Eek!

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I knew I was behaving like a stereotype, but I couldn’t help myself.

I was standing on the living room couch, shrieking at the top of my lungs after seeing a mouse skitter across the floor.

animal, apodemus sylvaticus, brownI don’t know how it happened, but at some time during my 16 years of life, I’d developed a fear of all things rodent. I didn’t think hamsters and gerbils were cute (although for some reason I could tolerate guinea pigs). I didn’t think mice were cute either, and rats were straight-up deplorable.

Once when I was about twelve, my family was leaving my grandmother’s house late in the afternoon. My grandmother lived on the outskirts of a small town surrounded by crop fields. She had a huge front yard, and I don’t know how many acres in the back. There was plenty of room for wild critters to live all around her.

On this particular day, as my family was about to walk out onto the back porch to say our lingering good-byes, we saw a horrible site. In the utility room accessible only from the porch, rats come pouring out of a metal trash can close to the door. I’m not exaggerating when I say “rats.” These animals were not mice. These were pointy-nosed, long tailed rats. There was not one thing cute about them as far as I was concerned.

I may be exaggerating when I say rats were pouring out of the trash can. In my first recollection, there were at least a dozen rats jumping one after another from the trashcan and running around helter-skelter as if they were trying to desert the proverbial sinking ship. But could there have really been twelve rats in my grandmother’s utility room? I know there was more than one rat, more than two, definitely more than three. I know I must be correct if I say there were between three and twelve rats running willy-nilly in the utility room and on the porch.

My grandmother kept a clean house, but she said she’d been having problems with the rats in the utility room. I think my uncle hadn’t been around to burn the trash, so the rats had taken over the trash can. My grandma moved the trash can into the utility room thinking the rats wouldn’t venture in there to get the garbage. WRONG! The rats had no problem going into the utility room to get to the trash. They must have made their move into the can while we were in the house visiting. When they heard us near the back door, they rushed out of the can in search of better hiding places.

I had never seen a live wild rat in real life, but I was certainly terrified by these. I’m not exaggerating when I say I was terrified. I was not just uncomfortable, not just bothered, not just scared. I was losing my shit. I was acting bat-shit-crazy. I was unreasonably, illogically terrified. I was immediately screaming, sobbing, bawling. I refused to leave the house and walk five steps across the porch, down the concrete steps, and across the carport to the family car. I simply refused.  My father had to carry me—still sobbing—to the car. I was too old—and certainly too big—to be carried, and my dad was not accustomed to indulging such foolishness, but he must have known I wasn’t going to leave if I had to rely on my own two feet.

The fear I felt was primal and deep. I was not just a little scared. I had moved into the realm of phobia.

(More than three decades later, a friend said maybe my fear of rodents was some sort of ancestral memory left in my DNA by people who had avoided the Black Death by avoiding rats due to a fear of them. This theory makes as much sense as any other reason I’ve come up with.)

On the day the mouse was in the house, I felt the same primal fear. I was afraid, and I wanted to be as far away from the mouse as possible. I didn’t weigh my options, consider my choices, then decide the sofa was the place to be. No, there was no careful thought process. I simply jumped up on the couch and began shrieking.

What was I afraid of? The only concrete fear I can name is the concern that the mouse was going to run up my leg. Is that even a thing outside of slapstick comedy? Has any mouse anywhere ever run up a human’s leg? Does flight ever bring a wild animal into closer proximity to the flailing, screaming bigger creature? Doesn’t the concept of “flight” necessitate movement away from danger?

In any case, there was no good reason for my fright.

It’s just a little mouse, said my annoyed mother.

It’s so cute, said my animal-loving sibling.

I’ll set a tramp, said my practical father.

I stood on the couch long after I stopped shrieking, long after the mouse had hid itself somewhere safe. My family didn’t understand, but to our reptile brains, sometimes the tiniest thing is really the biggest and most important.

Photo courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/animal-cute-little-mouse-301448/.

Garbage Can

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I do reuse plastic grocery store bags for garbage, but I don’t always want a plastic bag crinkling in the van. Also, a bag holding only a few light items sometimes gets caught by the wind and the contents are dumped on the floor. Even having to pick up a few items–especially if they’re nasty–after they’ve already been disposed of once can get be really annoying. I wanted a trash can, but I didn’t have room for even a small one meant for a bathroom. Something meant for a desktop might have worked, but I didn’t find anything adequately small at any thrift shop.

