Friday, April 23, 2021

Deja Moose, Part Free

The Moose is back!!!

[This is Part Three of a Three Part Series, start with Part One here.]

Not quite a week later, I checked in with John. He had made an appointment with a Ford garage to straighten out the computer which still wasn’t performing properly. But he and Ford had disagreed he said. Furthermore, because his injury was slowing him down, and he was a bit stumped troubleshooting The Moose, he was taking the van to a friend of his who had been in the transmission business just as long. 

Call me Monday, I got. 

I was in a bit of a pinch. My resignation was effective Saturday and I had no wheels. Further, Nancy had volunteered to drive me north once again, but due to some family commitments she could only do it that weekend. 

Counting my blessings, I accepted and we planned another roadtrip. 

I finished my last delivery, cleaned out and cleaned up my truck, and turned it in with my fuel card and company ID. When Nancy arrived, I smiled ruefully and told her the van wasn’t quite ready yet. We dropped some of my truck stuff off at the storage unit and headed North anyway. 

Once again, my limit was about Brunswick. We had some really good Thai food and then a great breakfast the next morning; our second time at the Sunrise Diner. I highly recommend it. 

Back in Savannah, we took a nice walk along the riverfront and watched the tourists mill around and buy ridiculous things. The pralines, however, were not ridiculous, they were delicious. (Thanks, Nancy!) We had a snacky supper and I bought a few groceries to hang out in a motel for a few days and crossed my fingers to get my van back soon. 

Nancy headed back home and I settled in to hang out and write. Soon to be back to boatwork, I was going to start blogging again once I got to North Carolina. So I flexed my writing muscles by posting a true life trucking tale over at my secret other blog and began working on these Chronicles of The Moose. I got involved in my work on Monday, and called Tuesday when I hadn’t heard anything yet. I talked to Randy, John’s father, who often answers the shop phone. I didn’t get a lot of detail, but Ford apparently won the argument as another computer was on the way, will be here Wednesday, call me Thursday. 

And so I ended up hanging out in Savannah for a couple more days. I called Thursday, just as John had finished test driving The Moose. It runs great, but let me testdrive it a time or two today, just to be sure, call me this afternoon, he said. When I called back, one of his guys had just run to McDonalds -- in my van, a test drive, he said -- I'll call you when he gets back. But he didn't call. He had once called me about 7:30pm. So, I waited, but got no call.   

It’s now Thursday evening as I write this and I will have my van back in the morning. I think.

Epilogue [Friday, April 23]: 

I picked the van up this morning. The full tale of the van may never be told but the outline I got is flabbergasting. The original rebuilt transmission had been slipping, but the engine was also stalling. They just happened to have a matching transmission in the shop this month, so I got a new rebuilt transmission. However, the stalling problem persisted. The first replacement computer didn’t fix the trouble and John didn’t want to believe Ford that the computer he had found wasn’t any good. After talking with his friend in the business, apparently it seemed that Ford might be right. They ordered another computer, but when it came in, two days later, the stalling problem was still there. Rather than giving up, or setting the van on fire, John and his guys dove deeper. At some point Wednesday evening or Thursday morning, they finally solved it. A bad ground on a headlight [FFS!] had been causing enough electrical mischief to knock the nearby computer and disguise as a problem there.

I can’t explain it but I trusted John throughout this ordeal. I wasn’t always completely patient, but I understood that the van was in good hands and I had no choice anyway. This whole computer thing toward the end was pushing it, but what else could I do? In my humble opinion, a chain store transmission shop would have sent me packing a month ago. Not only did John and his wizardry fix the most unlikely problem, not only had he been working on my van on and off for nearly a month, he considered it under warranty and charged me nothing. I cannot, for the life of me, figure how a bad ground on a headlight would be covered under a transmission warranty -- but I'll take it. And John wouldn't consider taking any of my money (I asked ... but only once). Sometimes it pays to be a half-broke, weirdo vagabond.  

And how does it feel to finally be headed back to my boat? Call me Monday. 

Actually, I’m headed to Florida to get my stuff out of storage, then I’m headed to the boat. In case you’re keeping track, I came to Florida from Michigan in November 2019 to clean out a different storage unit and then head to my boat in North Carolina. I know the way. The Moose knows the way. And Ruth Ann is getting impatient with both of us.

I can't wait to get back to Life On The Water!!!

Deja Moose, Part Deux

Museum Garden

This is Part Two of a Three Part Series, start with Part One here.

Two weeks later. 

This is where the wheels start to come off of the story, but it’s only the beginning of the gonzo weirdness to come. John, the owner and chief mechanic of the transmission shop suffered a serious back injury. Nevertheless, he was still trying to keep up with his regular business and take care of a warranty issue for some weirdo vagabond and his camper van. He thought the van would be done the following week. I was chomping at the bit to get back to my boat, so I submitted my two week notice at work. Cheerfully assuming that I would have the van back by the end of the next week. 

