Getting Out of Dodge


It’s easy to live a laid-back life here at Florilow Oaks RV Park in Bushnell, Florida, thereby making it  difficult to tear away from the place for trips elsewhere in the state.  On Monday there’s Mexican Train; Tuesday, hike; Wednesday, social meeting, often followed by lunch; Thursday, bike ride/hike; Friday, bridge; Saturday, movie; and Sunday, BBQ.  Last month, as I was planning to join a group called the Gulf LOWs (Loners on Wheels) for a few days, followed by a trip to Gainesville, I found myself whining about the distances I would have to drive: at least 100 miles. Then I caught myself and said (yes OF COURSE I talk to myself!), “That’s it. You’re going.”

Highlights of these trips include seeing Tampa Bay and visiting the University of Florida. Given that on campus I had difficulty figuring out (1) how to pay for parking and (2) where the cafeteria cutlery is kept, I came to the conclusion that I may be too old to learn all the prerequisites necessary for a return to school.  On campus I learned how to clap like a Gator fan (clap originates from elbows to hands held out in front of your body to imitate an alligator’s jaws). I also learned from my son that the campus, or more specifically the football team, is responsible for the development Gatorade. Some of the coaches realized the players were wilting in the heat because, well, it was hot and humid, and their sweating bodies were not replacing the electrolytes and carbohydrates lost to perspiration. Thus was born the concoction that came to be called Gatorade. BTW, Florida is really big on gators. Any body of water here can possibly contain an alligator. When I’m walking Missy near water, I just assume an alligator is lurking. I’ve now taught the poor dog to be afraid of snakes AND alligators.

On the subject of snakes, I finally saw a Florida black snake. Mention the black snake to anyone in Florida and they automatically say, “Oh they’re GOOD snakes.” That’s because they are not poisonous and help keep the rodent population under control. For some unfathomable reason, I assumed the black snake was about two feet long. Wrong. The one I saw was at least 6 feet long and as a wide as my upper arm.  Since Floridians are so fond of these slithering reptiles and do not kill them, I understand the size of the one I saw is typical. Now a story a Floridian told me about how his dog enjoys wresting with black snakes makes sense. The only part that remains a mystery is how the dog wins.

I also took a trip to Disneyworld’s Magic Kingdom in Orlando. Since admission was $115 (!),I took as many rollercoaster rides and saw as many shows with wait times under an hour as possible, thus bringing the cost down to “only” $23 per attraction. I also searched in vain for a Cinderella watch. I remember getting one when I was young and being absolutely enchanted by the glass (OK, plastic) slipper it came in, more so than the watch itself.

When I was in Orlando three years ago I visited Epcot (very disappointing – it seems as if nothing has been updated since it opened in 1982 so it no longer seems futuristic) and the Harry Potter exhibit at Universal, which I loved. One of the wonderful features of Diagon Alley is that children whose parents buy them a wand from Ollivanders (for about $50!), can perform magic tricks at water fountains and the like. Following my reductive logic, if a kid’s wand interacts with five attractions, it brings the cost down to “only” $10 per magic trick.

Also on the subject of kids, the most excitement we’ve had at the park recently was when the goat on the small farm adjacent to the us gave birth to two little baby goats. On the occasions when the owners let the kids out of their pen, word here would spread fast and we’d congregate along the fence separating the properties to ooh and ahh over them. The billy goat who fathered the kids finally has a legitimate reason to try to butt anyone who comes to the fence. Until now, he was just mean. Now he’s protective.

After Orlando I drove down to Vero Beach to see my friend Phyllis, who I know from San Diego. Vero Beach is beautiful and I learned that yes, indeed, it is possible to get a sunburn in March.

Backing up to the “getting out of Dodge” reference, I visited Tombstone, Arizona, on my way from California to Florida. How interesting that this set piece of famous Americana involves violence.  As near as I can tell, no one involved in the shootout at the OK Corral was what I consider an admirable person. Doc Holliday and brothers Wyatt, Morgan and Virgil Earp, representing the “good” guys, had less than sterling reputations.

