My RV Blog
We’re off to places known and far away and to make the trip, we bought a recreational vehicle or RV. It’s a monster, 37 feet long and shiny as a new penny. We’re taking the dogs with us and learning about things along the way. I plan to blog about our adventure, but not always the usual stuff like where we’ve been or what we’re doing, but more of a how interesting or weird is this experience. I won’t blog every day or even every week, but I will try to be consistent.
The oldest entries will be at the bottom of the page and the newest entries at the top.
Entry#8-Who Are These People?
There is an RV sub-culture and these people are a trip. I know, I know. This is not really a revelation and I’m not sure what kind of mentality brings one to embrace the RV lifestyle. Are people lured or driven to it? Most people have their own opinions about RV-ers. Some see them as retired folks wanting to travel cheaply and in comfort. (This is a myth as traveling via RV can be quite expensive after you figure in fuel prices, maintenance and park fees.) I have to admit that traveling from state to state in relative comfort offers a certain sense of freedom, but that could be done in a low, long stylish convertible.
Some see RV-ers as blowhard affluent people just showing off, their $200,000 RV just another toy like a boat or an expensive car. Rich f***s. Others believe them to be wanderers who can’t cope with society or just want to be free of the law and government. If you’ve seen “Nomadland,” Chloé Zhao’s film that used this particular community and their stories to populate her film, you know how depressing that lifestyle can be. There are RV Vloggers monetizing their wanderlust, kids taking a gap year or gap decade before deciding what to do and parents showing their kids the world.
I can tell you from my travels that the first observation tends to be the truest and the majority of my fellow travelers fall into the category of retired folks taking the comfort of their homes with them. RV parks offer water, electricity and sewer hookups and WiFi connections so that travelers can use their showers, kitchens and watch television programs while sitting in front of a fireplace or under an awning gazing at the surrounding landscape. Some parks are located on the beach, near lakes, rivers, streams or just the wilderness in general. Some are in the heart of the metropolis near cool places like museums or concert venues. It’s like owning a Tardis.
As I walk the dogs through the various RV parks, I see people who have made this home on wheels a little homier. They have carpets at the foot of the RV’s entrance, fences defining their space, strings of lights and maybe a sign with the family name or where they’re from. (New Mexico on the Road!) There are cigarette smokers, card players, grill masters and book readers.
Most parks offer a clubhouse, showers, laundries and other amenities like swimming pools, and maybe even a gym. The clubhouse TV is usually tuned to Fox News or Nickelodeon. Almost every camping space has a fire pit and parking for guests. There are common areas where people gather and swap road stories. Most seasoned travelers have visited the same places and seen the same things.
At the pricier RV resorts, you will find travelers simply living the good life. These are usually the places on the beach, lakeside or surrounded by some sort of theme park. You can camp in a vineyard if you are an oenophile, visit the Civil War sites if you are a history buff or plan some extreme team building RV adventures for your employees. There are celebrity RV adventures just like there are celebrity cruises. You can combine your passion for RVing with your passion for, say, marathoning or soccer or concerts.
There are mere stopover parks where people are on their way from one destination to the next. These line the major highway arteries across this country and simply offer one a pad to park on and basic hookups. There are places in nearly every national park as well as county and state parks.
There are seasonal travelers, people who camp up north in the summer and become snowbirds in the winter and migrate south in the winter. There are bucket list travelers wanting to see every national park or every minor league ball field. Some have simply given up traveling all together and live full time at their favorite RV park, adding skirting to their travel trailers, importing tool sheds, planting gardens and such. They have jobs or sell artwork or tools or flea market brick-a-brack to make ends meet. Retirees can almost live in an RV park full time.
“Are you a full timer?” somebody asked me one day.
“Excuse me?” I said.
“A full timer. I’m sure I saw you out at Smith’s Point last week.” We had moved from the beach to the forest for a change of pace.
“Uh, no,” I said. “I don’t think so…I mean, we just bought this thing a few weeks ago and came here to visit family and then we’ll see where it takes us.”
“I’m a full timer. I’ve been everywhere,” he continued without missing a beat. I’ve been doing this for seven years. That’s my rig over there.” He pointed to a space two down from me. It was a towable 5th wheel and it looked like it had been on the road for seven years.
I nodded in agreement as I am not so fond of talking to strangers and excused myself to set up our campsite.
“One more thing,” he said. “See this guy here? He’s supposed to be backed in. He’s not supposed to have his front door facing your front door. It’s poor manners, looking directly into someone’s living room.”
