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.

alligator-sign

“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.

apalachicola-bridge

st-george-island-beach

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

 

TWD*

* If you have to ask, you probably aren’t a fan of zombies. 

As many friends, family members and former colleagues know, I tend to become somewhat obsessive about selected movies and television series. I’ve even wondered if perhaps I suffer from Asperger’s light. The good news is that although others may worry about me, I know I’ll get over my fixation, if only to move onto the next one.

For example, when visiting Warner Brothers Studio several years ago, I was delighted to find a collection of items from the Harry Potter movies. I was less than pleased, however, when I realized as I ran from Hermione’s Yule Ball gown to Tom Riddle’s diary pierced by a Basilisk tooth to Horace Slughorn’s pajamas, that not only could I identify each and every of the 100-plus props on display, I also knew which scene in which movie they were featured. Surely this kind of dedication could have been better applied to learning Latin or building Habitats for Humanity.

Firefly is another series I became, shall we say, fond of. In addition to knowing all the famous lines (I swear by my pretty floral bonnet I will end you), I read anything regarding Firefly that I could get my hands on. Turns out I’m not alone in the ‘verse because there’s lots of literature.  One day my boss threatened an intervention, so I had to stop talking about Firefly. At work, at least.

My visit to Albuquerque was inspired by Breaking Bad. So naturally, as a fan of The Walking Dead (TWD), I took not one but two zombie tours when I was workamping outside of Atlanta.

Sidenote about Workamping: Workamping is when you volunteer to work for an organization, typically an RV park or national park, in exchange for a free full hookup (water, electric and dump).  I spent 3 months volunteering with the Army Corps of Engineers in Lake Alatoona, which is outside Atlanta. I was in charge of posting the required notices on the bulletin boards at all 30 beaches and docks. It took me a while to learn the ropes but here’s some inside advice: Honor Boxes. Honor Boxes are the locked containers that hold the envelopes you fill out and place money inside of when a ranger is not present.

My workamping job provided a campsite in exchange for 20 hours of work a week per site, which meant that married couples who were both able-bodied needed to put in only 10 hours a week each. They quickly caught on that both of them could sign up for the Monday Honor Box pick up route. Given the size of the lake and the far apart locations of the boxes, they easily knocked off 16 hours of their 20 weekly hours in one day. On those rare occasions that the Honor Box assignment wasn’t taken by the hucksters (oops, I mean the married couples), I could put in 8 hours in one day.

But back to the zombies: As fans of the show know, the program is filmed in Georgia. Season 1 was filmed almost entirely around Atlanta. Both the tours I took were led by zombies. Although neither was in costume, they did provide guidance on how to walk like a zombie. It’s harder than it looks, which is why the extras have to attend Zombie School. Those who do well receive an “A” and are placed in the “A” Group, which means full makeup, prosthetics, and maybe even a close up or two. The B group gets placed in the background with a little makeup while the C group is in the far background. All they get is dirt thrown on them. Those who earn a “D” or, even worse, an “F”, are let go. I’m proud to state that both my tour zombies were “A’s.” My Tour 1 zombie (Z1) was the one who fell on Andrea during the big attack at Herschel’s Farm. Z2 attacked Michonne when Merle had her shackled to a motel post while he was hotwiring a car and set off its alarm. Z2 noted that he was given leg protection, which didn’t help much since Michonne’s blows landed on his middle. Apparently in addition to walking funny an actor seeking a zombie role also needs strong abdominal muscles.

I learned from Z1 that, not surprisingly, it was fairly easy to become an extra on The Walking Dead for Season 1. After the program’s popularity, not so much. In fact, the producers now post on Facebook but do not identify the show. There are, however, hints: They seek people who are very slim and have large eyes, thin faces and long necks. According to Z1, due to the volume of the response, the post is taken down only minutes after it goes up.

The sites I visited during  Tour 1 included the Vatos camp; the department store where a furious Andrea threatens to shoot Rick (but neglected to release the gun’s safety); the fence and alley Rick and Glenn used to escape the walkers; the street where Rick ran into a hoard of walkers who attacked his horse; the street corner with the army tank; and the Jackson Street bridge, site of the camera shot of Rick riding a horse along the freeway to Atlanta. I use the Jackson Street Bridge photo as my picture on Gmail.

Most of these sites are shown below. If this site works as I hope it does, the captions identify where the photos were taken.

