Monthly Archives: September 2019

Raccoon Raids

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Tomorrow is International Raccoon Appreciation Day (IRAD). According to “A Quick Guide to International Raccoon Appreciation Day,”

…IRAD is a day meant to celebrate all animals, specifically raccoons, that, while being an important part of their ecosystem, are misunderstood and considered “pests” or “nuisance animals” to local peoples.

In recognition of this special day for raccoons, I share with you a personal raccoon story from the summer of 2018.

The Man was up early getting ready for work. I had a cold and the day before I’d told the other clerk at the Mercantile that I’d be taking the day off. I planned to stay in bed all day and let the cold pass.

The Man opened the door to my van and stuck his head in.  Did you leave the kitchen container out last night? he asked me.

 I don’t know, I mumbled, still groggy. If it’s still out there, then yes, I guess I left it.

The raccoons got into it. Everything’s contaminated, he said.

The raccoons! Dammit! I’d been picking up that container every night for the last few weeks and putting it into my van so as not to attract critters, but I’d forgotten to move it the night before and the raccoons had gotten into our kitchen supplies.

Typically I only had pots and pans and utensils in the tub, but recently I’d gotten lazy and tossed food in there too. That’s what the raccoons had come for. They’d spread half a bag of brown rice across the table the tub sat on, and they’d broken open the bag of falafel powder. They’d only sampled these items, but since we didn’t want to eat anything the coons had touched, this food was now trash. What they had eaten were the almonds my sibling had sent in a care package. The bag the almonds had come in had been left on the outskirts of our camp, and there was not a nut to be found in the area.

The Man said he’d woken up around 11pm; he wasn’t sure why. He grabbed his headlamp and shined it toward our outdoor kitchen area and saw a couple of raccoons up on the table ransacking the tub. He figured it was too late to stop the creatures, so he went back to sleep.

Because The Man had to go to work, guess who spent the morning of her sick day using hot, soapy water to wash everything that had possibly been touched by coons? I was none too happy, but I didn’t forget the tub outside again.

The final raccoon raid during our time on the mountain was more of an appearance than an actual raid. We were still awake when the raccoons came down from the trees that night. I don’t remember why I left my van. Maybe I got out to see why The Man was yelling and the dog barking. In any case, I was soon yelling too, telling the raccoons to go way! and to go home! Surprise: my yelling didn’t work. Those raccoons weren’t going anywhere they didn’t want to go.

I wanted to discourage them from hanging around our campsite. I picked up a fairly big pinecone and pitched it at the raccoon on the ground. I didn’t want to hurt it. Heck, I didn’t think I had any chance of hitting it. I typically can’t hit the broad side of a barn, as they say. I thought the pinecone would fall to the ground near the raccoon and startle the creature, causing it to scurry away. None of those things happened. I tossed the pinecone and somehow managed to hit the raccoon in the side. I was stunned and immediately sorry. However, the coon did not scurry away. In fact, it barely moved. It simply turned its head and looked at me like What?

Oh my god! I called to The Man, then explained how I’d hit the raccoon with a pinecone and it wasn’t in the least Brown and Black Raccoon Photobit scared.

Lock yourself in your van! The Man called out from inside his vehicle, and I did.

We’d left nothing out there for them to damage, so thankfully there was no raccoon mess to clean up in the morning.

Later when I marveled at the raccoon that hadn’t run away when smacked by a pinecone, The Man said, Those guys don’t care. They’re the original gangsters. They were born wearing masks.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/animal-black-and-white-close-up-cute-289565/ and https://www.pexels.com/photo/brown-and-black-raccoon-photo-634255/.

Too Many Questions (Blog Post Bonus)

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According to the Days of the Year website, today is Ask a Stupid Question Day. In honor of this “holiday,” I’m sharing a blog post bonus about a lady who asked me too many questions. Maybe the questions weren’t stupid, but I was done for the day and didn’t want to answer them. I answered the questions anyway. Sigh.

Halfway through my last season working on the mountain, I thought of a way to get out of guarding the Mercantile overnight twice a week.

After The Man left the mountain, The Big Boss Man was finally able to find another person to work in the main parking lot. The new parking lot attendant, Cindy, lived in her car with her cat. I loaned Cindy my extra tent, and she posted up in a primitive camping area half a mile from the parking lot.

Early in July, one of the other clerks hired to work in the Mercantile left with her husband who’d been the unhappy camp host at one of the larger campgrounds on the mountain. Once the other clerk left, I had to be at the Mercantile at 8:30on Monday and Tuesday mornings to get the place opened by 9am. Losing an hour of freedom on those mornings made security duty on Sunday and Monday nights an even bigger pain in my neck.

Because I’m a nice person and a team player (or maybe because I’m a sucker), I didn’t just tell my boss I was done working as a security guard and let him figure out how to make sure the Mercantile was secure when the camp hosts were on their days off. Because I’m a nice person and a team player (or maybe because I’m a sucker), I thought about how to solve the problem my retirement from the (nonexistent) security force would cause. I thought about who might be willing to fill my security shoes, and I thought of Cindy. She was living between a tent and a car. Maybe she would like to spend a couple of nights a week in the (usually unrented) yurt next to the Mercantile.

