Saturday, January 31, 2009

January 31, 2009 Corpus Christi, Texas

January 31, 2009
Easy drive from San Antonio south to Corpus Christi. We are still in search of warmer weather, sun and a place for the "boys" to go fishing. Peg and I are starting to call them "Thing One" and "Thing Two", like the the little trouble makers that ran around with "The Cat in the Hat". They certainly keep each other amused. We came into Corpus early in the afternoon, and found that the main drag basically dead-ends at the South Gate of the Corpus Christi Naval Air Station. Got into the gate with no problem after flashing our Military ID that proclaims Jeff as a 100% DAV. A nice little fellow in camo filled out our visitor passes and sent us to the RV Park with some sketchy directions. Honestly .... I have shoes older than the kid who was armed and ready to shoot us if we made a wrong move. He had eyelashes like a girl and big blue eyes... black hair and freckles. I wanted to pinch his cheeks and give him a kiss. Cleverly, I restrained myself. (Lord ... I hope he never reads this!)

Like every other Military Base I have seen, the top security buildings are very clearly marked .... Naval Command Headquarters ... Strategic Military Planning Division ... fire & Emergency Rescue ... Coast Guard Headquarters ... etc. However ... Commissary, Exchange, Post Office, Campground ..... those you could wander around for a while trying to find. We made one wrong turn, did a quick fly-by through the commissary parking lot (imagine 2 motor homes and tow vehicles doing donuts in the Acme lot) and found the RV park. Doesn't get much better than this. We pulled up facing the Corpus Christi Bay .... Peg & Kent backed in so we could have our doors opening up to each other. Between, we created our very own "Patio" and Bar-B-Q center. We are in the overflow area ... all the regular campsites are full. BUT... we have lovely privacy and we can run our generators without fear of disturbing anyone and we are 15 feet from the water. We watch the sun come up out of the bay ... egrets, gulls, herons and other fishing birds(like pelicans) are very active. Dolphins come chasing fish to shore every morning for their breakfast. There are about 5 that we see almost every day. The base restaurant, The Bay Club, is in walking distance and a fair meal is $6.25. The laundry is $1.00 a load to wash and the same to dry. The propane guy comes around to your rig to fill you up. In less than an hour you can move your rig to the dump station and then to take on a tank of fresh water and be back in your parking spot. Once you learn the secret, you can fish every night and catch your dinner of Black Drum, Red Drum, Trout, Sea Bass or Catfish. And all this for only $6.00 a day. Life is good.

Jeff and I took an afternoon to go to see the U.S.S. Lexington, also known as the "Lady Lex". It is an aircraft carrier of the same class as the "Shangri-La", one of the ships he served on. This ship was very active during WWII ... saw a lot of action in the Pacific. It was torpedoed more than once, and was rumored to have been sunk so many times that the Japanese called it "The Blue Ghost". It is a National Historic Landmark, now, and has loads of donated exhibits, artifacts, planes, helicopters and personal items on board. You start on the Hangar Deck ... where the planes were worked on by the mechanics and readied for their missions. When I saw the size of the place and Jeff told me how they would open the side doors, run the engines up to full power to test them after repair and realized what the noise level must have been ... I know why he lost his hearing. The place is immense. They had a crew of about 3000 or so on board. The flight deck did not seem big enough, when Jeff told me how planes would be landing on one end (catching the big wires that are fastened on the deck with their tail-hooks) and taking off on the other. Big plates lift up out of the deck to catch the jet blast and a catapult flings the plane out over the ocean at 120 knots. A big hole opens up in the deck and more planes go up and down by elevator. All this is covered over and puttied and painted over, but if you worked on one, you know where to look for the outlines of the openings. There are HUGE letters on the side of one wall that say ...."BEWARE OF JET BLAST PROPELLERS AND ROTORS". That seemed kind of a "Duh" reminder to me, until Jeff explained that when you are working non-stop at a very hectic pace, wearing earmuffs and have things moving all around you it is very easy to lose track of where you are. Apparently, guys walked in to spinning propellers all the time. I think you only do that once ... no second chances. Nor is there a do-over if your plane comes in a little low on the landing. You miss the deck by just a little, and you hit the back of the ship. It is very sturdy, back there ... the "poop deck" ... and you die, they scrape everything off into the ocean and write a sorrowful letter home to your family. I think it happens more than we ever hear about. Anyway ... the Mess (where they served 3000 meals 3 times a day and were open 23 hours our of every 24), the bunks(that are half as wide as a single bed and have a 3 inch mattress and almost no storage), the sick bay (which was very scary), the work areas, the smell of grease and diesel and 3000 other people that you can NEVER get away from .... I don't know how he did it.
And the BRIG!!!! About 4 foot square with a little place to sit in one corner, no place to lie down. You get shut up there for 3 or 4 days with nothing but bread and water (yes, that's what happens!!) and you don't want to go back. Unless you are a hard-head like Jeff, who spent a fair number of days there. I got him to go in one for a photo ... for old time's sake.
We now have permanent decals on our vehicles, and will have a faster entrance onto other bases. There are lots of folks who come here for 2 or 3 months every winter. I can see why, as it is a really laid back area with nice amenities and pretty decent weather. We have had days in the 60s and 70s each day .... cool at night for sleeping, but not cold. The wind can be something else, though! The gusts today have been 30 or 40 MPH, and they are increasing as the weekend progresses. We are planning to head out tomorrow for places farther south ... Mission, Harlingen and McAllen ... almost to the Mexican border. Apparently, this is where huge numbers of old farts go in their RVs for the winter. We want to take a look to see if it seems appealing or appalling. More on that later.

