25 October to 21 November: Cycling isn’t Easy Here – the Vegetation is NOT Friendly

What’s in a Bike?
The bicycle I have is actually Eric’s old bike.  My original one was heavy and clunky and died a rattly death about ten years ago.  Eric did not use his bike, so I asked if I could use it, and now it is in use all the time 🙂

While still in Winnipeg in the spring, I was riding to and from ERLPhase.  It was some 10 km or so through nice residential neighbourhoods, mostly – and mostly, a pleasant ride.  It was 45 to 50 minutes the first few days, and I had it down to about 35 minutes by the time I stopped riding in late May/early June, as I readied my “escape” to Phoenix.

Also, the back tire went flat and I didn’t have a chance to fix it.  I left that for when I got here.

So, I’ve gained even more weight since leaving Manitoba, time to get back on the bike.

I didn’t realize that they would take the bike to pieces, but I had to put it back together, which I did in late October.  I replaced the rear tire tube, and got moving.

The Route
The ride is not that long, but very stressful.   I ride a moderately busy street north for about 3 km (32nd St), then a reasonable cycling trail along the “Central Arizona Project” canal for about 3 km, cross a busy street (Cave Creek Rd), then follow the “Central Arizona Project” another km or so, but this time, it’s on top of an embankment up about 20 ft or so, with rough gravel and a lot of stones.  Then back down, following another very busy street west for 2 km (Deer Valley Rd).  Ride the very ugly rough sandy/loose gravel shoulder north along 7th St. for about a km, then a nice rarely used back entrance road into the airport west for about a km.  I go off road to get from there into the Fedex Ground depot parking lot, a bit more off road to get to the frontage road to the office, and I am there.

Flats, Flats, Everywhere There are Flats
Within the first week, I had a flat rear tire.  Hmm.  Replaced the tube.  Must have been a dud.  I put heavy duty goo-filled self-sealing “Slime” inner tubes front and back.

Then, on Monday, 04 November, I had a completely flat rear tire on the way home, in the Fedex Ground parking lot, only about 1/2 km from work.  It was a nice night, so I decided to walk.  Oof!  Big mistake!  It took almost 2-1/2 hours to walk the bike home.  By the time I got home, I thought my feet were going to fall off!  Those were terrible sneakers, almost worn out, should have been discarded long ago.  I didn’t care, I wasn’t walking in them, I was riding a bike!  Oh boy, they went into the garbage immediately.  It took me a full day to recover from that fiasco.

I patched the tube.  There was an ugly little furniture nail or something in it!  I fixed it, and continued to ride.

Then one day, I had a front tire flat.  I pulled the tube to patch it.  I found 3 holes in the tube.  One patch covered all three.  I checked again before putting it back into the tire.  Whoa, two more holes!  Upon inspection of the tire (which is pretty well shot by the way), I found half a dozen or so more “nails” – but these were not nails – they were thorns!  Yes, the desert was striking out at me.

Jim Blake, my boss, had told me about foam core tubes that don’t run flat.  I went to get some, but the salesman convinced me that an “armour strip” would be just as good.  This strip goes into the tire before the tube, has Kevlar or something like that on the outside, and can stop whatever might stick into the tube.  Sounds good.

However, I had another flat on the front tire just the other day.  I replaced the tube.  Then, today, 21 November, the rear tire ran flat as I rode.  I pumped it up, and it was soft again by the time I got home.  Time to get those foam core tubes.  I’ve been avoiding it because cash was tight.  Now I should be able to afford it.  New tires and new foam core tubes.

By my count, I’ve had seven fully flat tires, so far.  That doesn’t count once or twice when I came out to find a tire flat unexpectedly, just pumped it up and appeared to be fine.  I thought that my jealous co-workers were letting the air out during the day maybe (well it wasn’t a likely explanation but it was an explanation), but, nope, would have been a leak that the Slime actually did seal up.  Yikes.

Nasty Vegetation
The vegetation here is not friendly.  In Winnipeg, if you brush up against a shrub, or a small bush, or a plant in the garden, it will likely tickle, or maybe scratch just a bit.  Here, it will bite you.  Or stick you with thorns that are practically hypodermic needles!  Wow.  What a place.

