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Ambling Toward Uncertain


Retirement, Texas

I have been sitting too long in my driveway.

I've been here since November, selling one house and trying to sell another, treading water ambivalently while the last slim umbilical to my former life falls away. It's not bad. I've had a chance to make small improvements in furniture and equipment, and I'm getting used to the size of the trailer. Trying to relax.

What am I relaxing from? What am I relaxing into? Retirement.

It's sort of like the two theories of learning to swim. One is to row out a good ways and throw yourself in the water, and if you don't sink like a stone, congratulations. You can swim.

The other is to inch your way into it from the bank, and hold on to something. So far I seem to be going for the latter. It's not the way I am used to doing things.

Certainly there's a lot of goofing off going on, and that's okay. Reading, music, plenty of exercise, eating well, feeling my way into the shape of things. I'm out of debt for the first time since I was 18.

If time is a kind of wealth, I've been very wealthy lately. I'm spending that wealth, and it's spending me. Fair enough.

Daydreaming about retirement used to center on travel. Faced with the actuality, I've discovered an unexpected instinct for delay. Go figure. Travel has always been too rare to be relaxed. Maybe 6 weeks a year. So it's load up, make a list of things to do, check'em off, move on. You know the drill.

Reading back over this, it almost sounds like a complaint. Yeah, I know. Poor me. Boo hoo.

What seems to make most people happy is whatever fully engages their deepest faculties, and I think they find that in their work or family. Assuming they find it at all. These lucky sods, if they really are engaged, don't need vacations.

Vacations tend to devolve into frenetic activity wrapped around the unacknowledged boredom of essentially empty hours. Somehow it doesn't seem like real life. And it's not. It's a strain. That's why returning home to your routine brings such a dependable sense of relief.

Thinking of retirement as one long vacation is apt to be a deadly mistake. And that's the way I used to think of it. So much for that.

I hate to say it, but in a desultory halting way I think I may be looking for work. And I'm learning to relax about that prospect. I'm even sort of looking forward to being a rookie at something again.

All the signs indicate there's going to be a bunch of wandering around and goofing off involved. What sort of work can that be? Beats me.

Maybe I'll become professionally retired. You know, work at it a little. Keep regular hours.

"Stand back, folks. Stand back, please. We're going to do the utter-relaxation-in-the-lawn-chair trick. Now, remember, don't try this at home. We're professionals."

The other day someone on the newsgroup mentioned a place called Uncertain, Texas. Sounded like the right place for me to be. Like fate, almost. I'm on my way this afternoon.

Fairfield Lake State Park, Texas 3/20/03

Central Texas is well watered, green, and comfortable. Small farms and cattle country. Not a clear proposition like some of the Prairie states, where the grain goes on and on and on, but patches of 25 or 50 or 100 acres, small holdings separated by neat lines of brush and barbed wire, where good fences make good neighbors.

I am making my way, slowly, toward Caddo Lake, through towns like Granger, Bartlett, Rogers, Odds, Groesbeck, Mexia. Texas has an excellent system of well paved back country roads. The better ones are called Farm to Markets. They encourage ambling along at 40-50 mph, but watch out for the occasional sudden right angle turns, where some independent cuss a while back didn't want to give up his property line to no damn road, and had the clout with the county commissioner to make it stick.

I've been trying, sort of, to avoid the War news. Ordinarily it would be easy out here away from the interstate. A year or two ago, you might have got clear north to the piney woods without hearing more than hog reports and Merle Haggard, and even that scratchy with AM static. But then I went and got satellite radio, and haven't the discipline to ignore it, so I find myself checking in on CNN now and then. It's odd -dissonant- to amble through the sunlit prosperity, the absolute peace and beauty of a fat land where no bombs are falling, while listening to breathless buzz about sandstorms and mechanized deployments and BDAs.

