My favorite Little Free Library (LFL) Nolagirl and I visited during our Phoenix Little Free Library excursion was the second one we went to. This one has the name “Friendly by Nature,” and the charter number is 5974. This registered LFL is decorated with beautiful, colorful mosaics and sits at the front of a yard decorated with more mosaics.
Little Free Library is a registered nonprofit organization that inspires a love of reading, builds community, and sparks creativity by fostering neighborhood book exchanges around the world.
As soon as Nolagirl parked in front of the house this LFL
belongs to, I was attracted to the library’s bright colors. I was really
excited when I got out of the vehicle and moved closer to the library and
discovered the brightly colored scenes were composed from irregular tiles. WOW!
I also greatly appreciated the desert scenes featured on this LFL. Pictured on
the LFL are a saguaro cactus, the hot midday sun, and the starry night visible
when one leaves the city behind. Beneath the moonlight, there is a row of
books, much like those found in the actual Little Free Library.
The outside of the Little Free Library was not the only thing on the property sporting bright mosaics. Several round poles just beyond the LFL were also decorated with colorful tiles. I didn’t want to infringe upon the privacy of the steward of the little library, but I did snap a few photos of other pieces of mosaic art.
I was so impressed with the artistic work that I wrote out a
quick note expressing my appreciation. I left the note tucked in the LFL. I
think it’s really important to tell people when we like their work. I know from
experience that artists often don’t get enough positive feedback, so I like to
rectify that situation when I can.
I left my email address on the note, and several days later I was pleased to find a message from the artist in my inbox. She wrote,
Thank you for the postcard regarding my Little Free Library and my other mosaics. I retired from Intel about three years ago and started making mosaics. I have done many commissions.
My adobe house, courtyard and casita are my inspiration!
The artist then invited me to come over and see more of her mosaics! Wow! I was so flattered. Unfortunately, I already had plans for all of my days in Phoenix and I was unable to visit the artist and see more of her work. So disappointing! I’ve dropped the ball during my subsequent visits to Phoenix and never made plans to go over to this gracious woman’s house. My bad. Maybe someday I can still pay her a visit. I sure hope so because I want to see more of these splendid mosaics!
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.
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.
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
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?
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.
As you might have guessed, this car is a tribute to the rock band Queen. The art was done by Rebecca Bass and her students at Reagan High School (now known as Heights High School ) in Houston, Texas. This high school is so cool, it has an art car club on its official list of activities available to students!
Rebecca Bass is famous in the Art Car community. She’s created about 30 art cars in her lifetime, almost all of them with kids.
Bass leads the art car club at Heights High School. She and her students were even in a movie! The 2011 documentary Art Car: The Movie follows Bass and her students as they prepare a car for the Houston Art Car Parade.
largest free public event [with] more than 250 rolling works of art …
I think it’s really cool that high school students did the majority of the work on this car. While I do like Queen, I wouldn’t call myself a huge fan of the band. What I am a huge fan of is the meticulous embellishment work done on Bohemian Rhapsody. Wow! So much bling! I don’t think there’s one inch of space on this car that’s not covered in shine, sparkle, or flash. This is my kind of three-dimensional collage.
Bohemian Rhapsody seems to have found a permanent home with ArtoCade out of Trinidad, Coloroado. The ArtoCade website calls itself
a parade!…a festival!…a party!
ArtoCade also has an art car museum. The information was a bit unclear, but from what I could ascertain, the museum once known as the Bizarre Car Garage had to vacate its space prior to September 2018. It seems to have relocated and been rechristened as Art Cartopia. I think admission to Art Cartopia is free. That’s my favorite price! (The information I found about Art Cartopia was on ArtoCade’s Facebook page.)
If you’re ever anywhere near Trinidad (a small town just off Interstate 25 near the Colorado/New Mexico border), I suggest you stop at Art Cartopia and take a look at Bohemian Rhapsody. There are so many details to look at on this car! I could have stared at it for hours.
I wasn’t able to find out much about the art carZalafayra.
Nolagirl and I saw the car at spark! Mesa’s Festival of Creativity in the spring of 2018. Either there was no sign with the car or I didn’t take a photo of it, so I came into this post not knowing the name of the artist. I had to play detective to get some info to share with my readers.
