Letters From a Bus
June 2007: Maiden Voyage 4th entry for June
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Florida Tornado and Sally's Surprise Visit

St. Augustine, FL, Day Ten at the home of my brother and his wife, Jerry and Marsha Barlow

Tuesday, June 19, 2007 — Day Thirty-five of our life in a bus

It was very hot on Sunday and Monday (6/11-12) and we spent part of both days driving to RV sales lots to look at fifth wheels for Jerry and Marsha.  Because I’m from California where weather stays very much the same each day, I got into a mindset that everyday would be similar — hot and sunny.  On Tuesday, we got a surprise.

In the morning we walked the dogs on the beach.  Marsha and Jerry had appointments but their houseguest, Teri, walked with us on the wide beach.  The beach here is miles long and with a permit, people are allowed to drive on it.  They bring all their gear, park on the beach and set up for the day.  But this was early and the sky was overcast.  We had it to ourselves.  The dogs loved it and wore themselves out running back and forth on their extended leashes.  We walked about a mile on the firm low tide sand, south down to the Matanzas bridge and back.

We returned about eleven.  The dogs were wet and sandy.  I rubbed them down and left them tied outside the bus.  They like the thick, matted grass because it is cool and cushy.  It was hot in the bus. 

Red star marks Jerry's house in Crescent Beach. You can see the 209 bridge from his dock.
Marsha and Jerry had decided on their fifth wheel and bought a 31’ Dinali.  Jerry had promised to deliver his camper to Dick Gore RV sales as a trade-in.  He and Dennis worked to load it on Jerry’s truck.  When they were ready they asked Teri and I if we wanted to go with them.  We could stop for lunch afterwards.  It was a spur-of-the-moment decision.  Teri and I got into the back of Jerry’s super cab.  Dennis drove.  We left the bus with the dogs tied up outside (to stay cool), door open but screen door shut, windows open and the vents on the roof up with fans running.    

There were dark clouds on the horizon but we’d gotten used to the overcast and didn’t think about it.  Jerry didn’t say anything about a storm brewing.  Merrily we drove north on A1A and west on the 209 bridge to Highway 1.  We drove about fifteen minutes to Dick Gore’s RV and pulled in just as it began to sprinkle.  Jerry said, “We’ll unload this real quick and then go back home to make sure everything is OK.”  He went to get a salesman.  Then it began to rain hard.  No one wanted to unload the camper and now we worried about rain getting into the bus.  With the camper still on the truck we turned back towards Jerry’s home.

Jerry, a laconic Korean Veteran, (silver star, purple heart) is ever the optimist.  “Don’t worry.  Lots of times it rains on the west side of the Intercoastal and never makes it to the east side.”  But within minutes it became clear that this wasn’t going to be the case.  Suddenly we were in a downpour and a very strong wind had come up.  We approached the bridge over the Intercoastal but within minutes we couldn’t see the road.  We pulled over.  Gale winds buffeted the top-heavy truck and debris flew around us.  Later we discovered that it was a tornado with 65 mph winds.  We were on elevated ground and out in the open so we caught the brunt of it.  We waited for the worst to pass through and then slowly drove over the bridge.  I was afraid we’d be blown over sideways into the water.  We were all worried about the bus and the dogs.  Finally we pulled into Jerry’s yard.

I was amazed at the dogs.  They were calm and showed good sense.  They had crawled under the bus by the steps and the front door.  They were wet and lying next to each other and peering out at us when we got to them.  They didn’t bark or act excited.  They were quiet and subdued.  In the wind and downpour I unclipped their leashes and got them inside.  I’d left their towels outside and we had no extra towels.  Jerry went running to get all the towels in the house.  The bus was drenched from stem to stern.  Dennis and I went running around closing windows and vents.  Jerry came with towels and we began to mop up water.  I quickly toweled the dogs and told them to get in their beds, which they did very promptly.

My monitor and keyboard were wet but my G5 is protected under my “desk,” dining table.  Dennis’s router and laptop were wet.  The printer was wet.  All the counters and furniture were wet.  Bedding and carpet were wet.  Thank goodness our floors are tiled and not carpeted (except the bedroom).  They were puddles of water.  We pulled the plugs on the computers and printers and wiped everything dry.  Jerry scooped four small juice glasses of water out of the pocket behind my passenger chair.  It was swiveled around with the back facing the open window and door.

It was still pouring rain when we finished with the bus.  We carried the dogs into the house and I toweled them dry again.  I put them on a blanket that I found lying on the garage floor.  It was an old throw from Jerry’s camper.  Teri had been working on picking up the house.  The screened in porch in the house was a mess with chairs blown over and broken potted plants thrown on the floor.  The wood Adirondack chairs on the dock were blown over.  One was in the water but they are tied down and can be fished out again.  Jerry’s red lifesaver chair and his Camp Barlow sign were blown over.  A small corner of the metal roof had peeled up.  Some siding from a neighboring house came off.  All things considered, not too much damage.
First fuel fill-up - $450 gift from Bankston at Texaco, Jordan Lane, Huntsville, AL 5/21/07
Left: Jerry and Dennis straighten up the Camp Barlow life guard chair and pick up debris.
Above: Rudi and Margot snuggle into a warm, dry blanket. After the storm they are tired.