When I presented my idea to The Big Boss Man, he was agreeable. I think he was glad I’d solved the problem for him. Cindy was agreeable too. Now she could stretch out and sleep in a real bed at least a couple of nights a week.

One Sunday afternoon after Cindy took over my security duties, I closed the Mercantile at five o’clock and went through my end-of-day procedures. I took care of everything step-by-step until the last thing I had to do was hand off the telephone to Cindy so she’d be able to make any emergency calls necessary during the night.

I walked over to the yurt where Cindy was staying and gave her the phone.

We chatted for a few minutes, then I said, I better get out of here before someone starts asking me questions.

I looked over at the parking area and saw only one vehicle other than my van, a car parked right next to me. It looked as if I could quite possibly make it out of there undisturbed.

As I walked up to my van, I saw the woman who belonged to the car next to my rig was also approaching her vehicle. Before I could even get to my door to unlock it, I’ll be damned if the woman didn’t say, What do you sell in the store?

I was polite. T-shirts, caps, magnets. Souvenirs. Camping supplies.

Do you sell food? she asked me.

What’s it matter? I thought. The store is closed.

However, I answered nicely enough. Chips. Candy. Granola bars.

By this time, my door was unlocked, and I got into my van and closed the door behind me. The woman walked around the front of her car and stood near my door.

Excuse me, she said, so I opened the door. (Unfortunately, the window does not roll down.)

The hot springs? she asked, so I told her everything I knew about the hot springs. The answer I gave her was quite comprehensive. While I talked, I buckled my seat belt. Surely the woman knew I wanted to leave.

When I ended my informational seminar on the hot springs, I hoped the woman had gotten all the attention she needed from me and would let me leave, but no. Now she wanted to know the best way to get to Mega-Babylon. Really? I was off the clock, but I’m a nice person (or maybe a sucker), so I took a deep breath and gave detailed directions to Mega-Babylon. Then I closed my door and started my engine and drove away before she could ask me what the weather was supposed to be like, how tall a particular tree was, or the price of the tea in China. I don’t know why she even asked what we sold in the Mercantile if she was on her way to Mega-Babylon! She’d be far away before the store opened at 9am the next morning.

The next time I saw Cindy, I reminded her how I’d said I better leave before anyone asked me any questions, then told her all about the woman parked next to me and her barrage of questions. Cindy and I agreed I’d pretty much asked the Universe to send that woman and her inquiries my way.

Blood Money

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Content warning: blood

Photo of Gasoline Dispenser in Station

The first half of my opening shift at the fuel center was fairly slow, but around noon things really picked up. I’d gotten up at 4:15 so I could open the place at 6am, and I was really tired. I couldn’t wait for my coworker to arrive at 1pm so I could complete my restocking mission and clock out.

At about 12:45 a man came up to the window and said he wanted to put $11 on pump 6. He also asked if I had a paper towel. I didn’t think to tell him there were paper towels outside at the windshield washing stations. I just ran to the back of the kiosk and grabbed a couple of paper towels for him. I shoved them into the drawer and sent them out to him.

When I pulled the drawer back in and picked up his money, I understood

1 Us Bank Note

why he needed a paper towel. Several of the eleven $1 bills he’d put in the drawer for payment had bright red blood on them. The blood was neither smeared nor splattered; the customer had somehow bled neatly upon the bills. It seemed as if the blood had soaked into the bills immediately. Even though the money wasn’t dripping blood, it was still really, really, really gross. I’d only thought boob money was bad until I was presented with blood money.

I dropped the bills on the counter, then ran to the back of the kiosk again and grabbed a vinyl glove from the box on the shelf. I put the glove on my right hand before I touched the bloody money again.

I’m not particularly squeamish about blood. I wouldn’t say I’m attracted to it, but neither the thought nor the sight of it makes me feel sick or faint. However, I certainly don’t want to come in contact with a stranger’s blood.

A veteran worker from the supermarket was in the kiosk with me repricing all the merchandise inside. She had just been telling me how much she respected me for being able to handle all the difficult fuel center customers and how she would never make it in the fuel center. I showed her the bloody money and asked her what I should do. She suggested I rub hand sanitizer onto the blood.

It didn’t occur to me at the time not to take the bloody bills. Money’s money, right? It didn’t occur to me until I started working on this post that the bloody money contaminated the drawer, the cash register, and all the bills it touched. If the bleeding customer had any kind of disease, he could have infected me, the coworker who relieved me, the bookkeeper who would count the day’s cash drop the next morning, the bookkeeper at the corporate office who received the money, the banker who eventually received the money…How long do germs from blood live once they hit currency?

I don’t think refusing the money occurred to the supermarket veteran either. She never offered refusal as an option for me. She said I should slap some hand sanitizer on the blood, so I did, then put the bills in the drawer. A few minutes later when my coworker reported for duty, I told him about the bloody (and now also soggy from generous dollops of hand sanitizer) bills. He shook his head.

