Vintage GMC RV motorhome

In November of 2015 John bought a 1975 Vintage GMC RV motorhome.

Some pictures of the vehicle on Instagram:

  • December 2016: Santa is here!
  • October 2016: Drove the GMC to the bachelor party weekend. Big storm a'comin, p'sposedly.
  • February 2016: Ok you guys, I'm in Red Bluff CA and heading north. Wish me luck and calm seas.
  • November 30th, 2015: GMC RV in front of the American Concrete Building. #concrete #MaxFun
  • November 21st, 2015: Despite an abundance of donuts in PDX, Live Wire asked me to bring Top Pot. Headed to Portland.
  • November 17th, 2015: Starting to get used to this cockpit. #gmcEleganza
  • November 6th, 2015: If you don't already know, Poodle Dog lays out a home style turkey dinner that'll put a spring in your sock garters.
  • ==> November 6th, 2015: I'm driving to Sequim, leaving now, because I heard a guy out there knows a good fishin' hole.
  • October 27th, 2015: #StandingBy

#SuperVan (RL109, RL177)

From 1972-1978 General Motors built their flagship device, a recreational vehicle with all of their top technology. It does not have that baloomphy feeling of a Winnebago, but you can get it into a parking lot like a big van, like Google-bus meets SuperTrain: The SuperVan. GMC RVs are made from aircraft-grade aluminum, they are extremely comfortable with pneumatic shocks, (RL109) and they have very large windows. It is very light and roomy in there and it is not a claustrophobic RV at all. It is called a "coach" by the sub-culture. (RL177)

GM thought that the RV will be the way of the future and they made the best RVs that had ever been made. Unfortunately they were only made for six years because they were too expensive. Those things cost $35.000 (around $200.000 in 2016-dollars) when they came out in the middle of the energy crisis when you could buy a house for $17.000! Nowadays you can get them for cheap, but you shouldn't buy a cheap one. There is a 23-footer and a 26-footer with 11 different floor plans available. A big RV is 40 feet long and with only 26 feet long a GMC RV doesn't really register and employs kind of a stealth technology. John is starting to notice them now. He climbed on one recently that was outfitted in bright green shag carpet and John was in fucking heaven! He was 8 years old in 1976 and he never had any fears, but he was just going to drive around America in this giant bean bag chair. GMC RVs also have a community built around them and John doesn't even know why he hasn't bought one already. (RL109)

The RV has one of these European toilet showers where the whole bathroom is a shower. The back of the bench flips up and becomes a bunk bed. The little diner style table becomes a queen sized bed. The closet door and the bathroom door open into the hall like a Jack & Jill door where the people from the bedroom in the back can go into the bathroom while there is always a door closed between it and the front of the van. Then the people in the front can go into the bathroom and always have a door closed. It is just very nicely thought out! You have ample space, you can have a salon-type environment, you can sit and do your work at a table. The driver and passenger seats swivel around like captain's seats. If you optimize storage-opportunities, you can fit a bunch of guitars in there and John could potentially tour and play music in it while he would also get to teach his daughter while he was driving and get to be outside the system. It is win-win-win-win-win. (RL109)

This is the culmination of a dream for John. He is going to get one of these and it will be a proof of concept for SuperTrain. They will drive around America, maybe solve some crimes, and they are going to proof the Darién Gap, although John's research indicates that you can't get very far even in a Land Rover. The GMC RV appeals to middle-aged men in a certain way: It is self-contained, you can drive around, you can stand on Walmart parking lots, and you can even park it on city streets. He would watch Stripes multiple times and watch closely how they had militarized the GMC RV in the movie, because it is the base of those combat vehicles they took over to the Czech Republic. He would give his daughter crayons and some Popsicle sticks and tell her to let her creativity fly. We don't have to beat the Russians to the moon anymore, but we have to beat metaphorical Russians in our quest to be the next gen. If John could get the cutting trail road program for 7th graders going (See Episode 48) with him as the director, he would drive his daughter and his guitars through America, just checking in, making sure his trail is being cut. By day he would be a dramatic enforcer of middle school technology and by the evening he would be a sensible singer-songwriter. John is counting the money already! Imagine all the people coming to the shows, they would all be fans of his podcast! (RL109)

This episode precipitated an email from dentist Gregory Birch, the president of the GMC Western States Motorhomes Club. He is the grandson of Alex Birch who worked at GMC during the development of the RV and has a model, the Birch Haven, named after him. (RL177)

The senior editor of the New York Times retweeted this episode. (RL177)

About John's GMC RV (RL177, RL181)

In John's particular species of the GMC RV Eleganza II, the carpets had been changed into 80:s hotel lobby carpet with little emblems on it, but the previous owner had also done a lot of modifications that have improved it. The shag-carpet and the original bolster were gone and had been replaced by great plush purple fabric in a color that John only can describe as "blackberry smoothie". John finds it hilarious and great, but others in his clan think it is hideous. (RL177) At last it makes the fake wood grain pop. It had been changed in the 80:s and is appropriate for that period, but is is not according to the original period of 1975. (RL181) The RV has a queen size bed in the back, a bathroom and a kitchen with a refrigerator and an oven. It is arranged like two rooms, as big as a house. The couch turns into a bunk bed, there are little things with doors that turn into other things, the little dinette-set also turns into a bed and you can put up to 6 people in there, if they love each other, a little like a key-party-scene. It was the 70s. If you get 3 GMC RVs in any one place, there is going to be wife-swapping out there for sure. The RV runs with an Oldsmobile 455 engine with only 50.000 miles on it, because it was sitting in somebody's barn. It would probably fit in John's barn if he moved all the non-working Vespas out of the way. (RL177)

Purchasing the coach (RL177)

In November of 2015 John was driving up to Bellingham, Washington, because he had a Filson bag full of apologies to bring back to Seattle and make it a nicer place. While passing through Marysville, Washington, they discovered an RV dealer where amidst 85 giant $150.000 Winnebago houses there was a GMC RV, this tiny little thing, like a broken tooth, but they didn't have the time to stop and take this story further right away. A few days later John gets in contact with the dealer and it turns out, they din't know anything about it and they didn't want to know anything about it. "It is $13.000 dollars, take it or don't, we don't give a shit!", which is a fairly reasonable price for it, because they can go up to $50.000.

