Tuesday, April 26, 2011

My Childhood Prepared Me for This (Sorta)

All this time I've been thinking I was new to the RV lifestyle. But once upon a time, my family owned a 1990 Ford conversion van, which, if you're unfamiliar, kind of resembles a mini motorcoach. I mean, there's no fridge, table or bed (per se). But we did have cushy plush standalone seats, a TV/VCR for us kids and a couch in the back that transformed into a bed. Heck, when I was really little we even had a portable toilet in the back for emergencies (and I definitely wasn't the only one who used it).

That van was probably at its best when used for long trips, so my parents made the most of it by taking us to Florida a few times. There was plenty of room, so it wasn't like my brother and I had to be squeezed up against each other for two or three straight days of traveling. But we fought like cats and dogs anyway. I still remember how my dad used to beg my mom to switch seats with Billy so he could have some peace. (I maintain my innocence; I was never the instigator.)

I didn't know anyone else whose parents owned such a vehicle, but I imagine most people didn't use it every day, like we did. It was essentially my dad's car, which he used to pick us up from school, run to the grocery store, etc. (My mom was formally banned from driving it as it was "too big"; the one time she did drive, it was in the middle of a blizzard and naturally she got into an accident.) The van kind of turned into its own character. We dressed it up in streamers and balloons for the town Christmas parade, and waved at the crowd as we drove through the streets. Whenever there was a class trip somewhere close by, I volunteered my parents' driving services. For that one day, I was the most popular girl in the class, as everyone tried to woo me into allowing them to ride in the van.

Gradually, as my brother and I got older, the van started to lose some of its luster. It was rather unwieldy, for one. Billy wasn't exactly thrilled about being dropped off at his private high school in this giant, red-and-yellow striped van while his classmates were pulling up in sleek BMWs and Mercedes. And, I guess there was just no real need for a vehicle of that size. I was 11, and by that time Billy was too old to want to join us for vacations. The three of us didn't need that much space. We ended up trading the van in for the (at the time) stylish, compact Neon.

Kind of makes me think that, for better or worse, by buying an RV we really defined the way our family is going to spend its "travel and leisure" time for years to come. Our future offspring might be known as the kids whose parents own an RV. I wonder if their classmates will be clamoring for invites to our weekend camping trips. Or maybe our kids will be embarrassed about their dorky parents' giant RV (and if so, they're going to get a nice helping of "respect your elders, you little twits"). Just like when my parents made the decision to buy the van, which would in turn shape my childhood, we may be setting the groundwork for years of good times and parental embarrassment for people who don't even exist yet! Ooh, exciting (and headache-inducing) to think about.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Going Full-Time (With Bonus King of the Hill Commentary Because, Why Not?)

"You can't live in a trailer park, so you bring trailer park to you?"
The other day we were lucky enough to catch "The Honeymooners," the rerun episode of King of the Hill that dealt with -- what else? -- RVs. Along with providing a lot of great quotes about RVing that we can now relate to, the episode was a pretty good one. Hank's elderly mom marries a guy she met only a few weeks before, and seized by post-wedding bliss, they then decide to buy an RV and travel the roads full-time.

Hank, of course, thinks his mom is crazy, and not just because she married this random dude. He's also not really in favor of the RV lifestyle, and thinks her new paramour is leading her astray. Then he finds out that she's the one who wanted the RV all along and had to talk her husband into it. The newlyweds start sparring over how bad the other one is at driving the thing, and Hank's mom ends up taking off by herself at the wheel.
"RVs are a one-way ticket to meth addiction and KOA sites where the law has no meaning."
In the end they reconcile and everyone's happy. It did make me think, as King of the Hill episodes are wont to do, about the parallels to our own lives. Of course, Steve and I are a ways away from graduating to full-time RVing status (I think we actually have to be grandparents to achieve that; there must be a rule somewhere). But it is kind of funny to imagine ourselves living entirely out of an RV, our possessions culled down to only the most essential and treasured. (Where am I going to put our wedding album? What clothes will I get rid of? Can I still go online shopping and if so, will FedEx deliver to a home on wheels?)