He must have called management immediately after I left to pull items for our restock because when I returned, the first thing he told me was that management said we did NOT have to accept bloody money if we didn’t want to. Thank goodness for that!

Person Putting White Bandage On Left Hand

I feel sorry for the customer who was bleeding; I truly do. Who among us has not cut ourselves unexpectedly in a public place and had to staunch the blood flow with limited first aid supplies? However (and that is a BIG however), that man should not have paid with bloody money. Yuck! Yuck! Yuck! It is not my job to clean blood off his bills. I’m glad to know my bosses agree with me on that point.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/photo-of-gasoline-dispenser-in-station-1051397/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/1-us-bank-note-47344/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/person-putting-white-bandage-on-left-hand-1409706/.

Locked Out! Ten Tips for Preventing a Lockout and for Dealing with the Situation if It Happens

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I locked myself out of this van many times.

I’ve locked myself out of my vehicle several times. It’s happened in the city, and it’s happened in the middle of nowhere. It’s bad enough when a person living in a conventional dwelling in a town or city locks themselves out of a vehicle, but those folks usually have resources to help them deal with the situation. They may have friends, neighbors, or family members available to assist. Even if they don’t have roadside assistance coverage, they may be able to find a reasonably priced locksmith to unlock the vehicle. If all else fails, they may be able to take a bus or walk to where they need to be, whether that’s work, home (where someone else who lives there might be able to let them in to get a spare key), or a friend’s house.

Nomads often find themselves in situations without a helpful local support network to turn to for help. Rubber Tramps often have to rely on themselves or the kindness of strangers. My tips for preventing, preparing for, and dealing with a lockout can help you get through this challenge of life on the road.

#1 Admit to yourself that a lockout if bound to happen. While some people are convinced that thinking about a negative event will cause that event to happen, I’m convinced that thinking about a negative event will allow me to prepare for it. Think about the ways you can prepare for a lockout. Think about how you will handle a lockout if it occurs in different locations. How you handle a lockout in the city will be different from how you handle it in a remote location. How you handle a lockout if you have roadside assistance will be different from how you handle it if you don’t have that kind of coverage.

When I was a full-time vandweller, I wore my keys around my neck on a long lanyard made of beaded Stretch Magic cord.

#2 Know where your keys are. When I was a full-time vandweller, my first rule of van life was Always know where your keys are. I wore the keys to my van around my neck for years. I found them a lot easier to keep tabs on when they were on my person. The keys hung around my neck until I put the starter key in the ignition. As soon as I parked and turned off the engine, the keys went back around my neck. Before I got out of the van, I physically touched the keys to make sure they were where they were supposed to be.

If wearing keys around your neck doesn’t work for you, that’s fine. Just make sure when you exit the vehicle, you know where your keys are before you lock the doors. Don’t ever assume the keys are where they are supposed to be; physically check before you lock.

#3 Keep a spare key in something you always take with you. If you always carry your purse or backpack or wallet or case for your sunglasses with you, keep a spare key there.  That way, if you leave your main set of keys on the dashboard or in the bed, you’ll have a spare with you. Of course, if you leave the purse or backpack or wallet or sunglass case behind, the spare won’t be able to help you if you lose your keys or lock them inside your rig.

#4 Hide a key under your rig. Some nomads swear by this trick, although I’ve never done it myself. Many department stores and hardware stores sell little boxes that hold a spare key. The boxes have a magnet on them to hold them to the metal underside of a vehicle or motorhome. I’ve always been afraid the box would bounce off on a bumpy road, and I’d be left keyless in my time of need. I’ve been assured the magnets on the boxes are very strong. If I were using this method of protection, I would determine the strength of the magnet before hitting the road and maybe add some additional magnets for added protection against losing the box and key.

Another way to hide a key under a rig is by taping it to the frame. If I were going to do this, I would use Gorilla Tape (the strongest I’ve found) to attach the key in an out-of-the-way place. I would use plenty of tape and make sure the key was firmly attached.

My biggest fear about hiding a key under my rig is that a knowing thief could come along, find the key, and steal my not just my ride, but my home too. When hiding a key under a rig, you’ll want to find the sweet spot between making the hiding place too difficult for you to get to but not making it difficult enough to thwart a thief. Find the best hiding place you can and don’t tell anyone you don’t trust completely where it is.

#5 If you stay in one area, leave a spare key with someone you trust. Maybe another nomad could keep a spare key for your van on their key ring or in their rig. Maybe you have a friend or relative in town who could hold onto a spare for you.

#6 If you’re traveling with other people, get one of those folks to carry your spare key. When I traveled with Mr. Carolina, I had copies of keys to unlock the van’s doors and start the engine made. I put those keys on a ring and had him carry them.  Later when The Man and I began traveling together, I handed the keys over to him. I never locked myself out when I traveled with either of those guys, but if I had, the spare keys they carried would have made the lockout no big deal.

#7 Have roadside assistance that covers lockouts.Roadside assistance may not help you if you are in a remote location, but it can be a lifesaver if you’re in a city when you lock yourself out.

