Tag Archives: traveling kids

French Fries

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We were four dirty traveling kids heading from Santa Nella, CA to Oklahoma City, OK. They were a Native American family; I don’t know where they were coming from or where they were headed. We met one night at a McDonald’s on Indian Land in New Mexico.

I was with Mr. Carolina, The Okie, and Lil C. Mr. Carolina had met the two young men at a truck stop in Santa Nella. They’d gotten stuck at the truck stop when the cheap bicycles they’d bought to travel across California began to fall apart. They were trying to get to Oklahoma City, then on to Kansas City, MO in time to see Lil C’s mom on her birthday. I’d agreed to rescue them from their truck stop purgatory, but the four of us traveled together through seven states before our time as companions was over.

Mr. Carolina and I had stopped at the same McDonald’s right off I-40 late one night on our way to California. We’d been with Sweet L and Robbie and the couple who had whisper fights several times a day. We’d taken that particular exit because the atlas showed a rest area there. We found the rest area, but a locked gate kept us out. We were all tired, so I pulled the van into the parking lot of the 24-hour gas station/convenience store/fast food emporium. The kids melted into the darkness to find bushes to sleep under, and I spent an uninterrupted night in my van.

Now we were back at that McDonald’s off the 40. The gate to the rest area was still locked, but more than a month later, the late autumn air was quite cooler. We’d all be sleeping in my van tonight, me in my bed; Mr. Carolina on the floor between the back passenger seats, his feet brushing the doghouse in the front; The Okie in one of the back passenger seats; and Lil C in the front passenger seat. It was crowded (more for the boys than for me), but it was worth it for everyone to stay warm.

Before we slept, we went into McDonald’s.

We had a few bucks, enough for each of us to get a McDouble, which only cost a dollar at the time. I don’t remember if we discussed French fries, if one of the boys asked for fries and I had to say we couldn’t afford them or if I silently longed for their greasy saltiness. I envied the other people in the restaurant who had fries, but I didn’t complain about what we lacked. The Universe gave us what we needed, and if The Universe wasn’t offering fries this night, we must not need them.

After being handed our tray of food, the boys and I sat at a table in the middle of the dining room. Our last bath had happened at least a week before, a soapless affair in a natural hot spring. We certainly didn’t look clean. We were probably a little too loud, a little too boisterous, but I tried to keep all of our cursing to a minimum. Even trying our best to appear normal, I’m sure we stuck out.

The Native American family sat one table closer to the counter. They were quiet and conservatively dressed. Maybe they were from Acoma Pueblo. Maybe they were Diné. The adults (parents? grandparents?) were probably in their early 50s; the two boys with them looked to be young teenagers. Each of them had a wrapped sandwich and in the middle of the table sat two large cartons of French fries.

The woman spoke softly to the boys. I wouldn’t have known she was speaking if I hadn’t seen her lips move. One of the boys nodded, picked up one of the cartons of fries, stood up, and carried the potatoes over to our table. His family wanted us to have these, he told us quietly as he gently placed the fries on the tray that still sat in the middle of our table.

We were joyously rambunctious with our thanks. Those French fries made us the happiest people in the room.

I manifested those fries! I thought. The Universe sent them to us because I wanted them so badly!

If the potatoes were a gift from The Universe, it was working through a kind woman who decided to share her family’s small abundance with four dirty traveling kids who couldn’t scrape together even a dollar to buy their own small bag of fries.

Image courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/food-wood-pattern-lunch-141787/.

Strays

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Dog on Concrete RoadI was on my way home from a festival where I’d sold my handicrafts and shiny rocks. I’d just turned my van into my neighborhood when I saw a dog racing down the street ahead of me.

The people where I live take the county leash law very seriously, and I never see dogs running loose around here. As I drove very slowly behind the dog, I looked around for its person. There were no humans in sight.

I stopped the van and got out. Hey dog! I called. The dog whirled around and looked at me.

Here doggie! I called calmly, and it ran right up to me and let me pet her. What a sweetie!

She wore a collar, so I checked for a tag. She had a county registration tag, but nothing wih a name or phone number on it. She was obviously somebody’s dog and I didn’t want her to get hit by a car on the nearby highway or be torn up by the neighborhood pack of coyotes, so I decided to try to help her find her people.

I opened the van’s side door and moved some things around. As soon as there was space, the dog jumped right in.

I called the office of the place where I live. The manager answered the phone, and I asked her if she knew of anyone whose dog was missing. She said the dog had been running around for a while and other folks had called to notify her.

I’ve got the dog in my van, I told her, then asked if there was a nearby animal shelter where I should take it.

She gave me a phone number, which I called. I talked to a woman whose position I still don’t know. Was she an animal control officer? Was she a local pet rescue volunteer? I still have no idea.