When a Google search of “Zalafayra” turned up nothing, I turned to Instagram. A search of “#zalafayra” brought me to a video belonging to Scot Campbell (@scotcampbellwindowpainter). In the video, a man identifies himself as Rick McKinney of Marin County, CA and says Zalafayra is his car.
In the video, Rick McKinney says he likes to “let people make up their own mind about what” the car is “all about.” He points out that he used “live moss, antlers, a bunch of religious figures” on the car. He said he was working with the theme of faith when he embellished the car, and the items on it represent things people put their faith in.
Some people put their faith in money. Some people put their faith in themselves; that’s the mirror…Some people in nature…time, Jesus, Buddha, you name it.
With additional detective work, I found out a bit more about Rick McKinney on The Lighthouse Peddler website. The man’s not just a visual artist, but a poet as well! (You can read his poetry on his blog Jigglebox.com.)
In an October 2017 list of “Rick Trivia” by Blake More on the aforementioned website of The Lighthouse Peddler, we learn that Rick McKinney
“[h]as been featured on television a dozen times with his art car Duke.”
I don’t know why Zalafayra was on display and not Duke. I don’t know why there’s not more information about Zalafayra out in the world. In any case, I feel really grateful to have seen this car, and I hope with this blog post, I’m doing my part to spread the word about it.
If you enjoyed this post, you may also want to read about the J Gurl art car and California Fantasy Van that were also at the spark! Festival.
The Man and I had left the mountain and were traveling east on Interstate 40. We were each in our own van, not trying to follow each other, but with a prearranged meeting in mind.
I pulled off in Kingman, AZ to top off my gas tank and empty my bladder.
I’ve never spent much time in Kingman. I’ve used it as a gasoline and bathroom break stop on trips between Las Vegas, NV and Phoenix, and I spent a few hours there with Mr. Carolina and the boys when we were traveling together to Oklahoma City, but I’ve never spent the night. When I was there with Mr. Carolina and the boys in early November of 2012, there seemed to be a lot of tension in the town. People yelled out of car windows at other drivers, and the vibe wasn’t friendly. I did, however, collect enough money by flying a sign to get the oil change my van desperately needed, so there was some love in the town.
On the day in the fall of 2018 when I drove through Kingman alone, I stopped at the traffic light at the end of the off ramp, waiting for it to change to green so I could turn and make my way to the Flying J. Just after the light changed, but before the vehicles ahead of me started moving, a small SUV rolled up next to me in the far left turn lane. The SUV slowed down as it pulled up next to me, but kept rolling slowly.
A head popped out of the front passenger window. The passenger seemed to be male, was definitely young, and had dark curly hair. The passenger looked right at me and hollered, “What’s up, you fucking chicken nugget?”
I wasn’t offended so much as startled and mystified.
Why me? Why was the kid yelling at me? Probably for no reason other than proximity. My window happened to be next to his window as the vehicle he was in slowed, so he yelled at me.
But why call me a chicken nugget? Nothing about me really says “chicken nugget” as far as I can tell. Are people in hippie vans known to eat a lot of chicken nuggets? I never got that memo. Do poor people eat a lot of chicken nuggets because the poultry chunks are cheap? Was he calling me poor because I was driving an old, banged up van?
I know I’m probably overthinking this. The kid probably yelled at me simply because I was there. He probably opened his mouth and let the first thing that popped into his head pop out. He probably just said something to make his friends in the vehicle with him laugh. What he said probably meant nothing at all.
Nolagirl and I were at spark! Mesa’s Festival of Creativity in the spring of 2018. We were looking at the art cars and came across one that turned out to be one of my favorites of the whole day, J Gurl by Diane Bombshelter from Tucson, AZ.
According to her website, Diane Bombshelter is primarily a painter who creates on black velvet. Apparently she’s really good at painting on cars too.
This is the big picture of what her art car looks like.
When I got up close and starting looking at the details, I liked the car more and more.
Here’s the sacred heart painted on the back passenger door. I like the way pieces of broken mirror were used to accentuate the painting and add sparkle to the area. Also, the rough edges of the glass could cut the viewer, which I think brings to mind the pain caused by those thorns wrapped around the heart.
Much of the imagery on the car is specifically female and really celebrates feminine power and energy. For example, here’s a uterus complete with egg tubes, ovaries, developing eggs, cervix, and endometrial lining painted on the rear passenger side of the car. Again, mirrors (this time round ones to echo the roundness of the eggs) catch the light and add sparkle and shimmer. Of course the pink background evokes stereotypical femininity but perhaps also a reclaiming of female strength.