A few days later John did just drive up there and see what's what. He met a salesman named Tod (he has a picture on his business card with a pair of Oakley sunglasses perched on top of his head) whom he really liked and whom he sees as a good guy. "If you want it, buy it, if not, don't ask any more questions. If you flip a switch and it turns on, then it works. If it doesn't turn on, then it presumably doesn't work." To Merlin that reads as first-day sales tactics, but it could even mean that maybe something is going to blow up.

So John called his friend Birch and asks if he has someone in his Rolodex who can come with John and look at the RV. There was a member of the club named Tom who lives up there, 70 years old with clip-on suspenders holding up his jeans and who used to work at Boeing (which is true of every GMC RV owner in the Northwest). Tom immediately started to spin some knowledge, while salesman Tod is off sellnig $150.000 Winnebagos. He thinks the coach is in great condition and he loves the purple polster and gives it the bill of great health. He warned John that every RV leaks, because they are enormous tubes that are subject to torques.

John finds Tod who offered him the thing for $8000 right now and John takes it, because you can almost not afford to take it for $8000. When they went through the rigmarole to get a car loan, the banks said that the person is self-employed and his income varies too much over the years. John's tax returns confused them even more and despite an excellent credit-rating of 830 they rejected him a car loan for $8000 which got John offended and mad. But then he realized he could just write a check, so he did and he drove the RV off and he drove it home.

John, the new coach captain (RL177)

The day after purchasing the RV, John walked out and realized he became a guy with an old shitty decrepit pre-Jimmy-Carter 1975 motorhome in his yard, a Gerald R. Ford-era RV. He had better join that RV enthusiast club and become part of that subculture quickly. When he tweeted about it he got a reply from Seattle book author Isaac Marion who also owns one and was living in it full-time before the cops made him stop living in it. Isaac came by, looked at the RV and thought this is amazing. He has a small one and John has the big one. Even Isaac gives John's RV the clean bill of health.

John was thinking about starting a sub-culture on his own for young people to buy RVs in general and GMC RVs in particular: "Get a purple RV, drive it down to Big Sur and get your picture in Sunset Magazine!" - The new motorcycle gang for the people in their 30s and 40s. "You have a juicer on board in case you want some juice. You wake up in the morning, right there in Big Sur, and you get a fresh glass of juice."

Without intention, John gave his neighbor Gary across the street the biggest "Fuck you" in the history of everything, because Gary is now wondering: "Why does that guy get everything?" while he himself has to live in his Ford van. The whole neighborhood is wondering if this is either a harbinger of a new era where John's yard is gonna fill up with junk cars, a meth lab, or if he is their guru and they need to follow him!

After the initial thoughts, John has come into the whole mode of fixing things up, maybe return it to era-appropriate finishes, like sheepdog-shag-carpet in burned umber. John is first going through it mechanically and preparing it to be his land yacht, going up and down the coast line - his new weekend thing. Merlin thinks it is a good move to channel some of John's occupations, pseudo-distractions, concerns and ruminative gestures into one coach. John just gave himself an all-consuming leisure activity while he wasn't sitting around having too much time and money that he wants to burn into a new leisure activity in the first place. It's like getting a boat, but much better than a boat. The number one thing about restoring an RV is the danger that you put spices in the spice rack. You can't occupy it until you've got it straightened out. You can't put throw pillows around if you're gonna rip up the carpet later, but you also want to use it, you don't want this to be just a boat project. The main mechanical issues will be prioritized immediately, the other ones put on a list and then we have to see how much fabric cleaner and Windex do we need to get in here and start enjoying it. It is only stinky in the way an old person had put in fabric softener, like Potpourri-solution, so John can't really smell the bad smells in there yet. Keeping wormery out is the same as with leaks: it is part of RV ownership that mice are trying to get into your RV.

Merlin was recommending John to get the good insurance coverage and John already has the nice AAA, because he doesn't want to call AAA and they giving him a bunch of rigmarole. He even has the special RV / Motorcycle package. Still, when you call them, at least 50% of the time you get somebody who gets their shoes tied by their mom in the morning. Merlin also has the nice AAA and it basically became a proxy for going to the mechanic, so around 1989 he got the letter, saying he is overdoing it, he can't do this twice a month. The other day John went down to the AutoZone and bought a hot new battery. He did not call AAA, because he just bought a 40 year old coach and when he calls AAA, it is going to be serious and he would probably have to hitch-hike to a phone booth.

Coach-life is John's new life. It is the good life, but it is quite unclear yet how to dress in a 70:s RV. Do you dress 70:s? Or do you dress like Commodore Schmidlapp, with a double-breasted navy blazer at least? John will choose a captains hat from his collection, but it might be time to upgrade to a good captains hat that fits his status as the captain of the coach. Coach captain.

The Black List (RL181)

The debut trip with his new GMC RV led John down to Los Angeles where he had planned some rehearsals and some shows together with Aimee Mann. Later the same week he will be passing by San Francisco, playing shows at a venue he doesn't know yet and visiting Merlin before he will continue to other places on this short tour (career). Halfway down to Los Angeles, John was just outside of Eugene and pulled over into one of those rest stops in order to rest and do a visual check on the RV. He sees antifreeze pouring out from under the vehicle, which is contra-indicated for continuing to move down the road. Someone else in an RV pulls up, sees him looking panicked, and hands over an empty milk-jug for him to fill up with water and get down the road. John gave them some kind of masonic sign and they looked confused. John filled the jug up with water, drove to Eugene and called somebody on The Black List, a nationwide list of GMC aficionados, most of them 85-year-old Boeing aeronautic engineers. If you are in trouble with your RV, in a scrape in Shasta, California or little bit off the road in Peoria, Illinois, you call somebody on the Black List.

His name was Kelvin and as John told him that he was draining antifreeze, Kelvin asked him to come visit him immediately. John drove into Kelvin's driveway and saw his GMC RV under an RV cover in the back. In the front there was a classic 1967 Datsun B210 custom wagon. They check John's engine and the problem was the water pump. At a Friday at 5pm, no place is gonna be open. No place is gonna be open on Saturday and Sunday either. John was already getting used to the thought of sleeping in somebody's drive way until Monday, but then Kelvin was muttering something like "pay it forward". After both of them were kicking the dirt with their shoes for 5 minutes, Kelvin just said "Alright, let's do this!", he calls the AutoZone, they had the part and they went there to get it. Kelvin was going to be on the top of the motor, John was going to be on the bottom, laying on the ground. They were going to start by taking off the fan, the alternator, the power steering box, the air conditioning, basically the whole front of the motor until they would be able to take off the water pump. It was 33 degrees and John was lying on the ground, completely soaked in antifreeze, oil and gas and Kelvin was up in the cabin, turning wrenches. If you are a mechanic, you will look at a situation like this and you will turn those bolts and move these things and then the job is done, while John finds it still like magic, a thing he would never dare to try. There is nothing about this that isn't doable, it is just the dare, doing it here and now, because if you get the water pump off and don't get the new one on, you will just have a giant pile of garbage in your front yard that sits there forever.

