Tuesday 21st February – I’m So Sorry Astro

Thanks to the time difference I was up at bloody 5am or something stupid, so I hung out in Walmart like a cool kid, did some shopping to kill some time then finally drove over to the post office. Thanks to my experience with various American institutions, I was apprehensive, assuming only the worst as I walked through the doors. They opened, so that was a good sign.

When I asked the lady in the completely empty post office if they had a general delivery for Sarah Edwards, she responded with (imagine a very thick southern accent at about half-normal talking speed and eyes pointing upward as if reciting from a rule book) “General delivery pick up is Monday through Friday, 10am to 4pm.”

“Ummm….?”

“I’ll get it for you just this once.”

I’m not kidding, this lady walked about two meters to her left, picked up my parcel from a bench, walked back and handed it to me. As she sorted out the thing for me to sign, I asked if the 10am-4pm thing was across all post offices. “I don’t know anything about that, but for as long as I’ve worked here, those are the rules.” I wasn’t going to ask why, but she told me anyway. Normally the post office is very busy in the early morning, so it would be unwise to have workers searching for mail at those times. Ummmm….?!?!?!?!?!?! There was no one in the bloody shop and it had taken her all of five seconds! My mother has been a representative of Australia Post all her life, she could definitely show these people a thing or two. If she had the patience. Which she does not.

Anyway, I had my mail in my hands, I was a happy girl! I messaged Kaila straight away to thank her profusely. Inside my neat package was not only my mail, but some Christmas goodies from my beautiful friend. I was shaking when I had my vehicle registration in my hands, new tag and all. What an ordeal it had been with the DMV and here it was, five days before it was due to run out!

Right, now I could move on. I continued on the coastal roads, but I didn’t enjoy many views. Not long after I left Panama, it was pissing down with rain and it didn’t stop. I had to pull over more than once to set up and adjust my water catchment system, managing to make some improvements! I swear the seals leak in a different way every single time, but I wasn’t drowning so I am doing something right. The rain was relentless all the way to Pensacola. I’d called a bike shop there last week and they’d ordered in a mountain bike tyre for me. It’s necessary to order one because no one stocks 26” tyres anymore. As Derek told me, that’s soooo 2012.

At the bike shop, they hadn’t had their delivery yet, but it was due any minute! Great, more waiting around. I didn’t mind much though, I was still on such a high from getting my mail (it’s the small victories that matter). I went around the corner to the library and had a productive couple of hours using my mail to get started on my tax, something that should result in some income so I was happy to get started!

By the time I got hungry, I went out to the car to make lunch and got a phone call from the bike shop. My tyre was in! Perfect timing, I went back around there and parted with $55 for a shiny new Maxxis Crossmark to replace my completely shredded Ranchero. Right, now I could get going again! I was getting sick of hanging around, I feel like I’ve done a lot of that lately.

The rain continued as I left Florida (thanks for the sunny, good times) and drove into Mobile (pronounced Mobe-eel), Alabama. This is the birthplace of the Marti Gras so after a bit of deliberation, I decided to stick around until 6:30pm, when there would be a parade. It was only 4pm, so again, more time to kill, but I resolved to continue driving after the parade to make up some ground. It would be a change from what I normally do, but freecampsites gave me a confident rest area camp an hour and a half down the road.

I hung out in the van continuing my tax, then around 5:30pm, people started walking by the car heading to the parade so I figured I should go and see what Mobile is all about. There were barriers up in preparation for the parade but I could still walk around the city. Pretty small and simple, but I like the way the skyscraper towers lit up in sync amongst the long hanging cloud (thankfully it wasn’t raining anymore). I wandered the parade route, noticing that most people were camping out for it, with bags full of presumably alcohol and snacks. Even though the parade was still an hour away, people were already positioned by the barriers in their deck chairs. By the time I’d wandered half the route, I picked my spot near where I’d parked my car so I could make an early exit if necessary. They also had music playing here to entertain me while I waited.

Just before the action, the police were in abundance. In cars, on motorbikes, even quads. I lost count after about forty cars. I’m sure they all had a very important role to play. Eventually, to the crowd’s great excitement, we could see the actual procession coming towards us. Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw. Marti Gras is the celebration before the Easter fasting period but I saw nothing representing religion or anything even remotely of the sort. There were high school marching bands, marvellous floats and people wearing brightly coloured grand costumes, but the shock came from the goodies being thrown by the paraders. People in the crowd screamed and raised their hands, beckoning the paraders to shower them in their goodies. And oh, did they oblige! They threw beads, Frisbees, plastic cups, soft toys, balls, packets of noodles, moon pies, funny glasses, hats, and the crowd was going mad for it!

I stood in astonishment, relying completely on my reflexes to catch things before they hit me in the face. This was absolutely crazy! People love their free stuff I guess. Aside from that, the floats were impressive works of art and the marching bands played some sweet modern music as they struggled with their huge instruments as they walked in time. It continued for about an hour and the crowd didn’t die down, they only grew more excited the more stuff was thrown at them. The last float was immediately followed by the clean up crew, picking up the pieces that hadn’t quite made it past the barriers and clearing away the carnage. The crowd dispersed quickly too. I realised that the people I’d seen carrying bags before the parade had not been full of beer and chips, but were empty, in preparation for the mounds of stuff everyone expected to score. Still stunned by what I’d just witnessed, I walked back to the car, my bag stuffed with goodies that happened to fly my way during the craziness.

