Two weeks ago, as we left our happy campers, (Get it? See what I did there? We’re going camping and we’re happy so… Please give me a little slack. Writing is a lonely endeavor and if I can’t amuse you at least I can amuse myself.) we had hazarded the semi-permanent traffic jam that is Chicago and were headed north to the big aviation event in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
Many people flock to Oshkosh for the week. That is a major understatement. Almost every year attendance tops half a million people. The campground holds one hundred thousand people. Some pack their tents, some drive ultra-fancy coaches, and some, like us, pull a humble travel trailer. The organizers at Oshkosh like to maximize the number of people who can camp. To this end, the camping spots are, shall we say, small. Close together, too. If there is one constant in all this, it is that someone has to back the trailer into the camping spot. I possess a few modest skills. Backing up a trailer is not one of them. For a few scary weeks, it was thought that I would be going to Oshkosh by myself which meant (oh the humanity) that I would have to learn how to put Camper A into slot B without damaging neighboring trailers C, D, E, and F.
So I went to Back Up School. Lesson one was backing up something small. We hooked a short fishing boat to the truck and I maneuvered around the yard. Eventually I put the truck in reverse and the fun (read: misery) started. There are apparently fifty different ways to back up a trailer and I tried them all. Hands at the top of the steering wheel. Hands at the bottom. Using the rearview mirror. Using the side mirrors. It became obvious the teacher would save his voice if he could somehow make a recording of “Other way!” as I merrily turned the wheel this way and that but never getting the desired result. At one point the wheel was turned all the way upside down and I had no idea how I got it there. I had lost track of which way I had turned it so I didn’t know which way to unturn it to fix (ha ha) things. I would gently turn the wheel; the boat would go in the wrong direction. I’d turn a little less gently the other way and the boat still went in the wrong direction. This was a recurring theme.
After, oh I don’t know, nine or ten hours, I did get the boat backed into the barn with most of the paint on the siding and on the boat intact. We decided we would get the travel trailer out of storage the next weekend and I could practice with the real thing.
The harshest test of a loving relationship is one person trying to teach another person how to back up a trailer. The second harshest test is jointly hooking that trailer up to the hitch on the truck. All manner of hand signals have been devised to convey the proximity of the trailer tongue to the ball hitch. When I gesture, I am indicating which way the rear of the truck needs to go. Again, apparently, this is not a universally recognized method of backing-up communication. I’m really really good on the “hands apart…you have this far to go” part, given that I don’t have any appreciable depth perception.
If only by process of elimination of the intent of the gesture and the perception of the driver, we got the trailer hooked up and into my back yard. I got in the truck and discovered that whereas the boat trailer was a benign, short, low-profile object, the travel trailer was a giant blockade of metal looming in every mirror. I couldn’t see around it and I sure couldn’t see behind it. Nor, of course, could I see behind the truck. All I could see was an expanse of white aluminum with a fading Springdale logo on it.
Remember The Flintstones theme song? “We’ll have a gay old time” ? Well, this wasn’t it. This was frustrating and embarrassing and humiliating and soon a spectator sport. Most of the neighbors came out to watch me jackknife the trailer all over the place. I could indeed drive it to Wisconsin but only if I encountered only pull-through gas pumps and camping spots. These are not eventualities a person wants to count on.
In the end, the gods of going in reverse smiled upon me and I didn’t have to drive by myself after all.
Missing a year because of Covid, Oshkosh was better than ever. And yes, we had a gay old time.
Marla Boone resides in Covington and writes for Miami Valley Today.