Wednesday, May 4, 2011

It's the End of the World...and this trip

After six weeks on the road we are horses headed for the barn. From Sedona to Tampa, Florida and a few zig zags along the way, we've racked up close to 6,000 miles. And we're writing this from our last stop in Deming, New Mexico, still on the lookout for the damned Deming dwarf.

Daisy's had enough of it. She slips onto Paul's lap, turns her butt up to the camera, hides her head and just wants it to be over. Frickin' computer software just malfunctioned and erased the picture of Daisy.

 By the way, we filled up at the only gas station on a long stretch of I-10 in Texas and paid $4.20 a gallon. Thank you very damn much. But we can go almost 200 miles on a nearly 100-dollar tank of gas.
Stayed the night before last at a spot just off I-10 in west Texas at Balmorhea State Park. It's a nice, clean, quiet place to spend a night or two. It reopened on April 28th after having been closed due to wildfires licking at its gates.
If you can read, teabaggers, you'll pick up some history about this place. It was formed by natural springs and cienegas (hispo speak for "wetlands"). Wildlife is naturally drawn to the water. However, most of the animals are birds and they draw birdwatchers, who are a pretty weird lot in our opinion. Oh man. They wear safari gear, have skinny legs and carry oversized binoculars, bird books and give you the evil eye if you make any noise. Even a peep, so to speak. They never smile.
 I wonder how birdwatchers and teabaggers would get along. Heck, they're both weird as hell and teabaggers like to scream and shout. That would piss off the birdwatchers and maybe that could be the end of both.
A cienega (above).
Balmorhea's claim to fame is this huge freshwater pool. Most of the water is exchanged naturally every day--more than a million gallons is forced to the surface from an underground aquifer and then flows to the nearby wetlands. You can swim in here but you'll be nipped by tiny fish. It's a weird activity but at least it's not bird-watching.

We spent our last night here in Deming on I-10 with a railroad line right across the highway. Every half hour a freight train would roll through and every thirty seconds an 18-wheeler would fill in the noise gap. In short, we had little sleep but it doesn't matter. We are headed to the quiet comfort of the barn this evening.
April and early May have been important news months. Killer tornadoes, Texas wildfires, an overexposed royal wedding, the Donald nonsense, the beatification of Pope John Paul II, and the killing of Osama Bin Laden. But all of that pales if the sign above proves true. Throughout our trip we saw lots of these billboards. Even a fleet of RVs has been plastered with this message. Of course, down along the Bible belt people believe this crap. That the rapture begins on May 21st and later, on October 21, God plans to blow up the world and even the universe killing everyone and everything. Not real clear what God is so angry about but suppose the teabaggers will blame it all on Obama and Clinton and Madeline Albright.

We are not joking about these signs. Google "May 21 the rapture" and you'll see that these nut cases are damn serious about this. Of course, they're also saying that if you send cash, check or money order you will be one of the select few to escape the rapture. Good Lord, whoever is behind these signs ain't ever gonna make it through them pearly gates. However, on the other hand if they're right, see ya in hell!!!  But we're undaunted and pulling up stakes in Deming and headed for home. See ya here or in the hereafter.
Daisy, Corita and Paul


 We continued our trek back to Arizona from Florida. Got the hell out of Natchez, Mississippi and hightailed it to Louisiana as fast as we could. Fellow RVers had told us about a top-notch RV park at this casino near the town of Kinder, LA.  We've stayed at casino RV parks but this one called "Coushatta" was far and away up there with the best. Only 19 bucks a night for full hook-ups, cable, wifi, the works.
Like Fatima and Lourdes, Coushatta draws the faithful (and hopeful) from all over the region. They come by car, RV, bus, on foot, dragging one foot. They can stay in cabins on a lake, stay in an RV, sleep in their car or sleep out on the ground. The casino doesn't care. What it's after with these low-price offerings is to fleece you out of every last dime you have playing one of the ridiculous slot machines inside. So our advice: spend the night in your RV. It's cheap, clean, off the highway (quiet). Stay out of the casino and move on the next day.