The Man was eating a lot of oatmeal at the time, so he had to dispose of an empty oatmeal container every couple of weeks. Those containers were sturdy, had a lid, and wouldn’t take up too much space. I thought one would work great for my trash can needs, so I snagged the next one The Man emptied.

Of course, a plain oatmeal container wasn’t good enough for me; I had to decorate it. I grabbed my supplies: my accordion file stocked with images cut from magazines and catalogs and intented for collages, scissors, The Man’s spray adhesive, and peel & stick adhesive laminate.

Since I didn’t want to spend hours on the project, I used big images. I cut the pictures to proper size, then one by one sprayed the adhesive on the back side, then stuck the image to the oatmeal container. I didn’t measure anything, just held pictures up to the container and eyeballed things. I wasn’t very concerned with straight edges either. This project was a quick one. I just wanted to pretty-up something practical; I didn’t need perfection. (I find I need less and less perfection in my life.)

Duck Brand 1115016 Peel N' Stick Laminate Adhesive Shelf Liner, 18-Inch x 24-Feet, Clear
My final step was to cover the container with sticky-on-one-side clear peel & stick adhesive laminate. I brought this product at a fairly small Wal-Mart. I’d used clear Contact brand paper before, and found it would eventually peel off my project. Upon investigation of the products available at the Wal-Mart, I found the Contact brand clear product was labeled “repositionable” which means “non permant.” I found Duck Brand peel & stick laminate; it was labeled “permanent.” That’s what I used for this project, and I haven’t noticed any peeling.

The clear sticky paper could be skipped, but it served two purposes on my project. First, it protects the cardboard the container is made from and the paper clippings glued to the cardboard. Second, the spray adhesive left sticky residue on some of the clippings, so the clear covering keeps the residue from attracting dirt and keeps me from touching stickiness whenever I touch the container.

With about an hour’s time commitment, I used mostly items that would have otherwise gone to the dump to make something attractive and functional to enhance my van life. (The spray adhesive and protective clear film were investments; those supplies will be used for many future projects.) For pennies, I got a pretty little trash can in just the size I needed.

This photo shows the result of my garbage can project.

I took the photos of my supplies and the end result. The photo of the Duck Brand peel & stick laminate is an affiliate link from Amazon. If you click on that link, I get a small advertising fee on anything you buy from Amazon during your shopping experience.

Lovies

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The family in the mercantile was an interesting one.

There were two older people—a man and a woman—who seemed to be the grandparents. With them was a younger adult male who seemed to be the dad of the two kids on the group. The girl was the older of the two children. She was probably 11. The boy was quite a bit younger, maybe four. Everyone in the group except the girl had some sort of British (or of British heritage) accent.

 

The little boy was immediately drawn to the plush puppets. He grabbed a bunny puppet and hugged it close. I love him, the boy proclaimed in his adorable accent. The boy held onto the bunny puppet as the family milled around the store.

I thought the dad might buy the puppet for the boy, but no. The dad told the boy to return the bunny to its friends. The boy didn’t seem happy to reunite the puppets, but he did as he was told without throwing a tantrum. (I’ve seen many tantrums thrown over those puppets.)

I thought the family would leave after the puppet was put away, but they continued to walk around Rana | Frog by Mawthe store aimlessly. The little boy picked up a green plush backpack in the shape of a frog. It was nearly as big as he was, so he struggled a little to carry it around the store.

After a few more minutes, the dad told the boy to give the frog a hug and put it away. The boy gave the frog not only a hug but several kisses on its head. The manager of the mercantile and I couldn’t help but grin at each other like the childless middle age women we are and whisper Oh! How cute! a few times.

As the boy put the frog back into its bin, the father said they’d be bringing home no more stuffed animals.

The girl looked at me and explained that in their house, each family member had a small bin (she demonstrated the size with her hands) to put stuffed animals in. All stuffed animals owned had to fit in the bin with no parts sticking out. If anyone wanted a new stuffed animal, he or she had to discard from the bin so the new one would fit.

