Got an RV to sell?

There’s no disputing 2020 was a terrible year for businesses in general – and for the thousands of workers who either lost their jobs or had their hours cut.

But there are exceptions. Many homeowners are remodeling, helped by very low interest rates. That spurs construction jobs and appliance sales. Bicycles have been hard to come by. So, it turns out, have been RVs.

Reports of the sharp increase in demand for RVs hit us dramatically in mid-August, when we drove onto the lot of the RV dealer not far from our Wisconsin property. A lot normally full of vehicles for sale was two thirds empty!

As we checked in, Gary the service manager, assured us they were not going out of business. To the contrary, demand far exceeded the supply of RVs available. In years past, they might have 40 trailers of a specific model on the lot. They had two. When the sales staff got word of a delivery, the vehicles were often sold by the time they arrived.

They were not alone. An RV dealer in Pennsylvania that normally sold 10 units a week was closing sales on 300.

Two things converged to create this boom. First, trailer and motorhome manufactures shut down for about four months when the pandemic hit in March. So, no supply. About the same time, more and more families, decided RV camping was a safe way to get away from home but keep their pod safe from the pandemic – much better than flying or moteling. Hence, a big surge in demand.

A classic example of supply/demand economics.

IMG_0136                                                       At Pelican Lake, near Orr, MN, Sept. 13, 2020

We were very happy we had decided to upgrade to a newer used RV last December.

Years ago, we started taking an extended fall tour beginning in late August. The weather is still good and family trips are over because kids are back in school. With schools – elementary to college closed--RV parks – private and public – were still busy. The family-owned campground in Two Harbors, MN, on Lake Superior, we stayed in filled up every night. So did the municipal campground in Grand Marais, also on Lake Superior.

Minnesota was no exception. Across the country, according to industry news stories, demand for campsites jumped dramatically in 2o2o.

Wife Elaine, who does our trip booking, said next year she will have to start sooner to book the reservations we want.

Is this the start of trend or a fluke?

For couples who had been thinking of buying a camper and hitching it behind their pickup and decided to take the plunge, all may go well. Over time, they may even move up to a larger trailer or try a motorhome.

On the other hand, it takes time and, especially initially, a bit of patience to learn the ins and outs of RV life. Like a boat, it seems something always needs maintenance. Keeping one in tiptop shape is not cheap. How many will realize, while it may have been an option to get away from home in 2020, it’s not their cup of tea.

Will there be a glut of used RVs on the market next year or in 2022?


Chevy and Honda lose to both Ferrari and Ford

The weekend of June 19-21 was slated to be the high point of the racing season at Road America.

The world class road circuit, nestled in the rolling Kettle Moraine hills about an hour's drive north of Milwaukee, has become a traditional stop on the IndyCar circuit, the pinnacle of open wheel racing in the U.S. The track is only about 10 miles from our Wisconsin getaway property, so the 2020 dates have been circled on our calendar for months.

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Road America, June 2018

Drivers love the four-mile, nine-turn course with significant runoff areas. Fans love the place. The pits are accessible and the smells of roasting sweetcorn and broiling brats tempting stops at the concession stands. For Chevrolet and Honda, the only two engine suppliers, and the teams the challenge is to adapt to a long course with significant elevation changes.. Thanks to pandemic-related closings, IndyCar was forced to tear up its calendar. Road America was suddenly faced with an empty track on a premium week. (The track will host an IndyCar doubleheader July 11 and 12.)

So, the track opened its gates to race fans June 19 for a Friday Night At the Movies, featuring – how appropriately – the 2019 award winning Ford V Ferrari. The high whine of the Chevy and Honda turbocharged engines would be replaced the more guttural roar of 1960s-era Ford and Ferrari engines.

Road America got a good turnout. The cars were carefully spaced, one for every two spots. Pull up a lawn chair, sit, sip, watch the sunset and then enjoy the movie.

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In a nutshell, spurned in a bid to buy Ferrari, Ford executives, decided to beat Ferrari at its own game by winning the most prestigious road race on the planet, the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1966 – and do it in three months. Ferrari had won the race six years in a row and Ford did not have a serious racing program. So, it turned to Carroll Shelby, who had won Le Mans for another manufacturer in 1959. When a health issue forced him to stop racing, he turned to building race cars. Besides racing, the film is full of corporate intrigue and has a nice family dynamic. (More here: https://time.com/5730536/ford-v-ferrari-true-story/)

But this blog is not about the movie, it's about the setting and nice gesture by Road America. (Kudos to the person who came up with the idea.)

