How I Bought an RV, and Almost Went to Jail for a Year

This post was originally published here on Austin’s blog and is reprinted here with permission of the author.

If you’re wondering why we’d post this on As It Changes, it is because we feel it demonstrates a unique problem solving perspective and can-do attitude which the entire Anant team brings to bear on each and every project it tackles, even in the face of overwhelming challenge or difficulty. 

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Estimated read time: 10 – 15 mins.

Austin's Rialta
My 1998 Winnebago Rialta. AKA: Rocinante.

The past two weeks of my life have not been normal. Not by any stretch of the imagination.

In the past two weeks I have driven almost 1700 miles across the country, spoken with 7 insurance companies who wouldn’t touch me with a ten foot pole, had a minor accident, one run in with the law, a parking ticket, paid for major engine work, and taken two trips to one of my favorite places around DC: SpaWorldUSA, a Jimjilbang, or Korean Bath, in Centerville, VA.

Why all those bad things?

Because I bought an RV. A 1998 Winnebago Rialta, to be precise. I call it Rocinante, after Don Quijote’s noble hack-steed, at my Uncle Vernon’s suggestion. I’ll do an entire post soon on why I decided to buy the thing in the first place. In this instance, it may be more interesting for you, and helpful for me, in order to collect my thoughts, to begin with the surprises that have cropped up since I made the purchase.

I’m not going to structure this post creatively; I’ll just walk you through the past two weeks. I’m going to include some specific details here and there. If any of the details don’t interest you, feel free to skip em. But if you like watching train-wrecks, you’ll probably get a kick out of reading this post. It recounts numerous screw ups.

Monday July 4

Previous Owners
Previous Owners. Note the socks.

I bought Rocinante from an extremely nice old retired couple that housed the RV in a garage built specifically for it. They gave me iced tea and cookies when I flew down to Colorado to meet them, and talked with me about how they used to camp a lot in the good old days.

I saw the ad for this pretty little unit on Craigslist one night, and called as soon as I saw it. I was the fourth person to call, and when the previous owners informed that the RV was in good condition, I put a deposit down the next morning. After I flew down to Colorado to get the RV inspected before finalizing the purchase, I learned that more than 30 other people had called offering to buy the RV at asking price. Some devious callers had offered thousands of dollars more than the asking price if the previous owners would back out on me.

Thankfully, that didn’t happen. I had the Winnebago inspected by an auto mechanic who told me it was in good working order, and proceeded to make the largest purchase of my life to date. I now officially owned an RV.

The nice elderly couple invited me to lunch with their family before I drove back to DC. We chatted about life in Colorado (a truly beautiful State), their youth, and trips they had taken in the RV. They were charming, and reminded me of my grandparents.

Then I hit the road.

The trip was just around 1700 miles, and lasted 3.5 days. I drove 14 hours through 5 different states in one day – the most states I’ve ever been in in less than 24 hours. (Fueled by approximately 80 oz. of terrible gas-station coffee.)

Road Trip Stats

Rocinante didn’t have a single problem on the whole drive back. Not even in the windy snaking mountains of West Virginia. I stopped in SpaWorld on my way back to relax after the longest drive of my life, and watched fireworks on the 4th of July from a friend’s downtown rooftop apartment. I drove Rocinante back home after the fireworks show ended to get ready for work the next day.

That’s when it all started.

Tuesday July 5

On Tuesday morning, I stupidly decided to drive my steed all the way downtown. I did not realize how restricted parking is downtown during morning rush hour, and had to flounder around for a full hour to find a metered parking spot, and coins for the meter, which I never carry. They’re annoying to keep in my pocket, and don’t give me frequent flyer miles when I spend them.

Because I wake up pretty early every morning to hit the gym, and because there’s a two hour parking limit on all metered spots, I had to move Rocinante three times before I started work at 9.30am. Not my favorite way to start the day.

Note to self and other folks that drive large vehicles: never drive in downtown DC during rush hour in a vehicle that won’t fit in a parking garage. Ever.

