Thursday, 24 April 2014

Elvis has left the building....but he left his cash box behind.

The two days back to nature in Millwood State Park, Arkansas were very relaxing.  This nice park reminds me of the provincial parks in Ontario except there are alligators in the water here, the worst thing at home is maybe a leach.  It's a small park on a big lake that would be great for fishing and camping if we had time to stay.  But we were too excited to see Graceland to stick around for some big ol' bass.

Homesteadin' in Arkansas

We couldn't wait to join the 600-700 thousand people that walk through the home of the King every year.  We stayed at the Graceland Rv Park and Campground right across the street from the mansion.  It is nothing fancy but you don't come here for the park.  Call in advance if you want to stay here, they were full on Thurs. night and it isn't the busy season yet.  This place is right behind the Heartbreak Hotel and is owned by the corporate behemoth that is Graceland.  You walk through a gate from this park straight into the Graceland parking lot saving parking fees to boot, it couldn't be more convenient.

We checked in and the girl was explaining lots of stuff and then... she pulled out...THE PINK PAPER! 

" This, " she said "is a restaurant down the street called Marlowe's, it was featured on a show called Diner's, Drive-ins and Dives...I don't know if you have heard of it?" 

 "Oh, I might have seen it while flipping channels." I said trying to hide my excitement.

She went on, "If you take this menu they will give you 10% off your bill."

At this point I was feeling a warm glow coming over me,  "Really, that's great." I said elation welling up in my heart.

"And," she went on,   "if you call them they will come and pick you up and return you to your site in a pink limousine for free."

 At this point, I'm sure I felt Elvis's hand on my shoulder and a soft voice saying,

 "Your welcome, Your welcome very much."

I snatched up my pink paper and ran outside, and bounced up into the truck like a child on Santa's lap and looked over at Detra.

She looked at me and said... "What's up with you?"

"Forget the burgers, we're going out!"

Our Pink Cadillac with blue velvet interior, Elvis would be proud.

Dive straight into Elvis memorabilia.

Mississippi Delta Catfish and Southern fried steak at a BBQ joint?
Oh Boy! It was good.

Marlowe's like everything else close to Graceland is full of Elvis pics. and plaques.  It also has tons of awards from BBQ competitions.  We had done our own ribs the night before so we went with good ol' southern cookin'.  Both meals and service were very good, but when they walked by with ribs on a platter, I thought I had made a big mistake.  Boy, their food looks good!

Friday we were up early and humming Elvis tunes before we even brushed our teeth.  Detra has always loved Elvis and was itching to finally see Graceland.  I have watched my fair share of Spinout, Blue Hawaii and Roustabout movies over the years and still enjoy them no matter how many times I've seen them.

The Graceland experience is split in two by Elvis Presley Blvd.  Subdued Graceland on one side and over the top merchandising on the other.  You buy your tickets and take a bus across the street to the mansion, all the while you have an excellent audio tour playing in the headsets provided.  At first I thought the ticket price was expensive, but after the tour you feel it was well worth it.  There is a set route through the house and you don't see upstairs where Elvis never allowed visitors to go.  What you do see gives you a real sense of how he lived.  The audio tour explains what you are looking at and has clips of interviews that Elvis did over his career which give plenty of insight.

Elvis bought this house at 22yrs. old and spent most of his time here until he died.  The house is smaller than I would have imagined and made me feel he must have had a humble side to have stayed here when he could own any place he wanted.  

Living room

Piano room


TV room in the basement

The Jungle Room 
Trophy Room

Original movie scripts.

Elvis sat and played at this piano for friends the morning he died. 

Detra at his grave.

This is an emotional tour if you are remotely an Elvis fan and I think most would find this an interesting place to visit.  There is a sense of loss and what could have been, when you end the tour at the gravesides of his parents and Elvis himself.  This was well done and I have a little more respect for the man and what he accomplished in his shortened life.

After the tour, it's back on the bus to cross the street to see the cars and planes he owned which are interesting also.  Every rapper or rocker after, have Elvis to thank for how to live and travel as a superstar.  He was flying in his custom planes and cars at a time when few other stars were at that level. 

Inside one of his planes.

Elvis's favourite chair on the Lisa Marie.

Lisa Marie had her 9th birthday party on the plane.

This side of the road is where you will get merchandise overload.  Elvis is alive and well in plastic, books, every possible bit of clothing, glassware, jewellery, CD's, Blueray, statues, coasters, guitars, fly swatters, pens, photo's, replica suits, and anything else you slap an Elvis name or likeness on.  By the time you walk away you have seen enough to put you shock.  They do keep the mansion and this stuff separate which is very nice, there is no sales of anything on the grounds of Graceland.