Of course when Kelvin was wrenching on the last bolt he was about to shear the head off. They sprayed some lube and waited and tried again. Kelvin did not have a bolt extractor and considering where this bolt was, it would require a professional. Furthermore, he had never signed up for having John's RV in front of his house, so they were sitting there for 15 minutes just fretting. Then they went for it, Kelvin tried and out it comes! It was not damaged, but had just been a 40 year old bolt. They were rejoicing so much about that bolt that putting it back together seemed like less of an onerous task, because every bolt they put back in was a bolt of thankfulness. The thing went back together really fast while they were freezing their asses off, soaking in fluids. It was Kelvin's merits the entire time, he just never faltered and let doubt intrude. At 10:30pm they finally shook hands, Kelvin said again "Pay it forward" and the last thing he said was "We're friends now, you just changed you water pump in my driveway, we have a bond." Every step on the way there was a moment where Kelvin could have said "you can call AAA and they can toe you to this place and you can leave it until Monday", but instead he was like "Let's do this".

The Blacklist: This gilt of monks, these people in shawls. John has their numbers. And they'd be like "come on over". They are the priests of the Temples of Syrinx.

The RV ecosystem (RL181)

Continuing his debut trip, John quickly discovered the whole RV ecosystem that he just hadn't noticed before. As an RV owner you start to read all those streets signs that are 5 paragraphs long, especially in Los Angeles. Some of them are for example saying "No parking for vehicles over 8 feet tall" or "No parking from 8 pm to 8 am", which you don't care about otherwise. Living in the RV in the streets is quite big in California. Those people are not homeless, because they have a car with a bed in it. They are parked all over and they shower in people's garden hose where they can get away with it.

During his first night in Los Angeles, John slept at the corner of Melrose and Despair. In the morning, people walked their dogs around him, and there he goes, driving along, living in a van. A guy with one Hawaiian shirt (like Matt Foley), eating in Honduran restaurants, but also trying to interact with people in the straight world, trying to go to rehearsals and do shows and be around people. John is transitioning into a transportation reassignment surgery, very slowly moving into this new world and it is going to be rocky. Had he been fully in the RV ecosystem, he would be one of the invisible in this separate world and nobody would notice him. RV owners stick together because they are safer in numbers and they park all together and get electricity and they can send their poo and pee down a tube, but when you are a renegade and off the RV grid and onto the street grid, you are a rogue, a between-worlds person. The freedom is unparalleled.

There is a shower in the RV, but John has not yet christened it. Once you start showering in there, you crossed some kind of Rubicon where your fate is sealed and you become part of the RV people. You have to take Rome at that point, because you have declared war just by crossing the river. He is gonna do it, he will take a shower in the RV, it has to be done. But at the corner of Melrose and Despair, picturing himself of getting in the shower with people all around him, walking really small dogs, it feels like: "Ladies and gentleman, I don't want to disturb your day. I know you are busy making films and Ubers, but can't you help a down-on-his-luck musician bathing in his van?" John needs one of those Good Sam Club stickers on the back of the RV. It is about helping out a brother or sister friend when they are having trouble in the RV, but Merlin thinks that's code for a key-party if somebody needs a little help back in the Queen size.

John was over at a friends house and watching a movie. As they left, three of the people walk out the door and get into Ubers that appear mysteriously, taking them to their AirBnBs and… "zippidi-zapp" on their phone… and Amazon next day delivery… and John is starting to warm up his V8, making it down to a Home Depot parking lot and trying to raise his TV antenna with a bike chain that he has rigged up.

To record his podcast with Merlin the next day, John was planning to just whip up in front of a café, hijack their WiFi and go with it, but then he realized you don't "just whip up" in front of anything in this thing. You do not just slide into an open spot, pull up into a load-only zone and put your blinkers on. Once you get moving you kind of can't stop, you are in this big wheel shark of a thing, your mouth is open, you are swallowing krill and you can't stop moving, because if you do, the Mercedes Benzes will pile up behind you like blood cells in a constricted artery. John has always been in Los Angeles in a fast car, even his tour van had been a fast moving van. Los Angeles is not made for slow moving vehicles, but it presumes that everyone is flooring their gas pedal at every opportunity and his RV is absolutely disrupting the system. Even after being in the podcasting studio for 45 minutes, he was sure there were still traffic problems outside that he had created.

Buying the RV based on emotions, not on math (RW15)

John got infatuated with his GMC RV and drove it down from Seattle really without putting a lot of thought into the plan. In Oregon he had some mechanical mishaps, but for now he is living in this RV. It has a lot of different systems that might make his life more pleasurable, like a refrigerator, a stove, a furnace and a shower, but he hasn’t activated any of these systems yet. John is testing this vehicle as he goes and those systems involve electricity, water and propane, all of which can be explosive and dangerous. Instead John has been living in it as "sleeping in a car", except that it is a really big car with a bed in it. The biggest factor that prompted John to get the RV other than general interest might have been poor judgement.

Dan had some friends who did some math and evaluated that getting a camper that they could connect to the back of their truck would be cheaper than staying in hotels. The main difference between them and John is that they did any math and evaluation of options. John rather comes from an emotional place. He wants this crazy thing and his new life will follow from it. He has never been a camper person or a car camper. When he was young, they camped in tents out in the mountains. He is no stranger to driving long distances in a big thing because he has already driven 300.000 miles around America and 100.000 more around Europe. With this RV he might become like a turtle who is moving fast and effortlessly through the world (unlike a turtle), but with his own shell and house on the back, so he bought this vehicle that it is completely impractical and dumb, but it looks really cool. Dan and John were both growing up with the Dodge Dart as their family car and the the mid- to late 1970s was visually such a wonderful time for cars.

