Update, Friday April 15, 2022

The new Travel Insider World Headquarters

Good morning

It is definitely time to give you an update on the changes going on at my end of these emails.  This is a personal update, not a normal newsletter.

Last time I wrote, I advised of my pending move to Texas.  I have now relocated, but what a terrible series of experiences that proved to be.  I will write about one part of this next week – the tricks and traps of working with car transporter companies.  The following week, I’ll try to have some sensible distillation of what I still don’t understand at all, the vastly greater orchestrated deceptions involved in moving personal effects with a trucking company.  It seems to be a widespread problem and calls for some type of similarly coordinated fight-back.  The quick summary is that, notwithstanding a binding quote, my final moving cost currently is likely to be 50% higher ($7,000 more) than this “binding” quote and might yet go higher still – I half anticipate a second series of deceptions and deceits when eventually receiving everything.  One’s ability to negotiate and complain is totally missing when your stuff has been loaded onto a truck, you’re due to leave the area yourself, and you’re given the choice of pay up or unload the stuff again, and is even more constrained when your possessions are being literally held for ransom at the end of the process.

My car shipping problems, introduced to you in the last newsletter, continued unabated.  The second company I contracted turned out to be another “bait and switch” operator; meantime, each day saw another day pass bringing me closer to the day I would be moving.  My options for finding affordable car transportation were narrowing.

A solution came from a predictable source – you!  A reader wrote in and recommended a company he had used.  The difference between my interactions with them and the other two companies was immediately apparent, and while the cost was seemingly higher, it was plain the reality of the low quotes is that they don’t exist.  I happily agreed to pay the higher amount, and things worked reasonably well, although it took six extra days for the car to arrive.  On the other hand, its journey was upgraded from an open transporter to a closed transporter for free, and to compensate for the delay in arrival (which wasn’t too bothersome) the transporter delivered it to my door rather than requiring me to meet them at a stop on the I-10 freeway almost 70 miles away.

The furniture and belongings move however proved to be beyond nightmarish, and I fear for the next decade I’ll be discovering things I failed to pack and bring with me.  It was however largely my own fault that I was not better prepared for “moving day” – it took way longer to pack than I expected and not all was done prior to deadline.  This problem was greatly exacerbated by an all-too-familiar problem – I am not as young as I once was.  My back was almost destroyed by the stress of moving almost 180 cartons, most ridiculously heavy, and most either up or down stairs, and is still troubling me two weeks later.

It was a terrible confused panic of a day – after a mere four hours of sleep – with way too much of my stuff not yet properly packed (mea culpa).  Worse, everytime I turned, the “helpful” movers advised of yet another hidden extra cost (a $300 cash bribe – aka “tip” supposed saved me greatly from still further extortions).  At the end of which I had to drive until 1am to get to the first stop on my 2500 mile journey to Texas.  All appropriate experiences for 1 April – April Fool’s Day – with me clearly being the fool.

However, with each passing mile and Seattle fading into the distance and past, things calmed down, and I enjoyed most of the drive.  My semi-faithful Land Rover gave perhaps one last great gasp of goodness and admirably took me, my daughter and our dog down to Texas without stumbling.  The first day – actually evening – followed on from a terribly stressful two days (and very little sleep) of final-rush packing, and had us driving in the dark and pouring rain down to Eugene OR, a very gloomy and difficult drive, not a good omen.

But after a quick night in a Motel 6, the next day was bright, sunny and lovely, and we enjoyed a beautiful drive through south-east Oregon and a bit of California (with me struggling not to over-think the obvious question – why am I leaving such extraordinary natural beauty behind), and on to Reno, NV.  We occasionally had snow by the roadside, but none on the road itself.  In Reno we stayed in an Airbnb for the night.  Our accommodation was, well, a “quirky” Airbnb, but for one night, its quirks were not at all bothersome.

The next day was also pleasant, and had us continuing on to Las Vegas.  These two days had quite a lot of regular highway driving, and Anna got to practice her overtaking skills.  The fact I’m writing this to you now shows that she never seriously misjudged the distances!

