Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Bourbon Street

Bucket List -- Bourbon Street check! Granted the last time we were in New Orleans we came early before getting on a cruise and did visit Bourbon Street then. But that was the year after Hurricane Katrina and some of the bars and restaurants had not been reopened yet. This time everything was open and there were people everywhere. If it was this busy in September I can just imagine how crazy it is during Mardi Gras! If I were 20 years younger I would definitely want to experience it during Mardi Gras but now? I am ok with just seeing it when it is relatively "calm"!

We actually took the New Orleans city bus from our campground to Canal Street and then took the streetcar down to Bourbon Street. You pay $1.50 per person and can get a transfer that is good for the next 2 hours and transfers to the streetcars. While we were waiting for the bus at the bus stop two neighborhood people came and waited with us. The guy told us to be careful on Bourbon Street if someone says that they bet you they know where you got your shoes. He told us to just ignore them which is hard for me as I have even talked to the pimps on the Strip in Vegas - with Bill continuing to walk away at a very fast pace (Hey, I've got to practice my Spanish somewhere!).  Anyway, he says that if you answer them at all they will say, "You got them on your feet!" and expect you to pay the bet. It can get a little nasty if you don't pay up! Of course this guy had somewhat of a shoe fetish because when we were talking about jobs and unemployment all he kept saying was how much his shoes had cost.

Then came the bus. It was an interesting ride to say the least as the bus was standing room only because they run less buses on weekends. We were standing near the front when a very, very large African American lady decided to get into it with an African American guy who had just gotten on. She was a bit loud and riled to say the least. The guy next to me said "You're not from around here are you?" Ummm...no. He then said that if that had been two guys getting into it the best thing would have been to get off the bus right then and there. He said that you never know what will happen then and it might be knives or guns that would be pulled out. He said very clearly, "This is N'awlins baby!" Yes, it sure is.

I was thinking about adding some music to this video but I thought it would be better to present you with the real sights and sounds of Bourbon Street on a Saturday night.

Just a heads up when you are using your credit card anywhere of course, but especially somewhere such as Bourbon Street. We had the credit card numbers lifted from one of the locations that we visited where we used a credit card to purchase adult beverages. Yes, we could have avoided this by using cash but cash can be stolen and then you have no recourse. This is the 4th time since leaving home that we have had one of our credit card numbers stolen and each time the bank has voided the transactions and we were not liable for any fraudulent charges. The most you could possibly be liable for is $50 and we have never run into that scenario.  The same protections are not available when you use your debit card either so in my opinion, using a credit card is the best protection you can have in a Bourbon Street type situation. We believe it happened at a bar called Huge Ass Beers as their charges never did post to our card and we believe it was because Capital One knew that is where it happened and they void all transactions originating at that location so that the merchant employs better card security. Capital One hinted as much to me on the phone but was not able to give me all of the details due to "security reasons".

The other thing I was a bit disappointed in is that the last time we had visited Bourbon Street there were at least three or four bars that had Cajun or Zydeco bands playing live music. This visit there was only one bar that we found that had a Zydeco band. The rest were playing classic rock or hip hop. Not that I have a problem with classic rock and some hip hop, it is just that it is sad that the traditional music of a location seems to be disappearing in favor of mainstream culture and music. And of course, I luva de Zydeco! I decided that I wanted to stay at the bar that was playing Zydeco for most of the night and Bill was nice enough to stay there too -- not that he could have gotten me to leave! I even had the opportunity to go in front and play the washboard with the band! I woke up the next morning with my smile muscles hurting as I don't believe I've smiled so much in a really long time! Next time we are in the area we will probably bypass Bourbon Street and look for a smaller, local bar that has live Cajun or Zydeco bands playing. STILL on my bucket list - learning to play the Celtic and Cajun fiddle!!

Monday, October 17, 2011

New Orleans

One of our concerns with taking this Gulf Coast route in hurricane season was, well to be honest, hurricanes. Coming from the Northwoods this was a whole different thing for us and we decided that without a brick and mortar house we would be in the first wave of people fleeing inland if it came down to a storm of any sizeable strength. So wouldn't you know it that the first week we are in Lousiana so was Tropical Storm Lee. Lee changed from a tropical depression to a tropical storm in a flash. We were in Baton Rouge at the time and scheduled to head farther south to Houma which is located on some very low lying land. While debating what to do about taking the RV down there with the storm coming on, Home Depot Corporate took the decision out of our hands and called off the teams that were in the areas where Lee was supposed to make landfall. So we spent the weekend at a campground right near to the LSU stadium. All the natives were very unconcerned about the storm stating that we were going to just "get a little rain" and I guess we should have listened to them. Although it rained the entire weekend, flooding in the Baton Rouge area was minimal and we sailed through our first tropical storm with flying colors.

We then headed down to the New Orleans area as there were about 8 stores in the greater NOLA area that were getting done. We decided to stay at an RV Park on the northeast side off of I-10 for the entire week instead of moving from store to store. We had the opportunity to drive around New Orleans doing some work and it is very sad at the amount of buildings still not repaired or taken down or the people who are just getting to rebuilding their homes. Now, by law, homes in New Orleans must be raised at least 3 feet above street level. There is a $1.2 billion grant program to help homeowners pay for this but there are not enough businesses who do the building raising so many are still waiting, living in FEMA trailers or not near their homes at all. And it has been 6 years since Hurricane Katrina!


