Author Archives: Blaize Sun

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.

I’m Still Standing

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I’ve been gone a long time. Did you miss me? I missed you. I missed being here, sharing stories with you, interacting with you. Did you wonder where I’ve been? Do you want to hear about what’s happened in my life since the last time I wrote? Here goes…

The area where I used to live.

Near the end of July, my partner of almost four years and I agreed that living together (in particular) and our relationship (in general) weren’t working out, so we decided to part ways. However, due to COVID, finances, prior obligations, and our decision to sell our land in Northern New Mexico and move away, we continued to live together in the small trailer. It’s a good thing we do love and care for each other because we were stuck together for a while.

Our land sold pretty quickly. A young couple from Arizona bought it. They are in love with the area, as well as energetic and motivated. They saw my land-for-sale ad on Facebook about an hour after I’d posted it (on a Saturday afternoon) and immediately contacted me about coming to see it that day. Later that evening (after they’d visited the property for the first time), I let the couple know other people had expressed interest in buying the land. They committed to buying the property then; by Tuesday they’d given me a deposit.

My life has felt as stormy as this sky.

The Man and I had a few weeks to purge, sell things we didn’t want, and pack what we’d decided to keep before it was time to move again. How is it that no matter how much time one has for purging and packing, it’s never really enough?

I’d decided to keep the little trailer. I talked about selling it, but The Man encouraged me to keep it. I got the trailer after my dad died so it’s not like it was something The Man and I had both put money into. I decided if I ever get sick or injured or if I live to be old, I might want this little trailer to stay in full time. Why get rid of something I might want or need some day? I began to formulate a plan.

What if I took the trailer somewhere in the desert where I could live in it comfortably warm for half the year? What if I sold the truck (which I wouldn’t need anyway if I went somewhere that didn’t necessitate 4 wheel drive) and bought a van I could travel in the other six months of the year? The more I thought about this plan, the more it made sense.

Then I had to make a decision about where to go. It came down to a decision between moving to an RV park with super cheap rent (and huge lots) but a remote location (10 miles from the nearest small town) or an RV park in town with more expensive rent and tiny lots. If I took the spot in town, I’d be only two blocks from a grocery store and within walking distance of lots of other places. After much deliberation, I chose the spot in town. As The Man pointed out, if I keep my vehicle parked except for twice monthly expeditions to the supermarket, I’ll pretty much pay my rent with the money I don’t pay in gas and higher priced groceries.

The Man offered to drive the truck pulling the trailer to whichever location I chose. I appreciated the offer and accepted it, as I had never pulled any kind of trailer ever in my life.

Once we sold the land, there was one main situation holding us back. I’d never had the trailer registered in New Mexico. The title was in my name, but was from Arizona. Before moving the trailer across the state, I wanted a valid license plate on it.

In New Mexico, any RV or passenger vehicle bought out of state has to go through a VIN inspection before it can be retitled and registered. The inspection is easy–a representative of the MVD looks at the VIN plate–but it has to be done in person. Unfortunately, when we moved to our land, I hadn’t received the title to the trailer yet. I didn’t receive the title until the trailer was already set up nice and cozy. I didn’t want to have to take apart all of our (but mostly The Man’s, to be honest) hard work to haul the trailer to the MVD.

When I realized we’d have to take the trailer to the MVD before we hit the road, I also realized I’d have to make an appointment because of COVID. When I got online early in August to make an appointment, the soonest one I could get (after checking at over half a dozen offices) was the second week of September. Even after selling the land, we’d be stuck in Northern New Mexico for a while.

We took off for the National Forest about 15 miles from where we’d been living. Phone service was intermittent, but we enjoyed the trees, cool air, and grazing cattle. We’d picked a nice spot to wait for our appointment with the MVD.

We camped in this national forest with the grazing cows.


Before we’d decided to part ways, The Man and I had been discussing a visit to his folks in Oklahoma. The Man’s dad (understandably) wanted to see him. When The Man told his dad we couldn’t afford to pay for gas to make the trip, his dad offered to give us the funds we needed. Once we had the promise of gas money, we chose to go.

After we decided to part ways, we had to decide if we wanted to take the trip to Oklahoma together. We had to decide if we should take the trailer if we were both going, We discussed the idea of The Man going alone and driving the truck. We discussed the idea of The Man going alone and taking a bus. We finally agreed that the best thing to do was go together and take the trailer so we could go directly to my new hometown upon leaving Oklahoma.

On the appointed day, we (and by “we,” I mean The Man) hauled the trailer to the MVD office. Everything went smoothly, but I did have to pay several hundred dollars in taxes on the trailer (and only a $20 late fee, even though I was more than a year delinquent). Our next stop was the nearest Discount Tire location. I’d decided to buy four new tires for the truck before we made a 1400+ mile trip after the current tires totally failed the penny test. In one afternoon, I spent most of the money I’d received from selling the land. Easy come, easy go, I suppose. I’m fortunate to have had the money when I needed it.

