Please help us find somewhere to live. See opinion poll.
Due to Jimmy’s American wanderlust we have a Plan, a sub plan and a sub sub plan. The Plan is to find somewhere to live. It gets lost sometimes. The sub plan is to see as many national parks as possible as we ramble around. The sub sub plan is to take in every city and town and place in America that has crossed his consciousness while growing up in 50’s and 60’s England.
Song titles and lyrics, film titles and settings have led us on detours of hundreds of miles from the see-the-national-parks route by veering off to Tombstone, Cheyenne, Chattanooga, Route 66, El Paso, Houston, Deadwood, Monument Valley, St. Louis (but only if you pronounce it Sint Lewie) Laramie, Key Largo, Dodge City, Tacoma, Garryowen, Big Rock Candy Mountain, Tallahassee, San Francisco, San Antonio (abbrev. San Antone), San Jose, Seattle, New York New York, Chicago and on and on in a maddening zig-zag across the United States. Our route from west to east and then west again looks like Zorro has attacked the map with his sword.
The Plan has also been partly determined by talking to people everywhere we go. The simple statement, “We’re looking for the perfect place to live,” always elicits an enthusiastic response. We’ve added thousands more miles to our groaning car’s odometer. Back tracking and unplanned side trips have taken us to these perfect places:
Asheville, North Carolina
Fernandina Beach, Florida
Fort Bragg, California
Sarasota, Florida (A realtor told us everyone in Sarasota was happy because the sun shone all the time and all the old people were on drugs. . This cheered us immensely after our drenching
Beaufort, South Carolina
La Conner,Washington State
Each place has been visited and is under consideration and this haphazard list will undoubtedly be expanded, explored and rated one to ten but we’ve come to suspect that local pride in one’s own state, town, community or vacation destination may be a source of prejudice against the rest of the country. As endearing as this is, we are learning to sift through people’s comments and opinions in the same way you would read with suspicion a real estate agent’s glowing description of an aging or surprisingly underpriced house.
Our needs and tolerances seem to be so very different from just about everyone we’ve spoken to. Are we expecting year round perfection where it just doesn’t exist, just like the perfect man (or woman, before himself cries foul!) doesn’t exist?
Where is your perfect place? Please help. We’ll go and have a look and give you all the credit.
We think that we rely on weather forecasts to plan trips in our trailer, where in fact we were oblivious to imminent wind storms that crushed RVs and blocked roads and then snow and ice that caused fatal accidents. Both storms followed us at a discreet distance up the west coast to our cosy apartment in Olympia and we viewed the all damage on TV. Still, we watched the forecasts in the belief that they would be correct before the weather happened. Often they are not. Predicting the capricious weather thrown at the Northwest by the Pacific is not easy so was often incorrect but the forecasts could be very entertaining.
Our favourite presenter by far was Whistling Sid. My guess was that he had some dental enhancement done and he hadn’t quite got the hang of his new pearlers. We listened eagerly for severe storms, snow and sleet, scattered showers, snow showers and scattered snow showers especially if they were predicted for Saturday and Sunday. Any weather in the 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s or 90’s ended with whistle – about a high C I would say or perhaps a C sharp.
One night Siskiyou Pass and Stampede Pass were expecting heavy snow with isolated snow showers in Seattle and Shelton. Heavy snow was expected on the eastern slopes and summits of the Cascades with scattered snow showers into Saturday and Sunday east of the Cascades as far as Spokane and Boise. Try saying all that with an emphasis on all the s-s-s’s. If it hadn’t been snowing outside our window we would have thought that a devious script writer had made it all up.
Sunny wasn’t mentioned. Whistling Sid didn’t seem to have much use for that word around Western Washington.
With or without Sid, we were just lucky to miss all the bad weather while puttering down the coast in our little box house.
A jolt of anxiety was what we got when we tried to check in online for our 15 hour flight from Sydney to San Francisco followed by a connecting flight to Phoenix. Our flight to San Francisco had been cancelled. After much angst and many now-what-are-we-going-to-do’s the airline sent an email to say we were rebooked on a flight to LA and onwards. We didn’t care for the seats we’d been allocated so tried to change them. That’s when the trouble started.
