Wednesday, February 27, 2008

From East to West and Back

When I started this entry we had just returned from a whirlwind trip to California and were in Vero Beach. When I say "we" I mean two of the three of us. Little Breezy went to camp. If you asked her she would tell you that it was prison camp. She has been a guest of several kennels since we adopted her and we have only approved one as completely acceptable. She has approved none of them. Actually a major part of the reason we are traveling by coach is because of Breezy. John refers to Queen Mary as a 42 foot dog house on wheels. So we took Breezy to this new kennel in Vero Beach and the moment we got through the door she turned and jammed her head between my knees. It was reminiscent of my first day at nursery school. I glued myself to my mother's leg and looked up at her as though she was going to abandon me to gypsies. I know Breezy feels the same way. She pleads with me in her Border Collie way and we have to hand her over to some Gestapo person of undetermined gender who leads her away with her head down and her tail between her legs while our hearts break. We drive back home feeling like two big amoebas, terrible parents who abandoned their baby to gypsies.

When we arrived back to Sea Mist Court the reality of impending air travel hit us. We slogged into the bedroom, dragged out our suitcases and commenced packing. We had a reservation to stay the night at Holiday Inn Express in Orlando because we had an early flight on Thursday morning. So we counted out socks and underwear, switched this top with those pants with that jacket, matched shoes, and compared notes as each of us bumped into the other one, grumbling about how we both hate to pack. And fly. It is a scene that has repeated itself without fail every time we get ready to fly. Next we loaded the Camry and headed north to Orlando. The amoebas.

On the way to Orlando we were attempting to avoid a crisis. We have been trying to sort out the paper work on the coach since we bought it and for some reason the planets conjured up some voodoo and zapped our titling/licensing procedure and everything went awry. Poor Tim Arcuri has spent more time than any human being should be required to in an entire lifetime at the DMV in Oregon and John has been haunting Monaco and the tax collector in Florida. And I have at least a thousand more gray hairs. As of our drive to Orlando to the Holiday Inn Express things got worse. There is no truth in Holiday Inn Express advertising. It was so bad that we thought we would have to park Mary for six weeks and cancel our trip to Phoenix (our loyal blog followers would never have forgiven us) but Tim's persistence paid off and things are fine now. But on the way to Orlando things were looking bleak for the two ameobas.

We checked into the hotel, had dinner and set the alarm for 4:30AM. It wasn't a successful sleeping experience. Too hot, too cold, rubber pillows, cement slab mattress, room located at the end of a runway, and cardboard walls. We stumbled out of bed and stacked shower on shower then dragged ourselves down to the shuttle that was scheduled to take us to the airport at 5:30. Problem number one: there are ten people waiting to get into an eight seat van and everyone (except us) has three bags each (giant suitcases, golf bags, and bulging duffles). I stood and watched while the driver struggled to accomodate everyone. John was struggling more just standing there. Finally he couldn't stand it anymore. The camp director in him, who resides just below the surface at all times, rose to the top and he jumped in, organizing the luggage and passengers until we all fit...tightly into the van. Once at the airport the driver opened the doors and we exploded out of the van, luggage, bodies and golf clubs...all onto the pavement like a giant overstuffed suitcase that burst its zippers.

I will save space and time on how we got through security. Just reread the last post "On Flying" about passing through security and you will have the exact description...times two. At least this time I had someone to whine to about the dehumanizing experience of flying.

The purpose of our trip was to accompany the Shatners and two of their good friends to the Napa Valley for a wine tasting trip, a package that they bought at a charity auction. Once we were on the ground in sunny Burbank our attitudes picked up and we were off on our adventure. On Friday morning we went to the set of Boston Legal and watched the taping. It was really interesting and fun. Everyone was so nice and we had a very pleasant day. On Saturday morning we got up early and were escorted in a stretch limo to the Van Nuys airport where we boarded a seven seat lear jet and took off for Napa.

Now THIS is flying. The six of us were driven to the door of the of the jet, had our luggage taken from the limo and put on the plane (no scanners, no ex-ray machines, no lines, no rude people, no stripping to our shorts, no boarding passes, seat assignments, sneezing diseased passengers, no unhappy children, no emergency landing lectures, no instructions on how to fasten my seat belt, no tray tables/seat backs or luggage storage lectures, no nasty flight attendants pushed past their limits by miserable passengers, no crappy airline food or microscopic bags of pretzels, no old tattered jets that take a year to board and deplane and no waiting to use the toilet). We were greeted by two very pleasant smiling individuals who piloted us to Napa at wicked speed. Inside it looked like the interior of a luxury sedan. The seats were beautiful soft leather, the accents were polished wood. There were newspapers from all parts of the country to choose from, soft drinks, beer, wine, water, snacks, and a perfect view to the world from every seat. And when someone eventually ventured into the territory of what it would cost if we were to pay for this flight out of our pockets (it came as part of the package) the number stunned me into a moment of silence. But it didn't stop me from elevating a share in Flexjet to the tip top of my wish list.

We touched down at the Napa airport and when we stepped off of the plane there was another limo waiting to pick us up. I realized after we got settled in the seat that I had no idea if our luggage was with us or not. Didn't care either! We were whisked off to The Culinary Institute for our first wine tasting and lunch. When we arrived they dropped us at the door and left us with a phone number to call Edward, our limo driver. This was our first official wine tasting so as inexperienced tasters we didn't quite know what to expect. Both of us drink wine and have preferences but we were looking forward to learning more about the actual process of wine making.

Our first tasting was a crash course. We were ushered into a huge room full of winemakers, with at least a hundred vineyards represented. It was a Cab-fest. Each vineyard had an inverted wine barrel with a bottle or bottles of their wares to share and a plastic bucket in which to dump what you didn't drink all sitting atop the barrels. We stopped briefly to taste some unbelievably delicious cheeses then we were each handed a wine glass and proceeded to jump into the flow of human bodies that were tasting, dumping (some actually spitting...yuuuuuck) and moving to the next inverted barrel for another splash of wine. We used the same glass to taste every wine and it was hard to see over the crowds so we didn't understand quite how many wines there were to taste. Somehow I had visualized wine tasting as something you did slowly, while sitting down, with someone describing the subtlties of each and instructing on what wines go with what foods. You know what I mean? Well it was more like wine tasting in the Orlando airport. And by the time we were half way around the room my palate was dead. Being as I had not eaten since breakfast I was on my way to slight drunkeness so I was relieved to leave my wine glass on a tray by the door as we exited the room. Later that night I learned that all of the wines that we tasted were going to be auctioned that weekend so they were very young wines, very tannic and raw. People who buy wine in large quantities understand what they are tasting when they taste young wines. We were wine tasting neophytes.

From the giant wine tasting room we were ushered into the humongous kitchen of The Institute where all of the chefs had their special culinary delights on display. It was a similar experience to the wine tasting...grab a dish, fill it with little bits of this and that (and that and this and this and that...), lean up against a counter in the kitchen and wolf down lunch. After we finished and were herded out of the kitchen we decided we had experienced enough of The Culinary Institute and it was time to call Edward and head for the hotel. As we pulled up to a breathtaking resort called Meadowood the skies opened up and it never stopped raining for the entire evening, night and into the following morning. We stayed in a three bedroom suite with a common living area. Each room had a perfect view of something perfectly beautiful and a wood burning fireplace in every room. We were scheduled for two more wine tastings before dinner but instead opted to build a fire, open a nice bottle of aged wine and hang out all afternoon visiting and listening to the rain. We found that we were spending a weekend with a nicely blended and interesting group of people. The conversation was as wide ranging as it was stimulating and cemented friendships that will last many years to come. It was a wonderful time.

The rest of our weekend was great fun and we actually did go to vineyards and experience the cultured, instructive wine tasting that we had all hoped for. We ate lovely meals and met nice people and enjoyed good conversation. And then we flew on that wonderful little jet back to Van Nuys. We had a 100 mile an hour tail wind and at one point we reached 600 miles per hour! It was great!

