Thursday, January 31, 2008

What Impressions Do We Leave in Border Towns?

I wonder what kind of impression we must leave on the Mexican people of the border town Progresso. What do they think of the Americans who pay $2 to park all day across the Rio Grande River in Texas and then drop a state quarter in the turnstile before crossing the bridge to Mexico?

My first guess would be that we have bad teeth. Men in green hospital scrubs stand in dental clinic doorways offering teeth cleaning, filings, bridges, crowns, and whitening for 25% of the cost that I have paid my family dentist.

I think we also leave the impression that Americans require an abundance of prescription drugs. I am not sure if this is an exaggeration or not, but the owner of a Progresso cantina told us that there are 400 pharmacies in the city catering to our demand for inexpensive drugs. Ed asked a pharmacist in one drug store, “What’s in big demand?” His response was: Viagra for erectile dysfunction and antibiotics, neither of which requires a prescription in Mexico.

They probably think Americans disregard copyright laws. I found movies still in theaters like “Bucket List” and “Charlie Wilson’s War” available on DVD from street vendors. Prices in Progresso for these DVDs were for $5 each, no negotiation.

They also must think we will buy anything for our grandchildren. We saw women hand-crochet toddler-sized hula skirts and matching pink tops to replace the ones they sold to Grandparents earlier in the day. We saw hoods like wrestlers wear for children wanting to imagine themselves in the ring. Bobble head toy ponies and puppies nodded up and down in motion as vendors offered them to American shoppers. And, there were bracelets for any name imaginable – Brianna, Jason, Suzie, Chris. Just buy them and knot them around the child’s wrist. How about “no.”

Americans shop for ourselves too. Jewelry and pottery seem to dominate the stores and vendor tables. A colorful ladybug caught my eye and now is a delightful paperweight on my clutter of papers in the coach. I bought a collapsible wooden table too just like the one I’d bought in Progresso seven years ago and gave to my Mom. That one fit in a carry-on roller bag in 2001; this one bought for me stores nicely beside my co-pilot seat in the Prevost. It will be the perfect size to set my margarita in its blue swirled drink glass that I also bought or to serve a shot of tequila in the Mexico souvenir shot glass, another purchase.

And, finally, the people of Progresso must think Americans like to drink. Near the crossing back to the USA, the liquor store offers samples of Bailey’s Cream and Mexican tequila. The lines are long and people are already spirited from day-long visits to the street side cantinas.

What must these people think of us?

Progresso, Mexico
January 26, 2008

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Comments on Fulltime RVing: We're Not Always Sightseeing

Hauling six loads of laundry in the car to a laundromat each week is one of my least favorite consequence of our choice to live fulltime in an RV. When I owned a Maytag washer and dryer, I could easily throw a load of clothes, bedding or towels in the washer, then go about doing other things anytime of the day or night. Now, I think of laundry in an entirely new way, even when I am dressing. I find myself asking, “Do I really want to wear a red shirt this week when every other shirt in the laundry bin is pastel or white?” I simply refuse to spend my quarters on a laundromat washer for one lone red shirt.

I spent $14 today on laundry. Most regular laundromat washers are $1.25 a load. If you’re lucky, you might find one of the older $1 washers among the rows of machines. Today, an gray-haired lady gave a discrete head jerk signaling me toward two of these cheaper washers. Thank you! Dryers cost 25¢ for 7 minutes. I’ve learned jeans need to run 35 minutes. Every other load takes $1 to dry.

This particular laundromat, Splish & Splash in Pharr, Texas buzzes with activity. Winter Texans are the obvious outsiders in this mix with the local Mexicans who chatter in Spanish. Older Mexican ladies take a break from their own laundry. They play with toddlers and keep a watchful eye on infants while young mothers can tend to the wash.

You can spend money on things other than laundry there. I bought a bag of pineapple filled pastries from a lady wandering among the washers, 6 for $2. As I carried my detergent out to the car, I noticed another lady had come in to sell beaded necklaces and matching earrings. A vending machine labeled Suds n’ Such mounted on the wall dispenses Tide and Downey. If you get the munchies, Chex Mix and Salt & Vinegar Chips run 60¢, exact change required, from another vending machine. And, don’t be fooled. The sound of the dropping coins is not someone hitting big on a slot machine. It’s just the quarters dispensing from the change machine.

