Category Archives: My True Life

I’m Still Standing

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I’ve been gone a long time. Did you miss me? I missed you. I missed being here, sharing stories with you, interacting with you. Did you wonder where I’ve been? Do you want to hear about what’s happened in my life since the last time I wrote? Here goes…

The area where I used to live.

Near the end of July, my partner of almost four years and I agreed that living together (in particular) and our relationship (in general) weren’t working out, so we decided to part ways. However, due to COVID, finances, prior obligations, and our decision to sell our land in Northern New Mexico and move away, we continued to live together in the small trailer. It’s a good thing we do love and care for each other because we were stuck together for a while.

Our land sold pretty quickly. A young couple from Arizona bought it. They are in love with the area, as well as energetic and motivated. They saw my land-for-sale ad on Facebook about an hour after I’d posted it (on a Saturday afternoon) and immediately contacted me about coming to see it that day. Later that evening (after they’d visited the property for the first time), I let the couple know other people had expressed interest in buying the land. They committed to buying the property then; by Tuesday they’d given me a deposit.

My life has felt as stormy as this sky.

The Man and I had a few weeks to purge, sell things we didn’t want, and pack what we’d decided to keep before it was time to move again. How is it that no matter how much time one has for purging and packing, it’s never really enough?

I’d decided to keep the little trailer. I talked about selling it, but The Man encouraged me to keep it. I got the trailer after my dad died so it’s not like it was something The Man and I had both put money into. I decided if I ever get sick or injured or if I live to be old, I might want this little trailer to stay in full time. Why get rid of something I might want or need some day? I began to formulate a plan.

What if I took the trailer somewhere in the desert where I could live in it comfortably warm for half the year? What if I sold the truck (which I wouldn’t need anyway if I went somewhere that didn’t necessitate 4 wheel drive) and bought a van I could travel in the other six months of the year? The more I thought about this plan, the more it made sense.

Then I had to make a decision about where to go. It came down to a decision between moving to an RV park with super cheap rent (and huge lots) but a remote location (10 miles from the nearest small town) or an RV park in town with more expensive rent and tiny lots. If I took the spot in town, I’d be only two blocks from a grocery store and within walking distance of lots of other places. After much deliberation, I chose the spot in town. As The Man pointed out, if I keep my vehicle parked except for twice monthly expeditions to the supermarket, I’ll pretty much pay my rent with the money I don’t pay in gas and higher priced groceries.

The Man offered to drive the truck pulling the trailer to whichever location I chose. I appreciated the offer and accepted it, as I had never pulled any kind of trailer ever in my life.

Once we sold the land, there was one main situation holding us back. I’d never had the trailer registered in New Mexico. The title was in my name, but was from Arizona. Before moving the trailer across the state, I wanted a valid license plate on it.

In New Mexico, any RV or passenger vehicle bought out of state has to go through a VIN inspection before it can be retitled and registered. The inspection is easy–a representative of the MVD looks at the VIN plate–but it has to be done in person. Unfortunately, when we moved to our land, I hadn’t received the title to the trailer yet. I didn’t receive the title until the trailer was already set up nice and cozy. I didn’t want to have to take apart all of our (but mostly The Man’s, to be honest) hard work to haul the trailer to the MVD.

When I realized we’d have to take the trailer to the MVD before we hit the road, I also realized I’d have to make an appointment because of COVID. When I got online early in August to make an appointment, the soonest one I could get (after checking at over half a dozen offices) was the second week of September. Even after selling the land, we’d be stuck in Northern New Mexico for a while.

We took off for the National Forest about 15 miles from where we’d been living. Phone service was intermittent, but we enjoyed the trees, cool air, and grazing cattle. We’d picked a nice spot to wait for our appointment with the MVD.

We camped in this national forest with the grazing cows.


Before we’d decided to part ways, The Man and I had been discussing a visit to his folks in Oklahoma. The Man’s dad (understandably) wanted to see him. When The Man told his dad we couldn’t afford to pay for gas to make the trip, his dad offered to give us the funds we needed. Once we had the promise of gas money, we chose to go.

After we decided to part ways, we had to decide if we wanted to take the trip to Oklahoma together. We had to decide if we should take the trailer if we were both going, We discussed the idea of The Man going alone and driving the truck. We discussed the idea of The Man going alone and taking a bus. We finally agreed that the best thing to do was go together and take the trailer so we could go directly to my new hometown upon leaving Oklahoma.

On the appointed day, we (and by “we,” I mean The Man) hauled the trailer to the MVD office. Everything went smoothly, but I did have to pay several hundred dollars in taxes on the trailer (and only a $20 late fee, even though I was more than a year delinquent). Our next stop was the nearest Discount Tire location. I’d decided to buy four new tires for the truck before we made a 1400+ mile trip after the current tires totally failed the penny test. In one afternoon, I spent most of the money I’d received from selling the land. Easy come, easy go, I suppose. I’m fortunate to have had the money when I needed it.

Hey from Oklahoma!

We made it to the family home in Oklahoma in less than 48 hours. The Man and I had planned on a one-week visit, but we ended up staying just over a month!!! The bad part of the visit was that I had no phone service the whole time we were there. Somewhere east of Oklahoma City, my phone service cut out and didn’t come back until I was west of OKC once again.

Finally, in mid October, we made it to the little trailer park in the town I now call home. The Man backed my trailer into my very small lot, and we hooked up the water, the solar, and the sewage. A couple of days later, The Man left for his new adventures, and I was on my own.

What to do now? I need money to support myself and pay the rent, but I’m hesitant to get a retail position in these days of COVID. I’ve got hats and necklaces and postcards up on my new Blaizin’ Sun Creations Instagram page, and I’m going to start working on my Blaizin’ Sun Creations and Postcard Emporium Zazzle stores soon. (Be on the lookout for a Zazzle store especially for rubber tramps coming soon.) An online job would be great for me, so if you know of any online work I’d be good at, let me know.