It is another dissonance to look out the window of your home each day onto another scene, another yard. This is a commonplace, but it still feels strange. I can see now, a little, the why of something that always mystified me: people going to the woods to watch TV. If you are just visiting the woods and have to leave soon, it's a damn shame. If you are at home on the road, you do what you want, for you can always take a walk tomorrow, or next month.

When I think about this for very long, I cannot get the smile off my face.

I stumbled on along the dial to NPR, and a story about the cult of Laura Ingalls, the author of "Little House on the Prairie". A New Yorker is telling how she was moved by the books to amazingly reverse the normal demographic and move to Nebraska for a while. I was charmed when she said that Ingall's prose "just knocked the irony right out of my life." Hearing that, and looking around the country here, I thought I could briefly understand the attraction of farming.

The problem of modernity is a surfeit of irony. It is easy at times to absently long for the relief of some simple life where everything is just what it seems and nothing else, where the right thing to do is obvious as paint peeling on the side of a barn, and where just doing whatever needs to be done in front of you, every day, can fill your life and make you tired and happy. That's the way the fields and homes look along the Farm to Markets. Meticulous. Purposeful. Honest. Plowed. Tedious.

Nah. I may like to look at it, but it ain't for me. There's lots of things like that.

Boring can be good, though. Depends on what else you've got. Ask the Iraquis, right about now.

Driving the Farm to Markets means you have to be satisfied with the prospect of going slow and always being a little bit lost. Us granite-jawed steely-blue-eyed RVer types are always at home, so no matter. Right.

Some of these roads were built to go everywhere and nowhere, often at the same time. Round and round. Like all the roads in North Carolina. Many are not to be found on your handy-dandy three dollar state map. Somehow I managed to miss the Confederate Reunion Grounds this way, supposedly near Mexia (Mah-hay-ya, to them as don't know).

A guy at a filling station put it pretty well: "Ya cain't git in a hurry, or ya won't git dair a'tall." I'm not sure I got the accent exactly right, but the advice was sound, whether you're trying to find Mexia or Heaven itsownself.

I think it's a little late for the Reunion anyhow, short of a rather noisy seance. "Let us cross over the river, and rest in the shade of the trees." Oddly peaceful last words for a stone killer like Jackson.

Backtracking is just part of the entertainment. You never know when you might luck into a pretty fair pit barbecue sandwich at the sole grocery store in a little acorn of a town you never meant to visit, served up with onions and a bag of chips by a spirited young girl who quotes poetry at the customers out of boredom, like it or not. I did.

I don't believe she'll be hanging around there much after high school. Dallas beckons, no doubt. But meanwhile she'll break a couple of local hearts and cut salami in her daddy's store. A real home grown tomato, with sunlight in her smile. Made me smile too.

Right before dark I pulled into Fairfield Lake State Park. $11 for lakeside camping with water and clean hot showers, plus $2 entrance fee. Some full hookups available for a little more. On a fine small lake the sunset lingered like a kiss. Quiet camping, uncrowded.

While I was checking out the bathroom, a fella looked me over and said, "Nice trailer. Guess they were full down the way, huh?" As though he couldn't see any way I'd be slumming around with mere tenters, sans electricity, if I hadn't been thrown out of Paradise. It took a moment to sink in. " I don't know. I didn't get that far." Maybe he just thought I was lost, and was trying to be helpful.

Central and East Texas has a state park about every 50 miles in most any direction. I aim to pass through a number of them like a slowly skipping stone.

Caddo Lake 3/22/03

The highlight of the 20th was the Caddoan Mounds. A pretty low high, to be sure, something like the time my college roommate talked me into smoking dried banana skins. The Caddoan Mounds are relics of the Mound Builders, an Indian culture that once spread from the Great Lakes to the Gulf, and east to the Appalachians. Their best trick was piling up dirt. Their other trick was making extremely flammable thatch huts 20 feet high. Apparently that's about all we know about them.

Despite being held up by prehistoric Indians, I managed to make some miles. I might have stayed in Fairfield a while, but the wind was blowing cool on the lake, and it looked like rain. That's why they put wheels on these things.

