It's no April Fool's joke, we're actually on our way. The picture posted at the end of March was actually taken today as we were leaving South Padre Island.
We've decided to head up to Corpus Christi and visit the Naval Air Station and the rest of Padre Island. We've heard that you can drive your motor home right onto the beach. Don't know if I'm brave enough to chance that or not. We've watched people getting stuck in the sand on South Padre Island, sure wouldn't want to do that in R-Way! We're seeing lots and lots of vegetable stands alongside the road. I was planning on stopping at one so Ginger could get some things but after I decided to, wouldn't you know it, we never saw one again. We did drive up through the largest working cattle ranch (King Ranch) in the United States, we went for miles and miles and passed several roads going into the ranch. It covered both sides of the road in places. Lot's of fairly big watering holes along the way. Kingsville was a nice little town, there is a Naval Air Station there but we didn't stop, just kept heading towards Corpus.
Wow! Has Corpus changed over the last several years. It has really grown. The last time I was here, my oldest daughter was in the hospital and it wasn't nearly as developed as it is today. We passed not one, not two but three, yep, count 'em, three Wal-Mart's just on the stretch of road heading towards the Air Station. We also passed a couple of pretty nice looking shopping malls. I guess drivers in Corpus are not much different than drivers in the rest of Texas, nobody around here seems to pay any attention to the speed signs. Well, no one expect yours truly. These drivers are really in a hurry to get someplace, they weave in and out of the different lanes just to get in front of one other car. If I didn't know better, I'd think I was driving in Boston!
When we arrived at the Air Station we had to get in line with several other vehicles waiting to get in. When it was our turn the guard told me that they were checking all RV's today and that even though I had a sticker I'd need to pull off to the right of the road. We pulled over and into the area they had marked off with parking cones. It was kind of a tight fit but we made it. Security is really tight on the bases now. There was a sand bagged bunker facing the gate, and it was manned! It certainly helped us feel very secure. After they finished checking us over they gave us directions to the RV Park and off we went. We had only gone about 6 or 700 yards when the base police pulled in behind us with their blue flashers going. When I pulled over and put my window down the driver came up to me and said that I hadn't done anything wrong and wasn't in trouble or anything, they just wanted to retrieve the parking cone that I had clipped and latched on to with the tow dolly. That was a big relief!
We got all checked in and hooked up and decided to check out the Exchange and Commissary. The first thing I did was go to the barber shop and get a hair cut. I felt so much better after that! It was a really nice Exchange and Commissary, kind of nice to be back around something Navy and not watching all that Army camouflage.
We were only going to stay here a couple of days but the Blue Angels (The Navy's crack flying team) are putting on an Air Show Friday and Saturday. We've got to stay for that! What with all the security around the bases now, civilians can only come on the base if they have a sponsor with them. That should hold the crowds down a little. We went down to scout out the runways and discovered that this is a pretty big base. They also house the Army Black Hawks. It actually looked like the Army took up more real estate than the Navy.
The base used to be for seaplanes, so there are a lot of hangers very close to the water. A couple of jetties had been built stretching out into the bay to keep the water a little more calm where the planes entered and exited the water. One of the jetties is used for fishing. It stretches out about 150 yards into the bay. Ginger and I walked out to the end one day, it was a nice day and there was one person at the end fishing. We chatted with him for awhile. He is retired Air Force and has an RV just a little way outside the base. Said he's been coming to Corpus for almost 30 years, every winter. He never moves his RV, just comes down each winter to enjoy the weather and get in a little fishing. He is from Illinois and said it sure beats shoveling snow!
Ginger and I drove to our National Seashore and checked out the motor homes on the beach. It was great. They park so that they simply open their door and they're ON THE BEACH! There is plenty of room too, about 5 miles of it before you need a 4 wheel drive. What a way to go, and it doesn't cost anything! Of course, every week or so you'd need to dump your tanks and fill up with fresh water but shucks, we could do that for free on the base. We decided we'd come over here on Saturday and spend a few days.
After visiting the National Seashore we stayed on the island and headed east towards Port Aransas where we could take a free ferry to the mainland. It was a real nice little drive. We stopped at Mustang Island State Park and looked at their RV facilities. It cost a lot more than the Base but it was nice. The host at the gate was very friendly and talkative. The route to the ferry was well marked. There are about 4 or 5 ferries that continuously carry vehicles from Port Aransas to the mainland. It's a free service and they are well organized. We were in line for about 3 or 4 minutes before we were loaded on a ferry and it took us about 5 or 6 minutes to cross the water. Getting off was easy and before you knew it we were on our way.
As we were driving towards Portland (Texas) we saw a sign for Ingleside Naval Station. My sister's oldest daughter had been onboard a ship that was home ported in Ingleside. Since I had never been there we thought it would be nice to take a look at the base. We had to really drive off into the tullies but when we eventually found it we discovered a really nice little Naval Station. We went to the Exchange and did a little shopping then drove on around the base (this didn't take long) and looked at the ships that were in port. This base is devoted to Mine warfare. The first two ships I was on, in the 50's and 60's were Minesweepers so I was interested in looking at these ships. These were larger, they no longer make the class of Minesweeper I was on (174 feet of wood with aluminum engines).
