The First Day

Driving back after I dropped off Scott at the airport, I took a deep breath and did some of that Oprah motivational talking to myself.  “This is an adventure.  You can do this.  Don’t worry. It’s going to be fine without him.” By noon, we were sitting in the breakdown lane on Highway 45 in Houston.   By 1:00 pm I had accidentally crushed the automatic doorstep under the RV (you know… the one Scott just spent hours replacing).  By 1:30 pm we had to pull over to make sure we still had all of our tires – because it wasn’t entirely clear where we stood with our wheel situation.  Always a fun feeling.  By 2:00 someone (who shall remain nameless due to concerns with any sort of discussion of bathroom issues) had flushed the toilet while underway.  The cabin filled with a smell that would’ve gagged a maggot.  Seriously…. and that’s not easy to do.  So those were my first 8 hours as captain of the Chief.

The detailed version:

I’m generally solid under pressure and highly adaptable – at least that’s what I’ve been told repeatedly.  By the time I got back to the RV from the airport, I was in machine mode.  I packed the car and stowed the awning.  I put the bikes away and checked the oil and coolant.  Granted, I had a bit of a tangle with The Spawns of Hell (otherwise known as fire ants) {seriously?!  Are these freaking things for real?!?!} but I didn’t even need to open up a How To video.  Git ‘er done!

We pulled out onto Highway 45 toward downtown Houston.  The ultimate destination was a little boondocking site about an hour outside the city.  I had checked it with Scott before he left.  He provided a highly unprofessional, totally unenthusiastic assessment, “Yeah, I guess that looks ok but the road might not be flat.”  Jealous much?!  Ass.  I get that he doesn’t want to be away from the family… but I picked the biggest flattest patch of earth we’ve ever had.  It was a phenomenal spot.  I stand by my pick (even though we never got there).

I was driving, Mom and the kids were on the couch.  It was raining.  The wipers were on.  We were in thick traffic but not Bogotá horrible.  I was in the slow lane.

First, the always-on backup camera went out.  I can no longer see behind me.  Code Yellow – not great, but proceed with caution.

Me, “Mom, I could use some help up here.  Do you mind coming up for a minute?”  Mom, “Ok, but I don’t know how to use the GPS.”  Me, “Don’t worry… you won’t have to. ”  {mental head slap} Idiot.  Seriously… why say something like that?  Never ever tease Fate.  She’s a fickle witch.  “I need you to watch the side mirror.”

A moment later…. Was it my imagination or were the wipers slowing down?  Huh.  “Mom, are the wipers…..?”  Mom, “I’m not sure.”  Ok… question answered.  Now they’ve stopped in the middle of the windshield.  That little mystery was solved quickly.  Now…. why are they dead?  I’ve never seen wipers die before.  Code Orange.

Me, “Mom, I’m taking the next exit.  We need to get off the road to figure this out. ”  Mom, “Ok.”  Thankfully it wasn’t driving rain.

Cresting a hill…. cachugga… ugga… uuugggaaaa…. silence.  Weird.  Why can’t I feel the vibration of the RV?  Oh…. that’s because the engine completely died.  Nothing worked – no power steering, no power brakes.  Go Go Gadget Power Thighs and Arms!!  This is Code Red, folks. CODE RED!  This is not a drill.

Thankfully when things go bad I actually get funny instead of panicky.  Inner voice: “Ladies and gentleman, this is the captain speaking.  Please return to your seats.  The fasten seat belt sign is illuminated.”  Me to Mom {dryly}, “Well…. isn’t this an interesting?!”  Mom {not dryly}, “WHAT?!?!  WHAT?!?!  WHAT?!?!”  I put the blinker on and was able to coast the RV into the breakdown lane (including the Grey Man!) just before we would have picked up momentum going down the other side of the hill.

Breathe.  We’re ok for the moment.  Assess the situation.  Breathe.

Put the RV in park.  Nothing.  Totally dead.  Check the battery.  Put it on dual battery.  Nothing.  Totally dead.  I pushed the battery toggle to MOM. I still don’t know what that means but Scott insists it’s “Momentary” as in ‘burst’. Nothing.  Then I held down MOM and the Chief started.  I let go of the toggle and it rocked back to main battery…. the windshield wipers slowed to a complete stand still and we stalled again.

Ok… all clues lead to the battery.  Got it.  I thought the battery didn’t matter once the car was on, but this was not the time to assess what I think I know about engines.

I got a piece of duct tape and taped the battery toggle to MOM (normally it won’t just sit in that position).  I fired it up and tentatively pulled out.  We got off the highway at the next exit.  I’ve never been so happy to see an empty parking lot.

Pull in, turn off everything.

Scott was still in the air.  It was Sunday… no repair shops were open.  The first line of defense – call Todd (brother and Chief WCE {Wise Cadre of Experts}).  It’s probably the alternator.  The batteries aren’t charging while underway so all we have left is whatever is in the main battery… once we use it, we’re dead in the water.  Can I go 15 miles?  Unsure – but probably.

