Tag Archives: Wal-Mart

I’m Cold

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It was another night in another Wal-Mart parking lot after another day of driving. It was already dark when we arrived, and I didn’t even care about getting something to eat. All I wanted was to sleep.

This Wal-Mart clearly allowed overnight parking. It looked like a combination of a truck stop and an RV park. There were three 18 wheelers in the lot, at least as many Class C RVs, and even a couple of Class A motorhomes. Of course, there were several obvious van dwellers, as well as people sleeping in cars, trucks, and jeeps. This Wal-Mart welcomed the weary traveler.

We’d spent a couple of nights in this parking lot the previous week, so we went to bed confident no one–no cop, no store manager–would knock on the van in the middle of the night.

It was probably eleven o’clock–maybe even midnight–before we lay down. I fell asleep immediately and slept well, but The Man was suffering from a bought of insomnia. He told me later it was two or three o’clock in the morning before he succumbed to sleep.

I was awoken from my deep slumber. The Man was awake too. The dog was barking.

What’s going on? I mumbled.

I think someone knocked on the van, The Man told me.

I listened. Nothing. I looked at my watch. 4am.

Who’s there? I asked loudly. No answer. I was convinced The Man and the dog and I had shared some sort of auditory dream hallucination. There was no one there. I dropped my head back onto my pillow.

Then…clearly…I heard a knock. It was a gentle knock, not a cop knock, but still, someone was knocking on the van at four o’clock in the morning.

Who’s there? I asked again loudly. I did not sound friendly, even to my own ears.

I’m cold, a female voice said. Do you have a blanket?

Are you fucking kidding me? I thought, and The Man verbalized something similar.

The Man is a very giving, generous person. I try to be a giving and generous person too, but this was too much for either of us.

No, I said. We don’t

I’m cold, the woman said again. Do you have a blanket? she asked, as if she hadn’t just asked the question and been told no.

No, I said again. Go ask someone else.

The woman went away, and while The Man and I were able to doze for another hour or so, we never got back to the place of deep sleep she’d interrupted.

In the light of day, The Man was remorseful. Maybe we should have helped her, he said. Maybe we should have let her sleep on the floor of the van.

I felt justified in our initial decision to turn her away, and I explained my reasons to The Man.

First of all, I didn’t have an extra blanket to give her. I live in a van with another person and a dog. Space is at a premium. I don’t carry around a stack of extra blankets. For a while I had an old sleeping bag with a broken zipper I wrapped around my cooler for extra insulation, but when The Man moved in, it was jettisoned with other nonessential items. I would have given her that if it had still been around, but she was too late. It was gone. If The Man wanted to give her some piece of bedding he owned, he should have spoken up.

Secondly, I don’t open my doors to strangers after dark, much less at 4am. Even with The Man and the dog to protect me, I don’t think it’s safe to wake from a deep sleep in the middle of the night–even in a well-lit parking lot–and open my home to someone I don’t know.

Third, the woman was in the parking lot of a store open 24/7. If she was cold, she could have gone into the store to warm up. She could have walked the aisles. She could have taken a nap in a restroom stall. She didn’t have to stay outside if she was cold.

Fourth, there were plenty of other people overnighting in that parking lot. We were not her only chance for survival. If we couldn’t help her, there were other people to ask.

Finally, I’ve been homeless (as in, with no van, as in, living under bridges) in that city at that time of year. While it might have been chilly outside, it wasn’t deadly cold. The woman was in no danger of dying of exposure.

If I’d had a spare blanket lying around, I would have handed it to her through a window. If we had been in a remote campground or wilderness area, and she’d had nowhere else to turn, no place indoors to go, I would have tried harder to help her. If it had been winter–snowing, freezing–I would have tried harder to help her, maybe even invited her to sleep on the floor of the van. But I didn’t think it was my responsibility to provide for someone who didn’t think about wanting a blanket until 4am.

 

 

 

No Overnight Parking

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We’d been on the road almost all day, so when we pulled into the Wal-Mart parking lot, I really only wanted to eat some dinner and go to bed.

As I drove through the parking lot, I gave a cursory look for signs prohibiting overnight parking and saw none. I pulled the van to the perimeter of the parking lot, on the edge of an embankment. A metal barrier kept cars from rolling down into the trash-strewn gully, and there were certainly no signs there telling folks they couldn’t park overnight.

While cooking and eating dinner, we saw several people walk up the embankment on a well-worn path between the railroad tracks below and the Wal-Mart parking lot. About one couple, The Man said the fellow seemed a little twitchy, but the woman was clearly methed out. More people came and went within 30 feet of the van, but no one approached us to start a conversation.

The Man watched people come and go and saw some of them walk out into the field beyond the tracks. Then he saw a light bouncing around in the field and concluded people were living out there. While we got ready for bed, we saw a new-looking car rolling next to the railroad tracks. Only railroad vehicles are allowed to drive next to the tracks, The Man said. What is going on down there? he wondered. We decided night time was not the right time to go down there to explore.

