Author Archives: Blaize Sun

About Blaize Sun

I live in my van, which makes me a rubber tramp. I like to see places I've never seen before, and I like to visit the places I love again and again. I like to play with color. I make collages and hemp jewelry and cheerful winter hats. I take photographs and (sometimes, not in a long time) write poetry. All of those things make me an artist. Although I like to spread joy and to make people laugh, my wit can be sharp. I try to stay positives in all situations, to find the goodness in all people. But I often feel compelled to point out bullshit when I smell it. I like to have fun, to dance, to eat yummy food, to sit by a fire and share stories. I want to know what people hold dear and important, not just make surface small talk. This blog is a way for me to share stories. This blog is made up of my stories, rants, and observations, as well as my photographs.

Ten Places Where Nomads Can Look for Temporary Work

Standard

I see some version of this question posted over and over again in Facebook groups for van dwellers, rubber tramps, nomads, full-time RVers, and other folks who live on the road:

How do you guys make money?

Folks who aren’t living off retirement funds, disability benefits, or inherited money are probably going to have to work at least part time to pay the bills. Even people who live simply still have to feed themselves and put gas in the tank, so what’s a broke nomad to do?

If you don’t want to settle in one place long enough to take on a permanent position, getting a temp job while on the road will put money in your pocket.

Here’s a list of ten places to look for work that will last a few days (or maybe a few weeks) and allow you to earn the funds to get you down the road.

#1 Good ol’ Craigslist

While staying temporarily in major cities, I’ve been able to find plenty of short-term jobs through Craigslist ads. Thanks to Craigslist, I found a weekend gig selling lemonade at an ostrich festival, filled a position handing out cookie samples at a grocery store, got paid to help a woman set up her garage sell, was financially compensated for participating in physical and mental health studies at a major university, made a few bucks sitting on two mock juries, and got a dog sitting job that led me to getting paid for cooking and cleaning house for the dog’s person. I look under the “etc / misc” header in the jobs column, then skip down to look at the categories under “gigs.”

#2 Bulletin Boards

Look for bulletin boards around town. I often see them at libraries, grocery stores and laundromats. If you’re in a university town, look around on campus for bulletin boards. Any time I see a bulletin board, I scour the flyers for job opportunities. In Taos, NM one spring, The Man answered an ad I spotted on a flyer at the natural foods store and got a two-day job helping an older couple move. In addition to getting paid, he was fed lunch too!

#3 Help Wanted Signs

When I was in Moab, UT in April of 2018, there were help wanted signs all over the place. The Family Dollar (or was it the Dollar General?) had a help wanted sign on the front door. The mom and pop grocery store had a help wanted sign in the window. This recruitment method told me these stores were getting a little desperate to hire workers because things were going to get busy soon.

If I had been looking for a job in Moab, I wouldn’t have just applied at the places where I saw actual help wanted signs. The signs were a clue to me that the whole town was going to need workers in the very near future. If I had been looking for work in Moab, I would have stopped in at any place I might be interested or qualified to work in and asked to fill out an application.

Of course, a help wanted sign has the potential to lead to a job that’s going to last more than a day or two. That’s ok if you’re looking for something longer term. In a tourist town, a business might only be hiring seasonally, which may be perfect for you if you’ll want to move on when seasons change.

I recently learned of another way to earn money from help wanted signs. Job Spotter by Indeed is an app which allows people to earn points for taking photos of help wanted signs. The points can be exchanged for gift cards. The Penny Hoarder website has an article by with all the details. From what I’ve read, no one is going to get rich from the Job Spotter app, but if you are in a town where help wanted signs are posted, you could earn yourself some gift card credit this way.

Selective Focus Photography of Magazines#4 Local Newspapers

It might not even be worth looking at a big city newspaper for a job, but sometimes newspapers in smaller towns are kind of a big deal. If you’re in a small city or town, check out the help wanted section, either online or in the physical newspaper. Like to read a printed version of the newspaper, but don’t want to spend money? Look around for a discarded copy at the coffee shop you’re hanging out in, or ask at the local library if they have a copy available to the public.

#5 Word of Mouth

If you’re in a place where you know people or if you’re the outgoing type, talk to people and let then know you Smiling Person Holding Gray Stainless Steel Canare looking for work. If you overhear someone talking about needing to hire someone for a short-term job, introduce yourself. I’ve gotten some of my best pet sitting gigs because a friend of a friend was going out of town needed someone to care for the dogs.

#6 Facebook Buy/Sell/Trade Groups

In the small town where I spend my winters, people use the local Facebook buy/sell/trade group as a kind of electronic community bulletin board. Group members post about everything from bobcats harassing their house cats to tamales for sale. I’ve seen members post about needing help with yard work for an afternoon or weekend, and recently someone was looking for a person to clean her house regularly. If you’re spending some time in a small town and want very short term work, you may see if the community uses their buy/sell/trade group this way.

#7 On the Radio

KTAO 101.9 FM in Taos, NM has an on air “swap meet” called Trash and Treasures.

Listeners can call up and buy, sell, or trade any item or service that is not a live animal, business, or anything inappropriate…

Black and Silver Cassette PlayerA person in Taos with a skill could call Trash and Treasures and announce the desire to work to the entire radio audience. There’s a limit to how often a person can make such an announcement, but as long as the rules are followed an individual could offer yard work, house deep cleaning, dog walking, mural painting, or whatever skill one has to share.

I’ve heard that this sort of radio bulletin boards exist in small communities across the United States, so ask around if you’re in a little town.

#8 Remote Locations

If you’re already in a remote location (while camping, hiking, fishing, or doing some other outdoorsy activity) and would like to stay longer but are running out of funds, ask any businesses in the area if they’re hiring. Last May, the restaurant/bar/general store down the road from where The Man and I worked on the mountain hired two sets of people (a married couple who live in a short bus and a couple of guys traveling together) who were just passing through. All the folks worked through the busy season, then headed out after Labor Day.

