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The year 2001 started with some decent weather in Florida. John and Libby Veach arrived at the Encore RV Park on January 10. We hadn't seen each other since last September in Indiana and it was great to see them again. John and I received an email from Melanie and Wane Carlisle who live in the Atlanta area and are RV wannabes. They were going to be in Florida on vacation, so we both told them that we were at the Encore park near Disney World and they were welcome to come visit with us if their travels took them to Orlando. They decided to spend a night at the park to meet all of us and to chat. It was a great visit and we ended up chatting for about three hours about RVs and full-timing.
While we were in the area, we paid a visit to JW and Vassie Roberts in Leesburg. We met them last year at the Y2K Party in Harlingen, TX. They had to come off the road due to health considerations and now live north of Orlando. What a great community they live in. Their place is right on the water, which gives them easy access via their pontoon boat. They are hoping to get back on the road again someday, even if not full-time.
Diane and I had always wanted to attend the Tampa RV Supershow, which is held every January. We decided to do it this year since we were so close, so we signed up to stay at the fairgrounds for the five days of the show. The Veaches also wanted to go, so we drove over together and hooked up with the Holders: Don, Liane and son Tommy. The show provided an area for RVs to dry camp (i.e., no water, sewer, electric) and we signed up to do that for the five days of the show, which is one of the bigger ones in the country. It's always like being a kid in a candy store when there are so many RVs that one can walk through and kick tires. There were rigs valued from around $50,000 all the way up to super big rigs valued at $1.4 million. One day, there was a crowd hovering around one of these million dollar jobs and we found out it was just purchased by a celebrity, George Jones, the country singer. After a while, he came out and said hello and chatted with some of his fans. I wondered if he planned to drive that 45 foot behemoth or hire a driver. Probably the latter.
We all took a ride one day to a place that was known to have what is known as the best strawberry short cake in the world. Not that any of us needed to eat such a dish, but it sure was delicious.
My Aunt Mary and a couple of cousins live in the area, so I was able to avail myself of the opportunity to visit with her and one of my cousins. My aunt was married to a career Air Force guy, my Uncle Joe, and they got to do a lot of traveling when he was active. She told me that they always had the dream to do what Diane and I are doing, however, my Uncle Joe died young many years ago at somewhere around 56 years old. That was a sad time because he was really a cool guy. They ended up in the Tampa area, which is where my aunt still lives. I asked her if she'd like to come see some RVs and she said she would. So we drove over to her house to get her and brought her back to the show for a few hours. She enjoyed looking through some of the new, big rigs.
I also got to visit with my cousin Jay for a couple of hours. He is just a little younger than me and we always liked each other and got along well. When we were kids, my aunt and cousins rented a house on Long Island, which is where I grew up, while my Uncle Joe was overseas on a tour of duty. I can still remember the great times my brother and I had when we visited with those cousins as we did flips on their beds. Jay was always athletic and played ball and golf. One day back around late 1995, he was struck with a mysterious virus that left him paralyzed. It's called Guillain-Barre Syndrome, which is an acute (normally short-term) autoimmune disorder in which the body attacks its nerve fibers, leading to loss of function and paralysis. Unfortunately, Jay told me that the doctor didn't diagnose the problem right away, which resulted in a more severe case. It left him fully paralyzed, including the need for a breathing machine. Now, five years later, Jay has his upper body back and is in a wheelchair. I was amazed at the absolutely marvelous attitude he has about his illness, dealing "with the cards that are dealt to you". He told me that he will walk again within five years. So we made a date to play a round of golf in five years. I happened to be working in Tampa at the time Jay took ill, but it was so serious that I wasn't able to visit him. I was so happy to be able to see him when we were in Florida. Jay is an inspiration to me.
Diane and I always knew that when we finally got our motorhome, we would have a mural painted on the back that reflects our new lifestyle. We also knew that we would have it done by Dave Knoderer, aka "Letterfly", because he is one of the premier RV muralists in the country. He has a permanent site at the Lazy Days RV dealership in Sefner. We had been alert to scenes that we might like painted on the motorhome as we looked through magazines, postcards, other murals, etc. We visited with Dave in December and looked through his large archive of photos. We knew we wanted mountains, water, eagle, deer or elk. After spending some time looking through what he had, plus what we had collected, we decided on a photo that had the look we wanted for mountains and water, then Dave added the eagle and elk from other photos. You should have seen the final product as you entered the home page on our web site.
