Golden State Green

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I’d heard the stories from other travelers. Seemed like most everyone had a story about being handed weed while flying a sign. Seemed like everyone had a story like that except me.

Maybe I looked too middle age and normal. Maybe I just didn’t look like someone who wanted marijunan. In any case, although I’d flown signs for two years in a dozen states, no one handed me weed until I went to California. Money, yes, and food–once an entire cake–and hand sanitizer and a toothbrush, all were given to me as I stood on corners and held my sign, but no one thought to give me pot until I made it to the Golden State.

I was in Ukiah the first time it happened. Mr. Carolina and I had just spent a few days with the Viking and Mick and Karl, his three friends I’d recently met in Santa Barbara. We’d made some new friends and seen some beautiful California mountain land, and now we were back on the quest to return a pipe to Sweet L’s dad and then drink from the headwaters of the Sacramento River. After we said our farewells to our friends, we headed down from the mountain and into civilization where we hoped to get fuel for the van and for our bellies too.

We pulled into a gas station next to the Wal-Mart and stood behind the van. Mr. Carolina held my two-gallon gas jug and I held our “out of gas” sign. A few different people handed ua a few crumpled dollars, and we thanked each person sincerely.

Mr. Carolina had wandered away when the man approached me. He didn’t look like a hippie or a Rastafarian , or a sterotypical stoner. He just looked like a normal guy.

Here you go, he said to me, holding out his hand. This might help.

I reached out to receive what he was offereing. He placed quite a large chunck of hash in my hand. I quickly closed my fingers to conceal it.

You can probably sell that for $60 or $70, the man told me while I thanked him very much.

I knew we weren’t going to sell it. First, I’m not in the drug sales business, because it seems like quite a risk. Secondly, who was I going to sell the hash to? I didn’t know anyone in town, and I wasn’t going to walk through the Wal-Mart parking lot and approaching strangers and saying, Psst! Want to buy some hash? while suspiciously shifting my eyes from side to side. Third, while I wasn’t going to smoke the hash, I knew Mr. Carolina would.

Mr. Carolina lived with pain. He’d been in a terrible car accident some years before. He suffered from a brain injury and what he called a “broke neck.” His spinal cord obviously hadn’t been severed, but I suppose one or more vertebra had been damaged. He told me about coming out of a coma and trying to pull out the catheter draining urine from his body before he realized where he was and remembering what had happened. He told me about pissing blood when the catheter was removed. He’d had multiple surgeries since the accident, and he’d lived with pain since then. I suspect he suffered more pain than he ever let me know.

He’d been on prescribed pharmaceutical pain pills for a while. He’d been a “bad drunk” too, he said. Now he used marijuana, when he could get it, to manage his pain. The chunk of hash in my hand would get him through the next few days.

When he came back to the van, I opened my hand and showed Mr. Carolina what was hidden inside. He had a big smile on his face when I handed it over to him.

The second time it happened was in Bakersfield. Mr. Carolina and I had picked up two traveling kids at a truck stop in Santa Nella, and now we were trying to get them to Oklahoma City.

Please don’t leave me in Bakersfield, the Okie kept pleading with me, although I’d never threatened him with such a fate. I don’t know what sort of disaster he’d experienced the last time he was in the city, but he was really nervous about being left there.

We pulled into the strip mall housing a Wal-Mart and about a dozen fast food joints, hoping the Universe would provide us with money for dinner that night and enough gasoline to get us out of town in the morning. Lil C siad he wanted to fly his sign at the parking lot’s main exit. I said that was fine with me, but told him I’d make more money than he would, and I planned to share whatever I was given. He said I should go ahead and take the main exit.

I’d been standing next to the stop sign for a while, and people had been blessing me with dollars when an older man wearing his hair in a ponytail pulled up. I saw him rooting around, trying to find something. He rolled down the window on the front passenger side and reached across the seat. I stepped over and leaned in to take what he was offering.

Do you smoke weed? he asked.

Even though I personally didn’t, I knew the boys would, so I said yes. The man handed me two skinny joints, and I thanked him very much.

Sure enough, the boys were happy when I returned to the van with enough money for dinner and gas to get us out of town, as well as two joints for them to pass around before we slept.

 

Antonito

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One year I went to the tiny (population 781) town of Antonito, Colorado for Labor Day weekend. The town was hosting a free music festival in the park and for a ridiculously small fee, I was able to sell my wares all weekend.

