Saturday, June 21, 2014

"The Best-Laid Plans of Mice and Men Oft Go Awry"

Have you ever had one of those days where no matter how hard you tried everything you attempted just turned in to one big cluster?
This was one of those days...
We thought we had a pretty good plan going in. We were really tired of all the long distance driving we had been doing and decided to find a campsite early in the morning which would allow us to unwind a little and free us up to relax and maybe do a little reading, blog writing, and more or less bum around. We had been averaging close to 250 miles a day the past three days, and although we have driven much further than that, this trip wasn't about churning up the miles to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible, it was about the trip itself. You know, smelling the roses along the way and all. So we had set our sights on Presque  Isle State Park in Erie, Pennsylvania, a mere fifty nine miles down the road. It looked like a pretty neat spot, set up on a peninsula sticking way out into Lake Erie, and being that it was only an hour away and we were packed up and ready to go by eight am we would be getting there in plenty of time to at least secure a site for the evening even if it meant waiting a little while before being able to set up camp.
We set off through the little city of Geneva-on-the-lake, stopping for gas and at a bakery that looked promising (it was REALLY bad, which we should have taken as an omen to as to how this day would pan out) and got back on Hwy. 20 heading northeast towards Erie. Entering Erie we weren't awe inspired by the crumbling cement off-ramps or run down looking business, but looks can be deceiving, and we did catch glimpses of the blue water of Lake Erie, peeking out from behind billboards and industrial warehouses. We wound around following our GPS  directions until we found our way to the park entrance on the waterfront. It was early Saturday morning, about 9:30 AM, but the park seemed to be fairly busy for such an early hour with numerous vehicles out and about on the small two lane road. The road was shaded by old established trees which lined both sides. It was very picturesque and bode well for what we might find in the campgrounds. We drove past an unmanned park entrance booth, but it didn't seem to be a park pay station so we continued into the park. At this point the two way road split and turned into a two lane one-way road which obviously made its way in a loop to the end of the peninsula on the southern shore and back again on the northern shore. We were now committed to a complete circuit of the park road, and no sooner had we realized this fact the left hand lane suddenly was coned off, leaving us in bumper to bumper traffic creeping along in the right hand lane. At about the same time we started noticing people dressed in pink and colorful costumes walking or slowly jogging along both sides of the road. We also started seeing signs (and the first ones I might add) for the "Biggest Loser Half Marathon".
Our overall driving speed was now about four miles an hour, and we were now completely surrounded by lots and lots of walkers and pseudo runners, of which about a third of were dressed in wild and whacky attire. Really cute under the circumstances.
We continued to press on like some sort of low budget float in a small time parade, and hoped that around each bend the campgrounds would appear and allow us to exit this slowly moving morass of humanity.
We had now been on this little park road for about a half an hour, which as far as Jerani was concerned was about 29 minutes too long. The road of course was only heading in ONE DIRECTION, and every available pull-off had been commandeered by water support stations or cheering throngs of well wishers. "You can DO IT, YOU CAN DO IT! YAY...WHOO!!!!"
It was about at this point we realized that the reason we were surrounded by slowly walking overweight entrants and barely jogging wannabe athletes was that we were at the back of the pack. These were the slowest most incapable participants in the half marathon; therefore it only made sense that this little one lane road would be crammed with people from this point forward until it reached the exit of the park which more than likely was where the finish line was set up.
We would never see the end to this endless flood of extremely unfit but good intentioned runners er...walkers. Being that it was for a good cause did little to dampen our rising anger towards the inconvenience this was causing us. (Yes, we are that shallow...) At this point we were traveling at no more than two or three miles an hour (I kid you not) and we were still less than two thirds from the end of the peninsula, which only meant the halfway mark of this nightmare. Jerani started looking over the map to see where the campgrounds were so we could at least turn off somewhere and get away from this frustrating parade.
Checking the Rand McNally atlas against the MapQuest on her Kindle Fire HD, we suddenly came to the conclusion (albeit a little late) that there WERE NO CAMPGROUNDS at Presque Isle State Park, it was in fact, a DAY USE ONLY park. Wow, that sucks. How could we have missed that you might ask? Well the little Christmas tree looking symbol associated with day use only in the Rand McNally atlas was somewhat obscured and it's teeny-tiny representation ended up looking to us as if it was a green triangle tent-like hieroglyph which designated campsites and overnight camping. AAAAAAHHhhHHHhhhHhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!
Not only were we trapped in this endless race but now we wouldn't be checking in to a nice campsite at a decent hour. It was already close to 10:30 AM, and we had been waylaid. We continued on at this inch at-a-time pace around the park and we both became fuming pissed. This IS NOT how we envisioned spending our morning when we broke camp.
Jerani finally demanded to at least stop and see the beach. We found a pull off  with picnic tables that was deserted and parked the RV. We took the critters for a walk and let Max run on the beach. Erley hated it and didn't want to come away from the edge of the woods once he stepped into the deep sand. The beach was littered with old used diapers and such. Really added to the feelings of frustration we were experiencing. We sat on some nasty picnic tables and tried to calm down.
Nasty Picnic table
We decided to try and find someplace to camp nearby after exiting the park. That took another 30 minutes.....THEN we proceeded to get stuck in the city of Erie for at least another 30 minutes. Driving around in circles and the GPS telling us to go one way and then running into street closures because of road construction and having to backtrack. Jerani was about to have a nervous breakdown and there was lot of shouting going on. We FINally found a way out of town and drove in seething silence for awhile. This "driving around America in an RV is a dream" shit really can suck. It's not for the faint of heart that's for sure. Here we were all set to settle in early for once and it was already well after noon and we were no closer to a campsite than we were when we broke camp four hours before. Jerani had spotted a possible destination on the map just across the New York state line, Lake Erie State Park, and this time we both confirmed that the park offered overnight camping. It was located near the town of Dunkirk where we figured we could shop for groceries and do some much needed laundry. We drove out on a small road high above the Erie shoreline and a little  more than an hour later we pulled into Lake Erie State Park. Well at this point the way our day had been going one would think we might finally get a little break and that this park would turn out to be a virtual Garden of Eden and that from this point on everything would go our way.
