Monday, May 24, 2021

Boondock Blues

It was a story that could only have happened in the South. Not quite the angst of a Southern Gothic tale by the likes of Flannery O’Connor, but it was nearly peculiar enough. 

I had stopped in at the Piggly Wiggly for some groceries. The only reason I was at the Pig and not at Food Lion was that the good people of Brunswick County had lost their collective mind and were lining up at any station that appeared to still have gasoline. Like most Americans, these people were not real smart and prone to jittering panics over things like toilet paper and gasoline. Further, New Hanover and Brunswick, the counties around Wilmington, North Carolina get most of their gasoline from the port. However, when the news broke that the Colonial Pipeline had been hacked, Walmart sold out of gas cans and the people lined up at the station with ten or fifteen jerry cans in the back of their pickup truck. Gas wasn’t going to be that tight around here because of the port supply, but the panicky people made sure it got tight anyway. We had four or five days of dry gas stations until the port could catch back up.  As I navigated my way around all the gaslines to get back to the boatyard, it was easier to get into the Pig than into the Lion. 

Well, back at the Piggly Wiggly, it was dusk and I had stopped for some grub. As I got out of The Moose, my campervan, a man began to chat me up about my ride. One part of Southern Charm that I particularly enjoy is getting caught in a random, pleasant, yet surprisingly detailed discussion about things like campervans or gas shortages and such. Luckily, he didn’t want a peek inside. I’m concentrating on boatwork and The Moose is typically disheveled. But he thought it was a fabulous vehicle and got real excited when I told him that I would be looking to sell it in a couple months or so. 

He and his wife often travel to West Virginia to see the family. A campervan in which his wife could stretch out occasionally or use the bathroom would be perfect! I took his number and promised to call when I was going to put The Moose on the market. He wished me well and drove off. I went inside for some victuals.  

Now, I have a boat to get back in the water. In fact, it’s been fourteen years and four boats, and I’ve never been closer to accomplishing my goal. It won’t be long and I’ll be wandering off on a sailboat. It’s been my plan, nay obsession, for a good part of my life. Ruth Ann, my Bayfield 29, is in a remote boatyard outside Wilmington. Last year, I was here for six months, living next to the boat in The Moose. During the early panic of COVID, I rarely left and got a lot of work done. I took off for the second half of 2020 to drive a truck again; making some money and hiding out from the COVID closures and disruptions. While I was gone some of the rules changed. A couple of the other vagabonds who were living in the yard on their boats had pushed the limits of the owner. Therefore, I can’t live here full time now that I’m back. I’ve been cheating some on the weekends but most evenings I leave to boondock elsewhere. 

My primary boondock spot is the local Walmart parking lot. I park out in the far corner with the truckers. There are a couple regulars but I’ve been a little on edge about being there consistently Sunday through Thursday. I’m not really sure anyone is paying attention, but I’ve been waiting for someone to say something. I’ve been waiting to get busted.

So, last week I had grabbed some supper and pulled into the Walmart. Over in the corner with the trucks, I climbed inside, put the privacy curtain up in front of the windshield and pulled the curtain on the side door. A friend called and we were talking when someone rapped sharply on the driver's side window.  

This ... is what I’ve been fearing.  

“Just a minute,” I said slowly, “someone is knocking on my van.”  

“Hello!” I shouted to my visitor.  

“... can I help you?” 

No answer.  

“I don’t know what’s going on,” I told my friend. “Hang On.”

I stood up and peered out the windows up in the Moose’s cap. I shouted again, asking if I could help, suspecting that it might have actually been the truckdriver next door. Did he think I parked too close? I pulled back the corner of the privacy curtain just in time to see someone walk briskly past the driver's side heading toward the back. 


No answer. 

The person I saw in that moment appeared to have been wearing a chambray shirt over a t shirt and maybe some jeans. I was no longer concerned that it was someone official. It wasn’t Walmart. It wasn’t the cops. 

Well, huh. 

“Well, I’m back,” I told the friend. She wondered what was going on. Newly confident. Or no longer caring, I told her that I was eating a salad and talking to a friend and if it was important they’d be back. 

Still as I lay down to sleep I couldn’t stop wondering what the heck had happened. Why would some random person knock on the van but not answer? The windows were open and I’m sure they could hear me when I called out to them.  

In the mornings, I sometimes get a cup of coffee from the nearby Dunkin Donuts. No donuts, but I do occasionally get a bagel (not much better). The morning after the strange knocking incident, I folded my linens, folded up the couch, and opened up the curtains. I walked around and hopped in to drive off. I had driven a hundred yards or so when I noticed the note under my windshield wiper. Well, hell. I stopped to grab the note.  

“I forgot to ask you. Is this a 6 cylinder or 8?

Mike 617-5674.” 

Written on a folded envelope.


It was the guy from Piggly Wiggly; apparently still enthusiastically considering the possibility of buying The Moose. He must have been giddy to have run into me again on the other side of town. I can only imagine that he heard me say “just a minute, someone is knocking” and decided not to bother me any further. It would have helped to know as I tried to sleep afterward.

