Well, this year is off to a GREAT start….

Those of you who follow my Instagram (@rcmwandering) or Facebook feeds might be aware that the current north-bound trip to Fort Worth to do Mom-related stuff went South rather abruptly. The first part of the trip went well enough, but as I got to Waxahachie, about 50 miles southeast of Fort Worth, my faithful 4Runner, Andromeda, traveling companion and best wandering friend of the last 11 years, coughed once and died. We got over to the shoulder safely, but things kind of went to hell from there. (Who knew Waxahachie, Texas was a hellmouth?)

Happily I was in an area with good cell service and was able to contact a couple of my adopted brothers for advice and assistance, since the last time I lived in this area was before college and all the mechanics I knew here are long out of business. (As it happened Mom has arranged things such that I’ve actually got several siblings from other mothers up here, which is turning out to be surprisingly pleasant as well as quite useful – I’ve never really been part of a non-dysfunctional family before. A guy could get used to this.)

(Thanks, Mom.)

After a few phone calls and a short wait, the nice AAA lady came along with her big truck and took Rommie and me up to Brother M’s driveway, where M and I set to with wrenches and prybars and implements of destruction and swapped out the fuel pump, then stared at each other blankly when that didn’t fix the problem. (We were SO sure…) Out came the Haynes manuals, and after prowling through them for a bit we decided that the SECOND most probable cause was beyond what we felt comfortable tackling under a tree in the rain. Out came the trusty cell phone again. The shop my OTHER brother, G, recommended was actually nearby and had a tow service THEY recommended. So Rommie got to make another trip on the back of another big truck, and Brother M and I piled into his picking-up truck and followed.

We wound up at Callaway’s Automotive on Davis Boulevard, where Bruce McLeod, the General Manager, (and isn’t that a fine Scots name?) assured me that his techs would take a look and let me know how bad it was….

On the theory that a wanderer can never EVER have too many contacts or emergency backups, I’m going to throw in a very serious plug for Callaway’s. [5832 Davis Blvd, North Richland Hills, Texas, 76180. 817/485-8189. Bruce McLeod, General Manager] I came from nowhere with no appointment or advance notice and a truck in what turned out to be mortal distress. They were polite, professional, helpful, and went WAY above and beyond to save my happy ass. I could not have asked, and would not have dared hope, for better people to work with. If you’re in the DFW area and need mechanics, these are your folks. They don’t come any better.

Then off to Mom’s for dinner, a shower, and a couple of stiff drinks. Been THAT kind of day… two of them, actually.

About a day later the phone rang… Bruce. Long story short, Rommie threw her timing belt and probably swallowed a valve or several. Beyond economical repair, as the saying has it. It’d cost close to a grand just to find out how much it was likely to cost to fix, with a top end in the middle thousands. Yowtch. And, as Mom pointed out several times, even if I put in a rebuilt engine the REST of the truck would still be 24 years old and starting to fail on a depressingly regular basis – and I no longer live in a house with a well-equipped shop and several other cars with which to fetch parts as needed. And, too, if Rommie had gone on strike or suicided outside of, say, Presidio or Comstock or some other backside of beyond cosmic garden spot of the sort I frequent, I’d have been several different kinds of up to my whatnots in whatevers. (Moms worry about their kids wandering the universe in old shaky fragile machines, it’s kind of their job…)

Plus there’s this whole thing about having to make a living and boost my writing and photographing career and all that terribly practical stuff. (My mother, in case you haven’t caught this already, is one of the Divine’s personal instructors in Practicality, Responsibility, and Dealing With It.)

Now in a perfect world I’d have a place to store Rommie until the time and money and facilities came together and I could drop a new engine in, but in this world… was NOT going to happen.

So, like it or NOT, it was time to actually look for another truck.

Back to the phone. Fortunately sister A had a friend of a friend with a cousin who knew a neighbor whose fourth cousin once spoke with a cook whose doctor had a miscellaneous relative of some flavor who worked at an Auto Nation dealership in the area. (The chain of links was a bit vague, but it worked out something like that, anyway.)

