Carey and Debbie above Yellowstone's Grand Prismatic Spring

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"Escape to the POS"

    Coarsegold, CA

    September 22 through November 22, 2004

Story by Debbie


We were headed east from San Luis Reservoir, and in looking at a map, I realized we would travel near Chowchilla, California.  The name Chowchilla has always struck terror in me, from when a school bus full of kids was kidnapped and buried alive in 1976.  I'd never really thought about exactly where Chowchilla was, and here we were passing within a few miles of it (in a bus, no less).  I was inclined to make the side trip, but then realized that there probably wasn't much to see relating to the busnapping.  Later research reveals that I was right: there's only a small memorial relating to the incident, which is not the sort of thing I'm interested in.  However, the whole issue ended up having the happy side effect of inspiring Carey to add a new word to our RV slang: 

Chowchilla (noun):  auxiliary freezer located in basement storage compartment that keeps your chow in a chilled state.

Speaking of RV slang, the Escapees RV Group is an organization of RV owners, open to all, but specializing in fulltimers.  Escapees is often abbreviated SKP, which if pronounced ess-kay-pee sounds like the word.  Pretty clever.  They sometimes go really crazy and pronounce SKP as "skip" as in "May I see your skip card, please?" when needing to see an Escapees membership card. 

They're headquartered in Livingston, Texas, and one of their main benefits is a mail-forwarding service that gives members a street address rather than a post office box because voting cards and drivers licenses can't be mailed to post office boxes.  (We have a friend in Austin who forwards our mail for us--wave to Larry!)

Fulltimers have to pick a state to be from, and that choice is often driven by whether there's an income tax, how much vehicle registration costs, etc.  The usual choices are South Dakota and Texas, and since we were already from Texas, we just stayed "here."  But thousands of others are "from" Livingston.  It actually makes it nice for out-of-staters, because they can get all their domicile stuff changed in Livingston with a minimum of effort because the people at the DPS and tax office are familiar with what they're doing.

But until you know this, it can be pretty mind bending to read RV publications and note that just about everybody is from Livingston, Texas.  I really used to wonder what in the world was going on in Livingston.

We joined Escapees as a trial run, and found ourselves getting a huge membership benefit--the Escapees park in Coarsegold, California, called Park of the Sierra, or maybe Park of the Sierras, or maybe Park Sierra.  It varied confusingly, partly because there's a convention that you don't pluralize anything when shortening "Sierra Nevada Mountains"--you just call them collectively "Sierra Nevada."  This is unlike, for example, how the Rocky Mountains are referred to as The Rockies.

 The grand entrance to the jewel of Escapees' parks

Fortunately, the actual name didn't matter much because it was abbreviated just about everywhere as SKP POS, or in some cases just POS, which we thought was rather amusing because we, like most folks who get out much, recognize POS as meaning "Piece Of Shit," as in, "This rental car is a real POS." 

To folks in retail trades it can mean "Point Of Sale."  To thumb-typing instant messenger idiots, it means "Parent Over Shoulder."  Whatever, we wondered if the denizens of this particular POS were aware of the alternative meanings.

Anyway, SKP POS is one of eleven co-op parks that are affiliated with Escapees.  You have to be a member to stay there, and it's really cheap--this one is the most expensive of all of them, and it's $15/day with full hookups and cable TV, and cheaper by the week and month.  Not only that, it's in a beautiful area, quite near to both Sequoia and Yosemite National Parks.

But the really cool thing about co-op parks is that they're like the Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland movies, where they decided, "Let's put on a show," only in this case it was, "Let's build an RV park."

A group of just regular people (all Escapees, of course) got together and found and bought the land, got all the permits, and designed and built the park.  We took a golf cart tour of the park with our neighbor Josie, who was in on it from the beginning.  Here's Josie's crib; our lot was across the cul-de-sac, just out of frame to the left.

Our neighbor and tour guide Josie's pad, which included covered parking and an outdoor spa

Josie's husband was a general contractor, and the rest of the original crew included engineers, plumbers, electricians, carpenters--just about every occupation you'd want if you were building an RV park.  And they did everything, including laying out the 250 sites, grading the land, clearing trees, paving roads, installing the septic system, drilling water wells.  It's absolutely amazing.

Financially, these things work by members buying into the co-op, which gives them the right to an assigned spot in the park.  When they die, their membership reverts and becomes available for sale to someone else.  The spot they had becomes available to people already there, and the one that's eventually left vacant gets assigned to the new member.  The major payoff to the original builders of the park was early choice of spots, although that most certainly didn't fully reward them for their efforts.

There's a hefty waiting list for membership at the POS, and you have to be 55 to be a member (discrimination!!!).  Temporary guests can be of any age, but being under 60 puts one in a definite minority.  (In fact, we found a basketball goal and Carey shot some hoops while I shagged balls.  A guy came out of his house and gave us a quizzical look, which made me suspect the hoop hadn't been used in many moons.  And sure enough, when we went by that spot again a few days later, the hoop was gone.  Oh well, I'll gladly trade shagging basketballs for the peace and quiet afforded by an RV park that is not "family friendly.")

