Ring

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I was walking through the Wal-Mart parking lot in a small mountain town. I heard someone say Ma’am? so I looked over. At first I thought the person talking to me was a young man. Based on appearance—shaved head, flat chest, shapeless athletic-style garments—I guessed the person was male. However, when the person spoke, there was a softness to the voice I didn’t expect. Was the person transgender? A butch lesbian? Neither the person’s gender no sexual orientation really mattered, but still, I was curious.

I’d seen the person earlier when I’d pulled into a parking space. The Man and I had sat in our vehicle for a few minutes discussing what we needed to buy in the store. In the parking row ahead of us, I’d seen this person emerge from the passenger side of a small, beat up car. They were carrying a purple case, the kind a child might use to transport a few sheets of paper and a handful of crayons. I’d wondered what was in the case. Now I’d have my chance to find out.

Ma’am? the person asked again. I stopped walking, and the person went on with their story. They were a miner and a jewelry maker. They lived in an even smaller town down the road, and their car was having problems. They were trying to sell some of the jewelry they’d made so they could pay for repairs on the car. Their higher end jewelry was for sale on Etsy, but that money could take a while to come through.

All of the preceding information was conveyed in a rapid-fire, highly enthusiastic manner.

I said I would take a look at what they were selling. They opened the case and started pointing to stones and rings and pendants. They had mined the stones and turned them into jewelry, they said. They were pointing out stones, telling me they names of the stones and where they had found them. They were talking very fast.

I hate to dis an artist, but I have to say, neither the jewelry nor the stones were impressive. The design and workmanship of the jewelry screamed absolute beginner without much talent. The stones were not cut well and barely showed a polish. Although I didn’t think the work was very good, I did want to help this person. They obviously needed money if they were hawking jewelry in Wal-Mart parking lot.

I should have just handed over five bucks and been done with it, but I like to encourage artists too. We were all beginners once. People bought my hemp jewelry when it wasn’t very good. I could do the same for another beginner.

A ring in the case caught my eye. I picked it up and the jewelry maker said they’d mined the stone. They told me where they’d found it. I tried on the ring and it fit. I’m a sucker for a ring that fits, so I asked the price. They said it was $20.

I should have handed over five bucks and left the ring, but I wanted to help. I wanted to encourage. I pulled a $20 bill from my wallet and handed it over. I had a new ring.

I introduced myself by way of parting. They told me the name they used when selling jewelry, then went on to give me their full, legal (feminine) name in order to explain their nickname. I asked if they had a card, but they didn’t. I gave them my card, although I’m not sure why I thought that was a good idea at the time.

I really wanted to part ways now. The Man was waiting in the truck and was probably ready to head home.

I took a step away, and the person took a step toward me. They started telling me about spending the winter in Quartzsite.

My partner ripped me off, they said. (I don’t know if they meant a business partner or a romantic partner.)

I had a small problem with a warrant in New Mexico. When I got picked up, my partner took everything! Here they named a huge dollar amount of supposedly stolen inventory and ended with saying the partner even stole my dog!

Whether this was true or not, I don’t know. However, I do know that if one wants to generate sympathy, one might tell a story in which a partner does one wrong by stealing not only a huge amount of merchandise, but one’s beloved pet as well.

It was all TMI to me. I just wanted to get out of there.

Ok! See you later! I said brightly when there was the slightest pause in the monologue. I took off, found the truck where The Man was waiting, and got in.

Look at my new ring, I told The Man as I handed it over for his inspection. He looked at it more closely than I had.

Ring made from rusty metal and a small piece of pink stone worn on the middle finger
That’s the ring I paid $20 for.

I think it’s made of barbed wire, he said, handing it back to me. I examined it. I thought he was right. Great. I’d paid $20 for a ring that was likely to give me tetanus.

I told The Man about the encounter that had led me to buy the ring. I think that person was on meth, I said as I wrapped up the story. This idea hadn’t occurred to me while I was talking to them, but now it seemed perfectly clear. Trying to sell trinkets in a parking lot was the first potential sign. The pride in the poorly crafted goods was a red flag I had ignored. The rapid speech and over-excitement should have both been tip-offs. The oversharing was another sign. If the sad stories (broke down car, lowdown partner, theft of merchandise and dog) didn’t give it away, certainly the slightly sweaty look of their face even though it was a cool evening should have.

Backside of a ring made from rusty metal worn on the middle finger
Backside of the ring I paid $20 for.

I didn’t realize it then, but I realized it now: I’d been suckered.

You helped them get whatever they needed tonight, The Man comforted me.

I hoped they’d use the $20 I forked over to really turn their life around…but I knew $20 wasn’t enough to turn any life around. Twenty dollars is really so little.

In the end, I faced the fact that it wasn’t my job to save that person, and it wasn’t that person’s job to be saved. I remembered how when Mr. Carolina gave money to someone flying a sign or panhandling in a parking lot, he didn’t care what the person used the money for. He gave the money to help the person get whatever they needed in the moment, be it food, beer, or crack. It’s not our place to judge, Mr. Carolina taught me, and it’s not our place to tell other people what they do or don’t need. People make their own decisions, and when it comes down to it, we can help each other, but each of us has to decide to save ourselves (or not).

All that said, I hope I was wrong about the person I met in the parking lot of that small-town Wal-Mart that cool spring night. I hope there’s no meth habit holding them down. I hope their skills grow, and they can one day make the jewelry as they currently envision it. I hope their car gets fixed. I hope they find a trust-worthy partner and a new dog to love. I hope they soar.  

I took the photos in this post.

Baguettes

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Six Baked BreadsThe couple was very young, maybe in their early 20s, but probably closer to 18.

The woman had dirty blond hair, the sides pulled away from her face. She wasn’t wearing any makeup, or if she was, it was so artfully done I couldn’t tell it was there. She looked like a cute, natural young woman out for a day in the forest.

