It had been the worst of times, it has been the best of times. When we are given lemons we make lemonade.
We were displaced for eight months while the RV industry figured out who should take responsibility for making things right, and in the end we are the only ones who can make things right.
As most of you know, in April of 2018, we were heading back to Iowa from wintering in the Gulf Coast area with their seven home-schooled special needs children. Just north of Memphis, John, looked back to see the bottom of our 5th wheel RV falling apart. We pulled over at a no facility rest stop completely unprepared for what would happen next.
After sitting on the side of busy interstate 55 for over seventeen hours, we decided it was time for us to get a hotel. Christine thought we were well prepared for this type of thing, since she had planned and bought extensive road side insurance for the RV, an added extended warranty from a third-party RV insurance company, plus we still had the original RV warranty because the camper was only three years old. However, it became apparent very early on that there was a clause for everything, and the insurance and RV industry had no problems taking the money but had no intention on being responsible for making things right.
“I get it”, says Christine, “Stuff happens, things break, I totally get it but then make things right. That is all we are asking for – is to make things right. If just one person would step up and do the right thing, have some human decency, the whole situation could be changed around”.
A rapid decline in human empathy was apparent early on. Our personal RV insurance company (Progressive), wouldn’t take responsibility because it was a manufacture failure and they only covered ACTS of GOD. The extended roadside and warranty agreement with a third-party company (Coach Insurance) wouldn’t cover expenses because again, it was a manufacture defect. The RV warranty through the manufacture (Forest River) didn’t cover the damage because it was a frame failure from the company the RV manufacture purchased the Lippert frames from. Lippert frame manufacture didn’t cover anything past their one-year warranty agreement between them and the RV manufacture (Forest River). So there we sat, in a hotel room with no one wanting to pay for our unplanned trip interruption, which Christine had purchased on two different policies, and expenses were increase rapidly.
We found ourselves up a creek without a paddle. We traveled to Iowa every summer so the kids could receive their medical check-ups and therapies from the University of Iowa. As most of you know, John and Christine adopted the children from the foster care system, and there were lots of appointments to keep. Getting appoints at the Center for Development and Disabilities could sometimes take months of planning, so we had no real choice but to leave our beloved traveling home in Arkansas on the side of the road and head north to Iowa. After days of the RV sitting on the side of the road, John, on his own, without the help of Progressive, towed the damaged RV fifteen miles to a safe off-road storage location, and we began or trek back to Iowa.
Days slowly turned into weeks, weeks turned into months. The RV was our home. We were a full-time traveling family, and we were now without our home. John reflects back on the beginning, “At first it was fun, we pretended we were on a vacation. Staying in a hotel, then setting up camp in a tent. You know, really roughing it”. It was all fun and games until the infamous Iowa spring weather hit full force. The rain, the high winds, the tornado warnings, all in tents with special needs kids who had been on high alert, having daily trauma triggers for weeks was beginning to take its toll. Christine says, “We began seeing behaviors we hadn’t seen in years. It was like years of doing deep, hard heart work had flown out the window. We were stuck in a really hard place”.
After weeks of the camper sitting at the storage location off Interstate 55, with all our belongings, Progressive, with our roadside insurance found a company to tow the damaged RV to a repair facility (RV City) in Sherwood Arkansas. Once our RV arrived at RV City, things only went downhill. RV City did nothing to help facilitate the lengthy process that would begin the repair of the RV; in fact, the only proactive help they offered was to sell us another RV and incur even more debt. Once we firmly made it known that we were not buying another new RV, the constant lack of communication in the beginning, then turned into complete avoidance and was totally unacceptable. RV City took a bad situation and threw salt in our wounds. Again, Christine says, “I understand we aren’t their only customers. I even understand that our camper is taking up space in their lot. I totally get it but why couldn’t they make things right. Why couldn’t they just communicate with us? Why couldn’t they communicate with Lippert, the frame manufacture? Why couldn’t they treat us like they cared about us? Why couldn’t they have thought about this beyond their bottom dollar?”
Finally, after several months of living in a tent, leaving messages with no return communication from RV City, and from frustrated Lippert representatives, we decided we would have to move into a house until everything was settled. We needed a roof over their heads. After unplanned down deposits and expensive rental agreements, we moved into a house after living on the road for 4 years. We also had begun to accumulate debt again, we had no choice but to begin living off credit again. Our whole lives had been turned upside down, and not once did any of the parities involved try to make things right.
Lippert finally agreed to repair the frame as a “goodwill gesture” for a frame failure with a known fix. Twice workers with Lippert were sent to RV City to assess damages, twice RV City did not have the camper prepped, and therefore, the representatives could see nor assess the extent of the damage. RV Cities lack of compassion, sense of responsibility, or empathy for doing the right thing added months of emotional stress, mental health damage, and monetary expenses to our already trying days. Finally, after seven months of what felt like hostile negations, and a Lippert contracted welder standing his ground, RV City uncovered the damaged frame and allowed the wielders to preform eight hours of labor. Seven months for eight hours’ worth of work. Then another month worth of sketchy communications with RV City, and we finally got the all clear to come pick up our camper with a big kicker to boot. See, the phone call came the week before Christmas, and we were told that we had three days to drive twelve hours during the holidays to pick up our camper or else RV City would charge us twenty-five dollars a day for storage fee. Yes, you read correctly, after having our RV for seven months, with three days warning RV City proposed a twenty-five dollar a day storage fee. After multiple phone calls and several stressful days, RV City finally extended us a week’s leeway. So on the days between Christmas and New Year’s, John made the lone trip twelve hours away to pick up our treasured home, which we lovely call The Beast.
Now, eight months later, over 27 thousand dollars of debt, and several new therapists, we have our RV back amid a cold winter’s day but again, not without difficulty. You see, when John arrived at RV City, instead of being greeted with compassion and celebration for a long-awaited reunion. John was not greeted at all. The Beast was sitting in the parking lot, in a large mud puddle that had to be wadded through to get hooked up. It seemed as if everyone tried to ignore that anything had ever happened. In fact, when John went in to try and get some issues corrected, the workers actually looked the other way, and completely ignored him. When John went to hooked up the RV to the truck his connection cable was so severally damaged that it is was unusable. While the cable was being repaired, John noticed that the connection cable allowing the camper to be hooked up to electric was missing, which RV City said, "We have no idea what happened to it". John arrived at RV City at 4 pm with joy in his heart and left at 6:30 pm with sadness and disappointment. John then had to set up camp in the dark, and the cold with no way to plug into electric. Again, a little empathy and decency would have gone a long way.
After a trying day, John had to drive another twelve hours home in the cold and rain. Unexpected added expenses during the holiday seasons, and now to find storage and winterize the Beast rests on heavy hearts.
Truly where has human decency gone. Not once over the whole eight months did we raise our voice out of frustration or anger, never threatening for punitive damages, nor did we ever act out with anything other than understanding and grace. And to be treated with such openly passive aggressive behavior from businesses that rely on customer service, such disgrace in the end, it is easy to see the loss of humanity. It is easy to see how capitalism has undermined decency. It is evident that a sense of doing what is right has been lost. What is to happen to the good and decent actions of a few? Will all be lost to corporations and individuals who are just looking for a buck? We have chosen to look on the brighter side of this whole experience. Finding the golden nuggets. Choosing to make lemonade out of lemons. But it had been hard work that could have been made easier with just a little compassion, or empathy. We can only hope that leading by example is enough but only time will tell.