From Texas to Mordor in 24 hours (or shut-up and drive stupid)

3/25/2004 1:00 AM

Tuesday at 5:20 AM I left the Lone Worm Ranch and headed for Mordor, I mean Los Angeles. I made this comparison after a few hours of being inside the city limits of this big bad motor city. Going from the almost idealistic world living on a ranch in the middle of Texas and then driving all day and night to end up in a swirling mass of human flesh, concrete, steel and manicured landscaping was an experience that I look forward to reversing.

I grew up in LA and loved it. I watched LA grow as I grew. I got married in here and my first child was born here. To me LA goes from Ventura to San Diego and from Santa Monica to Blythe. OK technically this is all of Southern California and I am being simplistic in my broad generalizations but for 25 years I have roamed this part of the country and driven the freeways and generally I liked growing up in LA. When I drive around on the freeways and streets the names on the street signs bring back memories from my past or movies that I have seen that were filmed in LA.

I have heard that New York is intense, but I have not been there. I think what freaks me out about LA now am that I grew up here and every time I come back LA seems to have gotten bigger and more complex. Every time I try go back to an old haunt to see if or how it has changed the location has changed so much that I sometimes cannot even recognize it. For example I was visiting my dad who is in a confessant hospital in the city of Orange. When I use to live in an apartment near the location and worked in Irvine which is a few miles away. After my visit I decided to drive around the area and see what had changed. All the large eucalyptus trees that were planted on all the street medians are now huge. When I left Irvine in 1989 they were tractors pulling up citrus groves where a toll free now runs. I use to ride my bike during lunch down to Newport along the route. Sometimes progress can be inspiring and at other times it makes me sad. Citrus groves replaced by toll roads and condos makes the point of you can never go home a reality.

Some folks marvel at how I can drive for 24 or 30 hours at a time alone. I must admit that it amazes me too after I get to where I am going. I do not take any pharmaceutical drugs when I drive. I only drank 4 large cups of coffee and 1.5 liters of Dr. Pepper during the trip. I stopped for one meal in Lordsburg, New Mexico which is about 748 miles into the 1457.1 mile drive. I like driving long distances especially at night. Sometimes during the day I get distracted by the scenery and want to stop a lot and take pictures. At night however I can focus just on driving because it is dark. I can also see traffic better because of headlights. My dad taught me how to drive and here are some of the night driving tips that he passed on to me that I still use.

  • When you see on coming headlights do not look at them look at the fog line on the far rights side of the road.
  • Adjust your side mirrors so that they do not allow rear head lights to shine in your face.
  • Adjust side mirrors so that you have to move your head forward or backward to see traffic behind you.
  • Once you have you mirrors adjust as described above you can keep alert by always checking traffic all around you front and rear.
  • When you are checking traffic you will want to stay out of ‘wolf packs’. Cars that travel in groups close to gather cause a lot of accidents.

So I will assume that you have seen the Lord of the Rings (LOR) or have read the book to understand why I am comparing my drive from Texas to LA as the journey that Frodo took to take the ring from the land of the Hobbits to the center of evil Mordor. I make this comparison affectionately and I am not implying that LA is evil even though folks may think it is the land of Lost Angels. I grew up in South Central LA and did not know it was a bad neighborhood until I left for La Jolla just north of San Deigo. I grew up thinking every neighborhood had rival gangs and endless miles of asphalt connected by concrete freeways. Before going to Texas in September of 2003 I also thought that the only place to live there was inside Austin city limits. I was wrong on both assumptions and the older I get the more I learn about never completely relying on what you know now. If I have to feel good about an aspect of my personality it is that I am not afraid to jump in with both feet and try something or learn something new.