Getting his first speeding ticket (RL182)

Middle-aged white men are afforded several privileges in society. Right when John turned 47, he was all of a sudden treated differently. He had already been treated with respect by the general population, but now the police are also very respectful and he got a speeding ticket driving through Pepperdine University. The officer said: "You know, this is a college campus and there is no part of it where you can drive an RV with 60 mph. When you tried to stop it, you actually skidded to a stop". John was very frustrated with him, because he had been counting on some special dispensation here. He just bought this thing and was driving it to California. John is doing the officer a favor, bringing commerce to the area! John was feeling very much like those guys with the attitude "I know my rights". The cop hands him the thing to sign and John drew an X. He was a California Highway Patrol Man, a CHP, and he returned it with: "Sir, is that your signature?". John said "No" and scribbled something more on there.

Leaving San Francisco (RL183)

Just as planned, John passed by San Francisco later this week and recorded an episode of Roderick on the Line face-to-face in Merlin's office before continuing with his tour on the East Coast. Multiple times during that week John had walked into a café and somebody asked "How's the RV?", but it is a bit of a long story. John had serendipidously found an unbelievable deus ex machina solution for the RV while he was on the East Coast: He found a member of the Black List in the Bay Area who would not only lodge the RV for the time, but he would even work on it and fix it up a little. John left it there in a holding yard together with literally 40 other GMC RVs. They are not the largest RVs, but if you put 40 of them in one place, it is very impressive. He then went on to have a good old Christmas time back East. The plan was that he was going to fly back to San Francisco while his mom and daughter were gonna fly to San Francisco from Seattle and his daughter's mother, who was in Washington DC, was also going to fly to Seattle. They would all meet in the airport, take a car to the Bay area, get into the RV, leave on Friday night and arrive on Sunday in time for a good friend's engagement party and a show that John had booked where he would be hosting a sing-along party at Seattles brand new Cloud Room rich people place.

On Friday night at 07:00pm it was cold and raining and the repair guys were getting late, all drunk on punch. Finally John and his whole family got into the RV, "Thanks for the work, great to see you guys!" and off they went. John knew right away that there was something not right. It didn't have the power it used to have and one thing he had asked them to address was the fuel system, so John calls them again while they were drunk at a Christmas party, talking about Vietnam, and the answer was "Just put premium gas in it! It needs to stretch its legs". When they were out to around Nut Tree, John calls him back, tells them the motor started to backfire, meaning the mixture is too lean, and the answer was he needs to get under there and turn the Allen wrench on the fuel injector one full turn to the right. As he did that, it wouldn't start at all. Another phone call, the repair guy is getting even drunker and advises John to turn it clockwise one turn instead. Merlin suspects that this guy had zoned out a bit. His work is done, but the problem with the Black List is that you are never done. It is a pay-it-forward economy and this guy has if not an impeccable, but a legendary reputation. Nobody ever leaves this little clique except those who abandon RV:ing entirely, but people who keep their RVs you will see over and over again. He is 75 years old and it is the night of his Christmas party.

So John pulls over to the parking lot of the Walmart in Nut Tree and sends his family in to enjoy themselves. He is turning this bolt two rotations to the left, increasing the pressure in the fuel injector, which is a process that should involve micro adjustments. In those situations you want so desperately to just take the air cleaner off, move an Allen bolt one turn and suddenly the thing comes alive, but if you have any kind of experiences with those kind of things, you know it is not going to happen. You still have to try it, because "What if?". It wasn't right, but it wasn't lean anymore, so it was okay. As they were heading down the road, it was still backfiring, but in the motor and not out the back. At least they were moving and John was thinking about what could cause the mixture to be lean? The fuel filter and fuel pump had been gone through. He was diagnosing an automobile problem while he didn't really know anything about it.

Here comes Nacho (RL183)

As the night closes in, John pulled into the parking lot of the Napa auto parts store in Williams, California, a town that has literally nothing left. It was probably an almond farming town, but built in the pre-almond economy. The entire family stayed in the RV, having a grand old time in this weird completely closed central California town, but at least they were alive, they were together, it's America! His 80-year old mom, his 4-year old daughter and her mother spent their first night in the RV. In the morning John sent his family over to Granzella's for breakfast. Granzella's Inn is a famous trucker restaurant with a shop for Italian groceries. They have 80 kinds of olives and pickled everything, but nothing that John actually is interested in buying.

Napa auto parts had a garage attached to it and John is talking to a guy called Nacho. Nacho is great. Nacho is doing 5 things: There is a dumb puppy-faced kid trying to get a tire off a rim, but doesn't know how to use the machine. He uses a ball-peen hammer and whanging on it so that John thought he is going to kneecap himself. Nacho shows him. Later as Nacho is down on the ground under the RV, Nacho's lady, a very clean, well-dressed woman comes over, looks down at his feet and after 5 minutes she says "Nacho!", he wheels himself out, she speaks to him in Spanish, he acknowledges her and she drives off. His boss is a taciturn, cowboy white guy who had worked in an auto parts store for 40 years. The only thing missing was that he was chewing on a chew root. John on the other hand is a big city slicker from Seattle, driving a vintage RV, and all that's missing is a point collar, a city slicker haircut and a poodle leash and "Howdy, I think I have a clogged fuel filter".

Nacho confirms that the problem is not the fuel filter or fuel pump, because those things are brand new. It could be a lot of things. Tearing the RV apart for $180 an hour does not sound like a good plan. John asked for some pointers and Nacho says "You are backfiring, you got a lean mix and no power, it's like starting at the top. It could be your radio antenna". He is looking over his shoulder, communicating that he is the only guy in this place who knows what's going on, except for his boss, but he has moved on from being a mechanic. If it were up to Nacho, he would sit and go over it with John, but that might potentially be $800 and there is no guarantee they would find anything. So they are kicking the tires. John is not afraid to turn a wrench on it, he just needs some high sign, but anything would be just as likely to be false as true. You could advance the timing a little bit, turn the distributor 5 degrees and see it that helps? Five days before Christmas eve, it was cold, lonely and rainy.

So John decided he will just rock on through. It's as good a plan as any. He goes into the office with the Clint Eastwood guy with the squinty eyes and the Cop mustache. His first impression of John might have been "city dude", but then you talk about Vietnam a little bit and in the end he just charged hiim $50. The almond economy is down and those guys were sitting around, every other vehicle in the shop was a farm truck that somebody kept running with baling wire and band aids. This is a working shop, nobody is coming here to repair a dent in their Mini Cooper.

