In this second installment of hobbies shared by readers, I’d like to introduce you to Bob Spearman, fellow mystery writer and avid hobbyist. Bob likes to golf, beach-walk, play and collect guitars, make stained glass, and camp.
Whew. It makes me tired just writing that.
Instead of me asking Bob questions, he graciously provided me with some anecdotes about his hobbies, so I’ll share them below. He also provided photos, which are great fun. I think you’ll enjoy this.
Before we get to that, though, I want to tell you about a book Bob has coming out. I’ve read Bob’s other books and they’re very good. I’ve read an early version of the new book, Then She Was Dead, and I really enjoyed it.
Here’s a quick blurb:
Software genius, Tom Santos, wakes up in a hotel room next to a dead woman. He remembers nothing from the night before. In two hours, he is scheduled to give the product presentation of his life.
His performance might determine the success of his startup company, financial freedom for his family, and the award of a government contract valued at more than 3 billion dollars. What to do next? Run from the room or call the police. The moral dilemma haunts him.
Sinister international forces work to steal Tom’s new quantum-based security software. He becomes the prime suspect until other people start to die. And just when the police think they have solved the mystery, captured the killer, and closed the case, a twist will come that takes you back to the start.
Take it away, Bob!
Walking on the golf course keeps me healthy and gives me quiet time to think about story lines for writing. If you know a golfer, you know that most of them like to tell you about their game. If you make that mistake of a cordial comment, like, “How was your golf match?” You expect an answer like, “Okay.” Or “It was fun.”
But no, that never happens. Any true golfer will go into a detailed recap of how they almost made a certain putt, or they hit this huge drive down the middle, or they won the bet, or blah, blah, blah. The harsh reality for golfers is that few people want to hear about their golf game, so, I won’t dwell on this topic or how my handicap is dropping even as I get older, that’s for another story.
We live at the beach on an island. Even in the winter, I put on my headphones, select a good audio book, and walk. I’m currently listening to Outlander. Typically, I stroll four to five miles each day, ending with a few pictures of the sunset on the west shore of our island or a herd of deer on our golf course. Walking is less interesting than golf, so I should probably proceed to more entertaining topics before your audience falls asleep.
When I was twelve, my parents bought me a guitar and amplifier for Christmas. God bless their merry souls, we were a family of nine living in small house. You can imagine the ear-splitting squeals when I cranked the amp up and scraped a pick across the strings, all while my five brothers and one sister raced around the house playing with their toys. Ah, good times on Christmas morning.
Given a little time with a basic guitar instruction book, I taught myself to play a few chords, and with more time, a simple song or two. I discovered that I could listen to others playing on the record player and be able to play along. Now that I can play music, I hate the formal training process. I’ve purchased the guitar theory and music theory books and videos but can’t get passed the first lesson. I’d rather just play.
My first and only live performance was with a group of college buddies that joined together to play in a college talent show. Five thousand people attended. Talk about going from zero to warp speed. I suppose the stodgy professors judging the contest didn’t recognize the genius of our music because we didn’t win the event. However, to our joy, the college students in the audience gave us a standing ovation and that seemed to make the effort worth it.
My parents attended the event. Maybe they wanted to see if their ancient investment had paid any dividends. After our performance, I took my guitar and went into the audience to sit with my parents. My dad took the guitar and put it his lap and strummed the strings a few times. He looked at me and said, “I didn’t know you could play.”
I thought, “dah,” maybe all those years he had been using a good set of earplugs.
A few years later, married with two kids, a time came when I finally had enough money to consider a new guitar, a real, big-name, quality guitar. I told my wife that it was time. It would be my Christmas present: a beautiful sunburst Charvel electric guitar with a pearl pick guard and lipstick tube pickups. Insert Tim ‘Tooltime’ Taylor sound here. If you don’t know Tim, never mind, not important.
Committed to make this purchase, I strolled into a music store, looked up at a full wall of guitars. I fell in love immediately. This guitar stood out like a bright light on a dark night, sparkling, calling my name. With my resistance down, I bought it along with a complementary Fender amplifier big enough for playing in medium sized arenas just in case I was recruited to play in another talent show. My kids said that I played too loud. I told them they were too old. I’ve only played this guitar in the house but just in case the Stones or John Mellencamp need another guitar player, I’m ready.
Since that second Christmas guitar, I’ve purchased a limited edition Fender Stratocaster, a limited addition Epiphone (Gibson) Les Paul Custom, and four acoustic guitars. I consider each guitar a work of art; each produces a different sound. The guitars all hang from the walls of my office or sit on a guitar stand for easy access throughout my house.
