Photo taken near Monument Valley, Utah

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Conroe to Euless

By now, we were thinking that we were getting our system down pretty good in regard to preparing Homer for arrivals and departures. Sandy is becoming more confident that there will not be a water/sewage plumbing disaster. She is very picky about restroom facilities, and she had been very skeptical about the suitability of the plumbing of these small RVs. Since the system worked as advertised, with no odors or leaking wastewater, she can concentrate better on, well, helping me. Whenever we are going to undertake a launch, I concentrate on the exterior chores such as dumping and flushing the tanks, retracting the stabilizers, checking tire pressures, unhooking utilities, etc. Sandy takes care of the inside details, such as final kitchen cleanup, securing loose items and retracting the slide. This works efficiently and well, and we're getting fairly proud of ourselves for graduating, to a degree, from being such newbies! We talked a good deal about whether it was wise to have belly-flopped into such a long and arduous first trip, and we decided that, while it was a bit scary, it was probably just as well that we did it this way. We now have enough experience so that our confidence level is greatly increased. That can't be a bad thing. We're also sold on Homer's solid construction and the dependable and powerful Cummins diesel engine. We feel very safe in this truck, and we just don't think we could ever be happy with a gasoline-powered tow vehicle.

The 200-mile trip home was uneventful. We stopped at McKenzie's Barbeque on Frazier Road in Conroe for lunch. The brisket sandwich was okay, but nothing special. Farther up the road, we stopped at one of our favorite restaurants—the Old Mexican Inn on highway 31 in Corsicana, where we just pigged out. This place has been in business ever since I was born, and everything they serve is just the best. Definitely a foodie delight!

While it was good to get home, our arrival was a bit of a downer, in that we were back in the middle of the daily grind once again—going to my job, taking care of the big house and all the vehicles, to say nothing of the young and the old, for whom we are responsible. Our little escape was a wonderful adventure, where the newness of RV travel made us forget—for quite a while—the captive nature of our obligations. We are already planning our next getaway—to Branson—and it can't come soon enough.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

In Conroe

We cooked breakfast in Homer this morning and set out for a day of sightseeing around the lake. As we could be interested in purchasing some lake property in the future, we enjoy driving around the lakeshore to scope out real estate developments and prices. We were surprised to find that almost all of the waterfront property around Lake Conroe is inside gated communities. This means the prices would probably be considerably out of our range. After pondering the exclusivity of the residential waterfront, it sort of makes sense, as Lake Conroe is only 40 miles from Houston. A large number of wealthy city dwellers obviously have second homes around this picturesque lake so accessible from the big city. We did find a few areas that were not so stratospheric in price, but these were not in terribly desirable locations. We also noticed a couple of public areas on the waterfront, but these were crowded, and we didn't see any public areas that looked like good fishing areas. A boat would be nearly essential if you were serious about doing any fishing.

We dropped in to Big Boy Burger on highway 105 for lunch. This place had all the earmarks of a foodie haven: It was converted from a Dairy Queen, it had obviously been there a long time, and it was packed with customers. We, however—the ultimate arbiter of food dive success—were forced to give it a raspberry and a T.A.G.L! The buns were not properly toasted in artery-hardening grill grease and—the ultimate sin—the meat patty was pre-formed! We almost ran screaming from the room, appalled that so many Conroe patrons could accept this hamburger atrocity without becoming violent!

After this, Sandy could only be consoled with another shopping spree, so we headed down I-45 to the Woodlands, where she got a solid fix. After she tired of this, we took back roads northbound toward Conroe and happened upon K-Jons on highway 1488.

K-Jon's in Conroe

This was an old house that had been converted into a small restaurant, and it had all the signs of another food find: Unique surroundings, obviously run by locals, lots of cars in the lot, etc. We finally found a parking spot, nosing the Hornet in by the trash dumpster. Upon entering, we found the place mostly full, but with only one young man doing all the table waiting. We were fearful that the service would be terrible but, as it happened, the kid was a dynamo of energy and had a remarkable memory. We didn't have to wait long for our food and, although we made several special requests, he remembered all of them. We were impressed. We had fried catfish, which were just scrumptious—all you could eat for $10.99. We would definitely return to K-Jons.

We headed back to Homer, a bit unimpressed with Lake Conroe and its environs. After watching a little TV, we turned in, knowing that our first RV experience was just about over, as we would be back at home the next day.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Lafayette, LA to Conroe, TX

Since we were preparing to leave Lafayette this morning, we skipped breakfast, but spent extra time catching up on e-mail and a little FAA business by telephone. I also tried to catch up this travelogue as best I could, lest I forget what we've seen and done or, uh, eaten. This delayed our preparations for departure, and we weren't finally ready to launch until about 11:00 a.m. We've just got to do better than that.

We decided to pick up an early lunch at Fezzo's, a nearby steak/seafood restaurant, but found it to be dreadful and overpriced. Definitely a T.A.G.L. on that one.

We decided on our stay at Lake Conroe because we are looking for good lakeside RV parks and neither of us had spent any time in that area. We had passed through Conroe a few times and thought the Lake Conroe area was very picturesque. We hopped up on I-10 and called a couple of campgrounds about—yes, another late arrival. We finally settled on Havens Landing RV Park, which wasn't actually situated on Lake Conroe but not far away. We tried to get into Shady Shores, which is a gorgeous park right on the water, but they accepted only weekly or monthly rentals. Our next try was Lakeview Marina, which was also on the water, but they were closed on Tuesdays! This seemed very strange, but then, so do a lot of other things, I guess. (We dropped by later to look at the place, and it was pretty junky. We're glad they were closed on the day we called.)

Havens Landing was a very large park and, since we arrived—naturally—after the office closed, they had a little envelope ready for us with the necessary parking information. The office staff had made it very clear that we must stay no longer than two nights, as they were going to be full beginning on Friday. When we arrived, we were astonished to find no more than perhaps two dozen RVs among the 239 available spaces! We couldn't imagine how all these sites could possibly fill up in only one night—but they must have known something that we didn't. We still hadn't figured it out when we left.

