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 #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. He has purpose. Here’s 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 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.