Monday, September 30, 2013

Back to Basics

It occurred to me that we not only have folks down here just for the winter, but also neophytes to the world of fulltiming. You may not consider yourself a fullltimer; especially if you still have a stick and brick home, but living and working down here out of an RV for months at a time qualifies you. So, at the risk of boring some of our more seasoned folks, here are a few tips.

First off there is little or no on the job training for gate guards. I tell you this so you are prepared ahead of time. No one will hold your hand and, more than likely, you will be led by a service tech to some gawd forsaken remote spot and told to park your rig. If your lucky they will help you hook up to the "nurse trailer" and give you a quick briefing on how it all works. Regardless, before you know it you will be standing there with a clipboard (you did bring a clipboard, didn't you?) and wondering WTF happened. You will learn to share responsibilities with your partner and get settled in while working the gate at the same time. Basically your responsibility is to keep a record of all the vehicles that come and go through your gate.
You will rarely need heat in south Texas; but when you do space heaters are the way to go. Especially since your electric is free. Your on board furnace is almost too powerful down here and consumes copious quantities of propane. You folks in motorhomes need to pay special attention to this, since your tanks are built into the coach. You can check out Andy's blog at for info on an adaptor to allow you to supplement integrated tanks with an external tank. He also has a slew of helpful suggestions. Purchasing a couple of space heaters before you come down will save you additional pesos if you can find them. Speaking of climate control, don't forget to run your air conditioner periodically throughout the cooler months. The winter is also the time to clean, treat and reseal your roof. While you are up there make sure your condensate drains (on the bottom of the unit) are clean and free flowing. Also check the evaporator and condenser fins for obstructions and crud. If you are not comfortable doing this, having this performed before you come down will be money well spent. Not only will it cost you much more, finding reliable RV repairman down here is nigh impossible.
Buy a road repair plan period! We can argue till the cows come home about the pros and cons of which service is better, you'll just need to research and make a choice. Just make sure that it is specifically tailored for RV's. Coach Net and Good Sams come to mind. We have Good Sams Roadside service and it is dollar for dollar the best purchase I have ever made. The added benefit is that it also covers every vehicle we own. The first time you have a flat it will pay for itself and you'll be pleased with yourself for having purchased it.
Speaking of flats. Weigh your RV and inflate your tires accordingly. This may be the most important thing you do.
Bring light winter clothes, including a set of long underwear or two. It doesn't have to be freezing out for you to get chilled; especially when you spend a few hours outside signing in vehicles.
Bring pens, pencils and whiteout. A clipboard is nice, since most companies don't provide them, and those that do usually give you one of poor quality.
A high quality flashlight is worth its weight in gold.

You'll need a pair of shoes that you an easily slip on and off. Once you are on a gate this will become abundantly clear to you. Suffice it to say that you don't want to track anymore dirt into the RV.

Buy a tarp or two.

You will be taking your RV on roads that resemble the tracks used for rallying or short course trucks. If I had a high dollar RV I would consider buying a cheap tow behind to use for gate work, like a used FEMA trailer. Seriously folks; the roads are that bad.

Banks are just as far away (if not farther) from your nearest town. Additionally, a lot of guard companies don't offer direct deposit. Regardless; make financial arrangements before your come down.

If you are contracting, avoid the temptation to spend your new found wealth and pay your taxes! There are sites that you can register at that make this process simple. There are folks who struggle with this and find themselves staring at a tax bill at years end. Some end up switching to companies that treat you like an employee and take out your taxes automatically.

Bring stuff to do with your down time. Subscription television like Dish or Direct are invaluable. Hobbies are also another way to keep busy.

I'm sure there are other things to add, but this should serve as a good start. There is also a wealth of information on the web. Most companies will answer your questions and you can also establish a dialog with gate guards via several forums on the web. Good luck!

Monday, September 23, 2013

A Comment about the Budget

Here are a few words shared by Ben Stein about the budget crisis with a few embellishments by me:

Now for a few words about the latest budget crisis gripping Washington, and thereby gripping us all.

