Friday, March 28, 2014

Re-acclimating to the USA

The purr of diesel engines all around me, I awoke to my first morning back in the USA at the Texas Welcome Center parking lot north of Laredo, Texas.  When I squeezed out of my rig to take Millie out, I realized one of these diesel engine rigs is not like the others!

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I stopped inside the Welcome Center to get properly “welcomed” back to the USA from a cheerful lady inside.  She filled up a complimentary “Don’t Mess With Texas” litter bag with a half-dozen pounds of brochures to tempt my next three weeks’ exploration of the state.

As I drove up I-35 towards San Antonio, there was no doubt I was now in Texas and back in the US.  Pickup trucks in Mexico usually drove slower because they were so comically overloaded with all sorts of household goods or farm supplies.  Whereas now back in the US, pickups sported big Texas-sized tires, and were rarely loaded with anything except fast-driving cowboys!

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Chicago was still in a deep-freeze, so when I heard my buddy Suzanne (TakeToTheHighway.com) would be spending a few weeks exploring West Texas, a plan was soon hatched for us to caravan and explore the area together.  But before heading out to the barren West, I needed to restock my pantry of US goods, so we decided to both meet up in San Antonio first for a few days.

Since Suzanne had to work, and I had lots of errand-running to do, we didn’t feel the need to pay for $50 a night campsites at the KOA or resort-type parks in the area, so when Suzanne found a campground online that was close to downtown for less than $30/night, it sounded like the perfect place.

I arrived to Dixie Kampground first and picked out our pair of sites in the quiet back of the “pecan grove”, right next to a long-term camper with a curious sign posted in front of his site to “Beware of the Aspharagos.” Never did find out what that meant, nor did we want to strike up a conversation with the guy to find out!

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On the other side of our Aspharagos neighbor was a junkyard of old half-standing trailers, rusting appliances, and old tires.  The view out the front of our Views was of this lovely “vintage” mobile home, complete with an outside bathtub and refrigerator!

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Beyond the lack of visual appeal though, the Dixie had a certain quirky charm to it.  Most campers were long-term residents with rigs as quirky as the occupants themselves including this old bread truck-turned-RV.

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Yes, the song Dixie refrained in our heads often while strolling this park…. “look away, look away, look away Dixieland!” but we actually both did come to like the friendly quirkiness of this place, and still preferred its character over any fancy RV resort filled with homogenous 6-figure RVs!

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Most of my days were filled doing mundane chores—grocery shopping at H-E-B and Trader Joe’s, dog food shopping at Petsmart, getting my hair cut, and getting my Sodastream carbonators and syrups restocked at Bed, Bath, and Beyond.

But one night, Suzanne and I happened to make it to the San Antonio Missions National Historic Site before sunset.  The missions themselves were already closed for the night, but I was able to get a few pretty exterior shots of Mission San José before a bride and her wedding photographer arrived!

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Suzanne got a few more shots of the Missions than I did, but my last shot of the Mission Espada caught the final rays of sunlight in it’s bell tower:

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I had one day of RV repair panic while in San Antonio.  The light in my fridge had been erratic ever since I bought the rig last Fall.  Sometimes it would come on when I opened the door, but sometimes it would not.  So, I finally decided to troubleshoot it while in San Antonio.  I discovered that the lamp bracket holding the light bulb had rusted and one of it’s prongs fell off into my hand as I removed the bulb.  I was able to easily unscrew the bracket and disconnect it’s power plug and figured I’d just look for a new bracket once I got home.  But the next morning, I discovered my fridge was now no longer running…ut oh! 

Fortunately, Suzanne had a spare ice cooler to loan me so all my new grocery purchases would not go bad.  I then set out to find my repair parts more urgently.  Thank goodness this happened in San Antonio, one of the very best places in the US for RV parts and service!  I was able to locate the needed parts just 30 minutes away in New Braunfels and by the afternoon was installing the shiny new parts into my fridge.

But, once installed, the fridge still would not work.  WTH???!!!! I checked the fuse panel in the converter, and found a burned out 5-amp fuse.  But, even after replacing it, the fridge would still not work.  By now, it’s almost 4pm on a Friday afternoon and panic is setting in.  I need a skilled repairman, and I need one fast!

A Google search revealed a mobile RV repair shop less than a mile away, so I called and left a message for San Antonio RV not holding much hope that they’d call me back before Monday. But within a few minutes, a cheerful tech named Alan called and said he’d be over within 30 minutes to take a look.

Sure enough, Alan’ bright orange truck rolled in a few minutes later and he started looking at the electrical connections inside the exterior rear access panel.  Within a couple minutes, Alan found the problem— the Norcold N611 fridges on these View-Navions has a second 5-amp fuse located inside an electrical box on the rear of the fridge.  It had blown out the same time my converter’s fridge fuse had blown (apparently, you’re supposed to turn the fridge off and disconnect power before unplugging the lamp bracket or thermistor power sockets).   Lesson learned!  Alan only charged me $42 for the service call which seemed like a complete bargain  for the grocery-saving rapid onsite repair!

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With that problem solved, I was now more than ready for some Friday night celebration!  Suzanne yanked off her corporate ball and chain, and we headed down to the Riverwalk for some drinks and fine dining. There was a Wine Bar with some good Yelp reviews that caught our attention, but when we arrived to the parking lot, we decided to stroll the Riverwalk first and discovered a short wait at the colorful Casa Rio Mexican restaurant, so decided to eat there instead.

