Tag Archives: free

The Magic of the Free Pile

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As always, the free pile at the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous was fantastic. Oh, there were plenty of items useless to me, like the dozen pair of reading glasses and the women’s clothing in sizes so small I wouldn’t have fit in them as a fourth grader, but I got so many great things from the free pile. I know other people did too.

I snagged a brand new red folding camp chair (retail price: right around $10 at Wal-Mart) for Coyote Sue. Once she arrived, she snagged for herself a large metal watering can, a decorative mirror in a wooden frame; and a four-plex birdhouse. One day while we were free pile shopping together, I found a container of dried black beans and handed them over to an excited Coyote Sue. She may have been the one person at the RTR who loved the free pile as much as I did.

Because the free pile required no money, we allowed ourselves to take risks.

The Divine Miss M picked up a folding cart on wheels. She took it to her camp for a few days and experimented with its uses. When she found it difficult to fold and discovered the plastic it was made from was cracking, she returned it to the pile. It wasn’t long before we watched a musician folding it up and packing it into her car. Maybe she had better luck with it than Miss M did.

I found food besides the dried beans I gave to Coyote Sue on the free pile, although not as much as in previous years when the cans left over from the cooking of the chili and soup dinners were donated. One day I scored a can of Del Monte (OH! Name brand!) peas. Another day  I snagged about a dozen Wal-Mart Great Value granola bars. Later, I scored a chicken and noodle MRE; I put it in my pantry for lean times. When I saw a donated container of doggy treats, I snatched it up for my friend’s pooch.

The strangest consumable I found on the free pile was a nearly full case of cans of Miller High Life beer. At first, I thought the carton was empty, but when I peered in, I saw only two or three cans were missing. Then I wondered if the cans in the carton were empty. Maybe someone had left a carton almost full of empty cans as a joke. However, when I nudged the carton with my toe, its heft told me it was almost full.

Did someone really leave beer? a fellow free pile peruser asked after I pointed out the carton.

It’s in the free pile, I assured him.

I do like Miller beer, he said.

You should take it, I encouraged, thinking of all the sober children in China, while also feeling a bit guilty about encouraging unhealthy behavior. Maybe I should have taken the beer when I first saw it and emptied the cans in the scrub.

I would have been really excited to find that beer when I was twenty, I said as the man carried the beer over to his bicycle.

Heck, I”m 41, and I’m pretty excited, he said.

My friends gave me first dibs on some items before they were offered to the general free pile public.

Mr. B. brought over a digital camera he’d fixed. (I take apart anything broken before I throw it away, he told me. I figure I should put my education to use. Apparently taking apart the broken at least sometimes leads to repair.) I decided to hold on to the camera in the event I need to replace the one I’m currently using. (I realize taking on a spare can be a dangerous precedent for a van dweller.)

Lady Nell sent Mr. T to me with the laptop he was about to offer up to the free pile. I passed on it because the operating system on mine is newer than what Mr. T’s had. Mr. T was skeptical anyone would want it, but it was already gone on my next visit to the pile. To someone without a laptop or tablet, it must have been quite a score.

Gee also gave me a preview of her free pile donations. From her I got a beautiful reversible silk wrap-around skirt; a pair of black leggings lined with soft black fleece; and a pair of light-weight, brightly colored, slip-on Sketchers. At first I thought the Sketchers were too small, but after wearing them a couple of days, they stretched a bit, and I love them! Slip on shoes are great for van life! Alas, while the leggings fit around my middle, they were way too long for my short little legs. I passed them on to Coyote Sue, whose long Viking legs are better suited to their length.

One day a woman I’d met briefly stopped her pickup near my camp and asked if she could park there for a few minutes while she carried some things to the free pile. I said sure and offered to help her. She offered to show me what she had before we brought it all to the pile. She explained another lady had given her the items and asked her to donate them. I found a pair of brand new Duluth Trading Company canvas pants which fit me in the waist and were only five inches too long! That’s a major find for a short, fat gal like me. The pants are my new favorite piece of cold weather gear. (I also got a light blue shirt with a hood, also from the Duluth Trading Company, also in my size. Double score! Alas, I have already spilled curry on the blue shirt, and I don’t know if I am going to be able to scrub it out.)

