The Grapes of Robin Williams' RV National Lampoon's Vacation
Aug 13, 2011
|After three weeks on the road with my wife, five relatives, and a dog, I look back on the trip as a combination of three movies: the 1939 classic "Grapes of Wrath", Robin Williams' "RV", and the Griswald's trip to California in "National Lampoon's Vacation". 5,500 miles took 600 gallons of gas, about half of that in Canada at $1.35 a liter ($5.13 a gallon), the rest at bargain USA prices averaging $3.75. This is a trip that should have been spread over 3 months, not 3 weeks, and had it been just my wife and I, that would have been the plan. But, my daughter needed to get home for a new job, my son could only get away for a short time, and so the trip started, overloaded with flawed logic.
We spent our first night in a Walmart parking lot in Michigan. The next morning, nearing the Canadian border at Sault Ste. Marie, we stopped in a small town so my daughter could run into the bank and buy Canadian money. It was getting warm, and I'd been running the generator to power the roof air conditioner, and the gas tank chose that moment to hit the quarter full level and we lost power. (A safety feature to prevent you from being stranded somewhere in the woods, the generator will not run when the gas tank hits the one-quarter mark.) What I didn't realize was, a problem with the remote starter button on the dash was trying to restart the generator, and kept on trying until it successfully burned-out the starter. Great, the next 5,000 miles would be made without power for the roof air conditioner, microwave, and television as we were traveling. I had a couple of 12 volt inverters onboard, so with a little rigging, the grandkids were able to watch videos on the 26" flat screen, but the dashboard air conditioner did little to help cool those sitting in the back, and temperatures were rising.
The first thing you notice on the road when you cross into Canada is hitchhikers, the first one I spotted was a young woman with her thumb out. We didn't have room, I was tempted to pick her up. The filmmaker Michael Moore commented once that "Canadians aren't afraid to hitchhike".
WiFi at RV parks was almost non-existent, even in the Nova Scotia KOA a few miles from where we caught the ferry to Newfoundland. I'd expected more from KOA, especially at $55 a night. (I'm old enough to remember paying $6 for a room at "Motel 6", hence the name.) WiFi at that camp didn't extend beyond the door knob of the office. (Making mental note to contact KOA headquarters in Billings, Montana and complain... )
The ferry trip from Nova Scotia to Newfoundland was fine, comfortable seats with several big screen televisions, but buying something to eat at the snack bar was like going to have a dinner of $6 hot dogs at the Minnesota Twins stadium. This was a brand-new 660' ship that held 1,200 passengers and 300 vehicles, many of them 18-wheelers and motorhomes like mine, and the ship was complete with everything except drinking fountains. They sold bottles of spring water for $2.35 at the snack bar, and I was beginning to worry about having enough money to get home.
I'd heard that prices for almost everything were higher in Canada, especially Newfoundland, but I wasn't prepared for the $8 a gallon milk, the $3 a dozen eggs, the buck and a half cans of coke. And, a trip to the liquor store to pick up a bottle of the famous Newfoundland "Screech" was a real shocker. Back-when, Screech was a unique high-power rum smuggled in from the French colony islands to the south, but now it is just Puerto Rican rum, the same stuff they bring into the bottling plant in our Minnesota hometown, selling for about $10 a bottle. In Newfoundland, with a fancy label, it goes for $26 bucks. (Making mental note to smuggle a case or two of Princeton rum the next time we go to Newfoundland.) The local KFC advertised a bucket of chicken for $27, Domino's Pizza had a sign out on the road advertising two 12" pepperoni pizzas with an order of bread sticks for $28. Any Dominos in the States had the same deal for maybe one-half. Sales tax was 13% on everything, but hey, they get free health care. The clinics run television ads encouraging Canadians to run in with the sniffles or an owie, so they can bill the government.
The trip back to Minnesota was 2500 miles from Cousin Edna's driveway to mine in Minnesota, and the stop at the campground in Doyles, Newfoundland turned-out to be the hightlight of the trip. No "Good Sam" or "Passport America" discounts, but just $28, with the nicest staff and greatest location we'd seen on this trip. Hazel says we should come back and stay here a month, I agreed.
Catching the ferry back to Nova Scotia late in the afternoon meant we arrived at 3:30 AM on the mainland, and immediately shared the road with dozens of 18 wheelers also on the ferry. The road was dark, winding, and up and down, a real white knuckle for several miles. We should have headed for the first RV park, but my daughter had to get back for that new job. We crossed the border into the United States late that afternoon and drove on to Nashua, New Hampshire, pulling into my son Glenn's driveway about 10 PM. What a day.
Two days visiting, and off we went, taking the Massachusetts tollway, the New York tollway, the Pennsylvania tollway, the Ohio tollway, the Indiana tollway, the Illinois tollway, all the time at the mercy of the providers of gas and food at the oasis locations. Motorhome tolls were about $75, I read an article on the net recently about how toll booth employees in the Chicago area make about $90,000 a year, and if they simply eliminated the toll booths, the state would save money. I paid $2 for a quart of milk somewhere along the way, and $1.89 for McDonald burgers that sold for maybe $1.29 back in civilization. My LP gas was running low, but none of the stations sold it. Fortunately, I made it all the way home on what we had, keeping the refrigerator and water heater going.
Finally, the Minnesota border, as we crossed over the St. Croix River, only 75 miles from home. A stop for fuel, and a while later we dropped granddaugher Amanda off, then son Joe and his son Divante, and headed for Princeton, backing into my driveway parking space about midnight. The cats and dogs were happy to see me, little Junior, the Pomeranian, almost wagged and smiled himself to death, and snuggled right up to me as I climbed into bed and passed out.