The guy had blond hair too, but his was the result of an unfortunate dying incident. It was that unnatural orange color caused by trying to bleach dark hair too fast. But what do I know? Maybe he loved his hair color. Maybe he enjoyed the rebellion of an obviously unnatural hair color. Maybe his hair color was the envy of all his friends. In the grand scheme of things, his hair color meant very little to me.

The couple walked into the Mercantile, and I said hello. The young man returned my greeting, and I identified him by his accent immediately. With that one word, I knew his first language was French, although I couldn’t tell you if he had grown up in France or Belgium or Quebec.

If I had any doubt about his Frenchness, it was dispelled by his next words.

Ah, we were looking for some baguettes

I almost burst out laughing. The French guy wanted baguettes? Are you fucking with me, kid?

It was the second time that season that a French man had come into the Mercantile and behaved so Picture of Eiffel Towerstereotypically French that I wondered if someone was pulling a prank on me. The first guy has such a stereotypical French accent and such stereotypical French mannerisms that I honestly wondered if he was just pretending to be French. He seemed too over the top to be real. It was only when his parents joined him in the store and I saw they were French but not comically so that I decided the young guy was French…in fact, he was very, very French.

And now this young French man was asking for baguettes. Is there a more French thing a person could ask for?

Baguettes? No, I answered sadly, still trying not to laugh. We don’t have any baguettes. What I didn’t say is, We’re on top of a mountain, and there are no bakeries for 40 miles in any direction.

Is there any other store nearby? The young French man asked. He clearly was not easily discouraged.

I pointed right and said, There’s a general store ten miles that way, then I pointed left and said, and there’s a general store ten miles that way, but I’m pretty sure they don’t have baguettes either.

Ok, the young French man said. We look around for something else.

Apparently nothing in our selection of chips, candy, and granola bars could substitute for a baguette because the young people bought nothing. They walked quickly around the yurt, then left to continue their quest for the bread of their people.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/baguette-bakery-blur-bread-461060/ and https://www.pexels.com/photo/picture-of-eiffel-tower-338515/.

No Way!

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Edith was a tiny toddler with an old lady’s name. She may have been small in size, but she was big in letting people know what she wanted (and didn’t want).

Edith was maybe two years old. Her mother seemed to be in her early 20s. The mother looked like maybe she was a punk or a traveling kid who’d settled down a bit after having a baby. Of course, we were in Northern New Mexico where one can settle down a little after having a kid without becoming a soccer mom. (I didn’t know Edith or her mother, so I’m pretty much making up stories about them based on the moment we spent in each other’s presence.)

My sibling and I encountered Edith and her mother at a hot spring. They were in the process of leaving as we arrived. At least the woman was ready to leave. She was already out of the water, dried, and dressed. Edith was still in the hot water.  Edith did not want to get out of the hot water.

The mother talked to Edith in a very calm voice. Edith, it’s time to get out of the water now. It’s time to dry off and get dressed.

Edith replied, No way!

My sibling and I got undressed and eased ourselves into the soothing warmth of the natural pool.

The mother continued to try to reason with the toddler. It’s time to go, Edith, she said. We have to leave now so we can get to the potluck in time.

No way! Edith responded.

Edith, her mother said, a hint of exasperation sneaking into her still calm and quiet voice, we decided that going to this potluck is what’s best for our family.

I wonder how much input Edith actually had when the decision to attend the potluck had been made. Had Edith actually agreed that attending the potluck was in the best interest of the family? Had Edith helped reach the conclusion that attending the potluck was better than lingering in the wonderful hot water?

Edith simply looked at her mother and repeated, No way!

The mother continued to speak to Edith calmly, repeating that it was time to go and they needed to leave now in order to get to the potluck. Edith never threw a tantrum, never screamed, never cried. She simply continued to voice her desire to stay by telling her mother No way! whenever her mother said it was time to go.

My sibling and I exchanged glances and silently wondered how this stalemate was going to end.

Finally Edith begrudgingly allowed herself to be lifted from the water. She allowed herself to be dried off and dressed, but we all knew she wasn’t happy about her truncated soak.

Why a Motorhome?

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Green mile marker sign with a 6 on it is in the foreground. A motorhome is driving away from the camera, towards the mountains.
Why would anyone want to live in a motorhome?

In the time between selling back our land in southern New Mexico and settling on our new property a little farther north, The Man and I used our New Mexico State Parks annual camping pass to bounce between Rockhound State Park, Pancho Villa State Park, and City of Rocks State Park. During the two months we state park hopped, we saw a lot of rigs come in and later leave the campgrounds. Motorhomes mystified The Man.

Why would anyone want to live in one of those? he frequently wondered aloud, then went on to list a litany of motorhome problems. The terrible gas mileage was always on the top if his list, followed by the fact that unless the motorhome residents towed a vehicle, they had to move the entire rig every time they wanted to leave the campground. Some days I’d chime in about the expense of tires (information I’d learned while doing research for the post “The AdVANtages of Living and Traveling in a Van“) and the challenges of parking and backing up such big rigs. (With the exceptions of most Class Bs, even a small motorhome is way bigger than anything most people have driven.)

One day I got to thinking about why folks might want to live in a Class A or C motorhome. Of course, every nomad’s story is different. Some people are given their rigs, either from someone who doesn’t want to mess with RV travel anymore or from someone who has passed away. While selling a motorhome that was inherited might be the best plan in the long run, doing so could take time and cause aggravation. It might be easier for someone to simply live in a motorhome that falls into their lap.

Other people specifically choose to live and travel in a motorhome, and I’ve come up with ten possible reasons why.

#1 Motorhomes can be really spacious. Depending on the floor plan, motorhomes can offer a lot of room to move around. People who are accustomed to living in a big space may have an easier transition to life on the road if they start out in a roomy motorhome.

