The RV Adventure: An American Dream

Posted on August 7, 2012


The ads are almost too good to be true. Take your RV into America, the woods and forests, mountains and beaches, and travel through this magnificent country of ours, all the while staying in your own home on wheels!

On the other hand, as my wife reminded me, the movie lampoons of the RV adventure go back to the era of I Love Lucy when Lucy and Desi Arnaz launched their own adventure in a motor home. I cannot begin to describe it. Go rent the movie.

Or google Steve Martin or Robin Williams and RV if you’re too young to remember Lucy.

Nonetheless, hope springs eternal.

We have owned fifth wheel RVs (the ones you pull) but sold the last one since we never used it anymore. It just sat under the trees of a friend’s home outside the city, slowly degrading and depleting my bank account each month.

As soon as we sold it, we planned another RV trip.

What to do? Rent one of course.

We always coveted (one of the seven deadly sins if I remember correctly) a bus style RV. One of the big ones that shows up here on Alabama football weekends. Longer than your first home, a lot more expensive, and the inside furnished to the tastes of a Middle East oil sultan.

We could only covet. I am a teacher, not an oil baron. But we could rent one! The next best thing. The American way. Rent, charge it, pay later, enjoy it now, instant gratification.

When I saw the “unit” at the RV place I looked at it skeptically. It had some years on it. And we had not even sprung for the big bus, but a 25 footer with the top bunk overhanging the cab.

“La Estafadora RV” was stenciled in large letters across the front.

“Change the name,” my wife told me. She was referring to this column.

“What for?” I asked, knowing where she was going.

“To protect you, and me, from a libel suit.”

“I’m telling the truth.”

“Never mind about the truth. Change the name.”

No one would mistake us at our destination—the campground of the extravagantly manicured and epicurean Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington—for a well-heeled RVer.

Seventy one thousand miles on the odometer and every mile showed.

As I rocked and rolled on the Interstate on my way home to load it up for the big trip, I noticed something flapping in the breeze through my rear view window. It looked a lot like a white snake hanging out in the wind.

This was the first of a number of small snafus (look that you for you younger readers; I can’t spell it out in a family newspaper) associated with La Estafadora, which, spelled backwards in Armenian, means “I will get your last dollar no matter how fraudulent or crooked my way,” which is a free interpretation since my Armenian pretty good, but not perfect.

So I pulled off the Interstate and stuffed the outside shower hose (aka, white snake) back into its compartment and tried to latch the little door. It was sprung and wouldn’t hold, but I managed to get a snippet to hold and roared off down the highway, keeping an eye on the rearview windows for any other fluttering bric-a-brac. I really didn’t care if it fell off. That would be La Estafadora’s responsibility, but things flying off your RV could attract a State Trooper.

Once home my wife started to inspect our new home away from home.

“Well, not bad, not bad,” she said, obviously on some good hormonal activity since the bed in the back was not big enough for us and her inevitable pillows. The body pillow itself precluded a second regular body.

“You can sleep in the bunk bed above the truck cabin.”

“Let’s keep the air conditioner going. Getting hot in here.”

So I started the truck and switched on the a/c.

Nothing happened.

Hmmm, the guy at the RV place had reset a breaker switch to get it going at his place.

I found the breaker, since I had been watching, and reset the breaker.

Pop. The little breaker switch, when I pushed it up, just popped down. Screw you it was telling me.

Now it was getting really hot inside the unit. The temperature was rising to near 100 outside, and the hormones were switching in my wife.

“Hmmmm, probably need to put in a new breaker switch,” said the RV guru over the phone at the place up the Interstate where La Estafadora—home based in California—kept some rental units.

“He said what!?” my wife asked.

“Have to return.”

“I’ll go with you.”

The shocks had obviously been spent by the fifty thousand mile mark. That we did not fall apart and arrive simply sitting on an open chassis when we hit the first of several speed bumps arriving at Caruthers RV was nothing short of miraculous.

“Yup, as I suspected, a bad breaker,” the head mechanic said, repeating what he already had told me on the phone.

“We’re not taking this thing,” my wife observed to no one in particular, but looking at me.

“Well, go find something,” I shot back. She turned and headed towards the office. I knew that determination.

Within a few minutes, as I watched the head mechanic play with the breaker, and repeat the failure a few more times, my wife came back out.

“We’ve been upgraded to a Class One.”

Class One? I thought.

“That one over there,” she pointed. I looked in her direction and all I saw was a huge side filling my vision since I was standing so close.

Ok, I always wanted to try my hand at driving a Greyhound bus, and this one seemed to approximate that.

“It’s got two slide outs, television, the works,” she said walking around to the other side to go in.

The appointments had once been luxurious, but were now seasoned with the same seventy some thousand miles on the odometer. Do all La Estafadora RVs have the same mileage I wondered, sitting comfortably in the driver’s large chair? This was nice.

I later found out La Estafadora had not upgraded us gratis because the first RV was a breaking-down piece of junk. The Class One was simply the only other La Estafadora unit on the lot and so our bill went up accordingly, but, at last, we were on our way.