I haven’t paid attention to the used car market for over a decade now – up until a few days ago I had a perfectly serviceable truck. I wasn’t aware that there are now used-car CHAINS with branded dealerships, so when I found a vehicle that looked promising at Auto Nation, well… Auto Nation is Auto Nation, right? I kept hunting and found there were several prospects at Auto Nation, plus several other prospects within a few miles.

Mom and I accordingly drafted Brother M (“Bare is the back without a brother.” – MZB; we bribed him with good Mexican coffee.) as driver and expert (HE had a working truck, and it turns out he’s even better at this stuff than I am, and I’m no slouch.) and went truck shopping. Our first stop was the Auto Nation Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram (etc etc etc) dealership, which is not the one where sister A’s contact worked, but again I didn’t know the difference, and it WAS where my #1A prospect was parked, so…

25blackspacer

Long years ago, I needed a vehicle post-haste, so I walked onto a lot and the first guy I saw sold me the first truck I looked at, which turned out to have been waiting there for me to find her. And THAT was Andromeda I. The magic held… it happened again.

Despite warnings from Mom, Brother M, and my inner paranoiac that sales listings are never accurate, it took us all about an hour to conclude that, once a couple of minor glitches (light bulbs, in this case) were dealt with, the first truck I looked at was just what I needed… a nicely set-up 2007 4Runner with a 4-liter engine, a 5-speed automagic transmission, all sorts of luxury goodies and a ride… well, I’ve driven bumpier Cadillacs. She came with just over 100k on the clock (which counts as barely broken in for a Toyota), a good price, and another very helpful salesman. This time it was a gent named Alex Ajraz, who is, it turns out, both Chilean and a very talented hand with a camera himself. Inevitably, we hit it off. (Another recommendation here – contact me and I’ll put you in touch. Another Above and Beyond sort of place.)

So far the only thing I’ve found missing (aside from the sunroof, which is a nice but utterly nonessential thing) is that for some reason Rommie II came from the factory with a 7-wire trailer wiring harness – but no trailer hitch. One of the things that’ll eventually make sense, maybe. I’m an old JC Whitney customer anyway; I’ll have a hitch bolted up in there in no time as soon as I (and my bank account) recover from the shock of buying her in the first place. New trucks are EXPENSIVE, even when they’re only new to me.

So as of now we’re back on the road with a new and improved body for Andromeda/Rommie and a bunch of new adventures waiting. She’s not quite as well set-up for true off-road adventures as Rommie I was, but the new JC Whitney catalog is on the way… You Just Never Know. Time to rock.

(Obligatory marketing teaser: Look for the tales of our adventures here, over at The Other Texas, and on Instagram, where we’re @rcmwandering using hashtags #AndromedaII, #howtostopatruck, and #attheendofthepavedroad. I’ll toss links, snark, and occasional raging liberal political comments on Twitter sometimes, too – @rcmwandering)

(Obligatory commercial note: If you haven’t already, please use the link on the front page and sign up for the mailing list. It’s a way to keep in touch and I promise personally that you will never be sold or spammed, because I get all sorts of raving and rantish when that’s done to me, too…)

One more for the end of the year..

Okay, this one’s been burning holes in the HD for almost a month now, so I guess it’s time to throw it up here.

Last post I mentioned that I was in the FW/D Metroplex for family reasons (a thing which will probably become more common for the next I-don’t-know-how-long). On the way back I swung east a bit to Mission Tejas State Historical Park. Mission Tejas has been on my “go see” list for a couple of years now, so I finally went to see it.