Here’s a vulva, right over the gas tank! Do you think that placement was random or a conscious choice?
The details that went into this representation of the vulva make me really happy. The yellow represents flames, perhaps, or bolts of energy. The red jewels outlining the border are also very sweet–more sparkle, more pizzazz. You may not be able to tell from my photo, but the clitoris is entirely composed of shiny little jewels. This vulva is a celebration of womanly parts. This vulva shines!
Ah, there’s Quan Yin, one of my favorite manifestations of Goddess energy. According to a Crystallinks webpage,
Quan Yin is one of the most universally beloved of deities in the Buddhist tradition. Also known as Kuan Yin, Quan’Am (Vietnam), Kannon (Japan), and Kanin (Bali), She is the embodiment of compassionate loving kindness. As the Bodhisattva of Compassion, She hears the cries of all beings…
Contemplating the Goddess of Mercy involves little dogma or ritual. The simplicity of this gentle being and Her standards tends to lead Her devotees towards becoming more compassionate and loving themselves…
Don’t you like the way I took the photo so the sunlight makes the area at the top of Goddess’ head glow? I’m pleased with that aspect of the photo, although I can’t remember if it was a conscious composition or a happy accident.
If the Blessed Virgin Mary is more your style when it comes to Goddess representation, Bombshelter has that covered for you on the hood of the car. The image of the BVM is made from flat glass marbles and is surrounded by small BVM statues. The blue flowers are artificial and permanently adhered to the hood as far as I could tell.
It’s obvious that so many loving details went into the design of this car. Even the dashboard is carefully decorated.
My favorite part of this interior decoration is the word “Goddess” spelled out in Scrabble letters. Clever!
In a 2015 article about the Art Car World museum in Douglas, AZ, Diane Bombshelter discussed pushing the boundaries of what cars are supposed to look like and represent in our society.
“Breaking that taboo opens people’s minds. It doesn’t have to be a certain way; it can be this way, too,” she said
“… I wanted to bring art to the public, instead of the public having to go to an art gallery.”
I greatly enjoyed seeing and appreciate this art car. Hopefully I’ll see it again someday and take photos of the art on the driver side.
I actually didn’t spend much time at the 2019 Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR).
I’d planned to volunteer at the RTArt Camp and stay in that area with The Man in his minivan, but there was a misunderstanding with the main Art Camp organizer, and she didn’t save a spot for us. She tried to squeeze us in next to the portable toilets, but neither The Man nor I wanted to sleep and cook next to the shitters. Besides, we would have been camped practically within arm’s reach of our neighbors, and even if the humans had been ok with that, every little movement from either side would have probably set Jerico the dog to barking.
The RTArt Camp was in a much better location than in 2018. It was adjacent to the road into (and out of) the RTR and very close to the main stage. I was glad it was easier to find and get to, but having the camp roped off limited the number of people who could park their rigs within the designate Art Camp area. The Art Camp organizer told me only Art Camp volunteers were allowed to stay within the camp. I wondered if this arrangement made the camp feel exclusive to people. In 2018, I had been glad that anyone who wanted to could camp near the art community; I know at least one woman camped near us because it felt like a safe space to her.
The Man and I (along with Jerico the dog) arrived at the RTR on the afternoon of January 10. We found our friend Gee staffing the check-in station, and she gave us hugs and wrote down the mini van’s license plate number. We drove to the Art Camp and parked there while trying to decide if we were going to make our camp by the shitters. We walked around the RTR a bit while trying to make our decision. We went to the main seminar area where between 300 and 500 people (I’m terrible at estimating attendance, by the way) were listening to the afternoon speaker.
We walked over to the free pile which was being curated by a fellow who could have used some customer service training. I found several cans of tuna; a couple of fresh oranges; and a nice, big zipper pouch, but I suspect all the really great scores were snatched up quick with so many people milling about.
One change with the free pile in 2019 was that is was only “open” during certain hours each day. In the past, folks could peruse the free pile any time of the day or night. The always-available nature of the free pile meant that if it rained during the night, all of the offerings got wet unless some good Samaritan ran out of their rig and threw a tarp over everything. I suspect at closing time, the free pile volunteer covered everything with a tarp to protect the goodies from the elements.