I told the woman on the phone my location and described the dog I’d just ushered into my van. She said other people had called about the dog, whose name was Milly. Her person hadn’t answered his phone earlier, but the woman knew where he lived. (I suppose this information was found via the county registration on the dog’s tag.) The women on the phone gave me the dog’s address, and I said I’d drive Milly home.

As I pulled out onto the main highway, I saw a most unusual sight. Two travelers were walking on the side of the road. The guy had long salt and pepper hair pulled back into a low ponytail, and the woman had dread locks in a neat bun on the top of her head. Each carried a big backpack and held a leash hooked to a big dog. Both wore clothes made drab by long wear and road dirt. These were traveling kids, although I could see in their faces that these folks were well out of their 20s.

Seeing them there was strange because my winter home is truly in the middle of nowhere. It’s 10 miles from the nearest small town, 50 miles from the next small town, and ninety miles from the nearest Wal-Mart. These folks were over 100 miles from the next city in the direction they were headed, with practically nothing but tribal land between their current location and the city. Of course, they could have been headed somewhere on the tribal land; surely there are Native American traveling kids on the highways and backroads of the U.S. Maybe these two were almost home.

In any case, I didn’t have time to stop for them. I was trying to get the stray dog home, and the travelers and I were headed in opposite directions. I decided I’d look for them upon my return and continued on my dog rescue mission.

I found the street where Milly supposedly lived and a mailbox with the correct house number. I had a leash in my van, so I hooked it to Holly’s collar, and we went together to find her people. The houses were laid out in an odd configuration, and I had trouble finding the right one. I knocked on a door without a number and an elderly woman with thin hair and unfortunate eyeliner answered. I politely asked her if this dog was hers. She said it was not. I told her the address I was looking for. She was unsure of the location, but told me where she thought it was.

From inside the house, an unseen man hollered, She’s looking for Marv!

Marve doesn’t have a dog! she called back impatiently.

I thanked her for her help, and Milly and I were on our way.

I drove just a little ways down the street and found the number I was looking for. It was Marv’s house, if the painted rock labeled Marv and Betty was to be believed. Maybe Marv had gotten a dog without alerting the neighbors.

I leashed Milly again, and we walked up to the door. I knocked. The door was opened by an elderly woman I presume was Betty. Like the woman I’d just spoken to, she wore jeans and a sweatshirt, but Betty’s hair was a perfectly white frizzy poof surrounding her head like the nimbus of a saint in a Renaissance painting.

I politely asked her if this was her dog. She said it was not. She said she currently didn’t have any dogs. I explained I’d been given her address as the home of the dog, but she firmly maintained that Milly did not live there. I thanked her and took Milly back to the van.

I called the woman who’d given me the (mis)information about where Milly lived and told her the dog’s person didn’t live where she thought he did. She asked me if I could meet her ten miles away at the animal shelter. I agreed.

When I arrived at the county complex housing the shelter, I leashed Holly yet again and walked over to the entrance. The woman I’d been talking to was waiting for us. She was middle age, blonde, and dressed Saturday afternoon casual. She told me she’d called Milly’s person again, and he’d answered this time.

He’d been drinking, and I woke him up, she told me.

Apparently, when she asked for his address, he couldn’t tell her. Get up and wash your face, she’d told him, and figure out where you live!

I felt bad about leaving Milly in the dark concrete kennel, but she did have the company of a fuzzy white dog named Buddy.

I don’t want anything bad to happen to her here, I told the woman, meaning please don’t euthenize this sweet dog just because her person is a dumbass and lets her run around.

Nothing bad’s going to happen to her here, the woman said. If you leave her running around out there, she might run onto the highway…The woman shuddered and didn’t spell out what might happen if Milly were to run onto the highway. She didn’t need to spell it out; I know cars and animals can be a dangerous combination.

I left Milly, trusting the woman to get her home. I suspected the woman would also give Milly’s person a stern lecture on the dangers of letting her run free.

Gray Concrete Road Beside Brown Mountain during Golden HourI was almost home when I thought about the traveling couple again. I wonder what happened to them, I thought moments before I saw them sitting on the side of the road just past my turn. I purposefully missed the turn and stopped my van near them.

Where in the world are y’all going? I asked as I approached them on foot.

As I suspected he would, the guy named the city 100+ miles away, then asked hopefully, Where are you going?

I live over there, I pointed. I could tell they were disappointed.

We heard there’s a truckstop about a mile down the road, the woman said hopefully. Do you think you could drive us there?

I don’t think it’s a truckstop, I told them. I think it’s just a gas station. But yes, I can drive you there.

