I Feel Happy

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According to the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis, May 23 is Clinical Hypnosis Day. In celebration of this upcoming “holiday,” today I’ll share with you the story of my father’s (and by extension my own) experimentation with clinical hypnosis.

You may be wondering what exactly is clinical hypnosis. The American Society of Clinical Hypnosis answers this question (and many others) on their website.


Clinical hypnosis is an altered state of awareness, perception or consciousness that is used, by licensed and trained doctors or masters prepared individuals, for treating a psychological or physical problem. It is a highly relaxed state.

Pink and White Key Chain

My parents were two of the squarest people I can image. They may have come of age in the turbulent 60s and been a young married couple in the swinging 70s, but as far as I can tell, during my childhood they lived their lives as good Catholic Republicans. My dad went to his grave proud of the fact that he’d never been drunk, something he held over my mother because of the one time she drank too much while partying with her brother before he shipped off to Vietnam and was puke sick for two days. I honestly believe–after viewing my parents through the critical lens of my adulthood–that neither of them took an experimental puff of weed or snort of coke, never had a psychedelic experience; never attended a key party; never so much as sampled a dish containing tofu, lentils, or curry. Even in the most experimental decades of their lives, my parents showed themselves to be nothing but straight. All to say, I was quite surprised when I remembered my father’s dabbling in hypnosis.

It all started with our family physician. Somehow that old boy had gotten himself mixed up with hypnosis. Want to stop smoking? Want to lose weight? Want to be a better salesman? Want to do well in school? Want to feel happier? Want to be more successful? Dr. Carrol could help.

I’m not sure if Dr. Carrol did in-office hypnosis treatments. It seems to me

Skc Cassette Tape on White Surface

that a busy physician wouldn’t have time to sit with folks while they counted back from ten. Instead, Dr. Carrol made and sold hypnosis tapes.

It was a brilliant scheme. Dr. Carrol probably went into a recording studio, ran through the steps required for achieving different goals, then had the cassette tapes of each program manufactured. Once the tapes were ready, Dr. Carrol could sell them to his patients. The patients could use the tapes whenever it was convenient (immediately prior to falling asleep was recommended), and Dr. Carrol could rake in the money without sacrificing any precious office hours.

To be fair, I don’t know if Dr. Carrol actually raked in money from his hypnosis tapes. Yes, it was the 70s, and people were trying all sorts of new techniques for better living, but Dr. Carrol was practicing in a small town in the heart of Cajun Country. I suspect most of his patients were too conservative to try something as far out as hypnosis. Perhaps if one of his tapes was a big success it was probably the one purported to help people stop smoking. In the 70s the dangers of smoking were coming to light and people were strongly encouraged to kick the habit. Perhaps even in Cajunland, people were desperate to quit smoking and would try just about anything that might help change their unhealthy ways. If a medical doctor said hypnosis was the way to go, why not give it a try?

How Dr. Carrol sold my dad on hypnosis tapes, I have no idea. My dad was not–had never been–a smoker. My dad did struggle with his weight, so maybe he got hooked up with a set of weight loss tapes. What surprises me the most was that my dad was tight, not prone to spending money unnecessarily. He was a young man with a wife and two little kids and not much money. How did Dr. Carrol convince him to buy hypnosis tapes?

Maybe Dr. Carrol got my dad with tapes that were supposed to make him a better salesman. My dad was a salesman by profession. If you’ve ever read or watched Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, think Willy Loman.

Brown Wooden Plank

My dad should have been a carpenter or maybe a plumber or even an auto mechanic. He could fix almost anything, build almost anything. I once asked him how he knew so much about car and home repair, and he said he’d had to learn because he could never afford to hire someone to do the work for him. He said he’d go into an auto parts store or plumbing supply shop or lumberyard and ask questions until he figured out what to do. This was in a time before YouTube, and I never saw him pouring over a library book from the do-it-yourself section, so he really must have had innate mechanical abilities to supplement the information he gleaned from the people who sold him supplies.

My father should have been a tradesman, not a salesman. I believe he would have been happier working with his hands. However, somewhere in his life my dad had picked up the notion that being a salesman was more prestigious than working in the trades. He may not have attended collage, but he could move one rung up the social ladder if he got a job in sales.

I believe my dad wanted to be a good salesman. He wanted to be considered a success. He wanted to bring home enough money to keep his wife and kids comfortable. I suspect my father did not have the innate knowledge or personality traits of a natural salesman. I suspect he felt he could use a little help. I suspect he hoped hypnosis would do the trick.

I was vaguely aware that my dad was listening to the hypnosis tapes at night. I was 7 or 8 a the time and mostly unconcerned with the affairs of the adults in my life. My dad did share with the family a motivational catchphrase he got from the tapes. I feel happy! I feel healthy! I feel terrific! he’d say enthusiastically, probably trying to convince himself. Sometimes my mom and sibling and I would say it too. Sometimes I still say the words (out loud, enthusiastically) when I’m trying to pep myself up.

I don’t know who decided it would be a good idea for me to listen to

Red-and-brown Pencils

hypnosis tapes before bed. I don’t know if my parents bought something intended for kids or if they just used what my dad already had. I don’t remember being asked if I wanted to listen to a tape, but I don’t remember being opposed to listening. I remember being told that listening to the tape would help me do better in school, even though my grades were fine.

