Well, the black water tank is still half full, so maybe I'm not doing so badly. At least there have been no bad smells from the bathroom so far...so I guess the toilet chemicals I'm using ("Always Fresh" powder, one ounce per tankful) are doing their job. Gary says that no one brand of toilet chemical works all the time, so you sometimes have to change brands (a hit or miss proposition, from the sound of it) when your current favorite stops working. And Judie says I'm not flushing too much; she says when you have city water available, you should use it, because it's good to have plenty of fluid in the black water tank. (If there isn't enough, it will harden and cake, and be difficult to flush out.)
I got a good photo this morning of me sitting at the table eating breakfast. Once I get back I'll have a fairly big job reworking the Gertie website. I guess I'll be redoing it from scratch, since I intend to replace both Judie's words and pictures with my own.
Fiddling with the fridge
Temperatures here are typical for high desert: they yo-yo up and down in the course of the day. Overnight Gertie becomes quite chilly (low 50's), so that in the morning I have to run both the furnace and the catalytic heater for about half an hour to get her heated up enough (about 65° F.) that I can comfortably take a shower. But as the morning progresses, she quickly heats up from sunlight, and by noon the interior is becoming uncomfortably hot unless I have the exhaust fans running. Right now, for example, it's 10:08 and the outside temperature is 77° while the inside temp is 3° higher—despite my running both fans (on low).
Most days I've been out in the afternoon, so I've missed the worst of the heat. On those afternoons when I have been here, I've pressed the swamp cooler into use, which gives me about a 5-8° temperature drop after an hour or so of operation. Judie and Gary say that within about a month (by mid-May) the heat will be unbearable and they'll head north. Betty and Bill in the next campsite over said the same: they'll head for the mountains.
Gary and Judie have installed a clever three-plus-one-channel digital thermometer that uses radio-linked (433 MHz) remote senders. The display shows the indoor temperature plus the temperature at any one of the three senders, which are located outside, in the refrigerator and in the battery compartment. The latter one doesn't work, since the battery compartment is an effective Faraday cage that shields radio transmissions, but the outside sensor works fine—and it's very useful to be able to check on the fridge temperature without opening the door!
The Swedish-built Dometic (yes, that is how it's spelled) "Freedom" refrigerator lacks a thermostat, but it has plenty of space (7.7 cu. ft.) for my lifestyle. I tend not to load up the fridge too much, since if I stock up, perishables go bad before I can finish them. We had trouble keeping the refrigerator at a stable temperature for the first few days—temps would shoot up to an alarming 50° F. or higher during the day. Gary suggested that the almost-empty refrigerator (obviously I'm not keeping much food there, since I'm eating my meals elsewhere) just needed some thermal inertia, so we filled it with containers of water, and that seems to have done the trick. The refrigerator temperature has not gone above 41° since then, even in the midmorning heat when the sun is shining in that side of the rig.
The temperature situation could be improved by putting up the awning, which shades the refrigerator side of the rig, but Gary says that's rather involved (at least for a beginner like me). And more important, winds can come up suddenly that could damage the awning. Although it's hot here, there is almost always a mild-to-moderate breeze blowing.
The freezer seems to stay nice and cold all the time. I bought some ice cube trays yesterday so that I could have ice when I get thirsty for a cold drink...which happens a lot! Right now I'm on the morning's second glass of pink grapefruit/tangerine juice with ice. Gary and Judie don't use ice, by the way. They also don't drink anything with meals, which I can't remember ever having encountered before. Judie has orange juice on hand if I ask, but I have to remember to bring my own milk when I go up to Tessie for dinner.
I've made several shopping trips in the past few days, using Judie's 1990 Toyota Tercel (which looks amazingly pristine compared to my friend Chris's old beat-up Tercel of the same year and model). I begin to see the virtues of having a "toad" (a towed car), something I swore I'd never do (and probably still won't). While it's true that at 22 feet, Gertie would be fairly easy to take into town for groceries, doing so would mean unhooking (probably about a ten-minute procedure), driving off the Lynx levelers, stowing them...and then releveling and re-hooking up when I return. And that's assuming nobody had taken my camping space meanwhile—I'm not sure how that is dealt with. Maybe the answer is to get all my supplies before I park...assuming I'm not staying in one place for more than a few days, which is likely to be the case.
My trips to the local Wal-Mart (colloquially referred to by RVers as "Wally World," from the theme park of the same name in the movie "National Lampoon Family Vacation") and to Fry's supermarket have been to pick up a variety of things. I bought a new rear windshield wiper for the Tercel, since the existing one was falling apart. Had to buy two, actually, since the first one lacked the correct mounting hardware...not the first time that's happened to me. I spent about an hour drilling, bending and banging on the the first one before giving up and going back for a more expensive model that did have appropriate hardware for a ten-year-old Toyota. I also bought two short-sleeved cotton shirts, some lightweight socks and a pair of light tan pants (total: $31). Just before I came here they had been having a cold spell (as reported in Judie's daily morning emails), so I came with mainly long-sleeved shirts and knee socks. As it turned out, the temperatures headed upward almost as soon as I arrived, so my clothing has been a little too warm for comfort at times.
