Monthly Archives: December 2015

Spending

Standard

Last year I formulated a two-year plan. Part of the plan involved keeping track of every penny I spent. The other part of the plan involved visiting and writing about all of the New Mexico state parks. When I decided not to do the state park part of the plan, I mostly forgot about the keeping track of spending part of the plan.

The other day on one of the vandweller Facebook groups I belong to, someone asked how much money people “need” to live in their vans and travel. The same question came up at the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous last year. I never know how to answer such a question. I’ve been on the road with no money in my pocket, literally living off of the kindness of strangers. If I didn’t have as much money as I needed, I did without or asked strangers for help.

But it got me thinking…How much do I spend? Can I spend less? How much (money, things) do I really need?

So I’ve decided to go ahead with the keeping track of every penny part of my original plan.

I’m not going to go out today and stock up on a bunch of things so I can spend less in 2016. (I’ve got some food in the van and three propane canisters, and I filled up the gas tank two nights ago because I needed to.) I’ll just buy what I need when I need it and note it down in my little black book. (I found an old, blank black book when I was organizing the van last week, so I didn’t have to spend any money to buy a new one.)

I think what’s going to happen is that #1 I’m going to see that I buy a lot of stuff (mostly from thrift stores) that I don’t need and #2 Some things I won’t buy because I’ll be embarrassed to admit to it in writing. (I don’t mean sex toys or tampons. I mean yet another skein of yarn or a book I’m not totally excited about or more postcards when I already have plenty of postcards.)

Every month I’ll post an accounting of my spending here. By the end of the year, I’ll have answers.

New Year, New Look

Standard

Dear Readers,

Welcome to the new Rubber Tramp Artist site. It’s still me, Blaize Sun, sharing my stories, rants, and observations.

Rubber Tramp Artist used to be Throwing Stories Into the Ether. Although almost a year ago when I started writing, I really did feel as if I was sending my words out into the clouds, I now know I have readers (followers, even). The new name, Rubber Tramp Artist, says more about me and my life (and is shorter and–hopefully–easier to remember).

If you are a subscriber, thank you. I’ve transferred my subscribers to this new site. However, if you don’t get a notification of a post from me tomorrow, you can scroll down this page and subscribe again

I’ve transferred all the previous posts here, so you should be able to find your old favorites (or click around and see what I’ve been up to, if you are a new reader).

I wouldn’t be on this beautiful new page right now if it hadn’t been for the help of a dear computer-savvy friend. (Thank you.)

Thanks also to all of my readers, especially the folks who took time to write comments.

I hope 2016 is great for us all.

 

In appreciation,

Blaize Sun

Xmas Book Reviews

Standard

christianity, jesus, mariaIn celebration of the virgin birth, I am giving my readers a collection of reviews of Xmas related books today.

The Twelve Terrors of Christmas by John Updike with illustrations by Edward Gorey

I really enjoyed this sort of anti-Christmas book. It points out how weird the Christmas holiday really is. Isn’t the idea of Santa going down the chimney really strange?

Scared of Santa: Scenes of Terror in Toyland by Denise Joyce and Nancy Watkins

How this book got published, I will never know.

It is full of hundreds of photos of kids sitting on Santa’s lap, crying, screaming, trying to escape. Yep, the whole theme of this book is getting a laugh out of the misery of little children.

Don’t get me wrong, twenty-five or thirty photos of kids having negative reactions to Santa Claus might have been funny. However, hundreds and hundreds of the same kinds of pictures quickly becomes totally boring. Yawn!

The captions are even worse than the photos. I’m sure the caption writers were trying to be clever, but most of what they came up with is just plain dumb.

I can’t imagine who would buy this book. (I borrowed the copy I read from my public library, and I’m a bit miffed that my tax dollars were spent on this dreck.) Will families buy this book and look at it lovingly every year until it becomes part of their family tradition? Yikes!

Merry Christmas (Ernest & Celestine)
 Merry Christmas Ernest and Celestine by Gabrielle Vincent

My sibling gave me this book. I love it because the (adult male) bear and the (little girl) mouse who live together go dumpster diving to get the supplies they need for a Christmas party. This book shows kids a non-typical family and that it’s ok to get what one needs out of other people’s trash. Hasn’t the Christian right banned this book yet?

The Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook: Holidays by Joshua Piven and David Borgenicht

This book is hilarious. It gives all sorts of simple step by step instructions for surviving whatever catastrophe may befall your holiday season. I love this whole series.

Hilary Knight’s The Twelve Days of Christmas by Hilary Knight

This is another Christmas book from my childhood.

It’s the traditional “The Twelve Days of Christmas Song” paired up with lovely pictures. An anthropomorphic bear giving the presents to his bear lady love. (I just found out a female bear is called a sow, just like a pig. A male is a boar.) It’s the super cute illustrations that make this book worth reading.

