The Family

The Family
Airstream Weekend Warriors

Friday, August 14, 2015

Profiles In Stupidity

Davidson River Campground
Home Of The Brain Trust
Brevard, North Carolina

Slide Rock Where Some Of The Rangers Must Have Bumped Their Head

     Last night I sat in my backyard and enjoyed a perfect August evening. The weather in Ohio has been unseasonably cool and very pleasant. The kids were in bed. A new school year was underway with all of the time commitments and responsibilities that my family must adjust to. I was simply taking a brief moment to absorb my surroundings. It can be difficult for me to slow down and calm my mind with such a busy schedule. The cicadas and the tree frogs were composing a rather loud symphony of sound. A few fireflies were pulsing in the thick stand of trees on the north side of my property.

    I  settled into my lounge chair and scanned the sky for comet dust entering the Earth's atmosphere at 130,000 miles per hour. The Perseid meteor shower is something I usually enjoy while camping in my Airstream. Since school now begins in early August, I am forced to view the show from home. Sometimes you must unplug and just enjoy the environment around you wherever you are. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I watched the Swift-Tuttle Comet debris streak across the sky. What a great way to steal a moment of serenity at home after a long day at the office.

    My mind turned to travel and all of the positive experiences we have had over the years. Then another thought crept into my mind. I began to think about that one negative camping experience we had this season. Isn't it funny how one bad experience can supersede so many positive ones? I probably should have just let those negative thoughts go in a flash like that last meteor across the sky. I should have just enjoyed the peace and beauty that surrounded once I took the time to find it. However, I concluded that sharing a negative experience might be enlightening or at least entertaining to someone.

     It is a rare moment when I make the effort to write a negative post. I like to think of myself as patient and polite but both of those attributes have a limit. I reached that limit on a recent trip to the Davidson River Campground in North Carolina. I have never dealt with more incompetent and clueless staffers at a campground. I do not have a problem with those that are unsophisticated or mentally challenged. I am well versed in dealing with that. What I truly despise are individuals that apply rules without understanding the reasoning behind them. Boy did my family get a big dose of that.

     I planned a trip to Davidson River Campground to celebrate my father's 75th birthday. My brother and sister were joining me to camp for two nights at this forest service campground that came highly recommended. I really wanted to love this mountain biking and fly fishing mecca. This was our experience with the campground staff.

     I worked late on a Friday night in July and drove six hours with my family to overnight at the Wal-Mart in Brevard, North Carolina. We woke up early and drove to the campground around 8:00 AM to check and see if our site was available. I reserved a group site and I thought perhaps it could have been unoccupied the night before. My first contact was with a ranger or volunteer named Mr. Bass. We got along famously with our fishy names and all. He told me that the site was still occupied but that I could call him throughout the morning for a status check. I felt that was above and beyond the call of duty. If nothing else, the check out time was at 1:00. I thanked him and we drove off to explore the trails at nearby Dupont Forest State Park. Periodically, I would phone Mr. Bass and he kept checking and telling me that the site was still occupied. Finally, at about 12:00, Mr. Bass informed me that an electric site had come open. I told him we would come over after lunch to see if it would work for us. I was concerned about switching sites since we had such a large party.

    We arrived at the campground sometime before 1:00 and I parked beyond the entrance gate and went up to inquire about the availability of my reserved site and also see if I could take a look at the electric site that had become available. This time I was not dealing with Mr. Bass. I was dealing with a polite women in her sixties who was probably a volunteer ranger. This is where it started to go off the rails. First, the ranger told me that my site was not available. Fine. I asked about the electric site Mr. Bass mentioned. She replied that there were a few sites available. I asked if there was an electric site that could accommodate our large party. She checked and said that it would not accommodate 11 people. Then I asked if I could see where the electric site was on the map to determine if it was close enough to add a second site. She then informed me that sites can only be booked online. I told her that reserving a second site was not a problem because I happen to have a smartphone on me. She then told me that online reservations had to made three days in advance. Wow. This conversation was not going well. It is important to note that I have been very polite throughout this entire conversation.

