Thursday, October 25, 2007

A day of frustration

We are at the Wal-Mart in Jennings, Louisiana (map), between Lafayette and Lake Charles.

You may recall I had projected us to be somewhere west of Houston tonight, but several things conspired against that. First among them was our deployment status.

I have mentioned here before that notwithstanding how well organized the Red Cross is with respect to volunteers and management thereof, there is something fundamentally broken about the way "recruitment" and "deployment" works within the system. As I wrote here, on our last deployment we had originally gotten a call to go to a job that turned out to be nearly closing, whereas the recruitment for the job where we were really needed had not yet trickled through the system. We were able to resolve that by calling in to National Headquarters, who figured out where we really should be going, steered us in the right direction, and then corrected the stale information in the deployment pipeline. Mostly, that was all possible because all the jobs were small (relatively) and the Disaster Operations Center (DOC), including the staff deployment center, was not very busy (relatively).

It was not a surprise to us, therefore, that deployment once again did not have its act together. This morning, as we were preparing to get on the road around 8am, we finally heard back from our chapter, whom we had pestered several times yesterday. And the word was: no deployment. This, of course, made no sense to us, and so I pressed them on why, and they related that the Service Area (SA) felt we were too far away. So we spent the next hour or so on the phone with the DOC, the SA, and the chapter trying to sort things out. The bottom line, for us, is that the SA is very short-sighted and has far too limited a view of its role in staffing national disasters -- unsurprising, since their focus is regional, and this disaster is not in their region (our SA is the Great Lakes).

A few calls to the DOVE leadership revealed that we are not alone -- several other DOVE's trying to help from around the country are having similar deployment issues. This is something we all thought we had licked after Katrina, and things went well for a while, but, apparently, the DOVE message has been lost over time. In any case, we've been advised to keep heading west, which will put us in a position where we are no longer "too far away" to be recruited. The technology department is fully staffed in San Diego at the moment, but recruiting has not even started yet for LA, since management on the ground there is having trouble even nailing down a headquarters site. So we should be in position in time for the first round of calls for LA, or for the inevitable staff increase that will be requested for San Diego as the scope of the relief operation increases moving forward (we know the job is getting bigger -- we have a TV).

In any event, with all the hemming and hawing and phone calls, we did not even stow the dish and head out on the road until past 10 this morning. In part, that was due to a brief flirtation with the idea of heading back east a few miles to Pensacola, where the job from the tornado is still winding down, on the theory that we're "close enough" to Pensacola to satisfy the near-sighted Service Area. We did not want to move in either direction until things were nailed down.

As we prepared to leave, we got our second rude awakening of the day. Every day that we move the bus, I do a complete walk-around inspection, similar to what a professional driver must do daily by law. I turn on and inspect all the lights, check the running gear, inspect the tires, and so forth. Now, we've been having some abnormal wear problems on our tag tires for quite some time, some of which may be due to the bent A-frame. And the right tag has worn itself into a lumpy mess, which has, lately, been rattling our teeth and everything else as we drive along. It's a tag wheel, so the terrible tread condition has not been any cause for alarm, as long as the casing has remained intact and the pressure/temperature monitoring system has been giving clean reports, all of which has been fine until today.

Well, on this morning's walk-around, I noticed that the tread on the right tag had worn down to the belts. Steel was showing on the outside shoulder. Dang. And I had just remarked, after inspecting the tire before we left Suwannee, that I was hoping the tire would make it all the way to California, and we could deal with replacing it after the operation was over. No such luck -- with the belts already showing through, we'd have to replace the tire even before the day was out. The dish was already stowed, and I knew we would not find a tire in Daphne, so we double-checked the monitor readings and headed out onto the road, with the idea of finding a tire shop somewhere along the interstate. Fortunately, as a non-commercial vehicle we are not compelled to stop at the inspection (weigh) stations -- the worn tire would get a real truck red-tagged in an instant.

