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Exodus in a Tin Can on Wheels


-Part 1-
(Part 2 - Part 3 - Epilogue)

Over four months in 2002, arachne and TaoUrso traveled west across the United States in a 32-foot, pre-owned 1987 Fleetwood Pace Arrow motorhome. This is arachne's story, for better or worse. TaoUrso

July 3, 2002 -- Okay, here it is - the first diary of the rest of my life.

TaoUrso retired [from teaching high school] a week ago. We left Brooklyn Friday [June 28] after packing the U-Haul. I wish I could say I'm writing this sitting at a picnic table, under my awning, at a nice RV park. But this is not the case. Instead, I'm sitting in a bedroom at my grandmother's house in Enfield, Connecticut, not far from Long View RV [in Windsor Locks], where our 1987 Pace Arrow is still under repair. Remember the $4000. we spent to fix up the RV - the generator, the engine A/C, the satellite hookup and a bunch of other stuff? Apparently, none of that was done, even though we were promised many times over that it had been. Worse still, the tow-dolly that we'd spent another $2200 for is gone - either stolen or lost. So we've been shlepping between the RV, the rental lot, and the service area each day while repairs are done. The rental service has been good enough to let us use their hookups, so at least we have water and electricity. This morning we learned that a new tow-dolly won't be in till July 12 at the earliest. So we're stuck here for a while.

Third day of a major heat wave, humid skies w/temps in the 90s and no sign of letting up. Enfield is wall-to-wall shopping malls, fast food and occasional stretches of farmland. A few small churches, but no synagogues as far as the eye can see. In my search to find a particular book, we pulled in at an innocuous little shop on US Route 5 called "Bookends." But when I got to the entrance (in the rear of the building), it was obvious from the signs posted that this was an "adult" bookstore. No luck there. Across the road is "The Edge", a tattoo/body-piercing shop I already knew of. Further down Rte. 5, I spotted another store that sold "Deadhead" paraphernalia (the sort you'd find every other block in a certain area of San Francisco.) Altogether, it got me to speculating just what sort of hippie/porn/fetish underground would inhabit this corner of God's own earth.

July 8 -- Am writing from Highland Orchards [RV park] in North Stonington, CT. Got here from Long View this afternoon. Some repairs were made since last entry - notably the engine A/C - but a lot more needs to be done. The guys at Long View are waiting for delivery of parts and a new tow-dolly, but won't expect them for a few more days. TaoUrso decided he'd rather come here than wait in Long View's parking lot. No TV tonight - TaoUrso lost battery power this morning and lost the satellite programming. Did have it working over the weekend though. Onyx [the cat] is glad to be home. We kept him in Grandma's basement all last week. But his poo still isn't right. Stopped at [my brother] Steve's house on the way down here today. Left my tricycle there for his son. We decided we can't take it with us, too hard to carry. At least I know it will get some use.

July 9 -- Well, we now have our dish satellite working. Had to move to another spot in the RV park for an extra $3.50/night. Something to keep in mind for the future: Under a tree, there's no TV. Poo! Speaking of which, Onyx' poo is still as runny as ever. Am at a loss for what to do. Probably should see a vet, but that's not so easy round here.

July 12 -- Took Onyx to a vet near here yesterday. She had a hard time getting blood from him, I'm afraid, but she thought there was enough for a thyroid test. Now we're giving him some special food and pills to fix up his poo. Hasn't worked yet. Wednesday [7/10] we went to the Mashantucket Pequot museum in Ledyard - built by the Indians who started the Foxwood casino. Very impressive bunch of exhibits. Guess they have enough bucks to throw around. Didn't get to see all of it; after 2 1/2 hours we got pretty worn out. My father lives about a mile from Foxwood; he took us to the humungous buffet they have there. Like many buffets, a wide variety of food, but I'mafraid the quantity outweighs the quality. Dad took me around the other casino, Mohegan Sun (unlike Foxwood, this was started by Indians who actually lived in these parts.) He bought me some much-needed drinking glasses from one of a whole bunch of stores they have there. Liked the design of Mohegan Sun - a lot of woody native-motif stuff. Sure it's kitsch, but at least it's well thought-out, quality kitsch. Little by little, I'm learning more about outdoor RV park cooking. Today I used the little grill Dad gave me to cook dinner - a decent meal of roasted corn and stir-fried veggies. A wok placed directly on the coals gets good and hot for the process. Must learn to use fewer dishes and utensils as we may have to conserve water sometimes. Use aluminum foil to hold ingredients when possible. TaoUrso just showed me the pictures he took of me w/his digital camera. The scenery is nice, but I don't look so great. Too fat! Tomorrow we leave Highland Orchards, head back to Windsor Locks. Long View tells us the tow-dolly has arrived. Hope to get all repairs done Monday.

