Category Archives: My True Life

Really?

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The Lady of the House and I arrived at the visitor center at the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park early in the day. We may have been the first visitors in after the doors were unlocked.

Two people were working at the information desk/checkout counter that morning, a young man with a beard and an older woman with straight grey hair. They talked to each other as The Lady and I looked at the souvenirs in the corner of the building that served as a gift shop.

We hadn’t been in the building long when another visitor came inside. I didn’t pay her much mind, but from what I saw out of the corner of my eye, she was old enough to be my mother and well-dressed. She made a beeline to the counter where the Park Service employees stood.

I have a question, she told them, but I’m going to wait until my husband gets in here.

I don’t know why she even started talking before her husband made his entrance. I guess she was excited.

The husband walked in within minutes and the question turned out to concern the Elephant Hill Road.

The couple had a rented four-wheel-drive vehicle, and they wanted to take it exploring on Elephant Hill Road.

According to information about Needles District trails and roads issued by Canyonlands National Park,

One of the most technical four-wheel-drive roads in Utah, Elephant Hill presents drivers with steep grades, loose rock, stair-step drops, tight turns and backing. Over the hill, equally challenging roads lead to various campsites and trailheads…

It would be ok to drive their rented vehicle there, wouldn’t it, the visitor woman asked confidentally.

I don’t recommend it, the Park Service employee with the straight grey hair said gravely.

Really? The tourist woman asked in a tone of voice that made it plain she couldn’t believe her plan to drive on Elephant Hill Road was being thwarted. It was obvious she thought the Park Service worker was wrong.

Does your vehicle have a wench? the Park Service employee asked the couple. Do you have the capability to self-rescue?

Oh no, the husband said. Nothing like that.

I don’t recommend it, the worker repeated. If you get stuck, the Park Service won’t tow you out, and you’ll have to pay $2,500 for a towing company to get you out.

The Park Service employee asked them what they hoped to see, then helped them decide to go partway down Elephant Hill Road, but turn around before the road became too rugged for their vehicle.

(Let me say here, every employee I’ve encountered doing his or her job at any of the National Parks I’ve visited has been absolutely friendly and helpful, even when a visitor has been asking for something ridiculous or impossible. Without exception, the employees of National Parks I’ve seen interacting with the public have been professional to a degree I find awe inspiring. I consider folks who work for the National Parks in a class above all service industry employees, save perhaps for those employed in some capacity by Mickey Mouse. )

When we got back in the van, I asked The Lady if she’d heard that tourist woman get thwarted.

Oh yeah, The Lady said. She seemed so sure of herself.

The Lady and I made up the following story about the tourist couple: The woman had her heart set on driving Elephant Hill Road and was trying to convince her husband that the vehicle they had rented could handle it. The husband was skeptical.

Fine! We could image the woman saying, We’ll ask at the visitor center.

The way she said, Really? made it clear she hadn’t expected to be told no.

The way she said, Really? made me think she hears the word “no” on a highly infrequent basis.

I took these photos in the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park.

Judgement

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When The Man picked me up from work on Friday afternoon, he was distressed because the needle on the van’s gas gauge was in the red. He was afraid we would run out of gas before we went back down the mountain in four days. I knew (from stressful experience) that even once the needle is in the red, I have enough gas to get down the mountain. I didn’t know if I had enough gas for us to drive the six miles back and forth to work for four days and make it down the mountain, so it looked like we would have to take an unplanned side trip to civilization.

There was gas on the mountain, 25 miles and 45 minutes away, in one pump behind a general store. We could have gone there, but once before my debit card hadn’t worked when I tried to pay at that pump. By the time I got off work, I didn’t know if the general store would be open when we got there. We’d be in big trouble if we drove 25 miles to find the card reader wouldn’t accept my card, the store was closed, and we couldn’t get gas.

We decided to drive down the mountain to our second gas option. After an hour of twisting mountain roads, we found ourselves in one of those small towns that’s a hub for outdoor tourism but doesn’t have much else going for it. If it weren’t for nearby camping and fishing and whitewater rafting, this town would probably shrivel up and blow away.

