Tag Archives: kind strangers

You Need Some Hemp (to Go with That Tie-Dye)

Standard

 

When I sold regularly at the Bridge, I often saw people wearing tie-dyed t-shirts. One of my marketing ploys was to yell out as these people walked by, You need some hemp to go with your tie-dye. Often the person wearing the tie-dyed shirt ignored me or laughed and kept walking. But sometimes the person in the tie-dye actually came over to my table and looked at my merchandise, and sometimes the looker turned into a buyer.

One Labor Day weekend, I saw a young man across the street walking toward the Bridge. He was wearing a tie-dyed t-shirt, so I hollered, You need some hemp to go with your tie-dye. He hollered back that he didn’t have any money. On a whim, I told him that if he came back, I’d give him something.

He probably didn’t believe I was actually going to give him something, but he and his friends did stop at my table after walking out on the Bridge. There were four of them, young people in their mid-20s. They worked for AmeriCorps or some other service organization and had decided on a whim to go camping on Labor Day Weekend. Once they’d gotten out in the wilderness, they’d realized they’d forgotten both the food and the drinking water. However, someone had packed booze, so they’d basically spent the last couple of days drinking tequila. Now they were on their way to town where they would go to a restaurant so they could finally eat.

They didn’t sound drunk, and they certainly weren’t obnoxious. They seemed to be really sweet young people, and the story of their weekend amused me. I ended up giving each of them a bracelet.

They couldn’t believe I was giving them something so nice for free. Usually when I gave away a bracelet or a shiny rock (to a little kid or because it was someone’s birthday or because I was feeling generous toward someone who didn’t have any money for a souvenir in the budget), I was met with disbelief. I guess it’s not often a business person gives away her or his wares to a stranger.

These young people loved my bracelets and each carefully chose his or her perfect one. Then they said they wanted to give me something. I said it wasn’t necessary for them to give me anything, but I did concede that I like trades.

One of the women gave me a pair of earrings made with little stones of snowflake obsidian. (To read about another experience of mine with snowflake obsidian, go here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2016/01/04/snowflake-obsidian-2/ .) I didn’t (and don’t) typically wear earrings, so later I passed them on to a lady vendor friend I suspected was involved in an abusive relationship. I hoped the snowflake obsidian could help her break patterns that were no longer useful to her.

Then the guy in the tie-dye said, And we wanted to give you this, and held out his clinched fist. I instinctively held out my hand—cupped palm up—to him. He opened his fist over my open hand and deposited a good size bud (of marijuana, for anyone who needs it spelled out).

I was surprised, but quickly closed my hand around the weed. I didn’t want to be showing off the fat bud in my hand  in front of God and everybody .

When people asked me if I smoked (marijuana or cigarettes), I always said no. I’ve never been a pothead and particularly don’t like coughing or feeling paranoid and stupid. As a homeless woman on my own, I needed to be alert all the time, so I wasn’t drinking alcohol or smoking poet or doing anything to make my brain sluggish. Also, because I was homeless, I knew I ran a greater risk of a cop hassling me and using my homelessness as an excuse to search me and my belongings. I didn’t need to be caught with anything illegal.

However, I had the bud in my hand. It seemed wrong to hand it back. I could tell these folks really wanted to meet my kindness with kindness of their own. So I smiled and thanked them and wished them a safe journey.

As soon as I saw them drive away, I walked over to a vendor friend who I knew smoked weed.

I have something for you, I said.

I held out my closed fist to him just as the young man had done to me. My friend held out his open palm to me. I put my hand over his and opened my fingers. You should have seen his smile when he saw that bud in his hand.

Spending

Standard

Last year I formulated a two-year plan. Part of the plan involved keeping track of every penny I spent. The other part of the plan involved visiting and writing about all of the New Mexico state parks. When I decided not to do the state park part of the plan, I mostly forgot about the keeping track of spending part of the plan.

