Tuesday, April 26, 2011

In the Eye of the Storm

This blog is directed mostly at my family, most especially my mom who worries about Paul taking me into these storm-ridden places. Well, we thought we beat this latest system moving east up through Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee, Missouri and so on. But that old fart put me right in the bulls-eye in Natchez, Mississippi. We put down overnight in this historic Mississippi River city and watched the approaching storm. The forecast called for severe conditions with large hail but no tornados in our immediate area. So we thought for sure we found the right place to dodge the bullet.

 Fell asleep and at about 3AM all hell broke loose. Of course, there's not a thing you can do except you hope and pray for the best and that large hail doesn't batter the truck or the RV. Or that one of the RV park's trees or a large limb doesn't come down on top of you, ruining everything. Three weeks ago we met an RVer in Louisiana who was camping in Arkansas when a tornado roared through killing four fellow campers. A falling tree crushed their trailer.
 Our storm turned out to be roaring wind, lightning, thunder, rain and fortunately very small hail. It lasted a couple of hours and moved northeast. Unfortunately, it claimed a number of lives in Arkansas and Missouri. For us, the worst really was poor little Daisy. She came unglued, jumped up on the bed and was literally laying on Paul's face, shaking like a leaf and that went on for about two hours.  Can't understand why Paul likes Daisy on his face. Is that weird, unnatural, or what?

Having grown up in California and now living in Arizona the uncertainty of these kinds of sudden weather outbursts are foreign and really quite frightening to us.  We're not totally new to this kind of weather on the road. In the last few years we've experienced several episodes just like this (including tornados in Ames, Iowa, Birmingham, Alabama and eastern Minnesota) but when you're watching the Weather Channel and you see the violence swirling all around you, it's damned unnerving.

 Some of the parks we've stayed in have emergency shelters for these weather events.  Last summer in Minnesota, emergency personnel evacuated our RV park and herded everyone into a nearby casino. Cha-ching!
But here in Natchez this park is about as slimy as they come. We barely have water and electricity. However, it does have good cable TV with MSNBC, CNBC, and the Weather Channel. All GE/NBC-owned and operated commie stations. But then it's only $80 a night to stay here, about the same price as the Ritz Carlton on the river. Plus it's actually in a mobile home (trailer) park. And you know how much tornados like mobile homes. 

Today we plan to tour historic Natchez. The sky is clear right now but the weather is calling for more violent outbursts this afternoon. At least during the day you're awake, alert and can seek shelter. The frightening part is at night.
The good news: Daisy made it off Paul's face and stopped shaking. And is back to her old ways chowing down and working her way toward her road trip goal weight of 68 pounds.

Can we have hushpuppies with that?

After seven nights in Tampa visiting our friends, we flushed the holding tanks and headed north. That was right before taking a sharp left in the Florida Panhandle and heading west where all the forward thinkers, dreamers and adventurers and mostly smart people migrated a century ago. Call it the "left coast" if you will, but there's no humidity, no mosquitoes, gnats, biting black flies. Just rattlesnakes, scorpions, and great white sharks (if you overshoot your destination). So up the Sunshine Tollway we went, encountering our first major storm on the trip. Near the gulf coast community of Chiefland, a storm cell rolled through, damn near rolling the Lance-A-Less. Two inches of rain in twenty minutes. 
Pulled into the northern Florida town of Perry to stay the night again at the Elks Lodge. First thing you see in town is this bumper sticker which proclaims the political sentiment in these parts. So we knew the cable offerings would have no MSNBC. But not only did it not have the pro-Obama MSNBC, it didn't even have CNBC or NBC. But plenty of Fox stations including Fox News, shopping channels galore and ungodly amounts of TV preachers beggin' for your bucks. We really believe that God is going to get these clowns in the long run. Amen to that.

