Sunday, August 24, 2008

Winnebago: Journey Through Hell From Day One. Chapter One

Wick and I have been full-timing for about 8 years now. Full time RVers, to be more precise. We started out with an Alfa Gold, which was about 12 years old when we bought it.

Gold is the top of the line Alfa travel trailer. So even though it was an older model, it had some very nice features, such as a ceramic tile counter top, and a stackable washer and dryer. We sold our house, gave most of our furniture to our kids, and moved in.

Living in a 36 foot travel trailer is a big adjustment, after living in a three-bedroom, two bath brick home. You not only have to love your spouse, you also have to like him. There isn't room to get away and sulk, if you are unhappy about something. RV living requires the ability to talk things out, and come to a compromise quickly.

About 2 years into our RV life, we were staying at an RV park in southeast Oklahoma, which is next door to an RV dealer. One rainy Saturday, for lack of anything better to do, we went over to the RV dealer and walked through some fifth wheels. We were impressed with the improvements in features in the new RVs, compared to our older model.

A salesman began to shadow us, pointing out the various features of each model. We were most impressed with a Big Sky Montana, which had 8 ft. ceilings, lots of windows, even a skylight. The salesman insisted on making us a deal, including a trade-in on our Alfa. We agreed to see what he could come up with. But we went back to our Alfa thinking that there was no way he was going to come up with a suitable deal.

He did. It was such a good deal that we moved from the Alfa into the Big Sky that weekend.

For another couple of years, we were happy with our fifth wheel. Then we started looking at motor homes.

Motor homes are those huge, buslike vehicles you see going down the road, often pulling a "toad"--a towed car for use when the RV is parked. They have all kinds of gadgets and features that are usually unavailable in fifth wheels.

We went to a couple of RV shows. We researched on line. We talked to other RVers. We read RV message boards.

Our conclusion was that if we were going to make such an investment, we wanted to go with the best. Winnebago is the original, and advertises itself as "the industry standard", with the "best customer service record" in the industry.

We planned to pay off the RV before we retired, and then to travel at least half the year every year.

What a huge mistake.

From day one, this Winnebago Journey has been one problem after another.

We ordered the coach from the factory, with all the features exactly as we wanted. We were so excited that we could hardly wait for delivery.

The day we went to pick up the Winnebago Journey, we were told that one of McClain's qualified agents would demonstrate how everything worked.

"Qualified agent." Not hardly. This poor guy was almost as clueless as we were, having to look in the literature for instructions for almost everything we asked about. Wick is pretty good with mechanical issues, so we believed that he would be able to figure things out as we went along.

We immediately planned a trip to San Antonio, from Dallas. On the way, we discovered that one of the tires was out of round.

Someone drove that Winnebago Journey from the factory in Indiana to McClain's RV dealership in Alvarado, TX, with a tire out of round.

We should have seen that as the bad omen it was. It was just the beginning of our problems with McClain's, and Winnebago.

Overwhelmed and Underprepared

School starts officially tomorrow. Students will arrive, expecting teachers prepared to start teaching. Administrators will expect lesson plans, syllabi, course outlines, parent letters.

Friday morning, at approximately 10:03 a.m. Texas time (devastation has a way of making me notice the exact time of tragedies), I was told that I will have not two, but four preparations.

Four different preps.

Oh. my. word.

At that moment, I expected to be hiding in my portable classroom Monday morning, head in hands, wailing.

In my personal life, I am random and abstract. I may spend three days looking for a pet crochet hook, or a particular yarn, only to forget what pattern I was planning to use.

In my professional life, I am concrete. And sequential. I want to be prepared. I want to have everything lined up in rows, alphabetically organized. I have all my handouts stacked in order, square corners, aligned with the edge of the shelf.

None of this is going to happen by Monday morning.

As soon as I got the news about the four different preps, I called my niece Tara(, who is one of the most organized people I know, and began to sob into the telephone. She immediately grasped the enormity of my dilemma, and instructed me to come to her classroom during my lunch time.

It's a twenty minute drive, to another town, in a different school district, but I was desperate.

When I got there, she had all her class files up on her computer, ready to load onto my flash drive. She had made an appointment for me with her department chair, who was ready with another set of files, paper handouts, and books she was so generous to give me.

When I got back to my own school, two of the teachers I have just met this week offered similar kinds of help.

Tara helped me because we are family, and that is what family members do: we help each other in time of need. What a blessing it is to be part of a large, close-knit family.

He department chair and the two teachers at my school helped me out of the goodness of their hearts.

Like Blanche DuBois, I found myself depending on the kindness of strangers.

How grateful is my heart today.