Goodbye, Firelake Grand – Our “Home Sweet Casino”

Sat. june 25, 2011

 While guarding our old house in Meeker, we also managed to spend several months parked at a Casino nearby. It’s Firelake Grand, at the corner of I-40 and 102, east of Shawnee. We love this Casino.

 I daresay there’s not another casino anywhere in the country that will let you stay free, with free water AND free electric. And yet we were blessed to have such a place right next door to us, at a time when we were in a financial bind, because we also had to pay water, electric, insurance and taxes on an unsold  house we couldn’t live in.

This sign is so big, people complain it is a highway hazard. Of course we also pay our “dues” here at Firelake by eating and playing in the casino, and by bringing all our friends here. We like to say that a casino parking lot has been our home for the last two years, and it’s not as bad as it sounds. . . .

We had grass and a creek right out our window.

We had our own picnic table and barbecue grill.

There were 5-lb bass to catch in the creek, and beavers to supervise!!  We had Molly the Muskrat, and assorted frogs.

We had the best parking spot of all – Number “0” down at the end, so we didn’t have any neighbors on one side. We didn’t have to worry about anyone looking in our windows. On the open side we had parking right next to our bus, enough for our two cars, plus all our guests.

  And did I mention that electric, water and parking were free!!! Unbelievable.

 I also had a beautiful two-mile paved circular track around the perimeter to walk, jog and ride my bike. Usually while watching gorgeous sunsets.

There were ponds with pretty colored fountains in the middle.

This place was like a mini Las Vegas, with security cameras and employees everywhere – the safest place on earth to live.

We never saw a single hooker or scrap of litter in two years.

There was always some excitement going on if you needed it.

RV’s and 18 wheelers were coming and going. New people to visit with.

In a short time, we acquired a flock of interesting new friends that we will cherish for a lifetime.

We had a wide open view of the Oklahoma weather coming in from the southwest. In spring our little creek would turn into a raging river, boiling out of its banks and licking at the heels of our bus.

 

In May the tornadoes would blow through like clockwork. Only once were we truly scared – it was about 3 am and our bus was rocking in an 80 mph wind. We could feel our bus wheels lifting off the ground as we braced ourselves in the hallway with all four slides pulled in. “Steve!” I said, “We’re going over!” But somehow, we didn’t. Sometimes the casino would blow its sirens, and residents within a ten mile radius would come running. The stocky-built casino was the best tornado shelter in the county, and they generously shared it with the community.   

 There were cool bands on the weekends, car shows, and big name performers.

Not to mention black jack and slots whenever you needed a fix.

And three great restaurants within walking distance. But why walk?! A cute little shuttle came by every 30 minutes. Just step outside your bus and the driver will take you to the door. We felt like royalty.

 We humorously nicknamed ourselves the Social Directors of the Firelake Parking Lot. We made a point to become best buddies with shuttle bus drivers, and even invited our pal Les and his wife over for a barbecue dinner one night.

 When when we had to leave for 8 days for a flight to Alaska, we were able to ask our good buddy Les to look after our bus. He had to drive by every 30 minutes anyway. He guarded it like a bulldog the whole time we were gone.

 We also had our own gas station, regular and diesel, for ten cents less than competitors, and if you used your casino player card, you got an extra 3 cents off.

There was a handy US mailbox at the gas station and –OH! – the best coffee in the universe! Three flavors – none of them pansy coffee. They never let it get cold in the thermos, or cook down to a thick tar, like so many other convenience stores I have known. And only 75-cents for a giant 24-ounce refill. No tax! Keep it simple. Bring your own cup. Shawnda will greet you with a huge smile every time. They even have steamed milk for real lattes, not the hypersweet dispenser lattes.  No matter where I go in the USA, I haven’t had better coffee. Now when I have to pay $3.57 for a large (rediculously labeled “Venti,”) I grieve for my Firelake 24-oz for 75-cents. 

 In a hurry? There’s a grill here with a great menu open 24 hours a day – whatever you need. Breakfast sandwiches to go and a great Philly steak for lunch.

 It was just about paradise here at Firelake Grand.

Only one minor inconvenience here – we had no private sewer drain. But what do you expect for free? Other places charge $20 to $30 per night for this. Living off our storage tanks means we could not do much laundry aboard the bus.

Our casino did generously provide a shared drain, and it was only three car lengths away. We used to look longingly out at it from our bedroom window. Every seven days we had to pull in our slides and drive the bus 20 feet to empty our tanks. We usually took a few laps around the parking lot just to exercise the motor and give Carol some driving practice.  We could have put a folding chair in our special spot “0” to save it , but since the sewer was only twenty feet away, we could just saunter over there if we saw a new RV approaching.  If it weren’t for our weekly trip across the parking lot, we might have forgotten how to pack up and drive this bus. There’s a lot to it, but we had it down to rocket science – pull in four slides, stow breakable stuff, raise leveling jacks, stow Hughes internet satellite on roof, unhook electric and water, start your engines!

 Hanging out at the casino was definitely a lot more fun than being stranded in the back yard of our old house in Meeker. Also the casino was a lot closer to Shawnee for shopping and tennis.

