Job Update

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Just a quick update on my job situation for my readers who are wondering.

I’m still working at the fuel center. I don’t much like working there, and I’m planning to give my two weeks notice as soon as I tie up some other loose ends in my life.

I may be applying for a temporary job in September or October that would keep me employed through the winter holiday season. I don’t know much about it yet, but will let you know more when I know more.

My current job keeps me too busy. When I’m not working, I am tired. I do sneak in some writing at work, so I have lots of blog posts to schedule when I get the chance to sit down with the internet.

Friends and fans have been asking my about my work life at the fuel center. I’ve written several blog posts on the topic and will be scheduling many of them for the upcoming weeks. Stay tuned to learn about my life as a fuel clerk.

I took this photo.

Running

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One of the things I hated about working in the Mercantile was dealing with unsupervised children. Even parents who were physically in the store sometimes paid no attention to their kids and simply let them run amuck. In these cases, it became my job to make sure the kids didn’t hurt themselves or the store’s merchandise. I spent a lot of time saying things like Be careful, sweetheart! or Oh! That’s breakable! while parents were paying attention to something other than their children.

One afternoon a family came into the store. The mother and father seemed to be in their early 30s. The little girls was a toddler, probably under two years old, and the boy was a little older, maybe six or seven. The dad wanted to wander around unencumbered, but the mom wasn’t having it.

Look, she told the fellow, I can’t handle both of them. You’ve got to take one.

The dad said he’d take the boy, but the mom said the boy would be easier for her to deal with and she wanted to take him. The dad seemed exasperated but agreed. I felt sorry for the little girl. It seemed both parents were rejecting her because she was too difficult. I hoped she was too little to understand what was happening.

Instead of holding the kid’s hand and leading her around the store while explaining that there would be no touching, the dad picked her up. She didn’t want to be carried and began venting her frustration by screaming. The mom and the boy walked away to browse in the store. The dad carried the freaking toddler outside.

At some point I lost track of the family. I don’t think the mom bought anything, and I didn’t notice when she and the boy left the store.

A green yurt sits in the forest. A wooden ramp leads to a wooden deck in front of the yurt.
The kids were running up and down the ramp visible on the right side of this photo.

The next time the family came to my attention, it was because the kids were running up and down the wooden ramp that went from the parking area to the Mercantile’s porch. The kids were not trotting or jogging or sauntering. They were full-on running, as if they were competing in the Kiddie Olympics. The boy was faster because he was bigger, but the tiny girl was doing her best to keep up. She was also squealing with excitement.

The children didn’t run up the ramp just once. They ran up the ramp, down the ramp, up the ramp, down the ramp. They kept running, just like the Energizer Bunny.

At the bottom of the ramp was a concrete parking pad for a vehicle carrying a passenger with a disabled access pass. I immediately imagined one of those little kids tripping, falling, and cracking a head on the concrete. Why weren’t the parents of the children as concerned about the prospect of a cracked skull as I was?

When I looked out the door, I couldn’t see either parent, and I thought the adults had wandered off and left their young athletes on our doorstep.

I bustled outside saying, Please! No running! Oh, no running please! Someone could get hurt! I was hoping to sound like a concerned elderly aunt, but I think I probably came across more like a deranged Mary Poppins.

The children’s mother was nowhere in sight. I think she’d gone to the restroom. I didn’t think I’d see the dad either, but there he was standing at the corner where the long ramp turned onto the deck in front of the store. He was messing around on his phone, but surely he knew his kids–including his tiny daughter who’d obviously learned to walk only recently–were running like maniacs. As far as I could tell, he’d done absolutely nothing to stop them.

No running please! I said again to the children, and this time the dad echoed halfheartedly, Yeah, no running.

The mom walked up about then, and I went back into the Mercantile. When the family left our porch, I whispered fiercely to the other clerk, The dad was right there! He knew they were running! He probably would have sued us if one of the kids got hurt!

I don’t understand people. There was a whole forest those kids could have run in. Whey let kids run up and down a wooden ramp with concrete at the bottom when they could have been running in the dirt?

Alright

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She walked up to the gas station kiosk in which I was working. She held her phone to her ear.

She was older than I, probably in her late 50s or maybe early 60s. Her long grey hair was pulled back into a ponytail, and she wore a tan baseball cap. She walked over from a long white passenger van which held no passengers. She’d parked the van next to the kiosk, not next to a gas pump, and left the driver’s side door open.

When she stepped up to the window, I pressed the button on the intercom so I could communicate with her through the bulletproof glass. I gave her my standard greeting.

Hi. How can I help you this morning?