Hey from Oklahoma!

We made it to the family home in Oklahoma in less than 48 hours. The Man and I had planned on a one-week visit, but we ended up staying just over a month!!! The bad part of the visit was that I had no phone service the whole time we were there. Somewhere east of Oklahoma City, my phone service cut out and didn’t come back until I was west of OKC once again.

Finally, in mid October, we made it to the little trailer park in the town I now call home. The Man backed my trailer into my very small lot, and we hooked up the water, the solar, and the sewage. A couple of days later, The Man left for his new adventures, and I was on my own.

What to do now? I need money to support myself and pay the rent, but I’m hesitant to get a retail position in these days of COVID. I’ve got hats and necklaces and postcards up on my new Blaizin’ Sun Creations Instagram page, and I’m going to start working on my Blaizin’ Sun Creations and Postcard Emporium Zazzle stores soon. (Be on the lookout for a Zazzle store especially for rubber tramps coming soon.) An online job would be great for me, so if you know of any online work I’d be good at, let me know.

So what, you may be wondering is the future of this blog. Who knows? What’s the future of anything? Today I’m enjoying writing, and I plan to keep it up as long as I enjoy it and have the time for it. I might have to write less when I have to work more. I also may share more guest posts, but please know that even with guest posts, I do my best to share quality content with you.

If you want to support me by being more than just a casual reader, join me on Patreon, hit the donate button to the top right of this page and drop me a few bucks, or buy something I make with my own heart and hands.

Thank you for sticking with me. I sure appreciate you.

I took all the photos in this post.

Vandweller Report: Working at a Christmas Tree Lot (Guest Post)

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This blog post was written before we knew about COVID-19 as a threat, before there was a global pandemic affecting us all. I’ve decided to share this post today in the hopes that it will be helpful to someone, but I don’t know if Christmas tree lots are open this year or if they are hiring. If you want to follow up on the information offered here, you will have to do your own research.

Aerin (the author of this post) and I are both in a vanlife Facebook group. When I heard Aerin was going to work at a Christmas tree lot during the 2019 holiday season, I asked if they would be interested in writing a report for my blog. I was excited when they said yes.

Working at a Christmas tree lot is one of those seasonal jobs I’ve heard are available to nomads but have been able to find precious little real information about. The information that is out there is from the perspective of RVing couples managing lots. I thought I’d do my readers a favor by sharing the insights of a vandweller who spent a couple of weeks before Christmas slinging trees.

Are you a fan of the holiday season? You know, that magical time of year when some traditions call for bringing the carcasses of dead evergreens into our homes to be the backdrop for our revelry. 

I’m talking about Christmas trees.

Photo by Rodolfo Marques on Unsplash

How Did I Hear About the Job?

Well, I was just an unsuspecting nomad looking for work at the beginning of December when I spotted the post in a workamping Facebook group. It wasn’t more than 20 minutes old and had one comment so far. Usually I don’t see these kinds of posts until much too late.

Labor in a Christmas tree lot? How hard could that be? 

Was Living In a Van Helpful to Get the Job?

Not really. I was looking to park onsite as part of my employment, so living in a small rig that is self-contained and doesn’t need hookups made that possible.

I could have parked elsewhere and driven in to work. There was no requirement to live onsite, aside from the managers, and the rest of the staff drove in. However, it was a selling point that I would be around in case things got unexpectedly busy and they needed someone to jump in right away. That didn’t actually happen, but it made the managers feel more secure since they were learning the ropes too, and it helped get me the job.

The person who had responded to the post before me had a large RV and was looking for something that offered hookups. This job was literally in a parking lot. One that was technically the property of the swim school next door, so space could be at a premium when both businesses were crowded. One extra vehicle of regular size was not going to crowd things.

The Job

The lot that hired me is affiliated with Valley View Christmas Trees. Valley View has lots all over the Phoenix metro area. Each lot is managed by a workamping couple who have the authority to hire staff.

From conversations with my managers, I learned that they get bonuses at the end of the season if they hit a certain threshold in total sales and keep labor costs below a certain percentage of sales. Otherwise, they are paid a flat salary, and at least one of them is expected to be working 9-9 every single day.

For me, I was labor staff. Pay was $11/hr gross. Not awesome, but it did come with several useful perks:

  • a parking spot for the duration of my time there
  • regular access to their port-o-pottie so I didn’t need to find another bathroom or use the one in my rig
  • unlimited water for drinking that I could have gotten straight from a hose and filtered myself (if I had a filter) but my managers were kind enough to let me use the faucet in their RV so it went through their filtration system
  • grocery store within walking distance

Each lot had the same five types of fir trees: Douglas, grand, Fraser, noble, and Nordmann. A big part of my job was knowing the difference and a little bit about each to assist customers. After a sale, I moved the tree to the back area and processed it for loading. This involved removing the stand, cutting a little off the bottom of the trunk so it would absorb more water once in the customer’s home, and trimming any branches as requested. Loading was either putting it in a truck bed or tying it to the roof of a car.