John collects his family back into the RV and tells them it is not going so great, but what they have is a) the power of love and b) all they have to do is to get over the Siskiyou, one of the 4 worst Interstate passes in America. It is more or less flat as far as Redding, then they have to pass Shasta and all the way to Medford while there is an El-Niño storm coming in. It seems pretty simple, only 50 semi-trucks overturn and fall down a ravine on that stretch of highway every year, how bad can it be? So off they motor into the awful part of the story. For context we have to look back when John's dad moved to Tacoma.

Calling a tow truck via AAA on Mount Shasta (RL183)

At one point, dozens of miles south of Redding, John wanted to take a nap and he handed the controls over to his daughter's mother. "Just point it down the road" He asked her to wake him up outside of Redding when it starts to get mountainous and John would then drive through the crazy area. As John woke up and asks how it is going, she replies "Great! We've been trailing some smoke for a little while", and they were one of those vintage RV:s that is laying down some battleship level smoke screen. They were fully in the mountains as she didn't want to wake him up. They pulled over down in a hole right at the intersection of Old Salt Lick Road and Salt Lick Lake Road. He sent everybody out because he was afraid the motor would be on fire and he didn't want them immolated in the RV in a sudden flash fire. Smoke is pouring out, but not from the top of the motor, but from underneath. This is a bad situation and they are in a bad place for this to happen.

It didn't seem that they had blown the head or ceased the motor. The smoke looked like the transmission had sprayed fluid all over the bottom of the motor. This is where the top-AAA comes in handy. John has the AAA that will rescue a plane, the AAA he can even use in Europe. There was no cell service, so the adults were cycling to climb up the mountains to get AAA on the phone. Without the motor, there is no electricity and no heat in the RV. There are lights, but the furnace is not going to run and they are in the mountains, it is winter and a storm is coming along. John is a proponent of AAA and thinks everyone should get it, but 50% of the time, you get the worst service in the world, because they have no competitors. It is just a call center and they will pay other people to come and help you. They are counting on that 90% of the people never use it or just call them to change their tire. It is a rare situation that somebody is out in the boonies, but John is often that guy. They had saved his skin a year ago outside of Saint Louis and towed him 100 miles with everybody in the cabin of the tow truck.

They got AAA on the phone and had to go through all those irrelevant questions. John wondered if they could work this out after they got a tow truck on the way here, but that was not an option. Finally they said a tow truck will be there in 45 minutes. After 1,5 hours there was still no tow truck, they got AAA back on the phone and they said there was a piece of information missing, so they didn't send a tow truck and John hadn't answered the phone, because they were down where The Baby is! Again they promise a tow truck in 45 minutes, but after 1,5 more hours, they had to call back again. They couldn't send a tow truck because they needed to know the destination where they were talking the RV. The real reason was that they had been calling all the towing companies in the larger Redding area and none of them wanted to take the contract, because the compensation is not worth the work they would be having.

Meanwhile it was 04:00pm and AAA promised again to get a tow truck out in 45 minutes. After another 1,5 hours, as the sun had gone down and the temperature in the RV had reached 34 degrees (zero degrees Celsius), a guy comes along in a truck who had seen them two hours ago but didn't stop because he had to get his gun cleaned, but now they were still around and he asks if somebody wants a ride. He takes John down to Mount Shasta town where he has a friend with a tow truck operation who confirmed that AAA was calling him all afternoon, but he doesn't have a rig that can haul a tanker, sorry! John had the nice man take him back to the rig and calls AAA again. The problem is, if you start to yell at them, they will customer service you to death. As he calls them for the 10th time, the lady on the phone says she doesn't have any record of John calling earlier today and John gets a bit more authoritative. In the end she confirms his speculation that they could not find a single tow truck company in the region that would take the call. What's next? That's kind of it. The only further option is to call tow truck companies himself. She closes the call with "Is there anything else I can help you with today?"

John starts to google tow truck companies in Redding and reaches Keith's Towing. Keith says that AAA had been calling him all afternoon, but now that John calls him in person, he agrees to take the call, but insists that John has to call him back through AAA, otherwise it will be very expensive for him. He should just call them and say it is a T13 and Keith's Towing will take the call. Finally, 1,5 hours later in the middle of the night, they were already conserving their body heat, there comes that magical rig, a semi-towing tow-truck that could pull down a water tower. The driver, Travis, was a great guy with a camouflaged baseball hat (surely a deer hunter) and he knew how to back up a semi truck that's carrying an RV on a mountain road. The whole family could be with him in the cab which AAA said 15 times couldn't be done and off they go! He sent them to "Bob's RV repair" just down the road and he curiously had the key to the fence. There were plug-ins and water and all that stuff for RVs, so John plugged in and all of a sudden they had power, furnace, stove, and hot water for the shower. They ordered pizza delivered to the wrecking yard and spent another night in the RV in a parking lot. The next morning, a Sunday, no one from the RV place was around and John left a note on the windshield saying "call me up". They rented a Dodge truck and drove north as the storm came in. There was an 1,5 hours wait because all the semi trucks were putting their chains on and they took a detour through Klamath Falls, which was still faster. They didn't reach Seattle until 10:00pm, missed the engagement party, and John missed his show.

Pulling the Christmas Card: Repair the RV or not? (RL183)

When Bob's RV repair called back, they said at first that it wasn't that big of a deal and they were going to get it fixed, so John planned on coming back down to Redding with the rental truck to pick up the RV. They just wanted to run one more test. John was about to start driving anyways, but he had quite some hesitation, because seeing that thing burn he wasn't convinced it would really be that simple. At 05:00pm they call him up and tell him that John would need a new transmission for $4000. This puts John in a predicament: A decision must be made for which there is no good path. He can fix the RV for $4000, at which point the bargain $8000 RV has become a $13000 RV that still has all the problems that it had. On a positive note, they had fixed the fuel injection problem: The guys in San Francisco had installed a new distributor with a fucked up coil, it was arcing and the spark was just flying around the top of the motor. This did not cause the transmission damage, it must have been going on for a long time, but there is no way to proof it.