I knew by the time we drove an hour down the mountain, filled up the gas tank, and drove an hour back up the mountain, it would be dark and cold, and we’d be not just tired, but exhausted. I knew cooking dinner in our outdoor kitchen was going to be miserable, and I wanted no part of it. I knew the one grocery store in town had a hot deli, so we decided we’d grab our dinner there.

After spending $80 and not quite filling my gas tank, we found ourselves in front of the hot deli case looking at fried chicken, pizza strips containing pepperoni, and meaty lasagna. What were a couple of non-meat eaters to do? We opted for a pound of potato wedges and called it a night.

We had to get in the regular check-out line to pay for our potatoes. We were third in line.

A young couple was first in line. The young man looked like he was barely out of his teens; maybe he wasn’t. He had scraggly facial hair, baggy clothes over a scrawny body, and a warm beanie pulled down low against the late spring chill. The woman with him was young too, with either a deathly pallor to her face or makeup to make it seem that way. Her hair was dyed a light blue and pulled up and twisted into two little blue buns on the top of her head.

The ages of the next couple in line were more difficult to determine. The male half of the couple seemed to be in his mid-30s, but the female half seemed older. I wasn’t sure if she was his mother who’d birthed him at a very young age or if she was his wife who’d aged in a hard-life sort of way. The woman was plump, with perfectly straight, shoulder length hair, no bangs. She wore a tasteful, loose and flowy blouse and seemed like an ordinary middle age woman from a small town. The fellow was tall and had probably once been athletic, but his body was getting middle age soft. He had on unremarkable clothes, a ball cap, and tattoos on the arm I could see.

When we walked up to the line, the fellow wearing the ball cap was talking to customers waiting in the next check-out lane, something about a promotion he’d gotten. His conversation ended, and we all stood quietly for a moment against the bustle of the grocery store.

The fellow with the ball cap stood facing forward, and I heard him call out loudly enough to be heard by those standing immediately around him, but maybe not loudly enough to be heard by the object of his scorn, Hey! What’s wrong with your hair? He was of course talking to the young woman in line ahead of him. He had a good ol’ boy grin on his face, knowing he could most probably get away with saying whatever mean thing he wanted because the (boy)friend of the woman with the blue hair wasn’t likely to fight him.

I don’t know if the woman with the blue hair heard the rudeness. She never looked our way and her face never betrayed any feelings. The rude man’s lady companion did hear him. She gave him a nasty look and the tiniest shake of her head, but nothing more. Mother or wife, I’m sure she was all too familiar with his asshole antics.

The young man with the blue-haired woman heard the remark too. He glanced over with a stoner’s look of What? on his face. The mean man broadened his smile in a we’re all friends here gesture directed at the young man, who gave back the barest minimum of a smile. He, like me, knew we were not all friends here, but he must have realized flight was better than fight in this situation.

About that time, a cashier opened the register to our right and called for the next customer in line. I quickly ushered The Man over to the newly opened register. I Did. Not. Want. to stand next to the fellow with the ball cap any longer.

As I purchased our pound of potatoes, I could hear the fellow with the ball cap and the cashier (a young woman with her dark hair piled on top of her head and false eyelashes the size of caterpillars) discussing the woman’s blue hair, which had apparently made quite an impression on them.

I looked up and saw the fellow with the ball cap had tattoos on his other arm too, as well as the outline of the state of California tattooed on his neck. I’d have thought someone with multiple tattoos would have been a little more accepting of someone with an unnatural hair color, but in this case, I was wrong.

I kept my mouth shut, but I wanted to shout, Hey asshole! Let he without a stupid neck tattoo cast the first stone!

Discomfort

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I knew immediately that my homelessness made the woman uncomfortable.

I wasn’t trying to make her uncomfortable. I was simply speaking my truth, sharing my reality.

