We will soon be out of touch for lengthy stretches of time. Starting Sunday we will be in Mexico for about a week. This jaunt is a scoping trip for some work we might do on the Northern Jaguar Project’s preserve outside of Sahuaripa, Mexico. It’s a very remote place. No phones, no help, nobody for about 20 miles and 6 hours of driving. Yes, 6ish hours to cover 20ish miles. I’ll be able to be more specific after our first time up the wilderness. The trip’s goal is to see if we can build some things for them. Challenges abound. We’ll try and answer logistical questions about food, lumber, hardware, roofing, power. No actual work is planned for this first trip. Olive, Elvis, Mimi, and the gNash will all be left behind.
After the scoping trip we return to Portal and then a few days later we catch a flight to Ecuador. Our first trip to the Galapagos! I have no idea what internet will be like in Ecuador. I expect none in the Galapagos. That’s another two weeks without reporting. I’ll be prepared to fill you in when I get back. Like our European trip, I plan to take handwritten notes. Again the rest of the family and our camper will be left behind.
Presuming all went well on the scoping trip we will then head back to the jaguar preserve in Mexico and work for a few weeks. It’s possible the pets and camper will come to Mexico with us for the second trip. Those decisions depend on what we discover during the first trip.
I am a civil engineer. You all know this. I fell into civil engineering because I wasn’t smart enough to fly rocket ships. Moving stuff was too hard for me to calculate. Civil engineering keeps things stationary. I could get my head around those equations. Once in CE I realized I really liked learning about how things were built, where water ran, and how CEs did a lot of public works from roads and drinking water, to stadiums and landfills. It’s a wide ranging field of study. I worked my way through college on construction sites but I chose to spend my career in environmental remediation and enforcement. I wanted to clean up the world and it was heartfelt work but my love of building never went away. I even won the balsa wood bridge contest in my senior structures class. I had a partner but I made the design. A structural engineering friend said two things to help me: keep it simple and remember the moment of inertia. A light bulb went off and I realized a triangle with a skin (sort of like a covered bridge) was the way to go. Balsa wood bridge fail at their glued joints. We eliminated all but three joints. The bridge came in at less than 100 grams and it held an astonishing weight. The most in our entire class by at least 2. I can’t quite remember the details. None of the elaborately constructed truss bridges my classmate produced came close.
This week Burt and I built our first actual, rather than metaphysical, bridge. It’s lightweight, and ready to breakaway in a flood. It’s also darn scary. Our client is thrilled. She wanted it up above the flash floods that roar in from the fire damaged land above. Climate change has made the creek more prone to catastrophic flooding. Heavier rains and less vegetation to slow the runoff makes for higher peaks of flood waters in Cave Creek Canyon. I spent a lot of time researching the hows and materials for this and then I consulted with Burt. I couldn’t quite figure out how to attach the bridge to the trees n either side of the creek. Burt solved this critical problem. We wrapped the trees in a big circle of cable and tightened it up. I found away to attach the cinch without girdling the trees and it all came out great. See pictures. If you ever want to build a cable bridge check out YouTube. Lots of ideas there. I melded together a bunch of things to make something inexpensive and strong. The client bought the cable and the hardware. The wood was found onsite. Our labor was in trade for her providing accommodations to our staff during Portal Irish Music Week.
Who am I? It’s a question worth considering. My identity has changed over time. Not too long ago I was a black belt, rock climber, oarswoman, engineer, woman. Today I can claim musician, carpenter, camp director, woman. I still say I’m an engineer because the way an engineer thinks is permanently molded by their training no matter what they happen to do for a living. But the thing is I don’t like to be labeled. I want to be whoever I am in the moment and not restrained by preconceived ideas from myself or society. But that’s a dream world. A dream world I have the flexibility to inhabit much of the time but not if I want a job or to have influence over people. People want to know who you are. I can’t even go to play Bridge and avoid these questions. Where are you from? Why are you here? What do you do? I actually dread them. Every table at Bridge we go through the answers.
