Category Archives: My True Life

Locked Restroom Doors

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I’d spent the last two nights in Babylon. The first night was so hot, I barely slept. I’d be surprised if I’d gotten more than a total of an hour’s sleep that whole night. It was so bad, I’d left the van to walk over to the 24-hour Ice Cream on Bowl Beside Spoonsupermarket and bought three miniature cartons of ice cream, which helped about in proportion to their size.

The second night was better. The temperature had dropped maybe five degrees from the night before and a slight breeze blew through the darkness. I got maybe five hours of sleep that night and felt functional when I woke up.

I walked over to Taco Bell to get some breakfast. I love their fiesta potato grilled breakfast burritos. A buck gets me potato, egg, cheese, and pico de gallo wrapped in a grilled flour tortilla. Two of these yummies fill me up for hours.

Before I ate, I wanted to utilize the toilet and wash my hands. I’d been in this Taco Bell before and knew right where the restrooms were. I went left immediately upon walking through the entrance door.

The restrooms here were the kind with one (flush) toilet behind a lockable door. Last year when I’d frequented this restaurant, one door had been marked for men and the other had been marked for women. Now they were both marked “unisex,” which was fine with me. I’ve already proven on several occasions that I can use any toilet behind any locked door.

During previous early morning visits to this Taco Bell when the dining room was practically deserted, I’d just turned the handle on the restroom door and it had opened. This time I tuned the handle, knocked , turned the handle again, but nothing happened. The door didn’t open. No one called out, One moment from inside the restroom. Nothing. I went through the drill with the other restroom door. I decided I’d have to go up to the counter and ask a worker for the key.

I stepped up to the counter to find a woman probably in her late 20s standing there. She wore a Taco Bell uniform and looked sleepy.

Hi! I said, trying to sound personable so she would deem me worthy of using a Taco Bell restroom. I’m going to order food, but I’d like to wash my hands first. Can you unlock the restroom for me?

The worker produced a large keyring from somewhere behind the counter or on her person. She found the key she needed from the many others on Photography of Keys on Orange Surfacethe ring. All the while, she was apologizing to me. One apology would have been fine, but she kept going on and on with saying she was sorry, even though I wasn’t complaining.

As we walked together to the restroom, she continued apologizing and explained, We had to start locking them because the homeless were taking showers in there. She spoke as if she and I were in this together, as if “the homeless” were a group to which she and I did not belong.

She probably did live in some sort of conventional home, but I certainly did not. I thought it was obvious that I’d been living somewhere other than a conventional home. Today was the second day wearing the clothes I had on. I’d dribbled some of my middle-of-the-night ice cream on the front of my hot pink tank top which was so old it was developing holes just above the hem. My bare arms were dirty, and my hair was unbrushed and unwashed. My skirt was a little too tight across my middle, and it was a little too short to completely cover my hairy legs.

Was this woman really looking at me and seeing “normal”? I didn’t think I looked like a normal member of polite society. How could she not think “homeless” when she looked at me?

Maybe it was my lack of a shopping cart or multiple grocery store bags filled with belongings. Maybe it was my coherent speech. Maybe it was my declaration that I planned to buy something. For whatever reason, this young woman did not see a homeless person when she looked at me. When she looked at me, she saw someone she needed to apologize to for locked restrooms. When she looked at me, she saw someone who was more like her than different from her.

It’s hard to not have a place to clean up, I said to her mildly. I wasn’t looking to get into a big discussion or educate her on issues of homelessness.  I really just wanted to wash my hands, then chow down on some breakfast, but I felt like I had to say something in defense of my brothers and sisters in homelessness.

I know! the worker said quickly and defensively. But I have to follow procedures.

She’s the one who brought up “the homeless.” I hadn’t asked for any explanation for the locked doors. I hadn’t even complained about the locked doors. All I’d done is very politely asked her to unlock a door for me.  She’s the one who’d offered excessive apologies and explanations. I don’t know why she was getting defensive now.

Well, then y’all have to clean the mess left in the restroom, I said apologetically to let her know I was also down with my fellow workers in the fast food business. I know I wouldn’t want to mop up a restroom that had been used as a shower stall.

In the event my beliefs are unclear, let me summarize.

#1 I believe all people have the right to private toilets.

#2 I believe all people have the right to wash up.

#3 I believe fast food workers should not have to clean up other people’s irresponsible restroom messes.

#4 I believe fast food workers shouldn’t be deciding who is and isn’t homeless and who should and should not be allowed to use the restaurant’s restrooms.