Tying a tree to the roof of a car is not fun. At all.

Aside from sales, my job also involved restocking. Trees that were delivered from Valley View (grown in Oregon) needed to get the bottoms drilled (for our center spike stands), stands pounded in, moved into place, twine wrap cut off, and bowls filled with water.

Most trees were in some partial state of readiness. For example, if things were slow, we might drill a bunch of trees in succession so it would be easier to restock later. Drilling takes a minimum of two people, sometimes three or more for larger trees, so getting that done all at once is more efficient.

The drill and drilled trees waiting to be put out. Photo provided by the author.

Drilling is also not fun. 

Trying to guess whether a tree is standing up straight is difficult. If the hole isn’t straight, it becomes super obvious once the tree is on a stand. Redrilling an unwrapped tree is even less fun.

My hours varied week to week depending on when the managers expected to be busy as we got closer to Christmas. Valley View does not pay overtime, so a strict cap of 40 hours also meant some creative shifting to make sure enough staff were working. The lot itself was open from 9am to 9pm every day. The managers were required to work all day every day for their salary.

The result of experimenting with painting trees. Photo provided by the author.

Towards the end of the season, one of the operations managers for Valley View came with a sprayer so we could try painting the trees. It was a mess. We did end up with a purple, blue, and white tree though. Believe it or not, the blue and white ones did sell.

The only thing I didn’t do was cashier because managers were the only ones allowed to run the register.

The Experience As a Vandweller

I liked it overall. Technically the job started towards the end of November, but I came in a bit later. I started on December 5 and the job ended December 24, so I was working or on call for 20 days. Also, my paychecks came on time, on approximately the 15th and 30th of the month.

Positives:

It is a lot of manual labor. That meant I was being paid to exercise. I am primarily a digital nomad, but it can be difficult to make time for physical fitness. I was sore a lot and developed bruises on my legs from the trees, but nothing serious.

The port-o-pottie was pumped out every week, so using it was not an issue. It never got to smelling bad. I was happy to not have to use my camp toilet or walk somewhere.

I was a paid employee of Valley View, meaning they took taxes out of my pay. This may not be a positive for everyone, but I prefer to have the money taken out now and worry less about paying it later. Also, my paychecks came on time. The first came by paper check to the lot because of a snafu, but this wasn’t an issue for me. The second check went through electronically.

Near the end of my time working at the Christmas tree lot, I found that the Crunch Fitness nearby has a drop-in rate of $5.08 (including taxes) so I got to work out and take a shower. I don’t have a shower in my rig, so this was nice.

It was cold, but never unbearable. However, I would not want to do this job any further north.

Negatives:

I was muddy and wet a lot of the time.

I had pine needles EVERYWHERE.

Photo provided by the author.

It is easiest to just wear the same outfits over and over again. I had two pairs of pants, three long-sleeve shirts, and two vests that I cycled through so things had a chance to dry out before being worn again. I did laundry maybe twice the whole time I was there.

Since I wore my heavy work boots every day, I had a towel down as a kind of rug by the door so I could take them off and let them air out a little before the next day. They needed to air out for a full 24 hours once I was finished.

I didn’t feel comfortable setting up an outside area to cook, so I relied a lot on convenience food from the grocery store (which was a 5 min walk away). Not very healthy or frugal. 

All of the above are tough in a very small space. Everything gets everywhere. I was constantly sweeping dirt and pine needles out of the van. The walls were slowly coming in with dirty clothes draped to air out in the cab with the windows open, boots by the door, and trying to keep my bed relatively clean.

Bottom Line

I enjoyed myself. It was hard work, but I don’t mind that. I got paid to exercise, a free place to park, access to a great grocery store, and excellent managers. My hope is to work with the same couple again next season. A month of part- to full-time work with parking is a welcome thing at that time of year. The positives more than outweighed the negatives and the mehs.

I enjoyed the challenge of a new job, learning about the trees, and meeting some wonderful people. Being a vandweller was both a help and an inconvenience for a job like this, but I found ways to make it work. I learned a lot about how I use the space and made some changes.

I would definitely do this job again. It isn’t for everyone, but definitely worth investigating.

Aerin is a vandwelling nomad who has big dreams and is using a combination of frugality, zero waste, healthy living, alternative sources of income, and whatever else comes along to help achieve them. Aerin also makes masks, modular utility belts, and more at Hermit Crab Creations .


Last Day

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My last day at the fuel center was perfect because it included all the chaos I was leaving behind.

