The Purloined Propane

Or: Why People Are Terrible. And Wonderful. Or Both.

As it turns out, owning a travel trailer comes with a lot of baggage. And we’re not talking duffle bags or suitcases.

  • The eternal question: will your marriage survive backing in to an angled campsite between two trees, a boulder, and someone’s grandma, while an entire campground sits around and judges you while drinking craft beer? Again?
  • The constant gas-tank anxiety, because dragging a giant metal box behind you on the freeway consumes fuel faster than Garfield swallows lasagna.
  • The never-again-until-next-time white-knuckled negotiation of narrow mountain roads with sheer cliffs and impatient traffic; there are no atheists going through blind corners.
  • Tail-light covers fall off somewhere in Sonoma County. Smoke detectors go off at three in the morning for no reason.

But the biggest baggage that comes with owning a travel trailer? Apparently, it’s parking. That and people. And people complaining about your parking. As with most things, hell is other people.

Well, some people, at least.

People are a lot like travel trailers. Some are more structurally sound than others, some are pretty wobbly, and some are often full of gas. Some people are the worst. Some are the best.

And you see all of that in The Case of the Purloined Propane.

It all began in the fall of 2021, with the matter of the chickens. We received multiple letters about noise complaints, the suspicion we had a rooster, whether our hens were licensed, whether they had space, whether they had food and water. Basically, someone throwing allegations like spaghetti at the wall to see what nuisance would stick, all culminating in an armed Animal Control officer dropping by for a chat that lasted all of three minutes and left us vindicated. That attempt to cluck us over proved a wild goose chase.

So our nemesis then targeted our travel trailer. (Yes, this sounds like paranoia, but bear with me. Plus, to quote Joseph Heller in Catch-22: “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.”)

For the first year we owned the trailer, we parked it in our driveway, which seemed perfect: convenient access for any trip, an alternate office for work calls if one were feeling housebound, and blocking neither the street nor sightlines. And it was right there, a prized possession, the same cozy feeling as a doting mother has when all her college kids are home for the holidays.

So naturally we got a letter from the city, advising us that the trailer had been reported, and we were in violation of city code. Apparently, city code states travel trailers and the like need to be outside the property’s ‘offset’ or ‘setback’ – a swath of land up to 25 feet back from the street – meaning our driveway was simply too short, no matter how carefully or tidily we parked it.

We were given thirty days to move it. Which seems simple, but that’s when we figured out that allllll the other people who had bought travel trailers during the pandemic were possibly all now also looking for storage options. Again and again, storage facilities could only offer a waiting list.

So that was fun.

I finally, finally, secured a spot at a storage facility on the last day of the grace period. In fact, a code enforcement officer stopped by that morning and gave me an extra day to confirm and move the trailer, which was very gracious of him, considering he could have written us a $750 ticket.

Everyone I communicated with at the city was professional, gracious, and helpful. Nevertheless, it was galling to learn that they never go patrolling for these issues. In other words, the city really doesn’t bother enforcing the code unless someone calls it in.

Which means that someone went out of their way to report our trailer. Who? A neighbor with a gripe? A passing stranger with fixed opinions on urban parking aesthetics? A serial code violation reporter? As with the chickens, no one ever talked to us personally.

This is where you ask, with a twinge of doubt in your tone, “How do you know it was the same person each time, given that the city treats all complaints as confidential?”

Frankly, it’s more emotionally and narratively convenient to assume all the harassment was the work of a single bad neighbor. If criticism was coming from multiple sources, well, it would be harder to label them all as mean-spirited hobgoblins whose opinion could safely be rejected out of hand. Anyway …

The world may never know.

In the end, we managed to find a storage facility at decent price and a short twenty-minute drive from home. So all was well that ended well.

Except it wasn’t over. Not by propane tankful.

The storage facility we found on Stockton Blvd was basically a parking lot that time forgot, cracked and warped asphalt with a security gate. There was, however, a complimentary dump station and a propane-dispensary.

The storage facility also had Larry.