The Big Boss Man needed another worker at the parking lot and ended up hiring a woman who’d come into the Mercantile and asked the other clerk (who also happened to be the Big Boss Man’s wife) How do I get a job up here? She’d been living in her car in the town at the foot of the mountain, and needed money for the next leg of her journey. She worked for a couple of months, which helped out the crew on the mountain, then moved on at the end of the season with some coins in her pocket.

Businesses in such remote locations are often in dire need of workers, so if you’re there and would like to stay for a while, ask around to find out if anyone needs help.

#9 Construction Sites

I’ve never tried this myself, but I’ve been told there’s potential for short-term work at construction sites. Have tools Man Wearing Black Denim Pants With Carrying Hammer on Holsterand skills? Track down the boss at a construction site and offer your services. If the crew is short and on a deadline, you might get hired on the spot. If you have a pickup truck and the ability to haul construction waste to the dump, you might get paid to perform that service.

#10 Temp Agencies

If you’d prefer to get jobs through more formal channels, try a temp agency, also known as a staffing agency. When I worked for Manpower, I got jobs supervising equipment at a dog food factory, packing jewelry into boxes, washing dishes in a school lunchroom, tallying votes after a local election, and removing staples from financial documents. Most of these jobs lasted just a day or two, and I was assured I was free to turn down any job for any reason.

Other well-known staffing agencies include Kelly Services and Addeco. A Glassdoor article by entitled “14 Great Staffing Agencies to Help You Kick Start Your Job Search” recommends other temp agencies to consider. The agencies listed in that article include the following: Integrity Staffing Solutions (office/clerical, professional and industrial staffing) and PrideStaff (office support, finance and accounting, light industrial, legal support, telemarketing, and customer service).

If you’re interested in getting a seasonal job at a campground, check out my post “10 Steps to Getting a Job as a Work Camper at a Campground.”

I hope these ideas will help you find work if and when you need it. Remember, this post is a starting point; get out there and do your own research! Blaize Sun is not responsible for you! Only you are responsible for you!

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/blur-cash-close-up-dollars-545065/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/advertisements-batch-blur-business-518543/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/marketing-man-person-communication-362/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/black-and-silver-cassette-player-159613/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/hammer-craftsman-tools-construction-8092/.

Inappropriate Store Clerk Behavior

Standard

At the start of my fourth season working on the mountain, I worked at the Mercantile with two other women. The other clerks were both in their early 60s. One of the women was very sweet and kind hearted. Seldom did a cross word come out of her mouth, and she got melty over the cuteness of dogs and little kids. The second store clerk—let’s call her Butch—was most kindly described as abrupt.

Butch burped loudly and didn’t excuse herself. She raised her voice at children, and her tone when she invited customers to ask questions betrayed her true feeling. Butch was bossy, although all three of us clerks had equal lack of authority in the eyes of the company we worked for. One day when there were no customers in the store, Butch used an obvious racial slur in casual conversation with me, The Big Boss Man, and Sandra the camp host. I was stunned into silence.

Butch was kind to me in her own way, which complicates how I felt about her. She offered to loan money to me and The Man when we experienced some payroll problems. She offered to pick up supplies for us on the weeks she and her husband went to town and The Man and I stayed on the mountain. She bought two copied of my book before she and her husband quit their jobs on the mountain shortly after the Fourth of July. She showed her desire for friendship with me in the manner of an eight year old boy: rambunctious teasing, invading my personal space, tugging on my clothes. I tried not to stand in her general vicinity so she didn’t have the opportunity to get too close to me.

Butch had suffered major health problems in recent years. I suspect facing death had given her a don’t-give-a-fuck attitude. Perhaps she felt life is too short to apologize for belching like a ruffian or to stifle a racial slur. However, I suspect her bossiness and negative teasing have existed through most of her life.

I first witnessed her exhibiting inappropriate-toward-a-customer behavior on the third day we worked together. The day was cold and foggy. The temperature inside the yurt housing the Mercantile only got up to 42 degrees. Many people had come up the mountain unprepared for the weather. We were doing bang-up sales in long sleeve tees and sweatshirts.

We would have sold more if we’d had sweatshirts intended for men. We had one unisex sweatshirt in Carolina blue (which is sort of a powder blue, if you don’t follow college sports) and a grey one that ran small and was cut for slender curves. We’d seen a couple guys try on the grey sweatshirts that morning, and the larger sizes looked ok on very thin men.

Late in the afternoon during a lull in the customer action, a tall, muscular young man came into the store asking about nearby trails he and his friends could hike.  I told him there were no real hiking trails in our immediate vicinity and tried to sell him on a map of the area that showed all the trails and Forest Service roads. The map was a no-go, but the handsome young man politely thanked me for my help.

The young man’s friends had followed him in and were browsing in the store. One picked out a small souvenir, and the other one found the grey sweatshirts. He was very thin, and when he pulled on one of the grey sweatshirts in extra-large, it looked fine on him. It was by no means baggy, but he didn’t look as if he had been squeezed into a sausage casing either. The young man paid for the items, and all three men exited the Mercantile.

The tall young man who’d asked me about hiking trails returned a few moments later. He liked the sweatshirt his friend had bought, and since he was cold he was thinking about buying one too.

I could understand why he was cold. In addition to his shoes and ankle socks, he only wore a pair of tight shorts and a snug t-shirt—no hat, no jacket, no knee socks. I bet he was fully experiencing the chill of the day.

He said his friend had gotten an extra-large sweatshirt. Of course, his friend was six inches shorter, 75 pounds lighter, and lacking developed muscles. No way was the guy standing in front of me going to be able to squeeze into an XL.

I went over to the rack of sweatshirts and found a double extra-large. I handed it to the handsome young man, and he surveyed it skeptically.

You can try it on, I told the young man helpfully, even though I doubted the sweatshirt would fit him comfortably. Maybe he was cold enough to buy a sweatshirt that didn’t fit very well.

He asked if we had a dressing room. I said we didn’t. That’s when Butch piped in.

You can try it on right there, she said in what she probably thought passed for a sultry voice. I’ll watch.

The young man had the sweatshirt half over his head by the time she finished speaking.

Butch! I exclaimed. Don’t talk to the customers like that!

