In Which I Steal My Sister’s Electricity and Let My 9 Year Old Niece Sing About Getting Drunk and Setting Things On Fire

I’ve been camping in a driveway. One of the awesome things about the Roadtrek 170 is that since it fits in a normal parking space, I can just stop, turn on the emergency brake, and suddenly I’m camping.

The downside to camping in a driveway is that everything’s at an angle.

This makes, for instance, sleeping, a little difficult. And apparently you’re really supposed to keep RVs level for reasons other than just it’s best if your house doesn’t tilt, like somehow the refrigerator doesn’t get cold correctly.

I have these leveling blocks that go under your tires, so things are more level now. Just not entirely level. Levelish.

Here’s a cool thing: I can plug my RV right into my sister’s house and use up all her electricity for my air conditioning! Who knew you could just plug an RV into an outlet! (I mean, I guess lots of people knew, but I did not.)

My nine year old niece was super excited about my RV. When I first told my sister I was thinking of getting one, she said, “oh Sofia has been super obsessed with RVs lately!” As nine year olds can be. Sofia kept texting me as I was driving down from Seattle. “When is the RV coming here?”


She camped out in the driveway with me overnight. And spent most of her time in it doing stuff like this.

Who knew my RV could be the set of a music video. (Maybe a 9 year old shouldn’t be singing “I numbed the pain at the expense of my liver” or be reinacting a video that features copious amounts of alcohol with a pill chaser. But then, I’m the aunt that brought her to Wolfgang Puck at the Hotel Bel Air on New Year’s eve at midnight for caviar and filet mignon and let her drink 9 shirley temples, so I’m not really known as the strict one.)

When I was a kid, both sets of grandparents had campers of one form or another and when we would visit, the cousins would hang out inside and play cards. Both sets of cousins. Both sets of grandparents. If you don’t know what to get your child or niece or nephew for Christmas, have I got a great idea for you!

Camper and cousinsMy sister (far left) and me (far right) with cousins. In my grandparents’ camper.

RV Service

All’s Well That Ends Well

Something happened. I didn’t really talk about it because I didn’t want to worry anyone and I figured it would all work out. And it did.

But not long into my drive, when I encountered the first somewhat steep downhill grade, the RV started shaking uncontrollably and even though I was gripping the steeling wheel as hard as possible with both hands, I could barely hang on.

Since I was driving basically a house, it felt and sounded like an earthquake. The entire RV was shaking so hard that everything was falling over and banging against each other. Even though I was going fairly slowly, was in 3rd gear, and was in tow mode (the grade was about 6%), I slowed down even further and went into second gear for the next hill. (Since I was in the middle of a mountain range, avoiding hills was not really an option.) I lightly tapped the brakes. Uncontrollable shaking.

It was pretty terrifying.

In addition to being scared out of my mind, I was also super irritated because I asked specifically about the tires and brakes before I bought the RV. Several times. My continued questions about the quality of the tire and brakes and how those might impact my safety got really annoying for the RV sales and technical staff. But the answer was really important to me. Mostly because I wanted to live.

Anyway, I was fine on flat roads, so I just went as slowly as I could on downhill slopes (when you’re in second gear going 25 mph on the freeway, you get lots of mean looks even when you’re in the slow truck lane, but I decided to choose mean looks over dying).

Once I got to my sister’s house in southern California, I brought the RV into a local mechanic. Who told me that the brake rotors were warped. And that while the tires looked fine from the outside, the side of the tires pointed inward were completely bald.

Well, that explains the whole terrified I’m going to die while going down hills thing, I guess.

$1,500 later and I had sparkly new tires and unwarped brake rotors. Hurray for money and safety!

The happy ending is that when I later came across signs like this:

Steep Grades


The downhill grade was terror-free. No shaking or hanging on to the steering wheel for dear life.

The other happy ending is that I sent the RV dealership an email with photos of the tires and a copy of the receipt and they sent me a check for the entire amount. I’m not sure if I should be grateful they reimbursed me when they could have told me used cars are “as is” or irritated they bought my silence for nearing killing me for only $1,500. I’m choosing to go with the first one.


No Reservations

It’s July. In California. It’s probably a good idea to make reservations. But that’s just a level of commitment I’m not ready for. I stopped in San Luis Obispo for a work meeting and then headed down the coast towards Los Angeles. But where to stay the night?

Here’s what you end up with when you don’t plan ahead.

Lake Camping


I drove up the mountain road towards the lake and pulled up to the entrance. The guy in the booth said I should just drive around and pick a spot I liked then drive back and tell them the number. I asked what he recommended that would be pretty and relaxing. He got out a map and studied it. And then he got a red pen and circled the spaces he liked. “Don’t get this one. It has problems.”

Map in hand, I drove around. And ended up here.

Lake Camping

The only problem with parking on a cliff is that no matter how many times you check the emergency brake, you’re pretty sure you’re about to roll right off into the water. (I did not roll off the cliff into the water.)

I had heard (er, read on the internet) that Carpinteria Beach had great RV camping, so the next day on a whim, I drove on over. I had also heard that the reservation window opens six months in advance, and all the spots are snapped up within ten minutes.

I drove up to the window. “Today is your lucky day!” said the woman at the booth. “We just had a cancellation not more than 5 minutes ago!” The way it works (other than driving up at 2pm right when someone cancels) is that at 9am, you put your name into a lottery. They process the cancellations and then call out names. I guess I should have played the real lottery because I stayed three nights (I didn’t try my luck for a fourth).