One day we were working on the west/south side of the Mississippi and the GPS took us to the Chalmette-Lower Algiers ferry instead of routing us on the Crescent City bridge. It costs $1 cash per vehicle when you are heading into Chalmette but is free when heading back to Lower Algiers. Pedestrians travel both ways free.


 In Chalmette there is a huge Exxon Mobil oil refinery which you will see in the video. The smell of petroleum was so strong that I almost could not breathe and developed a bad headache. I cannot imagine working with that smell, much less living nearby. In fact, there is a web page dedicated to lawsuits from former workers of the plant who have developed cancers. The plant used the carcinogen Benzene which "can cause leukemia, a potentially fatal cancer of the blood-forming organs. In particular, acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) may be caused by benzene." This page just mentions former workers but I cannot believe that by just living nearby and having the chemical in the air and water and being exposed to it for years is not harmful to humans also. Just one more thing that the City of New Orleans and the people living there have to deal with on a daily basis.


Also on the video you will see the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway Bridge which, at 23.8 miles, is the longest continuous bridge in the world. It connects the New Orleans suburb of Metairie with Mandeville on the lake's north shore. Like the Chalmette-Lower Algiers ferry it only charges a toll going one way. When you head north the bridge is free, when heading south into New Orleans you pay $3.


And last but not least on the video are the famous New Orleans streetcars which are the oldest continually operating streetcars in the world. One of the nicest rides to just enjoy the experience is taking the St Charles line from Canal Street to the end and watching one side of the street and then taking the ride back to see the other side of the street. You will see Tulane and Loyala Universities as well as the Audubon Zoo and many old Garden District mansions. If you look closely in the video you will see beads that are thrown in the trees during Mardi Gras parades. The best side to see the beads is on the south side of the street heading back towards Canal Street.


Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Gulf Coast Route

Bill received a call back in July from one of the project managers at work who offered him the first choice of three different routes for a new Home Depot project that would be staring in August and lasting all the way through the first of the year.  They all started north and wound their way south throughout the fall and early winter. The first route included Ohio, Kentucky, Tennesse and Alabama which would have been nice as we would like to see the Blue Ridge Mountains in the fall when all  trees change color. Another route started in West Virginia and would have taken us through Virginia, Tennesse and North Carolina. This route would  have been even more tempting for us as it would have more of the Blue Ridge Mountains and we already love the Gatlinburg TN/Cherokee NC area. But when the third route was listed and it included the Gulf Coast and all of Florida including Key West at the end of the year, we knew we had a winner! We have always wanted to go to Key West and why not when Bill is getting paid to do it?

So at the end of August we left Atlanta (finally!) and headed towards our first stop in Shreveport Louisiana. Along the way we made a stop in Vicksburg Mississippi to check out their casinos and stay at the Ameristar Casino RV Park near the Mississippi River.  We have found casino campgrounds to be some of the nicest places to stay and they normally are priced extremely reasonable as they want you to come inside and part with your money in the machines or at the tables. . You don't have to be a gambler to stay in the RV parks and you can actually wind up making a little money if you "play your cards" (pun intended) correctly. We always go in and get whatever free play and other perks they offer for signing up for their player's card. We also eat at the buffet at least once. It is hard to keep fresh fruits and vegetables in the RV due to space constraints so at least I know I'll get a good salad bar eating at a casino buffet. Most of the casinos will have a shuttle that will pick you up and take you to the casino and many, but not all, will have amenities like a pool, game room and laundry room. If they don't have the amenities in the campground itself you can usually use the hotel amenities instead. A good resource for finding both casino boondocking and campgrounds is www.casinocamper.com. You can join the website and help update it with information on parking, camping, promotions, and food prices and quality as well as pictures of the boondocking or camping areas at any casino across the country. This not only helps others but may help you out in the future when you forget what a certain casino offers because you have been in 31 states in two years and everything begins to look the same!

As Vicksburg is located right on the Mississippi River, it had record flooding during the Spring of 2011 like many other river towns and cities. The picture on the right of the levee shows the previous record of 62.2 feet which was set in 1927 when the levees were not able to hold back the Mighty Mississippi and over 1,000 people died. This year on May 19 water levels hit 57.1 feet, which is over 14 feet higher than flood stage which is a mere 43 feet.   


Along with the high water marks, the levees of the City of Vicksburg also have a set of riverfront murals painted on them and unveiled in 2002 that depict scenes from the city's past, present and future. A future whose story, in large part, is still solidy entertwined with that of The Father of Waters, .The Big Muddy, or Ol' Man River, the Mississippi.



Friday, October 7, 2011

U.S National Whitewater Center

Although most of the time in Charlotte it was too hot to do much of anything outside, we did manage to go to the U.S. National Whitewater Center one day. The center has much more than just whitewater rafting. They also have kayaking as well as land activities like a zip line, mountain biking along with many ropes and wires courses.

And the price just can't be beat! You can get an all day pass to do everything at the center for just $49, you can go with all the activities except whitewater rafting for $34 per day, or you can do just one of the activities one time for $15/$25.  If you would like to do the canopy tour, which is a steel ropes course that lasts three to four hours it will cost you $89. Parking for the day is $5 or $40 per year. The best, and I mean BEST, deal and something I would jump on if I lived in the Charlotte area, is the season pass. This will get you in to the center all year for all the activities for only $149 if you buy before December 31! I would definitely be a kayaking ace.

Granted on a busy weekend you aren't going to be able to do the zip line ten times nor do the whitewater course much more than once, but it is still a great deal if you get there when they open the courses at 10am and stay until they close at dusk. They do recommend that you make rafting reservations as that fills up first.