I finally talked to John at the shop the day before Nancy and I were going to head back up to Savannah. He explained his injury had kept him from the shop for a few days but he thought the van was done. “Let me take it for a test drive and call me back in the morning,” he said. Well, ‘in the morning’ was going to be into my ‘weekend’ and I had already arranged a ride. I called Nancy to explain that I thought the van was going to be done by the time we got there, but I couldn’t be certain. We decided the worst thing that could happen was a nice day in Savannah and no van. So we hit the road; took the chance. 

The Thunderbird

Same deal, as usual, I ended my week early in the morning. The company I drove for was good to us drivers. If you drove that day, that day was a workday; your weekend would be the next two whole days. Many trucking companies think a ‘weekend’ is the 48 hours after you turn your truck off and expect you right back. We hit the road on my ‘Friday’ and made Savannah by evening. I tried to get us into the wonderfully quaint and cool Thunderbird Inn, but they were full; something about the azaleas being in bloom. We had a nice dinner on the sidewalk downtown and headed back out toward the highway. 

The next morning, however, I learned the van wasn’t ready. The same trouble with stalling in reverse had snuck back into the picture. “Call me back this afternoon,” he said. So, Nancy and I hit the Ships of the Sea Museum, enjoyed the museum’s garden, drove through the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge, and wandered out to Tybee Island Beach and the Atlantic. Man, it was good to dip my toes into Mother Ocean. The beach, however, just wasn’t as nice as some of the sugar sand beaches I’m used to in Florida and Michigan. 

I talked to John near the end of the day and I could hear the frustration and exhaustion in his voice. Half crippled by the back injury, he was still working desperately to fix my van. He had begun to suspect it was the computer rather than the transmission that was stalling the engine. He had a similar computer in the shop and had hot-wired it into the van. It then drove fine. So he had ordered an appropriate computer online and the van should be ready the next week. 

Nancy and I had had a nice day in Savannah, but I needed to get back to work; with or without my van. So, we headed back south. I had a week left at work and no wheels.

Deja Moose, Part One

It was a pretty simple plan when it started. Nothing complicated. I needed to get my half crippled camper van, The Moose, back to a shop in South Carolina for warranty work. The shop is just across the river from Savannah. Then I’d need to go back and get it in a week or so. 


I have a terrific friend, Nancy, who just happened to be nearby. We’ve known each other since we were nine years old and have been through all kinds of adventures; with our families when we were young as well as later in life. She was going to follow me up as I tried to get the van back to the transmission shop. I was still working in Florida about five hours away. A week or so later, if all went according to plan, I would have my van back just in time to quit my job and head back to my boat, sv Ruth Ann, in North Carolina.  

In fact, Nancy knows me so well, the ‘Deja Moose’ part of the title of this blog was her idea; it fits perfectly with the story and even with my style. 

The transmission shop had installed a rebuilt transmission last fall but it had started acting up. Being so far away, I first took it to a local shop hoping that a tune up or a simple fix external to the transmission would do the trick. 

No such luck. 

The local shop confirmed my fear that there was indeed a problem with the transmission. It seemed to affect only the reverse gear but they couldn’t be sure it was only reverse or how and when it might get worse. Since it was under warranty, they recommended I take it back to the original shop. 

They also only gave me a 50/50 chance of making it back to Savannah if I tried to drive there. 

I considered all kinds of options to get the van to the shop without driving it but all were several hundred dollars. I just couldn’t bring myself to spend a bunch of boat money on the van. I’d already taken two hits last fall; buying the rebuilt transmission and I had lost almost three weeks to COVID.

I’ve been driving a truck based in Florida on a seven days out, two days off schedule, but I arranged to have an extra day off. I might need that extra time if there were any problems with the van on the way. I had decided to chance it and drive up, but I was being as practical as possible. 

I’ve been living in The Moose since November 2019. Full time until June and then just on weekends after I started truckdriving again. Before that, when I was working nights in Michigan while helping Mom and Dad, I actually slept in the van in the driveway where it was quieter during the day. So the van and I go way back. Further, I had lots of stuff in the van: clothes, food, boat stuff, and books. If the van broke down on the way to Savannah, I’d be stuck with all my stuff somewhere along the road. So I rented a storage unit in Florida and packed up my stuff in boxes the previous week. 

It was auspicious that Nancy happened to be nearby. She arranged to borrow her Mom’s car to follow me up (thanks, Elna). My week ended fairly early in the morning on what was, in effect, my Friday. So I nearly had an extra day -- almost a four day, three day weekend. When Nancy came by to join the northbound caravan, the first thing we did was empty the van into the storage unit. I just had to park it where I didn’t have to back out. I had already worked that day, then schlepped all my stuff into storage, and hit the road. We made it as far as Brunswick before I ran out of steam. 
Holy Shiitake!

