Picture me driving an RV and see a disaster

Published April 3, 2005

A couple of years ago a friend of mine asked his dying father if he had any advice to impart.

"Never back up," his father said, farther than you have to."

That's interesting advice from a couple of different angles.

It evinces wry humor, sort of like the late baseball great Satchel Paige's "Don't look back. Something might be gaining on you," while seeming to urge moving forward cautiously and judiciously without fear of the occasional setback.

It is also, I learned, good practical advice.

Simply keeping that thought in mind while driving automatically causes me to look in the rear view mirror to make sure that I am not backing up farther than I need to, and, I am ashamed to say, it does seem so at times I might have forgotten to look at all.

I don't know how many crumpled fenders (and, perhaps pedestrians) that advice has saved me from, not to mention costly tickets, increased insurance premiums and a lot of wasted angst.

And it plays heavily into a recent decision I made about an anticipated change in vehicles.

My old minivan conversion with what the salesman referred to as a "bed," in the back is on its last wobbly radials. I have no complaints. It's pushing 160,000 miles through some fairly rough terrain and I am, local mechanics, body shop owners and my permanently nervous auto insurance agent will agree, rough on vehicles.

Not reading a sign in Bonanza, Colo., last year got me onto a trail that I would have known, had I looked more closely, was designed for all-terrain vehicles, not minivans that only narrowly escaped being owned by soccer moms.

I do a lot of camping these days and I am too lazy, most of the time, to put up a tent, so having a vehicle I can sleep in is pretty much a necessity.

And moderation has never been my strong point, so, why just a bed? Why not a double bed . . . a queen size. Heck, why not a shower and a kitchen and a bathroom (another luxury-inclining-toward necessity at my age).

In short, why not a recreational vehicle or, as they are known in the trade, RV?

Why Not?

Because it would be a disaster.

All of that free oil we're getting from Iraq and the resultant low gas prices notwithstanding (yes, for those of you who need to ask, that's sarcasm) the anticipated savings aren't really there. Gas prices plus site rental plus insurance (especially if you wreck one as often as I would) pretty much put you in a class where you could fly to most places, stay in a decent hotel and take a cab into the woods if it was so all-fired important to you.

And I am really nervous about the fact that I, or anyone else, can walk into a dealership and with nothing more than a checkbook and a driver's license, drive one of those 30,000-pound, 40-foot behemoths off of the lot and onto the road. My colleague, Chase Squires, whose father, incidentally, was the one who gave him, and, indirectly, me, the advice about backing up, wrote about the same subject a while back, and I agree with him. It would scare me to ride in one of those things with anyone as unqualified as I am to drive it. And it scares me that there are other people on the road equally unqualified who don't have enough sense to be scared.

Funny thing is, if I wanted to charge somebody $5 to take them to Zephyrhills in my minivan, I would have to have more training and a commercial license.

I'm not putting down the RV industry, nor am I putting down the thousands of people who operate them well and responsibly.

But if I suddenly had the urge and wherewithal to acquire one of those things, and wanted to spend a large amount of my recreational time involved in tense conversations with people trying to help me park it with a minimum of damage - I would immediately go to a commercial driver's school and learn how to do it right.

And if it were a good school owned by responsible management, I'm pretty sure its staff would take away my keys and hold me captive until I promised to never again get behind the wheel of anything larger than a standard van.