Mission Tejas is an homage to the early Spanish Missions of East Texas. The current log cabin structure was built by the CCC “boys” back in 1934-35 and dedicated, along with the park itself, in 1936. There’s some interesting history here; few Texans outside of serious history buffs are even aware that the Spanish attempted to create missions in the East Texas Piney Woods. They weren’t particularly successful, in part because they never found a way to make the Piney Woods missions self-sustaining the way the south Texas missions were, and in part because sending supplies or reinforcements to those missions required a long trek from Spanish Mexico to East Texas through hostile territory over bad or non-existent roads. And, too, the Spanish appear to have just had some abysmally bad luck into the bargain. In any case the missions failed, quickly. So it’s a largely unknown bit of history, which means I’m researching it with the intent of learning enough to make it an interesting tale just for you guys. Okay, it’s a lot of fun for me, too, but I was always weird like that.

Meantime we have these two shots, outside and inside …. because the day I was there I was the only person there, and it was cold, misty, and grey, which doesn’t encourage lots of landscape photography. But that said, it’s a nice little state park, and in addition to the mission “replica” there’s camping, some wildlife watching, nature hikes and fishing.

A section of El Camino Real, the original road from East Texas down to Spanish Mexico, wanders by about half a mile down the hill from where I stood to shoot these. (It’s now a National Historic Trail with its own nonprofit foundation, which means there’s actual maintenance and preservation being done. Yay!)

Come Spring I’m going to set up Home Sweet Nylon Taffeta Home in the park, lace up my boots, sling a camera bag, and my staff and I are going to trace a few of the 700 or so miles from here to San Antonio…

Of course this means that it will be necessary to post something, either here or over at The Other Texas. (Note: If you’d like to receive an email when I post the story, or any others, please go back to the front page, find the “send me email” link, and join the mailing list. It’s an automatic feature – you won’t be sold and you won’t be spammed. My word on that, because I HATE having that done to me…)

Happy Trails, in any case….

Getting there: The park is 21 miles northeast of Crockett on SH21, near Weches. You’ll need a car, or good boots and a walking staff, because there’s no public transport or bus lines this far out. The site offers, as said, camping, hiking, fishing, picnicking, and history. Plus flush toilets and hot showers – which matter more than you might think on cold winter mornings.

Willkommen – Christkindl Market

The calendar said I was going to the Tomball German Christmas Market this weekend. Unfortunately, as for many of us, the calendar failed to take account of the reality of life with aging parents, so instead I wound up at the Christkindl Market, which is the ARLINGTON German Christmas Market.

It’s a small festival, only a few years old, and so far it’s still a fairly standard small local arts & artisans festival. It may become more thematic as it grows, but for now the merchandise is nice and a great deal more varied than most small festivals I’ve been to. In no particular order, I found displays of Andean Textiles; Nepalese masks and statuary; Turkish lamps and Senegalese baskets; Alpaca textiles; wooden drinking mugs, bowls, and other stuff; works from a local artists’ alliance; nice prints from a couple of landscape and travel photographers; a selection of German lace, woodcarvings, and miniature cuckoo clocks; and Bavarian ornaments, decor, and kitsch. Also presenting displays and, in a couple of cases, demonstrations, were a lapidary shop (with a geode cracker and a selection of 11-30 million year old surprise packages!); a lady trading in African clothing, art, and beadwork; a couple who turn out very colorful dichroic glass jewelry; a filigree maker from North Carolina; and a Persian artist who turns out some truly magnificent wooden inlay work. Oh… and a wonderful little chocolatier whose shop was giving out free samples. Yes. Free Gourmet Chocolate. My job is an unutterable horror.

Take a look. (There’s a bigger version of the collage behind the thumbnail copy, but the aforementioned aging parent still has the world’s slowest remaining dialup connection and gets timed out whenever I post big stuff, so I try to keep the front page here fairly tight. Those of you whose parents still live in the neolithic will understand; those of you whose parents haven’t gotten that far back will understand someday, probably sooner than you’d like. Be patient…)

Go. Enjoy. Lots of fun stuff you won’t find at the mall or the Big Box.

GETTING THERE: The market is on a closed stretch of Road To Six Flags on the north side of Globe Life Park (the Rangers’ Stadium, for the old-school contingent) between Ballpark Way and Nolan Ryan Expressway, just East of Collins in Arlington. It runs from now until 23 December… Website with directions, hours, and lots of other stuff, some useful and some not, is HERE.

