Category Archives: My True Life

Hitchhikers in Black

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Our jobs on the mountain ended, and The Man and I left California. We weren’t quite sure what our next move should be, so as we’ve done in past times of indecision, we headed to New Mexico. My New Mexico State Parks Pass was still valid, so we decided to spend some time at Bluewater Lake State Park between Grants and Gallup.

We arrived at Bluewater Lake early on Saturday afternoon. We drove through the different camping areas until we found a fairly flat campsite with a tree big enough to provide some shade. We spent the afternoon relaxing. Later in the day we set up our stove and had dinner before the sun set.

The next morning The Man decided he wanted coffee. He didn’t just want a cup of coffee; he wanted to buy ground coffee and sugar and creamer so he could make himself a cup every morning. We used Google Maps and found a grocery store called John Brooks 24 miles away in Milan. I climbed into the drivers seat and The Man rode shotgun for our little road trip.

It was before 8am when we set out. I slowly drove the van past the houses just outside the park, then picked up speed as I got closer to Interstate 40. As I approached the eastbound onramp, I saw three people standing on the side of the road just past the entrance.

The first thing I noticed was that all three of them were dressed in black. Gang members, a judgmental little voice in my head whispered.

The second thing I noticed was that they were all Native Americans. Call it white guilt if you want, but I particularly try to help people of color. Sure, I try to help everyone who needs a hand, but I feel I have a particular responsibility to help folks whose ancestors were oppressed by my ancestors.

Should we stop? I asked The Man as we approached.

He thought about it. No.

You don’t think we should stop? I asked in surprise.

The Man helps people too. He believes in helping people. I’m not sure why he said no. Maybe it was because there were three hitchhikers and my van only has two seats. Realistically, where would we put them? Maybe it was because three dudes in black standing on an onramp seemed a little sketchy.

I drove past the people, and after The Man got a good look at them, he said I should stop.

I pulled onto the shoulder of the onramp, and The Man got out of the van to talk to the people. Turns out there Group of People on Eventwere two men and a woman. They were Native, as I originally thought, and they were certainly dressed in black. While they may or may not have had gang affiliation, they were not on gang business that Sunday morning. They were on ROCK business, as in rock-n-roll. They were trying to get to Albuquerque for that night’s Ozzy Osbourne farewell concert.

The Man ushered the woman into the passenger seat and got in the back of the van with the two men. The Man sat on the bed, and the young men sat on the floor. Of course Jerico the dog barked at them, thinking they were new friends who obviously should be playing ball with him.

The woman was probably in her early 20. I apologized to her that we were only going about twenty miles down the road, but she seemed grateful for even the short ride. She was pretty excited about the concert, even though she had school the next day.

What are you studying? I asked her.

She was studying welding. Once she received her certificate, she was going travel. She wanted to see the Statue of Liberty. She thought she’d go to Alaska too. She’d heard there were lots of welding jobs in Alaska. She’d heard welder’s helpers—the people who handed tools and swept up—earned $16 an hour there.

I asked her where she’d grown up. I was making chit chat, but I was curious too.

She’d grown up in New Mexico and Arizona. Her dad’s family was from Arizona and her Mom’s family was from New Mexico. Her dad’s family was more traditional, more conservative she told me. In Arizona you had to do things a certain way. In New Mexico it didn’t matter so much how you did things, as long as you got things done. I wasn’t sure if she was referring to carrying out a religious ceremony or cooking stew, but my experience of New Mexico being peopled with laid back folks seemed to be in line with what she’d grown up with there.

As we approached exit 79, I was glad to see both a Love’s travel center and a Petro truck stop right off the interstate. There would be a lot more traffic there than the Ozzy fans would have found at the end of the onramp where we’d picked them up. I don’t have a lot of hitchhiking experience, but I suspected the trio would have better luck getting a ride if they were able to approach drivers and politely ask for what they needed. If three young people in black by the side of the road made me and The Man hesitate, the average driver was not going to stop for them. However, if a driver could talk to the Ozzy pilgrims and realize they were harmless, well, that would certainly increase their chances of getting a ride.

I asked the group if they preferred to be dropped at the Love’s or the Petro, and they opted for the Petro. I pulled into the truck stop’s parking lot, and they got out of the van amid thanks and good cheer.

I hope they made it to the Ozzy show and had a rockin’ good time. I only regret that financial considerations kept me from driving them all the way to Albuquerque.

