Monday, October 10, 2016

Riding Out Hurricane Matthew

Just a month after coming back to the US, six months after the big earthquake in Ecuador, we found ourselves bracing for another natural disaster. Thankfully, hurricanes come with plenty of warning. We studied the projections of both path and wind speeds, and decided to stay in the forest. Matthew was expected to hug the coast line, not coming inland. We're in the Ocala National Forest, which is inland. With Matthew's strongest predictions, the wind speeds we were expecting here, in the forest, were maximum sustained winds in the 40s with gusts up to 65 miles per hour. Really no worse than a strong thunderstorm. One of our neighbors stacked their plastic chairs up and tied them to a tree. Most of the neighbors left flower pots and everything else out.

Some friends offered that we could stay with them during the storm since we're in a trailer. Mostly, they were located in the path of the strong winds. Bruce laughed about the idea of us evacuating INTO the hurricane warning area. I did seriously consider one, though. Buying cake was the major part of the preparations. It was probably a really fun time over there! But, we just spent a small fortune on new spices, and if something happened, I wanted to be able to save them.  As it turns out, I should have taken her up on the offer!

Before Matthew's stronger bands hit Ft. Lauderdale, wind speeds were adjusted down, and by the time it started raining here, forecasted wind speeds were down to maximum sustained winds of 30 with gusts to 45 miles per hour. Really nothing more than a long, windy shower. So, we went to bed, feeling safe and confident. I did forego using Darth Vader (my CPAP machine). Just in case the forecasts were wrong, I didn't want to break my neck being pulled back into bed because of being attached to a machine! The night went quite well. I had some work come in just before bedtime, and I had some vague thoughts that maybe I should stay up and work on it. I decided to go to bed, instead. Bad choice.

Just as I was getting up Friday morning, the electricity went off. I really should have stayed up. Oh, well. The storm wasn't bad, so we just propped open the front door and watched the rain off of the front porch. A few lizards took shelter on the porch, but they didn't try to venture in. We watched some birds flying around, and some of the residents had canvas covers on their golf carts, so they were driving around from house to house checking on folks. At one point, when the rain wasn't so heavy, I went out to take pictures. There were some good gusts, and we had lots of Spanish moss that got blown off the larger live oak trees. Some twigs, small branches, and palm fronds got blown around, but I saw no real damage in the park.

The owner weighed down this little jon boat with cinder blocks.  The rest of the boats were left docked out in the lake.

At some points, the wind kept the little waves going one after the other in our little lake.  We even had a few little white caps out in the deeper water.

It was difficult to get these live oaks from this angle without raindrops on the lens.

This bench and flower pots were never brought in or secured at all.

I spent some time writing on a book, and finally my battery and my spare battery ran down. So, we decided a trip to McDonald's, where they have free wi-fi, was in order. I like this McDonald's. It's about 10 miles from our home in the forest. Just like most of them these days, there is free wi-fi and plenty of plugs. We sat at a table instead of a booth. While charging my computer, the extra batteries, and my phone, we had some lunch. There was a guy in there who appeared to be homeless. He was pleasant and nice to talk to. It seemed like they let him hang out in there regularly. People coming in and out spoke to him, calling him by name. He never asked anybody for money or anything else, but he sure liked to talk to folks. When I got some things that I needed downloaded, we showed him the radar and the projections for Matthew returning, and he asked about shelters and such. When we got ready to go, Bruce gave him a couple of dollars for a sandwich.

On the way home, we decided to drive further into the forest a little bit. It didn't take long before we found a likely source of our electrical problems. A tree had fallen into the power lines. Who would have thought! But, I did learn the answer to that age-old questions: If a tree falls in the forest and there is no one there to hear it, yes, it does still knock out the electricity! 

 As we kept driving, there were a few more trees bouncing around on power lines. Some trees had fallen into the road, but the county was out working to clear them. 

The stand this seaplane was mounted on was tied to the truck.

We also saw numerous convoys of cherry picker trucks and state troopers heading toward the east coast to provide relief. Not one was tasked with getting those trees off the power lines in the forest, though.