She just smirked.

I had turned away from the young man to chastise Butch. When I turned back to him, he’d pulled the shirt over his torso and by the look on his face, I could tell Butch had embarrassed him. The shirt was really too small for him, although I didn’t say so. He did look like a sausage, albeit a very fit sausage.

The young man decided he didn’t like the way the sweatshirt fit. The over $30 price didn’t help either. As I ran around the store finding less expensive long sleeve t-shirts designed with broad shoulders in mind, he tried to get out of the grey sweatshirt. He had to lean forward and pull it over his head. Of course, his t-shirt rode up and exposed his abs. I looked away to give him the illusion of privacy, but true to her word, Butch stood there and gawked at his every move.

When the young man finally got himself out of the sweatshirt, he couldn’t get out of the Mercantile fast enough. As I showed him other long sleeve options I’d found, he just repeated I’ll pass and I think I’ll pass. The young man was obviously mortified.

I don’t know what Butch was thinking. Maybe she thought it couldn’t be sexual harassment since she was a woman and he was a man. Maybe she thought life is too short to not let attractive young people know she’s looking at them. Maybe she wasn’t thinking at all. Maybe she simply opened her mouth and let some words pop out.

If a man had said such a thing to a woman, it would have been creepy and inappropriate. I think Butch saying such a thing to the young man was also creepy and inappropriate. The reversal of genders didn’t make it ok.

 

And Everything Changes Again

Standard
The zia is the official symbol of the Land of Enchantment.

The Man and I have been talking about buying land in New Mexico since the day we met. (Literally.) It looks as if it’s finally going to happen.

A friend of ours has owned land in southern New Mexico for over a decade. The land is isolated, and our friend is in her mid-70s, so her kids really don’t want her out there alone. She made us a good deal on the half acre, and we plan to be out there early next month.

At first I thought we should haul the fifth wheel out there with us, but then we started thinking about costs. The fifth wheel would need new tires, and The Man said the bearings would need to be repacked (whatever that means). We were going to have to ask a friend with an old truck that can pull a fifth wheel to haul ours, which would mean paying for his gas as well as our own and offering him a couple hundred bucks for his trouble. I quickly realized we were better off selling the fifth wheel and living in our vans on the property for the next couple months, then building some simple living spaces in the fall.

We reached similar conclusions about the solar set-up and the storage shed. Potential buyers of the fifth wheel would want electricity and a place to store their extra things. The place would be easier to sell with the amenities. Besides, where would we store the six solar panels (and three deep-cycle batteries) while we were away from the land in the summer? How would we fit the shed’s metal panels in my van (in addition to all my belongings) to transport them to our new place? It made more sense to leave those things behind and use the money we got from the sale to buy new things. I’m looking forward to a solar set-up on my van (!!!) and a new shed on the property.

I’m also looking forward to saving a lot of money in New Mexico. Gone will be the days of rent. Sure, the $550 I pay to stay in the desert RV park is nominal, but $550 is $550. I’d rather not pay it if I don’t have to. Taxes on the land are cheap, so I’ll be saving most of that yearly expenditure.

We haven’t looked into car insurance yet, but we suspect it’s going to be a lot less expensive than what we’ve been paying in Arizona. A close friend told me her insurance rates dropped dramatically when she left Arizona and changed her domicile to New Mexico.

Perhaps most importantly, we’re only going to be about 15 miles from a town with a real supermarket. Where we are now, we can drive 10 miles to a town with a small grocery store, or we can drive more than 85 miles to a city with real supermarkets. The store in the small town charges two to three times more than the city supermarkets charge. In our new place, a 15 mile drive will take us to affordable food and inexpensive ice and a public library and three thrift stores and a big hardware store and and and…

This is one of those saguaros I will miss.

Of course, New Mexico is where The Man and I want to be. I’ve grown to appreciate Arizona, and I’ve grown to love the Sonoran Desert (those saguaros!), but I’ll be super happy to be in New Mexico again, to have a yellow license plate, to experience the Land of Enchantment morning, noon, and night.

I took the photos in this post.

Fear Is Often a Lack of Knowledge (an Interview with Blythe)

Standard

Blythe is a vivacious woman in her 70s who spends part of the year traveling solo in her van and the rest of the year living in a fifth wheel in the desert. While not currently a full-time traveler, she’s nomadic and moves with the seasons. She’s spent time on the road since she was a kid with a truck driver for a dad and has crisscrossed the United States countless times in the last 30+ years.

I met Blythe at the 2017 Rubber Tramp Rendezvous and found her to be a sweet and caring person. I’ve been able to visit with her more once we found ourselves spending winters in the same area. At the end of November 2018, I sat down with Blythe on a warm desert day and talked with her about her rig, fear (and the lack of it), and her advice to older women who are considering solo travel in a van.

Rubber Tramp Artist: I know that now you’re not a full-time traveler, but you are nomadic, and you travel with the seasons. What months do you do most of your traveling?

Macro Photography of Black Sunglasses on SandBlythe: In the perfect situation, it would be during the summer, but…it depends on when I’m going to the VA for appointments, when I go to see my daughter in one part of the states , and then I go on the other side [of the country] to the other daughters. It just depends on a lot of stuff, but primarily I try to do it around late spring and late summer.

RTA: Do you go pretty much the same route every year to do your visiting?

Blythe: Pretty much because I’ve been doing it for a really, really long time, but not from here so long. This is the third year [from] here.

RTA: If you go to the same places every year, how do you keep your travels from getting boring? Do you stop in different places? Are [do you have a mindset of] “I just want to get from Point A to Point B without a lot of stopping”?

Blythe: It depends on what’s going on [and] why I’m going. I stop and see my sisters in Montana . I stop along the way. I stay overnight here and there. Primarily when I go up I go the same way because it’s quick. I stop…and stay at a little lake…I stop a lot actually, when I think about it…

It used to be that I just drove a lot but I always varied everything. I traveled for 20 years back and forth from Seattle to Florida because I had one kid in Florida and two kids in Seattle. I would go to my mom’s in Montana, then I’d drop down and go to Albuquerque to see my brother…I had land in [southern] New Mexico , and I’d stop there for a week or two and relax and then I’d head to Florida. I did that for 20 years, and I did it sometimes twice a year…Otherwise, I never would have seen my grandchildren or my children…I just enjoyed myself and went back and forth.