On Monday evening we checked into a hotel close to the Burbank so that we could catch our very early morning flight on Tuesday morning. Lately I've been using my Blackberry as an alarm clock, amongst many other things. I love the little chimes on it. It gently eases me out of sleep and into wakefulness. We were tired from our busy trip so we got to bed early and I set the alarm for 4:15AM and fell into a deep, dream-laden sleep. As scheduled the alarm began chiming at 4:15. I reached for the Blackberry and turned off the alarm, dragged my very groggy self out of a wild dream and stepped into the shower. About the time I got my hair lathered up with shampoo the door of the bathroom opened and John came in. I heard him say, "Sweetie I think there's something wrong." I stuck my head out of the shower and he said, "It's 1:25 in the morning." It was like he was speaking Japanese or something. I just stood there and tried to understand what he was saying and checking to be sure that he was really there and I wasn't still dreaming. "No. I looked at my watch when I got up and it matched the clock. It's 4:25," I say. As he was leaving the bathroom I heard him say, "It's 4:25 in Kentucky." The door closed and I realized that I had forgotten that the PDA doesn't change time when I change time zones like my cell phone used to and I almost never change my watch when we make short trips. I stood in the shower with soap on my head at 1:25 in the morning and laughed my ass off. Then I finished showering, dried my hair and went back to bed for another few hours of sleep.

I haven't heard the end of it since.

You will be happy to know that we are back in Wildwood (not at the KOA!) and I'm sitting at the kitchen table in Queen Mary finishing this entry. We left Vero this morning looking like the Beverly Hillbillies...the Camry stuffed to the gills with suitcases, food, bicycles on the back of the car and Breezy wedged into a tiny space in the back of the car between an ice chest and a set of golf clubs. She knew she was traveling because her bed was tucked into the little space. She was one happy Border Collie.
Tomorrow we will finish up with the technicians here at the Monaco Service Center and begin our journey to the west. We hope to be in Tampa tomorrow evening for the first few days of the Tampa Charity Show and then we will head for Scottsdale to the Carousel Charity Horse Show. I will be logging our adventures and blogging regularly again. So stay tuned and wish us luck!

Monday, February 18, 2008

On Flying

Breezy enjoying some beach time

"Hi Auntie B!"

Last week I had to make a trip to Lexington for a dental appointment so I had to choose between flying from Orlando into Bluegrass Airport or driving from Vero Beach to Lexington and back. Believe it or not it was a hard choice, for a few reasons, but mostly because I hate to fly. I'm not afraid to fly. I just hate it with a purple passion. And I love to drive. I find driving trips to be relaxing and therapeutic. I think well when I'm kicked back and covering the pavement at 70 MPH (okay...maybe 80 MPH). All I can think about when I fly is how much I hate flying.

My Dad is a driver. He raced dragsters in the 1950's (just before I came to be) and set a national record in his class on the Salt Flats at Bonneville. He has always owned nice cars and has spent many hours on the road in his nearly 80 years on the planet including driving a 1966 Jaguar XKE from Portland, Oregon to Key West, Florida and back with a friend of his. Imagine the Interstates back! My love of cars and driving comes from him. He also learned to fly but my hatred of flying has nothing to do with genetics. It has to do with the airlines.

So after deciding that I didn't want to be separated from my husband, dog and the warm Florida sunshine for four or five days I reluctantly booked a flight to Lexington. Because the Orlando airport is nearly two hours from Vero Beach we got up in the middle of the night and John and Breezy escorted me to Orlando. The flight was scheduled to take off at 8:40 AM and arrive in Lexington at 12:30 PM with a one hour layover in Charlotte. John dropped me curbside and we said our goodbyes and see-you-tomorrows and Breezy gave me dog hugs and kisses and away I went.

I only took a light overnight bag so there was no need to check anything and I printed my boarding pass at home, making sure that they were cut appropriately on the dotted line and that I had at my fingertips the airline's copy and not the customer's copy. God forbid that I make a mistake and hold up the line...a fate worse than death at the airport. I made sure that I bagged my little three ounce or under liquids in a QUART plastic CLEAR ziplock bag (no bigger, no smaller) and situated them on top of my bag for ease of retrieval in the security line and that I left anything that remotely looked like a sharp object at home. I proceeded directly to security stopping only to double check my gate number and dig my driver's license out of my wallet.

I have an unnatural fear of losing my driver's license in this process probably because I dropped it one time in an airport. Thankfully a nice lady picked it up and ran me down...literally had to run me down because I was hurrying to catch a flight due to the fact that the flight that I came in on was late, due to the fact that another flight was've been there I'm sure. Anyway, I gathered up all of the needed documentation and headed for the security line with my little bag and my purse. When I got there I was disheartened to find one of those rat mazes set up and it was overflowing with impatient travelers. It was Friday before a three day weekend so there were mostly vacationers (ugh) and a few business travelers. As I entered the maze I heard a voice holler, "Hey! You can't do that! GO BACK!". I froze. I thought that I had done something wrong already. I looked around to see jerk trying to get to the head of the line by ducking under the rat-maze baracades. Some people have no shame.

The maze was set up so that you entered on one end and made no less than five turns before the group separated into three distinct lines where three TSA agents were checking boarding passes and IDs. Murphy accompanied me on this trip (thought I left him in the overhead cabinet in the coach) directing me into the slowest line. I watched as the other two lines filtered through and my line stood stationary. That was when I had a revelation; the people of the world are getting bigger. I don't mean heavier but taller. I used to be average sized for a woman. Okay...maybe a little shorter than average but close. I think the average when I was growing up was 5 feet 5 inches. I'm 5 feet 3 inches...almost. I was totally surrounded by people who are at least 5 feet 8 inches and taller. Way taller. Now I know how the Munchkins felt. I found myself being eternally grateful for the custom of daily showers and widespread use of deoderants being as my nose is about armpit height on the average person. For some unknown reason my sense of smell seems heightened in the last couple of years and I can't figure out why. When we were in South Africa and we enountered a pack of Wild Dogs and I was nearly reduced to vomiting over the side of the Land Rover at their stench. I'll spare you the details as to why they stink to high heaven...not a pretty story. If you must know, Google it.

I'm reminded here of an incident that happened in Vero Beach a few years back. John and I were crossing the 17th Street bridge in the car. We got to the base of the bridge on the west side and were stopped by a traffic light. We were listening to music and tapping our toes when all of the sudden the car filled with the stench of I glanced his way and then looked out the window resisting the urge to lower it and air out the car for fear that I would offend him. I then wondered what on earth he ate that caused such an...event. Thankfully the light changed and we moved on smiling politely at each other and as we moved the smell left the vehicle. Several months later we were stopped in the same spot under the same conditions and it happened again! Finally it occurred to me that the smell might be coming from outside of the car. I looked to the right and saw a small power plant and to the left was another plant of some sort. I said, "Do you smell that?". He got a little red faced and said yes. I immediately thought he thought that I thought he did it so I quickly speculated that it might be one of the plants that was emitting the sewer-like stench. He started to laugh. I asked what was funny and he recalled in great detail the last time that it happened and said that at the time he thought it was me but he didn't want to embarrass me by asking if I felt okay so he suffered in silence. He said he wondered if he could spend a lifetime dealing with the smells that I was capable of producing and then decided that it could be dealt with. We had a moment of hilarity. It happens a lot with us. And to this day when ever we pass that spot and it stinks we both crack up.

Back to the airport...

So I finally got my boarding pass and ID checked. Apparently the lines were out to Long Term Parking by then because they finally decided to open three more security check lines. A TSA agent elbowed through the throngs of travelers directing us at the top of her lungs to the newly opened check points which were divided by blue duct tape on the carpeting (another use for duct tape) saying "YOU, over HERE" as she points at you to move your ass and DAMN IT don't DALLY!