 The other great RV offering that we've told you about is at Elks lodges along the way. Even here at this lodge just outside Beaumont, Texas you'll find a little gambling. The kind our parents and grandparents are drawn to. For some reason, Elks lodges continue to tout the fun (and excitement) of bingo. It might make the lodge a little money but I personally believe potential younger members are turned off by it. Our challenge to Elks leadership (the national annual meeting takes place in July in Phoenix) is to come up with new ideas to attract younger members, i.e., those in their forties and fifties.
 Another issue that the Elks and many other private organizations must deal with has to do with smoking. Since the Elks is a private club it can bypass local non-smoking ordinances and allow smoking in the bar and food service areas.  The people we met at the Beaumont Elks lodge could not have been friendlier or more accommodating but every person in the lounge was puffing on a damn cigarette. It was as smoke-filled as a casino. And the fact that you can smoke in these places where you can't smoke in the public bar down the street is what attracts a lot of people to become members. They don't seem to care much for community involvement. It's merely all about the cigarette.  
And while we're at it, can someone please tell smokers that pitching their butts is litter. Ugly littering. They seem to think it's their God-given right to snuff the cigarette out on the ground or just pitch the cigarette. Every state has laws against littering such as Texas with its big, bold "Don't mess with Texas" campaign. The fines for littering are up to $2000. The remnants of your smoking addiction will be around for we non-smokers for years to come. That is, if Daisy doesn't chow down on a few like she did in Beaumont.  Do we throw our wine bottles and boxes on the ground? No! Of course not. So smokers, please, dispose of your butts properly.

So there. 

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Natchez, where nothing happened

Last year we saw Vicksburg with its impressive Civil War battlefield and tons of history so this year we went downriver to Natchez, Mississippi where absolutely nothing happened.
Largely it's a town built on the banks of the Mississippi across the river from Louisiana. A town that has restored its in-town mansions and lavish country plantation homes that were built and maintained by thousands of slaves in the antebellum days of King Cotton. "Antebellum", by the way, means "before the war". Teabaggers,  look it up in something called a "dictionary".
That's the mighty Mississipp with a historic riverboat. Whoa. Hold that. Not a riverboat at all, but a... Of course.  The riverboat casinos seem to be the centerpiece of Natchez and you'll see as many signs pointing you in their direction as you will any other attractions in this town. And in the casinos you will largely find people who can barely pay their rent if they even have a place to live.  They are spending much if not all of their income sitting at the slots and smoking cigarettes.

When the economy in the U.S. was better, casinos were a fun place to go for a couple of hours of entertainment and people-watching. Now they seem like place of desperation. Lord knows we've dropped more than small change in a few of them from Atlantic City to Vegas so we're not putting down people's need for diversion and in our state, Arizona, there are as many smoke-filled casinos as there are WalMarts. Actually, there are probably more casinos. People aren't in there for a good time. They're in there hoping to win big. And they rarely, if ever, do.

That reminds me. I have to check my Powerball tickets.

Here's one of them in-town mansions, built by slaves and now part of the city's driving tour as you slowly make your way down to the casino.
Natchez, however, was the western terminus of the Natchez Trace, a well-defined and well-traveled trail that was used by migratory animals, Indians, and by pioneers heading west. Settlers would hit the river then be taken over to Louisiana by flatboat. After they hit the casino.
At the edge of the so-called historic district is what else? The historic city cemetery. Supposedly several people of note are buried here but we couldn't find a damn piece of information that would show us where.
The most interesting part of the cemetery is where the Civil War confederate unknowns are buried. A simple headstone and Confederate flag mark each of the graves. In short, while we are glad we visited Natchez (wasn't exactly on our bucket list), if you have a choice between Vicksburg and Natchez, go to Vicksburg where a hell of lot did happen during the Civil War. Its historic sites far exceed the lure of the casinos.
Paul indulged my need, however, to visit one of the local plantation homes called "Longwood". He had seen it before on one of his TV assignments and thought it the best of the bunch in Natchez. He and Daisy stayed in the truck with the air-conditioner on and out of reach of the mosquitoes while I went on a guided tour of Longwood. Cost me twelve big ones but I thought it was worth it.

Longwood was designed to be the largest octagonal house in the United States, if not the world. It was the property of a physician/cotton baron named Hallor (sp) Nutt and his wife Julia. The doctor gave his wife the house as a gift.  A thirty-thousand square foot gift.