Every night after tucking me into bed, my dad would press the play button on his tape player that had been moved into my room. Dr. Carrol’s voice was soothing and relaxing and because I listened to the tape as I was falling asleep, it didn’t take time away from anything I wanted to do.

I wish I remembered what Dr. Carrol said on the tape, what instructions he gave. Better yet, I wish I had the tape now so I could listen to what I was told on those nights decades ago.

I remember being skeptical of the whole hypnosis thing. Even as a little kid, I wondered how what someone said on a tape could help me do better in school. I don’t think my parents told me anything about the subconscious or how hypnosis is supposed to work. What I do (very clearly) remember thinking is that while what I was hearing on the tape probably wasn’t going to do anything for me, I was going to pretend it worked in order to please my parents. So in the mornings after listening to the tape, I would pop right out of bed and pretend to be excited and happy about going to school.

Of course, now I have to wonder if the hypnosis actually did work. Was I in fact only pretending it was working? Could my skeptical brain only embrace hypnosis if I could continue to disbelieve it but accept the changed in my behavior it caused by telling myself I was only pretending? Why would I feel the need to pretend it was working if it wasn’t?

I don’t remember how many nights I listened to the tapes as I drifted off to sleep. It doesn’t seem like I did it for very long, but memory has a way of distorting time. I also don’t remember why I stopped listening to the tape. Even complaints wouldn’t have necessarily gotten me off the hook, as my parents made me do plenty of other things I complained about. If my parents thought the tapes were valuable, one of them would have pressed the play button every night whether or not I wanted to listen. I can only imagine my parents decided Dr. Carrol and his hypnosis were not worth our time after all.

In retrospect, I wish my patents had continued to play the tape for me. Maybe the messages it contained would have helped me live a better life. Maybe whatever instructions given on the tape would have saved me from the depression that settled over me within a couple of years and has been with me on and off (mostly on) for most of my life. If I had the tape now, I’d listen to it at bedtime every night and hope for a change.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/dark-vintage-table-keys-67094/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/skc-cassette-tape-on-white-surface-1219113/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/adult-blur-carpenter-carpentry-345135/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/desk-pens-school-design-2172/.

Two Horses

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Two bronze horses stand facing in opposite directions. The texture of the sculpture is irregular, as if the bronze is thickly applied.
Two Horses by William Barnhart

It’s difficult to adequately capture the sculpture Two Horses in one photograph because the piece has many angles to explore. I’d taken one shot of it (the photo above) during my visit to downtown Mesa in the spring of 2016, but I never thought this photo was enough. During my exploration of a few blocks of downtown Mesa with Nolagirl in March of 2018, I was able to get a few more shots.

Close up of the face of a bronze horse. The texture is irregular, as if the bronze is dripping.
This bronze horse has quite an expression on its face.

Two Horses was created by artist William Barnhart. According to Barnhart’s website, he received a BFA from Brigham Young University in 1984 and continued with graduate studies at Arizona State University in 1985. He is a resident of Mesa and has been a professional artist for over 30 years.

You can see more of William Barnhart’s sculptures on his webpage, which shows both sculptures in a pre-cast state and those that have been cast in bronze.

I love the texture of this piece, which begs to be touched. The plaque on the base of this piece explains how Barnhart made the horses look this way.

The sculpture’s unique surface was created by layering wet plaster over modeled forms of two horses, then allowing the plaster to run and drip. The effect is a texture with a random, organic appearance over a highly controlled form. Subsequent processes were used to transform the sculpture into its final bronze state.

One bronze horse turns its head to the right. The other horse is turned away from the viewer. We see its tail. The surface of the sculpture is irregular as if the bronze is thickly dripping.
A different view of the two.

Two Horses can be viewed on the southwest corner of Main and Center Streets in downtown Mesa, AZ. You can find this piece of public art and many others on the guide to Downtown Mesa’s Permanent Sculpture Collection.

Two bronze horses on the corner of a city street. The bronze is irregular as if it is dripping from the statues.

I took all the photos in this post.

In Praise of Visitor Centers

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I like visitor centers, those places of tourist information paid for by states to let folks know all the fun things they can do while in the area. There’s a lot to like at these informational pit stops.

