Locked Out! Ten Tips for Preventing a Lockout and for Dealing with the Situation if It Happens

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I locked myself out of this van many times.

I’ve locked myself out of my vehicle several times. It’s happened in the city, and it’s happened in the middle of nowhere. It’s bad enough when a person living in a conventional dwelling in a town or city locks themselves out of a vehicle, but those folks usually have resources to help them deal with the situation. They may have friends, neighbors, or family members available to assist. Even if they don’t have roadside assistance coverage, they may be able to find a reasonably priced locksmith to unlock the vehicle. If all else fails, they may be able to take a bus or walk to where they need to be, whether that’s work, home (where someone else who lives there might be able to let them in to get a spare key), or a friend’s house.

Nomads often find themselves in situations without a helpful local support network to turn to for help. Rubber Tramps often have to rely on themselves or the kindness of strangers. My tips for preventing, preparing for, and dealing with a lockout can help you get through this challenge of life on the road.

#1 Admit to yourself that a lockout if bound to happen. While some people are convinced that thinking about a negative event will cause that event to happen, I’m convinced that thinking about a negative event will allow me to prepare for it. Think about the ways you can prepare for a lockout. Think about how you will handle a lockout if it occurs in different locations. How you handle a lockout in the city will be different from how you handle it in a remote location. How you handle a lockout if you have roadside assistance will be different from how you handle it if you don’t have that kind of coverage.

When I was a full-time vandweller, I wore my keys around my neck on a long lanyard made of beaded Stretch Magic cord.

#2 Know where your keys are. When I was a full-time vandweller, my first rule of van life was Always know where your keys are. I wore the keys to my van around my neck for years. I found them a lot easier to keep tabs on when they were on my person. The keys hung around my neck until I put the starter key in the ignition. As soon as I parked and turned off the engine, the keys went back around my neck. Before I got out of the van, I physically touched the keys to make sure they were where they were supposed to be.

If wearing keys around your neck doesn’t work for you, that’s fine. Just make sure when you exit the vehicle, you know where your keys are before you lock the doors. Don’t ever assume the keys are where they are supposed to be; physically check before you lock.

#3 Keep a spare key in something you always take with you. If you always carry your purse or backpack or wallet or case for your sunglasses with you, keep a spare key there.  That way, if you leave your main set of keys on the dashboard or in the bed, you’ll have a spare with you. Of course, if you leave the purse or backpack or wallet or sunglass case behind, the spare won’t be able to help you if you lose your keys or lock them inside your rig.

#4 Hide a key under your rig. Some nomads swear by this trick, although I’ve never done it myself. Many department stores and hardware stores sell little boxes that hold a spare key. The boxes have a magnet on them to hold them to the metal underside of a vehicle or motorhome. I’ve always been afraid the box would bounce off on a bumpy road, and I’d be left keyless in my time of need. I’ve been assured the magnets on the boxes are very strong. If I were using this method of protection, I would determine the strength of the magnet before hitting the road and maybe add some additional magnets for added protection against losing the box and key.

Another way to hide a key under a rig is by taping it to the frame. If I were going to do this, I would use Gorilla Tape (the strongest I’ve found) to attach the key in an out-of-the-way place. I would use plenty of tape and make sure the key was firmly attached.

My biggest fear about hiding a key under my rig is that a knowing thief could come along, find the key, and steal my not just my ride, but my home too. When hiding a key under a rig, you’ll want to find the sweet spot between making the hiding place too difficult for you to get to but not making it difficult enough to thwart a thief. Find the best hiding place you can and don’t tell anyone you don’t trust completely where it is.

#5 If you stay in one area, leave a spare key with someone you trust. Maybe another nomad could keep a spare key for your van on their key ring or in their rig. Maybe you have a friend or relative in town who could hold onto a spare for you.

#6 If you’re traveling with other people, get one of those folks to carry your spare key. When I traveled with Mr. Carolina, I had copies of keys to unlock the van’s doors and start the engine made. I put those keys on a ring and had him carry them.  Later when The Man and I began traveling together, I handed the keys over to him. I never locked myself out when I traveled with either of those guys, but if I had, the spare keys they carried would have made the lockout no big deal.

#7 Have roadside assistance that covers lockouts.Roadside assistance may not help you if you are in a remote location, but it can be a lifesaver if you’re in a city when you lock yourself out.

When I lived full-time in my van, I had roadside assistance through my insurance policy. Now that I drive a truck that I don’t live in, I still have roadside assistance through my insurance policy. I pay less than $40 a year for roadside assistance that covers towing, opening a locked vehicle, changing a flat tire, jump starting a dead battery, and delivering fuel if I run out.

Other organizations that provide roadside assistance, including lockout services, include the American Automobile Association (AAA), the Good Sam Club, and the Better World Club, and the Paragon Motor Club. (To learn more about the companies mentioned above and others, check out the RV Living Now article “Best Roadside Assistance Plans for RVs.“)

Compare plans before you sign up for service. Cost is not the only factor you should consider.  Some plans only cover RVs, so if you’re a vandweller, be sure the plan you are considering will cover you. If you spend most of your time in remote locations, make sure the company you chose will actually dispatch a service person if you are far from a city. For example, AAA won’t provide services if the repair person has to drive on a dirt road to get to your rig. Before you spend any money, know what services the plan you’re choosing provides and how many times per year you can use the services.

#8 Know the phone number to your roadside assistance provider. Having roadside assistance isn’t going to help if you can’t contact the dispatcher. Keep the phone number to your roadside assistance provider in your wallet or program it into your phone.

