Taking home with you

According to news reports, Americans have sparked a boom in the recreational vehicle industry since the coronavirus pandemic came to our shores this spring and summer.

Dealers and RV manufacturers like Winnebago and Forest River have seen demand spikes in spring and summer 2020, according to CNBC reports. The RV Industry Association—yes, there’s an association for everything—reported 40,462 RV wholesale shipments posted in June 2020, a 10% bump from June 2019, and the highest monthly total deliveries in nearly two years.

Many dealers report that first-time buyers are leading the demand rush, as a way to travel safely in the midst of uncertainty surrounding public travel options. Evidently, it’s a lot more comforting to bring the living quarters with you on the road, instead of relying on hotel housekeeping.

Boy, are they in for a surprise. Haven’t these people watched Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz in “The Long, Long Trailer?”

It always starts out as a good idea to take the family camping. A cross-country trip to see America is as American as apple pie and baseball. Of course, this year baseball stadiums are filled with cardboard cutouts and not live fans, and the apple pie is served with a side of hand sanitizer, so I guess it makes sense in this pandemic.

I could be jaded, though, from my own memories of Latzke vacations and trips to livestock shows hauling the 1970s and 1980s tenements on wheels that my family owned. These were beauties only Cousin Eddy would love. The roofs always leaked, the air conditioner never worked, the on-board bathrooms were always inoperable and there was that smell of antifreeze that permeated everything from the winterization. It’s really tough to overcome memories of sharing a bed with your older siblings and getting kicked in the ribs or smashed up against the wall in the middle of the night by your snoring sister.

Because we literally hauled our kitchen and living quarters behind us, Mom never had a vacation from meal prep and housework. It started with the grocery trip to the store to stock up on cereal and snacks. It continued through endless amounts of laundry and packing for a family of five to go on the road. For a week before we’d set off she’d cook and freeze dinners in Tupperware containers, labeled for each meal of the trip. And heaven help you if you disturbed her precise packing of the tiny on-board refrigerator and freezer. In between cooking marathons and loads of laundry Mom would trek out to the camper to air it out, wash bedding, scrub every inch and pack every nook, cranny and cupboard like an ant preparing for winter.

Sure Mom did a lot of the prep work, but Dad had his hands full too. He would hunt down the electrical cords and other equipment he’d repurposed from the camper while it was in storage. There was the route plotting on the atlas—kids, an atlas is a paper version of Google Maps—the truck maintenance to make sure we’d be roadworthy, and the calls to neighbors for chore help.

By the time our trips rolled around, it was no wonder Mom was in a coma by the time her seatbelt clicked in the front seat while Dad drove in silence for the first 20 miles.

As miserable as it was, though, I have to admit there also was a lot of freedom to traveling with a camper hitched behind the pickup truck.

First, it was economical for a farm family of five in 1986 to travel with the camper trailer. Instead of eating out three meals a day, Mom was able to save some pennies with those Tupperware dinners. We could rent space at a campground for about a third of the price of a week of hotel rooms.

And sure, we were crammed together in the truck, but the drive provided so much more time to connect as a family than sitting in an airport waiting on a crowded flight. You drive 500 miles with four other people in a pickup and there’s bound to be some bickering. But there’s also an opportunity for meaningful conversations to occur. Those talks with my Dad driving late at night, while everyone else was asleep, were some of the best memories I have of my youth. They’re probably why I chose this career path.

Of course, you see more of the country driving than you do in an airport. I’ve been on nearly every two-lane blacktop highway in Kansas. I’ve seen parts of nearly 30 states that most people fly over. And because we weren’t bound by someone else’s timetable, we were able to pull off the highway and go see the roadside attractions and oddities.

And then there’s the memories that your family makes that are shorthand for the rest of your lives. To this day, “Cedar City, Utah,” is our family’s code word for “travel breakdown.” We laugh about my over 6-foot tall father suffering head trauma through every cave in the Black Hills of South Dakota, or how 7-year-old me thought the Silver Slipper Saloon in Las Vegas must be Cinderella’s castle when we drove past it on our way to California.

Not to be outdone though, are the memories that take your breath away. Like the early morning sunrise and the quiet of a campground at dawn. That first sight of the granite George Washington peeking through the trees on the drive to Mount Rushmore. Or, making your first sand castle ever with your older siblings on a California beach.

Now that I think about it, those memories almost make me want to put my order in for a camper trailer and take to the road.

After all, she who owns the trailer gets the best bunk, right?

Jennifer M. Latzke can be reached at 620-227-1807 or [email protected].

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