  • Clean restrooms Visitor centers want to make a good impression, so they tend to keep their restrooms impeccably clean. If you’re picky about restroom cleanliness, visitor centers may be where you want to stop.
  • Free beverages When I entered Louisiana from Mississippi on Interstate 20, the visitor center  I stopped at offered free coffee. It was even Community brand, a very popular Louisiana flavor. Years ago the visitor centers in Florida offered tiny paper cups of free orange juice. (Certain visitor centers in Florida apparently still offer free citrus juice to guests!) If nothing else, a visitor center is bound to have a water fountain where you can fill your water bottles.
  • Free state maps  If you’re entering a new state, a visitor center is a great place to pick up a free paper map to help you find your way around. When I looked at the free info at the visitor Center in Deming, NM, I saw paper maps New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Texas up for grabs.
  • Tourist brochures  Every visitor center I’ve ever been in has offered tons of brochures advertising attractions throughout the state. From pistachio farms in New Mexico to swamp tours in Louisiana, to ghost towns in Arizona, there’s a lot to do in every state. These brochures tell you where to go and what to see and sometimes include money-saving coupons!
  • State tourism guides  All states have a department of tourism and most publish a guidebook to tell visitors what’s special about their particular state. These guides typically divide the state into regions and give details about what to see and do in each region. The guidebooks may also tell about the state’s history, Native peoples, and special foods; they give a good overview of each state. Visitor centers typically have free copies of their state’s guide free for the taking.
  • Informative exhibits  If you want to learn more about the state you’re in, visitor centers often have exhibits explaining the state’s history, its Native people, the flora and fauna of the region, geologic features, and the area’s history.
  • A live person to talk with If the visitor center is staffed, don’t pass up your chance to ask questions of a local. At the visitor center in Deming, NM, a young woman and an elderly man answered all my questions about the town’s annual duck race. Most people working at a visitor center are going to be knowledgeable about the area and the entire state. Ask the worker for directions. Ask about road construction and free camping.  Ask what attractions in the state can’t be missed. Ask what food you should eat and the best places to find them. Ask about upcoming festivals and special events. Ask about the weather. If the people working at the visitor center don’t know the answers to your questions, they can find out for you.
  • A place to stretch your legs Even if you don’t need a paper map or information about tourist attractions, visitor centers are often nice places to get out of your rig for a while and walk around. If the sound of your own wheels is about to drive you crazy, get out of your vehicle at a visitor center and move around a bit outside.
  • Pet walking areas While you’re stretching  your legs, let Fido or Lassie move around too. Many visitor centers have special areas where you can walk your dog and allow it to relieve itself. (Many even offer poop bags to make it easy to clean up after your pet.) You’ll probably need to keep your pet on a leash, and you’ll definitely need to pick up any droppings.
  • Picnic areas  Many visitor centers have picnic tables or at least a bench where you can sit to have a snack or eat your lunch. Some sitting areas are even under shade structures so you can get out of the sun. If you can park your rig close enough to a table, you should be able to pull out your stove and kitchen supplies and cook a complete meal for yourself.
  • Dump stations  If you’re driving an RV with a black water tank, some visitor centers (especially if they are part of a larger rest area complex) may offer a dump station. You can find a state-by-state guide to dump stations at RVdumps.com.
  • Free water for your tanks  Some visitor centers offer free water to fill holding tanks if you have an RV or jugs if you’re living the vanlife. Pay attention to signs telling you if water is potable (safe to drink) or non-potable (not safe to drink).
  • Safe overnight parking  If a visitor center is within a rest area, you may be able to park for the night after you get your fill of tourist info. Overnight parking at rest areas varies by states, but many states do put the “rest” in “rest area” by allowing folks to park for several hours at a time. Once you grab your free state map and tourism guide, get some shut-eye before you get back on the road. If you get to a visitor center late at night and anyone asks you why you’re parking there, just say you want to get some information as soon as they open in the morning.

Now that you’ve considered all visitor centers have to offer, maybe you’ll stop in at the next one you see as you’re tooling down the road.

Bohemian Rhapsody Art Car

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Nolagirl and I were at spark! Mesa’s Festival of Creativity in the spring of 2018, looking at art cars. We’d looked at California Fantasy Van, the J Gurl art car, and Zalafayra. Next up: Bohemian Rhapsody.

As you might have guessed, this car is a tribute to the rock band Queen. The art was done by Rebecca Bass and her students at Reagan High School (now known as Heights High School ) in Houston, Texas. This high school is so cool, it has an art car club on its official list of activities available to students!

Art car covered in bling with a life-size representation of Freddie Mercury holding the Union Jack flag.
Freddie Mercury lets his freak flag fly. Oh wait! That’s the Union Jack!

According to an ABC 13 Eyewitness News website (which features a video of Bass and her students creating an art car),

Rebecca Bass is famous in the Art Car community. She’s created about 30 art cars in her lifetime, almost all of them with kids.

Bass leads the art car club at Heights High School. She and her students were even in a movie! The 2011 documentary Art Car: The Movie follows Bass and her students as they prepare a car for the Houston Art Car Parade.

A keyboard projects from the back passenger side door of a meticulously decorated art car.
That’s a full size keyboard on the side of that car!

The city of Houston calls the Art Car Parade the city’s

largest free public event [with] more than 250 rolling works of art …

A fake woman projects from the torso up from a meticulously decorated art car.
I think this woman is holding bicycle handlebars. Perhaps she represents the Queen song “Bicycle Race.” That song was really popular during my childhood. “I want to ride my bicycle/I want to ride my bike!” I didn’t realized until I was writing this post that there’s an official video for the song and it features naked women!

I think it’s really cool that high school students did the majority of the work on this car. While I do like Queen, I wouldn’t call myself a huge fan of the band. What I am a huge fan of is the meticulous embellishment work done on Bohemian Rhapsody. Wow! So much bling! I don’t think there’s one inch of space on this car that’s not covered in shine, sparkle, or flash. This is my kind of three-dimensional collage.

A red guitar is attached to the driver's door of a meticulously embellished art car.
There’s a guitar to go with the keyboard. The band is almost complete.

Bohemian Rhapsody seems to have found a permanent home with ArtoCade out of Trinidad, Coloroado. The ArtoCade website calls itself

a parade!…a festival!…a party!

Art car meticulously embellished with bling.
Bohemian Rhapsody seems to belong to ArtoCade out of Trinidad, CO.

