On the road again. Driving through Pennsylvania and Ohio. Heavy rain storms beating down on LilyPad while we struggle along at a snail’s pace, lots of road work making the tires pound over the separations, multiple holes in the asphalt jarring everything without mercy. The ride was tough on LilyPad, Ribbit and our backs. Our overnights are spent tucked in, only the bedroom slide out. When traveling, overnights are best spent cinched together tightly to keep rain from settling on our slide toppers. They have a nasty habit of stretching out when they fill up with water. No TV so I am eternally grateful for our WiFi hot spot. Worth every penny.
The drawbacks of being on the road, the slightly unpleasant prospect of overnights in strange areas, always on my mind, always imminent. Even with help from my trusty TripAdvisor reviews, not everyone rates the noise or the smell of RV Parks and Campgrounds the same. Both points are of utmost importance to me. John, of course, has problems with neither. All night trains and their lonely long drawn out whistles, overly smoky wet wood campfires, howling barking yippy dogs voicing their opinions all night does not make me a happy camper but John has given me permission to poke him and wake him up to keep me company until we both fall back to sleep. Awww, such a nice hubby.
Arrival at the asphalt and gravel parking lot, a.k.a., Tiffin Motorhome Manufacturers Campground, set up camp, filled out forms, again with the “hurry up and wait”.
We will be directed to a repair bay in the upcoming days, timeframe, somewhere inside of three weeks. I didn’t bother to fully document this repair stay. No one would be able to tell the difference between this trip and our six subsequent trips, all of them spread out over the past three years.
After registering, we drove to another diesel repair shop for an up, up, up in the air tune-up. One thing now crossed off our long list.
Ahead, a whole weekend of killing time. Elvis and the vintage hardware store in Tupelo were beckoning. We watched the movie of Elvis’ life in tupelo at the Elvis pavilion and stopped at the park on the hill. Perfect Kodak moment of statues depicting Elvis as a boy, and as a man, overlooking his boyhood church and home.
Looking forward to a lazy morning with plans for a few side trips while we await an open repair bay. The phone rings. Nope, our lazy day just turned into a put-away, pull-up and move-into-town day. All for a $25.00 piece of painted plastic that John assured me, two years ago while in a Tiffin Motorhome repair bay, was not an issue. It was a decorative piece and nothing to add to the list way back then. Now its replacement is the reason we will give up one full 12 hour day of peaceful rest and relaxation.
Back to the campground, our new piece of plastic firmly in place, we settle down again while waiting for a bay. A necessary grocery store stop for supplies turned into a major find for me. My favorite Skinny Pop, Hatch Chile flavor, piled high in the discount bin and now that mound was settled comfortably in my shopping basket.
A lazy mid-morning rise, breakfast and plans to scout out an alternative view other than Tiffin rigs, dust, gravel and a 40 bay repair warehouse. Muscle Shoals Alabama was where vintage country stars made their mark in the music business. We had passed up this modest music hall the past three years while in Red Bay and decided it was time to see what the museum held inside.
Small but interesting, the museum was filled with pictures and memorabilia from stars that made Rock, Rock-a-Billy and Country music famous.
My first intro to country music were songs from the band “Alabama”. Their tour bus was prominently displayed and available to poke around inside. Very sparse and plain inside. Tour buses have come a long way, from the no-frills Alabama Tour bus to exorbitant luxury Prevost’s of today’s super stars.
On January 3, 1950, Sam Phillips opened the “Memphis Recording Service in Memphis, Tennessee which also served as the studios for his own label, Sun Record. Sun Record Company was instrumental in bringing an impressive list of artists, now vintage entertainers, into the limelight and rocketing them to stardom.
Sam began as a DJ for the Muscle Shoals Alabama radio station WLAY and because of the stations open format, broadcasting music from both white and black musicians, it inspired his work.
He became a record producer and was considered to be the first to record a rock and roll record, “Rocket 88” by Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats, led by a 19 year old Ike Turner who also wrote the song. He is credited with discovering Elvis Presley and is associated with other noteworthy rhythm and blues stars of that period such as BB King and Howlin’ Wolf who made their first recordings at his studio.