Image courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/group-of-people-on-event-1047443/.

 

Pickup Line

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I think a man tried to pick me up in the 99 cent store.

The city I went to on my days off from work on the mountain was looking rougher all the time. Every time I went down, it seemed like I was seeing more people pushing shopping carts around town, more people popping out from between buildings where they’d obviously spent the night. When I slept in my van in the parking lot of the 24 hour supermarket, other people there were obviously trying to get some shut-eye in their vehicles. All to say either times were increasingly harder in the central California town, or I had started noticing all the people struggling.

In late July, I was in my new favorite place for bargain shopping, the 99 Cents Only store. Of course, some of the items in the store cost more than 99 cents, making the name of the place more than a little confusing, but that’s corporate America for you, always trying to mislead and take advantage of the consumer.

I especially liked the closeout baskets that I’d sometimes find at the front of the store. One morning I’d found the basket full of organic chocolate bars priced at 4 for 99 cents. Another time I’d found bags of fancy sweet potato chips marked at 4 for 99 cents. On a third visit, small cans of sliced jalapeños were going for (you guessed it) 4 for 99 cents. Other great bargains I’d found there included cans of organic refried beans and packages of shelf-stable tofu for 99 cents each.

Shallow Focus Photography of BananasOn the day in question, I was in the back of the store in the produce section. My friend Meg and I were going to make s’morenanners (bananas stuffed with mini marshmallow and chocolate chips, then cooked in the coals of a campfire), and I’d put myself in charge of getting the best price on bananas. The regular bananas at the 99 Cents Only store were 49 cents a pound, which was already cheaper than the going rate on bananas at any other supermarket in town. However, the “extra ripe” bananas were only 33 cents a pound! Score!

It was a hot day outside—probably pushing 100 degrees if not already there. I was wearing a too tight tank top and unflattering cotton pants in an attempt to stay cool. I’m sure my hair was a flat mess, but I (obviously) wasn’t giving much thought to how I looked. I wanted to get my errands done as quickly as possible and get back up the mountain.

After I found a bunch of decent looking extra ripe bananas held together with red tape alerting the world of their bargain status, I texted Meg to let her know my banana mission was accomplished. During my texting, I realized my cart was blocking the entire banana display. Ooops! Then I realized there was a man standing nearby trying to look at the bananas.

Excuse me, I said and wrestled my shopping cart out of the way.

The fellow was in my age group or maybe a little younger and had dark hair. He said, No problem and gave me a big smile before saying, It’s a hot day in paradise.

Oh no! A big smile? We were in Central California, not the Deep South. In my experience, people in Central California do not give each other big smiles in the produce aisle. Besides, I looked like sweaty hell. If this stranger in the 99 Cent Only store was being super nice to me, it had to be because he wanted something. In my experience, men do not hit on fat women in ill-filling clothes with unwashed hair because they (the men) think they (the women) are cute. I had the distinct feeling this guy was up to something, and I wanted nothing to do with whatever scheme or scam he was trying to hatch.

I maneuvered my cart away from the banana display and toward the front of the store. I hope I didn’t damage the smiling man’s self-esteem.

Photo courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/fruits-grocery-bananas-market-4621/.

 

Let the Sounds of Nature Prevail

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La Sal mountains near Moab, Utah

We hadn’t been awake long when The Lady of the House pulled back the curtain between the van’s front seats and the living area and looked out the windshield. She reported a dog running around between my van and the camp next door. As far as she could tell, the dog was not accompanied by a human.

The Lady and I were on an epic road trip in Arizona and Utah. We’d spent the night in a free BLM camping area on Willow Springs Road northwest of Moab. We were going to the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park that morning, and we were up early in hopes of arriving in time to get a site in the Park’s Willow Flat Campground. When we spilled out of the van, we found chilly air and frost on the table we’d set up the night before, but we were not deterred. We were determined to get on the road as soon as possible.

As we prepared our simple breakfast (oatmeal for The Lady and eggs and cheese on a flour tortilla for me), the dog The Lady had seen earlier continued to run around unattended. It tried to come into our camp, but I shooed it away, telling it to Go home! It finally settled down next to the small SUV parked across the road from us.

While we ate, a young woman emerged from the tent pitched a short distance beyond the small SUV. From the way she reacted to the dog, we could tell they were traveling companions.