So what, you may be wondering is the future of this blog. Who knows? What’s the future of anything? Today I’m enjoying writing, and I plan to keep it up as long as I enjoy it and have the time for it. I might have to write less when I have to work more. I also may share more guest posts, but please know that even with guest posts, I do my best to share quality content with you.

If you want to support me by being more than just a casual reader, join me on Patreon, hit the donate button to the top right of this page and drop me a few bucks, or buy something I make with my own heart and hands.

Thank you for sticking with me. I sure appreciate you.

I took all the photos in this post.

Last Day

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My last day at the fuel center was perfect because it included all the chaos I was leaving behind.

Person Signing Contract Paper

When I’d applied for the job, the application had asked about my availability. I’d responded that I was available any time except Tuesday mornings. When I had the prescreening interview over the phone, I’d told the lady from the corporate hiring office that I was available to work any time expect Tuesday mornings. During my interview with one of the store’s assistant managers, I’d verbalized that I was not available to work on Tuesday mornings. Over the eight or so weeks I’d worked at the fuel center, I’d been scheduled to work on Tuesday mornings at least three times, including on my last day on the job.

Working in the morning meant opening the fuel center which meant getting out of bed no later than 4:15am so I could make the forty minute drive to town and clock in by 5:45. How appropriate that on my last day of employment I had to wake up in the dark and drive 20 miles in the dark and start work in the dark.

I was late clocking in on my last day. What are they going to do, fire me? I

Person Holding Smartphone

thought bitterly. I moved slowly while getting ready for work and left the house late. I knew I wasn’t going to make it through the morning without coffee, so I stopped at the 24 hour convenience store and bought a cup of their nasty joe. Even six packets of sugar and two squirts of nondairy creamer couldn’t redeem the stuff, but I drank it anyway.

After clocking in nine minutes late, I headed to the fuel center, unlocked the door, and disarmed the alarm. As always, I counted the cash drawer, opened the cooler and merchandisers, put out the squeegees, and completed my paperwork. Then I checked the spill buckets, cleaned all the pumps, and went back into the kiosk.

I said, Hi! How can I help you today? about a thousand times.

Every hour, I went outside and made sure all merchandise was pulled to the front and facing forward.

Around 10:30 the alarm system repairmen arrived.

The guy in charge of the team of two came up to the kiosk and told me through the intercom that they were there to work on the alarm and needed to get into the kiosk. I told him no one had informed me they would be there, and I’d need a few minutes to confirm it was ok to let them into the kiosk. The repairman seemed fine with my caution.

Red Corded Telephone on White Suraface

I called the managers’ office and told the person who answered the phone (managers never, ever identified themselves when I talked with them on the phone) that the repairmen had arrived and wanted to come into the kiosk. The manager on the other end of the line said the repairmen hadn’t checked in with him. It sounded to me as if he didn’t even know they were coming. Send them inside to check in, he instructed me.

I told the guy he’d have to go into the supermarket to check in. They left, and I continued to sell fuel and cigarettes and sodas.

The repairmen returned, but no one from management let me know it was ok to allow them in the kiosk. I had to call the managers’ office again to find out everything was on the up and up. Typical that when I really needed to be in the loop, I was out of it.

While the repairmen where in the kiosk, they witnessed how difficult it was to communicate through the intercom. They heard how one older man got really pissed off at me when I mistook his request for $20 on pump 9 as $30 on pump 10. He corrected my mistake before I even put the wrong information into the POS (point-of-sale) system, but he spoke to me roughly. I could tell he was mad. I don’t know if he thought I was purposely going against his wishes, but I truly misunderstood what he said through the crappy intercom system.

Some people are really rude, the younger repairman observed.

After they’d been in the kiosk about half an hour, the lead repair guy said they had to go outside and check the alarm on each pump. While they completed their task, I’d be in the kiosk listening to the alarm sound continuously for minutes at a time.

The alarm was high pitched and annoying. I guess alarms are designed to be irritating so they grab attention. Anything less terrible would surely be ignored. While the alarm was horrible to be subjected to, I was able to put it at the back of my consciousness. It was both at the forefront of my reality and not there at all.

My coworker who relieved me at noon was late, as he had been late every time he’d relieved me over the past two months. This time he was only about eight minutes late instead of the 14 to 26 minutes he’d been late before. At least he didn’t pull another no-call\no-show on my last day.

I went into the supermarket to pull merchandise for the fuel center. I found all I could from the list of needed items, then brought everything up to the front for the manager in charge of fuel center replenishment to check. He was still giving me instructions on how to restock correctly, and I realized no one had bothered to tell him I’d given my two weeks notice. He obviously had no idea it was my last day on the job. I figured if no one else had told him, I wasn’t going to be the one to break the news

Oh, yeah. Right. Sure, I agreed with everything he said. I knew he’d figure out eventually that I was gone when he never saw me again.

After I dropped off the merchandise at the fuel center, I walked back to the supermarket to clock out and turn in my name tag and pink safety vest.

The manager I really liked was in the office working on the computer even though she’d told me two days before that she wouldn’t see me on my last day because she’d be on vacation.

I thought you were in West Virginia, I said,

She turned around, and I saw she wore no makeup and had a baseball cap pulled down low on her forehead. This woman usually wore a ton of eyeliner, mascara, and eyeshadow, but that afternoon her naked eyes looked young and vulnerable.

I leave tomorrow, she said. I’m just here today tying up a few loose ends.

This isn’t how you start a vacation, I teased.

I know, she laughed.

From the moment I’d met this woman, I felt a bond with her. Maybe it was just the connection of middle age woman working shit jobs (although I think my job was more shit than hers). I made her laugh, which always endears a person to me (I feel so understood when people laugh when I’m trying to be funny), but more importantly, this woman really seemed to care. I always felt as if she truly cared about me, the fuel center, the customers.

I just need to drop off my vest and name tag, I explained while setting the items on the cluttered desk where the human resources woman sat when she was in.

We’re really going to miss you, the manager I liked said.

She told me if I ever needed a reference or a recommendation, I should look her up. I assured her I would

Then she said, I don’t know if you’re a hugger…

Actually, I am, I said, and we embraced

Thank you, I told her.  From the moment I met you, I felt a warmth from you, and this place really needs some warmth.