Darlene greeted us with a wan smile when we arrived the next day at the check-in desk before she began processing our reservations and passports.
“I guess the flight is full,” Jimmy said conversationally.
“It’s overbooked,” she said bluntly.
Out the window went our plans of asking her to reassign us some better seats.
“Have you checked in online?” she asked.
“We’ve no idea.”
She looked up from her busyness.
“We tried to change our seats before checking in and couldn’t so checked in then phoned the airline at the airport. She unchecked us but couldn’t change our seats either. We checked in again but had so many conflicting emails, we don’t know what we’ve done.” Darlene frowned and tapped her computer keys.
My suitcase had disappeared and passport and boarding card had been returned to me. Darlene studied Jimmy’s green card and continued to frown and tap.
“I’m just phoning the service desk. I’m sorry to keep you,” she said.
Jimmy looked worried. “I’m not on the flight,” he muttered. I began wondering where I’d packed my phone so we could call his daughter to come back to the airport and pick him up. We’d already been told by someone in the queue that the last seat on the flight had gone and no more seats were available until two days hence. How big is LAX? Would I find my connecting flight? And where was that taxi rank in Phoenix? Keys! Must get J’s keys. I left mine in the apartment. I was going to have to switch out of blond mode to get myself home.
But what I said out loud was, “She’s looking at your passport and checking your green card. We know there’s no problem with it. I’m sure everything will be fine.”
After another 10 minutes of deliberate non eye contact from Darlene, she finally shared, “You have a seat on the flight,” she said looking at me. “I don’t have a seat booked for you,” she said to Jimmy.
Darlene put her head down again and kept tapping. Jimmy started sweating. Other passengers checked in and came and went, came and went. We stood our ground. No one said a word. Another 5 minutes went by.
“37 E and F. Are they the seats you were booked on?”
“You’re both on the flight.”
“Don’t do that to me!” Jimmy cried.
Darlene’s facial muscles relaxed into a smile. “Can I offer you a piece of advice? Don’t phone the help desk. They’re helpless. They mess up people’s reservations and when the flight is full we can’t fix it.”
Good to know.
We’ll fly with Qantas next time.
Yes, yes, I know. I’ve just contradicted the title. I have to fly. I don’t have to love it. Do you love air travel?
Or maybe you will. I’d never befriended a cockatoo before.
On a slight departure from “adventures in a box on wheels in America,” we flew to Australia to visit family. I never imagined an apartment balcony in the suburbs would provide wildlife encounters. The cockatoos were initially cocktail time visitors, smelling the snacks and gate crashing our party, until one of them spotted me for the sucker I am and came to visit for morning coffee as well. He didn’t care for the previously offered corn chips but took one from my hand, laid it at his feet, backed away from it and looked at me as though I’d given him a piece of cardboard. I found a vege chip for him. He took it politely, put it down, backed away again and looked at me plaintively. I had just insulted him.
Running out of options and not wishing to completely empty our hosts store cupboard, I chanced a few extravagantly priced walnuts. They hit the spot with this now picky bird. One at a time, he took them from my fingers, ate each one delicately as though savoring a truffle. Each walnut was prized and eaten thoughtfully, an exercise in mindful eating, something I’ve never been able to master.
At the Sydney Royal Botanic Garden the ibis practiced gang techniques and pressured tourists into paying protection tidbits. They would circle tables at the cafe and stare, getting closer and closer. Quite large birds, eyeballs nearly at table height, they intimidated a group of English people into sharing their tea cakes. When the group left the table the ibis swooped, whisking crockery aside to look for crumbs while smashing plates on the patio slabs. Those of us with stronger wills against rogue birds were greatly entertained as we finished every last morsel of our own food.
Gimme cake or else!
Hmmm. Let’s see what we have here.
What’s this? Shake, shake, shake. Oops! Did I knock a plate off the table?