July 19 -- At Lake Village camp in Andover, Ohio. Nice woody surroundings, which means no satellite. The phones aren't doing so well either; TaoUrso can't get his cell-phone online system to work. Saw the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame today in Cleveland, about 70 miles from here. It's my second visit to the place, and I've written about it before [in my diary, 1996] so I don't have too much to add. No, I did not see the John Lennon exhibit. I did spot the room where they had manuscripts of song lyrics on display. Among them was one of my favorite songs, "American Tune" by Paul Simon. I noted one line, "We can't be forever blessed" - not "We can be ..." which is how I thought it went. I was pleasantly surprised, in a twisted way. Disappointing to find that the museum cafe no longer contains "The Wall" exhibit. But to go back a bit - this was a busy week. Repairs are finally complete, and we left Long View RV early Tuesday [7/16]. Good riddance! From Connecticut we drove to Parish, New York, about 20 miles north of Syracuse, and stayed there a couple days. Despite our efforts, we never got the RV quite level, so my world was on a slight incline during our stay. It was a long drive from there to this camp, but of course we made it. Last couple days, the battery in the engine has not been working well. TaoUrso thinks it was never fixed properly. So we bought a charger this morning, hope that helps.

July 21 -- Saw the Great Lakes Science Center in Cleveland today - TaoUrso said he'd been wanting to see it since he found it under construction six years ago. Don't think he was impressed. He said the science museum in Philadelphia was better; I reminded him that a lot of their stuff was falling apart, just like it was at this one. Had fun putting up the arch, though I see you really need more than two people for the job. One thing I want to see in my travels is whether everyone is so keen on flying the U.S. flag (in all its variations) as they were in New York City. Bet yer ass, if Andover is any indication. Every other telephone pole you saw had a flag on it, to say nothing of the buildings.

July 28 -- Staying at Glenwood RV resort in Marseilles, Illinois, near Chicago. Expect to leave Thursday, August 1. Been a week full of ups and downs. Last Tuesday [7/23] was the worst. Traveled from Andover across Ohio to a camp just short of the Indiana state line. TaoUrso and I nearly killed each other getting the tow-dolly hitched to the RV, with the car mounted on it. (Lesson: Hitch the dolly to the RV first.) Then just outside Cleveland, the engine started backfiring. Fortunately, TaoUrso found an RV service place nearby that installed a new gas filter, and we were off again. When we got to the camp, it took forever to line up the RV for electric hookup - TaoUrso was really irritated. Finally, we drove to nearby Decatur, Indiana for dinner. TaoUrso got a speeding ticket on the way down. (He says he'd still rather get a ticket in Ohio than teach high school in NYC.) That evening, I called Dish Network to activate the new receiver we got in Cleveland, only to learn that the identification number belonged to another customer and they wouldn't do it. Frustrating day all around! Spent the next two days shuttling the RV back and forth to Decatur for repairs. Got a new battery, new starter, and some other things. Also found a place that sold Dish receivers and bought a new one - but it wouldn't pick up the satellite signal. Thursday [7/25] was sad, because I thought Onyx had run off. Imagine my relief when I went back inside that afternoon. His litter-box was a mess, but I was never so happy to see that poo! (By the way, his diarrhea unfortunately has not subsided, and he hates to take his pills.) Friday came and I was happy to hit the road again. This camp is generally nice, with helpful friendly people. On the down side, the water stinks of sulfur - okay for showers, but not drinking. And TaoUrso, for whatever reason, can't get online from here. But the big improvement Friday was how he'd figured out the trouble with the second Dish receiver: a bad cable connection. We bought new cables, and the whole thing worked. Woo-Hoo! Now we each have our own TV. This tin can on wheels is feeling more like home than ever. We've spent the weekend relaxing and plotting the next course. Thursday morning we head for Wisconsin, and the Green Spirit Festival (including Lugnasadh sabbat) at Circle Sanctuary. I'm looking forward to hanging with my own kind for a couple days. A reminder that this is not NYC: I've been searching for tahini to make humus for Circle's potluck - but I can't find it anywhere! Will have to re-think my food offering. Been driving around the local highways a lot. I swear I've never seen so much corn growing in my life! Just acres and acres of it wherever you go. Also a lot of those patriotic "God Bless America" signs.

