Charles A. Manson stood in the doorway of the 33 1/2’ Southwind beaming, his fat belly swelled out with pride, straining the front of his shirt.
“I told ya she’d start right up, runs like a top, nothing wrong with this baby.” I was guessing he was more excited about the fact that it did start right up, at least in front of me.
He said he would leave the charger on it for a while to make sure the batteries were good. “We’ll put new ones in if they don’t hold a charge.”
From “new” I assumed “different” and coming from the pile of batteries that was just inside the gate where the man and the battery charger had emerged.
“So, we ready to make a deal? This one isn’t going to last long, and we’re practically giving it away.”
I would later remember that statement vividly and think that they probably couldn’t have given it away, let alone find a sucker like me that was willing to actually pay money for it.
“I guess,” I replied. I was figuring that my credit wasn’t good enough to get the loan anyway so I had nothing to lose but the rest of my afternoon going through the motions of buying the Southwind. Filling out the credit application, waiting for the credit check to come back, talking about the N.A.D.A. suggested retail price for a “pristine” 1982 Fleetwood Southwind, 33 ½ foot with all the options. Well, there were some options missing. It did have an awning, a 3-way refrigerator, a driver’s side entrance door, air conditioning on the roof and a dash AC that didn’t work, but we didn’t know it at the time. You can’t live in Arizona without air conditioning and literally very few did until air conditioning was invented. After AC it became one of the fastest growing parts of the country.
Anyway, that was the list of options, and the N.A.D.A. book said it was worth $12,000 in its current excellent condition, low mileage and new rubber all around. Charlie looked it up himself, but declined to show me the book page where he got the information. One epic RV adventure later, I checked the N.A.D.A. book myself for that big box on wheels and it clearly showed an average retail of $3,065.73. Pretty close, and with a slight profit, to the amount that Mr. Manson was telling me would be required for the down payment. But then, I was just expecting to be told that the loan didn’t go through, and so I told him I had the $4,000 and I did.
“Okay,” he said. “How do you want to give me that four thousand, check, cash, credit card?”
“I’ll be writing a check,” I said, “but you’ll have to give me a couple of days to move the funds from my savings account.”
He didn’t think that would be a problem, just that we wouldn’t be able to pick up the coach until it cleared, and he had to check out all the systems anyway before he could, in good conscience, let us drive her cross country. Then he wanted to know when we wanted to pick her up.
“Don’t I have to fill out a credit application,” I asked a bit confused?
Charles A. Manson, turned around and pointed to the sign above his head behind his desk that screamed out, “Good Credit, Bad Credit, No Credit, We’ll Give You Credit.” Funny how I hadn’t noticed that before.
“Don’t need that,” he said, “just sign this retail contract right here. We’ll finance the balance at 15.3%. It’s all detailed right here.” And he pointed to the barely legible standard contract entries detailing the total cost, down payment, financed amount, total interest, total financed amount, monthly payment and late fee. I didn’t remember Charlie making all those calculations, but there they were.
I turned to my wife, hoping she would put a stop to this insanity. “Well, hon, what do you think?”
She didn’t even pause. “I think we should we do it,” she said. And Charles Manson smiled what looked to me like a very wicked smile.
So we wrote the check. I made my wife do it because I have a real problem writing checks with one zero, let alone three. We signed the contract and told Charlie we would pick up the coach the first week in April. I’d like to think it was April 1st, because it would fit the story real good, but it was probably that Saturday, the 5th,1997. That day may live in infamy. I reminded Charlie again that I wanted the windshield fixed and he said he would. I didn’t however have a “Due Bill”, that list of things the dealer promises to do before delivery, but I didn’t think about that then, just took Charles Manson’s word for it. I did have a contract that said I was buying this “As Is” and without that due bill, you have no proof that anything other than that was agreed upon.