The other day on one of the vandweller Facebook groups I belong to, someone asked how much money people “need” to live in their vans and travel. The same question came up at the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous last year. I never know how to answer such a question. I’ve been on the road with no money in my pocket, literally living off of the kindness of strangers. If I didn’t have as much money as I needed, I did without or asked strangers for help.

But it got me thinking…How much do I spend? Can I spend less? How much (money, things) do I really need?

So I’ve decided to go ahead with the keeping track of every penny part of my original plan.

I’m not going to go out today and stock up on a bunch of things so I can spend less in 2016. (I’ve got some food in the van and three propane canisters, and I filled up the gas tank two nights ago because I needed to.) I’ll just buy what I need when I need it and note it down in my little black book. (I found an old, blank black book when I was organizing the van last week, so I didn’t have to spend any money to buy a new one.)

I think what’s going to happen is that #1 I’m going to see that I buy a lot of stuff (mostly from thrift stores) that I don’t need and #2 Some things I won’t buy because I’ll be embarrassed to admit to it in writing. (I don’t mean sex toys or tampons. I mean yet another skein of yarn or a book I’m not totally excited about or more postcards when I already have plenty of postcards.)

Every month I’ll post an accounting of my spending here. By the end of the year, I’ll have answers.

Nice Campers

Standard

The nice campers stayed in my campground several weeks ago, but I’m just getting this piece edited and posted.

I had some nice campers this weekend.

One little family was Mom, Dad, and a young daughter, maybe five or six years old. When I went over to write their permit, the little girl immediately handed me a drawing she’d done of the trees. Sweet!

The whole family was nice, and I talked to the parents about what they might want to see in the area. Later, after they’d visited a nearby trail, I asked them now they’d liked it, and they said they’d had a really good time.

On Saturday evening, I saw the dad walking up to my campsite with a saucepan covered in foil.

He asked if I had eaten yet, and I lied and said no. I wanted whatever food he was offering, just to eat something different from the things I always cook for myself. Turns out he was offering me homemade cauliflower-spinach-leek soup. I grabbed a bowl and had him pour it all in as I thanked him profusely. As he was walking off, I took a bite and called out after him, This is amazing! It was so good! I haven’t been eating many vegetables out here, so my body was so happy to get some really delicious ones in that soup.

Before the soup, when I returned to the campground after working at the parking lot for four hours, there was a tent set up and a car parked on site #9, the site right next to mine. There is nothing separating my site and site #9. Since I’ve been on site #10, three times people have chosen site #9 when there were other sites available. I don’t understand why campers would want to be right next to the camp host if they could avoid it. Maybe they like the flatness of site #9. Maybe they expect the camp host to observe quiet hours. Maybe they think I am going to protect them from bears or other campers. In any case, I had next door neighbors.

Before I could even get out of my van, a middle-age Asian man was standing next to it looking at me. When I got out of the van, I greeted him and said I’d be right back with the paperwork to check him in.

Turns out he is a linguistics professor from Seoul, Korea who taught at UCLA fifteen years ago. Currently, he and his young wife and her mother are traveling in the United States. We had a pleasant exchange. I checked them in, then I went to my campsite and went about my life.

On Sunday morning, I was sitting at my picnic table, writing. I looked up and saw the grandma-age Korean woman (the mother/mother-in-law) standing next to my van. Then I saw her looking in the open passenger side door and thought, What the fuck! But I smiled and said hello and she said good morning and I said good morning.

I said, Do you need some help?

She said, I don’t know, which I figured meant no or (more accurately) I don’t know what the hell you’re saying.

She moved closer to the van’s open side door, but then she turned her attention to me and made a gesture that said May I look?

I nodded and said yes. I don’t really mind people looking, but asking my permission to look is very important to me.

So she looked into my van and said, Your house very nice.

I thanked her.

She wandered off, but soon came back with her son-in-law. He said she wanted him to tell me my home was very nice.

I thanked her again.

