Wednesday, February 29, 2012

RV catastrophe

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
We have been considering selling our home, buying a motor home and traveling full-time. There are several things about that lifestyle that my wife and I do not agree on. The biggest obstacle is our 14 year old cat. She wants to take the cat and I think that's a bad idea. I have taken that cat in the car to the vet on occasion and he freaks out and howls during the whole trip. I can picture us traveling throughout North America with a howling cat screeching in my ear. Can you give us some direction to common ground on this issue. Thanks in advance.
--Categorically Against Traveling with Felix
Dear Cat:
If Felix is your biggest obstacle, I think you're well on your way to forever together along North America's Blue Highways. A cat is an easy pet to travel with. Steinbeck preferred a standard Poodle and wrote a best-selling book about his dog peeing on every bush in America. I can't picture John rambling around in the morning with a rubber glove picking up Charlie scat, but who knows. Maybe his editor just cut those passages. Least Heat-Moon did the same thing without a pet but missed all the love and adoration that beams from furry companions who give even when we don't deserve it.
I'm not saying a traveling pet does not come without some maintenance. We travel with two cats. There is the litter to deal with. They like to steal themselves into tight places and hide. Our checklist includes checking for cats above the slides before deploying them. That could be a real catastrophe. We have had them bail out in an area cordoned off as a grizzly bluff charge area in Alaska and jump out in New Mexico and run across the border to Mexico. Both times my wife sent me to find them. They have escaped a couple times in Glacier and Rocky Mountain NP among hundreds of other rigs and they eventually figured out which one was theirs and returned home in the middle of the night crying at the roof vent. But those events are few and far between. We take precautions so our cats do not get out, both for their protection and local wildlife. We have suction cup bird feeders that keep the cats continually entertained. They have seen more birds around North America than most Life List tracking birders. But after 30+ years we do have some stories to tell.
The downside is we have friends allergic to cats and it limits their visitations to our rig.
A trip to the vet is a bit different than traveling in a home on wheels. Felix will eventually become adapted to his new home and find his comfort zone. We have one that hides under the couch as soon as she notices me going for the driver's seat. The other one sits on the dashboard and helps me navigate.
I can't imagine you actually expect your wife to give up a cat you've had for 14 years. The only difference between my child and my cat is that the cat listens to me and doesn't talk back. Take Felix the "wonderful, wonderful cat" with you, and move on to solve the next issue you have.
Keep Smilin', Dr. R.V. Shrink

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

New Mexico State Parks

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
I have read your columns about state parks being so expensive and I agree to a degree. I am in New Mexico and hear you can buy an annual pass for $100 as a resident and $225 as a non-resident and dry camp free all year in the New Mexico State Park system. If you want electricity, it costs $5 dollars per night. It sounds like a great deal, and to some degree it is. However, I can't always find a site because so many people are now living in the New Mexico Park system. After 21 days they have to move out for six, but I don't even think that is enforced. Low fees seem to equate to a high percentage of people living in their vehicles in state and local parks. I personally would like to see higher prices that would nip this problem in the bud.
--Evicted by vagrants in Valencia

Dear Evicted:
Having stayed in many New Mexico state parks and having purchased just such a pass in the past, I have to say I think you may be exaggerating a bit or just had a bad experience and are wanting to vent a little. Venting is healthy, so I don't want to prevent you from blowing off a little steam, but let's examine the reality of the situation. I will start with your definition of a vagrant. I don't think it describes paying customers of New Mexico state parks. If you pay your money, you can play the game. These people are all camping legally. You may not like their rig or their lifestyle but they probably didn't take you into consideration when choosing their lifestyle. You should go over and introduce yourself to some of these people. You will find them very interesting. Some are a product of the great recession, and others just prefer a simple lifestyle. No matter what you have heard about, "size matters," it's not true. I was once busted in a Florida state park for sleeping in my Buick. I didn't appreciate it and did some major league venting myself. That just made the host go roust the ranger out of bed in the middle of the night, and when he arrived he already had a chip on his shoulder. Although there were people sleeping in utility vans in the site next to me, he said I could not sleep in my Buick. I threw my sleeping bag on the ground and started to climb in. He then told me I couldn't sleep on the ground without a tent. After asking him if he had ever heard of Daniel Boone he threatened to arrest me if I didn't erect proper camping gear.
I don't know what time of the year you find New Mexico parks so full of long-term campers that you can't get in, but I have never been turned away from a New Mexico state park with no vacancy. I don't think it is a common occurrence, but again, first come first serve. Not everyone living this lifestyle sleeps in a passenger vehicle. Many follow the sun in RV's of all sizes, move from park to park and spend a season or more in the system because they enjoy the scenery, the price, and yes, even the company. My suggestion would be to get out and mix a little, challenge your fears and prejudice, and just see if this changes your attitude about your surroundings while taking the same advantage of a system with beautiful parks and reasonable rates.

