“Can I have that one? Hu? Can I? Puleeese?” I begged my mother, pointing desperately to the sleeping compartment above the cab of our rented RV. Permission was granted, and I could hardly contain my excitement.
Much like today, economic times were tough for my middle class parents, who thought renting an RV would make for a cost-effective summer vacation in 1979. My mother was hesitant due to her propensity for motion sickness, but after assurances of a smooth ride from my father, she soon envisioned herself a virtual traveling June Cleaver, serving cold cuts and Shasta in the spiffy little moving kitchen.
My brother was concerned about the outdated 8-track tape player, until one of his buddies lent him a pretty decent mix tape for the trip. I had spent a decade happily playing with my Barbie Country Camper, even though I had to pretend Barbie suffered a grizzly attack when my brother ripped the tent off the side. So, for me, this trip was like a dream come true.
After packing our belongings into the appropriate compartments, we were off! My father hadn’t fully backed out of the driveway when my mother grabbed the countertop to steady herself and yelled, “Stop! I feel sick!” Despite Mom’s vision of serving happy children a mobile lunch over a game of Parcheesi on the convertible table, she spent the rest of the drive firmly planted in the passenger’s seat where she could watch the road.
From my perch above the cab, I had a panoramic view, climbing down occasionally for a cold can of Tab from the handy-dandy refrigerator. My brother played cards at the table and sang along with mix tape hits like “Devil went down to Georgia” and “Ring My Bell.” My parents settled in, and our Golden Retriever, Cinnamon, found a comfortable spot to nap. We were all beginning to enjoy the RV lifestyle.
Three days later, we were in pure hell.
We soon discovered that, the slightest turn of the wheel caused the refrigerator to fly open, leaving pickle jars and soda cans rolling around on the cabin floor. The constantly-looping eight-track tape seemed more like an enhanced interrogation technique after a few hours. It also became quickly became apparent that the air conditioner was not adequate to cool the cabin, making the living areas muggy and my upper hideout into a veritable sauna.
Camping stops were not idyllic either. In a KOA campground outside of Annapolis, my father sweltered in the buggy gnat-infested heat to complete the complicated series of RV hookups, only to find that the family wanted to go out for seafood. At another scorching southern campground, the water and lights in the communal shower house shut down promptly at 8pm, to the surprise of my father and brother who had just lathered up. Another night, I whined incessantly about the heat when the cabin’s finicky AC unit finally gave up the ghost, prompting nearby campers to yell, “Can’t you keep her quiet!”
To make matters worse, after paying the exorbitant gas prices just outside of Chincoteague, Maryland, my father inadvertently backed into the gas pump, ripping the spare tire cover. My brother also tore a 6” hole in the vinyl upholstery, when he forgot about a screwdriver in his back pocket. The pis de resistance happened while in the searing heat of North Carolina, when my brother left a bag of fish he caught in a compartment under one of the seats, which wasn’t discovered until we were hit with a blast of pungent aroma two days later.
By the time we headed home from our summer vacation, our top-of-the-line RV looked more like a rolling ghetto careening down I-95, reeking of dead fish, with curtains flying out open windows, soda cans rolling around the cabin floor, and the ripped tire cover and dog’s tongue flapping in the wind.
On a dirt road somewhere outside of Cumberland, West Virginia, we all kept a lookout while Dad illegally emptied the septic tank into a ditch. From my sweltering lookout, I decided right then and there that my Barbie Country Camper would soon be taking a trip straight to the Goodwill.