I was in a coffee shop/café in a small New Mexico town. The place was more café than coffee shop. A waitress met me at the door, menu in hand. I told her I’d be there a while writing and asked if I should sit somewhere out of the way. She said I could sit wherever I wanted, so I chose a spot away from the entrance but near an electrical outlet. The waitress left me with a menu and said she’d be back soon.
I’d never been to this establishment before and (wrongly) assumed I could order a muffin or a glass of iced tea a the counter, then blend in with the other folks drinking coffee and doing whatever work people do in coffee shops. When I walked in around 8:30 on that Monday morning, only one other table was occupied. During the three hours I was there, only a few other customers came in. There’s no blending in when business is so slow.
I ordered a small house blend coffee, which I didn’t really want and shouldn’t have had, but it was the least expensive item on the beverage menu. I also ordered a cinnamon roll, which I’m not usually into, but I’d read online raves about this shop’s variation on the treat.
The waitress asked if I wanted cream in my coffee, and I said yes. She was gone before I could ask for sugar too. I figured there must be sugar packets in the little basket on the table.
Once I got my laptop set up, I looked around the place. There were many arrangements of faded fake flowers, and the titles and covers on the books on the shelves (for sale or only for in-store skimming, I do not know) hinted at religious content. The music drifting softly through the place was of a very calm religious nature. The rendition of “I Saw the Light” playing on the stereo was not the thank God a higher being has saved me from my wicked, wicked self Hank Williams version. I imagine the light this calm chorus saw was a faintly flickering candle barely needed to illuminate the way to the heavenly afterlife the mild singers were sure to find at the end of their gentle lives. Then a woman (the baker?) came from the kitchen and into the dining area. She was wearing the simple, modest dress and white bun covering bonnet that said Mennonite to me. Oh boy. I’d wandered into quite a religious establishment.
The waitress (dressed in a secular pair of jeans and a dark t-shirt) came back to my table bearing a mug of coffee and a cinnamon roll on a disposable plate. I asked her if the shop had WiFi, and (thankfully) she said yes. She was off getting the password for me when I realized there was no sugar in the basket on the table. Drats! What was a sugar fiend like me to do?
I looked down at the large cinnamon roll in front of me. It was topped with pecans and caramel, and I imagined it would be quite sweet. Upon experimentation, I realized if I took a drink of coffee immediately after biting into the roll, I didn’t need even a grain of sugar in my coffee
The cinnamon roll was delicious. Most cinnamon rolls seem to be made with a slightly sweet bread, which I don’t enjoy very much. The base of this roll was more like a sweet biscuit. So yummy!
While I was studying the menu, setting up my laptop, asking about WiFi, waiting for, and then enjoying my treat, a party of three ate breakfast at a table in the front of the café. An elderly couple was visiting with a younger man. I wasn’t eavesdropping carefully on their conversation, but the old people were talking loudly enough for me to pick up a thing or two.
It sounded as if the couple had recently gone somewhere cold on vacation or for a weekend getaway. There was mention of snow, cold temperatures, and a snowmobile.
I had me some ladies’ underwear, the old man said in a voice that boomed through the building.
My eavesdropping ears perked up. This information might be the most interesting ever conveyed in this small-town Christian coffee shop.
My hopes of overhearing a tale of elder cross-dressing kink was dashed when the woman immediately corrected him, saying,Silk underwear! You had silk underwear!
I suppose the man wore a pair of long silk underwear meant to provide warmth during his venture into the winter wonderland. He probably thought about women’s underwear commonly being made of silk and somewhere in his brain silk long johns got tangled into ladies’ underwear. I quickly realized the conversation was not of much interest to me as it was primarily about staying warm in the cold outdoors. Sigh.
Oh well. At leas the cinnamon roll and coffee were delicious.
I feel as if my life has been in a constant state of
upheaval since The Man and I (and Jerico the dog) left for Quartzsite on
January 10th. It seems as if the early part of 2019 was all about
chaos for me.
Between early January and mid-February 2019, we decided to
buy land, sold the fifth wheel, purged and packed our belongings, bought the
land, moved to a new state, and discovered we couldn’t live the way we wanted
on our new property. The woman we bought the land from gave us our money back,
and we signed the deed over to her. We
were then able to buy a piece of property in Northern New Mexico.
Since we’d left Arizona, The Man and I (and Jerico the dog) had been living out of our vans. After five days on the property that didn’t work out for us, when we realized we’d have to leave, The Man and I each bought a New Mexico State Parks annual camping pass and started bouncing between state parks. While the annual camping pass is a great deal and the state parks in New Mexico are quite nice, we were getting frustrated by our vanlife. I hated trying to cook outside in the dust and wind (oh! the wind!), and The Man couldn’t sit in his rig in a way that was comfortable while making jewelry. Jerico was not one bit happy with the lack of ball-playing in his life. We were all stuck in irritating limbo until it was warm enough for us to start living on our land in Northern New Mexico.
While we waited for winter to turn to spring, I got word that situations arising from my father’s death had been resolved. In a few weeks, I found myself in possession of a truck and travel trailer. Vanlife was over, and now The Man and I (and Jerico the dog) had a tiny home on wheels.
