At my advanced age (somewhere between 65 and 185 years old, to provide you with a reference) I have become acutely aware that my time left upon the earth may be limited. And that means that the time that I have left to spend with family and loved ones is short. But even more importantly, It means I don't have that long to realize my dream of getting and enjoying a new RV.
Thus the need is acute. The devil, residing on my left shoulder, shouts in "get a camper" in my ear. The angel, which looks a lot like my wife, shouts, "you ain't getting an RV until you strike the lottery" before proceeding to call me names.
Now, I'm the broke rancher, not the loaded rancher. I ain't no millionaire. Like so many old-school Montanans, or at least those out of the Bozeman/Missoula area, you could maybe consider me land rich, but I'm sure as hell cash poor. In the final analysis, I guess I am a thousandaire on a good day.
At my advanced age, a preference for mod cons and creature comforts has developed into a necessity. I find that the bread-loaf-sized rock for a pillow is not as comfortable as it was when I was a strapping buck of twenty-something. I used to camp with my motorcycle, or even before that, a backpack and could pitch the tent anywhere, lay my head down on the back of a wolverine, wake up with a bear-bite missing from my side, and be as comfortable and refreshed as if I'd just slept on a twenty-foot pile of memory foam.
Alas, now I need a good mattress, some air conditioning in my boudoir, and in my four-finger allotment of scotch on the rocks. Also, I like the rocks to be rocks of ice, not gravel. And while gravel can be had cheap anywhere, ice requires a fridge and freezer combo. Speaking of combos, a washer-dryer when camping is nice. Being a gourmand, I need a huge well-furnished, well-appointed kitchen in which to prepare my specialty, macaroni and cheese ala Shelton. Oh, and a shower a day is a must, or I begin to exhibit a rich, majestic musk that those around me enjoy less than I do. Frankly, maybe two showers a day is better.
I'm not overly fond of outhouses, so my private accommodations are to be considered. I love a good bonfire, so a pass-through storage compartment to store my chain saw is rather nice. You see, only a motorhome or a private train will do.
So you begin to see the dilemma. My dear wife is enough younger than me that she is less sensitive to my needs. She could, and would, camp in a tent. The only way to put her off the idea, even a little, is to whisper "beeaarrrrssssss" to her in the middle of the night.
"We've had two RVs," she hisses at me.
"My dear," I say with haughtiness, "There are RVs, and then there are RVs. We had the former. I'm talking about the latter."
The first was old, with high miles, and wore out. Funny how that works: "Old Broke Ranchers" are old, have lots of miles on them, and are worn to a frazzle, but are somehow as virile and vital and witty as ever. But old campers not so much. Plus, it was a gasoline engine, and everyone knows you should go diesel. So we traded that in for a Monaco, which we drove from here to Arizona and back to Canada, and then from Minnesota to Oregon, and to all points of interest north, west, east, and south, although we carefully avoided California.
Best of all, we drove my second oldest boy across the state to his soccer games, and the bus-like Monaco, conceived in a time before slide-outs, became his tour bus. We used her to camp near all towns you can possibly play soccer in, in the whole state of Montana. I watched every match, beer in hand, proud as can be, silently pretending that it was decent, God-fearing American football and not the sport of choice of South-and-Central-American Marxist dissidents, sure. But still very proud.
But then, tragedy struck. Inspection of the front end revealed all the bushings were worn out. I ran it around in my head - what's the worst that could happen? We could throw the engine, wreck, and die, that's what. But is that so bad?
The machinist I used to repair most of my ranch machinery told me, "no problem, for about 20 thousand dollars, "I can fabricate new bushings out of brass. Be good as new," he said.
But I ain't got 20K. I pondered the viability of selling a kidney, the marrow out of a few bones, or one of my children.
In the end, we put the Monaco on "Craigslist" and made her someone else's problem, intending, naturally, to get another more powerful, much longer, way newer, with appreciably larger water tanks, better able to sleep a couple more people, and absolutely lousy with slide outs. That's all.
About the time I start looking for a suitable replacement, the ranch income takes a dive. To add insult, I'm now retired and on a fixed income, fixed, as it turns out, a notch or two below the actual cost of living.
Oh it gets worse, along comes a pandemic, and with it a nationwide yen for social distancing. The best way to social distance is to go camping, high in the mountains, away from the hoi polloi. What happens to the price of used campers? They go up, up, up, like a bottle rocket. My old Monaco blue booked for about 20K when I sold it and would now take 60K to replace, on top of repair costs.
So I sit with hands in my lap, aging rapidly, patiently waiting for prices to return to earth, and yes, without a camper.
The good news is I now have time to consider and am now open to various alternatives to the classic RV. To wit, I am now open to the "toy hauler" concept, with which you can have the front of the camper for the family, and the rear 10 feet or so is a garage. One can take toys camping, from jet skis to snowmobiles, to motorcycles, to what have you. The possibilities are endless. Unfortunately, they're just as expensive.
If you want to know the truth, I had kind of hoped that these hard-bitten pearls of wisdom and folksy humor would maybe get picked up and turned into a multi-season sitcom ("We Love the Old Broke Rancher" could be the title) or even a series of heart-warming but also decidedly manly Hallmark films (maybe Bradley Cooper could play me if he wore a fat-suit). All of this would make me outrageously rich in the process. Then I might have a convoy, a fleet of RVs crisscrossing the highways and byways of this great nation, and on one of them would be me, gripping the oversize wheel and bearing down on the future, heading unknown. Call me Commodore.
Sorry, I got caught up in a reverie for a moment.
So in closing, I would encourage you to please write your congressmen, your state representatives, send a missive or two to the governor and let them know that THE OLD BROKE RANCHER NEEDS A NEW RV and that they should give me one. It's not communism if they only do it for me.
Because the alternative is to write a book and try to sell it, or do some other kind of hard work and, frankly, I'm retired.
Won't you send me an RV? I promise to love it and take care of it and cherish it and get up every morning and bring it some diesel! Pleeeaassse?
Gary Shelton was born in Lewistown in 1951 and has been a rancher, a railroader, a biker, a teacher, a hippie, and a cowboy. Now he's trying his hand at writing in the earnest hope that he'll make enough at it to make a downpayment on an RV. Hell, scratch that. Enough to buy the whole RV. He can be reached at [email protected] for complaints, criticisms, and recriminations. Compliments can be sent to the same place, but we request you don't send them - it'll make his head big.