But I am Getting Stronger
The upside of all this: cycling is getting easier.  Yesterday on my way in, I had the feeling that I was going to have “something left in the tank” when I got to work – that is, before the front tire went flat and I had to walk the last 2 km 🙂

Modified Route
It turns out if I just go down Cave Creek Road (busiest road in the area) and my own street E Utopia Road, it’s quicker and shorter.  A lot scarier, but I’m getting used to the fear of fast traffic.  Maybe I should check into how good of a life insurance policy I have, hey?  🙂

12 October: Elizabeth makes Landfall on Utopia Rd.

I had visited Elizabeth in late September in her outdoor storage spot.  Argh, the car cover had completely disintegrated in the hot August sun, and was laying in flaky bits all around her!  And the hot sun had damaged her (up until now) like-new and pristine dash pad.  She needs to get indoors, and now!  But there is just too much junk in the garage.  Answer: build a shed for some of the junk, and get the rest sorted & sifted and put away.

Well, from the other post, you see that I built a shed, and that opened up one side of the garage.  Elizabeth went into the other side.  That is the “modern” car’s side of the garage, but, no matter, it has to be put in the garage.  The “modern” can sit outdoors for a few weeks.

09 to 12 October: Need Storage!

Yes, as it turns out, houses here have no basements.  None.  So this house has very little to no storage.  And, you may recall, I have a lot of “stuff” that needs to be stored.  Especially in the short term – what, with all the tote bins filled with knick knacks, books, etc.

I purchased a Rubbermaid shed just like the one I purchased in Markham, Ontario, two years ago.  It was delivered on Wednesday, 09 October.  Two big boxes.  Yay.

On Saturday, 12 October, I started to assemble it, and finished it on Sunday.  It took all the tools and much of the stuff from the garage.

Why the rush?   Because I want someplace for the 1957 Cadillac to go, in the garage!

09 October: Adios to “Friendly Manitoba” – Hello to “Grand Canyon State”

Yup, so there it is.  Got my Arizona driver’s licence, and rear plates for the 1957 Cadillac (BCT2613) and 2005 Cadillac (BCT2614).  Sigh.

Getting them was a bit of fun.  I had to do a computer based multiple choice test of the rules of the road (some were difficult, about distance to follow an emergency vehicle etc), get an eye test, explain my right eye being blind.  Then, get the cars titled, show all the import documentation, then had to actually present the car for inspection to see the “safety and emissions decal” which, oops, wasn’t there, after waiting 1/2 hour for someone to look.  They needed the “attestation letter” from GM that I paid $110 for, before leaving.  Sigh.

The first clerk insisted that I had to bring down the 1957 for inspection as well.  Fortunately, the second one dismissed that with a wave of the hand, because for heaven’s sake, it’s from before there were emissions and safety stickers.

Anyway, there it is – the new plates and the driver’s licence.  It’s official now.

Arizona Licence Plates and Arizona Driver’s Licence

It turns out that they do not use a front licence plate on their vehicles here in Arizona.  I don’t have anything to put on there, for now.  Hmm…

04 to 06 October: Men’s Camp, Southwest United Methodist Style

I’ve been attending Mission Bell United Methodist Church since I arrived here.  I identified this church and attended it once while here in March.  I like the church, it’s very welcoming, and I enjoy the music.  The pastor and I hit it off well, right from the first time I attended – there were no seats except right up beside him in the front row – so I marched up and took that seat.

Anyway, in early September, there was a notice in the bulletin about a men’s retreat in early October, up in Prescott, about an hour’s drive to the north and west in the mountains.  I planned to go, but didn’t register until the last minute – didn’t have enough cash left over from the house foibles to float the check!  Oh well.

I went, and wow did it feel familiar.  A lot like our Riding Mountain Conference of Churchmen (Men’s Camp) in Manitoba.  The accommodations were similar, the food was similar.  Even the feeling of the discussions was similar.

It turns out that Prescott gets cold at night, down to freezing at that particular time!  I was watching the temperature back in Winnipeg, and it was about the same, day and night.  The difference is, Prescott might get a bit colder, and even get snow… but Winnipeg is going to go into the deep freeze.