At first I was hesitant to give up vanlife. After all, it’s
what I’d known for nearly a decade. I liked the simplicity of getting to the
bed without having to leave my rig. I liked being able to stealth park most
anywhere and the ease of backing up. Besides, living in my van had become part
of my identity. Who would I be without my Chevy G20?
In time, I realized I’m still me, van or no van. Whether I
live in a van or a travel trailer or a stationery fifth wheel, I’m still the
Rubber Tramp Artist. I’m still living a life simpler than those most Americans
live. I’ll still have adventures to share with my readers. I’m still exploring
life and creating art.
Yes, there will be challenges associated with this new rig.
The Man is currently driving the truck pulling the trailer, but the time will
come when I have to learn to haul it and even (gulp!) back it up. What I’ve gained
is a newer, more reliable vehicle with 4 wheel drive to get us through the
muddy roads crisscrossing the rural area where we will be living. What I’ve
gained is a home where the Man and I can both stand up and move around. What
I’ve gained is an oven, a refrigerator, and a freezer that makes ice. I’ve
decided I’m glad to gain these amenities in exchange for giving up the vanlife
While we do plan to stay stationery for longer portions of
each year, we’ll still spend time on the road. Our current plan is to get jobs
working at a pumpkin patch in the fall and a Christmas tree lot during the
holiday season. These are jobs couple with RVs are hired for since they can
sell products during the day and provide onsite security at night. If we can
earn a large portion of our yearly money in the winter, perhaps we can actually
have some fun in the summertime.
So I’ll still have stories from the road to share, as well
as everything we learn from our adventures in a travel trailer. As long as I
work with the public, there are sure to be stories of nervy, funny, strange,
and interesting customers. I don’t foresee any shortage of topics for blog posts.
Of course, I wouldn’t be living in such comfort now if my father hadn’t died. Yes, I feel ambivalent. I’m not glad my dad died, but I am glad to have this beautiful new home. My dad and I had a complicated relationship, so it seems fitting to have complicated feelings about the new way of life his death has led me to. What I do know is that my dad would want me to be happy. He often told me to enjoy life while I was young and healthy. I think he’d be glad I can stand up in my home and make ice cubes in my freezer while I dance in the kitchen as I cook.
If you keep up with my blog, you know that recently my partner and I bought some land in Southern New Mexico. We didn’t do our homework until it was too late. After we bought the land, we realized we weren’t allowed to live in the land in a van, RV, school bus, or any other temporary dwelling. Today I’ll share what I learned from the experience so you won’t make the same mistakes I did.
In several vandwelling/nomad groups I’m in on Facebook, people often bring up the idea of buying a small piece of inexpensive land in a rural location and using this as a home base. It seems they think, as my partner and I did, that property owners can pretty much do whatever they want on their own land. This is not always the case! Before you buy any land to use as a place to park your van or RV, do your research.
If you’re looking at ads for land online, read the whole
thing very carefully and be sure to scrutinize the fine print. When my
partner’s sister looked at online ads for land in the county where we were, she
found several that were aimed at snowbirds who wanted a place to park an RV for
the winter. Near the bottom ad, she found information on the limits placed on
parking an RV within the county. If you only want to park your van or RV on a
piece of property for 245 days a year (or whatever the actual limit is), great!
However, if you want to leave an RV on the land year round while you go off
exploring in a smaller rig, you need to know about these sorts of time limits.
The same sister told us that years ago, she and her partner
were considering purchasing land in a remote area of Wyoming or Montana. There
was lots of land available, but upon close scrutiny, she found the parcels had
to either be left empty or a house had to be built there within a specified
time period. If you have no plans to build a house, be sure you’re not buying
land where building a conventional dwelling it the only way you’ll be allowed
to live on your property.
Don’t automatically trust what the person you’re buying land from tells you can be done on the property. While I don’t think the woman we bought land from way trying to mislead us, I’m not so sure about the guy who sold the land to her. She said she asked him if she was allowed to camp on the property and he told her doing so would be no problem. While she only camped on the land a week or two at a time once or twice a year, keeping her within the limits of the of the county ordinance that says an RV can be on undeveloped property for 30 days out of a year, she was breaking the subdivision covenant which says a temporary dwelling on the property can only be utilized while a house is being built. Maybe the guy who sold her the land wasn’t exactly lying. Maybe he’d been misinformed or assumed. In any case, don’t assume what you are told about a piece of property is true.
Talk to a realtor if possible. I suspect realtors are held to higher ethical standards because they are professionals. I also suspect realtors are better informed than your average Joe trying to sell off some property. On the other hand, realtors are people too. Some of are unethical. Some are lazy. Some are misinformed. So while I might use a realtor as a source of information, I would use that information as a starting point for my own research. I wouldn’t unquestioningly believe everything that came out of a realtor’s mouth.
Speaking of realtor’s, a former realtor gave me some after-the-fact advice in a Facebook group. She said,
you definitely always want to check restrictions both on the deed and county/city. Also make sure you have legal access to the property. And don’t just go by looks. It may look like there’s a nice access road only to find out that’s not actual[ly] yours legally to use. And as mentioned above make sure there’s no zoning restrictions that would prevent what you want to do.
