Paperbacks and Pickup Campers
The Drive’s Zach Bowman has grand plans to sell everything and take his family on the road. Turns out, that’s a bit harder than expected.
Zach Bowman has sold everything he owns, slapped a camper to his high-mileage 2003 Dodge Ram and has taken his family on the road. His clan numbers three, counting wife, Beth, and their infant daughter. They are touring America, working and discovering, and are sending The Drive periodic dispatches from the road.
We sold our books. The tattered paperbacks and solemn hardcovers. The last living survivors of a liberal arts education and the soft-breathing mementos from old flames. I piled them in plastic bins and sent them off to a soulless used bookstore in the soulless part of town, a massive metal building with no windows and a parking lot view of I-40. I have become some kind of ruthless.
I’d carted those books all over the southeast, swore one day I’d have an honest-to-god library with shelves. A Dewey Decimal system that made sense to only me. Of course Tom Robbins goes beside Cormac McCarthy.
The closest I came was a hated home office with a terrifying pile of loves stacked against one wall. I went through them one by one, weighed their value in hand and heart. A few escaped the slaughter. I know there won’t be room on the truck for a suitcase full of words, but I can’t let go of All the Pretty Horses or Dog Stars or my grandfather’s Bible, his shaky name inked in the cover. Not yet.
Others will find a home with bent friends who, like me, can’t or won’t give up ink on paper. Peter Egan’s collections from Cycle World and Road & Track, a big stack of John McPhee. Matt Crawford’s elegant defense of honest fucking work.
The rest I traded off for thirty pieces of silver. I should be glad they’re gone, less things to contend with as we shuck ourselves toward our new life. But there’s no joy in looking at the empty space where they sat. It feels like a betrayal. It feels wrong.
The week’s been that way. There is no pretty paved path from a house and all its fillings to a rolling space the size of a shed. I haven’t made it any easier on us, rushing to tie everything up and get us rolling by spring.
Since I quit my job in October, there’s been a living knot behind my navel. It’s the one that shows up at the hateful crossroads of trauma and glory, lurking in courtrooms and the ER, and, as I discovered on Monday, shading the hallways of the local loan office. I signed a note on a camper for $32,000, and I won’t see the thing for another two and a half months. This was not part of the plan.
The plan was to move us closer to debt zero, not further down the hole. This too, feels wrong.
I hate campers. There’s something about them. An ingrown association with hollow-core doors and whippings with belts and broom handles for shit I don’t remember doing. There’s a piece of me that worries I’ll wind up back in a trailer in the woods of Tennessee or North Carolina somehow, that someone somewhere will look up and realize I’ve escaped that life and come to drag me back to it. The feel and smell of a camper, so close to a singlewide, gets those old worries going.
The easy way to do this thing would be a used fifth-wheel rig. They’re out there all day long for easy money. But they’re dark and cramped and get my hackles up. They make the truck and trailer a city block long, and I’m not about to chain us to a tour of the nation’s RV parks. I want to be able to visit our people across the country, stop in for a weekend or find a quiet corner of open BLM land and enjoy the stars. You can do that with a trailer, but it’s infinitely harder than a self-contained unit.
I settled on a rugged truck camper: a tidy pop up thing with enough space for two adults, a squirming little redheaded girl, and, if I’m lucky, a pile of books. They come in all shapes and sizes with prices to match, and a patient man can come upon one for less than the cost of a new pony car. But I’m out of time for patience. If, for whatever reason, we couldn’t locate a suitable used unit in time, we’ve passed the event horizon to have a new model built before our chosen departure date. As usual, my grandfather was right. It’s not my needs that keep me broke.
But there’s nothing about this that’s a need. I know that makes me a privileged bastard, to be able to pick and choose where I put my money, but this is an exercise in want. I want to house my family in a comfortable place, warm and dry and clean. I want it to be somewhere we enjoy. I want it to take us anywhere we please, to provide us the freedom and joy of all our brilliant books.
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