I arrived in town early Saturday morning and found the festival organizer among a group of men setting up the stage. The organizer showed me where I could put my tables. I unloaded the tables, my hemp jewelry, my shiny rocks. I arranged everything nicely on the tables and waited for the crowds of music fans to arrive.

The first band took the stage. A few of their friends stood around to listen. The next band took the stage. Fans from Santa Fe had made the drive to the festival, including the grandmother of one of the band members. At no point during the weekend were there more than a dozen people in the audience for any musician. I quickly understood why the vending fee was so low.

A family set up a table perpendicular to mine. They sold water and sodas cold from an ice chest and homemade burritos wrapped in foil. Otherwise, I was the only vendor at the festival.

I made a little bit of money, despite the lack of attendance. Mostly I sold shiny rocks to people living nowhere near a rock shop. I sold a few necklaces after I offered people great deals, and I sold some bracelets too. I suppose I paid for my gas to get out there and the breakfast I ate at a restaurant on Sunday morning.

One of Antonito’s claims to fame is being the childhood home of Indiana Jones from the Raiders of the Lost Ark movie. Of course, Indiana Jones is a fictional character, so he never had a childhood, but in one of the movies, a young Indy is shown in front of a house. That house stands in Antonito, CO. I didn’t care enough to find it.

My favorite part of my two days in Antonito was Saturday morning’s Labor Day parade on the town’s main drag. The number of observers of the parade was slightly larger than that of the music festival. There weren’t any floats in a New Orleans sense, but some people stood in the back of slow-moving pickup trucks and waved to their neighbors. Someone from the Forest Service had dressed in a Smokey Bear costume and stood waving from the back of a government truck.

I stood on the sidewalk and watched the parade go by. It was pretty short. The whole thing passed in under ten minutes. But wait! There’s more, or at least the same thing all over again. When the parade got to its endpoint, all the vehicles turned around and came back down the main drag from the opposite direction. I guess when a parade’s that short, once isn’t enough.

I took this photo of Smokey the Bear,

Patience is a Virtue

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I was alone in the mercantile when the couple came in.

While they were obviously older than I was—both the man and the woman had totally white hair—neither of them could be described as elderly or frail. Neither seemed feeble or weak. In fact, they both seemed fit and outdoorsy, just two people in their 60s who’d finished walking the trail and enjoying the trees.

When they came through the door, I gave them one of my standard greetings: How y’all doin’? or How’d y’all like those trees?

The man greeted me in such a normal fashion, I’ve forgotten what he said. Then he walked fully into the store and started looking at the merchandise.

The woman, however, stopped in front of the counter I was standing behind. She looked at me and said, Excuse me.

I waited for a question to follow, but none did. Nothing followed. The woman stood there holding a small cluster of needles from an evergreen tree. She looked at me with a strange little smile on her face, but she said nothing else.

I felt uncomfortable about the entire interaction. Had the woman said, Excuse me because something I’d said had offended her? She didn’t seem upset, and she was smiling. Had she done something to make her feel she should excuse herself? I hadn’t heard her burp or fart, and there’d been nothing for her to bump into. Why was she standing there, looking at me and grinning like the Mona Lisa?

In reality, she only stood and looked at me for a few seconds before she moved to the man’s side, but her scrutiny seemed much longer to me.

After giving the couple a few minutes to browse in peace, I asked them, Where are y’all visiting from?

(Side note: If any of my more grammatically gifted writer friends know a better construction for that question, please enlighten me. It’s been bugging me for years.)

The man named some town I didn’t know. He said his brother-in-law had suggested they visit the national forest  and see the giant sequoias. We agreed the brother-in-law had given them a pretty good tip, and I let them go back to their browsing.

About that time, the woman told the man they really needed to get on the road.

He gently told her they had plenty of time, and he wanted to do some shopping.

I want to go home, she told him.

I need to go home! she said more urgently.

The man told her again, patiently, that they had plenty of time and they would head home after they’d done some shopping. She told him a few more times that she wanted, needed to go home, but he stayed calm and distracted her by asking what souvenirs she thought different people might like.

As they moved from the display of coffee mugs the woman began complaining about the hat she was wearing. It was too heavy for her head, she said. It hurt! She indicated they should leave it behind. I’d noticed the hat when she walked in. It looked expensive and well-made, something a serious hiker or birder might use to shade his/her head. Would she really ditch it in my store?

Honey, the man said sweetly, that’s my hat.