I plan to ship most of the cold-weather clothes back to New Jersey tomorrow, along with a few other things I've bought: an inflatable radio (just couldn't resist the goofy thing!) and "The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language," which looks very promising—I picked it up in a local used-book store.
The stores here reflect the character of the populace, and I don't just mean that there are a lot more brands of salsa to choose from. For example, the Wal-Mart has a large RVing section (wish we had that back home!). And the supermarket has an aisle with a large sign reading "HEALTH CARE/INCONTINENCE." There are a lot of older people here, and a lot of trailer and RV parks. You see folks crossing the main streets on motorized wheelchairs or four-wheeled electric scooters.
Back to the Fort
At lunchtime Judie and I drove to the base and met Bev in front of her building, then we all drove to the Military Intelligence Museum. The museum was small, but very interesting. It was full of code machines, various spy devices (such as a transmitter hidden in the rear view mirror of a Mercedes Gelandeswagen), radios and jammers. Fascinating stuff!
There were two reconnaissance drones (RPVs) on display. One was an old model from the early Fifties that looked rather like a big old model plane (about six or seven feet long) and had obviously seen quite a bit of service—it was rather badly beaten up. The other was a more or less current model that looked like a scale model of the stealth bomber: bat-winged, flat black, very sinister. A ducted fan at the rear propelled it. Amusingly, the "stealth drone" was so stealthy that Judie didn't see it—even though it was hanging directly above the older drone!
My only disappointment was a display of stereo viewers for reading aerial photographs: it failed to explain anything about stereography or why hyperstereo is so important to aerial reconnaissance interpretation. They actually had a stereo viewer out on a pedestal where you could look through it, but it was sitting on a montage of three photos, none of which was a stereo pair!
I wandered back in the museum and found the Archivist, but when I asked whether they didn't have any real stereos to look at (I wanted to show Bev and Judie, as I had been explaining how hyperstereo worked), he referred me to the aforementioned display. When I diffidently suggested that it didn't appear to be stereo, he shrugged and said that most people seemed to think it was. I went back and looked just in case I had missed something, but no—not a trace of a stereo pair to be seen. I concluded that he had no idea what real stereography is (odd, since it's such a crucial tool in recon work)—either that or he was pretending not to know, and I can't think of any reason he'd do that, as there is nothing secret about this old technique.
From the MI Museum we went with Bev to the PX (which was really a small enclosed shopping mall) and had sandwiches there; then she took us back to her building and gave us a mini-tour of her work area. Bev is team leader of a management/database project at the fort; she used to program in Ada but is a manager now and no longer codes...except in HTML for her Desert Aura website. Interestingly enough, Bev used to live in New Jersey and worked at Fort Monmouth in the Hexagon—the same building where Chris was working for the past three or four years, until she was laid off last week. Bev moved out here in the seventies.
The building itself was not all that exciting to look at, but I enjoyed the tour because I got to see where she works and learned a few things about her. For example, when the base's telecom people threw out a pile of telephones, Bev rescued a bunch of them and pulled out the bells and the clear and red plastic pushbuttons and Touch-Tone keypads. (I told her she should make a set of wind chimes out of them.) I was delighted to find out that she's a trash-picker just like me and Donald!
I felt a little funny walking around the building—me, an aging hippie draft dodger and antiwar protester wandering around a US Army base's electronic test labs, with a digital still camera and a digital voice recorder on my person. (Of course I didn't invite trouble by taking them out!) I felt as if I were getting away with something.
When we got back to the campground, we found that Judie's friends David and Lisa had arrived and parked their enormous (40' or thereabouts) Monaco next to Gertie. Since another bus-sized diesel "pusher" (a Foretravel) had taken up the space on the other side of me the day before, I was now surrounded by gargantuan class A's. Somehow it wasn't as intimidating as it had been at the RV show in Pennsylvania I went to a week ago...probably because we are outdoors under Arizona skies instead of indoors in a Pennsylvania convention center.
David and Lisa are an interesting couple. He's a burly ex-cop from Kansas City (pronounced "Kans'ity") with an endless fund of stories to tell—sometimes it's hard to get a word in edgewise. Lisa is a well-tanned blonde who looks ten years younger than her husband.
David proceeded to set up a grille and barbecue several big steaks. (Kansas City is a town that prides itself on its beef, as I remember from visiting there once for a business meeting.) Lisa made an excellent salad, and Judie provided various other dishes. I ate some steak for the sake of appearances—after dousing it with A-1 sauce—but I'm afraid it was wasted on me, since I'm not a real enthusiastic meat-eater. I filled up on salad and vegetables. Dessert was another story: Pauline had sent over a luscious chocolate cake that was enjoyed and praised by all present. (I've promised to make apple pie for her and the others on Saturday, assuming Judie gets Gertie's oven going on Friday while we are in Tucson.)