#2 In addition to space in general, motorhomes have plenty of headroom. If luxury is never having to hit your head, motorhomes provide luxurious accommodations. For folks who are tired of vanlife because they can’t stand up in their rig, motorhomes must be quite enticing.

#3With lots of room should come lots of storage. Cabinets and pantries and cupboards, oh my! Motorhomes even tend to have closets with space for hanging clothes. For rubber tramps who aren’t ready to downsize any further, a motorhome might be attractive because there’s space for all the stuff.

#4 For travelers who want a rig akin to a conventional home, a motorhome could be the way to go. For starters, motorhomes often have a separate bedroom. Vans, of course, have an open floorplan, as they say in the real estate business, but I’m astounded by the number of travel trailers I’ve seen with the bed practically in the kitchen. For anyone who wants privacy for sleeping (or other adult activities), motorhomes with an actual bedroom can be quite appealing.

#5 Motorhomes tend to have a separate bathroom too. Pipes are already installed, so there’s running water in the sink and shower and toilet too.

#6 A person who lives in a motorhome never has to haul a camp stove outside to cook because there’s a kitchen in the rig! Not only do cupboards come with the package, as in the bathroom, pipes are already installed, so running water is a no brainer. In addition to the convenience of a sink (or even two!)  the kitchen in a motorhome usually boasts a properly vented stove and sometimes even an oven!

#7 Quite important as a safety feature for many nomads, motorhome living allows the driver to get from the front of the rig into the living space without having to go outside. Some folks don’t mind leaving their tow vehicle to enter their travel trail or fifth wheel, but lots of people appreciate the peace of mind they feel when they can stay inside and go directly to their living space. This access to the living space also means someone can hop into the driver’s seat and pull out of a parking spot at the first hint of trouble without having to step foot out the door.

#8 Having its own motor means a motorhome needs nothing to tow it, as does a fifth wheel or travel trailer. When buying a motorhome (or receiving one as a gift), one need not worry about tow packages, engine capacity, gear ratios, weight limits, or towing capacity. While some motorhome RVers do tow (an often small) car or Jeep or pickup truck behind their rig to use on short trips away from the motorhome, that sort of towing is purely optional.

#9 Folks living and traveling in motorhomes don’t have to deal with the hassles of towing, While motorhomes are large and sometimes tricky to drive, they’re only one piece of equipment. There’s no sway of one part of the rig while going down the highway. There’s no need to worry about part of the rig coming apart and rolling away. While backing up a motorhome is not without its challenges, at least there’s only one piece of equipment to worry about. (Of course, these advantages of having a motorhome go out the window if a smaller vehicle is being towed behind the rig, but as mentioned before, such a situation is totally optional.)

#10 Finally, if a motorhome is not towing anything, there’s no hassle of hitching or unhitching.  I never gave much thought to hitching up a trailer until I found myself in possession of a travel trailer. It’s a lot of work. It requires a tow vehicle to change position inches at a time to get everything lined up correctly. It’s a real pain in the neck! Upon arriving at a destination, the trailer should be unhitched so as not to put undue pressure on the tongue and tow vehicle. Of course, this means everything has to be hooked up again when it’s time to go. I can understand the appeal of a motorhome which demands no such process.

So there you have it—ten reason why someone might want to live in one of those. If you live in a Class A or a Class C motorhome, I’d love to hear why you picked it and why you like it. Also, feel free to tell us what you don’t like so much about motorhome life. I don’t have personal motorhome experience, so please share yours!

I took the photo in this post.

Car Wash

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Our property is reached by traveling on two dirt roads. The main road is maintained by the county on some schedule I can’t figure out. The heavy equipment comes when it comes. The secondary dirt road is maintained by no one but us, and we have no equipment for maintenance. When we first arrived, we rented a skid steer (aka a Bobcat), and The Man improved the secondary road so we could get our trailer to our land. The improvement didn’t last very long.

The weather forecast for the second week of May called for about five days of precipitation. On at least one of those days, there was a chance that the precipitation would be snow.

Snow? I asked incredulously. Temperatures weren’t supposed to dip below freezing at night, much less during the day. I didn’t think it would possibly be cold enough for snow. I should have remembered what I told visitors during my time as a camp host in California: It’s the mountains. Anything can happen.

We woke up around six in the morning, as we usually did. Before we got out of bed, The Man asked, What’s that sound?

I told him it was probably the rain that had been in the forecast.

Snow covers sage and rocks
The mountains are hidden and snow covers the ground.

He said it didn’t sound like rain to him, but I said it sounded like rain to me. He got out of bed, walking into the living room, and looked out of the big window facing east. He reported the presence of snow.

No way! I answered. This was not the first time in our lives together that The Man reported snow and I’ve doubted him. Sometimes jokesters are not to be believed, but sometimes they tell truths that seem impossible.

On this occasion there certainly was snow, five or six inches on the ground and covering all the sage. The mountains were shrouded in clouds or mist or fog, some weather phenomenon I’m not sure how to name. Our mountains were entirely hidden from view. The sky was gray all around, and fat, wet snowflakes continued to fall.

Snow and rain fell most of the morning and into the afternoon, turning our cleared land into a mud bowl.

The Man had done a soil analysis soon after we moved the trailer onto the land. He took a sample of our dirt and put it in a jar of water. The way the soil separated was supposed to tell us about the makeup of our dirt. He got practically no separation; all but the tiniest amount of soil settled to the bottom of the jar. He told me that meant our soil was mostly pure clay.

Once the clay surrounding our trailer got good and wet, it turned into a sticky mess. When we walked out into the mud, it sucked and pulled at our shoes. The mud clung to our shoes in clumps that were difficult to knock off before we went into the trailer. We stayed inside as much as possible, but Jerico the dog had to go outside several times that day. When we let him back in mud and pebbles stuck between his toes, and we had to wipe his feet before he jumped onto the couch or bed.