She was probably a few years older than I was. Her clothing (tasteful but not ostentatious) and her speech (no slang, proper grammar) marked her as belonging to the educated middle class. She had come to walk with her daughter in the Nevada Desert Experience Sacred Peace Walk, and she seemed a little nervous, a little out of her element. Her daughter had wandered off, and the woman seemed to want to chat with someone so she wouldn’t feel awkward in her aloneness.

Women in my age group who think I’m of their social class seem to gravitate toward me when we’re in a group that makes them uncomfortable. I’m educated, and I speak proper, mostly unaccented English. My hair is streaked with grey and my tattoos and the gaps where my rotten teeth have been pulled are mostly invisible. I appear to be a “normal” older professional woman, and other “normal” older professional women seem to think I’m safe to interact with.

I don’t remember how this particular woman and I began chatting. I think she joined me at a table for a meal. Maybe she and I lingered after the other folks at the table left. In whatever way the conversation started, I could soon tell she thought we had similar lives.

I also don’t remember what question she asked me about myself, but my response was that I lived in my van. I immediately picked up on her discomfort. It wasn’t the first time I’d mentioned living in my van to a woman in my age group and immediately sensed her discomfort.

Maybe the conversation went like this: Maybe the woman asked me where I lived and I said I lived in my van. Maybe then she asked me why I lived in my van, and I gave her my stock/true answer that I’d been homeless before I started living in the van, so the van was a step up.

However the topic came up, I knew my talk of homelessness as a real part of my life made my table companion nervous.

I suspect when a woman thinks I’m like her but then finds out I’ve been really homeless and I’m currently living-in-a-van homeless, she gets a little bit freaked out because she’s identified with me. If I was/am homeless, and she and I are somehow alike, she realizes she could end up homeless too. I think it’s a very disconcerting realization for some women.

Upon hearing about my living situation, this particular woman launched into a story about how one night after eating at a restaurant, she gave her leftovers to a homeless man. I guess she wanted me to know she was down with and kind to homeless people. I resisted the urge to explain that street kids call asking folks for their leftovers “white boxing,” presumably because restaurants often pack up leftovers in white Styrofoam containers.

The story was long and detailed, and the woman’s nervousness was obvious. Our whole point of interaction had become about her trying to convey to me how ok she was with homeless people (and therefore ok with me). Suddenly I wasn’t an individual sitting in front of her, but a member of a group that caused her discomfort.

I wasn’t sure how to respond to this woman’s story. I think I managed, I’m sure the man appreciated the food, but how was I to know what the man thought of her offering?

I was almost sorry I’d mentioned living in my van. I hadn’t wanted to cause the woman distress. On the other hand, I wondered why I needed to hide my reality in order to save someone else from discomfort. I don’t have to be ashamed of having been totally homeless or of being living-in-a-van homeless. Being homeless isn’t a moral failure. Being homeless doesn’t make anyone a bad person.

The woman’s discomfort made me uncomfortable too. I felt like I had done something wrong, even though logically I knew I hadn’t. The woman rambled on with a story I didn’t really want to hear. I excused myself as soon as I could and left the table feeling alienated and awkward. I wished I could be as normal as people thought I was.

Drive-Thru

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I was in Flagstaff, Arizona, and money was tight. I decided to visit the food bank to help me get by until I received my first paycheck.

I’ve been to food banks across the country, and some are better than others. It’s disheartening to fill out a bunch of paperwork, answer a lot of personal questions, and wait in line for a long time to receive not much more than a can of green beans and another of store-brand beef stew. Don’t get me wrong—I’m always grateful, but sometimes I’m more grateful than others.

I’d heard the food bank in Flagstaff was generous, so I had high hopes when I decided to pay it a visit.

I called ahead. My license didn’t list Flagstaff as my address, and some food banks only want to give food to residents. I didn’t want to stand in line only to be turned away. The nice woman on the phone said I didn’t need to be a resident of Flagstaff to get food, but I would need to show my ID. No problem.

I arrived early. The food bank was set to open at 9am, but I was ahead of the game and had the van parked before 8am. People tend to show up early for free food, and I wanted to be one of the first in line.