To do laundry in a laundromat takes timing skill. Because you cannot add the liquid fabric softener when you fill the washer, at least not at this place, you need to watch the washer indicator lights. When 19 minutes remain, add the Downey. Miss the opportunity and you’ll have to use Bounce dryer sheets.

It takes good memory to do your clothes at the laundromat too. Sometimes it’s tough to get washers and dryers all in a row on a busy laundry day so you have to remember where you’ve placed your clothes. Washers are easier to remember than dryers. With a washer, simply placing a laundry product or clothes basket on top indicates possession. Dryers are wall mounted and vertical. There’s no way to distinguish one load of jeans from another unless you clearly remember which dryer is yours.

In the 34 minutes to wash your clothes and the 24 – 35 minutes to dry them, you can watch TV. You have a choice of network TV or the black & white closed circuit TV panning the laundromat. Now, that’s intimate, reality TV- watching people fold Jockey briefs, nightgowns, and souvenir t-shirts. Why does a laundromat need surveillance TV? Do people steal clothes, grab your quarters when you’re not looking, or walk off with your 64-load orange container of Tide? I’ve watched the monitor and not once seen any criminal behavior. Maybe they’re just waiting to get a clip for America’s Funniest Videos.

Just like TV surveillance, men in a laundromat are totally outside their element. They have no concept of space. They stand in the way of women with armloads of clothes. Can’t they move? And, they mutter things like, “I think we have a lot in common.” I’m thinking - Oh yeah, like what? “We both brought hangers.” Of course! Did you bring dirty clothes and detergent too…Yes, we have a lot in common. Was this a very bad pick-up line or a guy whose mother always did his laundry?

The laundromat is truly a woman’s domain. Where we’ll tell one another if there’s still time on a dryer, give a quarter when you’re short of change, help fold a bedspread, and smile knowingly as you spray the last bit of Shout on the stains on your husband’s polo shirt.

Laundry at home was never quite this experience.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

More Than a Bullfight at Santa Maria Bullring

There’s more to an afternoon at Santa Maria Bull Ring than toro bravos and a quartet of bull fights. Our afternoon began with a Mexican cowboy showing his talent with a rope, swirling the rope in perfect circles over and around his slender figure. Next, Mario Ordaz rode into the ring on his Azteca Horse “Wapo.” Mario sings while riding and Wapo high steps as if he were dancing. Gracefully, at the end of their performance, Mario dismounts and Wapo takes a bow by kneeling on his two front legs drawing loud applause. Then, the announcer narrates an educational demonstration performed by Fred Renk and his grandson to help the crowd understand the history of the great matadors, the artistic moves and the danger of bull fighting. And, let's not forget the opportunity to meet the handsome matadors. Ole!

The Suit of Lights Turns Ordinary Men to Extraordinary

The Matadors look like ordinary men in jeans and sweats, until they dress. They wear a "suit of lights" - masterfully stitched satin, embroidered and sequented. They wear crimson stockings. And, when they enter the bullring, parade capes are draped over their shoulders.

The Toro Bravo

The matador teaches the bull to attack the cloth. When the bull hits air, he becomes agitated. During the bullfight, the matador gives a half step toward the animal to encourage the attack.

Toro Bravo is an anomaly, a quirk of nature and a distant cousin to the domestic beef animal. The bloodline of the bull is protected for centuries by breeding on special ranches. The Toro Bravo, I learned by reading Two Hearts, One Sword by Fred J. Renk, "inherits its size and strength from his father, but his bravery is a gift of his mother, the vaca."

Santa Maria Bullring on a January Sunday Afternoon

Bloodless bullfighting is a performing art in which the Toro Bravo, the brave bull, does not die. The matador instead reaches over the horns to grasp a bouquet of roses. This act is symbolic of having placed a sword in the bull for the kill. This matador shows the bouquet to the crowd at Santa Marie Bullring.

January 27, 2008

Haven't They Heard of Bridges?