I have augmented the guitars with harmonicas. With a neck yoke, you can play the guitar and the harmonica at the same time. Or I hand out a tambourine and harmonicas to my grandkids and let them play along.
I’ve got a couple of favorite songs memorized so I don’t require sheet music to play: “Little Pink Houses” by John Cougar Mellencamp, “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” by Tom Petty, and “Road House Blues” by the Doors. The harmonica sounds sweet with each one of those tunes so I can adlib to my heat’s content. Probably my favorite guitar player, my idol I should say, is or was Stevie Ray Vaughn. Unfortunately, the good, they die young.
Sometimes I play for my grandkids, they dance or play along, but my wife is my primary audience. Before retirement, some days I would come home from work and sing the happenings of the day to my wife. If bad things happened, I would use sad chords and happy chords for happy things. It was a better way of getting the hassles of the day off of my chest versus grabbing a beer and complaining half the night. Even though my singing is not up there with Elvis or Frank Sanatra, I think she appreciated my light-hearted approach to personal therapy.
Every now and then, when I least expect it, a jam session magically appears by happenstance. I’ve enjoyed those at family gatherings, guitar stores, and campfires. I love those spontaneous occasions.
My most recent acquisition is a new type of amplifier that connects via Bluetooth and an application on my iPhone. With this device, one can assign the beat, play a few chords, and then the amp will provide a background band with drums, bass, and other appropriate instruments allowing me to play lead and compose my own songs. The amp will also generate different background tracks for different genres of music like a blues track or a rock track. The amp has about a million features for adjustment of sounds and music creation. I’m using it like most people use their brains, at 10% or less.
In the late 1970’s, I decided I wanted to add stained glass windows to our new house. As you may know, stained glass windows are terribly expensive. I quickly discovered why. Besides the art and craft skills required, the work is time consuming and the glass, the quality hand-blown glass is expensive.
Being an Electrical Engineer, I knew the basics of soldering for electronics and thought, ‘how hard can it be.’ I went to a small shop in Atlanta and picked up some supplies. I soon learned to cut glass fit it into lead channels and created some small, boring pieces, but nothing worthy of mounting in the windows of our house.
I set up a shop in our garage and worked to perfect my techniques. About six months later, I invested in the small glass shop with the original owner and another fellow. We expanded, bought some serious supplies of stained glass and started teaching others the craft. We made a very little bit of money, enough to fund our stained glass addiction and keep the shop open. As I taught others, I learned more about different types of glass and how to work with soldering techniques and glass structure.
In the process, I also learned how to work with etched glass; the type you might find in restaurant windows or as standalone art. We started a class in that art as well. Etched glass, the best etched glass art, is performed with a thick piece of clear glass and a sand blasting machine. The work is strenuous, hot, and can be dangerous due to the potential of breathing in microscopic particles of sand and glass.
Soon, people were purchasing my work for their homes. I joined the Stained Glass Art Guild in Atlanta and met some really famous artists in this field who lived in the Atlanta area. These people had studied world-wide with Monks, in old European churches, and under masters who had learned the art with techniques passed down through centuries of the art. It was truly a unique group of people, or I should say artists.
As I learned more about these people, I felt like a fraud, or a pretender for even being at these meetings, but I was learning. The greatest thrill came at a guild meeting, where they had asked me to show a piece that I had done using a copper foil technique to join the glass. Most people use an H-shaped lead strip to join the glass with solder at the joints. Copper foil requires a strip of copper to be wrapped around each piece of glass and a bead of solder left in a rounded bead. The glass cutting tolerance is much more significant and the solder technique is difficult. Hot solder flows like water so one must have a certain touch.
One of the masters told me that he really admired the work and the technique with the copper foil. He then asked for advice on how to accomplish a few of the details. For the first time with that group, I felt somewhat confirmed.
In my latest works, I’ve gone for the art more than just building a window to a pattern. Picking the right colors that blend properly, using jewels or other items inlaid into the window is also fun.
We have most of the special tools now: a diamond tipped router, carbide glass cutters, lead stretchers, copper foil tools, soldering irons with rheostats for temperature control, pliers to help snap difficult hard glass, patina solutions, and more.
Most people don’t appreciate the amount of work, the hours, or the material cost for a quality window. The process is probably akin to writing; unless you have gone through the process to create a novel or a stained glass window, you might not appreciate the effort required to produce a quality piece.