The RV community is helpful like that. They want to make sure that you don’t commit some sort of RV faux paus like walking through someone’s campsite or leaving your garbage out to attract wildlife like alligators. There was actually a rule (all RV parks have rules) at our Louisiana RV stopover warning residents not to leave pets or garbage out because it would attract alligators. Had I known that alligators might wander onto my campsite looking for a tasty morsel that was our Angel or Cary, I might have made another choice to stay overnight.
Overall, RV-ers are nice people; polite, private, respectful and cheerful. They rarely share their political opinions except for the occasional prominent display of the American flag or maybe a Trump banner. When quiet hours (10:00PM-8:00 AM) go into effect, most turn down their music and sit quietly by the fire pit or head into their little homes on wheels for the night to plan the next day’s adventure.
Entry #7 The Politics of the Road
“God bless corrupt politicians,” I heard a voice on the other side of the gas pump say. I tend to try to avoid conversations with strangers, so I pretended not to be there, but quickly after the comment the head of a middle-aged man peeks around the gas pump expecting an answer. “I’ll bet you really appreciate it.”
When we left on our RV excursion across the country, gas was $4.50 a gallon. Now, here I was paying a little over $3.00. With an 80 gallon tank that means a difference between paying over $300.00 per fill up to closer to $275.00.
“The closer we get to the mid-terms; the cheaper gas gets.” My neighbor was animated and starting to encroach on my territory. “These people must think we’re stupid. Biden releases strategic reserves trying to buy votes, but as soon as the election is over, you mark my word, fuel prices will shoot right back up.”
He had a point. Gas had gotten cheaper and artificially so. It wouldn’t matter who was occupying the white house, this would be a move that any politician worth her or his salt would make when approaching an election.
“We’re going to have to scrape these stickers off of the gas pumps,” he said indicating the photo stickers of President Biden pointing to the gas price on the pump with the dialogue balloon proclaiming, ‘I did that!’ He tried to get his thumbnail under a corner of the sticker. “I bet you’re happy about this.”
“I’m not complaining,” I said hoping this would end the conversation and that the pump would reach its max soon. It mercifully clicked off as the tank reached its capacity. I said a polite goodbye and completed my transaction.
In America, once an election cycle is over another one begins immediately. Our government exists to perpetuate itself. This year, our mid-terms are the most contentious in decades. Everywhere we’ve traveled, every race; local, statewide and national has been divisive. Election ads have replaced the feeder ads for class action lawsuits for everything from talcum powder to anyone who was even near Marine Base Camp LeJune.
Side note: A long time ago, Congress passed a law that forced all media to run political ads at the lowest advertising rate and to even force media to bump other advertising in favor of political ads. This was done to make access to media fairer for those people running for office who did not have millions of dollars in their war chests. The upshot is those same congress men and women with millions of campaign dollars get more bang for their buck. But I digress.
The yard signs are everywhere and come in all ethnicities. Wozniak. Fox. Martinez. Bhan. Addabbo. Gupta. There are newcomers who see their opportunity in the divisiveness. Because the mid-terms have pretty much boiled down to the Supreme Court handing the decision for abortion rights back to the states, there are people that are running solely on that issue. The other side is running on the usual plank of fear. Fear of crime. Fear of immigration. Fear of economic collapse. They also tend to harp on their opponent’s lack of experience.
Every local television station is running ads with video of the candidates’ opponents screaming about abortion rights or transgender danger. The videos have all been edited to look more sinister than they are and the voiceovers are dark and brooding. The thing about the advertising is that they tend to drive the conversations I hear as I travel. At the folk conference in Chicago and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland the conversations tend to be more liberal, but now meaner, more radical.
In the RV parks, people there are much more conservative, retirees flying the flag and sitting around the fire ring talking about the erosion of their rights. They pass around videos of democratic leaders who are having memory problems like Senator Diane Feinstein or of John Fetterman struggling through a debate last week while recovering from a stroke.
It seems to me that we have all chosen sides, and it seems like it is all going to come down who there are more of, us or them. (At this point, you get to choose if you are us or them.) I don’t have a side. I tend to have my own special projects that don’t have anything to do with politics. Church, veterans, musicians and homeless pets. (Musicians and homeless pets are pretty much the same thing.)
As of this writing, the average national gas price is $3.79. (Source; AAA) When we left NM, it was $4.21. I have noticed that gas prices and tolls are higher in democratically controlled states. Just sayin’.