Imagine a floating platform long enough to carry three vehicles with only a finger width between the bumpers.

Imagine a metal cable no thicker than a Sharpie highlighter wound around 100 year old tree on the USA river bank of the Rio Grande River, spanning the width of the river, and then wrapped around the thick trunk of another aged tree on the Mexican river bank.

Imagine marine rope strung parallel to the cable and attached to it with more rope looped through a pulley.

Then, imagine five sturdy men pulling the rope, hand-over-hand, inching the floating platform loaded with three cars across the Rio Grande River.

This unique attraction is Los Ebanos Ferry, the last hand-pulled ferry across the Rio Grande River.

When I told my son Christopher about this distinct place, he laughed, “Mom, haven’t they heard of bridges?” In Road Trip USA, a book about cross-country adventures on America’s two lane highways, the author Jamie Jensen hints that the ferry is slated for replacement by a motorboat or maybe a bridge. I would hate to see that happen. It’s unique and intriguing!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

We're Celebrating an Anniversary

“When people hear about what I do for a living, many respond enviously. They wish they could live their dream like I do every day,” said Ed as we celebrate the ninth anniversary of operating Private Motor Coach, Inc.

Ed has been sharing his passion for wanderlust every day since January 25, 1999 when at age 51 he left a 26-year corporate career and became the first to offer the unique experience of freedom on the road in a luxury motorhome/bus conversion. He welcomes travelers aboard his “house-on-wheels” and takes them anywhere roads lead. In the past nine years, Ed has completed more than 50 trips and drove over 165,000 miles throughout the US and Canada.

“This is safe, reliable and comfortable escorted, private travel,” he explains. “I pick people up at their door, then we hit the road. Sometimes I have as many as eight people on board, other times it’s just been me and one other passenger. I’ve taken people in the coach for just one day while others have traveled for up to six weeks.”

Over the nine years, trips have been as unique as Ed’s business model. “I enjoy the trips as much as the customers.” He recalled one special trip that focused on AAA baseball, Civil War battlefields, barbeque, and blues. The trip followed the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Natchez Trace, made a visit to the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville and finished up in Graceland for the for 25th anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death; see , .

Ed escorted The Preservation Jazz Band of New Orleans to a performance in The Hamptons. He gave terminally ill people their last ride to their summer homes. He reunited families for special events. He has helped to show off the splendor of Alaskan glaciers, the wilderness areas of the Canadian Yukon and wonders of national parks. Once, he even caravanned a team of drivers to pick-up a fleet of used garbage trucks. Trips have been for business, vacations and special medical needs.

One key service of Private Motor Coach, Inc. is that it provides a travel option for persons with manageable disabilities, who cannot travel via air or car. Ed says, “These folks can get off the couch at home and go anywhere because the coach becomes their temporary home while on the road and an escort is always with them.”

In 2007, Ed replaced his original coach, a MCI-9 called “Patty’s Charm” with an upgraded Prevost XL motorcoach/bus conversion called “Dolly’s Pride.” As with the original coach, the Prevost has all the amenities of a house-on-wheels: living room, kitchen, dinette, full bathroom with shower, queen-sized bedroom, and a large storage bay for bicycles, luggage, sports equipment or whatever needs to go along on a trip, including wheelchairs. Ed also tows a Toyota Corolla behind the coach for side trips.

Private Motor Coach, Inc. began operations in 1991 in the basement of Canadian-born Ed’s North Park home in Gibsonia just north of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In 2001, he moved the operation to Whitehouse near Dallas, Texas. Now, he’s given up the physical address and lives in the coach fulltime. “Nearly all of the people who travel with Private Motor Coach find my services on the Internet by going to the website Over time, I found that I did not need a physical office. I use emails, talk on the phone about where and when people want to travel, and then I take the coach to them. Without roots to a home or office, I can position myself to better serve my customers.”

“After only two years in business, the United Motorcoach Association awarded PMC the 2001Vision Award for innovative travel, but there are no copy cats. Many people have aspired to run a coach like I have. I give them counsel regularly but no one has yet to take the leap. As far as I know, Private Motor Coach, Inc. is the only company providing this type of custom, private travel,” says Lonsbary.

