“…this love of the land.” –Gerald O’Hara, Gone with the Wind
In Margaret Mitchell’s Civil War saga, Gone with the Wind, the indomitable Scarlett O’Hara learns what daddy meant about loving the land–with soiled fingernails and tattered dress, she protects the plantation Tara, the last vestige of her confederate legacy, against a changing postwar South.
Like Scarlett, the Transit crew, made up of impervious southerners too, faces each day’s toils one day at at time. It’s helpful to keep a positive attitude and a willingness to get dirty. We tenaciously remain dedicated to our plans, against all odds. And while we haven’t experienced a war at home, we have been forced, just as Scarlett was, to adjust to a less luxurious lifestyle. We are trimming the fat, folks. I believe we are all losing weight, which makes passing each other in the hallways much more pleasant.
And even though we’re not harvesting our own food, in a sense we’re living off the land (or the oil we find stockpiled there). We are also learning to identify helpful resources in our environment, like the 24-hr port-a-potty right down the street. And to conserve fuel and water, we’ve fallen into a shower cycle and have learned the art of the sponge bath. So far so good, and we’re not even boy scouts.
Something else Transit Antenna has in common with Scarlett: we’re getting used to accepting what Nature and Chance dole out to us. Right now we’re bus bound as thunderheads roll above and and rain pelts the roof. Lightening bolts shoot down behind the tree lines. Friends and family call about the tornadoes looming above, but for the most part, it’s calm outside, just wet. But looking to the bright side, it’s also very cool out, which keeps us comfortable inside the bus. To some we’re known as “the guys on the bus with no air conditioning.” The heat hasn’t been a problem yet. Eventually we’ll have to negotiate the impending summer heat waves and the mosquitoes, but for now we plug along. After all, our bus runs at will, an auspicious omen.
We’re on our sixth night in St. Augustine and we’ve truly lucked out. The Alligator Farm and Zoological Park has opened their doors to us (thanks to Rebecca at Redux), and we’ve been met with nothing but kindness and enthusiasm. We have permission to spend as many nights as we like in their RV parking lot where we have power hookups, and we spent the last few days in the park interviewing employees and shooting a documentary which will be available in the coming weeks.
But we’ve been on the road for almost three weeks now, and I’m sure you’re curious about what we’ve been up to since we left Ruffin, so let me retrace some of our steps. Savannah was our first stop after Ruffin and our first destination where we would finally get a sense of life on the bus, without family nearby to house and feed us and without electrical hookups, endless water, and a dump site for our sewage. We also had the chance of scoring some oil with one of Bob’s relatives.
We entered Savannah excited and ready to go. The crew chanted in chorus, “Go, go, go!” as Walter chugged his way up the Talmadge Memorial Bridge, crossing the Savannah River toward its famed River Street. As we drove downtown, we found a free parking spot for Walter, and climbed out of the bus for a walk along the streets of Savannah’s historic district. This town is eerily melancholy: as seen in the statue of Florence Martus, Savannah’s lonely “waving girl,” whose bronze towel forever beckons ghost ships on the river, and collie stands aside, permanently waiting. (Even Kentridge shuttered under his stoicism.) Or the dark, narrow staircases cut out of the side of brick storm walls, all steps cut to different heights and stacked almost vertically. I imagine sailors stumbling through dark streets over uneven cobblestone. I wonder if anyone’s life has been claimed by these treacherous staircases. (Now I’m being dramatic.)
Like any historic city experiencing suburban sprawl, not all of Savannah charms as anachronistically as downtown. When we were ready to eat and sleep, we programmed GPS to take us to the Wal-Mart where we knew we would be able to spend the night unmolested. Thus began the tough part of our adjustment to life on the road in a forty-foot transit bus.
The following morning, we started dropping like flies with a horrible cold. First Taylor, then Dawn, then Seth and me the next day. Bob somehow remained healthy (that is, until we arrived in St. Augustine when the virus claimed a new host). He swears it was the pomegranate juice he had been drinking all along. I guess he ran out eventually. As for the rest of us, we spent the remainder of our time in Savannah recovering. There was little the Hostess City of the South could offer us to make our stay more enjoyable. So we moped: between shopping center parking lots, where there’s always a vacancy and hardly any landlords to snoop or move us along. We moped down the street to run errands. We moped for no other reason but to find a better lot or a park for Kentridge.
