Now I know where to find great T-shirts in central Alabama

First, an important note: Jenna has 1,700 miles and 8 nights left on her trip. Her funds are quickly dwindling. If you have a dollar or $5 or $500 to spare, she could use it. All Thrifty States is a very cool project, and Jenna is a great girl. Please click here to donate.

Now on with our show …

We spent Monday night at the home of Jenna’s friend Cecelia and her husband, Ryan. Before we all crashed, we ordered pizza and watched the “Breaking Bad” pilot. I’ve only been on the road with Jenna for a few days, and it was so nice to return to “normal” life. Jenna has been on the road for 30-plus days; I can’t imagine how welcome these little in-home oases are for her!

I woke up Tuesday to the rain gently falling against the window, with a soft light streaming through the trees. I pulled myself out of bed and got ready to face the day, only to snuggle back into our hosts’ couch to finish my book. I’ll take that every morning, please. After finishing “The Selected Works of Whimsical cat is whimsical.T.S. Spivet” — which was weird but compelling, although I didn’t really find the end all that satisfying — I ate a few pieces of leftover cheese bread from Papa John’s and begged Jenna for some ibuprofen. Despite the day’s delightful beginnings, I’d woken up with a hoopendoodle of a headache.

The ibuprofen started to work its magic, and we headed out to visit the Goodwill store in Montgomery, Alabama. Goodwill is sponsoring Jenna’s trip, so she’s trying to visit as many of the shops as she can along her route. Like the Buckhead Goodwill, the Montgomery store was spacious, clean and well-organized. Many years ago I overheard a kid at a thrift store complaining to his mom that the shop smelled “like broccoli and old ladies.” Maybe Jenna just has a knack for choosing the best stores, but I’m thinking maybe thrift stores in general have cleaned up their act a bit. That is to say: I’ve been impressed at how tidy the stores we’ve visited have been.

The Montgomery Goodwill gets my vote for both Best T-Shirts and Most Wonderful Book Section so far this trip. They had a vast array of N’Sync t-shirts, as well as a host of goofy slogans such as “I (heart) hot moms” and I (cheeseburger) cows.” Their book section was actually its own room, which could have functioned as a small used book store. The lack of organization in there made me a little twitchy — the “Dune” books should all be together, for one, and I spied four copies of Robert James Waller’s “Puerto Vallarta Squeeze” and a variety of Paul Reiser tomes scatter wily-nily across the bookshelves — but they had an impressive selection. I bought a copy of Tom Wolfe’s “A Man in Full,” a circa-1964 cookbook from Brennan’s restaurant and a set of flip-through explorer cards for the kids.

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We started the drive to Mobile, Alabama, after Jenna finished a few interviews with the local media, and we made it about halfway there before HaRVey politely requested an oil change. His little dashboard notification system said, “Pardon me, miss, but I could use a spot of oil. Pip-pip, cheerio!” OK, well maybe it wasn’t that, verbatim, but it was along those lines. So we made a brief pitstop, then carried on our way.

The sky was ominously dark in the distance for the rest of the drive, but we forged ahead anyway, with a song in our hearts and Nutella-graham snacks in our hands. The skies were clear when we arrived at our campsite, and Jenna made us some Butternut Squash Ravioli for dinner. It was delicious, but it made me miss my Poppy something ferocious. The clear skies seemed to be giving way to more rain as I typed this, and there was enough thunder to make me a little nervous. Let’s hope it isn’t a night like the one Jenna experienced in Iowa!

Lessons learned on Day Four

  • Toasted almonds and garlic are a genius addition to butternut squash ravioli.
  • Getting the oil changed in an RV is expensive.

  • Cheatin’ hearts and budget building supplies

    A shipping snafu had us spending an extra day in the Montgomery, Alabama, area to wait for a package, so we had a very leisurely Monday morning. Once we were finally up and (sort of) at ‘em, we opened the curtains to see a man on an ATV taking a pony on a leash for its morning constitutional. I’m learning to love you, Alabama.

    After checking out, we drove to Opelika to find a couple of local thrift stores that we’d found online. One of them seemed to have disappeared, the second was actually a day-old bakery outlet and the third had a closed sign in the window. But there was a lady walking toward the door, so we pulled in in the hopes that they’d be opening soon.

    It turned out that The Buildmore Store isn’t actually open on Mondays, but Lisa let us have a look around and chatted with Jenna for a bit anyway. The store is run by the Alabama Rural Ministry, which assists locals with home repairs. That’s a cause I can get behind, and even if I couldn’t? I’d shop at Buildmore if I were nearby. They had boxes of unopened, brand-new light fixtures; piles and piles of tile; a ton of doors and windows; and the largest shelving unit I’ve ever seen. It had to be 12 feet tall.

    After parting ways with Lisa we drove into Montgomery in search of a Target. We ended up driving through a shopping area that I believe is the exact opposite of the thrift-store mentality (Williams-Sonoma, anyone?) on the way there, but I felt right at home again. We stocked up on supplies (c.h.o.c.o.l.a.t.e. mostly) and then went to meet Jenna’s friend Cecilia, who lives in Montgomery and graciously offered to show us around and let us sleep in her house.

    Did you know that Montgomery is home to the Hank Williams Museum? It is, and we went. It was equal parts interesting and creepy. We drove by his grave, too, which was ornate and peaceful and not at all creepy. “Junior” pays for ornate floral arrangements for the site, but the lady at the museum said they’ve had some issues with people stealing the arrangements. They had a picture of a lovely guitar made mostly of roses that was stolen in the most recent pilfering. I can’t imagine a much lower petty crime than stealing flowers off a grave. (I didn’t get any pictures at the museum, because they were only allowed in the lobby. I was chastised for taking a picture in the gift shop. Which is adjacent to the lobby.)

