Last weekend, Kim and I moved from casually browsing RVs to searching in earnest. We spent much of Friday and Saturday touring coaches, both used and new, trying to learn more about what we do and don’t want in a rig.

Part of the problem is that everything is theoretical at this point. Neither of us has extensive RV experience — in fact, I have zero RV experience — so there’s no way for us to make a decision grounded in reality. “This is tough for me,” I said on Saturday. “You know how I wrestle with perfection. How can we can possibly make a perfect decision?”

“We can’t,” Kim said, “and you shouldn’t try.”

She’s right, of course. I have to let go of the idea that we’re going to find the “perfect” RV. It’s not going to happen. We won’t even really know what we want until we’ve bought one and used it for a week or two. Still, I’m scared of making a bad decision.

But we have to start somewhere, right?

Our first stop on Friday afternoon was a consignment lot. We visited “Steve and Sons” out on 82nd Avenue to look at a 37-foot Class A 1998 Fleetwood “Bounder” ($21,500 and 51,000 miles) that I saw listed on Craigslist.

Note: RVs are divided into “classes”. Class A RVs look like a bus. Class B RVs look like a van. Class C RVs look like a delivery truck. Each class has its pros and cons.

We didn’t like the Bounder, but we did like the little 30-foot Winnebago (a “Minnie Winnie”) sitting next to it. It was in our price range ($37,000) and relatively new (2003 and 33,000 miles). Plus the layout looked great and the quality seemed good — as far as we could tell.

Next, we dashed off to meet Sam and Donna. This couple is selling a 38-foot Class A Newmar Kountry Star. Their coach is gorgeous and in great condition. Plus, their price is reasonable: $27,000 (and 49,000 miles). In fact, they probably had the best price we saw all weekend. The problem? Well, 38 feet is a lot of feet. Driving the Kountry Star really is like driving a bus.

Plus, the Kountry Star had a problem. While we were chatting with Sam and Donna, I noticed that something seemed…wrong. There was some discoloration on the ceiling. When I poked a ceiling tile, we found out why. The sagging tile seeped water down my arm. Sam went outside and climbed onto the roof, where he was shocked to find the cover to the air conditioner had blown away. Yikes. Water had been collecting in the attic. (Turns out this wasn’t an act of god. A prowler had been trying to break into RVs at the lot where this was stored. They caught him, but not before he damaged several vehicles.)

To finish our Friday, Kim and I drove out to Sandy to look at a couple of used RV lots. Nothing really struck our fancy, though. RV lots tend to take in only recent models, and they mark them up by outrageous amounts. (It’s not uncommon to find an RV at a dealer for $10,000 to $15,000 more than you can find it from a private party.)

Note: Kim and I aren’t interested in buying new. Buying an RV is like buying both a house and a car — but combines the worst features of both without any of the advantages. The biggest downfall is that you take a huge hit on depreciation, just like you would from any other vehicle. One fellow we met this weekend says he figures RVs decline in value by 3% each quarter, so that in five years an RV has lost almost half its value. We’re trying to balance finding something recent (and quality) with trying to avoid taking a beating from depreciation.

On Saturday morning, we drove to Vancouver to look at two used RVs.

  • The first was a 29-foot 1996 Gulfstream Sun Voyager with 53,000 miles for $26,000. This Class A wasn’t bad — and we liked the owner — but it just didn’t seem to be a good fit for us.
  • The second was a 30-foot 1996 Gulfstream Conquest LE with 25,000 miles for $20,000. This Class B seemed ragged around the edges. Plus, the price seemed high.

We met the owner of the Gulfstream Conquest in the corner of a Costco parking lot. He offered to let us take the rig for a spin, and we accepted. I drove the RV around local surface streets — my first time behind wheel of any recreational vehicle. It wasn’t bad. It felt like driving a U-Haul.

Next, we dashed down to Tigard to meet a fellow with a 28-foot 2004 Fleetwood Tioga. This was a beautiful coach in tip-top condition. Plus, the owner seemed like a nice guy. But he’d purchased the unit new from a dealer three months ago, so his asking price was high ($40,000 and 29,000 miles). We like this vehicle, but not at this price.

By now, we’d honed in on what we think we want. We want a class C RV (for a number of reasons, Kim’s not keen on the bus-like class A profile) between 28 and 32 feet. At this length, we’d get a back bedroom that separates from the front end of the vehicle, which would allow for one person to sleep while the other read or wrote or cooked. Based on our budget, that probably puts us in the 1998 to 2004 range.

After a quick stop to taste some sparkling wine, we visited another RV dealer. We were severely unimpressed with the options, so we returned to the place we’d started. We drove back to Steve and Sons to look at the Minnie Winnie we’d liked on Friday.

We spent half an hour examining the vehicle, and there’s no doubt we like it. But a couple of things happened that really turned us off from the dealer.

First, we had called to say that we wanted to test-drive the vehicle. But when we reached the lot, it was buried behind several other trucks and RVs. No effort had been made to allow us to run the rig. The obvious question was, “Why not?”

