Travels 27.2: We Save the Worst Until the Last

Let me make one thing perfectly clear: I fully intended for Travels 26 to be the Grand Finale, but in the confusion, exhaustion and labor of getting back into our house on Friday night, I had forgotten to add the Vital Statistics that I had spent so much time compiling.  When I realized this gross omission, I felt the need to add a coda.  I knew that people out there were keeping score at home so I needed to fill in their house books.  That was why I posted Travels 27.1.  And, when I composed it I mentioned that I would need a Travels 27.2 to explain why Travels 27.1 was necessary.  The simple reason for this is that putting everything together in a single blog, would be confusing to most…especially me, because I lost track of the stats (Travels 27.1) while the “situations” that made it difficult to make a clean end to our trip would need a special addendum (Travels 27.2).

If you get my drift.  And, if you don’t, who am I to judge?

We began the final day from Erie, PA., where it had sleeted on us all night.  Our campsite was only a few miles from Lake Erie so we got the ‘lake effect’ blustery weather.  We knew we had a long push to get home.  So, onto I-90 and then the NYS Thruway.  At Tupper Lake we encountered more sleet and ended up stuck behind a Town salt spreader.

Then our goal! Home! We had driven over 440 miles and it was dark (7:25 pm).  We live on a narrow road so the question came up: what to do with the R-Pod?  We decided to BACK it in to the space in front of our garage (which housed our older car, a Honda CRV).  I would love to say at this point that during the trip, I had mastered backing the camper into various spaces…but in fact, I hadn’t master that skill at all.  Not a problem on the trip because we requested ‘pull-through’ sites every night.  So, I tried using what little skill I had learned to back the camper up to the garage door.  I tried everything…even the counter-intuitive move of turning the steering wheel opposite the direction you would like the end of the camper to go.  Nice in theory, but not a great concept when you have a road that is very narrow and no place to make these moves.  To those of you out there who are shaking your heads and thinking…a child could to it…good for you.  I hope your petunias wilt next summer.

Back and forth, forward and reverse; this was the way I spent about 45 minutes.  I had all the windows down so I could hear Mariam yell out directions.  It was chilly.  I was frozen.  I was confused.  I was getting impatient.  In the rear-view mirror I could see my wife checking her cell phone speed dial for a divorce lawyer.

Enough I said.  I am parking it alongside the road.  It’s a cul-de-sac anyway…nobody will drive by.  I make the loop around the ‘hood’ and pull up tight to the edge of our property.  No way, Mariam said.  Too much of an angle.  I got out to see for myself.  The car and R-Pod were listing like the Titanic just before it went down…you remember, when Leo looked up at Kate Winslet…while he died in the frozen water to the tune of “My Heart Will Go On”?

Okay, I said let’s move the CRV out and I will pull part way in, detach the camper and get into the house.  (Remember, I’m freezing).

Out and around the loop I drive while Mariam moves the CRV.  She parks it facing the garage and leaves the lights on to help us see what is going on.  I pull into the open door and just before it’s too late…I remember something…there’s something we’re missing, after all, everything went so smoothly so far.  What was I trying to remember?  I pulled forward into the garage and then stomped on the brakes.  Our dishes in the camper must have been sent flying onto our bed.

I rolled the window down again.  Mariam, I said.  The bikes.  I was about 8 inches from either taking part of the garage portal off or destroying our two 21 speed hybrid bikes that were mounted on top of the car, in an upright position (see various illustrations in earlier blogs). I tried to get out of the car but I could only open the door about 9 inches, so I pulled back out a few feet.

We got the key to unlock the Thule rack.  Took the bikes off.  I pulled the car into the garage and we detached the camper and stabilized it.  Mariam went back to the CRV. The battery was dead because she left the lights on for about 10 minutes.

I looked at the dead car and then looked at my crestfallen wife…and I did what any husband would do.  I smiled and said no problem.  I found the charger, plugged it in, and in five minutes or so, the CRV started and we pulled it into the driveway.

We left the everything in the lightly falling snow and went inside.  We ate the lentil soup a friend had left for us.

So, there you have it.  Travels 27.2 should wrap things up.  Unless you want to read about the time in Death Valley when I DID NOT realize there were bikes on the car when we pulled into the National Park Visitors Center.  That’s the place where it was sunny and 95 degrees.  I had spotted a covered parking area and headed for it….

Here are two photos.  One is full of history and romance of sorts, the other is full of history and romance but is now being covered with snow.  Can you guess which one is which?

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Travels 26: A Grave Situation and a Cold Grey Sky From Lake Erie

I know, intuitively, that my readers are gathered on street corners, in cafe nooks, penthouses, cabanas, taco trailers, art theater lobbies, bowling alleys, massage parlors and sleazy bars all across America saying:

“The guy must have run out of ideas by now.  Surely, his well of experiences has run dry.  What else can the old man find to blog about?” said Larry.

“Our last GPS fix on his location was something like 42 degrees 10 minutes North and 80 degrees 10 minutes West.  That’s what I had on my cell phone before Rhonda came by and grabbed it so she could talk to her sister, Gladys in Cincinnati,” said Hal.

“Guys, guys…I taught geography for thirty-two years.  I know my stuff.  Let’s see,” said Carl, as he twiddled his fingers in the air.  “That would put him near Erie, PA, somewhere near Presque Isle.”

The exotic landscape is behind me now.  The low hills, fields, farms and forests of western Pennsylvania look like so much of the part of New York State that is in front of us until we make our final lap into the Adirondack Mountains…and home.  The autumn colors are long gone now.  Only the last of the burnt browns and damp yellows can be seen against the near-black of the trees.  The skeletal branches reach up against a sky as grey as wet slate.  The low clouds blow in from Lake Erie and bring tiny flecks of sleet.  It’s 39.9 F outside the R-Pod, but feels much colder.