She didn’t lower her phone from her ear.

I released the button on the intercom so I could hear what she had to say.

Give me a pack of Marlboro Ultra-Light 72s, she said.

I noticed the lack of the word “please” turning what could have been a request into a command. Her cell phone was still next to her ear.

Marlboro Cigarette Boxes

I turned around to look at the vast array of cigarettes offered for sale. I found the Marlboros but got hung up trying to figure out which of the 30 (I’m not exaggerating!) varieties of that brand the woman actually desired. Luckily I was still in training, and my coworker knew exactly where to find what the customer wanted.

I rang up the sale. The woman was clearly over 18 (and 27 and 35 and 42)—definitely old enough to buy cigarettes—so I didn’t ask to see her ID. I bypassed entering her birth date into the register. I told her the total of the sale, which was over $9. (Cigarettes are expensive!) Her phone stayed next to her ear.

She put a ten dollar bill in the drawer through which the customers and I passed items. I slid the drawer into the kiosk and reached for her money. I got her change, which I slid out along with her receipt and the box of cigarettes.

I pressed the intercom button and said, Thank you! Have a nice day!

I let go of the intercom button in time to hear her say, Alright.

She didn’t smile, and her phone never left her ear.

Image courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/search/cigarettes/.

The Practical Sabbatical: It’s Not Just About Taking a Break (Guest Post)

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Today’s guest post is all about sabbaticals, why they are important, and how you can manage to take one. It was written by Catherine Workman.

A sabbatical is the act of taking an extended rest period from work. This time away can help you reboot, relax, and recharge. However, more importantly, breaking away from the mundane of daily life can help you get to know yourself, get in touch with your needs, and prioritize your physical and mental well-being. Sadly, many people forgo this life-changing vacation due to funds or fear of losing their position at work. But there is evidence to suggest that you’re doing yourself more harm than good by clocking in and out 40 or more hours each week.

Saving for a Sabbatical

Your first priority is to determine the lifestyle you’ll lead while you’re away. You might backpack across the globe, stay stateside in an RV, or cruise from every port along the coasts. This will give you a baseline of your expenses. Western and Southern Financial Group notes that your estimate should also include life insurance and smart budgeting.

If you choose to continue to work during your travels, you won’t have to save quite as much, but you’ll be missing out on the full benefit of your journey’s purpose. Another income option is to rent your home while you’re away. You can do this via VRBO, Airbnb, or through a local real estate firm that specializes in property management. If you go this route, get your house ready to ensure great reviews and, thus, more rental income. Start by removing your valuables, then clean it from top to bottom, all the while eliminating clutter and making any small repairs. Angie’s List handy online guide has more sound advice on how to prepare your rental property.

Other ways to put money aside for the adventure include funding a dedicated travel account, reducing daily expenses, skipping a few luxuries throughout the year.

How and When to Ask

If you plan to return to your job when you get back, you’ll have to give your employer plenty of advance notice. Come up with a few ways your workload could be taken care of; that way, when you approach your boss, you’ll have an answer to this question. If possible, try to plan your leave to correspond with the completion of a major project, and offer to be flexible if it runs over by a few weeks or months. By doing so, you can help your employer avoid a panic-mode “no” when you’re finally set to head out. Even if you discuss your plans in person, write a leave-of-absence letter and copy both your immediate supervisors and the HR department.

The New Retirement

Taking a “pretirement” now isn’t the same as taking a long trip after retirement. You leave with the intentions of returning to work at some point, and the time away can actually be good for your career. Leaving work gives you a chance to evaluate what you’re doing and what you want to do differently when you return. Former Cisco Systems Chief of Staff Mary Ann Higgs says her sabbatical helped her identify and process her accomplishments and disappointments.

Just as important as rest is that you can use your time off to reach your personal fitness goals. A healthy sabbatical can give you a chance to learn yoga, trek through the mountains, or swim in seas you’ve never seen. Even if you don’t plan to exercise your way across the entire globe, you can still stay fit while you’re on the road.

The thought of leaving all you’ve worked for can be intimidating. However, wealth is not as valuable as wellness. Sometimes, it pays to take a leap of faith into the unknown and unexplored. But before you, get your finances in order, plan to prioritize your health, and, if you want to return to work, leave on a high note and with the well-wishes of your employer.

Catherine Workman believes we should all leave our comfort zones once in a while. She travels to boost her physical and mental health.