RTA: So you started traveling often as a way to be in contact with your grandkids?

Blythe: Yeah…I traveled before that because my dad was a truck driver and he used to make me drive with him. I started out real young.

RTA: Tell me about your rig. What do you travel in?

Blythe: A Ford van. It’s one that was built specially for traveling.

It had a bed in the back that was horrible. I took that out. One of my friends and her husband and son and grandson, it took them three hours to get it out because [the bolts were] so rusted in. They finally got it out. Then I built another bed in there. Just recently I built another bed.

RTA: Do you have a kitchen in the van?

Blythe: I don’t really have a kitchen. I have [space] where I can cook if I need to, and I can cook outside of course. But [the van] is pretty big. It’s a lot bigger than the last van I had. The last van I had was a minivan. This one [her current van] is a lot more comfortable and has a lot more room.

RTA: It looks like [your van has] a bit of a high top. Can you stand up in it?

Blythe: I can because I’ve been shrinking so much. All I have to do is tilt my head a little bit, and I can stand up, which is wonderful, the only good thing about being old I can think of!

RTA: What are three things you love about your van?

Blythe: It’s a nice old van, and it’s faster than the last one I had. Before that I had a Chinook motor home. It was a ’76 and… the size of a Toyota pickup. So [the current van] is a lot bigger than that one.

I really like Fords. They’re my favorite kind.

It’s really sturdy, and it’s been flipping around for a while.  I’ve had it almost four years.

RTA: What year is it?

Blythe: It’s an ’89…It only cost me $1000. One of my friends got it in trade for horses. She called me and said, “I got a van for you!” [Laughs]

RTA: Awesome!

RTA: What are three things you’d like to change about the van?

Blythe: [Long pause] Not too much of anything, actually. I’m pretty satisfied with it. I want to keep it going for another ten years. I’ve been doing a lot of maintenance work on it. In the last month I’ve had all kinds of different things done to it. I’ve got one more thing to go and then it will be pretty well set for quite a while.

It’s got a really good motor. That’s one of the reasons I like Fords…because their motors last a long time…If there was anything [I wanted to change], I’d just change it. I get attached to my vehicles.

The minivan I had for ten years. I kept saying “This is the last trip. This is the last trip,” and it kinda just gave up finally after all those last trips.

RTA: [Laughs]

RTA: Why do you prefer to travel in your van instead of flying or taking a train or going on the bus?

Blythe: The van will go places that the train and bus don’t go. I couldn’t stop to see a lot of people. Pretty soon I’m going to start flying though because I am getting older. It’s not as much fun to drive anymore. I think if you drive your whole life and you drive a lot you get sort of tired of the whole thing.

I’m thinking about flying to Montana and then flying over to Washington and then down to Eugene where my girlfriend lives or else taking a train down there is always fun.

[Traveling in the van] is just easier because of the weird places I go…I don’t like hotels or motels. I find them really yucky. You never know who was there before you!

RTA: Do your kids worry about you when you’re on the road?

Blythe: I think they kinda do but not really because I’ve been doing it for so long…It would be different if I’d just started. I think that’s a whole different ballgame, but if your mother’s been going across the United States for the last 40 years and driving and never having that much problems, and the problems I do have haven’t been so bad Bokeh Shot of White and Gold Ceramic Angelthat I couldn’t get out of it…[The kids] get used to it.

I asked… my oldest daughter , and she said, “Oh, I know you run around with this angel on your shoulder, and I don’t think there’s anything that could get you.”

RTA: Where do you stay when you’re not traveling?

Blythe: At this RV park that we’re in right now. This is sort of new because I stay here most of the year.

I’m thinking about trying to find a place in Northern Arizona so that I can be there during the summer. I hate staying with my children more than a month at a time because I feel like I’m taking advantage of them, and I don’t like to do that. They say, “Oh, you’re not [taking advantage]. You’re not! We’re fine with it.“ They have their own lives. Why should they have their mother looking over their shoulder?

RTA: So, we’re in the desert and I’m thinking that your concern is that it gets too hot here.

Blythe: It gets pretty warm.

RTA: For about six months of the year…

Blythe: No, not six months.

RTA: Not for you because you like it really hot…

Blythe:  Yeah

[Both laugh]

Blythe: I feel good when it’s warm. Probably four months out of the year [it’s really hot].

RTA: So maybe you’re thinking of transitioning to traveling less because maybe now you’ll be flying…

Blythe: Yeah. Yeah.

Green Grass FieldRTA: So you’d want a place to go sort of in those…I think they call them in…the travel industry the “shoulder” months when it’s still too hot to be in the desert.

RTA: How did you decide on this place in the desert as your home base?

Blythe: It offers a lot of stuff that most places don’t. I don’t have to move around [because she can leave her RV on her lot all year long]. I’ve got an RV that’s pretty good size.

There’s water [where she stays when not traveling] and there’s shower houses and all kinds of stuff to do and nice people and it’s just a good place. It’s a real good place.

RTA: Before you got this fifth wheel that you have now, were you living full-time in your van other than the times you were visiting [people]?

Blythe: At times. Like I said, it’s been a long time. The first van I had was given to me because this girl’s grandmother had died. Her name was Maggie; we named the van Maggie. It had a bed in the back and a refrigerator, and a stove, and it had a little closet…I drove that until it literally almost fell apart. I used to take my grandchildren all over the place…with it. I lived in that [van] quite a bit…over the years…

RTA: Before you moved into this fifth wheel, were you living full-time in the van?

Blythe: Yeah. Except for I lived up around Seattle…I was up there 18 months this last time…It’s very, very expensive up there…Without living somewhere that’s less expensive, I had to think about every penny I spent. Every penny! Literally. I got sick and tired of that. I just thought, well, I’ll find someplace else. Then I heard about this place.

