Life in the Real Desert: The Wind Down

Town sign outside of Burger King

Somewhat amazingly, the big wind down has already begun in Quartzsite, Arizona and Life in the Real Desert is about to change once again. Riding down the main drag in town the first noticeable thing is the lack of big tents and vendors who have been present since at least the start of 2015. Apparently this mass evacuation will continue until the end of March and the sleepy burg will go back to being semi deserted once more.

I stopped here last year in February/March and was told that I’d missed the rush. Having been here for the busy time, I am quite anxious to see just what the quiet times will bring. Of course there will be less snowbirds for a start. There are not that many who opt to live here year round. Those that do, immediately lose their feathered status.

Summer temperatures soar, as they did in Vegas, but at night they do drop dramatically. The folks who opt to stay are used to this drastic see-saw effect of hot and cold. Of course in the Nevada gambling town of Vegas there are enough buildings, pavement and people the sun going down does not equal a huge drop in heat.

Last March, in Las Vegas, I was sleeping with windows open and a sheet on the bed. Coming to Quartzsite, I was offered heavy blankets. I turned them down, explaining that I could take it.

Wrong.

When the sun set here, I immediately froze. There was no gradual decrease of temperature, one moment it was hot and then, BAM, cold. By the time morning came, I was wearing every item of clothing that I owned and had desperately wrapped the dogs’ blankets around my shivering body.

I will, in fact, welcome the increase in heat and pray that the nighttime hours in summer do not drop to what feels like sub-zero figures. While I’ve gotten used to the increased Fahrenheit readings, I’ve learned that less clothes, more fluid and a change in operating hours equates to more comfortable living conditions. Cold, however, is a different aspect completely.

Although the reaction is amazingly similar, more (rather than less) clothes, more fluid (of the hot sort) and a change in operating hours, the end result is nowhere near as satisfactory. I do not like the cold, my body despises it and my operational capacity is cut down accordingly. It is hard to type when you cannot feel your fingers.

Granted, extreme heat also results in less productivity. But, regardless of what the climate is, I would still rather battle heat.

While the town is winding down and the snowbirds are slowly following the vendors lead and heading out, I have learned that a new bike with new gears is easier to ride than a cheap second-hand one. My initial bike was a Chinese knock-off of a BMX and it damn near killed me.

My new bike, a 700c Schwinn, is a dream and apart from the fact that I have to keep centering the front tyre is a lot easier to ride. I am now in the process of getting either saddle bags or a box for the back to facilitate grocery runs.

I will, hopefully, have sorted out some sort of television and Internet within the next month. Both quite important as my writing income for the new site has rather disappointingly worked out to considerably less than I was hoping.

Things will even themselves out eventually. Getting used to the different setting, sorting out living conditions and becoming a recognizable figure around the local area is helping to at least make me feel a little less disoriented. Some setbacks are very temporary. Having to cancel Hulu and Netflix has hurt, but I can rejoin as soon practicable and will do so.

The reality is that I’ve missed so many episodes of shows I wrote reviews and recaps for that I am hopelessly behind and will not catch up, even with serious binge watching. Hopefully TV will be restored in time for summer replacement programs.

Until things are back to “normal” my immediate goal is to write two articles a day for my personal blog and the same again for the new website. On top of that, I have plans to write a certain amount each day on my own books.

The move from Vegas, while necessary, has been almost catastrophic in terms of output. Other factors, which I will not go into here, have also upset the balance of work and “off time.” While I struggle to maintain a certain status quo, I will continue to write and keep practicing what I have learned and continue polishing my output.

6 March 2015

When Retired Doesn’t Mean Retired

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So, I have been “medically” retired. I am now Michael Smith Prison Officer (retired). But I’m not. Not really. My medical retirement pension is on a lower tier which means two things: 1) I’ll get the pension until I shuffle off this mortal coil and 2) It is a damned small amount.