The second sitting at the tea table didn’t last long as the long-suffering waitress shooed off the ibis with her dustpan and brush.
Back at the balcony Coop the cockatoo showed up twice a day until the nuts ran out.
Cockatoo or cockatiel? Do you know the difference? I believe Coop was a cockatoo with a beak strong enough to smash Brazil nuts. He gently nipped my index finger to show displeasure with my offering of inferior hors d’oeuvres but I could have lost a finger. Or several!
Yoohoo! It’s me!
Knock. Knock. I know you’re in there. C’mon. Let me in!
We had a little blip with the electrical system in the trailer this morning. It turned itself off. Somebody plugged the toaster in when the fan heater and microwave were on. I’ll spare you the boring science lecture about watts and amps and volts and just say that you can’t do that. You’ll blow a fuse, or at least that’s what we thought.
A trip to the local “country” market – which sold and wildly overcharged for everything from dune buggies to beef jerky – ensued for a replacement fuse. When we returned to the trailer several dollars lighter, but with coffees, postcards, huggies with funny sayings for soda that we don’t drink, decorative fishing lures when we don’t fish and fuses, we spent ten minutes looking for the fuse box as it was cunningly hidden behind a camouflaged panel.
We pulled each fuse out of the fuse box squinted at the old fuse, shrugged, put the new one in the empty slot – nothing – pulled the new one out, put the old one back again and went on to the next circuit, seven times. With the same result each time – nothing. This involved a prone position to get to the conveniently located fuse box and a pair of needle-nose pliers to pull the stubborn little devils out. Marital harmony was displayed as we each took a turn – neither trusting the other to do it correctly – without arguing.
Whilst reclining on the cold floor staring helplessly at the fuse box, the machinations of the circuit breaker, repeat circuit breaker, suddenly became evident. Flip the switch, whir, whir – sorted! Toaster, heater, action! Fuses weren’t needed at all.
There’s only one good thing to say about this latest ordeal. That “somebody” mentioned at the start wasn’t me!
I’m going to tell you something which you may feel is just a little bit too much information so you may skip this if you are squeamish. There are certain jobs on RVs that involve tanks: filling – that one is okay, and emptying – not so much.
There are two tanks that require emptying on an RV, unlike at home where you pull a plug or flush and don’t give it another thought. One tank fills with what is referred to as grey water, which is water from the sinks and bath or shower. The other tank fills with black water and I’ll leave you to figure that one out.
Whilst emptying the black tank, it was my duty to strike a ballerina pose, balancing on one foot and trapping the door to the septic tank in the ground on to our outlet hose with a delicately pointed toe. Being a princess I certainly I didn’t want to touch it with my hand. It was all going swimmingly (try not to think about that literally) until Jimmy and I began to chat, I used my arms to gesture and lost my balance.
Two options came to mind, neither of them choice. I could keep my foot on the trap and fall onto my hands in the channel where our and other people’s sewage overflow runs. Or I could let go of the trap with my foot to catch my balance and let the hose fly mid flow.
A similar scenario from many years ago flashed through my mind. In a cottage far, far away the septic tank chap with his truck turned up, unreeled the big hose from the (already partly full) truck, inserted the hose into the septic tank, much like we were doing, but as it was his job to “collect” sewage made the mistake of pushing the wrong button on the truck – blow instead of suck. The wildly snaking hose deposited “it” everywhere – up the walls, in the trees, over the roof, coating the windows and flowing under the door to pool ankle-deep in a downstairs apartment.
So as an alternative I screamed, ‘CATCH ME!’ shrieked, ‘QUICK!!!’ and began frantically windmilling my arms backwards as I tilted ever forwards for an agonizing two seconds before an hysterical Jimmy took a baby step forwards to save me. I was less amused than he, so hung on to him and made him stand downwind with me and my still prettily-pointed foot as punishment for his mirth and less than lightning reactions.
I made fun of Jimmy. No change there then he would say. Walking to the Pacific shore from our secluded campsite on a sheltered path amongst scrubby shore pines, he stopped suddenly, grabbed my arm and said, “Listen. Sea lions.”
