Monday, September 10, 2012

"The Way West"...Day 86...Thursday, September 6, 2012

I'm awake at 6:00AM and, by 6:30, I'm on the road again...large coffee in hand. I've made this drive from Knoxville to home many's the second leg off the "return from Florida" trip.
550 miles...out of Tennessee, through Kentucky, cross into Ohio at Cincinnati, up to Toledo...down the homestretch.
It's a pretty uneventful drive...I stop for gas a few times, but decide to defer breakfast/lunch so that I can arrive home sooner.
Like clockwork, I'm pulling in the driveway around 3:30PM.
My friends, Terri and Carl, have dropped off the cats yesterday...straightened up my place a little...stocked me up with basic groceries (eggs, bacon, milk and bread).
The cats are happy to see happy as cats can be, I suppose.
I'm in my favorite chair, Bourbon in hand...Picasso Pizza delivery for dinner. Unpacking can wait...I'm beat.
It's good...really be home at last.

The final "stats"...

Miles driven...11,467

Gallons of fuel consumed...736.61

Average fuel economy...15.5 miles/gallon

Hours of driving time...102.06

"The Way West"...Day 84...Wednesday, September 5, 2012

It's mouth is bone-dry and my head hurts. Hmm...maybe I shouldn't have had those three "Cherry Bombs" around 10:00PM last night. Two Advils, half a liter of Gatorade, a carton of coconut water and two coffees...good to go!
When I'm traveling with the camper, I have a "mental checklist" that I go through every single time before I get on the road...hitch tight on the ball, safety chains attached, wiring harness plugged in, windows shut, doors and hatch closed and locked...visual inspection of the tires and axle. This is sort of like the checklist that airplane pilots go through it every time without becomes "second nature".
This morning, everything is a "go"...except that it looking odd or is it just my imagination. It's the same wheel that fell of in North Dakota, so I'm a little leery. It looks a little "bent out", but I'm thinking it's just because of the uneven surface of the concrete slab that I'm parked on. around 7:15AM, I'm on the road...out of the French Quarter and up onto I-10. I've driven maybe twenty miles when I hear a car horn's the car next to me, and they're pointing at the wheel on my camper. I roll down the window, and a girl yells..."Dude, you're wheel's about to fall off". Great. I immediately exit the Interstate and pull over to inspect things. Bad wheel is bent outward about thirty degrees or so...the bearing is probably going bad. I use the Garmin to find a Firestone Auto Service store and pull in. The guy takes a look and says that there's nothing that he can do. He sends me five miles down the road to a trailer dealer...they look at's the plate on the axle that the spindle is bolted/welded's cracked and bent...catastrophic failure is imminent. They tell me that they can't fix it, and send me to another place...Hickory Truck & Auto Repair. The owner there is a nice friendly Cajun-type. He takes a look at the wheel/axle and immediately assures me that this can be fixed...I feel better already. Soon, his guys set to work...remove the wheel, heat up the "plate" with a torch, bend the spindle back into place (carefully checking things with a "level". Then they weld the plate back together...building up a "ridge" to hold everything in place. When the weld has cooled, they grease the bearing and remount the wheel. The whole process takes about two hours...and...they only charge me $100.00.
Now I'm back on the road, but running a few hours late. It's almost 9:00 by the time I pull into the Days Inn Knoxville...check in...drop my stuff...head across the parking lot to Applebee's. I have a double Maker's on the rocks, a few appetizers, a few beers. Back to the Days Inn and sleep.

