After I left Marfa, I was on a mission to reach the Gulf of Mexico in one day. I crossed the Pecos and the Rio Grande rivers that day and watched how the weather and landscape changed as I moved from the high desert of West Texas down into the humid Gulf Coast. The land flattened out slowly, turning from mountains to hills and more and more green crept into the landscape as grasses and trees replaced rocks and arid bushes. The sky changed to match as the clear blue filled with grey clouds and the rains began to fall as I reached Del Rio, Texas. From there I passed what seemed to be endless acres of ranches; many of them focused on big game hunting and displaying metal sculptures of the animals that could be found within on their front gates. I finally reached Corpus Christi just as the light started to fade from the sky and made my way through the endless strip malls to the bridges that would take me out to North Padre Island. At that point the landscape changed completely and the strip malls were replaced with beautiful flowing grasses over dunes that stretched out to the horizon in front of me. The water’s edge was just to my left, but I couldn’t see it until I found the magical turnout to North Beach. Here I would discover absolutely free camping, within yards of the Gulf’s edge, that I had the pleasure to share with just one other vehicle; an RV whose occupants I only saw through their shadows in the windows. It was to be the camping climax of my journey Eastward, though I didn’t know it yet. I slept deeply to the sounds of the rain falling gently on the camper cover and the winds rocking the truck ever so slightly to complement the rain. Darkness fell almost immediately after I settled under my covers and the morning light brought the absolute perfection of where I was vividly into focus. It was so hard to pull myself away from that lovely, warm and humid coast. But there was a very special place on the horizon for me: New Orleans!
The going was easy and I reached the RV park I had reserved around 8pm. I checked in, found my parking spot just this side of the fence that separated the park from the freight train yard, and hopped into the shower to clean up for the evening. The RV park offered a ‘shuttle service’ into the French Quarter which equated to the owners giving me a ride in their truck for $5. It was a totally fair fare and they had quite a few stories to share about their experiences living in the city and running an RV park. They dropped me off by the French Market and my long legs and hunger carried me across the French Quarter and into the Central Business District to the restaurant of my dreams in about 10 minutes. If you are ever going to New Orleans, you must eat at Lüke! Every meal I’ve had there has been incredibly memorable and this occasion was to be no different. They source everything fresh and local and their PB&J oysters are incredible! I inquired about the special oysters of the evening and whaddya know – they were from Rhode Island! I had to sample them so I did a 1/2 dozen each of the Rhode Island and PB&J oysters. Then a bowl of Gumbo and then mussels steamed in a saffron sauce with french fries on the side. Along with two amazing drinks: the River Bend and the French “75”. The first a vodka based drink with lemon juice, basil syrup, blueberries and ginger ale. The second a cognac with fresh lemon juice and champagne. Just. Ridiculous. I ate like a king and walked out of there high as could be on my dining experience. But it was only the beginning of the night! I wandered the streets of the French Quarter while the thunder and lightning raged in the sky, but only a few drops made it to the streets. Along the way I sampled a few pubs but found my spot in a little dive bar on Decatur St. I can’t remember the name now and I can’t find it on any map I checked, but it’s just as well. I’m sure I’ll be able to find it again the next time I’m in town. I made friends with the locals there, fed the jukebox many dollars, sang to my favorite songs and drank and drank and drank into the wee hours of the morning. It was one of those great solo traveling experiences that I will never forget; even more so for what happened afterwards.
After eventually finding a cab and somehow describing where I was staying I stumbled back to my truck and passed out in my clothes just leaning against my pile of blankets. The rain finally began to fall shortly thereafter and the truck rocked in the wind gusts and echoed with the insane amount of rain that was falling upon it. I think I slept, but I honestly am not sure. I remember at some point feeling (the vibration was far greater than the sound) a massive diesel locomotive moving by in the train yard next door and that was only marginally louder than the rain falling on the fiberglass above my head. To say it was all a ruckus would be the understatement of the trip. A phone call from my wife brought me painfully into wakefulness and after assuring her that I was OK, if not a tiny bit hungover, I rolled over and tried to make myself comfortable again for sleep. I put my hand along the edge of the mattress as I was trying to find a comfortable spot and my hand hit water. Not moisture; water. Oh. Shit. There’s a leak. It hit me slowly in my current state, but once it hit I begun to see the water everywhere. Dripping from the curtains near where my hand was. Dripping from the top of the glass window gate. Blowing in through the gap in-between the truck bed and the back gate. Water was everywhere and I was fucked. I decided I had to move. I jumped out and got instantly soaked as I pulled the extension cord from the electrical outlet. I threw everything in the back, shut it up, and jumped in the cab. I started up the truck, backed out, and just started driving. After pulling into a parking lot down the street I called Raquel to tell her I needed help finding a hotel. I made a quick PB and Honey sandwich to try and give me some much needed energy to deal w/ the situation. Raquel called back with the news that it was Friday night in NOLA. There was one hotel available in a seriously questionable spot. I remembered the place she and I stayed the last time we were here while crossing the country and decided to go there. Raquel got me the number and I called to make sure they had a room, which luckily they did. It was on the other side of Lake Pontchartrain so I still had to drive there. That was when the magnitude of the storm really hit me. EVERYWHERE was flooded. I drove through a lake to get to the on ramp of the I-10 and once on the Interstate people were only driving about 40 mph due to the intense rainfall and the spray that the cars and trucks were kicking up everywhere. I would put the 45 minute drive to the hotel up there as one of the top five most harrowing driving experiences of my life. And I was hungover. Oi vei.