The Camp Grounds

On Saturday afternoon, we had a couple of free hours.  I wandered into town and checked out the main square.  An old western town, kind of modernized.  I say “kind of”… they have Whiskey Row, where there are several old style saloons along the main drag… and a bunch of folks in there drinking and having a good ol’ time.

The centre of the square has the courthouse, with beautiful grounds… very busy on that particular Saturday.

14 to 17 September: Then the Possessions Arrive

So as of Thursday evening, 12 September, I’m in my house… my empty house.  Hmm, I see a lot of cleaning to be done.  The previous owner had a dog, and she made an effort to clean up, but… let’s just say that there was a modicum of dog hair around… and things just plain needed cleaning.

I ordered a cleaning company to do a “move in” cleaning (8 hours) on Tuesday, 17 September.

I had to live in a very empty house… eat out every meal… for two days or so.

On Saturday, the moving company delivered all my stuff.  My stuff was in three large crates on the back of a flat deck.  The two guys put a ramp to the flat deck, dropped the side of the first crate, and started wheeling stuff down into the garage and (optionally) into the house.

3 crates of all my worldly possessions

Selected Junque in the corner of the garage

Entrance from garage into house

Junque in garage is piling up

One down, two to go!

So they distributed most of the stuff into the house.  Great.  I started to unpack, yay!!!

I was still able to park in the garage, but had most of my stuff on the other side, piled up.

Oops, remembered that I had a cleaning! Curses.

On Monday night, I was up until something like 2 AM, basically packing the house back up and moving as much as I could back out into the garage.  I was exhausted!!!

Kinda reminds me of the old “up the hill, down the hill” drill that my dad had me do when I was about 10 to 15 yrs old – moving a pile of lumpy dirty old boards around the back yard, first down the hill near the river so out of sight, then back up when he was going to use them, then back down when he didn’t… and so on.  Ugh.

Oh wow, did they ever do a great job, what a difference!  Now, where I was a little leary to put stuff, it felt completely comfortable.

I had them back once since, in late October, and that was nice, a bit of a maintenance visit.  They were struggling to fill their time though.  I think I can manage from here on.  Hmm though, need to mop those tile floors and vacuum the carpets…

Ha ha, another time, I’m busy writing a blog 🙂

I don’t have much furniture, so yes, it is pretty bare.  I bought some of the furniture of the previous owner, otherwise it would be even more so.  I got the bed from the 2nd bedroom, some end tables, an entertainment stand, dining room table & chairs (hmm, table is uneven, rocks a bit, argh), a small organizer/bookshelf inthe bedroom, and four barstools for the kitchen.  Lastly, a 60 inch LCD flatscreen TV, an older unit with big halogen lamps, gotta love those large TV sets 🙂  More on the TV later (hint: ugh).

Oh yes, also all the outdoor patio furniture and the poolside chaise loungers.  Wanna come sit poolside and soak up the rays?  Heh heh.  I’m too busy to pause much to enjoy the sunshine.  Sigh.

01 to 12 September: House purchase

Wow, it took me a while to get back to it, but, yes, I am now lord of the minor fiefdom called 3017 E Utopia Rd.   There were shenanigans right down to the final signing of all the papers…  but finally the deal was done, and I had the keys as of early evening of Thursday, 12 September.  It was pretty empty, but it was mine!

Is that All Your Own Cash, Boy???
So you may recall that I had quite a time getting together the closing costs for the house.  I cashed in some RRSPs, brought most of it across into the USA, then did multiple cash advances using the Visa option on my Debit card, to get the money into a local Wells Fargo bank.  I also put my first paycheque completely in there too.  Then, oops, had to service debt back in Canada, including some unexpected expenses (more on that later), so had to move money back, forth, sideways.

The mortgage people had to have me account for every dollar, to make sure that I didn’t have organized crime funds or something, I guess.  They raised a few eyebrows at the money flowing back & forth across the border.  They gave me a rough time about the value of my major asset, my remaining RRSPs – would not believe me (or CNN.com or whatever) that the Canadian/US exchange rate was around 0.95 – I had to get a signed paper from a Canadian Bank saying that so-and-so much Canuck bucks in RRSPs would be worth about so much USA bucks, given today’s exchange rate, etc.  Yikes.

