At this point in our trip, we had been in the USA just over two months. I think we were both aware of our visa expiration, counting down in the background. This now served as a reminder to make the most of everyday of our trip.
The day of Frank Turner’s show in St Petersburg had finally arrived. Ever since Frank had announced his ‘No man’s land’ tour in the States, I had been desperately hoping our trip would match up to his schedule. So I was ‘over the moon’ when I was able to buy tickets for his show in St Petersburg, just West of Tampa.It had been a while since I had seen Frank live. In fact I don’t think I have seen him play since having my tattoo inspired by his lyrics back in 1016.
During our stay with Victor, he informed us that he owned another house near Tampa, and kindly offered for us to park the van there during our stay near the area.Pulling up at the property, I phoned Victor to thank him for the kindness he had once again shown us and to ask him how to turn on the water. The house we were stopping outside was Victor’s former house, which he had recently put on the market the weekend before, and so the house had a combination key safe with the house key inside. Well, it seemed Victor had one more grand act of kindness, as he gave us the combination for the safe and gave us permission for us to go inside and to use what we need. Warning us that the shower smelled bad. Now it was a bad connection, so I assumed that I had misheard the part about the shower smelling bad… But it did!
With the Frank Turner show only a couple of hours away, we just about had time to refresh ourselves before the show. I hadn’t mentioned the Victor’s warning about the shower and so I wasn’t as surprised as I should have been when Willow informed me after her shower, that she believed the water smelt of rotten eggs. It turned out that I hadn’t misheard Victor, and in fact the well which supplied the property had an innocent bacteria inside which creates excess sulfur, causing the water to smell bad. Fortunately, living in the van had considerably lowered our standards when it came to showers and so I jumped in straight after she had finished. Rotten eggs had got to be an improvement on my current odour!Cleaned up, we set off to St Petersburg, leaving Aimee to enjoy the freedom of an entire house. If Ian’s room was anything to go by, she would be exhausted by the time we returned.As part of the drive to St Petersburg, we would have to cross Tampa Bay over the famous Skyway Bridge.
The bridge was once again an example of America’s insane bridge architecture, over sections of water which had no right to be driven over. We should definitely seek out advice from their best and build a bridge to unite Wales and Ireland.Arriving at the Palladium, we parked up in the event car park, close to the tour bus. I was hoping that if we hung around long enough after the show, then we might get an opportunity to grab a picture of the man himself, in front of Ruby.
Frank has just realised a concept album of sorts. All of the songs had been inspired by strong females throughout history who people may not have heard about. So for his current run of shows, he had split the show into two sets. Firstly, an acoustic solo performance of said album from start to finish. And then after, he would return with his touring band the Sleeping Souls, to perform a stripped back set of all of his classics.For his first set, he performed the songs sat down in a leather arm chair, besides a small table. Frank hadn’t only written his album inspired by the stories of these great women’s lives, but he was traveling around the world to tell them himself, with the use of his guitar.
Now I must admit, I had given his newest release ‘No Man’s Land’ quite a few listens since it’s release, and whilst it carries the same Frank Turner charm, I didn’t enjoy it as much as earlier releases. Hearing live, with Frank explaining the history behind the leading lady of every song, changed the way I listened to every song live. No longer was I listened just for witty lyrics or a catchy chorus, no I was deeply listening to the story of people who were revolutionaries before their time, and so it was then where I truly realised what he had set out in the creation of this record!After the first set, there was a quick intermission, which allowed me enough time to run down the block to withdraw some funds.
Apparently, the 21st century bar was unable to handle card payments and the ATM was out of order. Not the best business model for a high end venue.We spent the rest of the night singing along to all of Frank’s classics, listening to him tell tales of all his misadventures and failed relationships which inspired the songs.Exhausted by the end, we set of back to Victor’s, too tired to needlessly hang around in hope of a photograph. We also had a small kitty that we left at Victor’s, who may have noticed our absence.
Waking up fresh, we had enjoyed another night in Florida with the luxury of an AC unit. You could definitely feel a drop in temperature, and so I don’t think the Aircon will be required for much longer.The date was Thursday 7th of November.
We had a free day before we had to set off to Bugjam. Willow was very smug about her so far perfectly planned schedule. We were on that to be in Pensacola for the 15th for the Five Finger Death Punch concert we had desperately hoped to catch.We decided to do something that we hadn’t done for a while. We chilled out. No mad three to four hour drives. No touring every inch of a town. We did our laundry. We popped to Walmart to collect some greeting cards that we hoped to sell at Bugjam to raise some additional money for our trip.In the evening we made the most of a proper oven and made a veggie lasagna, which we ate whilst we watched Commando on our untested projector. We lived a non-vanlife for a day. Which although it was enjoyable, made me realise that I wasn’t missing the routine of a normal life as much as I thought I would.