RTA: What do you like about living and traveling solo?

Blythe: You don’t have to talk to somebody about where you’re gonna go, when you’re gonna go, where you gonna eat, why you’re gonna eat. All the stuff that you have when you have other people traveling with you in your van, which I can’t even imagine, except for my grandchildren, and they’re grown now so I don’t have to worry about that.

Traveling with other people in their own vans is a lot more fun, but you still have to worry about where you’re going to meet them or if they take off and you don’t know where they went. Like I had a situation where someone took off and I hadn’t even looked at the map because I didn’t think I needed to. Then we ended up not knowing where we were going. The other person I was traveling with didn’t bring a map and neither did I.

RTA: Ooops!

Blythe: It turned out to be a lot of fun, but still…You don’t have to worry about that when you’re on your own…You just figure it out on your own.

RTA: Is there anything that you don’t like about living and traveling solo?

Blythe: [Long pause] No. I have never had fear because I wasn’t brought up with fear when I was a kid. My dad always told us there was absolutely nothing we couldn’t do. He also told us that being girls, we had to react like men to fear instead of…reacting to fear with fear like women are taught to do. React to fear with anger. That does tend to help…

I’m very careful. I never, ever take any chances. If I feel like there’s something wrong, I just get up and turn on the motor and leave…If you have any inclinations that way, you should listen to them. I always told my kids that. I was in a place in Texas and I got really uncomfortable and I thought, Oh, I already paid for it and blah blah blah…Then I thought, If I was talking to my kids, I’d say “Get out of here,” so I just got in the front and left.

RTA: What advice would you give to other older women who are considering doing solo travel in vans?

Blythe: [Begin by] tak[ing] little trips because if you haven’t done it like I have my whole life, you need to get acclimated to it. Fear is often a lack of knowledge about what you’re doing so if you do it, then you get…really comfortable and it won’t be this big scary thing. [It becomes] something that’s fun and easy to do. It is very simple to live this way. You don’t have to have electricity. You can have solar lights that charge in your window…You can even just have [lights that use batteries]. It’s not a big deal. You just have to get used to it.

This interview was edited for clarity and length. Blythe approved this version of the interview before it was published.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/macro-photography-of-black-sunglasses-on-sand-1209610/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/bokeh-shot-of-white-and-gold-ceramic-angel-40878/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/america-arid-blue-boulder-434501/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/map-maps-american-book-32307/.

Green River Overlook

Standard

As soon as we paid our camping fee and set our chairs out on our site in the Willow Flat Campground, The Lady of the House and I went out to explore the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park. We were on our epic road trip through Arizona and Utah, and we didn’t want to waste a minute.

The Green River Overlook was close to the campground, but I drove us there to save time and energy. There was a lot we wanted to see in our approximately 24 hours in that portion of the Park.

After I parked in the lot near the Green River Overlook, but before we got out of the van, The Lady said she wanted to play something to get me in the mood. She had her iPod and speaker prepared, and a song queued up. At the touch of a button, the Creedence Clearwater Revival rendition of “Green River” was blasting. Now whenever I hear that song (and I heard it a lot over the summer because the other clerk played the Sirius Radio Classic Vinyl station every day at work), I think of the moments right before I saw the beauty of the Green River below me.

As I’ve said before, it’s so difficult to describe the beauty I saw on every leg of this journey with The Lady. My camera wasn’t up to the task either. I fear you’ll read my words and look at my photos and think, Oh, that’s nice, without understanding the majesty of all I saw.

I fear all the good descriptive words have been taken. Surely someone has said the Green River snakes across the arid land like a magical serpent bringing life to where there would otherwise be none. I don’t know how to make you understand how stunning the landscape was (I was stunned) or the awe it inspired in me . I do know I could have stayed at that overlook for hours, watching the light play over the landscape. Alas, there was so much more to see, and The Lady and I moved on.

I took the photos in this post.

 

Impatient and Rude

Standard

The family at the register was taking a long time.  It was a weekend morning at the Mercantile.Things were getting busy, and it was taking forever to get these folks on their way.

The other clerk was ringing up the items they’d selected while I bagged everything. A brown plush bear that was really a backpack went into the shopping bag, then the mom decided she wanted to buy another one. She left the counter to pick up the plush black bear backpack.

Do you have this in brown? she wanted to know.

No ma’am, I told her. Everything we have is out.

We had exactly two plush bear backpack available for purchase, one brown and one black. The brown one was already in a shopping bag, waiting to go home with this woman. If she wanted another plush bear backpack from our store, it would have to be the black one. She decided to take it too.

The other clerk couldn’t get the black bear’s tag to work with the register. When she scanned the barcode, the message “item not on file” appeared on the computer screen. When she punched in the item number from the tag, the computer told us it did not exist. Finally, she pulled the brown bear backpack out of the shopping bag and scanned its tag again. Of course, what she’d done was going to mess up the store’s inventory, but I guess she figured it was better to sell the backpack today and worry about the inventory later.

When the other clerk was finished with the brown bear, I put it back in the shopping bag, but when I began to tuck the black bear into the bag, the customer asked for a second shopping bag. It’s a gift, she explained. I reached for a second shopping bag and placed the black bear in it.

Then there was a problem with the dad’s debit card. The other clerk ran it a couple of times, but each time the message on the screen was “NSF” (Non-Sufficient Funds). While the customer fished another credit card from his wallet, I asked if maybe his bank had put a hold on his card because he was using it outside his usual shopping area. He decided that was probably the case.

At some point during the transaction, I realized the next person in line was growing increasingly agitated. He was a tall guy, in good physical shape, with short hair. I wouldn’t have been surprised to learn he was a cop or in the military. He had an uptight, regimented look about him. He was alone—no buddies, no lady friend, no kids. I could tell from his body language that he was tired of standing in line, tired of this family in front of him showing down his very busy day. I’m not sure how I knew he was unhappy. Maybe the stiffness of his shoulders or the pinched expression on his face gave him away. In any case, I was not excited to have to deal with him next.

