When I asked Ron, who’d like to remain last nameless as he looks for a new job, where his interest in collecting vintage RVs came from, he shrugged his shoulders as if the answer were obvious. “It’s a hobby. Everybody needs a hobby.” Ron, a 55-year-old handyman and musician who has called the East Village home on and off since the mid-eighties, joked, “I have a boat, a dog, two RVs, a band [Bluesco Band], all the things you can have if you don’t have a girlfriend!”
Ron found his 1971 Travco, a long, mustard yellow RV that kind of resembles a hot dog bun, which he calls Old Flat Top, two or three years ago via eBay just outside of Detroit. “That was an adventure,” Ron exclaimed. “I went with my friend Gus. We road-tripped out there to get it, got all the way back — we’re riding on 14th Street — and Gus smashes into the back of an SUV with this thing and fucks up the front.” He looked spent for a moment, almost melancholic. “So it took a little while to fix that.”
Old Flat Top, which is usually parked near Ron’s apartment on Third Street and First Avenue, has its fair share of admirers and onlookers, but many know Ron best for his RV the Free Willie Nelson, an East Village staple that was painted to look like an orca on the outside with a “cowboy” motif on the inside. The Free Willie Nelson was deemed out of commission almost two years ago after an electrical fire, but it’s important to Ron that it gets fixed soon.
You see, Ron has a plan. In fact, he’s had a plan for a few years, but it feels like now, more than ever, would be a great time for it to actually work out, with Ron being recently unemployed and all. 52/50, as he’s named it, would have Ron and eleven of his friends traveling to all fifty states in fifty-two weeks in three RVs. The mission: to rediscover America. “That’s why I bought [Old Flat Top], because I wanted to amass an armada of three, like the Niña, [Old Flat Top], and the Free Willie Nelson,” Ron said. (He has a third RV lined up that belongs to a friend.) The idea is to get students from local colleges to explain the history of each state, and also to find those less traveled, covert restaurants and bars that highlight local culture in ways that corporate establishments don’t.
Almost giddy, as if revealing at last the true motivation behind his plan, Ron said, “So, you’ve got a couple locals who are your hosts, and you go to places that are less traveled, but mostly it’s [about] how the country would respond to a bunch of yahoos from the East Village showing up on their doorstep!” Ron imagines a weekly podcast, daily blogging as they go, the works. Essentially, an educational road trip. “So that would be my dream,” Ron said. The practical side setting in, he added, “I think it’s a brilliant thing to do, it’s doable, [but] we’ll need sponsors.”
When he’s not busy conceptualizing year-long, massive road trips around the country, Ron is taking Old Flat Top to Onteora State Park to go fishing, spending a week at a time “camping” in it at Nickerson Beach Campground, or using it to transport equipment when his band plays shows. Inside, legroom is plentiful, there’s a couch that turns into bunk beds and a bathroom Ron is quite proud of. “Usually when girls see the bathroom, they go, ‘I could do this!’ It takes that, though,” he said, laughing.
Not surprising considering its size and location, Old Flat Top functions like an extension of Ron’s apartment. “It’s sort of like my front porch,” Ron said. “In [middle] America, people sit on their front porches and visitors come by and say hello, they might come up on the porch and visit a spell, or sit around and play some guitar. But here in the East Village, I have Old Flat Top.”