Finally, the worker had the door to the restroom unlocked, and I was able to go into the restroom and lock the door behind me.  I didn’t try to wash anything other than my hands, but that hot water sure would have done a good job cleaning various other body parts.

When I left the restroom, I closed the door gently so it didn’t latch. The next person who needed to use the restroom might not pass the Taco Bell employee’s scrutiny as suitable to use the restroom, so I used my privilege to possibly help some other homeless person.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/ice-cream-on-bowl-beside-spoon-1343504/ and https://www.pexels.com/photo/photography-of-keys-on-orange-surface-1055336/.

Line for the Restroom

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It turned out to be an unusually busy Monday at the Mercantile. The Fourth of July was two days away, and lots of people must have taken vacation time and left the city to visit our mountain. The other store clerk was about to leave for the day, so I took one more bathroom break.

This photo shows the restroom building the women were lined up outside of. The lined formed on the left, outside the door marked “women.”

When I stepped onto the Mercantile’s porch, I saw quite a line of women outside one of the restrooms, but not a single person standing in front of the other one. Those particular restrooms still had signs labeling the one on the right for men and the one on the left for women, but in reality, the restrooms are identical. Each has a hole in the floor leading to a lined pit in the ground. Over the hole in the floor sits a tall plastic toilet that provides a seat and a lid and some distance from what’s in the hole in the ground. Any person of any gender can pull down pants or lift up skirt, sit on the seat, and deposit waste material into the pit. When the pit is full of waste material, a pumper truck (like those that clean out porta-potties) comes up the mountain, pumps out the waste material, and hauls it away.

I’ve never been one for strict restroom segregation, especially when the restroom consists of one toilet behind a door that locks. While I would not saunter into a men’s room with a row of urinals and multiple stalls, if I’m alone with the toilet, what difference does the sign on the door make? Yep, I’m the gal at the bar who’d go to the deserted men’s room if there was a line in front of the ladies’. I’m not going to pee my pants in order to help uphold some made-up gender norms.

So I walked out of the Mercantile and saw that line of women and girls in front of one restroom and not a single person in front of the other restroom. I knew which one I’d be using despite the designation on the door.

As I walked out of the Mercantile, a grown woman was yelling through the closed restroom door to the person who’d just gone in, Don’t sit on the seat! Don’t sit on the seat!

By the time I approached the little building housing the two pit toilets, a little girl had walked up to the still closed restroom door and was screeching, Hurry up Savannah! Do you know there are seven people in line, Savannah?

I bypassed the entire group, and I approached the restroom which had no line. I knocked on the door and received no response, so I pulled it open. The room was empty and not even dirty! I locked the door and did what needed to be done.

Savannah may have exited the other restroom by the time I came out, but at least one more woman had joined the line. Still there was no one waiting for the restroom I was exiting. Apparently these ladies needed specific permission to throw off their gender shackles and use the unoccupied restroom. I would be the superhero to give them their permission.

There’s no waiting in that one, I said to the line of woman and tossed my head to indicate the empty restroom.

But…that’s…we thought…one of the adult women stammered.

It’s all the same hole, I said matter-of-factly as I strode toward the Mercantile.

When I looked back the adult woman who didn’t believe in sitting on the seat and several of the girls had formed a line in front of the restroom I’d just used. I’m proud to have helped them make their gender shackles just a little weaker.

 

A Kindness of Brownies

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It was my first weekend back in the parking lot.

Later in the summer, I would work in the Mercantile as a clerk. That was the job I’d been hired for. In the meantime, The Man and I were getting campgrounds ready for the season. Now it was Saturday, and I’d told The Big Boss Man I’d work at the parking lot collecting access fees and answering questions.

The people with the big white dog parked to my left. They got out of their car and headed to the trail. I noticed them because their dog was not only beautiful, but also very vocal.

When they returned to the parking lot, they spread out a blanket next to their car for the dog to lie on. The dog was a rescue, the woman told me. She hadn’t had the dog very long. He was great with people, but too aggressive when he introduced himself to other dogs. I’m working with him, the woman said to me.

While the dog reclined on his blanket, the humans had one of those picnics that consists of standing at the car’s open hatchback and snacking on chips and fruit.

Pile of Baked Chocolate BreadsMaybe I looked hungry, or maybe she just appreciated me listening to her talk about her dog, but the result was the same. Do you want a brownie? she called out to me.

You know I do! I answered excitedly. Brownies just happen to be my favorite food group.