"The Way West"...Day 83...Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Roger and I are both early risers and, this morning, we're both up at 6:00AM for coffee. We sit outside with our coffee...talking away...until Gretchen gets up to say goodbye.
At 7:30AM, I'm on my way...traveling down the little back roads out of Dickinson up to I-10. About five miles or so out, my cell phone's Roger...I've forgotten my "cigar ashtray" for back I go...more goodbyes.
Then I'm rolling along again...up to I-10...out of east Texas and into Louisiana. The road is clear, but I can see some flooding on the side roads...and there are a lot of billboards that have been shredded by the winds of the recent hurricane.
At almost exactly 2:00PM, I pull into the French Quarter RV Park in New Orleans. I know this park well...Terri, Carl and I stayed here for the Sugar Bowl. The location is excellent...just a ten minute walk to the French Quarter.
I've got about eight hours to eat and drink my way through the French Quarter, and I want to make the most of every minute. So...after a quick shower and a change of clothes, I'm off. My first stop is Acme Oyster Bar, where I put away two dozen on the half-shell and a dozen fried with Remoulade Sauce. My favorite shucker, Norman, is off today...too bad, I was really looking forward to seeing him again. After Acme, I spend three hours or so "barhopping"...all my favorites...Johnny White's, Fritzel's (they have a UM poster on the wall, so it's a "must" stop), The Old Absinthe House. Along the way, I pay a visit to the "French Quarter Pet Asylum"...the place where I "adopted" my cat, Nola, back in January. The same gal is working there, and she remembers both me as well as Nola (or "Carmela" as she was known back then). She's happy to hear how well Nola is all of my cats, Nola's "got it made". I leave a $25.00 donation, and I'm on my way.
By 7:00PM, I'm hungry again (sorta), so I head out of the French Quarter across Canal Street and up to the Hilton Hotel. In the Hilton, "Drago's serves great Grilled Oysters...not as good as Gilhooley's, but pretty good nonetheless. I polish off two dozen...washed down with several glasses of Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc fro New Zealand. Then it's back across and down Canal Street to the Palace Cafe. From my numerous visits to New Orleans, I know that the Palace Cafe is open 24/ can get Bananas Foster, prepared tableside, any old time that you want...and I "want". The bartender and I know each other from my last trip here for the Sugar Bowl, so we chat a little football before the "show". He's a "master" of the whole Bananas Foster "ritual"...the brown sugar, cinnamon and go the bananas...then the rum and banana liquer...the flaming...the ice cream...excellent.
Now it's back to the French Quarter...some "divey" bars on the side streets...a strip club (hey, I have been on the road for 83 days, you know). At 10:00PM, I'm game for one last meal...more oysters...this time at "Desire", An Oyster Bar". The "shucker" and I bond immediately...and, soon, he's serving up twelve of the biggest oyster ever. I can barely finish them.
Now it's back to the RV Park, but not without a stop at my favorite "United Nations" bar along the way...the "Double Play". I know that it's affiliated with U.N. because it's flying the multi-colored United Nations flag outside. It must not be "ladies night" because I don't see any inside on this night. Again, this bartender recognizes me from my last I get a Miller High Life "on the house". Several beers later, it is definitely time to call it a night. I call a ten-minute walk in this part of town at night.
For the first time this whole trip, it's too hot to sleep. I toss and turn in the heat...very humid. Finally, I get up, get in the Explorer and turn on the AC full-blast to "ice" myself down. Then, back in the's like somebody turned off the switch.

"The Way West"...Day 82...Monday, September 3, 2012

For whatever reason, I am wide awake at 4:30AM on this Labor Day morning. No one else is up, so I quietly microwave a cup of yesterday's coffee and slip outside for a cigar. It's hot outside before's probably the same temperature here as in Dallas, but it's much more humid.
Around 6:00, Roger is up, and he makes a fresh pot of coffee while we sit around outside. We've decided to drive down to Galveston today...check it out...have lunch...visit the American Legion Post. But, before we leave, there's "stuff" to do...showers, laundry, trash disposal, etc. It's nearly noon before we set out for Galveston.
The drive down is fun...lots of oil refineries,,,the occasional glimpse of the ocean. I first visited Galveston back in the early 80's...what a difference now. Thirty years and several hurricanes later, it's a mere "shadow" of what it used to be. Back in the 80's, you drove down Seawall Blvd., and there miles of tightly packed hotels, restaurants, bars and clubs. Now these are few and far between...lots of empty spaces and vacant property.
There are no "great" restaurants...those are long gone...washed away in some nameless hurricane. The restaurants that are left are OK, at best...geared for the meager tourist trade. We decide to eat at "Casey's", a casual restaurant run by the Gaido family. The Margaritas are good, but the food is mediocre. My "Stuffed Shrimp" are "stuffed" with something that looks and tastes like fishy wallpaper paste.
After lunch, we drive over to the local American Legion for a few beers. The patrons at the bar are friendly, the bartender cute, and the beers cold.
Back at camp, I start to do some preliminary packing up. I've been looking at my atlas, plotting the route home...and it looks like my best bet is to go home via New Orleans...lucky me.
Around 7:00PM, we head back to Gilhooley's for some more of those fabulous Grilled Oysters. We are crestfallen to learn that they are "out" of oysters this particular raw, no grilled, no fried. So...we have to make do with shrimp...some grilled, some fried...and, while they're not oysters, they are still pretty darn good.
Back at camp, Roger and Gretchen help me pack up the last of my stuff. It's a 350 mile drive to New Orleans tomorrow, and I want to get an early start.
Once the packing is complete, we relax with a few beers...some to bed.

