I really tried to keep a running journal. I failed. So here is a summary and a few highlights.
January started out in El Golfo de Santa Clara in Mexico with a trip to Tucson for a late Christmas get-together. I drove Megan back to Berkeley. While in San Jose, I had some surgery and got me a new CPAP machine. This started the Siemens Benefit (SBSC) nightmare.
I had heard about people going through this. I thought I had covered the bases. I mean, all of the doctors and the hospitals got verification/authorization from Lifeguard.
My exit date from Siemens had been pushed up from the 14th to the 3rd but my manager tells me that this would not impact my coverages. Was he wrong! I am writing this in May and Lifeguard is still refusing to pay even though finally SBSC says I am covered. SBSC will win because I cannot afford $7K of medical bills.
I got my SBSC 401K distribution checks. They were in error but because the check dies not contain a breakdown of the distribution, it is impossible to figure out the nature of the error. The amount was very close to what it should have been except that they had over-withheld the taxes. I started the complaint sequence. It took three months before they admitted their error – they finally replayed the phone call where I made the distribution request.
SBSC said that if I still had the original checks, they would correct the error. They knew this was impossible because the IRS requires the checks to be entered into a new account within 60 days. There was about $1k more that they sent to me that should have been rolled over but this was offset by about $1k of underestimate another part of the distribution. The error was a matter of how they split the money as opposed to how much money so I let it go. I do not need the stress.
On the side, SBSC knows how to get blood out of a turnip. They are permitted (but not required) to withhold 20% of the distribution for taxes. They do this in January but do not immediately turn the money over to the IRS.
They take maximum advantage of the float at my expense. In 2002 I file a tax return and get it back – IRS had the money 1 month but SBSC had it for 11 months – and a year later I get to invest it.
I sit in my RV for a week recovering the surgery and return to Tucson because the RV rear slide had finally given it up. The RV dealer made me wait a month for a time slot. I went back up to EL Golfo.
I finally convince SBSC to email me because the mail delay is up to 3 months: this really screwed up my life.
In EL Golfo I had the most expensive RV wash ever. The guy drowned my refrigerator vent. This fried the thermister – not detectable since the thermister is ignored when using the RV park electricity. He also broke the awning handle and tore one of the slide awnings. I noticed the awning handle but thought it was fixable – it was not. The park manager taped the awning cover for me temporarily. Never again.
El Golfo had changed: The RV park had always been a gamble for the owners. It was never full and did not support itself. Now it was absolutely full and based upon the activity, it would fill and stay filled every winter from now on. They had finally overdone the free coupons.
It was a good stay: full time RV people in these parks are really great people. I shall return. I love it here. It is the closest I have to a home.
Now the RV dealer had the wrong parts but I did replace the thermister. I went up to Verde Valley and then back to Tucson where they fixed the slide. It is a good thing that I had bought the extended warrantee: they charged $700 to replace one gear.
I ping-ponged back to San Jose to arrange Megan’s graduation trip and work on the SBSC insurance problem. SBSC had emailed 401k information but had mailed the insurance information and they claimed windows had closed and I was no longer eligible for COBRA or retirement coverages. After a few phone calls we got that straightened out.
Even this was still wrong. They returned my COBRE check because Siemens covered me for all of January. I need the money so I am happy. Except Lifeguard says not a chance.
I head south along the Pacific Coast highway (PCH). A rocks slide closes the road and I have to return back and go down US 101.
I go down to Ranch Oso. This is just east of Santa Barbara and is a beautiful river canyon.
Now I head back north to Morgan Hill/Berkeley for Megan’s graduation. Up the PCH. You really have to understand California to fully appreciate this. Tonight I am at Pasket Creek Campground
I had dinner with 6 beautiful women. Well, sort of: a mother, two sets of early teen daughters and one of their friends.
We talked about relationships and responsibilities. The high school graduating class last year was 6 and they all went to college.
The 5 live in an RV with a 1k Honda generator for electricity. Unlike Onan, Hondas are so quiet they can run undetected all night long.
1k will not even power a microwave. These people really live poor. The woman works her heart out for her kids as campground host. The school has 26 students this year. Most of the kids have a parent who teaches.
The school meets the state test scores. They have extended days but get 3-day weekends.
