OK, I’ll keep this short and sweet.  All of the time I run into people who are full-timing in an RV, and who don’t have health insurance.

Sure, you may be young and healthy.  Sure, it’s expensive. But you have to keep something in mind:  our health system is insane.

We were lucky during our three years on the road.  Our medical issues were few.  But nothing lasts forever.  I went to see the local doc for a routine checkup in December.  No procedures were done.  I had a 15-minute exam and some blood tests and urinalysis, all routine stuff.

The physician’s office billed my insurance company $1,046.09 for that.

No typo.

We are still in the deductible of our “high deductible health plan,” so theoretically we’re on the hook for the whole thing.  But there’s a trick.  Simply having health insurance, even if it isn’t covering your bill, is what’s really important.  See, the insurance company has negotiated rates with the medical providers (meaning in this case, the doctor’s office).  Their pre-negotiated rate knocked the bill down to $238.00.  That’s what we’ll actually pay.

So what happens to the $808.09 that the doctor’s office forgave?  No worries — it will get passed on to some poor sap who doesn’t have medical insurance.  Sooner or later they’ll find someone who doesn’t have a negotiated rate, and if necessary they’ll garnish his wages to get it.

That’s why people who don’t have health insurance in this country are screwed.  A huge percentage of bankruptcies in this country result from being what is termed, “medically indigent,” meaning sucked dry by medical bills.   No health insurance?  You’ll go down fast.  At the rate of $1,000 per simple office visit, it won’t take long. Imagine what happens when you get hit by a car, or have a heart attack.  You’ve never paid as much for an Tylenol as you will when you buy one from a hospital bed.

Don’t kid yourselves.  Get health insurance and join the club of people who pay 80% less.  This has nothing to do with “socialized medicine,” or Obama — it has been the system for decades.  The health care system in this country is rigged, and the only way you can survive the cost is to join the game.  Or, you can move to France.

The Newbies Guide To Airstreaming

When you’re the editor of a magazine, or a serial novelist, or an egg-laying chicken, your workload tends to rise and fall as your products are eventually completed and released to the public.  It’s a great relief when a particularly tricky project is finally completed and off the desk (or out of the henhouse, as the case may be).  That’s where I find myself right now.

No, I don’t mean in a henhouse.  I mean I am in the final stages of finishing a new project that I am particularly proud of:  “The Newbies Guide To Airstreaming.” It is a 104-page book designed to give new Airstream owners a “quick start” to traveling, camping, and owning their shiny Airstream travel trailer.

newbies-guide-p1.jpgI’ve been working on this book for about eight months, with help from a few friends.  The job has been to collect as much useful and accurate information about Airstreams (how they work, how to maintain them, what to expect) and summarize it into a format that people will actually find useful.  There’s lots of information out on the Internet, but much of it is based on conjecture, or just plain wrong.  Likewise, the Owner’s Manual provided by Airstream is full of useful facts, but it’s very dense and certain important facts are well obscured, so few people actually bother to read it.  Rather than having to search hard for the basics, new owners will now have an easy guide to the stuff they need to know first.

Right now the book is in the final draft stage.  Review copies are being printed this week and will be fact-checked by a team of experts at Airstream and in the Airstream community.  Once I have the review copies back, I can make the final edits and release the book.

I expect we’ll have it out by April 2011, and it will be for sale at the Airstream online store, the Airstream brick-and-mortar store in Jackson Center OH,, and select Airstream dealers, for just $9.95.  (I worked hard to make sure we could keep the price reasonable.)  You can pre-order it now in the Airstream Life store for April 2011 delivery.  We’ll have a Kindle edition, too.

newbies-guide-p2.jpgA lot of thought went into this project.  In fact, I’ve been thinking about it for several years, ever since I first saw the Airstream Owners Manual.  It’s a bit rough, and has needed some updating.  I have a small collection of manuals ranging from 1968 to 2005, and each of them uses nearly the same wording in places, the same advice, and the same checklists.  There are bits of advice that go back 40 or 50 years, some of which are timeless and others which are … uh, not so much.

From a recent manual: “Avoid cash.  Use Travelers Checks …”  “Pack camera and film.”   Yeah, along with those traveler’s checks and film camera, be sure to pack a spittoon, typewriter, and spare buggy whip.  These days people are more concerned with carrying the iPhone, Gameboy, and laptop.   Film? What’s that?

