A Weekend Full of Family and Friends

Our next stop was the Cherry Hill RV Resort in College Park, MD. This is the closest park to DC and, more importantly, to Columbia, MD.

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Cherry Hill RV Resort is quite an extraordinary place. First off, it is enormous. There are literally hundreds of camp sites. It has two swimming pools, a water park, a restaurant, miniature golf and a store with rv supplies, food and all sorts of things. Busses run guests to nearby mass transit and into DC proper. They even host nighttime tours of DC.

The resort is a sea of Class A’s and Fifth Wheels. During our perambulations around the resorts’ streets, we saw only one other Airstream. When we checked in, the man at the desk asked if we would prefer to be near the bath house or somewhere else. I asked for a quiet spot and we got a lovely site surrounded by trees. It was hard to believe we were in a major urban area. It felt like we were at a secluded state park.

Our weekend at Cherry Hill was a very social one. If we had been on our own since early March when we visited Jim’s brother, Jack, and his wife, Phyllis, in Pearland, Texas, we were now in for a full dose of family and friends.

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Columbia is the town in which Alex, our first-born and family Marine, lives. He works at Fort Meade, but lives with a friend. Alex joined us Friday night and we had a treat-your-child-special dinner in the Airstream. My goal was to make his favorite things which I know perfectly well, he doesn’t usually get to eat. We had steak, sautéed mushrooms and baked potatoes.

With some not-so-gentle maternal urging, Alex slept over with us in the Airstream. Saturday we lounged in the trailer in the morning and then headed to see his house in Columbia. It was very good to get a sense of our firstborn’s daily life. We met his room-mate, Rose, the actual homeowner, and Rose’s dog, Archer. Rose is a fellow Marine and seems to be a good friend and landlord. Rose is his last name. I don’t even know his first. I am not sure Alex knows his first name.

We were happy to see Alex living in an actual house—much better quarters than the barracks. The house had apparently been cleaned before our visit. It was, nevertheless, a bit of a bachelor pad. Both Alex and Rose are into video games and much more had been invested in monitors and CPU’s than sofas and chairs.

Saturday night we traveled down to DC to have dinner at our friends’ house. Hannelore and Didier live in the NW part of DC. I have known them both for decades—Hannelore since I lived in Vienna after college. Visiting with them is always a treat. They live in a lovely house with a back garden that is truly an oasis. Alex, their son, was home. A rising senior in high school now, we have watched him grow up and mature. Charlotte, their daughter, is almost always off on an adventure. They all tend to roam the world from France to Austria and back again.

Hannelore is the Washington Bureau Chief for the ORF (Austrian Broadcasting Corporation, the public service television channel). Didier is now retired but was a journalist for Agence Presse for many years. They have lived all over the world. In their home english, french and german intermingle from sentence to sentence. Hannelore is also an excellent cook. Every time we visit she cooks something marvelous which I happily take home to add to my own repertoire. Happily, the weather was delightful and we dined al fresco as we caught up on our respective lives.

As you can imagine, life has been pretty crazy for Hannelore for quite some time now. During our visit, President Trump was in Saudi Arabia and Hannelore looked very happy to have a brief respite. She has certainly been getting more than her fair share of air time.

Sunday was another quiet day. Alex is a very easy guest. He is happy to sit quietly and read. Actually, that isn’t quite true. It is somewhat difficult to get him to stop sitting quietly reading. He asserts, with some validity, that he should be able to do what he wants when he is not at work. Okay, so we sat quietly and read for much of Sunday.

Sunday night my step-sister, Kathi, and her wife, Kim, joined us at the Airstream for a barbecue. We cooked burgers, beans and slaw—perfect cookout food. We sat out under the awning. Despite Cherry Hill’s proximity to the urban sprawl of DC and I-495, our site was wooded and private. It almost felt like we were in the great outdoors. We cooked s’mores for desert and enjoyed a last campfire for this journey.

Our Airstream Angel

After five weeks of travel, it was time to leave Florida. Our next stop was in Mississippi and our drive would take us west through Mobile and a corner of Alabama and north through eastern Mississippi to Hattiesburg. If Florida is a state unto itself, we would now truly be in the Deep South.

It is pretty much impossible to drive through Florida and any of these southern states and not think about religion. Churches seem to outnumber other buildings and maybe even people in many places. Every road side in town and in rural areas is dotted with small buildings offering many varieties of faith: Baptist, Primitive Baptist, Missionary Baptist, Methodist and churches with colorful names and no apparent affiliation other than the belief in a god, sin and redemption.

Our own religious experience occurred on the outskirts of Mobile. We were back on Interstate 10—the major artery leading westward. Trucks, cars and rv’s streamed westward and eastward in unending lines of transit. As always Fifth Wheels and Class A’s dominated the rv traffic. Every once in a while a Class B or Class C would appear, but they were the minority. Of course, there was almost never another Airstream to be seen. In fact, in our entire trip I think we had only seen fewer than a handful. Once in Florida we passed one going the other way on a two lane highway and we both flashed our lights and waved in happy recognition.