Shenanigans?  Par for the Course
I went down to sign all the papers (ugh, about 200 places to sign & initial, they are really tightened down after the craziness of a few years ago), and the sheaf was over an inch thick!  Anyway, finally we had the total that I had to come up with as a cashier’s check (see, I can write “check” and not “cheque” 🙂 ), so I trundled over to the Wells Fargo and got the exact amount.  By the time I arrived back to the office, they had come up with another $110 that I had to pay, so I had to write a personal check to cover the balance.  I did it (not like I had much choice), but I made sure that I let them know that I was not amused.

Funny thing?  A month later they sent me a refund of $80 because they double charged me for something else.  Sheesh.

Well I thought it was bad, but I’m told that this is the way it goes.  My colleague, Carl, tells me that he generally puts an extra $200 on the cashier’s check, and lets them refund his money a month later – they have to account for every penny, so they will – I guess that’s what I should have done, and what I’ll do next time.  If there is a next time!

Parking Indoors… and Splashing Outdoors
Yup, a two car garage and a pool!  Here are the pre-purchase pictures of the place.  It doesn’t look quite as good now – the flowers along the sides of the house had to be removed to treat for TERMITES (turns out there are two kinds of houses here – those that have ’em and those that will have ’em).  Plus of course, now my sparse furniture is in here…  Well, I bought some of what was here, so new pictures might show some familiar scenes.

Well, and it turns out, that this is a desert, after all… and I neglected to lavish enough water on the lawn (not grass mind you) for a few weeks, and it’s kind patchy now too… trying to correct that issue.

Pre-Purchase Pictures

Me, in my Minor Fiefdom!
Someone asked who took these pictures for me.  Tripod, with timer.  There were a few out-takes that didn’t look so good, too 🙂

18 September: Swimming after midnight under a full moon!

I know this is out of sequence, but I just had to write it.  Yes, got the house last Thursday, will write about that later.   Yes, been parking in the garage, yee haw – at least until I had to empty the house into the garage so I could have it cleaned top to bottom on Tuesday (ugh was dirty with dog hair etc).  Tonight I got busy and moved everything back in.  I finished at about 12:30, late, ugh.  I saw light out in the backyard, peeked out the window and saw a beautiful moonlit scene over my pool. 

Now, I had the pool guy here on Saturday, when we discussed the condition of the pool (fine) and maintenance (yes, he will do it, yay).  After he left, I took my first dip in the water – during the day – the sun was hot and dazzled my eyes when going one direction.  That was the last time I had a chance – until tonight when I looked out at the pool, late.

At first, I thought, “I’ll go for a swim as soon as I wake up.”  Then I asked myself, “Why should I wait?”

So, I pulled on my trunks and grabbed my goggles, and headed outside.  I didn’t bother with the backyard lights, didn’t need them – the light of the moon was enough to get me to the back wall and turn on the pool light, mmm.  Then, into the water, did about 20 or 30 laps under the pale, full moon.  Wow! 

I think it will be better when I’m using the pool more often.  There are leaves and flower petals in the pool, had to snag the net and scoop them up.  I’m kind of anxious when there are “floaties” around me while swimming.

In any case, it was grand!  Will have to do that more often.  Very nice relaxation after some hard work.  Now I’m having a teensy glass of wine, and writing this article.  As I said, these past couple of weeks have been quite eventful, but writing them up will have to wait.  Sigh.  Not enough hours in the day?!?

25 to 31 August: Getting a mortgage is like a three ring circus – without the rings!

So finally the mortgage got going this week.  It turns out that it was sent to the wrong department by mistake, and it took a week to recognize the error and correct it.  In the meantime, I was trying to add up the numbers as to how much cash I had to come across with, to close the deal – and could not make the numbers add up.  It was looking like they wanted about US$5,000 more than I had – and I needed clarification.  Over the weekend, however, I sat down and went through every line, and figured it out.  The difference was the “earnest deposit” that I had put in with the offer, and some weird math they do just to make it too complicated for mortals to figure out.

Oh yes, and Monday they came and replaced my car windshield.  Sure enough, came to the office, did it in the parking lot, took just over an hour.  Wow.