My very favorite part is the supporting character raccoon cat (ha!) burglar trying to open a tightly closed trash can.

The Twelve Days of Christmas in California by Laura Rader

The emphasis of this book is on California, not on Christmas. I think even a family who doesn’t celebrate Xmas (but does like California) could like this book.

There are three components of this book.

#1 Bright color illustrations showing the California themed things (4 hummingbirds, 6 otters smiling, 12 redwoods swaying) that the California cousin gives to her young relative from out of state. The illustrations are nice.

#2 The basic story of “On the first day of Christmas…On the second day of Christmas…”, etc. This short version of the story is in bold print and would be appropriate for young children (toddlers) who can’t sit through a long, involved story.

#3 The longer, involved story, told through letters written by the visiting cousin to his parents back home. These letters include lots of additional information about whatever California-related thing the kid received from the cousin that particular day. These letters are appropriately read to or by an older kid who can sit through the longer story.

The book contains a LOT of facts about California. A kid in elementary school could use this book at any time of year to do a report on the Golden State.

One thing I didn’t like about this book was “Cali” the “talking” California valley quail (the California state bird). The book did NOT need the gimmick of a talking quail.

One thing I did like about the book is that except for the talking quail and the small redwood tree she comes in, the cousin doesn’t actually give any physical items. Most 12 Days of Christmas stories are overrun with the consumerism of a dozen pear trees and a score of gold rings.

Cajun Night Before Christmas by Howard Jacobs, illustrated by James Rice 

Cajun Night Before Christmas® (The Night Before Christmas Series)

My sister and I had a copy of this book when we were little. I don’t know where it came from.

My cousin Denise’s husband Mark could do the accent for reading this book, as could my dad. I don’t think I could do it so well, but I haven’t tried for years.

This is the classic Christmas story told with a Cajun twist and illustrated beautifully. No Cajun household is complete without a copy.

The picture of the Virgin Mary and the Baby Jesus courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/maria-mery-sant-51524/. The other images are Amazon affiliate links. If you click on any of those images, you’ll go right to Amazon. Anything you click on and then buy will earn me a small advertising fee.

 

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

Standard

IMG_4081

The other morning I was driving through downtown just before the sun came up. It was still rather dark out when I passed by the town’s Christmas light display. I should take photos of all that, I thought. Instead of putting it off for another day, I pulled over and took a walk through the tiny winter wonderland.

View from a distance.

View from a distance.

Lights up close.

Lights up close.

Christmas lights on bushes and a rock. (This town obviously does not have much to decorate if they are lighting up rocks.)

Christmas lights on bushes and a rock. (This town obviously does not have much to decorate if they are lighting up rocks.)

Blue lights on fountain.

Blue lights on fountain.

Happy Holidays from Santa Claus.

Happy Holidays from Santa Claus.

Lights on rock and cactus.

Lights on rock and cactus.

IMG_4060

Oh no! It’s a Nativity scene on public property. Quick!  Call the Freedom from Religion Foundation. (According to the group’s website, “The Foundation works as an umbrella for those who are free from religion and are committed to the cherished principle of separation of state and church.” I heard about this group recently because it wants the New Mexico town of Belen to remove a twenty-five-year-old year-round Nativity scene made of metal.

Seriously, although I am not religious and not super into Christmas as a holiday, I don’t feel hurt in any way when I see a Nativity scene on a patch of land owned by the city. In fact, I’d be happy if they brought on every symbol of winter religiosity available. Let’s get a giant menorah out there and maybe candles inside paper lampshades in celebration of Las Posadas and somethings to represent Diwali, the five-day Hindu festival. While we’re at it, let’s add a kinara  for Kwanzaa and a sun to represent the winter solstice. (Information about different winter celebrations from http://www.unitedplanet.org/blog/2013/01/03/from-christmas-to-diwali-winter-holidays-around-the-world.)

I just like looking at the lights. IMG_4077

IMG_4074

 

IMG_4057

Happy Holidays!

Merry Christmas!

Feliz Navidad!

Happy Hanukkah!

Shubh Diwali!

Happy Solistice!

Habari Gani?

I took all the photos in this post.

Husband and Prayer

Standard

Back in the early days of the 21st century, all the people I knew had a telephone in their home–what we now refer to as a “landline.” Those telephones connected with a cord to a phone jack, although some people–fancy fancy–had cordless phones where only the phone base had to connect to the phone jack; the phone itself could be carried around the house. We paid the telephone company each month to use their phone lines.

We also usually paid by the minute for each long-distance call we made. Some folks had long-distance plans where they paid a flat fee to make as many long-distance calls as they wanted, but those plans were costly and not much used by the college students and activists I mostly hung out with. But just about everyone had some kind of long-distance plan.

