Before Mile One: A Series from Life on the Road

Kristi Buttles
11 min readOct 13, 2021
The RV that wasn’t (Photo cred: Author)

In our first post, I gave a spoiler that the RV buying process wasn’t without drama, but I never imagined that we would hit such a huge roadblock before mile one. We’ve heard travel life requires much patience, and we were gearing ourselves up for all sorts of scenarios, but never knew we would have to practice that patience before we ever picked up the keys.

My hope in sharing our buying journey helps other buyers who are in a frustrating position in a market which is over-saturated, understaffed and under-stocked — and not only with RVs these days. It is not only possible to work through the process, but also well worth it.

Once we locked in our online price, the company we bought the RV from insisted we work directly with one of its stores 14 hours away. Neither the salesman nor we understood this. He called us out of the blue and told us headquarters gave him our name. He said, “I’m not sure why they did this because you went the online route. I’m not going to make any commission off this, but I’m happy to help.”

The catch to the crazy-cheap online cost was that it was a better price because we forfeit the bells and whistles of a live sales experience. We knew exactly which model RV we wanted, so we were good with skipping the personal touch if it meant saving a lot of money.

Still confused, we thought it was very gracious of him to oblige and appreciated his help.

Throughout the months we waited for the RV to complete production, I called regularly (as in weekly) to check on the process and was reassured each time all systems were go and, as a different person in that store told us, I didn’t need to call so often. I continued to call anyway and each time the answer was that everything was fine and on time. They said they had been able to snag an RV in production that was up for grabs and explained it would greatly reduce our wait time. Yay!

With RV demand beginning to skyrocket during the pandemic, I kept close tabs on how our little love shack was progressing at the manufacturer because horror stories floated around online, and we didn’t want to be one of them. Three months later, the week we were scheduled to pick it up, I was pulling clothes out of the dryer when the phone rang.

Our salesman (a familiar voice on first-name-basis by now) said, “Hey, Kristi. There’s no other way to say this, but I’ve got some bad news.”

Blood drained out of my head as I was bent over leaning halfway in the dryer reaching for the last, stubborn sock. I instantly thought he would tell me it’s been delayed.

“Okay,” I replied drawing a deep breath as I stood up. “What’s up?”

“I’m really sorry to tell you this, but your RV was never ordered.”

“Huh?” I said, choking on my words. “You’re kidding, right?”

“I really wish I was. I’m so embarrassed,” he replied.

“What happened?” I asked in stunned disbelief.

“We’re not sure. Somewhere in the ordering process the final order simply wasn’t submitted. But rest assured we’re going to use this as a learning opportunity to make sure it never happens again,” he said.

“Great for everyone after us, but what about us?” I asked as I leaned against the wall with eyes tightly shut.

I drew a deep breath, my heart pounding hard. I didn’t want to tell Bruce this news. He was more excited than I was about our new venture. Even before we began discussing an RV, he floated ideas of buying a second home. I immediately disagreed for two reasons…

One, we could never afford a second home and all of the maintenance, taxes, insurance, purchase price, etc. Two, we get bored very easily. I’m all about the idea of having a piece of legacy land where generations gather to build precious memories time and again. The thought of it feels like a dreamy Norman Rockwell painting and who wouldn’t want that? But for us, we love a change of scenery more and the idea of sleeping somewhere different every night is oddly appealing. Mostly, we could never afford a second home so we took that off the table.

Now many months into the purchasing process of our RV, we were pumped about the idea of travel life. Our expectations grew once we allowed ourselves to dream about bucket-list places we’d love to visit and we were stoked! Then, like a child learning about Santa, my heart sank at the notion of telling Bruce that, after months of prep and chatter, our travel goals were crushed in one phone call.

Bruce would never talk about this, but he has sacrificed so much over the years in the name of family: promotions, job titles, relocations, advancements, and opportunities for huge professional recognition all gladly forfeited for our family so we could stay rooted in community and have dinner as a family every night; he would be there for bedtime; help with homework, etc. I wanted the RV for him more than for me because he deserves it.

And when our three grown kids moved away all at once, it left our hearts aching, but we couldn’t be happier for them or prouder of them. We love cheering them on in their adult lives. However, they moved in the middle of the rest of our mid-life changes and COVID-19 chaos, which clearly marked the beginning of a new season in every way.

I confess, we shed many tears in the pandemic when, night after night, it was a table for two at home (though we are very grateful to have each other). Every room in our home is full of memories, and Bruce saw I was, as he was also, struggling to hold it together isolated in the pandemic as brand-new empty nesters. Many veteran, empty-nesting friends we know were setting us up for this season, equating it to a second honeymoon. One couple told us a few years ago that empty nesting is “like date night every single night,” as they giggled together, holding hands. With the lock down, it was an opposite experience for us and everyone else like us. No friends, no movies, no date nights, no restaurants, no church, no travel, no new hobbies outside the home, nothing — not even a couple’s trip to the hardware store to fix the floor in the pantry.

Protector that he is, Bruce wanted to try this RV thing so badly to, in his words, “Create new memories so we could not just survive, but thrive in this new season” … and now I was the bearer of bad news.

“There are two options,” the salesman continued. “One, we will refund your deposit and you can buy an RV from another company as I’m sure you won’t want to use us again.” Which at this point, starting over would put us in the buying pool of thousands and who knew when we’d be able to find any RV at all. “Two, we happen to have a RV come in this week that’s almost exactly like what you ordered,” he offered with reluctance because it meant the loss of commission as he could sell that RV 10 times over at a much higher price.