Doing an internet search on the particular area or subdivision you are interested in can alert you to any controversy surrounding the use of the land. What are landowners complaining about? Do their complaints relate to what you want to do with the land you purchase? Complaints don’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t buy land, but learning about controversy may allow you to go into a deal with your eyes wide open.
Talk to county officials (or folks who work their offices) who can tell you about ordinances, subdivision covenants, and land use restrictions. If you don’t know who to talk to, try the county recorder’s office, the county clerk, the county assessor’s office, or the office of county planning and development. If you call the wrong office, the person you talk to can point you in the right direction.
When you talk to the appropriate county worker or official, explain what you want to do on your land. Be clear and honest. I know sometimes we vandwellers and nomads have to be vague about how we live our lives because bureaucracy is not set up to accommodate people like us. However, I can assure you that it’s NO FUN to buy a piece of land and find out later that you can’t do with it what you intended to. I believe it’s better to find out before you plunk down your money that you’re not allowed to do what you have in mind with the property you are about to buy.
You may have better luck finding a place to accommodate you if you primarily want to own a piece of land to use as your permanent address, but not to live on for several months out of the year. Maybe your plan is to visit the land once or twice a year and live out of your van there for a week or two while you relax or do repairs and maintenance on your rig. This plan may go over better in a rural area than would a scheme to park on old RV or school bus there for long periods of time. I suspect the reason the woman we bought the land from got away with camping there over the course of several years was because she didn’t go there often and when she did, she didn’t stay long.
The bottom line is, know what you’re getting into before you lay your money down. We were lucky; when we realized we couldn’t do what we wanted with the land, the seller returned our money, and we transferred the land back to her. Most people who find out they can’t do what they want on their land will not be able to report this sort of happy ending.
The last time I posted an update on my life, it was about
how The Man and I were buying land in Southern New Mexico. Well, that was fun
while it lasted.
We found the land on a Saturday afternoon in the beginning in February. In reality, The Man did all the work. He used printouts of maps of the area provided online by the county as well as the Google Earth app to find our approximate spot. We knew our lot was the fifth one from the corner, and we knew each lot was just over 100 feet wide, so we used a long tape measure to figure out just where our driveway should go.
The wind was blowing, as we’d been warned it would. This was
no little breeze but a strong New Mexico wind. With the wind came dust, and we
were out in it with nothing but our vans for protection.
We had a big cabin-style tent we’d used for two summers when we worked in the mountains of California. The Man started setting it up, but before he could stake it down, the wind caught it and blew it around. The Man said the tent was not going to work. We agreed we needed a place for storage as well as somewhere to get out of the wind and dust in order to cook. We drove the 15 miles to Wal-Mart determined to buy a tent.
There was quite a bit of choice on the tent aisle at Wal-Mart. We immediately eliminated anything too small to use as both a storage shed and a kitchen. We also eliminated anything that did not allow The Man to stand upright inside. Next, we eliminated any cabin-style tents because The Man did not think that design would survive the wind.
The tent we bought had no rain fly. Instead, tent material
zips down over mesh panels. Essentially there are windows in the ceiling that
can be unzipped and opened for ventilation or zipped closed to keep out the
elements. At first The Man was worried about the lack of rainfly, but later
realized it was a good design for windy conditions. If there had been a
rainfly, wind would have gotten up under it, creating stress on the whole structure.
The tent is big and similar to a geodesic dome. I named it
The tent has ten poles to give strength to the structure. The poles cross at points around the tent, increasing stability. The poles are color coded and have to be added in a specific order. It is a base camp tent, something to be set up then left alone for a week or two. In other words, it is a real pain in the ass to pitch this tent!
The tent came with regular metal stakes. The Man said those
stakes weren’t going to hold against the New Mexico wind. We’d bought earth
auger type stakes when we bought the tent, but we found those stakes didn’t
work in the sandy soil where we were. (They
weren’t worth a damn, The Man says.) We had a few large tent spikes Auntie
M had given us before we left Arizona, so we used all we had to hold down the
tent. The Man thought the tent needed even more stability, so we drove back to
Wal-Mart to get more tent spikes and rope.
The Man ended up tying rope around each point where poles
crossed. He then used that rope as a guy line which he staked using a tent
spike. These extra guy lines gave added stability to the tent.
On Monday we went to the county building to transfer the
land into our names and pay the taxes on it. The Man asked one of the county workers
about any restrictions on the land. She directed us to a website where she said
we could find subdivision covenants for the subdivision where our land was
Yep, our land was in a subdivision even though in reality we
were in the middle of the desert with no neighbors and no amenities. The last
three roads we took to our place were unpaved. There were no electric lines
anywhere near us. We had no running water, no well. We had no mailbox, and I
was confident there was no home delivery of mail. Our nearest neighbor was no
closer than a quarter mile away, and we were pretty sure no one was actually
living in that house. To say we were living in a subdivision was comical,
except it was true.
Our plan was never to build a house. The Man and I thought
building a house would be too much work. We really only wanted to be on the
land six or seven months out of the year, in the winter. We wanted to buy an
inexpensive travel trailer or fifth wheel or even an old school bus and leave
it on our property while we were off earning money in the summer. We planned to
stay in whatever dwelling we had during the mild New Mexico winters.