#9 Keep your phone on you. On two occasions, I not only locked my keys in my van, but I also left my phone inside. Luckily the number to my roadside assistance provider was in my wallet, and I’d brought my wallet with me. I had to beg the workers at the Goodwill Clearance Center where I was shopping to let me use the office phone to make the call. I understand wanting to leave the phone behind sometimes, but it can be a huge help in the event of a lockout.

#10 Plan ahead for breaking into your rig. What would you do if you were in a remote location and had no phone service to call for help or couldn’t afford to pay the fee for a locksmith to make the long trip to where you were? What if you locked your phone in your rig and couldn’t call for help?

During our last summer working on the mountain in California, The Man managed to lock both his keys and Jerico the dog in his minivan. When I returned to the campground after work, he had been trying for hours to break into the vehicle. He tried using the radio antenna, a screwdriver, and a metal marshmallow roasting stick to unlock a door, but couldn’t get anything to work. We went back to the Mercantile and used the phone to call a tow service in the closest little town. The dispatcher said she could send someone to pop the lock, but charges would begin to accrue when the locksmith started the drive up the mountain. It was going to cost hundreds of dollars to get the minivan open, and The Man didn’t have roadside assistance on his insurance policy.

We returned to the campground, and The Man was determined to get into the minivan. Finally, he took the handle mechanism off of one of the sliding side doors and was able to finagle the latch to get the door to open. Jerico was happy to be free, but The Man was sad he’d damaged the door handle beyond repair.

A good Samaritan popped the pin out of the hinge so I could get into the van after I locked my keys inside.

On another occasion while I was traveling alone, I locked both my keys and phone in my van. I was on the brink of trying to bust a window when a good Samaritan used a hammer and chisel to remove one of my van’s side doors from its hinges. Once the door was off its hinges, I was able to reach in and unlock the door.

What I’m suggesting here is that you think about how you would get into your rig before you actually have to do so. Is there a window you could shimmy through if it were open? Is there a window you could pry open if necessary? Could you pop the lock with the right piece of long metal? Could you remove a door from a hinge if necessary?

Breaking into your own rig should be a last resort, but have a plan for doing so if it’s ever necessary.

So there you have it, ten tips to help you prevent a lockout or deal with it once it happens. Any other ideas? Please share them in the comments section below.

I took the photos in this post.

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Tomorrow is National Punctuation Day

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Tomorrow is National Punctuation Day. According to Wikipedia,


Founded by Jeff Rubin in 2004, National Punctuation Day simply promotes the correct usage of punctuation. Rubin encourages appreciators of correct punctuation and spelling to send in pictures of errors spotted in everyday life.[2]

On the eve of the day when we contemplate proper punctuation, I have an example of what not to do. Of course, there is a back story to this cautionary tale.

My grandma’s house had five bedrooms. After her husband (my grandfather) died and her youngest child (my father) left the nest, my grandmother found herself with more bedrooms than she needed. She decided she’d rent the extra bedrooms to single men and make a few extra bucks.

I’m not sure when my grandma started renting the rooms. My parents married in 1966, although I think my dad left home shortly after he graduated from high school in 1963. The renters were in my grandmother’s house throughout my early childhood in the 1970s. I don’t remember when exactly they left, but sometime in my teenage years, the extra rooms stood empty again.

I don’t know if renting those rooms fell within the laws of the small town where my grandmother’s house stood. If she had some sort of license from city hall, I never saw it. If a health inspector ever came by to check for violations, I never heard talk of it. Maybe in those days no bureaucracy cared if a widow rented out her extra rooms to single men looking for basic accommodations that wouldn’t cost too much.

The front door of my grandma’s house faced the street. The renters used the front door to access their living spaces. My grandmother’s friends and family entered her home through the side door that opened into her kitchen.

The front door opened into a narrow, dark hallway. Room #1 was on one side of the hallway; room #2 was directly across from it. Room #3 was behind Room #2. Sometimes when I stayed with my grandma, I’d go into the renters’ rooms with her and help her change the sheet which had been dried on the clothesline in the backyard and smelled of sunshine and grass. On the days we went quietly into the front of the house, the men had deserted the area in favor of work, but I still felt their presence like ghosts moving through their quiet room.

The rooms were sparsely furnished with a straight-backed chair and a twin bed. Clothes were stored in a small chest-of-drawers and a narrow closet. I don’t remember seeing a television in any of the rooms. What did the men living there do for entertainment after working all day? Perhaps they read books or listened to music on the radio. Perhaps they sat quietly and daydreamed of better days when they could afford homes and families of their own,.

The hallway from the front door opened into the common area. A refrigerator stood against the side wall; a table was pushed up against the wall the renters shared with my grandma’s kitchen. A couple of straight-backed chairs accompanied the table. The common area offered little comfort or color. To the right of the table was the door to the bathroom the men shared.

Of course, there were rules. The renters were not allowed to eat or drink in their bedrooms, only in the dining room. As someone who has rented rooms in people’s homes for short term stays, this rule blows me away. I can’t imagine being told I couldn’t eat in my own living space. Of course, I’m sure my grandmother was worried about spilled food attracting bugs (and in the Deep South, by “bugs,” we always meant roaches), but any insects attracted to the dining room would soon move through the house anyway.

The second rule was about ladies. No ladies were allowed (or “aloud,” as my grandmother spelled it). My grandma was no fool. She knew ladies in the house would lead to s-e-x, and as a good Catholic, I’m sure she wanted to limit the amount of sin occurring under her roof. If ladies were kept outside, the incidents of sex would be greatly reduced.

To make the rules clear, my grandmother made a sign.

Brown sign hangs on a white wall. Words written in black paint read No Eat Or Drink In Bed Room In Dining Only & No Lady Aloud. There is a comma between every word, inclduding "bed" and "room."

