Friday, June 30, 2023

The Cost of Things

One of the questions I used to get regularly is, "Wow, you own a game store? You must get to take home all the cool games." One of the variables in Dave Wallace's game store calculations included take homes. It was kind of lumped in with shoplifting. It was also something I considered to be unacceptable, being a numbers guy. I buy my games at the wholesale price plus tax. For me, it has more value if I earned it and I tend not to buy games to just see what's in the box. Speaking of value, I have a confession to make.

I think my games are too expensive. I buy them at wholesale, which is usually about 45% off plus tax, and that feels right to me as to their value. This is not to say hobby games are a bad value, only that my personal feeling of value stopped at around the year 2004. That happens to be the year I opened my store. A current $50 D&D book in 2004 dollars was about $30, roughly my wholesale cost. They're about to go up to $70, which is completely nuts to me. So wholesale feels right. Wholesale in 2024 might even feel too high.

I spent a lot of years since 2004 being pretty poor, where playing hobby games, bought at wholesale, was my sole interest.  When I finally had some money, which took about seven years of struggle, I woke up to a world that had changed; a very expensive world that was only getting more expensive. My personal income recently reached where I was in 2004, adjusted for inflation. 

However, my perception of prices is still stuck back in 2004. So I feel like a Rip Van Winkle figure, waking up to a changed world, surprised that people spend money like they do, only they spend it with me. I am grateful, but regularly mystified, despite having extravagances of my own. I can't get enough $500 Lord of the Rings collectors boxes; they fly off the shelf. Mystifying.

One of the joys of living part time in Mexico, assuming we continue to return, which is in doubt, is the prices. If I don't move around, with Mexico's $5/gallon gas with a gas guzzling truck, it's really inexpensive. I am back in 2004 when it comes to eating out, grocery shopping or getting work done on my truck. My benchmark is about $7 per person for lunch, which is living pretty high on the hog in Mexico. Back home in the San Francisco Bay Area, it's probably twice that. I am sure this is a major appeal to retirees, able to experience an economic time warp back to the olden times of easier living. It wasn't really easier, it's just how our brains process change.

There's a similar thing with vehicles, in which at a certain point in your life, certain safety features are viewed as essential and anything more is superfluous. If you're really old, maybe it's seatbelts. If you're a young Boomer, it might include air bags. Gen-X might insist on traction control and ABS. Millennials might require emergency brake assist and a suite of cameras. There is a point though at which everything that came after your personal safety standard is superfluous. My personal benchmark is around 1996, something I think a lot of as a car guy, daydreaming about an older affordable vehicle to take on some adventure. Safety features after 1996 are "nice to have." My point is I think we have points in our lives where there's a set standard of value and it pretty much stays put.

So $70 D&D books are completely nuts to me, as you might imagine. It's also nuts that I'll likely continue to sell them well at that price. Not everyone has my perception of money and value. I still want them for myself, and I still worry about my customers being left behind, like how I feel I'm mentally back in the venerable year of twenty ought four.

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

How Do You Stay Dynamic?

When you first open a retail store, you are a dynamo. You are a machine that turns energy into retail sales. You take chances, you make big mistakes and have big gains, and you can be there to file away the rough edges on crude processes, or put on a dog and pony show to sell that last box of trading cards. It's about you, your decisions, your skill, your money put into the right places, with the right support behind it, with unlimited hours as your time has no value. As you grow, this changes. It must change.

Your successes are settled, product categories on autopilot, events that fire without a hitch. You need these known variables to be set to make room in your brain for new things, but it also means these areas lose dynamism. There are over 20 Magic the Gathering formats and you probably don't want to think too hard about it when you know the three that work in your area.

You know your pain points. Perhaps you don't sell Yugioh anymore because it crushes staff morale, or you know if you sell pop culture wallets, criminals will target you. You know what works, you know what doesn't work. Every good decision is a milepost for success, but it is also limiting. It cements your mind while also giving competitors a wedge. You also learn to strike a work-life balance that takes your unlimited, dynamic energy and caps it, so it's sustainable. Your gushing, wild wellspring of energy is now a capped off oil derrick of energy. So predictable and steady.

Your capital, once used to buy product and precisely what you need to keep your operation going, begins to diffuse into other things. At one time my store had a pinball machine and a van that was more billboard than needed vehicle. Buying art for the walls became a thing I just did when I felt like it. I'm driving the company truck right now with the company paying the insurance. Your money can get distracted over time, not focused on return on investment. As you become successful, business cases get stretched thin as you justify why you need the latest iPhone or gadget. 

How do you fix all this? 

Hire Dynamic People. The best people to help you stay dynamic are people from within your organization, with their own dynamo of energy. They understand the core values of the business. If they push back against one of your decisions based on these core values, you know you're in good shape. They know the goals of the business. They are usually eager to seek out new products, new projects, new hires to do great things in the name of this mission. Hiring from within ensures values are maintained and they understand the economic constraints of the business. 

Retail is damn slow, and many dynamic outsiders want to do everything, right now. They want to make a mark on the world, rather than finger paint in retail. I once hired an outside manager who spent an alarming amount of money, very quickly, on amazing projects. I kept that going for as long as I could, but there was a mismatch that couldn't last. They imploded before we had to have that discussion, but honestly, I would have gone into debt for that energy.

I am the buyer for my business, but I'm also 55 years old. Do you think I'm up on the latest anime or hot pop culture topics? That's an area where I assign buyers under me to handle accounts I have no business working with. It doesn't take a lot of time to have another employee handle a few accounts that get bought from once a quarter.

Don't forget the larger you build your organization, the less efficient it becomes as you inevitably hire less useful people. I can see it on any given afternoon, looking at our cameras remotely. You can't hire your way into a dynamic environment, it's painstakingly built with competent staff and excellent managers.

Audit Yourself. Think of how you would view your business if you were going to sell it. You would take the usual EBITDA calculation (earnings before income, taxes, depreciation and amortization) and subtract all the nonsense and owner compensation above market rate. What would your business look like if you were lean? Maybe know your nonsense number. 

There's certainly nothing wrong with paying yourself well or having your cell phone covered by the business, but there are likely some dodgy things you might want to pull back on that are starving your business of cash. It's best to do something like this before your business takes a downturn. Even if you don't change anything, you know where the fat lies (you are probably a producer of fat). 

Have a Through Line. If you don't have goals for your business, it's unlikely you'll suddenly achieve one. Maybe you want additional product lines. Who doesn't? Maybe you dream of opening a second or third location. Maybe you want to expand in some fashion. Maybe you want to hire a marketing-online sales person (I do). All of these goals are risky, prone to kill your business, but necessary in keeping you dynamic. I'm at the Maui Beach House stage, where I need a project to keep me from jeopardizing the business while it grows organically. I would like to say I'm done, that my business is fine like it is until I retire, but we'll be out of retail space in a couple years and wondering what to do next. I better be ready.

