During the last week of May, my good friend Brad from grad school called me and said he would be traveling from Detroit through Phoenix on his way to Washington as he was allowed to work remotely until the fall. Serendipitously, one day prior my client had told me the exact same thing - I could work from “home” until at least November.
Having already been in isolation for 10-weeks, I started thinking liberally about what “home” meant, since like many others I was already going stir crazy. How could I make “home” a more interesting situation than sitting in a 900 square foot apartment for 4 months while it’s 182 degrees outside? Wisconsin? Seattle? Pine? Flagstaff? I started thinking about all the places I had friends or family who wouldn’t mind a 33-year-old man-child sleeping on their futon for 3 months. “Home” was a word I was determined to redefine.
So when Brad called, I already had 24 hours’ worth of horrible ideas on how to escape the Phoenix summer. Topping that list was living on the road in an RV, turning it into my office/home until September, growing out my hair and beard, and escaping the constant beratement of socioeconomic calamity across news channels. After pitching the idea to Brad, and being rightfully called insane, for some reason he was onboard. For a man of his brilliance, he should have known better.
Fast forward 10 or so days (6/5) and I’m staying at a beautiful AirBnb with some friends in Williams, AZ to disconnect and watch romantic comedies. That wasn’t the plan, it just happened that way. Upon arrival at the home, I see her in all her glory and beauty – a 1984, 28-foot RevCon RV. Within 30-minutes, I called the owner and asked if I could buy it. Long-story short, the owner and I agreed on a price 4 days later. Just over two weeks after the pitch to Brad, we owned an RV. I know pretty much nothing about cars or homes, and I just bought a combination of both. Brad had arrived in Phoenix and was staying at my apartment at this point, so 8 days after buying the RV I had packed up my life and we hit the road on Thursday, June 18th.
“What Could Go Wrong?”
Last Thursday, on an account call for work, I told the always forthright Robert Brackney about the RV purchase, and without hesitation he laughed and quipped “What could go wrong!?”
Well Bob, apparently a lot.
After a 2.5 hour inspection on the RV 11 days ago, our mechanic gave a glowing review on the engine and transmission, telling us it runs better than most newer RV’s that come into his shop. He did say that the exhaust system was deteriorating, but we should be able to get it up to Washington without issue. We were amped. Our plan, as half-baked as it was, included staying in Las Vegas Thursday and Friday night in a hotel on the outskirts of the city since we both had to work all day Friday and needed wi-fi, a commodity now more valuable to us than water and oxygen.
After Las Vegas we would stay at a KOA campground in Twin Falls, Idaho on Saturday and be in Washington by Sunday evening. Energy was high on Thursday night when we left for the 6-hour maiden voyage to Sin City. Things were going smoothly sans a few mentions about the smell of fumes, getting used to driving a house, and a driver seat that swivels with turns. It’s all part of the adventure. About 3 hours in and a plethora of upbeat music and headbanging (one of the benefits of the hippie hair), our smoke detector went off without any smoke in the cabin. I took it apart and said we’ll look into it in Vegas. Things were going too smooth to worry about a measly smoke alarm.
Upon a midnight arrival in Las Vegas, Brad told me that he’s been reading about the fire alarm and told me it’s also a carbon monoxide alarm. Sweet. I recalled our mentioning of the fumes from earlier and it hit’s me that we’ve just been clam-baking for six hours in a death chamber. Brad finds an RV mechanic on Friday morning to confirm our suspicions – our exhaust was completely shot and we were slowly killing ourselves on the first leg of the road trip while driving 70 miles per hour. Alright, could be worse. A few hundred bucks and we were back in business with the first hiccup under our belt - we both expected a few of those.
After a fun night with a Las Vegas local friend of ours, Franz, on Friday (and practicing proper health measures, of course), we hit the road for leg two to Twin Falls on Saturday morning. We filled the RV up with oil and radiator fluid and hopped on the freeway with positive vibes and high energy yet again (well, as much energy as you’d have driving out of Las Vegas). Things really go south from here.
I’m at the helm of the RV about 15 miles north of Vegas when the engine starts cranking and cutting out, the cabin fills with white smoke, and it starts to feel like I’m driving a tank rather than a road vehicle. The RV has overheated just 40 minutes into our journey, and we’re stranded in the Nevada desert half a mile before the exit to Twin Falls. No need to worry, my wonderful Aunt Mimi gifted me AAA’s RV coverage which literally went into effect the day prior. AAA told me a tow truck would be there within the hour and could tow it to one of their preferred mechanics. Easy-peasy.
An hour and forty minutes later, with our generator-powered A/C unit trying to combat the desert’s 109 degree temperate at 2 pm, AAA said they were having a hard time finding a tow truck for us and none of their mechanics could assess the RV until Monday. I called 19 mechanics until I found one that could see us that day, I just needed a tow. Over 3 hours later, AAA said they had zero tow trucks available within a 100-mile radius until Monday, and that they were dispatching the police for a safety check.
The police officer arrives and recommends we stay in a hotel room with A/C for the night, but in the same breath she told us if we leave the RV unattended it would be tagged and towed within 24 hours. Given the mechanics, AAA, towing companies, and the cops, our options are about as bad as it gets right now. After explaining our two options to her (sleeping inside a 100+ degree cabin or watching the police race AAA to tow our vehicle) she extends the tagging deadline to 48 hours which was actually insanely nice of her because she had to request permission. She also gave us a ride to the nearest trucker station, which was a pleasant contradiction to my mental image of my first ride in a cop car.