Image via Pixabay

Helen’s Little Lending Library in Phoenix, AZ

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I was in Phoenix visiting Nolagirl in November 2017. She knows I love Little Free Libraries, so she suggested we visit the ones we could find in town. I thought it sounded like a fun excursion, so I readily agreed.  I’d visited Little Free Libraries in Los Gatos, CA , Mesa, AZ, and Santa Fe and Taos, NM and was really excited to see more of these awesome manifestations of gift economy.

For folks who don’t know, the Little Free Library website says

A Little Free Library is a “take a book, return a book” free book exchange. They come in many shapes and sizes, but the most common version is a small wooden box of books. Anyone may take a book or bring a book to share.

The first Little Free Library (LFL) we visited that day was on 28th Street. Nolagirl said she passed it all the time.

A wooden box on a pole is designed to look like a small house with a peaked roof. The box is painted a deep blue and has lavender trim.
I love the color scheme of Helen’s Little Free Lending Library.

When we approached the LFL on 28th Street, the first thing I noticed was the great color scheme. I love the dark blue main color, especially with the lavender accents. I also like the four little windows that let you look into the library and the door that swings open to offer access to the books.

The next thing I noticed about this LFL is that it is “official.” There is a charter number (44511) on the left hand side of the sign that comes from the Little Free Library organization. Having a charter number means this LFL is registered with the Little Free Library organization and should pop up on the organization’s internet map of LFL locations. The LFL organizations says other benefits of registering a Little Free Library include

receiving a steward’s packet of tips and advice,…access to a private Facebook support group, and more.

Before I started writing this post, I had another look at the photos I took of this library. When I looked at the photos, I realized this LFL has its own name. It’s not just some generic Little Free Library. It’s “Helen’s Little Lending Library.” This realization leads me to ask many questions. Who is Helen? Yes, she’s probably the library steward, the person who maintains this LFL, but who is she really? Why did she decide to start a LFL? What’s her favorite part of having one? Also, how does a Little Free Library get its very own unique name? Does it cost extra to name your LFL?

The door to the Little Free Library is open, and there are two rows of trade paperback books available.
These were the books offered the day I visited Helen’s Little Free Lending Library.

There were several books to choose from in Helen’s Little Lending Library, but nothing I really wanted to read, so I left them all behind. I also left behind a couple of books I had to donate. I felt good about being a contributor. After all, we can’t expect Helen to do all the work to keep this Little Free Library going. I was glad to help.

I took the photos in this post.

Frying Pan (Part 2)

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Blog bonus day! Today I’ll tell the rest of the story of my experience at a very strange interview for a job at a souvenir shop. As the saga continues, I’m about to get the details regarding the drug test I have to take.

You’ll have to pass a drug test, the manager told me, which I already knew from my friend who worked nearby. Can you pass one today? she asked in a lowered voice. I told her I could.

She handed me a thick stack of papers. In the stack I’d find the company handbook and forms to sign saying I accepted the cash register policy as well as the other policies in the handbook. There were other forms to sign granting permission for the drug test and the background check. She left me at the lunch counter to sign the forms.

Reading the company handbook made me privy to more policies.  Any employee parking too close to the store would be fired. Employees’ purses, backpacks, and lunch bags had to be made from clear plastic. If I lost my nametag, I’d be charged $25. If I lost my timecard, I’d be charged $25. If I forgot to punch in or out, I’d be docked 60 minute of pay. If I quit before I’d worked there 90 days, I’d be charged for my drug test and background check.

I’d never had an employer charge me for a lost nametag or time card, and a $25 fee seemed excessive. Also, losing an hour’s pay for not punching in or out seemed like a harsh way to teach a lesson. I wondered if these policies were even legal. Who were these people I was considering signing on with?

The manager came back, and I had a few questions for her. What hours was the store open? How much did the job pay?

Her answers gave me hope.

The store was typically open from 10am to 6pm; occasionally it was open a couple of hours later. She thought new hires started at $11 an hour, but she’d have to double check.

I gritted my teeth and thought I could deal with some weirdness for $11 an hour and a schedule that didn’t require a 4am wake up.

The manager wanted to know when I could start if I passed the drug test and the background check. She said an employee had quit and the store needed a new worker right away. I told her the new schedule for my current job had just come out, and I’d want to give notice and work the days I was expected there. The schedule was only for a week, so essentially I’d give five days notice. I also offered to come in to the souvenir shop for training a couple hours on the days I would be working at the fuel station.  I figured getting some training in before I started working at the souvenir shop full time would give me a head start when I was actually on the schedule.

The manager had a urine specimen cup in her hand. I’ve only been drug tested for work a couple of times—once for a temp job and once when I was trying to get hired for a work-at-home job with U-Haul. (I got the temp job, but was not hired by U-Haul because the internet was too slow where I was staying.) In both cases, I was sent to a business that specialized in urinalysis. I was handed a cup upon arrival and was sent to a bathroom stall where I provided my sample. The whole process was quite professional.