While we weren't able to do the white water rafting as it was an extremely hot weekend and the time slots were all full, that will be at the top of our list the next time we visit. We did do the zip line and Bill decided to try a couple of the ropes courses. I had thought about it but with my fear of heights and the fact that you have to hold on really good with your hands and my shoulders have been bothering me, I decided to pass and be the videographer instead.


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Bible Belt and Religious Hipocrisy

We visited Charlotte, North Carolina twice this summer - once for only a few days in July and then while Bill flew out to Vegas I stayed there for two weeks in early August. We actually stayed right over the state line in Fort Mill, South Carolina at a campground located on the grounds of the old Heritage USA theme park which was owned by the PTL Club of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker fame. Parts of the theme park are still visible in the area including the Jerusalem Amphitheater or King's Arena which you see pictured here on the right. It is located right next to the campground and has been partially demolished.

The old hotel tower is also still standing but is not currently being used. There were 165,000 people who gave $1000 a piece to the PTL Club in return for yearly 4 day vacations at the park that included a stay in the tower. Heritage USA filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy due to the dual blows of the PTL Club losing favor due to Jim Bakker's sex and accounting scandals as well as the fact that the park netted the PTL Club $126 million one year while enjoying tax exempt status, something the IRS promptly revoked. At the end of the legal proceedings each of the $1000 investors netted $6.54.

After visiting Georgia, North and South Carolina and other states in the Southeast I really must agree that it is very aptly named the Bible Belt. In Wisconsin religion is more of an afterthought sometimes rather than a focus.  Down here Church and religion appear in everyday life much more frequently such as laws that prohibit selling alcohol on Sunday or even **gasp!** serving it - how would the Packers EVER win without loyal fans tailgating and drinking beer? It is also an inexplicable feeling that I personally get down here. It is not easy to explain what I mean but there is just a sense that religion permeates people's lives more.  Do I believe that is a bad thing? Absolutely not! If it makes a person's life better and gives them meaning and purpose, more power to them. However, I do not believe anyone's belief system should be forced on others. There are way too many people, politcians for one,  who talk the talk but don't walk the walk. They talk about God and religion and put on a good show about being Christians but then do not want to help their fellow man. To me, this should definitely be a case of "What would Jesus Do?" and I am quite positive that He would not condone allowing children to go hungry or people to live without adequate housing and medical care. I would much rather not be aligned with any formal religion but instead live my life "paying it forward" and "doing unto others" without worrying about someone else's "rules" when they don't live by them themselves. My skepticism and cynicism about the Right Wing Fundamentalists is only reinforced by incidents such as the PTL Club/Jim Bakker scandal. These hypocrits and holier than thous try to coerce everyone else to follow God's word and then the truth comes out that they are no better but, in fact, are much worse sinners than you and I could ever be!



Thursday, September 15, 2011

Where Have We Been and Are Humans Affected By the Weather?

The answer is a most emphatic YES. At least THIS human most defnitely is. Everywhere we have been this summer has been inordinately hot, or so say the locals. It has been hot in Atlanta, hot in St. Louis, hot in North Carolina and now hot in Lousiana. I have been in pain, lacking ambition, and constantly tired all the while asking myself WHY? I had the same symptoms in the summer and extreme heat that I have lived with for practically all my life during the winter and extreme cold.

I remember wondering how in the world anyone who lives in the South could possibly have Seasonal Affective Disorder. Why would anyone who lived below the Mason-Dixon Line even complain about the weather when they could go outside twelve months of the year and there would not be any ice nor snow nor below zero wind chill that blows right into that little spot on your throat just above your collar bone that your coat never seems to cover adequately and of course, who wants to wear a scarf just to run to the car? The people down here do not know about the special noise that wood makes when you step on it in below zero weather. You know that craaaackk that reverberates from your foot all down along the deck making you think it is going to split in two. The same people who almost can't believe that you can stand on a lake that is frozen two feet thick much less drive your truck on it. The same people who think it would be "fun" to have snow around all the time. The same people that feel that living with snow is like a postcard from Vail....everything white and sunny and no one has to get to work on time in the morning.

Even the most diehard snowmobilers have to admit that, come January, unless it comes to riding the trails on the weekends, it is time for the cold to GO. By the end of January the snow is dirty, which we all know is nothing like the fluffy white stuff on the postcard from Vail. The snow is piled everywhere which can be a real pain in the ass if you are trying to pass on the right (and sometimes on the left!) even if the snow plows have removed most of it. And believe it or not, trying to defrost the windshield on the car when you are already running ten minutes late for work can be quite a trying experience.

I did not realize to what extent the opposite could also be true. In the South, come September, unless you are lying 24/7 on a beach somewhere, it is time for the heat to GO. By September you forget what the breeze feels like as you have had the A/C on for going on 4 months straight. You have been bitten by fire ants at least once (ok, maybe only dumb Northerners with NO idea what a fire ant mound looks like!) and bitten by mosquitos so much that your ankles have the circumference of a young palm tree with so many scabs from itching that you look like you have the chicken pox. Your home has been invaded by small little ants who, although harmless, feel that Purina Dog Chow is  such delicacy that it requires the presence of the entire colony on a daily basis. You have also been blessed with visitors such as extremely large cockroaches that like to sit on the nectarines in the fruit basket and escape death somehow through the oven (infrequently) and maggots that like to crawl up through the toilet gasket from the sewer hookup so that you need to remember to check before taking a seat in the middle of the night (occasionally). You have lived through one tropical storm that really didn't amount to much besides a real soggy campground site and the locals looking at you like you were crazy when you expressed concern that it might be dangerous to hang out there and not flee to the hills. You have worn yoga pants and t shirts so often that they are faded out from line drying in the sun as you simply can't understand how people wear real clothes in humidity so high it feels like you are walking through a wet sponge every time you are brave enough to run from the house to the car.

