Clutches, smutches

My used balloon tiara

First off, thanks for the great advice Todd!!  As soon as we get to a real town we will follow up with a larger purveyor of transmissions than the Brawley lube and wash joint.

Our mechanic Miguel got the clutch into passable shape.  While he worked we grocery shopped, mailed some stuff and hit the local Alzheimer’s Day Care to play a few tunes.  Those of you that know me know that my mother is afflicted by the disease.  The Brawley Adult Day Care was just about across the street from the guy who was working on the truck so we headed in and provided entertainment.  Mom still enjoys it when we play music for her.  Sadly for us we were only able to play for about 20 minutes before everyone headed home for the day.  Most of our audience were neither in their right minds nor spoke English, but the loved us anyway.  Or maybe that’s why they did.

The clutch was repaired, but Miguel could not get the air bled properly so it was still soft.  We headed into the wilds at 3:00.  We camped on BLM land just off a highway.  On our evening walk I discovered the lovely head gear you see me wearing to the left.  We presume it flew away from the hordes of holiday off-roaders that rallied in the nearby sand dunes.  We hit the hay early.

This morning we made it to a free BLM camping area just outside of Quartzsite, AZ.  Just as we got sideways to back in to a spot the clutch failed.  Good Grief.  No forward or back.  At least we were at the end of the road.  We set up camp where we lay.  Some funny looks and shrugged shoulders.  It’s hard to get too upset when you have no schedule and aren’t stuck on the road.  I looked up repair joints on the Internet and then we decided to pay our nearest neighbors a visit.  They are about 50 yards away.  Despite the distance, there is no privacy.  We are after all in the desert. Since they were here ahead of us they constitute locals in our mind and might now more than we do.

I mistook the mistress of the house for a very large man, but luckily I didn’t open my mouth before she greeted us with a distinctly feminine voice.  Burt made the introductions and said we were from Montana.  She was from New Hampshire.  Burt asked if she knew of any reliable repair shops in the area and in typical yankee fashion she tersely said there were repair shops in “town.”  Burt prodded a bit asking, “Have you used any of them?”  No.  Awkward pause…Then more taciturnly, “What kind of a problem is it?”  Burt explained the clutch issue.  Then she said with kindness, “Well my friend in Blythe (10 miles away) used to repair transmissions, but he’s retired.  You could call him, he might help you out. What kind of truck is it?”  “A Dodge.” “Well he used to work for Dodge.”  She gives us the number and Burt calls the retired, Dodge transmission repairman.  John advised us on how to bleed the air.  He doesn’t think we have a serious problem.  I spent the next 20 minutes slowly depressing the clutch while Burt unhooked the trailer.  Not 3 minutes in there was noticeable improvement.  John reassured us that the problem most likely was the air in the line and the repair should be good.  Everyone asks, “Is the clutch slipping?”  and no, thank god, it is not.  I guess if the clutch is slipping you’ve got a real problem.  The truck has been disengaged and driven away from the trailer.  We might be out of the woods for a few more miles.

I am grateful we weren’t towed back to Slab City yesterday to wait for parts and repair.  We might never have made it back on the road.  Both of us realize our 9 year old vehicle May require a new clutch sooner rather than later.


Stuck in Brawley

Burt and our mechanic, Miguel

We finally left Slab City at 8:45 this morning.  We made it to the dump station where we exchanged black water for clean and made our way towards Quartzsite.  Only a few niles down the road we stopped at an auto parts store to get a new tail light.  Happily, once we opened the tail light assembly the light worked.  It must of been a lose connection.  Not so happily, when we started back up the clutch completely failed.  Back in the store Burt got a recommendation for two nearby mechanics.  But how to get there?  We walked to one and he suggested we check the fluid level and come back if it wasn’t the problem.  As we stood on the road with the hood up a guy came out of the store and asked if we needed help.  He seems very knowledgeable but we feel kind of like sitting ducks.  He works at the lube shop across the street from the auto parts place, easy to drive to but not recommended.  Burt is putting them through the paces to describe exactly what they think is going on and how much it will cost to repair.  The good news it sounds like they know exactly what is wrong, bad news is they aren’t sure if they can get the part and how much the part will cost.

