Broke Down in Redding, California

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In October of 2012, I was traveling in Northern California with my new friend Mr. Carolina. We’d met in Colorado on Furthur lot. I traveled with him, three (sometimes four) other adults, and two dogs all the way from Red Rocks to Santa Barbara in Old Betsy, my 1994 Chevy G20 van. Two of the adults and their two dogs found a new ride in Santa Barbara, but Mr Carolina and I drove to Los Angeles to deliver L. and R. to the airport so they could catch their flight to Guatamala City.

After our brief stop in LA, Mr. Carolina and I kept heading north, eventually making it all the way to Mt. Shasta, California.

In Laytonville, we met a young French Canadian man and invited him to our cheese party. (By “cheese party,” I mean that Mr. Carolina and I were sitting in the van eating cheese.) The French Canadian man was heading north to Redding to catch a bus and offered to help pay for gas if he rode with us.

My van broke down in Redding, after we dropped the French Canadian guy at the bus station. By “broke down,” I mean we let her run out of gas. It was really my fault. The directions to Wal-Mart I got on my phone were wrong, or I misread them. In any case, we headed off in the wrong direction and ended up on some side street with no gas.

We pushed the van off the road, into the gravel between the road and the fence of the closest house.

We had not money. I flew a sign for a while and collected $24. (Blessings to the kind strangers who handed me a $20 bill.)

My gas can only held one gallon, so we walked to the closest gas station and back twice.We put in the two gallons of gas, and the van still didn’t start. We thought we had fucked up the fuel pump.

At that point, I gave up for the day. I just didn’t have the energy to figure out anything else. We walked back to the Jack in the Box near the gas station to use some of our meager funds to buy dinner. We met a really nice guy named Bernard there. He was in his 50s, maybe his early 60s and had been out to The Hog Farm back in the day and had seen The Grateful Dead a handful of times. We bought him a couple of tacos out of the little money we had gathered up, and we ate together. After dinner, he smoked his roaches with Mr. Carolina. He is one of my very few nice memories of Redding.

After dinner, we went back to the van and  slept right there on the side of the street, me in my bed and Mr. Carolina on the floor.

Here’s a poem I wrote about the first night of the experience:

This Night

We sat in my broke down van
pushed to the gravel
next to a random street
on the West side
of Redding, California
and said good-bye to the sun.

Without my glasses,
distant headlights became
vivid bright snowflakes
with blurred edges.

Raindrops pinged randomly
on our metal roof
while the scent
of nag champa
soothed me.

You smoked fresh Cali weed
in the dark
and a train whistle blew
far away and lonesome—
the exact sound
of this night.

My car insurance covers roadside assistance. I don’t even have to pay up front and get reimbursed, it’s just totally covered, so the next day I had the van towed to a nearby mechanic.  It turned out that once Old Betsy was out of gas, it took seven gallons to get her started again. My sweet friend KJ  called the mechanic shop with his credit card and paid for the gas and the jump start we needed after killing the battery with so many false starts.

By the time the van was running again, it was late in the day. Mr. Carolina and I each had one McDouble for dinner, and we saved the rest of our money to put into the gas tank when we headed toward Mt. Shasta the next day. We ended up spending that night in the parking lot of the Redding Wal-Mart. There was such a weird vibe at that Wal-Mart. People at the entrance were pulling some card trick hustle, and a guy in the parking lot came over and tried to make very fast small talk with us while we were playing cards in the van. (In all the Wal-Mart parking lots I’ve slept in, no one else has ever approached my van and tried to get friendly.)

Redding was my #1 Let’s Get the Fuck Out of Here town. The energy there was very harsh, angry, negative, dark. I said to Mr. Carolina, It’s starting to seem like everyone in this town is on meth. He said to me, That’s because everyone in this town is on meth.

About Blaize Sun

My name is Blaize Sun. Maybe that's the name my family gave me; maybe it's not. In any case, that's the name I'm using here and now. I've been a rubber tramp for nearly a decade.I like to see places I've never seen before, and I like to visit the places I love again and again. For most of my years on the road, my primary residence was my van. For almost half of the time I was a van dweller, I was going it alone. Now my (male) partner and I (a woman) have a travel trailer we can pull with our truck. We have a little piece of property, and when we're not traveling, we park our little camper there. I was a work camper in a remote National Forest recreation area on a mountain for four seasons. I was a camp host and parking lot attendant for two seasons and wrote a book about my experiences called Confessions of a Work Camper: Tales from the Woods. During the last two seasons as a work camper on that mountain, I was a clerk in a campground store. I'm also a house and pet sitter, and I pick up odd jobs when I can. I'm primarily a writer, but I also create beautiful little collages; hand make hemp jewelry and warm, colorful winter hats; and use my creative and artistic skills to decorate my life and brighten the lives of others. My goal (for my writing and my life) is to be real. I don't like fake, and I don't want to share fake. I want to share my authentic thoughts and feelings. I want to give others space and permission to share their authentic selves. Sometimes I think the best way to support others is to leave them alone and allow them to be. I am more than just a rubber tramp artist. I'm fat. I'm funny. I'm flawed. I try to be kind. I'm often grouchy. I am awed by the stars in the dark desert night. I hope my writing moves people. If my writing makes someone laugh or cry or feel angry or happy or troubled or comforted, I have done my job. If my writing makes someone think and question and try a little harder, I've done my job. If my writing opens a door for someone, changes a life, I have done my job well. I hope you enjoy my blog posts, my word and pictures, the work I've done to express myself in a way others will understand. I hope you appreciate the time and energy I put into each post. I hope you will click the like button each time you like what you have read. I hope you will share posts with the people in your life. I hope you'll leave a comment and share your authentic self with me and this blog's other readers. Thank you for reading.  A writer without readers is very sad indeed.

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