Dennis was so mad at himself.  He kept saying, “I’ve read about this.  I’ve read the warnings:  ‘Never leave your bus open to the elements anywhere except in California.  Weather can change quickly everywhere else in the country.’”  We made a huge beginner’s mistake: we left the bus — left the bus open, blithely took off — without a thought.

Nothing was damaged and everything dried out.  The computers and printers are fine.  The pillows dried with no visible water damage.  I had to use Marsha’s large washer and dryer to dry our bed coverlet and we did a lot of laundries for the sheets and all the towels.  The large electric awning performed exactly as advertised; it retracts automatically when sensors detect wind.  The bands that hold down the smaller awnings all snapped off their hooks and rolled up.  However, all were in good shape and no damage was sustained.

We got off easy.  I kept saying to Dennis, “This is a good lesson.  We’ll never let this happen again.”  Now I’ve memorized the location of the three toggle switches that raise and lower the three fan vents.  I don’t want to lose any time getting them closed when it starts to rain! 

(It takes 15 sec. to lower each vent and in addition, maybe something over a minute for one person to close all the windows.  There are 8 windows plus the door in the living area.  There are 4 more in the bathroom & bedroom areas.  Some slide vertically and have a difficult hook.  Some slide horizontally and are heavy to push or pull.  Despite silicone lubricant treatments, they tend to stick.)

Marsha came home and fixed us hot dogs.  It was perfect for hungry people who just finished battling the elements.  We were starving and we were celebrating the fact that we had not suffered any permanent damage.  We had a hilarious late lunch as we discussed our wet and windy adventure.

We greatly enjoyed meeting Teri.  She works for the University of Texas at Austin so we hope to visit her there whenever we pass through that area.  Before she left we all enjoyed a dinner by the ocean at a small local seafood restaurant, South Beach Grill on Crescent Beach.

Dinner at the South Beach Grill. This was early evening with a wonderful ocean breeze. Teri is the one who didn't take off her dark glasses....
We were able to dump our gray (shower) water into the bushes at the side of Jerry’s yard, but the day came when the black tank registered full.  Dennis had to move the bus off the soft lawn and drive to Flying J to dump the holding tank.  It took some worry and maneuvering to get off the lawn and straightened out on the long driveway.  Then Dennis had to back out onto A1A south.  Jerry stopped traffic and no one seemed to mind.  By then, Jerry’s camper was moved so when Dennis and Jerry returned, Dennis was able to park the bus on the side loop of the gravel driveway.
Left: Dennis lifts the jacks and fills the airbags . Jerry watches the wheel sunk in the grass. Uh, oh. It's not rising.
Above: Dennis has it moving and he's out of the hole.
"Stop! Don't back into my palm tree." Now he's straightening out on the driveway.
Above: Jerry helps Dennis to back out onto the street.
Above Right: Cars have to wait.
Right: "Empty Grass" Is it a mirage? There was a bus sitting there.
Everyone loves Jerry’s dock that sits over the Intercoastal.  You can swim and there is always a cool breeze off the water.  It faces the 209 bridge and you can sit to watch the sunset and wave at a passing boat.  One day Marsha’s co-workers, Alan and Kevin, (Gamble Rogers Middle School) came by with a bunch of summer camp kids in two boats.  We all watched while they swam to the beach and ran out on the dock to jump in the water and do it all over again.  Oh to have that kind of energy again! 
Above: Alan and Marsha watch the summer camp kids enjoy themselves.
Right: Jerry and Dennis try to keep the dogs out of the way.
The dogs love it here.  They know where the front door to their bus/home is located and the doors to the Barlow house and the perimeters of the front yard and the side and back yard (the Intercoastal and the dock). We let them run free whenever we are outdoors and can keep an eye on them.  Rudi stole two-year-old granddaughter, Marisa’s foam soccer ball, and has been having a wonderful time wrangling it around the beach and in the water.  The dogs have been made to feel welcome in the house and promptly made themselves comfortable on one of Marsha and Jerry’s soft chairs.
1) Rudi and Margot argue over who will get the ball. They are on the beach by the dock. Rudi wins. 2) Rudi loves to create a problem for himself. He pushes the ball into the water.
3) Rudi.... You're going to lose your ball. 4) Oh no. The ball is floating away. (The orange pole in front is a rake. Eventually, we used it to pull the ball back into shore.
5) Rudi swims way beyond his depth trying to control the ball and bring it back to shore. 6) Rudi has to abandon his ball. Sensible dog. He knows when to quit and swim back to safety.
7) Rudi reaches the grassy shore and will soon be able to walk. He cries until we get his ball. Dry once again, the dogs make themselves at home in Marsha's chair.