Ed plans to continue offering trips as he moves forward in the ninth year of operation with the geographic expansion of trips and the goal to make the tenth anniversary, a real milestone. He explained, “Private Motor Coach will expand the current offering of trips in our luxury motor coach/bus conversion to include more than just North America. Next on the horizon are trips to Central American and South America.”

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Meet the Bullfighters

“What did you think of the bulls,” asked the man as I descended the unstable stairs.

I had just walked across the wooden planks above the fenced corrals where the fours bulls munched hay. Each bull would take a turn in the Santa Marie Bull Ring in La Gloria, Texas later that day. I had been given this privileged walk above the bulls by the Fred Renk, promoter and owner of the Bull Ring. To take a look at the bulls from the catwalk above their holding area is not part of a typical admission ticket.

“I would not want to have to face those bulls any closer than I was up there,” I gestured to the planked walkway safe above the bulls.

As I hurried to catch up with Ed, I thought that perhaps this man speaking to me was a worker at the ranch or another spectator who had come to watch the bulls envious of my preferred treatment. Later in the cantina, I learned he was a matador.

Longinos Mendoza gives an outward appearance of calm at 2 o’clock in the cantina. He tells me that inside he is nervous. Maybe that is why he stands and doesn’t sit. “Will you go to the chapel before you enter the ring?” I ask. He admits that yes, he will ask Jesus and the Virgin Mary to watch over him this afternoon.

Mendoza began his matador career in Mexico City as a young man of the 1970s. “Bull fighting gets in your blood. You just can’t stop,” he says in prefect English.

Mendoza told me he came to Houston, Texas to perform in bull fights many years ago. “A couple photographed me during my first bull fight,” he said. “The second time they came to photograph me, they brought their daughter. I courted her in the traditional way and we married. There wasn’t much opportunity in the US for a bull fighter, so I worked to perfect my English and studied and eventually became a banker who fight bulls on the side.”

Another matador scheduled to fight, Enrique Delgado, “The Monterrey Cyclone,” spoke no English. He sat calmly at the cantina bar engrossed in the Sunday afternoon football game on the TV screen.

Fred Renk built and opened the Santa Maria Bull Ring in 2000 to preserve the art of bull fighting. According to Renk, it is the only bull ring in the USA open to the public. He became enchanted with bull fighting back in the 1950s when as a seminarian studying for the priesthood he saw his first bull fight in Mexico. Renk never did become an ordained Catholic priest, but he did become an amateur fighter or novillero. Fred passed his legacy to his stepson David.

David is the lanky man selling admission tickets. He is the legendary “El Texano” – one of less than a dozen American professional bull fighters and at the time, the youngest American in history to turn professional in the world of bullfighting. As child, he watched bull fighting at Fred’s side and learned the art of bull fighting from some of the best teachers of this ancient tradition. David’s story is told in a book authored by his stepfather called Two Hearts, One Sword. The book explains how David overcame physical challenges – club feet which were eventually surgically repaired and his height - to fight the bulls. His debut, his first formal novillada, happened on February 22, 1977 in Reynosa’s Plaza Santa Fe. David went on to become the first North American matador in history to be chosen to receive the honor of completing his doctorate in La Plaza Mexico, the largest bull ring in the world. That was back in 1983. Now, David is retired from the ring. Goring by a bull has left him scared and now unable to stand in the ring anymore.

Lyn Sherwood had gone to Spain as a young man. Grey stubble now covers his unshaven face, a leather hat shades his eyes and a beer stays cool in a foam sleeve. “I fought bulls until one day a bull nearly made me as soprano. Then, I gave it up.” Lyn traded his cape for a camera and pen. He is author of a book on bullfighting Yankees in the Afternoon. He showed me the mock up of his new coffee table book. These matador photos and bull fighting history will be published when Lyn finds sponsors to cover the cost of printing and promotion. Today, Lyn is Master of Ceremonies and judge. He leads the crowd in shouts of “Olé” and judges whether the matador is awarded one mock ear from a bull, two ears, or two ears and a tail.