You park on the Elks' spacious lawn and ain't that exciting.
We were told never to call it a "club".  It's a "lodge". Oh well.
We had dinner at the Elks. You realize these places are sort of stuck in the '50s and '60s. Dark lounges and meeting rooms. Something we feel disuades a younger membership. Paul's an old fart. He's still stuck in the '40s but at 37, I (Corita) like to see what's at that salad bar. Or what's fallen into that salad bar. And of course, as I noted before, I like old Tracy/Hepburn movies, long walks on moonlit beaches, cozy nights by the fire, and lots of cheap red wine.
We wanted to show you our elegant setting at the table. Knife, fork and paper placemat. It's the Elks.
I was grabbing blind at the salad bar because it was so damn dark that I dipped into a bowl filled with ants and didn't notice that I had done so until I got back to the table. Oh quit! It's actually a pretty nice, fresh salad albeit iceberg lettuce with bacon bits. Not ants. It's the Elks.
Here's a shot from our table into the lounge. The only light being from the flash on our camera.
But the dinner was accompanied by plenty of that cheap red wine that I like so much. Go Elks!
And homemade desserts made by the waitress/cook and pastry chef Mary. Let me say the people you meet at the Elks couldn't be nicer, more accommodating and quite frankly, any more interesting. It's a fine organization, does good works, and provides inexpensive RV parking. And when you're paying $4 plus for a gallon of gas, every penny counts.
This is Mary. Mother of....desserts.
We both ordered the seafood platters. Mary asked, "Would you like that grilled or deep-fried?"  "Hell," we told her. "We's in the south. We want it deep-fried." So you get a kind of whitefish, shrimp, scallops, hushpuppies, okra, and Lord knows what else. All of it rolled in pancake batter and dropped into a fryer. Sounds terrible. Tastes great.
Here's yours truly enjoying southern sweet 'tater fries, a vegetable. Mmmm.....
And here's Paul, wrapping up the evening with his to-go box, heading back to the Lance-A-Less with leftovers for Daisy. So went our big night in Perry, Florida.

Next day we took a sharp left and head due west with a stop at the Elks lodges in Pensacola, Florida and Hattiesburg, Mississippi, then went onto Natchez on the mighty Mississippi. And that is where we had one of the wildest nights in a long time. Has nothing to do with what went on under the covers but about a storm system that unfortunately killed at least ten people. That's next.

Gotta go. Peace on 'ya.  

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

There Goes My Eyeball Into Your Highball

 Before we get to this pic, remember the armadillo that we picked up that got loose in the rig?  Well, we were watching TV the other night and saw a story on tiny Carville, Louisiana and its former leper colony**. And as luck would have it, the biggest carrier of leprosy is the armadillo. An alarming number of the little buggers carry the leprosy virus. That's true. So we rounded the sucker up, gave him the heave-ho, he rolled up like a sow bug and he's probably rolling still. Hope we didn't hurt him. But he nipped Paul as he was getting the bum's rush so as the old song goes, "Leprosy: it's crawling all over me.There goes my eyeball into your highball"... So now we're waiting to see which part of Paul falls off first.

Still have the scorpions and the snakes in the trailer plus damaging hail is expected tonight in northwest Florida.  Now...for the pictures. 

