Life in the Real Desert: Close to Death

Buzzard in desert,
It is safe to say that my day got off to a bad start. The old prospector next door, with his eight noisy mongrels, woke me up when two of the animals began barking at just before 6 a.m. Despite best attempts to head back to the Land of Nod (I was tired as sleep in the night was interrupted by an idiot who was trying to start an engine with no muffler, aka exhaust pipe, attached to it from 23:30 to 00:30, that is half 11 pm to half gone midnight for those who have difficulty with the 24 hour clock) I was unsuccessful, it was too light and I was too annoyed. On top of that it was blooming hot and once awake, both at night and in the morning, sleep was, in the former instance a long time coming and in the latter, not approachable at all.

To exacerbate the poor start to my day, literally yards from my desert dwelling, an elderly neighbour came within a cat’s whisker of knocking me and my bike right off the road. Completely oblivious, at least I hope he was and that this was not a deliberate attempt to help me meet my maker, the sod never slowed down, although to be fair he was not travelling that fast, nor did he acknowledge my shouts of fury and my, very, rude gestures. As my adrenaline surged, I found myself making obscene remarks about his lineage and accusing him of self masturbation, in other words of being a wanker. Had I thought of it, I would have grabbed a rock and sincerely tried to hit the windscreen on the back of his Chevy pickup truck.

I am, it is safe to say, still furious. I still have the huge bump and bruising on my right leg from the other unconscious prat who knocked me off the car park surface, aka parking lot, at Love’s Truck Stop. *A place I have avoided like the plague since that little incident in March.* After my close brush with yet another attempt on my life, I was paranoid about every vehicle that passed me.

I realize that many of my fellow desert dwellers are, as stated in the title, close to death. Failing skill sets, a lack of cohesive attention to tasks at hand, failing health and, in some cases, just a bad attitude full stop, do not make these folks the best of neighbours.

Needless to say, blogging while angry is not a good idea, but, like the Incredible Hulk, sans the green and the increased size, my rage has been running on high since this idiot almost hit me with his bloody truck. All the way to the public library, titles for my first blog post scampered across my imaginary laptop screen, the one in my head, each more annoyed and insulting than the last.

Title’s like, “Rednecks Never Die, They Just Move to Quartzsite,” was the least offensive of the lot. The thing that calmed me down was the continual attempt to rework the old mot, “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed Jack is king.” This last internal dialogue, where I kept trying to substitute several annoyed phrases in place of blind, finally allowed the worst of my vitriol to dissipate.

Not completely though.

Just enough to stop the “Hulk smash” urge.

The problem is not just living amongst folks who are closer to death than I am, at least in terms of age. With an existing hole, apparently still in my aortic arch and damage to veins and arteries, as well as in one kidney, I may pop off more quickly than they will. With the exception of a dear new neighbour who has only a short time to live, and this lovely chap will be sorely missed by all who know him, the rest of the population in the neighborhood are a mixed bag who may all outlive me, especially if they persist in trying to kill me with their effing motor vehicles and that is where the problem lies.

These inept drivers may be quite nice away from their cars, trucks, vans and ATVs, although others seem to have the type of bad attitude that brings out the worst in me. If I can keep from becoming road statistic, I will remain tickled to death to have survived my further close brushes with the grim reaper.

Hopefully writing this rant out on a hot and dry day in the desert will help my anger and annoyance to abate further. If not my next update may come from behind bars and not, I hasten to add, the kind that serve drinks.

1 June 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

An Open Letter of Gratitude to Apple

Marketing shot of MacBookPro
Dear Apple,

Firstly I have to say that I was a reluctant convert to the MacBookPro. My daughter got one for her studies at University, and the run-up to Uni, College. Her, now aging, MacBookPro stood her in good stead during her time learning about the video game industry and still does quite well considering it is now several years old. She talked me into purchasing a Mac when my old PC bit the big one.

Amazingly enough, the big reason I decided upon the MacBookPro was the iMovie editing capability which, having watched my youngster edit her video reviews on game, looked infinitely easier than anything Microsoft had on offer.

I bought my Pro in 2013. I edited quite a number of videos in the UK, before you went and changed the way iMovie works. Still, I do not do videos that much anymore so that is not a real big issue, plus I’ve gotten used to the changes now so I forgive you for making it that bit more difficult.

