I was selling my jewelry and shiny rocks at an outdoor
market near a tourist attraction on a Sunday afternoon. The sky was overcast,
the air chilly, the wind strong. There weren’t many shoppers, so I was able to
give my attention to each person who stopped at my table.
I saw an older man spending a lot of time with the vendor
next to me. Good for him, I thought
of the other vendor. On such a slow day, I was glad for anyone who made a sale.
The fellow finished his business with the vendor next to me
and made his way to my table. He was older than I am, maybe by twenty years,
but he seemed to be in good shape. He walked easily without a cane and didn’t
seem to be beaten down by life.
I said hello to him, but before I could tell him about my
merchandise, he blurted out, I lost my
At first I thought he meant he and his wife were there at
the tourist attraction together, she’d wandered off, and he didn’t know where
she was at the moment. That sort of situation occurs a lot at that market. So
often, while one part of a group is browsing in the market, others in the party
wander off to see the natural wonder.
I was about to reassure the man I’m sure she’s around here somewhere, when he continued to speak
and I realized by lost, he meant dead. I was glad to have learned more
about his situation before I opened my big mouth.
She’d died nearly two years ago, he told me. He was doing
better, but it was still hard, he said with a sad smile.
She was the real
shopper, he continued. If she had been here, she’d have stopped at every
table, wanted to buy something from every vendor.
In the past when he’d traveled alone, he’d always been on
the lookout for something nice he could buy to take home to her. Now there was
really no point in looking at all the beautiful things.
I’m so sorry for your loss, I murmured, but I really didn’t know what else to say. I’m often surprised by how freely stranger share their grief with me. I wonder if these people share their grief freely with everyone they meet or if they sense some kindness or understanding in me.
The tourist man didn’t spend much time at my table. He only hung around long enough to apologize for not buying anything and to tell me how his lost wife loved to shop, then he was gone. I hope I helped him through his grief a little. I wish I could have done more.
I got my first (and only until now) suitcase when I was a sophomore in high school. I’d written an essay and won a trip, and now I needed to pack my bags so I could board an airplane for the first time in my life.
I do not come from a nuclear family of travelers. We did not take a yearly vacation. We occasionally spent weekends at the beach or stayed overnight at the home of one of my grandmothers. I usually packed my little girl necessities in a tote bag.
My father had a small suitcase he used on the rare occasion of a business trip. It must have been deemed too small for my week-away-from-home needs because one day I came home from school to find a massive piece of luggage waiting for me. It was brown and made of some synthetic material. It certainly had room for a week’s worth of clothes and shoes and contact lens solution.
I went on two more major trips during my high school years, and my big suitcase came with me. It was cumbersome and heavy and lacked wheels. I left the suitcase behind when I went to college, but collected it from my parents when I went away to summer school in Europe. I stuffed the suitcase with enough clothes, toiletries, and textbooks to last six weeks.
After the trip to Europe, the suitcase fades from my memory.
In the ensuing years, when I went on a trip, I packed my things in duffel bags and backpacks. Suitcases seemed unnecessarily heavy, bulky. Of course, sometimes I found my backpack was wet or dirty when I pulled it out of the baggage compartment under a Greyhound. I wondered if the tiny lock holding the zipper pulls together was really protecting my gear from thieves. Did I need a suitcase to protect my belongings from liquid and dirt and unscrupulous baggage handlers?
A couple months ago I was approached by a representative of CHESTER
a NYC-based lifestyle brand dedicated to making travel more seamless…with carry-on luggage.
The representative asked me if I was interested in a partnership with CHESTER. He said he’d send me one of the company’s suitcases if I agreed to review it. Heck yes! Of course I let him know any review I shared would include my honest opinion.
[t]hough you might find an inch or two of a difference with various airlines, the standard domestic carry-on luggage size is 22” x 14” x 9”, which includes the handle and the wheels.
I’m pretty excited that my CHESTER bag fits within the standard domestic carry-on luggage restrictions. I haven’t flown for a long time (not since my dad died in 2016 and I had to make a quick trip down South), but I like knowing that if I have to get on an airplane, my bag can travel in the cabin with me.
Of course, if you need a bigger bag, CHESTER also offers the Regula suitcase. Meant to be checked, the Regula weighs a bit more at 9.5 pounds and measures 26″ x 18″ x 11″ to give you additional room for your gear. (Wondering what your other checked luggage options might be? Check out these reviews of the Best Checked Luggage 2019.)
When I pulled my Minima from the box it was shipped in, the first thing I was excited about was its wheels. After dragging along a suitcase with no wheels, followed by years of lugging a variety of backpacks on my shoulders, I was glad to finally be able to pull a suitcase smoothly by my side. The Chester website says that both the Minima and the Regula have “quiet, 360° multi-directional double spinner wheels.” These wheels are supposed to glide effortlessly over a variety of terrains.
The second thing I liked about the Minima was the built-in TSA approved lock. The CHESTER FAQ page says,
CHESTER’s integrated TSA lock uses zipper pulls to secure your luggage from unwanted access. Authorized TSA personnel will always be able to open your case for inspection, if necessary.
…you are not required to have a TSA approved luggage lock on your bag to fly.