In her defense, my grandmother didn’t speak any English until she went off to first grade and was forced to learn the language. I think she only stayed in school for a few years, and she certainly didn’t graduate from high school. I understand her grasp on punctuation and spelling was weak at best. But even as little kids, my sibling and I knew the comma use on that sign was out of control.

It’s been suggested to me that perhaps because the words ended up so close together on the sign, my grandma used the commas to mark the space between words. Perhaps that theory reflects what happened, but I think it’s a too generous reading of the situation. I think my grandma, unsure of where to properly place any necessary commas, took a “more is better” approach to punctuating her sign. If one comma was good, ten commas must have seemed even better.

My dad liked to use commas excessively too, although I never saw him go quite as overboard as his mother did with the sign in question. I tend to sprinkle commas at a rate most textbooks would find a bit liberal, as does my sibling. Could excessive comma use be a genetic trait? Is it growing weaker because of the introduction of genes that don’t have the markers for excessive comma use, or has the educational system done its job of nurturing us beyond our comma prolific nature?

In my teenage years the renters departed one by one and were not replaced. The last to go was Mr. Jim, one day too old to live alone in the room he’d called home for decades. Whether he went to live with a family member or to spend his last days in a nursing home, I don’t remember. Neither can I recall whey my grandmother stopped replacing the renters when they left. Maybe the town ordinances changed, or may my grandma grew too old herself and could no longer change the sheets alone or feel safe with strangers on the other side of a door unlocked with a skeleton key.

Once the renters left, my sibling and I were allowed to take showers in the bathroom in the front of the house, as the bathroom in the main part of the house only had a tub. My sibling and I really needed a shower to wash our hair properly, so we preferred the front bathroom for our morning ablutions on the weekends we spent at our grandmother’s house. It was during one of these trips to the front bathroom that my sibling snapped the photo of the sign. This was back in the days of film, when by the the time you found out your photo was off center of the edge was cut off, it was too late. Neither my sibling nor I ever got another chance to snap a photo of the sign.

I wonder what happened to the sign. Surely when my grandma’s house was sold after she went to live in a nursing home, the sign was put in the shed or thrown in the trash. I sure do with I had that sign, a reminder of my childhood, a family legacy more precious than gold.

To learn more about National Punctuation Day, visit the official (?) website.

My sibling took the photo. I’m using it with permission.


Cold?

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A lot of people who came up the mountain for the first time didn’t know what to expect.

What’s the weather going to do? people asked me.

I wanted to say, If I could predict the weather accurately, I would be a millionaire, and I wouldn’t have to work here.

Instead, I would say brightly, It’s the mountains! Anything could happen! That was pretty much the truth too.

Sometimes people asked me if we were going to get rain.

If we’re lucky! I’d say with a big smile on my face. California was a dry place during the four seasons I worked there. We were lucky if it rained. However, people on camping trips usually fail to feel fortunate when they are rained on.

In late June of my fourth season on the mountain, a man and a woman walked into the Mercantile where I was working. They appeared to be in their early 40s. I think they were on a day trip, checking out the area with the thought of maybe coming back to camp at some later date. They ended up buying two walking sticks, and the guy treated himself to what the tag described as a “twill safari hat.”

Does it get cold up here at night? the fellow asked me.

I paused before I spoke and considered my answer. It does get cold there in the winter, but I figured this guy was probably asking about summer temperatures. I wondered what he considered cold. I wondered if what I consider cold is the same as what he considers cold.

After several silent seconds, I said, What do you mean by cold?

He said, 60, 65 degrees. Selective Focus Photography of Person Holding the Adventure Begins Mug

I almost burst out laughing. Really? Sixty-five degrees is cold?

I realize I like my nighttime temperatures lower than many people do. I like my nighttime lows in the 30s so I can sleep snuggled under my down comforter, but I realize most people (especially most people from Southern California) don’t necessarily feel that way. If this guy had defined cold as 30 degrees or 48 or even 55, I would have understood where he was coming from even if I didn’t personally agree. Sixty-five though—maybe that’s cool, but cold? Isn’t 65 degree what most people consider the perfect temperature?

If this man defined 65 degrees as cold, there was only one answer to give: Yes, it gets cold up here at night. It’s not unusual for the temperature to drop to 60 or 65 degrees overnight.

The guy seemed immensely disappointed. I guess I’d dashed his hopes for a comfortable night’s sleep on the mountain.

I wish I had thought to ask how hot was too hot for him. Maybe he was one of those people who just really dig the heat.

Image courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/selective-focus-photography-of-person-holding-the-adventure-begins-mug-891252/.

Tips for the New Traveler: How to Handle Your First Big Trip (Guest Post)

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Today’s guest post by Catherine Workman is all about how to have a great time on your very first big trip. You’ll get tips on everything from packing to getting your vehicle ready for the road. If you are a new traveler, this post is a great place to start planning for a successful trip.

Photo via Pixabay

Traveling across the nation or to a new country is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many people. Such a trip can offer a chance to be independent and strike out on your own. A big trip can be a bit overwhelming, especially for folks who’ve never been away from home for an extended period of time. Not only is there homesickness to worry about, but it’s also important to try to prevent or plan for any travel issues that might make the trip more difficult. 

Fortunately, there are several things you can do to plan for your journey and stay safe, calm, and on-budget the entire time. Start making preparations well ahead of time so you can find the best deals on accommodations and activities, and get to know the details of your chosen mode of transportation. For instance, if you’ll be driving, make sure you understand your insurance policy and research the rules of the road along your route, as laws vary by state.

Here are a few tips to help get you started on your journey.