How we identify plays a deep role in what we believe. PETA? Vegan? Athiest? Business owner? These values influence our ability to receive and consider new information. Here are some issues: Vaccines. Evolution. Climate change. Animal rights. What are you? A Hippie? Christian? White? Black? Poor? Rich? Hungry?
Polls have shown that there are six categories of people on climate change. There are the dissmisive (10%), the doubtful (11%), the disengaged (7%), the cautious (27%), the concerned (28%), the alarmed (17%). A person’s identity will hold sway on their affinity to a certain opinion. People that prefer hierarchy and like a strong leader and rugged individualism are more likely to be doubtful and dismissive. This is true no matter their education level and science literacy. People that are more comfortable with egalitarianism and rules that favor the health of society over the individual are more likely to be alarmed or concerned. The more educated this egalitarian group is the more likely they are to be alarmed. Education has little effect. So throwing data around will not change minds. Women and minorities and younger people, regardless of education, are more concerned about climate change than men. White men are especially likely to be unconvinced that climate change is a thing.
They say that the messenger must fit in with the group they are trying to influence. They have to have shared values, they must be perceived as an expert, and the message must match the messenger. This is humans acting like chickens. Birds of a feather. I wish we could get beyond this but as Burt says, we’re all scared when we see a snake. We are hardwired to suspect the outsider. We can recognize this bias and try to work through it. We can recognize this bias and try to work with it. Consciousness is key.
Here are two examples of me dealing with this from my past.
Once upon a time I was a U.S. EPA environmental engineer. New rules had just come down under the Clean Air Act. I was responsible for enforcing the Stratospheric Ozone Protection act in the entirety of Montana. By myself. 1992 or 1993. I was young. I was a woman. I was an easterner. I was from the government. Lucky for me there were several trade groups that were interested in helping their members comply with the new rules. I was able to meet with the leaders of the trade groups to share how the government was going to phase out the use of CFCs and how small businesses could be licensed to manage the CFCs safely. These trade group leaders invited me to speak to their groups. I traveled the state and met with landfill operators, junk car facilities, auto mechanics, and air conditioning and refrigeration repair people. I never had a problem. I was there to help them comply. I was sympathetic to their situation. I knew the new rules were costly but they were also a business opportunity. Those that updated would stay competitive. I was helping them comply. They accepted me.
Then one day I was asked to give the speech to an organization called the Western Environmental Trade Association. I thought these guys were environmentally minded business owners. I was wrong. These were business owners with no role in the CFC industry. They were simply an anti-government, pro-business group with no desire to do right by the environment. It was a blood bath. They wanted to make a fool of me and they did.
I must admit that twenty years ago I didn’t know what to make of this. The business leaders were crude and rude. The blue collar workers were warm and understanding. Now I realize my blue collar roots, desire to help, and general sympathy played well before the labor groups. A government representative was a lamb to the slaughter for the business group. Especially an ill prepared government representative. This experience has always stayed with me as part of my identity. It helped me have to confidence to at least approach any group and try to connect.
The next notable experience was in my private life. I was in South Carolina about ten years ago visiting my parents and their friends. Burt was with me. At one point the group (moderate to conservative political leanings) started discussing organic food. I opted to not share my opinion and nobody asked. My role as silent daughter is well practiced. Soon they veered into climate change. A very with it friend that I know to be well educated and a nuclear engineer said it was bogus. I was on a couch ease dropping. The entire group agreed. They got all animated and then somebody saw the lamb on the couch. My dad asked, “Aren’t you going to defend climate change?” They had already labeled me a believer without inquiry. I took one look at the table full of raucous men that had known me since I was a toddler. I said, “You won’t listen to me so I won’t waste my breath.” And it was sad but nobody disagreed. They were sad because it would have been fun to argue and try to make a fool of me. I was sad because it was true.
