From the campsite on East Old State Route 47 in Monticello Illinois
It’s been awhile since I’ve rolled hard and fast across the plains. But last night I left Champaign and headed west, to my camp, where I am living rough, hard against the DOT and behind a trucking company.
Interstate 72 – connecting Champaign to Decatur and along to Springfield sits two hundreds yards to the north. The truckers rolling down the highway are a constant background noise. But I have Old Crow Medicine Show rocking and am sitting very comfortably under my tarp in my outdoor kitchen. Drinking vodka with lime and snacking on smoked salmon.
I had my first semi-normal meal in a week last night. An over-priced steak at a nice place in Champaign called Hamilton Walker. I sat at the bar and read the paper and life seemed normal for a minute. I met a nice couple–the man turned me on to a lead that may help us with our fab operation. We need someone who is good at aluminum design and welding and not afraid to take a chance on a new business.
The ride home after dinner was precious. I had a martini and 4 glasses of wine, so had that sort of glow. I took the state roads to get to Monticello and my camp, going by the small airport and between fields of corn and soybeans. I opened the big German machine up pretty good. It’s flat here, so passing cars is nothing–not even a thought. I blew by several locals at 90 or so. I could feel their judgment–thinking, ‘what’s his hurry‘ or ‘he’s gonna kill himself‘. Perhaps, but not that night. Just a lovely moonlight ride after a nice dinner and some drinks.
It was deep into last light and I was riding toward the just setting sun. The horizon was 17 shades of pink and red and orange and yellow, with tinges of grey and black at the bottom and a hint of blue remaining at the top.
Indescribable really, so why am I trying. If you weren’t on that bike with me last night, the moment is lost.
The bugs were a menace, but just a slight distraction. The small ones are like a light sting; the big ones leave some blood and maybe a little mark. But it’s no price to pay for the joy of the moment.
I rolled hard and fast all the way home. Even in this flat country, there are still some very slight rolls and hills. The temperature can change 15 degrees in 500 feet between the top of a small rise and a valley.
After a while, I put my boots back on the rear pegs and laid down on the tank. The whole experience changes in this position. The wind goes calm and now I can hear the smooth sound of the BMW engine. It is quiet, relatively, but running at 5000 rpm. Imagine that, the cam spinning around 5,000 times each minute. 150,000 revolutions just to get home. And pushing those valves open and closed in a precision that is hard to get your mind around. The valve opening so slightly, while gas and air are injected and at the precision moment the valve closes a tiny explosion is set off by a perfectly timed spark from a little plug.
And this basic engine design is now more than 100 years old. What kind of brain does it take to invent this? I can barely dress myself in the morning and there are people inventing combustion engines. And phones that work with no cords. And movies that stream through the air and satellites in space communicating daily with us. What a wonder. But for tonight it was just me laying across that tank and hearing and feeling that engine and being amazed at the engineering of it all. And a big perma-grin at the wonder of my fortunate life.
I drove by the East End but didn’t see Brian’s car so came on back to camp. Besides, after that ride, I looked like a wild animal. Hair sticking straight up, bugs on my glasses and embedded in my face with bits of bug juice here and there. Probably best I just came home and showered and bedded down.
It’s a tough year when an extended trip to a small town in southern Illinois has to pass as an adventure. But here I am. Since we are still remote, I will work from here for awhile so we can push for increased momentum on the prototypes. We need to get a unit that can be sold across the finish line. Perfection must not stand in the way of good enough for now.
This place where I am staying is a trip. Never a dull moment. Today, when I got back from running some errands, there was a trucker here who I’d never met. Massive dude. Probably 37 5 – 400 lbs and in absolutely filthy jeans and a black wife-beater with a Dallas motorcycle logo and a tight fitting welding cap. He was working on his truck as I came in and he asked me if I was making the camp trailer ‘over there‘, as he pointed towards our unit. I told him I was and he said he used to see a lot of things like that in Australia. Now he had my attention because that is correct. But then he said he loved the concept but didn’t like the price tag. Now he was singing the song that I wrote. ‘Exactly’ I said. We are building a conceptually similar model but not $40,000 and not built to military standards. We chatted a bit. He wants to see one when are done because he said he has a camp trailer he rarely uses because it’s a pain in the ass. I was pleased, but mentally reminding myself to tell Brian that our rooftop tent needed to be able to support around 750 lbs instead of the 500 I was figuring on.