Two of my best free pile finds were a small cast iron skillet (hello, portion control) and a stamp collection. I rummaged through the collection for stamps that had not been cancelled and found many. I gave a bunch of cancelled stamps to Coyote Sue for her collaging needs and kept the rest to sell on the Etsy shop I want to open to sell collaging and scrapbooking items I pick up cheap.

The real free pile magic happened for a friend of mine, but I was involved.

He was living in his car and hadn’t figured out a way to sleep comfortably. We’d talked about how sleeping in a tent might be better, but he was flat broke, so couldn’t rush out and buy one. Maybe I’ll find one in the free pile, he said.

I’d driven out to see a friend in a nearby town that day, and I was excited to explore the free pile when I returned. since it’s always more exciting after several hours away. I didn’t see anything good but half an hour later, I watched a man deposit a red beach chair on the pile. I thought surely someone milling around the pile would grab it, but no one seemed to want it. I went over to the pile and retrieved the chair for myself. (It’s the perfect height to allow me to sit comfortably in the van and see out my side window.)

Five minutes later, I was talking to my friend, who was still trying figure out how to sleep in his car. I told him I’d seen some foam bed padding on the free pile and offered to go see if it was still there. I went over to the pile and saw the padding was gone. Bummer. But then I saw an interesting nylon bag. Could it be? I peaked inside. Yep, poles and more green nylon. It was a tent.

I picked it up and carried it over to my friend. Heres that tent you manifested, I said as I handed it over.

 

Free Yoga

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Around the beginning of each new year, I feel more open to trying new things. This will be the year I say yes to every opportunity offered to me, I tell myself. So when Lou asked me if I wanted to go to yoga class with her, I quickly agreed.

I didn’t have much yoga experience.

In the 90s, when I had a real job and pretensions of respectability, I belonged to a fancy, expensive gym. I joined primarily to participate in the popular boxing workout class, but one night I wandered into a yoga class for reason now obscured by my foggy memory. The class was fine, until we were told to curl our tongues and breathe through those curled tongues in order to detoxify our livers. I was skeptical then, and I’m skeptical now. How is that even possible? How does breath moving through a curled tongue detoxify? How does the liver know the detoxification is for it? If the breath passing through a curled tongue led to detoxification, wouldn’t it be a general, overall, full body, every organ detox?

I never went back to yoga there, partially because I was turned off by the woo-woo liver detox method, but mostly because I was busy being 25 years old.

Several years later, I tried yoga a couple more times when I met a grad student who was also a trained yoga instructor. She was trying to spread the word of yoga and make some extra bucks by holding yoga classes in her living room a few times a week. One problem was that the living room in her small house couldn’t accommodate many stretching students; if there were more than two people in attendance, we all felt cramped and constrained. The other problem for me was that the yoga classes were held across town from my home, and I often didn’t want to bike there (and home again) in the cold or the dark or after several hours of doing my job as a dishwasher.

I did enjoy the few classes I attended. The grad student was a patient yoga teacher. She didn’t throw around lingo I didn’t understand, she helped me get my body into the correct positions, and at the end of class, we always got to close our eyes and relax.

So when Lou invited me to join her for a yoga class, I wasn’t an absolute beginner.

One giant perk of the yoga class was that it was free for first time students. I’d rolled into town with no more than $10 to my name. I’d made some money dog sitting and house cleaning for a woman I’d found on a Craigslist ad, so I wasn’t totally without funds, but I didn’t have much disposable income. Free entertainment was good entertainment as far as I was concerned.

Upon arrival at the studio, Lou checked us in as first time students. We took off our shoes, went into the big empty room with all the mirrors, and laid out our mats.

Amidst the hubbub of setup, a hugely pregnant woman in workout clothes came into the room. She announced herself as the teacher. She was about 9 and 1/2 months pregnant she told us, liable to go into labor at any moment. She was going to take it easy during the class, she told us, and not bounce around too much. However, she said, she was going to work the class hard because she knew people in lunchtime classes were looking for really good workouts.

Oh shit! How had I gotten confused for someone who wanted a really good workout? I mostly wanted to do some gentle stretches and relax.

(A few weeks later, I went to a free [of course] lecture on tantra at the same yoga studio. The guy giving the talk mentioned as a side note that yoga developed as a spiritual practice and the idea of yoga as a workout was quite an American [although he may have said Western] phenomenon. I didn’t [and don’t] know much about how and/or why yoga developed, but I wasn’t surprised by what the man said. I wouldn’t be shocked to find out some enterprising American has turned the stand, sit, stand, kneel, stand routine of a Catholic mass into a workout.)

