Our travels by RV have revealed something we hoped for and suspected MIGHT exist, but which continues to surprise and delight. That is that the country (actually, the world!) is populated by mostly really great people. This despite varying political, religious and social beliefs. I thought I would balance my recent political post, not to mention the fractious news we see every day with a few such stories.
These HAPPEN to be based on our recent experiences in Texas, but please don’t read into this that Texas has more than it’s share…we’ve enjoyed the company of friends and strangers from New Zealand to Newfoundland! They are easy to find…all you have to do is start a conversation with a smile!
“Typical” is not actually true, because there are VERY FEW ”urban” RV Parks.
I suppose the first that should be mentioned is the SOUTH MAIN RV PARK. This is the closest RV option to the center of Houston, and we have stayed there before for that reason. We learned then that it is a typical “urban” RV park, which is to say, small, tight, and in a not-great area. “Typical” is not actually true, because there are VERY FEW ”urban” RV Parks. I wish there were more! Anyway, we have learned that this park has a unique mission. They cater to folks who are in Houston for medical treatment at the many nearby top-tier medical facilities. This includes folks undergoing long and debilitating bouts of Chemo at nearby MD Anderson Cancer Treatment Center. The park has a special rate for these folks, and runs a (free) shuttle to help with local transportation. And, we learned, so much more.
We swung back thru Houston because a Bluebird Acquaintence from one or another rally was having a very difficult time with brutal “treatments” AND with a few mechanical issues with their coach. Even though their coach is much newer and higher-tech and I have (and want) no experience with these, mechanically, we felt like we could help with the latter; take it off their plate as they had enuf to deal with. The park, we found, had been feeding and watering their cats and looking after the coach while the couple was at the clinic. AND, they extended the medical rate to us (about 50% discounted over the rates we paid on our last visit), simply because we were there to help. We didn’t ask for the discount; we were surprised by it when we paid. And EVERY DAY the park managers asked specifically how our friends were doing? Could they do anything?
Dr. Aquahot would not “fix” the coach because he was retired – a sentiment I could appreciate!
And, beyond the park, there was the RV Specialist…a fella who, though retired, had previously been professionally involved in fixing the very sophisticated furnace/water-heater – called an “Aquahot” — found in the couple’s coach. Their Aquahot was leaking…it needed a pump removed and an “O”-ring replaced. This fella (whom I shall refer to as “Dr. Aquahot”) said he would not “fix” the coach because he was retired – a sentiment I could appreciate! But he told the couple he could bring a helper to turn the wrench.
When I heard this, I knew such a helper, being NOT retired, was going to charge a couple hundred $$$ because the “O”-ring was in a pretty inaccessible place. I knew I could do that “monkey” work for nothing, if Dr. Aquahot would point out what needed to be removed. You do not need to be a trained technician OR a German Engineer to crawl into an inaccessible place and use a pipe wrench.
BTW, I have since learned an alternate definition of “BTW” BRING THE WINE…
BTW, Dr. Aquahot said he would charge our friend for his time and expertise “exactly the same as I was charging” (which he knew was $0). I should mention the the good doctor did not know our Bluebird Friends – met them at dinner and he was simply doing the right thing for them. How many Porsche Mechanics would work for nothing under ANY circumstances? The Aquahot is a Porsche—German, and WAY highly engineered for a water-heater/furnace. I will stick with our old-fashioned versions, thank you very much!
Then we went to lunch
So that is what we did. Dr. Aquahot pointed out the fittings, all of which were in skinned-knuckle places. He had some stubby wrenches that were necessary to get at some of the stuff — he had obviously done this kind of work prior to retirement! He told me that the pump itself, which is just a circulator pump that would cost $50 to replace on your home furnace, was $900 to replace. This is because it is German and Aquahots ARE the Porsches of furnaces – RIDICULOUS. Fortunately, it only needed an “O”-ring, which probably still cost $20. The Good Doctor then sat down in a lawn-chair with a cup of coffee that Liz had brought, and watched. REPAIR SUCCESSFUL. Then we went to lunch.
Our “reason” for being in Houston (which allowed us to bend our schedule to help fix the Aquahot) was to have RV WHERE YET’s windshield replaced. Bringing us to another “nice-people” experience. You may recall that I had identified RUSH BUS CENTER as a place that would actually put hands on RV WHERE YET. They had a windshield for us. Of course, it is more complicated than that. It is ALWAYS more complicated than that.
On the way to Houston we broke down in Ft. Stockton, Tx. There is not much in Ft. Stockton, but there is a mechanic willing to replace a broken airbag (I carry a spare, so he had one TO replace)…ON SUNDAY. He was well paid for this, but I still think NICE. He could have said he’d get to us first thing in the morning.
He said, tho, there was at least one other airbag that looked worn. This prompted me to call Rush on Monday morning and ask them if they would also be willing to put our bus on a lift and replace the 4 front airbags.
They said, “SURE; c’mon over…”
AND, they said, “The replacement windshield they had been patiently holding for us WAS CRACKED! “
They said, “No worries, come later in the week”
(which is good, because we would have had to drive WAY MORE than we ever want to in a day to make our original appointment, having lost Sunday as a driving day)
“We’ll have a replacement for the replacement windshield AND can replace your airbags!”
I knew airbags were a PITA to replace, which is why Rush was doing it, not ME!
So, we got to Rush early-early AM on the appointed day, and the Foreman sheepishly estimated 1.5 hours per airbag (the windshield repair had already been quoted and could be done while the bus was in the bay for the airbag repair). He “thot” we’d be out of there by 1:30 or so; he said apologetically. I don’t know what he thought I expected – I knew airbags were a PITA to replace, which is why HE was doing it, not ME! I assured him that we EXPECT things to take a while (since nothing is easy to get to), and therefore NEVER make dinner plans on a mechanical-day!