I believe in Serendipity. That's why I never make reservations, as a rule. Like Kinky Friedman says, "When God closes the door, He opens a little window." It was disappointing to pull up to Martin Creek State Park around 2 pm and face a sign saying they were full up. About 10 miles on, though, between Tatum and Marshall, I discovered a roadside park in the pines, on a hill above Hwy 43.

It was a nice place to stop, so I stayed. The picnic tables were concrete and brickwork, and on looking around I found a plaque commemorating this park as one of the very first roadside parks in the State, built in 1933. As pleasant as any campsite I was likely to find, so I stayed the night.

I even considered staying the next day, reading and taking notes on the various visitors that drove through. Some day this might be a good idea, but it was Friday morning, and I wanted to get on to Caddo Lake State Park before it filled up for the weekend.

As it turned out, Caddo had only one vacancy left, and I got it. Turned out to be closer to Hwy 43 than I was last night for free, and the jake brakes were annoying at first, but after a while I learned to ignore them, and 43 is not exactly an interstate. Total cost for the site with electric and water was $16 a night. The ranger says this is still Spring Break, which I had thought was over by now. He informed me that from his point of view the holiday was 3 weeks long, as the dates are staggered out for many schools.

Despite being full and close to the highway, the campground is actually pretty quiet and secluded feeling, the sun is filtered through the high thicket of the trees, and songbirds are out in force. Anyway, the main thing here is not the campground. It is the Lake, which is advertised as "the largest natural lake in the South." The Park is actually on the narrow end, called Big Cypress Bayou.

I missed the park at first. The entrance is understated, and right next to a sharp left turn with many distracting signs and a store on the corner. I was going slow since turning off the highway, but I still had that highway mentality of looking far ahead. The RVer's equivalent of the thousand yard stare.

As a result I went on down the park road for about 5 miles, until I dead-ended in the fishing village of Uncertain. It has the nasty casual thrown-together look of most fishing camps, a dilapidated encrustation of mobile homes and other temporary structures along the bank of the Bayou. They seem to be repaired just often enough that they may indeed outlast us all. In some of the front yards there are old cars slowly turning into planters, and in one case all that's left is the rusting motor and transmission. Lots of mud ruts from trucks turning around.

Frank Lloyd Wright might have found it all inspiring. Here's architecture that truly celebrates and even slides imperceptibly into it's setting.

Over time.

People come here to fish. They want to eat, fish, and take the occasional dump, and any amenity beyond that is beside the point. That much is certain about Uncertain.

The odd thing is that I kind of like it.

The principal activities center around bait sales and boat launching. The lake itself is a fecund drowned stagnant cypress swamp, and in the summer mosquitoes must be brutal. I walked out on a fishing pier, though, and the cypresses are many, mysterious, and moss hung, the size and even the existence of the lake is not apparent, and I can see that someone could get lost in there and paddle around for hours trying to find the true channel. Trails are marked by cedar posts sunk into the shallow mud.

Somehow all that's inviting. I can't explain it.

Supposedly there are alligators in there that remove all signs of the occasional incautious tourist. I'm going to try out the kayak Sunday. Wish me luck, and keep a lookout for buzzards....

O yeah, I meant to mention, for you XMers, my microwave cuts off the signal, but the effect only lasts while the thing is cooking. I didn't expect that, but I guess it makes some kind of sense.

The War news is inescapable, even out here. It's hypnotic. There's nothing I can do about any of it, but I can't quit listening, even when all they do is repeat themselves. If in the end this thing turns out even half way okay, we're going to be very very very lucky. And what does it even mean to say "in the end"?

We all know luck is a fickle thing. But we've stepped in it now, and there's nothing to do but keep on to the end.

Caddo Lake 3/24/03

I want to make a retraction. Not that I haven't told the truth about this place, but I am humbled to note that us humans never see the truth except in pieces. Like the piece I saw when I walked out on the fishing pier at the state park and looked out on Saw Mill Pond, a slough of cypress knees and tea colored water.