After we got Homer all set up, we were starved, so we headed toward town, looking for a good food dive. We settled on Don Julio's Mexican Restaurant on highway 105, which fit the bill, visually. It appeared to be converted from an ancient Dairy Queen, and there were garish yellow florescent lights all around. There were several cars in the parking lot, even though it was after 8:00 p.m. And, oh yes, of great importance—a police car was one of them. The total staff in evidence was Don Julio, who was doing the cooking, and one teenaged boy, who was waiting tables and oh, so fervent in performing his duties. While we appreciated the attention, we were getting a little tired of being asked if everything was okay. Sandy had a combination plate and I had a couple of beef fajita tacos. Everything was good, but the fajita tacos were outstanding.

Monday, May 23, 2005

In Lafayette, Avery Island

After spending most of the morning trying to catch up this travelogue and taking care of a little family business over the phone, we hopped in the Hornet and drove toward New Iberia. On the way, we stopped at Lebouf's restaurant because of its recommendation found on the internet. This was a very Spartan place that looked like it had been converted from a grocery market. The large front windows were covered up, the sign was faded, and it looked for the world like anything but a restaurant. We had no idea what to expect inside, as the internet reference contained no information other than a recommendation.

Once inside, we still had trouble ascertaining whether we were in a restaurant, because the front door opened into an almost empty room with a corridor to the side that led to a much larger room. As our eyes refocused from the outside brightness, we were able to discern, looking through a latticework that separated the entry room from the larger room, that there were indeed a couple dozen standard restaurant tables and chairs, some of them filled with customers. We proceeded down the corridor toward a steam table that had been set up at the very back of the large room, manned by a bearded gentleman in his fifties who was wearing an apron and a younger unsmiling woman, wearing a plain dress with no makeup and her hair put up in the fashion of women of certain Pentecostal sects. While the steam table contained a dozen or so food items, it looked disproportionately small for the size of the eating area. Over our shoulder, we could see the open food preparation area and large refrigerated locker, all of which appeared to be left over from, perhaps, a commercial meat market. There was far too much space and equipment than would have been needed to prepare the food in the steam table. We noticed there were no plates, so I asked the bearded gentleman about the procedure. Without much in the way of pleasantries, he said that lunch, including our drinks, would be $6.43, and that once we voiced our selection of one meat and two sides, he would scoop them into a covered and divided Styrofoam box to take to our table. That sounded simple enough, so I decided on smothered steak, mustard greens and potato salad. Sandy ordered fried chicken, beets and fried okra. All entrees were served over a bed of fluffy rice and brown gravy. After we helped ourselves to the tea and soft drinks, we got some eating utensils and took our seats at one of the empty tables.

The food was divine. Everything was fresh, prepared with all the skill and tastiness that one of our mothers would have done back in their heyday. We were so stuffed afterward that we didn't even have room for some of the strawberry cake that was offered as a dessert. Since Sandy and I were the last of the lunch rush, the bearded chef selected a Styrofoam box and dipped up some of the goodies from the steam table for his own lunch. As he sat and began eating, we struck up a conversation and found that he, too, was about to purchase a diesel pickup to pull his fifth wheel camper. He asked how we liked the Hornet, and we could tell pretty quickly that he was already sold on a Ford. We complimented his choice and bragged on his cooking, which brought forth the first hint of a smile from behind the beard. This was a really good restaurant find; we would certainly eat here again. The good food, along with the possibilities of meeting interesting people reinforced our wisdom of avoiding at all costs the practice of eating where the masses eat. Sometimes we almost feel sympathetic toward the majority of folks, who are seduced by the chain restaurants' massive ad budgets and familiar signs out front. We recoil from these now, like vampires fear the coming of daylight.

We headed south on highway 90 toward New Iberia, where the Edward J. McIlhenny company is located, to take a tour of the Tabasco factory on Avery Island. SANDY was game for the adventure, although I'm sure she doesn't share my enthusiasm for visiting factories of any kind. I haven't figured out my fascination my assembly lines—I guess it's a guy thing. Perhaps we didn't get enough play time with Legos or Tinker toys when we were kids.

Tabasco--It's a Good Thing

Due to the wealth created by McIlhenny's fabulously successful hot sauce, his descendants own most of Avery Island, which was also the site of one of the largest salt domes in the U. S. Salt has been mined from the location for over 150 years, and even so, hardly a dent has been made the vast reserves known to be just below the surface. Most of Avery Island has been turned into a wildlife sanctuary. Through his efforts, McIlhenny is credited with saving from extinction the great white egret, which had been hunted mercilessly in the early 20th century for its showy white plume of headfeathers, prized for decorating women's hats during that period. Some 25,000 of the birds now nest on Avery Island on hand-built platforms in a small lake that was dug especially for them. We were able to see this and other wildlife, including alligators, in a driving tour ($6 per person) that was offered at the entrance to the refuge, located a short distance from the Tabasco factory building. Fortunately for Sandy, only one alligator—a small one—had crawled out of its pond and was fully visible, sunning himself. As we entered the jungle-like setting of the refuge, I heard the door lock switch being repeatedly actuated from her side of the Hornet and, when we got in the vicinity of the alligator she had scrunched herself in the far corner of the cab area opposite the reptile, which was on my side. To pester her further, I rolled down my window and took some photos. She hissed and said, sotto voce, that I should not do that, as this was obviously a baby alligator and the mother was probably nearby.

Sandy's Gator!</>

McIlhenny Headquarters on Avery Island

The Tabasco factory is a fairly large red brick building with an entrance to a reception area where visitors wait for the tours, which occur every 20 minutes or so. While waiting, we viewed some exhibits they had set up and watched a continuously repeating video of dozens of TV show excerpts that mentioned Tabasco or showed people cooking recipes with it. I was surprised how many clips there were of every kind of show imaginable. Even the "Little Rascals," from back in the 1930s, had an episode wherein Spanky unwittingly was served the hot sauce and had to run to the water fountain to cool off his tongue!

Once the tour started, led by a young woman with a thick but charming Cajun accent, we were ushered into a small theater, where a video presentation told the Tabasco story and described the picking, processing and aging of the peppers in oak barrels for three years. This was quite interesting, and the process apparently has not changed much in the last five generations of McIlhennys, who still control the private company today. After seeing the video, we left the room via a side door that led to a walkway beside a long window, where the tour participants could look out onto the factory floor. The entire assembly-line area consisted of one huge room, where several lines of products were being bottled at once. At one end of the room, the bottles were being packaged and rolled into the warehouse. Some 700,000 bottles of Tabasco are produced here daily and shipped to 135 countries. Almost all the special peppers used for Tabasco, however, are now grown and harvested in South America. Before the pepper production was moved there, a high of 700 acres of Avery Island were devoted to the production of these peppers.

