Chapter 2

If to do were as easy as to know what were good to do, chapels would be churches and poor men’s cottages would be princes’ palaces.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    William Shakespeare

After I had agreed to the deal, I ran a Carfax on the 1996 Tioga (continuing the stupidity theme).  Apparently, the vehicle had been in storage for seven years. That’s why the interior still looked nice. And that probably means there would be leaks in the roof. My state of mind just rushed me through it all. On the morning of August 16th, I left Nancy’s condo for the last time and crossed the street to my new home. My plan was a ‘shake-down’ drive south to San Luis Obispo, where my friend Bob said he ‘knows a guy’ who can check everything out. As I walked up, the water dribbling down the curbside was a dead give-away … the water tank had leaked out completely overnight. Check another box under As/Is.

It took most of the day to disassemble my presence in Nancy’s house and pack up the Tioga. I think we were both secretly relieved that our patience had paid off. I know that I have grown, by making more of an effort to get along. We always had that in common. We both always wanted to better people. Still, I think we both also knew we couldn’t keep it up forever.

By the time I was approaching San Luis Obispo, it was dark. It was an anxious three-hour drive for me. I discovered that the focus of the head lights had wandered over the years … one up and one down … putting me at the apex of an odd triangle, slicing through the night. I worried about the Cuesta grade. The Tioga labored a little in second gear and the engine got hot, but nothing triggered panic. Which was lurking. Must have been a sixth sense. After successfully negotiating the grade, I was approaching the town when there was a loud bang behind me. Bits of yellow plastic blasted into the cab and the RV pulled hard to the right. The right rear inside tire had blown through the wheel well covering and through the cabinet. That day, I had moved the fire extinguisher from the cabinet to the side wall. If it had been there, it would have blown into the cab.

Blowout hole b&w

Fortunately, I had signed on with CoachNet just the day before. A mechanic came out and changed the blown tire with my spare. I spent the night parked on a sloping driveway at Bob’s ranch. I didn’t sleep because I kept imagining that as soon as I fell asleep, the RV would slide down the hill and into the ocean by Pismo Beach.

Bob said he knew ‘a tire guy’ too, so the next morning, we drove over there. I learned that tires have a manufacturing date on them and the tires on my RV, although they looked new, were in fact ten years old, and ripe to delaminate as soon as they got hot.

To say that I was not comfortable about this whole transition would be would be a blissful understatement. I was uncomfortable in almost every way, down to the roots. It started a month previously, when I had to give away or trash so many old memories. This experience echoes times when I was a kid and we abandoned a home, a school, a country and moved into a completely different culture. At least the language was always English. England to Australia when I was six, through the Suez canal on an ocean liner. From Melbourne to Darwin, the Australian frontier, in a DC-3. From Darwin to back to England when I was ten, through the Panama canal, on another liner. From Dulwich College, a public school in London, near the home of the Beatles to Los Angeles, over the Atlantic, on Pan-Am, to Morningside High School in Inglewood, near the home of the Beach Boys. I was fifteen. I didn’t know what was happening then either, but I was young. I didn’t think about it all that much. I adapted. It has been a while though. One gets used to things.

Bob’s mechanic, Steve, is a big, pleasant, bald-headed man who fixes cars after work at the house he rents from Bob. I paid him $100 to look over the RV and let me know the damage. I left the truck at his place and he checked it out. The wiring to the rear lights needed to be replaced and the headlights needed to be straightened. The main utility belt needed replacing. Spark plugs had to be changed. He can put cardboard over the wheel well hole. A rodent or two had been living in the intake manifold. The water tank is cracked, but he thought he could seal it. The shocks should be replaced. I gave him another $200.

I stayed at a motel in Arroyo Grande while all this happened. The repairs took several days and cost me $1200 altogether. By the time I returned to San Jose to pick up the last Amazon deliveries, I had a plan. Long-term, I wanted to circle the Northwest again, up through British Columbia. But I wouldn’t start that until the summer. In the short-term, I would drive out to see my younger brother in Texas. I joined Passport America and planned a route. On Monday, August 23rd, I left San Jose for the Casa de Fruta, on Highway 152 in Gilroy. My first RV park.