I was so surrounded by tall people that I felt like a sappling in an old growth forest, straining for daylight and to see how close I was to the security ex-ray machine. It's important to know how close you are because you have to begin loosening garments before you arrive at the stack of gray plastic tubs so that you don't stall the line. Since I've reached middle age and am in full possession of memory deficiency I tend to get a little hypertensive just prior to reaching the stack of gray tubs. Reminds me of when I was a kid and we did 100 yard dashes in track and field...ready, set, GO! Grab a bin, try to fit it on the table (with Murphy as a nearly constant companion the person in front of me is usually slowly proceeding through the drill and taking up the entire table, oblivious to the fact that there are 500 hypertensive people behind him or her waiting to dash through the process), put your purse/laptop if you have one/wallet/keys/change/watch, and plastic ziplock bag in the bin, jerk your shoes off, strip off your coat/sweater, figure out what goes in the bin and what goes on the conveyor belt, double check to be sure that you haven't dropped you driver's license and that you have your boarding pass in hand. Run to the metal detector and STOP. Wait to be waved through the metal detector in your stocking feet. Once you get through without setting off the alarm and are not abducted on the other side for wanding and a pat down you proceed to the other side of the ex-ray machine and wait for your stuff to come out. Hypertension sets in again when you see it coming down the conveyor belt. Will they confiscate your purse (bag, laptop or briefcase) for a search or will you begin the high speed re-dressing routine in reverse...push the gray tub to the end of the metal rollers, jerk your shoes and coat/sweater out, replace your laptop (if you have one) in its case, grab your purse, bag or briefcase, watches, change, plastic ziplock bag and wallet haul it all down to the bench where you drop everything into a pile and put your shoes on, coat/sweater on and find your boarding pass. On this day I passed through security with two incidents. I left my boarding pass on the table and a nice man retrieved it for me (there are some nice people in airports) and the TSA gang decided they needed to look through my purse. I guess the comb with the metal spikes on the end was the culprit. Once they determined that I couldn't hijack a plane with it and I finished dressing and proceeded to the tram.

As I've gotten older I've begun to understand that some things which irritate me are shared experiences. Certain things are cultural. In the United States we are accsutomed to our personal space. I take that to an art form. I am so goofy about it that I can get downright hostile if someone voilates my personal space zone (defined for me as an area about two feet in any direction from my body, arms, legs, and head) except by accident. This was driven home to me as I waited for the tram. In Orlando, as in most airports, it is an multi-sectional train with several doors that allow for boarding and exiting. When I arrived I saw a herd of people all crammed up waiting for the door to open so that they could board into the first car. It struck me as strange at the time because there were three of us to occupy the rest of the tram which meant that if we so chose to we could each have our own private car. The door opened and I stepped on and the door closed and when I looked up through the glass partition at the first car it was wall to wall people. They were stacked in there like cord wood. I thought, "How ridculous is that." When the tram stopped we all exited and when I attempted to negotiate my way through the crowd that got off of the first car I had an "ah ha" moment. They were all Asian and I assumed that they must have been traveling together because of the smiling faces and happy toned conversation going on in the group. I remember a dear friend of mine who visited China several years ago telling me that the concept of personal space doesn't exist in China due to the sheer numbers of people who occupy the cities. Airlines, in their effort to keep bankruptcy at bay, have eliminated personal space as an option unless you can afford to book First Class tickets. If I were Asian this airline thing would work for me. I'm American and it doesn't.

The next step in the process is to get on the stupid airplane. Slight obsessive that I am I quadruple checked to be sure that I had the correct portion of my boarding pass to give to the ticket agent. God forbid that I clog up the line. I handed over the paper and headed for my seat. I managed to book aisle seats all the way through to Lexington and back. When I got to my row of seats it was empty. It was too good to be true that it would stay that way so I put my bag and purse under the seat, got my book and iPod out and waited. As I saw people coming down the aisle I looked at each one deciding if they would be okay to sit next to (don't laugh...I know you do this too). "Not good...acceptable...fine and oh please, please don't let it be that one..." went through my mind as each approached and passed. Finally I looked up and I knew...I knew this was my seating companion approaching. I knew it without a doubt because I was traveling with Murphy and Murphy always blesses me with a teething-age infant, either in front of me, behind me or next to me. Sure enough a nice young lady with a cute little girl excused herself and sat in the window seat with her daughter in her lap. I was about to sit down again when she said, "I would wait if I were you." She pointed and said, "That lady coming down the aisle is traveling with me." I looked up and saw a rotund lady with arm loads of child care equipment...bottles, diaper bags, blankets, pacifiers...the works. I groaned internally and waited while the procession of glowering passengers squeezed by me to get to their seats while the nanny situated her more than ample body and into the less than ample space and plopped down on top of her seat belt. I quickly slid into my seat allowing the log jam of passengers to continue on their way. The ensuing struggle for the nanny to get situated and the beating that I was taking from passing travelers and their luggage left me with a new appreciation of what it is like to be a cow in a cattle car. Okay, so I was stuck with this situation and just had to find a way to live with it. I stuffed my earphones deep into my ears, turned up the music to BLAST and grabed my book. The rest of the flight was observed as mouths moving, heads bobbing and bodies going to and from the lavatory to Joe Cocker, Eric Clapton and Heart. The iPod is the best invention since baked bread. As I glanced around me it occurred to me that as a population we talk too much. Everyone's mouths were moving. As I walked through the airports everyone, everywhere was yapping on phones or non-stop to each other. I wonder if human air expelled from the mouth as voice has something to do with global warming. They say that cow farts do. Hmmm...

Okay so I get to Charlotte and find that I'm booked on to one of those small jets that flies into Lexington. I like the little jets because they are fast. They board fast, get in the air fast, get on the ground fast and fly fast and it doesn't take a year to get off of the thing once you've reached your destination especially in Lexington which is my favorite airport in the world. It is small and quiet and easy to access. If you can catch a decent fare out of there it is the only way to go. Back to the trip. I do the quadruple check for the correct boarding pass and head out for the little jet on the tarmac. When I get to my seat I discover that I am sitting next to a young guy who is built like linebacker. He is not fat. He is HUGE. He is so HUGE that he is taking up three quarters of the space that is allotted for two seats. He is so HUGE that he can't get the armrest down in between us. I smile politely as I stuff myself into half of a seat. I watch as the plane fills to capacity. I know I'm in for an hour of being smashed. If we hit turbulence I will surely be squished to death. I struggle for my book, give up on the idea of the iPod and fly to Lexington. Once there and extracted from my seat it literally takes me ten minutes to get off of the plane and get a cab ride to my front door. I made it...a little worse for the wear but I was home. Tomorrow I get to do it all in reverse. And the trip to dentist looks like a walk in the park.

On Saturday morning I got up at 5:30, showered, drank some coffee and sorted out my boarding passes again. I made arrangements for my Friday cab driver to pick me up at 8:00. He was early so we chatted on our way over to the airport and found out that we knew people in common, another thing I love about Lexington. I bought two bottles of my favorite shampoo while I was in Lexington not thinking until it was too late that I couldn't take all of that liquid through security so I checked the little bag and whizzed through security (I thought I might have ditched Murphy at the dentist office) and boarded a lightly populated flight to Charlotte. I had two seats to myself (unheard of) and had a quiet and pleasant flight in the little jet. Once I stepped into the terminal in Charlotte I knew that Murphy had just been napping in my purse. It looked like an ant hill. Suddenly I wondered if I had taken the wrong flight and ended up in Chicago. It was mayhem. I fell in with the flow of bodies heading for terminal C. I battle my way from terminal E to terminal C...about ten miles. I find one chair far away from my gate and plop down looking around at all of the people. Big ones, little ones, young ones, old ones, dark ones, light ones, skinny ones, fat ones, every type of human being imaginable. And where were they all going?


They called our flight to board. I was in zone 7. That's another thing that I don't get...the zone thing. When I am in zone 1 in the back of the plane they load from the front to the back. When I am in zone 7 in the front of the plane they load from the back to the front. I guess it is that pesky Murphy again. So I load in the last 100 or so people and when I get to my seat someone is sitting in it. That irritates me no end. I had to dig out my seating assignment from my purse and show it to this kid, about 17 and smirky. He grunts and moves over to the center seat and I slide into my coveted aisle seat.

A minute later along came an unremarkable looking man with a remarkable smell. The Wild Dogs in Africa didn't have anything on this guy. The line of people stalled out just as this guy got next to my seat, undoubtedly due to some jerk trying to fit an elephant sized carry on in an already over stuffed overhead bin down the line. I tried to draw a breath but every time I did I had to halt the intake of air for fear that I would deposit my breakfast on his shoes. Finally I covered my nose with my hand and dabbed at my watering eyes. It was HORRIBLE. No, HORRIBLE really doesn't cover it. It was DISGUSTING. He smelled something like rancid cooking oil mixed with skunk. That's close. Finally the line moved and I breathed before passing out.