Lou is a trained yoga instructor herself, and when we left the studio, she told me the yoga class had been hard. If she thought it was difficult, imagine how I felt.

The instructor did say at the beginning of the class that we should each do our own workout and not compete with anyone there. I tried to do as she instructed. I didn’t bounce from one pose to another. (Although the instructor said she wasn’t going to bounce, due to her delicate condition, by the end of the class she was certainly bouncing out of one pose into another.) I tried to gauge my abilities so I could push myself a little further, but not far enough to injure myself. I was trying to concentrate on my own practice, but if I already felt like a loser because I could barely keep up with other members of the class, the hugely pregnant woman kicking ass at the front of the room did not make me feel more competent or capable.

It didn’t help that I don’t speak the language of yoga. Oh sure, I know the downward dog and the child’s pose, but this instructor was using lots of terms I’d never encountered: The eagle? The spread eagle? The split beaver? Most of her references meant nothing to me.

Finally, the workout part of the class ended, and we all lay on our backs with our eyes closed and relaxed. I don’t know what that pose was called, but it was my favorite part of the day.

The last few times I saw Lou, she suggested we go together to a hot (bikram) yoga class. It was April or May by then and my beginning-of-the-year enthusiasm had waned. She liked to go before work, she said, around six o’clock in the morning, to get her day started with physical activity. (Lou and I are very different. I like to start my day after the sun has risen, with breakfast tacos and a good book to linger over. Well, Lou does like breakfast tacos, so I guess we are not totally different.) I was already leaning towards declining, but then Lou told me sometimes people vomit during hot yoga class. At that point I said, Forget it! Throwing up is never fun, even for free!

 

The Free Pile at the RTR

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One of my favorite things about both the 2015 and 2016 Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR) gatherings were the free piles. Both years, organizers set up an area where people cold leave things they didn’t want and other folks could pick up anything they did want, all with no monetary exchange or bartering. I love gift economy!

I don’t remember everything I gave away the first year, but I know I added to the pile. Likewise, I don’t remember everything I took from the free pile either, but I know I got one of the items I use most in van life from there: my pee bucket. It’s plastic, with a cover that latches on tightly. The lid has a handle too, which makes carrying the bucket over to a bush or a pit toilet very convenient. To make the fact that I’m transporting urine in it less obvious, I wrapped it in pink duct tape. Thanks free pile!

This year I added two books, a pair of worn-only-once black leggings, a small plate, multiple glue sticks, and other odds and ends I can’t remember to the free pile. (I should have written an inventory of what I contributed.) In return, I got so many good things, even though I was being really picky about what I took back to the van, since I’m trying to live with less, not collect more stuff I don’t really need.

I picked up quite a bit of food from the free pile this year. Early on, I got two cans of vegetarian refried beans and two large cans of tuna. Later I picked up a sealed box of whole grain spaghetti. After the soup dinner, the head cook contributed to the free pile all the cans of food not used for the soup or chili dinners. I picked up a small box of vegan, organic black bean soup; a jar of organic spaghetti sauce; another can of vegetarian refried beans; a can of black beans; two cans of garbanzo beans; a can of sliced carrots; five cans of diced tomatoes; and three cans of chili beans.

One day I dug through the piles of clothing and found a brightly colored fleecy Cuddl Duds brand shirt. It was only a large, and I usually wear XXL shirts, but it looked rather big, so I took it to my van home anyway. Because the fabric was stretchy, it fit me, albeit snugly. It was very warm and comfy, and I wore it on two of the coldest nights at the RTR.

A few days later, I was poking through the free clothes (not that I need any more clothes) and found a bright purple (with silver sparkles) furry sweater that I immediately loved. I was super excited when I looked at the tag and found the size: XXL! Score! The sweater was in excellent condition, and I wore it throughout the rest of the RTR. (I returned the slightly too small Cuddl Duds shirt to the free pile in hopes it would be found and loved by someone it fit better.)

Although lots of books were dropped off at the free pile, I already had lots of books in the van, so I was very particular about what I took. I did pick up one hardback book that looked entertaining. It’s called Cinnamon and Gunpowder, and it was written by Eli Brown. It’s a novel about a fancy chef who’s kidnapped by a female pirate, and it turned out to be a great read. At the end of the gathering, I couldn’t resist picking up Almost French, a memoir by Sarah Turnbull about being an  Aussie in Paris in the mid 90s.