Monday, June 26, 2023

I Can't Make You Like Artillery

There is a tension.

Do you keep a box of models nobody buys because you want to have a complete set, or do you let the customers, community, and publisher know that the game is not giving that box its due by dropping it? Maybe the box is not cool. Maybe the rules don't support it. Maybe it's so expensive it gets bought online at a discount. Inventory metrics lets me say, "Don't care; not my problem."

I bring this up because of a box of unloved artillery in my store and my indecision on what to do with it.

This artillery problem applies to everything in your store really, but in this case let's look at war game models. We often hit a wall where the coherency of the line brushes up against what people actually want to buy. I used to play Astra Militarum, otherwise known as men. I really liked my basilisk artillery pieces and I would regularly field three of the giant models. I mean, I wouldn't win with them, because 40K doesn't reward artillery, but they were cool. 

On the other hand, I played Flames of War and used a special US commander who would drive around the battlefield in his Jeep and spot for artillery. That was his special background ability, and because Flames of War is more historically accurate, artillery was a winning strategy. I could talk about artillery until I'm blue in the face, but customers aren't going to buy it, if the rules say artillery sucks.

So do you keep the dusty box of artillery that nobody wants or do you follow your inventory reports that say get rid of it?

I'm here to say, there is no wrong answer. You may feel it is your responsibility to represent. You may also feel, after decades of dusting boxes of artillery, that this is not your fight. Someone in a board room had a discussion with the game designers and decided artillery is not what their game is about; it's about close quarters combat, and the reality of artillery would radically change the game in an undesirable way. So we have artillery in kind of a superficial way, but artillery sucks (until the optional special rulebook, when it doesn't for a little while, because we need to move those dusty boxes of artillery!).

You could argue that there is a product pyramid, product coherency. I'm sure the publisher would argue that for you. We are inundated with far too much product of all sorts, some of which, like stretch goals are really "splash" items, meant to be bought up quickly and never re-ordered again. We often miss the splash cue and find ourselves flailing in the water, rather than jumping out after the initial splash. Game store owners are sad when they're out of product, while publishers often consider it a success. We are wired to make this mistake.

There are some very brave, hard working, lovers of the community, former game store owners where this is the case. There are store owners who are passionate about games far more than about running their business. It's why game stores are such wondrous places, at least for a while. Going down with the ship is noble, but to quote Patton, "No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country." Harsh, but true.

So I guess I'm here to say you can be ruthless, perhaps you need permission from a random outside person to be ruthless. Here I am! If artillery is there to fill a hole and nobody is buying it, don't feel obligated to keep artillery on your shelf. Or dead expansions, or stretch goals, or airbrush paint when nobody uses an airbrush. Or anything that isn't performing. Let the other poor dumb bastard carry it while you achieve financial victory. 

Of course, you might consider this loyalty to the box, the line, the community, a form of integrity. You have to draw the line, I suppose.

Saturday, June 24, 2023

Why I Love Mexico

I should write two posts like this, one where I'm not fluent in Spanish (this post) and the other where I am. That's because the people in Mexico are incredibly friendly, helpful, outgoing, and proud of their country. I get that in translation, as my buddy on this trip tends to start up conversations with just about everyone. Asking a shop girl a simple "como estas?" (How are you doing?) will elicit a big smile and a conversation. Nobody asks about her day, apparently. So here's my pre fluency (wide eyed) take on why I love Mexico:

The People. Mexico is family oriented, rather than focused on the individual. I'm a bit envious as I see families strolling in the park, kids riding their bikes outside without anyone calling the police, and traditional food and culture being such a strong part of their lives. People take care of their families and have a sense of responsibility for their communities. Homelessness on the streets isn't completely absent, but it's notable when you see someone. The divorce rate is half what it is in the US (but climbing fast). It's not unusual to have a town where beautiful murals line the back streets, whereas in the US it would be a target for graffiti or someone would complain a mural offends them. Mexico has shared community values that are lacking in the US. 

Murals in El Rosario

It's not unusual to have people stop to try to help you on the side of the road, or for a third party to jump in and try to translate for you, if you're having a problem (or just speak Spanish poorly). We had our cab driver direct us to a family members laundromat, when we were looking for one, and the auto parts store owner directed us to a reputable mechanic to install my truck lights. We are stronger when we work together and that's well understood.

We haven't had any instances of crime or seen anything related to cartel violence.

Flashing lights are considered a safety feature in Mexico.
Got cheap Chinese LED lights front and back for $30 and paid $40 for the installation

Mexico is a Bit Rough. Traveling Mexico feels like an adventure. Mexico is a bit rough when it comes to streets, buildings, and terrain. Mexico is a geographic basket case, with mountainous terrain, few navigable rivers, jungle, desert and stifling coastal cities. Half the population lives in a narrow band of the Central Highlands (our destination, where we are now). This is also where you'll find the most culture, including ancient culture, because that narrow band has always been the place to be.

Building roads and infrastructure is very difficult and tends to only benefit a small number of people. This has led to a degree of isolation that had the benefit of preserving local culture. Towns take pride in their thing, whatever it may be. There is no mega highway to homogenize cities and towns. In fact, it's shocking how major cities are often linked with incredibly rough, two lane "highways" through the wilderness. Mexico is about being thankful there is a road there at all!

Sand dunes drift over the highway outside Puerto Penasco

Welcome to Your Childhood. Mexico reminds me of my childhood and it hits those nostalgic notes hard. The cities remind me of my childhood in Pennsylvania in the 70's, with its legacy architecture and crumbling infrastructure. Mexico is inherently less safe, lacking the urban re-design towards safety and clarity we've seen in the last forty years in the US. There are no ADA requirements. Mexico is like riding a bike for the first time with the training wheels off.  There is a slight tang of danger, like how I grew up with playgrounds made of cement.

The rural areas remind me of my childhood in Southern California, when agriculture stood alongside growing suburbia. California was briefly part of Mexico and it remains uncannily similar, even thousands of miles to the south. The bigger cities have mall culture, with bustling shops that remind me of growing up in the 80's, including some of the stores that existed back then that are mostly gone now: Thrifty, Sears, Radio Shack, and even Blockbuster. is a joke. Kids play in the street and people drive defensively, rather than being mindless cogs in a well oiled road system where all the decisions have been made for you.

The Food. When we're out exploring, we can generally eat whatever we want and lose weight. The food variety is fantastic and varies by region. The food quality is generally higher without the additives and preservatives we get in our food at home. If you want to eat a mystery meat hamburger at a food stand, the quality may suffer a bit. We've noticed some chronic health issues subside, blamed on wheat for the most part. 