One alternative for John is to reconcile himself to the fact that the RV and he had a very short and very magical run that cost him $10000. The resell-value of the RV would be around $1500 in the current condition. Alternatively, he can be pod-committed to this experiment, find $4000 somewhere which he not presently had, never leave a man behind, put that new transmission in there and know for a fact it has a good transmission, just like it has a good water pump, alternator and battery, because he had replaced those things earlier. All the old guys tell him that if you got an $8000 RV, it means you only have to put $17000 more in it. The reality is you are going to pay $25000 for this thing eventually, but John was hoping that this would be spread out over a longer period of time.

The problem is that the shop in Redding was impatient for John to make a decision. The $4000 for the transmission had a safety margin built in, so it could be a bit less, but in the end, John was able to negotiate that he could leave the RV on his lot until the last week of January by pulling the Christmas Card. His mom advised him to stop thinking about it and not to torment himself every waking minute of his life. A concert promoter who was following the saga offered him to book a tour with some other musicians. They could go to play in places like Mill Valley, Sausalito, Montecito and all the other towns where nobody plays but people have more money than God. Instead of a transportation budget, they could fix the RV, but that would not be until spring or summer and it is unclear how much he could advance the transportation budget. Getting $4000 dollars is not an impossible thing to pull off, but what if he rolls off the lot and something else happens? Letting his podcast listeners support him is not an option that John is particularly fond of, as he has talked about before.

This RV which catches on fire, leaks and has upholstery in the color of Pepto-Bismal: both John's friends and his enemies seem to agree that it is what he deserves.

Do it yourself! (RW17)

Even when the transmission repair will be done, there will still be all the little stuff left: the little cracks and trim and rubber. If you pay somebody to do it, you are going to be under water on the thing in no time. None of the work is hard, but you just have to wake up one morning, roll up your sleves and tell yourself that today is the day when you are going to take the windows out of the RV. As soon as you do that, the clock is ticking. You have to get those seals replaced, you just need to do it! It is not hard to add caulck to things. You are going to encounter something that you don't know how to fix, but you can't just wipe your hands on a rag and go in and watch TV. There are dozens of those small things and as soon as you take the screw driver out and take a panel down, you are going to discover that birds have been living in there or that there is a treasure map in there. It is always going to be one more thing you discover, but you just have to power through all those things and not ever let it get you down. You can't tear your thing apart and it turns to just a shell out there that is an albatross until you finally get it towed. John needs to get back into that mindset that he once upon a time was in: willing to wire his own loft which was no small job while he was living in a space with no electricity. He has to re-aquaint himself with that attitude, because right now he is living in a world where he will just call a guy.

Waiting for a decision (RL184)

During January, Keith from the RV repair in Redding is giving John more and more the friendly, but very firm voice that the agreement to leave the RV until February was under the premise that John would be moving forward and make a decision. John is afraid that he will all of a sudden have to pay $100 per day for storage, which he doesn't want to accuse Keith in beforehand for and doesn't think will happen, but it still creates a tension. Meanwhile John is talking to people on the Blacklist. Everybody says it needs a new transmission, but will that new transmission get it to Seattle? It never stopped running under its own power and was just throwing smoke everywhere, so might there be something else? John's opinion about the guy in Redding can be compared to why cathedrals and old architecture were so beautiful: They were built in a time when labour was cheap and material was expensive. Now we have the problem of material being cheap (because they are all made of glue and wood shavings), but labour is very expensive. In Redding, property is cheap and this guy could stack RVs for a year. He is creating a false sense of urgency. There is no way John could tow it anywhere. Could he maybe find a place via the Blacklist where he could store it for a couple of months?

Shortly after members of the Blacklist heard about the stranded RV, it truly activated itself in a way that John could not have imagined and in a way that is not duplicable. Greg Birch from Sequim called it an intolerable situation and pulled together a cast of local Blacklisters. (RL189). He had been talking to Manny and he has a plan. Manny is a little crazy chap who bought 10 acres of land way up in the hills east of San Jose, back when you could do that for $15000. He has a panoramic view over Silicon Valley and got this very strange ranch campus up there. John went up to Manny's place and the first thing he says is "This RV is a piece of junk!", although 9 out of 10 old guys had previously called it a good deal. He walks John over to his own RV which he had rebuilt with slide-outs in the style of a new RV. His goal is to update the GMC RV to make it a space capsule. John on the other hand wants to keep it stock and as he said this Manny got a look on his face as if John had said "I want to fill it with fucking sheep dip and I want to live inside naked and piss on myself". "Why the fuck would you want to keep it original?". This is a classic rift in the Blacklist community. Most of the older people want to keep their RV contemporary with that weird RV upholstery, the weird flowers, like somebody's wreck room from 1974 with a shag carpet and a round bed. That goes against the opinion of all those aeronautical engineers who want to update the RV. So when John now thinks about repairing the RV, he has some doubts, because maybe Manny is right and it is a piece of junk.

Saving the stranded RV (RL189)

Greg Birch got John also in touch with Gary who owns a big walnut tree farm in Red Bluff, California, and who offered to house the RV in his barn, 30 miles south of Redding. All they had to do is to tell the people in Redding that they won't fix the transmission, patch it back together, fill it with fluid, and then nurse it down to Red Bluff where they would solve the problem in the barn. John didn't know this was on the table and the Blacklist won't just help somebody change their water pump. Greg's argument was that John was potentially an ambassador of GMC RV:s and to leave him on the side of the road was going to be bad for the whole community. He and his wife were about to go on a road trip to Reno or Tuscon or something and Greg would be the one driving John's RV from Redding to Red Bluff with his wife in the chase car. John couldn't attend the mission in person because he had a gig that day.

Gary then called Manny, the Beethoven of GMC RV transmissions who rebuilt a transmission for John in only 8 hours and will drive it to Red Bluff. Now we got Greg, Gary, Manny and a 4th guy converging in this barn, changing the transmission and fixing a bunch of other things. The 4th guy had invented a part that prevents your dashboard from catching on fire. Together they are like old Hotrodders: they want to go out on a Saturday and work on their car. It was fun for them and they always wanted to see Manny fix a transmission. They were sending John pictures during the process and Gary offered John to leave the RV in the barn as long as he wanted.