We’re locking the doors tonight, The Man said before we crawled into bed. He’s not usually one for locking doors, even at night. Heh’s confident he and the fiercely barking, protective dog are capable of scaring off any bad news that comes around.

I might sleep with my knife, he said, referring to the giant knife he uses to peel the bark from wood before carving it. We laughed about what he might shout at anyone who messed around our van in the middle of the night.

We went to bed around nine o’clock. I was exhausted, and I think The Man was too. I fell asleep quickly and slept deeply.

The Man said I woke screaming. Someone had knocked on the van and dragged me from a wonderful place of oblivion. Was it someone high on meth? Was it the police?

Who is it? I said loudly as I moved to the side window.

Wal-Mart manager, a male voice said. There’s no overnight parking here.

Oh. Sorry, I said. We’ll leave. We didn’t see any signs.

There’s one on the pole behind you, he said,

Ok. We’ll leave, I said again as I groped in the dark to find my clothes.

When we had pulled in, I’d noticed the lack of RVs, 18-wheelers, and van dwellers in the lot. In New Mexico, Wal-Mart parking lots often look like truck stops or RV parks, but I just figured not many people wanted to stay overnight in this not very scenic part of Colorado. Frankly, I was so tired, I hadn’t given it much thought.

Before we’d gone to sleep, I had seen another rig parked a couple rows behind us. It was a nice-looking pickup with a fancy slide-in camper. The camper’s stabilizing poles were down, so I figured the driver was in for the night. However, when we left, the pickup with the camper was already gone. I don’t know if the people in that rig were asked to leave or took it upon themselves to go.

There was still one rig parked in the lot when we left. A shiny, new-looking camper trailer was hooked up to a shiny, new-looking (matching) pickup truck. No lights were on in the trailer, and no one was in the truck’s driver seat looking like I felt–sleepy, disheveled, and a little bit frantic. I didn’t see the Wal-Mart manager knocking on the camper door, and I wondered if he’d done it so quickly that he’d been able to make it back into the store in the time it took me to dress and climb into the driver’s seat. Maybe shiny new rigs get to stay overnight. Maybe it’s not considered overnight parking if folks roll in after midnight. Maybe the people in the camper hadn’t answered the manager’s knock and could truthfully say they hadn’t gotten the no overnight parking message I’ll never know.

Luckily, on our way into town, I’d seen a billboard advertising a Love’s travel center only a few interstate exits from the Wal-Mart. The Man and the dog never got out of bed, but I managed to stay awake long enough to drive us to the truck stop. As I drove through the Wal-Mart parking lot to the exit, I saw the one no overnight parking sign I’d managed to miss on the way in. That store might want to invest in more signs so the night manager doesn’t have to go out into the dark to knock on vehicles.

 

Easy Bake Oven

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It was a couple of weeks before Christmas, and I was in a Wal-Mart in the metro area of a large city in the Southwest. I was in a hurry. I’d grabbed what I needed and was booking it to the check out counter to pay for my purchases and get the hell out of there.

On the outskirts of the toy department, I saw an endcap stacked with boxes of Easy Bake Ovens.

I always wanted one of those and never got one, I thought idly.

Then I saw a young boy pictured on the box.

That’s nice, I thought. Hasbro is showing that boys like to bake too. Inclusivity is a wonderful thing…

Then I thought, WAIT! WHAT? as I realized the boy was dominating the use of the Easy Bake Oven.

Ever hear about those studies of toy advertisements that show boys are depicted as being more active while girls are depicted as passive? Thought that kind of thing went out of fashion in the 70s or maybe the 80s at the latest? Uh, no. We’re living in the second decade of the 21st century, and I’m showing you a real world example of sexism aimed right at kids.

So yeah, the boy is taking the active role in the baking game while the girls look on in admiration and wonder. Wow! the girl in the middle seems to be thinking, He sure can slide in that cookie sheet! (Gag! I hadn’t even thought of the sexual undertones of having the boy slide something long and thin into a small opening until I started ranting here. How could that seem like a good idea to the Hasbro’s marketing people?)

The girl in the purple shirt seems to be adoring his baking prowess.

In an article called “Care Bears vs. Transformers: Gender Stereotypes in Advertisements” (http://www.sociology.org/care-bears-vs-transformers-gender-stereotypes-in-advertisements/), references a study by B.A. Browne published in the Journal of Advertising in 1998 [Browne, B.A. (1998), “Gender stereotypes in advertising on children’s television in the 1990s: a cross-national analysis”.  Journal of Advertising, 27 (1), 83-97.] The study

provides further evidence of the substantial gender stereotyping that is found in advertisements.  According to Browne,

Boys appeared in greater numbers, assumed more dominant roles, and were more active and aggressive than girls. (p. 12)  In commercials containing both boys and girls, boys were significantly more likely to demonstrate and/or explain the product even when the product used was not sex-typed.