Become Familiar with Your Insurance Policy

If you’re going to be driving a long distance, it’s a good idea to review your insurance policy before you leave, especially if it’s time for renewal. If you’re still on your parents’ plan due to age, that’s probably your best bet cost-wise. If you’re switching to your own policy, note that if you’re younger than 25, your premiums could be high. However, if you’re at least 20 years old and have four years that reflect a good driving record, you might be eligible for a discount. If you already have liability coverage, now is the time to consider expanding that coverage, especially if you’re hitting the road for an indefinite period of time. You want enough insurance to protect yourself financially (repairs, medical bills, etc.) should you get into an accident. You also want coverage that will reimburse you in the event of storm damage or vandalism. When you’re far from home, you’ll be glad to know you’re covered no matter what happens during the trip.

Get to Know Your Vehicle

Taking a road trip can be great fun…until the car breaks down in an unfamiliar city. You can save yourself a lot of grief and hassle if you do some research on your vehicle before you leave. Find out all you can about your vehicle, including gas mileage and interior space. If you have the manual that came with your vehicle, read it cover to cover.

For safety purposes, you should also know how to check your car’s battery, tires, brakes, A/C, and electrical system before you travel, to ensure that nothing needs to be fixed or replaced. If you don’t have the skills to check everything before you go, drop by your mechanic’s shop and get the vehicle a check-up before you hit the road.

It’s especially important to do some homework if you’re going to rent a car, so read up on the pros and cons regarding your options.

Decide On Transportation and Accommodations

The two costliest aspects of most trips are your transportation and accommodations. Fortunately, if you are staying in the US, you are not limited to flying or driving long distances. Don’t count out traveling by rail or bus if you don’t want to drive. Similarly, if you can give yourself a few extra days, you can make the drive part of your adventure. You also have many accommodation options at home and abroad. Instead of a hotel, look for private rental. While these will not always come with the conveniences of a Marriott or Hilton, you’ll have access to a kitchen and plenty of space to relax.

Budget Well

Taking a trip of any kind can become costly, so it’s crucial that you budget and remain on track as closely as possible. Take into account the true cost of the trip, from your meals to your accommodations, and look for discounts online that will help you save money on your expenses. Keep in mind that it’s best not to travel with a lot of cash, but if you do, learn how to keep it safe. Always have an emergency contact in case you lose your wallet or have your purse stolen. 

Pack Like a Pro

No two types of trips require the same attire, gear, or accessories. Make sure that your suitcase is filled with only the items that you will actually need for your excursion. If you are going to the beach, for example, two swimsuits, an extra pair of flip-flops, and plenty of sunscreen are a must.

A mountain hiking vacation will necessitate things like hiking boots, an emergency poncho, a weather-proof backpack, and, most importantly, a compass and paper map so you are prepared if your phone’s GPS goes off-line. No matter where you go, you will need your ID and, if you are traveling out of the country, a passport, which you should apply for at least three months before your departure.

Don’t Be Afraid of Last-Minute Travel

Conventional wisdom says the sooner you book, the better off you’ll be. While you can usually get great deals by booking months ahead of time, there are also plenty of opportunities to enjoy a last-minute getaway without paying a premium. When you get down to the 72-hour-ahead mark, call your preferred accommodations, airline, or other transportation and ask if they have discounts on open seats. Waiting until a few days before is also a good way to get rock-bottom prices on cruises, especially in the off-season when stateroom availability is plentiful.

Expect the Unexpected

When you’re traveling to a new place for the first time, it can be surprising to see and experience so many differences from home. Keep in mind that each area has its own personality, and you may have to adjust to new cultures, new food and drink, and new languages depending on where you travel to. If you go into it with an open mind, you can ensure a good time and lots of great memories. If you have an issue with stress, panic disorder, or anxiety, bring along comfort items, and consider using meditation to help you relax.

Traveling a long distance for the first time can be liberating and fun, but it can also be stressful, especially if you suffer from anxiety or if you’ve never been away from home for an extended time. Take precautions to ensure your safety is a priority, and plan well in advance so there won’t be any surprises when you’re away from home. A little planning can go a long way!

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

Inside Out

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I was selling at a farmers market in a small Arizona town. I’d brought a bunch of new rocks from Quartzsite, and they were practically flying off my table. It was turning out to be a lucrative day.

It was late in the morning when the woman walked up to my table. She was probably in her late 50s. Her hair was died a tasteful dark red, and her makeup was understated by apparent. She was wearing a flowy, cream colored blouse, and she held a little dog in her arms.

These stones are septarian concretions, also known as dragon stones or dragon eggs.

I told her about the septarian concretions on my table and the $3 hearts cut from agate, carnelian, labradorite, and rose quartz. The woman was polite, but seemed distracted. She gave my wares a cursory look, but didn’t seem interested in anything I was selling.

As she moved toward the end of my table, I thought I saw a white tag on the side seam of her blouse. I thought it was strange to see a tag on the outside of her blouse. Had this woman put her shirt on inside out and was now wearing it that way around town?

I was concerned for the woman because I put on my own shirt inside out much too often. Especially when I’m living in my van, especially if I get dressed before the sun’s fully out, especially if I’m rewearing a sweatshirt I hurriedly pulled over my head and tossed into a corner before I fell asleep, I might find myself wearing a shirt with the wrong side out. Sometimes I wear the shirt with the seams and tag showing for hours before I realize what’s up. I’m always a little sheepish when I realize that at nearly 50 years old, I still can’t successfully dress myself on a consistent basis.

I wanted to spare this woman embarrassment, but I also didn’t want to insult her. Maybe this was a fancy designer blouse and the tag had been purposefully placed on the outside of the side seam. I certainly wouldn’t know if this was some sort of new style.

