Stretch

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I thought I’d seen it all when I watched an older man on the roof of his van stretch a fuel hose up to a generator he had attached to the top of his vehicle. Of course, I was wrong.

I’d been working at a supermarket fuel center for about two months. I’d seen money pulled out of a bra, bills come through the drawer to the outside world covered in blood, a customer who didn’t know how to remove a locking gas cap, and an elderly lady who couldn’t remember what kind of fuel to put into her car. I’d seen a lot in my two months on the job, but my biggest Wow! I can’t believe I’m seeing this moment came, appropriately, on my last day as a fuel center clerk.

The white RAV4 pulled next to pump 3. I saw a woman with short white hair get out of the driver’s side of the car and walk over to the pump. I wasn’t paying a lot of attention to this specific customer. The fuel center was busy, and I had two repairmen from the alarm company in the kiosk with me. The customer on pump 3 was but a minor concern.

The woman in the white RAV4 must have realized that she’d parked with the wrong side of her car next to the pump. Her fuel tank–and the hole for the nozzle– was on the side of the car farthest from the fuel source.

This situation happened occasionally at the fuel center. I’m not sure how people forget what side of their vehicle the fuel tank is on. Perhaps the confusion comes from driving more than one vehicle regularly and forgetting that the fuel tanks are on different sides. Maybe the confusion occurs when a vacationer is driving a rental car and forgets the tank on the rental is in a different place than on the family vehicle. In any case, I’d seen it happen before. Usually the driver remedied the situation by getting behind the wheel and driving the car into a better position. The driver of the RAV4 had a different idea.

When I glanced over at pump 3 a couple of minutes after I saw the woman walking around the car, I saw she had taken the hose that deliver the fuel and s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d it over the roof of the RAV4. She’d then somehow managed to get the upside down nozzle into the opening to the gas tank so she could pump the fuel without moving the car. It was the damnedest thing.

Would you look at that! I said to the two guys form the alarm company. That lady’s got the hose stretched over the top of her car.

The two alarm company guys came over to the front of the kiosk and had a look. They agreed they’d never before seen anybody contort a gas hose the way the woman driving the RAV4 had done.

I was glad it was my last day on the job for a variety of reasons, but mostly because I was scared to see what would come next after believing that this time I had in fact seen it all.

Why Are You Here?

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The manager I liked came into the fuel center kiosk where I was working around nine o’clock that morning. I’d been there a little more than three hours.

When I’d done the opening paperwork, I’d seen a note stating that the coworker who was always late for work when he relieved me hadn’t even shown up the day before. He’d pulled a no-call/no-show, and another employee had come in early to cover the shift.

Do you think Dylan is going to come in today? I asked the manager. Mostly I was being nosey and fishing to find out if Dylan had been fired.

What do you mean? she asked.

Oh no! She wasn’t even aware of what had happened the day before. Now I’d opened a can of worms. I told her the paperwork from the previous night indicated that Dylan had been a no-call/no show.

I wasn’t aware, she said.

She grabbed the schedule and began scrutinizing it. She didn’t realize it was the next week’s schedule she was looking at. The new schedule had come out the day before and had been placed on top of the schedule for the current week.

She jabbed her finger at the schedule for Friday. She thought she was looking at today Friday and not next week Friday. While I was scheduled to work today Friday, I had the day off next week Friday. In her confusion about which Friday she was looking at, the manager thought I wasn’t supposed to be working today.

Why are you here? she asked me.

Oh Tiffany, I replied. I ask myself that all the time Why AM I here?

She started laughing, which is always a good response to kidding around. Then I showed her that she was looking at the schedule for the next week. When I pulled out the current schedule, she saw I was indeed supposed to be at work that day.

Dylan did not get fired. I never found out why he hadn’t shown up for work the previous day or called to let someone know that he couldn’t make it. The next time he was scheduled to relieve me, he showed up several minutes late, the same as it ever was.

The Rubber Tramp Artist on The Postcardist Podcast

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A few weeks ago, I was interviewed by my friend Frank Roche. Frank is the mastermind behind The Postcardist podcast. He and I met on Instagram (you can follow me on Instagram too, @rubbertrampartist), and we stay in touch via social media and good ol’ snail mail. When Frank was looking for folks to interview for the second season of The Postcardist, I didn’t just raise my hand, I waved it around and squealed, “Me! Me! Me!”

Well, ok, the raising of my hand and waving it around and generally calling attention to myself is all metaphoric for my excitement at volunteering to do something I suspected would be really fun. I did offer myself up for an interview, and to my delight, Frank accepted my offer.

On the appointed day, Frank called me and we had a long conversation about postcards, my blog, and the state insect of New Mexico, the tarantula hawk wasp. As I suspected, talking with Frank was really fun.