This Day In History 61 years ago

A few years ago I was in San Antonio for a festival and, as I usually do, I set up my tent at the KOA on the east side and caught the bus into town. (I got into the habit of riding Via when I was in college there; it’s still one of my personal touchpoints for what a public transit system ought to be.)

And I noticed something, and as I pulled out my camera thinking it was a special bus, the other passengers and the driver all told me that no, this is standard – the front row left seat of all the Via buses have this.

61 years ago today… and although it definitely feels as though we’re moving backwards, we’re still not quite at this level again. Yet.

61 years ago.

The Turkeys are Loose..

Okay, by now everyone knows what’s going on.

It’s … whatever the Saturday after Black Friday is, and as I rarely leave the cave on Black Friday unless I’m being paid to do so, I don’t have to recover from shopping or mayhem…

So while I’m not out buying things I don’t need at sale prices that generally aren’t all THAT good, I usually plant my happy butt in my computer chair to sort through and work up the (far too many) pictures from Thursday’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. (The curse of having digital cameras that let me shoot several hundreds or thousands of frames without stopping to reload is that I shoot hundreds or thousands of frames without stopping to think about HOW much work I’m making for myself later….)

Yup. I did it to myself again. I DID stop just short of a thousand frames this year, 900-odd, but it’s in my mind that the parade was a little shorter than usual and much more crowded, which made moving around harder.

Still, that leaves me, when all’s done, a pretty sizable gallery for you to ramble through and enjoy. So, oddly enough, I’m gonna shut up and let you go do just that.

So click on any of the pictures here…. (They all take you to the same link…)

Enjoy. Thanks for coming along for the ride.

Life Goes On…

If you look at the last post, I lost a good friend earlier this month.

Well, I didn’t “lose” him exactly, we know exactly what happened… but talking with him is a little harder now, and I’m spending a fair bit of time trying to remember and write down what I can of the Pittman stories I heard or was part of, because what’s left is all there will be, and remembering them seems important. I just wish I’d written a great many of them down when they happened.

(Lesson for those of you with crazy friends – take good notes. You’ll want them later. I’m SURE there was a great story here, but while it _was_ a night to remember, well… I don’t.)

Anyway I spent a couple of days driving out to Alpine for the official “sending friends on ahead” rituals, which, in theory at least, make the situation just a bit more bearable. I suppose it was a “good” trip, for some value of the term. Andromeda the 4runner purred like a kitten all the way, we didn’t run out of gas, water, or food, and although the air mattress did blow out the truck’s quite comfortable to sleep in.

But, all things considered, I wasn’t really that much “there” in terms of looking for photographs. A quick stop at the historical site and Texas Tourism Office at Langtry to soak up a bit of myth and a BUNCH of brochures and maps and travel literature ended with me holding down the bar at Judge Roy Bean’s Jersey Lilly Saloon…

(I’m not big on writing saloon reviews, but the service WAS somewhat slow. This might be because the saloonkeeper has been dead for over a century now. I wouldn’t complain, though… I’m not entirely sure just how dead he might be, and even as a ghost the judge is probably still a man to reckon with….)

Not too many miles later I got into memory-land and I’m going to quietly draw the curtain on the next day or two…

But Davis Mountains is a pretty state park and the people there are both friendly and efficient. I highly recommend reservations, especially on pleasant weekends. There was a sign on the door: “We’re Full. All campsites in the park are taken or reserved. If you don’t have a reservation you’re probably out of luck.” I HAD a reservation and still wound up with a “go to the end of the world and take the second left” campsite, not that I minded. There were signs posted that the park now features Brown Bears, Mountain Lions, and Javelina, but the only dangerous wildlife I encountered was a troop of New Mexico Boy Scouts one campsite over. Good kids, mostly.

I’ll have to go back and wander, because I never even got the cameras out of the truck. I wasn’t feeling it and I wasn’t on anyone’s clock, so I took a couple of days off, mentally.