These are the men of the Santa Maria Bull Ring, those who still fight and those who are legendary.

January 13, 2008

Behind the Scenes of the Bullfight

Fred Renk’s home, ranch and life demonstrate his dedication to the art of bull fighting. He met with Ed and me in an expansive but dimly lit room of his LaGloria, Texas home. My first thought was this could be a mini-museum dedicated to bull fighting.

Posters advertising bull fights in Mexico and LaGloria wallpapered the room. The fine work of taxidermists – a bull’s head and hoofs – preserved the kill from an event in Mexico years ago. The suit of lights worn by El Texano, Fred’s stepson David Renk – an American bull fighter, rests against a lone chair positioned as ready for a matador to wear it once more. A glass case with focused bulb draws attention to the shimmer of gold –the lights -other capes and coats worn by matadors. As I wandered through the room, Fred frequently narrated a memory associated with the memento.

Fred is a fit man in his 70s now. He told me that he became an aficionado of bull fighting when he went to Mexico as a seminarian and saw his first bull fight. He gave up the notion of entering the Catholic priesthood but never gave up the love of bull fighting. In his book Two Hearts, One
, Fred tells his story and that of son David who lived his Dad’s dream.

There are some months when Fred teaches and trains young people to enter the ring. He doesn't
call this a “sport,” he says it is more like a “ballet of death” in which the matador must always know where his legs are positioned and give a half step toward the animal to encourage its attack.

“There are two things important in bull fighting.” He said, “The matador must stand still when the bull charges with brute force and must have a strong wrist and arm to hold the cape and heavy sword.” He reminded me that matadors risk their lives if they make a simple mistake. “Only men of valor and great stamina enter the ring,” he commented.

I walked with Fred to the field where his cattle grazed. He is a USA breeder of the “bravo bull” – bulls of special blood from the mother’s genetic line and breed to attack without provocation, to kill what is in their path. “A fighting bull can outrun a quarter
horse,” Fred claims. “They have been measured to cover 850 yards in 90 seconds.”

The animals looked gentle in the distance of the dusty range as they clustered under the shade of the sparsely spaced trees. They didn’t look so gentle when corralled in the narrow wooden pen
waiting to enter the bull ring later in the day. These were “clean bulls” – never touched, never before in a ring, never having seen a matador’s cape. Fred ordered a ranch hand to take me on the cat walk above the corral to see these bulls. The confined bull aggressively banged their horns on the walled area and sent shudders through me. I could feel the vibration of their banging in the planks beneath my feet.

I welcomed the solid ground beneath my feet in the matador’s chapel. This private space is tucked under the stands of the arena. Here matadors will offer prayers to Jesus and the Virgin Mary to keep them safe while in the ring.

In the cantina - bar, Matador Longinos Mendoza told me that meditation prepares him to face the bull.

“The first second in the ring with the bull will divulge how it will act,” Mendoza explained. “The first pass of the bull is critical.” Mendoza trained in Mexico to be a matador where he fought for 10 years. “Were you ever gored?” I asked. His answer was three times, each time he finished the fight.

“Stop?” replies a shocked Mendoza when I ask why he continues after being injured. “No, I don’t want to stop. I love it!” Mendoza smiled. “Let me tell you…once you fight, you want to do it all the time.”

And, Mendoza has fought often since beginning this career in the 1970s. When he married an American and came to the US however he found he was in “another world” where he did not know the language and bull fighting was not a lucrative career. He eventually mastered English and became a banker in Houston. We would see him in the ring that afternoon.

At four o’clock, the trumpet sounded and the gates opened. The bull fight began! Olé!

I want to gratefully acknowledge the hospitality extended by

Fred Renk for this behind the scenes introduction to bull fighting on January 13, 2008.

What Happens When a Bull Won't Fight?

We bought tickets for seats ground level with the arena where we would be shaded by the bleachers above. We had a clear view of the ring where the matadors would fight the bulls. To our right, the press reporters sat poised with cameras and pens to record the event for the small town Rio Grande newspapers. Behind us, fajitas sizzled as they were served. The people eating them washed down the spicy food with cold beer from the cantina. To our left, a wall nearly six-feet high made of wooden two-by-fours separated us from the bull.