August 2 -- At Circle Sanctuary near Mount Horeb, Wisconsin - waiting for dinner. Right now, I'm feeling kinda bad about losing one of our cell phones. Don't know what happened, maybe it fell out of the car. So far, little luck re the RV repairs. A mechanic in Illinois yesterday told us we need a master cylinder for the engine, and a tune-up as well. Plan to take the RV to a service center Tuesday. Also there's a leak under the RV that TaoUrso may or may not have caused when he loosened the tow-dolly before unhooking the car. The dolly jerked back and smashed a hole in the body. I made a mess dumping our sewer back when we left Illinois. I tripped, and the "black water" spilled all over the ground. Felt some grim amusement at how much corn I found in the black water. At Circle today, I left a rose quartz in the stone circle, one of those we'd bought in South Dakota years ago. After that, some of us stayed and learned a Sacred Energy dance - a lot of chi-gong based stuff. Yes, I felt some energy rise, but also felt terribly out-of-shape and uncoordinated. Selena Fox gave TaoUrso and me a tour of Circle. In twenty years, she has really developed the place; I had no idea how big it is. A lot of outdoor shrines, herb gardens, buildings, etc. Still very rustic, though: no toilets, only port-a-potties. One building has a little Bast altar set-up. I sat down near it to rest, and a cat walked by. She sounded so much like Marbles that I started to cry.{Marbles lived with us seven years before we had her put down in 1997, due to serious illness. - KD} But one of the staffers helped cheer me up.

August 3 -- Circle Sanctuary again. Last night's welcoming ritual was fun - a lot of drums, dancing and assorted percussion stuff at the beginning. I have never seen so many white people in one place trying to keep the beat. This morning I harvested mugwort w/others at Circle. Put a bag of new mugwort in the car - emptied the old bag Selena gave us in 1990; returned the old herbs back to the mugwort patch. Left Circle for a few hours this afternoon. Visited an exhibit called "Little Norway". Learned only one memorable thing while touring it: In the song "Pop Goes the Weasel", a weasel is the take-up reel on a yarn spinner. When a designated number of skeins are wound up, a trigger mechanism makes a "pop" noise.

August 6 -- Wow, a lot has happened in the last couple days. It's our last day in Wisconsin. Tomorrow we head for South Dakota, plan to stop somewhere in Minnesota that night. Discovered Wisconsin Dells - a large tourist town built around a rock formation. FYI, a dell is many layers of sedimentary rock eroded into different shapes by water (in this case, the Wisconsin River.) Same principle as the Grand Canyon, except I actually got to travel thru this thing. For the record, the Upper Dells is a lot more fun to tour than the lower (Wisconsin WWII Ducks notwithstanding.) The Lost Canyon wagon ride was a hoot as well. Went panning for crystals thru mud (seeded, no doubt) and TaoUrso found a blue topaz I'm going to have set in a ring. Saw Wisconsin Deer petting zoo today. Nice walk, but I think most of the deer were scared of me, even when I offered food. Got repairs done on the RV yesterday. Mainly the master cylinder and new A/C blower for engine. TaoUrso says it's all running real nice now.

Must talk about Saturday night's Lammas ritual [8/3]. Super! There was a big bonfire, which I threw an oak branch into, wishing mainly for better health. After one guy sang the old "John Barleycorn" song, TaoUrso asked me to get him up front for a Kaddish. Thought Selena was real nice to let him do it. He sounded very well; I went along with him but he couldn't hear me. There was also a prosperity invocation using firework sparklers. A lot of sparks followed by impenetrable smoke, which soon blew away.

Yes, I did find tahini and made humus. Also made corn bread, which I know at least one person ate. Of course there was the usual singing, drumming and chanting. Feh.

This weekend I was reminded of how "conventional" some Pagans are. A lot of them look like they walked in from the nearest Ren-Faire, and seem just as superficial. Guess they're the Pagan equivalent of all those nice ladies who bake cakes for the church bazaar. (Ah, but how much better am I, especially these days?) TaoUrso copied a photo of Marbles, and I remembered to leave it at the cat altar Sunday before we left.