She had a big plastic storage bag half full of homemade brownies. She offered the bag to me, but I said I didn’t want to contaminate the whole bag with my dirty hands. She laughed, handed me a napkin, then pulled out not one, but two brownies for me.

It’s like you know me! I joked.

I gobbled down one of the delicious chocolate squares and wrapped the other in the napkin and tucked it into my backpack’s small front pocket. I would give that one to The Man when I saw him later.

Any day including a gift of brownies is a good day for me. What a yummy way to start my work season!

Image courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/pile-of-baked-chocolate-breads-887853/.

Ghost Town

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The problem had begun months before.

One day when I turned the key in my van’s ignition, I got a click instead of a start. That was weird, I thought.  I turned the key again, and this time the van roared to life. I thought it had must been a glitch and didn’t worry.

Over time, the problem happened more often. Sometimes the van started right up, and sometimes I got a click. Eventually the click was normal, and sometimes I had to turn the key two or three times before the van started. The situation was definitely getting worse.

The Man was pretty sure the problem was the starter. He could replace it, he said, He’d only have to remove two bolts. He wouldn’t even need to jack up the van; he could just crawl under it. I was glad he was willing and able to do the work, but at the moment I didn’t have the money to buy the starter. I just hoped the part wouldn’t give out completely before I could afford the new one.

After three weeks of work on the mountain, I had the money I needed. In AutoZone, I told the young man at the counter the make and model and year of my van and he told me my options. One starter only cost $35, but he didn’t recommend it. Another had a lifetime warranty, he said.

I’d bought a starter at AutoZone in 2014, a couple days after I’d purchased my van. I asked him to look at my purchase history and see if the starter I’d bought four years ago had a lifetime warranty. Good news: it did! I had to pay for the new starter, but when I returned the old starter, I’d get a full refund. That sounded good to me.

The new starter sat in the tent for a week while my van’s situation got worse. Every time I sat it the driver’s seat, I wondered if this would be the time it wouldn’t start at all. I didn’t expect The Man to work on my van after a long day at his job; I figured he’d do the repair in a week when we had two days off in a row.

On our Wednesday off, we went on a long, hard, ridiculous hike which wore us both out. On Thursday we were still tired, and I didn’t push the issue of the starter. I hoped the old one would hang in for another week until our days off rolled around again.

On Friday, The Man left the mountain. He was frustrated by the paperwork and having to account for the money he’d collected during the week, and he really wanted to do something else with his life. I wasn’t mad at him for going, but I did wish he’d changed my starter before he left.

On Monday I began making calls to mechanics in civilization. Les Schwab didn’t do that kind of work.  When I asked the office manager if they recommended anyone in town to do the job, she mentioned a place whose name she was unsure of. I figured it was a suggestion more than a recommendation, and I didn’t bother trying to find that shop’s phone number.

I’d had some work done on my van in 2015 when the battery was giving me trouble. I’d liked the guy who’d done that work well enough. I had the receipt from the previous repair in the folder where I keep information about the van, otherwise I would have never remembered the place’s name.

I found the phone number via Google and called the shop. I explained my situation to the man who answered the phone. When I said I worked up on the mountain and needed to make an appointment so the repair could be completed in one day, the guy on the phone said he remembered me. I was speaking to the mechanic himself! He said he could replace the starter for $76. He said I should come in at nine o’clock on Wednesday morning. I moved, he warned me before we hung up and told me his new address, which matched the information given by Google.

On Wednesday morning, I moved the van from where I’d slept in the parking lot of a 24-hour supermarket across town to the discount grocery store. I went in to use the restroom and pick up a few things. When it was time to leave, I put the key in the ignition and turned. Click!  I turned again. Click! I must have turned the key five times before the engine engaged. It looked as if I was getting the repair done in the nick of time.

When I’d used this mechanic before, his shop had been on a busy street in the heart of town. This time I had to drive to the outskirts. For a few minutes, I thought Google Maps had sent me off on a wild google chase. Just when I was beginning to wonder if I should pull off and investigate further, the Google Maps lady told me I’d arrived.

The shop was much bigger than the one I’d been to before, and I thought the mechanic had come up. The shop was farther away from the action, but had plenty of space now.

I parked the van and went to the front door. Locked. There was no open sign either. I was no more than five minutes early. Had none of the workers arrived yet?

The gate on the side of the building was open, so I walked through. I found the mechanic sitting behind a cluttered counter, eating a grocery store pastry.

