Friends, Flooding, & Florida.

It’s about 60 degrees right now outside, and I caught myself earlier this evening saying I was cold. How quickly I have apparently forgotten the negative windchill we left just three short weeks ago. Tonight we’re parked at a truck stop in Orlando after finishing gig number four. We’ve had a pretty crazy week! Allow me to fill you in.

When we last left off, Greg and I were heading into Carrollton for the day prior to our gig at the Alley Cat. First thing first – we wanted to develop a more permanent solution to the leak in the toilet. An underrated plus to van living: when something breaks in your house, you can drive your house to the hardware store to fix it. So we went to Home Depot to put a cap on the broken part of the water line. Unfortunately we did manage to turn what should have been a three minute job into a half hour nightmare of water shooting into our kitchen cabinet by buying the wrong part (twice). Since then, however, the ground level of the van has been bone dry….. we’ll talk about the remainder of the van in a minute.

The Alley Cat was a very eclectic & cool space. My favorite gig of the tour thus far, truth be told. The bar owner has family in the WNY area, unbelievably, and they had great food and fed us plenty of beers throughout the evening. By all accounts a very hospitable venue. Two other notable things about this place – it had a cigarette vending machine where any pack cost just $7, and after 10pm you can smoke inside the bar. It was like we had stepped back into 1975 or something. It was hot and smoky (and just slightly difficult to breathe, but we must suffer for our art, or something…), but we had a great crowd who was extremely into our music.

The cherry on top of an already awesome gig? Not more than a few minutes into our first set do we lay eyes upon some unexpectedly familiar faces. Our very good friends Dave & C drove all the way down from Buffalo to come see us. We had ZERO idea that they were coming, and though it was probably the most surprised I have ever been, it was truly wonderful to have them at the gig. They’ve been incredible supporters of Greg and I over the years in all of our many projects and we’re so lucky to have people like them in our lives. Much love to you both!

So, the gig goes great, we pack up and head for Florida in the morning. Thrilled to be leaving the dry northern Georgia air and still chilly temperatures, we plan to head as far south as we can. I find us a truck stop outside of Orlando in a town called Ocala, a place I’d never heard of but just happened to be conveniently on the way to our next gig. After we parked, Greg mentioned we were in Ocala on Facebook, and moments later gets a phone call from MORE very dear friends of ours. Sandy & Barney (owners of one of our favorite bars at home, Hat Trix) happen to be in the very same town visiting family. We got to meet up with them on Monday both for lunch and for drinks that evening. They too are wonderful people that have done so much for Greg and I over the years. It was really, really great be able to see so many good friends so far from home – we’re pretty lucky.

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Our little home in the trees for a few days.

Post-Ocala we went to campground number two. Lake Griffin State Park is in Fruitland Park FL, about an hour away from our Orlando gig this evening. This one also had RV hookups, so we got to spend a few days hanging out in a Florida forest with all the comforts of home. Our campsite was nicely tucked away in some palm trees with a picnic table, fire pit & patio – my favorite parking spot yet. I was able to get some work done for my many part-time jobs, Greg made us eggs for breakfast every morning, and we did a little bit of hiking & exploring as well. Though their hiking trails were not very well kept up (the majority of them were underwater and supplemented with balance-beam-like two by fours to gingerly walk across) and the mosquito population was enormous, I really enjoyed this little park. Plus, we got to see the second largest live oak in Florida. Five hundred year old trees covered in Spanish moss are much cooler than staring at semi trucks in parking lots.

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If you couldn’t guess, this is that giant tree I was telling you about. If you squint, you can see me.
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This is what the inside of the van looks like currently. For all its faults, it is a cozy little space that I’ve grown quite fond of.

The dreaded water returns to us this morning as we’re preparing to head for downtown Orlando. I had noticed some water pooling under our water pump in our overhead storage compartment, and had come to the conclusion that a fitting not tightened all the way down was the cause. I decided to take everything else out of the storage space so I had some extra room to work, and to my horror discovered that there was quite a bit of standing water on the entire left side of the compartment. One of our boxes of CDs was terrifyingly wet – these boxes are straight up cardboard and have zero resistance to water. Fortunately none of the CDs themselves were damaged, and we replaced the ruined box with plastic storage containers this afternoon, but we were much too close to destroyed merchandise for my comfort. The fitting I thought to be the problem has been fixed, but with the amount of water that was sitting there I worry that there may be another cause, especially since we’ve seen some water leaking from the over-cab storage outside the van as well. The good news is that nothing in the storage compartment can be damaged by the water anymore, the bad news is that we may not be out of the woods just yet. Van water system repairs to be continued.

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Pretty nice view of both Lake Eola & Downtown Orlando.

After the latest water fiasco, we drove into Orlando and spent the afternoon at Lake Eola Park prior to the gig. It was our first time street-parking the van, and I felt a bit like a parent leaving their kid alone for the first time. I couldn’t stop myself from turning back to look every few minutes to make sure it was still there. Beautiful park though, a huge lake right in the middle of the city with a nice walking path around it and a TON of swans and weird ducks and other assorted waterfowl. And with $2.50 Bud Lights at the lakeside bar, it wasn’t a bad way to kill a few hours.

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Greg’s fancy vegan dinner.

The gig this evening was at Dandelion Communitea Cafe. Unbeknownst to me until right before the gig, they serve an entirely vegan menu. With a free meal as part of our allotted pay, I was a bit skeptical about meat and cheese substitutes. Well, joke’s on me because that stuff was SO delicious. I had a kimchi melt with some cashew-meat substitute, Greg had some sort of Buffalo-chicken-flavored wrap, and we split some vegan nachos, and it was all excellent. I had never even had kimchi before and now I think I’ve added it to my list of favorite foods. Also, I might have actually preferred the cashew-meat substitute to actual meat…. I’m not sure I could ever go vegan entirely, but I’ll definitely be looking for more of that in the future. The gig itself went pretty well. We had a steady crowd and walked away with a bigger payout than we expected. It was a pretty typical mellow coffee shop style gig, but I have no problems with that. It was easy and predictable and low-key, which is never a bad thing.

Tomorrow we head an hour north to Sanford for our next gig, which is back in a bar setting and should be a good time. We may spend another day or two in this area, and then from there we’ll head to the “Treasure Coast”, which is on the Eastern coast of the state between Orlando & Fort Lauderdale. Here’s to hoping we get to spend some time at the beach when we get down that way – it’s been too long since I’ve seen the ocean.

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