Photo taken near Monument Valley, Utah

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Winter's Last Gasp Brings Gordon and Juanita

March 8, 2008

As I look across Homer’s living room very early this Saturday morning, I see 26 degrees on the outside temperature readout. After a couple of weeks of pretty nice days, some of them quite warm, old man winter has decided not to go away quietly. A rapid series of cold fronts and low pressure systems have pounded our parking spot at Lake Grapevine in the last couple of weeks, and perhaps because of our temporary fulltime living in Homer, we are much more observant of the weather than before. More than once has our little home on wheels been noticeably rocked around by the howling winds that come swooping across the lake with a strong cold front. A few days ago, one of these fronts was accompanied by a line of storms that rumbled across the park, the disconcerting cacophony of which kept me pretty well wide-eyed for a couple of hours in the middle of the night when I would much rather have been asleep. It even disturbed Sandy, who is not usually a light sleeper.

I’m sure we’re not the only ones living in an RV or a mobile home who get nervous here in the nation’s “thunderstorm alley.” Having never lived in a mobile rig before, I guess it’s something you get used to, but I’m sure the feeling of vulnerability is always in the back of the minds of these mobile dwellers. I have already figured out that Sandy and I will always keep a vigilant eye toward the weather when occupying Homer, and when a particularly nasty squall line approaches, we will seek shelter in a structure that is less likely to become airborne while we’re inside!

As far as the house construction goes, things have reached a crawl. Since it has been 20 years since we last built a house, we had forgotten how slow the finishing phase can be. This is exacerbated for us because of all the stained wood finishes that we chose this time. Richard, our builder, was not happy with the subcontractors who bid on this part of the construction, so he has chosen to do it himself. We’re not unhappy about this, however, because he is a perfectionist, and we know we will eventually get what we want. The photos accompanying this piece do not show all that much progress, although readers looking closely will see that a new metal roof has been installed over the front porch.

The front porch gets a metal roof

There are also numerous splotches of paint on the inside walls, showing a rather disconcerting pattern of gross indecisiveness as we ponder the colors for the interior of the house. We haven’t had this much difficulty since Sandy had me paint the family room three times when we last redecorated the house we just sold in Euless. We’ve finally settled on a paint swatch for each room, and we are nervously awaiting the result when entire walls are covered with these selections. Sandy and I have come a long way from the all-white rooms of the first house we built but, in using color, we have found that we must take great care to avoid giving our house the look of a Mexican restaurant. Even though we think our colors are going to be quite reserved, I’m sure they may be a jarring experience for Thurman, our retired next-door neighbor, who has already opined that he prefers white or “pastels” for interior colors. We are very fond of Thurman and his wife, Amy, and he has taken great interest in our construction project, occasionally offering advice as a former builder himself. He’s always good-natured about it, and some of his recommendations have had merit. For example, he suggested that we widen the approaches to our driveway and, even though we had a tussle with the city inspectors, it proved to be a good recommendation. Even Richard, who often respectfully ignores Thurman, has taken his advice on a few occasions. I feel blessed to have these folks nearby, as I know Thurman keeps a close eye on the unoccupied house that is always vulnerable to mischief. I have even given him a key to the house and pay him a small stipend for looking after things. More than once he has found a door or window unlocked during his daily inspections, and I feel a great sense of relief at his dedication to his new “job.” This is not to say that Richard and his subcontractors are lax in securing the property when they leave, as they rarely forget anything when closing up. We are all human, however, and Thurman provides a good backup. I think most of Richard’s omissions in locking the house have occurred lately, during the wood staining and lacquering phase. Opening the door upon visiting the house in the last few days, I have been almost overwhelmed by the fumes of the liquids used in these finishes. Maybe Richard was a bit addled by these vapors when he missed something in the lockup.

Meanwhile, Sandy and I have spent countless hours traveling around the Metroplex, making decisions about finishes, floors, countertops, light fixtures, etc. I had forgotten how time-consuming that can be. Add to that the incessant demands from my job and my duties as president of the huge choir of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, we find ourselves with a serious downtime deficit. We desperately need a vacation, but I don’t see that in the cards for months to come.

So, it was with this backdrop that we learned a few weeks ago that Gordon and Juanita, a couple of cyber friends with whom I had been corresponding by e-mail for some time, had accepted our invitation to stop by Grapevine on their way northward from their winter parking spot in the Rio Grande valley. We had extended a similar invitation to Ed and Marilyn, another cyber-couple who preceded them by a few weeks, but they were understandably focused on wasting no time getting to Hannibal, Missouri, in time for the birth of their first grandchild. Had I been in Ed’s shoes, I don’t think anything could have caused me to make a detour from that goal.

From previous posts, readers will recall that I have been following the daily journals of these couples, not only because of my keen interest in the fulltimer lifestyle, but because their blogs, written mostly by Ed and Gordon are, well, addictive. As I have mentioned before, their journals describe their everyday activities, including the mundane along with the exciting, but they capture the interest of the reader by their personalization of the stories, allowing the reader to feel almost a part of their lives. Their journals are refreshing departures from the vast majority of boring travelogues, and I never miss an episode. Sandy has also caught the bug, and we are responsible for two hits every day on Ed’s and Gordon’s site counters.