So here are some of my comparisons of Texas as The Shire and LA as Mordor

  • Road rage exist in LA because folks spend a lot on time commuting in slow traffic on freeways. In real central Texas there are not enough vehicles on the road to get mad at.
  • In Texas it shops have signs everywhere saying guns are not allowed, in LA signs say no bills over $20 allowed.
  • Hamburgers at Tommy’s in LA are puny compared to What-a-burger in Texas
  • In LA it is spring and summer all of the time, in Texas it is really hot all of the time except for two days when is cool.
  • In Texas the you can watch the seasons by watching cows get skinny then fat and calves pop out, in LA you watch the seasons change by the amount of smog that is in the air and how well you can see the mountains

Well you made it this far and I am sure that I have said some things that are totally whacky. I am sure that if I had never left LA and I drove to Texas I could compare it to Mordor and LA would be the land of milk and honey. In fact as a certified gadget junkie I was surprised at how well I adapted to not having internet access or a TV out at the Lone Worm Ranch. I have always been person that has let computer use increasing creep into my. When I first started staying out in what seemed like the middle of nowhere I could barely make it through the evening without a TV or Internet access. Actually I had tons of Internet access at the computer shop in Giddings, so when I came home I grew to appreciate not having to turn on something. Well sitting on the porch on Sunday afternoons maybe the subject of another blog entry

Austin Friends and places

There is too much fun stuff to do in Austin. This weekend is my last one that I will spend in Texas for a while. I enjoyed spending some time this weekend with a three friends that I have had the pleasure to meet in the short time that I have lived here. I also wanted to visit a few of my favorite spots before I left.

The Friends

Tim Rogers has to be my ambassador to Austin. I met Tim through the Austin Wireless City Project. We worked as volunteers installing WiFi hotspots for the group. I enjoy working with Tim and hanging out with him. Tim showed me so many cool restaurants and WiFi hotspots that several times during our travels around Austin I had to say “Stop it; I can not handle another cool place!” Tim is very energetic, honest, and hard working and he always showed Austin in a proud manner. I am grateful and thankful that Tim took the time to show me the ‘Real’ Austin from the inside. I do not think that I would have fallen in love with this city the way that I have if it were not for Tim.

Jim Fahrnkopf is an unusual discovery for me. I also met Jim through the Austin Wireless City Project. In another time line or a parallel universe we could have been twins. There are so many similarities to our personalities and personal histories that we seem to communicate on a whole different level sometimes. Trying to summarize this phenomenon in a few words is impossible but I will take a stab at it here because after all this is a blog. Jim and I are former hippy surfers that went to high school in San Diego, California and then moved to Oregon and then to Texas and we like blues and computers. Jim and I are the WiFi Cowboys shown in the photos on the web site. When I get some time I plan on doing a comic strip about them. Jim introduced me to several computer user groups in Austin.

Phyllis Thomas is a descendant of the Texas Dobbins clan. I first met her at the Center Union Memorial Service in May of 2003 when I came to Texas with my dad. Like a hurricane that gradually sneaks up on you so has Phyllis. When the weatherman warns that a big storm is approaching when it is far off you do not pay it any mind but then when it is all around you cannot ignore it and the winds sweep you away. Phyllis has this affect on not only me but I have seen this with other people as well. Phyllis has introduced me to so many of her cousins that I believe that the whole state of Texas is somehow related to her. In fact I think that we would all get along better as a society if we adapted the idea that we are all cousins. The fact that we are all cousins I believe is easier to swallow than the idealistic religious notion that we are all brothers and sisters.

The Places

On my last evening in Austin I discovered some new places and visited one of my first favorite WiFi hotspot. I am going to go on record here and say that picking a favorite place to hang out in Austin is very difficult because there are so many. The best way to describe and solve the problem of selecting where to go it to first decide your mood, location, time of day and traffic. One thing that Austin has a problem with is traffic, but when looking for good food or WiFi this does not play a factor because these facilities are all over.

This entry in my blog is just covering the places that I visited on March 21, 2004 which is during the SxSW music and movie festival in Austin. Since this is my ramblings I am going to list the places here and then if I have time I will fill in details later.

  • The Thai Garden
  • The Flight Path
  • Threadgill’s downtown
  • The Continental Club
  • Ruta Maya’s

Each of these great people has shown a different aspect to the city of Austin and the state of Texas that I would have never discovered without knowing them. Austin and Central Texas are full of good music, good food, high tech and social diversity and I want to return here as soon as I can with my family.