If you want to hear the whole interview, you can find it on episode 75 of The Postcardist podcast. While you’re there, you can stick around and listen to conversations with many cool, nice people who love postcards as much as I do.

I took the photos in this post. Both are available as postcards. Ask me, and I’ll tell you how to get them.

Will I Get Change?

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I was asked a lot of stupid questions when I worked at the supermarket fuel center (aka gas station). People wanted to know why only the diesel or flex fuel light came on. (Because you lifted the diesel/flex fuel nozzle. If you lift the gasoline nozzle, the lights indicating regular, midgrade, or premium will come on.) People wanted to know why the screen on the pump instructed them to see the cashier. (Because you’re trying to use a credit card we don’t accept. The sign on each pump clearly states what methods of payment you can use.) One lady even demanded I tell her what kind of fuel she was supposed to use in her car. (Ma’am, I have no earthly idea.)

The dumbest question I got (on more than occasion) went something like this:

Me: Hi! How can I help you today?

Customer: I need to get some gas.

Me [internal thought]: Duh! I figured as much, since we’re at a gas station.

Me [aloud]: What pump are you on?

Customer: Pump x.

Me:  Great! How much do you want to put on pump x?

Customer [slowly]: Well…I don’t know…I’m paying cash…I don’t know how much it will take.

To be fair, these customers may have been thinking back to a day when they could tell the gas station attendant they wanted to fill up and the attendant would authorize the pump to spew fuel into the universe until the customer returned the nozzle to its cradle. I remember those days. I remember when gas station customers could pay for their fuel after it was in the vehicle. Of course, such a procedure could lead to the popular gas-n-go scam in which the driver filled up the vehicle’s tank and drove away without paying a penny.

(I worked in a gas station years ago, a customer told me. When people drove off without paying, that money came out of my paycheck, he said.)

At the fuel center where I worked, no open ended transactions took place through the kiosk. When customers used credit or debit cards at the pump, they could pump gas from here to eternity (or until they’d drained their debit account or maxed out their credit card). However, if customers brought the same debit or credit cards to me to run inside the kiosk, I couldn’t do anything until I was told the dollar amount the customer wanted to spend.

Could you turn on pump x? customers sometimes asked me.

Well, no, I couldn’t. The POS (point-of-sale) system was designed to make stealing gas without the participation of the fuel clerk virtually impossible. I couldn’t just turn on pumps and trust customers to come back and pay for the fuel they’d put into their vehicles. Any time I authorized a sale on a pump, I authorized it for a specific dollar amount after I had the money on my side of the bulletproof glass.

I suppose I could have participated in fuel theft by authorizing a pump for an amount of money I had not received. Say a friend came to the fuel center and wanted to get $10 on pump 4 but only had five bucks. It was possible for me to authorize pump 4 for $10 even though I’d only been given $5. However, such thievery certainly would have come back to bite me in the ass. If I’d authorized a pump for a dollar amount I failed to collect, my drawer would have been short.  Eventually some bookkeeper would have noticed, and I would have suffered negative consequences.

I don’t know how other gas stations work, but my place of employment was strictly a pay-before-you-pump place. When customers wanted to pay cash, they had to tell me how much money they wanted to spend, which brings us back to the stupidest question I ever encountered on the job.

A customer wanted to pay cash to fill up a vehicle. The customer didn’t know how much money it would take to pay for a fill-up on the vehicle in question. I told the customer I couldn’t do an open ended transaction; I needed to put a specific dollar amount into the cash register.

What will happen if filling the tank doesn’t take as much money as I give you? more than one customer asked. Will you give me change?

I wanted to say, Oh, no! If you overpay, we keep your money. We don’t give change here.

I wanted to say, Of course we give you change, you idiot! Do you think we could get away with keeping your money?

I wanted to say, How is a gas station different from any other business when it comes to change? It’s not!! If you overpay, of course you get change!

Instead, I’d say something like, Oh, yes. I’ll give you change for whatever amount you don’t use. Just come back here when you’re done, and I’ll get cash for you right away.

To be fair, the change confusion was not a daily occurrence, but it happened more than once during the two months I worked at the fuel center. It was never a kid asking if they’d get their money back if they overpaid; the person confused about paying cash and getting change was always someone beyond middle age.

Have you never been to a gas station before? I sometimes wanted to ask customers. How do you not know how this works?

I had to remind myself that some people may have been buying and pumping fuel for the first time after many years of having a partner do it for them. I tried to remember that the confused folks may have been accustomed to paying with debit or credit cards and truly didn’t remember how paying with cash worked. Of course some of my customers were probably just dumb or possibly from another planet.