So far my MacBookPro has survived being taken to South Africa on a whirlwind fact-finding tour where I had to interview several sources who claimed that Nelson Mandela died in June 2013 and not December as official sources insisted. It made a trip across the ocean to Las Vegas unscathed in 2014 and even managed to escape damage at the many conventions attended at Vegas. From The Amazing Comic Con to the Star Trek Convention, my MacBook resisted all my clumsy handling to stay scratch and dent free.

Later on at the start of 2015, while in the Southwest desert of Arizona, my MacBookPro has managed to keep working after being transported via backpack all over the hardpan floor and the local “one-horse” town. It still performs admirably despite it’s carrier falling down a wash while walking across the desert.

MacBookPro 11.4"
My trusty MacBookPro

It has also survived its owner being knocked off his bicycle by a hit and run driver in Love’s Truck Stop car park. An incident that resulted in my going airborne and landing on my back. The backpack with my trusty MacBookPro clunked heavily on the hard ground and 5 weeks later, when I could finally ride my bike again, I fell off the same bike outside the local Burger King and once again my poor MacBook hit the ground hard.

Despite all these tumbles and falls, the only real damage seems to have been on the case itself. A few scratches and dings that are superficial at best. This “cosmetic” damage has not interfered with the workings of my “laptop” and it still labour effortlessly as my only blogging and vlogging device. On top of being the instrument I used to write nearly 2,000 articles for the newspaper I worked for, it still functions as my main source of news from the outside world via the Internet.

MacBookPro
My Survivor, you have to look close to see those scars…

I mention all this because I’ve never felt the need to write any sort of letter to any company, open or otherwise, about any of their products. My MacBookPro has proven to be the best purchase ever made by this consumer. Sadly, my iPhone 5 has not had quite the same track record, for some odd reason the display screens in my phone go off and I’ve had replacements twice now, but I am not complaining, as your customer service is head and shoulders above the competition.

In closing, let me just say thank you Apple for continuing to make such a workhorse of a laptop. I am writing this open letter of gratitude, admiration and praise about my MacBookPro, the one that I call survivor, and the dependable tool that I plan to use for a long, long time.

A most impressed customer,

Michael Knox-Smith

6 May 2015

Bicycle versus Car: 0 – 1

Loves Truck Stop Each time I’ve ridden my, much admired I have to say, red Schwinn to and from town, there have been a considerable amount of drivers who refuse to leave adequate space between their motorized vehicle and my bike. Each time this happens, I fill the air with profanity and either lift one hand to indicate gap and or give the hand gesture for “wanker”

Or both.

At least one time I flipped an ignorant so-an-so a fairly furious bird…

Each time this happens, I vow to write an article about idiots who do not know the rules about leaving enough space between their vehicle and a bicycle. Whilst waiting to store up adequate vitriol to write said article, yesterday, the thing I have been dreading finally happened.

A car forced me off the paved surface. Not, however, off the main road, but off of a parking lot. (Which in my shocked state yesterday I continued to call a car park. This is particularly funny as my colleagues in the Prison Service were always poking fun at me for calling it a parking lot while I was in England!)

The whole thing was my fault. If I had not stopped at the truck stop where I’d left my pocketknife two days ago, it would not have happened. After checking with lost and found, it was not there, I got back on my bike and headed toward the exit to town.

In this portion of the parking lot, there are car spaces on each side for parking and the right hand side was full. As I passed the cars, a station wagon backed out of its space and sat there idling with its reverse lights on. I swerved to the far left to avoid the car and seconds after doing so a blue four-door sedan turned into the parking lot on “my side” of the road driving straight for me.

I was parallel to the station wagon facing the blue car. To my left was a 10 to 12 inch curb, an aggregate shoulder surface and a streetlamp with a large square, and yellow, base. I moved as close to the curb as I could while attempting to break.

The only thing I could tell about the blue vehicle was that a man appeared to be driving. The windows were tinted fairly dark and it was difficult to see with any certainty. The station wagon had still not moved and the sedan headed right towards me.

My bike impacted with the curb at roughly 7 mph as moving away from the car seemed prudent. I tapped the top of the curb with my left foot and the second time I tried this maneuver my foot “hopped” and both the Schwinn and myself went airborne. Approaching the ground I started to “tuck and roll” but my elbow was not quite tucked in enough.

I did roll, however, and stopped when the back of my head came in contact with the base of the streetlight. At the same time, my backpack hit the ground with some force. My first thought was of my MacBook Pro, my only real source of income at the moment.

I sat up slowly and ignored the panicky desire to open my pack to check the laptop and began to check for bruises, broken bones, et al. A group of men were working on a SUV opposite me and they paused to glance over.