Sam’s pivotal role in the early days of rock and roll was exemplified by a celebrated jam session on December 4, 1956 which came to be known as the Million Dollar Quartet. Jerry Lee Lewis played the piano for a Carl Perkins recording session at Sam’s studio. When Elvis Presley walked in unexpectedly, Johnny Cash was called into the studio by Sam, leading to an impromptu session featuring the four musicians.
Sam challenged the four to achieve gold record sales, offering a free Cadillac to the first. The contest is commemorated in a song by the “Drive-by Truckers”. Elvis Presley, who recorded his version of Arthur “Big Boy” Cruddup’s “That’s All Right (Mama)” at Sam’s studio in Memphis, met that goal and the rest is history. Elvis’s singles became a drawing card for Sun Records. Singers such as Charlie Rich and Billy Lee Riley recorded for Sun with some success while others, Jerry Lee Lewis, BB King, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison and Carl Perkins became superstars.
An excellent specimen of a vintage Wurlitzer played songs from the rock and country super stars. Enjoyable mood setting music as we strolled around the museum.
The museum included many famous Memphis celebrities. Gordon Edward Burns, also known as Country Boy Eddie Burns and “Happy Hal” began his career in radio. He was a singer and instrumentalist who could play fiddle, guitar, banjo, bass, mouth harp and accordion.
Raised on down-home country, bluegrass and gospel, he was born and raised in Blount County Alabama on a farm. Host of his own radio show, Hillbilly Bandstand, he appeared at the Grand Ole Opry and performed on Armed Forces Radio Network during the Korean War. Best known for being a host of “Country Boy Eddie Show,” his happy folksy demeanor, corny jokes and ability to improvise on the spot earned him a wide fan base. His show, a variety series, aired mornings in Birmingham on WBRC-TV, 1957-1994. The show included music, comedy, interviews, chatter, funeral announcements and commercial spots. One of his trademarks was braying like a mule, ringing a cowbell for emphasis and making quips such as, “We’re going to have as much fun as a gallon of red ants in a barrel of sopping syrup!”
Colleagues praised his tireless work ethic, business savvy and marketing abilities. He interviewed Dolly Parton, Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, Steve Allen, Pat Boone, Roger Miller, Chet Atkins and Eddy Arnold. He discovered a star, giving Tammy Wynette her first break when she was an unknown hairdresser from Midfield. She sang regularly on his show before moving to Nashville in 1961 but never forgot her mentor.
His impressive western outfitted Bonneville occupies the center of the museum, near the Alabama Tour Bus.
Back to our site for the night. That evening, a call was received from the office giving us our Express Bay arrival time, sadly for us, before most decent folks are awake.
After almost three weeks of waiting, we were invited to have repairs done in the Express Bay, $150.00 per hour offering general repairs, at best. I immediately asked that we not be scheduled for Bay (number removed to protect their identity). That’s where we had work done last year, neither of us being pleased with the results. Assigned Bay 9, excellent offering, one that we had successfully used in the past, immediately turning my frown upside down.
Morning held enough time to grab a cup of coffee, pull slides in and sit idle at the gigantic metal roll up door in front of bay 9 until being invited inside. If all goes well after the repairs, we will be back on track and rolling home the next morning. After entering the bay, we quietly sat in the motorhome while they worked, the smell of ancient diesel repair garage grime and grease permeating the air. Three hours later, almost all was fixed. Our allotted three hours now up, we pause here overnight and early tomorrow morning we will leave. And yes, that means we must return again to finish the balance of the repairs in the near future or wait here for another three weeks.
Homeward bound, our diesel guzzling rolling box was demanding another refueling so John pulled up at the local Neighborhood WalMart gas station. I had never been inside a “neighborhood” WalMart so I wandered through the store while John filled up. It was extremely compact and carried bits of everything a regular WalMart had on their shelves. Next stop, New Orleans Louisiana and a much anticipated visit with family in the “Big Easy”.
Next morning we met up with everyone after parking LilyPad at a local RV park near an inlet boat pier and “RV Resort”. Our group of nine spent several hours traversing across the Manachac Swamp waters with Cajun Pride Swamp Tours.
Captain Tom, our guide, spoke English with a Cajun accent and it took a few minutes to adjust our brains for translating the Cajun idiosyncrasies into Texan.