So which is better? Winter in the North or summer in the South? For the sleeping aspect, which unfortunately is something that we all need like it or not, the cold is definitely easier to live with than hot. Why? You can always add more socks, more quilts, or more body heat if needed to sleep. You can't take off more clothes once you are naked and you can't pretend that there is a breeze when you are boondocking and can't run the A/C or the fan all night when not a leaf on the palm tree is moving. I won't even get into the theory that we have about parking with the breeze coming in the side windows of the rig and it then turning to blow from the front or back where there are no windows the minute we do! For the all over rest of life aspect, summer in the South wins hands down in our book. It is easier to run from a building to a vehicle and vice versa when you don't have snow or ice in your way.

I did some research to try and convince myself further that this was not all in my head as we had never, ever thought the symptoms would occur on the other end of the weather spectrum. I found the following - please excuse the grammar as I believe the writer was a non native English speaker.

     "hot and cold climate changes, often have a certain impact on people's emotions; sudden changes in     climate can also affect the body's physiological function and changes in physiological function can affect the person's mental state. When autumn, the weather mild, the mental state of people tend to be over optimistic, feeling good; when the cold rain, dry and hot weather, people's mood irritability or depression will become depressed. Spring and autumn, when temperatures 64 ~ 72 F, people not only feel comfortable, mood stability, and study and work efficiency is particularly high.....ambient temperature dropped to below 50 F, the emotion becomes a boring low; less than 39 F, it will seriously affect brain thinking....If the continuous high temperature or cold, or can not meet with it immediately, this is the case, it is not just emotional changes, and even can lead to disease. In addition to temperature changes hot and cold outside, such as rain, humidity, fog, wind and other weather, it can affect people's thinking and attention."

So there you have it....although we seem to forget at times, we are animals and ARE affected by the weather - some of us to more extent than others. I have always been very sensitive to light levels which is why we had to add skylights, a garden window and windows in the front door at the house in Pickerel with plans to add a sun porch at one time. So this summer has been a learning experience for us. This is the farthest south we have been during the summer and with Bill working for Prime it will probably not be the only year this happens. Now we know that we both very much dislike and are affected by extremes in temperature both hot and cold.  I am just more affected than Bill is.

We have definitely decided, however, that when we have a choice, we will be north or in the mountains during the summer months. Until then, here comes cooler temps, saving money by boondocking and an updated blog!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

"Sliding" Over to St Louis

I am very surprised to say that I actually did not mind the Hudson River Valley area of New York. It is very wooded just like home and has some great "mountains' in the Catskills, not so much like home. I can imagine trying to drive some of their twisting, turning roads during the winter....it must be quite interesting considering the fact that people from New York seem to think that the posted speed limit is merely a suggestion. I will take back everything nasty I have said about Illinois drivers! People who live along the I-95 corridor take the blue ribbon in the "Assinine Psycho Driver" category for sure.

Here are a couple of views looking east across the Hudson River from Newburgh New York towards Beacon New York. As with most of the areas near the Hudson there is a toll bridge if you are heading east. Thankfully it only cost us $5.50 with the rig and Avalanche unlike the Tappan Zee Bridge farther south which was over $25!

We spent the two weeks at Clarence Fahnestock State Park a few miles south of Fishkill. It is located in an awesome area but for obvious reasons I guess, the park's amenities are really run down. Part of the Appalachian Trail runs through the park so it is geared more to tenters than anything. There are no hook ups whatsoever and the sites are quite small. For some ungodly reason Reservations.gov let me reserve a site that we didn't even fit into although I had entered 36' at the RV size. Upon arriving they moved us to a larger site down in the hollow next to the crazy, drunk Russians. It would have been nice to stay put there as there was room to throw ball for the dogs but unfortunately the internet reception was nil so we had to move further up a hill. They then put us in their overflow site which doesn't even show up on the online reservation page. They were nice enough to let us stay the Saturday and Sunday of the 4th of July weekend although the park was full and they didn't mind the truck camper being on the site like most places do. So all in all we were able to stay for almost 2 weeks for $130 when the only other campgrounds nearby, the KOA, would have cost that or more per week per campsite. Would I go back to that park? Definitely not because of it being soooo run down. I realize that the State of New York is "broke" just like Wisconsin ;-) but the park had big ruts in the roads, campsites did not get cleaned up well when campers left and the bathrooms! The bathrooms were as bad as the bathrooms at the dumpy campground west of Atlanta that we stayed in.


Because Bill worked on Thursday night we didn't hit the road until later afternoon on Friday. He will be working next in St. Louis on a week long Family Dollar remodel. Prime had said that after New York they would be "sliding him over to St. Louis" and then probably back to Atlanta for a bit. Well, in my book a 1000 mile trip is not exactly "sliding over" anywhere! Fifty miles ok, but 1000? Nope, definitely not a slide

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Orange County Choppers

Bill had a choice to have two weeks off or to head on up to New York State for a Sam's Club remodel in Fishkill. We decided to head to New York not just for the extra money but also in hopes that it would be cooler than it had been in the Atlanta area.