Elvis is still "TCB" (Takin' Care of Business...his motto in the 70's)

All this touring made us hungry and this is Memphis,  which means no shortage of DDD restaurants.  Leonard's Pit Barbecue is one of the original BBQ joints in this town.  When we sat down they had a choice of menu or buffet and we both went for the latter.  It was good with plenty of selection meats and salads along with excellent desserts.

Not much to look at but it's what's inside that counts.

While  eating our meals we noticed the armed guard in the parking lot watching over patrons vehicles while they ate, which was a first for us, and a little unsettling. 

We started chatting with a man (Oliver) and woman (Cindy) at the next table who were very nice. They are best friends for years, whether her husband likes it or not.  Cindy has a son working in Canada and 5 other kids to talk about, along with the food, a bit about our travels, it was a nice conversation. 

At the end of our meal the bill came and before we could move Cindy had grabbed our tab and paid for it.  We protested but she would have none of it, it was a very generous gesture that we thanked them for until we parted in the parking lot along with their friend Bob, the security guard with the huge gun and bullet proof vest, standing by.  They said we were welcome for the hospitality and that we should get in our truck and get out of this part of town as directly and quickly as we could.

Cindy and Oliver

Our bellies and hearts full we headed for Beale St.   Home of Blues music, Juke joints and a colourful history of great musical artists and black businessmen and women starting up shops along the street.  Nowadays it is mostly clubs with live music featuring up and coming talent of blues and soul music.  You can walk the street beer in hand and listen to the music through open windows to see if it appeals to you.  Once you walk the street, which also has a wide range of musicians playing on the sidewalks, you can go back to the ones you enjoyed.  After Elvis all day, we ended up at Jerry Lee Lewis's club to listen the energetic group playing the namesake music.  It was an excellent way to top off our time here in Memphis.    

We had a ball...........A great ball...........of fire, that is.

We hit the road to Chicago to see Detra's brother, Brian and family before we make the last run back to Canada for the summer.

Blind Fingers Bailey,
aka Scott

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Houston…I’m sitting in a Tin Can…


The famous scene in “From Here to Eternity” with Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr, with the two lovers in the surf, locked in passion, waves breaking over them, they run hand in hand to a blanket laid out in the sand and make love, a beautiful scene if there ever was one.  Outside, not a care in the world, just a perfect snapshot of love and romance that has stirred people for decades.

With that in mind we head to Port Aransas beach to boondock for a" Beach Party"  (that’s a Frankie Avalon, Annette Funicello film, come on, focus people!).  We park about a mile along the beach from Sandfest 2014.  It is picture perfect spot to watch the waves roll in meters from “The Long, Long Trailer” (Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz).  Once set-up we sit and relax, drink in the sunshine, sea birds flying by, the cool breeze off the ocean, the vast ocean at our feet taking our thoughts and dreams across to far off lands and new adventures.  That’s the Hollywood image.

Hollywood makes it’s money escaping reality.  Truth is, Burt had a lump of seaweed stuck to his forehead and Ms. Kerr had sand in some very uncomfortable places.  The water is cold and there is a jellyfish floating on the next wave waiting to sting you.  In order to enjoy the sunshine you need to smear on lotion that smells funny and feels yucky.  “The Birds” (Alfred Hitchcock) swoop in in flocks looking for food and when you don’t give it to them they crap on your head.  The breeze off the ocean brings humidity and "The Fog" (low budget, no stars) that soaks everything in the trailer and makes you cold and clammy.  The waves bring in the oil slick from the spill in Galveston (BP Oil, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer).  Our thoughts are of having fewer people around and dreaming of less oil rigs on the horizon of the Gulf of Mexico.

I'm kidding!...would we boondock again?...Of course!  The truth falls somewhere in between two extremes.  It is a great experience opening the door when you aren't thinking about it and the beauty takes your breath away.   We had a great time on the beach but we are still cleaning the sand out of the truck and trailer.
There are worse places to park.

Sandfest 2014 was good, unfortunately the pro's had just started their sculptures Fri. afternoon. We left early Sat. and didn't to go back and see their progress.  What we did see were lots of booths selling everything from cheap T's to some very nice art and golf carts that cost as much as a small family car.  We listened to Jared Clarke a very entertaining local singer.  We ate dinner sitting on a pile of sand with 50 of our closest seagull friends.  It was a beautiful day and nice way to spend an afternoon.
Detra whipped this up while I looked for my sunglasses.

I had a good Philly Cheese Steak and Detra had pulled pork with funnel cake for dessert none of which were cooked on the "World's Biggest Grill" 

This was just shy of $17,000.  I will need one for the Gulf Waters site, so keep those donations coming!

Saturday morning made any downside insignificant.  We sat outside with our coffee and waited for the sunrise.  This is something Hollywood can't come close to creating on the biggest of big screens.  The waves, the soft morning breeze and the orange glow coming up over the horizon, it seems hard to believe this happens every day. 

