This is a story about how I spent my summer vacation.
I took a journey last week to buy a used motor home on the shores of Chesapeake Bay on the Northern Neck of Virginia. My good buddy Harlen Wilkerson went along for advice, company and debauchery, and he succeeded in providing all three over the course of the week while we were gone.
It was a trip right out of the movie National Lampoon’s Vacation. It was an epic comedy road adventure populated with funny, eventful plot twists and turns that I couldn’t have planned nor accepted if I hadn’t seen the movie.
The only thing missing was a dead Aunt Edna riding on top of the vehicle. Everything and everyone else from Vacation was in this adventure.
The genesis of this tale was formulated over six months ago when I conjured up the idea of possibly buying a travel trailer. When I first expressed my intention to my fellow lovers and consumers of beer at Spanky’s early one evening, they just laughed, guffawed and howled with glee at the prospect of yours truly driving a truck and pulling a trailer. I was not amused, but being that I am smarter than these impetuous rogues, I sought their input on things to look for in an RV. They were more than willing to share their insights and horror stories.
Fast forward to early May. As you may recall, I traveled to Richmond, Va. to visit with my daughter who was opening the American Civil War Museum on the James River. While there, a good friend of ours and I were quaffing a few suds at Edgar Allan Poe’s Pub. While there, I unceremoniously announced my intention to buy a travel trailer to live in and travel all over North America in after I retire a number of years down the road.
My partner in crime at Poe’s was named Jack Oblein, a 20-year Navy veteran and a lover of everything that is history. He is one of the head curators at the Museum of the United States Marine Corps in Quantico, Va. Jack immediately told me I didn’t want to buy a travel trailer; he knew where there was a great bargain on a 2006 Chateau motor home. He showed me some pictures, hooked me up with a retired senior chief who owned the motor home, and over the course of the next few months we talked about purchase price, equipment and what not.
I finally decided to jump in the water and look for myself. Harlen had volunteered to come along to help inspect the big bus, and I told him we would take in the sights of Washington DC, Richmond, Nashville and Memphis and a few other spots on the way back. He enthusiastically agreed. The arrangements were made, the dates were set, and the airline tickets to DC were purchased.
It is at this time that I must digress to add a little more insight into this confusing tale. The night before we were supposed to leave, Harlen informed me he was going to propose to his girlfriend Rosie Brown. He wanted me to take pictures of the proposal and I agreed. So the night before we are getting ready to go to Washington, Harlen pops the question to his unsuspecting bride, and then blurts out after she accepts: “Honey, I am leaving tomorrow for seven days with Terry. See you in a week!”
With that romantic declaration out of the way and the warning he was spending the next week with me on a road trip, Rosie just looked at me and said, “Make sure you bring him home. Alive.”
This tawdry tale turned fun the first day, as we met Lou and Jack at the motor home in Colonial Beach, Va. The bus looked to be in great shape, we test drove it, and I decided it was what I was looking for and agreed to buy it. We celebrated and commiserated on the shores of Chesapeake under a full moon and beautiful breeze. Day one was a success.
The next day, we picked up the motor home and headed toward the Marine Corps base at Quantico where we were going to park the bus. Ten miles after getting behind the wheel I almost wrecked by driving up the rear end of Jack’s car as he was leading us towards DC. Only a last-minute maneuver by me avoided a crash, and I ruefully looked at Harlen as he roared hysterically at my folly. I learned that a 35-foot motor home needs a lot more space and distance to slow down.
We continued toward Quantico while I got used to driving the big beast. Just as we got to the base, suddenly a high, whiny sound came from under the hood. We looked at each other, and I said: “That doesn’t sound good.” I started to back up when I noticed smoke coming out from under the hood. What I said next can’t be repeated in a family newspaper. Turns out the clutch on the air conditioning unit froze up and that was that.
The next day we tried to get the unit fixed but were told early and often it would be weeks before they could get to it. The big beast was still drivable, albeit with no air conditioning, so we went into DC to show Harlen the monuments. We walked over six miles, showing the FDR, the Martin Luther King, the World War II, the Vietnam, the Lincoln and the Korean Memorials. It was a brilliant but blistering hot day yet we both enjoyed the walk. Later, we attended a Washington Nationals baseball game by Ubering to the ballpark. We slept on the National Mall that night.
The rest of the trip was filled with awesome stops and fun. We visited Richmond where I saw my daughter and grandkids, went to Nashville and played hard at Tootsies, King Rock’s, Margaritaville and Doc Hollidays. It would have been a perfect evening in Nashville except I locked the keys inside the motor home. I had to call a locksmith to get the bus opened. Harlen just roared at my stupidity, and then I reminded him that he had destroyed a huge jar of salsa at a Walmart that brought the entire store to a standstill when it broke and shattered its contents all over the floor. He looked at me all red-faced and said, “Let’s get out of here. Now.”
After Nashville, it was off to Memphis and an evening on Beale Street. I took him to Payne’s BBQ and Sun Studios before going to Beale Street. That evening, we enjoyed BB Kings, Alfreds, and other night spots. We stopped at the Hard Rock Café to buy souvenirs.
Then came the expensive event that turned the last day of the vacation into a garish, discombobulated misadventure. We left Memphis and were planning on driving to Texarkana but had to stop in Brinkley, Arkansas for gas. When we went to start the big beast after getting gas, it would not. The entire AC unit was dead.
Fortunately, we were right across the street from a truck repair shop, and the owner came out and said he could have us up and running the next day. We were grateful as we both expected to be stuck there for a few days. As the day wore on, I asked the owner how much it was going to cost. When he gave me the outrageously priced bill, I balked but there was nothing I could do. He had me over a barrel and we had to get home. I went to get my credit card out to pay the bill and that’s when it happened again: I had left it in Memphis at the Hard Rock Café. Touché, old man. Again, more laughter from Harlen at my expense.
Alas, we hopped into the bus, made great time coming back, and arrived in Gonzales at 10 a.m. on Saturday morning. We were tired, but we both knew we had just completed an epic cross-country road trip and had a blast doing it—in spite of the fact that I was Uncle Eddy and Clark Griswold rolled into one person the whole week.
It’s good to be back Gonzales! All across the country, we told everyone about our town and the great state of Texas, and we may even have a couple of acts from Nashville coming to pay us a visit in the next nine months. Next stop, Wally World.