A while back (... ok ...that might be one year ago or a tad more) I mentioned that I'd relate some of my adventures on my first extended road trip in a 1974 Volkswagen Westphalia many seasons ago. The post was Introducing Shermie. However, I got so involved with my present situation that the post remained a simple intro. There were some delights and some hmmm... shall we say less than delightful moments, as well. Most of them I recall with a chuckle, others with a shudder. The next one is a bit of both.
I had landed at North Padre Island, on the Gulf of Mexico coast in Texas thinking I'd spend some of the winter right there. The camping was primitive--a spot on the beach, chemical toilets, garbage pickup, and showers (icy cold as I well remember!) But it all made me feel ecstatically happy.
There I met with very interesting people, one of whom was Will, also in a VW van, a 1964 bright orange model. (It very nicely complemented my Yosemite yellow Shermie in garishness.) Will had brought up his daughter as a single dad. She had recently turned 19 and, keen on exercising her newfound independence, had told her dad that she was ready to begin her life as an adult. Will gave her his blessing, promptly got rid of his apartment, bought the van, and almost trembling with anticipation, took to the road hoping to realize his long held journalistic dream of ferreting out The Big Scoop and writing about it.
Christmas had come and gone. Will thought that we ought to celebrate the new year at the southernmost tip of Texas, at the mouth of the Rio Grande where it flows into the Gulf of Mexico. The place is called Boca Chica (meaning small mouth). He and I agreed to meet there on the day before New Year's Eve. By the time I'd made it into Brownsville from North Padre Island it was already dark.
I usually double-check routes that I have to travel and did so in Brownsville, just to make sure. The distance was about 25 miles and the road, at that time, featured nothing but darkness. I had been told that there would be some sort of building before entering the camping area. After more than 21 to 22 miles by my reckoning, I began to have doubts as there was nothing but blackness on either side of the road. Finally, I spotted a white trailer not too far from the road with lights on inside.
I knocked at the door and this diminutive elderly lady opened the door a crack. I asked her if I was on the road to Boca Chica. By that time, I thought that perhaps I'd taken a wrong turn somewhere. She told me, "...one minute, I'll get my husband" and closed the door. When it opened again, this very tall lanky senior (a dinosaur, in my view) came armed with a pistol in one hand and a rifle in the other. I took a couple of steps backward and said with a bit of a tremolo in my voice, "Sir... I'm only wanting to know whether I'm on the right road to Boca Chica". His response in a dreadfully cavernous voice, "...Lady, you'd better not try anything funny!" I assured him that I only wanted the information. He reiterated, "...Yeah, well you'd better not try anything funny. This time I'm ready! I opened the door once before to a woman asking for directions, and before I knew it, 4 or 5 men barged into my trailer and robbed me blind. There better not be anyone behind you, 'cause I'm ready this time!"
I shuddered thinking that if Will saw my van, he might stop by and end his journey and mine right there before the New Year and Boca Chica. I didn't know whether he had left before or after me since he'd said he had some shopping to do. So, very slowly, I took some steps backward telling the "gentleman" that if it was ok with him, I'd just get back to my van and GO. I slowly, calmly, made it backwards all the way to my van, then hauled ass out of there as fast as I could, praying he'd be convinced of my departure or I'd end up a stiff.
However, I still didn't know if I was heading to Boca Chica. A mile or so down the road, I spotted two rigs with lights on. So this time, I took my lantern, turned it on, and held it way up above my head to show that I was indeed alone, unarmed, and hopefully looking innocent enough. I knocked at the door of the most brilliantly lit rig and this LOVELY woman opened the door laughing her head off, commenting, "... My, my, what have we here--a walking lamppost?"
From scary the whole thing was ending up ludicrous. I joined her laughter and told her about my encounter with the "dinosaurs". She replied that they were quite ancient, well into their eighties, quite nervous, and afraid, from Saskatchewan, Canada (I'd already seen the plates which is why I'd felt quite safe knocking at their door). I asked her whether I was heading in the right direction since I'd been told that I'd see some buildings before the camping area and there was NOTHING but blackness. She replied that there used to be some but that the last hurricane had wiped everything off. Relief is too mild a word to describe how I felt. She added that the beach was only a bit further and admonished me to be careful as the tide sometimes could be quite high. She closed the door, still laughing...
I drove on, saw Will's van right on the beach and related my encounter. We ended up both laughing the whole thing off. He added however, that the place was not safe as right across the Rio Grande was Mexico and that sometimes, some came across armed. We resolved to just celebrate the New Year and depart. Quickly, Quietly.
In all my years of traveling solo, first in Shermie and later in my present RV, it was probably the most dangerous encounter I've ever had to face.