The portions are more reasonable and there's less of a focus on carbs. Carbs are optional in Mexico, they're on you. Mexico has a serious obesity problem, I surmise for the same reason the United States does; it's often easier to eat poorly and cheaply when you're poor. The markets are full of junk food, alongside traditional healthy food, often sold by weight. Imagine buying one stick of celery for the soup tonight, purchased by the kilo. Next to it might be an inexpensive bright pink pack of cookies with warnings for excessive calories and sugar. 

The History. I strolled through a library of 500 year old books this week in Morelia. The founder of the local university was martyred in the name of science and for implementing populist political reforms. His daughter literally donated his heart to the university, which they keep in a glass container in the library. The university had his heart in life and now in death. So dramatic.

Biblioteca Publica de la UMSNH

Statue of Benito Juarez, President-Reformer-Martyr
Mexicans are fiercely proud of their country and their independence. The independence movement is populist, rather than elites throwing off the yoke of other elites. The restaurant you're looking for might be on the corner of Insurgent Way and Independence Ave. There are streets named after particular dates related to independence. They celebrate martyred children, women who took up arms, and populist leaders who died to bring reforms. The Mexicans have driven off the Spanish, Belgians, Germans, French, and Americans at one time or another. The US once initiated a successful coup in Mexico. You will see statues, street names, and public works dedicated to the remembrance of throwing off the yoke of oppression. Mexico's history is also pretty dark, but independence is an area everyone can agree on. What should happen after was a different matter.

If post colonial history isn't enough, you have thousands of years of pre-colonial culture to explore, still present in the indigenous people of the land. The mysterious Olmecs, the Mayans and Aztecs with their ancient architecture and science, and empires you've probably never heard of that lived before, during or after those peoples, sometimes fighting them off to form their own empires, like the Purépecha, in Michoacan, the state I'm in now. A lot of ancient culture in Mexico (and Guatemala and Belize) are still being uncovered. It's not uncommon to explore a ruin and have the guide point out how there's a huge ancient city leading off into the jungle, if only we had the money to clear it. In Palenque, occasional lightning strikes will hit a tree, the tree will fall over, to reveal hidden archeological finds underneath. How is that not intriguing?

Island of Janitzio with statue of revolutionary war leader, José Maria Morelos

The temple ruins near Tzintzuntzan,
the capital of the Purépecha Empire

The Magical Towns. Visiting magical towns, pueblos magicos, combines elements of all these things together. The people, the local environment, food and history, coalesce into magical spaces. Sometimes there's just one thing interesting about a magical town. Sometimes a town hits many notes. Then we find cities like Morelia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, that fire on all cylinders and we start looking at housing prices. Yeah, I could live here. Or no, it's not quite right for me. It's the energy of the people that usually draw me in, especially if it's a vibrant college town like Guanajuato or downtown Morelia. Each town, each city is lovely in its own way, certainly not perfect. Each one can surprise us as we explore it. That delightfulness seems to be endless in this amazing country.

Thursday, June 22, 2023

It Is What It Is

This phrase, a tautology, was thrown at me the first time I complained about something in Mexico. 

It is what it is.

That's some Zen bull#$t thrown back in my face. How dare you sir! It was a reminder to relax and experience the wonders of this new universe, including the harsh parts.

It is what it is.

No doubt the first time I had this used on me was after slamming into a tope, the only traffic enforcement in Mexico, the speed bump. These topes can be found when entering towns, leaving towns, along the road where the locals think you should stop and shop, at the beginning of a new intersection, or at the end. 

A tope can be a graceful bump, a sharp crashing affair, or the worst, the fake-out, where the lines of the tope are painted after the actual tope, rather than on it. Don't you dare try to time your tope. Topes can have pot holes on them, making them a double hazard. 

The key to avoiding a tope disaster is to follow another car and watch for their brake lights, or how they've been launched into the air for being inattentive. Just note the motorcycles are generally immune to topes, so don't think you can follow one of those to gain tope clues. Stupid topes.

It is what it is.

I've stated that if I were King of Mexico, something Mexican society is entirely and wholeheartedly aligned to prevent down to its bones*, there would be two royal edicts:

1. Abolish topes
2. Stop burning trash

That's it. Those are my only two requirements to vastly improve life in Mexico. No magic wands to stop the drug trade or public corruption. Topes and trash burning. But...

It is what it is.

After a month or two I realized the tope, by its very nature, must be the only effective traffic enforcement method in Mexico. I don't even know what the police do. The police in Mexico who stop people for traffic violations tend to be the corrupt ones, which isn't to say that the police in Mexico are corrupt, only that the vast majority don't care what you do on the road. I got a ticket within minutes of entering Mexico and then they didn't care for the next 2,500 miles.

It is what it is.

What burns me about the tope is that my entire driving demeanor in Mexico, pulling a trailer, is mechanical sympathy. I'm doing everything I can to keep the trailer intact. I dodge potholes, avoid uneven pavement, keep my speed low, and hope to have a co-pilot to spot topes before I slam into them. But that's not always the case.

It is what it is.

I have come to accept the dreaded topes, in all its shapes and sizes, its warning to reduce my speed, its deception, how it can be turned towards commerce rather than safety. They do a job of calming traffic that apparently is only possible through this method.  Now if Mexico could just outlaw trash burning.

It is what it is.

* I'm fascinated by how the Mexican people view their revolution compared to Americans. It's wildly different and super interesting. I need to research this more.

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Extended Stay in Pátzcuaro

We extended our stay in our campground here in Pátzcuaro to a full month. Last week was a bit hectic as we had a friend fly in and visit. My buddy took the week off from work, which made me realize how much work I actually do while he's working. My own work began to feel a bit overwhelming. I realized I put in a lot of remote hours without thinking about it. 

Last week was our vacation from our vacation. We visited local sites, ate amazing meals, took taxis all over the place, and generally felt the need to fill the time with worthwhile activities, even though our visiting friend was taking remote classes for half the time.

Now we're in a new phase, the phase of just living here. It's best characterized by a couple things. First, I went nuts at the grocery store and bought $100 worth of groceries so we could eat in more. We eat out about 70% of the time. To get to a good restaurant in town requires a cab ride, which means it's a bit of a production to get a meal. 

The meals are usually great, but doing this every day, perhaps a couple times a day, can get tedious. When I was here five years ago, we stayed at one of the central hotels, which made eating well a breeze. We've had intestinal issues this trip and my boy wants nothing more than to sleep in more often and have mac & cheese for dinner (he complains if I put real cheese in it).

Second, I'm thinking more about goof off stuff here in Mexico. I bought a couple sets of lights for my truck this morning and they'll be installed tomorrow. One set fits in the front grill and the second set above the rear bumper. They can light up white, amber, or flash in a ridiculously bright and annoying pattern. The two pairs of cheap, Chinese lights cost me $30 and the three hours of labor will be $25. There are times the truck is sitting in the middle of the road with the trailer, and having more visibility would be nice. Everyone here lights up their vehicles like a Christmas tree. The police ride around with their lights flashing for no reason other than it looks cool. 

