Resort, “Resort” is synonymous with RV parking lot, while the park is surrounded by desert filled with cactus, cows, rabbits and coyotes, the spaces are too close together.  

I stayed at Cactus Country two years ago and met my golf pals Phyllis, Chris, and their adorable Scotty Terrier Molly from Michigan.  Phyllis plays three times a week and is addicted to golf like me.  We have a great time walking Molly and Maggie around the park together 3 times a day, and playing golf.

The resort is composed of snow birds and full-time residents.  It is a retirement community, mostly.  I enjoy the group golfing event on Mondays, and the ability to walk daily in the desert with Phyllis and Maggie.  Maggie loves to disappear into the desert brush and come back with Cholla in her fur, and especially embedded in her nose.  I carry needle-nose pliers to pull the horrible Cholla needles out of her nose and feet.   Cholla’s scientific name is Cylindropuntia, and is the most inhospitable cactus. Beware this stuff is seriously nasty.  

Tucson is full of old and new friends.  Former work colleague Madeleine and husband Norman purchased a winter home here.  My Alaska golf pals Bruce, Marylou and Kim also have winter homes here.  Takoma pals Bruce and Lydia are here for a few days.  Liz and Tim were here from D.C. for a family weekend event in early January, and Sylvia was here for a spa week between Christmas and New Year.  The month has been full of visits and golf.

Upon arrival the temperatures were not particularly warm.  In fact, there was snow!  As January comes to a close the temperatures are moving into the 70s, thankfully.  Better golfing and hiking weather.  

I prefer Palm Springs because that area does not seem to have as much cactus.

As for travel surprises, I arrived in Tucson missing one of the two bars on my trailer.  Don’t ask me how that happened?  Especially since I drove through 50 mile an hour winds in west Texas.  There is a reason why Airstreams are called “Airstreams”, Scout is aerodynamic making towing so much safer with far less swaying side-to-side.  I proved that by driving over 800 miles with only one tow bar attached.  Yikes!  I was afraid I would have to replace the entire hitch assembly, but Amazon had a replacement single Reese 22225 High Performance Spring Bar.  With Prime no shipping costs it was a bargain because the bar weighs over 10 lbs.  I know Amazon is the evil empire, but they sure are great for RV parts, and shopping on-line for those of us who hate shopping malls.  Amazon is building a huge distribution facility here, they know Tucson is full of retirees who might want to work for short durations for extra cash.

As for other repairs, both the 30 lb propane tank gauges gave out.  There is always seems to be something, but thankfully, nothing serious.  Like the tow bar, ordering 30 lb replacement tanks on Amazon was easy, and arrived at the door in 2 days.

Finally, the other night there was a beautiful eclipse of the moon, which resulted in a “red moon”.  My photography skills are awful, I wish I could share a picture.  It has been a wonderful month, and looking forward to Palm Springs, CA.  Stay tuned.

 

WALTZ ACROSS TEXAS: I WISH, I AM DRIVING.

Texans are known for their big bragging.  During the construction of the Alaskan oil pipeline, Texans migrated to Alaska and brought their bragging with them.  Alaskans’ retort about the size of Texas, “If you don’t shut up, we’ll cut Alaska in two and Texas will be the third largest state”.

Driving across Texas (something you can’t do in Alaska) takes a very, very long time.  Alaska has four highways that cover 1,082 miles, Texas has 675,580 miles of road.  Size matters.  Alaska is bigger, but you can’t drive to the majority of the state.  Texas roads are in better conditions than other Southern states, Texans’ like oil.

Ruth and I sold our Washington, D.C. Capitol Hill homes in June 2016.   We pinch ourselves we got out before the catastrophe.  Dr. Ruth is teaching at the LBJ School at University of Texas.  I am thankfully retired!  I have to say I really enjoy Austin, and appreciate having a wonderful friend living there.  Especially, since Ruth’s neighborhood allows me to park Scout on the street in front of her house.

Austin has great food, music, dive bars, Tex-Mex food, movie theaters, and grocery stores.  Austin is the home of Whole Foods, but the competition is fierce. I never shop at Whole Foods, (or Wal-Mart), because the store owners are virulently anti-union.  Not that grocery stores in Texas are unionized, but my politics are national.

H.E.B. is a Texas-based grocery store chain and it’s a premier grocery store – City Market, beats Whole Foods, Wegman’s or any other grocery stores hands down – no contest!  H.E.B.’s City Market is amazing, I could spend all day there!

Some people go to museums, I go to grocery stores and dog parks.   

Austin also has one of our favorite dog parks, Red Bud Island, at Lake Austin.  A water-locked finger of land, with no escape so dogs are free to run, play or swim.