We planned to leave Slab City Saturday but got bogged down with general grooming and lying about.  Burt looks spruced up in a new hair cut and neck shave.  Looks like a good thing we were overcome by inertia.  The breakdown on a Sunday morning would have been annoying.  Now its just one of those things we expected to have to deal with.


Played The Range stage again tonight

The crowd wasn’t as big as New Years and there were more people waiting their turn to play but our fans were there so we took the stage again with a new bandmate.  We met Andrew this morning.  He dropped by and asked if he could jam with us.  Of course we said yes.  He went and retrieved a crappy mandolin and sat down.  I was working on the fiddle.  After one tune he asked if he could play my fiddle.  Ahhhhh….he was classically trained and has turned his back on the dots and making his way into less structured music.  He had such a great ear we had him play with us tonight and it was a complete success.  I was transported by his work on Dance Me to the End of Love and forgot what the hell I was supposed to be doing.  He’s only 18 and sat in on 16 Tons, These Boots Were Made for Walking, and I’m an Old Cowhand.  He had not heard of any of them before taking the stage.  Earlier in the day we played Autumn Leaves and Black Orpheus with him.  They were killer but not appropriate for a set at the Range.

While we were waiting our turn to take the stage we watched some of the locals duke it out over who played with whom and when.  Our drummer from the other night threw a beer bottle from his drum set when John (another tone-deaf octogenarian) turned on his drum machine.  The bottle exploded at our feet.  I leaned over to Burt and asked, “Do you think he read my comments about his drumming on our blog?”  Everything calmed down quickly, but we are heading out tomorrow.  We plan to make it to Quartzite, a more upscale version of The Slabs.

Check out our friend Kristin’s site:  She and her friend were some of our fans.  The page is cool and creepy.  They took a bunch of photos and we hope to have them here soon.


Earthquakes, everyday!

Burt’s normal footfall is more teeth rattling than the quakes we’ve been noticing.  Here’s a link to a graph of the ones in the area in the last few days.  The trailer is a cozy place to ride the tremors.  I like it.  I started feeling them a couple days ago and finally mentioned it to Burt (who hadn’t noticed) when I heard there was a big quake just south of the border.  Then last night we were lying in bed and a gentle rocking started that we noticed only because we were at rest.  Fun.  The Nash is like a boat riding the earth’s waves.

Here are some random pics from the last couple of days in Slab City.


Day #2 Slab City

Last night we walked under the huge moon enjoying the desert air lush with the scent of creosote bush.

What is this? A coupon? Void after Xmas?

If you are unfamiliar with the creosote bush but are familiar with railroad ties, that might not sound appealing. Indeed the bush has a lovely aroma.  I find it more soothing than sage,  Burt’s favorite.  I would like a creosote bush perfume or candle.  So we walked in the bright moonlight and marveled at how much we like this place.

It is a bit of a wasteland and some squatters are living in squalid conditions.  There are refuse piles here and there and some clumps of vegetation teem with litter.  On the other hand there is the wide open sky and surrounding vistas of mountains in every direction.  There is a culture of found art and many homes are pleasing to the eye despite being made from trash.  This morning we rode our bikes for two hours with Elvis trotting alongside.

A mile or so out of “town” there were several apiaries.  Burt, the former apiarist cautioned me that many hives are Africanized in this are so we didn’t get to close.  It was cool zipping through the bee traffic as they made their ways from

Happy Mimi

hive to irrigation canal to collect water.  We went to the library (open 24/7) and I picked up two new books: Luncheonette and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.  I can’t wait to read Jane Austen with ZOMBIES.  From there we went to the pet cemetery.  There were sweet memorials to folk’s traveling companions.  I can’t tell you how much more important Elvis and Mimi feel to us out here on the road.  It is a pleasure to look after them and make sure they have what they need to be comfortable.  I guess if they are happy then we are happy.

Yesterday Right before we went to Salvation Mountain we toured to beautifully painted concrete water tanks.  They secular versions of the God is Love theme.  One mural depicts all kinds of dinosaurs and monsters with an anti-war theme.  The other mural depicts sex acts in every imaginable position.  I was surprised to see it was all heterosexual, but there were some hilarious depictions of inter-species copulation.

