Monday, July 2, 2012

Traveling in a money pit

6/27/12 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser
Roughing it along the Colombia River

RV travel is expensive. I came to this brilliant conclusion as my husband and I were tooling down the interstate, in our home on wheels to visit family in California. Yes, it’s a great way to travel. We eat our own cooking, use our own bathroom and very night we sleep in our own bed. But such luxury comes at a cost. Some trips more than others.

Our Suncruiser is a nice rig and a far cry from the tiny tent trailers that we camped in with our children in the 1970s. It’s also a notch up from the 23-ft. Tioga that we bought new for $35,000 in 1985. I was scared to death that we couldn't make the payments! It cost  $10,000 more than our four-bedroom house where we raised three kids. Scary. But we traveled to every state in the western U.S. in that rig, including all the national parks, without a generator or air conditioning. It was called ‘roughing’ it.

Twenty years later, we handed it over to our oldest son and purchased our current rig complete with generator and air conditioning. I call it the money pit. Chuck says I’m too negative. I say that I’m realistic. In this economy everything is a money pit. ‘Things’ like houses, cars and RVs are insatiably hungry. You just look at them and they gobble up money.

Every year, before travel season begins, we take a trial run in the RV to see what has gone wrong over winter. Usually, we head up to Leavenworth, WA for their annual Maifest. It’s a beautiful drive with the sun shining and the snow glistening in the mountain crevices.

These shake down cruises always start out optimistically. The oil is changed, fresh water stored, tires inspected, the engine compartment checked for mice and beehives (yes, we have found both) and every inch of the rig is spit-shined to a glossy glow. We’re so na├»ve.

Something is always lurking in the corners to jump out and sabotage us. One year we went to Mt. Rainier and kept throwing fan belts. We stopped at every RV repair shop along the route. Little did we know that the original replacement had been the wrong size and subsequent dealers just followed suit. It was an expensive trip.

And then there was the time that we pulled into Icicle River RV Park and smoke started pouring out of the dashboard. That got everyone’s attention! Soon our camping neighbors were bombarding us with helpful suggestions-none of which worked. Ultimately, a local mechanic determined that it was a back up light fuse causing the problem. We simply removed it until we got back home.

This year’s trial run was a good news-bad news situation. The good news was that the problems revealed themselves on a short trip. The bad news of course, was that it was time to feed the money pit.

Driving over Stevens Pass, the rig’s back-up camera started jumping and the picture turned fuzzy. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t—“Oh, look, the picture’s back! Oh, no, it’s gone!” Finally, the screen went blank. Of course, as Chuck put it, that was only a problem if he was backing up. Then, we were back to Tent/Tioga camping days and I was the back up system. Needless to say, our camera was pronounced dead and we purchased another. Ka-ching!

Later, on the hottest spring day of the year, without warning, the cab air conditioning went out. No amount of coaxing could get it to work. Our local service dealer tried charging it but the compressor was shot. An entire system had to be ordered and installed. The money pit was ever so happy to be fed twice. Ka-ching! Ka-ching!

Chuck drives our RV and that’s a big responsibility.  My hat is off to him and all drivers struggling to keep their rigs between the lines on pot holed roads that were built at the turn of the 20th century for Model T cars. When things get really dicey, he practices what we call driving by Braille on the shoulder line: bump-bump-bump. He also practices keeping his cool while snarling at drivers who think a big rig can stop on a dime as they dart around us, then pull in front and slow down.

All of you ladies out there who ride ‘shotgun’ in an RV know that yours is also an important and difficult job. I have been the navigator on hundreds of trips with only a paper map as a guide. Now I have to fight with our GPS lady—Tammy Tom-Tom—to determine the best route to our destination. Most of the time she does a great job but sometimes she gets a little wacky and we argue. Once she tried to get us home via Shoestring Rd. into London (a logging road into a non-existent town). I won.

In addition to looking for Starbucks, restaurants, outlet stores and antique shops, I also entertain Chuck as I share tidbits from my favorite news source—The Los Angeles Times. As he drives, I catch us up on who’s performing at the Hollywood Bowl (Il Divo!); the price of real estate (Harrison Ford’s property sold for $8.1 million) and columnist Steve Lopez’s current interview with a former L.A. police officer calling for drug legalization.

I am also charged with finding a gas station that has an easy exit and reasonable prices. We spent an obscene amount of money on gasoline this trip. It cost less in California and was mostly under $4 per gallon but you do the math… we filled or partially filled up our 75 gallon tank six times. The first time we handed over $268 for a tank of gas, I nearly croaked.

No matter how you travel—by air, land, sea or RV—it is expensive. So plan wisely my friends but travel often because family time is priceless. This trip we attended our son’s installation as pastor of a new church; our grandson’s graduation and an 80th birthday party for a dear friend. It was worth every penny.