The dad piped in that he and his wife had as many stuffed animals as the kids did. Then the older man added that he and his wife were still storing stuffed toys from the dad’s childhood. These were some serious stuffed animal lovers!

Multicolored Teddy Bears Background by GDJThe girl went on to tell me about the downsizing that happened before the bin storage system was implemented. Everyone in the family chose their favorite animals to keep in his or her bin. They gathered up all the stuffed animals they had decided to discard, and she and her dad took them down to Tijuana where they donated the toys to an orphanage.

I was happy to know this family had donated their excess to people who had less, rather than chuck it into a landfill. I bet it felt just like Christmas to those Mexican kids when the girl and her dad handed over those toys.

 

Images courtesy of https://openclipart.org/detail/159691/rana-|-frog and https://openclipart.org/detail/230149/multicolored-teddy-bears-background

Telemarketers

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Late in 2016 I started getting calls for Mr. Sanchez. Black Rotary Phone

My phone says the calls come from California, and the person calling often greets me in Spanish.  The telemarketers usually speak about home improvements and local contractors or ask if I am the homeowner.

Although my phone number has a California area code, and I have worked in the state, I’ve never had a permanent address there. I’ve never been a homeowner in California either, and my ability to speak Spanish is infantile at best. The telemarketing calls are obviously not intended for me.

I’ve had the same phone number since the summer of 2012. I doubt Mr. Sanchez had the number before me and telemarketers are finally getting around to calling him 5+ years later. I think Mr. Sanchez gave my number to some business somewhere and it ended up being sold to other companies. My phone number is now on a list, but I’ll never know if Mr. Sanchez gave the wrong number—which turned out to be mine—accidentally or on purpose.

When I answer the phone and I’m greeted in Spanish, I say, I’m sorry, I don’t speak Spanish.

When I’m asked for Mr. Sanchez, I say, I’m sorry, there’s no one here by that name. You must have the wrong number.

Sometimes when the caller realizes from my hello that I’m a woman, I’m assumed to be Mrs. Sanchez. When that happens, I give them my wrong number response.

None of these responses seem to deter the telemarketers. They jump right in telling me about local contractors or asking if I’m the homeowner. They don’t care about Mr. or Mrs. Sanchez; they only care about meeting their quotas.

One day the telemarketer who’d called asked me if I was the homeowner.

No, I said. I don’t own a home. I live in a van.

The telemarketer was not expecting this answer and became embarrassed and flustered. Oh, I’m sorry, he muttered before ending the call.

Bingo!  I thought. Now I know how to get rid of them.

The next time I got a telemarketing call, I was ready.

No Mr. Sanchez here. Wrong number. Nope, not the homeowner. I live in a van.

The response I got was not what I expected. My confession about my living arrangement was not met with pity. The man on the other end of the line did not become flustered and end the call. Instead, he proclaimed, You are so luck-eeeeeee!

I agreed that I am lucky and the telemarketer asked, Where are you right now?

I told him I was in New Mexico, and he said geography was kind of his thing, Do you mind telling me where in New Mexico you are? he asked.

I told him I was in Truth or Consequences, which was almost true, as it was the closest town to the BLM land where my van and I were sitting at the moment.

That’s near El Paso, right? the telemarketer asked me.

While I was glad he appreciated my van-dwelling ways, I needed to drive and didn’t want to speak to this stranger any longer.

That’s right, I said. It’s not far from El Paso.

I hear it’s dangerous in El Paso, he said.

Well, I’m not going there, I told him.

Before I could say good-bye, he wanted to know, What’s the weather like down there?

The conversation was getting ridiculous. I thought saying I lived in my van would end the call, but instead it opened up a can of 50 Questions.

I gave him a quick weather report, rapidly followed by I gotta go!

Once I hung up, I told The Man (who’d been sitting next to me the whole time and heard my side of the exchange), I thought I’d never get off the phone with that guy.

At least the geography guy was nice. I got another telemarketing call a few weeks later and it was all kinds of wrong.