Forgotten Change

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When I worked at the fuel center (aka gas station) of a supermarket briefly during the summer of 2019, my POS (point-of-sale) system kept me updated on the monetary situations occurring at the pumps. I could look at my screen and tell who had paid at the kiosk and who had paid at the pump. I could see which customers had not yet begun to pump fuel and which ones had finished up. Most conveniently, I could see who was owed change.

The POS system kept track of how much money had been paid on each pump. If the customer overpaid, the POS system told me exactly how much change that customer was owed. When the customer came back to the kiosk for change, I only had to touch a few buttons then look on my screen to find out how much cash to hand back. If I was really at the top of my game, I would have a customer’s change waiting by the time the person walked up to the window.

Some people were so dead set on getting their change, they never even walked away from the kiosk. Of course, this only worked when a companion stayed at the car to pump the fuel. I wondered what went through the heads of people who stood right next to the kiosk while the companion pumped the fuel. Maybe the person who stayed was too tired to walk 15 feet back to the car, another 15 feet to return to the kiosk to collect the change, then 15 feet again to get to the car in preparation for departure. Maybe they were afraid I was going to take off with their $23.76 (or $11.43 or $4.98 or whatever), and run off to Mexico to start a new life. I don’t know how those people felt, but I felt awkward as hell when they hung around the kiosk waiting for the moment I could hand over their money. 

Other people were so seemingly unconcerned with money that they left without their change. This didn’t happen often, and when it did, it was usually only a few cents left behind. When I noticed the screen showing a dollar (or cents) amount in parentheses, I knew that money was owed to the customer. When I looked out the big kiosk windows and saw the pump where the change was owed was empty, I knew the customer had absentmindedly taken off without it or was too embarrassed to come back for a few pennies.

One day a man stepped up to the kiosk and gave me a large bill to pay for gas on pump 8. He mentioned his truck probably wouldn’t take all the gas the big bill would buy. I told him to just come back for his change. No problem.

Minutes passed, and I forgot about the fellow getting fuel on pump 8. When I next looked at my POS screen, I saw $12.53 was owed to the customer who’d used pump 8. However, when I looked over at pump 8, it was empty.  The man who’d given me the big bill was gone.

Twelve dollars is a pretty substantial amount of money. I could imagine some people (not me, I’m a frugal gal) leaving a few pennies behind, but I couldn’t imagine anyone abandoning more than a dollar. I figured the guy wanted his change, but had forgotten it.

I went through the steps on the POS system to make the change. I left the money in the cash drawer, but on the receipt I wrote a little note about what had happened. I left the receipt on top of the cash register, thinking the customer would return soon and I’d know just how much money to give him.

The customer didn’t come back. Hours passed. The customer didn’t return. The next time I dropped cash into the safe, I included the receipt with the note on it.

Of course, not long after I dropped the receipt into the safe, the phone rang. It was the customer who’d forgotten his $12.53. He seemed surprised but pleased that I remembered him. No problem, I told him. Just come back by and pick up your change.

He was home by then, about 30 miles away. He thought he’d be back in town probably Monday.   I told him if he wouldn’t be back before my shift was over, he should go directly to customer service when he did come in. I explained I’d written a note and included it with a safe drop so the situation had been documented. I said if he explained the circumstances to the person working at the customer service booth when he came in, there should be no problem getting his change.

The fellow thanked me profusely. I think he’d expected to get the run around, but he was so grateful when I remembered him and admitted to knowing he had left his change. Perhaps an unscrupulous cashier would have pocketed his $12.53, but not me. No way was I going to take something I knew didn’t belong to me.

3 Easy Ways to Make Coffee When Camping (Guest Post)

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I’m not an avid coffee drinker myself. Sure, I enjoy a caffeine buzz occasionally, especially if I’m trying to get some work done, but if I were on a camping trip and had no coffee to drink…no problem.

I know many other people feel differently than I do when it comes to having a cup of coffee in the morning. A morning without coffee could make an otherwise lovely camping trip hell for lots of folks. That’s why I was glad when Joshua Hodge, the founder of the Deep Blue Mountain outdoor blog offered to write a guest post about how to make delicious coffee while camping.

Joshua offers advice on making coffee three simple ways so even in the great outdoors, you don’t have to be without your favorite java.

Loyal fans of coffee like to enjoy the beverage everywhere from our cozy kitchens in the morning to our desks while working in the afternoons. Coffee is the thing that moves us, and without it our days can be grim

Access to coffee–anytime, anywhere we want it–should be the right of every coffee lover. However, there are some places where getting our favorite drink can be tough and troublesome. Unfortunately while on a camping trip can be one one of those challenging times for coffee drinkers.

Today I will teach you how to make coffee outdoors while camping. This tutorial will focus on more traditional and natural ways to make coffee so expect your coffee to be bold and wild.

Cowboy coffee 

Probably the easiest way to make coffee while camping is cowboy coffee. This method is for all those who value simplicity and have an adventurous spirit.