They loaded in their packs and their dogs, all the while tickeld that a Grateful Dead rendition of “Scarlet Begonias” was coming through the speaker attached to my phone.

What are y’all doing out here? I asked as soon as the van was rolling.

That’s a long story, the guy said. I’ll let you tell it, he said to the woman.

She kept it short. They were looking to settle down, she said, and they had friends in the nearby small town. They’d come to stay with the friends who had immediately started acting weird, so now they were heading back to the city.

I pulled int the gas station’s parking lot and handed the woman a few bucks. She was very thankful, as was her guy, who lifted his shirt to show me the word “LOVE” amateurishly tattoed high on his stomch. (Yes, that part of the encounter was as awkward as it sounds.)

I briefly toyed with the idea of offering to drive them to the city, but I really didn’t want to make a 200+ mile round trip that overcast afternoon, especially the part where I’d have to come back alone. Besides, they were old enough to have been around the block a time or two. I think they’d been on the road a while and (hopefully) knew how to handle themselves.

They unloaded their packs and their dogs, and they thanked me again before I drove off.

I hope all the strays I picked up that day eventually made it home safely.

 

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/dog-on-concrete-road-688835/ and https://www.pexels.com/photo/gray-concrete-road-beside-brown-mountain-during-golden-hour-163848/.

Traveling Kids in Flagstaff

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We left the Sonoran Desert and headed north on I-17. Three hours and an almost 5,800-foot increase in elevation later, we were in Flagstaff. The 68-degree air sure felt better than the desert heat.

Our plan had been to spend a couple of days in Sedona, spend a couple days in Flagstaff, then go to the Grand Canyon during one fo the weekends when National Park visits were free. I hadn’t seen the Grand Canyon since I was a teenager, and The Man had never visited the natural wonder, so we were both excited.

We ended up bypassing Sedona, itching to get to Flagstaff, but things didn’t turn out quite the way we’d hoped.

When The Man had been in Flagstaff a few months before, he’d stumbled upon the Whole Foods dumpster. He’s been telling me about all the delicious “made fresh daily” food that had been thrown out because the day was over. Sushi–sandwiches–wraps–I’d been salivating over tales of those delicacies since we met.

We’d been at McDonald’s using the free WiFi, and it was dark when we set out for Whole Foods. Several roads came together in a weird way (thanks for that, city planners!), and I missed a turn. We ended up in some dark residential area, and The Man said, Let me drive! so we switched places. But I didn’t know how to use the GPS function on Google Maps, and we ended up switching places again. It was as close as we’d come to having a fight.

For me, it was like so many other nights when I’d gotten me and my ex lost in the dark and my ex yelled at and berated me. Of course, The Man was neither yelling at nor berating me. He was exasperated but not taking it out on me, but tell that to my brain. My brain had gone to a dark place where memory and current reality are all intertwined, and it’s difficult to remember then is not now.

A combination of what The Man remembered from his previous time in Flagstaff and the Google Maps GPS lady guided us into the Whole Foods parking lot. I pulled the van into a space and killed the engine. Here we were!

We looked over at the dumpster, clearly in view on the left side of the store. We were disappointed–nay, dismayed– to find the dumpster was now barricaded behind locked gates. WTF? We knew good food–delicious food!–was going to waste back there.

We walked over to the dumpster area anyway. The Man sized it up. He could step there and jump over the wall…but my heart wasn’t really in it, and I don’t think his was either. By the time we made it back to the van, he was asking if I really wanted to do this.

Maybe we should wait until the store closes, I said.

Maybe we should wait until all the employees go home, he said.

The store wouldn’t be empty for another couple of hours, and frankly, I was just tired. Then The Man muttered, I don’t really want to go to jail over this tonight, and the endeavor was called off as far as I was concerned. When people start worrying about going to jail, all fun’s gone out of an activity for me.

We decided to go to Taco Bell.

From there we used the GPS lady to try to find Forest Service land right outside of town where we could stay for free. We got close, but the GPS was a little off and sent us down a private driveway. We ended up pulling off on the side of the highway and switching places again. The Man found the spot, which was little like a campground (no toilets–flush or otherwise, no trashcans, no nothing) and more like wide spots on the side of short, narrow paved areas near a trailhead. The Man parked the van, and we went to bed. I slept poorly, waking up multiple times in the night feeling frustrated and useless, wondering if anything about my life was a good idea.

The view from the windshield of the trees that helped me breathe.

The next morning was a brighter day. The Man and I were tentative with each other, careful, but no one was issuing ultimatums or asking to call off the romance.

The spot where we’d parked was beautiful. We were surrounded by tall, tall evergreen trees, the first I’d seen since I left California six months before. Those trees helped me breathe a little easier.