When I lived full-time in my van, I had roadside assistance through my insurance policy. Now that I drive a truck that I don’t live in, I still have roadside assistance through my insurance policy. I pay less than $40 a year for roadside assistance that covers towing, opening a locked vehicle, changing a flat tire, jump starting a dead battery, and delivering fuel if I run out.

Other organizations that provide roadside assistance, including lockout services, include the American Automobile Association (AAA), the Good Sam Club, and the Better World Club, and the Paragon Motor Club. (To learn more about the companies mentioned above and others, check out the RV Living Now article “Best Roadside Assistance Plans for RVs.“)

Compare plans before you sign up for service. Cost is not the only factor you should consider.  Some plans only cover RVs, so if you’re a vandweller, be sure the plan you are considering will cover you. If you spend most of your time in remote locations, make sure the company you chose will actually dispatch a service person if you are far from a city. For example, AAA won’t provide services if the repair person has to drive on a dirt road to get to your rig. Before you spend any money, know what services the plan you’re choosing provides and how many times per year you can use the services.

#8 Know the phone number to your roadside assistance provider. Having roadside assistance isn’t going to help if you can’t contact the dispatcher. Keep the phone number to your roadside assistance provider in your wallet or program it into your phone.

#9 Keep your phone on you. On two occasions, I not only locked my keys in my van, but I also left my phone inside. Luckily the number to my roadside assistance provider was in my wallet, and I’d brought my wallet with me. I had to beg the workers at the Goodwill Clearance Center where I was shopping to let me use the office phone to make the call. I understand wanting to leave the phone behind sometimes, but it can be a huge help in the event of a lockout.

#10 Plan ahead for breaking into your rig. What would you do if you were in a remote location and had no phone service to call for help or couldn’t afford to pay the fee for a locksmith to make the long trip to where you were? What if you locked your phone in your rig and couldn’t call for help?

During our last summer working on the mountain in California, The Man managed to lock both his keys and Jerico the dog in his minivan. When I returned to the campground after work, he had been trying for hours to break into the vehicle. He tried using the radio antenna, a screwdriver, and a metal marshmallow roasting stick to unlock a door, but couldn’t get anything to work. We went back to the Mercantile and used the phone to call a tow service in the closest little town. The dispatcher said she could send someone to pop the lock, but charges would begin to accrue when the locksmith started the drive up the mountain. It was going to cost hundreds of dollars to get the minivan open, and The Man didn’t have roadside assistance on his insurance policy.

We returned to the campground, and The Man was determined to get into the minivan. Finally, he took the handle mechanism off of one of the sliding side doors and was able to finagle the latch to get the door to open. Jerico was happy to be free, but The Man was sad he’d damaged the door handle beyond repair.

A good Samaritan popped the pin out of the hinge so I could get into the van after I locked my keys inside.

On another occasion while I was traveling alone, I locked both my keys and phone in my van. I was on the brink of trying to bust a window when a good Samaritan used a hammer and chisel to remove one of my van’s side doors from its hinges. Once the door was off its hinges, I was able to reach in and unlock the door.

What I’m suggesting here is that you think about how you would get into your rig before you actually have to do so. Is there a window you could shimmy through if it were open? Is there a window you could pry open if necessary? Could you pop the lock with the right piece of long metal? Could you remove a door from a hinge if necessary?

Breaking into your own rig should be a last resort, but have a plan for doing so if it’s ever necessary.

So there you have it, ten tips to help you prevent a lockout or deal with it once it happens. Any other ideas? Please share them in the comments section below.

I took the photos in this post.

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Tomorrow is National Punctuation Day

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Tomorrow is National Punctuation Day. According to Wikipedia,


Founded by Jeff Rubin in 2004, National Punctuation Day simply promotes the correct usage of punctuation. Rubin encourages appreciators of correct punctuation and spelling to send in pictures of errors spotted in everyday life.[2]

On the eve of the day when we contemplate proper punctuation, I have an example of what not to do. Of course, there is a back story to this cautionary tale.

My grandma’s house had five bedrooms. After her husband (my grandfather) died and her youngest child (my father) left the nest, my grandmother found herself with more bedrooms than she needed. She decided she’d rent the extra bedrooms to single men and make a few extra bucks.

I’m not sure when my grandma started renting the rooms. My parents married in 1966, although I think my dad left home shortly after he graduated from high school in 1963. The renters were in my grandmother’s house throughout my early childhood in the 1970s. I don’t remember when exactly they left, but sometime in my teenage years, the extra rooms stood empty again.

I don’t know if renting those rooms fell within the laws of the small town where my grandmother’s house stood. If she had some sort of license from city hall, I never saw it. If a health inspector ever came by to check for violations, I never heard talk of it. Maybe in those days no bureaucracy cared if a widow rented out her extra rooms to single men looking for basic accommodations that wouldn’t cost too much.

The front door of my grandma’s house faced the street. The renters used the front door to access their living spaces. My grandmother’s friends and family entered her home through the side door that opened into her kitchen.

The front door opened into a narrow, dark hallway. Room #1 was on one side of the hallway; room #2 was directly across from it. Room #3 was behind Room #2. Sometimes when I stayed with my grandma, I’d go into the renters’ rooms with her and help her change the sheet which had been dried on the clothesline in the backyard and smelled of sunshine and grass. On the days we went quietly into the front of the house, the men had deserted the area in favor of work, but I still felt their presence like ghosts moving through their quiet room.

The rooms were sparsely furnished with a straight-backed chair and a twin bed. Clothes were stored in a small chest-of-drawers and a narrow closet. I don’t remember seeing a television in any of the rooms. What did the men living there do for entertainment after working all day? Perhaps they read books or listened to music on the radio. Perhaps they sat quietly and daydreamed of better days when they could afford homes and families of their own,.

The hallway from the front door opened into the common area. A refrigerator stood against the side wall; a table was pushed up against the wall the renters shared with my grandma’s kitchen. A couple of straight-backed chairs accompanied the table. The common area offered little comfort or color. To the right of the table was the door to the bathroom the men shared.

Of course, there were rules. The renters were not allowed to eat or drink in their bedrooms, only in the dining room. As someone who has rented rooms in people’s homes for short term stays, this rule blows me away. I can’t imagine being told I couldn’t eat in my own living space. Of course, I’m sure my grandmother was worried about spilled food attracting bugs (and in the Deep South, by “bugs,” we always meant roaches), but any insects attracted to the dining room would soon move through the house anyway.

The second rule was about ladies. No ladies were allowed (or “aloud,” as my grandmother spelled it). My grandma was no fool. She knew ladies in the house would lead to s-e-x, and as a good Catholic, I’m sure she wanted to limit the amount of sin occurring under her roof. If ladies were kept outside, the incidents of sex would be greatly reduced.

To make the rules clear, my grandmother made a sign.

Brown sign hangs on a white wall. Words written in black paint read No Eat Or Drink In Bed Room In Dining Only & No Lady Aloud. There is a comma between every word, inclduding "bed" and "room."

In her defense, my grandmother didn’t speak any English until she went off to first grade and was forced to learn the language. I think she only stayed in school for a few years, and she certainly didn’t graduate from high school. I understand her grasp on punctuation and spelling was weak at best. But even as little kids, my sibling and I knew the comma use on that sign was out of control.

It’s been suggested to me that perhaps because the words ended up so close together on the sign, my grandma used the commas to mark the space between words. Perhaps that theory reflects what happened, but I think it’s a too generous reading of the situation. I think my grandma, unsure of where to properly place any necessary commas, took a “more is better” approach to punctuating her sign. If one comma was good, ten commas must have seemed even better.

My dad liked to use commas excessively too, although I never saw him go quite as overboard as his mother did with the sign in question. I tend to sprinkle commas at a rate most textbooks would find a bit liberal, as does my sibling. Could excessive comma use be a genetic trait? Is it growing weaker because of the introduction of genes that don’t have the markers for excessive comma use, or has the educational system done its job of nurturing us beyond our comma prolific nature?

In my teenage years the renters departed one by one and were not replaced. The last to go was Mr. Jim, one day too old to live alone in the room he’d called home for decades. Whether he went to live with a family member or to spend his last days in a nursing home, I don’t remember. Neither can I recall whey my grandmother stopped replacing the renters when they left. Maybe the town ordinances changed, or may my grandma grew too old herself and could no longer change the sheets alone or feel safe with strangers on the other side of a door unlocked with a skeleton key.

Once the renters left, my sibling and I were allowed to take showers in the bathroom in the front of the house, as the bathroom in the main part of the house only had a tub. My sibling and I really needed a shower to wash our hair properly, so we preferred the front bathroom for our morning ablutions on the weekends we spent at our grandmother’s house. It was during one of these trips to the front bathroom that my sibling snapped the photo of the sign. This was back in the days of film, when by the the time you found out your photo was off center of the edge was cut off, it was too late. Neither my sibling nor I ever got another chance to snap a photo of the sign.

I wonder what happened to the sign. Surely when my grandma’s house was sold after she went to live in a nursing home, the sign was put in the shed or thrown in the trash. I sure do with I had that sign, a reminder of my childhood, a family legacy more precious than gold.

To learn more about National Punctuation Day, visit the official (?) website.

My sibling took the photo. I’m using it with permission.


Cold?

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A lot of people who came up the mountain for the first time didn’t know what to expect.

What’s the weather going to do? people asked me.

I wanted to say, If I could predict the weather accurately, I would be a millionaire, and I wouldn’t have to work here.

Instead, I would say brightly, It’s the mountains! Anything could happen! That was pretty much the truth too.

Sometimes people asked me if we were going to get rain.

If we’re lucky! I’d say with a big smile on my face. California was a dry place during the four seasons I worked there. We were lucky if it rained. However, people on camping trips usually fail to feel fortunate when they are rained on.

In late June of my fourth season on the mountain, a man and a woman walked into the Mercantile where I was working. They appeared to be in their early 40s. I think they were on a day trip, checking out the area with the thought of maybe coming back to camp at some later date. They ended up buying two walking sticks, and the guy treated himself to what the tag described as a “twill safari hat.”

Does it get cold up here at night? the fellow asked me.