My buddy who drove down in his bus is flying out on Friday for ten days and it will be just Rocco and myself. We'll be on our own, and to prove we're capable of doing stuff, I've got a list of things that might be fun. These range from a couple archeological sites to going to the movies in a Mexican theater. 19 out of 20 movies are in English, so I'm guessing it won't be that different.

Stuff to Do:

  • Zona Arqueológica Tingambato (40 minutes)
  • Zona Arqueológica de Ihuatzio (37 minutes)
  • Friday market day
  • Movies
  • Petroglifos Zacapu (90 minutes)
  • Paracho (guitar town) (2 hours)
  • Tacámbaro (70 minutes)

Monday, June 19, 2023

Can You Live In That Thing?

Yes and no.

I should mention the big reveal that although I own a three bedroom, two bath house, my wife is a hoarder and my house is completely full of stuff. That's my personal baseline.

Keystone Cougar 25RDS

Here's the Yes part:

I enjoy spending time in the RV. There is nothing lacking that I miss from home. Well, I very much miss my friends. I wouldn't have a table to game on. Full time RV life is not great for regular meetings of your D&D group, although you could roll into town and make it work occasionally.

My bed is more comfortable than my bed at home and I sleep very well, despite the room being somewhat claustrophobic. I've added a queen sized mattress from Brooklyn Bedding and I would likely move back to a king, if I were full time (especially with an adult companion). When I get home, I'm replacing my bed with one of these. I need fans in the bedroom, like really need them, or I'll feel like I'm in a coffin. But with the fans running, it's fine. 

My kitchen space is ample and I bought real kitchen ware to use in it, rather than cheap plastic camping gear. It feels like a second home. The propane oven is terrible, but the stove is great. One day I'll learn how to cook a pizza in that oven, but a propane stove is just superior to even my home natural gas stove. BTUs for days. I've got a microwave, a 12 volt refrigerator that's a but wonky, but works reliably, other than temperature distribution. There is just enough kitchen storage space.

My recliners are where I spend most of my waking time when inside. It's in a slide out making the living space seem extra large. I have a "fireplace" that's lovely when it's cold and a TV with a Chromecast connected. Starlink for Internet should work again, when I get a new cable. Starlink is not quite broadband. It's fast when it works, but it's not reliable for high speed gaming.

My ace in the hole is a tricked out electrical system with solar and lithium batteries. I spent $10K on parts to build this system with a friend. It allows me to go off grid for a couple days using air conditioning, or until I run out of water, if I don't use air con. The reality is I fill my blank tank before I use up the water. This system could make it affordable to travel full time without having to spend a fortune in US RV parks. I could dry camp, visit Harvest Host sites (free spaces at farms and golf courses), or the side of the road.

There's a very large dinette where my son is living, either sleeping or set up to play video games. His gear takes up most of the enormous table. 

Here's the No part:

The trailer works exceeding well for me, but not for my son. He's 18, so I'm not sure how many more trips he'll be going on, but the daily setup and tear down of the dinette is tedious. He's told me he's not interested in future long trips like this with this set up. 

I'm considering re-doing the dinette here in Mexico and changing it to a bunk bed up top and a desk below. It turns out I really don't need a dinette. The second option would be to get a different trailer, a couple feet longer, with a bunk bed set up and separate dinette. That's not going to happen because I'm heavily invested in this one.

The RV is just a bit small. It's a little too cramped for full time living, and I chose this size so I could travel in Mexico, where the roads and RV parks are tight. Anything larger would be a huge problem. If I decided to hit the road full time in the US, I would likely buy a larger fifth wheel, with multiple slide outs and a more residential feel. The fifth wheels I've seen in Mexico are parked in their forever homes and never hit the road. 

I might opt for a big Class A, maybe a used 20 year old one when they were bullet proof. But I'm just day dreaming at that point.

I have to be honest and say I'm not completely sold on RV life, so the thought of a different RV isn't much on my mind.

Finally, full time implies life on the road or life in an RV park. Life on the road can be exhausting and it's not for everyone. I'll have a full report in a few more months. Life in an RV park is a budget move and seems like a conciliation prize. At that point I would rather buy a modest house here in Mexico. Part of this trip is scouting locations.

Saturday, June 17, 2023

A Tale of Two Releases

We had the first of our Lord of the Rings Magic: The Gathering pre release events last night. It was highly successful, a perfect crossover storm. My staff reported it as the most attended Magic pre release event ever. They are young in the history of the business and weren't around before COVID when we built our game center to host 121 Magic players. It was our best sales day in years, at around $25K. Best of all, we have two more events throughout the weekend and plenty of product to sell, although we're nearly sold out of a couple key items. Distributors are flush with product for a Monday re-order (edit: not so much, actually). This is game trade retail at its best.

I spent about two weeks trying to triangulate exactly how much LOTR Magic to buy, as this set had very high prices and lots of moaning on the Internet. We're selling a box of Collectors boosters for $435. Friends outside the trade gasp at these prices. There was fear that the high prices would drive beleaguered Magic players away. 

As usual, I sourced product from three different vendors and hoped I got the numbers right. In the end, it was a Toyota Corolla amount of Magic and there was a legitimate fear it might bomb. If it were to bomb, with me out of the country, it could spell the end of my trip, as a nearly un-payable Corolla invoice came due in mid July. Like everything in small business it was a calculated risk. 

Next weekend we see the release of the Warhammer 40,000 10th Edition Leviathan starter set. In this case, I was called on the phone because numbers were needed immediately for this product. I was walking through a campground in Mexico when I got the call for Leviathan. I don't answer phone calls anymore, unless it's a 901 area code. I went back to my RV, fired up the laptop, and ordered what I sold on the last combination of 40K starter sets, plus 50% for growth. I was rushed to get the numbers in by the end of the day. Later, when I announced on social media we would have Leviathan soon, interest was sky high, so I called the next day to increase my order. Nope! Locked in. Have a nice day. 

Since then we have pre-sold every copy of Leviathan we're getting. Some might call this a success. Those people are generally publishers. However, this means the release of Leviathan at my store is a quiet order pick up day for my alpha customers. We even have some promotional items to give them we had made, but it's really a show of appreciation, rather than some sort of sales incentives. The sales already happened. There will be no big party or excitement, in fact, it's to our advantage to downplay this release, and make it a soft release, rather than a hard one. Keep it quiet until the eventual restock. Let the casuals who don't follow any of our social media learn about Leviathan when they wander in during their monthly foray to the store. Sell outs are often declared a victory for publishers, but they're a mixed bag for retailers who trade in enthusiasm.

So we have two pre releases, one with great excitement and fanfare, with product available after the event to build the brand and make money, and a second release, that is an order pick up day. You could say that I played the Magic card correctly, but busted with Games Workshop. Again, it's about risk management, and I, like many others, have been burnt badly on over ordering large GW box sets. This usually happens after being incentivized to over order (like with the extended terms). Games Workshop can create as much scarcity of product as they desire, its up to me to determine if I'll be content with an opening day sell out, or whether I'm willing to cry over dead stock on the open market below cost (there is quite a bit of Magic like that out there).

