When I pulled up at the dairy farm in East Texas, I was already out of place. Not only was my toenail-polish-blue Honda the only foreign made car in sight, but it could fit in the bed of most of the trucks around the farm.
On top of that it was raining and I needed to do a photoshoot for work. Needing to protect the camera, I grabbed the only umbrella in the car which was covered in pink polka dots and flowers. I was quite a site and probably significantly set back the reputation of Tennessee men in that area.
Out in the field, taking the farmer’s photo he had pity on me. “Don’t mean to scare you, but there’s a cow right behind you.” I turned and (as you can see from the photo) he was right. “And that one likes to butt you right in the tailbone and knock you on to the ground. She’s like a big dog.”
Luckily there was no butting, but she did sniff and try to lick me and the camera. That cow who thought it was a dog seemed almost as out of place as I was.
But being out of place and out of our comfort zone is part of this whole trip. Here’s the latest:
On the way to San Antonio, we stayed at the Medina Lake RV Park, which is notable for having a crazy number of deer. Just before reaching the park, the Honda had another flat tire on the side of the highway, this time from a faulty valve stem. We slapped on the spare and drove the last few miles to the park before having it fixed the next day.
In San Antonio, I was in a conference for most of our time there. Meanwhile, Jess was planning out her book about RVing called “The kid, Me and the Retirees.” She overheard some interesting conversations at the pool, including three old guys deciding all of the tree-huggers need to be locked up. Of the three, she noticed one of them was totally a bully and imagined he had probably been that way since he was a teenager.
San Antonio was also far enough west for us to get some In-N-Out burgers — and just as importantly, In-N-Out hats. If you aren’t familiar, In-N-Out is kind of the Five Guys of California and the legendary, slow growing burger chain has recently opened a few restaurants in Texas. We ate and then Braden and I had a great time acting out a restaurant in the RV that night. The Traveler’s World RV Park that we saw on another blog was nice and had a good location. It wasn’t gated off which was unusual in an urban area, but it had good cable which we used to watch an awesome playoff game between the Giants and Mets.
I believe San Antonio is the first place on our trip where we canceled plans to move on and stayed an extra night. After seeing a little bit of the famous Riverwalk during the conference, I really wanted to take Jess and Braden to see it on Friday night. It was a really vibrant mix of bars, restaurants, hotels, history and attractions right on the river that leave you wondering how many drunken partiers wind up taking a swim every weekend. We walked several miles exploring the city. We saw the Alamo and told Braden the story of Davy Crockett and the other brave men who fought there.
On the way out, we stopped at Mission San Jose which is part of the San Jose Missions National Historic Sites. Braden picked up another junior ranger badge and we were all really impressed by architecture and history.
After San Antonio, we moseyed on through Waco, and two-stepped around Dallas to get back to Lake Tawakoni and Quitman, where I had a client visit and some magazine work. Mainly it was to return to Seth’s and see if his food still stood up to my memory after having been to New Orleans. It absolutely did and I’m already looking forward to a return trip on my birthday — in January. We made it for all you can eat ribs night this time which is always a highlight. To explain these ribs, I was loving them two plates in before I realized they came with sauce on the side. They are that good people.
Somebody had either taken or thrown out Seth’s mother-in-law’s keys so I drove her home at the end of her shift. It’s just that kind of place. This seems like my good deed for the day, but really I was just letting my food digest to make room for more ribs. Honestly, I was glad to have supervision on this trip because when I’ve been alone to ribs night before, I ate so much where I really thought I might have to go to the hospital. Jess tried and loved the Seth’s specialty D.G.S. (dang good stuff), but we were joined by one of my best friends in the telco business Mcxie (this is the correct spelling) and her two daughters. After I had told her Braden told the park ranger his dogs were his only friends, we set up a play date on ribs night in Seth’s side yard where “we haven’t seen that alligator down there in a while.” We had a lot of fun and the kids wore themselves out.