Just behind this sign was the scene of the crime

    I made a comment about how it is strange that a U.S. Forest Service campground would not take walk-ins without a reservation. That would mean that they are just leaving money on the table and not meeting the demand. She just shrugged. Apparently, it would be impossible for me to book a second site even it was available. Well I decided to let that one go and asked if I could go see the campsite I had reserved. She told me I could go on foot but I could not drive my vehicle into the campground. No problemo muchacha.

    My son Ethan and I proceeded to walk to our reserved loop and to my surprise and amusement our campsite was empty and clean. We jogged back to the guard station and I informed her that my site was unoccupied. At this point, traffic was backing up and she was getting a bit flustered. There were two other rangers working with her at the time. She had already completed all of my paperwork including parking passes for my brother and sister as well as day passes for my father. She told me we could check in momentarily but had to attend to the new arrivals. I waited patiently while she checked in the next camper in line.

Yep. That is our site and it looks pretty empty
    She then proceeded to deal with the second arrival. They did not have reservations and she told them that this was their lucky day because they had one electric site left. You can imagine my surprise as this was the same woman who told me I needed an online reservation fifteen minutes ago. I was over that issue and just wanted to check into my site. Ethan was still standing next to me looking at me like he was wondering how much I would put up with.

    After she began to check in the third arrival since I had returned, I reminded her that I was waiting. She told me someone had to go check the site. I had a picture of it on my smartphone but apparently they had to follow policy so one of the other clowns jumped in a golf cart to check it out. He returned and gave the all clear. I then told the ranger that we were ready to go. She told me I would have to wait in my car.

      It was at that moment of time when someone like me who is polite to a fault lost his cool. I reminded her that I have already checked in and that she has already filled out my paperwork. I also told her that my campsite was unoccupied. Then I asked her what event I should wait for in my truck since it is parked past the guard station entrance. Should I just wait until someone gets me? Should I let you check in people all day who have arrived after me? What has to happen for me to get to my site? She just stared at me frozen. That was it for me. I told her I don't know how I am supposed to politely respond to someone who clearly does not understand what was going on. There was a crowd of amused onlookers but my intent was not to embarrass her or myself but to simply check in. She told me I would have to talk with her supervisor. I told her that might be the best option at this point.

     Her supervisor was just another guy standing there who in all fairness seemed like his synapses were firing at a normal rate. I explained the situation to him and he was very apologetic. He asked me if she knew that others were arriving. I replied by saying I have no idea what she knows but I have my doubts. I told her about the others and the fact that my brother would be arriving late a night. She made parking passes for them so I should assume she knows about the other members of my party. I also listed the number of people and cars on the online reservation. The supervisor just smiled and shrugged. After completing my check-in he provided me with a survey. I looked at him with a stare that must have conveyed "are you serious?" I informed him that it would be best if I just tossed the survey in the garbage for fear of being put on a terror watch list for criticizing an employee/volunteer at a federal campground. He told me to be nice and sent me on my way with a smile.

    The campground was lovely but our negative dealings with the staff had just begun. My brother worked Saturday and drove down from Centerville, Ohio. He was set to arrive late at night. I spoke to my brother around 10:00 PM when he was an hour away. My dad left for his hotel short after the call and the guard station was still manned. I went to bed and woke up at around 3AM. I looked out the rear window of my Airstream and saw no sign of my brother. I managed to call him although the signal was very weak and he informed me that they turned him away at the gate around 11:30. There was a guard there but they would not let him in. He tried to call me but my phone never rang. It took him another hour to find a hotel. I was livid and upset that I fell asleep and they did not let him in. Unbelievable.

    I wish that was the end of my problems at this campground. We stayed Sunday night as well and like most campgrounds, the place cleared out Sunday afternoon. Since we had four cars when my dad hung with us, my brother-in-law parked at the empty campsite across from us. The rangers came around in their golf cart in the afternoon and he asked them if he needed to move his car. They told him that would not be necessary since the site was unoccupied. We all went out to dinner at the Sierra Nevada brewery and arrived back at the campground a few hours later. Just as we arrived, two rangers came darting over to us in the golf cart demanding to know who parked in that spot. My brother-in-law calmly explained that he was told he could park there. At this point, we were in the wrong so the obvious solution would be for him to simply move his car. Instead, the rangers wanted to rub his face in it. They questioned whether anyone told him he could park there. They also asked him if he had read the two notes that were left on his car. Incidentally, both were placed on his car while we were at dinner.