To make the story one notch better, inside the folded envelope was a shopping list. From the mundane fruits and veggies to mayo and a couple bottles of water, the list also included a bottle of GasX but with the word “price” circled next to it. Apparently, someone is having intestinal discomfort but not enough to splurge on GasX if it’s too expensive. Also listed was the very specific “70% cacao chocolate bar” and a reminder to pay the water bill.  

Then I turned the envelope over. The Internal Revenue Service was corresponding with someone else, not Mike. So, did he find an envelope and make a list? Or did he find someone’s discarded list to write me a note. More mysteries, but what the heck? That just keeps life interesting. 

I keep remembering to call Mike when it’s a little early or already a little late. I’ll call him this evening. First, I need to check The Moose. I’m not sure, but I think it’s an 8 cylinder engine. I can tell you all kinds of minute details about my boat, but I don’t have the brainspace for the van’s specifications. In the meantime, I’m happy to be downsouth and plenty happy with the progress I’m making on the project list. Ruth Ann will be back in the water this summer! 

Monday, May 17, 2021

Back in North Carolina

In the last post, I picked up The Moose, my campervan, the last weekend in April. I headed south to get back to a storage unit full of what had been in the van. The weather near the storage unit was turning bad, so I drove the 300 miles from Savannah to Minneola, FL and emptied the storage unit -- all in one day. 

The Moose was disorganized and full, so I spent the night in a nearby motel. I was tired and needed a shower anyway. The next day, I only went as far as Orange Park to be near my mail service. First thing Monday morning, I picked up my mail just in case my last paycheck had arrived. It hadn’t. So I kept trudging north. 

After a light day the day before, I was going to trek from just south of Jacksonville all the way to the boatyard. I didn't get started very early and spent a good part of the morning getting my mail and giving The Moose a wash. It was going to be dark by the time I got to Navassa, so I picked a spot to stop in South Carolina and booked another cheap motel. 

In some little town off I-95, somewhere past Florence, I checked into the motel I had booked. There was a Waffle House across the road, a Huddle House next door, and a sprinkling of the usual fast food joints. One of my goals in this new segment of my life is to eat healthier than I had while truckdriving. Toward that end, I walked past the Huddle House and the Backyard Burgers to get a salad at Wendy’s. The Backyard was closing and I was concerned about Wendy’s, but a car came around their building to the drive thru window. They must still be open. 

As I walked around the building, I could see that all the chairs were up on the tables. Pre-COVID this would have been a bad sign, but nowadays it’s often just to regulate social distancing or to indicate no dining in. Three or four employees were sitting around a table in one of the booths. I opened the door and stepped inside to find the booth of employees staring at me blankly. 

“Are you open?” I asked slowly. 

“Yes, baby, but drive thru only” came the answer. 

Even if I hadn’t already parked after a long day, the drive thru wasn’t going to do me any good as the van is too tall.  

I walked back into the cool night. 

Generally, I prefer a Waffle House to a Huddle House, but the road was pretty busy for a Monday night. Big noisy pickups and thumping cars careened back and forth, pulsing in and out of driveways as the fast food joints began to close. 

Hungry, tired, and chagrined, I stumbled back to the Huddle House. 

Inside the Huddle, several booths were occupied and a couple employees acted busy behind the counter. It was curious how busy they thought they were, for nearly every other table was covered with dirty dishes, wadded napkins, and scattered flatware. I waited to catch someone’s eye and eventually got the same blank stare. 

“Sit anywhere?”I asked. She just nodded. 

Two booths looked available. The first was right next to the passage in and out of the grill area, so I kept walking. As I approached the very last booth in the back, I could see that the table was covered with puddles of water. The dishes had been cleared but the table never got wiped down. 

I went back to the table by the grill. 

There is nothing healthy to eat at a Huddle House, nor a Waffle House for that matter. That’s not the point. I had breakfast after dark and stumbled back to the motel. 

The next morning was an easy jaunt up I-95 and across US74 to the boatyard. 

I was back. 

Time to finish the work I had started. We are going to be back in the water this summer.  

Unbeknown to me, the yard had been very busy while I was gone. Just down the Cape Fear River is Southport, North Carolina. The Southport Marina was devastated by Hurricane Isaiah in 2020. The docks and all the boats had been swept ashore and piled up at the clubhouse porch. Thirty five boats were brought to Cape Fear Boat Works for repairs. They are just now getting back to a normal schedule. 

Ruth Ann has spent the last ten months or so out in the yard. Sam and his good people were going to move my boat back near power and water but hadn’t yet by the time I arrived. 

I spent a couple days organizing The Moose, cleaning up and preparing. After a couple days, the yard launched another boat and moved Ruth Ann into the vacant spot. I moved my tool trailer over next to her, set up camp, and got to work. 

More about that … next time.  

Homeward Epilogue

sv Ruth Ann in Beaufort, SC, 12/23 Ruth Ann is the last in a series of boats on which I was attempting to escape. I found her when I found a...