Sacked by the "downturn", an unemployed architect touring the country in a bus...

I used to live in New York City. I designed homes for the tycoons of Wall Street; Park Avenue, Scarsdale, Greenwich. It was great fun. And, after years of saving up for a down payment, I was just about to buy my own little place in Fleetwood, half an hour north of the city, when the economy fell apart. Architects are like canaries in a coal mine when the economy slows, and true to form, there were massive layoffs in firms all over the country. Devastation of the profession. So, I decided to try to find something else to do for a while. I bought a 23' school bus and I'm on the road to see if I can figure out what that might be.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

High road or low?

I spent the last two days in a nice woody RV park 10 miles north of Santa Fe.  With the electrical hook up that was available, I got a good, sustained charge on my battery, processed and posted some photos (still way behind), and ran a Windows service pack 3 update, and backed up 300 gig plus of data on my hard drive which I haven't done for a few months, took a good shower, did laundry, and generally regrouped.  I've also been making a barrage of phone calls on behalf of my sister and brother in law, regarding their development project in Durham, NC.

Today, I am in Santa Fe again (Walmart right now) and am trying to hook up with Marrie, a local I found on Couch Surfing, and follow up a job lead I received from my cousin Mark, get Blue Cross to show my bill on line so I can pay them electronically, and other odds and ends.

In a day or so, I hope to head north to Taos, Bohemian land of artists and loons like me (I hope :-)  I can take the low road along the Rio Grande and see spectacular country, or I can take the more twisted high road and see small villages noted for Mexican and Native American craftsmen, and their studios where pottery, rugs, and other crafts are made.

Let me know what you think!  (comment or e-mail ;-)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Gila Hot Springs

These Gila Hot Springs are four pools of mineral water drawn from a natural source in the adjacent river.  The pools are at about 105 degrees F, which is quite comfortable.  The setting is beautiful and mysterious, with high cliffs, the gurgling stream, the sandy bottomed pools surrounded with gathered stones, and most especially because of the eerie ceremonial constructions erected on the site by self taught archeologist Jim Ransom.  Jim spent an hour and a half with us, describing his radical ideas about the original use of the nearby Gila Cliff Dwellings, which Jim believes were really more of a monastery than a collective dwelling.  He noted the difficult climb for access and the problems of farming or hunting up there, among his reasons for believing the cliffs were more likely occupied by an elite group, probably religious leaders, who were supported by a larger comunity below the cliff.  His story telling was endlessly amusing.  Jim had fallen in love with the area 20 years prior to actually moving here 10 years ago, abandoning his life in Maine where he had been a building inspector  Now he studies the caves, lectures visiting anthropologists and archeologists, and maintains and rebuilds the Hot Springs pools, which are washed out by the adjacent stream every few years.  "I can't believe how much I love my life!" he exclaims between paragraphs of his entertaining monologue about his life and theories.  Click here for a Flickr slide show of Jim and the Gila Hot Springs compound.

Copper Mine north of Silver City

The "steps" in the distance are each higher than a house 

(click the pics for larger images)

Cooking eggs

Campin' out is fun, you get to play with fire :-)

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Silver City, New Mexico

Silver City is surprisingly urban.  It's fortunes rise and fall with the nearby copper mines, and it's clearly depressed now, with almost a third of it's store fronts unoccupied.  But it's a brick town, built to last, and it seems it will survive the downturn and rise again when copper is back in demand.  For now, there is a vital Bohemia, with many galleries and lots of twenty somethings on the streets.  The fellow to the right had no idea who Denis Hopper is, but his manner echoed any of a number of Hopper characters, particularly the camera man character in Apocalypse Now.

Click here for a Flickr slide show

Hillsboro, New Mexico

Sandy and I visited Hilsboro, New Mexico.  We had lunch in a tiny luncheonette that seemed to be authentically from the first half of the 20th century.  The waitress made no effort to conceal her contempt for us.  I met an old man dressed as a cowboy, who was an excellent photographer, with a poster for his work framed and hung on the wall of the luncheonette.  I also met Pat Richardson who was a builder from my home town of Roslyn, NY, and I was amazed by his recollection of many of the families in Roslyn that I knew; the Muffsins, Guy Frost, architect, the Shopes, the Kaufmans, Mr. Moser and his scary property, the "sand pits" where I played, and on and on.