Turns out this guy used to fix locomotive engines and lived and worked in Queensland Australia for a time–which is how he knew about their fondness for the type of trailer we are trying to bring to America.
Later, I was having dinner outside. This son-of-a-bitch replaced two huge wheel guards on his truck and the front bumper, which had also been dinged. I didn’t think he could be more filthy than before but I was way wrong. He had been crawling around under the truck for hours and it showed. He came over to ask if he could use our shopvac to clean the inside. Of course. No problem. But then he came back over to chat right when I was in the middle of a bone-in pork chop and steamed broccoli but sitting outside in my little camp. But he was super chill and a nice guy. He fixated on my wine and asked if it was Australian and I said it was and asked if he wanted a glass. He did. I offered him a seat but he said he had to get moving as he was heading out early in the morning on a run and still had some work to do. But we chatted for 30 minutes or so. Nice dude. Very nice. At one point he talked about a trailer he had modified as a beer keg unit and thought we might consider that and I told him we had thought about tailgate units and it was on our radar.
I just found it cool that I was standing here having a conversation with a guy that I might not ever bump into in a million years. And it was nice. And, as previously disclosed, I don’t always easily accept having my evening time interrupted, but this was just fine. He mentioned he was a Harley rider and was part of a club. I motioned to my BMW bike, not 10 feet away. He gave a very cursory glance and said not another word about biking. I took it to mean he did not acknowledge bikes other than Harley’s, but I accepted that. I know that crowd and that is a common sentiment.
And this is interesting–the reason truckers leave their trucks running in the summer? Because they have refrigerators in there and don’t want to drain the batteries. At any given time, there may be 2 or 3 semi’s parked out back, engines running, for 8 hours or more. All because they don’t want to take the milk out of the refrigerator. Global warming anyone? Anyone?
The following paragraphs are a mish-mash of nonsense I’ve set down over the past few weeks as I have been too busy to be focused on blog or journals. They are not in chronological order. Just random.
Running a start-up manufacturing business while also running an ERP replacement program is not for sissies. But so far it’s hanging together. Just not much time for writing, or reading, or wooing women for that matter.
But, circumstances evolve as we float down the stream of life, and I will one day have more time to reflect and ramble.
I arrived here last Friday and set up camp outside the building we are renting. I have a blow up mattress and small office inside but I take my meals and relaxation out here under the tarp. I have a campfire every night which is pretty fucking sweet. I do my work-work during business hours and am in the shop early morning and after hours. I will bounce back and forth for a time, between here and mom and dad’s place.
I took Thursday off and Brian and I drove to St. Louis to meet with some engineers and designers from Neff Power–they are helping us close the loop on some issues. We are searching for that perfect balance between form and function. The unit must remain light, but be superbly designed for ease of use. And, of course, it must also be aesthetically pleasing.
I brought Brian’s dad, Rusty, a bottle of Red Breast whiskey because he is super cool and also has been helping out a bit here and there. He came by last Saturday to see how we are progressing and I gave him the bottle. He opened it up and I got some plastic cups and we sat in a circle, 8 or 9 feet apart inside the big bay of the trucking company, and we drank the whole bottle along with a few beers. Sort of put a stop to work that day, but was an excellent time.
Rusty is the rare super liberal guy living in heart of America. He raised Brian on those values which I suppose is why we hit it off so well all those years ago.
About 1/2 through the bottle, Rusty climbed up in one of the huge semi’s and fired it up and revved the engine like a madman for a few minutes before shutting it back down. He’s fearless, and like I said, super cool old man.