This is a lifestyle that most Americans do not have the nerve to dream. I am sitting about 200 meters above the ocean watching the surf pound. The sky is blue. The mountains/hills to the east of me rise to block the sunrise. It is about 60 degrees outside and will get in the high 70s today. It is like this most of the year with varying lows to highs. No snow. You could not describe Paradise in better terms. It is a National Forest so you still have to lock things up and listen to the dogs of the inconsiderate public campers. But they are transients and will be gone by tonight. It is Sunday (thank you for today, God).
What did it take to get these beautiful women together in my RV last night? I promised them each an ice cream sundae. This is a real treat for them. It is a real treat for me to listen to the dreams of young people untainted by life in the big city. They will not go out painting signs tonight.
They will no hate their neighbor because of his color or religion. They have more important things to do. They will appreciate the beauty of the almost full moon as it dims the brilliant stars. When we go outside, there is no fear of crime. The conversation is how sweet the air smells. This is understandable: from where the RV sits, during the day I can see a couple dozen gumdrop-shaped tents of bright colors. The primary color is green from all of the grass and shrubs and trees.
Add to that the blue sky and the teal ocean.
This is the American dream in real life. There is no stress. There is no crime. There is unbelievable scenic beauty. There is no place to go. Oh, the school trip is next Friday up to Great America. That will be a blast. The Monterey aquarium is an hour from here. We are not uneducated hillbillies hiding out from civilization in the Ozarks. We have a chosen life of beauty and peace close to (but not inside of) the heart of the leading edge of the culture center of the world: San Francisco and the Silicon Valley. From here it is a half-day drive to more varieties of life than you can imagine.
Silicon Valley, hilly San Francisco, smoggy LA, redwood parks, mountainous Yosemite, Joshua tree laden Mojave dessert. The only places you have to be really concerned are the cities – and you can return here the next day in peace.
You think this is just words? Why do you think that they call us Escapees? We are afraid that too many people will discover what we have. We hear the jokes about the people in RVs at Wal-Mart needing to get a life. We laugh nervously. Cities are passing laws forbidding us to be there. They are afraid of us? I know, there are misfits everywhere. In this life, I can sit in my chair and watch or I can go out and hike up the mountain or maybe I do both. I walk down to the lodge and connect my PC to the Internet and catch up on my mail and the news.
Mostly I meet people whom I can sincerely admire for their views on the world and their lives.
It is sort of like an educated Eloi without the Morlocks if you remember The Time Machine.
The total expense is less than $2k/month. I am relatively rich: my friends live on half of that. You cannot imagine the serene beauty of all of this? Good.
This is great. Larry stays at a motel near SFO. I stay in Morgan Hill. Few friends left. John says he will let Megan keep her car in his drive, not too far from SJC where we shall leave for Paris. Megan has a park scheduled. The graduation is great. If you are not a parent you cannot know the pride of seeing your daughter graduate as an engineer at one of the top universities in the world. We have a nice party and no one shows up except a few very close friends. Normal for the Kelly family.
You have to understand my concept of a great university. A great university provides a platform and the tools and the attitudes to give you a great perspective on life itself. There may be universities that have a better knowledge platform -- not many. Berkeley gives you the freedom to be whatever person you want to be. It teaches you how you can contribute to your community and the government's actions and how to act like yourself. Berkeley does not turn out people who live in pastel, earth-toned boxes and drive Chevrolets.
After the party we fly to Paris. Then train to Rome.
Then to Vienna and Munich and Copenhagen and Berlin and back to Paris. I shall fill this in someday as this was a great trip.
Every parent should take a graduation trip because it permits you to weld the relation with your offspring as an adult-adult as opposed to an adult-child relationship. Without this, there are too many vestiges of control. With this, you learn to respect your daughter as a real person.
I have not written much lately because my computers were gone and I have been having a hard time with my life. I was not aware of how much my computers are a part of my life: without them my blood pressure goes up and I feel lost.
I had lost my laptop when room service dropped it in the Paris hotel room. We spent a day shipping it back to the US. Once back in the US, we shipped it to a friend in Tucson who fixed it.
But to the story. My mother had her 80th birthday this year (2001) in August. The party was in Olympic National Park on the peninsula west of Seattle. Nice park. As are most National Parks, it is irrationally expensive for an RV. I migrated up the coast to the park. I stopped at the Thousand Trails Chehalis park for 2 weeks (my usual stay). The contract with an RV park system is customarily 2 weeks in and 1 week out. This is a good arrangement -- if you know what you are going to do on the week out.