My daddy grew up in Somerville, Texas, and used to tell about swimming in the Yegua River as a boy, when he had to take a stick and scrape the scum off the water and then jump in quick before it came back together. That was the impression I got of the Pond, which was all I then saw of the Lake.

Well, it turns out there's lots of clear water out there in the main channel. There's also lots of particulate, but it smells okay. The real problem Sunday was the speed boats. One in particular gave me fits for half an hour. It had a thin split hull of red fiberglass floating a couple of inches out of the water, and bolted to the back was the biggest outboard I ever saw. The boat looked a little like some sort of ceremonial Hindu double dagger.

Sitting upright in this muscle boat was a little granny lady. She'd bob around for five minutes or so, then she'd start'er up and roar half a mile down Big Cypress Bayou at 50 mph, gray locks flying in the wind. Then she'd shut it down again, just floating, and then next thing you knew here she came roaring back. She did this over and over. The bow waves were a continuous problem and irritation to the paddlers near the bank.

I finally got shut of Granny back in Big Four Slough. It was a dramatic change. There's a cathedral quality to the light back there, filtered through hundreds of cypress trunks stretching up 40 feet or more. It wasn't exactly quiet, though it felt that way. Birds were busy everywhere, but hard to see through bars of light and shadow. Fish flopped unexpectedly. I think my ears are tuned to hear random natural sounds like these as a kind of intermittent quiet, whereas steady persistent sound like a motor or perhaps even frogs and crickets... well, that's just racket.

Way back in there a fellow was sitting in a pirougue checking a trot line. We saw each other, but not a word was said. Or needed.

When I reluctantly came poling out again, it was like waking up in the morning. The open bayou is another, brighter, flatter, more ordinary world.

At least Granny was gone.

Listen up. Right now I'm going to give you all the best advice I know. If you ever get even close to Marshall around lunch time, drive out to Uncertain to the Shady Glen Cafe. There, for around 6 dollars, you can get a half pound cheeseburger and a big order of hand dipped onion rings. The hamburger is as good as any I have ever had. Mine had jalapenos, sauteed onions, cheddar, and mushrooms.

And then there's the onion rings, which beggar description. They are a dream. They are beyond everything. They are a work of art. Light, golden, crunchy outside, peppery, soft and sweet inside. I asked the owner/waitress/cashier how she got that perfect batter to stick to the onion.

"They are good, aren't they, honey. It's just a matter of getting the onions to exactly room temperature. Pull'em out of the fridge, and the batter won't stick. Let'em get too warm, and it won't stick either. But the batter is just buttermilk and flour and spices. Lots and lots of spices. I like that."

Indeed. If ever an onion ring gets into heaven, its going to be one of these. But it'll have to get through me first.

While I was lingering over this near religious experience, I inadvertently heard an awful lot more than was any of my business about "Doin the D".

One of the girls - let's call her "Dotty" - had gotten herself arrested for 4 hours. I never did find out why, and couldn't ask, but here are my notes:

"She's a mouthy child. Lord, she's mouthy."

"Wonder where she got that?"

"She better not dump any of that onion batter in my sink. That water's for washin'."

"They took my bra away from me, and my jewelry, and shoelaces! I just couldn't stop cryin'...."

"Bet it was just like the Macarena, wasn't it honey? Hands on your head, hands around back....just doin' the D..."

"And who'd she call? Who'd she call? Just guess."

"Thank goodness you didn't have little Boo with ya. What did Clayton say?"

"Man, if they tried to lock that door on me, I'd make'em a new one real quick..."

"It cost me $509 to get out of jail, and that doesn't count $100 to get my car out of impound. That judge 'pologised and said he'd cut me a check for the fine, but he couldn't do anything about the impound. I said, 'Judge you need to clean house, cause you really got some problems in your organization...'"

"Related to him? Lord I been twice removed for twenty years..."

"Boat launch? That'll be 2 dollars. Thank you, sweetie."