While traveling, I had the opportunity to see a solemn ceremony that I had seen before but never in such an intimate fashion. A dozen police cruisers lined up on a side street and in the parking lot adjacent a full color guard complete with bagpiper performed a memorial service for a fallen police officer. There were a number of policemen there, some in dress uniform, some in their Class B regular duty unis.
I have seen this ceremony before. While working in radio, our fifth-floor offices overlooked Albuquerque’s downtown civic plaza just across the street from the APD headquarters. With over 1100 police officers in the APD, the service might involve a third of the police force. Post ceremony processions would consist of long lines of police cars and motorcycle patrol officers solemnly following the hearse to the cemetery.
On this day in Bayport, Long Island I was drawn in because I was less than a block away where I could hear the crisp commands given to the honor guard and the slap of the officers snapping to attention. The honor guard stepped precisely into place, white gloves and dress shoes gleaming in the late summer sun. They posted the colors and raised their rifles. There was the sharp report of three volleys of seven shots. The bagpiper played Amazing Grace. Nobody moved a muscle.
Someone outside of my field of vision, a chaplain spoke this prayer.
O Almighty God, whose great power and eternal Wisdom embraces the universe, Watch over all policemen and Law enforcement officers everywhere. Protect them from harm in the performance of their duty to stop crime, robbery, riots and violence. We pray, help them keep our streets and homes safe, day and night.
We commend them to your loving care because their duty is dangerous. Grant them strength and courage in their daily assignments. Dear God, protect these brave men and women. Grant them your almighty protection, unite them safely with their families after duty has ended.
Please God, grant us this wish.
Following the prayer, the honor guard received the command “Order Arms” and retrieved the colors. Another officer, perhaps a Captain, announced loudly that this was the Last Radio Call for the canine officer known as Bud. He announced his length of service, his retirement date, and the simple words “Gone, but not forgotten.”
Until that moment, I did not realize that this was a funeral for a retired police dog. I knew that they were afforded the same respect during their careers. For instance, if a suspect attacked or injured a police dog during an apprehension, that suspect would be charged with assault on police officer. In some localities, it might be a felony, but in most cases is a misdemeanor punishable up to two years in jail. To see these men, these community servants that, in all likelihood were using their day off to honor their four-legged friend just blew me away.
A single pallbearer carried a small box. An American flag, folded in the traditional triangular pattern, was placed on top. He marched past the line of officers who snapped again to attention and saluted as he made his way to a waiting police cruiser. The officer on the end of the line broke formation, stepped to the cruiser and smartly opened the door while the pallbearer stepped in without breaking his stride. The command for dismissal was given and the policemen headed to their respective cruisers. In a matter of moments, they were on the road and disappeared single file with full lights and sirens east down Mantauk highway.
Not wanting to intrude, I went back the next day and queried the staff. They told a wonderful story, each one of them adding a bit here and there and each one tearing up as they recalled the day. Bud had been retired from police work due to his age. Over the years, they had gotten to know him through stories his owner, another retired Suffolk County police officer, had told them. He had adopted Bud immediately upon the canine officer’s retirement. It seems that Bud had a knack for ferreting out criminals in hiding and was fearless when controlling violent offenders. He had been injured once or twice in scuffles with suspects, but Bud loved his job.
Bud had served his community well and lived the rest of his life in retirement enjoying the days playing fetch and lying in the sun. When it became apparent that his time was running out, Bud’s owner and companion let the rest of Suffolk County’s finest know. The honor guard was scheduled for a day when Bud’s former partner would be available. Other officers volunteered to be part of the ceremony as they would for any of their fellow heroes. On the scheduled day, Bud, his owner and his former partner calmly walked into the vet’s office where, surrounded by his friends and fellow officers, he was euthanized and went quietly to sleep.
The fuss made around this dog was not unusual. Bud himself, in fact, had attended ceremonies like this for other fallen officers, both human and canine, always sitting stiffly at attention as the ceremony progressed. It was only fitting that these officers would treat him with the same attention and respect that he himself had given and I was honored to see it happen.
Entry# 5-Double Decker
While traveling through Michigan, my wife Kathy wanted to stop at one of her old haunts for lunch, Bob’s Big Boy. Although founded in southern California in the mid-30s, the restaurant chain had grown to a few dozen or so franchises under various names by the late 60’s when my future wife was living here.