I surveyed the woman’s shirt as she moved along my table. I didn’t see obvious seams, but there was certainly a tag on the side where two pieces of fabric usually come together. Should I say something?

As she turned to walk away, I saw another tag on the back of the shirt’s neckline, right in the spot where shirt manufacturers typically put tags. Now the shirt really appeared to be inside out. It was now or never!

Ma’am? I called out. She turned right around and looked at me.

I took three steps over and stood close to her. I leaned in and said in a low voice, I think your shirt is on inside out. I was striving to present no judgement, just to state my perceptions of the circumstances at hand.

Oh! I did that when I got dressed! she exclaimed. Apparently she’d realized she’d put on her shirt inside out, meant to switch it, but had moved on to other activities and had forgotten her fashion mistake.

Now I’m going to have to go back to my camper to change it, she told me.

I don’t care if you don’t care, I said, trying to reassure her.

But I do care! she said.

She headed toward the parking lot, and I went back to my table. About ten minutes later, the woman came by again to tell me she’d flipped her shirt. There was not a tag in sight.

I took the photo in this post.

Flex Fuel

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I could tell the woman was mad by the way she approached the kiosk. She was short—probably not even 5 feet tall—but she swaggered like a football player taking the field.

Her hair was totally white and cut short. She wore glasses and a black t-shirt with chile peppers screen printed on it. (When she turned around, I saw the back of the shirt read “Some like it hot.”)

She never smiled when I asked how I could help her this morning.

Only the light for the flex fuel comes on! she complained.

I found out what pump she was on and said I’d come out and try to help. Was the flex fuel going to give us problems now? Two diesel pumps were out of order already. I didn’t really need another problem so early in the morning.

I left the kiosk and found the woman waiting for me. I followed her to the pump where her car was parked. As soon as she got there, she grabbed the yellow handle of the flex fuel nozzle from under the yellow sign that read “flex fuel this nozzle only.” When she lifted the nozzle, the light on the flex fuel selector button lit up.

Only the light for flex fuel comes on! she said as if she hated me, my ancestors, and my descendants.

I was trying really hard to understand what was going on. It seemed to me that if one lifted the flex fuel handle, one should expect the light for flex fuel to come on.

Do you want flex fuel? I asked.

Noooooooo!  she wailed as if I were the dumbest dummy she’d ever encountered. She was exceptionally frustrated.

Oh. Well, go ahead and hang up the flex fuel nozzle, I told her.

She hung it up, and I grabbed the handle to the gasoline nozzle. As soon as I lifted the gasoline handle, the lights on the selectors for regular, midgrade, and premium lit up.

Oh, the woman said flatly. I’m sorry.

She didn’t sound sorry. She sounded still pissed, but also embarrassed.

Don’t worry about, I told her. It happens all the time, I said, even though it hadn’t happened even once before in the month I’d worked at the fuel center. 

World Suicide Prevention Day

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2019 World Suicide Prevention Day banner in English

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. According to the World Suicide Prevention Day website,

Suicide prevention remains a universal challenge. Every year, suicide is among the top 20 leading causes of death globally for people of all ages. It is responsible for over 800,000 deaths, which equates to one suicide every 40 seconds.

To help call attention to this tragic reality, today’s post is about my own experience with suicide.

The Man and I were going over the Bridge at 10 o’clock on a Saturday morning in early June. I was driving. When we were in the middle of the Bridge, I looked over and saw two uniformed state troopers standing on the observation deck. They were looking down, down, down, into the river. One peered through a pair of binoculars, and the other looked with his naked eyes.

Oh no!  I said. Someone must have jumped. I knew those state troopers weren’t bird watching. If they were looking down at the river on a Saturday morning, they were probably trying to spot a body.

Do you think so? The Man asked.

Unfortunately, I had to say yes.

When I sold jewelry and shiny rocks at the Bridge, it was always a sad time for me after someone jumped. Whenever I got word that a suicide had happened, I packed up my merchandise and went elsewhere for the day. Too many people (tourists and vendors alike) wanted to talk about the event as if it was only the latest bit of juicy gossip. Other people made bad jokes about suicide or said indignantly that it was something they would never do. Suicide has been a reality I’ve faced throughout my life, and I don’t take it lightly. There’s nothing funny about it as far as I’m concerned. Any time a person is so distraught that taking their own life seems like a good idea is a time for sorrow and mourning.

Even with the call boxes offering a direct line to a suicide prevention hotline placed on and around the Bridge, people still jump. Some people have given up, and no hotline can save them. Of course, I’m glad the call boxes are there. I’m glad they’re available to help the people who can be reached, the people who are undecided, the people who may be swayed by the kind voice of a stranger coming out of a speaker.

About three hours after I saw the state troopers on the Bridge, we headed over it again on our way home. I saw several vehicles marked “State Police.” They were all parked on the sides of the highway and none of them had lights or sirens on.

Something is definitely going on, I told The Man. Did you see all those State Police cars?

He had seen them too. We both knew those cops weren’t out at the Bridge having a picnic. We were both quiet the rest of the way home.

On Wednesday, my fears were confirmed.

I was listening to the local community radio station while I washed dishes. One of the news stories was about a woman who had committed suicide by jumping off the Bridge the previous Saturday. I was sad to have been right.

The radio announcer didn’t give many details about the death. He said the State Police don’t release the names of suicide victims out of respect for the survivors. He did say the woman had driven hours from her home in the big city to jump off the Bridge. Her family said she’d been depressed and talking about suicide. When her family members couldn’t get in touch with her, they called the State Police and asked them to do a wellness check.