But after the memorial service and the scattering, I started pulling myself back into the here and now of things…

This is sunset, the night of the scattering, from more or less Pittman’s Point, which isn’t on the map but IS on SH 170 just west of Terlingua, on the west edge of Long Draw…

I curled up in the driver’s seat and slept there that night, owing largely to the late hour, an unwillingness to shell out a lot for a hotel, and a weird vibe from the campsite I’d reserved. The next morning at first light I headed east into the park, stopping for a shot of the entry sign…

and a conveniently placed tree…

and a few mountains.

After which I stopped for water and book shopping at Panther Junction, the Big Bend park headquarters. It’s one of the best places to find information about the history and geology of the park, although Jean Hardy-Pittman’s Front Street Books in Alpine has a decent selection too. (Full Disclosure: The “Pittman” on the end isn’t coincidental. Jean was Blair’s wife and, arguably, better half for the last several years of his life, and she DOES run a good bookshop.)

There were several books in the store that looked worth reading, but given that I’m prepping for a major move the idea of buying more books was a bit unappetizing, so… I filled the water bottles (Desert safety protocol 1: NEVER pass up the chance to refill your water supplies… ) and headed north.

A few miles up the road from PJ is an exhibit called “Fossil Bone,” dealing with the geology and paleontology of the Chihuahua desert, which long before any of us existed was covered with water and inhabited by several kinds of interesting critters, at least one of which was the size of a flying Greyhound bus. They don’t come around much any more, though. Anyway there’s a whole new exhibit being put in now, but it won’t be ready for several weeks or months yet. So with no exhibit I wandered around, looking at the sandstone formations in the area, and before long I drifted into an Irwin Allen-esque moonscape world where everything slipped out of scale and I could almost see the little models climbing the cliffs and fighting off invaders and dinosaurs and spaceships…

(I probably spent too much of my youth in my own and other writer-types’ imaginary worlds, but they knew me there and I had friends…)

By then it was getting on towards 1100 and starting to warm up. I’ve been in Big Bend when it gets several steps past warm, and as I don’t generally like hot weather, I didn’t want to wait for that, so… time to leave. I made one more stop for a nice tall yucca, still in bloom for some reason…

and then I put my foot down and headed back to Houston, because no matter how much I love wandering the back parts of the planet, I’m still stuck needing to make a living. For now.

In that connection, please read the Obligatory Commercial Note.

(Obligatory Commercial Note: Prints of most of the pictures here (in fact, most of the pictures on this blog) are or can become available for purchase through my space at Fine Art America. If it should happen that you’re more interested in photos printed on shirts, tote bags, pillows, shower curtains, or other strange kitschy stuff, they do that too… and some of the stuff (by no means all, but some – usually I don’t judge but even pigs gots to have SOME standards) is available in that format too. If you’re looking for something and it’s not on the FAA site, drop me an email. Yes, it’s a commercial enterprise, but (a) they take plastic, which I’m not otherwise able to do, and (b) I, and therefore you, get _far_ better prices than I can offer if I have to do all the back end stuff myself. Thank you for your patronage. Yes, I’m trying to turn some of this into a money-making enterprise, or at least pay FAA’s far-from-exorbitant fees.)

Blair Pittman 1937 – 2016

Blair Pittman

April 1994 – Somewhere on the side of Chimborazo 15,000 feet up in the High Ecuadoran Andes

February 12, 1937 – October 10, 2016

August 1994 – So we’re on the train from Guayaquil, Ecuador, up into the Andes, when suddenly Blair decides to hold up the train….

Good friend, mentor, travel partner, companion in crime
(They never could catch us…)

August 1994 – It wasn’t until we all crawled back into our suddenly very small van that we realized those bags he was lying on contained raw sheep manure. It was a while before we let him live that one down.

Rest easy, my friend… see you soon….

The 18th Century would like a word with you….

