Wishing everyone a safe and happy Fourth of July, which in the U.S. is the celebration of the birth of our nation! Let’s celebrate it by keeping our democracy alive and healthy! That’s what I want for America’s birthday! I want truth to prevail. I want all citizens to have an equal right to vote and to obtain justice. I want—well, so many things—but let’s go with this: I want us to work together to fix global climate change, and not keep watching heat waves and wild fires and hurricanes get worse, year after year. Man, if we could just do those things together, it would be a fantastic birthday for America!
Happy Birthday, nation I love!
(We celebrated from down south in Puerto Rico, courtesy of the internet, by watching the Boston Pops live at Tanglewood. Here’s Mavis Staples, photo by Christiana Botic for the Boston Globe.)
I’ve been here at Casarboles (Treehouse) in Ponce, Puerto Rico, a week and a half now, and it’s amazing how little I feel I have accomplished, despite feeling that I’ve done nothing but work. How can that be? All those trips to Home Depot, all that hardware purchased and wrestled around, all those damp, pressure-treated two-by-fours carried home in the little Kia rental car to be laid out in the sun to dry. Surely that counts for something.
Exhibit 1: Here’s the picturesque pool deck, which I’ve featured in photos in past years.
What you can’t see in the picture is that the whole thing needs to be replaced. Not the steel supports that Allysen’s dad built—they’re still solid—but all the decking, and all the railing. Since we can’t get anyone in our time frame to work on it, I’m afraid it’s my job. Hence all the two-by-fours. (Yes, I know I could order them and have them delivered, but I need to hand-select them to weed out all the warped, knotty, and split ones. Because they’re going to be decking and railing.) By the way, have you checked the price of lumber lately?! Anyway, that, I thought, would be my first big job. Except…
Exhibit 2: Jayce—in a laudable fit of cleaning and inspecting while she was here—discovered that the AC to the master bedroom was full of mold and ready for the junk heap. Well, no problem, I said, we’ll just replace it. Except that it wasn’t installed in a window. I had to chisel it, literally, out of a wall.
And then repair and build a new framework in the wall to hold the new, smaller unit.
And then trim it all off so it looks good. Days later, I’m finished with the first two parts, just starting on the trim. To be followed by paint. Soon, I hope, we’ll be able to move into the room. If it sounds like I know what I’m doing or am particularly good at any of this, well, remember that I’m a fiction writer. One step up from a grifter.
Amidst this, my brain has been hard at work trying to figure out how to rebuild the pool pump cover, which was badly designed and has warped and fallen apart. And the once-solid gate to the “back forty,” which now solidly thunks on your feet when you try to lift it aside from where it’s propped because it fell off its hinges last year. Or how to set up a gauge and alarm on our water cisterns, which are just big, dumb black plastic tanks.
Yes, the city water went off for about two days, due to electrical problems involving the no-doubt ancient pumps pushing water up the hill. Our cisterns kept us supplied, but only barely, owing to the fact that the way one discovers that the water is off is when your cisterns run dry. In this case, it was Frances next door who ran out first and alerted us. Usually, it’s the reverse. Well, at least we had the pool to shower in. But the water’s back on now, and the tanks are full. (For now!)
During all of this, Allysen has continued to work her regular job during the day, remotely just as she did from home. She does her part on the house around the edges of that work, on the domestic side of things.
Much of what we’re doing would be necessary anyway, but are really necessary if we’re to keep renting the place.
Let’s close with a nice picture. Here’s Jayce and Allysen on the outdoor terrace of the Vistas restaurant.
See that little (giant) cross up on the top of the hill? Our house is a smidge to the right of it. The best view of the ocean and the coast comes just as you are driving down the hill past La Cruceta (the cross).
As I said last time, I dropped Jayce off at the San Juan airport today, to fly home. (She is, in fact, already home with the dogs!) Time was, we used to fly straight into Ponce from Boston, via NYC or Orlando. But those flights stopped with the pandemic, so now we have to come in through San Juan, a two-hour drive over the mountains. (Just as well, as it turns out, since there were no rental cars to be had in Ponce.)
This year’s car has a stereo unit that picks up your smartphone as soon as you plug it in to charge, and shows your phone’s GPS display on a larger screen. This would be great, except for the occasional lag in update of the display. Said lag (and poor road signage) has resulted in some missed turns and frustrating detours. Today, after dropping off Jayce, I headed to Costco, not too far from the airport. I sort of spiraled in, like a vulture looking for its next meal to give up the ghost. Eventually, this and that aligned, and I made it.
After stocking up with various consumables needed for the house, I paid and headed for the pizza area. I had never eaten Costco pizza, despite my brother-in-law Andrew’s long-standing testimony to its excellence, and I thought: The time has come. So I bought a slice. I liked it! I ordered a whole pizza to bring home and hit the road.