So um, yeah, Hasbro, sociologists already know this kind of gender stereotyping is a problem. You too should know it’s a problem and YOU SHOULDN’T DO IT!

While I’m ranting, can I point out just how white that group of kids looks? I know we can’t determine everything there is to know about a person’s ethnic and cultural heritage by the tone of her or his skin (and maybe the girl in the purple shirt is Latinx), but some diversity in skin tone could have gone a long way here.

What can parents do to combat this sexism and racism? Contact Hasbro and call them out on it. Send them links to this blog if you like. More importantly, talk to your kids–your girls AND your boys about this kind of gender stereotyping and racism. Point it out and have a discussion when only white kids are pictured playing with a certain toy. Tell your girls they don’t have to look at a boy with adoration simply because he knows his way around the kitchen, and tell your boys not to expect a girl to think they’re the greatest things since sliced bread just because they can put cookies in an oven.

In my ideal world, all people will take turns baking for each other because baking is fun and a cupcake is a lovely gift.

I took the photo in this post.

 

Wal-Mart and the Drug Culture

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In January of 2016, I wrote about seeing a t-shirt decorated with Grateful Dead dancing bears in a Wal-Mart in a small Southwestern desert town. I thought it was a strange and maybe one-time experience, but now it seems Wal-Mart is in the drug culture business.

I saw another Grateful Dead t-shirt in a larger, urban Wal-Mart late in 2016. This shirt had a red, white, and blue (on grey) color scheme; long sleeves; and roses and a Stealie on the front. You’re killing me, Wal-Mart, I posted on Facebook, along with a photo of the shirt. I wanted the shirt, but it was made for a smaller person, or at least one with a body shape different from mine. Besides, it wasn’t 100% cotton, and polyester makes my armpits stink. The shirt wasn’t for me.

But what did it mean that the shirt was for sale in a Wal-Mart? I’d thought maybe the first Dead shirt I saw was an anomaly, maybe the store’s buyer was an old hippie. But now it was starting to seem maybe Wal-Mart was in the Grateful Dead business.

I found myself back in the town where I’d seen the dancing bear shirt. I found myself back in the Wal-Mart. I found myself back in the men’s clothing department, back in front of the t-shirt display. This time there were no Grateful Dead t-shirts to be had, but that didn’t mean Wal-Mart had walked away from the drug culture. Oh no. Wal-Mart hadn’t walked away from the drug culture. Wal-Mart had, in fact, expanded its connection with the drug culture.

The first drug-themed shirt I saw featured a spiral of colorful, happy, laughing anthropomorphized mushrooms. WHAT!?! I’m not sure I can think of anything that says drug culture quite as clearly as colorful, happy, laughing, anthropomorphized mushrooms. I think even my mother (the picture of innocence, only drank alcohol to excess once, never took a street drug in her life) would know those mushrooms had something to do with drugs.

But if the mushrooms left any doubt in anyone’s mind, the shirt immediately below surely dispelled any confusion. It was decorated with the red, yellow, and green of Rasta (the same Rasta famous for the use of marijuana) in a tie-dye-esque spiral, and across the chest was emblazoned the word TRIPPIN. What!?! TRIPPIN!?!

Does anyone not know that trippin’ means being high on drugs? Doesn’t even my mother know that? Or do I just know that and assume everyone else knows it too simply because I am part of the drug culture?

To be fair, I looked up trippin’ on the Urban Dictionary website and found as many references to overreacting and being crazy as to being under the influence of psychotropic substances. Maybe my mother and others of her ilk could make a case that the shirt is merely referencing blowing a situation out of proportion.

But, but, but THEN I saw the Cheech & Chong t-shirt on the bottom shelf. Cheech & Chong? Do any two men in the history of the world say drug culture more loudly and more clearly than Cheech & Chong?

For anyone who doesn’t recognize the faces of the men riding the bear (riding the bear?), the shirt is conveniently labeled CHEECH and CHONG. And if anyone needs just a few more drug culture references, there’s the green, yellow, and red Rasta spiral again.

I’m not all that upset about Wal-Mart profiting from the drug culture. I’m accustomed to Wal-Mart profitting. Wal-Mart profits from everything it can get it’s (metaphoric) corporate hands on. Besides, not every stoner can afford head shop prices. Isn’t it high time (giggle) for stoners to be able to get druggie t-shirts at affordable prices?

Mostly I’m just surprised. Doesn’t Wal-Mart present itself as a bastion of wholesome American-ness? How is Wal-Mart getting away with selling such unwholesome, drug culture promoting items? Why aren’t the store’s upstanding conservative Christian clients protesting such goods? Could those customers possibly not know what those shirts are all about?

I know what the shirts are about, and they amuse me whenever I see them, especially when I stumble into the store first thing in the morning.

I took all the photos in this post.