We got a table right on the river, and soon began drinking our margaritas and sangrias and watching the tour boats glide by.  What a quintessential San Antonio experience!

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After dinner, we strolled the river’s edge around a big loop of restaurants and tourists attractions watching more boats go by.  What a lovely way to end the week and be welcomed back to the USA!

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Saturday turned rainy and colder.  I had more errands to finish up as Suzanne headed out on a soggy bike ride.  We decided to laze around our RVs in the afternoon before heading out to dinner. As we made our way back downtown around 6:00pm and saw a road sign, we both simultaneously exclaimed “we forgot the Alamo!”  We had planned to do a full sightseeing day of the Alamo and downtown on Saturday, but after the fridge repair diversion and crappy weather setting in, our Saturday had gotten completely discombobulated.

Well, if it was now too late to actually go inside the Alamo, the least we could do would be to do a quick drive-by shooting of it!  We quickly exited the expressway and made our way to the site, first passing this curious horse-drawn carriage at a filling station—do they pump out horse chow here perhaps?

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A few minutes later we were finally at the Alamo, an hour late and a dollar short, but at least we can now say we saw the outside of the building!

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We headed up to the newer part of the Riverwalk around the old Pearl Brewery and a collection of upscale restaurants surrounding the Culinary Institute of America (CIA).  IMG_8370

The vegetarian restaurant was curiously closed on a Saturday night, and many of the other restaurants looked rather empty and overpriced.  As it began to rain, we finally stumbled into the trendy, packed, and highly-praised Cured restaurant.  A large meat locker is on prominent display at the front of the restaurant—sort of like a little shop of vegan horrors with body parts hanging by their hooves and what not.  But the very friendly maitre d' assured us that the chef also served a vegan plate of fresh organic vegetables and rice, so we got the last 2 seats at the bar for our meal.  It actually turned out to be a terrific place, but I don’t think I’ll get that image of the meat locker out of my mind any time soon!

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Since Suzanne had to work again on Monday morning, we only had Sunday left to make our long drive out to West Texas.  But the Winnies did just great caravanning out I-10 together.  The drive was much more hilly and scenic than the flat plains I had anticipated.

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But as we neared Fort Stockton, the hills leveled out and oil derricks began to appear.

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It was Spring Break week in Texas where all school-aged children were now apparently being driven out to West Texas for their vacation by their RV-driving parents.  The state park didn’t have a vacancy for me until Tuesday, so I’d need to spend the next 2 nights boondocking solo while Suzanne drove on to Balmorhea.   Millie and I arrived to “Camp Wally” in Fort Stockton and were able to nab one of the last prime spots in the lot filled with RVs and Trucks.  Let the West Texas adventures begin!

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15 comments:

  1. I am enjoying your travelogue so much, but it is making my feet (or my wheels) itch!
    Blessings,
    Linda

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    1. Thanks Linda! Hope you can get rolling soon!

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  2. Good times, great photos! You guys are having a blast!

    I stayed in the same Ft. Stockton Wal-Mart. It's burned in my memory eternally. That's when I discovered the mouse in the house at 4:17 AM.

    In one of my most outrageous road experiences thus far, I found a gallant Texas gentleman in the Yellow Pages who happened also to be a exterminator. He kindly made a house-call and met me at Wal-Mart!

    By 6:30 AM, I was armed and ready to battle the mouse. What a trip!

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    1. Oh my, a 6am Fort Stockton exterminator! What a hoot (although, I'm sure it was not at the time!). Luckily for me, no critters came a callin'

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  3. So disappointed to read that you were in San Antonio for some time. Would love to have met you for coffee or lunch. Glad to hear you got to see some of the sites.

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    1. I'm so sorry Colleen. It was such a whirlwind couple of days. But I really liked the city a lot and know I'll be back to see more of it. I promise to catch you the next time!

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  4. San Antonio looks like a nice town. Another awesome post!

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    1. Indeed it is a nice town. Hope you can visit it someday!

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  5. Found your blog through your post in RVillage. I love your style of writing and I look forward to following your adventures. Terri from GreytRVadventures.com

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    1. Thanks Terri. Isn't RVillage great? I'm enjoying meeting new online friends there and seeing where everyone is at.

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  6. I am still laughing about the "Little Shop of Vegan Horrors." What a good sport you are to indulge your Cowman's Daughter friend. ;-) It is so fun seeing the same sites through your lens.

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    1. And equally fun for me to read your posts (which always seem to be much more timely and articulate than mine!).

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  7. Beautiful images, and what cool adventures. Thanks for sharing. I enjoyed this through and through. And while we're at it, hope to see you around during the A-Z Challenge.
    Silvia @
    SilviaWrites

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    1. Thanks Silvia. Yes, I'm looking forward to another A-to-Z Challenge!

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  8. omg … the meat locker! that's why I'm a vegetarian ~ for 99% of the time… still gotta have a cheeseburger to maintain my American citizenship… man!

    Beautiful photography … love the Riverwalk and I like quirky too

    It is really fun reading both yours and Suzanne's blogs … how we all see things. just love following you two.

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