Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Adios Memphis!

The reluctance of other people to try something new always amazes me. And with that said our month-long stay in Memphis has come to an end.

Frankly, Memphis has been a city that I had only given passing thought to in the past, but after being there, has certainly impressed me.

If you are a fan of rock and roll music then Memphis is a mecca that we should all visit. The influence of Elvis, both in music and movies, practically speaks for itself, and Memphis is practically a shrine to Elvis, even well outside the confines of the Graceland estate and museums.

Numerous other musicians can trace their roots to Memphis, the blues, and the Sun and Staxx Records systems. Elvis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, BB King, W.C. Handy, Rufus Thomas, Ike and Tina Turner, Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, the Staple Singers, Delaney and Bonnie, Wilson Pickett, Luther Ingram, Albert King, the Bar-Kays, Booker T. & the MG's (the MG's included Steve Cropper and Donald "Duck" Dunn, best known to those of us of a certain generation as most of the Blues Brothers Band). Memphis has made an amazing, amazing contribution to American music.

Memphis is hugely influenced by New Orleans, and no place in Memphis celebrates the perpetual party of good music and good times quite like the heart of Beale Street, which reminds a person of Bourbon Street, but without Bourbon's puke in the gutters.

Or Bourbon Street's adult entertainment district, but that's beside the point.

But all good things must come to an end, and San Antonio, Texas is our next stop. The Kampgrounds of America at Graceland (yup, Elvis' very own trailer park) has been our home for a month but it's time to go.

For more info on Memphis, and great places to see and to go to, I encourage you to check out my Memphis articles at the Examiner at http://www.examiner.com/x-14975-San-Antonio-Road-Trip-Travel-Examiner

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Collected travel articles

I am starting to get my travel articles organized at the San Antonio edition of Examiner.com. The first one up is a short piece on the ferry at Los Ebanos, TX, the last hand-operated ferry on the Tex/Mex border. Check out either my home page (www.PirateJohn.com) or my Examiner page (http://www.examiner.com/x-14975-San-Antonio-Road-Trip-Travel-Examiner) for links to those articles.


Friday, May 15, 2009

Greetings from Tunica, Mississippi!

We've been hangin' out at the RV park at Sam's Town Casino in Tunica, MS for several days. I expect that we'll move to the Graceland RV Park (yup, Elvis' own trailer park! ) in a day or two.

The bike rode just fine but I haven't unloaded it because we've had steady winds, rains, and I anticipate moving soon anyway. Been down on Beale Street already and checked out the ML King assassination site. I'm looking forward to our anticipated month-long stay in the Memphis area.


On a personal note Deb's mom continues to hang in there as her chemotherapy continues. Deb and her family are trying to make arrangements for the care of her father as it is painfully obvious that with or without his wife he is no longer able to care for himself.


On an entirely different subject Deb got a call from a friend telling us that they expect to shut down one of our favorite watering holes. I have known these folks since, literally, I first settled in Jacksonville almost 15 years ago. To say that the economy sucks is to be nice about it. Take care Kathryn and Darrell. If things come to pass I hope that we see y'all down the road again some day.


I'm not too big on conspiracy theories even if I do study them for future writing projects. But my visit to the Lorraine Hotel and the King assassination site gave me some chills. Why? I am sure that most of us have seen the above photo of Dr. King as he lay dying and his associates pointing to where the shot came from. That's because, once you see the scene in person, you realize that the rooming house where the assassin supposedly fired the shots was NOT in the direction that everyone is pointing towards.

Stay tuned. More research is in order here.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

It don't get much better than this!

On the road again and headed to Memphis, TN.  I am sitting here at a Pilot Truck Stop in Valdosta, Georgia as I type this.  Ate dinner at the nearby Waffle House and that experience practically drove me - running - back to the Wanderlodge so that I could drink a couple of shots of mezcal to get the Waffle House taste out of my mouth. Here I am running the A/C, watching the TV, and surfin' the net as the sun goes down and the lot lizards commence their nightly mating calls on the CB radio. 

Doesn't get much better than this, right?

 This will be the first run of the latest modifications to my trailer, and I am carrying a motorcycle as well as the Rover.  So far, maybe 150 miles into the trip, things are riding well although I did notice a tiny dent in my Conch Republic front license plate that looked suspiciously like the crash bars from the bike caught it.

