Notes From All Over – or Not

I was reading a New Yorker article about Afghanistan. A successful independent radio and TV network there was said to receive grants from foreign governments and N.G.O.’s. All right, I’ve seen the abbreviation before, but could only guess it meant “non-government organization”. So I was goaded into looking it up on Wikipedia:

A non-governmental organization (NGO) is a legally constituted organization created by natural or legal persons that operates independently from any

There you go. Too bad we can’t Google magazine pages directly. No, I am not getting an iPad.

Getting to “or Not”, I’m always on the lookout for new gas stations on my road trips. I like to get in and out fast, so am willing to try stations a bit to the left of “off the beaten track”. That means making some mistakes, too.

NOT: Shell station, Lebec, California (I-5, on the grade up to Gorman). They boast two stations, a Shell and a Chevron. I tried Shell first. Red flags on all the credit card scanners: “Out of Order. Please prepay at cashier’s.” You know what that means: underpay, and you resume your trip with less than a full tank. Overpay, and you get to make another trip inside, stand in line again, and watch them figure out how to give you your change or modify a debit or charge. SO: I crossed the road to the other station.

NOT: Chevron station, Lebec, California. This one was cleaner and friendlier, but the pump LCD displays were absolutely illegible. I couldn’t get the pump to dispense. I had to go in and see the clerk. This is kind of rare, because I’ve been doing this for over forty years. She asked me if I hit the CANCEL button on my debit transaction when I couldn’t get the gas to pump. No. I had never had to do that before. She asked me if I lifted up the lever under the nozzle handle. Sheepishly: No. The newer pumps do this automatically, and I had gotten out of that habit.

The nozzle still didn’t pump well. I had to milk the handle trigger to get something approximating a full tank. The clerk had been very polite, but it’s not likely I’ll stop in Lebec again.

NOT: Lamont, California (about 10 miles north of Lebec, June trip). This town has one gas station that I could find. All I remember about it (or want to) was that the parking was practically non-existent, and you have to get a key to use the one tiny restroom. I think they were charging about $3.89 a gallon, too. Far be it from me to inconvenience them again.

NOT: Blythe, California (1st offramp).  It seems that I had been to BB Travel Center before, but something had changed, and it was in the air that you breath (or not), not the air in your tires. There are better stations in Blythe for those who can wait the extra few minutes to take the second or third offramp (or just drive across the Colorado River into Arizona and save over 20 cents a gallon). But I had to, well, I was anxious to make a stop as soon as possible. Something wasn’t right about this place. As soon as I opened the door to the “Travel Center”, I was hit with a heavy whiff of the problem. I surmised a pipe must have broken, specifically the one that empties into the sewer system or septic tank.  To my immense relief, it wasn’t in the restroom. There was an old gent eating lunch at a table near the door. The smell was still enough to gag a maggot. The old gent appeared not to notice. That doesn’t speak too highly for the quality of the food fare.

YES: I’m a fan of the PBS’s Poirot series, originally dramatized in Agatha Christie’s mystery novels, which I have never read, but now surely intend to. The PBS TV series stars David Suchet as Hercule Poirot. Suchet does such a delightful job in this unique role, and I never miss a showing if I can possibly help it. Tonight Suchet did a one-hour PBS “Masterpiece” special as himself, not as Poirot: David Suchet on the Orient Express. The Orient Express has been in service for about a hundred years, and ran for most of those years from Paris to Istanbul. Service was extended from the UK after completion of the “chunnel”. It rode for the last time in 2009. The TV show explained how the elegantly restored old railcars corresponded exactly to the passenger seating and sleeping compartments on Agatha Christie’s actual train trip. She got the details down exactly for the famous thriller novel. And David Suchet was as refined and personable as the Poirot character he plays, if not more so. A perfect TV special for train buffs, Christie fans, history hounds and anyone looking for one hour of very solid and informative entertainment.

YES: In that vein, I also enjoy Martin Clunes in Doc Martin, and he did a one hour special last month, in which we again get to be introduced to the actor as a person. Clunes toured countryside and oceanside  settings of England and Scotland, offering a thoroughly delightful hour of personality and travelogue. If you know the TV series, “Doc Martin” is a brilliant physician and means well, bringing to the show a monomaniacal devotion to the arts of healing and diagnostics, and a TV personality as thoroughly and insensitively abrasive as you might have the good fortune, in real life, to be exposed to only once in a lifetime. One desperately wants to like Doc Martin, but his embarrassing behavior is suspiciously like Asperger’s syndrome as one character in the show finally suggested. Somehow, he always gets past that to do the right thing, which is why I like the show. Martin Clunes (actor as a person) is winningly likable and personable. Like Suchet, it makes one appreciate how much real acting skill has been required to deliver to the audience such convincingly eccentric yet brilliant roles.

THE WEATHER here in Phoenix, officially 106F today, “about average” for this day and month. I arrived yesterday afternoon. The shock of walking from the air conditioned car into a 100-degree house is just wilting. A dip in the pool helped, but I felt like I was in shock for most of the evening. What you do, down here, is turn on the AC and let it cool down to 78-84 (78 the first day, to get used to it, and gradually adjust it up during the course of the week). If you shoot for much more than a 25 degree indoor/outdoor differential, the AC will run pretty much continuously, and you’ll pay for that in the utility bill, if not a huge repair bill. What I still can’t wrap my mind around: I can afford to cool the house down to about 80, in the summer, which is warmer than I can afford to heat the northern California apartment up to, in the winter.

Monsoon season is almost here. 10% chance of T-showers this weekend. Yippee!

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