Carpenteria Beach

In the morning, I looked out my window to these guys:

Carpenteria Seals

The second and third nights, I had spots without hookups, so I was really roughing it. I had to have dinner here:


Can you imagine?

I found this little coffee shop downtown and camped out there for a while to work.

Coffee and wifi

Totally coincidentally, some friends of mine were in Carpinteria on vacation so we met up for brunch. In case you all thought I was becoming a recluse and shunning people and forgetting how to use speech and stuff.

RV Shopping

Girl Meets Walmart

Imagine you’re walking through a forest and you’re just a regular person. You might think, ooh, pretty trees. Yikes, a spider! Etc.

But now imagine you’re walking through the forest and you’re a forest expert (a biologist? forest ranger?). Assuming, I mean, that you’re not already one. You might look around and think, ooh, look at the 15 different species of pretty trees. Yikes, a specific awful spider, the scientific the name of which I know.

Camping Road SignYou see all of these invisible worlds, co-existing with the regular people just hiking around.

And so it goes in an RV. RV parks are everywhere if you know what to look for. Those little road signs with the RV camping icon. Camping World. The RV supplies aisle at Wal-Mart. Dump stations at rest areas. But if you’re not in an RV, you don’t see any of it. Or at least I didn’t see any of it.

After the best RV park in the United States, I stayed in an also pretty great RV park in San Jose. I went to the gym, did some laundry, walked around the woods and followed a flock of wild turkeys.

wild turkeys in the woods

I’m beginning to learn the dangers of RV living, though. When I got here, my “escort” flung a spider at me. I know!

A lot of the time, the people working at the RV parks also live there full time. So they tend to be retired. Just living the life. Sometimes, there are “camp hosts”, which are different from the people working at the office. Also retired people just living the life. Anyway, my escort was one of these. An older, retired gentleman who jumped into the golf cart and led me to my site and helped me back in.

As he was showing me the hook ups, he lifted up the electrical panel and said “aaah, spider!” (in his mind) and jumped as he knocked the spider right at me! Ahem. I think he did not do that on purpose. “Here,” he said. “Let me just wipe away these spider webs for you.” Heh.

I have two office options when working from the RV (I know! It’s like a clown car of space). Here’s one of them:

RV Office

While I was in San Jose, I drove the RV in for some work meetings and met up with friends. I also went to Walmart.

I don’t tend to be a Walmart kind of person. I tend to be an Amazon Prime kind of person. But when you don’t have an address (have I become the target audience for Amazon Locker? Seems like a pretty small market size to build a whole new delivery system around, right?) and you need weird stuff like RV toilet paper (did you know you have to use special toilet paper in RVs?), you don’t have many options. Especially at 11pm.

So the San Jose Walmart it was.

The first peculiar thing was the amount of carts strewn around the parking lot. Like maybe a tornado had come through, picked up just the shopping carts, then threw them all down. Cartnado.

The tornado had also managed to get inside the Walmart. The places where one might conceivably walk were blocked by huge pallets of boxes and people stocking the shelves. And they were not pleased if you were in their way.  They sincerely wish that you, the Walmart shopper would not exist. So they could stock the shelves in peace. I’m sure they’ve thought this through and there’s absolutely nothing that could go wrong with this plan.

Anyway, I mostly needed stuff in the automotive section where a surprising number of guys were browsing the aisles. Just hanging out. At 11pm. At the Walmart.

When I went to pay, I learned that the cashiers also were thinking life would be happier if the customers didn’t exist and their way of coping was to pretend they didn’t.

I’m finally getting old enough to realize that I can’t change the world. And tonight, I learned I can’t even change Walmart.

The girl ahead of me in line was buying baby formula. Which is kind of heavy and comes in lots of bottles so you can’t just load up your arms and carry it.

The cashier was ringing it all up and just piling it up at the end of the counter. Finally the girl asked for a bag. The cashier barely looked up. “We’re out of bags”. And went right back to scanning.

This poor girl just wasn’t sure how to respond to that.

I said, “did you just say you’re out of bags?” The cashier’s invisibility cloak kept my words from getting through and they bounced back at me and knocked over the gum on the stand behind me.

I can be kind of a jerk so I didn’t let it go. I have to drive around with all this stuff in a van. If I just unload it from my cart, it’s going to roll all over the place while I’m driving. And based on the number of people in the store (a million) compared to the number of cars in the parking lot (maybe 7), I was betting not everyone had cars. How were they going to carry things (like baby formula) home without bags? I began to understand why people steal shopping carts.

I finally got the cashier’s attention and she just shrugged at me. I noted the vast number of empty boxes in the store, scattered beside the hostile stockers. Perhaps someone could round up a few of those boxes so people would have a way to carry out what they’re buying, I suggested?

Her reply was, at least, honest: “we’re out of bags”.

I pressed the issue. She yelled at another employee to handle me so she wouldn’t have to explain logic to me anymore. That employee listened to my complicated plan to grab a few of the boxes lying around everywhere and said, “we don’t have any boxes.”

So I gave up, obviously.

As I was walking out of the store with my cart full of non-bagged goods, dodging carts, someone decided  to pull into a spot that had a cart in it and rammed the cart with their car to push it out of the way and sent it straight into another parked car. Which I guess is one way to deal with cartnado.

I drove back to the peaceful quiet of the RV park. Bagless and boxless.