I was writing and not really paying attention to the time when I looked at my watch again. It was 8:30. The parking lot was no fuller than it had been when I pulled in. I was parked on the side of the building, so I thought people must be lined up in front. I grabbed my reusable shopping bags and went looking for the line.

When I walked around the corner of the building, I didn’t see a single person standing in line. I did see orange cones arranged in front of the building to make a lane and cars lined up in the lane. Could this really be a drive-thru food bank?

I hurried back to the van, got in the driver’s seat, turned the key in the ignition, and backed out of my parking space. I exited the parking lot and took my place in the queue which now stretched out of the parking lot and onto the side of the wide, lightly trafficked street. It was probably ten minutes to nine.

Just minutes after nine, the vehicles in front of me started moving. I was soon close enough to the front to see the proceedings. A woman with a clipboard approached a car, and there seemed to be some conversation. The clipboard was handed to the driver; soon the driver handed the clipboard back to the woman running the show. The car pulled up to a predetermined spot and people I presumed to be volunteers unloaded food from a full shopping cart into the car’s open trunk. In a few minutes, the car was on its way.

agriculture, basket, beetsWhen my turn came, things went down just as I’d observed. The woman handed me the clipboard and asked me to write my name and address on adjacent lines; she never did ask for my ID. She did ask me where I wanted the food to go, and I pointed to the passenger side of my van. I pulled up to the designated spot and kind young people loaded in two small boxes of nonperishable food, one large box filled with pounds of fresh produce (tomatoes;  Brussels sprouts; yellow squash, and red, orange, yellow, and green bell peppers), a case of 12 bottles of  Pure Leaf organic black tea, and three dozen eggs. Wow! This food would certainly help get me through until my first payday.

I drove off, marveling not only at the quantity and quality of the food I’d just been given but at the fact that I hadn’t even had to get out of my van. I was very grateful indeed.

Photo courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/agriculture-basket-beets-bokeh-533360/.

The Current Situation

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The Man has left the mountain.

He’d been having a difficult time. He’d gotten sick and was still feeling the effects two weeks later. He’d been working alone at the parking lot since I’d started full-time at the mercantile on the Thursday before Memorial Day. He was still having trouble with his daily paperwork and sometimes spent a couple hours a day on it. The weekly cash out was an ordeal that took several hours. He was frustrated, tired, and discouraged, and one day he’d had enough, so he left.

He broke up with the job, but he didn’t break up with me. We still love each other, and we talk about the future.

We’re currently in different states, but that’s ok. Our bodies may be apart, but our hearts are still together.

He’s learning to cut stones to use in his wire-wrapped jewelry. I’m still working in the Mercantile, reading books, and working on this blog. I miss The Man, but overall, I’m doing well.

With the Big Boss Man’s permission, I moved out of the campground where The Man and I were living and moved to a little nook in the nearby group campground. I’m now living in the campground where I found the dead man! I could have stayed in the other campground but it seemed too awkward for me to share a site with the new camp host and his mentor/roommate. Also, I still feel responsible for that campground, and I didn’t want to have to constantly make decisions as to whether or not I should offer the new camp host suggestions or just let him run the campground as he sees fit. I thought my life would be easier if I packed up and left.

Living at the new campground puts me closer to the Mercantile, so I can save a little bit of gas each day. My campsite is surrounded by trees, and I can see a meadow from where I stay. In the past, a bear has frequented this area; after the campers left and before the garbage was picked up, he would have a trash can buffet. I’m trying hard to keep my site clean so as not to attract this bear or any others.  The campground is usually empty during the week, so I expect to have a lot of quiet time.

All in all, life is still good.

 

Karen

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Photo of Black Flat Screen MonitorHer nametag read “Karen,” and she was our cashier at a Wal-Mart in a medium-sized city in central California.

The Man and I had popped into Wal-Mart to get a few supplies before we headed back up the mountain. The Man had a 12-pack of socks and a comb, and I had a bottle of hand sanitizer, a roll of paper towels, and a bottle of bleach. We usually go through the self-check line, but that morning I wanted my cash back partially in ones so I could feed the water dispensing machine. I knew the self-checkout machines would only spit out twenties, so I needed to deal with a human to get the bills I wanted.