On Wednesday I went to the library to work on my blog while
The Man went to the lapidary shop to cut stones. When he came to pick me up
around noon, he said we should look at our subdivision covenants. We found the
PDF file with the covenants for our subdivision, but that’s where the searching
The county worker had warned us that the covenants for the
different blocks of the subdivision were not in any particular order. It looked
like money had been spent to scan the pages and get them online, but no one had
been paid to organize the pages beforehand. We had to wade through over 160
pages of documents before we found the covenants for our area.
The covenants were very specific. House could be no smaller
than 600 square feet. Houses could be no more than one story. Garages could
only hold two cars. No signs could be placed in the front yard except for “for
sale” signs of specific dimensions. So many rules! Near the bottom of the page
of the covenants pertaining to our land, we found the rule that would change
No temporary dwellings (“no trailers, no tents, no shacks,”
the document specified) and no “privies” were allowed on the land, except
during the construction of a house. Any house under construction had to be
completed within six months. We were not allowed to do what we wanted to do on
When we explained the situation to friends and family,
several said, But if there’s nobody out
there, can’t you get away with it? Who’s going to complain?
The problem was, we didn’t know who might complain or when.
We did not want to pull a camper or a bus out there and then have to move it a
month or six months or a year later. We did not want to live our lives
wondering if today would be the day the sheriff showed up to kick us off our
land. We were looking for stability, not uncertainty.
(Before we left town, The Man met a fellow who’d parked an
RV on his own piece of property. After living there for three years, someone
from the county showed up and told him he was in violation. He couldn’t get the
trailer off the land within the allotted time, so he ended up spending eight
nights in jail. When he got out of jail, he had to scrap the RV because he
couldn’t afford to park it anywhere else.)
We were devastated. We felt as if our new life had been
ripped away from us. Even if we wanted to build a house, there was no way we
could afford to complete a 600 square foot dwelling within six months. We’d
need permits and materials. We’d have to dig a well. We’d have to put in a
septic system. We’d have to pay to have electrical lines run out to land.
What are we going to
do? we asked each other.
The Man insisted we had to call the woman we’d bought the
land from and let her know the situation in hopes of getting our money back. My
Southern upbringing had me cringing at the idea, but The Man insisted. You call her, I told him, so he did.
As soon as The Man explained the situation, she offered to
return our money. I have your money right
here, she said. I haven’t spent any
of it yet.
Getting the money back was a relief, but we still didn’t
know where we were going to live.
The Man’s sister suggested we find a piece of property that
wasn’t part of a subdivision. Maybe we could do what we wanted to do on a piece
of unrestricted land.
The sister (who is a wizard at finding things online), quickly found ads for land for sale in our area. She gave The Man a phone number to call. He ended up having a long conversation with a realtor who shared some very interesting information.The county has a human population of 24,078 and over 90,000 subdivision lots. Most of those lots (90%, I would guess) are empty. The Chihuahuan Desert is not for everyone, the realtor said when The Man asked why so few people are living on the land they own in these subdivisions.
The realtor then told The Man that an ordinance that applies
to all property in the county limits the time an RV can park on undeveloped
land to 30 days out of a year. If land is developed with electricity and
septic, an RV can park on it less than 300 days a year. (The number of days was
around 250, but I don’t remember the particulars.) When The Man asked why the
county would not let people live in an RV on their own land year round, the
realtor said county officials think such living arrangements would be bad for the economy.
At that point, we gave up on the whole county. We decided to each buy a New Mexico State Parks annual camping pass and stay in state parks in the southern part of the state until it was warm enough to go to Northern New Mexico where local government believes letting people live simply on their own land is good for the economy.
On Wednesday I’ll share with you what I learned from this land-buying fiasco so you don’t have to make the same mistakes I did.
I took the first two photos in this post. The Man took the last one.
The Man and I were selling our wares at a farmers market in a small Arizona town. Sells were off to a slow start, and I was trying to remain optimistic.
An older gentleman approached our table. He was probably in his 60s. He wore his grey hair and beard cut short. His clothes were specifically designed for active outdoor athletic activities.
The Man and I wished the potential customer a good morning. He returned our greeting and said he had a joke for us.
Ok, I said with mild apprehension. This exchange could go several ways, some of them more offensive than others.
Why didn’t the lifeguard rescue the hippie? the older gentleman asked us.
I don’t know, I said, and The Man shrugged. Neither of us had heard this one before.
Because he was too far out, man, the amateur comedian told us.
I burst out laughing. The Man chuckled too. The joke really tickled me.
That’s a good one, I giggled.
I have another one, the fellow told us. I guess our positive response gave him courage and confidence to continue with the jokes.
Why did the cowboy get a dachshund?
The Man shrugged again, and I shook my head. We didn’t know the answer.
He heard the other cowboys talking about getting a long little doggie.
The Man and I groaned a little. This joke wasn’t nearly as good as the one about the hippie and the lifeguard.
Ok! I have one for you! I told the jokester.
Oh good! he responded. He seemed genuinely pleased that I had a joke to share.