When I’d been to the mechanic’s other shop, it was a bustling place. The bays were filled, and vehicles waited their turn in the large parking area. Several other mechanics worked for this guy whose surname was on the sign in front of the shop, and everyone moved briskly about their business of car repair. The shop I was currently standing in seemed lonely. My van was the only vehicle parked in front of the shop and the mechanic seemed to have no employees.

I have an appointment at nine, I told the mechanic.

You have the van? He asked hopefully. He seemed relieved when I said yes. Maybe he thought I wasn’t going to show.

He asked me to give him a few minutes, then he’d come to collect the van. I went back to the van and gathered the things I’d need while I waited for him to complete the repair.

At the other shop, he’d had a clean waiting room larger than most independently owned auto repair shops offer. An office manager greeted customers and answered the phone. I think I’d even been able to charge my phone while I waited. I was prepared for a similar place to hang out while the mechanic did his magic.

As promised, the mechanic joined me in a few minutes. He asked me again about the problem the van was having. I explained I’d often turn the key and just get a click. The problem is intermittent, I said, and the mechanic interrupted to say, What does that mean?

I felt bad about using a word he didn’t know. I wasn’t trying to show off. Unfortunately, I couldn’t think of another way to explain the problem. I don’t know why my brain couldn’t come up with it doesn’t happen every time. I stood there blankly.

Let me try it, the mechanic said, and I handed him my keys.

He leaned into the van, put the key into the ignition, and turned it. Click! He turned the key again. Click! Turn. Click! Turn. Click! Finally the van started and he said he’d take it to the back.

I looked around the parking area. There wasn’t a tree to sit under or a lick of shade anywhere. There was no way I could sit in the direct sunlight for the hour it was going to take to replace the starter.

Do you have a place where I can wait? I asked the mechanic.

I have a waiting room, but it’s dusty and full of cobwebs, he said discouragingly.

It would be ok, I assured him. I just needed to be out of the sun.

He unlocked the front door and led me into a ghost town of a waiting room. To the left was a big office area with a counter and a window behind which the office manager would have sat, had there been an office manager. To the right was the area where waiting customers were meant to sit. Three plastic chairs lined the wall and in the corner a coffee table held magazine covered in an eighth of an inch of dust. Everything in the room was covered in an eighth of an inch of dust. Everything was so filthy, I didn’t want to sit or set my backpack down.

When the mechanic said the waiting room was dusty and full of cobwebs, I thought he meant no one had run a vacuum in a couple of weeks. What he actually meant was that he’d taken possession of an abandoned automotive repair shop and hadn’t done a single thing to make the waiting room decent for his clients.

Where does his expect his customers to wait? I wondered.

By the time I was ready to leave, I was wondering where his customers were. No one arrived after me. No one came in to ask about a repair or to pick up a vehicle that the mechanic had finished with late the day before or to bring a vehicle in for the ten o’clock appointment. The phone rang once—once!—in the hour I was there. Never before in my life had I sat in an auto repair shop for an hour and only heard the phone ring once. What in the world was going on here?

I heard the beautiful sound of my van’s engine turn over. Finally, this was done.

The mechanic stuck his head out of the door between the bay and the waiting room. He was finished, he said. I could come with him.

I followed him through the bay to the counter in the corner. The top of the counter was littered with greasy car parts and the over crispy ends of fried convenience store snacks.  That will be $68, the mechanic said.

I was pleased that the final price was less than what he’d quoted me over the phone. I pulled out four twenty dollar bills and handed them over. He started pulling money out of his pockets to make change. That’s right…out of his pockets. There was no cash register, no lockbox, no zipper bag from the bank. He was going to make change out of his personal pockets. The last time I’d seen this man, he’d been running an auto repair business; now he might as well have been running a lemonade stand.

He pulled from the pocket of his pants a few crumpled ones and a wad of twenties he rummaged through looking for a smaller bill. He didn’t seem to have any fives or tens on him.

I picked up the two ones he’s dropped on the counter and said, It’s ok. Don’t worry about it.

I’d planned to pay $76 anyway. Why get uptight over two extra dollars?

Are you sure? He asked.

Yes, I said. I appreciate your help.

He got a smile on his face that made it seem as if my not insisting on change was the nicest thing that had happened to him in a very long time.

 

 

Wad of Cash

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It was a Saturday afternoon in mid-June and the Mercantile was busy. A group of tween Girl Scouts and their families were scooping up souvenirs throughout the store. I was working the floor, helping people find sizes and doing my best to watch out for shoplifting.