In those days, there was a lot of competition among long distance companies for customers. Companies were always trying to get consumers to switch from their current carrier. Each company promised their service was clearer (remember when you could actually hear and understand the person on the other end of the phone?) and cheaper. Each company  promised the consumer could switch to the new service with no hassle. Sometimes we fell for the pitch, especially in the early days of such competition, especially when  company promised that if we switched to their service, they’d send a check for $20, $30, $40, maybe even $50. But there always seemed to be some sort of hassle after all, and the new company always seemed to charge more (usually through unmentioned taxes and fees) than the representative had promised.

Annoyingly, representatives from those long distance carriers were always calling. We’d be eating dinner, taking a shower, having sex, reading a book and the phone would ring. Instead of being a cute crush or Mom or Grandpa calling, it was some poor schmuck working for AT&T or some new never-heard-of-before company wanting to talk about long distance service. Such calls became commonplace and irritating.

One night I was at a friend’s place, hanging out with several other folks while the lady of the house cooked dinner. The phone (and by “phone,” I mean “landline”) rang, and for some reason I no longer remember, I answered it.

I was hardly surprised to hear the caller was a representative of a long distance company. Of course, the representative assumed I was the lady of the house and wanted me to change my long distance provider to the company for whom he was working.

Change my long distance provider? I repeated aloud while the person who actually lived in the house vigorously shook her head no. Everyone in the room looked at me, interested in what I would say next.

I listened to the representative’s spiel. I listened to the representative extol the virtues of the service, the clarity of sound, the vast savings of dollars.

When the representative asked if I was ready to make the change, I allowed that everything he’d said sounded great, and I was very interested in the new long distance plan. However, I said, before I can make any decision, I have to discuss it with my husband.

My friends started snickering. They knew I didn’t have, had never had, a husband, and even if I did, I was capable of making a decision about long distance service on my own.

While my friends giggled, I continued talking to the representative. Once my husband and I discuss your offer, we’ll have to pray about it, I told him. My friends laughed harder, as they knew me and my imaginary husband were not the praying kind.

Once we pray about your offer, I continued to the person on the other end of the line, if we decide it’s right for us, I’ll get back to you.

By this point, the stunned company representative was pretty much speechless. Probably this whole praying over long distance service was a new response. Who asks for divine guidance in choosing a long distance provider? Apparently I did, which got a big laugh from my friends, gave the representative a good story to tell in the break room, and got me off the phone without being rude.

 

How I Met Mr. Carolina and the Boys

Standard

Sometimes I don’t know how much background I need to give in order for a story to make sense. Sometimes I can just start in the middle of everything and tell a story, but sometimes I have to give so much background info that I’m a thousand words in and exhausted by the time I get to the story I want to tell. That’s how I feel about how I met Mr. Carolina and the boys.

It all started with the Grateful Dead. Yes, that’s the place to start.

I was not a Grateful Dead fan when the Grateful Dead actually existed. I guess I’d heard of them in 1987 when “Touch of Grey” hit the charts, and my first true love did put “Sugar Magnolia” on a mix tape when he was trying to woo me in 1992. But I’d gone most of my life not being a Deadhead. Then I met the boyfriend who turned out to be not very nice. I’ll spare you all the gory details, but he was a Deadhead. We listened to the Grateful Dead all the time, and we started seeing a lot of Further, and I became a Deadhead too.

(If you didn’t know, according to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Furthur_%28band%29

Furthur was a rock band founded in 2009 by former Grateful Dead members Bob Weir and Phil Lesh. The original lineup also included John Kadlecik of the Dark Star Orchestra on lead guitar, Jeff Chimenti of RatDog on keyboards, Jay Lane of RatDog on percussion, and Joe Russo of the Benevento/Russo Duo on drums.[1] Named after the famous touring bus used by Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters in the 1960s, Furthur was an improvisational jam band that performed music primarily from the extensive Grateful Dead songbook, as well as their own original music and that of several other well-known artists. In addition to the original members (with the exception of Jay Lane, who left the band in March 2010 to rejoin his previous band, Primus), the band’s lineup included backup vocalists Sunshine Becker of the a cappella ensemble SoVoSó and Jeff Pehrson of the folk rock bands Box Set and the Fall Risk.)

When I finally extricated myself from the not-very-nice boyfriend, I thought I had lost Furthur and the Grateful Dead too. I thought that part of my life was over, and I’d never hear those songs again.

I got over that silliness in a couple of months.

I realized the music belonged to me as much as it belonged to anyone else. My not-very-nice boyfriend might have introduced me to that music, but he didn’t own it.

