Wednesday, May 13, 2015

It occurs to me that most people who read this haven’t ever gotten a letter from an actual inmate in prison. In an effort to cure that problem I am hereby dedicating the next three months to sending a letter to anyone who cares to get a genuine prison pen pal letter. It’s a creative way to keep this blog going and stay busy in jail.

I will be away from the internet for three months starting tomorrow, so you will have to mail an actual paper and ink letter and snail mail it to:

John Thomas Downs

C/O Johnson County Correctional Facility

1800 Ridgemar Drive

Cleburne, TX 76031

And I promise to send a newsy prison letter your way to the return address. And if you haven’t written a paper letter and mailed it in the last decade, don’t worry. You can just say Hi. It doesn’t have to be anything special. Postcards work as well.

Just something fun to do to while away the time I reckon. And I’ll report back how many letters I get. Tell your friends. I’ll send a letter to anyone who responds. It would be pretty funny if the prison guards have to dump a Santa sized bag of mail in my cell. Well okay, maybe that's a bit optimistic unless this concept goes viral somehow. It should be interesting. They are required to supply paper, pens, envelopes and stamps to inmates so I can send unlimited mail. And I have nothing but time. Jim and Ann PM'd me on ADVrider that they are sending some of her excellent fudge and cookies to bribe the guards with. So there is my first penpal. Plus, if you have any good books on adventure travel or life in general that you think are good that you mail down here, I promise to mail them back when I get out in August.

Your future pen pal,

Cool Hand John

"What we have here is a failure to communicate"--Paul Newman's last line in "Cool Hand Luke"

Veriest1’s Dad had to come to town for a doctors appointment and dropped me off at the public library so I have one last chance for an update before jail tomorrow.

Yesterday I was crawling around in 2 inches of water repairing the burst plumbing pipes under the vacant house being renovated where I am staying. The benefit was that I have yet another comparative experience under my belt. Was this worse than waking up while camping in the middle of the night in a driving thunderstorm at 2 AM and realizing that a river was running through my tent in the freezing cold? No. That was still worse.

Just so, I have a few life experiences to compare 3 months in jail to. It will be interesting to see how it measures up to the months of disorientation after the death of my father when I was in first grade, the mental anguish of divorce or starving for a month on a grueling Outward Bound survival course. I doubt if it can top those.

On a lighter note, my current thinking is that I will be able to travel again next winter. This is better than I could have expected. I talked to my sister yesterday and she has enough mileage points for a one way ticket to Buenos Aires that she will donate to the cause. That is great news. Plus Social Security will be depositing a check for 608.00 in my checking account on the fourth Wednesday of every month now that I am 62. I’ll believe that when I see it, but if true means that I only need 400 dollars a month to travel since I usually spend around 1000 dollars a month on food, gas, lodging, repairs, tires etc.

Since I didn’t have to pay a fine I still have 800 bucks to my name. I have 0 savings since I spend all my money on motorcycles and travel. Financial security is over-rated. I can live on 600 dollars a month if I have to. Heck, since I quit smoking and drinking and lost my drivers license and am stranded in rural Texas the only thing I CAN spend money on is food which is a couple hundred dollars a month. And at home my only expenses other than food are 80 dollars in utilities on average, 100 dollars on gas and car insurance and 100 dollars on miscellaneous. I don’t insure my house since I can fix hail damage for the cost of a year’s house insurance. And if it burns down I’ll look at it as a remodeling opportunity while I live in the detached garage.

So my current plan is to get out of jail in August, work in Texas for a while, drive to Nebraska to mow my lawn and pay my property taxes, drive to Oregon to hopefully work on my sister’s house, head to Arizona in the late fall, park my truck at my sister’s winter house in Apache Junction and fly to South America.

As with all plans, it will be interesting to see how it all actually works out. It will also be interesting to see how I get my bike out of Uruguay after it has been sitting for a year and a half and overstayed it’s temporary import permit.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in life it is that everything works out in the end one way or another so there’s no use worrying about it. Half the fun is watching life unfold in unexpected ways.

Friday, May 8, 2015

I traveled to Texas and went to court yesterday for my DWI arrest last October. The only other time I have been in court is as a juror. It was quite interesting being on the receiving end of justice this time. I was offered two years probation, no jail time, 1000 dollar fine, two years of having an interlock device and 80 hours of community service. Hmmmm. I can't leave the country while on probation. So I asked my lawyer to see what I would get if I went to jail instead. Wow. What a difference. No fine, no interlock device, no community service, no probation if I serve 3 months in the county jail. Hmmmm. Now mind you, three months is a fair amount of time to spend in jail I reckon. However, my drivers license was suspended for three months as well.