What’s the pirate’s favorite letter? I asked.
Oh! I know this one! he said, seeming even more pleased. You would think it’s the R (arrrrr, he pronounced it in best pirate fashion), but his heart really belongs to the C. (Get it? The C! The sea! Get it?)
Ok! Ok! I said. I’d gotten really excited by this joke exchange. I have another one for you! What do you call a camel with two humps?
Now the jokester looked perplexed. A dromedary? he ventured. (He was double wrong. A dromedary has one hump. The Bactrian camel is the creature with two humps, but that wasn’t the answer to my riddle.)
Pregnant! I burst out, then laughed at my own joke.
The jokester gave me a strange look. Perhaps camel gestation was taking things too far.
A little tiny kid told me that one, I explained, remembering the four tiny comedians who’d waylaid me with jokes in the national forest parking lot where I worked.
The jokester did not seem to be amused by my juvenile humor, and he
wandered away. I was disappointed he left before I could dazzle him with my favorite, a knock-knock joke about an interrupting cow.
Weasel was a short man whose swagger told you he was tough.
He said what was on his mind, even when his words made him unpopular. Folks
always knew where they stood with Weasel because he said what he thought needed
I met Weasel at the Bridge, the place where I met many of
the people I hold dear in my heart. He sold old beads, new drums made by a
local Native man who was his friend, and whatever little odds and ends he
thought would bring in a few bucks. He’s an
old horse-trader, people said of Weasel, although there never seemed to be
actual horses involved.
Weasel fathered a child late in life. I heard stories about
how that had come to pass too. By the time I knew Weasel, he and his son’s
mother had made their peace. Weasel sure loved his boy. He was always proud to
talk about the kid’s achievements in the classroom, Boy Scouts, and 4-H. On the
rare occasion that Weasel brought the boy to the Bridge, both of them beamed.
The love and respect they felt for each other was obvious.
Some of the other vendors told me Weasel had suffered a
heart attack a few years before I arrived on the scene. He’d lost a lot of
weight, I was told in 2012, and he was more careful about what he ate. He
seemed to be doing a lot better, everyone agreed.
I’ll never forget the pep talk Weasel gave me in the early days in my life without my ex. I was homeless—didn’t even have a van back then—and carried everything I owned on my back. I slept in a picnic pavilion at a rest area at night and spent my days selling the hemp jewelry and sage bundles I constructed. I was trying to make my way in the world, just like the other vendors at the Bridge.
I’d gotten a late start on this particular day. I wasn’t able to squeeze in between William and Tommy like I usually did, and I ended up in the slower sales area next to Weasel. I couldn’t afford a table yet, and my sage branch display barely kept my bracelets and necklaces out of the dusty New Mexico dirt. When there was a lull between customers, Weasel came over to talk to me.
He’s been watching me, he said. He saw that I showed up
every day to sell the things I made. He saw I worked hard to make my own way. You don’t ask nobody for nothing, he
said. He saw that in a community where some folks seemed to enjoy making
trouble for others, I minded my own business and didn’t try to cause strife for
other vendors. He told me to keep doing what I was doing. He told me that I was
going to be ok. Then he bought me a meatloaf sandwich from the woman who made
her money selling lunches to the vendors. (Not too many weeks later it was
Weasel’s birthday, and I had enough money in my pocket to return to the
Five years later when I returned to the Bridge with The Man,
he and Weasel hit it off. Weasel may have been a horse trader by profession,
but his art was carving. The Man was just starting his journey as a carver when
he met Weasel. One morning Weasel stopped at The Man’s table and told him he
was doing good work. Weasel wouldn’t say
that if he didn’t mean it, I told The Man.
Last summer when he left the mountain, The Man ended up at
Weasel’s place. Weasel was starting a retreat for artists on his land. He’d
bought a couple small travel trailers and stocked them with beans and rice and
coffee. He wanted artists to have a place to work where they didn’t have to
worry so much about food and shelter and money.
The Man and I were in southern New Mexico when Weasel passed. We were planning to head up to northern New Mexico as soon as it warmed up. We were going to stay at Weasel’s place in one of the travel trailers.
The Man talked to Weasel on the phone on what turned out to be one of the old horse trader’s last days in this world.
What do you need?
Weasel asked after The Man identified himself. Weasel was ready to offer help.
The Man explained our situation, and Weasel said sure, come
on out. He said he’d be in the city the next week for a doctor’s appointment
and a visit with his son and his son’s mother, but we were welcome to come over
whenever we wanted and hang out at his place until he returned. He even made
sure The Man remembered the combination to the lock on the gate.
I don’t know what the doctor’s appointment in the city was
about or if Weasel made it there. Five days after The Man talked to him, Weasel
He was at his son’s mother’s house washing dishes when it
happened. He mentioned that he couldn’t catch his breath, then collapsed. The
EMTs arrived in an ambulance 14 minutes later, but it was too late. His heart
had given out on him one last time.
I was sad when I heard the news, and The Man took it really
hard. Weasel was his friend. He’d planned to spend more time with Weasel, carve
with him, help him make improvements to his homestead. He missed Weasel, but I
think he was also sad for the possibilities of the friendship that never came
to fruition. It was going to be such a
great summer with Weasel, The Man said wistfully.