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This is the chair I scored from the RTR free pile.

Possibly the best item I got from the free pile (it’s a tossup between this and the furry purple sweater), is a very sturdy folding camp chair complete with a folding tray on the side. When I first tried to lift the tray, it was difficult to move, due to some rust. Thanks to a squirt of WD40 (Thanks, Miz Sassy!), I got the tray sliding easily. The top surface of the tray had some (water?) damage, so I decided to collage and decoupage.

This is how the tray looked when I got the chair from the free pile.

This is how the tray looked when I got the chair from the free pile.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This is how the tray looks after my collage and decoupage action. The map is of New Mexico. (It only shows Taos to Socorro.) Many of the other images are of or remind me of the Southwest.

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Organizer pockets originally on my from-the-free-pile folding chair, now on my passenger seat. I can easily grab my water bottle while I’m driving because it’s not rolling around on the floor. My phone goes in one of the top pockets.

The side of the chair without the tray sported a really nice set of pockets. The pocket bag was attached to the chair with hook and loop fasteners, so it was really easy to remove. I attached the pocket bag to the arm of my passenger seat with large safety pins, so now i have a handy place to keep my water bottle, phone, insurance papers, and van registration while I’m driving.

I always have a great time looking through free piles, and I particularly enjoy finding a few great pieces that make my life a little more comfortable. The RTR free pile hasn’t let me down.

She’s Gone

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And by “she,” I mean me.

On Friday, April 17, I finally found out the date I was expected to report to California for my training for my summer job as a camp host. The date? April 27. Yep, they wanted me to arrive for training in ten days.

I was told that the snow on the mountain had melted, and people wanted to be up there camping, so they had to get the camp hosts in. They were getting all the camp hosts for that area together as soon as possible to get them trained and on the job.

At first I was kind of pissy. I had originally been told that the job would start in mid May. How is April 27th mid May? (Hint: It isn’t.) I had a job making $13 an hour (with the chance for bonuses) that was scheduled to last until May 20th. I had a place to stay paid for through the end of May. By leaving before April ended, I was effectively throwing away $300. Also, I was not ready to go. I still didn’t have new tires. I still didn’t have a back slider window. I still hadn’t replaced all the rusty screws holding the high top to the van. I still hadn’t bought a Luci light or a bunch of food or the cleaning supplies I need.

And then I just got over myself. I was on my way out. Out of the hot, dirty city. Out of a job, which, while well-paying was numbing my brain and causing me to have ideas about how I could really work better if I could could just get a little bump of speed, not too much, just enough to perk me up. Out of driving twenty miles a day through streets lined with strip malls and stores, supermarkets, restaurants, shopping opportunities of every kind. Out of the beautiful yet brown desert. Out of the rat race. Out of the game.

I was moving into free. Free on the road, with the Grateful Dead and Lucinda Williams singing through one cheap speaker and the tiny, cheap MP3 player which doesn’t even let me set up playlists, but instead plays whatever it wants, whenever it wants. Free to sing along at the top of my lungs or shout or curse or listen silently, no one in the passenger seat to judge or disapprove or be offended. I was moving into the mountains, into the trees, into a place that shows up on the map as a huge expanse of green. I was moving closer to the area of the magical hot springs I visited with my boys two and half years ago, knowing when I left that I would be back someday, somehow. Moving into quiet and solitude, but also into people from everywhere that I will meet as they too come to visit the trees. Moving into myself. Moving into the trees.

I wasn’t sure how I would scrape together all the money I needed to do all the things I needed to do before I hit the road. (In my original plan, I’d have had four to six weeks worth of pay from scoring essays saved up before I took off to Cali. The way things actually worked out gave me 34 hours of pay on April 24, with another two weeks of pay coming on May 8th.) But then I realized, it was only money. I’d gone farther on less.

No sense panicking. No sense worrying. All I could do was do what I could do, then hit the road.

The title of my post is a reference to the Grateful Dead song “He’s Gone.” I’ll include a video here of them singing that song so you can listen to it if you like.

In addition to the always wonderfulness of hearing the Dead’s music and watching the band members interact, I greatly enjoyed this video because it includes Pigpen (the original dirty kid who died in 1973) and Bob Weir’s very tight trousers.