Now the manager handed me the cup and ushered me into the employees’ restroom. I carried my (small) purse in with me. The manager left me alone in the dark, damp room. If I’d need to provide a clean sample from someone who didn’t use drugs, I had ample opportunity.

The sample cup was unlike any I’d ever seen. It had some kind of protrusion on it, almost as tall as the cup and maybe 1½ inches wide. I think the protrusion was what showed the results of the test.

I peed in the cup, no problem. I wiped off the cup with toilet paper. I set it on the sink while I washed my hands and adjusted my clothing. Then I stood and stared at the container of urine. The manager hadn’t told me exactly what to do with it.

 In medical offices, there is sometimes a small metal door in the wall. The patient opens the little door and leaves the sample behind the door. A medical professional can open the door on the other side of the box and retrieve the sample when it is convenient. There was no small metal door in any of the restroom’s walls.

When I’ve given samples for jobs or drug studies, a professional wearing latex gloves had been just outside the door of the stall, ready to take the sample as soon as I walked out. But what to do today? Should I leave the sample in the restroom? Should I carry it out to the manager? I felt awkward in my uncertainty.

I decided to take the sample with me. I poked my head out of the restroom door. The manager was not standing there waiting for me. I walked over to the lunch counter. The manager was not waiting for me there either.

The young woman (perhaps still a teenager) working at the lunch counter indicated a napkin on the counter. She said to leave it there, the young woman said, so I set my cup of urine down a few feet from where tourists were enjoying hot dogs and Frito pies and milkshakes. Gross! I don’t know much about health codes, but setting a cup of urine on a lunch counter where people are eating has got to be against at least one of them.

When the manager returned, she peered at my urine sample, pulled up a photo on her phone, and compared my sample to the photo. Wait! What? The manager of the souvenir shop would by analyzing my urine? She would be the one to determine if I was drug-free? Was she trained for this?

This interview was growing increasingly weird.

The manager said this was going to take a while. Did I want to wait?

I really didn’t, so I said I thought I’d head out.

She said she’d call the company’s secretary and give her the information for my background check, but the results might not be ready until Monday since it was already almost 3 o’clock on Friday afternoon. She said if I hadn’t heard from her by Monday afternoon, I should call to check in.

I left feeling really weird about the entire situation. The manager talked as if I were already hired, but I still had the results of the drug test and background check hanging over my head. Was I in or was I out? I suppose I was officially in limbo.  

I spent the entire weekend going back and forth about the job. On the one hand, $11 an hour was more than I was currently earning, but on the other hand, I didn’t agree with having to cover drawer shortages that I didn’t cause. On yet another hand, the hours at the souvenir shop were much better than what I was currently working, but on the other hand (how many hands was I dealing with here?) there were the policies about being charged for losing things. Was I about to jump out of the frying pan and right into the fire?

On Monday afternoon, I called the manager of the souvenir shop. She hadn’t heard back about the background check, so she couldn’t offer me the job. She asked again when I could start if I was offered the job, and I again told her I felt like I needed to finish out the week I was already scheduled for.

The owner of the company is really on me to hire someone who can start immediately, she told me. Everyone I’ve tried to hire wants to give two weeks notice, she complained.

I felt she was pressuring me to walk out on my current job. I didn’t want to walk out for a number of reasons. First, I thought it was unethical to leave everyone working in the fuel center in a lurch. Second, I didn’t want to burn my bridges. The company I was working for is a huge corporation with stores across the country. Walking out without notice would probably mean I could never get a job with the corporation again. Third, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to work for the souvenir people.

I’m sure the owner doesn’t like it when his employees quit without giving two weeks notice, I told the manager. Surely he can understand people wanting to give notice.

It happens all the time, the manager sighed, referring to people quitting without notice.

I wondered if because it happened to him all the time, the owner of the business had come to think of this behavior as normal. I also wondered why his employees walked out without notice all the time.

The manager and I agreed I’d check in the next day, but the conversation with her didn’t leave me feeling good. I discussed the situation with The Man and my sibling.  The conclusions I reached? I didn’t appreciate being pressured to do something I thought was not right. If the manager and owner of the company thought I was a good fit for their team and a good investment, they should be willing to wait five days for me. I did not feel good about several of the company policies. I decided I didn’t want to work in the souvenir shop after all.

I chose to text the manager. I didn’t really want to talk to her again. I didn’t want to discuss the situation or my concerns. I just wanted to be done.