The volunteer on duty also helped keep dogs off the free pile offerings, which probably helped cut down on the amount of dog piss on the items. Covering the free pile for the night surely also kept wayward dogs from spoiling the items.
The volunteer on duty received any donations and rejected anything deemed unworthy. On the one hand, I understand not wanting to clutter the free pile with trash, but of course, one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. What if something the volunteer rejected was just the thing someone needed? The guy who needed customer service training met donations with suspicion, as if he believed most people were trying to encumber him with junk.
Another change at the RTR was having a camping area set aside for event volunteers. The main entrance to this area was staffed by a volunteer acting as a bouncer of sorts. I didn’t try to get into that area alone, so I don’t know what sort of challenge was issued if someone without the proper credentials tried to get in. Having an exclusive area for volunteers seemed a little strange to me, but I’m not really sure why things were set up that way, other than hearing a volunteer say, We feel really protective of Bob. That would be Bob Wells she was talking about. If you don’t already know, he’s the host of the RTR and the force behind the Cheap RV Living website and YouTube channel. I suppose he probably does have a large enough fan base to cause worry that people might be standing outside his van day and night, clamoring to meet him.
As has been reported in numerous other places, the 2019 RTR was HUGE! It was so big, when The Man and I stood at the Love’s truck stop on the west side of Quartzsite, we could look to the east and see the many, many rigs all the way across town at the RTR. It was amazing. It was also overwhelming to imagine living among so many people, so we decided to make our camp in the less dusty, less populated BLM area near Dome Rock.
From what Gee told me on the first Sunday of the gathering, everything had been running smoothly. Aside from a few rude people who stopped at the vehicle check-in station, folks had been polite to each other and the volunteers, and everyone seemed to be getting along. I was glad to know most folks had been behaving appropriately.
With such a large group camping in a wide area, having the “streets” named and signed seemed to be helpful. I’m sure people were able to meet up more easily when they could at least tell each other with some accuracy what street they were camped on.
Another way for people to find each other was by posting announcements on one of the bulletin boards near the main stage. It must have been helpful to be able to leave a note asking to meet up with like-minded people. After all, one of the reasons Bob started the RTR was to give nomads the opportunity to meet each other and make friends.
I went to the RTR primarily to help out at the Art Camp and to conduct some interviews for the blog. I spent a few hours at the Art Camp on the afternoon of Thursday, January 10, and I spent the whole day (approximately 10 am to 4 pm) at the Art Camp with a few forays into the wider RTR on Friday the 11th. On Friday, I spent most of my time organizing the supply tent. I managed to conduct five interviews while at the RTR.
I know I’ve been saying this for a couple of years, but I probably won’t attend the next RTR. I can do without the stress and expense involved in getting to Quartzsite in order to camp near strangers. I haven’t been to a seminar since 2015, I’m not interested in meeting people to caravan with, most of my friends don’t go to the RTR, and I don’t need any new long-distances friendships.
That said, I think the RTR is an invaluable resource for a lot of people. Folks considering living nomadically or beginning a nomadic life can get a wonderful education at the RTR seminars. Nomads who feel isolated and want to make connections with other people living similarly can meet scores of people at the RTR. Meeting new people can lead to friendships, caravans, collaborations, and sometimes even romance. I encourage all nomads who find the idea of the RTR even remotely appealing to brave the crowds and attend at least once.
The Man and I have been talking about buying land in New Mexico since the day we met. (Literally.) It looks as if it’s finally going to happen.
A friend of ours has owned land in southern New Mexico for over a decade. The land is isolated, and our friend is in her mid-70s, so her kids really don’t want her out there alone. She made us a good deal on the half acre, and we plan to be out there early next month.
At first I thought we should haul the fifth wheel out there with us, but then we started thinking about costs. The fifth wheel would need new tires, and The Man said the bearings would need to be repacked (whatever that means). We were going to have to ask a friend with an old truck that can pull a fifth wheel to haul ours, which would mean paying for his gas as well as our own and offering him a couple hundred bucks for his trouble. I quickly realized we were better off selling the fifth wheel and living in our vans on the property for the next couple months, then building some simple living spaces in the fall.