The bull stood very still, not moving or protesting. He stood in the narrow pen with no room to turn. He faced toward the arena. Quiet, he made no sounds. When I stood on tippy toes, I could see the tips of his pointed horns, his black hide, and the red rose attached by Velcro to his neck, the matador’s quest in the bloodless bullfight. This would be the first bull to fight today at Fred Renk’s Santa Maria Bullring in LaGloria, Texas.

When the bullfight music began playing, the wooden door to the bull pen swung open. The crowd hushed, waiting but no bull emerged. Where was the thunderous charge, the angry snort, the bull looking to fight? Nothing happened. Again, the music trumpeted and still no bull.

We heard commotion from the pen. Handlers of the bull stood on the catwalk above the bull made sounds like the cowboys in old Western movies moving cattle across the open range. “Yah, yah,” they shouted and kicked the sides of the wooded pen with their boots. The bull slowly walked into the ring, the center of the ring and that’s where he stayed.

The matador tried to entice the bull into a fight. He circled the bull and waved his cape daring the bull to charge. He walked close to the bull then stroked the dirt with his right as if he too were a hoofed bull ready for a fight. The bull simply took a few steps left of center and turned away.

Lyn Sherwood, the Master of Ceremonies and one time bullfighter, reminded us that bull brought into the ring have never been exposed to bullfighting. Bulls fight one time because they learn too quickly that they are to go after the man with the cape. When the gate opens, that is the moment they are expected to fight. “This bull,” he told us, “doesn’t know he’s supposed to fight.”

A second matador stepped into the arena waving his cape and still the bull stood firm. Now, Lyn’s voiced expressed the tension, “This bull is dangerous. He is unpredictable. We need to get him out of the ring.”

The matadors found small stones and tossed them at the bull. He was not agitated. Fred Renk gave an order to send a second bull into the arena, as an attempt to rile the sedentary one. This bull had little effect. Finally, the main gates to the arena flew open and closed rapidly behind the fast moving tractor. Fred Renk, with a stern look of determination on his face, was driving the tractor straight toward the bull which refused to fight. Now, the bull moved. Fred’s grandson tried to lasso the bull. He missed. He once more, and missed its neck again.

Bull and tractor circled the arena. The young cowboy tried again with his lasso and roped the bull. A tug of war ensued as the bull was inched toward an open gate. Don nudged the bull with the tractor until it finally was pushed into the pen next to our seats. Now, the bull snorted and kicked. It had lost its domain in the center of the arena. It had lost its one and only opportunity to star in the ring.

La Gloria, TX Bloodless Bullfight

My cousins and I took turns on Grandma’s wash day running at the white sheets hanging from her sagging clothes line in the back yard. We held mock horns – our stubby index fingers along the side of our heads – pretending we were bulls charging the giant matador’s cape – a full size flat sheet still wet from the wringer washer. “Toro, Toro! Olé! Olé!” we’d yell then go off finding some other six-year-old style of amusement.

There were no bull fights in Indiana, Pennsylvania – the Christmas tree growing capital of the USA and home to the teachers’ college Indiana University. I suspect we learned about bull fighting from our main source of cultural exposure TV. It was probably from a Three Stooges slapstick comedy. In “Snappy Bullfighters” Moe and Larry are costumed like a bull and Curly is the matador. When a real toro bull entered the ring Curly let loose his “Woo Woo Woo Woo” and the Stooges all ran from the snorting, charging bull. I remember that my cartoon favorite Bugs Bunny confronted a toro bull too with a carrot in on hand and a cape in the other. That was how I and other kids growing up in the 60s learned about bull fighting.

I never gave bull fighting much thought in my lifetime until I read headlines in Mc Allen, Texas newspaper The Monitor – “Bloodless Bullfight Sunday.” I decided Ed and I would go to the Corridas, the bull fights.