Back at the camper, we couldn’t get any TV stations over the antenna and with the presidential debate coming on, we turned to the radio and listened to it. This was the debate where Trump “loomed” over Hillary a few times when she was speaking and we completely missed that. It was an accident, but it turned out to be an interesting experiment to only hear the debate and see how our perceptions were different than people who had seen the debate on TV.
While I worked, Jess and Braden were able to enjoy the Halloween decorations on other campers, play mini-golf at the campground where Braden got a hole-in-one and run down to a great children’s museum in Tyler, Texas. Braden met a little boy named Cade whose family was staying in the campground while they rebuilt their home that had burned down in a fire. As if their story wasn’t sad enough, Braden told the mom that he didn’t have brothers or sisters so he had to go around and try to make friends at the campground.
On the job and at the dairy, the farmer gave me some yogurt. I guess he figured the man with the pretty umbrella and cute blue car probably liked yogurt, too. It’s a raw milk dairy so the milk is really creamy and rich. Jess said it tastes like ice cream.
After wrapping up work we headed north into Oklahoma for the first time, stopping briefly at the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Texas. Beaver’s Bend State Park in Oklahoma was beautiful and I really wish we had had more time to stay. The leaves were starting to change and the hills and lake begged to be explored, but we had only a few days to get to Virginia. We stayed one night and headed east. Maybe because it was the first stop where we felt a cool fall night and smelled campfires or because the plants and land in Eastern Oklahoma resemble what we were used to, but this stop at Beaver’s Bend reminded me of all of the fun camping trips we’ve done in Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama over the years. Oddly, we only took one photo while we were in Oklahoma.
I barely remember it. I’m pretty sure we drove through it between Oklahoma and Tennessee.
Originally, we were going to stop in Memphis, but powered through to get another hour east and stayed at a campground full of gloomy Tennessee fans who were recovering from a blowout against Alabama. They really thought this was the year.
We streaked back through Chattanooga for one night to pick up our absentee ballots, wash clothes, wash the RV, wash the dogs, see Jess’s parents, pick up winter clothes and go out to celebrate our friend Beverly’s birthday at Champy’s. In case you were wondering, Champy’s remains the best fried chicken I’ve ever had in my life.
After Chattanooga we zipped up to Greenville, Tennessee, where we stayed at Davy Crockett’s Birthplace State Park. We kind of did things backwards going to the Alamo first (where he died) but it was still another neat historical loop for Braden. I’ve always said Texas and Tennessee made a pretty good deal with us sending Davy Crockett to them and them sending Willie Nelson to Nashville. Fair trade, I think.
Reuniting with our previous accidental travel theme of Abraham Lincoln sites, we also visited Andrew Johnson’s National Historic Site. Johnson, a Tennessee tailor turned governor was Lincoln’s vice president who became our 17th president after Honest Abe met his end. Just as Johnson is a frequently forgotten historical figure, his National Park site is too. The rangers were clearly glad to see interested guests and proudly gave out Civil War Sesquicentennial collector cards that other parks had run out of since they came out in 2011. There are still plenty at the Andrew Johnson site.
Braden brought up career goals on the drive. Previously he had said when he grew up, he wanted to drive around in an RV and have his “sweet lady” type his work for him. Another time he said he wants to be a “regular man” and “go to the pet store and take care of pets.”
Passing vehicle update: For those of you keeping score at home, we passed vehicles 18, 19, 20 and 21 on the way out there to West Texas. On the way back east, we passed numbers 22 and 23 on the way back. To be fair, number 21 was smoking heavily with his emergency flashers on and took the next exit.
While traveling, we got phone calls that Hurricane Matthew had damaged some of the state parks in coastal South Carolina where we had booked. The parks were closed and we would be finding new places to stay in November and December.
Thank You Love’s Truck in Dickson, Tennessee. Your squeegees on broom handles allowed me to wash the entire windshield from one side of the RV. Find joy in the little things, right?