I taught my wife how to do the work and she has become quite handy. Now some, 40 years later, she has probably created more pieces than I have. We have had stained glass in all of our homes since then and we often make a window for a friend or someone in the family. It’s a hobby. Making a living at this art is ‘no place for the weary kind.’
I’m an Eagle Scout from a family that loved camping. I’ve camped outdoors with only a tarp over my head, tents, pop-up campers, and now we have a thirty-five foot 5th Wheel. Most people tend to go larger over time. Especially, if you go camping for two years and your camper becomes your home.
My wife and I got married in the late ‘70’s. As a young engineer, I traveled with the Federal Aviation Administration installing air traffic control towers. I was on the road 100%. After two weeks of leaving my young bride in a hotel room all day, we decided to change the situation and bought a 28-foot camper.
We were the rare, pink-cheeked, young couple at campgrounds inhabited primarily by retirees as we traveled around the southeast. For almost a year, we lived the RV life. We learned a lot about the art of finding a campsite and how to set up camp with sewer hoses, water hoses, LP gas, etc. One day, we discovery that our first child would be born in a few months and that put an end to our blissful life on the road.
Later in life, with two kids, we went camping in tents. Hiking, cooking outdoors, cooking under the coals of a campfire, and telling ghost stories are all good memories, at least for me. I tried to teach my kids about nature and how to survive in the woods with the simple things.
In 2018, when I decided to retire from engineering, my wife and I worked on the idea of a dream to travel the United States and see the wonders offered in this great land. We sold our house, put many of our belongings in a storage facility, bought a 5th Wheel and hit the road.
Except it wasn’t quite that simple. If you are not familiar, a 5th Wheel trailer requires a large truck to pull it. 5th Wheels are the very large trailers you likely see on the highways that connect in the bed of the truck, not on a trailer hitch.
With our first trailer, we found out quickly that a car will not pull a large trailer up a mountain. We had to buy a vehicle capable at that time. So, this time, I was going to start out correctly, I was going to make sure we had the beef to pull us around the country. We bought an F250 Ford diesel pickup, a beast with enough power to pull two of what we were buying.
Actually, we were going to purchase a pull behind trailer, one like the one that we had lived in as newly-weds. We had convinced ourselves that the huge 5th Wheels we had seen on the Interstates were just too big. We had searched the camping trailer lots in our area for over a year and had decided on one particular pull-behind trailer. We went to purchase it, I was in the final negotiations, my wife was wandering the trailer lot, and she calls to me, “Wait a minute. I think I’ve changed my mind.” She was beaming and standing in the doorway of what would become our 5th Wheel trailer.
Now, with the change of plans, I had to get a hitch installed in the bed of my brand new truck. I felt like I was taking my baby to surgery. It was painful but necessary. We got this fancy super glide hitch that slides back and forth as you turn so the trailer will not attack the rear cab of the truck. This issue is quite prevalent, and we meant to avoid it.
There is one little problem with connecting and disconnecting the trailer to this fancy hitch; you must have the trailer at just the right height, with just the right amount of pressure on the hitch or it will not disconnect. This stubborn hitch can be quite inconvenient at a campsite late at night. But we learned, as a team to solve the problem; me in the truck putting forward and then backward pressure on the hitch, my wife standing on a small stool pulling on the hitch release until she shouts out, “Got it.” Sounds a little more dangerous than it really is, or what we thought it was.
Before we sold our house, we took our first trial-run camping trip to Myrtle Beach State Park. Blissfully uninformed, we arrive at our site at dusk, no flashlight, little training, but with a desire to start our days on the road. There was only one site left and it was difficult to back the trailer into the narrow space.
Many campgrounds are like this one. Small one-lane roads, trees, cars, other campers, and I had over 45 feet of truck and trailer to maneuver. If you watch the movie RV with Robin Williams, you will see that other campers are typically helpful in the process of other campers as they move in, set up, or depart.
On the second approach to turn into our site, we quickly drew a crowd of well-intended gawkers, fatherly figures, a swirling batch of kids, and quasi-experienced campers with a multitude of suggestions. All of them had a dog or two running around in the mix.
The sun was down and darkness engulfed the wooded campground. Other campers moved their cars, their picnic tables, and stood watch over large pine trees that I couldn’t move even with my big diesel truck. Finally, we got the trailer in the site; now for the hitch.