View from our campsite. Lake Erie State Park, NY. Paradise on Earth.
Well you'd be wrong in that assumption. Lake Erie State Park was just a tired threadbare piece of land on a high bluff overlooking Lake Erie with no water access. The campsites were all crammed together in an open field with a broken down playground placed smack dab in the middle of it. No site seemed any better than another so we claimed the least offensive of the lot and drove back to the booth to pay for the evening. Still pissed off about the days events and not wanting to spend another minute in our "beautiful site" we decided to head over to the day use part of the park to eat lunch and try to calm down.
It was hot out and we found ourselves in a parking lot near a locked up lodge building near wooded trails that sported signs warning of deer tick infestation. We parked under some big oaks and leashed up Max and Erley and Jerani sat with them on a picnic table while I fixed cheese, crackers, lunch-meat and fruit for lunch. We still hadn't come to terms with how crappy the day was and we sort of ate in silence sweating in the still humid air. It was around 2 PM and there was no way we felt like returning to our site. The RV was in dire need of an interior cleaning, so since the day was already so crappy to begin with, why not pile on. We did the dishes, vacuumed, and shook out all the bedding. We gathered all the laundry and decided to head into Dunkirk to find a laundromat and grocery store. We had basically surrendered to the fact that this day was going to blow, and we thought why not do laundry to top it off.
Dunkirk New York didn't soften the blow. Ugly, run down, graffiti marred, and with little or no redeeming features that we could see from the windows of our Pleasure Way, Dunkirk fit in perfectly with the mood of the day.
Dunkirk coal plant
We drove down Route 5 through the middle of town and didn't see one grocery store, just a couple of seedy looking mini-marts.
Another nice Dunkirk residence
We did run into a laundromat towards the end of town, but it did little to instill confidence in our surroundings. The dilapidated little building sat right off the busy street and had a little trash-strewn gravel parking area. As we got out of the RV several unsavory looking individuals loitering outside a broken down apartment building openly stared at us from across the street. This was by far the seediest environment we had found ourselves in since the beginning of the trip. We gathered up all of our laundry and carried it into the grimy laundromat. It was painfully obvious from the get go that this was going to be quite a little adventure. In one corner an old video game from sometime in the early eighties roared and bleated out disturbing music, and a skeleton-thin, meth-sore covered woman of about (thirty? eighty? who knows) fed quarters into a rust-specked washing machine as she idly murmured to herself.
The ancient linoleum floors were peeling and tacky underfoot, and the whole place stank of mold, dirty clothes, and insect spray. I walked over to the quarter machine and was greeted by a yellowed hand-written sign which read "quarter machine broken". Great. By the sun-faded condition of the sign this machine hadn't worked for possibly twenty years, and unfortunately, but completely keeping with the rest of the days events, we didn't have a quarter to our name. Back into the RV toting all the laundry, Jerani said "Forget it!", but I would not be deterred. No, we were GOING TO DO SOME LAUNDRY. By hell or high water, we were going to find some quarters and ruin the rest of our afternoon doing laundry in a nasty little stinky laundromat! Why not, there was no saving this day if we tried? So twenty minutes later, and a stop at a equally depressing car wash for quarters, and we were back at the laundromat witnessing the same sore covered woman shoving sodden clothes into a dryer while she cursed about the washer not spinning her clothes properly. Well duh... Jerani and I decided that for mental health sake I would stay with the laundry while she retired to the RV and tried to reach her parents on the phone. We didn't really trust our laundry not to disappear should we both leave the premise. I stayed clear of the offending washers that the woman had said left her clothes soaked, and crossed my fingers that the three I chose wouldn't let me down, but I did so with little or no conviction. Later while the clothes were drying and since the lady had left the building I figured I could probably spend some quality time with Jerani and keep an eye on the front door of the laundromat. Jerani was talking to her mom, letting her know what a nice place Dunkirk was an all and what a great time we were having, and I sat at the little cafe table in the back of the RV and wrote out some very morose postcards to people back home depicting life on the road. Finally with the clothes dried, folded, and put away in the RV, we headed back out looking for a grocery store.
I had asked the worker at the car wash where I might find an actual grocery store and he told me there was a "Martin's" just up the road a bit. We had never heard of this chain before and figured it had to be nicer than the Laundromat we had just left.
Well when we pulled into the parking lot we were happily surprised to find what looked to be a "normal" halfway decent looking grocery store. (Our initial impressions would be proven wrong in just a matter minutes)
Entering the store the first thing that struck us was how barren and utilitarian the design was, with little or no thought put into esthetics. Coming from the west coast, and also working for a brand new top of the line grocery, we are used to very nice finishing, stainless steel, granite, and high end materials. This store was bare bones, without any details that might make it special. We were also taken back by the lack of quality produce and meats. The produce cases were full of sad little apples, and wilted lettuce. It seemed picked over, half full, and under-worked. 
The meat section was even worse. The meat was all dried out and smashed into packaging, and none of the bones or fat had been trimmed away properly. It looked as if no pride had been taken in the cutting or presentation of the meats. The shelves in the main isles were filled with rows upon rows of Goya products. I mean it took up a whole section. I had never seen such a thing in any grocery on the west coast, where one product line could dominate in such an open way. What ever happened to the concept of customer choice? 

