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The Weekend That Wasn't

July 23-27, 2004

My recently deceased father often said, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” He also frequently referred to his boat as “a Jonah” for all the problems he had with it, despite the fact that its mere ownership made him happy. The Bounder is turning out to be my Jonah. First was the six weeks it took to get it home, delayed by my father’s passing. Next was the destruction of my neighbor’s juniper bushes while trying to squeeze it into our narrow driveway. Then the capricious door steps that froze in the half-deployed position while we were visiting Año Nuevo State Park that forced us to call AAA to send out an emergency tow-truck driver to retract them before we could drive out.

New GPS system on the dashboard.
Given the nature of camping trips that usually involve driving to remote areas, I ordered a Magellan GPS navigation system and had it installed in the Bounder as it sat in our driveway during the week following our first adventure with it. This weekend contained Pat’s birthday and would be our first opportunity to try out the new nav unit. We settled on the Lake Camanche North campground in Amador County, just southeast of Sacramento, which would allow me to add another California county that I had yet to visit.

Pat arrived home late, having stopped off to pick up groceries for the trip. I had had one of those days where what seemed like a thousand unanticipated interruptions had prevented me from picking up things I had planned to have on hand for our second outing, duly noted as needed items from our first Bounder weekend. By the time we pulled the motorhome onto the street and parked the cars back in the driveway, it was already 6:30 p.m., two full hours after I would have expected Pat home from work. We still had to stop in Hayward for gas and it was a two-hour drive up to Lake Camanche.

2-1/2” GPS antenna on roof
We headed up to the top of Seminary Avenue and drove the Bounder onto the I-580 freeway, monitoring our progress on the new Magellan navigation unit’s display screen. Less than two miles down the freeway the glue holding the GPS unit’s antenna to the Bounder’s roof gave way and the antenna, hanging on by its connecting cable, started bouncing against the windshield. Obviously I needed to pull off quickly before the antenna ripped away from the cable and disappeared forever. I took the next exit and parked the Bounder along the street in front of the Foothill Square mall. After climbing up to the Bounder’s roof and inspecting the situation, Pat and I realized we needed duct tape which, of course, we didn’t have with us in the Bounder (though, of course, there were several rolls at home). We cruised slowly down Mac Arthur Boulevard for a few blocks where we came upon a Rite-Aid pharmacy and I pulled into the parking lot where I managed to find two empty nose-to-nose slots with one car to the left, a small tree in a planter box to the right, and the exit back to the street nearly directly ahead.

Pat returned from the Rite-Aid with a roll of duct tape and a roll of outdoor sponge-glue ribbon and joined me on the Bounder’s roof to firmly secure the GPS antenna and it’s cable. Back inside the Bounder, we contemplated the quickest return to the freeway, right turn or left? A thirty-four foot motorhome does, after all, require some forethought prior to navigating it down residential streets.

At this point I must digress by adding that back in the mid seventies, I was a cross-country semi-tractor trailer driver for about five years, pulling a forty-foot trailer behind me through 46 states and 7 provinces of Canada. On the average I drove 3,000 miles per week, roughly 150,000 miles per year, and accumulated about three quarters of a million miles over all. My rig's overall length along North America’s highways was roughly sixty feet and, more often than not, I was pulling 80,000 pounds. Hence a thirty-four-foot motorhome seemed well within my area of expertise.

Note missing light lens

Recalling my truck-driving experience, I slowly pulled forward out of the two parking slips and started to turn wide to the right, my attention focussed straight ahead and to the right where I was heading. With the Bounder fifteen feet out of it’s parking slot and a third of its way into the right turn, I suddenly heard a horrible crunching sound from behind. A quick glance into my driver’s side rearview mirror, which until now I had avoided looking at, revealed a disheartening sight at which I immediately put the Bounder into park.

Even worse from this angle!

The rear wheels on tractor-trailers are at the rear of the trailer, hence in a turn, the back of the trailer follows the tractor along the same path that the front wheels take. The Bounder’s back wheels, however, are not at the back of the motorhome; they’re just back of the center of the coach and the back overhangs. As a result, the overhang swings out in the opposite direction of the turn and consequently I had just caved in the front quarter-panel and driver’s door of the car parked in the slot adjoining the one I was pulling out of! A visual inspection showed I had also succeeded in ripping off the Bounder’s driver’s side tail light assembly.

I backed the Bounder up enough to allow some working distance between the two vehicles and Pat and I set about re-wiring the tail lights and remounting the hanging assembly and dangling rear bumper. In the forty-five minutes that the repair job took, the car’s owner still had not appeared. Assuming by now that the car’s owner must be a Rite-Aid employee, I went inside the pharmacy to have the owner of a silver Mazda Protogé with California license plate “5XYZ-123” paged to no avail. I returned to the Bounder, wrote a note of apology with my name and phone number, adding that we would return home late Sunday afternoon, and stuck it under the driver's side windshield wiper.

The mirror folded in and just needed to be pulled back out.

After what I was sure would turn out to be a very expensive motorhome driving skill lesson, I managed to pull the Bounder out of the parking lot safely, got back onto the I-580 freeway, and drove the five miles down to the Chevron station in Hayward where we knew we could get in and out safely. Our tail light repair job had revealed wiring separated from several crimps and we had endeavored to re-establish the connections as best we could. A check at the Chevron station disclosed that although we had tail lights, we did not have brake lights or a left turn signal on the damaged left rear-side light assembly. By now it was nearly nine o’clock and getting dark out.

A two-hour trip in the dark without a left turn-signal coupled with the fact that our title and registration for the Bounder had yet to arrive from Sacramento solidified our decision to return home before any more fiascos could befall us. Of course that meant backing the Bounder into our driveway at night, but the alternative seemed a greater risk legally, if not physically. The universe seemed pleased with our ability to learn and make more rational decisions, and allowed us to back the Bounder into the driveway without incident and in short order. With the cars safely back in the driveway, Pat made himself a Beam & 7 while I poured myself a beer.

We drowned our sorrows some more on Saturday evening over an improptu dinner that doubled as Pat’s birthday celebration and while relaxing in front of the living room TV early Sunday evening we finally received a call from the car’s owner. Mary Lou had parked her Mazda at Rite-Aid to carpool with a friend to a dinner party in Berkeley and hadn’t returned to her vehicle until 11:30 that night. As fate would have it, she was, like me, retired, and, like Pat, was involved in community theatre. We exchanged the needed information and I called my insurance agent the next morning.

Tuesday morning I drove the Bounder up to Dan Shavlik’s RV Repair in Napa to have the tail lights, the steps, and several other problems addressed. I brought my dad’s ashes along and planned to meet with Pat Laughner, go out to the Napa marina, and dispose of them in the Napa River per his wishes while the Bounder was in the shop. However, Pat Laughner had had her own fiasco of a weekend when her bank statement arrived in Monday’s mail and revealed that her granddaughter in Arizona had just ripped off her checking account to the tune of over six hundred dollars. Somehow I didn’t think my father would mind if we postponed the scattering of his ashes, paid Dan Shavlik his $553.บบ for the Bounder repairs, and headed back to Oakland.

While driving in rush-hour traffic along I-80 in Pinole I suddenly heard a tapping sound on the Bounder’s roof that sounded very much like a loose GPS antenna flopping in the wind. I pulled off the nearest exit, climbed to the roof, and found nothing amiss. Pat has to work both days this coming weekend, so there will be no Bounder adventures. But he did have a two-and-a-half week vacation approved and we head out on August 4th. With the ferrets. And the cats. Nah! What could possibly go wrong with this scenario?