 

 

 

 

Poo Dough

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During the Christmas season (and its immediate aftermath), I was staying in a small Southwestern town, sleeping in my van. Some nights I would park on quiet residential streets, and some nights I would park at Wal-Mart. On the Wal-Mart nights, when I went inside to use the facilities, I often wandered around the store. It was dark by 6pm, which was much too early to go to sleep, so I had some time to kill in the aisles of the world’s largest retailer.

I’m often shocked by the Wal-Mart toy department. Not only is it still very much segregated by gender (toys in drab colors for boys over here, pink and garish toys for girls over there), but there’s an over-fascination with elimination.

Barbie Forever Barbie Doll with Tanner the Dog
Barbie has a dog that shits. Well, I guess Barbie’s shitting dog has been recalled. But I saw the shitting dog in Wal-Mart’s Barbie aisle when it was still on the market.

The Doggie Doo Game is also about dog poop. Made by the Goliath company, here’s the blurb about the toy on the aforementioned Wal-Mart page:

Feed and walk your little pup, if he makes a mess, you clean it up. When you squeeze his leash, he makes a gassy sound that gets louder and louder until…plop. The first to clean up after the dog three times wins.

How is this a game?

In addition to the defecating dogs, there is always an assortment of dolls the pee and poop, as well as dolly toilets.

Consider the Fisher-Price Ready for Potty Dora Doll.

This Fisher-Price Dora Doll, Ready for Potty is learning how to use the potty. This Fisher-Price baby doll knows when she’s gotta go and will ask to be put on the potty. Once this baby Dora Doll is done using the potty, she will sing and celebrate to show how proud she is. This doll will get children interested in toilet training.

Wow! How were generations of children potty trained without Dora there to show ’em how it’s done, then sing and celebrate?

Then there’s the classic Baby Alive. These days it’s all about the snacks.

Keep your little girl engaged for hours with this fun Baby Alive Doll from Hasbro. Sara gets hungry, thirsty and sleepy. She needs someone to use the shaping tools and make her all kinds of snacks. She will drink from her pretend juice box and then poop in her diaper when she is full.

If a baby doll with a dirty diaper isn’t quite enough, how about adding the BABY born Interactive Potty Experience? (The weird capitalization  is right off the Wal-Mart website.)

Enchant the girl in your life with the BABY born Interactive Potty with Toilet Flush sound. She will enjoy training her doll to use the bathroom. All she has to is place the baby on the toilet and she will hear funny sounds when she presses the button. Lifelike sounds also include applause and giggling. The potty training baby will provide hours of entertainment for your little lady.

I could go on and on about defecating dolls, but I’ll stop after one more example, the Lalaloopsy (whatever that is) Babies Surprise Potty toy.

Make playtime more fun and interesting for your child with this Lalaloopsy Babies Surprise Potty toy. This model is specially designed to help your child better understand how the body works. This Lalaloopsy potty doll “magically” poops a surprise shape when she goes. All you need to do is feed her with the included “baby” food. When she’s ready, simply place her on the potty and she will poop it out. It’s a different shape every time.

If you view the video on the webpage cited, you can ask yourself, as I did, how what this doll does could possibly help a child understand how the body works. According the the (disturbingly upbeat and colorful) commercial, pooping happens after turning a dial in the belly button area. Also according to the the commercial, poop is colorful and imprinted with button, flower, heart, and star shapes. If I were two years old, this doll would not help me understand how the body works. If I were two years old, this doll would confuse the fuck out of me!

I’d thought all of the aforementioned toys were a tad much, but then I saw the Poo Dough. Yes, Poo Dough. (It does not seem to be manufactured by Hasbro, the company that makes Play-Doh.)

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We as a society have sunk to a new low, when we think molding fake shit is a great way to play.

Here’s what the Wal-Mart website has to say about the stuff:

Make and shape your own poo! Add the Poo Dough to the mold and make your own poo-shaped creations. It includes two canisters of brown Poo Dough (in different shades) and one canister of yellow (to create corn and peanut accessories). It looks like the real thing but smells much better!
Prank Star Poo Dough:

  • Make and shape your own poo
  • 2 canisters of brown dough
  • 1 canister of yellow dough
  • Plastic mold

I took the photo in this post. The other images are Amazon affilitate links. If you click on any of those images, you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. Anything you put in your cart and purchase will earn a small advertising fee for me.

Skyrocket Toys Prank Star Poo Dough

Where to Stay in T or C

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I’ve been writing about Truth or Consequences, NM in the last few days, and several people have told me they now have T or C on their list of places to visit. It would hardly be fair to get folks excited about visiting the town and not tell them where they can stay.

The first time I visited T or C, I had the good fortune to spend a week in a motel. I stayed at the Rocket Inn (http://www.rocketinn.net/, 605 N Date Street), a small motor court with only nine rooms for rent. Built in 1948, and originally called the Red Haven Motel, the entire place has been restored. According to the website, the

fully modernized King Deluxe and Double Queen rooms…include fridge, microwave, WIFI and HDTV/basic cable. [The property is] family run, dog-friendly and walking distance to Main Street.