It was just odd. It was as if we were in a GOYA outlet store. You want rice? Here's Goya rice. You want chicken stock? Here's Goya chicken stock. It was weird...
But the thing that really resonated with us and that set this market apart (and not in a good way) from any grocery store we had ever shopped at were the checkers. We're used to be greeted by amiable checkers who usually greet us with a "How are you today!" and a big smile. The workers behind the check-stand at Martin's were anything but friendly. Actually they were close to being openly hostile. The woman waiting on us never once acknowledged us, she just started taking our items off the little conveyer belt, scanned them, and then tossed them towards the back of the counter. We both noticed that she never brought out a sack or asked us "Paper or plastic?", she just kept piling up our groceries up unceremoniously. Puzzled we looked around and noticed that all the other shoppers at the checkout stands were bagging their groceries as the indifferent checkers slung them at them. Jerani sorta chuckled and said "So we have to bag our own groceries?" which was met with absolutely no response. Now don't get us wrong, it's not that we are incapable of bagging our own groceries, and have in fact on numerous occasions happily volunteered to do so when the checkers seemed in need. But being forced to bag ones own groceries as a paying customer as the snide little checker just stares and leans against the counter, now that's no bueno. It seemed REALLY unwelcoming. Sort of a final slap in the face to your loyal patrons. Luckily we weren't loyal, and if we had anything to do with it we would never be shopping at another Martins if we had anything to say about it.
Actual picture taken out the back window of our RV in our REALLY PRIVATE campsite. Nice, huh?
Returning back to our campsite we were taken aback by the number of children left to their own who seemed to wander the campgrounds in a pack. Screeching, shrill laughter, and crying reverberated through our RV, and since the playground was practically right outside our rear window, we were treated to even more rough housing and childish hijinks. Yeah, there is nothing like getting out and spending some quality time out in nature; really finding a place to unwind and relax. At one point we had made the mistake of walking Erley for a second, just to give him a little time outside the RV. We had no more let him out on a leash than a tow-headed little girl with dirt on her knees and a clump of grass in her hand peeled off from the gaggle of miscreants and came running towards Erley screaming "KITTY, KITTY!!!". Erley of course thought he was going to die and almost ran up my leg as the girl slowed in front of me and bent down and attempted to hoist him off the ground. "CAN I HOLD HIM! CAN I HOLD HIM!" she cackled. Er, no, I don't think that would be a good idea, he's a little scared right now. Undeterred she grabbed at his leash and tried to drag him towards her. I somehow managed to disconnect the two and lifted Erley up to safety and then politely told her we needed to go inside and fix dinner. This seemed not to satisfy the curiosity of the little girl who opened the RV door and followed me inside. Jerani and I are now staring at a five or six year old girl who is standing in our RV out of sight of her parents (if she truly had any) and thinking, Hmmmmm... this could be completely misconstrued. RV with out of state license plates (Oregon plates in New York for crying out loud), a childless couple picks out a campsite near a playground and lures a small child into their vehicle. We immediately opened the door and tried to make as much room between us and the little girl as the confined space inside a Pleasure Way would allow. "So what are you making for dinner" she chimed, "this is REALLY nice in here". We told her we weren't sure yet but that she probably locate her parents post haste and semi-ushered her, semi-pushed her out the door towards the direction of the clamoring hoards.
The rest of the night was spent with tightly sealed windowshades playing music loud enough to drown out the children and just praying that this day might sometime end.


  1. Awesome work.Just wanted to drop a comment and say I am new to your blog and really like what I am reading.Thanks for the share

  2. Thanks so much for your positive feedback! Looking back on that day I can laugh, but I can tell you, it DID NOT seem humorous in the least at the time. But then again, that's why we called it an adventure...