Beyond those all-important questions, I wonder if we would drive each other crazy, just like Hank's mom and her new husband. Obviously we live together now, but the fact that we both work full-time (and usually overtime in his case, and a couple weekends a month), keeps us from getting tired of each other. If you take away work and most of your living space, let's face it, you've really got to like the other person for it to work.
"Personally, I prefer living in something that doesn't require me to do a lot of quick math when I'm approaching a low bridge."
It's almost like maybe there's another life stage to add to the usual ones: first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes children, then comes living full-time in an RV (each one adding its own unique challenges to your relationship!). Wow. Well, I'm glad we're testing it out part-time, first.

Plus I really don't want to have to give up most of my closet.
"Most accidental deaths occur either on the road or in the bathroom. And you've combined the two. It's a recipe for disaster!"

Monday, April 11, 2011

Getting Gas is A Nightmare, or: Why I Need to Become More Assertive

A year ago, I imagine my worst nightmare involved showing up to my wedding and finding out I forgot to pick up my dress, my honeymoon wasn't planned or worse yet, my groom didn't show up. (Luckily, I was wrong on all three counts!) Now I have a different sort of worst nightmare, and it involves gas stations.

As in: WHHHHHYYY MEEEE, God? Why must there be 150 million other people at this Wawa, and nobody seems to want to make room for our trailer?! And if we manage to score a spot at one of these pumps, how in the hell are we going to make it out of here without hitting another car/person/that giant pole?

I should explain a little. On our way home from our maiden voyage to Lancaster, we had to make a pit stop at Wawa to fill up on gas. We specifically chose to go there because it has a pretty large gas station area, so hopefully there would be enough room for us to make it in and out without many problems. We were able to pull straight into a spot at one of the pumps, but while the car was perfectly lined up, the trailer was sticking out awkwardly to the right. For the life of me I can't understand why the trailer won't follow the same direction/arc that the car does, but I have a lot to learn, I guess. Science (?) was never my best subject.

Anywho, Steve hopped out to run to the restroom while I stayed by the car to watch the pump (there's a role reversal if I ever saw one), and I could've sworn the man on the opposite pump was staring daggers at me. I could just hear him thinking, Damn kids, don't even know how to drive your giant trailer properly. You don't deserve to have one if you can't park it right! Maybe it was just my extreme paranoia kicking in. By the time Steve returned and we had finished filling up, I was sure everyone in that parking lot was giving us the side-eye.

And that wasn't the worst part! Because someone had just snatched away the spot in front of us, we couldn't just pull right out. We had to back out. Cue me whining, "NOOOOOOOOO!" Steve has no time for whiners so he told me to hop out and direct traffic. I did so, but not very well. I kept telling him to "stop" as soon as I saw a car coming toward us or backing out. I didn't want to inconvenience anyone. But of course, since it's Wawa, there's always someone coming or going, and usually a million of them at the same time. And thanks to the crooked angle of the trailer, we were dangerously close to making contact with a pole.

Now you see why getting gas with this thing is such a treat?

Luckily, there was a guardian angel smiling on me, because this wonderful lady came out of nowhere and said to Steve, "Would you like me to direct traffic?" And she literally did. Maybe she's a crossing guard in real life, because she had that forceful "put hand up" move down. I felt a little sheepish when I got back in the car, and then Steve voiced what I was thinking: "You really need to be more assertive."

He's right, of course. I shouldn't be so embarrassed that we're towing a trailer, or be afraid to ask for people to help us out a little. It's just very hard for me to imagine putting myself out in the middle of a maze of angry and/or impatient drivers and telling them, "NO, you have to stop so we can get out first."

Damn...I really should've just hired that lady to take on that role for us...

Friday, April 8, 2011

Damn you, Camping World!

And by "damn you," I really mean you rock my world, you sneaky genius.

Last night we watched an episode of Celebrity Apprentice that pitted the two groups against each other in a competition to create the best sales display for an RV. Well, really the whole point was to sell the camping "experience," and it focused more on Camping World, a one-stop shop for camping gear and supplies, than RVs in general. In any case, it was absolutely brilliant marketing.

I'd never heard of Camping World, but as soon as I saw Star Jones, Marlee Matlin and Dionne Warwick traipsing around the store and snapping up RV accessories and accoutrements "like they were Louis Vuittons," I had to look this place up.

And O.M.G. This place is insane. Imagine a Bed Bath and Beyond entirely for RVs. In other words, sheer heaven. Any household item you can think of, they have it in a version that's intended to maximize your space while being convenient at the same time. In the past few months something monumental seems to have shifted in my brain, and I now find nothing more exciting than the chance to outfit my "second home" in miniaturized versions of everything.