By late afternoon, there was a break in the precipitation, and we had to hurry to town to get water (we were practically out) and pick up some food staples we were low on.  We wondered if we’d be able to navigate the muddy road.

The Man drove. He has more years of driving under his seatbelt and more experience driving on ice, to which he compared driving through the sticky mud. He barely got the truck moving through the mud in order to shift into four wheel drive, but he managed to do it. The truck left huge ruts in its wake.

Large ruts in muddy road surrounded by sage brush.
The road in front of our property became a rutted mess after the neighbors drove on it. We did our share to add to the mess.

The road in front of our property was a giant, muddy slip-n-slide. Even under The Man’s experienced steering, the truck slid all over the road.  At times we moved down the road at an angle instead of straight ahead. Mud flew through the air and splattered the windshield and sides of the truck.

The farther we got from our property, the better the road was, but by “better,” I really mean “less terrible.” The road was bad. Amy city person would have told you so.

Tire and fender covered in mud. Large rut filled with water in the background.
Out lovely, muddy truck parked on our lovely, muddy land.

We made it off the dirt road (more aptly described as a mud road at that time) and into town. When we stopped at the gas station, I was astonished to see the truck was covered in mud. The tires, the windshield, the sides, the undercarriage, the windows were all thickly splashed with already drying, cracking clay. It looked like we’d been out muddin‘.

We cleaned the windshield as best as we could, but agreed there was no sense going to the car wash, as we’d only go back through mud on the way home. The truck was sure to get covered with mud again as soon as we left the pavement.

After a few days the sky ceased dumping rain and snow on us, and the mud dried into hard, cracked clay. We decided we’d wash the truck first thing when we went to town.

Our first stop was a self-service car wash, the kind where you wash your car with water that shoots out of a long wand. We took our water jugs out of the truck’s bed, and The Man fed three dollar bills into the machine. The water shot out of the wand and knocked off the large chunks of dried mud but left a red dirt film on the surface of the truck. The Man thought we’d already spent enough money at that place and decided we needed to go elsewhere to use an automatic car wash.

We found one across town, and using it was a fiasco from the beginning. We weren’t sure how to make the card reader at the entrance work. I put my debit card in the reader, and some words appeared on the machine’s screen, but I was never given an access code. I walked over the adjacent gas station/convenience store, and after standing in line, told the worker what had happened. She assured me that if the machine hadn’t given me an access code, no money had been taken from my account. She then told me I could pay for a wash right there at her register. She rattled off four car wash choices priced at $6, $8, $10, and $12.

I can’t say I have much car wash experience. In the almost five years I had my van, I washed it exactly once, at one of those self-serve places after my boss gave me a $10 token to use there. I remember going through automatic car washes a time or two years ago, but I’d never paid for one before. I didn’t know what to pick, but since I’m cheap and $6 seemed like an extravagance for some soap and water, I went with the basic wash.

When I returned to the car wash, the doors were already open. I punched in the code I’d just bought, and The Man drove the truck in while I stayed with the water jugs. The wash didn’t last very long. When I walked over to where he’d parked, I found The Man fuming. The red dirt film still clung to the exterior of the truck, and clumps of mud still stuck to the undercarriage.

That didn’t do anything! The Man sputtered. I’m getting our money back!

He drove the truck over to the gas station/convenience store and parked in front. I followed him into the store. When it was his turn at the counter, The Man expressed his dissatisfaction to the clerk. She called the manager from the back room.

What both women told us boiled down to this: The $6 wash was only a basic wash and didn’t do much to remove dirt. Everyone in town already knew this.  If we wanted the truck to come clean, we were going to have to spend more money.

Both ladies were very polite and friendly. The manager said if we weren’t satisfied, she would gladly refund our money, which she did. However, she made it clear we couldn’t expect much from the $6 option.

We gave up on washing the truck that day. A couple days later we were back in town, and we went to a different  automatic car wash.

Don’t get the cheapest one, The Man warned me before I want inside to pay. I bought the $10 wash this time.

Floral print books in mud below bright orange skirt.
My boots in the mud as it was beginning to dry.

Again, I waited outside while The Man drove the truck into the washing area. It was in there a lot longer this time, and it looked a lot better when it came out. There was still a slight film of red clay clinging to the sides. We used toilet paper and rags to wipe off the film. I suppose that clay isn’t coming off without a little elbow grease. 

I took the photos in this post.

Heather

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The Man and Jerico the dog had gone down to the river while I worked on my blog at a coffee shop. I’d nearly finished scheduling a second post when The Man appeared next to my right shoulder.

As he often does, he began in the middle.

She was down by the river, he said. She said she wanted to come to town, but I think she wants to go back.

I looked past him and saw a very tall woman with very short hair. The hair she did have was entirely grey. She was wearing a bright pink t-shirt and long pants. She said her name was Heather, and I introduced myself.

I told The Man I needed about ten minutes to finish what I was working on, and then I’d be ready to go. All the while I was talking to The Man, I could see Heather was looking over my shoulder at my computer screen. Uncool, lady. Uncool.

The Man asked me to open up some business stuff he needed to take a look at, so I went to the webpage he needed. While I was navigating the internet, Heather came around to my left side. I was sitting alone at a counter. There were several tall stools at the counter, and they were jammed close together. When I’d sat down, I’d only moved the one next to me slightly, so it was still close to me. Instead of moving all the stools over just a little, Heather left the one next to me too close so when she sat down, we were practically touching. As soon as she sat down, I could tell she was again trying to see what was on my computer screen.