{Disclaimer : As I am not much of a TV person, when we DID have satellite TV back PR (Pre-Recession) Bill watched American Chopper quite a bit so most of my knowledge of OCC comes from the sound imprinting itself by osmosis into my brain. The same goes for South Park, Family Guy and other irritating, animated type shows. Although I must say South Park definitely hit upon some hilarious cultural idiosyncrasies and just plain stupidity.}

Upon arriving in New York we first stopped in Newburgh to see the Orange County Choppers building. We stopped on a Sunday but I'm told that you can view the shop area from a window if you are there during the week.

Most of the bikes are located along the side walls of the store including the FDNY bike which is my favorite besides the Christopher Reeve Foundation Bike. There are t shirts and memorabilia from various fire departments mostly from the East Coast all around the bike as it if were a shrine, which I guess in some ways it is.

Of course the show has gone downhill in my opinion after Paul Jr left and Sr had no one to scream at....I think Jr was definitely the brains behind the majority of the cool bikes and all Paul Sr does is be an ass. Hopefully the bike world sees it as such. I can only say that it is sad that fame and fortune, which everyone dreams of having, was ultimately a huge factor in the family break up. It happens so often nowadays. Unfortunately who knows if the rift is real or if it is a publicity stunt for their new Sr vs Jr show? You really don't know these days kind of like the Kardashian Dramas and the Gene Simmons blow up. Everyone wants their 15 minutes of fame and works hard to make it a half hour.



Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Dave Roller

I had forgotten to post about stopping at a Lowe's in Suwanee Georgia one day while we were in Atlanta and there was a guy in a truck parked in front of us. He flagged down Junior and asked if we were from Wisconsin. By then Bill and I had come out of the store and went over to the truck. Come to find out it was Dave Roller, #74 from the Packers during the late 1970s. He "invented" the "Sack Dance" way before sacks were even counted as stats and before the Lambeau Leap was even a possibility.

He talked with us for a bit after giving us his picture and a write up from the February/April 2003 Packer Report. I asked him about his health as so many of the older players didn't have the contracts they do today nor the medical  care as technology was not what it is now. He said that he was basically ok except for knee issues.

Dave seemed like one of the kind of guys you would love to meet down at the bar to have a few and listen to his stories. I sure wish we would have been able to do that instead of just a parking lot chat but he did tell us where the Cheeseheads hang out for games during the season in case we are there then. He even said he stops in every so often.


Saturday, June 25, 2011

Realities of Medical Care on the Road and That Damn Georgia Pollen!

Just some updating on real life on the road and the things that you don't necessarily think of when you are finally able to leave on your big adventure. Normally people do this when they have Medicare so it is somewhat easier to not only find medical care but to also pay for it. We knew it would be more difficult to get care on the road as when we started we had BadgerCare which is only good in the State of Wisconsin. . If you've read my previous posts you see what a challenge it was at one time to get my meds.  Now that BadgerCare is a moot point -- thanks Scott Walker! -- we have to sort of patch things together and roll with the punches as we go. I may dislike Walmart's ethics intensely but hey, when you are short of money their $4 prescriptions just can't be beat. The biggest challenge has been finding a chiropractor that charges $50 or less and who doesn't require recent x-rays. I got lucky a few times, especially in Las Vegas where I found a coupon for a free initial consultation and adjustment that was expiring the next day!

I guess in all we have been somewhat lucky since leaving except for Bill's little 4 hour/$7000 visit to the ER in Casa Grande Arizona for his kidney stones. We had to pass up our dentist visit in Algodones Mexico this year as Bill has to leave Arizona on January 2 to be in New York and I wasn't about to cross over the border by myself although Algodones is rather safe unlike Juarez or Tijuana. So wouldn't you know that I started having problems with one of my teeth on my right side toward the front when we were near Philadelphia. It got so painful that I called around to the two dental schools in Philly when I finally couldn't take the pain and the swelling had gotten up to my right eye. I wasn't able to get in at all as you need to be at the university at 6am to even get in line and come to find out the clinics are not really in the best areas of town....I didn't want to be driving around in Philadelphia in pain and have the truck jacked or something! So I woke up Bill as I found a dentist who would get me in right away. Come to find out my tooth is totally split and they wanted to take it out but because of the infection they were sending me to a oral surgeon....hmmmm, not in the budget?!? So I paid their $70 and got a prescription of antibiotics and am just being careful with it until I can find out if they can save the tooth at all somewhere else. This dentist says no but I really don't want a gaping hole in the front side of my face.

Fast forward to this week in the Atlanta area. I am not sure what it was that bloomed but one thing is for sure -- it did not like me. I woke up Tuesday morning with my normal allergy eyes that I have once or twice a year in Wisconsin. During the day it progressed so far that my left eye was swollen entirely shut and when Bill got up I told him I had to go somewhere as the burning was something horrible. So he asked the guys at the office where a walk in clinic was and I learned another lesson -- I will no longer let him do the recon work for emergency medical runs. The first clinic we drove to -- and the farthest away I might add -- was closed already. The second one has shut down permanently. The GPS listed the nearest hospital as being 50 miles away which we know NOT to be true. Finally I told him to look at the door and there was a sign with a phone number for one of their still open locations. He called and we headed back to almost near the campground we had left in the first place!