Maybe it’s the missed possibilities that make us saddest
when someone dies. We regret the words we never said and sometimes the words we
did say. We regret the things we never did together, the lessons we never
learned, the help we never gave.
I hope that Weasel died with no regrets. I can’t imagine he
left this world with words unsaid. I hope he’d at least made a try at all the
things he wanted to do.
Weasel was not a perfect man. He was a fighter and maybe not
always for a righteous cause. I would have never wanted to be on his bad side.
He could he harsh, and I witnessed some of his business dealings where I felt
he was being a little slick with the truth. However, at his core, he was a good
man. He was a loving father and a true friend.
I feel saddest for his son. At 12, he’s on the cusp of the
years when a boy particularly needs a positive role model to teach him how to be
a good man. What’s that kid going to do without his father? Yet, he got 12
years more than a lot of kids get. He got 12 years with a father who loved him
and enjoyed being with him. He got 12 years with a father who was firm, but
fair. He got 12 years with a father who respected him and was his biggest cheerleader.
He got 12 years with a man who’d grown up enough to be not just a good father,
but a great father.
The Bridge won’t be the same without Weasel. Who will throw
lucky pennies in front of vendors’ tables? Who will walk down the row of
vendors wishing everyone a good morning? Who will fight the good fight when the
powers-that-be tell us we can no longer make a living selling our wares to
visitors? We don’t have Weasel anymore, so we’ll have to do those things
ourselves. Weasel respected self-sufficiency. He’d be glad to know he taught us
I think most transit drivers are real public heroes. They deal with traffic; inclement weather; and strange, belligerent, confused, and angry passengers. I always thank my driver.
The story that follows isn’t specifically about a transit driver, but it took place on a city bus, so I think it fits the occasion. Anything could happen on a city bus. Drivers and passengers alike have to be prepared for surprises.
Long ago I lived in a large city in Texas. I didn’t have a vehicle, so I walked or biked or rode the bus to get to all the places I needed to go. Work was a long way from home, father than I wanted to ride my bike early in the morning or after a long day on the job, so I spent a lot of time on public transit at the beginning and end of each work day.
One afternoon I was on a bus full of evening commuters. The place was packed. Every seat was taken, and I was grateful I’d gotten on early and had a place to sit.
I don’t remember when the woman boarded the bus of if I’d noticed her when she did. I was sitting in one of the forward facing double seats on the same side as the driver; she was across the aisle from me and father up, in the middle of the row of seats facing the aisle.
The interior of the bus was noisy with the sound of people talking mixed with the steady thump thump of wheels on pavement and the roar of engine. As the bus approached a red light, the driver decreased our speed, and the roar of the engine died down.
Of course, the bus was not the only vehicle on the road. We were in the midst of big-city rush hour traffic, so there were a dozen or more vehicles between the bus and the intersection. Even after traffic started moving, it was going to be a while until we started chugging along again.
It was at this time the woman decided to make her pronouncement.
I have to go to the bathroom! she called out in a loud, singsong voice. She placed the stress on the word “have” and the first syllable of “bathroom.”
The woman was young, but definitely not a child. Most adults would not make this announcement to people they didn’t know
Everyone else on the bus was immediately uncomfortable and quiet. The interior of the bus was enveloped in the silence that occurs when a group of strangers are feeling socially awkward together. But ok, the outburst was over. We could move on…
Ihave to go to the bathroom, the woman burst out again.
Oh, the awkwardness was not over.
As the bus inched its way forward, the woman turned her words into a little chant.
I have to go to the bathroom. I have to go to the bathroom. I have to go to the bathroom. Her voice grew more plaintive as her chant progressed.
None of the other passengers on the bus would look at the woman or at each other. No eye contact was being made.
I have to go to the bathroom. I have to go to the bathroom. I have to go to the bathroom.
We could all hear the growing desperation in her voice.
Even if the bus driver would have let her out between stops, there was no place for her to go. We were in the middle of a block with an empty athletic field on the right and businesses not likely to have public restrooms on the left. Even if she got off the bus, where would she find the restroom she seemed so desperately to need?
I have to go to the bathroom.
Finally, the bus was close to the traffic light. Surely when the light turned green the bus would make it through the intersection.
I have to go to the bathroom.
Red became green, and the bus made it through, but I guess the woman was going to hold out until she got to her stop. She didn’t pull the cord to ring the bell or dash to the door. In fact, several blocks later when we got to my stop, I could hear her as I got off the bus, still chanting about her need to go to the bathroom.
The Man and I had left the mountain and were traveling east on Interstate 40. We were each in our own van, not trying to follow each other, but with a prearranged meeting in mind.
I pulled off in Kingman, AZ to top off my gas tank and empty my bladder.
I’ve never spent much time in Kingman. I’ve used it as a gasoline and bathroom break stop on trips between Las Vegas, NV and Phoenix, and I spent a few hours there with Mr. Carolina and the boys when we were traveling together to Oklahoma City, but I’ve never spent the night. When I was there with Mr. Carolina and the boys in early November of 2012, there seemed to be a lot of tension in the town. People yelled out of car windows at other drivers, and the vibe wasn’t friendly. I did, however, collect enough money by flying a sign to get the oil change my van desperately needed, so there was some love in the town.
