A few months ago, I wrote about how America’s national parks were our best idea, and that belief was reinforced by the trip my wife and I took from Utah to Glacier National Park for our one-year anniversary. Not only did we see Glacier, but we made stops in Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, as well.
All were stunning in their own way. Low clouds made the Tetons look like something out of Tolkien’s Middle Earth. Seeing Old Faithful at Yellowstone lives up to the hype, and the entire park seemed to be in a perpetual mist from all the other geysers.
But there was one thing all three parks, and indeed, every other park I’ve been to, had in common. It’s something I’ve come to truly loathe.
Now, please understand, I understand why someone would want one, and I don’t think the people that buy them are inherently bad or somehow evil. But, I honestly believe they are stupid and somewhat obnoxious. Plus, they’re symbolic of that particular American disease of conspicuous consumption.
My wife and I made this nearly 2,000 mile round-trip in our new Honda CRV, and we were quite comfortable. Yes, there were only two of us, but the car could comfortably seat five with plenty of room in the back. Plus, the car is really fuel-efficient, even on the backroads we took because, and I think we can all agree here, interstates are pretty effin’ boring.
But on each and every one of those two-lane byways we couldn’t help but find ourselves behind some monstrosity of a rolling condominium that, in many cases, was towing an SUV. That’s just great, isn’t it? What better way to experience the awe and grandeur of our national parks than by driving the most fuel-inefficient vehicle imaginable while towing the second-most fuel-inefficient imaginable? And try passing one on a two-lane road. It’s great. It’s like trying to squeeze through a door while Jabba the Hutt is slithering his colossal bulk in at the same time.
We tried passing one in Wyoming and nearly wound up kissing the front of oncoming traffic because we couldn’t’ see around the behemoth thing.
But let’s set aside possible violent death and environmental devastation for the moment. I’m a curious guy, so I’ve been doing some informal investigations into this RV thing, and I’ve discovered people who use RVs largely fall into three categories. The first are tourists, usually European, who rent them and make a huge circuit of several parks. Okay, that’s just fine. I can at least understand that. Why pay for a hotel when you probably just emptied your bank account for the plane ticket? More importantly, they were smaller RVs and, despite the presence of a bed, many chose to pitch a tent anyway. Bravo! I doff my hat. They get it. What fun are the outdoors unless you’re actually, you know, outdoors?
The second group are retirees, and it’s hard for me to get angry at them unless I’m stuck behind them on a small road. They worked hard all their lives, their kids are gown and moved away, so what the hell? Hit the road. Plus, they’re old. I’ve known some hardcore old people in my life who could still probably beat the crap out of me, true. However, I also know more than a few who can’t open a can of soda without spraining something. Let them have their truly mobile home and enjoy what they’ve earned — which is whatever time they have left.
Then there’s the third group — the worst ones of all — the average American family. They don’t get it…being outdoors. They want two irreconcilable desires satisfied simultaneously: they want to experience the outdoors and they want to stay home. Thanks to the RV, they can actually have both and that just feels like a great cosmic injustice, doesn’t it? Shouldn’t it be one or the other? You can either have your flat-screen satellite TV, comfy bed, couch, kitchen, etc. and the view out your window. Or, you can have the splendor of the great outdoors and give up a few comforts for a few days.
Nope. Nuh-uh. They can get both now, and we’re not just talking about trailers here. Some of these are so huge U2 could tour in them. They’re mobile McMansions. And they’re packed to the gills with, and based on personal observation I believe this to be true in many cases, a family dynamic that goes something like this:
The father — he’s the one that’s really up for it, and would like to do it the old-fashioned way, with tents and sleeping bags. But, he remembers being in a hot car for days on end with nothing to look at besides the flat hot landscape for entertainment, along with whatever inane car games his uncool parents could come up with. He’s not doing that to his kids, and screw him for it. Those trips build character, but I’ll get to that in a moment.
The mother — she’s glad to get away and could easily be as up for it as dad is. I mean, it’s pretty sexist to assume the only reason women want an RV is for comfort. Maybe she even wants to do some real camping too, like when she and dad first got married and sex was still fun — when kids weren’t in the picture. But since dad is driving, she’s the trip foreman. She’s the logistics officer. She’s the referee. She has to settle all the disputes because dad is driving the family-friendly version of an M1A1 Abrams Tank while towing another, smaller tank. He needs to focus. So, what could have been a fun getaway for her becomes a nightmare of managerial processes. At the end of the trip, she can’t remember anything except the arguments and only has group pictures of a bored family to remind her she could have had a good time had she not used her womb like a clown car.
And finally, the kids: Please know that I do hate your kids. My wife and I aren’t having any. We know our limits and we’re both in or around our 40s. The time isn’t ripe anymore and even if it were, we still wouldn’t do it. But no, your kids are special. Remember what I said about family road trips being a character-building experience? This is truth. We didn’t have cell phones, tablet computers, GPS, laptops or anything that could, through the power of science, turn boring into entertaining provided there’s enough electricity. No, we had books, car games, the window and that was it. End of list. So, you had to use your imagination, because sometime the view out the window is boring, you don’t want to play the corny-ass driving game your uncool parents thought up and you only brought one damned book you didn’t even feel like reading anyway. The parents made you bring it.
It’s amazing what imagination can do for you under those circumstances. The backseat becomes a spaceship. The dreary hellscape around Lubbock Texas becomes an alien world (which, in all fairness, it kind of is). You’re not bored anymore. You’re a damn rocket hero.
But not anymore.
See, that’s the reason I hate your kids — no imagination. It doesn’t matter whether they’re in your land whale or outside. Why? Because they never left home or their friends. They’ve all got smartphones and tablets, chatting away. Little Billy is texting his friend to PLEASE have some weed ready when they finally get back from this recreational Anabasis and Sally is wondering if she might get caught sending a pic of her boobs to her boyfriend while sneaking off in the woods for a bit.
I just wanted to take their electronic leashes from them, break them with a rock and force them to look at the mountains. “You see that, you little shit. It’s called nature! It’s amazing! Why don’t you get it?” But, if I did that, and in the words of Bill Hicks, I’d probably get looked at like a dog that’s been shown a card trick. That’s what imagination atrophy does to young people. They won’t do anything about it, but they’ll sure as hell Tweet about it. #InsaneNatureGuy.
And I had my smartphone on me as well, and yes, from time to time I checked in on the world, but since I had to endure the rigors of the stone-age road trip, damn it, I earned that phone. I used it to take pictures and post them online. But it wasn’t all the time.
And then, collectively, they’ll park the RV and turn on every dammed light it has because, it seems, the woods are dark and spooky. Sorry, I know you wanted to see a sky without light pollution and a bunch of cool stars, but I need to see everything within a two-mile radius because Bigfoot might be out there and I want to be ready.
And that’s the brood for you — too enslaved to their tech to enjoy what’s actually around them. If I didn’t hate them so much, I’d pity them.
So, if you’re in one of the first two categories I mentioned, we’re cool. Your RV might inconvenience me a bit on the road, but at least your logic is sound. The third group, on the other hand, can just go straight to hell. You’re basically f**king up the environment, my vacation and potentially my life because you want it both ways. Either stay home or buy a plane ticket and rent a room, because you really aren’t camping. You’re camp-pretending.