For ten years I’ve thought I should have said something. Today I am saying something. They might not listen but I will say it.
These photos are a flashback to work in Oregon for a special family. This six person group wanted a bigger dining room table. Burt can’t make fine furniture with the tools we carry so he suggested Craig’s List or eBay. Burt even found a few second hand tables for sale in the area and the family insisted they wanted a table by Burt no matter how primitive. So Burt built a picnic table and it is large. There’s plenty of room for six people and their school work, crafts, meals, etc. The new table even allows the eldest boy to lock his personal chair to the table for safe keeping. You’ll have to ask him why. I didn’t dare stir up family drama and inquire as to who might be a chair thief.
Today we are parked at a friend’s/client’s place in Templeton, California. We are in wine and olive country. The ocean is nearby. Bridge, too. Barry and Laura are people we met in Portal. They’re engaged and we’ll be playing music for their wedding next month back in Portal. You’ll be hearing more as we get to work. First impression is good. There are a lot of turkeys and Barry offered me $5 for each gopher I kill.
Helena friends, Rosemary and Ed, took a day off from their campground hosting duties and Carl Washburn State Park to visit us on the sunny side of the mountains. Ed alternately blames us and credits us for inspiring their semi-nomadic lifestyle. He and Rosemary spend a few months spring and fall back in Helena, Montana and the rest of the time they are volunteering in Death Valley of other parks or they are simply wandering the world. They visited Baja this past winter and are joining us in the Galapagos soon. Take it from them, it’s fun to travel with the GCs. Food is plentiful and tasty and the dogs play. Sometimes there’s songs to sing. If you’re really lucky Rosemary will dance. Our visit was a good treatment for the eclipse hangover I’m suffering.
Everybody has vacated our current site and we are (or Burt is) back at work. It’s very quiet around here. We played some Bridge and some music and have done on-line shopping to prepare for our next season of wandering. Both of us need new footwear for the Galapagos. Yesterday another wandering duo, Rolf and Bonnie of Portal, AZ, stopped by. Rolf and Bonnie had just visited the Galapagos so they had useful ideas on what to think about as we try to get ready. They even offered us the use of a rolling duffle bag that can be carried backpack style. Our trip to Europe showed us we have left duffle bag days behind and yet the gNash has no room for real luggage. We hardly ever have to pack and this year we are taking three international trips. One person in our party, and I know you’re thinking it was me but it wasn’t, over packed and over shopped for Europe. Some items purchased remain unused. But he is ready for a nice night out. I am pleased he has some stylish pants and shoes for the next time somebody invites us someplace stylish. The islands on the equator are not that place.
So we are back at work. Burt’s building a wood shed and I’m managing Portal Irish Music Week. Money is in and staff flights are reserved. We’ll be in OR for a week or so working and then another weekish visiting friends as we travel south to our next job in California. This has been a wandering summer and it was not planned.
Last year we committed to do a large job in this area. Ultimately that large job fell through but by luck and a large internet presence and our glittering personalities and BIG ONE HERE ability to improvise we put together enough jobs to sustain us for another year. Our friend Bruce (a highly trained professional) mentioned the improv. He suggests Life Improvisation should be the subject of a Gypsy Carpenters’ book. I say it already is if you read the blog. But for all of you following along here is a summary of how it works. The first rule of improv is: Yes, and…. That means you always answer with a yes and room to move. We’re pretty positive people around here and we try to ignore fear or at least not let it make our decisions. I wish there was more positivity and less fear for everyone. Really, I do.
I’m comfortable that we have enough. Make the pie bigger as my friend Bruce (a different Bruce) used to say.
I’ve been busy. Blogging about ZazzEuroVacay 2017, taxes, helping Burt kept me busy for a solid three weeks. This week things are slowing down. Burt has the work side of things well in hand. I occasionally help hold something or sweep up but there isn’t much for me to do. One of the tasks I took on was to try and fix our truck fan. I’m going to be very specific here in case somebody else is searching for the information. The internet gave me the information but there were a few hiccups in the road to repair.