A very fun, different experience.


Cubs Need to Understand the Neighborhood

Two stories in Crain's publications layout the disconnect between our community and the team's owners.

Wrigley Field is part of Lake View – along Lake Michigan and about four miles north of Chicago's Loop. In the 40 years since I moved into the neighborhood, it has risen from middle to upper-middle class.

It's the epicenter of teardowns in Chicago – some 300 over the last five years – as one story documents. Century old one or two story fame "cottages" are being torn demolished and replaced by three-level single family homes costing three times as much. On the low side, a developer may pay $600,000 to clear a 25X125' lot, and sell the new house for $1.8 million.

The buyers are moving here for the short commute on Chicago's L trains or buses to jobs in the Loop. Initially they may be attracted by the neighborhood's vibrant nightlife. Later, they may stay for the good public schools in the neighborhood which can get their children into top notch high schools. Owning a second car may be optional. And there's the beautiful lakefront almost at their doorsteps.

While these homeowners may go to a Cubs game on occasion, they are not buying expensive homes because of the Cubs -- and the too often rowdy crowds the team attracts.

The same is true for renters. Of seven units we own within walking distance of Wrigley Field, it's rare for someone to mention proximity to the ballpark as a major reason for moving into the neighborhood

Lake View's biggest conflict is with an elitist family with ties to Omaha, Neb. The Ricketts own the biggest tract in the area. They call it Wrigley Field.

When this family, worth billions, decided to buy the Chicago Cubs, they initially tried to get Chicago and Illinois taxpayers to pay at least a big portion of the bill. When that failed, they said they would foot the bill for updating the old ballpark, but they needed some concessions from the city. Initially, some were reasonable, some less so. Compromises with the community and broader city were made. But the Ricketts keep coming back for more – more night games, more concerts, vacated sidewalks, a beer garden -- to make this rich family even wealthier.

In the latest move, the Cubs organization says it is necessary to close two thru streets that run alongside the ballpark. Addison Avenue is an important east-west street that, among other things, provides access to a district police station, Lake Shore Drive, and a busy L station. Clark Street -- so old is was once an Indian trail – cuts a diagonal linking Lincoln Park to Edgewater.

The team contends this is necessary to meet new Major League Baseball security guidelines – and don't dare question that assertion, "father knows best." Don't raise the likelihood these standards can be met in other ways.

The idea, as Crain's columnist Greg Hinz puts it, reflects a new level of arrogance.

Fortunately, our local alderman, Tom Tunney (44th), has rejected the idea, and has Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

The Ricketts family needs to get real. Their business is in an increasing affluent area of well-educated homeowners. We don't need the noise, traffic congestion, drunks and criminal elements. We understand 80,000 of us living in just over three square miles requires give and take.

For the Ricketts family, it's all take, no give.


Life in Rural Wisconsin Includes Fending Off Pests

Forget the mere mosquito, some resident critters threaten to kill livestock, take over barns and invade RVs.

Fulltime Wisconsin residents deal with it year round. At our getaway property, we get a taste of it, too.

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In June, our neighbor Sally started losing chickens from her modest organic operation – one a night for 12 nights, their heads ripped off.

At first, she and husband John suspected raccoons, since they are ongoing problem. After a neighbor set up a “critter cam,” the predator proved to be this great horned owl.

With the help of netting, they were able to capture the bird and put it in a dog kennel. In a moment of second thoughts about catching a creature rarely seen (they’re nocturnal), Sally let it fly free.

She has since had second thoughts. The owl has found ways to get through gaps in netting, to feasting on more of her chickens. Her only defense is to head to the chicken coop after dark, when the chickens have returned to their nests for the night, and shut the door.

Later that same Fourth of July weekend, when I checked our barn, instead of the Luke, our friendly socialized barn cat, I saw three sets of eyes looking back at me – from young raccoons.

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With help from Sally, we found a trap and rounded them up.

Unlike the owl, these critters did not get a second chance.

Enough said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

On later visits, wife Elaine and I discovered that wasps had built a nest – a fairly large one – by entering a vent for the refrigerator. The openings are the largest on the outside of our RV. Nothing like starting a weekend on the firing end of a wasp spray.

Finally, we’re fighting what seems like an invasion of mice, who make themselves at home after we leave.

