It was 22 feet long, roughly 10 feet wide and contained the accouterments to keep its inhabitants far from the ailments of actual, real camping. My father backed it into a parking spot he made specifically for the five ton behemoth. He kicked open the door and hopped down from the expensive investment and triumphantly planted his hands on his hips.
“Well,” he exclaimed to us with arms now open, “what do you think?” The grin on his face said he’d only accept one answer.
“It’s great!” we shouted in unison. Being seven years old, it was possibly the coolest thing I had seen on wheels. It had a bathroom, a kitchen, multiple beds, a microwave and a TV. It had everything we’d need from home but allowed us to go on the move. God forbid we go on vacation and actually take a break from the simple pleasures of home.
This RV rules, I remember thinking to myself.
It had swivel chairs perfect for practicing a dramatic reveal or revelation while playing secret agent or house.
“Nick, what’s wrong?” My sister, a worried house mother, would ask the back of the felt chair.
“The baby, he’s…” I’d shuffle my feet and rotate the chair, brandishing an old diaper. “Pooped his pants!”
There was a bed above the cab with a window looking out, which created a rather convincing recreation of the Millennium Falcon’s cockpit when the right speed and imagination was applied. But best of all, was the TV. It was only 9” but that only meant I had an excuse to move closer, to practically wear it like virtual reality goggles. I wouldn’t have to leave my beloved Nintendo 64 behind. All of my best friends, Diddy Kong Racing, Mario 64, Banjo Kazooie, Star Wars: Shadow of the Empire and Donkey Kong Adventures could all be brought along. I wouldn’t have to leave them alone, cold and in the dark for the weeks abroad.
Most of all, the purchase of such an RV by my father surprised us. He had – has – a tendency to look for a bargain. He likes spending money, like every American, but doesn’t enjoy spending it fruitlessly. He’s a guy that follows the motto, “Just barely keeping up with the Jones’s. By choice.” He could spend all of his money on nice things but he never really did until now. Between him and my mother, our family made a good living, but never enough for a condo in the Bahamas, a beach house in Cancun or an inconvenient but sporty car.
He did however, have the money to buy a new 220 sq ft brand spanking new motorhome. Our family spent all of our vacations and excess money traveling. Where some families save every nickel and dime for a new car or unnecessary house remodel, my father pinched pennies and raided couches for anything to send our family somewhere other than the small suburbia of our home.
Before purchasing the RV in the late ‘90s, our family rolled around in a tent trailer. It was the latest fad that combined all the shitty parts of camping in a tent and a trailer without the benefits of either. We towed it behind our hideous, purple station wagon, my parents toted it around like a parade float for an honor student. After spending close to an hour backing it into place – it has to be parked perfectly – we’d all hop out and watch my father get to work on the crank.
“The best part is you just have to crank the wheel!” my father would tell us. “The whole thing pops up with the simple motion of my arm.” He grinned from ear to ear as if he had just found gold at the end of a rainbow. Thirty minutes of work and a thrown out shoulder later, the tent/trailer stood erect in the campsite.
“Nothing wrong with a little elbow grease!” He said, more to convince himself than the rest of us. His face grimaced behind the smile as he tried to roll the knot out of his shoulder.
When my father rolled in with the RV, it seemed like the most brilliant purchase he had made, perhaps still to this day. With the tent trailer dead on gone, our family was going to have to actually camp in a tent in the elements. He prevented mental instability and permanent shoulder damage by selling that tent trailer and moving onto the RV.
“Five miles to the gallon,” my father told me as he rubbed the dashboard the same way someone might rub an old dog, “in town if you can believe it. Yes, my boy, this puppy gets a whoppin’ eight miles to the gallon on the freeway. It outclassed every other RV of its engine and chassis size by six percent! Six percent! Your dad knows a good deal when he sees one.” He smiles at me and then squints accusingly at the rearview mirror. He licks his thumb and rubs a spec of dirt off the otherwise perfect glass and smiles again.
He was right. He knows a pretty good deal when he sees one. He’s never been one to spend copious amounts of money on cars, houses, appliances or clothing. He’s a thrift shopper without the thrift store. He’s someone that takes pride in walking into Target with a wad of cash and striking a deal on their one-size-fits-all polo shirts. He’s never made the mistake of spending too much money or making some financially insane decision.
But there’s another side to that coin. My father never got shafted on a deal or spends too much money because the stuff he bought was, well, shit. He’s spent most of his adult life buying crappy cars, motorcycles, minivans, trailers and used BBQs and tried to fix them up the same way someone might try to polish a handful of turds, string them up and call them a pearl necklace.
When he went out and bought an RV – a brand new RV, one with no previous owner or ailments that were carried with it like a cheap prostitute carries STD’s in Vegas – I was a little concerned someone had switched my father out with another man. “What’s my favorite color!?” I wanted to shout at him accusingly. “What’s my middle name?! How much did I weigh when I was born?! What foods give Mom the worst gas?! WHAT ARE YOU?!”
But it was my father. As much as I didn’t want to believe it, it was him; the same man who wore those faded, ankle high, white washed jeans and Disneyland sweatshirts that predated the fall of the Berlin wall. The same man who wore pump-up, high-top, off-brand Nike’s from Costco to play Basketball. He had just done something out of character, he bought something that was unused and project free. It was Buy-and-Drive. A obligation free purchase.
Just after my brother was born, we started a series RV road trips. And although the RV became a money sink, it eventually deteriorated quicker than Israeli and Palestinian relations, it allowed my parents to take a family of five with a newborn child all over the western side of the United States. We went on road trips for weeks traveling from California, to Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and as far north as Montana. Most of all, it planted a travel bug in the minds of us kids. It showed us that there’s an outside world beyond the confines of suburbia West Linn, Oregon; that world is kinda weird and different.
“Let’s go!” My father shouts to us, his head and arms resting on the steering wheel. “We were supposed to leave by 7!” The rest of the family must have been on Pacific Island time, because the four of us were constantly three hours behind him. We ran out, arms full of poorly packed gear and clothing, and throw them all in the back of the RV.
“What’s that?” he asked, looking at the bag full of my favorite Nintendo friends.
“That thing? We don’t need it; the open road will be our entertainment! Leave that in the house and let’s get going.” My jaw and arms went slack. I’d be leaving it all behind. I’d have to interact with my family and perhaps read an actual book.
This RV sucks.
He grins ear to ear as I trot back to the car, arms empty of digital entertainment. “Hustle! Quick like a bunny! We’re losing daylight, bub!” He whistles a nameless tune and smiles back at us through the immaculate rear view mirror as I climb aboard. The RV pulls out of its gravel parking spot and turns onto the road.
First stop: Yellowstone National Park.