Saturday, February 26, 2011

Georgia - One More Area Off the List!

In our quest to add to the list of "areas we don't want to live in forever" we can add the Atlanta area. I have heard that the coastal areas around Savannah and the barrier islands of Georgia are pretty awesome but we have not had the chance to visit them yet. We arrived in Douglasville, Georgia on January 29. Douglasville is about 30 miles west of Atlanta and is an okay little town. On Super Bowl Sunday Bill did not have to work thankfully so it saw us in a Buffalo Wild Wings near the mall in Douglasville surrounded by half a bar full of Steelers fans who were somewhat rude and obnoxious. If I heard another round of "Here we go Steelers, here we go" I was getting ready to lose it! They would have been insufferable if they would have won I tell you. But at the end some of the more vocal idiots did come up to us and shake our hand and congratulate us. We boondocked that night in the mall parking lot next door and were woken up by a security guard pounding on the door at 6am although we had cleared our staying over with mall security the night before. So back to Walmart we went.

The week of the 14th saw us in Gainesville, Georgia where Bill's company, Prime Retail, is headquartered. We would have liked to stay near Lake Lanier but all the Army Corps of Engineer camgrounds were closed until March or April. Bill was doing repairs on one of the owner's houses for the week so we became truck stop residents. I really don't mind staying at the truck stops but the amount of trash that the truckers leave is just pathetic. Especially when there are garbage cans everywhere....we even saw a twin mattress thrown out at one of them! But they are better than Walmart for boondocking as we can stay a few nights at the same location and they are fine with it.

Atlanta traffic was bad but not as bad as some of the cities we have been in such as LA and Houston. They just don't know how to merge, pull into the intersection for a left turn nor go around someone who is turning left. And they don't have liquor stores....they have bottle stores and package one of Bill's managers put it "There is something about the word liquor that scares Southern Baptists."  And of course the "no alcohol sales on Sundays" applies!

Further Update - Odds N Ends

As I mentioned in the previous post towards the end of November Bill started having severe pains in his lower back. We originally thought that it was a strain as he had just hoisted an 8 foot tree onto a vehicle roof for a customer. He started taking over the counter pain meds and gradually progressed to my hydrocodone. He woke up in terrible pain around 5am and asked for more pills. I put my foot down and said he was going to the ER as he is just NOT a pill taker normally. We got there and they pretty much knew what was going on but did an MRI on him anyway. The ER doctor showed me the MRI pictures and his kidney stone was 7.4mm wide which is quite large according to her. They then came in the room and were attempting to admit him to the hospital until the stone passed until we drew the line -- thank God that we did as we received the bills and they totalled up to $7000 and that's for FOUR hours in the ER.  The worst part of the entire equation is that if we would have taken the insurance offered by Prime we still we would have had NOT ONE CENT of the bill paid for by insurance as it would have cost us $700 per month with a $9000 deductible! So for 2010 we would be out even more cash for the premiums to the tune of $2800. And Republicans are saying we don't need health reform? Argghhh...give me their health insurance then as they sure seem to get inexpensive and awesome coverage!

Bill had to leave Phoenix on January 2nd to head to New York State for work. We got that message the second week in December as well as the message that he was supposed to be in Georgia on the 15th of December for a 5 hour meeting --- huh? After pricing out plane tickets to Atlanta, the price of a rental car and overnight in a hotel it would have cost us about $1000 to send him to that 5 hour meeting. Everything would have cost more as it was the week before Christmas.  Fortunately his supervisors agreed and talked to the owner and said he did not have to be there. Good thing for us as his plane ticket in January ended up costing $330 not to mention his half of the hotel and meals. But seeing as he is on salary they want to keep him working as he is getting paid.  Bill was not happy at all to go back to snow and cold and more snow.  The company then wanted him to train at Family Dollar stores in Alabama so they flew him to Atlanta on January 22 and his boss picked him up and took him to Enterprise Alabama.

After thankfully leaving Casa Grande in early January, I, along with friends Michelle and Junior, headed over to Quartzsite Arizona as we needed to finally have a supplementary braking system put in as it is called for in some states and if we had an accident without one the insurance might not be liable to pay for anything.

Quartzsite would have been ideal.....winter in the desert on BLM land just relaxing. But of course our streak of bad luck followed me. If it was not something in the rig going wrong like something in the steering column breaking so I could not move it out of park --and in front of the gas pumps no less-- it was something going wrong money wise like a entire box of mail with checks in it failing to arrive in Casa Grande.