We figure the solution to this is simple: When Mellie was with us, her presence and the scent left by her fur did the trick. Unfortunately, we had to put her down in in June. Luke is not an option. He’s not an indoor cat. Elaine and I agree, it’s time to adopt a pair of cats and introduce them to our RV


A Wisconsin Adventure: Roll with Conditions -- if Rolling is Possible

As experienced RVers, we’ve learned to deal with the unexpected: here a blown fuse (front steps would not extend), there a flat tire (fortunately while the RV was parked at our getaway property). Don’t get upset, just deal with it.

All those surprises proved nothing earlier this month when we set out to open our Wisconsin property for the season. About 20 miles from home, still on I-94 in the northern suburbs (on the connector between the Edens Expressway and Illinois Tollway) the engine in Elaine’s Jeep started making strange sounds and, within two miles, died. Fortunately, I was able to coast to the right side of an on ramp that provided a space between us and traffic traveling 60-plus miles an hour.

There we sat for about 90 minutes until a tow truck could reach us, put the Jeep on a flatbed and get us back to the garage we normally use not far from our home. (We got to ride in the cab of the truck. Poor Mellie, our cat, had to remain alone in her carrier in the Jeep. If she could speak, we would have gotten a earful.)

The news was not good: The engine, with only 60,000 miles, had blown. A rebuilt engine would cost $4500, far more than the 17-year-old Jeep was worth. (The vehicle had been towed behind the RV an additional 30,000 miles, but that put no wear on the engine or drivetrain.) Time to kiss it good-bye.

So on Friday, Day 2, Elaine spent the morning buying a new car. Fortunately, she had been thinking about her needs for a replacement vehicle, and a trip to the Chicago Auto Show this spring had helped her sort out the options. So it was fairly easy for her walk into a dealership, say, “I want that,” and drive it home. (I’ll save what she bought, and a picture, for another post.)

Our journey to Wisconsin, this time in my Passat, resumed after a 28-hour delay.

It was worth the wait. Migrating indigo buntings and rose breasted grosbeaks, quickly found the bird feeder. We both enjoyed watching these colorful birds, chow down. Elaine, the birder in the family, says most of them will move further north to nest, so seeing them is a spring treat.

We noticed the sandhill cranes, which hang around all summer, were back. Elaine got to test out her brand new bicycle on the hills of our favorite 17-mile route. And we completed our spring cleanup. Time to head home.

Not so fast.

As I put the bike rack on the back of the Passat, the rear window shattered into thousands of pieces. Apparently the metal end of a bungee cord got caught between the bottom of the window and the top of the trunk lid. After a few calls, we learned our insurance covered the cost, but it would take to the morning of the second day for another window to be installed.

We just had to hang around our little paradise another two nights. Retired, we could adjust our schedules. The weather was great. The first “bonus” evening we enjoyed a campfire. Two sandhills flew overhead – they are such majestic birds in flight.—and Luke, our socialized barn cat, curled up in our laps.

Moments that far outweigh the periodic surprises thrown our way.

 


Runners, Birders & Bikers: Forget a Favorite Lakeside Trail

Until at least November 2014.

That’s when the Army Corps of Engineers is due to complete a two-year construction of a new breakwall from Montrose Avenue south for about half a mile.

The Corps outlined details at a community meeting in late August that also provided a rare opportunity to ask questions of a Chicago Park District employee.

Over the decades, one of the prettiest, most peaceful areas in Lincoln Park has been a gravel road/trail that separates Lake Michigan from the east side of the Marovitz Golf Course. The 17-foot wide gravel path has served many purposes: a service road for the Park District that was also part of an equestrian trail. In 1978 it, and much of the equestrian path, became the Lakefront Running Trail. In 2003, for reasons more political that logical, runners were told to use the Lakefront Trail.

Ill-designed and ill-maintained, the Lakefront Trail forces runners, bikers, walkers (some with strollers and dogs), skaters and everyone else onto a strip on the west side of the golf course. The District created the greatest, most dangerous bottleneck in the northern half of Lincoln Park.

Meanwhile, the Park District posted signs designating the segment along the lakefront a service road.

For the next eight years a quiet detente existed: Runners found ways to use their old running trail. They shared it with birders, bikers and walkers. The Park District wisely looked the other way.

Until October 2011.

A massive storm pounded the lakefront with waves as high as 25 feet . It displaced a century old stone breakwall, consumed the the adjacent road/path and even damaged a decorative stone wall at the eastern edge of the golf course. The Park District fenced off the dangerous area and we runners, birders and hikers found a safe detour onto a service road within the golf course (the golfers were gone for the winter). The détente continued.

