Monday, January 30, 2012

You Can Check Out Any Time You Like, But You Can Never Leave

We packed up and left St. Augustine and got on the road by 1:00 in the afternoon. About nine hours later, what do we see???

Why, it's the creepy little South of the Border shimmering in all its late night neon glory! One thing was for sure, I had to stop here just take some pictures of all these ridiculously fantastic neon lights.

Hotel California should blaring over a loudspeaker system 24/7 here, because, well, it kinda feels like it. At 11:00 at night this place is Creepfest 9000. The number of shadowy characters lurking around in the dark was a little unnerving. But, it was dark, maybe those shadows were happy, fun-loving people, right?

It was a lot like a ghost town...with neon a strange Mexican motif...and fireworks shacks...with South Carolina. Strange.

There was nothing on the map for the next 60 miles, so we ended up camping there on a chilly 28 degree night.

When we checked in, there was a big sign at the front desk, it read - "Residents of the following counties are banned from this motel." Four neighboring counties were listed. Amelia asked why and the woman said one word, "Locals".

I slept with one eye open all night, half expecting a monster truck to run us over.


Afterthoughts: This could be the ultimate in kitschy, classic Americana-type mini amusement parks. It was actually sad to see it in in its current state. There is potential for something really fun here, but something is gone and missing. I think it's heart.

But, that's me, I see the potential of things. There is ALWAYS potential for something better.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Camp Coffee

Morning coffee is a ritual.

We must have good coffee, made in a French press with freshly ground beans each and every morning. Whether we’re camping, away for a weekend, or at home, this is how we start our days.

For camping, we bought a manual grinder. I read some reviews about manual grinders with complaints that it actually takes a little effort, oh-my-god!! You have to manually grind it?! Absurd!! Well, it works like a charm. Grind for about one minute (two for Amelia), and you have a nice, coarse grind perfect for the French press.

On our maiden voyage to Delaware last April we camped in Henlopen State Park. The park had no electric or water at sites; we used solar and filled up a 5 gallon jug of water every few days. The Park forbid the use of generators. Yay!

The campground was nearly empty and we had no neighbors for most of our stay. Then a giant 5th wheel RV came and parked right next to us. They were a family of four. After they got situated with parking the RV and setting up camp, they came over said hello and checked out the Teardrop.

Before they left the man and I had this conversation –

Man - “You drink coffee in the mornings?"
Me - “Yes.”
Man – “Boy, that's the one thing I can’t go without.”
Me – “Yeah, me too, gotta get that caffeine.”
Man – “You’re welcome to bring your coffee maker over, (with a whisper and a wink) cuz’ I brought my generator, it’s whisper quiet.”
Me – “We don’t use a coffee maker.”
Man – “What? Then, how do you make your coffee?”
Me – “We manually grind our beans with this grinder and then we use the French press, no electricity. Best camp coffee ever.”
Man – “What’s a French press?”
Me – “It’s this.” (show him the press)
Man – “Huh, well, if you change your mind! (with a whisper and a wink) I’ll be running it for just a few minutes in the morning, and it IS whisper quiet.”

Our coffee is ready within about 5 minutes every morning. Put the water on, grind the beans, steep, plunge. Drink.

He ran his whisper quiet generator (and it was really quiet for a generator) for about half an hour each morning for his coffee.

Buy yourself a French press, and leave your generator at home.


Thursday, January 26, 2012

Observations of RV Life

Your issues, fears and prejudices don’t go away just because you’re on vacation. They comfortably travel with you, don’t take up a lot of room, and frequently are inconspicuous travel companions.

The frivolous things that separate us are always here: money, gender, religion,
race, class, sexual preference, insecurities, judgment. Funny, because all these things are really quite private (yes, even gender can be private – welcome to the 21st century). We judge each others private worlds, places we don’t belong.

I am no different. I won’t lie and say I don’t judge, I judge – a LOT, too much. I judge people that judge me, I judge myself for judging them. I’m an equal opportunity judger. I would never do to you what I wouldn’t do to myself.

Welcome to my tiny world of dichotomy.

What I’ve noticed so far is that the large RV world is dominated by conservative, American flag-flying, somewhat rich, doughy, older white people usually traveling with at least one small, annoying dog. There’s nothing wrong with any of those things per se; in fact, I haven’t had a lot of judgment about most of my neighbors so far. I have given in to the fact that I can’t chose my neighbors. I will have neighbors no matter what, and I’m far outnumbered.

The number of people we have had conversations with in the campgrounds so far is four. When I say conversations, I mean people who come into our site or we go into their site and actually talk. Four people.