After visiting the factory, we made our way over to the nearby Tabasco retail store, where they had for sale every product imaginable that had been licensed by Tabasco. They also had a tasting table set up, where visitors could sample their many food products. The place was very busy with tourists, and we bought several items to take home, including a Tabasco t-shirt and shorts for Mindy. I'm sure she had a more expensive souvenir in mind, but hey, I feel obligated to spend her inheritance, and I don't have all that much time left!

Shopping! Sandy's in Heaven.

After leaving Avery Island, we drove through St. Martinville and Beaux Bridge, again along the Teche Bayou. This was a very picturesque drive, and we vowed to return to spend more time in these quaint towns when the weather is cooler. Sandy and I have a real aversion to hot weather, and when she gets the least bit overheated, it triggers a migraine for her. The Lafayette area, unfortunately, was experiencing a heat wave. The 95-degree temperature broke all records on this date!

All of this activity made us hungry, so we stopped at a little hamburger joint in Lafayette named the Judice Inn. It has been run by the same family since 1947 and seemed to qualify handily for the type of local food dive that we like to try. The burgers were very good, but we were put off by the inflexibility shown to customers. The only choices offered were mayo or mustard or both on one side of the bun. The other side of the bun came with a hot Cajun sauce, and there was no pickle or tomato available. On the top of the bun was placed a single slice of onion, then all was wrapped in tissue paper. They also didn't serve French fries or onion rings, just potato chips or Fritos. Since I have a great appreciation for these traditions unchanged for 60 years, I didn't grouse about this too much, especially since they made a really good burger overall. I did occur to me, however, that they might be missing a significant source of revenue by limiting their menu so drastically.

By this time, Sandy was getting nervous because she hadn't done any shopping in a while. I dropped her off at a shopping center and went to Best Buy to lust over a GPS system for the Hornet. I've got to do a little more research before I take the plunge on this, but the prices have come way down. If they drop much further, I think I'll be forced to buy one.

During Sandy's shopping orgy, she came across a couple of ottomans for use in Homer. We had discovered we needed these when we're sitting on the couch watching TV. The problem is that the lower cushions of the sofa are not long enough for our legs, so we need to prop them up on something to be fully comfortable. The ottomans were perfect for this, so we loaded them up in the Hornet to take back to Homer. Before we headed back from town, however, we decided we were hungry again. (The burgers had been small, mind you, and we didn't get any fries, so lighten up!)

We stopped at the Pimon Thai restaurant and ordered fresh spring rolls and larb gai—a salad of chopped chicken, onion, mint, parsley, lemon juice and spices. These were light, fresh and especially good, topping off the evening just right. We love Thai food, and this was certainly a talented chef.

We tried out the ottomans when we got back to Homer, and they worked fine. We have decided, however, that recliners will be a necessity when we upgrade to a larger RV.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

New Orleans to Lafayette

We left New Orleans for Lafayette, but not before stopping at the Bread House just down the street on West Jefferson. They had a wonderful selection of all kinds of breads that made us almost cry because we knew the proprietor would be alarmed if we told him that we wanted everything in the store. We picked up a loaf of apple cinnamon bread with a powdered sugar glazed icing, and I'm afraid it didn't last long. In keeping with my desire to travel the back roads, we took U. S. 90 from New Orleans to Lafayette. We found the quaint little towns in the Cajun territory to be fascinating in their residents' attachment to and dependency upon the rich bounty of the bayou country, be it in the petroleum industry or in agriculture or seafood harvesting. We stopped for lunch at Badeux's Seafood Buffet on highway 90 in Des Allemands. Sandy had a huge shrimp po-boy and I had the buffet. It was wonderful—fried chicken, oysters, shrimp and catfish, boiled crabs and crawfish, dirty rice, jambalaya, and some of the best bread pudding I have ever put in my mouth. SANDY was so stuffed from the po-boy, she could only take a small bite of the bread pudding, which had a marvelous warm rum sauce poured over it. I thought I was going to pass out from sheer delight.

We left U. S. 90 and motored up through New Iberia on highway 182. This incredibly scenic highway follows the Teche Bayou for dozens of miles, along which are built many lovely homes with incredibly huge yards that back up to the bayou. This was a captivating drive, one that we would never have known about had we driven I-10 from New Orleans to Lafayette. Since it was getting late, we decided to drive the short distance from Lafayette back to New Iberia the next day in order to visit the Tabasco factory on Avery Island.

We had settled on the KOA campground at Lafayette because of its advertisement in the Woodall's directory that showed it to be surrounding a lake. When we got there, we were disappointed in that the lake was not at all picturesque; it looked like something left over from a quarry dig. And the RV sites, although all had concrete pads, were not at all pretty, because there was no grass or vegetation anywhere. Most of the park was nestled in tall trees, but with nothing but bare ground underneath. We would not return to this vegetation-challenged place under any circumstances.

After unhooking, we drove around town and had dinner at the Picante Mexican restaurant, which we thought was pretty good, although overpriced. We were definitely ready for Mexican food, as these weren't all that plentiful at the places we have been. We take note of the Cathedral of St. John in downtown Lafayette, a magnificent large church with beautiful grounds. We lamented that it was too late to get a tour, but we would like to come back to see this fine old structure.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

In New Orleans

We decided to have a down day in New Orleans today. One of the things I was desperate to do was to clean up Homer and the Hornet. They were filthy from the road. We had not only run through a few rain showers but, on the way to Florida, we ran through multiple swarms of "love bugs," you know, the little black ones that fly around coupled up? (It was always amazing to me how they do that, but I digress again.) The broad front face of Homer was splattered with hundreds of these little creatures, about whom the best you could say is that they died happy! Both vehicles were a mess, but after a couple of hours with an extendable wash mop and bug brush and a bucket of soapy water, both rigs looked like new. I had the presence of mind earlier to purchase these handy washing devices during one of our incessant trips to Wal-Mart, and they really came in handy. Without the extendable poles, I couldn't possibly have reached the upper areas of Homer. While I'm on the subject of Wal-Mart, I have been utterly amazed at the number of trips we have made to Wal-Marts back home and all over the south, buying stuff for Homer that we found we needed (or wanted) while en route. Stocking this trailer has been a much bigger undertaking than we anticipated, requiring a great deal of thought (and money), and we're still discovering things we need from time to time. And, while most of the stuff works fine, there have been some that don't work out so well. For example, we bought two small trash cans, thinking we would place one in the kitchen area and one in the front bedroom. We quickly found that we needed only one—a 13-gallon size that uses tall kitchen bags. The smaller version that we placed in the kitchen was too small, and the one in the bedroom went unused. Another thing that bombed was an upgrade to a larger electric skillet. We bought one that had a Teflon coating for a cheap price, but when we tried it out in Homer, we found that it tripped the circuit breaker. We looked at the wattage of the old skillet (900) versus the wattage of the new skillet (1200), and it became evident that we could not use the new skillet and the air conditioner at the same time. We have since reverted to the smaller skillet, to avoid getting perspiration in our food.