Our next stop would be to head to South Florida to visit my brother and his wife in Boynton Beach and play some golf for a week. I asked my mom if she would like to go down with us so she could visit with both of her sons at the same time. She said yes, so Diane and I drove up to Ocala to pick her up and bring her back to Lazy Days. Dave started the mural on a Monday and finished on Wednesday around noon. So we hit the road for South Florida by way of Brandenton. A neighbor of mine, Jeanne & Bill Berg, from when I lived on Long Island spend the winters there and I hadn't seen them for some 20 years. They lived two doors down from us. My mom also hadn't seen Jeanne for many years, so I asked her if she'd like to pay Jeanne a visit and she was excited at the prospect. We spent one night in Bradenton and had dinner and breakfast with them. My mom and Jeanne were so very glad to see each other again after all those years. It was a great visit.
The only place we could find with a site available in the West Palm Beach area was the Vacation Inn, which I knew was a resort. It cost $55 a night there, but if it's the only show in town, you suck wind and pay the price. Here's a summary of what you get for $55 per night.
1. the place really is very pretty. The lawns are well kept and the landscaping of palms and shrubs is beautiful.
2. the sites are level, concrete and fairly wide. However, the streets are VERY narrow. It was the tightest fit we had been in up to that time. I was not being very successful getting into the site because of a small concrete barrier the site owner across the road put in to keep rigs from cutting across the corner of his lot. It worked. I couldn't cut the corner. I think we would still be there trying to get in if it weren't for a guy who came out to help. He knew the trick to getting a big rig into the site and guided me in, and it still took a couple of maneuvers to do it. He told me a 45' Prevost was in there recently and had to cut across a landscaped area to get in and out.
3. for $55, I got a site surrounded by palms that blocked the view of the dish to the satellite, so no access. But they did have cable.
4. when I went to check in, I saw that the rate was $3 for extra folks. Since we were going to visit my brother, I picked up my mom to bring her with us. My brother lives 45 minutes south of the park, so the plan was for her to stay in the motorhome for one night before moving to my brother's place for the remainder of our stay in the area. Now, you ask, did I pay the extra $3? Well, I guess I went with the "don't ask, don't tell" philosophy. The lady in the office didn't ask, and I didn't tell. Hec, my mom is 4' 11" tall. How much water can this lady use in the shower? :-)
On the third day we were able to move to the Camping Resort of the Palm Beaches, which was still pricey at $29 per night, but seemed like a bargain after the Vacation Inn. Full-time RVers try to strike an average of somewhere around $10-15 per night for campground fees. We make up the difference in the higher cost campgrounds via a combination of low fees as part of membership campground organizations that we belong to and by doing some "dry camping" or "boondocking", which is camping without hookups. Parking in friends or relatives driveways also helps.
Our visit to South Florida lasted about a week during which I got to play golf with Charlie several times. Unfortunately, it wasn't a great scoring week for either of us, but it was fun to be together and out in the warm weather for a change. It goes without saying that we ate out a lot, including a great Chinese buffet place that Charlie wanted to take us to. What a price-performer that was, and the food was great. We met some of their friends they had met while playing golf a few years ago. They are from Canada and go down to South Florida for a few weeks every winter. What a wild and crazy bunch of folks. They invited us over to their condo for dinner one night and we had a grand time. Lots of fun and laughs. I also got to visit with a guy I used to work for back in the late 60s and early 70s, Ray Kiter. Charlie also knew Ray, so he set it up so we could meet at the Chinese restaurant. It's always fun to visit with people whom I haven't seen in a long time.
I had a commitment with my granddaughter, April, on February 9, so it was time to start moving north again. We stopped for a short visit for a couple of days with my mom in Ocala and then headed up to White Springs. I had been in email contact with Mark Nemeth for a couple of years as we were doing our research into RVs and RVing. However, our paths had never crossed. So when I found out he was spending the winter at a campground in White Springs, it was a perfect opportunity to visit with Mark. Diane's brother and his wife also live in that area, so we got to visit with them again. Meeting Mark was pretty great. He has one of the best RV lifestyle web sites, "Mark's Fulltime RV Adventure". It contains all kinds of great information, including technical stuff, travelogues, budget information, and more. He knew what kind of rig we had and recognized us as we were entering the Suwanee Valley Campground. Mark is workamping at Suwanee Valley and he showed us around. The evenings were chilly, but each night found a campfire going in the pit that Mark built.
We got lucky with our timing in arriving at the campground. We were going to arrive on Sunday, but moved it up a day to Saturday. That proved fortuitous and allowed us to participate in the park's "Steak Night". We invited Diane's brother, Jerry and his wife Janet, to come over to the park for the steak night. Suwanee Valley is owned by a young couple, Kevin and Jessica. They put on a great dinner: chicken ($5) or steak ($7) plus baked potato, caesar salad, roll, desert, soft drink. The meats were great. Very tender and tasty. Afterwards, as we sat around the big fire ring, Mike and Sherry Kraus came up and joined the group. I usually take about two minutes to find out something about new folks and I mentioned Mark's web site and "the Hofmeister's web site". WELL....it turns out Mike used to work for Ron Hofmeister when they lived in Michigan. How's that for a chance meeting? I told them about the campout that the Hofmeisters put on out in the Phoenix area in March and they said they would consider going.