Pulled into our RV park in Tampa--the Bay Bayou Resort. We're sitting outside on a hot, humid evening enjoying a drink and the bbq and here comes the damn bug sprayer.
 He didn't go around the park just once. Oh, hell no. He went around the park about five times. The place looked like the smoking lounge at the Elks Lodge.
 We damn near choked to death on the smoke and we still had mosquitoes. Our drink and dinner were ruined. Paul has leprosy. No ill effects from the rattlesnake bite. Hell, the scorpions don't bother us at all now. We just don't walk around the joint barefoot. In spite of it all, Daisy is hanging in there. Wondering what these two birds have dragged her into.
 So we thought we would rescue the trip with an excursion into Tampa. There's a piece of work for you. More freeways, expressways, tollways, and holes in the highways than you'll find anywhere in L.A..
 It's full of car repair shops...
 Tire shops...
 Some good restaurants...
 Hooters wannabees and nudie bars...
 But this place does have its saving grace--in the 'burb of Brandon: our go-to shrine of overindulgence: COSTCO! Where would America be without Costco and WalMart? It wouldn't even be worth getting out of bed in the morning.
 And the best gasoline deals in Tampa can be found here. $6.25 per gallon for unleaded regular. But hell, you're saving so much on toilet paper that you don't care that they're gouging you on gas.
 Bought a Powerball ticket somewhere in Alabama, I think. Got 4 out of the 6 numbers. And you've heard the story of the "dog ate my homework"? You guessed it. We thought about opening her up right then and there but nah.  She's worth more to us than a few grand we were going to use to pay for gas.
 Stopped at a Cuban sandwich shop. Found this suspicious device under our seat. We think Fidel has operatives here in the Tampa area. When I held it up, people scattered like rats leaving a sinking ship.  Police showed up. Said, "Yep. It's a small IED-type thing." Oh, come on. For heaven's sake, it's just a big fried Cuban potato ball packed with meat, not explosives. But Paul exploded that same night and the next morning. His delicate system can't take it. Still, these balls were mighty tasty. Ate 24 of them at lunch. Along with a twelve pack of Libre beer.
 Pretty house on the water. But this is not Tampa. This is St. Petersburg Beach. This is the Florida you come looking for. And it's also where our friends live. Thank you, Jesus. Or Hay-soos. Or whatever that Cuban's name is. It's also close to where Paul's good Marine buddy is in rehab. (Forgive me, Jesus. Especially during Holy Week.)
And this is Paul's Marine buddy Willie who is slowly but surely recovering from a stroke-like event. His lovely wife Gail holds our soon-to-be twenty-two-pound overweight Daisy and you know the clown on the right. Oh, Paul went on to become Commandant of the Marine Corps while Willie remained a lowly lance corporal. It's  been difficult for Paul to fraternize with the troops but he perseveres...and here's that other clown.
 The first clown's girlfriend, celebrating her 27th birthday.
 And we can never put enough shots of Daisy in. Here she is rolling in the grass. She can barely roll over since she's so fat.
 Daisy poolside at Willie's house. While he's in rehab we took over the place. Here's Chub-olicious about to take a leap...
 ...to retrieve her tennis ball.
 Yay! Good girl. She has the ball.  Ain't this the most insufferable blog you've read all day? We're running out of material...
And, of course, no takeover of someone's house can possibly be complete unless the woman of the house (Gail) fixes one fine dinner. Man, can this woman cook. So we had fried chicken, baked beans, corn on the cob, coleslaw, mac and cheese, and apple pie.

While we were enjoying dinner, by the way, Daisy encountered a possum in the backyard. Tried bringing Daisy into the house but Willie and Gail have four cats. What a circus that almost became. Where this dog developed her aversion to cats we'll never know. She liked the armadillo. Oh. Daisy's tail just fell off. You don't suppose?...

Anyway, we're going to the Perry, Florida Elks for dinner. Didn't expect anything special but were astounded at the results. That'll be in our next blog.

Gotta go. Sue ya, Daisy

** The documentary on the Hansen's Disease colony in Carville was produced by Louisiana Public Broadcasting in 2005. Very well done. A real eye-opener since I hadn't heard of it. And I've heard about everything. Well, almost everything. The Sisters of Charity-run hospital and community of 400 lepers (Hansen's Disease victims) closed awhile ago but there is a museum on the premises. We may stop by on our way back to Arizona. And yes, political pundit and former Marine James Carville and his family hail from this part of the state.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Voodoo Pogo Stick Swamp Thing and Stuff

 Headed south from Defuniak to overnight in Perry, Florida. Perry is the kind of place where we like to spend the night. It's quiet, fair amount of history, not too many people, and of course it has a WalMart. But the best part of Perry (and recommended by everyone) is Deal's self-proclaimed Famous Oyster House.
 It's an old Florida roadhouse restaurant that's been around since Ponce de Leon's arrival in 1273. The first thing that assaults you when you walk through the door is a waiter who booms out, "The finest people in the world pass through these doors!!!"  Every time a person walks in he yells again. The point is that a place like this is entertaining in itself. You don't need muzak or cool lighting or fancy, granite stuff, or a wine list. (Actually, that would have been nice.) It is what it is and has been for hundreds of years.
 The food is fried (for the most part) and far too fattening, which makes it all the better. There are some interesting things on the menu such as this splatter on the platter called "swamp cabbage"--steamed hearts of palm. Sounds terrible. Tastes great.
 Here's Paul's dinner: french fries, fried chicken, fried okra, and fried hushpuppies.
 And wonder of wonders: a soft drink. Since many of these Florida roadhouses don't serve booze. Heaven forbid. Probably a good thing when you think about it because these spots are generally stuck back in the swamps and you need to be stone sober to find your way out. Makes it fun and kind of creepy at the same time.

