Better Late Than Never: Celebrity Travelogue for Old Americans (Review)

Better Late Than Never - Season 1

NBC has apparently grown weary of reality television that focusses on talent shows. Better Late Than Never features four older (one much older) American celebrities on a travelogue for the aged.  They are led across Asia by a man at least half their age.  (In Shatner’s case, Dye is young enough to be a grandson or even great grandson…Just saying.)

William Shatner is the oldest at 85.  The iconic performer is still a marvel to watch, even when he is not acting. (Even injured he is a force to be reckoned with.  At the 2014 Star Trek Convention in Las Vegas he zoomed all over the con on a motorized vehicle because of a broken foot or ankle.)  It is Shatner’s presence that could make this interesting.

This is a man that has evoked the ire of most Star Trek cast members at one time or another. The late James Doohan loathed the man and was not adverse to saying so when he was alive.  George Takei is still feuding with Bill and even Nichelle Nichols has stated that Shatner was often oblivious of his co-workers.  

In truth, it appears that the star has a bigger than life personality that can easily  override those with lesser abilities.  To  survive in the Shatner shade one must, like Henry Winkler in the first episode, be ready to stand fast against the force that is William Shatner.

Winkler earned his fame, like Shatner, on the small screen as well. He is equally iconic. How could he not be? Henry was the “Fonz” on Happy Days. With a leather jacket (after the first season), two thumbs up and a cool “hey,” Winkler made  Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzarelli  a household name nearly a decade after Shatner commanded the Enterprise.

The final two older gentlemen represent the world of sport. Football legend Terry Bradshaw,  and boxing legend George Foreman complete this quartet of aged American travelers.  The former Pittsburg Steelers quarterback bravely sports a straw cowboy hat and sandals in Tokyo. He also has a fear of heights  and is derisory towards professional actors.

George Foreman is the quietist of the lot  and  also the most easy going. Not bad for a two-time world heavyweight champion and  Olympic gold medalist.

Jeff Dye is a comedian and upcoming actor who is given the chore of leading these men around Asia, beginning with Tokyo.

It is celebrity reality television that caters to Americans who are of a certain age.   Ones who have not spent hours browsing the  YouTube videos of, for instance, Eat Your Kimchi‘s Simon and Martina, who are currently living in Japan.

Younger viewers are most likely already aware of capsule hotels at the very least.  Another thing that most YouTube habitués will recognize are the Japanese (and Korean) television game shows.  These differ from anything on offer in America and in England.

Eating, featured quite often on a number of YouTube  channels,  was the star of this first travel installment.  The five men feast on pork vaginas and ovaries. All “on a stick” and accompanied with other delicacies that are not mentioned.

They also eat in a restaurant where the chef’s main cooking ingredient is dirt.

Better Late Than Never is a cute-ish idea and  it is funny, in that contrived way that reality TV has with scripting scenarios meant to be amusing.  It loses some of its charm when one considers that these gentlemen earn much more than your average wage earner and could afford to do this on their own dime, so to speak.

It is played for laughs.  The humor is derived from a combination of “ugly American” obtuseness and  disdain for anything foreign.   It is no coincidence that the food eaten was odd and slightly nauseating.  (However, it is odd that they chose Japan to show weird eating habits. China has cornered the market on grotesque foodstuffs…)

The “Today” show that all five men appear on also features food and like many Asian TV programs is nothing at all like American television.  Henry gets the Wasabi in a game of sushi Russian roulette and the entire thing is high octane entertainment from the Japanese hosts.

All in all, it is funny and not a bad way to spend an hour of your time.  For those who know nothing of Japan it will be somewhat informative. Fans of any of these men will enjoy seeing them interact with one another “naturally.”

Better Late Than Never airs Tuesdays on NBC.  It will not win any Emmys but it is interesting  and good natured in its purpose.

CAST:

Quartzsite: Frozen Eggs and Giant Freezers

It has now been a year since moving to the snowbird nesting home of Quartzsite, Arizona. Also known as the final resting place of Hi Jolly, the man who immigrated to help Uncle Sam’s Camel Corps work on a daily basis, this desert “oasis” for the elderly is interesting to say the least.

IMG_378S

It has now been a year since moving to the snowbird nesting home of Quartzsite, Arizona. Also known as the final resting place of Hi Jolly, the man who immigrated to help Uncle Sam’s Camel Corps work on a daily basis, this desert “oasis” for the elderly is interesting to say the least.  In many ways the phrase second childhood could apply to most of the temporary denizens of this RV wonderland.

