The Comfort of a Circle

Our time in Texas is coming to a close and Dawny and I have been heartened by a blessed circle of friendships.  New friends, old friends, and unexpected friends.

Last week I was talking with Lee, a volunteer at the Escapees CARE Center (www.escapeescare.org), and we discovered that we know each other’s blogs.  Now we know each other.  How sweet is that?  She is a solo traveler, like me, with a four-legged companion (in her case, a “curious cat”).  Lee writes a beautiful blog, www.overtlysimple.com, where she journals her thoughts and experiences starting a few years before she became a full-time RV traveler two years ago.

I was also able to catch up with many of my old friends who reside at CARE.  Lorraine, who full-timed with a tiny towed trailer before settling down at CARE, continues to exercise her creative talents on her newest blog, www.threequartersandcounting.com.  In addition to nourishing her green thumb on pots upon pots of plantings, she builds bottle trees to brighten her tiny yard and the yards of many of her CARE neighbors.  Lorraine’s blog from her traveling days can be found at:  www.tabteardroptravels.blogspot.com.

Another friend from CARE, Brian, treated me to several lunches at the dining room–the cooks there are awesome–and shared charming stories that he has been writing about his life.  Bud, with whom I used to share a table at meal time and an occasional dance during Thursday afternoon jam sessions, greeted me with a great big smile and a big strong hug when I showed up again.  Tom, another former table-mate, is a newlywed now, married to Patsy, whom he met at CARE.  It brings a special joy to see new love sprout from a couple strolling through the twilight gardens.

A few of my old friends have, unfortunately, passed on, leaving a vivid reminder to let your last word be a kind word, your last hug be warm, and your parting smile, sincere.  For they may well be the last.  And it is a blessed gift if sweetness lingers when emptiness reigns.

Dawny and I are also grateful for new friendships, with Marsha, Mr. Mike, and Uncle Joe at the top of our list.  There is a real community spirit at this campground (Escapees Rainbow’s End RV Park).  While Dawny has been showered with cookies and love, I have enjoyed our walks, many friendly visits, and an occasional movie at the campground club house.  Dawny’s Uncle Joe doubles as The Movie Man, showing movies two nights per week, complete with popcorn and a delectable assortment of sweet treats, all at his own expense and effort.  There are many other activities that take place during the week for those who enjoy socializing.

It has been a fine winter.  The Good Lord and Lady Luck willing, we will return to this area next year.  Meanwhile, we are preparing for our journey to Florida in a few days.  We look forward to seeing old-new friends at the campground we wintered at the past two years, as well as a visit with a good friend from an online RV forum.  Then, onward we shall roll to our old homestead in Virginia.

We are starting to wear a comfortable path on these roads we travel upon, with more and more way stations containing familiar, welcoming faces.  We are not randomly wandering.  We are not inefficiently zig-zagging.  We are riding on a giant circle of hugs.

Saga of the Sewer

Well, we’ve had a good run with very few mechanical issues, but this week I subjected our little house on wheels to a dose of self-inflicted pain.  No worries.  All ended well.  Better than well.  I learned some new things, including how to manually dump my sewage tanks via the gravity method (ah, the beauty of simplicity) rather than relying on my macerator (an electronic means of pumping out the waste tanks.)  I had been meaning to do this for a long time.  What can I say?  Necessity is the best remedy for procrastination.

Back to the saga.  This week I found a place to fill my propane tank.  I pulled it up on Google Earth to see how it looked for maneuvering.  It looked great.  There was a big sign welcoming RV’ers, and they had an entrance from the main road in the front or the road in the rear.  If I came in from the rear road, I would be lined up with their propane tank very nicely.  So smart.  So smug.

Toodling merrily along, I aimed for the rear entrance and stopped short of pulling in when I saw the severe dip between the road and their driveway area.  “Recipe for disaster!” I thought to myself as I veered back onto the road.  I have a wonderful rig, but nothing is perfect.  One of its weak points is the rear driver’s side corner, which has the macerator contraption hanging down a bit.  If that rear end bottoms out and that gets bumped, watch out!  So I circled around to the main road in the front to pull in.  That had a dip, too, but compared to the one in the back it didn’t look nearly so bad.

Confident we would clear the dip all right, I gingerly forged ahead.  Clunk… Scraaaaaaape…  Ugh.  I pulled into the parking lot, got out, and looked at my rear end.  Water was tinkling from a gap where the pipe from my waste tanks connects to the macerator.

Upon returning to the campground, I unpacked my never-used, traditional waste tank dump kit from its brand new box and managed to figure out how to do the deed the old fashioned way.  It wasn’t tricky at all and it worked great.  I was happy to see that at least the waste tanks and the pipes attached to them were in good shape.  Unfortunately, that gap in the pipes leading to the macerator side of things continued to leak, even when using the manual dump method.

