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

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Kit Carson Didn't Bring a Lawn Mower

I'm typing this by a dim cabin light in our Cruise America rental RV, catching a night breeze through the screen door. The intrepid explorers have sallied forth today and traveled … 76 miles.

Ron, Benny and I stopped at Pleasant View Campground, just outside Van Buren State Park south of Toledo, Ohio. Most of our fellow campers looked like they'd been here for years, decorating their tiny plots with fences, lawn furniture, wind chimes, sundials, ornamental ponds. Well, maybe not the last, but this certainly wasn't roughing it in the wilderness. One lady two trailers down was mowing her lawn.

Still, this was just the wimpy, cushy, 90-minutes-from-Ann-Arbor campground I wanted when I reserved this site the week before. I asked for a pull-through site with the works -- electricity, water, sewer. Thus you have my vacation philosophy: Lower your ambitions, and then lower them again and you might just pull it off.

After two days of stuffing half of our possessions into labeled grocery bags, I was ecstatic when D-Day finally arrived. We dropped Benny off at daycare and headed over to Ypsilanti to get our rig: a 25-foot Class C motor home with two double beds, a galley, a table, a bathroom, two closets and a small armchair. Our first apartment in San Francisco contained less than this.

The Cruise America agent zipped through the vehicle's complicated water, sewer, electrical and propane systems, then spent an equal amount of time speculating on the vehicle's height.

“Thirteen feet, six inches,” she said finally, peering at the RV's roof. “But there's that air conditioner up there, you know. I'd allow myself 14 feet. In fact, to be safe, I'd allow 15 feet.”

“Really,” I said. That seemed awfully high. Cruise America's web site put the RV's clearance at 12 feet.

“Yup,” she said. “You don't want to rip the air conditioner off. So no McDonald's drive-thrus.”

I meekly agreed and we went inside to watch a horror film starring two badly dressed people who loved handling RV hoses and valves and sewer caps. I shuddered and hoped Cabella's sold Haz-Mat suits.

Then we asked another agent about our little green toilet packets, since the video said to use them right away. He looked at me like I was three-quarters stupid and said, “Use them whenever you want.”

“But the video said 'before you depart.'”

“Why would you do that? Do it later, do it when it's convenient. Use them when you feel like it.”

And when would that be? Two days from never? What I felt like doing was burying the packets in the woods and wrapping the bathroom door in yellow police tape.

Feeling completely inadequate, we drove the RV home and parked it in our driveway. Our neighbor Jack was tickled by the whole idea and thrilled by his quick tour of the RV. Our other neighbor Scott tried not to snicker, but he obviously considered the whole enterprise hopelessly dorky.

As I eyed the brightly painted vehicle depicting purple mountains and happy families, complete with a huge “RENT ME” sign, I couldn't help but agree. But it was all worth it when Benny came home and got an eyeful of his home away from home.

“RV truck,” he said in an awestruck tone. Then he saw his little bed made up in the back of the RV with his racecar comforter and big pillow and stuffed sheep and squealed with joy.

We split town in high spirits, sailing down US-23, only to encounter a series of threatening overpasses, ranging from a graceful 15-foot clearance to an ominous 13 feet, 3 inches. After clearing the last glowering railroad bridge, we concluded that while our first Cruise America agent was quite nice, she had no head for heights. If we'd listened to her, we'd never leave the county.

Exhausted by our ordeal, we stopped for dinner 20 miles from Ann Arbor at McDonalds. I left Ron and Ben behind and trudged a quarter-mile or so along empty pavement to buy two No. 8s and a Happy Meal.

I have to be very specific about Benny's Happy Meals. I know we're eating too much fast food when I hear Benny playing with his trucks and yelling, “Nugget Happy Meal, white milk, apple slices, boy!” Well, sometimes I do get a little loud at those drive-throughs. And I gotta say boy, or Benny ends up with a little plastic hooker doll.

We ate in the RV and Benny was radiant. He's got chicken nuggets, Mom and Dad in an RV. Only a diesel train screaming through McDonald's parking lot could make life any better.

We hit the road again and the honeymoon was soon over. Benny's bedtime approached and he began a steady, low-pitched, wordless whine. Fortunately, he was almost drowned out by the pots clanging under the oven range. But it was still annoying, and we counted the miles to Pleasant View Campground.

And now we're here. Benny is happily asleep in his RV bed, surrounded by heavy privacy curtains. The traffic from nearby I-75 moans, the neighboring trailer's water line gurgles, and our microwave's small screen blinks “Sharp is Simply the Best.” All is right with the world. Good night from the lonely outback.


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