(Excerpt from our forthcoming book Dear Bob and Sue: Season 3 – not yet available for sale.)
January 9, 2018 (Tuesday)
Catalina State Park
The wind was brisk this morning when we woke; if we had been camping in a tent, we would have blown away in the middle of the night. As it was, we could feel cold air seeping into our RV. Last night we agreed to leave the furnace off; it was keeping Karen awake as well. Early this morning, before coffee, we cranked it back on; it felt so good, like a big warm hug.
The coyotes never howled again after their initial session last night. I wonder what they were hunting so close to the campground. Karen thinks that they hang out by the RVs with lights around their perimeters and wait for rodents to approach; when the rodents hesitate at the lights, the coyotes pounce. Could be, but I think it’s more likely they’re waiting for Muffy to come out and tinkle. It takes just one inattentive moment, and the next day there are lost dog signs all over the campground.
Dark gray clouds were moving fast above us when we left the RV to go for a hike. Rain threatened as we walked the flat Bridle Trail from our site to the Romero Canyon trailhead. The first mile of the canyon trail was easy, after that, it became steep and the hiking strenuous. We kept thinking that the temperature would warm up as the day went on, but it didn’t. The sharp wind and cold temperature offset any heat we were creating by climbing the trail. About 2.5 miles from the trailhead, the storm clouds looked threatening, and we decided to call it and turn around. The scenery in the canyon was beautiful, and we would have kept going all the way to the Romero Pools if the weather would have been better.
A couple of years ago, we stopped taking our digital camera with us when we hike. The cameras on our phones take great photos, and by using them we eliminate one more thing to carry and keep track of. On this hike, Karen had her phone in her front pocket, and I was holding mine in my hand while we hiked back to the campsite. About halfway back I got a text from our friend Craig. It read, “Did you know you guys are conducting a live video session on Instagram?”
“When?” I texted back.
“Right now. The screen is black, and all I can hear is a swishing sound.”
“Karen. Do you know where your phone is?” I asked.
“Yeah, it’s right here,” she said taking it out of her pocket.
“Craig says you’re streaming live on Instagram; you might want to shut that down before one of us says something we don’t want anyone else to hear,” I said.
“That’s weird,” she said.
“It’s not so much weird as it is terrifying,” I replied.
“I don’t know how that could have happened.”
“Is it off now?”
“Yes, it’s off.”
“How do you know for sure?”
For the next few minutes, we hiked slowly downhill trying to recall every word we’d said in the past ten minutes or so. Every few seconds one of us would remember something and then say, “Oh my, God! Do you think they heard me say _____?”
“Ok, the lesson here is, the Instagram app needs to stay closed when we’re on hikes. For that matter, always. The world is not ready to hear a ten-minute live session of our private conversation,” I said.
“I know,” Karen said. “Your potential for offending people is enormous.”
“Are you sure it’s off?” I asked.
Back at the RV, it felt good to get out of the wind. It was still before noon, and we hadn’t planned any other activities for the day. We sat at the dining table staring at each other and taking turns checking that Karen’s phone was no longer streaming live. Finally, I worked up the courage to say something to Karen that I’d been thinking about for a couple of days.
“Sweetie, there’s one thing we need to do before we can truly call ourselves RVers.”
She reached across the table, held my hand, and asked in a soft voice, “Hmm, what did you have in mind?”
“We need to take this baby to the dump station.”
She snatched her hand back. “Are you sure about that?” she asked.
“Yeah, I don’t think we’re going to make it to the end of the week, so we might as well do it now. Plus, unless we do a dump run, we’ll always be posers.”
“Being a poser has never bothered you before,” she said.
“Good. Thank you for the support,” I said. “I’ll talk you through it. You’ll do just fine.”
“I’m not going anywhere near the dump station.”
“Is that right? Where do you think you’ll be? This is our home. Were you planning on sitting here on our concrete pad in a camp chair by yourself? Oh, you’re coming,” I told her. “I’ll need you to hand me the sewage hose.”
“I have an idea. Let’s stream that live on Instagram. That way I’ll have to hold the phone while I film you,” she said.
“No, seriously, I’ll need you to hold the sewage hose in the hole while I open the black and gray water tanks.”
Karen did a double clutch with her throat as if she was gagging. I’m still not sure if it was for real or she was being dramatic.
“Before we go, we should run some water in the sink. Ben at the Cruise America office said it’s better if the gray water tank is pretty full before you do the dump.”
“Did he say why?”