 So, thanks for the good times, Firelake Grand. We’ll always consider you “Home Base!”    

 

Giving Up Tennis for the RV Life

Friday june 24, 2011

(sorry I don’t have a single photo to go with this article.)

Today I got to play tennis for the last time. I had a good workout with hard singles & doubles. I choked out a simple “Good bye” and then walked off the court with my back to my friends so they wouldn’t see me bawling. They thought I would be back tomorrow.  I couldn’t bring myself to say the truth: “I won’t be back here for a long, long time.”

 My dear tennis buddy Eric called a week later and said, “Hey, when are you coming back to the court?” I had to say, “I don’t know when” because I couldn’t say “Never,” which is probably the correct answer.

 For years I have played tennis three times a week, 2 to 3 hours per day. That is a lot of exercise. Tennis is a central part of my life, my identity, my health, my equilibrium.

Sure, I will be able to find occasional tennis on the road, but it’s not the same. Tennis doubles foursomes are very much like bridge foursomes. They go on for ten, twenty years. There is no point in me going out to a court alone and standing around with a racquet and a long face. Players already have their two or four when they arrive. They don’t show up with 3. They know random players don’t exist.

Tennis is not as popular as it was in the 60’s and 70’s. Football and basketball have taken over in high school because the more players you have on the field, the more parents can show up and cheer.  Tennis is also very big in country clubs and private indoor tennis clubs, to which I don’t belong. As a traveler I couldn’t possibly join a club. Occasionally you find organized tennis in city parks. In Tucson I could play every morning at Ft. Lowell Park. Just show up, give them $5, and they would sort 20 or more retirees into sets of four. Without this set up, I would be forced to beg, read bulletin boards, post on Craig’s list and pray for some other player to get sick so I could wheedle my way into a group of regulars. Sadly, I would just have to leave town the minute I got in. So tennis and the RV gypsy life don’t mix.

 However, it’s OK!!

 Giving up tennis is going to be an easy sacrifice for me because it’s time to head out.

Big Steve has been patiently waiting for me for six long years. He retired from the state of Oklahoma in 2002 after 31 years of service as Motor Pool Director. Since then he has been hanging around the house waiting for me to retire from my job as a self-employed portrait photographer. Don’t get me wrong – Steve was busier than a one armed paper hanger while waiting. The first thing he did upon retiring was to let go of our cleaning lady. He said it would be awkward to watch her putting clean socks in his dresser drawer while he was lying on the bed watching Oprah. So while I was working 60 hours a week on photography, Steve took over everything else — the cooking, cleaning, laundry, 4 acres of yard work and vehicle maintenance. He also did bookkeeping and lots of photo production work and computer repair. Steve is my hero and a jack of all trades. We made a great team. But the clock was ticking on our retirement. 2008 was definitely time for me to hang it up.  I’ll have to switch to walking and bike riding for exercise on the road.

 

Getting BessyBus ready for First Big Trip to Omaha-Milwaukee-Seattle

 Thu June 23, 2011

Two days before D-Day (Departure Day)

Goodby Blacky Blazer, Hello No-Name Dodge Dakota

Our first destination is picked for us — luckily – otherwise we’re dazzled by too many choices.

 Our Seattle brother, Paul and Dee Dwyer, have a son getting married Aug. 20. Our special nephew, Patrick Dwyer, will wed Maria Cuenca. We decide to swing by Milwaukee to see Carol’s sister Sharon and family. Haven’t seen them in way too long! We also want to see Omaha so we will swing wide to the west on our way of Milwaukee.

 Steve has been working frantically all week to make BessyBus road ready. The generator had a stripped nut so we couldn’t replace the fuel filter. We had Cummins freight in Oklahoma City put in a new fuel line, water pump belt, filter, oil change. We also replaced the coolant recovery tank on the Cummins ISL400 engine, but Steve had to modify the new tank to fit. The old one had a crack by the cap and wasn’t holding pressure. We used our dear repair man, Gary Kjenshus RV Repair, to replace the awning topper on the driver side front. Gary also removed our obsolete KingDome tv antenna and replaced it with a WineGuard Travel’r SK3005. Now we’ll have HD programming! Yay!

We used to tow a black ’05 Chevy Trailblazer and Carol loved that frisky little, comfy riding thing. But sadly, we had to say goodbye to Blacky Blazer because it wasn’t big enough to hold Steve’s inflatable boat. He has a 10.5 ft Sea Eagle inflatable with a 5.5 hp Johnson antique motor. In order to stuff all this into the little Blazer, he had to put the boat in the back and then hang the motor on a receiver hitch carrier out back. There was no room left to put groceries or anything in the back. And we needed our back seat free for guests. RV dinners, you know. That’s a big thing.

My photo isn’t doesn’t show this very well, but take my word for it – the motor on the back of the Blazer looked like a wrapped dead body. The motor was lying on its back and covered with tarps and rope. It had a head, plus two feet sticking up, plus arms folded over like a corpse. It was creepy, but no one ever messed with our Blazer. 