For this kind of coffee, you will only need three components: good quality ground coffee, a pot, and a heat source.

Your cowboy coffee can taste pretty awful or incredibly great, depending on the recipe you use. I think the recipe I am about to share with you will lead to coffee that will be a treat for your senses.

  • Add water to the pot and bring it to a boil – preferably using a campfire.
  • Once the water starts boiling, remove the pot and let it sit for 30 seconds. (Letting the water sit will bring it to the ideal temperature of 200°F. )
  • For every 8 ounces of water, add 2 tablespoons of finely ground beans (preferably from a local roastery).
  • Stir the grounds into the water.
  • Let your brew sit for 2 minutes then stir again.
  • Let it to sit for another 2 minutes after stirring.
  • After 4 minutes of brewing, sprinkle a little bit of cold water over your grounds.
  • Slowly pour the coffee, to keep grounds on the bottom of the pot.

Important note: Do not let the brew sit for too long,or it will get over-extracted. You will get the best aroma and taste if you pour immediately after brewing. 

Voila, your cup of Joe the cowboy way is ready, and it tastes great, doesn’t it? – If you followed the recipe, I know it does.

Cowboy coffee is ideal for camping – it is bold, untamed, and rich, with the spirit of the Old West. 

Coffee in a tea bag

This is a simple method in the form of good-old-fashioned tea bags packed with tasty grounds. You can find many delicious coffee grounds packed in bags from coffee beans coming from Guatemala, Indonesia, Ethiopia, or any other region you prefer. You can also make your own coffee bags according to Thorin Klosowski on Lifehacker.

Even more, coffee in teabags can really offer interesting combinations of taste and give specific overtones – like smoky, chocolate, or fruity. If you prefer a variety of coffee aromas and love exotic or interesting overtones, teabag coffee is an ideal option for your camping adventure.

Now, let me show you how convenient and easy it to make a tea bag coffee cuppa. It is as easy as steeping a tea bag and it works like this:

  • Put the coffee brew bag in your mug and pour hot water over.
  • Steep until you get the strength you want and then remove the bag.

The best part of a tea bag coffee is that you control the whole brewing process and dictate the taste. Additionally, most of the coffee bags are recyclable. Tea Bag coffee is simple to prepare and can almost taste as good as, say, French press coffee. You will treat yourself to a decent cup of coffee and a range of aromas if you decide to go for this option while camping.

The magnificent percolator

The third method for coffee making is using a percolator. This method is for those who don’t want to compromise their coffee’s taste, even while camping. With this method, you’ll experience the wafting smell of coffee and a bold, rich taste. With a percolater, you’ll be able to brew large amounts of coffee, so your coffee-drinking camp mates will be satisfied sooner.

Not every percolator is the same, and there are nuances when choosing the right one. I suggest checking this percolator guide to see what kind of percolator best fits your needs.

Percolators have two parts that are responsible for making the coffee: a pot and a vertical tube. Additionally, the vertical tube has a perforated basket on top of it where the grounds are held during brewing. 

The process of brewing using a percolator involves hot water (heated on a fire) going up the vertical tube and entering the basket where the grounds are. Next, water goes through the grounds, extracts soluble matter from them, and goes back into the pot. This cycle repeats until your tasty, bold coffee is ready. Many percolators have a viewing bubble which will allow you to observe when coffee gets the right color.

A percolator may need a little “getting used to” for best results. In that light, here are a few tips for beginners:

  • To determine capacity – Divide the amount of water the percolator holds by 5 and the result will be the number of servings 
  • Coffee strength – Half of a standard coffee measure will get you light coffee. Three-quarters of the measure will produce medium strength coffee. A whole measure will give you strong coffee.

Conclusion

Camping will take you far from stressful days in the city and open your senses to the wilderness. Meanwhile, your body and soul will rest, and the time spent outdoors will allow you to reconnect with yourself and nature. However, it’s not a full experience if you give up coffee.

Hopefully I’ve provided the easiest methods for a more than a decent cup of Joe on your camping trip. Choose the method that fit your needs and personality the best, and feel free to experiment.

Photo courtesy of https://pixabay.com/photos/coffee-grill-fire-heating-up-1031139/

Is This America? (Blog Post Bonus)

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Since today is American Independence Day, I thought I’d share an American story with you as a blog post bonus.

A couple of months before I started working at the fuel center (aka gas station), the corporation that owns it decided to stop accepting a major credit card. According to a flier given to customers before the major credit card was blackballed, the company I worked for

is charged excessive bank fees when customers use [the major credit card in question] at the checkout. To help keep your grocery price low, we’ve decided not to accept [this particular major credit card].

