Mr. Adventure: Bum Steer

Navigating a 34-foot RV through tight spaces and fast traffic turns a favor into a trial.

BY May 26, 2015


“So, what you’re telling me is that I have to get this massive thing through that tiny opening? … Man, if I had a nickel…”

“Just don’t wreck it. Mary and me plan on taking it north next month and want it to have all four wheels.”

“It looks like it has six, Ed.”

“I knew that.”

When someone hands you the keys to his beloved 34-foot motorhome, you have two options: Say, “No thanks, your home smells like rubber,” or, “Why thank you, I’ll be very careful with it” (before turning away with an evil grin). I chose the latter when my neighbor Ed revealed to me that he and his wife, Mary, own a luxury motor coach they kept in storage out in the wilds of Alva. It seems the further out you go into the wilderness to store large items, such as an RV, sailboat or rusting Tilt-A-Whirl carnival ride, the more rates drop dramatically. And Ed tends to be thrifty.

So when I volunteered to go retrieve The Hurricane, I think he mistakenly thought I’d put gas in it or wash it. Of course, I did neither of those things. What I did was make Ed drive me out to Alva so I could experience the magic that is living on the open road—14.2 miles of life as God meant it.

“It’s a triple slide unit with side awnings,” Ed said. “Oh, a triple slide job?” I replied. “I expected nothing less. That’s really the perfect setup for your needs.” (It turns out I can talk RVs like an expert even though at the time I had no actual knowledge of what we were talking about.) “And, of course, it’s got the self-leveler,” Ed said. “Well, of course,” I said. “That’s the best. I’ve been thinking about getting one of these puppies for a while now. But a sailboat makes more sense for when the apocalypse comes.”

Ed pretended not to hear that last bit and handed me the keys. “Let’s go inside,” he said as he reached for the door. It takes a minute or two for Ed to get his foot up on the step. An old football injury has slowed him up.

A little background info on Ed. Nice guy. Retired military. His bright white hairline begins near the middle of the back of his head. He looks a little bit like Jack Nicholson if Jack Nicholson looked an awful lot like Robert De Niro.

The Hurricane was parked under a giant metal-roofed carport alongside another RV and what appeared to be a 1984 Bayliner pleasure cruiser that hadn’t cruised or provided pleasure since the Reagan era. But Ed’s baby stood out. A diamond in the rough. The front looked like a cross between a Power Rangers helmet and a Pokémon character, while the back looked like the world’s largest dishwasher with a ladder glued to it.

“I don’t think I want to back it up,” I said, heading for the front seat. “I spent the first three months with it praying to find spots I could pull forward out of,” he said. “But backing up is all part of the RV lifestyle. So enjoy. But let me give you a quick tour first.”

Quick was the right word. If you’ve never been inside an RV, as I hadn’t, it is as though someone took a golf course condo and shoved it into a tractor trailer: questionable styling, vinyl upholstery, 2 square feet of granite counter space. Basically a dream that fell short. But even so, I saw the appeal. It makes sense to want to get away, but take all of your stuff with you. To see the majesty that is this great land of ours from a multilane highway or a campground filled with like-minded strangers. And what better place to start than Alva. I believe it’s Deuteronomy that says, “All roads lead from Alva.” But I might be wrong about that.

Ed was kind enough to show me the kitchen, which is conveniently located off the dashboard. “You got your sink, oven, dishwasher and tons of cabinet space. Look at this fridge. It’s huge!” he said. “And this is the living room area.” We turned 180 degrees from the spot we were standing to look at a sofa. Beige. Probably vinyl. “This and the dinette slide out. It’s really cool. Makes it feel so much bigger. Back here is a bathroom and storage for clothes, etc.” He proceeded to open every cabinet door so I could look inside. One cabinet held one of Mary’s goin’-to-church blazers surrounded by a few hangers.

The master occupied the rear and featured a queen-sized bed with a blue comforter (Mary’s favorite) and a full bath. If this were a sailboat I would think it was the greatest thing ever. But, you know, it’s not. And the apocalypse thing.

“It’s got cameras in the back, so when you back up just watch the screens,” Ed said, as he turned and headed for the screen door. “Make yourself at home. We’ll see you soon.” And just like that I hear the motorized steps fold up and the sound of a 2014 Toyota Avalon starting and driving away. It’s just me in a swiveling Barcalounger bolted to the floor of a rolling living room. I fire it up and hear the purr of, well, not much. It’s surprisingly quiet. According to the small television monitors that came on when I shifted in reverse, it was just some grass and a parked fifth wheel between me and the open road (aka Palm Beach Boulevard). But because I don’t trust technology—and because there was a better than average chance Ed had over-insured this baby with the mindset that I’d return it as a charred accident report—I decided to turn it off and take a walk around.

It looked even bigger with Ed gone. I decided to climb the rear ladder and survey the surroundings, but then I realized I didn’t really care if there was lawn furniture on the roof or not.

Back inside it seemed as responsive as any 26,000-pound vehicle with a full accoutrement of cherry-wood cabinetry and two bathrooms could be.

It was approximately 300 feet across the grassy field to the gravel road that led to freedom, but from my vantage point it looked like a mile. With no actual driveway area to speak of, the lot had boats and RVs and the aforementioned Tilt-A-Whirl scattered about: an Island of Misfit Toys for grownups. And between me and the gate was a precariously parked sailboat I was going to have to sneak by without Ed’s baby taking a rudder to its screen door. So I backed up to try again. I watched as the RV’s passenger-side mirror missed the sailboat by a matter of inches. I gave her a little gas and she lurched for the gate.

It’s at this point I realize why they monitor the heart rates of pilots and astronauts—this is stressful. The mini victory that was getting it onto the gravel road is tempered by the six minutes I sit and wait for enough traffic to clear for me to even consider pulling out onto the main road. I feel passersby judge me as a newbie through the massive windshield. But they’re all so tiny down there. I’m pretty sure you sit 15 feet high in these things, so if you fall out  it’ll hurt. And it feels like you could fall out—the windshield is right in your face. I miss the nose of my Porsche. I also miss the acceleration of my Porsche. Damn, this thing is slow.

I reach 30 mph when this weird vertigo overwhelms me. The road is right in front of me, but way down there. It looks far. And this thing feels like it is taking up at least two lanes of traffic. Turns out it is—I’m not good at spatial orientation. A pickup truck with two rottweilers in the back cruises past me and slows to look up at me. I’m doing 42 mph in a 60 zone. Oh well, you should really take time to enjoy the ride.

And just like that I’m at Ed’s house! Geez, that was quick.


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