Click here for a Flickr slide show


What can I say?  There is relentless merchandising of the event at every turn, mostly tongue in cheek, but there are believers here, too.  The Town Hall has a memorial at the beginning of it's entry walk, two granite tablets emblazoned with the Ten Commandments, so I guess in Roswell, if it's far fetched, they go with it ;-)

Click here for a Flickr slide show

Lincoln, New Mexico

I visited this charming, quirky little town on the 9th of April.  It was the location of the Lincoln War, which was a turf dispute waged between competing store owners who supplied the region with general goods, and exported the mining town's precious metals back to the east.  The actual battle was fought by mercenaries, "hired guns" including Billy the Kid.  Everyone in town related some variation of the history to me, including a woman weaver, who's name I can't recall now, and an old man, who seemed to recall the fight first hand, and who had hand built the charming building we were in, which was now a store for the woman's woven goods.  The story of the Lincoln War seems to be the town's single merchandisable asset, and it draws the tourists for the weaving store and the several bed and breakfasts, which are run by the local 100 or so people living there, retirees, mostly.  The town features a rodeo reenactment of the story and the battle, complete with a stage set reconstruction of the very town in which the rodeo is located, making for some eerie photos.

Click here for a Flickr slide show of Lincoln

Saturday, April 24, 2010

10 days

A lot has happened in the last ten days.  I haven't had a chance to post.  My dear friend Sandy, whom I met in Dade County, Florida, working to get the Obama vote to the polls, and whom has remained a great friend by phone and e-mail ever since, came on her vacation to meet me and travel a bit in the west.  We met in Truth or Cosequences, New Mexico and stayed at a hot springs hotel, she in a room, and I camped in my bus in a nice spot down the block.  We soaked, and ate out, and explored the town, and had diner with three guys one night who I learned were priests only after venting my non religious views accumulated and pent up for months through my travels in the south.  But I back peddled a little and they were immediately tolerant of my faux pas, and in the end we had a great time at diner.

Then Sandy and I made our way up to Silver City, a lovely little urban town with a few galleries and lots of young people.  Still, the effect of the downturn was visible every where, with about a third of the store fronts vacant, and a surprising number of homeless people for a small city.

We also stopped in Pinos Altos, a rural town who's name seems to have lost it's tilde, offering opportunity for risque word play which we didn't pass up.  It's a very nice little community, and I learned that there where quite a few larger homes being built in the surrounding hills, gentrification having only begun here a few years ago.  I imagined trying to carve out a carreer as a local architect.

We wound our way up into the mountains of Gila and hiked to the cave dwellings.  They are, of course, amazing.  Thought to have been built in about ten years and occupied for only 40, the full story of what happened remains a mystery.  But looking at the remains, one is struck by the human experience that took place, the intimacy of sitting with loved ones around a fire in this unique place.  I imagined the hands that ground corn in the depression worn in a stone for the purpose.

We went to Gila Hot Springs, four pools diverted from a natural source in an adjacent stream, and maintained by Jim Ransom, a self taught archeologist who fell in love with the caves and the region 30 years ago and returned here ten years ago, to study and live and love after his previous life as a building inspector in Maine.  Jim is sure that the caves were more of a monastery than a community dwelling, and he thoroughly enjoyed telling us about how his theory makes more sense than the mainstream interpretation, though I suspect there is a bit of straw man building on his part here; the mainstream in science is usually not too dumb or even too united on these kinds of theories.  But we loved his story telling, an animated and humorous monologue that he sustained for over an hour and a half, and in the end we were well persuaded and we repeated what we heard to others several times.

We eventually made it to Santa Fe.  This is a swanky place.  It's rich.  It's a Ralph Lauren commercial, with beautiful looking people in western wear made of fine fabrics that drape over there spa toned bodies.  At first I was put off as there seems to be no middle class.  A conventional wisdom is that in Santa Fe you either own three houses, or you wash the floors in three houses.  But having now been here for several days, I am beginning to find that there is an interesting population of craftspeople and artists.  I hope I have time and luck to find them.

Sandy and I had diner with her friends Michael and Sharon, two exceptionally bright folks who live in a lovely adobe style home in an adobe style housing development, in this city where ordinance dictates adobe style everything; banks, gas stations, even MacDonalds all get the treatment.  It looks a little like a set for The Flintstones.  But their house really is a warm and beautiful place, open on the rear with expanses of glass that present a gorgeous view.