Then I said I’d see her when I went into the store to shop.

I walked out to my truck an unemployed woman. It was the end of an era. I

can’t say I was sad to see that door close behind me.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/person-signing-contract-paper-1251183/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/coffee-contact-email-hands-4831/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/marketing-office-working-business-33999/.

Why Are You Here?

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The manager I liked came into the fuel center kiosk where I was working around nine o’clock that morning. I’d been there a little more than three hours.

When I’d done the opening paperwork, I’d seen a note stating that the coworker who was always late for work when he relieved me hadn’t even shown up the day before. He’d pulled a no-call/no-show, and another employee had come in early to cover the shift.

Do you think Dylan is going to come in today? I asked the manager. Mostly I was being nosey and fishing to find out if Dylan had been fired.

What do you mean? she asked.

Oh no! She wasn’t even aware of what had happened the day before. Now I’d opened a can of worms. I told her the paperwork from the previous night indicated that Dylan had been a no-call/no show.

I wasn’t aware, she said.

She grabbed the schedule and began scrutinizing it. She didn’t realize it was the next week’s schedule she was looking at. The new schedule had come out the day before and had been placed on top of the schedule for the current week.

She jabbed her finger at the schedule for Friday. She thought she was looking at today Friday and not next week Friday. While I was scheduled to work today Friday, I had the day off next week Friday. In her confusion about which Friday she was looking at, the manager thought I wasn’t supposed to be working today.

Why are you here? she asked me.

Oh Tiffany, I replied. I ask myself that all the time Why AM I here?

She started laughing, which is always a good response to kidding around. Then I showed her that she was looking at the schedule for the next week. When I pulled out the current schedule, she saw I was indeed supposed to be at work that day.

Dylan did not get fired. I never found out why he hadn’t shown up for work the previous day or called to let someone know that he couldn’t make it. The next time he was scheduled to relieve me, he showed up several minutes late, the same as it ever was.

The Rubber Tramp Artist on The Postcardist Podcast

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A few weeks ago, I was interviewed by my friend Frank Roche. Frank is the mastermind behind The Postcardist podcast. He and I met on Instagram (you can follow me on Instagram too, @rubbertrampartist), and we stay in touch via social media and good ol’ snail mail. When Frank was looking for folks to interview for the second season of The Postcardist, I didn’t just raise my hand, I waved it around and squealed, “Me! Me! Me!”

Well, ok, the raising of my hand and waving it around and generally calling attention to myself is all metaphoric for my excitement at volunteering to do something I suspected would be really fun. I did offer myself up for an interview, and to my delight, Frank accepted my offer.

On the appointed day, Frank called me and we had a long conversation about postcards, my blog, and the state insect of New Mexico, the tarantula hawk wasp. As I suspected, talking with Frank was really fun.

If you want to hear the whole interview, you can find it on episode 75 of The Postcardist podcast. While you’re there, you can stick around and listen to conversations with many cool, nice people who love postcards as much as I do.

I took the photos in this post. Both are available as postcards. Ask me, and I’ll tell you how to get them.

Will I Get Change?

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I was asked a lot of stupid questions when I worked at the supermarket fuel center (aka gas station). People wanted to know why only the diesel or flex fuel light came on. (Because you lifted the diesel/flex fuel nozzle. If you lift the gasoline nozzle, the lights indicating regular, midgrade, or premium will come on.) People wanted to know why the screen on the pump instructed them to see the cashier. (Because you’re trying to use a credit card we don’t accept. The sign on each pump clearly states what methods of payment you can use.) One lady even demanded I tell her what kind of fuel she was supposed to use in her car. (Ma’am, I have no earthly idea.)

The dumbest question I got (on more than occasion) went something like this:

Me: Hi! How can I help you today?

Customer: I need to get some gas.

Me [internal thought]: Duh! I figured as much, since we’re at a gas station.

Me [aloud]: What pump are you on?

Customer: Pump x.

Me:  Great! How much do you want to put on pump x?

Customer [slowly]: Well…I don’t know…I’m paying cash…I don’t know how much it will take.

To be fair, these customers may have been thinking back to a day when they could tell the gas station attendant they wanted to fill up and the attendant would authorize the pump to spew fuel into the universe until the customer returned the nozzle to its cradle. I remember those days. I remember when gas station customers could pay for their fuel after it was in the vehicle. Of course, such a procedure could lead to the popular gas-n-go scam in which the driver filled up the vehicle’s tank and drove away without paying a penny.

(I worked in a gas station years ago, a customer told me. When people drove off without paying, that money came out of my paycheck, he said.)

At the fuel center where I worked, no open ended transactions took place through the kiosk. When customers used credit or debit cards at the pump, they could pump gas from here to eternity (or until they’d drained their debit account or maxed out their credit card). However, if customers brought the same debit or credit cards to me to run inside the kiosk, I couldn’t do anything until I was told the dollar amount the customer wanted to spend.

Could you turn on pump x? customers sometimes asked me.

Well, no, I couldn’t. The POS (point-of-sale) system was designed to make stealing gas without the participation of the fuel clerk virtually impossible. I couldn’t just turn on pumps and trust customers to come back and pay for the fuel they’d put into their vehicles. Any time I authorized a sale on a pump, I authorized it for a specific dollar amount after I had the money on my side of the bulletproof glass.

I suppose I could have participated in fuel theft by authorizing a pump for an amount of money I had not received. Say a friend came to the fuel center and wanted to get $10 on pump 4 but only had five bucks. It was possible for me to authorize pump 4 for $10 even though I’d only been given $5. However, such thievery certainly would have come back to bite me in the ass. If I’d authorized a pump for a dollar amount I failed to collect, my drawer would have been short.  Eventually some bookkeeper would have noticed, and I would have suffered negative consequences.

I don’t know how other gas stations work, but my place of employment was strictly a pay-before-you-pump place. When customers wanted to pay cash, they had to tell me how much money they wanted to spend, which brings us back to the stupidest question I ever encountered on the job.