We packed our plastic buckets and shovels and headed for Houston Sat. morning.  Driving all your worldly possessions on to a ferry (to exit Mustang Island) changes your thoughts from... "Ohh.. isn't this fun! Look at the dolphins!" to "How long has the Captain been doing this?" and "Are there enough life jackets to float my truck and trailer?"  We made it across to the mainland without getting a wheel wet and we were on our way.

First impressions of Houston were "Holy cow , TRAFFIC!" and second was there is a lot of stuff here.  We had time to look since we were crawling in bumper to bumper half way across the city.  We made it to Northlake RV Resort early afternoon, our home in the north end of the city.  This is a new park that they spent a lot of money on and it shows.  The facilities are all top notch with a nice laundry, exercise room, lounge with free popcorn, BBQ pavillions around the lake, a dog wash station and runs.  While every site has some grass there is a sense of a lot of concrete, but this is a minor complaint.

This was great (and good timing) for getting sand out of man's best friend or a Bulldog that just barely tolerates you.

We were hungry so it was DDD time again, There are a half dozen places in the city to choose from and we picked The Red Lion Pub and Restaurant.  This an English pub that looks like an old English cottage tucked in amongst small strip malls and office buildings. 

We pulled up in my new Porsche 911 Turbo S

Shepperd's Pie and Fish & Chips how English is that? Jenny & you concur?

Very cool 4x4 sold by Lamborghini of Houston outside the pub.

The food was delicious but what stands out here is the atmosphere, it is dimly lit with stucco and timber just like you think a pub should be.  Warm inviting booths in red leather are big and comfortable.

We decided to cruise downtown afterwards to see what we could see.. Houston is similar to Toronto maybe just a little shinier.  That fact these southern places don't see long cold winter let's them keep their sparkle for a long time.  Not having to deal with slush and salt for half the year makes it easy to be pretty.

The next day we did a little shopping and roaming.  We found out that this city with it's 'burbs is huge.  We also were reminded that big city drivers are aggressive and don't like you to leave spaces much like in T.O.  While we are OK with that, Houston drivers have completely stopped using their signals to warn you when they are cutting you off.

We drove to Houston West airport to see an airshow of old war planes.  There is an organization called The Ghost Squadron that are a group of people who own these planes and run a museum here. They had many planes on display with a few you could actually climb into.  Plane rides were also being offered in some of the planes.  For $225 you could go up in a WWII fighter or even an earlier plane with open cockpit which would be a thrill.  I was tempted but that much money puts a lot of diesel in the tank.

Monday was reserved for the Johnson Space Center and Kemah Boardwalk unfortunately, the weather had reservations before us and rained out our Kemah visit so that will wait for another time. 

The Space Center is a wonderful place to kill a rainy day and learn a bunch while you're at it.  There are plenty of hands on demos and informative displays that explain what really goes into space travel and helps you see true accomplishment it is.  To see what the Apollo program accomplished with technology of the day, truly was a giant leap for mankind.  You realise how crazy these people where to think this could be done in that day and age.  We have smarter phones today than the main frame computer NASA had to work with.  This is something everyone should see at some point. 

Canada built the Canada arm and the hands-on exhibits for NASA.

Hanging out in the Space Lab training module.

Just the mechanism to close the door was mind boggling.  This is the actual Apollo 17 command module that went around the moon and back.

The Houston control room where they first heard about a problem...
"Apollo 13" (Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon,  Dir. Ron Howard)

Saturn 5 rocket ...a whole lot of boom

When we do come back this way in the future we will take the "Level 9" tour.  This is only open to twelve people a day, costs $89 and would be worth every penny.  You must book it at least a day in advance and we didn't have time when we figured out what it was.  It takes you to places off  limits to the rest of the visitors.  You get to see where the astronauts train and where testing for the I.S.S modules is done.  Lunch is included in the cafeteria the astronauts dine in and access to many other very neat places.

Time to hit the road to Graceland in Memphis which brings us to:

Fulltiming Lesson #3;  When entering your destination in the GPS make sure you are going to the correct state. Memphis, TN and not Memphis, TX because they aren't even close to one another. 

We headed north on Hwy. 45 none the wiser, until Detra was looking at the map and thought it was a strange way to go see Elvis.  I was blindly following the GPS which I try not to do, until Detra asked "Why we aren't taking Hwy. 59?'  We quickly figured it out and pointed the truck at the right Memphis.  All it really cost us was maybe an extra 1/2 hour on the road, it could have been much worse.

We are in Millwood State Park in Arkansas for a two night stay before we hit Graceland and Beale St. in Memphis......  That's Tennessee not Texas.

Two roads diverge in Houston and we take the one less travelled by... the wrong one...


