with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

Checking Out Mobile, Alabama

We were a little slow this morning to get moving, worn out after days of panic and traveling. We cleaned up a little and then headed out to explore this new town and check out a campground closer to Brent’s work.

I’ve been to Mobile before, but not for more than a couple of days and then just to drive through. My only solid memory is of driving through incredible wide boulevards shrouded in a canopy of trees covered with Spanish Moss dripping from its stretched branches over the road. As we drove into the downtown area, Brent and I were again thrilled with the sight of these vast trees and their wide reaching branches. Even lacking leaves for the winter, they are still almost a solid canopy of branches. It will be interesting to see those trees’ leaves return and see the shade they create.

We spotted a WalMart, Lowes, and Sam’s Club and a shopping mall from the highway as we drove towards Brent’s new office. From the directions off Yahoo maps on the Internet, we easily found the office right next to the downtown airport and just off Highway 10. Following the map, we were able to trace a back roads way to the campground we sought, around a cemetery. From work to the campground, the distance by road is almost exactly 2 miles. If we could find a way to cross the cemetery, it would be a little shorter, but we couldn’t find an open gate on the back of the cemetery. All fenced off and locked. Too bad. But we’ll keep looking.

The campground, Shady Acres, is pitiful but lovely. This is a first impression, of course. The owner, Charlie, was very helpful and friendly and walked us around the campground to look at potential sites, discussing their pros and cons as we asked. He also walked down to his house by the river at the back of the campground to show us the pier and covered deck that extends out over the water with chairs and tables for picnicking. This is the Dog River that twists through the south end of Mobile. We choose a site near the mobile home that acts like an office/laundry/showers, not for the access but the shade from the trees overhead. It is the least sun exposed spot that was open.

Charlie and his father started the campground as a trailer park in 1952, changing his grandfather’s rough camp site grounds into a long and short term residence trailer park, looking for more regular rents than just those who stopped by to fish or rest on their way to fishing or stopping off the highway. Two years ago, Charlie and his family decided to reopen it as a campground again, not just a long term stay trailer park. They were just tired of the mobile home business and wanted more turn around combined with some long-term stays. A better mix in a time when RV campgrounds are in need all over the place with the growing popularity of RVING.

The campground is just off a main street, Dauphin Island Street, that once might have been a major commerce expansion of the town, but is now falling apart, full of vacancies and rotting buildings as the town has moved away from the coast and hurricanes. There are a few stores near the campground, so I can get some basics with a short walk or bike ride, but driving will now become part of our life again. Damn, I miss walking down to the corner shop for fruits and veggies. I will seriously miss the convenience of access in Tel Aviv.

There are elementary schools EVERYWHERE. Can there really be that many children here? We drove around all day today, Saturday, and while we found tons of people at WalMart and Lowes, we found the streets practically empty and the people absent from all over. As quiet as Shabbat is in Israel, Mobile felt quieter than Shabbat in Tel Aviv.

There are a lot of vacant buildings and homes, windows still boarded up with people absent or living inside, with downed trees and roof damage still recovering from Hurricane Ivan that tore up this part of the United States pretty bad, but not as bad as Florida got smacked. Doesn’t matter. A lot of damage is still evident almost three months later. They’ve been having bad thunderstorms and flooding, adding to the damage, over the past month. I’m not thrilled to be in such weather, but at least it is weather, and we are mobile so we can move out of Mobile if we have enough warning of an impending storm. Brent tells me that hurricane season is over until June or July….coming too soon for me, anyway.

Honestly, driving through the town for the first time, I’d swear that this town is on its way to being a ghost town. It will be interesting to see if my first impressions pan out.

Anyway, our rent at the new campground will be a significant change, and I’m sorry, friends, but we might have to take out a loan in order to pay our new rent rate. In Tel Aviv, we paid USD $1200 (utilities like electricity and water included). At Shady Acres Campground in Mobile, Alabama, we will be paying USD $120 a month. The sound you just heard was Brent passing out.

We went to Israel to make money, believing from our agent in Tel Aviv, that we would never pay more than 25% in taxes to Israel and all the benefits of being an x-pat working overseas would actually generate money we could save and plan for the future in investments and such – were all bullshit. We ended up paying almost 50% of our income to Israel in taxes, then paid 18% sales tax on everything that was already marked up to exorbitant prices with import fees. We had to pay an extra $75 in airport fees every time we flew in and out of the country in addition to the high flight prices, and were charged too much for everything. It looks like working and living in Mobile, Alabama, might help us restock our financial cupboards we had planned on restocking seven years ago in Greensboro, North Carolina.

This will also help us recover some financial padding quickly, since we have spent way too much over the past three months of joblessness, traveling all over the states and to and from Israel, and having our stuff shipped back to Tulsa…and then getting the trailer restored for use. Cheap is good, even if the campground isn’t overwhelmingly wonderful with amenities. We are easy renters.

Anyway, we got a good look at parts of the town and found some landmarks to return to for shopping and getting trailer parts and pieces, and went to the grocery store to start to restore our panty with food and baking supplies. Brent already has plans for making cookies this week, disgusted with the store bought chocolate chip cookies. He wants to return to perfecting his chocolate chip cookie recipe.

Once we move into the new campground tomorrow, I can start unpacking and cleaning things out for good. We just kinda dumped stuff back into the trailer due to the shortage of time, and everything is shoved here and there and disordered. The desk is stuffed with empty file folders and the bed has the folder innards in boxes underneath it. I have to clean up the kitchen cupboards and organize them, sort the bathroom out, figure out the panty and clothing arrangements, and then start hitting the desk and filing tons of papers so they can be found again.

After a week or two, I might even get a chance to start writing.

We’ll see. It’s the plan, but I am often overwhelmed with the failure to get to my writing. Let’s hope so.
Mobile, Alabama

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