A customer wanted to pay cash to fill up a vehicle. The customer didn’t know how much money it would take to pay for a fill-up on the vehicle in question. I told the customer I couldn’t do an open ended transaction; I needed to put a specific dollar amount into the cash register.

What will happen if filling the tank doesn’t take as much money as I give you? more than one customer asked. Will you give me change?

I wanted to say, Oh, no! If you overpay, we keep your money. We don’t give change here.

I wanted to say, Of course we give you change, you idiot! Do you think we could get away with keeping your money?

I wanted to say, How is a gas station different from any other business when it comes to change? It’s not!! If you overpay, of course you get change!

Instead, I’d say something like, Oh, yes. I’ll give you change for whatever amount you don’t use. Just come back here when you’re done, and I’ll get cash for you right away.

To be fair, the change confusion was not a daily occurrence, but it happened more than once during the two months I worked at the fuel center. It was never a kid asking if they’d get their money back if they overpaid; the person confused about paying cash and getting change was always someone beyond middle age.

Have you never been to a gas station before? I sometimes wanted to ask customers. How do you not know how this works?

I had to remind myself that some people may have been buying and pumping fuel for the first time after many years of having a partner do it for them. I tried to remember that the confused folks may have been accustomed to paying with debit or credit cards and truly didn’t remember how paying with cash worked. Of course some of my customers were probably just dumb or possibly from another planet.

Forgotten Change

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When I worked at the fuel center (aka gas station) of a supermarket briefly during the summer of 2019, my POS (point-of-sale) system kept me updated on the monetary situations occurring at the pumps. I could look at my screen and tell who had paid at the kiosk and who had paid at the pump. I could see which customers had not yet begun to pump fuel and which ones had finished up. Most conveniently, I could see who was owed change.

The POS system kept track of how much money had been paid on each pump. If the customer overpaid, the POS system told me exactly how much change that customer was owed. When the customer came back to the kiosk for change, I only had to touch a few buttons then look on my screen to find out how much cash to hand back. If I was really at the top of my game, I would have a customer’s change waiting by the time the person walked up to the window.

Some people were so dead set on getting their change, they never even walked away from the kiosk. Of course, this only worked when a companion stayed at the car to pump the fuel. I wondered what went through the heads of people who stood right next to the kiosk while the companion pumped the fuel. Maybe the person who stayed was too tired to walk 15 feet back to the car, another 15 feet to return to the kiosk to collect the change, then 15 feet again to get to the car in preparation for departure. Maybe they were afraid I was going to take off with their $23.76 (or $11.43 or $4.98 or whatever), and run off to Mexico to start a new life. I don’t know how those people felt, but I felt awkward as hell when they hung around the kiosk waiting for the moment I could hand over their money. 

Other people were so seemingly unconcerned with money that they left without their change. This didn’t happen often, and when it did, it was usually only a few cents left behind. When I noticed the screen showing a dollar (or cents) amount in parentheses, I knew that money was owed to the customer. When I looked out the big kiosk windows and saw the pump where the change was owed was empty, I knew the customer had absentmindedly taken off without it or was too embarrassed to come back for a few pennies.

One day a man stepped up to the kiosk and gave me a large bill to pay for gas on pump 8. He mentioned his truck probably wouldn’t take all the gas the big bill would buy. I told him to just come back for his change. No problem.

Minutes passed, and I forgot about the fellow getting fuel on pump 8. When I next looked at my POS screen, I saw $12.53 was owed to the customer who’d used pump 8. However, when I looked over at pump 8, it was empty.  The man who’d given me the big bill was gone.

Twelve dollars is a pretty substantial amount of money. I could imagine some people (not me, I’m a frugal gal) leaving a few pennies behind, but I couldn’t imagine anyone abandoning more than a dollar. I figured the guy wanted his change, but had forgotten it.

I went through the steps on the POS system to make the change. I left the money in the cash drawer, but on the receipt I wrote a little note about what had happened. I left the receipt on top of the cash register, thinking the customer would return soon and I’d know just how much money to give him.

The customer didn’t come back. Hours passed. The customer didn’t return. The next time I dropped cash into the safe, I included the receipt with the note on it.

Of course, not long after I dropped the receipt into the safe, the phone rang. It was the customer who’d forgotten his $12.53. He seemed surprised but pleased that I remembered him. No problem, I told him. Just come back by and pick up your change.

He was home by then, about 30 miles away. He thought he’d be back in town probably Monday.   I told him if he wouldn’t be back before my shift was over, he should go directly to customer service when he did come in. I explained I’d written a note and included it with a safe drop so the situation had been documented. I said if he explained the circumstances to the person working at the customer service booth when he came in, there should be no problem getting his change.

The fellow thanked me profusely. I think he’d expected to get the run around, but he was so grateful when I remembered him and admitted to knowing he had left his change. Perhaps an unscrupulous cashier would have pocketed his $12.53, but not me. No way was I going to take something I knew didn’t belong to me.

The Land of Broken Dreams

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I live in a harsh land, closer to nature than I ever dreamed possible when I lived in cities. All around me is evidence of people who came out here with big dreams only to abandon them. Why did they leave? I’ll never know for sure, but I can enumerate the ways the harshness of this place could discourage a homesteader. Today I’ll tell you about the conditions here and show you photos of what has been left behind.

I’m going to leave this brokedown palace on my hands and my knees…

While spring is mellow of temperature, when days warm, the wind comes. Growing up in the Deep South, winds weren’t even a concern unless they belonged to a hurricane. I thought I knew winds from my time in the Midwest, but the winds of the plains (if not those of a tornado) are nothing next to the winds of New Mexico.

Before I moved permanently to Northern New Mexico but after I had spent months here over several years, my memory of the winds had them starting in the afternoon and blowing strong and hard for a few hours, slowing down substantially by sunset. This may be a false memory, because that’s not how the wind is blowing these days. Now the wind starts at 10 or 11 in the morning and blows relentlessly until sometimes 9 or 10 at night. Last week, the wind was blowing at 8am.