Monday, September 3, 2012

"The Way West"...Day 81...Sunday, September 2, 2012

Roger and I are up early this morning because we've got packing up to do. I'm scheduled to be back home on Thursday but today, we're heading 300 miles south in the opposite direction. Our destination is the town of San Leon (Dickinson, actually) between Houston and Galveston. And why, you might wonder, am I driving that far out of my way? The answer is "Gilhooley's"...a restaurant the serves the finest "Grilled Oysters" that I've ever eaten...oysters on the half-shell slathered with garllic butter, grated parmesan, topped with a shrimp...then cooked on an open wood fire until everything is melted...absolutely awesome!
The drive to San Leon is long and tedious. We stop once for gas, but that's it. Around 3:30PM, we arrive at the Bay RV Park and check in. We had planned to go right to Gilhooley's, but their parking lot is too small to accommodate our large vehicles. Our plan to take a taxi is thwarted when we find out that there's a two-hour wait...and that the fare to go about two miles and then back is $35.00. So...we unpack the Explorer...a one-hour project that we all would have preferred to avoid.
Finally...around 5:00PM...we head for Gilhooley's. The Grilled Oysters are magnificent, as are the raw oysters, fried oysters and fried shrimp...we gorge ourselves for almost two hours...washing down our food with little "cups" of Copa wine.
We leave absolutely stuffed...heading back to camp. There, we open a few bottles of red wine and sip away until late in the night.

"The Way West"...Day 80...Saturday, September 1, 2012's "game day". I'm finally nearing the end of this summer's journey...that's just as well because I'm starting to get pretty homesick.
Roger's coffee is tasting pretty good this morning. We've all slept in past 8:00AM. Molly stops by for a Bloody Mary, but I'm not joining her this morning...just coffee for me.
We've been talking about a "tailgate menu" for days but day...we decide on a big lunch and then "stadium food" for dinner. We'll "cab it" to and from the game.
Around 11:00AM, we drive back over to Ft. Worth for lunch at Angelo's Barbecue. Years ago, when I worked for Volkswagen, I spent many days/nights in Ft. Worth working on environmental issues at an air conditioning compressor plant that we had here. And...Angelo's was one of my favorite places back then. We all order chopped beef sandwiches...potato salad...beans...beers. It's a great lunch, and we leave "stuffed".
Back at camp, we watch some college football on television...whiling away our time until the "big game". Around 5:00PM, we get our cab over to Cowboy's Stadium". We walk around outside for awhile, but we can't find a spot for cocktails. So...we head inside. My seats are separate from Roger and Gretchen's, but we are all in the same area. I get myself a beer and...later...a huge plate of nachos...and I'm ready for kickoff.
About the game, there's not much to be said. Our UM Wolverines were outplayed and out-coached in every phase of the game. There is nothing postive to say...the rout was complete.
Late in the fourth quarter, we meet up and head out to the cab stand. While Cowboy's Stadium is a very impressive structure, that organization really failed us this night. We have to wait almost two and a half hours for a taxi. And, when we finally get one, there are at least 350 people in line behind chaos.
Back at camp, we have a few beers and nurse our wounds. Our Alabama neighbors are very gracious in victory. This is in stark contrast to the childish comments that we see later from our in-state rivals from "State".
So...soon we battered and bruised Wolverines head off to bed to sleep the sleep of the defeated.