Oh well. Land Rovers and gnarly touring motorcycles are supposed to be a bit beat and rusty. They are meant to be used and used hard and often. There are no trailer queens in my little fleet.

On top of that I am personally becoming increasingly annoyed at the New Keys tourists whose idea of something adventurous is to try a different drink flavor at Margaritaville.  Those people have no clue about the Keys when Key West was a working community and the last outpost for scoundrels, smugglers, and the military. That bent Key West vanity plate represents the antithesis of the matronly and cranky New Keys women, who fly in from Heathen Northern regions, and then proceed to complain about the heat and the uncivilized, crazy men of the Keys as they wear their fake Hawaiian shirts from one tourist trap to another.

There.  Thanks for letting me vent ;)

Anyway, more photos of the traveling circus:

The shop here at the Pilot gave me a good price on an oil change.  The reliable ol' Detroit takes 7 gallons of oil and the particular oil that the "experts" on Detroit Diesels recommend is pretty hard to obtain.  I ordered some before I left JAX so with a little luck we'll be taking care of that project tomorrow.  We would have changed oil tonight 'cept that they couldn't get the trailer in the shop bay and I was too tired to unload the Rover and drop the trailer.  Tomorrow, however is another day, as they say.

Turns out that Graceland has an RV park.  That's right - I will be staying in Elvis' very own trailer park while in Memphis.  I'm also getting there in time for the Memphis in May bar-b-que contest, so there should be some tales coming out of this trip.

Stay tuned!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Catching up

Blogs.  Gotta love them.  I have actually started blogging on three different subjects since I returned from the Tex/Mex border, and never finished nor posted 'em.  It's been a busy several weeks.

For those of you that really, really badly want to keep in touch I would encourage you to add the ol' Pirate to your friends over at Facebook.com.  Just search for the email address "PirateJohn@aol.com" and my real world persona should pop right up.


Seemingly nothing will stop Daytona Bike Week, whether it's the shifting sands of local politics or a world wide economy rapidly going down the drain.  Still, a reduced-content Bike Week isn't exactly a sign of good things.

A few years ago the City Fathers (and some would argue a few City Muthas) on the Daytona Beach City Council decided that they wanted to limit Bike Week and the associated noise and traffic congestion.  The same Powers That Be even hinted - strongly - that if the bulk of this disorganized event were to move away from Daytona Beach then it wouldn't break any hearts.

Fair enough.  Just sometimes you have to be careful about what you wish for.  Because you might get it.

When the Daytona Beach City Council were agitating to reduce the scope of Bike Week the big Harley-Davidson dealership that was located near downtown Daytona Beach announced that they were going to move their facility to a spot at the intersection of US 1 and I-95, out in what was then the sticks near the not-so-big metropolis of Ormond Beach, FL.  

Since then Destination Daytona (http://www.destinationdaytona.com/) has grown into a multi-hundred acre site that encompasses not only Bruce Rossmeyer's glittering H-D dealership, but other bike dealerships, a hotel, a truck stop, specialty stores and so forth.  

With some of the traditional biker bars and camp grounds not too far away on US 1, much of the emphasis - and traffic - of Daytona Bike Week has indeed shifted out of Daytona and into Ormond Beach.

The bottom line is that on the final Saturday of Bike Week you could really tell that the crowds that used to line and congest Main Street were somewhere else.  Either they were on US 1 (which was backed up for miles when I rode across it on I-95) or everyone stayed home to save their nickles and dimes.

My gut feeling is that attendance, in general, was well down.  Forget whatever official stats come out because most of them have a vested interest in promoting a healthy Bike Week.  There simply weren't as many folks out and riding in and around Daytona Beach as in previous years.

Trust me folks, when attendance is down at Bike Week this country is in a world of hurtin'

There are plenty of folks that have been going to Daytona for decades and decades, and who plan their yearly vacations around this one event, which is a sacred rite of passage for motorcyclists. So if those folks are staying home ... well, you do the math.

Here's one of the downtown Daytona Beach streets, which used to be just absolutely packed on Saturday:

Even the cops looked bored (notice the "Rent Me" sign on the cop's Segway wheel):


One of my many passions in life is Formula 1 auto racing.  

One of my few frustrations in life is Dish System satellite television.

Dish System simply isn't geared up for folks that are full-time RV'ers.  They expect you to have a satellite installation at your home, and then they will be happy to sell you a second installation for your RV.  

So I went without satellite TV for a few months until I discovered that Dish has a pay-as-you-go system that supposedly doesn't care where you are hidin' out.