Driving west, it was my hope to visit the Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ) historic home near Fredericksburg, TX.  However, when I left Ruth’s Austin home temperatures were dropping into the 30’s with 50 mile an hour wind gusts, making visiting the ranch unappealing.  I plan to return to Texas in May and spend some time exploring Big Bend National Park, San Antonio, and Fredericksburg wine tasting and historic sites.

I also hope to join my friend Beth on her ranch for horse riding.  East Texas is growing on me.  It’s a bit too cold in winter, but May might be the perfect time to visit.

On to Tucson and Palm Springs, I see golf in my future.

 

The driving is killing me, but looking forward to arrival

After a wonderful Thanksgiving fest with family, and pies!  Thank you Becky and Chuck.

I began my long-haul east-to-west trek across country on 11/29 from Jordon Lake, NC to Tucson, AZ and Palm Springs, CA.  I can drive about 200 miles per day, give or take.  I now understand why West Coast residents rarely go to Florida, and easterners stay along the Atlantic.

My plan is to arrive in Tucson, AZ on 12/25 when D.C. friends Sylvia and Cheryl arrive for their holiday spa vacations.  Liz and Tim arrive after the new year for a family event and will stay with Tim’s Mom (a Tucson resident).  Pals Madeleine and Norman have purchased a Tucson winter home, so they are already there.  Campground friends Phyllis and Chris are also there; and, golf pal and snow birds Bruce and wife (Juneau, AK) live in Green Valley, south of Tucson.   Looking forward to visiting with friends, and NOT driving for a month.

In 10 days I have driven over 1,200.  Thank you, Audible, Podcasts, Pandora and NPR. Only 900+ miles to go. Thank goodness for $1.99 per gallon gas.  BUT!  Our highways are atrocious: uneven pavement, potholes, no shoulder, YIKES!  Scout and I are bouncing along, and when I open the door after a long day of driving, I hate to see what has flown — stuff has shifted, rattled and rolled.  Gas prices are so low, why can’t we add .05 cents per gallon to the federal highway fund to improve our roads and bridges?  Watch the newly elected House Democrats argue this is the time to pay for infrastructure by raising gas taxes, which are historically low.  GOP=NAUGHT.  But, I digress into politics and not travel.

Maggie continues to be the very best travel companion, but she is tired of sitting in the back seat and looking out the window.  We checked-in tonight at Whispering Springs RV Park, Texas along HWY 10.  I was so conflicted not to stop at the George H.W. Bush library in Houston?  I do have an interest in visiting all the Presidential Libraries.  But, I would rather see my living friends Ruth, who lives in Austin; and, Beth who lives on her ranch with my favorite horse Hope.  Maybe I will come back to Texas in April, after my winter visit to Palm Springs and working on my golf game.   It is cold and wet here.  I want to be in sunshine and warm weather.

The beauty of retirement and dragging your house along, is the road is long and there is no timetable.

PLASTIC, OR REUSABLE

Remember the grocery store clerk asking, “paper or plastic?”   I routinely forget my reusable sacks at the check-out and buy yet another reusable bag.  Thus, I have so many bags in the front seat of my truck.  All the more to forget before entering the grocery store.   However, there are many uses for reusable sacks when you live in a 20′ Airstream.  Here are my tips for using reusable bags:

  1. Recycle container.  When I lived in bricks and mortar, I had a very large recycle bin outside my back door.  I now a bag as a recycle container.   Great when campgrounds recycle.
  2. Wood and tinder gatherer.  Campfires are a real plus when camping.  On our daily walks I carry a reusable bag and pick-up pine cones, sticks and twigs for kindling as a fire starter.
  3. Hiking or walking around the campground, trail or dog park with a bag to pick-up trash.
  4. Goodwill.  I am always looking to get rid of something.  When you buy something new, something old has got to GO!  A reusable bag is great for sorting donations the next time I drive by a Goodwill store or bin I chuck it in.  Goodwill appreciates reusable bags, rather than a plastic garbage bag.

Other useful tips for RVing:

  1. Always fill-up the gas tank the night before you are leaving a site. Why not get a head start with a full tank of gas, and avoid towing into a gas station.
  2. Check tire pressure.
  3. Always do a walk around the trailer before pulling out.  I have left stabilizer pads behind, the black tank cap off and dangling, and just the other day I left the hitching foot down.  No matter how often you tow, the memory is failing.  A checklist for hooking and un-hooking is useful.  I can’t believe the stuff I forget, after a couple of years on the road.  I pulled yesterday, and had forgotten to lift the tow foot.  Thankfully, it made a terrible noise, and I knew something was wrong.  No damage, so stopped and raised the foot.