ArtoCade also has an art car museum. The information was a bit unclear, but from what I could ascertain, the museum once known as the Bizarre Car Garage had to vacate its space prior to September 2018. It seems to have relocated and been rechristened as Art Cartopia. I think admission to Art Cartopia is free. That’s my favorite price! (The information I found about Art Cartopia was on ArtoCade’s Facebook page.)

Bohemian Rhapsody detail. “Somebody to Love,” perhaps?

If you’re ever anywhere near Trinidad (a small town just off Interstate 25 near the Colorado/New Mexico border), I suggest you stop at Art Cartopia and take a look at Bohemian Rhapsody. There are so many details to look at on this car! I could have stared at it for hours.

Figures of a drummer and a woman with an ample bottom adorn the back of a meticulously embellished art car.
I’m pretty sure that’s a fat bottomed girl on the left. And look! There’s the drummer Roger Taylor on the right!

I took all the photos in this post.

Caterwauling

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It was our very first evening at Rockhound State Park near Deming, NM, using our brand new New Mexico State Parks annual camping passes. On our way to the shower house, I saw a cat sitting on a rock just outside the campground.

Silhouette of Cat Under Orange Sunset

Is that a cat? I asked, pointing, and The Man confirmed that it was.

It must belong to a camper, I said. My friend Coyote Sue travels with her cat who is allowed to leave the RV and explore the area, so I assumed the cat I saw was a traveling pet.

The Man said he thought the cat had once been a pet who had gotten away from its people and now lived wild in the park.

I didn’t give the cat much thought until we got back to our campsite and The Man suggested we put away the dishes, pots, and utensils we’d left out to dry after washing up after dinner. He said he didn’t want critters scampering over our clean dishware, and he mentioned the cat. I was still convinced the cat belonged to someone camping, so I didn’t think we needed to worry about it sullying our cooking gear. I did think we might need to be concerned about mice or raccoons, so I helped put things away.

We hung out in my van until the sun set, then The Man went off to his minivan to go to bed. He muttered something about the cat as he was getting into his rig, but I didn’t know what he was talking about until i went outside to brush my teeth. From out of the darkness, I heard not just a dainty meow, but loud feline moaning. The cat was close and it was loud. Its call sounded something like this: mmmmROWRrrrr! Of course, it didn’t make this sound once, but several times in succession.mmmmROWRrrrr! mmmmROWRrrrr! mmmmROWRrrrr!

I looked around on our campsite and out in the darkness saw two glowing green eyes. The situation freaked me out. This cat sound was creepy, and the creature was close. What if it were rabid? What if it decided to attack me? I took a step toward the eyes to find out if the cat would move, and it dashed deeper into the darkness. I felt better when the cat showed fear, but I wasn’t pleased when it continued to moan just out of my sight. I stood in the doorway of my van and brushed my teeth really quick. I was glad when my teeth were clean, and I could go inside the van and shut the door behind me.

In the morning we found no sign of the cat. There was no indication it had climbed up on our picnic table or tried to gain access to our cooler or any of our kitchen tubs. We didn’t see or hear the cat at all during the day, but shortly after dark we heard it again. mmmmROWRrrrr! mmmmROWRrrrr! mmmmROWRrrrr!

We thought it was checking our area for food scraps or begging for a handout. The Man thought other campers probably fed it. Between meeting our own needs and caring for Jerico the dog, we had just about all the responsibilities we could handle. Neither of us suggested we try to take in a stray cat.

The cat must have been discouraged by our lack of food offerings, or maybe it was opposed to the three dogs (and their people) that camped next door to us for nearly a week. In any case, it didn’t come around every night. We heard it a few nights during our two-week stay, but it was not a permanent fixture in our area.

The weather was awful on our last night at Rockhound State Park. The wind blew relentlessly all day, and by three o’clock in the afternoon (before we could even begin to prepare dinner), snow began to fall. Around 5pm, The Man braved the elements to cook four grilled cheese sandwiches on our Coleman stove that sat on the picnic table. I was grateful to have something rather than nothing in my belly, but it wasn’t the dinner I’d been hoping for. I wasn’t happy with the cold or the snow, and I was glad to settle down under my blankets when The Man said he was ready to go to his own bed.

Just like the narrator in “The Night Before Christmas,” I had settled down for “for a long winter’s nap” when something disturbed my slumber. I don’t know what time it was when The Man threw open my van’s side door, but i was in a deep sleep when it happened. His voice woke me right up when he asked loudly, Are you ok?

I sat up, was blinded by the light of his headlamp, and asked, What’s happening?

He continued to ask if I was ok. I’m sure my eyes were huge with surprise and confusion.

Once I stopped asking him what was happening, I began to assure him I was ok. Why did he think something was wrong?

He said he’d heard me making strange noises. He said he though I was having a heart attack or otherwise dying.

I was dreaming, I told him as I woke up a little more and remembered. My dream wasn’t scary, so I don’t think I would have been screaming or making other noises of distress. I wondered what kind of noises I could have been making that were loud enough for him to hear but not loud enough to wake me up.

You were in your van and you heard me making noises while I was in my van? I asked him. He said yes, which seemed unlikely to me, but I didn’t want to argue. I only wanted to go back to sleep. I assured him I was fine, and he went back to his minivan, leaving me to snuggle under my blankets once again.

In the morning light, The Man admitted that maybe it wasn’t me he had heard in the night. Maybe it was the cat he’d heard.