Now, ordinarily, the route from San Juan to Ponce is pretty much a straight shot over the mountains on the reasonably well-maintained highway, PR52. Due to ongoing construction, Google Maps told me I’d save 20 minutes by taking an alternate route: Route 1, winding through the mountains. Have you ever seen the Snake River from an airliner while flying across the U.S.? Wind and curl and curl and wind and loop. Serpentine to the power of 10. That’s PR1 through the mountains, except much narrower, with tight turns, back and forth. Fractal, like the Norwegian coast. Throw in a driver in a Corvette who seems desperately to want to pass the car ahead, and who treats the single yellow lane marker like the centerline of a runway. And the little beer joints on the righthand side of the road, from which cars randomly back out into traffic. It’s fun! I pass some private driveways that look like the first hill of Cedar Point’s Millennium Force*. I’m getting a taste of the mountains. Despite all this, the detour ends up cutting my projected drive time by half an hour. That must have been some backup on 52!
Arriving home, I put the pizza box on the kitchen counter and went to find Allysen. I came back a few minutes later to find one of the neighborhood stray cats up on the counter, pizza box open, scarfing the cheese off the top of the pizza. He got almost half of it before I chased him away. Testimonial to Costco pizza?
Now what do we do (humanely) about the influx of stray cats on the hill??
Today I dropped Jayce off at the San Juan airport to fly back home to Boston after 17 days (corrected, with apologies!) of sweat and toil in the Puerto Rican sun. Okay, I exaggerate. She wasn’t actually out in the sun most of the time. But she did work hard!
But I’m getting ahead of myself. If you’re new to the Ponce Chronicles, Ponce is the second-largest city in Puerto Rico, where my wife Allysen’s parents built a home back in the 1970s. Sadly, her parents are no longer with us, so the home now belongs to Allysen and her brother. It’s a beautiful place, and popular among weekend vacation renters. It’s also a place that requires constant, intensive upkeep—which we’re not here most of the time to provide. So, usually, once a year, we come down to work on needed repairs. Sometimes much needed repairs, such as after Hurricane Maria and last year’s earthquakes. And this time, the pandemic. Not that Covid attacked the house. But it kept us away for longer than usual, allowing things to slide. (Unfortunately, we have been unable to find a caretaker who can both see to the needs of guests and perform the necessary level of ongoing maintenance. We really need a couple of people. If you know anyone in Ponce…)
Allysen and daughter Jayce came down 17 days ago to get started, while I stayed home with the dogs. Earlier this week, I came down to relieve Jayce and—with a few days’ overlap—send her back to take care of the dogs.
So much work needed! My first day I was officially resting in honor of Father’s Day, so all I did was fix the dryer vent and refrigerator freezer-compartment drawers, which someone had removed for God-knows-what reason. After that, I fell apart in the heat and was essentially useless for a day, until I got back into the swing of things and renewed my old friendship with Ponce Home Depot. I shudder to think how much money we pump into the Ponce economy via Home Depot!
I’ll get to the repairs in another installment. Last night we took Jayce out to celebrate her time here, and we drove along the southern coast, ending at a restaurant that had been recommended to us, name of Lordemar, in the town of Patilla. The view was spectacular! We watched the Strawberry Moon/Supermoon rise from the ocean. The restaurant was… interesting. Could have been really charming, if they’d upped the service and ambiance just a little. Menu-wise, they were 86 on my first two choices, so I settled on filet mignon, though I’m not a big steak eater. It was quite tasty! It was served with lovely silver cutlery! Huh. I’m kidding, of course. It was served with really bendy plastic utensils that were nearly incapable of cutting meat. The rest of the meal was sort of like that. The tostones were excellent. The wine was swill. The beer was Medalla, which is basically the local Bud Light.
But the view! The sea and the moon and the pelicans and the little black birds that chased each other territorially across the lawn! Priceless.
Sorry, I guess we didn’t get a picture of the little birds. But you can picture it in your mind’s eye, right?
Part of our plan for using the Mothership (our new-to-us Winnebago Era) for future travel was to come up with a way to take our sturdy moped/scooters with us for ease in getting around locally wherever we set up camp. There were many possibilities, but the best choice was not immediately obvious. I spent quite a bit of time researching the options, and then the answer arrived in the form of a Craigslist ad.
Here’s the little trailer I bought, a 1975-vintage 3-motorcycle carrier that the owner had taken apart and meticulously restored and upgraded.
He did a beautiful job, and his asking price was quite reasonable. Now it’s ours. I then spent quite a bit of time working out the best way to fasten our steeds to the thing—what kinds of tie-down straps, and so on.
Here’s one of the three motorcycle rails tilted back into loading-ramp configuration.
And here it is, with Buckbeak* (left) and Dracos loaded up and ready to travel! Hit the road, Jack!
Soon, I hope. All of this goes on hold for the next month. Why? Because I leave tomorrow for Puerto Rico and the latest adventures in the repair and upkeep of homes-away-from-home.