Here’s what I texted to her: I understand your need to fill the position immediately. Since I am unable to do that, I am withdrawing my application. Thanks.

Several hours later she responded, I’m sorry to hear that, but thanks for applying.

It looked like I was staying in the frying pan for a while longer.

Frying Pan (Part 1)

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This story of a job interview gone weird turned out to be a long one, so I’ll only tell half the story today. I’ll make tomorrow a blog post bonus day and tell the rest of the story then.

After a couple months in town, I needed a job. I applied online at a dozen chain supermarkets, drug stores, and low-end department stores. I also handed my resume to a half dozen locally-owned businesses. Most of the local places weren’t even hiring, but took my resume anyway.

A large bear carved from wood sits next to a wooden chair and holds a sign that says "welcome."
I worked a seasonal job in this mercantile housed in a yurt.

My resume was not very impressive. In the last ten years, I’d only worked seasonal jobs for two companies. Sometimes I included my house and pet sitting experience on applications, but it’s not like I have a business; even my self-employment is casual. I worried my resume wouldn’t get my foot in the door, but didn’t know how to better my chances of getting an interview.

I got an email form a corporate supermarket. I was instructed to call a phone number, which I did. I had a pre-screening phone interview with a very friendly woman from the corporate human resources department. She told me the only job available at the local store was in the fuel center (aka gas station). I told her I’d take the job. I figured working in a gas station couldn’t be much different from working inside the main store. My conversation with the human resources lady went well, and she approved me for an interview in the local store.

An assistant manager conducted the in-person interview while the local human resources lady sat in. He told me the job would be part-time with no guaranteed number of hours each week. It was the only job offer I’d had, so I took it.

I got four days of training; other workers told me that was a lot more than most people got. My first five days of work started at 5:45 in the morning, which meant I had to get out of bed around 4am so I’d have time to dress, eat, and brush my teeth (all at my early morning snail’s pace) and then make the 40 minute drive to my workplace. It was not an easy work week.

The job turned out to be a lot harder than I thought it would be. By the third day, I wanted out of there.

One of the places where I’d applied during my job search was a souvenir shop in the historic district. A friend of mine worked nearby and told me the manager was always hiring because of high employee turnover. My friend chalked it up to the fact that employees had to pass a drug test, but I wondered what else might be going on. Maybe the shop wasn’t such a great place to work. Despite my mild misgivings, when I decided I didn’t like working at the gas station, I called the manager of the souvenir shop to check in.

Can you come in Friday morning for an interview? the manager asked me right away.

I told her I had to work Friday morning but got off at one o’clock in the afternoon.

Can you come in at one? she asked.

I laughed a little and told her it would take me some time to get from my job to her shop. I wondered if she thought I’d teleport to her place, but kept my little joke to myself. I told her I could be there at 1:30.

On Friday my replacement was late, so I was late starting my task of getting merchandise from the main store to replace the items we’d sold at the fuel center. It was my first time doing the task alone, so it took longer than expected. Instead of getting off at 1pm, I didn’t punch out until 1:15. I hurried to my truck and changed out of my work clothes and into a skirt, nice shirt, and my red cowgirl boots. I looked nice but a bit frazzled.

 The interview was conducted not in an office or a break room, but out in the open in the store. There was an old-fashioned lunch counter in the store, where I perched on a little turquoise-colored stool while the manager stood on the other side of the counter. While the manager talked to me, a worker served hotdogs and Frito pies and milkshakes to customers sitting a few feet away.

It wasn’t an interview in the traditional sense. The manager didn’t ask me questions about my goals or my work experience or my strengths and weaknesses or what I could contribute to the team. Instead, she listed the things I needed to know about working in the store.

  • Wear comfortable shoes because there was no sitting down.
  • My significant other was not allowed to hang out in the store for hours at a time.
  • The store was open 365 days a year. It did not close for Christmas, Easter, or Thanksgiving.
  • Workers did not get a lunch break. Workers were paid for the entire time they were at work, but no one took an hour or half an hour off for lunch. No one was allowed to leave the store for lunch. All eating was done in the store, between helping customers.
  • I’d have to be able to count money. I don’t know what they’re teaching at the high school, the manager said, but kids these days couldn’t count money.
  • There was always something to do at the store. If there were no customers, there was something to clean or t-shirts to fold.
  • The door to the store was open during business hours, even in the heat and even in a blizzard. I should dress accordingly.
  • If my cash register was short, I had to replace the missing money. If two people were on the register and the drawer came up short, each person put in half of the missing money.