In retrospect, the area is much colder in January 2016 than last year’s winter chill. A head start in the latter days of December 2015 with temperatures that dipped below freezing on a regular basis in the night,  cold has taken on new meaning. Not only that but it has also changed the purpose of certain items.

Most notable, the humble refrigerator was transformed into  giant freezer. Every single liquid item, including eggs, became solid examples of their natural state.  Green tea, bottled water, a “bag” of vegetable soup, milk, an energy drink and 10 eggs all were transformed into rock hard immoveable objects.

The eggs did have web-like cracks over the ice cold shells.  After hoping on the Internet to double-check, it was found that one could cook once frozen eggs without fear of contracting botulism or salmonella.  At least according to numerous websites, unless the raw eggs were stored in an device crawling with harmful bacteria, the icy yolks and whites could be thawed and cooked.

After moving the carton of ice-eggs to another fridge, one that was not altered by the constant lower temperature of under 32 degrees Fahrenheit, they became somewhat less frozen, and more “slushy-like” and able to be cooked.  These frozen eggs fried up nicely, in a bit of oil, and tasted “normal” on bits of toast.

It has been discovered that the main fridge is still operating as a giant freezer…All liquid denizens are still icy and hard as a rock, with the exception of a partially filled plastic jug of apple juice. Just why the juice has not become one with the cold and, at the very least, turned into a sort of icy sludge, is not known.

If one Googles the answer, it appears that apple juice contains more sugar and this keeps the freezing rate pretty well contained. As fascinating as all this is, the one thing that the intense, and unusual, cold has not changed, is the amount of Snowbirds flocking into Quartzsite in the New Year.

2016 has seen a massive influx of these geriatric teenagers and  octogenarian young oldsters.  The vendors have doubled and tripled in sized and scope in the last few weeks and the legion of RVs, ATVs and motorbikes have quadrupled. Outside the tents, where one can buy anything from cool sunglasses to various kitchen utensils, a plethora of vehicles now rest, temporarily, while their aged drivers waddle, limp and trot throughout the vendors wares on offer.

There is also an increase in the desert rat brigade, the hippies and love children, not, apparently the same thing, and beggars line the entrances, when the sun shines, of fast-food eateries along the main drag as well as outside the General and Dollar Store.

As a point of interest, these grubby and lost individuals have been forced to move on from a  facility that contains an ATM. This does not stop buskers (musicians) from playing their instruments for change until being moved on by the shop or restaurant owners.

There are those who seem to beg on a professional basis, one woman sports a new car and a sign which proclaims her need. This professional pan-handler wants money for petrol (gasoline) so she can visit her dying daughter, who suffers from a different ailment each week. She is moved on regularly, even the major personally called the 5-Oh to push her along. .

Of course with the new year just being days old and it still being the weekend, this snowbird paradise is chock-a-block (full to the brim) with both the returning population and those who are passing through. California license plates fill the car parks (parking lots) and each fast food eatery is filled to heaving with the hungry, loud, obnoxious and ill mannered.

Children who will, no doubt, all grow up to be as annoying as the 20 something’s who all appear to suffer from ADD, or ADHD and are incapable of sitting quietly, or still.  They are in good company, as most of the elderly enter the dining areas with hearing aides either turned off or down and seem incapable of carrying on a conversation in decent decibel levels.

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While writing about the indigenous population of Quartzsite, Arizona could become a full-time occupation, the setting sun and dipping temperature mandate an early finish to the working day. Riding a bicycle along roads populated by drivers who have little business being behind the wheel of a peddle tricycle, let alone a huge motorized death machine, is hazardous at best and nerve-wracking to the extreme. All the more so after dark.

In order to arrive alive at home,  do not be deceived this writer has been forced off the road and clipped by an elderly driver before and has almost been hit several times by the same type of vehicle operator, it is prudent to depart while there is enough light for both the driver and the bicyclist to see by.

As the cold weather continues, and the stream of snowbirds, and new vendors, keep pouring in, it will be interesting to see what happens next.

 

Life in the Real Desert: Where Did All the Hippies Go?

Church Sign...After promising to write about all the Navajo-horse-blanket-jacket-wearing hippies who were frequenting Quartzsite in my Life in the Real Desert “series” they all seem to have disappeared. This leaves the question of just where did all these hippies go? There are still a number of Desert Rats hanging around, but that number has dwindled as well.