I paused before I spoke and considered my answer. It does get cold there in the winter, but I figured this guy was probably asking about summer temperatures. I wondered what he considered cold. I wondered if what I consider cold is the same as what he considers cold.

After several silent seconds, I said, What do you mean by cold?

He said, 60, 65 degrees. Selective Focus Photography of Person Holding the Adventure Begins Mug

I almost burst out laughing. Really? Sixty-five degrees is cold?

I realize I like my nighttime temperatures lower than many people do. I like my nighttime lows in the 30s so I can sleep snuggled under my down comforter, but I realize most people (especially most people from Southern California) don’t necessarily feel that way. If this guy had defined cold as 30 degrees or 48 or even 55, I would have understood where he was coming from even if I didn’t personally agree. Sixty-five though—maybe that’s cool, but cold? Isn’t 65 degree what most people consider the perfect temperature?

If this man defined 65 degrees as cold, there was only one answer to give: Yes, it gets cold up here at night. It’s not unusual for the temperature to drop to 60 or 65 degrees overnight.

The guy seemed immensely disappointed. I guess I’d dashed his hopes for a comfortable night’s sleep on the mountain.

I wish I had thought to ask how hot was too hot for him. Maybe he was one of those people who just really dig the heat.

Image courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/selective-focus-photography-of-person-holding-the-adventure-begins-mug-891252/.

Tips for the New Traveler: How to Handle Your First Big Trip (Guest Post)

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Today’s guest post by Catherine Workman is all about how to have a great time on your very first big trip. You’ll get tips on everything from packing to getting your vehicle ready for the road. If you are a new traveler, this post is a great place to start planning for a successful trip.

Photo via Pixabay

Traveling across the nation or to a new country is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many people. Such a trip can offer a chance to be independent and strike out on your own. A big trip can be a bit overwhelming, especially for folks who’ve never been away from home for an extended period of time. Not only is there homesickness to worry about, but it’s also important to try to prevent or plan for any travel issues that might make the trip more difficult. 

Fortunately, there are several things you can do to plan for your journey and stay safe, calm, and on-budget the entire time. Start making preparations well ahead of time so you can find the best deals on accommodations and activities, and get to know the details of your chosen mode of transportation. For instance, if you’ll be driving, make sure you understand your insurance policy and research the rules of the road along your route, as laws vary by state.

Here are a few tips to help get you started on your journey.

Become Familiar with Your Insurance Policy

If you’re going to be driving a long distance, it’s a good idea to review your insurance policy before you leave, especially if it’s time for renewal. If you’re still on your parents’ plan due to age, that’s probably your best bet cost-wise. If you’re switching to your own policy, note that if you’re younger than 25, your premiums could be high. However, if you’re at least 20 years old and have four years that reflect a good driving record, you might be eligible for a discount. If you already have liability coverage, now is the time to consider expanding that coverage, especially if you’re hitting the road for an indefinite period of time. You want enough insurance to protect yourself financially (repairs, medical bills, etc.) should you get into an accident. You also want coverage that will reimburse you in the event of storm damage or vandalism. When you’re far from home, you’ll be glad to know you’re covered no matter what happens during the trip.

Get to Know Your Vehicle

Taking a road trip can be great fun…until the car breaks down in an unfamiliar city. You can save yourself a lot of grief and hassle if you do some research on your vehicle before you leave. Find out all you can about your vehicle, including gas mileage and interior space. If you have the manual that came with your vehicle, read it cover to cover.

For safety purposes, you should also know how to check your car’s battery, tires, brakes, A/C, and electrical system before you travel, to ensure that nothing needs to be fixed or replaced. If you don’t have the skills to check everything before you go, drop by your mechanic’s shop and get the vehicle a check-up before you hit the road.

It’s especially important to do some homework if you’re going to rent a car, so read up on the pros and cons regarding your options.

Decide On Transportation and Accommodations

The two costliest aspects of most trips are your transportation and accommodations. Fortunately, if you are staying in the US, you are not limited to flying or driving long distances. Don’t count out traveling by rail or bus if you don’t want to drive. Similarly, if you can give yourself a few extra days, you can make the drive part of your adventure. You also have many accommodation options at home and abroad. Instead of a hotel, look for private rental. While these will not always come with the conveniences of a Marriott or Hilton, you’ll have access to a kitchen and plenty of space to relax.

Budget Well

Taking a trip of any kind can become costly, so it’s crucial that you budget and remain on track as closely as possible. Take into account the true cost of the trip, from your meals to your accommodations, and look for discounts online that will help you save money on your expenses. Keep in mind that it’s best not to travel with a lot of cash, but if you do, learn how to keep it safe. Always have an emergency contact in case you lose your wallet or have your purse stolen. 

Pack Like a Pro

No two types of trips require the same attire, gear, or accessories. Make sure that your suitcase is filled with only the items that you will actually need for your excursion. If you are going to the beach, for example, two swimsuits, an extra pair of flip-flops, and plenty of sunscreen are a must.

A mountain hiking vacation will necessitate things like hiking boots, an emergency poncho, a weather-proof backpack, and, most importantly, a compass and paper map so you are prepared if your phone’s GPS goes off-line. No matter where you go, you will need your ID and, if you are traveling out of the country, a passport, which you should apply for at least three months before your departure.

Don’t Be Afraid of Last-Minute Travel

Conventional wisdom says the sooner you book, the better off you’ll be. While you can usually get great deals by booking months ahead of time, there are also plenty of opportunities to enjoy a last-minute getaway without paying a premium. When you get down to the 72-hour-ahead mark, call your preferred accommodations, airline, or other transportation and ask if they have discounts on open seats. Waiting until a few days before is also a good way to get rock-bottom prices on cruises, especially in the off-season when stateroom availability is plentiful.

Expect the Unexpected

When you’re traveling to a new place for the first time, it can be surprising to see and experience so many differences from home. Keep in mind that each area has its own personality, and you may have to adjust to new cultures, new food and drink, and new languages depending on where you travel to. If you go into it with an open mind, you can ensure a good time and lots of great memories. If you have an issue with stress, panic disorder, or anxiety, bring along comfort items, and consider using meditation to help you relax.

Traveling a long distance for the first time can be liberating and fun, but it can also be stressful, especially if you suffer from anxiety or if you’ve never been away from home for an extended time. Take precautions to ensure your safety is a priority, and plan well in advance so there won’t be any surprises when you’re away from home. A little planning can go a long way!

Catherine Workman believes we should all leave our comfort zones once in a while. She travels to boost her physical and mental health.

Inside Out

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I was selling at a farmers market in a small Arizona town. I’d brought a bunch of new rocks from Quartzsite, and they were practically flying off my table. It was turning out to be a lucrative day.

It was late in the morning when the woman walked up to my table. She was probably in her late 50s. Her hair was died a tasteful dark red, and her makeup was understated by apparent. She was wearing a flowy, cream colored blouse, and she held a little dog in her arms.

These stones are septarian concretions, also known as dragon stones or dragon eggs.

I told her about the septarian concretions on my table and the $3 hearts cut from agate, carnelian, labradorite, and rose quartz. The woman was polite, but seemed distracted. She gave my wares a cursory look, but didn’t seem interested in anything I was selling.

As she moved toward the end of my table, I thought I saw a white tag on the side seam of her blouse. I thought it was strange to see a tag on the outside of her blouse. Had this woman put her shirt on inside out and was now wearing it that way around town?

I was concerned for the woman because I put on my own shirt inside out much too often. Especially when I’m living in my van, especially if I get dressed before the sun’s fully out, especially if I’m rewearing a sweatshirt I hurriedly pulled over my head and tossed into a corner before I fell asleep, I might find myself wearing a shirt with the wrong side out. Sometimes I wear the shirt with the seams and tag showing for hours before I realize what’s up. I’m always a little sheepish when I realize that at nearly 50 years old, I still can’t successfully dress myself on a consistent basis.

I wanted to spare this woman embarrassment, but I also didn’t want to insult her. Maybe this was a fancy designer blouse and the tag had been purposefully placed on the outside of the side seam. I certainly wouldn’t know if this was some sort of new style.

I surveyed the woman’s shirt as she moved along my table. I didn’t see obvious seams, but there was certainly a tag on the side where two pieces of fabric usually come together. Should I say something?

As she turned to walk away, I saw another tag on the back of the shirt’s neckline, right in the spot where shirt manufacturers typically put tags. Now the shirt really appeared to be inside out. It was now or never!

Ma’am? I called out. She turned right around and looked at me.

I took three steps over and stood close to her. I leaned in and said in a low voice, I think your shirt is on inside out. I was striving to present no judgement, just to state my perceptions of the circumstances at hand.

Oh! I did that when I got dressed! she exclaimed. Apparently she’d realized she’d put on her shirt inside out, meant to switch it, but had moved on to other activities and had forgotten her fashion mistake.

Now I’m going to have to go back to my camper to change it, she told me.

I don’t care if you don’t care, I said, trying to reassure her.

But I do care! she said.

She headed toward the parking lot, and I went back to my table. About ten minutes later, the woman came by again to tell me she’d flipped her shirt. There was not a tag in sight.

I took the photo in this post.

Flex Fuel

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I could tell the woman was mad by the way she approached the kiosk. She was short—probably not even 5 feet tall—but she swaggered like a football player taking the field.

Her hair was totally white and cut short. She wore glasses and a black t-shirt with chile peppers screen printed on it. (When she turned around, I saw the back of the shirt read “Some like it hot.”)

She never smiled when I asked how I could help her this morning.

Only the light for the flex fuel comes on! she complained.

I found out what pump she was on and said I’d come out and try to help. Was the flex fuel going to give us problems now? Two diesel pumps were out of order already. I didn’t really need another problem so early in the morning.

I left the kiosk and found the woman waiting for me. I followed her to the pump where her car was parked. As soon as she got there, she grabbed the yellow handle of the flex fuel nozzle from under the yellow sign that read “flex fuel this nozzle only.” When she lifted the nozzle, the light on the flex fuel selector button lit up.

