November 13th, 2006

Brad @ Burning Man

Life aboard the Libertalia Remembered, #2: Our House, in the Middle of the Street

So as I said yesterday, a class A motorhome is built as nothing more or less than a shotgun-shack house bolted onto a school bus chassis. So what was the actual house, itself, like? My 1989 Pace Arrow 37J had three rooms inside: a great room (combined living room/office/kitchen/dining room), side-aisle bathroom, and master bedroom. That the middle room, the bathroom, was designed as side-aisle was a great feature, one that you only see as a rule on the bigger motorhomes. Instead of saving space by having the hallway run right through the bathroom (with a door at either end for privacy), the Libertalia's hallway connecting the rooms ran along the driver's side of the vehicle. This gave the great room its own aft bulkhead, and made it possible for someone to use the bathroom without blocking off access between the bedroom and the rest of the RV.

From the dashboard to the aft bulkhead of the great room was probably roughly 20 feet. The bow had, of course, the driver's and front passenger's seats, high-end "captain's chairs" with 180° swivel so they could turn around and face into the room. The nose of the vehicle was so short and the seat so high that I had a very nearly 75° downward angle I could see; it was easier to park than most family-sized sedans or SUVs I've driven. The windshield was huge, too, so huge that they had to cast it as two pieces with a center beam. It also had an immense pair of fully-lined privacy curtains that could retract all the way past the driver's door and passenger door windows, blocking very nearly all light. Above the front seats was a 14" TV, positioned where the driver just barely couldn't see it without reclining the chair pretty darned far - on purpose. Regulations make it illegal to put a TV in a vehicle where the driver can see it while the vehicle is in motion, a law that I'm distressed to see increasingly unevenly enforced. (Jeezus, as if talking on the cellphone while driving wasn't dangerous enough.) On either side of that TV were short, wide, deep cabinets that were perfect for AV equipment. I had the satellite dish receiver and the dish antenna controls on the port side, and a VCR on the starboard side. Yeah, I said satellite dish. There was also a crank-up regular TV antenna for when I wanted local news.

Both of the front seats had their own automobile-style doors, too. On the floor next to the driver's seat were the controls for the automated (but cranky, and unreliable) flip-down hydraulic jacks at each corner that could level the vehicle if it was going to be parked very long. I was one of the early adopters of a technology that put a retractable Direct TV satellite dish on the roof. The dashboard also had a pretty nice stereo with oversized dashboard speakers and it was wired to a second pair of "bookcase" speakers built into the roof-line cabinets in the master bedroom.

Abaft of that on the port (driver's) side was a full-sized sleeper couch, with broken seatbelts that I never got around to re-installing properly and yet another big bay window. The window, like all of the windows in the vehicle except the windshield and front door windows, had both venetian blinds and privacy-lined curtains. Above the couch was a largish bookcase cabinet with latching doors; I filled it three deep. On the starboard (passenger side) the next thing behind the front seat was a 2-person dinette table and an only slightly less elaborate swivel rocker, then the main cabin entry door (with automatic hydraulic stairs and an interior screen door). Back from that and you step off of the carpet and onto the vinyl floor tiles, because now you're in the part of the great room that was designed as a kitchen/dining room. But the previous owners included a quilter, and they did something that helped sell me the vehicle. They left the port-side kitchen area alone: four-burner stove, oven, split sink with garbage disposal, roughly half-normal-sized refrigerator, plenty of cabinet space - arguably better than the kitchen in my current apartment. But where the vehicle shipped from the manufacturer with a four-person dinette on the starboard side, the first owners yanked it out and put in an immense combination cabinet and desk. I bolted a 17" monitor and a PowerMac G4 to that desk, which had its own bay window and its own even bigger enclosed bookshelf above it, and was happier than a pig in Congress. Right next to that was the aft bulkhead for the living room, and there, facing the windshield, was where I hung the "face of my house." Oh, and I bolted a pair of eye-bolts to the base of the desk, so I could use an ordinary swivel desk chair, with ordinary rollers ... and bungie-cord it to the desk before driving off.

Oh, and kitchen/office area also had a small skylight, with a roof hatch that could be cranked open. It was screened, and had an honest to god small attic fan -- yet another convenience my current apartment, and too many places I know, lacks. And counting both captain's chairs, the other swivel rocker, 3 seats on the couch, and the swivel-rocker desk chair, I could comfortably seat seven people in the living room, or about three more than my current living room. With ample room to move around. I miss it every day.

Go to the port-side aft corner of the great room to the side aisle hallway (passing the built-in china cabinet in the corner of the hall) and there on your left as you go back, on the starboard side, is the door into a perfectly ordinary looking bathroom. Other than the fact that the bathtub was about a foot shorter than most Americans are used to, you couldn't have told it from any other apartment bathroom. The shower even had a translucent skylight.

At the end of the hall are the swinging (latchable) doors to the master bedroom. It had a built-in queen sized bed with plenty of room to walk around it on three sides, cabinets on either side of the head of the bed, and yet another enclosed bookshelf on the aft wall, above the big bay window in the bedroom. (I routinely traveled with a smidgen under 500 books on board, without having to use any of the exterior "basement" bays or under-bed storage for them.) The forward wall of the bedroom had roughly six feet of normal-depth, full-height closet with mirrored doors, more closet space than I have in this apartment.

On the outside of the vehicle, in addition to the pull-down rain-and-shade awnings over the aft windows and the port-side bay window, there was an immense 22 foot long awning running most of the length of the starboard side, that when fully extended came about 8 feet out from the vehicle. Have you seen ads for retractable patio awnings? Those are repurposed RV awnings. Only on the RV, I could detach the bottoms of the support poles when it was extended, tent-stake them down, and then wrap the whole thing in a velcro-on screen room with its own zippered door, adding a roughly 8'x22' enclosed porch to the vehicle any time I was actually camped. My original plan had been to use that as my sales floor during camping events, but never once did they let me park my RV on vendor row. There are vendors who get that privilege at some festivals, including Starwood. But they're grandfathered in, no new approvals are forthcoming, and they pay a fortune extra for the privilege. I didn't know that. Still, it was nice to have while wintering. Expensive to fix when it broke in a sudden, unforecasted, severe storm though.