Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Moving On - It Was Just Stuff, After All

At Pine Mountain RV Park, Pigeon Forge, Tennessee...

First, let me thank all of you who responded with such kind remarks about our experience with the burglary. I sincerely hope this kind of thing remains a rarity for everyone, and it is encouraging to have heard from so many of you.

We think we discovered how the thief or thieves gained access to Phannie. The entry door has two keyed locks--a deadbolt and a door handle lock. Because our experience with RV-related crime was nonexistent, we typically locked only the deadbolt and not the handle lock when leaving our rig. While I don't want to get into the details, we discovered that such an omission leaves the security of the door quite vulnerable to tampering because of the design of the deadbolt. This is almost certainly how they got in. You can bet that we will engage both locks from now on.

It has been an intense couple of days acquiring a new computer (a Dell All-In-One this time) and frantically changing access to sensitive information that might be compromised. It has not been easy emotionally either, especially for Sandy, who lost some pieces of jewelry that were not of great value but about which she was terribly sentimental.

We've worked our way pretty well through the shock, anger, sorrow and helplessness that comes with this sort of thing and have strengthened our resolve just to let it go. They didn't take our memories, and we can get new stuff; besides, if we let it ruin our trip, then the bad guys win. We can't have that!

Our friend Ed (The Happy Wanderers) wrote a post a few days ago about our experience. He reminded his readers that the vast majority of folks in the RV community are honest and caring and look out for each other. Sometimes, however, we do need to be reminded not to get too complacent. For nine years now, almost every RVer we've encountered would do anything they could for their fellow travelers. Perhaps though, considering the ever-increasing coarsening of our society (which I think began a rapid increase in 1963 when God was banned from school), we should be a bit more vigilant. In our case, we were in a very upscale park with RVs all around us, and our outside lights were on. Yet no one seems to have noticed anything, even though it happened fairly early in the evening. 

The only things left yet to do are to file an insurance claim and get the broken window fixed. We will be stopping in Red Bay on our way back to Texas to see if Tiffin can take care of that for us.

There; that's the last I'm going to post about the burglary. I am, however, considering a security system of sorts for Phannie, and I may post about that if I make a purchase that I'm considering.

We had a great time at the National Quartet Convention here in Pigeon Forge. We were among a crowd of 12,000 folks who really seemed to enjoy it, too. If you like southern gospel quartet singing, this was the place to be. We didn't know how much it would mean to us to be among those thousands of other Christians here who received comfort and blessings from the most joyful message that can be delivered in song. It sure helped deliver us from our funk.

Sandy did a lot of shopping for our grandsons while we were here. There were plenty of opportunities, of course; there are outlet stores galore, along with the biggest Christmas store in the south. We drove out to nearby Chestnut Hill one afternoon to the Bush's Bean canning complex. (Isn't it precious what retirees will find to do to pass the time?) This was actually quite enjoyable, a feelgood experience that definitely made us want to buy Bush's beans, which, of course, was their aim, I guess. I had some better photos than this, but they were in the computer that was stolen and--naturally--not backed up; (that's another thing that's about to change.)

Our trip to the Smoky Mountains has been a totally pleasant surprise for us; we had no idea how much we would like this area, but we can tell you that we will be back next fall. We were here a bit too early to enjoy the changing leaf colors this time, but the woods are getting prettier every day, and we can just imagine what it will be like in a few weeks.

Here are a few photos to give you an idea of the essence of the Smoky Mountain scenery we've been enjoying:

Because we've been offline for a few days, I'm going to give you only a thumbnail review of the restaurants we've patronized and the shows we've seen (Pigeon Forge has several Branson-like theaters):

Old Mill Restaurant. This huge place is swamped all the time, and we're not sure why. Quaint old building with lots of history; home cooking that is pretty good but not worth writing home about.

J. T. Hanna's Kitchen. Sort of a hillbilly Cheddars. Place is always packed, but like the Old Mill above, I'm not sure why; maybe it's the bar.

Old Mill Pottery House Café and Grill. Worth a trip; good food, reasonable prices and a pretty setting.

Log Cabin Pancake House. Good ratings in Yelp, but we weren't impressed. Southern cooking and pancakes that are serviceable. There are no fewer than 15 pancake houses in Pigeon Forge; there must be better ones that this, but we just couldn't indulge that much sweetness at all 15 locations. Besides, I don't think any can match Sandy's multi-generation pancake recipe; it's just not possible. Good luck with your own research.

Captain Jim's Seafood Buffet. We went inside with the intention of eating there, but after noticing the strong fishy smell inside, we decided against it.

Tony Gore's BBQ. This place in Sevierville was pretty good, but we've had better; this isn't Texas, of course. Can't expect too much.