My phone started ringing and showed an 888 area code, so I knew it was a telemarketing call. I answered so I could ask the caller to remove me from the company’s list. I could hear a lot of noise in the background, maybe a television, maybe kids playing, maybe both. As usual, the telemarketer didn’t even want to talk to me; he wanted to talk to Mrs. Sanchez. I told him there was no one by that name at my number and asked the guy to please take my number off his list. He answered, You’re full of shit! I’m not taking you off nothing!

I said, Excuse me? but he had already hung up. For his sake, I hope the call was not being recorded for quality assurance.

I googled the number and it seems to be some kind of scam telemarketing operation. Someone wrote of the operation, They are using Magic Jack on VoIP which allows them to spoof and robodial. I don’t know what that means, but I blocked the number as soon as the call was over.

Image courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/black-rotary-phone-207456/.

Little Box

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This is the front of the box I decorated with space-related postage stamps.

I’d had the little wooden box for a long time. I think my rock guy gave it to me. I’d planned to decorate it someday, but there always seemed to be a more important project in my life.

I got the stamps from the free pile at the 2017 RTR. Someone dropped off an entire stamp collection, and I scooped it up, primarily to look for uncancelled postage. I found what I was looking for and used those stamps to mail letters. I gave some of the remaining stamps to Coyote Sue. I carried the rest around with me for ten months before I finally sorted through what was left.

While I was sorting, I found a lot of space-related stamps, many from the United States, but some from other countries too.

A good friend of mine is interested in all things space-related, so I thought it would make a nice present for him If I used the space-themed stamps to decorate the little wooden box. Everyone needs a cute little box, right?

I covered the top and the bottom of the box and all the sides. I even opened up the box and glued stamps inside.

This photo shows the back of the box. You can see how I filled in carefully around the hinges.

The biggest challenges of the project were covering the corners neatly and filling in the little spaces around the hinges. I took my time, and I think both areas came out looking just fine.

When my friend received the box, he sent me a message of thanks and said the box was “delightful.” Delight is a feeling I’m glad to envoke with any gift, but especially with one I made myself.

I took the photos in this post.

 

(Guest Post) How I Picked Up Seasonal Jobs to Support My Campervan Lifestyle, and You Can Too

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Van life, while cheaper than traditional lifestyle, is still more expensive than I first thought it would be.

One very real and somewhat harsh reality that came to light early in my van journeys, is the need for cold, hard cash.

When I first set out, I had $500 saved as a cushion. I thought with the lack of a rent payment I would be able to go without a job for a couple of months. However, I was wrong.

I realized pretty quickly I needed to pick up a job to feed myself as well as to buy gas to get us back to our campsite after each day of adventure.

Finding a Job

Leverage your experience and plan carefully

My partner had some experience with the van lifestyle, and he suggested that table waiting was a valuable skill for landing short term work.

Since I had several months to prepare for life on the road, I took a job at Applebees to round out my food service experience and insure that I’d be able to find good gigs in the towns we planned to stay in.

This strategy paid off very nicely when I was hired at a swanky joint to wait tables. This job covered all my expenses while working just a few hours per week. Best of all it left my days free to play in the mountains.

My partner was also able to land a job in a restaurant as a host. Toward the end of our time in Colorado, when the seasonal work at the restaurant dried up, he picked up a short-term day job cutting down trees for fire mitigation.

Location, Location…

How easy it is to find a job depends on where you put down temporary roots. For example, it will be easier in a tourist town than in an unknown small town.

Additionally, the economy of the area should be taken into consideration. I spent time living in Estes Park, CO, and it was quite easy to find a job.

However, in Joshua Tree, California, a smaller, less traveled town, I could not find a job to save my life.

… and more about location

Before you hit the pavement to look for work, consider that it’s most convenient to work close to where you park and sleep. I mean, one major reason for this lifestyle is to avoid a nasty commute! When looking at jobs, pay close
attention to travel logistics.

But sometimes that is not possible, or that otherwise perfect job will require some daily travel. If you will be using some type of public transportation, try to get work near a bus or train stop.

Another option is to plan to camp and work in an area that’s bicycle friendly. Even if you don’t normally pack a bike in your van, a used one can be acquired easily in most areas and then sold, given away or carried along to your next destination.

To improve your options, raise your standards

If you hate working in a certain industry such as retail, fast food, ect. do not even give this type of business a second thought.