In theory, that works for me because the only times that I want to watch premium channels are when Formula 1 runs on the Speed Channel, every second week or so.

That's the theory.  The reality is that Dish's billing computer has been down for over 24 hours for "routine maintenance" and I wasn't able to get the Chinese (Shanghai) Grand Prix broadcast.

So I wound up watching the F1 telecast at a bar, and struggling to hear over the sound of the juke box.  Nice.

What did catch my attention, and frankly astounded me, is that there is a new team on the track. Not only a new team, but in a sport where winning dynasties take place over years and decades, they have won the first two races of the season!

So what's the story?  Where did these guys come from?

A few months ago Honda suddenly announced that they were withdrawing from F1 after a lackluster few years.  It would appear that the former Honda team manager, Russ Brawn, was able to quickly put together a financial package and he bought the team.  Renamed Brawn Mercedes, the team proceeded to junk the Honda engines and struck a deal with Mercedes for the same engines that had been going into the Mercedes-McLarens that won the World Championship last year.  

Previously written off as has-beens and non-performers, drivers Jenson Button and Rubens Barichello seized the opportunity.

The results?  Button and Barichello were 1st and 2nd at the F1 races in Australia and Malaysia, and then 3rd and 4th respectively in China as the Renault/Red Bull team - itself one of the newer teams - decisively demonstrated that they had the preferred solution for the heavy rains of Shanghai.

This is going to be an VERY interesting F1 season!

Note that the Brawn cars are so new that they don't even have proper sponsors,  although Virgin did have some lettering on the cars in China:

Supposedly Russ Brawn pulled the team together in 6 weeks.  Just amazing!


On a personal note, I'm about at the end of my maintenance projects here at the Jacksonville workshop.  

Tie downs for a motorcycle have been added to my trailer and I'll test that out in a day or two by taking the red GS down to Tom High's shop in Deland so that he can swap engines. 

The flooding in the Midwest has eased and at this time there is no reason to think that FEMA will need any subcontractors to help with the specialties that we are trained for.

So I am probably going to have to start taking a hard look at making some $$$ to fund future travels and future projects.

The real estate business here in Florida is past being dead (think in terms of the corpse moldering) and with a large inventory of unsold houses there isn't much hope for a rapid recovery, although I will have to say that Northern Florida seems to be doing better financially than Southern Florida.

Soooooooo ... I've been making some serious noises about going back to Texas, where the economy is obviously better.  Deb agrees.

I'd really like to go back to the Rio Grande Valley.  The only problem is that the Rio Grande Valley looks like one of the tougher places to get a job if you aren't bilingual.  So is it better to move from one of the better economical areas in a depressed state to a tough place in a better performing state?  That may be a lateral move but at least it would put us within a few hundred miles of Houston, where the economy obviously is thriving.

It would also put me on the border where I can ride my motorcycles and explore.  Tough gig!

Decisions, decisions.

On top of that Deb's Mom is in a hospital in Memphis as I write this and Deb has traveled to Memphis to be with her.  Deb's father is in the later stages of Alzheimer's so Deb and her family have their hands full.  

Stay tuned.  If Deb's not back in a few weeks I may be firing up the Bluebird to head to Texas by way of Tennessee.  Beale Street, here we come!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

269 miles to go

I am waking up in a rest area in rural western Florida and see that there is a sign right in front of me that sez "Overnight trailer parking and camping prohibited."  Presumably that doesn't apply to Pirates.  Nor to the other folks who got here at about the same time that I did last night and who are still here.

Finding a place to park last night was tough.  My goal was to get to the Lucky Thirteen truck stop but I guess things haven't been so lucky for them lately 'cause they were out of business!


The ol' Bluebird is pretty tough to drive.  I am constantly reminded that I have my entire house right behind me and my SUV on a trailer, and that an accident is unthinkable.  As RV's go this one is quite road worthy but it's simply big - bigger than most trucks with the trailer attached. For a variety of reasons it's tough to see out of after dark.  Acceleration should be measured with a calendar rather than a stop watch, and the brakes meet specs but you definitely don't want to have to do a panic stop.  

Consequently a 350 mile day is usually a long day for me.  From what I have heard and seen that's about right for most RVs.  I can cruise around 60mph on level roads but I discover that the folks that pass me in other RVs spend more time on the side of the road resting than I do.  