Person Signing Contract Paper

When I’d applied for the job, the application had asked about my availability. I’d responded that I was available any time except Tuesday mornings. When I had the prescreening interview over the phone, I’d told the lady from the corporate hiring office that I was available to work any time expect Tuesday mornings. During my interview with one of the store’s assistant managers, I’d verbalized that I was not available to work on Tuesday mornings. Over the eight or so weeks I’d worked at the fuel center, I’d been scheduled to work on Tuesday mornings at least three times, including on my last day on the job.

Working in the morning meant opening the fuel center which meant getting out of bed no later than 4:15am so I could make the forty minute drive to town and clock in by 5:45. How appropriate that on my last day of employment I had to wake up in the dark and drive 20 miles in the dark and start work in the dark.

I was late clocking in on my last day. What are they going to do, fire me? I

Person Holding Smartphone

thought bitterly. I moved slowly while getting ready for work and left the house late. I knew I wasn’t going to make it through the morning without coffee, so I stopped at the 24 hour convenience store and bought a cup of their nasty joe. Even six packets of sugar and two squirts of nondairy creamer couldn’t redeem the stuff, but I drank it anyway.

After clocking in nine minutes late, I headed to the fuel center, unlocked the door, and disarmed the alarm. As always, I counted the cash drawer, opened the cooler and merchandisers, put out the squeegees, and completed my paperwork. Then I checked the spill buckets, cleaned all the pumps, and went back into the kiosk.

I said, Hi! How can I help you today? about a thousand times.

Every hour, I went outside and made sure all merchandise was pulled to the front and facing forward.

Around 10:30 the alarm system repairmen arrived.

The guy in charge of the team of two came up to the kiosk and told me through the intercom that they were there to work on the alarm and needed to get into the kiosk. I told him no one had informed me they would be there, and I’d need a few minutes to confirm it was ok to let them into the kiosk. The repairman seemed fine with my caution.

Red Corded Telephone on White Suraface

I called the managers’ office and told the person who answered the phone (managers never, ever identified themselves when I talked with them on the phone) that the repairmen had arrived and wanted to come into the kiosk. The manager on the other end of the line said the repairmen hadn’t checked in with him. It sounded to me as if he didn’t even know they were coming. Send them inside to check in, he instructed me.

I told the guy he’d have to go into the supermarket to check in. They left, and I continued to sell fuel and cigarettes and sodas.

The repairmen returned, but no one from management let me know it was ok to allow them in the kiosk. I had to call the managers’ office again to find out everything was on the up and up. Typical that when I really needed to be in the loop, I was out of it.

While the repairmen where in the kiosk, they witnessed how difficult it was to communicate through the intercom. They heard how one older man got really pissed off at me when I mistook his request for $20 on pump 9 as $30 on pump 10. He corrected my mistake before I even put the wrong information into the POS (point-of-sale) system, but he spoke to me roughly. I could tell he was mad. I don’t know if he thought I was purposely going against his wishes, but I truly misunderstood what he said through the crappy intercom system.

Some people are really rude, the younger repairman observed.

After they’d been in the kiosk about half an hour, the lead repair guy said they had to go outside and check the alarm on each pump. While they completed their task, I’d be in the kiosk listening to the alarm sound continuously for minutes at a time.

The alarm was high pitched and annoying. I guess alarms are designed to be irritating so they grab attention. Anything less terrible would surely be ignored. While the alarm was horrible to be subjected to, I was able to put it at the back of my consciousness. It was both at the forefront of my reality and not there at all.

My coworker who relieved me at noon was late, as he had been late every time he’d relieved me over the past two months. This time he was only about eight minutes late instead of the 14 to 26 minutes he’d been late before. At least he didn’t pull another no-call\no-show on my last day.

I went into the supermarket to pull merchandise for the fuel center. I found all I could from the list of needed items, then brought everything up to the front for the manager in charge of fuel center replenishment to check. He was still giving me instructions on how to restock correctly, and I realized no one had bothered to tell him I’d given my two weeks notice. He obviously had no idea it was my last day on the job. I figured if no one else had told him, I wasn’t going to be the one to break the news

Oh, yeah. Right. Sure, I agreed with everything he said. I knew he’d figure out eventually that I was gone when he never saw me again.

After I dropped off the merchandise at the fuel center, I walked back to the supermarket to clock out and turn in my name tag and pink safety vest.

The manager I really liked was in the office working on the computer even though she’d told me two days before that she wouldn’t see me on my last day because she’d be on vacation.

I thought you were in West Virginia, I said,

She turned around, and I saw she wore no makeup and had a baseball cap pulled down low on her forehead. This woman usually wore a ton of eyeliner, mascara, and eyeshadow, but that afternoon her naked eyes looked young and vulnerable.

I leave tomorrow, she said. I’m just here today tying up a few loose ends.

This isn’t how you start a vacation, I teased.

I know, she laughed.