Tour 2 took us to the town of Senoia, Georgia, an hour south of Atlanta, used for the Town of Woodbury run by the Governor. Sites included the building where Rick and the Governor met to discuss their communities’ fates, over a glass of scotch (or was it whiskey?); the drug store visited by Maggie and Glenn to replenish supplies; and the houses where Carl ate chocolate pudding and Rick ran into the Claimer thugs. (My goodness, who knew how harmless the Claimers gang would appear after Terminus, the Wolves and the Survivors. What with Rick and Michonne hooking up — repeat after me: HIGHLY UNLIKELY — and the Season 6 finale, I’m not sure how much more I can take of the show.)

To return to more amusing subjects, I asked Z1 about Dale’s RV. Turns out the producers bought an old Winnebago from an older local couple and — shocker — the rig gave them so much trouble that they had to stop using it! Talk about authenticity.

Sidenote About Zombies and Babies: As many fans know, the actor who plays Rick Grimes, Andrew Lincoln, is English and remains in character between takes. What you may not know,  however, is just how this Englishman got the role of a Southern sheriff. The story as told by Z2 is that Lincoln sent in a tape to the producers that he recorded after being up all night with his newborn son. He had exactly the haggard look the producers were seeking. Upon hearing this, my son observed, “So what you’re saying is that having a baby is like surviving a zombie invasion and the end of the world.”

 

 

What I’ve Learned My First Year

Because some of my friends have expressed an interest in RV’ing for an extended period of time, I’ve made a list of the Top Five actions I highly recommend taking before embarking upon your adventure. This information is based on experience.

  1. Immediately take an RV driving class.
  2. Then go to RV “Boot Camp”. Escapees offers an excellent introduction.
  3. Join several groups and participate in their activities. The groups I’ve enjoyed include Escapees, with its BOFs (Birds of a Feather) special interest groups, including Solos, the Escapees Single Club; RVW (RV’ing Women), the group I’m currently traveling with up the East Coast; LOWS (Loners on Wheels), as long as you don’t hook up with anyone; and WINS (Wandering Individuals Network), comprised of active people who hike, kayak, dance, do a lot of boondocking (“dry” camping with no electric, water, and sometimes no garbage disposal), and are allowed to retain membership even if they form a couple.  Within these groups you will meet like-minded people who will help you fix some of your many breakdowns (both figuratively and literally). They also provide support, sympathy and stories of disasters that can top yours.
  4. Carefully calculate your total projected costs. Then multiply by 3.
  5. Figure that virtually anything and everything that needs repair/replacement/updating can be done so with a great deal of time, money and inconvenience.

Any questions?

 

I Have A Plan

 “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” 
― Dwight D. Eisenhower

 Market research, including extensive use of Focus Groups, shows that my target audience wants to know, in order of priority:

1. Where am I?
2. Where was I?
3. Where am I going?
4. Is Missy still with me?

Present. I’m in Fort Stockton/Pecos, Texas, which represents achieving a goal to be on I-10 East by April 1.  Coincidentally, I recently finished the Jack Reacher novel, Echo Burning, which takes place in this exact area. In fact, the book references Hwy. 285 South, which I took from Santa Fe (oops, spoiler alert). Truth be told, I’m actually ashamed every time I read a Jack Reacher novel, lecturing myself, “OK, you want your brain to rot, go ahead.” I was introduced to this series by Cousins 2 & 3, among the smartest women I know. In fact, I recall Cousin #3 telling me how much she enjoyed meeting the people trying out for Jeopardy (she ultimately was a contestant and I still don’t understand how she couldn’t know Joni Mitchell’s Hissing of Summer Lawns) because, like her, they read text books for fun. Look what’s become of us.

Despite learning about this area from Lee Child, I’m quite proud that I am at this specific location – Fort Stockton/Pecos – because it proves that I achieved my objective of reaching I-10 on April 1 to begin the next part of my journey.

Pecos front yard

Typical front yard in Pecos, Texas

 

I arrived here via Hwy. 285, a 75mph/2-lane road running through the middle of nowhere and towns that are boarded up. I repeated the “Darn it, you know you’re always supposed to fill up with Diesel when you can get it” mantra and finally concluded that if anything happened to the RV by way of breakdown (OK, OK, or it ran out of gas), I’d just unhook the Smartcar and drive it to the next town, in the hopes the next town wasn’t boarded up. So long as I didn’t run out of gas in the Smartcar, which, unfortunately, I know for a fact can happen.