Within minutes I had built up a pretty significant wish list, and Steve decreed that we could buy at least some of the things, whatever we needed the most. It was hard, but we managed to narrow it down to the essentials, which included:

1. Toaster forks, set of 4 (for 'smores, of course)
2. Over-the-door compact towel bar (keeping towels in place)
3. Sinkware organizer (for sponges, soap, etc.)
4. Stay-put hangers (so clothes don't fall off during drives)
5. Paper towel holder to be mounted under cabinet (another genius space saver, and very necessary for messy eaters like us...or, well, just me)
6. RV queen-size sheets
7. Memory foam mattress topper (!!!!!!!!!!)

I can't wait! There are a few other things I have my eye on (like a wall-mounted toothbrush holder, an under-shelf sliding cup rack, an over-the-sink cutting board and especially an under-cabinet coffeemaker) but slow your roll April, there's plenty of time for all of that. Too bad we didn't know we were getting an RV last year, because forget Macy's, we would've registered at Camping World.

Two weeks until our next "mini" trip and it can't come soon enough!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Angry, Impossibly Thrilled, and Just Plain Awesome RV Salespeople

Soon after reserving our new RV (but before taking it home), we settled in for an exciting night of OnDemand viewing (we really are retirees at heart, trapped in the bodies of twentysomethings). One of the movies we stumbled on was a documentary called Winnebago Man. Because we now wanted to devour pretty much anything RV-related, we hit "Preview." The documentary was apparently based on a series of outtakes from RV commercials back in the '80s, featuring a very crotchety RV salesman who clearly wasn't having the best of days. We hadn't ever heard of him, but apparently he's become some sort of cultural icon in the viral video world, and even earned the title of "Angriest Man in the World."

If you've never had the pleasure of watching one of these treasures, I highly recommend. I'm in a giving mood, so you don't even have to trudge over to YouTube to get the goods:

You wouldn't think they could base an 85-minute movie off a couple of viral videos, but the world is a fabulous place these days. The filmmaker, Ben Steinbauer, became borderline obsessed with tracking down this guy, Jack Rebney, and finding out why the hell he was so angry, and if he still was. Spoiler alert: He did find him, but there are quite a few twists and turns along the way. I'm not going to give anything else away, but damn if I didn't get choked up at the end. That's pretty impressive for a movie about a guy who became famous for spewing expletives.

The whole movie made me wonder if all RV salesmen are secretly pissed off at the world. All you've gotta do is look up a trailer model (ours is the JayFlight 22FB, for instance) on YouTube, and you'll find some sales guy walking you through the model and pretty much losing his mind over the virtues of all that storage space!!!! I mean, just so freaking enthusiastic it's a little painful. That can't be good for the psyche. At a certain point, all that excess enthusiasm is going to boil over and you'll morph into the next "Angriest Man in the World."

We got lucky in that the salesman who sold us our RV was neither angry nor excessively enthusiastic. At other dealerships and RV shows, the salespeople had been pretty hands-off. One even handed us the keys to a few different trailers and let us report back with the numbers of the ones we were interested in. I guess we needed a little more hand-holding, though, because we never came out of any of those places with the knowledge and assistance we should've gotten.

That's maybe why it made such a difference when, upon our trip to a dealership in Sellersville, our salesguy basically took us under his wing. I'm sure most people thought we were a couple of kids with no real interest in buying an RV, but if he thought so he didn't show it. He walked us through a number of different models and took note of what it seemed we liked and didn't. For instance, even though I didn't say so during our first couple of trailer tours, I wasn't blown away. Things were just too cramped and tight. The next model he showed us, he promised, "April's gonna love this one." He was right. That's the one we ended up buying.

Later, when we were talking the financial side of things, he made a comment that ended up really sealing the deal for us. He was giving us a ballpark figure of what we'd have to pay on a monthly basis toward a loan, and followed that up with a teasing look at me and, "Heck, you probably spend more money than that on clothes in a month." Touché, RV man. Touché. From then, I was pretty much sold. (And at a certain point, I'll stop buying clothes to make up for what we're spending on the RV. Promise.)

The point is, I liked the guy. He seemed to take a genuine interest in us, and hell, a few compliments thrown our (well, mainly my) way certainly didn't hurt. (Flattery will get you everywhere, in my case.) He definitely made it seem like owning an RV was a realistic possibility for us, and from there, we were able to turn it into a reality.