From the moment I’d met this woman, I felt a bond with her. Maybe it was just the connection of middle age woman working shit jobs (although I think my job was more shit than hers). I made her laugh, which always endears a person to me (I feel so understood when people laugh when I’m trying to be funny), but more importantly, this woman really seemed to care. I always felt as if she truly cared about me, the fuel center, the customers.

I just need to drop off my vest and name tag, I explained while setting the items on the cluttered desk where the human resources woman sat when she was in.

We’re really going to miss you, the manager I liked said.

She told me if I ever needed a reference or a recommendation, I should look her up. I assured her I would

Then she said, I don’t know if you’re a hugger…

Actually, I am, I said, and we embraced

Thank you, I told her.  From the moment I met you, I felt a warmth from you, and this place really needs some warmth.

Then I said I’d see her when I went into the store to shop.

I walked out to my truck an unemployed woman. It was the end of an era. I

can’t say I was sad to see that door close behind me.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/person-signing-contract-paper-1251183/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/coffee-contact-email-hands-4831/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/marketing-office-working-business-33999/.

Stretch

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I thought I’d seen it all when I watched an older man on the roof of his van stretch a fuel hose up to a generator he had attached to the top of his vehicle. Of course, I was wrong.

I’d been working at a supermarket fuel center for about two months. I’d seen money pulled out of a bra, bills come through the drawer to the outside world covered in blood, a customer who didn’t know how to remove a locking gas cap, and an elderly lady who couldn’t remember what kind of fuel to put into her car. I’d seen a lot in my two months on the job, but my biggest Wow! I can’t believe I’m seeing this moment came, appropriately, on my last day as a fuel center clerk.

The white RAV4 pulled next to pump 3. I saw a woman with short white hair get out of the driver’s side of the car and walk over to the pump. I wasn’t paying a lot of attention to this specific customer. The fuel center was busy, and I had two repairmen from the alarm company in the kiosk with me. The customer on pump 3 was but a minor concern.

The woman in the white RAV4 must have realized that she’d parked with the wrong side of her car next to the pump. Her fuel tank–and the hole for the nozzle– was on the side of the car farthest from the fuel source.

This situation happened occasionally at the fuel center. I’m not sure how people forget what side of their vehicle the fuel tank is on. Perhaps the confusion comes from driving more than one vehicle regularly and forgetting that the fuel tanks are on different sides. Maybe the confusion occurs when a vacationer is driving a rental car and forgets the tank on the rental is in a different place than on the family vehicle. In any case, I’d seen it happen before. Usually the driver remedied the situation by getting behind the wheel and driving the car into a better position. The driver of the RAV4 had a different idea.

When I glanced over at pump 3 a couple of minutes after I saw the woman walking around the car, I saw she had taken the hose that deliver the fuel and s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d it over the roof of the RAV4. She’d then somehow managed to get the upside down nozzle into the opening to the gas tank so she could pump the fuel without moving the car. It was the damnedest thing.

Would you look at that! I said to the two guys form the alarm company. That lady’s got the hose stretched over the top of her car.

The two alarm company guys came over to the front of the kiosk and had a look. They agreed they’d never before seen anybody contort a gas hose the way the woman driving the RAV4 had done.

I was glad it was my last day on the job for a variety of reasons, but mostly because I was scared to see what would come next after believing that this time I had in fact seen it all.

Why Are You Here?

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The manager I liked came into the fuel center kiosk where I was working around nine o’clock that morning. I’d been there a little more than three hours.

When I’d done the opening paperwork, I’d seen a note stating that the coworker who was always late for work when he relieved me hadn’t even shown up the day before. He’d pulled a no-call/no-show, and another employee had come in early to cover the shift.

Do you think Dylan is going to come in today? I asked the manager. Mostly I was being nosey and fishing to find out if Dylan had been fired.

What do you mean? she asked.

Oh no! She wasn’t even aware of what had happened the day before. Now I’d opened a can of worms. I told her the paperwork from the previous night indicated that Dylan had been a no-call/no show.

I wasn’t aware, she said.

She grabbed the schedule and began scrutinizing it. She didn’t realize it was the next week’s schedule she was looking at. The new schedule had come out the day before and had been placed on top of the schedule for the current week.

She jabbed her finger at the schedule for Friday. She thought she was looking at today Friday and not next week Friday. While I was scheduled to work today Friday, I had the day off next week Friday. In her confusion about which Friday she was looking at, the manager thought I wasn’t supposed to be working today.

Why are you here? she asked me.

Oh Tiffany, I replied. I ask myself that all the time Why AM I here?

She started laughing, which is always a good response to kidding around. Then I showed her that she was looking at the schedule for the next week. When I pulled out the current schedule, she saw I was indeed supposed to be at work that day.

Dylan did not get fired. I never found out why he hadn’t shown up for work the previous day or called to let someone know that he couldn’t make it. The next time he was scheduled to relieve me, he showed up several minutes late, the same as it ever was.

