Saturday, June 3, 2017
Well. I am in Delaware. Delaware, btw, > Maryland. Both the boys and the state parks are better. Ha! I say this because I was once married to a guy from Maryland. In fact, on my way down Pulaski Highway today, I saw a guy hitchhiking who looked like my ex, or, rather, like my ex looked back in the day. An evil vision out of the past, I thought, and sped past to Delaware, whence came my much saner ex and one of my very closest friends. Sped, though, not so much. The Mobile Hermitage is currently capable of achieving a top speed of um, about 52 mph. At around 46 mph things start to shake back and forth in a MOST unpleasant way and by 55 it feels as if the whole tenuous marriage of truck and camper and tired middle aged woman may fly apart and spin into the void. I hate that feeling and that is why I tried very hard to keep to the back roads only. Trying for that is why I now hate Google maps, too.
It was kind of a terrible day, to be honest. It took me like 7 hours to get here and they weren’t really a good 7 hours. I’ve done most of this drive before. It took 4 hours. Tops. In the 90s. Before Route 1 was even an actual interstate.
I went to the dealership in Smyrna, Delaware. I fought horribly with Google maps to get there, because I wanted to see lighthouses and scenery and basically reenact a trip through Delaware I did long ago, that I remember fondly. Google maps was having none of it and every time I tried to change anything, it sulked and got angry and sent me onto strange five street detours and through anonymous suburban strip malls. I saw a LOT of sprawl today. Mile after mile of auto parts stores and furniture outlets and WaWa and used tires and Wal Mart Ubiquitous, scattered with weird roadside “yard” sales – can you call it a yard sale when it’s on the highway? – full of poor people selling their junk to other poor people. Then the sprawl would stop and there would be about ten miles of four lane highway where I couldn’t reach the speed limit and cars snarled their displeasure behind me. It got very depressing. And I was afraid.
First I was afraid because the camper was shaking so badly. I was so relieved when I found the Smyrna dealership. At last, I thought, my troubles are over. No.
The dealership was all set up like a weird restaurant with hotdogs and corny wood signs. “Camping! Spend a Lot of Money To Live Like a Homeless Person!”
“Help,” I said, or words to that effect. “I can’t get the refrigerator to work or the stove or the sink, help, and I think the tie downs are wrong.”
The people there looked askance at me. “Where’d you buy it?” they said, which is what all the dealerships so far have said, and when I say I bought it used, they go, “Oh well,” and sort of mentally walk away, washing their hands. At first I felt guilty, because no, I hadn’t bought it from them, but after I’ve gotten this attitude from three dealerships now, I’m just pissed off. You know what? When I take my Ford into a Ford dealership for help or service, they don’t ask me where I bought it. They fall over each other to help me out, because they stand by their product. I am beginning to not much like Travel Lite or Jayco, their parent company. Look, I get that their target market is not single un rich middle aged ladies with striped pink and blue hair. Their target market, as far as I can tell, is insanely rich old married couples. That’s who the majority of the RVs are made for and that’s who the staff at the dealerships fall over each other to greet. But they also make these mid range campers like mine and it would behoove them, I think, to be nice to me. It would also fucking behoove them to be fully open on weekends, you would think, but noooooo.
“Okay,” said a nice man finally, “I’ll take a quick look at it for you.” And he did, and together we decided that the propane bottle was empty, which is why there was no propane, and there is no water tank, which is why there is no water – this is some bullshit, right there, and I am pretty pissed off about it, because the sink won’t drain, and there is no water unless you are at an RV campground with full hookups, which, by the way, cost only slightly less than a god damn motel room. The sink is now completely useless – I discovered this this morning, after I microwaved some water to wash some dishes and then had to bail the fucking sink out. RLEM told me there was a water tank. The nice man taught me how to put the propane in and how to turn the stove on and how to get the refrigerator going and got down under the camper and said, whoa, yes, I was right: the geniuses at the Fletcher dealership had welded the tie down bracket on backward. Then the nice man looked at my camper and said, “That’s not your real problem, your problem is this camper is too big for this truck.”
