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Friday, September 27, 2002
In the Complaints Department: I had a backlog of Doonesbury, Foxtrot and Bizarro comics to get through at When the page loaded, I saw an entirely new design, including a new "My Comics" fee-based comics delivery option. I also saw something that set off my Irritation Sensors so strongly that I stopped surfing to write a letter of complaint. U-Comics' brilliant new marketing strategy is to include a feature list of comics grouped under "Men" and "Women." Men, apparently, read comics such as Tank McNamara and Dick Tracy. Women, did you know, read Ziggy and For Better and Worse and Cathy.
I waxed brief and eloquent: how the FUCK DARE THEY tell me that comic strips are gender-specific? What did they hope to gain by such pointless, brain-dead segregation? Did they want to alienate their sentient, non-sexist readers?
A straightforward response from the webmaster came within hours: the Men/Women lists were a new marketing tactic, based on reader surveys -- and so far, only two complaints (including mine) had been received. "Yours was much nicer," said the web contact. I wrote back a letter of thanks for the reply, that for the time being I'd stick with U-Comics, and that was that (although I suggested that "Low Blood Sugar" was a far more suitable category for Cathy, Ziggy, Family Circus, etc.).
If this sort of marketing inanity gets up your nose the way it does mine, then go to and register your displeasure. Don't take it out on the web team -- blame it on the Marketing twits. At the very least you'll have the pleasure of getting a well-written response.
Thursday, September 26, 2002
It was a gesture that I know will win warm-hearted approval from Rachel R., Jackie A. and Jean F. It's one that, should he hear of it, will make my father's eyebrows disappear over the vast horizon of his forehead, make him snort in absolute goddamned disbelief, what a dummy kid he's got, what the hell were we thinking? kind of way.
It, the gesture, was Nik buying Breezy, and me trucking her from Reno to Victoria. A 22-year-old, well-used, skinny half-Arab mare. Poster-lovely from the muzzle to the withers, but thereafter resembling a hatstand stuffed into a too-small white bag. One deformed hipbone, jutting out permanently. One spavined left hock. A tail that could have supplied wigs to Phyllis Diller.

So why is Breezy, foaled in Fallon NV, working for stray alfalfa at a trail-riding stable in Reno, now a venerable Victorian retiree? Why did Nik fork out cash for the old dame? Partly it was because Nik, Dani and I really fell in love with the mare: she was bomb-proof around kids, loaded and unloaded into the trailer without complaint, and had winning ways.
I was a goner the first time she dozed off with her muzzle resting on my shoulder, one evening in Carson City. She liked attention when it was given to her, but never demanded it. She put other horses in their place, showing what a holy terror she must have been in the herd in her younger years. She stood for being dosed with wormer without a fight. She let me walk up each morning and put the halter on her. She let kids on bikes, kids in wheelchairs, screaming kids and running kids, approach her, pat her, and feed her carrots.
With each day that passed, we liked the idea of selling her back to the trail-riding business less and less. With more than a week to go, Nik arranged for a vet to perform a Coggins test (necessary for crossing the border). We hadn't heard from the original owner, with whom Nik had arranged a "sell-back" deal, back when our loaner horses fell through in the first week, and we were without the pony part of the Pony Express. We didn't know if she'd agree to sell Breezy to us, and Nik couldn't spare much cash. But we did know we loved the old mare, and Nik had already figured out accommodation for her back home on Vancouver Island.
On the last day of school visits, I had to will myself not to think about Breezy leaving us, going back to being worked hard to the end of her days, ridden by rough-handed novices over rocky trails. On the last night before I had to leave for Canada, Nik finally managed to contact the owner and persuade her to sell. Jubilation ensued.