I’ll fast-forward through the part of the story where I was homeless and living in a highway rest area (if you want to read about that, you can go here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/06/11/hummingbird/.) I’ll skip the part where two friends from college who’d heard I’d disappeared found me and offered love and support. (That’s a story for another day.) I’ll go straight to the part where I used the money I’d earned selling hemp jewelry combined with money friends had donated to my cause so I could buy a van to live in and work out of. One week after I’d gotten the van registered and licensed, I was off to the big city where Furthur was playing.

I drove all alone for hours to get there. My new-to-me van didn’t have a working radio, so I had no music to distract me from my thoughts. Was this trip the right thing to do? Would the van make it? What if I ran into my ex-boyfriend there? Would I make enough money selling jewelry to even get into one of the three shows Furthur was doing? Would I make any friends?

I didn’t really expect to make any friends. In real life, I’m shy, and it’s not easy for me to make friends. And if you’ve ever been to Shakedown Street

(the parking lot, or large area, outside os [sic] Grateful Dead or Phish shows where everything from drugs, burritos, tie dyes, incense and clothing were sold. Shakedown was the place where one could chill before or after a show and find whatever it is one was looking for. Most known for it’s [sic] open air drug supermarket where cats would have nitrous oxide tanks in the back of cars and sell balloons of nitrous for $5. also [sic] people would walk around uttering “trips trips” or “kind bud, according to http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Shakedown+Street)

or a Rainbow Gathering or a music festival, you know those places are not hotbeds of middle-age, single women.

But I was excited to go, excited to be in the hubub of the parking lot, excited to (hopefully) make it into the show.

The first day on the lot was fun enough. I sold a few things, traded for a few things, gave water to thirsty kids and dogs, and generally hung out. That night I tried to sneak into the outdoor show, but I had no idea what I was doing and ended up surrounded by scratching, jabbing plant matter. As I tried to get out of the mess I was in, a security guy (who was probably young enough to be my kid), heard all the noise I was making and yelled, Get out of the bushes! I yelled back, I’m trying.

After I made it out of the cacti and trees, I sat out in the van until after the show, thinking maybe there would be some hanging out. Of course, the cops ran everyone out of the parking lot after the show, so I drove to the nearest Stuff-Mart and got some sleep.

I returned to the lot early the next day. Not long after I parked, a car full of people pulled in next to the van. More people joined them. Most of the people were young men, although there was an older-than-me woman with them and a man younger than her but older than the rest who seemed to dote on her. They hadn’t been there long when the older man offered me a bottle of water. I took it gratefully.

Several hours later when the late autumn sun was beating down, one of the young men asked me if I wanted some shade. He said they had a tarp and asked if they could stretch it from the car and attach one end to my van. I agreed and helped a little to get the cover in the right place. I didn’t spend much time in the shade, but did have short, pleasant conversations with the various people hanging around.

On Sunday, not long after I arrived in the lot, the folks who’d hung out next to me the day before got there without the car. (I believe they came riding in standing on the running boards of a pickup truck.) I went over to talk with them and we exchanged names. Sweet L admired a copper bracelet I was wearing, and I told him a friend of mine had made it. The dogs of the couple who I later found out spent most their time having whisper fights needed water, so I said we could fill the bowl from my five gallon water jug. One of the young men jumped up to help me. That young man was Mr. Carolina.

 

 

 

 

She Talks To Angels

Standard

The Okie and I were in Asheville, trying to sell the huge quartz cluster we’d been given at Coleman’s Miller Mountain Mine in Mount Ida, Arkansas.

The man who gave us the cluster only wanted points a couple of inches long to use in his crafts. He wasn’t interested in the chunk of quartz that probably weighed 50 pounds, so he offered it to Mr. Carolina and the Okie. When the boys asked me if I wanted to keep it, I said hell yeah! They hauled it over to my van and lifted it up into the space under my bed. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with it. The Okie was convinced we could sell it to one of the downtown rock shops in Asheville for several hundred dollars which I could use for needed repairs on the van.

So the Okie and I were in downtown Asheville on the day after we delivered Mr. Carolina to his brother. When I parked the van, we had no money to feed the parking meter. I figured either I’d panhandle change for the meter or get a ticket I’d pay later. The Okie loaded the quartz cluster into a green army-issue duffel bag and hoisted it onto his back.

Before we made it to the first rock shop, we met some traveler kids hanging around on the sidewalk.

The Okie, who was not the least bit shy, talked to the folks and asked if they wanted to see the cluster he was hauling around. Of course they wanted to see it. While he was showing it off, I pulled out some of the smaller points I had found and traded them to one of the kids for change to put in the parking meter. If I hadn’t needed to feed the meter, I would have given him the crystals. Since he offered the change and I needed it, I took it.