     My fear was that we had prevented someone from being able to reserve a spot even though I was told by an idiot ranger/volunteer that they do not allow walk-ins. That was not the case and no one else was slated to arrive. At this point, I unloaded on the staff at Davidson River Campground for the second time in as many days and I was not at all nice. I told them that the bottom line is that the car needs to be moved and we will do so posthaste. I don't think they understood that word. I also told them that I have never seen a more screwed up staff in my six years of Airstream camping. I used a different and decidedly stronger word and that ignited the situation a bit. My sister stepped in to try to calm things down. I told them that they should just leave and that their sister was probably keeping a bed warm for them. That one went over their heads as well. That wasn't nice or mature. However, neither was the treatment of my family by the Davidson River Campground staff. As lovely as the area is, I will not return to that campground. I don't think they will miss me. As the French say, Adios Muchacha! Or something like that.

    Peace and Love,



Friday, July 31, 2015

Troutstream and The City

Liberty Harbor RV Park and Marina
Jersey City, New Jersey

     And now for something completely different. The Trout family likes to travel with or without the Airstream. This year has taken us to a number of bigger cities including Los Angeles, Boston and Washington D.C. It is rather unusual to visit a large metropolitan area with the Airstream but that is just what we did at the end of our summer trip. Liberty Harbor RV Park and Marina is located in Jersey City, New Jersey in the shadows of Lower Manhattan and close to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. It is basically a parking lot with hookups but the location cannot be beat for exploring the New York metro area.

     There is no debate that a hotel or an apartment rental is the best way to see a big city. Bringing an RV to New York is not without challenges. I decided to cross the Hudson well north of the city in Newburgh to avoid the tolls and traffic. The George Washington bridge toll for the Airstream is over forty dollars. Yikes. We arrived on a Friday after rush hour to avoid big backups. I towed for a couple of miles between barricades with very little room for error. I don't get stressed out easily when towing but this had my nerves fried. I certainly have earned my urban Airstream towing merit badge on this trip.

     When you think of Jersey City, your thoughts are not pleasant. Our experience was that this is a dynamic area in the midst of a positive rebirth. The views from this area of Lower Manhattan are nothing short of incredible. There is construction of high end condos all around the marina where we stayed. Even the older parts look vibrant. There is a large Filipino population in Jersey City so Melizza was able to get a taste of home at some local restaurants.

    The Liberty Harbor RV park is located adjacent to a marina. It was well managed and served our purposes. On weekdays, you can take the ferry from the harbor over to the Wall Street area during commuter hours. We visited on the weekend and simply walked five blocks to catch the subway. It takes you as far as 33rd street before requiring a transfer. You can also take a train into the new World Trade Center station. We used the train whenever we went into the city. It was clean, safe and convenient. Here are a few shots of the area.

This photo shows old Jersey City with the rough bars like the Golden Cicada next to gleaming new condos to the right. 

     On this trip, we did not really have an agenda except to explore some of the areas we skip over. We wanted to visit Hoboken and Brooklyn primarily. We have been to Manhattan many times and wanted to see something a bit different. However, the kids definitely wanted to get some Manhattan time. In typical Trout fashion, I walked my kids to death. There is not city on Earth like New York and even the tourist highlights are remarkable. Jack just wanted Shake Shack so we headed from the Macy's Store toward Times Square. The kids wanted to hit all of the familiar midtown landmarks like Rockefeller Center and Fifth Avenue. No matter how many times we visit, New York always delights with its energy. 

The revamped Plaza

  Meanwhile back in New Jersey, Maggie waited patiently for our return. She has visited Boston and D.C. with us this year in dog friendly hotels. Unlike Boston, dogs are not allowed on mass transit in New York. I made it up to her by taking her on long walks through Liberty State Park. This park is a short five minute walk from Liberty Harbor RV and is the best argument for staying here. It is a large park at over 1200 acres. The park is located along Upper New York Bay with great city and Statue of Liberty views from a unique perspective.