Made up of mostly asphalt spaces, this park is next to the fields where the Renaissance Fair in Northern California is held every Fall. In the middle of the California countryside. That evening, I pulled into space #27 and looked around for clues as to what to do next. I ran into Sonny, the weathered manager of the maintenace crew. He smiled kindly at me, while explaining the power and the water hookups. Some fears were calmed. I had privately pictured water spurting throughout the coach as soon as I turned on the tap. That turned out not to be the case.

That night, lying awake spotting the lights in the park through the blinds on my windows, it was clear there was no going back. I was committed, without really knowing why I was doing it. It would have been harder without the support of my family. They knew that I didn’t know why. They also knew that I really wanted to do it. They knew, probably better than I did, that I might fail. They knew I would do it anyway. I grew up insecure. I was no stranger to starting over, although it had been while.

I saw the world I was launching into as strict, but kind. One learns as one gets older that there is no escaping accountability for how you see the world. Sooner or later, you answer for what you have put in place. Something in me counts on that. There are consequences to doing or not doing the right thing. One resonates with the universe, the other does not. The way that does not is the long way around. That’s why it takes courage to do anything at all. Change, by definition, is uncertain. It is so much safer just to stick with a habit, a ritual and a routine. That is… until they no longer work.

I hardly slept again and in the morning I watched the sunlight burn its way into the country fog that had seeped into the California hills. Capturing the first light as it split the darkness into finer pieces was going to become a habit. I hooked up the hose and drained the tanks. At least, I thought I did. I couldn’t tell from the instrument panel. The rows of red seemed to have a mind of their own, rather than reflecting the status of the various tanks. More red lights are a good thing – contrary to common sense.

I had to bleach the fresh water tank. So I connected another hose. The water burst back out of the spout immediately. I thought the panel showed that the tank was empty, so I called Steve, who told me he had filled the tank. I could hear his smile over the phone. After bleaching and flushing the tank, I installed a stove-top cover and other kitchen accessories.

I called the next Passport America (50% discount) park outside of Bakerfield. They said, “No problem, just drive right in”. Easy for them to say. I had driven Highway 5, from Los Angeles to San Jose literally hundreds of times. But never in a house at 60 miles an hour. I was apprehensive.

The drive took longer than it ever had before, but I even managed to stop at the half-way In ‘N Out burger for lunch. When I finally pulled into space #357 at the Desert Palms RV resort, it was 108F outside and I ran the air conditioner for the first time. My new neighbors, Bill and Judy from Florida, reminded me about a surge protector. Bill told a horror story about a surge blowing through his inverter and costing him $900. I told them it was on my list. I said that I was so far out of my element that nine out of ten things that happened every day required adjustment on my part. We had a nice chat.

That night, the baptism continued. I didn’t sleep. The Desert Palms lot outside Bakersfield was triangular. Along one side ran the railroad tracks, along which thundered long freight trains about every half hour. Down a second side ran the freeway, cars rushing up and over a bridge which crossed the railroad track. The streetlights from the highway behind it shone across the bridge, throwing moving shadows which whizzed through my rear window and bashed the walls of my bedroom. Miserable night. I bet nobody stays there twice.

The climb over the Tehachapis was slow, but uneventful. The Chevy 350 engine handled the 4250-foot climb well but I had the Chiriaco summit to face the next day ….

Driving across southern Arizona, was tiring. I had to learn to watch where I am … and where I would be … at all times, at a different relative speed and size. Big trucks take on a larger reality. By the time I parked in space #117 at High Chapparal RV park, by the intersection of Interstate Highways 8 and 10 in southern Arizona, I was exhausted. I barely noticed a short (4-5) inch hose sticking out of the driver’s side. It was stuck into the coach water connection. Later, I did manage to torque it out, but I damaged the thread and the shore water connection never worked properly after that.

The only other RV in the park, being the middle of summer, belonged to Fred, the park host. We chatted for a while. He convinced me that running the air conditioner for hours wouldn’t make the coach blow up. I did like the warm desert breeze at night.

On the afternoon of August 28th, I drove into the Western Sky’s RV park in New Mexico, just across the border from Texas. Rosa, the manager, gave me a space next to the WiFi, for $15 a night. I couldn’t find a Passport America park closer to El Paso, so I was planning on driving into town (about 20 miles) in the morning. My brother had not been doing well and I wanted to find out what was going on.

El Paso Sunset B&WSunset in El Paso

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