How NOT to Encounter a Car in a Truck Stop Parking Lot

Posted by in Driving an RV, RV Repair

It’s late, you’ve been driving all day, you’ve had to make numerous stops to fix various things, but you’re determined to make it home tonight because you’ve had enough of these shenanigans already.

So you roll into a truck stop at 9 pm to put on a sweater, and you throw it into Park and you jump up …

only to discover that you’ve rolled into the unoccupied car behind you.

Because you had only incompletely put the coach in Park.

Need I suggest that the only place to report this is Airforums? The Airstream wizards dwell there.  Along with the rest of us characters. I hope they can help me!

Here are pics of the Apple of My Eye after I’d done that, all by myself.

From rear: dent in right rear aluminum quarter panel:

Same, from side:

It gets much worse. Fiberglass panel, dangling by the taillight before we liberated it:

Bumper and area where fiberglass panel used to be. Notice the shards of plastic still attached to the bumper.

Area where fiberglass panel used to attach to aluminum sections:

Close-up of bumper, where I’m resting my hand, taillight, fiberglass shards:

Side view of same:

Top view of same:

Back view of same. Notice how bent the bumper is:

 

 

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Dawn Procession

Posted by in Driving an RV, RV Travel Adventures, Why go RVing?

Some of the most glorious mornings on my trip were on the road at sunrise, ascending the High Plains toward the Rockies under a cloudless sky. But what made these mornings more glorious were the truckers.

Only truckers may appreciate this, but for some reason, at 5 a.m., a gleaming silver tanker with amber running lights stands out for what it is: a vision of strength and persistence, sexy and elegant. And for some, possibly similar reason, the rigs out at that time of the morning are some of the cleanest, best-kept rigs you will see on the road. Maybe it’s because they’re the only ones out at that hour so you get a better look at them, but I suspect that it’s a self-selected group, long-haulers who have some experience and pride in what they do, who rise early because they’re ready, and who prefer by now to avoid wallowing in the heat and traffic of the day.

It was an honor to join this majestic caravan of loners burning thousands of gallons of diesel fuel in the ill-conceived but still laudable task of spanning this huge, mostly uninhabited country. But it was an even greater honor when, repeatedly, the drivers of 50-foot Peterbilts immaculate in their glazes of burgundy or hunter green, chrome shined to blinding, would flash their running lights and cock their driver’s side hand low in their windscreen or out the side window to greet me.

But I guess it’s not often you see a rig like mine, either.

There are many of us on the road; most of us are windshields to one another. When I was first learning to drive as a kid it took me a while to grasp that I should be communicating with the person behind the wheel in that other car rather than attempting to predict the actions of a large, cold, metal box.

I’ve found that the easiest way to talk to other drivers is with my arm out the window. In some parts of the world, usually the warmer ones, this technique is de rigueur. Of course, we can’t always expose ourselves that way, but the nuances of expression will make up for a watch that doesn’t run.

Some truckers are so accustomed to greeting one another that they’ve shortened the wave to a barely perceptible wrist rotation in the low, street-side corner of their windshield. Others nod. Some, if they are feeling expansive or grateful will flash their ICCs, the amber running lights. These are often reserved for Thank You signals to another trucker who, say, has let his colleague cut him off in the slow lane rather than forcing him to lose too much momentum in the fast lane on a steep grade.

But it’s also a signal for you in the half-light when they like your rig.

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How NOT to Leave When You Meant to

Posted by in Driving an RV

Go ahead. Just try to tie up all the loose ends before leaving. First the small things, then the larger things, then the small things, then the larger things … The summer is getting hotter, and the trip is starting to feel like an anticlimax. Realize that you have achieved what you set out to, that you’ve bought an unpredictable machine and that it’s going to be unpredictable, even when you don’t feel like it. Congratulate yourself on your courage and inventiveness.

Finally, the day arrives again. You’ve made all the repairs you’re going to make. You check the oil, the tire pressure, make sure the storage bays are locked. Fasten the awnings at the top and bottom, shut the rear windows, close the ceiling fan lids, stow everything that moves, the toaster, the tea kettle, the dishwashing soap, the cooking utensils, the water jug, the plants, the telephone, the fax machine, the stack of books, the maps, all the slippery objects that will slip no matter where you put them. Put the spillables on the shower floor.