We have a 2001 Dodge 2500 Ram Diesel Cummings. The fan only worked on high or setting 4 out of 4. No air blew on settings one through three. High works when it’s 101 F out there. High all day, every day isn’t fun. You can take that phrase to the bank. I searched on Google and found out the most likely problem was either a blown fuse or the blower resistor. I checked all the fuses. Internet rumors said the resistor could be found near the blower itself which is located under the glove compartment.
I got down in there (see photo) and looked but could only find the blower. I did not find a resistor. Burt came over and took out the blower. We could not see the resistor. Burt called a trusted mechanic and got a new guy at the mechanic’s shop. Burt asked where the blower resistor was located. The new guy said his truck had the same problem and the solution was to be found in the switch on the dash. The switch with the blower settings. Makes sense but was news to me. I (being a female) didn’t dispute this new idea. After all, the internet is frequently wrong. Trucks change. Maybe the people on the internet had different year trucks. Resistors can be anywhere on the path of electricity. So I proceeded to take apart the dash board and get at the switch.
Photos below show the switch assembly. I got it apart and I still couldn’t find a resistor. I figured it must be inside the assembly. I opened up the switch assembly and everything inside fell out. Not a reassuring sign. I could not put it back together. I put the dashboard back on and told Burt we no longer had an option for high. A few days later we went to a NAPA and asked for a blower resistor. They had it in stock. I’m skipping over the spousal disagreement of who had to go in the NAPA. I might be able to repair a truck but I can’t face a parts store. Eventually I entered the NAPA and looked at the blower resistor and said, “That won’t fit on the dash switch.”
Back to square one minus a working switch. So really I’ve lost ground. I used to have high. Now I have nothing. Burt ordered a used switch off eBay. It showed up two days later. I put it in. Miraculously it worked on high but it did not solve our problem. So I was back at square one for reals. Now you might need a ven diagram to follow this but try to keep up. Did I just buy a used switch with the same problem as my old switch or was the problem somewhere else? Like, maybe, was the problem in the hidden resistor? I was paralyzed for a day trying to decide what to do. Burt was ready to go to an auto shop.
I gathered my nerves and hit the internet again. This time I Googled: Where is the blower resistor in a 1991 Dodge Diesel 2500? How do you find the blower resistor in a 1991 Dodge Diesel 2500? How can I replace the blower resistor in a Dodge Diesel 2500? I got answer after answer that it was under the dash by the passenger side door. Finally some combination of search terms gave me a link to a video of a guy making the repair. I watched the video. The guy had the part (sadly, it was the part the NAPA tried to sell us). That was a bittersweet moment. The guy gets down under the dash saying now screw it back into place and CUT and then he says there it’s in. No footage. No peek under the dash. Nada. But he says this: you can see two screws behind the blower and you can follow the wire from the blower to the resistor. I had seen the wire. I got down under there again and followed the wire to where I could just barely see a screw. I could feel the second screw with my fingers. Phillips head in hand I got the puppy out. The ceramic insulation fell apart a soon as I freed it from its housing. This was feeling very auspicious.
Burt went to a different NAPA and bought a new resistor. I put it in. Our fan works on all settings. I feel like a rock star. A rock star that got mansplained out of my work process but still a rock star. I have a few advantages over Burt on this type of work. I fit under the dash and my hands can reach into smaller spaces.
Seattle has had the balmiest weather we’ve enjoyed in summer. It has been pleasant. Trailer life is comfortable. This job is in a quiet neighborhood nestled in the metropolitan area. We are parked as close as we have ever parked to the actual work. The Gypsy Carpenter saw horses are right outside the trailer door. The neighbors have been nice but hardly seen. I don’t have much work because it is a small job. I’ve used my free time to catch up on the trip to Europe and do our taxes.