If you need a good cry, try listening to Steve Goodman signing ‘The Dutchman’ while eating a spicy chicken sandwich from Popeye’s.
I came across this song by accident. It was actually written my Michael Smith, but I prefer the Goodman version. Perhaps the finest, most tender love song ever written. It’s about an old couple living in Amsterdam. A day in their life.
Three or four times in my life I’ve heard those most delicious words spoken by a stranger ‘I really loved your book‘. I was visiting mom and dad and the family and a friend of my mom’s came by whom I had never met. Mom had loaned her a copy of my book a few years ago and she gushed over it. Felt good. Of course. Why wouldn’t it? If I could just get about a million more people onboard.
On my last night in town, with the car packed and ready to go, and the motorcycle on the trailer, I decided to slip down to The Standard. I wanted to say goodbye to Said and Dani. So I took the bike down and grabbed a spot at the bar. I pulled out the iPad and started reading the paper when this very nice guy a few spots down started talking to me. I just wanted to be left alone to read and reflect, But he kept talking. And this is the essence of my issue with going out. The overwhelming majority of the time, I just want to be left alone to my own thoughts and to read and write and think. But he kept talking. On the balance, a nice enough guy. Decent, relevant, and thoughtful conversation. But I just preferred to be alone at that moment. After 90 minutes or so, and during a lull in the conversation, I re-established solitude vibes and it was fine.
Work is really cramping my style right now. It’s always that way it seems. Not busy enough or too busy. I got so much work done on the canoe, writing, exercising, reading, cooking, earth explore — when work was slow. But now I find myself skipping workouts, being lazy in the kitchen, not getting my reading or writing time. The canoe sits unsanded. Words are not being set down on paper. Books get opened and then closed just a few minutes later. Working hard just takes a toll. Energy is finite and what is available is metered and spoken for.
I guess on one hand, what does it really matter. Work is just something we do to fund the next adventure. So work now and play later I guess. It’s never worked too well trying to combine them. I tend to live on the extreme edges so work is all consuming when it’s front and center. When it’s not, I am free to apply that emotional energy elsewhere.
I should have been a mailman. All that time for reflection while walking the route. Bukowski and Prine both talked about how much free emotional energy is available, even while getting a paycheck. Brainpower is the equivalent of a strong back from a hundred years ago in the job market. Strong burly men had a competitive advantage when working in the fields before industrialization. Now it’s brain power.
But push too hard and there is little left to give at the end of the day. No energy for writing or sanding or reading or writing or designing a unit to facilitate a world class camping experience.
I woke at 2:00 this morning. Trying to solve a work problem. A people problem. Now it’s 2:30 and I will very soon now get up and sit at the desk and figure it out. There’s no more sleep. I’ll miss my morning walk. Just too much to do. And I’ve committed to not billing more than 40 hours a week during this phase at least. Even though I will be around 55 or more this week I would say.
Still, this anxiety is better than the anxiety of having no job right now. I’m aware of that even while being cognizant it is a false choice. It should not be one or the other.
One of my locals, the little cafe down by the water at the 55th street pier, has closed again. One of the employees tested positive so they are closed and sanitizing the entire place and will re-open sometime soon. According to the website.
I’m in a bit of a weird spot at the moment. A holding pattern. Cleveland doesn’t feel like home. Earth Explore looms large–it either works or it doesn’t. If it does, I will need to dive in full time. if it doesn’t go, then just lament the lost dollars and clean up the mess and move on to whatever comes next. But for now, I must keep the lights on and and pay the tax man and that means I must keep carrying the mail for my present master. So to speak. But at least it’s a good gig. Good leadership and easy-going work dynamics. Exact opposite of the clinic.
I’ve lost track now of two good friends. Both for similar reasons and it is not ideal. They know it and I know it, but we all must make our choices. Still, it feels like betrayal.
Dinner last night with an acquaintance. I dodged it about 6 times but she is persistent and I ran out of excuses. It was fine. Another dinner, different acquaintance, Wednesday night. Also will be fine. I need to make myself get out.