On the day in the fall of 2018 when I drove through Kingman alone, I stopped at the traffic light at the end of the off ramp, waiting for it to change to green so I could turn and make my way to the Flying J. Just after the light changed, but before the vehicles ahead of me started moving, a small SUV rolled up next to me in the far left turn lane. The SUV slowed down as it pulled up next to me, but kept rolling slowly.
A head popped out of the front passenger window. The passenger seemed to be male, was definitely young, and had dark curly hair. The passenger looked right at me and hollered, “What’s up, you fucking chicken nugget?”
I wasn’t offended so much as startled and mystified.
Why me? Why was the kid yelling at me? Probably for no reason other than proximity. My window happened to be next to his window as the vehicle he was in slowed, so he yelled at me.
But why call me a chicken nugget? Nothing about me really says “chicken nugget” as far as I can tell. Are people in hippie vans known to eat a lot of chicken nuggets? I never got that memo. Do poor people eat a lot of chicken nuggets because the poultry chunks are cheap? Was he calling me poor because I was driving an old, banged up van?
I know I’m probably overthinking this. The kid probably yelled at me simply because I was there. He probably opened his mouth and let the first thing that popped into his head pop out. He probably just said something to make his friends in the vehicle with him laugh. What he said probably meant nothing at all.
The Man and I arrived at Bluewater Lake State Park late on a Saturday morning. We were going to stay there for a while using my New Mexico State Parks Pass.
We drove through all the campground loops looking for the right spot for us. We were disappointed to see most sites did not have any shade covers. Although it was late September and the temperatures were mild, we didn’t want the sun beating down on us for hours a day.
We finally found a suitable site in the Canyonside Campground. While there was no metal shade cover on the site, a tree growing next to the picnic table offered some relief from the afternoon sun. Unfortunately, an older couple was already camped on the site next door.
Usually we wouldn’t camp so close to other people, especially when there were plenty of empty spaces throughout the park. However, we’d been through all the developed camping areas, and the site with the tree was the best spot we found in regards to shade, flatness, and proximity to restrooms, so we took it.
The folks next door had a popup camper set up on the asphalt parking spur. Our van was on our site’s asphalt parking spur. We parked with our side doors facing our picnic table. Basically our van had its back to the site next door, offering us and our neighbors some privacy.
Early Sunday afternoon, the people next door were still there but where obviously packing up. The Man and I took Jerico the dog for a walk. We went to a lookout area and saw the dam and the lake. It was a beautiful day.
When we got back to our campsite, Jerico made a beeline to a large rock just off the asphalt in front of the van.The rock was definitely on our campsite, and I’d leaned my two folding tables against it when I’d taken them out of the van to give us a little more elbow room. Why in the world would the dog be interested in that rock?
I’ll tell you why: a hamburger. An unwrapped, homemade 3/4 of a hamburger complete with bun was lying on the ground right up against the side of that rock. Jerico was immediately trying to munch it down. While The Man does sometimes give Jerico small bites of people food, he doesn’t let the pup ground score items of unknown origin.
We ushered Jerico away from the burger, picked it up and deposited in the trash, all the while wondering where it had come from. It certainly hadn’t been there the night before, so it hadn’t been left behind by the last people who camped on the site. I would have seen it when I leaned the tables against the rock, and had the hamburger been there the entire time, Lord knows Jerico would have tried to get at it at some point in the last 24 hours.
Someone came onto our campsite while we were gone and put that hamburger there, I whispered to The Man.
Who would do that? he asked. And why?
He suggested maybe someone was eating the hamburger while walking on the road that looped through the camping area. The person had enough of the hamburger and instead of carrying it back to their own camp or depositing it in one of the nearby trashcans, the person randomly tossed the hamburger and it landed next to the rock on our site.
This idea was no less absurd than the thought of someone tiptoeing onto our site while we were away and gently placing 3/4 of a hamburger next to the rock. In the first place, who’s going to toss a large portion of a hamburger into a camping area, even it it’s mostly empty? Secondly there was another campsite between us and the road. The hypothetical person munching a hamburger while walking through the campground would have to be a champion in hamburger distance tossing to have gotten that hamburger across the vacant campsite and onto ours. Of course, the person would also have to be a champion in hamburger precision tossing to get it so close to that rock. The hamburger was lying there so neatly when Jerico found it, the buns still lined up precisely. That burger had been placed, not tossed.
This led us back to the question of who would do such a thing. I cast a suspicious eye on the couple in the popup camper. Was the hamburger some sort of weird retaliation for parking next to them when so much of the campground was empty? Of course, I didn’t walk over and question them–I’m much too Southern for such a thing.
Let’s suppose someone did carefully place the remains of the hamburger next to the rock. Who does such a thing and why? If they had a leftover hamburger and thought it would be a nice treat for Jerico, why not come over and offer it? I don’t think it’s a good idea to give food to dogs (or kids) without getting approval from the responsible adult first. What if the dog (or kid) can’t have certain foods because of allergies or other health concerns? What if the responsible adult doesn’t think it’s a good idea to let the dog (or kid) eat food provided by strangers?