The State Police found the woman’s car in the rest area adjacent to the Bridge. After finding the car, they started looking for the woman in the rest area. When they couldn’t find her there, they started looking below the Bridge. Unfortunately, that’s where they found her. I don’t know if she jumped at night so the darkness shielded her from the sight of her body’s final destination or if she waited until after sunrise so she could see where she was going. However it happened, by 10am she was gone.

The radio announcer said the woman was the second person to jump off the Bridge in 2019. The first person had jumped in April.

When someone jumps, I think it’s a sad and somber occasion, even if I’m not at the Bridge when it happens or when the body is discovered. When someone jumps, a life is over, a light has gone out, potential will never be realized. I know the pain and distress that leads people to kill themselves, and I don’t wish such hurt and sadness on anyone. 

Honestly, I’ve considered jumping from that bridge several times. I’m not sure what’s held me back, but whenever someone ends their life there, I think about how it could have been me. I have a personal connection with every single person who jumps from the Bridge.

Whenever I drive across the Bridge—especially in the early morning when I’m alone in the truck—I fantasize about seeing someone about to jump, stopping the truck, intervening, driving the person to safety. I was too late for the woman in June, but maybe I’ll be right on time for the next person.

If you are feeling sad, depressed, distraught, or suicidal, you can reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1800-273-8255. The hotline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. If you have internet access, you can find more information on the hotline’s website. If you’d rather chat with a counselor instead of talking, you can do so from the website. If you’re having trouble, please ask for help.

Sick Dog

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Jerico the Dog! (Photo by The Man)

The Man says Jerico the dog has suffered from acid reflux since he was a puppy. I don’t remember the first time I woke up in the night to find Jerico swallowing rapidly and repeatedly, but this situation became a running theme in our lives. When the swallowing began, a hunt for grass was on. Jerico would eat the grass (with gusto, obsessively) and eventually puke it up. The puking seemed to settle his stomach and let him rest.

There was grass for Jerico to eat in this meadow. (I took this photo.)

Finding grass was no problem if we were camped near a river or a meadow, but it was harder to come by if we were in a desert. I remember once waking up in a Wal-Mart parking lot in Santa Fe, NM at 4am to the sound of the swallowing dog. The parking lot landscape did not include nonnative grass growing like a lawn (Good for you, Santa Fe Wal-Mart!), so there was nothing for Jerico to eat to induce vomiting. We had to drive off into the dark to find another business (a school, actually) that did landscape with grass.

I worried about Jerico eating grass, especially from an area where it might have been sprayed with chemicals. Who knew what sort of pesticides grass in or around a parking lot might be subjected to? Even if the grass wasn’t sprayed with poisons, was it safe for Jerico to eat so much of it? The Man maintained that dogs naturally eat grass, and since eating grass was the only thing that made Jerico feel better, it was ok for him to do so.

The Man experimented with other remedies. I drove to a supermarket late one night to buy a bottle of Pepto-Bismol to cure Jerico’s ills. The Man poured a dose of the pink stuff down Jerico’s gullet, and it did seem to relieve his stomach woes. Baking soda dissolved in water seemed to work even better. Of course, Jerico didn’t enjoy having anything poured down his throat, so we often had a dried crust (either pink or white, depending on the remedy) on the floor on the morning after one of his attacks. 

If no humans were around when an attack happened and Jerico couldn’t get to grass, he would eat anything he thought might help. Unfortunately, what his dog brain thought might help never did. Once I left a long, thin strip of sheet hanging in the bathroom of the fifth wheel. (I was sure I’d find a use for it eventually.)  The Man came home to find Jerico had eaten it (then puked it back up) in a fit of acid reflux. Another time when we went on a hike that lasted waaay longer than we thought it would, Jerico chewed the portion of the plastic garbage bag that hung over the edge of the trash can. Luckily, he puked that up too. The Man lived in fear that Jerico would eat a plastic grocery store bag (or something equally dangerous) if he were to have an attack while we were away. Jerico didn’t stay home alone much.

We tried planting grass near the fifth wheel in the Sonoran Desert. I bought special organic “cat grass,” and The Man planted it, but it didn’t grow. I think it might have done better in a planter instead of going directly into the ground.

In retrospect, I see how Jerico’s bouts of acid reflux were getting more frequent. The Man must have recognized it too, even if only on a subconscious level. He did some research on diet and acid reflux and found that beef can exacerbate the condition. Jerico didn’t know it, but he’d had his last can of wet dogfood as a treat. He did get canned mackerel sometimes, when The Man could find a brand with no added salt or oil. The Man also switched Jerico to a dry food with salmon as the first ingredient. Jerico’s stomach seemed to do better for a while.

We’d gone into town early one day to take showers and do other errands. When I went to the parking lot after my shower, I saw The Man pulling the truck behind the building. I met him in the back where he’d let Jerico out to eat grass. I knew this meant Jerico was suffering from an attack. Throughout our day, we had to stop several times to let Jerico out to eat more grass. No matter how much he ate, it didn’t seem to help.

At home, he was no better. He kept trying to find something, anything he could eat to help relieve his discomfort. Unfortunately, there was no grass growing anywhere on our property. Finally, The Man (who was working to get our solar power system up and running) asked me to drive Jerico somewhere with grass he could eat.  I ended up driving about three miles before I found some actual grass growing.

I parked the truck on the edge of the road, and Jerico and I crept through the barbed wire fence to get to the patches of deep green grass. I felt like the father of the unborn Rapunzel stealing arugula from the witch to satisfy his wife’s cravings, but what else could I do? I didn’t want to send Jerico to the other side of the fence alone. What if he saw a rabbit and bolted? What if a coyote or a half-wild dog came along and wanted to fight? I felt safer trespassing with him.