Only the light for flex fuel comes on! she said as if she hated me, my ancestors, and my descendants.

I was trying really hard to understand what was going on. It seemed to me that if one lifted the flex fuel handle, one should expect the light for flex fuel to come on.

Do you want flex fuel? I asked.

Noooooooo!  she wailed as if I were the dumbest dummy she’d ever encountered. She was exceptionally frustrated.

Oh. Well, go ahead and hang up the flex fuel nozzle, I told her.

She hung it up, and I grabbed the handle to the gasoline nozzle. As soon as I lifted the gasoline handle, the lights on the selectors for regular, midgrade, and premium lit up.

Oh, the woman said flatly. I’m sorry.

She didn’t sound sorry. She sounded still pissed, but also embarrassed.

Don’t worry about, I told her. It happens all the time, I said, even though it hadn’t happened even once before in the month I’d worked at the fuel center. 

World Suicide Prevention Day

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2019 World Suicide Prevention Day banner in English

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. According to the World Suicide Prevention Day website,

Suicide prevention remains a universal challenge. Every year, suicide is among the top 20 leading causes of death globally for people of all ages. It is responsible for over 800,000 deaths, which equates to one suicide every 40 seconds.

To help call attention to this tragic reality, today’s post is about my own experience with suicide.

The Man and I were going over the Bridge at 10 o’clock on a Saturday morning in early June. I was driving. When we were in the middle of the Bridge, I looked over and saw two uniformed state troopers standing on the observation deck. They were looking down, down, down, into the river. One peered through a pair of binoculars, and the other looked with his naked eyes.

Oh no!  I said. Someone must have jumped. I knew those state troopers weren’t bird watching. If they were looking down at the river on a Saturday morning, they were probably trying to spot a body.

Do you think so? The Man asked.

Unfortunately, I had to say yes.

When I sold jewelry and shiny rocks at the Bridge, it was always a sad time for me after someone jumped. Whenever I got word that a suicide had happened, I packed up my merchandise and went elsewhere for the day. Too many people (tourists and vendors alike) wanted to talk about the event as if it was only the latest bit of juicy gossip. Other people made bad jokes about suicide or said indignantly that it was something they would never do. Suicide has been a reality I’ve faced throughout my life, and I don’t take it lightly. There’s nothing funny about it as far as I’m concerned. Any time a person is so distraught that taking their own life seems like a good idea is a time for sorrow and mourning.

Even with the call boxes offering a direct line to a suicide prevention hotline placed on and around the Bridge, people still jump. Some people have given up, and no hotline can save them. Of course, I’m glad the call boxes are there. I’m glad they’re available to help the people who can be reached, the people who are undecided, the people who may be swayed by the kind voice of a stranger coming out of a speaker.

About three hours after I saw the state troopers on the Bridge, we headed over it again on our way home. I saw several vehicles marked “State Police.” They were all parked on the sides of the highway and none of them had lights or sirens on.

Something is definitely going on, I told The Man. Did you see all those State Police cars?

He had seen them too. We both knew those cops weren’t out at the Bridge having a picnic. We were both quiet the rest of the way home.

On Wednesday, my fears were confirmed.

I was listening to the local community radio station while I washed dishes. One of the news stories was about a woman who had committed suicide by jumping off the Bridge the previous Saturday. I was sad to have been right.

The radio announcer didn’t give many details about the death. He said the State Police don’t release the names of suicide victims out of respect for the survivors. He did say the woman had driven hours from her home in the big city to jump off the Bridge. Her family said she’d been depressed and talking about suicide. When her family members couldn’t get in touch with her, they called the State Police and asked them to do a wellness check.

The State Police found the woman’s car in the rest area adjacent to the Bridge. After finding the car, they started looking for the woman in the rest area. When they couldn’t find her there, they started looking below the Bridge. Unfortunately, that’s where they found her. I don’t know if she jumped at night so the darkness shielded her from the sight of her body’s final destination or if she waited until after sunrise so she could see where she was going. However it happened, by 10am she was gone.

The radio announcer said the woman was the second person to jump off the Bridge in 2019. The first person had jumped in April.

When someone jumps, I think it’s a sad and somber occasion, even if I’m not at the Bridge when it happens or when the body is discovered. When someone jumps, a life is over, a light has gone out, potential will never be realized. I know the pain and distress that leads people to kill themselves, and I don’t wish such hurt and sadness on anyone. 

Honestly, I’ve considered jumping from that bridge several times. I’m not sure what’s held me back, but whenever someone ends their life there, I think about how it could have been me. I have a personal connection with every single person who jumps from the Bridge.

Whenever I drive across the Bridge—especially in the early morning when I’m alone in the truck—I fantasize about seeing someone about to jump, stopping the truck, intervening, driving the person to safety. I was too late for the woman in June, but maybe I’ll be right on time for the next person.

If you are feeling sad, depressed, distraught, or suicidal, you can reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1800-273-8255. The hotline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. If you have internet access, you can find more information on the hotline’s website. If you’d rather chat with a counselor instead of talking, you can do so from the website. If you’re having trouble, please ask for help.