If someone wanted to give the remains of the burger to Jerico but had to get if off their campsite immediately, while we were away, why not put it on a napkin or paper plate and leave it with a note on our picnic table? Why leave a well-meant offering on the ground beside a rock?
Some people would say I’m making much ado about nothing, but this is the sort of little mystery my mind keeps going back to. Who did it? Why? Why did this seem like a good idea to someone? Was it an accident or on purpose? Why on our campsite? Was it some kind of prank? Was it a harmless gesture or did someone have nefarious intentions?
I have no hope of learning the truth. I’ll take these questions to my grave.
It was a good run. I worked four seasons on that mountain, a total of 18 months. My first two seasons I was a camp host and a parking lot attendant. (See my book Confessions of a Work Camper: Tales from the Woods for a collection of humorous essays I wrote about my experiences during that time.) The second two seasons I worked at a campground store.
The short answer to why I’m not going back up the mountain comes down to ice. I got tired of making 25 mile round trips to buy overpriced ice. There were two general stores on the mountain that sold ice. One sold eight pound sacks for $3.69, and the other one sold seven pound sacks for $4. Halfway down the mountain a general store sold 10 pounds sacks of ice for $3. In civilization I could get a seven pound sack for 99 cents.
I understand why I had to pay more for ice I bought on top of the mountain. That ice had to be trucked up there. The stores had to pay for the ice, pay to have it transported, and still make a profit. The stores also had to pay for electricity to keep the ice frozen. Believe me, I get it. I think I could have stomached the high prices on ice if I hadn’t had to drive so dang far to get it. Twenty-five miles for a bag of ice is just too far! After I paid for gas and wear and tear on my van and wasted so much of my time (driving 25 mountain miles took about 45 minutes), I shudder to think how much those sacks of ice were really costing me.
You might suggest I do without ice. Sometimes I did, but I love drinking very cold water. If my water’s not cold, I don’t drink enough. Also, ice in a cooler was my only form of refrigeration. When all the ice in the cooler melted, my food (eggs, cheese, produce) was at risk of spoiling; that would have been another waste of money.
Being so far from civilization was a bigger part of the picture of why I’m not going back. I was 60 miles (again, mountain miles) from the nearest Target, Wal-Mart, or supermarket. My third and fourth seasons up there I could access the internet at the store where I worked, so technically I could shop online, but the post office where I picked up my mail was a 25-mile (you guess it, mountain miles) round trip from the campground where I stayed.
Having internet access at the Mercantile did help me stay in touch with friends and family. However, it didn’t help me much when it came to keeping up with my blog. I could only work inside the Mercantile when it was closed. If I wanted to work on my blog on my day off during the eight hours the store was open, I either had to sit on the deck in front of the store in full sun or in my van. Almost every time I tried to work in my van or on the deck, one or more of my coworkers came over to talk to me, usually to complain. What’s a writer to do? The only thing I could think to do was go down to the valley where nobody knew me.
There was a coin laundry on the mountain. It was 25 (mountain) miles away and consisted of one washer and one dryer. I could have gone there to do my laundry. Considering that each week I typically had a load of work clothes and a load of other clothes, it would have taken me a minimum of 1 and 1/2 hours to wash and dry my clothes, plus about 1 and 1/2 hours making the round-trip drive. If I had been doing The Man’s laundry too or if the two of us had been doing our laundry at the same place on the same day, it would have taken five hours, including driving time.
Shall I go on? (Feel free to stop reading here if you’ve had enough of my whining.)
My first season working in the Mercantile I decided I liked working there more than I liked working as a camp host and parking lot attendant. The next season I wished I wasn’t working in the store. More of the questions I got in the store seemed substantially dumber than the ones I fielded in the parking lot and campground. People let their children run amuck in the Mercantile and expected me and the other clerks to babysit them. The temperature in the Mercantile rose to over 90 degrees if we weren’t able to use the swamp cooler. Last summer we had a lot of problems with the solar panels and batteries and the generator that powered the store; on many days we had no power to run the swamp cooler. I was overheated a lot last summer and would often stand outside and pour water over my head and neck to try to cool off. If I were working a retail job in civilization, at least I’d be in an air conditioned environment.
The prices of everything in California are freakin’ high. The prices of everything–gas, food, propane, water, (legal) recreational marijuana, auto repairs, tires, other consumer goods, and the taxes on everything–are higher than in Arizona or New Mexico. Yes, minimum wage is high in California, but companies raised their prices to cover the increased expenses when they had to start paying their employees more. (You didn’t think the shareholders were going to take a hit when companies were required to raise wages?)
In the end, I barely broke even while working in California. I managed to save a little money, but not nearly as much as I hoped.
I figure if I’m going to work retail, I can get a job as a cashier in a supermarket or even a Dollar General and at least spend my work shifts in air conditioned comfort. I figure I can go to a tourist town in some state where prices are less than they are in California and not have to spend so much of my wages on survival. I figure I can find a way to live in my van or find a long-term house sitting gig in a town where I can walk or take public transit to the library or a coffee shop when I need to work on my blog.
Four years was a good run, but I think it’s time to try something new.