The Santa Maria Bull Ring is located in LaGloria, Texas. According to the owner/operator and former bull fighter Fred Renk, this is the only authentic ring built strictly for the purpose of bull fighting. There would be three bloodless bull fights here during the 2008 season and Ed and I would attend two of these events. My childhood exposure would be dismissed during these afternoons with Renk, his bulls, and the matadors. This is art and cultural heritage struggling to fit into a contemporary world.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Men of Valor: The Bull Fighters of Santa Maria

South Padre Island, Texas Just for Fun

“I can no longer take care of the women, so I take care of the beach,” said Ricardo.His skin was the color of a chestnut shell and his jeans hung as if he had once been a bigger man.

He stood with his arms dangling over the bed of his weathered pick-up truck where rope and chains lay in a tangle dusted by sand. The truck’s right front tire looked soft, under-inflated or perhaps going flat. Ricardo holds a license to rescue vehicles trapped by the sands of South Padre Island. He waits at Access #6. For $3, you can buy a beach permit allowing you to drive on the sand from Access #5 north some 15 or so miles until the beach turns to private land. For $40, Ricardo pulls you out of the sand.

“At mile 14, there is a nude beach,” Ricardo smiles. “But at this time of year, the Winter Texas women sunbathing there have holes between their tits.” He laughs, “That hole is a navel between their sagging breasts. Wait ‘til spring break, then go there,” he advises.

Ed and I were on South Padre Island on January 12th. Without a tide schedule, we resisted the temptation to drive the beach with our pearl white Sonata convertible – a rental while the conservative Corolla is being repaired. And, it was too far to walk to mile 14.

We watched a jeep and SUV make a running start to plow through the deep sand at Access #6. They fared better than I. They gunned their engines and roared through the troughs of sand sliding side to side as if on an icy road. I made a run to catch up to Ed and fell on all fours into the soft mounds of sand.

The Gulf water was cold when I rinsed the sand off my legs and hands. The sand was hard packed near the water and that’s where people actually drive. I walked in the surf holding my shorts up to my thighs. Ed strolled an inch shy of the foaming surf wearing his jeans and tennis shoes. Vehicles passed us by.

PS: This is one place in Texas where you can go barefoot, and perhaps bare breasted too at mile 14.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

We're at Albertson Gardens RV Park in Pharr, Texas

Winter Texans come from Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, and Michigan to live at Albertson’s Garden RV Park. Most arrive in November and stay until March when the last snowflake melts in their home state. Some have been coming to Albertson’s in Pharr, Texas for as many as eight years. Even thought they like it here, they still own homes up north. They are not full time RVers like Ed and I.

Monday nights, a group goes to Ticos Restaurant for 99-cent margaritas. Tuesday nights, everyone fills the clubhouse for a 5:30PM social and a 6 PM potluck meal. Wednesdays, musicians and singers jam in the clubhouse. And, that’s about it for group activities.

This park is appropriately named “garden”. There are many brightly colored flowering bushes and aloe plants two feet high. I’m told the land had historically been a citrus grove. The evidence is clear. The branches of the remaining grapefruit and orange trees hang heavy with fruits. A few mango trees skirt the property. There is also a tree here native to Guatemala. The trunk is spiked with growths that look like mini-rhinoceros horns. Delicate white flowers bloom on the branches of this tree. The blossoms are too high up to pick and protected by the spikes below. I am told that in Guatemala, ranchers plant these trees close together as a natural fence for animals.

Not trees, but a regular wire and wooden fence to the rear of the park serves as a pen for goats. Some residents debate the claim and say they’re a special kind of sheep. Regardless of whether they’re goats or sheep, every one of them likes a handout of grass or leaves from the nearby orange trees. The male, distinguished by his curling horns, butts the females out of his way to take a nibble. He butts the fence too if he thinks you’re being stingy with the handout.

We are in the only Prevost here. There is one other bus conversion, but I’ve never seen anyone go in to out. It could be abandoned and may have been a church mission bus, but it adds to the eclectic charm of the place.

If you’ve never heard of Pharr, Texas, I wouldn’t be surprised. It’s just a small town in the Rio Grande Valley some nine miles from the Mexican border. McAllen, Texas is the well-known city nearby. We expect to be here into the month of February enjoying the warm weather, slipping into Mexico from time to time, and working to polish our company Private Motor Coach, Inc. now that I am onboard.