When I got back from putting the coins in the meter, the Okie introduced me to the oldest of the kids, a guy who actually had a girlfriend and a house just outside of Asheville. That guy wire wrapped stones and offered to trade quartz points in exchange for making some pendants for us.

The guy picked out the points he wanted, and the Okie and I gave him the crystals we wanted wrapped. We agreed we’d be in touch the next day, and the Okie and I went on our way. (To read about what else happened to me and the Okie that day, go here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/05/05/this-is-love/.)

When we heard from the stone wrapper guy the next day, we were at Stuff-Mart where I’d been flying a sign. He and his girlfriend were out and about in a car, so he said they’d meet us where we were.

Upon arrival, they presented us with beautiful pendants made from the stones we had found combined with (as it turned out) the girlfriend’s fabulous wire wrapping work. But even better than the pendants was the girlfriend!

Miz C and I hit it off immediately, which was unusual for me. There are few people I’ve liked the moment I met them. I’ve had to warm up to even my closest, dearest friends. But not Miz C. Right away we were talking as if we had known each other for years. Within minutes, she had invited me to Thanksgiving dinner the next day. I typically don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, but I agreed to go over and share the meal.

On Thanksgiving morning, the Okie and I cooked eggs on my camp stove in the Stuff-Mart parking lot where we had spent the night in the van. After breakfast I drove him thirty miles east on I-40 to a Pilot truck stop so he could hitchhike to his next destination. Once we said our good-byes, I headed back to Asheville and Thanksgiving dinner.

Upon arriving, I was introduced to Miz C’s mother. Yikes! Although everyone was very welcoming, I suddenly felt as if I were crashing a family party. I wondered if my presence was going to be awkward for everyone.

Luckily, Miz C’s mother, Em, was as cool and loving as Miz C herself. It was a total case of “like daughter, like mother.”

While Miz C and the boyfriend cooked, I sat with Em and chatted. I told her some about my life and my travels and my very vague future plans which involved New Orleans for Mardi Gras and visiting an old gal friend in Austin. It turns out Miz C had once been quite the traveling kid herself, so nothing I told Em shocked or surprised her. Em was absolutely accepting of the way I was living my life.

When I asked Em about herself, she said received messages from angels. Communicating with angels was a new one to me, but I kept my mind opened and listened to what Em had to say.

She explained that angels are around us all the time and want to help us. We just have to ask them for the help and guidance and protection we need. However, sometimes if we are focused on negative aspects, the angels will think we are asking for a lesson and will send us the very situation we have been fretting over.

She told me both the archangel Michael and the angel Uriel were with me.

According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_%28archangel%29,

Michael…is an archangel in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam

In the New Testament Michael leads God’s armies against Satan‘s forces in the Book of Revelation, where during the war in heaven he defeats Satan. In the Epistle of Jude Michael is specifically referred to as “the archangel Michael”. Christian sanctuaries to Michael appeared in the 4th century, when he was first seen as a healing angel, and then over time as a protector and the leader of the army of God against the forces of evil.

(I found an interesting gallery to help one decide if the Archangel Michael is actually sending guidance.)

According to the Angel Therapy website,

Uriel illuminates our minds with information, ideas, epiphanies, and insights…He’s wonderful to call upon whenever you need a solution…

He’ll whisper correct and appro­priate answers into your ear, which you’ll receive as words or thoughts that are suddenly “downloaded” into your mind.

You can call upon Uriel to guide your intel­lectual pursuits…

Over time, the conversation drifted to other topics. After a while, I excused myself to go out to my van to get more quartz points for gifting and trading.

I hadn’t been outside long when Em joined me at my van.

This friend in Austin you’re going to visit, Em asked, do you call her your sister?

I thought about it, then shook my head. Lou and I were close when we lived in the same city and worked together, I told Em. But I don’t think I’ve ever called her my sister or thought of her as my sister.

Em seemed perplexed. The angels were talking about my sister she said. The message from the angels (which was unclear to Em) was about my sister…

I almost fell over. Although I hadn’t mentioned her to Em, I did have a sister. She and I had been estranged since my bad-news boyfriend said she’d told one of his relatives that she didn’t have a sister. When I explained to Em that my sister had rejected me due to the crazy behavior I’d exhibited while still with my ex, Em wisely pointed out that he could have been lying to me to separate me from one of my main sources of support.

This talk of my sister went a long way in helping me believe that Em received messages from angels. I hadn’t even mentioned having a sister, so how could she have known about her? Maybe she just guessed, but it seemed more than coincidental to me.

I took the photo of the angel.