A couple of days ago I ran into this couple with a newer Bluebird. They passed me three times that day. They were running quicker but stopping more often.


I am seeing bunches of folks on motorcycles who are carrying luggage and heading eastbound, so I presume that they are all going to Daytona Bike Week.  The Iron Butt Association also has a dinner in Jacksonville tomorrow (Friday) and I expect to see some of my pals riding in for that. (Note: obviously I wrote this a few days ago and for the folks that made it to the IBA dinner I apologize 'cause I missed it!)

Here is a group of Harley riders at the Pensacola rest area just after you cross the bay:


RV's are like boats.  They are all about maintenance.  The constant pounding and vibration when traveling breaks things and disrupts other things.  Sometimes it gets them working again, however.

The 'bird has three LP gas heaters, supplemented by built in electric heaters and a system that draws heat from the engine coolant when you are on the road.  One of the LP gas heaters quit in Texas.  It must have been some sort of debris in the intake, because it's working just fine now.

Wish that I could say the same for my computers.  I have two tower units, a laptop on a docking station, and a micro Sony that's about the size of two Palm organizers all mounted in or on my desk, and they use a switch so that I control everything with one keyboard, one mouse, and one LCD monitor.  Something must be loose because the computers seem to be booting but are slow to display on the monitor.  Sheesh.  And after the keyboard hit the floor yesterday for the 100th time the Control key doesn't seem to be working.


I have been showering every morning but after 4 days am getting short on water.  Thankfully I should be at our workshop tonight and I can fill the tank back up.  Still ... hot water and a real shower whilst in a truck stop parking lot or a rest area is pretty civilized.  I pinch myself with how well this stuff is working but when we originally bought the Bluebird the water pressure was low and we had leaks in the system, so it has taken quit a bit of work to get to this point.


On my first day of travel along coastal Texas I recorded a little bit better than 6.5 miles per gallon, which is considerably better than the 5 mpg that I had been expecting.  The old two stroke Detroits are reliable and powerful for their size but they are thirsty and smoggy.  They also have a reputation for spitting out oil and leaking, but I will have to say that mine is pretty civilized.

I fueled at a small truck fuel stop on the US side of the Progreso crossing and fuel was $1.93 a gallon.  That contrasts with almost $5 a gallon in Florida when we left last summer.  

One of the appeals to the Rio Grande Valley is that Mexico has kept fuel prices stable for years and while the exchange rate has varied quite a bit fuel at the Petro stations in Mexico has generally run about $2.20 a gallon.  I had planned to run across the border and refuel but as luck would have it diesel is actually cheaper right now in the States than it is in Mexico.


Folks just joining me on Facebook who commented that they were enjoying reading my travel tales are probably thinkin' "well ... he's going to be home tonight and that will end the series." Wrong Kemo Sabe ... I have a fair amount of material from Mexico yet to be posted.  Be scared!


Each cat has a different attitude when it comes to traveling.

As soon as the big diesel engine fires the Big Grey Cat dives under the couch and stays there until I stop for the night.  

Coyote sometimes sleeps on the bed but she usually rushes under the couch as soon as I get ready to move and hangs out with Greyness.  She comes out for a snack when I stop.  When we moved the 'bird around locally in Jacksonville she used to snooze on the dashboard but by and large she likes a more secure location when traveling.

The Siamese?  Sheesh.  She has wayyyyyyyyyyyyy too much energy and is fearless.  She walks around, and divides her sleeping time between the passenger seat and the bed.   Whenever I stop she spends her time starring out the window, bird watching.

Here she is, this morning, perched on top of the driver's seat head rest:


Here is a man that I really feel sorry for.  This is in a Florida rest area somewhere to the west of Tallahassee.


I got into Jacksonville safe and sound on Thursday night and parked in the large lot behind a friend's bar.  Deb was waiting inside and we just generally had a blast.  The next morning I fired up the 'bird and drove a few miles for a leisurely breakfast, then parked the motorhome and trailer back at my workshop.  

It's good to be home but y'know what?  I'm ready to go again, and I really miss Texas!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

More random thoughts on travelin'

Here is a perfectly good example of why truckers and anyone hauling anything on the highway needs to check their straps, ropes, chains, or bubble gum regularly.  This is one of the four straps holding my Land Rover onto my trailer. There was a metal end on that one strap once - 60 minutes earlier when I last checked it.  

Nothing quite like losing your SUV in the middle of I-10 to ruin your day, I always say.