What followed were two of the most exhausting days of my life, trailering the horse through four states, across the border, on the ferry, and to Nik's home in Victoria. It wasn't easy on the mare, either. The first day took us over many smaller highways filled with steep climbs, descents and bends, and when I opened the trailer in Fossil, OR, to unload her in the dark, I could see her legs spread wide apart, still bracing for the next curve. She drank two huge pails of water and ate four flakes of the alfalfa bale. The second day of driving was easier (better roads) and the only trauma was riding on the ferry, next to semi-trailers whose airbrakes were terrifyingly shrill. Finally we pulled into the stable by Nik's house. On the following morning, Dani and I went to visit Breezy, who was lying on the soft grass in the sunshine. She gratefully ate three huge carrots and a bunch of horse "krunchies" (chunks of compressed alfalfa and grain), but got very agitated on being led out of her paddock for a look around. We decided to leave her alone for the next couple of days to get used to her new home. She got more carrots and hugs from me, and a scratch on her "sweet spot" at the base of her mane, and then I left. It may not have been a smart purchasing decision, and it certainly complicated the trip home, and in spite of everything, Breezy's riding days may be numbered. But it still feels right, to give a tired old dame a good home and an easy rest. And Nik now has a real horse to help promote her horse-themed novels to schoolkids. And I can go visit all of them regularly. Not a bad souvenir of the trip after all.
Jane's post-holiday tradition: a honking head cold within two days of arriving home. Booger Woman is back.
Wednesday, September 25, 2002
Oh, yeah: My copy of "godbox" arrived at the office at the same time I did this morning. When I checked my e-mail backlog I discovered two more "Order delayed" messages from Amazon over the past month. I'm too wiped to read more than a few sentences at a time, but so far I've laughed out loud twice, which is a very good omen. Still no sign of McSweeney's No. 7, though, despite delightful correspondence with D. Kneebone at publishing house. One day my backorder shall come.
What We Didn't Need on The Trip, But Had:
  1. DVDs.
  2. Most of food we bought at Costco (excepting the flats of pop, which we drank in a week, the Cheezies and the HandiWipes towelettes).
  3. Bottle with atomizer.
  4. Portable 2L thermos.
  5. All 15 rolls of paper towels.
  6. The 50 or so paperbacks.
  7. My cowboy boots.
  8. The frisbee.
  9. The guitar.
  10. The 2 bags of too-small coffee filters for motorhome coffee maker, which I bought twice in error.
  11. The tube of Polysporin antibiotic.
Things We Did Need on The Trip:
  1. Leopard-print britches for a hormone-addled Airedale.
  2. To remember to put film in camera when riding on restored steam locomotive.
  3. Lights in the motorhome.
  4. A non-smelly bathroom in the motorhome.
  5. A working air conditioner in the motorhome.
  6. A motorhome that didn't suck hind teat going up the slightest incline.
  7. Nik's publisher not to be such a royal ass about sending box of bookmarks to Reno.
  8. Hotel not to refuse to accept box of bookmarks even though Nik had obtained prior approval to store them there.
  9. Courier company not to lose box of bookmarks, irretrievably, thereafter.
  10. About 3 more hours of sleep a night.
  11. A laptop per person, with Internet access.
  12. Approximately 1 gross of cans of diet cola.
  13. An all-purpose handyman's tool that didn't get continually lost.
  14. Penny slot machines that actually took pennies.
  15. And finally: more time. More time. More time.

So anyway....I'm back, I'm sad it's over, I have so many things to say. I filled about 120 pages full of travel writing and impressions and occasional raging temper, which I will clean up, knock stray bit of alfalfa out of, and post in digestible tidbits in the near future. Though Nik, be warned, you're getting the unexpurgated version.
Sean Collins, you are a hero. Thanks for the housecalls and the percussive maintenance on the G3.
Fearless, faithful friend, thanks for looking after El Condo Non Grande (which looked, actually, very grande after 3 weeks in a motorhome), for not bludgeoning the ever-gabby cat, for providing airport chauffeur services, for agreeing to becoming a substitute Myrmidon, and -- well, just for being you.
My fellow Myrmidons, gods of lawn-bowling, who took us from 11th place to the finals in a very fierce competition, I salute you. Though boots to the head are forthcoming for three of you who did not wear the regulation kilts, the appropriate battle garb for Myrmidons, when you took to the field of combat.
