My parents drove me to Pasadena this afternoon to pick up the RV — more like rescue it — from a distant and dismal parking lot where it has been sitting, neglected, abandoned, like an old friend who no longer serves a purpose in your life, since I arrived in LA in late November.
When I left it there five months ago, I had parked it wedged awkwardly and tightly in between a rusty Jeep Cherokee with a broken windshield and four flat tires and a semi truck—just the tractor part—which was shiny and new-looking with no apparent reason to be unused. I never felt good about leaving it there. But at 50 bucks a month for RV parking in SoCal, well, I couldn’t find a better deal anywhere, not even close. And believe me, I looked.
|I wasn't exaggerating when I said it was wedged in there.|
When I arrived in LA this past November, I had been anxious to get away from The Beast. After driving it from Iowa to Dallas, towing my car behind it for the first time, my nerves were shot. It’s one thing to drive a 24-foot RV, but to add another 10 feet with your precious little Mini Cooper bouncing around behind? No, that was too much for me. I marvel at those giant bus-type RVs that tow big Jeeps behind, driven by senior citizens, no less. How do they manage?!
Worse, no sooner did I arrive in Dallas, Daisy was killed in a coyote attack and Jack was wounded. No way was I going to stay there so I had to hook up the Mini to the back of the RV again. This time I enlisted a friend to drive it for me. I sat in the back during the 3-day trip west, holding vigil over a swollen and bandaged Jack, crying about Daisy, and playing endless games of Solitaire to keep my nerves from breaking down completely.
By the time I got to LA I had sworn that no only was I never going to drive the RV again, I was going to sell it. Forget the emotional ties and its rich history, that the RV was Marcus’s dream, that it symbolized me facing my fears after he died. I was done with it. After putting 40,000 miles on it, I had reached my limit.
Not only had my nerves been tested, so had my budget. The list of things needing repair was growing, along with the leak in the roof that no amount of caulking could stop.
I cleaned out the RV, emptying it of every single personal item and gave it a deep scrub. I bought a “For Sale” sign at the hardware store and taped it into the window. I posted an ad on Craigslist. I announced it on Facebook. But there were no takers. Not even one nibble from Craigslist. So it has just stayed in Pasadena, alone, all winter.
|"There she is. Miss America." The Beast looks like a |
beauty queen next to all the other vehicles.
I climbed into the driver’s seat and held my breath as I turned the key in the ignition. It started on the first try. I could hear my dad outside. “Good job, Boo!” he cheered. Besides my mom and dad, there were a few other people in the lot so I had extra eyes to help direct me out of the tight parking spot.
Once I was on the highway, the anticipation I had been feeling on the way to Pasadena dissipated. I haven’t driven the RV for five months. I wasn’t sure I would feel comfortable driving it again. Especially through downtown LA traffic. Ah, but just like that very first time I drove it five years ago in Oregon, all those imagined fears vanished the minute I started moving.
The fears vanished and the memories flooded in. As I drove The Beast back to my guesthouse in Palos Verdes, I had a full hour to reflect on its chronology. Emotional ties and rich history might be an understatement.
The History of The Beast
Spring of 2008, Marcus bought the RV from a coworker, thus taking a step toward fulfilling his “European dream” of touring America’s national parks. That June he drove it to his new job post in Saltillo, Mexico, towing his BMW motorcycle behind in a Wells Cargo trailer. The roads in Mexico are not exactly “smooth” so we didn’t take the road-trip adventures we had planned. We did have a great weekend driving The Beast to Real de Catorce. We couldn’t drive through the tunnel into the mountain town, so we slept in the RV outside of town and took a taxi into the village. And we got a flat tire on the way back. After that the RV sat in front of our house on the pecan farm. We didn’t know it but there was a leak in the roof…
|Happy Campers. |
Marcus and Daisy in Del Rio, Texas (Lake Amistad).
Over Christmas, Marcus drove the RV from Mexico to LA bringing some furniture for me to use in the studio apartment I rented.
In May of 2009, Marcus’s Mexican stint ended and he was transferred to Germany. He packed the trailer with our furniture and drove the RV back to Portland, stopping to spend several days with me in LA on the way. He started shopping around for a trade-in on the RV, as he wanting a smaller, newer one, the kind built on a Sprinter van chassis. Even though he was moving back to Germany he wanted to keep an RV in the US. I supported him in his dream. He took the RV to a small dealer outside of Portland where The Beast was for sale on consignment. Marcus died in August. The Beast stayed at that dealer’s lot until I picked it up a few months later.
In the fall I loaned the RV to some German friends who took it to the Oregon coast.
In December, I drove it for the first time — all the way to Los Angeles. It was so much easier to drive than I ever expected. I actually liked driving it, which made me feel VERY guilty because I had growled to Marcus that I would never, ever drive it.
|Driving to Arizona, Dec. 2009. No wonder I was afraid to drive the RV!|
You never know what dangers lurk out there in the desert.
I spent the Christmas holiday of 2009 in the RV, driving to Arizona through one of the worst windstorms in history. But by god, I held onto the steering wheel and had a safe passage. The news the next day told of countless semis and RVs that had overturned in the wind. But I had prevailed. And though I was visiting friends and family in Arizona I loved having the cocoon of the RV, my own private sanctuary to read and rest, to write in my journal, snuggle with my dogs, and make my lattes in the mornings.