After we left the base we headed towards Portland. My son David Jr. used to live in Portland. We drove around Portland a little and were impressed with the look of the schools we saw. If they teach students as well as they build schools, the kids today will be in good shape. As we drove across the bridge between Portland and Corpus Christi we could see, anchored in the bay, the USS Lexington, an aircraft carrier that has been set up as a museum. Seeing all the Navy around it was almost like being back in Norfolk. I loved it!
The Air Show. We drove down to the gate to the flight line that was open for the air show and had to park about 2 blocks away. A lot more people here than we expected. We walked down and had to go through security once again. Show ID's and open any containers we had. Once inside the flight line they had a number of booths sit up to display various aspects of flight and even had the Coast Guard represented. There was an Army Black Hawk helicopter that was open for people to tour. Ginger and I went inside. You could see where the troops would sit and how they would debark. It was really nice. The Navy Exchange provided a great service too. They had a booth sit up selling very COLD draft beer for only $1.00. It was quite hot so we had some. Ginger stopped at one, can't say the same for myself. We had taken our folding chairs so we plunked down right up close and enjoyed the show. What a show it was! There were 4 of them and they really impressed us. Once 3 of them were in front of us doing maneuvers and the 4th came in fast and low from behind us, scared the hell out of us I'll tell ya! Before the Blue Angels came on there were a couple of bi-planes that put on a good show too! I'm surprised at how well those ole planes hold together. Those stunt pilots put a lot of stress on them. It was a really great show all around.
Saturday morning and the weather is not good. Very overcast and predications of rain. The weather is supposed to be this way for several days. We decided that there was no reason to drive over to the National Seashore if it was not going to be good for being on the beach. Good for being on the beach is sun, plenty of good ole hot, sun. We decided we'd just go ahead an point ourselves towards Livingston. The park had a portable air compressor so I drove up to the building they kept it in and brought it outside to put some air in my tires. I have dual tires on the back and the valve stem on the outboard tire is pointing in towards the inside tire. It's the same on both sides. This creates quite a problem when I'm trying to put air in because of the rim. I have valve extensions for the inside tires and they work fine. These though, need extensions that will bend back 180°. Anyway, I fiddled and fiddled with them and think I finally got the right amount of air in each. Just as we were ready to pull out we discovered that we didn't have any DC power. That meant no cooling for the fridge while on the road along with a few other inconvenience. More fiddling and fiddling. Finally got power back, checked the clock and 11 o'clock had rolled round. Sort of a late start but we decided we'd head for Livingston anyway. It was Saturday so traffic around Houston should be quite light (I thought).
Coming into Corpus I thought it was like driving in Boston, wrong! Trying to get through Houston is like driving in Boston! We decided to just stay on highway 59 and go straight through since it was Saturday. We could have driven around but that would have taken longer and cost more for fuel, Saturday and straight through, that was our choice. What an experience! Won't do that again. I don't know how people that HAVE to drive through Houston do it day after day. It was a mess, cars, trucks and busses everywhere. Five and six lanes of traffic, on ramps every (seemed like) few feet and everyone trying to beat everyone else to the next open spot on the road. This started WAY before you actually got TO Houston. Yep, it was white knuckle driving. On top of that the condition of the roadway itself was horrible. We also commented on how much broken glass we kept seeing in the break down lanes. It just was not a pretty sight at all. We were some glad when we got to the other side of Houston.
U.S. Highway 59 runs through Livingston and the Rainbows End Escapee Park is on Texas route 146 which runs parallel to Highway 59. Last time we were here I found a route that ran between the two highways so a person coming up from the south wouldn't have to drive all the way to Livingston and head back south on route 146. I was sure I remembered which farm road it was. . . I didn't. We actually ended up in downtown Livingston coming in behind the courthouse. This just wasn't my day at all. We finally arrived at about 4:25 and the people in the office had just closed the door and were walking away. They came back and showed us how to find a spot after hours. Spot 95 was empty and it was a pull thru spot. We leaped right on it! Pulled in, took the SAAB off the dolly, removed the dolly, leveled R-WAY up, hooked up the black water hose, the water hose and plugged in the power. Whew! It was high time to welcome ole Jack Daniels. Cocktail time!The next day we just took it easy. The mail pick-up isn't open on Sunday so we'd have to wait until the next day for our mail. The park is pretty full. The next day we get our mail and attend the 4 o'clock social function. This is a daily thing at Rainbows End. This is where you meet new people, hear all the announcements and find out what's going on. New arrivals are introduced and everyone comes around and shakes your hand and/or gives you a hug and introduces themselves. We met John and Wanda Brower this way. They owned property at Rainbows End that they used as their home base. It was only two lot's down from the Activity center where we were.