After a couple of coffees in the morning, I need a bathroom break every hour or so anyway, which gave us an opportunity to check on the tire frequently. Rather than eating our lunch under way in the cockpit, as is our norm, we stopped at a rest area at the Mississippi/Louisiana state line, and put the dish up while we ate. Half a dozen phone calls later, we had located exactly two tire dealers in Baton Rouge with our size in stock. One had Firestones for $360 each, and one had Goodyears for $550 each. I was darned if I was going to put $1,100 worth of tires on an axle that has proven itself to be a tire-eating fiend, so we set our sights on the Firestone dealer, even though they claimed "we don't work on RV's" (I pleaded with them that it was really a bus). We figured to be there by 3-3:30.

We headed back out onto the Interstate, and I dialed the cruise in at 60 for the hundred miles or so to Baton Rouge. About half way there, just a few miles east of I-59, CRACK! -- one, two, or perhaps several large rocks hit the windshield, about five inches up from the bottom just inboard of the driver-side radius. Wow -- these were the biggest stars we've ever gotten in the windshield -- a double star, each about 3" in diameter with their centers about an inch apart, making for a 4" tall mess. And another nickel-sized volcano a couple inches away. I have to say, every time this happens, our hearts just sink.

Well-versed now in the windshield-strike drill, we immediately exited the freeway in Hammond, pulled into a Lowe's parking lot, and hauled out the magic fix-it kit. The double-star was a challenge, as I had to move the kit from one to the other without making a mess of the first repair. Also, the outside temperature was in the low 60's, making us nervous about using too much heat gun on the repairs from the inside -- we didn't know if too much differential temperature might actually spread the crack. To make matters worse, the resin is UV-cure, and today was completely overcast and even a bit rainy. We put our wimpy little black-lite, which we normally use to find pet stains, on the repair to do what we could.

Patching the double-star plus the volcano way-laid us for an hour, and we rolled up to the tire shop in Baton Rouge at 4:30, just half an hour before closing. You could see them thinking pretty hard about turning us down, being sort-of an RV to begin with, and coming in with a 45-minute job half an hour before quitting time. Then they made some noises about not having a jack that would fit under our low-slung tag A-frame. That last one got them, though, as I pulled out my trusty 12-ton bottle jack and placed it under the A-frame myself -- I think that more or less shamed them into doing the job.

$850 and one hour later, we had two shiny new Firestone FS560's on the tag, the steel belts of shame had been placed on the scrap heap, and we were back under way. But at 5:30 we were still in Baton Rouge, and in traffic to boot.

We made a stop in Lafayette for dinner, wherein as a final (so I thought) insult my driver's side-window sunshade broke it's retractor mechanism as I went to retract it to navigate onto city streets. (I was able to repair it this evening with the help of a small packet of #6 nuts and bolts from Wal-Mart.)

After dinner we recalibrated our stopping point for the day to Lake Charles, where we would have a choice of three Wal-Marts and two casinos, but somewhere between Lafayette and here I decided I was just done for the day, and we pulled off here instead. This store, immediately adjacent to I-10, apparently has problems with truckers filling the lot at night, and has surrounded it with 12'-0" overhead barriers to keep them out -- we had to circle a couple of times before we found the secret entrance.

As if we did not already have enough problems for the day, when I went to level out the bus I discovered that the rear suspension adjustment is stuck in the full "up" position, possibly a consequence of overextending it during the tire change. Tomorrow I will have to shinny between the rear axles to try to figure it out. I am hoping that the connector has simply come a bit loose, but there is always a chance that the linear actuator itself has a problem. I do have a fixed-length control arm that I can substitute for the actuator to get us back on the road, if necessary.

Perhaps I should learn my lesson from yesterday's projection, and just say that I hope to be "in Texas" tomorrow night.

1 comment:

  1. I keep meaning to ask about this and keep forgetting. :-)

    Just what do you two *do* for the Red Cross. From bits and pieces I've read in your blog since I started reading it seems you are involved in the IT infrastructure end of things for disaster sites? Is that correct?


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