 

 

Electricity, Restrooms, & WiFi, Oh My! (Part 2)

Standard

If you read the first part of Electricity, Restrooms, & WiFi, Oh My! you know I am writing in response to a post on vaninspirations by Liselle. When Liselle first started living in her van full time, she wondered how she could charge her phone and use the restroom each night before bed without spending a lot of money. I suggested she spend her evenings at public libraries, then started thinking of all the other places folks could hang out, access the internet, charge electronics, and/or use the restroom while spending little or no money.

Part 1 of Electricity, Restrooms, & WiFi, Oh My! covered public and university libraries, as well as corporate coffee shops and restaurants. Now on with Part 2!

View of Books in ShelfChain bookstores often allow or even encourage people to hang out without requiring a purchase. There’s sure to be a restroom on the premises, and there’s typically free WiFi available. Try to find a comfy chair near an electrical outlet for charging, or if there’s a coffee shop area, look for outlets there.

I’ve noticed that in some big cities, larger grocery stores sometimes have a snack bar type area, ostensibly so people can eat the deli food or pre-made sandwiches they’ve just bought. If there are electrical outlets in such a seating/eating area, it might be a good place to hang out after grocery shopping to charge electronics. Grocery stores almost always have restrooms, and these days some of them even have free WiFi.

Here’s the deal. Stores want to make it easy for people to spend money. If a potential customer has to leave the store to attend to a bodily function, that customer might not return to make a purchase. So if you’re in a place where items are for sale, there’s bound to be a restroom.

Last summer, I frequented a Target store offering free WiFi. (That was in California, but maybe it’s a national trend.) The store also had public restrooms and an in-store Starbucks with seating. One evening I went into the seating area to look at photos I’d just purchased and found people hanging out, playing one of those card games like Magic without even a cup from a purchased beverage on their table. I didn’t look for electrical outlets, but if there was at least one there, it would be a great spot for accessing the internet and charging up with no out of pocket expense.

Shopping malls might work for passing time with access to restrooms. Food courts in malls are usually so big that no one would notice how long someone has been sitting at table. It’s been a while since I’ve been in a mall, but they may routinely offer WiFi and electrical outlets. Lots of people do the mall walking thing, so one could probably get in some exercise while waiting for that last visit to the restroom before bed.

Another place I don’t have much experience with but might work is a hospital. Or course, there are public restrooms in hospitals. There are likely to be people passing time in cafeterias and waiting rooms, and it would seem logical to offer electrical outlets to the people there. In my experience (in towns of 8,000 to 85,000 people), I’ve never seen a security guard challenging anyone in a hospital, but I’ve heard lots of intense activity happens in inner-city hospitals. Again, experiences differ depending on the community. If I were looking for places to spend my evenings, I might scope out a hospital to find public access restrooms, electrical outlets, etc., but I would not try to use hospital facilities too often. While no one may think twice about seeing the same person repeatedly in a library, mall, or on a university campus, the person repeatedly in a hospital waiting room might attract attention.

A Greyhound bus station might work occasionally too. Friends and I once slept for a few hours on the floor of a Greyhound station when we had no tickets, no money, and no plan. There are usually people hanging out there, even when there’s not a crowd waiting for the very next bus. (People hanging out could have been dropped off early or could be waiting to receive money through Western Union.) Five years ago when I was riding the ‘Hound regularly, I saw that bus stations had begun to provide “charging stations” (rows of electrical outlets, usually above a counter) so people in the waiting area could charge their phones. Greyhound stations definitely have restrooms, and I guarantee no one will think it strange to see you brushing your teeth in there.

Hotels can usually work for a restroom break,  For best results, pick a hotel that’s part of a chain and has a lobby. Nearly every hotel lobby has restrooms. Stroll in casually and confidently and find the restroom. If you’re feeling bold, find an electrical outlet near a comfy chair in the lobby or in the business center. If questioned, you can say you’re supposed to meet your mom there. (You might not look like you belong in the lobby of a La Quinta Inn, but your mom probably does. On the other hand, no matter what you look like, savvy hotel workers know you might have money in your pocket to rent a room or drink in the hotel bar.)

If you just need to use the restroom and pass some time, parks can be a good bet. They usually have restrooms (cleanliness may vary) and tend to be open fairly late. If you are a van dweller/rubber tramp, parks are a good place to cook and eat dinner, and you’ll probably blend in with the other people hanging out there. I’ve also encountered parks with WiFi access.

If you’re in a town where a friend lives, arrange to spend the evening with that person. Your friend will probably allow you to charge your electronics and may even invite you to stay for dinner. You’ll have restroom access before you drive off to park for the night, and your friend may offer you a shower. In addition, you’ll get to spend time with someone you like.

Recently, I learned about Catholic Worker hospitality houses from friends who do volunteer work with a Catholic Worker group in Las Vegas.

