The Texas Hill Country
It has been a long four months since our return from Branson. Near the end of that chapter of the travelogue, I was lamenting our return to Texas in mid-June, only to encounter the oppressive Texas heat. I knew we wouldn't be going anywhere again until October, because Sandy and I despise traveling when we're prisoners of the air conditioner. Because we despise hot weather so much, we often fantasize how nice it would be to be able to live in, say, Maine for the summer. It's just as well, though, that we've been in a holding pattern, because we had a bit of a tussle with Jayco over Homer's plumbing system. I had wondered why the black tank needed to be dumped so often—sometimes twice a day. When we took the rig in to get a small leak fixed after our Branson trip, the technicians at Vogt RV, Homer's birthplace, discovered that the shower was plumbed so as to drain into the black tank instead of into the gray tank! This is a huge problem, because bath and toilet water comprise by far the greater volume of waste water. This means the gray tank would be receiving just the drainage from the kitchen sink and the lavatory, which is almost nothing in comparison.
Since Homer's tanks are relatively small—approximately 35 gallons—using the shower filled the black tank very quickly. I wrote a blistering letter of complaint to Jayco, asking for the plumbing to be rerouted under warranty to a normal configuration or for them to take the trailer back because of what I considered a monumental design flaw. They wrote back a curt reply saying, in essence, that it was not a design flaw and that I would just have to get over it. Astonished at their cavalier attitude, I took my letter and Jayco's reply to Vogt RV. They were equally appalled and took copies of the correspondence, indicating they might be able to do something about it. Thankfully, they did. After weeks of wrangling with Jayco, the Vogt folks prevailed, and Jayco agreed to fund a fix for the plumbing. The fix, however, was not what I expected. Instead of re-plumbing the drain lines to empty into the correct tanks, they elected to replace the black tank with a 70-gallon version—roughly twice the capacity of the factory original. It seemed this would solve the problem, but I wondered why it wouldn't be simpler just to reroute the shower drain. They said it wasn't. Seems like poor design to me. I happily accepted the fix, though, grateful for Vogt's intervention.
The trip to the Texas hill country was my idea. I've always liked the area, and I've been trying to figure out where we might live when I retire from the FAA in about five years. So, it was, for me, as much an investigative journey as anything else. Sandy, however, was not necessarily on the same page. Even though she has retired from teaching, she hasn't necessarily zeroed in on the fact that I, too, am nearing retirement and that a lifestyle change will be needed. She is still trying to cope with the fact that our daughter, Mindy, is now 18 and no longer particularly needful of parental oversight. In fact, she is downright hostile to it. Neither of us has a clue where those 18 years went; yet, in typical male fashion, I have applied logic and moved on. In Sandy's mind, however, Mindy has yet to reach puberty. It is no wonder, then, that looking for retirement venues is not necessarily on Sandy's radar screen. To her credit, however, she is a trooper and gamely goes along with whatever harebrained scheme I cook up, perhaps thinking that this, too, shall pass. That's one of the myriad of things I love about her. So, here we go again, perhaps on slightly different pages, but always ready for a new adventure.
We're getting smarter about preparing Homer for trips. We had determined that it was not a good plan to retrieve the rig from storage, prepare it for departure, and then start the trip all on the same day. It was just too big a job. This time, we brought Homer to the house the afternoon before departure day and did most of the chores ahead of time. This involved things like inflating all the tires properly, checking the propane tanks, adding some fresh water, taking inventory, etc. We also loaded everything we could that evening that we knew wouldn't need any handling or additions the next morning. As it turned out, we were lucky we accomplished this much beforehand, because we found ourselves moving a little more slowly than usual the next morning due to some minor physical ailments, and we didn't make it away from the house until about 11:30 a.m.