Not enough to live on and the amounts of benefit I am eligible for are very small and not at all certain. I am eligible for a lump sum, but taking that will drop my yearly pension payment by well over 1500 pounds per year. I also have a slight financial problem that is not going to go away and if I take the lump sum, my situation being what it is, said lump sum will disappear into my creditors’ pockets.

Dear me!

I have gone and spoken to the “not-so-helpful” folks at the Citizen’s Advise Bureau (admittedly it was not their fault, it was my circumstances) and found that I seemed to fall into a giant crack where no real benefits actually applied. I cannot get any of my state pension as a “top-up” as I am under even the earliest age where you can retire. I have a feeling that I will get the same response from the American Social Security folks.

I have often used the phrase “between a rock and a hard place” and each time I used that phrase I honestly felt that I was “in” that metaphorical place. It is amazing how naive we can be in our lives. I now truly understand what that phrase really means; I have only now come to realise that my lack of understanding was normal and I am now in that place.

I have always been a flexible chap, not exceedingly so, but flexible nonetheless. I always knew that I could bounce back from almost anything and I could usually turn my hand at anything.

But now?

I am completely utterly lost.

The one problem with my current circumstance is the heart problem. Because of the condition of my aortic tear, my local cardiologist won’t even assess my fitness for cardio rehabilitation. Not until I’ve had my second follow-on appointment with my surgeon in February. So I have no idea what I can or cannot do in the area of work. I do know I cannot do my old job in the prison service because I cannot have any contact with prisoners; hence my medical retirement.

But the heart problem aside, I don’t even have a CV (resume) on file to apply for work. I have not had a CV for ten years. My last “game plan” was to retire from the Prison Service. We all know how that turned out.

I have learned to my consternation that being medically retired is not the same as being retired. In fact, if you look at it from the benefit point of view, I’m not. I don’t know about the disabled side as I cannot really fill in any forms or get a straight answer until I get my medical retirement paperwork and monies finalized. That will not happen for at least six weeks.

Theoretically, I now have six weeks to get things sorted out, but that is not likely to happen, either. I have discovered that you cannot plan for benefits or income support. I also don’t know if I will get my next pay packet as promised so that I can pay for another month’s rent or even eat. I will be able to contact the financial folks who were helping me to sort my finances but since I’ve no longer got a job, will have to cease ( I suspect) their efforts on my behalf.

I now have to “update” my CV (which of course means writing from scratch) and tailor it to meet the latest CV requirements. I have already look to see what jobs I might be qualified for (not a lot) and who might be interested in hiring a 54 year-old ex-prison officer with a dodgy aorta.

I would consider busking (that quaint English custom on standing on street corners and singing or dancing for coins from the general public) but I don’t think my voice is in fine form and the dancing could be dangerous to my heath; not to mention my inherent lack of coordination in relation to dancing. I briefly considered applying to Tesco as a shelf stocker but I’m not sure they’d have me.

My YouTube channel has not even made enough to warrant a payment yet; there is a threshold of 60 pounds that I am miles away from. I have held onto a “deliver pamphlets” job advert where I could, according to the advert, make up to 500 pounds a week. I am not sure how many pamphlets I would have to deliver for that huge sum of money, but I suspect it is way more than I could deliver in my current state of healing.

But I will continue to look on the bright side. Any other alternative point of view is just not going to happen. As one wise man once said, “You’ve got to laugh, ain’t you? Otherwise you’d cry.”

So as another wise man once said, “Laugh? I nearly paid my television license.” I know, it’s something of a “local” saying, but strangely appropriate.

So I’ll leave you with this little fact: Retired doesn’t really mean retired when it is a medical retirement; at least in this country and if you are under the age of 55. I hope this proves to be helpful to someone who may be facing a similar situation. If not, they say that misery loves company and I have lots of room here in the space between a rock and a hard place; so welcome to my little world.

I’ll put some coffee on and get the cards; I’ll deal.

5 card stud anyone?