Category Archives: Free Stuff

The Magic of the Free Pile

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As always, the free pile at the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous was fantastic. Oh, there were plenty of items useless to me, like the dozen pair of reading glasses and the women’s clothing in sizes so small I wouldn’t have fit in them as a fourth grader, but I got so many great things from the free pile. I know other people did too.

I snagged a brand new red folding camp chair (retail price: right around $10 at Wal-Mart) for Coyote Sue. Once she arrived, she snagged for herself a large metal watering can, a decorative mirror in a wooden frame; and a four-plex birdhouse. One day while we were free pile shopping together, I found a container of dried black beans and handed them over to an excited Coyote Sue. She may have been the one person at the RTR who loved the free pile as much as I did.

Because the free pile required no money, we allowed ourselves to take risks.

The Divine Miss M picked up a folding cart on wheels. She took it to her camp for a few days and experimented with its uses. When she found it difficult to fold and discovered the plastic it was made from was cracking, she returned it to the pile. It wasn’t long before we watched a musician folding it up and packing it into her car. Maybe she had better luck with it than Miss M did.

I found food besides the dried beans I gave to Coyote Sue on the free pile, although not as much as in previous years when the cans left over from the cooking of the chili and soup dinners were donated. One day I scored a can of Del Monte (OH! Name brand!) peas. Another day  I snagged about a dozen Wal-Mart Great Value granola bars. Later, I scored a chicken and noodle MRE; I put it in my pantry for lean times. When I saw a donated container of doggy treats, I snatched it up for my friend’s pooch.

The strangest consumable I found on the free pile was a nearly full case of cans of Miller High Life beer. At first, I thought the carton was empty, but when I peered in, I saw only two or three cans were missing. Then I wondered if the cans in the carton were empty. Maybe someone had left a carton almost full of empty cans as a joke. However, when I nudged the carton with my toe, its heft told me it was almost full.

Did someone really leave beer? a fellow free pile peruser asked after I pointed out the carton.

It’s in the free pile, I assured him.

I do like Miller beer, he said.

You should take it, I encouraged, thinking of all the sober children in China, while also feeling a bit guilty about encouraging unhealthy behavior. Maybe I should have taken the beer when I first saw it and emptied the cans in the scrub.

I would have been really excited to find that beer when I was twenty, I said as the man carried the beer over to his bicycle.

Heck, I”m 41, and I’m pretty excited, he said.

My friends gave me first dibs on some items before they were offered to the general free pile public.

Mr. B. brought over a digital camera he’d fixed. (I take apart anything broken before I throw it away, he told me. I figure I should put my education to use. Apparently taking apart the broken at least sometimes leads to repair.) I decided to hold on to the camera in the event I need to replace the one I’m currently using. (I realize taking on a spare can be a dangerous precedent for a van dweller.)

Lady Nell sent Mr. T to me with the laptop he was about to offer up to the free pile. I passed on it because the operating system on mine is newer than what Mr. T’s had. Mr. T was skeptical anyone would want it, but it was already gone on my next visit to the pile. To someone without a laptop or tablet, it must have been quite a score.

Gee also gave me a preview of her free pile donations. From her I got a beautiful reversible silk wrap-around skirt; a pair of black leggings lined with soft black fleece; and a pair of light-weight, brightly colored, slip-on Sketchers. At first I thought the Sketchers were too small, but after wearing them a couple of days, they stretched a bit, and I love them! Slip on shoes are great for van life! Alas, while the leggings fit around my middle, they were way too long for my short little legs. I passed them on to Coyote Sue, whose long Viking legs are better suited to their length.

One day a woman I’d met briefly stopped her pickup near my camp and asked if she could park there for a few minutes while she carried some things to the free pile. I said sure and offered to help her. She offered to show me what she had before we brought it all to the pile. She explained another lady had given her the items and asked her to donate them. I found a pair of brand new Duluth Trading Company canvas pants which fit me in the waist and were only five inches too long! That’s a major find for a short, fat gal like me. The pants are my new favorite piece of cold weather gear. (I also got a light blue shirt with a hood, also from the Duluth Trading Company, also in my size. Double score! Alas, I have already spilled curry on the blue shirt, and I don’t know if I am going to be able to scrub it out.)

Two of my best free pile finds were a small cast iron skillet (hello, portion control) and a stamp collection. I rummaged through the collection for stamps that had not been cancelled and found many. I gave a bunch of cancelled stamps to Coyote Sue for her collaging needs and kept the rest to sell on the Etsy shop I want to open to sell collaging and scrapbooking items I pick up cheap.

The real free pile magic happened for a friend of mine, but I was involved.

He was living in his car and hadn’t figured out a way to sleep comfortably. We’d talked about how sleeping in a tent might be better, but he was flat broke, so couldn’t rush out and buy one. Maybe I’ll find one in the free pile, he said.

I’d driven out to see a friend in a nearby town that day, and I was excited to explore the free pile when I returned. since it’s always more exciting after several hours away. I didn’t see anything good but half an hour later, I watched a man deposit a red beach chair on the pile. I thought surely someone milling around the pile would grab it, but no one seemed to want it. I went over to the pile and retrieved the chair for myself. (It’s the perfect height to allow me to sit comfortably in the van and see out my side window.)

Five minutes later, I was talking to my friend, who was still trying figure out how to sleep in his car. I told him I’d seen some foam bed padding on the free pile and offered to go see if it was still there. I went over to the pile and saw the padding was gone. Bummer. But then I saw an interesting nylon bag. Could it be? I peaked inside. Yep, poles and more green nylon. It was a tent.

I picked it up and carried it over to my friend. Heres that tent you manifested, I said as I handed it over.