The Rubber Tramp Artist on The Postcardist Podcast

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A few weeks ago, I was interviewed by my friend Frank Roche. Frank is the mastermind behind The Postcardist podcast. He and I met on Instagram (you can follow me on Instagram too, @rubbertrampartist), and we stay in touch via social media and good ol’ snail mail. When Frank was looking for folks to interview for the second season of The Postcardist, I didn’t just raise my hand, I waved it around and squealed, “Me! Me! Me!”

Well, ok, the raising of my hand and waving it around and generally calling attention to myself is all metaphoric for my excitement at volunteering to do something I suspected would be really fun. I did offer myself up for an interview, and to my delight, Frank accepted my offer.

On the appointed day, Frank called me and we had a long conversation about postcards, my blog, and the state insect of New Mexico, the tarantula hawk wasp. As I suspected, talking with Frank was really fun.

If you want to hear the whole interview, you can find it on episode 75 of The Postcardist podcast. While you’re there, you can stick around and listen to conversations with many cool, nice people who love postcards as much as I do.

I took the photos in this post. Both are available as postcards. Ask me, and I’ll tell you how to get them.

Will I Get Change?

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I was asked a lot of stupid questions when I worked at the supermarket fuel center (aka gas station). People wanted to know why only the diesel or flex fuel light came on. (Because you lifted the diesel/flex fuel nozzle. If you lift the gasoline nozzle, the lights indicating regular, midgrade, or premium will come on.) People wanted to know why the screen on the pump instructed them to see the cashier. (Because you’re trying to use a credit card we don’t accept. The sign on each pump clearly states what methods of payment you can use.) One lady even demanded I tell her what kind of fuel she was supposed to use in her car. (Ma’am, I have no earthly idea.)

The dumbest question I got (on more than occasion) went something like this:

Me: Hi! How can I help you today?

Customer: I need to get some gas.

Me [internal thought]: Duh! I figured as much, since we’re at a gas station.

Me [aloud]: What pump are you on?

Customer: Pump x.

Me:  Great! How much do you want to put on pump x?

Customer [slowly]: Well…I don’t know…I’m paying cash…I don’t know how much it will take.

To be fair, these customers may have been thinking back to a day when they could tell the gas station attendant they wanted to fill up and the attendant would authorize the pump to spew fuel into the universe until the customer returned the nozzle to its cradle. I remember those days. I remember when gas station customers could pay for their fuel after it was in the vehicle. Of course, such a procedure could lead to the popular gas-n-go scam in which the driver filled up the vehicle’s tank and drove away without paying a penny.

(I worked in a gas station years ago, a customer told me. When people drove off without paying, that money came out of my paycheck, he said.)

At the fuel center where I worked, no open ended transactions took place through the kiosk. When customers used credit or debit cards at the pump, they could pump gas from here to eternity (or until they’d drained their debit account or maxed out their credit card). However, if customers brought the same debit or credit cards to me to run inside the kiosk, I couldn’t do anything until I was told the dollar amount the customer wanted to spend.

Could you turn on pump x? customers sometimes asked me.

Well, no, I couldn’t. The POS (point-of-sale) system was designed to make stealing gas without the participation of the fuel clerk virtually impossible. I couldn’t just turn on pumps and trust customers to come back and pay for the fuel they’d put into their vehicles. Any time I authorized a sale on a pump, I authorized it for a specific dollar amount after I had the money on my side of the bulletproof glass.

I suppose I could have participated in fuel theft by authorizing a pump for an amount of money I had not received. Say a friend came to the fuel center and wanted to get $10 on pump 4 but only had five bucks. It was possible for me to authorize pump 4 for $10 even though I’d only been given $5. However, such thievery certainly would have come back to bite me in the ass. If I’d authorized a pump for a dollar amount I failed to collect, my drawer would have been short.  Eventually some bookkeeper would have noticed, and I would have suffered negative consequences.

I don’t know how other gas stations work, but my place of employment was strictly a pay-before-you-pump place. When customers wanted to pay cash, they had to tell me how much money they wanted to spend, which brings us back to the stupidest question I ever encountered on the job.

A customer wanted to pay cash to fill up a vehicle. The customer didn’t know how much money it would take to pay for a fill-up on the vehicle in question. I told the customer I couldn’t do an open ended transaction; I needed to put a specific dollar amount into the cash register.

What will happen if filling the tank doesn’t take as much money as I give you? more than one customer asked. Will you give me change?

I wanted to say, Oh, no! If you overpay, we keep your money. We don’t give change here.

I wanted to say, Of course we give you change, you idiot! Do you think we could get away with keeping your money?

I wanted to say, How is a gas station different from any other business when it comes to change? It’s not!! If you overpay, of course you get change!

Instead, I’d say something like, Oh, yes. I’ll give you change for whatever amount you don’t use. Just come back here when you’re done, and I’ll get cash for you right away.