We reached similar conclusions about the solar set-up and the storage shed. Potential buyers of the fifth wheel would want electricity and a place to store their extra things. The place would be easier to sell with the amenities. Besides, where would we store the six solar panels (and three deep-cycle batteries) while we were away from the land in the summer? How would we fit the shed’s metal panels in my van (in addition to all my belongings) to transport them to our new place? It made more sense to leave those things behind and use the money we got from the sale to buy new things. I’m looking forward to a solar set-up on my van (!!!) and a new shed on the property.
I’m also looking forward to saving a lot of money in New Mexico. Gone will be the days of rent. Sure, the $550 I pay to stay in the desert RV park is nominal, but $550 is $550. I’d rather not pay it if I don’t have to. Taxes on the land are cheap, so I’ll be saving most of that yearly expenditure.
We haven’t looked into car insurance yet, but we suspect it’s going to be a lot less expensive than what we’ve been paying in Arizona. A close friend told me her insurance rates dropped dramatically when she left Arizona and changed her domicile to New Mexico.
Perhaps most importantly, we’re only going to be about 15 miles from a town with a real supermarket. Where we are now, we can drive 10 miles to a town with a small grocery store, or we can drive more than 85 miles to a city with real supermarkets. The store in the small town charges two to three times more than the city supermarkets charge. In our new place, a 15 mile drive will take us to affordable food and inexpensive ice and a public library and three thrift stores and a big hardware store and and and…
Of course, New Mexico is where The Man and I want to be. I’ve grown to appreciate Arizona, and I’ve grown to love the Sonoran Desert (those saguaros!), but I’ll be super happy to be in New Mexico again, to have a yellow license plate, to experience the Land of Enchantment morning, noon, and night.
If you’re a newbie attending the Women’s RTR at the end of the week or the RTR in the next two weeks, you may hear a lot of new terms. For the sake of public education, I decided to run this post from January 2016 again after revising and updating it.
the vocabulary or jargon of a particular subject or group of people
I hate lingo. When folks use specialized language, it feels like a separation to me–us vs. them. If you understand the specialized words I use, we have something in common and we are insiders. Those people over there who don’t understand what we’re talking about? They must be outsiders, and good riddance!
I know lingo also makes communication easier for people who share knowledge. Like pronouns, lingo saves us from having to use full descriptions every time we talk. But lingo is often exclusionary, even if folks don’t mean to use it that way. In the interest of sharing knowledge, I will now explain some of the lingo I’ve encountered while living my life on the road.
Airstream–A brand of travel trailer made from distinctively shiny metal, with curves instead of corners.
I boondocked on this BLM land.
Bureau of Land Management (BLM)–Government agency that administers public land, especially in the Southwest. There is so much BLM land where folks can boondock/dry camp for free.
Boondocking–Staying somewhere (often public land) for free. Some people use boondocking interchangeably with dry camping, while others differentiate between the two and use boondocking only in relation to public land. To learn all about boondocking, read my post “10 Fundamentals for Boondockers.” My friend Coyote Sue calls dry camping in a parking lot blacktop boondocking .
Canned ham– A trailer, usually vintage, in the shape of a can of ham on its side.
Casita–Brand of a particular style of lightweight travel trailer.
*Class A—RV that looks like a bus with a flat front nose; motor home.
*Class B–A van with the comforts (shower, toilet, kitchenette) of an RV.
*Class C—motor home with a van nose and an overhead cab with a bed.
CRVL–I saw this twice at the RTR and had no idea what it meant, until I saw it spelled out in tiny letters at the bottom of a sticker. CRVL stands for Cheap RV Living, a fantastic online resource for anyone living on the road, no matter what kind of rig is involved. There’s also a Cheap RV Living YouTube channel for folks who’d rather watch videos.
I did some dispersed camping on Bureau of Reclaimation Land in New Mexico, and this was the view of the Rio Grande from my campsite.
*Dispersed camping–Camping on public land in places other than official campgrounds; sometimes called primitive camping or boondocking.
Dry camping–Camping with no hookups, sometimes used interchageably with boondocking.
*5th wheel–Trailers which hook to a hitch in the bed of a pickup truck.
Full-timer–Someone who does not have a sticks-n-bricks house; someone who lives on the road all the time.
*House battery–A deep cycle battery used to run household items in a rig.
Motor home–An RV that has a motor in it so it can be driven; a motor home can be a Class A, a Class B, or a Class C.
Mr. Buddy–A brand of heaters which run on propane and are very popular with vandwellers and rubber tramps.
Nomad–According to Merriam-Webster, this is a member of a people who have no fixed residence but move from place to place usually seasonally and within a well-defined territory; an individual who roams about.