We were motoring along feeling pretty happy and calm. The tall buildings of the city of Mobile were ahead of us. The highway was elevated at this point and we had a grand view. We anticipated the adrenalin surge of urban traffic. Our calm was shattered in an instant with a sign announcing the Bankhead Tunnel and warning any vehicles with hazardous materials to detour immediately. Frost panic ensued. Hazardous materials? That meant us, right? Those two tanks of propane in the prow of our trailer were potential explosive devices. We knew we weren’t supposed to go into the tunnel, but we hadn’t a clue what we should do as an alternative. I grabbed my phone jabbing the Google app in a furious attempt to get some direction.

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Just then our angel appeared. After thousands of miles with barely a sighting of another Airstream, merging upward on the ramp to our right was a glorious silver bullet. Her aluminum shell gleamed in the sunlight. She steamed along and smoothly entered the highway just ahead of us. “Jim, that’s our Airstream Angel and she’s come to lead us around the tunnel!”

 

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We followed our Angel as she took a right onto Route 90 paralleling the Mobile River and then left across the Cochrane–Africatown USA Bridge. Mobile sped by to our left and was soon behind us. Just as we finished crossing the bridge, the Angel took a left hand exit and headed north on Route 43. She was gone in an instant, but she had led us to salvation.

 

Curious Inhabitants

Granted at this point Jim and I have a little more than one month’s experience on the road, but it doesn’t take a sociologist with a Ph.D. to analyze the difference between life in an rv resort and life in state parks and what it is says about the inhabitants of each. Of course, as with any generalization, there will be exceptions, but overall this seems to be true.

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RV resorts almost always have full hook ups. A full hook up means water, electric and sewage. A full hook up means that you truly have all of the comforts of home. No rationing of water, all the electricity you could want and you don’t have to watch the contents of either the grey or black tanks. Dumping is as easy as flipping a switch. RV resorts are primarily the domain of the big Class A’s and Fifth Wheels. These big rigs are designed for supplying all the comforts of home. They sport big screen tv’s, comfy reclining chairs, faux fire places, full-fledged kitchens and heaven knows what else. They can be very large with popouts for extra space. They are also somewhat cumbersome to drive and are best designed for staying in place rather than ranging wide and far. There are lots of permanent inhabitants in rv resorts.  It is easy to tell them by the elaborate set ups on their site including little gardens, fences and we’ve even seen bubbling water fountains. Even without these custom environs, a permanent or semi-permanent inhabitant can be recognized by their wheel covers. They have no plans to go anywhere in the near term.

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RV resorts are communities. Because they have longer term inhabitants, rv resorts offer a calendar of events. There is the weekly free donut and coffee breakfast. They usually have a bingo night. They often offer exercise classes and group walks. Some have quilting groups which meet weekly and other special interest groups. And, because it is a community of people, there is usually a board and group meetings where grievances are aired and issues discussed. Dog poop is pretty much always a hot topic. All of this can be very nice if community is what you are looking for.

So, you can think of camping choices on a continuum. Full hook ups are the apex of camping civilization. At lower cost rv parks and in most of the state parks, there is the next tier of camping civilization and that is partial hook ups. A partial hook up eliminates the sewer hook up and leaves the camper with water and electric and the need to monitor both the grey and black tanks. There is pretty much always a dump station on hand at no cost, but getting to that dump station means going through the entire process of hooking up and un-hooking. This is pretty much every step involved in getting ready to leave for the next destination so you don’t really want to have to do that until you do plan to leave.

Of course, you can find plenty of Class A’s and Fifth wheels in state parks. But you can’t find them in all state parks. Parks with smaller campgrounds, dense vegetation or simply smaller sites will have length restrictions. If you’re looking to commune with nature, then a big rig is a definite liability.

On the far end of the communing with nature continuum is boondocking. Boondocking is the camping equivalent of living off the grid. Boondocking lets you camp on government land, by the side of a pretty stream or in the middle of a vast plain. Boondocking means you’ve still got your comfy bed, but you have the added entertainment of trying to manage your fresh water, power and tank levels to stay as long as you can. Can you make it five days? Seven? More? One blogger I follow boasted of going 12 days and elucidated the somewhat extreme measures they went to. A brand new competition–extreme boondocking. It might get a bit ripe.

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Not to stray too much off topic, but there is one other kind of boondocking and it has nothing to do with nature. That is the overnight in a parking lot. Many Walmarts and Cracker Barrels will let you overnight in their parking lots—it helps if you shop or eat there, too. We have yet to engage in this behavior, but there are many who do.