Liz’s friends and their two children, all visiting from California, looked quizzically whenever Captain Tom said a word that was not immediately identifiable. We listened to tails of Brutus, a local alligator legend, perpetually mean and tightly wound, that disposition of course, as opposed to the sweet cuddly disposition of all the other alligators.
The swamp was peaceful except for an occasional squawk of birds and a few swift swishing tails cutting squiggly waves through the muddy waters. Again, we were warned to keep hands and heads inside the boat.
A baby alligator was passed around for those brave enough to hold the villainous looking miniature reptile. He was docile but we were all appreciative that his mouth was tightly bound.
The boat ride was pleasant and we stopped frequently. A stop to admire a vintage 1915 grave yard, another to view a long ago abandoned trapper cabin inhabited by raccoons. Several pauses near inlets with alligator topped logs floating near the shore. The raccoons carefully extracted Captain Tom’s cast out marshmallows from the water, moving quickly once the watchful eyes of alligators spotted prey and moved in close. The food chain in action, thankfully, was not demonstrated.
Our group met up again at night to celebrate the 30th birthday of Liz’s friend and it didn’t take much convincing to organize a meet up in downtown New Orleans for the Krewe of Boo parade.
Free “stuff” flew through the air, caught by those up close. The mini kids of our group were cautious at first but after a few floats passed by, they became brave, arms raised and waiving, squealing with glee as they snagged handful’s of trinkets.
The parade nearing the end, good-by’s to all, stuck waiting in our car and blocked by the end of the parade, patiently idling. We listened to the weather warning of impending storms already pounding down on Houston.
We arrived at the RV, packed up and readied ourselves for the long wet journey home. We would be traveling beneath the wide path of a major storm.
The brewing cloudburst turned torrential downpour the next morning and we rolled slowly towards home. Kinder Louisiana was our quick overnight. We drove through the deluge which was made additionally stressful by our fifth leak, this time in the front cab by my window. John ran over a dead skunk which added a putrid smell to the stressful mix. The rain, window leak and skunk smell stayed with us all the way to Houston. We arrived at our volunteer position, Escapees Care Center, early evening and thankfully the rain ceased. We were still unsure as to what would be our duties.
Upon arriving, our schedule and information was handed to us by the maintenance man, he left and we struggled to back into our small narrow site located a few short yards from a busy highway. The traffic noise continued the rest of the evening and all through the night, so loud you could hear it above our three a/c’s, our two large Austin HEPA filters and the TV. This situation was not flowing in a positive direction.
In our four decades of volunteering for non-profit organizations, this one exceeded absurdity. We talked with the Care Center Volunteer Scheduler over a year ago. We signed applications but stated that we come to Texas specifically to visit our friends and family so we require 2 days off in a row. We were told, for over a year, that a schedule would be forthcoming. In July we were sent something resembling a schedule that would have allowed us visits with family and friends. When we arrived in October, the schedule had been changed to a very restrictive time schedule allowing no time to visit family or friends, no two days off in a row, additional hours and responsibilities not previously scheduled. Now we were unhappy with the position as well as our designated site. Being located a few feet from a major 18 wheeler transit road resulted in neither of us sleeping that night. In addition, we were required to pay our own electric bill, TB tests were paid for by our own funds (an X-ray for me because of my COPD) and although lunch and dinner were included, the food was a weight gaining overly salted and starchy diet, nothing we would be able to eat. Very unpleasant surprise after traveling several days through one of Louisiana and Texas’ worst flooding rain storms to arrive in time for training.
We packed up, John walked to the office to tell them we would not be staying, hooked up the car and left. In the words of Groucho Marx, “I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening but I’m afraid this wasn’t it.”
Now we are planted near the Woodlands until our December Florida family trip to Walt Disney World. On returning, we will relax the next few months while searching for a small piece of property with a tiny house settled snugly into a forested partial acre on which to land for our Texas Winter rests.
Rested and ready to socialize, we had lunch with friends in the country and made a discovery in the parking lot of the restaurant. A Texas country style tiny house mounted on a vintage pick-em-up truck. It even comes with an appropriately positioned glass whiskey jug mounted on the running board so I can yank it up into our front seat and take a swig of my Grandma’s Apple Pie Moonshine whenever the mood hits me.
Next trip, Walt Disney World or bust!