Karen had completely white hair styled in a way that seemed old-fashiond even for a woman I presumed to be about 70 years old. She asked me if we needed to buy a bag, and I said no, we’d just carry our purchases out in our arms.

We’re not from California, I told her, so we forget to bring in our own bags.

(In much of California, stores no longer provide flimsy plastic bags for free. Shoppers can bring in their own bags or purchase paper bags or slightly more sturdy plastic bags at the register.)

You’re lucky you’re not from California! Karen exclaimed.

I told her we worked in the National Forest, and I must have told her we traveled too, because she asked me What’s your favorite place? I told her I’d just been to Moab (she looked confused, so I added Utah) and I’d liked it very much, and I said I really like Taos, NM too.

What’s your favorite place? I asked her.

She’d never been out of California, she told me.

Well, what’s your favorite place in California? I asked.

Home, she replied with a laugh.

Where would you like to go? I persisted.

I’m 82 years old, she said, much to my surprise. I thought she was a dozen years younger. I’m scared to go anywhere, she told me.

I’m always shocked when I meet people who’ve never ventured even into a neighboring state. I suppose California is big enough to satisfy a lifetime of wanderlust, but I wonder if Karen traveled even the state of her birth. I just hope she was content to stay at home instead of being held there by fear.

Image courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/photo-of-black-flat-screen-monitor-811103/.

Preston

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He said his name was Preston as he shook my hand.

We found ourselves sitting next to each other on a bench in a Catholic Charities office in a small mountain town. I was there to ask for a gas voucher so I could leave, and he was there to…I wasn’t quite sure why he was there.

He was repacking his bag, a stylish piece of carry-on luggage, when I arrived. I didn’t want to crowd him, but seating was limited, so I took the spot next to him.

He opened the conversation by asking me if I wanted some lotion. I bought myself some man lotion, he told me proudly while showing me the grey tube. Do you want this one they gave me? He offered me a pink tube. I politely declined, while wondering who “they” were.

He turned around and offered the lady lotion to the woman sitting in the row behind us. She too politely declined. Ok, I’ll just keep it, he said with certainty.

He and the woman behind him were having a conversation about something she said was going to get bigger. They talked as if the creature in question was in the room with us.

I had one, the woman said. I worked at a pet store when I was younger. It was six feet long, not including the tail.

What in the world? I wondered as I furtively looked over to see if he had a snake (is a specific part of a snake considered its tail?) or (Heaven forbid!) a rat. I understood the conversation was about an animal, but where was the animal? I turned almost all the way around in my seat and saw the woman was holding a beautiful, colorful, nearly iridescent lizard. The lizard, it turned out, belonged to Preston.

He’d recently bought the lizard from Pet Smart, he said. The lizard’s name was Horus. Preston said he had a cat too. The cat’s name was Isis. If he were to have a child one day, Preston said, he would name the child Zeus.

I said Zeus would be a pretty serious name to give a child. Those would be mighty big shoes to fill, I said.

Preston told me he did believe in the gods of Mount Olympus. He believed in all the gods. Some people would tell us, he said, that there was only one god, but I shouldn’t believe them because it wasn’t true.

I thought maybe he shouldn’t say such things while we sat in the lobby of the Catholic Charities office. It was true I hadn’t been Catholic in a long time, but I was pretty sure the Catholic faith was still holding on to the “one God” idea. I let the guy talk, however. It wasn’t my place to shush him.

We didn’t know who made us, Preston continued. We were all different. We were all made of different soil.

He didn’t seem to want my conversational input, so mostly I just listened.

The gentleman doing the screenings for travelers’ aid came out of the office and summoned the couple which included the woman who was holding Horus the lizard. She took the two steps necessary to hand the lizard to Preston.

Just put him on my back, Preston said, and she did.

So here I was, in the lobby of the Catholic Charities office, sitting next to a middle age African-American man wearing a baby blue Western shirt with ornate black decorative stitching over a grey t-shirt and carrying a fairly large lizard on his back. What an extraordinary world we live in!