After washing Homer and the Hornet, we were famished. While Sandy took a shower, I cooked up a batch of tacos for breakfast, which we wolfed down with glee. They were wonderful. Food just tastes better when you're away from home, doesn't it?

After we ate, we piled into the Hornet and went downtown, where we drove around for a while then walked to Jackson Square, where we had some of the obligatory beignets at Café Du Monde. Since it was Saturday night, the French Quarter was getting really crowded, and it was quite hot outside, even in May! Since we had visited here several times, we decided to cut our visit short and head back toward the campground.

Sandy at Cafe du Monde

Sandy and Ol' Man River

On the way, I stopped at a T-Mobile Wireless phone store. As I said earlier, I had given up on choosing RV parks based on their wi-fi connections, and I wanted to see what T-Mobile had to offer for wireless internet service. To my amazement, they offered unlimited service with a wireless modem for $29.95 a month! I signed up on the spot, and now my internet problem is solved (unless, of course, I am in the boondocks were T-Mobile doesn't have any service). I'm still going to look into satellite internet in the future, because I think that is the way to go with internet and TV for RVs. For now, however, I am happy—back on the net and e-mail ready.

By this time, it was near dinnertime, so we stopped into a little dive we spotted earlier on Jefferson Highway, called Charles Seafood. It was certainly nothing to look at, but it turned out to be one of the best meals we had on the trip so far. I had boiled shrimp—huge critters that had been cooked in a spicy seasoning—and Sandy had a fried shrimp and catfish platter that was just splendid.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Pensacola to New Orleans, LA

Finally, a decently small trip leg that won't wear us out! Before we left the Milton KOA, we thought we would try the continental breakfast the park attendant had mentioned was available. We investigated this morning and found all they offered was coffee and vending machine stuff. Not what we had in mind, and not faithful to their claim. We snarled our disapproval and went back to Homer and had a hot dog. Yes, a hot dog. It was great. Sandy and I aren't very discriminating when it comes to breakfast food. We're just as likely to cook a hamburger as bacon and eggs. This drives Mindy nuts, as she thinks it is sacrilegious to eat anything other than standard breakfast foods for the first meal of the day. When I remind her that, in certain cultures, fish is considered a mainstay for breakfast food, she usually gags and hurries from the room, much to my delight.

We strayed off I-10 in Hammond, Louisiana, looking for a good mom-and-pop lunch spot. We weren't disappointed. We spotted Charlou's restaurant, a tiny but well attended dive on U. S. 90 and enjoyed—again—some excellent seafood. We also had a very pleasant chat with our waitress, who had been working there for 13 years. We then moved back onto I-10 and made an obligatory stop at a huge new Camping World nearby. We bought a few small things for Homer and then continued on down I-55 to New Orleans. Thankfully, this stretch of interstate did not fall into the boring category; it was built almost entirely as a bridge over the swampland that is the Mississippi delta. It was fascinating to see below many of the little ramshackle cabins occupied by Cajun families on the few little patches of solid ground that were evident. I just don't think I could live like that, with the marshy goop full of reptiles all around me. I know these folks are fully comfortable with their culture and surroundings, but I think the leap for me would be too great.

Arriving in New Orleans, we found our way to the KOA West campground on West Jefferson Highway, again because they advertised a wi-fi connection. On our way to the park, we drove through a somewhat depressed socio-economic area, and we were worried that it might have some adverse implications for the RV park. It turned out not to be factor, however, and we were soon ushered to a nice concrete pad, where we backed in—with the help of Sandy and the walkie-talkies—with no problem. The wi-fi connection, however, was another matter. The RV park obviously had selected a local wi-fi provider to install the equipment and offer the service for a fee. After much manipulation of the computer and payment of the eight-dollar-a-day fee, we were able to get on line, but the signal was weak and kept dropping us off line. I finally gave up and tried to call the wi-fi provider, only to get a recording. This was to be the end of the line for my quest to choose RV parks based on their wi-fi internet service. It's just too spotty and undependable. I resolve to look for a different solution to having internet connectivity on the road.

After settling in, we were hungry again, and asked the park attendants for their recommendation of a good place to eat. They sent us to Harbor Seafood on Williams Boulevard. When we saw the place, we agreed that it fit perfectly our criteria for selecting a good food dive. It was not a chain, it looked kinda dumpy and, best of all, the parking lot was packed with cars. I probably should mention here that one should not rely on the number of cars in the parking lots of chain restaurants as an indication that their food is good. The general public, in my opinion, is largely clueless as to what constitutes good food. The chain restaurants have gotten wealthy by serving assembly-line food in too-large servings in a noisy and chaotic atmosphere. The chain restaurant experts will admit to designing these restaurants so as to amplify, rather than to dampen, the noise level. Why? Because it seems most people equate crowd noise or loud music to excitement about the dining experience. Well, in my opinion, they are excited only about the excitement, because I have rarely encountered good food in such surroundings. I particularly despise dining in restaurants where I must shout to have a conversation across the table. But, I digress again.