Things changed over the summer. People ignored the fences, ventured into the dangerous gaps in the washed out area, and, apparently, some got hurt and took advantage of our overly litigious culture to sue the Park District. In response, it has declared the entire area unsafe for pedestrians or vehicles – and has stepped up enforcement.

We runners, birders and walkers finally got some answers at the community meeting. The timetable calls for reconstruction of the breakwall to start next April, with completion set for November 2014. During that entire period the service road will be closed off to all except construction vehicles.

Between now and April, it’s up to the Park District which has decided to keep the entire service road closed. Like a lot of runners and birders, I don’t like that. Neither does a district police sergeant who objects to the lack of access for emergency vehicles. But I can’t blame the park people. Blame the lawyers and their clients.

 

 


The Wisconsin Wildlife Scene Gets Wilder

Now in our fifth summer at Moraine Elaine – our getaway property in Eastern Wisconsin – it’s interesting – maybe just a bit unsettling -- to notice how the wildlife picture changes from year to year.

The most obvious change this spring is an increase in the adult wild turkey population. The birds are common in the North Kettle Moraine area, but local residents agree the population, after a mild winter, is up. So I was not surprised to spook one coming up the driveway during our last visit. He quickly waddled into the kettle not far from our barn.

The deer population is also up. Until I spooked one with the ATV last fall, we had never seen one on our property. Over the winter, Sally, our neighbor used a “critter cam” to document at least three bucks and an equal number of does munching on apples that had fallen off two trees near our barn. Both she and another neighbor have taken steps to encourage their comeback. Sally says the biggest buck is king of the hill on a ridge just above our property.

The coyote has not returned. When we sat around our fire pit the first couple of years, one of the features of the night was the cry of coyotes. No friend of farmers and pet owners, an organized hunt two years ago succeeded in killing 17 of these members of the canine family. Their cry was absent last year and this.

So far, we’re talking about animals native to the area whose populations ebb and flow based on natural factors and hunting pressure. Not really a big deal.

The big deal that has locals talking is the appearance of two very large mammals new to the neighborhood and not exactly welcome.

There are reports of two or three black bear roaming around the east side of Long Lake – basically across the street from the popular Long Lake State Recreation Area in North Kettle Moraine State Park. That would be eight miles from Moraine Elaine.

Local residents don’t doubt their presence. And it’s well documented the bear population, mostly in the northern third of Wisconsin, is expanding to the south.

The other new visitor is at least one mountain lion (cougar), which reportedly was seen just west of Plymouth. That would be five miles from Moraine Elaine.

Bu one account, the witness made clear the animal he saw had a long tail, which is to say he was not confusing it with the much smaller bobcats who do inhabit the woods. (We’ve not seen one but the neighbors have.)

We’re not about to panic. No need to alter our walking, running or bicycling routes. No need for the special precautions residents and campers must take in bear country.

Now, if I ran the hiking trails deep in the woods – too old for that – I might think twice. Runners can spark the attack mode in animals, and mountain lions are no exception.

We just need to be aware that we have some new neighbors that aren’t always that friendly.


An Open Letter to Tom Tunney about the Chicago Ward Remap

[A bit of background for readers from outside Chicago. The City Council is past a deadline to remap itself. Chicago has 50 – yes, 50 – Wards. The 2010 census shows the city almost evenly divided with about 30 per cent blacks, whites and Latinos. None of the three maps currently on the table reflects this shift in the city’s population (Chicago lost 180,000 blacks between the 2000 census and 2010).]

Alderman Tom Tunney:

It's time to get real about the City Council remap.

Nothing on the table is acceptable because it reeks of reverse discrimination against whites and Latinos and grossly disenfranchises a large percentage of residents on the North Side – the 44th Ward included.

Based on news reports, I take exception to your co-sponsoring the original (black) proposal. Later, after the Latino map was presented, saying you could go either way, still indicates a willingness on your part to disenfranchise residents of the 44th and neighboring wards. The most recent “compromise,” while it may satisfy the Latino caucus, still gives blacks over-representation and whites under-representation.

A deviation of four percent (the Latino proposal) is suspect; a deviation of 10 percent is offensive.

It's encouraging to read that a group of unhappy Lakefront residents is actively considering a legal challenge to any unbalanced map. I would cheer on their efforts. And if it proves expensive and time consuming – and a distraction the mayor doesn't want – so be it!

Of course it's not too late to show a little courage and insist on a map with no more than a one percent deviation.

Tom, do the right thing!


A Needless Taxpayer Expense on Thanksgiving Day?

