Tag Archives: Pilot

In Praise of a Pen

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My hands go numb when I write or type or make a hat or do macramé. Seems everything I do eventually causes a feeling of pins and needles in my hands, followed by pain, followed by numbness.

The problem started in the mid 1990s, and I blame it on alcohol, my friend The Computer Guy, and his friend Dan, on whom I had a crush. We were out drinking and The Computer Guy got an idea for a cool photo. The woman he was in love with was with us, and she was—conveniently—a photographer who, as always, had her camera.

Dig! The Computer Guy said with excitement in his voice. Dan can put Blaize on his shoulders and I’ll put Dan on my shoulders. We’ll stand under the Dragon’s Lair sign, and Gretchen can take our picture.

My beer addled brain thought it sounded like a fun idea. I certainly liked the prospect of having my legs around Dan’s head. The problem was—although I was at the thinnest of my entire life—I was still heavier than Dan. The photo Gretchen took shows The Computer Guy—strong as an ox—easily holding us both up while Dan seems to be crumpling under my weight.

Still, everything went fine until the photo was taken and we tried to disengage.

The Computer Guy lowered Dan to the ground gently, but Dan didn’t do so well with me. He must have bent over, as he tried to put me down, and I felt myself sprawling, falling. I put my arms out in front of me and caught myself with my hands.

My arms hurt for weeks. At the time I worked in a souvenir shop and the pain made even folding t-shirts impossible. When I told my dad how much I hurt, he asked if I’d seen a doctor. I just laughed. My minimum wage job didn’t offer insurance. I asked where I was going to get money to pay a doctor, hoping he might kick some down to me. He offered nothing.

The pain eventually subsided, but my hands have never been the same. There have been times when I couldn’t hold a pen long enough to sign my name. Whenever I bring my thumb and pointer finger together for more than the briefest period of time, my fingers tingle, then I feel pain, then they go numb until I can’t feel them at all, which means I can barely control them. Shaking my hands helps, as does stretching them and taking a break from the activity that’s causing the problem, but after 25 years, I think my hands will be this way for the rest of my life.

The situation has improved since riding a bicycle is no longer my main source of transportation and my job doesn’t require the use of power tools. I can hold a pen now, but I do better using a fat pen instead of a regular skinny pen if I’m going to handwrite more than a few sentences.

For months and years, I’ve been using whatever pens I’ve come across as free promotional items or paid for by the pound at a Goodwill Clearance Center. Of course, most of the free and cheap pens were skinny and numbed out my hand quickly. I was so happy when I found free fat pens, but they always ran out of ink too fast.

A few months ago, I’d had enough. I was tired of trying to write with pens that were too skinny for my comfort. I was tired of finding fat pens I liked only to have them run out of ink. I went into Wal-Mart determined to find a comfortable pen I could get refills for. I found just what I wanted in the Pilot Dr. Grip gel.

My Pilot Dr. Grip gel pen. Photo by me!

The pen cost around $6, and a two-pack of refills cost under two bucks.

If I don’t lose the pen, I’ll use it for years.

The pen fits nicely in my hand; its fatness minimizes the numbness my fingers experience. I really appreciate the rubber cushion on the area where my thumb and fingers rest while I’m writing.

The gel ink flows smoothly, which means I don’t have to hold the pen with a death grip and press into the paper so my words will show. As an added bonus, I was able to dismantle some of the darker color gel pens I bought from The Man when they no longer served his needs and use those cartridges as refills in my Dr. Grip.

I like the clip on the pen which lets me attach it to my notebook or my shirt. I also like being able to put the tip away by pushing the button on the top so I don’t have to worry about losing the cap.

I’m totally happy with my Dr. Grip, and I plan on using it for a long, long time.

 

In Praise of Truck Stops

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When it comes to boondocking in the city, I vote for truck stops!

