Photo taken near Monument Valley, Utah

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Euless to Austin

Idyll Glen RV Park Near Austin

As I am writing this, Sandy and I are sitting in Homer in an RV park in Jonestown, Texas on Christmas morning, while our daughter, Mindy, is in Hawaii. To say that we didn't exactly foresee this circumstance would be an understatement of galactic proportion. Mindy secured her plum Christmas vacation based on a one-minute call on our cell phone while we were driving through the Ozarks on our way home from Branson last summer. On the phone was Diane Thomas, the mother of Jessie, one of Mindy's best friends who had accompanied us on a Caribbean cruise a few years ago. Diane said she was making reservations for a trip to Maui in December, that Mindy was invited, and she needed to secure the airline tickets right then. Sandy and I looked at each other and, aware that we had always tried to show Mindy as much of the world as possible, instinctively said yes. Before we could talk about details, however, the already poor cell reception faded away, not to be retrieved. It wasn't until we got home that we learned that the Hawaiian trip was to be taken during Mindy's and Jessie's high school Christmas vacation period. We were already regretting the thought of Mindy's absence from home during Christmas, and we were also grousing a bit over the airfare, which we thought was a bit expensive, considering the purchase so far in advance, but we didn't say anything. When we later learned that Mindy would be staying at no charge in a condo that rents for about $30,000 a week, we thought we would definitely just be quiet. As Christmas drew closer, it became evident that Sandy (and I, to perhaps a lesser extent) would be an emotional mess at the prospect of Mindy's being away during the holidays, so I quickly thought of where we might take Homer to get away ourselves during this time. I knew that traveling northbound would be out of the question, because RVers just don't go north in the winter; they go south—and in great swarms. In fact, I would be hesitant to travel northbound in an RV in the winter, because of the likelihood of colliding with some other hapless RVer roaring southward in the stampede of snowbirds. So, I advanced the prospect of driving to Corpus Christi, a place neither of us had visited, except perhaps while in transit to somewhere else. This met with an approving nod, so I began to plan the trip.

As was our updated practice for RV trip departures, I had retrieved Homer from the storage facility the previous afternoon. However, because of the rush to tie up all the Christmas-related tasks (last minute gift wrapping, a Christmas party obligation, etc.) before departure, we didn't finish all the pre-departure preparations that would ordinarily be done on the day before launch. I knew we would pay for this the next day, and I was right. Even though little needed to be done to Homer except fill the fresh water tank, we still didn't get away until 1:30 in the afternoon. Sandy had previously packed the four plastic tubs we load onto Homer as standard essentials (soft clothes, underwear, linens, cosmetics, medicine, hygiene supplies, shoes, etc.) We found that we still hadn't finished wrapping the gifts that we would be dropping off in Temple on our way south, so even with the preparations Sandy had done, we were very late leaving. I probably need to mention, however, that we didn't do ourselves any favor by oversleeping. We didn't drag out of bed until 8:00 a.m. Scandalous and embarrassing, to say the least!

I was a little nervous about Homer's plumbing, because I knew the outside temperature had been as low as 13 degrees a few weeks before. At the end of the Kerrville trip in October, I had drained the plumbing from the low point valve and the water heater, as well. I had the sneaking suspicion, however, that I had overlooked something. As it turned out, I had. As I was filling the fresh water this morning, I looked at the drain valve again and noticed there were two other drain tubes nearby that I had not seen before. I quickly checked the Jayco owner's manual and found there were two additional drains whose valves were in the cabinet underneath the kitchen sink! I had not opened these in October, and I feared the worst. I also checked to see if I had opened all the faucets in the coach, and was relieved to find that I had. Then I thought about the shower head and faucets outside the rear of the coach. I hurried out to check and found that I had forgotten to open these! Now I was really nervous, and more than a little concerned that I had been so haphazard in performing my winterizing chores. Having flown jet airliners for years, I was accustomed to exercising a much greater degree of thoroughness in making sure an airplane was in airworthy condition before flying it. With this in mind, I was a bit rattled at my carelessness that was so painfully evident. As it turned out, my fears were groundless. When I powered up the water pump, the faucets coughed and spat water for a while as the air in the lines cleared out, but the plumbing came through fine; there were no broken lines or leaks at all as I closed the faucets, one by one. The only casualty was one of the gallon jugs of drinking water that we store underneath the dinette bench seats. I had forgotten these after the last trip, and one had sprung a leak after obviously having frozen during the cold spell in early December. The jug, with its seal intact, was completely empty, but I didn't see any water damage anywhere, except for a slightly musty smell in the compartment under the bench seat. There were numerous cans of soft drinks under there, as well, but none of them had burst. I hope I don't forget this stuff next time I do winterizing.