Feeding Cattle with Cliff

Feeding cattle for the first time using the bales of hay in Cliff’s barn was fun. Cliff has square bales of hay in his barn and big round bales out in the corral in the field. When the cattle heard the tractor fire up they thought Cliff was going to go out, get a big round bale out of the corral, and feed them. All of the cattle and 7 calfs came to the fence and started mooing for hay. Cliff said that he was thinking about feeding them and I offered to help.

Throwing hay to cows is a simple task, but it was the first time that I had a chance to feed cows especially the one that Cliff gave me. I also got to see the calf that she had up close. All the little calves are so cute and they run around the older cattle in a frisky manner.

Working on a John Deere 530 with Cliff

Today I took my uncle Cliff to the doctor for a check-up. I drove him in my farm rat maroon Toyota Camry. We drove the eighteen miles to La Grange listening to country music and talking about life, health, and cattle.

Cliff’s doctor is an US Air Force Lt. Colonel who just returned from Iraq. He had several pictures of aircraft in the office that I liked. He had the SR-71 Blackbird and the C-5a. He seems like a good doctor and the whole staff in the office was friendly and caring about all their patients.
The day before this visit Cliff told me that he was having trouble with his tractor, a classic 2 cylinder John Deere 530. He said that the battery was dead. I suggested that after the doctor visit that we pick up a replacement at the Wal*Mart in La Grange. This is exactly what we did and we returned to the ranch beneath partly cloudy skies and 70-degree temperatures.

I have never worked on a tractor; in fact I am pretty lame when it comes to working on gas-powered vehicles. I have always been inspired by the spunk and survival ways of farmers. When I look at my uncle Cliff I always see a man that did what ever it took to survive on a farm. He has survived on the farm with his wits and brawn and a lot of barbed wire holding things together. At almost 100 he can still touch his toes and do three push-ups. He drives his old Chevy truck 18 miles to Giddings to shop on Saturdays and can still remember how to start his tractor.

So today was my turn to learn what so many farmers already know, how to keep your tractor running. I installed the battery and then Cliff tried to start it. After several turns of the engine he recalled that on his last attempt at getting it running he ran out of gas. He instructed me to get the gas can out of his truck and as he held the huge funnel we filled the tank on top of the tractor. With gas in the tank Cliff was confident that it would start. After several attempts and a little tinkering with the gas lines the John Deer 530 started. When it fired up for the first time it popped the rusted tin can off that covered the exhaust pipe.

As the tractor idled I noticed that there was black oily stuff leaking from beneath the tractor. I crawled underneath to see what was going on. I tightened a bolt but the black goo kept coming out. Cliff opened up the flywheel cover to let me look inside. I of course could offer no solution to the oily leak. I told him that I would stop in and as the folks at the John Deere Shop in Giddings if they had any ideas about what was wrong.

I went to Giddings and before I went to the computer repair shop I stopped in the John Deere Shop. In the shop I meet Cliff’s old friend Boots. I started explaining the problem to him and he immediately grabbed a manual of the 530. It had all the parts in exploded views on the pages. I could show him the parts of the tractor where the leak was. He told me that the 530 was a pretty durable tractor. The problem he said may be when the tractor ran out of gas that the carburetor pin that feeds the gas to the engine stayed open. This is a know problem in the 2 cylinder engines which are gravity fed with gas as the tank is on the top of the engine. He said that the gas just ran down into the gearbox and is so thin that it is leaking out of the seals. He said that I would have to drain it out and replace it with about six quarts of oil.

The tractor is not fixed yet, but I was really inspired to work with Cliff and meet Boots at the John Deere shop.

Web Development

PhotoShop and CSS how can I live without them! Well the Austin.com development site is taking shape. I’m finally getting a chance to do some creative work on the banners. I’m also working on a ranch web site for the Martin’s. I had fun putting a horse’s head in a banner. This site is being done in CSS with out the use of tables.