Between the heat and the neighbors starting the Holiday fireworks a couple of days early (and staying with them more or less continuously for 3 days…) I was pretty much unFourthed by the morning of the 3d. I decided that I’d much rather get dangerously dehydrated in the shade of a beautiful mansion with a handful of agreeably sober historians than in a big open field with twenty or fifty thousand rowdy drunks, so I went back to 1776 at Bayou Bend instead of hitting the big commercial festivals. (Yes, I know, it wasn’t BUILT then and this part of the country was still what God meant it to be – a yellow fever swamp. The Allen Brothers won’t be born for decades. Time Travel involves paradox. Deal with it.)

Yes, they’re carrying military weapons – but the Second Amendment is still a few years in the future and the NRA is a LONG way off yet.

The problem with musicians is they don’t know enough to come in out of the sun…

“Pay attention, you. This is important and there WILL be a test. Several of them, actually. And they’re not graded on a curve.”

“We hold these Truths to be Self-Evident: That All Men are Created Equal…”

Okay, we’re not there yet but at least some of us are still trying.

There was other stuff, games and crowds and music and cake and such, but … This was the important part. (Well, that and drinking ice water by the gallon trying not to die…)

I hung around for an hour or so after the reading, chatting with soldiers and musicians and even a couple of Tories (“That’s Loyal British Subjects to you, you traitorous b*stards…”) and in general melting slowly, and then headed home. I thought about going out later for fireworks shots but there were already enough things going boom two buildings north and I just wasn’t up for it, so I stayed in and drank more gallons of ice water. After a few years fireworks all start to look the same anyway.

(Late Edit: To the right of the top post is a box for you to sign up to receive email updates when we post here. ESPECIALLY if you’re coming here from a FaceBook link, I’d appreciate it if you’d use that. You won’t be sold or spammed, and when I leave Facebook (soon) we won’t completely lose touch. Thanks.)

And while I’m at it…

Playing tag with los Federales and the US Army gets tiring…

Nota bene*: This is a professional at work.

Don’t try sleepdriving at home, even if you ARE the ultimate legendary crossborder badass.

*Mrs. Jenkins, my HS literature teacher, would be proud of me. Some of that stuff stuck.

Oops….

Says right here in Blogging for Dummies that I need to post regularly, certainly more often than every couple of months. Of course it also says that when you’ve been blogging for several years and your regular audience is in the mid single-digits you should probably admit defeat and go live in a cave somewhere a long way from everyone, too, so there’s that.

(Don’t think it doesn’t cross my mind just about every few seconds these days, but with this election thing going on, the rent on caves… well, it’s through the roof. Soon enough, though.)

Anyway. So much for that.

I haven’t actually been totally goofing off.

The guy on the left there, looking like maybe he’s had saner days, is Robert Revilla, Jr. Today he’s being Pancho Villa. Some other day he may be Santa Anna or a pretty fair jackleg carpenter. (I’ve yet to see Santa Anna but can attest to the carpentry…)

Next to him is Larry Callies, who’s your basic all-around Western dude. Zydeco musician, champion rodeo cowboy, saddlemaker, leatherworker… and he’s now trying to ramrod a black cowboy museum in Rosenberg (It’s why I was there; this is a fundraiser event with a bunch of miscellaneous strange folk – how could I miss?)

If I can make it happen I’d like to wander down to his shop when he’s working; I’ve gotten to watch all sorts of handwork and frontier-type skills, but I’ve never seen a saddle being built and it sounds like it would be worth seeing and maybe shooting. Details as they develop….

Leaning on the car at right, there – that’s Ol’ Doc Parker, who’s been known to hide out as Cowboy Shootist Keith Bollom.

Behind him is the lovelier-than-lovely Yellow Rose Of Texas, who shall remain otherwise unknown on the theory that dreams should be allowed to remain undisturbed by reality.

*****

The Other Texas has another story in the works, of course… You should click on over there and take a look…

And even though it’s pushing a hundred out there, I think I’m gonna go look for something interesting to photograph. Just because.