Bones BBQ in Gatlinburg.  Awful. Stay away...far away.

Alamo Steak House in Gatlinburg. Pretty decent steak, but there was a bit of an odd flavor that may have been from whatever wood source that was firing the grill. Texas Roadhouse is better, if you can put up with the noise.

The Thai Palace in Sevierville. Not bad Thai food, but the next one below is much better.

Thai Basil. This place, also in Sevierville, was excellent. Our favorite restaurant in the area. Highly recommended.

Now, that's just the restaurants we tried; there are many, many more to choose from, and we're sure we missed some good ones.

We also saw the following shows:

Smoky Mountain Opry. A very entertaining variety show with all kinds of music and acts. Worth the price of the ticket.

Hatfield and McCoy Dinner Theater. Food was just okay, and the show was just a bit too corny for me. Thumbs down on this one.

Blackwood Singers. If you like southern gospel music, you'll like this. It was a (gasp) early show, but I'm glad we went.

Comedy Barn. This was hyped as the funniest show in Pigeon Forge, and it was! They exploited a number of audience members with the intention of making fools of them, and they didn't disappoint. Hilarious.

On to Asheville; ta-ta for now.


Saturday, 27 September 2014

Burgled! I didn't think this happened to RVers...

At Pine Mountain RV Park, Pigeon Forge, Tennessee...

We had returned from an evening concert when Sandy noticed that things weren't right in Phannie's bedroom. Her usually meticulous arrangement of the vanity area was in a state of disarray, and the usually neatly stacked bed pillows had tumbled down on the bed. She opened the drawer containing her jewelry case and found it closed. Opening it quickly, she shrieked to find it completely empty. By that time, I had stepped into the kitchen and noticed that my Apple MacBook was missing from its usual perch on top of the cabinet under the window. Not again! We were instantly transported back to our discovery of the burglary of our house a couple of years ago, and the feeling of violation was no less intense now. A quick inventory of the rest of the coach revealed nothing else missing, although there were numerous other items of value that were visible. The police found the window over the couch shattered, but not punctured, so the thieves didn't enter that way. We were left to conclude that I had not fully engaged the door deadbolt when we left for the evening, and they must have been able to jimmy it back open.  Note: I am having trouble posting with my iPad, so I will have to give more details in a few days when I purchase another computer.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Memphis to Pigeon Forge

At Pine Mountain RV Park, Pigeon Forge, Tennessee…

The leg from Memphis to Pigeon Forge was a long one, so we decided to break it up with an overnight stop in Crossville, Tennessee at the Deer Run RV Park. This turned out to be a poor choice, as the park was not big-rig friendly at all. Nestled in the deep woods near a picturesque lake, the park is perfect for nature lovers with smaller rigs, but it was difficult for us to negotiate the narrow and bumpy gravel road to our site and the precipitous entry to the gravel parking spot, which was anything but level. As we creeped along the sinuous trail through the trees, I almost thought I heard the theme song from Deliverance, but I guess I didn't. Once parked, There was obviously no point in raising the satellite dish due to the surrounding trees, but we had non-HD cable at our site that was okay. Due to the somewhat loose gravel at our site, I decided not to lower the jacks to try to level Phannie, so we had cope with the little annoyances brought about by a tilted rig. For one night, I thought, we could put up with anything, and we did. The next morning, we checked each other out and found that we still stood and walked fairly upright and straight, so there was no apparent harm done by sleeping at a slight angle. This was one instance when we were led astray by RV Park Reviews, a website I often use to find an overnight stop. In this case, none of the problems we encountered were evident from the few entries I read but, then again, I don't think I gave adequate due diligence to the search. My bad. 

Reflecting on our experience at Deer Run, this brought to mind the  diversity of experiences available in the RV lifestyle and the reason for its broad appeal to people with differing interests. We have discovered, for example, that we are not exactly enthusiastic about a "roughing it" style of camping, and we're not alone, given the number of luxurious rolling villas we see around us in most places we park. While we enjoy beautiful scenery and the wonders of nature, we simply prefer to observe them while comfortably seated in Phannie's air conditioned lounge or underneath the awning when the temperature is 72 degrees and no insects are present. Oddly enough, those were the exact conditions when Sandy snapped this photo of me here at Pigeon Forge, enjoying a cold drink and listening to the babbling brook behind me. What a perfect day! And yes, this is about as much "roughing it" as you'll find me doing.

If we had more of a desire to commune with nature, we certainly would not have made the hefty investment in Phannie and outfitted her with all the comforts of home that we have tried to duplicate so faithfully. We have a number of friends who simply shake their heads in wonderment about our being such prima donnas, but it makes sense to us, and that's really all that matters. We acknowledge that we were built for comfort and that we should celebrate that calling in every way possible. So, don't bother giving us static because we have two ice makers in Phannie…we're not going to change!