Must keep in mind that the concept of doing someone else's laundry for hire, remains unknown to many people. Searched all over the area Monday for a laundry service, but none to be found. I ended up doing it myself. Then we found Grandpa Meister's in Muscoda and bought a lot of cheese. Yesterday we discovered Wollersheim Winery in Prairie de Sac (?) and bought three cases. Gotta drink something with all that cheese! ;^) Oh, yes - somebody found the cell phone! A guy from Indiana called us (the number was on back of the phone), said he found it near Route 20 the other day while jogging. TaoUrso told him to mail it back to our Florida address. Seems the universe is looking out for us somehow.

August 14 -- Custer-Crazy Horse RV Park, Custer, South Dakota. (Why they would name an RV park, let alone a town, after him is beyond me.) Today we brought the car and the motor home to D&F Electrical Services in Rapid City. They did some work on the car alternator (brand new, remember?) and fixed wires on the RV to get the signals and brake lights working. TaoUrso asked the men there about the Onan generator, which would shut down whenever he ran his oxygen machine. They couldn't help, but directed us to an Onan service place just up the road. What luck! And their man took care of it right away. Speaking of luck: TaoUrso took a wrong turn somewhere today, but found the podiatrist he was looking for.

A lot of moving around since I last wrote. A lot of mishaps and fixing-ups. Trouble started last Thursday [8/8] at the KOA in Rochester, Minnesota. As TaoUrso made a turn, he ran the RV over a boulder, wrecking one of the storage hatches and jamming the front step. (Why do campgrounds put big rocks like that around? They may think it looks pretty, but to me they're nothing but obstacles.) TaoUrso got the step working. Over the next couple days, we hammered out the hatch and fixed it with silicone, new locks and some off-color brownpaint. Stayed in Sioux Falls, South Dakota the next two nights. Entered the Plains Zoo, stayed briefly until TaoUrso learned there is actually a waterfall in Sioux Falls. So we went there instead. (He has a general aversion to looking at captive animals.) I found the falls attractive, but strange to see in the middle of a city park. Another park in Sioux Falls contains a Japanese garden. Not bad, though I've been spoiled - seen better ones in Brooklyn and San Francisco. From Sioux Falls we drove to Chamberlain, where I ate my first buffalo burger of the trip. There would be more. That's where we found St. Joseph Indian School, with adjoining museum. TaoUrso was not impressed with the size of it - too big to need our money, he thought - till he read the sign saying they get no state or federal dollars. Guess that changed his mind. Then Monday [8/12] we drove to Wall, home of the (in)famous WALL DRUG store/emporium/overall tourist trap. You see billboards advertising Wall Drug for hundreds of miles before getting there. The town itself is small - fewer than a thousand - and my bet is most of them work at Wall Drug or some motel or service place nearby. Bought a couple of t-shirts and some jewelry. Ate a buffalo steak: lean, and slightly tough. While in Wall, we drove thru the Badlands, which don't look so bad when you see them from a car. Unfortunately, TaoUrso and I are too heavy for the helicopter ride over them. Found a Prairie Dog town in the Badlands, but the rainy weather must have kept them all underground. Yesterday, we drove to Rapid City and stayed at a Jellystone Park camp. (All campers should spend one night with Yogi & Co., just for the kitschy family experience.) Once we were settled, I spotted a new crisis: the hanger of the muffler had broken, and the muffler had been dragging on the ground. It took a serious effort from TaoUrso and me (mostly him) but we managed to get it off the ground, and tied to the chassis with wire coat hangers (which I'll think twice about throwing away from now on!) After making a few calls, TaoUrso found Exhaust Pros in Rapid City. They put in new hangers and new exhaust pipes, which were also sadly needed. So little by little, we're getting the RV in shape.

A few random thoughts: This being South Dakota in August, there are more bikers around than you can shake a tailpipe at (the Sturgis thing, y'know.) You gotta wonder, who are the real bikers, and who are just, well ... Guess we're out of the heartland now. Have seen no corn in the last couple days. Been weeks since I've seen a yarmulke or a synagogue anywhere. I'm beginning to understand why so many Jews vacation in the same places (Catskills, or Miami) - a lot of other spots just are not accommodating. Rapid City and other towns in South Dakota have a lot of the same merchandise - Western gear stores, "Black Hills gold" outlets, rock shops, Indian stuff, etc. Also, it looks like gambling was legalized since I was here last. Every mile or so you see what I can only call "convenience casinos" - little gaming shops next to the gas stations and kwik-marts.