To simplify it a bit too much, the Democrats under our President, Mr. Obama, want to raise the debt ceiling, maybe possibly raise taxes, and keep spending and thereby enact Obamacare.

Now, no one seems to know exactly what Obamacare is, but anyway, that is the Democrats' wish.

The GOP wants to make sure the government keeps cutting spending under the so-called "sequestration," which cuts military and domestic spending automatically as time passes.

Some Republicans are so opposed to Obamacare that they are willing and ready to let the whole government close down rather than let Obamacare go into effect.

Naturally, the parties differ. That's why they are in different parties, and we should not be surprised by that.

And if the GOP-controlled House of Representatives wants to send a bill to the Senate cutting off Obamacare, that is its right. If the Democratically-controlled Senate sees it differently, that's its right.

There are procedures for resolving these differences. They are called conference committees, and they would work perfectly well -- if everyone had a good attitude.
But not everybody has a good attitude.
The problem is this idea of letting government close down. That is just plain nutty.

It might be fun for children to threaten it, but it will not be fun to drastically cut defense, law enforcement, medical care for the poor and the elderly.

To shut that down seems to me a flight from adult responsibility that is just not defensible morally.

Yes, let people on Capitol Hill yell at each other. Let them call each other names. But to even think of closing down the government is wildly dangerous.

Yes, as a Libertarian for a long time now, I'm upset at the growth of federal government spending under Mr. Obama. But at the end of the day, we are all Americans. We don't just pick up our toys and go home if we disagree.

It is wonderful to take a stand. But sometimes the patriotic thing to do is compromise today, gear up to win elections tomorrow, and work like adults for America every day.

Be cool, Americans. Our day will come. But let's not have it be Doomsday.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Window Weather

Prior to moving to the Midwest I resided in Florida for many years. One of the things South Florida is known for is its humidity. High temperatures are not common which is fortunate because seventy percent plus humidity makes it a real stew down there. South Florida is also known for not having four seasons like most of the country. It is either hot and humid or raining. I can attest to recent climate changes because South Florida no longer gets all the rain it used to during the rainy season. You used to be able to almost set your watch by the thunderstorms that rolled in out of the Everglades every day. Sadly that is no longer. Occasionally, for a very brief period, the humidity lowers and temperatures drop and you get what my mother calls window weather. It gets its name because almost everyone down there takes advantage and opens their house to air it out. I've found some similarities in South Texas, except once it gets hot it stays hot (and gets hotter) and rain is almost non existent. On the plus side; by late September the high pressure finally moves out, the rains come and cooler weather settles in. Those of us who braved the summer heat and dust can finally catch a break and open our windows. Woo Hoo! The a/c is off and it's window weather again.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Will you still need me, Will you still feed me...

Well it's time for another birthday and I'm headed into "seniorhood" kicking and screaming; at least internally. I am on the brink of entering my sixties and facing mortality square in the eye. I remember my early twenties were difficult, especially since people in their mid twenties didn't quite accept me and eighteen and twenty somethings thought me too old. The next challenge was my forties as I really didn't want to settle down like most others were at that time. I'm not quite sure how to express my feelings about entering my sixties. And please don't tell me it's just a number. I have suffered at least one heart attack, had open heart surgery, gained weight, lost some of my hearing, and have all sorts of aches and pains, to name just a few things. I am not afraid of death as I am secure in my spirituality. Still, I have suffered tremendous loss in the last decade. I have had several friends drop dead from heart attacks and too many suffer through a losing battle with cancer. If I could figure out how to grow old comfortably, perhaps I wouldn't be so anxious. Trying to reconcile that I'll never be able to run again or enjoy anything physically taxing is especially difficult. My brain wishes and thinks it's in great shape while outwardly I know better. I don't know what life's journey has in store for me, but I do know that I am not ready to exit yet. It will be interesting to see how I feel about all this when I turn the big six zero next year. If I am blessed enough to celebrate that event I promise to write yet another chapter in this blog.
Those of you not old enough to recognize the title of this post may want to know that it is lyrics from the Beatles song "When I'm 64".