We buy everything out of Craig’s List (or Ebay) so in May Steve flew to Detroit and brought a nice clean, 2008 Dodge Dakota back to Oklahoma. Steve is a Chevy man but he thought the Chevy Colorado was a little too small for his big 6’3″ body. The Dakota was 1000 pounds lighter than a full size truck, so he could keep his old hitch set up. With our new Dakota, both boat and motor fit neatly in the bed, and it’s protected by a locking cover. Next he had to convert his Dakota to a proper tow vehicle:

1) install new a tow bar on front. (Keep old tow bar on bus.)

2) install auxillary brakes.  We use M&G — an air hose runs from bus to toad and makes the durn thing apply its own brakes whenever big daddy applies bus brakes up front.

3) install Pressure Pro – this warning system tells you if any of your tires are getting low or flat. It monitors all 6 bus tires, plus all four tires on the tow. It is not a question of IF, but WHEN you will get a flat tire on your tow. Then you just keep dragging your vehicle down the road on its rims. The driver of a 16-ton bus cannot feel any resistance from a truck weighing two tons.

4) install system for remote turn signals and brake lights. So when momma bus turns left or right, or puts on her brakes, baby bus will do the exact same thing. Without this, we will be arrested or hit in the rear, whichever comes first.

Looks like we’ll be all ready to go by Saturday.

 

Misfortune causes 2 year delay; BessyBus Survives Winter of ’10

Wed June 22, 2011

Its three days before D-Day, the day we really, finally get to leave Meeker, OK and go traveling full time. We have been waiting for this day for three years, since January 30, 2008. That’s when we sold our house for the first time, but it didn’t stick.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 We held the note for the buyer, with both parents co-signing. The buyer did not pay. After $10,000 in legal fees and 18 months, we got our house back but buyer kept $85,000 worth of photo equipment and threw away 20 years worth of negatives. The court awarded us a judgment but buyer and both his parents declared bankruptcy so they would not have to pay a dime. Why, you ask, would we foolishly agree to hold the note? It’s because the buyer was self-employed and out-of-state, and we were eager to go.

  We knew the parents were financially stable and naively believed they wouldn’t declare bankruptcy with their stable pension income. Wrong!

The judge handed us back the key to our old house on December 8, 2009. We had sold it right before the big crash and got it back right after. Great timing! Sell low, buy high, we always say.

We could not move back inside the house as all our furniture was gone, and we didn’t want to live inside anyway. We were perfectly happy in our RV. But we had to park it in the back yard to protect the empty, 5,000 square foot house from vandalism until we found a second buyer. (This time we would be sure to get one with a regular bank loan.) We had a lot of work to do to get this house ready for market. 

We ended up living in the back yard on and off for 18 months. We had to get special dispensation from the city manager to park an RV long term in city limits. Our driveway was long, curved and tree lined. It was a horror getting the bus in there. We trimmed trees but still ripped scratches in the side of our bus. By a miracle of God, there was a city sewer manhole cover right in the back yard, so we could stay put once we squashed the bus back there. Without that sewer, we would have had to leave every seven days to dump. We ran a drain hose 15 feet to the manhole cover and propped it slightly open. We got our fresh water from a faucet in the corner of the yard. We invested in a long, expensive 50 amp electric cord and then had our electrician friend, Jim, install a 50 am plug on the side of the house. Then we went to work, painting and cleaning up the house, and listing it with a realtor.

BessyBus survives “Winter of ‘10” in Okie Blizzard

The winter of 09-10 was bitter cold with a couple blizzards. We learned a lot about how to stay warm in an RV. We had electric heat tape wrapped around our fresh water hose, but we still had to leave the kitchen and bathroom faucets dripping all night every night. That ran up our water bill, no doubt.

Our water hose still froze up on bitter cold nights but the next morning the sun would shine and by early afternoon the hose would thaw. Many times the hose was buried in a blanket of snow, and this actually insulated it from cold.

We had our bay (basement) thermostat set to 42 degrees. A couple times our fresh water froze at the faucet right inside the bus.  Steve discovered that cold air was sneaking into the bay through the sewer hose. It was just like an open door. So one of us (Steve) would have to trudge through the snow in his bathrobe to disconnect the sewer hose and cap off the plumbing pipe.  

During the day we could heat our bus with electric heat only from the Hydro-Hot. But at bedtime we had to pull out all our quilts and switch on the diesel boost. The diesel burner ran all night long to keep our bus around 65 degrees.  

Steve estimates we used 70 gallons of diesel over that winter. With a 150 gallon diesel tank, we had plenty left. It was a great blessing not to have to drive the bus out of there for more diesel fuel. Actually, our wheels were frozen in place and our driveway was a block long skating rink with deep drop-offs on both sides. We never could have made it. We love our Hydro-Hot, as compared to propane. 

Finally on April 29, 2011, we sold our house. Pinch us!  The albatross is gone! The chains are cut! The prisoners are set free! Now let’s get this bus out of the back yard before the new family moves in. We’ve killed all the grass under the bus. Must be time to hit the road, Jack! 

– carol ann dwyer