2020 Journal RV Living

Don’t Buy a Flat Roof

“Whatever you do, don’t but a house with a flat roof,” my dad said to me, shooting an angry glance at the flat roof of the house he had lived in for the last twenty years. Not only was the main roof flat, but the screen house roof out back and the garage roof to one side were also completely flat. A couple times a year my parents would call me up and ask me to come over, scurry up a ladder, and clean out all of the pine needles which piled up on the flat roof and clogged the gutters, which never quite washed clean enough. “This is the third roof we’ve put on the house, fourth if we count all the times you went up there with a bucket of tar.”

My dad said those words to me about two weeks before I bought an RV with a flat roof.

It seemed like the most logical choice at the time, and I mostly still think it was, though I do often feel as though I’m living a landlocked version of Farley Mowatt’s The Boat Who Wouldn’t Float.

The adventure started in June of 2020, the year when Dumpster fires decided it was time to file a libel suit against the universe for the bad reputation they had developed during the previous three years, seeing as half of planet Earth decided to literally catch fire. What parts of earth didn’t literally catch fire in 2020 were soon metaphorically burning as the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the globe and tensions between human rights activists and an increasingly fascist American government reached a sparking point. Amid all of that, Alli decided to take a break from doom scrolling the news and take Boychild up to her friend’s farm in the mountains for a week of horse riding and quiet. At the last minute, I decided to tag along, mostly to get a change of scenery from the house I had been quarantining in for the last three months.

It was on that supposed vacation that our lives changed.

“We are moving to Maryland,” Alli texted to our group chat. “As soon as possible.”

James and I both got the message within seconds of one another. In our private chat, we conferred about what might be happening, waiting for Alli to send more. When the next message came several minutes later, the explanation was short and brutal:

“Dad has ALS. They’re giving him 1 to 4 years.”

Over the next week it became apparent that moving the whole family was impractical. We hadn’t owned the house in Virginia long enough to make a profit on selling it, so there would be no downpayment available. James’s job kept him tied to Chesapeake for at least another year. My own work was dithering about whether I could work remotely or would have to come in to the school every day, even though students were banned from the building.

But there was another option. We had borrowed my parents’ Airstream for the summer and they were planning to get rid of it. I talked to them about buying it but, even with the money from my divorce settlement, I couldn’t afford the payments on the Airstream. It was also too small to comfortably hold more than two people for longer than a weekend.

So we started looking at other options. Within a couple days, Alli found the solution: A thirty-foot long Class C Gulf Stream recreational vehicle. The downpayment would take up most of my settlement, but the monthly payments were absolutely affordable. With a few minor repairs Alli would have everything she needed to live at her parents’ house most of the time and I would have an RV to travel in when the pandemic ended, if I could find a way to do my work remotely.

The Mothership, parked in its usual spot at Alli’s parents’ house. Note the tape at the front, a result of utterly unexpected problems with the flat roof.

The adventure began immediately. On our second outing, the motorhome lost power on the highway. The tow truck driver lost the bolts which hold the driveshaft in place. The first place where it was towed refused to work on the vehicle and employees stole several bottles of beer from the fridge. The overcab bunk had a small leak, which developed into a larger problem while the RV sat outside at the second tow location, waiting for the alternator and dashboard instrument cluster to be replaced. Our first auto insurance company canceled the insurance policy because the vehicle needed two tows within the first two months of being insured.

But we think we finally have everything under control. Including the flat roof.


2020 The Story

the bridge

2020 – August 

The bridge loomed ahead of them, a two mile span of low-slung elevated roadway leading up to a sudden rise. Weathered, streaked with rust, and just wide enough for two tractor trailers to pass without kissing sides, hopefully. 

Andrew gripped the steering wheel and took in a deep breath. Bridges aren’t usually a problem for him, but he’s never been a fan of narrow two-way roads. Give him a sweeping curve of asphalt running between cotton and soybean fields and he’ll unchain his inner speed demon for a minute or two at a time, but the one time he lost control and spun out on an unexpected gravel patch was enough to make him appreciate having a wide, level shoulder. And right there: A black streak of burnt rubber underlining a fresh scab in the side of the jersey barrier, fifteen feet above the choppy water. That is his nightmare. 

“You ok?”

Andrew spared a glance for Alli and pulled a half smile before locking his eyes on the bridge again. “Fine. I just hate this bridge.”

“You want me to drive?” she asked. 

A genuine offer, but not one he could take. “You’re too anxious to drive right now.”

Her brown eyes narrowed and darkened above cheeks turning to pink. “Hey, buddy. I’m a better driver than you.”

“I’m not going to argue that point, but I’m serious. You need to relax before you… dammit.”

He nudged the black F-150 as close to the barrier as he dared and gritted his teeth as a flatbed carrying half of a house roared by. 

“Anxious much?” she teased after the flatbed had passed.  

“Not as much as you,” he replied. 

She twisted herself into the corner of the bucket seat, leaning against the B column and hiking her bad ankle up into her left knee. “So tell me why I’m so anxious,” she grinned as the white and rusted framework of the bridge whipped past her window. 

There she went, digging into his brain again.

Andrew gritted his teeth and spoke through the strain of keeping his eyes on the road and the steering wheel pointed straight ahead. “I’m not saying you’re having a panic attack right now, but just think of your baseline anxiety. We’re living through a global pandemic, in a nation sliding ever closer to fascism, riding in a car with a nail in the tire…” He spared a glance for the tire pressure monitor on the dash and was relieved to see that the rear-right indicator was still reading at exactly one point less than the others. “… because my camper died on us going over another bridge.”

That had been two days before. She had been driving at the time. Fortunately, Alli genuinely is a better driver than Andrew, or most other people. She’d coaxed the thirty foot RV to the side of the road and kept the kids contained until James showed up to take them back home, while Andrew dealt with the towing and insurance companies. With plans suddenly altered, Gerry had picked up the kids for their vacation the next day and now, after hashing out their options, Andrew and Alli were driving to her parents with the truck packed to the roof.  

“So let’s count it off.” Andrew held up one hand and ticked the points on his fingers, “Pandemic, fascism, nail, dead camper, kids with your ex, and, to top it all off, we are on our way to help with your dying father.”

“You’re forgetting the animals.”

“Of course!” He jerked his thumb at the rear seat before putting his hand back on the wheel. “How could I forget a rat, a rabbit, and two dogs. I’m just glad we decided to leave my diabetic cat home with the boys this time.”

“Sure does sound like a lot.”

Andrew mmhmmed his agreement and leaned back into the seat, feeling relief as the road at the foot of the bridge opened up into a divided highway again. 

“At least talking about it got us across the bridge.”

He shot her a glance. She was drumming her fingertips on her knee and giving him her best “I got you” grin. 

“I’m not wrong about you,” he muttered,

“No, you aren’t,” she agreed, smile fading. “But I have to keep going. I have to be there for him.”

“I know.”

“I just… wish James could come too,” she said.

“You and me both. This is going to be a rough couple weeks without him around to cheer everyone up.”