During diner, Sandy mentioned she wasn't feel well.  Sandy is very sensitive to her surroundings, with allergies to cats and strong feelings about smells, and careful regard of foods and so forth, so when she later felt she was having chest pains, we didn't know what to make of it.  Sharon gave her one of those 30" exercise balls over which Sandy draped herself in different positions, and breathed, but from which she eventually announced she wanted to go to the emergency room.  Our very generous hosts took this at face value and we loaded into their car and went to the hospital, though I felt it was probably just heart burn or anxiety, but better safe than sorry, and Michael and Sharon probably imagined the same.

Surprise: heart attack.  The first enzyme test showed nothing, but the hospital admitted her and did a second test at three in the morning and found signs of an episode.  Sandy remained in ICU 36 hours more until Monday morning when and angioscope revealed only minor blockage, and she returned to ICU for aanother 24 hours of observation and to learn from the cardiologist about medications she should take, and so forth.  Sandy was amazing throughout the whole affair, never loosing her quirky sense of humor.  I camped out in my bus for most of the hospital stay, in a section of the hospital parking lot assigned to campers.  The South and West have a population of campers and trailer homes of which east coasters are completely unaware.

When Sandy was released, we went to Mike and Sharron's for diner again, and stayed there the night, I in my bus.  Diner conversation was wonderful and, partly due to Sandy's disarming yet probing questions, we all shared intimate stories of childhood.  In the morning we had a breakfast, and talked again, and I discovered my laptop was having problems.  Once again, Mike offered all sorts of help, including a hard wire to the internet which he provided by unplugging Sharron's computer, these are very generous hosts, and I quipped that I was beginning to feel like Monty Woolly in "The Man Who Came to Dinner".  I told Sharon the Ice and the Penguins would be here in the afternoon.  This all started with dinner now 4 nights prior.  Soon Mike gave Sandy a lift to the airport shuttle (nothing keeps her down for long), and Sharon had an appointment, and I was on the phone to HP tech support in India.  When Sharron returned from her appointment three hours later I was just finishing up and was able to leave in about another 20 minutes.  The two of them seem to have tolerated all of this imposition, and I sincerely hope we continue our friendship.

Now I have relocated to the Heart of Santa Fe, in a city parking lot with facilities for campers at $9 for 24 hours, 1 1/2 blocks from the Plaza in the center of the historic district.  This is a perfect set up for my street performing with my vibraphone and I spent most of today in the Plaza, playing in the tranquil setting.  I felt great and was very well received.

So that's the last ten days.  I wrote fast here.  I left out the part about an interesting business development that may be coming up.  And a whole bunch of pictures.  I'll post all of this, later...

Monday, April 5, 2010

Comfort, Tx

I got off I-10 a bit after San Antonio and took a frontage road for a while, which meandered a bit as it followed generally along I-10.  I allowed myself some stops to make some photos of farms and sheep, and then came across Comfort, an out of place, boutique-y little town full of lawyers, retirees, and the highest per capita collection of antique shops I've ever seen.

Click here for a Flickr slide show

The Beginning of the West

West of San Antonio, Tx, the country changes.  It's Hill Country, and it's dramatic.  It's also much more desolate than east of San Antonio.  Back east, every highway exit off of I-10 had the same cluster of stores; a few fast food restaurants, a big gas station or two, and a mall with big chain stores.  Some of the exit complexes were laid out in an identical plan, with the same stores in the same juxtapositions.  It was actually eerie to drive for an hour and get out in an identical setting, like getting off in identical elevator lobies on different floors of a tall building.

But west of San Antonio, things thin out.  There can be 30 or 50 miles between exits, and if you get off, you have a 50% chance of finding a gas station, and if there is a store, it's not part of a chain.  I am struck by the magnitude of what I am doing.  For some, it may be merely a driving trip.  But for me, it's a radical departure from everything I know.  My friend Mike, in Poplarville said I was a runaway, I just waited a long time to do it.  There is a lot of truth in that.  And as I drive out here, my mind chases surprisingly old demons.  I am not sure if I have the courage to write about it.

Completing the plan. (If anyone ever doubted that I am Batman, this will settle it!)

Between Bridge City and Houston, I stopped at Lowes and picked up a small microwave oven I had selected with a fair bit of research in the previous weeks, a GE 700 watt model that draws only 9.8 amps, and which has a black front with horizontal banding that continues some of the visual themes in my design.  After first testing the unit in the parking lot to confirm that it worked with my 10.5 amp capacity DC to AC converter, I moved to a Walmart that night and installed the microwave there the following morning.