You can use any luggage lock you want but if your lock is not TSA approved, then if the TSA does search your luggage, they have the right to cut off your non-approved TSA lock because they do not have a key to open it.
By using a TSA luggage lock, you can avoid having your baggage lock cut off because the TSA has a key to open your suitcase.
I like that the Minima’s lock is built in. When I’m ready to travel, I don’t have to try to remember where I’ve stored the tiny little lock and the tiny little keys that go with it. I’m glad that if TSA decides to search my bag, an agent can use a key to open my lock and won’t have to damage my property. I appreciate that I can also set the combination to my own three digit code. WARNING: Write your combination down, or be sure you remember it. When I went to unlock my Minima three months after setting the code, I couldn’t remember what three digits I’d used, much less what order they were in. Ooops! I had to try over two dozen number combinations before I hit upon the right code!
The Minima is currently available in seven colors (black, charcoal grey, aluminum grey, ocean blue, sky blue, pink, and sand); the Regula in two (charcoal grey and ocean blue).
Chester luggage is covered by a 10 year warranty. WOW! That’s confidence. The company explains,
[t]he CHESTER is covered by a 10-year limited warranty, which covers any damage to the shell, wheels, handles, zippers, or anything else that functionally impairs the luggage…If anything breaks, we will fix or replace it.
Another great feature of the company is their return policy. CHESTER offers a 100-day trial. Again, the company explains,
We are confident in our product and want to give everyone the opportunity to make sure they really love their luggage before they decide to keep it, so we offer a 100-day trial (if purchased through our website). If at any point in the first 100 days you decide it’s just not for you, return it for a full refund—no questions or gimmicks.
All of these features are great, but you’re probably wondering, as I was, how much will the CHESTER Minima hold? Unfortunately, I wasn’t taking a real trip anytime soon, but I was going to spend the night at a friend’s place. Even though I wasn’t going to be away from home for long, I did get to pack my Minima and try it out.
I unzipped the Minima right down the middle and folded the bag open. I had plenty of room for my slippers, fuzzy leggings, sweatshirt, socks, undergarments, long sleeved shirt, hat, toiletries, sleep mask, and a couple of notebooks.
The nice thing about this little trip was having the opportunity to test the Minima in the snow. When my friend picked me up, the bed of her truck was full of snow! Well, this thing is supposed to be waterproof, I thought as I tossed the suitcase in the back of her truck. When I unzipped the bag nearly an hour later, nothing inside was damp, much less wet.
Once we got to my friend’s place in the mountains, I also got to pull my suitcase through the snow and test those “360° multi-directional double spinner wheels.” They worked great! The Minima glided through the snow with no problem.
Packing for my short trip really didn’t allow the Minima to show me all it could hold, so I decided to pretend I was going for a longer trip and pack as if I was leaving tomorrow. I was able to pack all of the following items in my Chester suitcase:
flannel pajama set
pair of Crocs
pair of pants
3 long sleeve shirts
short sleeve shirt
pair of tights
6 pairs of socks
5 pairs of underpants
can of dry shampoo
Note: I’m a big gal, and I were big clothes. Smaller people with smaller clothes are going to be able to fit even more items into a bag from CHESTER.
I was disappointed when I couldn’t fit my hiking shoes in the Minima. Although they are not boots, they were simply too tall to fit in the Minima without getting crushed. I decided I’d pack the Crocs instead. Those shoes had just enough give to allow the barrier to be zipped over them.
Each cloth barrier has one or more zipper compartments built in. Those compartments give a bit of additional space for packing, but really hold only a minimal amount. I found packing bras and underpants in those compartments made the most sense.
Once items were packed into the slightly bulging middle zipper compartments, I was afraid the suitcase wasn’t going to close. However, once I pushed down from the top, the sides of the zipper came together, and I was able to slide the zippers with ease. The zipper pulls locked in place, my suitcase was secure, and there were no bulges or bumps.
Even fully packed, I was able to lift my Minima over my head to mimic sliding it into an imaginary overhead bin.
Overall, the Minima is a great suitcase. I can easily fit a weekend’s worth of clothing in it. Depending on where I was going and what activities I would be participating in, I could probably get enough for a week or two into it if I was committed to rewearing clothes. It rolls easily and smoothly, and it keeps my clothes dry in the snow.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a free, gently used Minima suitcase from CHESTER in exchange for this review. I only review/recommend products or services I use personally. This review reflects how I honestly feel about the product. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
Patreon is a crowdfunding platform that enables fans (or patrons) to pay and support artists for their work. For producers of [art, writing, whatever], Patreon is a way to earn extra money on what might otherwise be free content, and allows fans to contribute to their favorite artist’s platform.
Membership is a relationship between [me] and [my] most engaged fans — the ones that choose to go a level deeper than just following [me] on social media. They become paying patrons in exchange for exclusive benefits [I] offer.
But let me sum it up for you in my own words. You can join me on Patreon and gain access to thoughts, ideas, and photos I’m not sharing anywhere else. I’ll even tell you about upcoming blog posts before the posts are made public. You will receive different perks depending on the membership level you choose to participate at. For just $2 a month, you will receive
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I don’t expect to get rich on Patreon. Most creators don’t. But of course, every little bit helps. My current supporters (via Patreon and a monthly donation set up through PayPal) pay my monthly phone bill. Thanks friends! I appreciate any and all support that I receive.