I decided to work from home for the second half of the day, so that I wouldn’t have to constantly move my new RV around. I left it parked on a nice quiet street in what I believed was a 4 hour parking spot, planning to return that evening drive it back downtown for work.

Before I drove it downtown in the evening, a few things went wrong.

While Rocinante was parked on the side of the road, I was trying to set up insurance. I needed to be insured in DC in order to register the vehicle in DC, and get a parking permit that would let me park in DC. A crucial step in my master plan.

In other words: I absolutely positively had to have insurance for my Winnebago, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to park it anywhere on the streets during the day or night without moving it every two hours. Monthly parking passes in parking lots in DC go for anywhere between $150/mo. – $250/mo. and I didn’t want to pay that much.

Insurance

I thought it would be simple to set up insurance for Rocinante. I was wrong.

USAA is a bank that deals primarily with military people, and the bank that loaned me the money I used to by Rocinante. I am able to use it since both of my parents were in the military, and my whole family has a very good relationship with USAA. For all of these reasons, I expected that USAA would insure me.

In fact, USAA wouldn’t insure Rocinante under any circumstances. I was told by 5 different representatives that USAA doesn’t write motorhome insurance in DC. There aren’t enough motorhomes in DC that it makes statistical sense to insure them. If there are 100,000 registered cars in DC, and two of them get in a wreck, there are still 99,998 people paying into the insurance pot who aren’t making claims. If there are 50 registered motorhomes in DC (I’m not convinced there are), and two of them get in a wreck, that’s only 48 people paying into the insurance pot. The proportionate risk is significantly higher for any insurance company, and consequently, USAA wouldn’t even consider me.

I wound up calling 8 insurance companies, and only found two who would do it. One of them, Traveler’s, would write my insurance for $1200 every six months (ridiculous) and only if I took out an Auto policy.

The last company I called had a program with AARP (for retired folks and people over 50) that would insure motorhomes in DC. But they wouldn’t let me sign up unless my Father’s name was on the policy, too. Because I’m not 50. At least their prices were reasonable… I had a three way conference call with an insurance representative and my Father, and set up insurance for my RV in DC. I felt like this was a small but important achievement on the path towards being able to park Rocinante unrestricted in Washington, DC.

So, five hours later, at the ripe old age of 22, I now had retired people insurance.

The Ticket

After making so many insurance calls, I went to retrieve Rocinante and head back down town for work. To my surprise, I had a ticket. $100 to Uncle Sam for misunderstanding a parking sign during rush hour.

I’m obviously going to have to pay closer attention to parking signs.

The Accident

Upon driving downtown, after receiving said ticket, I thought I saw a spot that would let me park during rush hour (4.00pm – 6.30pm). I stopped Rocinante quickly, and began to back him up.

Crunch.

Without realizing it, I had backed into a car driving behind me. I still wasn’t 100% comfortable driving such a large vehicle in the City, and I obviously still had some learning to do. Some Yuppie dude in a white button down got out of his car and told me in a very menacing voice: “We’ll have to see what the damage is here…” Thankfully, no damage to his tiny little car, even though Rocinante could have totally crushed it.

Because Rocinante is larger than any other vehicle on the road, besides 18 wheelers and large busses, I feel superior to almost everyone else on the road. If this is an indication of some deep seated masculine psychological complex, I am ok with that.

Wed. July 6 – Friday July 9

Learning from my ignorance the previous day, I decide to pay $10/day to leave Rocinante in an open air parking lot. He won’t fit in most parking garages downtown because he’s too tall. In this way, I avoided the hassle of moving Rocinante every two hours, of getting tickets, and of backing into people. Definitely an improvement.

Nothing else interesting happened for a few days. I was getting ready to take Rocinante to the DMV to get him inspected, titled, registered, and to pick up my parking permit.

As far as I was concerned, I was home free the instant I got that parking permit.