Obviously this walk in clinic has been burned before on getting paid as before they would even let Bill fill out my information -- I couldn't even see enough to do that so they had to deal with his chicken scratching -- we had to pay $111. Then once I got back in the room the doctor wanted to give me a prednisone shot as the reaction was so bad that some of my airways had started closing. So Bill had to go back out in front and pay another $40 before they would even do anything else. One prednisone shot in the butt, a 5 day course of the drug from hell and some free samples of Claritin, nasal spray and eye drops and I was out the door in all of 20 minutes. The only reason I am taking the prednisone is because I was in that bad of shape. It was on this wonderful pharmaceutical invention that I gained 35 lbs in 3 months after my car accident. Of course the doctor failed to mention that one little side effect! It is only today that I can finally put my contacts back in and look outside without wearing Bill's dark wrap around sunglasses. All this and I was taking a nightly Benadryl already....what the hell is in the pollen in the South??

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Hot Times in Georgia

We arrived back to Atlanta just in time for a hotter than normal June as well as frequent, unpredictable thunder storms. We had found a campground called Atlanta West which was in Austell about 4 miles from the Family Dollar that Bill and Junior were completing. The place was an absolute dump. I would say it was one of the top two in worst campgrounds that we have ever stayed in. Standing water in the women's bath/shower room, only one working shower with a 3/4 torn off shower curtain, no hot water in the sink, downed trees not cleaned up, trash all over, non working swimming pool fenced off with a broken fence....you get the picture. The campground was full of people like the picture of our neighbor here....down on their luck and staying somewhere cheap until better fortune would arrive. I do like his ingenuity with the air conditioner and the floor lamp. He also had TV as we could see it through the tent walls at night.

Still, the area did not look so bad until I was reading up on an accident we had seen the previous day. I then found out that Cobb County, although mostly rural, had had 3 homocides that week.........yes, that WEEK! Needless to say we decided to head up towards Gainesville as they were going to work on the owner's house again the following week. We checked into Old Federal Campground in Flowery Branch as we had been there for a weekend the last time we were in Atlanta. It was not busy then but it sure is now! With Bill never knowing until the last minute where he is being sent we can't make reservations at busy campgrounds so it is fortunate that I have the Access Pass that gets me the handicapped sites that are not reservable online. It also gets us half price camping so instead of $32 a night for a site on the water we only have to pay $16. That definitely helps quite a bit.


And you can see that Dozey sure likes camping!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Warning! History! Philosophical Discussion! Confederate Cemetery Marietta Georgia - Warning! History! Philosophical Discussion!

As I stated in a previous post, being in the East and the South somehow makes history seem so much more real to me. I have been both fascinated and appalled by the Civil War and the fact that in some areas of the South it seems to be alive and well even today. Growing up in Northern Wisconsin the Civil War was no more real to me than 70 degree temperatures in January. Again, I believe my fascination now is directly related to the fact I am now visiting places that before were only words in a textbook (or in country music songs!) - Lookout Mountain, Chickamauga, Chattahoochee.

I have been thinking about the causes, outcome and reprecussions of the Civil War and actually got wondering why soldiers or commanders, such as Robert E. Lee, were not tried for treason or were not considered traitors. After visiting the Marietta Georgia Confederate Cemetery where everything refers to "heroes" of the Confederacy I felt compelled to do some research. I had initially, and erroneously, remembered that the Civil War was only about the ability to own another person based on his or her skin color. I now realize that the reasons went much deeper than that -- something that I unfortunately did not pick up from my high school textbooks.

It appears that Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis and other high ranking Confederate officials were indicted due to their participation in the confederacy but the charges never escalated to treason except in Davis' case,  due to their being pardoned by President Andrew Jackson before he left office.

"After the American Civil War, no person involved with the Confederate States of America was tried for treason, though a number of leading Confederates (including Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee) were indicted. Those who had been indicted received a blanket amnesty issued by President Andrew Johnson as he left office in 1869."  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treason

One argument that any trial of Lee for treason would no doubt have not been successful was because it was the North that actually declared war upon the South. Another is that there is no provision in the United States Consitution that says that the individual states cannot secede from the Union. Some argue that the Confederate States were only utilizing the principle set forth in the Declaration of Independence that states if "....any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government...." and obviously from the point of view of most Southerners, not including the blacks, the Union had become destructive to their way of life and it was only their duty to secede and form their own separate country.



There are many essays and opinions written about the treason issue which then begin to involve States' Rights, limited Federal Government and allegiance to one's homeland. It seems that during the era preceeding the Civil War one's allegiance was more tied to what state one was from rather than allegiance to the United States. This only makes sense to me as at that time the country was less than 100 years old. Old ties die hard. At that time we as a nation had also not lived through many unifying incidents such as the Depression, World Wars I & II, the Korea Conflict, Vietnam, and most recently 9-11.  Many people believed at the time that the Constitution of the United States called for strong states' rights and a weaker, limited federal government than what they saw to be evolving. Somehow that does not seem to be so farfetched from what we are experiencing as a nation right now politically - the Tea Party wants extremely limited federal powers while the Democrats would like to see a stronger federal government. It is both heartening and disillusioning that these very same arguments have existed for over 200 years. It is also disillusioning to remember that at one point in time we as a nation were not able to civilly and amicably resolve our differences so that all sides could live with the concessions and decisions. Somehow discourse falling into outright war does not seem so farfetched when you look at the political climate today. Politicians seem more interested in blaming the other side and are not willing to give and take.