If you’re a psychoanalyst, take little plastic Freud off his pedestal. Put him in the side window so he can wave to passing cars. Seat the beanie baby (a going-away gift) on the rear-view mirror to remind you that behind you are people who love you.

Then spend ten minutes hitching the Mini because you have to keep getting out of the car to see how close you’ve gotten to the motor home. Make sure not to have a friend or neighbor on hand to help you because they would have saved a lot of time. Get grease all over you because you’ve forgotten to keep your gloves on. Forget how to connect the auxiliary braking system. Do it right anyway: connect the wires under the Toad hood for the turn signals, hook the auxiliary brake pedal onto the car’s brake pedal, drain the air bladder, calibrate the breaking sensitivity, plug the runaway alert monitor into the cigarette lighter.

Picture what you would do if, in fact, the Mini did break loose from the rig and returned to New York due to homesickness.

Back in the coach, adjust the rear view mirrors the way they taught you, so that an object moves uninterruptedly from the rear-view to the flat, curbside mirror to the convex side-mirror, to the back-up camera to the driver’s side-mirror. Oh, stop grousing about having to get up from the driver’s seat every time you need to make an adjustment.

For the seventeenth time, climb back in the motor home and close the door, listening for the stairs to retract automatically. Bolt the door and get into the driver’s seat. Put on your pointless seat belt. Look through the side mirror; look through the other side mirror. Then look at the backup camera and see your pert, snub-nosed Mini nuzzling the coach and waiting patiently to be led. Start the engine. Burst out laughing. Turn on the radio; Nothing In Particular comes on and it’s music to your ears.

Let the engine warm up while you zone out for a minute. The lake is rippling peacefully, the geese are waiting for their next opportunity to poop on your late parents’ lawn. Put her in gear and give the Mini a little tug to make sure the hitch engages properly. She clicks. Then give her some gas and feel the rig straighten and tense. Look at the Mini in the rearview mirror and say, “OK Mini, let’s go!” Give her a lot more gas, listen to the engine strain and set the whole 50-foot assembly into motion.

Burst into tears.

Drive about 40 feet. Then realize there really is no way you’re going to get 50 feet of machinery through the narrow gate from this angle. This means you have to get out of the rig and disconnect the car because you can’t back up while towing without damaging the coach transmission. Attempt to disconnect the Mini without tools, split open your thumb, and then assemble every possible tool you could need. Accumulate much more grease all over yourself. Wave wordlessly to joggers who pass by with astonished and inquiring looks.

When the rig is uncoupled, spend about ten minutes tearing up sod and twisting holes in the melting asphalt as you squeak the coach onto the two-lane road. Wonder whether the scars in the blacktop will still be there when you return and whether the town will fine the family.

Wonder when you will return.

After much maneuvering you get the coach onto the road. This is truly a good omen. Spend 10 more minutes rehitching the Mini.

Try to remember whether the coach water pump should be on or off. Realize that you hadn’t closed the main propane valve! Thank God you had to stop to get the whole rig out of the driveway … or else you might have had a little ‘splosion!

OK. Finally, it’s time for the real thing. You have a rough idea where you’re going tonight but by this point in the day you no longer have as much time to get there. Decide that this is not a problem and pull out into traffic. Notice that there isn’t any traffic, you just like the sound of the phrase.

Roll past neighbors and familiar views, down the rural road, and through the little town in Connecticut. Then give her some serious gas.

 

*     *     *     *     *     What a f***ing blast!   *    *    *    *    *

 

Everything looks different from up here, it’s like riding on top of a float at the Thanksgiving Day parade. The Airstream drives like a couch on a magic carpet; it’s comfortable but unexpectedly responsive and aerodynamic even fully loaded. You can’t believe they ever stopped making this one. The Mini is obediently, devotedly following close behind like a blue baby elephant, the radio crackles and a good signal finally comes in, the silverware drawer that doesn’t lock is rolling open and closed with the turns and its contents jingle pleasantly.