We arrived at a lovely Airbnb just a few blocks walk from the Sahara end of the strip.  Anna and I enjoyed the monorail ride to the MGM end of the strip and strolled back towards the Sahara, with our plan being to enjoy some of the Gordon Ramsay fish and chips at the LINC center.  To our astonishment the restaurant closed at 7pm, and we arrived somewhat after.  Although the LINC outdoor “mall” area was crowded with people and all other restaurants nearby were full, often with lines waiting, the fish and chip shop had already shut, in the finest British tradition of seldom being open when people actually want to eat (a coomon sign on English restaurants – “closed for lunch”).  A huge frozen drink in a strange shaped container put a smile back on my face, and we found other food instead.

The fourth day had us driving to just out of Tucson – actually, further out than I’d thought, in the middle of nowhere, in farmland countryside, some miles from the I-10 freeway.  Another “quirky” Airbnb, but a quick overnight stop, with food provided by a Dickies BBQ restaurant at the freeway exit and an interesting conversation with a trucker who says he is earning $2800 a week at present, ended the day well.

Day five saw us finally entering Texas and continuing our eastwards odyssey on I-10, stopping at Fort Stockton, a small town that runs linearly along the I-10 corridor for a few miles, staying at another Motel 6.  I blew the fuses in my first room (due to a broken light fixture), the second room had an a/c unit so loud that it was annoying in Anna’s room, two rooms away, but when I asked for a third change of room, the receptionist blatantly lied and pretended there were no more spare rooms (which I subsequently ascertained to be ludicrously untrue) so I decided I preferred the dark room to the impossibly loud room.

Which brings us to day six, Wednesday of last week.  Most of the day was spent continuing on I-10, with posted speed limits going as high as 80 mph and of course, traffic usually moving considerably faster.  Yay for that!  Mid-afternoon, we turned south and finally arrived at our destination.  To my great relief the dog cooperated with a minimum of complaint and no accidents, as did the daughter, too.  Best of all, we had no embarrassing encounters with law enforcement en route.

I’d noticed an amazing thing for the past couple of days of the journey – the Land Rover was showing extraordinarily good fuel consumption – 21, even 22 mpg (compared to a normal 17 or so) and ascertained it was due to very strong tail winds.  Those came to an end on the last day of driving, and the side winds, even head winds, dropped the fuel consumption to 15 mpg.  Happily though, although we’d encountered gas stations charging up to $5.999 a gallon in California, Texas prices dropped below $4/gallon and at times were barely over $3.50.

At one point on the journey, I stopped to fill the nearly empty tank with gas (22 gallon capacity) but couldn’t.  There was a $100 spend limit on the pumps, and that bought me only about 18 gallons.

After providing splendid service which I’d been monitoring anxiously, towards the end of our 2500 mile journey the Land Rover developed a noise that sounds like a wheel bearing (if I’m lucky) and a transmission issue (if I’m not).  With the nearest Land Rover repair shop some 75 miles away in west Houston, the need to consider alternatives is becoming still more pressing than before.

I’ll be “enjoying” a daily commute of 70 miles roundtrip, and so find myself again thinking of a battery-electric vehicle – yes, even a Tesla.  But with Teslas having uncertain lead times, sometimes stretching into 2023, and the LR definitely not going to last that long, I’m wondering about a Kia EV6.  It has over 300 miles range, which is enough for a roundtrip to most of the places I’m likely to be driving in the area, charges faster than a Tesla, and the 3.5c a mile for electricity compared to, well, anything from 12c to 24c a mile for gas, coupled with lower other maintenance costs, is a very compelling proposition.  For now, I’m doing nothing, while desperately trying “not to hear” the ever-louder noises the Land Rover is but shouldn’t be making!

A curious note about the journey.  You may recall the strange affinity between me and owls.  Ever since I met one in Edinburgh, some years back, they’ve been prominently around me in Seattle, although I’d never noticed them before.  Each night of the journey, at all the varied different stops, even in the heart of Vegas and Reno, the night was filled with loud owl calls, as has been the case here in Texas too.  I find that rather reassuring in some strange way.