"The fridgerator broke on top of that, and I told Boo, I'm not gonna fix you those eggs, honey, they've been sitting there warm since 8 o'clock last night."

"You mean your stove AND your fridge are broke?"

"Yeah, I'm tellin ya, it doesn't pay to make more money, cause somethin's always gonna come along and take it away. Oooo, now that's a pretty ring. Where'd you get it?"

Doin' the D at the Shady Glen Cafe, down in Uncertain, Texas. It don't get any better than this.

Next morning, Monday, today, I went back to get breakfast. It was okay, but not the revelation lunch had been. On the way back I was going down the highway about 55 when my windshield suddenly shattered, knocking the rear view mirror into the back seat and powdering the cab with broken glass. In the side mirror I got a brief glimpse of a dump truck or maybe a flatbed full of junk heading back toward Uncertain at a high rate of speed. I pulled over and checked the damage, then did a U and drove back to find the truck, but somehow he had completely disappeared in that little town. I tried to find what hit me along the road, and all I could find were beer cans and half full soda bottles. I am left to assume the jackass threw one of those at me.

I called Royal/Sun Alliance and they're sending someone from Longview in the morning. I just replaced the windshield a couple of months ago.

Another $250 shot to hell.

O well, no other damage done, and it did give me time to catch up on my email. A program just came up on PBS about Wrangel-St. Elias Wilderness. Gotta go.

Hope you're having as much fun as I am.

Jefferson, Texas 3/25/03

I got my windshield replaced Tuesday morning at Caddo Lake. As luck would have it, the new one is rippled along the upper edge, but I can't wait for another. The installer offered $100 off to shut me up, but I opted for future replacement. I know it will bug me until it is right again. That means 3 windshields installed in as many months. Sheeesh.

On the way north I passed through Jefferson, and stopped on the recommendation of a friend. Lots of empty restaurants and sandwich shops scattered around downtown. The waitresses looked hungrier than I was. I got greedy looks when I stuck my head in. My first impression was that Jefferson was a little touristy, sort of a down at the heels theme park in the off season. Branson light.

But it was not crowded, and the place grew on me.

Before and during the Civil War, this was a bustling port, due to a natural log jam that had backed up the Red River into the bayous, allowing shallow draft steamboats to reach deep into East Texas. If you grew cotton, and just about everybody did, this was the place you brought it in order to get it down to New Orleans, and thence to the wide world.

In 1870 Jefferson had its best year ever. In 1871 came the crash, from which it never fully recovered, let alone advanced.

What happened was that in 1870 the Army Corps of Engineers, with an historic and continuing instinct for misadventure, blew up the Red River log jam, which may have been built up for centuries, and over the next year the water in the bayous fell to a level that would not support the larger boats. The excuse for the dynamiting was to "improve navigation on the Red River." Due to increased flow and silting, it didn't even do that. O well.

About the same time the railroad arrived in a little town west of here called Dallas. The rest is history. Of course Jefferson got a railroad too, but its dominance had been built on a monopoly of transportation that would never come again. Les bon temps, as the Cajuns say, rolled on by, heading toward the setting sun.

I learned most of this from a generous and patient fellow named Nance, who was trying to get some research done in the Jefferson Museum, if only I would quit pestering him. The Museum is in the old Courthouse, a four story pile filled with an amazing assortment of bricabrac and memorabilia from the late lamentable gilded age.

They could really use a Curator. It's a volunteer effort, and the collection has something of the air of a garage sale, with stuff jumbled up everywhere. Just about anything old and related to local life can be found here somewhere, and you get the feeling no donation was ever turned down.

Almost all of it was interesting, one way or another. Among the dusty paintings scattered throughout was a purported El Greco. The faded glory of imported European furniture. A French piano with candlesticks. There's a female mannikin dressed in the height of 1880's fashion imprisoned in a barred off lavatory on the second floor. She looks up pertly, apparently having just risen like Diana from the unmentionable.