Each Catholic worker community is different as far as what sort of services it provides. The Catholic Worker Movement website states,

Catholic Workers live a simple lifestyle in community, serve the poor, and resist war and social injustice. Most are grounded in the Gospel, prayer, and the Catholic faith, although some houses on this list state that they are interfaith. Each Catholic Worker house is independent and there is no “Catholic Worker headquarters”.

Some Catholic Worker communities publish newspapers and some provide services for homeless and poor folks. Go to http://www.catholicworker.org/communities/directory.html to find…”a list of all the Catholic Worker communities that we know about, indexed by state or country.” Some hospitality houses let folks do laundry and/or take showers and just hang out.

I hope these ideas help van dweller/rubber tramps/traveling folks find places to meet needs that can’t be met in their vans. If readers have other suggestions, please leave a comment with your ideas.

Image courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/view-of-books-in-shelf-256421/.

Electricity, Restrooms, & WiFi, Oh My!

Standard

One of the blogs I read is vaninspirations. It’s written by a woman, Liselle, who began the process of living full-time in her van in the summer of 2015.

Unlike me, Liselle is still working a full-time job, and she is sleeping in her van several nights a week in the city where she works.

In a post called Freedom from August 3, 2015, Liselle wrote of her concern about spending money every evening at Starbucks where she was going to charge her cellphone and use the restroom before bed. She wrote,

Things that can use improvement include not eating out so much.  I’ve found this to be a little more difficult than anticipated.  For one thing, in order to use a restroom in the evening to prepare myself for the night, I feel like I need to buy something.  This puts me in a place to have an evening snack at Starbucks.  Last night, I just ordered passion tea though, and that was fine, it’s just that I don’t want to spend an excessive money on these kinds of things.  The idea is to save money so I can do the things that are important to me… and that doesn’t include Starbucks.  Tonight I might try just using a gas station bathroom, but these are usually much dirtier than the one at Starbucks.  I don’t know… maybe it’s worth it to buy something small at Starbucks.

and later in the post

Another issue is that during the week, I need something to do between the time I get out of work and the time I park to sleep.  What I’ve been doing is sitting in my van in a parking lot at a strip mall and playing a game on my phone.  This wasn’t my intention. And it is this that leads me to needing to charge my phone at Starbucks before sleeping.

I offered her some advice.

Can you charge your phone at work? Can you get rid of some apps so the phone’s battery will last longer?

Library High Angle PhotroIs there a public or university library you could hang out at before bedtime? Libraries are great because you don’t have to buy anything, they have restrooms, and many of them have electrical outlets where you could charge up your phone. Also, libraries don’t get suspicious if they see the same people every night.

Liselle responded,

There is a library. I didn’t think about that, but that’s a great solution. Thanks for bringing that up Blaize.

I realized I had a lot of experience figuring out where to use the restroom and charge my electronics without spending a fortune. I think the information I’m offering in this post might be helpful not only to full-time rubber tramps but also to folks exploring a new city who don’t  want to buy a meal every time they need to use the restroom or charge a cell phone.

My big disclaimer is that experiences are going to differ depending on who you are and where you are. A McDonald’s in inner city New Orleans is probably going to treat you differently than a McDonald’s off the interstate in the middle of Indiana. If you look like a sweet granny, you will probably be treated differently than a young guy who looks like he’s been hopping trains. Is such different treatment fair? Hell no! Is it the way the society we live in works? Yes. (Whoever lied and told you life is fair, kid? my father used to say to me.)

By all means, protest unfair treatment. Or just say OK and walk away, if that’s what’s best in your situation. I’m writing from my personal experiences, which will not be the same as anyone else’s experiences. Use my experiences as a starting point to figure out what works for you.

As I told Liselle, my number one favorite place to meet my restroom, WiFi, and charging needs is the public library in whatever town I’m in. Every library I’ve ever been in has had restrooms. Even better, I’ve never had to buy anything or answer any questions or even show a library card in order to use the restroom in a public library. People can also read books and magazines at the library for free. Often libraries have free internet access, either through the library’s public access computers or from free WiFi.

I’ve been to some libraries where only people with local library cards could use the public access computers, but I’ve been to even more where “guests” were allowed access. Sometimes I’ve had to show my driver’s license to get guest access, but not always. Frequently libraries have electrical outlets and allow patrons to use them to charge their electronics. Because people are expected and even encouraged to hang out in libraries, it’s unlikely anyone spending several nights a week at one will get any funny looks.

Another great place to spend time is a university campus. While dormitories and gyms might be off-limits, student unions, university libraries and food courts, and even classrooms may be good place to spend the evening hours. Any of the buildings I mentioned are sure to have readily available restrooms. University libraries offer the same access to books and magazines as public libraries, although a student ID would probably be required to use a library computer. Classrooms typically have an electrical outlet and there are usually several empty classrooms in any hall after four o’clock or so in the afternoon. Also look for electrical outlets in the student union or any other buildings where students might spend time between classes.