Saturday July 10

Rooftop Rialta
Austin removing the roof AC unit on Rocinante, installing a skylight in its place.

My girlfriend and I decide it would be fun to go camping over the weekend. We drive to a national park in Virginia. We have an incredible time climbing around on rocks and skirting around waterfalls. She teaches me that “rill” means “creek.” She is pretty smart.

We make some dinner in the RV, crack open a bottle of wine, and thinking it would be ok to camp overnight in a national park, eventually lay down to sleep.

The Run-In With the Law

Literally just as we were laying down to sleep together – I swear my eyes had just closed – headlights flash through the windows. Someone just pulled in for the evening, I thought. Strange. Oh well.

Five minutes later, a deep knock on the side door of the RV:

“Fairfax County Police! Open up!”

I, after reading about similar situations on various RV blogs, stupidly decide it would be a good idea to stay still and not answer the police. I have all of the windows covered up, and he can’t see inside. If he can’t see inside, and can’t see I’m inside it, he can’t do anything to me. Right? I felt clever.

I am not, in fact, clever. Actually, I was being a huge dumbass.

The cop circled the perimeter of the vehicle twice, knocking and shouting that he’s the police and I should really open up. He tried to shine a flashlight through all of my well covered windows.

Don’t move, I whispered to my girlfriend. We’ll be fine.

The cop goes back to his car, flips his siren on. Blue lights streamed in through all of my covered windows. He blasts through the megaphone that “This is the police. Come out of the vehicle.”

At this point I’m getting nervous, and my heart is pounding hard in my chest. The Cop might not be able to see inside, but he’s pretty convinced that someone is in there. He doesn’t seem like he’s going away anytime soon. Thankfully – my awesome girlfriend has some sense and tells me to talk to the police, because we aren’t doing anything wrong.

I put on a shirt, and opened the door to a very pissed off, very fat, very Scottish (great accent even when pissed off) Cop. “Why didn’ yah open the door, even when I was shoutin “Police?!” Keep your hands where I can see em, and do not approach me any further.”

Five minutes of chatting elapse. “Let me see your license.” “Why do yah have Colorado tags on this vehicle?” “Wha is your purpose in being here this evening?”

I explain that I just bought the vehicle, and am in the process of registering it in DC. I tell him that I wasn’t sure who was knocking at the door, and didn’t want to open up because it was dark out, and I didn’t know for sure it was the police. I tell him that I realized it was the police right after he flipped his siren on and I saw the blue lights, and then came out immediately.

“Righ’. Well, that’s why I turned on the siren. It is dark out, and maybe you don’t know it’s actually the police.”

Finally the Cop calms down, and tells me why he was knocking so loudly on my door as I was trying to fall asleep: apparently it’s illegal to be on county owned property after dark in Fairfax County. No parking at this national park after dark. No camping overnight.

“Now,” the Policeman continues, “I could charge ya both for this. Bein’ on county owned property after dark is a class one misdemeanor, and I could put you both in jail for a full year.”

Seriously? All I wanted to do was go camping on a national park. I must have missed the sign that says the park is closed after dark, and that those who miss the sign go to jail for a year…

The cop pauses to let his words sink in. Mosquitoes are buzzing all around, and moths are flocking to the spotlight that our Police friend has directed straight into my eyes. Everything goes a little quiet around me as I contemplate the idea that I might just have gotten myself and my girlfriend into some serious trouble.

I noticed that the Cop had a bitchin’ moustache, and I really wanted to tell him how much I liked it.

“I’m not actually goin’ to charge ya, but you should be aware of the regulations in this county. Ya’ can’t be on any county owned property after dark, including schools, parks, and government buildings. I could charge ya’, but I won’t.”

*Sigh of relief*

“Thank you so much for not charging us, officer!” I’m on my best manners, of course, and trying to be as kind and respectful as I can be here.

“You were just lookin’ fer a place to park overnigh’, were you?”

Despite the fact that he could put me in jail for a year, I’m having a difficult time suppressing laughter. His accent is really thick, and this situation is entirely ridiculous.