Since it was a Friday evening at Harbor Seafood, there was a considerable wait to get a table at the seafood market/restaurant, but the food was good. We wondered if we would finally get our fill of seafood on this trip, as we do enjoy the freshness of the offerings that surely were caught that same day.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Palm Coast to Pensacola

We left Palm Coast today (thank God!) and made our way up hwy 100 through Starke, Florida, a really quaint little town whose downtown area obviously hadn't changed much in the past half-century. The city leaders have done a good job of dressing up the streets with benches, planters and greenery, however, so we found a parking spot for our rig and walked a couple of blocks to what looked like a quaint little bakery/restaurant on Main Street named the Bobcat Restaurant. We ordered a couple of hamburgers, but we couldn't eat all of them because we noticed they were undercooked in the middle of the patties. As we looked around the restaurant, we could see only a few stale-looking cookies comprising their bakery offerings and, except for us, the place was empty of patrons. We then realized that, in choosing this place to eat, we ignored one of the most important signs of a potentially good place to eat: There should be vehicles in the parking lot, no matter what time of day. Because of the quaintness of the town, we had ignored the fact that there were no cars parked in front of the café. I was not subtle in my criticism of the hamburgers to the proprietor, so much so that he offered to comp the meal. Looking around at the shabbiness of the place, however, I figured he probably needed the money more than I did, so I elected not to take him up on his offer, especially since we had eaten a goodly bit of each burger.

We made our way out to I-10 again, electing to stay with the interstate because we were ready to get Florida behind us. We were on the road another seven hours this day, and by the time we got to Milton, Florida, just outside Pensacola, we were ready to stop. We stayed at the local KOA campground, arriving at 7:30 p.m., just as they were closing. This was a first for us—arriving at an RV park when the office was still open! This was a nice enough park and, although we didn't have a concrete pad, the spot was a pull-through and level. We had chosen this place due to their advertisement of wi-fi access, but it was through LinkSpot, and not free. We elected not to use it. With Sandy's help, I cooked a pan of chili in the electric skillet for supper, and we both thought it was pretty good. We met a nice couple from Sugar Land, Texas, in the spot next to us. Their names were Travis and Lynn Boyd, and they were returning home from Florida, where they had been touring for a month in their pull-behind travel trailer. They were traveling with two medium sized dogs and told us that they had had two additional ones, but they had recently died. That seemed a bit crowded to me. I just don't know if I could endure the complication of so many pets while on vacation.

Meeting this couple brings to mind the surprising camaraderie among RVers. Without exception, all the people we have encountered in the RV world have been extraordinarily friendly and helpful. Most seem to have no inhibitions about walking over and starting a friendly conversation, as though they were longtime acquaintances. I think the familial nature of this relationship is due, obviously, to the things we have in common, like an adventurous spirit, a greater maturity in age, experience and financial wherewithal and, perhaps just plain generosity. I think we all become less self-centered as we get older, and this translates into a desire to befriend others and help them when you can. This bit of wisdom, of course, is lost on the young, as it was for me when I was a youth. Too bad we can't figure out what's important at an earlier age.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

In Palm Coast

I was to drive the Hornet to class today, and Sandy was nice enough to fix another wonderful breakfast of fried eggs and sausage. I drove off, unaware that she was still terribly anxious about the alligators and snakes. While I was in class, Sandy decided to catch up on the laundry. This required her to carry her laundry basket full of clothes and detergent perhaps a hundred yards to the park's laundry facility, along with an umbrella the she intended to use to fight off snakes and alligators--since there was still no fence around the bayou. She thought about taking the pistol that she knew I had brought aboard Homer, but she thought the other campers may be a bit unnerved when she plopped it down on the laundry room table. She also considered taking the heavy metal flashlight as a protective device, but decided that would look a little silly, since it was broad daylight. She thought the umbrella to be the logical alternative, even though there wasn't a cloud in the sky. The female mind, I think, is still an area largely unexplored.

We spent three nights in Palm Coast due to the two-day school requirement. This has to be one of the most boring places on earth. We ate at a couple of restaurants that we hadn't tried before—the Pier Restaurant and the High Tide Sea Shack, both in Flagler Beach. They were just awful. Restaurants like this get an automatic T.A.G.L. rating from us, which means Take A Good Look (cause we ain't never comin' back!).

Monday, May 16, 2005

Panama City to Palm Coast

Today, we had to make it all the way from Panama City to Palm Coast, as I had to start class the next morning. It would be a long day of driving, and I wasn't looking forward to it, but Sandy decided to cook breakfast in Homer anyway. This was exciting, as it was the first time we had used any of the appliances. She cooked bacon, eggs and toast with jam, and it was just wonderful. We had read on the internet that it would be a good idea to bring along a toaster oven and an electric skillet. Luckily, we had acquired spares of both through the years, and it was in the toaster oven that we made the toast, although we cooked the eggs and bacon on Homer's propane stovetop. All worked fine, and we loved the convenience of having our food and appliances handy if we were in the mood to dine in. The little refrigerator is a wonder; we just set it on "auto," and forgot about it. When we're hooked up at a campsite, it runs on electricity; when we're traveling down the highway, it runs on propane, switching itself as needed.

It was in my preparation to take a shower in Panama City that a learned another little lesson. Now, the tiny bathroom and shower in Homer took a little getting used to, as it is a challenge for someone with my outsize dimensions to negotiate gracefully. It's a little like doing the watusi in a sleeping bag! It's necessary to turn on the water before entering the shower, lest you freeze or boil yourself once you get inside. The space is so small, there's no place to go to avoid the temperature shocks while you get the water temp set just right. So, while I dutifully set the water coming out of the tub's downspout at just the right temperature, I neglected to look up to see where the shower head was pointing. This is one of those little nozzles on a flexible hose that hangs in a receptacle on the shower wall, and it was pointing, unfortunately, toward me, as I pulled the little plunger up. There was little I could do but let out a yelp as I lifted my eyes to the direction of the shower head just as the stream gushed out and splattered directly in my face and on the bathroom floor outside the shower. Memo to self: Make sure the shower head is pointing inside the shower before pulling up the plunger. Since I'm talking about the shower, I should mention that the amount of hot water available—six gallons—was a significant concern for us as we embarked on this journey. We had heard from other RVers that, in order to have enough hot water for a shower, it would probably be necessary to turn on the water to get wet, then turn it off to soap up, then turn it back on to rinse. We were astonished to find that we had all the hot water we needed to take normal showers! I'm not sure how the hot water systems work in other RVs but, in this one, there are two water heaters—one AC electric, and the other, propane. You can select either or both and, if you select both, the propane heater fires up automatically if the demand for hot water is greater than the AC can provide. I couldn't be more pleased with this unexpectedly positive experience with the water heater.