    So now we’re hanging out in Cecelia’s dining room, which at this moment looks a lot like a coffee shop, what with all the laptops and typing going on. Assuming that the errant package arrives on time, we should be heading off for Mobile tomorrow. Mobile is Rockford’s birthplace. I’m fairly certain they have neither a statue nor a museum marking the event, but they really ought to. He’s a great guy.

    Lessons learned on Day 3

  • Seeing a pony on a leash is a great way to start the day.
  • Hank Williams was a snazzy dresser.
  • It is hot & sweaty in Alabama.

  • Remember that scene from “Tommy Boy”? It wasn’t that bad.

    Were you aware that the bathroom in an RV is very, very small? It is! Small like an airplane bathroom! And the shower, it’s right there on the bathroom wall. I know there’s a name for the everything-in-one-room bathroom approach, but I don’t know what it is. And the campground we were at on Sunday charges $10 for internet, so I couldn’t look it up.* (Because I am thrifty, which I believe is what gave me access to the All Thrifty States tour bus.) So I’m going to call it an en suite bathroom and leave it at that.

    Anyway, I started Sunday off with a refreshing shower in the en suite bathroom. I’ve never actually watched myself shampoo before, but the close quarters made it possible today. I’m happy to say that I seem to be a thorough shampooer.

    Once it was go-time, we detached HaRVey from its various ports and headed to the Goodwill store in Buckhead. I’ve been working under the impression that Buckhead is a fancypants area of Atlanta, so I was expecting Big Things from the stop. It was a very clean and well-organized thrift store, but I saw nary a Picasso. I did, however, see several monkey-themed candleholders, a copy of “Bill Lambeer’s Combat Basketball” for Super Nintendo and a book of Greek myths. I left Bill and the monkeys behind and nabbed the book for $1.50.

    After lunch and a short walk around Centennial Park, we started off for Alabama. A few hours later we found a campsite that claimed to offer internet service (important because Jenna is providing regular updates on her blog as part of her project). We parked our little van down by the river and started to hook things up, only to find out that there was in fact no wi-fi. So we called another campground. They said yes, they had internet, and it was free if you were close enough to the office. Once we got there we discovered that none of the sites next to the office had electricity. I am disappointed in your ability to provide free and reliable wi-fi, Alabama. (Yes, I know that this makes me a whiney first-world brat. I’m at peace with that.)

    Lessons learned on Day Two:

  • The people of Buckhead really like monkeys, but only briefly. (Beware, monkeys of Buckhead. You are living amongst a fickle folk.)
  • The mosquitoes in Alabama are quick and vicious, like little winged ninjas.

    *I did try to look it up once we got to a place with internet access so I could post this, but I still can’t find the name. I did, however, find a helpful article about bathroom-related injuries. Among the information: Women are more likely to be injured than men in the bathroom. Stay safe, ladies!

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  • 22. Slumber

    A soft pillow, a warm bed and the rain falling gently outside.

    Taking to the highways with “All Thrifty States”

    My friend Jenna is off on a cross-country adventure this summer, and earlier this month (or possibly last month; I’ve lost track) she asked if I’d like to join her for a week of touring thrift stores in the RV. I worked with Jenna at a newspaper in Missouri for about five years, but we never really hung out. So I don’t know her all that well, really, although I do know her better than my mother- and sister-in-law thought I did. They were under the impression that I’d never met her before and that this was some sort of internet thing. Which it is not. I only use Craigslist to arrange every third excursion.

    Anyway, after some schedule-wrangling, Rockford and I decided we could make it happen. And so it happened that I joined the All Thrifty States team on a portion of their southern tour. (Said team consisting of Jenna and HaRVey the RV.)

    I was supposed to meet Jenna in Atlanta, so I bid a tearful adieu to my little family and hit the highway. (Actually, they hit the highway first. Then I had a bowl of ice cream, got the mail and then hit the road. It was a little tearful, though.) Rockford’s dear, delightful cousin Carrie had agreed to car-sit for me this week, so my first order of business was to find her apartment. Except that I was quite a bit earlier than I’d expected to be, and I didn’t want to impede upon her entire day. So I stopped at Ikea first. I usually enjoy a stroll through the Swedish shopping paradise, but on Saturday? Not so much. At least half of Atlanta was at Ikea with me. I walked around, didn’t buy a single item and then set off to find dear, delightful Carrie’s house.

    In general, I am not very good with navigating (foreshadowing!), so I was greatly surprised to find her building with no problems at all. She showed me where to park the car and then took me on a tour of her ridiculously cool apartment. It’s in a converted warehousey-factoryish building, and it’s kind of an amazing space. Carrie very graciously watched half of an episode of “Phineas and Ferb” with me and then – as retaliation, perhaps? – made me watch a brief portion of the utterly ridiculous “Yentl” (How could they not know you were a lady, Barbra? Nobody suspected? I don’t buy it.) before driving me to my rendezvous point with Jenna.

    Or should I say trying to drive me to my rendezvous point. We took the wrong interstate, corrected that and then couldn’t find the mall, and I couldn’t make the toll coins add up to 50 cents. We finally found Jenna, but it took about twice the amount of time that it should have.

    And then I wrote this, happily ensconced in HaRVey. Can I tell you how excited I am to be riding in a vehicle that comes with its own toilet? I might not be able to road trip in a boring old car ever again.

    Lessons learned on Day One:

  • Ikea is a bad, bad place to be on a Saturday afternoon.
  • Dear, delightful Carrie and I should not be allowed out in public together.