By the time we got home, we learned that the reservoir for the water in the park had run out, so not only did we not have power, but we also didn't have water. Unlike in Ecuador, I couldn't just run to the cistern and pull a bucket out either. I'm not sure why we didn't think about pulling a bucket from the lake to pour into the back of the toilet so we could flush, but we decided to get a hotel room, instead. We knew there was both power and water just up the road.

We stopped at a couple of places, who mostly said they had had a cancellation, so they had a room. Many of them didn't have wi-fi, though. One place said their internet provider had said they wouldn't be restoring it until Monday. The prices were a big concern to me, though. I'd be willing to bet there was a lot of price gouging going on. Let's put it this way, Days Inn advertises weekly rates of $199 in Silver Springs. The little local hotel down the street from them advertises weekly rates of $150. In what universe would I believe that these no-name or budget hotels have normal room rates in excess of $85 plus tax, in some cases even charging extra for the wi-fi password. In fact, that same Days Inn was quoting prices of $103 including tax if a room were to come available. They wanted me to believe they charge more for two nights than they do for a week? I was not born yesterday, folks. I'll probably report a couple of them for potential price gouging. It's illegal in Florida during a hurricane.

We did finally find a nice place. It was called the Alamo Motel, right on Highway 40. I'm not sure if it's officially in Ocala or if it's still in Silver Springs. It was a little old and shabby, but it one of the cleanest hotels I've ever been in. Not even the hint of mold or mildew in the tiniest corner of the shower. I mean, this place was spotless. The carpeting was worn. The TV was an old box-style set. The towels were thin and worn. The tiles in the bathroom had been patched in spots. But you could have run a white glove on the window sills and in the shower. Everyplace else was just as clean. It's run by a man and his wife. He says they care for it themselves with no help. They take great pride in the cleanliness of the place, and wouldn't dream of price gouging. In fact, he gave us the room for the weekday rate instead of the weekend rate because of our circumstances.

I learned that Clay Electric (our power provider) wasn't even going to start working to restore power until Saturday morning at 6:00 a.m. I just don't have a clue why I decided we needed to go back to the trailer to wait for the lights to come back on, but we checked out of the hotel and headed back home. We drove through the forest for a while before going on in. It was 10:30. Clay Electic had managed to put caution tape around the trees that had fallen onto the wires.

So, back to the house we went to wait for electricity. We did quickly reach into the freezer to throw out the ice cream before it melted into a big puddle, making a mess of everything. It was HOT. No air conditioning. No fan. Not only would this weather not be allowed in Ecuador, but C-Nel had electricity back on in Puerto Lopez the morning after a 7.8 earthquake. What's the problem, Clay Electric?? Florida Power and Light, Duke, and Orlando Utilities had been working around the clock, even during the storm. They had wind speed limits at which crews were grounded for safety. By early afternoon, almost everybody I knew who lived in the hurricane warning areas had their power restored. There were only a few exceptions. Clay Electric started in the northwest corner of their coverage area. We live in the far southern sector, just east of center. It was going to be a while before they got to us, so we went back to the hotel.

We got the same room for the same rate, and went looking for dinner. Bruce felt like Mexican. We tried this place called El Toreo and were kind of underimpressed. It wasn't bad, but it really didn't satisfy the desire for Mexican food. It was the first time I've not really enjoyed a chile relleno, even when it's made with a bell pepper instead of a poblano (and this one as made with a bell pepper). The GPS said there was an El Azteca, which is a chain we've often enjoyed in various places. Unfortunately, it was no longer there. So, we found this little hole-in-the-wall taqueria called Taco N Madre. Trust me. It satisfied! Bruce got a taco and a tostada. I got a pork burrito. We each got beans and rice, and we got an order of grilled jalepenos to share. I think these jalepenos grew next to some ghost peppers! These babies were HOT! Even Bruce couldn't finish them off. The pork in my burrito was spiced and delish! The burrito was huge, and not full of fillers. It was mostly pork with some onions and cilantro tossed in. I didn't taste Bruce's stuff. He put it away too fast. The food reminded me of the stuff we got in Mexico, especially in Tijuana. Add two sodas for me and two Dos Equis beers for Bruce, and the total charge was under $15. We'll definitely be back there! Seems like our only options for good Mexican food in this area is Taco N Madre (very authentic) or Tijuana Flats (not so authentic, but very good for what it is). Unfortunately, Bruce can't get a margarita at either of those.