I chose the Rocket Inn because I could walk from my room to downtown where I was able to sample the wonderful hot springs bathhouses. (To read more about the hot springs and bathhouses in the town, go here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2016/02/05/truth-or-consequences-hot-springs/, here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2016/02/06/truth-or-consequences-hot-springs-my-experiences/, here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2016/02/08/truth-or-consequences-hot-springs-my-experiences-part-2/, and here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2016/02/07/artwork-from-la-paloma/.) Everyone working at the Rocket Inn, from the owners to the housekeepers, were exceedingly nice to me and made sure I had everything I wanted and needed. The rooms were impeccably clean, and I felt perfectly safe there.

SDC10011The third time I visited Truth or Consequences, I stayed at the Artesian Bath House and RV Park (https://sites.google.com/site/artesianbathhousenm/Home) at 312 Marr Street for two months. Nightly and weekly rates at the Artesian are reasonable, but the monthly rate is a fantastic deal. (Read up on the Artesian’s rates here: https://sites.google.com/site/artesianbathhousenm/Home/rates.)

According to the business’s Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Artesian-Bath-House-Trailer-Court/111366938897101),

The Artesian Bath House opened for business June, 1930. For over 33 years the Martin’s [sic] have owned, operated, and maintained their commercial hot springs.

The Artesian is great for vandwellers, as there  are restrooms on-site, and one can take a hot bath if one wants to clean up.

I have also had great success stealth parking and boondocking in the town of Truth or Consequences. I’m not sure if I’m actually as stealthy as I like to think I am or if no one in T or C cares about who’s sleeping in a vehicle in a residential area, but when I left in December of 2015, I’d never been bothered during my nights in the van. Lots of folks park overnight in the parking lot of the T or C Wal-Mart. I have seen everything from luxury Class A’s to old-school motorhomes held together with duct tape and prayer to stealth vans parked in that lot. On some nights I’ve counted a dozen vehicles parked there, then counted them all again in the morning as I walked toward the doors of the store. Sometimes I call that parking lot the Wal-Mart RV park.

For folks who want to get out of town and into nature, there’s plenty of that in the area too.

Paseo del Rio Campground SignTruth or Consequences is very close to Elephant Butte dam and Elephant Butte State Park. According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elephant_Butte_Dam,

Elephant Butte Dam…is a concrete gravity dam on the Rio Grande river near Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. The dam impounds Elephant Butte Reservoir, which is used for both recreation and agriculture. The construction of the dam has reduced the flow of the Rio Grande to a small stream, with high releases occurring only during the summer irrigation season, or during years of exceptionally heavy snow melt.

Elephant Butte Dam

Elephant Butte Dam is the large concrete structure in the middle of this photo.

The Paseo del Rio Recreation Area is part of Elephant Butte State Park. The Paseo del Rio includes a campground I stayed at for a couple of nights during my first visit to the area.

When I was there, the campground did not offer water, sewage, or electrical hookups, but each campsite had a fire ring and picnic table covered by a ramada. There were flush toilets and sinks with running water on one end of the campground, near the day-use parking lot, and portable toilets at the other end. I believe the camping fee was $10 per night.

The Rio Grande and Mountain

This photo shows the Rio Grande as it looked from the trail that ran through the campground.

A 3/4 mile trail with “interpretive signage of historic interest” (http://www.emnrd.state.nm.us/SPD/TrailsatStateParks.html) ran through the campground and along the Rio Grande, and there was a historic fish hatchery in the recreation area.

I found the campground peaceful. There wasn’t much traffic at night on the road closest to the campground, so there wasn’t much disruptive automotive noise.

Fish Hatchery Lake

This photo shows one of the fish hatchery lakes. The water drew birds, so there was a lot of avian life in the area.

SDC10013

This photo shows Caballo Lake, with the Caballo Mountains beyond it.

I also spent a couple of nights at the Percha Flats camping area at Caballo Lake State Park. Percha Flats was a primitive camping area with no designated campsites, no running water, no electricity, and no hookups of any kind. When I visited, there was a pit toilet and a dumpster near the entrance to the camping area. The camping fee was $8 per night. There were no designated hiking trails in the area where I stayed, but I did take some nice walks along the edge of the lake.

The final campground I stayed in near Truth or Consequences was in Percha Dam State Park. SDC10028The campground had many developed campsites, although mine only had a picnic table. My site had no ramada, and no hookups, although there may have been a water spigot there. (I can’t remember.) Many of the sites had electrical hookups, but I decided not to splurge on that. The campground also had flush toilets, sinks with running water, and hot showers that didn’t cost extra to use. I did enjoy a nice hot shower during my stay.