When Mindy, our daughter who is away at college, learned that we were going to meet up with people whom we had come to know only through the internet, she termed the event “precious,” as if we were all regressing to some kind of prepubescent pen-pal status as our mental capacities ferment from old age. Mindy, in a mildly unsettling way, is developing a mastery of the not-so-subtle jab that could only be attributed to her mother. It could never have come from my genes!

Gordon and Juanita’s rig came into view around the corner on the winding road that led to the parking spot next to ours, right on time Monday afternoon. Sandy and I were not nervous at all about meeting them, as we felt as though we had already been friends for some time by virtue of reading their journal and seeing their photos. As they pulled up alongside their spot, they found me knocking on the windows of the motorhome nearby, trying to get the occupants to move their pickup, which was blocking the entrance to Gordon’s parking place. Since there was no answer to my knock, I walked out toward our guests’ vehicle, from which Gordon emerged with what proved to be his ever-present camera and snapped a photo of me, standing in the middle of the road, as if I had just escaped from an asylum. Then Juanita stepped out of the truck, and we all hugged as if we had known each other forever. While they waited for their parking space to clear, I invited them over to Homer, where Sandy greeted them, and we sat down and talked for a while. The conversation was easy and animated, and we remarked to each other how one of the best aspects of the RV lifestyle has to be the terrific people you meet. Gordon and Juanita certainly fall into that category, and we are genuinely pleased to count them now among our real-life friends, not just electronic ones!

Juanita gives parking signals to Gordon

We mustn’t go much farther without mentioning Bodie, the 9-year-old beagle who serves as a benevolent dictator in Gordon and Juanita’s little family unit. Bodie, a cute and friendly dog, is clearly the giver and receiver of a great deal of attention, and we were fascinated to learn of some of the traits of beagles in general, as well as some of Bodie’s particular affectations, which generally included a spirited “embrace” of my leg as part of his greeting ritual.

Bodie the VIP beagle takes Juanita for a walk while Sandy looks on. Boy, is it cold!

After getting settled, Gordon and Juanita joined us for a brief tour of the local area, including our new house, where they were effusive in their comments of approval. We then drove to Vito’s, a tiny mom-and-pop Italian cafe that is one of our local favorites. Gordon had shrimp scampi and Marilyn tried their pasta primavera. Both of them seemed to enjoy their meal and complimented us on our choice of eateries. These are truly gracious people, who would probably have kind remarks even if they didn’t like the food. We don’t think that’s the case, here, though as, like us, they didn’t leave a lot of food behind.

Dining at Vito's

As we emerged from the restaurant, snow had begun to fall, even though I had assured Gordon in an earlier communication that the forecast of snow was silly. “The weather guys always miss their snow forecasts,” I had said. The longer the night wore on, the heavier the snowfall got, until there was a thick white layer everywhere! And, since Gordon could muster little control over his evil twin from this point, I was the subject of much merriment for the rest of the evening—and for the rest their stay, for that matter, regarding my utter failure as a weather forecaster. I thought I put up a spirited defense, however, by refusing to acknowledge that the weather phenomenon was anything other than a dust storm.

Although my work got in the way from time to time, we enjoyed visiting for the next couple of days and touring the Fort Worth Stockyards district. The girls did some shopping, and we ate at a couple more of our favorite eat-a-bites, Pappy’s Catfish and Oyster Bar in Irving and Angelo’s Barbecue in Fort Worth. We also discovered that Juanita is fond of sushi, so we have a good idea for a spot to take them next time they’re in the area.

A good pic of Juanita and Gordon at Pappy's

At Angelo's, a Fort Worth BBQ palace for 50 years

We visited Gordon and Juanita in their fiver, and we were impressed by the layout and the clever modifications they had made to fit their lifestyle. I was also impressed at the absence of the clutter that Sandy and I seem to attract in Homer. I’m not sure how they do that, and I know we’ve got more to learn about ridding ourselves of the detritus of life. Their setup proved that fulltiming is possible without having a behemoth of a rig, and Gordon pointed out that having a medium-sized trailer allows them to access many parks and parking spaces that cannot accommodate the really long rigs.

Gordon and hat visiting in Homer

Juanita sits in Mike's man-chair. (Few are so privileged.)

I also enjoyed getting acquainted with Gordon’s electronic toys, which included a wonderful Apple IMac desktop and Apple laptop, as well as a new Nikon 300D camera and lens that was nothing short of incredible, both in performance and price. I found myself coveting these things, but not enough to attempt to steal them. I’m pretty sure they would have noticed if anything had come up missing.

Bidding them goodbye after what seemed like a short visit, we wished Gordon and Juanita traveling mercies and look forward to following their escapades as they find their way northward. These are truly intrepid souls, who are obviously having the time of their lives, and we’re all the better for having a close encounter with their enthusiastic and positive outlook on life.

Gordon and Juanita bid us farewell

This is the "dust" storm that Gordon and Juanita left behind.