I moved to the passenger side first officer’s chair while our chief mechanic sat in the captain’s chair and started fiddling with a keyboard on the panel on the door.

“Whatcha doing?”

“Programming the automatic levelers.”

The automatic levelers? He punched this button and that button, LED lights blinked and I heard whirring underneath the RV, presumably the automatic levelers automatically leveling the unit. Then I watched him as he detached the flashing lights and buttons panel from the door and started to play with the wires.

“Not working?”

“Just making sure they come back up when we hit this button first, holding down that button, and then waiting four seconds, and hitting this switch.”

I made a mental note not to touch the automatic leveler. I just hoped our parking spot at the Kentucky Horse Grounds campgrounds was pretty level. Otherwise the refrigerator won’t work.

I knew this from a lot of “manual” leveling of our old fifth wheel trailer with pieces of wood, technologically primitive, but they worked.

I wasn’t going to fool around with a panel that had forty or fifty switches, all seemingly of different, blinking colors, with instructions in about one point type, and that the old mechanic had taken out and examined, looking at a zillion multicolored wires, before he jammed it back in place.

If he couldn’t get the television to work, how would the jacks built into the bottom of the RV work? Some come down, some not? And once down, could I program the panel with the blinking lights and switches to actually pull them back up?

I looked up at a small screen monitor just below a huge television screen above the front windows.

I pointed to it, “backup camera to see behind us?”

Yup. He began to hit all the buttons, from top to bottom. Nothing appeared on the screen except a dot.

“Doesn’t work though.”

“And the television?”

Hmmmm, he said, rising to poke his head and hands into the space in the panel with what looked like a video or DVD player and some other equipment.

“Nope, not working either.” The screen stayed resolutely blank, although the sound burped occasionally.

Ok, Class One from La Estafadora had many subclasses, from Everything Works to Nothing Much Works.

The air conditioning—two units on a Class One–however came on fine and we were set to roll. But before we hit the trail I sent my wife to look at the lights on the trailer loaded with our motorcycle.

She looked at me from far behind the unit, as I watched through the mirror. Her hand signals did not augur well.

No brake lights? No brake lights on the trailer? We can’t travel without brake lights.

Our trailer was new, so was the wiring, and had worked just fine until we connected it to La Estafadora’s Class One Unit.

Three hours later, after our master mechanic, and his assistant borrowed from the cast of the move Deliverance, worked up a good sweat and practically rebuilt the wiring harness on the Class One, we had brake lights.

We had left our home to get an early start on the trip to Kentucky. We pulled back on the Interstate around noon.

On our way! Hope springs eternal.

The trip north through the rolling countryside of Tennessee and Kentucky into the horse country around Lexington was uneventful, except for a couple of hiccups where the highway was under repair and our wheels caught on grooves.

The Class One started rocking and rolling, swooping and careening, and we almost lost control. I developed a new respect for Greyhound bus drivers, especially those that occasionally go off elevated highways or bridges. It can happen to anyone.

We enjoyed the horse country immensely except for one small glitch that La Estafadora had saved for us.

When we hooked up the trailer with the motorcycle to the RV the morning we left, my wife was watching me. This makes me invariably hurry, and when I hurry, I make mistakes.

I drove the bike onto the trailer, the hitch broke loose, and the trailer tipped up in the front and smashed into the back of the RV and put a dent in the fiberglass panel just above the license tag.

“You didn’t have it locked,” said my wife, trying not to smirk, referring to the hitch on the ball.

“A cogent observation,” I replied.

Once we got back to Alabama, we filled out the “accident” report as required by La Estafadora and the $1000 breakage fee was left on my credit card.

We were soon pushing close to $4000 for rental and damage. This is for a 6 day rental, or about $650 per day. That’s about three times the rental fee on my first home at my first job, for a month.

Well, I thought, how much can patching a piece of fiber glass be? Certainly not more than a few hundred bucks and I’ll get seven or eight hundred credited.

I received an email from La Estafadora a few days later. As I thought, materials to patch the hole were a couple of hundred dollars. Paint and fiberglass from La Estafadora seemed to be in the same class as platinum but you gotta make a buck.

Then I got down to the labor. They charge $110 an hour and were going to need eleven hours to patch the fiberglass.

Were they sending it to the NASA launch pad to ensure quality work? Perhaps the Lexus body shop?

I wrote them this was outrageous, not even airplane shops charge this much for repairs and maintenance.

I have yet to hear from La Estafadora, but I did enjoy writing this column.

And, finally, I am philosophically constipated. I believe in free enterprise, but I also believe in honesty and integrity. I assume the California or Federal equivalent of the California Better Business Bureau could help me, but I am loath to throw in my lot with any government agency.

On the other hand, I just got shafted by La Estafadora and they shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it. But perhaps if they read this, I will get the last laugh, even at the expense of a $650+ per day trip in one of the Class One units.

Look up estafador. Try Spanish, not Armenian.

It’s what you guys are and this little story may throw some light on your operation.

It will be a little like opening up your black water valve by mistake on some dark night as you lurk around the pipes.

Poop on you!