At the time I worked there, the fuel center accepted three other major credit cards, as well as debit cards, including debit cards with the name of the credit card we didn’t accept on them.  Confused? So were the customers.

The folks who lived in town and got fuel regularly where I worked were slowly growing accustomed to the change, but I worked in a tourist town, and the tourists who stopped in for fuel were in a perpetual state of WTF. Every day at least five visitors ran their card two or three times before the screen on the pump instructed the person pumping fuel to see the cashier. (Of course, when I was at work, the cashier was me.) Nine out of ten of the customers sent to see me were already pissed off. I could see it in their faces and their body language. When I told them the problem was that the store quit accepting their credit card of choice months earlier, they were usually incredulous. Some of them wanted to discuss the situation with me (What card CAN I use? or Can I use my debit card?) but some simply walked away without speaking, looks of anger and/or disgust on their faces.

You must be the only gas station in the country that doesn’t take [the credit card he wanted to use], one visitor spat at me during my last week of work.

Maybe, I said noncommittally to him. I wasn’t going to argue with him because for all I knew, he was right.

Many of the locals who knew they couldn’t use the particular credit card where I worked were not too happy about the situation. One elderly lady gave me an earful. Neither the bulletproof glass between us nor the scratchy intercom deterred her.

I know it’s not your fault, but it is ridiculous you don’t take [the credit card in question]. And it’s a shame they make you say it’s to keep prices low. Every time I go into the supermarket, everything is so expensive! My friends don’t even come here anymore.

I cut in to offer my apologies, but she didn’t want to hear them. She just wanted to rant.

I know it’s not your fault, she repeated, then started back in with her tirade.

I wanted to ask her why she was making me listen to her complaints if she knew the situation was not my fault and I could do nothing to remedy it, but instead I kept my mouth shut and tried to appear sympathetic. I didn’t understand why she continued to spend money where I worked if she thought the prices were too high and she hated the payment options.

The fellow in line behind her must have been tired of listening to her too. He was a big guy, easily over six feet tall, and he probably weighted upwards of 200 pounds. While he didn’t physically push the little old lady away, he used his size to intimidate her, so she stepped off to the side of the drawer I used to collect payment and deliver cigarettes, candy, and change. While the lady was still complaining, the large customer drowned out her voice by demanding, $25 on 6!

The elderly lady looked startled, then scurried away.

On the one hand, I thought the male customer had behaved very rudely.

What’s wrong with you? I wanted to ask him. That woman was old enough to be your mother. Would you want someone to treat your mother that way?

On the other hand, God bless him. If he hadn’t stepped up, that lady might have gone on for another five minutes.

Of course, each pump had a sticker saying we only took the debit version of the card. Of course, most customers don’t read the words on gas pumps.

One afternoon an elderly man approached the kiosk while a manager was in there with me. She happened to be closest to the intercom when the fellow walked up, so she asked how she could help him.

He said the screen on the pump had told him to see the cashier. The manager asked him if he was trying to use the credit card we didn’t accept. He confirmed that he was. The manager told him we’d stopped taking that card several months prior. He was obviously livid.

The customer stomped off, and the manager went to the back of the kiosk, out of sight. I thought she’d left.

Maybe two minutes later, I looked out of the bulletproof glass to see the already angry customer booking it back to the kiosk. When he reached the window, I switched on the intercom and asked how I could help him.

You don’t take [card we didn’t take], right? he asked me.

That’s right, I told him.

Then why does every pump have a sticker saying you take it? he wanted to know. He really thought he had me now.

Oh, sir, I said nicely, those stickers say ‘debit only.”

He spun on his heels and took off without a word.

I thought his head was going to explode, my manager said.

I thought you’d left, I said to her.

I saw him coming back, so I ducked out of sight.

I’m really glad you saw that, I told her. It happens all the time.

A few days later a youngish woman came up to the kiosk. She was holding two red two-gallon gas cans. She seemed a little frantic.

The pump told me to see the cashier, she said to me.

Are you trying to use [the credit card we didn’t take], I asked her. She was.

I’m sorry. We quit taking those in April.

Now I’ve lost my place in line, she screeched. There should be a sign! There should be a sign!

I tried to tell her about the stickers on the pumps, but she didn’t want to hear anything I had to say. She was already crossing the fuel center to negotiate with the woman who had pulled her truck up to the pump the woman with the gas cans had been trying to use.

My favorite response from a frustrated credit card user came one busy afternoon. The line was about five deep when a man stepped up the window and told me the screen on the pump had instructed him to see the cashier.

I asked him if he was using the credit card we didn’t accept. He said he was. I told him we didn’t accept it.

He busted out with, Is this America?

I almost busted out laughing, but managed to keep a straight face. I don’t know if the guy was referencing the free enterprise system or the Rah! Rah! Rah! U!S!A! freedoms certain segments of the population tend to celebrate. All I knew was it didn’t matter what country we were in—I couldn’t process the card he wanted to use.