When I am traveling by RV I stop quite a bit at truck stops.  I used to own a truckin' company and, as a consequence, am painfully aware of the good and the bad of truckstop culture.  One thing that I discovered a long time ago is that the vast majority of truckstop food doesn't agree with me.  I used to know all the truckstops that had decent restaurants nearby.  Last night I walked down the road maybe half a mile to eat at a Chinese place. Hallelujah!  It wasn't great, but it beat the buffet at the Petro by the proverbial mile.


Truck stops vary widely in quality.  Flying J caters to RV folks and regular motorists, and they tend to be my first choice to stop in.  Some small truck stops are ...well ... just nasty.  There is no way around that.  I wouldn't let my cats eat in some of those places.


I spent last night (March 3rd) at the Petro in Hammond, LA.  The place gave me sorta bad vibes after dark but I didn't have any problems.  RV'ers there are in a separate lot next to the main parking area, which is a good thing because the main part of the truck stop was absolutely full last night.

Finding a place to stop and spend the night used to be an issue for years with truckers, and from what I can see it hasn't gotten any better.


You run into some odd people at truck stops.  Normally, I like "different" folks but the odd ones take some understanding.  Like the folks living out of their cars.  Or the guy that I asked to move last night so that I could back into a parking space.  He was probably harmless enough but he was in a pickup truck with all his possessions, and I could see a dog and a cat keeping him company in that cramped little truck.  And he was wayyyyyyyyyyy spaced out, I assume on too much driving and not enough sleep.  Whew.

And over the years I have seen some fights and the cops called out to truck stops in crazy episodes that would shame a biker bar.

With that said, there are some awfully nice folks out there too.  Sort of a brotherhood of the road. A camaraderie of folks that are constantly on the move.  They look out for each other.


The Hammond Petro has a decent movie theatre and I watched the last half of the latest Batman flick (The Dark Knight) last night.  The ending was a bit weak, I thought, but the late Heath Ledger as the Joker was an excellent and inspired performance, and quite different from all of the other Jokers that we have seen on film or TV.  Well worth watching.


You see some interesting sights at truck stops.  A flatbed just pulled in and there is a military Hummer on the trailer that is missing the left rear wheel and has quite a bit of rear body damage.  Bomb explosion, perhaps?  Yikes!


Texas generally has excellent roads.  From Mission to Houston was fine.  But I-10 around Beaumont has been under construction since I owned my truckin' company, and that's been almost 20 years.  That's silly.  

Houston traffic is so aggressive it's unreal.  And Bubba, I'll give you a hint:  When I light up all seven (7) fricken turn signals on the side of the motorhome and trailer that doesn't mean to dive in there and take my spot as I try to change lanes.  It's the law of tonnage - I don't care how cute your Honda is, but if I don't see you and run over you with my 23 ton motorhome that damage won't polish out.  It's nothing personal.  Please use your brain.

And I love Texas' use of flyover ramps.  Some of those things are so tall that you'd swear that the landing pattern at Bush International is below the ramp.


Louisiana has improved their roads dramatically, but they still have some highways that are so rough as to be unreal when you are in a motorhome.  As someone explained it to me the blocks of concrete paving material have settled in the sand and that's why they are so uneven. Consequently, driving a motorhome or truck across these things gives the vehicle a severe back-and-forth pitching motion.  Even the bridges are rough and it's a bit unnerving to be sawing the steering wheel back and forth, struggling to maintain control,  as you cross some huge bridge across a shipping canal and you realize that the ornamental cast iron guard rail wouldn't even slow down something the size of your vehicle if you were to madly take a stab at plunging 500 ft. down to the river below.  Yikes!


This is Drifters, one of my all time favorite bars.  It's on old Rt. 90 along the causeway as you cross old Mobile Bay.  The Interstate I-10 bridge pretty well by passes it these days.  

It's rough, it's getting rickitier every time that I go there (I suggested that they put a bottle of tequila at the bottom of the railing so that they can sell shots to fortify first time visitors), and the locals make a point to hang there and ride out hurricanes every time lousy weather passes nearby.  

The place is one of the few liquor bars open 24/7 so you know that the crowd is entertaining.

The cook lives in a travel trailer just to the right of the place.  It's next to the boat ramp and right on Old Mobile Bay so you would think that the fishin' would be excellent.  I swear, if he ever moves away I think that I'll snag his spot and hang out for a few months myself.