The next morning, it was only an hour and a half to the transmission shop. We had a big breakfast at the Sunrise Diner and hit the road. The van made it all the way without a hiccup. It was a quiet Sunday morning when I stashed the key in the van’s grill and left a voicemail for the shop. Just then, we realized that I still had two more days off and we were halfway to my boat. I hadn’t seen her since the previous October and Nancy was keen to see her in person. 

So … why not? 

We took a leisurely ride through the low country, grabbed a Holy Shiitake pizza at the Mellow Mushroom in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, and got to the boatyard in North Carolina by supper time. [Editor's Note: Holy Shiitake pizza: 3 kinds of mushrooms, carmelized onions, mozz, and a garlic aioli swirl all on an olive oil and garlic base. YUM!]

When I was living at the boatyard last year, Sam, the owner, would often come out on Sunday afternoons with his family. He occasionally mowed the lawn, though he had a guy who did that. Also, his grandkids would sometimes ram around the outer edges of the boatyard on their fourwheelers. Sam was just leaving that evening when we arrived. He waved and smiled. 

The first problem I had was that in all the keys I had on three carefully curated keychains, not one of them was for the lock on my tool trailer, the lock on my ladder, or the one on the companionway to the boat. I could picture a lone key that I had found while packing the van. I had looked at it the week before and decided I didn’t know what it unlocked, so I packed it. Now, I think I know exactly what it was for. 

Ruth Ann has been out in a field since I left and was pretty dirty, but she was fine. I had some errands the next morning, so we headed into town. I bought a hacksaw and a pair of padlocks, then we grabbed some takeout from my favorite little family-run sushi shop. 

The next morning, in Wilmington, we grabbed bagels and Dunkin coffee. Back at the boatyard, I broke into my tool trailer. The tools looked fine; none missing and not much rust. I’ll be curious if my Milwaukee rechargeable batteries survived the idle time. But that will come later. With the trailer now open, I had access to my angle grinder. I lamented that there wasn’t any power way out here and Nancy reminded me that my generator was in the trunk of her car. 


I fired up the generator and was through the lock on the ladder in no time. Next stop, ladder in hand, was the boat. 

I set up the generator and threw an extension chord up into the cockpit. We climbed aboard Ruth Ann and I buzzed my way through the lock with a random piece of boatyard 2X4 behind it to protect Ruth Ann’s woodwork. We went down inside to take a look. I gave Nancy the nickel tour. All the boat parts I had bought were still there; solar panels, windvane, and electrical stuff. There were no bugs, no critters, and only about a half a cup of water in the bilge. That was a wonderful relief.  Life is good. I’ll be back here in a couple weeks, I thought. So we locked everything back up and headed south.
The Lil' Tool Trailer

Nancy had followed me to Savannah, we had road-tripped on to Ruth Ann, and then ran all the way back down to Florida so I could go back to work. It was a huge help and some good fun. And(!) she took my SPOT satellite messenger with her to update the firmware. I don’t have either the required Windows or Apple machine. It wasn’t very complicated but she was a computer savvy person I could trust.  

It was an awesome roadtrip and Nancy thought she could help get me back to The Moose when it was ready. Little did she know how complicated that might become; never boring, and more than occasionally fun. 

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Fetching The Moose, Catching 'Rona

This is Part Three of a Three Part Series. 

To finish the story that started with me sneaking up to North Carolina to check on my boat, I had to return to South Carolina to pick up The Moose and its new transmission.

What I had in mind was to get a ride somehow down to the Greyhound station in Orlando, ride the bus back to Savannah, and then take a taxi across the river to Hardeeville, SC. The reverse of how I had got back to work after the breakdown. But I have a wonderful friend who had a plan for me and wouldn't take no for an answer.

One of my side jobs when I came to Florida a few years ago was delivering sod to Lowe's and Home Depot stores. The job was totally fun in a little boy kind of way; lots of toys. I hauled a flatbed trailer that I often had to load myself. Loading the trailer at the sod farm meant using a tractor size forklift with great big tires to get around in the sandy farmyard. Once I loaded the trailer and headed to the stores, I had a three-wheel forklift hanging off the back of the trailer. They could have paid me in sandwiches for all the fun I had in the middle of the night buzzing around a parking lot, grabbing pallets of sod off the trailer, and dropping it near the Garden Center. Carla worked in the office at the sod farm and for some reason, between loads or at the end of my day, Carla and I would get to chatting about everything and anything from the most mundane to the deepest topics. She often had to kick me out of her office to get work done. We became fast friends and have stayed in touch even after I left the company.

Several months ago, I drove a moving van to help move Carla and her husband, Tim. So when she heard that I needed to get back to South Carolina, she made a plan. She didn't necessarily insist but simply assumed that they would help me out. It is wonderful to have friends like that. 