Also, on a tour of the town, we tourists were informed that under the leadership of Chief Cochise, Apache warriors used the Dragoon Mountains as their base for raids. These mountains afforded them a great vantage point for spotting the dust raised by soldiers coming for them. Having gone without capture for close to a dozen years, the town seems to only begrudgingly grant that Cochise may have been a decent strategist. Heck, without intending to offend patriotic sensibilities here, when was the last time an American White Man held off an enemy for 11+ years? Just sayin’.

On a less cynical note, for me the highlight of Tombstone was the museum of The Tombstone Epitaph, a newspaper that has been publishing since 1880. The museum features an old hand press, which pre-dates my time in journalism, and type cases used for “hot” type, which was in use when I first entered the field in the early 1970s. The newspaper continues publication today as a monthly journal covering the West. Moved by an emotion I barely recognized — I believe it’s known as sentimentality — I became a subscriber.

PHOTOS: I cannot locate photos I took at the following locations: The Tombstone Epitaph Museum, Tombstone, Boot Hill, and Disney World Magic Kingdom with the castle in the background. Arghhh.










You Have Mail. Maybe.

Those of us of a certain age may recall backpacking in Europe and receiving mail at a local American Express office. This was long before cell phones, email and internet cafes with faulty keyboards. I mention this “old school” delivery system because the modern post office provides a similar service. Yes, General Delivery still exists.


Before I go on to trash the USPS, I want first want write about the important contributions of this once noble institution.

For starters, the postal service was considered vital to democracy, so much so that it’s written into the U.S. Constitution: Article 1, Section 8, known as The Postal Clause, empowers Congress “To establish Post Offices and post roads.”

From a review of How the Post Office Created America: A History,  written by Winifred Gallagher and published in 2016:

“The founders established the post office before they had even signed the Declaration of Independence, and for a very long time, it was . . . the central nervous system of the new body politic, designed to bind thirteen quarrelsome colonies into the United States by deliverying news about public affairs to every citizen — a radical idea that appalled Europe’s great powers. America’s uniquely democratic post powerfuly shaped its liverly, argumentative culture of uncensored ideas and opinions and made it the world’s information and communications superpower with astonishing speed.”

The role the Post Office played in establishing roads cannot be overstated. Transportation routes in the orignial colonies were primarily along bodies of water on the Eastern Seaboard. The Post Office was responsible for building roads, often at a rapid pace, that connected much of the country. In 1790, about 2,400 miles of post roads linked 75 post offices; by 1820, 72,500 miles of postal roads linked 4,500 post offices. Expansion was not limited to roads and post offices but to employment, too. By 1831, nearly 30,000 postal employees accounted for 76% of the civilian federal workforce. As January 2016, the postal service had close to 31,600 post offices; 500,000 career employees and 132,000 non-career employees (often part-time employees hired at lower hourly wages with limited benefits).

Unfortunately, few of these 632,000 employees care about customer service. I know because I have experienced the following:

  • Been turned away in Arizona from collecting my General Delivery package because I was there in the afternoon. At this particular post office, General Delivery can be collected mornings only.
  • Failed to receive a critical part for my RV that had been mailed for overnight delivery from the San Francisco Bay Area to San Diego. Tracking showed it was on its way. After five days, tracking continued to show it was on its way. The postmistress explained mail is not considered “lost” until after its gone missing for at least 30 days. Naturally, the package appeared a week after I repurchased the missing RV part.
  • Saw a handwritten sign in a Los Angeles area post office notifying Passport applicants that due to a lack of film, no Passport photos would be taken that week, nor would passport applications be accepted. So here’s my question: Didn’t the person responsible for taking photos notice the dwindling film supply? I won’t even bother to ask why digital cameras aren’t used.
  • A particular decorative stamp was not available due to its popularity. It had sold out almost immediately. Can you think of any other business that wouldn’t order more of a fast-selling item? Me neither.
  • A package marked “Hold for Delivery” was returned to the post office because I had not provided a site number for the RV Park I planned to be at. Could the package have been left at the park office? Yes. Was it? No. Interestingly, the post card I received letting me know why the package couldn’t be delivered used the same address, i.e., no site number. This piece of mail WAS delivered to the park office. Go figure.
  • The website for a local post office in Texas indicated it provided General Delivery services. Turns out this means it will SEND General Delivery, not actually ACCEPT it. Why didn’t I call first? Because the post office does not answer its phones. Must be because the career and part-time employees are too busy serving customers by not taking passport photos and not selling popular stamps.
  • The postmaster of this particular Texas post office that didn’t accept General Delivery had the option of forwarding my letter, which contained a new debit card to replace the one that had been compromised, to the one post office that actually ACCEPTED General Delivery. Instead, he chose the “Return to Sender” option. It was returned to the sender. Eventually. Call me paranoid, but I sensed some hostility in this transaction.
  • My favorite hostile encounter occurred in Quartzsite, AZ, site of an annual January pilgrimage by thousands of RV’ers, some of whom want to receive their mail. I knew I was in trouble when I pulled into an empty post office parking lot on Monday. It was Martin Luther King’s birthday. I returned the next morning to the following scene: A post office employee (career? part-time? who cares?) opened the extraordinarily loud, screeching gate to the counter without a nod or greeting or apology to acknowledge those of us in line with our hands covering our ears to help