My brother, Jerry Barlow, is nine years older and my sister, Sally Barlow-Perez, is 21 months younger than me.  Our parents moved from Port Washington, Long Island, New York when I was ten years old so Sally and I grew up in Redondo Beach on the west coast and we remained in the west as adults.  Jerry remained on the east coast and raised his family in Smithtown, Long Island, so we have had few opportunities to visit and see him. 

As soon as we arrived here, the four of us began talking about how great it would be for us three siblings to be together at one time.  Sally lives and works in Palo Alto, CA where Dennis and I lived until a month ago.  Marsha made a surprise move.  She called Sally and then bought tickets for her to fly to Florida for an extended Father’s Day weekend.  Jerry had extensive open-heart surgery on May 11th — just a month ago.  Events like this tend to put life in perspective and the importance of family connections rises to the surface.  Marsha said this was her Father’s Day gift to Jerry.  He was very touched.  It was a gift to us all! 

Above: Sally and Jerry enjoy appetizers in the kitchen.
Right: Marsha and Rudi take a break before dinner.

Sally arrived at the Jacksonville airport, more than an hour’s drive north from here.  Marsha and Dennis met her 12:30 AM arrival and we were all reunited over a late breakfast Friday morning, June 15th.  Of course she was excited to see the bus — our new home. 

What with fifth wheel scouting and a tornado, up until then, Dennis and I had done little sightseeing.  Now with Sally’s short visit, we became serious, immediate tourists.

On Friday we spent time on the beach.  On Saturday we toured Old St. Augustine.  We visited the Lichtner Museum  http://www.lightnermuseum.org/  and Old St. Augustine Village.  http://www.old-staug-village.com/  On Sunday Dennis, Sally and I took the Ft. Matanzas tour.  http://www.nps.gov/foma/ 

At midday, Marsha's daughter brought her daughter, Marisa, to visit her grandparents.

Lichtner Museum seen from St. George St. Is it me or is that house leaning? It is. "Carpenter's House (ca. 1909)" Old St. Augustine Village.
"Worcester House (ca. 1906)" Old St. Augustine Village.
Above Top: Fort Matanzas; Above: Spanish soldier, circa 1774 escorts Sally to the fort. Left: Sally & Dennis
Our soldier explains that the fort is made of coquina stone. It is made from compressed shells quarried nearby. They used oyster lime mortar. Coquina is bullet proof. Dennis points to a bullet hole.
Above left: Sally on the boat.
Left: Elsa and Dennis on the roof of the fort.
Marisa and her "Papa" are very close. Marisa talks to Dennis and Rudi.
In the afternoon, Sally, Marsha and Dennis toured the St. Augustine Fort, Castillo de San Marcos  http://www.nps.gov/casa/  and the Oldest House (Gonzalex-Alvarez) in St. Augustine.   http://www.staugustinehistoricalsociety.org/

Jerry and I have less energy.  We met them for Father’s Day dinner at Cap’s Restaurant, located 4 mi. north of St. Augustine and 2 mi. north of the Vilano Bridge on A1A north.  We sat at an outside table in the bar and waited 45 minutes for a table.  It was fun to watch the Father’s Day crowd and the kids climbing all over the trees bordering the beach.  However, as a referral to others I would have to say the place is scenic and fun but the food was less than ordinary.  http://www.florida-secrets.com/Restaurants/NE/Caps.htm 

Monday morning, Sally, Marsha and I drove on scenic A1A north to Ponte Vedra Beach where we shopped in the Sawgrass Village Mall and had a lovely lunch on the deck of the Aqua Grill.  (Go try their green fried tomatoes for an appetizer!)  We dropped Sally at the Jacksonville airport at 2:00 PM and I think she got home about eleven Pacific Time. 
Above right: Jerry and wife, Marsha, at Cap's.
Above: Jerry and sister, Sally, at Cap's.

Well!  Life is certainly a lot more exciting when you live on a bus!  We aren’t disaster people — honestly we aren’t — but here we’ve come through a second scrape.  We’ve also had another very busy week and a very social week.  It was great!

Elsa Walton, St. Augustine, FL, Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Barlow siblings: Elsa, Jerry and Sally.
St. Augustine, FL — 6/18/07
A dog and his ball should never be separated.
Rudi takes a break in cool shade under the bus.
MAPS
1) Crescent Beach Map. Jerry lives between the Intercoastal and the ocean on A1A. North is the 209 bridge. South is Fort Matanzas on the west side of the Intercoastal. We walked down the beach to the bridge over the Matanzas River outlet. 2) St. Augustine Beach Map. (North from Crescent Beach.)
3) St. Augustine and Vilano Beach Map. We crossed the Vilano Bridge on A1A north to go to Cap's Restaurant. 4) Jacksonville Beach Map. We drove on A1A north past Cap's to Sawgrass and Ponte Vedra Beach. Then we cut west to 95 to go to the Jacksonville Airport.
Elsa Walton, Barlow Camp, St. Augustine, FL, Tuesday, June 19, 2007