Sure enough, when the slow family stepped away from the counter and he stepped up for his turn, the guy with short hair barked Parking! That was it. He had not a single kind or pleasant word for us.

I wanted to bark out Asshole! but I didn’t. I knew calling him out wasn’t going to help and would, in fact, certainly make matters worse. Instead I tried the kill ‘em with kindness method, which at least got me a thank you muttered through clenched teeth as he took his credit card and day pass and left. He got through the entire transaction speaking only three words.

I was livid when he left. I shouldn’t have let him get to me, but I did. The other clerk and I had done nothing to deserve such rudeness. It wasn’t our fault the woman ahead of him decided she needed something else after she was already at the counter. It wasn’t our fault the price tag was out of date, and the item was no longer in the system. It wasn’t our fault the fellow’s debit card didn’t work. It wasn’t our fault the impatient man hadn’t brought cash to pay the parking lot attendant and needed to come into the Mercantile to pay for parking with a card. It wasn’t our fault the impatient man had come to see the trees during busy hours on the weekend. It wasn’t our fault the store had only one register, and we could only take payment from one customer at a time.

For the rest of the day, I’d intermittently snap Parking! at my coworker when no customers were around. I probably shouldn’t have made fun of someone who was obviously so unhappy, but maybe he’d be happier if he worked on being less impatient and rude.

What Is a Rubber Tramp?

Standard

I first heard the term “rubber tramp” in 2010. The guy who was my boyfriend at the time and I were talking to a young woman traveler. We told her we lived in our van and traveled around.

Oh, you’re rubber tramps, she said enthusiastically.

I was new to the lingo of traveling kids, so I asked my boyfriend later what she meant. He said a rubber tramps was a particular kind of traveler who lived in a vehicle. The rubber in question was that on the vehicle’s tires. As for the tramp part, well, he didn’t have to explain that.

According to an answer given by Belarafon on enotes, a homework help website, in regards to the book Into the Wild, a rubber tramp is something of the opposite of a leather tramp.

Brown and Black Leather Work Boots on Brown SurfaceA rubber tramp has a car or other wheeled vehicle, and travels on the rubber tires. A leather tramp has no vehicle, and travels on foot, shoes often being made of leather. The distinction comes from both ease of travel — a rubber tramp is more able to decide destination than one who relies on hitchhiking — and and an unofficial status: rubber tramps are sometimes seen as “less valid” than leather tramps because their vehicle is viewed as a luxury item.

Of course, I’ve never in my whole life heard of anyone referred to as a “leather tramp.” Nobody calls them that, The Man exclaimed when I shared this definition with him. You’d just call them a bum!

According to the Cyber Hobo website, people who consider themselves tramps might not like The Man referring to them as bums. The Hobo Terms page says a tramp is “[a] migratory non-worker” while a bum is

[a] non-migratory non-worker; [a] worthless or dissolute loafer who would rather beg than work for goods or services; [l]owest in the “hobo hierarchy.

The Cyber Hobo also weighs in on the definition of “rubber tramp.”

Rubber tramp – A tramp who owns a car, usually rusted out and undependable. They spend a lot of energy begging for gas money, but also provide transportation to other cities to bums, hobos and tramps for a fee. In a sense, they become a nationwide “taxi” service for transients.

I’m not sure where this definition originated (Cyber Hobo gives no sources), but I don’t know anything about rubber tramps being any kind of “nationwide ‘taxi’ service.” Personally, I have never charged a bum, hobo, tramp, traveler, hitchhiker, or dirty kid for a ride. I have accepted gas money from riders in my van, but I’ve never expected or demanded a fee from anyone I’ve let ride with me.

The Man says that in his experience, while rubber tramps may not charge folks a fee for a ride, there is an expectation of riders contributing to the common good. Each rider is expected to pitch in by flying a sign or panhandling for money and food or gas jugging and everyone sharing the fruits of the labor.

Did you know there is a Nomad Wiki which gives “info and tips for nomads about shoestring budget traveling”? I didn’t either until I started working on this post. The Nomad Wiki glossary gives the same definition of a rubber tramp as Belerafon did on enotes: car or other wheeled vehicle, rubber tires, possibly less valid because vehicle is seen as a luxury.

Of course, we have to check in with Urban Dictionary to see how kids these days define “rubber tramp.” Three definitions are shared.

[Top definition by RYM~Taistealaí with 154 thumbs up votes and 32 thumbs down votes] A person who travels and lives out of their vehicle (normally an RV, van, bus, etc.).  They stop and stay wherever they choose for however long they want, but eventually, so as long as there’s a way to put gas in their tank, move on.

[Second most popular definition by Starwatcher with 21 thumbs up votes and 153 thumbs down votes]  A person that lives in, and creeps around in a vehicle that looks like it’s barely held together with rubber bands, chewing gum, and chicken wire. They’re often seen parked in the back of supermarket parking lots, or hanging around public parks, alleys, shelters, welfare offices or liquor stores.

Most of the time, the person also looks as completely worn out as the vehicle does.

[Least popular definition by Follow your wanderlust with only 6 thumbs up votes but 0 thumbs down votes] A person that lives full time in their RV or Van and works and lives on the road to explore and follow their wanderlust.

I couldn’t find any information as to when the term “rubber tramp” was first used either verbally or in print. I know somebody keeps track of that sort of thing, but I sure couldn’t find anything online. I suppose I should put a reference librarian or an an etymologist on the case.

I also want to point out that not all people who travel in vehicles or live on the road appreciate being referred to Man With Luggage on Road during Sunsetas “tramps.” In the United States in the 21st century, the word “tramp” often has a negative connotation. According to Wikipedia, “tramp” has become something of a bad word.

Like “hobo” and “bum,” the word “tramp” is considered vulgar in American English usage, having been subsumed in more polite contexts by words such as “homeless person” or “vagrant.”

At the 2018 Rubber Tramp Rendezvous, I noticed many people referring to themselves and others as nomads. “Nomad” is a fine word, and I use it myself. Some definitions of the word (like the first one from Merriam-Webster) reference seasonality and a defined territory, but others (like the second one from Merriam-Webster) only refers to roaming about. Other synonyms I like for “rubber tramp” are van dweller, vagabond, traveler, rambler, and wanderer.