So to wrap up my rambling the question is - Could this nation ever again be drug into a civil war? In my opinion probably not such a civil war as occurred in the 1860s. But I do believe that we could end up in a class based "war" or revolution much like what has been occurring lately in the Middle East and other places around the world. What the rich don't seem to understand is that their smooth and orderly way of life is dependent on the peons being happy also.  And right now there are quite a few discontented people who have been denied the American Dream much as the African Americans were denied the American Dream before the Civil War.

Are you one of them?

Disclaimer - these thoughts are entirely my own and written down while I was quite sober thank you. Any wine based beverage that you would like to supply will evoke further musings both on and off tangent.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Home Again

We have noticed that when we have been to an area when something happens there it is more real for us than previously. For example when the tornado demolished the Lowe's in Sanford, North Carolina. We had just boondocked in the Walmart right next door to that very same Lowe's. We had been in parts of Alabama and we were in St Louis when the tornado hit Joplin. I had worked Joplin in the fall of 2009 while Bill was working in Coffeyville Kansas at Amazon. It seems like the cycle was broken as in the last few weeks there have not been any violent storms following us.

The week before Memorial Day actually found us in the Chicago area. Bill did not have to be in Atlanta until June 5 so he enthusiastically and I reluctantly decided to go home for a week. I really didn't want to spend a week at home during the summer as for me it would be just that much harder to leave with my unattended gardens calling out my name.

On our way through Chicago on Thursday May 26 we came upon this sight. Now we obviously knew that smog existed in large cities but had never seen it so up close and personal. You are looking at downtown Chicago believe it or not -- you just can't see the skyscrapers very well or wave at Oprah.

Once home we again were able to fit in a fish fry, this time at Jekyll & Hyde's in Pickerel. For those of you who are familiar with the area it is the old Cowboy's. And boy do they have excellent perch! We thought they are a close second to Wendt's. We have searched constantly since moving up north to find a location that had that good of perch as Bill won't eat any other kind of fish. Hopefully they continue doing what they are doing so that we can visit every time we manage to get home.


Speaking of returning home, we had hoped to be somewhere near Wisconsin during the middle of July as we had found a flyer for the Cadott Rock Fest and were wanting to go. Rob Zombie on Thursday night, Kid Rock on Friday night and Sunday! Jackyl, Tesla, Heart and Def Leppard.....but seeing as it looks like Bill is being sent to Mississippi for 12 weeks, it looks like we won't get back until October when I have to meet with my doctor.


Anheuser-Busch Clydesdales

As I mentioned in the previous post about the Anheuser-Busch Brewery tour in St. Louis, I have always loved the Budweiser Clydesdales. But after visiting the three locations in St. Louis I am now a Clydesdale groupie! Quite frankly, the Clydes were one of the first stops on the brewery tour and it could have ended right there for me as I had seen what I was interested in! In fact, the tour guide gave everyone the option of returning to the hospitality room after seeing the Clydes and the Dalmatians so I guess I'm not the only one who feels that way.

There are now three units of Budweiser Clydesdales that travel the country for appearances. Two Clydes are called a "team" and anything more than two are called a "hitch". Each hitch travels with 10 Clydesdales and their gear in three semis - the first semi will have 2 Clydes and all the food, meds etc that are needed on the road. The second semi will have 6 Clydes and the third semi will have the last 2 Clydes and the harnesses and the beer wagon. The hitch based at Warm Springs Ranch in Boonville Missouri serves the West Coast, the hitch based at the St. Louis Brewery serves the Midwest and the hitch based in Merrimack New Hampshire serves the East Coast. Warm Springs Ranch in Missouri is also now the base of the breeding program after being moved there from Southern California a couple of years ago.

During our visit some of the mares were still pregnant and some had already had their foals for the season. A baby Clyde, if you can call it a "baby", is born weighing around 125 pounds and measuring 3 1/2 feet in height. Our tour guide told us that normally the mares give birth very fast. In fact she said that one mare had started giving birth at 2pm during the afternoon tour the previous week and she was done some 12 minutes later!
Unfortunately, this little guy here named Cyclone lost his mother at 2 months of age to a twisted gut. Because they don't want the foals to imprint too much on humans and because Clydes are such a social animal they had to get the baby a companion. They went to a neighboring farm and brought him a goat to be in the pen with him 24/7. Our tour guide told us that they groom each other and play together constantly. The goat even cries for Cyclone when they take him out of the paddock for exercise!

In order to become a member of the hitch a Clyde must be a gelding, must stand at least 18 hands (6 feet) high, must weigh between 1800 and 2300 pounds and must be at least 4 years old.The Clyde must also have the recognizable markings of a Budweiser Clydesdale : bay coat, 4 white stockinged legs, a blaze of white on the face and a black mane and tail. Each Clyde is able to pull twice it's own weight so a 2,000 pound horse can be pulling 4,000 pounds. There are eight horses on each hitch and each horse not only has it's own 130 pound harness made to fit him exactly, each horse also has it's specific place on the hitch. The bigger, stronger Clydes are called wheelhorses and are placed next to the beer wagon while the showmen or the horses that best play to the crowd as well as being agile, are placed in the very front to prance and entertain the people.

The hitches are on the road some 10 months per year as they are only allowed to travel 500 miles per day. Each hitch will stop at various pre-determined stables along the route to the next appearance so that the horses can rest and be exercised. The horses are washed and groomed daily when not performing and when they do get ready to perform it takes the trainers 5 hours to get the Clydes ready, from bathing to braiding the red and white ribbons in their manes and tails.