Mark told me they sometimes do oysters and it happened that Kevin broke out a 60-count box bought at a Wal-Mart. He steamed them and served them with cocktail sauce. Add some beer and YUMMY! All this while sitting around a big campfire. Although it started getting a bit cool, we sat around the fire for about four hours. What a life.
Mark offered to cook dinner for us one night and he made the most delicious chicken divan. Another YUMMY! Not only does he live full-time in his rig at such a young age (envy envy), but he can build things, do slick stuff on his laptop and web site, and he can cook. We sure hope to cross paths with Mark again in the future.
Now here's a small world story for you. When we were motoring up I-75 to Suwanee Valley, a red car passed us and honked, so I honked back. The car slowed down and I passed it and the driver waved. So we waved back as we passed. We stopped for diesel fuel a few exits from the White Springs exit to tide us over until we could get to the Flying J, which would be cheaper. As we were getting out of the rig to pump the fuel, this lady comes up and says hi. It was Melanie. She was on her way back to Atlanta after a trip to Mt. Dora with her mom. What a hoot. The fuel islands were empty so we chatted for a while before they had to get back on the road. What are the odds? Small world. She said she saw the mural on the back of our motorhome from afar, and then saw it was a Dutch Star, and then saw the Roaming America words and then our names and knew it was us. Cool. WE also hooked up with Melanie and Wane when we were back in Atlanta in February and had a nice time at a Japanese restaurant. We even convinced Melanie to go out to Phoenix for the RVAMERICA Y2K rally in April.
Following our visit with Mark at Suwanee Valley it was time to head back up to Douglasville for a very important date that I had with my granddaughter, April. Sometimes things aren't fair in life and, unfortunately, April and Richard haven't had any contact with their father for a few years. Three years ago, April asked me if I would like to be her date for the Douglas County Daddy-Daughter Dance. Now this is not a small gig. It's a big thing and is limited to the first 75 couples who get tickets. The dance is for grades three through six and is a very popular event held every February around Valentine's Day. April was in the third grade that year and I told her that I would be glad to be her date. So I practiced my dance moves and got ready. You see, there is a dance contest for each grade level every half hour. The dance contest judges, who I'm not sure ever danced in their lives, come around and tap you out and get the participants down to three couples. Then there is a dance-off and the winner is voted on by screaming for your favorite dancers. If you have never heard 75 little girls screaming at the top of their lungs, let me tell you that it is ear shattering. April and I never won a dance contest, but we were never the first ones tapped out either. The winners always seemed to be the ones with dads, or granddads, who had little or no inhibitions on the dance floor. ;-)
This year was April's last Daddy-Daughter Dance, so I was honored to be her date one last time. It was always a fun evening and I always enjoyed seeing the range of folks who attended. I don't think I was the only grandfather at these dances. Either that, or there are some very old fathers, which is quite possible these days. There were guys there who were dressed in sneakers and jeans, and guys dressed in full tuxedos. There were girls dressed in slacks and blouse and girls dressed in prom-like gowns. Couples arrived in pickup trucks and stretch limos, and of course a Honda CR-V. There was the obligatory photo taken by a professional photographer (talk about a captive audience). The DJs that showed up each year were always very good at keeping the dance lively and moving. The snack buffet was always nicely set up . All in all, these were memorable experiences and it looked like everyone had a great time.
We had another reason for the trip to Douglasville and that was to help Theresa while she had her surgery for the cervical cancer that was found during her pregnancy. She scheduled it for this time frame because she knew that we'd be up for the dance and could assist in watching Ashley and Amanda. The surgery went well and the tests were negative, so it looks like they got it all and she will get tested every four months for a year just to be sure. Many of you followed little Ashley's progress as she went through a lot in her first three months on the planet, so I have included a few photos of Theresa, Ashley, and Amanda.
We also got to visit with Henry and Raven (another granddaughter) while we were back in the Atlanta area. Raven is now at the "terrible twos" stage, but a cutie nonetheless.
It has always been our primary goal to see the West and the time finally arrived for us to make the first leg of that journey. Our plans were to drive to the SKP park, Rainbow Plantation, in Summerdale, AL to hook up with John and Libby Veach. We would then make our way out to the Phoenix area together. It would be the first time that we would travel with another rig for a while. Diane's sister, Carol, and her family live in the Phoenix area and Diane has been excited about finally being able to spend some time in the area to visit with them. Our plan was to leave Douglasville on Friday, February 16, but some storms were coming through and we decided to sit them out in Jill's driveway rather than drive into them. So on Saturday we said all of our goodbyes and headed to Summerdale and the beginning of our journey out west. The next travelogue will document that journey.
Copyright © 2001, Roaming America with Rich & Diane Emond - All Rights Reserved
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