Due to my disdain for interstate highways, I decided to take us on the back roads for this trip. We stopped in Glen Rose, Texas, for lunch choosing Grannies' Down Home Cooking near the town square. Glen Rose is a quaint little town that time has largely forgotten, nestled on the bank of the beautiful Guadalupe River. It's probably best known for its ancient dinosaur finds, including footprints of the beasts made in ancient mud that hardened into stone. We didn't stop for this attraction, but we'll put it on our list for another time. (Eating always wins out over improving the mind!) Sandy and I strolled into Grannies' (spelled that way because, at one time, there were two grannies; one finally bought out the other's interest in the restaurant, but didn't change the name) and were immediately met by the open arms of, well, Granny. When she saw us come in, she immediately arose from a table near the rear of the room and started walking toward us with arms extended. Sandy and I looked at each other, as if to say, "What do we do now?" We thought Granny had mistaken us for some long lost friends or something. She gave us both big hugs, and I'm sure that if someone with a camera had been behind her, taking a photo of our faces, our expressions would have proven fairly humorous. We were totally perplexed, but didn't resist; after all, who could resist a hug? We later found out that hugging was Granny's trademark. She hugs everyone who comes into the restaurant, disarming reluctant strangers like us with her warm smile, her shawl, and her constant banter. She looked as though she had been chosen for her part by central casting. The lunch consisted of a wonderful southern cooking buffet, with killer meatloaf, chicken spaghetti and fresh vegetables, topped off with a moist coconut cake. The tab was cheap, and we needed to be rolled out in a wheelbarrow.
Gannies' Cafe in Glen Rose
Granny in Her Glen Rose Cafe
We continued west on highway 67 to Stephenville and then down to Dublin on highway 16. We stopped at the Dublin Dr. Pepper bottling company, which is legendary in that it is one of the few bottlers of Dr. Pepper—if not the only one—that refused to switch from sugar to cheaper corn syrup as a sweetener for the drink. As a result, Dublin Dr. Peppers achieved a sort of cult-like following of consumers who believe the real McCoys are far superior to those that are syrup-sweetened. We're not really sure, although we've tasted both carefully. They have a gift shop in the plant that sells everything Dr. Pepper and, of course, Sandy had to get a Dr. Pepper T-shirt for Mindy. (Much to our relief, Mindy professed to like it. This was very unusual, but then it was an article of clothing, of which she can never have too many.)
Dr Pepper Museum in Dublin
Inside the Dr Pepper Museum
We stopped in Burnet for barbecue at Cooper's BBQ. Wow! Everything about this place just says, "Texas." You choose your meat at the pit before you go inside. The pit boss spears it and plops it onto a tray that you drop off as soon as you enter the restaurant. The guy behind the counter then takes a butcher knife and deftly applies his carving finesse, making the presentation even more appetizing and easy to eat with your fingers. Once your tray is reloaded with the dressed-up meat and sides, you seat yourself at one of many long rows of picnic tables, where you can chew the rag with a stranger or just, well, chew. Cooper's has really tasty meats and is well worth being starved when you get there.
Cooper's BBQ in Burnet
The drive on to Kerrville was very scenic, as we expected. The Texas hill country has its own unique identity that's not easy to describe, because part of its charm is in the feeling one has about it, especially among native Texans, I think. Not to diminish the connection that non-natives can develop for the state, but most Texans by birth seem to exhibit a love for this immense state that is not unlike a love of country or love of the family farm. The hill country is like a bauble on a grand dame, joining other jewels like the piney woods of east Texas, the sawgrass of the gulf coast and the rugged crags of the Big Bend to make up her whole persona. It's as much of an air, or feeling, as it is an appealing landscape. Traveling through the rocky hills reveals not the majestic grandeur of the Rockies but the almost audible heartbeat of a land of legend and mystique, both wild and winsome at the same time. The undulating change in dimension between land and sky creates a different visual treat with the rounding of a curve or the crossing of a crystal stream. Surveyed from the top of a ridge, the hills seem to stretch without end, passing under cottonlike clouds at the edge of the impossibly blue sky. At day's end, the sun brushes gilded clouds onto a pink and purple canvas, as it reluctantly leaves to shine on lesser lands. Marveling at God's handiwork, I can't help but get a lump in my throat and think that it is all so very Texan.