John went to Maui, as one does, and on the way back he went to Los Angeles and sang on a solo record for Tom Chaplin from Keane, then flew to Sacramento and got a car to Red Bluff to meet up with Garry. The RV was there, they started it up and John drove it home. He went back to Redding go get a little bit of extra work done on it. One of the four master mechanics forgot to hook up one of the spark plugs, so the engine was running a little rough and of course it is nice to throw $300-$400 at this thing every chance you get. John spent the night in the RV in Cottage Grove, Oregon, and he stopped by his good friend Ben King in Portland, who helped him to adjust the timing. Ben has a timing light, but they couldn't find the fly wheel, so he just turned the distributor cap by 2 degrees and the thing ran much better. He is an architect by profession, but he is very mechanical. He had one of those fathers who would get a Bronco II for $100 at the junk yard and go out with his son on the weekend to rebuild the motor. "Let's turn a wrench for fun!", which for John sounds like "Let's build a Saturn 5 rocket for fun!"

As they were sitting in Ben's backyard, all of a sudden a 82 years old guy came by who had heard from the Blacklist that there was a GMC RV in town with the hood up. He had worked in television back in the day and had all those stories about driving his GMC RV across the country. John realizes he had joined this network that's kind of like Spectre and their logo should be an octopus. Instead of 35-year-old assassins, they are a national network of very quiet 85-year old assassins. You drive into a town, you park your thing at the side of the road, put your flashers on and the beacon is like a bat-signal. Suddenly you are surrounded by former NASA engineers "I've got a story, have you ever heard of the USS Lexington?"

So now Greg Birch is back in Sequim, Garry back in Red Bluff, Manny back in San Jose, John back in Seattle and the circle is complete. The GMC is back in the game again and John has a debt of gratitude to like 40 guys and feels a renewed debt of gratitude to a generation that makes his head spin. Now the question is: how deep is John going with this? He can't get out of it now, he needs to go deeper and deeper, he is at the front door of a thing that potentially is bottomless. This could be the dark web, which you can best visualize as an iceberg, where Google is at the top and something else is at the bottom. John can never repay this debt simply by paying it forward within the Blacklist community, because he is not a NASA engineer. He can continue to enjoy his GMC RV and if other people find that this is enjoyable to watch and participate vicariously, and if that inspires them to themselves buy GMC RVs and join him in his great trip across America, then please by all means join him! They will then find this miracle community of weirdos, just as he has. John has now learned the power of paying it forward and has the responsibility to pay it forward outside the GMC RV community. Whatever his particular skill is, maybe guesting on people's podcasts or getting gigs for small bands (don't send him mails! That's not it!), he needs to pay it forward within his own sphere of influence while also paying it back to the GMC RV community which has taught him so much.

John has been to the mountain. He should buy all the remaining GMC RVs and put Tesla motors in them and convert them to electric future vans. He would have to retool his factory, but he had been meaning to retool his factory for a while.

GMC RV update (RL274)

In January of 2018, John put the GMC RV under a tarp because it is the rainy season in Seattle and it is easier to de-tarpify it than to de-humidify it. It smells great, but not anymore if you would let it sit in the rain for 2,5 months. It is like grandma’s old underpants or Look magazines: You want to flip through them, but not a lot. A nice RV should smell like things are wet and it should smell like the exhaust was routed through the dashboard. It should smell like someone has been living there for a year with a cat, and it should smell like you have been frying fish in there since the 1970s. All these things mixed together create this odeur ’d RV and John’s RV has that. All you have to do is smell the curtains and you get the whole experience.

As John drove the RV around the block in preparation to back it in, everything shut down about 300 yrds from its eventual dry dock. The power went off, the engine quit and John didn’t have enough forward momentum to roll up to the house. He had to call up AAA who sent their biggest wrecker. It had more rollers, flashing lights and spotlights on the side than the main ship in Close Encounters. All the neighbors came out to see what was going on. The wrecker was blocking the whole road and one neighbor who needed his mail was really upset. John couldn’t even monitor the towing, but he had to do crowd management in the back.

Then the mailman was coming from 1/2 mile away and John had to watch him taking his time to stop at each mailbox, flipping through all these circulars, and putting the Safeway stuff in. Finally the tow truck guy backed the RV in front of the barn, John tarped it and it is right now is a problem for the future. He likes to walk past it and say ”March problem!” but March will be arriving a lot sooner than John will expect. John is still King Neptune until June, which makes that a June problem. The RV is a March problem, because you get your RV ready in March for your April adventure. March-problems are really April adventures and May flowers bring June showers or whatever. It is dominoes all the way down.

The thing about an RV is that it is too long to handle torsion and every engineer knows that torsion is cruel and patient. It is an engineering problem! When you make a thing this long and put it on the road where it goes up and down and side to side, it gets twisting forces, which is a material science problem. There is nothing that is flexible and also sturdy, except if somebody in the audience with a 3D printer who has created a polymer would like to differ. In 1977 when his RV was built out of used Corvette parts, they zipped it together like an IKEA thing. It is the equivalent to a Bugatti, like how do you even keep this thing on the road? People at GM drilled holes into that fiberglass in order to put up a light, a mirror, a piece of chrome or an antenna, and every one of these things is now telling itself that it just likes to wither and turn into a hole rather than being sealed. It will happen to all of us! We will all end up tarped in front of somebody’s barn, but the GMC RV got there first.

Thinking about turning the RV into a clubhouse (RL274)

John wants to turn his RV into a clubhouse and Merlin strongly recommends him to get a dehumidifier, but it is the Scottish castle problem: Every time John opens Sunset Magazine, he sees one of those tiny houses and thinks that he wants to put one of those tiny houses into his back yard and use it as a Yoga studio or as a Zumba studio. He will have a stand-up desk and do his architecture there, but then he remembers that he doesn’t have any more friends than his daughter, his mother, his sister and his daughter’s mother. Because he doesn’t want anybody else around him, waking him up in the morning or touching his feet when he is sleeping, what part of him would want to put an apartment in the yard, really? What if he just went into his little house to go look at a map? Not like a Rand McNally map, but a really good historical map! He could open the door and just spread it out! He would have his stein of coffee.

Merlin was living in the attic a lot when he was a kid and an RV turned into a space in the back yard would be a thing he would still go in a lot, except for the smell and the dehumidifier. There is a second problem: The RV has only one door and it only faces the house when it is nose in, but John finds nose-in parking aesthetically unpleasing. He wants to back a vehicle in, because you want to be ready, but when he backs the RV in, then the door faces Patrick’s yard which not appealing because it is full of parts from his sewer reconstruction business. John has planted a hedge of Photinia, but it hasn’t grown up enough.

