The Taz Mahal…….

As I recall, it was about two years ago that Sharon and I sat down over coffee and had “the talk”.  Her conviction and my reticence created a rather unique negotiating environment and I knew that I had to carefully navigate the topic at hand to avoid a rather unpleasant stalemate which would lead to less than the optimal volume of conversation in a household where the conversation was limited to two people and a good listener in Taz’m, the Lab.  We love to travel and now have the time to see the parts of this country we had only read about, and finding pet friendly motels can be trying.  Our experiences, with the exception of a wonderful pet boarding facility just outside of Cleveland, Ohio, had not been ideal and Tazzy is a fussy, spoiled Lab who is very much used to being in the thick of things when we leave the house.  This experience has taught me to never go to the table with a woman who is skillful, patient and brings a clever dog with her as co-counsel.  I worked hard and relied upon proven negotiating techniques including the fabled “delay and the interest will fade” trick……and lost.  Late last fall we acquired the Taz Mahal, a 29′, pull behind recreational vehicle, camper or travel trailer, depending on your point of view.  Our limited experience thus far has assuaged my fears and we are enjoying this lifestyle.  Let’s have a look!

Those of you who have read my aimless commentary know that a stint in the US Army, beginning at Ft. Polk, Louisiana, and culminating in the ultimate “camping” experience in scenic Vietnam, have jaded my concept of bedding down anywhere but on crisp linens in a comfortable middle class home after a trying evening of coaxing my favorite sports team to dig deep and find yet another victory.  The call of the wild, replete with insects and sand, enjoyed within the smothering confines of a thin synthetic tent that you just extracted from a coffee can sized bag will work…but only for a night or two at most.  As a result of my adversion to “camping”,  Sharon cleverly eliminated the descriptive “camper” from our discussions on the merits of RV traveling.  Shrewd negotiators are patient, and we travelled as far as Dallas, Texas and to every RV show within 250 miles of Springfield as we searched for just the right unit, all the while subjecting to me to the charms and promises of very adept RV sales people who could dance around the negative aspects of this form of travel with ease.  Sharon had allies and she knew how to use them.  If hard luck finds us, she would be perfect representing an RV company at a winter show. She would place RV’s under contract with the ease of peddling Amish apple butter at a home and garden show.

I countered her persuasive arguments with the internet.  Pick virtually any brand of damned near anything sold at retail in America and you can easily locate testimonials from disgruntled folks who are are eager to slam the product with vivid   descriptions of all that is wrong, if not decidedly dangerous with the item at hand.  RV’s are complicated and require at least a minimal effort in terms of understanding their operating characterisitics, and those who who hook up and tow into the sunset thinking they can set up and live in comfort with their God given prowess as their guide will be sorely disappointed.  My reliance on these boobs and buffoons to dissuade Sharon wore thin and this tactic soon lost it’s effectiveness.  Would you drive out to the airport and hop in a plane and fly it off without taking the time to know what flying is all about, she asked, or understanding the the weight limitations, fuel requirements and flight characteristics of the airplane you have selected?  The lady can make a point.

Car buying is a subjective business with an inordinate number of considerations going into the final selection of the family chariot.  Acquiring a RV is no less complicated.  You can spend well north of 2 million for a lavish coach or opt for a perfectly serviceable pop up unit for around a grand.  Are you going to drive this thing or pull it?  The tow vehicle, a hotly debated consideration in RV circles,  comes into play.  There are endless debates about units with slides ( the clever use of tracks to expand the sides, ends or front of a RV to dramatically increase the size of the living area) or those without.  Brand loyalty is a big factor as is the factory support, apparently an absolute must in this business.  Our research also clearly indicates that a major consideration is the selection of a dealer who will stand solidly behind your inevitable service needs.  We have found that current, experienced, RV owners are invaluable resources when making these decisions, with the caveat that brand loyalty must be taken into consideration when seeking their counsel.

After this long negotiation and discusssion, we settled on a unit manufactured by a relatively new company, founded by three retired, senior industry executives who have entered the market with surprising strength and savvy.  Our Grand Design, Imagine 2600RB seems to be the perfect compromise in quality, price, towability and size for the three of us.  You can easily spend four times what we spent or as little as half for the same amount of living space and comparable amenities.  If we love this lifestyle, and early indications are we will, we can easily trade up to the unit we covet, the Airstream.  We consider the Airstream to be the  ultimate unit in terms of construction, quality and longevity………considerations that come at a very hefty price.  

A final word.  RV dealers will assure you that whatever you drove onto their lot will pull the RV you are interested in.  As a matter of fact, a riding lawnmower will pull my RV across a parking lot.  Owners of various tow vehicles will exhibit nearly rabid brand loyalty and will make many outrageous claims about their V-6 powered pullers easily negotiating Pike’s Peak with no strain whatsoever. I am going to enter this fray very carefully with a summary of my experience. I have owned Toyota Tundra’s for many years and found them to be exceptional trucks with plenty of grunt, especially the newer 5.7, 380+HP versions.  My Tundra was certainly adequate and was properly set up with a reliable anti-sway, weight distributing hitch.  We used it to pull the RV to the storage facility and then opted for a 3/4 Ton, diesel Ram.  Sure, the Tundra was plenty strong, but it was a 1/2 ton pickup, with a suspension, brakes and torque to match.  I did not like the margins and towing characteristics and we were on straight and relatively flat interstates on the way home.  A 29′ RV, weighing 5700 pounds dry, sporting a relatively high profile, begs for plenty of oomph, far more than is necessary to tow a bass boat or utility trailer.  When you consider this lifestyle, consider your puller.  Margins, particularly from a safety standpoint, are nice to have.

We returned last week from our first real experience away from home, a trip to the Dallas, Texas area and I can report the experience was a hoot!  The RV is very comfortable, the parks we chose were immaculate and the people around us could not have been more congenial.  I am becoming comfortable with the systems from electrical to sanitation and am enjoying the towing experience.  Tazzy loves his walks around the parks, each one an olafactory challenge, and is a real ice breaker with our fellow RV folks….who doesn’t love a big, tail wagging hair machine……

Sharon knew what she was doing………early indications are the Taz Mahal is a home run.  It will be at Bennett Springs next week, easy to spot………the one with a big yellow dog and waders hanging out to dry………

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