Updated August 13, 2020 - 11:35 am
The “Happy Trammely” road adventure was supposed to be in full flourish by now. Las Vegas entertainers Joe and Jessica Trammel, with their three kids and a fully loaded RV, had planned to leave Las Vegas on Thursday and trek up the California coast.
They would stop along the way to perform pop-up shows for total strangers. The family would swim, fish, hike and bike.
Instead, the Trammels’ roving home and their belongings have gone missing. Their lives are upside-down.
“Everything we had went toward this RV and to take our kids on this trip,” Joe says. “We wanted to teach our kids about life, as a family, on the road. That has all been taken from us.”
Ever since the incident, the Trammels have been canvassing the city. They follow leads into North Las Vegas on Saturday. At this writing there are no solid leads.
The Trammels’ live-altering plans took an abrupt, tragic turn just as they were about to take off.
The family had a reservation Thursday at Cali Lake RV park in Santa Clarita, California. They planned to put on pop-up shows, a throwback to family vaudevillian tours of the early 1900s. Joe would perform his manic comedy routines, Jessica would dance it up. The kids — 6-year-old Jett, 10-year-old June and Joe’s 14-year-old son, Jacob, from a previous relationship — would serve as carnival barkers, singers and souvenir hawks. They’d planned to set up a lemonade stand, too.
The crew had adopted the #HappyTrammely hashtag to chronicle their upcoming tour.
“This was our way to get the kids away from the fears of COVID and to teach them about life,” Joe says. “It was for their education and for our mental and physical health. It was a way to share our passion, too.”
The Trammels were certainly suited for the task. Joe is an alum of the long-running hit “Splash” at Riviera and “V — The Ultimate Variety Show” at Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood. Just before COVID hit, he’d signed on to perform the comedy break in “Crazy Girls” at Planet Hollywood. Jessica has performed in “V,” the “Show in the Sky” at Rio, “Jubilee!” at Bally’s, “Sin City Comedy” and “Nathan Burton’s Comedy Magic” at V Theater.
Three years ago they attempted a comedy show called “5150” at Blondie’s, across from V Theater at Miracle Mile, an adventurous concept that never got off the ground.
During the shutdown, the Trammels had staged an online series called “The Comedy Garage.” Yes, comedy shows out of the garage in their Las Vegas home. Joe had cut dozens of “Pandemic Series” clips from the residence — portraying such comedy-friendly figures as Joe Exotic, the Joker and Ozzy Osbourne (the couple has distilled the series into a single, seven-minute clip).
The Trammels also posted a preview of #HappyTrammely: Riding Out the Pandemic” on YouTube, setting the stage for the grand adventure. The couple’s most recent performance video was a spoof of Joe Cocker’s “You Can Leave Your Hat On,” with Joe as Cocker and Jessica in her Heather le Feather role, performing a top-hat striptease.
The house was almost totally empty for that clip, recorded three days before the family departed.
The Trammels planned to barnstorm up the coast and return to Las Vegas in late August as the lease on their home expires. The kids would be home-schooled, or rather “RV-schooled.” The family’s RV, a 27-foot, 1999 Nash travel trailer, would be their new residence. They put their life savings, about $12,000, into that camper-trailer.
Jessica had packed the Nash with toys, clothing and only the necessary provisions.
“It was like putting together a puzzle, to organize for five people to live in this RV, but it worked,” says Jessica, who had made a DMV appointment at 4 p.m. Thursday to register the rig. “I was really proud of how it had all come together. It wasn’t easy, but it was done totally out of love.”
But Wednesday afternoon, about 5 p.m. or so and 24 hours before the planned departure, Joe walked outside where the Nash had been parked. He needed to change to head out in Las Vegas for the first time since March.
The RV was gone, vanished from the parking spot it had occupied for just five days. Aside from a flat-screen TV and bedding left in the house, the Nash was full of the family’s belongings.
“I had to turn around and walk back into the house,” Joe says. The comic actor actually felt his ever-active mind was playing tricks on him. “I thought my brain was doing some comedy on me.”
Instead, it is no stretch to say the family’s life savings was packed in that Nash.
“I just freaked out,” Joe says. “We wanted to teach our kids about life, as a family, on the road.”
“I was just absolutely stunned,” Jessica says. “We had a plan for what we were going to do, get the kids out for hands-on visual learning, to see the world with their own lives. I can’t tell you how it feels right now.”
The items were priceless, but do have a tangible value: About $12,000, the couple’s entire savings.
“I was just stunned,” Jessica said, the day after the event. “I’m still in shock now. I can’t believe someone would steal something like that. It was obviously a family RV, full of toys and personal items. We had bikes, hoverboards, a karaoke machine — to be on the beach and entertain.
“You had to know they were a family’s belongings. How can someone take that from a family?”
Joe and Jessica spent all night Wednesday criss-crossing the valley trying to find their lost home. They didn’t return until 4 a.m. Thursday. They told their kids later that day. Jett has adopted an alter-ego as a sleuth, donning sunglasses and vowing to get “the bad guys” who took their RV. He found a rock, which seems not from the neighborhood, which might have been used in the crime. He’s been keeping that evidence in a plastic bag.
The theft likely happened overnight Tuesday. The Nash had been parked at the Trammels’ home and locked with a key-activated coupler. Joe and Jessica, in hindsight, say they wish they had attached a GPS device to the RV.
But they thought the rig was safe, locked and parked just feet from their front door. They have no firm answer to the magic question: Who would do such a thing?
“We don’t know if it was someone who knew what we were planning, if it was malicious or what,” Joe says. “We are still processing all of this.”
Jessica is being cautious about her feelings.
”I don’t know how to address it without solid proof,” she says.
The neighborhood homeowners’ association is reviewing surveillance footage. Jessica has spent several hours herself raking through surveillance-footage apps, though nothing shows the night the RV was hauled away.
The couple has has been through some life even before COVID. June is on the autism scale and has required special-needs services. Joe is in recovery, having quit drinking three years ago, and embraces 12-step principles. He is determined not to slip even during this terrible moment.
“In the old days, I would have handled this very differently, put it that way,” Joe says. “I’m equipped to deal with adversity.”
A couple of years ago, Joe and Jessica moved to her original hometown of Auburn, Maine. She had been producing burlesque troupes when, last August, the couple returned to the Vegas entertainment community.
It is through that relationship the Trammels will receive support. They say anyone with a lead, or who wants to help the family, can email Imjoevegas@gmail.com or call 702-788-3698.
“I’m one of those people who doesn’t dwell on the negative,” Joe says. “There is a negative energy out there right now, and you feel it everywhere. But I am a positive person. I like smiles. So we have to think far in advance, to the time in the future when we’ve conquered all this.”
John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His PodKats! podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at email@example.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.