AAA tells me I must go out of pocket if I want this thing towed over the weekend and I can submit the receipt for reimbursement. It’s now 6 pm and our local friend, Franz, who I now owe my soul to, drives us from the trucker station to a hotel 35 miles away in Henderson, Nevada, close to our mechanic. So with the mechanic on call and nearby at 6 pm, we just needed to find a tow truck. I called twelve until I found one that said she could tow it within an hour. Alright, things are on the up. I mean they have to be, right?
The tow truck arrives at 7 pm and doesn’t have the right tools for the tow. They have to call in a flatbed tow, which is $400 more expensive than the hook-and-chain tow and requires the keys, which they initially said we should take with us. We negotiated the price down a bit, and I may or may not have told a lovely tow dispatcher that I was going to have to sell my body on Fremont street to pay for her services. Since they don’t accept payment over the phone and needed the keys, Franz, who again is an angel, drives us 40 minutes back to the RV at 9 pm to pay the tow. Once we arrived, I called the towing company who said they dispatched our tow truck to a police accident in the city. I was texting the towing dispatcher until 1:15 am and the RV was finally towed to the shop at 3:35 am.
It was a little fun up until now. However, with the redirect of our tow, I had reached a new emotion - quite a feat for a guy pretty in-tune with his feelings. Combine rage, confusion, and hysterical laughter, soak it in kerosene, and fire a war missile at it inside of an impenetrable bubble. As is human nature, it was the first time I wondered if I was in way over my head.
After staying the night in Henderson, we awoke on Sunday morning to meet our mechanic who once again confirmed our worst suspicions – the engine overheated and “broke” (I know that’s a technical term, I don’t have the time to get into the mechanical specifics). Our RV needs a new engine to accompany our new exhaust system, yay!
The mechanic is looking for Chevy 454 engine “rebuilds” to stick in our RV this week (if you know anyone hit me up) with hopes the RV can be back on the road in 7-10 days. Brad had to tend to some family business in WA (which was the original purpose of his road trip I so epically derailed) and rented a car to finish the drive. However, Brad got a flat tire 3 miles from where we broke down and the tire jack snapped as he was changing it. After calling Budget Rental who had no record of his pick-up, they dispatched the police to assist but the officer didn’t have their jack in the car. Four hours later he was in another rental on the way north.
Crystal meth and murder would have been side-plots in AMC’s Breaking Bad if Walter White and Jesse Pinkman reenacted our wonderful weekend in Las Vegas. There are also an insane amount of details I’m leaving out for the purpose of conciseness. We both expected a lot of this – broken down on the side of the road, tow trucks, unresponsive mechanics, the police (I mean, at some point it’s gotta happen) – but all in 72 hours?! My older brother always teases me that I have way more gray hair than him, and I think I’m starting to figure out why.
I will be staying in Henderson this week (I heard something about a pandemic but have been off the information highway for a few days) until the RV is fixed and will meet Brad in WA to hopefully continue this trip. I am fortunate to be in a hotel with A/C, running water, and wi-fi
I mean, what else could go wrong?
‘Tis But a Scratch
Whether it be stupidity, arrogance, naivety, stubbornness, hopefulness, or a combination of all, I am still determined to redefine my “home” this summer. All things considered, both Brad and I are incredibly lucky. First and foremost, we are both safe and healthy, which is really the only thing that matters. Second, even with such a series of unfortunate events and stressful situations in just 72 hours, we are still best of friends. Prior to him leaving we had a long, sweaty hug and reaffirmed this was just a road bump on what will be an epic journey. Third, this is the type of trip that people, especially Brad and I, dream of. Just the fact we got this far so fast, as much of a double-edged sword as it is, is pretty damn awesome. Inexplicably, it still feels like a privilege.
Also, I realized that in some sick, twisted way, this is exactly what I was looking for when I was bored out of my mind during isolation. My brilliant mother likes to remind me that I “always have to learn the hard way,” which time and time again proves true. Of the many ways to acquire wisdom, I prefer to learn through experience - even if the experience is uncomfortable, challenging, laboring, and exhausting. It’s the fastest way to grow and push your limitations. I’ve learned more about RV’s, engines, towing, Las Vegas, Henderson, Franz, Brad’s forehead veins when he’s angry, my own patience, the BLM riots that resulted in a LVPD officer being shot in the head a few weeks ago, the catastrophic impact to Las Vegas’ tourism economy as a result of the pandemic, Allen Iverson, broken elevators, and Japanese noodles in the past ~80 hours than I could have from my laptop in 3 months. We had timed everything and planned around work with hotels, campsites, AAA, insurance, multiple jugs of water, a packed ice chest, several quarts of oil, and two gallons of radiator fluid. But as most consultants know, plans never go accordingly. Problem solving is what attracts us to the industry, isn’t it?
Lastly, we have an incredible group of family and friends that have been ridiculously supportive. We know you all want to see us have an awesome adventure as much as we do, so I hope my next update is more positive. And there will be a next update.