While there are obvious drawbacks to parking lot living (most lots are bordered by more lots, making escape by foot impossible, especially for the ill), lots with privacy, wooded areas, and space where no one ever really parks can be comfortable. A 24-hr store beats all, because it translates into a 24-hr bathroom that doesn’t put you-know-what into our septic tank. Might as well take advantage of this luxury when we can.
We managed to drag ourselves to the Savannah Botanical Gardens for a relaxing visit with an old friend from Charleston. And the next day, we ate breakfast with Bob’s grandmother. She then took the Sneads on a tour of Savannah. When they returned from their visit, we had plans to acquire some veggie oil, so we decided to eat at the restaurant called Sweet Potatoes, which agreed to give us oil that evening. Sweet Potatoes (excellent soul food, by the way) gave us boiling hot oil, freshly poured from the grease traps. Thinking the hot grease might be too much to filter, we decided to bypass the filters and pump directly into the secondary tank: we would deal with cleaning the oil later when we weren’t in the restaurant’s parking lot.
Then the rubber hoses collapsed under the pressure of the pump and the heat of the grease. We turned the pump off and ladled the oil into buckets that we sealed and placed securely on the bus steps in preparation for our drive. Our plan was to let water settle out of the oil, and then pump the oil through the filters into the primary tank where it could finally be used as fuel. With that plan in mind, we moved on toward Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in southern Georgia, stopping off at the Wal-Mart in Waycross, Georgia, for a night’s sleep. We ran on veggie most of the way, and pulled into the Wal-Mart parking lot around 2:30 am, when we crawled into bed.
The point of converting our system to run off of vegetable oil is to save us from buying diesel, but we still have some kinks to work out.
The following morning in Waycross, when we tried to pump the oil through the filters and into the primary tank, the process moved so slowly, we figured it would take hours to push a single gallon through. The problem resulted from a combination of pump problems and collapsing hoses. We managed to move some of the oil into the primary tank, and because we needed to move on to our reservation at the Stephen C. Foster State Park in the Okefenokee Wildlife Refuge, we decided to make more adjustments at camp.
Okefenokee Swamp, Somewhere near the Georgia / Florida state line
Once set up at camp, we all relaxed for a few days. One evening I went for a swamp walk with Taylor and Dawn. It’s not difficult to see why the swamp boasts supernatural phenomena. The line between sky and swamp fades in still water and the trees flatten abstractly. The thick overgrowth of trees obscures the direction of the sun, making navigation difficult, and the reflection of light off the surface of the water creates the illusion of sky being all around. As night falls, the water and tree trunks blend together in soft, impenetrable shadows. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to explore this space for the first time. Of course, I never left the boardwalk. And I prayed to see the fabled swamp monster, but he didn’t reveal himself to me. The Sneads rented a canoe and toured the swamp. They saw many alligators and almost flipped once. Fortunately, they came back to camp dry.
After resting up, enjoying the fresh air, washing clothes, and spoiling ourselves with daily hot showers, we prepared to leave Okefenokee.
Reaching Jacksonville, our veggie oil was running low, so we decided to do some cold calling of restaurants. You never really know what kind of responses you’ll get from people–the point is to keep trying. On my first attempt, the restaurant owner kept calling me “sweetie” and said if we came in and bought dinner, he’d give us two or three gallons. Sorry, but no thanks. Somewhere around my third or fourth rejection, a woman in broken English asked me how I got her cell phone number. I told her “Google” and that was the truth.
Seth had much better luck. He found a restaurant with a full barrel of oil that was ours to take: a fifty-gallon jackpot, enough to fill one tank completely. We started pumping at about 4:00. At first we were moving oil, but eventually it slowed to a stop. More troubleshooting. The sun went down on us as we replaced hoses, cleaned and changed filters, changed the order of pumps and filters, and so on. Finally, the guys decided to remove a special filter designed to separate water out of diesel fuel. The pleated filter just wasn’t passing oil. Afterward, we were able to fill our primary tank pretty quickly, filtered and all.
Around 9:00 we got back on the road and then pulled off to switch to veggie when the temperature got up to 160 degrees. When we pulled back onto the highway, the veggie oil temperature decreased rapidly, and the bus lost much of its power. Bob was able to keep the bus moving at about 35 mph, but no more, while flooring it. We pulled over and switched back to diesel. There was speculation that the huge quantity of oil in the primary tank prevented the oil from retaining heat. Figuring out this issue is our next vegetable oil challenge.
In keeping with the excitement of our ventures, Joe and Amy are less than an hour away from here! Finally the entire crew will assemble!
Come back to the site for more on our stay in St. Augustine and our experience walking among the alligators!
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