December 2014 - Christmas Chaos

Ralph's Blog

Previous     Blog Index     Next

OK, as I write it's March 10 And we're camped in the desert outside Phoenix AZ, but I do want to keep these adventures in chronological order so it's Christmas once again. Pretty neat trick with 80 degrees outside, eh? When you're retired every day is Saturday and time just sort of slides on by - there's no hurry to do anything, like write these blogs.

After six weeks in Austin TX the plan was to pull up stakes and drive to New Iberia LA to spend Christmas with Scott's folks. I suppose I should explain that Scott is our son-in-law, the one who had the good sense to marry Judy's daughter Raina. His Dad is Larry, his Mom is Rochelle and his sister is Laura, her husband is Ryan (Scott's best friend from childhood) and their 3 year old son is Ryder. That's enough genealogy for you to know the cast of characters.

The appointed day arrived and Judy and I rose early, walked over to the Waffle House for breakfast. (That's important, as you'll see later. It's also important because they make great hash browns.) We hooked up the truck and were on our way by 9:30 AM. Things were fine for about an hour, then it started to rain, which slowed us down considerably. Somewhere the outside of Houston we got hungry and started looking for a place to eat. We weren't in the mood for fast food, but eventually we saw a sign for Mom's Kitchen. My mom was a good cook, so was Judy's so we decided to take a chance.

We exited at the sign and wandered all over creation following the signs until we reached the place. Nice big parking lot for the trailer, so we parked out behemoth and went in. I took one sniff of the heavy tobacco smoke and we turned right around. Mom evidently hasn't heard that smoking kills you. Grumbling mightily I proceeded to drive around the building, but misjudged the turn on the far side. A sickening crunch informed me I had run a steel pole right into the furnace on the trailer. I saw the cover on the ground through my rear view mirror and proceeded to exercise my considerable vocabulary of words you shouldn't use in front of grandchildren.

By now it was raining in earnest, so my attempts to cover the furnace with plastic and masking tape failed, leaving the innards of the furnace open to the elements. After much backing-and-forthing I managed to make the turn and get out, but my Christmas Spirit was left behind for Mom and her tobacco-enthralled friends to do with as they will.

Wending our way back to the expressway we settled for Wendy's, since their parking lot was big enough to let us park and get out again. When our bellies were full we joined a massive traffic jam, crawling for three hours across Houston in a torrential downpour. When we finally escaped the traffic jam it didn't help much, as it was raining so hard we were reduced to doing 20-30 MPH because I couldn't see a blessed thing out the window even with the wipers moving at Warp Speed.

We were hardly free of the traffic jam in Houston before we hit a second jam in Beaumont, TX, just before the Louisiana border. Two hours later we crawled across Louisiana in a downpour. Eventually we found ourselves hungry again, our nominal five hour drive was now well into overtime. In the rainy distance there appeared a sign for the Waffle House. Why not? They do a good breakfast, why not try them for dinner?

Why not? Because their parking lot wouldn't accommodate the Gypsy Wagon, that's why. So I found a place to do a U-turn on the second try, the first possibility turned out not to be a parking lot but a patch of dirt behind a curb cut. Hungry and seriously annoyed I turned down the side street next to the Waffle House hoping it would have a place to park, but that possibility poured down the drain along with the monsoon surrounding us.

We come now to one of those existential questions that shall be forever unanswered. Following the GPS directions to turn the trailer around I continued on. Judy swears she told me NOT TO MAKE THAT TURN before I started the turn; I swear she made her pronouncement as I was halfway through the turn and unable to change my mind. This happened at the same time the GPS changed it's mind and suddenly redrew the map while chirping it's dead end warning. There's no sense trying to continue an argument such as this - marriage counselors are expensive. Besides, I was far more interested in how I was going to back the damned trailer out with deep ditches on both sides of the road and a great deal of oncoming traffic on the main road to contend with.

To add insult to injury, there was a nice, big truck lot right in front of me which would have solved my problem very nicely, but the gates were chained shut. As I stood there plaintively staring at the locked gates two cars pulled up behind us as I quite effectively blocked their access to their homes at the other end of the street. That's how we met a very nice couple who, with a great deal of Southern Charm, came up with the solution to our dilemma. (Note how it has become our dilemma, as opposed to my dilemma, please.) His neighbor at the end of the street was out of town and had a wide, deep driveway with an unusually large stretch of gravel directly opposite said driveway.

Our benefactor (who's name I have forgotten by now and must remain nameless) and I walked to the end of the street and it did look like I could back around in that driveway. We moved a small trailer parked on the gravel back a few feet to give me additional room and, returning to the Gypsy Wagon, I cautiously drove on and turned into the driveway, stopping just before I wiped out the mailbox mounted on a pole at the edge of the driveway.

Examining the situation we agreed I could indeed turn around if it weren't for the mailbox. Fortune finally smiled on me and, with a grunt and heave, I pulled the mailbox out of the ground trundled it across the yard. With this obstacle removed I successfully completed a three point turn with a 37 foot trailer attached to a monstrous truck and was finally pointed in the right direction. Replanting the mailbox we waved goodbye to our new, nameless friends, confident that they would be able to dine out for some time on the story of the idiot who turned down their street with an RV. I can't really remember where we did eat, both the cuisine and the parking lot were far from memorable, so I kept on driving.