We dropped off the gifts in Temple and arrived in Lago Vista, near Austin, well after dark, as is too often our custom, at the Idyll Glen RV Park. I chose this park by virtue of some surfing on the net. It looked very nice and rustic, settled into a hillside as it was, near Lake Travis. I had gotten a reservation over the phone from Milton, a very pleasant man, who gave me verbal instructions on where to park when I arrived. It seems there were only two empty spaces left in the park, and to reach the one earmarked for me would require a "turn to the right at the rocks" and that I couldn't miss it. Well, I did miss it, and I'll lay odds that anyone else would have, too, under the circumstances. Since the park was situated on a rocky hillside there were rocks everywhere, and no fewer than four choices of roads leading away from the park entrance. There were few lights on anywhere, and I decided to take the road farthest to the right and watch for space number two. As it turned out, I should have taken the road farthest to the left! The path I chose led me down a very narrow asphalt trail with RVs on each side, but pointed the wrong way! (Since these were all back-in spaces, they needed to be pointed in the direction I was going, but they were pointed toward me.) There was no way I could back into a space going this direction and no room to pull to the side if I met another vehicle. I knew I was in trouble, but there was nothing I could do but proceed forward and hope for the best. Fortunately, I soon drove into a smallish parking lot near a clubhouse at the top of the hill, where I saw an arrow painted on the asphalt, pointing to the side of the clubhouse and indicating, I surmised, that the correct flow of traffic was in that direction. So, I followed the arrow, thinking I would circle around the clubhouse and go back down the hill, this time in the proper direction. Not! As soon as I turned the corner and the Hornet's headlights illuminated the far end of the building, it was painfully evident, underscored by a rising volume of hysteria from Sandy, that this route was not meant for RVs. A tight turn would be required at the far corner, and it was evident that, if I continued, I would either collide with the rocks or demolish the northwest corner of the clubhouse. Neither of these choices was very appealing, so I elected to back up along the narrow alley and into the parking lot in front of the clubhouse. The only problem was that there was a car parked behind me in such a way that I had to make a reverse s-turn at the corner of the clubhouse. This is not easy at night, using the side mirrors; there is ample opportunity to make a very expensive error. So, I asked Sandy to get her trusty walkie-talkie and guide me through the intricate maneuver, which she did, handily. (How lucky, I thought, that I had had the good sense to purchase these things.) Just as my driver's window reached the front corner of the building while we were backing up, an older couple emerged from the clubhouse door. They stopped abruptly, obviously startled at the spectacle of my rig going backward, weaving between the obstacles in the parking lot. The gentleman finally collected himself and hollered, "Would it help if we moved some of these cars?" Knowing that a little more maneuvering would put me in the clear and, embarrassed at the spectacle I was creating, I said, inexplicably, "No thanks, I need the practice." It was one of those inane comments that one would wish desperately to retrieve, all the while knowing the impossibility thereof, once the words were launched. They had the expected effect on the hearers, who looked at each other in the most puzzled way, as if trying to decide who would make the call to alert the asylum about the escapees. As soon as I had room to swing around, Sandy took her seat in the cab and we chugged back down the hill, this time in the proper direction, which was fine, but we still didn't know where to park. By this time, lights were beginning to come on inside the RVs parked closely together along the winding road, undoubtedly because the quiet darkness of the park had been shattered by all the wanderings and maneuverings of the Hornet and its noisy Cummins engine. The occupants of the RVs probably thought that a new earth-moving project had begun or that the garbage pickup was scheduled for a very inappropriate time. As we clattered around the park, looking for space number two, I thought briefly about just continuing straight ahead over the cliff and into the rocky ravine at the outside edge of the next corner, as a means of ending the embarrassment for good. I don't think Sandy would have minded either, at this point. Just then, Sandy's younger eyes spotted space number two near the entrance of the park where we first began this red-faced excursion all across the hillside!

The parking spot was very narrow, and with about ten more minutes of noisy maneuvering, Homer was nestled in just right so as to be able to extend its slide without hitting the electrical service post at the edge of the parking space. I turned off the ignition key, and the engine mercifully fell silent with a whimpering squeak. (This was normal, I had learned, because a diesel engine stops so abruptly that the fan belts attached to it keep going for a tiny fraction of a millimeter, hence the slight squeak.) As I exited the cab, I dared not look up, as I was sure that a crowd had probably gathered by now. (It hadn't; RVers are a very courteous bunch and tolerant of people who make fools of themselves.)

Presumably as decoration, the owners of the park had outlined all the parking spaces with small boulders, since the rocky area around the park was replete with an inexhaustible supply. Unfortunately, this makes for a treacherous situation when one is stumbling around the trailer in the dark, trying to hook up the utilities. Sandy was having a similarly difficult time keeping her balance as she tried to hold the flashlight for me. This did nothing to diminish my feeling that somewhere out there in the darkness, people were watching us who were either laughing hysterically or calling 911. We finally got all the chores done and settled in, exhausted. We then realized that we hadn't eaten anything. We hadn't had much choice of restaurants on the road, as most everything was closed on Christmas eve. So, Sandy started fixing us a couple of turkey sandwiches, and I flipped on the TV, where I was treated to nothing but a snowy screen. I went outside and looked at the cable connection, which seemed to be okay. I then wiggled it a bit, an action which I pondered for a moment there in the darkness as being a curiously instinctive but inexplicable action that didn't do any good whatsoever. It is moments like these that make me wonder if men didn't evolve from apes, after all. I decided to put up our Christmas decoration. (Yes, I meant to use the singular version of the noun.) Before we left the Dallas area, I had purchased impulsively (from Wal-Mart, where else?) a small Christmas wreath that was not a wreath at all, but a likeness of one painted onto a plastic disk, outlined by small red and green lights. It was on sale for half price and easily one of the cheesiest ersatz Christmas decorations imaginable. It was perfect for the RV, as it is fashionable among RVers to "decorate" their awnings and outside sitting areas with kitschy things like electric Chinese lanterns and plastic peacocks and the like—the more tasteless, the better. I took a photo of it to show Mindy, who will be suitably appalled, thinking as she does that her parents have lost their minds with this RV thing, anyway. Tweaking her disdain for the RV lifestyle by appearing to embrace fervently the "trailer trash" image is great fun for me, as it is impossible for her to conceal her horror of it all.
Christmas in Homer

The TV cable's obvious malfunction was not immediately fixable, as the park office was closed. The alternative, for which I was prepared, was to hook up the satellite dish. By this time, however, it was nearing bedtime, so we elected instead to watch a movie on DVD. So much for Austin and its environs. Corpus tomorrow!

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