I picked an RV park 13.2 miles away (on the outskirts of town).  I didn’t look at price or amenities or any other factor.  That was the closest one and we were going to it. I called and made a reservation.

I fired up the Chief. Here we go.

Pulling out of the parking lot, I didn’t take the turn wide enough so we drove right over the curb.  The Instapot fell out of the cubby hole which sounded a lot like hell had descended on our heads.  Pots were raining from the sky.  Mom gasped…. and kept gasping for a while.  I turned to see what was happening in the cabin… which turned the wheel slightly to the right… back into the curb.  It was the embodiment of “The Sound and the Fury“… everything went all stream of consciousness for a few moments.

I knew bad things had happened – I just wasn’t sure how bad.  I found another parking lot (literally 100-200 ft away) and pulled in… shaking slightly.

Me, “Um…. I want to see if we still have tires.” Mom, “Ok.  Yup.  Ok.”  Kids…. silence.  Giant… unforgettable… eyes.  (I know they were thinking… ‘Where is Dad?!’)

Good news, we still had tires.  All of them.  The automatic step did not survive.  It had been dragged through the earth (I know this because some still clung to it) and was completely bent out of shape.  It tried to deploy but finally gave up the ghost.  RIP step.  Sorry, Scott… all that hard work and bargain hunting…

Ok.  We still have some juice left in the main so no time to cry over spilt milk.  Carry on.

Back on the interstate….. Me, “Mom, I can’t see behind me so watch the mirrors and let me know if there’s something I should know.”  To her, that translated into ‘tell Traci every single time a car is passing us on the right AND updates on our proximity to the side of the highway every 10 seconds or so’.  Going through a construction zone, there were cement barriers on the side of the highway.  Mom, “4 inches and a blue car is passing…. a black car is passing…. a red car is passing…. 6 inches… a tan car is passing…. *quick breathe*… 8 inches and a red car is passing….”  that went on for a while until I heard, “4 inches…. 3 inches… {faster} 2 inches, 2 inches, 2 inches…..TWO INCHES!!!”

I pulled into the middle lane to avoid a stroke (hers, not mine).  Me, “Ok, Mom.  Thank you.  I don’t need to know when every car is passing us.  We’re ok.”  Mom, “Ok.  Yup.  Ok.”  Me, “We’re only 15 minutes out.  We’re close.”

Once out of the construction, *someone* had to use the ladies room (not shocking).  Unfortunately, when the flush is activated in the Chief while underway… horrible, terrible things happen that no one should experience.  Bad on me – I hadn’t told our newest passenger.  If you have to pee (or anything else) while we’re driving, it doesn’t get flushed until we stop.  That is the law.  Everyone is now warned.

Out of nowhere, Evie started in with, “Oh my God.  Jack pooped!  Mommy!  Help!!! Jack pooped.  It’s awful!!!! Pull over.”  Me, “Sweetie, I can’t pull over.  We have to wait until we get to the par…….. OHHHHH HELLLLL!!! Mom!  Did you flush?!  No flushing!!  No flushing!!”  Too late.  Close mouth immediately!!  Eyes are tearing….I can’t see!!!!!  Me to Mom, “Did you flush?”  Mom, “Yes.”  Me, “Did if flush all the way?”  Mom, “What?  I don’t know.  I closed the lid.  It’s ok.  I closed the lid.”  (The lid does absolutely nothing for this issue.)  Sure enough… some toilet paper jammed the toilet gate slightly open so we were treated to an extended full assault of black tank air…..  Me {with emergency}, ” “Turn on the water pump and go flush!!! Make sure the toilet seals!!  Close the seal!!!”  Evie, “Mommmmmmmmmy!!! Help!!”  Is this seriously happening to me right now?!

It was miles before we regained control… both from gagging and from laughing.

We arrived at the RV park and I got us into our spot.  Scott landed and was reachable.  Here is our exchange:

Scott: Touchdown SF
Scott Easy Flight
Me:  That’s nice
Me:  We almost died
Me:  I’m going to find wine
Me:  and I’m going to sleep until you come home
Scott:  What??!!
Me:  Which part
Me:  red wine
Scott:  Died
Me:  Sleeping until you come home may not be viable, I get it
Me:  Oh… we need a new stair.  I had an accident with the current one.  Sorry about that.

The RV park we went to was next to the World’s Biggest Flea Market.  I wouldn’t have cared it we were next to the world’s biggest nuclear plant but… it turns out… the flea market was perfect.  Cheap junk and amusement rides were exactly what the doctor ordered.  We bought stuff… cause that’s what you do when you narrowly survive a harrowing interstate break down without a scratch and have no idea if the RV you’re currently living in is totally dead or just needs a basic repair.  It’s all part of the adventure.

What else could possibly go wrong?!








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Traci Warren