The plan was a relay. I'd been without wheels for over a month, so Carla drove down from Jacksonville to where I work in Central Florida. Back in Jacksonville, I switched cars and Tim took me the rest of the way to Hardeeville. They would not consider my offer of gas money or anything. Carla even bought us lunch which Tim and I enjoyed as we chatted our way up through Georgia to the transmission shop.

My boat money account took a hit having to replace the transmission in the camper van, but I really didn't have an option that was less expensive. Any other option that might have included abandoning the van would have required me to make my way back to South Carolina to get all my stuff. I was living in the van while working on the boat and have been lately on my weekends away from driving the truck. I have all kinds of life stuff and boat stuff in the van; and the van pantry is full of dry goods. I’m well provisioned for a guy who rarely cooks these days.

The new transmission was going to cost $4,000. The shop needed a deposit to get the work started. Luckily, I had been saving for the boat. Everyone I met in that small town said I had picked the best transmission guys around. I didn’t have much choice, but don’t mind that I lucked out. When Tim dropped me back at the shop, I learned how right the townsfolk had been. The man at the counter (the owner, I think) explained that they had used a different supplier than they had originally planned which saved us all some money. My bill was more than $400 less than their estimate; wonderful. I had delayed returning to fetch the van until I had earned enough to pay off the second half of the new transmission. I was stretched pretty thin. It is always a privilege to work with such honest people. 

I got lazy on the way home and stopped to boondock for the night at a truck stop. I've done this before but I always forget that sleeping with all the windows open next to a bunch of idling semis is not so healthy. There's an awful lot of diesel soot in the air and, depending on the wind direction, I can wake with heavy lungs and a scratchy throat. Nevertheless, I was back at my truck Friday afternoon, loaded, and ready to hit the road.

Saturday afternoon I started to have a funny cough in the back of my throat that was worse by evening. Sometime before midnight I was really very sick. Either Saturday or Sunday, it's hard to recall, I had a load that got canceled. I told my dispatcher that I felt like crap and that if he didn't need me I would just sleep until the next day. I slept more than 20 hours but still woke up with a fever and chills. I was sweating through the sheets and the cough had dropped into my chest. At first, I blamed the crowded truckstop air. Then I tried to convince myself it was just a cold. 

I dragged around the rest of the week like a zombie. My fever came and went, but after that one day or so of being really sick, it moderated. I was stuck out on the road and had very little energy but kept going with caffeine. My appetite disappeared. I was literally buying something to eat because I knew that I needed something in my stomach not because I had any inkling of hunger. I had no desire to eat anything. More than once, I bought one of those nasty convenience store wedge sandwiches, struggled to eat half, and threw the rest out because I could eat no more. About Thursday, while nibbling at another sandwich, I was trying to decide if I could taste it. That's when I thought [dummy!] if you have to think about it, you've lost your sense of taste. It was then that I stopped trying to convince myself it was just a cold. I needed to get tested for COVID.

I finally got home on Friday, booked a room, slept all day Saturday, and got a COVID test on Sunday. I didn't want to be stuck in the camper van sweating and coughing. Monday, I told work I was waiting on a test result and hunkered down in the motel. On Tuesday I got a positive result and didn’t leave the motel for almost two weeks; more lost boat money.

There were a couple of times during that first week I felt so run down that I began to wonder if I was seriously ill. After that, even after the positive result, my experience was moderate. It was no fun, but I think I had a mild case. What really worried me, and was always on my mind, was whether I might have exposed my friends. They had been nice enough to give me a long ride on Thursday, by Saturday I felt it, and Sunday I was really sick. That was too close for comfort. Besides worry, I felt a bit selfish and shameful for not having just gotten myself back to the van. Even if I had avoided exposing my friends however, I could not have gotten back to The Moose without potentially exposing a bunch of strangers. This is the world of 2020. We must always worry about exposing or getting exposed. I am very grateful that my friends helped me get to South Carolina. Thankfully, Carla and Tim are fine and didn’t seem to catch anything from me.

My COVID experience was fairly mild compared to what I've read in the news. I was really only quite ill for a day and a half. After struggling for several days on the road, I spent a couple weeks in a motel, mostly sleeping. During my stay, my sweet sister arranged for a couple meals to be delivered. First, I got three kinds of soup and some chicken fried rice that was wonderful for my convalescence. When I began to feel a little bit better, she sent a vegetarian appetizer platter from an Indian place. I also downloaded some apps and had groceries delivered from Publix and some good Chinese too. 

I've been back to work two weeks and I’m feeling much better. My brain is finally back but I'm still regaining my strength and stamina. I’m back on my mission, back at work, and saving money. Early in the Spring, I’ll get back to NC and sv Ruth Ann, to finish the work, and get her back in the water.