“Yeah, sure,” I said laughing.
“Yes. I heard it. Don’t be silly. It’s not sea lions.”
“Yes it is.”
“Well where are they? Hiding in the sand dunes? Camouflaged by the sea grass? Sunbathing on the beach? Arguing over brunch in their RV? There must a dog kennel over there somewhere.” I waved my hand in the general direction of the barking and waltzed off not taken in with his fanciful imagination for one moment.
It’s funny how, at a certain age, information surfaces in the brain, briefly, and then sinks without trace, but if you can hook it, reel it in and throw it into the hold of memories before it sinks it could stop you making a fool of yourself.
The next day, driving towards the local town of Newport, Oregon, I saw a sign for the Historic Bayfront and remembered having read something fascinating about it in the guidebook before we set off on our trip. But what? It wouldn’t come to me.
We swooped off the main road and parked in town beside the picturesque fishing fleet. As we got out of the car a cacophony of barking sea lions filled the fishy sea air. There were dozens of the blubbery creatures, some reputedly weighing up to a tonne, wallowing on the rocks and low-lying jetties, sunning themselves and napping. Like so many giant slugs, a great heap of sea lions appeared to form an island in the middle of the harbour. They slept on their backs. They slept on their fronts. They held tricky yoga poses. They lifted their faces to the sun, eyes closed, like New York office workers on their lunch break. But the sea lions that weren’t napping were barking. Just like dogs.
Oh yes, I remember now. I read about that in the guidebook.
I have to say, Jimmy did not gloat with triumph as I would have done. It was definitely this barking we had heard the day before and the sound had travelled a good four miles to us on the beach. We admired them from the fishing wharf until we were too cold, went for a walk, had some lunch and came back to see that many of them had not moved.
You might think one sea lion looks much like another but number “95” – distinguished by a brand on his butt – had not given up his prime position with his harem. Apparently a bull will protect his cows, as many as thirty of them, and go for weeks without food to herd them because the cows are not particularly faithful! The greedy devil! The cows!
So I stand corrected. He did hear sea lions. I was wrong and he was right, but don’t tell Jimmy. He likes to write down these occasions in his book.
I tried to spell the barking noise. Is it EU! EU! EU! or EUW! EUW! EUW! or OOOH! OOOH! OOOH? I guess you had to be there.
Our first stay in our brand, spanking, new trailer was at Fort Stevens, an Oregon State Park on the coast. We stayed from Monday to Friday to endure all the previously mentioned disasters/mishaps/stupidities and then returned to our apartment. On that Sunday the Pacific delivered one of its howlers to the west coast, downed many tall trees and knocked the power out from thousands of homes in Washington and Oregon.
We returned to Fort Stevens with the trailer a week later as a staging post on our way further south congratulating ourselves that we had ridden out the storm in the relative safety of our apartment. On arriving we discovered that in just one small loop of the 495 site campground, six once-soaring conifers had been blown down, hoisting their alarmingly small root systems from the horizontal to the vertical. The downed trunks, what was left after the rangers had been busy with their chainsaws, pointed this way and that, but amazingly none of them had come down across a campsite. Nevertheless, we were unnerved.
The campground was almost unrecognizable with more light penetrating from the now thinned tree canopy, branches piled high on the roads and verges, and the occasional unscathed RV surrounded by tree rubble looking like a ship tossed up on the beach after a storm.
The fir tree’s root system seemed not to be enough to cope with the fir’s towering height, the tallest in the area except for the coast redwoods. It is possible for densely grown trees to interlock their roots. Would that mean that should there be more ferocious winds they would hold each other up or would one weak link bring down its whole circle of friends?
We maneuvered carefully through the tree detritus and looked for a site out of range of the remaining trees. Not possible. We chose a spot, prayed that our tree neighbors had re-established their grip in the week since the storm and had a very uneasy night.