"At day's end, the sun brushes gilded clouds onto a pink and purple canvas..."
We arrived at the Take-It-Easy RV Park in Kerrville after dark (naturally), but the manager, who lives in his fifth wheel near the entrance, checked us in cheerfully and directed us to a parking spot in the middle of the park. As we unhooked and began setting up Homer, a man from a nearby trailer came over with a floodlight that helped immensely with the manipulation of the hoses, cords and cranks. We continue to be amazed at the almost universal friendliness of people in the RV community. To give a fellow camper a helping hand is considered a standard code of conduct. It's very comforting in a way. It reminds me of my home town, Nacogdoches, Texas, where everyone knew each other and seemed like members of a large family. Living in a big city, I've missed that warm feeling, and here it is again, alive and well among fellow RVers.
Take-It-Easy RV Park in Kerrville
This is not to say there aren't some characters in these places. For example, while we were puttering around outside Homer the next day, Sandy noticed an elderly lady walking alongside the lane near our parking spot. Nearby was a wooden bin that had been constructed beside the lane to hold residents' garbage bags out of sight until an attendant could pick them up later. As the lady approached the bin, she stopped and stared at it for quite a long time, as if trying to figure out its purpose or perhaps wondering why she had stopped, as she wasn't carrying anything with her. This was a bit unnerving to Sandy, who apparently did a quick mental fast-forward and didn't exactly like gazing into the crystal ball to see herself as aged and insensible like this poor lady. As I see it, Sandy's pushback from growing old is not a bad thing. I think we're really only as old as we see ourselves to be.
That same morning, the wife of the gentleman who loaned us the floodlight walked over and asked if we had a dog. She was a big-boned woman with a deep voice, probably from too much tobacco, caffeine or gin, and she was clearly not someone I would want to mess with. Sandy told her we didn't have a dog, and she then went into a long, raspy tirade about her discovery that morning of a pile of dog poop near her trailer. After learning that we were not the offenders, she stormed off, vowing to find the poor animal that relieved itself in such an unfortunate location. It was not clear, however, that if she found a dog, how she would be able to determine its culpability in the crime, given the rather small likelihood that it would confess. After marveling at this for a short while, I noted for the record this rare divergence from the heretofore unwavering friendly spirit normally evident among fellow RVers. (As I write this, I realize that I frequently use the word "marvel" as a verb. I think this is one of my favorite descriptors of the sense of wonderment that I feel when I see something or someone that strikes me as unusual or curious.) Another benefit of the relaxed pace of RV travel is the opportunity merely to pause and observe—or "marvel"—at what's going on around you, much like an actor who steps out of a play and sits in the audience for a while, seeing the performance from a brand new perspective.
That same morning, while washing dishes, Sandy noticed that the water flow from the kitchen faucet slowly dwindled and eventually stopped altogether. Now, you need to know Sandy to have an appreciation for the sky-is-falling anxiety that such an event can create for her. She is freakish about personal hygiene and is pathologically fussy about the cleanliness of kitchens and bathrooms. The idea that the flow of water, the ultimate source of maintaining a clean environment, had suddenly ceased would, in her mind, certainly be the last great calamity to strike the earth before Armageddon. Her eyes fluttered and rolled back in their sockets. Just as her corneas disappeared above her eyelids, I walked over and flipped the switch on Homer's electric pump that draws from the fresh water holding tank and pressurizes the plumbing system. In an instant, the water pressure was back up to normal. We later found out that plumbers had temporarily cut off the park's water main to repair a leaking pipe. With the restoration of water pressure from the electric pump, the color began to return to Sandy's face, and I used the occasion to point out to her that, unlike her beloved stick-built house, Homer has a backup fresh water system that is worthy of some appreciation. The answer I got back was something like, "Harrumph." I made my point, I guess, but I hadn't won the match.