I’ve been here for just over a week, staying in an Airbnb.  So far I’ve bought a beautiful building (the right hand half of the “Rice Annex”, pictured at the top) in the heart of downtown, opposite the city park, have one radio station purchase going through the extremely labyrinthine FCC approval process, another one about to be submitted, and now a surprise third one also pending submission.  I’ve also signed up for a house, but won’t get possession of it for perhaps another month, maybe six weeks, because it is undergoing remodeling work at present, including adding a reasonably soundproofed studio and adjoining office so I can work from home even when broadcasting (the picture shows one of the recording studios in the radio station building – automation and digitization has made them very much smaller and simpler than they used to be).

A sidebar comment on the FCC approval process.  There’s something enormously wrong with our government processes and the “free market” that supposedly exists when the only way for a radio station to be bought/sold in an otherwise straightforward transaction is via a lengthy series of paperwork submissions to the FCC.  Even though the outcome is almost guaranteed, all of the paperwork needs to be prepared by an attorney who specializes in FCC filings.  As further proof of the complexity of the process, and the lurking traps awaiting the ill-advised, my attorney is charging $525/hour for filling out and filing the forms (some other attorneys charge considerably more).  I fear it will prove to be the best part of a ten hour process on each occasion.

Isn’t it a colossal failing and overreach of government when doing a simple act that should be of little or no interest to the government at all requires over $5,000 in legal assistance (to say nothing of months of process/delay to complete)?  I’m also incurring more thousands of dollars with extra attorney and “broadcast engineer” research to show that I’m not dominating the “local market” (a phrase which, while pivotal to the proving, seems nowhere clearly defined), and then will incur thousands more dollars in similar research to get FCC permission to move one of the transmitting towers just a few miles from one rural location to another (ie consolidating two transmitter towers to one).  As extra icing on the cake, that process involves both the FCC and the FAA.

(To be fair, some elements of radio and television broadcasting do need regulation and control to prevent overlapping stations interfering with each other on similar frequencies, etc, and while the FCC oversight is onerous, it is a lot less pervasive than it used to be.)

Some people asked how it is that I seek donations to help my Travel Insider work but now seem to be spending profligately as if money were no object.  That is a fair question.

I am an economic refugee.  I didn’t want to move to Texas, per se.  I was forced to.  I had to move from Seattle and shift to an area with lower housing costs so I could cash in the equity in my house and get it to work for me, instead of penalizing me each year with skyrocketing land taxes.  I looked at many other locations, and the only reason I chose Texas was because of the quality of business opportunity there.

This entire change is being funded by the twin factors of first the extraordinary run-up in property prices in the Seattle area giving me extra equity in that house, and house prices in the Bay City and El Campo areas that are about six times lower than in Seattle (I’m paying a relatively high, by local standards, $120 per square foot for the house I’m buying here, my former house is now valued at $768 per square foot.)

The net result is I’m here – although, even after cashing in my home equity, have ended up owing more than I did in Washington!  But the money is now not being owed for the simple necessity of having a roof over my head, but instead will be used to operate income producing businesses (radio stations).  Those are all good changes.

I’m not necessarily advocating a move from wherever you are to Texas (although it is expected to be the fastest growing state through at least 2030) but I will definitely say that if you’re like I was – stuck in an “asset rich but income poor” scenario, do like I did, and move to a place with cheaper property and use the freed up home equity the best way that works for you.  And, if you move to the Bay City/El Campo part of the world, do let me know!

It is 37 years since I last moved to a place where I knew no-one upon arrival; although in this case, again, you have helped me enormously.  A long time reader, generous supporter, and regular travel companion lives nearby, as do other readers too, and that has immensely helped me settle into the area.  If I can do the same for you, it would be a pleasure.

Overall, while it has been the biggest change in my life, ever, and while the future is still far from certain, I can say I feel happier and more positive about everything than I have at any time in the last perhaps 20 years.  My only regret is I didn’t “take charge” of my life sooner and make these changes earlier, and I also wish that my long deceased father, formerly a leading light in the radio field in New Zealand, could see his son belatedly and hopefully following in his footsteps.

Next Friday I’m flying to Vegas for the annual National Association of Broadcasters convention.  But I hope to have time before heading that way to send you a newsletter, and if you’re feeling starved for commentary, please remember that I’m continuing to post occasional tweets through the Twitter Travel Insider account.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels






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