Some of the policies were par for the course (most businesses don’t allow employees to sit during a shift and of course I’d have to know how to count money when working in a store), but others really surprised me. No lunch break and no leaving the store? Was I signing up for indentured servitude?

The short drawer policy really stopped me in my tracks. I’d never worked anywhere that required drawer shortages to be covered from the workers’ pockets. If drawer shortages got to be a recurring problem, a worker might get reprimanded or even fired, but no employer had ever stated replacement of missing money as a policy. Actually, I could understand being held accountable for my own cash register mistakes, but I wasn’t too keen on having to pay half of someone else’s mistakes (or thievery). Other places where I’ve worked had cashiers sign on and off the register so if someone was careless or stealing there was a hope of figuring out who was the responsible party.  This pay-out-of-pocket policy was a huge red flag to me, but I disliked my current job enough to sit there and continue to listen to what the manager had to say.

Stay tuned. The story will continue tomorrow with the strangest drug test circumstances I’ve ever encountered.

I took the photo in this post.

Don’t Touch

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This is a cautionary tale for anyone considering removing something from their rig before they know exactly what that something does.

I’d just gotten my van back from my mechanic. He’s replaced my fuel pump, and I was back in the business of vanlife.

I was house sitting for a friend, so I used the opportunity of having a parking spot to clean my van. I collected all the trash I’d let accumulate and dumped it into her garbage can. I was pleased to think how great my van was going to look after this cleanup.

While standing outside the van, I reached under the driver’s seat and felt around for any trash that had ended up hidden there. My hand connected with some sort of flat, plastic box. I wondered what it was. I didn’t remember tucking a box under the seat.

I pulled out the object, quickly realizing it was tethered by a cord to something else under the seat. I could hold the box in my hands, but couldn’t lift it more than a foot or so off the floor. If I hadn’t been standing outside the van, I probably couldn’t have pulled it out from under the seat at all. What was this thing?

I looked at the object closely. It was an inch or two thick, maybe eight inches wide, and ten inches long. It was constructed entirely of smooth black plastic, except for slightly raised letters on the top which spelled out “C-O-M-P-U-T-E-R.” Computer? What kind of computer could this possibly?

Chevy G20 van dusted with snow sits in front of a small, rocky mountain.
My 1992 Chevy G20 was not a hotbed of technology.

My van was a 1992 Chevy G20. While not a classic car, it was not a hotbed of technology either. Would something from 1992 really have a computer? Would something important to the operation of the vehicle really be stored under the seat? I didn’t think so! I decided (with no research and not much consideration) that this computer must operate no longer functioning power seat controls. Of course, neither of the seats had any buttons or knobs that might have been associated with power controls at some time in the past, but I didn’t let that detail influence my ideas about what the plastic box was for.

Anyone who’s lived in a vehicle (even a relatively roomy conversion van) knows that space is at a premium. Any little nook or cranny that can be emptied can provide a home for some more important item. I had visions of storing books under the driver’s seat if I could ditch this bulky, unnecessary (in my mind) “computer” box.

As I continued to examine the box, I found the cord was attached to the box by a plug. I simply unplugged the cord and the box was free. Easy! (I left the cord tucked under the seat, out of my way.)

Some guardian angel was looking over my shoulder that day because I didn’t throw the box into my friend’s garbage can. I can’t remember why. Maybe it was because I knew electronics aren’t supposed to end up in the landfill, and I’d decided to find an appropriate way to dispose of the thing. Maybe I had a sliver of good sense and realized it wasn’t a good idea to throw out a part when I didn’t know its function. In any case, the unplugged box stayed on the floor between the two front seats, and I wandered back into my friend’s house.

The next day I wanted to go somewhere, so I climbed into my van’s driver seat and started the engine. I immediately noticed the check engine light was on. Damn!

My first thought was that my mechanic must have caused the problem. Maybe he’d damaged something when he replaced the fuel pump. Maybe he hadn’t replaced something properly. I was going to have to call him and find out how he planned to rectify the situation.

Before I picked up the phone, I contemplated the situation further. Had the check engine light been on when I picked up the van at the repair shop? Had it come on as I drove from the shop to my friend’s house? I didn’t remember it being on. I’ve always been observant of my control panel, so I was confident I would have noticed the light had it been on previously.

I sat there and thought about what had changed since I’d parked the van at my friend’s place. Nothing really. I’d cleaned up, picked up trash, pulled the “computer” from under the driver’s seat…

Oh no! It began to dawn on me that maybe that “computer” controlled more than the movements of my chairs.

I shut off the van’s engine, then located the black box on the floor between the two front seats. Maybe this thing was more important than I’d thought.