Do I wish I had ordered more Leviathan? Absolutely. If you told me the additional product would sit until January, would I still want it? Hell no. Would I be ecstatic if Games Workshop had a reasonable ordering window with the ability to order more product after that first phone call? Or perhaps an order window of a week or so? Of course, that's the happy medium I'm looking for. Until then, I'll mark these both as wins, not a win and a loss.

Finally, it's amazing that both Wizards of the Coast and Games Workshop have licenses to make Lord of the Rings gaming products, and GW can't seem to make a go of it with such a valuable property. It's speculated Asmodee will get the license when it comes up for renewal. That's a bit like The One Ring going from Isildur to Gollum.

Friday, June 16, 2023

A Simple Request

We were sitting by the pool on a sweltering afternoon when the RV park owner walked over. His simple request: If you're not in your trailer, please don't run your air conditioning. 

I was running my air conditioning at the time to cool the trailer, after spending the day exploring. It takes a couple hours before it's tolerable inside. This is what you do, at least in the US. The problem with these Mexican RV parks is they don't have enough power for everyone to run their air conditioner, so on hot afternoons they have brown outs, because everyone is coming back from their activities is doing exactly what I'm doing. Brown outs occur when the power falls dangerously low and creates a low voltage condition.

Low voltage conditions can kill RV appliances, including air conditioning units. Anything less than around 108 volts is considered dangerous. For most campers, they have no idea what's going on. Those with better surge protectors will likely see them trip, which is probably what was happening. This becomes a collective problem in need of addressing. My RV is designed for this and just skips along happily, sending me notifications that shenanigans are afoot.

I had heard about parks in Mexico asking guests not to run their AC units at all in the summer, which I found infuriating, since the main reason you're at an RV park is you need power to run your air conditioner. I could park in a field if I didn't need power for my AC. This seemed kind of close to that and my mental outrage had been pre-loaded, which was dumb.

I was a bit miffed, but I pushed a button on my phone and turned my AC off. I later learned, someone was snooping around my RV to report me to The Man. I was then miffed that I had become miffed and had to think on that.

I thought about why I was miffed for a couple days. It wasn't that I didn't want to share, I didn't want to do my collective duty. My rig is different. Or maybe it was more than that? I'll explain how my RV handles this low voltage condition before getting into that.

First, when my trailer detects a low voltage condition, which you can see with the screen shot on the right from this park (69.6 volts rather than 120), it disconnects power (Amps is now 0.0). At this point I'm safe and also no longer part of the problem of pulling power from an overloaded park. 

My system checks every 90 seconds and allows power back in when the voltage has increased. During this time I'm running on batteries. I considered disconnecting my power cable from the RV park in the afternoons to prove I wasn't part of the problem. My AC would continue to inexplicably whirr.

Second, my system is set up to use 15 amps of power, even when connected to a 30 amp circuit, using batteries to make up the difference when necessary. I am sipping 15 amps of power even though my trailer could pull 50 amps (the park is limited to 30). I think weeks of getting by with my 15 amps and worrying about running down the batteries is where some of my irritation came from. 

That said, I talk about sipping power, but I do use a LOT of it in my self contained habitat. Being miffed also comes from being called out on my profligate electrical ways. This comes from living in the trailer rather than living out of the trailer. When the RV park manager stopped by, my buddy had all his windows open in his school bus RV. I'm really miffed because I'm being asked to change my behavior. Ahh, now we're getting to it.

There is no way to explain my rig to the RV park owner, so I'll just make sure we're complying with his simple request.

Thursday, June 15, 2023

Another Travel Perk

When we took our epic road trip to Honduras five years ago, I came back in surprisingly better shape, despite many hours of driving, often punctuated by wonderful meals. This trip is similar as I break from a lifestyle that has become way too sedentary. I ran out of steam this year trying to get enough daily walking in. I blamed the weather, but there were probably other reasons, like stress.

This trip has seen us a lot more active, at least for me. If you count steps, you know 10,000 is a pretty good daily average to keep in pretty good shape. I had slipped pretty badly in that goal, so seeing my average climb has been welcome. My buddy on this trip is generally more active and thinks nothing of it. He also tends to lead us through towns, setting the pace.

This sort of travel also takes a lot of effort. Just getting the truck and trailer ready to go and set up can be exhausting, especially if it goes sideways. It takes 30 minutes to hook up and get on the road, unless something goes wrong, and it adds another 15 minutes of running around. There is incessant cooking, cleaning and organizing. Having a partner who can help is highly recommended. My son is a reluctant partner on this trip.

At home you can let an area of your home go. You're not terribly concerned a counter is dusty when you're spending time in another room. In a 230 square foot home with two people, you are constantly faced with everything out of place, every crumb on the floor, and every emanating smell. Go outside, and there are more things to clean, lubricate, tighten, and organize. If you catch up on all of these things, there are weekly, monthly, and seasonal chores. Hotels sound kinda good at this point, no?

The best reason to get those steps in though is exploring the various towns we visit. This is where we get into trip philosophy. Are we on vacation or are we living on the road? If you're on vacation, you tend to take every opportunity to explore, while living on the road is a more normal pace. The answer is it depends, both on where you are and who you talk to. 

My goal was to live on the road, so I have a travel trailer decked out with all the amenities of home; better than home in many cases. My home situation is not great, as my friends know. I am set up to live in my RV, so living on the road is just living away from home. My buddies RV is set up to live out of. I push the touch panel to turn on the air conditioning, while he opens all his windows and embraces the outdoors. I live in my RV, he lives out of his RV. There are obviously times I come outside and sit in my camp chair under my awning, and there are times it's too damn hot and he buttons up his RV and puts on the AC.

When it comes to fitness, a vacation mindset is more expensive, but the payoff is we're getting a lot of great exercise. We've also found the food is fantastic and inexpensive. The portions tend to be a bit smaller. Carbs are optional, ranging from very little to as many tortillas as you can stuff your gob with. Ingredients are fresh, preservatives and hormones are at a minimum, and we've found we feel better. One friend has had one of his health conditions subside, giving credit to better eating at local restaurants. 

Anyway, this has been a welcome change, one we hoped would happen, but not guaranteed. Good exercise, good eating and fun exploration.

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Break from Conspicuous Consumption

One of the things we discussed amongst our trip mates was how this trip was a break from our lives of consumption, of constant spending on stuff we don't really need. In fact, it's the break from spending that allows me the budget to travel for months at a time. There are several parts to this.

Back home we live in a materialistic society and we end up buying a lot stuff we don't need. Add a new RV to the mix and there's even more spending. I've bought a household of stuff to outfit my trailer, enough to where nothing is needed, other than decorations. 