In less than five minutes after meeting Heather, I knew she had some problems with boundaries. Not only was she physically closer to me than I found comfortable, but trying to read my computer screen was really over the line. Most people in our society know to keep a physical distance from strangers and not to read over anybody’s shoulder unless invited to do so. Either she didn’t recognize these boundaries at all or she simply chose to ignore them.

I wondered why this person was with The Man. I suspected he’s picked her up hitchhiking. She probably needed a ride to the other side of town, where we were going anyway. No biggie. Hitchhiking is a time-honored tradition in Northern New Mexico, and The Man and I both pick up hitchhikers whenever we can.

The Man and I finished looking at the business stuff, and he went off to get another cup of coffee.

I sure could use a beer, Heather said, and that was another red flag, as it was only eleven o’clock in the morning.

I know I shouldn’t judge, but drinking alcohol so early in the day always seems like a bad idea to me. I suppose maybe Heather hadn’t had a beer in days and was ready for one despite the early hour. I suppose she could have been awake since 4am and was ready for a beer after seven hours of consciousness. I suppose a lot of things are possible, but what I’ve witnessed has shown having a beer so early in the day often leads to trouble.

When The Man came back with his coffee, Heather immediately asked him for a drink, which I thought was a bold move. The paper cup from my earlier coffee was still sitting next to my laptop, so he put about a quarter of his fresh coffee into it and handed it to her.

I was still trying to finish my blog post.

I like your Crystal Bible, Heather said to me.

It took me a moment to realize she was talking about the reference book by Judy Hall I’d left in the truck.

Oh yeah! It’s a good one! I said with a smile, then turned back to my work.

Heather said she needed tobacco and asked if there was a smoke shop nearby. I said I didn’t know, then remembered there was a vape store just down from the coffee shop. I mentioned the vape shop, but said I didn’t know if there was tobacco for sale there.

Heather must have gotten bored because she said she was going to wait in the truck. I didn’t know if that was going to work out for her. The Man had probably locked the truck and Jerico was probably going to bark at her if she approached the truck, but I was confident she would figure something out.

Once Heather went outside, The Man filled me in on how he’d met her.

He was down by the river. Heather started following him from a distance and watching him through the trees. When she got closer, he asked her how she was doing. She said she wasn’t doing very good. She said she’s had bad dreams. She told him she was camping nearby, but she didn’t feel safe there. She said she wanted to go into town. She asked The Man to give her a ride. He agreed. She grabbed her meager belongings, and they got into the truck.

They hadn’t gone far down the road when Heather asked The Man if he had seen the woman with the dreadlocks. He said he hadn’t seen her. Heather wondered if the woman with the dreadlocks had come to help her, and if she (Heather) should go back to the river. The Man said he’d bring her back to the river if that’s where she wanted to go. Heather said she wanted to go into town.

They’d gone a little ways further down the road when Heather said, Pull over! Pull over! She said she was having a panic attack. The Man maneuvered the truck into the next pullout on the mountain road they were traveling on. He told Heather again that he would take her back to the river, but she pulled herself together and said she wanted to go into town.

The Man started driving again. He heard the distinctive sound of his water bottle being opened. He looked over and saw Heather taking a large gulp of water from his bottle. She hadn’t asked permission; she’d just helped herself. Of course, The Man didn’t begrudge her the water, but he didn’t care to have a stranger drink straight from his bottle. I wouldn’t either.

At this point, The Man didn’t know how to help Heather, but he didn’t know how to get away from her either. He told her he had to pick up his girlfriend (me).

She asked me if I had a place where she could camp, The Man told me. I shook my head. She’d already crossed my personal-space boundary, my privacy boundary, and The Man’s drinking-from –his-water-bottle-without-permission boundary. What would she be like if we took her to our home? Would she lie down in our bed and wear our clothes? Would she demand we drive her back to town as soon as we pulled into our driveway? Taking her to our place seemed like a very bad idea.

I finished up my blog post and started packing my things. In less than an hour, I was supposed to show up at my new place of employment to do my new-hire paperwork.

We can give her a ride wherever she needs to go in town, I told The Man. Getting ourselves any more entangle with her seemed like a very bad idea.

By the time I finished packing everything and went outside, Heather and The Man were both milling around near our truck.

I walked up to Heather. She towered over me.

Is there somewhere in town you need to go? I asked her. I can give you a ride somewhere in town.

She said she thought she’d go back to her campsite near the river. I explained we weren’t going that way for a while. I told her I had to do a thing for work and didn’t know how long it was going to take. She said she didn’t want to go any further into town but  was hoping to get some toilet paper and tobacco. I told her I had some toilet paper she could have. I walked around to the other side of the truck, grabbed the roll of TP I had stashed in the truck’s door storage pocket, and gave it to her.

Her things—a rolled up sleeping bad, a tent bag (presumably with a tent in it), and a poorly folded tarp—were in the back of our truck. The Man and I unloaded the items and set them next to a concrete barricade separating the parking lot form the street. Heather was heading to the liquor store next door.

She said something about wanting a water bottle, The Man said to me softly.

I don’t have an extra water bottle with me, I told him. I’ve got some water bottles at home…I trailed off. I don’t really want to give away my $30 water bottle (an Eco Vessel bottle I’d splurged on a couple years back while I was working and had some spending money.)

The Man admitted he didn’t want to give away his water bottle either. Instead, he took his now empty paper coffee cup, rinsed it, and filled it from the big drinking water tank in the back of the truck. He added the cup of water to the small pile of Heather’s belongings.

Heather was almost to the door of the liquor store. I was torn. Part of me wanted to let her go upon her way uninterrupted, but part of me knew I needed to let her know her things were no longer in our truck. What if someone stole her things after we left and before she made it back to the parking lot to retrieve them? What if something was left in the truck and she thought we’d stolen it? I wanted to officially relinquish responsibility of her belongings before I drove away.

Heather, I called out, and she came over. I pointed out her things and told her we had to go. Just as I’d feared, when I walked toward the truck, she followed me.

