November 14th, 2006

Brad @ Burning Man

Life aboard the Libertalia Remembered #3: Ordinary Life

So I took two journal entries to explain just what exactly kind of RV the Libertalia was, what basic equipment it had, and how it was laid out inside, so that I wouldn't have to keep interrupting this journal entry with long and distracting explanations. That being said, let me condense down almost two whole years 1998-1999 into a fictional, but representative, "ordinary day" aboard the Libby. And for technical reasons having to do with the mandatory morning routine, I'll start that ordinary day near the end of the previous day, cruising down the interstate highway. Over lunch, I would have grabbed my copy of Exit Authority and planned out my parking spot for the night. Exit Authority listed every exit on the interstate by number, with a listing of every business within a mile of that exit either way. Even better, it listed any business with RV-sized parking spaces in red bold-face. But in all probability, what I was looking for was a Wal-Mart or a Flying J truckstop. We'll make this average ordinary day a Flying J evening, just for completeness' sake.

When I arrive, it's around dinner time, so there's tons of parking. Presumably, the reason I stopped this evening at Flying J is because I'm low on either gasoline or on fresh water. So step 1 is to pull into the RV station on their lot and dump-and-fill. Open the access hatch to all the utility hookups. Pull out an ordinary garden hose and connect it from their faucet to the side of the RV, and start it filling; the water tank is visible from the hatch and translucent, so I'll know when to stop. While it's filling, pull out a 3" diameter accordion-pleated hose with a capped universal sewage adapter on the end; it's connected to the RV, inside, on the other end. Remove the cap. Lift up the hatch on Flying J's sewage connection and plug in the hose -- the outside of which is, I stress, perfectly dry and probably cleaner than the carpet in the RV. Inside the hatch are two sliding "knife" valve handles. Open the black-water tank valve. Since at least once a day I threw an ounce of RV sewage treatment down the toilet after using it, a mix of a lubricant and a composting accelerator and a deodorant, and since I use RV-specific toilet paper which dissolves quickly and thoroughly, and since I observe the should-be-universal, not just RV, rule of "if it didn't come out of you it doesn't go into the toilet," it takes less than a minute before I stop hearing fluid run through the hose. Close that valve, yank the gray water tank valve open. It's much more full, under higher pressure, and by definition the water is soapy because that's what ends up in the gray water tank. It washes the hose interior clean. When it stops running, close its valve, collapse the hose, and cap it just for redundancy. Put the hose away. Shortly thereafter the water tank finishes filling, so put its hose away, close the hatch, and I'm done messing with the holding tanks for another 4 to 7 days. If this is one of the six or seven days a year I also need to top off the propane tank, drive over to their propane station and (for Flying J's rules reasons) get one of their attendants to fill that tank. Now drive it over to the gas pumps, and fill 'er up, about 55 gallons if empty -- about a week and a half's worth, maybe two weeks in a good month.

It being early, there's tons of parking, so grab a reasonably flat spot so I don't feel any urge to fiddle with the leveling jacks. Hit the "generator start" switch on the dashboard, and when it's running steadily, flip open the hatch above the windshield and tell the satellite dish to unfold and aim itself. While it's aiming, head back to the kitchen and turn on the water pump and the water heater, so there'll be warm water to wash the dinner dishes. And from here on in, the evening is mine. There are probably at least four restaurants, counting Flying J's, within walking distance, if I don't want to cook anything from the (typically) two weeks' worth of food I've got in my own kitchen. I've got almost 500 books on board. There's Starcraft and Civilization II on the Mac, not to mention that I might need to do a little bit of book keeping yet from the previous event. Inventory, sales forecasts, west coast vendors to call, and so forth. I've got a VCR and 40 or 50 tapes. And of course I've got Direct TV; this was when Toon Disney was running four episodes every weeknight of Gargoyles in sequence, so that's when I caught up with that series. And since I'm at Flying J, some time during the evening I go into the restaurant, order dessert, and jack my Newton 2000 with external keyboard and a PCMCIA modem into one of their free-local-calls jacks, and dial into the local Earthlink number to download my email, read it, and reply. Some time around 2:00 am or so, I close the blinds and curtains, get undressed, throw my laundry into the on-board washing machine for storage, shut off the generator if I was still using it, shut off the water pump and water heater to save power and propane, and go to sleep in my own bed.

If I'm doing this very early in the spring or late in the fall and I'm at or uncomfortably close to the current "frost line," I've got one small technical problem to deal with on my way to bed: as soon as I shut off the generator, I have to shut down the living room furnace. Because that furnace was too big for the single-battery house power supply I had, letting it run for more than a couple of minutes with the generator off and no external power connection would kill the batteries. I never got around to getting anything done about that, more's the pity. So I just leave the bedroom's own stand-alone propane furnace running and the bedroom door shut. When I get up in the morning, it'll be chilly in the living room. (Not as cold as a car left out overnight; I do have good insulation.) But nothing much changes from the morning routine:

Wake up around 10:00 am or noon and throw on a bathrobe. I should mention, at this point, that no matter where or how I'm living, I wake up slowly and groggily and poorly. There's at least 20 minutes to half an hour of just sitting somewhere upright while my brain adjusts to the idea of having to be vertical and to moving around. So in the RV, the first thing I do is walk into the kitchen and power-up the water pump and water heater again. While I'm there, I slap the "monitor" switches on the same panel, along the edge of the range hood, and it tells me the status of the water, gray water, sewage, and propane tanks. Now, it being a Flying J morning, I obviously know the answers. But that's only 1 or 2 mornings a week, so it's habit that makes me tap those switches and see the rows of green lights. (There's also a battery level indicator on that panel, but as with most motorhomes, it's ridiculously unreliable.) Stagger forward to the dashboard and slap the generator start switch, to top off the batteries, let me watch CNN while I finish waking up, and turn the living room furnace back on if I need it. About the time my brain comes online, call it 15 or 20 minutes, there's plenty of hot water for a shower. Shave, get dressed. Eat whatever I want for breakfast. Then wash any breakfast dishes, because they can't stay in the sink. Maybe fiddle around on the computer some more, because I have time.