The next day the rangers were still working to clear the sites of brush and ankle-deep needles. I approached Ranger Bob and asked him, “So what kind of damage do these trees do if they come down on you? Would they slice through your trailer like butter?”
“Oh, yeah.” he told me candidly.
“So you could be killed then?”
“Oh, easily!” he told me with glee. We moved on right after breakfast . . . . . to a campground with smaller trees.
Explain to me the logic of returning to that same dealer for our next purchase. Could it have been that we’d trashed the engine on the Chevy Tahoe we bought from them using it to tow a heavy travel trailer twice around the United States so would feel some vindication trading it back to them? Were we feeling too good about ourselves and felt the need for a little abuse? Was it bad karma that for a second time when searching for a vehicle that only this dealer in the whole of the State of Washington had the exact make and model that suited Jimmy? Were the Gods sending us back there to punish us for some heinous crime we were unaware of. Perhaps we were too trusting in human nature. Or were we just stupid?
Disregarding the wrecked engine and gearbox which wouldn’t make itself apparent if it was trialled on the level busy roads around the dealership, Jimmy had studied the trade-in and retail value of the Tahoe and knew to within a few dollars its worth. After a satisfactory test drive in a new truck to pull our trailer, Jimmy quizzed the salesman. There was no sign of Teddy if you’re wondering. “What’s the towing capacity of the truck?”
“That’s the weight of the truck. What’s the towing capacity?”
“I don’t know.” Jimmy knew the answer. The salesman didn’t. Jimmy gave me one of his looks. Here we go again. All I knew was that I wanted the truck because it had a cool reversing camera.
After an appraising glance over our Tahoe, Jimmy was invited into the showroom to talk money. I can’t tell you anything about the salesman as I was trying to close down my radar to anyone involved in car sales after previous experiences.
I was languishing in our Tahoe when Jimmy, hotly pursued by the salesman, came steaming out of the sales office and yanked open my door. “They’ve offered me $8,000 trade-in!”
“You’re kidding!” I said.
“No. Wait a minute! Wait a minute!” trilled a harassed voice.
“That’s an insult!” Jimmy said.
“Come back in the showroom!” said the voice on the edge of panic.
“C’mon. Let’s go.” I said.
“Don’t go!” pleaded the voice.
“I don’t know why I came here in the first place,” said Jimmy.
“Wait, Jimmy. Don’t go!” The salesman, on the verge of a breakdown, obviously needed a few more lessons in the art of negotiation.
The lure of the perfect vehicle was not going to overcome common sense this time. Or was it? The sales manager, not the
lumberjack from the Tahoe purchase but a younger, more thrusting and aggressive man we’d been introduced to briefly before the test drive came running out of the showroom anxious to salvage the sale. His only similarity to the previous sales manager was his dress sense. His rumpled apparel wasn’t fit for a charity shop. So desperate and unprofessional was he that he actually grabbed Jimmy by the arm to stop him getting away! He wasn’t offering any more money, just using a rather surprising bullying sales technique. Jimmy struggled to extricate himself, got in the car, closed the door and started the engine. Why did we go back there? Why? Why? Why?
Driving away, my pulse and blood pressure began to slide down. The throbbing in my head had started to ease when Jimmy’s phone rang. He checked the number and didn’t answer. “It’s them,” he hissed as I continued with my stress-reducing deep breathing exercises. Five minutes later his phone rang again. Same number. I was chanting mantras now, peeeeace and serenity, calm, calm, caaaalm . . . . .
I’m sure anxiety over car purchases is now firmly fixed in my cell DNA. I may need therapy.
There is, however, a happy ending. A few days later, at a Chevrolet dealer just a few miles away from where we were staying in our RV we encountered a polite, laid-back salesman who offered Jimmy $13,000 trade-in for the Tahoe. Better still, he did a deal with the previous unmentionable dealership and got the truck we wanted, at the price we wanted. The icing on the cake was that the unmentionable dealership diddled themselves out of $1500 on the paperwork transaction which came off the final price!!!
We love our Chevy. Car salesmen? Not so much. Not all of them.