Around the same time, I was a teenager living in New Mexico and cruising up and down Route 66 or Central Avenue in a friend’s car on Saturday nights. We would travel from downtown and up Central Avenue to the Dog House for a footlong, and continue west to Nine Mile Hill. Once there, we would turn around and head east to the other end of town where guys would race their cars on south Eubank Boulevard until the Sherriff’s ran us off.
Back down Central we cruised stopping mid-town to the Vip’s Big Boy for a round of cherry Cokes and finally back to downtown and right on Fourth Street and eight miles back to Alameda on the north edge of the Duke City. We always thought it was a unique experience, but it was something that was being repeated all around the country and Big Boy was a part of it.
Bob’s Big Boy was founded by Bob Wian who quit his job and sold his 1933 DeSoto Roadster for $300 to make the down payment on a 10-stool hamburger stand in Glendale called The Pantry. He borrowed $50 from his father for meat and supplies and reopened as Bob’s Pantry. According to the menu, his signature Big Boy hamburger was born when “a group of jazz musicians” came into the restaurant looking for something different. The Big Boy was, according to legend, the first double-decker hamburger sold in this country and possibly, anywhere.
I, of course, am fascinated by the thought of jazz musicians being the reason the double-decker hamburger was born. In the mid-30s, jazz was synonymous with all things evil like sex and drugs. I like to think that the scene looked like this.
SCENE: A SMALL, DIMLY LIT ROADSIDE HAMBURGER STAND
A hulking old Plymouth with faded paint lumbers into the parking lot. Out of the car pile four boisterous young men in black slacks, shirts and white ties. They tumble into the parking lot, smoke billowing from the open car doors. The men are laughing hysterically. They enter the stand.
THE HAMBURGER STAND IS EMPTY. THERE ARE 10 RED UPHOLSTERED BAR STOOLS LINED UP IN FRONT OF A WHITE COUNTER. BEHIND THE COUNTER IS A GRILL ATTENDED BY A YOUNG MAN IN A WHITE SHIRT AND APRON.
The men stumble into the hamburger stand not from inebriation, but rather from laughter.
Man, I can’t believe that’s why they call you skillet. I thought it was because you so dark.
Naw, man. They call him Skillet because his ol’ lady hit him in the head with one of them big ol’ frying pans you see in the cartoons when she thought he was cheatin’ on her.
C’mon, man. Give it a break.
Your just lucky she didn’t hit you with a rolling pin or we might be calling you Rolling Pin!
There’s more laughter as the young man behind the counter approaches the men.
Good evening gentlemen. May I help you?
What’s you got?
(Pointing to the menu on the wall.) Hamburgers, French fries, soda, milkshakes, hot fudge sundaes. I can also make you some pancakes or a sandwich. You know, ham and cheese. Grilled cheese. Stuff like that.
Man, how come we never stop at an actual restaurant where I can get me a steak or chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy?
You the one driving. Besides, you can’t afford a steak, bass man. If we start making more than a hundred dollars a night we might be able to afford to stay in a motel or eat at a decent restaurant….uh, no offense.
None taken. You boys musicians?
Finest jazz on the west coast. My name is Thomas. This is Ritchie, James and out drummer Skillet. (All begin to snicker again except for Skillet.)
I’m Bob. This is my place, Bob’s Pantry. What can I get you fellas?
Hamburger. Fries. Chocolate shake.
Hamburger. Fries. Coffee, black.
Hamburger. Fries. Chocolate shake.
Man. I’m hungry. How big is your sandwiches?
Oh, you know. Two slices of bread, meat or cheese, lettuce, tomato.
You ain’t got no chicken?
Man, I need me some meat.
C’mon, man. Order something. We got to get to Oakland in time to get some sleep.
I could make you two. There only ten cents apiece.
I need me something special. Something with some meat on it. You know? Not just a patty between a bun. I don’t like all that bread.
Let me see what I can do.
Bob wanders away slices s couple of potatoes for fries, puts them in the fryer and puts some hamburger patties on the grill. While everything cooks, he makes the shakes, and brings them and the coffee to his guests. He returns to the grill, flips the burgers, and begins to assemble them. He is animated as he puts this meal together, humming.
Man, why do you have to be so difficult all the time?
Man, I just want what I want. Besides. I’m the front man of the Ritchie Davis group. I deserve something special.
