For the first time in several years, we were still partying when New Year’s Eve met 2009 in the warm, fire-lit living-room of our friends and neighbors, Tim and Lydia Spink. Our friends Steve and Janet Layfield were also there, and together we christened the New Year with champagne-filled goblets, toasting to friendship and future while taking one last glance at the year we leave behind.
Interestingly, this New Year’s Eve was not so much a time for reflection on an ominous economy as a time to promise a better year, a promise made by friends to friends in a culminating surge of positive energy, admittedly primed by the consumption of fine spirits. There were platters of fresh-boiled shrimp, a variety of cheeses and assorted sliced sausages laid out – and the cold, bright night glittered through tall windows beyond the fireplace.

Hosts Tim and Lydia Spink

Hosts Tim and Lydia Spink

When Leigh and I decided the Appalachian Mountains of Pickens County, Georgia would be our new home, we expected to experience degrees of loneliness and isolation. We were accustomed to living in a densely populated suburban community in Florida where an empty lot was rare and clean-cut lawns were joined for blocks. The entire immediate family lived in the same county and the two grandsons spent countless hours with us. We have missed them terribly between visits, but our first New Year’s Eve in the Appalachians offered only companionship and fellowship. We were fresh back from a Florida Christmas in the RV and our small Pickens County group focused relentlessly on the fun and good of being alive today and the desire to make 2009 even better.
It was a chain of recent economic events that brought us to Pickens County and to last night’s New Year’s celebration. The current mortgage crisis touched my industry early on and we eventually decided to move our plans to retire in the mountains forward a decade. The taxes and insurance on our larger Florida home skyrocketed while my income plummeted, setting up our dilemma. We could hang on in Florida using our savings which would eventually scuttle our retirement plans, or sell before the market crashed and our equity disappeared. The mortgage crisis continued to heat up while taxes, insurance costs and the price of living in Florida ballooned. I was employed in Florida’s building industry for many years therefore sensed that a significant building recession was in the works. People could no longer afford to pay the horribly inflated real estate prices. Still, I had no idea of the range and impact of the looming economic crisis.
Friends Steve and Janet Layfield

Friends Steve and Janet Layfield

Flimflam predatory mortgages, massive tax hikes and enormous increases in homeowner insurance rates set the stage for financial chaos, especially in high-growth areas like central Florida. Long story short, we sold the Florida house for a fair profit before the economy slammed to a virtual halt and settled in a modest home in the Burnt Mountain area of Pickens County last March. Since then, we have slowly evolved from newcomers to settled members of our community, a process that nevertheless continues to evolve and change shape with the passing of time.
To that end, Leigh and I plan to do some traveling and I will write vividly and regularly about our coming adventures on the road aboard our RV affectionately dubbed the Magic Bus. With our Tampa Bay Christmas and Pickens County New Year celebration behind us, Arizona and all stops in-between are next on the agenda. Perhaps some travel columns will appear in the Pickens County Progress to address your travel interests or at least aid your insomnia. There will be some on-line travel magazine representation of our new RV lifestyle and regular columns in my RV Travel column:
Whatever the coming year brings, we plan to keep an open mind on the open road and hope that you will ride shotgun from time to time through this newspaper column. I promise not to regurgitate travel presentations written by others, but to give you the good, bad and ugly on everything from the Grand Canyon to Yellowstone. So, should one feel the need to pressure one’s hometown newspaper to continue this column, he or she should not suppress such a righteous inclination.
Meanwhile, buckle up, let’s roll!
Larry and Leigh Clifton

Larry and Leigh Clifton


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