Part-timer–Someone who has a sticks-n-bricks house where s/he lives at least sometimes; someone who lives on the road sometimes, but also lives in a stationary home sometimes.
Popup–A type of towedRV that can be collapsed for easy storage and transport.
The Lincoln National Forest in New Mexico is public land.
Public Land–Land owned by a local, state, or federal government. When rubber tramps and other nomads talk about public land, they typically mean land open to (usually free) camping. Public land can include city or county parks, fishing lakes, BLM land, Bureau of Reclamation Land, National Forests, National Monuments, National Recreation Areas, wild and scenic rivers, and national seashores and lakeshores.
Primitive camping–Camping on public land in places other than official campgrounds. In primitive camping areas, there are no water, sewage, or electrical hookups and usually no toilets of any kind, no water, no ramadas, no picnic tables, and no metal fire rings. Primitive camping is sometimes called dispersed camping. Folks boondock or dry camp in primitive camping areas.
This was my rig during one part of my life as a full-time rubber tramp/vandweller.
Rig–What one drives and lives in. My rig is a conversion van. A rig can be a cargo van. A rig can be a pickup truck with a slide-in camper. A rig can be a car or an SUV. A rig can be a Class A, a Class B, or a Class C motor home. A rig can be a combination of a tow vehicle and a travel trailer or a converted cargo trailer or a 5th wheel or a tear drop or a popup.
Rubber tramp–The Urban Dictionary says a rubber tramp is a “person who travels and lives out of their vehicle (normally an RV, van, bus, etc.). They stop and stay wherever they choose for however long they want, but eventually, so as long as there’s a way to put gas in their tank, move on.” Not all folks at the RTR would consider themselves rubber tramps.
RTArt Camp–A camp within the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous, The RTArt Camp is a place within the larger gathering for nomadic artists and creative nomads to come together to share skills, create art together, have fun, and build community.
Rubber Tramp Art Community (RTAC)–An intentional community for nomadic artists/creative travelers. Members of the group meet to camp together, create art together, teach each other new skills, help each other, and spend time together as a community.
So far, I’ve attended four RTRs.
Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR)–A winter gathering in Quartzsite, AZ for folks who live on the road (either full-timers or part-timers) or who want to live on the road. At the RTR there are seminars about living on the road and opportunities to meet people and hang out with friends. I’ve written quite a bit about my experiences at the RTR in 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018. Also see Cheap RV Living for more info about the RTR.
RV–Recreational vehicle. RVs include motor homes, 5th wheels, and travel trailers.
Shakedown–a practice trip taken before a longer trip. (According to Wikipedia,, this term comes from “shakedown cruise,” which “is a nautical term in which the performance of a ship is tested.”)
*Snowbird–Someone who lives in cool places in the summer and warm places in the winter, traveling as the seasons change. Snowbirds can travel north to south or from low elevation to to high elevation and back again.
Solo–Traveling alone, usually said in regards to a woman. The assumption that most women travel with men is often made, so a distinction is sometimes made when a women travels alone. I’ve never heard anyone asking a man if he is solo or hearing a man describe himself as solo.
Sticks-n-bricks–A conventional home, although it doesn’t have to be made from wood and bricks. A sticks-n-bricks can be an apartment or a manufactured home, or a house made from adobe or stucco or straw-bale. A sticks-n-bricks isn’t mobile.
Teardrop—a streamlined, compact, lightweight traveltrailer, which gets its name from its teardrop profile. They usually only have sleeping space for two adults and often have a basic kitchen in the rear.
Toad–A vehicle towed behind an RV. I guess because the vehicles are towed, people started calling them toads. People in big motorhomes often pull a vehicle behind the motorhome so they can park their rig and use the smaller vehicle to drive around for errands and exploring.
Tow vehicle–What one uses to tow one’s travel trailer.
*Travel trailer (TT)–Travel trailers hook up to a hitch and are pulled by a tow vehicle. Travel trailers vary greatly in size. Most people use the travel trailer as living quarters and don’t live in the tow vehicle.
During my time as a camp host, I cleaned this pit (or vault) toilet many times.
*Vandweller–A person living in his/her van who wants to be there.
Vault (or pit) toilet–Non-flushing toilet sometimes found on public land; basically a tall plastic toilet set over a hole where the waste products sit until they are pumped out.