To be fair, the change confusion was not a daily occurrence, but it happened more than once during the two months I worked at the fuel center. It was never a kid asking if they’d get their money back if they overpaid; the person confused about paying cash and getting change was always someone beyond middle age.

Have you never been to a gas station before? I sometimes wanted to ask customers. How do you not know how this works?

I had to remind myself that some people may have been buying and pumping fuel for the first time after many years of having a partner do it for them. I tried to remember that the confused folks may have been accustomed to paying with debit or credit cards and truly didn’t remember how paying with cash worked. Of course some of my customers were probably just dumb or possibly from another planet.

Forgotten Change

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When I worked at the fuel center (aka gas station) of a supermarket briefly during the summer of 2019, my POS (point-of-sale) system kept me updated on the monetary situations occurring at the pumps. I could look at my screen and tell who had paid at the kiosk and who had paid at the pump. I could see which customers had not yet begun to pump fuel and which ones had finished up. Most conveniently, I could see who was owed change.

The POS system kept track of how much money had been paid on each pump. If the customer overpaid, the POS system told me exactly how much change that customer was owed. When the customer came back to the kiosk for change, I only had to touch a few buttons then look on my screen to find out how much cash to hand back. If I was really at the top of my game, I would have a customer’s change waiting by the time the person walked up to the window.

Some people were so dead set on getting their change, they never even walked away from the kiosk. Of course, this only worked when a companion stayed at the car to pump the fuel. I wondered what went through the heads of people who stood right next to the kiosk while the companion pumped the fuel. Maybe the person who stayed was too tired to walk 15 feet back to the car, another 15 feet to return to the kiosk to collect the change, then 15 feet again to get to the car in preparation for departure. Maybe they were afraid I was going to take off with their $23.76 (or $11.43 or $4.98 or whatever), and run off to Mexico to start a new life. I don’t know how those people felt, but I felt awkward as hell when they hung around the kiosk waiting for the moment I could hand over their money. 

Other people were so seemingly unconcerned with money that they left without their change. This didn’t happen often, and when it did, it was usually only a few cents left behind. When I noticed the screen showing a dollar (or cents) amount in parentheses, I knew that money was owed to the customer. When I looked out the big kiosk windows and saw the pump where the change was owed was empty, I knew the customer had absentmindedly taken off without it or was too embarrassed to come back for a few pennies.

One day a man stepped up to the kiosk and gave me a large bill to pay for gas on pump 8. He mentioned his truck probably wouldn’t take all the gas the big bill would buy. I told him to just come back for his change. No problem.

Minutes passed, and I forgot about the fellow getting fuel on pump 8. When I next looked at my POS screen, I saw $12.53 was owed to the customer who’d used pump 8. However, when I looked over at pump 8, it was empty.  The man who’d given me the big bill was gone.

Twelve dollars is a pretty substantial amount of money. I could imagine some people (not me, I’m a frugal gal) leaving a few pennies behind, but I couldn’t imagine anyone abandoning more than a dollar. I figured the guy wanted his change, but had forgotten it.

I went through the steps on the POS system to make the change. I left the money in the cash drawer, but on the receipt I wrote a little note about what had happened. I left the receipt on top of the cash register, thinking the customer would return soon and I’d know just how much money to give him.

The customer didn’t come back. Hours passed. The customer didn’t return. The next time I dropped cash into the safe, I included the receipt with the note on it.

Of course, not long after I dropped the receipt into the safe, the phone rang. It was the customer who’d forgotten his $12.53. He seemed surprised but pleased that I remembered him. No problem, I told him. Just come back by and pick up your change.

He was home by then, about 30 miles away. He thought he’d be back in town probably Monday.   I told him if he wouldn’t be back before my shift was over, he should go directly to customer service when he did come in. I explained I’d written a note and included it with a safe drop so the situation had been documented. I said if he explained the circumstances to the person working at the customer service booth when he came in, there should be no problem getting his change.

The fellow thanked me profusely. I think he’d expected to get the run around, but he was so grateful when I remembered him and admitted to knowing he had left his change. Perhaps an unscrupulous cashier would have pocketed his $12.53, but not me. No way was I going to take something I knew didn’t belong to me.

3 Easy Ways to Make Coffee When Camping (Guest Post)

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I’m not an avid coffee drinker myself. Sure, I enjoy a caffeine buzz occasionally, especially if I’m trying to get some work done, but if I were on a camping trip and had no coffee to drink…no problem.

I know many other people feel differently than I do when it comes to having a cup of coffee in the morning. A morning without coffee could make an otherwise lovely camping trip hell for lots of folks. That’s why I was glad when Joshua Hodge, the founder of the Deep Blue Mountain outdoor blog offered to write a guest post about how to make delicious coffee while camping.

Joshua offers advice on making coffee three simple ways so even in the great outdoors, you don’t have to be without your favorite java.