We’re making for western Pennsylvania, the day is clear and warm and the engine hums with little strain. Gradually the ride firms as the air suspension recharges. This is your new home.

You’re a turtle with a spectacular shell towing a hare.

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How NOT to Go to Burning Man

Posted by in RV Camping, RV Travel Adventures, RV Trip Planning

First, instead of in a coach full of partiers, find yourself heading to the desert with your sister – to whom you have always been the soul of propriety – and just one other traveler whom you don’t know well and who is also a psychotherapist.

It’s fine if you want to carry with you everything you can possibly need for a week – you have to – but remember to bring along an incompletely conceived art-project doomed to failure. Make only a nod to the theme of that year’s event – Theater of the Body – and load up the vehicle with boxes and boxes of surgical gloves and a single tank of helium for your installation, Hands Across the Desert. Or was it Lending a Hand? Or was it Let’s Shake Hands? For some reason I can’t get it straight.

Equip yourself with miles of silver ribbon that you have not tested as a closure for the gloves. Assure yourself that there will be no problem inflating thousands of gloves from the helium tank through the glove-sleeves and that there will be even less problem tying off the sleeves with slippery pieces of metallic ribbon. The idea is that you will string these floating hands that you will have sprayed with reflecting paint from your vehicle to all the neighboring vehicles. Forget to bring the reflecting paint.

Then get in the clean, well cared-for motor home that you have invested way too much after-market money in and drive her directly into the heat of the desert without having waxed her against sun and sand. Watch the temperature gauge climb and pray that you don’t get vapor lock miles from the nearest phone or road. Smile wanly to your passengers and fuss unnecessarily about small things like whether someone’s useless cellphone is plugged into the right electrical socket.

As you get closer to the site, notice that every one of the other vehicles is older, dirtier, or more covered with artwork than yours. Compare your 35-foot coach carrying three people to the 14-foot vehicles carrying 5, bulging with makeshift bags and tents. Feel like a spoiled idiot. Smile somewhat more genuinely as you approach the gate and see that you are not being greeted with derision.

When the bearded, skirted man working security asks whether he can climb on the roof to check for stowaways, consider your options: If you say no, you will forever humiliate your passengers and will be turned away at the door. If you say yes, a dent may be formed in the delicate skin of your motor home. Opt for the second alternative … and the resulting dent.

Then join the exuberant cheering and chanting at the entrance with the forced hilarity of the Republican Whip at a Log Cabin (Gay) Republican fundraiser. Drive through columns of attendees greeting participants from previous Burnings Man and soaking up all the available camping space. Then insinuate yourselves into a spot and notice your free-love neighbors eye you with suspicion and disappointment.

Watch your sister and her friend change into their Burning Man clothes. Realize that you haven’t owned anything like Burning Man clothes in your entire life, let alone know how to compose a fetching ensemble. Tell them you don’t really feel like going for a walk and take a nap instead.

By nightfall, your sister has returned with Reports From Afar and you are getting your second wind. As the sun sets marking the commencement of the evening’s extravagant goings-on, hum weakly as the camp ululates to greet the night. Ransack your closet for something to pass as Burning Man Clothes and remember with relief that you, too, have brought some blinking, luminous gadgets.

One of the marvels of Burning Man is the transformation of the night. It is truly magical. From all over the round camp emerge dancing figures etched and sculpted in light-wires, colored lights that can be bent and shaped to any desired form. With her foresight (and past experience) your sister has brought some blinking witches hats and glow-tubes that can be worn around the neck and arms. Layer them on, hoping no one notices your conventional attire.

Follow the crowds to the true center of camp, a huge, circular area reserved for art installations. There are 30-foot castles made of sculpted, folded paper; rounded futuristic plastic chambers of light and sound; a 20-foot luminescent skull on wheels; and dozens of visual jokes motorized and not. The desert literally pulses with sound; you can feel it in your tissues, as though a shared heart were bursting through your skin.