--Keep Smilin', Dr. R.V. Shrink

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Road Work

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
We have been traveling in our fifth wheel home for two years. We are both retired teachers. I actually get bored once in awhile and think about working part-time but do not want to make any long term commitments. My wife thinks I'm nuts. I don't need the money, I don't want to do any of the jobs I see posted on workcamping sites, and I only want short stints here and there. Besides thinking I'm nuts, my wife tells me I'm delusional if I think I'm going to find interesting work whenever I decide I want it. I'm not asking you to find me a job, I'm just curious if you think I'm delusional. I'm writing you because I know my wife reads your column every week. Maybe if you give me some words of encouragement she will take me more seriously. I just feel working occasionally would broaden our travel experience and that I should not be accused of being a workaholic.
--Working it out in West Texas

Dear Tex:
You're not delusional, you just haven't figured it all out yet. I have no idea what kind of work you are looking for, but I can tell you it's there if you pursue it aggressively enough.
A great way to find interesting, short term, jobs while traveling would be to sign up with a temporary service such as Kelly Services and Manpower. I can tell you from personal experience that they have all kinds of diverse job opportunities. At one time I thought I was the George Plimpton of the working class. My wife and I had over a hundred jobs in seven years working mostly through temp services wherever we wanted to live for awhile. My wife worked mostly clerical jobs, but I dispensed beer, moved office equipment, delivered furniture, worked at a thoroughbred horse auction, fish processor, gold mine, and got paid for filling up helium balloons, just to mention a few. Between the temp services and networking with people you meet along the way, you will turn down many more jobs than you actually take. Many of these opportunities can be as short term as one day, a weekend, a week or a month. That should solve any disagreement the two of you have as to how long you want to spend in one area. You can work together or get some alone time.
The bonus to this whole program is you are going to meet a whole slew of new friends. Some of our best friends, all over the country, we met working various jobs while we traveled.
There are numerous little online businesses you could start and do anywhere. Maybe you should start by working on a plan. Plan your work and work your plan.
I just had a brilliant idea this morning. I just bought a new Winnebago. I told my wife we could operate a "designated driver service" every weekend. We could drive around local watering holes and offer rides to people over the legal limit. I told her we would call it "Bagawino." She thinks I'm nuts.

--Keep Smilin', Dr. R.V. Shrink

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

RV Lemonade Line

Dear Dr. R.V. Shrink:
We just started traveling in our new travel trailer this winter. I was looking forward to a snowless winter of adventure and sightseeing. So far it has been a winter of waiting on parts and camping in large RV dealership lots waiting for service. My whole outlook on the economy has changed. I thought the country was in a slump, but not according to the line of people queued up waiting for service on their trailers, fifth wheels, motorhomes and vans. My husband says we just have to get all the bugs worked out on this maiden voyage and then it will be different. I keep thinking about the old boat definition: A bottomless hole you keep throwing money into. I am trying to stay positive and confident that our adventurous travel will happen eventually, but it's hard. Do all people go through this process or did we just end up with a lemon that I am having a hard time making lemonade out of.
--Soured on Service in Sedona

Dear Soured:
It sounds like you might be having an abnormal amount of service related problems. I am assuming you are under warranty, as you mention "new" travel trailer. Regardless of that, I agree it is no fun parked in or around a service facility waiting for work to be done. The standard response when seeking service work from a large dealer during peak season is, "It's a hundred dollars an hour, about a weeks wait, and we will need you to move out of your rig." That response can ruin anyone's attitude about RV travel. I do not know what types of problems you are having, but I like your comparison to a boat.
One secret is to develop a thorough understanding of all the systems that keep your rig rolling happily down the road. That has never been easier. Most RVs all have the same basic equipment. Even if you are not mechanically inclined you can glean diagnostic information from the internet today. You can troll the RV forums, watch How-to repair videos, and talk to fellow campers. You would be surprised how many problems you can fix on your own with just a bit of studying. Knowledge is king. Every problem you can solve on your own eliminates a line at the lemon factory repair facility. A heater problem is often a plug & play control board, a refrigerator problem might be a simple ignitor. It is simple today to find and order parts online and have them shipped anywhere. Once you become familiar with your rig and how it functions you will travel with much more confidence, have many less pit stops and save a truckload of money on problems that are not covered by warranty. This is one suggestion on turning your lemon into lemonade.
The RV forums will also give you great advice on "where" and "where not" to have service work done. Listen to the masses that have already been led to the slaughter instead of making all the mistakes on your own.

--Keep Smilin', Dr. R.V. Shrink