So please go check out my Patreon page. See what I have to offer you, the little somethings extra I can give you in exchange for your support. If you can’t afford to support me, I understand. Times are tough. Money is tight for so many of us. Don’t worry, the content on the Rubber Tramp Artist blog will always be free.
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In recognition of this popular food, today I’ll tell you a little story about a sandwich. It’s kind of a gross story which also involves pit toilets. Don’t say I didn’t warn you…
I’ve heard it said that humans can grow accustomed to anything. Anything? Well, probably most things, including the gross and the stinky.
When I worked on the mountain, pit toilets at the very busy trailhead and the campground next to it had to be pumped several times between the middle of May and the middle of October. The truck that came up to pump the toilets was the same kind that removes the waste from porta-potties. A long, flexible hose was dropped down into the chamber (also referred to the pit or the vault) below the seat. A pump on the truck sucked up all the waste materials from inside the chamber and deposited everything into a big holding tank mounted on the truck. When the tank was full, the truck went down the mountain to deposit the waste I-don’t-know-where.
The pumping process stirred up all the decaying waste material and created a HORRIBLE smell. If you’ve never encountered a large concentration of decaying human waste, let me tell you, it smells really bad. It stinks to high heaven. To put it simply, it smells like death, and death does not smell one bit pretty.
I wouldn’t say I grew immune to the stench of toilets being pumped, but at least after the first couple of times I encountered the process, I knew what to expect. As GI Joe taught us, knowing is half the battle.
Most of the visitors to the trailhead and campground were city folks; many of them had never encountered a toilet that didn’t immediately flush their waste away. On a regular day, the smell from the pit toilets was often enough to make them mighty uncomfortable. When the city folks were present for the pumping or its immediate aftermath, they were quite surprised and quite disgusted and quite unhappy.They had no idea shit and piss could smell so nasty.
One day the pump truck came up the mountain. We could practically smell it before we saw it.
Here we go, I thought. I knew the visitors were going to be melodramatically grossed out, and I was sure to hear complaints.
The pump truck went down to the middle of the parking lot where the two pit toilets were located. I couldn’t see the two men at work, but I could hear the pump and smell the funk. Yes, as always, the churned up human waste smelled horrific.
Finally the pump was switched off and the quietude of nature prevailed. I knew the stench would settle, but at the moment the entire parking lot was enveloped in an awful aroma.
The truck came around the curve leading to the parking lot’s exit, and the driver stopped it near me. Groan. The driver hopped out with clipboard in hand and asked me to sign the form stating he and his partner had been there and done the job. I agreed, wanting the reeking truck away from me as soon as possible.
Just before I signed the form, I glanced over at the truck. What I saw gave credence to the idea that humans can grow accustomed to anything. The other pump truck worker, a young guy probably in his early 20s, was sitting in the passenger seat munching a sandwich.
The tourists were reeling, practically dry heaving and passing out, and this guy was sitting in the stink truck, nonchalantly having lunch. I wondered if he had no sense of smell or had simply become so accustomed to the stench that it was basically background noise–or perhaps more accurately, background stink. In any case, he seemed to be enjoying his sandwich, not at all bothered by the odor that was causing the rest of us so much grief.
For the last four years Halloween has snuck up on me, and too late I’ve thought I should have written a post in celebration of the holiday. The problem is, none of my Halloweens memories lend themselves to a good story for a blog post.
I didn’t trick-or-treat much as a kid. There are photos of me as a tiny child holding a plastic jack-o-lantern that doubled as a treat collection device, but I have no memory of that night. The only time I do (vaguely) remember trick-or-treating as a kid was probably fourth grade. I don’t know why my parents let me and my sibling go that year. I do remember my “costume.” I pulled long white tube socks over my pants and up to my knees, carried my catcher’s mitt, and called myself a baseball player. It was enough to get me candy, so it was enough for me.
There were Halloween parties through the years. My parents organized a Halloween party and haunted house for my Brownie troop when I was in first grade. Because I was present for the planning and setting up, I was privy to the secrets of the haunted house. The “eyeballs” in a bowl? Just peeled grapes. The mound of “veins”? Simply cold cooked spaghetti. The scary gorilla creature pounding on the door, trying to escape the tiny room that confined him? Only my dad in a rubbery mask with bad hair. I don’t know why the adults thought it would be a good idea to scare the bejesus out of little girls. My favorite part of the celebration was the costume contest where I won 2nd place for my portrayal of a nice witch.
Years later, on the cusp of teenagehood, the neighbor girl
my age had a Halloween party and I got to go. I wore a strange dress, a
hand-me-down from my older cousin. It was loose and long and somewhat
reminiscent of Little House on the Prairie although I can’t say exactly how.
Wearing that dress, along with the pink circles of lipstick my mother drew on
the apples of my cheeks, I made a passable rag doll. I remember having fun, but
I can’t recall a single game we played.
