It has been almost eight months since we moved into our coach and became full-timers. After all this time I still find that I have not totally adjusted to the state that my retirement is now in. I sometimes wake up in the morning wondering where it is I have to go today. What fires do I have to put out? Will I need to be in two places at once? Many times I have to remind myself that I no longer have a job, my business has been sold. I know longer have a house with a yard that I have to look after. The new owners of my business rarely call me for help. They no longer need me. I have no desire to return to the house that we owned. I try to think about the good memories we made over the twenty-nine years we lived there.
Last January, thinking good thoughts, was almost impossible. I was totally distracted by our circumstances. I didn’t own a business, so I had no business income. We still had a house that we had to make payments on, and to keep insured. We couldn’t live in it because we had moved out. We couldn’t sell it. We couldn’t put it back on the market. We couldn’t get rid of the people who didn’t buy it.
The house was empty. Well, not quite. The rooms were full of memories and anger, my anger. I was mad at all the people who were jerking us around, and at God who was allowing them to do so.
I was nursing my anger as we were slowing creeping south on Interstate 95, somewhere north of Savannah. We were in some heavy traffic. Why it was moving so slow was anyone’s guess. I suspected a fender bender ahead of us. I was still steaming about the loss of my wallet although by this time I should have been over that incident.
Back at the Flying J and while I was concentrating on re-hooking up the car to the coach, Diane came flying out the coach door.
“I found it!” she said as she rushed over to me, holding out my delinquent wallet.
“It was under the brake pedal.” was the answer to the question I didn’t have to ask out loud.
“How in the heck did it end up there?” was the question I did ask.
“I don’t know...but I guess you left it on the dash and Teddy must have knocked it off.” was Diane’s clever response. She was in the drivers seat to do a tow light check and happened to look down and see the wallet hidden in the dark under the dash.
“Well that just cost us an hour!!” I said, like I really had to be at our next stop by a certain time.
“Its no big deal, just take a deep breath, let’s check the lights and get back on the road.” she calmly replied. She is always the calm one.
I took a big breath, gave Diane a BIG hug, we tested the lights, got back on the road ….and then about an hour or so later we crawled to a virtual stop.
It looked like we were not going to make it to our next stop anytime soon, or before nightfall. I had plenty of time to think about things. So I did. I thought about how one’s situation, one’s circumstances can change so fast...from good to bad, and hopefully back to good again...like they were for us for a few days in October….
As planned Diane and I did our best to make the most of our time in Asheville. We were a bit disappointed with the rally. Two things in particular: There seemed to be fewer vendors, and unlike the year before our close friends Gary and Janis did not attend.
We drove the golf carts for the handicapped but we offered rides to anyone who wanted one, if we didn’t we would have been quite bored. I added some fun by wearing a plaid shirt, stripped socks, Nike Classic Cortez sneakers, and a Bubba-Gump Shrimp hat. I stayed in the character of Forrest Gump for four hours.
“Hi-I’m Forrest...Forrest Gump” “Do you need a ride?”
“This is my golf ca-artt, I named it Jenny”
“Would you like a choco-lot?” as I handed my riders a bite sized Mr Goodbar or Twix or something else.
I tended to get a pretty strong reaction from my passengers...many who would only ride with me and waited for my cart throughout the day.
You get the picture. (I use that phrase a lot!)
When I was not channeling Forrest, we visited all the new coaches that were parked about for attendees to tour and hopefully purchase. I saw a couple of coaches that I liked, but none that I liked enough to buy, even if I had the inclination and the money to trade for it. I came away from climbing the steps into about fifty coaches with the strong feeling that our rear gas pusher was quite the catch and we should keep it for a long time, even after the house sells.
On Sunday, the day the rally ended, we packed up and were one of the last to leave the Ag Center. We were traveling to Marion, North Carolina. The trip would take less than two hours, if all went well.