Although I made it to Pecos safely, I was frightened for my life on Hwy. 285 South. I figure my grey hair and the poodle on my lap (oops, second spoiler alert) helped save me from the Texans in pick-up trucks passing me as I toodled along the road with my California license plates and hippie-dippie car. My fear was that somewhere under the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law, it’s acceptable for residents, as they pass an out-of-state vehicle going 55 mph, to blow the driver (me) away. 

Past. I had absolutely no interest in visiting Santa Fe (don’t care for Georgia O’Keeffe; don’t care for Southwest style; don’t like turquoise; and not in the market for artwork), but so many people urged me to visit that I figured it was easier to just go and be done with it. I did enjoy the outdoor sculptures on Colorado Street. I now know, however, that I can add Santa Fe architecture – one boring adobe-style home after another – to my “don’t care for” list. I have since found the term, “faux-dobe” (pronounced as one word: “foe-dough-bee) to describe the city’s appearance. 

Moreover, at least according to my bus tour guide, the original popular book, Santa Fe Style, was created in the mid-1980s by an advertising agency, N.W. Ayer & Son. Other notably successfully campaigns by the agency included: When it rains it pours (Morton Salt); I’d walk a mile for a Camel; A diamond is forever; Reach out and touch someone; and Be all you can be. These guys were good!

Future. I need to be St. Augustine, Florida, by May 1. That’s where I’ll meet up with RV’ing Women (RVW) for a Rolling Rally up the east coast. I plan to remain with the group until mid-September, when we’ll be in Nova Scotia. My next destination is in mid-October in York, Pennsylvania, for the annual RVW Conference. I am in charge of publishing the 72-page Conference Program. Don’t ask.

I’m looking forward to the Rolling Rally because it means I’ll be traveling with other women. We’ll see the local sites, as recommended by local women, and I’ll likely be able to look forward to a daily Happy Hour. Although I’ve not minded traveling alone, I’d prefer to be with others.

Once the RVW Conference is over, rather than starting out in late-October for the west coast I plan to head south to Florida, where I hope to find part-time employment in a campground until Spring. “Workcamping” typically involves a free site, discounts and other perks, as well modest payment.

You may have noticed that I’ve scheduled a full month to get from Texas to Florida on I-10. I drive a maximum of 250 miles a day, which, at 55 mph tops, is 4.5 hours. Add in frequent rest stops for gas, food and walking Missy, it can take me as many as 6 to 8 hours to cover those 250 miles. Once I pull off at an RV Park, I find I need at least two days to rest.

I-10 map

I-10 crosses the warmer parts of the U.S. It stretches from the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) in Santa Monica to Jacksonville, Florida. Red dot shows my April 1 location.

Pecos to St. Augustine is about 1,500 miles. That works out to 6 days of travel, plus another 12 days of rest = 18 days. Given the nature of RV’ing, I’m building in time for the unexpected — a regular occurrence, unfortunately. I also may want to stay in one place for more than the allotted two days, or take a detour from I-10. The interstate will take me though Texas (El Paso, San Antonio, Houston; and I may pay a visit to Port Arthur, birthplace of Janis Joplin); Louisiana (Baton Rouge; I plan to detour north around New Orleans); Mississippi (Jackson, Gulf Port, Biloxi); Alabama (Mobile); and Florida (Pensacola). Depending on how my travels go and how much time I have, once I enter the Florida Panhandle I may detour south and follow roads along the Gulf of Mexico. Ever the optimist.

Missy.  She’s doing fine. She’s even stop peeing, shaking and panting while I’m driving.  Should you join me, I hope you’ll follow her excellent example. During my travels I’ve been invited to join people, mostly couples, for drinks, dinner, a movie and Spider (a game of dominoes). Every invitation has come from people I’ve met through Missy.

Despite intentions to the contrary, I did have Missy groomed. Although I had planned to cut her fur (hair, actually), myself, out of sheer terror she would squirm and wiggle whenever I made an attempt at grooming. Her moving about led to nicks and stabbings, which for some reason compounded her fears. I have a budget of $60 a month for haircuts, so now $40 plus tip goes to her grooming and the money remaining is for my haircuts. I’m confident I’ll get better at giving instructions to the young women at Supercuts and Great Clips. Alternately, I may just go to Missy’s groomer. 