Preston told his story in bits and pieces.

He’d been living on a nearby mountain, but his camp had been discovered by a very polite ranger. The ranger thought Preston’s camp of two tents (one for sleeping—he had a foldable futon mattress—and one for storage) was nicely done, but he said Preston had to move. Preston was going to move into the forest, and he said he was going to go far back into the trees where no one would ever find him.

It seemed like maybe this was where the Catholic Charities came into Preston’s life. Maybe someone from the organization was going to give him a ride to his new camping spot. It wasn’t that he didn’t trust the Catholic Charities, he said, but he didn’t anyone to know where he was staying.

I told him it was supposed to get cold in two days, highs only in the mid-40s with a 70% chance of rain and possibly snow. (I’d seen the weather forecast, and this impending storm was the reason I wanted to leave not just my camping spot but the whole town.)

Preston wasn’t worried. He said camping among the trees would be a lot warmer than where he was currently set up on the mountain. The trees warmed the air, he said. Being under the trees was particularly warm, he said. He thought the fibers in the needles and leaves warmed the air. In the old days, he told me, before there were blankets, people covered themselves with leaves or hay to stay warm. He didn’t know exactly how it worked, but that’s what people did before blankets.

I said I thought the leaves or hay or needles held in a person own body heat to keep the person warm, and Preston allowed that might be the case.

I was most concerned for Horus the lizard. Even if it was warmer under the trees, the mid-40s was pretty cold for a lizard. How was he going to stay warm in a tent if the temperature dropped?

Preston’s biggest concern seemed to be the fact that the ranger had told him he could not have a charcoal fire. Preston’s plan for dinner had involved frying ham over hot coals. Now that plan was out, and I could tell he was disappointed. He had a plan B, however, which involved a can of tuna fish he’d been given.

He’d also been give bus passes, and he was going to ride the bus today, although he hated the bus. People talked too loud on the bus, he said. (Preston himself had a booming voice that rang against the walls of the drab waiting room.) People on the bus cursed for no reason, he said. Of course, he admitted, he cursed too, but not like the people on the bus who cursed for no reason. He was sorry if he had offended me with his cursing, he said. Did you curse? I asked. I didn’t even notice, which was the truth.

People on the bus also laughed for no reason, Preston told me. They’d start laughing and would just keep going and going. Maybe the laughers were on drugs, he allowed. He smoked some weed, he admitted, but it didn’t make him laugh like the people on the bus did.

It’s better to laugh than to cry, I interjected.

No! Preston said with conviction. It’s better to cry! Crying released emotion, he said and that made the person crying feel better.

He didn’t like the bus, he continued, but today he was going to take the bus because he was tired. He had to break camp in the next couple of days. It was going to be easier to carry his belongings down the mountain than it had been to haul them up, but it was still going to be a lot of work. Before he left, he had to scatter the rocks he’d used to demarcate his camp because the ranger had told him to make the area look like he’d never been there. He was going to haul the rocks to the edge of the hill, then push them over the edge so they could roll to the bottom.

The gentleman doing the screening for travelers’ aid came out of the office, and it was my turn to go in. I said good-bye to Preston, and we wished each other well. Horus the lizard was still clinging to Preston’s back.

What an extraordinary world we live in!

Helping Hand

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I’m not telling you this story so you’ll think I’m cool. I don’t think what I did was really so special. I’m telling you this story to inspire you to help someone who might need a hand.

I think we had just turned down Indian Route 15.

The Lady of the House and I were on our epic road trip through Arizona and Utah. We’d just left Winslow, where yes, we stood on the corner. Now we were on a long leg of the trip to the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. We’d left the I-40 just east of Winslow, and were currently in the Navajo Nation.

I think we had just turned down Indian Route 15 when we saw the man and the woman standing next to a dusty SUV pulled off on the shoulder of the road. I don’t remember how we determined they were having trouble. They weren’t waving their arms or otherwise trying to signal drivers to stop, but trouble was the only reason I could imagine for pulling off the road there.