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

This Generations Pearl Harbor

On September 11, 2001 over 2800 people died as a direct result of a terrorist attack accomplished by hijacking four airliners. Like so many others affected by remarkable events, I know exactly where I was and what I was doing when they occurred. This event and the subsequent war on terror have left an indelible mark on all human kind. Hopefully everyone can reflect on the solemnity of this day and perhaps try to use it as an impetus to live together in peace.

The Life of a Fulltimer

We recently purchased/traded our Class A motorhome for a fifth wheel and truck. We were informed that there were some errors on our credit report that we needed to address. We signed on with a company that specializes in credit repair and counsels you on a course of action. Besides correcting errors it allows your credit score to better reflect your creditworthiness. One of the byproducts of the information age is that your credit score is used in all sorts of things besides purchases. Not only does it help set your interest rate(s); it can even determine whether you get hired or not. One of the things that came up was verification of our address, which had changed after years in a stick and brick home. The credit reporting agencies wanted something with our address on it, like a utility bill. As a fulltimer and a gate guard we have no utility bills as we live off the grid. Even when we are in a park somewhere we still don't have bills or correspondence that comes to us. Addressing some of these issues has been a challenge. 
Company helping us with Credit Reporting Agency, "What is this address you are using?'
Me, "It's a mail forwarding drop box."
Company helping us with Credit Reporting Agency, "Is that where you live?"
Me, "No, I just have it so I can receive and have my mail forwarded."
Company helping us with Credit Reporting Agency, "Why"
Me, "Because I live and work out of my RV fulltime and I need an address not only to receive mail but to register my vehicles and establish residency."
Company helping us with Credit Reporting Agency, long pause...
You get the idea; plus I didn't even want to try to explain why we had P.O. boxes all over South Texas. And then our Dish receiver started to act up. I won't regale you with the minute details, but Dish basically said they could not send equipment or dispatch service to anywhere but our service address (the address on our Dish account). Dish supposedly has a department specifically designed to deal with RV'rs, but you wouldn't know it by calling their tech support. We now know to just ask for the loyalty department and; if they still act like you're speaking Greek and won't connect you, threaten to cancel the account. Folks have been hitting the road since the first car was built. Admittedly it has progressed to the point where you now can actually live in a rolling mansion. Still the advent of mail forwarding and fulltiming has to be over fifty years old. You wouldn't think that folks would look at you like an alien when you sport an out of state address, license, phone number and checking account-amongst other things. There's a business opportunity in here somewhere.

One of the other challenges of fulltiming/gate guarding is getting reliable, honest and knowledgeable repair work completed on your RV or vehicles. I swear that once you get south of I-10 you are seriously looking at a still to be settled America. Or at least the America of the 40's and 50's. Problem is that no matter how charming that lifestyle was; and a lot of these small Texas towns can be quite charming, that was fifty plus years ago. Very few of the hardy settlers are left and a gritty Tex Mex clique has evolved. Kudos to them for establishing businesses and scratching out a living. But try dealing with them as a gringo much less an outsider. Mom, Pop and apple pie Americans are few and far between. We have been dealing with Paul from Family RV Center and he does a first rate job. He will come to you, but will charge for the travel expense. At least he comes when he says he will and he has always been fair with us. We had a ton of questions about our new to us fifth wheel and a fairly long punch list. There are still a few things left on the list, but we did get the important stuff out of the way. We now sport a second air conditioner and have resolved a ton of questions. More importantly Paul is going to return to fix the few things left on the list.

I suppose these challenges are part and parcel of living off the grid. I mean how many people wouldn't bat an eye at making a two hundred mile round trip to town? No matter how prepared you are or how long you have done it; living in close proximity to another human being is the ultimate challenge. Why do you think the submarine service tries to determine if candidates are psychologically fit for the lifestyle before they even consider their qualifications. So not only are we independent and self reliant, we are also very unique. The person that said building a house is the ultimate test of a relationship never lived in an RV on an oil gate deep in South Texas.