Our arrival in Pigeon Forge was a bit of an eye-opener, as we really didn't know what to expect. We weren't quite prepared for so many tourist attractions and restaurants, and we certainly weren't prepared for the traffic! However, the setting here in the Smokies is quite pretty, and we can already see there will be plenty of things here to occupy our time.  

We settled into a great parking site at Pine Mountain RV Park, located just a couple of blocks from the main drag. Now this place is everything Deer Run wasn't: Paved streets and a level concrete pad, perched at the edge of a clear running stream! Perfect for us prima donnas!

Yes, blogging has slowed down a bit, because we find ourselves pretty busy attending events at the National Quartet Convention, sightseeing and, of course, trying new restaurants. More on all that a bit later.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Eastbound to the Smokies

At Tom Sawyer RV Park, Memphis, TN…

After a very busy few days at  home after arriving from our trip out West, we are off again--this time, eastbound to Tennessee and North Carolina. We didn't even bother to park Phannie in her RV port alongside our house; we left her in the driveway with all the slides out to facilitate unloading, loading and repairs. Yes, a few little problems had developed on the long haul just finished. The bedroom TV had begun to receive its DirectTV signal intermittently, and I couldn't figure out the problem, as none of the connections appeared to be loose. I called Russ, my satellite expert, who discovered the culprit: A small crack in the input connection board of the TV. In a few minutes, he had wired around the board to a spare HDMI port, and all was well again. We also had another fresh water pump failure, and the tech installed a new one on the morning of our departure. Just in time…we really must not be without all of our conveniences, must we? 

My Tire Tracker pressure monitor system also gave up the ghost just as we departed, so I will be ordering a new one, of a different brand--probably a TST system--to be delivered in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, where we will be parked for about a week. So far, I have had problems with the Tire Tracker and the Pressure Pro, so I won't be ordering those again.

We had an uneventful journey to Memphis after an overnight at Shady Pines RV Park in Texarkana. Between there and here, I-40 was rough with a lot of repair construction, but that's not surprising, considering the incredible traffic volume. We probably won't return home this way, I'm thinking. We are parked at the Tom Sawyer RV Park on the Mississippi River. Although a little scary getting into the campground, this is a fun stop to watch the boats go by as they slowly ply the river.  

Dawn over the Mississippi River at Tom Sawyer RV Park in Memphis

Friday, 12 September 2014

Amarillo on the Way Home

At Oasis RV Resort, Amarillo, Texas…

It was fairly late in the evening after our arrival at this park when I turned on the computer and the listing of wifi networks popped up on the screen. Among these was a personal one with a familiar name. We hadn't been keeping up with Facebook, so we hadn't noticed Jesse and Ginger's status here at Oasis. We sent them an email asking to see their new 2015 Mobile Suites fiver the next morning, and they graciously agreed. 

And a beautiful new rig it was! Double Tree makes some elegant high-end products, and this was no exception. Sandy was so envious of the new residential refrigerator and the dishwasher, and we couldn't help but appreciate that "new car" smell.  We had a nice visit with these friends, delighted as we were at our good luck of having crossed their path again. Congratulations, you guys, on a beautiful new home!

Jesse and Ginger in their new Mobile Suites
Before we knew Jesse and Ginger were in town, we had a craving for some Thai food, so we checked Yelp and selected the Thai Star restaurant on the east side of town. Now this tiny mom and pop place in a somewhat downscale area and its ramshackle appearance could have completely opposite effects on first time customers. Diners comfortable only in upscale surroundings would be horrified; foodies like me would be delighted. It was with great anticipation that we strode inside just before closing time. 

We know people who, I can assure you, would not be caught dead in a dump like this. They don't know what they're missing.
We ordered spring rolls, a beef salad and chicken with vegetables. It was dirt cheap and seriously divine, just as I imagined.

Since we were obviously the last customers of the evening, the friendly owners came out of the kitchen and sat nearby, and we enjoyed sharing information about each other. I think we were something of an anomaly, as the vast majority of their customers are hometown regulars. According to the proprietors, who were, indeed, mom-and-pop owners who did all the cooking themselves,  few out-of-towners go to the trouble to find the unobtrusive little place, as it is very easy to miss unless you're just creeping along Amarillo Boulevard. They didn't seem to care, though, as they have been serving their clientele as adopted members of their family for 25 years, not aspiring to anything bigger and flashier. We felt very lucky to have found this little gem, modest as it was, and we enjoyed immensely their hospitality. By the time we left, we felt like family, too. 