The woman kept pressing the palms of her hands against her cheeks and looking at me. I wondered if she were trying to tell me my face was dirty.

But the son-in-law translated that she thought I was glowing because  of this beautiful place where I was living and working. It was a lovely sentiment, although I suspect my face is more likely to be dirty than glowing.

Then the mother-in-law saw the eleven little beaded stretchy bracelets I’ve been wearing since Madame Chile sent them to me. She took my arm and pushed up my sleeve so she could see them all, ooohing and ahhhing the whole time. Then she pushed up her sleeve and showed me the chunky silver bracelet she was wearing.

The linguist started asking me about hiking trails, so I pulled out a map and spread it on the picnic table, and his mother-in-law wandered away.

After the professor left, I decided I wanted to give the mother-in-law one of the hemp bracelets I made. After a few tries, I found a bracelet with a carnelian stone that fit her. I fastened it around her wrist. Her fat little arm with soft, delicate old lady skin made me think of my grandmother whose skin had the same qualities in her later life.

Once I gave her the bracelet, the woman was definitely my friend. First she came over because she’d gotten a splinter in her hand. I grabbed my tweezers and pulled it out, all the while wondering if camp hosts are officially allowed to perform first aid on campers. Then she came over to my campsite to get water from the jug on my picnic table to clean whatever she’d just spilled on her jacket. When the water alone didn’t clean the spill to her satisfaction, she poured some of my Dr. Bronner’s soap onto the paper towel she was using to scrub up. In a little while, she came back to pour water from my jug into her bottle. When she came over the last time, I think she put some Dr. Bronner’s peppermint soap on her toothbrush. (I wonder how that worked out for her.)

The whole time she was coming over to use my supplies, I was trying to cook pancakes. While it was very sweet of her to want to interact with me, it was also awkward because we couldn’t talk to each other. She tried to communicate, asking me You middle age? and You single? I had to answer yes to both of those questions.

I got the feeling her daughter and  son-in-law were ignoring her, so she was coming over to me for attention.

Before they left, the daughter came and told me that her mom said my house was cozy, and I told her that he mom was a nice lady.

I felt lucky to have two sets of friendly campers in one weekend.

I Am Not Disgruntled

Standard

I realize that in my writing I often come across as disgruntled. Generally, I am not. I am particularly fortunate this summer. I’m living and working in a beautiful area, high in the mountains, surrounded by huge green trees. I wake up to bird song instead of the annoying buzz or beep of an alarming clock. I can do my morning chores whenever I want, so if I’m moved to write for a while before I get out of bed, I can. I get along with my co-workers and my supervisor. The majority of the people I meet are friendly and polite.

Unfortunately, true stories about friendly and polite people don’t have the punch of stories about jerks and idiots.

A friendly and polite people story would go something like this: The campers who stayed on site 6 last night were pleasant and caused me no problems.

Or maybe: Today a driver had the $5 parking fee ready when she pulled into the lot, and she handed it to me with a smile.

Also: When a man and his young-adult son paid their parking fee, the son handed me a $10 bill and said they also wanted to pay the fee for the next strangers who pulled in.

I will do my best to work these positive folks into my stories, lest my readers think I am perpetually grumpy and negative.

I did have a positive experience last time I was in Babylon. I stopped to fill my gas tank on my way out of town. The young man working the counter at the gas station/convenience store was bubbling over with positivity and good cheer. He was obviously a person who saw the glass as half full and wanted to offer a drink to everyone he met.

I think I saw his positivity first in the way he greeted me when I approached the counter. I could tell he really meant the Hello or Good Afternoon he gave me. He didn’t mumble or look past me. He looked right into my eyes and spoke directly to me, while smiling BIG. The smile was on his face, and in his voice too. He wasn’t simply practicing good customer service. He really meant that smile.

I said something dumb, like You sure are happy, and then we were grinning at each other.

