Going to back up school, part one


There is a certain segment of the population who thinks it is a great idea to take their house along with them on vacation. When your house doesn’t travel, it’s called a house. When it does travel, it’s called an RV. This stands for recreational vehicle. Some vehicles are more recreational than others. (We’ll get to that in a minute.) The concept has merit. Your house contains your very own things. If you take your very own things, you aren’t faced with using other peoples’ things, which are almost always inferior to your things. People tend to prefer their own towels and dishes and cups and liquor cabinet. Anyone can see how important these items are, especially the liquor cabinet part, if you are taking your house with you and being foolish enough to go through Chicago.

We bought our little pull-behind trailer solely to go to the giant aviation event in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. I call it a trailer because it is not nearly grand enough to call it an RV. When we started looking for a camper, the main criteria was to buy one we could pull with the truck we already owned. This is how we ended up with a very (very!) modest 18-foot model. It allegedly sleeps six, but let me tell you, you couldn’t get six people into this thing with a shoehorn. It has one double bed in the back with a single bunk looming over it. These sleeping places resemble caskets more than they do beds and are not recommended for the remotely claustrophobic. The couch in the front folds out to make an uneven, lumpy bed for one. Our dining table dissembles and folds down to sleep two, but only if those two are three feet tall and weigh twelve pounds each. So it sleeps three in an emergency and two semi-comfortably. But it still beats hunkering down in a tent.

We went to Oshkosh with a tent for years. No matter what, attendees there can count on at least two things. Number one is you’re going to see some of the best airplanes in the country and lots of them. Number two is, at some point during your stay, there is going to be a major weather event of some degree of catastrophic. Some years it’s torrential rain. Some years it’s dangerously high winds. Some years it’s hail. (Hail + airplanes = bad news.)

Now that we had joined the masses that had risen above the ground and had running water, air conditioning, and a solid roof, we thought we were in the RV equivalent of heaven. We still think we’re in heaven but seeing the seemingly endless variety of exquisitely posh RVs, we accept we’re in the lower tiers of heaven. You have your fifth-wheels, which are misnamed by a factor of two. These things are so huge they have triple axles. That’s six wheels right there. And you need a large — very large — truck to pull it, one with four tires on the back. Ten wheels. Then there are the, whaddaya call ‘em, coaches. Or buses. They go by either name but what they should be called is more opulent than most houses, stationary or not. My friend has one. It has a living room, two bedrooms, a dining area, a full bathroom, a laundry room (I am not making this up) and an inadequate fuel tank. I think it gets six miles to the gallon and that’s before you put it in gear.

If you will take a moment to review your U.S. geography, you will see that between Ohio and Wisconsin is the Badlands. Not the Badlands of the Dakotas. No, those are the Nice Lands compared to the Badlands of Chicago. I rarely give free advice, but I’m going to make an exception here. Do not, in any circumstances, try to pull a travel trailer through Chicago. Actually, try not to go through Chicago by any conveyance, including commercial airplanes, cars, motorcycle, or being beamed up by Scottie.

I’m not sure how Chicago got so big. No one seems to want to go there. It’s as though thousands of people who tried to get through the city discovered there is no good way to do this. They gave up and got stuck. The first and not coincidentally last time we tried to drive to Wisconsin via Chicago we encountered not only the usual horrific traffic, but a car burning on the Interstate. Lines of traffic were backed up as far as you could see and merging into a lane that was not actively on fire became necessary, not to mention prudent. An official uniformed policeman in an official police car finally indicated (we thought) that we could pull in front of him. When he passed us minutes later, he gave us the universal single-finger salute that has no benevolent meaning.

Like escaping a black hole, we defied nature and put Chicago behind us. We were happily motoring north to Wisconsin and the campground which holds one hundred thousand of your new best friends. I am not making this up, either. Now came the second-scariest part of the trip. (Cue spooky music.) In two weeks, the rest of the story.

No posts to display