Thanks to Dani for putting up with Jane, Terror of the Motorhome. And for hanging out with me yesterday in Victoria. And for not snickering when I won the bet about Bob Marley off your Oma.
Thanks to Jan the Publicist, Saver of Asses, Hero of Eastern Nevada, and Unstoppable Optimist. Loved how you could corner the hog motorhome on two wheels, too.
To all who know me, you now have a Leonard Nimoy degree of 1.
To Breezy, the veteran equine souvenir from Nevada: thanks for not dying in the trailer on the drive back to Vancouver Island.
To Nik: thanks for it all, to the day I die, which was nearly Monday night outside Seattle on the I-5.
Monday, September 09, 2002
Not Dead Yet: I write this from the Eureka, NV, Elementary school computer lab. I'm sitting on a tiny chair built for a 5-yr-old, so please excuse typos as knees are getting in the way.
One week on the road and things are going mostly well. Had a couple of heart attacks with getting Nik's daughter, Dani, from Victoria to Nevada. A long, long story and one that will form part of "What the Hell Was I Thinking: The Curmudgeon's Guide to the Pony Express." Am totally in love with Nevada, of course. The scenery is beyond vast. The hills are covered with juniper, pinon, sage, bristlecone pine and white pine. Nearly took out a herd of tiny deer on the way into town last night.
But am getting ahead of self, as usual. Here's what's happened so far:
  1. Leave Victoria for mainland on night of Sept. 1 [Sunday].
  2. Vancouver to WA on Monday morning, pick up Nik's books from warehouse, then on the road [I-5] south. Drive drive drive. Goal is to reach Eugene, OR, but Nik poohs out at Albany. [Didn't get much sleep on prev. night thanks to very loud farm dogs.]
  3. Albany, OR, south to Susanville, CA on Tuesday. Get into Susanville late at night.
  4. Reach Reno sort of 10 a.m.-ish Wednesday. Trying to find horse. At one point, drive to High Sierra Riding Stables north of Reno at place called Mogul. Miss the road, go up steep, narrow path on hill, pulling horse trailer behind truck. Locked gate at top of road. No place to turn around. Uh-oh. Only available driveway blocked by pickup truck. Panic. Jane in tears in cab. Nik stoic. Finally, other pickup driver returns, moves truck and we're able to slowly, agonizingly, back trailer around. ANYWAY: go to stable, meet Breezy the mare and a few other horses.
  5. Thursday: Dani misses plane from Vict. to Reno. Jan the Publicist gets into town no problem. Must drive from Reno to Ely, NV, approx 320 mi. away on Hwy 50, "The Loneliest Road." Decide to get Dani on plane to Vegas, then bus to Ely. Nik, Jan and I set off for Ely, stopping [and getting lost] in Carson City along the way in an attempt to pick up water tanks for horse.
  6. Oh, right. The Horse. I currently own 1/5th of a 21-year-old mare, the aforementioned "Breezy". She's scrawny and loveable, and a complete trouper. Trailers like a pro. Eats everything in sight. We decided to buy her from riding stable owner rather than lease her; stable owner not all that trustworthy a person--she set off both Nik's and my spidey senses from the start -- and we don't need a lawsuit. Owner says she'll be happy to buy Breezy back from us when we return to Reno: time shall tell.
  7. On road to Ely by 6:30 p.m. Bear in mind, this is a 6-hour drive at the speed we're travelling. I'm by myself in truck, N. & Jan are in motorhome. Driving at dusk through the desert, past Sand Mountain and other amazing sights, is balm to my spirit. I now get why people live here, despite the harsh conditions. Reach mining town of Austin by 10:30. Despite the dark, it's easy to tell that the town is disgustingly picturesque. No time to gawk, back on terrifying winding and steep road through mountains to Ely.