My seat was in row 5 just two rows back from first class. I thought this would be good. It wasn't. People in the rows head of me and in first class had very unhappy children. Fussing, screaming, crying, wiggling, whining, little human beings. I have a theory that an airline needs to be created to accomodate people who fly with small children...not to accommodate me so much (well maybe that too) but to accommodate them. Kids have a hard time being confined to a small space. Hell I have a hard time being confined to a small space! If they would create Mickey Mouse Airlines (Hooters did this for perverts, why not an airline that caters to kids) the world would be a happier place.

Okay, so I'm sitting there thinking that aisle seat row 5 might not have been the best spot on the plane when a large bottomed woman (I'm being polite) drags a carry on rolling bag that is too heavy for her to handle next to my seat and begins to struggle to put it in the overhead bin on the opposite side of the aisle. I would have offered to help her but every time I tried to stand up she bent over and smothered me with her fat ass...ooops....large bottom and knocked me back into my seat. Finally after being assaulted by this woman's butt a dozen times I was losing my cool. To make matters worse her mouth was running a mile a minute and she sounded like my Aunt Jessie who was a sweet person but had the voice from hell...shrill and loud and talked non-stop. By this time I've had enough "togetherness" with the general public and I'm getting ready to tell this woman to get her fat ass out of my face when the flight attendant comes up and assists her with her bag...just in the nick of time. Then she asks if the three of us in row 5, who are sitting next to each other looking like Siamese triplets, are traveling together. I start to laugh. I realize that we must have looked like a cozy unit of friendly passengers but the truth was that we didn't know each other from Adam and wanted only to survive the flight so we could un-stick from each other and get on with our lives. We all shake our heads no. She said, "Would you be willing to give up your seats so that I can move children out of the exit rows?" I didn't even think about it. "YES!" I said and the three of us piled out of the seats in row 5 falling over each other to get to the exit rows. There were three seats available after the kids were moved forward, two on the aisle and one center seat. The crafty smirky guy immediately plopped into an aisle seat. The tall guy, who started this flight with a window seat, and me who started the flight with an aisle seat eye each other carefully and then glance at the one remaining aisle seat. While I'm debating with myself as to whether I will duke it out with this guy for the seat or give it up the flight attendant interceded and asked him politely to take the center seat. How could he refuse? I fell into the aisle seat and flew to Orlando.

Once I arrived in Orlando I found that the inmates had taken over the asylum. It was a ZOO. I battled my way down to the baggage claim turnstile and stood there for a half hour waiting for my little bag. Once I got it I decided that waiting outside with the smokers was preferable to waiting inside. I called John and he found his way from the cell phone waiting area to the passenger pick up and gathered up his airline-weary wife with her bag of shampoo and he and Breezy took me to a peaceful and quiet home.

In two days we fly again...out of Orlando. Putting less than a week between flights is just a little insane but we have a wonderful trip coming up and this time John and I are traveling together which is great! I'll write when we get back and let you know how it went.

PS. Thanks for all of the nice comments and emails about this blog. It is fun to share our experiences with you and we love hearing from you!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Hanging Loose in Wildwood

Contrary to what this photo may lead you to believe this guy is not naked. We would have been long gone when I saw him out the window if that were the case. He actually had on a pair of snappy looking flowered shorts. He spent the day out there soaking up the rays. Not exactly South Beach but he was enjoying himself.

If you are interested in seeing more photos of our coach trip so far you can visit: It is an album set up like our Africa trip web album.

When I last left you we had just pulled into the Wildwood KOA and were getting ready to set up our space. We were assigned to 57 Palm Avenue. That conjures up visions of a trendy tree lined avenue with floral accents, boutiques and cafes doesn't it?

57 Palm Avenue was a sand/dirt path with narrow angled pull through spaces. Each space came with a wood picnic table (each of which bore multiple scars from parking miscalcuations) and hookups for electricity, water and a dump site for the gray and black water tanks. We don't have Mary set up for satellite service yet so we were hoping for cable in this KOA. Cartersville had it. Wildwood did not. Not a problem because we have books, radio, and movies. John guided Mary into the narrow space and I parked the Camry in front of her. In order to get the car pointed in the right direction I had to make a tour around the park and come back down Palm Avenue. As I eased down the sandy road I was taken back in time to a memory of being unwittingly directed into a lovely section of Watts back in 1977 by a friend who was in need of a fix. We had just spent a day at Disneyland. Talk about one extreme to the other. Being totally dense about what was going on...and I mean totally dense, I ended up spending an hour sitting in my locked car in the 'hood waiting for this moron to come back. Our friendship ended that day. And my mother just turned over in her grave. Sorry Mom...

Okay, I exaggerate a little bit about this KOA but it really did look a little scary and looked nothing like what the internet description and photos portrayed. Oh by the way, if you know anyone looking for an Airstream bumper-pull trailer to restore (I guess the old trailers are pretty cool when they are fixed up) I can direct you right to the spot where you can find a great selection. There was also a couple there who had two nine-week old Yorkie puppies that were adorable. They were the highlight of the park.

It really seems too much of a stretch to call it a park. It was a campground. That even seems a little generous.

So we ran into the puppies with their owners when we took Breezy out for our first evening walk. Before we went out the door I hesitated and looked at John. "What is it?" he asked. "Do you think we should take the pepper spray with us?" He laughed at me. Then he hesitated. "Maybe we should take the gun instead," he said. We looked at each other for a long moment and then had one of those good tension relieving laughs. We started toward the door and I spoted the keys hanging in the ignition. "We might want to take those with us. I don't think Mary would last three minutes here if we leave the keys." We locked up and the three of us started for the corner of the park where there is a stand of trees. That was the designated dog walking area. There wasn't a blade of grass anywhere just a billion acorns. Acorns are toxic to dogs. Apparently they want to discourage dogs at this KOA. We watched Breezy closely being as she is the kind that will pick up anything and crunch into it to find out what it is. "Drop it, drop it, drop it" echoed through the trees and "Potty, potty potty, hurry, hurry, hurry." She ignored us. She didn't even want to poop in this place. Repeated attempts proved futile until we wanderd off of the property to a grassy area. Can't blame her. There was a wide walking path that wound into the woods. My champion visualization capability jumped right into high gear when I looked at that path. Headlines on CNN: Couple and their dog disappear in Wildwood KOA. Foul play suspected. Fancy motorhome stolen. Suspected serial killer works as campground host. The freaky guy with the Pit Bull in the flimsy pen outside of the TRASHED up trailer under investigation.

Okay, so we met the couple with the puppies. We chatted for a minute about the cute little dogs and then they asked how long we had been there. "Arrived today," John said. "Oh dern, you missed breakfast!" the guy replied. John and I looked at each other. I opened my mouth but nothing came out. Hospitalization...IV tubes...stomach pumping. My mind was at it again. I was thinking about the "pot lucks" that were listed on the website. "Yeah, we sure did," John said. "Maybe next time." Ha. We said good evening and sauntered on our way.

After Breezy finally did her thing the discussion began as to whether we would stay the two nights that we had paid for or to try to find another place. After our adventures with Mary so far we were kind of tired and looking forward to staying put so we decided to stick it out. It was just two days. And two nights. We could entertain ourselves inside for that long. No problem. We lowered the shades, turned on the radio and I blogged while John read and Breezy snoozed. Just before retiring for the night John volunteered to take Breezy out for her evening walk. "Please come back," I said. He smiled and flipped on the porch light and as he stepped out with Breezy I heard him say something to someone outside. When he came back he said there was a nice farmer from Kansas that had pulled into the space to the right of us. That was a relief.

