Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Finally catching our breath a bit

Gotta dig those sky-high flyovers! This is where the Sam Houston Tollway meets the Rt. 59 Highway over in Sugar Land, Texas, a part of Greater Houston.

Things are finally winding down here in Houston. We haven't been officially "released" yet although neither one of us has had any new inspections for several days. We talked to the "Gods of Production" this morning and they said that most inspectors had been sent home but they are keeping us on reserve to see if there are any final inspections that need to be done.

The campground that we have been staying at has been full of construction workers and insurance adjusters until lately. Now they too are winding down. Note the ladders and the pickup trucks:

All in all this has been quite a hectic but satisfying time for both Deb and myself. And I'm very proud of Deb. She worked very hard. For that matter, ol' John worked pretty hard. I'd say that the pace and goals of what we were doing suits both of us very well.

We have been working as subcontractors (a hint: pretty much all disaster relief work is contracted out these days) doing inspections for a particular FEMA-funded program. We weren't quite the first responders but we were pretty close, and an army of inspectors swarmed through coastal Texas immediately following Ike's landfall trying to resolve claims and keep folks restored to pre-disaster conditions as quickly as possible. The days were long and the workload intense, but I will have to say that all of the folks that I met were enthusiastic to the end and the community was happy to see us jump in there and try to help.

Greater Houston itself has turned out to be very interesting. Highly industrial and very densely populated, Houston is more of a melting pot than I expected. In addition to the obvious Hispanic community, Houston has a sizable Greek contingency, a large Chinese community and and other Asian populations. The stereotype of Houston being dominated by rightwing old white folks wearing cowboy boots is tempered somewhat by reality. I'm looking forward to exploring the coastal areas because I suspect that there is plenty of scope for folks wearing deck shoes to mingle with those folks wearing their boots.

The highway systems here in Houston are very impressive in the volumes of traffic they move every day. Houston has not one but multiple beltways running around the perimeter of the city, and where highways intersect you can always find a complicated set of flyover ramps that are breathtakingly tall. Tall enough that one begins to wish for a full set of flight controls in their auto. Tall enough that airliners approaching Bush International fly below the highway. OK ... not literally that high but you get the picture. Impressive stuff!

Barring anything unforeseen Deb and I plan to settle down in Houston for a few years. Except to move our property out of Jacksonville, and assuming that there isn't a hurricane in Florida that takes us back to the state next year, I don't anticipate that we'll be back in Florida any time soon.

In the short run we have been staying at a KOA (Kampgrounds of America) on the northern side of Houston for the last several weeks. By the time you read this we will likely be on the road. We are going to meander down the highway a bit and to the southern side of Houston for a few days of fishin' and writin' and just generally kicking back and exploring the Texas coastline. We expect to be down along the Mexican border in a few days to a week. Deb and I drove along the coast south of Galveston yesterday, along a stretch where the road was officially closed for miles and miles, and I'll post those photos in another post. Very dramatic stuff down there.


I guess that when we get back from Mexico I'll have to consider the unthinkable again - getting a job. She Who Must Be Obey'd saw a newer motorhome that she really wants, and while we are unlikely to get the very same one that she saw at the dealership I wouldn't be too surprised if a new (to us) Newell is in the future somewhere. Long popular with the race car crowd because of the power and superior handling compared to most buses and RVs, I am rapidly beginning to appreciate the qualities of a Newell. Whereas our Bluebird is built of steel, the Newell is built of aircraft-quality aluminum. As a consequence the Newells are much stronger than the fiberglass motorhomes that you see regularly and while a Newell isn't as strong as a Bluebird they typically are much lighter. Lighter equals better fuel mileage and better handling. Comparing a Bluebird to a Newell is about like comparing a well-built sedan to a sports car. Both are at the top of the market among RVs.

Only time will tell.

Deb's dream future motorhome:

I am also beginning to realize that whether we will be buying cheap diesel fuel in Mexico for the Bluebird (which has 300 gallon diesel tanks) or getting significantly better mileage with a newer motorhome that we are likely to have an opportunity to travel more if we base ourselves in Houston. Last summer diesel in Florida was almost $5/gallon. Diesel fuel is relatively cheap in Texas, and even cheaper in Mexico, where it's hovered around $2.27/gallon for years. When you are getting 5 mpg (40 ft. Bluebird with a 6V92 Detroit Diesel) or closer to 7 mpg (40 ft. Newell or 35 ft. single-axle Bluebird) the reduction in cost is dramatic.


A number of folks have asked about the Humourlist, my long-running joke list. I suspended it when we were activated for disaster relief, and plan to resume the Humourlist once we get back from Mexico. So stay tuned.

I might add that as much as I am a creature of being online, and correspond on a zillion forums out there, that it's weirdly refreshing to be so busy that you don't even fire up the 'puter for 3-4 days.


$400. And three separate trips to the dealer to purchase it and to have it programmed. That's the cost of replacing the electronic key fob on the Land Rover (notice that the buttons have fallen out of the old key).


I really like Rover products but there are times when one has to scratch one's head at these things.

My understanding is that the Rover Freelander small SUV's are partial to engine problems, and that it's almost impossible to get parts for them since the engine was originally sourced from the Rover cars side of the business, and when Rover cars collapsed the tooling went to China. Now that Rover trucks has been purchased by an Indian company (Tata) that doesn't 'zactly reassure me.

Did you know that you can order a Porsche Cayenne with skid plates protecting the undersides? And with all the fancy suspension and electronic differential bits reprogrammed for more extensive off-road use? Hmmm ...

Having owned three Porsches thus far in my lifetime it's funny to look back and think that a Porsche might be an option to another manufacturer's products on the theory that the Porsche might be less expensive and more reliable to operate.

Back in the days WIHM (when I had money) ol' John simultaneously owned a Porsche Carrera, an S-Class Mercedes sedan, and a Range Rover. The Rover was my favorite driver, even if maintenance and fuel mileage (10 mpg back then) was a bitch. Tall and boxy, with lots of glass area, Range Rovers are surprisingly maneuverable and can get in and out of places that would make the drivers of a lot of 4x4 trucks feel faint.

My Discovery II ("Disco Two") is the logical working-class successor to the Range Rover of yore. The Disco held up well and was super handy while we were doing housing inspections. Yesterday's trip down the coast involved quite a bit of driving along beach sand and in areas where the road had washed away and, once again, the faithful Jaguar-engined Rover did well.

But $400 for a replacement key? Give me a break!

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