A lot of us have been captured by Amazon, allowing our latest whim to be delivered at a moments notice. For a little while I was trying to figure out how to get my missing American products shipped to Mexican RV parks with I could get my fancy Swiffer fluid or I could just buy some Fabuloso floor cleaner for 152 times less money. Going cold turkey on not just Amazon, but all unnecessary spending was a kind of embarrassment of savings, the cousin to embarrassment of riches. It wasn't hard.

Time is a huge factor in how we spend. There is simply not enough time on this trip for the brain to get bored enough to desire yet another thing. When we do go shopping, which is quite often, it's usually a wonderful experience of just buying a bag of eggs, or experiencing a new fruit in the market. We have staples that we need that drive us to the store as well, like fresh tortillas, straight from the tortilla lady. 

We each have our quest items though: I want a Panama hat that strikes my fancy and a couple hand made blankets (they're out of season), along with hand crafted decorations for the new RV. My friends have threatened to toss my grungy hat in the lake if I don't make a decision soon.

Another buddy collects rugs and has a large collection from Istanbul. Our visiting friend who flew in is looking for a black Oaxacan vase for an altar and some boots (which he won't find). He might pick up a guitar in one of the towns that crafts them. We don't need these things, but if we happen upon them, that's fine. Quest items give you a reason to explore a town you otherwise might not. It's best to just wander and see what you come across, rather than directly seek them out.

This is not to say we're not spending a lot of money. Fuel has been the big one, getting us down to our desired destination. I've got 4,500 miles on my truck for this trip, gas is around $5 gallon in Mexico and I'm getting around 10 miles to the gallon. That's about $2,250 in fuel over six weeks, not to mention about $800 in tolls. We'll call it three thousand dollars in movement expenses. 

I've probably spent another $1,500 for lodging, and food is an offset where we actually gain ground. All of this comes out to about $3K a month. Do I spend $3K a month on nonsense? Well no, but with a little savings added, it's an easy offset. We will be moving around less in future months, which will reduce our expenses. I learned from our 10 week trip to Mexico five years ago that movement is money. The reason why full time travelers take years to complete a trip is frenetic movement is incredibly expensive. Stay put and let your finances catch up with your spending.

As a store owner who sells hedonic goods and a capitalist who believes the system is a potential force for good, I am aware of my role. I am complicit in conspicuous consumption. I am a dealer and a user. I try to bring happiness, find happiness through hobby gaming, even if it's temporary. There can certainly be a dark side when we get too caught up in consumption, with chase cards and completist tendencies that distract us from a painful world, but also a more fulfilling life. I believe I help reduce suffering to some extent, but just for a while. 

We'll be back in ten weeks and we'll see if any of our habits have actually changed, or if we fall back into our addictive consumer habits. The reality is without a good habit replacement, consumption recidivism is likely. Unfortunately, the desire to travel often takes the form of buying stuff towards that next travel goal, rather than just going. Sometimes it's amazing we take the trip at all.

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Travel, Power and the Lawn Chair Lady

We had a long day ahead of us. We started in a famers field, supposedly an RV park. It was a pleasant place, I have to admit, with a horse and an earthy aroma. However, the power situation was kinda funky. It had half a dozen spots with full electrical hook ups, up to 30 amps. Impressive! However, after some investigation and disappointment, the "park" actually had 30 amps of total power serving the entire facility (field). For the two rigs, that's 15 amps, or the equivalent of each getting a household extension cord worth of power. The power wasn't properly grounded, so my rig wouldn't use it at all, while my buddy took a chance. I have enough solar and battery power for a couple nights, so no big deal.

The next morning, we needed to drive five hours to the wonderful town of Patzcuaro. The options were: A) the free road, which would be significantly shorter, toll free obviously, and would use about $70 less in fuel. Or B) The toll road, which would take the same amount of time, use a lot more fuel, and cost an additional $70 in tolls, a total of $140 more expensive. We took the toll road.

The reason we took the toll road is mechanical sympathy. Whenever I take these free roads, with their undulations and potholes, with an average speed of around 30 miles per hour, my trailer gets beat up badly. Really badly. It was a pay me now or pay me later situation, as I wondered what would be next to rattle apart. As I explained to my buddy, if given a choice, I will now always take the toll road. He initially was going to take the free road, but decided to join us.

The toll road was wonderful, some of it completely new and smooth. We entered the state of Michoacan, known for its lack of resources and really bad roads, but the toll road delivered. We were treated to beautiful mountains, with occasional rock escarpments you might see in Moab, Utah. The tolls were damn expensive and the gas got guzzled, but knowing we would arrive in one piece, nerves intact, was worth it.

We ended up at an RV park a mile from Patzcuaro. RV parks are always a crap shoot. We blocked the road in front and quickly met the owner. My wallet was empty from tolls and he told us don't worry about it, pay later. We signed up for a week and went to find a spot. The area around Patzcuaro is in the hills, and this RV park was on a hillside, not great for RVs. I backed into my spot, checked my LevelMate Pro app on my phone and I was a bit disappointed. I was off by an enormous six inches on one side.

36 blocks per wheel is impossible

Being off by six inches might as well be six feet, as stacking enough blocks becomes a bit impossible. I'm pretty sure I don't have the 72 necessary blocks and I'm also pretty sure they wouldn't fit under the wheels. I started looking around for rocks to stack and other options when my buddy stepped in and told me to let it go. These spots won't work for us. We moved a bit farther down where it was flatter and started backing in. Immediately a woman in a lawn chair next to a little trailer began complaining. 

"Oh, he (the owner) only lets vans park there." she said. "Oh, really?" We continued backing in. A lot of RV parks have full time residents who either live there or are around for a season. She was clearly unhappy these rigs, much bigger than hers, would be her new neighbors. 

The new spot was only off by a couple inches, which was perfect. We did what we could to give lawn chair lady as much space as possible and jumped into action. We have a group of four at the moment so we handed out tasks. While setting up I heard indistinct grumblings over by lawn chair lady.

"Did you know your neighbor is kind of a bitch?"

"I am aware."

All the little things of setting up the RV went into motion; disconnecting from the truck, setting up sewer connections, putting down stairs and putting out slides, and then the power. Power in nearly every RV park in Mexico is simply bad. The question is whether it's good enough to use. My tester showed open grounds on every nearby outlet, which in the US would be a reason to move, but in Mexico is the way it is. 

My rig has a Power Watchdog device that monitors incoming power and pronounces whether it will allow it or not. In this case, I was notified the open ground was a problem, but workable. The voltage was also too low. The Watchdog would disallow incoming voltage while it was too low, check every 90 seconds, and when it went back up, allow the power in. That permitted me to run the air conditioner last night and this morning our batteries are at 100%, charged by that power. Power here is good enough, unlike the farmers field the day before.