The next morning we got up and I turned on the coffee. I don't wake up fast even if the house is burning and coffee is the second thing that happens after my feet hit the floor. John wakes up early and hits the floor running. Sometimes he forgets how I am and asks me what I have planned for the day. I normally have a plan for the next day before I go to bed but it doesn't rise to the surface until my second cup of coffee so I just stare at him with a blank look. So I poured a cup while John took Breezy for her morning walk. "Please come back," I said as he decended the steps. I plunked into the dining table booth and turned on my computer. When he came back I looked up and noticed that there was something very close to big Mary on the right. I strained to see through the shade and finally got up and opened the shade. I nearly jumped back. The Kansas farmer had parked his trailer almost on top of the picnic table (and the only object separating the two vehicles). You could barely see daylight. "Got a little close don't you think?" I ask. "Yeah, he did," John says behind me and then, "Uh oh."

I snapped upright. Suddenly I was awake. "Uh oh? What do you mean UH OH? What's UH OH?" I say in near panic. He says, "I'm almost out of Cheerios," as he pulls the box out of the cupboard. I let out a big sigh and took a few seconds to let my heart rate return to normal. "Please don't say that again unless there is a serious problem. Uh oh needs to be reserved for emergencies." He smiles at me shaking the box. "Running out of Cheerios is an emergency." He grins.

After breakfast and showers we decided that later we will drive down and check out the Monaco Service Center where we were scheduled to deliver Mary the following morning. We spent some time relaxing and watching the neighbors for a couple of hours; old ladies trooping through the campground in their chenille bathrobes to and from the public showers, the guy next door with the Harley (cool bike) getting ready to take his classic biker chic woman (EEEEKKK!!!) on a ride, the guy in the photo above who sat like a white-haired Buddha all day deepening his saddle tanned look, and the people across the road who were working diligently restoring a 1977 Airstream. I thought people did that kind of thing before they went on vacation... We took a walk around the park with Breezy and I nonchalantly snapped some shots of the...scenery.

After lunch we locked up Mary, got in the Camry and headed toward Monaco. Along the way we passed a Winn-Dixie grocery store and a Shell station and car wash. We needed something for dinner and the Camry was filthy and needed gas so we decided that on the way back we would stop. Two miles down the road we pulled into the Monaco Service Center and found a beautiful open green setting with tons of hookups. The lot was full of Monacos. Monacos as far as the eye could see. Since we took possession of the coach it has been John's fantasy to find a nice park and set up next to an experienced Monaco Dynasty owner whose brain he could pick about coaching. We were looking at his dream. It was too late to move (we were told by a nice lady at Monaco that we could stay there but that on the weekends it got pretty that's why we decided on the KOA) so we put it in the "L&L" file (that's live and learn) and moved on to groceries. The plan was that I would go to the store while John went to the Shell station across the parking lot to gas up and get the car washed. Sounded like a good plan.

I went to get the food. I had a list in my head...never a smart thing at this age but it was short so I didn't think I needed to write it down. But when I get freaked out I tend to forget things. I went to the bakery section and picked up a fresh loaf of garlic bread, then on to the freezer section to find a Cornish game hen. As I approached the freezer section I heard a booming voice behind me say, "THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA IS THE AXIS OF EVIL!!!". My head snapped around looking for the nut case that just spewed out that load garbage. When I got a look around I saw some very weird folks staring at this fruit loop who was preaching in the grocery store aisle.

Time to go. I grabbed the chicken out of the freezer, ran down the wine aisle and grabbed the first bottle that I recognized as being red wine and raced for the cash register. I tried to pay while the clerk and store manager commented at length about the wine that I chose and admitted that they knew nothing about it while my mind screamed "Just put the freaking bottle in the bag and let me out of here!" Once in the parking lot I looked around and didn't see the Camry. I looked at the Shell station and didn't see the Camry. "Don't panic, don't panic," I say as I got my phone out and called John. "I'm stuck in line at the car wash," I hear. I dashed to the car wash with bags in hand and threw myself into the passenger seat. "What's wrong?" he asks. "It was like Walmart on steriods," I say out of breath. "I'm sorry but I forgot the Cheerios." I felt terrible...but safe.

Our next challege came sooner than I was prepared for. The car wash had a bizarre entry system. You buy gas at the Shell station and they give you a reciept with a number on it that you enter on a keypad on a beat up kiosk outside of the car wash. There is a sign on the kiosk that says, "Do not enter your secret code until I stop beeping." No lie. That's what it says. After waiting for ten minutes the woman in front of us, who is the next in line, gets out of her car and waves her index finger at us indicating that we be patient (what can we do...we are sandwiched in between two cars and two curbs) and she disappears! Five minutes later she shows up with a big guy (Henricke) who has a small machine in hand that he is doing some sort of voodoo on. After he does what ever it was that he did she gets in her car and proceeds to the car wash. John engages Henrike in conversation about the problem. "She entered her number before the machine stopped beeping," he says pointing to the sign. "Don't enter your number before the machine stops beeping." By this time I just want to get the freaking car washed and get back to Queen Mary at the KOA. So finally it is our turn. John enters the number and we watch the red sign turn green telling us to move forward. He eases the Camry into the car wash. The green sign doesn't change to red when we hit the bumper for the front tire. It stays green and stays green and stays green until finally John decides that it must mean that we need to move forward more. I'm thinking that there is something wrong with the green light when he guns the engine and drives over the bumper with the left front tire. This cocks the car to an angle when it should be straight and once again my heart is racing. "I think we went too far," I say. The light finally turned red. He put the car in reverse and the tires squealed and jumped back over the bumper leaving us at an odd angle as the metal bars of the "touchless" car wash started to move. My visualizer went to work again. I closed my eyes and could see the "touchless" bars scraping down the side of the car tearing the paint off as they went. Thankfully it just washed the car. I thought about uncorking the wine while we were in the car wash but waited for dinner instead.

We had a perfectly delicious dinner from the convection microwave, which I had never used before. Between the two of us we figured it out. John opened the wine and we had a fun time listening to CNN Radio and talking about politics while we sipped wine. I only had one more heart stopping moment before we called it a night. We were sitting at the table when our neighbor fired up his Harley. I jumped straight in the air and if I didn't know better I would swear that my hair stood up. Oh those noises.

Mary is in Wildwood parked with about fifty other coaches just like her. I'm sure that she is telling some good stories on her inexperienced new owners. Thankfully she is patient and forgiving. And we already can't wait until we can pick her up and hit the road again!

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Red Light Green Light

After an enjoyable day of looking at more horses we returned to the coach and planned our trip to Wildwood. We have decided on a name for our beautiful coach...Mary, after The Queen Mary. Our route involved turning on the Tom Tom, muting the sound, driving a quarter mile to Interstate 75 and heading south. Simple. Good plan.

John hooked the car up to Mary on Friday night and we had dinner and enjoyed our last evening at the Cartersville KOA. It was quiet, in a pretty park-like setting and the owners were so helpful and pleasant. The pull-through spaces were large and neighbors weren't so close that you could hear each other sneeze. It had wireless internet and cable television and a great place for Breezy to play Frisbee. Being card carrying members of KOA we decided to see if there was another one close to Wildwood. So I got on the KOA website and as luck would have it there was one just 4 miles from the Monaco Service Center in Wildwood where we plan to leave Miss Mary on Monday for a few repairs. Perfect! Here is what the website said about the Wildwood KOA:

"Strike out in any direction from the Wildwood KOA, and you’ll discover something terrific. Head north or east to unspoiled lakes, forests and horse country. Head southeast to Orlando’s endless attractions. Head west to spring-fed rivers, Gulf Coast beaches and gems like Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. Manatees, alligators, otters, bobcats and dozens of bird species gather near the natural spring. Take advantage of a nearby canoe or hiking trail. Enjoy an airboat ride on the Withlacoochee River.

At KOA, enjoy the solar-heated pool, mini golf and holiday potlucks. You might even pick up some foreign language phrases while you’re there. The staff speak German, French and Tagalog. During the winter season, be entertained with live music and trips to local attractions. Six restaurants are within walking distance."

You will probably want to reference that description again later.