Next up, The Ponce Chronicles, 2021 Edition!
*Buckbeak, for those interested, is a Tomos A35, made in Slovenia. Dracos is a Honda Elite. Dracos is Allysen’s.
I’ve headed back to my favorite part of Cape Cod for Writing Retreats, this time as my first expedition in the Mothership! Here I am taking command, ready to leave, having worked the dock crew’s fingers to the bone getting everything ready.
A few minutes after this is taken, I hit the spacelanes, full of confidence.
You know, everything looks different from the bridge of this ship. I like this perspective. My, aren’t those F-150 pickups the most adorable little cub trucks? Wait—is that a Ranger like mine, or a toy truck? Must be a toy. My Ranger isn’t that little.
The confidence takes a hit an hour in, when I make a stop and discover what I forgot to pack: my wallet. Drivers license. Money. Credit cards. Nooooo! Grumbling, cursing, 180 turn. Back home for the wallet. Then back onto the spacelanes, somewhat deflated. The more so when the Check Engine light comes on. Gritting my teeth, I forge ahead. Real spacemen don’t stop for no stinking Check Engine lights! Would Neil Armstrong have stopped? Hell no!
(Okay, I eventually stop and scan the code. Non-mission-critical. Steady on course, Mr. Sulu.)
I arrive and set up in the dark. Why does this always happen? Connect water—check. Connect power—check. Remove bike from bed in back and lock it to the picnic table—check. Check that we’re level. Oh no. The site isn’t level. I jockey back and forth in vain. I wonder if this is why there’s a bag in the back marked “Levelers” full of oversized Lego pieces. I wonder what to do with them, hoping it doesn’t involve jacks. The internet comes to my rescue. It doesn’t involve jacks, but we’re not done setting up yet. It’s gonna be a long first night. Well, at least the wifi router in the cabin connects to the campsite wifi without trouble. (Yet…heh-heh.) Things will look better in the morning. Repeat after me.
Here’s the Mothership in daylight. Things do look better.
And here’s what you do with those oversized Lego pieces. You drive up onto them.
And here’s what you do to reward yourself. The campground is literally right next to the bike path.
Dragons everywhere! Dragons in the Stars: A Novel of the Star Rigger Universe has just appeared in its first new print edition in… well, I don’t want to think how many years. Never mind that—here it is! If you’re one of those people who likes paper books better than ebooks, look no further, because I think this is a pretty frickin’ nice edition, if I do say so myself. And presentation aside, dragons roaming the interstellar Flux is just not something you see every day.
Dragons in the Stars is available in trade paperback at Amazonright now, from Starstream Publications. Soon, it will be coming to other stores, as well.
Now, if you’re one of those people who like ebooks, especially free ebooks, you also should look no further. Dragons in the Stars the ebook is free, for a very limited time, in all of the major ebookstores! As promoted for you by Bookbub, and by Ebookdaily.com. Come and get ’em while you can. And you might want to pick up Dragon Rigger or any of the other star rigger books while you’re at it!
Here at the Star Rigger Ranch, we have made a major addition to our family: a 2010 Winnebago Era campervan, propelled by a Mercedes r/o/c/k/e/t/ diesel engine, with a mere 24-foot parking footprint. In other words, a whale. Hence one of the names we’ve given it: Moby Van. Mostly, we call it the Mothership. Here it is…
It’s perfect for two, though it has seating for four. Plus dogs, of course. It’s tall enough for us short people to walk around in comfortably. And it has a bathroom with shower. We hope to start taking weekend trips this year, and in the slightly more distant future, do some real cross-country traveling. We have friends and family in Florida, on the West Coast, and everywhere in between. We’d like to see them all, and see the country, as well. And, of course, I’ll be using it for writing retreats. In fact, I plan to give it a shakedown cruise for a retreat in about a week. Stay turned for reports.
There are some things that need to be fixed, none of them critical. Basically it’s in really good condition and mostly needs a good cleaning and stocking with supplies. I’ve been learning more than I ever wanted to know about RV life, in hopes of avoiding silly mistakes.
This is obviously a major investment, one we never would have made without the generosity of my sister-in-law and dearly departed brother, who left me some funds with the instruction to “do something you will enjoy.” This started as a dream of Allysen’s, but she’s infected me with the bug—a throwback in many ways to my childhood—and I’m looking forward to some travel (and writing) on the road.
This is the final day to get a really deep discount on The Infinite Seaaudiobook, as well as the rest of the Chaos books! At Chirpbooks.com, until midnight tonight in some time zone (Pacific, I think). It’s been a terrifically successful sale, and you can still get in on it. Go forth!
Also…it’s the final day to get in on the Kickstarter for Shaper of Worlds II, with a huge pile of great rewards (including free audiobooks of The Reefs of Time and Crucible of Time, plus loads more). And it’s a great project. Right here.