Some people put fairly permanent structures on their sites, while others really do use them more as a home base for their RV travels, leaving the site empty when they're gone.   That's what makes it possible for people like us to stay there.  In fact, the people who had our site were scheduled to be gone for several years.  Their loss--this is one of the primo sites in the whole place, in our opinion: 

The view from the vacant spot across the street      Nice view through our window     

The big tree in the picture below caused some satellite reception issues, which were solved by moving much more forward in the space than we would have liked, but that's life--it's not like we were on a  busy street or anything, although those folks can really get to buzzing around in their golf carts.

Quite a lovely spot to spend a few months    

Each site has a shed, where the owner can store things.  It's handy as a storage shed for residents, and serves as a locked closet for when the space is available to visitors.  This is the shed at our spot:

Each site has its own shed to contain its owner's possessions while they're out travelling

It was shed painting season, and in the community spirit of things, if you couldn't or wouldn't paint your shed yourself, volunteers would do it for you.  I thought this sort of thing flourished only in the Bronx, and only among radicals and communists!

But back to the satellite dish.  The TV satellite dish was working fine, but since it only has to receive, it can be a bit scattershot and still work.  The internet satellite dish, on the other hand, has to both receive and transmit, and requires much more precision and doesn't peek through branches well. 

The internet satellite dish is supposed to find the satellite automatically when we push a button.  Well, it hummed and hummed and whirled around, and simply could not get a signal.  It seemed like it didn't know where we were, so Carey decided to try to manually manipulate the pointing via the computer, but we needed to know what direction we were facing.  We didn't have a compass, and even the sun was uncooperative by being high in the sky.  The closest town, Coarsegold, was about seven miles away, and all we knew was that it was tiny and we weren't sure whether anybody there would be selling a compass.  The next closest town, Oakhurst, was another five miles after that and even it wasn't exactly a metropolis, and besides, we hadn't really planned on another road trip this soon.

But thank god we have an Eagle Scout on board, who could MAKE us a compass using a bowl of water, a match, and some iron filings.  The bowl of water was easy enough, the match was eventually located, but the iron filings presented a challenge.  Carey went to the tool compartment and returned with a can of insect repellent, a big file, and a confident look on his face.  He commenced to filing on the bottom of the can -- scrape scrape scrape --  and sure enough, little somethings fell off the can and he put them on the match on the water and we waited for the magic.  It didn't take long before the match was zooming around and homed right in on what we had previously guessed was north.  Success!  We added more iron filings and the match zoomed around and pointed another direction.  Oops.  Inconclusive results.  And as if that wasn't distressing enough, all that filing had busted through the bottom of the insect repellent can, which began spewing.

All in all, not the stuff of Eagle Scout legend, so we bit the bullet and hit the road, ending up at a camping store in the farther town and leaving with a precision backpacking compass as well as two pairs of new sunglasses.  That's why I try to stay out of stores.

But the store-bought compass did its job admirably, and between overcoming the satellite aiming calibration issues and moving the coach forward and backward until the satellite could peek through the tree branches, we finally got ourselves online.  Woo hoo!

With our satellite TV, we get the networks from both the Los Angeles and New York feeds, which can make for some convenient time-shifting when on the west coast.   Prime time in New York ends at 8:00 Pacific time, and even if you watch Nightline, your viewing evening can be over by 9:00.  Pretty sweet, especially with the shorter days approaching.

But the satellite doesn't get local channels, so to see the Fresno news, we had to be connected to the park's cable TV line.  Easy enough, and it turned out to be one of the most rewarding parts of our stay.  See, the park's cable system has its very own community announcement channel, with panels for all sorts of POS-related things like who's in the hospital, when the next horseshoe pitching event is scheduled, where flu shots are available in town, etc.  I always love reading that stuff, and this one in particular, because it was still "on air" when the announcements were being written or amended.   This is me enjoying one such occasion:

Debbie got a kick out of watching the geezers program messages on the POS TV channel     

This is the menu I'd see on the screen, which told the person doing the programming which buttons to press for which functions. 

We don't think they realized it broadcast while they were editing     

And then you'd watch every keystroke as it was entered, including backspaces to correct misspellings.  I'd see them spell something wrong, and implore them to fix it before going too far, but alas, it usually took until the long pauses, during which the person was presumably proofreading, for such things to get noticed, and the cursor to return, space-by-space, to the scene of the crime.

It was strangely compelling to watch each and every character and backspace entered

I often wondered if anybody else ever watched it.  I know there's no way anybody else enjoyed it as much as I did.

And speaking of unexpected things to see on TV, we happened across this guy, Colin Jackson, who used to be a weatherman in Austin, and is now plying his trade in Fresno

This Fresno weatherman/haircaster used to be in Austin... Colin Something

Finding weathermen we know from Austin on other channels actually happens a lot.   I think TV weathermen are really nomads at heart.