Unless something quite out-of-the-ordinary happens to us during the final 400+ miles, I feel the need to share an experience that occurred to me a short time ago, before we passed through Ohio.

I was sitting in the campground common room.  Our RV was parked and stabilized.  I needed some warmth so I wandered over to the building that housed the laundry, showers and common room.  There was a pool table, ping-pong board and a TV.  The cable reception at many of the campsites was dicey at best.  Here, I could sit in warmth and give Mariam some time to catch up on email.  And, since I held the remote, I controlled the channel selection.  I had several choices: a rerun of “Duck Dynasty”, a high school football game, and a documentary on Entertainment Tonight on “Vanna White: The Early Years.”  It promised rare footage of Vanna performing “I Don’t Know How To Love Him.” at the Englebert Humperdinck Mall off Exit 17B outside Toledo.  The reviews said she handled the mega-phone like a true professional and predicted that her talent would carry her to the top in the rarefied world of game shows.  The only other choice was a PBS airing of bloopers from The Charlie Rose Show.  I opted for the Vanna White documentary (I already had the Charlie Rose thing on DVD).

Just as I was settling back in the sofa, which smelled faintly of cat urine, I felt the presence of a guy who had just sat down.  I looked at him.  He was wearing sweats and seemed a little red in the face.  I looked at what little neck he owned and noticed it too was the color of a tomato.  There were drops of sweat rolling off his ear lobes so I figured he had just come from the steam room located in the Motel 6 across the road.  Apparently, the motel and campground had a sweetheart deal going…you could use their gym for $12.00, if you could show your campsite pass.

What a steal, I thought.

“Hey,” he said.  “Name’s Buster.  Buster Nibbins.”

“Evening,” I replied.  “I’m Pat.”

“Hey,” he said.  “Wanna hear a good story?”

I wanted to be alone with Vanna, but the moment had passed.

“Sure,” I said, as I muted the TV.

“I’m a Cemetery Sexton,” he began.  “And I really wanted to tell you about how my friend and I probed in the graveyard yesterday.”

I didn’t like where this was going but I gave Buster the benefit of a doubt.  Maybe there was a story here after all.  I glanced over my shoulder, pretending to scratch my right elbow, to check how close I was to the door.

“Yeah, it was quite a thing,” he said.  “I was checking the cemetery grounds the other day and I came across this woman standing alone and looking down at a headstone.  She saw me coming and noticed my SEXTON badge on my sweatshirt.  I had just picked up a flattened Budweiser can when she stopped me. ‘What’s mama’s gravestone doing here?’  I said that it was there because that’s probably where she was buried.  She objected…strongly objected.  ‘No, she’s not.  We had her disinterred and moved to California so she could…could sleep with the rest of the family.’  No, ma’am, I told her.  I’m the SEXTON, touching my badge.  We haven’t had a pull -up here in years.  I would know.  I’m the SEXTON.  She looked at me with a growing impatience.  ‘Sir SEXTON,’ she said.  ‘I think you’re mistaken.  I have the papers right here.  Mama was disinterred and shipped to the West Coast…San Jose, to be exact.  We own several plots here and I came out to look them over as we plan on selling them.  Now, I’m asking again, why is Mama’s stone still here?’

“Miss,” I said, “Nothing has been dug up here.  See.  No fresh dirt.  There must be some mistake.”  She said: ‘The mistake, mister, is yours.  Your records are clearly not current.’  Miss, I said again, there’s been no digging here except for burials.  Now unless this disinterment was done at night, someone would have noticed a back-hoe, flood lights, workers, a funeral director and me, actually.  And nothing like that has happened here since…well, let’s just say it’s never happened here.  Now, how do you know for sure your mama arrived on the west coast? I asked.  ‘I don’t really, that part of the family doesn’t talk to me.’  Well, there’s your answer, lady.  She still here.  ‘No, she’s not.  I have papers from our lawyer that state that it was all taken care of.  It’s all here in my purse, along with his bill…for $9,000.’  Well, we’ll just have to see about this”, I told her.  We parted after I gave her my SEXTON card.  So yesterday morning, my friend and assistant, Ozzy and I came out here just before dawn and probed to check if the concrete vault was still in place.  If it was, it meant the coffin was still inside, unless they just took the coffin and left the vault, which they’re not supposed to do.  Our probes would touch the top of the vault, it’s only about 8 inches down, if it was still there…but if the vault lid was removed and taken, then we would likely miss something, which means there could be a vault that may or may not contain the coffin.”

I stared at Buster and blinked twice.

He leaned closer and lowered his voice.

“And, guess what?” he whispered.  I could smell his Old Spice body lotion. “We…”

Just then the door to the common room swung open and a woman in a hot pink terry cloth robe stood there.  Her hair was set in rollers the size of Ajax cans.  There was an awful lot of terry cloth covering what could have been a set of triplets.

“Buster, you get your sorry ass back to the trailer…NOW”  Without a word, he was past me and out of the door, somehow squeezing past his wife.

“Sorry, Mister,” she said, looking me up and down.  “He’s been like this since the operation.  Sorry.”

The door slammed and she was gone.  The Vanna White documentary was nearly over.  I punched the remote and the TV went dark.

As I walked to the door, I noticed something on the floor.  I bent over and picked it up.  It was a laminated, legal and very legitimate license.  A license to be a cemetery SEXTON.

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