Happy summer to all!

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart.

Father's Day memories of dad

6/13/12 Chatterbox
My husband and my kid's dad
Betty Kaiser

“It doesn’t matter who my father was.
It matters who I remember he was.”
Anne Sexton

Do you remember who your father was? Of course you do. For good or bad, he was YOUR dad. A unique, memorable individual. I recently polled my friends and family about their father memories. The responses were fun, warm and diverse.

They ranged from a dad who was imprisoned in the Congo while his daughter was giving birth; to dads who taught life skills without saying a word. I saved a real tearjerker for last— a 45-year father-daughter separation and reunion—but you have to read to the end of the column for her story.

There are so many horror stories today about deadbeat dads that I’m happy to share memories of every-day dads who taught life skills as they lived them—humbly and generously. Here we go…

“My Dad was always my hero.  From the time I was little I remember sitting in the window, filled with excitement, watching for his arrival from work.  I was never disappointed in him.  He was an educator and it was like living with a walking encyclopedia. He was always willing to share his knowledge with me.  What a wonderful blessing in my life.” Mary G.

“The thing I remember the most is when my father, Clarence Ahrens, came home from work on Sat. night and would tell us to hop in the car as we are going out to dinner.  My dad owned and operated the Marshall Wells store in Woodburn when I was growing up.  He died in 1999 at the age of 94. This was the highlight of my week growing up. I looked forward to the Saturday nights.” Gayle D.

My daughter Kathy surprised me with this story about her dad: “I love that Dad taught me to check all the fluids in my car, fill the tires up and know how to change a spare tire before driving. (Not that I ever did any of it!) But I love that he showed me and I know how....”

Kathy’s husband Tim, remembers good times at the family cabin in the Sequoias, wood cutting with his dad and grandpa: “Dad used the power saw; Grandpa, my brother Bob and I used a two-man saw to cut wood. My 70ish grandpa could keep up with two young teenagers trading off on the other end of the two-man saw.”

This daughter remembers her dad’s swimming lessons: “He took my brother Peter and me to the pool almost every weekend with a stop at the candy stand on the way home. He taught me to swim, dive and even do a flip off the diving board. He died in October and was 89! Thanks, Dad.” Susie D.

Another dad inspired his daughter’s love of language and Mother Earth: “My father was a great lover of the garden. I spent many days working with him in the yard-actually years-hence my love affair with the garden. He also was a consummate storyteller. “Old Bruce stories" were told of a favorite dog. He also committed large tracks of poetry to memory-so my love of language was born.” Shereda B.

No matter how old a girl gets, she still is daddy’s girl. “I loved ‘Dad's Weekend’ during my days at OSU. Dad would usually arrive on Friday night just in time for the college basketball game. I suspected the huge attraction was the game but having him all to myself and walking to and from the coliseum with my hand inside his large hand- always made me feel special. All was well.” Nancy O.

This daughter will never forget the birth of her first child when her father was with the State Dept. in the Congo.

“My Mother arrived in Ohio from The Congo to be the woman-in-residence for the birth of my first child, a son.  My Father remained in the Congo where he was informed that the birth had taken place and all was well.  To celebrate, he set out to visit friends outside the city, car loaded with the makings of a dinner-party.  

“He was stopped by bandits impersonating Congolese Army officers who, appreciating the importance of a grandson and seeing the makings of a party in his car, wanted to help him celebrate.  He refused and ended up in prison.  The American Ambassador found him and got him out two days later.”  Lynn M.

My friend Carol sent me this long forgotten nugget. She and I have been best friends since1945 when we were neighbors in Los Angeles. Dan, her dad, had a 40-ft. Chris Craft Cruiser boat berthed in San Pedro, Ca. He was a fisherman. My dad was not. Here’s Carol’s story:

“I remember an adventure our dads’ had in the 1950's when they went fishing. They came home and dumped their catch of wretched, live, slimy crabs on your mother’s spotlessly clean kitchen floor. This was an outrageous thing to do and WAY out of bounds. Their laughter was fueled by an over-indulgence of alcoholic beverages and I knew they were definitely in big, big trouble. This escapade brings back warm memories after all these years because it was the only time I ever remember my dad acting like a kid—let alone with your dad—Mr. Varner.” Carol D.

Finally, this story will touch your heartstrings and demonstrate the depth of a father’s love in what seemed like child abandonment:

“I met my birth-father when I was 45 years old. He was a tall, large man of 67, tougher than John Wayne. He worked in the woods all his life. The first time we met he handed me a tiny photo of a little girl about 3 years old. He told me he had carried it with him for the past 42 years. I was adopted into a new family at 3 years of age but he didn't need the photo any more now because he finally had me! Special Day. Special Dad. Special Memory. Also, love at first sight.” Rita S.

Happy Father’s Day, dads! Never forget how special you are.

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart.