None of the above: a sojourner meanders through the 2020 Census

We were recently introduced at a gathering as “sojourners,” and that pleased my inner word nerd because it’s a term that isn’t used so very often, and it carries with it a sense of romanticism and history.

Also? I’m pretty sure nobody’s ever called us that before.

And then I got to wondering about wandering. What makes a sojourner different from any other type of person on the move?

Based on my travels from one online dictionary to another (see what I did there?), the meaning hinges more on the destination than on the journey — which seems odd, because the “journ” part is right there inside the word. 

A sojourn is defined as a brief or temporary stay, thus  sojourners are people who spend a short time in one place. 

That’s not an inaccurate way to describe us. Between stints as sojourners, we are travelers — or nomads, wanderers, vagabonds, itinerants, and/or peripatetics. Maybe even pilgrims or hobos, depending on our purpose, and how long it’s been since we last showered and changed clothes. 

No matter what you call us, or what we call ourselves, I have a feeling that completing our 2020 Census form might be a little tricky.

I’ve taken a look at the Census Bureau’s proposed questions, and those involving residence do include “mobile home” as an option, but it’s clear from the list of responses that they mean the kind of mobile home that stays in one place. (“Hello, we’re from the government. Have you experienced an oxymoron today?”)

Anyway, I’ve lifted a few images from the document linked above, and I think you’ll see pretty quickly that in some cases, we’re just gonna have to choose whichever answer is least untrue.

Hmmm.
Our home is owned with a loan, but we also pay rent in the form of campground and RV park fees — unless we’re boondocking or work camping, and then we don’t pay rent at all. And what about the rent we pay for our storage unit?
Shit. Next?

Not sure how to answer this one either.
Do I measure the size of our current RV site?
The acreage of the entire park?

I guess for 18a we’re gonna have to go with an average, as our monthly rent varies widely. Or do I put the amount of our loan payment there?
18b is an easy no, and 19 makes me want to ask, “Wait. How much is it worth? Or how much would we actually get for it? Because we have a proven track record of being shitty at selling things.”

Yes, but it wasn’t parked here, and the address I dig up and give you for wherever we were on this date last year is not going to match our official mailing address.
Oy, this.

Finally some easy ones.
Yes to all!

“Similar debt.”
Ummm, maybe?
It’s more like an auto loan, I guess. Monthly payments and all that.
Scrolling on…

A ha!
A box with our name on it! Best I can tell, this is the only census response that allows for a dwelling that is not actually a building. Even though the question asks you to describe the building. Help!

One.
Let me introduce you to our sole vehicle, a 1-ton dually we call the BFT.
OMG, we’re going to trigger all the federal alarms.

For starters, it’s not a building, you guys. See above.
And the year it was built differs from its actual model year.
Do we even answer this question?
Sheeeesussssssss.

So there you have the points I’m pondering.
Even within this post I’ve wandered — from finding the definition of a single word, to trying to define our home, so that we can check the right box, while living a life that most people would describe as outside the box.

And yes, we will get our Census in the mail, at our official-on-all-the-things address, just like the rest of you. So they will find us. (See Question 9 in this post.)

But depending on where we are, how much fun we’re having, and when we actually call to have our mail forwarded that month, there may be a delay…

Go big or go home? Went big. Bought new home.

And yes, it’s on wheels. See?

This is the way we want to live until it becomes unfeasible to do so.
We’re still looking for that permanent place to park ourselves and put down roots, but it’s no longer the focus of our travels.
Like so many of our adventures together, we’ll figure it out along the way.
And if we’re paying proper attention, we’ll know it when we get there. 
We have found several cities we enjoy visiting, but what we enjoy more is the freedom of not being tied to any of them.

I know what you’re thinking. In our most recent annual update, we said we weren’t going to buy a new RV. That we were going to keep making modifications and upgrades to our 2008 Heartland Bighorn “until we feel like we’re done.”

Welp, by late September, we felt done, for a few big reasons.

First, we’d realized something about Own Less, Do More: that what we were doing disproportionately more of was maintenance and repairs. That’s… that’s not really what we’d had in mind, although yes, we know it’s all part of the cost of ownership.

Second, Tim has fallen into a ground-level opportunity on an RV-related programming project that excites him, and whether or not that turns into a profitable gig, it means he really needs to be able to put in more hours at the keyboard than under the RV.

Third, we’d begun to feel as if we were surrounded by ticking time bombs — like the roof, the air conditioning, and the refrigerator — and that replacing those big-ticket items was likely to cost us more out of pocket than the value of our 10-year-old coach.

Along those same lines, the remaining upgrades we wanted to make — adding solar power, having the exterior painted, installing double pane windows and a quieter cooling system — mmmmaybe didn’t make economic sense when all of those things come standard on newer 5th wheels designed for full time living.

This was one of the last straws.
We’d noticed some odd bulging behind the trim in a living room corner.
We thought it might be due to water intrusion from the roof, and then a mushroom grew there. An actual mushroom!
I’m no expert, but I’m pretty sure that’s a very clear sign of having a moisture problem.

In the course of repairing the source of and damage from that issue, Tim found a mystery puddle at the base of the toilet.
He stepped out of the bathroom, looked at me, and said, “That’s it. I’m done. I can’t keep up with this.”
And as the primary (OK, sole) fix-it guy in this partnership, he is the one who gets to make that call.

The scales had finally tipped. Our original intent was to run that baby into the ground, but it ran us down instead.

Although we hated the idea of letting go of all the work and money we’d put into The Toad over the four years we’d owned it, we also knew that we were merely putting lipstick on a pig, and that we were ready to say goodbye to what we now refer to as our “Training RV.”

I’d say that’s when and why we started RV shopping, but the truth is, we’re always kind of looking. You know how when you own a house, you go to home shows for the latest ideas, you monitor real estate sales in your area, and maybe even attend an occasional open house, even if you’re not actually looking to buy? It’s the same with RV ownership, but this time, we were looking with intent.

We put together a long list of  Gains & Gives, and we both agreed that any new (or new-to-us) coach would have to offer enough in the Gains column to offset the incurred hassle and debt, and to make it worth walking away from all the work we’d done on the Bighorn.

A few of our prospective Gains

  • 6-point automatic leveling
  • better suspension
  • newer appliances
  • improved HVAC, insulation, windows, and body paint
  • manufacturer’s warranty
  • less worry over aging RV
  • time recovered from long-term future repair projects

A few of our known Gives

  • leaving the Heartland Owners Club
  • the freedom to modify 10-year-old coach however and whenever we want
  • going from a paid off RV to one requiring monthly loan payments
  • nearly new furniture and flooring
  • trading the devil we knew for a devil we’d have to learn

Out of the Old, Into the New
The friendships we’ve made through the Heartland Owner’s Club are a gift to us, and the support and advice we received as members kept us on the road both literally and figuratively.
We will repay that debt by continuing those friendships, and also by continuing to recommend the Heartland brand.
They did right by us.
Our brand switch is due merely to being in the right place at the right time to take advantage of a deal.

To cut through several pages of further details: we ended up trading in the Bighorn, and buying a 2018 DRV Mobile Suites 38KSSB. It had all the Gains, and because it was still sitting on the dealer’s lot at the end of the model year, it was marked down to a price we were willing to pay.

Gain: residential refrigerator
No more glorified dorm fridge!

Gain: updated decor, in subtle colors and patterns that (we hope) will not look dated within 5 years

We purchased from ExploreUSA RV Supercenter in Alvin, TX, and this floor plan photo came from their original ad for our RV.
We are not likely to do business with them again, but I won’t go into detail here until we’ve given them a chance to respond to our list of grievances.
(If you’re dying for details, go to this Yelp review and read the entry by J R., dated 5/10/2018. Our experience was very similar.)

Now, we’ve done a lot of moving in our 27 years together, and whether we count this RV as our 12th home or our 13th vehicle, the transfer process out of the old and into the new was every bit as time consuming and complex as moving into a new house — not just to make everything fit, but to store it in places that made sense. In other words, just because I have room in a bedroom drawer doesn’t mean I want to store 2 cans of corn and a jar of applesauce in there. 

Speaking of bedroom drawers, here are two of mine (note lack of room for corn or applesauce), along with my entire collection of hanging clothing.

Little decorative touches we’ve made to turn house into home

We are happy with our purchase. The upgrades in quality and technology were worth it, but yes, after only 3 weeks onboard, we’ve got a list of items that need factory attention — because RV manufacturing seems, sadly, to be focused far more on quantity than on quality, no matter what the sales brochure says.

Our first warranty visit to DRV is scheduled for mid-February.

Oooh, northern Indiana for Valentine’s Day. Yay?

I had this decal custom made after a discussion with friends about RV manufacturing quality.
There was wine.
And there was one slightly tipsy friend who said, “When you get right down to it, every single one of them is just a shitty box on wheels.”
Truth.

The 49-year-old whippersnapper, or: how I survived the over-55 RV park by acting my age. Sort of.

Not so very long ago, we stayed in one of those RV parks. 

You know the type. 

The age-restricted kind with so many rules that you quit reading after about the 5th one, and decide that just being a good person for the duration of your stay will probably cover most of them anyway?

When we checked in at this park, we received a packet that contained a list of 25 rules on an 8 1/2 x 11 sheet of paper, single spaced, small font, both sides. Rule 15, dealing with the laundry room, also had subsections a-f.

I know.

And there were a few additional rules on the park map.

And even more rules printed on signs scattered about the property. 

And don’t get me started on the club house. Let’s just say that not everybody should be allowed access to a label maker, printer, or even paper and a Sharpie. Especially people of a certain age, with a lot of time on their hands. 

(If you’re humming, “Do this. Don’t do that. Can’t you read the sign?” you’re not alone.)

So being possessed of a deliciously sideways sense of humor, I decided to have a little bit of fun during our stay in the Land of Many Rules. 

OK, a lot of fun.

To be clear, I was not on a mission to break the rules. They’re there for a reason. I get it.

I just thought I could give those fine folks cause to come up with a few more they mmmaybe hadn’t thought of. 

Yet. 

Remarkably.

Attempt 1: Go topless
Nothing says I have to wear a shirt over my sports bra.

Attempt 2: Wear a boob joke
And furthermore, nothing says that the shirt I do wear over my sports bra can’t be a brow-raiser.
(Relax. I’m a breast cancer survivor, and my right “pear,” although still original, is no longer perfect. I bought this shirt as a reminder to keep my sense of humor about it.)

Attempt 3: Purple hair don’t care
Like most of the women here, I’ve got gray hair, despite my being a decade or two younger. There was no rule against hair dye, so why not go bold for a few washes?

Attempt 4: Get yourself up to no good
Okay, so most of the men I encountered in the park were old enough to be my dad, so I really couldn’t be a cougar there.
But Tim, at 51, could totally have been cougar bait!
Mrowrrrr

Attempt 5: Dare them to repeat it
It would have fit on there a 5th time, and I’m pretty sure instructions need to be repeated five times before they require obedience. Law of the teenager. Right?

Attempt 6: Hang out
We were allowed to use the community clothesline. They didn’t specify what we were allowed to use it for.

Attempt 7: Seek balance
“No walking on the site dividers” was not a rule.
I checked.
And then I did it.

Attempt 8: Grow something green
The park featured a community herb garden — and no sign specifying what could or could not be planted there.
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and… Wait. Is that what I think it is?

Attempt 9: Maximize efficiency
Who among us has never stripped off a dirty item of clothing and tossed it directly into the washing machine? It’s a time saver. And there was no rule posted against it in the park laundry room.

Attempt 10: Run with scissors!

Attempt 11: Make items multi-functional
It’s a pole. Poles are for dancing. Didn’t everybody know that?

Final attempt: Take matters into your own hands
If all else fails, amend the Standing Rules yourself.
(For those with eyes that need a little help, click on the photo to enlarge it.)


Disclosure 1: Neither one of us is over 55. We were able to get a guest spot for a limited time.

Disclosure 2: Park name and location have been withheld to protect the… well… a park that’s really quite nice, and I know that it’s because of a lot of those rules. I’m pretty sure they can take a little ribbing, but just in case they can’t, I’ll keep their identity under wraps. We’d like to be able to stay there again.