I asked two young adult women standing by the shelf of t-shirts for kids if they needed any help. One of the woman asked if I had anything in XXXL. I told her I had one design in that size and led her over to where those shirts were stacked on a shelf. I reached to the bottom of a pile and pulled out the XXXL shirt.

The woman had a handful of stuff, mostly brochures for tourist attractions from what I could tell. She set all the stuff she’d been holding on the shelf between two stacks of t-shirts so she could take the shirt I was holding. She held the shirt at arm’s length and cast a critical eye upon it. I think this will fit my husband, she said. I’ll take it.

Rolled 20 U.s Dollar BillShe draped the shirt over her arm, grabbed her stack of stuff from the shelf and turned away from me. I glanced at the shelf, and lying where her tourist attraction brochures had been was a wad of cash. It must have been on the bottom of her stack and was smaller than everything else, so when she picked up her stack, the money was left behind.

Sometimes we have time to deliberate over our moral dilemmas and sometimes we make our moral decisions in an instant.

I reached out and grabbed the wad of cash. It would have only taken me an instant to slip it into one of the pockets of my apron. When the woman realized it was gone, she probably wouldn’t remember setting it on the shelf. If she did remember where she’d last had it, well, there were a lot of people in the store and any of them could have picked up a wad of cash found sitting on a shelf.

Instead of putting the money in my pocket, I called out, Ma’am? Ma’am? Man Holds 10 U.s Dollar Banknote

The woman turned around, and I held up the wad of cash. You forgot this, I said to her.

She looked sheepish and said, I won’t be able to buy anything without that.

I reached out and returned her money.

It was the right thing to do.

 

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/rolled-20-u-s-dollar-bill-164527/ and https://www.pexels.com/photo/man-holds-10-u-s-dollar-banknote-928201/.

Follow Me on Social Media!

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If you’re on Facebook or Instagram, you can follow me there!

You can see my handmade creations, like this collage, on my Blazin’ Sun Creations Facebook page.

I have three Facebook pages you can follow: Blaize Sun, Rubber Tramp Artist, and Blaizin’ Sun Creations. The Blaize Sun page is about me as an author and a person. Each of my blog posts pops up on the Rubber Tramp Artist page on the same day it appears here. I sometimes also post photos and updates on my life and travels there. The Blaizin’ Sun Creations page is where I share artwork I’ve created that is for sale. If you follow my pages, you can stay up-to-date on what I’m doing through your Facebook account. Of course, I would be so pleased if you like any or all of my pages. You can also leave a review of anything I’ve made that you now own, this blog, or my book Confessions of a Work Camper: Tales from the Woods.

I’ve been having a lot of fun on Instagram since I joined almost two months ago. You can find me @rubbertrampartist. I love sharing photographs there. Sometimes I take a great shot, but the photo doesn’t necessarily have a place in one of my blog posts. Instagram lets me easily share the photos you might otherwise never see. I do mention my blog and my writing on Instagram, but the photos in my account show a broader portion of my life, everything from the bargains I find (hello 99 cent organic polenta and a huge jar of Southwestern 505 salsa with certified Hatch, NM green chiles for $2.47) to the trees I see on  my lunch break. If you already like my blog, and particularly if you enjoy my photos, follow me on Instagram!

Bargain salsa! Hatch green chiles and only $2.47 for that big jar!

I’m not on Twitter or Pinterest. Should I be? Let me know what you think by commenting below.

I took the photos in this post. They originally appeared in my Instagram account.

French Fries

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We were four dirty traveling kids heading from Santa Nella, CA to Oklahoma City, OK. They were a Native American family; I don’t know where they were coming from or where they were headed. We met one night at a McDonald’s on Indian Land in New Mexico.

I was with Mr. Carolina, The Okie, and Lil C. Mr. Carolina had met the two young men at a truck stop in Santa Nella. They’d gotten stuck at the truck stop when the cheap bicycles they’d bought to travel across California began to fall apart. They were trying to get to Oklahoma City, then on to Kansas City, MO in time to see Lil C’s mom on her birthday. I’d agreed to rescue them from their truck stop purgatory, but the four of us traveled together through seven states before our time as companions was over.

Mr. Carolina and I had stopped at the same McDonald’s right off I-40 late one night on our way to California. We’d been with Sweet L and Robbie and the couple who had whisper fights several times a day. We’d taken that particular exit because the atlas showed a rest area there. We found the rest area, but a locked gate kept us out. We were all tired, so I pulled the van into the parking lot of the 24-hour gas station/convenience store/fast food emporium. The kids melted into the darkness to find bushes to sleep under, and I spent an uninterrupted night in my van.

