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.