After another comfortable night in the hotel, in which I got a lot of work done, I woke and checked the Clay Electric power outage map. We still didn't have power. But, they say they will finish restoring power by night. It was a beautiful, sunny, hot day in Ocala, which meant that trailer was going to be a roasting pot with no air conditioning or fans. So, I suggested we stop at a sit-down, mom and pop place for breakfast before going home. We tried the Silver Springs Restaurant. There wasn't a place to sit, and we had to wait. This was a good sign, especially for such a small town. We met another couple that was waiting, as well. When our table was ready, it was a table for four, so we invited them to sit with us. It was a good meal for a good price with good company.

After breakfast, we headed for home. There was a cherry picker at the gas station close to the park, filling up. That station hadn't had power, too. What did we find when we got home? We had power!! It had been on long enough that the meat had refrozen. I checked the USDA website, and it said that if the meat had been thawed in the refrigerator and not on the counter and had not been handled, it could be refrozen. It did say that the cuts would be degraded to a lower quality, but that it would be safe to eat. Because of that, we're eating the meat. So far, we haven't gotten sick, but we'll let you know if it happens. The weather has seemed to break, and it was cool enough to go out walking this morning, so we can start exploring around here. 

Hopefully, we can finally get settled in so we can start travelin' soon, too.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Nashville, Tunica, Biloxi, and back

Once we got a place to live and a car to drive, we took off on another journey in the US. This was a circular trip, going to Nashville, Tennessee; Tunica, Mississippi; Biloxi, Mississippi; and returning to Silver Springs, Florida. It was an awesome trip, and the scenery was much prettier than I remember it.

We stopped for breakfast at Krystal in Georgia. I had to get a shot of the model missile while we were waiting.

Bruce doesn't drive through Atlanta, so there aren't many shots through Georgia. The Atlanta skyline was lovely, but he was sleeping, so we'll have to get those shots some other time. He had awoken by the time we hit Chattanooga, TN, though, and he got some nice shots of the Tennessee River as it winds through Chattanooga.

As we were heading down the road, the Geezermobile let us know that traffic patterns had changed, and she suggested we take a secondary road. We thought that was an excellent idea, especially after we checked out some of the views.

We were back on the interstate (with Bruce driving) for Monteagle Mountain. Somehow it just didn't seem so big, and that grade didn't seem quite so steep anymore! Wonder why …

We finally made it to Nashville, where we met up with a friend for a couple of days.

East Nashville is being gentrified. The old houses that had such character are either being renovated or torn down and replaced. The renovated homes are looking good. The new homes that are being built just aren't my cup of tea, though. My jaw spent way too much time on the ground for me to be able to get pix. This is removing a lot of affordable housing from the Nashville area, as East Nashville was always an affordable area. Housing costs have skyrocketed in the area now, though, and there are tons of little hipster shops. Shelby Park is still around though, and I had an excellent time getting photos of the train tracks. I wonder if the kids are still crazy enough to try to walk those tracks, hoping a train doesn't come along. I sure hope today's kids are smarter than yesterday's.

We made a short trip up into Franklin, Kentucky. How do you know you're in Kentucky for sure? I haven't had one of these for a long time. It was very refreshing!

When we left Nashville, we headed for Tunica, Mississippi. We decided to take some back roads. It's all about the journey now, though the destination still matters. The first thing that popped into my head when I saw them working on the lines in the cherry picker was, “Ecuadoreans just need a ladder, a pickup truck, and some tree branches to do that!” This is a whole lot safer, though.

The countryside was lovely, but it appeared to be mostly used for hay. There were very few animals grazing, which surprised me quite a bit. There were a few fields of what appeared to be soybeans and others of corn, but mostly it was hay. There were a couple of impressive fields of kudzu, too.

Then, we came across the big city of Pocahontas, Tennessee. The Post office was built on the site of the Battle of Davis Bridge, one of many Civil War battles that were fought in the area.

The town appears to be turning into a ghost town. There were some houses in good repair, but most looked similar to these.

There is a place in Mississippi where they still play donkey basketball! I know my friends from high school remember donkey ball!  Bruce has never seen it, though!