We should see if we can help them, I said to The Lady as I passed the people and their vehicle, then slowed down to pull off on the shoulder ahead of them.

You jump out and ask if they need anything, I said to The Lady. She’s the more outgoing of the two of us, so I figured she’d be better at approaching strangers.

She did jump out and was back quite soon. The people had a flat tire, she reported. They had phone service and water, so they didn’t need our help with those things. The woman wanted to know if we could give her a ride just down the road to a supermarket so she could buy a can of Fix-a-Flat.

I didn’t mind giving her a ride. While my van only has two passenger seats with seatbelts, there was room for her to perch on the edge of the bed. I could drive slowly so she wouldn’t feel her life was endangered without a seat belt.

Too bad I didn’t have the 12-volt air compressor I’d bought earlier in the year after a tire disaster on BLM land. I’d purchased the compressor along with a can of Fix-a-Flat in preparation for future tire disasters. Unfortunately for the people with the flat, I’d left the compressor with The Man who was rolling on three used tires and more likely to need it. If I’d had the compressor with me, I would have used it to try to pump up their tire. Maybe the tire would have held air long enough to get them to a tire repair shop. Since I didn’t have the compressor, all I could do was give the woman a ride so she could buy herself a can of Fix-a-Flat.

Oh wait! I had a can of Fix-a-Flat. I could just give her my can of Fix-a-Flat which would save us both time and save her money too.

I jumped out of the drivers seat and went around to the back of the van. After opening the doors, I had to move bags of food and a large plastic tote so I could rummage around in a small tub, but I finally put my hands on the can of Fix-a-Flat.

Is this what you were going to get? I asked the woman who had come closer to the van when The Lady beckoned her. When she said yes, I handed the can to her and told her she could have it.

She thanked us, and The Lady and I jumped back in the van. I don’t know what else we could have done to help.

The supermarket the woman had said was just down the road turned out to be about six miles away. I wouldn’t have minded driving that far, I told The Lady, but it was father than I’d expected.

When she asked for a ride, I asked her how she was going to get back, The Lady told me. She said she would walk. That would have been a long walk!

I would have waited for her, I told The Lady. I would have given her a ride back to her truck.

However, since we still had a long way to go to get to the campground where we planned to stay that night, I was happy I was able to simply hand over what she was planning to buy anyway.

I replaced the can of Fix-a-Flat a couple of days later while we were in civilization. When we got back to Babylon, The Lady gave me her family’s old air compressor that no longer works when plugged it into a regular electrical outlet but does still work when I plug it into my van’s 12-volt outlet. Now The Man and I are both prepared for tire disasters.

I hope the people on Indian Route 15 were back on the road in no time.

This photo is on the side of a laundromat in Kayenta, AZ.

I took the photos in this post.

 

 

Step Back

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I was in a suburb of a large metro area, at a gas station in the parking lot of a supermarket that is part of a big chain. I walked up the the booth to pay rather than run my debit card through the reader and risk identify theft or a drained bank account. One person was already standing at the window, waiting for the attendant to return.

The person was presenting a female gender identity. She was younger than I am, and dressed in tight clothes. She didn’t mind showing off her body.

I took my place in line behind the woman. I was standing the normal distance I would stand behind a person in a line in front of me. I don’t like people all up in my business, so I try to avoid  getting all up in the business of others. My desire for space means other people have space too. However, my definition of enough space was different from this woman’s.

She turned around, quickly looked me up and down and said, Could you take a step back? I don’t like people too close to me.

What could I do? I took a step back.

I didn’t feel like I was excessively close, but she used her words (if not quite politely, not exactly rudely either) and made a not unreasonable request. It was a strange request, maybe, but not an ureasonable one.

I did wonder if my underarms were particularly smelly that day or my clothes particularly dirty. (I usually dress decently and deodorize my underarms before I go to the big city, I swear.) Maybe the woman likes space in any situation, but I did worry that somehow I specifically was offensive to her.

