My first few weeks as a camp host were too cold to worry about showering. Even if I had some armpit funk going on, who could possibly smell it through my shirt and my other shirt and my thick Carhartt jacket? I swiped my armpits and ass and crotch with wet wipes every couple of days while shivering in front of my little propane heater and called it good.
But then the weather warmed up, and I moved to my summer campground home. I realized the time had come to find a place to shower.
I’d looked at solar camping showers online and at the Big 5 Sporting Goods in Babylon. Basically, a solar camping shower is a thick black plastic bag one leaves in the sun until the water heats to a comfortable temperature. Then one hangs the thick plastic bag, and the water comes down a tube and out of a nozzle. In the campground, I’d have to use it in a privacy tent.
The inexpensive privacy tent I looked at online got poor customer reviews. It took two people to set it up. It was poorly made. It had to be hung from a tree. The ones that got better reviews were more than I wanted to pay. At the Big 5, the only privacy tent available looked just like the cheap ones I saw online. I didn’t know how I’d be able to hang it from a tree or how I’d install it alone, so I gave up on the solar shower idea.
I’d read about a hot springs “resort” 15 miles from my campground. The review mentioned showers were available. Entrance to the resort cost $12 for the whole day, which didn’t sound so bad for a shower and unlimited soaking.
I arrived about an hour after the resort opened. From my parking space, I could see the outdoor swimming pool (into which is pumped the spring water) and the two smaller hot pools. The entire outdoor area was overrun by shrieking, splashing junior high school kids.
The woman working explained to me that the kids were on a field trip and would be there for another three hours. My plans for relaxation shot, I decided I still wanted a shower.
I descended the stairs to find a locker room that looked more “poor school district junior high school” than “resort.” It didn’t look dirty so much as decrepit. The colors were drab. The lighting was depressing. Small lockers lined two walls. One of the long benches was extremely warped, making the sitting surface angled instead of flat. The toilet stalls were claustrophobia-inducing, and when I sat on a toilet, it rocked. The shower stalls were separated by rigged up curtains that were too small for the job they were being asked to do. When I went into the stall, I found no hook for hanging my towel or robe and no shelf upon which I could place my toiletries.
I threw my robe and towel over the toilet stall wall which also served as one of the walls of my shower stall and hoped they wouldn’t get totally wet. I placed my shampoo, soap, and razor on the concrete floor and balanced my glasses on the shower head.
I hadn’t shaved my legs since I’d left the city. On my way to the hot springs, I had been undecided about putting on my bathing suit and getting into a public hot tub with my hairy legs on display. But as soon as I saw the mob of young teenagers, I knew there was no way I’d let them see my hairy legs.
So I got in the shower and began to shave my legs. I’d taken my glasses off because once they get steamed up and wet, I can’t see through the lenses. Of course, without my glasses, my vision is pretty bad. I can see that I have legs, and I know they’re covered with hair, but I’m working mostly by feel, with a little visual supplementation. It’s not a quick or easy process, and since I was going to put on a bathing suit (shudder!), I couldn’t stop at my knees. (Of course, I could and can do whatever I want with my own legs, but since I did not want to discuss my leg hair with a bunch of 12 year olds, I gave into peer pressure involving strangers who weren’t even my peers!)
While I was doing shower shaving yoga, packs of preteen girls were in and out of the locker room without adult supervision. There was much shrieking bouncing off the metal lockers. At one point a girl pulled back my curtain to see who was in the shower. I’m not sure what parts of my anatomy she saw, but I feel like it’s not my fault if she’s scarred for life since I didn’t invite her to open that curtain.
On the plus side, the water coming from the shower head was hot and plentiful, and it did feel good to scrub up.
I went back to the “resort” earlier this week for a shower and a soak. When I got down to the women’s locker rook, there were no curtains around the shower heads. Good thing I’m not shy, I thought as I stripped. I noticed that the ceiling above the shower area looks old and the paint on the concrete floor is peeling. I also noticed what looked like cobwebs covered in dirt (or maybe plant matter) stuck to the wall of the shower area. Gross!
As I was getting into my swimsuit, one of the workers came into the locker room and started spraying some kind of chemical cleaner on the shower wall. She apologized for the lack of curtains and said she had taken them down so she could clean. When I cam back from soaking, the curtains were hanging again, still too small for the job they were asked to do.
