April 14, 2018

what it's like to remodel a motor home

"I'm not proud.  Or tired."  -Arlo Guthrie

When you've been in a desperate situation for an extended period of time, knocked down again and again by Life, questionably sane things can seem like perfectly reasonable options.

This is an expansion on part of our cabin saga.

The land we bought in 2013, as I mentioned before, was full of good points.  We'd searched long and hard and after trekking up the steep roughed-in driveway and standing panting on the cleared pad at the top, we took in the mid-range views of green forest and felt the sunshine on our faces and heard near-silence, and we knew we'd found our place.  P.J. said it was a "light place," far more of a statement about how it made her feel than about solar rays.  We made an offer and signed some papers in a lawyer's office and we were handed the proverbial keys.  An acre and a half of light place.

We went through the Burger King drive-thru and took camping chairs up and sat and had lunch in the middle of a small field.  We knew peace.

That was the good part.  That day right there.  There was a gentle breeze.

Then we started learning Things ... like how the other residences on the mountain had completely tapped out the local reservoir and nothing else could share in that water supply.  And how the zoning regulations were incomprehensibly strict and we were zoned with the strictest of the strict and we probably weren't even allowed to sit there eating Whoppers on our own land.  And how a few of the trees, excepting the one that fell down right across the driveway, would need to be felled.

We could deal with these things, of course.  We'd have a well drilled and put in septic and then build a small house.  The cleared area wasn't terribly wide, but the tiny house movement is all the rage in that area of the mountains, so we'd go that route.  It would be cute.  We'd be all environmentally responsible and shit.

Oh, except a tiny house would completely fail to meet zoning regulations.  And a yurt?  Forget it.

We decided to build an "accessory structure", a twelve-by-sixteen shed to be used, of course, for storing things like lawn equipment and chairs and other purely non-residential items.  They didn't need to see our plans for converting it into the tiniest of tiny houses.  Then the guy we hired to coordinate the various tradesmen and processes went down to the City Permit Office to get a copy of something and sat at the counter and ran his mouth about our big plans to sneak and use the shed as a home.  We were outed as the criminals we were and from that day forward, invited intense scrutiny of all our doings.  He was a nice guy.  Too nice.  "Surreptitious" was not in his vocabulary.

We still needed water, no matter what the future's dwindling prospects held.  Then the well rig truck couldn't get up the driveway under its own power, and we would have had to hire construction equipment to push it up, and there was only one spot because of all of that that they could try for water, and if they didn't hit after six hundred feet, we were royally fucked and the property became next to worthless.  We called off the well-drilling.

We sat in our camping chairs on another Saturday and munched BK chicken sandwiches and made our puzzlers sore.  Then we had an idea.

A motor home.

We were allowed to park a motor vehicle on our own property, weren't we?  Libertarian sentiment swelled within us.  And if we decided to live out of one of our cars, let's say, what could the City possibly say?  This was the point where reason took a lunch break and planned to call in sick for the rest of the day.

And that is how we ended up buying an old motor home, not a coveted silver Airstream but a 1980s beige-but-yellowed-with-age Georgie Boy with great potential.  A gay couple had already begun renovations, ripping out the orange and brown carpet and painting the walls sky blue, and we liked where they were headed aesthetically, so we bought it and named it Madame George in their honor and drove it home and then realized it was going to be hell getting it up our driveway, but we did anyway, and there it sat for a year and a half. We couldn't park our cars in the garage.  It loomed.

I wish I had some way of knowing how many dollars and calories we burned while giving almost every spare moment to this undertaking and ordering hot- and cold-running widgets from Amazon.  I know I spent a fair amount of time, many, many hours, on the roof and went through fourteen tubes of caulk and some special paint-on sealing stuff because there was a leak in one of the bedroom cabinets in the back and we could not find the source.  When I wasn't busy attempting to not fall to my death, I was laying new vinyl flooring that looked like wood plank, re-building the shower, cutting and hammering quarter-round trim into place, and painting various things.  A fold-out table became a small bookcase with a tile top.  The sofa was re-covered in Ikea fabric.  So were the two "living room" club chairs.  Curtains were dyed.  New carpet was cut and laid in the console area.

The front seats lost their hideous brown textured plush pattern and were painted a tasteful gray with fabric paint, as were the bits of orange carpet that couldn't be removed.  The broken door handle was sourced and found and bought and installed.  We had a guy with a truck and large muscles take the broken generator out and we replaced it with our own baby generator and two marine batteries, after I rebuilt the housing for all of that.  LED lights that would not tax the new electrical setup were installed throughout.  Solar panels and a charger system came into play.  We bought a rain barrel and pump and filtration system for non-potable water safe enough to use for showering and dishes.  I built the most beautiful composting toilet in the history of mankind.  It used a Home Depot bucket underneath that said "Let's Do This" and was still capable of passing liquid to the black water tank.  We even scrubbed enough to return the exterior to a pale, acceptable beige, and used Coca-Cola and aluminum foil to remove rust from the tongue and chrome bumper.

The twin beds in the back bedroom had new pillows and comforters and good mattresses.  A small lamp sat on the table between them.  We placed an artificial orchid on top of the bookcase.  It was ready to move to our light place.  It would be our home there, and no one had a leg to stand on in protest.  It was just an overgrown truck.  We would have a patio there made of wood pallets (which are far more difficult to come by, if you've tried, because of all the people on Etsy making artistic things and bits of reclaimed furniture out of them, when all we wanted was to line them up on the ground and put an outdoor rug and couple of chairs on top of them).  I had it all sketched out on graph paper, which made it official.  We have friends in the vicinity who were sneaking wood pallets and collecting them for us whenever they saw them.

The day came.  It was time to move it to the mountains.  P.J. buckled her belt while I waited in the RAV4, ready to follow the motor home, and she turned the key.

It wouldn't start.

We made sure the gas was fresh and in both tanks.  We made sure the battery was good and properly connected.  It still wouldn't start.

I will omit the yawn-inducing details of the mechanics and Google searches and tinkering with various tools and all of the things we tried, but in the end, the way we got it to move was by means of a huge hook and cable attached to its chassis, which was in turn attached to a large tow truck normally used for tractor trailer cabs.  We had to sell it to a guy for about one-sixth of what we had put into it, all the nickels and dimes, and watch it go away.

We were very, very happy to see it go.  I think we hugged each other and smiled.  We had our lives back.

We went back to the land with a bag of Croissanwiches and some hash browns one day, and looked up from the bottom of the driveway and realized that even if we'd gotten it there, there was no way in any hell you care to name it would have made it to the top.  We'd been wrong all along.

We ate the Croissanwiches and then phoned up our realtor and sold the property to a nice couple in Ohio who would drill a well and build a little house and enjoy the spectacular view.

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