There are many RV park systems. Thousand Trails (TTN or just TT) is about the best and one of the biggest. Many such systems rely on cross-memberships. That is, as a member of one, you get courtesies at others. Coast-to-Coast is a system of such courtesies.
The trip to TT-Chehalis starting from TT-Morgan Hill was the same as most trips. The Coast-to-Coast parks would not let me stay a whole week. This is normal. I had stayed at Oregon TT-South Jetty. Beautiful but for some reason I was bored. Chehalis was absolutely beautiful. I kept getting lost trying to get from town to the park but I enjoyed it. I met some wonderful people here. I shall not use last names because the living might take offence.
The local handyman, Bob, introduced me to Linda, a young woman, very Christian, who had just divorced and was returning to her home in Anchorage, Alaska. With her twins but otherwise alone with her belongings packed solidly in an old Dodge minivan. There were many concerns -- not the least of which was whether the Dodge would survive the trip. I had one of those minivans: when new it would not have survived that trip. This Dodge was 10 years old. I volunteered to drive them to Anchorage. It was something nice I could do. I would have pleasant company and I would get to see the only state of the USA that I have not seen.
We discussed the trip and she delayed her departure until after I returned from my mother's party. I left my bike rack at the Chehalis park and readied to hook up a tow dolly. She changed her mind and decided to drive behind me. OK. We were a week behind her original schedule but she had her knight to protect her.
We went north through Seattle, stopping to pick up my fixed laptop from my mother who had received it the day before from Tucson. Receiving mail in the RV is like juggling eggs: timing is everything.
We got to the Washington TT-Birch Bay (near the Canadian border). We spent the night and the next day as we shopped a little in town. The day after we headed for the border. The boy was with me. The girl was with her mother in the Dodge. We got to the Blaine/Surrey border crossing. The first thing I did was to knock off my right mirror on the concrete pillar on the right side of the customs entrance gate. I have no idea why customs needs to have these stupid posts but they are consistent. On an RV there is about 6" of clearance on each side when you go down the middle. As do most RV drivers, I tend to drive further to the right than I think I am -- oops, there goes another side mirror.
The agent, a hefty young woman asked the usual questions: where was I born, where am I going, where am I coming from, etc. She asked me to pull over to the right for inspection. Up to this point, except for the mirror, things were still normal. Or so I thought.
Linda pulled the minivan over to the left side while I fretted about my mirror. I used a lot of duct tape but it looked like it would hold. In the mean time they started to inspect the RV.
Then I was really surprised. Something was wrong. The boy and I sat inside. Mostly people with mismatching papers or drugs were passing us by. I think the boy figured it out before I did: I was under arrest. They were confiscating all my computer equipment. I was being held for smuggling Child Pornography. It took hours. They called in their local expert. They could not get my computer to work for them. They had my backup CD copy of "Dr. Seuss Toddler". The CD I bought for a friend and was afraid her daughter would make short work of the original. They also had my packet of CDs labeled "Girls". What else would I call pictures of my daughters? Based upon these labels -- and nothing else, I was a porn smuggler. In jail before ANY contents were examined.
They did put me in a jail cell. Took my shoes and belt and emptied my pockets. Then they let me back out. Their child porn expert interviewed me. I think he was angrier at them than with me. I think the problem they had with my PC is that I run the screen resolution higher than many videos can run: 1280x1024. They were not using my video. On his recommendation, they let me out of the jail cell.
Finally Linda could wait no longer if she were to make the ferry in 2 days. She would take the ferry because she could not go with me -- even if I were not in jail she could not travel with a porn smuggler.
We moved her belongings from the RV into the minivan. With great difficulty. She argued my favor with Immigration to permit me to accompany her. By this time I was out of my jail cell and Customs was backing off of the charges. They would not release my PCs but they would release me. But Immigration followed Customs suggestion and would not let me into Canada. Linda took off on her own and I never heard from her again. There was no chance at a long-term relationship: she was too young, too recently divorced, and too Christian. I think I am a devout Christian but I think age has mellowed my requirements. It would have been a nice trip as friends.
I learned the difference between Customs and Immigration that day. Customs is property and Immigration is people. In any case about 8 hours after we got there, they released me with the threat that when they found what they were looking for, they would find me. I could not hide. There were 3 options: they would return my computers, they would send me a fine (read as 'bill'), and/or they would send a warrant for my arrest.
In any case, I would never be permitted to enter Canada again. I could petition Ottawa to do so some time in the future. In the mean time I was on their sexual offenders list.