Now we were back at that McDonald’s off the 40. The gate to the rest area was still locked, but more than a month later, the late autumn air was quite cooler. We’d all be sleeping in my van tonight, me in my bed; Mr. Carolina on the floor between the back passenger seats, his feet brushing the doghouse in the front; The Okie in one of the back passenger seats; and Lil C in the front passenger seat. It was crowded (more for the boys than for me), but it was worth it for everyone to stay warm.

Before we slept, we went into McDonald’s.

We had a few bucks, enough for each of us to get a McDouble, which only cost a dollar at the time. I don’t remember if we discussed French fries, if one of the boys asked for fries and I had to say we couldn’t afford them or if I silently longed for their greasy saltiness. I envied the other people in the restaurant who had fries, but I didn’t complain about what we lacked. The Universe gave us what we needed, and if The Universe wasn’t offering fries this night, we must not need them.

After being handed our tray of food, the boys and I sat at a table in the middle of the dining room. Our last bath had happened at least a week before, a soapless affair in a natural hot spring. We certainly didn’t look clean. We were probably a little too loud, a little too boisterous, but I tried to keep all of our cursing to a minimum. Even trying our best to appear normal, I’m sure we stuck out.

The Native American family sat one table closer to the counter. They were quiet and conservatively dressed. Maybe they were from Acoma Pueblo. Maybe they were Diné. The adults (parents? grandparents?) were probably in their early 50s; the two boys with them looked to be young teenagers. Each of them had a wrapped sandwich and in the middle of the table sat two large cartons of French fries.

The woman spoke softly to the boys. I wouldn’t have known she was speaking if I hadn’t seen her lips move. One of the boys nodded, picked up one of the cartons of fries, stood up, and carried the potatoes over to our table. His family wanted us to have these, he told us quietly as he gently placed the fries on the tray that still sat in the middle of our table.

We were joyously rambunctious with our thanks. Those French fries made us the happiest people in the room.

I manifested those fries! I thought. The Universe sent them to us because I wanted them so badly!

If the potatoes were a gift from The Universe, it was working through a kind woman who decided to share her family’s small abundance with four dirty traveling kids who couldn’t scrape together even a dollar to buy their own small bag of fries.

Image courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/food-wood-pattern-lunch-141787/.

Really?

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The Lady of the House and I arrived at the visitor center at the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park early in the day. We may have been the first visitors in after the doors were unlocked.

Two people were working at the information desk/checkout counter that morning, a young man with a beard and an older woman with straight grey hair. They talked to each other as The Lady and I looked at the souvenirs in the corner of the building that served as a gift shop.

We hadn’t been in the building long when another visitor came inside. I didn’t pay her much mind, but from what I saw out of the corner of my eye, she was old enough to be my mother and well-dressed. She made a beeline to the counter where the Park Service employees stood.

I have a question, she told them, but I’m going to wait until my husband gets in here.

I don’t know why she even started talking before her husband made his entrance. I guess she was excited.

The husband walked in within minutes and the question turned out to concern the Elephant Hill Road.

The couple had a rented four-wheel-drive vehicle, and they wanted to take it exploring on Elephant Hill Road.

According to information about Needles District trails and roads issued by Canyonlands National Park,

One of the most technical four-wheel-drive roads in Utah, Elephant Hill presents drivers with steep grades, loose rock, stair-step drops, tight turns and backing. Over the hill, equally challenging roads lead to various campsites and trailheads…

It would be ok to drive their rented vehicle there, wouldn’t it, the visitor woman asked confidentally.

I don’t recommend it, the Park Service employee with the straight grey hair said gravely.

Really? The tourist woman asked in a tone of voice that made it plain she couldn’t believe her plan to drive on Elephant Hill Road was being thwarted. It was obvious she thought the Park Service worker was wrong.

Does your vehicle have a wench? the Park Service employee asked the couple. Do you have the capability to self-rescue?

Oh no, the husband said. Nothing like that.

I don’t recommend it, the worker repeated. If you get stuck, the Park Service won’t tow you out, and you’ll have to pay $2,500 for a towing company to get you out.

The Park Service employee asked them what they hoped to see, then helped them decide to go partway down Elephant Hill Road, but turn around before the road became too rugged for their vehicle.