In January, The Beast was used to make a TV pilot (or documentary or web series or whatever). For two weeks I drove all over California with my producer friend Janice, taping stories about pie. We hauled boxes of apples to make pie, then we ferried 50 apple pies around LA, handing them out by the slice for free. (Here’s the sizzle reel on YouTube: https://youtu.be/2GjwZ4--8gM)
I drove the RV round-trip a second time from Portland to LA, this time hauling a motor scooter inside (to use as transportation to get around LA) and drove back with my parents.
|The Beast at Crater Lake National Park with my Swiss friend Eve.|
Eve left the RV with my brother Mike, who used it for surf weekends. And as a scaffolding for painting murals with his non-profit Operation Clean Slate.
|Turns out, the RV makes a good ladder.|
The RV spent a whole year with my brother in Costa Mesa, California. I had promised to bring it to Iowa, but kept putting it off. Until Mike got a warning from the police that it was time to move The Beast, or else. So the summer of 2011 my friend Patti’s husband Terry drove the RV back from the west coast to Iowa. And that’s when The Beast became both a guest room and a privacy fence at the American Gothic House.
|RVs make good privacy fences.|
2012My book, “Making Piece: A Memoir of Love, Loss and Pie,” came out April 1, 2012. Given that the RV featured prominently in my story, it was fitting that the RV be used for a book tour. So The Beast got outfitted with some nifty pie decals, fueled up with gas, and Team Terrier and I set off cross-country on a six-week tour. Iowa City, Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, LA, San Diego, Orlando, Austin, Jefferson (TX) — the tour was so grueling I ended up in the ER with tendonitis in my neck. No fault of the RV; traveling with my own down-filled bed in the back of the RV made the trip really comfortable. (The neck problem came from the red-eye flight I took from San Diego to Orlando mid-tour.)
The Beast became a kind of celebrity, appearing in many TV news segments and articles. Tourists who came to get pie at the Pitchfork Pie Stand liked to walk around to the back of the house where the RV was parked so they could take pictures of it. Who cares about the American Gothic House when you can pose in front of The Beast!
That June, I spent my 50th birthday in the RV, camping at a nearby rural Iowa lake to have a night of solitude and welcome my new decade quietly.
That July, Kyle Munson, the Des Moines Register columnist, used the RV for his team’s support vehicle during the weeklong bike ride across Iowa called RAGBRAI.
|Delivering pie to Newtown.|
Pie delivery vehicle (aka The Beast) in background.
Not only did the RV make an excellent (and well used) guest room — and privacy fence to shield us from the prying eyes of The Binoculars next door—the refrigerator in The Beast also served as overflow storage for my pie stand ingredients.
In September, I drove the RV to LA — just for a respite after a very demanding summer with the Pitchfork Pie Stand (and another failed attempt at a relationship) —and was planning on staying in LA for a month, maybe two. I fell in love with an artist from Iowa, who lived in Pasadena, and two months turned into six. That’s when I found the $50 parking lot in Pasadena. But at least I was close by and could periodically check on The Beast’s well being.
2014Book Tour #2! In April, The Beast got a new battery, an oil change, and some updated decals with my new book cover and tour dates. I set off from LA to Arizona. Then Albuquerque, Austin, Dallas, Kansas City, Des Moines, and home to Eldon, Iowa. This tour was a more manageable three weeks. No ER visits. No breakdowns, mechanical or otherwise. Just lots of pie. The RV made more TV appearances, in every stop.
|A book tour stop in Texas.|
Once back in Eldon, the RV resumed its duties as guest room and privacy fence. Do not underestimate the importance of this. It got a lot of use!
|Looking out the RV window at Dockweiler.|
The beach can be so soothing to the soul (when jets are not passing overhead). I spent HOURS lying in that cozy nest of down comforters and pillows in the back of the RV, listening to the ocean waves and petting Jack's belly as I grieved the loss of Daisy.
Exactly six years after Marcus and I camped in Del Rio, Texas in December of 2008 with our newly adopted member of Team Terrier, I had lost both Marcus and Daisy. I still had Jack. And I still had The Beast.
2015I rented a sweet, quiet, sunny apartment in Palos Verdes. Sadly, the parking situation could not accommodate a 24-foot RV for a long-term stay. After calling around and not finding any RV parking for under $200, I went back to Pasadena to the old lot I had used last year. And that’s where it stayed for five months.
I thought I was done with The Beast. I thought it was time to let it go. Retire it. Sell it. Let someone else enjoy it. But I was so happy to be driving it today. I was so filled with big, life-affirming memories. And instead of feeling like I wanted to be rid of it, I felt the sense of possibility, that with a little TLC—and money—I could tackle some of those repairs, breathe some new life into it, have some new adventures.
Luckily, I don’t have to decide right now. I am buying myself a little more time. The RV will go back to my brother’s in Costa Mesa for the summer while I am traveling around the world. It will have another stint as weekend surfer camper. And I will have the peace of mind in knowing that it is getting good use, having a happy time by the beach, and not sitting abandoned in a distant parking lot.
For the next few days though, I have it parked outside my apartment, where I can wipe off the dust, wash the windows, and appreciate what an incredible history we have shared.
I am already picturing how nice the RV would look with the World Piece logo….