I let him eat to his heart’s (stomach’s) content, then loaded him back into the truck. I hoped it was safe to take him home now.

At home he continued to swallow excessively. His stomach still hurt. He wanted more grass.

The Man mixed up some baking soda with water and poured the concoction down Jerico’s throat. We tried to keep the pup calm while we gave the remedy time to work. He was obviously uncomfortable and wanted to pace.

I wonder if dogs can have Zantac, The Man muttered, reaching for the phone to ask Google.

Turns out dogs can have Zantac. I got in the truck and made a trek to town to get the medication. Nearly two hours later, I got home with my precious cargo. The Man cut on of the tablets in half and pushed it down Jerico’s throat. We again tried to keep him calm, and this time after about half an hour, the medication actually worked. We were all able to get some rest that night.

About a week later, Jerico was at it again. We got home from another day of errands. Jerico jumped from the truck and started eating from clumps of grass The Man had recently transplanted. Thus began 18 hours of hell.

First he ate more grass than I’d ever seen him ingest. He literally ate the newly transplanted grass to death.     

When we brought him inside, he stayed in front of the door and paced. When we let him go outside again, he headed straight to the grass and started chomping on it again. This pattern was repeated throughout the evening.

At a quarter to six, the Man gave Jerico half a Zantac. Again, we tried to keep him calm while the medication did its magic. He never calmed down. He continued to swallow and pace. The medicine did no magic.

Around six o’clock, The Man wondered if we should make an emergency visit to a vet. He called the after-hours number of one of the veterinary offices in town. He didn’t specifically say his dog was in an emergency situation, so the woman who answered the phone made an appointment for us to go in the next day.

The only thing other than eating grass that seemed to ease Jerico’s distress was going outside and walking. We weren’t sure if he was soothed by the distraction of the change of scenery or the motion of movement or by the fact that he was in an upright position (or some combination of the three factors), but he was calmer when we took him outside. We spent a lot of time that evening taking Jerico outside, thinking (hoping, praying) he was better, taking him inside, then realizing he wasn’t better at all.

At ten o’clock The Man decided to give Jerico another half a Zantac. I was afraid it was too soon to give him more, but The Man said obviously the first dose hadn’t done anything to solve the problem. He thought a second dose might make things better for Jerico so we could all get some sleep.

The second dose of Zantac did not allow anyone to get any sleep. Jerico continued to move around and swallow. When we took him outside for the last pee of the night, he headed directly to the transplanted clumps of grass and tried to eat some more.

Around midnight I had Jerico on his leash, walking with him around our property when he barfed up a wad of grass that had the approximate look (size, shape, color) of an unshucked cob of corn. Gross! The grass had come back up, but that didn’t solve the problem.

We continued to walk around past 1am, when I grew too tired to stand. Jerico and I went into the trailer and got in the bed with The Man who’d had the pleasure or an hour of sleep.

Jerico never settled down, never stopped swallowing. I got a few hours of fitful sleep, but Jerico’s distress kept me from resting. Around 5am I took him outside again. Sunrise seemed to bring him some relief, although he was by no means well. We were glad he had an appointment with a vet for that day. None of us wanted to spend another night like the one we’d just had.

We arrived at the appointment right on time. Everyone working at the office was friendly and kind. We were brought into an exam room with a vet tech; the doctor came in shortly after. The Man explained everything that had been happening, and the doctor agreed with the diagnosis of acid reflux. He recommended The Man give Jerico 10 mg of Prilosec every day as a preventative measure.

What about eating grass? I asked the vet.

He said grass is really hard on a dog’s throat, mouth, and stomach and we should keep Jerico from eating it if we could.

After nearly two weeks on Prilosec and the special food we bought at the vet’s office, Jerico hadn’t had a single episode. He hadn’t tried to eat grass even once, and he only swallowed in a normal manner. I was glad he was feeling better, and I was glad we were all able to get some sleep.

Two More Little Free Libraries in Phoenix, AZ

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It was November 2017. Nolagirl and I were on an excursion through Phoenix, AZ. We had set out to see Little Free Libraries, and by golly, we were seeing Little Free Libraries.

If you don’t know by now what a Little Free Library (LFL) is, it’s a good time to learn. According to the Little Free Library organization’s FAQs,

anyone may contribute or take books [from a Little Free Library]…If you take a book (or two) from a Library, you do not need to return that exact book. However, in order to keep the Little Library full of good choices for the whole neighborhood, the next time you swing by the Library bring a few books to share. Little Library book exchanges function on the honor system; everyone contributes to ensure there are always quality books inside..

The first LFL we visited was Helen’s Little Free Lending Library on 28th Street. The second one we visited was on Cheery Lynn Street. This second visit was really special because we got to meet the Little Free Library steward. She was the first LFL steward I ever met, and out of all the Little Free Libraries I’ve visited in three states and six cities (Los Gatos, CA; Santa Fe and Taos, NM; Flagstaff, Mesa, and Phoenix, AZ) she is the only LFL steward I’ve ever met!

When we pulled up in front of the Little Free Library on Cheer Lynn Street, there was a car in the driveway, and a young-mom type of woman was taking groceries out of the trunk. She totally saw us pull up, so Nolagirl and I decided we should get out of the car and say hi. We explained to the lady that we were on a Little Free Library tour and asked her if she was the steward of this one. She said yes, we said it was really cute, and she went into her house. It was a totally pleasant, brief exchange.  (It would be surprising and horrible if a Little Free Library steward were a grouchy, mean person who hated talking to strangers.)