As usual, the story gets more complicated, helping to emphasize how nice people can be. Two things came into play, here, adding EVEN MORE to the complexity (and niceness):
- The foreman was starting his FIRST DAY as Foreman!!! Yes, RV WHERE YET was his FIRST JOB where he was in charge of the whole Customer Experience. YIKES. And..
- Shop rules PREVENT the owner (me) from being in the shop where the work is done. We hear that pretty often, and I usually try to avoid shops with this rule because I like to learn, and as you will learn in a moment, I can, WHILE learning help “focus” the shop’s efforts. But with Rush, no such option, and ESPECIALLY because our guy was a new foreman AND the shop’s “safety officer;” so BY THE BOOK for him!
The job went a bit awry almost immediately, unbeknownst to me, because I could not be in the shop!
He did not know the owner was standing right there as he said this.
I went back to the service-desk area just to catch a glimpse of where things were at – they have a little window where we could see the bus, with several legs sticking out from underneath. A mechanic was talking to the service writer about an airbag, which was, he said, clearly NOT the right bag for the job. I KNEW he was talking about our bus, and about the bags that I had acquired and had given them to install. I asked why he thot that, because I KNEW they were the right bags. He said “The bags are much bigger on the rear axle of the bus…”
As it turned out, they were trying to install the bags I had provided for the FRONT on the REAR AXLE. This had lead to all sorts of problems in addition to the bags would not fit there. The lift they had was problematic on the rear due to the storage box I had on the back of the bus, so they had to lift the rear manually before they discovered the bag issue. Etc., Etc. Etc. I retasked them to the front!
They apologized – and once again the Foreman sheepishly came to extend his estimate. Again, I told him this was not a problem. I gave the foreman my Cell# and told him CALL if you have a question or something does not look right – none of us need to spend any more time and aggravation than necessary. He thanked me. Liz and I went and found a little diner for brekkie.
We were not leaving either, I told him! ?
Later (MUCH LATER) I learned that they were struggling to replace a “Pilot Valve.” This was at 5:00. The foreman had already sheepishly apologized to us several times about the extended time. He said “Everything is hard to get to (Duh! Why did he think HE was doing it, not me?) and a bolt had broken replacing that valve. He PROMISED no one was leaving until they were finished (it was Friday, BTW).
I said “I understand things don’t always go according to plan. And we are not leaving either ?” (because our home/transport was up on jacks in their shop did not need to be said at the moment)
The thing is, I had given them a Pilot Valve AND a leveling valve “IN CASE” they were needed. I carry spares because these are involved in the suspension working properly, they fail, and they can actually (if not easily) be replaced on the roadside if necessary. I don’t (and never will) know if that the Pilot Valve needed replacement. I would have put the bus down after the bags were replaced and aired it up – see if everything was OK. This step was missed because I was not in the shop. As a result, they struggled for quite awhile to replace a valve that may have been 100% OK.
HOW YOU KNOW YOU ARE OLD:
When your greatest new acquisition is a pair of Bifocal Safety Glasses!
They got the valve replaced, and by this time it was 6:30. They were putting tools away. Fortunately by now, the Foreman had allowed me in the shop (I suspect because HIS boss had long since gone home). I had my own safety glasses on, and he made me promise I would not trip on anything. I told them, “WAIT!!” They had to set the ride height before they were done – new bags would surely require adjustment. After I mentioned this, the mechanics started to do this INCORRECTLY, so I showed them how. This process is quick, and then they actually were DONE.
Suggested New Rule:
NO CUSTOMERS IN SHOP…
EXCEPT old guys with old buses.
In the end, they charged us ONLY for their estimated time (plus a little because they DID need to replace a defective Leveling valve). This was VERY FAIR, I thought, though I was a bit worried that the Foreman’s first day might be his last, given he wrote off about 6 hours of labor on his first job!! I felt like that would not have been fair, so I wrote a letter to the owner of the company, commending the Foreman’s focus on customer service, and recommending they reconsider their “no customers in the shop” rule. They should amend this as follows: “EXCEPT old guys with old buses.” IMHO.
After leaving Houston, we spent a few days in Galveston. Have always wanted to, here was a chance! Parked at a Marina located right in town — very convenient for bike riding around the area, along the Seawall, up to the Strand, etc. Lot’s to do there…including a visit to a FASCINATING museum on Offshore Energy Drilling. We also hooked up with “Margarita Mitchells.” Galveston is worth a return visit!
Next stop is a Rally in Vidalia, LA, which is right across the river from Natchez, Ms. The Mississippi is predicted to reach 55.5’ — floodstage is 48’ and the RV Park, which is right on the banks, begins to flood at about 56’.
We have NO DESIRE to see if RV WHERE YET floats!
We are keeping a close eye on the forecasts! Because the Mississippi is so HUGE and heavily controlled by Locks and Dams, a flood is not going to be “SUDDEN” as the result of a local rainy evening…we will get a week’s notice of danger as the water gradually rises from UPSTREAM WATER. And, in the meantime, it is REALLY COOL to watch the barge-strings, an almost unending stream of them, being pushed up and down river. All of this 50’ out our front window – mesmerizing, actually!
Rumor has it we will have an opportunity to participate in the Mardis Gras Parade…we are veterans of the parade thing – having joined Bucky Badger in the Muscoda Morel Mushroom Festival Parade last summer…
Laissez Les Bons Temps Rouler!