Me and My RV
Sunday, July 27, 2003
With sweating hands, I grip the steering wheel and enter Beltway traffic, clenching my jaw as I prepare for that terrifying move into a rush of oncoming cars.
But suddenly the lane I want is clear; they see me coming and move over, as if I were Moses and I-495 were the Red Sea.
It doesn't take me long to realize why. I mean, c'mon, I'm driving a house.
Behind my seat I've got a bedroom with a queen-size bed and closets, a full kitchen, a room with a pull-out sofa and dining table for five, two TVs and a stereo system, and a bathroom with shower. Altogether, I'm steering 14,050 pounds and sucking down a gallon of gas every 10 miles. Why wouldn't a guy in a VW Bug steer clear?
From that magical moment on, I am no longer afraid to drive my newly rented Class C Coachmen motor home. In fact, I'm feeling like Queen of the Road. Hey people, I gotta change lanes now. I'm sitting what seems like 20 feet above the asphalt and watching you down there in my giant mirrors. I've got my blinker on, and I'm coming over.
Imagine: Friends laughed when I told them I would be setting off in an RV to central Pennsylvania with a female friend and our young daughters. This after only a short orientation and a half-dozen practice spins around the block.
Apparently, everyone figured I'd forget to unhook, envisioning an electrical box and long wooden pole bouncing alongside my RV as I hauled down the road.
In fairness, once I saw the retractable metal stairs on the far-back passenger side of the RV, even I could see myself unknowingly mowing down miles of mailboxes along country roads with my unretracted stairs.
Of course, some of those people were just being very Inside-the-Beltway and were laughing because an RV vacation seemed to them so, well, unlike the Hamptons or Provence. Some made snide comments about retirees and "trailer parks." Even from the start, I knew they were wrong about their stereotypes.
RVs are one of the hottest things in the travel industry. Last year, while airlines were struggling with bankruptcy and hotels were slashing rates, RV rentals jumped about 33 percent and factory-to-dealer shipments increased 21 percent, according to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association.
The spike came after 9/11, when people felt the need for control, began avoiding airplanes and turned to U.S. destinations. Some families with enough money for a second home even bought RVs in case they needed to make a quick escape from terrorists. (Tax laws consider RVs vacation homes, and you can deduct mortgage payments on them the same way you can a beach house.)
Little campers trailing behind beat-up cars are included in sales and rental statistics, but so are the Class A motor homes that go for as much as $900,000, with flat-screen TVs and surround sound, satellites for broadband Internet access and even garages that can hold Jet Skis, dune buggies or small cars like the Mini Cooper.