We pulled out of Atlanta-Northlake Elks before noon – our next planned destination Myrtle Beach! We had never been to Myrtle Beach before so we were quite excited to have more time near the ocean, plus fellow Heartland owners, Elizabeth-Anne and Morris were in the area.
Considering that destination was over 350 miles away, we decided to break up the trip and include a stop-over in Florence, SC. I found a Cracker Barrel on Allstays app that was right on the way and called to ask if it was ok for us to park overnight. Gary, the manager on duty, said he was happy to have us come and asked that we check in with Will when we arrived.
Our drive to Florence was an easy one and we arrived at Cracker Barrel before 5pm, and went in to meet Will, the current manager on duty. He greeted us with a smile and said where we parked – which was along the grassy edge of the lot – was perfect.
After enjoying a delish dinner, we watched some TV before bedtime. We heard/saw 2 other rigs pull in and park, one in front of us and the other around the back of the store. By 10pm, except for the train nearby, all was quiet.
We were both fast asleep when we woke to a knock on the door. I was out of bed first, and said “hello” through the closed door – wondering if it was police telling us we needed to move. I found myself trying to remember the managers name – Will! We had Will’s permission to be here! A mans voice started talking, and I realized quickly it wasn’t the police or anyone else “official”. Bill was pulling pants on and I yelled “just a minute”, again through the door. Bill came down the stairs and said – again though the door – “can I help you?”. The man outside started talking again, going on about how he ran out of gas and had his kids and 80 year old father with him and he was a Vietnam Vet and on and on. While he’s talking, Bill is digging in his pocket for money, and I had my phone in hand. Bad thing is we have no view of the front door with our slide in, so we really have no idea how many people are actually out there. Bill had one hand on the money and opening the door and the other on our can of bear spray as he handed the man $10. I had mixed feelings about opening the door, but Bill was prepared with the bear spray. He believed, and I agreed, that it was better to give the guy a few dollars and hope he went away, than send him away, which could have made him (and possibly buddies) angry and wake to something outside damaged. We agreed if we heard or saw anything else we were going to call the police. We could see him walking away after thanking us profusely.
Some may think it may have been a good idea at that point to pack up and move on, but we had no idea if there was anyone else out there, so we stayed put inside. This is one situation where having a motorhome (Class A or C) is better, as we wouldn’t have to go outside to leave. It was VERY difficult to fall back asleep, but eventually we did.
We could debate all day long how we handled this situation. Some may argue that’s a risk you take parking at Cracker Barrel or Walmart or similar place vs a campground. That is a valid point. This is the first time in 2 1/2 years of full-time life, and many many years of being weekend warriors that we’ve had a problem.
Some may say we should have not opened the door and just told him to leave and call the police. Another valid option, but the man sounded – I don’t know – broken? Real? Bill said when he opened the door, the man had tears in his eyes and seemed genuine. How does one know? He seemed very grateful – saying thank you thank you bless you bless you over and over, even after Bill pretty much slammed the door in his face. I peaked out the window and could see him walking back toward the Shell Station, where he said he ran out of gas.
Some of you may be thinking “guess you’ll never stay outside a CG again!” Bill and I want you to know – yes we will and here’s why: this could have happened anywhere. Things happen everywhere. At the end of the day, the most dangerous thing we do is drive on the road. How many of you stay home and never drive? And – to those of you that may consider staying home – things happen there too. Our last house was broken into – IN BROAD DAYLIGHT! Thankfully no one was home when they entered the house, but my Mom and cousin came home (they were staying with our kids while Bill & I were on a cruise) and they ran out the back door. It took months for me to start feeling safe in my own home again. Fear is a horrible feeling, but I cannot and will not let it rule my life and dictate how we live. When that happens – then we’ve lost a little and they have won.
That doesn’t mean I am not alert and paying attention to things – we will still be careful and when a place doesn’t “feel” right – we will keep moving. We’ve done that a few times. Sometimes a place just gives you the creeps and when either one of us feel that way – we don’t stay. That won’t change. We didn’t feel that way here.
I guess we will never know if he was telling the truth or not, if he put that $10 in his gas tank or if he bought drugs or food or vodka. For me (us), I’d like to think we have $10 in positive karma out there, should we ever need it some day. What that man does with that money is on him, the fact we gave it to him was the right decision for us in that moment.