The secondary roads in Louisiana are some of the worst I have encountered. Potholes, waves, cracks and assorted other flaws that jar your teeth and posterior. Finally, 14 hours into our 5 hour drive, we arrived in New Iberia. We had planned to set up across from Larry & Rochelle's place, where they have water and electricity for their own camping bus, but being so late and the torrential rains having soaked the ground we opted to set up at Larry's business where they have gravel lots and an electric plug for his RV.

It was pretty damned cold by now and still raining. I connected the electric as wire and entered the trailer, only to smell something burning. Then I noticed the lights were flickering and quickly disconnected the cord. Ever resourceful I ran our 100 foot regular extension to a plug on the side of the building so we had some heat (remember I had damaged the gas furnace on the way) crawled into bed wearing all the woolies we could find and under every blanket we had. Shall we say it wasn't the most restful sleep Judy or I ever had?

The weather cleared the following day, but we discovered the electrical problem had fried our washer, all the surge protectors for our electronics and the cable modem. Merry Christmas, everyone! Fortunately the computers and other electronics had been unplugged for the trip and were not damaged.

With no electricity available there, we decided to chance the field across from Larry's place. A test drive with one of Larry's company pickups worked, so I put the White Goddess into 4-wheel drive and drove over the small curb. The Goddess made it just fine, but when the Gypsy Wagon's wheels hit the curb we were mired in place, leaving great ruts in the lawn and the Gypsy Wagon hanging out into the street, immobile.

Fortunately, Larry's business involves moving heavy objects about, so he called for one of his 4-wheel vehicles to come over and tow us out. Scratching our heads and measuring the driveway of the empty house next door we decided the Gypsy Wagon would just barely fit in the driveway. To my everlasting gratitude, Scott volunteered to back the Gypsy Wagon into the driveway, I still am lousy at backing up that monster. With disgusting ease he slid the RV home and we were set up. The RV gods decided to relent their antagonism for a while and the plug for the hot tub in the back yard was the same on for the RV so we had power for the electric heaters until we could get the gas furnace fixed.

Once settled in place, we had a very enjoyable Christmas with the family, Scott's family is a joy to be with. Great food, many grandkids and other assorted small children and much sharing and joy. Kind of made the hassle of getting there worthwhile. It's ironic that this one, lonely paragraph covers the fun we had for Christmas week while all the rest of this verbiage covers only four days.

Since there is a Camping World near Houston on the way back to Austin, we arranged an appointment for the Friday we were scheduled to return. We booked a site at the Stephen Austin State Park for the Thursday night, only a few minutes from Camping World. By the way, Texas has a superb state park system, every bit as good as we enjoy in New York. They even had a 3x tie-die shirt in their camp store, so I am happily advertising the park these days.

Bright and early we pulled into Camping World and filled out all kinds of forms, then sat around reading while they assessed the damage. The assessment was painful, but what choice did we have except to freeze for the rest of the winter. I had broken the gas line to the furnace, among other things.

We gave the go-ahead, but there was one further kerfuffle when the tech, for some unknown reason, decided to open the shower stall and released the cats from their traveling jail. You wouldn't believe all the places a cat can find to hide in a space as small as a trailer!

With the cats again corralled, we made a pilgrimage to the Aldi store not too far away. We have missed Aldi's greatly since leaving New York, their prices and quality are vastly superior to just about any other grocery chain. Food in Austin is noticeably higher with no cut-rate chains there to provide competition. By the time we had filled our larder the repair was completed and we returned to Austin State Park for the night.

At least that was the plan, ten minutes after we got there the furnace quit. No heat , no fan, no nothing. Well, there was some heat, but it was generated by my vocabulary as I cursed out the tech who hadn't fixed the furnace. So we went out and bought another electric heater, reserved the site for the weekend and hunkered down to relax and enjoy the inevitable. Sadly, the rains had made the trails impassable so we couldn't even go hiking.

On the bright side, we were able to visit Judy's cousin Paula and had great time with lunch at a place that billed itself as a New York Jewish Deli. Since I've never been to the real thing I can't comment as to the truth of the claim, but they make a mean pastrami sandwich. The matzo ball soup can't hold a candle to Judy's, but I don't think anyone can meet her standards for matzo ball soup, period.

Monday we returned to Camping World and they replaced the expensive control board they had hoped would be OK, but with my luck such fortune is not my lot. Misjudging that turn and the bad electric plug cost us well over a thousand dollars in repairs.

We pulled into Austin at last and settled back to winter in Texas. The Polar Vortex kept it cold, but nothing like our friends back in Rochester had to put up with. It took a good six weeks to locate parts for the washer and put them in (at least it was something I could repair - no labor charges!) so our Christmas Chaos was finally behind us by mid-February.

Previous     Blog Index     Next

E-mail Ralph      E-mail Judy