I headed back to TT-Birch Bay to lick my wounds. I worried about Linda. To make the ferry she would have to drive 600 miles per day for 2 days. That is a lot of driving when you have good roads, a good car, and know the way. I have to presume that she did not make it. There is always another ferry but then maybe her car did not do it either. She would have to wait a few days for another ferry. No big deal but she had a tighter wallet than I did.
I went back down to TT-Chehalis and picked up my bike rack. The Chehalis people were sort of cold to me. She had phoned back and told them what she had seen. From her viewpoint I was a pornographer. I guess when accused of anything, my inability to defend myself goes very deep. It makes people think I am guilty. In this case I did not know what to say but I left quickly. They were all friends of hers and she had been really let down. Even if they had thought well of me, I had let their good friend down.
I would go back to Megan's in Berkeley. That is where I go when I am feeling bad. Every father should have a daughter like Megan. I shall see her again soon. I just took another hit today. Later.
I went across Washington and down to Nevada then across the Lake Tahoe pass to Megan's house. I found a really nice RV park: Ghost Mountain. And they really did honor the Coast-to-Coast rules: I could have stayed a week. The other parks, Sunrise parks, have a maximum stay of 3 days that they will extend to 5 days if you listen to their spiel. I always listen to the spiel regardless. I cannot afford to buy but to listen is good. One park on the California/Oregon border only accepts Coast-to-Coast for 1 day.
In any case, Ghost Mountain is relaxing. I was feeling a little better by the time I got to Megan's. From there I headed back to El Golfo de Santa Clara for the winter. I got there late October. You do not move fast in an RV. If you do, you are not in the right vehicle for your life style.
I was safe. As soon as I crossed the border heading south I knew I was better. There is a feeling of safety in Mexico that you do not have in the USA. They are not gun crazy. I do not lock my doors while I am in Mexico. 40 years ago in the USA I lived in homes where I did not even own a key. When I was a kid, our key was kept in the milk box. That is how I feel about EL Golfo. Secure. But then the wind tore off my awning and I had other reasons to go back to Tucson. So I got the awning and the RV rear slide repaired (again). This took about 3 weeks. It would have taken shorter except it took that long for the dealer to get the parts from Fleetwood. In the meantime I bought a Dell laptop. I paid extra for 2-day shipping. That made little difference when they shipped it a week late. Worse, the video had a problem. I spent 3 days trying to get it to work by re-installing software in different manners according to Dell tech support. Each call took an hour. They must sell a lot of computers. Either that or they have a lot of problems. I do not think the latter or their support people would be more organized. They had me downloading video drivers from Germany. Having worked for a German company for 11 years, I can tell you that German Engineering is an oxymoron. I shipped the computer back to Dell and got a refund. Good thing too. I am so broke I almost have to stop eating this week.
Not a word from Canada. Phone calls ignored. Emails ignored. Letters ignored. Nothing. I had to go back up to the USA to get some repairs. The repairs took most of November.
The awning is fixed. The slide is fixed -- right this time I think. I met the missionary caravan leader that I expected to go with into Mexico to help the missions in January. I met with Larry, Megan's friend to talk about Christmas. We were both going to Megan's for Christmas.
My driver’s license is Arizona. My vehicle registration and title are in Texas. One of these days I shall get a Texas drivers license. The life of a full-time RVers is different than that of a person with a concrete floor. My home address is a mail drop. It is the most convenient mail drop that I can find. The Arizona mail drop at Mail Boxes Etc. in Tucson was just not up to it. So I signed up with Escapees. This is a professional RV organization with really good mail service. You can even have a phone message drop if you want one.
Canada had made copies of all of my addresses and documents while I was being held. They recorded every address I had ever lived since I was 18!
I got a reply from Canada. Like the remainder of the chaos they had caused, they had been sending to my obsolete Arizona address rather than my real address in Texas. While in Canada, I had informed Customs and Immigration that the AZ driver's license address would not be valid much longer and that the Texas address should be used. I had even insisted upon using the Texas address: I had requested Immigration to make sure Customs used the Texas address. They took a note and did this: I watched them carry it to them. Nevertheless, Customs had used the AZ address. Or at least this was their excuse as to why they had not made contact with me. I had called, written, emailed them and the American Consulate. Nothing. Then one day just before heading back to Mexico, I got an email from Canadian Customs, an Inspector Cinnamon something. She was about to dispose of my computer when she received my email addressed to the American Consulate and copied to Canadian Customs. They would not send the computers back to me. They apparently have a law that requires return of belongings after 30 days if no charges are filed. So my property was to be turned over to me or my agent upon arrival at their office -- at the border.