I grabbed the plastic box and slid out of the van. I stood on the driver’s side of the van with the door open so I could reach under the seat. After some fumbling, I found the cord the box had been attached to and plugged it back in. I tucked the box under the seat, then climbed back into the van. When I turned the key in the ignition, I was relieved to see that the check engine light did not come on. Problem solved!

Apparently in 1992 vans did have computers, and they were stored under the driver’s seat!

For several years, I thought this was mostly a funny story of my stupidity that I would share on my blog someday. After all, no real damage was done, all’s well that end well, and surely I’m the only person who’d make such a mistake. Then my friend did something similar, and I knew I had to share my story as a cautionary tale.

Without sharing too much of my friend’s business, she cut some wires in her rig that she thought were unnecessary. It turned out that all of the components of her rig’s electrical system were connected and no one wire could be removed without affecting the entire system. Ooops!

My friend’s problem was more difficult and expensive to fix than mine was, but, thankfully, her rig is up and running again.

In any case, please learn a lesson from what my friend and I did wrong. If you don’t really know what you’re doing, don’t remove anything from your rig, unplug anything, or sever any cords. Maybe check the manual, do some research online, or ask a mechanic or knowledgeable friend before you start making changes that could lead to tears and aggravation.

I took the photo in this post.

Ring

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I was walking through the Wal-Mart parking lot in a small mountain town. I heard someone say Ma’am? so I looked over. At first I thought the person talking to me was a young man. Based on appearance—shaved head, flat chest, shapeless athletic-style garments—I guessed the person was male. However, when the person spoke, there was a softness to the voice I didn’t expect. Was the person transgender? A butch lesbian? Neither the person’s gender no sexual orientation really mattered, but still, I was curious.

I’d seen the person earlier when I’d pulled into a parking space. The Man and I had sat in our vehicle for a few minutes discussing what we needed to buy in the store. In the parking row ahead of us, I’d seen this person emerge from the passenger side of a small, beat up car. They were carrying a purple case, the kind a child might use to transport a few sheets of paper and a handful of crayons. I’d wondered what was in the case. Now I’d have my chance to find out.

Ma’am? the person asked again. I stopped walking, and the person went on with their story. They were a miner and a jewelry maker. They lived in an even smaller town down the road, and their car was having problems. They were trying to sell some of the jewelry they’d made so they could pay for repairs on the car. Their higher end jewelry was for sale on Etsy, but that money could take a while to come through.

All of the preceding information was conveyed in a rapid-fire, highly enthusiastic manner.

I said I would take a look at what they were selling. They opened the case and started pointing to stones and rings and pendants. They had mined the stones and turned them into jewelry, they said. They were pointing out stones, telling me they names of the stones and where they had found them. They were talking very fast.

I hate to dis an artist, but I have to say, neither the jewelry nor the stones were impressive. The design and workmanship of the jewelry screamed absolute beginner without much talent. The stones were not cut well and barely showed a polish. Although I didn’t think the work was very good, I did want to help this person. They obviously needed money if they were hawking jewelry in Wal-Mart parking lot.

I should have just handed over five bucks and been done with it, but I like to encourage artists too. We were all beginners once. People bought my hemp jewelry when it wasn’t very good. I could do the same for another beginner.

A ring in the case caught my eye. I picked it up and the jewelry maker said they’d mined the stone. They told me where they’d found it. I tried on the ring and it fit. I’m a sucker for a ring that fits, so I asked the price. They said it was $20.

I should have handed over five bucks and left the ring, but I wanted to help. I wanted to encourage. I pulled a $20 bill from my wallet and handed it over. I had a new ring.

I introduced myself by way of parting. They told me the name they used when selling jewelry, then went on to give me their full, legal (feminine) name in order to explain their nickname. I asked if they had a card, but they didn’t. I gave them my card, although I’m not sure why I thought that was a good idea at the time.

I really wanted to part ways now. The Man was waiting in the truck and was probably ready to head home.

I took a step away, and the person took a step toward me. They started telling me about spending the winter in Quartzsite.

My partner ripped me off, they said. (I don’t know if they meant a business partner or a romantic partner.)

I had a small problem with a warrant in New Mexico. When I got picked up, my partner took everything! Here they named a huge dollar amount of supposedly stolen inventory and ended with saying the partner even stole my dog!

Whether this was true or not, I don’t know. However, I do know that if one wants to generate sympathy, one might tell a story in which a partner does one wrong by stealing not only a huge amount of merchandise, but one’s beloved pet as well.

It was all TMI to me. I just wanted to get out of there.

Ok! See you later! I said brightly when there was the slightest pause in the monologue. I took off, found the truck where The Man was waiting, and got in.