For a couple of hours you wander around and grab a ride on the occasional dragon only to stall for long periods of time while mechanics work on the machinery. When you tire of this, it’s off to bed.

The next day or two pass similarly, with much lounging done around the motor home during the day. (Remember I said RVers like to stay close to the mother ship?) The sun is hot and most people sleep in after the night’s revelries. Get up early because you keep forgetting to attend the night’s revelries and entertain yourself by reading the New Yorker under the striped awnings and by trying to inflate the surgical gloves, to no avail. You have achieved only long strands of flaccid hands, dangling obscenely among local tent posts. It has become obvious quickly that you have bombed on the art part, all that’s left is to try to mingle adequately with the crowds.

But there is another development. It’s the dust. The motor home looks powdered, then generally lighter in color, then drifted, as the dust from the desert accumulates in every possible crevice. Your hair, unteased, takes on a consistency usually accomplished once a year at Halloween and only with hours of hairspray. Things taste gritty. Even the liberal use of water – a hoarded resource – only creates a paste.

You can’t be sure exactly how all the days pass. Your photographs will be strangely timeless; only one thing, your hair, an expanding fright wig, marks the passage. Finally, on Saturday prepare to go. Wave goodbye to your neighbors, still as puzzled about you as when you arrived, and head back to civilization.

The most comfortable campground you can find nearby will be in Truckee, California. Boy, is it nice by comparison. It is entirely forested by evergreen trees that create a high canopy dwarfing the homes-on-wheels below. A couple of days will not be enough to clean the coach, it will take a full week to get the dust out. As you wax her, silently, repeatedly, apologize, “Never again.” Promise. Don’t go to Burning Man in a vehicle you care anything about. But give something like Burning Man a try. If Burning Man doesn’t suit you, other experiments will.

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How NOT to Buy a Used RV

Posted by in Buying an RV

Ah, the permutations of middle-class indulgence.  Here’s how to buy a used RV in a slightly unorthodox way.

You can get a little 16-foot Bambi trailer, streamlined aluminum inside and out with the retro look of the classic Airstreams in the 50s.  You can get a Bounder with a more elegant interior than most tract homes around the country.  You can probably find an old converted Greyhound with imperfectly fitted cabinetry that squeaks when you turn, and you can splurge for a million-dollar rig with In-Motion Satellite Internet and a Jacuzzi for two.

Most people start with the larger expense, a motor home or the trailer they want to pull with their giant pick-up.  What I did of course was exactly the opposite.  Here, I can say after much practice and experimentation, is how NOT to do it:

First, fall in love with a car that is really too heavy to tow with a gas-powered motor home.  Buy that car and then look around for a gas motor home to tow it with.  I believe they call this Putting The Cart Before the Horse.  I love the Mini Cooper but she’s a porker at 2700 lbs.  This may not sound like much but it’s a little too much when you take the following steps:

Laboriously research every coach on the market.  Entertain really great ideas like a motor home with a garage in the back for your Toad (that’s what they call the vehicle you’re towing – don’t you love that?)  Yes, there’s more than one company that make motor homes that carry your car inside.  Then call the manufacturers, go to the RV shows … and ignore most of what you learn.

Then one day it will happen …

Go to a grey lot in central New Jersey.  Stop dead in your tracks in front of an old coach the likes of which you’ve never seen before.  Notice its long, curvaceous lines … really, really long, much longer than anything you’ve ever driven and much longer than you need.  Notice the shine of its aluminum skin, the alluring, if glazed look in its headlights.  Hear an out-of-tune Mariachi band playing while you are standing on the lot gazing at the vehicle.  Demand to see it even though someone just brought it in for sale an hour ago.

The Motyho

Stroke the dated upholstery, the dirty kitchen counter.  Sit in the driver’s seat, turn the key in the ignition and listen to the throaty, antique carbureted engine and burst into laughter.  As your blood pressure rises and your face flushes, cast about for an off-hand remark to make to the salesman, like “You gotta sell this to me or it’s curtains for you!”  Only then ask how much it is and what’s wrong with it.  Fortunately, you know it couldn’t be anywhere near as much as the wacky rigs you’ve been considering so, by comparison, you’re getting a bargain.  Right?  Hmmmm.