Later than week we took the 'tour' of the place. It was a rather large group. We toured the Club house and walked across the street to the National Headquarters building. They toured us through the Mail Service area and we were some impressed with that operation I'll tell you. More than 10,000 people use the mail service and they employ over a dozen people just to handle that part of it. Just like L.L. Bean, they have their own zip code! After that we went upstairs to the conference area where we had a presentation from several of the staff that explained the different parks within the organization, the Care Center and how it's run (also talked about the Care Fair later in the month), and then took us out to a large wagon pulled by a pickup with a tour announcer. They drove us around the park and gave us little tidbits of information on each section. It was a great tour that ended up back at the Club House where they were serving lunch. We had Lunch and chatted with another couple that had been on the tour too.
That night they were having Bingo at the Activity Center and since we had done so well at Bingo in Benson, we decided to go along. The couple we had lunch with, Gail & Judy Egolf, decided to join us for Bingo. We had a lovely time, Gail and Judy and Ginger all won something. I was left out (this time). We saw John & Wanda there and they invited us to lunch with them and another couple the next day. They stopped by our lot with the other couple in their car and we followed them down to a place called Florida's Kitchen. It's a good thing we were following them, the place didn't look like the kind of place we'd usually go into to eat. It was wonderful. We had ribs and they were the best we'd had in a long, long time. Pretty inexpensive too! The other couple was a retired Navy Chief and a single girl who was tagging along with him in her own RV. We had a great time with them all. They left the next day heading for the left coast to attend the Spring Escapade. An Escapade is a gathering of Escapees. They have one in the Spring in the western U.S. and one in the Fall in the eastern U.S. We'll be attending the one in September in Goshen, Indiana. These are usually pretty big affairs, there are over 80,000 members in the Escapee RV Club and I'm told it's not unusual for half of them to show up at an Escapade.
While here, John and Wanda dropped by several times to invite us out to eat. One day we had Chinese, I guess every town has some sort of Chinese place. They had a nice inexpensive buffet. We were starting to learn our way around thanks to John and Wanda. We had met a couple from Canada while on South Padre Island, Brian & Hazel Davis. They spent the winter in Mexico and since they belong to the Escapee RV Club we had something in common to talk about on South Padre Island. They were heading towards the east to take their RV back to the Dealer for some work and planned on stopping in Livingston. They had promised to look us up when they arrived. Well, sure enough, they did. We had a wonderful get together, they walked over to our unit for some refreshment one day and we visited them the next for more of the same. We've talked to several people now that winter in Mexico. They tell us not to pay too much attention to some of the horror stories going around about Mexico. They really seem to enjoy themselves.
Frank & Jill Welti pulled into the lot next to us in their 40' rig. They winter in Presidio, Texas right down on the border. They've been doing it for a few years. He say's it's better than winter in Wisconsin! The day after he pulled in he noticed my left front tire was flat. When he let me know, I was a little upset because these front tires had been put on, brand new, in Benson, AZ. So, another call to the ole Road Club. They sent someone out to change it for me. So now I had the spare on the rig and the flat in the spare holder. Time to find someplace to fix it. We needed to have someone check out the loss of DC power thing anyway as well as looking into the Jet-Aire Ride system that had been worked on in Benson but was now not working either. So I drive (the SAAB) up to Joel West's place up towards town. His boy Rick now runs the place and we talked about some of my problems. He didn't have the ability to fix my flat but recommended I take it over to Texas Tire and let Chris do it. It was going to be awhile before he could get me in for the other work as he was swamped. It was beginning to look like we were going to spend more time in Livingston than we had planned on. But, that's okay, we can do that now that we're retired.
The Care Fair was an excellent idea. Many of the full timers that belong to Escapees are on the road a lot and don't have the opportunity to visit Doctors on a regular basis. Once a year the Club has what they call a Care Fair and they have it, of course, at the Care Center. It's scheduled for a whole week each April. They have special very low cost lab tests and lots of seminars for us older folks. We weren't aware of the Fair but once we found out about it we decided we really needed to be part of it. Both of us had blood work done and discovered that Ginger's Cholesterol was a little high and my Triglycrides were high. We enjoyed some of the seminars as well. The Escapee Club was originally established for full-time RV's. One of the things the club provides is a place for RVer's to get off the road if they're sick, recovering from an illness, or for some other (health related) reason can't function normally on the road. They have a building with a number of sites around it that they call the Care Center. It has a full-time Nurse, exercise room, meeting room and a cafeteria that provides mid day meals. They have people on staff (and use volunteers) to help people clean their RV's, visit invalids, provide transportation and just about everything a regular Nursing Home would do. During the Care Fair they have a couple of Doctors that come in and give seminars, the local Medical Center brings their Vampires (Phlebotomist) out to draw blood and take it back to the Medical Center's Lab and in two days has the results for us. One of the seminars is the Doctor talking about what each test does, what the norms are and what either hi/low means in general. It's a great service and a wonderful benefit to being an Escapee. So, once we found out about it we sure didn't want to miss it.