The young woman bustled around her vehicle, opening and closing doors, but I didn’t really pay much attention to her until she reached into the vehicle and turned on its radio. A dreadful slow jam destroyed the morning quiet.

Granted, it was past the customary 6am cutoff for quiet time on public land, and the young woman was not blasting the tunes. However, The Lady and I could clearly hear the music across the road in our camp, which means to me the music was too loud. I would have probably been more forgiving if it had been afternoon, but the music was destroying the morning peace. I might not have minded as much had the songs I was subjected to been some that I liked, but the music the stranger enjoyed was grating noise to my ears. However, even if she had been playing the Grateful Dead, I still would have thought the music was being played too loudly and too early for public land.

I once read a publication from the Forest Service that said people on public land should “let the sounds of nature prevail.” That mandate has stuck with me. People are ostensibly out in nature because they want to enjoy nature. When I’m out in nature, I want to enjoy silence or, at most, some energetic bird song. I do not venture into nature to listen to over-produced radio music.

I didn’t say anything to the young woman. I didn’t walk over to her camp to let her know her music was bothering me or suggest she find a portable device and earbuds. The Lady and I were leaving once we cleaned up from breakfast after all. I just gritted my teeth while we packed up and hoped we’d find more considerate neighbors in the National Park.

I took the photo in this post.

Not a Hoarder

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Early in 2013 I lived in a large Texas city without a vehicle. I’d had a van, but it was gone. Friends from college let me live with them while I earned money to buy myself another van. I depended on Craigslist a lot in those days.

I’d responded to a Craigslist ad placed by an elderly psychiatrist looking for a house and dog sitter. I got that job, which led to a regular gig cooking and cleaning and doing yardwork for her. I supplemented that income by scouring Craigslist for one-time money-making opportunities. I participated in two studies at the local university, one of which required me to lie about my past drug use, one of which required me to run on a treadmill until I thought I would puke, and one of which required me to climb into MRI machine and lie without moving while the apparatus recorded my brain thinking.

One day I saw an ad seeking someone to help prepare for a garage sale. I emailed the woman who’d placed the ad; later we talked on the phone. She agreed to hire me and pay me $10 an hour to help her set up her sale.

On the morning of the day before the sale, my friend drove me to the woman’s house. She lived near the university in a spacious home with a huge backyard. She was moving, she explained, and she was trying to sell most of her belongings. I think she’d been living in that house a long time and had accumulated a lot of junk she didn’t want to haul across town, much less across the country. She hoped to make some extra money by selling what she no longer wanted.

She was setting up some items for sale in her living room, but most of the sale would take place in her backyard. My job was to sort the contents of large cardboard boxes piled in the backyard and artfully place like with like.

I sorted through a lot of clothing. Some items were hung on a saggy clothesline strung between two trees, but most of the items were folded and stacked on a tarp on the ground. The clothing was nothing special—no costumes or designer pieces. Mostly it was cheap stuff, garments most people would have dumped at a thrift store the moment they fell out of style.

Although I’d said nothing judgmental about the quantity or quality of the items for sale, several times throughout the day, the woman for whom I was working assured me she was not a hoarder. I didn’t really care if she was a hoarder or not. She was paying me for my time, and the working conditions weren’t horrendous. Besides, as I reassured her each time she brought up hoarding, having a garage sale probably meant she wasn’t a hoarder. Hoarders don’t have garage sales, right?

Then I found the Hammer pants. Remember MC Hammer? According to Wikipedia, he enjoyed the height of his popularity and commercial success from approximately 1988 to 1998 with hits such as “U Can’t Touch This” and “Pray.” Now he appears in commercials for Command hooks around Christmas time. I don’t know what MC Hammer wears now, but back in the day he wore Hammer pants, an article of clothing that another Wikipedia article describes as

customized/modified baggy pants tapered at the ankle with a sagging rise made suitable for hip-hop dancing…Hamer pants were popularized in the 1980s and 1990s by rapper MC Hammer who would entertain/dance in them…

This woman I was working for on a spring day in 2013 was going to try to sell a pair of Hammer pants!

I didn’t say anything. For once I kept my big mouth shut. This woman was paying me, and it wasn’t really my place to judge.  She probably wasn’t actually a hoarder with a psychological disorder, but holding onto a pair of Hammer pants at least fifteen years past their heyday seems like an irrational thing to do. Did she think they would come back into fashion? Did she think someone would pay top dollar for them? I didn’t even ask. I simply folded them and put them in a stack with the other pants.