I took the photo in this post.

You Fishing?

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Tackle Box With Fishing Lures and Rods

According to the National Today website, yesterday was National Go Fishing Day. I didn’t go fishing yesterday, but in honor of the missed “holiday,” today I’ll tell you a story about fishing of a different kind.

Have you ever been to a gas station and seen colored circles in the concrete? Those colored circles are lids to the spill buckets. I don’t know exactly what role the spill buckets play in the fuel center system, but I do know water should not be allowed to sit in them. If water sits in them, the water can (somehow) get into the fuel, a huge no-no.

At the fuel center where I worked briefly, water ended up in at least half of the spill buckets when it rained more than a drizzle Some would only have a bit of water in them, while others would end up with a couple inches of liquid in them. It was the job of the fuel clerk on duty to use absorbent pads to soak up the liquid.

Checking the spill buckets was on the list of duties for both the opening and closing clerks. When I opened (often) or closed (hardly ever), I made sure to act accordingly where the spill buckets were concerned.

One day my shift started at noon. The midday worked did not have “check spill buckets” on the list of duties, so I did not check the spill buckets. After the opening clerk had left to get items to restock the fuel center, one of the assistant store managers showed up at the fuel center and checked the spill buckets. She found about two inches of water in most of them and sent me out with absorbent pads to soak up the water.

Soaking up the liquid in the spill buckets was one of my least favorite

Man Wearing White Tank Top

duties. For one thing, it was dirty work. Just lifting the lids left dust and grease on my hands. When I had to stick my hands down down down into the spill bucket to put the absorbent pads in place, I’d usually end up with dirt, grease, and mud (and sometimes dirty, muddy grease) all over my forearms.

Another reason I hated dealing with the spill buckets was because doing so was dangerous. I had to get on my knees in order to reach down into the spill buckets. Although I am not an insubstantial person, I felt invisible while so low to the ground. Also, the spill buckets were located in an area drivers often zipped through as a shortcut out of the parking lot. Every time I was on the ground trying to dry out those spill buckets, I felt like the living ingredient in a recipe for disaster.

Once when I was putting pads in a spill bucket, a small SUV came too close for comfort. I don’t know where it came from. I think it was heading to pump 10, but for some reason the driver started backing it up. To say it almost hit me is a bit of an exaggeration, but it certainly scared me. It wasn’t there, then suddenly it was.

Hey! Hey! Hey!  I started yelling. I can’t remember if I jumped up or crouched there paralyzed with fear.

The driver stopped the vehicle and stuck his head out the rolled-down window. His eyes were big. Are you ok? he asked me.

I’m ok, I told him. You didn’t hit me, but you did scare me.

You scared me, he said, but he wasn’t the one who’d come close to bodily harm. Then he rolled up his window and left without fueling up.

I guess he was so scared by almost hitting you that he decided to go get gas somewhere else, another customer joked.

On the day the manager found inches of water in the spill buckets and had me handle the situation, I asked the morning fuel clerk about it when he came back with the items for the restock. He said he had put absorbent pads into the spill buckets early in the day, but the fuel delivery guy must have pulled them out when he came over later. At best, my coworker had done half his job. It wasn’t enough to put pads in there and never check on them again. He should have gone back to pull the soggy pads out, at which point he would have seen the delivery driver had pulled them out already and that there was still water that needed to be absorbed.

After that day, if I came in at noon on a day after it had rained, I checked the spill buckets even though doing so wasn’t on my list of responsibilities. Whenever I asked my coworker about the condition of the spill buckets after a rain, he always thought I was talking about the buckets with squeegees and fluid for cleaning windshields. When I point in the direction of the spill buckets and said, no, those, he always assured me they were fine. They were never fine. Finally I quit asking him and just handled the problem.

One morning I opened the fuel center and checked the spill buckets as I was supposed to. To my chagrin, I found water in more than half of them. I went back to the kiosk and grabbed several absorbent pads. I also grabbed two orange safety cones and put those down on either side of me. I hoped drivers would see the orange cones even if they missed my big butt and fluorescent pink safety vest.

While I was down on my knees, I saw a small pickup truck pull in next to the air pump. I knew the air pump wasn’t working and was glad there was an “out of order” sign on it. A few minutes later, I noticed a man walking across the fuel center toward me.

Is the air pump really out of order? he asked me.

It took everything I had not to say something sarcastic to the guy. Why would we put an “out of order” sign on an air pump that was functioning normally? If we were lying about the air pump being out of order, why did he think I would be honest with him and tell him it was really working?

I held my tongue except to say, Yes, sir. It’s really out of order.