"The Way West"...Day 79...Friday, August 31, 2012

Well...nobody's up and about too early this morning. It was close to 1:00AM when we finally staggered off to bed after a night of beers, shots, wonder I'm feeling a bit "fuzzy".
Roger's got coffee brewed , and that helps to clear a few of the "cobwebs". I bought a dozen or so "Hatch chiles" somewhere along the line, and this morning they're going into breakfast. I make a dish that I learned from my friend, Bill Lamping...Migas. It's diced onions and chiles sauteed in butter, then add beaten eggs (with a healthy dollop of hot sauce)...then some grated cheese...and, finally, a handful of crushed Tostitos. It's just what we all need this morning.
One of our campmates, Molly, stops by for a Bloody Mary...and that's great because I like Molly. She's attractive, intelligent and has a very engaging personality. She's splitting her time between work and college...and you can tell right away that she's got lots and lots of potential. I also have a Bloody Mary.
After breakfast, Roger and I head out shopping...we need dog food for their dog, Blue, as well as some groceries and ice. Even though everything is relatively close, our shopping trip seems to take most of the day. Back at camp, we all settle in for extended naps.
Around 5:30PM, we set off for "Uncle Julio's" restaurant in Fort Worth. We are meeting an old friend, Karen and her husband for dinner. Gretchen and I knew Karen back in our "Notre Dame days"...1973 1nd 1974. She was, at that time, married to one of my classmates in the MBA program. Now she's married to a great guy, Bill, and has two sons just out of college. One attended Texas A&M, so they are big fans.
We all have a great time at dinner. Our friends from UM games, Angelo and Mary Beth, meet us...and several of Karen and Bill's friends are there as well. Needless to say, there's lots of retelling of old stories and jokes...great fun.
Back at camp, there's not a lot of partying going on. We have a beer or the MSU/Boise State game.
Sleep...much needed sleep...comes early.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

"The Way West"...Day 77...Wednesday, August 29, 2012

It's my last day in Austin, and I should be enjoying it. But I'm really just wishing that it was tomorrow already...because tomorrow, I'll be heading to the Dallas area and meeting up with Roger and Gretchen.
So...this morning, I'm enjoying my morning coffee and cigar...pausing once and a while to pick up trash around my campsite and start packing things up.
Someone recommended a place for lunch, Maria's Taco Express, so I head over there around noon. It's mediocre at best...I've eaten such great Mexican food on this trip that I'm now spoiled.
After lunch, I spend the afternoon on errands...stop at the bank for cash...stop at the groceries for some food items and the all-important beer...grab a few bags of ice for the coolers. hour or two of reading followed by another hour or so on the Internet.
Around 5:00, I head down to the "Shady Grove" for a "Shady Thang" or two...or three. It's hot out, and these frozen drinks are going down real easy.
I'm not feeling particularly hungry tonight...and I definitely don't feel like driving to dinner. So...I walk a few minutes down the street to a little burger place and grab a bacon cheeseburger and a small order of fries...just what I need. I carry all of this back to camp and open a nice bottle of Pinot Noir to complement my dinner.
After dinner, it's the standard drill...television (including Frasier reruns), a few beers...sleep.

"The Way West"...Day 78...Thursday, August 30, 2012

I'm up early again and excited about hooking up with Gretchen and Roger...can't wait to see some familiar faces!
As usual, I'm enjoying coffee and a cigar and, this morning, I'm packing up at a leisurely pace. The packing is going well until about 9:00. That's when all of my friends at the RV Park start to stop by to say good bye. I have really enjoyed my stay here in Austin, and my neighbors are a large part of the reason why.
By the time that I bid all of my neighbors farewell and finish packing up, it's after 11:00...and I've got a three hundred mile drive to Austin.
I'm so excited at the thought of seeing Gretchen and Roger that I don't even stop for's pedal to the metal all the way up.
At 2:30, I arrive at the Dallas Metro KOA in Arlington and proceed to my site right next to Roger and Gretchen. There are lots of hugs. We've got a great group of UM fans, all in their mid to late 20's, parked next to us. They stop over for Bourbon, beer, etc. Pretty soon, the beers are really flowing...more shots...order a pizza...more beer. Another camper stops by with a guitar and sings for awhile...more beer...sing the UM fight song...more beer.
It's close to 1:00AM before I finally call it a night and head for bed. I'm sleeping tonight in Roger and Gretchen's motor home...nice and cool with air conditioning...very comforta

ble. A nice welcoming party tonight.