“That’s right officer. I’m sorry I didn’t realize that being on county owned property after dark was such an issue. I’d be more than happy to move the vehicle immediately.”

“Righ’. Well, there’s a Catholic Church abou’ a quarter of a mile down tha road. It’s private property, and I see lots of people parking there overnight. Just head straight over 495, and you’ll see it on the righ’.”

“Thank you so much, officer.” Always be polite to law enforcement, even if you don’t respond to them immediately.

I drove Rocinante over to the Church’s parking lot and made camp for the evening. Let me tell you: having a police siren blared into your vehicle just as you’re going to sleep does not make it easy to fall asleep.

Eventually, both my girlfriend and I fall asleep. We wake up the next morning and I notice that the fan over the bathroom has stopped running.

That’s not good… I think to myself. That means the battery is dead.

I climb into the driver’s seat and crank the ignition to wake Rocinante up. Sure enough… he wouldn’t wake up. The battery was completely 100% dead. Rocinante wouldn’t even crank with the auxiliary start mechanism.

Great, I think to myself. Not only am I stranded in a random Church parking lot in Virginia, but I stranded my girlfriend with me after almost getting us both thrown in jail for a year.

Yup.

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I’ll continue this story in my next post.

It gets better.

A Note from Anant:

Need help thinking outside the box for your organization, or coming up with unconventional solutions to the challenges and problems you face in your business? The Anant team is packed with expert architects and unconventional strategists like Austin who can help you think through solutions unique to the challenges you face. At Anant, we understand that business is a lifestyle which must be lived creatively. We try to solve problems and challenges in our lives and businesses creatively, and bring that expertise to bear when we consult with you.

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11 thoughts on “How I Bought an RV, and Almost Went to Jail for a Year

  1. OMG dude. We must have been separated at birth. Last week, I flew out to Denver and picked up a 97 rialta from an elderly couple myself. I also drove it back across country(to Ohio). I got stopped twice and searched once(nothing found). Minnesota searched me and Ohio didn’t. I asked if it was the Colorado plates, he said no. He said he pulled me over because my GPS was too high in my window(yeah right). I was hoping to God the two weren’t closet meth cookers 😦 I have come to realize that cops hate RV’s with out of state plates that have younger people driving them.

    PS> try progressive for insurance!!

    PSS> what tires did you put on yours, I hear the Originals are garbage.

  2. Sorry for the problems man. I purchased a 95 Rialta last year in Texas, made a trip to Virginia and then another to Mexico. Great little vehicle and super nice to drive and park. I am older, so I guess the police just don’t bother us old farts. As far as insurance, GEICO and Farmers both insure these vehicles without question in Texas. Hope you have better luck with future trips.

    • Bull! I have GEICO on my truck, IN TEXAS, a clean record and no late pays and they won’t insure my brand new travel trailer! And their CS sucks. They also don’t recognize Good Sam’s or AARP. Thanks GEICO…NOT.

  3. What an excellent post! I was trying so hard to convince my husband to buy me a Minnie Winnie, but I don’t have a parking spot in my house, so I kind of gave up on the idea. He says the unit would only really be used 3 or 4 months at tops since we live on the east coast and also, we would need to pay about $2000 just for storage. I really wanted it 😦

  4. Cool story bro. Seriously though, I enjoyed it. Being 24 and owning a 32 foot class A 1993 motorhome, I could really relate to your story. I find it crazy how difficult it is to get insurance on a recreational vehicle in D.C. But come to think of it, it makes sense. It’s not nearly as common there, as it is here. I live in Colorado. In fact, insurance on my motorhome for $500 full coverage with full comprehensive that works similar to home insurance, only costs me $42 a month through GMAC. You have to be a Good Sam member, though. I would highly recommend it, though. As the $110 a year is only a fraction of the price you’d have to pay to tow a large motorhome for any imaginable distance. Even a mile.

