Our house in Browns Summit, North Carolina closed on July 11th without a hitch. Right after that MW (Mr. Wonderful) spoke with the RV shop and “without a hitch” isn’t the case with our alternate home, Petunia. Some of the smaller repairs had been taken care of, but they were awaiting approval and parts for the larger items. They gave us an estimated date of completion…NOT! That left us without a home and unable to work on ANY of the “to do” list items. No news is definitely not good news!

I regularly read several RV forums, and it appears that the industry could benefit greatly from the services of a good industrial engineer. (I did try to talk MW into stepping up to the plate since that is his background, but he didn’t bite.) The overwhelming complaint nationwide is that you are given a drop-off date with no completion estimate. Sometimes it can take months! The repair shops blame the manufacturers, and the manufacturers blame the repair shops. How many car repair shops would keep operating with a business model like that? The problem is not brand-specific either, so you can’t just say “next time I will buy xxxxxx.” I’m not an engineer, and I don’t have any solutions. There has just simply got to be a better way, though. I have noted since we began this ordeal that many people suggest going directly to Grand Design first for much faster results, and I think we will try that in the future should the need arise.

Sooooo….we are now taking the epic “No Home – Sponge Off of the Relatives” tour. Years ago MW’s grandmother used to tell the story of her mother-in-law’s visits back in the day. Apparently she would show up (although I feel certain there was a telegram announcing her impending arrival), unpack, and stay for 3-4 months. When she decided that it was finally time to go, she packed up and did the same thing to her other sons. We have now become THOSE people! Not really, but it feels a little like it.

Our first stop was Rockmart, Georgia, where we spent time with my Mom and Bonus Dad. For the most part we visited and ran errands, but I did get a little work done (despite the SLOOOOOOWWWWW and BAAAAAADDDDDD cell coverage). MW spent quite a bit of time cleaning up trees that were damaged in an ice storm a couple of years back. It looked much better when we left, so I guess he earned our keep. While there we were also able to visit with Aunt Pat (Mom’s sister) and Uncle Russ, meeting at Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q (very good) in Hiram. Growing up they were a constant presence in our lives, and I always enjoy the opportunity to spend time with them. We also went over to Douglasville, Georgia, and had lunch at Seabreeze Seafood (huge portions!) with Aunt Mary Lou and Uncle Roy. Uncle Roy is my Dad’s oldest and only surviving Guillebeau brother, although there are still quite a few Banks siblings around (including Aunt Mary Lou) thankfully! We also went to Atlantic Buffet in Douglasville on one of our outings. (We’ve been there before, but it is worth a return visit.) Our entire stay was very nice. Mom and I even had a girls day to celebrate her recent birthday with mani-pedis and lunch out at Provinos in Rome (a MUST for Italian food if you are in the area). I can’t remember the last time we did something like that, but I definitely think we should plan it more often. After 10 days they cried “uncle” and kicked us out. Just kidding…they would have been happy for us to stay; at least that is what they say. We always have a good time when we visit, and I’m always sad to leave.

Next we headed to Pensacola, Florida, to hang with the Florida Joneses…Mark (MW’s crazy brother), the lovely Jennifer (world’s best wife and mother…seriously), and Alex (former Greensboro Grasshopper and future Air Force officer).  These are people you would be friends with even if you weren’t related to them.  It is a home filled with lots of love and laughter, and visits there are always a blast.  It doesn’t hurt that Jennifer is a master in the kitchen and cooks constantly, either!

During our stay it was 1000 degrees. (Okay maybe there is an extra zero there, but you have a hot flash when it is 97 with 90% humidity and that’s what it feels like!) Monday we took a drive along Perdido Key and had lunch at Cobalt on the water, which was delicious. Despite the heat, we got out and walked every other morning, something that I have been needing to do. (We would find out a little later in this trip that it was actually cool! Ugh!) We also managed to order a couple of things we will need for Petunia when we get her back and took a trip to Camping World for a few others. We checked out the campground at Big Lagoon State Park, which is right down the road from the Jones abode. It looked nice and was only about half full. Whenever we are in Florida, MW is inexplicably drawn to Whataburger. I’ve never understood the fascination, but he LOVES it, so there were several visits including lunch with Mark one day. We also checked out Brother’s Barbeque on Gulf Beach Highway one night. They had all you can eat chicken and pork, and Alex and Drew did a pretty good job on that. The brisket was pretty awesome, too. After that dinner, we headed over to Gary’s Brewery and Biergarten for a nightcap…cool place with a neat, patio atmosphere and a nice selection of craft beers including their own. On Thursday we checked out the new Buc-ees in Robertsdale, Alabama. A Texas institution, this is their foray into Alabama, although our Texas niece says it is a “wannabe” at best. If you ever see that giant beaver sign, regardless of which state it is in, stopping is almost mandatory. We also had lunch at the Magnolia Blossom right down the road, while in the area. (They had a good-looking buffet and nice menu and was packed with locals.)