A spiritual friend who lives around here once told me that the wind blows one’s aura and makes it bumpy or jagged instead of smooth She might be on to something. After hours of constant, strong blowing of the wind I feel off, not quite myself, agitated. The sound alone is enough to put me on edge; the constant rocking of the trailer destroys my mental equilibrium. There’s something about wondering if the roof will be peeled off or if the entire trailer is going to flip that harshes my mellow.

This abandoned shipping container has whimsical paintings on all four sides.

The hours of moving air (and its sound and the way it moves the trailer) would be bad enough, but with the wind comes dust. During times of strongest wind, we must leave the doors and windows closed lest the dust come in and cover everything we own. Sometimes dust devils blow across our property and slam into our trailer. Sometimes the short dust storm takes us by surprise, and we can’t get a door or window closed before it hits, leading to dust on the floor, dust on the clean dishes in the drying rack, dust on the blankets lying on the bed. I now have a small knowledge of what people in the 1930s experienced during the Dust Bowl in the United States.

The upside of the wind is that it pushes away the no-see-ums. Some folks call these insects from the Ceratopogonidae family sage gnats, some call them biting midges, but let’s just call them hell. The first three summers I spent in the area I encountered none of these bugs and no mosquitoes either. I thought I had discovered a magical land with no bugs. The Man independently arrived at the same conclusion. We were fools.

What was happening (I’m pretty sure, but I have not consulted an entomologist) is that the area was so deep in drought, no bugs were hatching. The eggs were out there, waiting for enough moisture to make life viable.

Burnt car

The drought had broken by the time The Man and I returned in 2017. Those no-see-um suckers were everywhere. We fought them for a couple of months. Spoiler alert: we found nothing to deter them, not DEET, not the $15 bottle of natural insect repellent I bought at the herb store after the lady working there told me the concoction would protect me. In the later part of June, we ran away to work in California to in order to escape the beasts.

One problem with the no-see-ums is that you don’t know when they’re biting you. They are super tiny (hence their name) and (like chiggers) their bite causes no immediate pain. Hours after being outside, one feels an itch and knows it has begun.

There are a lot of abandoned vehicles in my neighborhood.

I grew up with Southern mosquitoes. I’ve suffered countless mosquito bites in my lifetime. For me, a mosquito bite usually itches for about 20 minutes or half an hour, then the itch and the red welt is gone. The no-see-um bites itch intermittently for days. There is swelling and redness at the site of the bite, and the itching can come at any time. The no-see-um bits have more in common with chigger bites than those from mosquitoes.

Last year was a wet one. The area got a lot of snow in the winter and spring (the last snow at our place was in May), and once the snow ended, the rains came. All the moisture led to a long season of no-see-ums. Even people who’ve lived here all their lives said they’d never seen a no-see-um season quite so bad go on for quite so long.

We all fall down.

This year has been dryer, but the no-see-ums are out, and they seem worse than last year. The mesh of our screens is not fine enough to keep the little boogers out, but they weren’t coming in through the screen last year. This year we’re not so lucky, although I’m not sure why they’re coming in this way now. These days we long for the wind to blow and keep the little insects away.

The no-see-ums seem to like to bite The Man more than they like to bite me, and he has a worse reaction to the bites. It’s not unusual for his bites to itch so badly that he scratches them raw and bloody. Mine don’t itch quite so badly, but they tend to stay red and swollen for days after the attack.

The opposite of vanlife.

When you live out here, at certain times of the year you dare not go outside without suiting up. Going out in shorts and a tank top during no-see-um days is looking for trouble. I put on long pants, a long sleeved shirt, socks, and shoes before going outside. The Man does the same and adds a bug deterrent mesh over his face. Still, the bugs can fly up a sleeve or a pant leg and leave bites in places I don’t know how an insect could reach.

If a person survives the wind and the dust and the bugs, there are a few months available for tranquil productivity. I suspect most of the homesteading progress occurs in the summer when days are long, mornings are sunny, nights are cool, and an afternoon wet monsoon offers the opportunity for a siesta.

Unfortunately, summers are short around here. My first summer in the area, when I was homeless and sleeping outside, my local friends started worrying in August about how I would live during the coming winter. I’m from the South where life is just getting comfortable in October. When I lived in the Midwest, no one expected snow before Halloween. In northern New Mexico, people told me snow could fly any time after Labor Day.

I didn’t peek here either, but I could tell this fifth wheel is deserted.

This past winter, the first snow fell in October, before Halloween. That made for a long enough winter. I can’t imagine if the snow had started early in September. Old timers have told us this past winter was a mild one, although it seemed plenty cold to me. People who’ve lived here for decades talk of winters with lows of -20 degrees Fahrenheit. People tell us of snow falling and piling up through the season, only melting in spring.

The door of this mud structure is open to the elements. No one seems to live in the fifth wheel either.

This past winter, we went through multiple cycles of snow/freeze/melt which led to the dreaded mud. I’ve written about the mud out here before, but let me say again, it’s no joke. Driving anywhere off our land was an exercise in slip sliding away and the possibility of getting stuck. Almost everyone living around us got stuck in the mud at lease once, even the folks with 4x4s.

If the weather don’t get you, the hauling water will. The water table is deep here. It would cost thousands of dollars to dig a well so most people don’t. There is a community well that folks can buy into. The price per gallon is good, but the liquid still has to be hauled. People need trucks for hauling water and a big container too. We have a 50 gallon container for hauling water. A 100 or 250 gallon container would be better. Homesteaders also need a big container to put the hauled water in. All those containers are expensive, especially ones that are made from food-grade materials.

I don’t know if this trailer was vandalized or decorated.

I’ve heard that when it snowed more here, people with big cisterns could collect enough snow melt to basically get through the summer. The cisterns were topped off by the abundant water from the summer monsoon rains.When I first came here, I met an elderly woman who had been living off snow melt and rainwater for years, but she was having a hard time because of the drought. I don’t know if the weather has been wet enough lately for folks to collect water like they once did.