First image is mine. The Donkey forklift image is from Donkey Forklifts. I grabbed the parked trucks from Getty through Google. The Coronavirus image is from the CDC.  

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

The Halfway Back Blues

This is Part Two of a 3 Part Series.

As a bit of foreshadowing, a month or two previous I had felt the campervan transmission slip slightly. I checked and added some fluid at the time. When I rolled into Wilmington after 600 miles, I felt a little slip again. Half of the fluid remained from the previous month, so I added the rest. Both times, a little fluid seemed to bring the van, named The Moose by Mom, back to normal. However, a visit to a transmission shop was in order when I got back to Florida.

Right now, I’m on the road hiding out from COVID and earning a little money. Most weeks, I’m running up or down I-95; Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas. So the last thing I wanted to do was head down I-95 to get home. At the end of the last blog, I peeked at the map and headed out of Leland, NC on US-17, south toward Shallotte, Myrtle Beach, Georgetown and Charleston.

US-17 runs from Winchester, Virginia to Punta Gorda, Florida and is called the Coastal Highway. In the Carolinas it is near the coast, but not very coastal. My dreams of following the ocean back down to Florida were not going exactly as I had planned. I’d never been through Myrtle Beach and was shocked by the Vegas-style schlock and pulsating consumerism. Does any city, anywhere, need two PGA Golf Superstores? Out past Myrtle Beach, the scenery improved; low country scrub and southern Americana.

After Myrtle Beach, there was a sign for a  state park, but it was mostly swanky suburbs and golf resorts down through Pawley’s Island. Just before Georgetown there was a stretch of wilderness and I was starting to think about lunch.

In my head, Georgetown is a favorite place, but I’ve only been there once. A little more than five years ago, I was crewing on a Westsail 42, headed from New York to Panama [that story starts here]. In Norfolk, we had picked up the Captain’s father, who had caught a bug on the way up. He was really sick all the way through the Virginia/Carolina wilderness. At Georgetown, we pulled in to take the father to a doctor. It was Memorial Day and that meant going through the process at the local Emergency Room. 

The Waccamaw River flows south from up near Conway. Just before Georgetown, the Waccamaw is joined by the Great Pee Dee River, which wanders all over the Low Country but never gets very great. To the west of town, the Sampit River comes almost due east and joins the other two rivers to become the estuary of Winyah Bay. Previously, the Sampit had made hairpin curve before dumping into the bay. This was indigo and rice country in the colonial and antebellum years. Large slave plantations were established and many rivers and creeks in the area were diverted with complex earthworks built to support the trade. At some point, the Sampit made a shortcut into the bay and turned what had been the main channel up into downtown Georgetown to a quiet bayou. 

Georgetown is the second largest seaport in South Carolina. Exports were originally indigo and rice, then lumber and steel. A couple mills loom over the bayou, right next to downtown. The paper mill still operates and, depending on the wind direction, offers the usual pungent, pulp smell. The steel mill has been through a few owners in the last decades and I’m not sure it’s currently running. Heritage tourism is a big draw these days. The streets of the older side of town are quaint in all the ways you’d expect. Hurricane Hugo paid a ferocious visit here, but the bayfront has recovered and is touristy in an understated genteel kind of way.

During the previous trip, while the Captain and his dad were at the hospital, I got a chance to wander around Georgetown; cobblestones, old buildings, bookstores, and seafood restaurants. I bought a book and enjoyed some lunch. The father got some meds and we were off the next morning. 

On this trip south, I made a pass in the campervan but was uninspired. Call it a hangover from passing through the grinding tourism of Myrtle Beach, but I didn’t stop to hike around seeking seafood. Furthermore, I didn’t want to try and park The Moose on the narrow, old streets. On a residential street, a couple blocks clear of the tourists, I paused under a spanish moss laden oak tree and looked for some lunch options. I had a craving and Lamar’s Fish and Chips caught my eye. 

Lamar’s Fish and Chips was out past the Piggly Wiggly and the McDonald’s, in the westside neighborhoods that are modern, not antebellum country club. The hospital where the captain had taken his father was not far away. A block off the main drag, just beyond an abandoned CVS store, Lamar’s was a nondescript cinderblock building with a mansard looking cap on its facade. Inside, a counter was off to the left, the dining room on the right, closed for COVID with chairs atop tables all moved together. 

I ordered the fish and chips special, whiting; ten minutes. The bathrooms looked open, so I made a pitstop. In no time at all, Lamar emerged from the kitchen with my lunch. Steam wafted from under the clamshell’s lid as he asked what sauces I needed. Hot sauce. Thank you. He asked me where I was coming from and how I’d found his place. I told him I was on the road, headed south, craving seafood, and that I’d found him on Google Maps. 

“Well, I’ve been frying fish for forty eight years, I should know what I’m doing,” he said.

“I can’t wait to find out.”