As for me, when I renamed my blog, I chose to call myself a rubber tramp because I didn’t want to sanitize my situation. While I do like those synonyms that I listed above, I thought “rubber tramp” conveyed some grittiness, conveyed my poverty and hand-to-mouth existence. I don’t feel like I have to pretend I’m anything more than I am: a woman with a van (and now a 40+ year old beat up stationary fifth wheel in the desert for winter living), thrift store clothes, and scavenged art supplies.

Photos of vans were taken by me. Other images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/brown-and-black-leather-work-boots-on-brown-surface-60619/ and https://www.pexels.com/photo/man-with-luggage-on-road-during-sunset-163688/.

Still Breathing

Standard

For two months I sold my jewelry and shiny rocks (and my book and the hats I made and my Rubber Tramp Artist stickers) at a farmers market in a small southern Arizona town. The market was held on Saturday mornings, from 9 am until noon. Minimal produce was sold there, but vendors offered bread and sweets made from scratch; jellies and jams produced locally and in small batches; hand-made soaps, lotions, and balms; and more craft items than you could shake a stick at.

Most of the people who visited the market wear elderly, although plenty of those folks were healthy and in good shape. A few children came through with their parents and grandparents, and teenagers were seldom sighted.

There wasn’t much money in the town, and many days I earned my dollars one bracelet at a time. I was grateful for every little sale that helped me get by, and I often looked at my sales in terms of $2 sacks of ice.

I saw many of the same people several times over the two months I sold there. I think some people saw the market as their weekly social event. Some folks stopped and looked at my wares every time they were there (perhaps wondering if I’d gotten anything new) and others bypassed me after the first time they determined I had nothing of interest to them.

I saw one man a handful of times at the market during those two months. He was an older man with grizzled stubble on his unshaven face. He wore a ball cap advertising his status as a Vietnam era veteran and worn work clothes. What made me remember him wasn’t how he looked. What made me remember him was the same joke he told me every time I saw him.

Good morning, I”d say when he walked up to my tables. How are you today?

I’m good, he’d say enthusiastically. I woke up breathing this morning! At my age, that’s a good thing!

At that point I’d say something positive like Oh! That’s great!

I tell my wife, he’d always continued, “Honey, no matter how much I love you, if I wake up and I’m not breathing, get as far away from me as possible.” That would be enough to put anyone in a bad mood. Then he’d laugh at his own joke, and I’d laugh too, mostly just to be polite.

I never saw him with a woman, and I never asked him where his wife was on any given morning. If she was dead and he wanted to pretend she was still alive, that was ok with me. I wasn’t going to force him to admit anything to me.

I wonder if he made the same joke to every vendor or if from one visit to the next he forgot he had used it on me already. He never bought anything from me. After he made his joke, he moved on.

He seemed like a nice man. I was always glad to see he was still breathing.

California Fantasy Van

Standard

Folks who’ve been reading this blog since the spring may remember a post I wrote in May about spark! Mesa’s Festival of Creativity. Nolagirl and I attended this March 2018 festival in Mesa, AZ meant to celebrate “the imaginative spark in all of us.”

There were so many cool exhibits at the festival, including “The Night Garden,” “Community Still-Life in Clay,” and my absolute favorite, art cars!

According to the article “Artistic Autos: Art Cars,”

An art car usually begins with an old or used vehicle that is need of repair. Instead of focusing on transforming the inside of the vehicle, the owner radically changes the exterior of the car. Art cars are made by ordinary people and are often driven and owned by their creator…

One of my favorite art cars I saw at the spark! festival was really a van. California Fantasy Van  was created by Ernie Steingold of Burbank, CA and was on loan from the Art Car World Collection in Douglas, AZ.

According to a short article from wesclark.com, this 1975 GMC panel van was embellished by “late Burbank resident, Ernie Steingold,” a vacuum cleaner repairman.

Over the course of ten years, he spent much of his free time locating and attaching more than 5,000

Detail from California Fantasy Van–laughing Buddha

brass items to the van after completely covering it with thousands of coins.

An ABC News slideshow about the World’s Craziest Cars says Steingold welded the brass colored items onto the van. He

drove the vehicle slowly and eventually ruined its tires and brakes because of the car’s weight.

I thought this decorated vehicle was really cool! First of all, it was a van, and we all know I have a soft spot for vans. Secondly, I loved all the little doodads attached to the van. I spent a long time looking at all the items catching the spring sun.

Third, I love imagining Ernie Steingold obsessing over his creation. In a time before the widespread use of eBay and the internet, Ernie must have spent a lot of his time and energy looking for objects to add to his van creation. I bet he scoured flea markets and swap meets and antique stores and junk yards to find pieces to add to his rolling exhibit.

Detail from California Fantasy Van–Bad Dude

I wonder what Steingold’s wife and three children thought of his artistic endeavor. Did they support him in his quest? Did they enjoy the hunt for just the right additions too, or did they think Steingold was a bit daft? Did they ridicule his work, simply endure it, or actively support and encourage it?

Inspired by Ernie Steingold, I sometimes fantasize about turning my van into an art car, especially when I find cool objects that are too big or heavy for my collage work. Maybe I could decorate my van with items related to Arizona, the Sonoran Desert, and the U.S. Southwest. Maybe I could have a Route 66 van! Then I remember that once I have anything attached to the exterior of my van, any semblance of stealth I may have is gone.

Good-bye California Fantasy Van!

 

New Mexico State Parks Pass

Standard

The New Mexico State Parks Pass, also known as the New Mexico Annual Camping Permit, is a great deal for anyone who wants to spend more than month exploring the state and staying in the campgrounds of its state parks. The Man and I both bought New Mexico State Parks Passes in the fall of 2017 and camped at several of the state parks campgrounds separately and together.

I’ll tell you everything I know about the New Mexico State Parks Pass (abbreviated to NMSPP in the rest of this article) so you can decide if it’s right for you.