Back to our trip. On Saturday morning we woke up early and ate breakfast while the sun came up. It was frosty and cold and we were looking forward to an easy 7 hour trip down I-75 to Wildwood where it was forecast to be 78 degrees. Heaven. We walked through our pre-launch checklist and John fired up the big diesel. All of the lights, bells, chimes, whistles, and buzzers signaled correctly and the transmission pump unit was showing one green light. A great start. John got out to do one last walk around before our departure and when he stepped outside and closed the door the transmission pump unit changed from one green light to one green light and one red light (on Thursday it was one green light and one yellow light). Knowing the reception that the news would elicit from the Pilot I slid down in my cushy seat, told Breezy to keep her head down and waited for him to come back. When he stepped into the coach I delivered the news. "What does that mean?" he asked. "Damned if I know," I say as I head to the cabinet to wrangle the Super Bible out. Of course once again I pulled down the wrong box. Murphy is doing well at my expense. So I finally get the little owner's manual out and sure enough there is no description of what a red light and a green light means. By now there is a lot of big sighs going on and lots of why's and what the hell's. The Pilot announced that he was going to call Dan's Hitch. Why Dan's Hitch is not on speed dial by now I'm not sure but a call to them requires that I get online and get the number from their website. I've done it so often that I know the web address by heart. I get the number and point out as I'm handing the phone to him that Dan's Hitch doesn't open until 8:00. It's 7:40. Undeterred he pushes "send" and the phone call is placed. 30 seconds later he hangs up after having talked to no one. Now he is pissed off...doesn't understand why the dang thing is doing what it is doing. He makes two trips to the Camry putting his ear to the hood and announcing that he can hear the transmission pump running. With that he buckles up in his cushy pilot seat and puts the coach in gear. I issue a quick prayer to the transmission gods and we roll.

Two miles down the highway I'm feeling very jittery and doing one of those visualizations that I'm so good at (transmission parts flying out from under the Camry breaking someone's windshield and spawning a lawsuit...not to mention all of that stuff about calling a cab to go to the grocery store) and irritated no end by a noise that I can't identify. Every noise in the coach is a reason to be on alert at this point because we just aren't familiar with what it all means. On top of it John's hearing isn't as good as it once was and I have always had dog hearing. So I'm always saying, "What's that noise?" and he's always answering, "What noise?" Either I'm going to have to stuff cotton in my ears or its time for a hearing aide for the Pilot. The balance point in this is that he can see like an eagle at a distance and I'm blind as a bat at a distance without my bifocals which I can never find because I can't remember where I left them. Welcome to middle age... I digress.

At 8:00 on the dot he places another call to Dan's Hitch. He reaches some poor soul and announces that we have a red light AND a green light and what the hell does that mean and that with his ear to the hood of the car he can hear the transmission pump running. The guy makes the mistake of suggesting that we bring it in so that they can look at it. I had eased back to the galley to stay out of he fray and over the sound of the diesel I heard him say, "I'M in GEORGIA!". He said something about probably not coming back to Elkhart in this lifetime and after a short conversation he hung up. Breezy put her head down on her bed and sighed. I finally made my way back to my cushy seat and eased into it. I said, "What's that sound?" He said, "What sound?" I didn't answer but reached over and started fiddling with the fan on the heating/air conditioning unit thinking that the bird that lives in that unit was really unhappy. It's normally just a little chirpy thing when the air is running. I turned the fan off. That wasn't it. John said, "What noise?" again. I said, "THAT noise...the one that is deafening me!" He looked at me like I was on LSD. Finally I got down on my hands and knees and put my ear close to the transmission pump unit and discovered to my horror that it was the unit that was emitting a high pitched, high speed chirp. It sounded like the alarm was going off but was somehow faulty. "SHIT," I said as I heaved myself back in my cushy seat. More visions of disaster danced in my head.

It was time for a pit stop. John eased big Mary over and parked her. He got up and headed for the loo. When I heard the door close I glanced over at the stupid transmission pump unit and glared hard at it. It went silent. "Holy crap," I say to myself as I sit up. The red light was gone and the unit was quiet. Jubilation ensued.

Back on the road. I decided that it was time to organize that overhead cabinet where the Super Bibles reside (I'm determined to even the score with Murphy) so as we were traveling I was pulling stuff out of the cabinet and sorting it out. In it I found a folder of some of the RV junk mail that we had accumulated since we started joining RV clubs. In the folder I found a complimentary Flying J RV membership card in the pile of papers. I read the literature and took it up to the cockpit. "Guess what?" I say waving the card and happily plunking into my cushy seat. "What?" he says. "We have a complimentary Flying J discount card. It earns us a discount on fuel at the pump!" I say smiling. "How much?" he asks. "A penny a gallon!" I say. I can see him calculating. "So if I put 75 gallons in the tank we will save seventy-five cents," he says. "Yeah! Isn't that great?" I beam. He gives me a sideways glance. "Oh yeah. That will delay our trip to the poor house by at least five minutes per tank," he says and we both disolve into hysterical laughter. We laugh a lot. Life is good.

John drove us down to Valdosta on the Florida/Georgia border while I worked on my last blog post. He decided it was time to top off the fuel tank. There was a Flying J truck stop/travel plaza just off Exit 2. We eased off of the Interstate and he guided big Mary toward the RV island. There were two lines for RV's to fuel up and both of them were backed up to the street. I'm discovering that any opportunity to be around other RV's is a good thing for me because I happen to think that Queen Mary is about the coolest motor coach on the road. While we waited for the RV's to move through I put a leash on Breezy and took her to a grassy area for a walk. As I walked I looked at each RV telling myself that Mary was cooler, Mary was classier, Mary was just the most special coach in the group. She doesn't have a hard line on her and she is her namesake. I also noticed that every coach had two men in it. I wondered to myself if there was a gay RVers rally in the area. When I got back to the coach with Breezy John announced that Daytona week was going on. Ohhhhhhh! Okay. That explains all of the RVs and all of the guys. $250.00 later we were back on the road. We drove about three miles when John says, "Too bad we can't pull a gas tanker with this." We both disintegrate into hysterical laughter again.

After the transmission pump crisis things went so smoothly on the way to Wildwood that we were actually enjoying our longest stretch of relaxation to date. The Pilot loves driving Mary. He says she's a dream to handle. I'll probably find out when we head west. Probably somewhere out in West Texas. So we take the Wildwood Exit and find the entrance to the KOA park. John eases Mary down a palm tree lined driveway and up to the office. All of the KOA offices look the A frame looking wood construction building. While he was in the office attempting to understand the man who is checking us in (the internet desciption did say something about learning a new foreign phrase or two...) I'm in the coach getting the lay of the land at this KOA. In front of me a woman driving a 70's vintage beater with no fenders and a baby propped on her hip is having a small propane tank filled and is blocking the driveway. To the left is a basketball hoop. That's cool. But the only way you could shoot hoops would be in the traffic. There is also a shuffleboard court and a horseshoe pit. To my right I can see the park. You know how you feel when you check into a hotel that you found on the Internet and the photos make it look like a five star resort and when you get there it is a mega-dive? That about sums it up. This was a mega-dive RV park.

So John came back from the office and we rolled our eyes at each other. No, we decide, we are not going to be negative. It might be better than what our first impression was telling us. Actually it was hollering at us but we chose to be positive. We unhooked the car and I led the way into the park with the Camry keeping big Mary in my mirror as I drove. When I made the reservation I had to make a choice between the large and the extra large spaces. I chose large. As I discovered extra large came with a view of the dumpsters. Large gave us a perfect view of the public showers.

For a moment let me go back to just before we left Lexington. On Thursday before we left John de-winterized the coach (it was winterized in Elkhart...water systems filled with a non-toxic antifreeze). He drained and rinsed it and tested all of the working parts. He came home after spending part of a day with big Mary with a slightly dejected look on his face. He announced that everything was working perfectly except that he couldn't get the shower to work. "Call Dennis," I suggest. He hesitated. "Well there are a few more things to try," he said. That's cool with me. He went to the farm the next morning and called me later, frustrated. "I still can't figure out why it won't work. It has to be something simple," he says. I agree. It's probably something simple. He came home later in the day still befuddled by the shower. "Just call Dennis," I say. No, he would figure it out. We are counting down to our maiden voyage and he didn't want to delay it. Dennis has weekends off (which he probably cherishes after dealing with us) so John couldn't talk to him until Monday morning. Our original launch date was set for Sunday. John says to me, "Well if I can't get it to work we could still leave Sunday and use the public showers in the RV parks." I just stared at him. Then I shook my head. "We own a fabulous nearly new 42 foot class A Monaco Dynasty motor coach and you are suggesting that we shower in a public shower?" I could see that he immediately connected to the folly of his suggestion. "If I am ever in prison I'll take a public shower. Call Dennis." The trip was delayed, he called Dennis on Monday and as we both suspected it was a simple thing. Weather delayed us on Tuesday and finally on Wednesday we left, complete with a working shower.