Even if you are older than the typical college student, there are people of all ages on most large university campuses, especially in the evenings when nontraditional (older) students tend to take night classes. Maybe people will mistake you for a professor if you look older than the average student. Also, some universities off free or cheap lectures, concerts, films and other activities in the evening that are open to anyone in the community.

Often the workers at fast food restaurants and chain coffee shops don’t care if someone sits in the dining room for a few hours charging a phone or laptop, utilizing the free WiFi, and visiting the restrooms when necessary. I’ve been in McDonald’s restaurants, Starbucks coffee shops, and Paneras across the country, seldom buying anything while using the store’s dining room and electricity, and I’ve never been asked to buy anything. (The only time I’ve ever been asked to leave a McDonald’s, I was trying to buy food.)

I think most corporations don’t want to alienate potential customers, thinking even if someone hasn’t bought anything right now, s/he might have bought something from their company earlier in the day or might buy something at a later time.

Of course, fast food restaurants with WiFi don’t necessarily have electrical outlets. Most McDonald’s now have WiFi, but maybe only half of the ones I’ve been in have publicly available electrical outlets. More and more Burger King restaurants have WiFi and electrical outlets. Starbucks and Panera almost always have several electrical outlets to go with their free WiFi. All of those places have restrooms too.

(If I get to choose between a Starbucks and a Panera and a fast food joint, I will always pick Panera. Panera sells delicious, healthy food, so I can  something nutritious if I decide to spend money. Also, Panera has an ice dispenser near their beverage dispensers, so I can fill my water bottle with ice before I leave. Finally, Panera offers a customer reward card, so if I do buy something, I earn free food and drinks  down the road.)

To be continued.

Image courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/library-high-angle-photro-159775/.

 

 

 

Mean Daddy

Standard

It was another slow, cold day at the Bridge. I noticed the family—Mom, Dad, young teenage daughter—because their clothes said they had money, and they were actually stopping to look at the merchandise on vendor’s tables.

I told the mom about my bracelets and necklaces (handmade by me from hemp, able to open and close completely). The mom liked my jewelry and wanted her daughter (between the ages of 12 and 14, I’m guessing) to like it too. The daughter, however, was at the age and the stage where she didn’t want to like anything her mom liked. They wandered away, and I was disappointed I hadn’t made a sale.

Before long, the daughter was at my table alone. She asked me a few questions about my jewelry. Then she saw my hats. She really liked the hats. I even pulled out my back stock so she could choose from everything I had available. She picked out a cute one with a pompom on top. I told her it cost $10.

Her father was walking by, and she demanded, Dad! Buy me this hat! (I admit, she sounded like a real brat.)

Her dad said, No!

The girl said, Come on! It’s only $10. Buy me the hat!

Her dad sneered, This is just a knit hat. You don’t need this.

He said just a knit hat the same way someone might say just an old boot or just a pile of dog shit. He obviously felt great contempt for that hat I’d made with my own two hands. I stood there wondering if he realized I was the person who’d made that just a knit hat.

I could understand if he didn’t want to buy anything for his daughter because she was being a demanding brat. I could understand if he’d already bought her a lot of stuff on this trip and didn’t want to spend any more money. I could understand if the girl had plenty of things and needed nothing more. But the guy could have been nicer to his daughter and to me. (How about: This is a nice hat, but you don’t need it, and I’m not spending any more money until dinner.)

The girl kept pleading, and the man turned to me in exasperation and demanded, Will you take $5 for it?

Time froze. On the one hand, at $10 per hat, I’m not paying myself minimum wage, as a hat takes me more than an hour to make. At $5 per hat, I am paying myself a seriously pitiful wage. On the other hand, I’d only made $3 so far that day, and $5 was better than no dollars. Besides, a teenage girl liked a hat I’d made, and that was pretty cool. So I sighed wearily and agreed to take $5 for the hat.

The dad pulled a wad of cash out of his pocket. I saw a $100 bill in his hand. He fished a twenty out of the pile and asked if I could make change. I signed wearily again and said yes.

As I gave him the last of my change, he said gruffly, I don’t know if I’m going to get out of here with any money left.

Isn’t that what vacation’s for? I asked brightly.

(I don’t believe vacations are primarily for spending money, but that man had just shown me he actually had plenty of money to spend.)

To read about other hemp jewelry customers, go here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/02/05/we-feel-for-your-situation/, here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/02/10/red-letter-day-2/ , here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/09/26/turtle-ass/, here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/03/17/how-much-are-these/ here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/11/12/hard-times-on-the-highway/ and here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/12/09/selling-hemp-again/