After a great few days, we said goodbye temporarily to head over to Houston and hang with the aforementioned niece, Taylor. She moved there a couple of years ago to take a job at NASA (Mission Control specifically) and has decided to put down roots with the purchase of her first house. It was a really adorable, all-brick ranch with three bedrooms, two baths, and a huge, fenced back yard, which her dogs appreciate. (She has a larger mixed breed and two French Bulldogs.) While in Houston, we caught up on the news, laughed, shopped, and dined at Pappas Seafood House (Pricey but OMGosh delicious! The Chopped Salad is to die for!) and Yard House (yards of beer and plenty of food to match). On Sunday night Taylor cooked for us and made this awesome chicken with parmesan, basil, and tomatoes. (Note to self…need that recipe.) We always enjoy time with TayTay, and this trip was no exception. The only negative was the HEAT! Stepping out of the house before sunrise to exercise you run into what feels like a solid wall of humidity! At one point my phone said it was 97 degrees but “felt like” 130! WTH??!! This made Pensacola feel brisk by comparison. Of course, we have no one to blame but ourselves…this is two years in a row that we have been in Houston in mid-summer. We ought to have our heads examined.

On Monday while Taylor was at work, I had hoped to go to the Apollo Mission Control exhibit, but there was some type of event there and it was closed to visitors. (They took the original mission control equipment and put everything back like it was the moment we landed, including pencils, pads of paper, cigarette packages, ash trays, etc.) That will definitely be on my list for the next trip. So, MW and I headed downtown to check out the Houston Museum of Natural Science. The trip in was a little crazy. I volunteered to drive so MW could have a break. That was a mistake that I don’t intend to repeat. We headed in from the southeast, and I have never seen so many interstates veering off left and right in my life! They have a loop around the downtown area, a second further out, a third even further out, and a portion of a fourth out to the west. It took both of us just to make sure we were in the correct lane. Crazy! Using my iPhone GPS, though, we thought “no worries”. WELL…it took us into town and looped all the way around downtown to go the the museum that is southwest of downtown. We were driving in and saw the convention center off to our northeast, then a little bit later we saw the same building off to our southwest. It seemed that someone might have been playing with us. We did finally make it to the museum, which was huge. They had a lot of temporary exhibits and movies, but we stuck with the basic stuff due to time constraints. There were native and African animal exhibits, a huge dinosaur section, and gems. They also had a giant moon sculpture that was amazing. My favorite was the gems, though. So many beautiful colors found in nature. We ran a few errands on the way back, then took Taylor out to Saltgrass Steak House, one of my favorites, for our last evening.

On Tuesday we headed out early for Pensacola. All was well until Beaumont, Texas. MW was driving, and I was on a video call with Amber (daughter) and Missy Booger (granddaughter). At the last second I caught something coming at us in my peripheral, although MW saw it coming earlier and did his best to squeeze left as close as the concrete barrier would allow. BLAM!! It felt like it took the rear end of the car off! It also scared me, Amber, and Missy Booger half to death. Thank God that MW is a cool cucumber. I told them we were alright and got off of the phone to call the police, promising to get back as soon as I could. Meanwhile, Mr. Smash and Run just kept right on bookin’ down I-10. MW was able to make out a white pickup truck with “Williams Concrete and…” something (maybe Landscaping) on the side towing a trailer. That was at least a little bit of a clue for the police. He assessed the damage, and amazingly, it was minimal…a slight white paint transfer on the metal (no denting) and a really gnarled-up (but still operational) wheel. What a blessing considering the rear was jam-packed with belongings to go into Petunia when we pick her up. After crossing three lanes of traffic, he made it to the Exxon at the next exit where the police pulled up almost immediately. They were great and worked quickly to get us back on the road. As accidents go, this was probably the best-case scenario. Back in the car, I contacted USAA to get the claim rolling and within a few minutes had an appointment scheduled in Pensacola for the estimate for Wednesday.

