It was 90 degrees on a June Saturday afternoon, I had no air conditioning at home, and thus I found myself in line at the multiplex. I didn’t care about the movie offerings. I cared about the advertised 68-degree climate control in the theater. When I got to the ticket window, I asked for “any movie that’s starting now.” There was but one, RV, an alleged comedy that combines two things whose appeal had always eluded me: recreational vehicles (too big) and Robin Williams (too hairy). I vacillated. I thought about Robin’s hairy back. I thought about my sweaty back. Chalk up a victory for air conditioning.
I won’t bore you with the plot. As I recall, good, or at least mediocrity, triumphs in the end. In the middle, Williams is in a desolate RV camp with his motor home’s sewer hose in his hand. Predictable sloppy events ensue because he follows inept advice from his fellow RVers, all of whom are toothless imbeciles.
This took me aback. Yes, this is the long-running stereotype of an RVer: an RC Cola-slurping NASCAR wannabe, a small evolutionary step up from a protozoan. We view even the well-heeled RV family with derision—people who fear the outdoors so much they take their bathroom, living room, and entertainment center along with them to encounter nature. But this wasn’t jibing with the new images I’d been seeing. The Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) Go RVing campaign focuses on the outdoors rather than the rolling equipment, and floods the airwaves with ads depicting upmarket thirty-something RVers. The dad is usually a rugged-looking professional. You assume the bulge in his pocket is an advance galley of Alan Greenspan’s autobiography. The wife looks like a former supermodel, now spearheading the IPO of a nanotechnology firm. The kids are clearly auditioning to be in a Gap Kids catalog.
Who is the real RVer? The dentally challenged guys from the movie or the sophisticates of the Go RVing commercials? One of the few advantages of being a journalist is that you can beg for stuff in the interest of informing the public. I gave the RVIA a call. Could it help me design a tour through the Northeast that would put me in touch with the new suave RVer? The RVIA said “absolutely” and also persuaded Roadtrek, a Canadian company, to lend me a brand-new motor home for the trip.
What I didn’t tell the RVIA is that I was the least likely candidate to give RVers a fair shake. My normal ride is a 3,600-pound stick shift, and last year I put 1,000 more miles on my bicycle than I did on the car. I live in a college town where burning fossil fuels is considered arson, and even our cats are vegetarians. RVers to me were gas-guzzling, spotted-owl-eating wusses…and worse. It was with this attitude that I set off on my trek.
I chose a four-week period spanning August and September. I figured to catch a lot of full-timers in August (people who live in their RVs and spend summers in the North) and a lot of weekend warriors after Labor Day. After a 2,390-mile trek around the Northeast, I believe I know the American RVer pretty well. So who helped me empty my black-water tank? The drunken bumpkin or the radicchio-eating CEO? Or is it remotely possible that the movie industry and the PR business both got it wrong? Let’s find out.
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