Workers at truck stops (or travel stops or travel centers, as most of the chains now refer to themselves) are accustomed to seeing vehicles parked in their lots at all hours of the day or night. From big rigs to delivery vans to motorhomes to U-Hauls to sports cars, people park their vehicles at truck stops while they get some rest, often overnight. Delivery drivers ahead of schedule can pass some time at truck stops. Folks on cross-country moves or vacations road trips can stretch their legs at truck stops. Of course, the businesses cater to truckers who need to refuel and/or take mandatory rest breaks.

In my early days of van travel, I’d always call ahead to make sure my van would be welcome overnight at a particular truck stop. Over the course of multiple trips across the U.S.A., I was only turned down a handful of times. The attitude of the person I talked to on the phone was usually Why are you asking me this? Of course you can park here overnight!

If anyone at a truck stop figures out a person is sleeping in her van, it’s unlikely to seem strange.

Another great thing about truck stops is that they’re open 24/7. Increasingly, I find Wal-Mart stores (even the supercenters) are closed for a few hours each night. A closed store makes a nighttime bathroom emergency problematic. Also, a vehicle parked overnight might stand out if customers aren’t coming and going at all hours. No such problems at a chain truck stop, since they’re always open.

What I love about truck stops is that everything I could want or need is right there. Fuel? Check! Restrooms? Yes. Showers? You bet. Hot coffee and most other beverages? Yep. Pizza at 2am? You know it! Video games? Well, yes (if that’s your thing). A selection of gadgets to make trucker life (and maybe van life too) easier? Yes. Snacks, maps, and souvenirs? Of course.

Some TA travel centers even have motels if you want to splurge on a night out of your rig. I’ve also encountered a couple Pilot travel centers with free internet access.

Different truck stops have different amenities. I try to stick to truck stop chains. Flying J is my favorite, followed in descending order of like by Pilot (which merged with Flying J some years ago), Love’s and TA. I’ve been in some dismal truck stops that weren’t part of chains. I’ve seen filthy showers, barely stocked coolers, and one place that I’m pretty sure had no fuel to sell. My experience with chains has been a lot better, although not every location is great. And while not every location really has pizza at 2am, the bigger the truck stop, the more amenities offered around the clock.

I’ve done laundry in truck stops, and it’s been hit or miss. Not every travel center has washers and dryers, and most that do have them only have a couple (maybe three) of each. Usually the cost is a little high, and on at least one occasion at a Flying J, I’m convinced my clothes were dirtier when I pulled them out of the washer. (Read about my adventure at that Flying J here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/07/12/another-adventure-in-cleanliness/.) However, if your clothes are dirty and you’re at a truck stop with laundry facilities anyway, it can be a great convenience to be about to wash, dry, and fold in the middle of the night.

In the past, truck stops have had a bad reputation as dangerous places. However, the corporations seemed to have tried to clean up their images in the last few years. I think that’s part of the reason for the shift from “truck stop” to “travel stop” and “travel center.” If Mom and Dad and Sis and Brother feel safe stopping at these businesses, the businesses can reap the benefit of making money off average travelers too.

I’ve never once been harassed, propositioned, or hassled in a truck stop or in a truck stop parking lot. No one’s ever tried to sell me drugs (or anything else) or buy sex on truck stop property. No one’s knocked on my van or tried the handles while I’ve been parked at a truck stop. I’m not saying such things couldn’t happen, but none of them have happened yet. (Knock wood.)

Of course, I keep my guard up wherever I’m spending the night. I’m polite (but bland) if someone speaks to me, but I don’t initiate conversations in truck stops. I don’t smile, wink, or bat my eyes at men. I don’t dress provocatively. (My typical style of long hippy skirts and loose shirts doesn’t tend to make men think I’m looking for sex–either for free or for a fee.) I walk with my head up, aware of my surroundings, but I’m not out and about in the parking lot at all hours of the night. When I’m inside the truck stop (waiting for a shower or for my laundry to wash and/or dry), I keep my nose in a book (or my notebook) or look busy on my phone so I don’t invite conversation.

I’d rather spend the night in a beautiful natural setting or with friends, but if I can’t get to either of those places, a truck stop will be my next choice.