St Croix River Road Ramblings

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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Home Again

January 22, Margo and I left Wisconsin for points south.  Today, Feb 22, we returned to Wisconsin.  The trip ended up with about 3000 miles driven, about $2000 per week spent. Although Margo would have been happy to spend another couple of weeks south, I didn't think we could afford any more time.
   The cost wasn't really all just for the trip, as we did end up spending about $6500 for a different car ($5800 plus tax plus licensing and a few extras), I got a $387 traffic fine (for speeding 52 in a 45 plus having an improper automobile license -- the drive out of Arkansas license was not acceptable to the tiny town of Pine Prairie Louisiana where the city budget is funded primarily from traffic fines--and the internet advertises it as a severe speed trap).  
  Anyway, the 2011 Impala that replaced the 1991 Olds is probably worth the cost as it is a completely rust free car.  It was previously owned as part of a fleet of cars from the local US prison, sold at just over 100,000 miles.  
  As a prison car, the backseat is vinyl and the lock knobs removed for transporting prisoners and likely a special edition for the government.  We drove a total of about 3000 miles of which 2300 were on the new car.  Averaged about 23 mpg pulling a camper, and about 28 on its own.  We put 300,000 on one of my Oldsmobiles (the 1988 one) with the same engine, so this one may give me ;another 200,000 miles or probably 15 more years.  I think my heart is rated for about 12 more years, so if I am lucky, this car will "do me out."   
    The deep south was a little too warm, some 80s and in Louisiana, where the parks are bayous, mosquitoes bothered a little in the evening. We stayed in Arkansas and Mississippi (Natchez, and Lake Village) where it was more comfortable in the 60s to low 70s.   The folks there were all saying that this had been an abnormally warm winter in the south, and that many of the flowers we saw were ahead of schedule. 
  We left northern Arkansas (about 100 miles below the border) and headed north to camp in northern Missouri two nights ago.  However, as we neared northern MO on highway 65, we saw a sign that said "Des Moines --170 miles."  
   "Gee Margo, that is only about 3 hours ahead, and from Des Moines to our place in Pine Island, MN is only another 3 hours.  It's 5 pm now, so we would be home before midnight.  Supposed to rain tonight and be thick fog in the morning.  Shall we go for it?"
   Now we always do this -- once we smell Iowa's farmland, we know we are just a few hours from our own bed, and usually we drive an old car that has made the trip many times and knows the way home on its own, so we always go for it.  
  An sure enough, just before midnight, we pulled into the yard, unpacked the necessaries and slept in our own bed.  Then a day of unpacking cleaning the branches from the yard, and washing clothes and this morning headed out for Wisconsin. 
   This vacation was a test of sorts.  Margo, after a year of cancer treatment and two back surgeries is hard press to walk very far, depends on pain pills to function and so we were not sure how well she would handle camping in our "roughing it mode."  
   She did fine!  Riding in the car was OK.  The camper bed with a couple of extra layers of padding let her sleep normally.  And we always managed to get a campsite near the bathrooms -- usually a handicapped one which let her use her walker or cane and no uneven ground to walk on.  
    Something we didn't realize, but appreciated was that in Mississippi and Arkansas there was a discount for handicapped campers (half price) in state parks.  The campsites are off season right now and so were already discounted.  In Mississippi it cost us $90 for a full week of full hookup camping.  The handicapped sites are paved and have paved paths to the bathrooms.  
    The state parks mostly empty except on weekends, so quiet, calm, and no lines in bathrooms.  Most of the winter campers used huge motorhomes or units that are completely self-contained.   Louisiana was the worst for state park maintenance, having had 8 years of a Bobby Jindal budget cutting regime that essentially cut money to anything other than tax cuts for the rich folks and businesses. Seven state parks had been scheduled to close in Jindal's last year due to his budget priorities, but with the election of a Democrat, Edwards, things were looking up again. 
  So what impressed me on this trip?
  -- the rust-free undercarriage of old used cars.  Having inspected many while trying to find a replacement car, even 20 year old ones looked nice, clean, and showed paint underneath
  -- the spring flowers.  They were ahead of schedule, but the yellow twining vines of the carolina jasmine; the beautiful and bountiful shades of the azaleas-- stupendous; the friendly folks who were easy to strike up a conversation, interesting to talk to, and very very helpful to strangers -- and that included Cajuns, white folks, rednecks, black folks, and even some illegal immigrants from Mexico.  The shop where I bought my car was owned by a black man with his wife as the office manager, some black, white, Mexican and other mechanics.  
  Jon, an illegal probaby 23 years old:  "I was born in Mexico, but when I was 3 years old, my parents came to the US.  They are still here and have worked the whole time. I went through the schools here and work here at the garage.  But I am illegal even though I have been here almost 20 years. I wish I could be a citizen, and I feel like an American, but I never qualified for any path to citizenship.  I don't speak Spanish, don't know anybody in Mexico, and think I have earned a chance to be a legal American."   He and I changed the battery from my old car (a good battery) to my new car with an old battery, and he took me around looking for a car to buy at the lot. 
  Getting back to what impressed me
   -- that we can get in a car, drive 16 hours and transition from winter to summer weather.  I told Margo I think we should sell our MN home and buy a winter one in southern Arkansas.  Why Arkansas?  Mississippi and Louisiana are warmer, but they are really backward states; dirt poor, run by Republicans who are racing to make their states the worst places for workers and the best places for businesses and rich folks.  Rotten to the core in public education, health systems, and anything that is helpful to anyone other than the rich--and as a result, crappy places to live. 
   Arkansas had a stretch of the Clintons and the idea of public education, health, parks etc., got ingrained in the folks enough so  although the Republicans took it over again, it is really a notch or two above the neighboring states to the south.  You get used to appreciating good services and it perpetuates-- at least it seems to. 
  Mississippi public radio "Think radio" was a shining beacon in the wasteland of country western, redneck (Limbaugh type) and religious programming that pervades the south.  Local programming, culture, arts, and the music of the region made MPB (Mississippi Public Brodcasting) something quite wonderful. They have a music stream and the talk streams -- and do stream online.  Think Radio