Monday, January 26, 2009

January 26, 2009 San Antonio, Texas

San Antonio, January 26, 2009

We are in a funny sort of RV park on the southeast side of San Antonio. There are a lot of folks here who are just hanging out .. on their way from someplace to someplace and just wanting a spot to park in and rest and sight see for a few days. There is nothing to recommend this place, except that it is cheap, clean and close to the places we want to check out. Come to think of it ... it has everything we need except a view.

We took a trip today on a "tour bus" that ferried us all around the hot spots in San Antonio. A very nice bus picked up 8 of us here at the Braunig Lake RV Park and we headed downtown. One couple is from Canada ...he a retired postman and she a lovely lady who has decided she loves travelling in a little RV. He retired, they sold their home and their horses ... bought an RV and headed out for warmer locations. They have done most of Florida, New Orleans, Padre Island, Corpus Christi, Brownsville and a bit of Mexico. When they leave here they plan to head for Baton rouge and take the old Natchez Trace trail up to Nashville. It is a real treat to hear French Canadians pronouncing names like "Neu Orleanzz", "Batone Rrrrouggge" and "Loiueeeevillle". they are very jolly and pleased at how good the values are here.

The first stop we made on our tour was the "Sunken Gardens" or the Japanese Gardens that were created in an old limestone quarry. The quarry was begun so that the limestone could be burned to create cement. When the city began expanding the quarry was pushed farther and farther out of town. One of the City Fathers had an idea of creating a sunken Japanese Garden and used prison labor to create it, with elaborate paths and stone walls and walkways. This is in 1918 or 1919, and sometime in 1920 a local Japanese artist and his wife had been invited to live in and maintain the park. They opened a small tea room, maintained the gardens and raised 8 kids there. He died in 1938, and the rest of the family was evicted in 1941 when all the Japanese were relocated to internment camps during WWII. The beautiful sign saying "Japanese Garden" was removed, and another saying "Chinese Garden" was put in it's place. Nobody wanted anything remotely Japanese, no matter how innocent.

The waterfall in the garden is one of the many sources or headwaters of the San Antonio River that forms the Riverwalk and goes right thru the City. There are also, apparently, hundreds of artesian springs that contribute to the river. There are some BIG damned koi, a huge, thatched pagoda and lovely gardens that are prowled by some BIG damned cats! some are wild, but others are dropped off by people who don't want them anymore. Local volunteers come and feed them, try to round them up occasionally for spaying, neutering and adoption ... but they can't keep up with the unwanted drop-offs.

We went in to the city next to the Riverwalk and got on some barges to tour the river and see the sights. this would have been immensely more enjoyable if it had been June, July or August. At 10:30 on a January morning we were freezing our tails off. Cleverly, we had dressed in layers and some of us had thought to bring gloves. I wasn't too uncomfortable, so I was having a pretty good time listening to the guide give us all the details. In the Summer, this place should be awesome. Other cities are copying the concept, but San Antonio was the first.

Then we head to the Alamo ... the holiest of holy for any Texan. This is a serious shrine. Gentlemen are instructed to remove their hats, and no photographs are permitted inside. There are volunteer docents who will give you a detailed tour of the basically empty rooms, and give you details of the heroes and the battle .... day by day. It looks nothing like it did at the time of the actual battle ... and is a rather small chapel that was part of a much larger compound. I was interested to see that there were a goodly number of Pennsylvanians who died there ... plus one guy from New Jersey. Irish, Scots and one Dane, too. I am reading a novel based on the episode, so I may actually get it all squared away in my head at some point.

