#RVlife, Interrupted – The Grand Finale

On February 28, 2020, a gathering of our friends and family got together to wish us “Bon Voyage” as we set out on our RV adventure.

On March 19 we were headed back to Albuquerque with our tails between our legs. After 2 and a half weeks we now had no home, no RV, and no idea what we were going to do next.

Not to mention the sudden arrival of COVID-19, which had thrown everyone’s life into a shambolic panic.

Fear and Exhaustion and COVID

Delilah has had about enough of this travel nonsense

We had made desperate last-minute arrangements to land at an AirBnB in Albuquerque for the following week. With nowhere to live in Las Vegas, we had to drop back and punt to somewhere where Melissa could continue working for Shipt. If Maggie wasn’t ready for potentially months, (as we had been warned) we were going to have to come up with a totally different (RV and house-less) plan altogether.

But the fly in the ointment was this: our reservation didn’t start till the following night. Meaning we had nowhere to stay on our first night back in New Mexico.

Reluctantly, I pulled a totally Millennial move – I called my parents.

We had just spent the last two weeks in the COVID-drenched mess of Las Vegas, NV. And now, here I was, about to threaten my parents’ health with our possibly contaminated selves. I felt like a twenty-year-old who had just lost his job at the mall.

Nonetheless, I pulled up my big boy underwear and made the call. Standing in a gas station parking lot alongside I-40, I called to ask my dad if we could, pretty please, potentially expose him and my mom to an asymptomatic virus overnight.

Of course, he cheerfully agreed. Parents. I won’t ever understand them, but I am sure glad Melissa and I still have ours.

The reunion that evening was awkward, filled with elbow bumps, and carefully mandated distance rather than hugs and close conversations. But it was so amazing to feel safe. I slept for the first time in weeks.

How The Other Half Lives

I don’t know what I expected from our short term rental. What I had not expected was how luxurious and huge a nicely appointed one-bedroom apartment could feel after living in an RV for a couple of months.

So…this is how non full-time RVers live. Huh. Who knew?

High ceilings! A Keurig! A gigantic television! A washer and dryer, for goodness sake.

Not to mention the holy grail of civilized living: a solid, reliable internet connection. I felt like a cave dweller who had just discovered fire.

But, outside in the world, things had gone crazy. Melissa was shopping huge orders driven by panic buying. Her days were filled with long lines, irate customers, and demands for nonexistent sanitizer and toilet paper.

Welcome to the world of coronavirus

Near the apartment, where I would walk the dogs, I was struck by how empty Albuquerque’s streets were. Businesses and restaurants were closed. The nearby airport was strangely quiet. I could hear Revelie and Taps being played every day from Kirtland Airforce Base, miles away. I’ve read plenty of post-apocalyptic fiction, and this was by far the weirdest apocalypse I had ever heard of.

Hope Springs Eternal

Meanwhile, back in Las Vegas, the situation stabilized. The Ford dealership where Maggie was residing was declared an “essential service”, and work on her continued. I got almost daily calls from the service center manager reporting on her progress.

Once they got her on the rack the problem was discovered – a temperature sensor inside the transmission had failed, allowing the interior of the tranny to cook itself. Multiple components had to be replaced. Thank goodness, it was all going to be covered under the warranty from the tranny replacement right before we purchased her. But all we could do was wait.

Finally, the day before our stay ran out, as we were discussing how long to extend our visit home, the call came in. They had just taken her out for a test drive. The transmission held up for over 20 miles, and they were closing the books on her.

Our studio apartment on wheels was whole again, and we could come pick her up any time.

The Road Home

The Badlands of Arizona, where the dinosaurs roam

The next morning, bright and early, we headed back West. While in Albuquerque, we’d gotten our 3,000-mile oil change on the Fiesta – 7 weeks after the previous one. We were getting good at this shuttling back and forth thing.

Google Maps will tell you that the drive from Albuquerque to Henderson, NV should take you about eight and a half hours. Imagine our surprise when, after leaving at 6 AM, we arrived at right around noon. We had gained an hour in the time change but, even so, we made pretty good time. I think we might have been a little anxious.

The dealership was complete chaos. I had expected the usual hurry up and wait that accompanies any sort of auto repair. Not today. They shuttled me to the head of the line, handed me a pen from a sealed bag (“Yours to keep!”), and pushed an envelope containing the keys to Maggie across the desk to me. I was then directed to the lot, where I was instructed to fire her up and move her out. Total elapsed time? About 10 minutes. Melissa had not had time to finish walking the dogs before I was parked on the street in front of the dealership and waiting for her.

The one benefit (?) to the COVID outbreak was that booking ourselves back into the Thousand Trails RV Park in Las Vegas was simplicity itself. They were “dying” for lack of reservations, and I was able to secure a slot the very same day I called. (Normally you need at least a few weeks lead time.) With fear and trepidation, I pulled Maggie out onto the freeway, and tentatively got her up to speed…

…and she responded like a champ. The best she had ever run since we purchased her, back in December. I began to speculate as to the diligence of the mechanics who replaced her transmission right before we bought her. No shuddering, no hesitation – she performed an awful lot like an empty truck with an oversized engine, not a 14,000-pound apartment on wheels.

We’ve been constantly warned that RV Life is not for the faint of heart, and that no plan survives your wheels touching the pavement. We had been put through the fire and emerged, with a barrel full of “wisdom”, a few more grey hairs, and a functioning home. It was time to take stock and change our plans in light of the COVID-changed landscape.