Once I finally checked into the hotel and put all my wet bedstuffs into the dryer there, I sat down in my room and just stared into space. Fuck. My truck leaks. Rain is forecast for the rest of my travels up to NY. I can’t sleep in my truck. What do I do? And I just sat with that question for a few minutes. Then the answer was clear. There was nothing to do. I would just drive North. No more stop in Georgia on Jekyll Island for two nights. Two days of focused driving would get me to NY and then maybe I could figure out what was leaking w/ my Dad’s help. Just gotta suck it up and move on. I started to think about how this would effect the return trip and my really long trip North this summer but I knew I couldn’t handle all that in this moment. I had to just get home to NY and figure things out from there.
I had one more delicious Cajun meal in a little seafood restaurant up the road from the hotel. Then I slept. In the morning I woke up early and hit the highway for my longest day of the journey: 767 miles. It rained on and off throughout the day, but I got to my hotel by 11pm, ate a crappy dinner at the local Applebee’s (only place open) and hit the hay again. I’d pushed really hard that first day so I’d have time to stop in and see my friend Corey in Harrisburg, PA the next day. Waking up to snow on my car the next morning just made me laugh. Of course. When it rains; it snows too. I got to enjoy a wintry mix of rain and sleet and snow for those few hours of driving to Corey’s house. The whole way it looked like the storm was clearing just behind me, but I was always right there in it. Even Corey was shocked it was snowing and 37 degrees outside. He’d been playing with his son in their yard in 65 degree Spring weather just two days earlier when I called him from my hotel outside NOLA. No matter, though, we were going to go have a beer and some wings and catch up in the warmth of the local brewery. As it turned out, Corey and his wife, Maura, were expecting other guests that night for a little dinner soirée. I was welcomed to stay, and I’m glad I did. I got to hang out with Corey and Maura, their sons Lucas and Caelan, and their friends and their three kids as well! It was actually a ton of fun to get to play with so many cute and well adjusted kids, all the while enjoying the company of the adults around the table. Made me forget all my truck troubles real quick! But the day wasn’t done yet, and I wanted to get home to my parents’ house, so I said goodbye around 10pm and hit the road again. There I found myself driving around 40mph on the interstate, again. This time due to the snow and slick conditions. I slogged it out, though, and finally got to my parents house just before 2 in the morning. My Dad had waited up for me and after our hugs of greeting I dragged a few of my bags in and passed out seconds after my head hit the pillow.
The next week flew by so fast. My Dad and I changed the oil and filter on the truck and tried to figure out what was causing the leak. We identified a few things that were definitely contributing and tried to repair them, but when the rain came again a few days later, the bed liner of the truck was still wet to the touch. Better; but not totally fixed. I spent a bunch of time with my Dad during that week. I helped him list his first used tool on eBay, which he sold within a few hours. I helped him figure out the PayPal part, too, and how to ship the item to the buyer. We talked about so many different things during the hours we spent together and it just felt good to be that close to him again. I saw my sister pretty regularly, too, but we don’t connect quite as easily. My Mom was working like crazy since she’s a tax professional at H&R Block and it was the last few weeks before the tax deadline. I only saw her for a few hours at night and on Saturday. I got to see my Uncle (on my Mom’s side) as well for a few hours on Saturday, which was really nice. I got to connect with some old friends, too, and even snuck in two trips to The City for amazing food, drinks, and conversations about everything that was happening in our lives since the last time we’d seen each other. I didn’t get to see everybody I wanted to see, but I felt re-connected to my birthplace just the same. It doesn’t take much, I guess, and I’ve still got plenty of people in my life who help make it easier every time I visit. I hope I can stay even longer next time. But this time I had other plans. The underlying reason for the whole cross-country trip: the Strawbale Workshop in Rhode Island! So early Sunday morning, while my Uncle was still there, I said my temporary goodbyes to everyone and headed out for an easy four hour drive to Middletown, Rhode Island.