The hippies were pretty easy to spot. Horse blanket jackets, dreadlocks – regardless of skin color or nationality – a lot of body surface dirt, a tendency to avoid sunblock, no shoes, some pretty “crusty” looking clothes  and they moved in clumps. (The hippies, not their clothing.) Like most members of any particular branch of society, some were friendly and others only wanted a hand out.

One bearded young man, with his wife(?) and two small children drove a station wagon, or an estate if you live across the pond, that had a sign painted on its side asking to be funded in order to allow for a vehicle upgrade. Many locals were/are not too enamored with these throwbacks to the 1960s and 70s “love children.”

This attitude is a little ironic considering that a lot of the vendors who sell their wares in the small burg seem to be remnants of the real deal from back in the day. Tie-dye t-shirts, raggedy trousers or long skirts, again dyed, along with any number of ribbons. Of course just as many of these sellers look like escapees from Cool Hand Luke territory complete with reddened neck and southern drawl.

Like any small community, even one made up of nomadic snowbirds who flock in and out, the “regulars” soon spot a new addition who has stumbled into something resembling citizenship of the town. Example: I sound a bit different when I speak. After years of listening every day to the Queen’s English, both at home and at work, I struggled to maintain my American accent, on my old agent’s advice.

Now that I’m not in that market any longer, my accent has changed to reflect my 32 year background. A young lady at the local Burger King, home of excellent free WiFi, asked about my background and another female worker quickly explained that “he comes in most every day.”

Without missing a beat she turned to me and said, “I just love your accent!” To which I replied, “Why thank you, it took me 32 years to learn.” The point is, that even frequenting a local fast food establishment, recognition comes quickly. As this is a small town, one can expect this familiarity to become a regular occurrence as time goes by.

Quartzsite, three camel sign.
Town sign outside of Burger King

 

Now that I’ve noticed that the hippy contingent has disappeared, the time has come to ask the locals if this is normal. Considering the amount of cold weather, for the desert that is, perhaps they all moved to warmer climates like Mexico for example.

For those who were positioned along the intersections near the highway,cardboard signs grasped and thumbs pointed, the numbers have dwindled until only the odd “rat” is hitching a ride. When I first arrived, one “hippy” had a sign with the destination “Anywhere but here” written on it. Another’s said, “Out of Quartzsite.”

I had talked to one young lady who told me point blank that the town was not friendly and that she’d almost gotten in a fight at the local food bank. Not for her, she said, she was sticking up for an elderly lady. As a result, she lost the vittles collected for her and a friend. The twenty-something woman stressed that Quartzsite would not be on their list of places to visit next year.

This information has already been passed along in an earlier article but bears repeating considering the lack of “flower children” in the town. It seems a shame that they’ve disappeared. There was a group who hung out in the shade of a local “hardware” store. They interacted with an old soul, who had a broken leg, that had staked out the shade of a solitary tree on the same lot.

The young people sat in the dirt and sand, eating what they had scrounged and chatted amiably amongst themselves. Speaking, if spoken to and not behaving in a threatening manner at all. Quite unlike the Desert Rats who can be, at first glance, a bit intimidating to the older snowbirds in town.

One Desert Rat dresses like a modern day Robinson Crusoe. On his head is a sort of crumpled tri-corner hat, obviously self-made. He wears a khaki jacket,  what looks like either a skirt or jeans with the legs split open and combat boots. He has black hair and a black beard shaped into a long point, it actually looks like something the devil would sport.

He has some sort of bag, or wrap, around his middle that he keeps covered from the sun. His skin is the color of old teak and mahogany and only the lightness of this legs give clue to his being caucasian in origin. A fascinating chap to look at and one that many people moved away from as he approached. Being on the opposite side the main street, I could not tell if it was appearance or odor which made him an object to be shunned.

Highway running past Quartzsite
On the road again?

 

The Hippies, or travelers as I prefer to think of them, may have disappeared for now and while I have no idea where they have gone, I do miss them. They were all young and seemed to be pretty much carefree. The young wives or girlfriends were pretty and friendly and did not disturb anyone that I could see. Perhaps they will be back.

Until then, once I put together my replacement bike, which could take some time since there is a wheel nut that does not want to loosen, I’ll continue my explorations of the local area and write more about the interesting little burg that is Quartzsite. I have my cousin Kenny and his delightful wife Carla to thank for reminding me that the area here is full of history and deserves to be written about.

Thanks!