Of course there were Halloween celebrations at school every year up until junior high. Those parties were really just excuses to goof off for most of the afternoon and get sugared up before going home. I do have the vaguest recollection of wearing one of those costumes that consisted of a mask and a plastic smock at school. I was a ghost in some elementary school production, but I have no memory of a plot, and, appropriately for a ghost, I had no lines.
In college, after moving out of the dorm and into a place of
my own, I started having Halloween parties. My dad helped me decorate for the
first party by building a small coffin as a centerpiece. My best friend and I
taped out a crime scene outline of a body in front of the entrance door. I
dressed as a harem girl (ugh—cultural appropriation and the glorification of
sex slavery) in a costume my mother must have made for me. My friends (and some
people I barely knew) came over. We ordered pizza. We drank too much beer. I
went to bed alone.
I threw other Halloween parties after I graduated. The year I was skinny, I
wore a pointy hat and a black slip with no bra and called myself a sexy witch. Again, there was too much drinking of beer. Again, I went to bed alone.
Eventually the Halloween parties stopped. I’m one of those
hosts who gets really excited to throw a party. I like the planning stage. I
invite everyone I know, buy a bunch of beer, make some food. Then on the night
of the event, I get really anxious and uptight and wonder why I ever thought
having a party was a good idea. One year I just decided I had enough stress in
my life without throwing a Halloween party.
When my nephew was in elementary school, I visited his family one fall. My visit coincided with Halloween, so I went trick-or-treating with the family. My nephew was dressed as a mad scientist. I’d scored a mermaid costume at a thrift store, so my sequins sparkled and shined in the night. My nephew’s mother threw together a roller derby costume made authentic by the roller skates she carried slung over her shoulder. My nephew’s father got into the spirit (no ghost pun intended) of things by putting on a robe and shower cap and going as a guy about to take a shower. We walked around the neighborhood and admired the Halloween decorations while my nephew collected candy. The most fun I had that night was watching the boy who was usually limited to one “sweet thing” per day devour as many treats as he wanted.
A couple of years ago, I was invited to attend a “red” Halloween party where attendees were supposed to either wear the color red or dress as a communist. I wore a long skirt, a Guatemalan huipil, and large fake flowers in my hair and called myself “Frida Kahlo After She Fucked Trotsky.” My costume pride was shattered when a wisp of a woman arrived wearing a vintage dress of Frida’s era and braids wrapped around her head. She actually looked like Frida Kahlo. As for the party itself, it was kind of boring, although I did enjoy spending time with the friends who had invited me. The refreshments were delicious.
In 2016 my dad died on Halloween, and October became Dad Death Anniversary Month. It’s not that I couldn’t go out and celebrate Halloween if I wanted, but I really have been over the holiday for a while. Now at the end of each October, I find myself pondering the loss of my dad instead of looking for a party.
Oh my dad…
He never met The Man, but I think they would have gotten along. They could have discussed carpentry and car repair, shared the details of their latest projects. They could have talked about God too and discussed spirituality. Those two would have had some common ground for sure. I think they would have liked each other, respected each other.
It’s not like I spend time every day thinking about my dad being
dead. It’s not like I’m still mourning.
But sometimes I want to ask for his advice or share a victory. I’ll be about to
call him, then remember: still dead.
I have a photo of my dad taped to the refrigerator. I figure it’s only fair that I see him every day and remember him, as it’s only because of his death that we have this tiny home, these physical comforts.
I was selling at a farmers market in a small Arizona town. I’d
brought a bunch of new rocks from Quartzsite, and they were practically flying
off my table. It was turning out to be a lucrative day.
It was late in the morning when the woman walked up to my table. She was probably in her late 50s. Her hair was died a tasteful dark red, and her makeup was understated by apparent. She was wearing a flowy, cream colored blouse, and she held a little dog in her arms.
I told her about the septarian concretions on my table and the $3 hearts cut from agate, carnelian, labradorite, and rose quartz. The woman was polite, but seemed distracted. She gave my wares a cursory look, but didn’t seem interested in anything I was selling.
As she moved toward the end of my table, I thought I saw a white tag on the side seam of her blouse. I thought it was strange to see a tag on the outside of her blouse. Had this woman put her shirt on inside out and was now wearing it that way around town?
I was concerned for the woman because I put on my own shirt inside out much too often. Especially when I’m living in my van, especially if I get dressed before the sun’s fully out, especially if I’m rewearing a sweatshirt I hurriedly pulled over my head and tossed into a corner before I fell asleep, I might find myself wearing a shirt with the wrong side out. Sometimes I wear the shirt with the seams and tag showing for hours before I realize what’s up. I’m always a little sheepish when I realize that at nearly 50 years old, I still can’t successfully dress myself on a consistent basis.
I wanted to spare this woman embarrassment, but I also didn’t want to insult her. Maybe this was a fancy designer blouse and the tag had been purposefully placed on the outside of the side seam. I certainly wouldn’t know if this was some sort of new style.
I surveyed the woman’s shirt as she moved along my table. I didn’t see obvious seams, but there was certainly a tag on the side where two pieces of fabric usually come together. Should I say something?