This was not what I wanted to hear, at all, although it was actually my very first gut reaction when I saw this camper. But RLEM kept talking at me about how the camper was DESIGNED for trucks like mine! And it was FINE that the tailgate had to be open! And, also, all the internet research I had done, which was considerable, agreed with him about the camper at least. It’s 1300 pounds empty – dry, they say, without mentioning that there won’t be a wet weight because there isn’t a FUCKING WATER TANK – and that’s well within the payload of a half ton truck like mine. They also say they designed them for 6.5’ beds like mine OR 8’ beds, which are, by the way, im fucking possible to find used. I said this, or some of it.
No,” said Smyrna dealership man, “This camper is supposed to be on an 8’ bed, and it shouldn’t hang over like that.”
“Do you mean,” I said, “That the center of gravity is too far back?”
“Yes,” he said gravely, “And that’s a big problem. That’s probably why it’s shaking like that.” Leaning in, he confided, “We call that porpoising.”
“And it’s bad?” I said,
“Oh yes,” he nodded. “Yes.”
I don’t know what the hell the center of gravity is. I mean, I know in theory that it is the point at which one could balance the camper on the head of a pin if one was so inclined and had a pin that would move the world but, other than that, you got me. There is a big sign on both sides of the camper that say CENTER OF GRAVITY and I knew from reading the manual that the placement of this was of utmost importance or else something very bad might happen. I stood there gaping.
Smyrna man abruptly tired of me. “The service department is a mile and a half down that way,” he said, pointing. “They’re not open today except for parts, but go on down there before they close and maybe they can set you up for something on Monday.” OK, I thought, I can spend the next couple days in Smyrna. There must be something to do here. And I duly went down the road, expecting to die at any minute.
The lady at the service department laughed at me. “Oh no honey!” she said, maybe more loudly than she needed to, “I am FULL UP for the next two weeks! I can’t possibly fit you in! I don’t know why they sent you down here and there is nothing I can do for you. I’m going to call them up right now at the dealership and ask them how dare they send anyone down here.” And she left to do that and I left to get into my camper and drive to certain death, which at that point – I hadn’t had anything to eat yet that day and it was about noon – seemed almost welcome.
I decided to go on to the beach. I couldn’t figure out what else to do and I was so hungry and freaked out and disconnected from wifi and reality that I couldn’t come up with a better option. So I drove and fought with Google maps and shouted a lot and kept it under 50 mph for the most part. I expected to die the whole way, which gets old, and I cried a little and I cursed and got angry. I figured that on one of these porpoise bucks, the rear axle would just break and we would all fall literally to pieces.
“I’ll have to sell it,” I said to myself. “I’ll never get it up the mountain. I’ll just have to stop at every dealership on the whole way down the coast until I find one that will buy it and then I will just keep going in my truck. I’ll chalk it up as the most expensive lame ass vacation ever and I’ll cry and fuck fuck FUCK fuck fuck, why does nothing ever ever go right for me? WHY?”
I said this, or variations on this theme, for five more excruciating hours, as I argued with Google maps and got lost and drove through sprawl and flat, flat Delmarva. I did stop at a diner in Dover and have a lovely omelette and I stopped and got propane, figuring that if I was going to die in a fiery explosion anyway, might as well do it up and perhaps I could have hot food tonight if I lived. Eventually I got to Cape Henlopen but the campground was full. I kind of thought I might just walk into the dunes at that point and never emerge, or get on the Lewes-Cape May ferry and change my name and disappear into New Jersey, never to reappear, but instead I got back into the Mobile Hermitage and drove on. And at this point, something interesting happened.
I no longer cared if I lived or died. And I figured it was all over, this whole idea, whole plan, everything. The best I could do to salvage it, I decided, was to sell the camper, get a camper cap for the truck and just build a damn camper into it myself with old palettes and duct tape and accept that I was a penniless hippie who couldn’t have nice things. Somehow, letting go of that fear made the driving easier. I just drove. Moby just bucked a little. It was okay. I could handle it. We got confused and had to drive over this (I have no idea what this bridge is called) inlet bridge four times. We didn’t even care. It was fine. And I got a tent campsite by the bridge, a short walk to the ocean, no problem. Fuck hookups, I thought, they are $10 more a night than no hookups and I got propane now!