25 February 2015

Living in the Real Desert: Fact Resembling Fiction

Quartzsite, Arizona mystery mobile home graveyard

Riding to town this afternoon I decided to take an alternate route to the main strip leading to town. A quick decision was made to take a dirt road where the surface was hard packed enough to make the bike tires move fairly well despite the lack of asphalt. It was this detour that made living in the real desert suddenly become “fact” eerily resembling fiction.

Perhaps it has to do with the fact that I’ve been binge watching all my DVD horror collection. Three of these films were watched back-to-back; the first being Wes Craven’s 1977 The Hills Have Eyes with the delightful Michael Berryman and “Lassie’s mom” Dee Wallace, and the last two being the damned good remake of the original film and the 2007 The Hills Have Eyes II that deviated from its Craven roots by a lot.

Screen shot from The Hills Have Eyes II 2007
The Hills Have Eyes II 2007

So it was with something resembling trepidation and downright creeped out fascination that I observed what appeared to be a sort of graveyard for mobile homes, aka trailers, RV’s and boats off the side of the road. On the opposite of this dirt road is a recycling business.

Boats, truck and propane tanks
Boats?

Slowing to a stop, I took some pictures and observed that apart from a couple of different sized watercraft vehicles there was also an old propane truck, complete with tank on tow behind it. A few RVs and a big trailer with a semi, or Mack” cab set up to pull the silver monstrosity if its tires weren’t flat.

More RVs...
Please forgive the blur, pictures taken “on the run.”

The whole thing had a sort of “horror film feel” to it. Especially as the first trailer/mobile home had a shadowy figure lurking behind the big window in the stripped “living room.”

Creepy.

It really felt like fiction had become fact, behind that tall fence in the “real desert.”  Although arguably these skeletal remains of holiday vehicles and abodes did not resemble the “nuke town” in The Hills Have Eyes II.

In front of the odd assortment of “dead” tin human receptacles is an old RV park that has had a “closed” sign on it since I got here at least. This derelict “Winnebago” version of the Bates Motel, looks to have been closed for some time. No stuffed animals or murderous mummy’s boy named Norman here…

Hopefully.

However, this place looks like an old deserted drive-in theatre, the site has old electrical hookup standing lonely and disconnected next to small rectangles of gravel and what appears to be a water outlet of some sort.

Tour trailer derailed
No “Highway to Hell” for this tour vehicle…

There is a “reception” building that looks as deserted as the old damaged denizens of the graveyard behind it, but there are a couple of dirty cars in front of the structure and about 500 yards away from it, next to a wash, or arroyo, is a washing line and the drying clothes hanging there change regularly.

Someone is washing their clothes and apparently living in the rundown and creepy looking old RV park with all those dead occupants scattered behind it…

It honestly creeped me out and after taking a few hasty pictures with my trusty iPhone, I got the hell out of there in case Papa Jupiter came after me with his family trailing behind. This living in the real desert lark does sometimes feature fact that certainly resembles fiction and vice versa. A little hard on the nerves of an older “big kid” with an overactive imagination.

15 February 2015

Trapped in The Twilight Zone?

Old Gas Station in Quartzsite Author Photo

Since moving to the little snowbird community of Quartzsite, Arizona life has begun to resemble an episode of The Twilight Zone; the one where William Shatner is trapped in the diner with the fortune telling machine. Not the one which still gives me the screaming meemies everytime I watch it (black and white old timey effects be damned), “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.”

In the “Nick of Time,” Don Carter and his new wife become fixated with, and scared to leave, a fortune telling machine that seems to really work. At the end of the episode, both he and Mrs. Carter are seen feeding pennies (That’s how long ago the show was, now that sort of machine would cost you a quarter at least.) into the thing, refusing to leave the diner. Trapped by their own curiosity and not wanting to leave before getting another fortune told, again and again and…

While I am not trapped by a device that predicts the immediate future, I am caught by several different things in this tiny burg. For one, I find the whole area deliriously addictive. On main street alone, there are abandoned buildings, old and new, that pop into view as one rides or walks along it. The petrol station above, and its partner the garage below, are both quite old. At a guess, probably built in the 1930s or 1940s. Although looking at the pumps; the 1950s is probably more accurate for a time frame in terms of usage.

Petrol station's garage...
Downtown Quartzsite Petrol station and garage circa 1950?

Here is where my innate laziness comes in, I could probably find out when the building was used or at least built but since my Internet signal is intermittent as best, as Stevie King says, “fuhgeddaboudit.” I did Google 1950s pumps and my last guess appears to be correct, but the time the buildings were constructed will have to remain a mystery for now, or until I get better access to the net.