The rest of the group groans. At that, Bob returns with four baskets of fries and hamburgers, placing them in front of Skillet, James, Thomas and then with much flourish, Ritchie. His hamburger is twice as tall as the others, and they take notice.
What is that?
It’s a hamburger with a little more meat. It has the same things on it as a regular hamburger with lettuce, tomato and relish, but I split the bun into thirds and put two hamburger patties and two slices of cheese. What do you think?
Everybody’s eyes widen.
This I can deal with. What do you call it?
Well, I don’t know? It’s kind of a double burger.
Like one of those double-decker busses we saw over in England.
Yeah. Those things were crazy.
Hey! That’ not a bad name. The Bob’s double-decker hamburger!
Yeah, man. That’s a big boy.
And there you have it. Because of a quad of jazz musicians, maybe a little high, maybe not, the Bob’s Big Boy was born. Bob went on to franchise his restaurant using the checkered overalled Big Boy mascot with the jet black, flip top hair with the proviso that the franchisee keep the signature hamburger name Big Boy.
Since then, there has been Big Boy comic book written by Stan Lee, toys, tees and restaurants around the country and Japan under various names, from Azar’s to Shoney’s to Vips. The biggest contribution to dining is the Big Boy. It inspired burgers like it everywhere, from the Big Mac to my favorite, the In-N-Out Double-Double. (I’m a vegetarian these days, but I will make an exception for a Double-Double.)
So, thank you jazz and marijuana for changing the face of fast food in America. If it weren’t for the munchies of a few musicians who wanted more than what was on the menu, we might only have a bag of Whitecastle burgers to satisfy our cravings.
Entry #4- An Outsiders View of Long Island
I would describe Long Island as what’s left of Colonial New York. The island itself is 180 miles long and about 25 miles wide. (Closer to 140 miles long if you subtract Queens. They consider themselves part of New York city.) There are about seven and a half million people living here. Bear in mind that where I’m from, New Mexico, there are only two million or so people in the entire state and we are the fifth largest state in area. The county I live in is two thirds the size of Long Island. It boggles the mind. Somehow, though, Long Island does not seem crowded unless you happen to be on the Long Island Expressway during rush hour.
Long Island is a collection of 13 towns, 95 unincorporated villages and two Native American reservations divided between four counties. And it’s so green. Being from the desert southwest, I am used to being able to see the landscape unfold in front of me for miles and miles. Here, every thoroughfare is lined with massive trees. Somewhere behind those trees are schools and shopping malls and any number of beautiful homes, but I can’t see them, so, like a horse wearing blinders, they don’t exist. It’s like driving through an endless corn maze. Once I’m able to get past the trees, the real Long Island shows itself.
Expecting to see paved parking lots and strip malls behind the trees, what I find instead are more trees. Thick, moss green forests. That’s not to say that Long Island is void of any commercialization. There are stretches of modern roads that have sprouted strip malls and big box stores. There are convenience stores and gas stations and new businesses, but the heart and soul of Long Island are the small villages that seem to pop up every few miles or so.
With so many unincorporated villages crowded into a little over 1400 square miles, all you need do is drive a mile in any direction and you are in another hamlet. Each one has its own special charm, its own history dating back to the revolutionary war and they cherish and protect that history. Setauket boasts of the Culper spy ring based there during the revolutionary war, organizing raids from Connecticut across Long Island Sound. Two hundred years ago shipbuilding was taking place in Port Jefferson Station or Port Jeff to the residents. PT Barnum’s famous circus wintered there in the late 1800s. Some histories are mixed because towns were split and split again. Brookhaven claims Declaration of Independence signer William Floyd, but so does Mastic Beach because these places were once part of Brookhaven where Floyd owned property.
On Long Island, there are a hundred way to get to any point on the island and none of those roads travel in a straight line except for 112 which pretty much dissects the island separating east from west. The streets are still narrow and curvy in many places, lolling up and down hills in a lazy fashion. In many other places around the country, the hills would have been bulldozed and the roads straightened for progress’ sake. Here everything remains as it was. Not much has changed in a century save for the numerous homes built there. As you drive through this neighborhood or that you’ll see small groups of deer munching somebody’s lawn or a flock of turkeys crossing the road which begs the question; How do they know to cross at the Turkey X-ing sign? There are other signs informing us that there is an autistic or handicapped child in the neighborhood. Do Long Islanders love their children more than we do back in Albuquerque?
