Wednesday, December 21, 2011

As of today I’ve spent four nights in ol’ Sweet Pea. Last night would’ve been my fifth but instead I am cheating, somewhat. Already…I know!! Well, a friend left his homey studio apartment for a couple weeks and tempted me with four stationary walls and electrical sockets. Last week I shivered through the initial nights of darkened urban RV life, so, I deliberated on the house-sitting offer for only a moment, then accepted, justifying this pseudo-holiday by pledging to spend as much time as possible finishing the colossal organization project that is still bogging down the interior living space of Sweet Pea. Thankfully, my friend lives in a somewhat industrial area of town and there is ample street parking, so my ol’ lady is parked just across the street, begging for some attention. My next blog will include details about this whole organization project and just how comically tedious it has been.  But for today, I’d like to focus on another topic: The costs of getting The RV Experiment up and running.

I went into this experiment completely inexperienced. Granted, as a kid my folks owned motor homes and fifth wheels that sheltered us on local camping trips, mostly in RV parks alongside other half-ass adventurers, but at times we’d roll into less developed terrain.  I have warm memories of my family and three others, the Cookes, the Devines, and the Drennans all parked in a neat row like a package of hot dogs at the chosen location. Awning pulled out, lawn chairs open, barbecues a-blazing, adults drunk on cheap booze and kids tipsy with sugar, white bread and fresh air, it was always superior fun. Our family’s first recreational vehicle was a 1965 “Smokey” trailer, aptly named Smokey.  He was a tiny little fellow and easily pulled by my mother’s aging gray Accord, Foxy.  
Smokey appeared very similar to this trailer
Smokey’s modest size served my small family well but as the years rolled by he was subsequently swapped for one a little bigger, then one a little bigger the next year.  By time I was sixteen, my father had splurged on a forty foot “Bounder” RV, with a slide-out living room and enough space to host my teenage weekend backyard parties.  

Big Boy Bounder

Many memorable underage drinking stories were formed in the Bounder.  He was a special one but sadly, didn’t have a name, probably due to his lack of homely charm such as Smokey or Sweet Pea’s. So, I would lie if I said I had zero familiarity in motor homes.  Though in regards to this experiment, it is the very first time I have ever owned, driven, and cared for one of my own. 
I found her on Craigslist, like many other treasures over the years, and immediately crossed the Bay Bridge in excited anticipation of what this rolling home would look like. After arriving in Berkeley, I rode my bike to the Marina where I was met by two like-minded artists/bodyworker/Burner/experimental types who were offering up Sweet Pea (still named “Big Ugly” at the time) for the equivalent of two months rent in The City.  Two hours and many stories later, we shook hands and she was mine. This brings me to the first topic I’d like to discuss: the costs. Maybe some people are wondering, “What does it cost to live in an off-the-grid and under-the-radar RV? Well, perhaps this section can help expound an answer.

Costs of Living in a RV

First, one buys their vessel. I was aiming for cheap, and considering I had very recently returned from 3.5 months of traveling abroad when I was on the search, I could really only afford something cheap. I needed to be able to purchase an RV, make necessary repairs, register it, and buy insurance and AAA all for under 2,500 smackers, the remainder of my savings. Having a little money left over for food would be nice too. Here’s what the first week of expenditures set me back:

Sweet Pea: 1600
Insurance: 120 
Registration: 20                       
AAA: 140
Fuel (half tank): 100
Subtotal= $1980                                   

Even though I was new at this, I was not so completely naive as to think that I could get away with purchasing a sixteen hundred dollar RV without having to make some repairs- even with my exceptionally good luck. I handed over the cash and successfully shook 45 minutes south on the freeway to Newark, where the kindest, eternally generous souls I know who come packaged in the lovable married couple of Jacqui and Sean Kruithoff, were letting me park my home for the first week. I was to stay in their extra bedroom while I painted and modified Sweet Pea. For months prior, they had been kind enough to store my belongings in their home while I was traveling, so I needed to collect and transfer my life-in-boxes too.