RV:ing as an activity for slightly older people than John (RL274)

RV:ing is an activity for someone just slightly older than John. When he got into it, he thought he would go to these RV conventions that would be full of super-foxy people. At night he would hear the doors open and people would be tip-toeing between RVs, like: ding-dong, "Hi! I’m here." Many would be up for a little bit of swinging, but something fun, not in a mean way. A nice clean bit of consensual swing. You are all in RVs, so you are not weirdos! You don’t mind a little mildew on the sill. Instead, everybody in the RV community are just in there painting Rōnin or making ships in bottles. They are tip-toeing between each other’s RVs and having sex with each other, but they are past their prime reproductive years.

There could be more finger banging go on, but the pilot’s seat and the copilot’s seat are very far away and you would really be making a big right turn. Everything behind the cockpit converts from something to something else, which is just a dream space of imagination for the finger blaster in your life. You could be sitting there, having a perfectly serviceable homemade meal at that table, you flip the fucking table over, your legs are in the air and everybody is getting fucking fingerblasted. In other countries there are bathrooms that are small and turn into showers, but we don’t have this very much in the United States. You can take a shower at the same time when you are also taking a shit, two different usages of the word ”take”, but it is a great experience and John recommends it to everybody!

John selling the RV (RW59, RL310, RW128)

In March of 2017 John was wondering if he had to sell his RV because he needed the money for a tax bill, but in the end he didn't have to. (RW59)

In July of 2018, John posted a nice picture of the RV on his Instagram, followed by an ad to sell it for $11.500:

26’ 1975 GMC RV Eleganza II with stock Oldsmobile Rocket 455 and a recently rebuilt TH425 transmission. Uses regular gas. New alternator, new water pump, rebuilt gasoline Onan generator, brand new engine battery and heavy duty house battery. Upgraded to fuel-injection and with ceramic headers. Original paint. All house systems work: original gas stove, refrigerator/freezer, combination bathroom and shower, A/C and furnace, external power and water hook ups and black water discharge, running lights, house lights and fans.

All stock GMC-branded cabinetry and interior fixtures upholstered in deluxe “fruit smoothie” lavender with couch upholstery and carpet upgrades from the 80’s. Rear lounge converts to full/queen bed, front dinette converts to full-size bed, front couch converts to long bunk bed, sleeps 6 comfortably.

GMCs were technological marvels of their time, pioneering many features still used in contemporary RVs, and prohibitively expensive, so were only manufactured from ‘73-‘78. They are front wheel drive and have no rear axle—the rear wheels float on air suspension—so vehicle drives like a car and is only 9ft tall. These RVs are fiberglass and aluminum bodies so surprisingly light and agile, with large windows throughout made possible by the rigid frame. Two 25 gallon gas tanks. There is an active community of enthusiasts nationwide who maintain a very helpful network, with rallies both locally and nationally.

I have sought to upgrade the RV mechanically while maintaining the stock appearance and interior, but there are many more aftermarket upgrades available. They look great when fully restored to 1970’s shag carpet splendor, but can also be modernized and fitted with new conveniences.

Work still needed: the house A/C works well but the driver’s A/C needs conversion to R-134A. The air suspension needs to be upgraded (a prior owner fitted an aftermarket kit that needs replaced) but I have new (and better) suspension plates included with sale. That job can be performed by any shade-tree mechanic but I never got around to it because the RV maintains ride-height with the current system with occasional (bi-monthly) top off of air.

Passenger side mirror needs replaced, and various window seals could stand either caulking or replaced. Various plastic interior parts in driver’s compartment could use replacement or upgrade: Front driver’s side windshield has a crack but it doesn’t interfere with operation. Replacement windows and parts are available within the enthusiast community.

This RV has served us well and it is time to pass it on to the next stewards. I can put you in touch with other local GMC RV owners (including the grandson of one of the original GM engineers) who make the experience of membership in the club of owners richly rewarding. $11,500

In the process of selling it, John was dealing with a lot of 90-year-olds. By October of 2018 he had marked down the price quite considerably from where he started. At first he had considered driving it down to the buyer, but now he reduced the price to the point that he is less and less interested in dealing with the Craigslist tire-kicker people. Lots of people were telling him that this and that needed to be replaced, but the RV was 43 years old and it was $8000. If they want something that doesn’t need anything replaced, go and buy something that was made in 1999 or 2005. You can find those vehicles just as easily, but this is an enthusiast vehicle and it is going to need some things fixed, but that is apparently not the game on Craigslist. (RW128)

John didn’t want to sell it to someone if he doesn’t feel that it was the right truck for them. He met 87 year-old guys whom's wife had just died and who were selling everything to get an RV and drive across America on one last hurrah to see their grandkids. They came and kicked the tires, but they really want an RV built on a Ford drivetrain from the last 15 years with a microwave in it that you can park in a Walmart, while John's RV is a specialty thing for people who want to have a weird, aesthetically cool, fun life. Those guys just wanted to be a turtle and they needed a rig, so why were they looking at this? They are not poor either, but they are penny-pinchers. If John had no scruples, he would have been on the hard-sell with them, like ”This is the one for you man! You are going to love running this! Your grandkids are going to love this!”, but he told them to pick up a copy of the RV Trader and find a thing that is 19 feet (6m) long and has one bed in it, because that is all they needed. This was one of the many things that were frustrating John at the time. He is never un-frustrated, which is a bad place to stay for too long! (RW128)

John eventually sold his GMC RV in October of 2018. He felt melancholic when he took a video of it driving away. Somebody commented:

honeyfears: "*That* is the neighborhood you patrol at night?! I was imagining empty wooded streets & houses tucked back quietly every few hundred feet”

John wished he lived in the neighborhood that the person thought he lived in, but he lived in that other neighborhood with houses all around that account for the people. In their imagination John inhabited a world with a 7-sided lighthouse made of dreams way up on a hill, still in Seattle but on 14 acres (60.000 sqkm). John and his neighbors would sometimes go out and shoot guns at each other, but they were so far from each other that the bullets wouldn’t reach and they would laugh and laugh. That is not the world John lived in, but he lived in a world where his neighbor’s fucking dogs drove him crazy. The RV went into the hands of some new people, it drove off under its own power, and it has now begun a new life with its new family while John is one step closer to being able to buy a new house. (RL310)

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