    We’ve used the motorhome quite a lot in our state, mostly at lake side state parks. Especially my girlfriend and I. It really is a great way to bond. I still have not been able to go on the adventure with it as I had originally imagined. I purchased it originally as inexpensive housing in case things went to %^&#. I ended up living in it for a year actually, and enjoyed it a lot. It was fun, but a bit less adventuresome then as I had originally imagined. See, I was parked on the side of my business for most of that time. And to be honest, I never anticipated owning this business in the first place. But it has proved extremely rewarding financially.

    You see, I had originally bought the “tour bus” as just that. We were big at our music game, my friends and I, and that – being hip-hop; when I purchased it. I imagined and visualized us touring the country north, west, south and east in every which direction with us and our host of groupies, never growing tired of the escapade of state highways and rest stops. Not to mention, dive bars. Unfortunately it never happened. It wasn’t necessarily due to lack of talent. I was was, and actually still am, quite good. In fact you can check me out here, soundcloud.com/realrapmusic . It was because another version of life, a little more real had kicked in. Fast forward to now, and my girlfriend and I are expecting our first born child, a daughter any day now..

    Now, I look forward to the day when my daughter is grown, and we can travel to Alaska, and to other final frontiers beyond, as a little family on an adventure of a life time. Until then, I’ll just have to wait. In fact I loaned my motorhome to my father a couple months ago for his own purposes. And maybe in the meantime, until then, we can continue taking small weekend trips, or maybe a big week long campalooza trip through Colorado, and her surrounding states.

    Our adventure still waits to propel itself with the unburned fuel it still has in her tanks.

  5. guys, walmart parking lots are the best places just park at the empty end of the lot. in big citie always ask but otherwise its o.k just be sure to buy something. and dont dump the tanks on the lot.

  6. You Yanks really are a bunch of weirdos! And they say America is “The Land of the free”!
    Ha! Give me England any day.
    We do not have any of those problems over here.
    We have two main camping and caravaning clubs with a network of over 5000 campsites between them.
    Insurance here covers the entire British Isles.
    The police are always polite and do not routinely carry guns.
    The one thing we don’t have is lots of sunshine.
    Even so I don’t think I’d want to swap countries.
    Happy motorhoming. Pete.

  7. Update on Insurance. $250 a year for full coverage on my 1998 rialta through progressive. 45 years old, no accidents or tickets in the last 5 years(totalled an Audi A6 6 years ago). No further incidents on getting pulled over. Must have been the Colorado plates I had on it after buying it and driving back to Ohio.

    Pete: I would love to “Visit” England, but Give me the good ole USA anytime. Don’t think I could put up with all the soccer fans, warm beer and the bland food. I do love Rugby though. Plus I pretty much drive farther here in 1 day than you have land 😦 It would take a lifetime to see all what America has to offer, and then you will miss about 1/2. And the FOOD over here!! I use Guy’s Triple D to plan some of my trips http://www.foodnetwork.com/shows/diners-drive-ins-and-dives.html

  8. Hey. I just bought a TT that I am remodeling. I am looking for camping and/or RV groups for young members. Any suggestions?

  9. I guess I was lucky, I was able to insure a 29′ 1988 Ford econoline RV for $67 down and $30 a month full coverage thru Progressive, we had USAA and they sent us to Progressive for a special rate.

  10. I know this is probably late, but … Progressive for my 40′ bus conversion (like a Class A coach) was $126.63 for the year.

    I’ve learned the hard way that a lot of parks don’t allow overnight parking. I was threatened with arrest once just after sunset in a park with my girlfriend. Another day I looked for signs saying it was forbidden, and there were no signs. Pretty much, unless there is signage or you get written permission, don’t do it.

    Walmart generally allows it for RVs and travel trailers. They like the extra business, and they usually have plenty of open parking at night. I believe officially they allow it, but some local laws forbid sleeping in vehicles outside of campgrounds. A friend was threatened with arrest for a stack of laws, but in the end they just let him leave.

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