Leaving Panama City, we encountered the mother of all traffic jams. U. S. 90 was under construction in this area, and we had no recourse but to creep along at 5-10 mph for most of an hour. During one of the many times we came to a stop, I took a closer look at the map. It appeared that I had significantly underestimated the distance we needed to travel that day, so we abandoned U. S. 90 in favor of another, more boring, route. I really, really hated doing that. The drive to Palm Coast consumed almost eight hours, including the time wasted in the traffic jam! Could I have been more careless in my trip planning? I don't think so. We were absolutely exhausted when we arrived at the Bulow Plantation RV Park just south of Palm Coast at around 9:30 p.m. We had called ahead to tell them we were arriving late (what else is new?), and they told us just to pick a spot anywhere. The park was large and uncrowded, so I picked a space where there were no other RVs alongside us. Our parking spot was near a little bayou, and there were tall moss-laden trees all around us. As we were unhooking Homer and attaching all its lifelines, Sandy was holding the flashlight as I went from chore to chore. I noticed that she seemed distracted, occasionally diverting the flashlight beam away from what I was doing and toward the bayou. I didn't know it at the time, but Sandy was terrified that an alligator or snake (she's deathly afraid of both) might come up out of the bayou and crawl toward Homer. She was using the flashlight to make sure that we were not going to be attacked! As she confessed her fears several days later, I asked her why she didn't mention her phobia before we arrived, and she said that a good friend had told her that, in Florida, bayous, lakes and ponds had fences around them in RV parks to protect campers from these reptiles. We now know that her friend was just trying, in a kind way, to help allay her fears about RV travel in Florida.

Spacious Bulow Plantation RV Park
It was in Bulow Plantation that we first had to level ol' Homer. The little plastic pads we bought before the trip did the trick nicely. We just placed the pads in front of the wheels on one side and pulled Homer on top of them. No big deal. We had a quick sandwich and dropped into bed. I've resolved to be more careful in my trip planning from now on.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Biloxi to Panama City, FL

We departed Biloxi and decided to make Panama City, Florida, our next stop. This would be the shortest driving distance of the four-day trek to Palm Coast, and we were looking forward to spending less of the day on the highway. We also decided to take U. S. 90 along the gulf coast instead of I-10, where we had been grinding along every boring mile that looked just like the one before it. I despise driving on the interstates in the East and Midwest because of the mind-numbing sameness of the swaths they cut out of the forests and prairies. There's nothing to see but trees, fields, gas stations, motels and fast food joints. It's enough to drive you insane. That's the worst drawback of having to arrive somewhere at a specific time—driving the interstates. Although I much prefer to take the blue highways, the interstates are where you have to drive in order to make good time and meet a schedule. We were looking forward to the trip back from Palm Coast, as we would have no schedule to meet and could lollygag around to our hearts' content.

The drive along U. S. 90 was an enormous treat after the interstate driving. This highway follows the shoreline of the Gulf of Mexico, and the beaches are white as snow all the way to Panama City. We would have loved to stop and enjoy the beach for a while but, again, there was just no time. At Ft. Walton Beach, we stopped at the Crab Shack Restaurant and were surprised to find it had a wonderful deck overlooking the intercoastal waterway, where we had another good seafood lunch and enjoyed watching the boats go by.

It was at Panama City that we found the most luxurious (and expensive, at over 40 bucks) campground of the trip. The Emerald Beach RV Park was a wondrously landscaped beauty, nestled among palm trees and manicured grass, flowers and shrubs. All the pads were concrete, and we had a nice shady spot into which we had to back Homer. This would be the first time we had to do a back-in, and I was a little nervous, especially when other people are watching. Fortunately, I had purchased a couple of walkie-talkies before the trip, and I quickly put Sandy to work, standing at Homer's rear bumper and making sure that I didn't hit anything during the procedure. The walkie-talkies turned out to be indispensable. We don't even try to maneuver the rig in close places without Sandy, uh, telling me where to go.
Emerald Beach RV Park

After getting Homer parked, we were hungry again and decided to take a break from seafood. We were both pizza-hungry, so we stopped at a nearby Hungry Howie's. Yes, it's a chain, but we just didn't have time to go hunt down a mom-and-pop pizza joint. We were actually impressed with our medium thin-crust Supreme. The crust was impossibly thin and crispy—just the way we like it—but there was a bit too much sauce, and it was slightly too sweet. Those minor flaws didn't keep us from eating it, however, and it was pretty darn good, overall.

Afterward, we trekked to a nearby Wal-Mart, where we bought some groceries for Homer and a towel rack that hangs over the outside of the bathroom door. Homer didn't have nearly enough towel rack space, and this new rack works fine. We are able to hang wet towels there, and they dry nicely while we travel. Small washcloths, however, need to be secured with a clothespin to avoid falling to the floor.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Beaumont to Biloxi, MS

The departure from Gulf Coast RV Resort was uneventful, and we were on the road around ten a.m. This is pretty good for us, as we are notoriously late getting started in the mornings when we don't have to punch a clock. The problem with this is that we lose a lot of daylight that we could use putting miles behind us. If we're trying to make 300 miles a day, which is about as much as we care to do, that puts us at our destinations very late in the day. This is clearly going to be a struggle, and we're not sure how it will turn out.

We got on I-10 and made our way eastward and, by the time we reached Lake Charles, we were famished. We turned Hornet into a run-down neighborhood in search of another seafood restaurant that had gotten good reviews on the internet, and we were disappointed to find it had closed. While maneuvering in a parking lot nearby the closed restaurant, we suddenly lurched to a panic stop, even though my foot was not on the Hornet's brake pedal! Homer's brakes had fully engaged, and it wasn't moving another inch! I was terribly puzzled as I exited Hornet to take a look, and it immediately became evident that, during the maneuvering, the emergency trailer brake lanyard had pulled out of its receptacle, and Homer's brakes locked up exactly as they were supposed to do. I replaced the lanyard fitting back into the receptacle, and all was okay. I guess it was good to find out the system worked, but I'm not sure the surprise was worth it. I made a mental note to get the lanyard extended when we get back home.

After we recollected our wits and drove a little farther, we came upon a neighborhood barbeque joint that had all the earmarks of a classic good find for foodies like us. It was in a very modest building with an equally modest hand-lettered sign that read, "Famous Barbeque." A goodly crowd had already gathered, even though it was only 11:30 a.m. Much to our dismay, there was no place for the Hornet and Homer in the smallish parking lot. Fortunately, there was a large open lot across the street, and we pulled in there, anticipating a good meal. We weren't disappointed. We had to wait in line to give our order and, in front of us was a small display case with heat lights, illuminating several styles of fresh pork cracklings, whose aroma was wafting up at us. I was powerless to resist and ordered a quarter-pound of the soft and spicy variety. I should have gotten more; they were positively wonderful. Sandy and I had a sliced brisket sandwich apiece, and these were marvelous. The meat was smoky and tender, and we licked our fingers clean enough to do surgery afterward. This will definitely go onto our list of places to revisit. Famous Barbeque is at 709 Hwy. 171 in Lake Charles.

