The Liberty Bell is one of the most popular attractions in Philadelphia. The symbol of freedom is inscribed with Leviticus 25:10, "Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the Land Unto All the Inhabitants thereof."
The bell has provided inspiration for the abolitionist, women's suffrage and civil rights movements. And it still inspires disenfranchised groups, today.
As I waited under the hot sun in the long line of tourists to see the Liberty Bell on a recent trip, I met Bob Parker and Donna Huffer, a lovely couple, who by age could be my grandparents.
When they asked me where I was visiting from, I replied quickly and proudly, "I'm from Detroit."
Donna hesitated for a moment when I returned the question their way. She took a deep breath and began to smirk, almost as if she was warning to me to get ready for an adventure.
She’s answered the question countless times before, but for her, the excitement of sharing their journey never gets old. Where they are visiting from depends on where they were the night before.
Life on the road
Bob and Donna have been traveling in an recreational vehicle for years. Their house is their motor home.
"If we don't like our neighbors, we turn the key," Donna likes to joke.
They met each other during their travels ten years ago and fell in love. They didn’t think they would find love again after their spouses passed away.
Donna began living in an RV full-time with her husband in the late 90s. After he had trouble finding a good job in Ohio, she quit her job and they hit the road. Their children wanted her to put the RV in park when she became a widow in 2003, but Donna never considered that option.
She travelled in the RV alone for two years, even making a trip to Alaska.
"I told my kids I was going to continue. And at first they wanted to know where I was going. I would give them a call, and after maybe six or eight times I did that, my son says, 'Forget it mom. You are fine,’" Donna said.
After Bob's wife died in 2003, he couldn't bear to live by himself in the beautiful Ohio farm house that they remodeled together. It was a constant reminder of his heartbreak.
Bob moved to Arkansas in 2004 to live with his sister, but that wasn't the right fit.
He bought an RV at the beginning of 2005 and rerouted his life.
Bob met Donna in Quartzsite, Arizona, in December 2005, just before the start of a singles RV gathering.
"We tell everybody our spouses whispered in God's ear, ‘Put those two together. They will have fun.’ I really believe it happened that way," Bob said.
They've visited almost every state, including Michigan. Donna recalls fondly her time spent with her late husband in the Upper Peninsula.
The only state they've never been to is Hawaii. Their motor home isn't equipped to travel across water, yet.
Bob and Donna say they're meeting more people who have replaced their homes with RVs.
They're known as full-time RVers.
There are no numbers available on how many people have their RVs as their sole residence.
Norman Wells, the general manager of National RV Detroit in Belleville, says he's seeing more customers who travel for work and recent retirees interested in RV living.
Wells says the RV way of life has its advantages.
"They can travel and not have all the upkeep and maintenance of a house and the expense and carrying costs of a house. They simplify and go to an RV and save their money," Wells said.
National RV Detroit has recreational vehicles such as travel trailers for as low as about ten thousand dollars. The top-of-the-line, luxury motor homes are much more expensive. They're essentially houses on wheels.
"They're fully self-contained and a lot of the high-end ones have induction cooktops and convection ovens, residential refrigerator, washer and dryer," Wells said.
A Recreational Vehicle Industry Association survey revealed RV ownership grew from 7.9 million households in 2005 to 8.9 million in 2011. Industry experts estimate that ten million households now own an RV.
Michigan is third in the nation for RV shipments, behind Texas and California, according to the Michigan Association of Recreational Vehicles and Campgrounds.
Bob, who Donna jokingly refers to as her boy toy, just turned 72. She isn't shy about her approaching 75th birthday.
The septuagenarians know they have more miles behind them than ahead of them on the road.
Bob and Donna don't regret any minute of their travels and have no plans to stop now.
"It has changed my life for the better, all the way around. I really enjoy the freedom that you have in this lifestyle, being able to go when you want to go," Bob said.
Their lifestyle might not be right for everyone, but their attitude is worth packing up in a suitcase and taking on the journey of life.
Perhaps, it could lead us all to our own Liberty Bell.
For them, their bell rings every time they turn the key in the ignition of their motor home to head to their next adventure.