To prepare for the anthem tour, Bonnie and I have undertaken several different efforts and challenges: Since July of 2010, I have spent about 300 hours contacting teams with my proposal and audition link, devising possible routes based on their home schedules, proposing dates and setting a schedule, purchasing and outfitting an RV, and reading extensively about Minor League teams and leagues’ histories. Meanwhile, Bonnie has begun to explore and catalogue possible RV campgrounds at anticipated stops, while we both have started to enjoy reading travel narratives.
Before beginning this venture, our cumulative experience in RVs had been limited to three nights. Two decades ago, we had borrowed friend Bill Brown’s Class C coach to spend a night boon-docking near Palm Springs before taking a hot-air balloon ride the following morning. Months later, I persuaded Bill again to allow me to borrow his RV for a couple of nights so that I could conduct some research on Super Bowl fans at Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego. These brief trips had been our entire RV experience until our purchase of a Class A RV, a 1994 Fleetwood Flair with 23K original miles, for this anthem tour.
So a month before Opening Day for Minor League Baseball, Bonnie and I planned a shakeout trip to road test our RV, which we playfully named Arby—short for “rattly bang,” since that is the sound that it makes when it runs over pot holes or our stuff shifts in sharp turns. We set Mendocino as our destination since it charms us with memories about the place where Bonnie had spent vivid childhood summers in the redwoods home of Nana, her grandmother George. In addition, the distance to Mendocino allowed us to anticipate the anthem tour by driving a few hundred miles on consecutive days through big cities, on clogged freeways, and across mountain roads. Although unplanned, strong winds along the 101 north of Santa Barbara and rain in the coastal range of mountains added to our learning experience.
As we drove north from Los Angeles, Bonnie began to read aloud Charles Kuralt’s memoir, A Life on the Road. I had expected to be inspired by Kuralt’s reflections on travel. I was surprised to learn of his Southern roots, his prize-winning essay as an adolescent about the Charlotte Hornet’s third baseman, and his subsequent coverage of junior high sports for the Charlotte newspaper. Immediately, I connected with his Southern heritage and his reporting on junior high basketball, which I had also done as an early teen for the Jackson Clarion-Ledger. And the start of his journalistic career with the essay on a minor league baseball player now resonated with my tour to minor league ballparks. I was charged up by his road life. I only hoped that his repeated troubles with RV mechanical systems would not be replayed by us.
When we reached Mendocino, we boon-docked the RV on a private spot just off Highway 1, not far from the Compche-Ukiah Road on which Bonnie’s grandmother had lived. Situated in 40 acres of prime redwood forest sloping down to Laguna Creek, Nana’s house had burned several decades ago; but the “Tom Thumb” playhouse, built in 1954 by Grandpa George for his grandchildren, had been the goal for family visits to the property ever since. (Take a look at pictures of the playhouse in Bonnie’s blog. The rainbow colors of remaining boards attest the durability of lead-based paint!)
Our shakeout proved effective since we encountered electrical difficulties when we started to leave the site. As we checked the turn signals and brake lights on Arby and its toad (the towed Saturn that came with its purchase), we discovered no illumination. I hadn’t wanted to identify so quickly and so closely with Kuralt’s RV difficulties! Within a few hours, however, Steve and Jamie Shipman at the American Repair Service in nearby Fort Bragg were able to fix the problem and send us on our way to retrace the winding route through the Alexander River Valley, back toward Highway 101, and on to Los Angeles.