(One of my own clever ideas: each plate and bowl in the stacks in the cabinets was separated from the ones above and below it by a cheap washcloth, bought in quantity for just that reason. Although I did lose one plate and one bowl to vibration in two years, both times from hitting really huge potholes.)

OK, now that I'm dressed, open all the living room blinds and curtains, and the giant privacy curtain on the dashboard. Hit the "retract" button on the satellite dish, and when it's done turn off the generator. Crank down the local TV antenna if I was using it. Now step outside and do the mandatory morning walk-around of the vehicle, looking for flat tires or unlatched access hatches or antennae left up or leveling jacks left down. Now she's ready to drive. Which, truly, is no big deal. If you can't drive an RV, you can't drive. By definition, trucks bigger than this fit in the lanes. So if you stay in the middle of your lane, you have zero problems. If you can't stay in the middle of your lane, especially with one extra feature to help you, you shouldn't be driving anything else, either. The one really cool extra-helpful feature is that, like most of these vehicles, it makes up for the fact that the rear-view mirror is useless by providing a closed-circuit camera on the rear at the roof line, fish-eye lensed, looking down. I've got a 4" B&W TV on the dashboard. I can see about 20 feet behind me on that TV. And best of all, there's a decal on the glass that marks where the 1', 2', 3', 5', and 10' from my bumper spots are on the pavement. And because it's fish-eye lensed, I can see the rear corners of the RV and I can see the lane markings on either side, so anybody can glance down and see whether they're centered in the lane or not. No, there's only one thing hard about driving it: turning on surface streets. What's so hard about that is that on this model, to tighten the turning radius (and save them money on the chassis), the back end of the vehicle sticks out almost 10' past the rear wheels. So in tight turns, that back end swings like a door. That cost me a rear awning and cost Maplewood a street light the time I found that out. But that situation almost never comes up, because there's almost never any reason to drive a 37' motorhome on surface streets. It's frequently not even legal. And with Exit Authority, it's easy enough for me to find any business or service I need right at a highway exit.

In an ordinary week, I'm driving from one SF convention or pagan festival to the next one. That's typically a drive of 300 to 800 miles. I have from Sunday evening to Friday morning to make it, or basically four full driving days. Which means that really, I only have about four or five hours a day of driving. So obviously I take a long lunch, at a fast food place with RV parking or more often at a highway rest stop. There's still hot water in the tank from the morning, so I don't have to bother with the water heater to clean the lunch dishes, and unless I feel like using the computer or the satellite dish or the VCR or the microwave or the toaster, there's no reason to mess with the generator either. Before I drive off after lunch, I pull my Exit Authority out from under the driver's seat and confirm which exit I'm getting off at, where I'm parking, and roughly what time I'll get there. I can also use it to find a grocery store near the interstate if I need one, and I obviously have plenty of time to stop.

Since I was at Flying J the previous hypothetical night, this evening might be a highway rest stop if I'm in a state that permits that. Otherwise, I'm probably at a Wal-Mart or a Sam's Club, preferably one on the outer edges of a town where the cops are less likely to enforce the "no camping" laws that virtually every city and county have on the books. Wal-Mart doesn't care ... as long as you don't get them in trouble. Park out of the way of the normal customers. Pull the privacy curtains and blinds, so light doesn't leak out. Use the generator sparingly if at all. Don't use the awnings, or anything else that would call attention to the fact that you're camped. Nobody ever hassled me about the satellite dish. In fact, perhaps because I was discrete, nobody ever hassled me about illegally camping at all. And Wal-Mart loved us RVers, because they knew that in the morning, before driving off, we were checking our shopping lists to see if there was anything we needed while we were parked somewhere. And Wal-Mart carries RV supplies, like RV toilet treatment chemicals and RV toilet paper and replacement sewer hoses for when they wear out.

By Thursday or Friday, I'm at the convention or the festival, looking for a place to park. It was almost never a problem, just once in two years. For the weekend, my schedule is the same as any other huckster, with the convenience of not having to deal with a hotel room -- not to mention the convenience of having all of my own stuff, my whole home and clothes and books and kitchen and computer and all, with me at the event. I get up around 8:00 am, get to the dealer's room in time for it to open around 9:30 or 10:00 am, sell stuff to my kind of people all day. Dinner in my own kitchen after the dealer's room closes, then spend the evening over drinks and entertaining conversation with pagans and fen until midnight or 2:00 am. Get up and do it again on Saturday, and on Sunday. Drive off Sunday afternoon or Monday morning. Dump the data from the cash register tape into QuickBooks, double-check my inventory, total up my profit or loss, and do it all again until the season ends for me in November and I head south for a couple of months to find a cheap campground below the frost line.
  • Current Music
    Adrian Conington - Breeze On (S K Y . F M - Absolutely Smooth Jazz - the world's smoothest jazz 24 h
  • Tags