We spent a few minutes telling each other how life is short and how lucky we are, how really good life is. We were each preaching to the choir, but I walked back to my van smiling, feeling buoyant. This young clerk really lifted my spirits and reminded me of my great fortune in living this life of mine.

Hummingbird

Standard

I left a bad relationship by running away in the night. I walked and walked and walked, sleeping along the way on the doorstep of a church, in an abandoned house, in the driveway to a pasture in front of the gate, and in a wrecked car outside a closed auto repair shop. Although it was June, the altitude was high enough that it still got cold at night. I had nothing besides the clothes on my back, the glasses on my face, and my driver’s license and a broken headlamp in my pockets. Whenever the cold would wake me, I’d stand up and start walking again.

Sleeping in the car was a luxury. I could almost stretch out in the backseat, which was plush and cushiony. It was fairly warm in the car, and I felt fairly safe. I found the car just before dawn and slept there until late in the morning. I don’t know how I managed to go unnoticed. I guess it was a blessing.

I walked and walked, and the day got hotter. I stopped at a gas station and drank water from the sink in the restroom. At one point I lay down under a tree on the side of the road and napped. I walked more and realized I probably should drink more water.

I saw a row of businesses set back from the road. I thought maybe I could get water from someone working in one of the stores. I walked up to find most of the stores empty. When I peeked through the front windows, I saw that the rooms that weren’t empty looked more like workshops than stores. I walked down the line, past more locked doors, until I found a man in his workshop polishing stones with some sort of belt grinder.

I asked him for water. He took me a few steps away to his tiny house. He filled a mug with water and handed it to me. As I stood in his doorway and drank, I told him where I’d come from and where I was headed. He said I was still six miles from my destination. He took an empty gallon plastic juice bottle from his dish drain, filled it with water, and handed it to me. I thanked him and went back to the road.

I walked, and I walked some more. At least now I had water to sip. I found a long, sturdy branch, so then I had a walking stick. I found a ball cap on the side of the road, so I had a little protection from the sun. I walked and walked. In all, I walked eleven miles, but I felt like I’d walked an eternity.

The person I was leaving behind had told me repeatedly that I was a bad person, that whenever people didn’t help us or when bad things happened to us, it was because of me. In that walk, I was testing the universe. Bring it on, I thought. If I’m a bad person, bring on what I deserve.

I saw a car pulled to the side of the road, a woman sitting in the driver’s seat. I approached the car and told her I hadn’t eaten anything all day, asked if she had a granola bar or something else I could eat. She handed me a Cliff Bar. I ate it slowly as I walked.

I ended up in a tourist area where people sell arts and crafts. I looked at what people had for sale. I looked at one woman’s jewelry. It was lovely and I told her so. Her prices were good, and I told her that too, but said I had no money. I told here where I’d just walked from, and she asked if I wanted some cold water. I said yes, and she gave me some from her thermos. It was icy and delicious.

At this tourist spot, there is a rest area with restrooms and water spigots and picnic pavilions. I went there, walked around, scavenged in the trash cans for food, found a picnic pavilion that faced away from the road. When it got dark, I lay down on the concrete between the bench and the stone wall of the pavilion. When I woke up cold, I went into the women’s restroom where it was warmer and lay down in the larger of the two stalls.

Shortly before dawn, when there was just enough light to see where I was going, I began walking down a trail that started at the edge of the rest area. I walked and walked until I came to lone tree. Under that tree I sat and rested.

That day was much like the first, except when I got back to the rest area, I noticed an attendant/groundskeeper, so I added avoiding him to my list of things to worry about. I was afraid if he noticed me hanging around, he would call the cops on me. I didn’t relax until he left at five o’clock.

On the third day, I talked to one of the sellers who told me about a food bank in town the next day. He told me they would hook me up if I could get there. Then he suggested I talk to the woman who owned a concession stand in the tourist area about doing some sort of work in exchange for food. I’d had the same idea, but was glad to know he thought she’d be agreeable.