(Let me say here, every employee I’ve encountered doing his or her job at any of the National Parks I’ve visited has been absolutely friendly and helpful, even when a visitor has been asking for something ridiculous or impossible. Without exception, the employees of National Parks I’ve seen interacting with the public have been professional to a degree I find awe inspiring. I consider folks who work for the National Parks in a class above all service industry employees, save perhaps for those employed in some capacity by Mickey Mouse. )

When we got back in the van, I asked The Lady if she’d heard that tourist woman get thwarted.

Oh yeah, The Lady said. She seemed so sure of herself.

The Lady and I made up the following story about the tourist couple: The woman had her heart set on driving Elephant Hill Road and was trying to convince her husband that the vehicle they had rented could handle it. The husband was skeptical.

Fine! We could image the woman saying, We’ll ask at the visitor center.

The way she said, Really? made it clear she hadn’t expected to be told no.

The way she said, Really? made me think she hears the word “no” on a highly infrequent basis.

I took these photos in the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park.

Judgement

Standard

When The Man picked me up from work on Friday afternoon, he was distressed because the needle on the van’s gas gauge was in the red. He was afraid we would run out of gas before we went back down the mountain in four days. I knew (from stressful experience) that even once the needle is in the red, I have enough gas to get down the mountain. I didn’t know if I had enough gas for us to drive the six miles back and forth to work for four days and make it down the mountain, so it looked like we would have to take an unplanned side trip to civilization.

There was gas on the mountain, 25 miles and 45 minutes away, in one pump behind a general store. We could have gone there, but once before my debit card hadn’t worked when I tried to pay at that pump. By the time I got off work, I didn’t know if the general store would be open when we got there. We’d be in big trouble if we drove 25 miles to find the card reader wouldn’t accept my card, the store was closed, and we couldn’t get gas.

We decided to drive down the mountain to our second gas option. After an hour of twisting mountain roads, we found ourselves in one of those small towns that’s a hub for outdoor tourism but doesn’t have much else going for it. If it weren’t for nearby camping and fishing and whitewater rafting, this town would probably shrivel up and blow away.

I knew by the time we drove an hour down the mountain, filled up the gas tank, and drove an hour back up the mountain, it would be dark and cold, and we’d be not just tired, but exhausted. I knew cooking dinner in our outdoor kitchen was going to be miserable, and I wanted no part of it. I knew the one grocery store in town had a hot deli, so we decided we’d grab our dinner there.

After spending $80 and not quite filling my gas tank, we found ourselves in front of the hot deli case looking at fried chicken, pizza strips containing pepperoni, and meaty lasagna. What were a couple of non-meat eaters to do? We opted for a pound of potato wedges and called it a night.

We had to get in the regular check-out line to pay for our potatoes. We were third in line.

A young couple was first in line. The young man looked like he was barely out of his teens; maybe he wasn’t. He had scraggly facial hair, baggy clothes over a scrawny body, and a warm beanie pulled down low against the late spring chill. The woman with him was young too, with either a deathly pallor to her face or makeup to make it seem that way. Her hair was dyed a light blue and pulled up and twisted into two little blue buns on the top of her head.

The ages of the next couple in line were more difficult to determine. The male half of the couple seemed to be in his mid-30s, but the female half seemed older. I wasn’t sure if she was his mother who’d birthed him at a very young age or if she was his wife who’d aged in a hard-life sort of way. The woman was plump, with perfectly straight, shoulder length hair, no bangs. She wore a tasteful, loose and flowy blouse and seemed like an ordinary middle age woman from a small town. The fellow was tall and had probably once been athletic, but his body was getting middle age soft. He had on unremarkable clothes, a ball cap, and tattoos on the arm I could see.

When we walked up to the line, the fellow wearing the ball cap was talking to customers waiting in the next check-out lane, something about a promotion he’d gotten. His conversation ended, and we all stood quietly for a moment against the bustle of the grocery store.

The fellow with the ball cap stood facing forward, and I heard him call out loudly enough to be heard by those standing immediately around him, but maybe not loudly enough to be heard by the object of his scorn, Hey! What’s wrong with your hair? He was of course talking to the young woman in line ahead of him. He had a good ol’ boy grin on his face, knowing he could most probably get away with saying whatever mean thing he wanted because the (boy)friend of the woman with the blue hair wasn’t likely to fight him.

I don’t know if the woman with the blue hair heard the rudeness. She never looked our way and her face never betrayed any feelings. The rude man’s lady companion did hear him. She gave him a nasty look and the tiniest shake of her head, but nothing more. Mother or wife, I’m sure she was all too familiar with his asshole antics.