I would definitely recommend the Warm Springs Ranch Tour if you are in either Kansas City or St. Louis Missouri. The ranch is located about half way between the two immediately off of I-70. You do have to make reservations for either the morning tour at 10am or the afternoon tour at 2pm as they only take a limit of 55 people at one time. The tour does cost $10 and there are no complimentary beverages afterwards like with most Anheuser-Busch attractions.

Of course you know they say the grass is always greener!

The other Anheuser-Busch animal themed vs beer themed attraction we visited in St. Louis was Grant's Farm. It is located practically in the city but has acres of land and works with the conservation over 900 animals from 100 different species. The farm was founded in the 1850s by Ulysses S. Grant but was purchased by the Busch Family in 1907. Besides conservation the Farm runs educational camps for kids.  This is the only Anheuser-Busch attraction that was not sold to ImBev when the company sold out a few years ago. In fact, the Busch Family still has a house on the grounds that is fully staffed and ready for any family member to visit. I especially loved the petting zoo with the baby goats where anyone could get a bottle of milk to feed them.


The Budweiser.com website has a listing of the schedules for each of the three hitches for each month. Please take a look and see if you can go and support this outstanding PR program and see some of the "gentle giants" for yourself.


Thursday, June 9, 2011

St. Louis Missouri

When you think of visiting St. Louis as a tourist (something I NEVER would have done if not for traveling for Bill's job!) many people think of two places : the Arch and the Anheuser-Busch Brewery. So of course when we were there in May we had to visit both locations. The neat thing was that both activities were very wallet friendly.

First, we visited the Anheuser-Busch Brewery located near downtown. Both the Arch and the Brewery were located near some not so pretty areas of the city. St. Louis has had the ugliest downtown areas that I believe we have seen since we hit the road in 2009. Granted other cities we have visited no doubt have ugly areas just like the area near the Arch and the river, we just haven't come across them like we did here.


We decided to do the free tour which is mainly an overview of the facility and the brewing process. There is also a Beermaster Tour available for $25 and Beer School for $10. We had actually done Beer School about 8 years ago at Busch Gardens in Tampa and it was free then....inflation inflation. The part that Bill and Jr liked best, of course, was the two free samples that everyone over 21 gets at the end of the tour. Anheuser-Busch has that freebie at all their facilities except for Cold Springs Ranch which will be described in my next post. (Hint: Lots and lots of Clydes!)

The grounds and buildings of the brewery were immaculate as they are at all of the Anheuser-Busch facilities we have visited. Lyon's School is now a National Historic Landmark as are several of the other buildings. The school was attended by all of the Busch children but was sold to the company in 1907 as having a school on a brewery grounds was not thought to be a good idea for obvious reasons!

We found some facts extremely interesting especially the lager tanks where the beer is beechwood aged. There were three stories of tanks stacked four wide with each tank holding 200,000 six packs. The tour guide said that if production would stop that day for the plant which primarily distributes to the midwest, beer drinkers would run out of Budweiser products in somewhere around 31 days. You do the math. Gotta love the Midwesteners and their love of their brewski!

Another day we decided to go to the St. Louis Arch, or the Gateway Arch as it is properly named. Here is the perfect example for checking online and signing up for emails and tweets or liking something on Facebook before going to an attraction or restaurant or what have you. I looked up the Arch webpage and there I found a link to a coupon for a free riverboat cruise just for signing up for emails.


Also by purchasing tickets ahead of time online we got free parking in the parking garage next to the Arch. Because the tickets to go up one of the legs normally cost $10 and the riverboat cruises are $14 it was a very nice savings.

The Arch can be ascended in either leg normally but due to the recent flooding of the Mississippi River the north leg was closed. The south leg has displays of life in St. Louis in the 1800s when the westward expansion of the United States was booming. After going through a security checkpoint which includes an x ray machine and baggage scans you get in line to get into a little (and I mean little!) five seat pod that will take you up the 630 feet to the observation level. What is amazing to me about the structure is that it was built in the early 1960s before the age of computers and the most "engineering tolerance" or room for error was 1/64 of an inch or the two legs would not meet in the middle and all work was done at night to avoid the distortion from the sun's rays......an incredible with crude instruments.

I had pictured an observation deck that would be something like at the Stratosphere in Las Vegas..... ahhh nope! Upon arriving at the top you get out on a set of stairs and enter a small, cramped little room that curves forward and has small little windows on each side.

Depending on the temperature that day the room can be very confining and not so fresh smelling. The Arch is also built to sway 9 inches in either direction in an 150 mile an hour wind so on a windy day like the day we visited you can definitely feel it move. The view is interesting as on one side you can see westward and quite a bit of the city.
While on the other side you have a view of the Mississippi River and Western Illinois.

After descending the Arch we crossed over to where the riverboat, the Tom Sawyer, was docked.

The cruise took us up river to the Eads Bridge which was the longest arch bridge in the world upon it's completion in 1874.


Just to imagine how high the water was that day, 27 feet over flood stage, you only have to look at this picture. There is a statue in the middle right of the picture that commemorates Lewis and Clark's Journey of Discovery.


Although St. Louis appears to be attempting to clean up the downtown and riverfront areas, there are other sites that are not so nice. There appeared to be a settlement of homeless people living in tents on the riverbank.

And ugly, barren buildings abound. Hopefully economic recovery will spread to St. Louis and we will soon see a return to work and prosperity for both the buildings as well as the people living in shacks and tents along the banks of the Mississippi.