But at least we had our own walls to sleep in, on top of our own wheels to travel on.

Back on the road, where we belong. Well, the RV Park, but you get the idea.

Catch You All On The Road,

  • Jeremy and Melissa (and Vixen and Delilah)

#RVLife, Interrupted – Part 2

In February, when we moved out of our house and into Maggie May full-time, I felt a tremendous sense of disorientation. For weeks I would wake up in the morning and be completely perplexed as to where I was. I even spent several days dealing with a sense of personal disassociation – now that I no longer lived in a house, I was unsure who I was.

Now, less than two months later, I was experiencing those exact same sensations as we drove away from Maggie’s indeterminate repair. If I don’t live in an RV, I wondered, who the heck am I, exactly?

Luckliy, I didn’t get to spend much time on my navel-gazing, because I needed to figre out more time-pressing matters – like where we were all going to spend the next few days/weeks.

The Dangers of Emotional Decision-Making

Normally, if you’re going to get stranded somewhere, Las Vegas is not a bad place to pick. The climate is decent, cheap food is everywhere, and it isn’t exactly like accomodations are thin on the ground.

Melissa immediately recommended we look into an AirBnB rental. I was hesitant, however…we had no clue how long this whole repair process was going to take. We briefly discussed just driving back to Albuquerque and imposing on family members for the time being, but both rejected that…we wanted to stay close to the dealership so we could spring into action and reclaim our home the minute she was ready.

However, this left us with limited options – most hotels are not fond of pets. We would have to find an inexpensive hotel with a liberal pet policy, then try to book ourselves in 3-4 day increments while we awaited word on Maggie’s fate.

It just so happens that a few miles away from the dealership in question was a major Henderson casino fixture: The Fiesta. It was convenient, it was inexpensive (being part of the low-end Station Casinos chain), and they had a liberal pet policy! Or car was a Fiesta, the hotel was the Fiesta…it must be kismet, or something, right?

And this is what happens when you manage to talk yourself into something you KNOW is a bad idea.

The Station Casinos Experience

This is a good place to mention that we have history with the Station Casinos in Las Vegas.

Over the years of our travels to LV, we’ve stayed at a number of different properties. The process would go like this – one trip, Melissa would choose our destination hotel. Everything would be glorious and fabulous. The next trip, out of a desire to have more money available to do stuff in Vegas, I would pick one of the Station Casinos, since they tended to be the least expensive option.

And our hotel stay would be a disaster. Every single time.

Because I am apparently incapable of learning from experience, we tried four different Station properties over the years. We had four different, but equally terrible, hotel experiences. Meanwhile, Melissa booked us at places like The Rio, Treasure Island, and the Monte Carlo, which were universally wonderful. By the time epilepsy struck and forced us into poverty and out of vacation travel I had still not learned my lesson.

Which brings us to March, 2020.

It was about 10:30 AM when we rolled into the Fiesta’s parking lot. At this point, Vegas was already being hit hard by reduced travel thanks to the spread of COVID-19. The parking lot was maybe 1/4 full. But when we called to ask about the possibility of early check-in, they told us they could accommodate us at 2 PM.

Standard check-in time is 3 PM, mind you.

3 and a half hours would have been plenty of time to call AirBnB. Or contact Expedia and find accommodations at a friendlier and more customer-driven place. But I am nothing if not stubborn. We waited (with the dogs, mind you) in the parking lot for the entire duration.

When a Fiesta Isn’t a Party

I could spend many, many paragraphs outlining our stay from Hades at the Fiesta. Instead, let me sum up:

It was bad. Like, really, really bad.

From the inedible food, to the urine-scented main hallway on the “pet friendly” floor, to the 6 square feet of “dog park”, it was everything a vacation experience shouldn’t be. Luckily for them, I wasn’t on vacation – I was a homeless wanderer, waiting for my home to return from the garage. I did everything I could to stay in our room or wander around the casino floor. Since we were in terror of “noisy dogs” getting us evicted, we took turns bailing out of our room, with one of us constantly staying with the critters to keep them from complaining about our absence.

And the final straw arrived on the night of the 17th of March: a Special Bulletin went crawling across the bottom of our television screen. The Governor of Nevada was mandating that ALL casinos immediately cease operations…including hotel accommodations.

Effective immediately, Las Vegas was closed for business.

On The Road Again

Oddly, nobody panicked. (Well, maybe Delilah, but she is one neurotic excuse for a dachshund.)

We checked with the front desk. Yes, indeed, we were being thrown out the next day at noon. No, we would not be getting refunded despite having paid for nights we would not be getting to use. Color me surprised.

We decided to go the AirBnB route instead. The next day we would check in with the dealership, get an estimated time for repairs, then book a stay for that amount of time. This is why God invented credit cards, right?

But the next day, the bottom really fell out.

The service manager was brutally honest with me. Apparently, the majority of the technicians did not want to be working during the shut down, and had communicated their position to management. “Honestly,” he told me, “we may be closed for the next month or two. Even if we don’t shut down, we can’t get to your rig til next Monday at the earliest, and it could be a week to ten days after that before it is ready.”

I hung up the phone in disbelief. Ten days? A month? Maybe two months? No credit card I have was gonna cover that. It was time to face the truth.

After only six weeks on the road, we were going to have to go back to New Mexico.