I made a newbie mistake. When making a-too much in a hurry-shallow right turn from the Ag Center exit, I dropped the rear co-pilot tire into a hole located next to the curb. I think our tow car jumped the same curb. The result was the coach rocked like a sailboat hit by a big wave. The cabinet door over the kitchen sink flew open with a bang. A Corel dish took off, hit the floor just right and shattered. It sounded like a gun shot. White glass flew everywhere.
We all sat there shocked.
“We have to stop, Teddy will cut his feet if we don’t clean this mess up. He could eat the pieces or get them stuck in his fur!” Diane exclaimed.
“Okay, first place I see...over there.” I pointed to a hilly small strip mall on the left side of the road, with a Bojangles in the parking lot.
We pulled in and stopped. I extended the wardrobe slide out enough to get by it and grab our vacuum cleaner which we store behind a bedroom chair.
We spent the next thirty minutes looking for bits of white broken glass. It was all over the place. We cleaned up as much as we could find (bits of glass kept showing up for weeks afterward) and then put the coach back together.
I walked down a hill to a trashcan sitting in front of some store. I threw away a bag of glass and when I turned around to head back up to the coach, I saw a wire hanging from the bottom of the car. I took a close look at it and realized it was the flat cable from the front bumper electrical connection to the rear lights of the car. There was a broken tie wrap hanging from the wire. I dug around in the coach basement, grabbed a couple of new tie wraps and re-attached the cable. It could have been a very bad thing if that wire had been ripped out while going down the road. No brake lights, no turn signals and who knows what other problems losing that cable could have caused.
The broken plate may have done us a big favor.
We continued to Marion. We arrived at the Mountain Stream RV park around three in the afternoon, checked in then backed into our very beautiful spot right next to the stream. My brother Rod and wife Sharon were due to arrive sometime during the day.
Around five they arrived pulling their travel trailer. We walked over to their site, said hello. I loaned Rod my nylon picnic table canopy. We set that up and hung a light in it. We let them finish setting up camp and made plans to have dinner and spend the evening together on their site.
Diane and I spent the rest of the afternoon just sitting. Sitting by a beautiful mountain stream. We didn’t say much to each other. Both of us were thinking about the days to come, not tomorrow or the day after but the ones coming in a few weeks. We had a lot to do before the start of the next phase of our lives. I know that sounds just a bit dramatic, but it was true. We had a lot of things to part with, and some of those things, well it was going to be tough, for me anyway.
We sat by the water, each handling our thoughts in our own way until our stomachs started rumbling and thoughts of grilled hamburgers, a beer and a glass of wine, overwhelmed any other ones in our minds.
A couple hours later, after dinner was through, we had a rousing game of Farkle and pleasant conversation to go with it.
This very pleasant first day was done.
We had a great week. We hiked to one of our favorite places on the Blue Ridge Parkway called Crabtree Falls. We visited Little Switzerland Inn, where our daughter Jeri and her husband Tom had their wedding nine years earlier, and had a great lunch. We spent a lot of driving time up on the Parkway, watching the fall colors burst out. One day, I don’t remember which one, Rod and Sharon took a trip to visit my sister Kam’s home in Asheville. Rod had promised to use his truck to pull a large fallen tree out of the pond in her front yard. While they were in Asheville, Diane and I visited Black Mountain. We needed to purchase that new dulcimer case and we hoped to get her thirty year old Alvarez guitar appraised. That was one of the things we wanted to sell. Not much room in our coach for storage of large musical instruments.
It was a great week and ended all too soon. Rod and Sharon left a couple of hours before we did. Sometime in the afternoon we headed toward I-40 with Galax, Virginia in the GPS.
As we were driving down twisty NC 80, the coach power blipped. I didn’t think too much of it at the time, but it would do it again. We were having a quiet drive, the scenery passing by the coach windows was great. We made our way to I-40 East. About an hour or so into our trip near Statesville and the intersection of I-77, the coach engine just died. No gas! No power steering, and not much braking power either. The fuel tank was three quarters full, but it just had no power. I muscled it off to the side of the road just in front of an overpass. The engine would not start.
It didn’t take but a minute for me to realize we were stuck on the side of I-40 with trucks whizzing by at 70 miles per hour plus. We only had a few hours daylight left. Not Good.
