Sunday, July 20, 2008

Mail bag

Well, we're all caught up on errands, and finally caught up on rest, so I have some time today to catch up with our readers.

First, by way of update: we are still at McKinney Falls State Park, driving around in the nerd-mobile, and expecting to be working at the DSMC for a few more days. Of course, we now have two tropical storms on the map, and, while we are a bit out of the box for Christobal, Dolly is aiming for south Texas, and I will not be surprised if we get diverted to San Antonio, Brownsville, or Corpus.

The other big news at the moment is that George has been under the weather. She threw up Thursday evening, and has been lethargic ever since. When our normal arsenal of remedies did not clear things up by yesterday morning, we took her to the vet, to discover that she has a kidney infection of unknown origin. We now have an IV bag of electrolyte solution and have been giving her subcutaneous fluids, along with antibiotics. If we don't see an improvement by tomorrow, we may have to hospitalize her, which would certainly limit our availability for deployment to the gulf. We have both been very worried, and sometimes teary-eyed, about her.

As for reader mail: First, let me apologize to anyone that has been waiting for a response; we tend to get very focussed en route to Red Cross work, and there is just not time to get to everything. What little writing time I do have, I use to update the blog, as that keeps as many people informed as possible.

I'd like to acknowledge the many people (too numerous to list) who have either posted in the comments or sent us direct email thanking us for our involvement in the Red Cross. Let me just say that we find the work fun and rewarding, as well as fulfilling, so it is really a win-win (to borrow a trite phrase) arrangement for all. And I can recommend it as an excellent volunteer opportunity for everyone -- the Red Cross is always looking for more help.

As we were en route here, reader Cedar commented that we seem to eat out often, especially for dinner, and noted that it would be more cost-effective to cook aboard, given that we have the facilities. This is absolutely true, and I have a two-part answer to this question.

The first part has to do with that part of our lives when we are working for the Red Cross (since that is when the question arrived). While we usually stick with our custom of eating breakfast and lunch at home (although we sometimes will go to lunch with coworkers to be social), we almost never eat dinner at home while en route to, or working on, a job. In part, that's because we are too wiped out at the end of the day to cook, and in part it's because the dirty dishes, which I often wash the next morning when we do eat in, will simply accumulate in the sink until the following day's dinner time (and, if I'm too tired to cook, I'm certainly too tired to wash all the dishes first, and then cook). And the bus is just too small a place to have dirty dishes lingering for even a whole day.

We have an expense account when we are on duty with the Red Cross. So it's not as if we would be pocketing any savings by eating at home -- we only claim actual costs. We do save the Red Cross some money by eating in as much as we do (most volunteers are eating three meals a day in restaurants, because they are staying in hotel rooms -- yet another expense the Red Cross does not underwrite for those of us in RVs).

As for the rest of the time, when we are not volunteering, well, we just like to eat out. In fact, next to diesel fuel, it's our only real expense. We have all but completely checked out of modern American consumer culture, which, frankly, is the way many people reward themselves on a daily basis. So we get our little pleasures from sampling the local cuisine when possible, or returning to old favorites on a regular basis.

Don't get me wrong -- I love to cook, and we do eat dinner at home quite a bit. I don't ever blog about meals that I prepare myself, whereas I often blog about restaurants, since we figure some of our readers who will pass the same way might want to know about them. But we do spend a good deal of time in the middle of nowhere, where it's cook or go hungry. In fact, we can go two full weeks on our water tanks, and, not coincidentally, we can fit two weeks of food in our little 7.5 cubic foot fridge. Since there are so many nights when we have little choice but to cook in, we take advantage of nice restaurants whenever they are in convenient walking, transit, or scooter distance.

Moving on, this morning we received an anonymous comment taking us to task for the amount of fuel we burned coming here to Austin to volunteer. (Don't bother looking for it -- it was rude and abusive, so we deleted it. This is, after all, our blog.) The implication being that, somehow, the work would just get done without any expenditure of fossil fuels. That's a bit naive, and I'm going to guess that the poster has never spent any time working with any type of humanitarian or other volunteer organization.

For the record, I asked our handlers in Washington why it was that they decided to send us some 1,300 miles just to help turn equipment around here in Austin, and their answer was that we were the most cost-effective solution. (For anyone who has not noticed, donations are down, and the American Red Cross is in the grips of a budget crisis, having to borrow money for the first time in years, and laying off hordes of regular employees.) The reason for that is simple: "normal" volunteers have to be flown in from around the country (and, no, there is not a magic pool of trained and qualified volunteers just hanging around Austin, unfortunately).

Not only is that more expensive than asking us to drive down here (more on that in a moment), it, too, uses a direct quantity of fossil fuels. A round-trip air passenger will consume an average of 40 gallons of Jet-A (which is practically the same stuff as diesel fuel), and they would have had to send at least two and possibly three other volunteers here to get the same work done as the two of us. (Our output is higher because of our extensive training and experience level, the fact that we already work well together as a team, and being here in our own home allows us to work longer hours with fewer distractions.)

So that's already 80-120 gallons of fuel, as compared with our ~200 gallons to get here. Then on top of that, you'll have one or two extra rental cars for those other volunteers, and the fuel to run them. Also, those folks will be eating three squares a day in restaurants, and using up three hotel rooms, all of which have carbon loads associated with them as well as donor dollars. So while I can't unequivocally state that the carbon footprint of sending us from Wyoming to Austin is lower than, say, flying three people in from the east coast, what I can say is that the difference is not as big as you might think. From a donated dollar standpoint, it's much more clear-cut: we're saving the donors $200-$300 a day for each day we are here. (And we include ourselves in the donor category: we donate far more in cash to the Red Cross each year than we are reimbursed for expenses.)