August 19 -- Last day in Custer. Tomorrow we head toward Denver, stopping one night in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Just one bit of fun after another, it seems. Friday [8/16] we got a bad letter from the Teachers' Retirement System. It was a complicated matter, but it basically said TaoUrso had only 18 years of service and was not qualified for a pension. Of course that's not true; TaoUrso had bought back quite a few years on top of that. (To make things worse, the stupid-ass clerk in the camp office had been holding our mail a couple days already without realizing it. So we could have fixed this before the weekend and didn't.) This morning TaoUrso got on the phone with TRS and the teachers' union rep who handles pension stuff. As I understand it, TRS had not picked up his buy-back time when he switched from one tier up to a better-paying one. Like I said, it's complicated shit. We faxed the pension forms to the union guy and UPS'ed them to TRS. TaoUrso called this afternoon, says the UFT rep already started the inquiry. So it'll be a month or two, but he is confident the pension checks will start coming in. Meanwhile, we're definitely not starving. (TaoUrso: "This is why nobody wants to work for the [NYC] Board of Ed.") We tested our self-sufficiency last week. A pipe broke, and there was no water coming in thru the camp lines. Fortunately, we got some water for our tank, and bought a long-neck funnel to pour it in. Yesterday we ran the Onan for a couple hours as well. August 15, we had a really great car tour of the area. Saw Crazy Horse Mountain, which has come along quite a bit since I was last here [in 1990.] He has a real face now, and work has started on the horse. Be nice to come back every ten years and see what's going on. But the statue likely won't be finished in my lifetime, never mind TaoUrso's. While the Crazy Horse statue stirred some strong feelings in me, I can't say the same for Mount Rushmore (that's why I have no souvenirs from it.)I admire it as a work of engineering - maybe even art - but the sculpture has become so cliched and parodied over the years, that whatever meaning it might have had just dried up and blew away. By the way, we came in to Mt. Rushmore just after President Bush had left it that day. Don't think I missed all that much. It was nice to drive thru the Black Hills and see the forests and animals. Got pretty close to some live bison, but not too close, right? Quite a few trees were burned down, and Bruce our guide (who was very good) reminded us how forest fires are a real danger around here. We were reminded of that again Sunday when we drove to nearby Keystone. The smoke from a big fire was as thick as fog around the car, but smelled worse. (Speaking of reminders: Don't expect to find an open drug store on Sunday, not in this neck of the woods.) After twelve years, I finally got close to a prairie dog or two. We stopped at one of their "towns" along the tour. I'm sure TaoUrso got a laugh watching me out there. Friday we went to Deadwood, which I was looking forward to seeing, but was disappointed. I was expecting some kind of historic reconstruction, like in Williamsburg. Instead it's just another tourist spot with a casino on every block. So we toured the adjoining burg, Lead (leed), an old gold-mining town whose mine is gradually closing up. Here's what I learned there: A block ofgold bullion is 99.99% pure gold; the remaining .01% is a secret alloy that identifies where it came from. Drove to Bear Country after that. Enjoyed seeing the bears and other critters walking around the car. TaoUrso prefers this to an actual zoo. I can see his point.

One more random observation: Since we started traveling west, I've noticed that two kinds of radio music predominate the airwaves - country, and old "classic rock" stuff. I have mixed feelings about oldies stations. On one hand, I'm flattered to think people still love the music I grew up with. On the other, it seems to suggest that no newer music is any good, which is not necessarily the case. Classic rock format is the sound of people who have given up on music. About country music, I am qualified to say absolutely nothing.

August 22 - Kampground of America, Hudson, Colorado, near Denver. Today was a minor milestone: We took Onyx to the Alameda East Veterinary Hospital, where Animal Planet cable network tapes its Emergency Vets show. Onyx was treated by Dr. McLucas (not one of those on TV) who took his blood for thyroid testing. She suggested buying a pill dispenser to avoid injuries. I bought one later, and it appears to work well. Ran into a couple of E-Vets in the lobby, a most busy area. Said hello to Dr. Fitzgerald, who was taking care of a lady's pet turtle. (TaoUrso: "Shall I bow to the great turtle healer?!") Saw Dr. Taylor talking to another staffer in a not-too-nice way, chose to keep my distance. Got a few scratches from Onyx this morning, trying to get him to the car


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