I’m driving up to the Carolinas with my RV trailer in tow in order to “to get away from it all”. In the context of leaving my home at the beach that might sound a bit incongruous, kind of like escaping from paradise, and yes, somehow the idea of towing a small house up a mountain is of limited appeal to me, but my wife managed to convince me that it is possible to live, and even thrive, without air conditioning or cable TV, because we will be too busy enjoying nature up in the higher and cooler elevations. Ha, Ha! Yes, I actually believed that!
I begin my journey by driving to Palm Bay (motto: “We’re better than Bithlo”), which is exactly the opposite of our proposed direction of travel, but that is where my wife’s deadbeat renter is storing the trailer on the side of his house, which he has turned into a kind of salvage yard, only with less charm and organization. When we arrive, he is moving old tires, cinder blocks, the hulk of a Vespa-like moped, miscellaneous kitchen appliances, and other items hidden in tall grass out of the way so we can hook up and move out. But he has forgotten to secure the keys for the one operable vehicle on the property, a rusty 1986 Bronco, and it is blocking the driveway. I can understand this, since, after all, he only had three days notice before our departure, so we have to wait in the broiling sun while his girlfriend drives all over town trying to find out who actually holds the keys, as the vehicle’s provenance is in serious question.
I decide I might as well at least hook up while we’re waiting. I’m new to this RV’ing business, so each step in the process is a lesson in frustration and a reminder that I don’t have the kind of mechanical know-how that most of us learn by the time we are teenage girls. It should be easy, of course, but nothing ever is, and so I find myself on the ground behind my truck looping the trailer chains through the frame while ants devour my knees, as the Russian renter and my wife engage in the kind of easy banter I’ve come to expect from them, which means, generally, wild gesticulating and the kind of cursing that would make a Russian sailor blush. Eventually, I get to the point that I can’t make the ball fit into the hitch, and the renter must show me how using his specially designed tool, a 16-ounce hammer.
Now we’re ready to go, but the Bronco is still in the way, and the girlfriend is nowhere to be seen, so the plan is to roll the vehicle down the steep driveway using the parking pawl to stop it, since of course it has no brakes. If this sounds insane, you should keep in mind that this is, after all, Palm Bay. The renter gets in and puts the Ford in neutral. There is a moment of tension as he steers the rolling vehicle down the driveway and across the street, but he manages to stop it in the middle before it rolls into a neighbor’s car, so all is well, except that now the Bronco is blocking the road and its parking pawl is destroyed, but that is not our problem, so we jump into my truck and pull away with our trailer in tow. Unfortunately we can’t clear the mailbox on the corner of the driveway, so the last I see of our renter, he is scowling at us in the rear view mirror and the uprooted mailbox is lying in the grass. Ah, the joys of being a slumlord!
We make it as far as Ocala when I notice there is something wrong with my gas gauge. I know I left home with a full tank, and after only 200 miles of driving it’s saying I consumed 25 gallons of gas! But when I fill up, it seems I really was only getting 8 MPG…thank God for fracking! It also seems I’ve had the tires under-inflated, since they’re as smooth and bald as Vin Diesel. I spend about $4.50 putting air in the four tires. Out on the highway, everything is normal, except that every time a tractor-trailer passes us it sucks us into its vortex and tries to pull us under its wheels like a giant ocean liner churning a rowboat in its wake. And of course I can’t even manage the speed limit going uphill. And I need to use truck stops because the one time I tried a normal gas station in Atlanta I had to spend 5 minutes just trying to turn my 50 feet worth of articulated machinery around in a residential neighborhood and I scraped one of my lift jacks so hard that it bent like a pretzel. That’s one of the reasons I am now at the Camping World store near Chattanooga, which is as inexpensive and customer-friendly as a Ukrainian yachting supplies outlet. I spend a full hour wondering around here without so much as a nod from the staff before checking out with 4 items needed to repair the growing list of problems with the trailer: $128, which is on top of the money I spent on the last trip. And the one before that…
At the trailer park ($40 a night), I spend the rest of the day trying to install the purchased items, a task which I eventually give up in favor of a nice Chianti. My camping neighbors seem like nice, normal folk, which makes me wonder why they are doing this, but then it dawns on me that probably they aren’t as psychotic as I am, and that all of this is supposed to be worth it because I am under some shady trees in a park instead of in the lobby of a Hilton. Oh, and they have dogs. And kids.
The next day, I have friends over for dinner, and that goes pretty well, except that I burn all the burgers because I haven’t operated a charcoal grill since the Reagan administration. Still, it’s a nice way to spend some time,and after a few drinks and a dip in the pool, I’m starting to warm to the concept a bit. That’s when I turn on the Internet, and realize that I am sharing a signal a soccer field away with 200 of my best friends, so I give up surfing the web for the night.
On my last day at this site we notice an odor permeating the whole trailer, and no, this time it isn’t me. It takes us a while to realize that I’ve opened up the wrong tank when we hooked up causing some pretty unpleasant smells from the sewer system to back up into my own vehicle, but that’s OK because it only takes the rest of the week to clear. And speaking of sewer systems, you get to handle that hose at every stop, along with electric hookups, gas, water, leveling, and disconnecting from the truck. But hey, we’re RV’ing, out in the woods, so it’s worth it, right?
Well, that depends on what you call woodsy and natural. Most of the sites I’ve been to place you about 10 feet from a neighbor on both sides. You can hear the most intimate conversations and noises coming from their units so you get to know them real well whether you have a need to know or not. At the site I’m currently parked at, we are on a treeless tarmac slab in a community full of Florida octogenarians. I might as well be in Ft. Myers.
The RV park owners have a bit of catching up to do to modernize to 1980’s standards. Most of them do not accept Internet reservations…why do that, when it’s so much easier to bounce back and forth by phone several times before you arrive? But luckily, a few will accept cash and personal checks only, which is always a huge bonus for travelers. I’m sure one day they will upgrade to American Express traveler’s checks though. Oh, and the parks conveniently close at 5 or 6PM sharp.
Right now, after installing, cleaning, assembling, caulking, repairing, and adjusting, I have almost caught up with all of the things that need to be fixed, but it cost me another $125 (not counting the $30 I had to pay while I waited at a truck stop for an hour to get the trailer washed). I still need to clean the awning (which seems to hang up a bit when I’m extending it), fix the oven knob, install an extra shelf, think about new tires, return some unused merchandise, and shoot myself before the trip is over, but at least I know if I have to I can just pay someone to do everything for only $100 per flat rate hour (except for the shooting-that’ll be extra) as long as I’m willing to get on the service department’s two week-long wait list.
So I’m trying to make some sense of this lifestyle, and while the jury’s still out, here’s what it seems like to me: If you’re going to stay put for a week or more, or have a dog, or a small family, or you’re in a remote area and want to be close to a natural wonder, I guess RV’ing makes some sense. Maybe if you’re a joiner and like sharing and interacting with other campers this is the thing for you. Or you just don’t want to have to unpack your stuff every time you move. I kind of get it.
But for me, the iconoclast/loner/pragmatist/jerk, it seems that spending a whole lot of your time repairing your rolling home, dealing with an antiquated industry, and living on a slab in a park, all the while paying about the same as I would at a hotel is just not worth it. I actually like the idea of reserving via the web, paying with a credit card, checking in to a room at midnight, and turning on a light or a faucet without having to make that connection myself. I like a nice soft king-sized bed, lightning fast Internet, and maid service. I don’t really mind meeting somebody at the lobby bar, but I’m OK if I don’t also. And when I go to flush the toilet, I don’t want to have to worry about where it all goes. Thanks to my RV experience, I already know.