Our plan for Friday (our revised plan that is) had us driving down I-25 to Hatch, NM, cutting across about 50 miles of 2-lane highway to Deming, NM to catch I-10 west toward Tucson. With luck we’d end up down at one of several RV parks south of Green Valley, ready to cross into Mexico by Nogales bright and early Saturday morning (a day behind what we’d hoped for). So back at Bosque we were up with the sun, there was frost on the bushes, trees and Saturn, we both had nice warm showers and off we rolled by about 7:30.
Since this would be our last full day in the USA, we had a few tasks that had to be attended to, namely mailing our VISA payment and a birthday card (neither a good idea to mail from Mexico) and changing our AT&T cell phone plan to Viva Mexico. This plan allows for fairly unlimited calling between the USA and Mexico but contains essentially no data. For some reason AT&T couldn’t make the change at a future date (I tried from home which would have been much easier) and you can see from our “adventures” thus far, we really needed that data feature. All of which is to say we did not see a post office and AT&T coverage was out of the question in tiny San Antonio, NM so we definitely needed both in Hatch, some 100 miles down the road.
Hatch is a prosperous little Rio Grande farm town about 40 miles north of Las Cruces. The cut across highway over to Deming goes right through downtown Hatch so after passing a number of businesses with long strings of red & green chiles hanging for Christmas decorations (apparently Hatch is the self-styled chile capital of America) we spotted the post office and pulled over to take care of our business. I walked the mail over to the mailbox and while Jill checked out a nearby coffee shop (not open till 10:00???) I made my call to AT&T. Of course I had to sit on hold for 5+ minutes, but ultimately I was put through to a very professional (not always the case with AT&T, trust me) female agent who took care of all our needs in a pleasant (again by AT&T standards) 10 minute transaction.
With all our needed USA tasks completed we fired up the motor home for our 300 mile drive to the border. It was again a relief to hear the engine start so nicely and see no “check engine” light lit, but this time the rearview / back up camera screen (which is supposed to flash to life with the ignition) fluttered a bit and went black. WTF?? For the uninitiated, the rear camera actually includes three separate views, most importantly directly out the back so I can view the tow car, be sure I’m past any vehicles before I switch lanes and see if anyone is coming up on me fast. Separate cameras are also activated out either side whenever a turn signal is engaged, hopefully letting you know if you have a vehicle in either side blind spot prior to lane changes. Now the system was dead. Ugh!
This was our first problem with this system and frankly it threw me for a bit of a loop initially. But there was really nothing we could do about it in Hatch, NM. A few calls to RV dealers in Deming and Willcox, AZ convinced us that high tech stuff like that could only be fixed (if at all) in Tucson, some 4 hours drive away. So off we went driving like a semi driver who only has those big outside mirrors of theirs. I still kept hoping the screen would somehow spring back to life, but no such luck.
Once we were past Deming and on I-10 heading west we of course had good cellular coverage again, so I could call places in Tucson in hopes of getting the system fixed before going into Mexico. Did I mention it was Friday, the 19th of December and we would not be into Tucson until 2:00PM at the earliest? I called my friend Xavier at La Mesa RV, the Tiffin dealer in town. We stop in to see Xavier annually, always for an oil change as we leave Mexico, but often for other minor / major items (a dead furnace one year, dead battery another, inoperable jacks a third). This time our Xavier luck ran out with no technicians available that late on a Friday - I think they had their company Christmas party starting at 4:00, but don’t quote me. Xavier was willing to get me in on an emergency basis come Monday morning - yuck!
At the suggestion of one of the Deming RV dealers, I then made a semi-desperate call to Camping World, just around the corner from La Mesa in Tucson. We’ve bought a few camping supplies from Camping World, though we usually find them overpriced. But they always have what you need. In this case I spoke with the service manager Kim (poor girl was fighting a nasty cold) and even though I told her we would not be there till 2:00 or 2:30, she said, “come on in and we’ll take a look”. Such a deal. We both expected to pay through the nose, but we really wanted those cameras working in the at times crazy Mexican traffic.