More interesting (at least to us) was the next stop ... Mission San Jose. It was one of the original mission established by the Friars who tried to Christianize the local Indians. It is a huge compound that has been restored to show the way it would have looked in the early 1700's. There is an operating grist mill that was very ingenious, and the restored "apartments" that would have housed the local Indian families who decided to be baptized and work as unpaid labor for the church, so they could keep from starving.

After a romp through the endless tourist offerings of the Mercado (the original Mexican Market) where you can buy imported whatever from Mexico ..... toys, serapes, blankets, embroidered dressed, pottery, jewelry, etc ....we headed home and collapsed. The real joy of a trip like this is that we would have never seen half of these places on our own. Downtown is always hard to negotiate in your own vehicle, even in a smaller metropolis like San Antonio. Plus, the guides were really full of information and I could figure out what books to pick up to fill in the areas that interested me. We have decided that tours are usually a good way to go at first ... and then we can revisit things on our own if we want.

So ... next we are heading for Corpus Christi and even warmer weather. Today was 65, but the sun was very strong and I loved every minute of it! More!! More!!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

January 20, 2009 Arriving in Austin

January 20 ......

Leaving Nac for Austin and points South. We are trying to stick to smaller roads (and smaller towns) on the way ... like Alto, Rusk & Palestine. Lots of "Piney woods" and some hillier country. Mostly brown and grey this time of year, with green coming from pines, cedar, holly & laurel.
More signs that amuse me ... "Inside Yard Sale" (oxymoron??) Grapeland Safari ...Exotic Animals" (I'll just bet) BIG BIG gate over an imposing driveway ..."North 32' Ranch" ...I see dollar signs. Don't blink when you go thru Oakwoods, TX ... feed store, Post Office, Stray dog and a Baptist church ...that's it. No wonder all those beauty queens just want to get out of Texas. The Lipsey Ranch, The Pate Ranch, Keechi Creek ... white faced cattle grazing next to oil derricks pumping. The "Horse's Mouth Book Store and Internet Cafe" is right next door to the "Gun Shop" in Buffalo, TX .. (pop 1804) I am imagining the couple who own the "Sweetheart Ranch" ... nice. The wind is picking up just enough to make driving harder and harder. Jeff is glad we don't have too much farther to go. Bicycle team with about 30 riders and a van following ...Hearne, TX on the Little Brazos River has 2 Dairy Queens!!...population 4,950. There is a train on the siding ... 3 tender engines and cars that went on and on and around a bend .. too many to count. In Milano, TX (pop 400) "NAT"S - Beer, Pool & Dancing Since 1968"... all this in a building about the size of a 2 car garage. Thorndale, TX (pop 1278) has "Carol's ... Groceries, Antiques, Restaurant & Gifts". I could just move right in !!! Finally, finally ... a 4 1/2 hour drive (that turned into 6 because of the wind) is over and we find our new home in Austin. Good night!!

We begin our relaxing time here in Austin .... the "pretty" part of Texas. We are in a campground in a "resort" area near Lake Travis .... which is a huge lake formed by the Mansfield Dam. It's a very nice place, recently expanded in a hope of becoming an RV Resort, I think. I love looking at the trees with the funny balls of green in the live oaks ... Mistletoe! If the folks here are depending on the lake for business, they had better keep praying for rain. The lake is about 40 feet below normal just now. Partly due to drought and partly because there are more and more housing development to the south that need more and more water. If they have more rain here and the lake begins to fill, but there is no rain to the south .. they must release water to the people "down hill". Too many people moving to the desert landscape and wanting green lawns!! We saw the same thing last summer in Colorado and New Mexico. Stupid!

January 20, 2009.

We have a new President! Watched the Inauguration festivities begin early this morning from our campground at Lake Travis. There was not much activity .. everyone seems glued to the TV. I am just so optimistic about the things he said in his Address and the way he has of inspiring people to better things.

We are a bit northwest of Austin, Texas at the edge of the Hill Country. The weather was crystal clear today and grew warm and sunny after a pretty cool night. The weather here is a far cry from what we are seeing in other parts of the country, where we keep tabs on friends and family. Chester County .. Chicago ... Hickory, NC ... everyone is in a deep freeze!
We are happy just to stay put for a while, and plan to do just that while the temperatures climb to the mid and high 70s later this week!! Whoo-hoo!! Then we plan to head to San Antonio and Corpus Christi. More later!