As of late November 2018 when I’m writing this article, the fees, permits, and rentals page  of the New Mexico State Parks website gives the following price breakdown for the pass:

Sunset in the day use area at Brantley Lake State Park.

New Mexico Resident (Proof of New Mexico I.D. and Vehicle License Plate Number are required at time of purchase.) $180

New Mexico Resident *Senior, 62+ (Proof of Age and Vehicle License Plate Number are required at time of purchase.) $100

New Mexico Resident *Disabled (Proof of disability required.) $100

Out-of-State Resident (Proof of I.D. and Vehicle License Plate Number are required at time of purchase.) $225

If you lose your annual camping permit, no problem! You can get a replacement for only $10.

If you are a resident of New Mexico with a disability, there are several things you can use to prove  your disability to the satisfaction of the folks at the New Mexico State Parks. See the aforementioned fees, permits, and rentals page to find out what documents you need to get your reduced-rate permit.

Primitive camping at Brantley Lake State Park

Permits for seniors and folks with disabilities can only be purchased at the New Mexico State Parks’ Santa Fe Office, located at 1220 S St Francis Drive #215 or at any  New Mexico State Park Visitor Center. The passes for New Mexico residents and out-of-state residents can also be purchased online. I purchased my pass in person at the visitor center at Leasburg Dam State Park, so I don’t know if there are any extra charges for buying the pass online.

If you have a NMSPP, you can camp in any primitive camping area (usual cost: $8 per night) or on any developed camping area with no hookups (usual cost: $10 per night) in a New Mexico state park for no additional charge. According to the aforementioned fees, permits, and rentals page,

Primitive campsites offer no special facilities except a cleared area for camping. Sites may include trash cans, chemical toilets or parking.

Primitive camping also offer no designated sites. You’re basically boondocking when you camp in a primitive area at a New Mexico State Park.

I’ve camped in primitive camping areas at Caballo Lake State Park, Elephant Butte Lake State Park, and Brantley Lake State Park. In both of those parks, primitive camping was lakeside. I also witnessed primitive camping next to the lake at Bluewater Lake State Park. Although the primitive areas offer few or no amenities, campers are welcome to venture into other areas of the park and use the water spigots, restrooms, showers, and dumpsters if such facilities are available. (To find out what amenities are at each park, take a look at the printable New Mexico State Parks brochure.)

The developed camping areas typically offer a fire ring and a picnic table. Sometimes the developed areas offer

This is what the developed campsites look like at Brantley Lake State Park. Beware: At this park, ALL developed sites have electric hookups, so if you plan to stay in the campground, you’re going to have to pony up $4 a night, even if you have the NMSPP.

shade covers too.These campsites tend to be in campgrounds, closer to toilets (either flush or pit, depending on where you are) and sources of potable water. I’ve stayed on developed sites at Brantley Lake State Park, Percha Dam State Park, Elephant Butte State Park, Rockhound State Park, Leasburg Dam State Park, and Oliver Lee Memorial State Park. The Man spent some nights at City of Rocks State Park; while I have visited that park during the day (and think it’s a gorgeous place), I’ve never had the pleasure of camping there.

Your NMSPP does NOT provide for free electric or sewage hookups. If you have the annual camping permit and want an electric hookup, it will cost you an additional $4 per night. A sewage hookup if you have an annual camping permit will also cost an additional $4 per night. If you have the annual camping permit and you want both an electric and sewage hookup, that will set you back $8 per night. New Mexico State Parks do not charge for water hookups where they are available.

According to the New Mexico State Parks page devoted to camping,

Sunset over Oliver Lee State Park.

Campers may reside in a park for a maximum of 14 days during a 20 day period. Campers shall completely remove camping equipment and gear from the park for 7 calendar days during the 20 day period.

Here’s what that means if you have a NMSPP. You can stay in any New Mexico State Park for up to 14 days, then you have to leave that park. However, you can go directly to another New Mexico State park and stay there (for free if you camp in a primitive area or on a developed site with no hookups) for seven days, then turn around and go back to the park you left a week ago.

If you wanted to save money on gas, you could stay in an area where there are state parks not too far from each other (such as Elephant Butte Lake State Park, Caballo Lake State Park, and Percha Dam State Park) and go in a circuit from one to another, staying two weeks at each.

This was my view of Caballo Lake when I stayed in the primitive camping area of the state park.

The NMSPP is good for only one vehicle per site. I called the New Mexico State Parks main office to make sure I understood this point correctly. I was hoping that even though The Man and I have separate vehicles, we could share one pass. No go! However, when we were camping together at Leasburg Dam State Park, there was only one developed campsite with no hookups available, and we were allowed to have both of our rigs on the site with no problem. (Note: I had a Chevy G20 and the man had a Honda Odyssey, so both rigs fit easily on the site, facilitating our sharing of the space.)

I bought my NMSPP early in November 2017. When I bought it, the park ranger gave me a sticker to attach on my windshield. This sticker showed that I was a pass holder and it gave the expiration date of my pass. At the time I purchased my pass, there was space for the month and the year the pass expired. (The passes may be configured differently, depending on when you read this post.) My pass said it expired 11-18 (November 2018). I didn’t think to ask at the time, so I again called the New Mexico State Parks main office to find out if that pass expired on the first day of the month noted on it, or the last day. The answer: the last day! So even though I’d bought my pass early in November 2017, it was good through the last day of the month in 2018.

The campground at Rockhound State Park near Deming, NM.

I think that’s everything I know about the New Mexico State Parks Pass. If you have questions on topics I didn’t cover, I strongly encourage you to call the New Mexico State Parks main office at 505-476-3355. I’ve called the office several times with questions and the woman who answered the phone was always exceptionally pleasant and helpful. Talking to her was always a joy.

The information included in this post is subject to change, especially the information on prices. Blaize Sun is not responsible if the information she gave you is no longer applicable when you read this post; this information is a starting point. Everything was correct to the best of her knowledge when the post was written. You are strongly urged to call the New Mexico State Parks office or check internet sources for updated information.

So much cool at City of Rocks State Park.

I took all of the photos in this post.