Teasing aside, I have to tip my hat to the Owner’s Manual.  It does have much more info in it than I could ever get into a 104 page book, so in a few places I’ve deferred to it.  But in most of the book I gave my best shot at succinct, practical and tested answers to the most commonly-asked questions and typical “newbie” problems. That’s what made it fun — finding the best possible answers so that people can get up to speed on the Airstream as quickly as possible.

The book has sections on all kinds of newbie topics: understanding all the systems, camping, towing, solar & generators, maintenance, winterizing, simple repairs (like changing tires), packing, backing, dumping, filling, winter travel, Internet, cleaning, tools, myths, and a few sample checklists.  I think one of the best parts is the “Jargon Guide,” with eight pages of definitions of commonly used terms that newbies have probably never heard before.

I’m also really excited about the wonderful illustrations in the book.  Brad Cornelius, who has been a regular contributor to Airstream Life for years (and also designed the Alumapalooza art for 2010 and 2011) agreed to make over 30 illustrations for the book.   You can see one of them in the sample page above (that’s me).  Brad invented a pair of great little characters who demonstrate their Airstream as I explain things in the text.  I like looking at the pages just to see what they’re up to.

So I’m feeling good about my project now.  It took as long as making a baby, and the birthing process will probably be just as exhausting, but like a baby, it’s well worth the effort.  If the book does well, I’ve already got plans for a sequel on “Advanced Airstreaming” to produce next year.  Time to go start another egg …

Winterizing in Tucson?

We have never winterized our Airstream Safari.  We took delivery in October 2005 and from there on we made a point of keeping it out of winter weather.  Sure, there were chilly nights below freezing on many occasions (usually at high altitude in places like Yosemite) but with the furnace or the catalytic heater running the trailer would never get anywhere near the freezing point.

Years before, when we lived in Vermont, “winterization day” was an unhappy day for me because it meant the end of the camping season.  Winterization is the process of preparing the trailer for months of freezing, by removing all the water and replacing it with pink RV anti-freeze.  Once you’ve done that, you’ve admitted that there’s no chance of going camping again for months.  For me, up in Vermont, it meant the start of a long season of staring out the window at my poor Airstream, frozen over with snow and ice like a sad aluminum popsicle.

Once we bought a house in Tucson, I knew we were home free.   Never again would I face the end of the season, because it doesn’t freeze here — much.  I have not winterized a trailer in six years.  Even on those occasion winter nights when the skies are clear and the wind is high, and the temperatures dip below freezing for a few hours, the Airstreams don’t get cold enough to require winterization.

And so you can imagine my consternation this week as Tucson, deep in the Sonoran Desert, is facing deep freezes three nights in a row this week.  Not the mild sort of freeze we toy with for fun, just to be able to say, “Hey, it’s cold here too,” to our northern relatives, but a real frigid, put-on-the-long-johns kind of bitter cold that lasts all day and all night.

I know you folks up north and east aren’t too sympathetic, given that you’ve been getting pounded by snowstorms and all that stuff, but really, we can’t take it.  Our house is a barely insulated stack of adobe blocks with drafty single pane windows.  The cactus will die, the citrus will wilt, and worst of all our Airstreams aren’t winterized.

This horrible thought struck me this evening as we were heading for yet another cold night, this time all the way down to 20 degrees.   No longer could I scoff at a light freeze — this is cold enough to turn the water pipes in our Airstreams into solid blocks of ice, splitting them open and causing all kinds of other damage.  Just a little ice in the electric water pump is enough to wreck it.  So this evening I grabbed an electric heater from the house and stuck it in the Airstream Safari that sits in our carport.  Running all night, that 1500-watt unit should be enough to keep the interior of the trailer safely warm.

The Caravel, however, is away from home in a locked indoor storage facility.  I debated whether to go over and give it a heater too, but eventually decided that the storage unit probably wouldn’t freeze … until about 11 p.m., at which point I couldn’t sleep for wondering if I could be wrong about the storage unit.  Finally I got dressed and drove over to the storage facility with another heater, just to be on the safe side.

As it turned out, the interior of the Caravel was a balmy 43 degrees, but I was still glad I had gone over to give it a heater too.  Tomorrow night we are expecting 18 degrees — another record low — and I think by then the storage unit will have chilled down quite a bit.

Well, at least it’s no worse than that.  In a few days this strange weather episode will be part of meteorological history and I can go back to pretending that it never freezes here.  I won’t have to buy RV anti-freeze and  my record of never having winterized the Safari will remain intact.  I guess there’s no place in the USA completely safe from freezes except Hawaii (and ironically there are no campgrounds there), but at least our frigid season is limited to just three days.