Back in Mississipi, I had selected a piece of butcher block from IKEA for a "kitchen" work top, but found that the nearest IKEA at that time was Houston.  Rather than paying the $300 shipping for a $40 top, I planned to pick it up.  The timing was perfect as I passed through Houston two days ago.  The following afternoon, at an I-10 rest stop, the kind with no services whatsoever, I cut the top to fit and did the installation.  Click here for a Flickr slide show.

At the rest stop, I met Sam in his RV.  I asked if he was staying the night, and said if he was, I would too.  He said yes, and then told me about how he has been "full timing" for 7 years, warm months in the WashingtonState region, and cold months in the Texas eastern gulf region.  He had spent many nights in rest areas and truck stops, and had never had or seen an indecent.  Then he told me about areas of Arizona and Texas that are wide open and in which it's easy to find secluded free spots and watch nature.  Ha, HA!  We'll see what I can find, too.

Friday, April 2, 2010

San Antonio

That's where I am.  Yeeeeeeehhhaaaaaa!  Maybe I should look around in the a.m. 

Good night :-)

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Bridge City

As I headed west, a calm fell over me that I had not felt in a while.  It was the calm of no deadline and the luxury to explore. I headed west on 87, a smaller road than I-10, and came to the Rainbow Bridge into Bridge City.  It's one of the very tall bridges that I have mentioned before, which are common here; they allow for large ships to navigate below.  As I crossed, I wondered if there would be a way for me to get a picture, and sure enough, there was a turn off right at the far side.  What was there was a gate to a chemical plant compound, and to the right of that, a tiny road leading back to the bridge's supports and the waterway.  The little road intimidated me and I parked and walked a little way, until a car appeared heading the same way.  I waved to the driver, a young mexican, and he stopped.  "Can I drive down here?" I asked.  He only grasped a vague sense of my question from my pointing and shrugging, and his repy was mostly a mumble and a nod, but I understood that it would be ok, so I got the bus and drove down.  100 yards along, I passed a middle aged couple walking a dog, and we waved, and I realized there was nothing to fear at all.  It turned out to be a tiny community of shrimp fishermen and retirees in ramshackle houses and trailers and boats.  Here are Peanut, and his son Cele, pronounced see-lee.

Peanut was as jovial as he appears in the photo above.  I asked how the shrimping was going and he said this year he could not catch enough on a run to cover the gas ($450.)  He thought it had to do with the cold and stormy weather, not like previous years.  He never stopped beaming except for a brief mention of the economy and the tough times.  I told him my story, too, and emphasized how lucky I feel to be able to travel.  His smiling was infectious, and we spent a moment or too just keeping company.  Cele was more grumbly as he prepared his car for a trip to Montana, where he has some work lined up.  "I shouldn't have put everything in one basket," he said, pointing to the boats.  It was clear to me that he want's to leave, but is torn; the timeless story of generations.

For some pictures of Rainbow Bridge and some shots of the fishing boats, click here

Quicky about the repairs...

Done.  I'm on the road.  It was expensive, but not as bad as I'd feared. (2k, total)  The Ford guys were great.  They really worked hard, and minimized my bill as much as possible.  I'm on to bigger and better things.  Yippeee!

I'm not in a good mood, right now.

I still have transient moments of amusement as I plod around my Ramada Inn hotel room.  For example, I noticed that the latest turn in my truck repair saga, which landed me here at the Ramada, had a symmetry to it that might persuade some to look for supernatural forces, fate and the like.  The latest turn:  Ford has finally traced the illusive cause of the speedometer and speed sensor failure to a damaged gear inside the emergency brake assembly, the very same assembly first "repaired" back in Mississippi, some time ago.  I brought my truck to Warren Automotive in Poplarville, Mississippi on the recommendation of Kathleen Johnson and Garry Saucier, each well networked into the Poplarville community by their volunteer work and each saying of the diesel service, "They're good people."  Well, the good people at Warren Automotive have a contract with "the railroad" which requires them to work on the railroad's trucks first, so my truck remained at their garage for nearly a week before anyone looked at the emergency brake I had asked them to fix.  Finally, on a Friday afternoon, they removed the brake assembly, requiring the removal of the drive shaft around which the brake assembly applies pressure to stop the truck, and they began to open the assembly.  Jack, a bright perhaps 60ish ex hippie with long white hair tied in a neat tail, and a sparkling cockiness fueled, I thought, by a desire to show me he had the smarts to do more than diesel repair but at least he was great at it, began to try to open the brake assembly by attaching a "puller" to it; a long iron rod with a bolting plate on one end and a heavy sliding weight surrounding the rod which he slid and pounded repeatedly to an abrupt collision with a stop at the other end of the rod, thereby trying but failing to yank open the assembly to which the bolting plate end was bolted.  "Aren't you afraid of breaking something inside?" I asked.  "Nah," said Jack, but he stopped anyway.