     Here are a few pictures from Liberty State Park. It is hard not to feel a sense of pride gazing upon Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty in the shadows of the Freedom Tower. This is truly a land of opportunity evidenced by those who have come here in the past for a better life and those who are still trying to make it here.

Ellis Island
The empty skies 9/11 Memorial. I love this shot of Melizza riding her bike.

    We also visited Hoboken, New Jersey with its fantastic view of Manhattan. Our primary purpose was to check out Carlo's Bakery from the Cake Boss show. We picked up some sweet treats and had a little picnic along the Hoboken waterfront.

     On Saturday we headed for Brooklyn. After a heated argument with a lady who did not appreciate my son accidentally bumping into her, we got on the wrong train and ended up at Ground Zero. To my kids dismay we walked across Lower Manhattan and over the Brooklyn Bridge instead of taking the train. No matter how many times I walk that bridge, I just cannot get over those views.

    After our crossing into DUMBO, we caught a cab that planted us in the heart of Williamsburg. We just wandered aimlessly and had an incredible meal at Zona Rosa. We are visiting Mexico City in the Spring and I hope the food is as good in the DF as it is in Brooklyn. The kitchen was also in a vintage aluminum trailer. Well played Brooklyn. We also happened upon the Momofuku Milk Bar. If you have never been to a David Chang restaurant, you are missing out. The Milk Bar is really about desserts. They have a Cereal Milk Ice Cream cup that is so damn good that it defies logic. They have captured the flavor of the bottom of a cereal bowl and mixed it with ice cream and toasted Corn Flakes. It should not be this good but it is genius.

Dad, what is Tinder?

     We eventually made it back to Manhattan and I walked the kids from Union Square down through Little Italy to Chinatown. On the way, the kids loved perusing the shops. If you cannot find something you like in New York City, you have no interests. We picked up some school clothes, hit the Strand Book Store and marched the kids southward. Despite persistent protests, Melizza and I took the kids all the way down to Bowery Street to the Great New York Noodletown. This is a no frills Chinese restaurant that never changes. Melizza and I sneak this one in every time we are in the city. The roasted pork, steamed vegetables, shrimp noodles, fried shrimp and duck have been part of our New York experience long before we had children. I wouldn't change a thing including the impersonal service. That place is a gem.

I can still carry him but his pride eventually took over. He is 11.

     We eventually made our way back to Jersey City and hitched up to leave. Right as I was backing my Sequoia up, I notice a nail sticking out of my tire. This was around 6:30 on a Saturday night. Luckily we called AAA and the put my full size spare on. The kids slept in the Airstream in central Pennsylvania on Saturday night next to a giant Toyota tire on the floor. When traveling with three kids and a dog, flexibility is important. It was another grand adventure for us and I wouldn't change a moment. Now we must return home and prepare for the new school year.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Cape Cod National Seashore

Cape Cod National Seashore

     Since we chose to stay on the Upper Cape adjacent to the mainland, exploring the Cape Cod National Seashore and Provincetown turned into a full day trip. After a day of exploring the beaches and P-Town, I would have preferred to stay in that section of Cape Cod. If only there were adequate camping facilities, this area offers the most of what I like. From what I can gather, most of the campgrounds seem pretty sub par. I would even stay at a KOA if it gave me access to the National Seashore. 

     The Cape extend 65 miles into the Atlantic Ocean and has over 400 miles of coastline but none is more spectacular than the beaches along the Cape Cod National Seashore. The massive wall of dunes meets the Atlantic in dramatic fashion.

     The regions in Cape Cod are a bit confusing. The Upper Cape refers to the southern portion closest to the mainland. That is where we stayed. The Mid Cape is the only name that makes sense and includes towns like Dennis, Yarmouth and Hyannis made famous by the Kennedy clan. The Lower and Outer Cape are the most northerly and eastern areas. The Lower and Outer Cape includes the National Seashore and Provincetown. 