  1. Some people make me shake my head. I bet that your lifestyle (very soon to be mine, too (yay!)) ends up being more 'eco-friendly' in the long run. Your footprint and consumerism rate are so much smaller than the average American's. Plus, you live off the grid as much as you can.

    As for dining out, now, I love to cook, but I'm sure that after a full day in the rig and staring at the same four walls it must be nice to step out, stretch your legs, see four other walls, and let someone else cook while you're at it!

    Finally, I wanted to say 'good job!' for taking the time to lend your skills and expertise to the Red Cross.

  2. It infuriates me that you were put in the position of "justifying" fuel/expense associated with giving your time to help others. The type of attitude expressed by the poster shows a great deal about some in our culture. From my point of view we need a lot more sacrifice of time than we need complainers in our current world.

    I found your analysis of the trade-offs very interesting.

    I'm also very sorry to hear of your pet's illness. We too have some pet health issues. Our best to your George.

    Safe travels.


  3. Ooooh, the nerve of someone to point the finger at you without looking at the whole situation, nor appreciate the fact that you are doing this out of the kindness of your hearts!

    Raven is so right, fulltiming is more eco-friendly in the long run. After all, we don't have 3,000 sq. ft. homes we need to heat and cool, we don't use water for ornamental gardens that decorate them, and we don't buy a ton of crap to fill these huge square boxes.

    That whole carbon footprint thing can get out of hand, and result in a lot of finger pointing. I just found out that California will now put a carbon footprint number on all vehicles next year. So my Dodge Ram 2500, which is now registered in CA, will have a very negative rating. I can only imagine the number of idiots that will judge us based on that number (or worse yet, key our paint job!), without taking into consideration our entire picture. Like hello, we haul our 24' house with it, we don't own it because we have ego issues or something!

    Finally, we are sending our best to George, hope he feels better soon. Try not to worry too much, he's got lotsa lives left.

  4. There will always be naysayers.

    Add me to the long list of people who appreciate volunteers. And the more of you that blog about what you do, the more of us will realize that there are alternate ways to volunteer.

  5. On a lighter note, during your Austin stay, check out "The Salt Lick" in
    Dripping Springs, just 20 minutes or so out of Austin.

    I recently came across your blog, am
    enjoying it very much and looking forward to your adventures. diana

  6. Thanks for all your words of support. Y'all are the best! I asked friends who have a very popular blog what they do about nasty comments and they said, "Leave them in and your community will rally around you." They were so right!

    I'm glad Sean decided to write about it anyway so we could hear your thoughts. Again, many thanks.

  7. Louis & Sean,
    As a longtime reader, I just want to say how much I appreciate you sharing the 'bad' as well as the good which goes with your involvement with the Red Cross. Goodonya for giving of your talents time and knowledge, don't let the idjits get you down, K?


  8. Sean & Louise,
    Another thing you do to help the Red Cross is give people like me, who are hoping to go FT or extended-part-time some day, an idea of a way to "give back" a little more while living on the road. I spend a lot of time volunteering for my religious organization right now, and would miss that. DH, meanwhile, is a family doctor, and I need to offer a really worthwhile "carrot" to entice him away from his daily quota of helping people. It seems to me that volunteering for the Red Cross could be in our future too!

    Thanks for your inspirational posts. And all my love to George, a look-alike for my Hidie. I hope she perks up again soon!


  9. Bryce Gaston aka Busted KnuckleJul 21, 2008, 9:24:00 AM

    Sean & Louise,
    Howdy from W. TN. As you already know I think what ya'll do is awesome! I would like to make a note to the negative poster
    "If ya ain't got noth'n nice to say, don't say noth'n at all cause it'll be deleted or you'll be flogged by us all!" BK.
    Now on to other things, as a hurricane or emergency responder for the state of TEXAS, and FEMA too we have received a "standby notice" from the state of Texas, that we may need to load up how many ever buses we have available with available drivers, supplies, & extra personel and head for Austin ourselves ASAP at any given time. They had thought that we might be deployed as early Sunday night, but so far we are still on "stand by" notice. Which in a way is good, our availabilty is very slim at the monent as our charter schedule is full until the end of July. Then as usual August is dead as can be. I don't mind August being dead though as it gives me time to catch up on maintenance and things around the shop/office, as well as being more available for the event of being needed for emergency work if needed. Keep up the good work, & maybe we'll see ya in TX. By we all hoe George gets better, even Kumho. (he hates to hear that any of his fellow four legged friends are down! LOL) BK

  10. Good luck for George. I've been in a similar situation with one of my cats (17 years old), who has been on fluids for a couple years now. I thought we were going to loose him a couple months ago but he is holding his own. We are thinking of you

  11. Local cuisine? The Olive Garden? :)

  12. First, I sure hope this post finds George improving,.. sending good wishes from me and Middy! (my cat)
    Your response about eating out makes so much sense to me now, thanks. I am not a full timer, but a week-long or weekend camper, putting it your frame of mind brings it home. And,.. for anyone that should criticize your life,..fuel vs. volunteering,.. well, gee,... I say ignore their silliness. A tip of my camping cap to you!

  13. As an American we are free to do as we please within the law. So drive on and enjoy the fruits of your labor.

    These same nay sayers will be the first to scream for aid if they are ever affected by a disaster. And would complain even louder if there were not enough volunteers.

    And the big picture view is you both are providing a ton of expensive brainpower at no charge to the Red Cross. Look at the cost if the organization had to hire temp staff to cover for your time.

    While I do not feel you ever need to justify your expenses or carbon load, it is interesting analysis.


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