My last tip is a boondocking spot about 3o miles away from Truth or Consequences. Last time I was there, the cute little town of Hillsboro (population 124) allowed folks to park overnight in the community’s tiny park across the street from the Black Range Museum. There were a couple of pit toilets in the park, as well as a few informational placards, and campfires were not allowed. I think this spot would be a good place to spend the night on a trip between T or C and Silver City.

So there you have it. I’ve offered up several choices of places to stay as you start your adventures in Truth or Consequences and the surrounding area.

I took all of the photos in this post.

 

 

 

What a Long, Strange Shopping Trip It’s Been

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I spent the night in my van in the parking lot of a Wal-Mart in a small (population less than 10,000) Southwest desert town. I woke before daybreak and bundled up for the long walk from my van to the store’s entrance.

After my visit to the restroom, I wandered through the store, trying to remember what supplies I needed. I took a shortcut through the men’s clothing department on my way to the propane canisters in the sporting good section. I ended up walking next to a wall of t-shirts and slowed down to see what was on display.

WHAT!?!?

There among the shirts featuring SpongeBob and Patrick, the Pink Floyd prism, and a kitten with a bandana around its head (captioned “Hug Life”) was a bright tie-dye with a spiral of Grateful Dead bears.

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One might think those Grateful Dead bears are all about dancing and joy and love. If one thought such a thing, one would be only partially right.

Bear (Owsley Stanley) was for a time the Grateful Dead’s sound guy. He was also, for a time, the Grateful Dead’s LSD guy. Yep, Bear was manufacturing lots and lots of delightful acid. (According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Owsley_Stanley, Bear

was the first private individual to manufacture mass quantities of LSD.[1][2][3] By his own account, between 1965 and 1967, [Bear] produced no less than 500 grams of LSD, amounting to a little over a million doses at the time.[4])

And according to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grateful_Dead,

A series of stylized dancing bears was drawn by Bob Thomas as part of the back cover for the album History of the Grateful Dead, Volume One (Bear’s Choice) (1973). Thomas reported that he based the bears on a lead sort from an unknown font.[103] The bear is a reference to Owsley “Bear” Stanley, who recorded and produced the album. Bear himself wrote, “the bears on the album cover are not really ‘dancing’. I don’t know why people think they are; their positions are quite obviously those of a high-stepping march.”[97]

Those bears–dancing or not–in their most basic sense represent Bear, and Bear represents LSD to lots and lots of folks. That LSD connection might explain the bears’ bright colors and the psychedelic backgrounds often seen behind them. (Whenever I see some little kid on the lot dressed in a tiny t-shirt with one of those bears on it I snicker to myself and wonder if the Deadhead parents–or grandparents–even realized they’ve made their precious darling a walking advertisement for lab produced hallucinogens.)

So there I was in Wal-Mart, faced with tie dye and dancing bears and the Grateful Dead–representations of drug culture, hippie culture, counterculture–all before 7am.

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I wanted one of those shirts! Lord, the price was only $7.50. I pawed through the display and found a size XXL. I really wanted one of the shirts. I put the shirt on over my jacket, and it felt a little too tight. I peeled off the shirt, then the jacket, put the tie dye on over my long sleeve t-shirt. I still didn’t like the way it fit. Damn!

I put the shirt back in the stack and went about my life. Even $7.50 is not a bargain if I don’t like the way the shirt fits. But I was sure sad to not be able to sport those bears and tell folks they’d come from Wal-Mart.

I took the photos.

Permanent Markers

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I was in Visalia, California after spending the day at the Sequoia National Park. I’d just pulled into the Wal-Mart parking lot, planning to spend the night there before heading out into the wilderness. I needed some office supplies, so I went in to make some purchases.

I found the items I needed, then made an impulse decision to buy of a three-pack of Sharpie markers for $1.64. Sharpies always come in handy, right?

I brought the purchases up to the counter. The cashier rang up my binder and my transparent plastic sheet protectors to go in the binder. When she rang up the Sharpies, I saw that the cash register asked the cashier to verify that I was over 18. She didn’t card me; I guess all my grey hair told her I was over 18.

I said to the cashier (who looked like she was barely out of her teens), You have to be 18 to buy Sharpies?

She very seriously said yes.

I started laughing and told her that was the silliest thing I’d ever heard.

She very seriously told me that they don’t sell permanent markers to minors.

I continued to laugh and asked, What about Marks-a-Lots?

She said, What’s that?

I said, That’s a brand of marker.

She repeated that they don’t sell permanent markers to minors.

I wish I hadn’t been so tired. If I had been on my toes, I’d have asked her a few questions. Is that a Wal-Mart corporate policy or the  policy of this individual store? Can local Wal-Marts decide what they will and won’t sell to people of various ages? Did the town of Visalia ask Wal-Mart not to sell permanent markers to minors? Is there a law in Visalia that minors can’t have permanent markers? Is it illegal for me to distribute to permanent markers to minors in Visalia, California?