The RV park owner wandered over to talk to us, probably at the insistence of lawn chair lady. My buddy started talking to him in Spanish and instructed me to finish getting my rig set up quickly. We needed to be finished setting up so it would be a huge inconvenience for us to move spaces, if the owner capitulated to lawn chair lady. It worked out fine and we're in a lovely, wooded, hillside park for the next week. It's a great place for day trips throughout the region.

We've been on the road for five weeks. 

Saturday, June 10, 2023

The State of RV Brokenness

Imagine putting your house on wheels and driving it down the street on cobblestone roads or wavy, pitted highways for hours at a time. Those are the roads in Mexico we're driving on with the travel trailer. There are some world class toll roads in Mexico that rival European highways, but that's only half the story. There are also teeth chattering, dangerous highways that link towns that are the only option. As someone on my RV forum said when I mentioned the weak points, "These RVs aren't made for those roads!"

Things have a tendency to break on an RV, even on the best roads. I wanted to go over what broke and the categories of why they broke. We have three main categories: Initial quality defects, user error, and road damage. You'll see the roads are the least of my problems:

Initial quality defects. This is a bit of a shakedown trip in this 2023 model travel trailer. It's got a full time living warranty and this Keystone Cougar 25RDS is considered one of the top brands when it comes to quality. There are things that were poorly built, some of which we knew beforehand and kept an eye on. There were things that straight up failed under stress. Those include:

  • A bathroom door that has a bad latch that swings around and bashes things (fixed)
  • Poorly built (not glued) rear cabinets that get a lot of abuse. They separated (fixed)
  • An outside shower that's broken and can't be fixed without RV parts (under warranty)
User Error. There are things we used incorrectly, resulting in them breaking:
  • Rear stabilizer bracket. I bent this badly on our first night camping on a farm with a ridiculously un-level surface in the mud. I think we were 4" off on one side.
  • Rear bathroom door. I scraped it up by hanging a dirty clothes bag on it and as the bag got heavier, it became a bludgeon and flew around (fixed)
  • Refrigerator door latch. We used it wrong, not pulling it up to latch it correctly, and we broke it (fixed)
  • Trim on Slide. Rocco got a bag caught and it pulled off a fascia panel.
Road Damage. These are thing that broke from the stress of travel that were nobody's fault.
  • Refrigerator shift. The refrigerator appears to have shift and pulled apart the fascia trim on the bottom.
That's it! None of these things have impeded use of the RV in any way, they're mostly cosmetic. Some have been fixed along the way by an RV repair tech and by me. As we get to each town we consult the RV park about RV repair, with hopes of getting someone out to do the harder work. The entire rear cabinets were dismantled, repaired and reinforced, better than new, for around $65.

We have thousands of miles left on this trip, although the next couple of months is only 700 or so. It is likely the list will grow longer, but also that we'll fix existing problems along the way. The biggest concern are deal breakers, like bent axles. It's also possible something breaks that requires parts we can't get. So far we haven't lost any functionality.

I should mention my 2022 Ford F350 is a beast and has had absolutely no problems on this trip of any kind. I can't tell you how many times I've been grappling with RV issues and been happy the truck is fine. I'll be doing an oil change on it in a little while, as we just hit 4,000 miles on this trip (I do them every 5K).

Friday, June 9, 2023

RV Travel in Mexico: A Different Landscape

If you take a road trip through Mexico, which I highly recommend, you will find yourself in some wonderful places. You can research the best towns and cities, book hotels downtown, wander hidden markets, and experience amazing meals. A Mexican road trip is a curated experience, albeit you are doing the curating. A Mexico RV trip is a different experience.

This is because of the cost of real estate and the fact modern Mexico is over 500 years old. One of the joys of visiting the country is finding colonial era buildings and town squares that haven't changed much for hundreds of years, a lot longer than the existence of the United States. There is certainly no room for an RV park in the center of town, or even anywhere nearby. RV travel in Mexico is therefore pushed to the margins.

On the margins is also a fine place to be. We tend to be about 30 miles outside of any given area we would like to visit. It's not like we're out in the countryside, although urban Mexicans consider it so. We're often in small towns with regular people living ordinary lives that don't revolve around the tourism industry. 

Sometimes the small towns we stay in don't even have RV parks, and we're parked in a public space, like a public square. I don't want to call this "real" Mexico, as every expression is authentic, but it's a more ordinary Mexico. If you have preconceptions of what Mexico is about or ideas about the people, you'll probably find them challenged in these small towns and neighborhoods. 

We use these small towns as base camps to see magical villages, literally pueblos magicos. But we actually spend more time walking around and enjoying the small towns than the more magical ones or the big cities. It's not better or worse than road trip travel to the center of traditional culture, it's just different. It took me a while to stop focusing on what was missing and realize what there was to gain. 

I should mention small town Mexico through the lens of RV parks might be all you'll see on such a journey. It's because I can detach my truck and take it into the magic towns that we're allowed to have the best of both worlds. That would seem like a requirement to me, to have a vehicle towing your RV or a "toad" as they're called, pulled behind it. 

Dry camping at a park in the town of Mascota

Shopping in Mexico

As an over-planner, being prepared for a multi month trip to another country is a fun challenge. It's even more challenging when I have a couple thousand pounds of cargo capacity and every pound is a liability. There is a lot of rope to hang myself, and having overloaded my Jeep, I was especially careful with a travel trailer. 

Nevertheless, there are things that are now in the way that I wish I had left at home. I have too many jackets and warm clothes. We've been in weather over 90 degrees every day, although we're about to head into more temperate climates. There's a 5 gallon water bottle I would like to give away (I think we know where to re-home it). I've got a container of "just in case" RV leveling gear that I would love to find a happy home for, but I'll keep it as spares. I could cook a gourmet meal in my kitchen (if I could find a gourmet chef), but instead I use about 10% of my kitchen gear. What about the things we have trouble finding on the road? As a store owner, I find the logistics intriguing.

RV Supplies. There are no RV supplies in Mexico, other than in the largest cities. We can get RV repairs done by local people, provided they don't need parts. Labor is cheap, as are raw materials. We had my cabinets rebuilt with bits of scrap wood and screws. The biggest need is for tank treatment that breaks down waste.  I started with three gallons of the stuff and I'll be short towards the end of the trip. My buddy discovered we can order it online from Home Depot in one of the larger cities and pick it up.


Hardware Stores. Speaking of Home Depot, it's not uncommon to have something break in an RV. I've got a list of ten RV projects that require repair. For example, I had a sliding door that was installed wrong and if I were at home, I would have ordered a fancy latch and several door tracks (from a field of half a dozen) on Amazon. It would have arrived in a day. In Mexico? There are no fancy latches or door tracks anywhere and Amazon Mexico is a pale shadow of the US version. The solution was to re-install the existing strap properly and re-install the existing track with the appropriate anchors. The anchors were kinda hard to find, but were thankfully at the Home Depot outside of Guadalajara.

