09 Mar I’m On The Road — And the Van’s Not Ready

I’m on the road this week, promoting From Animal House to Our House: A Love Story in North Carolina, my home state. But the camper van is not ready. It’s so not ready that pots and pans are flying around in the back, cabinet doors are swinging open, latches are rattling loose, light shades are careening in their sconces, and tools are skating across the floor like hockey pucks. When I make a quick stop, the futon heaves off its bench seat and lands behind me with such force I feel a sudden breeze. The solar panels on my roof aren’t working and so I’m calling the solar supply people in New Mexico every other day. My inverter (converts power from the batteries) wasn’t working until this morning, when I finally figured it out. But its remote control panel still doesn’t work. And the last time I tried to plug into external power at an RV park, I got a shower of sparks from the outlet.

That’s when I realized that I had forgotten to connect the neutral lines to my AC panel. And right there is my problem — the electrical system. I didn’t have time to get my van ready for this trip because I spent all of my time, these last few weeks, trying to put together my electrical panel. It’s one of the most complicated how-to things I’ve ever done. RV electronics are identical to boat electronics. And boat electronics are significantly different than house electronics. To make sure I didn’t blow up the van, I consulted with Peter, a marine electrician in Annapolis.

A tall Irish man with a sunburnt face, Peter looked at my work with skepticism. He kept pulling at loose wires and asking, “What’s this?” He sold me a lot of stuff I didn’t know I needed. Like fuse boxes to keep my van from blowing up. “You need a fuse here,” he’d say, “and here.” So many fuses! Then there was the differences between ground wires and neutral wires. They seem to do the same thing but they don’t. Never mind that both get anchored the same way. I wanted to have this job done two weeks ago and really thought I was close when I went to Peter’s shop for his inspection. But then he pointed out all the things I had done wrong. So I worked feverishly outside of Peter’s shop, thinking I’d have it done by the end of the day.

But then, at the day’s end, I was far, far from finished. And I had so many questions! I asked Peter if he’d be around the next day because I really wanted to be done the next day. Peter grimaced, then looked at me kind of sadly and said, “You’ve got to take this more seriously, Ron. What you’ve done looks terrible — really a mess. If you don’t do it right, it’ll fuck up for sure.” I nodded in agreement, feeling a bit like I had whenever my father used to tell me, Ron, you do it once and you do it right, then you won’t have to do it over again.

So Peter sold me the kinds of cables the pros use. And more fuses. And then I went home and tore out everything I had done and started over. It took for-frigging-ever. But, man, it’s looking nice now. And when I returned to Peter, he was much happier and no longer felt compelled to send me a disclaimer that would have said, “I have informed you of …. and you are hereby warned about …. I am not liable for ….. ”

But there are, of course, glitches in any new system. With the exception of the spark shower I created because of those missing neutral lines, I believe I’ve got the wiring down. It’s the equipment I’m not sure of. Control boxes and such. And now that I’m on the road, I am getting a real-world view of the many little things I have to do to make the van hold together. Latches for cabinet doors would help, for example.

As for the tour itself, it was a little overwhelming at first — because the van seemed to be falling apart and the weather was frigid (snow in Asheville) — but now I’m getting more accustomed to the routine. Last night in Charlotte, where I know no one, I thought I’d be alone at my table at the back of the book store but then eight folks from Historic Charlotte showed up. Thank God. I’m not doing a reading, exactly, I’m doing a presentation/talk: I’ve got a slide show! If I get at least 5 people to the reading and then sell 5 books, I consider it a success. The added bonus is if the book store asks me to sign 10 copies, which means the store is committed to selling them.

I’ve done a couple of TV morning talk shows. TV at that level is anything but glamorous. Nobody’s going to give you make-up, for instance, though the anchors are wearing plenty. The anchors have notes about your book given to them by the producer, which they glance over in the sixty seconds before the cameras go on. You get 3-6 minutes for the interview and good luck keeping your focus. Try not to think of all the viewers who have taken this opportunity to go to the bathroom. Then it’s over, the anchor nods a polite see-ya!, the tech pulls off your mic, and the next thing you know, you’re in the parking lot, squinting at the sky and wondering what’s for lunch.

I’m in Greensboro tonight, then Chapel Hill on Saturday. The big book tour — in the company of Cleo, our bassett hound — doesn’t start until May. That’s plenty of time to get the van ready, isn’t it?