Urban Camping: Not to be confused with “Glamping”

The idea came to me like it must come to the multitude of retirees who crave the open road, a portable home, the “rv lifestyle”. A motor home was the long awaited answer that had been lingering under my nose all along. Visions of a rent free existence, and portable home ownership swam around my head, intoxicating me with visions of freedom and adventure. Oh indeed this was everything I wanted and more.

I found Corina on Kijiji. Sitting at 24 feet, she was as old as the retirees I was seeking to emulate, but she had good bones and an engine that purred. Actually, her disturbing sounds came from the creak of her frame, and esthetically she left something to be desired but I loved her at first site and brought her home.  Dangling Corina like a carrot, I found a friend who wanted to get away for the summer, and more importantly refused to join in what would soon be a roaring chorus of “but what if it breaks down?” At 6”2 with aqua dreads and a booming laugh, Diamond was everything I could want in a partner in crime. On an early Monday morning we loaded ourselves into Corina, and headed West to Vancouver Island.

It’s a known fact that when things go too smoothly too soon, when one too many high-fives are taking place over early initial triumphs, it can only go down from there. Perhaps it was Murphy’s Law, or maybe it was Diamond’s cheeky shout to the Universe one day over the blare of The Judds that went something like “Come on Universe, is this all you got? I dare you!” but the smoothness that launched our journey began to ripple.

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We approached our destination with excitement reserved by anyone who has ever known the rush of landing in a new place that will become your temporary home. Tofino was rumored to be an off-kilter, fringe town on the coast, famous for its surfers, and late night hippie beach parties. We envisioned blossoming new friendships around every bend. Maneuvering Corina down the main street in single file surrounded by shiny new Audi convertibles and Escalades, it became immediately apparent by the heads turning to stare at the rumbling beast, that this was not our promised land. We parked for the night, chopped Greek salad ingredients on a plate, washed it down with Grape Soda, and stayed up laughing late into the night.  The next morning we took a stroll through town. After being met with stony faces and an adorable puppy who let me know he wasn’t into being stroked by nearly taking my hand off, we decided it was time to think of a plan B. An old friend whom I hadn’t seen in years had mentioned that I should come visit. So off we went to Campbell River, BC.

Weary from 4 days on the road, we arrived. Known on the Island as a blue collar town that’s a bit rough around the edges, we are greeted by rundown apartments, and heavy, derelict energy. Janelle welcomed us and offered a place to plug in our RV. We sit on the lawn, smoking cigarettes under the darkening sky and sharing stories and updates about our lives. Janelle fills us in on the neighborhood gossip; stories of chaos and drama that provide her with hours of comic relief. Cue Greg and Debbie. Marching up the street a deranged looking woman screams:

“Who let the cat out of the bag!?”

“I don’t know Debbie, you had her!”

“We need to find the damn cat Greg!”

“We need to get water!”

“WHAT’S MORE IMPORTANT GREG, WATER OR THE CAT? WE CAN GET WATER TOMORROWWWWWW!!”

We muffle our laughter at the unfolding scene before calling it a night.

We decide to go to Victoria, a city we know we like. Parking the motor home at a dead end next to an empty high school, we are looking forward to settling in somewhere and finding some temporary work. We find said jobs in the form of restaurant work. Diamond at a busy breakfast place, myself at a tourist trap of a seafood restaurant.  I’m hired by Bob, a man with coke-head teeth and eyes that undress you. After our first day of work I meet Diamond back at Corina. “They tricked me” she shrieked. “I showed up for my serving shift and was told “you know you’ll only be cleaning tables, right?”. We spend some time swapping stories about the woes of our working lives before settling into our beds and drifting off into dreamless sleeps. We spend the next three days parked in that spot. Without an electrical plug-in we light our homes with candles, and wash dishes with water poured out of milk jugs. We are urban camping and we love it.

I find an alternative to the Aquatic Center showers. A hose hidden behind a trellis at the local community garden. I force Diamond to accompany me late one night. Armed with soap, shampoo and a towel I spray myself down, trying to avoid the light sensor that periodically snaps on illuminating the soap suds on my naked body. Diamond keeps watch, holding up a finger when it’s time to hide. Finally the last rinse is complete. I lay in bed that night with clean hair and a warm glow as I bask in my ingenious resourcefulness.

Two days pass. Diamond leaves for work, and I leave to catch up on emails. I’m gone for less than two hours and return to find the motor home gone. I blink, standing in the spot she stood only that morning looking around as if she might reappear. An apartment complex nearby holds three residents on it’s stoop. “The police were here towing it two hours ago” they say offering condolences. “Neighbors called it in” informs the police operator. “It was obstructing a round-about, and was parked 6 inches too far from the curb.” “And” she added “it was leaking sewage.” “Leaking sewage!?” my face goes red. Corina, why hath thou forsaken us?

Diamond gets off work, and we take a cab to the tow lot. “Too many rules here, sympathizes the driver though my indignation went out the window with “leaking sewage”. “I would love an RV” he says, “But for now I have to stay at home with the kids and make sure they don’t stay out all night.” “Make sure they aren’t living in RV’s?” cracks Diamond.

Corina is back in hand and we breathe a sigh of relief. We stop at Home Depot to buy a septic hose, and settle on an aluminum tube (our original one went missing during the drive) that fits over the neck of the tank and stretches just long enough into a deep pit of terror known as the Sani-Dump. I gingerly prod at the knobs near the tank before cueing Diamond that the dumping is about to begin. Opening the knob, a force greater than a tsunami comes roaring down the tube. A giant tidal wave of shit. We yell as decomposing waste washes over the cement, lapping the sides of our shoes and filling our nostrils with an awful stench. We scream as I scurry for the hose, squirting the growing mess with a thick spray of water. We have soon successfully emptied out the tank.

We shower at the RV park and I’m ready for work, just in time. You’d never guess what I’d been up to by looking at me. Diamond drops me off in front of work, and drives off into the late afternoon seaside sun.