Because Long Island is a collection of hamlets, the place has retained its old-world charm. There are lots of mixed use structures that have a residence in the back and a business in the front. A simple wooden shingle generally hangs out front announcing the office of an attorney or a dentist or chiropractor. There must be town rules regarding signage and displays for these signs and those rules likely state that any signage cannot be gaudy or offensive. Or maybe people just like to keep things simple.
These businesses on Long Island are well established, sometimes having been there for decades. It’s not uncommon to find a mechanic’s shop or service station that has been in business since automobiles became more commonplace in the 40s. I found an old Shell station in Yaphank that looks as if it has been there since at least the 50s. The owners have kept the building, the gas pumps and the signage as it was all those years ago, but it is still a working mechanics shop. There are butchers and bakers, seafood shops and appliance stores, all family owned and most housed in the original locations.
There are the unavoidable conveniences of modern life where department stores and franchise retailers line many of the main thoroughfares, but these are buffeted by treelined neighborhoods. It seems that on alternating blocks there is pizza joint or a deli. Long Island is populated by New Yawkers, after all. There are little Italian joints, bagel shops, Greek diners adorned in chrome and glass and other Mediterranean cuisine sandwiched in between these anchors, but few fast-food places. This is in stark contrast to my home where fast food joints are always within a few blocks of wherever you are. It wouldn’t surprise me a bit to find out that any number of neighborhoods nixed a McDonalds or Burger King for sheer aesthetics.
Despite the number of people living here, there are still quite a few farms on the island. The local produce is fantastic and there are fruit and veggie stands with the sweetest corn and peaches I have ever tasted. In New Mexico the air and land are dry and so the produce tends to be a smaller and not quite as juicy. On Long Island, the tomatoes are big, fat and juicy. There are pumpkin patches, honey stands, places to buy home made pies and “pick your own produce” farms for the tourists. Again, these places exist elsewhere but, on the island, they have honed the farmstand to a fine art. I even saw a small display where someone had put out buckets of cut sunflowers for the taking.
As we traveled further east toward Orient Point to catch the ferry across the sound to our next destinations in Connecticut and beyond, the real estate became pricier and the farms gave way to vineyards and exclusive waterside hotels and bistros. Nothing about Long Island had changed. No pricey, exclusive department stores sandwiched into the more affluent neighborhoods or big box stores on demand in a neighborhood for convenience sake. (Years ago on a visit here I saw that they had built a K-Mart in the Hamptons) Instead, just more of the same simple landscapes and greenery that makes Long Island what it is. A place where people put aside the rest of the world to just live.
Entry #3-Rich F***
I stopped to re-fill the fuel tank of the RV before we got settled on Long Island for the next week or so. The thing is so massive that I really need to be careful where I fill up. It takes up an entire side of a pump station. I have to pull the RV all the way forward to even get close to the fill spout near the back of the driver’s side of the vehicle.
The steps that lead up to the door extend automatically when you open the door and remain that way until the door is closed. Once the the engine is re-started, they automatically retract. This presents a problem when fueling because if you pull into one of the bays in the middle of a fueling station they tend to stick out into the center of the drive through where someone could run them over. The best bet is to pull up to an outside bay where drivers have plenty of room to go around our behemoth.
I found a relatively quiet gas station with an open outside bay and not much traffic. Perfect. I pulled cautiously up to the pumps taking care to make sure that the RV was not too tall for the awning. Once I was sure that I was properly situated, I set the parking brake, exited the vehicle and made my way around the back of the vehicle. I scanned my credit card and shoved the nozzle down the thirsty throat of the dragon.
Since it takes quite a while to fill the tank, I take that time to wander into the store and pick up a bottle of water and maybe a snack. Coming back out, I notice a tall, thin middle aged guy with dark hair standing at my pump, hand on the nozzle as if he’s filling my tank. I hustle up to him and he greets me with a big smile. “Thought you could use some help,” he says.
“I’m good,” I reply and he moves away from the fill spout.
“You’re not supposed to leave the pump unattended,” he lets me know. I do know that this is a rule that varies from state to state and even municipality to municipality. In some places, there are no self-service pumps.
“You work here?” I ask.
“I help out around here,” he replies vaguely. “Want me to wash your window?”
I look at the short-handled squeegee in an orange bucket between the pumps. It might reach the bottom third of my windshield. “No thanks. I’m good.”
“Man, you must have some money,” he says casting his gaze down the length of the beast.
“Um….no….not really,” I say kind of embarrassed.