In my next post I'll attempt to describe the joys of spending two days at the Wildwood KOA. We are in Vero Beach now after dropping big Mary at the Monaco service center where she will have her awning repaired and a few other little adjustments so that she will be ready for our next adventure. The weather is beautiful and Breezy is thrilled to be going to the beach for her morning and evening walks again. As a very good friend of ours wrote after the first two posts, "Breezy deserves a Gold Star for putting up with your lifestyle!" We agree!

Where's the car?

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Day two. We were both so tired that we slept like a couple of old dogs and woke up feeling rested and ready to tackle the day. After a shower, coffee and breakfast we made our way out to Winsalot Stables to see Jeff and Kristy Leech and looked at some young horses. John, unable to contain his enthusiasum for his newfound avocation suggested that we leave Arab and start on our way to Cartersville, Georgia. I agreed and we set about planning our route. Now, we have some new-fangled GPS software waiting for us at the house in Vero Beach (we decided we knew how to get to Florida when we ordered it so we had it sent there...not smart) so we are relying on the Tom Tom GPS unit to tell us what turns to take from Arab to Cartersville.

Disclaimer: If you are a fan of Tom Tom you may not want to read any more of this post. This is not a testamonial to its effectiveness.

So we talked to John's friend Jeff about which was the best route between Arab and Cartersville and not only got good advice but a personal escort for about 20 miles to put us on the correct highway. Jeff is a great guy. From there we were to rely on maps and the Tom Tom. So we walked through our pre-launch routine ritual...slides in, cabinets secured, Aqua Hot off, water pump on, shore power disconnected, etc., hooked up the car and checked the transmission pump monitor.

Sidebar: When we had the Camry outfitted for pulling one of the necessary elements was a transmission pump required because it has an automatic transmission. They installed a transmission pump monitor on the dash board of the coach. If it should stop pumping for any reason the alarm goes off so that you don't tear up the transmission. Also on the unit is a green light (everything is cool) a yellow light (everything is not cool) and a red light (something is very wrong!!).

Our first crisis of the day came when John hooked the car to the coach and the yellow and green light came on together. It was immediate mayhem. John freaked out dashing back and forth from the coach to the car to the coach to the car while our pilot car (Jeff in his Durango) waited patiently. There were lots of big sighs and lots of angst and swearing. So I got up and went to get the Super Bible. Actually there are two. Monaco provides coach owners with two file boxes that have dividers in them (like, Furnace, Washer/Dryer, Aladdin System, Television and so on) that have the specific manuals for each system in the coach. After we had the transmission pump installed I put the owner's manual in one of the file boxes. For me this is where Murphy's Law s always takes effect. If I'm looking for something in one box, without fail I will pick the other box. And they are jammed into an overhead cabinet and weigh 10 pounds each so getting them out has been an ordeal. So now I'm swearing and jerking the file box to get it out and when I do I discover that I have the wrong one. More swearing and jerking and I finally got the proper box with the proper owner's manual and flipped quickly to the troubleshooting section. It has instructions for when a red light is on and instructions for when a yellow light is on but not when a yellow light and a green light are on together. But what it does say is DO NOT tow the vehicle if there is anything but a green light on. Time to call Dan's Hitch in Elkhart, Indiana (the installers of the unit). After green light/yellow light pandmonium the gentleman at Dan's Hitch had John shut off the engine of the coach and restart it. Green light. When in doubt...reboot. John complimented the man by calling him a genius and we were on our way to Cartersville. Breezy, who has to be the most unflappable Border Collie alive, was snug in her bed during the entire Chinese fire drill. Smart dog.

Later we are buckled in to our cushy leather seats and rolling down the beautiful back roads of Alabama while I worked on how to get the iPod to play randomly through the radio. For some reason when I hook it up it will only work off of the playlists. With my slightly obsessive personality I just can't be satisfied with that. I have to know why it won't play randomly, if it will play randomly, how it will play randomly and/or why the hell won't it play randomly. Kenwood seriously needs to hire the people at Monaco to write their instruction manual. Kenwood's is useless. Every time I made an adjustment on the touch screen it started playing the classical playlist. I like classical music sometimes...but not all the time. The first song on the playlist is Serenade G, K 525 "Eine Kleine...". It is lively...DA, daDA....dadadadadaDA! Well you get the general idea. Every time I tried a new button on the touch screen Eine Kleine... started playing. After about ten beginnings of Eine Kleine I was ready to rip the radio out of the dashboard.

In the mean time we are getting closer to our destination, a KOA camp in Cartersville. I made a reservation handy and we are now card carrying members of KOA. And Flying J RV Club. And Good Sam RV Club. And Family Motor Coach Association. It seems that everyone who has owned an RV has a better idea than the last person of which is the best organization to belong to. As you can tell we have solicted lots of opinions. My junk mail volume has increased exponentially with each membership, to the point where my mail man won't fact he won't speak to me anymore. I'm sure he thinks I'm the junk mail queen of the neighborhood. I'm sure I am.

So anyway, we are getting to the point where we know we are close to where we need to be and we begin to rely on Tom Tom for directions. As we approach a sizable interchange John's good instincts tell him that we should ignore Tom Tom and take the turn off for Interstate 75. I argue that Tom Tom says that we should pass up that golden opportunity to do the right thing and go straight for another two miles and take the directed route. Tom Tom is chattering directions (in a half mile turn right on such and such a road...) and when we get a look at the road we both decide that it looks more like a cow trail than a road...definetly not for a 42 foot BUS with a car attached to the back. Now Tom Tom starts badgering us that we missed our turn and directs us to the next one all the while, like a dog on a bone, I'm messing with the radio and repeatedly getting Eine Kleine... AAAAARRRRGGG!!!! We arrive at the next Tom Tom required turn and it is a total hairpin turn onto another cow trail. We quickly confer and pass it up in favor of trying the next one. Tom Tom is ragging on us that we missed the turn and now I'm trying to find our location on the Rand McNally map to see where we are in relation to I-75 (the KOA is a quarter mile off of Exit 296). There are no road signs and Tom Tom has gone passive agressive and refuses to tell me what road we are on. Now we are yelling at Tom Tom like it is a person...a person that we dislike immensely..."Oh shut up you useless piece of crap!" and "Tell me what road we are on you moronic chatterbox!!" and so on. I can tell that John is getting a little past stressed out. The big sighs are coming at shorter intervals. So we decide that the only good option is to turn around and go back to the original I-75 turn off that he wanted to take in the fifteen miles (and two and a half gallons of diesel) ago. Good plan. Next problem: Where do we turn this land yacht around out here in the middle of nowhere? Suddenly dead ahead, as though a motor coach angel was looking after us, there was a turn out large enough to make a U-turn. John slowed the coach down and eased it off of the road into the turn out. When we drove off of the crown of the road the entire coach rocked from side to side. Remember in our Maiden Voyage installment when I said that "nothing was a miracle" ? Well I heard everything move in the cabinets, dishes, cups, supplies, food in the fridge, you name it and it MOVED. But we got back on the road toward the Interstate (blessed Interstates). I made a damage control run though the coach and plunked back in my cushy seat while Breezy watched. I swear I think I saw her shake her head.