“You’ll be back,” Lamar assured me. 

Back on US-17 headed south, I munched on the fish and chips which rested on some luggage between the front seats. Out past the mills in Georgetown, I was back in the low country and near a town called Mount Pleasant I started seeing little huts on the side of the road selling baskets. These woven sweetgrass baskets are a tradition brought to South Carolina by the West African slaves who eventually established the Gullah Community in the low country. Originally tools of rice production, these baskets are now a highly refined craft. Basic baskets sell for around $30, but as they get bigger and more intricate they can sell for more than $500. I’ve discovered since then the stretch of US-17 in the Mount Pleasant area has been designated the Sweetgrass Basket Makers Highway. 

The traffic thickened approaching Charleston, and in the stopping and going, the transmission slipped again. The slip was intermittent; still didn’t seem like real trouble. I was really hoping to make it to Florida. Rather than ‘stop and go’ all the way through Charleston, I jumped on the 526 bypass. I got all the way around the city but I could feel the transmission too often. Back at US17 in West Ashley, I stopped and put in another third of a jug of transmission fluid. Once again, it seemed to help. Maybe I could make it back if I just kept adding fluid. 

I know ... I know.  

I was way ahead of schedule. My four day weekend was designed to accommodate some fixing, sealing, or tarping as necessary at the boat. Fortunately, the boat was in great shape. By some intuition, I had left Navassa midday Wednesday rather than Thursday morning. When my load assignment came in, it wasn’t until Saturday evening. I had almost two days of slack, so I thought I might find a cheap motel on the way and spend some time writing. 

Where US-17 joins up with I-95, I pulled over to look for motel options. I had my eye on Hardeeville, SC, across the river from Savannah. There is a familiar truckstop there. I picked a motel near a Chinese restaurant, but offered me a deal I couldn’t resist. Two nights for $70 dollars right near where I was going to be anyway. I booked it and got going toward my little writing vacation. 

Leaving the gas station where I’d stopped, the Moose stalled. That’s new, but it started right back up. Over the highway bridge, I passed a cop on the ramp and as soon as my wheels touched I-95, I heard a quiet pop and the van started trailing white smoke. I drifted over to the shoulder blowing a line of smoke like a skywriter. Under the hood, there was no fire and the smoke had stopped. I gingerly moved several yards on the shoulder, but the smoke did not reappear. It was about 4:30 pm when I started moving slowly down the highway; toward the motel about twenty miles away.  

The exit ramp ended at a stop sign; on a hill. I was worried what would happen when I stepped strongly on the accelerator to get across through the traffic. Nevertheless, the uphill left turn went fine. Down the road a half mile, I made a looping turn into the motel parking lot. There was no more smoke, no fire, but I had left a long trail of fluid which was now dripping below the Moose. I tossed a rag under the leak and checked in at the motel. 

By the time I had a key and a room, it was right at five o’clock. Neither transmission shop in town would answer their phone. Now my plan was dependent on the drip. If there was a big puddle under the Moose in the morning, I was going to need a tow. But when morning came, the rag was damp but there was no puddle. The Moose and I made the eight miles over to the transmission shop. They needed a few hours to diagnose my problems, so I called a cab. Back at the motel, the writing wasn’t flowing easily as I waited for the phone to ring. 

The news was not good. The Moose needed a new transmission. It was going to be expensive. I had to explore some options. So much for writing, now I was ciphering.  

I’ve been living in the van, first while working on the boat and now on my weekends off the road. The Moose is chock full of stuff; boat stuff, life stuff, and food. I have five kinds of flour, dry beans, rice, and other provisions. There are two expensive lithium batteries for the boat on the floor of the van’s shower. Any option to ditch the Moose would have to include getting back to South Carolina somehow to pick up my stuff. I’d have to pay storage in the meantime and trust that wherever it was stored was secure. 

My overall plan is to remain in Florida through February; depending on COVID, the economy, et al. Basically, all my options for moving forward would be nearly as expensive as the transmission. The only real difference is that after moving from the van to the boat I will get some money back out of the van when I sell it. I decided to fix the van. The shop needed a half down deposit to get started. A big chunk of my ‘boat money’ disappeared into the van.  

Now I needed to get back to work. Because I had left North Carolina early, I actually had time to arrange for alternative travel plans back to Florida. I called back the little local taxi company and arranged a ride into Savannah. My trip back to Florida would mostly be by Greyhound bus. As luck would have it, the Greyhound station in Savannah is directly across the street from a funky motel where I’ve always wanted to stay. I booked a room at the Thunderbird Inn and the trip on my Greyhound app. I tried calling an airport shuttle that I’d seen nearby to work. They flatly rejected coming to get me from Greyhound. So I left the last leg’s arrangements for after I arrived. 