I reached that point with the restaurant industry long ago. It took some effort, but as I upped my standards for the type of work I was willing to do, I started getting better jobs.

Craig can help

Craigslist is a great place to find some temporary work. My partner used to find odd jobs on Craigslist regularly. He found jobs as a mover, a construction worker, and a maintenance man.

Sometimes, a small job on Craigslist leads to longtime work. Other times, you want to run the opposite direction. Either way, it’s often tax-free money, and a networking opportunity!

It’s not what, but who you know

Keep in mind that most business owners don’t fill positions via ads, but by networking with people they already know.

One of the absolute best ways to network for any job is to decide on the industry you want to work in and meet people who are already working there. This is not always easy to do on the road, but it can be done.

Here are a few quick and simple places to network for short or longterm jobs

  • Others you meet at the camp area. Find the folks who’re up early and heading to work and pick their brains.
  • On the trail or other outdoor activities. Strike up conversations and ask folks about how they’re supporting their travel passions.
  • Local coffee shops, bars and restaurants. Talk to the barista, bartender and waitstaff and strike up conversations with other patron.
  • Go to the types of businesses where you want to work, and meet people who already work there. For example if you want to pick up landscaping work, get to know the local nursery and plant supply. Into horses? Head to the tac shop. Willing to walk dogs? Go to local pet stores and veterinarians and introduce yourself. Comfortable with computer hardware? You get the idea.
  • Meetup.com groups related to your industry. Make friends in the industry you want work in.

Tips For Nailing The interview

in a what?

I’m not advocating for outright lying…however, it is best to avoid telling your potential employer you live in a van. If you must say something, do it after you are hired.

I personally did not tell my employer I lived in a van until I had to. This was something my boyfriend warned against, based on some bad experiences, so I listened.

If asked about your living situation, a good response is to say you are camping/staying at a friend’s place until you find a rental. If you know someone in the town, this conversation can be avoided by using their address on the application and for mail.

Clean living

Showering before your interview should be among the first things on your mind. You can find showers at local outfitters, gyms, and laundromats. At the very least the confidence boost will help with the interview.

Leave your crew behind

This one will be obvious to most of you, but… my younger self had to learn it the hard way, so I’ll share this misstep.

While it may be tempting to bring in your peeps for support, it will backfire. Even bringing your crew just to wait inside (or even within eye sight) is a bad move because it rings immature. Honestly, it is just as bad as bringing your parent along!

Dress to Impress

Always dress nicely for interviews. If you don’t have any business or business casual clothing with you, try to bum from friends or buy something from a thrift shop. I know living in a van does not always jibe with dressing to impress, primarily because storing nice clothing takes up space.

Obviously if the job requires decent clothes you’ll have to buy them anyway. If not, get something decent for interviews and then donate them once hired.

Point is, don’t have “I live in a van” written all over yourself when you show up for an interview.

Scheduling and freedom

The most important thing for most rubber tramps is finding a schedule that works with their lifestyle. Finding a place that allows for flexibility is important.

When I lived in Colorado, I found a place that would work around my climbing schedule. When you go in, feel out the management and try to work out the best possible schedule for you.

You may need to interview at more than one place, so don’t be afraid to tell a potential employer you will think about their offer. I have found businesses near National or State Parks to be more accommodating.

Get paid what you’re worth

Always try to negotiate pay, no matter what industry. It won’t always work, especially with seasonal jobs. However, playing a bit of hardball can be worth your while. Once I was hired onto a position making $3 more than they offered, just because I asked.

Of course this depends on your level of flexibility, expertise, the availability of other workers in the field you’re applying for and other factors.

Keep in mind that many employers will respect you more if you are reasonably assertive and show you can take care of yourself.Try this line: “I plan to give this job my all, and to help you be as successful as you can while I’m here. In light of that, (plus my experience, my education, my talent…) I feel I’m worth $x per hour.”

Breaking up: Leaving your short-term position

I would never suggest lying to an employer about how long you intend to stay in a position. I also feel there can be gray area here, such as with jobs that tend have a very high turnover rate, where an early exit can be easily justified and even expected.

During the interview the fast food manager is going to talk about career opportunities and long term benefits, but no one (not even that manager) is going to be surprised when you leave that job within 3 months.