After a few more miles both of our heart rates were beginning to return to normal and we were appreciating the scenery again as we rolled down the road toward our turn off. It was great. It was cool. The stupid Tom Tom was now off, I had given up on the iPod project (for the moment...I'll be back at it again can take it to the bank) and we are getting ready to turn onto the road that will take us to I-75. I glanced over at the Aladdin monitor (it has a rear camera view) as I do every so often to be sure that the little car is still upright and tagging along behind us. I freeze. The air won't move in my lungs, my heart won't beat and I'm supressing a primal scream. There is no car in the monitor. I don't want to believe my eyes. I TRULY DO NOT WANT TO BELIEVE MY EYES. No car. My eyes bug and I blink and when I look again there's still no car. And there isn't any traffic beind us. It's all gone! I look at John and he seems calm. My mind immediately creates an image. My little Camry is sitting in the middle of the road where we made the U-turn and it is smashed to smithereens holding up traffic...the reason there is no traffic behind us. Insurance nightmares loom large. How will we get around town? Not in this BUS! You can't turn it around unless you have an empty Walmart parking lot. We would have to call a cab to go the the freaking grocery store! It is absolutely astounding how many scenarios one can create in one's mind within ten seconds of a perceived disaster. Before I scream,"Where is the CAR!!!????" I realize that he has the turn signal on. The smart system (this BUS is so damn smart it's scary) has turned the rear monitor off and turned the left camera on to give John the view of the left side of the coach as he turns. Marvels of engineering these coaches are. I break into hysterical laughter, tears streaming down my face probably as a release of the adrenaline blast that I just experienced. My husband thinks I've lost my mind and Breezy (this dog is amazing) is still lying on her bed looking at me like its time to call the paramedics and have me hauled off to the asylum. After I explain why I'm laughing like a mad woman he laughed with me....or maybe at me. At any rate he laughed.

We found the KOA and while John was working with the campground manager to figure out why we had snowy cable television I got the bright idea to drive to the local Walmart Super Center to pick up a few supplies. As you can probably tell this hasn't been a stellar day for me so far. And I topped it off with a trip to Walmart in rural Georgia at 5:30 in the evening. I probably don't have to paint you a picture. It was six miles from the KOA and I didn't get back to the campground for an hour and a half. It was the scariest Walmart that I've been in to date. When I returned I went directly to the cabinet in the galley that holds the jug of Chevas Regal, poured us each a Scotch (mine was a double) and we toasted getting to the KOA safe and sound.

I'm starting to love this coach already. It's great. It's quiet, comfortable and has every amenity that one could imagine. And we only called Dennis once today! Oh, and Roger in Oregon once. John says that everyone at Monaco Coach must go to charm school before they can start work there. I agree.
Tomorrow we get a day off from the road to go and look at horses and rest our nerve endings. On Friday we are off to Wildwood, Florida....ON THE INTERSTATE!! Yes!!! I'll report on our trip on the next post!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Maiden Voyage

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

We are on the road again only this time the 4-Runner is getting a well deserved rest in our garage in Lexington and we are navagating our way to Arab (pronouned A-rab), Alabama in the land yacht and tugging the trusty little Camry along behind. We delayed this maiden voyage repeatedly due to various circumstances, the latest one being some deadly weather that developed directly in our pathway to Alabama. It was a wise decision. The storm passed over Lexington at 1:30 in the morning rocking me out of bed. The cable was out so I got on the laptop and found that there was a tornado warning, not totally unheard of, but very rare in Lexington in the winter. You would have thought that I would have been smart enough to at least be freaked out about it but one of my obsessions over rode my good sense and I diverted my attention to for election results. More on that at another time.

So on this damp drizzly morning we situated Breezy's bed and chew bones behind the co-pilot's seat (mine), buckled up and John (the pilot) navigated the BUS down McCowan's Ferry Road to the Bluegrass Parkway and we were on our way. It was great. It was cool. We were taking in the scenery and enjoying the smooth and quiet air ride. I kept the instruction manual (known from here on as The Bible) in my lap so I could attempt to answer each of the pilot's one million and one questions which arose as we traveled down the road. I got reports in ten minute intevals on our fuel economy (funny). "According to the computer we are getting five and a half miles to the gallon." Ten minutes later: "According to the computer we are now getting six miles to the gallon." Gee...our trip to the poor house just delayed itself by about a week...

As we approached Bowling Green I got up and went to the galley to fill Breezy's water dish and check cupboards for shifting items (nothing's a miracle) when I heard John ask me to check and see what kind of weather that we were driving into. I looked out the front window and saw a massive bank of black clouds looming in front of us. I got the laptop out, plugged in the air card and waited...and waited...and waited. Apparently we were too far from a signal to get online. No problem. We have Sirius Radio and it has an emergency and weather channel. So I turned on the radio and tuned into channel 184. After hearing about the devastation that the line of tornado-producing thunderstorms was currently wreaking on Mississippi and Tennessee we were informed that there was another band of dangerous storms forming near the southern border of Kentucky. Unfortunately they didn't specifiy WHERE on the border. Judging by the smut black clouds and the wind gusts that were gaining strength as we continued on our journey we guessed it was close to where we were. Soon we were being buffeted around on the highway by the wind. John was gripping the wheel with white knuckles as he corrected for every blast of wind. He said it was like driving a giant bread box down the highway.

Thirty minutes later we had dodged the big black cloud bank and were again motoring down the highway with Breezy in her bed behind me and The Bible in my lap answering more questions. It was great. It was cool. John seemed a little more relaxed with the wind conditions and we were tuned into CNN radio listening to the latest political updates when all of the sudden a huge gust of wind hit the BUS and something (like ALL HELL) broke loose on the top of the thing. The Bible hit the floor and I raced to the galley where I could see something resembling fabric attempting to beat the exhaust fan to death. John is screaming, "WHAT IS IT?!!" and I'm screaming back "IT LOOKS LIKE THE FAN!!" and he screams, "WHAT??? I CAN'T HEAR YOU!!" (over the racket that was going on it was not a surprise) and I screamed again, "IT'S THE FAN!!!" and this scenario repeated three times before I filled my lungs to capacity and bellowed, "THE FAN...THE #%$*# FAN!!". He heard me.

He pulled over on the shoulder of I-65, got out and crawled up a bank on the side of the road and made an assessment of the situation. He came back to the BUS and informed me that it had something to do with the canvas that was attached to the awning (which had been damaged in an earlier incident that I won't get into here) that had come loose and was flapping in the wind. He said he knew what to do. When I asked what he said, "Duct tape". Immediately I thought of an Internet joke that has circulated for years about applications for duct tape. "Duct tape?" I ask. "Yes, duct tape but I need a step ladder." I naively suggested that he use the ladder that is built onto the back of the coach. He wisely informed me that walking on top of the coach under the current wind conditions could be suicidal. True. So we got back on the road with the flapping canvas and drove the longest four miles of our lives to date praying that the the awning itself would not fall down and scrape the paint off of the BUS...or worse. We found a Pilot Truck Stop and John took over while I sat inside and watched from a limited perspective out the window. Judging by his body language it seemed prudent to stay out of the way. He disappeared for a few minutes and when he returned he had a tall step ladder on wheels borrowed from the truck wash. He pointed and smiled as the wind whipped his hat and sunglasses off of his head and he darted after them. He came back with hat, broken glasses and a roll of duct tape. I watched him ascend the ladder with duct tape in hand as I emailed our friend Mary Ann and told her (to her great amusement) what he was doing. He ascended and descended and ascended again taping as he went. I saw his hat blow by the window again with him in hot pursuit. Finally he disappeared with the borrowed ladder and returned with his trashed hat and pronouced that we were ready to roll again. Great. Cool. We were on the road again.

A few hours later we arrived in Arab and settled in a small RV park where we are spending our first night in our new home on wheels. After extending the slides I went directly to the galley where I mixed us both a double Scotch and we toasted the fact that we made it to Arab...not totally without incident, but safe and sound. We are proud. We are happy. And we are tired!

To say that the BUS is beautiful is an understatement. To say that the learning curve is steep for this marvel of engineering is a gross understatement. Our contact in Wakarusa, Indiana at the Monaco factory is Dennis Bowen. Dennis is not only one hell of a nice guy (as are all of the people at Monaco) he is probably the most patient indivudual on the planet. He endures daily and sometimes twice or three times daily questions (the ones that I can't find answers to in The Bible). We actually went one whole day without calling him and I told John that he probably thinks that we drove off of a cliff. Tomorrow we are going to look at some horses at Winsalot Stables and then we will be back on the road again. We are going across country to Cartersville, Georgia. Wish us luck!