And while Carey and I actually are nomads, we sure didn't look the part at the POS.   When we arrived, we said we'd be there for a few days, maybe a week, intending to tour the various national parks and then move on.  Well, that few days eventually became two months because it was such a nice place and we were sort of killing time before a planned stop in Salt Lake City in December, and an intervening assault on San Francisco (and taking an RV this size to San Francisco requires some serious planning).

How in the world did we kill two months in the middle of nowhere?  Of course, we did go to the various national parks, but that consumed only a few days.  Carey did a lot of simulator programming, and pretty much every day rode my mountain bike up and down the lightly-trafficked roads and dirt paths that wound around the POS grounds, which was a great way to get some much needed exercise after a summer spent sitting in front of a computer.  But the main time killer of our stay started with a simple project to remove some tree sap that had fallen onto the back left corner of the RV during our extended stay in Los Angeles.  The only way I could get it off was with rubbing compound, and you know how that sort of thing goes--once you do a section, the one right next to it looks shabby in comparison.  Eventually I compounded and waxed the entire RV.  It took me pretty much the whole two months at a few hours a day. 

With superhuman determination, Debbie compounded and waxed the entire rig by hand

I also cleaned various hard-to-reach areas (see the slideshow for a photo of me on top of the retracted slide, looking like a spelunker), and we did a bunch of sealing of cracks and crevices with spray foam, a project brought on by the appearance of mouse droppings in our storage compartments underneath the coach.  Ewwww.

Not only that, the mouse was primarily hanging out in the big windsurfing equipment compartment, so every time it left droppings, we had to empty that entire compartment to clean up, which means putting an enormous amount of crap out on the ground, sometimes every single day.  Our neighbors must have thought we were insane. 

Being in the forest made rodents and critters a common problem, evidenced by people usually leaving their car hoods up to discourage them from nesting in their engines.   No need--they were living large in our RV.  And we never did get rid of them, although I know there were some changes in the makeup of the mouse population--in one cleaning effort, I was lying in the compartment and picked up what I thought was some insulation a mouse had been chewing on but while moving it by my face to throw it out the compartment opening, I noticed a PAIR OF EYES and then A TAIL and realized it was a dessicated mouse.  Scream.  Fling.  Mouse gone, but the memory still makes my skin crawl.

My big outing in the area was to Fresno, where I got an insider's tour from a local, Brenda Benadom, a friend of my sister's who had retired and moved back to Fresno.  Brenda was named the Fresno Grizzlies minor league baseball team's Fan of the Year, and she knew her stuff and, more importantly, somehow knew just what I'd want to see.  We saw the fabulous baseball stadium downtown and the attempts at revitalizing the downtown area; the Fresno State campus, and its former home, which now houses Fresno City College; and had lunch at Irene's Cafe in the Tower District.  The real insider stuff came when Brenda showed me the hotels downtown where her family got dressed up and went for Sunday lunch when she was little, and the different parts of town where the old money and the new money live (I prefer the old money neighborhood, and Brenda reports that it has boss Christmas decorations).  It was a great day, and actually made me understand why someone might want to live in Fresno--a tall order indeed. 

And to top it all off, Brenda was nice enough to allow me to bring some sheet music with me, and she sight-read and played on her piano a part of the Theme from Romeo and Juliet that I was unfamiliar with, not having heard the song since I saw the movie in 1968.  This was a great help because unless I know what something's supposed to sound like, it's really hard for me to play it.  And the POS had a piano in its clubhouse, which I used late at night when nobody was around because not only am I a terrible pianist, I hate it when strangers listen.

I did go over there one Friday afternoon, when I figured the place would be empty.   Sure enough, it was, so I started tinkling those ivories as only I can (replete with long pauses while I figure out what a particular chord is, and sometimes cussing), and a man came in and sat on one of the couches, reading a magazine or something.  I told him, "I'm no good at this, and if I'm annoying you, let me know and I'll stop."  He said he was sure it was no problem because his mother played the piano for his whole life and he was very used to it, and he loved it even when she was old and didn't play very well any more.  So I continued playing, and he left after one number.  Well.

One final feature of the POS was its exchange area, where people put discarded but usable items for others to take.  I got a great little chess board, a postal scale, and a POS windbreaker--items I wouldn't be willing to pony up actual cash for but that I'm glad I have, and were well worth the clothing and kitchen items I left behind.

I'll cover our trips to the national parks in their own sections of the website next, but I urge you to look at the pictures in the slide show below for a tour of the truly amazing POS park.



Now, we invite you to enjoy the slide show that goes along with this story.  Scroll down or click here to position the image below for easy viewing, then click the arrow icons to step back and forth through the slides.  Start or stop an automatic slide show using the icon with the red dots on the far right.  Press F11 to select full screen mode for best results.

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