Senior Citizen's Guide digital books
Senior Citizen's Guide to Connecticut

Destination: America

To travel from the East Coast to the West Coast of America, many people get on a jet and leave the driving to "them"—and then say they have traveled the country. What James and I have done for the past three years, is get into a vehicle (now a VW camper van, the first year an Isuzu Trooper) and do our own driving. We stop in small towns and cities, and experience America! For instance, in Fulton, NY, we enjoyed Memorial Day as it should be celebrated. A huge parade with lots of music, food and entertainment the whole town and surrounding area enjoyed. After the parade, the bands all played for free in an arena where there was lots of food available at family friendly prices, entertainment, and games. There were fireworks and games for everyone. We even got to park our van in their parking lot for two days.

Where ever we travel we stop in at Senior Centers, VFWs, American Legions, libraries, and laundromats to get information on local happenings. In Baton Rouge, LA, we stopped at a Senior Center and were told they were having a tea dance and pot luck dinner the next day. We met some lovely people and experienced real Southern hospitality that afternoon. On our first trip, we had some car trouble in Waynesville, NC. We were taken to lunch by the towing service driver, and the garage that fixed the Trooper was first rate as well as friendly. They helped move our belongings, and even paid for one night of our motel because the parts that they needed took extra time. That is hospitality!

Forget five-star hotels and restaurants if you want to experience local traditions. You get more local flavor eating at small diners. Or, an inexpensive and healthy way to eat is the fast food value menus. You can get a baked potato at Wendy's, salads at McDonald's and Burger King, roast beef sandwich at Arby's, and other inexpensive meals that are good and nutritious. Don't forget the yogurt and fresh fruit parfait at McDonald's for dessert.

We stayed in San Antonio, TX for three days, sleeping in a parking lot (in the camper). Besides being a friendly city, The Alamo is right in the middle of town, and there is no admission charge. Just walk in and experience history. The River Walk is beautiful, well maintained, and opens a whole area of the city for exploration. We walked late at night with no difficulty, as the area is well-lit and patrolled by park personnel.

While we were at the Visitor's Center, we were told about a Christmas laser light show at a newly renovated theater. It was free, and to get tickets we walked to the Alamodome, which was quite a distance, but an interesting walk. Later we were in a gift shop and the owner told us about an event taking place at the convention center the next day that was free, and invited us to attend. She said there was music and dancing (we had told her we were dancers) and free food. As we walked into the convention center, we were greeted by two lines of people of all ages clapping and cheering and yelling “Merry Christmas, we’re glad you came.” Inside a huge room, tables were set up and hundreds of people were eating. Dinners, of roast beef or ham, mashed potatoes and gravy, mixed vegetables, and a roll, were delivered to everyone, along with beverages and apple pie. During the afternoon, three bands played and there was room for dancing in the middle of the room. This great event was put on by H.E.B., a local grocery chain. It was called the "Festival of Food" and they put on 15 or 20 of these events around Texas and Mexico every year. At this one in San Antonio they expected to feed 15,000 people and had about 2,500 volunteers to prepare, serve, and clean up. In a separate room booths were set up by agencies to give assistance to anyone who needed it. This was a huge undertaking organized very well, and is another example of Southern hospitality. We left San Antonio with some very good memories.

For three years we have spent New Year's Eve sleeping on Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena, California. It is exciting to say the least. We get there at 6:00 A.M. on Dec. 31, to get a good place to set up, and to watch the Tournament of Roses Parade which starts at 8:00 A.M. on Jan. 1. People are already there before daylight claiming their space. The first year we met a woman named Cecelia who explained the system to us. No fires on the ground, no tents, and no "stuffed" furniture. We claimed our space next to Cecelia and waited. People brought grills, fire pits, cots, TVs and everything else you can imagine and it was a street party all day and night. We rode our tandem bike along Colorado Boulevard to parade headquarters. After midnight we spread our sleeping bags in the grass between the sidewalk and street and go to sleep. In the morning we have a front row seat for the parade—for free—while some people pay $90.00 a seat (or more) to sit up in the crowded stands. We had such a good time the first year that we have gone back for the last two years. We see our friend every year and have a great time. We were told that hotels were charging $300.00 a night for a minimum of two nights. Add to this the cost of meals and travel expenses!

On our first trip across the country we camped. We had a wonderful tent that was roomy and easy to put up. But that was summertime and warm weather. On our next trip it was winter, and we planned to travel to Pasadena, CA on I-40 thinking it would be warm enough to camp. No way! We slept mostly in the Trooper. Now we take the most southern route, I-10, and it is still chilly. After the first year, we did some research and decided to get a VW camper van. Our reasons were it is self-contained, unobtrusive, gets good gas mileage (20-23 mpg as opposed to 5 mpg that some big RVs get). The large RVs have lots of space and conveniences, but cannot park everywhere and are much more difficult to drive. With our pop-up top folded down, we look like any other van.

With the top up, we can stand up to cook or dress. We do have the drawback of limited space, and occasionally we have to mail unused items or new purchases back home. We stopped at a truck stop for the night recently and a 5th wheeler RV pulled in next to us. He had to use four leveler jacks, and pulled out two slide-outs before he could use his rig. He took up 8 parking spaces in the parking lot. We can stop, use one parking spot, and are asleep before you know it. The VW is easy to drive, park, and is comfortable. At least for now it suits us to a T!

Before we left on our last trip, we encouraged our grandchildren to get a map of the United States. We send them frequent emails to let them know what we are doing, and they can mark our progress on their maps.

We have camped along the entire East Coast, hiked on the Appalachian Trail, backpacked in the wilderness of the Shenandoah National Forest, danced solo at the J.F.Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.—and will continue until we discover every corner of America.

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