  8. Friday: school visits (2) and book-signing (1). Busiest day of entire tour for all of us. So of course neither Nik nor I slept last night [found out that Jan's snoring would register on Richter scale]. [Sorry, Jan, that was unkind. Jan has been regularly saving our asses on this trip, and is resourceful, friendly and deeply intelligent. Like her very much despite the nocturnal foghorn.] So first school visit a big hit. By second school visit, get panicked call from Dani. Apparently despite what she's been told, and despite being sold a ticket, Greyhound does not send a bus to Ely. Jan to rescue while Nik visits school. Me at trailer, arranging books, woozy from fatigue. School visit another grand success. Off to drugstore/soda fountain on main street for 3-hr. book signing. Find out that Dani has been waiting at wrong bus terminal? Wrong counter? Anyway, yes, there is a bus to Ely. Phew. I show off horse to townsfolk, kiddies. Horse bored to death. The cell phone rings again. Dani has missed bus. Because it was not a bus-like bus, but a shuttle bus bus. NOW WHAT? Miracle: bystander in drugstore can arrange flight from LV to Ely. Dani finally going to get here.
  9. Saturday: Steam train ride from Ely to Ruth mines. Amazing. Something that Nik arranged during book signing, TV interview, etc. yesterday. Yes, I'll be happy to get free ride on ancient train. Again, picturesque, a trip back in time. Nik and Jan ride in locomotive with engineer and firemen, come back smelling strongly of coal. In afternoon, Nik goes off to Egan Canyon to ride part of orig. Pony Express trail, taking Dani & Jan with her. I do a few chores, including 5 loads of laundry, grocery shopping, etc. Do not play nickel slots, although they've been calling to me and getting progressively more persuasive. Spend night at Holiday Inn: or rather, Jan sleeps in room, while 3 of us stay in motor home and get more sleep.
  10. Sunday: visit Railway Museum to see mural painted by Nik's father, Colin Williams. It's locked! So Nik and Dani scale wrought-iron fence and defy civic ordinance to take pictures of mural. Then: off to Strawberry, NV, to hook up with another section of the orig. Pony Express Trail. Must write to NV government: Hwy 50 NOT "loneliest road." Loneliest road is secondary road 892, past famous ranch sites, at foot of mountains. Only one other vehicle in 5 hours [a pickup full of hunters]. Find Pony Express sign. We are here! Nik heads off on Breezy, whom, we notice to our dismay, is favouring her left hind leg somewhat. Turns out she has a slight bone spur or something on left hip. Will find vet in Eureka. Make town by 8:00 p.m., putting up at fairgrounds.
  11. Monday: Horse still "hitching" slightly when walking. But Nik not exactly galloping her, and Nik not exactly huge, so decide to walk her to visit schoolchildren anyway. A big hit again. Nik sells 29 books -- we'd been hoping to sell 10-15 at each school. Kids loved feeding carrots to horsey. After each school visit I'm taking the mare and walking her over to grass for 1/2 hr. or so's grazing. We spoil this mare something terrible. So the plan for rest of day is to go to vet, get anti-inflam. meds for horse, a tube of wormer, and carry on west to Austin, where Nik visiting school tomorrow. Plan to stop on way and ride bit more of trail, if horse not too stiff.
By the way, the three biggest fears I've had on the trip were (1) getting the horse trailer on the ferry, (2) loading and unloading a strange horse in/out of trailer, and (3) dying of heat. None of them has happened yet. Horse, as noted, trailers readily. Even on hot days strong winds keep us cool. And taking the trailer on the ferry was about as stressful as driving up to a stop sign. I am an idiot. During the rest of this expedition I'll try to get more details about the actual school visits, which means trading off horse duties with one of other "posse" members. Really enjoying being part of it all. Nik keeps asking if I'll take her on my book tour, but tell her I cannot possibly think of anything complicated enough to top this trip. So far, no stressful incident has been enough to derail the general high spirits and excitement about this undertaking. Worst thing is not having enough room in motor home, and I've tripped over the dog more times than I care to relate. Maybe blowing money on the slot machines will do bring me down more efficiently-- I'll let you know. [Dani, of course, is too young to gamble, but in Ely she played the slots vicariously through Jan and won $9 worth of nickels. Good for the cash float for book sales, of course.
More later, when next near computer. Am very pro-Nevada. Come here. Come to Ely and Eureka, especially. We're off to the Opera House now and then out for a bit of lunch.