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10/13/00 - From P-A to O-HI-O

Drove from Erie into and then through Cleveland, Ohio. Stopped at the Tourist Information Center along the way and was impressed to find signes for RVs, telling where to park. Usually the signs at rest stops along the Interstate say "Cars and Buses" this way and "Trucks" that way. I'm always confused about what I am. Picked up a campgrounds book and located a campground in Brunswick, Ohio, convenient to Strongsville where I would be having dinner with Cleveland Webgrrls.

For some reason, I wanted a Denny's breakfast, and as luck would have it, there was a Denny's right off the exit I took off the Interstate to get to the campground. But breakfast was over, so I had an egg, ham, bacon and cheese sandwich which wasn't very good. I regretted not getting something with mashed potatoes and green beans.

Went to the Shell station across the street to fill up the tank. Since I have a Shell card, I figured I'd fill it all the way up to the top. As I was topping off the tank, a car pulled up next to me.

"What year is that, if you don't mind me asking?" There were two guys, good ol'boys, leaning out of the dcar window to look.

"'77," I said and continued paying attention to the fuel pump.

"Mind is we look?" What could I say? Yes, go away? It was broad daylight, a well-trafficked gas station. "Sure." I said and they got out of their car, asking all sorts of questions about the RV and then about my travels. I tried to give as little information as possible while being polite. I hadn't prepared a "cover story," so I was essentially honest but vague.

One of them smelled of alcohol in the early afternoon. Having been a bartender in North Carolina, I knew how to handle soused good ol' boys. Just be polite and nice, not too nice, but use measured niceness.

"You're leaking gas," a guy across the gas station island called out. "Oh, that's just the water tank," I said, having seen water leaking occasionally out of a drain spigot on the bottom of the potable water holding tank.

One of the good ol' boys went around the other side of the RV. "It's gas," he said, coming back around, sniffing the liquid on his fingers. It was gasoline. The guys introduced themselves to me and extended their hands to shake. The drinker, whose name I didn't catch, held out a fingerless hand. I shook it politely.

The other guy, who called himself 'Stub,' held out his hand, which, too, was fingerless. Was this really happening? I was leaking gas - which was actually pouring out of the bottom of the RV like rain. And I was being assisted by two fingerless men.

"Pull on over there and I'll get under to look at it" the drinker said.

"He's a good mechanice, works on heavy machinery," said Stub.

"Notice anything about us?" asked the drinker. He held out his hand and Stub held out his hand again. "Accidents on the job," he said by way of explanation. I pulled over, and he got under the RV and started saying what he saw. "Fiberglass tank, must be pretty new. Didn't make them back then. Five clamps on the exhaust system. Only really needs two. Leak must be really high up on the tank. Only leaking when it's full. Not leaking anymore."

Their advice to me was to fill it 1/8th of a tank away from full from now on and to use Regular gas, not the premium they had noticed I was using. "It's all the same on the freeway," they said.

Stub was beside himself with awe about my RV and my trip. "I admire you for going out and driving across the country. I've always wanted to do it, but I'm too scared. But I'm looking to buy an RV myself. I'm going to hook the Harley on the back."

He proceeded to offer to me me an RV awning he had. I politely declined. They were nice enough, but I never let my guard down, watching every move they made. The Berts didn't seem too agitated by them and they knew to keep a safe distance from Chewie the Biter. Stub gave me his phone numbers. "Call if you come back this way. I'll take you to lunch. I really admire what you're doing."

I thanked them, started up the engine, and pulled out of the station, watching them in my side view mirror, making sure they weren't following me. I had decided to drive to a big store like K Mart in case they were behind me, rather than going directly to the campground, but they did not follow.

Whenever in Need...

I finally drove to the Willow Lake Campground and pulled into a nice grassy site right between two large trailers. The Berts and I layed out on a towel in the afternoon sun. Perfect. willowlake

Then I heard some voices from a campsite nearby, then a voice called out "Anyone need anything from Camping World?"

Camping World! The RVers Mecca! There was one in Brunswick! I got up and walked over to the campers, who I had learned were Shriners, according to the woman at the registration desk when I checked in. Al Koran Campers, according to a sign near their trailers. They would be holding a clambake Saturday night.

"Are you going to Camping World?" I asked, and a gray-haired, stocky man with light blue eyes said 'Yes.' "Mind if I hitch a ride?" I asked.

I don't know what I was thinking. I had a sense that it would be okay. Something prompted me to ask without concern or worry. Looking back, I remember marvelling at how I had a positive feeling about the situation, aware of that feeling even as it was happening. "Sure," he said. I went back to my RV, put the Berts in their bag, and walked over to his campsite.

His name was Dan and he called to his wife that he was going to Camping World. We got into his old SUV and were on our way. Along the way, he told me about the Shriners, the Masons, the Freemasons and the Shrine Hospitals. He told me that the mission of the Shriners was to help children.

Shrine Hospitals were full-funded by Shriners through their fundraisers and they were run at a cost of a million dollars a day. Any child 18 or under can get all treatments at Shrine Hospitals for free. They have 3 burn units and 19 orthopedic centers. His volunteer job with the Shrine Hospitals is to chaffeaur children to and from the hospitals in his region.

"We always travel in twos. There are two of us, the child, their guardian. We pick them up from home, take them to the hospital, and take him to lunch before bringing them home," he explained. "If they have to stay at the hospital, that's free, too. The hospital even provides rooms so their family can stay with them at no cost."

He went on to describe their symbol - the square, compass and the letter G in middle signifying God, then told me a little history of the organization and the lodges. "Some people think we're a secret organization, but we're not. But we are an organization with a few secrets."

He also mentioned that for every Coca Cola you buy, a percentage of sales goes to Shrine Hospitals, that someone high up at the Coca Cola corporation is a Shriner and pledged the money to help children through their organization.

We arrived at Camping World, and I gleefully rolled my cart up and down each aisle to see all of the amazing RV products. I picked up some must-have items like more toilet chemicals, a foam cushion for the driver's seat, and some no-slip placemats, then joined their "President's Club" to receive discounts on purchases.

On the way back to the campground, Dan and I talked about rescuing dogs. He had rescued several over the years and had a variety of experiences and stories. He got a kick out of the Berts in the bag. "When you got into the car, I just thought you had a big handbag. I didn't realize they were in there until I saw them in the store."

At camp, he walked to the back of his SUV and told me to take a look. He showed me three metal emblems on his rear window. One was the Freemason symbol with square, compass and G. One was a 32 degree Shriner symbol meaning he was at the highest level within the organization before getting to the very top echelon. The last was his Al Koran symbol.

"If you ever see anyone with any of these symbols on their car, on their license plate, on their hate, sometimes even on their jacket, then you know you can ask them for help. Whenever you need help on the road, they will be there for you. They are the ones to ask."

I thanked him, offered him money for gas which he refused, and so I returned to the Apache, read emails for a while, then left for Longhorn Steakhouse and dinner with a few Webgrrls. cleveland webgrrls

Dinner was nice, and I explained the history and philosophy of Webgrrls to Cheryl and another member. Then we talked about our dogs and dog care. After taking photos outside the RV, I was on my way back to the campground.

What happened next was entirely unexpected.

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