It didn’t sound like the cat normally sounds, he explained. Maybe the cat was upset about the weather, The Man conjectured. Maybe the cat was vocally protesting the cold and the snow. I thought a protesting feline was a likely cause of noise loud enough to disturb The Man while he inside his van. I doubted he would be able to hear any noise less than screaming coming from my van when he was inside his.

We packed up our gear and loaded both vans that morning. By afternoon, we were at a new state park where no half-wild felines caterwauled in the night.

Image courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/animal-art-backlight-backlit-219958/.

10 Things to Do Before You Hit the Road

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The day has come! You’re about to hit the road. Maybe you’re about to take a weekend road trip, or it’s the first day of the rest of your life as a nomad. Maybe you’ve been sitting on public land for two weeks and now it’s time to travel to your next boondocking spot. Whatever the reason that you’re about to start driving, here’s a list of 10 things you should do, check, and take care of before you get on the road.

Brown Spoke Car Wheel in Brown Sand during Daytime

#1 Pack supplies you may need if your rig breaks down. Road disasters happen. Be prepared with roadside flares, a flashlight, jumper cables, an appropriate jack, a can of tire sealant/aerosol tire inflator (made by Fix-a-Flat and Slime, among others), a portable air compressor, and any other emergency supplies you can imagine needing. I know what it’s like to have three flat tires between two vehicles and no emergency supplies while camping on remote BLM land. I’ve encountered people with a dead battery and no jumper cables. Do everything you can to prepare for anything that might go wrong.

#2 Check your spare tire. One of the problems during the aforementioned tire disaster was that we couldn’t get my spare tire off its mount. The bolt holding the tire to the mount was cross-threaded and wouldn’t budge. It was like having no spare at all! Check your spare periodically to make sure it’s in good condition and can be removed from your mount if necessary.

#3 Stock up on supplies. Especially if you’re going to a remote location,

First Aid Case on Brown Floor Surface

have enough food and water to last you until you to return to civilization. Get ice if you’re using a cooler for refrigeration. If you take medication, make sure you won’t run out before you get to a pharmacy. Take inventory of your first aid kit and replenish anything that’s missing so you can take care of any minor emergencies. Other items you may need may include sunscreen, toilet paper, paper towels, garbage bags, soap, toothpaste, batteries, insect repellent, propane or butane, and fire starter.

Price is another reason to stock up before you leave a heavily populated area. As I suggested in my post “How to Save Money While Visiting Tourist Attractions,” supplies are going to cost more in remote locations. Avoid paying gift shop and small-town prices if you can.

Idaho Map

#4 Consult your paper map and plan your route. As I wrote in my post “In Praise of Paper Maps,” don’t put all your trust in your GPS. Using GPS is fine, but look at your route on a paper map so you’ll know if the GPS is sending you off in the wrong direction. It’s also a good idea to have an appropriate map handy and the skills to use it in the event you lose signal or your GPS stops working in a remote location.

#5 Check the air pressure in your tires. Proper air pressure increases gas mileage and helps protect against flat tires. If the air pressure is low in your tires, use your portable air compressor (if you have one) to add air, or fill up low tires at your next gas station stop.

#6 Check your levels of oil, radiator fluid, brake fluid, and windshield washer fluid. If any fluids are low, top them off.

#7 Plug in your electronics before you pull out of your parking spot. If you have an invertor, plug in your phone and or tablet so you can charge while you drive.

#8 Top off your rig’s fuel tank. Before you leave civilization, make sure

Person Holding Gasoline Nozzle

your fuel tank is full, especially if you’re heading to a remote location where you might not be able to find fuel. When you come out of a remote location, fill your tank as soon as it’s feasible, especially if you’re heading to another remote location. My goal is to never let my fuel gauge slip below a quarter of a tank, which means I should never run out of gas. Running out of gas could lead to needing a tow and/or a destroyed fuel tank, two things I want to avoid.

Again, price is another reason to fuel up before you leave civilization or once you return. You will probably find better prices on fuel for your rig if you buy it in a place where several gas stations compete for business. If you can even find fuel in the middle of nowhere, you’re going to pay more for it.

#9 Clean your windshield while you’re at the gas station. Trying to see through a dusty, bug-splattered windshield is not just annoying; it could be dangerous too.

#10 Once your engine has warmed up, check the level of your transmission fluid. Park on a level surface before you check. Shift through all your gears before you pull out your dipstick, and leave your rig running while you do your check. If the level is low, top off with the fluid that’s right for your transmission.

These tips are just suggestions. Please remember that Blaize Sun is not responsible for your safety and well-being. Only YOU are responsible for your safety and well-being.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/brown-spoke-car-wheel-in-brown-sand-during-daytime-53161/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/asphalt-box-color-emergency-208459/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/map-navigation-guide-108942/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/car-refill-transportation-gas-9796/.

Full Truck

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I was about to close the Mercantile for the day when two men walked in.

They wanted to buy a map one said, but they balked when I told them the only one available cost $20. They just wanted to find a swimming hole or a creek. Their campground didn’t have water, and they just wanted to wash up. They gestured to their arms, as if they just wanted to splash some water on themselves.

I said they should go to the river, but they said 15 miles was too far away. They wanted me to tell them about a swimming hole or a creek nearby. I’m not much of a fan of putting my body in cold water, so I don’t seek out creeks or swimming holes. I knew about a waterfall about five miles away, but it wasn’t visible from the road, and it wasn’t signed, so I didn’t tell people about it unless they were enthusiastic, insistent seekers. I’d also heard of a swimming hole within a few miles of where we stood, but I hadn’t been there myself and wasn’t exactly sure where it was. The last thing I wanted to do was send these guys on a wild goose chase.