    It looks so welcoming. 

    block out the almost unbearably annoying sound.  When it was my turn at the counter, he informed me I would have fill out a form to continue receiving General Delivery mail. When I said I didn’t understand why this would be necessary, he recorded my name and in large, bold handwriting added an expiration date 3 days hence. He explained his branch would have to return any mail more than a week old, starting from Friday, the day the mail had arrived. No matter that the post office’s official delivery date was listed as Monday, not Friday, and that the post office was closed on Monday. Anything received after the coming Friday would be returned. By this time I realized he thought I would be in Quartzsite for the winter, not just a few days. He’s probably still wondering why I left the counter not angry, but chuckling.

Charming as it is to use old-fashioned General Delivery, I now use UPS or FedEx when I can. By the way, were you aware the Postal Service lost $5+ billion in 2015, 2014 and 2013, an improvement, nonetheless, from its nearly $16 billion loss in 2012.

Gosh, I wonder why.

Imagine My Surprise

I missed Rene yesterday while wrapping a calendar for a Gift Exchange. Rene was a gift-wrapper of extraordinary talent. Actually, she excelled at several crafts involving small muscle control and an artistic eye. Joe and I framed the baby blanket she crocheted for Michael rather than risk what would most certainly happen to this piece of art in the crib of a newborn.

As you may know, Rene was my travel companion when I started this adventure 3½ years ago. I introduced her to parts of California she had never visited, including Lake Tahoe. It was here that I learned of workamping opportunities with the Tahoe Heritage Museum, where I plan to be this summer.

I mention Rene not to merely mourn her absence, but to write about an unexpected outcome of the memorial blog post I published in April 2014 about her passing. One of the people who read it was a man searching for his birth mother. That man was Rene’s son.

Imagine my surprise when I opened his email.

All I knew (and I had found this out inadvertently 40 years before) was that Rene had a son who she gave up for adoption with the condition he be welcomed into a Jewish family. The last name of the man who contacted me indicated he was a member of the tribe. To protect his identify, I’ll call him RS (for Rene’s son); his wife, RD; his son, RGS; and his daughter, RGD. Yep, there’s a whole mishpocheh (Yiddish for family). Rene was a grandmother.

I forwarded RS’s email to Rene’s oldest sister (Cousin 1) and remembering my shock when I innocently opened it, called to give her a heads-up. If she was surprised I knew about RS, she gave no indication. Based on his birth date, place of birth and other information, Cousin 1 and Rene’s other sister (Cousin 2, aka The Dame) confirmed that yes indeed Rene was his mother. Cousins 1 and 2 sent RS a lovely email identifying themselves as his aunts.

Then the real fun began.

Although we’re a fairly small family, few were aware that Rene had a son. So they had to be told. I found myself in the unusual position of knowing something my brother didn’t. I was exceedingly proud of myself for keeping this secret for as long as I had. I had never told anybody, ever, unless you count my Mom, who is now  92 and anyway had forgotten.