Oh, that’s too bad, he said as if he were hoping I’d change my story about the functionality of the air pump.

I exercised my right to remain silent while I continued to shove absorbent pads down into the wet spill bucket.

Are you fishing? the fellow asked me, and I thought I was going to lose my mind.

I know the guy thought he was making a good joke, but for a joke to work, the recipient of it has to think it’s funny too. I didn’t think it was one bit funny. Annoying? Yes. Ridiculous? For sure. Funny? Not a bit.

The fellow reminded me of my grandmother’s second husband who insisted on calling me “blondie” even though I had dark hair. Neither man really cared about making me laugh; both men just wanted a reaction out of me, and if that reaction was irritation or anger, well, that was better than nothing.

I didn’t give this asshat the satisfaction of my anger, but he probably could

Selective Focus of Brown Fishing Reel

tell I was irritated. Of course I wasn’t fishing. I obviously wasn’t fishing. I didn’t even have a fishing pole. Did he think I was noodling for catfish living in a concrete hole?

No, I’m not fishing, I said, and I’m sure he could tell I thought he was being an idiot. I’m getting water out of here so it doesn’t mix with the fuel.

Then I turned my attention back to the wet spill bucket and the absorbent pads. When I looked up again, the fellow was heading back to his truck. I was glad to be done with his foolish questions. 

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/tackle-box-with-fishing-lures-and-rods-1430123/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/man-wearing-white-tank-top-1325619/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/selective-focus-of-brown-fishing-reel-1687242/.

The Land of Broken Dreams

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I live in a harsh land, closer to nature than I ever dreamed possible when I lived in cities. All around me is evidence of people who came out here with big dreams only to abandon them. Why did they leave? I’ll never know for sure, but I can enumerate the ways the harshness of this place could discourage a homesteader. Today I’ll tell you about the conditions here and show you photos of what has been left behind.

I’m going to leave this brokedown palace on my hands and my knees…

While spring is mellow of temperature, when days warm, the wind comes. Growing up in the Deep South, winds weren’t even a concern unless they belonged to a hurricane. I thought I knew winds from my time in the Midwest, but the winds of the plains (if not those of a tornado) are nothing next to the winds of New Mexico.

Before I moved permanently to Northern New Mexico but after I had spent months here over several years, my memory of the winds had them starting in the afternoon and blowing strong and hard for a few hours, slowing down substantially by sunset. This may be a false memory, because that’s not how the wind is blowing these days. Now the wind starts at 10 or 11 in the morning and blows relentlessly until sometimes 9 or 10 at night. Last week, the wind was blowing at 8am.

A spiritual friend who lives around here once told me that the wind blows one’s aura and makes it bumpy or jagged instead of smooth She might be on to something. After hours of constant, strong blowing of the wind I feel off, not quite myself, agitated. The sound alone is enough to put me on edge; the constant rocking of the trailer destroys my mental equilibrium. There’s something about wondering if the roof will be peeled off or if the entire trailer is going to flip that harshes my mellow.

This abandoned shipping container has whimsical paintings on all four sides.

The hours of moving air (and its sound and the way it moves the trailer) would be bad enough, but with the wind comes dust. During times of strongest wind, we must leave the doors and windows closed lest the dust come in and cover everything we own. Sometimes dust devils blow across our property and slam into our trailer. Sometimes the short dust storm takes us by surprise, and we can’t get a door or window closed before it hits, leading to dust on the floor, dust on the clean dishes in the drying rack, dust on the blankets lying on the bed. I now have a small knowledge of what people in the 1930s experienced during the Dust Bowl in the United States.

The upside of the wind is that it pushes away the no-see-ums. Some folks call these insects from the Ceratopogonidae family sage gnats, some call them biting midges, but let’s just call them hell. The first three summers I spent in the area I encountered none of these bugs and no mosquitoes either. I thought I had discovered a magical land with no bugs. The Man independently arrived at the same conclusion. We were fools.

What was happening (I’m pretty sure, but I have not consulted an entomologist) is that the area was so deep in drought, no bugs were hatching. The eggs were out there, waiting for enough moisture to make life viable.

Burnt car

The drought had broken by the time The Man and I returned in 2017. Those no-see-um suckers were everywhere. We fought them for a couple of months. Spoiler alert: we found nothing to deter them, not DEET, not the $15 bottle of natural insect repellent I bought at the herb store after the lady working there told me the concoction would protect me. In the later part of June, we ran away to work in California to in order to escape the beasts.

One problem with the no-see-ums is that you don’t know when they’re biting you. They are super tiny (hence their name) and (like chiggers) their bite causes no immediate pain. Hours after being outside, one feels an itch and knows it has begun.

There are a lot of abandoned vehicles in my neighborhood.