Next, we were under the impression that the dealership was selling consigned vehicles. That’s not the case. The salesman confided that the dealership places ads on Craigslist in the “for sale by owner” section because they think people will trust the ads more. But they’re not for sale by owner. Nor are they consigned. The RVs are bought at auction and then put on the lot. Whoa… Huge red flags!

Kim and I decided to call it a day. We headed home (well, actually we headed to a champagne bar) better-educated but no closer to purchasing an RV. After a weekend of RV shopping, I’ve let go of my need to find the perfect coach. But I’d dearly love to find a quality rig at a reasonable price.

Footnote: Yesterday morning, I drove down to Canby to look at a 29-foot 2000 Bigfoot Class C motorhome. While the rig was a bit rundown (and lacked the slide-out that Kim wants), I was impressed. There was an obvious quality difference between this unit and most of the vehicles we’ve seen. Even in its “well-loved” condition, it was easy to see that the construction was better, the materials were better, and the design was better. I filmed a couple of minutes of my tour with the owner.

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As I continue to do more public speaking — whether on stage, on air, or via recorded interview — I’m becoming interested in what does and does not make an effective communicator. But I’m not just interested in how to communicate with a passive audience; I also want to be a better conversationalist with my friends and family.

Recently I spent ten minutes watching this TED Talk from Julian Treasure about how to speak so that people will listen:

To begin, Treasure covers the things you ought not do when you talk. He says that these are the seven deadly sins of speaking:

  1. Gossip. When you speak ill of somebody who’s not present, the action reflects as poorly on you as it does on them (and perhaps more so). I gossip way more than I should. It’s a problem.
  2. Judging. Gossip is, of course, a form of judging. But judging includes sweeping generalizations about a group of people or things. Whenever you judge, you run the risk of offending somebody in your audience. (This isn’t always a bad thing, perhaps, but it’s something you should be aware of.)
  3. Negativity. It seems that some people only see (or speak of) the bad things in life. But people prefer to pass time with folks who are positive. We want to feel good about ourselves and the world around us.
  4. Complaining. One form of negativity is complaining — or “viral misery” as Treasure calls it. It goes beyond just talking about what’s wrong with the world at large to griping about perceived trials and tribulations in your own life. Everyone has shit to deal with; try to keep your complaints to yourself. Don’t vent.
  5. Excuses. People don’t like to listen to the reasons you haven’t accomplished the things you’ve promised to do (whether for yourself or others). They want you to do these things. If you don’t do them, don’t talk about them. And, especially, do not blame others for not getting things done. (Again, I have trouble with the first piece of this. I try not to blame other people, but I tend to make excuses for not doing my work.)
  6. Exaggeration. At its most basic, exaggeration (or hyperbole) demeans our language, says Treasure. If we use big words all the time — like “awesome” and “unbelievable” and so on — they lose their meanings. At its worst, exaggeration becomes outright lying. I have a couple of friends who are prone to exaggeration; it can be tough to know when to believe what they’re saying!
  7. Dogmatism. Too often, people confuse fact and opinion. They believe that just because they think something is so, it must be so. They don’t recognize that each person has her unique personality, circumstances, and experiences. What’s true for one person may not be true for another.

These seven “sins” can sabotage effective communication. But there are things to become a more effective speaker. According to Treasure, the four cornerstones of powerful speech are:

  • Honesty, the ability to be plain and true in what you say. “Be clear and straight,” Treasure says.
  • Authenticity, the ability to say what you think and feel instead of trying to say what you feel is expected of you. “Be your self,” Treasure says.
  • Integrity, or the ability to do what you say. “Be your word,” Treasure says.
  • Love, or the ability to make others feel better about themselves. “Wish them well,” Treasure says.

By aligning what you say with these qualities, people will want to listen to you. Treasure says that how you speak is important too. He covers tools of speech, such as rhythm and pitch and pace and timbre.

Treasure’s talk is short. If you’d like to become a better communicator, it’s well worth ten minutes of your time.

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In 2007, Leo Babauta started Zen Habits, a blog where he chronicled the changes he was trying to make in his life. For the past seven years, he’s documented his successes and failures as he’s striven to stop smoking, lose weight, get out of debt, and otherwise improve his world (and the world around him).

Leo’s current project is The Zen Habits Book, which he’s funding entirely through Kickstarter. (As of this writing, his project has 5,691 backers who have pledged $151,450 toward Leo’s goal. That’s three times as much as he’d hoped — and there are still fifteen days left to back the project!)

Recently, Leo and I spent an hour chatting by Skype. I asked him about his background, about coping with the fear of change, and the struggle many folks face with the need to be “perfect”. I’ve edited that conversation down to about thirty minutes and am pleased to present it here as the first episode of the Awesome People project, a new series of interviews with interesting individuals from all walks of life.

Here’s the video of our conversation:

Or, if you’d prefer, here’s a link to the audio version [55mb M4A file].

Finally, for those who’d rather read the written word, the remaining 5000 words of this article contain a transcription of the interview between me and Leo.