Luckily, my rig was built by a company that is very responsive with their after-sales support.  I called the manufacturer, Phoenix USA (website:  www.phoenixusarv.com).  The fellow who runs the place recommended I have someone remove the macerator, seal up the pipe at the break point, and continue to dump with the gravity method.  The next time I visit Phoenix with my annual-or-so honey-do list, they would fix everything for the cost of parts and a labor rate of just $50 per hour.

I visited two local RV shops to see if they could do the recommended work.  One would not even look at it for less than a $60 charge, after which they would charge $115/hour.  Adding insult to injury, they wouldn’t be able to fit me in for at least two to three weeks.  Please know that during this time I would not be able to use my black tank (the one attached to the toilet), because even using the gravity dump would result in leakage from the broken pipe area.  It’s one thing to tinkle dishwater on the ground.  It’s quite another to tinkle toilet water.  This meant I would be taking the tiny-bladder walk of shame to the public restrooms for weeks, many times a day, and a couple of times in the middle of the night, just to, well, okay, say it:  pee.

The other shop could work on it sooner, but they would charge $125/hour.  Worse, they were very hazy about how many hours the job would take.  Basically, I would have to spend a nice chunk of change just to find out that I would not be able to afford to have either of these places do the job.  The RV repair business is apparently very good in this neck of the woods at this time of year.

Hoping that I could somehow take care of the damaged area myself by bandaging it, I went to good old Walmart and bought some plumbers tape to go with some caulking I had at home.  My ever-helpful next door neighbor, Bill, came over to check on my progress and provided me with some Gorilla tape, which is apparently the miracle of all miracle tapes out there.

Before crawling under the rig to clean and dry things off, I filled up my waste tanks with plenty of fresh water and hooked the gravity dump system back up.  I wanted to make sure the leak was indeed small enough to withstand a simple patching job.  Flicking the switch to open the waste tank valve, I held my breath and peeked underneath the rig.  Sigh.  Water was gushing out four times faster than when I had first done the damage.

So much for the do-it-yourself attempt to put a bandaid on an arterial hemorrhage.

Next step?   Search for an honest, competent repair person to remove the macerator and seal off that pipe for a more reasonable price than the local RV repair shops.

Luckily, I have been at this campground for nearly two months and have met some very helpful, friendly people.  It is owned and operated by the Escapees RV Club, which also handles my mail (website:  https://www.escapees.com).  I like staying at Escapees campgrounds in the winter months as the monthly site fee is very reasonable and there is a real community feeling in the park.

After listening to my dilemma, our friend Uncle Joe (yes, the very same fellow who is adored by Dawny) mentioned a man named John who he thought might do plumbing work on the side for others.  I found John and his rig on the other side of the campground on the second day of searching.  He was deeply involved in some project on his generator, lying on his back, surrounded by an impressive assortment of tools.  Unfortunately, it turns out that he only works on his own rig, occasionally helping friends with theirs.  Really nice guy, though.

Returning home, I called Jim, who was recommended by the Crystal at the Escapees CARE Center, where I had volunteered two summers ago.  Jim said he would come by later that afternoon to assess the problem.  I also talked to my friend Marsha, who recently celebrated her 20th year as a solo full-time RV’er.  She gave me lots of good advice and encouragement throughout the ordeal.

Later in the afternoon, two fellows pulled up in front of my RV in a red jeep.  It was John and his friend Paul, dropping by to scope out my problem.  They gave me wonderful advice on exactly how I could perhaps seal the leak myself.  Even I, with my basic tools and my simple mechanical brain, could follow their directions.  Regardless of whether I pursued that option or not, it was so heartening for those gentlemen to pop by for a look, a chat, and an education on silicone caulking and plumbers’ epoxy.  Marsha says that in the early days of the Escapees parks, all you had to do was pop open your hood and half a dozen fellows would show up, half of them with tool boxes.

Shortly after John and Paul left, Jim arrived–polite, competent, and wildly charming.  We got down on the ground and looked at the situation, discussed the possibilities, and parted ways with his promise to return the next day to either cap off the pipe at the break or do a complete repair, depending on what he found when he got into the job.

“What is your rate?” I asked.

“Oh, whatever you think,” he replied.  He was confident that it would not take long and simply trusted me to offer appropriate recompense.

Oh my.

Jim returned by lunch time the next day.  He removed the macerator, secured the connection pipe, and we tested everything to make sure there were no leaks.  We also had a wonderful time chatting about everything from lying, cheating spouses to God and the power of Love.

I am good to go.

You know the craziest part?  The night before the incident occurred, I dreamt that the entire plumbing system in my rig fell apart.  The fresh water tank was over there, waste tanks over here, pipes here, faucets there, water water everywhere.  It was a very disturbing scene, reminiscent of  Dorothy’s poor friend, Scarecrow, after the flying monkeys had their way with him.

There are spots along this yellow brick road that sure can throw some wicked, rotten apples.  It’s nice to know I have friends and allies to help dodge them.  I just need to open my heart, have confidence, and not be afraid to lean a little on others.

There is, indeed, no place like home . . . wherever it happens to be parked.

