Benny and his friend Griffin at Ocean Beach in San Francisco.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

100 Boxes of Juice on the Wall

Moderation is not my strong suit. When presented with a sufficiently ridiculous goal -- like moving to a foreign country or taking an editor position or having a baby -- I respond with almost excessive caution, researching and organizing madly until my energy or Ron's patience gives out.

But such prudence never lasts for long, only until I overcome the tiniest of hurdles in my new endeavor. I board the right plane, find the right desk, put the diaper on the right end, and suddenly I'm euphorically confident.

Case in point: Our 1998 move to Prague in the Czech Republic. I spent two months reading books, poring over maps and packing half the apartment into two boxes and suitcase. Then two days after my arrival, I ran all over the city to view five Romanesque churches in chronological order. Some were very obscure and hard to find. But I did it, and returned to the Prague Post newsroom and told an astonished Ron and his reporters about my day. The next morning I came down with tonsillitis and was in bed for a week.

This odd scenario played itself out once more today, when Ron and I woke at 6 a.m. in a strange RV campground called Pleasant View. It was icy cold, since we were too craven to run the furnace. Benny ran around the tiny floorspace, shivering in his spaceman pajamas, so we bundled him quickly into jeans, shoes and sweatshirt. Ron also dressed hurriedly, then zipped Benny into a warm jacket and took him outside.

Left alone, I picked up the RV renter's guide and painstakingly walked through the steps necessary to take a shower.

1. Turn on water heater
2. Turn on water pump
3. Read that water pump isn't necessary, since the RV is hooked up to city water
4. Freak out
5. Turn off water pump
6. Nervously take shower

Ron and Benny returned soon after, Ron looking somewhat appalled. Pleasant View offers a restaurant, miniature golf course, horseshoe pit, volleyball court, swimming pool - most of which were closed, since it was early May, but scary nonetheless.

But Benny was thrilled. He saw a bird, a white cat and a long train traveling along nearby railroad tracks. He was ready to live there and watch retirees rearrange lawn furniture 10 times a day. But Ron wanted out, so he took a quick, impressed shower, and we hit the road.

Our goal: Charleston, West Virginia, 220 miles away. In a strong contrast to the nervous creeping of Day One, we barreled along U.S. 23 like a guided missile, stopping only for short exercise breaks for Benny.

By noon we were circling the bypass surrounding Columbus, Ohio, and heading south. We were all starving for lunch, but we had no milk or lunch meat, just a few tired leftovers swimming inside the cooler. We needed a grocery store, but apparently all the ugly, sprawling, useful development is north of Columbus. Benny woke from his nap and started whining again.

We finally encountered a store - Aldi's. This was a very strange place. I left Ron and Benny in the RV and bought three packets of deli meat, a gallon of milk and a 20-box pack of Juicy Juice. (The couple in front of me bought a carload of bathroom tissue and 25 pounds of sugar.) We ate in the Aldi parking lot.

Grimly we trekked on, crossing the Ohio River at Portsmouth into Kentucky. That's when I got a call from Steve, the very talented guy who's directing my 12-minute play, called “The Video Game.” This play will be performed next month, and while I'm very excited, I didn't really want to discuss cast changes with Steve right then. Steve wanted an electronic copy of the play, so I nervously agreed to send him one in the next few days.

“I can't promise anything,” I warned, envisioning our vacation deteriorating into a fruitless search for wireless access in the Kentucky foothills. Steve called me back soon after, saying he found his own copy and I breathed again.

We crossed into West Virginia and Benny shouted happily as we passed mile after mile of his favorite objects: trains. Miles of grimy diesels rattled along decrepit tracks, pulling flatbed cars piled with coal. We passed rusting refineries and expansive railyards as the RV steadily gained elevation.

By now we were approaching Charleston and I leafed through our camping directory, a handy tome the size of a telephone book. I found a charming, secluded campground with lovely scenery near a state park. Unfortunately, reaching this park meant driving the RV up miles of winding mountain roads at 8 percent grade. Ron looked a bit harried as the road narrowed and daylight weakened. It was nearly 9 p.m. when we reached Clifftop Campgrounds. We backed into our gravel slot in a woody glen, hooked up to the electricity, and put Benny to bed.

But we couldn't relax yet. A new problem had emerged. The monitor said our “gray tank,” the tank that holds the leftover water from the sink and shower, was full. This baffled us because we'd taken exactly two showers and rinsed out some sippy cups. The agent who reviewed the RV with us swore we had enough capacity to “shower five times a day” without having to dump the tanks. Even more worrisome, dumping the gray tanks required the ever-dreaded Sewer Hose, something the agent had sworn we'd never need to do until the day we brought the RV back.

“Maybe the monitor's wrong,” Ron said hopefully.

I checked the renter's guide. “If the water starts backing up in the shower, we'll know the tank is full.”

We were too exhausted after 10 hours of driving to discuss it further, so we went to bed and I dreamed of showers on wheels pulling coal cars.

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