Note: Please note that this is not an exact transcription. For one, it’s hurried. I’m the one who transcribed the interview, and I’m not a professional. For another, I edited out irrelevant asides and various tics of speech. Some of these work okay in audio but would be a nuisance in writing. So please accept this a a faithful representation of what was said — but not a word-for-word transcription. Sound fair?

J.D.
Welcome. This is J.D. Roth, and this is the first of what I hope will be many interviews that I conduct with some of my favorite people.

Today, the very first person I’m talking to is Leo Babauta. Leo writes a blog called Zen Habits. It’s a great site for learning about how to make improvements with your life — how to live a better life. Leo and I came up in the blogging world together, and have been colleagues for a long time. He’s one of my favorite people, so I’m really pleased to have him as the first person I talk to in this series.

Leo, to start, why don’t you give us a little bit of background about yourself and how you came to write Zen Habits.

[click to continue…]

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I know lots of awesome people. So do you. We all do.

At the start of her excellent writing manual, If You Want to Write, Brenda Ueland states her premise: “Everybody is talented, original and has something important to say.” That’s my premise too.

The more people I meet, the more I believe that each of us has something unique to share with the world.

I don’t mean unique in a liberal “everyone deserves a gold star” sense. I mean it in an “everybody is the hero of her own life” sense. People are awesome. Despite the occasional evil action from an evil person, most folks are doing the best they can to make life better, both for themselves and others.

Lately I’ve been thinking that it’d be fun to highlight some of the awesome people I know. Not only bloggers — though I certainly know some awesome bloggers — but also teachers and scientists and bakers and retirees. Kim and I already plan to interview people during our future travels, but I want to get a head start on that project. I want to practice.

Starting today I’m going to put my new-found extroversion to good use. I plan to record and share a series of video interviews with the awesome people in my world. Sometimes these will be recorded Skype interviews. Sometimes they’ll be filmed in peson.

And because I’m not a guy who likes to watch video, I’ll provide both audio and written versions of the conversations too.

Note: When I mention this project to folks, they often ask if I’ve seen Humans of New York. Yes, I have. It’s terrific.

Early episodes of Awesome People will be imperfect. I know this. Quality will improve as I gain experience as an interviewer and learn to use my equipment. If you have constructive feedback, by all means share it! Do the interviews need to be shorter? Longer? Better edited? What parts were boring? Most interesting? What topics should I have pursued?

I promise that these productions will improve in time if you agree to provide feedback so that we can make this series something of lasting value.

What is in mind is a sort of Chautauqua…that’s the only name I can think of for it…like the traveling tent-show Chautauquas that used to move across America, this America, the one that we are now in, an old-time series of popular talks intended to edify and entertain, improve the mind and bring culture and enlightenment to the ears and thoughts of the hearer.

[…]

In this Chautauqua I would like not to cut any new channels of consciousness but simply dig deeper into old ones that have become silted in with the debris of thoughts grown stale and platitudes too often repeated. “What’s new?” is an interesting and broadening eternal question, but one which, if pursued exclusively, results only in an endless parade of trivia and fashion, the silt of tomorrow. I would like, instead, to be concerned with the question “What is best?,” a question which cuts deeply rather than broadly, a question whose answers tend to move the silt downstream.

— Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

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14 November 2014

In Search of Sleep

It’s 4 a.m. on a Friday. I can’t sleep. After an hour of tossing and turning in bed, I’ve got up and moved to the couch so that I won’t wake Kim. Because I work from home, I have the luxury of catching a mid-day nap. She has to be up and out of the […]

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12 November 2014

A Conversation about Travel, Aging, and Happiness

Last night, we had our neighbors over for drinks. For three hours, we sat around sipping wine while chatting about life with Jan and Sheila. (Jan is pronounced “yawn”.) Jan and Sheila are both in their early seventies, about thirty years older than Kim and I are. But whereas some folks their age seem to […]

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4 November 2014

A Portrait of the Artist: My Development as a Writer

I’ve loved words and books for as long as I can remember. As a boy, I was always eager for my parents to read to me: Harry the Dirty Dog, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, Millions of Cats, Tikki Tikki Tembo, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. The Giving Tree, […]

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2 November 2014

Never Too Late to Be Great

Lately I’ve been doing a lot of reading and thinking about folks who get late starts in life. Some people, like my ex-wife, have a clear vision of their future from a young age. That’s great. I’m glad they’re able to steer a course (and stick to it) from the time they get out college […]

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30 October 2014

Why I Walk: Some Thoughts on a Car-Free Lifestyle

Since returning from Ecuador in early September, Kim and I have both been focused on fitness. She’s doing Jenny Craig and hitting the gym; I’m doing Atkins and walking all over creation. We’re both down about ten pounds in two months. Yay! It feels great to be walking again. When I decided to lose weight […]

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24 October 2014

The Law of Attraction and the Power of Action

I’m not a fan of the Law of Attraction, the idea that people bring into their lives the things they think about. In fact, I think it’s bullshit. In The Secret, Rhonda Byrne explains how this “law” is purported to work: Thoughts are magnetic, and thoughts have a frequency. As you think, those thoughts are […]

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