Speaking of the IRS, I’ll relay this here for the record and your enjoyment. In April I tried to file an extension with not one but two on-line services. Both times I got notices that the form was rejected by the IRS because they could not verify my identity. The IRS uses a combination of factors to verify filer’s identities. In this case they said I was using the wrong 2015 Adjusted Gross Income. It happens that I, and thousands of other filers, was using the right figure. The IRS had a problem at their end. But I didn’t know that yet. I called TurboTax from Mexico. They said file a paper return. From Mexico? I searched the internet for a way to resolve the discrepancy. All I found was file a paper return. I called Dad. I asked Dad to file a paper extension on my behalf. He sent me a link on how to fill out the form. While I was reading it I discovered that if I paid what I owed I did not need to file an extension. Dad read it the same way. I sent check to the IRS and the Montana Department of Revenue.
Two days ago it was time to face the music and do our returns. Burt had been mentioning them every time I asked if he needed my help at work. Need help? No, but you could walk the dogs and do the taxes. I pulled up TurboTax and dug through our records. I hoped I had paid enough back in April. I spent a few hours on on-line. It all looked nice. I had paid enough to both the feds and the state. I e-signed and sent them in. An hour late I received a rejection notice in email. Deja Vu, all over again. I started googling the AGI issue hoping it had been resolved in the meantime. I called TurboTax. They suggested a paper filing. It’s 2017. It seems like a stupid way to go so I called the IRS.
Calling the IRS is not a simple thing. They do not want you to call. Even if you find their number the recorded voice tries to convince you the answer to your question is more easily found on-line. I called and held for 20 minutes. I listened to multiple versions of try on-line and DO NOT HANG UP YOUR CALL WILL BE ANSWERED IN THE ORDER IT WAS RECEIVED. Bad music in between. Suddenly a new voice: We are experiencing technical difficulties. Good-bye. And like that they hung up on ME. Outraged, I called back. I hit 0 until a human got on the line. I asked about identity verification and the AGI discrepancy. He said, “Let me transfer you.” I waited 22 more minutes and heard all the same things. I started to wonder if they were brain washing me. I began to think I could find the answer on-line. I wanted to hang up. Then a woman answered. I listened to her give her name and her bazillion digit long ID code. Did I write it down? No. This is how they get you. I wasn’t really mad, yet. Once I became mad I couldn’t think straight.
I gently explained my ID verification issue. The IRS said: Maybe you need to try a different software program. ME: Are you denying that this is an IRS problem? I read on-line that the IRS has admitted that they have this problem. IRS: I haven’t heard of this problem. ME: You haven’t heard there’s a problem with the AGI and verification? And you want me to redo all my work? IRS: I haven’t heard of the problem. ME: Can I speak to your supervisor? IRS: They aren’t available. ME: Is this call being recorded? IRS: (awkward pause) Yes. Me: Good. Tell me how to fix this verification problem. IRS: File a paper return. ME: So now you know about the problem. IRS: Yes. ME: I don’t have a printer. IRS: (Nasty condescension) You don’t have a printer? ME: No, I do not and there are a lot of people in this world without printers. How can we solve this problem. IRS: I’ll send you the hard copy form to fill out. ME: I just spent hours filling these forms out on-line. Give me another solution. IRS: I don’t have one. ME: You haven’t solved the AGI discrepancy, yet? IRS: No. ME: Where can I print this? IRS: I don’t know. ME: (I KNOW WHERE BUT AM NOT SAYING) I’m not hanging up until you help me figure out where to print my tax forms. IRS: I can mail you the forms. ME: No. IRS: You can print at the Library. Me: Thank you.
Then instead of taking this lying, lazy, incompetent person’s name and number I hung up. I could not get over the fact that they pretended not to know about the identity verification problem. It’s all over the internet. The TurboTax guy knew about it. It’s the IRS’s new identity program and it’s got a major bug. Anyway. This is my documentation (again) of how I tried to get help from the IRS. As a former public servant I get very testy when other public servants are rude and unhelpful.