Because there were just the two of them and because they seemed to want to just splash some water on themselves, I told them about the creek on the far side of the campground where the Mercantile was located. The descent to the water was pretty steep and the water wasn’t  very deep, but I figured it would be better than nothing. I told the guys about the creek; they thanked me and walked out the front door.

I walked out the back door to give a heads up to Javier the camp host who was chopping firewood right across the street. I explained to Javier what the guys wanted and told him I’d sent them to the creek on the side of the campground. Javier was usually easy-going and receptive, but he had a whole list of objections to the guys going to the creek. He wouldn’t get in that water, he said, because of E. coli (from cows, I presume). He had people on site #4, he said, and the people who were looking for water shouldn’t be walking through anyone’s campsite. Well, I knew that. I’d told the guys not to walk through anyone’s campsite. Javier said Sandra, his partner in life and camp hosting, would talk to the guys and handle it.

I went back into the Mercantile wondering why Javier was being so weird and saw it was five o’clock. Time to close the doors! I walked out the front door to flip the sign around so it would read “closed” and hang the chain across the entrance to the long ramp leading to the store.

When I got outside, I saw the two men who’d been looking for the creek or swimming hole standing next to an extended cab pickup truck. There were more people in the pickup truck than I would have thought possible were I not seeing it with my own eyes. The two rows of seats inside the truck were full, and there were easily more than a dozen people sitting in the bed and along its sides. No wonder they didn’t want to go 15 miles to the river. Driving one mile with some many people in the back was probably unsafe.

I stretched the chain across the entrance and flipped the sign, then walked into the Mercantile and locked the door behind me. I walked through the store and out the back door to apologize to Javier.

I thought there were only two of them, I told him. I would have never knowingly sent that many people traipsing through his campground to splash in the creek.

Javier just shrugged. He wasn’t upset especially since Sandra had intercepted them and was giving them other ideas of where they could find some water to wash up.

I wonder where they ended up going.

I took the photo in this post.

 

Replacement

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Several years ago, I stayed in an Airbnb rental for about three weeks while working a temp job. The job paid well enough that I could afford to stay somewhere other than my van, which was good because the city in the Southwest where I was working was already getting hot in April. In the Airbnb, I could sleep in cool comfort, shower as often as I wanted, and cook in a real kitchen.

At $16 per night, the Airbnb was cheaper than even one of the meth motels downtown. The rate was inexpensive because the homeowners lived in the house too, and I shared a bathroom with the family’s teenage son. Basically, I rented a room in the family home, but all the payments were handled through the Airbnb website.

The family members were friendly and kind. I suspect they were Mormon. The father/husband worked from home. The mother/wife had a job outside the home in the medical field. The daughter of the family had gone off to college, and I slept in her old room. The teenage son was in high school, and he cleaned up after himself in our shared bathroom. The family had a guest room they also rented out via Airbnb. It had a private bath, so it cost more. A couple of short-term renters stayed in that room during my time in the house.

The other member of the family was a fluffy white dog. He was on the large end of the small dog spectrum; I would guess he weighed about 20 pounds. I don’t remember his name, so let’s just call him Fido.

Fido was a friendly and curious dog. He may have barked at me a bit when I first arrived, but as soon as the father/husband told him I was ok, Fido accepted me. He followed me into my room and sniffed around, then went about his life elsewhere in the house. When I’d come home from work, he’d be at the front door, checking out who was there. He’d greet me with a wagging tail, and I’d greet him with a few kind words and some petting. Our relationship was friendly, but not close.

One evening during the last week of my stay, I came out of my room after work and passed through the living room on my way to the kitchen. The father/husband was sitting on the couch. He stopped me and told me Fido had had a seizure earlier that day. The dog seemed to be fine now, the father/husband said, and he had an appointment with the vet in the next couple of days. The father/husband wanted to warn me so I wouldn’t be surprised or freaked out if I witnessed Fido having another seizure. I thanked him for telling me, then expressed my concern for Fido and my hope for his quick recovery. I’d known other dogs who were prone to seizures and took medication to control the situation. I hoped medication would help Fido too.

Over the next couple of days, Fido had more seizures, although I never witnessed one. When I did see him, he seemed ok, tail wagging and happy. Then one afternoon, I came home from work, and the father/husband told me that Fido had passed away. I offered my condolences and talked about what a nice dog Fido had been. I said I was sure the family would miss him.

The father/husband was somber. Yes, Fido had been a good dog, he agreed. Then he seemed to perk up a bit. They were already looking for a new dog, he told me.

I tried to hide my surprise. Well, that was fast, I thought, but kept my mouth shut and tried to keep my expression neutral. It wasn’t my place to judge how these strangers handled the loss of their loved one.

After a day or two, the father/husband told me they’d been looking online at dogs ready for adoption. They’d found one that seemed to be a good match, and the family would be able to meet it soon. He hoped the new dog would be living with them shortly.