Missy groomed

Missy groomed. You can’t tell from this angle but she had a Brazilian wax.

Karel haircut

And this was a GOOD hair day!

Arizona Observations

Dry Heat. This expression uses the word “dry” as an adjective. It’s also a gerund, as in “drying heat.” I don’t consider myself a vain woman, but I’ve become quite concerned about the effect of this dry heat on my appearance. I slather on expensive facial moisturizer every morning, but am convinced I entered the state with the face of a 64-year-old and will leave with the face of a 74-year-old. Deep cuts spontaneously appear in my fingertips, requiring first-aid cream and band-aids; and my cuticles and heels are cracked and dry. I’m thinking of offering up my feet for a “before” photo for a miracle cream. They’ll need another set of feet for the “after.”

Weather. I do believe the concept of “layering” began in Arizona, where temperatures varied from the low 70s during the day to the low 30s during the night. In a single 24-hour period. I had to retrieve my shorts and T-shirts during the day while still using a down comforter at night. Mornings often were 33-degrees F. I’ve actually become accustomed to climbing down from my nice warm bed to turn on the generator/heater, make my coffee, and go through the fairly complicated procedure of lighting the catalytic propane heater I had installed. Once all that is complete, I take the down comforter from the bed and wrap it around me, stretch out on the sofa, and drink my coffee while reading the New York Times on my iPhone. That I feel sorry for the poor freezing tent campers is further proof of circumstances being relative.

Helmet Law.  There is none. I gasped the first time I saw a motorcyclist riding without a helmet. Then I remembered I was in Arizona, not California. “Future Organ Donors” is what a Cousin #3 and I called the reckless riders – who WERE wearing helmets — we saw in California. I met a neurosurgeon this summer who said her medical community refers to them as, “Future Patients on Whom Interns Can Practice.” Makes me wonder how many neurosurgeons practice in states with helmet laws compared to those states where motorcyclists ride free.

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Sunset in the Arizona desert. Note the presence of a saguaro cactus.

Saguaro Cactus.  To state that this iconic cactus is ubiquitous doesn’t even begin to cover it. It’s everywhere you look in the southern part of the state.

Rabbits and Coyotes. The first time I saw a rabbit in Arizona, I figured it was a cotton tail because it looked exactly as if it had a ball of cotton placed on its rump. I’ve also seen large, well-fed coyote sauntering across back roads. Surely it’s no coincidence that I’ve not seen rabbits in areas where I’ve spotted coyotes.

Roadrunners. I had no idea that the creature pursued by Wile E. Coyote existed in nature. Imagine my surprise when someone identified an actual roadrunner. I’m fairly confident, though, that the cartoons exaggerated the roadrunner’s speed and Wile’s ability to remain suspended in air until he looks down and sees the abyss. Well, pretty sure.

Rattlesnakes. Rattlesnake avoidance training classes for dogs are offered in Arizona. I looked into enrolling Missy until I found out they use actual rattlesnakes. Makes perfect sense. The dogs need to recognize the sight, sound and smell of a rattlesnake. Since my rattlesnake, or any snake, avoidance is already high (I’m so frightened of snakes that if they were slithering past me to get out of a fire zone I would choose death by flames over mingling with them), I’m opting for a rattlesnake vaccination shot for Missy. Should she tangle with a snake, she’s on her own. The only time I’d intervene with a snake is if my son was involved. And even then I can’t promise I’d do anything more than scream.

Grand Canyon. Yes, it actually IS possible to be on the rim and not see the Grand Canyon. For years I’d maintained that I missed it and, indeed, I did. I was 15-years-old when my family’s summer vacation was a road trip from Chicago to the Grand Canyon. My mother, always an effusive woman, would exclaim (frequently), “Oh look over there, isn’t that beautiful.” Being 15, I’d look the other way. I showed her.

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Grand Canyon. I’m in the lower right.

The Grand Canyon was far more impressive than I expected. I imagined it was red rock that turned different colors during the day, depending on the sunlight. Since the red-rock image is the one most promoted, I was surprised to see different, dark and dull colors and layers of rocks. After reading about its formation and attending a program tailored to “Young Rangers,” I actually started to understand how the Grand Canyon was formed and why it’s studied by geologists the world over.