As she turned to walk away, I saw another tag on the back of the shirt’s neckline, right in the spot where shirt manufacturers typically put tags. Now the shirt really appeared to be inside out. It was now or never!
Ma’am? I called out. She turned right around and looked at me.
I took three steps over and stood close to her. I leaned in and said in a low voice, I think your shirt is on inside out. I was striving to present no judgement, just to state my perceptions of the circumstances at hand.
Oh! I did that when I got dressed! she exclaimed. Apparently she’d realized she’d put on her shirt inside out, meant to switch it, but had moved on to other activities and had forgotten her fashion mistake.
Now I’m going to have to go back to my camper to change it, she told me.
I don’t care if you don’t care, I said, trying to reassure her.
But I do care! she said.
She headed toward the parking lot, and I went back to my table. About ten minutes later, the woman came by again to tell me she’d flipped her shirt. There was not a tag in sight.
Suicide prevention remains a universal challenge. Every year, suicide is among the top 20 leading causes of death globally for people of all ages. It is responsible for over 800,000 deaths, which equates to one suicide every 40 seconds.
To help call attention to this tragic reality, today’s post is about my own experience with suicide.
The Man and I were going over the Bridge at 10 o’clock on a
Saturday morning in early June. I was driving. When we were in the middle of
the Bridge, I looked over and saw two uniformed state troopers standing on the observation
deck. They were looking down, down, down, into the river. One peered through a
pair of binoculars, and the other looked with his naked eyes.
Oh no! I said. Someone
must have jumped. I knew those state troopers weren’t bird watching. If
they were looking down at the river on a Saturday morning, they were probably
trying to spot a body.
Do you think so?
The Man asked.
Unfortunately, I had to say yes.
When I sold jewelry and shiny rocks at the Bridge, it was always a sad time for me after someone jumped. Whenever I got word that a suicide had happened, I packed up my merchandise and went elsewhere for the day. Too many people (tourists and vendors alike) wanted to talk about the event as if it was only the latest bit of juicy gossip. Other people made bad jokes about suicide or said indignantly that it was something they would never do. Suicide has been a reality I’ve faced throughout my life, and I don’t take it lightly. There’s nothing funny about it as far as I’m concerned. Any time a person is so distraught that taking their own life seems like a good idea is a time for sorrow and mourning.
About three hours after I saw the state troopers on the
Bridge, we headed over it again on our way home. I saw several vehicles marked
“State Police.” They were all parked on the sides of the highway and none of
them had lights or sirens on.
definitely going on, I told The Man. Did
you see all those State Police cars?
He had seen them too. We both knew those cops weren’t out at
the Bridge having a picnic. We were both quiet the rest of the way home.
On Wednesday, my fears were confirmed.
I was listening to the local community radio station while I
washed dishes. One of the news stories was about a woman who had committed
suicide by jumping off the Bridge the previous Saturday. I was sad to have been
The radio announcer didn’t give many details about the
death. He said the State Police don’t release the names of suicide victims out
of respect for the survivors. He did say the woman had driven hours from her
home in the big city to jump off the Bridge. Her family said she’d been depressed
and talking about suicide. When her family members couldn’t get in touch with
her, they called the State Police and asked them to do a wellness check.
The State Police found the woman’s car in the rest area
adjacent to the Bridge. After finding the car, they started looking for the
woman in the rest area. When they couldn’t find her there, they started looking
below the Bridge. Unfortunately, that’s where they found her. I don’t know if
she jumped at night so the darkness shielded her from the sight of her body’s
final destination or if she waited until after sunrise so she could see where
she was going. However it happened, by 10am she was gone.
The radio announcer said the woman was the second person to
jump off the Bridge in 2019. The first person had jumped in April.
When someone jumps, I think it’s a sad and somber occasion,
even if I’m not at the Bridge when it happens or when the body is discovered.
When someone jumps, a life is over, a light has gone out, potential will never
be realized. I know the pain and distress that leads people to kill themselves,
and I don’t wish such hurt and sadness on anyone.
Honestly, I’ve considered jumping from that bridge several
times. I’m not sure what’s held me back, but whenever someone ends their life
there, I think about how it could have been me. I have a personal connection
with every single person who jumps from the Bridge.
Whenever I drive across the Bridge—especially in the early
morning when I’m alone in the truck—I fantasize about seeing someone about to
jump, stopping the truck, intervening, driving the person to safety. I was too
late for the woman in June, but maybe I’ll be right on time for the next
If you are feeling sad, depressed, distraught, or suicidal, you can reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at1800-273-8255. The hotline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. If you have internet access, you can find more information on the hotline’s website. If you’d rather chat with a counselor instead of talking, you can do so from the website. If you’re having trouble, please ask for help.
The Man says Jerico the dog has suffered from acid reflux
since he was a puppy. I don’t remember the first time I woke up in the night to
find Jerico swallowing rapidly and repeatedly, but this situation became a
running theme in our lives. When the swallowing began, a hunt for grass was on.
Jerico would eat the grass (with gusto, obsessively) and eventually puke it up.
The puking seemed to settle his stomach and let him rest.