These negotiations all happen really fast. I did a quick calculation in my head. Interlock device costs 85 dollars a month, so roughly 2000 dollars plus probably another 1000 for probation fees plus the 1000 dollar fine comes to 4000 dollars I would avoid by going to jail instead. Not to mention avoiding 2 years of probation that would keep me from leaving the country until 2017. No question. I took the three months jail time if it means I can get back to South America sooner rather than later. My drivers license will be valid by the time I get out. I report to jail next week on May 14th at 1 P.M.

So this blog will be on hiatus until mid August. There may be some interesting stories of life in a Texas county jail to tell when I get out. I will report back what I find so you don't have to learn from first hand experience. Sort of an Orange is the New Black, Texas style. For all you folks reading these stories from Asia, Australia, Europe, South America and Africa, I apologize for Netflix inside jokes.

As luck would have it, a tornado came through Veriest1's ranch last week so I have been able to help out installing a new electric meter and panel as they were ripped off his house. His dad took me to town to go to court and bought me a thank you breakfast before court. Really nice family. So I am in good hands with more hospitable Texan ADVriders.

Of course I'll be broke by the time I get out of jail. So a few months work before I head back to South America for more travel tales from the roads less traveled next winter. But time flies when you're having fun. And obsessions die hard.

Adios amigos.
Long rides can take a person into a type of dreamworld. As the real world of day to day life recedes in the rear view mirror, one is slowly immersed in unfamiliar territory. The senses are heightened. New worlds arise and float by. Days blend together. Being a stranger in a strange land is the norm. Riding far away from one's normal life can give a person perspective. Life's day to day responsibilities, material concerns and personal relationships change. What once seemed important recedes far in the distance and tends to lose it's immediate grasp on your attention. The benefit of this is that it allows a person to gain insight and appreciation for what is truly important in their life. The media portray the world as a dangerous place. It is only by travel that one discovers the truth of how friendly the world is in most places. Newspapers and television are desperately trying to grab your attention so you'll view their advertisements. It's how they make money. No one tells us this growing up. People with no experience of foreign lands assume the world is a dangerous place because of all the sensationalist stories they see in the news. It is as if newspapers had gathered all the worlds rattlesnakes into one place. Of course that hissing mass of media attention looks frightening. The truth is, rattlesnakes are sparsely scattered around the globe and are easily avoided by paying attention to the warning signs. Just like volcanic eruptions, drug wars, riots, lions and unsavory people. There is no greater therapy in the world than riding long and far as the thoughts drifting through your mind sort themselves out and you gain an appreciation for humanity and the things you hold dear in life.

Monday, April 27, 2015

“There are map people whose joy is to lavish more attention on the sheets of colored paper than on the colored land rolling by.”

“Another kind of traveler requires to know in terms of maps exactly where he is pinpointed every moment, as though there were some kind of safety in black and red lines, in dotted indications and squirming blue of lakes and the shadings that indicate mountains. It is not so with me. I was born lost and take no pleasure in being found.”

—John Steinbeck

“Travels With Charley: In Search of America.”

Thursday, April 23, 2015

People often ask me where my favorite place on the planet is. Or more specifically, where I think the best place in the world is to live. If you travel a great deal, you too will be asked this question. The notion of a utopia. A perfect, egalitarian, and harmonious paradise on Earth has been a recurring theme in literature and storytelling for hundreds of years. I think this comes from a basic human need from time immemorial to search out greener pastures.

The thing is, there is no perfect place on this planet. Some places are nicer than others. No place is perfect. The outer Hawaiian islands had great year round weather when I lived there for several years. But day after day of nice weather comes with the difficulty of making enough money to afford the high cost of living and the transitory nature of a tourism based economy.

Shangri-la is a state of mind. It is something each person finds within themselves. It is not a place on earth.

Standing on a beach in Thailand watching a perfect sunset reflecting golden light off the waves is an easier place to experience that state of mind than horizontal snow in the upper midwest I have found. Which is one reason I migrate like the birds and live a nomadic existence.

Friday, April 17, 2015

I have led an interesting life. Reflecting back on it, as one does when they get older and have time, some stories have been coming back to me. The memories are haziest from the 1970’s. I had to do a google search to find out when the first Rainbow Festival was in Colorado. 1972 it was. That was the year that I hitch-hiked down to Mexico and lost all my money and had to make it back to Oregon from central Mexico with my thumb and the kindness of strangers. But that is another story. It was the year before that I was trying to remember.

In 1971 shortly after finishing spring term of college I had the summer off. My first car had a blown engine so I was back to a bicycle. I had graduated from high school early when I was 17 in 1970, so this meant that my friends Craig and Larry had just graduated from high school. We decided it would be fun to ride our bicycles to Canada.

more later….