No, I did not hike down. Remember my age, please, and the condition of my replaced right knee, which I am loathe to replace again.

Dry Camping (aka Boondocking). There’s dry camping in places such as Quartzsite (no garbage disposal; no water sources; no dump sites) and then there’s boondocking in campsites in National Parks, such as the Grand Canyon, where there are places to dispose of garbage, access water, and get rid of black and grey water. Big difference. Actually, a HUGE difference to people like me, who are accustomed to car camping. Quartzsite may be free, but I’ll gladly pay the $9 per night fee (senior rate) at the Grand Canyon.

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My campsite at the Grand Canyon. I’m exceeding proud of the campfire I started without kindling. The tent-like structure covers the picnic table.

Roundabouts. If ever there was a place that didn’t need roundabouts, it’s Arizona. According to Wikipedia, “The single greatest benefit of roundabouts is that they eliminate perpendicular/T-bone crashes. The modern form was standardized in the United Kingdom.” What the Wiki writer is overlooking is the single greatest detriment of roundabouts: Here in America, few of us have a clue as to how to use them, thereby effectively increasing the probability of other types of crashes. Particularly when driving an RV and towing a car.

Route 66.  It seems to me that every time I left the freeway I was on Route 66. Sentiment and songs aside, I found the road to be in poor condition and often running through parts of towns that were boarded up. On my more pessimistic days, I think Route 66 may possibly represent the future of the U.S. Interstate system.

Winslow. I achieved a long-time ambition (OK, so maybe I do set my sights a bit low) of visiting a “corner in Winslow, Arizona,” as sung by The Eagles in “Take It Easy.” The song came at a seminal time of my life, soon after graduating from Berkeley. I also remember hearing one of my roommates, Laura, inspired by the song, using the expression “lighten up” for the first time.

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Meltdown in the Desert

Even at the time, I recognized that my reaction was way out of proportion to the incident. But such is the nature of the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

The previous day I had left Missy in her crate as I joined our small group of RV’ing Women (RVW) Solos for a tour of Ajo, Arizona, and lunch at a good old-fashioned Church rummage sale (Bought a book for 5 cents!). We were boondocking at the Ajo (pronounced “Ah’-ho”) golf course/country club for an annual Fiddlers’ Contest.

To my surprise, Missy greeted me at the door when I returned.  Apparently I had neglected to secure the 2nd door of the crate. To my delight, she had done no damage. So when I left again later that day, this time to play Mexican Train with the group in the leader’s large and comfortable RV (a Class A), I left Missy lose.

Although the evening was full of fun, I happened to be seated next to The One in Every Crowd. I found her loud and obnoxious and disliked that she considered herself an expert on every, I mean EVERY, RV-related subject. Perhaps she does know what she’s talking about, I tried to convince myself; it just might behoove me to pay attention. That ploy didn’t work. The best I could manage was to refrain from strangling her.

As always, Missy was delighted to welcome me back home.

My dreams that night were awful, full of anxiety and frustration. I awoke unrested. And then saw what Missy had done during my second absence: Torn the screen door.

I fell apart. I sat outside in the sun and cried and cried. It was in this state that one of the RV Women found me.

“I can’t take it anymore,” I sobbed, pointing to the slight damage. “I can’t afford to fix this. It’s been one thing after another.” (This was before my epiphany that yes indeed, traveling in an RV IS one thing after the other. Deal with it.) I went on to list my litany of woes, some of which were actually legitimate.

“I can’t stop crying,” I told her.

“Maybe you need to cry some more,” she replied.

“I know it’s ridiculous to get this upset over a torn screen, but it’s just the last straw,” I said.

“We’ve all been there,” she assured me.

After turning down her kind invitation to join her and some of the other women for breakfast, I continued to cry. I should note here that it’s unusual for me to cry unassisted. I typically need to watch a movie in the tear-jerker genre to get me going. The best ever is “A Catered Affair” with Bette Davis. Had I not been in a movie theater (this was in the days before VCRs) and been obstructed by the armrests, I would have thrown myself prone across the seats and sobbed my heart out. Thank goodness for Bette Davis. That woman’s movies got me though more down times than I care to remember. Once when she was in the Bay Area and rumored to be staying at the Claremont Hotel in Berkeley, I sat at the bar for several evenings running in the hopes of seeing her to tell her how much her movies meant to me. (“Saved my life,” might be a bit dramatic, but not far off the mark.) I gave up after a while, in part because of the expense of the drinks at that swank place.