Want to grow food? Good luck! The soil is basically pure clay out here. The soil will have to be enriched if anything is going to grow. Raised beds or container gardening would probably be a better idea. Most of the water needed for irrigation will have to be hauled. Finally, the growing season is short around here with last frost in May and first frost in September.

All this is not to complain but to say it can be a hard life out here, especially for folks without piles of money. Some people make it and some people give up. Of course, some people get old or sick and leave because they can’t live such a rough life anymore. Some people are carried away by death.

I walk through this land of broken dreams and wonder where the people went. When they left, did they think they’d be back in a week or a month, in the spring, next year? When they left, did they know they’d never be back? Why didn’t they sell or give away the trailer, the propane tanks, the land? Why leave it all behind to rust and rot?

I wonder what my dreams will look like when I’m gone. Will they seem broken too, or will what I leave behind look like success?

I took the photos in this post. If you want to see more of my photography, follow me on Instagram @rubbertrampartist.

Communication Breakdown

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The customer seemed quite confused when he approached the kiosk at the supermarket fuel center.

It was during the early days of my brief career as a clerk at the fuel center (aka gas station). I was stationed inside a kiosk and communicated with customers through a poorly functioning intercom system.

The customer was an older man with a long white beard and a big straw hat over his white hair. He was dressed like a city cowboy or maybe a vacationer at a dude ranch, but when he spoke, he had an accent that was maybe from Australia or maybe from New Zealand. I never can tell the difference between the accents, but I remember from my days working in tourist traps in New Orleans that New Zealanders and Australians can get testy when they’re confused for one another.

I asked the fellow how I could help him today, and he told me the communication screen at the pump had instructed him to see the cashier. I asked him if he was using the credit card we didn’t accept, and he was. I assured him the use of that particular credit card was the problem.

He rummaged through his wallet. He found another credit card to use. He decided that since he was already standing in front of me, he would pay me instead of trying to pay at the pump.

I asked what pump he was on, and he said he was on pump 2. I asked how much he wanted to put on pump 2.

He started rambling out loud, doing some elaborate calculations involving how much fuel was already in the tank, the number of gallons the tank held, how far he was going, how far he had already gone, the distance we were from the equator, and the alignment of the stars. (Okay, yes, I made up those last two factors.) Finally he said he would take eleven on pump 2.

I assumed he wanted to spend $11 on fuel on pump 2. (I know, Dad, when I assume, I make an ass of u and me.) All day long, people told me they wanted twenty on 2 or ten on 6 or fifteen on 8. Most people never even said the word dollars.

So the guy put his credit card in the drawer, and I pulled the drawer into the kiosk with me. I authorized pump 2 to give the customer $11 worth of fuel, then ran the credit card for $11. When the transaction was complete, I put the customer’s card and receipt in the drawer and slid it back out to him. He took the card and receipt and walked to pump 2.

It wasn’t long before the fellow was back at my window.

Oh goodness. What now?  I thought.

How can I help you? I asked and forced a smile.

He told me pump 2 had quit pumping. I looked over at the POS (point-of-sale) system that showed me the activity on all pumps. Yep, pump 2 had quit pumping because this guy had pumped his $11 worth of fuel.

Yes, sir, I said through the intercom. I authorized the pump for $11 and you pumped $11 worth of fuel.

Eleven dollars? he asked as if I were an idiot. I wanted 11 gallons!

I wanted to ask him how I was supposed to know he meant 11 gallons. I wanted to ask him if I looked like a mind reader. I wanted to point out that he’d never said the word “gallons.” Alas, I knew I’d never said the word “dollars.” He could have asked me how he was supposed to know I meant 11 dollars. He could have asked me if he looked like a mind reader. (No, not particularly, I would have had to reply.) We were at an impasse because we’d both failed in our communication.

Because of customer service and all of that, I said wearily, I’m so sorry about that sir. My mistake. Would you like me to run your card for another amount?

He chose another amount and sent his credit card in to me. I authorized the pump, ran the card, then sent it back out to him. He was a little miffed, but not excessively angry. I was ready to move on to the next transaction, hoping the next customer and I would not experience a communication breakdown.

What You Can Do to Help the Rubber Tramp Artist

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I have always gotten by with a little (or a lot) of help from my friends, and I sure do appreciate it. I try to keep these pleas for help from my readers to a minimum, but every now and then, I do like to let you know I could really use your support. Here are some ways you can help me get seen, heard, and read, and most of them don’t cost a dime.

#1 Tell your friends. Have you read a Rubber Tramp Artist post you think a friend or family member would find useful or inspiring? Share the link! Do you have friends who enjoy high quality writing and beautiful photographs? Invite them to check out this blog! I would love to have more readers with whom I can share my stories, rants, and observations.

#2 If you’re on Facebook, like and follow the Rubber Tramp Artist Facebook page. (You can also like and follow my Blaize Sun and Blaizin’ Sun Creations Facebook pages.) Next, find the reviews section of any (or all!) of those pages and leave reviews of my writing, my art, my book, or my jewelry. Also, you can invite your friends to like any or all of those Facebook pages. Finally, like my Facebook posts, comment on them, and share them with your friends. If you want to do those things but can’t quite figure out how, let me know, and I’ll help you.

#3 If you’re on Instagram, follow me there @rubbertrampartist. Like my posts and comment on them too. Turn on notifications so you’ll see when something new goes up on my feed. If you see a post of mine you think your friends would enjoy, tag those friends in the comments. Share my posts in your stories. Read my stories. Comment on my stories so I’ll know what you think.

#4 Comment on my blog posts. Your comments mean so much to me. They let me know you’re reading, that you’re here with me. Sometimes your comments help other readers. I love it when that happens. I really do want to know what you think.

#5 Write a guest post for my blog. If you’re a writer, consider writing a guest post so I can take a day off or concentrate on writing a a long, research intensive post. If you’re a reader of my blog, other readers and I probably want to know what you have to say. If this idea intrigues you, read my Guidelines for Guest Posts.