Something like eight stories with the top dome acting as an observatory.
The only story completed was the basement. The war came. Money ran out. President Lincoln emancipated them damn slaves and there went the construction crew.
You think you have problems with contractors who don't show up. Think about these folks. 
Longwood looks just like it did when all the work stopped in the 1860s. All sorts of wood and implements have been left where they were abandoned, like this metal thing seen above. Actually, it's a lady's wash basin/bathtub.
After emancipation, this box arrived, addressed to the lady of the house. It's never been opened and is simply referred to as "the mystery box". Do I smell a TV story here? Where's Geraldo? Unlike Al Capone's vaults, we know there's something in this box.
The tour rules stated that visitors could not take photos of the finished portion of the house, the basement, where the family once lived, so we clicked away at all the unfinished portions.
This is our tour guide, the skinnier one. What? A skinny person in Mississippi? This state, by the way, has the nation's highest rate of obesity. Does this woman know she is bucking the trend? (She was actually a great, funny guide. Well-informed, animated, an articulate speaker.)
And if you've been faithfully following our blog, you read about us riding out the storm that ravaged upper Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee and Alabama. Well, here's where we rode it out at an RV park in Natchez. The park came recommended in an RV forum but was one of the most misrepresented places we have stayed.
It was more a broken-down trailer park than a welcoming RV park. It was right on a noisy highway.
The sign had fallen down so you couldn't even see where the hell the park was. We finally found it. Got set up. Turned on the water and the pipe burst. Then the electric sparked. Blew a fuse in the trailer. Moved to a different site. Survived the night. Toured Natchez the next day and then moved on. 
Empty pool next to rundown bathhouse.

Here's our advice for RVers headed for Natchez. Take the bridge just across the river and on the Louisiana side you'll find River View RV Park. In great shape with large, clean pull-through spaces. So that's enough of that. Don't suppose the Natchez Chamber of Commerce will invite us back for the annual thank you luncheon.

From Natchez, we move on to another of America's garden spots, Beaumont, Texas. 

"Members Only" and more members...

 Once again, if you are a serious RVer, consider joining the Elks or the Moose. Hundreds of lodges across the nation, in Canada, possibly down in Mess-ico, provide exclusive and inexpensive RV parking. Such is the case with this lodge we found in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Don't try to sneak in. You'll be shot.
 But the Elks, as well as the Moose, the Lions, the Rotary, etc., provide many other reasons other than RV parking for you to join. Community involvement, support of our troops and so on. To say nothing of $5 all-you-can-eat taco night.
 We arrived at the Hattiesburg lodge around Easter Sunday. The members were having a crawfish boil--all you could eat with all the trimmings for $15. Them little buggers cost more than tacos. The money went to charitable causes.

 But I regard crawfish as cat food, as I do most fish, so we passed on the boil and moved onto our campsite on a large and quite serene lake. This could well be the largest Elks lodge in the country, encompassing some 1200 acres, most in it in pine forest and hiking trails.
 There's fishing on the lake, playgrounds for kids, and a well-stocked bar for a couple of traveling inebriates such as we 'uns.
 Hattiesburg lodge members pay $5 for RV sites. Visiting Elks pay the princely sum of 10. RVers, believe me, you can't beat these deals.
 There's them trees. Pines, to be exact. The lodge leases around half its acreage to the forest service which harvests the lumber.
 All around Hattiesburg (including the lodge) are decorated statues of swans. It's all part of a local Chamber of Commerce effort to support arts locally.  What? Arts in Mississippi? Still don't know why swans were picked.
 Took a tour of Hattiesburg. Didn't have a clue what there was to see. The Visitors Center was closed on this day, Easter Sunday, so we had to wing it. First thing we saw was the gutted shell of the old high school that an organization is attempting to turn into condominiums or offices or something.
 And Paul's radar went off and dragged me kicking and screaming to the nearby airport where we found this static display of old military aircraft. The big one, called a "Voodoo", was flown by a Hattiesburg born and bred pilot who was shot down in Vietnam and held as a POW for seven-and-a-half years.
Saw lots of other things but this one picture was the most interesting and a bit hard to explain. We thought we had discovered a corpse but it was a dummy in fire-fighting gear outside a fire-fighting training facility. If you look closely, it explains the bumpersticker, "Fireman do it with bigger hoses" and orange pointed ones at that.  (I only noticed the strategically-placed orange cone after I loaded the photos onto my computer--that's the truth.)

So much for Hattiesburg but let me tell you, this is why you travel. To see things like this and meet interesting, nice people. For the most part.

Next, off to Natchez, dodging those killer tornadoes that swept through upper Mississippi into Arkansas, Tennessee and Alabama.

Ranting and Raving

Today is Sunday, May 1st, 2011 (in case you don't know what year it is).  Pope John Paul II has been beatified. The cleanup continues in Alabama. President Obama trumped the Donald at the White House Correspondents' Dinner last night.