I sure do like that Crystal Bible, she started in again.

It is a good one, I told her again. I use it when I’m selling my jewelry and shiny rocks.

Oh, she said, sounding disappointed. Do you have another one? she asked hopefully. I really like it.

I don’t have another one, I answered truthfully, and I use that one, I continued, also truthfully.

Before I could get away, Heather asked me about a place where she could camp. I told her about the rest area where I stayed when I was homeless but let her know she would have to dodge the attendant who worked there during the day. She didn’t seem to like the idea of having to dodge a worker but then said she’d go to the rest area with us.

I told her we weren’t going to the rest area. I explained again that we were going into town. Then I hurried over to the truck, got in, and started the engine. Of course, other vehicles were leaving the crowded parking lot, and I couldn’t back out and make my hoped for quick getaway. I was stuck.

Heather went over to the passenger side of the truck where The Man was sitting. Mark! Mark! she called out, although The Man’s name sounds nothing remotely like the name Mark. His window was open, and she stood there and asked him for something. I’d stopped paying attention to her in my focus to back out. When The Man didn’t have what she wanted, she came around to my side. She stood so close to the vehicle, I couldn’t move when my time came.

Do you have a couple of bucks I can have? she asked me.

I fished my wallet out of my bag, but found only a single. I handed it to her and told her it was all I had.

Ok! We’ve got to go now, I said, trying not to sound unkind. Heather moved, and we left.

The Man and I spent the next few days wondering what we could have done to help Heather and feeling guilty for not having done more. Should I have handed over my water bottle? Would Mother Theresa have handed over her water bottle? Should we have dropped everything and driven her back to her campsite or the rest area? Should we have let her come out to our place? Is there anything we could have done to really help her? How do I help others (especially those who may be difficult to help) without jeopardizing my own mental health?

I think too often people tell themselves there was nothing I could have done to make themselves feel better for not having done more. I don’t want to be the person who doesn’t do all she can. Also, I don’t want to be cranky with Heather because she wanted and needed and asked for things. All that said, I still strongly suspect letting her stay at our place would have only led to grief.

I did put another roll of toilet paper in the truck, along with a Nalgene bottle filled with drinking water so I can help the next person who has those needs. I’ve also thought again about how grateful I am to be able to function pretty well in the society I live in. I may suffer from depression and anxiety, but I can typically move through the world without too many problems. Heather reminded me that many people don’t have that privilege.

A History of Caravans, aka Travel Trailers

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It’s July now and the height of the summer travel season in the United States. Lots of folks are out and about with their travel trailers, but have you ever wondered about the history of these RVs that are towed behind a car or truck? Today I’m sharing a guest post from CAMP (Caravan & Motorhome Parts) all about the history of travel trailers, or caravans, as they are called in England.

Do you own a travel trailer? You may be wondering how travel trailers started out.

They originally come from the UK, and in England they are called caravans. The word “caravan” comes from the Moroccan term “karwan” which is the name of a group of desert travelers.

The caravan you own today probably has a sleek modern interior, bathroom, kitchen, HD TV and plenty more extras. However, if you go back 100 years your caravan would look completely different.

Back in 1885, Dr. William Stables purchased the first caravan ever made and called it “The Wanderer.” The same summer he bought the caravan he traveled 1400 miles across the UK powered by 2 horses.

When caravans were first introduced, they were seen as an upper class luxury, and a person needed a lot of money to buy such an item. Of course today caravans are widely accessible to people who love holidays and camping.

1919 was the year caravans started to look more like what we recognize today. People stopped using horses to move the mobile homes and progressed to using cars. This was a result of the end of World War I and people having a higher income which allowed them to buy vehicles.

Thanks to Caravan and Motorhome Parts we have a collection of the best pieces of caravan history put together in this timeline infographic. Now we can see the development of camping vehicles throughout history.

History of Caravans




Excuse Me?

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It was July 2nd and unusually busy for a Monday. I guess people had already started their Independence Day celebration by heading up the mountain. The other clerk left a little past her scheduled departure time of 1pm. She was gone by 1:15, and by 1:25 the Mercantile was packed. I wondered if a tour bus had dropped a group at our front door.

I tried to answer questions and help find sizes, but once the line formed at the cash register, all I could do was ring up sales.

Man Holding Green and Brown MapIn the midst of this chaos, a man walked up to the counter with a copy of our most popular map. The map cost $12.95; with tax it was $13.99 out the door. Although it was a good map made from tear and water-resistant paper with clearly marked trails and roads, customers were often surprised and displeased by the cost. When I tried to sell a customer on the map, I mentioned the price along with the features of the map so there was no sticker shock at the cash register.

This man with the map was already at the cash register, so there was no way to prepare him in advance for the price. I scanned the map’s barcode and let the cash register do its magic.

That will be $13.99, I told the man with the map.

Excuse me? he said loudly as he leaned in toward me. He said it real mean, like I had a lot of nerve, like he wanted to fight me. I’d seen people get offended by the price of the map, but this guy seemed really angry.

$13.99, I said again, expecting the fellow to refuse the map and storm out of the Mercantile, maybe shouting a few choice words on his way out.

Instead he reached for his wallet and pulled out his money. That’s when I realized he wasn’t angry at all, just hard of hearing. He paid for his map and took it with him out the door.

Image courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/man-holding-green-and-brown-map-1143514/.

 

 

Hard Job

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This looks like a really hard job, the woman on the other side of the bulletproof glass said through the intercom.

I pushed the button to speak to her. Well, it’s my first day working alone, so I’m probably making it seem harder than it really is, I told her.

No. I think it’s a hard job, she said.

I was trying to be optimistic, she was right. It was a hard job.