Interestingly enough, on the other side of Main Street is another closed down petrol station. Much newer in design with modern fuel pumps sitting alone and forlorn in front of the boarded up brick building, it makes Quartzsite look like a ghost town in the making. There are other old buildings that are remnants of  days gone by that were old before a time when the average automobile that passed through Hi Jolly’s final resting place were gas guzzling monsters all made in Detroit.

Adobe ruins on Main Street Quartzsite Az
For instance, this Adobe structure could have housed Hi Jolly…

Apart from the dead and dying businesses that litter the streets, there are signs that modern amenities exist in the town. For one thing, RV sales clutter up the main road through town and Burger King just got in WiFi for its customers, to compete with MacDonalds and Carl Jr’s, and most places that sell cigarettes also sell “vapes;” the modern “healthier” equivalent of tobacco smokes. Never mind that the WiFi offered for free, and for purchase is slower than dial up used to be and that no one seems to be too interested in cigarettes that are electric and “safe.”

The other strange, or Twilight Zone-ish thing about Quartzsite is that there seem to be no young people. Certainly there are those passing through, one visiting young lady that was stunning enough to make the heart pound, but on the average the population is aged. There are a few younger folks who work in the Dairy Queen, Subway and the other few fast-food eateries in town but the area is not overrun with denizens much younger than their mid 70s.

*And yet, surprisingly, there is a grade school here. The bus can be seen coming out to the community where I’m living at the moment. So there must be a younger population somewhere; just not, apparently, along Main Street.*

In fact, at 56, I feel like a youngster myself.  While this has nothing to do with feeling trapped it does add to the surreal flavor of this town. Apart from my fascination and the feeling that I’ve stumbled onto the geriatric version of Never Never Land,  there is the lack of transportation. I have a $50 bicycle that I am slowly getting used to, but no car or any other motorized vehicular mode of travel.

Cactus and Mesquite

I feel that I’ve stepped back to yesteryear in terms of time it takes to get anywhere. From my current residence, if I bike, it takes me around 40 to 50 minutes to get to main street. By foot, it takes roughly 100 to 120 minutes depending on the heat and my physical state. I have learned that the fall, aka face plant, in the desert really banged me up pretty well. This has not helped speed up travel times.

Running out of one of my heart meds hasn’t helped either. It is apparently in the post office now, but my poor father couldn’t stand in the huge queue to pick it up. I told him not to worry, that if I didn’t need the stuff I wouldn’t stand in line behind 50 people either. It’s been three days since taking it and I’m not dead yet…

The Quartzsite USPS is tiny and when the season hits, an army of snowbirds queue up to get their general delivery mail and the “lady” who runs the place appears to be eccentric and not a little contrary. Apparently it is a prerequisite to be this way when dealing with an elderly population. And yes, that last sentence was meant to be facetious.

I have learned that there is a bus to Prescott, AZ for Veterans ride to the VA there. I will be using it as I have no other way to get travel to that facility.  The actual VA “run” takes place twice a month. There does not appear to be a bus running anywhere else, either from or through this tiny hamlet.

This lack of motorized transport definitely adds to the feeling of being trapped. The inability to get decent internet or even a television signal at the RV is also a contributing factor.  Financial situations dictate that if it ain’t WiFi at the Burger King watching Hulu Plus the day after, I’m not seeing it or writing about it. I continue to get invites to screenings of films but thus far have no way to travel and watch/review them.

However trapped I may feel, there is no question that this is beautiful terrain. The feel of Quartzsite is that of a western town lagging behind the rest of the world. It has just enough modern amenities to keep it from feeling like the “town that time forgot” but apart from looking like the world’s largest flea market, the town has an aura of yesteryear. This is not helped by the average age of those who both live here year round and the snowbirds who flock here every winter running easily into the retirement range.

Camel Stop Auto Repair
The old Camel Stop

In essence this surreal flavor of Quartzsite, combined with the step back in time, equates to a trapped in The Twilight Zone feel. While there is no Rod Serling providing an introduction or epilogue there are signposts “up ahead.” One final odd note on this quirky little town; there seems to be a regular contingent that migrate here every year, and the locals as well as these snowbirds appear to know immediately when a new bird flocks in.

Anecdote: While sucking up the Burger King WiFi, a lovely local Snowbird, assumed that I was a feathered fly-in seeking warmer climes and said as much. I responded, “No love, I came here from Vegas.” Her confused and shocked face was truly funny and gave me the best chuckle of the day. To that friendly woman I say, “Thank you.”

10 February 2015