Seems like it always happens when folks start discussing winter in Quartzsite, Arizona. Someone mentions the Big Tent, and someone else says What’s that? Other folks in the conversation jump in and start trying to explain things and mayhem occurs.
Ok, so I’ve never actually seen mayhem occur during a discussion of the Big Tent, but I know that lots of people who’ve never been to Quartzsite in the winter aren’t quite sure what it’s all about. In the interest of public information, I’ve made today bonus blog Saturday, and I’ll again share what I wrote about the Big Tent in 2015 and 2016. You’re welcome.
“The Big Tent” is what folks call it, but the actual name of the event is The Quartzsite Sports, Vacation & RV Show. It’s been held every year since 1984, although the location within the town has changed several times. People travel to Quartzsite in their RVs (motor homes, vans, campers, fifth wheels, etc.) from all over the country to enjoy the warm Arizona weather and see what’s new in the Big Tent.
The Quartzsite Sports, Vacation & RV Show started with 60 exhibitors and a small tent. In 2015 it had grown to a 69,000 square foot fully carpeted indoor exhibit area at 700 South Central Blvd.
In 2015 the Big Tent was open January 17th through 25th. I visited it on the Saturday opening day and on Tuesday the 20th.
I went to the Big Tent the first time because I was trying to get a job as a camp host. I’d arrived at the tent about ten minutes early, but nobody was getting in early that morning. The line started moving at exactly nine o’clock. By the time I got inside, the place was already packed.
I wasn’t surprised to see RV park booths, RV insurance booths, booths staffed with folks trying to convince people to drive their RVs north to Canada and south to Mexico. I wasn’t surprised to see an Arizona State Parks booth, a KOA campground booth, and a Good Sam’s Club booth.
Several casinos had booths too, complete with wheels to spin. Spin the wheel, win a prize, but not until one coughed up one’s name, mailing address, email address, and phone number. I tried to win several times but scored nothing more memorable than multiple decks of cards.
Several booths were dedicated to recruiting work campers. One of those booths belonged to Workamper News, the website to check out (I was told at the RTR) to get hooked up with work camping opportunities. Amazon.com was present, recruiting for its CamperForce. The sugar beet harvest people were there too, and I had a nice talk with a very pleasant man from the Midwest, but quickly realized that sugar beet harvest work is too strenuous for me. Several companies looking to hire camp hosts were also in the Big Tent.
I was surprised to see multiple booths selling pillows. I understand that RVers use pillows. But why would someone buy pillows at at sports, vacation, and RV show? Wal-Mart sells pillows. Kmart sells pillows. Sears and JCPenney and probably the freakin’ Family Dollar sell pillows. Pillows can be ordered from Amazon.com. Why were these RV show pillows so special? I don’t know because I did not stop at any of the many pillow booths and discuss the desirability of their pillows.
On a related note, the funniest thing I saw in a booth was a man lying in a bed on a platform a couple of feet off the floor. He was selling some special RV bedding, and he was demonstrating this bedding by lying in a bed. The big come-on with this bedding was that one wouldn’t have to make the bed if one had this bedding. Basically, the bedding was a double sleeping bag placed on top of a mattress. There was no tucking of sheets and blankets because this item was a blanket pouch. Is making an RV bed so difficult that people would rather sleep in a double sleeping bag? In any case, whenever I saw this grown man lying down in bed while trying to convince people to buy his wares, it cracked me up. Unfortunately, I did not have a camera to take his photo.
I was also surprised to see people in so many booths trying to sell
kitchen gadgets. I do understand that RVs have kitchens, which might
lead RVers to buy kitchen gadgets, but it seems like those items too are
available in just about any regular store. Do people get caught up in
the frenzy of shopping at the Big Tent, only to wake up to reality later
and find their yellow freebie KOA tote bag full of silicone bowl covers
and long skinny plastic chip clips?
The least explicable booths were those selling makeup, hand creme,
and jewelry (especially an “ion” bracelet some lady tried to slip on my
wrist). I didn’t stop at any of those booths, but from my cruise past, I
didn’t see anything that looked unique or revolutionary.
My favorite booth was the one run by Minute Rice. There was a wheel
to spin and prizes to win. When I spun the wheel, it stopped on “emery
board.” Boring! However, the nice ladies were also giving out two-packs
of the precooked, microwaveable rice. There was even a choice: white,
brown, or jasmine. And they didn’t want my email address!