Finding grass was no problem if we were camped near a river
or a meadow, but it was harder to come by if we were in a desert. I remember
once waking up in a Wal-Mart parking lot in Santa Fe, NM at 4am to the sound of
the swallowing dog. The parking lot landscape did not include nonnative grass
growing like a lawn (Good for you, Santa Fe Wal-Mart!), so there was nothing
for Jerico to eat to induce vomiting. We had to drive off into the dark to find
another business (a school, actually) that did landscape with grass.
I worried about Jerico eating grass, especially from an area
where it might have been sprayed with chemicals. Who knew what sort of
pesticides grass in or around a parking lot might be subjected to? Even if the
grass wasn’t sprayed with poisons, was it safe for Jerico to eat so much of it?
The Man maintained that dogs naturally eat grass, and since eating grass was
the only thing that made Jerico feel better, it was ok for him to do so.
The Man experimented with other remedies. I drove to a
supermarket late one night to buy a bottle of Pepto-Bismol to cure Jerico’s ills.
The Man poured a dose of the pink stuff down Jerico’s gullet, and it did seem
to relieve his stomach woes. Baking soda dissolved in water seemed to work even
better. Of course, Jerico didn’t enjoy having anything poured down his throat,
so we often had a dried crust (either pink or white, depending on the remedy)
on the floor on the morning after one of his attacks.
If no humans were around when an attack happened and Jerico
couldn’t get to grass, he would eat anything he thought might help. Unfortunately,
what his dog brain thought might help never did. Once I left a long, thin strip
of sheet hanging in the bathroom of the fifth wheel. (I was sure I’d find a use
for it eventually.) The Man came home to
find Jerico had eaten it (then puked it back up) in a fit of acid reflux.
Another time when we went on a hike that lasted waaay longer than we thought it
would, Jerico chewed the portion of the plastic garbage bag that hung over the
edge of the trash can. Luckily, he puked that up too. The Man lived in fear
that Jerico would eat a plastic grocery store bag (or something equally
dangerous) if he were to have an attack while we were away. Jerico didn’t stay
home alone much.
We tried planting grass near the fifth wheel in the Sonoran Desert. I bought special organic “cat grass,” and The Man planted it, but it didn’t grow. I think it might have done better in a planter instead of going directly into the ground.
In retrospect, I see how Jerico’s bouts of acid reflux were
getting more frequent. The Man must have recognized it too, even if only on a
subconscious level. He did some research on diet and acid reflux and found that
beef can exacerbate the condition. Jerico didn’t know it, but he’d had his last
can of wet dogfood as a treat. He did get canned mackerel sometimes, when The
Man could find a brand with no added salt or oil. The Man also switched Jerico
to a dry food with salmon as the first ingredient. Jerico’s stomach seemed to
do better for a while.
We’d gone into town early one day to take showers and do other errands. When I went to the parking lot after my shower, I saw The Man pulling the truck behind the building. I met him in the back where he’d let Jerico out to eat grass. I knew this meant Jerico was suffering from an attack. Throughout our day, we had to stop several times to let Jerico out to eat more grass. No matter how much he ate, it didn’t seem to help.
At home, he was no better. He kept trying to find something,
anything he could eat to help relieve his discomfort. Unfortunately, there was
no grass growing anywhere on our property. Finally, The Man (who was working to
get our solar power system up and running) asked me to drive Jerico somewhere
with grass he could eat. I ended up
driving about three miles before I found some actual grass growing.
I parked the truck on the edge of the road, and Jerico and I crept through the barbed wire fence to get to the patches of deep green grass. I felt like the father of the unborn Rapunzel stealing arugula from the witch to satisfy his wife’s cravings, but what else could I do? I didn’t want to send Jerico to the other side of the fence alone. What if he saw a rabbit and bolted? What if a coyote or a half-wild dog came along and wanted to fight? I felt safer trespassing with him.
I let him eat to his heart’s (stomach’s) content, then
loaded him back into the truck. I hoped it was safe to take him home now.
At home he continued to swallow excessively. His stomach
still hurt. He wanted more grass.
The Man mixed up some baking soda with water and poured the
concoction down Jerico’s throat. We tried to keep the pup calm while we gave
the remedy time to work. He was obviously uncomfortable and wanted to pace.
I wonder if dogs can
have Zantac, The Man muttered, reaching for the phone to ask Google.
Turns out dogs can have Zantac. I got in the truck and made a trek to town to get the medication. Nearly two hours later, I got home with my precious cargo. The Man cut on of the tablets in half and pushed it down Jerico’s throat. We again tried to keep him calm, and this time after about half an hour, the medication actually worked. We were all able to get some rest that night.
About a week later, Jerico was at it again. We got home from
another day of errands. Jerico jumped from the truck and started eating from clumps
of grass The Man had recently transplanted. Thus began 18 hours of hell.
First he ate more grass than I’d ever seen him ingest. He
literally ate the newly transplanted grass to death.
When we brought him inside, he stayed in front of the door
and paced. When we let him go outside again, he headed straight to the grass
and started chomping on it again. This pattern was repeated throughout the
At a quarter to six, the Man gave Jerico half a Zantac.
Again, we tried to keep him calm while the medication did its magic. He never
calmed down. He continued to swallow and pace. The medicine did no magic.