Of course in any tourist town, how long you stay will resolve itself as much of the available work will be short term.

 Bridge burning

As for non-seasonal jobs where the expectation is that you stay long term, you’ll have to decide for yourself if you want to fib about your long-term intentions. Ask yourself how this will impact your future work in the particular industry.

Obviously, if you’re applying in a professional situation where your long-term reputation is at stake, consider your actions carefully. Will the stress of maintaining a lie be worth a few bucks? Did you land the interview through a relationship that will be damaged if you don’t stick around? Would it make more sense to be honest and risk not getting the gig, in hopes the employer will hire you anyway?

Pros have options

Consider my partner’s advice from the top of this article. Acquire a skill that pays well and is appropriate for short-term, seasonal, or gig work.

A girlfriend and fellow van lifer, upon arrival in any town, peppers local bulletin boards, power poles, and Craigslist with fliers for pet sitting and dog walking. She’s got a list of referrals as long as your arm and she gets repeat business whenever she visits those towns. No fibbing required.

Another friend is a computer hardware wizard. He can build you a gaming box that will blow your mind, assemble a network for a small business or repair your laptop, and his skills are applicable anywhere he lands.

Simple math for nomadic income

The formula here is to have a skill that pays well, is in reasonably high demand, plus your willingness and ability to promote yourself when you need work.

I’m not saying you should starve, or even miss out on road adventures to avoid lying to an employer here and there, but do some careful thinking and planning to set yourself up for the best possible work life while van traveling.

Share your campervan work life stories

We’d love to hear your thoughts on finding seasonal work as a campervan traveler, and we’re more than happy to answer any questions you may have.

Please drop your comments or questions below and we’ll do our best to answer.

Thanks for reading.

When she’s not writing guest posts about van life, Veronica Cavanaugh from VanSage.com is camping, backpacking, or planning her next outdoor adventure. She also enjoys watching old movies and writing poetry.

Photos from Joshua Tree National Park courtesy of the author.

Etiquette for Interacting with Van Dwellers

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I was talking to a new full-time van dwelling friend, and conversation led to a discussion of some of the things people (van dwellers and nonvandwellers alike) have done to make us uncomfortable as single women living in our vans. As a public service as the RTR (Rubber Tramp Rendezvous) approaches, here are seven tips on how to politley interact with van dwellers and other folks who live in an RV or other vehicle.

  • Don’t sneak up on anyone, When approaching someone’s camp, a hearty yoohoo! or hello! announces your presence. Folks don’t like to be surprised by someone in their space, especially if the visitor is interrupting private time.
  • Try not to walk through anyone’s camp. If possible, walk on a camp’s perimeter. Give rigs a wide berth.
  • If you see someone outside their rig cooking, maybe it’s not the best time to visit. Ok, to be fair, I don’t know if visits during meal preparation bother most people, but such visits really irritate me.
  • Don’t tell other people what they need to do or buy. It’s great if you’ve figured out what works for you, but something that works for you won’t necessarily solve other people’s problems. If someone asks for or seems open to suggestions, by all means share your knowledge and success, but you don’t have to put on your bossy pants.
  • Don’t take photos of people or their rigs unless you’ve asked for and received consent to do so. Certainly don’t post such photos on social media or anywhere online without permission. If you want group shots, try taking a photo of the back of the crowd. Announce your intention to take a group shot so folks who don’t want to be in it can look elsewhere or walk away.
  • Don’t peer into windows or stick your head into open doors to take a peek inside someone’s rig. If a van dweller wants you to see the inside of the rig, you’ll be invited. If you were walking through a neighborhood and saw a cute house, would you walk right up to a window and try to look in? The people who lived in the house might not want to be friends with someone who did such a thing.
  • Unless there’s a bonafide emergency, do not enter anyone’s rig unless you have asked for and received permission to do so or have been invited in. Again, imagine you’re walking through a neighborhood. If you saw a house with an open front door, would you step inside and have a look around? I don’t think so!

When a van or RV or car is someone’s home, pleast treat it that way and don’t encroach on anyone’s privacy.

Thank you.

This public service announcement brought to you by the Rubber Tramp Artist.

I took the photo in this post.