At that point a silver haired guy in a maroon Cadillac convertible pulls up next to us and leans out the window and says “Man, that’s somethin’.”
“Uh, thanks,” I say kind of embarrassed.
“How much does something like that cost?”
“A little over a hundred K.”
“See? I knew you had money,” the gas station helper says, lighting up.
“Not really,” I respond, still feeling embarrassed.
“Man, that’s something,” the Caddy guy says again. He waves and drives off.
After that, the gas pump mercifully clicks off at $175.00, the limit that the pump will allow. My helper leaps forward, squeezes the nozzle once or twice, retrieves it and places it back into the pump. He flashes that million-dollar grin at me. I reach into my pocket and hand him two one-dollar bills. He thanks me and jogs off down the street.
I make my way back inside the RV, sit myself down, start the engine and release the parking brake. I check my mirrors and my backup camera before pulling cautiously away from the pumps toward the street. I look both ways several times and wait for the traffic to clear sufficiently enough for me to ease this whale out into traffic. It rocks a bit as I make a left turn onto the two-lane road that will take me back to my destination.
This behemoth lumbers slowly forward, picking up speed bit by bit. Out of my driver’s side mirror an older Malibu pulls across a double yellow line to pass me. He leans on his horn, flips me the bird and yells out “Stupid rich f***!” and speeds off.
I’m confused. I’m not a rich f***. I’m a poor f***. At the very least, I’m an over-extended f***. It’s going to take thirty years of my life to pay for this brick. It is literally a house on wheels.
I guess I can see his point. Some guy in a giant RV interrupts his journey from point A to point B. He has purpose. Maybe he’s on his way to work or on his way home from work or even just out to lunch. Now, along comes this person in a hundred-thousand-dollar bus just wandering around the countryside slowing his progress. This is a situation I’ve never found myself in before.
I guess I’ve dreamed about having money. About being able to buy things like this, to be able to travel anywhere I want anytime I want. Somehow, though, being seen as that person makes me uncomfortable. I don’t want to be a rich f***.
Entry #2-Week One
So, the idea was to purchase the RV, try it out for a month or so and get used to the ins and outs of how things are set up. Well, that didn’t happen.
For weeks, we’d been watching RV videos to get a sense of what we might expect. There were the standard tips and tricks, the invaluable RV park decorum and just what to expect on the road. We learned about what to be careful of and, with regard to our septic system, we learned about the infamous “Poop Pyramid.” For some reason, many of these RV videos contain clips of the Robin Williams comedy RV in which the running joke had to do with enormous amounts of excrement. I never saw this particular movie but the clips that were inserted into the helpful hints videos were not particularly inspiring.
Our financing was delayed and having to get to a wedding in New York by a certain date, we had decided on alternate transportation. Just a week before we had to depart, our financing suddenly came through and after waiting a week for the dealer to prepare the vehicle, we picked it up two days before we were to leave.
I had a quick lesson in driving, turning and parking. We loaded the RV with everything that we thought we would need on the road (and a few things that we didn’t) and got ready to hit the road. And then, one more tragic delay. Our dog Scooter, my dog, really, suddenly became lethargic, stopped eating and we just knew he was ready to leave this existence.
Our vet confirmed that his condition was from massive organ failure due to his advanced age and some pre-existing conditions. We put him down as we headed east out of Albuquerque.
So, we hit the road with our two remaining pups, Angel, who is blind and Cary who is just hyper. With my stress levels up and my concentration needed to keep the RV between the lines, I didn’t really get the chance to grieve over Scooter. I wonder how he might have adapted. I like to think he might have been the same dog as always, lying in a corner somewhere asleep, waiting for someone to come and wake him for dinner.
With all the drama and the steep learning curve, my anxiety was through the roof. I was grumpy for most of the trip and snapped at my wife and the dogs. I was absolutely hating my decision to buy this monster that was now going to consume my life.
The first leg of the trip was rough. I was so concerned with keeping the RV between the lines that that my arms, hands and shoulder began to cramp up. The last few hours to our first destination were driven in the dark and the only thing I hate more than driving is driving in the dark. To make matters worse, my sciatica returned. Every morning it took me 20 minutes to get out of bed and get dressed and I was in pain throughout the day.
Driving through Oklahoma, the high winds kept me fighting just to stay on the road. When the roads got rough, things fell over or off of the couch or counter. The next few days of travel got easier, but were still stressful, still maddening at times. My mood was not getting any better and I was beginning to feel once again that I had made a huge mistake.