Around six o’clock, The Man wondered if we should make an
emergency visit to a vet. He called the after-hours number of one of the
veterinary offices in town. He didn’t specifically say his dog was in an
emergency situation, so the woman who answered the phone made an appointment
for us to go in the next day.
The only thing other than eating grass that seemed to ease
Jerico’s distress was going outside and walking. We weren’t sure if he was
soothed by the distraction of the change of scenery or the motion of movement
or by the fact that he was in an upright position (or some combination of the
three factors), but he was calmer when we took him outside. We spent a lot of
time that evening taking Jerico outside, thinking (hoping, praying) he was
better, taking him inside, then realizing he wasn’t better at all.
At ten o’clock The Man decided to give Jerico another half a Zantac. I was afraid it was too soon to give him more, but The Man said obviously the first dose hadn’t done anything to solve the problem. He thought a second dose might make things better for Jerico so we could all get some sleep.
The second dose of Zantac did not allow anyone to get any
sleep. Jerico continued to move around and swallow. When we took him outside
for the last pee of the night, he headed directly to the transplanted clumps of
grass and tried to eat some more.
Around midnight I had Jerico on his leash, walking with him
around our property when he barfed up a wad of grass that had the approximate
look (size, shape, color) of an unshucked cob of corn. Gross! The grass had
come back up, but that didn’t solve the problem.
We continued to walk around past 1am, when I grew too tired
to stand. Jerico and I went into the trailer and got in the bed with The Man
who’d had the pleasure or an hour of sleep.
Jerico never settled down, never stopped swallowing. I got a
few hours of fitful sleep, but Jerico’s distress kept me from resting. Around
5am I took him outside again. Sunrise seemed to bring him some relief, although
he was by no means well. We were glad he had an appointment with a vet for that
day. None of us wanted to spend another night like the one we’d just had.
We arrived at the appointment right on time. Everyone
working at the office was friendly and kind. We were brought into an exam room
with a vet tech; the doctor came in shortly after. The Man explained everything
that had been happening, and the doctor agreed with the diagnosis of acid
reflux. He recommended The Man give Jerico 10 mg of Prilosec every day as a
What about eating
grass? I asked the vet.
He said grass is really hard on a dog’s throat, mouth, and
stomach and we should keep Jerico from eating it if we could.
After nearly two weeks on Prilosec and the special food we
bought at the vet’s office, Jerico hadn’t had a single episode. He hadn’t tried
to eat grass even once, and he only swallowed in a normal manner. I was glad he
was feeling better, and I was glad we were all able to get some sleep.
It was Saturday afternoon and life at the fuel center was
humming along. We were fairly busy, but I had things under control.
I’d left the kiosk to condition the merchandise in the
outdoor display cases. “Conditioning” means making sure the shelves are stocked
and all items are pulled to the front with the brand name facing forward. The
fuel center sells mostly cold drinks and a small selection of snacks along with
motor oil, fuel additives, windshield washer fluid, and coolant. It didn’t take
long to get everything looking good.
While I was outside, a woman approached me with a question
about using her credit card. While trying to answer her question, I heard
shouting, honking, and whistling. I looked toward the source of the commotion
and saw a small white car trailing a gas pump handle, nozzle, and hose! Oh no!
Someone had driven off with the nozzle still in the tank.
I could see the driver was a woman, so I started shouting Ma’am! Ma’am! while waving my arms. Due
to my efforts or maybe those of the bystanders, the driver stopped the car.
After quickly excusing myself from my current conversation, I hustled toward
the small white car.
You left with the
nozzle still in your tank, I explained to the driver. She looked shocked. I
don’t think she quite believed me.
I went around to the passenger side of the car and retrieved
the nozzle, handle, and hose. You can bet she believed me then. I told her I
needed to get her license plate number and call a manager.
You are in trouble,
I thought but did not say out loud.
I asked her to pull around and park near the fuel center,
and she said she would. I ran into the kiosk and paged a manager. The manager
called back immediately, and I explained the situation. He told me to call the
company that services the pumps, and then he hung up.
I ran back out to find the driver had parked her car right
back at the scene of her big mistake. She was out of the car waiting for me.
She must have been in her 60s although her hair was dark black and she didn’t
seem feeble of body or mind.
I wrote down her license plate number. When I asked for her
name and phone number, she gave them without hesitation.
I ran back into the kiosk to help the people who had
accumulated in a line while I was outside. The next thing I knew, the driver of
the white car was back in line. When she reached the window, she said she
hadn’t gotten all the gas for which she had paid. I didn’t understand what she
was talking about, so I told her I’d meet her outside where the intercom and
bulletproof glass would not hinder our communication.
When I got outside, I found her sitting in the driver’s seat
of her car. She explained she always puts $10 worth of gas in her car, and $10
worth of gas always fills the tank. Since her tank was not currently full, she
was sure she had not gotten her full $10 worth of gas. She pointed to her gas
gauge several times, as if I only needed to look at the gauge to understand the
I was incredulous. She’d just damaged the gas pump, yet she was quibbling over (at most) a couple of bucks. Didn’t she know she was in a lot of trouble? Apparently she did not.