They would not ship it to me as they had claimed. Under the 30-day law, they could no longer verify my innocence. So they considered the computers contraband over which they had no control. They would either junk them or have me collect them. They did not try real hard to have me collect them.
Finally I sent the authorization to Megan and she would go up there and bring them back. You know 9/11? The mail was screwed up. When I arrived at Christmas, the authorization letter I had sent had not arrived. I made more phone calls. I even considered going myself. I called my sister who lives in Seattle. Some family: my sister would not go without her lawyer's consent. I debated flying to Seattle from SFO but decided against it.
Canada Customs said that customs brokers do this kind of shipping. I called a couple of numbers that I convinced the customs officer to give me. They could not recommend businesses. At a $1.10/minute at a pay phone in the middle of the beach-desert in Mexico, calling Canadian Directory Assistance is not really easy. I convinced Customs to give me some numbers. I called the numbers: not in this lifetime do these customs brokers ship anything suspicious.
Before I went back to Mexico, I called the Surrey Mail Boxes Etc. The MBE office manager said he did this and would do it for me. I returned to Mexico.
After a series of Faxes between Mexico and Canada, the MBE man said he would not do it: for personal reasons. This Child Porn label was following me everywhere and ruining my life. I had run out of options. The person I was talking to wanted Canada to be rid of my computers. So did I -- but they gave me two options: pick it up soon or lose it. Somehow it was my fault that they had insisted on using the Arizona address that I had tried to get them not to use. Like many places, the Arizona MBE was not very cooperative with ex-customers: they would not hold mail for Bree/Marcus to pick up.
I drove up to Phoenix, flew to Seattle, drove to Blaine/Surrey and picked up the computers myself. It took a couple hours to verify that the stuff was all there and to pack it into the trunk of the rental car. Then I went to the Immigration office with my receipt for the computers. They claimed to clear my name but I do not think I shall try to go to Canada for a while.
I spent the remainder of the night at my mother's. My sister came by with her family in the morning. We talked about Mexican Sunsets. It would do no good to bring up the question of why I had to be there myself.
I went back to Mexico and spent the next couple of weeks re-organizing my computers and verifying they still worked. The laptop has a problem that was created in Paris on our European trip. It was no worse but you have to use an external mouse, as the track point thing does not work any more. Nor does the latch interface but my friend Larry disabled that. I cancelled my participation in the missionary trip due to lack of funds.
In any case I just got back from Mexico and am in Yuma after having been chased out of the local Wal-mart. Yuma has an unpublished local ordinance banning overnight stays except in RV parks. Many cities are passing such laws. Mostly places with many tourists and expensive RV parks. But the RVers are also to blame. Some of these guys really do live in the Wal-mart parking lots. So for us poor guys who show up and need just to sleep for a few hours before moving on, these goofballs have ruined a really good thing.
So now I am listening to some joker running his generator in the middle of the night in a BLM camping area. Not a campground: there are no sites and no facilities. Most of the people here are better than those in the RV parks. But then the RV parks do not get the squirrels. That is OK. My CPAP respirator makes so much noise that I do not hear the generator. It is the principle of the thing: night should dark and it should be quiet. Then there is the other principle: this guy is running a 5-kilowatt Onan generator (you know -- the loud ones that the tent campers think that all RVers use all of the time) to power his TV. He would save a lot of money and earplugs if he invested in a little 900 watt Honda. Sometimes I think the higher the income, the lower the intelligence. Certainly high income means lower respect for the neighbors.
I have my computers. I am six months behind in developing my photo organization programs but I can relax and maybe in a few years go back to Canada. Next year I shall go on the Mexican caravan after enjoying my stay in El Golfo. It will take that long for me to get over this exercise in stupidity by the Canadian government. It has hurt me financially. It has soiled my reputation, ruined it in Chehalis. I do not care what my sister thinks -- but she should not think it. It has caused me anxiety to the extent my skin has broken out. My doctor would put me on medication if he saw my blood pressure readings. This too will pass.
The problem? A couple of new-hire agents had decided to show their stuff and made an example of me. According to one of the people I talked with, those agents got in trouble for it. This does not make me happy. This cost me a lot of trouble and expense. Many people will never believe that I did nothing to cause this.
Enough. It is already January of 2002.