I started making phone calls. First one was to my friend Mike Pelchat, president of the Workhorse Custom Chassis owner’s club. After explaining the problem he confirmed what I had already figured out for myself...dead fuel pump.
Next call was to Good Sam’s Road side assistance. They answered the phone rather quickly, asked if we were in a safe place, and what the problem was. They agreed I needed a tow truck and would call back as soon as possible.
Three very warm hours later we were still waiting. I finally called them.
Now let me just make this long part of this long story short...we sat on the side of the road for over thirteen hours. Our road side assistance did end up paying for the first of two tows that eventually put our coach in a service bay at Terry Labonte Truck Service in Greensboro, but that would not be until the next morning. The only reason we finally had a tow truck arrive, after being virtually abandoned by our road side assistance friends, was due to the help of a State Policeman from North Wilkesboro who happened to be on temporary duty out of Statesville. He made it very plain we could not stay in or leave the coach on the side of the road overnight, it was just too dangerous. It was too dangerous for us and for the vehicles zooming (making the coach rock and roll) past us.
If this incident was a precursor of things to come then we were in for a rough ride, BUT, we were also about to receive a few unexpected blessings as well.
I don’t want to go into all the details about that night. We had to make a lot of cell calls to get where we needed to go...we had arguments with Good Sam’s about when the tow truck would arrive, where we needed to be towed to, about paying for an out of network tow, when no approved tow service would even come to get us, so on and so on. The State Policeman had to get on the phone and tell Good Sam’s that this is what was going to happen and they needed to make it so.
The coach did get repaired. It took five days. We spent the first night in the service center parking lot, and the rest of the time staying with my parents.
The first morning, as we were checking in with repair, Diane saw a motorhome parked inside the security lot. It looked just like ours. Which meant it looked just like the first coach our friends Gary and Janis owned and traded in Winterhaven, Florida.
“That looks like Gary and Janis’ coach” said Diane.
“No, that IS Gary and Janis’ coach.” I replied. Of course I was not completely accurate but she knew what I meant.
After we were checked in, I asked Robert the service manager, about the other UFO out on the lot. He gave me a bit of its history and said he would contact the owners and give them my phone number and email address. This would turn out to be the very beginning of a new friendship with another couple. They would be the second set of very good friends that would come to us because of the same rear gas engine motorhome.
I think a higher power also had something to do with our present friendship with Linda and Rudd from Greensboro.
We packed the car with things we would need for the next few days and headed to my parents's home in Lexington.
It was a healing time and a good time we spent with Mom and Dad until we got the call that our coach was ready to roll again. Something else good that came from something bad.
These October thoughts and all the more recent things, were traveling around in my tired brain as we slowly passed the scruffy trees growing next to I-95.
Seeing flashing red and blue light in the top of distant trees brought my thoughts back to the present.
The red string of tail lights moved slowly forward as the red and blue light lit up the inside of the coach.
The reason for the bumper to bumper traffic became all to apparent.
Emergency vehicles were stopped on both sides of the road.
Partially off the left lane a rental moving van was laying on its side, driver door down. There were clothes, shoes, busted boxes, and furniture scattered about. Next to the right lane a mini van was stopped. It was packed with boxes and household items. Clothes were hanging from a rod across the back window.
The chassis of the truck was charred. The cab of the moving van was nothing but a burned out shell.
My heart went to my throat. It looked like no one in the moving van could have survived this. Did anyone get out? Were members of the family in the mini van forced to watch as their whole life flipped on its side and caught on fire?
“Wow, God help them.” said Diane.
All Diane and I could do was pray.
As the terrible scene, framed in our windshield slowly moved to the rear view mirror, I looked over at Diane and she looked at me. We had been sharing the same thoughts about our house situation, including the buyers we were fighting, the money we were losing, all those things that needed to be taken care of.
At this moment our big troubles became smaller….
I don’t remember if Diane said it or if it was me but one of us did:
“I complained because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet…...”
You can read about our time with my parents here: