Monthly Archives: August 2017

Game Changer

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When I bought my van, the carpet was already grungy, and it definitely got worse in the three years I’ve

This photo shows my van’s dirty, stained carpet. It also shows the metal plate in the floor (lower left corner).

lived in my van home. I’ve used a series of rugs on the floor to try to hide the dirt and stains, but that typically meant I had a dirty rug sitting on top of a dirty carpet. Also I regularly spill water on the floor, and the water soaks into the carpet and leaves a wet spot which I invariably step in. Yuck!

Another problem I had with my floor was the large metal plates left behind when the seats were removed. The plates are a little higher than the floor itself, and let me tell you, it hurts to bring a knee or foot down hard on them, especially on a corner or an edge. There’s no easy way to remove the plates, so I’d been living gingerly with them since 2014.

In the back of my mind, I’d been searching for a solution.

First, Coyote Sue told me about some flooring she bought at Walmart for her RV. The pieces snap together, she said, and look like wood grain. She put the flooring down right on top of her shag carpet.

Then I saw a “winter camping life hacks” clickbait article on Facebook. Most of the tips I already knew (put a plastic water bottle filled with hot water at the food of your sleeping bag before going to bed) or didn’t apply to van life, but the last tip caught my attention. It suggested bringing the brightly colored foam squares most commonly seen in children’s play areas to cover the floor of the tent. Brilliant! Not only would the foam on the floor feel cushy, it would help insulate the tent, and any melted snow puddles could be easily wiped away. I wondered if something similar would work in my van.

The next time I went to Babylon, I checked at Wal-Mart. Unfortunately, the Walmart in that town is the second worst I’ve ever been in. I couldn’t find anything like Coyote Sue had described, and the foam squares offered in the toy department, while nicely colorful, were very thin and had pop-out letters I suspected would lead to nothing but grief. I decided to try Walmart.com.

This photo shows the exercise puzzle mats I bought.

I did a search with key words I no longer remember. Several results popped up, including flooring intended for exercise spaces. That stuff seemed perfect. I chose the extra-thick, 3/4″ squares because I wanted as much padding as possible over the metal plates. I had three choices of color–black, grey, and bright blue. Part of me really wanted the cheerfulness factor of a bright blue floor, but a more practical part of me decided grey flooring would show less dirt and would probably be easier to keep looking clean.

I placed my first order ever with Walmart.com, which worked out great for me. (I know lots of people have problems with Walmart, Dollar Tree, Amazon, and other large corporations. I understand. I truly do. I try to do my shopping at thrift stores and garage sales, but sometimes I need an item now and don’t want to wait to maybe find what I’m looking for used. Giant corporations do make shopping easy, especially online.)

Walmart.com was super easy. I placed my order and paid using my debit card, but was not charged for shipping because my items were delivered to the Walmart store of my choice. I simply picked up my items during my regular weekly trip to civilization. (If I had home mail delivery, I might prefer to have items delivered to my door. However, while I’m work camping, my mail is delivered via general deliver to a post office fifteen miles away. The post office is only open weekday mornings, so picking up my mail is seldom convenient.)

On the day I picked up my flooring, I was excited to get back to camp to install it. “Install” makes it seem more diffictult than it was. I opened the package. I placed the squares on the floor and interlocked the parts meant to interlock. Done! Ok, The Man did cut out a piece of one of the squares so it would fit around the leg of my shelf, but he knew how to do it and completed the task in minutes. If one put down the flooring at the beginning of a build, furniture could go on top if it and no cutting

This photo shows my nice, new, clean flooring that only took a few minutes to install.

would be required.

The flooring I bought was manufactured by ProSource and is called “excercise puzzle mat.” It has a non-slip surface and is extra-thick (3/4″) and phthalate free. It’s made from water-resistant EVA foam. I paid around $30 for six squares, which covers 24 square feet. I used five squares to cover the portion of open space in my van, as well as the area between my two front seats. I’ll probably buy another six pack to cover the rest of the floor when I reconfigure and downsize my bed.

As soon as I got the flooring down, I couldn’t believe it had taken me so long to figure out this solution. The metal plates are completey covered and padded. I can bang my knee on the floor where they are all day long with no pain. When I spill water, I can wipe it right up, and dirt tracked in is easily swept out. In about fifteen minutes, the interior of my van became infinitely more comfortable and better looking with ProSource exercise puzzle mats.

ProSource 3/4″ puzzle mats are available on the ProSource website, at Walmart.com, and on Amazon.com.

ProSource Puzzle Exercise Mat, EVA Foam Interlocking Tiles, Protective Flooring for Gym Equipment and Cushion for Workouts

I took the photos in this post, except for this last one, which is an Amazon link.

Fire on the Mountain (Reprise)

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Our employee appreciation pizza party was supposed to be yesterday. The Man and I scheduled our whole day around it. I sure was excited to stuff myself with delicious pizza.

We were at the public library when I got the call. The Man had gone inside to print insurance documents, and I’d stayed in the van in the blistering heat with the dog. The Man had been having trouble completing his task and had come to ask me for help when my phone rang.

It was The Big Boss Man calling to tell us the pizza party had been postponed, There was a fire on the mountain. The road to Babylon on that side of the mountain was closed, and three of the campgrounds run by the company I work for had been evacuated and shut down. We’d have to eat pizza another day.

Almost exactly the same thing happened last year. A fire started on the mountain and one of the two roads to Babylon had been closed. I’d gotten the call saying the party had been postpones while I was still in town. As The Lady of the House said, what are the chances a fire would postpone our pizza party two years in a row?

Since we wouldn’t be eating pizza, we bought our groceries as quickly as we could so we could get out of the heat. The drive up was a little tense because we didn’t know what we would find at the top.

As The Big Boss Man had warned me, the main road leading to the entrance to our campground was closed. The exit lane was left open, but the entrance lane was barricaded and had a large “road closed” sign in front. No one was guarding the road, so it was easy enough to swing the van around the barricades.

We went right to the mercantile to call The Big Boss Man for an update, but we found him driving through the campground. He pulled his truck near our van, and we talked for a while.

The fire is big and threatening homes (some seasonal, some year-round) and property, so there are many firefighters trying to control it. Our campground, the trail, and the campground where the mercantile is located are not officially closed, but the the authorities want to discourage extra people from being up here, hence the roadblock. The reservation service has cancelled all reservations for Labor Day weekend at all of the Forest Service campgrounds on the mountain. The company I work for will lose all the revenue, as well as all the revenue the mercantile and parking lot would have brought in.

Where does this leave us?

The Man was supposed to work in the parking lot today, but since no one is likely to cross the barricade to visit the trees, he’s not needed there. The Big Boss Man said he could scrape and paint picnic tables, as he’d been planning to do some point later in the season.

The Mercantile is closed, so I’m not working there today. The Big Boss Man said I could help paint picnic tables, but I’d rather have another day off. However, I can’t afford to not get paid for too many days. I’ll have to find something to do tomorrow or the next day, but I don’t know how The Big Boss Man can possibly keep me, The Man, and three other camp hosts (if and when they come back up) busy if there are no tourists.

I don’t feel as if we are in any danger. Unlike during the fire time last year, we haven’t been warned an evacuation may be coming. Ash is not falling from the sky onto the campground. (Ash is reportedly falling from the  sky in the campground where The Big Boss Man stays, twelve miles up the road.) Last night the light looked normal, but this morning it had the weird yellow cast I learned last year means a fire is nearby.

It’s a waiting game now. Will there be any work for us? Should we stay or should we go? If we go, where? The story will contine to unfold in the next few days. For now, I’m taking the day off, sitting at the mercantile and scheduling blog posts while The Man paints tables.

If you pray or light candles or send good vibes, please put in a word for the firefighters, the people and animals whose homes are in danger, the campers who won’t get to come up here for their Labor Day weekend, and for me and The Man, who need to work and would like to eat free pizza soon.

Humor

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Humor is an interesting phenomenon. What’s amusing to one person might not be funny to someone else. My humor tends to be deadpan, so people often think I’m entirely serious when I’m actually joking. Oh how I love the people—The Lady of the House, Madame C, Nolagirl—who bust out laughing when I’m not even trying to be funny. To be thought hilarious is to be known and understood.

My humor fell short recently.

In the mercantile where I work, we sell a lot of souvenirs. What most everyone wants is a souvenir sporting the name of the trail they just visited. They don’t want something stamped with a vague “California” or “National Forest.” They want their very specific destination emblazoned on hats, shirts, mugs, shot glasses, magnets, and Christmas tree ornaments—especially Christmas tree ornaments.

Several times customers have looked at Christmas tree ornaments and expressed dissatisfaction because the name of the trail is not on the ornament. A couple of times I’ve joked, Just get a Sharpie and add the name on there! People have reacted with more or less (usually less) amusement.

The other day I made the suggestion to a complaining lady looking at an ornament, then added, If I had a black Sharpie in my pocket, I’d do it for you, but I only have an orange one.

Not only did the lady not smile, but The Man started elbowing me in the back. I guess I didn’t sound as funny as I thought I did.

Actually, for a joke,  I don’t think it’s a bad suggestion. Why not just make an ornament (or any souvenir) say what it needs to say in order to jog the memory of a wonderful trip? Having a souvenir labeled in a factory doesn’t make a memory any more valid.

Later that same day, The Big Boss Man was hanging out with us in the store, and he mentioned people not always understanding his sense of humor. I said, Me too! In fact today, and I told him the story of the lady and the ornament. The Big Boss Man cracked a smile and chuckled, I swear he did!

When I got to the part about The Man elbowing me, I said, I told him I was joking!

The Man interjected, It wasn’t funny! No one was laughing!

I thought it was hilarious,  I maintained.

I guess I was the only one.

Bo Diddley

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I won the tickets from the local radio station.

Bo Diddley’s playing at the House of Blues, the DJ said. Be the 10th caller and win two tickets.

I was at work. It was a slow evening, and there were no customers in the store. I picked up the phone, dialed the radio station’s number. Busy signal. I hit redial Busy signal. I hit redial.

You’re the tenth caller, the smooth DJ voice said.

I was going to see Bo Diddley!

Later than night I called my housemate who also happened to be the man on whom I had a huge crush. I didn’t have the courage to ask him to go to the show with me. Instead, I told him I’d won two tickets and asked him if he knew anybody who might want to go to the show with me.

Do I know anybody who’d want to go to the show with you? he asked incredulously. I want to go to the show with you!

To this day, I’m not sure if he wanted to go to show with me or if he just wanted to go to the show.

I didn’t know much about Bo Diddley. I’d heard that “Who Do You Love?” song and that’s about it. Free tickets were awesome, and now I had a date, so I didn’t much care what the music was like.

I can’t remember if we walked together from home on the night of the show or if we met at the House of Blues. I just remember being there and my crush saying he’d buy the drinks since I’d provided the tickets. I told him that plan sounded fair to me.

We started drinking right away.

Bo Diddley took the stage, and he ROCKED THE HOUSE! He was skinny, and he was old (66 at the time), but there was nothing feeble about the way he played and sang. My crush and I weren’t the only members of the audience on our feet. Lots of us were dancing our asses off.

At intermission, we struck up a conversation with some earnest young Canadian men on vacation. One of them asked what kind of work we did. My crush told them I was a stripper, and to my complete amazement, the Canadian men believed him! Maybe Canadians have a different standard of beauty than Americans because eve then, in my early 20s, I was not stripper material.

The second half of the show was as good—no, better—than the first. Old Bo still had plenty to give his fans.

Can you see ok? my crush asked me.  Let me put you on my shoulders so you can see, he offered.

We were on the balcony, so I could look down and see the stage pretty well. However, I was not going to turn down physical contact with this man I liked so very much. He leaned down, and I climbed up, throwing a leg around either side of his head. Woowie! Yes! This was fun!

It wasn’t long before a security guy come up to us and told my crush to put me down. That good time was over, but Bo Diddley played on.

As all good things do, the concert came to an end. The crowd roared, but the show was over.

I was feeling good, a little drunk, a little loose, happy. I’d just had a lot of fun at that show.

My crush and I walked home to the large house we shared. We were laughing and talking, and I was hoping to get laid. The other times we’d had sex, we’d usually been out together drinking, then came home and prolonged the night by falling into bed together. While—sure—it was about the sex for me, it wasn’t only about the sex. I really liked the guy and hoped one of these times we fell in bed together, he’d fall in love with me. Maybe tonight would be that night.

My hopes were dashed as we approached the house, and I saw the car parked in front.

Oh! Gretchen’s here! my crush said with more excitement than he’d expressed all night.

Gretchen was the women with whom he was in love. It was apparently going to be love triangle night in our house.

Gretchen had dozed off in the front seat of her car while waiting for us. My crush was all smiles as he tapped on the window to wake her. He led her inside the house and to his bedroom, as I went to my room to spend another night alone and unloved.

Free Camping Near Kingman, AZ

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I was making the trip from Las Vegas, NV to Phoenix in early December 2016, and I considered an overnight stop somewhere in between. I got on the Free Campsites website to look for a place and found a listing for a spot on Highway 93 east just before Kingman. The listing didn’t say who administered the land. BLM? Forest Service? Department of Transportation? No clue.

I ended up getting an early start the morning I left Vegas. Even with a stop at the Taco Bell in Boulder City for coffee and breakfast burritos, I was still on target to hit Kingman early in the day. I decided I didn’t really want to boondock just for the sake of boondocking. Besides, I was wide awake from the coffee. I knew I could easily make it all the way to Phoenix well before dark.

However, since I was passing right by the free camping spot, I thought I’d stop there and see how it looked.

Just as I’d seen during my Google Maps research, there is a turn lane with giant arrows leading right to the camping area. It’s the only big turn lane with arrows I noticed that wasn’t either in a town or leading to some business. This turn lane must often make drivers wonder, Where the heck does this go?

When I pulled in, I saw a small sign saying the area is a  Arizona State Parks Heritage Fund Project. I saw no signs saying people couldn’t camp there or park overnight.

According to the Arizona Heritage Alliance web page,

Formed in 1992, the Arizona Heritage Alliance is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that is guided by a Board of Directors drawn from a broad base of outdoor sports, environmental conservation, and historic preservation organizations that helped pass the 1990 statewide voter initiative creating the Heritage Fund.

Our mission is to preserve and enhance Arizona’s historic, cultural and natural heritage.  We accomplish our mission by actively:

  • Protecting the integrity and voter intent of the Game and Fish Heritage Funds.
  • Monitoring state legislative and agency activity.
  • Pursuing sustainable and dedicated funding sources for Arizona’s historic, cultural and natural initiatives, programs and activities.
  • Educating people of Arizona about the benefits of Arizona’s wildlife, open space, parks and historic and cultural resources.

The area does have a pit toilet in one of those Forest Service style buildings (known as a CXT in the pit toilet business), but I didn’t get out of the van to check on cleanliness and toilet paper availability.

There are no actual campsites in this area. There’s a strip of road to drive on, and it seems people can park their rigs anywhere off the roadway. When I passed through, there was one camper parked to the side of the roadway near the entrance, so yes, people do boondock there.

I don’t remember seeing a water spigot or a trashcan in the area. If I were going to stay in this spot, I would plan to bring water and pack out trash.

This photo shows a view from the camping area.

The area is not super beautiful, but it’s pretty for a desert region right off a highway. Because it is a desert, there aren’t many trees, which means not much shade. This spot would probably be nice in winter, but hot as hell in the summer.

