I was sitting in the captain’s chair of a big thirty-four-foot Executive, surrounded by all the plush comfort's due a man of significant corporate weight: rich burgundy carpets, vinyl-walnut cabinets, and dramatic scarlet curtains. In front of me was an instrument panel that looked as if it belonged on a 747. There were gauges for monitoring everything from the level of the black water-holding tank to the gray waterholding tank to the console TV. There were fog lights, courtesy lights, dome lights, patio lights, step lights, and a professional truck driver’s air horn. There were leveling gauges, a CB radio, a cellular telephone, and, my personal favorite, a combination thermometer-barometer-humidity gauge mounted on top of the dash.
I pictured myself out on the open road, exposed to the elements, where the slightest change in barometric pressure could mean the difference between life or death. I imagined I was at the head of a caravan, moving steadfastly through the hostile regions of Baja, radioing back humidity readings to my less well prepared followers, all of whom depended on me, the Executive, the proven leader of men, to guide them to the safety of Cabo San Lucas. I was confident I could survive where lesser men perished because I knew at a glance what my barometric readings were.
There was a line of men waiting impatiently to try out their own fantasies in the captain’s chair on the Executive, and most of them looked better prepared to afford their fantasies than I did. I slipped out of the captain's chair and quickly descended the corporate ladder, back to the world of the common man.
I’d never thought much about buying an RV before going to the RV show in Del Mar. I never thought I’d get that old. Like most people, I'd spent my time on the road stuck behind some land whale creeping along at twenty miles per hour up a forty-mile hill. I’d tried falling asleep in campgrounds listening to the drone of an RV generator while its owner watched re-runs of Gilligan's Island on TV and mixed strawberry daiquiris in the blender. And I’d seen and smelled the road turnouts where RV’s stopped to dump their waste water tanks. But at the same time, I knew I was rapidly approaching an age where the craving for adventure had to be carefully weighed against the desire for comfort, and even though I felt something like a spy in the enemy’s camp at this RV show,
I knew after my fantasy behind the wheel of the Executive that I was at least flirting with the possibility of buying my own land whale.
Everyone at the RV show seemed to know a lot more about RVs than I did. They were asking the salesmen rather technical questions about tubular steer frames, LPG tank capacities, and automatic generator switchover devices. Even though I was mostly ignorant about such things, I began looking about for a salesman who could tell me about the Executive, which had impressed me so much.
Maybe it was because the salesmen were all in a selling frenzy, like largemouth bass feeding on schools of shad, or maybe it was just because I didn’t look much like Executive material, but none of the salesmen seemed to be very interested in talking with me. After some effort, I finally was able to corner a salesman for the Komfort-34, a modest competitor to the Executive, and put the question to him: “What kind of gas mileage does this unit get?” I had noticed that everyone used the word “unit” when talking about RVs, and I quickly adopted this habit, hoping it would give me the credibility necessary to attract a salesman’s attention.
The salesman sighed wearily. Except for, “How much does this unit cost?” I had asked the most frequently asked question. “I’ll be honest with you,” he said, leading me to believe he had been lying to everyone else that day, but something about my shrewd demeanor made him realize he’d better be on the level. “You’ll get about six to eight miles per gallon.” I shrugged and nodded, as though that was about what I’d expected. “Sixty-gallon tank?” I guessed.
“No,” he said. “The thirty-four-footer has an eighty-nine-gallon tank. The bigger the unit, the bigger the tank.”
“Oh. sure,” I said, as though I’d been thinking of the thirty-footer instead of the thirty-four.
“Sure.” he repeated impatiently. “Anything else I can help you with?”
I wanted to come up with something really technical, something he wouldn’t be able to answer, so he would know I wasn’t just a looky-loo, that I was seriously considering buying whatever unit seemed to have the most helpful salesmen. “How much weight can it carry?” I asked.
“You can get about 1900 pounds in this unit,” he immediately replied.
I was stumped. All I could do was frown, as though I had been hoping for a unit that would carry something more on the order of 2000, or maybe even 2200 pounds.
The salesman was happily distracted by another customer: “Does the bottle of champagne on the master bed come with this unit?” the woman wanted to know.
“Certainly,” he smiled.
I wandered through the aisles between the long rows of RVs. There was a rather animated crowd gathered at the end of one row, so I went to see what novelty had caught their attention.
“Will you look at that!” someone said.
“Never seen nothin’ like that!”
I elbowed my way closer until I got a glimpse of what was causing all the excitement: a sleek new unit called the Starfire, which made the Executive look like something you might sell corn dogs out of at the county fair. The Starfire looked something like a space shuttle without wings. It looked as though it were designed by aerospace engineers working for the Good Sam Club and would someday be used for taking RV tours on the moon.
I took my place in line and filed through the unit, gawking at this glimpse of the Twenty-first Century. Everything inside was rounded and molded; there were no square comers. Even the price tag taped over the door was rounded off to an even $65,000 instead of $64,995.