At a Wal-Mart in Austin, Texas, I had to put my name on a list when I bought spray paint to cover rusty spots on my van. That was weird and invasive enough, but marker discrimination based on age? Ridiculous!

I decided to pose my questions to the Wal-Mart corporate office. This is the message I sent through the Wal-Mart.com contact page:

HI,
I was in the Wal-Mart on Mooney Avenue in Visalia, California last night. I was buying Sharpie markers. I noticed the cash register asked the cashier to verify that I was 18 so I could purchase the Sharpies. (I’m 44.) When I questioned her, the cashier said they don’t sell permanent markers to minors.

I have a few questions. Is that a Wal-Mart corporate policy or the  policy of this individual store? Can local Wal-Marts decide what they will and won’t sell to people of various ages? Did the town of Visalia ask Wal-Mart not to sell permanent markers to minors? Is there a law in Visalia that minors can’t have permanent markers? Is it illegal for me to distribute permanent markers to minors in Visalia, California? (I have no plans to distribute permanent markers to minors, but I just thought I should know my status in the event the situation arises.) What sort of markers can a person under the age of 18 purchase at this Wal-Mart store?

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Wal-Mart has never answered my questions.

Go to the Poor People

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If you’re in trouble, or hurt or need–go to the poor people. They’re the only ones that’ll help–the only ones.”

–John Steinbeck

I agree with Mr. Steinbeck on this one. When I was on the road with nothing–no food, no money, no gas–it was often the people who seemed poor who helped me. I was always touched when people who seemed to have very little shared what they did have with me.

One day I got an object lesson in the generosity of the poor and the stinginess of the rich.

I was in Bakersfield, California (population approximately 350,000) with Mr. Carolina, Lil C, and the Okie. I was flying a sign that read “Traveling, Broke & Hungry” at the main Wal-Mart exit. We were trying to get money for some dinner and enough gas to at least get out of town.

I’d been standing there with my sign for a while when I saw a Hummer approaching the exit. No one in a Hummer had ever given me so much as a dime before, so I resigned myself to getting nothing from this driver. But a miracle happened! The Hummer stopped next to me, and the passenger side window slid down. I could see the woman in the driver’s seat rummaging in her purse. She pulled out a bill and leaned across the seat to hand it to me out of the passenger window. I reached for the bill, and there was a moment when both my benefactor and I had our hands on it.

We realized at the same moment that the bill was a twenty. I let out a little noise of joy, and the woman let out a little noise of consternation. Just as I was saying, Oh! Thank you!, the woman pulled the bill out of my hand. Apparently the woman driving the vehicle that cost at least $30,000 new could not afford to give away $20. She ended up giving me $5, and I was grateful for it, although not as grateful as I would have been for that $20 bill I’d briefly had my fingers on.

Some time later, a young guy road up behind me on a bicycle. He asked me about my sign. I told him my friends and I were trying to get out of Bakersfield, trying to get out of California, heading to Oklahoma so one the the friends could get home in time for his mother’s birthday, all of which was true. I told him the four of us were hoping to get some money to buy some dinner and gasoline.

The young man reached into his pocket and pulled out two or three crumpled $1 bills and handed them to me. I thanked him, knowing this was probably quite a generous contribution from someone getting around on a bicycle. I watched him ride off, then turn the bike around and ride back to me.

You know what, he said, you should just take all the money I have in my pockets.

He pulled out a few more crumpled $1 bills. In all, I think he gave me $7.

After I thanked him again, he told me he was giving me the money in Jesus’ name. He told me he felt very fortunate to have a job and his bicycle, things he’d gotten through Jesus, and he felt like Jesus would want him to give me all the money in his pockets.

I felt like I had just witnessed a Biblical parable. The rich lady driving the Hummer had a $20 bill, but decided after I had my hand on it that she needed it more than I did. The poor boy riding a bicycle, however, saw my need as greater than his, so he emptied his pockets and gave the contents to me.

I don’t think Mr. Steinbeck would have been surprised.

 

Cop Knock

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The events in today’s post happened several weeks ago, in July 2015.

On Sunday afternoon, I’d headed for Babylon as soon as my shift at the parking lot ended. I typically want to get to civilization as soon as possible when my time off starts, but by the time I complete my descent into the parched heat, I usually wonder why I thought leaving the mountain was a good idea.

This Sunday was hot too, so I stayed in the coffee shop as long as I could. After it closed, I found the temperature hadn’t dropped much, so I walked aimlessly through Target for a while. But soon that store was closing too, and unless I wanted to waste some time (and money!) in Denny’s, there was no place else for me to go. Besides, I was tired and needed as much sleep as I could steal from this desert night. So I drove my van to the 24/7 supermarket and found a decent spot to park.

I don’t sleep well in the heat. I sleep best when the air’s a little cold, and I can snuggle under a pile of blankets and never get warm enough to kick them off in the night. I knew this was not going to be a night of good sleep, but I figured if I could catch a few hours of shut-eye, I’d be ok the next day.