Look at my new ring, I told The Man as I handed it over for his inspection. He looked at it more closely than I had.

Ring made from rusty metal and a small piece of pink stone worn on the middle finger
That’s the ring I paid $20 for.

I think it’s made of barbed wire, he said, handing it back to me. I examined it. I thought he was right. Great. I’d paid $20 for a ring that was likely to give me tetanus.

I told The Man about the encounter that had led me to buy the ring. I think that person was on meth, I said as I wrapped up the story. This idea hadn’t occurred to me while I was talking to them, but now it seemed perfectly clear. Trying to sell trinkets in a parking lot was the first potential sign. The pride in the poorly crafted goods was a red flag I had ignored. The rapid speech and over-excitement should have both been tip-offs. The oversharing was another sign. If the sad stories (broke down car, lowdown partner, theft of merchandise and dog) didn’t give it away, certainly the slightly sweaty look of their face even though it was a cool evening should have.

Backside of a ring made from rusty metal worn on the middle finger
Backside of the ring I paid $20 for.

I didn’t realize it then, but I realized it now: I’d been suckered.

You helped them get whatever they needed tonight, The Man comforted me.

I hoped they’d use the $20 I forked over to really turn their life around…but I knew $20 wasn’t enough to turn any life around. Twenty dollars is really so little.

In the end, I faced the fact that it wasn’t my job to save that person, and it wasn’t that person’s job to be saved. I remembered how when Mr. Carolina gave money to someone flying a sign or panhandling in a parking lot, he didn’t care what the person used the money for. He gave the money to help the person get whatever they needed in the moment, be it food, beer, or crack. It’s not our place to judge, Mr. Carolina taught me, and it’s not our place to tell other people what they do or don’t need. People make their own decisions, and when it comes down to it, we can help each other, but each of us has to decide to save ourselves (or not).

All that said, I hope I was wrong about the person I met in the parking lot of that small-town Wal-Mart that cool spring night. I hope there’s no meth habit holding them down. I hope their skills grow, and they can one day make the jewelry as they currently envision it. I hope their car gets fixed. I hope they find a trust-worthy partner and a new dog to love. I hope they soar.  

I took the photos in this post.

Baguettes

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Six Baked BreadsThe couple was very young, maybe in their early 20s, but probably closer to 18.

The woman had dirty blond hair, the sides pulled away from her face. She wasn’t wearing any makeup, or if she was, it was so artfully done I couldn’t tell it was there. She looked like a cute, natural young woman out for a day in the forest.

The guy had blond hair too, but his was the result of an unfortunate dying incident. It was that unnatural orange color caused by trying to bleach dark hair too fast. But what do I know? Maybe he loved his hair color. Maybe he enjoyed the rebellion of an obviously unnatural hair color. Maybe his hair color was the envy of all his friends. In the grand scheme of things, his hair color meant very little to me.

The couple walked into the Mercantile, and I said hello. The young man returned my greeting, and I identified him by his accent immediately. With that one word, I knew his first language was French, although I couldn’t tell you if he had grown up in France or Belgium or Quebec.

If I had any doubt about his Frenchness, it was dispelled by his next words.

Ah, we were looking for some baguettes

I almost burst out laughing. The French guy wanted baguettes? Are you fucking with me, kid?

It was the second time that season that a French man had come into the Mercantile and behaved so Picture of Eiffel Towerstereotypically French that I wondered if someone was pulling a prank on me. The first guy has such a stereotypical French accent and such stereotypical French mannerisms that I honestly wondered if he was just pretending to be French. He seemed too over the top to be real. It was only when his parents joined him in the store and I saw they were French but not comically so that I decided the young guy was French…in fact, he was very, very French.

And now this young French man was asking for baguettes. Is there a more French thing a person could ask for?

Baguettes? No, I answered sadly, still trying not to laugh. We don’t have any baguettes. What I didn’t say is, We’re on top of a mountain, and there are no bakeries for 40 miles in any direction.

Is there any other store nearby? The young French man asked. He clearly was not easily discouraged.

I pointed right and said, There’s a general store ten miles that way, then I pointed left and said, and there’s a general store ten miles that way, but I’m pretty sure they don’t have baguettes either.

Ok, the young French man said. We look around for something else.

Apparently nothing in our selection of chips, candy, and granola bars could substitute for a baguette because the young people bought nothing. They walked quickly around the yurt, then left to continue their quest for the bread of their people.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/baguette-bakery-blur-bread-461060/ and https://www.pexels.com/photo/picture-of-eiffel-tower-338515/.