The Thunderbird Inn is an awesomely funky spot; bright colors, neon, and southern hospitality. There were moon pies on my pillow, complimentary RC Cola, and mid century modern decor. In the morning with coffee in the lobby: real Krispy Kreme Donuts. Before the sun the next morning, I walked a few blocks over to the Maple Street Biscuit Company; downtown, exposed brick, old wood floors, cool people. I had southern biscuits and gravy, but gravy made with shiitake mushrooms rather than sausage. Divine.

I hiked back to the Thunderbird, packed my bags and walked across the street. Eight hours on the bus to Orlando included a service dog, nonstop nervous natter, COVID conspiracy, apples, China, Afghanistan, the book of Revelations, Trump, Bush, Obama, Kennedy, and End Times. It was all I could do to stay out of the discussion that never stopped from the seat behind me. I was never so glad to arrive in Orlando. 

I got a ride on my Lyft app and began to relax. If I’d have stayed on my game a few more minutes, I would have reacted to all the taillights that appeared on the ramp to the Turnpike. Instead, Cinthya, the driver, and I had a wide ranging chat while we waited through a 45 minute delay. There was a multi-car accident between us and the next exit, so there was no escape. Cinthya is from Ecuador and has one kid in college with another starting high school. She enjoys life in the Orlando area but has much family back in Ecuador; including her Mom who moved back in retirement. 

The last turn toward the terminal is a very dark, lonely country road. I could feel a rise in the tension. I quickly apologized and assured my driver that just around the corner was a giant, well lit complex with a security guard, lots of trucks, and other people. We’d had such a long chat that I think there was a bit of trust, but that trust was tested staring down a lonely country road with some ol’ trucker in the back seat. I unloaded my bags by the guard shack and hit Lyft’s tip button extra hard as Cinthya headed back toward Orlando.  

The next day I was back on the road; back to earning money. I’ve arranged with the shop to come back in a month to pick up the fixed Moose. In the meantime, I don’t really have anywhere to go on my weekends. Yesterday, in the present, I hiked a four mile round trip to visit a produce stand with a taco food truck. Tacos Carnitas, real Mexican street style -- worth every step. 


Editor’s Note: I was in Publix this morning wearing my Thunderbird Inn t shirt. I had thought that I remembered the Thunderbird from visiting my now ex in-laws in Savannah thirty years ago. The cashier, a lady old enough to have been a snowbird for a very long time, asked if the Thunderbird was still open. I assured her that I had slept there a week ago. She told me that she and her husband had often stopped there on their way south for the winter from Ohio. The wistful tone of her voice made it seem like also a long time ago. 

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Sneaking Up To North Carolina

This is Part One of a 3 Part Series. 

I wasn’t going to post much to this blog, because I am not in Navassa working on the boat. I am waiting for all this craziness to end and the world to loosen back up. So I’m back on the road driving for a company that I’ve driven for before; hiding out from COVID and making a little money. Nevertheless, I was able to talk my way into a four day weekend and snuck up to North Carolina to check on my boat, sv Ruth Ann. I drove up in my campervan, known as The Moose.  

I’ve been suffering from a boat-related version of hypochondria. A few times a week my brain would wander off and suddenly I could imagine all the ways that Ruth Ann was suffering some damage up in the boatyard. I imagined her full of water, invaded by bees and wasps ... or mice and snakes. I pictured her leaning on her jackstands damaging the hull. Or she had fallen over sideways. It was mostly ridiculous, but after three months away, it was time to go check on her. 

I got back to the terminal near Leesburg, FL early on the last day of my week. It was easy to get organized, pack up, and head north by midday the day before I’d anticipated leaving. It had already been a full day starting in the wee hours, but I was motivated to see my boat. That evening, I made it as far as exit 49 in Georgia, near Darien. The Taco Bell there was still open, I grabbed a black bean something or other and parked the van among the big trucks out behind the BP station. I’d slept there before in my semi. 

The next morning, I was up early and ready to roll, but the Burger King was not yet open and the Parker’s gas station had no Parker’s Kitchen -- no quick breakfast to grab. So I crossed the highway and stumbled into the Waffle House. I ordered the two egg breakfast and a subscription to coffee. My hash browns are always “scattered, smothered, diced, and peppered;” scattered on the grill, smothered with grilled onions, diced grilled tomatoes, and jalapenos. I sat at the counter next to a chair covered in caution tape to promote social distancing. A scrawny dude with stringy hair sticking out the back of his Waffle House hat took my order. He looked a little out of place so early in the morning. Tattooed on his left hand knuckles was the word “King.”