We befriended our first full timer, Gene Goff, yesterday.  Gene is in his late 60s and has been on the road for over 20 years.  He’s lived on disability and Social Security.  He lost most of his left hand in an as yet undisclosed manner.  He has the conical base of his thumb and the palm heel.  The combination was surprisingly dexterous.  Anyway, Gene was full of helpful advice and gave us a ton of pamphlets on where to camp free in Texas and Arizona.  One is about public hunting lands in Texas.  Burt has already found a place with no limit on feral hogs and a limit of 25 on frogs.  Free camping and all the food we can eat.  Gene wants our trailer if we give up the road.  We want to pick his brain if we get in a tight spot.  His number is in our book under R for RVers.

Here’s a bunch of pictures.  Happy 2010, Everyone!!!


Moved but not Saved

Leonard and the gypsies

Here we are with the creator of Salvation Mountain.  Leonard is 86 years old.  Twenty-nine years ago he came out here to camp for a week and build a small homage to God.  He hasn’t left and he’s still creating.  Leonard is almost stone deaf, so we couldn’t chat but we got a tour.  He doesn’t proselytize rather he is still so excited about his art that he focuses on the work.  Flowers are fun to make because he get to goosh his hands into the wet adobe and Leonard likes the feeling.  The site was designated a National Folk Art treasure.  Burt and I were both overwhelmed by his friendliness and his gratitude that people “liked” what he made.  Below are some of my favorite pics from the tour.

Interior of Salvation Mountain
Leonard pointing out a flower
The Yellow Brick Road
Burt and Elvis on top of Salvation Mountain
God is Love

Slab City is where you’ll find me

We arrived at 4:00.  First impression:  we will never leave or we will never come back.  Its free free free.  The scenery is spectacular.  We are far from civilization but have better cell service than in Pasadena.  640 acres with squatters and RVers spawled all over.  Everyone has a dog.  Salvation Mountain.  More on that tomorrow. Live Music.  Our awning will be up and we’ll be playing outside in the morning.  Tonight it’s scallops and broccoli over angel hair pasta for dinner.


Leaving LA tomorrow

Hillary Mark and Me

Thanks to the Mark family we have enjoyed a great few days in the LA area.  It is time to get the heck out of here and see some emptiness.  Today we hiked up Eaton Canyon and Henninger Flats.  About 3.5 miles in and up a couple thousand feet.  Burt’s cousin’s daughter (anyone on the term?) Hillary went with us.  You can see her in the pic here.  I’m feeling pretty good with two days of hiking accomplished in the LA metro area.  I took my puffy feet to REI and got some new light hikers afterward.

We took Aunt Carol and Uncle George to dinner tonight and came home and watched some TiVo Jeopardy.  I was amused Burt hadn’t heard of TiVo.  I do my best to keep him abreast of technological developments but we don’t have a TV so I guess I dropped the ball.

Tomorrow we hit a grocery store and head out to Slab City.  Slab City is an abandoned Marine base in the desert.  You can go there and squat for free.  Thousands of people live there in the winter.  We are going to check it out and report back.  There’s a talent show there on Saturday.  If we can hang that long maybe we’ll have a go.  My updates might be delayed.


Some people can’t help but be…you fill in the blank.

Burt took me to see his Grandma and Grandpa Nelson’s house in Glendora today.  The place still retains an air of redneck nobility perched up on its hill surrounded by newer and flashier homes.  I saw the oak tree where the bees lived in a hollow.  The hollow was still there but no bees today.  Burt’s grandparents rented from the owners who lived next door.  The landlords raised rattlesnakes and collected venom to make anti-venom when Burt was hanging around.  The houses had been surrounded by an orange grove but even now with all the new development open space is only about a block away so you can get a feel for what a wonderland  this must have been for him.

Then we drove up San Gabriel canyon and did a day hike along the West Fork of the San Gabriel River.  We noticed signs on the way up the canyon mentioning a parking permit but couldn’t figure out where we were supposed to get the permit.  Being wild and crazy people we didn’t try to find out.  I mean, come on, we followed the rules at Venice Beach, but pay to park in the National Forest?  Not if we could help it.