I had to drive out of my way for the second shower I paid for. The city I usually go to on my days off doesn’t have a truck stop, but there’s a Love’s Travel Stop about twenty miles north. I spent the night in my van in the parking lot, then went inside around 6am for my shower.
I was half afraid I’d be asked for trucker credentials or called out as an imposter, but instead the woman at the counter took my $11 and gave me the key to my shower room, which was anticlimactically wonderful. The door locked securely. The room (which included a sink, mirror, toilet, and shower stall) was private and sparkling clean. (I didn’t see one speck of dirt, mold, or grime anywhere in the room.) I was given two blue towels and a blue washcloth to use. The shower stall had a shelf for my toiletries and unlimited super hot water. There was no limit on how long I could use the room, so I took my time scrubbing up, drying off, lotioning, and dressing.
The third shower I tried was at an independently owned truck stop on a different route to Babylon. A co-worker mentioned to me that the Shell station at a certain crossroads had showers, and sure enough, when I pulled into the hot and dusty parking lot, the letters on the side of the building proclaimed “Propane Showers Fuel.”
I went inside to scope things out. The lone worker was mopping the restrooms. The merchandise on the shelves looked old. The whole place seemed tired.
Another customer was waiting to pay at the counter. I joined him. The mopping worker bellowed for assistance. I think he was shouting a name, but I couldn’t be sure. No one materialized.
The worker washed his hands, then helped the guy in front of me. When it was my turn, I asked the cost of the shower. The worker said I didn’t need a shower. (I think that was his way of joking or maybe flirting.) I told him I did need a shower, and he said it would be $10. I told him I’d get my stuff and be right back.
When I came back in, he took my $10 and gave me the key to shower room #3. To get there, I had to walk to the back of the convenience store part of the establishment, through a doorway, and past a droopy, dingy couch that must have been the trucker’s lounge.
The shower room reminded me of countless scummy cheap motel rooms I’ve stayed in. Part of the plastic plate around the light switch was missing. When I unfolded the threadbare towel on the counter near the sink, I saw a faded black stain on it that looked like a smudge of engine oil. A bottle of shampoo and a bar of soap left by a previous shower client were sitting on the back of the toilet. I opened the cabinet doors under the sink just to see what was stored there (more towels? cleaning supplies? gold?) and found that the particle board floor of the cabinet had gotten wet and partially disintegrated, but no one had bothered to gather and throw away to broken, blackened chunks. The entire room was dingy and poorly maintained.
Then I slid open the door to the shower stall. The stall was spacious with ledges to set my toiletries and two little bench areas where I could sit to shave my legs.
The shower stall was also filthy.
It looked not as if truckers had been showering there, but as if the diesel mechanics who worked on the trucks had been showering there.
Have you ever brought your car to a repair shop and used the restroom while waiting? Did you notice that the sink looked grungy, as if the washing of greasy, dirty mechanic hands had stained the sink to the point that no amount of scrubbing was ever going to bring it back to gleaming white? That’s how this truck stop shower stall looked.
But I was there, and I had paid. By that point I was as hot and dusty as the parking lot, and I really wanted to clean up. I was once again grateful for my purple shower shoes. And I did not let my butt touch either of those benches.
I don’t typically go through my life worrying about being raped, but being naked and wet and having my glasses off makes me feel vulnerable. I wondered about the security of the door’s lock, which was the kind on the doorknob, probably easily jimmied or kicked in. I wondered if the worker had another key that he could use to let himself in. I didn’t like that the shower rooms were isolated from the busy part of the building. Resolved to fight if anything scary went down, I started scrubbing my dirty self.
When I began my shower shaving yoga, I wondered if there were hidden cameras filming me. Would I end up on the internet? Probably not. There probably aren’t enough women showering there to make installing hidden cameras worth the time and effort. In my particular case, there’s probably not much of a market for fat, wet, naked, middle-age lady hidden camera video footage.
Once I was scrubbed and dressed, I had to pass the front counter to get out of the store. The worker asked how my shower was, and I lied and said great while thinking (Scarlett O’Hara style) As God is my witness, I’ll never shower here again!
When I go to Babylon, I’ll drive the extra miles (and pay the extra dollar) to shower at Love’s, where the room is clean and the door locks securely.
To read more about how I stay clean while living in my van, go here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/06/17/adventures-in-cleanliness/, here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/07/09/adventures-in-cleanliness-revisited/, and here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/07/12/another-adventure-in-cleanliness/.