We have landed again in Fredericksburg, Texas, one of the few spots in Texas we think is very much worth seeing and spending some time in. Now, after having seen most of this Lone Star State, Paul agrees with its dipstick, tea-baggin' Governor Rick Perry. Yes, Texas should secede from the union. Except for Fredericksburg, Johnson City, Luckenbach, UTEP*, San Elizario, Fort Davis, Big Bend National Park and environs, and the quality ethnic markets and our friends in Houston, this state has little if anything to offer. It needs a massive facelift. Of course the Governor had been rejecting all federal help for projects thinking it's some sort of socialist plot but now, just today, has complained that he's not getting enough federal help to fight the state's raging wildfires.  So therein lies the teabagger philosophy/confusion. Something akin to "I upped my salary. Now up yours." Huh? (This is Paul dictating. I only type.)

** University of Texas at El Paso, a great school

If the conservatives ever build the wall between Mexico and the U.S., we suggest continuing that wall from Brownsville, all the way around the border of Texas to Galveston. Give Texas back to Mexico. (Again, this is Paul, not Corita. I like Texas.)

Then there's that so-called "The Donald". Only he and the good Lord know what's up with this nut. The man is wackier than Mel Gibson, Orly Taitz, and Jerome Corsi all rolled into one. Our young men and women are dying in combat overseas while this draft-dodger flies around in his private fleet of Trump-labeled transportation with trophy wife #8, condemning everything Obama. And at the same time stating that he and his running mate, the brain-dead Gary Busey, could easily win the White House if he decides to run. Gary Busey maybe. Donald Trump never.

Now here's what I (Corita) think this clown is up to.  He's not running for President but setting us up for yet another faux reality show, this one with a presidential-campaign theme that mirrors the "Apprentice" series. NBC is obviously in on it and the announcement will take place later this month.

We'd like to know what you think. Weigh in with your opinion.

Paul cuts to the chase with Trump, simply calling him an a-hole.

And speaking of Orly Taitz, can anyone explain what this Ruskie emigre is up to? If there was ever a case for immediate deportation, this woman fits the bill. Then there's Jerome Corsi. After swiftboating war hero John Kerry, he's about to come out with another anti-Obama book explaining why Obama's birth certificate is a fraud. And that Obama does not even have a belly button. Obama must be from another world. Come on, folks, get a grip.

Now that we have that off our chests, back to our travels...

This is not Paul marveling at a lapdancer outside the trailer.
But at the Blue Angels performing at the Pensacola, Florida Naval Air Station. And who among you can boast that you flew with the Blue Angels? Well, Paul can. Back in 1980 when they were flying the A-4 Skyhawks.
We stayed just outside the Naval Air Station at an Elks Lodge and the Blue Angels did their morning performance right overhead.
Needless to say, Marine and Naval aviation in general are among the few things that still turn Paul on (I used to but now it's jet fighters like this F-14 on static display outside the Naval Aviation Museum, which Paul also flew on in 1978). 

Inside the museum is quite a bit of history about Paul's old (and I do mean "old") fighter squadron VMF(AW) 451.
And this is the F-8 Crusader, circa 1960s, that Paul worked on in the Marine Corps. Let me add that Paul says he spent many an hour crawling down the intake making sure there was no debris or snakes or what have you inside that could foul the engine. Now, some forty years later, Paul has ballooned up to about twice the size of that opening you see there.
This is my fourth visit to the museum in the last three years. Paul dragged me kicking and screaming but because my dad served in the real Marine Corps in World War Two and Korea, he (Paul) bought me this T-shirt, which I wear with pride.
This is an old fort on the grounds of the NAS (Naval Air Station) that in the 19th century helped protect Pensacola Bay.
And close to where the Apache chief Geronimo and his band, once the Army managed to capture them, were held for a short time.
This is one of his several families. When not killing white people, this guy was busy making babies. He was one prolific dude.
And we were told that somewhere in this cemetery at the NAS, one of Geronimo's 112 wives is buried. Couldn't find her...
But did find the grave of a man who married a woman 24 years his senior. The original "cougar".  She must have been hot. And rich.
The Naval Aviation Museum is free but this is not: the Pensacola NAS Lighthouse. That's why there are no interior shots.
This white sand beach is only steps away from the lighthouse.
This was the only beach we visited on this latest trip to Florida.
If you're lucky enough to be stationed at Pensacola or are visiting military, you have access to miles of pristine coastline, a wonderful waterfront RV park, cheap groceries and gas, and the Blue Angels.

Why can't all of America be like this?

God Bless America. And Trump...
get a life.