Monday, January 12, 2009

January 12, 2009 Heading for Texas

January 12 ....

Managed to get to the far side of Atlanta..... traffic there is a legendary nightmare, so we pulled over and waited it out. By 7:30 we have found another Walmart and the lights go out early. The big joke with motor home people is that 9PM is "Motorcade Midnight". We wake up at 4AM, get on the road by 5 and it is deserted. Wonderful! Slip into the Central time zone and by 9:30 we are in Mississippi. Toomsuba (nice name!), Meridian, Jackson ...(I start thinking of the Civil Rights marches that took place in those cities, and the Inauguration that will be taking place in a very few days ... awesome). Suddenly Vicksburg and we cross the Mississippi River into Louisiana. One note ... heading from Jackson to Vicksburg I see a giant billboard with 2 big faces and the lettering STATUTORY RAPE IS A CRIME!! Listed are the names of the defendants and the ages of the victims. Mississippi does not mess around with criminals!!

Once again, as soon as we cross to the west of the Mississippi , the roads get better and the people get decent. They don't cut you off, move to the side to let you pass, wave as you go by and and don't seem to be in a hurry. Cross the Big Black River, which has overflowed it's banks .... a very bad accident (going the other way) involving a tandem Fed-Ex truck on it's side down in the grassy median. Lots of emergency vehicles and flashing lights. Soon we slip onto a smaller road and into the back country for a bit. In Bethany, LA we see the "Hungry Possum" pizza shop ... gotta wonder about the toppings! Next door is the "Lickskillet Feed Store" ... who are they feeding?? Not many barnyard animals eat from a skillet. Before you know it you cross the line into Texas where the sign reads "Drive Friendly .. The Texas Way" and "Proud home of President George HW Bush". I wouldn't advertise that ... but that's just me. One more hour to Nac!! whew!!

Nacogdoches feels like home, now. ... I have been there as much as any place! My big wish was to have the antennae reconnected. but .... several thousands of dollars later, I now have a rather impressive self-seeking satellite system attached to the roof and less closet space for all the boxes and gizmos that operate it. I have more remotes than I know what to do with, but I get a cartload of channels and ... most importantly ... Mr. Wonderful is happy! When it starts to raise itself and search for a signal, I rival anything I can imagine at NASA ... I expect the Mothership to come honing in on me. Now ... let's see if we can actually remember how to work it!

Our friends Peggy & Kent drive down from Oklahoma City to join us in Nacogdoches. They have never had their Foretravel to the factory for maintenance, but for anyone who owns one of these coaches, it is like a trip to Disney. Big, fancy coaches pull in and out as people come in for service appointments or to pick up parts or even just to stop for the night on their way to some other destination. It is a very nice club to belong to! And I have never yet met an unpleasant person in Texas. they have all been gracious, friendly and smiling. I always wait to hear that first Texan I run into say ... "Ha Yew? Ha y'all doin'??" They never let me down.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

We Begin ... January 2009

January 6, 2009 .... Tales from the Road

Pull out of the driveway on January 6. The weather is not great. Some rain/sleet/snow ahead. We are headed for Greencastle, PA .... just on the Mason-Dixon line and the location of Unnamed RV Place. They did some work on our motor home and it isn't working out, so we need to pay them a visit. They are still no help, so we pull out again in a dreary drizzle that is threatening to turn to ice. After another hour we find a very nice Walmart parking lot and wait out the storm with 2 other motor homes who wanted to get off the road. Now .. here is the saga of the satellite.....

In the never-ending quest for more and better gadgets, Jeff bought a satellite system from a friend ... (who never used it on his boat, it was still in the box and it was Direct TV compatible). After RV Place installed (or attempted to install) the system on the roof of our RV and we were never able to connect with any satellite we contacted the distributor in California. Turns out that the system is juuuuuust old enough that Direct TV has reconfigured their system enough that it is now totally obsolete. A boat anchor ... a door stop. Useless. More than useless ... we had PAID some goofball to put it on our roof!! AND he disconnected my TV antennae, so I was now without TV of any kind! Quel horreur!! He did such a great job that somewhere on I-81 in Virginia we heard a great "BANG!!" as the dome blew off and bounced down the highway behind us. We heard from some UPS guys that we did not kill anyone and it rolled harmlessly into the median. Fortunately I have brought a number of good books and I don't miss the TV.

We make it to North Carolina and after a nice couple of days with grand kids in Hickory and then we head out for Texas. Can't wait to get back there!