There's an extensive arrowhead collection. There's a rifle and musket room. Blacksmithing tools. Ship bells. Old Ale bottles. Piles and piles of stuff. I had a good time rooting around in there unchaperoned, and consider it $3 well spent.

I learned lots of odd stuff. Did you know that in the 1870's a Rothschild was tried three times for the same murder here. He was sort of the antebellum OJ Simpson. After the 3rd trial in as many years (mistrial, followed by hung jury, followed by acquittal) there was historic legislation outlawing what came to be known as double jeopardy, or repeated retrial on the same charges.

Fascinating stuff. I could have spent a couple of days here, but allowed myself to lapse into Vacation Mode, and after coconut pie and a quick run on a grocery store, headed up to Daingerfield while there was still light.

Daingerfield 3/27/03

Welcome to the perfect camping spot. It is idyllic. Part of that is the time of year. In March and again in October, the weather here is like summer in the high Rockies: high in the 70s, overnight lows in the 50s. Perfect. Days and days of clear sky and sunshine, with a thunderstorm thrown in once a week or so to break up the monotony.

'Course, this being Texas, it could come hail and a twister in five minutes. In which case you won't be getting this letter. So if you are reading this, it stayed idyllic. So there.

I arrived at Daingerfield State Park a little after 5:30 pm, and stopped on the lakeshore at no. 17. It is a culdesac, and I am alone. The site gently slopes to the water, which at this end of the lake is carpeted with lily pads. Someone left behind a small pile of firewood, which I got started by sacrificing the want ads of the Dallas Morning News. Don't need'em.

What more could I want?

Omnipresent but unseen, frogs are deeply announcing what I take to be their amatory intent. They do not sing for me. From across the water in the gathering dark comes a startling wild cry, a long breathy bell-like tone that turns up at the end. It silences the frogs, and me.

What could it be? Was it real?

Again. It is haunting. I wish I could reproduce it in print. It might be some kind of loon, though different from the loons I heard in Canada. I find myself waiting for it to begin again. And again.

It is done. The frogs forget about it, and later forget about themselves, and fall asleep. I wonder if they dream of dragonflies. Probably not. Some animals do dream. I know dogs dream, for I have seen them chasing phantoms, stretched out in front of the fire, twitching and whimpering. Frogs are no doubt free of such. Perhaps they just turn off, like little machines.

I think it's time I was up and off to bed, to dream greenly in their place, for them and of them.

But if they wake and start that racket up again, I'll have to dream through them as well. If intent has anything to do with it, there'll be lots of little frogs come summer. Maybe that wild screaming thing will eat a few of them.

The fire is low. My first this trip, and all the finer for being free, and found. I remember reading something etched into a fireplace mantle once that went like this: "We sat down in front of the world's greatest philosopher - a fire."

I have no doubt it is a better one than I am. Good night.

Daingerfield State Park, Texas 3/27/03

During the night the trailer was rocked by a violent storm passing through. It woke me for a while, and I lay there thinking about all the times I spent in a tent, in weather like this, worried about leaks and floods, wet bedrolls and mud in the morning. Old news. God, that sounds smug. Better watch it. An RV can lull you into self congratulation one moment, and leave you in the mud with a broken spring the next.

Still, I slept the sleep of the innocent.

Many people refer to this as my rolling home. I come to it from the other side. To me, it feels like a roomy, hardsided tent I don't have to put up, dry out, or take down. After 2 years, that's still pretty darn cool.

When I woke up at 8 o'clock, the rain was gone and it was a glorious morning. When I sauntered down to the water with a mug of coffee, there were a couple of turtles there, sunning themselves on a half-drowned log. They seemed oblivious as statues. I tried to be quiet, but somewhere I apparently hit some reptilian tripwire, and -flumph- they were gone in an eyeblink. I examined the shoreline for one of the hundreds of crazed frogs that had filled up the evening with noise, but there were none in evidence. No doubt resting up for the next performance.