A major Lake Michigan storm pounded Chicago’s shoreline with 25 foot waves in October. In Lincoln Park, on the city’s North Side, it left a gaping hole in a stone breakwall, washed out a service road behind it and threatened to encroach on a golf course.

This was serious enough that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was quickly pressed into service.

No issue here.

In recent weeks my wife and I, who frequently exercise in the area, have followed the progress of this project involving one crane-equipped barge and a tug. To watch the crane operator pick up large rocks one at a time and carefully rebuild the barrier was an interesting break from out routines.

We haven’t seen the operation in about three weeks. When I checked out the site earlier this week, it looked as if the Corp might have done it’s job, leaving the Chicago Park District to fill in the gap in the service road.

Wrong!

This Thanksgiving Day morning the barge and tug were back at work, which raises questions:

Are members of the crew getting paid double time – or more – in holiday pay?

Why not take the day off --- and save the taxpayers a few bucks? The urgency aside, it’s many weeks before ice might impede such an operation.

How are we taxpayers getting short changed: In federal dollars through the Corps? Or in local dollars through the Chicago Park District? Neither has a reputation for frugality.

Apparently the workers get to stuff a few more bucks in their pockets, with their employer’s blessing, and we have to settle for a smaller piece of pie for dessert.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 


50/25: Two Very Special Reunions (in 2 Posts)

Two reunions this summer, celebrating events separated by 25 years, give me great memories of just how fortunate I am to know them.

I grew up with one group, and party and travel with the other. Because of their length, I’ve split them into two entries.

 

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Hit the rewind button, we’re going back half a century.

In September graduates of the Class of ‘61 celebrated the 50th anniversary of our high school commencement. Over four days, we shared stories of growing up in Mason City, Iowa, attending the city’s schools and decades of life after high school.

First and foremost, we had fun. Nothing says people with gray hair and a few more pounds can’t have a great time.

When I think back on the weekend, several things stood out in my mind: How quickly we started enjoying each other. We picked up conversations like we would with a friend seen every few months. Perhaps most amazing, our ever-open minds led us to discover classmates we never knew.

Technology helped. Most of us had contributed biographical information to a class website before the reunion. Just over 50 of us had also joined a Facebook page. At previous reunions – we’ve met every five – we picked up a reunion book on the first night and had no time to read it before the first gathering. This time we could do that “homework” in advance.

We may be on Medicare, but we do use a computer.

At the last minute, a Thursday night dinner was added. Some 60 of us, spouses included, dined at the city’s best known steakhouse, then adjourned to an upstairs space to have more drinks and a lot more conversation.

We had a head start on reconnecting.

No one came to the event to push an and agenda – political, religious or otherwise. An early attempt to do that on the website was quickly shot down. For this weekend, we put any difference aside to enjoy those days when our youth crossed the line into early adulthood.

 

Our memories don’t just go back 50 years. For some, who grew up in the same neighborhood, they pre-date school. For others, our lives crossed paths in elementary school or at the start of junior high. By high school (10th grade), even though we didn’t all know each other, we at least shared experiences being part of the smartest class in 20 years in a very good school system in a thriving city.

The reunion turnout was amazing. Of 357 graduates, 300 are alive and accounted for. And 127 – nearly 40 percent – attended a weekend event. That’s an amazing turnout. Was it because it was the 50th? Because most of us are retired and free to travel? Or because we have good memories of high school and past reunions?

Most amazing to me was connecting with classmates I never really knew -- with whom I didn’t share classes, social circles, neighborhoods or extra-circular activities. I traded stories about running with a retired CEO and his wife. Like me, he is still pounding the pavement at 68.

With another, I informed him the house he grew up in and recently had been a B&B was about to close, and he shared some of his professional expertize about hearing aids.

My best example is a nuclear engineer who works as a consultant to the operators of nuclear plants around the world, advising them on safety issues.

We went to different elementary schools before attending the same junior high school, but don’t remember each other from those days. By high school we were pursuing different interests and activities.

Somehow we connected at the reunion. We started talking on Thursday – he liked the blog entries I had written in advance of the reunion -- and by Saturday we sat at the same table and shared stories until the bitter end.

Like, when a limited number of honors classes were created staring in 9th grade, we were crushed that we didn’t make the cut. We were in that second class, just a notch below. After successful careers, we could laugh at that.

At one point, he turned to me and said something close to “where have you been all of our lives?”

Good question.

And one worth exploring. In the months ahead, and at the 55th reunion.

 

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[For the other half of this trip down memory lane, scroll down to the next entry in norblog, or click here.]