She seemed satisfied with my one step back and went about her business with nothing more to say to me.

 

Hard Headed Woman

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Cat Stevens sang of looking for a hard-headed woman. He certainly would have found such a woman in me. What can I say? It’s got to be genetic. I inhereted my tete dure (as we Cajuns say) from my mawmaw.

My father’s mother was the most stubborn person I’ve ever known. (Lest you think being hard headed passed only to the females of the family, my dad was the second most stubborn person I’ve ever known.) My grandmother was born in the early days of the 20th century and lived through the Great Depression, which is maybe what made her so careful with money. She’s so tight, my dad would say about his mother, she’ll squeeze a nickel until the buffalo moans. (The joke’s not so funny now that Thomas Jefferson is on most U.S. nickels.) Inadditionm to being what might be called hyper-frugal, my grandmohter did not easily let go of an idea once she made up her mind.

My grandma had four husbands before she died at nearly 90 years of age. I never knew my grandfather, and I was an oblivious child during her marriages to #2 and #3. (The woman was a good Catholic and never divorced anyone; all of her marriages ended in death. She was a good Catholic, but not a perfect one; I learned as a teenager that marriage #2 was of the common law variety.) I was a teenager during her last marriage and more interested in what the adults were talking about.

During one of our family visits, my grandma and her husband were discussing their disagreements. Whenever they had an argument, my grandmother said, and she couldn’t sway her husband to her thinking, she eventually just walked off and finished the argument by herself! My whole family thought that was hilarious! (I don’t remember if her husband was amused.) It wasn’t difficult to imagine my mawmaw going off on her own to fihish an arguement in her head, in her favor, of course. Her husband wasn’t going to change her mind, so why keep talking when she could wrap things up on her own? Tete dure indeed!

My grandmother’s funniest case of stubbornness involved the use of her air conditioner.

She lived in Louisiana, always had. She knew the summers were hot and humid and difficult to get through. She also knew cooling her house with one small window unit cost precious money, money she’d sooner not part with. She knew once she turned on the air conditioner, she wouldn’t want to turn it off, so she tried to last as long as possible without it.

At some point, she set a date for turning on the air conditioner. Her arbitrary date for using the air conditioner was June 1. Before June 1, she would not use the air conditioner, no matter what. She didn’t care ir it was May 28, the temperature was 96 degrees and humidity was at 98%–the air conditioner was not coming on. Mawmaw had made up her mind and there was nothing that could change it.

My grandmother’s stubborn refusal to use the air conditioner before June 1 was a family joke, but it was no joke if we had to pay her a visit late in May. For all intents and purposes, it was summer, but no way was she turning on the air conditioner early. She wasn’t going to change her mind and waste precious pennies simply because she had company. No amount of begging or complaining was going to soften her hard head.

Visiting once it got hot but before the air conditioner came on was miserable, but having to spend the night there was torture. It’s hard to sleep through hot and sweaty nights even with a ceiling fan blowing overhead. Why my parents even went there in those in-between days, I’ll never know. I suppose there were adult reasons why it couldn’t be avoided.

Sometimes while passing through her town, my family would stop at my grandmother’s house and discover she wasn’t home. My dad had a key to the side door, so we were able to go inside to use the bathroom and get a drink of cold water from the glass jug in the refrigerator. At least once we stopped late in May to find my grandma gone. My dad unlocked the door and made a beeline to the air conditioner, which he not only turned on, but cranked to the coldest setting. My sibling and I were scandalized, but exhilarated too. It wasn’t June 1st yet! Dad was clearly breaking the rules, but that cold air sure felt good.

We didn’t stay long enough for the cold air to cool down the whole house, but I wonder if my grandmother returned  home soon after our departure and wondered why the house didn’t feel as hot as it should have. I wonder if she came home so many hours later that all the cool air had dissipated completely and she was absolutely unaware of my father’s transgression. I wonder if she looked at May’s electric bill and thought it seemed higher than it should have been. Maybe she was confused. How could it have been so high? she might have wondered. I didn’t even turn on the air conditioner until the first of June.