I pulled into my lovely campsite and got out and grabbed the camper manual from Hermie. With the diagram in front of me, I looked at the Center of Gravity.
It’s fine. It’s FUCKING FINE. It’s not centered, but it’s totally within the FINE ZONE. There is NO PROBLEM with the location of the center of gravity and that nice man in Smyrna doesn’t know his ass from his elbow.
Well. I wish I could end this day on that redemptive note but of course there is more. There is always more. I hooked up the propane the way Smyrna Man told me. Then I checked the stove. Worked! Yay! Spaghetti tonight! Then I tried to get the fridge working. No! Nothing! It did nothing! The fridge, y’all, does not work. It just does not work and so I am stuffing Tupperware containers full of ice in there with the wine and the soon to be thrown out eggs and cheese and tofu and mayonnaise, god DAMN. And that would be okay, because I expect that, but then when I got back from the beach (the beach was AWESOME and I love the beach and, get this, there is a BAR there, a bar that I was too timid to attend tonight because a) I was soaked with seawater and sand and b) it is Saturday night and everybody up there seemed to be a student at Tan College majoring in beach volleyball and even when I was 20 this could not have been said of me) there was a terrible beeping coming from my camper. Like a smoke alarm beeping. Not going off without stopping, but going off about every 30 seconds. I grabbed the manual again. There is an alarm, said the manual, by the floor in the front. No, there is not. There is an alarm over the bed, but – and this is the weird part – it didn’t seem to be going off. I wasn’t too worried anyway because all the windows and the door were open, which I believe makes it hard as hell to die of CO2 or propane poisoning. Also, I didn’t smell any gas. I turned off the propane anyway, just in case. Then, I closed the little lever that is supposed to shift power from the truck battery to the other battery, the mysterious camper battery that must exist somewhere, but I can’t find it.
The alarm shut up. Maybe it was propane after all, I thought after a bit, and pulled the battery lever out again. Beeeep! Nope, not the propane, or, at least I don’t think so, but of course I’m too scared to turn the propane back on and find out. So I ate a can of tuna and half a peanut butter sandwich for dinner. I think it means that the backup battery is dead, which, after the revelations about the fridge and the water tank, or lack thereof, does not surprise me even slightly. Nor does it surprise me that there is nothing mentioned about this in the manual, because the manual is missing a LOT. So I went and took some cliched but lovely pictures of the sunset and had a great time doing so. The beeping has stopped. There is no power at all. No lights, no power, no wifi – but an amazing breeze, because I did finally get the window by the bed open. The breeze smells a bit like propane, but I think it’s marsh and I don’t care. It’s like being in a more comfortable tent.
However. Y’all, I kind of think this camper might suck. I feel disloyal, saying that while I’m sitting here drinking wine and typing this by candlelight and, it must be admitted, enjoying myself hugely (although there are these kinda skeevy guys nearby and I am a little unnerved by them, I have decided that they are Mafiosi or something, here to plot or recover from a heist. They’re drinking a LOT and they don’t seem to be fishing which is what every other guy here is doing. Oh well. Whatever.) But, at any rate, to be realistic, I might have to sell this camper. This might not work after all and that is going to suck. I don’t honestly think I can drive it to Colorado if it won’t go over 50 mph. I can’t stay off every interstate and honestly, the thought of getting it up the mountain to Asheville is terrifying me, let alone trying the Rockies. I do not want to fail before I have even fairly begun. I’ve set a lot of wheels in motion that would be hard to stop. But I can’t afford a new truck and I can’t afford a new camper. Although maybe I can be a hippie again, more than I thought before. I am, after all, sitting here by the light of a 7 African powers candle, and gauzy scarves now drape my open camper windows.
So what I’m going to do is hit every single goddamn Travel Lite dealership between here and Myrtle Beach. There have to be a lot of them. And one of them, damnit, one of them will help me, one way or another. And maybe I can finally get some answers. Meanwhile, I’m staying here tomorrow and leaving on Monday. Here is good. I like it here. Part of me thinks I should just stay here forever with the beach and the sand and the waves and the earnest fishermen. And maybe I will.