I expressed general positivity–Oh that would be nice, or something along those lines. Again, I knew it was not my place to judge how other people grieved (or didn’t), but damn! Poor little Fido hadn’t been dead a week and already his family was working fast to line up a replacement. I wondered why they were in such a rush to get another dog in the house. I also wondered (uncharitably, I know) if one of the spouses died suddenly if the survivor would remarry in a matter of a few short months. I’m not saying don’t ever get another dog, but maybe give yourself some time to mourn, people. Of course, I kept all these thoughts to myself, as I was just a stranger renting a room after all.

My job ended, and I left before I could meet Fido’s replacement.

Hitched

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I was vaguely aware that hitching a trailer to the tow vehicle was more work than I wanted to do, but I really had no idea what I was getting into when I agreed to trade vanlife for a tongue-pull RV.

New Mexico State Parks logo includes drawing of a sunset, trees, grass, and water.

When we arrived at Rockhound State Park on Monday to take advantage of our New Mexico State Parks annual camping pass, The Man backed the travel trailer onto site 28 and unhooked it from the truck. I was inside cooking dinner while he went through the separation process, so I had no idea what was involved.

On Saturday the indicator told us our black and grey water tanks were ⅔ full (That happened fast! The Man and I told each other), so we figured we should do our first dump.  The Man also wanted to take the trailer to a truck stop to have it weighed. Of course, the trailer had to be hitched to the truck before we could go.

I thought The Man would take care of the hitching. After all, he’d driven the truck towing the trailer, backed it on to the campsite, and uncoupled the trailer from the truck. I thought the trailer hitch was his domain. However, he opened the front door, stuck his head in, and requested my help.

What he wanted to do seemed impossible. He wanted to position our enormous pickup truck just so in order to line up the ball on the back with the hitch on the front of the trailer. How was that ever going to work? It doesn’t help that I’m terrible at backing up a vehicle and worse at directing someone else in backing. I never know which way the steering wheel should be turned or when to straighten the wheels. I hate it when someone asks me to guide them. When I am able to do my own backing, I’m acting more intuitively than consciously. How am I supposed to tell anyone else how to back up when I can’t even verbalize the process to myself?

The Man’s been driving about two decades longer than I have; he started in his teens, while I started in my 30s. He’s also had a lot more experience hitching trailers, hauling trailers, and guiding other drivers in backing into the spot where they need to be. Often, especially in high stress situations, The Man has difficulty putting his thoughts into words. During the hitching of the trailer, all of these factors came together to create a situation of comic proportions, only none of it was funny in the moment.

I’m going to back the truck up until the ball is under the hitch, he told me. Tell me when I’m all lined up, he said as he hopped into the truck.

Ok. It all looked lined up to me, so I told him to come on back. I didn’t tell him to stop until the ball was under the hitch. When he got out of the truck to assess the situation, he was not happy. He hadn’t expected me to have him come all the way back in one fell swoop.

I could have fucked up everything, he said, but I pointed out everything was ok because he’s stopped when I told him to.

He just shook his head at me.

While the ball was under the hitch, it was two inches too far to the right. The Man explained he was going to pull the truck forward and my job was to look at the ball on the back of the truck, then direct him in moving the truck an inch or two to the left until the ball and hitch lined up perfectly for connection.

I think I laughed. First of all, looking at the ball and hitch and determining if they were aligned seemed impossible to me. I’m the roommate who can’t tell if a picture is hanging crooked on the wall. If someone asks me if a picture is straight, all I can offer is a shrug. Who knows? Maybe? It looks ok to me. Sure, I could tell if backing up the truck would bring the ball into the general proximity of the hitch, but how would I know if the ball was directly under the hitch until the two objects were within inches of each other? The Man seemed to think I should be able to determine alignment from a distance.

Secondly, being able to give directions in how to move the giant truck two inches seemed preposterous. Is it even possible to get something so big to move only two inches? The Man seemed to think it was.

The situation we found ourselves in consisted of him  barely turning the steering wheel, then backing up slowly while holding his door open and turning his upper body around to see where he was going while I made sure he didn’t crash the truck into the trailer. At one point he jumped from the truck and stomped to the back while lamenting, I have no help! I guess he meant my help was no help at all.

Again, all of this might have been funny had it been happening on television or the big screen. (I’ve always thought Janeane Garofalo should play me in the biopic about my life.) However, since we were actually experiencing the chaos, neither of us was laughing.

At one point I complained that in the 21st century there should be a device to tell us when the ball and hitch are perfectly aligned. I figured it would use lasers and a female voice (much like that of the Google Maps lady in my last phone) would instruct the driver one inch to the left or two inches to the right. This is technology I would pay for!

Apparently, some ball/hitch alignment technology does exist, although it’s not quite like I imagined. In the article “Trailer Hitch Alignment Products: Do They Really Work? Which Ones Are Best?”  on the Do-It-Yourself RV website, author Artie Beaty describes and rates four hitch alignment products.

One (the Gooseneck Easy Coupler Hitch Hook-up Mirror) is (as the name suggests) a mirror for a fifth wheel trailer that “provides a clear line of sight straight down to your hitch.”

Two of the products (the Camco Magnetic Hitch Alignment Kit and the Never Miss Hitch System from Uncle Norm’s Marine Products) make use of poles or posts that attach to the trailer and tow vehicle and stand high enough for the driver to see. When the poles are aligned, the ball and hitch are aligned too.