Larry was the manager and lived behind the office. In his mid-forties, maybe early fifties, he may or may not have been a veteran, and seemed to consider the storage facility a bit of a community. “It’s pretty quiet on Sundays,” he said, “if you ever want to just drive around and practice parking your trailer.”

Why do people keep suggesting I need practice? Just because of the incident with the hedgehog and the fire hydrant? (Kidding. I actually made a comment to him about my anxieties with trailer parking, because I like setting people’s expectations of my manual competence as low as possible.)

The resident vehicles definitely skewed well-used: old school buses, rusted boats, food trucks, RVs and old motorhomes. It seemed unlikely some of them had moved in years.

It was the sort of place where you might ask yourself (Spoiler Alert): “If I were a propane tank and wanted to be stolen, where would I go?”

We rented a 20′ angled uncovered parking space for $99 a month. No valet parking services, but at least we had it parked behind a secured fence and wouldn’t be fined by the city. So that was a relief.

Thirty days later, I drove over to pick up the trailer for another camping trip.

As I pulled up to our parking space, it took me a moment to figure out what was wrong with the picture. Then I got it. The cradle behind the hitch itself where the propane tank sat was empty.

Our propane tank was … wait for it … gone. Because of course it was.

And here’s another in the series of Lessons I Learned Too Late: always use a bicycle lock to chain your propane tank to your hitch, or remove it and store elsewhere.

Because if something is useful, someone, somewhere, will take it.

Someone must have noticed we didn’t secure our tank and remembered the phrase “God helps those who help themselves” – so they did.

And it was most likely a fellow tenant of the storage facility.

So that was fun.

I informed Larry about the loss, more to buy myself time to figure out replacement options rather than out of any expectation he would do anything more than utter some polite platitudes. Sure, theft of property on the storage facility grounds had a reputational risk for the business, but this was definitely under the heading of “You store your possessions at your own risk., blah blah blah” boilerplate rental agreement disclosures.

Larry was surprisingly helpful. He was shocked and sympathetic, not at all cynical. He thought to check my trailer batteries (which were still snugged into their casing), which I hadn’t even considered checking. Then he walked the perimeter, even half-scaling a fence to see if he could spot the tank abandoned in a drainage ditch. HE eventually concluded that a couple who had rented a spot across the aisle from our and who had suddenly left that week with rent unpaid had probably taken our tank as a souvenir (may it run out unexpectedly on them on a cold night in the desert).

Then Larry did something just so crazy it actually worked. He asked someone for help. As we walked around the grounds, he greeted another tenant who happened to be there working on his trailer, and asked him if he had a spare propane tank. And the man did, and gave it over without hesitation, not even accepting any money.

It was an older tank, well-used, and required a refill. But it fit perfectly in our trailer’s cradle.

I never would have thought to ask. But just like that, problem solved.

We definitely keep our tank locked to the trailer frame now.

In the end, I can’t even be mad at the people who took the propane tank. I’ve played too much Settlers of Catan not to understand the ‘accumulate resources whenever you can’ motivation.

I’m not even mad anymore about whoever called the city on the trailer, even though they are indirectly responsible for the loss of the propane tank and directly responsible for our trailer costs going up by $100 a month.

It’s just a lesson. Things always bend towards entropy and greater expenditures. Which is one reason why we’re considering getting rid of the trailer.

Other reasons? It’s hard to find good camping sites. It’s a lot of extra money each month from insurance costs and loan payments. It costs a lot in gas to use it. And with my sleep apnea, more often than not I need to sleep in the car to avoid keeping M and P up all night.

So this might have been one of our last trailer adventures (not that I wrote about all of them yet).

Are there reasons to keep going, despite the hassles, the problems of other people?

Sure. If a picture is worth a thousand words, here’s a 3,000 word rebuttal courtesy of Stillwater Cove in Sonoma County, taken in January of 2022.

Published by dmhallett101

Husband, father, writer, reader, mostly in that order. Staying sane by pretending to be creative by playing with (WordPress) blocks.

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