Disclosure 3: Photos originally appeared on the author’s personal Facebook and Instagram accounts, and I give thanks to my partners in crime. They know who they are.

Ah, what the hell.
Bylaws are always so boring.
Might as well amend those too.

RV Travels: 13 Ways You Know You’re in a Small Texas Town

I have spent almost ten years of my life living in Texas: a four-year stint in college, and nearly six years in my 40’s, due to a military move. My parents, my brother, and his family have lived there for more than two decades, so we’ve visited a lot too.

Plus, although we spend most of the year traveling, San Antonio is still our home base, and our younger son is a second-year physics and math major right up the highway at UT-Austin.

That’s my way of telling you that when it comes to small towns in Texas, I’ve got some familiarity. And after a truck breakdown left us stranded in one of them for two weeks earlier this year, I became an expert on observing the endearing quirks that make these places special.

1. The local tow truck driver doubles back after spotting you on the side of the highway with your hazard lights blinking, figuring you’re going to be his next call anyway. And he is correct.

If you’re gonna travel in an RV, get the best roadside assistance plan you can afford.
You will not regret it.

2. The RV park your 5th wheel is towed to is so new that nobody at the service shop knows the name of it, but they know exactly where it is and that it’s open for business.

The Wagon Yard RV park was nothing fancy, but wow, were we ever glad to have it!

3. You are very thankful that the RV park is new and unheard of because that means it has space available during spring break week in Texas. Every public grade school and university in the state gets the same week off for spring break, which makes last-minute lodging arrangements nearly impossible to obtain.

4. You become celebrities in the grocery store because you got there on bicycles instead of in a pickup truck. The clerk, upon hearing that our truck was in the shop, felt so sorry for us that she even helped load the groceries into our backpacks.

Of course we were all ready to go when we discovered the tires were flat.
Why wouldn’t they be?

5. All heads turn when someone walks through the door of the dinette.

6. And when that someone is a big ol’ farmer wearing denim overalls and work boots, the waitress greets him with a smile and a 2-syllable “Hey,” to which the farmer replies simply, “Sweet tea.” And the waitress sets it on the table by the time his fanny hits the chair.

7. Every store on Main Street, whether it’s open for business or appears to have been vacant for 20 years, bears a sign supporting the local high school team, with the obligatory incorrect apostrophe. “Go Zebra’s!”

8. Other than the dinette mentioned above, socializing occurs in one of two places: under the Friday night lights or in the Sunday morning pews.

9. You’re never allowed to forget which state you’re in here. Never. Not even in the bathroom.

Jesus ‘n’ Texas, y’all.

10. Your camera roll boasts photos of a BBQ plate, wildflowers, a road runner, and a spray-painted sign for a tractor pull — all from the same day.

11. And the tractor pull causes a significant uptick in traffic.

12. Being located right between two airports means nothing, as the options lack anything resembling a terminal or even planes. They are grass strips suitable for landing crop dusters, and there are cows grazing on them.

Someone out there in the country has a good sense of humor.
(source: Apple Maps)

13. Related: more of your neighbors have four legs than two.

The RV park where we stayed for that little “detour” was in fact 8 miles from one small town we visited (Grandview), and 10 miles from the other (Cleburne).

Of all the places for the truck to break down? That was the middle-of-nowheriest.


Author’s note: a version of this post appears at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission

What Rhymes with “Recreational Vehicle”?

 A dubiously poetic tribute to the RV, in honor of National Poetry Month, and with sincere apologies to the late Joyce Kilmer, author of the oft quoted poem, “Trees”

I think that I shall never see

A travel companion lovely as an RV.

An RV whose propane tanks run out

Between midnight and four, without a doubt;

An RV that serves as our home all day,

Yet rolls where needed for work or play;

An RV that may, after a driving goof,

Require new tires, or worse, a new roof;

Under whose awning guests have gathered,

Eating, laughing, all that mattered.

RVs are owned by fools like us,

But in the balance of life, they earn a plus.

Our RV, under a tree, in California
(summer 2016)

 

(Author’s note:  A version of this post was approved to appear — for reasons I cannot fathom — at Heartland RVs. It is printed here with permission.)