Thus began a flurry of email exchanges between RS and the family, with everyone hitting the highlights of their lives and the various successes of their children. Think glowing Christmas letters summarizing the past 45 years, skipping over any inconvenient developments such as children not staying in touch, multiple divorces, drug addictions and alcoholism.  You know, the usual.

This was followed by actual plans to meet. My brother, Gary, and sister-in-law, Faith, who travel frequently (sometime even together!), would be the first to find themselves in the same city as RS. Naturally they made plans to visit him and his family. Unbeknownst to them, the aunts were somewhat put out that they themselves wouldn’t be the first to meet RS. I explained it probably never occurred to Gary and Faith there would be any feelings of propriety. That just pissed them off more. Fortunately, the aunts finally realized the benefits of  having RS meet the family members with the best social skills. I know I was pleased when my son’s girlfriend was introduced to my family at a Gary and Faith BBQ. They are normal, nice people who live in an actual house, for example, in contrast to my son’s mother (me), a kind of gypsy who travels around in an RV and spins tales. Although I don’t mind not being normal, I understand why my lifestyle might cause my son some concern.

RS and his entire family eventually flew out to Los Angeles to meet his aunts, uncles and assorted cousins. Although I wasn’t there, I understand the visit was a tremendous success. Apparently, RS and his family weren’t put off by effusive people with odd obsessions who constantly interrupt each other. Although I was the conduit and get credit for the family reuniting, I have yet to meet RS. I have, however, seen family photos and the physical resemblance to his parentage is eerie. There is no doubt whatsoever that RS really IS Rene’s son.

Cousin 2 found an envelop of memorabilia when she cleaned out Rene’s room that she was sure Rene kept for her son. Rene had accomplished much of what she had wanted to do when she passed away just short of her 65th birthday. One unfilled wish, however, was to reunite with her son. She had registered with the adoption agency that handled her case, indicating she would welcome contact. Unfortunately, it came too late for her, although not for the rest of us.

close-upIn going through her room, Cousin 2 also found a jean’s jacket that Rene had embroidered. It is now being worn by Rene’s granddaughter.

One final lament on how much I miss traveling with Rene. She was funny and smart and considered everything that happened, whether good or bad, as part of the travel experience. I hold out hope that one day Cousin 2 will find Rene, whose ashes she apparently has misplaced, so that a small part of her can continue traveling with me

Gulf Coast: Part III/Final Installment

Zihuatanejo. Apalachicola. Homosassa Springs. Thanks to my travels these difficult-to-pronounce places now roll off my tongue.

Zee-wah-tah-NEH-ho, as you may know, is a Mexican town on the part of the Pacific Coast known as the Costa Grande, about 150 miles northwest of Acapulco. I was there 25+ years ago on a family Club Med vacation, courtesy of my Mom. Ap·a·latch·cha·CO-la (best not to visualize the spelling because you’ll trip up by saying “Appalachia” and from there it’s impossible to recover), is a charming town in Florida that attracted our attention when we spotted Hillary signs posted on its outskirts, a rare sight indeed. This was pre-election and before the impending apocalypse. Ho-ma-SAS-sah Springs is the site of a nature preserve that met all of Suzi’s deepest desires apart from her oyster ‘Po Boy. In the Muskogee language, “sassa” means ”some there” and Homo means “pepper” (or “whiskey,” depending on whether your source is the Chamber of Commerce or the Seminole Indians, descendants of the Muskogee tribe).  Cousin Suzi sought neither peppers nor whiskey, but The Dame refused to leave Florida until she saw alligators and manatees.

As you may recall, Suzi joined me in New Orleans and we traveled together along the Gulf Coast in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama; and the Florida Panhandle. I accomplished my mission: Suzi liked Florida.


“Do not approach, frighten or feed the alligators”

After leaving New Orleans (Louisiana), then touring the Beauvoir Estate and eating at Slap ‘Ya Moma (in Mississippi), Suzi and I made our way to Gulf State Park on the Alabama barrier of island of Gulf Shore.  It was here that we spotted a sign warning us not to approach, frighten or feed the alligators. Since we wondered who in their right mind would do ANY of these things, we of course warned each other not to take these actions whenever we encountered a situation that could possibly involve an alligator. Although such occasions arose frequently, we never grew tired of the joke. Well, at least I didn’t.