Hoka Hey

Hoka Hey is printed in simple red block letters on a small sign hanging next to my neighbor’s door in our winter RV park here in Texas.  It is a rallying war cry attributed to Crazy Horse of the Oglala Lakota tribe and has come to be interpreted as:  Today is a good day to die.

My neighbor, Mike, says the small sign represents one of his prime directives.  Not that he plans to die each day; nor does he expect to ride into battle.  But he has certainly had his share of battles:  two tours in Vietnam, two difficult divorces, five major heart attacks, 11 surgeries, a quintuple bypass, life with a pacemaker, and a recurrent struggle with addiction to cigarettes.

When such is your rallying cry each morning, it must inspire you to live that day to the fullest.  It probably helps you to accept those things that are outside of your control and be grateful for the measure of life that you have been granted to walk this earth.

Dawny adores Mr. Mike.  He gives her cookies and love.  She heartily hopes that his final Hoka Hey will be a day far into the future.  In her simple dog’s view–and, though simple, it is no less true, honest, or relevant than some of the more complicated ways humans have of looking at things–Dawny gets it.  Today is always a good day to die.  But it is an even better day to live.  Live and gather cookies.

Mike was kind enough to share some of his experiences, thoughts, and significant life moments with me.  It is an honor when another human opens a part of their heart and their story to you.  I hope to do his words justice.

Mike dreamed of living the full-time RV life for a long time before he hit the road in May of last year.  He spent eight years researching, reading RV forums and blogs, and making other preparations, such as downsizing from a 4,000 square-foot home to a condominium and from 70 tupperware containers to the 16 he has now.

While making these preparations, Mike was laid off from his job in the IT industry (just before retirement).  Already involved in the care of his aging father, Mike became his full-time caregiver for the next four years.  They were best friends.  Before Mike’s father died, he made his son promise that he would follow through on his dream.  He also set aside some money to help finance the purchase of Mike’s rig, a 25 foot class-C motorhome.  After settling his father’s estate, Mike hit the road.

Earlier in his adult life, Mike had an Australian sheepdog named Molly.  She lived with him for 19 wonderful years, serving as his best four-legged friend.  In the end, she went blind.  Her strong spirit still sent her running through the world as if she were sighted, though, and she would crash into trees, fences, and other unforgivingly solid objects.  Eventually, Mike had to let the vet put his beloved companion to rest.

Hoka Hey.  Death has a way of shaping a person.  The bond of love and respect Mike shared with his father, as well as this particular dog, formed echoes that have guided his steps and his outlook to today.

For instance, a neighboring couple recently had to leave their little beagle, Sally, behind for a few weeks in a local kennel while they travel to another state.  Mike regularly goes to visit Sally in the kennel.  To love her.  To reassure her that everything will be all right.  That takes a mighty big, soft heart.

Mike happens to be a strong introvert, like me.  He enjoys his time of solitude, reading four or five books a week.  But, unlike me, one of his favorite pastimes is sitting outside of his rig, visiting with neighbors who drop by and giving doggy cookies to each and every pooch who ventures near.  He always has a welcoming smile and a friendly wave.

In this way, Mike meets a wide array of people as they circulate in and out of the park, many of whom share some of his most formidable, challenging, life-altering experiences.  He estimates that at least half of our fellow campers here are veterans.

Mike comes from a family that has an unbroken line of over 200 years of honorable military service.  His father served in three wars:  World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.  Mike did two tours in Vietnam, winning several medals and ribbons of honor.  He says that he was glad to have served his country, but he would not want to go back and do it again.  The war was hard enough, but returning home to the dismal, hostile reception our soldiers received at that time shook the ground upon which he walked.

He has lived with that trauma for decades.  It has affected his behavior and his relationships, his reactions and his interactions.  And not necessarily in a healthy way.  Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) wasn’t even officially recognized by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) until 1980, when they added it to their diagnostic manual.  Much of APA’s early work and research was based on experience with Vietnam vets.

Hoka Hey.  No, it is not Mike’s turn yet.  Dawny says so.  As does Sally.  And Max, and Beauty, and countless other discerning canine souls.  Not to mention the many two-legged friends Mike has made in his short time since starting down this new road.  He has gifts to share.  And cookies.  He has life to savor.  And enjoy.

Mike’s son and daughter, his sister and her family, and many old friends are still in his hometown area in Ohio.  In his house on wheels, he will be able to visit them in the temperate months, then return south for the winter.  His sister and her husband just bought a 36 foot class-A motorhome (the large bus-sized type) and are planning to join the snowbirds who fly south for the winter, spending at least some of their time traveling and camping with Mike.  These are the things that help to ease the pang when loved ones are missed.

Dawny and I wish the absolute best for Mike as he continues his journey.  We have faith that the beauty of his spirit, the steadfastness of his love, and the strength of his intellect will continue to pave his road with integrity and compassion.  With the rise of each day’s sun, may his loved ones and friends (both old and new, two legged and four) bring him great joy until he reaches his destination, his final Hoka Hey.