He complimented me on my octopus tattoo and asked to see the treasure map tat that was peeking out from under the sleeve of my t shirt. He took more than a casual interest in the quality of my friend Emily’s work. I asked if “King” was a nickname. He said it was and told me he had just finished his tattoo apprenticeship when COVID hit and everything shut down. That explained his inexplicable occupation in the wee hours of a Tuesday morning. Then he showed me a Viking motif tattoo that he had done - his first tattoo as an artist. It was an impressive big black and grey tat, well done. He was experienced enough a server that he left me to my eggs after delivering my breakfast, but he cashed me out too fast and didn’t give me a chance to tip on my card. The other Waffle House employees that morning had the patina on them of years behind the counter, I know the tattoo dude will soon learn the ropes. 

I carried on that next day, my first official day of a four day weekend, and made it to the boatyard. No one was in the office when I arrived, but there was a little pile of mail for me. When I emerged from the john across the driveway, I ran right into Sam and Amy; the yard owner and the yard manager. We had a pleasant chat and I followed Amy into the office to pay my October rent. After some more chatting, I proclaimed that I hadn’t even seen my boat yet and left them. 

With a little trepidation, I drove through the yard. I wasn’t sure exactly where they had put Ruth Ann. The yard boys had moved Ruth Ann the day after I had left back in June, in order to get the boat behind her into the water. When I found her, she was standing out in the field, lonely, a little dirty, with the grass growing tall up around the feet of the jackstands. My ladder was locked on my little tool trailer. I grabbed it and climbed up into Ruth Ann’s cockpit. A sun baked, windblown tarp still covered the companionway; one of my worries.

The companionway has two small drop boards and a large louvered vent topboard. The vents are screened and the louvers will keep most rain out of the boat, but in a storm with near horizontal rain the louvers aren’t much protection. There’d been a couple good storms this summer and I’d imagined her filling with water through the companionway. I remembered debating whether to tarp the companionway or not. Ventilation is a good thing. Time away left me unable to recall my decision. Luckily, I had tarped. So, I untied the lines, folded the tarp, and removed the dropboards.  

Down below, I stood in the galley and absorbed the state of things. There were no obvious signs of moisture or leaks, no smell of mildew or sour standing water. I hadn’t finished the wiring when I left, so it still looked like an old house being remodeled. There were spare parts and components lying about, wires hanging from cupboards with switches and fixtures next to them awaiting installation. I had put all the tools away, but it was a little messy. 

The boom was off the mast and down below which had to be moved so I could get to the floorboards. Another swell of drama rolled on me as I lifted the hatch to look in the bilges. The summer before, when Dad and I travelled to North Carolina from Michigan after Hurricane Dorian, I had pumped about thirty gallons of water out of the bilges. One of my hypochodrial worries was another full bilge. I had worked pretty hard to trace and fix leaks while I was with Ruth Ann earlier this year. That work paid off when I slowly lifted the hatch and saw about a half cup of water below. The Bayfield 29 has a keel stepped mast so there will always be some drips of water that make it down the mast and into the bilge. That’s just part of the game. A half cup, I can live with. 

I talked with some of my boatyard neighbors. Most of them, I had wished for their own sakes, that they had gotten boats back in the water and left, but here they still were. Some trapped by a decent job nearby, some confronted endless projects with limited funds, others just kind of got stuck, but it was good to see them all, regardless. Boat people are my people; even boat people on land. 

I spent the night with the Moose almost under an Army fire rescue boat in the yard for annual maintenance. In the morning, I retarped the companionway and put away my ladder. Inside the tool trailer, I was glad to find very little mildew or corrosion. Before locking the trailer back up, I laid a bag of kitty litter in the back and sliced open the top to absorb moisture. With that, I was done with my check up. I had taken a couple extra days in case I needed to take care of some emergency, but it hadn’t been necessary. I was craving some seafood, but I didn’t have anything left to do in Navassa. I decided I would leave early and avoid the highway back to Florida. My current job has me practically living on I-95; why would I want to take I-95 all the way home? I said my goodbyes and headed south down US 17. 

Friday, July 24, 2020

Last Post ... for a time.

Good gracious, I miss her already.
I have announced on my social media, but not here on the blog, that I am back on the road. It’s my opinion that the COVID-19 situation is only going to get worse for a while yet. It made sense for me to get a regular job now rather than wait until the world is in even more a panic. I didn’t want to be hung out as a freelancer or out on a small boat looking for work; or worse yet, looking for food. 

The Bubba the Pirate blog has always been exclusively about my boats and boat-related adventures so this will be the last post on the Bubba the Pirate blog for a while. I have three blogs because I’m an idiot and a glutton for punishment. The other two, however, have languished recently as most of my content has been boat related. Now that I’m on the road again, I’ll be back to telling road stories. To maintain my own imagined consistencies, I’ll be posting those stories on my writing blog here. There’s lots of stories there from the road and elsewhere.   

I just posted a “I’d rather be lucky than good” story there. Please check it out. 

Deja Moose, Part Free

The Moose is back!!! [This is Part Three of a Three Part Series, start with Part One here .] Not quite a week later, I checked in with John....