Thursday, 10 April 2014

Fishing and conversations with a Dick

We have decided to stay on here at Gulf Waters Resort an extra 4 nights on a different site that is even nicer than the first.  It is a very relaxing place to spend time just watching the palm trees blowing in the wind and flocks(?) of pelicans flying along the coast. 

We like so much here we went looking at the sites that are available.  We had a great time redoing the landscaping on some, turn down others because of view or some other reason.  We finally decided on one very nice site #460.  It is only $97,500, so I've started saving my change and plan on a Pay Pal account so we can take donations for our cause.  "Please... Only You Can Stop The Tears"

Seriously, this ownership park is something to consider when we get tired of roaming.

We met another couple here from Ontario, we asked where they were from and they say,
 "Oh a small town you probably haven't heard of." 
"Which town is that?" I ask.

  For those who don't know, that is the closest little town to where we spend our summers.

Can you spare just a little for this poor guy?


The USS Lexington is now a floating museum on the Corpus Christi waterfront.  A aircraft carrier that was retired in 1991, it is dwarfed by modern ships but is still a very impressive tool of war.  She was commissioned in '43, was hit by a Japanese torpedo, sunk ships and shot down planes and became known as 'The Blue Ghost' for her blue camouflage and showing up after the Japanese thought they had sunk her. 

Much of the ship is open for the visitors with many informative displays throughout.  We could imagine what life was like on board for the servicemen.  On the flight deck with planes coming and going, fuelling and loading bombs in the hanger deck and the enemy trying to sink you must have been quite the experience for the teenagers and young men in their 20's that make up most of the crew.  Living in the confines of the ship many wouldn't see sunlight for days on end.  Keeping everything running were doctors, dentists, cooks, engineers and all types of tradesmen maintaining everything and everyone battle ready. 

We love visiting historical sites and places like the Alamo or this ship.  They give a much clearer picture of what people go through to become a piece of history. 

While the deck is huge it would look pretty small trying to land a jet on it.


Taking a jet for a short flight

We love to fish when we can so we spent an afternoon on a party fishing boat.  While we were waiting for the trip to start is when we became acquainted with Dick.  You could tell right off that he was a little different, a little friendly and you would think a little eccentric. He wore a felt hat with a long pheasant feather sticking out of it.  A quick chat about Canada and that was it.  Detra and I boarded the boat with all the rest and headed out to the bay.  Dick decided he liked to talk to us and came looking for us on board.  He was open and honest and had no problem asking or answering any kind of question, within minutes I knew that he is a 25yr recovering alcoholic / drug user and then we discussed politics, health care, religion, jobs and family all in less than an hour of meeting.  Richard is someone who leaves an impression very quickly, good or bad he doesn't seem to care which one you choose. 

 He is a character that had been stuck on step 8 and 9 of the 12 step program for years, that is until a British film maker talked to him and thus the documentary Despicable Dick & Righteous Richard came to be.  While we haven't watched the film, Richard told us they filmed him as he went around making amends and apologising (step 8; Make a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all. and step 9; Make direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.)  It has been shown and won awards at Tribeca and at the Toronto film festivals among others.  We look forward to watching it at some point, having met him, I could tell he is accepting of himself and others warts and all.  Whether the friends and family who have been hurt by him in the past are as willing I don't know.

We met some strange guy named Dick and were left to remember Richard, a new friend, one who leaves a lasting impression and a good one a that.

The fishing was fun also.  We caught more fish than anyone else, which is always fun!

Shark Girl!
Detra and I just hit 30 years of marriage.  If you were to ask any guest at our wedding none would have guessed that it would last this long.  Hell, Detra and I just laughed at each other all day because we are amazed we made it this long too. 

 We celebrated at Republic of Texas Steakhouse on the top of the Omni Hotel.  We found an article of the five best places to eat in Corpus Christi and we love steak so it was an easy choice.  There was complimentary valet parking for guests of the restaurant which is great, except it meant handing the keys to a young guy and then me worrying about my big truck fenders making it back safe and sound.  Our waiter Carlos was excellent, talking us through the menu and specials and was always smiling and cheerful.  The steaks were good, but we expected better.  The sides are ordered separately and were excellent, meant to be shared we had plenty to take home for breakfast.  Carlos gave us a free pastry dessert in honor of the occasion.  The view of the bay is great and there is a balcony to check it out el fresco.  A nice memory and the truck came back without a scratch!

30yrs, who'da thunk?

USS Lexington off in the distance.
We plan on boondocking right on the beach Fri. night so we can check out Texas Sandfest.  Buy a $12 pass from the city and you can camp on the sand for up to three days.  It is our first time trying this out. We are looking forward to the experience.  They started getting things ready earlier in the week, making huge piles of sand for the pro's start competing.  The pics below are of a tribute to servicemen/women. This one is not in the competition but still very good.



We start in the direction of home on Saturday, with stops in Memphis, Chicago and who knows where in between.