Then, we made it to Tunica. Bruce has always been fond of Hollywood Casino in Tunica, so we came up here to check it out and see if he could still get as lucky as he used to. At one time, it was “good to be Mr. Adams” there. While there, I decided to meet up with a long-time internet friend, too. We had a very good visit. Too bad, Bruce's time at Hollywood wasn't as good. Apparently, Tunica has had difficulty bouncing back after the recession. They had removed a large number of slots and not replaced them. On a weekend, there weren't enough patrons to run all of the table games, and I heard something I had never heard in a casino before: An invitation for any player to join a game in the poker room. Usually, there are so many people wanting to get into the poker room that there is a waiting list soon after they open. I've never been in a casino when that waiting list has been exhausted, opening the next seat for any available player. I heard it this time, though. I visited a different casino when meeting my friend, and it didn't seem to be much different than Hollywood.

As far as the hotel, it still had the same décor as before, but it was definitely much more worn. It was clean, though. They had bolted the sliding doors closed so that I couldn't access the balcony. I was a bit disappointed in that since I like to spend more time on the balcony working than in the casino, not being much of a gambler myself. In the middle of our stay, the ceiling of our room sprang a leak, so we had to pack everything back up and move to another room. The hotel management felt that inconvenience was only worth a $10 credit. I thought that was a slap in the face. Really, the only thing positive I can say is that the seafood buffet was good, though it used to be much better. Also, one of the wait staff at breakfast was from Senegal, and he let me know that it should be safe to visit Madagascar so long as we fly onto the island and don't take a boat to or from the mainland. So, Madagascar is on our list of places, and Tunica is off.

This little guy wanted to go, too!

The Mississippi cotton field were ready for harvesting.

We decided to see how things were going in Biloxi before heading home. I wanted some Darwell's, and there are awesome pictures to get there! So, off we went. On the way down, we saw a sign for the Little Red Schoolhouse. We decided that since we were Travelin' Geezers, we really didn't have anything better to do than to get off the highway and see the Little Red Schoolhouse. It's really a lovely building. It was closed on Sunday, so we didn't get to go inside. Admission is generally free, and you get a guided tour with that admission fee. We'll just have to go back!

After just a few hours, we make it to Biloxi and the Treasure Bay Casino.

Before Hurricane Katrina hit, Treasure Bay was on a pirate ship in the Gulf of Mexico. Katrina wasn't a fan, though, and the pirate ship was destroyed. It is now across the street, and I believe, it is 100% on land now. I can't be certain, but I think the laws were changed to allow gambling on land in this area after Hurricane Katrina hit. Anyway, even on a Sunday night/Monday morning, Treasure Bay was hopping. All of the tables were open with plenty of players. I was able to play some of my favorite old penny slots before retiring to the room to sit on the balcony working while enjoying the view from the cheaper rooms (parking lot view).

For dinner, we drove to one of my favorite restaurants. Darwell's is in Long Beach, hidden away several blocks from the main drag and behind the railroad tracks. It's got some of the best cajun food I've had and some really unique décor. Bruce had the seafood gumbo and I had a blackened Snapper on a bed of bismati rice, covered with Darwell's famous crawdad etoufee and topped with blackened gulf shrimp. Nom, nom, nom. They twisted my arm just enough to convince me to take a pineapple brownie home for dessert. Deeeeelectible! The kid behind the counter is from Poland, and we talked about various places to visit when we go there to visit.

I got a few nice shots of the Mobile skyline. The thing about the Mobile skyline that always stick with me is that you can only see it from one side. Coming from Florida to Mobile, I have never seen the city skyline unless I turn around and look when we come out of the tunnel. If you didn't know what was going on, you would never know you had just driven under part of a major city.

We decided to stop and check out the Florida Welcome Center, which was a good call. They had free shots of orange juice that we sampled. We also picked up a lot of tourist information. The best part, though, was a little photo kiosk. We had a blast playing in that. I love the pix they sent me in my mailbox. I think I want to go back and take some more!

We made it home to our little crash pad in the pouring rain, just in time to notice that the neighbors have a gibbon swinging from their tree! I DO still have monkeys close!