The rest of the drive was uneventful, and we had a lovely dinner back at the Florida Jones abode Tuesday evening. We got up early on Wednesday to walk, and the temp was quite pleasant after Texas. While they were all at work, we washed clothes and went to the estimate appointment. Interestingly, they quoted to repaint the door, replace trim, etc., in addition to repairing the wheel to the tune of almost $2,000. Really, the paint transfer on the door will come off with some polish, so we opted just to take care of the wheel and make sure everything is balanced. They could not get us in while we were in town, so I contacted Bill Penney Toyota in Huntsville to schedule the repair. Randy Savage in the Collision Center truly bent over backwards to help us out. He made several calls to ensure he could get the parts in time to fit our constraints, then worked with the service department to get us on the schedule for Saturday since his area is not open on the weekends. Knowing that we had everything under control (at least for that little piece of the huge “to do” pie), we relaxed and spent another great evening with our peeps.

On Thursday we hit the road about 9 AM headed to see the rest of the Jones clan in Huntsville, Alabama. It was a LONG drive with some serious rain at points. In Georgiana, Alabama, we took a small side trip to see the childhood home of Hank Williams. He was born a few miles away in Mount Olive, moving to this house when he was seven and the original burned. They had a nice little museum with a lot of clippings, photos, and memorabilia. I learned that his first name was actually Hiram, going by Hank only after he moved to Montgomery after age 11. For someone who lived a tumultuous 29 years, he certainly accomplished a lot. How he managed it when he appears to have been drunk/drugged most of the time is a wonder. His music holds special memories for me. As a young child I remember Mom singing many of his songs including “Your Cheating Heart” while she cooked dinner or washed dishes. I can still hear it in my head if I close my eyes and concentrate. I can also hear my Dad sing “Hey Good Lookin'”. Hank did not do a good job of managing his personal life, though, and the end result was a huge battle for his estate with a mother, ex-wife, current wife, mistress, son, and illegitimate daughter. (The latter was purposefully and probably criminally kept secret by family members to keep her from getting her share for years.) What a sad mess.

We arrived in Huntsville by late afternoon where we were greeted by MW’s step-mother, Peg, and her fiancé, Colin Bagwell. (MW’s Dad died in 2011.) Aside from a regular visit, this was our chance to check him out prior to the nuptials in January. I know Peg was nervous, but there was no need. We had dinner Thursday night with Colin, Peg, and MW’s brother Scott and Michelle. Delicious food and good conversation. What more could we ask for? On Friday Scott, Peg, Drew and I went to Home Depot to pick up a new storm door and grabbed a quick bite at Arby’s before going back home for the guys to install. Later in the evening Colin and his crew joined all of us plus Peg’s daughter Anne for dinner; Becka (daughter) and Jeff with Harrison (grandson), and Eric (son) and Nancy. It was a fun crowd with lots of laughter (and always terrific food at Peg’s). We thoroughly enjoyed it. Jeff introduced me to Nineteen Crimes Red wine…delicious and has a cool, talking label with the help of an app. That is going to be my go-to hostess gift! Saturday was the car repair appointment followed by a double date with Colin and Peg for dinner at Carrabba’s. Peg is clearly as taken with Colin as he is with her. They smile a lot and hold hands, which was admittedly odd at first, but finding someone to share the rest of your life is a wonderful gift. We are happy for them. Dinner was lovely and a good end to this visit.

The next morning we packed up and headed to North Georgia. We found out that the RV is finished a few days ago, so now we have to work on the logistics of picking up the truck, stashing the car, making sure the repairs are complete, finishing the barn, and taking care of our stored stuff. We love our family and have truly enjoyed the visiting, but after 3-1/2 weeks we are ready for a little quiet time. I’m going to sign off now and take a nap!

See you on the road!


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