I know I mentioned it was crowded in that tent, but let me just say again, the place was packed. At one point, the crowd in the aisle was at a complete standstill. There was a tall young man next to me, and I asked him what he saw up ahead. He said it was just a bunch of people standing still. As soon as I made it out of that quagmire (without ever seeing a reason for movement to have ceased), I ducked out of the next exit door into the sunshine. There were more booths on the outside around the perimeter of the Big Tent, but nothing held my attention long enough for me to stop.
When I went back the following Tuesday (because I was in the area to purchase items from several of the booths in the Tyson Wells shopping area), the Big Tent was mostly the same. The Minute Rice ladies were gone (they must have run out of rice), but I made up for it by playing a couple of fun and silly games at the Progressive booth, where the workers were a bunch of young gals dressed like Flo! There (thankfully) weren’t as many people in the Big Tent, so we all had a little more elbow room.
As I left the area, I decided The Big Tent (like Mardi Gras) is definitely something to see once, if one is in the right place at the right time. I wasn’t sure I’d visit the Big Tent again, but I knew if I did, it wouldn’t be on opening day. I hoped if I did go back, I’d own a working camera so I could get a photo of that man in the bed.
In 2016, I did visit the Big Tent again, but not on opening day. There was no need for that. I wasn’t looking for a summer job because I already had one lined up, and I wanted to avoid filling the van with unnecessary items, even if they were freebies. I believe I went on the Wednesday after opening day, on my last day in Quartzsite.
Again, no one was being let in before the official opening time of
9am. I milled about outside the north entrance with the other early
birds. While I was waiting, I got a text from my friend Tina who was at
the Big Tent to look for a job. She met me at the north entrance, and we
walked in together at nine on the dot.
There weren’t very many people browsing through the tent that day, so there was plenty of elbow room.
We hadn’t gotten past very many booths when a guy working for Direct TV tried to waylay us. Who provides cable in your home? the guy asked. Oh, I said casually, I don’t have a home. Tina snickered and the guy was quietly confused just long enough for us to escape.
The next guy who tried to interrupt our rambling was in a booth with hair-salon chairs. He called out aggressively, Ladies, what appliances do you use to style your hair? I told him, I don’t style my hair. It does whatever it wants. He didn’t know what to say to that, and we walked on.
One good-looking young East Indian man with a British accent drew me right into his booth. It was a large booth, and there were several salespeople in it trying to sell reusable heating pads. The pads were pretty cool There was a metal disc in them and when the disc was clicked, the goo inside the pad got hot. The pads could also be used cold by placing them in the refrigerator for a couple of hours. The young man was trying REALLY hard to sell the product to me. I finally had to tell him I wasn’t going to buy anything, but said he was doing a great job. We sort of squeezed each other’s hand in farewell, which made me a little giddy.
I got excited when I saw a sign with my name on it. Well, it was sort of my name. When I asked the
man standing behind
the table if I could take a photo of the sign, he insisted on putting
the product beside it. Well, ok. I tried to explain to him that my name
is Blaize, and I like to take photos of signs with my name on it. He
only seemed concerned with showing off the product, which I guess makes
sense because it’s his job to sell the stuff. I know nothing about the
quality of Micro-Blaze, so I cannot recommend it. However, readers, you
now know it exists.
Just down from the Micro-Blaze booth, I saw the salesman I’d been thinking about all year, the man selling RV bedding.
In 2015, I sadly had no camera to take a photo of the salesman and
his wares, but in 2016, I was prepared. I walked up to the man and said
hi. He said hi to me and started telling me about his special sheets. He
sounded super sad. He sounded like a robotic recording. He sounded like
a super sad robotic recording. The way he gave his speech about his
special RV bedding did not make me want to buy his product. The way he
gave his speech almost made me want to cry. I don’t know if he was
having a bad day or if he was just generally tired, but his enthusiasm
level was way low. I asked him if I could take his photo, and he said
This guy, even though he seemed really down, was the high point of the Big Tent for me. I walked around after I talked to him, got a bright yellow (and cheaply made) tote bag from KOA and played a sort of slot machine game with the Flo lookalikes at the Progressive booth, but nothing made me happier than finally getting a photo of that guy.
Now you know a little bit about what goes on at the Big Tent so you can decide for yourself if you want to check it out.