As they moved through the store, I heard the woman repeatedly ask the man if he wanted the evergreen needles she was carrying. Each time he said, No. You can leave them outside, as if he’d never heard the question before. He never sounded irritated.

I started piecing together a story about the man and woman, and although some of my details may be wrong, I think I got the main idea.

The man and the woman were a couple, as in marriage.  Even if they weren’t actually married, that’s the sort of relationship they had. The woman was suffering from dementia or short term memory loss, maybe from a brain injury or a stroke or Alzheimer’s. In any case, the man was caring for her lovingly, patiently, gently.

As the couple placed their souvenirs on the counter for purchase, the woman placed a water bottle we do not sell in front of me.

Do we want to get this too? she asked the man.

Honey, that’s our water bottle, he said calmly.

I’ve thought about those people long after they left the store.

I want to emulate the man’s patience and calmness in the face of his partner’s short term memory loss. I get so irritated when The Man asks me the same question for the third time, even though I want to meet him with love and compassion. I want to follow the stranger’s example and simply answer the question again, not get caught up in the anger of he doesn’t even listen to me! Maybe he does listen, maybe the lady listens too, but their brains can no longer process the information into memory.

Let this be my prayer for patience, compassion, the ability to answer a question calmly and with love the fifth, the tenth, the twenty-fifth, the one hundredth and forty-second time it’s asked.

Dudes

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It was a hot day, and I was alone in the mercantile when the dudes walked in.

There were eight or nine of them, all probably in their mid to late 30s. The oldest guy had a craggy face and was either bald or had very short hair under his ball cap. As soon as he walked in, he said, I heard you give away really cool stickers here.

I wanted to say, We don’t give away anything cool here, but I held my tongue.

Instead I said, We’re out of stickers because I thought we were, but then I remembered the generic design we still had. Well, we do have these, I said while walking over to a display in the back of the yurt. The man followed me, but barely looked at the stickers. I don’t think he had any interest in stickers he had to pay for, and I don’t think he really believed there were free stickers for the taking.

The dudes milled around for a few minutes, then filed out of the yurt. One more came in to pay for his access pass. When he left the mercantile, he hollered at the other dudes to pay for parking, so they all filed back in.

One guy put a pint glass on the counter so he could pay for it along with his day pass.

The older guy said, I heard you get a free beer when you buy one of these pint glasses.

The mercantile doesn’t sell beer, but even if it did, I doubt people would get a free one with pint glass purchase. The dude many have thought he was just being funny, but it felt more like he was fucking with the sales clerk to me.

Yeah, I said with an absolutely straight face. Bring it to the bar down the road and let them know you’re there for your free beer.

The man smirked, and one of his dude friends still standing in line said, Really? I think he was about to snatch up a pint glass of his own.

I guess I’d sounded even more serious than I thought I had.

No, I said sadly, not really.

Love that deadpan humor, the dude paying for the pint glass said about me.

Two more dudes paid for access passes, then they all went away.

In Praise of Dry Shampoo

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I was between house sitting jobs, spending my days working on my blog at Panera and my nights sleeping in my van at a truck stop. It had been a few days since my last shower, and while I didn’t think I smelled bad, (thanks to vigorous wet wiping), my hair was flat and looked rather greasy. My next house sitting gig was in a gated community, and I wanted to make a good first impression on the homeowners. What to do with my hair?

When I was a teenager, I remember my mom telling me that when she was a teenager, she’d use baby powder to soak up the excess oil in her hair between shampoos. The problem, she said, was the white baby powder left her dark hair looking grey.

Although I already had plenty of grey in my hair, I didn’t want to trade limp hair for powdery, weirdly gray hair. I rejected my mother’s baby powder solution.

One evening, I decided to spend the night in the local Wal-Mart parking lot. I went into the store to utilize the restroom before bed and ended up aimlessly walking the aisles. Eventually, I found myself in front of the dry shampoo.

Does this stuff really work? I wondered.

Would it lift my flat hair? Would it leave a powdery residue? Would it leave my hair sticky? Would it be a waste of money? I was skeptical and ended up not buying any dry shampoo.

I met my house sitting clients a few days later, and they seemed to like me despite my flat hair. Thank goodness they were more interested in my substance than my style.

I told The Lady of the House all about my limp locks and my dry shampoo temptation. She’d never used dry shampoo and didn’t know much about it either. She had no advice to give.