We went back to McDonald’s to use the internet again to try to figure out our next moves. Nothing was clicking. Nothing seemed right. At some point, we admitted to each other that we both really wanted was to go back to New Mexico.

You realize the Grand Canyon is only 75 miles away? I asked The Man.

The Grand Canyon will always be there, he said. Let’s go home.

We decided to go downtown first, check out the library lawn where traveling kids and others proper society sorts tend to view as riffraff congregate. No one interesting was hanging out there, so we started walking through the “cool” part of town where college kids go at night to drink in bars. We came upon Heritage Square, where some folks were drumming and a man and a woman were sitting out with the kind of cases traveling kids use to carry their handmade jewelry and shiny rocks. Sure enough, when we got up close, we saw each of them making beautiful, intricate pendants from wire and stones. The four of us started talking about shiny rocks and Quartzsite and drugs and traveling and selling handmade jewelry. Either The Man or I mentioned we were soon heading to Northern New Mexico. Within five minutes, the traveling man asked if they could go with us.

They both had gentle, peaceful energy. Neither of them had said a single sketchy thing. I quickly decided I wouldn’t mind having them in my van. The Man and I glanced at each other and silently communicated yes.

Sure, y’all can come with us, one or the other of us said.

We sat there a while more, talked rocks more, listened to more drumming, decided to leave in fifteen minutes, at three o’clock.

The kids had been crisscrossing the Southwest on foot, hitchhiking, driving when they’d had a vehicle. They’d had a car, but they’d traded it. They’d had a van, but the engine had seized. I cried when that happened, the fellow admitted to me.

We’d all been in Quartzsite at the same time, but neither The Man nor I had run into them. They’d made it to Truth or Consequences, and we may have overlapped there too. They’d been riding with a couple of heavy drinkers and had gone to Sedona with them, but the day before they’d decided they were done with the drunken antics and had hitched to Flagstaff. They were enjoying Flagstaff but were excited to go to Northern New Mexico where they had never been.

It was closer to four o’clock by the time we put gas in the tank and headed east on I-40. I drove and drove and drove while The Man and the passengers (mostly the guy) talked. He was 26 (a lot younger than I’d thought) and had gorwn up in foster care. He’d only met his father once.

His best story was how he was kicked out of the Army for “failure to adapt!” Failure to adapt! Sounds like the story of most of my life!

The view when we passed from Arizona into New Mexico was so beautiful in the early evening light. I should have stopped and taken photos, but at the time I was hellbent on getting us home.

It wasn’t quite dark when we got to Gallup. I navigated the strange exit and got us to the Wal-Mart where The Man and I were getting hummus and crackers for dinner, and he was looking for a knife to replace the one he’d lost to the Sonoran Desert. We grabbed the food, and he found a knife he wanted locked in a case in the sporting goods department, but we had to wait an eternity for the one employee in the area to unlock the case and accept our payment. We had a great time waiting in line, dancing to the 80s music playing over the PA system and laughing together. It was as if the struggles of the night before had never happened.

When we finally got out of Wal-Mart, night had fallen. The traveling kids had gotten some dinner at Carl’s Jr. I drank deeply of the iced tea in my bottle, then got us back on the road.

I drove and drove and drove, then had to stop at a casino outside of Albuquerque for a restroom break. I still thought I’d get us north of Santa Fe that night.

I made it through Albuquerque, but the long, dark stretch of Interstate 25  between that town and Santa Fe really took its toll on me. I was tired. I started thinking it would probably be ok for me to close my eyes and rest for just a little while.

I pulled into the casino between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. Couldn’t we sleep here for a few hours?

Well, there wasn’t room in the van for all of us to sleep, and while the traveling kids were accustomed to rolling out their sleeping bags and spending the night in the bushes, casinos were not very good places for that. We get kicked out of casino property,  the traveling woman said.

I knew there was a rest area just before we got to Sant Fe. Surely the kids could find some bushes to sleep in there. The problem would be keeping my eyes open.

I powered on, forced myself to stay awake. Just a little further. Just a little further, I told myself.

Finally, there it was–the rest area–our home for the night. We’d made it.

The kids grabbed their packs and tumbled out to find their spot. I brushed my teeth under the harsh parking lot light. Then The Man and I climbed into bed, snuggled, slept.

The Man and I are early risers, so we were up before the kids. They were still dead asleep when I walked over to let them know we were ready to leave. We were on the road again shortly. It was much easier to drive in the daylight.

I drove those kids right out to the Bridge, told them how things worked out there. They said they’d go back to sell their pendants of stoned wrapped in wire.

Back in town, we parted in the supermarket parking lot. I was sad to see them go, but one thing I’ve learned is that a traveling kid can’t be held onto.