Loyal fans of coffee like to enjoy the beverage everywhere from our cozy kitchens in the morning to our desks while working in the afternoons. Coffee is the thing that moves us, and without it our days can be grim

Access to coffee–anytime, anywhere we want it–should be the right of every coffee lover. However, there are some places where getting our favorite drink can be tough and troublesome. Unfortunately while on a camping trip can be one one of those challenging times for coffee drinkers.

Today I will teach you how to make coffee outdoors while camping. This tutorial will focus on more traditional and natural ways to make coffee so expect your coffee to be bold and wild.

Cowboy coffee 

Probably the easiest way to make coffee while camping is cowboy coffee. This method is for all those who value simplicity and have an adventurous spirit.

For this kind of coffee, you will only need three components: good quality ground coffee, a pot, and a heat source.

Your cowboy coffee can taste pretty awful or incredibly great, depending on the recipe you use. I think the recipe I am about to share with you will lead to coffee that will be a treat for your senses.

  • Add water to the pot and bring it to a boil – preferably using a campfire.
  • Once the water starts boiling, remove the pot and let it sit for 30 seconds. (Letting the water sit will bring it to the ideal temperature of 200°F. )
  • For every 8 ounces of water, add 2 tablespoons of finely ground beans (preferably from a local roastery).
  • Stir the grounds into the water.
  • Let your brew sit for 2 minutes then stir again.
  • Let it to sit for another 2 minutes after stirring.
  • After 4 minutes of brewing, sprinkle a little bit of cold water over your grounds.
  • Slowly pour the coffee, to keep grounds on the bottom of the pot.

Important note: Do not let the brew sit for too long,or it will get over-extracted. You will get the best aroma and taste if you pour immediately after brewing. 

Voila, your cup of Joe the cowboy way is ready, and it tastes great, doesn’t it? – If you followed the recipe, I know it does.

Cowboy coffee is ideal for camping – it is bold, untamed, and rich, with the spirit of the Old West. 

Coffee in a tea bag

This is a simple method in the form of good-old-fashioned tea bags packed with tasty grounds. You can find many delicious coffee grounds packed in bags from coffee beans coming from Guatemala, Indonesia, Ethiopia, or any other region you prefer. You can also make your own coffee bags according to Thorin Klosowski on Lifehacker.

Even more, coffee in teabags can really offer interesting combinations of taste and give specific overtones – like smoky, chocolate, or fruity. If you prefer a variety of coffee aromas and love exotic or interesting overtones, teabag coffee is an ideal option for your camping adventure.

Now, let me show you how convenient and easy it to make a tea bag coffee cuppa. It is as easy as steeping a tea bag and it works like this:

  • Put the coffee brew bag in your mug and pour hot water over.
  • Steep until you get the strength you want and then remove the bag.

The best part of a tea bag coffee is that you control the whole brewing process and dictate the taste. Additionally, most of the coffee bags are recyclable. Tea Bag coffee is simple to prepare and can almost taste as good as, say, French press coffee. You will treat yourself to a decent cup of coffee and a range of aromas if you decide to go for this option while camping.

The magnificent percolator

The third method for coffee making is using a percolator. This method is for those who don’t want to compromise their coffee’s taste, even while camping. With this method, you’ll experience the wafting smell of coffee and a bold, rich taste. With a percolater, you’ll be able to brew large amounts of coffee, so your coffee-drinking camp mates will be satisfied sooner.

Not every percolator is the same, and there are nuances when choosing the right one. I suggest checking this percolator guide to see what kind of percolator best fits your needs.

Percolators have two parts that are responsible for making the coffee: a pot and a vertical tube. Additionally, the vertical tube has a perforated basket on top of it where the grounds are held during brewing. 

The process of brewing using a percolator involves hot water (heated on a fire) going up the vertical tube and entering the basket where the grounds are. Next, water goes through the grounds, extracts soluble matter from them, and goes back into the pot. This cycle repeats until your tasty, bold coffee is ready. Many percolators have a viewing bubble which will allow you to observe when coffee gets the right color.

A percolator may need a little “getting used to” for best results. In that light, here are a few tips for beginners:

  • To determine capacity – Divide the amount of water the percolator holds by 5 and the result will be the number of servings 
  • Coffee strength – Half of a standard coffee measure will get you light coffee. Three-quarters of the measure will produce medium strength coffee. A whole measure will give you strong coffee.

Conclusion

Camping will take you far from stressful days in the city and open your senses to the wilderness. Meanwhile, your body and soul will rest, and the time spent outdoors will allow you to reconnect with yourself and nature. However, it’s not a full experience if you give up coffee.

Hopefully I’ve provided the easiest methods for a more than a decent cup of Joe on your camping trip. Choose the method that fit your needs and personality the best, and feel free to experiment.

Photo courtesy of https://pixabay.com/photos/coffee-grill-fire-heating-up-1031139/