This weekend past I was at Brian’s for another weekend of working on the camp trailer. This version will not be 100% there and ready to sell, but hopefully the one after will. Each one costs us around $10,000 so we need to get one that sells so we can start marketing. Brian is doing the heavy lifting on the assembly. I am also in between meetings, early mornings and evenings and weekends.
Terrific weekend visiting the folks. Beautiful motorcycle ride down through the heart of Ohio–through farm and Amish country. Lush green rolling hills and hardwood forests. Mom was super insistent that we all come for Yvonne’s birthday. She was hearing nothing of us staying away any longer. The passive aggressive pressure was enormous. So, hopefully no one gets sick. We were mostly careful. Larry and Terri opened their restaurant for take away orders. I spent some time working on their website. It still needs some updating but mom and dad’s internet is down so I will need to do it later this week. But nice weekend. Martin and Pam traveled up from Kentucky. Pam and mom both wanted rides on the motorcycle. How cool to have your 84 year old mom want to go for a ride. She’s a complete badass.
On the ride back to Cleveland I noticed a forklift for sale and turns out we need a forklift to unload the trucks when they show up with materials. So I stopped and it was what we needed for a good price ($3,000), so we bought it. Now just need to figure out how to get the damn thing to Monticello.
Back in real time now.
Saturday, I visited a laundromat for the first time in 30 years or so. I don’t mind these forays into another part of society that many do not often see. I read my book while my clothes were in the washer. There were plenty of big washers and so that went smoothly. But dryers were trading at a premium. Of the 20 dryers, 11 were out of order.
There was a full-on, pregnant Latina lady whose laundry load looked as if she was doing washing for the whole community. She spoke no English and had 3 kids with her plus another young man, who may have been her husband or an older son, coming and going. Her youngest was a boy, perhaps two, and while I was sitting and waiting, he came up to me and held out his arms to be picked up. So I scooped him up and we chatted and I did my best to entertain him while his mom was moving loads around between machines. He had no mask but I did and I lathered his hands and mine with sanitizer. His mom looked over and smiled so I took that to mean it was okay
One man asked me if I wanted something to drink. He offered to buy me a soda or water from the c-store next door in exchange for 4 quarters to finish his laundry. He had food stamps but no cash. I declined the soda but helped him out. Sweet older man.
I could have done laundry at Brian’s but I don’t mind the time alone and I also hate asking anyone for anything.
Later, I went to the Goodwill for a cheap chair and table for my little office. Another view into the sub-society that we so easily forget about it. Everyone was masked up–doing the right thing. And nice and helpful to one another.
Today, a real humdinger. I had this post almost ready to go before getting run right the fuck over by the day from hell, in a year that is also pretty suspect. It started early and ran late. I got up at 5:00 for my walk. About 1/3 in, a massive storm rolls up and all of a sudden I am in a downpour with lightening all around and thunder close enough behind to be worrying. I thought about turning around but what’s the point. I pushed through and got wet but not electrocuted.
First call at 7:30 and then shit went wild. 30 minute break between calls straight through until 5:30 with each one increasing in intensity as some of the teams weighed in with a lot of edits on information that had been on the street for a while. During the last call, around 5:15, Brian stuck his head in and said I had better come outside. As soon as my call was finished, I headed out to see that my campsite had blown away in a typhoon like storm that had sprung up while I was hunkered down. So my canopy and tarps are all ruined and shit is soaked and everywhere. But the outcome of my calls was I had about 5 more hours of work that had to be done tonight. I was very near finished when for some reason, completely out of the blue, my damned wireless keyboard just quit working. It’s not impossible to switch to the laptop keyboard in the middle of a work product, but it definitely slows progress and just fucking sucks. So I troubleshot that for 20 minutes and right when I was about to abandon and go to laptop keyboard, it just miraculously started working again. Just fucking with me. 11:30 now and heading to bed.
No other news of note.