The roughly 100-mile stretch of land from South Alabama to Panama City, Florida, is known as the Emerald Coast. It was along this section that we pulled in after-hours (not to worry, Suzi was driving after sundown) at a truly nice resort in Navarre, Florida, listed as a Passport America half-price park. Waking up the next morning I thought it was too good to be true.

It was.

For whatever reason — probably because it was such a lovely park — the resort was no longer part of Passport America. Suzi and I had been viewing Facebook photos posted by close relatives who were in Hawaii and other exotic locations. Not to be outdone, we stayed another day so we could post our own resort photos on Facebook. Then we stayed yet another day when my Smartcar battery died. Apart from being towed to a place that didn’t service Smartcars, the entire incident was nothing more than a hiccup. The battery was old and was considerate enough to die at a convenient location.

Once the battery was replaced, we continued driving, leaving Florida’s Emerald Coast and entering the state’s Forgotten Coast. The term “Forgotten Coast” was promoted by (who else?) the regional Chamber of Commerce. The Forgotten Coast refers to a relatively undeveloped section of coastline stretching from Mexico Beach on the Gulf to St. Marks on Apalachee Bay. Whereas the Emerald Coast is an unofficial name, the Forgotten Coast is a registered trademark. Some regions take designations more seriously than others.

Missy and me walking on Mexico Beach

Missy and me walking on Mexico Beach

We stopped along the Forgotten Coast to take a walk on Mexico Beach. I am fond of Mexico Beach because three years ago I stopped here for a night and ended up staying several days on a local resident’s private property. I had a logo’d Mexico Beach sweatshirt for a couple of years but it met the same fate shared by my shoes, socks and pants: bleach spatters. As I recall, the incident involving the sweatshirt went way beyond splashing. It was more of a deluge. Here’s a helpful hint: Use a funnel when pouring bleach into your water holding tank to deodorize.

We decided based on the name alone not to camp at “Tate’s Hell State Forest.” We figured with an appellation like that the forest would likely include something called “Mosquito Swamp.” We later found out we weren’t far off. Turns out that in 1875, Cebe Tate entered the forest swamp with his hunting dogs and a shotgun in search of a panther killing his livestock. Tate was lost in the swamp for seven days and nights, bitten by a snake, and drank swamp water.  When he emerged near Carrabelle, he murmured, “My name is Cebe Tate, and I just came from Hell,” and then died. In other words, we made the right decision to skip the forest, continuing on until we spotted the Hillary signs outside Apalachicola.

We stopped at the town’s Visitor’s Center and were directed to a parking lot under the Big Bend Scenic Coastal Trail Bridge (US Hwy 98) where RVs were welcome to dry camp for free. The following weekend Apalachicola was hosting the Florida Seafood Festival and our free camping spaces were going for $160 for three days. The bridge we parked under crossed the Apalachicola River, which emptied into Apalachicola Bay, which was created by St. George Barrier Island. Given its location along waterways, Apalachicola’s pre-Civil War economy was based on warehousing cotton.

We also visited St. George Island and swam in the Gulf.  The island is beautiful, with Apalachicola Bay on one side the the Gulf of Mexico on the other.



St. George Island beach on the Gulf side

As we continued along Hwy 98 we crossed the Suwannee River, at which point it’s traditional to sing, Way Down Upon the Suwannee River.  We also stopped at the Suwannee River park, where we examined the old Fanning Springs Bridge. According to local lore, people danced all night on this bridge when it was first constructed across the Suwannee.

We continued our tradition of stopping for lunch at local BBQs and I discovered that pork ribs in the South are far too fatty for my taste. How very odd to travel 2,000+miles to find out I prefer Phil’s in San Diego to Southern BBQ. Go figure.

We arrived at my destination in Central Florida as scheduled on November 1. Suzi, having seen her alligators and manatees at Homosassa Springs wildlife center, flew back to Los Angeles from Orlando a few days later.

A good time was had by all.

We made it to Florilows Oaks RV Part

We made it to Florilows Oaks RV Park

Actual alligators that we somehow managed to avoid disturbing

Alligators that we did not disturb, frighten or feed