Awesome People: Sean & Jacqui

It was November 3rd.  
A week later I have painted the interior a Lucha Libre’s fantasy and am in the driver’s seat again, but this time each attempt at starting Sweet Pea is unsuccessful. She will not turn over, no matter how much pray, beg, or plead.  Okay, since magical witch powers weren’t going to work I needed a more earthbound tactic. 
“Alright, time to call backup”, was my next thought.  With beefy jumper cables in hand, an ever-faithful and miraculously reliable dear friend Benjamin came to my rescue in his illustrious Suzy the Subaru. With the umbilical link between them, Suzy tried with honorable effort to spark Sweet Pea’s chilled heart. Still, nothing. Well, at least the whole day was not lost. It was Thanksgiving weekend after all, so I whipped up a meal complete with mushroom gravy and gluten free beer. At least I was able to give thanks for having two things in this world: a home- even if it wasn’t in working order- and a solid friendship with a great human being.
A couple more days pass by and Sweet Pea is still sitting unpretty in her sordid complacency.  I beckoned AAA to employ their expertise and willingness to jump her. Nada.  No juice. 
Having been parked in the same spot for too long, I’ve received police warnings and ticket threats: fussy suburbanite neighbors complained that I needed to move my beast. It being Thanksgiving weekend, all mechanic and RV shops are closed up for the holiday.  So, I’ve a bit of a conundrum.  I tag a heartfelt note to my windshield with the plea to not tow my vehicle.
“First thing Monday morning it will be towed to a mechanic!”

Monday, November 28th. Afternoon brings another AAA visit, but this time with a tow truck. Sweet Pea is deposited at a nearby mechanic, where she spends another week with Duane, the repairman and shop owner.  It’s the first week of December when I arrive on bicycle to California Camper Repair to get my girl. I feel like an embarrassed young mother arriving at the principle’s office to collect my naughty child.  A salt and pepper haired man greets me with curious concern as to why a girl, such as myself, is driving around a big thing like this.  After a decorous weave through his questioning and a four hundred dollar bill I’m able to drive her off the plot. A repaired carburetor and choke seem to have done the trick. 

Parked back in front of Jacqui and Sean’s place, but this time starting upon command, I have resolved to be out of my friends’ home by the next week. I get to work on minor repairs that would create a more comfortable living space. There was a small wall that I wasn’t fond of, so I decided to knock it out. I bought some necessary tools and got to work. Wow, if you ever have any bottled up frustrations, try knocking out a wall! It’s incredible!  I propose that if many criminals just had a home improvement project that included pulverizing Sheetrock and plasterboard, there may be a significant decrease in violent crime.  
The next project was to remove one of the bunk beds in order to convert the space into “the lounge”, where I was to have a small “L” shaped bookshelf lining two walls and a comfy couch that could double as a guest bed.  With the wall out of the way, I trashed the old top bunk, measured and sawed out the appropriate amounts of wood here and there, and created the bookshelf out of a minimal amount of wood.  Instead of buying new cushions to line the bottom bunk, I resized and recovered an already owned couch cushion.

Mechanic: 400
Tools: 50
Wood: 10     
Subtotal: $460

Home Furnishings:
What is any home without the proper amenities? Well, I guess my version of these comforts is so practical it’s a stretch to call it such. Under this category falls a new mattress, shower head, shower curtain and hooks, carbon monoxide monitor, battery powered lantern and lights, a gross amount of double A batteries, candles, torch lighters, hooks and screws, paint, and a portable vacuum. I’m proud to say that I resisted the donut-maker tray at Target and walked out of the store still soundly a purchaser of only the necessities.  I already owned or had been recently gifted dishes, cutlery, and appliances. As for extraneous decorations, I’ve never had a problem livening up my living space or needed to plague the walls with generic store-bought kitschy crap. Between my artists compadres and myself I have obtained enough fantastic and quirky artwork to keep guests’ eyes and minds busy and entertained.

Mattress: 270
Other Stuff: 150
Subtotal: $420

With all of this taken into consideration, the initial month of urban life in my unconventionally urban living space was not all that cheap.  At a grand total of $2,860 I was over budget, but had thankfully acquired a job by this point and had earned more money to contribute to the start up costs.
My early daydreams about living in a RV included the notion that it would be cheaper than living in a studio or renting a room in a flat.  At this point, I’m still waiting for that whole concept to pan out.

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