This spot would be good for boondocking if a driver wanted to stop overnight on a trip between Vegas and Phoenix or if someone wanted to explore the Kingman area.

I thought maybe next time I traveled on Highway 93, I’d actually spend the night in this area, but an April 2017 review on the Free Campsites webpage says it is “is soon to be made into day use only.” I’ll check it out next time I pass by, then issue a full report.

I took all the photos in this post.

 

I Just Got Here

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The day had been frustrating. The cash register computer wasn’t working, and we’d had to write information about each item purchased on a paper receipt and do all the math with a calculator. It was hot, and I was tired and looking forward to shutting and locking the doors to the mercantile very soon. That’s when the old lady walked in.

She had totally white hair, but it wasn’t styled in some old lady way. It fell straight to several inches above her shoulders, and she had wispy bangs.

She wasn’t dressed in old lady fashion either. She wore sporty-casual clothes in solid colors. She looked as if she had come to hike or camp, definitely to enjoy the outdoors.

Her face was tan and wrinkled, and I noticed during our interaction that her head trembled frequently. I wondered if Parkinson’s disease, which made my grandmother’s head shake late her life, caused this woman’s tremors too.

The old woman didn’t say greet us. She didn’t waste time with any niceties. She simply launched in, demanding in her pronounced German accent, Vere is de campground?

You’re in the campground, I told her. This is the campground.

Vere are the sites? she demanded further.

The mercantile is at the front of the campground, the sites laid out on either side of a loop with a paved road in the middle. If a person didn’t know she was in a campground, I could see how she could be confused. I thought I was being nice when I explained the layout of the campground to the woman.

I assumed (and assuming makes an ass of u and me, my dad would say) she had a reservation, so I asked her, What site are you on?

I thought she’d give me a site number, and I could send her on her way. Instead, she snapped at me with venom and disdain I felt in my heart, How should I know?!! I just got here!

Oh. Ok. I understood. She was interested in maybe camping in this campground, but she certainly didn’t have a reservation.

Then she fluttered some sheets of paper at me and demanded I show her where we were on the map. I looked at the pages and saw they represented the nearby national park and some northernmost portion of the national forest. I had to inform the woman we weren’t on either page of her map.

I grabbed one of the mercantile’s maps showing our area of the national forest. I opened it, spread it before us on the counter, and pointed to our location. The map was for sale, but I never suggested she buy it.

I don’t need this map! she sneered, although I don’t know how she was going to find her way around since her map didn’t reflect where she actually was.

Next, she wanted to know the fee to stay on one of the campground’s sites. I told her since the camp hosts had the day off and I wasn’t 100% sure of the campground’s fees, she’d have to check the information board near the restrooms. However, I said I thought a tent site cost $24 or $25 a night. I thought she might fall out when she heard the price.

She wanted to know where she could camp for free.

At this point, I was pretty tired of her interrogation tactics, so I shrugged and said, It’s the national forest. You can pull off the road and camp almost anywhere.

She had other questions and complaints. Why weren’t the trails here marked like they were everywhere else? (I hadn’t even formulated an answer before she’d moved on.) Did her card get her a discount? I asked if her card was a senior pass and she said yes, but I don’t know what she actually had. She didn’t show it to me. If it’s a senior pass, you get half off camping fees, I told her.

I pulled out the campground’s daily arrival report and determined which sites were not reserved. You can check out sites 1, 4, 7, and 14, I told her. If you want to stay on any of those sites, get a self-pay envelope from the information board, put your payment in it, and drop it in the iron ranger.

Finally, she left the store.

I turned to The Man who’d silently watched my interaction with the woman.

Is she alone? he whispered. I guess he was worried she was lurking outside the yurt we work in. She’s really old, he continued. What’s she doing out here? Did she come out here to die?

I shrugged again. I didn’t know the answers to his questions, and I didn’t much care. I’d done my best to be nice to someone who hadn’t been one bit nice to me. It wasn’t my job to determine if she was fit to spend time in the woods.