The rest of the leg to Biloxi was uneventful, and again, we got to our camping spot after dark, but not before stopping at Pass Christian, Mississippi, to have dinner at the Harbor View Café (again, found recommended on the internet). This modest little restaurant overlooks the white sandy beach right on the Gulf of Mexico and was mobbed with hungry patrons. We ordered one of the specials, an overstuffed shrimp po-boy sandwich, and it lived up to its hype. I also ordered a soup and salad, but the sandwich alone would have been plenty for both of us. Although the shrimps were small, they were fried to perfection and spilled out all over the wonderful hot French bread. With a serving of remoulade sauce poured over all, it was heaven. We ate like pigs. This one goes on our list, too. The Harbor View Café is on U.S. 90 across the street from the Pass Christian yacht harbor. Ask anybody.

You can probably tell by now that Sandy and I are not bashful in our quest to find good places to eat. Both of us were raised in homes where our mothers were good cooks, and we became accustomed to a high standard for food preparation. We also developed an appreciation for our mothers' ability to prepare tasty meals with very modest ingredients. Since both families had a rural heritage, we came to love fresh fruits and vegetables that were always plentiful at the farm. We're both pretty fair cooks ourselves and, unfortunately for us, we don't scrimp on all the stuff that is bad for you and but makes food taste good, like butter and bacon grease. We generally avoid chain restaurants at all costs. To us, their food all seems prepackaged and uninspired. We will occasionally pop into a fast food place out of desperation, but these times are rare, and we're very picky about these, as well. Trying new places to eat is, admittedly, entertainment for us, and using our instincts and the advice of locals often leads us to some outstanding dining and social experiences. Unfortunately, we can't bat a thousand; many of the places that have all the earmarks we look for turn out to be stinkers. In those cases, we graze on what we can and move on. We're also not bashful about telling the proprietor why his place sucks. But, I digress.

It was almost dark when we reached the Cajun RV Park on U.S. 90 in Biloxi. Since we knew we were going to be late (a theme that will be repeated often), we had called ahead and gotten directions from the staff about where to park. They were very friendly and gave us a specific spot number along with directions how to get there. They told us we could settle the bill the next morning. This was a nice park, but there was no concrete or gravel parking pad—just turf; I was astonished that I accidentally parked Homer in such a way that it needed no leveling at all. What good luck! The wi-fi connection worked well, but we were too tired to do much internet surfing. Sandy just checked our e-mail and that was about it. This campground didn't have all the amenities of the one we had just left, but it was very nice and quiet, and we appreciated the good rate of around 20 dollars with a discount. The next morning, we had a couple of learning experiences. As we walked to the park office to pay our bill, it started to rain. Sandy, predictably, was prepared, having snagged an umbrella as she surveyed the sky upon exiting Homer. Like most guys, I would have been clueless—and soaked. I was gratified that she let me share her parasol as we walked back to Homer. The rain ended on the way back to Homer, and upon entering the bathroom, I noticed the plopping of my shoes in a water puddle. Experience number two: Besides remembering to take an umbrella when it looks like rain, think about closing the bathroom vent fan cover, as well.

Friday, May 13, 2005

The Beginning: Euless to Beaumont, TX

This is a Friday, the launch date of our new Jayco fifth wheel on an actual trip! I needed to travel from Dallas to Palm Coast, Florida, to attend a two-day class on one of the FAA's arcane data-collection programs, and I thought, "Why not take Homer and let the government pay for part of the expense? (Homer, by the way, is the name of the new trailer. It should be noted here that we have always had a penchant for naming things in our household. The green Dodge pickup we bought to pull Homer is named "The Hornet." Why? I don't know, I guess because it's green, and the diesel engine makes a buzzing sound. Our cat is named Elvis, and Sandy even named the goldfish in our little pond in the back yard - Elmer and Louise. Go figure.)

Over the past couple of weeks, we've been preparing Homer and the Hornet for this trip. The Hornet got a new fifth wheel hitch, a new louvered tailgate with a v-cutout for easy trailer hookup, new running boards (the step up into the ¾-ton Hornet was too much for Sandy), and a new satellite radio. I wanted to get a GPS navigation system, but I ran out of time (and money). Although I've never owned one before, I chose the Dodge pickup solely because of the Cummins engine and its legendary reputation for reliability and ease of service. Now that I've driven the Hornet for a while, I really like the truck as well as the engine. It seems very solid and, with the powerful engine, hardly knows the 7,500-pound Homer is behind it. I'm really very pleased with the whole rig.

Over the past two weeks, we've made several trips to the storage facility where Homer lives, to drop off stuff for our trip. One of the many things we didn't anticipate was the huge number of items required to "stock" an RV. It was much like setting up housekeeping all over again as newlyweds! Using checklists provided in the Jayco owner's guide as a starting point, we quickly overran those onto two small tablets - one list for the things we already had that needed to go to out to Homer and another for the things we would need to acquire. Sandy concentrated on the household items and I fussed over things like what tools and other hardware to take along. This wasn't easy, as we really had no frame of reference for this, except for the special items needed like a voltage tester and water pressure regulator, which we learned we needed by spending countless hours researching RV travel in magazines and the Internet. For everything that went aboard Homer, we gave special consideration to size and weight. While Jayco has been as generous as possible with storage space, it is still at a premium, and there is the maximum gross weight of the trailer to be considered. We opted, for example, for a flat-screen TV, as it weighs much less than the old-style sets of comparable screen size. Another example is the vacuum cleaner. RVs are little houses, and they need all the housekeeping chores we occasionally did back at the manse. We thought about using one of the little portable handhelds, but Sandy needed one that could be operated from a standing position. We found a Eureka model at Wal-Mart that has a collapsible handle to aid in storing it. It works great, doesn't use bag refills, and at forty bucks, is a steal!

