April 19, 2024

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by Maggie Van Ostrand



About the worst thing anyone can say to me when I'm upset is "calm down."

I will leave to the reader's imagination the number of times I said those words to myself while on a road trip to a foreign country in a new motorhome. With two dogs.

It had seemed to be my most first-rate idea ever. I should've known it was chancy, but, as my friends love to point out, I "fly by the seat of my pants."

Why not buy a motorhome and drive to Mexico with my dogs? I figured it would save restaurant and hotel bills, as well as allowing the dogs to have windows of their own for entertainment. I talked it over with some friends; I should've talked it over with the dogs instead. I'm not using the dogs' real names because, otherwise, they might take me to court for exposing their part in my strategy.

They suggested that I bone up on man talk while negotiating any RV purchase, because those salesmen have a language all their own. A motorhome is referred to as "this baby," and everything inside it is called "this puppy."

My salesman, Gunther Swindle, was quite helpful, showing me tempting luxuries in the most current model, like newly designed airbags guaranteed to break your face in fewer places than ever before, cup holders just a cat's whisker smaller than your cup, pontoons in case you ever want to park in a lake, a GPS that yells at you in Chinese that you shouldn't have tried to cross that intersection on an amber light because now you're stuck in the middle, a CD of "On The Road Again," rapped by a chorus of Kenny Rogers' ex-wives, and a place to install a glove box, if gloves ever make a comeback. I don't know why he got so upset when I asked him what's the abbreviation for RV. I told him to calm down.

With the dogs comfort in mind, I decided on a self-contained Rialta with turbocharged air conditioning, each dog would have a bed and window of their own, and lots of extra room . And this model came with a free gift: a cute little "level," with a moving bubble inside. But what I thought and reality weren't the same. I made a mental note to hang it from our next Christmas tree.

Turned out that the dogs didn't want to get into the motorhome. They wouldn't get up on the beds or look out the window or sit near the air conditioner. They wouldn't walk around on the new carpeting. They wouldn't put their coffee cups in the cup holder. Worst of all, they wouldn't help with the driving. Is it my fault the Husky left her license at home? 

Instead, they jammed themselves between the front seats, arguing about which one was entitled to the passenger seat. They were wedged in so tightly, it was like they were Velcroed — it took two cans of WD-40 to separate them. They then jumped up on the seat right behind me, hanging their heads over my shoulders and slobbering so profusely that I slid off the seat three times before we even got out of the driveway.

Headed due east from California, nightfall found us at Mount Hualapai campsite near Kingman, AZ. Ah yes, nature, raw and uncompromising. Tall pines, black sky, a million stars. This was totally different from my New York background where "the Great Outdoors" refers to the distance from your front door to an Uber.

Attempting to appear knowledgeable, I bombarded the park ranger with inside motorhome jargon, using words like "rig," "hookup," and "propane." This didn't seem to impress him, as he told us there was nothing available. I tried to remain composed as he said,"Calm down, lady."

"No hookups? No problem," I said. "This baby's self-contained, and this puppy," I said, pointing to the generator, "can do everything, except walk the dogs." I must've been convincing, because the Ranger indicated an empty spot with no benefits like water, electricity, or any other utilities . Who needs amenities anyway? Not with this baby. We got out the puppy with the little bubble in the middle and watched it move over to the side. So I gues that's how it lets you know it's working.

I felt the first signs of stress when I realized I didn't know if you're supposed to keep the engine running for the generator to work or not. Why does the fuel gauge read Empty when we had a quarter tank a minute ago? Does this mean that your vehicle still uses gas even though it isn't moving? What would happen if I turned off the engine? Would the propane explode? Would the air bag implode? Would the pontoons jettison into dirt if there was no water around?

Or, more likely, would a huge, hungry grizzly slash its way into our rig to plunder and pillage?

Taking a deep breath, I turned off the engine and, with trembling Fingers, switched off the all-seeing, all-knowing generator. Instantly the lights went out, the air conditioning went off, the microwave stopped blinking 12:00 12:00 12:00 and in two minutes, it was sweltering. 