Fast forward to Christmas. The Lady had a seasonal job at a large department store, and she’d bought me presents from the health and beauty department. In addition to a giant bottle of Dr. Bronner’s liquid peppermint soap, she gave me a can of Suave dry shampoo.

Suave Professionals Refresh & Revive Dry Shampoo, 4.3 Oz

She said one night she’d been restocking in the hair care aisle while two young women were browsing there. The two young women stood in front of the dry shampoo. One sighed, pointed to the dry shampoo, and said to her companion, This stuff changed my life.

Very interesting… The Lady thought, and decided to see if the stuff would change my life too.

As soon as I’d unwrapped my gifts, I was ready to test the dry shampoo.

First, I read the directions, which were pretty simple. Shake the can vigorously before and during use. Lift a section of hair and spray. Massage the dry shampoo into hair. Shake the can; lift another section of hair; spray; massage. Repeat. Repeat. The instructions on the can also said to brush hair after spraying and massaging, but I’d never do that because I don’t brush my hair; brushing destroys curls, and I want all the curls I can get.

The Lady and I went into the bathroom and stood in front of the mirror over the sink. I shook the can of dry shampoo, lifted a section of hair, and sprayed the product on the roots. I immediately rubbed that area of hair with my fingertips. When I took my hand away, both The Lady and I could see it really worked. The area of hair I’d sprayed looked fluffier!

Now for the ultimate test.

I sprayed and scrunched sections of hair on the same side of my head. I left the other side of my head alone. Then I went into the living room where The Man of the House and The Boy (now nearly 19 years old) were watching TV. Believe me, these two have no knowledge of or interest in ladies’ hairstyles, so I knew they would not pretend to know what was going on in order to spare my feelings. Both easily identified the side of my head I had sprayed

It really works, the four of us told each other in amazement.

I was pleased to see the dry shampoo left no powder or other residue in my hair. Unlike with my mother’s baby powder solution, I did not have to trade flat hair for weirdly grey hair.  My hair didn’t feel sticky either.  All the dry shampoo left behind was fluff.

Dove Detox and Purify Dry Shampoo, 5 oz
After going through the can of Suave dry shampoo gifted to me and purchasing a can of Dove brand, I’ve learned a thing or two about dry shampoo.

First, while the Dove dry shampoo was cheaper at Wal-Mart (and cheaper is why I bought it) and it certainly works, I like what Suave has to offer better. I like the smell of Suave more, and I think it gives more fluff.

Secondly, the dry shampoo does not work like hairspray. It lifts and fluffs, but doesn’t hold my hair high. I’m a gal of the 80s, and I like big hair, but dry shampoo is not going to keep my hair poufy for hours. The dry shampoo does eliminate the greasies and makes my hair look better between shampoos.

Finally, neither the Suave nor the Dove dry shampoo has left my hair feeling sticky or gummy. Neither has left any residue that I can see or feel. When I use dry shampoo, my hair does not scream “product.”

I’m a pretty low maintenance gal, but I’d rather vain about my hair. Sometimes (often times) van dwelling means not being about to wash my hair when I want to. Dry shampoo allows me to fluff up and make a first impression that doesn’t include limp, greasy hair.

Dog Water

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One of my coworkers at the mercantile is exceedingly nice. She answers every question in great detail and baby talks to every infant who enters the store. She also really loves dogs.

On one of the first days the mercantile was open, a tourist came in with a little pug dog on a leash. The little dog had just walked the trail with the tourist and was obviously hot and tired. My uber-nice coworker began exclaiming over the cuteness of the little dog and sweet talking to it. She somehow determined the dog was thirsty, which was maybe obvious by the way he was panting and dragging his tired little doggie ass.

I don’t know if the tourist said he didn’t have a bowl and/or water to give the doggie a drink, or if my coworker thought the dog needed water right now, but watering the dog became a situation. The coworker pulled a blue enamel mixing bowl from the camping supplies shelf and filled it with water from the gallon jug we workers had been using to fill our bottles.

The dog lapped up the water greedily, and the tourist seemed appreciative, but as far as I was concerned, the coworker had gone above and beyond her line of duty. It was nice of her to help a person unprepared to provide water for his dog, but I‘m sure it was the thirsty little critter she cared most about.

The coworker paid for the blue enamel mixing bowl, ant it became the official dog water bowl. Every day she comes into the mercantile, the coworker fills the bowl with water she brings from home. She even made a sign that says “Water for your dog.” The sign has a picture of her own dog on it. She sets the sign on a small easel and places it near the bowl.