Sandy was terribly anxious about leaving our seventeen-year-old daughter, Mindy, behind, but she was headed to a church camp retreat that would keep her occupied for a good deal of the time we were away. Mindy has always been a good kid, and we really don't worry about her getting into trouble. She was completely ecstatic, however, at the thought of finally being independent of her smothering parents for a few days. We think this will be a bit of a shock for her, though, as she really isn't cognizant of the prodigious support system that her parents provide for her. Sandy is already experiencing separation anxiety about Mindy's leaving the nest, even though she hasn't even begun her senior year of high school. Halfway into our first day, Sandy was a weepy mess because Mindy didn't answer her cell phone right away.

We knew there would be countless learning experiences on this trip, and the first one came quickly. Even though we had been schlepping the new housekeeping items out to Homer for several days, we elected to leave some things until the day of departure. My plan was to leave the house early and drive the Hornet out to the storage facility to pick up Homer. It should have taken no more than an hour for the round trip, but I was suddenly entangled in a traffic jam due to a major accident. This was unexpected, as I was going in the opposite direction of the usual morning rush traffic into Dallas. On the way back, with Homer in tow, a train blocked the road in front of the storage place for what seemed like an eternity. I marveled at the predictability of the fact that life is so unpredictable. What are the chances these events would have occurred if I weren't in a hurry? Sometimes it seems as though God arranges little demonstrations like this to remind us how incapable we are of controlling fully our destiny and how we should be more dependent upon Him to guide our paths. Personally, I think this was a test to see if I would say bad words if no one else was listening. (I think I did, but I didn't say them very loud, and I didn't pound the steering wheel, if that matters.)

The result of God's little lesson in humility was that I didn't get back to the house with Homer until about 0930, which was approximately the time I had earmarked for our departure. This was not the only complication: Sandy had not yet put fully into practice certain resolutions she made to reduce the endless preparation time she requires to do, well, anything. For all of our 29 years of marriage, she has been fastidious about her hygiene and appearance, and for that I am grateful. Until recently retired, she held a job as a teacher and, due to the need for punctuality, she had always allowed at least two hours for her incomprehensibly complex morning preparation ritual before launching from the garage with all the subtlety of a Saturn 5 rocket. I've been extolling the benefits of simplifying our lives as we get older and she agrees, in theory, that that would be a good thing. Putting this into practice, however, has been a challenge for her, and it's not something that I wished to comment on this particular morning.

By the time we got everything on board and closed up the house, it was straight up noon! This was not good, as we needed to be in Beaumont, some 300 miles away, for the first overnight. As we pulled out of our neighborhood, we were terribly excited about the new adventure, but both of us had the nagging feeling that we had forgotten something. It turned that we had—our jackets. We determined we would buy some inexpensive outerwear if we needed it.

We stopped in Ennis at a favorite little Chinese restaurant for lunch. We knew their entrees to be large, so we shared one and agreed that we had plenty to eat. Total bill for a good hot lunch—six bucks. Can't beat that.

Back in the Hornet, all was uneventful as we winded our way down through the Big Thicket of East Texas, across Lake Livingston and by the bucolic Escapees RV compound as we neared the Texas coast. We discovered a drawback to the Hornet: The capacity of the fuel tank. I think it holds about 27 or 28 gallons, but that doesn't get us very far pulling Homer. I'm trying to ignore the gas mileage, however, because I don't want that to be a limiting factor in my full enjoyment of this RV passion that I've had for such a long time. I've decided not to even calculate the mileage; it is what it is. Another discovery about diesel fuel: Not every gas station has it! It's not hard to find out on the interstates, but when I get on the blue highways, I start looking for a good fuel price when the fuel gauge gets down to about 1/3 of a tank. On the interstates, it's easy; we look for a truck stop, and they always have a pretty good price. Out in the hinterlands, however, the price can be up to 50 cents a gallon higher in some places, so you have to be observant.

We had called ahead to the Gulf Coast RV Resort and told them we would be arriving late. They were very friendly and gave us instructions about how to handle our check-in after office hours. We arrived around sunset and had enough daylight left to find our spot and get set up for our first time in an RV campground! Gulf Coast's sign-in procedure was a snap, done at a small desk set up outside their office. We filled out a short registration form and took an information sheet that gave us all the information we needed to find our spot. They had even drawn an arrow on a map of the park, indicating the path we should follow. It was a piece of cake, and we were impressed at their organization. All their parking spaces were pull-throughs, so getting Homer situated for the night was no problem. Gulf Coast's roads and pads were all concrete and perfectly level, so I didn't have to fuss with leveling Homer.

We chose Beaumont as the first stop not only for its distance from Dallas, but for its wireless internet connectivity and its proximity to a restaurant that we had wanted to try for a long time. This was Sartin's Seafood, having received rave reviews by some of our kinfolks who live nearby. We were not disappointed. We ordered a seafood platter, and everything tasted as though it had been swimming just hours before. Again, the one entrée provided plenty of food for both of us. I tried some of their barbecued crabs and, although the flavor was wonderful, I found the work required to get at the little bits of crabmeat was not worth the hassle.

We went back to Homer and turned in for the night. We found it hard to fall asleep, thinking about all the new experiences coming at us so fast. We were also adjusting to our new mattresses. These we had custom made at a small mattress factory in Fort Worth on the same day we took delivery of Homer. As with most lower-end RVs, Homer's mattresses, the standard factory issue supplied by Jayco, were hopelessly inadequate. We pulled Homer straight from the RV lot to nearby Fort Worth Mattress factory, where they pulled out the old mattresses and installed the new ones. We asked that the old ones be given to the underprivileged, and they were pleased to do so. The eleven hundred bucks for the custom jobs turned out to be money well spent. We're very picky about our beds, and getting a good night's sleep is essential to our enjoyment of the next day.

The next morning, we took advantage of the free continental breakfast served by the park. They had a couple of waffle irons fashioned in the shape of Texas, and we simply poured in the pre-measured batter and cooked them for two minutes according to a timer on the cooker. They were quite good, and we enjoyed the camaraderie of other RV'rs taking advantage of the free goodies. Well, I don't guess it was actually free, as the overnight rate was around thirty dollars. We learned upon checkout that if we had been members of Passport America, we would have gotten a 50% discount. I plan to sign up before the next trip.

The one hickey for this place was the unavailability of the wireless internet. It was not working at the time of our visit, and I voiced my disappointment on the critique sheet. It is amazing how dependent we have become on the internet for information. Our trip to Florida was largely planned using the internet and, without it, I felt disconnected and in some kind of time warp.