Again, welcome to the wide, wonderful world of road-tripping. In short, get your ass out of the easy chair and away from your comfortable, everyday existence and go see this great land of ours. Time's a fleetin'.
 About half-way through the meal, the damndest noise erupts. You turn around and here comes Zodie, the owner, marching through her restaurant banging a stick on the floor, one lined with cymbals and drums. It's the kind of thing you see in New Orleans at Mardi Gras. The sound is monotonous, horrific, and very voodoo like which is what it probably is. And back here in the moss-draped, gator-infested, snake-laden swamps it sounds like a perfect fit.
 Ask Zodie what it is and she simply says, "It's a pogo stick". Yep, that's what it is. With things on it that make noise.
 I was given so much to eat--more fried shrimp, fried okra and other fried swamp things that I got a to-go box and, of course, had to have another shot in front of Deal's, a place we'll not forget.
 If you're a member of the Elks, Perry has a lodge with plenty of RV parking for $15 a night. Another "deal", so to speak. There are several acres of grass for Daisy where she can run amok**. She scared the hell out of a feral cat and ran after it into the swamp. Thought we'd lost her forever but after a few minutes she came prancing out like the princess she is. Daisy, not the cat.  Probably should keep her on a short leash because of all the critters around.

 Ain't y'ens learnin' a lot? That's how Florida swamp people talk.

Next stop: Tampa/St. Pete, our final destination before pulling a u-turn. Sue ya, Daisy

** The origin of the word "amok". It comes from a Malay/Indonesian term that roughly means "out of control".

Tequila Sunset Campground

First things first. Paul got mad as hell at me for lying about our route from Foley, Alabama to Defuniak Springs, Florida. I directed him (since I'm the designated navigator) the long way through Pensacola and other beach communities along the Florida gulf coast. This, instead of shooting straight up I-10 and due east to Defuniak. He rarely looks at the map so believed this was the better way to get from A to B.

I wanted to see the water and so did Daisy.The scenic route took us about 80 miles out of our way through some horrific, Sunday afternoon spring break traffic. Then we missed our turnoff to Defuniak that took us another twenty miles out of our way and at $4 a gallon for gas this little detour is beginning to add up. The photo above is Daisy's reaction to Paul going crazy and threatening to drop me into the drink. She simply shuts down, closes her eyes and blocks it out. Or she bites him.

Anyway, we finally made it to Defuniak and the Juniper Lake RV Campground, a place we very much enjoyed last year so we returned. The people and the pets are warm and hospitable. This is the owner's 14-year-old collie mix they call "Lady Bug". She and Daisy just lay around together.
You can park your RV right on the lake and enjoy the best northern Florida has to offer.
While this might look like a group therapy session, this is an every evening get-together down on the lake. Coffee, soft drinks and byob. This is the best part of all: sitting around, meeting people, and making new friends. And hope they don't follow you back to Arizona. Just kidding. We've invited many folks to come and visit. But probably no one will after our stories about the bobcats, mountain lions, scorpions, coyotes, Jan Brewer, Johns Kyl and McCain. Can you blame 'em?
This is the rest of the best part of RV travel: Margarita night at Juniper Lake. Yo, Mama! Everybody brought something: tequila, the mix, limes, cups, ice and our new friends Glenn and Mary Ann from Indiana provided a battery-powered blender. Hell, with that you could have margaritas on the moon.
And here in Florida we love local bumper stickers. Saw this outside the WalMart in Defuniak. Not real sure what it pertains to but most likely a local redneck thinks at least the spelling is correct. Ain't it? At least it didn't say "Nobama" or "nobamanos".  Speaking of which, we have to vamonos our way south to Perry, Florida.  Sue ya!