We think we’ve hit the sweet spot with our 27-foot Airstream. We have plenty of creature comforts. With some careful choreography, the three of us can move around inside just fine. The big rigs tower over us, but we’re pretty agile and there are few parks where we can’t go. We have no desire for the confines of community. A full hookup is nice, but we’re down with conserving tank capacity. A night or two in a rv resort is fine for some civilization, but given a choice, we’ll take a park and a partial any day.

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So, the partial hook up is fine by me, but one realization I have come to is that I really miss wifi and a decent cell connection. I can give up a shower and I can wash dishes with a scant amount of water, but after a couple days with no wifi or cell service, I wilt like a hot house flower. I need connectivity.

Connectivity extends to reasonable television reception. I am completely addicted to watching the local news.  It is a reflection of what people in a given area care about, how they view the world and how they express themselves. Local anchors do not conform to major market requirements for cosmetic sophistication. They often exceed the average age, weight and lack the grooming requirements of a big city anchor. But what they might lack in aesthetics, they more than compensate for in a feel for their town. We’ve watched local anchors editorialize to their communities. We’ve watched with amusement and some respect as these anchors have admonished and chastised their communities. You wouldn’t catch Lester Holt doing this, but it says something about the value and relationship of the news cast when someone knows you and can tell you where its really at.

Road Runner Beep! Beep!

In our case, the next stop was the goal we had been pushing hard towards since we left CT on January 3rd. Our journey to date was a time of discovering how to live in the Airstream, but the major goal was to get to the Fort Pierce/Stuart area where Jim’s mother, Betty, has a condo.

Betty is 95 and in amazing shape given her age. Always a beautiful and petite woman, she still has her looks and her mind is kept sharp by doing myriad crossword puzzles daily. She can buzz through the NY Times Sunday puzzle in under an hour. While Betty usually lives in Michigan, she has had this condo in Stuart for decades. To give her the opportunity to enjoy the Florida warmth, three of her children were taking turns staying with her. Jim’s brother, Phil, and his wife, Renee, were first up. We would do our turn and then his sister, Linda, would come down for the final leg of the visit and the eventual return to northern climes.

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Jim, Betty and Phil

The wrinkle in this plan for us was, of course, the Airstream. We couldn’t very well hunker down in the parking lot at Betty’s condo. Actually, there was a further complication. Many years ago Jim’s father, Jack, as head of the condo board, had passed a rule that pickup trucks couldn’t overnight in the parking lot. Ironically, we couldn’t even park Big Blue there.

So, Dakota, the Airstream and I took up residence at the Road Runner Travel Resort and Jim headed forty minutes south in a rental car to stay with his mom in Stuart. Southern Florida is so crazy crowded with rv’s, that was the closest decent spot we could find.

The Road Runner Travel Resort was a bit of a shock at first. Having spent more than a week in state parks, we needed to adjust to the closer living quarters of a rv resort. RV resorts have a different ethos and clientele than a state park. More on that at a later time.

After checking in at the office, we headed to our camp site. Road Runner is a pretty large park—more than 400 sites. The streets all feature president’s names so we took a left on Madison. When we pulled up to our site, I got out to spot and the lady at the site next door said, “you need to come from the other direction to back in.” Oh, okay. I was willing to follow her direction and duly reported this to Jim in the cockpit. He grumbled, “who does she think she is…” I pointed out she undoubtedly knew far more than we did and he headed off to re-orient. When he got back, our new neighbor, Carol, and her husband were both on their feet and ready to help. Rick offered to back us in and we took him up on the first of many kind offers. Rick is a retired truck driver and he had our Airstream perfectly positioned in a minute and made it look incredibly easy to do so. Jim was thrilled and relieved. Backing in with a large audience is never stress-free and he learned some valuable tips in the bargain. People in rv parks are generally incredibly friendly and very willing to help—I found this out frequently over the next ten days.

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Rick and Carol

I would point out two other characteristics of Road Runner and Florida rv parks in general. The first is that you very rarely see Airstreams. We are definitely a bit of an oddity. This is true in state parks as well. It will be fascinating to see if this is less true when we get west of the Mississippi. But in Florida the Class A and Fifth Wheels rule. The second observation I would make is that half of Canada is down here. There must be no one left at home in Quebec. The common areas at Road Runner rang with the sound of Canadian French. I don’t blame them because it is really cold up there, but those left behind must be feeling a bit lonely. Actually, Rick told me that last year there were far more Canadians at Road Runner. The strength of the dollar thinned the migration quite a bit this year.

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With Jim located to the south by forty minutes, Dakota and I took to life on our own. This was actually a very good development as it forced me to take charge of Airstream care and conquer my fear of lighting the grill and any number of other things. Midway through the week there was a big storm scare. I had to take in the awnings and prep for high winds and this was all good to learn. Again, Rick and Carol were very helpful with advice. They made it clear they were there to help me if I needed it and it was very comforting to know that.

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Over the course of the week, we developed a pattern. One day Dakota and I would do something on our own like go hiking and the next day we would drive down to visit Jim and Betty. This ended up working out quite well for all involved.