There has been little to no eye contact as well. Is this a South thing? Is this an RV thing? Is this a vacation thing? Is this a gay thing? Is this an age thing? Is this a sign of the times thing? Yes to all those questions.

When we’re in New York or Maine or Massachusetts there seems to be a lot more eye contact, a lot more conversation, a lot more hellos. I am very much a solitary individual. I would prefer being alone in most situations.

And now I find myself three and half weeks into the trip missing those casual exchanges.


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Movie Theater for Two

Camping does something to your internal clock. The sun goes down, and there you are staring into the fire for hours and hours – and it’s only 7 o’clock. You have to fight going to bed at 8 o’clock. Hence movie night. Fight the sleep!!! Fight it!!!

Of course, it’s a beautiful thing at 8 o’clock at night when most of the campground is fast asleep, a few crackling fires here and there, a pop of a beer, some laughing, people using their indoor voices. Cherish these moments people; THIS is a good campground.

We watched a few movies inside the Teardrop using the MacBook Pro. The Teardrop turns out to be an excellent audio & video space. The sound is pretty great. You really don’t need much volume to fill up a 30 square foot space.

We put the laptop on a small step stool to prop it up, popped some popcorn, and cozied in for movie night.

There’s always room for improvement, so at some point I’ll turn the cherry footboard into a drop down table by installing some hinges and chains on it.

I’ve seen some Teardrops decked out with 100 watt surround sound systems, 20” televisions, speakers installed in the galley hatch, yadda, yadda, yadda… I’m not impressed, but you probably know that already.

Keep it simple, keep it real, keep it down.


Monday, January 23, 2012


Judy and Dennis were the best campground neighbors ever. We were sad to see them leave for their next adventure. A sweet "Good morning!" every day, followed by, "What are your fun plans today?" And every evening, "How was your adventure?" They brought us brochures on the parks they visited; we found sand dollars for them on the beach. Funny, adventuresome, genuine, and above all kind. Kindred souls. Hopefully our paths will cross again.


These people were absolutely awesome. Great roles models for all of us - sweet, smart, open, honest, adventurous, great parents, fun, going on 50 years of love, original and genuine.

Their children and Grand children are lucky to have them.

I really enjoy meeting people like this, it keeps me from teetering on the "humanity sucks" edge.

It gives me hope.

Thanks Dennis and Judy!


Saturday, January 21, 2012

Music Room

Welcome to the Music Room. Acoustics are incredibly good in the Teardrop.

We practiced comfortably for over two hours on two separate frigid nights inside the Teardrop. Inside, we were a cozy 65 degrees.

Other days, we've played quietly around the fire. I don't want to be "that" person playing music. I don't assume anyone wants to hear a single note. My inner Grampa doesn't want to hear a peep from my neighbors.

On two mornings, two separate neighbors came over to say, "You should play louder, or come over to our site tonight. You're in the South. We like that kind of music."

P.S. - The dog loves a night time serenade.


Thursday, January 19, 2012

Solar and the Sunshine State

I assumed in Florida that I could leave the solar panel on the teardrop roof and charging would magically occur. I mean, it IS the sunshine state, right? Well, I was wrong. In five days we drained the battery down to extremely low levels.

What works best is to move the panel every few hours for optimal sun exposure. I moved it three times a day, and by noon it ended up on the roof tilted towards the sun where it stayed the rest of the day.

I imagine if all solar panel systems were built movable and adjustable that overall efficiency could be improved upon. It seems like a pretty easy concept, until you get into giant panels, and giant will never be in my plan.

Small is the mantra here, small is just better, and tiny is best.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Filling Our Days

And now I shall address the question of what one does to fill the time when one is camping for a month. The answer? Not much.

Physical activity increases. Here we are sitting in the woods, surrounded by nature trails, a half mile from the beach, near a less-traveled oceanside highway with great bike lanes. The added bonus is that exercise keeps you warm when your living room is outside.

Reading is best done in the Teardrop at night after the sun goes down and the temperatures drop. We can watch movies in the Teardrop, too, thanks to Leah’s civilized renovations and a campground with electric in every site. Only one movie so far, Midnight in Paris, which I give two thumbs up and highly recommend especially to romantics and writers.

Cook, eat, wash dishes, repeat. Meals take an extraordinary amount of time to clean up from when you don’t have plumbing and you are taking care not to soak your site with graywater.

We use our cell phones to read Facebook every morning. (Isn’t that how everyone gets the news?)