The hitch was persistent in its desire to stay attached to the truck. When we tried to lift it, we had no electricity. One helpful man discovered that the state park power box intended for our trailer had blown a circuit. The previous camper had melted the 50-amp circuit and that’s no easy task. Twenty minutes later a State Park Ranger arrived. An hour later, he had the entire power box replaced. We continued.
Eventually, successfully disconnected, and our utilities partially connected for the night, we were applauded by the large crowd. They went back to their campfires, and we went to our trailer. After two nights, it was time to go home, a week of rain was predicted and we didn’t see that as fun.
As we started to pull out, we noticed the overhanging tree limb. It was a stiff Live Oak, about 8 inches in, and was not moveable. To stir the pot, my wife and I had not perfected all of our signals for “Stop Idiot,” “More to the left,” or any of those things required to maneuver in spaces too small. My shy wife did not yell in time to keep me from getting into a bind almost under the oak limb. If I went forward, there was a chance of brushing the tree limb. If I went backward, I would scrap the front of the truck on a pine tree. We went forward.
As I got out to see the damage, many of the people in the peanut gallery had ceased to speak; most were looking at nothing on ground, kicking the sand around. That’s when the Ranger said, “I should have shut down the one way road and helped you do out that way.” He wanted to pull the words back into his mouth after he saw my look. I replied, “That would have been a good idea about twenty minutes ago.” An uncomfortable silence wafted through the oak trees. An elderly camper patted me on the back and went to the toilet house next door.
The trailer had sustained a rip on the roof about 24 inches long. With nothing to be done but get it fixed before the rains hit, we hauled it back to the dealer. The maintenance man inspected the scar, scratched his scruffy beard, and said, “Can’t patch that, you’ll need a new roof.”
5th Wheels have fabric roofs coated with a beige tar like material. I was disturbed to find out that if you have a significant tear on an edge, the entire roof must be replaced. Four thousand dollars later, I called the insurance company. The lady said, “So, you bought it on Wednesday and you are filing this claim on Saturday?” I asked if there was a better day to file the claim.
The insurance company paid the claim, the trailer was repaired, we sold our house, and hit the trail. We went down to Florida to visit our kids. Then we headed west straight up through Georgia, Tennessee, Iowa, South Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Oregon, California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and eventually back to South Carolina.
This country is blessed with beautiful landscapes that are not located along the Interstates or near towns with four-star resorts. This country is best viewed with a camper on the back of your truck. You must get away from the bright lights, and take the roads less traveled. Many of these roads are well-maintained four lane highways with no traffic.
Yellowstone, Carlsbad, the rocky coast of Oregon, the western wilderness of Montana, Lake Tahoe, the red rocks of Utah, the redwood forest of northern California just to name a few. Some of the locations that I didn’t mention don’t jump out at you. The people who live in some remote ranches and small towns are key. Meeting the people will set you back to contemplate how much we are alike but yet how different we live.
When camping, if you find a town with a Dollar General store, you know that supplies are available and the town might also have cell coverage. If a town has a Walmart, well that’s just the ‘bees-knees.’ You learn to appreciate the little things and how some people live in our country without the convenience of everything you want at the corner store. But in this lonely land, the beauty abounds.
When camping off the beaten path, you will learn about which conversion plug is required to get electricity if it’s available. You learn about where to get water, how much to store in your camper, and you also learn how to get reservations at the next stop. It’s not easy to plot out two months of camping sights. Camping has become so popular, especially near our national parks, that one must reserve a site six months, or sometimes a year in advance.
We did succeed in plotting our way but only with much effort and a large calendar to mark down our days and locations. We also kept a Road Map Atlas with us because, as I said, sometimes we had no cell coverage to get a GPS electronic map.
We found our way back to South Carolina and Edisto Beach campground where you can hear the ocean roar from your camper. We landed at this little paradise just as Covid-19 sunk it claws in our carefree world. Suddenly, campgrounds began to shut down. Noting was available and you have to be somewhere.
We had been looking at the possibility of buying a home at Edisto and Covid cinched the deal. After almost two years on the road, changing locations every three to six days, we were forced to settle down. Our trailer is parked and waiting for our next adventure.
If you are interested in pictures of some of the beautiful locations along our trail, please go to my Face Book page and look at pictures and comments from August 2018 through May 2020. You might also have fun reading a short story about our escape from a grizzly bear in Montana on Booksie.com. https://www.booksie.com/portfolio-view/bob-spearman-269105/page-1
Thanks so much for being my guest this week, Bob. This has been fascinating and I love all the photos.
Until next time,