After a dry, occasionally sunny, occasionally foggy drive from New Mexico to Tucson, we arrived at Camping World by about 2:20. As an editorial aside, the parking situation at Camping Worlds across America always boggles my mind. Most Camping World stores (like the one in Tucson) are quite new and they are designed to sell stuff to customers who 7 times out of 10 are driving their rigs (which like ours take up a hell of a bunch of room). The customer parking areas are invariably about what you might find at your local Walgreens. There is rarely room for 1-2 rigs, much less the 6-8 you’d expect during snowbird season. How dumb. But since we were going to service we did not have to be subjected to that foolishness. We safely pulled into the side lot and I went in to meet Kim.
Her cold had not improved any in the intervening 3 hours, but she was helpful and courteous. After filling out the paperwork she said her technician Ray was just looking for something to do, so they took it from there. We shopped a bit, buying a few things we had forgotten we needed and then got comfortable in a customer waiting area. Before too long Ray came out to get me and dragged me back to see the problem - it was a trigger switch. Seems that when the ignition is turned on an electric impulse triggers the power to the camera system, which then allows the driver to choose whatever mode is desired and off the driver goes. As Ray demonstrated several times, our trigger (obviously built into the electronics behind the screen) was not functioning. Since they didn’t have any our screen systems on hand, they had their parts manager attempting to find a replacement. Ray also showed me a little trick I could use in an emergency, which involved pulling the screen power cord from under the dash and with the engine running, disconnecting and then reconnecting it (like the power cord for your laptop) and voila - the screen had power. Of course you’d have to do this trick each time you shut off the engine, but it was something to consider anyway.
Then it was back to Kim to get the good news - bad news, the good being Ray had found the trigger issue. The bad news was that both Tiffin and the manufacturer of our screen system were on the east coast and it was now nearly 4:00 in Tucson. Per Kim they would not even be able to start searching for a part till Monday (the Monday of Christmas week, by the way). Then if they miraculously found the part (a huge if) we’d have to pay overnight freight to get it by Tuesday to get on our way by Wednesday. The more likely scenario per Kim would be that Tiffin and the screen manufacturer and any parts wholesalers would probably be closed for all of Christmas week, if not New Year’s week as well. Thank goodness this wasn’t the engine light issue or the wipers, and Ray’s little trick was looking better and better.
After a short family pow-wow we decided we had survived the 300 miles from Hatch without the system, that we really had no interest in spending 3 weeks of our winter in Tucson and plenty of people driving older motor homes never had this issue to contemplate in the past so why worry about it now? Plus we had Ray’s trick in the back pocket. We told Kim of our decision (which she wholeheartedly supported), asked her to send us an e-mail when she heard anything about a replacement part (as I type this it is December 26 and no e-mail from Kim yet) for us to consider in the spring, we paid our bill (more than Kansas City but less than Amarillo) and headed down I-19 toward Mountain View RV park.
Ray’s trick had worked when we started up at Camping World, so I again had full visibility as we drove south. In less than an hour we went past the beautiful De Anza RV Resort (single night’s rent at $45 - a bit too rich for our blood - we’ve stayed in hotels for less) and into the not so nice Mountain View right next door. Let’s just say up front that Mountain View takes “blue collar” or potentially even “redneck” to an extreme. Despite its earthy appeal Mountain View is still a Good Sam’s park (usually nice but not extravagant) so we got a discount. I was expecting about $27 and was shocked when the owner said it would be $15 after the discount. I had to confirm that we actually had electricity and water. This was right up there with Oklahoma gas prices as the deal of the trip. In fact, once we were settled in (truth be told the RV sites were tiny and darn hard to get into, but who cares?), we went for a sunset walk back over to the office where I bought a 6-pack of Pacifico. With the cerveza and the rent combined, we still paid less for our Mountain View night than any of the other 4 nights up to this point. Suddenly things were brightening up and that border crossing tomorrow looked like a piece of cake.