I grew up with Southern mosquitoes. I’ve suffered countless mosquito bites in my lifetime. For me, a mosquito bite usually itches for about 20 minutes or half an hour, then the itch and the red welt is gone. The no-see-um bites itch intermittently for days. There is swelling and redness at the site of the bite, and the itching can come at any time. The no-see-um bits have more in common with chigger bites than those from mosquitoes.

Last year was a wet one. The area got a lot of snow in the winter and spring (the last snow at our place was in May), and once the snow ended, the rains came. All the moisture led to a long season of no-see-ums. Even people who’ve lived here all their lives said they’d never seen a no-see-um season quite so bad go on for quite so long.

We all fall down.

This year has been dryer, but the no-see-ums are out, and they seem worse than last year. The mesh of our screens is not fine enough to keep the little boogers out, but they weren’t coming in through the screen last year. This year we’re not so lucky, although I’m not sure why they’re coming in this way now. These days we long for the wind to blow and keep the little insects away.

The no-see-ums seem to like to bite The Man more than they like to bite me, and he has a worse reaction to the bites. It’s not unusual for his bites to itch so badly that he scratches them raw and bloody. Mine don’t itch quite so badly, but they tend to stay red and swollen for days after the attack.

The opposite of vanlife.

When you live out here, at certain times of the year you dare not go outside without suiting up. Going out in shorts and a tank top during no-see-um days is looking for trouble. I put on long pants, a long sleeved shirt, socks, and shoes before going outside. The Man does the same and adds a bug deterrent mesh over his face. Still, the bugs can fly up a sleeve or a pant leg and leave bites in places I don’t know how an insect could reach.

If a person survives the wind and the dust and the bugs, there are a few months available for tranquil productivity. I suspect most of the homesteading progress occurs in the summer when days are long, mornings are sunny, nights are cool, and an afternoon wet monsoon offers the opportunity for a siesta.

Unfortunately, summers are short around here. My first summer in the area, when I was homeless and sleeping outside, my local friends started worrying in August about how I would live during the coming winter. I’m from the South where life is just getting comfortable in October. When I lived in the Midwest, no one expected snow before Halloween. In northern New Mexico, people told me snow could fly any time after Labor Day.

I didn’t peek here either, but I could tell this fifth wheel is deserted.

This past winter, the first snow fell in October, before Halloween. That made for a long enough winter. I can’t imagine if the snow had started early in September. Old timers have told us this past winter was a mild one, although it seemed plenty cold to me. People who’ve lived here for decades talk of winters with lows of -20 degrees Fahrenheit. People tell us of snow falling and piling up through the season, only melting in spring.

The door of this mud structure is open to the elements. No one seems to live in the fifth wheel either.

This past winter, we went through multiple cycles of snow/freeze/melt which led to the dreaded mud. I’ve written about the mud out here before, but let me say again, it’s no joke. Driving anywhere off our land was an exercise in slip sliding away and the possibility of getting stuck. Almost everyone living around us got stuck in the mud at lease once, even the folks with 4x4s.

If the weather don’t get you, the hauling water will. The water table is deep here. It would cost thousands of dollars to dig a well so most people don’t. There is a community well that folks can buy into. The price per gallon is good, but the liquid still has to be hauled. People need trucks for hauling water and a big container too. We have a 50 gallon container for hauling water. A 100 or 250 gallon container would be better. Homesteaders also need a big container to put the hauled water in. All those containers are expensive, especially ones that are made from food-grade materials.

I don’t know if this trailer was vandalized or decorated.

I’ve heard that when it snowed more here, people with big cisterns could collect enough snow melt to basically get through the summer. The cisterns were topped off by the abundant water from the summer monsoon rains.When I first came here, I met an elderly woman who had been living off snow melt and rainwater for years, but she was having a hard time because of the drought. I don’t know if the weather has been wet enough lately for folks to collect water like they once did.

Want to grow food? Good luck! The soil is basically pure clay out here. The soil will have to be enriched if anything is going to grow. Raised beds or container gardening would probably be a better idea. Most of the water needed for irrigation will have to be hauled. Finally, the growing season is short around here with last frost in May and first frost in September.

All this is not to complain but to say it can be a hard life out here, especially for folks without piles of money. Some people make it and some people give up. Of course, some people get old or sick and leave because they can’t live such a rough life anymore. Some people are carried away by death.

I walk through this land of broken dreams and wonder where the people went. When they left, did they think they’d be back in a week or a month, in the spring, next year? When they left, did they know they’d never be back? Why didn’t they sell or give away the trailer, the propane tanks, the land? Why leave it all behind to rust and rot?

I wonder what my dreams will look like when I’m gone. Will they seem broken too, or will what I leave behind look like success?

I took the photos in this post. If you want to see more of my photography, follow me on Instagram @rubbertrampartist.