(Excerpt from our forthcoming book Dear Bob and Sue: Season 3 – not yet available for sale.)
January 6, 2018 (Saturday)
Chiricahua National Monument
Dear Bob and Sue,
This morning we Ubered from our hotel over to the Cruise America office. Our driver was a talkative young woman who was attending college in the Phoenix area. As soon as we got onto the highway, Karen started asking her questions. Every time the driver would answer, her car drifted into the adjacent lane. I tried to give Karen a look that said, “Stop asking her questions; she’s going to kill us!” but Karen must have thought I meant, “Please, ask more questions, I’ve lived long enough. A couple more should do it, and then we’ll all die in a fiery crash.”
“Did you grow up here in Phoenix?” Karen asked.
“No, I grew up on an Indian reservation down in the southwest part of the state,” she replied.
“Do you think you’ll ever go back?”
“I visit, but I wouldn’t go back to live there permanently. There’s nothing to do on the reservation.”
“Is your family still there?” Karen asked.
“Yeah, some of them. My parents are there. But there’s a communication gap between people my age and the old people. They play cards and don’t talk much; they keep to themselves.”
“By old people you mean…?”
“You know, people in their 50s and 40s.”
“Wow, that is old,” I said. Karen furrowed her brow at me as if I was rude to interrupt, but I had to, I was pretty sure that we’d missed our exit.
“Uh, just looking at your GPS, weren’t we supposed to get off back there?” I asked.
“Oh, yeah, sorry,” she replied, as she looked back at me and drifted into the occupied lane next to my side of the car.
At that point, I was too scared to talk anymore, and Karen, thankfully, stopped asking questions. After several more wrong turns, we pulled into the Cruise America parking lot.
“Give her a big tip,” Karen whispered.
“Yes, we’re alive, that deserves a big tip,” I whispered back as I wrestled our luggage out of the trunk.
Standing in the parking lot, looking at the row of shiny RVs ready for their next adventure, my heart raced. One of those is ours, I thought. It took all my self-control to keep from going down the line and looking inside each one.
Arriving a minute before opening time, we were pleased to find the doors to the rental/sales office unlocked. Karen pulled her over-sized duffle bag into the waiting room and grabbed a seat at one of the wrought-iron tables while I wandered through the building trying to scare up someone to help us.
“I can’t find anybody,” I said to Karen a few minutes later. “We could probably take any of those babies sitting out front, and no one would even know.”
“Cool your jets,” she said. “We have all day to get to Chiricahua, and it’s only three and a half hours from here.”
I had it in my head that we had a full day of driving in front of us, but Karen was right, there was no reason to be in a hurry despite also needing to stop for groceries and lunch along the way. I sat next to her in the waiting room and killed time by plotting the day’s trip on my phone’s map. Even if we took the backroads, it would only be a four-hour drive to the campground.
Ten minutes later, a young man with a beard appeared behind the customer service window and began typing on a computer keyboard, so I stepped up to the counter. We’ll call the young man Ben, because that was the name on the badge attached to his shirt. Ben didn’t look happy to have pulled the opening shift at Cruise America on this beautiful, sunny Saturday morning.
At first, I thought he was logging into his company’s system and would look up in a few seconds to greet me. Instead, he spent the next several minutes furiously typing what I can only imagine were either his notes regarding a recently returned RV that he’d just finished cleaning or his resignation letter to his boss. Ben paused briefly and met my eyes, keeping his fingers on the keyboard in a posture that I read as meaning, “I’m busy right now, can I help you with something?”
Before I could speak, another gentleman blew into the service area and said with a smile, “Good morning! Are you here to pick up?” The new guy found our reservation and asked me a bunch of questions, none of which I was sure of the correct answer.
“Are you planning on using the generator this week?” he asked.
I was inclined to respond, “Oh yeah, we plan on generating every night,” but I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about, and it occurred to me that giving him a smart-ass answer might result in a $75-a-day charge for something we didn’t need.
“I don’t…,” I said.
“Don’t worry about it. I only need to know for your estimate. You’ll get charged by the hour for the generator. I’ll put you down for two hours, and if you don’t use it that much, you’ll get a credit when you return the unit.”
Once I signed the contract, the clerk looked up at me and said, “Alright, Ben here will show you to your RV and take you through the orientation.” Ben was still typing and didn’t look up when his co-worker placed our contract next to his keyboard. As quick as he’d appeared, the new guy was gone.
As it turned out, Ben was pleasant and helpful. He led us to the parking lot where we loaded our luggage into the RV. During the walkthrough, I noticed several gauges with LED lights on the wall next to the kitchen sink. Ben explained the importance of each, and I nodded and smiled as he flipped switches and pointed to the various mechanical systems. Next to the gauges was a starter switch for the generator. “You’ll need to start the generator if you want to use the microwave,” he said.
“What about the refrigerator?” I asked. “Does it run off the generator?”
“No, it’s powered by propane,” he replied.
For a second I thought he was joking, then I thought maybe it does run on propane. Regardless, I continued with my confident smiling and nodding as we went outside to the back of the vehicle for the rest of the orientation.
Ben opened a small door on the driver’s side of the RV. “Inside here you have a septic hose. When it’s time to dump your waste, you pull the hose out and attach it to this connection back here.” Then Ben described a series of steps involving opening and closing valves, and pushing and pulling levers in a precise sequence that’s required to successfully “empty the tanks.” I wanted to say, “Yeah, I’m not doing any of that,” but then it occurred to me that later in the week I might not have a choice.
As Ben spoke, I peeked around the corner of the RV to find Karen. “Are you getting any of this?” I asked her. Without looking up from her phone, she raised her index finger and pointed her hand in my direction, the sign for, “Whatever you’re saying to me right now is not as important as the Facebook post I’m reading.”
Ben could sense my apprehension. “It’s not hard to figure out,” he said, trying to ease my concern. “Just make sure this lever here is pulled out halfway before you open this one and that you dump the black water tank first and then the gray water tank and not the other way around.” I gave him my best smile and nod while thinking to myself we’re not going to use the toilet this week.
Our final task before Ben handed us the keys was to walk around the vehicle and document any scratches and dents. The exterior was in remarkably good shape considering the unit’s mileage and the fact that I can’t count the number of times on our travels we’ve seen drivers banging Cruise America RVs into tree branches and bushes. I said to Ben, “This beauty looks almost new. There’s hardly any damage to the outside.”
“Yeah, these smaller ones usually don’t get roughed up much.”
I was curious, so I had to ask, “Do you ever turn people away? I mean, what if someone comes in and wants to rent an RV, but you feel they can’t operate it safely?”
“Uh, well, if they sign the contract and we have their credit card number, we generally trust them. Of course, they also have to go through the orientation.”
“Do you ever get someone who doesn’t understand the operating instructions?”
“Sure, sometimes I can tell a person has no clue what I’m telling them; they just smile and nod through the entire orientation,” Ben said.
I quickly stopped smiling and nodding as he said this, but it was too late, he was already double-checking the paperwork to make sure I’d signed the contract and that they had my credit card on file. The orientation had been a blur, except the part about needing to flush the little blue thing that looked like a dishwasher pod down the toilet before we use it for the first time. It wasn’t clear to me why we needed to do this, but Ben gave extra emphasis to this bit of information. I even repeated it to myself, so that I wouldn’t forget.
Damn it! I forgot. Be right back.
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