     The Cape Cod National Seashore was created by President John F. Kennedy in 1961 and comprises about forty miles of Atlantic Coastline. It is administered by the National Park Service with visitors centers and designated hiking trails through all kinds of terrain. If this had not been designated as a National Seashore, it would have certainly become a tacky tourist enclave. President Kennedy had the foresight to protect this unique area. Much of the Upper Cape and Mid Cape can feel a little like being in suburbia with malls, traffic, stores and restaurants that you can find anywhere in the United States.

     I only have two gripes about the National Seashore, First, I selfishly wish there was a National Park campground. It would be popular but I don't think it would take away from the pristine natural environment. They definitely have the real estate although the Cape is slowly eroding with the sand dunes as the only defense against the inevitable. Second, I happily pay entrance fees to National Parks but I do not enjoy paying enormous additional fees to park at the beach. That is just a function of travelling and living in the Northeast. Always have a lot of cash on you. 

     Our first stop after the Cape Cod National Visitor Center was the justifiably famous Arnold's Lobster and Clam Bar in Eastham. The traffic made me grumpy and we had to pick up some lunch before hitting the beach. Remember what I said about carrying lots of cash. Most places selling lobster rolls and fried clams require cash money. American Express will probably be calling me to make sure everything is all right because July was a light month. Just bring cash because you will need it. Arnold's had the best lobster roll we tried on the Cape. I highly recommend it. Get there when it opens to avoid the long lines.

Arnold's Lobster and Clam Bar in Eastham, MA
     We visited Marconi beach within the National Seashore. We wanted to see Coast Guard beach but we couldn't do so because of Maggie. You have to take a shuttle and they do not allow dogs on the shuttle. It was no problem on Marconi. The beach is named after the Italian inventor. From a site here, Marconi successfully completed the first transatlantic wireless communication between the U.S. and England in 1903. As for the beach, it was crowded and the sand was a bit rocky close to the shore. Melizza did not want us wading too deep in the ocean for fear of sharks. The most notable feature here is the wall of dunes. They are unlike any dunes I have seen. The wall of sand might be more accurately described as a cliff and stretches as far as you can see in both directions. These beaches will never compete with the glorious beaches of South Walton County Florida but I just enjoy being on the water.

     Provincetown is located on the tip of Cape Cod. Like all towns at the end of the road, P-Town is eclectic, bohemian and fun. It is a bit like Key West with an East Coast vibe and minus the Jimmy Buffett. It is the gay capital of this neck of the woods. I was surprisingly charmed by this town. Yes it is touristy but the setting was unique with dunes and views of the Cape Cod sound curving for miles. Like any town with a large gay population, there is a thriving creative class with great restaurants, inns and shops. The kids enjoyed this town as well. It is not everyday that they see a transvestite riding a bike along the main drag (no pun intended) to advertise BINGO. We have very libertarian attitudes and our kids seem to embrace that as well. This would literally be the best place on Earth to see a Kathy Griffin concert or Joan Rivers God rest her soul. Like Key West or New Orleans, there are certain things I would shield my kids from but it is fine for a day visit.

     Did I mention the seafood? They have oysters here and the Wellfleets are salty and tasty and the happy hour makes me feel....well happy.

Wellfleet Oysters and Chimay? Yes Please.

     After five nights on Cape Cod, it was time to switch gears and move on to New York City. We enjoyed our time here but I doubt we will return. Everything good here is much better in Maine without the crowds. Even Acadia National Park in August does not compete with the relentless traffic on  Cape Cod. I would definitely return to Martha's Vineyard or Nantucket but this is one place I will probably scratch off the list unless I have to attend a seminar here for work, The most enduring legacy of this trip is the scraping of my Airstream steps on the Bourne Bridge over Cape Cod Canal. That was not a pleasant sound and a full replacement may be in order. Ouch.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Day Trip To Martha's Vineyard

     Martha's Vineyard has always represented an island oasis for the privileged Easterners in my mind. This is a place far from my life experience growing up in Ohio. Martha's Vineyard is an island for the wealthy and famous. The name itself conjures up images a cedar shingled mansions on grand estates overlooking the Atlantic. Evening cocktails in front of the pool are followed by a seafood boil with fifty of your best friends and family is a nightly summer ritual. The kids regale their parents with stories from boarding school. 