The last time I looked at my watch it was 11:30. I must have dozed off because I was suddenly jerked awake by knocking on the van.

Who is it? I asked loudly (and probably gruffly too).

The dreadful reply: Sheriff’s department.

Oh fuck! I didn’t have any guns or drugs in the van, so I knew I was ok on those fronts, but I couldn’t imagine any good reason a representative of the sheriff’s department would be knocking on my door in the middle of the night.

I peeked out the curtain, and sure enough, a very young man dressed in cop clothes was standing next to my van.

I said One moment or Just a minute and started fumbling in the weak parking lot light filtering through my curtains to find my glasses and some clothes to put on. Once I was dressed and could see, I moved the curtain so the cop could talk to me through the window.

Here’s the story he laid on me: He was looking for Alfonso Gonzalez, who lived in a van just like the one I was in. He asked if Alfonso Gonzalez were in the van with me.

I don’t know anyone named Alfonso Gonzalez, and there sure as hell was no one in there with me. So I told the deputy that Alfonso Gonzalez was definitely NOT in the van.

Of course, then the cop wanted to see for himself. He said if I’d just open the door and allow him to look inside and see that no one was with me, he’d be on his way because all he was interested in was finding Alfonso Gonzalez. I wanted the whole interaction over as soon as possible, so I agreed to let him look inside my van home.

I opened the door and stepped out onto the warm asphalt, barefoot and wearing a skirt with the elastic pulled up over my breasts, strapless sundress style. The cop shined his flashlight into the van and must have immediately seen that I had been in there alone.

But then the liar started questioning me! Of course, he wrote all my answers in his little notebook.

What was my name? When was my birthday? Did I have any outstanding warrants? Had I missed any court dates?

I answered his questions despite the fogginess of my sleepy brain. I didn’t feel like I had much choice in the matter. I was in a parking lot in the middle of the night, and I didn’t have a lawyer to call. Would he find an excuse to take me to jail if I didn’t answer his questions? If he took me to jail, would my van be impounded? If my van were impounded, would I lose all of my belongings and owe a bunch of money to the court system? I answered his questions.

I don’t remember now if I volunteered the information in hopes of making myself look respectable or if I answered a direct question, but I told him I was down from the mountain where I worked as a camp host. I said I had to get supplies in the morning, then I would be on my way out of town.

You can guess where his questions went from there. What company did I work for? What town did I work in? (That was a particularly difficult one for my sleep addled mind, since I don’t work anywhere near a town. I’m near a couple of small communities, but I’m miles from any real town.) I think he even asked me my boss’ name. I answered his questions.

Then he started asking me about the license plate on the van. He asked if my registration was current. I told him my registration didn’t expire until the end of August (which he would have already known if he’d looked at the sticker on my plate), but added that in fact I had just paid to update the registration and was waiting for the new sticker to get to me. He said he had run my plate number, and it wasn’t in the system. I don’t understand how a legally registered vehicle (which my van is) wouldn’t be in the system, but that’s what he said. So then he asked to see my registration if I had it handy. (I’m sure he was hoping I didn’t have it handy so he’d have a reason to ticket me for the infraction.)

As I was digging around for the registration, he asked me how long I’d been in California. I said I’d arrived at the end of April. He told me I needed to register my van in California since I was residing in the state now.

I tried to tell him I wasn’t residing in California, that I don’t have a residence in California, but he said it looked to him like I was residing in my van. True enough. I didn’t think to say my job is temporary or seasonal. I didn’t think to say that as soon as I’m laid off, I’ll be high-tailing it out of California. I don’t think any of that mattered to him. I think he figured since he hadn’t gotten Alfonso Gonzalez, he’d try to find some reason to harass me.

I’m aware of the concept of California Uber Alles, but I wasn’t aware that like the Borg, the state wants to assimilate anyone who enters its domain.

 

Thankfully, my good sense kicked in (or maybe I just woke up), and I decided arguing with the cop was not going to make my situation better. I just shut up and handed him the van’s registration paperwork.

He went back to his car (which he had parked behind my van, blocking me in) to run my information. I guess everything checked out because when he came back, he returned my paperwork and didn’t ask to search the van, and he didn’t haul me off to jail. He did tell me that I should transfer my registration because the CHP (California Highway Patrol—you know, CHiPs…Ponch and Jon…bad 80s television…)

 

is very strict about people living in California while their vehicles are registered in another state.

After he left, I locked my doors, closed my curtains, and crawled back into my bed. In addition to the heat, I had adrenaline coursing through my body. I was awake for at least another two hours, wondering if the deputy had called CHP, if more cops were on the way, if my van would be impounded and I’d lose all of my possessions (again). I finally dozed a little and was less worried about the CHP and the prospect of losing my van in the light of day.

Since that night, I haven’t been bothered by any cops looking for Alfonso Gonzalez.

And it may be superstitious, but I don’t sleep in that parking lot anymore.