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Voila! Bottom of screen door fixed.

Back in Ajo, I was finally finished crying when the woman I had spoken with returned with several others in tow to examine the damaged screen. “Easy to fix,” they assured me, referring to the door, not my state of mind. As if by magic, a small roll of screen, scissors and a gasket roller appeared and my very own cheerleading squad helped me cut out the damaged section, affix the replacement, and hand me a series of threaded needles to sew the new section of screen in place.

Although the replacement looks homemade, which of course it is, and some might even go so far as to describe it as “tacky,” I plan to keep the makeshift, ragged “L” formed by the repair job. As far as I’m concerned, the “L” stands for “last,” as in that was the last time I left Missy uncrated. More importantly, the “L” stands for “love.” Every time I look at the repair job it reminds me of the supportive community that exists everywhere along the journey.

Synopsis to be followed (eventually) by more detail

I can explain. I’ve either been busy having a lot of fun (Palm Desert with Cousin #2; Quartzsite; Aja AZ for a fiddlers’ contest) or too down. However, I turned a corner last week; I had an epiphany:  An RV means dealing with one thing after another. Always and forever.  My search for a state of grace, in which all necessary repairs are completed and nothing major will malfunction for the next XX months, is illusionary. My new affirmation is, “As long as I’m in the U.S. and can get towed to an RV campsite, I can deal with it.”

My acceptance was bolstered by a friend who assured me that when their RV was brand new, and she was traveling with her mechanically-inclined husband, who could fix most problems, they still had to be towed several times.

More About Quartzsite

Quartzsite is a location in Arizona. It’s also an annual event of huge proportions, involving the onslaught of up  to a million RV’ers who, for free, boondock (camp with no electricity; no disposal of garbage; and no source of water apart from your 20+ fresh water tank) on Arizona BLM land. Quartzsite means “The Tent.” Imagine a country fair with three long rows of vendors  marketing to RV’ers.

Quartzsite also means lots of various and sundry RV affinity groups camping together. I camped RVW (RV’ing Women) and WINs (Wondering Individuals Network) and participated in events with LOWs (Loners on Wheels) and Escapees. RV’ers also gather according to their type of rig (Lazy Daze, Winnebago, Airstream) to compare notes and hold Open Houses to see owner customizations.

The Tent is surrounded outside by even more vendors.

The Tent is surrounded outside by even more vendors.

When I mentioned to a friend that I had joined RVW over the summer, she informed me it was a gay group. Oh well, I thought, surely not everyone would be gay. When I read the RVW newsletter and realized the group was holding a round-up in Quartzsite and I would be in nearby Palm Springs a week earlier, I decided to go.

Although I continued to believe that surely not everyone would be gay, it did give me pause when I read that the RVW site would be immediately beyond the “Beaver” group. Just what IS the Beaver group, I wondered. Hard core lesbians? Turns out Beavers are a type of RV.

Upon arrival, I couldn’t help but notice that my short grey hair was significantly longer than most everyone else’s. Also, on more than one occasion, I saw people who from afar appeared to be men. Upon approach, however, they weren’t. Those cowboy boots and hats can certainly be deceiving, particularly when viewed atop a rugged four-wheel drive vehicle with two deep-voiced, profanity-spewing individuals and at least one large vicious-breed dog. Identifying women who didn’t play for the same team was not easy. In the end, I decided that those I suspected of hetero tendencies included the half-dozen recent widows and the woman I became friendly with who said, incredulously, “Tell me that really IS a man.” It was. I had actually asked myself the same question when I spotted him.  In case you think her reaction wasn’t conclusive, there was further proof (the incidents would take too long to tell).

I attended RVW workshops featuring topics such as fire (I stocked up on three new fire extinguishers; bought flares; and learned I’ll need to get out the RV, with the dog, in under 20 seconds); and tips on traveling full-time. I also attended an RVW Solos Group, where we introduced ourselves and briefly presented our backgrounds and interest in RV’ing. When it was my turn, I flatly declared, “It’s been one fucking thing after another.” Much knowing laughter ensued.  I’ve been told my proclamation is now used by several Solos.

I hope they, too, can come to graciously accept it.