Wednesday, August 18, 2010


This one's for Reader Mike, who asked about the motorhome.

I was quite comfortable for 4 years traveling in my pickup, pulling a 27 foot fifth wheel.  42 feet of vehicle, all strung out.  It was a clumsy thing to park, or even tow through a town like Portland or San Francisco.  I went right on by many a roadside attraction, because there weren't 40 acres handy to turn it around in.  I probably didn't miss much, not seeing the Snake Lady. But after 100K miles, it really was beginning to show it's age.

Then I saw this cute little number on Craig's list in Round Rock.  A 1992 Lazy Daze Motorhome, 22 feet long, 58,000 miles.  That ought to be able to scoot around in town all right. And even park straight in at the curb.  Pretty nice looking for its age.  New Michelins, good paint.  I got it cheap.  It had some obvious problems, but that was part of the charm.  I kind of like working on these things.  Good thing, huh?

Would you take $9700?

I spent $500 getting the fluids changed and everything checked out.  Only two mechanical problems showed up.  A top-off can of freon fixed one of them.  The other was a slow mystery electrical discharge that would kill the battery if you didn't drive it for a week or so.  I tried to trace it down, but it eluded me.  It was tiny, so I finally fixed it by overpowering it.  I put in 4 golf cart batteries to serve the coach (I like to boondock), and a dashboard switch to trickle charge the engine battery directly from them.  That's nearly 500 amp hours, all told.  It might leak down over the winter if I didn't plug it in, but I do, and a knife switch on the engine battery completed the fix.  If I drive it every 2 or 3 days, the alternator keeps it topped off.  So it would never bother me on a trip anyway.

As for the Coach, there were a string of small things.  But what fun would we have without problems?  I hired someone to install a new fridge.  It took 4 strong men to wrestle it through the back window without dropping it or breaking something.  That was the big item, about $1300.  Then there was a Sirius tuner at Best Buy, around $200.

Everything else I did myself:  new bathroom faucet, water pump, converter/charger, 1500W inverter, backup camera, heater thermostat, closet shelving, 4 golf cart batteries, compact fluorescent ceiling lights and halogen reading lights, a laptop stand, stereo speakers, and a good foam mattress for the overhead bed.  That's not quite the whole list, but you get the picture.  Most of these were not so much repairs as improvements.

I believe it is now slightly better than new.  But now of course I have around $14K in it.  Not so much of a bargain.

I am reminded of Sterling Morrison, and his Kleenex Theory of Kar Ownership.  I just can't live up to it, though I have to admire it as a singular bit of ... ah... integrity.

As long as I knew them, Sterling and his wife Martha happily drove a series of vehicles that might charitably be called wrecks.  I suppose Sterling's chief claim to fame came very young, as a guitarist and singer in a band called The Velvet Underground.  You can google it.  Anyway, all that fame and fortune was behind him on the afternoon when he shared this impecunious insight.  We were both graduate students at the University of Texas.  Sterling was majoring in Beowulf and minoring in beer.  Having a major interest in his minor, I was helping him study it in a joint called The Other Place, and he was pondering between pitchers whether to get new tires for his car.

"It didn't pass inspection.  But a set of tires would cost almost as much as I paid for the car!" he grumbled.

"A ticket may cost you more.  And anyway, ya gotta have tires..."

"But it's the principle of the thing.  You ought never put more in a vehicle than you are willing to walk away from.  Otherwise it's just an albatross hanging around your neck."

Albatross.  All my friends were literary back then.  "Walk away from?"

"You know, park it, take off the plates, stick out your thumb.  When it begins to cost more than you will ever get out of it, it's like used Kleenex.  You wouldn't try to patch that stuff.  You blow your nose and you toss it."

Up until this point, I had thought I was pretty darn cheap.  I hardly ever solved a problem by throwing money at it, and still don't.  It feels like cheating.  But it was clear to me that day, in a beery sort of way, that I was in the presence of The Master.

We lost touch after I dropped out of school and into the Fire Department.  But I heard Sterling finished his doctorate in medieval studies and drifted down to Houston, where he eventually became a tugboat captain.  Most people lead stranger lives than most people suppose.  And it seldom proceeds in a straight line.

But the Lazy Daze does.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"Most people lead stranger lives than most people suppose." Good aphorism!

Please keep writing.