#6 If you’ve read my book Confessions of a Work Camper: Tales from the Woods, review it. Post a review on Amazon. (You can post a review on Amazon even if you didn’t buy the book from them.) Post a review on GoodReads. Post a review on your blog. Send your review to me, and I’ll post it on my blog.

#7 If you haven’t read my book Confessions of a Work Camper: Tales from the Woods, buy it now and read it. Once you’re read it, please consider reviewing it. (See #5 above.)

#8 Buy copies of my book Confessions of a Work Camper: Tales from the Woods for your friends and family members. It’s rated PG (I removed all the cursing), and has been read by at least one elementary school aged kid. It’s a particularly good gift for anyone who is, has been, or hopes to be a camp host.

#9 Put in a request for your local public library to buy a copy of Confessions of a Work Camper: Tales from the Woods so everyone in your community can read it for free.

#10 Buy the arts and crafts and the Rubber Tramp Artist loot I have for sale. I have handmade collages for sale, postcards featuring my photography for sale, and Rubber Tramp Artist stickers and buttons for sale. I also make hemp jewelry and warm winter hats. (I’m going to try to get photos those items up on the blog soon.) I do custom work, so let me know if there’s something particular you have in mind.

#11 Consider making a donation. There’s a yellow donation button to the right, not far below the search bar. Click there to give me some dollars, if you feel so inclined.

The content on this blog is free, but I put a lot of time and effort into each post I share with you. It is not unusual for me to spend 8+ hours pulling together a single post. I spend a lot of time writing, revising, taking photos, editing photos, choosing photos, researching, etc. If any of my posts have proven helpful to you, please consider donating money or a gift card in the amount you think the posts are worth. I know many of readers are on a limited income, but even a couple bucks would mean a great deal to me.

#12 Consider becoming my patron on Patreon. You get lots of extra goodies when you support me on the Patreon platform. Goodies range from exclusive updates available only to Patreon supporters to a monthly email update to handwritten cards sent through the mail and custom bracelets and one-of-a-kind collages. Each support tier offers different benefits; they’re all explained on my Patreon page linked above or click on the button to the right just under the search bar.

Anything you an do to help me keep this blog going would certainly be appreciated. As always,thank you for reading.

I took all the photos in this post. The Rubber Tramp Artist logo was created by the talented Samantha Adelle before her untimely, tragic passing.

This I Miss (COVID-19 Edition)

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I live in the boonies.

My physical distancing experience has been very different from the experiences of many of you who live in big cities, the suburbs, or even small-to-medium size towns. I live in the boonies. I live 20-ish miles form the nearest small-to-medium size town. Also, there’s no home delivery of mail way out here. My mail is delivered to a box in town. All of this means we receive no mail, no packages, no groceries, and no restaurant food delivered to our door. If we want anything, The Man and I (usually together) get in the truck, drive 20-ish miles to town, get what we need, then drive the 20-ish miles back home.

Also, due to a preexisting health condition, we are very careful about what we do when we go to town. When we need groceries, we arrive at the supermarket as soon as the store opens so I can be one of the first shoppers inside. We do the same when we check the mail or fill our propane tanks. We don’t typically eat in restaurants even during “normal” times, but we’re not getting takeout or going through drive-thrus at all. How do we know the people preparing or handing over our food aren’t sick?

How do we know anyone we encounter isn’t sick? What if they’re contagious but not yest showing symptoms? What if we encounter a super-spreader? I know I sound paranoid and a little hysterical, but that’s my reality right now. To stay safe, we have to stay vigilant.

I know we’re all supposed to wear masks in public right now to protect each other, but can I trust my fellow humans to do the right thing? Masks can be really annoying, and humans don’t have the best track record for doing the right thing even when pieces of cloth over their faces aren’t making it more difficult to breathe and fogging up their eyeglasses.

I swear I’m not trying to dump a bunch of spoiled lady complaints on you. In so many ways, The Man and I are very lucky. Neither one of us has gotten sick with COVID-19. We haven’t lost any loved ones to COVID-19. We live in a county with a very low rate of COVID-19 infection (although the number of COVID-19 infected people in our county jumped quit a bit between the time I wrote the first draft of this post and the time it went live.) We have plenty of food and water and a nice little trailer on a nice little piece of land where we’ve been able to hunker down. We live with a cute, sweet dog, and we have each other too.

Yes, I have a lot for which to be grateful, but I’m human. Life has changed in the last couple months. Some of these changes may be forever. I miss certain ways of living my life. Today I’d like to share those things I miss with you.

#1 I never thought I’d say this, but I miss loading up all the laundry, dragging it into a laundromat and getting all the clothes washed, dried, and folded in a couple of hours.

I wish I could wash my clothes here.

Yes, as an essential business, laundromats are still open in my state. Yes, I could take my laundry to the laundromat and wash, dry, fold. But what if someone contagious is doing their laundry at the same time as I am? There are so many hands to touch so many surfaces at a washteria, so many places for a virus to linger. We’re not going!

Shout out to pioneer ladies who did all the washing by hand! Hand washing laundry is hard work! Have you ever tried to rinse the suds from your clothes in a five gallon bucket? Have you ever tried to wring the water out of a pair of jeans? We’ve been washing a minimal amount of clothing by hand for the last two months, and I don’t like it one bit. (Because I have more clothes than The Man does, he’s had to wash garments way more often than I have. To his credit, he doesn’t even complain.)

I wouldn’t mind hanging clothes out dry, but the strong spring winds (still blowing as I wrote this post!) means near daily dust storms. What’s the point of washing clothes if they’re going to be inundated with dirt while hanging on the line?

So many dryers at the laundromat.

If you have a washer in your home, I encourage you to get on your knees right now and give thanks to God, Saint Hunna (the patron saint of laundry workers and washerwomen), the Universe, or the deity of your choice. Please give extra thanks if you have a dryer or a nondusty clothesline at your disposal too.

#2 I miss eating the occasional fast food. While the Man and I don’t eat at restaurants much (mostly because we can’t afford to), it was nice to be able to slide into Taco Bell and pick up a vegetarian option from the dollar menu when we were running errands in town. I miss the ease, low cost, and deliciousness of the Fiesta Potato Breakfast Burrito and the Cheesy Bean and Rice Burrito.