When both panting dogs stood by the door, staring out through the screen, I realized they had solved our problems. It was time to go, except I was too panicked by now to start the engine, so we coasted back down in Neutral and checked into a motel at the foot of the mountain.

Air conditioning and clean sheets uplifted our spirits enough to head for Phoenix next day, where we were joined by a friend who had offered to drive down to Guadalajara with us, and I said yes the minute she said she could change a tire.

"So you bought this rig to sleep in, but you're sleeping in motels?" she said.

"We'd sleep in the rig if it had room service," I said.

"And you won't use the bathroom?" she said.

"I didn't want to be the First one," I muttered.

"I thought your son took the rig out for a dry run last weekend; didn't he use it?" she asked.

"He didn't want to be the First one either," I said. If I ever sell it, the ad will read:

FOR SALE: New bathroom surrounded by used motorhome.

Driving without incident across the border at Nogales, I whined, "How come they're not inspecting the rig? Do we look too bland to be bad?"

"More likely it's because no one ever smuggles drugs INTO Mexico," Gail replied.

When I grow up, I hope to be as smart as she is.

With Gail behind the wheel and the dogs supervising her from behind, I prepared breakfast. Every time she hit a pothole, another hotcake sailed out the window.

"Ever crew on a sailboat?" she yelled back to me.

"Do I look like I did?" I shouted back, heaving myself up off the Floor.

"You'll get your footing eventually," she said, grinning. "Say, Maggie," she yelled. "Those eggs look great on your head."

We decided that, while in Mexico, Gail should sleep in the Rialta, but I was too chicken and should sleep in hotels. However, I wouldn't part with the dogs and it was impossible to find hotels that allowed them. We tried a ritzy San Carlos hotel with caged exotic birds in the lobby, but management took one look at the dogs and told us no rooms were available.

Since necessity is the mother of invention, for the next hotel, we created a "halter" out of umbrella stays and a belt and tied it to the Husky's back. Wearing big sunglasses and holding the halter with one hand while flailing in the air with the other, I walked into the lobby. It wasn't difficult pretending to be blind since the humidity was so great that it fogged up the sunglasses and I couldn't see anything anyway. Miraculously, a room suddenly became available. Mexicans don't treat their dogs as well as we treat ours, but when it comes to handicapped humans, Mexicans are very kind.

On another night, we successfully sneaked the dogs into a hotel and I was feeling pretty smug, when there was a knock on the door.

"Do you have dogs in there?"

"Not exactly," I shouted back. "They look like dogs but they're really movie actors. We're on the way to film a dog food commercial in Guadalajara." The knocking stopped, and we were good for the night.

We managed to have a great meal in yet another hotel by pretending to be part of a wedding reception being held there.

"Hey Gail, what's Spanish for "Such a beautiful bride. We're her cousins." We were so good at the deception that the groom's family thanked us for coming such a long way to attend the festivities.

Next day, we reached the end of the luxurious superhighway we'd been on, and had to finish our journey on a scary two-laner. Mexico is probably the only country in the world where a chicken has the right-of-way. It was frustratingly slow going and the dogs were anxious to get out for a walk, but we could do nothing except wait. At long last, driver Gail took matters into her own hands.

Maneuvering like Tom Brady on steroids, Gail careened out from behind a truck, passed it, and slipped back in front of it with inches to spare. Every time she did that, centrifugal force propelled the dogs and me against the walls, flattening us in place until she swerved back, whereupon the refrigerator door flew open and spewed its contents onto the floor. I just wish I hadn't landed on that squishy watermelon when Gail resumed normal speed and I slid off the wall.

By the time we limped into Guadalajara, I'd heard "calm down" many times without reacting, been on a memorable adventure, and figured out that, though men claim women live longer than they do, I say it only feels longer.




©2013 Maggie Van Ostrand, all rights reserved.