Ultimately, the assembly was opened and the job came to a hault when Jack found he would need to order two gaskets to close the thing up again, after the new brake pads were installed.  With ordering and the remainder of the work, I got my truck back the following Tuesday, along with a bill for over $500.  Louis Warren, the fast talking owner of the garage explained,"It's a lot better than if we had to replace the whole break assembly which costs about 15 hundred dollars."  I paid my bill and left feeling at least it was behind me and I could travel with the comfort of knowing that my emergency brake would work.

Fast forwarding to last night's finale to my saga at David Self Ford, here in Orange Texas, the faulty speed information confusing the transmission has now been diagnosed as due to a broken ring inside the very same brake assembly.  My mind immediately flashed to Jack's pounding on the puller.  The parts orderer here at Ford, Orange, a comfortable dinosaur who's belly bulged well over his belt as he perched on a stool behind the counter, said "No authorized Ford service will open that assembly to replace a component because no one can close them up again without them leaking."  Sure enough, there was a small oil leak at the bottom of the assembly, from Jack's work, and a tech here also added "There is some silicone caulk on it, too."  My blood boiled.  The silicone reveals that Jack and probably Warren, too, knew they were sending me off with a botched job.  Good people.

I was now sitting on a stool in front of the parts department counter, at 5:30 closing time, with about six Ford people around me, who were all genuinely sympathetic, as they waited for me to digest the news that, after having fixed my burst radiator hose, and after having replaced my $512 PCM, and after having put a dent in the back of my truck, and after having chased diagnostic wild geese for a gaggle of hours to locate the persistent problem, all this while I camped in their parking lot for 3 nights and 4 days, after all of that, they would now have to order a $1,500 component for me, and I would be spending another night.  As upset as I was, I remember somewhat actually enjoying the moment, perhaps in a variation on a Munchhausen Syndrome.  It reminded me of moments when I commanded a team on a design or construction project and delegated tasks on the fly.  A few minutes passed.  I said to Curtis Beauford, who had reminded me of Martin Mull as he helped me these last few days as the point man for Ford on my case, having been been bright, cheerful, and occasionally amusingly ironic, but always almost perfectly opaque as he conveyed status reports to me with the deftness of a press secretary, "I have no choice here, what am I going to do, throw away my truck?  Order it."  As minutes continued to pass, I added, "Do you remember the Twilight Zone?  I keep expecting to see Rod Serling in the corner over there...'Meet Roy Pertchik, out of work architect, traveling...'" and Curtis dropped his guard and laughed genuinely.  A young woman who had worked the computer and the phone to order the part said "Ok, it will be here tomorrow."  "Is it set for a.m. delivery?", I asked.  "It should be," she offered.  "Well, let's not leave it at 'should be', give them a call back and be sure," I commanded with an encouraging undertone, and again I recognized myself in a former existence directing a team.  She made the call without hesitation, accepting my authoritative tone given my circumstance, and when she confirmed "a.m.", I said thank you, enjoying the slight tickle our chauvinistic society grants men who direct subordinate woman.  Then I addressed the group, "I want to thank you all for your help," and I looked directly at a few of them, dismissing "the meeting."

My truck now had it's drive shaft off and could not be moved to the parking lot where I have spent the last few nights, so I gathered some clothes, bathroom supplies, and got a lift to the Ramada Inn near I-10, from 20 something, exceedingly polite Jeremy.  I tossed and turned into the night as I tallied the burst hose, PCM, and now break assembly repairs to be upwards of $3,000 that I really can not afford, and I fumed over the botched repair by Warren Automotive.  I will see if I can get any refund from them...


I've had a nice shower now, the next morning, and I'm going to look for breakfast, and get on with my trip!

There are birds twittering outside; and I'm getting in a better mood :-)