Early on Saturday, we went down to Desert RV and picked up the 33 ½ foot Class A motor home that we had been wanting for years. Charlie went through all the systems with us, showed us the repaired windshield, went through the engine compartment, and showed me where to put in the coolant, where to check the oil and the transmission fluid. He just walked us all over that Southwind and we were feeling pretty confident after a while that we knew how everything worked. An hour or so later we were tooling down Benson Highway on the way home, trying to keep the monster between the white lines and wondering how the hell I was going to park it at the house. We had been on the road about 10 minutes.
All of a sudden an incredibly loud rushing sound started up and built into a louder and louder roar, like the sound of a jet engine when an airplane takes off. Almost as loud too and I couldn’t hear or talk to my wife sitting in the seat next to me across the engine cowling where the noise was coming from.
“What the fuck is that?” I screamed in her direction.
“I don’t know,” I heard her yell back, faintly.
Just as quickly as it started it wound down and stopped.
“What the hell do you think that was?” I said it in a normal speaking voice.
“I don’t know,” she said again, “but it’s stopped.”
Well, I guess that made it all right, because it didn’t do it again as we maneuvered the coach down the narrow streets of the mobile home park and pulled up in front of our house. There was barely enough room to pull around us on the street and the front of the coach was up in the small grass patch we had in the front of the double wide, the rest on the driveway, half over the curb. Within seconds our neighbor’s across the street, Mel and Mary, came running out of their house. Their two girls followed.
“Weeeuw,” Mel whistled, “What the hell did you do? That thing is big, ain’t it?” I was looking out at him through the sliding glass window on the driver’s access door.
“Easy to drive though, like driving a Cadillac,” I said, acting like I was an expert.
I wonder why everything big you drive is described like driving a Cadillac? I’ve never driven a Cadillac. I was in one once, and I remember it feeling like driving down the highway sitting on your living room sofa. This was like that, only you were on a recliner chair instead of a couch and you could even cross your legs under the bus-like steering wheel.
“Reminds me of the Titanic from that TV show, Trapper John MD,” Mary says.
Dr. “Trapper” John McIntyre of MASH fame worked with a Dr. George Alonzo “Gonzo” Gates. Gonzo was a resident surgeon at San Francisco Memorial and he lived in a rusted but, by all appearances, functioning Winnebago that he lived in out in the hospital parking lot. He called it the “Titanic”. He often spent time on the roof drinking and relaxing in lounge chairs. I immediately envisioned myself doing that on the trip. It was never determined during the run of the show whether the Winnebago could move, and where he was getting his utilities for that matter.
My wife jumps right in. “Yeah, that’s it, we’ll name it the Titanic. Perfect.”
If you haven't already figured it out, we name all our vehicles. Our current vehicles, a 2008 Toyota FJ is Burgie because of her burgandy color, and the 1999 Ford F-350 Dually we just traded in was The Hulk because it was big and green. The new 2008 Tundra Limited is still waiting for a moniker.
“Okay,” I said, “I’d break a bottle of Coors Light over her bumper and say, ‘We Christen Thee Titanic’, but the bumper would probably fall off and it would be a waste of beer.”
A few minutes later, while we were giving the “tour”, I caught a glimpse of the park manager out the front windshield, leaving what appeared to be my front porch, and walking off quickly, trying not to be seen. I walked over to the porch later and retrieved the letter which was stuck between the jamb and the screen door. The gist of it was that we could not park the Titanic in front of our house and we would have to move it immediately. It was against the park rules. We figured that, hell we knew that it was against the rules to park a motor home on the street. We fought with the managers every day about something that was against the "rules", but cheeeeeeez, the Titanic had only been docked for 15 minutes. He must have seen us drive in and typed our name on the letter as we were driving to our space. Maybe it had leaked out that we were bringing a motor home on the property and he had the letter already prepared. I started to wonder who the leak was, Mel, no he would never tell. Someone Mel told? I would never find out but I knew they weren't that efficient in posting notices of violations. At any rate we would discuss with them the need to have the motorhome parked there for short periods so we could load it, we had already arranged a place to store it.