We left Casa Grande to head to Alabama to meet Bill on January 22 as we were making a small detour to Austin Texas to see Michelle's mom. The entire trip the rig had to be put into park from underneath in order for me to start it up and then put into drive from underneath as well. Poor Junior got his clothes quite dirty on this trip.

Driving the rig almost 2000 was definitely a challenge, especially in El Paso and Houston but I am glad that I did it. Now I know that I can do everything "normal" on the rig and even the problems that crop up that are not so "normal".

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Last (or Lost) Two Months

As you've probably noticed, there has been a severe lack of updating on the blog these last two months....why you ask? These last two months, ever since arriving in Casa Grande AZ and the tree lot have been frustrating, eye opening and somewhat surreal for the most part. There were times of hopefulness and goodwill such as the night the last week before Christmas when a couple came into the lot and asked how long we were going to be open. They then gave me a $100 bill and asked that the next four families that came in receive a free Christmas tree. This actually made one 6 foot guy shed tears of happiness.  But for the most part we came in touch with so many people who were unemployed, homeless and drug users or former gang members. We tried to help every single one that we met and unfortunately I have to say that we had less than a 50% success rate. We were screamed at, threatened, stole from ($1600 in one instance), and accused of bitching at people when all we we doing was trying to get them to save money for the journey ahead. We even went so far as to recommend two of the guys as possible workers for Bill's is on the road with us now and one just did not have the common sense and guts to break away from the cycle of gang connections and who knows what else.

Would we work and sell Christmas trees again? Probably not as it was six straight weeks of 24/7 which is way too much for the pay. We arrived the Saturday before Thanksgiving and except for taking Bill to the hospital when he was passing a kidney stone we were not able to leave the grounds together until January 1. This combined with the 12 hours a day that the lot is supposed to be open makes for no down time whatsoever. The company had instituted a new policy this year where the workers pay was taken out of the lot managers earnings so Bill especially ended up doing quite a bit of the physical end.....drilling holes in trees, moving them into the tent, carrying them to have a fresh cut, hauling them out to vehicles and then sometimes having to lift them onto the roofs and tie them down. Although these jobs are proported to be good for retirees I really don't see how anyone older would be able to do that! Granted you could have someone on the clock for the entire 12 hours that the lot is open but with the economy and the lack of sales you would walk out making absolutely nothing except having a free place to stay for that time.

This was the first year that fireworks were legal in Arizona and although we had misgivings about the situation, we finally decided to sell fireworks in the same location as the trees for the week between Christmas and New Year's. This too was a learning experience and there would be no way that we would do this again with the same parameters in place. The company called us "independent contractors" but they micromanaged everything and I mean everything. The told us what time to open, what time to close, how much to charge, how to merchandise the items etc. etc. which by IRS definition makes a person an employee. But of course when something went wrong and we had an employee steal $1600 all of a sudden we were on our own and responsible for the missing cash. They wanted the best of both worlds.

This was the time that the situation started getting a bit ugly. I had been helping out a homeless 17 year old and paying him out of our pocket to help around the lot during Christmas trees. I went and bought him clothes and fed him every day. His dad then wanted some work at the lot during fireworks so I tried to help him too. One day he shows up, strung out on coke or meth or who knows what. He proceeds to get in my face that I wasn't having him work enough! After that things went downhill fast as New Year's Eve he sent in a couple of friends who got in our guys' face and there was an altercation in the lot which had a gun being involved....I called the police a total of 5 times during this episode in life which is probably more than I have in my entire life! Bill was having to fly out to New York State on Sunday, January 2 and I just did not feel comfortable being in Casa Grande any more....we felt like it was just a matter of time until someone did something to our rig or to us so we packed up and left on New Year's Day. We only we going as far as Maricopa in order to finish up paperwork and then return the unsold fireworks to the company after I had driven Bill to the airport in Phoenix. On our way out of town the fireworks company called and accused me of grand theft. Huh? How can I be stealing from you when I am an independent contractor and not an employee? The money was not due into the office until Sunday the 2nd so how could I be stealing if it was not yet that date? The company did end of being fair about everything and reimbursed the majority of the stolen $1600 although I do not appreciate such accusations when I am legally right. 

More on the saga next post........