I set my nav for my camp and went straight onto the highway. I filled up with petrol on the way, but my drive was otherwise uninterrupted. I spoke to Mikey for a bit too which helped to pass the time and distract me from my grumbling tummy. When I finally reached the rest stop at about 9pm, I was famished, tired and ready to get to bed. I was angry to see “No Overnight Parking” signs up, not understanding why when it was a bloody rest area! I drove through the truck section, hoping to find the RV parking that was mentioned on the freecamps website, but came up with nothing. When I spied a gravel road leading into a dark forest, I decided to suss it out, desperate for somewhere to camp. I drove down about 200 meters when it ended at a concrete block. I figured it would do, but I wanted to turn around so I could drive out easily if need be. The road was raised and about a car and a half wide, so I thought I could manage a turn around instead of reversing all the way out. This was my worst decision of my entire trip.

As soon as my tyres reached the side of the road, I was getting stuck. As I tried to get myself out of it, turned back onto the road, the right side of the car had already sunk into the swamp that was beside the road. I was stuck. I got out to inspect what I already knew and, for lack of better words, I was f**ked. When I stepped around the right hand side of the car, I was up to my ankles in water. It was a complete swamp and I was up to my axles in it. Even though it doesn’t look it from the photo, I was scared of the whole thing sinking down and tipping over.

As I rounded the car for another inspection, some headlights came towards me. It was the security guard on a golf cart, full of importance. He asked what I was doing down here and I explained that I had been trying to turn around and clearly got stuck. Mr. Important then proceeded to tell me everything I’d done wrong. “I saw you speeding through the area, I tried to flag you down, then you drove the wrong way on a one-way road, then drove down here.” I politely told him I knew that I had stuffed up, but that I couldn’t change that now and had to concentrate on getting out. He asked me how I managed to do it and again I explained that it didn’t matter now.

I googled the closest tow service and the man I spoke to on the phone said straight away that he could have someone out there in the next thirty-five minutes. Perfect. Mr. Important offered me a ride to the rest area building on his golf cart, which I honestly didn’t need since it was only a few hundred meters away, but I just got in the cart. At the entrance to the gravel road, we met his other security mate on his own golf cart and Mr. Important relayed the story to his friend who asked the same questions Mr. Important had, while I sat in silence looking straight ahead. I was thoroughly upset with myself, I didn’t need anyone else’s judgement to know I’d been an idiot.

At the rest area building, I sat down on the outside bench and sat. I had my hands in my pockets and I stared at my feet. I resolved to spend the next thirty-five minutes thinking about what I’d done and how stupid it was had been. Mr. Important interrupted my reflection when he asked me my name for the sake of his report that he must write. I spelled it out for him. Very slowly.

When my phone rang only five minutes later, I was surprised to find the tow truck man was already here. He found me easy enough and I got in his truck to show him where the problem was. Mr. Important got back in his golf cart and flashed his light to indicate we should follow him, as if I couldn’t find my own way back to my stuck car.

Mr. Important took Mr. Tow in his cart to the scene of the crime while I followed on foot. Thankfully, he didn’t throw his hands up in depair, but seemed to think it would be an easy job. Before he could get a lift back to his truck in the cart, Mr. Important said he needed to get more photos for his report. He spent about five minutes doing that (asshole) before Mr. Tow could get to work.

As Mr. Tow lined up his truck and attached his cables, another car showed up. Mr. Tow said that was his buddy. It was the bloody sheriff. Fearing a reprimand, I just stood and watched until Mr. Sheriff eventually asked me where I was from and what I was doing. He didn’t care about how I’d got there, he was just making conversation, clearly just here to hang out with Mr. Tow. It was handy to have the lights from his car shining on the scene. When Mr. Tow tightened his cables and started to pull poor Astro out of the ditch, I had to look away. The sounds and the sight of the tyres shifted on the rims was appalling. I was disgusted that my stupidity was the cause of the Astro being treated so harshly. Looking away was worse in a way because the sound was just as bad.

Long story short, it took a few cable adjustments and truck manoeuvres, but Mr. Tow eventually pulled my baby out of the swamp and back onto the road. When it was all said and done, he said it would be $210, which I was happy to pay. He’d saved my baby that I’d treated so poorly. Mr. Tow faffed around in poor light entering my credit card details into his phone app, then before parting, he handed me a business card and a free keyring. Involuntarily, I let out a sarcastic laugh when he handed the keyring over and he just said it was good advertising and a handy beverage opener.

Even though I would have declined their help, I was surprised that neither Mr. Tow, Mr. Sheriff or Mr. Important offered to reverse my car up the drive for me. They must have all thought I was completely incapable to have gotten into my mess, but didn’t care enough to offer to help me out. I reversed very, very cautiously up the drive, taking my time and found that Mr. Sheriff was waiting at the end of the drive in his car so at least he’d stayed to make sure I got out ok.

I proceeded to drive very slowly around the area until I found a spot where a few RVs were parked. I didn’t care what the signs said, everyone else was doing it. The lots were full, so I just pulled in behind another RV, hoping they didn’t get pissed at me for intruding on their space. I made dinner, went to the bathroom then went straight to bed. Meanwhile, Mr. Important constantly did loops around the area in his cart, making sure all was in order.

Needless to say, I felt pretty terrible about this whole ordeal. First, that I’d let it happen in the first place because of incredibly poor judgement. Second, because I had to witness my car being ungraciously tugged and dragged out of a ditch. Lesson learnt.

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