Discouraged, and with the salesman waiting for our decision, I stood in Bruce’s office and broke the news that after months of waiting, calling, and all of our due diligence (including paying the deposit and signing paperwork), there was, in fact, no RV. He couldn’t believe it either. His countenance dropped and I’m not sure if he was more angry or disappointed — but he was definitely both. After all, he comes from a car family. His dad was in the car business his entire career. Both of his brothers are in the car business. Bruce’s industry is different, but gasoline, oil, and transmission fluid run in his veins just as much as theirs. He could not wrap his head around this level of failed customer service, neither of us could.

We decided to buy the one that had just arrived on their lot and have auto-leveling hydraulic lifts installed post-factory. This was the only thing that was different from what we ordered. Having a RV arrive that was so similar to ours was nothing short of a miracle and we thought having the jacks installed would be no big deal. Oy vey! We were so wrong.

In 2020, when employees had to stay home if exposed to COVID-19, the only specialized employee trained to install these was quarantining due to exposure. Two weeks passed.

When he came back to work (healthy — thank the Lord), he then had to order parts. Two more weeks passed. Those parts were wrong, so he had to order yet more parts, thus, more waiting.

The plan to drive our family in the RV to our daughter for her first Thanksgiving away from home came and went. The rush to bulldoze our existing driveway and install a bigger one to accommodate the RV came and went. A new driveway sat as empty as our travel plans.

Photo cred: Author

In the meantime, we still had some RV fun at Christmas with what felt like bringing home a new puppy for the holidays (I don’t recommend Christmas timing for either). Our dear friend surprised us with a personalized ornament, which at the time was the closest thing we had to owning our RV.

Photo cred: Author

And our annual family gingerbread house got an addition…

Photo cred: Author
Photo cred: Author

At long last, the jack parts arrived and were installed by the specialist, and a driver headed south with our RV. The day finally came that we had waited for, for what seemed like an eternity. Pickup day!! We drove an hour-and-a-half to pick it up in another state. Our pickup involved a nice salesman from that store giving us a tour of our new RV with what felt like a tsunami of information being fire hosed at us about the biggest financial decision we’ve ever made second to our home.

I’m a quick learner, but cars aren’t my thing and there are more than 8,000 parts to a RV. He lost me about 10 minutes in as I sat with eyes glazed over in information overload. If only we had known about a third party inspector at the time.

As this salesman guided us though our new tiny home on wheels, I thought about our original salesman. The day he called to tell us that, no matter how many calls I made to check in, and how many times I was told all was well, but that no one actually ordered it, I had to instantly decide how I was going to respond.

The scales of justice said I had every right to throw an absolute fit! I had the right to let my emotions lead because of that store’s gross negligence (especially since they said my calls were unnecessary). And yes, there was a part of me that wanted to behave that way.

But the reality was, losing my temper and throwing a tantrum would not have made our RV magically appear. It would not have moved the process along one single inch. It would not erase what he just told me, nor work us toward a resolution.

What it would’ve done, no matter how much momentary satisfaction it would have brought, was break our communication, put him on the defense, and create animosity between us. My temper would have caused potholes in the process that would simply slow everything down.

I had a choice to make: be a jerk because I felt entitled to be as the victim in this or be a team player and part of the solution process as fast as possible so we could get an RV and move on.

It reminded me of when I helped teach our teenagers learn how to drive. By the time it was my turn to learn to drive when I was a teen, my mom, a single parent, couldn’t do it. She didn’t have the nerves to ride with me and asked my mature, older friend to do it. I wish she was still alive to ask her why. I’ve always wondered why she couldn’t, or wouldn’t, do it. But I learned from her absence in the car with me that we only have so much emotional energy to spend at any given moment.

When I hopped into the passenger seat of the car with our teens, I thought of my mom and told myself I had to remember the long game. I couldn’t expend all of my emotional energy in the first five minutes shrieking, gasping, and yelling about everything they’re doing wrong. If so, I’d have nothing left to give the remaining 60 hours of practice driving they needed to log before earning their permit. I practiced deep breathing, focused on what they were doing well, and framed my correction in a calm, emotionless way. After all, they held both of our lives in their hands and I wanted to arrive home safe and sound. I never lost my cool with any of them. Ever. Yes, it can be done! And, we have some great bonding memories to relive over that season.

I wanted the RV buying process to also leave us with good memories. I didn’t want this whole RV thing to get off on the wrong foot and leave us bitter and resentful. Those are emotions I didn’t want to pack for the journey straight out of the gate. I didn’t want to be the person I would be embarrassed about later because of my behavior. I’ve worked in retail and have seen the nasty side of people in moments of stress. In my moment of stress with the phone call we never saw coming, I had to get back into the mindset like in the days of driving with our teens — that we were in this RV thing for the long game. Don't expend all my emotional energy in one bad moment. Focus on the goal.

The patience this entire process took exercised our endurance and perseverance that would be needed sooner than later, though we had no idea at the time. More on that later.

We signed papers, got the keys, and headed for home with basically an apartment in tow. The birth pains of the buying process subsided as we finally had the RV, or one close to it, in our possession.

Pickup day in our RV (Photo cred: Author)

We drove it home and gave the kids a ride around town in it having zero RV driving experience, but that made it all the more exciting. It felt like a really comfortable bus, and I couldn’t get over driving with our own toilet and fridge. What luxuries!

Now the RV needed a name as the newest member of the family. We decided on Cousin Eddie (a.k.a. Eddie), a nod to the movie National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. It seemed to fit our motley crew. This would begin the ride of our lives. Welcome to the journey!

Follow our journey at https://kristinoelle.medium.com/subscribe

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