Friday, February 12, 2010

Get thee to a Cookery

We are at the Flying-J truck stop in Gulfport, Mississippi (map), along I-10. Despite dire warnings of overnight sleet and snowfall, it has only been raining, and the roads are clear.

We got off to something of a late start yesterday. We made reservations for lunch at the Bienville Club in Mobile for 11:30, which was as soon as they opened. We arrived downtown by 11:15 and were very lucky to find a 40' on-street parking space at the edge of the central business district, on Royal Street in front of the post office, just past where the meters end. I pulled up to within a few feet of the car in front of me, to leave plenty of clearance for the post office's driveway behind us; they have tractor-trailers turning in there all the time, and most states require 10' or so of clearance at driveway entrances. The street was narrow, so I also pulled to within mere inches of the curb.

Lunch was excellent. Mindful of the time, we chose the buffet as a somewhat faster option. From our seats on the 34th floor, we had a great view of the giant Austal shipyards to the east, with the battleship Alabama in the background. To the south, we could see hundreds of RVs underneath the enormous I-10 interchange; the city opens this area to RVs each year for Mardi Gras, but the spaces are sold out years in advance. Mobile, not New Orleans, originated the Mardi Gras tradition in the US. The whole town is decorated for Carnival, and the club was no exception. Even the napkins were purple, gold, and green.

When we came back out, we were stunned to find a car parked immediately behind us. There wasn't really enough room for one there, of course, and he had pulled up within a couple feet of us due to the driveway. Now we were hosed -- with only a couple of feet on either end, just inches to the curb, and, to make matters worse, a telephone pole blocking my tail swing, all we could try to do was back and fill dozens of times to get out. However, 24 ton bus, plus highly crowned road, plus low-angle back and forth movement equals all three axles jammed against the curb.

By this time we had an audience consisting of dozens of postal workers as well as everyone from Turner Manufacturing across the street. Louise checked in with both places to see if the miscreant car owner could be located, but no such luck. And, of course, this could well be someone working downtown who just came back from lunch and parked for the rest of the day. We surely did not want to be stuck in Mobile until the end of the work day.

With few other options, I fashioned a ramp of sorts out of sections of 2x4 that we carry, to paraphrase Foghorn Leghorn, "for just such an emergency." By driving forward just a few inches onto the ramp, I could then cut the front wheels left, and roll the right front wheel onto the sidewalk when I backed up. Once the wheel was firmly on the sidewalk, I moved the ramp to just in front of the right driver, cut the wheels right, and pulled forward as far as I could. This brought us within millimeters of the phone pole, but now I could crank the wheel left as I backed up, just clearing the car. Fiddling with the ride height controls kept the bus from tilting into the phone pole or landing hard parts on the sidewalk.

Dancing the bus out of that parking space took us nearly 45 minutes, with nothing to show for it other than scuff marks on all three right tires. We have no idea whether our impromptu audience was appreciative or not, as we cleared out of there just as soon as we were free. I am now thinking of making a sign for the back of the bus that reads, "If you park us in, we will back right through you." In hindsight, I am sorry we did not get some photos or video of the process, but we were both very focused.

Our very next scheduled stop was Dodge's Fuel on US-90 in Gautier, just over the bridge from Pascagoula. We loaded up on diesel for $2.499 which, I thought, would be the lowest price we'd see from here to Tucson. Of course, that meant we'd see diesel for $2.479 just two blocks further west, but, still, this was a real score. We put in 215 gallons, which takes a long time through a single automotive-style dispenser. Further complicating matters was the fact that the dispenser shut off after the first $300, so I had to wait in line for them to reauthorize it. All of that added up to a fuel stop of over half an hour.

Between the parking fiasco and the long refueling stop, we began to realize that making New Orleans in plenty of time for Louise's class would be a stretch. Our only chance would be to give up on the scenic US-90 route, bail back up to I-10, and bomb straight there. Even then, we were unsure of what the parking situation would be, or even if we could arrange more reliable Internet access in time for the class. By the time the next turn to I-10 rolled up, we had decided to give up on making New Orleans, and take our chances overnight with the storm.

That freed us to continue on our scenic route, and drive in a much more relaxed fashion. But we still needed to find some WiFi somewhere; if the evening precipitation reached predicted levels, our satellite could easily be knocked off-line right in the middle of Louise's class; with over 20 students counting on her, that would be a serious problem.

After our maiden crossing of the new Ocean Springs-Biloxi bridge, we immediately turned into the Isle of Capri casino. We know them to be RV-friendly, and their RV parking area has about the best view of any of the Biloxi casinos. Unfortunately, try as we might, we could not find a WiFi signal anywhere in the lot. We pulled back out onto 90 West, wardriving through the rest of Biloxi. We passed a couple of open networks, but the confluence of an open signal, a legal parking spot, and access for a 40' bus never happened, so we continued on to Gulfport. Along the way, we passed an odd combination of brand-new homes and businesses, prime ocean-front lots still forlornly vacant and for sale nearly five years post-storm, and half-destroyed structures that look exactly as they did when the surge receded. Only the casinos have returned to business as usual.

We did find a waterfront casino in Gulfport with access, RV parking, and a glimmer of a wireless signal, but we could not get the WiFi to work reliably from where we had to park. Running out of time to get Louise squared away for her class, we reluctantly gave up on the coast, and headed north on 49 to the I-10 corridor, where we knew there would be a Flying-J with pay-for-use wireless. Oddly, the Garmin GPS knows nothing of Flying-J by name, but does have their restaurants listed -- Flying-J's restauarants are always either "The Cookery" or "The Country Market." This one is a Cookery, but the Garmin amusingly had it as "Cockery" instead.

We sprang the $5 for WiFi for Louise's computer, which of course guaranteed that the satellite never lost signal all evening. We also caved in to the dark side and bought a couple slices apiece of pepperoni pizza for dinner; Flying-J bakes them in-house and they are surprisingly good. We're in the RV parking out front, rather than our customary choice of the truck lot, to get the best WiFi signal, but this also made for a shorter walk to and from the counter in the downpour.

Today we will return to the coast and finish our scenic drive along US-90, destination unknown. We are having second thoughts about going to a Mardi Gras parade in sub-40° weather, especially if we'd have to ride the scooters over to it from a parking location that we have not yet vetted.


  1. 70 here today... blue skies... precan wood burning in the pits... home made bread... great neighbors are here for their annual visit with my venaison, elk... you name it...
    hint... hint...
    Be well... Ara & Spirit

  2. Do you have any sort of directional WiFi antenna? One of those might help you deal with marginal WiFi signals in the bus.

  3. You're certainly a kinder sort of bloke that I am, I'm afraid, since I would have simply backed the bus up until I had enough room to drive out. If that meant pushing a car back in the process, then tough poop.
    All before drawing a crowd of course.

  4. @Ara: we're on the way...

    @Blackeagle: No, because using external WiFi from the bus is a rare event for us, since we have a satellite dish. I do carry an external USB WiFi adapter, which we can hang outside the bus for a bit better coverage.

    @Bob: Always good to hear from you. Surprised to learn you are now in Austria, you seemed quite settled in the Netherlands...

  5. Sean.
    Kind of you to notice. Moved here back in November. Winter in Vienna is just as bleak as the rest of Europe I'm afraid, but the days are "getting longer".
    The move was work related for my travelling companion. I am, and will be for some time, the dedicated House Husband.
    Keep it between the ditches.


    P.S. There's been no mention of any of Opal's (did I spell that right? will she be upset?) health concerns, so my guess is that all is well in doggie land?

  6. She is still hanging in there, although she is old enough now that she is moving slowly. Thanks for asking.


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