When I approached the women with the concession stand, she said she’d be happy to let me work to earn a meal. She cooked an egg and cheese burrito for me and had me eat it before I spent twenty minutes washing the windows on her stand.

Later that day I met a man who said he’d give me a ride to the food bank the next day. He asked me if there was anything else he could help me with, and I said I could use a blanket and a backpack to carry my (meager) belongings. He said he did have a backpack he could give me and a sleeping bag too. Then he said he lived with his mom, and if I wanted to, I could go back to his mom’s house with him and spend the night there.

I guess I should have been skeptical or more cautious, but I absolutely trusted the man. He didn’t give off any weirdness or bad vibes. So I went with him, and everything was fine.

His mom lived nearby, in a rural community, in a home she had built herself over several years. The house was small and rustic, not by design, but by necessity. Electricity was generated by the sun. Water was collected from the rain and snow that fell on the roof.

The man and I walked about half a mile down the road to the community free box where I found a pair of tan linen pants and a pair of too-large-but-they’ll-do Keen sandals so I didn’t have to wear my boots in the heat of the summer days. Once back at his mom’s house, I took a bath in water from the previous winter’s snow. After my bath, I put on my new-from-the-free-box linen pants. The man gave me a clean shirt—a bright tie dyed t-shirt he’d bought from folks selling such shirts to finance their journey.

The man and his mother shared their dinner with me, although I could tell their resources were slim. When it was time to sleep, they showed me to a single bed in a small storage room. I slid into the blue sleeping bag the man had given me, and I felt a little bit safe.

The next day we went to the food bank, and I got to pick out canned goods and granola bars because I had no way to cook the dried beans and rice they were giving out to people with normal kitchens. Later we went to the river and the man swam while his mother and I just put our feet in to cool off. When we went back to their house, they shared their food again (this time a little fancier because of what the man had gotten at the food bank), and I spent another night in the storage room.

The whole time I was there, the mom tried to convert me to her Baha’i faith. She showed me a book which outlined the principles of the religion. I think she thought I’d been sent there for her to convert. I listened patiently and attentively, but I didn’t feel any sort of calling to the Bahi’a faith. As for as religions go, it seems like maybe it’s one of the better ones, but I understood an expectation that in order to live happily, all people will have to become Baha’i. I believe to live happily, people of each religion need to leave alone people of other religions. That probably means I wasn’t (and am still not) ready to be Baha’i.

When we woke up in the morning, the man and I went back to the tourist area so he could try to sell the jewelry and leather goods he made. I spent the day with him, but after the rest area attendant left for the day, I went back to the picnic pavilion that faced away from the road. When it got dark, I lay my sleeping bag on the concrete between the back bench and the stone wall and went to sleep.

In the next few weeks, I established a routine. I’d roll out my sleeping bag in the picnic pavilion when the sun went down. I’d wake up at the first light of dawn, gather my few belongings, and put on my shoes. Then I’d walk down the trail I’d found on the first day. The attendant was only responsible for the rest area and never went down the trail, and I never saw a ranger out there either. I’d walk out to the tree, spread out my sleeping bag again and sleep for another few hours or just hang out in the shade until I was pretty sure the man would be out selling his goods. Then I’d walk out to meet him and sit with him until he went home.

I wore the tie dyed shirt every day.

One morning I was under the tree in my sleeping bag. The sun was fully up, but I was cool in the shade of the tree. I had my glasses off and was lying on my side with the sleeping bag pushed to my waist. I heard a loud sort of buzzing behind me and thought it was some kind of large insect. I didn’t move or try to swat it; I just lay still. Then I felt something bump my back. It wasn’t a big bump, but I definitely felt something hit me. Then I heard the buzzing in front of me. I opened my eyes and saw a hummingbird for just a moment before it zoomed away.

The hummingbird had seen my bright tie-dyed shirt, thought I was a flower in the middle of the desert, and tried to sip some flower nectar. The hummingbird was probably just pissed off and hungry, but I thought my encounter with it was a blessing.