Fabrication. Lacking the needed hardware, if you can speak some Spanish, you can have a local mechanic fabricate, weld, bend, or otherwise make things for you for a small fee. My buddy needed to fabricate some brackets by cutting some threaded rods and we found a local mechanic who did the work for about ten dollars. 

What About The things I really wanted on were things imported from the US and boy were they expensive! What couldn't I buy that I desperately needed? The previously mentioned RV chemicals, name brand cleaning supplies (Swiffer) and the like. It was going to be hundreds of dollars, so I'm adapting.

Wal Mart to the Rescue. In the ex pat community of Ajijic, English speaking customers can opt for a personal shopper to navigate the store. Wal Mart, probably because of its size, is the best bet for finding American products like body wash, cleaning supplies, and the like. Finding an Extra Grande bathing suit was a challenge that Wal Mart was up to, even though there was a choice of one.

Follow the Money. Where there are a lot of people and wealth, we've also found a couple high end grocery stores. Yesterday I bought several Amy's brand pizzas for a small fortune at one of these. Every box looks like it went on an adventure the thousands of miles from the US. Some foods that have been hard to find include good quality coffee beans, and in the fancy grocery stores there's often a dozen local and imported options, for a price.

Office Supplies? Working remotely, that means electronics. There are no Apple stores but we've encountered third party "Mac" stores in big cities. If my MacBook Pro were to suddenly die (it's pretty new), I could eventually get to a city to replace it. Likewise, I just bought a second phone at Wal-Mart, where I now need to go to find a case for it, since nobody else has them (it's too new at six months old).

Adapt and Overcome. Eating local and changing our diets has had positive health effects for all of us. We feel better eating fresh and avoiding the heavy carbs of an American diet. That also means less need to travel to find our favorite foods. I mean, if they show up in front of us, sure, but giving up bread for something like corn tortillas has been fantastic. 

Anyway, that's the gist of this. It has been fun going out a couple times a week to shop fresh. We buy corn tortillas, eggs individually or by the dozen, large bottles of drinking water, and fresh queso.

Thursday, June 8, 2023

The Galaxy Before Us

I turned back and took two photos of the cross streets where my truck was parked at the car wash. This local car wash was in a small town, outside the megalopolis of Guadalajara, about half an hour from our RV park. Rocco and I were on an adventure. 

I fumbled hard with my Spanish as the car wash owner explained it would take an hour and a half and to come back later. When the language veers from ordering items off the menu, I can quickly get over my head. I pulled out my phone to use a translation app, but the data service was too poor. We finally came to an understanding (me understanding him) and I left him the keys.

"Why are you taking photos of street signs when you have technology to get us back to the truck?" 

That was my son's irritated response as I snapped a couple shots.

"Well, what if the Ford app doesn't work?" I said.

He scoffed at me and we moved on.

We had lunch, went shopping for groceries, including getting directions from the tortilla shop to the store that sold them, all in Spanish. Basic stuff is getting easier. Then it was time to return to the truck.

I opened my phone to use the Ford app to show me the pin on the map where my truck was parked, and ... nothing. I opened Google Maps to get directions. Again, no data. No Internet at all. My janky 3G roaming from AT&T was giving me no service in this small town. It was working earlier, but not now. I pulled up the photos of street signs and we walked around for a while until we found one and made our way back to the truck. The final panel was getting a wipe down. I struggled some more to pay the owner and we were off.

We tried to get home, but we had no navigation. That was going to be a problem. I decided if we drive out of town, maybe we'll get some more Internet and we can use navigation. My truck navigation was useless as well. 

Where was our RV park again? We were around 30 miles southwest, right? I fumbled around through the narrow streets using the compass on the truck, which in a small town with one way streets was not getting us very far. 

A month ago I would have described getting the massive truck through narrow colonial era streets as a nightmare, but the scary part of the driving is mostly other people. There is an etiquette in Mexico to tight roads, and once you learn it, it's really not that hard. Trucks larger than mine drive down the same roads. Nobody gets in accidents and nobody hits my truck while I'm gone (so far). We kinda headed south and kinda headed west and Rocco eventually got Google Maps to load. It turns out our RV park was due west and we were headed towards a southern highway that would have been a big waste of time. Not good.

That was about enough of this AT&T nonsense. I can deal with slow 3G speeds, but lately the phone had become a brick with times of no service. I decided I was getting a second phone. 

Here's the technical reasons why I'm not just getting a local SIM card, which I've already tried to do: I'm still paying off the phone, so to add a Mexican SIM card, I would need to unlock the phone. Unlocking the phone requires I pay it off, about $750. Then I would need to go through the 100 or so apps on my iPhone and turn off cellular data, since they would just eat up the average SIM card.

In the US we live in a data rich ecosystem where all our apps are always trying to provide us more data, more service. They constantly connect and download unlimited data on our unlimited data plans. Without trying, I use about 40GB a month of cellular data. Your phone can tell you this. The average Mexican re-chargable SIM is going to have 4-8GB. So I could pay a fortune, nerf my phone by turning off apps and THEN I can get a magic card that gives me data, that would be eaten up in less than a week. A second phone that did just what I needed it to do, sounded more logical.

We were running errands so we went to Wal-Mart to buy a phone. I kinda knew what I wanted to spend and the basic functionality. I needed Apple Carplay or Android Auto, a phone that wouldn't be obsolete anytime too soon, and I wanted to spend about $150. That ruled out even their oldest available iPhone and left a bunch of Andoids. I don't know anything about Android phones, so I picked one out by price. I did a tiny bit of background research with my very slow 3G service to make sure it ran Android Auto and wasn't complete junk. I was going to be the proud new owner of a Samsung Galaxy A04. However, buying a phone at Wal-Mart in Mexico is a high security endeavor. 

We agreed upon the phone, received a sticker with the details, checked out at the register, and returned to the kiosk so several people could spent half an hour extracting it "from the back." Oh man, the back. That brings back memories of the ghost of retail past. We eventually got the phone after worrying about the MIA employee, verified it with the clerk, had a thorough security check at the exit, and this Android phone was mine.

I bought the phone about an hour away, so my buddy spent the time driving back trying to get it to work. No deal. Google Maps wouldn't work. It ended up taking several hours, as the installed software was incompatible with each other until every app was upgraded. I'm an iPhone guy, which basically means I don't spend a lot of time trying to get phones to work. They just do. Thankfully this phone really has one job. Run Google Maps. Eventually it found its purpose.

Oh my god

It can do email, Facebook, and a few other tasks to keep me connected to my business, but mostly this bad boys job is to get me directions when my fancy phone is a brick. And yes, I know I sound entitled and this phone is a marvel of technology that could serve anyone well here or back home. It is a fine phone that I'm fortunate to own, equivalent to a weeks pay for the average Mexican worker. All of this nonsense so I can avoid getting lost on our frivolous adventure.