A while back, the Sonic app offered me half price Sonic Blasts for one day only. I sadly showed the offer to The Man.

Do you want to go? he asked me. I want to do something nice for you.

I shook my head. Forty miles is a long way to drive for ice cream and beside, how can we know restaurant workers aren’t breathing COVID germs directly onto our food? Are we paranoid or safely cautious?

Our mail is not delivered to a box in a row on the main road.

#3 I miss receiving mail regularly. As I’ve said before, there’s no home delivery of mail out here. I can’t just walk out to my porch or the end of my driveway to pick up my mail. There’s no group of mailboxes for me and my neighbors on the main road. If we want to receive letters, we have to pay for mailbox in town. And if we want to get our hands on the contents of our mailbox, we have to drive all the way to town to do so.

Our mailbox is inside a privately owned shipping business. While the business is still open, the hours of operation have been cut again and again. The woman who owns the place is not messing around with safety. She was enforcing six feet of distance between her customers when no one else in town seemed to be taking the recommendation seriously. No one walks into the place without a mask over their nose and mouth. The business is housed in a small enclosed space, and germs could linger. I appreciate the business owner for the precautions she’s taking to keep herself and her customers safe.

We have checked our mail three times since mid March. I used to check the mail a couple times a week. I miss receiving cards and letters from my friends on a regular basis. My friends are still sending the cards and letters (and I’m so glad for that), but I receive them less often.

I also miss ordering things online and knowing I’ll have my items in a few days. Nobody is delivering out where I live. I never see FedEx or UPS trucks way out here. We see commercials on television saying CVS pharmacy and Ace Hardware and Pizza Hut will deliver. Not to us they won’t. To be fair, I don’t actually miss this kind of delivery because we’ve never had it out here. However, in these times, I might take of advantage of having things dropped off at my house if the service were available to us.

#4 I miss leisurely shopping. Oh, how I miss the days of going from store to store to buy what I needed (and wanted) and to look around for bargains. At one time, a day in town might mean shopping at multiple supermarkets, checking the mail, seeing what Dollar Tree had to offer, shopping at WalMart, filling propane tanks, browsing at the thrift store, and having a look at free boxes and Little Free Libraries. No more! Now grocery shopping feels like I’m competing on Supermarket Sweep. There is no more casual grocery shopping because every trip to the supermarket is a survival mission.

I haven’t been to a thrift store since the middle of March. The thrift store in town hasn’t been open for a while, but I think it was open last Wednesday morning when I drove by. Even if it’s back to business as usual right now, I won’t be shopping there this month.

At least we’re stocked up on the minced garlic.

#5 I miss feeling confident the supermarket is going to have in stock anything I want to buy. I haven’t seen tofu in months. Months! I used to be able to buy a pound of tofu for between $1.49 and $1.79. Now the stores where I’ve shopped in the last two months don’t even offer it .

In the past two months, I’ve had trouble finding dried beans, brown rice, and powdered milk. Last week when I was at the big supermarket in town, I found all of those things, plus toilet paper. Score! But who knows what will be on the shelves in a month or two when I shop again, especially if we have another spike in COVID-19 cases.

Before we did last week’s big grocery shopping trip, The Man wanted eggs for breakfast. We’ve been a five-day-a-week oatmeal family since March so we could conserve eggs for baking, but he said he really wanted eggs that morning.

We’re going to the store on Wednesday, he reasoned. We’ll get more eggs then.

I tried to explain to him that I might not find eggs at the supermarket. I tried to explain that’ I’ve seen on Facebook groups that sometimes people go to the store and there are no eggs (or beef or dried beans or tofu or flour or baking powder or yeast). We were fortunate this trip; I found eggs and everything on the list with the exception of disposable gloves, rubbing alcohol, and tofu. However, there’s no way to know what the next shopping trip in a month or more will bring.

#6 I miss moving through the world without worrying that everything is contaminated. The Man and I wear dish-washing gloves when we go into any place of business. When we get back to the truck, the one of us who didn’t go inside squirts the gloves with disinfectant. When we pick up or mail, it sits in the hot truck for weeks of decontamination. Every time we buy groceries, we debate the need to squirt each item with disinfectant. After the last two times I’ve shopped, we wiped down each package with bleach water before bringing them into the house. I don’t buy fresh produce (except for onions, which we wouldn’t want to eat without, and we justify by remembering we’re going to peel off the top couple of layers anyway and cook the rest before eating). Still, we wonder if we’ve doing enough to protect ourselves or if we’re doing comically too much.

I want to see a tourist attraction like the red hubcap camel in Quartzsite, Arizona

#7 I miss going on road trips. Geez, I want to explore a place I’ve never been and see some new things. I want to hit the open road. I want to visit a small town museum. I want to see a tourist attraction. I want to take some photos. However, I know it’s not quite safe for The Man and me to go out exploring just yet. I’m trying to stay patient, despite my itchy feet.

#8 I miss selling jewelry and shiny rocks. Some vending opportunities are opening up, but again is it safe to sell in our current situation? I don’t necessarily trust people to protect me by wearing a mask or staying away if they’re sick. So many times people don’t even know they’re sick until after they’ve infected others. Also, if I sold things I’d have to accept cash money. Oh cash, germy, germy cash!

Memorial Day has come and gone, now we’re into June, and I’ve sold nothing to nobody. I feel I should be out there somewhere selling, but I know I really should stay at home right now.

Will life ever get back to “normal”? Is the way we’re currently living what normal will be from now on? Will COVID-19 ever disappear or at least decrease? Will there be a COVID-19 vaccine by the end of the year or in 18 months or will the vaccine never happen? Will The Man and I be able to sell Christmas trees in November? Will I ever be able to get a job again? So many questions! I don’t have any answers. Living in the midst of the unknown is difficult, but I guess we’re all doing it. I guess we’ll all take the unknown one day at a time.

What do you miss about but your old life, your “normal” life, your life before COVID-19? I would love to know! Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

I took the photos in this post.