By our last day of travel on the first leg of our trip I was beginning to get the hang of setting up the RV for the night and getting things unhooked the next morning and back on the road. I had succumbed to the sticker shock of of filling up an 80-gallon fuel tank and wanted only to get to Long Island. As I drove, I was scheming, trying to figure out a way out of this mess. And then it happened.
As we approached our ultimate destination on route 80 from New Jersey, the trees parted and there in front of me was the New York City skyline rising up out of this vast green landscape like the Emerald City in the Wizard of Oz. I have only flown into the Big Apple and have always been impressed with its scope from the air, but this was different. Here was the city that had always impressed me from an entirely different perspective. Even from this distance, it was massive. I could make out the famous silhouettes of the Empire State Building and the massive World Trade Tower that replaced the Twin Towers obliterated on 9/11/01.
In that moment, I realized what I had been seeing through my movie theater sized windshield was more than the changing landscape as we moved steadily east. I had noticed how things got greener and the landmarks that made each community we traveled through unique. There was massive cross as we drove through Groom, Texas as we drove along the interstate. (There is an equally massive cross outside of Branson, Missouri.) We drove past the St. Louis Arch on a very rough and scary freeway. I saw my first crop dusting helicopter and was amused by some of the roadside attractions we passed along the way.
It’s true. We could have seen these same things traveling by car, but not with the scope and magnitude that this unruly beast of a vehicle afforded. As the weeks have progressed, I have settled into the setup and tear down of the RV. I’ve learned how to cook in a small kitchen, and I have discovered that by sleeping in the recliner, my sciatica can be controlled. I am slowly being lured into the culture of the RVer. Not sure if that’s a good thing. I’ll let you know.
Entry #1-Day Zero
Kathy and I are on a new adventure. We have purchased a recreational vehicle. An RV in the parlance of the culture and yes, there is a culture. For my part, I promise never to refer to our RV a “rig” or use trucker lingo, fuss about the price of gas or give out tips on how to RV successfully.
This was something that was supposed to have happened a couple of years ago before the world became a bizarre global version of Escape From New York where everyone is on lockdown, from the president to the protester and only Snake Pliskin could save us.
The original idea was to rent an RV for a trip to New York to see Kathy’s niece get married. Because of Kathy’s illness, (Don’t ask. It takes too long to explain.) it was going to be much easier for me to drive and for her to rest so that she could enjoy the places and people we were going to visit.
Renting was insanely expensive, starting at about $700.00 a week for a smaller vehicle and it just seemed smarter to buy something that Kathy would be comfortable in and pay the equivalent in monthly payments. Fast forward to 2022 and we begin looking at RVs for sale online. We purchased something used that turned out to be much too old, needed far too much work and was much too small and uncomfortable for our needs.
With the wedding re-scheduled for August, Kathy did a ton more research. She discovered that age was often the determining factor in which RV parks would accept you. She calculated the costs of regular gas versus diesel fuel. We looked at tons or RVs online comparing amenities, storage, living space and more. Kathy settled on a vehicle in Georgetown, Texas and we were ready to pull the trigger.
As luck would have it, the exact same model showed up on our feed but was located in our hometown of Albuquerque Perfect. We loaded ourselves in the car and headed up Nine Mile Hill to the far westside of Albuquerque where the RV dealer was located. A young salesperson greeted us and we immediately told her we wanted to see the RV in question. She loaded us into a golf cart and after a bit of confusion where we were shown a gigantic bus by mistake, we arrived at the one we had seen online. It too, was gigantic by our observation. All we had seen were pictures on our computers and this was beyond our expectations.
We dismounted and when the salesperson opened the door to the vehicle, the stairs descended to greet us. Kathy was immediately in love. We took a quick tour, but there was no need. This was the home on wheels we were looking for. Being 37 feet long, 9 feet wide and 12 and a half feet tall, I knew that it would be a handful on the road, but this was a dream come true for Kathy and she would not be denied.
We returned to the sales office, made an offer that was 10K less than the asking price, which was accepted, and quickly signed away our lives, all our cash and most of our future earnings. There were a series of mishaps, miscommunications and delays, but eventually, we picked up the keys, packed it up and headed off into the east where we will visit family and friends, see a few sights and see if I can’t find a few places to play along the way. Who knows? This could become a permanent home.
So, here’s to the new rig. I hope to keep it between the ditches with the shiny side up and the dirty side down. 10-4, good buddies.