"The Way West"...Day 76...Tuesday, August 28, 2012

I'm up early again at 6:00AM this morning...enjoying a few cups of coffee and a cigar.
At 9:00, I'm off for lunch. Why so early?...well, I'm going to Franklin opens at 11:00, and the line starts forming around 9:30. I get there at 9:15, and I'm number 11 in line. By 10:30, there are over seventy people in line. A guy comes out around 10:00...he goes down the line asking people what they plan to order so that they can let people at the end of the line know what will be available when they get to the front of the line. They only make a limited amount of brisket, sausage, ribs, etc...and...when it's gone, it's gone.
At 11:01, I'm inside placing my order...brisket, sausage, potato salad...and a Shiner beer. It's not just "good" barbecue, it's "great" barbecue. The brisket is, maybe, the most tender that I've ever pot roast. And it's really, really juicy...not dry at all. Sausage is equally good...even the potato salad is excellent. There's even a "killer" banana rum tart for dessert.
It's close...really, really close...but I have to give Franklin's the nod over Louie Mueller for best barbecue on this trip.
Back at camp, I find a shady spot and read for a few hours. Later, I'm on the Internet to check emails and post to the blog.
Tuesday is another $1 pint day at Billy's Brew & Cue, so I head over there around 4:00 or so for a few cold ones. Around 7:00, I'm feeling hungry...not starved, but hungry. So...I drive about three miles to a food truck that has been highly recommended. It's called "Three Little Pigs", and their specialty is a "Pork Belly Slider". I order one of those, along with a pork dumpling and head back to camp. I've iced down a nice bottle of Pinot Gris, and I enjoy that with my dinner. The "Slider" is phenomenal...crispy pork belly, maple-soy glaze and thinly-sliced apple on a crispy bun. It's a great combination of textures and flavors.
After dinner, I haul out the Vizio and enjoy a little television late into the night...along with a few beers.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

"The Way West"...Day 75...Monday, August 27, 2012

Like several other cities that I've visited on this trip, Austin has a lively "food truck scene". So...this morning, after coffee, I drive about two miles to a stretch of highway where there are two "clusters" of food trucks First, I stop for a huge shredded beef taco ($3.00) at the "Izzoz" taco truck...excellent. Then, down the road a bit to "Phatso's" for a Philly Cheesesteak with provolone...pretty darn authentic for Texas. Then, back up the road to "Gourdough's" for a huge freshly-made am stuffed!
Back at camp, I've got work to do. As I mentioned before, the 110 degree temperatures were not kind to some of the things stored in both the Explorer as well as the camper. So...I unpack everything from the camper. That bottle of Bailey's has leaked a considerable amount of very sticky stuff all over one side of my mattress. Unpacking that, I see that there is more damage than expected...bottles of CatDaddy and Grand Marnier have also exploded. And, for the next few hours, I'm cleaning things off and sheets are in the washer. Around 4:00PM, I'm finally finished...everything cleaned up and repacked...clean sheets back on the mattress.
One of my new friends from the RV Park stops by and invites me to join him for a few beers at "Billy's Brew & Cue", right next to the Park. They've got two lagers on draft, so I'm happy. There's a fun group at the bar at Billy's...and I lose count of how many beers I've had.
Back to camp...some more work on the Internet (blog, bills, etc.). Around 7:00PM, I'm hungry, so I head down the street to Chuy's for a few Margaritas and an excellent plate of Enchiladas.
Back to camp...a few beers...a few "Frasier" reruns...bed.