The final product mentioned in the article is the Hopkins Smart Hitch Camera, and it’s a bit more like the technologically advanced system I’d imagined (although no voice guide is included). In this system, “a camera attached to your hitch gives you a live view in the driver’s seat [via a computer screen] to help guide your hitch in.” This system “has three different ‘SmartZones’ displayed on the screen to alert you to how far away things are.”

When I showed The Man the devices I found while researching this post, he wasn’t impressed. First he said he would make his own components to do the same job. Then he changed his mind and said he didn’t need any alignment product. He was confident all he needed was practice. I think we should make our lives easier if we can afford to, but he’s confident we can do it on our own.

I have no plans to ever hitch and haul that trailer on my own. If something happened to The Man tomorrow, I’d want to go back to vanlife. However, if I had to hitch the trailer by myself, I would certainly get myself some assistance via one of the pole products. I’d have a difficult enough time backing up the truck. So why not get some help with the alignment of the ball and hitch?

We finally did get the trailer hitched, thanks much more to The Man’s abilities than to my own. At one point the ball and hitch were about three feet apart, but he looked at them and said yes, they were lined up. When he backed the truck into position, sure enough the ball slid right under the hitch socket.

Once the ball and hitch were attached, we went through other steps: attaching the components of the sway control system, removing chocks from under wheels, disconnecting the water and electricity, and making sure all windows and vents were closed. The Man was beyond frustrated, and I was practically in tears. I wished we never had to hitch that damn trailer again.

I you have experience hitching a travel trailer, I’d love to know your tips and tricks. Please leave a comment!

I took the photo used in this post.

Hatchets

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The Mercantile where I worked for two seasons sold hatchets. The Mercantile was located in a campground in the middle of a national forest, so the buyer for the store probably thought people would buy the hatchets to use in chopping firewood. We sold a few, not many. Most campers bought firewood from the camp host; this wood was already cut and split to fit in a

Photo of a Pile of Firewood

fire ring. The campers who collected wood for their campfires tended to be prepared with hatchets they’d brought from home.

Usually hatchets sat in a wooden crate in the camping section of the Mercantile and received no attention. However, on one Saturday the hatchets were noticed by boys too young to have them.

The first two boys came in during the morning. They were not accompanied by an adult, which always made me groan. The boys couldn’t have been more than 8 years old, and I wondered if their parents let then go by themselves into Wal-Mart or the mall. I’m not sure why some parents thought because our store was in a campground, it was ok to let their kids wander in alone.

I didn’t bother the boys, but I kept an eye on them. They were horsing around a the back of the store, but not being destructive or too loud. I had no qualms about sending unruly children on their way, but I didn’t feel I had the right to kick out people who weren’t misbehaving.

Then one of the boys found the hatchets.

Ooohhh! Look at this! the one called to his friend. The second boy was over in a flash.

Most of the hatchets had a plastic protector over the blade, but some of the

Black Axe on Wood

protectors had been lost in the shuffle of being unpacked and repacked and unpacked again over the course of the two seasons the Mercantile had been open. I wasn’t sure how sharp the edges of the blades actually were, but I didn’t want to find out by way of some kid’s bloody finger.

You can’t buy one of those without an adult present, I called out to the boys.

This wasn’t exactly a lie. Perhaps no county, state, or federal law required the boys to have an adult present in order to buy a hatchet, but I certainly wasn’t going to let a little kid buy one without a responsible adult there to approve the purchase. Also, kids that young seldom had twenty bucks in their pockets, so I counted on the mention of buying to remind them that they couldn’t afford the tool.

The boys seemed to have forgotten I was there and looked surprised and a bit embarrassed when I spoke. Once they realized I wasn’t going to let them play with a hatchet before they bought it, and I wasn’t going to let them buy one without an adult to ok the purchase, they left the store. I was relieved no one had been hurt and I no longer had to babysit.

The boy who came in later and expressed interest in the hatchets was older–probably closer to 11–but still too young (in my opinion) to have unsupervised access to a tool with the potential to do so much damage.

This older kid was a charmer in a real Eddie Haskell sort of way. He was very polite and smiled with all his teeth at me, but he seemed totally insincere. I suspect he would have kissed my hand and told me I was beautiful if he thought it would have gotten him what he wanted.

He asked me if we sold knives. I directed him to the knives in the glass display case. He was hoping for something bigger, maybe something that had the name of the place where we were printed or engraved on it. I assured him we had only the small, plain ones.

He walked around the store looking at the merchandise, all the while smiling and chatting me up. Then he saw the hatchets. He picked one up and admired it, so I told him what I’d told the younger boys: You can’t buy one of those without an adult present.

He sighed and returned the hatchet to the wooden crate with the others. He walked over near where I stood and said with a dreamy look in his eyes, I just love knives!

He said it the way another kid might say, I just love puppies or I just love baseball or I just love ice cream. I was totally creeped out by the kid.

You have to have an adult present to buy a knife too, I told him while making my too bad face. Realizing I wasn’t going to let him play with or buy a hatchet or knife without adult supervision, the kid walked out of the Mercantile. I was glad I didn’t have to be alone with him anymore.

After that, no one noticed the hatchets again for weeks. I always wondered what was going on when a previously unpopular item suddenly got a lot of attention. Had the stars aligned in just the right way to promote hatchet interest? Were those kids on a field trip with a Junior Hatchet Lovers of America group?

Photos courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/photo-of-a-pile-of-firewood-1405720/ and https://www.pexels.com/photo/action-axe-blur-chop-213942/.