     This is an island I have always wanted to visit. I wondered if the island could possibly live up to my image of it. I pictured myself sitting in a bar next to David Sedaris spinning tales and making me laugh so hard that my local craft ale pours out my nose. Suddenly James Taylor gets up from a table to take the stage and try out his version of Woodstock for the 18 patrons in the bar. Then Art Garfunkel joins him on stage to sing Bridge Over Troubled Water. I picture us riding our bikes along the coast and high fiving the Obamas before swerving to miss Tom Brockaw. That version of the island probably does exist but I was coming as a day tripper instead of renting a house.  Therefore I experienced the island as a tourist rather than a semi-native. Art Garfunkel was performing at a local high school gym that week. That part is real. 

     We caught the morning ferry and loaded up the bikes. It is a short forty five minute ferry ride from Falmouth to Oak Bluffs on the Island Queen ferry. Since we bring our dog along as much as we can, I brought the bike trailer so I could lug around with Maggie in tow. Everything I have read about Martha's Vineyard recommended bringing your bike. This was a mistake. What should have been a leisurely bike ride turned into the cycling version of the Bataan death march. Some of the paths are lovely along the coast. Others are less scenic over the middle of the island. The distances are pretty long for the kids. Lucy rode six miles on a single gear Hello Kitty bike with no complaints but the seven mile ride to the next town was a bit much. Also, the bike paths end near the tourist towns and you must ride in the outskirts with the heavy traffic including delivery trucks. That is not ideal for children. My advice is to ride the bus. They are cheap, easy and stop frequently. They also have a bike rack which helped out Melizza and Lucy on mile 10.

Maggie has the better profile for sure
I have always loved watching the kids take sailing lessons

     We arrived in the port of Oak Bluffs in the early morning after a smooth ride on Vineyard Sound. Oak Blufs is a crowded and touristy town that is notable for its colorful gingerbread Victorian homes. I did not take any photos but the houses were cute and colorful. If you like pink Victorians, they have many fine examples.We hit the road for the more upscale Edgartown. This was the best ride of the trip. Most of the ride was along the coast with the beach one side and a coastal lake or ponds as they call them here on the other side. We certainly saw our share of charming homes along the trail. 

     Edgartown looked exactly the way I imagined it. It is an old coastal town with perfect looking Cape Cod shingled mansions. There are also a number of former whaling captain's mansions that now function as stylish bed and breakfasts in the modern world. There are the requisite great restaurants and the kind of high end shopping you would expect. The boys were most excited to hit the Vineyard Vines store which is stocked with island preppy clothes. It is funny to see how both of them are much more fashion conscious going into middle school and high school. My little Lucy just wanted a Jaws T-Shirt. I haven't decided if I will let her wear it to school yet but she loves it. The famous movie was filmed here and many tourists jump off the famous Jaws Bridge.

      Colorful hydrangeas spilled over the white fences around these charming properties. We considered an overnight but did not want to mess with finding a dog friendly hotel.

     There is one campground on the Vineyard that allows RV's. It looks pretty nice but they do not allow dogs. That is a non-negotiable item for us so I saved some ferry money to bring the Airstream over. However, if they ever change their policy, I will return with the Airstream in tow.

     We rode back to the town of Vineyard Haven which is another ferry port. This town is famous for the Black Dog Restaurant complex. Most visitors buy a shirt to prove they were there. We hung out and had some clam chowder and fried oysters before riding back to Oak Bluffs. Correction, I rode back to Oak Bluffs with Maggie in tow. Melizza and the kids took the bus. They were done with biking. All said, I probably rode about sixteen miles. That is fine for me but a little much for the kids.

    With our short visit, we missed some of the more rural parts of the island. There are the famous red Aquinnah Cliffs on the west side of the island as well as the scenic Gay Head light house. You can also take the 300 yard ferry to Chappaquiddick Island. That is a nature lovers paradise with miles of beaches and views of neighboring Nantucket which has inspired many a limerick. Those will wait for our return trip. Ethan has vowed to buy me a house here and I hope he can fulfill that promise. This is a real nice place.