Friday morning was the day we would have to say goodbye to Victor’s house to go and spend the weekend with Florida’s fellow VW enthusiasts.Thanks to Victor, we were only an hour an a half away from the event, so after a quick detour to print off some information about the work that we had done to Ruby, and a quick trip to the car wash, we arrived in Dade City an hour before doors opened. Being a VW event, it was unsurprising to find that the owners were not really bothered by this, and so we collected our welcome pack and found ourselves a spot in the primitive camping area.
That night, the weather finally turned, and the heavens above opened, lashing heavy rain down upon us. Victor had made the long drive from Port St Lucie in his beast to be at the show, so spent the rest of the miserable night catching up over a couple of beers.
Considering the fact that we spent most of the night trying to sleep through the sound of rain beating down on Ruby’s roof, we were pleasantly surprised to find that in the morning, the rain had subsided, and the sky looked to be clearing up. I must admit we were relieved! We had spent many a weekend at a washed out VW event in England… Surely we deserved a warmer experience with our family from Florida!As we had entered Ruby into the vehicle exhibition, we moved her out of the primitive camp site early and park alongside Victor, who’s beast had an empty spot beside it.With the weather improving, it gave us an opportunity to clear out the van and give it a proper tidy before people started arriving to look around the vehicles. It also allowed us to set up our table outside the van, with the greeting cards andexplanation that we printed off the day before. All we asked for was a small donation in exchange for a card. If anyone was kind enough to donate $2 for a card, then we would have made a small profit to continue to fund our trip.
With the sun now shinning, we spent the first part of the day looking around the site for the illusive bushing part that we still hadn’t been able to find cheaply. Amazingly, we stumbled upon……….. Who not only had the part, but sold it individually for less than a dollar! We left their tent with a few extra just in case, and some free t-shirt to help us remember the name of the company.We spent the rest of the day chilling out next to the van, chatting about us and the van. Everyone was deeply fascinated about what Willow had done to the van with her students and about the fact that we had imported it to their country to tour around for a year.About mid afternoon, we were chatting to a lovely couple named James and Lynne. They seemed deeply fascinated by our time in America, especially what we had done so far in Florida. James was quite intrigued by the diesel Wallas heater that we had, as he was currently completing a van build of his own. After hearing about Molly, Lynne told us that we had to join her and James for a few drinks in the evening.We later spoke to another couple, Eric and Stefanie, who were at the show in their baywindow which they were selling items under the name ‘The Sunflower Bus’. Stefanie was particularly taken with Aimee and vowed to return later on in the evening to play with her fuss her some more.As the night drew in, we spent a bit of time with Victor and some of his friends from the VW community.With the night time temperatures dropping quickly, we set off back to the primitive camp site, where we were once again reunited with James and Lynne.We had a blast chatting with them, Lynne was appalled at our plans to head to Universal from Bugjam and insisted that we drove back south to Anna Maria Island to spend a couple of days with her and James.
After a couple more hours of socialising with , we hit the sack, exhausted from all the new people we had met in one day.Sunday was the main day of the event. Whilst waiting for the judges to come to the van, we had another walk around the area, checking out some of the beautiful vehicles that were on show.
Around midday, James and Lynne visited us again, stressing that their invite was genuine and that they truly wanted us to visit them on Anna Maria Island.Anna Maria sounded quality, and although we had thoroughly enjoyed our stay in Florida up until that point, neither of us felt like we had truly experienced the Florida lifestyle from the perspective of a local.With an hour to go before the results of the results from the car show were announced, we wondered over to Eric and Stefanie’s bus, so Stefanie could see Aimee again. They both had so much fun, that I was worried about the trauma it would cause to take Aimee away. Hopefully, after meeting Aimee, they will get a van kitty of their own, and Aimee can have a play date.
It was getting towards the end of the afternoon, the show was winding down. People who had no interest in the results were starting to make they way home, as unlike us, they sadly had to work in the morning.We settled down in front of the stage, not expecting to win any awards.We have put a lot of work into Ruby over the years, and although I truly believe parts of her look amazing, she is not a show vehicle. She was never intended to be. We learnt that weekend, that the people who trailer never use their vans and trailer them into events had a specific names… Show queens.We did meet a lot of people who said that Ruby and her conversion was something they had never seen or heard of before and that she deserved recognition for being different. For both of us, their kind praises were worth just as much as a judge who I had to explain what engine conversion we had installed!It came as no surprise to me when we didn’t place in the Type 2 modified category. Victor , who had left early to be with is wife at their Tampa home, placed 3rd. So we could leave knowing at least someone in our new social circle received some event recognition.
We spent our last evening drinking with a group of people we met through Victor. It was here, where we were introduced to some of the strangest country sounds I have ever had the pleasure of listening to.
Throughout the event, we had been chilling with Jay Gould, leader for the Baypride forum, and he took great pleasure correcting me ever time I said van.
“It’s a bus!!”
Morning soon arrived and so the last few remaining campers packed up their stuff and set off back home. We had decided to take James and Lynne up on their offer, meaning a drastic change to Willow’s perfectly planned timetable.
We would now spend a few days in Anna Maria, as opposed to three days at universal, which suited us perfectly, as we would much rather socialise with our new friends over rollercoasters.