“Yes, because you open the black water tank first and then flush the pipe out with the gray water. You want to have plenty of volume in there to clean out the pipe.”
“Why do they call it black water and gray water? Shouldn’t it be brown water and yellow water?”
“I don’t know. Are you writing a science journal article on this? Why do you care? You’re not even coming with me.”
The weather hadn’t improved much; it was still cold and windy outside and looked like it might rain at any moment. When Karen realized that she had nowhere else to be while I drove the RV to the dump station, she reluctantly agreed to go with me.
Having never done this procedure before, I wasn’t 100% sure what a dump station even looked like. For a moment I fantasized that maybe, just maybe, the dump station had an attendant—someone in a uniform—that did everything for you. All I’d have to do is pull up, roll down my window halfway, and holler, “Full dump,” and then roll up the window quickly. In a couple of minutes, it would be over, and I’d tip the guy, or gal, like $300, and we’d be back at our campsite in no time. Spoiler alert, that’s not how it went down.
Circling the perimeter of the campground, I spotted a concrete post with a hose attached to it sitting on a small concrete pad with a round metal cover in the center.
“That’s it?” Karen asked.
“I guess. It looks like the attendant must be on lunch break,” I said. I realized how ridiculous that was as soon as I said it; no dump station attendant would ever eat again.
“This is kind of embarrassing. We’re right at the front of the campground where everyone coming in or going out will see us,” she said.
“Well, it’ll be obvious that we don’t know what we’re doing.”
“Thank you again for pumping up my confidence. I’m pretty sure everyone passing by here has been in our same predicament before, Sweetie.”
After I parked the RV, I dug out a pair of gloves and safety glasses from my duffle bag, put them on, and headed around to the back of the rig. When Karen saw the safety glasses, she lost all composure.
“Why do you think you need safety glasses?” she asked as she tried to catch her breath between gasps of laughter.
“You’re not going to help, are you?” I asked.
She closed her lips tightly and shook her head. Then she started taking pictures, from a distance of about a hundred yards.
As I stood at the back of the RV, I remembered what a plumber friend told me years ago. He said, “Matt, you only need to know two things to be a plumber: shit flows downhill and payday is Friday.” I nodded my head and thought, neither of those pieces of information is remotely helpful right now.
It dawned on me as I hemmed and hawed that the sooner I do it, the sooner it would be over. I figured I would go through the steps Ben outlined as quickly as possible and let the chips fall where they may. I was also incapable of forming a thought that wasn’t also a bathroom pun.
The flexible pipe that fit in the side compartment of the RV compressed like a slinky: a big, black, wet slinky that hadn’t been thoroughly flushed out by the previous renter. Nice! Breathe through your mouth and keep moving, I said to myself. I dragged the black slinky over to the hatch where Ben had told me I’d find a fitting that the slinky thing connected to. I hesitated before I opened the door because moisture was dripping from the bottom of the hatch. Why would that be dripping? I wondered. Is it possible that one of the tanks isn’t fully closed and the contents are backing up behind this hatch door, and as soon as I open it the contents will rush out? No, that’s a crazy thought, it’s probably just a few drops that made their way to the end of the pipe when I made that last turn.
When I opened the hatch, it became clear that I was right the first time: a torrent greeted me. I quickly pulled the two tank levers out as far as I could, and the water stopped flowing. Grabbing the slinky, I attached one end to the outflow port and secured the other in the glory hole. Using my foot, I shoved in the black water tank lever as far as it would go. A minute later I did the same with the gray water tank. Panting through my mouth, I waited until the slinky stopped bucking and squirming, which I took as a signal that the tanks were empty. The cleanup involved hosing everything down for way longer than I needed, closing the tanks, and putting the slinky back in its home.
Karen could see that I was finishing up, so she came back to the RV from her safe spot.
“I saw you dancing around at one point; what was that all about?” she asked.
I explained to her in detail what had happened, emphasizing the disgusting parts to get as much sympathy as I could.
“Why didn’t you pull the levers out before you opened the hatch?” she asked.
“Ok, that’s a fair question,” I said nodding thoughtfully. “First, I didn’t know if the closed position was in or out, and had I guessed wrong then I would have made the problem worse. Didn’t want to do that. And second, I don’t think it would have mattered much. The hatch area was already filled with water, so even if I’d closed the tanks, a good amount would have splashed out anyway.”
When we got the RV back to our site and hooked up, Karen was bouncing with energy.
“We have all afternoon open,” she said. “What would you like to do?”