This LFL was constructed of wood that had been stained so the natural grain showed clearly. I think the upkeep on this one is probably pretty easy because no paint touchups are required. The sign on the bottom of the door says that this is a registered LFL with a charter number (65262), but it doesn’t have an official name like Helen’s Little Free Lending Library.

Only children’s books were available at the Little Free Library on Cheery Lynn Street.

This LFL held only children’s books, so I didn’t take any. I didn’t leave any either, since I didn’t have any children’s books to donate. I felt ok about my role in both situations. I didn’t need any books, and the LFL was plenty full even if I didn’t leave anything.

Sometime after our visit to Cheery Lynn Street, we went to 11th Avenue, where we found another registered, wooden Little Free Library (charter #10682). This time we did not have the pleasure of meeting the steward. There weren’t many books in this LFL, and I felt sorry I didn’t have a stack to stock it with. What a fun endeavor it would be to drive around with stacks of good books, going from one Little Free Library to another, making sure each one was well stocked with reading material for the people.

Self-portrait in Little Free Library on 11th Avenue. There weren’t very many books in this one.

Irate Hippie

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Pink Peace Light Sign

Aren’t hippies supposed to be about peace and love?

When I returned to the fuel center with the merchandise that needed to be restocked, I saw a shirtless, white-haired person looking into one of the beverage coolers. The person’s hair was longish and worn in low pigtails, so my first impression was that we had a bare-chested older lady on the premises. While I was still contemplating the person’s sex and gender, he stood up and I realized I was looking at a man. He was wearing shorts which combined with his long hair and shirtless condition led me to suspect he was on old hippie.

He took a bottle of iced tea out of the cooler and to the window of the kiosk where my coworker, a young Latino man, was staffing the register.

I was waiting for my coworker to finish with the customer and open the door to the kiosk for me. I held a shopping basket full of tobacco products and idly eavesdropped on the interaction between the coworker and the customer.

The coworker told the customer the price of the bottle of tea. The customer questioned the price. Wasn’t it only $2 a bottle?

The coworker told the customer that was the price with the rewards card.                  

Why didn’t you ask me for the rewards card? the old hipped challenged while digging in his pocket for his card. 

I’m sure I rolled my eyes, at least metaphorically. Anyone who has a reward card knows how it works. Anyone who has a rewards card knows you need to present the card in order to receive a sale price. No sale price is automatic in a store with a rewards card program.

Perhaps the hippie had forgotten about the rewards card. Some people do. If he had forgotten, he could have just pulled it out and presented it, without talking like he was looking for a fight.

And yes, the coworker should have asked for the rewards card right off. That’s what management would like for sure. However, sometimes we forget or we’re tired of talking or we just want customers to take responsibility for their own damn rewards card.

What I didn’t know until later was the hippie’s bottle of tea was frozen. The cooler it came from had been having problems, and I guess all the beverages on the bottom shelf had gotten too cold. My coworker pointed out to the hippie that the tea was frozen and asked him if he was sure he wanted it. The hippie said he wanted it, paid his money, and left.

My coworker opened the door for me and I gave him the basket of tobacco products and the scanner so he could review and receive the merchandise I’d just brought over. While he reviewed and received, I ran my lunch bag and water bottle to my truck. As I returned to the kiosk, a car pulled in and stopped between the booth and pump 3. The old hippie jumped from the car waving the bottle of tea and already ranting. He went up to the kiosk window, and I could hear him complaining but couldn’t understand what he was saying.

My coworker told me when it was all over that the hippie was mad because the tea had spilled on him. He said he said he was going to send the dry cleaning bill to the company we work for. I snorted with laughter.

He wasn’t even wearing a shirt, I said pointing out the obvious. I was pretty sure his shorts were not made from some fancy dry-clean-only material. Besides, how was it the fault of the store or my coworker if the hippie had spilled tea on himself? I spill food and drink on myself all the time; it’s never anyone’s fault but my own.

I was still standing next to the door when my coworker came flying out of the kiosk. I took the opportunity to go inside and sit on a bucket and enjoy the air-conditioned comfort. I thought my coworker had gone outside to fight the old man, and I wanted no part in that.

My coworker had actually gone outside to take photos of the old hippie, his car, and its license plate. Apparently the hippie didn’t like the bottle of tea that had spilled on him (maybe because it was frozen—I’m unclear on that point), and wanted a different one. When my coworker told him that he’d have to go to the customer service booth in the store to do an exchange, the old hippie grabbed another bottle of tea from the cooler and said he was taking it. That’s when my coworker grabbed his phone so he could get identifying pictures.

As soon as the hippie saw my coworker taking photos, he said he’d just as soon keep his original bottle of tea.

Are we square? Are we square? he asked my coworker.

My coworker agreed they were square, but then decided to mess with the irate hippie by smiling broadly and telling him to have a nice day! He then threw in a bye-bye and a God bless!

(What can I say? my coworker said to me later. I’m a smartass.)

The warm wishes incensed the already irate hippie, and he started yelling, You’re a douchebag! You’re a real douchebag!

Personally, I would have tried to diffuse the situation, but my coworker is young and hotheaded. He probably has tons of testosterone coursing through his veins.

I was waiting for him to step up! my coworker said repeatedly when it was all over.

I was standing like this, he demonstrated with his fist by his side.

You could have taken him, I assured him. The hippie was not just old, but super skinny too.

My coworker thought the old hippie was on crack. I would have voted on

Gray Monk Statue in Between Plant Pots

meth, but it doesn’t really matter. We both knew he wasn’t flying on love, peace, and weed. His mellow was really harshed, man. He probably should have done a little meditating before he drove to town.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/pink-peace-light-sign-752473/ and https://www.pexels.com/photo/adult-ancient-art-asia-204649/.