Well, it's time to close the book on this trip. We have really enjoyed this post-retirement adventure to Colorado, Utah and New Mexico, and we can't wait to get on the road again. We will be back home in Fort Worth tomorrow for a few days. Next Wednesday, we'll be leaving for Pigeon Forge, Tennessee and beyond (yet to be determined). I'll be posting again when we head out on that trip.

A closing thought: I had a nice email from Shirley, a friend who was a work colleague of mine before she retired from the FAA prior to my own retirement. She is a person who gives every appearance of enjoying this part of her life immensely. Several of us who were approaching retirement couldn't help but be a little jealous, in fact, but we didn't let her know. In her email to me, she stated that she had been reading my blog and gave me the following meaningful bit of affirmation: "It looks like you've got retirement figured out, Mike." Well, yes, Shirley, I think so, too. Thanks for being an inspiration.   

Thursday, 11 September 2014

A Stop in Albuquerque to Shop for a Hubcap

At American RV Park, Albuquerque, New Mexico…

I don't know exactly when Mae's left front wheel cover came off, but it was somewhere between Estes Park and Denver. We noticed it after walking back to our rig after a lunch stop, and I really didn't realize how the mere loss of a wheel cover could make a car look so much like a junker. And it's not as though we had a cloaking device; a big motorhome pulling a red dinghy is not something that goes unnoticed, you know. Now a gray motorhome pulling a red HHR is not exactly a study in color harmony anyway, but Mae's missing wheel cover seemed to make the incongruity so much worse. I imagined we looked for the world like gypsies looking for the next carnival. (Parenthetical information: While I am very pleased with Mae, our Chevy HHR, I don't like the red paint job. It's just that I got such a good deal on it, I was willing to ignore the color. Now I'm not so sure; I'm thinking about a new paint job.) 

Unfortunately, I had to suffer this indignity for several days while I called around to Chevy dealers and junk yards along our route trying to find a replacement. None could be found until I called a Chevy dealer in Albuquerque, who agreed to order one for me from the factory and have it waiting when we arrived. I picked it up today and conned a service writer into putting it on for me at no cost. How, you may ask? Well, I have a slight arthritis limp anyway, but I confess that I may have accentuated it a bit while I was in the shop asking how to install the wheel cover--something that would have been obvious to a six year old. The guy had to conclude, I think, that I was not only crippled, but stupid. He insisted on installing it, and I didn't offer much of an objection.

As shameless as this bit of subterfuge was, it worked, and the service writer seemed delighted to put it on for me.  I have the photo to prove it:

Before you shake your head in disapproval, you may wish to consider this: I offered to pay the man for his trouble, but he adamantly refused.  More important, however, was that both the service writer and I reaped a benefit from this little episode: The guy got to feel good about doing a kind deed for someone elderly, infirm (and, obviously, addled), and I got to feel good about keeping my hands and clothing sparkling clean. Win-win! (I guarantee you, this gentleman will recount his good deed to his wife at dinner tonight, and she will place her hand on his arm, smile, and tell him how proud of him she is.)

I can't help but wonder what's going on with wheel covers this year. In an earlier post, I wrote about losing a hub cover from one of Phannie's rear wheels and the rather steep cost of a replacement. In that case, however, I had to install it myself; Sandy didn't buy for even a second my bad limp routine. (The woman is so cold, she has to lie down in a freezer to warm up.) Okay, I'm kidding; she is the exact opposite, actually.

After checking out a few restaurant reviews online, we tried some dining venues in Albuquerque over the time we were here. I didn't take photos, because the restaurants were not particularly noteworthy; here is a summary of my impressions, however:

The Monte Carlo Steakhouse - Even though this place had been featured on the Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives TV show, we had a couple of unacceptable steaks. The grill was apparently too hot, and the steaks were so charred by the iron grill grates that they tasted very bitter with carbon. The french fries were too chewy, and the "baked" potato had been boiled.

Mac's Coffee Shop - This 50s-era joint had all the ambiance (nothing changed in 60 years) that would signal a good restaurant, but we were quite dissatisfied. The enchiladas were unidentifiable as such in a glop of chile sauce and cheese, the tacos were tasteless, and the green chile sauce tasted as though out of a can. The chile relleno was passable, and the sopapillas were pretty good.

Mary's and Tito's Cafe - Classic New Mexican-style cooking, but not exceptional. Pretty good green chile sauce. Awful salsa.

Sharkey's Mexican Seafood - Ceviche was fresh but too watery; the shrimp cocktail had plenty of large shrimp in it, but I prefer the sweeter tomato base of some Mexican shrimp cocktails. This one didn't have enough flavor and was also too watery.

Blake's Lotaburger - Pretty good burger, but no competition for Whataburger.

By the way, here's a photo of Mae with her new wheel cover. I also need to mention that the American RV Park was one the nicest we have seen on this trip, and one of the top five we've visited anywhere. I highly recommend it.


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