I’d applied for a job at one of the town’s chain supermarkets. It was the store I shopped at, and the workers all seemed fairly cheerful, so I figured it would be a decent place to work. I’d used a cash register before. Once I got the hang of this particular point-of-sale system, how difficult could it be to ring up groceries for a few hours a day? If there were no cashier positions open, maybe I could stock shelves or work behind the customer service desk. In any case, I’d be working indoors, out of the sun and the heat and the wind and the dust. A supermarket job would be ok.

Photo of Gas Station During Evening

When I went through the prescreening phone interview with someone from the corporate human resources department, I was told the only job available at that store was in the fuel center (aka the gas station). Sure, I told the woman. I’ll take that job. I figured it couldn’t be that much harder than working in the main store. Turns out I was wrong.

The first problem with working in the fuel center was that while I was being trained the first week, I had to be there at 5:45 in the morning. Ugh. Because my drive from home to the store took 40 minutes, I had to back out of my driveway no later than a couple minutes after five o’clock. It was still dark when I got out of bed between 4:00 and 4:15 to get dressed, eat breakfast, brush my teeth, and gather everything I’d need for the day. I tried to be quiet, but The Man is a light sleeper, and I always woke him up.

I can’t really blame the early morning start time on the fuel center. I could have worked an early shift in the main store too. Also, my schedule for the second week on the job was all over the place: two nights closing, one day mid shift, another morning shift, one more at midday. At least the rest of my work life wouldn’t require a 4am wake up, but having no set schedule can wreak havoc on a gal’s sleep patterns.  

Learning the point-of-sale system wasn’t so difficult. I had a handheld barcode scanner and a computer touch screen; all sales transactions were made using those two devices. Once I learned how to do a void and a cash drop and how to preauthorize cash and debit/credit card gas sales, I was golden. After four days of training, I pretty much had the system down.

I think the part of the job the customer was observing as hard was how busy it got out there. The first day I worked alone was a Friday, and it seemed like half the town was stopping at the grocery store pumps to fuel up. It also seemed like customers came in waves; the fuel center would be empty, then half or more of the pumps would be in operation. Of course, people have needs, and when there are a lot of people, there are a lot of needs. Everyone with a declined credit or debit card came to me. Everyone who couldn’t get the machine outside to register their reward points came to me. Everyone who couldn’t get their pump to start or who thought their pump had shut off too soon came to me. All of these people were in addition to the people who wanted to pay cash or who didn’t want to use a card at the pump or who wanted to buy a pack of gum, an energy drink, a bag or chips, or a pack of cigarettes.

Oh, the cigarettes! I’ve never been a smoker. I’ve never bought a pack of

Marlboro Cigarette Boxes

cigarettes for myself in my life, and when I’ve bought one for another person, the smoker has been very explicit about what exactly I should get. I had no idea there were so many varieties of cigarettes in the world. We had soft packs and boxes, longs and wides, menthols and organics. In the fuel kiosk, we sold 30 varieties of Marlboros, probably 15 varieties of Camels, eight varieties of American Spirits!

How do people even know what they like to smoke? I asked my coworker with bewilderment and frustration.

He just shrugged. They buy different things until they find what they like, he explained.

When I was on my own and a customer asked for cigarettes, I’d find the brand they’d requested, then point to the different varieties until they’d nod or give me a thumbs-up through the bulletproof glass. American Spirits were the easiest for me to sell, as their varieties came in different colored boxes. Light blue was the best seller of American Spirits, although I also sold a black, a yellow, and a light green. (Other varieties included orange, dark blue and two other shades of green).

I was scared to death to sell tobacco products to someone under the age of 18 or to fail to check the ID of anyone under the age of 27. The training provided by the corporation I now worked for had taught me that doing either of those things could get me and the store into a lot of BIG BAD TROUBLE. During my first day in the kiosk, I asked to see the ID of a man who said, I haven’t been carded in 11 years. He went back to his car and got his driver’s license. Turns out he was only two years younger than I am, so solidly middle age.

Selective Focus Photography of Gasoline Nozzle

Other hard parts of the job the lady who commiserated with my plight hadn’t even seen. Every morning the worker had to do a thorough check of all the pumps to make sure nothing was broken, cracked, dirty, or in any way less than perfect. The worker was also supposed to wipe down each pump every morning and use a special cleaning chemical on any gas or oil spill on the concrete as well as do maintenance cleaning on different parts of the concrete in the fuel center (in front of pumps 1 and 2 on Mondays, pumps 3 and 4 on Tuesdays, etc.) Several days a week, the worker was supposed to use a leaf blower on the ground all around the fuel center, and every morning lids in the ground near the where the tanker trucks pumped in the new fuel had to be lifted and checked for water, leakage, excessive dirt, and other problems. It was a lot to do between helping customers, and the entire experience took place with a background smell of gasoline.

The worst part of the job came at noon when the replacement worker

Assorted Bottle And Cans

arrived. The morning worker had one hour to run a report that said what items needed to be transferred from the store to the fuel center. Once the report was printed, the morning worker went into the supermarket and ran around on a product scavenger hunt, working from a list that made little sense. Items were listed, then in the field that said how many to bring to the kiosk, I’d find a zero. I’d think I’d pulled all the necessary drinks, but then among the snacks I’d find another beverage listed. Some drinks were on aisles 20 in the large cooler, but others were warm on aisle 13. Still others could only be found in small coolers near the self-check lanes. Snacks were scattered around the store in at least three different places. Some items were nowhere to be found.

After all the food and drinks were pulled, it was time to move to the huge, locked tobacco case at the front of the store. Yes, the store sold even more varieties of smokes (and smokeless tobacco) than we did in the kiosk. The tobacco scavenger hunt alone could easily take 30 minutes and leave me blinking back tears.

I quickly learned that if I couldn’t find any given item pretty quick, to mark it NF (Not Filled) on my list and move on. I didn’t have the luxury of the time needed to fill the list.