“Did that guy hit you?”

“No mate, he forced me off the bloody road!”

They shook their heads and chuckled. No one asked if I was okay, so I must have looked all right. I checked my legs and found that the right leg, on the shin area, had a huge amount of swelling on the front, about as long as your forearm. My left leg had a fist-sized bump near the outside of the calf and my left elbow had an egg-sized lump on it.

I quickly checked my bike and it appeared to be fine. I walked it to the front of Loves Truck Stop and locked my Schwinn up. I searched for a member of staff and after finding one, explained what had happened and asked if they had a first aid qualified worker on hand. She took me to the first aid section (aspirin, salves, et al). I said, “No, I don’t want the section, where is your first aider?”

She replied that they did not have one, that if anyone is that badly injured they are rushed to the nearest hospital.

I was amazed. In England, each place I worked had insisted that a minimal amount of staff were trained in first aid who could treat others who were injured until the ambulance could arrive. Not, apparently, in this country.

I went back out, hopped on my bike and rode it across the humpback bridge, over the I-10, and went to Burger King. I had a couple of coffees, a snack and called the VA to see what I could do for treatment.Burger King

I also rang the local “Urgent Care Clinic.” The young lady explained how they had worked VA treatment in the past and gave me the number to Quartzsite’s transit service. They came and collected me from BK and dropped me off at the clinic.

As the pain and swelling increased I spoke again with the VA who gave permission for me to use the local clinic, as the nearest facility was miles away. There was some initial confusion when the local folks thought I had actually been struck by the blue sedan and not just forced off the road. Apparently they cannot treat patients struck by a vehicle.

Finally, after what felt like hours, I was seen to. The nurse was concerned about my right leg. She put an Ace bandage on it and gave me instructions to put ice on the swelling every four hours for the next 48 hours. I was to keep the leg elevated and under no circumstances was I to walk on it.

The receptionist rang the local police to report a “hit and run” as the blue sedan never stopped. Although in this case it was a “forced off the road and run.” Her thinking was, even though I had very little information for local law enforcement, they could at least give my bike and me a lift home.

The police opted not to “follow up” the report, unless I really wanted them to. I explained that was fine as all I had noticed, before tumbling off onto the aggregate and dirt, was the color of the car and I was not even sure of the driver’s gender.

They did take me to get my bike from Burger King and helped me to load it into the back of the Range Rover police vehicle. They gave me a lift home and we chatted amiably all the way back. The officer, whose name I never did quite catch as it was a long one, said that they were going to start a campaign to inform drivers to leave enough space between them and a bicycle.

While waiting to be seen at the clinic, I did what I always do when in shock. I paced, ran off at the mouth and joked around a lot. (I was told off for pacing by the nurse.)

Since my return home, I have discovered a few things. Re-wrapping an Ace bandage, for instance, is an enormous pain in the arse. There is no way to put the thing on so that it looks like the original configuration and it feels loose where it did not before.

Frozen mixed vegetables work just as well as frozen peas as a substitute for ice and elevation is highly overrated. (Although it is quite comfortable.) The settee, where I have bivouacked for my period of recovery, may be comfy, but in terms of getting 3G on my hotspot is the worst area I could have chosen.

My T-Mobile signal is so weak and erratic that it is difficult to make a phone call let alone hook up to 3G (that they charge me for but in reality is 2G) so that communication with anyone is nigh on impossible.

I have also learned that the day after banging one’s head into a yellow concrete streetlight base, is when the swelling and tenderness starts.

Thankfully, since my heart attack in 2012, my pain gauge has increased. I am in pain, and it is difficult to walk, but it is nowhere near as agonizing as the day it took hours to “rush” me to hospital for my double heart surgery.

This little town constantly amazes me. Quite a number of the folks here are very friendly and helpful. Taking the “glass half full” road, I am counting myself very lucky that the bugger in the blue car did not hit me with his vehicle. I realize that I need to practice that tuck and roll maneuver just to see if I can get that elbow in quicker.

Finally: The biggest plus is that my laptop made it through virtually unscathed. Oh, the outside is a bit scuffed, but the inside bits still work and that is the most important thing of all. As I finish this article off, I thank the big guy for letting me off “lightly” with my bike versus car challenge. It may by 0 – 1 in the drivers favor, but as the local Sheriff, or deputy, put it, “things have a way of working out he’ll get his just reward one day.”

18 March 2015