The hike was a closed and paved road leading to Cogswell Dam.  The first half mile was swarmed with families up from the city.  Rainbow trout are native to this stream and there were people trying to catch them.  I ignored the pavement and told myself we would out walk the people n 20 minutes and we did.  In about 25 minutes there was a bridge with a sign off to the side that mentioned the public lands were closed beyond “this” point.  The sign was off the road and at a 45 degree angle to the bridge.  There was no chain, no obstacle on the bridge so we decided it was ambiguous at best and perhaps referred to the land on the other side of the stream.  We really were unsure and I hesitated for a moment but I thought, if this road is closed why not a chain?  Or a sign in the road?  Or a notice at the trailhead?  Oh well, there’s nobody here anyway.

We walked on.  We saw a couple cyclists.  Two carrying fishing rods.  The land here is steeper than anything I’ve seen.  From the road the terrain heads up at about a 6o degree slope with thick vegetation.  Rock climbing would have been easier than walking anywhere other than the road.  Just shy of 3 miles in we found a magical water fall with a series of pools we could scramble to.  The cleft cut into the steep hills and just like in the Grand Canyon I wanted to see if I could get to the next pool.  I gave up at 3.  It was late and we had places to be.

We turned around at mile marker 3 and headed out.  Quickly a car coming from the trailhead pulled up to us.  In it was a middle aged man out with what I took to be his mother.  In an absurd display of bureacratic puffery he told us the area was closed and that we must leave at once.  Burt  and I both expressed our confusion which resulted in him telling us we would be fined $5000 if we were caught.  I have done less agregious things than walk on pavement in a National Forest for which I have felt much guiltier.  “Let them try,” I thought.  I turned to leave when I heard Burt mildly ask, “What are you doing here?”  “Well I work for the Forest Service,” was his response.  Then some mumbling from “mom” and our public servant explained to mom and Burt that well no, he didn’t give the tickets, the sheriff did, but by god the sheriff was around and he’d find us.  And by the way your dog has the be on a leash.  Now the last line, dear reader, is utter BS.  Yours truly is always looking to see what the doggie rules are everywhere we go.  There were no signs about dog leashes AND we had indeed passed the sheriff (on the unambiguously open portion of the road) with our dog running amok and there was no citation or warning issued.  All of which left this former public servant itching for a fight with the feds.  BECAUSE…what the hell was this moron doing DRIVING on a closed road on a Sunday, in a private car with his mother, telling us we weren’t allowed to walk on it? I think Burt was less pissed off than me.

We made it out without incident.  On our windshield was a parking ticket.  Pay $5 now or $100 later.  Pretty nice deal.  With real motivation we could see the parking permit kiosk and made our peace with Uncle Sam.


Venice Beach

Where to start?  We decided to go to Venice Beach and see what it was like to busk there.  First though we did a driving tour of the neighborhood where Burt spent most of his formative years.  Despite the obvious differences in environs between NJ and southern CA, it was apparent to both of us that we had grown up in similar socio-economic situations.  Here is how I see it:  We both grew up in working class neighborhoods surrounded by more affluent neighbors.  There used to be easy access to streams and woods.  The beach was close.   I think NJ was about 10 years behind CA in the cultural shifts of the 50s-70s so that accounts for our age differences.

We followed the Garmin GPS to Venice Beach and payed $9 to park.  We could have parked free on the street, but our instruments were in the truck and we wanted to check the place out before we decided if we wanted to play.  We walked north past the paddle tennis and basketball and weight lifting scenes.  The paddle tennis looked incredibly fun.  The mini-tennis courts were packed.  I think Burt and I could be a threat to each other in doubles.

There was a barker trying to lure people in to see a freak show.  I’ve always thought I would want to go if I had the chance but today I didn’t have the stomach for it.  I’m not sure if it was the human element or the bizarro animal stuff that gave me the willies.  The mental image of the rubber lady made me want to gag.  It was only $5 and I just kept walking.  Maybe under cover of darkness.  Once a friend of mine told me he saw a circus freak show in Great Falls (just a couple of years ago) and when he went in his 12 year old son refused and said it was demeaning to the “performers.”  I confessed my fascination and mentioned that I had read about how there  was a rich history and sense of pride among people that had chosen the line of work.  I asked how it was and he said, “creepy…the world’s smallest lady was just sitting down there in a little set…”  I think he said she was knitting and looked peevish.  He decided his son was right.  Sounded like a rip-off to me.  All that to say I need therapy before I see a real freak show.