Filling the list also involved the use of a handheld scanning device and an enormous, difficult to steer blue cart. (Using a regular shopping cart would have been infinitely easier.)

By my third day on the job (Tuesday), I wanted out. I called the manager of a souvenir shop I’d applied at during my initial job search and let her know I was still looking for a position. On Friday after work, I had an interview with the souvenir lady. I had the weekend (and Monday too!) off work from the fuel center. I spent all three days hoping I’d be able to give my notice on Tuesday.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/photo-of-gas-station-during-evening-2284164/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/smoking-57528/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/selective-focus-photography-of-gasoline-nozzle-1537172/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/assorted-bottle-and-cans-811108/.

Weather and the Travel Trailer

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When I was a van dweller, I didn’t give the weather a lot of thought. I didn’t

Trees Covered With Snow

like driving in the rain (never have, never will), so perhaps I’d change my departure time if it was raining when I was ready to leave. I was more concerned with ice and snow and did a better job of planning my travels in the winter, especially in the mountains. But wind? I never thought about the wind when traveling in my van.

Assorted-color Flags Under Gray Clouds

Of course, I noticed the wind when traveling in my van, especially in states with windy conditions like Kansas, Arizona, and New Mexico. Especially in my two vans with high tops, I was aware of the wind. I was lucky to have never met a gust that blew me (or scared me) off the road. Sometimes I slowed down when the wind was strong, and sometimes I held on to the steering wheel tightly with both hands, but wind never changed my travel plans.

Things are different now that The Man and I are living and traveling in a tongue-pull trailer. It’s not as easy as it once was to just get up and go.

After picking up our travel trailer, we made a trip of several hundred miles to get back to our temporary home base in Southern New Mexico. When we arrived at Rockhound State Park to take advantage of our New Mexico State Parks annual camping pass, we found no empty campsites.  We ended up staying in the parking lot of the local Wal-Mart. The location wasn’t an ideal campsite, but we didn’t mind too much because we were in our new home. The next time we went to Rockhound, we found an acceptable vacant campsite, and The Man backed in our travel trailer.

We stayed at Rockhound for about a week, splurging $4 a night to connect to electricity. We decided to head about 100 miles down the road and spend a few days at Elephant Butte Lake State Park before setting off for our final destination. We agreed to leave on Wednesday.

We woke up at our usual time that morning, between 5:00 and 6:30. I was up first, which was unusual, but The Man soon followed. He made and drank his coffee while I wrote the first draft of a blog post. We’d done most of our cleaning and putting away the night before, so we didn’t have to do much before we left.

I was heating leftovers for my breakfast when The Man asked me if I’d be ready to go soon. I told him would be ready after I ate my breakfast and brushed my teeth.

I’d noticed the wind had been strong ever since I’d gotten out of bed, which was unusual. Even in New Mexico, the wind doesn’t typically blow until the sun is out. As I ate my breakfast, the trailer continued to shimmy and shake, but I didn’t think much about it or consider what it might mean for our travel plans.

It’s bad out there, The Man said.

What’s bad? I asked. I assumed he was talking about the wind, but I wasn’t sure.

Have you looked outside? he asked.

I shook my head, then moved to the window. When I looked outside, I realized we were experiencing a full-on dust storm. I could see nothing outside the immediate surroundings of the campground. I couldn’t see any of the buildings dotting the land that slopes away from the campground. I couldn’t see the town off in the distance. Heck, I could barely make out the mountains that I knew surrounded us. The wind carried not only enough dust to block out the human-made structures I was accustomed to looking at every day, but so much dust filled the air that the very mountains were obscured. That, my friend, is a lot of dust.

I thought about the signs I’d seen in New Mexico and Arizona, the ones that say “Dust Storms May Exist” and “Zero Visibility Possible” and “Blowing Dust Area.” I thought about the signs in New Mexico telling drivers what to do if they were caught in a dust storm and couldn’t see anything. (Pull off roadway. Turn lights off. Foot off brake. Stay buckled.) The situation we were in was exactly what those signs were about.

We’d be fools to take the trailer out in this, I told The Man.

I knew he really wanted to leave, but he agreed with me. We would be fools to take the trailer out in this.

The wind delay got me thinking about how the weather is going to affect our travels with the trailer.

You wouldn’t want to pull that trailer in the rain either, I pointed out to The Man, and he agreed he wouldn’t want to do that.

Water Dew in Clear Glass Panel

We’re going to have to start looking at the weather before we leave, I told him.

Pulling the trailer is already a challenge for The Man. (I haven’t even attempted to drive the truck with the trailer attached to it.) Keeping the entire rig in his lane, watching out for the mistakes of other drivers, letting folks enter the interstate via the on ramps all contribute to his stress. Slippery roads and low visibility would certainly add to the tension. Why drive through bad weather if we can avoid it?

Checking the weather forecast is such a simple thing. If we have internet access, it’s really easy to do. My new plan is to check the forecast for proposed departure dates as soon as we begin discussing leaving. If there’s rain or ice of sleet or snow or high winds in the forecast along our route, we’ll leave as many days earlier or later as it takes to stay safe.

The high winds lasted over 24 hours. They shook the trailer all day. I felt like I was in a boat for hours. Some gusts were so strong, I wondered if the trailer would be blown over. The wind was still shaking the trailer when we went to bed. Thankfully the air was calmer the next morning (but still quite brisk by anyone’s standards), and we were able to make it safely to our next destination.

Do you check the weather forecast before you hit the road? How bad does the weather have to be before you postpone travel? What do you find most difficult to drive in: rain, wind, snow, or sleet? Please leave a comment telling how weather impacts your travel days.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/trees-covered-with-snow-833013/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/assorted-color-flags-under-gray-clouds-1685842/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/blur-cars-dew-drops-125510/.