It was hot one afternoon when a tourist came into the mercantile asking about water. One of us explained we hadn’t yet received the permit to sell food and beverages, so we had no water for purchase.

Where do you get the water for the dog bowl? the tourist demanded.

I fill it from my own personal bottle, the coworker told him while holding up her water jug.

Do you have any that’s cooler? the tourist asked. The water out there is really hot, and my dog’s spoiled. He wants cooler water.

I thought surely the man was joking, but the coworker dutifully trotted outside with her jug so she could put cooler water in the bowl. Presumably there was a pampered poach out there who appreciated her dedication to dogs while lapping up the cooler water.

I was surprised by the man’s nerve (although by now, nothing should surprise me). I believe if someone does a kindness—like putting water out for dogs—people should appreciate what’s offered, not ask for an upgrade. Also, if I had a prissy dog who wouldn’t drink warm water, I’d have enough water in the cooler to take care of all humans in my party and the prissy dog too. Mostly, I’m of the mind that any creature thirsty enough will drink the water provided, even if it’s warm.

Accusations

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The group of vendors I sometimes sell with on the side of the highway is a varied bunch. Some are serious business people with huge selections of merchandise displayed on multiple tables. Others are just passing through, trying to sell a few things in hopes of earning enough gas money or beer money to make it down the road. Some vendors hand-make everything they sell, while others buy mass produced items and sell them at a big markup. Some vendors are honest about their products and others, not so much. Common lies involve saying a stone is turquoise when it isn’t and telling a potential customer an item was made by the vendor (or a member of the vendor’s family) when the item was actually imported from a developing country.

I don’t believe in lying to customers, but I don’t narc out other vendors when I hear them doing it. Do I think lying to customers is wrong? Yes. Do I think it’s my place to police other? No.

Loyalties are ever-changing among vendors. Two people may be friends today and enemies next week. Folks get mad at each other over parking and (real or imagined) lying and taking up too much space.

I try to stay on friendly terms with everyone, although there are certainly some vendors I don’t like much. I have no use for bossy or nosey behavior, and many vendors act in those ways. The most common nosey question is How are you doing?/How did you do today? What people really mean is, Are you making/did you make any money? When I’m asked how I’m doing or how I did, I start rambling about the beautiful weather or seeing my friends or meeting nice people. Only the boldest of people (or those with no capacity to pick up on my social cues) go on to actually verbalize the word money. (The last time another vendor actually asked me if I was making money, customers approached my table in the nick of time, and I was able to ignore Nosey Nelly until she got bored and wandered away.)

Some of the vendor grudges are old. One woman has been despised for years, long before I crawled out of the sage and joined the community. Part of the reason she’s despised is because she makes a lot of money. She’s a good business woman who knows what merchandise is going to sell and how to talk to customers to get them to buy. She also exhibits unpredictable behavior. One day she’ll be someone’s bosom buddy and the next she’ll scream curses at the same person. The only thing she loves more than being the bearer of bad news is getting other vendors all riled up with negativity and too upset to sell.

This woman has gotten a little nicer since her husband died and she’s all alone in the world, but we’ve all seen her turn against a friend with little provocation. Anyone with any sense treads lightly around her.

The funniest altercation I’ve seen her involved in happened a few summers ago. I don’t remember why people were mad at each other or who was taking what side. I do remember the despised woman was pissed at one of the vendors who drives in from out of state.

This guy allegedly sells pain pills along with his glass pipes, chile powder, osha root, and the baskets and purses he says his wife makes (despite the “Made in Mexico” tags still attached to them). I’ve never bought pain pills from him. (For the record, I’ve never bought pain pills from anyone, even a pharmacist.) I’ve never caught him in the middle of a pain pill transaction. I’ve never heard him offer to sell anyone pain pills, but I’ve heard the word on the street, and the word is he sells pain pills.

It was a hot summer day, and there weren’t many customers. Trouble tends to start when there aren’t many customers. Customers keep vendors busy, and when there aren’t enough of them, some vendors get bored and start picking fights.

The despised woman looked over at the out-of-state vendor and out of nowhere started yelling, Drug dealer! Drug dealer!

Without missing a beat, the out-of-state vendor yelled right back at her with his gravely, Spanish accented voice, Weetch! Weetch!

She had no response, just sat back down behind her table and waited for a potential customer to come along.