After a short walk around this empty neck of the campground, I whipped up some ham and eggs. You know, I've been cooking a lot more this go round. Steak is always on standby, of course, plain T-bone or cutlets smothered in onions and gravy. But also stuff that lasts a few days, like stew, and spaghetti, and chicken and dumplings.

Those dumplings are the reason I don't have any biscuits this morning.

One thing I haven't been able to get right is toast browned in the oven. My vision of travel has never included constant access to alternating current, so I have kept my counters clear of spacehogging contraptions like toasters, blenders, and Foreman grills. The one small exception is my coffee grinder. In general most everything can be handled by propane either on the stove top or in the oven.

But toast just doesn't come out right.

O well. Something to bitch about. Maybe there's a secret toasting tool I've yet to discover. Like the Airbake pans Janet Wilder told me about. These small ovens tend to burn the crap out of everything without them.

After breakfast I put a chuck roast with potatoes and onions in the oven. Ought to be ready in 4 or 5 hours. Spent the rest of the morning sitting out by the water, reading a new memoir by Samuel Hynes: "The Growing Seasons - An American Boyhood Before the War".

This guy can write. Here's the sort of thing that jumps out at you from almost every page:

"The woman who had become my stepmother was a small, percolating sort of person, energetic and country-strong. Only her eyes were weak; she wore glasses that were thick as the bottom of a Pepsi bottle and made her eyes look liquid and indistinct, like the eyes of a fish in a fish bowl. Without her glasses she could see nothing; with them she saw her world with unforgiving clarity - dust on a tabletop, an unpaid bill on the desk, dandelions on the lawn where there should only be grass - and bustled to set each small disorder right...."

Now tell me you can read that and not feel you have just met this woman in the flesh.

But I grow fretful and restless in the limpid, tree-filtered sunlight. It's too perfect. Like Hynes' stepmother, at least this morning, I seem to require some disorder to set right. I tried defrosting the freezer, but that's more waiting than anything. Maybe it's just the war going on. The appetite for news is always there, like an itch I can't quite get to. Radio is not enough, and TV is full of soap operas and game shows. It's weird. I hardly ever watch TV. But having come all this way to escape the city, I find myself tempted to leave Paradise and escape back into town - for a newspaper, for a meal, or just for the hell of it.

I compromised by heading on up to the park office to pay for last night, and also tonight. Unhooking the truck, I discovered that the empty place above the 5th wheel pin, which usually contains the rolled up truck umbilical when I am parked, was full of grass and leaves. I may be at loose ends, but the birds are relentless. I believe if I'd sat out there just a little longer, they'd have built a nest in my lap.

The guy at the office was kind enough to let me use their landline to check my email, and while that was going on filled me in on a few facts about the Texas Parks System. He said in the summers and on holidays all the parks in East Texas tend to fill up for the weekend by Friday afternoon. So a reservation is smart. The phone reservation system is hooked up to their internal network, and works dependably. The Internet system is contracted out, and sometimes a complete mess. So call if you want a sure reservation.

I told him I wanted to buy some more firewood. Five dollars, and it would be delivered to my site. Ah, Wilderness! I whipped out my credit card, quietly congratulating myself on my survival skills.

I spent the afternoon lying back on the couch, reading while a slow warm breeze swept through the trailer. Somewhere in there a nap caught me unawares. The roast turned out perfect anyway.

A little guilty about my inaction, I thought about getting the kayak out on the lake, but that's as far as it got. I'm just not in the mood.

In the evening I built another fire while the frogs were tuning up. I fed five dollars to the flames, waiting with one ear cocked for the loon, or whatever it was, but no luck. Around 8 pm, however, the peace was shattered by a wild car alarm blaring down the lake a piece. I hate those things. It seemed to take forever for them to get it turned off. By that time I was hoping someone was really stealing it, and the sooner the better.

It's been a good day. I didn't get a damn thing done.