There were about 60 pages of documents to sign, and many more that I initialled and crossed out open space on.  Yikes, my wrist was sore after all that.  Then I found out that some of the documents weren’t in my “keep” package, so I had to break up the bundle and duplicate them.  Then, I found out that there were “information” sheets that I needed but weren’t in my “keep” package, so I had to break up the bundle and strip them out.  Yikes.

Then courier’d it all off to the mortgage office.

I contacted the company – apparently I misunderstood – I have to pay the whole closing cost up front and then apply for reimbursement!  Ouch!  Good thing I brought in more than enough…  but, now I don’t have time to do a check, or even a bank to bank transfer, as they take days to clear!

So, I went three days in a row, transferred US1000, US1000, and US$900 from Atlanta RBC Bank to local Wells Fargo.

I had to get proof  that the money was available to me locally.  Wells Fargo did up a statement showing all the inflows and that the money was available.

Then, on Thursday, I finally got to an insurance broker and got a single quote on home owner’s insurance – ouch, about 400 more than expected!  I had to go back a fourth day and transfer US500 more to ensure that I could cover it.  And, get another statement.

The government needs documented evidence of cash flow sources, to ensure that it’s my money that I’m using for down payment.  What, as opposed to somebody else’s?   I wonder what kind of games they were playing down here before 2010!  Anyway, all this money exchange was complicated, so I had to write a story book about the cash transfers and why.  Ugh.

In the end, I hope I satisfied the documentation requirements.  We shall see.

And, after all that, I was able to get a second quote that lowered the cost about $450, back down below the original target, so the last panic wasn’t necessary in the end.  Oh well, I have the cash.  Good.  And, now I have insurance – that’s good too, they won’t go on processing the mortgage without it.  Whew!

On Saturday, I ordered Internet for the house.   It’s starting to become more real.  Let’s hope the mortgage goes through.

Saturday afternoon, I visited that second auto museum in the Metrocenter.  It was great, but not many cars.  Now, apparently they have some 200 more cars in storage, and the shopping centre is preparing a huge display space for them to showcase them all.  It’s going to be impressive when done.

They told me that there is a car show in the parking lot of the Metrocenter once a month.  I missed last Saturday’s, which was the biggest ever, with something like 800 cars and over 4,000 people attending.  Where was I????  At the jazz concert, oh yeah.  Well that was fine too.  A lot fewer people.

So, at the end of the week, I’m looking for dancing bears.  Or tight rope walkers.  Or trapeze artists.  Or something like that.  Kind of feeling like the T-shirt – “I went through the mortgage process, and all I got was… wait a second, I didn’t get anything!!”

18 to 24 August reprise: Cash flow foibles!!!

I got a fun E-mail on Tuesday morning – a bill payment out of my Canadian account was denied because of lack of funds.  Hmm, there should be lots of cash in there!?!  Oh no, what about the rent cheque for CA$900 that was dated last Friday????  Panic!  I called the owner of the condo and advised that if his cheque was returned, I would cover everything immediately!  Then I called ING Direct and asked what was going on.  Well, apparently, the bank-to-bank transfer that I had done the week before, takes up to seven business days to clear, and the bulk of the funds was on hold!!!  This has never happened before.  I scrambled, used the Interac eTransfer to move cash immediately from another account to cover the cheque.   Then, held my breath.

Nothing happened.  But the cheque didn’t clear either.

Then, on Friday, I got a note from the owner – the cheque had been returned, with a back charge fee of course, plus they took the cash out of his wrong account, and it cost him a total of CA$75 because it went under their magic “lower limit”. 

I immediately issued an Interac eTransfer to cover the whole thing, plus a few bucks in case his institution didn’t do eTransfers directly.

ING called me about 1/2 hour later.  Because the transfer was done from Arizona, and because the target E-mail account was a Hotmail account, they were questioning it.  After satisfying their concerns, everything was cool… or so I thought.  I had to call back again for clarification, but everything was good.

An hour after that, I saw that the transaction had been cancelled!  I called ING again (the third time),  oh yes, they cancel the transfer, not just question it.  I wonder when they were going to tell me that?  I re-did the transfer, and all was well. 

Moral of the story:  Keep a close eye on available balance, and if out of the country, make sure they know about it.  I was pretty sure I had advised them, but I guess I didn’t.  Oh well.