Just to cut some of the suspense from yesterday, let me just come right out and say this: emptying wastewater tanks is as wildly rewarding and fulfilling as you think it is. I'll go so far as to say it's cathartic. Watching all that waste fluid go sluicing down into some little hole, feeling the pulsing of the hose, which looks like a languidly vomiting sandworm — it's hard to beat.
Of course, aside from high points like watching your foamy shower-water and ghostly urine of beverages past flow into an underwater tank, there's long stretches of slow-driving boredom as well. The country out here in Arizona is really quite beautiful, but that doesn't mean that long stretches of 55 MPH road aren't any less boring. It's sort of like this pretty actress I knew in LA whose lovely face couldn't make her inane explanations of chemtrails or her "spirituality" any less tedious.
So, my mind has been wandering to the one other thing I'm seeing constantly on this trip: this 1977 Dodge's dashboard. If you've ever doubted just how far cars have come in the last three decades or so, spend some time behind the wheel of a 70s American car.
First, let's talk materials. Car-makers today go to some almost insane extremes to be sure that all the bits you feel on your dashboard fit certain stringent criteria. Back in '77, everyone who could possibly have given a shit about that was probably not born yet or still in elementary school. The dash here is a big, long slab of metal, painted a shade of beige that's probably called Forgotten Hummus in the color catalogs.
The metal is covered with a rubbery plastic top cap, which seems to be the minimum amount Chrysler could get away with to meet Federal wham-your-head-on-the-dash standards. While it only makes a half-assed attempt to mold to the shape of the metal dash, the designers did thoughtfully include a nice long bar of fake woodgrain, framed with fake chrome. It adds so much class that some of it drips into the glovebox and classes up your registration paperwork. There's also a center pod made of textured plastic as well, and it seems to be the same grade of plastic used to make the little divider/compartmentalizer found in a box of chocolates.
Quality-wise, there's some details that in no way would anyone stand for today. Check out the metal that forms the base of the A-pillar:
It's as wrinkly as a slept-in shirt. Any metalwork like that on a modern car would be covered up with three layers of insulation and plastic cladding, with a hand-written apology note stuck in the middle. It's amazing, in hindsight, how many things were (and probably are) good enough back then that nobody would accept today. Like 8-Tracks. They were hugely popular, and one of the their quirks was that they would sometimes switch tracks, loudly and clunky, mid-song, Somewhere, some executive was told that this new 8-Track system works pretty well, the cartridges are compact and tough, but halfway through a song it'll clunk and pause. And that exec said, "Fuck it, good enough." Oh, and the top corners of the A-pillars are the same way.
I actually love the spindly old steering wheel, even if straight head for the tires means a 45° angle for the wheel, and in that position it blocks the fuel gauge, which on this car the needle moves almost as rapidly as the speedo's. The white bold Futura font of the DODGE name I think looks quite fetching on the woodgrain.
Ergonomic testing on this dash I bet was a grueling, comprehensive process that could have taken up to 20 minutes and at least the partial attention of some design intern, during lunch. Controls are pretty much wherever, and all are the same-looking knobs, even though some are twist-switches, some pull out like church organ knobs, and some push and pull with discrete stops. My favorite control so far is the SET button on the (not working) cruise control. It's clearly labelled "SET", but that button and it's clear label are set into the top of the stalk, where no one will ever get to see it. I only realized it was there when I dropped something while getting into the car and noticed it on my way back up. It would have been so cheap and easy for them to design a button that actually had the label facing the driver, but I think Chrysler of that era was fresh out of shits to give.
Despite all my nitpickery here, I actually really love this dash. There's a great little ghost face to keep me company formed from the indicator lights and the brake warning light. The speedo needle dances and leaps, so you only know your speed within 25 MPH or so, nothings's really exactly where you want it to be, but at this point all rationality is gone and I don't care. This is the cockpit of my roving home, and that's enough for me, right now.
I also want to re-iterate the joys of driving with a toilet. At one point, in the middle of nowhere, my lunch decided it needed to eject, pronto. There wasn't a rest stop or anything for miles. In a normal car, that would have made for a horrific hour or more of sweaty, panicked, rectum-clenching misery. I just stopped in the middle of nowhere, grabbed a book, and solved the problem. PERMANENTLY. It's so much better.
We're heading to check out the Grand Canyon now (I mean, it's right here) and I have a big marathon driving session after that. Earlier today I had to swerve to avoid an idiot in a Jeep who decided to try out the middle of a 2-lane, oncoming-traffic road, and I almost ended up making a second bathroom for the RV. Luckily, the ungainly mass of RV and towed car handled the swerve better than I would have guessed, and all was okay save for the shaky adrenaline feeling all over.
Lots of road to cover. I'll update as soon as I can — honk if you see me!