Livingston, Texas 28 March 03

Daingerfield State Park was hard to leave. I finally got away around noon. This turned out to be a mistake. That, and not turning on the Streetpilot. I got lost in a crease in the map near Kilgore, and got almost to Tyler before I realized it and turned around. Do you think that mapmakers do it on purpose? Seems like whenever there's something tricky, like a change in Hwy numbers, it's in the crease.

It smells like a conspiracy, I'm tellin' ya.

I finally found Hwy 259 and followed it down to Livingston. But I didn't get there until well after dark. When you are hauling a trailer, it is almost always a mistake not to stop before dark. If nothing else, it can screw up your sleep patterns, and throw off your routine for days.

Lake Livingston State Park is on Lake Livingston, right? So when you see the lake turnoff you should take it, right? Not really. I took the exit, and maybe 15 miles later saw a sign that said "Onalaska" ( something like that, anyway). I knew I'd screwed up again, so I pulled into a Stop n' Rob for directions. Boy, did I get them.

The clerk knew "a short cut", taking a "back way", which was "gravel, but pretty good." He drew me a little map. "Go back to the blinking light, turn right, then all the way to the end. Then right, then left until you get to the store. Then you turn in between two buildings....wait, I forgot something...." He scribbled again on the map, which was rapidly taking up the whole sheet of paper. I thanked him, got back in the truck, and threw it on the floorboard. I am sure he meant well, but the last thing I need at 8 pm is fishing around amid a maze of back roads, some gravel, and no doubt some too narrow to turn this 40 foot of rig around in. I went all the way back to Livingston, and found 1988 off 59, just a little south of where I first turned.

I got to the State Park after 9 pm, and slept in a parking lot. In the morning the park looked pretty, and pretty empty. Alligator warnings here and there. The lake itself is too big to be interesting to paddlers like myself, but ideal for the motorboat crowd.

Around noon I got around to checking out the national headquarters of Escapees, Inc. I was there to investigate their mail service for full-timers, and was suitably impressed. They have a bank of 7 operators taking instructions from all over the country. Every day they sort mail for 11000 people. It looks like a small post office, which it is, unofficially. They will do just about anything reasonable you instruct them to do with your mail, for a reasonable fee.

These people are pros, and I feel good about using them, if I ever sell my house.

I wish I could remember the name of the woman showing me around. She was cheerful, helpful, and friendly. She told me the local property tax problems for RVs that have been deviling them had been solved, and "everyone is getting their money back". This is the first I'd heard of this. A taxing authority giving money BACK??? Permit me a moment of doubt. But she insisted it was so.

But for me there is a temptation to leave my vehicle registration and driver's license in Williamson County where it is now, and use my brother's address for that purpose. This would be convenient when I came back for medical or visiting purposes, and wouldn't burden my brother unduly. Everything else could go through Livingston. It's all in Texas anyway.

I wish I'd planned my visit here better. There's a fellow working here I'd like to meet. His name is Mark Nemeth, and a little over 3 years ago his web page was the inspiration for trying out this lifestyle, and getting involved in rec.outdoors.rv-travel. It's now called Mark's Fulltime RV Resource, and can be seen at

It's still the best place to start if you are interested in full-timing, IMO. He works for Escapees now, and lives around here somewhere. But it's pouring down rain, and I didn't email ahead. That's what happens sometimes when you wing it. Luck is a fickle mistress.

I am sitting in Doucett's Cajun Boudin Cafe on Hwy 49 in Livingston. The boudin is bodacious, and I've bought 5 lbs worth to go, to spread cheer around my relatives in Houston. That'll make me popular for a while.

Now back in Georgetown. Went 1330 miles in 11 days, spent a total of $538 on everything. Almost exactly half that was gas. Avg cost of cruisin' and campin' was $49/day, around $1500/month. This is in line with other test trips, some quite a bit longer. Once you've bought the rig, this life is really not expensive. I've got a little less than $50K in the rig, including all accessories. I'm happy with the prospect before me, except the short term prospect of staying in Georgetown while selling the durn house.

That thing is an anchor round my neck. But not for long.


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