“I don’t know about you, but I’m going to take a shower, a nap, and then get drunk and try to erase the dump station experience from my brain.”
“Oh, it wasn’t that bad.”
“Really? Did you just have someone else’s wastewater fill up your tennis shoes?”
“Alright, I get it, you’re gonna mope about this for a while. I’d probably do the same. Why don’t you go take a shower, and I’ll fix lunch. I thought I’d make egg salad sandwiches with avocado.”
“Thank you. That’s very kind, but I don’t think I’ll be eating again until February. And if you make egg salad while I’m gone, I’m not coming back.”
She may have been serious about the egg salad; more likely she was ribbing me about the dump station incident. I put a clean change of clothes and my flip flops in a plastic Wal-Mart bag and walked to the public showers that were in the middle of the campground. The water pressure in the shower was strong. This is good, I thought. This is what they do to people who’ve been exposed to radioactive material; they blast them with a fire hose. Maybe if I stay in here for an hour, I’ll get most of the funk off.
As I walked back to the RV, I saw that our side door was propped open. When I got closer, I could see that Karen was sweeping the floor. This startled me because in our 72 years of marriage I’ve never seen her sweep a floor.
“You’re back,” she said. “Just in time. I straightened up the RV while you were taking a shower, and I was just sweeping the floors.”
“Yes, I can see that. Is there anything wrong? Would you like to talk about whatever traumatic experience you’ve had that would cause you to sweep the floors?”
“Very funny. I thought since you did your part by taking the RV to the dump station that I’d do my part and clean the inside, and now we’re…”
“Whoa! Let me stop you right there, Sweetie,” I interrupted.
“Now we’re even,” she said, and then laughed so hard that she started crying again.
“Nice try. It’s gonna be a while before we’re even.” I have to say, it’s a good feeling to have the dump station credits in my account. I’m pretty sure for the next year or so when Karen wants me to do a chore, all I’ll have to say is “dump station.”
Once Karen pulled herself together, she looked at my feet and asked, “Why are you still wearing your flip flops? You’re supposed to wear them into the shower and then take them off afterward.”
“My tennis shoes didn’t make it,” I said solemnly.
“What do you mean they didn’t make it?” she asked.
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“You threw away your tennis shoes?”
“I don’t want to talk about it; it’s too soon.”
“Well look on the bright side; we can now officially call ourselves RVers.”
“Who’s we?” I asked.
It felt good to take a long nap and catch up on our sleep. By late afternoon when we woke up, most of the clouds were gone, and the wind had stopped blowing. As the golden hour approached—the hour before sunset—Karen wanted to hike along the Bridle Trail and take photos of the saguaros. Catalina State Park is home to about 5,000 saguaros, and a huge swath of them was right behind our campsite.
Rarely do we go off trail in rattlesnake country, but Karen was intent on capturing shots of the saguaros against the clouds in the west that were turning a brilliant shade of red.
“Watch out for snakes!” I hollered in her direction as she climbed higher into the hills. Once I couldn’t see her any longer, I reluctantly picked my way in her direction to make sure she wouldn’t get lost, or if she got bit, I’d be able to carry her to safety.
“We’ve now doubled our chances of being bitten by a rattlesnake by both of us being out here,” I said.
“I know, I know. But look at that sky.”
“Yep, beautiful sky,” I said. “Let’s move back toward the trail. The sky is pretty over there, too.”
With that, she walked in the opposite direction. We’ve been together long enough for me to know that in these situations, it’s best just to let her do her thing. I followed behind figuring at least that way I wouldn’t have to go looking for her when she got lost; neither of us had a headlamp. By the time we could barely see the ground in front of us, we made it back to the established trail.
Karen gave out a sigh, and said, “I could do this every day.”
“I’m glad you’re having a good time,” I replied.
Neither of us felt like making dinner when we got back to the RV. I suggested we drive to the nearest shopping area, which was about three miles away, and eat dinner at Chili’s.
“We can watch a basketball game on TV and drink margaritas until I can’t remember the dump station,” I said.
“Perfect,” Karen replied. “Let’s order the black bean dip.”
“Too soon, Sweetie, too soon,” I replied.
We’re back at our campsite now; when I finish this email to you, I’m calling it a night. It’s a good thing that we were able to take photos of the saguaros when we did; the rain returned, and it’s now pounding on the roof of the RV. Despite today’s ordeal, I like Catalina State Park and will always remember it as the place I became a real RVer.