Out on the boardwalk was a man in yellow pajamas doing an act with broken bottles.  We were drawn in by his idiosyncratic showmanship.  Soon we were drawn in because Burt was part of the show.  I cannot do it justice.  The video is up on Facebook.

The human spectacle on the boardwalk was not remarkable.  What was mind blowing was the abundance of people stoned out of their mind offering to get us our medical marijuana cards.  Every 5th shop was a medical marijuana dispensary with a “doctor” on duty to get you started.  You just need $100 and a claim that you suffer from any one of scores of eligible ailments and you can start smoking and growing.  California allows you to grow ninety (90!) plants for personal use.  It’s such a joke, I think they should just go ahead and legalize it.  Then we can (maybe) get a handle on the black market and all the ugliness associated with it.  The obviously easy access to pot leaves me with this question:  Who in god’s name is still buying the stuff illegally in California? And one more: Montana allows medical marijuana users six plants.  I head from people in the business that 6 is a lot more than most people need.  If so, what are people in California doing with the 84 extra plants?

While I pondered dope and freaks we watched the skate boarders.  There manner of sharing the park with each other had an indecipherable etiquette.  There were nods and looks and body language sorting out the right-of-way analogous to a pack of dogs.  Burt’s explained the system for surfing and I hope someday I’ll be good enough to try it out.  A surf wave is pretty straight forward; Everyone surfs in the same direction.  Skate boarders were crowded and going in seemingly random directions doing random tricks.  Beautiful.

We overheard some kids talking about finding a “spot” to play music.  We asked them if they knew the rules.  They had their medical marijuana cards and could not provide clear instruction.  We got the idea that it might be free and you might need a card from the police.  Burt and I decided to try to play by the rules so we wandered over to the conveniently located police station.  The very helpful guys there said we could play for free if we had nothing to sell.  Good thing we haven’t released our cd yet.  We also had to display a yellow card that said people were under no obligation to give us money.  They said we were supposed to play in a specific area along the boardwalk.  Burt asked, “Can we play in the grass?”  The officer said, “We discourage that, but you can.”  We probed a little more and each of us concluded that if you are white, middle aged and fairly clean, you can play in the grass.  Of course this was an unspoken conclusion that we shared with each other later.  We think the police of Venice Beach are hoping to attract more performers like us.

We took our yellow placard, collected Elvis and our instruments and went to find a “spot.”  We had left Elvis in the car to guard our instruments while we were on recon.  As usual he did an exemplary job.  Since we were slow in sussing everything out all free “spots.” were occupied.  We decided to play next to the basketball courts.  I think I liked the ambiance because I spent time on the side of a court watching my dad play when I was a kid.  I think these guys would have kicked my dad’s ass.  No offense dad.  So we tuned up and got playing.

We weren’t in quite the right area for our type of music.  Most of the bball watchers kept their headphones on.  Nevertheless we had some diehard fans.  Right off a young guy hears us doing Wagonwheel and stops to listen and sing along.  He had a rough night.  He either fell on his head or was bludgeoned.  There were 6 stitches over his left eyebrow and a gold ball sized swelling on his cheekbone.  His clothes were ragged and his hair dirty but his smile was sweet.  He waved over another street kid and said listen, listen this is a great song.   When it was over he sincerely thanked us and started to head on.  He turned around dug in his pocket and gave us a quarter.  I teared up.  The officer that helped us out swung by gave a nod and turned to watch the basketball.

An Asian man listened for quite a while and also thanked us for playing and threw in a couple of bucks.  Another street kid dumped in all her change.  Most people smiled or waved.  I really enjoyed mindlessly playing fiddle tunes and watching the crowd.  The songs were more difficult because of the activity.  During Put the Blame on Mame a flock of seagulls (not the band) came in low, cackled and pooped right on me.  I’m sure it was a compliment.  After 2 hours of playing we had seen what we wanted to see and we had $4 in the case, it was time to go home.