Too Close for Comfort
Hershey, Pennsylvania! Home of Hershey’s Kisses and site of the annual Pennsylvania RV & Camping Show, a huge RV consumer show: 1,300 RVs at the Giant Center. I am camped at the Hershey Highmeadow Campground, a couple miles away. The other RVers agree that the campground sucks. The RVs are jammed in so closely that my picnic table is just a few feet from my neighbor’s sewage hose and hookup.
The big new thing at the show is SURVs, sport-utility recreational vehicles, a.k.a. toy boxes. They’re built to carry motorcycles, Jet Skis, ATVs, etc. When the toys come out, beds lower down from the ceiling or out from the walls to transform the space. Meanwhile, at the Winnebago display, a dealer brags that each Winnebago is hoisted three feet above the pavement with a crane, then dropped. I ask him if Winnebagos are often attacked by cranes.
Back at the campground, I visit Gloria and Ed, full-time RVers who have come to the show to give seminars. Members of the Escapees—an RV club with 34,000 members—they’ve been traveling for the past 12 years. They cover 10,000 miles per year and have RV’d on six of the seven continents (hookups in Antarctica are clearly not up to snuff). Living full-time on the road, even with high gas prices, runs 50 to 70 percent of what it costs to retire to a “stick house,” as they call it. Gloria says she has even cut down on her clothes budget. “You go to a different church every week,” she says. “You need fewer outfits.”
Gloria and Ed are techno-RVers, using a satellite to connect to the Internet and TV. They don’t like to dry camp at truck stops or Wal-Marts—some of which offer free RV parking—so they go on the Web and find no-pay places to camp. Full-timers, in addition to work-camping, can also get part-time work: pumpkin sales in October, tree sales at Christmas, even circus work. Ed is a retired engineer; Gloria, a retired cable-TV executive. They are taken aback when I ask about their careers. To a full-timer, they explain, past professions are irrelevant. They live in the moment.
At long last, I weave my way slowly back home, staying at a fancy Outdoor World campground in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, with all the amenities, but mostly I’m dry camping on friends’ properties or at truck stops. Most RVers don’t like the latter because truckers run their diesels all night. But my last night on the road—my RV nestled between a Freightliner and a Peterbilt at the Whately (Massachusetts) Truck Stop and Diner—I sleep soundly, the rumbling of 45 diesels acting like a white noise generator.
As I drive home, I have only one regret. I had assumed something disastrous, à la Robin Williams in RV, would happen. The van would fall over, or the black-water pump would activate in reverse and blow sewage all over the inside. Bad luck always adds drama and humor to an article. As it turned out, the RV performed flawlessly. Any time I had a problem in a campground, fellow RVers jumped in to make it go away.
Roll of a Lifetime
As a reporter, one has to compare one’s anecdotal experiences against the rest of the universe. In a 2,390-mile, month-long trip through seven states, did I see a representative sampling of the RV world? Or did I dip into the meaty part of the stew and miss the celery?
David Humphreys, former president of the RVIA, claims that the ten-year-old Go RVing program has roped in a whole new market of younger RVers, the 35-to-55-year-old demographic. If there are 35-year-old RVers traveling en masse, they are avoiding Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, where I spent four weeks. In general the people I met on the road were about my age, 61, and loved nature, camping, meeting other people, and doing things physical. They were neither the dimwits of Robin Williams’s movie nor the sanitized families of the Go RVing commercials. The reality is much better than advertised.
I have one piece of advice before you hit the road: load up on firewood. Every night I built a fire, and every night fellow campers gathered around to share their stories—though they usually left for bed by 9:30. To all my newfound friends out there in RV Land: may the wind be at your back, and may the ice cubes tinkle merrily in your holding tank.
Dick Teresi is the author of five books on science and technology.