The young man with the blue-haired woman heard the remark too. He glanced over with a stoner’s look of What? on his face. The mean man broadened his smile in a we’re all friends here gesture directed at the young man, who gave back the barest minimum of a smile. He, like me, knew we were not all friends here, but he must have realized flight was better than fight in this situation.

About that time, a cashier opened the register to our right and called for the next customer in line. I quickly ushered The Man over to the newly opened register. I Did. Not. Want. to stand next to the fellow with the ball cap any longer.

As I purchased our pound of potatoes, I could hear the fellow with the ball cap and the cashier (a young woman with her dark hair piled on top of her head and false eyelashes the size of caterpillars) discussing the woman’s blue hair, which had apparently made quite an impression on them.

I looked up and saw the fellow with the ball cap had tattoos on his other arm too, as well as the outline of the state of California tattooed on his neck. I’d have thought someone with multiple tattoos would have been a little more accepting of someone with an unnatural hair color, but in this case, I was wrong.

I kept my mouth shut, but I wanted to shout, Hey asshole! Let he without a stupid neck tattoo cast the first stone!

Discomfort

Standard

I knew immediately that my homelessness made the woman uncomfortable.

I wasn’t trying to make her uncomfortable. I was simply speaking my truth, sharing my reality.

She was probably a few years older than I was. Her clothing (tasteful but not ostentatious) and her speech (no slang, proper grammar) marked her as belonging to the educated middle class. She had come to walk with her daughter in the Nevada Desert Experience Sacred Peace Walk, and she seemed a little nervous, a little out of her element. Her daughter had wandered off, and the woman seemed to want to chat with someone so she wouldn’t feel awkward in her aloneness.

Women in my age group who think I’m of their social class seem to gravitate toward me when we’re in a group that makes them uncomfortable. I’m educated, and I speak proper, mostly unaccented English. My hair is streaked with grey and my tattoos and the gaps where my rotten teeth have been pulled are mostly invisible. I appear to be a “normal” older professional woman, and other “normal” older professional women seem to think I’m safe to interact with.

I don’t remember how this particular woman and I began chatting. I think she joined me at a table for a meal. Maybe she and I lingered after the other folks at the table left. In whatever way the conversation started, I could soon tell she thought we had similar lives.

I also don’t remember what question she asked me about myself, but my response was that I lived in my van. I immediately picked up on her discomfort. It wasn’t the first time I’d mentioned living in my van to a woman in my age group and immediately sensed her discomfort.

Maybe the conversation went like this: Maybe the woman asked me where I lived and I said I lived in my van. Maybe then she asked me why I lived in my van, and I gave her my stock/true answer that I’d been homeless before I started living in the van, so the van was a step up.

However the topic came up, I knew my talk of homelessness as a real part of my life made my table companion nervous.

I suspect when a woman thinks I’m like her but then finds out I’ve been really homeless and I’m currently living-in-a-van homeless, she gets a little bit freaked out because she’s identified with me. If I was/am homeless, and she and I are somehow alike, she realizes she could end up homeless too. I think it’s a very disconcerting realization for some women.

Upon hearing about my living situation, this particular woman launched into a story about how one night after eating at a restaurant, she gave her leftovers to a homeless man. I guess she wanted me to know she was down with and kind to homeless people. I resisted the urge to explain that street kids call asking folks for their leftovers “white boxing,” presumably because restaurants often pack up leftovers in white Styrofoam containers.

The story was long and detailed, and the woman’s nervousness was obvious. Our whole point of interaction had become about her trying to convey to me how ok she was with homeless people (and therefore ok with me). Suddenly I wasn’t an individual sitting in front of her, but a member of a group that caused her discomfort.

I wasn’t sure how to respond to this woman’s story. I think I managed, I’m sure the man appreciated the food, but how was I to know what the man thought of her offering?

I was almost sorry I’d mentioned living in my van. I hadn’t wanted to cause the woman distress. On the other hand, I wondered why I needed to hide my reality in order to save someone else from discomfort. I don’t have to be ashamed of having been totally homeless or of being living-in-a-van homeless. Being homeless isn’t a moral failure. Being homeless doesn’t make anyone a bad person.

The woman’s discomfort made me uncomfortable too. I felt like I had done something wrong, even though logically I knew I hadn’t. The woman rambled on with a story I didn’t really want to hear. I excused myself as soon as I could and left the table feeling alienated and awkward. I wished I could be as normal as people thought I was.