Really look at the motor home.  Notice only the finishes and the fact that it is extremely cool.  Fantasize about how you will drive into town and your friends will gape in amazement, think of the hip retro parties you will give in it, the fun you will have furnishing and renovating it, the sexy encounters you will have in the bedroom once you have converted the twins into a huge bed the width of the vehicle.  Fall in love with it.  Pay the full asking price and take it off the lot before they’ve even had a chance to fully inspect it.  Yes, really, that’s how NOT to do it.

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What to Tell Your Friends When You Go Rving

Posted by in Why go RVing?

Tell them you’re really going to do this RVing trip thing; you‘re going to drop everything, strike out into the void, just for a while.  Tell them that you’re going to leave your family, your job, your image as Ole Reliable, all for a 6-month escapade.  Tell yourself it will be a 6-month escapade.  Watch with pleasure as their foreheads wrinkle, their eyeballs bulge, and the phrase forms on their lips, “Buh-, buh-, but….”

Inform them that even though leaving in an RV on a long voyage is about equivalent for Manhattanites to joining the circus, that it’s the right thing to do.  Invite them to come for a stretch.  That will embarrass them.  Pretend this whole thing is just a flash in the pan.  Believe it, mostly.

Maybe you can sell your home or your office that you’ve just spent a lot of time and money renovating.  Never mind that it’s a bad market for selling.

Keep telling yourself it’s just a 6-month trip.

If you really plan to do this, spend some time buying RV supplies.  Most people would probably recommend waiting until you know what you’re traveling in, but why spoil the party?  Yes, cool heads should prevail but since when is throwing your entire life up in the air a sign of good judgment?  Shouldn’t this be an occasion for extravagant splurging?  Or at least extravagant dreaming?

First, sit yourself down at the computer and seek out the catalogs of equipment that you can’t pronounce and for purposes that you can’t imagine.  Then call your friends and explain to them why you need an inverter for your computer and a digitizer for your wetchamacallit.  Condescendingly help them to pronounce the new terms.  Pretend you understand what you are talking about.  After you have exhausted their attention, try to remember what you’re were doing before this particular flight of fancy.

Don’t worry, most of you will forget the details of this stage of your RVing trip after a few years.

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Convincing Yourself to Go RVing

Posted by in Why go RVing?


I was asked by my skeptical New York friends many times:

“Why go RVing?  Why not just camp in a tent?” (read: Buy overpriced camping clothes and high-tech equipment)

“Couldn’t you just stay in hotels?” (read: Go only to charming B&Bs in artsy hamlets)

“I know a lot of people around the U.S. You could stay with them” (read: Why bother with all the fuss?  You don’t know what you’re doing anyway!)

Those are fair questions.  I’m not really sure I know the answers to why NOT those other things.  All I know is:

You really need an RV if you want to sleep in parking lots, listen to other people’s TVs extra loud and too long, and compete for basic services like room in the communal garbage can.

You really need an RV if you like to play the slot machines – in the gas station.  Every time you pull into a gas station it’s anyone’s guess what the price will be for, say, 80 gallons of gas.  Think about that.

You really need an RV if what you want to do is spend at least an hour on either side of a day-on-the-road with the toilette of a huge machine that neither appreciates nor thanks you for your efforts.  A motor home, while responsive to your needs will never improve for long.  It’s a big house in motion with the added benefit of tending to blow up, leak ugly juices, and strand you if you don’t pay careful attention.  You gotta love that.

But you also need an RV if you live to drive, if you love getting to know a vehicle and all its quirks, if you crave the feeling of being at home wherever you are but can turn on a dime (if it’s a pretty big dime) for a wooded glade or the nearest Airstream convention.

You need an RV if you want to be a host, if you want to offer the people you love an experience they would never have otherwise and with a certain amount of creature comfort.

And you need an RV if you want to wake up to new faces and accents and ready conversation seated in the security of each others’ back yards.

You just need an RV for some things.  Not everyone likes to sleep on the ground.

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