The biggest surprise has been the nature of creative projects undertaken. We had great plans when we left, but then the picnic table gets all sandy, or damp, or it’s not warm enough outside, or the bugs are bugging me, or we go for a walk and suddenly the sun is setting.

My most important realization has been that writing is a strictly solitary activity for me. Leah and I are together all the time on this trip, thinking out loud, talking, laughing. If this were a solo trip, I’d probably be writing my brains out. But it’s not.

However, I have been surprised – and excited - to find Leah and I writing songs together, a mission often discussed but never fulfilled until now. Don’t underestimate the power of throwing two people with creative tendencies into a small space together for four weeks.


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Cold Air and Dog Farts

It’s been quite cold some nights, in the upper 20’s and low 30’s. But, every time we get into the teardrop, within 30 minutes the temperature inside has gone up into the low 60’s. It’s amazing what body heat can do in a small insulated space.

The dog farts we could have done without. It’s quite horrible to be trapped inside a 5 foot by 6 foot space with a farting dog, not to mention the twitching, growling, booffing (that woof thing he does in his sleep) and running in his sleep routine.

So, I came up with a plan…. Currently, there is nothing on the tongue of the trailer. Most people build a box the width of trailer for extra storage. My thought is to build a dog sleeping space on the tongue.

Basically, an insulated dog house that would be 5’ wide, 30” tall, and 18” deep. I’d have to cut a hole in the front of the teardrop for an entrance, something small, around 1’ wide by 2’ high. I could make it complete with a tiny window or 2 with screens, because he does enjoy a nice view and I’m certainly not going to just throw him in a dark box (even though his stinky farts kinda make me want to).

More on this design when I get home…

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Southward Bound

Holy cow, I can’t believe that we’ve been gone for two weeks and haven’t posted anything yet! For those of you arriving late in the story, Leah and I left on January 2nd to head South for a month - with no plan - and have landed in Little Talbot Island State Park outside of Jacksonville, Florida.

This is our first time taking a super-sized vacation with the Alligator Teardrop; our longest trip to date was ten days in Maine this past September. It’s not our first time traveling for a month together, however. We took a VW bus out West twelve years ago. And while that trip was adventurous, it was no vacation. The bus was an electrical and mechanical failure waiting to happen, and was the catalyst to the now-infamous “chardonnay incident,” as well as the “lose-all-power-including-windshield-wipers-and-headlights-at-dusk-in-a-snowstorm-on-a-deserted-road-near-Vale incident.” Fortunately, that trip bears no resemblance to our current one.

The day we left Trumansburg, NY, the temperatures at home dipped to 5 degrees, reinforcing our decision to head to Florida. Our first night was spent in a hotel in Richmond, Virginia, and our second night in a dear friend’s guest cottage in Greenville, North Carolina, where the lows reached 17 degrees. (While we think we might have stayed warm enough in the Teardrop, getting up to pee in the middle of the night would have led to potentially dangerous fanny freezing.)

That’s the only thing I miss: indoor plumbing. Living in a five-by-six box with my lovey has been remarkably easy, with the huge outdoors as our living room. And we’ve had no rain, though two days that barely topped 50 degrees led to some cranky moments, which were appeased by visits to the local bar to watch the playoffs.

On the way here, we sent a few nights in the Teardrop at Skidaway Island (now affectionately known as Skidmark Island) State Park in Savannah, Georgia. Saw lots of bald eagles and even some alligators. We decided to skip Jekyll Island (too many people) and Cumberland Island (dogs not allowed). We also decided to not go much farther South, since parks get more crowded as the weather gets more tropical. In fact, a couple of our lovely campground neighbors said that even six months out, they couldn’t get a reservation in any state park in the Keys.

So Jacksonville it is. We will be allowed to stay at Little Talbot for two weeks (we’re one week in now) and then we’ll have to relocate for two nights minimum. Where we head next is a mystery waiting to be solved, though I hear the manatees have gone inland to the warm springs, and we may follow them.

Overall, Little Talbot has been sweet with biking and hiking and miles and miles of empty wilderness beach to ourselves. The campground is a short walk from the beach, and the campsite is on a salty tributary that at low tide is a restaurant for wood storks, osprey, egrets, and pelicans. There was a loud influx of people this holiday weekend – the nerve!- but we survived with the help of a new cocktail creation by Leah (“The Southern Migration”) using ingredients from a roadside fruit stand. You can visit our cocktail blog for the yummy (and funny) story at

How does one fill one’s days when camping for a month (besides imbibing tasty cocktails)? That, dear readers, will be the subject of my next post. Stay tuned.