Eclipse

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My dad and I had a problematic relationship.

He wanted a son, and I was a daughter. When I tried to do boy things to please him, he thought I should act more like a lady. I imagine he was torn. I imagine he would have liked to share auto mechanics and woodworking with me, but didn’t want to turn me into a lesbian.

My father was an angry man throughout my childhood. After he and God became buddies, he liked to say I never spanked you kids, but the reality was he never spanked my sibling who cried easily and rebelled in quiet, subtle ways unlike my loud-mouthed sassy backtalk. I was spanked more than once with a wooden paddle that came in my Christmas stocking, a ball tethered to it with elastic. When the elastic snapped and the ball was lost, my toy became my torment.

Even when my dad wasn’t spanking, he yelled, and if any of us complained, he’d get even louder and shout, You want to hear yelling? None of us did.

As an adult, I once asked him why he’d been so angry during my childhood. He told me he didn’t even know. I suspect it was some combination of an abusive mother, a teasing father, a child-molesting brother, unfulfilled potential, and over-abundance of testosterone.

My dad liked to tease, to “pick at” as we called it back then, like his father before him. Nothing was too embarrassing for my father to joke about. Once when I was 12 or 13, he mortified me in front of my cooler older cousins by saying the reasons I had pimples was because I used my wash cloth down there (he mimed washing his crotch) before I used it up here (he mimed washing his face). My cousin Larry, bless his heart, came to my defense and calmly reminded my father that most kids my age had zits.

My dad was a conservative while I was a liberal, then a radical. I was a feminist while my dad was the patriarchy. I wanted to be free, while my dad wanted to “protect” me (suppress me) into being a good little Catholic girl.

But sometimes my dad got things right.

He taught me to ride the banana seat, hand-me-down bike his boss’ daughter had outgrown. He ran behind me holding the back of the seat to keep me from losing my balance and falling. He made sure I knew how to roller skate in time to attend a skating party I’d won an invitation to by selling a ridiculous number of boxes of Girl Scout cookies. When all the other girls (Kristi and Angel and Yvette) were wearing necklaces with their names on them, he went to the mall and got one specially made with my name.  And when I was in seventh grade, he showed me the eclipse.

I was in U.S. history class when it happened.

The teacher was an old bat still wearing  a 1960s bouffant style hairdo even though we were living in the 80s. Sometimes she’d stick a pencil into that pouf of hair to scratch her scalp. She didn’t treat her students very nicely. She yelled a lot and berated kids and ruled the classroom with an iron fist. I made good grades and kept my mouth shut, so I wasn’t one of her individual targets, but her classroom was not a pleasant learning environment.

The crackle of the intercom interrupted the day’s lecture. The disembodied voice of the school secretary called me to the office, but said I should leave my books in the classroom.

eclipse

illustration from http://www.public-domain-photos.com/free-cliparts/computer/applications/eclipse-1324.htm

I walked over to the office and found my father standing there holding a yardstick with an index card attached to it. He said he’d taken me out of class so we could see the eclipse.

He explained we shouldn’t look directly at the sun, even during an eclipse, so he had assembled a viewer. How did it work? Did we stand with our backs to the sun, extend the yardstick in front of us and watch the shadow of sun shrink? Were there two index cards, one with a hole punched in it for the sun to shine through, the second on which the shadow was cast? I don’t remember that part clearly. What I do remember was my dad took time out of his life to assemble this apparatus, then came to my school and got me out of class so we could watch the eclipse together.

After we looked at the eclipse, my father escorted me back to the classroom where he performed an amazing feat. He introduced himself to my old bat of a teacher and charmed her into letting her students go out with my dad one row at a time and look at the eclipse. My dad got to explain the apparatus and how he made it and why it worked. He got to tell all the kids why it was dangerous to look directly at the sun. Best of all, he let each of us escape U.S. history and the mean teacher for a few precious minutes.

This was my dad at his finest.