I told her I didn’t really know what to do in this situation
and asked if she wanted me to call a manager. She said she did.
If I had just ripped the hose and handle and nozzle from a
gas pump, I would have slunk away in shame and hoped I wouldn’t be charged for
the damage I’d done. Not this lady. She wanted every bit of gas to which she
thought she was entitled.
I went back to the kiosk and again paged a manager. Again a
manager called immediately.
I explained the lady who’d driven off with the nozzle and
hose thought we owed her more gas. I
don’t know what to do, I told the manager.
The manager chuckled and said he’d come out and talk to her.
Surely she’d realize she was in trouble when the manager arrived. Surely he’d
set her straight.
In a few minutes the manager used his key to enter the kiosk. I almost shit my pants. It was the big boss, the store manager himself. Up until that moment, I had not met him; I only knew who he was because I read his name tag.
I introduced myself, and we shook hands. Then I briefly went
over the situation with the driver of the white car. He said he’d go out and
talk to her.I stayed in the kiosk and continued to help customers. I
couldn’t hear how the conversation between the driver of the white car and the
manager went, but I was convinced the woman was in trouble now.
The manager was out there for at least 10 minutes. When he
came back in, he looked defeated.
I couldn’t make her
understand, he said. He told me the driver was going to pull the white car
to pump 9. He said I should authorize the pump for $10. You register is going to be short.
I guess the driver of the white car wasn’t in any trouble
I found out later that the hose is constructed to detach the
way it did if a driver pulls off with the nozzle still in the tank. However,
there was a problem with the separation point on this one and it leaked gas.
Instead of being able to simply click the two connectors back into place like
it was designed to do, a repair person had to come out on Monday to fix the
problem. A coworker told me the repair cost the company I work for $500. No one
ever asked me for the culprit’s name, phone number, or license plate number, so
I suspect she’s not going to have to pay for her mistake.
Part of my job at the fuel center is helping people who are having trouble at the pump. If customers can’t make their pumps work, I leave the kiosk and assist.
would probably do just fine if they actually read the instructions on the
Pump one won’t let me pump
gas, the lady said to me
through the intercom.
When I got
outside, we determined she hadn’t selected the fuel grade as the screen was
prompting. As soon as she hit the button for unleaded, the screen showing the numbers
of gallons pumped and the dollar amount zeroed out and she was able to pump her
problem is the store’s rewards card. The pumping process begins with a screen
that reads “Do you have a rewards card?” If the customer doesn’t push the blue
“yes” button on the PIN pad, the transaction will go all to hell, and I’ll have
to go outside to help.
Other times I go
outside and trust the customer has done everything right, and still the pump is
not working. In those cases I hang up the handle and patiently go through the
steps again. Usually the pump works after I take it through the process. After
I get the pump going, I make a joke about how computers are supposed to make
our lives easier or that the pump just needed my magic touch. I try not to make
people feel bad if they’re having a difficult time out there. I understand that
every gas station seems to work differently and technology can be intimidating,
especially to older folks who seem to be the ones who have problems. (I’ve
never had to help anyone under the age of 50 pump their gas.)
problem I have to solve has nothing to do with the company I work for or the
equipment it provides.
afternoon a woman who looked to be in her 50s approached me the kiosk. When I asked
her through the intercom how I could help her, she asked me if I knew how to
unlock a locking gas cap.
Oh for goodness sake! I grumbled internally, but I smiled and
told her I’d come out and try to help her.
How did the
woman end up driving a truck with a gas cap she didn’t know how to unlock? I
didn’t ask, but I figured it was the vehicle her husband usually drives or it
was her kid’s truck or she had borrowed it from a friend. However this woman had
ended up with it, she was now tasked with putting gas in it, but she couldn’t
get to the gas tank.
could have called the owner of the truck and asked for assistance, but maybe
she would have felt humiliated had she done so. Maybe her husband or her kid or
her friend would have teased her or called her an idiot or been exasperated by
her helplessness, and she couldn’t face it today. Perhaps it was easier to show
vulnerability to the middle age gas station attendant than to a member of her
own family. Who knows? I’m just making up stories, but I went outside to
This is the key, she said indicating a small key on a
ring with about 20 other keys of various sizes.
I tried using
the key, but the other keys got in the way, and I couldn’t turn the small one.
Maybe it would work better if I took it
off the key ring, the
lady said, and I agreed.
Once the small
key was isolated I could be sure it fit all the way into the lock. I turned the
key, then turned the cap. The cap moved, but no matter what way I turned it,
there was a clicking noise that said it wasn’t properly engaged.
I was beginning
to wonder if I’d be able to help the woman when I had the idea to push the key
into the lock while turning it. I’d hit upon the magic combination of moves
because now I could turn the cap effectively and (finally!) remove it.
As I handed the
cap and the key to the woman, she smiled hugely at me and said, You’re amazing!
Her appreciation made me feel good, but being able to help her made me feel good too. It was so clear that I’d really made her day. I was glad I hadn’t given her attitude or treated her like a dummy. I was glad I’d given her my attention and done my best to assist her. Sometimes I am rather amazing.